• Hi all. We have had reports of member's signatures being edited to include malicious content. You can rest assured this wasn't done by staff and we can find no indication that the forums themselves have been compromised.

    However, remember to keep your passwords secure. If you use similar logins on multiple sites, people and even bots may be able to access your account.

    We always recommend using unique passwords and enable two-factor authentication if possible. Make sure you are secure.
  • Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
  • If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders

Once a Thief

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
After leaving the Undercity, Lyle was all too eager to get away from the exit tunnel they’d taken, just in case those two Pokémon they’d run into were attempting to track them. The first thing that Lyle noticed as he went along was that the district they’d stepped out into was cramped with narrow and winding streets, some of which looked like they’d struggle to fit a larger Puller passing through, let alone a wagon. It sort of reminded him of the district where they’d gotten off Boudewijn’s raft, and he swore that a few of the shabby-looking buildings looked like they’d been made of the same timbers as the barges and rafts even if he couldn’t see signs of a dock anywhere.

Even so, there were still differences from the neighborhood around the docks. Here, there would occasionally be the skeleton of a taller human ruin which rose up, unclaimed by civilization from the gutted upper levels and darkened silhouettes of branches that could be seen against the auroras and moonlight. And while the area around the docks hadn’t exactly been obviously wealthy, it certainly felt a cut above their present surroundings.

“Is that part of a boat? Dalton, where did you take us?”

Lyle turned and saw Irune pointing and gaping at a post jutting out from a building facade with a carving of a Gyarados head that looked like it was styled after a ship’s prow. Hell, it probably was a ship’s prow once from the way the paint was flaking off of it. He turned and cocked a head at Dalton himself. What was the story behind this neighborhood anyways?

“This is Shift Square, a district just to the east of the Great Arena and the neighborhoods built on its slopes where more normal Pokémon live,” Dalton explained. “There’s a stretch of shoreline along the bridge that I was originally going to take to get here that has places where boats are brought in to be scrapped.”

Lyle supposed that explained the nearby buildings, even if he was surprised to hear that Pokémon would live this meagerly just across the river from where the King and Hofstaat lived. Kate seemed even less impressed than he did, and had a twinge of discomfort cross her face.

“I don’t think I missed much by never coming here before,” she muttered. “I’ve spent time in refugee camps that felt less miserable than this!”

Lyle wasn’t sure if he agreed with Kate there, though from what he knew of her history, she was definitely more qualified to cast judgment. Neighborhoods that felt worn-down and meager weren’t exactly rare in even Varhyde’s smaller towns, but now that Kate mentioned it, the buildings seemed to get visibly shabbier as they went along. Some of them were obviously put together from scraps of unpainted wood and metal. Others went without blinds or shutters for windows, while still others didn’t have doors beyond some cloth strips hung over the doorway—the sort of thing one would expect from a rural peasant barely able to afford a mat and mailpost for their burrow or nest.

“I… suppose that portions of Shift Square did used to be refugee encampments earlier on in the war,” Dalton said. “I guess that parts of it still reflect those origins.”

Lyle hoped that they wouldn’t be here too much longer, since even the streets seemed to get worse as they went along. The back lanes grew increasingly cluttered with untended garbage, a few carrying vile, gag-inducing odors that the Quilava tried not to think too hard about. The one spot that seemed to be a reprieve from it all was a weirdly tidy corner with a set of wooden boards set up with line after line of tiny runes on them. He wasn’t sure what it was at first, when he noticed flowers and little stones and notes set at their base.

… Just like the Gedenksteine₃ in his hometown, where Pokémon who’d died from the war and weren’t able to be sent off at home had their names engraved. These boards were obviously shabbier since they were made of wood, and they had a hell of a lot more names on them.

He hurried and continued along after that, and noticed his teammates had similarly had a chill come over their moods. Nobody said anything afterwards until they spotted a line of Pokémon queued up at an open-backed cart manned by some Pokémon in green plates next to some lanterns that had been set up. Most of the Pokémon lining up looked visibly lean, a few had missing limbs or other ugly scars, all waiting for packets being handed out from the back of the wagon.

Lyle knew what the line to a food dole looked like, and he knew how unruly they could get if it came up short. With the tense, sullen mood in the crowd and how the Gendarmen would occasionally shove back Pokémon trying to sneak around them, he already knew it was a bad idea to hang around.

“Is there a side street that we can take, Dalton?” he asked. “That crowd up ahead just screams trouble.”

“Yeah, off to the right.”

Lyle hurriedly rounded the corner with his teammates and moved along. They didn’t need to risk the Gendarmen noticing them, and none of them needed to get a good look at that sort of misery right here and now. Irune seemed to be visibly bothered by her surroundings, and she went over and tugged at Dalton’s side with a worried frown.

“Is… it really a good idea to be stealing from Pokémon in a place like this?” she asked. “It just feels so… meager.”

“Things are thankfully a bit less rough in the area around those marketplaces, but there’s a bit more of this to go through before we reach them,” the Heliolisk said. “Though there are worse places we could’ve wound up in. Like Zelba City. Now that district is a real dump.”

Wait, there were districts here called ‘cities’? There was probably some story behind that, but Lyle wasn’t sure if he wanted to know what that place was like if Dalton was comparing it negatively to this one. He and Team Forager entered an intersection of back alleys, with clotheslines dangling between rows of ramshackle tenements. Lyle noticed Dalton slow as they passed through, as he stopped and pointed off to their right.

“After all, even if you won’t find a noble’s salon around here, you can’t say that the residents don’t at least try to make things feel a bit more homely.”

Lyle turned and followed the Heliolisk’s finger off towards a small, crude pavillion made of unpainted wood with misaligned shutters. There were a few odds and ends set out in various places, their arrangement giving away that the place was some sort of shrine. Irune seemed particularly fixed at the sight, before she turned her head over to them.

“If we’re not in a hurry, could we take a look?”

Lyle traded glances with Kate and Dalton. On the one paw, they weren’t going to get to those marketplaces any quicker like this. On the other paw, the shrine was right here, and small enough that it wouldn’t take long to duck in and out.

And with how their luck had been lately, even if it was on the superstitious side, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to try and curry a bit of divine favor.

“Fine. But I’m not sure what you’re expecting to find in a neighborhood as poor as this one,” Lyle said. “Just make it quick. We still need to hit up those marketplaces and find a place to sleep tonight.”

He shuffled up to the entrance of the pavillion along with his teammates, only to freeze in surprise once he crossed the threshold. All around him were a collection of wooden statues and painted panels dedicated to various gods. Made well enough and with enough care that they looked more at home along that path up to the Reshiram statue in the Administrative District than in a dump like this.

Maybe that was a bit unfair to Shift Square’s Pokémon, since even if there hadn’t been any living gods in Varhyde for years, they still commanded respect among the Kingdom’s Pokémon. He supposed the shrine being shared between gods should’ve been less surprising to him as well. After all, he remembered Moonturn Square had one where a statue of Celebi shared the same roof with one to Hoopa.

Even so, this was the first time he’d ever seen a shrine to so many gods in one place. One corner of the pavillion was devoted to Ho-Oh, the Great Bird of Seven Colors, with incense and fragrant ash set out. Another to Xerneas, the Voice of Life, with wooden branches set out. Why, there was even a corner set aside for Latios. Lyle blinked and went over, where he saw a few coins left sitting at the base of the statue. The sight drew a smile and small chuckle from Dalton as he walked by and picked a few of the coins up from the base.

“Honestly, this little shack feels more earnest than that big statue back at the overlook,” Dalton remarked. “The Pokémon that lived here wanted to make this shrine and pooled their own efforts to put it together.”

Lyle noticed Irune paying particularly rapt attention to something behind the Latios statue. He turned to look himself and saw that on the wooden panels behind the statue, there were scenes of the Latios playfully wheeling about in the sky. The scenes were a bit rough around the edges, but their creator had clearly invested a lot of care and effort on behalf of his patron.

One that gave the urge to just stop and stay a while taking them in.

“I… guess I can see where you’re coming from,” the Axew murmured. “Latios looks so… free in these paintings. I don’t know if a shrine commissioned by a noble would ever look like this.”

‘Free’, huh? If it weren’t for the fact that the Vatername he saw on Irune’s wanted poster back in Errberk Village was the sort which Wilders recruited into civilization had, he’d have guessed that Irune’s dad had been a Carrier or something like that. A set of clinks snapped him out of his thoughts as Dalton returned the offerings back to their place beside the Latios shrine and continued on. He followed after, only to see the Heliolisk suddenly freeze just ahead. Kate caught his change in demeanor, too, and tilted her head puzzledly.

“Scales? Why are you reacting like tha-?”

Lyle caught a glimpse of black paint splattered about up ahead and stopped dead in his tracks after rounding the corner. The space ahead had been a shrine to Reshiram, except the panels had black paint thrown onto them, recently enough that he could see beads still dripping like black tar. The wooden statue to Reshiram had met a similar fate, and been toppled over with gashes cut into it.

Something came over Lyle and he hurriedly turned the statue up, setting it back on its stand. He’d never considered himself as the type of ‘mon to put much stock in dead gods, but something about seeing this humble shrine defaced like this just didn’t sit well with him. Dalton and Kate stared blankly ahead as Irune went up and pawed at the statue. She put a hand on the black paint, only to pull it back sharply after discovering it was still wet.

“I- I don’t understand,” she stammered. “Who would do something like this?”

“Look up,” Kate remarked. “It should give you a few ideas.”

‘Look up’? Lyle followed after Kate’s claw and went rigid with shock. There, to the side of the black paint were a set of scrawled runes and the silhouette of a great, deep black dragon with outstretched wings and a dart-like tail.

Zekrom, the patron god of Edialeigh, and the Endbringer who was said to have razed entire kingdoms with his lightning.

“I’m going to go ahead and guess that’s not supposed to be part of this shrine,” Lyle murmured.

“Gee, what tipped you off there, Lyle?” Kate scoffed. “The fact that it’s a scrawled mess? Or that there’s still black paint dripping down?”

Lyle held his tongue at the Sneasel’s remark, not least of all because the scene was uncomfortably familiar. He supposed it was only to be expected when there had once been a proper shrine to Zekrom in his hometown.

He never fully understood why it was so. The way his parents explained it to him, it and a number of shrines like it had been built in Varhyde during the reign of King Sansa. At a time when as impossible as it sounded, Zekrom was said to have once been friendly to Varhyde… one that was swiftly drowned out and forgotten when the Dragon of Deep Black once again brought death and destruction alongside Edialeigh’s forces later on in King Sansa’s reign.

Back in the early years of the war before the gods that took part of it all killed each other off.

Lyle supposed that even if those memories were hazy now, that Varhyde’s Pokémon never forgot what happened. Or forgave it. Even if the Zekrom shrine in town was boarded up and decaying after being torched in the past, it was still standing. He’d never heard of another one in Varhyde all his life that was in a better state than it.

“I-I just don’t understand why whoever did this would need to destroy a shrine to make their own,” Irune murmured. “Reshiram and Zekrom are counterparts to each other and at least where I grew up, there was a shrine to Zekrom in it.”

Lyle stiffened up at the Axew’s reply and whirled around, just in time to catch Dalton and Kate staring at her much as if her tusks had just fallen off. Irune also came from a village that still had a shrine to Zekrom? He doubted she ever saw what it really looked like or that it was in good condition, but still, that was one hell of a coincidence.

“Because whoever made this wasn’t interested in making a shrine,” Dalton said. “That message is a curse.”

Dalton pointed out the set of runes underneath the scrawl of Zekrom, made in the same paint, with loose, messy strokes much as if made in a fit of rage. He had to read the line a couple of times since some of the runes used didn’t look like ones which were normally used, but he thought that he managed to piece together the message…

“‘May the gods hear our cries for aid and judge this den of liars,’” the Quilava said. “Am… I reading that right?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s correct, yes,” Dalton remarked. “I… might be reaching for the next line, but I’m pretty it says. ‘May they grant this hole the same peace they visited upon Freeden Village.’”

Lyle reflexively pinned his ears back at Dalton’s narration. Gods, whoever wrote that sure knew how to get under his hide. The Heliolisk trailed off and pawed underneath the runes, giving a frowning shake of their head.

“You definitely don’t see too many Pokémon write a message out like that,” he said. “Especially not with some of the runes this ‘mon used. Or at least, not among Pokémon from Varhyde.”

… Meaning that an Edialeigher wrote it? Lyle supposed that he couldn’t definitively rule it out after they came across that Charmeleon earlier, and it was genuinely hard to imagine a Varhyder doing something like this to a shrine of the land’s patron goddess.

“W-Wait, what did that writer mean by that last bit?” Irune asked. “I’ve- I’ve been to Freeden Village before and there wasn’t anything obviously special about it!”

Lyle turned and stared at Irune as she turned her head up at Dalton and noticed that she looked visibly alarmed. Did she not really know the tale of how Freeden Village was said to have earned the disfavor of the gods? After all, if an Edialeigher had heard the tale to allude to the ‘peace’ the gods gave to his hometown, what were the odds that Irune hadn’t?

Actually, as crazy as it sounded… could Irune have also been from Freeden Village like him? While he admittedly hadn’t been back home for almost three years at this point, he couldn’t say he ever remembered seeing her in the village when he was younger. Even so, that reaction of hers felt familiar, like ones he’d had on a couple of occasions when he was still new to the Foehn Gang… and a couple assholes on the gang had found out about his hometown and ribbed him over being as living jinx carrying the town’s curse.

… Maybe he was just overthinking things. Varhyde wasn’t a small kingdom, enough so that he barely knew about the towns past the neighboring Grafschaften where he grew up. It was surely more likely than the two of them somehow hailing from the same two-bit village without ever knowing each other.

He considered just asking Irune and settling the matter once and for all, only to bite his tongue. Maybe it was better to set the topic aside. If she had somehow grown up in Freeden Village, he was sure that one way or another, he’d know for sure eventually. It was probably time to move on anyways, since lingering around this of all things wasn’t exactly going to lift the mood.

“It’s just a curse some punk put up,” Lyle huffed. “Let’s just get out of here right now.”

He made his way out of the shrine as Kate and Dalton followed after him. As he turned back into the alleyway, he noticed that Irune wasn’t there with them. He poked his head back through the entrance, where he saw her still looking back at the desecrated Reshiram shrine. The Axew shook her head and shuffled back out and rejoined them with an uneasy paw at her shoulder.

“Sorry to keep you all waiting. Though I suppose you’re right and we’ve got more important things to worry about…” she murmured. “Though what do we do now?”

Kate paused a moment and let her ear flick at the sound of something in the distance, before raising a claw and motioning off down the alley to their left. There at the end, Lyle could spot glimpses of colorful stalls and different figures slipping past the mouth of the alleyway.

“Scales, is that the marketplace we were looking for?” she asked.

“The edge of it, yes,” Dalton said. “We might as well get started, though stay sharp. Just because we’re not in Armory Alley right now doesn’t mean that things can’t go sideways for us quickly.”

Much as Dalton had predicted, after slipping out of the alleyway, Kate and the rest of Team Forager came across Shift Square’s marketplaces. They were clustered along both sides of a road that headed off towards a bridge going back towards the Administrative District as buildings of three to five stories of wood and scrap clustered among gutted human ruins. Layout and towering ruins aside, it didn’t all that different from that marketplace they’d gone through in Moonturn Square…

Aside from the fact that it was still crowded at this late hour, with throngs of Pokémon continuing to do their trading and bartering under the glow of lanterns hung out over stalls and shopfronts and hung across streets on lines. A great place to just slow down and soak in the hustle and bustle of passing Pokémon and wagons.

“Hey! Stop!”

Kate ignored the cries of protest as she snagged a Luminous Orb off the counter of a wood-and-canvas stall tended by a Kadabra and took off running. She dashed ahead, ducking and weaving past passersby before popping into a back alley. The others were already waiting there and waiting for her, including Dalton, who sized her up briefly with a small frown.

“You should’ve been more careful about picking marks, Kate,” the Heliolisk remarked. “Many of the vendors here aren’t exactly pushovers.”

Kate couldn’t help but scoff internally at the Heliolisk’s remark. They’d attempted to seek marks quite literally at the doorstep of a Hunter’s Guild once already in their journey. So long as they were quick on their feet, how could this possibly be any more risky?

“Ah, lighten up, Scales,” Kate insisted, giving a dismissive wave of her claws. “We’ve already made up most of those items we burned through back in Primordial Woods. Not bad for only our third go!”

The Heliolisk briefly rolled his eyes, but didn’t contest the point. Good enough, Kate supposed. She started putting away the Luminous Orb into her bag as Irune looked at her, when she noticed the Axew was holding a meager coinpurse. So she’d managed to actually steal something after all… except, why did she look like she was expecting the sky to cave in on her at any moment?

“Don’t you think we’ve taken enough already?” Irune asked. “These Pokémon probably worked hard to get the things we’re stealing from them. And the longer we keep at this, the more likely we are to run into trouble.”

Kate pinned her ears back with a quiet sigh. She supposed that was one way to tell that Irune still wasn’t used to stealing things. How on earth had she survived as an Outlaw before Lacan caught up to her anyways?

“Yeah, and we worked hard to nab it,” she said. “And it’s going to a good cause… namely to keep us out of trouble and get you closer to your treasure.”

Irune opened her mouth briefly to protest only to catch herself. Kate wasn’t sure whether or not the Axew really agreed with her, but it got the point across at least. Lyle was already starting to drift off, though Dalton seemed to be weirdly hesitant and on-edge as he kept stealing glances at his surroundings.

Was something wrong? She wouldn’t have pegged Scales to get confused by their surroundings with the way he’d taken them to this place through the Undercity, so what was going on?

Gottverdammt, I didn’t realize we’d been getting this close to the northeast end of the market,” the Heliolisk said.

“Why? What’s wrong with the northeast end of the market?” Lyle asked.

As if on cue, Dalton raised a hand and motioned off down the street, where a few stalls could be seen with various dungeoneering items set out. Among the buildings in the background, Kate spotted a building made out of a gutted concrete structure with a tent shaped like a Baxcalibur’s head attached to a part which had partly collapsed. Between the wares being plied and the number of Pokémon going past in groups with coordinated scarves…

“Right, you mentioned earlier that there were Hunter’s Guilds in this city,” the Quilava said.

Kate supposed that would explain why that shop had so many Wonder Orbs just set out on display. It was a bit weird to be in a place where the local guild wasn’t the most prominent building in its surroundings, even moreso to see one styled after what she assumed was its guildmaster’s head. She always thought that was more of a thing in podunk towns, or else something that some more tacky merchants like the Colorswap Consortium would find more up their alley.

Except, that didn’t solve the issue of what they were supposed to do right now.

“So… what’s the plan then?” Kate asked. “Since it’s not as if we don’t need these items. It’s not that hard to nick things in front of a guild, is it?”

There was a moment of hesitation, before Lyle turned back from the edge of the alley and shook his head.

“We only need a few more Seeds and Berries to cover what we went through in Primordial Woods,” the Quilava began. “Let’s just get them, meet up at the end of the street, and then put some distance from this part of the marketplace. It’s late enough that we should probably be worrying more about trying to find a place to spend the night and figure out where we’re going to go from here, anyways.”

Lyle reflexively set off, only for Dalton to grab at him with his uninjured arm and look about uneasily. The Heliolisk studied his surroundings closely, before leaning in with a wary murmur.

“Actually… I think that Irune may have been onto something earlier, Lyle,” the lizard said. “We’ve pushed our luck enough in this marketplace for a while.”

Kate pinned her ears back as Lyle turned back to Dalton. Gods, this wasn’t a hard thing. They just had to get those last Berries and Seeds and then get to the end of the street. How hard could that be?

“Let’s focus on finding a place to stay the night for now. Ideally someplace off the street.”

Great, now Scales was getting cold feet on top of things. Maybe he just needed a bit of a shove to get him back on track.

“Hey, hurry up slowpokes! See you at the end of the street when you’re done!”

Kate darted out into the crowd and briefly turned back to wave at her teammates still in the alley. She saw their shocked expressions, before they vanished amidst the faces in the crowd. Seeds and Berries… Seeds and Berries. She briefly glimpsed a Pecha Berry lying on the counter of a stall kept by a Delibird distracted by talking with a Prinplup off on the side. She walked by and in a swift motion, snagged it off the counter and ducked back into the throng. She weaved around bodies and passing wagons, but didn’t even hear a cry coming from the Delibird’s stall. Guess that was one way to tell that nobody had noticed her.

“Heh. Easy peasy.”

The next few stalls that she hit up went by similarly easily. A Totter Seed, a Cheri Berry, a Heal Seed… There was a brief moment when she thought she heard wingbeats overhead, but the whole time, her marks had at most caught passing glimpses that were easy to shake. It was all well and good, except she kept getting things a little at a time. If only there were a place where she could get more than a single Seed or Berry in one go…

“Oi, Masch! Hurry it up with the stock out there! Don’t just leave that inventory sitting around, each of those boxes is worth more than your week’s pay!”

“Alright! Alright!”

Kate’s ears swiveled and she turned around towards a stall built into the front of a human ruin where just in time to catch a Machoke taking a crate off a stack and bringing it in through a side entrance.

Expensive gear available in bulk? Now that she could get behind.

She hurriedly darted along and scanned the surroundings, noticing a wooden door leading further into the shop. She hurriedly breathed an Icy Wind over the door’s edge to freeze it over. It almost certainly wouldn’t hold, especially against a Machoke of all ‘mons, but the noise would give her a sign of when it was time to go.

Kate hurriedly darted over to the crate and popped the lid of the topmost crate open, seeing that it was filled with Oran Berries inside. She blinked briefly, before her face fell.

“Tch, this is what that Machoke was getting yelled at over?” she scoffed. “Boy, his weekly wages must really suck.”

She quickly snatched one, then another. She put her paws in deeper to reach for a third, only to feel them tink against something glassy.


She tightened her grip around the object and pulled it out, revealing it to be a glass flask capped with a cork and filled with bright red fluid. Quite thick from how slowly the air bubbles in it moved when she flipped it over.

“What in the-?”

The door opened with a sharp, icy crunch, as Kate grasped the flask in her claws and whirled around. Just in time for the Machoke to return from inside the shop.

“For crying out loud, who on earth delivers a batch of Drive during peak hou– Hey!

Whelp, that ‘Drive’ answered the question of what the fluid was, and a sign to bounce. The Machoke’s expression changed the moment his head poked out past the doorway, as he wound up an arm for a punch with a sharp snarl.

“What do you think you’re doing?!”

Kate answered the Machoke by blowing an Icy Wind in the Fighting-type’s face, dashing the bottle against the ground by his feet. There was a snarling “get back here” and then a pained yelp, probably a sign that the Machoke hadn’t been watching where he was going.

She ducked back out into traffic, springing up and vaulting over the back of a passing Stantler puller much to the ‘mon’s alarm, dutifully ignoring the Normal-type’s cries as she ran to the end. There was an alley off on the left side where she could see the glow of fire coming from it. That must’ve been their meeting place.

Kate stumbled into the alley and leaned against the wall to catch her breath. Götterblut, that was way too close for comfort. Maybe Scales had been onto something about them pushing their luck.

“What the hell happened to you?”

Kate’s ears perked up at Lyle’s voice. She turned, where further down the alley, she saw him looking up with Irune at his side. The pair seemed visibly worried, as Dalton hurriedly pulled her over to their hiding place.

Kate stumbled forward, her heart still pounding from her earlier close call. She hoped it wouldn’t take long to help Irune find out about her powers of hers, since they couldn’t put this craphole behind them soon enough. Kate wasn’t a stranger to mounting daring raids, but those always had safe places to slip away to once the deed was done, not more streets with prowling guards on them.

“Kate, did anyone follow you here?”

Kate looked up at Dalton as he looked visibly on edge. She looked back at the alleyway and saw nothing but passing traffic, before turning back with a puzzled tilt of her head.

“I mean, if someone did, you’d think they’d have caught up by now-”

A slicing gust of wind suddenly sailed in from further down the alley and caught Kate in her stomach. She fell back, and heard Lyle yelp after something loudly smacked against him, along with Irune and Dalton raising their voices in alarm.


Kate stumbled up as Irune’s voice reached her ears. She watched Lyle right himself by a bin filled with trash, only to freeze and flare up with a grimace. She followed his gaze deeper down the alley and stiffened up when she saw it herself:

A lanky lizard that had blackish scales with a violet tinge. It had a bony head with a vaguely star-shaped marking between its eyes and grasped a bone that looked longer than it was tall. Was that a Marowak? Kate blinked for a moment since a bunch of little things seemed off compared to Alvin, but no, this ‘mon was clearly some sort of Marowak.

And she was looking at them much like how Wilder predators were said to look at their cornered prey.

“Well well well, what do we have here, Ansel?”

Wingbeats rang out from above as a tawny blur dropped down from the surrounding rooftops. Brown feathers, a tall red head crest, and a long, thin beak that looked like it’d give one hell of a jab… that was a Fearow, alright. He and the strange Marowak didn’t have any armor plates, but from the overpowering glare in their eyes, one could’ve been forgiven for thinking they were somehow connected to them. Kate reflexively readied an Ice Shard, only to freeze after she noticed a peach-colored orb in the Fearow’s talons—a Slumber Orb, surely already prepared for use.

“You tell me, Igna,” the bird replied. “Since all I see are a bunch of stupid mudders who think that they can just swoop into this town and poke their sticky paws wherever they please.”

Kate looked on at their assailants, and flattened her ears with a low hiss.

Gods, she really hated this dump.

Author’s Notes:

Words and Phrases

1. Rotten - Plural of "Rotte", a name for various military units in the Germanosphere. Within the context of a Fähnlein, a Rotte is a small unit composed of 8-12 soldiers.
2. Ach, Schei- - “Ah/Oh, shi-”
3. Gedenksteine - “Remembrance Stones”

Teaser Text

The history of Varhyde and Edialeigh as kingdoms have long existed in the shadow of the many clashes between Wish and Reality. And yet, to this day, it remains a mystery as to why it is that Wish and Reality in their wanderings after the Great Flash would come to choose lands to dwell in that are so close to each other. Their exact rationales have since been lost to time, with some suggesting that the two are just fated to draw close to each other across their lives, while others have suggested that the Great Flash may have simply occurred at a time when they were both away from their original home and near to each other.

Like our patron goddess, the god we call 'Wish' chose a hero and helped found a kingdom to their liking. Queen Galea, who alongside the god who aided her, founded the Kingdom of Edialeigh amidst the ruins of a City of Light that is said to have once been the site of the legendary ‘Lumenaᵃ’. A place that those who live in the land of Varhyde now call Donaterm Cityᵇ.

While that city too had places which Wish found pleasing as a roost, it is said that what ultimately drew him to heed Galea’s pleas were her desires and strength of ideals to shape our unsettled world into one she thought better for its inhabitants. Desires so strong that some say that had the world held them back, that she would have seen fit to end it.

Nobody knows how true those tales are, but they’re certainly believable from what has been recorded of Wish and those he has chosen as his Heroes in history. Especially in light of the great violence that this Dragon of Deepᶜ Black has visited upon us and our land from above Edialeigh’s banners.

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. Derived by phonetic corruption from terminology from the German franchise localization.
b. Derived by phonetic corruption. A more semantically accurate translation would be "Thundertower City"
c. Semantic translation. A more literal one would be 'Pure', with 'Pure Black' in the original text alluding to the same concept as 'Deep Black' does here.

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Author’s Note: This trivia section was written under the assumption that readers had caught up with the full length of the story up to this point. If you’re stumbling across this from before Chapter 22, strongly consider revisiting it sometime after catching up.

Why is the world of this story called ‘Wander’ anyways?

Well, I suppose that the more accurate answer to this is that it’s what the Pokémon of Varhyde call their world, but it was named as such because it sounded like a plausible-enough corruption of ‘Wunder’ from German, which as explained in the Prologue, carries the semantic meaning of ‘wonder’ or ‘miracle’ depending on how one chooses to translate that. Which felt like it’d be fitting for a world with some trippier topography and little pockets where the fabric of reality is a bit screwier than normal that was built on the remains of a bygone civilization capable of fantastical-sounding feats to its present day inhabitants.

As for why I chose to call the setting that in the first place, the early phases of this story’s outlining were done concurrent to a playthrough of Xenoblade X, which led to the working name for the setting being the same as the setting planet of that game—‘Mira’. ‘Mira’ happens to be a word in Latin that means ‘wonderful’ or ‘astonishing’, thus the choice for a name that was a sly nod to it for a world that draws on it in terms of vibes and features.

What’s with those Mystery Dungeons in this story?

As readers of Fledglings likely might have gathered, there was a good deal of worldbuilding in this story that I didn’t bother to reinvent the wheel for a secondary story, with much of the nuts and bolts being shared between them, if sometimes under different nomenclature like ‘Pockets’ in this story.

That’s not to say that everything was a straight lift from Fledglings. As a story that in initial development aimed to be shorter and more fast-paced than my main work, Wander’s Mystery Dungeons are significantly more interlinked than the typical Mystery Dungeon in Fledglings’ setting, which allows them to function as handy spatial shortcuts for those sufficiently strong or desperate enough to try and take advantage of them. The auroras that appear over and nearby Mystery Dungeons are also exclusive to this story, mostly because aberrations of spacetime felt like they might plausibly cause disruptions in a planet’s magnetic field, and it was a handy excuse to put in the surreal and dreamlike night skies that one might encounter in various Xenoblade titles.

Wait, but I swear that I’ve seen these Mystery Dungeons somewhere… why do they sound and feel so familiar?

That would be because the Mystery Dungeons in this story draw a good deal of influence from more memorable bits of topography from different Xeno titles, and usually are named as a reference or play off of different location names from the series. In no particular order:

- Waterhead Cave is a fairly transparent semantic rename of Headwater Cavern from Xenoblade X, even if its aesthetic was drawn from elsewhere by virtue of Headwater Cavern being on the blander side. Instead, Waterhead Cave looked back further in the series at the Vilia Lake area to inform its aesthetic, so if the blue bioluminescent water and cave illumination reminded you of anything… yeah, that was where it was coming from.

- Primordial Woods is a play off of the full name of ‘Makna Forest’ in the Japanese version of Xenoblade: マクナ原生林, or semantically ‘Mak(u)na Primeval/Primordial Forest’, which was the placeholder name of the Mystery Dungeon at large. The fundamental premise of the area was “large fossil revival lab overtaken by a jungle”, with explicit influences drawn from Blackmoon Forest from Xenogears, Makna Forest from Xenoblade, Noctilum from Xenoblade X, with Torigoth Forest from Xenoblade 2 being a late addition for cues in the leadup to its chapters’ publishing.

- Raptor Rock is a composite of ‘Talon Rock’ and the name of the same area in Xenoblade X’s German localization: ‘Raubvogelstiege’, or roughly ‘Raptor/Bird of Prey Steps/Stairs’. As a location, it is based off the namesake rock formation and some of the more surreal-looking plateau areas of Bionis such as Gaur Plain.

Though hey, I can’t really argue with a practice if it worked. While the location design hopefully wasn’t too on the nose, drawing influence from the other half of this story’s well of inspiration worked quite well for grounding where I wanted to take things thematically, including for places outside of Wander’s Mystery Dungeons.

How did you come up with Rankar?

Rankar as a minor antagonist started out life as a fairly transparent stand-in of Captain Tarquin from Fledglings, only to undergo retooling past the earliest of draft phases to differentiate him and go off in the direction of a leader figure well past his prime who secured his power through sordid means and was staring down an uncertain future as a deliberate thematic parallel to Varhyde’s broader problems in the present. While Rankar’s characterization changed quite a bit during development, the core of him being a Tyrantrum Wilder did not, to the point that his primary working name for much of the Primordial Woods arc’s development was ‘Grandpa Tyrantrum’.

Rankar as a name was chosen about a month out from the start of the Primordial Woods arc, and is a transparent reference to Xenogears’ ‘Rankar Dragon’. An early boss from that game which is more or less a giant robot-sized tyrannosaur. While this story’s Rankar is significantly smaller and more dangerous of a fight for the protagonists, the parallels felt too good to pass up even if the name was a bit on-the-nose.

How did you come up with Team Pathfinder?

Team Pathfinder were developed to fill a meta role as an “archetypical zero to hero protagonist team”, cast as a recurring comedic relief antagonist akin to a more competent Team Rocket from the anime which reflected in their earliest working title of ‘Goldfish Poop Gang’. Around the time that the story came down hard on leaning into the Xenoblade-themed placeholders that had cropped up here and there in development, the idea came to me to make the team a character cameo of some of characters that were from the broader series. Between the protagonists of the numbered Xenoblade games being a bit too recognizable for my liking and it being on my mind, that took me in the direction of Xenoblade X’s characters, just portrayed further down the power scale and in a more comedic light. So if some of their lines struck you as familiar… yeah, that was pretty deliberate. More specifically, the characters were cast as follows:

- Cruz is a semantic rename of ‘Cross’, the default name for Xenoblade X’s player character. His personality leans particularly hard on the ‘Male Joker’ VA option you can select in that game, and while he’s hardly alone as the ‘Rook’ of his team, it informed his portrayal for team dynamics.

- Vilma is a semantic rename of ‘Elma’, who is one of your first party members in the game and is generally accepted in the fandom to be the narrative’s proper protagonist. Vilma fills the same role for Team Pathfinder, even if she leans a bit heavier on her “dual swords” than projectile attacks compared to her source of inspiration.

- Nellie is the stand-in for ‘Lin’, with her name being a lazy anagram of ‘Lin Lee’ since my original angle of attempting a non-Mandarin reading of the character used for her name resulted in options that either sounded too similar to ‘Lin’ or else didn’t quite roll off the tongue. True to form, she’s also the team youngster with a cute little Xeno-themed hairclip of her own.

- Bel if it wasn’t already obvious from his speech pattern and devil-like aesthetic, is Team Pathfinder’s equivalent to L, with his name formed much in the same way his inspiration character’s full name of L’cirufe is a play off an epithet for the devil. In this case, from a clipping of ‘Belial’ that is done much in the same style of how his shortened and full names are handled in Xenoblade X’s Japanese version.

I will decline to comment as to what the future holds for Team Pathfinder’s future morphs ather than that they still had other appearances in the pipeline in the story planned at the time of writing and that future plans involving them did take their gameplay portrayals from Xenoblade X into mind.

As for the team name, that went through a few rounds of revision, with the original name settled on them being ‘Team Blade’, after the name of the organization that gives out missions in Xenoblade X and its individual operatives. I ultimately felt that the name didn’t quite work with half the team not having fighting styles leaning on fighting with sharp implements, which sent me back to the drawing board. One glance through the different Divisions from Xenoblade X later, I realized that the one responsible for expanding the game map, the ‘Pathfinders’ had a snappy enough name and more or less was a perfect thematic fit for an Exploration Team staffed by fish-out-of-water rookies.

More observant readers likely saw this one this one coming, since if the trident design of Team Forager’s pilfered scarves or the reworked design that Team Pathfinder popped up in in Errberk Village seemed familiar to you, there’s a good reason for that: they’re tweaks of the logo of the Pathfinders Division in Xenoblade X.

Wait, those symbols in this story are based on things? Like what?

Well, some of them are sigils cooked up whole cloth, but a good number of them are references to various designs that feature prominently in different games from the series. In no particular order:

- The Schild der Wirklichkeit and Schwert der Wünsche are based off the “triangle with circles at vertices” visual motif that shows up from time to time in Xenoblade titles in both upward (e.x. 1 and 3’s Chain Attack icons) and downward (multiple major character designs from 1) orientations.
- Nellie’s clip that she wears is based off the design of “ye olde Xeno cross with shortened arms”, specifically the shape of a Lifehold.
- The sigil of Vector ‘Ah-ghee’ should be immediately familiar to you if you’ve played Xenosaga or else played far enough into Xenoblade 3: Future Redeemed. That is all I will say about it for now other than if you recognize it, you might have some ideas of what it’s pointing towards.
- The sigil of Sophia’s Ritterorden as seen on the keep in Errberk Village is a Nisan Cross, a very prominent sigil from Xenogears that is intimately associated with her namesake character.
- The symbol of Universität von Wahrheit is based off of Addam’s Crest from Xenoblade 2
- The scarves Lyle and Kate wind up wearing after stealing from the clothesline are based off the frame of a Flame Clock lit up in Agnian colors.

There are also a few that originate from within the Pokémon franchise such as the sigil used for the clinic in Errberk Village and the Drachensiegel, but I’ll leave those for readers to figure out since the latter of those two is for another day.

How did you come up with Moonturn Square?

Moonturn Square actually went floating in terms of location design up until fairly late in development, with the oh-so-creative name of ‘Chapter 3 Town’ for a good chunk of development. The big break for coming up with a design came after the decision to go full referential hack with regard to the Xeno series and set a goal of drawing vibes from Colony 9 from the first town, which some readers likely pieced together from the big tri-legged tower that looms over everything and the former Sheriff off campaigning in battle named after Colonel Square-tache in a disguised fashion.

From there, it was just a matter of finding a way to make things make sense in the setting, with the angle that I settled on being that Moonturn Square had been built on the ruins of a larger stadium complex akin to those that appear in the anime’s once-a-region League Conferences, which isn’t far removed from how some medieval towns in Europe were built in the remains of ancient Roman amphitheaters like Medieval Arles, which with a couple collapsed sections provided a way of roughly echoing the footprint of Colony 9’s Commercial District: marketplace in the west, big tower in the center, large military installation in the north, and residential district with a transparent stand-in for Tranquil Square in the south.

That’s not to say that everything about Moonturn Square was taken straight from Colony 9 since it’s not a series of interconnected islands in a lake. The star fortification that encloses the town was based on various towns in Europe built in such a style, in particular Palmanova. While the aqueduct and water wheels are based off of similar constructions in Iberia and the Middle East used to ferry drinking water from rivers to raised settlements.

As for the name, it and the vast majority of location names in this story were developed with its German name first: Munternplatz, deliberately echoing the name of Pokémon Square in the German localization of the original Rescue Team games: Pokémonplatz, with the somewhat dippy and ironic semantic meaning of “Cheerful Square/Plaza”. From there, it was simply a matter of phonetically corrupting ‘muntern’ (which ‘Moonturn’ roughly approximates for Anglophones) and attaching the ‘Square’ to it and the rest was history.

How did you come up with Errberk Village?

Like many other locations in this story, Errberk Village started with an on-the-nose working name, which in its case was ‘Post Town Analogue’, its intended meta function in the earliest drafts of the story. Errberk Village wound up changing considerably during development due to a mixture of needing to pick a hometown for Sophia, which informed the decision to give the town a more martial character, and playing through Xenoblade 2 during the process of writing out the first couple arcs of the story, which wound up influencing the final depiction of the town.

More specifically, if the Sheriff spouting the very memeable lines didn’t already tip readers off, but Errberk Village is more or less the end result of putting Torigoth from Xenoblade 2 and Baram Town from PSMD into a blender. So if you thought that the description of the entrance arch into the village or the square with the fountain right outside the Green Dragonite sounded familiar, that was why. The primary departure in layout made for Errberk Village as a smaller settlement is that it has no “second bank” across the river dominated by a military presence unlike Torigoth in Xenoblade 2. That was kept closer to the village along with a lot more windmills thrown into the mix.

That’s not to say that there weren’t also wholesale additions thrown in. The Green Dragonite in particular is based on a Pokémon Center of the design used in XY that had been gutted and retrofitted into an inn with a more rustic facade. The shacks perched on the concrete pillar is based off the design of more old-timey gas stations in Germany, which felt like something that could be reasonably found not far away from a Pokémon Center for hosting travelers in a long-bygone time.

Much like Moonturn Square, Errberk Village was named by first coming up with a German name for it that would sound very “standard PMD settlement”, and then phonetically corrupting it. In its case, its name is a deliberate play off of the name for Serene Village in PSMD: ‘Ruhenau’, with ‘-au’ being a common toponymic suffix for towns built by rivers in the Germanosphere. As mentioned in an earlier author note, ‘Herbergau’ carries a semantic meaning roughly equivalent to “Hostel Village (by a River)”, with ‘Errberk’ just being the result of abruptly clipping a few sounds at the beginning and end of the name.

What’s with those song lyrics at the bar scenes?

They are cameos of songs from the Xenoblade X soundtrack. More specifically, the lyrics from the Moonturn Square tavern scene are from the opening stanza of Don’t Worry (with part of the stanza immediately following further cameoing in Chapter 9), while the ones from the Errberk Village tavern scene are the opening stanza of By My Side.

They won’t be the last such cameos you’ll come across in this story, even if I won’t go so far as to say that they’ll all appear in similar capacities or be drawn from the same soundtrack.

Do you have a headcanon OST for this fic?

Well, Don't Worry and By My Side, obviously. But more seriously, the soundtrack I associate with this story is a grab bag of music from titles from the Pokémon and Xeno series, with particularly heavy bias towards Xenoblade X and Xenoblade 3’s soundtracks by virtue of their source games being the closest in overall vibe to this story and them having more of an ‘artificial’ bent to them befitting a world built on the ruins of a not-too-distant future.
Last edited:

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Neuengelstadt, 19. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.

Für wen es angeht,

Mir ist zu Ohren gekommen, dass Ihre Streitkräfte unkonventionelle Kontakte mit den weniger schmackhaften Elementen dieser Stadt über Elemente in und neben der sogenannten „Diebesgilde“ unterhalten. Aufgrund von Bedenken hinsichtlich der Kriegsanstrengungen gegen das Königreich der Ideale bitte ich im Namen von Eurer Majestät König Siegmund von Wahrheit, ihnen mitzuteilen, dass sie jene Pokémon ausfindig machen sollen, deren Beschreibungen in diesem Brief enthalten sind.

Ich interessiere mich nicht besonders für die Arbeitsweise dieses Ungeziefers oder des sogenannten „Bluthummers", der ihren Respekt abverlangt, und es ist mir auch nicht wichtig, die vollständige Geschichte und Einzelheiten dieser Vereinbarung herauszufinden. Praktische Bedürfnisse erfordern, dass Ihre und meine Streitkräfte nicht gezwungen sind, eine ganze Stadt nach diesen Pokémon abzusuchen, selbst wenn dies den Rückgriff auf unangenehme Lösungen erfordert.

Ihre Kontakte müssen über die bereitgestellten Beschreibungen hinaus nichts wissen und müssen sie mit einem Raubüberfall auf die Königliche Bibliothek beauftragen. Was diese Pokémon von Interesse stehlen sollen, ist unerheblich, solange zumindest die Milza unter ihnen körperlich in der Lage ist, durch die Türen zu gehen, sodass sie vor Ort festgenommen werden kann.
Bitte informieren Sie Ihren Ansprechpartner darüber, dass jeder, der an der Begünstigung dieser Festnahme beteiligt ist, sowohl finanziell als auch durch die Löschung aller Vorstrafen reichlich belohnt wird. Jeder aus ihren Reihen, bei dem festgestellt wird, dass er die Gefangennahme stört oder das Wohlergehen der Milza auf eine Weise beeinträchtigt oder die ihre Festnahme verhindert, wird als Täter des Hochverrats gegen die Krone behandelt.

Weitere Anweisungen und Briefings werden im Laufe des Abends an alle relevanten Personen weitergeleitet.

- Dringende Depesche von Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans weitergeleitet an den Viertels Oberwachtmeister von Neuengelstadt

Gods, this just wasn’t Lyle’s day. Lyle looked up from the ground, still smarting from a heavy smack across his flank when he saw the ‘mon who hit him: a lanky, umber-colored Marowak. She wore a cream-and-red scarf with that same claw pattern they saw graffitied in the Undercity… and wielded a bony club that looked longer than her standing height. Or at least Lyle the ‘mon sounded like a ‘she’ from the way her voice sounded.

She must’ve been one of those Marowak from the southern Provinzen... which he knew precious little about other than that they were different from ones like Alvin. He took a moment to catch his breath and size up the lizard glaring down at him. The still-smarting blow to his shoulder was proof enough that even if she was different from Marowak Alvin, she could hit as hard as him with her club.

“You should know when you’re beat, Quilava. Just saying, my Orb’s primed to use right now and Igna and I aren’t the ones who will conk out if I break it!”

And then there was her Fearow partner wearing the same patterns who blocked the rest of the alleyway, with his right talon wrapped tightly around a Slumber Orb.

Really, the more he saw of his present circumstances, the more Lyle was convinced they were all in deep trouble. The Marowak seemed to know it too from the way she batted her club against her free palm and the toothy sneer spreading over her mouth.

“Though please, do pick a fight. Go ahead and make my day,” the Marowak sneered. “If you four don’t completely crumple up, you seem like you’d be fun for our buddies to take apart once they catch up with us.”

Gods, there were more of these ‘mons?! From the way that the Marowak phrased things, those buddies of theirs couldn’t have been far away, either. Irune was hiding behind Dalton, whose mouth hung open with that same sort of expression that Alvin and other lizard Pokémon like him had when they were in for a bad time. And then there was Kate, who rolled her eyes and folded her arms with a dismissive scoff.

“And just who are you jokers supposed to be?”

“We should be asking you the same thing, Sneasel,” the Fearow huffed. “There’s a system for ‘mons looking to steal things here in Newangle City. So let’s see some sign that you’re part of it, or else things are about to get very uncomfortable for you.”

“Actually Ansel, I think you can save your breath there,” the Marowak said.

The Marowak grabbed at the scruff of Lyle’s neck, dragging him up as a predatory sneer spread over her face and ghostly fire sprouted on the tips of her club

“I remember this furry rat’s yippy little voice from the Undercity earlier. So how about we get properly introduced to each other, hm?” she asked. “Who knows? Maybe there’ll be something left over for one of the local Leichensammler to pick over when we’re done with you. I heard the ones in Zelba City don’t ask too many questions about where they get their stock, and I’m willing to bet the ones here in Shift Square don’t either.”

Lyle felt a chill run down his back at the strange Marowak’s threat. He didn’t know if it was just bluster to mess with them, or if these two really were going to kill them, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to wait to find out. The Quilava gulped, looking around his surroundings uneasily when he noticed Dalton bracing himself and something building back at his mouth.

That was a Surf. Or at least he sure hoped that was one. Either way, he needed to get this ‘mon’s claws off him, and the fastest way to do that was to get her guard down. He pinned his ears back, his voice coming out with a stammering squeak.

“Uh… Yeah, well… You see, the thing is-”

Lyle blew out from deep in his lungs as it mixed with ashy heat from within and came out as a Smokescreen straight into the Marowak’s face. A shout from Irune’s voice followed and a pair of hacking blows against scales rang out from just beside him. Igna lost her grip and Lyle hit the ground, the Quilava hastily rolling onto all fours as he heard Igna hack and splutter behind him.

“Gah! Ansel, Orb those lousy-!”

The pair suddenly yelped when Lyle felt water from behind knock him down. He lost his footing and saw Irune run past him, a quick glance back revealing Dalton riding the remains of a wave of water past a reeling Igna and Ansel. The Fearow’s Slumber Orb was left behind on the ground rolling inertly, just in time for Kate to stoop down and snatch it.

“Hey, thanks for the welcoming gift! But I think we’ll take a pass on that introduction!”

Lyle turned and bolted as he heard the telltale woosh of an Icy Wind ring out from behind him and tore along into the street after Dalton and Irune. He felt a sharp tug as Kate caught up and dragged him leftwards past passersby and briefly saw his Heliolisk and Axew teammates duck down an alleyway on the right side of the street.

“Say your prayers, you little worm!”

Lyle heard startled yelps ring out and ducked as the Southern Marowak’s bone flew just over his head. He hurriedly spat a second Smokescreen up before bolting down the alleyway as he tried to keep pace with his teammates. Reshiram’s Fur, Icy Wind was supposed to slow those two down! When he looked back ahead for Dalton and Irune, he saw he’d fallen behind them and that Kate was now in front of him. He dove into a running lunge which made the surrounding world melt into a blur around him, faintly hearing cries off behind him. His vision started to become clearer as his Quick Attack petered out, as he began to see walls and entrances to dingy-looking houses and flats along a quieter back street. Dalton and Irune were off along the side, panting for breath, without any sign of the Marowak or Fearow behind them.

The lull barely lasted long enough for him to catch his own breath when he heard wingbeats from overhead and looked up to see Ansel skimming over the rooftops. Because of course that stupid feather duster would’ve just been spying on them from above this whole time.

Gottverdammt!” Kate cried. “Can’t we catch a break?!”

Lyle spat up a cone of cinders up at Ansel as the Fearow attempted to dive at them and froze as clattering intermixed with low snarls came from the back of the alley. That was either Igna, or one of her ‘buddies’—neither possibility boded well for him. The Quilava looked about frantically as Dalton and Kate threw attacks up in the air to try and drive Ansel off, when he spotted movement up a set of steps from a building a few doors down.

He briefly glimpsed a sign over the door with a symbol that looked like a pair of circles side-by-side and… a party of Togedemaru with grayish scarves entering? Those furballs again? Whatever, he wasn’t going to question it. If they could make Igna and Ansel their problems, it’d be just the break they’d need to shake their pursuers.

“Th-That way!” the stoat cried. “Where those Togedemaru just went in!”

“Lyle, those are ‘mons from the Roly-Poly Caravan!” Irune protested. “How’s it a good idea to-?!”

The Axew’s protests abruptly cut off after a slicing wind zipped just past her arm. She jumped back with a yelp, before bolting for the stairs with a frantic wave back.

“Okay, never mind! Getting the Togedemaru involved sounds good to me!”

Lyle took off running for dear life along with his teammates, as every step, every second, seemed to drag on for an eternity. Lyle yelped as a whirling bone sailed in and almost clipped his right side, hastily springing to off to the left before he made a mad dash up the steps just as the door ahead started to close after the Togedemaru. Dalton was the first to reach it and caught its edge, stopping it with his good arm and pulling it open.


Air wooshed from behind as a loud smack rang out and Kate yelped. The next thing Lyle knew, she bumped into him and sent him stumbling into Dalton and Irune as they all pitched forward and fell through the doorway with a chorus of yelps.

Lyle hit the floor face-first on some sort of rug that thumped from wood underneath it. He lay there as the world spun around in his eyes before feeling a set of scaly claws wrench into his body and roll him over onto his back and then something heavy press down on his throat hard enough to make him struggle to breath. He looked up and let out choked screams as his vents lit up in fright. It was Igna, pressing her club down harder and harder against his throat all as a toothy sneer came over her face.

“Gotcha, you ugly son of a-!”

“Ah-ah-ah. You seem to be forgetting where you are just now, Knogga₁.”

Lyle felt Igna’s grip loosen and saw her freeze and look up with a nervous grimace. Over to his left, Ansel was doing much the same atop a rough ball with the others, his beak slackening from the middle of a tussle with Kate over his stolen Sleep Orb. Lyle craned his head up, the world around him still inverted as he saw a room with a wooden counter on one end, and a few cushioned seats and tables on the other. The Togedemaru party from earlier were there as well, staring blankly as one of them with a set of Heavy Rotation Specs—or so Lyle assumed from their swirl-like lenses—nudged another one clad in armor places in front of him with a scolding “Pupunin, you supposed to be bodyguard! Get out there!”

He wasn’t sure where the hell they were at the moment, but it didn’t take long to see what had spooked Igna and Ansel so badly. Up at the counter, there was a Crobat flying in place from behind a sheaf of papers on the counter.

Her garb carried some sort of shade like the scarves they stole off that ‘Team Pathfinder’, except at the center was some sort of strange crystalline design with hue that reminded him of lavender flowers—a pointed rod, overlaid by a diamond circumscribing a pair of concentric hexagons.

That was definitely a design that would stick out. Did it mean something to those the Marowak and Fearow? The Crobat let out a disinterested scoff, before leveling a sharp glare across the counter.

“This is the Möbius, not a guild hall for Hunters. It’s the proprietor’s policy that no business be settled on the property outside the playhouse,” the Crobat said, as her face settled into a predatory smirk.

“Or am I going to have to call Wye over to help me sort you all out?”

Lyle felt Igna let go and hurriedly rolled onto his feet and bolted away from her, stressed fire still pouring out his vents as his companions hastily joined him at his side. Lyle didn’t know who this Crobat was or who this ‘Wye’ she was referring to were, but they seemed to put the fear of the gods into Igna and Ansel. The pair squirmed a moment under the Crobat’s glare, as the Fearow of the pair bowed and raised a wing with a stammering squawk.

“O-Our deepest apologies, Frau Iksbat₂,” Ansel started. “Der Bluthummer₃ wouldn’t dream of having his associates start trouble in a place like this! We were just taking these jokers-”

“Over to book a room!”

Everyone’s eyes turned to Kate as she nonchalantly strutted over to the counter and threw the leftover money they’d stolen off the Tyranitar earlier onto the counter. The Sneasel propped herself onto the counter with her shoulders and shot a playful grin up at the Crobat receptionist.

“We’ll take the best room for four you’ve got. Our Marowak and Fearow friends there were just showing us around town,” the Sneasel insisted. “A chunk of change like that ought to cover things plus the damage to your rug, right Frau Iksbat?”

The Crobat cast a glance between the Sneasel and her money on the counter, and then back at the two ‘mons from the Thieves’ Guild. After a moment’s hesitation, the receptionist took the money and ducked up to a set of rafters to drop a key on the counter. Lyle just stared blankly for a moment as the Crobat came back down, before staring off at a set of stairs at the far end of the lobby.

“Room 236. Third floor, and second right from the stairwell. We’ll bill you for the damages your payment didn’t cover later,” the Crobat instructed. “Though for the record, it’s ‘Ecks’. And don’t get in the habit of bringing in trouble along with you, either. It gets the proprietor on my case.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it!” Kate cheered.

Lyle stared blankly before noticing Igna and Ansel doing much the same with their jaws flopped open. He looked back at Kate as she gave a smarmy wave before ducking off for the stairwell. He decided not to question things and got up as Dalton hurried after her and he did likewise with Irune. Lyle made his way over to the stairs, heart still racing his chest only for Irune to abruptly stop and turn and look past his shoulders. She took a moment to blow a raspberry before hurrying up the stairs, with a quick peek back revealing the Marowak and Fearow glaring daggers back at him from the doorway.

“This isn’t over, Quilava,” Igna snarled. “You four are gonna have to come out eventually...”

The Marowak and Fearow ducked back out the doors at the entrance, before pulling them closed with a flinch worthy slam. He lingered briefly at the bottom of the steps as his heart continued to pound in his chest, and blinked incredulously until he started to notice that the Togedemaru from earlier were staring at him.

Probably as good a sign as any it was time to move on.

“Right, uh… sorry for the disruption and have a nice stay?”

Lyle didn’t wait to see how anyone would react and hurriedly ducked along after his teammates. He scurried up the stairwell as his thoughts drifted to his tongue with a sighing grumble.

“What in the world did we just get ourselves into?”

Sophia knew that her flight to the Royal Reliquary after receiving her assignment from Lacan would be short, but she didn’t realize it would be this short: scarcely a minute’s flight south and then almost straight down. It took her to one of the buildings that the Universität von Wahrheit had been built into. The university’s share of the building had its entrances on the Lower Streets, while above on the floors around it the Upper Streets, was the Royal Library. Except her destination was far higher still from the two—a ledge about a third of Dämmerungsturm’s height from the ground which had been turned into a plaza with a curious banded appearance.

Sophia spread her wings as braked in the air as she neared the platform, coming to a hopping stop on a ledge for fliers. The plaza was fairly quiet, trafficked by a few guards and some Carriers such as a small group of Squawkabilly who idly prattled beside a grounded Air Carriage. A quick glance down revealed that the bands she saw from the air were from white and black brickwork. It was one of those motifs that marked it as clearly having been built during golden years of Sansa’s reign, during that brief, happy season before the present war started when both Wish and Reality smiled upon the kingdom.

The statues that stood guard over the approach to the steps up to the Royal Reliquary came shortly afterwards. First came the four founders of the Generalstab, their bodies all in Awakened states much as if they’d just consumed Empowerment Seeds. King Sansa of course was among them, as was the Absol statue of his trusted confidant, Alweiss the Seer. Then came the Tyranitar and Blaziken statues of Feldmarschall Pritchard the Giant and Feldmarschallin Laulan the Armorer.

Likenesses of a visionary and his three disciples, who’d reformed the army into its present structure and allowed Varhyde to endure the strains and burdens of a war that would’ve surely collapsed the Kingdom in prior ages. A little past them were three larger pedestals at the final flight of steps leading to the Royal Reliquary’s entrance. At its center was the statue of the land’s patron goddess, bearing an inscription written in Hightongue that Sophia briefly peeked at as she passed:

Wohl dem Menschen, der Weisheit findet, und dem Menschen, der Verstand bekommt.ᴰ¹​
She supposed that it was fitting enough for a place that preserved relics from a past which Pokémon like them didn’t really understand, but something about the pedestals felt amiss to her. The left one had had a series of inscriptions removed from it and at its top, one could see remnants of black stone from where a statue used to be. The right one had similarly visibly had inscriptions removed and wear marks on its top from something being drug off of it, with leftover flecks of white stone that matched the stonework of Reshiram’s statue.

A part of her wondered what the other two pedestals used to say, but it probably wasn’t worth worrying about. They’d just suffered the fate of many a shrine that Sansa had built before the present war, and been altered or dismantled when Varhyde’s fleeting wishes and desires had come crashing down from harsh reality. It wasn’t worth relitigating things that even her parents weren’t alive for..

After all, she already had her wings full trying to tease out hints of the past. Ones which more immediately relevant to keeping Operation Spark from repeating the mistakes of its predecessors.

It was easy enough to enter the Royal Reliquary: after displaying her royal commission and the summons that King Siegmund had sent her off with from Heldenschloss, the guards waved her through the entrance. As her eyes adjusted to the lighting, she found herself in a tall atrium lit up by daylight through blinds installed over open windows—ones which looked like they were once filled with glass panes in ancient times from their shape. Off along the right wall, there was a stone counter with an Oranguru receptionist dressed in garb that looked not terribly different from those the students at the Universität von Wahrheit far below them might wear. As she neared, the receptionist turned his eyes up and keenly watched the Corvisquire as she came to a stop in front of him.

“May I help you?”

“Yes, I’m here to transcribe some archival documents on behalf of Graf Wellenhafen,” she explained, fetching her paperwork. “I was told to present this summons and that one of your historians would take me to the materials I needed to review.”

The Oranguru pawed through the paperwork briefly, when his eyes widened after reaching the king’s signature and stamp. After a blinking moment of realization, the Oranguru gaped back and shook his head.

“Oh, so you’re the one who we were told to expect to review those old records the Generalstab asked for,” Oranguru remarked. “Step right in, someone’s already waiting for you past the door.”

The Oranguru passed Sophia’s credentials back across the counter and pointed at a set of steel double doors, which she took as her cue to move along. So far, so good. Now, it was simply a matter of meeting this Herr ‘Friedrich Bojelins’ who was supposed to lead her to these records. The description of him that she’d received had been scant, beyond that he was quite advanced in years, and an esteemed historian who taught at the university down at street level on top of his duties in the Royal Reliquary…

Which made it all the more surprising when she opened the door and came across a relatively young-looking Serperior. The serpent shot to attention as the door opened and flusteredly composed herself. She stared briefly, before as her beak flopped open with a start as it dawned upon her that...

“Wait, you’re Friedrich Bojelins?

Why, from the way Herr Friedrich had been described, she’d expected an elderly Pokémon, but this Serperior looked young enough that she’d have thought him to be Friedrich’s apprentice! Surely there must have been some sort of miscommunication…

Though then again, what if there hadn’t been one? Just from what she’d seen over the past year, Sophia knew full well that there were Pokémon with the most implausible-sounding backstories in the Kingdom. And she supposed it wouldn’t be impossible for a Serperior to have ‘Bojelins’ as a Vatername...

“Pardon my lack of manners, Herr Serpiroyal₄,” Sophia insisted, flusteredly bowing her head. “I didn’t mean to presume about your parentage, it’s just that when I was told to expect ‘Friedrich the Historian’, I was expecting someone older-”

“Er… it’s ‘Zeuge’, actually,” the Serperior replied. “‘Zeuge the Scribe’. Herr Friedrich was my mentor.”

Sophia blinked for a moment in confusion before the Serperior motioned with his tail off towards the wall. She turned and followed along to a portrait of a visibly aged Floatzel on the wall, with a plaque added with a pair of dates on them, the more recent of them a date in Erntemond from not even a month ago. Sophia hesitated a moment, before glancing back at Zeuge, who seemed to have a cloud come over his mood.

“There… must’ve been some confusion with whoever sent you, since Herr Friedrich is no longer with us,” the Serperior murmured. “I suppose it could be forgiven, since none of us here expected the ‘Der Hoffnungsträger von Silberstadt₆’ to be ripped away from us and the neighborhood he so loved.”

... ‘A beacon of hope’? For Zelba City of all places? An impoverished, lawless hive was hardly the place one would assume to be the place of origin for a distinguished historian… and a more morbid part of her couldn’t help but wonder if it somehow related to the poor Floatzel’s demise. She briefly considered asking Zeuge about the matter, but decided against it after seeing the way that the Serperior glumly hung his head.

“Sorry if that seemed trite to you, Frau Kranoviz,” Zeuge said. “You’re in His Majesty’s army, so surely you’ve seen no shortage of others dying for the sake of the realm. The death of an old scholar probably doesn’t mean-”

“‘Frau Sophia’ is fine,” the crow insisted. “There’s no need to apologize, Herr Zeuge. Loss isn’t an easy burden to shoulder, no matter how it arrives.”

The Corvisquire trailed off and looked away with a quiet shake of her head. She wasn’t sure why the Serperior’s mood was bothering her so much when they were so different from each other. But seeing him like this stirred up uncomfortable memories of those black days in the middle of her training as a Ritterin when the war had claimed her own parents.

Von jetzt an werde ich dich beschützen. Ich bin bei dir. Für immer!”ᴰ²

And whenever she dwelled on them long enough, she’d always recall those words which Lacan told her to try and comfort her. Ones echoed from words she’d told him during similarly dark days for him when they were both but children.

She shook her head back to attention and turned her attention further down the hallway. Right, she could ill afford to dawdle right now. Why, for all she knew, Gemeinwebel Frantz or someone else from Fähnlein Stärke would come bursting through the door any moment with a summons from Lacan to return to chasing after the Dyad!

“I suppose that we should move things along, Herr Zeuge,” Sophia insisted. “I had to take time off from a sensitive assignment, so there is only so much time I can spare to make these transcriptions, and I’m not sure how many other opportunities I’ll have to come back here.”

“Oh? You don’t have any time to look at the artifacts?”

Sophia glanced back at Zeuge and saw him stare expectantly at her, only to catch himself, before drooping with a flustered stammer.

“S-Sorry, it’s just that Herr Friedrich always loved showing off the artifacts on display to the Pokémon he took around the Reliquary…”

Sophia remained silent as the Serperior trailed off and fumbled with his words. Herr Friedrich must’ve meant quite a bit to Zeuge as his mentor. Enough so that in retrospect, she probably wouldn’t have been that surprised if the Serperior really did have ‘Bojelins’ as his Vatername.

Maybe she was letting sentiment get the better of her, but she couldn’t help think back to the way Lacan was when he first came to Errberk Village as a little Bagon. Something about Zeuge’s visibly depressed and lonely mood felt similar, and it felt uncomfortable just leaving it go unaddressed.

… Was there really nothing that she could do to try and lift the scribe’s mood right now?

“... I suppose it can’t be helped if you don’t have time,” he said. “We should get going to your reading room-”

“Actually,” Sophia interrupted. “Are any of those artifacts that Herr Friedrich was fond of on the way to that reading room? ”

Zeuge cocked his head up and pulled his body into a flustered coil. The snake blinked a few moments, before raising his voice to speak.

“I- I beg your pardon?”

Sophia fidgeted her wings and looked aside with a humming caw under her breath. This wasn’t a part of her mission, but even so, it would only be a short detour, would it not?

“I probably don’t have the time for any lectures at length today, but I suppose I would have time to at least pass by a few artifacts that aren’t too out of the way,” she said, before trailing off.

“We all need to have moments to make time for our little joys in life. Especially in times like these,” she remarked. “It sounded like those artifacts meant a lot to you two.”

The Serperior paused, as a small smile spread over his face. He slithered around and nosed ahead at the air down the hall, motioning for the crow to follow.

“Thank you for your interest, Frau Sophia. I’m sure that you’ll love them, and I promise I won’t keep you long,” he said. “There should be a few set out on display right this way.”

Dalton supposed that he wasn’t a stranger to the idea of an inn that served as a meeting ground for thieves and Outlaws and their fences. He’d been to a few places of the sort while in the Riparian Raiders. He also supposed that between Newangle City’s Thieves’ Guild and the sort of neighborhood that Shift Square was, that it wasn’t that shocking that there’d be such an inn of the sort there either.

He just couldn’t get over how well-kept it was, even in the hallway they were going through. The other inns he’d been into in the past didn’t have a ‘fourth’ anything, let alone a fourth story with rooms. All of them had been hovels that made Das Grüne Dragoran back in Errberk Village look well-sorted and scared off all but the neediest or most unquestioning clients. This ‘Möbius’ on the other hand, didn’t bother hiding itself from public view and apparently shared its premises with a playhouse. If it weren’t for the obviously questionable clientele it catered to, it might have been the sort of place his parents would’ve lodged in while traveling during better times.

Perhaps that was pushing it a bit. Even with the more comfortable environs, the Möbius carried a strangely threatening air about it. The Marowak and Fearow from the Thieves’ Guild had been adamant that there was a specific way of doing things here in Newangle City as Outlaws, and the very presence of this place seemed to confirm it.

It was also a pointed reminder that the four of them were in a place that they didn’t belong. Not that the pain that occasionally spiked in his splinted arm really helped the tense mood. He supposed that was one way to tell that it was time for another dose of healing berries to deal with that fracture in his arm bone.

“Dalton, who were those two from earlier?”

The Heliolisk felt a tug at his flank and saw Irune staring up at him with a worried expression.

“Are they Pokémon that you used to know?” she asked. “You seemed to expect that we’d get in trouble earlier.”

“Hardly. I just knew that the larger cities in Varhyde often have a Thieves’ Guild that resident Outlaws use to stake out local turf. And Outlaws from those guilds tend to be fairly territorial about them,” he explained. “Newangle City here is hardly an exception, so it was only a matter of time before we caught the attention of one of its members.”

Dalton didn’t bring up the fact that he didn’t know about any of these details during the time when he’d actually been in the city at university. He’d heard rumors back then of there being a Thieves’ Guild and it having unsavory ties to powerful figures, but he’d never have imagined running into them firsthand. Much less as a fellow Outlaw. He snapped back to attention after an exasperated hiss reached his ears, and saw Kate turning back to face him with her ears visibly pinned back.

“Then why didn’t you say anything about it earlier, Scales?!” she demanded. “That would’ve saved us a lot of money and trouble, you know!”

“Because we were short on supplies, and a certain featherbrain opted to cut me off before I could explain that I noticed someone shadowing us and we ought to stop,” he harrumphed.

Kate didn’t say anything back to that, slowly folding her arms and scrunching her brow into a sour glare. Dalton repaid the gesture in kind. Because of course Kate would have a childish reaction like this when someone pointed out how her boundless appetite for risk would come back to bite her. It wasn’t even for something worthwhile like helping out a teammate or even some Pokémon on the street she felt bad for, just a to steal few stupid Oran Berries they could’ve gotten some other time! He felt a nudge at his side and briefly caught Lyle rolling his eyes at Kate before giving an insistent look at him.

“Are we sure that we’re in a safe place then, Dalton?” the Quilava asked.

“No, but we’re at least in some sort of neutral ground, so we should be fine as long as we don’t cause trouble,” the Heliolisk replied. “Just think of it like a place where you’d meet a fence to sell off loot, even if this one certainly has more… decorum about it.”

He trailed off after noticing the party of Togedemaru from the lobby approaching from the opposite direction of the hallway and froze, grimacing along with his teammates. Fortunately, the rodents didn’t seem to pay any mind. The leader of the bunch in his Heavy Rotation Specs pushed open the door, affording a brief glimpse of a Togedemaru almost the size of an Electrode locked in heated argument with a Quaquaval.

“40,000 Poké?! What sort of highway robbery is this?! It was 20,000 last time!”

“Regional Leader Baan not have time for such nonsense,” the Togedemaru inside scoffed. “Look, if bird person’s ‘Club Highmore’ need so many Lansat Berries on such short notice, bird person more than welcome to try and find different supplier. Go ahead and tell Baan how that work out afterward!”

The door slammed shut after the party of Togedemaru made their way in, as muffled shouts back and forth continued from the other side. Dalton shook his head and continued on. He supposed he should’ve been less surprised that Pokémon from the Roly-Poly Caravan would be up to sordid business after the deal they walked in on in Moonturn Square, but getting involved with them again—while that giant Togedemaru was with them no less—sounded like a terrible idea if he’d ever heard one.

“Well, decorum of a sort, anyways. Though it’s probably for the best to avoid getting involved in anyone’s problems while we’re here.”

Everyone else was quick to agree as they eagerly put distance between themselves and the Togedemaru’s room, even if something about the encounter stuck with the Heliolisk. ‘Regional Leader Baan’? Dalton swore he’d heard the name get brought up in relation to the Roly-Poly Caravan before, but he couldn’t place his finger on when or where.

Dalton and his teammates carried on up to a fork in the hallway, when the Heliolisk glanced at the doors and noticed that the numbers on them were starting to go up. 241, 243… that was weird, had they just missed their room?

“Scales, I’m pretty sure that our room’s this way.”

Dalton turned his head and saw Kate waving from the other end of the fork as Lyle and Irune followed after her. He paused a moment after feeling a shot of pain run through his splinted arm, when he thought he heard voices coming from nearby.

“For gods’ sake Hesper, you’re supposed to be the responsible one between us,” a rough, draconic-sounding voice grumbled. “What on earth was in that paint you got? This crap’s like black tar!”

“Deva, calm down. It blends in with my fur and nobody noticed it on you when we came in. And since when were you one to complain about bending the rules of professionalism dealing with the scum in this hive?” the second, yipping voice answered.

Dalton froze after realizing the noise was coming from a small pinhole in the wall just next to him. The speaker’s accent was strangely neutral, to the point where he couldn’t tell what Provinz he was from. It was almost as if it were rehearsed somehow.

Though ‘paint’? ‘Professionalism’? Maybe he was jumping to conclusions, but were those two talking about the-?

“Scales! Are you coming or what?”

Dalton flinched briefly after hearing Kate’s voice calling from down the hallway and seeing her poke her head around the corner. The voices in the room went silent as Dalton quietly slipped off, picking up pace as he made his way further down the hallway. He rounded the corner where one of the doors was already left open with a simple metal key left in the lock. He stopped to grab it and made his way in, shaking his head.

“Okay, so it should go without saying, but while we’re here, let’s make a point of not bothering the Pokémon from the neighboring roo…”

He trailed off as he walked past the doorway. There was a simple table with four chairs without backs in front of a window… with a view of other, shuttered windows built into repurposed ruins just outside, along with the trash-littered alleyway below them. Hardly a view worth writing home about, but judging from the heavy shutters and curtains next to it, he guessed that wasn’t a big priority for most visitors here at the Möbius.

No, what really caught his attention was how the room had four beds set out. Not piles of straw, but ones with actual headboards and mattresses and pillows like the ones his parents had had at home during better times. Lyle and Irune were poking and prodding at a pair of them while Kate was already sprawled out on her stomach on the one nearest the door. She pulled a pillow forward and rested it under her chin, kicking her feet in the air with a wide grin.

“Heh, not a bad place we stumbled across!” she said. “You’re all welcome, by the way.”

“Yeah, yeah, just don’t get too comfortable,” Lyle harrumphed from beside the table. “Even if we didn’t have limited time to work with in this city, we cleaned out a good chunk of our money just paying for the night here. I’d be surprised if we had half of it left after that bill for damages comes.”

The Sneasel picked up on her Quilava teammate’s irritable mood, and sat up, folding her ears with a quiet scoff.

“Oh come on, Lyle? Why are you being such a downer after a hairy exit like that?” Kate scoffed. “What else can we even do right now aside from kick up our feet a bit?”

“Worry about getting someplace that isn’t teeming with guards?” he retorted.

It was hard to argue the Quilava’s point, really. Especially since Dalton wasn’t fully sure what the best way for them to get out of the Newangle City would be in their present circumstances. Even so, they’d been through a lot for one day already, to say nothing about the ones before it…

“Maybe, but it might make sense to take a moment to breathe first,” Dalton insisted. “And besides, don’t we still need to claim our beds?”

“Already did that while we were waiting on you,” the Quilava grunted.

Lyle slung his bag onto the bed closest to the window to claim it, while Irune had gotten particularly far with arranging some of those glass beads and baubles of hers into a growing pile to curl around much to Lyle’s annoyance.

Dalton supposed that was one way of settling where he’d be sleeping at night, even if couldn’t help but blink at Irune’s “treasure pile”. He knew that it was a habit of some younger Dragon-types to hoard colorful or shiny baubles, but this was certainly a lot more than he would’ve expected from a Pokémon like Irune. He honestly surprised that she wasn’t uncomfortable just resting on them directly like that.

Though that reminded him… Part of the reason why they’d come here in the first place was because Irune was adamant she wanted to find out more about that strange power inside of her. He looked over at her and curled his mouth down into a wary frown.

“Irune. You mentioned wanting to come here to find out more about yourself,” the Heliolisk said. “We likely won’t have the luxury of being here for more than a couple days at most. What specifically about you are you trying to find out more about? And are you sure that you need it that badly?”
Dalton’s question hung in the air, as his teammates glanced back at him with Irune seeming particularly flustered. She sat up as her baubles clacked on the bed and gave an uneasy paw at the back of her head before speaking up.

“I mean, we’ve got a long journey ahead of us still up to the Divine Roost,” she remarked. “I just figured that if I knew more about my power… maybe I’d be able to find a way to control it more? It could help us out when we have to go through Mystery Dungeons.”

There was something about the Axew’s tone of voice that felt weirdly evasive. It wasn’t like those times when she’d choked and fumbled with her words while trying to lie to them, but Dalton got the distinct impression that she was hiding something. He frowned and shook his head with a low sigh.

“That sounds like more of an argument to try and grab a less damaged copy of that handbook we stole off those Hunters,” he said. “Plotting a route isn’t an issue, getting there is. Why, if our bounties haven’t already been posted locally, we could even just post an escort mission at a local guild with the amount of money we have at the moment.”

“Yeah, and if we’re really lucky, a weaker team will draw our request,” Kate remarked. “Could save us some gear and coin if we just rip ‘em off afterwards-”


Dalton blinked after Irune as she blurted out her protest, turning and staring down at her alongside his teammates. She really must’ve wanted whatever she was trying to find out about her power to have a reaction like that. An awkward silence followed afterwards, as the Axew tripped over her words and flusteredly hemmed and hawed.

“I mean, this is a large city. So if we’ve only got another day or two to work with, s-surely we should be trying to get a more surefire solution than just relying on some rookie rescue team’s map!”

Yeah, no. She was definitely trying to hide something from them. Dalton turned his snout up and narrowed his eyes, before showing his splinted arm with a sharp frown.

“In case you've forgotten, but I’m not exactly in a position to go out on a limb for anyone right now,” the Heliolisk retorted. “Whatever it is you wanted to look for here in Newangle City, you’d better give me a good idea of what it is and a really convincing argument for me not to just move on. Lyle, Kate, you two back me up on this one, don’t you?”

Lyle didn’t say anything but leveled a long face over at Irune, while Kate pawed at her arm with a quiet click of her tongue.

“I mean, I could be down for it if there was some good loot to snag,” she said. “But it would be easier to find whatever you’re after if we had some more specifics about what you were looking for.”

Irune visibly flinched and blanched afterwards. Was she afraid of them knowing about what she was looking for? Why? What on earth could it possibly be that she wanted to keep it to herself so badly?

Did she already know things about these powers of hers that she hadn’t told them about? If so, just what was she hoping to find?

The room seemed to go quiet as Dalton waited for an answer, watching the Axew as she uneasily rubbed at one of her tusks.

“I… Uh…”

“Lemme guess, it’s also something you don’t want to tell us, like that journal you keep in your bag.”

Irune abruptly whirled around towards Lyle, who stared at her with narrowed eyes. Irune kept a journal? Since when? Dalton blinked and traded puzzled stares with his teammates, before Irune glared back at the Quilava with a sharp shout.


“Oh come off of it! Everyone was going to find out about it eventually!” he snapped. “The point is, whatever it is you want to find out about yourself, you’re trying to be cute about it and leave us in the dark like you did in Primordial Woods!”

Irune winced and visibly recoiled at the charge before looking away ashenly. That was probably a bit harsh of Lyle, but Dalton supposed that was one way of telling that the Axew had a sense of guilt over the trouble she’d brought onto others. The Heliolisk traded glances between the two and felt a pang of unease. Maybe it was just some sentimental part of him reacting, but he couldn’t help but feel a bit taken aback at the Quilava’s outburst.

“Lyle, I think you’ve gotten your point across-”

“No, we need this, Dalton,” he snapped. “To understand just where we are right now and where things stand for us as a team.”

The Quilava folded his arms, irritated fire flickering along his vents as he shot a piercing scowl down at the younger Dragon-type.

“We’re all going out on a limb at the moment, and you keeping things from us in the past already cost us since we teamed up!” he spat. “So if we’re really in this journey to the Divine Roost together, how about you explain what you want to drag us into here instead of trying to surprise us?”

Irune hesitated, wavering as if she were standing at the precipice of a tall ledge. Or maybe that wasn’t the right point of comparison with how much she seemed to enjoy heights and tall places. She visibly weighed the words in her mouth, before she shook her head, and spoke up in a low tone.

“I… guess you’ve all noticed those strange moves I’ve been using sometimes,” she murmured.

“You mean those freaky light shows you’ve had every now and then?” Kate asked. “How could we miss them? They weren’t exactly subtle.”

That was an understatement if Dalton ever heard one. But at the same time, Dalton wasn’t sure what on earth had happened on those occasions. He supposed he’d learned enough to know that an Axew’s Ether could be imprinted on to wield Fire Blast or Thunder Shock… but wielding it with the level of raw strength they’d seen from Irune which none of her other moves seemed to have? Or that almost feral demeanor she’d had when wielding it, as if she were being overtaken by her emotions?

Dalton admittedly hadn’t gotten a good look at whatever Irune did to force Rankar off of him back in Primordial Woods, but he distinctly remembered the fire she spewed in Errberk Village took on a cross-like shape. He couldn’t rule out for sure that it wasn’t just the heat distorting the surrounding air, especially since he didn’t have an explanation if it wasn’t one considering the stories he’d heard of in the past about fiery blasts that did carry that shape.

He just knew that whatever Irune used back there, that it wasn’t a Fire Blast. And the way she’d been unable to answer Kate when she asked back in Errberk Village just confirmed it.

“Was there something you wanted to say about them?” Dalton asked. “I realize that we’ve only been together for a few days, but there’s clearly quite a bit about you that we don’t know.”

Irune pawed at her neck and looked away uneasily. She seemed visibly worried to keep talking, as if she was afraid of how they’d react. Dalton wasn’t sure whether it was better to be patient with her and let her come to terms on her own, or just to push her to be out with it. Before he knew it, the Axew made the decision for him, and began to speak up slowly and deliberately.

“I don’t fully understand what’s happening myself,” she explained. “I suppose that others have told me their theories, but I don’t know how much stock I should put into them. I… don’t really want to talk about them all that much, when being open about them hasn’t always ended well for me over the last year.”

She avoided their gazes the entire time, and it struck Dalton that she was reacting much like a cornered mark. More specifically like one of those marks that lingered with him afterwards and bugged him from not being able to rationalize away as being someone who had things coming to them. The ones which at a time when he thought this life was just going to be a short stint, he swore he’d never rob. When he could still entertain naive desires and ideals about being an Outlaw and how he’d have the luxury of being able to pick and choose who he stole from to get by.

A time he was terrified of forgetting lest he become everything he was afraid of his parents thinking he was if they ever found out about his turn to banditry. If they were even still alive somewhere to pass judgment about it.

“The Capital’s supposed to be full of knowledge from scholars and sages from across the ages, and if we found something about those powers, it’d be a way of knowing for sure one way or the other,” Irune said. “I just figured that since we were already here, it was a chance to finally get closure about things and deal with them as they are instead of how I want them to be.”

Dalton hesitated after the Axew’s explanation. It didn’t have that faltering speech she’d had in the past when trying to mislead them, so knowing her, it was probably a truthful answer. Or at least one Irune thought was true. He supposed that it was only natural to want to try and piece things together when there was a part of one’s life that one didn’t fully remember or understand.

“Irune, just how many books do you think there are out there about ‘Axew that use freaky-looking Fire Blasts and Shock Waves’?” Kate demanded. “Where would we even start looking to try and find that?”

“... Books about myths and folklore, I guess,” Irune said. “Since I’m not sure when the last time something like this ever happened was.”
Dalton raised a brow at the answer, but he supposed it wasn’t a bad place to start. They were trying to get to the Divine Roost and Irune’s pendant was apparently related to Kyurem somehow. That did certainly seem to be the purview of myths and folklore, even if he didn’t know if there were any books written about Irune’s predicament in particular, but he supposed he had an idea of where they might be if they really existed.

“If that’s the case, we should try looking around at my old university,” he said.

Kate and Lyle turned their heads and stared at Dalton incredulously for a moment. They must’ve been taken aback by his expression, since he could see Kate’s face furrowing into a skeptical scowl.

“Seriously, Scales?” she scoffed. “I think we’d stick out a bit sitting in on classes, just saying-”

“We’d ideally be trying to narrow down what to look for and find it around one of the nearby bookshops there,” he explained. “If we really find ourselves stuck, we could try our luck in the Royal Library.”

That one got everybody’s attention, especially Lyle’s as he visibly flared up with a start. He shook his head, before narrowing his eyes with a low scoff.

“The Royal Library? I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with Newangle City, but isn’t that the library the King and Hofstaat specifically use for themselves?” Lyle asked.

“Look, not that I’m the type to shrink from risky infiltrations when I’ve gotten loot for my crew back from an army base before, but just how are we supposed to get into that?” Kate demanded.

“I did say ‘if push comes to shove’. It’s not my preference, but we would be able to get into it,” Dalton explained. “It’s literally on the Upper Streets just above the university’s eastern edge. And students at Universität von Wahrheit are allowed access to it along with guests.”

The Heliolisk fished through his bag briefly with his good arm, before he came across his badge from his university days. He held it up, and gazed down longingly at the tarnished, silvery metal.

“And let’s just say that even if it’s been a while, I know enough Hightongue and expected mannerisms to at least get us in through the door,” he said. “I don’t know whether that will extend to being able to check a book out, but we have options for getting around that.”

Dalton let his gaze linger on the image of the Reshiram in flight on it along with the runes stamped along the bottom of his university badge as his mind turned back to happier days. Days when he’d dared to hope that his studies would help keep his parents’ textile mill used to make for things other than army plates. He sighed and slipped it away. Those days were long gone, even if in the end, some good was still coming from it.

“The point is, we know where to go and have options for finding what Irune’s looking for,” he said. “Beyond that, some of the books we’d be coming across would be valuable to fence since there’s always a market for texts among students, so there are some practical reasons for us to want to go there.”

That was probably an oversimplification, since they’d still be going back into the Administrative District and stealing from it a second time. And they’d need to somehow smooth things over with the Thieves’ Guild if they ran into them again… or else be good at running away really quickly. But if they really were going to get out of the city once they were done, it was hard to think of better options and he doubted that Pokémon from the Thieves’ Guild like Igna or Ansel would want to get mixed up with places in the Administrative District. He studied the reactions of his teammates. They seemed a bit skeptical, but didn’t say anything in protest.

“You had me at ‘valuable to fence’,” Kate said. “If I could rip off that asshole Tyranitar earlier today, a bunch of hoity-toity prisses shouldn’t be that much harder.”

Dalton had to fight back a scowl at the Sneasel’s comment. Kate probably wasn’t wrong about it being easier to steal from around the University, but did she really need to phrase it like that? The Heliolisk turned his attention over to his Quilava teammate, who rubbed at one of his forearms with a hesitant look.

“I… guess it could work, but what are we supposed to do if we have to use gear we stole in a fight?” Lyle asked.

“We’d steal replacements, obviously. Preferably someplace outside the city after we leave it with how much trouble we’ve already gotten into,” Dalton said. “We ideally should be spending the night resting and planning things out a bit before making our move one way or the other. But I suppose there’s only one question that I still need answered…”

He turned over to Irune, hardening his features with a stern frown.

“How serious are you about this? Would you still be going on your own even if we weren’t there to help you?”

Irune paused for a moment and blinked, though much to Dalton’s surprise, the Axew didn’t hesitate as much as he expected her to. She briefly tugged out her pendant before shaking her head and nodding back with a firm scowl.

“Yes,” she replied. “This is something that I need to know, and I don’t think I’ll have another chance to find out for sure.”

There was a moment of tense silence as the others on Team Forager traded uneasy glances with one another, before Dalton shook his head.

““Then let’s talk about ways to make this happen. Since from the way that the Thieves’ Guild chased us in here, we’re probably going to need to make it worth their while to let us leave in peace,” he said. “I might have an idea of how we can do that, but I can’t make any promises for how well it will work.”

Irune blinked, before holding her head up with a puzzled tilt.

“Oh?” Irune asked. “What do you have in mind, Dalton?”

Author’s Notes:

Words and Phrases

1. Knogga - “Marowak”
2. Iksbat - “Crobat”
3. Bluthummer - “Blood Lobster”
4. Serpiroyal - “Serperior”
5. Hoffnungsträger - lit. “Hope’s-carrier”. Depending on context of use, can semantically mean “Bringer of Hope” or “Rising Star”.
6. Silberstadt - “Zelba City”, derived by phonetic corruption. In a more faithful semantic translation, this would be “Silver City”


D1. “Wohl dem Menschen, der Weisheit findet, und dem Menschen, der Verstand bekommt.” - “Blessed are the people who find wisdom, and the people who receive understanding.”
D2. “Von jetzt an werde ich dich beschützen. Ich bin bei dir. Für immer!” - “From now on, I will protect you. I’m with you, forever!”

Teaser Text

Newangle City, 19. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.​

To whom it may concern,

It has come to my attention that your forces maintain unconventional contacts with this city’s less savory elements through elements in and adjacent to its so-called “Thieves’ Guild”. Due to concerns regarding the war effort against the Kingdom of Edialeigh, I find myself asking on behalf of His Majesty King Siegmund von Wahrheit to relay word to them to locate the Pokémon of interest whose descriptions are included with this letter.

I don’t particularly care about the workings of such vermin or the so-called “Bluthummer” who commands their respect, nor do I care to find out the full history and details of whatever this arrangement is. Practical needs dictate that your and my forces are not forced to attempt to scour an entire city for these Pokémon, and as such, even if it means resorting to distasteful solutions.

Your contacts need not know anything beyond the provided descriptions and that they are to task them to mount a heist from the Royal Library. What these Pokémon of interest are tasked with stealing is irrelevant, as long as at least the Axew among them is physically capable of walking through its doors so that she can be apprehended on-site.

Kindly inform your contact that anyone involved in facilitating this apprehension will be amply rewarded both monetarily and by having any criminal records expunged. Anyone from their ranks found to be interfering with the capture or otherwise harming the welfare of the Axew in a way that prevents her apprehension will be dealt with as a perpetrator of high treasonᵃ against the crown.

Further instructions and briefing will be relayed later this evening to whomever is relevant.

- Urgent dispatch from Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans to the Viertelᵇ Sheriffs of Newangle City

a. In German, the analogous concept of “high treason”, “Hochverrat” is used specifically to refer to treason that is committed against the internal structure or order of a state. e.x. participating in an attempted coup.
b. Viertel - “borough”, “district”
Last edited: