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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Dissolution

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Knightfall, Feb 10, 2018.

  1. Knightfall

    Knightfall Blazing Wordsmith

    Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Dissolution

    Greetings. I've been absent from the writing community for some time, but I have finally found the time and motivation to return with a rewrite of my prior story, PMD: Overthrown.

    Disclaimer: Rated PG-13, Nintendo and others own Pokémon.

    Chapter list:
    Chapter One: Protocol [This post]
    Chapter Two: Tranquility

    Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Dissolution

    Chapter One: Protocol

    Sing to the exalted ruins!
    We, the ungrateful, live under their shield.
    Angelic light against the godless fray.
    Bastion against the disorder, the dissolution, the decay!
    Desperately fighting to defend what remains!
    Ancient hands clasped against stagnation.

    —Scribe Martor Serperior,
    Ode to the Sacred Land from The Rains of Erebus

    Consciousness unwelcomely returned with a dull headache, exacerbated only by the profound ringing in his ears. The first sensation he felt after what had been an eternity without was the intense, icy tendrils of cold that dug into his sore back. Eyes flicking open to near-darkness, he let out a weak groan, voice hoarse from apparent disuse. He sucked in a deep gasp through a half-closed mouth, filling his lungs with stale, stagnant air as he laid sprawled on the floor.

    Where...? his thoughts probed, mind pulling itself together from a long, dreamless slumber. There was no immediate answer to his internal question. There was nothing to guide him. His brain was awash with confusion that muddled his thoughts.

    Disoriented and weak, he summoned the strength to push his arm away from his side, brushing up along the cold, metal floor and confirming to his beleaguered brain that he was certainly not in any sort of bed. His arm twitched again, patting the metal floor as if to make sure it was real before he made an attempt to move. With another groan —stronger this time— he raised his head off the flat, cold floor and looked around.

    With his vision still marginally blurry and the room dim, he was barely able to figure out that he was not in a large area; akin to a cell of sorts. What little light there was flickered and danced along the walls like firelight, as if the chamber was lit by some unseen torch. This only added to the mental turbulence he was attempting to process.

    What... What is going on? Where even am I? Did I hit my head...? Ugh... he asked himself as the headache pounded the inside of his skull. Letting out a huff, he shook his head side to side, hoping that would clear it of the fog that had settled in over his mental landscape. He shakily moved a hand up to cup the back of his smarting crown, finding what seemed to be a decent bump. That gave him cause to confirm the suspicions that he had suffered some sort of blow. That feels like a large welt... Doesn’t seem to hurt though...

    After many minutes spent clearing the trance he was stuck in, he eventually forced his sore, aching body to sit up. Something in his lower back popped, which made him spasm from the sudden spark from his nerves and let out a hiss of slight pain. Taking care as to not repeat that, he slowly straightened his back and moved his legs, bringing his knees up to his chest to avoid further protests from his groggy form.

    As the ringing in his ears died down at last, he could hear, above the pressing silence, a small but rapid trickle of water into a pool to his side. Turning to face it, he was able to vaguely make out a tiny pool in the metal floor and the leaking, broken pipe in the ceiling that fed it. His dry and sore throat made itself known and he began inching toward the rippling pool to try and relieve the irritation.

    Please... Please be fresh... he pleaded internally while the torchlight seemed to flicker and move behind him with each movement he made. While he found that odd, he continued dragging himself over the cold, smooth floor in an effort to reach the precious liquid. He could not recall the last time he had experienced a proper, quenching drink, but it certainly felt as if an eternity had passed since the last.

    With a final effort of his limbs, weakened from whatever had happened to him, he reached the edge of the pool. Without so much as wasting a second, he plunged his head into the shallow puddle. His mouth hit the steel bottom sooner than he expected, giving him a light jolt, but he did not back away. Gulping down the water, he was fortunate to find it not contaminated or fouled from the pipe. The thankfully-clean water rushed down his parched throat with each desperate gulp, granting swift relief and refreshing the fatigued male’s body and mind.

    Oh man... This is great. I didn’t know water could taste so good! his thoughts resonate as he continued to gulp from the cool oasis.

    After a long minute spent quenching his thirst, he pulled away from the pool with a gasp. Chest heaving, he blinked away the dregs of tiredness and was finally able to assess his situation. He craned his neck, getting a glimpse of the stark chamber he had been unceremoniously plopped into. The gray room betrayed little of the intentions behind his internment at first examination. As he twisted around again, the faint torch that beat back the inky darkness followed his motion.

    “Is it... strapped to me?” He asked, his recovering voice sounding a bit odd to himself. He could not place it, but he chalked it up to being parched for so long. Deciding to get to the bottom of the mysterious, moving torch, he carefully turned his torso in order to catch a glimpse of the light source. His investigation yielded the source: a small flame that flickered often and merrily. However, he was only given more questions as he spotted the means the fire was attached: a crimson, scaled appendage that extended from his lower half.

    Eyes wide in confusion and alarm, he yelped and jumped to his wobbling feet and desperately grabbed at the swaying tail. The first few lunges resulted in empty air as the tail swayed out of reach, but the next attempt was successful. He very nearly dropped the limb as the sensations of feeling his hands on the scales reach his brain. He inadvertently tugged on the red tail hard, causing pain and his body to spin and fall to the edge of the pool with a thud. His flailing arm splashed at the water, causing droplets to splatter onto his fiery tail, causing the flame to hiss, causing him great discomfort. A brief and primal urge to flee the liquid shot into his head but was suppressed.

    “Grah! W-What?! W-What’s going on?!” He yelled in anger and confusion into the dark void while he endured the stinging sensation. Gasping, he caught his shimmering reflection in the light from his fire and his mouth dropped. As the water’s ripples stilled into a mirror-like surface, he sees a creature staring back up at him, appearing just as astonished.

    A reptilian face and a pair of horrified blue eyes greeted him from shallow depths of the pool. Covered in the identical crimson scales that the tail sported, the creature possessed a horn-like protrusion on the back of its head and a long snout that was held open in a scream perfectly mimicked by the terrified male on the opposite side of the reflection.

    “AGGHH! W-What?! W-What am I?!” he cried, his hands going to his face only to find what had formerly been distinctly-human features were now reptilian and equipped with a trio of sharpened claws that poked at the scales on his cheeks. Gasping and nearly retching, he scrambled back from the pool, the former-human rocking as he stared in utter disbelief at his torso and legs. To round off his transformation, he had been cursed with a cream-colored chest and stocky legs in place of his former body.

    “Oh... Oh gods...” He whispered in shock, the red lizard clutching the sides of his head. Within his skull, the tempest that had started to settle began storming again. He was adrift in a sea of new information, senses, and many, many questions. His claws dug in slightly to the softer scales of his temples, trying to alleviate the hurricane of swirling thoughts and emotions to seek concrete answers. Where am I? What am I? Who am I? He needed answers to those three questions immediately if anything was to happen.

    “This isn’t me. This isn’t me. I-I’m not...” He trailed off, his mind grasping at any facts or recollections that seemed to be just out of reach. “I am human...” That simple statement only provided little comfort, considering that he was most-definitely not a human being in the physical sense, unless that definition had radically changed during his long sleep.

    “Who was I?” He asked quietly, though his memories yielded nothing from his plea. Even his former appearance as a human was mostly erased. He could only picture a very general shape, but no defining features. His hair and eye color, his skin tone, his face, and even his true age were entirely lost to the bottomless pit that had swallowed his prior life whole. Almost.

    Leo. He paused, the name having lunged out at him from the whirling mists of memory, but with nothing else attached to it. Was it truly his name, or just a name that he knew of? Was it a nickname? He could not ascertain the truth, yet that did not stop him from gripping it tight and holding onto the three-lettered title lest he be lost in the maelstrom.

    “Leo. Leo... Leo,” he repeated it thrice to acclimate his tongue to the foreign-sounding name. Then again, everything about his situation was now foreign. While his species was not as he recalled, he now had a name to call himself. An identity, as weak as it was. The name brought with it a guiding power that helped him navigate the gale of his tumultuous thoughts.

    “Now, what... What am I?” The question was perhaps the biggest one. With trepidation, the newly-named Leo steeled himself before he glances down and again examines his body, making use of his maneuverable tail to illuminate his form better than before. His crimson scales were seemingly kissed by the very fire he now possessed; in fact, his whole body felt warm, as if it radiated heat to a greater extent than he was used to as a human.

    The lizard form, in fact, was slightly familiar. He had seen this before, though he could not recall where. Leo sat, rubbing at the sides of his head once more. There was something to this fiery-red salamander that echoed through his mind, but after a moment, he shook his head and slowly got to his feet again, deciding that it could wait. Right now, he needed to get out of this room. His hands pressed to the walls of the rectangular cell, dragging his claws along the wall and trying to find a groove for a door of any sort.

    “Come on. Come on. I can’t stay here. Not in this prison,” he grunted, though he now had a troubling thought enter his mind: Am I a prisoner? Is this a prison? Did I commit a crime? He expected a non-answer, yet this time, he got a response.

    “A tomb for failures this is, but not for you, Leo. Press in and see your very self.”

    A cold feeling trickled down the crimson reptilian’s back. A whisper, teetering on the edge of real and imagined noise that often accompanied lonely, dark rooms such as this, rose from the dim light. It did not sound threatening or foreign at all; it possessed a near-familiar tone that almost reminded Leo of an old friend speaking through the cold walls. Not being in a position to refuse, he sucked in a breath and gave the steel wall hard push, resulting in a soft click.
    Radiance. From flat and cracked panels on the formerly-dark ceiling, light erupted in a brilliant show of force. Leo let out a gasp and shielded his eyes as the small room was illuminated. The white, sterile light poked through his thick claws, making Leo hiss in discomfort and turn his head away until his eyes could handle the sudden change.

    “Oww.... Gods above...” He groaned, though, to which gods that phrase was addressed to he knew not. Slowly, he raised his head and pulled his hands away, blinking in order to see his surroundings for what they were. The chamber was small, but not as foreboding as he had thought with the light streaming from the odd, damaged panels above him. Aside from the broken water pipes, its ensuing pool, and the light panels there was nothing worth noting about the room, except the clear, rectangular outline of a door in the wall in front of him.

    “Okay, there’s something!” He exclaimed with a whoop, joyous that something had finally gone his way at last since his awakening. The confusion and growing need to know what happened, what he was, and for what purpose were pushed aside. They would not wait long, but for the moment, getting out of this cell took precedence. Almost giddy, Leo slid his hand over the bare wall and groove for the exit, but, unlike the switch for the lights, nothing came of this. He clicked his tongue before he slowly rolled his shoulders and swung his lengthy arms to stretch them out. He did not know how strong this new body of his was, but there was a way to find out. Leo took a deep breath before he pressed his shoulder to the door and pushed off the floor with his stocky legs, gritting his pointed teeth in his efforts to force the door open.

    “COME! ON! WHY! WON’T! YOU! BUDGE?!” Leo bellowed in deep frustration, his temper rapidly being lost against the door that kept him trapped. The cold metal remained unyielding. He let out a hiss of hot, steamy air through clenched teeth that condensed on the cool metal and pounded his fists repeatedly on the frame. “Let me out! I know someone can hear me!” He uttered out a final scream before he simply leaned against the frame and groans, posture slouching in defeat.

    At that moment, the room erupted with a cacophony of crackling static, as if somewhere, some unseen speaker was flaring back to life after long disuse. Leo immediately straightens up and looks around, swinging his head back and forth in search of the source.

    “Oh! So there is someone here! O-One moment! I wasn’t sure if my sensors were malfunctioning or not when they indicated the lights had turned on in this cell! Give me one moment to unlock the door! I haven’t scanned this area in some time!” The new voice caused Leo’s heart to jump and him to scramble back from the sealed door in surprise, having not truly expected a response to his impassioned demands, though it did beat the prospect of wasting away. There was something out there that spoke; something he could understand. He was not as alone here as he had theorized.

    “W-Who are you?” Leo demanded, though his voice wavered with nerves. The new entity continued to rummage from the other side of the crackling speakers. Whoever was on the other side of the wall did not sound natural, though Leo could not put his finger on how. Still breathing hard, he waited cautiously for the other voice to return.

    “One second, please! I am ninety-five percent certain that this is the correct opening sequence for this lock.” As far as Leo could tell through the crackling static, the voice was friendly—far from menacing and quite unlike the mysterious whisper that had come to him moments earlier from the darkness. With a sudden thunk of heavy metal and a harsh, grating sound of rust grinding against rust, the door slid open to reveal a hallway and something quite strange. Hovering just off the ground was a twitchy, pink and blue bird-like creature that tilted its head curiously at him.

    “Oh! A Charmeleon! Fascinating! Simply engaging! It has been a long interval since I last had visitors down here!” The bird chirped with an electronic twang to its voice that made it seem like it was some sort of machine. Its rounded appendages fluttered while it moved closer, curiously examining the crimson lizard. “Please do not be frightened! I am doing my best to use my amicable voice modulator to calm you. Is it working? You should be feeling forty-three percent calmer than before. Perhaps it is not functioning properly?” The bird hummed quietly, seeming to think on that possibility.

    Leo gave the strange bird a wary look, keeping his arms drawn up in case he needed to defend himself. “Who... _What_ exactly are you? A-And what did you call me?” he pressed, cursing his nervous, wavering voice. “Tell me, please. I am a bit lost, to tell you the truth...” He trails off at that while the bird floated higher off the ground and chirped in a manner that resembled giggling that marginally unnerved the already on-edge Charmeleon.

    “Clarification on your species? Certainly. Charmeleon, a highly-aggressive and territorial reptilian species of Pokémon that possesses a unique relationship with fire that measures its vitality.” The twitching bird slowly nodded its head. “Do follow me and I will continue to resolve your questions to the best my functionality allows.”

    Charmeleon. A Pokémon. That sounds familiar, I think? He pondered that further and took his first step outside of the cell at the smaller being’s request. Leo glanced back at the cell just before the door closed. There was a faded, arc-like symbol on this side of the metal slab, but he turned away to take in his new surroundings. Unlike the originally-dark cell, the hall was filled with a dim, dusty, and gray light. Metal panels covered most of the walls, but there were occasional sections where said panels had fallen away, revealing what appeared to be gray bedrock and wiring. The ceiling was a checkerboard of missing light-producing tiles, and those that did work flickered and provided only faint illumination. Exposed pipes and what appeared to be bundles of wires sagged languidly from their original fastenings. This place is falling apart... And I’m inside it. Deep underground. There’s got to be a way out before something buries me alive.

    “Do pardon the mess. My kind are not designed for the immense physical labor specifications required to optimally maintain this domain. But I do what I can to keep things connected,” the bird continued, falling into step with Leo and looking up at him with glowing white eyes that brimmed with curiosity. “Anyways, forgive my rudeness. I have not run introductory protocols in a long interval. I am a Porygon designated as Upgraded Unit 403v2—Connection Nexus, but that is cumbersome to say in a non-digital fashion, so you may address me as Nexus.”

    “Right... Nexus. Nice to meet you.” He extended a hand briefly before taking it back, seeing that the Porygon creature could not reasonably return the gesture. “I am Leo, I think. I-I woke up back there and, well, I...” He paused, unsure how the hovering bird would react to his claim of supposed-humanity. He takes a breath for courage, letting the musty air fill his chest. “I was not a ... Charmeleon ... when I last remember. I was human.”

    There was a brief period of silence that lasted an eternity between the two. Water dripped from the broken ceiling to unseen pools in the floor far down the corridor, each drip a signal of the passing time. The only other sounds that permeated the tranquility were his own nervous breathing and Nexus’s soft, electronic whirring; it looked as if it was processing the statement and a response while its eyes flashed yellow for an instant.

    “I cannot determine how that would be possible. You cannot be a human. They are gone. You register as Charmeleon, and so you are,” Nexus replied tersely with a gentle whir before it continued to float ahead, entering an open space in the underground facility littered with ancient, metal boxes each containing wires that extended from them to elsewhere. An electronic hum filled the air that tickled some unreachable part of his memories. “I apologize, but I cannot assist you any further in regards to that topic, Leo.”

    He cautiously stepped forward, flaming tail grasped in his hands in a strange sort of comfort. The fire was not painful to him —he rather enjoyed its presence in an odd way— and he figured he would be cold without it in the steel tomb. Nexus had floated up and settled on what could be described as an intricate nest of small, glowing screens and a mess of wires connecting them to one of the humming machines, the rounded bird looking at home within the array of technology.

    “Just forget that then. What is this place, Nexus?” Leo inquired, trying to change the topic to not upset the strange Porygon creature that was pecking at the screens with its small beak. “And how can I get out of here? There’s got to be an exit, right?” He pressed while he scans the cluttered chamber further. There were more pathways that branched off from the hub, but he had no idea where any of them lead; this place was a maze for all he knew of it. Eventually, the Porygon glanced back up at the impatient Charmeleon.

    “Thank you for your patience. For your first question: this domain’s original function has been lost to me. It was, according to fragmented records, built many intervals ago. My prime directive is to maintain this withering domain as best I can. I theorize this place was a hub for connections and storage of information,” the digital bird cheerfully elaborated, eyes glowing brightly at the topic of its dilapidated home. “The connections terminate abruptly, from what I can tell, having been severed long ago. And most of the data is corrupted, but I do my best to sort through it. It helps pass the time.”

    The light behind its eyes grew dimmer and the bird shook its head solemnly. “There is an exit, but I would heavily advise against it. You are weak and need rest. And the path is in ruins; it is treacherous. For your safety, you should not attempt to leave.” The Porygon ended with a twitch of its head, its eyes flicking between different colors before stabilizing.

    Leo’s spirits dropped to his stumpy feet faster than a stone and the fire on his tail lost a bit of size at that. His claws gripped the edge of Nexus’s wire nest. “You don’t understand! I can’t stay down here forever! Nexus, come on! I need to—OW!” A line of glowing electricity lanced from the bird’s beak to his claws. He quickly withdrew his hands and nurses his small wounds to both claws and pride.

    “I urge you to rest, Leo. You are showing clear signs of exhaustion, both mental and physical.” Its stern tone quickly softened. “I’ve prepared a nest for unlikely visitors such as yourself. Made of the softest spare wires I could salvage. Come.” Without any warning, the Porygon’s small form glowed an electric-blue before fading from view, leaving no physical trace of Nexus. Leo gasped and waved his hand in the space where the bird had been.

    “Nexus?! Where are you?” His exclamation is met with an initial silence. In the opposite corner of the long chamber dotted with ancient machines, a single light panel turned on to illuminate a dusty pile of cords and wires. The Charmeleon turned around, eyeing the far corner warily.

    “I will dim the lights for you momentarily, once you are settled. Please do try to rest,” Nexus’s voice sounded from everywhere all at once. Leo spun around, glancing nervously at the walls. “Do not be alarmed. I often must access the facility this way.” The explanation did not provide Leo with much relief, but he does shuffle across the room, clambering over one of the fallen racks in the process, to the nest.

    To give the eccentric bird credit, the nest of wires was relatively soft and comfortable. Nowhere near what Leo’s vague memories told him a soft bed felt like, but it was better than the cold floor he had been sprawled on earlier. Taking care to drape his flaming tail over the side of the odd nest, he reclined on the pile of discarded wires. Just when the lights began to dim, his thoughts and overall fatigue finally caught up with him. Nexus had a point: he was certainly tired and in no shape to pursue a supposedly-dangerous path to get out of here. Quickly, the rest of the lights faded and brought the room to near-darkness, leaving only a faint glow of gray light on the advanced, time-worn tiles above. A faint memory reminded him this was what twilight was like on the outside.

    This is really happening. The thought came to him quickly, repeating itself while his head leans back and his gaze fixes itself on the faintly-glowing ceiling tiles. He was fairly certain that this was not a dream; it felt far too real. He had been born into this world of gray, given a new body and limited memories, yet he did not know why. There had been that quiet whisper earlier, back when he was alone in his cell, but it was just another question needing answers.

    Perhaps some rest would be good... The crimson-scaled lizard lets out a long, drawn-out yawn and stretches himself out on the nest. I will get answers from Nexus later. I have to. His internal dialogue faded, satisfied with the promise he made to himself. An uneasy sleep then swept over the exhausted Charmeleon in short order.

    “... And that is how I managed to decrypt Server 10232 and achieve a partial restoration of its vast, decade-spanning archive of tidal patterns.” Nexus had finally finished its story about yet another instance of it solving some computational problem or issue that arose in the crumbling domain. The Charmeleon and Porygon walked and floated respectively through the halls after what felt like several days, with Leo having made the error of asking Nexus what the most exciting thing to happen down here was.

    In addition to following the digital creature around, Leo had spent the better part of his time here trying to learn about his new form. He found that he could go a long while without feeling hunger, which he was currently discovering considering he had yet to feel the pangs of hunger in his belly despite days having passed. The reptilian body he now possessed could run for quite some time on water and air alone. Nexus had even suggested that he could go on without water too for a time, as long as the fire on his tail burned.

    The largest change he had to get used to was his relatively-heavy tail that swung behind him. He had not noticed it before when he had first followed Nexus out of his cell, but now he felt its weight pull him from side to side with each step. The lizard had nearly swiped at the extra limb after the umpteenth time he had inadvertently crashed into a wall, leaving another patch of rust on his scales. It took many trips down the dim passages until he mastered the new rhythm of walking and he was even able to run without much hassle by holding his tail straight behind him. The very sensation of an extra limb he had to train his mind to control was by far the strangest part of this experience, outside of no longer being human.

    Survival and mobility abilities aside, Leo found, through attempts to reach vents and touch dangling panels, that he could not jump as high or run nearly as fast as he faintly recalled while human. A small price to pay for being tough and hard to starve, I guess, his thoughts reasoned. Not a bad trade, though this can’t go forever. I need to eat sometime. Right?

    “Did you know that all major tidal patterns ceased after a time, according to that archive? I find it quite neat to imagine: all the world’s oceans immediately becoming lifeless and paralyzed... Even though it is most likely that the sensor malfunctioned, much like this other time...” Nexus continued without noticing that its reluctant companion had been thoroughly consumed in his own thoughts for the last few moments.

    Leo silently groaned even as he nodded his head in false interest to the excited, chirping creature. The bird was increasingly grating on his mind, especially with its avoidance of the topic of the all-important exit tunnel. He had managed to piece together which tunnel it was, but not any of the specifics on why it was forbidden.

    “... I am glad you are here, Leo.” That remark made the former human stir from his thoughts and glance down at the smaller, digital bird, initially unsure what to think.

    “Wait, what was that, Nexus?” Leo inquired, curiosity piqued; there had not been much in the realm of anything so personal coming from the Porygon in the last few days. The pink and blue bird stared up at him with a gleam in its white eyes.

    “I am pleased to have your company. It has been a very long time since I last had such meaningful interface with another being. I will miss this once you depart this realm,” the bird said with a drawn-out, mournful chirp. Leo stopped at that, not expected the clearly-artificial creature to show such attachment to their conversations. He could only imagine what years alone down here would do to a person, even if said person was a living computer.

    “I-I... Well, thanks, Nexus. I am glad you’re here to help me out. You’ve really helped me get myself in order, so to speak,” Leo replied, though he knew that was not entirely true. He was still quite jumbled up from the ongoing ordeal, but Nexus had assisted in figuring out how his new body functioned. He was thankful for that at least.

    “But I can’t stay down here... And neither should you, Nexus.” He is not sure what prompted him to add that last part in, but he went with it. “Why don’t we both try to get through to this exit, huh? You said you weren’t good at physically lifting stuff, but now I’m here!” Leo exclaimed, almost thinking such a plan could work with Nexus’s help for navigation.

    The Porygon let out static-garbled sigh. “I apologize, but my directive is to serve out my purpose here, and to cease upon its eventual completion.” The bird stared up at him once more with its large, attentive ocular sensors. “Perhaps you shall see the light of day, but that is not my role. My emotional processing center cannot appropriately convey what your statement means to me. But know that I, Upgraded Unit 403v2—Connection Nexus, am grateful.”

    Leo was quiet for a spell before he nodded in response to the little round bird. At the moment, he could not think of more to say. His heart went out to the creature that had been his enthusiastic guide. It may be their destiny to die here, but it won’t be mine.

    Some time later

    The passage of time in the lifeless, metal tomb was hard to gauge. Leo could only guess that roughly five or so days had passed based on how many times he slept during the artificial night-cycle Nexus provided. The Charmeleon had just finished an exploration of yet another cell and found nothing remotely of interest. If he did not get out of here soon, he would certainly meet his doom from boredom in the dull, lifeless halls if he did not starve first. He had put up with the Porygon’s insistence that he remain stationary for long enough.

    Nexus’s stories on repair and recovery were beyond tedious after the umpteenth telling. He had to give the Porygon a little bit of credit though, the conversations he had with the bird had awoken a few scraps of memories within the Charmeleon’s stressed mind. He recalled the terminology for some of the ancient machines, servers for data, that lay whirring about in dusty disarray. It gave him a little more to work with, but ultimately proved to be trivial pieces of information that put him no closer to figuring out his past than before.

    Seeing that Nexus had dodged every direct and indirect request he made on how to leave, Leo had given up on trying to reason with the technological bird. He splashed some water on his face from a cistern and drinks from his cupped hands before he returned to the main chamber. The flaming lizard had taken mental notes on his guardian’s behavior when he could to try and formulate a way to get into the hazardous passage just beside the Porygon’s nest of parts.

    It appeared that the twitchy pink and blue bird would vanish into the vast system at regular intervals despite its odd, near-malfunctioning tendencies. It typically left for an hour or so to wherever it goes in the walls. Plenty of time to slip inside, his thoughts murmur while he crept forward. The Charmeleon grinned with glee, sharp teeth flashing to the air once he spies the empty nest. Not daring to speak aloud for fear the sentinel bird would detect him from within the walls, the crimson-scaled lizard sucked in his breath and squeezed in between the narrow gap in between the thick, metal barriers. His tail nearly got caught halfway through, but with a wiggle, he freed himself and stumbled into the forbidden tunnel.

    Standing on clawed toes, Leo’s teeth clenched, bracing for an immediate klaxon and flashing alarm signalling his attempt at escape, but none arrived. Exhaling his held breath, the Charmeleon began making his way up the sloped hall, craning his neck to watch behind him every few seconds for Nexus. His near-jog into the hall was briefly interrupted when his foot kicked against a fallen metal panel with a loud clang, causing him to hop about on one leg for a few seconds until the hurt passed. “Grah! Ow!” Thankfully, his grunts went undetected.

    Nexus had been correct about the general state of disrepair of the exit tunnel, yet so far, there was not yet anything that would cause serious peril. Wires dangled from the ceiling where panels had fallen away, exposing rusted pipes and the bedrock it had been carved into. He had to step over several more twisted and dented metal sheets and tangled wires before the hall opened up.

    The Charmeleon glanced around the dim room, using his tail to augment the faint light. It was smaller than the Porygon’s claimed chamber, though the interlocking metal grid that composed the floor here appeared to be compromised. As soon as Leo stepped into the room, the lizard was met with a chorus of groans and creaks from the rusting architecture. He held his breath until the noise subsided. Gods above... Maybe this is a bit dangerous, his thoughts admitted, now seeing that there perhaps had been some truth to the warnings. Easy does it, Leo...

    Eyes squinted, he was barely able to discern where many segments of the unstable floor had fallen away into a fathomless chasm beneath his feet. Suppressing a shiver, he cautiously took another step; trying to stay away from where the segments seemed weaker to decrease his risk of falling through. Leo saw the rest of the tunnel a short distance away, yet he was many paces to safety.

    Arms extended to the sides in an effort to balance his unsteady form, he desperately hoped his foreign tail would not cause him to falter. Concentrating, the Charmeleon slowly inched forward with baby steps and tail held firm while the decaying floor protested with curses against his weight. All the while, the gaping maw of the empty abyss yawned intensely beneath him, outstretched mouth calling out for him to slip into its jaws. He had passed the point of no return where he could possibly jump backwards and save himself if the floor suddenly failed.

    Alrighty, Leo... Easy. Keep breathing. Keep walking. There’s no other way forward, he tried to reassure himself and quell the growing terror in his gut and breach of common sense he was committing. He slowly continued snaking around the holes in the floor, teeth tightly gritted. A cold breeze suddenly flowed through the formerly-static air.

    “Fall, Leo. Your freedom is below. Face your judgement and jump into eternity. Plunge down to rise up.”

    Leo froze, ice snaking into his hot veins at the pressing demand that spoke directly to his soul. He had heard it in the darkness of his cell and not since. He had put it behind him, chalking it up to panic and claustrophobia. Yet here it was again, at the worst possible time. Gulping hard to swallow a whimper, the terrified Charmeleon glanced past the edge of the grate to where the empty pit lay in eager, predatory wait.

    “Let your fear go. What you seek is below. The dying gods will judge your worth.”

    At that moment, a loud crack ripped through the frail structure. Still frozen like the prey he was to the prowling beast beneath, Leo watched in growing horror as the rivets holding the grates together were squeezed out of their sockets and cut in half by the shearing force. His mouth dropped open in rising panic.

    “No, don’t! No, no, no—!”

    [Continued on next post.]
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2018
  2. Knightfall

    Knightfall Blazing Wordsmith

    His exclamation was cut short by an almighty groan of rusted steel before the segment beneath his feet gave out. It was a strange sensation, to float on air for the split-second before the Charmeleon plummeted after the fallen grate. The dark jaws of the abyss rushed from below to snap him up as the dim light vanished entirely. Cold air billowed around his screaming, free-falling form, making his tail sputter angrily and adding to Leo’s overwhelming distress. Spinning about erratically, he squirmed and flailed his limbs in all directions, desperately trying to latch onto anything.

    His terror-fueled scream held out until his twisting body made hard contact with the rough walls of the chasm, which knocked the wind from his lungs like a well-aimed punch that sent him tumbling again into the void. Unable to tell which way was up, the bruised Charmeleon tucked his arms close to his body and curls his head into his chest, bracing for whatever came next in his descent towards the dark hell that awaited him. Leo smacked bodily into the walls several times in quick succession, some patches covered in relatively-smooth steel while other patches were exposed stone, adding some scraped scales to his battering. Tears pricked at his eyes at the abrasions that tore through his toughened scales before being quickly blown away in the whipping wind that howled across his face.

    As suddenly as the fall began, it ended abruptly with Leo bouncing off a final section of slanted wall and smacking immediately to a flat, cold floor with a dulled thud that caused a cloud of accumulated dust to erupt. Harsh pain ripped through his reptilian form, blossoming up in fiery anguish from every limb. Head thoroughly rattled and enduring the waves of pain that swiftly rushed over him, he resigned himself to lay crumpled on the dusty ground of the abyss.

    “Pain is the hallmark of life. The pain you now feel is proof you remain alive.”

    He was alive, if what that voice said contained any truth, though he certainly did not feel so. By the manner his claws clenched and scratched at the metal floor with the ebb and flow of pain, he dimly knew his body was not irreparably broken. Leo let out a long, painful hiss before he forced himself to breathe again and fill his bruised chest with the cold, stale air that sat at the chasm bottom.

    How long he laid there, dazed and in pain, he did not know, but he could feel more of his battered body with each passing moment as a burning warmth spread through his limbs. The crimson lizard hissed once more, eyes blinking open to stare up at the wall he had so recently collided with. The only light down in this cold hell was a dim ember on his tail. It was in that moment that he recalled the factoid Nexus had told him about his species: the flame was a measure of life and, by the look of his tiny flame, he had come quite close to extinguishing it.

    “Broken and battered, yet fire stubbornly burns within you. Rise, child born of the cells, and follow. Your time draws near. The dead gods have spoken in favor of your survival.”

    Fire burned within his joints, flames licking at his cracked bones and the heat surging through his many cuts and split scales. He gritted his teeth and slowly turned onto his side, the pain intense, but ebbing with every passing second. Leo pushed himself up on protesting arms, slowly bringing himself to his feet after several long minutes spent entirely without movement. The Charmeleon staggered, leaning against the wall and gasping hard for breath. How in the world... Did I survive that? This body is way tougher... Than I thought... His thoughts pondered his situation in fragments as his head kept on pounding. No way... A human could have lived... Or be on their feet again so quickly...

    Clenching his teeth so tightly that they creaked while the fire within him kept burning away his injuries, Leo began to shuffle deeper into the darkness. The whisper had said to follow, yet there was nothing down here aside from the twisted, fallen grates and some other debris he could not identify that was easily kicked aside with his feet.

    “Follow the path you were destined to tread. The descent and darkness are your trials, but within is light and freedom. Do not stray.” Again the wispy voice called out from all around him, which made the groaning Charmeleon stop and look around uselessly for the source.

    “W-Who are you...?” he spoke into the nothingness only to hear a faint echo of his own hoarse, cracking voice spit his question back at him. With an annoyed hiss and a bit of steam from his snout, he pressed on after nothing answered him. The pain grew more manageable and the fires burned less, serious wounds transforming into intense aches. He rubbed at his chest, finding the bruises there now hurt far less when his hand brushed over them. Leo glanced back at his tail and frowned, seeing only a tiny dull red flame on the very tip.

    “That can’t be good.” He muttered to himself before he reached back, picked up his dragging tail, and held it to his chest. His claws caressed the pinprick flame, trying to coax it back to life while he walked in the depths of the chasm. There seemed to be branching passages leading off from the main hall. Leo sucked in a breath before he blindly turned down a corridor to his right.

    “We are all blind, stumbling stupidly in the dark, before we can truly see. Sight awaits you, child of the ruins.” The voice came clearer and louder that time, which made the aching Charmeleon perk up and again look around in acute paranoia.

    “Who are you? Show yourself!” He shouted, but again there was no reply. It was clear to Leo that this entity was not keen on carrying on conversations. At the very least, it did not appear electronic in the nature that Nexus was. It was another sort of entity that spoke the cryptic phrases. The Charmeleon gripped his tail harder and walked on, claws tapping against the dusty floor. There was nothing visible in the inky black that hung heavily around him, leaving him effectively blind, but there was no other alternative other than to cautiously shuffle on. He had to follow the voice or risk wandering these endless halls forever.

    “It has been long since life has graced these cursed ruins. You tread where many have failed their trials.” The voice sounded masculine, however it remained difficult to tell even as it grew louder and clearer. “Your sight grows. Follow the path that guides you.”

    At that, a faint blue light began glowing from a groove cut into the steel wall. Leo immediately touched his claws to the line and dragged his hand along it. He let out a weak laugh and shuffled faster, the Charmeleon almost giddy with the development. His claws clicked against the floor, causing considerable noise, but he did not care. He wanted light and noise, anything beyond the pressing darkness. He kept his hand pressed to the blue circuit while he jogged further, turning at sharp corners where the light lead him.

    “Yes. The path leads you closer. Come, Leo...”

    The blue line grew in brightness the further he followed it, which caused the Charmeleon to forget the lingering pain and run harder. The stocky form he now inhabited was not the best at running, with shorter strides than he had as a human, but he did not let that stop him. Rest could come later. He had to follow the path, wherever it would lead him. Leo turned a corner and skidded to a halt, finding the guiding light ended abruptly at a ruined, metal door that was barely hanging onto its fixture. Panting from the run, the Charmeleon tentatively pushed at the weak barrier. It creaked loudly in resistance before it fell off its hinges onto the floor with an almighty clatter. The heavy bolt that had kept it shut dropped a moment later with another clunk.

    Inside was a room akin to Nexus’s: with a similar assortment of ancient, dully-blinking machines and a near-silent hum of electricity. Ceiling panels provided a soft, blue light that made Leo’s eyes hurt after experiencing darkness for so long. With an arm raised to shield his eyes, the Charmeleon stepped over the broken door. Aside from the machines, there were other features in the silent room that set it apart from the others he had explored. Shelves squeezed between the computers held decayed books that would fall to dust at any movement. A desk opposite the bookshelf was scattered with similarly-ancient folders and papers with typed print that had long since faded into illegibility. A few little trinkets and what looked to be a frame for a time-ruined picture lined the top shelf above the workspace.

    “Woah. There was someone here once...” The Charmeleon trailed off as he quietly paced through the forlorn laboratory, simply amazed that there were signs that other beings existed here. Leo hummed curiously and touched one of the papers. Almost instantly the section where his claw poked crumbled into dust, leaving a hole in the middle of the report. There were many more that possessed scrawled handwriting that Leo doubted could be read even if it had not been faded.

    His eyes were soon drawn to the back of the room. At the midpoint along the back wall, looking out of place among the decaying servers and books was a small glass case with a single item inside. The key-like object rested on a glass shelf, distinct from the other objects in the room, the artifact appeared in perfect condition, having resisted the damning effects of time. Leo stepped closer, eyes wide as his claws touched the exterior of the case. It appeared to be crafted of a blueish glass or crystal, with intricate etchings along the shank that continued into the two bits that jutted out at the tip with a thin, metal chain that looped through the bow. A rusted metal plaque just below the key had foreign words etched onto it, but they had long-since become too faded to read.

    The Charmeleon glanced from side to side nervously. Is this why I was lead here? his thoughts inquired before a hand reached out to lift the rusted latch which crumbled at his touch into a pile of orange dust. The glass door fell away as well and cracked into several pieces upon hitting the desk. The tinkling glass made him wince, though it was soon apparent that there would be no one to confront him. His fingers flexed before he reached into the case and snatched the vivid-blue key.

    A rush of something passed through his arm the instant his claws grazed the key’s crystalline surface. His breath hitched and he squeezed his eyes shut as an intense throbbing immediately hit his already-beleaguered head. A blurred image filled his mind: a thin, red smile and a piercing gaze from ancient eyes that had seen far too much. He stumbled in place, his fingers curling around the key’s shaft shortly before he slumped against a nearby shelf with a low groan.

    “Your persistence has served you well, child. Take your prize. Your way out of these ruins. Your destiny, where so many others have failed.”

    Leo’s eyes went wider than ever before at the voice. It no longer was faint or indistinct. No, it was now perfectly clear and louder, as if the enigmatic speaker was just over his shoulder. He glanced over both shoulders just in case before he pulled himself off the dusty furniture.

    “W-Who are you?! I know you’re here, somewhere! What did I just pick up?!” the lizard bellowed to the empty lab, though he was this time graced with an answer.

    “Who I am matters not. You have just attained the last great chance to break free. Take it. Use it. Light your way. Free yourself of this tomb. Go! Run! Time runs short!”

    The Charmeleon scrambled away from the cabinet, but pauses as, without stimulus, a screen on the nearby desk flickers on to reveal a blue background with white text he could not make out. A few seconds passed before the picture vanished and was instead replaced with a close-up of a familiar, bird-like visage

    “Leo! Y-You’re alive!” Nexus’s electronic voice exclaimed from the computer, its white eyes wide with concern. “I spent an hour looking for you all across the domain! Just wait one second and I’ll be there!”

    Leo’s perplexed thoughts did not have to wait long to find out just how the bird would get down here. The Porygon pecked against the inside of the screen before it seamlessly jumped out with a shower of bright blue light that made the Charmeleon shut his eyes.

    Shaking itself off from its emergence, Nexus hopped off the desk and stared up at him. “You appear to be hurt, but not life-threateningly if my scans are correct. We need to get you—” it chimed before it suddenly stopped, its eyes seemingly fixated on the artifact he now gripped tightly in his claws. Leo quickly noticed and held the recently-acquired key close. “Y-You found it... T-The Spark...”

    “What, Nexus...? What’s wrong?” Leo inquired tentatively to the creature he had considered, somewhat, to be his friend. The rounded limbs and head of the Porygon twitched and sparked without warning, making the former human recoil. “Is it something about this? What did you call it?” He asked, holding up the key by its steel chain.

    “L-Leo... bbzzt. I-I am so s-sorry... T-The artifact triggered the security protocol! You must leave!” the bird desperately responded after a moment, sounding as if it was straining even to speak. Before he could react, the white light behind Nexus’s eyes shut and its floating body began to shudder and contort. Leo took another step back as he watched the Porygon’s features elongate and twist, its head detaching from its small body. Even in the dim light of the room, he could tell that the dual colors on its body grew darker in tone. With a harsh twitch, the floating head righted itself atop the body and the eyes again were flooded with light, but they were different. A menacing, deranged pair of yellow eyes now greeted him as the transformed Porygon began to fully power up.

    “I-I canot stop the program, Leo! BzzRT! R-Return to zzzT hall, follow t-the upward paths, ZzrrtT the door!” Nexus gurgled, as if it was somehow being strangled by whatever had assumed primary control over it. The sparking Porygon continued to contort in midair, with Nexus shrieking the whole time in utter desperation. “NO! DISENGAGE! DISENGAGE! ZZZT! DO NOT MAKE ME KILL AGAIN!”

    More than alarmed and with Nexus’s distressed cries to quell the entity that possessed it, the Charmeleon scrambled out of the chamber as fast as he could without losing balance. The ceiling in the hall now glowed with a dull light, illuminating the path he had once before tread in total darkness. Panting, Leo ran as fast as his legs would carry him, clutching the shimmering treasure tightly in his claws all the while. There was little time to process exactly what he was doing. His instincts now screamed danger at the Porygon that had rescued him from the ruins.

    Leo took Nexus’s last bit of advice to heart, the transformed human following whichever route trended upwards through the winding passage towards what he hoped would be freedom. Hot clouds of steam and gray smoke puffed from his nostrils with every step he took up the abandoned corridors, his body not quite ready for the hard effort after his recent tumble into the earth, but pushed on with reserves of energy he had no idea he possessed. However, the growing rumble in the metal passage made him certain he did not want to stop.

    “ZZT! It’s locking onto you, Leo!” Nexus’s voice boomed from everywhere in the shuddering hallway around the panicked Charmeleon. “ZzzrrT! I have lost all control! It will kill you if it catches you!” Far from the calm, somewhat erratic electronic chirps he had gotten used to from the little bird, the voice was now warped, broken, and brimming with a dire urgency that only made Leo push his stumpy legs harder.

    The fading light panels flickered hard as dust rained down in bursts with each hard rumble. The telltale hum of electricity grew louder the higher Leo climbed in his desperate run. Behind him, crashes erupted as the light-producing slabs plummeted into the floor with showers of sparks that filled the small path. The sound of crackling static swiftly approached from the rear.

    “P-Prepare to dodge! The Charge Beam attack contains lethal amounts of energy!”

    Leo swore he felt his organs rattle inside his chest from the intense vibrations coming from down the hall. A small beeping was heard above the chaos and swiftly grew in intensity while a narrow, red beam of light erratically swayed in the air, zeroing in squarely on the fleeing lizard. Quickly figuring from Nexus’s plea that he did not want to be in the path of the laser once the beeping reached its peak, the Charmeleon grips the next corner with his claws and swings himself around with his maintained momentum up the branching path.

    Not a moment too soon, as a tremendous crash and a flash of heat and light that erupted from the hall signalled that Nexus’s trailing attack had narrowly missed.

    “It’s BZZT recalculating its approach! Hurry, Leo!” The speakers hidden in the ceiling all reported the Porygon’s cold evaluation in unison and the rumbling began anew, shaking the ancient and fragile facility to pieces.

    Key held tightly in his claws, he pushed himself harder through the quaking passage and the falling clouds of obstructing debris. He bounded as best he could over the fallen pieces of rock and metal that had broken free from overhead. I’ve got to be close by now! he thinks, half pleading with whatever powers had judged him to let it be true. At the very edge of his vision, he could make out what appeared to be an open space ahead distinct from the confined hall.

    “NO! NO! LEO, RUN! IT —ZZRRRTTTT!” Nexus’s scream was swiftly cut off by static, but the point was made.

    Before he could make a final effort towards the far-off room, the path abruptly flooded with blue light. Electricity violently danced from open conduits on the ceiling, the arcs of bright energy and tendrils of lightning all swiftly directing at the unprepared Charmeleon. A rush of unbelievable energy and agony surged through the former human’s jerking limbs as he was roughly slammed into the floor. Sparks danced across his crumpled form, Leo only able to perceive pain at that instant.

    Coughing and sputtering, Leo pushed his chest off the ground on wobbling limbs, only to see the twitching Porygon hovering a short distance away. Its limbs glowed a strange purple before Leo felt the metal panel shudder violently beneath him. The stunned Charmeleon only had time to suck in a breath before Nexus moved its limbs, magnetically ripped the floor off the ground with a shower of dust, and folded the plate over him with seemingly-little effort. The pressure pressed heavily against Leo’s limbs and chest, making him cry out in distress.

    “A-AGHH! S-STOP! NEXUS, PLEASE!” He begged, though no relief came from the utterly impassive foe. The Charmeleon struggled to fill his compressed lungs as he stared at the floating Porygon.

    “I cannot disengage it! It will not stop!” The Porygon sobbed, an awful, static-filled sound from the construct imprisoned within its own body, while the piece of flooring squeezed the salamander harder, causing his tail twitch erratically in desperation. Nexus brought its face close to Leo’s; cold yellow eyes of the security protocol boring into his soul. “It is designed to terminate bbbzzt who take the artifact! I-I tried to keep you safe! Bzztt! I-I tried, Leo!” The bird’s voice exclaimed while its body continued to disobey.

    “The moment that key leaves this place, I will cease to function. The protocol is self-preserving!” Nexus raised its rounded wings and cocked its head at the Charmeleon, erratic eyes scanning him. “I-It... I have killed so many... A-And it continues for eternity. I try to protect, but it always wins. Sooner or later, it always kills.” With that final statement, the sentient computer program brought its glowing wings together, squeezing the squirming lizard harder than before. “You must do something! ZZZT! Don’t let me kill you!” Nexus implored with its cracking voice, already resigned to yet another murder.

    Leo saw his vision going dark around the edges and felt his ribs press inward from the flat plate. The air he had managed to suck into his lungs was now burning in his compressed chest, building with the tremendous pressure. Unable to resist any longer, Leo opened his mouth in what he expected to be a final cry before his untimely demise, but instead of an anguished cry, the burning air rushed out with great force. The instant it passed into his wide maw, the stream of hot air ignited with a flash.

    A brilliant jet of raging fire spewed from the lizard’s throat, engulfing the unsuspecting Porygon in a swirling cloak of dazzlingly-white flame. A horrendous, static-filled screech emitted from the spasming bird as the fire burned its sensitive, digital body. Flailing and screaming, Nexus darted back from the flamethrower, the protocol’s magnetic attack abandoned. The plate loosened around the now-gasping Charmeleon, allowing Leo to slowly claw himself out of the death-trap. Despite his head still spinning, Leo dragged himself to his feet and swayed in place, chest heaving while he glared stiffly at his foe.

    “Nexus! Oh gods!” Leo exclaimed with a cough at the sparking Porygon that hung limply in the air, smoke curling in small spirals from its burnt limbs. Concern welled up in his chest despite the beating he just endured. “Nexus! Are you okay?! I-I urgh d-don’t know how—!”

    The bright yellow, target-like orbs suddenly returned a murderous glare, causing Leo to shut his mouth and raise his shaking arms, the Charmeleon striking what he recalled as a typical fighting stance for humans. The exhaustion was postponed; there was his freedom to be won and his friend’s body was trying to murder him.

    “T-The pain zzt is nothing! G-Go... Before it is too late!” the automation appealed weakly, voice broken and distorted as it twitched violently from the extensive damage. “I do not d-deserve sympathy for my crimes-zzZCH!”

    “Leave, friend! Leave—!” Nexus abruptly ceased its tirade, deranged eyes of its possessor locked onto the wobbling Charmeleon. The Porygon fiercely convulsed and rushed Leo, the bird cloaked in a shower of yellow sparks that trailed behind it. With gritted teeth, the injured Charmeleon lunged to the side, narrowly avoiding the meteoric bird, though he was brushed by the trailing arcs of electricity. Leo winced, clutching at his arm and backing away from the sparking Porygon that had slammed into the metal wall with a harsh buzzing noise.

    He watched Nexus peel itself off the wall with a sinking feeling in his chest. The guardian of the ruins continued to twitch and spark, with what appeared to be wispy streaks of blue-tinted ones and zeros drifting out of the scorched and broken points on its body before fading like smoke. Leo walked backwards from the rising automation into a wider room.

    “Nexus! S-Stop! You don’t have to do this!” Leo implored to his only friend in memory, the former human unsure how much longer his adrenaline would hold out against the unstoppably tenacious sentinel. His words fell flat on the uncaring program that aimed a shaking limb squarely at the Charmeleon’s chest even while its voice cried out in vain protest. Nexus’s once-glowing eyes showed the extent of its damage, with its left optical nearly black except for a few pixels of intense yellow.

    “You... Do not... Understand...” Nexus hissed through the static that poured from its damaged form. “It cannot... Stop... Ztt...” It floated closer with half of its body limp and hanging languidly. “L-Leo... Z-ZzzT... Friend... E-End me, b-before I zzzt kill you!”

    “Nexus! Stop! I-I d-don’t want to hurt you!” Leo screamed, his throat raw and dry from the flames. Tears ran down his cheeks in a mixture of both exhaustion and disbelief. He had spent days with the bird, listening to it while it chattered on endlessly about its exploits here. He refused to believe that it had to come down to this, even now as Nexus’s out-of-control body limped towards him in a last, desperate to end his escape attempt.

    Nexus inched closer while sputtering out static-covered sobs, its last functioning wing held outstretched and sparking brightly with lethal electricity. Leo backed up against the sealed door, unable to summon any further words or another jet of fire from his exhausted body. Thoughts raced in his head, trying to formulate a plan to stop the fighting, though nothing coherent formed in time. The Porygon drew itself back in an attempt to lunge forward and lance his heart with lightning.


    Leo sucked in a breath and swung his arm up in a final effort of defense, claws outstretched and singing through the air. The curved weapons sliced in an upward arc through the bird’s limp half, tearing deeply into its central unit and causing blinding sparks to spray in all directions. The Charmeleon gasped and drew his arm back as the Porygon abruptly crumpled at his feet, sputtering and sparking. Amid the smoking haze that surrounded Nexus, he beheld the damaged bird’s twitching body begin to break down.

    He knelt, partly in shock and partly in exhaustion, the Charmeleon unable to believe he had done it. His claws were clean from gutting the Porygon, aside from being lightly blackened from the electrical burns. His stomach wrenched itself into a knot while he gasped for breath. Tearing up, he scooped up the fallen, dying Porygon into his quaking arms.

    “N-Nexus...? Nexus, please...” he croaked, Leo cradling the wounded construct as gently as he could.

    “Le-o...” the guardian sputtered, its remaining, barely-glowing eye now returned to its normal state, free of the menace. “You...zzt. Won... Free yourself...” Nexus sighed, its collapsed form flickering in its final moments. “You are... S-S-Strong... Eno-ugh... ” A weak shudder passed through the digital being, its core mechanisms breaking down rapidly.

    “T-Than... T-Tha... Tha...” Nexus stammered, its voice unable to summon the power to finish its final words. The Porygon’s single remaining eye stared pleadingly up at Leo until it too faded to darkness.

    “Nexus, come on. Please don’t go...” he whispers, head bowed and eyes squeezed shut to hold back tears. With a final spark, Nexus grew inert on his lap and its crumpled form powered down. He did not need to open his eyes to know that his only friend of these ruins had succumbed at last. Leo did not think it possible, but the underground facility grew colder and deader just then, making the fire-wielding male quake. He gently placed Nexus’s broken shell on the floor of the facility it had watched faithfully.

    Leo leaned backwards, resting against the door and letting the fallout of what just happened rain over him: the dark cell, the days spent with Nexus, his fall, the voice, the key, the fight, and now, slaying the guardian he befriended; everything had happened so fast that his head spun. He withheld the rising bile in his throat and groaned, pressing the key in his paw to his chest. The grieving Charmeleon had no idea what had really happened.

    Why am I here? Why did all this happen to me? he pondered and stared up blankly at the dim ceiling. His body was a limp husk after the intense ordeal, with only enough energy to keep himself from slumping over onto the floor. A long stretch of time passed with Leo processing what had occured.

    “Your lack of hesitation to do what is needed is exceptional. Allies are not always what they seem.”

    The voice filled his head again, causing the Charmeleon to groan. The key that was clutched tightly in his claws glowed faintly, its light blue structure coming alive with an unknown power. He squeezed the artifact, feeling a soft tingling in his hand as he did so. He wanted to scream, curse, and throw the blasted thing back into the abyss he had stolen it from. It had turned Nexus against him, a crime he was not willing to forget, even with the freedom it promised.

    “You shall be answered in time, but now, survivor of the ruins, rise and face the blinding light. The key unlocks the way.”

    The Charmeleon rolled onto his knees with a titanic effort and used the grooves in the heavy door to hoist himself to his half-asleep feet. He was too exhausted to protest the voice that had been the catalyst to his trials and suffering, but it had a point: he needed to get out of these lifeless ruins. The former human glanced down at the glowing artifact in his crimson hand and, with a shrug, touched it to the ancient gate.

    Centuries’ worth of dust rained down from the ceiling as a tremor ran through the underground labyrinth. Leo barely managed to steady himself and blink away the clouds of dirt that settled on him. The faint lighting from the panels faded entirely, leaving the room in total darkness. Gulping, Leo quickly looped the key ‘s metal chain around his neck and braced himself. His hearing was assaulted by the screeching of hydraulics and metal that had not moved in eons. One by one, heavy thuds reverberated throughout the antechamber, signalling that the long-stalwart locks were at last being relieved of their duties.

    Leo tensed his drained physique, but nearly fell over with the intensified rumbling. The great aperture that towered before him creaked, its aged facade splitting down the middle in a clean line that slowly widened. Light poured through from the other side of the thick barrier, though not as intense as the Charmeleon had expected. He raised a trembling hand to shield his constricting pupils.

    More intense than the incoming light was the rush of fresh air that flooded the small chamber and mixed in with the near-toxic atmosphere within the ruins. The invigorating breeze perked the salamander up and he pressed his face to the widening gap, his snout almost sticking through to the other side. He gulped down deep breaths, the fire on his tail growing a bit larger from the fanning breeze coming from the slowly-opening doorway that continued to grind along its tracks.

    “O-Oh gods. S-Sweet, sweet air...” Leo murmured softly before his claws go to the edges of the parting bulkhead and try to force the process to go faster. Uncounted years of rust and disuse had rendered the door nearly immovable, but miraculously it was inching along. Not taking that into regard, the Charmeleon impatiently snapped his jaws and grunted, exerting more force to widen the gap. After what seemed to take an eternity, the hole was at last wide enough to squeeze his torso through. With a held breath, the lizard reached through and pushed on the outside of the door to help his wriggling form through the rift. His scales were squeezed and passed over sharp grooves that would have sliced into regular flesh, but left him unscathed.

    With a gasp, Leo tripped through the opening and onto a rocky floor. Immediately, the aperture stopped its glacial opening and slammed its rusty, moss-covered exterior shut with a harsh clang, almost catching the salamander’s tail if not for a quick twitch forward. Still heaving, Leo turned his back on the now-sealed ruins and stared ahead. He appeared to be in a small, shallow cave, judging by the rocky, natural passage he was in. The terminus of the subterranean path was visible, leading to a portal of sunlight and the outside world beyond.

    Leo let out a short laugh and ignored his body’s request to rest from his injuries, instead rushing up the trail. Several times his reptilian feet came close to faltering on the rocks and slick moss, but he closed the distance like a runner approaching the finish line. An exuberant cry erupts from his snout as he bursts forth into the dazzling sunlight.

    Soft, waving grass greeted his worn soles as he takes another, disbelieving step into the outside world. The warm sunlight kissed his cold chest and fresh air spilled into his aching lungs, his entire form simply soaking in the blessings of being free of the dark, cold ruins. More than wanting to know who he was or why he was here, he had wanted to bask in the unobstructed sunlight, feel the wind, and breathe clean air. Once his eyes grew accustomed to the light, he takes in the new world for the first time.

    A shimmering sea of green grass on cracked, jagged hills surrounded him, giving the impression that some giant beast had decided to rough up what might have been a flat grassland. In the distance, rising against the horizon, were what looked to be mountains. A gentle wind dashed across the broken crests and made the dew-covered grass sway in its wake. The cave he had emerged from lay tucked into the rocky base of one such hill, almost invisible to an outside observer and carefully hiding the maze it contained from intruders. The majesty of the rugged, lush environment was all contained under a vivid blue sky that carried streaks of dawn’s painted colors.

    “Nexus, I wish you could see this...” he whispers somberly, voice hoarse from exhaustion and overuse in the ruins. The bubbly Porygon would have certainly enjoyed the freedom that now stretched before him. “By the gods, it’s like something out of a dream...”

    Leo sighed deeply and examined the immediate ground he was standing on. The patch of soft grass was mostly dry of dew and would be as good a place as any to rest. The salamander plopped himself down with little grace, exhaustion finally winning out over his wants to explore his surroundings. Laying flat on his back, he laid his flaming tail on his chest beside the key to safeguard against accidentally setting the field ablaze and stared up at the azure sky, at last able to see more than ten feet above his head. Closing his eyes, the former human rests his head on the springy grass, his crest settling into the impromptu pillow as sleep swiftly overtook him.

    “Rest, child of ruins, for your trials commence anon. This world can yet be salvaged from decay and dissolution.”

    End Chapter One

    Author’s Note:

    Greetings to all who read this! I hope you enjoy!

    Knightfall signing off...
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2018
  3. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Hey, welcome back! It's always great to have people show up with reworks of stories that mean a lot to them. Hope you've been doing well, and congratulations on getting your reboot going!

    This is definitely a different start for a PMD 'fic--a rather more dire one than most protagonists have to deal with. I like your portrayal of how Leo has to work to get used to his new body, and how he experiences the differences between it and what he knows of being human--slower, heavier, but also (as he quite dramatically finds out) far sturdier. I also like your description of how his healing feels, like there's fire inside him burning away his injuries. Almost like the fire from his tail was turned inwards. I'm not sure if that's what you were trying for, but it was a cool sequence one way or another.

    The setting here is also really cool. The sprawling underground facility that's literally like a dungeon--I don't know if it's intended to serve as an actual mystery dungeon, but you could get away with saying it is--is both a rather melancholy and a very mysterious place. What exactly was its purpose before, and how the heck did Leo end up there? (Never mind how he ended up getting turned into a charmeleon--classic PMD question, that.) And what on earth is that key for, and how did it end up in wherever-it-is, and why does the voice in Leo's head want him to have it? And how, indeed, did he end up with a voice in his head?

    In any case, I got a nice picture of the facility itself, with all its exposed wiring, rusting fixtures, and falling-down metallic corridors. Definitely a distinct and memorable setting, and one that works well with the mood of this first chapter. This definitely isn't the bright, peppy world of the PMD games themselves.

    Nexus was super cute, so it was defintely sad to see it go. And what an end it was; we didn't really see enough of it for its death to be super impactful for me, but the thought of the situation is horrifying enough: being trapped in your own body, unable to stop yourself from murdering your friends. And in the end, it's Leo who's forced to kill. I also really liked the image of the ones and zeroes drifting out of Nexus' wounds.

    Somewhat undercut by the fact that all that probably could have been avoided if Nexus had just told Leo exactly why he shouldn't go into the exit tunnel. Communication, Nexus! Use your words!

    Now, the land outside Leo's "tomb" sounds much nicer than where he came from. I somehow doubt he's going to catch a real break, though. :p It's great to see you can do pretty as well as gritty.

    I have to admit, though, that reading through this was a bit of a chore at times. Your prose is very dense, to the point where I can sometimes have trouble telling what's going on. From the first sentence, things get complicated:

    "Unwelcomely" is a really cumbersome adverb, and pretty much any adverb would look weird in that location. His headache is exacerbated (exacerbated! There's a six-dollar word for you) only by the ringing in his ears? I'm guessing you meant "the ringing in his ears only exacerbated..." And this is loaded up with modifiers: unwelcomely returned, dull headache, profound ringing. This all adds up to a real mouthful, with a strange syntax and somewhat shaky word usage. These sorts of issues crop up all throughout the chapter. I've included only some more egregious examples below, but the first sentence here is a pretty typical of your narration... A lot of it reads wonky. In general the problems I'm seeing are odd syntax choices, too many modifiers, and too much going on in each sentence.

    I found this one very difficult to parse. In part this is because of a couple grammar errors: "sensations" should be singular, and if I understand what's going on correctly you messed up the tense and "reach" should be "reached." What you're getting at here is a pretty difficult concept to get across, that Leo's freaked out because he realizes he can feel it when he puts his hands on the tail, but I think you could write the sentence more clearly. "Sensation of feeling his hands" is the part that really seems strange, so perhaps consider how you might reword that bit into something more clear.

    This is a good example of unnecessary/redundant description, I think. I tend to assume floors are flat unless stated otherwise, and one way or another, what does it matter? The floor already gets one adjective, which is probably more than it needs.

    This is another confusing one, largely because of how it's constructed. It reads like the abrasions are getting blown away, not Leo's tears. Also, abrasions don't really tear through things; things get abraded. More excessive modifiers: toughened (you just want "tough") scales, whipping wind, quickly blown. When all these things get emphasized, none of them really stand out.

    This is just a super drawn out and convoluted way of saying "He realized something had hit him." Why complicate it?

    I found this difficult to follow, too. Some of it is probably splitting the fact that it was covered in red scales away from the other characteristics (has a horn, has a snout); it might read better to say, "The creature was covered in the same crimson scales as the tail and possessed a..." I changed "identical" to "the same" because you wouldn't normally use it the way you have here, for reasons I can't explain; you could say "crimson scales identical to the ones the tail sported" or something, though. Also, "the terrified male" is kind of a silly epithet, and "on the opposite side of the reflection" doesn't make sense. You could say "opposite" the reflection, but something like "staring at his reflection" would probably be clearer. Even reworded this would be a long and convoluted sentence; consider splitting it or dropping some of the information in it.

    The diction you use is also a bit melodramatic. This chapter is full of "profound," "eons," "maelstrom," "abyss," "maw..." A bit of that kind of thing is fine and appropriate for the kind of high-fantasy-ish setting you seem to be going for here, but too much and it reads to me like you're trying too hard to make things seem serious and affecting. Like, you use "eternity" six times in this chapter. I'd rather see dramatic and profound things happening than have the language try and convince me to be impressed.

    In general I think you're trying too hard to make your writing sound fancy and descriptive. More words isn't better. More descriptors isn't better. It's all about choosing the right words and the right descriptors to highlight what you want readers to notice about a scene.

    You also have issues slipping into the present tense. For example:

    Here you start off in past tense ("steeled") before switching to present ("glances," "examines").

    (There are also like four different things going on in that sentence; it could stand to be simplified.)

    And that happens a lot; those are just a couple quick examples.

    Also, while you mostly punctuate your dialogue correctly, you also mess it up a fair amount. If the narration that follows a piece of dialogue is a speech tag, something that describes how the dialogue was said and which couldn't stand on its own as a sentence, it isn't capitalized. Like here:

    Should be "he yelled," not "He yelled." There's also a ton going on in this sentence--yelling, anger, confusion, endurance, stinging. It would probably be better to simplify it.

    Should be "he whispered." Also, it's weird to refer to Leo as "the red lizard" when he's already the subject of the sentence. Just removing "the red lizard to leave," "whispered in shock, clutching the sides" reads much more natural.

    Just an example of where you did it right!

    In addition to incorrectly capitalizing "he," you slip into present tense in the second half of the sentence.

    Again, those are just some examples; it happens many more times throughout the chapter.

    Some formatting that didn't go through, maybe?

    In the earlier parts of the story, you have a lot of constructions like "his thoughts said" or "his thoughts [whatever]." This sounds really weird because it makes it sound like those thoughts have some agency of their own or generally aren't coming from Leo himself. I wasn't sure whether we were supposed to take them as messages from his head-voice until later when you specified it had only spoken once.

    Throughout you write "lead" where you meant "led." "Is this why I was lead here?" -> "Is this why I was led here?" etc.

    You're also fond of really complicated epithets. At times they get entirely out of hand, like when you refer to Leo as "the fire-wielding male." Elaborate epithets like that draw attention to themselves, where generally you just want to indicate who the subject of the clause is, and the ones you use are often mouthfuls or weirdly clinical-sounding (pretty much any time you refer to someone as "the male" or "the female" you get a weird scientific tone to things). What do you think you gain by calling Leo e.g. "the crimson reptilian" rather than "Charmeleon" or "Leo?"

    I think that you might want to try another pass of proofreading before posting, looking for those tense errors and punctuation problems in particular. If you aren't already, I also think you might want to try reading the story aloud as you work through it; it would hopefully help you identify some of the really unwieldy sentences.

    All in all, this is an interesting start. I'm most intrigued by the world, here; you do a nice job of getting across the desolation of the facility Leo's ended up in, conveying a gloomy, decaying atmosphere and setting up some intriguing mysteries. However, I think at the moment your prose is getting in the way of the story rather than helping it along. I really think you could improve this a lot by being more selective about the descriptors you're using and working to simplify your sentences. Good luck with the future chapters! It looks like you've changed so much you're practically writing an entirely new story here, which is a big undertaking.
  4. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Ahh, so this is the much-vaunted reboot of Overthrown that I'd been hearing about through the grapevine. And the chance to write another review is...
    certainly something.

    But more seriously, I'm glad to see your writing back. It's a welcome presence on the forums here and I've always had a soft spot for your ability to paint a picture in your writing.

    Ah yes, the classic "I've been transformed into a gerbil!" reaction of human-turned-PMD protagonists. Or in this case, I suppose "I've been transformed into a burning skink!" would be more accurate. I felt that the delivery on this part was great, and it painted a nice picture of the overall experience since Leo didn't get the luxury of seeing his new form as soon as he cracked his eyes open.

    Just out of curiosity, but is the italicization of Leo's thoughts and the voice in his head who seems to be he-who-shant-be-named-because-spoilers again intended to be common? On one level, it makes discerning them a little difficult when they're close together like this, though given how Leo in Overthrown had progressive sanity slippage going on in-story, that ambiguity might be pretty deliberate.

    It'll be interesting to see if there's any points this go around where Leo starts to have trouble separating the two apart from each other, especially if he starts confusing his own thoughts with Mr. Voice.

    I half-expected the Porygon to tell Leo that he might have 'a very minor case of serious brain damage' there. But cute computer birdie is cute.

    Interesting to see this pop up, given that Nexus was most decidedly not a cute little birdie in the original and a lot more crabby, in the literal steel-plated sense. That said, the personality of this Nexus certainly matches up with the less openly sociopathic half of the original, though I'm uncertain whether this is a coincidence or deliberate retool/reimagining just yet.

    So... somewhere between a library and a server farm, with much roomier interior design. Though I have to wonder what the original purpose was such that the network was specifically structured as a domain, given that those are generally used when traffic of a network needs to be controlled or monitored.

    What does the process of tenderizing ancient rubber and plastic entail anyways? Though whatever it is, the end product as described here certainly sounds comfortable.

    Well if Nexus is a betting Porygon, I know what I'm putting my money on, and it's certainly not on that being mere sensor failure. Though I'm not sure what he'd accept for a wager, would dust bunnies, functional microprocessors, or Game Boys be preferred?

    I think that there's something missing here for Leo coming to the conclusion that Nexus fundamentally doesn't want him to leave, which made the alarm bit feel a little off. I feel that it would make more sense to either give Leo something firmer to ground his attitude and suspicions that show up in paragraph two and three here, such as explicitly coming to a realization of "Hey, Nexus really doesn't want me to leave" in paragraph one with the attendant anxiety/distrust that that entails. Alternatively, you could play paragraphs two and three in a more lighthearted manner such as "half-expecting" a klaxon to sound since Nexus' behavior is still within the realm of believability for a lonely but non-malevolent being.

    Ouch. And this is why having a few lengths of rope tends to be handy for any would-be escape attempts. As minor nitpicks, you have a small tense error for "curls" not matching with "tucked", and "Leo smacked bodily" feels a bit more natural when rephrased into something like "Leo's body smacked".

    Ahh, I remember this trinket. It's nice to see it given more context and backstory to why it's important to Leo this go-around.

    So, given his computer-hopping trick in the first half of the chapter, how much disk space did Nexus use up making funny faces in front of the surveillance cameras? Assuming that they're not either broken or buried under a layer of dust, that is?

    Well, that certainly went south quickly, though at least whatever is assuming direct control over him had the decency not to rub it in by allowing him to speak back for a time. A little nitpick over spelling and a word that would probably serve better with something more like "faded" or "vanished", since the "shut" reads a little weird here.

    Is the laser from Nexus himself or from a possessed part of the hallway? If the former, who do I get in touch with at Silph Co. for my own Porygon laser dot sight?

    Aw, no implacable possessed killer drinky birds of doom stalking the wilderness trying to eliminate John Connor the server farm's key thieves? Seems like a bit of a programmer's oversight, unless the key is a fail-safe against Porygonators or something is somehow encoded on it that is important enough where all is lost for the facility if it leaves it.

    Yikes, that's certainly quite the image. Though I'm wondering what exactly a Porygon is composed of if it bleeds computer binary. And if it can be translated on the fly to something a little more abstract like say... hexadecimal, or the in-verse equivalent of MIPS instructions.

    Farewell, drinky bird Nexus. You shall be deeply missed. :( Though what is the Porygon analogue of Overthrown/Dissolution's afterlifes anyways?

    I suppose asking the facility for a song-and-dance routine on the way out would be in poor form given the dead Porygon, huh? More seriously, I'm loving the description here, and it feels like a natural bridge between the lull after a denouement and onto the next adventure just over those hills.

    Beyond the thoughts there, I'd have to say that I'd echo Negrek's recommendation to read your passages aloud if you're not already doing that. From my own experiences, a lot of grammatical hiccups and awkward phrasing seem perfectly fine on paper until you actually hear them spoken and the light switch telling you that something sounds wrong with it instantly goes off.

    Criticisms aside, I felt that it was a very strong opening for your reboot. Your description is as vivid as ever, to the point where I didn't see half the errors I found after taking a second look simply because I was so engrossed in the story. The context around Leo's key you provided was a welcome addition, and while I'm sure there's more than a couple mysteries around it yet to be deciphered, it certainly adds a lot more grounding to some interactions in Overthrown's early chapters if they wind up returning in this incarnation.

    Kudos to the intro chapter, and I'll be looking forward to seeing more of Leo and Verus (or whatever this world will be called this time around in Dissolution) and where your new adventurer's tale winds up going.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
  5. Knightfall

    Knightfall Blazing Wordsmith

    Thank you both Negrek and Spiteful Murkrow for the reviews! A bit short on time, but I'll do my best to address the main points you both brought up!

    You both (and others) have pointed out my use of "overwriting" as it was, and I certainly agree that it does clog up my writing quite a bit. It's one of my tendencies that's hung over me for as long as I've been writing, but I will be taking steps to fix that in the future. It'll take some effort to resist the urge to squeeze every adjective and adverb I can into a sentence, but I'll get to to the point where my chapters become a bit more succinct and balanced.

    As I mentioned elsewhere, those errors into present tense are quite embarrassing... That's what I get for jumping headlong back into writing after such a long time away. Not to say it's a bad thing I did so, but I was over halfway into my chapter before I realized I was mixing tenses quite badly. Thought I and my multiple beta readers had caught them all, but alas, some slipped through. The next chapters will hopefully be free of those pesky issues.

    It does make me happy to see you both are enjoying the story's tone and world so far. I am trying to give Overthrown the proper rewrite it deserves, so expect a little bit of the familiar in the future along with plenty more new settings and scenarios.

    And yes, Spiteful, this world is still called Verus, that's no spoiler. Though, I feel like this would be a better send-off.

    Thank you both very much and I hope you'll enjoy what's to come.

    Knightfall signing off! ;005;
  6. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    I know I had sort of given you my thoughts already, so you can totally ignore me if you want. :p

    It's a very slow and methodical start that kicks into a higher gear later on, but I don't necessarily think I was bored reading it. It's very interesting, though from the look of things, the setting of our initial chapter probably won't be getting a revisit. That said, there are little breadcrumbs that I'm wondering whether or not will effect the story as a whole. Like the symbol Leo had seen from his cell (unless I'm misremembering). And, of course, the voice. Who I do not trust right now.

    You start off very vividly. Really selling the disorientation and just how out of it our protagonist here. All the different senses are pulled in here to give a complete picture. I could see how someone might think you're dragging things out, potentially. But, like, it's rather realistic. This guy's in pain, and he's extremely thirsty. So, naturally, he's going to make sure those elements are attended to before anything else happens (something something Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs...). There are a few moments where it feels like you're overdescribing things, and that bogs the pacing down a bit. Here's one spot I picked out:
    This... seems like an unnecessarily roundabout way of telling us he's somewhere cramped. Also, I'm a bit confused why he decides to switch from an inner monologue to voicing all his thoughts out loud. And then seems to keep switching. I'm one of those weirdos who talks to myself all the time, so I'm fine with it. But it's been pointed out to me that's not... normal. So having your characters do that also isn't normal. If that makes sense.

    On the other hand, his panicked reactions to all of this are pretty spot-on. In fact, it seems a lot better done than the actual PMD games, where there's a few moments of panic, quickly followed by, "Hey there, stranger, let's be best friends forever and ever. Hugs and kisses!" Likewise, you really make me sympathize with Leo's confusion and frustration at his inability to recall much of anything. I've... sort of been there before. So, it feels familiar.

    Also, uh, I noticed this a couple of times in the chapter. Maybe these were typos. In which case, ignore this.
    Even if you're ending the dialogue with ellipses, or exclamation/question marks, if you follow with an attribution it's still got to be lower case.

    And then some of the tension with Leo's situation evaporates with the introduction oF Nexus. He is... every bit of an automaton, using some of my personal favorite quirks that I may have given one of my own characters, in which case, damn you for beating me to the punch here! I love his use of exact percentages, mixed in with techno-babble and his complete indifference to Leo's panicked state. And his tendency to add in some... interesting word choice in some of his sentences. It's not completely overdone to make me sick of it. And it plays really well with Leo's, well, total confusion. I'm intrigued about what it is he's guarding, exactly. It sure sounds like a database area from olden times (i.e. when humans exist). Because, they're the only species I can think of who would want to use data.

    We even get a little sorta-kinda heartwarming moment between Leo and Nexus here. I mean, I haven't really gotten the time to get invested in either character, but it seems like Leo's made Nexus "happy" (or whatever passes for that for the guy). And offering to take Nexus with him is a nice gesture repaying the help that he had gotten. Though, y'know, he doesn't exactly tell Leo how to get out, leaving him to take matters into his own handsclaws. And, predictably, it doesn't go well. I have a slite gripe in that, the narration calls his fall sudden... after have spent two longer paragraphs describing it. Perils of written media, I suppose? XP

    The, uh, dungeon-crawling for lack of a better phrase is fairly slow glowing. It's an interesting mix of modern, post-apocalyptic ruins, and then Legend of Zelda vibes with the voice that's in Leo's head. At first I thought it was some sort of benevolent guardian, but a part of me started to wonder by the time he trigged "The Spark" if this was actually some sort of malevolent force, instead. In any case, Nexus winds up turning into some sort of uncontrollable security force (poor guy). It's pretty gut-wrenching seeing him yell out these warnings, knowing he's powerless to do anything and Leo, by association, can't really do anything other than run. And then it leads to the revelation that this has apparently happened a lot, and that's why Nexus was so hesitant to give Leo any directions. Yeah, really not trusting that voice in Leo's head right now. And while on the onehand, yay he gets an attack, on the other hand... noooo, he has to use that newfound power to take Nexus' life. Dang, that's quite the choice to have to make when you're a newcomer to this world. A very bittersweet ending, to be sure, and one that suggests we're in for a relatively dark tone here.

    Yeah, really great start. And if the fancy art's anything to go by, we're in for a fun time. ^^
  7. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Hiya Knightfall! I'm really glad to see you posting fic again! I've never actually gotten to read any of your stuff before, so it'll be fun to get in on this fic from the very beginning. Especially since it's one you've had me draw characters from in the past!

    So, I'll spare you the pain of rereading the same critique Negrek and Amby gave and just say that yes, the overdescription definitely slowed things down for me, but they already covered that in pretty good detail so I'll keep it brief. You do have a pretty good grasp on using verbs as your primary means of description, I'd just say dial down the five-dollar words and don't use more than one adjective chain in the same sentence, and you'll be in good shape. Negrek mentioned the overuse of epithets and I agree, although I will say that I don't mind them so long as they're kept short or used strategically. "The Charmeleon" is pretty easy to gloss over. So is "the lizard." "Crimson-scaled lizard" is what starts to push it unless the description is specifically referencing the light hitting his scales or whatever. Likewise, I didn't mind the use of "the male" in the beginning because he was kind of hardcore dissociating and didn't even know who/what he was. Later on was where it got weird ("fire-wielding male being the weirdest one.) One last note: I noticed an overused of "X thing happened, causing Y other thing to happen." It kind of made for a weird passive tone.

    But all that said, I really did enjoy how most of the description prioritized the verbs, which is always more interesting that description that goes, "There was an X. It was Y." This was especially noticeable because we've got a protagonist in an unfamiliar body, and all that attention to what he was doing with said body made it really easy to visualize what was going on. You also have a really, really good grasp on how to set up a thick atmosphere. Overall, this was a really interesting beginning! It's easy to feel for Leo's situation, and I can't help but feel like that mysterious voice is yanking his chain a little bit. Also I really liked Nexus, and the way it got really excited talking about boring database management was really cute, and dammit, why'd this have to hit us with the "kill me to save yourself!" trope right away? ;-;

    Anyway, looking forward to seeing where this goes, and again, welcome back!

  8. Knightfall

    Knightfall Blazing Wordsmith

    Apologies for the late reply! I've had college nonsense and work that eats up time. I am very glad you dropped by and left a review. (And yes, I certainly appreciate the drawings you did for me a while back!)

    In regards to the main issue of the chapter, I certainly realize I went overboard on the description and that it ruined the pacing somewhat. I've done my best to take that to heart going forward in the next chapter. While it likely won't be perfect (as my writing style often lends itself to being verbose if I don't actively watch for it), Chapter 2 should definitely be an improvement over the first, at least that's what I aimed for.

    I am glad that you did manage to enjoy the atmosphere and Leo! I'll leave it to be seen just how things pan out for him in regards to the voice. (And my apologies! I rather enjoyed Nexus too if it's any consolation! XD )

    Chapter Two shall be posted shortly.

    Knightfall signing off. ;005; (It seems this no longer works. Huh.)
  9. Knightfall

    Knightfall Blazing Wordsmith

    Chapter Two: Tranquility

    Through fire, blood,

    The end of days

    Cruel hands set their gods aflame

    Crafting redemption from desolation

    With angelic light guiding to salvation.

    Rejoice, Verus, land of the ancients!

    You are blessed under your divine regent!

    —Scribe Martor Serperior,

    Ballad of the Angel from The Rains of Erebus

    A rustling of leaves through laden branches stirred the resting Charmeleon from his deep, dreamless slumber. While he had hoped to attain a few more minutes of sleep, a fluttering leaf dropped down onto his snout. The dozing lizard wrinkled his nose a few times to try and dislodge the foliage. The tickle of the lead force a sneeze, blowing it off his face with a puff of black smoke. He bolted upright from the sudden sneeze before giving the side of his head a ginger rub. A tremendous yawn issued from his maw.

    Once the yawn was out of his system, Leo blinked the sleep from his eyes and took notice of his dim surroundings. He immediately jerked his head skyward and was quite confused to see the unobstructed sky he had fallen asleep under was now obscured by a dense canopy of trees. That’s odd. Why would there be trees in a field? Those weren’t there when—Wait! his thoughts jolted him to awareness and he glanced around at his surroundings.

    What had been open grasslands was now a thick, dim forest of ancient trunks and large boughs of moss hanging from towering branches. There was no trace of grass to be found in the understory; only thin-trunked saplings that dotted the forest floor among the sea of leafy ferns. The Charmeleon picked up his tail, burning healthily with a merry flame, and took a hesitant step forward, feeling the moist soil and moss squish up against the bottom of his feet. To complete the experience, Leo’s nose wrinkled as he caught the potent, earthy scent that permeated the primal woods.

    “Gods... I didn’t ... I didn’t fall asleep here!” he exclaimed to audience of large, gnarled oaks offering nothing in reply aside from distant birdsong. “What’s going on?” He grabbed the key on his chest and gave the cool, glass-like figurine a squeeze to try and call forth his mysterious watcher from the ruins.

    Only the continued birdsong answered him. The Charmeleon sighed in frustration. I’m on my own... I suppose. Great. How did I even get here? He only remembered falling asleep in the open field just outside the cave. A brief moment of panic hit him as he wondered if he had not really escaped the ruins and this was some sort of trick. Leo sunk his claws into the nearest trunk and pulled away a section of the rough bark before letting the crumbly pieces drop to the ground.

    “Feels real...” He muttered before he rolled his shoulders and stretched his arms to alleviate the ebbing soreness pulsing through his body. There were a few patches of discolored and white scales on his chest and sides were he had been cut yesterday, but his body had done well at healing those injuries. His claws traced over his flesh, the Charmeleon grinning at the touch. “This is pretty cool, I gotta say...” He chuckled softly before he again examined his surroundings.

    He needed a new plan. Now out of the ruins, his priorities had shifted. Top of his mental list was finding out why he was here as a Charmeleon; that had not changed. However, second and third on the list were now to get out of these woods and find some sort of living civilization, human or –as he suspected from Nexus– otherwise. Leo circled around, seeing there was little difference in the paths; the woods appeared identical in every direction.

    He let out another snort of steam and began walking straight into the sea of ferns. He figured that, sooner or later, he would find an exit or civilization if he continued along this path. Fronds brushed up along his scales and he breathed deeply, inhaling the fresh, humid air. Despite not knowing where in the world he was, at least this forest was better than the dead, dusty halls of the ruins.

    Brushing aside the intruding fronds and keeping his flaming tail held close, Leo continued through the dense forest. The damp air held beneath the thick, leafy boughs made the salamander grow increasingly uncomfortable with his exploration, but he held fast and walked on. While he rounded yet another oak in search of the field he first woke in, his free claw went to examine the key that hung on his chest. The blue artifact Nexus described as a ‘spark’ certainly seemed to fit its descriptor. In the muted rays of sunlight that managed to peak through the dense canopy, his eyes were able to better catch the intricacies of the key.

    The etchings into its hard, crystal surface were not as organic as he recalled; they covered the blue key in circuit-esque markings that gave it an aura that someone had poured their blood, sweat, and more into its design. As he ran his claws down the key’s shaft, it seemed clear that he would be hard-pressed to even scratch the tough artifact. Suppose that’s good. If this thing is important, it needs to be tough, he mused before a sudden gust of cold, intense wind hit from behind.

    Leo spun on the spot, dropping his tail and raising his arms in defense, though they instantly fell limp at his sides. In the course of the second it took to blink and turn, the dense forest had vanished entirely. His feet stumbled and slid, struggling to find purchase on the icy rocks he stood on. The Charmeleon let out a yell as a furious gust of wind nearly toppled his unstable form. Judging from what he could see through the thick mist, he was on the crest of a snow-battered mountain. His tail sputtered angrily and flared brighter as wind-driven snowflakes stung at his fire. His body grew hotter to combat the intense cold, wrapping him in a blanket of warmth.

    “W-What’s going on?!” he shouted into the blizzard while he attempted to navigate the treacherous rocks. His claws dug into the layer of ice that coated the sloped stone in a desperate effort to provide more grip. “This isn’t right! Where the heck am I?” Leo cried out again just before the ice around his claws broke and sent him sliding. His arms wheeled and grasped at the empty air as his legs skated out from beneath him and made him land flat on his back onto the bitterly cold stone. The wind was knocked out of his lungs for a long moment, returning in slow bursts.

    Rolling carefully onto his side, he let out a snort of hot steam that briefly melted a patch of snow before him. “Come on! Why?!” he exclaimed between gasps in frustration shortly before pushing his sore, chilled body upright. “What’s going on here?!”

    His impassioned pleas for answers are met with another howl from the uncaring glacial storm. Wind sang and screeched as it battered the stoney edifice, making Leo’s descent even more disorientating. He grunted, trying to find proper footing that refused to appear. Steam issued from between his clenched teeth, creating a cloud of mist that obscured his vision further than the whiteout. “O-Oh gods...” he whispers, the Charmeleon wanting nothing more than to escape from this new loop of torment.

    After two unsteady steps, the wind howled louder than it had before, its icy claws gripping the weary former-human. The force threw the Charmeleon off balance and sent him stumbling over a low ridge of slick rock.

    “NO! NO! NO!” He exclaimed, arms flailing once again while he desperately wished for wings. His fall was swift, but not nearly as far as the drop into the chasm. A sheet of thin ice greeted his front by shattering into a thousands of pointed shards, but as he braced himself, he did not feel the bite of being skewered. Instead leaves, round and vibrantly-green, brushed by him rapidly before he smacked into warm, wet earth.

    Gasping for air, the salamander groaned from the short fall and stared up at the hole his form had punched through the thick canopy of leaves. He was in the forest again as rapidly as he left it. His claws dug into the cool moss while his other hand brushed caked-on ice off his chest as it melted on his steaming body. “W-What...? How did..?” he asked aloud as he rubbed at his head. That had not been a dream. The mountain, the wind, the snow; they had all been very real and painful, but yet, there was no sign of them now in this warm forest.

    “Hey there, stranger! Bravo! Nice dismount, but the landing was a little rough! Solid seven out of ten though! Very nice!”

    Leo sat up and scanned the surrounding forest as quick as he could. The voice had come from nearby, but he could not see who had given the uncalled for ranking or from where. His head grew slightly dizzy from the swift scanning and he pushed himself to his feet with a hiss

    “Who was that?! I’ve had enough of empty voices! Show yourself!” Leo snapped, grey smoke issuing from his mouth in threat. He was beyond fed up with the mysterious and unseeable beings that he had dealt with since he first woke in this world. “Where are you?!”

    A rustling above him and a shower of disturbed leaves made his head snap up to the lower branches of the thick, gnarled oak before him. Leaning against the trunk on the mossy limb was an odd creature. Covered in two shades of blue fur, a pair of whiskers, and two shells on its hips, an otter-like creature clapped its paws once and laughed down at him with a smile on its round face.

    Leo watched warily as the stranger stopped its jolly laugh, adjusted the cloth rucksack that was slung over his shoulder, and then nimbly front-flipped through the air from its perch. The blue otter stuck the landing and performed a bow before it again brought its gaze to Leo’s. The curious creature then extended a paw out towards the cautious Charmeleon; the otter was clearly some sort of creature like himself, a Pokémon, but his mind offered nothing further.

    “Greetings, stranger! Sorry for the sudden interjection, but you’re the first ‘mon I’ve seen in oh... Three? Four days?” The otter, seemingly male, shrugged his shoulders and wiggled his paw to again offer it in greeting. “Anyhow, it’s nice to see a friendly sort, even if you do seem a bit on edge based on how you shouted at me. Should tone it down if you want to make friends.”

    Leo reluctantly put his hand out and gripped the otter’s in greeting, to which the blue-furred creature eagerly shook. There was a twinkling in the otter’s eyes that put belief behind his claim that he had not seen another Pokémon in days.

    “Name’s Noah. Noah Dewott. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Charmeleon. Rare to find another trekking through these unstable paths, though you don’t seem very experienced...” The otter, a Dewott from his own admission, trailed off as he let go of Leo’s hand.

    “I’m Leo. Nice to meet you too, I guess... Suppose I’ve gone a while without seeing anyone too...” The salamander glanced about the woods. “You wouldn’t happen to know exactly where we are, would you? I went to sleep in a field and woke up... here.” He gestured about to the trees and dense ferns. “I’m a bit confused, to say the least...” He admitted, the Charmeleon rubbing at the back of his neck. Noah wrinkled his nose and had the slightest hint of a frown on his good-natured face.

    “You’re really saying that you don’t know where we are? Friend, this is Anomaly Seventeen. Better known to folks who aren’t royal cartographers as Tranquility Weald. One of the most unstable mystery dungeons this side of Verus.” The Dewott folded his arms as he examined Leo from top to bottom. “How did you get in here? ... I had to sneak in past like... Four patrols to get inside, but you seem like you have no idea how you got here...” The otter stroked his whiskers for a moment before letting out a raucous laugh. “Leo, you’re a curious one! I’ll stick with you, if that’s alright! And besides, it’s far safer to explore as a team! Less chance of the dungeon playing tricks if there’s two of us on the lookout.”

    Leo was not quite sure how to react to the otter’s sudden offer to join up with him, though he supposed that Noah posed a good point. It would be better to not stumble through this “mystery dungeon” alone, even though he had no fixing on his new friend’s nature yet. Noah seemed friendly enough and appeared to know something about where they were. That was all the convincing the Charmeleon needed to take the risk. His thoughts were interrupted by the Dewott’s paw giving his back a swift slap, making Leo return to the present.

    “Space out there for a moment, pal? Come on, let’s keep moving. The dungeon doesn’t like it when those inside it stay put for long...” The blue-furred otter paused for a second and chuckled. “Well, it doesn’t like it when you’re moving either, so I suppose there’s no pleasing it. But still, need to move. We can walk and chat.” The Dewott urged, giving the confused lizard a light shove forward. Leo stumbled slightly on a root, but quickly got his feet under him.

    “R-Right, Noah, was it? ... Well, I don’t remember much of how I got in here, to tell you the truth. I’ve never been in a ‘mystery dungeon’ as you called it,” Leo explained as he and the Dewott trudged through the waist-high scrub that covered the forest floor. The Charmeleon was certainly glad for his scales that repelled the small branches that Noah had to deal with, though that was quite a spectacle to see. The slightly-shorter otter had taken the pair of sharpened shells off his hips and was effortlessly using them as dual machetes against the brush.

    “Yep! Noah’s the name! Quite proud of it too! It’s a good one if I do say so myself!” Noah exclaimed as he swung his scallops repeatedly at a thick branch that obscured their path. With a few swings, the Dewott made short work of the obstacle. He possessed quite a bit of strength judging from easily he chopped the branches down. “Anyhow! Why don’t we start at the beginning for us both? I’ll go first, though I’m really dying to know your story, friend.” Noah flashed another grin as he idly adjusted what appeared to be a tooth or claw from a larger beast hanging from a string around his neck before slashing again at the thick foliage ahead of them.

    “I like to think of myself as an explorer of sorts! I like delving into the dungeons, even though everyone but guilds and cartographers usually avoid them. Something about ‘massive danger’ and ‘risk to life and limb.’ That’s hardly true. The dungeons can be fun if you aren’t blind.” Noah said nonchalantly, downplaying the apparent risks. “So, I sneak into them every so often and spend a few days seeing what I find. Usually can score some neat trinkets and stuff left behind when the dungeon expanded over a town or some merchant got lost.”

    “You’re a scavenger?” Leo inquired, which made the Dewott scoff and stop clearing the brush for a moment.

    “I prefer the term ‘salvager,’ thank you. Looks better on paper, not that I advertise my services... But, I mostly do it out of curiosity. There’s a lot you can learn and see in these dungeons. You’ll see a lot more by wandering around one than you will following the stuffy exploring procedure the royal mappers all follow to a T.” Leo had no idea what most of those terms meant without context, and was hesitant to interrupt the Dewott’s story again, so he simply nodded his head and let Noah continue as the shells sliced through the air and leaves.

    Dungeons? Mappers? Guilds? Gods, I’m so lost... Leo thought dizzyingly as Noah continued on.

    “Not to say those mappers and patrol folk are bad or anything; I just think they’re going about these dungeons the wrong way. But, I digress. I came to Tranquility Weald to see about finding some ruins that are rumored to be here, somewhere. Haven’t found them yet, but I’ll try again another time. Got some neat stuff at the very least. I was just about to try and leave when I found you; fate’s funny like that, isn’t it?” Noah beamed back at him, his smile lighting up his face. “So, I’ve spilled how I got in here. How about you, Leo?”

    The Charmeleon scratched his crest and gulped. How do I go about this...? “Well... I ... Err... I woke up a few days ago in an underground ... place made of metal.” Leo nearly groaned with how poorly this was sounding. “I can’t remember much beyond then, either, except my name and that I wasn’t a Charmeleon...” He explained, gesturing down at his red-scaled body. “I’m almost certain...”

    Noah glanced back at him curiously and halted his hacking of the shrubbery. The otter seemed to wear an amused expression on his face. “What do you mean? You saying you were a Charmander before you woke up? Evolving in one’s sleep... That’s a new one! Can’t say I’ve met any ‘mon that claimed they managed that outside of a weird Snorlax fella I passed by in Copperleaf a while back, though he isn’t the most reliable of sorts,” Noah laughed once more, though for only a brief moment before returning his attention to Leo’s claim. “How did that come to happen?”

    Leo frowned and shook his head. “N-Not quite in that way, no. I wasn’t a Charmander... I was...” He stopped himself, looking at the Dewott he had only just met. It would be on the verge of idiocy to simply admit such a revelation so wantonly. “I was something else...”

    Noah put a paw to his chin, expression puzzled. “Alright, you’ve got me intrigued now, Leo, my friend. You a Ditto? A Zorua? Your disguise looks pretty good if you are. Sturdy too, if it remained even after that fall you took back there,” Noah theorized without missing a second. “You care to elaborate a bit on that?”

    Leo gulped and meekly shook his head at the sudden question. “N-Not quite, Noah. I am not quite sure of the details myself...” The Charmeleon trailed off as Noah took a step closer, looking Leo up and down in scrutiny. “I wasn’t... I wasn’t a Pokémon...”

    “Not a Pokémon? What were you then, hm? One of the dead gods? A ghost or spirit? You seem solid to me...” The Dewott inquired, his curious eyes not leaving Leo’s. The Charmeleon stammered for a moment, not getting any meaningful words out. “If we’re to be navigating this dungeon together, I’d like to know just who I’m trekking with, you know? That sounds fair, doesn’t it?” His tone was not threatening in the slightest, but Leo felt the pressing tone behind it.

    “I... Gods...” Leo took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I think I was a human before...” he admitted to the Dewott after a hesitant pause.

    “... That’s quite a claim, considering humans vanished eons ago... They’re legends that built Verus, if you subscribe to that school of thought.” The Dewott shrugged his shoulders to display his ambivalence, his intense stare moving away. “I personally think it’s a bit far fetched, considering you’re standing here as a Charmeleon. There are some old stories that mimic yours. Lot of the weird stuff that happened to Verus have links to ‘mon who also claimed to be human...” Noah explained, which caused Leo to perk up ever so slightly. “But, after all, they’re just stories. I do appreciate the answer.”

    The Dewott smiled warmly and continued. “I believe you. I’ve found even the most outlandish things can have a grain of truth to them. Leo the human. Amazing to meet a genuine human. Never thought I’d be so lucky!” He gave the reptile a pat on the shoulder.

    Leo sighed and shook his head, wondering if he had made the right decision. “Thanks, I suppose...” He looked down his chest, seeing he still wore the odd key from the ruins around his neck. With a bemused expression, the Charmeleon raised his head and gripped the blue artifact in his claws. “Wonder if this is also a human thing...”

    The Dewott turned back and bent over slightly to examine the blue key with his keen, black eyes, definitely intrigued with the artifact. “It’s certainly pretty; no doubts there, friend.” The otter reached out and gingerly touched the two bits at the tip of the key, lifting it up to see the intricate lines that ran along its shank. “I’ve never seen anything like it... Where’d you find it?”

    Leo mentally retreaded the fresh memories of his time underground with Nexus, the voice, and specifically how he found the key he now wore before his dramatic escape from the manmade labyrinth. “... I found it in the ruin I woke up in. No clue beyond that...” He answered simply, keeping the story to himself. Noah, for his part, returned to clearing the path with his razor-sharp shells, but was attentively listening all the while.

    “Fair point. Seems like a lucky find!” The Dewott explorer remarked. “I’d be cautious about who you tell about being human. Remember what I said about humans being legends and weird stories attributed to them? Well, some folks do subscribe to different schools of thought on them. Some may not like you claiming to be human, or, at the very least, might think you’re touched in the head. No offense, but you’re still a Charmeleon to anyone looking your way. I believe you, but that doesn’t mean others will hear you out.”

    Leo nodded. “R-Right. I’ll keep note of that. Thanks.” The Charmeleon sidestepped around a thorny bush and takes a deep breath. “So, mind explaining what a mystery dungeon is? I’m afraid I haven’t the foggiest idea...” Leo admitted weakly as the otter let out an amused chuckle.

    “Oh, that’s a good one! Though, suppose that isn’t too surprising, considering your situation.” The Dewott remarks, his shell slicing through a tough sapling while the forest grew thicker around them. “To get a detailed answer, you’d have to ask one of the master explorers or researchers. They’d talk your ears off about dungeons...” Noah snorted, as if he had experience with this before. “The short of it is that mystery dungeons are patches of Verus where things don’t quite... Add up, so to speak. They’re realms of weirdness where space connects to places it shouldn’t. Some say they’re divine places where gods fell... They appear one day and, as time passes, grow to cover a large chunk of land. Sometimes they stay for a few days or weeks before vanishing, and other times they are there for good...

    “It’s a big inconvenience for a lot of folks, especially when a dungeon decides to plop itself on a route or next to a town.” Noah rolled his shoulders, taking a quick break from his bush-clearing, which had made a decent path so far through the thicket. “Wild packs and strange Pokémon live in them at times, which makes them more dangerous.” That last part made the Charmeleon nervously glance around the woods.

    “Hold up. You’re saying wild Pokémon actually live in this place? It tossed me around a forest, the top of a mountain and back all in five minutes!” Leo remarked as a light breeze rustled through the trees, making the branches sway noisily. Noah once again cracked a smile and pointed up at the swaying boughs.

    “That’s the dungeon laughing at you, Leo. While it is hard, one can navigate around. Tranquility Weald is an old dungeon, so it’s way more weird,” Noah replied before he climbed over a thick root of a large, drooping tree. Leo followed suit, scrambling over the rough root that impeded their way.

    “Then why on earth did you come inside, Noah? Why deal with all that?” Leo inquired, quite baffled with how the otter could justify entering this hellish realm. Leo could not fathom the allure of treasure outweighing the risks.

    The Dewott rubbed his paws over the claw necklace and gave Leo a soft smile. “Because it’s all some of us have. If you’re as new as you claim, then you don’t know what it’s like on Verus; you’ll learn though. The dungeons are blessings to those of us willing to brave them.” Noah patted the side of the worn rucksack at his side. Leo could make out the jingling of coins and other objects from within. “The dungeons provide, my friend. Remember that, regardless of what others say. They’re just scared of getting stuck.”

    Leo tilted his head in confusion. “Getting stuck? What do you mean by that, Noah?” He asked, following the Dewott down an inclined path through tall ferns that brushed up against the Charmeleon’s face uncomfortably. Leo held his tail tightly to his chest, keen on keeping the flame from torching the dungeon, which had a mind of its own according to Noah.

    Noah waved a paw dismissively in the air. “Sometimes, if the dungeon doesn’t like you, it’ll decide to mess with you. That’s when rescue teams and others go to rescue those poor suckers. A small chunk of ‘mon who get stuck tend to get mauled or just waste away wandering.” The otter apparently did not see the horrified expression Leo wore, as he continued without care. “Done a few rescues myself, but it’s not the field for me. Ungrateful bunch they are. Always complaining and flailing about cluelessly. Once had to chase a Volbeat I was after across a lake because they decided to buzz out in the middle of it.” Noah chuckled. “Definitely did not get paid enough for that job.”

    “You’re telling me that this place... This Tranquilty Woods or whatever might just decide not to let us go? What sort of insane place is this?!” Leo exclaimed as a wind again blew through the boughs. “Noah, I just got out of one dungeon! I don’t want to die in another!”

    “Weald. Tranquility Weald. Old word for ‘woods’,” Noah corrected before chuckling. “Oh, don’t tie your tail in a knot, Leo! We’ll be fine.” Noah brushed off Leo’s concerns with a soft laugh. “Ol’ Weald-y and I are thick as thieves! Aren’t we?” The Dewott slapped one of the trunks with a grin. Leo winced, expecting the dungeon to react adversely to the action. However, the forest remained calm

    “Anyways, we’ve got a ways to go still. Let’s keep walking. Might even be able to make it out of here in time for dinner in Kingsend. That’s the town closest to us.” Noah explained before refocusing himself on the task of forging a path. Leo tentatively kept close behind his new acquaintance, processing all the tidbits of info he had been told.

    What sort of world is this? Places that spawn and mess with space... Leo knew, as far as he could recall, that no such problem existed back in the vague world he came from. The prospect of dinner sounded good at least. He would take up the Dewott on that offer.

    Time passed and the two continued to hike through the woods, passing through glades and gnarled trees. The dungeon refrained from shifting on them, so perhaps Noah was onto something about going through as a team. The two Pokémon had decided to rest in an open glade with a fair number of fallen logs that served well as seats. The sun shone brightly through the break in the canopy and Leo took the time to bask in its rejuvenating warmth. While he reclined in the light, the Charmeleon took out an apple Noah had tossed his way earlier.

    Leo ravenously bit into the dull green skin, having been without food for as long as he could recall. The fruit’s potent juice leaked out of the corners of Leo’s snout, which made Noah snort in laughter. Leo’s scales flushed redder as he wiped off his mouth and continued to take careful bites while he got used to his new, differently-shaped snout.

    “Thanks for helping me back there. I’m not sure I would have gotten anywhere without your help, Noah,” Leo said after a moment of mulling over how to phrase his words. “I really am grateful. I’m sorry I don’t have anything to show for it though...”

    Noah shook his head and took a quick swig from the water skin. “Don’t mention it, Leo. There’s a lot of mean ‘mon in Verus today that’ll try to take advantage of kindness, but you definitely aren’t one of them. And that’s payment enough, I think,” he replied and lifted the waterskin in a toast to Leo. “Besides, I’m happy to show a ‘new guy’ around. It’s not every day that a human arrives in Verus.”

    He shifted on the log, the Charmeleon trying to get comfortable. “I appreciate that too... I’m still not quite certain exactly how these dungeons work or how your world is, but I’ll figure it out with your help, I’m sure.” Leo smiled before sighing, looking up at the sun above the ring of trees.

    The Charmeleon tossed the picked-over apple core into the bushes and lifted up his right foot onto his knee to rub the his worn sole. “Know I’ve asked this before, but are we almost out of the Weald? We’ve been going for hours now. I’m starting to think the bottoms of my feet are going to be permanently green with how many bushes we’ve tramped through,” Leo asked while the Dewott stretched his arms out and yawned.

    “Oh. Probably should have told you earlier when I noticed it. We’re pretty stuck. The Weald’s not happy with us. Probably. Been getting angry with us for a while now.” Noah hopped to his feet off the log and twisted his arms to limber himself up. “It’s been leading us in circles for the past hour or so. I wasn’t sure, but I bent a branch to mark where we’ve already been. And sure enough, we came back here,” Noah said, pointing to a small branch jutting off a trunk broken sharply at ninety degrees.

    “By my reckoning, we don’t have long before the Weald tries to separate us. The wind’s been stirring more and more lately...” Noah trailed off and his gaze suddenly shifted to the swaying branches as they conveyed the dungeon’s fickle and angered tone. Leo watched the creaking boughs while his mouth struggled to form the words he wanted to shout at the Dewott.

    “You knew we were stuck?! How are we going to get out?! I trusted you to get us out, Noah!” Leo shouted. His nostrils flared and emitted smoke as the Dewott held up his paws in defense.

    “And you still can trust me! I wanted to be sure we were stuck before causing any alarm is all. Easy, Leo.” The otter leaned in and lowered his voice. “All we gotta do is just wait for the Weald to start changing on us. It’ll try to confuse us, but if we stick together, it’ll open up the way out in the chaos. Simple really. You just got stay close to me...”

    “For some reason I’m not entirely feeling confident about this, Noah...” Leo huffed before the forest shuddered, as if a pulse of energy rushed up from its emerald depths. Leaves shook and branches swayed, the whole forest coming alive with a cacophony of sound. The Charmeleon hopped to his feet in alarm while Noah scooped up his bag.

    “Follow me! It’s going to shift soon! You’ll have to stay close!” With that, Noah rushed back into the swaying thicket even as the ground rumbled beneath their feet. Leo did not need any further convincing to flee the irate dungeon. As he hurtled over a trunk that suddenly fell across the path with a shower of dirt and leaves, the Charmeleon briefly pondered what gods he had upset to deserve being at the mercy of yet another malevolent maze.

    “Are all dungeons like this, Noah?!” Leo inquired, barely managing to duck in time to avoid a falling branch while the forest raged. His feet nearly caught on roots that forced themselves up through the dirt path, but thankfully Leo kept his balance. He could not fail now; he had yet to truly taste freedom. Come on! Got to keep up! Got to keep up! Leo repeated internally, his claws digging into yet another trunk that tried to separate him from the Dewott.

    It was a sight to behold, watching Noah laugh and gleefully spin and dodge the hurled debris and branches as if it was a mere game that he was excelling at. With his denser body, Leo could only dream of using such agility against the frenzied Weald. Branches slapped hard against his back and sides, making Leo stumble before he regained his footing. Adrenaline pumped hard through his blood, giving him energy to outpace the antagonized mystery dungeon.

    “Only the fun ones! Remember what I said?! The older and bigger a dungeon, the more unpredictable! By the dead gods, this is amazing!” Noah called back as he caught a branch as it swung and used it to propel himself forward several paces. “Tranquility Weald’s one of the oldest! And fiercest, once it’s tired of explorers!” The Dewott flashed a grin entirely unbefitting the situation and then continued to sprint ahead.

    Grunting, Leo ran as quickly as he could to close the distance between him and his so-called guide. Around him, the debris only whirled faster as the powerful breeze intensified into full gale within the forest. Breaths came to Leo in ragged gasps while he pushed his reptilian body to the limit. Noah was only a couple steps ahead and Leo was determined to stick with him.

    “Brace yourself! We’re about to go on a ride!” Noah yelled in time with a sudden rush of wind and debris. In the moment Leo took to close his eyes to shield them from the shower of twigs and leaves that pelted him, his feet abruptly sunk into soft sand. Leo’s gait wobbled, the Charmeleon having to take wider steps to escape the pull of the desert canyon he and Noah suddenly found themselves in. As before, there was absolutely no sign of the forest anywhere in sight except for the green and brown stains on Leo’s cream-colored chest. Harsh light beat down on them from above.

    Noah appeared unperturbed by the situation and navigated the rose-red canyon with the same ease as he did the Weald’s forest. “Keep up, Leo! It’ll shift again in a moment! We’ve got to keep moving if we’re going to find our exit!”

    Swallowing a gulp of dry air, Leo nodded and forced himself through the fine, hot sand at the bottom of the narrow canyon. “How many times have you done this, Noah? Tell me! Just so I know this will actually work!” Leo snarled while clutching the key as it swung about on its chain, bouncing against his chest with every uneven step. He wanted to swipe at the Dewott, but Noah was regrettably just out of range of his claws.

    “Like six or seven times? I lost count, as they kinda blend together after a bit! Besides, this is almost standard routine for tackling dangerous dungeons! Can’t always wait around for rescue! Otherwise the dungeon will toss you around like earlier!” Noah remarked, the lighter otter able to skip across the sand without sinking much, a feat Leo was envious of as he fought the loose sand with every step.

    Sand billowed with each of Leo’s frantic steps and he coughed upon catching a wave of grit in his mouth. “Grah! Noah! Hold up! N-Not as fast!” Leo gasped and spit out the sand while he awkwardly ran across the dunes. The ethereal wind gusted from behind and stirred up the red desert. Leo had to close his eyes to shield them from the flurries.

    With his next step, he sloshed into something wet and slimy. His eyes snapped open and he saw he was in a swamp. His feet slipped through thick, decaying plant matter and muck. To his left and right, twisted, gnarled trees and roots lifted out of the marsh as if they were corpses dragged from the depths. The Charmeleon held his tail high above the swamp’s surface as he quickly slogged through the mire. Thank the gods it isn’t as deep as the sand! Leo thought as he scanned the area for Noah.

    Sure enough, Noah was a long way ahead of him and waved for Leo to keep up. Leo was not sure how he had gotten that far from him; the otter had only been a few paces in front in the desert. Noah shouted something, but the Charmeleon could not hear over the loud, squishing sounds of his own travel. Regardless, the Dewott’s urgent body language provided no ambiguity and Leo pressed ahead, managing to go faster here than in the desert.

    “...gotta hurry! It’ll separate us...” Noah’s words were barely perceptible. He had plans to give Noah a piece of his mind at the end of this. The muck was unrelenting as it tried to bind the lizard’s struggling legs. Leo snapped his jaws and roared in frustration. A tongue of fire issued from his mouth while he thrashed against the thick mud and stringy swamp plants that ensnared him.

    “Noah! Grah! W-Wait! Wait!” Leo pleaded, though it was of little use. The Dewott was beyond his sight in the swirling mists of the mire. The Charmeleon pulled himself up after shaking off some of the vines. The former human only managed a couple more steps before he stumbled again due to some unseen root in the fetid waters. The splash almost muffled the damning rustle of the mystery dungeon’s enraged winds that were beginning to stir, signalling the next phase to pull him into somewhere else.

    Leo snarled and kicked until he was free of the writhing plants, not willing to be dragged about by Tranquility Weald any more. He fought and waded through the marsh as the mists began to close in on him. The Dewott could no longer be seen, but Leo pressed on in the vague direction he last saw Noah go. The soggy ground rumbled as the dense air swirled around the Charmeleon in slow eddies at first; the fog growing more intense with each step and gust of wind. The dungeon was changing, but Leo would not let it take him without a struggle. No! Got to get out! I’m close! I know I am! his mind urged, coaxing him onward.

    In seconds, his sight declined until he could hardly see his red hand or even the tail flame that swung behind him. The marsh beneath his feet slipped away, though it did not appear to be replaced by anything. It felt as if he had left the swamp, but he could see nothing. “C-COME ON!” Leo cried out as his arms swung wildly at the vapors before him. “Noah! Noah! Can you hear me?! Anyone?!” He called out into the white fog while his feet stumbled on the ethereal plane he was confined to.

    There was no answer. Even the Weald itself, noisy and billowing just a moment ago, had gone deathly quiet. Only his own, heavy breathing broke the silence of the empty realm he was trapped inside. He could see nothing, not even his own hand as it waved before his face. Leo gulped and clutched blindly at the key that, thankfully, hung from his neck. It was cold in his claws, its crystalline body almost icy to touch.

    “I gave you sight against the darkness, yet you are blind again. Perhaps the gods’ call was incorrect? Perhaps I misinterpreted? Perhaps, instead, it is your luck to be perpetually blind.” The wispy, ethereal voice from the ruins emanated from the swirling winds. Leo froze and felt his tail flame instinctively grow dimmer, even though he could not see it. The void of Tranquility Weald was silent as a tomb.

    “W-Who are you?! You were there before! In the ruins! I remember you... Whatever you are! I know... who...” His voice tapered off, as if snatched from his mouth by an unseen hand. Words no longer came despite trying. Realizing this quickly, the Charmeleon snapped his snout shut lest any further consequences were heaped upon him.

    “I cannot reach well into the realms of mortals any more, but here... In this place between places, amongst the realms torn apart by anomalies and godless curses, this is my domain. Where the shattered gather, where the exiled dwell as shades, a crueler fate than Erebus. Where listening is better than feeble questions.” Leo felt his warm body grow colder, causing a wave of lethargy rush over him; he had to fight it to stay awake. He could not will himself to move, however. The voice had sapped his will to flee.

    “Only few fates are more cruel: stagnation, dissolution, crumbling to nothing. That is why you are here, is it not? Why I salvaged you. But first, you must escape. You must see. A shudder passed through the void, a shockwave that distorted the obscuring mist. A distinct path through the fog was revealed. He could not see where the path lead, but he knew it had a destination. The path had always been there, he only failed to see it. The way forward was obvious now; had he truly been blind?

    “Sight returns at last. Perhaps the gods were not mistaken; there is yet hope. Go. Rejoin the realm of the living while it remains. Another jolt passed through him, causing the Charmeleon’s legs to buckle as he was released from the invisible hold. Air slowly returned to him as he stared at his trembling limbs. Leo could see his reptilian body again with all its crimson scales and claws. With a gasp and groan, he managed to stagger to his feet with minimal swaying.

    “Leo. Child of the ruins. Do not falter. Do not fall blind. Trials await. Stagnation, decay, dissolution, all must cease. By your hand, by your determination, by your humanity. Hold fast, child of ruin, to these things. Lest you will fall into such a darkness that none may find you.” The light grew dim and the voice’s harsh presence lifted. Leo began to tread forward as quickly as he dared. His feet collided with the barely visible solid ground. He could vaguely make out forms of trees in the distance, but he dared not stray from the path. He had gotten lost once already. Though he could see the way forward, he continued to walk with blind faith.

    How long he walked or even if he had gone anywhere at all were unknown to the former human. The path remained unchanged as Leo trekked through the ghostly realm. He was not sure if he was making progress, but he did not stop and question himself. The voice had ordered him forward and it had not gotten him killed yet. Those facts were compelling enough for him to obey for the time being.

    That thing... That voice... It knows me. It knows me and how I came to be here. Leo mulled over his thoughts on the ethereal being that had become a vaguely-sinister guide. It knew Nexus would hunt me down... It told me how to find and use the key. How? Why am I even here? It hasn’t told me that... He touched the side of his head as a small headache began to form. It was not doing him any good to focus on the enigma of his purpose. Right now, I need to get out of this dungeon. There’s a path here... Maybe it leads out?

    He sucked in a breath through his nose and began to jog slowly to avoid potentially upsetting the beast that was Tranquility Weald. This world is so weird... I don’t remember home, but I’m sure it wasn’t like this... Dungeons, curses, weird voices... It had these creatures, but they didn’t talk... Leo shook his head as he trudged forward through the mist-covered path. He looked around while he kept up his pace. Occasionally, he could make out ghostly forms of trees or of looming mountains that were hidden behind the veil; ghostly visages of the places he had roamed hours ago. This place... It said this realm was a place in between. Maybe it’ll take me to wherever Noah got to...

    Time passed, though Leo was not quite sure how long had passed. He felt no different than when he first was engulfed by the fog and deposited in this plane. His thirst, hunger, exhaustion remained unchanged. Whether it had been five minutes or five hours made equal sense. Leo clutched at the key that swung on his chest while he kept jogging, taking slight comfort in the faint blue glow it gave off.

    “... There! I see something over...”

    Leo immediately snapped out of the near-trance he had gotten himself into and perked up. He had distinctly heard a voice from the fog, a different one than Noah’s or the voice’s. He brought himself to a halt, listening for further sounds and signs of life.

    “... seems it’s our guy! Grab him...”

    A different voice that time, though he could not quite discern who was speaking. The Charmeleon gulped and carefully focused on the direction of the voices. They sounded extremely close, yet there was no indication of anything in the shimmering mist.

    He took another step forward and then jerked as something emerged from beyond his vision and latched onto his arm. The Charmeleon’s heart pounded rapidly in his chest as he yelped and attempted to tear his limb away from whatever had grabbed it. He could feel the tight grip on his wrist, but Leo saw nothing there, only the encroaching mist from Tranquility Weald. More shouts broke through the fog.

    A cold, metal sensation pressed against his arm, just above where he had been grabbed and a fierce tug made his head jolt. At once, the walls fell away. The ethereal labyrinth’s mists dissipated in the blink of an eye. Leo’s pupils shrank at the influx of color and light that had been withheld during his sojourn in the Weald. He was outside, he could feel that much. There was actual sunlight on his scales and it felt real, more real than it had inside the mystery dungeon.

    A dizzying sensation rushed over the former human and he collapsed to his knees as he clutched his swimming head. The exhaustion, hunger, and thirst that had eluded him now hit him full force. A guttural groan escaped his clenched snout before Leo felt the grip of a paw on his arm loosen and move to his throat. His eyes flicked open, though he failed to get a look at who or what was accousting him as a spout was forced into his mouth. An overly-bitter fluid with vague hints of spice poured down his throat, causing the Charmeleon to cough and sputter, though the paw held his weakened form firmly. Leo’s throat burned worse than when actual fire had spewed from his lungs as the strong drink made its way down.

    “Drink. Trust me, you need it. A few solid swigs, come on, Charmeleon. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

    The voice was stern and possessed a commanding tone which compelled Leo to listen. He sucked in a breath through his nose and forced himself to swallow three large gulps of the strong, hot fluid before the canteen was removed and the paw let go of him entirely. Leo gasped hard and hunched over, his arms catching himself on his thighs. He heaved, but amazingly, the weariness appeared to fade with each passing second. Soon, Leo regained enough strength to lift his head to view the voices that had pulled him from the fog.

    “There you go. Easy now. You’re out. Weald can’t hurt you any more.”

    The commanding voice again. Leo swung his head over in its direction and had to blink once to clear his vision that was blurred from tears. A blue and black creature, equivalent to Noah in height, stood a couple steps away. Its canine features triggered a few latent memories in his head; he recognized the species: a Riolu. How was it he knew such things but so little on his own memories, he would never know. Leo watched in burning agony as it plugged a cork into the small leather canteen.

    “Name’s Jay. What’s yours?” The Riolu, Jay, inquired, his blue-furred arms folded across his chest. Leo could not answer with his mouth and throat still on fire from the potent drink Jay had splashed down it. He weakly clawed at his scales, wanting the burning to cease. He managed to get a better look at the Riolu once the tears had passed.

    A plain brown hood was drawn up over Jay’s head, though Leo could make out his face underneath. It became clear that it had been Jay that had grabbed him from the fog and forced him to drink. The Riolu waved to his right with the paw not holding the canteen. “So, think we’ve got our guy. Doubt there’s too many Charmeleon wandering in the Weald’s fog.”

    From a nearby thicket, a smaller, fox-like being pulled itself free with an exasperated sigh. It’s spiked yellow and white fur gave him the indication that touching it might be painful. The new Pokémon, a Jolteon, glared up at Jay, not yet giving Leo a glance as it shook itself off of twigs and leaves that clung to its fur via static.

    “Jay!” The feminine voice that Leo had vaguely heard earlier snapped. “Just because you sensed him doesn’t mean you can go galavanting off! We might be on the outside of the dungeon, but you don’t know what could happen!” Leo winced at the loudness of her accusatory tone; his head had not settled enough to deal with that. The Riolu grumbled something under his breath in apparent defeat before uncorking the canteen while the Jolteon turned towards Leo.

    “... I do apologize, Charmeleon... Or, should I call you Leo? I presume you are the same one we were hired to rescue. My partner can be a bit overzealous and blunt at times. Means well though.” She quickly apologized in a softer volume. Leo tried to nod as he continued to gag from the continued burning in his throat. The newcomer Jolteon saw that and placed a paw on his hand. “And sorry about the drink... Cheri Berry wine isn’t made to taste good, but it’ll revive even a stone-cold Slugma, or so the brewer claims.” She added quickly before she backed up to allow the Charmeleon space. “I’m Kelly by the way. My colleague, Jay, and I were hired to find you by your Dewott friend.”

    “I-I’m L-Leo... B-By the gods,” Leo coughed, at last managing to suck in a breath that did not irritate his abused mouth. “F-Foul...” Leo spit into the thicket and pulled himself up while gasping. “... T-Thanks f-for the rescue... Urgh... Was lost...” The former human huffed while a claw rubbed at his throat soothingly. “... Noah? Where... Where is he?” Leo asked, his voice hoarse from the wine.

    The hooded Riolu pulled the canteen from his mouth and shook his head from the harsh, awakening effects. “Ugh... Your Dewott friend? He’s in Kingsend. Least he should be there. Dewott owes us the other half of the reward for getting you out safely.” Jay then stowed the canteen away and reached into his hood to adjust something Leo could not see.

    Kelly cleared her throat. “As Jay said, we shall be returning you to Kingsend. Noah’s been waiting a couple days for you, by his account,” the Jolteon said with a final shake that caused a crackle of electricity to spark from her fur.

    Leo’s eyes went wide at that; there was no way that could be correct. “H-Hold up! Two days?! I was only a few minutes behind Noah!” The Charmeleon exclaimed and glanced back at the dense woods that housed Tranquility Weald. “You’re telling me two days passed?”

    The Jolteon cocked her head in confusion while Jay stifled a soft snort. “Yes, Leo. That is how dungeons can be. They distort space and time. Though, I suppose you wouldn’t know that. Noah said you weren’t familiar with them at all.” The Jolteon gave the confused salamander a smile. “Not to worry though. We’ll get you up to speed on the road back to Kingsend. We’ll even cover dinner, if you’d like.”

    Leo eagerly nodded as his stomach growled. He could go for a proper meal and bed. With a roll of his sore shoulders, he began following the two Pokémon without looking back. A pair of crimson eyes in the mist vanished as the dungeon laughed its hollow laugh.

    End Chapter Two

    Knightfall signing off. ;005;
  10. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Hello! It's about high time I commented on this~

    I have just gotta say, I adore the way you write mystery dungeons in this fic. Like I've read a lot of fics that go full-tilt with explaining every single game mechanic and how they work in-universe. And those are cool! But I just love how... primal and unexplainable the dungeons feel here. They don't feel like a game mechanic at all. They genuinely feel like a bizarre force of nature, regions that defy order and reason, and can turn on you in a whim. It's great stuff.

    Not too surprising that Leo ran afoul of the weald. It's just a good thing that he was able to be rescued! (Heh, it's not often you see a PMD protagonist as the subject of a rescue in their very first dungeon! Also, Noah was a ton of fun to read, looking forward to seeing more of him playing off Leo.

  11. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Hi there, I'm Canis, taking a look at the first chapter of this story. Here are my thoughts.

    This is going to sound harsh, but for the majority of the prose in this chapter it feels like it was written normally first and then gone through with an algorithm that replaced all words it could with rarer, longer counterparts. There is nothing inherently wrong with using more refined vocabulary, but there is such a thing as too much and it's what you have over here.

    What's hurt by purple prose the most here are two things: the beginning, and scenes meant to be intense. Ideally, the former should fall within the latter, as the beginning is the most crucial part of the story for a potential reader clicking on your story to see what it's like. If a beginning is meandering, the reader will expect that from the rest of the story as well - probably even worse, as they know that we know that we're supposed to put our best and most engaging first. Unless they're very patient and forgiving, they'll move on.

    The lengthiness of the prose in the start is especially discordant here considering the scene. A character is only getting to their senses, which I'd recommend translating over to the narration in a perspective such as this. By translating over, I mean that it would be much more fitting for the vocabulary and sentences to be simple as the character whose view we follow does not have the clearest head at the moment. Short sentences and simple words will create a more primal and intense atmosphere. Long sentences and beautiful words are best fit for slow moments such as describing scenery or characters in a situation not immediately threatening. What kind of prose is used for the middle of the range is really up to the author and their style, but I believe there should be a visible spectrum in all kinds. Variance of prose not only helps the atmospheres, but is refreshing for the viewer, making them more likely to read on and giving them more enjoyment.

    This trope is bit of a pet peeve for me - characters voicing their thoughts when they're alone, especially in spaces unfamiliar to them where it could be very dangerous. There's really not much to be gained from having a character talk instead of think, unless they're required to do so for some consequence to happen. If they're only required to make noise, they could simply scream, as that makes sense as an involuntary response.

    There's a phenomenon here I like to call "show and tell". You're very likely familiar with the rule of "show, don't tell" - the encouragement to communicate a character's emotions or motives via body language, dialogue or other actions they do instead of outright stating how they feel. You clearly know how to show as the protagonist's reactions - eyes widening, stuttering, yelling, so on - but in the bolded parts, you also tell. The rule has the "don't tell" part because showing can (and should) already establish the emotion, making the telling part redundant, and redundancy tends to hinder prose.

    This sentence is kind of clunky and could use some chopping up or cutting - "The sensations of feeling" is very redundant as a phrase. Furthermore, I wouldn't personally call a tail a limb unless it was A. very prehensile (example: monkey) or B. used in locomotion (example: kangaroo). Charmeleon doesn't strike me as either, but it's possible you have other plans.

    While I've complained a bunch about purple prose, there are some very nice phrasings here and there. These ones I especially liked. I say their impact would be even greater if the purple hue of the surrounding prose would be toned down.

    Tense switches to present momentarily.

    Remnant of another site's syntax? Assuming this was meant to be in italic.

    Tense switches to present again. Also, now's a good time to bring up epithets - things such as "the crimson-scaled lizard" here. 90% of the time, they're unneeded. No one in their right mind will come complain to an author about how they use a character's name or their pronoun too many times. That's to say that "Leo" and "he" are absolutely, completely okay to use as many times as you want. I recommend them wholeheartedly. The reason is because they benefit both author and reader: the author doesn't have to come up with 17 different ways to refer to the same individual, and the reader doesn't need to decipher each one. Also:

    Some of these get pretty ridiculous, and this was in the middle of a really dramatic scene. Not too great for the mood.

    "Umpteenth" as a word feels really out of place in this prose given its consistent refined nature - that is to say, "fancy" in everyday speak. I'd say even "nth" would have felt better here, though I'm not suggesting you use that one as it's still far from the best option.

    A lot of the sentences in the prose share an issue with this one (such as the one I quoted before where I remarked on the tail-limb thing) - there are just too many different subjects and objects. We have tears, eyes, abrasions, scales, wind and face, and technically tears are there twice as they're both a subject (pricking) and an object (blown away by wind). That's seven different entities for one sentence and they are all connected in a complex network: tears prick at eyes, tears prick because abrasions, abrasions tear through scales, tears are blown away by wind, wind howled across the face in which said tears were. This complexity is what brings the bulk of the problem, as you can very well have several entities in a sentence, an example being a list.

    It's not that the reader can't make these links to understand what's happening in this sentence. It's that it takes them unnecessary extra time and effort to process a sentence, and this is especially damaging for the story as this scene in-universe is very intense and fast.

    Period missing from the end of this.

    Accidental space before the apostrophe.

    General Comments:

    You've heard me give a lot of critique on the prose, the bulk of it negative (but I hope constructive nonetheless!), so let me get to the other areas now.

    I think the plot, characters and setting are very strong. I know, didn't sound like it before, but I just didn't find a spot to bring up my views on them with just quote-related stuff. The "human waking up as a Pokémon" part is standard for all PMD fics, but what happens from there on out is original and fascinating. A giant, ancient dungeon of cold nondescript technology brings up a lot of questions, and more and more come with the mysterious voice speaking to Leo. The cheery Porygon guide turning hostile whenever a prisoner tries to escape and trying to kill them - and succeeding many times in the past, which is just damn that must hurt - while still being somewhat conscious to witness and fruitlessly trying to stop it is very dark but in an interesting way. Leo we don't have much personality for yet, but he wasn't really in situations to show one yet anyway. The lifeless atmosphere of the facility is brought on strong, making it all the more satisfying when Leo finally reaches the light of day.

    If I were to describe this story (well, this one chapter I read of it) with a metaphor, it would be a vein of gold in solid rock. There's gold to be had and mined, but to get it, the reader has to work pretty hard to get the stone out of the way and detach that valuable gold from the block. There's gold as they keep going and who knows how much there might be further along the way, but the mining does get tiring. And it's done for quite a long time - I counted the words in this chapter and the score was over 10 000. I strongly suggest breaking it up into two to make it more manageable for the reader, as the prose is very heavy to begin with.

    In summary - if the prose had a large trim to be more concise and varying, you would have a great first chapter on your hands. That's it for my thoughts, feel free to ask for clarification on any points.
  12. Knightfall

    Knightfall Blazing Wordsmith

    Chapter Three: Kingsend

    Moonlight, broken in ire,

    Sunlight, robbed of fire.

    Oceans, quelled of waves,

    Land, poisoned by graves.

    Peace to Verus at last,

    Gods slain in angel’s wrath.

    —Scribe Martor Serperior,

    Hymn of the Saved from The Rains of Erebus

    Sounds of jovial music played on strings filled the air of the provincial capital town of Kingsend. Seated on a vital highway, the bustling town built from an amalgamation of ancient metal ruins and stonework thrived on the streams of traveling Pokémon and merchants that passed through its gates. A large drawbridge made from tired steel slowly creaked back down over the wide, dry gulch that may have held a river at one point. Leo found that the drawbridge, despite its ancient and rusting appearance, held firm as he and the crowd of waiting Pokémon crossed once it was locked in place.

    Leo had taken the time waiting on the opposite shore to get a decent look at the crowd of murmuring creatures that amassed beside him, Kelly, and Jay. While the dim light of the twilight was not helpful in identifying the crowd, he was able to recognize several species. An Ivysaur, using his vines to pull a small cart piled high with produce, was in a heated argument with a tall, yellow-skinned creature he gathered to be a Hypno. His memories assisted him slightly with these species, but they were slow to come. He was pushed along by Jay and forced to stop eavesdropping on the conversation. Soft light flickered from circular windows coming from simple earthen homes built into the sides of the wide, dry riverbank. The drawbridge creaked ominously with the crowd shuffling across it.

    With the setting of the sun came the flurry of last-minute haggling and barters from the colorful stalls that lined both sides of the cobbled streets. Torches burned softly along the street, assisted by a few oddly-glowing crystals and fighting against the encroaching night. The blend of spirited music Leo had picked up appeared to originate from the main avenue that cut through the heart of Kingsend.

    “Kelly?” Leo inquired while walking close to the Jolteon. He was not yet about to trust the streets of the city he barely knew, filled with creatures he knew very little about. The Riolu and Jolteon seemed trustworthy enough, if only because they saved him. “Why is this place called Kingsend?” Leo asked, genuinely wondering the origin of the strange name as he held his burning tail close.

    She turned her gaze away from the road as their trio navigated to the outer fringe of the avenue, away from the thick crowds and nearest the brightly lit inns, homes, and shops. “Oh, it’s stems a long way back. Back when the Silver Kingdom was formed, the new King was under siege here and sent for his supporters across the lands to break it. Long story short, it worked and that’s how the town got its name. King-send,” she explained succinctly with a small smile. “It’s a nice town. Fairly central to most of Verus. Many roads pass through here from the capital in the west to the Erebus Range in the east.”

    Jay snorted somewhat. “That’s the Crown-approved version. The other version has the name coming from the fact that same king lost his head in this very square when the battle turned south. King’s end.” The Riolu finished his explanation with a finger drawn across his throat with a mock choking sound. Kelly, not amused, merely shook her head and nudged both Jay and Leo ahead.

    That explained the name and why there were so many varieties of Pokémon about, though there was something else that was nagging him. As lively as Kingsend seemed, there was a sense of ruin about. The paver stones beneath his feet were worn and cracked. The metal facades and braziers were rusting in the orange torchlight. The denizens did not all seem too pleasant either. Leo was sure if he took a wrong turn down an alley it would be a swift end to his journey in Verus with a dagger or other unpleasant instrument lodged between his ribs.

    “Where are we heading now...?” Leo inquired of his guides. While the town certainly lacked the erratic and malicious nature of a mystery dungeon, he did not necessarily feel any safer at night in Kingsend. Leo had his doubts that he could take on any of the strangers around him in a fair fight even with his sturdy reptilian body.

    “There’s an inn on the northern end of town where we’re going to meet your friend at. The Tarnished Crown. He promised us the remaining cost of rescuing you and dinner.” Jay answered that time, the Riolu’s head still covered with his hood. “I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he follows through on dinner though. Starving...” he grumbled and dejectedly sighed as he again rummaged through his empty supply bag.

    “The Tarnished Crown? ... Suppose if it offers dinner and a place to rest, it can’t that bad,” Leo remarked before he stumbled somewhat over a loose paving stone. Foot smarting in pain, he gritted his teeth and trudged on. He was not in the mood for walking any longer; he had done more than his fair share of it since he arrived in this world. What I wouldn’t give for a bed...

    “Can’t say it’s the best Kingsend has to offer, but it beats sleeping in an alley or in some abandoned barn on the outskirts,” Kelly replied with a good-natured grin up at Leo, as if she knew this by experience. “It’s fairly popular with travelers who don’t intend on staying long and those who end up staying months. Very little in-between there.” A gentle laugh came from the Jolteon at that, to which Leo nodded politely, though he did not know anything about the Inn.

    He did not know where he fell on that spectrum. Would he be on the road again soon? Or would he stay a while in this interesting —and seedy— town? He was not sure. Kingsend was the most civilization he had yet seen in this world that was not in ruins, despite being built in and around the decaying husks of a time long gone by. Compared to the countryside and roads that seemingly had horrific mystery dungeons lurking around every bend and valley, he was more in the mind to stay here a while. Maybe in the daytime it isn’t so ... grungy... the Charmeleon hoped.

    The streets, once flooded with crowds, seemed to grow quieter the further they went from the markets. Their small group weaved through the side streets, passing by a tall, metal structure —compared to its surroundings— that jutted up from the streets. Lantern light flickered from openings in the facade, signalling that this ruin from another time was still in use by Kingsend’s denizens. A crimson banner emblazoned with a gray, spiked crown fluttered limply atop a rusting metal pole Leo gathered might have been a lightning rod or antenna of sorts.

    “That’s the Crown’s tower. All royal business goes through those guys: retrieving bounties, turning in exploration maps, tax, the provincial governor’s office, and some other such things. It’s a bureaucratic labyrinth to be quite honest...” Kelly explained upon seeing Leo’s lingering gaze on the structure. “It’s why Jay and I prefer to do civil jobs, like yours. Less hassle, but less reward too. The Crown will pay out handsomely for accurate maps of mystery dungeons— they’re always wanting to compile how dungeons change.”

    This made Leo pause and purse his lips, stealing one final glance up at the royal seat of power. “But... Noah told me that the err... dungeons, change frequently. Is that right? How can anyone make maps that wouldn’t immediately be useless?” He countered, curious as to who was correct. She let out a short laugh.

    “He’s correct. Dungeons do change very often, as I’m sure you saw. But, some of the royal cartographers have a system for it. I don’t understand it fully, but not all dungeons share the same stability. There’s levels to them. ‘Mysteriosity’ is the term the mappers use. Strange term, I know. Tranquility Weald is a nasty one, being totally unstable. But a good majority of dungeons experience only minor changes, like a bend in a path or a few trees out of place, making it easy to produce maps of them,” Kelly again explained while Jay let out another snort from beneath his hood.

    “That’s also why we’re expecting a decent payout from your friend. Weald’s orders of magnitude more dangerous than the benign dungeons lurking about. There’s something sinister at its core...” The Riolu added while he walked by their side. “We took a chance to go looking for you. We got lucky that you were near the border, or else it could have decided to drag us inside. Evil stuff in there: ancient and strange things from when we still had gods about.”

    The Chameleon nodded to both of his rescuers, though Jay’s comment he was not sure how to reply to. He had not quite known just how much of a risk they had taken to free him from the Weald’s gray limbo.

    “T-Thank you. I really do wish I could give you both something... I owe you both. Big time,” Leo answered meekly, feeling entirely out of his depth. How was he supposed to complete his purpose here in Verus if he could not navigate these seemingly-ubiquitous labyrinths? A blue paw clapped his shoulder twice, jarring the Charmeleon who had been lost in his thoughts.

    “Noah’s taking care of that. You just focus on not getting stuck in one again,” Jay laughed and lifted his head, searching around for a short moment before pointing to a building that, unlike many of the other dingy, rusting structures in Kingsend, still appeared to have a bit of dignity about it. The metal facade, while not gleaming, was clean of rust and its long, wooden plaque that hung above its wide doorway looked freshly painted with the words ‘The Tarnished Crown’ and a copy of the same silvery crown from the royal banner on either side of the name.

    The glass lattice windows invitingly beckoned the three weary travelers out of the cool night and into the warm glow of the hearth within. Like other taverns, lively tunes played on flutes and stringed instruments made Leo’s feet move right up to the door without him fully realizing it. His hungry stomach painfully cramped, again reminding Leo just how long he had gone without proper food. The apple from Noah had long since left him feeling hungry again. Jay pushed the door open and held it for his four-legged partner and Leo.

    While he had not been particularly cold on the streets, the wave of heated air made the Charmeleon stand up on his clawed toes with a pleased, unconscious hiss while his tail flame brightened considerably. The warmth resonated with him more than he could express in words; as if he was hugged by an old friend.

    An excited cry from nearby and a hearty slap on his scales brought an end to his brief experience.

    “LEO! Haha! You made it, my friend!” Noah’s boisterous voice made him wince from the noise. He turned, now seeing the Dewott again after what felt like hours, but had been days. Leo gave him a weak smile and tried to flash a ‘thumbs-up’ with his claws, though it was complicated with his lack of proper thumb. He eventually gave up the attempt with a tired sigh; another adjustment that he needed to make in this body.

    “Hey, Noah... I made it, yeah. T-Thanks to Kelly and Jay here.” Leo motioned to behind him where the two Pokémon were taking up seats along a hewn, wooden table in the middle of the clamoring inn. “Has it really been days...? I was only an hour behind you... Two at most...” He asks feebly, still not quite sure how that worked. His stomach again growled. “And do they have food here...? I’m famished.”

    “Not to worry, my friend! Food shall be had and debts settled. Come on, let’s go join your hired saviors, shall we?” Noah asked, though by the way he put his arm around Leo’s back and goaded him along, it was clearly not meant to be answered in the negative. Leo found himself perched on a rough, wide stool made to accommodate beings of many shapes and sizes. Across from him was the Riolu and Jolteon he had become acquainted with while Noah sat to his side, leaning onto the table on folded arms. The Dewott raised a paw to his mouth and whistled shrilly to get the attention of the overworked waiter, a buzzing, dragon-esque creature that Leo vaguely recalled as a Vibrava.

    Food was ordered faster than Leo could pick up what was being ordered, with Kelly, Jay, and Noah all calling out their desired meals while he simply blinked in confusion. “E-Err... I’ll have what he's having...” The green, insectoid eyes of the Vibrava simply gave him a dull blink before its diamond-shaped wings buzzed and it was off elsewhere. The Charmeleon leaned into Noah and whispered, “... What did I order?”

    A paw tapped hard on the table, interrupting Noah’s coming response.

    “Sorry to interrupt, but now that the meals are ordered, shall we get to business?” Jay asked, folding back his brown hood. Leo could not see it properly before under his cloak, but in the warm, orange light of the tavern he saw that the Riolu had a crimson band of sorts bound over his eyes, wrapping entirely around his head. It certainly was not a decorative addition, though there was a golden design on the cloth that Leo did not recognize. “... You can stop staring any time you’d like, Leo. I’m not as blind as I seem.”

    The Charmeleon immediately averted his gaze and felt a different sort of heat build in his cheeks. He had not expected that Jay was visually impaired. The Riolu was able to perceive just fine for Leo not to have noticed so far.

    “Yes, you do need to settle payment. The other half is owed for Leo’s safe return from Tranquility Weald, as per our agreement,” Kelly began, her tone professional. “We do appreciate the offer of dinner too. Like your friend, we too are quite famished.”

    Crudely-shaped metal plates piled high with what looked to be a fruit-based dish slid down the wooden slats and settled in front of each of the four seated Pokémon. The Vibrava buzzed away quickly and talk of debts was shelved as they tucked into their meals. Leo prodded the amalgamation of fruits and took a slow bite with his claws. It was incredibly sweet, but not to the point of disgust. In fact, it was quite good and, he presumed, somewhat healthy. Almost without realizing it, he had cleaned off over half his plate and certainly showed no signs of ceasing.

    “Anyways, back to business...” Kelly began after brushing her face against a cloth to wipe it clean of fruit remnants. “The remainder of the reward is owed. Two hundred Silver Crowns.” Leo glanced to his side while quietly munching on his meal. Noah squirmed slightly in his seat and pushed his plate out of the way. The Dewott leaned up against the table and Leo suddenly knew that Noah had not a coin to pay them with; that was the reaction of a creature attempting to strike a bargain.

    “... Kelly... Jay... Listen...” He began to an immediate chorus of groans from the rescuers. “I don’t have the money, that much is painfully true. Spent the last Crowns I had on this dinner, actually, which you enjoyed, yes? So maybe that’s like, one hundred and seventy-five Crowns I owe now?” Leo could almost see Noah’s words writhing in the air to find a deal. Jay thumped a blue paw on the table.

    “Dinner was promised alongside the reward, Noah. There’s witnesses that heard you say that,” the Riolu growled darkly, his covered gaze staring daggers at Noah, who again shifted uncomfortably in his seat as another avenue of negotiations closed.

    “Noah... Are you sure you don’t have the money? ... You really don’t want to get the authorities involved, do you?” Kelly inquired calmly, though Leo could see the hidden fire in her eyes. By the tense flicking of her ears, he knew the Jolteon was fuming just beneath the surface. “We don’t like being cheated out of our hard work. We aren’t the novice team you might think we are. Or, at least, we won't be treated as a novice team.”

    Leo simply gulped down the last of his meal and meekly pressed himself into the back of the chair, wanting to disappear into the wood. He had assumed Noah would hold true to his word. Now a creeping shame crawled up his neck and to his cheeks, making him slump down in his seat to avoid being caught in the cross-fire.

    The blue otter took a deep breath and held up his paws, as if requesting peace. “Alright, alright, let’s not get hasty! We can keep this a civil matter between civil ‘mon, can we not?” Noah started, almost being interrupted by an indignant ‘humph’ from Jay. “I’m a salvager by trade, so I come across all sorts of neat stuff, surely you’d be interested in—”

    “You mean a scavenger... And you can’t have any rusted dungeon junk worth two hundred Silver Crowns,” Jay interjected sharply, causing Noah to backpedal his attempt to diffuse the situation slightly. Though, there was a certain gleam in the Dewott’s eyes at that.

    “Ah... But beyond my interesting and legal trinkets, the most valuable thing I come across is information!” Noah boasted with a wide grin. “Info your team will find most interesting, I’m sure.” If he was waiting for a positive reaction from Jay or Kelly, there was none forthcoming. The Dewott waited another moment before he leaned forward and sighed.

    “Alright. I’ll cut to the chase. I’ve come across reliable stories relating to High Peak Spring. Think of me a scoundrel and ruin-robber all you want, but I check rumors and stories carefully before I go off anywhere. I believe the stories that there’s a way to go deeper, beyond the recorded depths...” Noah explained with a quiet excitement behind every word from his mouth. Jay remained sullen, with his arms folded across his chest. And Kelly, from what Leo could tell, was at least incredulous instead of outright disappointed.

    “Listen... Noah. High Peak Spring has been thoroughly documented since it appeared what, two centuries ago when the spring dried up. It’s a relatively stable dungeon. Decent maps exist of it, and there’s hardly much to speak of inside, save the odd wild ‘mon that nest in it seasonally...” Kelly replied, being as gentle and calm as she could with the overly-optimistic Dewott.

    “The bottom line is that there’s nothing new to be found there. Nothing worth the Crowns you owe, nor to cover a day of exploring for us,” Jay added right on the heel of Kelly’s diplomatic reply. “You’re going to have to do a bit more than that.”

    Surprisingly, the smile did not leave Noah’s face at that. He simply raised a paw, asking the two rescuers to wait while he searched his own bag with his other hand. A small, rolled up square of paper was pulled out and spread on the table with both of Noah’s paws. From his angle, he saw several long and straight paths, connecting a series of square boxes of varying sizes. Scrawled writing in the space around the boxes listed labels such as “passage down— behind false wall”, “wild nest—Zubat”, and “pitfall—AVOID.” There boxes seemed to be grouped into a distinct section, which Leo supposed was a map after some thought, and at the end region was a noticeably-messier, but important label, judging by its frantic letters and furious underlining: “Door!”

    “Kelly, talk to me. What’s on it?” Jay whispered to his partner, apparently unable to see the scribbled map. “Is it anything new?”

    “Hmm... While crude, they appear to mark out a floor for High Peak Spring... But beyond the five recorded by the cartographers...” She trailed off and rose her head to stare at the smirking Dewott. “Explain. Please.” Leo did not think it possible, but Noah’s grin got even wider.

    “Oh, so you are interested! Thought this was beyond you both!” Noah laughed jovially for a long moment, even hooking an arm around Leo to draw him in, much to his discomfort. “Heh, you think I’d approach you with this offer without checking it out first? Oh no. That’s my map right there. It’s all there. One entirely-undocumented floor and more waiting behind that hidden passage,” The Dewott quickly folded up the map again, causing both intrigued explorers to bark in protest. “Provided you allow us to join you!”

    Leo gave Noah an incredulous look. “Us?!” he exclaimed, pulling the Dewott’s arm off of him.

    A blue paw again swiftly landed on the table with a thump that rattled the empty pewter plates. “No! Oh no! No! No! We are not taking either of you into a dungeon! Not when we just got stiffed rescuing him! No!” Jay snarled, pointing accusingly at Leo from across the table.

    “H-Hey! I don’t like this idea any more than you do!” Leo yelped, trying in vain to distance himself from the clearly-insane otter. “Do I have any say in this?!”

    “Listen! Both of you! I owe you both for the rescue...” Noah replied first to Jay and Kelly before be whirled on Leo. “And you! You owe me, otherwise you’d still be tossed around like a ragdoll by the Weald!” That sentence was emphasized with a sharp prod to the middle of Leo’s chest by the Dewott’s clawed finger. “We’re both going, because I need somebody to back me in case something goes wrong.” Noah’s stern gaze made Leo shrink back, thoroughly cowed.

    The former human sunk into his chair, idly stroking his artifact key while the deliberations continued over his head. Jay, despite his stubborn nature, was beginning to waver. Leo could tell he wanted the score from whatever this crude map promised. Kelly too was not immune to the allure of being the first to officially catalog a new part of this mystery dungeon. Their protests about Leo’s own inexperience were rebutted by Noah, who threw back their own claims that high Peak Springs was known to be vastly more stable than Tranquility Weald, and if the Charmeleon could survive that, he would survive this one.

    Leo was not sure he agreed with that assessment, but he was remotely pleased to hear that Noah had such confidence in him, either that or he truly was insane to demand the recently-transformed human tag along. Unsure of what to make of the situation, the Charmeleon sipped water from the crude tankard he had been given along his meal. The rest of the Tarnished Crown’s customers, surprisingly, did not seem interested in the loud negotiations going on at his table. He was thankful for that, as the last thing he needed was to get a poor reputation not one hour after arriving in Kingsend.

    The Charmeleon brushed off his cream scales where Noah had prodded him and looked out the latticed window at the street. It was dim outside, but he could still see the road beyond. Aside from various Pokémon stomping home from the day’s work, a line of at least ten such creatures all waited for their turn at what appeared to be a stone well in the middle of the street. Buckets and washbasins of a motley of sizes all waited to be filled by the slow team of Infernape guards. It was strange, seeing the well so closely guarded, but after a moment it made sense. Leo had seen the empty gulch as he crossed into Kingsend; the river must have gone dry some time ago.

    Leo suddenly appreciated the half-full water tankard he had been given and cupped it possessively with both hands. To his right, it sounded as if the negotiations were at last winding down. The Charmeleon hesitantly turned to face the trio again. The Dewott was in the middle of shaking his paws with a reluctant Jay.

    “... We’re in agreement then. Leo and I will accompany Team Salient to High Peak Spring to help map out the lower reaches. The reward for the completed map and loot will be split seventy-thirty in Salient’s favor after the two-hundred Crowns are paid as promised,” Noah concluded with a wide grin, leading both the Jolteon and Riolu to nod in agreement. Leo could not recall a more tense or forced smile than the one from Jay right then. While Noah might have been just fine with this, no one else seemed as confident.

    “... You’ll meet us at the old well on the north end of town tomorrow at sunrise. No later. And you will both have to have your own supplies. Jay and I can’t cover you when our own supplies are stretched as they are,” Kelly said with a deep sigh once Noah had finished. “... And please, be timely. We want to get on the move before the roads get too busy.”

    “Perfect! We’ll be there, don’t you worry!” Noah clapped his paws and then Leo’s back suddenly. “I’ve got us a room with two hammocks. Upstairs and second door on the right. You’ll have to watch your tail; can’t be torching this place. We’ll need to get some shuteye before heading out.” With that, the Dewott slid off the worn bench and gave a casual salute to the three remaining Pokémon. “Good night, all.”

    Leo did not acknowledge Noah and merely swirled the water around his cup until he had walked off with a cheerful whistle. Once Noah was safely out of earshot, the Charmeleon slumped forward until his head hit the table with a thud.

    “Gods... What did I do to get caught up in this...?” Leo groaned mostly to himself.

    “Wrong place, wrong time I suppose...” Kelly began, her tone softer and warmer now that she was not dealing with the Dewott. “If it’s any consolation... We don’t blame you for any of this. You’re as much an unwilling participant in Noah’s scheme as we are, if not more of one... As far as we know at least.” That provided Leo a small comfort, though it did not rectify the situation any.

    “Thanks...” Leo murmured, head still pressed onto the table in abject defeat.

    “Get some rest. I don’t know what’s up with you, but while High Spring Peak isn’t a hard dungeon, it’s a hike for sure. You’ll want to be rested,” Jay recommended gruffly before Leo heard him pull away from the table, chair scraping on the stone floor. Kelly followed suit with jumping down from her stool. Leo lifted his head curiously.

    “Will you both be staying here...?” he inquired quietly as his claws idly scratch at the worn wooden planks on the table.

    Jay turned back and gave a short laugh. “We’d rather sleep in a barn, again, than sleep in the same building as that conniving idiot,” he replied with no small amount of venom. The Riolu then shook his head. “Good luck.”

    Leo groaned and gave them both a weak nod before they departed the inn to an unknown destination for the night. The patrons at the tables around him were starting to bid their compatriots a good night and vacate as well. The Vibrava buzzed by on nearly-silent wings to collect his empty tankard and plate while he attempted to make sense of things.

    The Charmeleon glanced over at the wooden stairs at the back of the dining hall that Noah had gone up. While he was tired, Leo did not yet feel like joining the Dewott in sleep. With a grunt and a stretch of his sore arms, the crimson Pokémon got up from his seat and made his way towards the front door of the inn without a word spoken to anyone. Going out into the town at night without a guide was probably foolish, but his curiosity needed to be sated.

    A cool wind greeted him as he pushed open the door and entered the torch and crystal-lit streets. With the last light of the sun starting to fade from the horizon and the streets and the roads far less crowded than they had been earlier, Kingsend now appeared more peaceful. Leo could fully take in the sights at his leisure now that he was not being ushered by Kelly and Jay.

    There were signs of life in between the stone and metal structures: twisting trees with roots that forced apart the cobblestone and drooping branches that hung into the street, small plots of soil where gardens full of near-sere plants clearly suffering from insufficient rain. The entire town bore the hallmarks of a city that was in drought; small clouds of disturbed dust rose up from the road with every step he made. While the milling Pokémon had mostly vanished, the line at the well remained steady, with more citizens coming up clutching empty metal bowls and pitchers at the same rate the guards were filling them.

    Leo took a seat on a wooden cargo crate just outside a closed carpentry shop likely run by an Armaldo if the colorful hanging sign was anything to go by. From his perch, he observed the routine process at the well and got the idea after a few moments. A Pokémon would step forward towards the stone well, typically clutching a pitcher or pot, which they turned over to one of the armor-clad group. There would be some haggling, with the soldiers asking for names and checking it off against a lengthy list one of the squad, a tall, cat-like creature with red fur, possessed, likely a census roll for the town.

    Inevitably, there were more than a few whose names did not show up and the haggling increased. Sometimes the process was barely noticeable, with a practiced and discrete passing of coins to the roll-carrying Incineroar, who deftly pocketed the bribe and pretended to find the ‘missing’ name on the next page. Other times, though, if there was not money to be exchanged, the haggling turned to begging and then to pleading to get additional water rations. Leo winced as he saw more than one citizen be plucked up by the burly Infernape and bodily tossed aside.

    Once the matter of being on the roll or greasing paws was established, then the guards proceeded to man the heavy pump to extract sputtering pulls of water up from some unseen reservoir. After a few turns of the pump, the scene finished off with the pot or pitcher being returned to its owner, letting the cycle begin again. It was quite interesting, Leo found, to watch it. The way the crew of guards interacted with the citizens was unpredictable. He watched them shift from shifty, money-grubbing, and surely to laughing and readily helping depending on who was next in line.

    “Must not be from around here... Am I right, Charmeleon?”

    Leo very nearly jumped out of his scales at the sudden deep voice to his immediate left. Clutching the crate to keep himself from slipping off, the Charmeleon looked up to see a tall, lupine creature outlined in the orange light coming from the crystal outside the Tarnished Crown. Leo did not say a word as the stranger slouched back on the metal column, allowing the light to flash across his features.

    The Pokémon was covered in fur that ranged from blood-red to bone-white. A large mane of white, pointed tufts added quite a bit to their height and intimidation factor. The stranger looked down at Leo with a pair of pink-red eyes that appeared to glow in the dimming light. The Lycanroc chuckled dryly and clapped a large, heavy paw on Leo’s shoulder, which nearly made the lizard crumple from the latent force behind the friendly gesture.

    “You’re definitely new. Can smell it plainly. You’ve a scent from elsewhere,” the stranger noted matter-of-factly as he pulled his paw back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Strange rituals Kingsend has to put up with during the drought seasons... Seem to be getting longer and longer each year.” The Lycanroc’s gaze again turned to Leo, who gulped and shrunk back slightly, still unsure how to respond.

    “... Forgive me. Haven’t introduced myself. Name’s Dakarai. Happy to meet a new face in Kingsend, even if you’ve come during trying times...” the wolf said with a small nod towards the queue at the well pump.

    “...Err... Nice to meet you, Dakarai... Name’s Leo,” Leo finally managed to sputter out once he realized the Lycanroc likely meant him no harm. “Y-Yes. I just got here from... I just got here,” he quickly corrects after realizing he did not have a place to be from except a terrible dungeon. “Is the drought here that serious?”

    Dakarai brushed a tuft of hanging white fur out of his eyes and nodded. “Yessir. River dried up ages ago, but only in the last few years has the rainy season not dumped enough here to keep the wells full. It isn’t at a crisis yet, though. King in Silver City ordered rationing after the first year and it’s worked pretty well so far,” the Lycanroc commented as the line continued to move. By now, a group of Nuzleaf were on the spot to get their waterskins refilled.

    “I see... That’s good then; that they’re making it last...” Leo trailed off before his gaze turned from the well to his companion. The wolf was wearing a get-up not unlike the duo from Team Salient were sporting. A belt holding pouches and a small coin pouch sat on his waist alongside a sheath for a small blade. Around his neck was a green bandanna that was adorned with a small metal badge with a design Leo could not make out in the dim light. “You’re an explorer?” He guessed while hoping he used the right term. Kelly had briefly explained earlier there different categories of Pokémon that delved into dungeons, but he did not remember them well.

    Dakarai chuckled. “Of sorts, yeah. Guess you could call me more a scout or ranger though. I go into dungeons, but I am not much on making those detailed maps the explorers typically make. Too tedious for me and my big paws.” He made a point of clenching and unclenching one of his large mitts to accentuate that statement. “I do odd jobs for the Crown inside dungeons,” he elaborated nonchalantly. “Why do you ask?”

    “Oh! U-Uh... I was curious is all...” Leo gulped and did his best to keep his nerves down. He suddenly had a brainwave hit him and looked back up at the inquisitive red eyes of the Lycanroc. “I’m actually going out into one tomorrow... First job. High Mountain Spring, I think? You know it...? Is it safe? ... Got any advice?” Leo inquired, leaving out that he had survived a dungeon before then.

    “Ah. High Peak Spring. Yeah, I know it. Not much there by way of excitement. You’ll be just fine,” he laughed. “Enjoy the caverns and the water-weathered rocks. They’re fairly beautiful, all smoothed out like that. See where all Kingsend’s water once flowed.” The wolf then pointed at the horizon. In the growing black, it was hard to see, but there was a tall form silhouetted against the stars. “There she is, sitting pretty right over there. Nice short hike from here. Really pleasant this time of year,” Dakarai continued to elaborate. “Might find some Zubats nesting this season, but if you don’t mess with them, they won’t bat a wing at you.” He then chuckled at his apparent play on words.

    “I’ll be staying around here for a few days dealing with the Crown. If you’ll be around, I’d like to hear how your first outing goes at High Peak. Been a while since I was a rookie like you, Leo,” Dakarai again clapped Leo’s shoulder, but with less force that time. “I’ll be around this plaza at sunset tomorrow. Come find me and I’ll buy you and your team a meal for an exciting tale, if you’ll indulge me.”

    Leo blinked at the offer and slowly willed his head to nod.

    “S-Sure! I just hope our story is exciting enough to warrant a meal,” he accepted on behalf of his ‘team’, two of which were not affiliated with him and the other likely would be skeptical at best. But, it was done and the Lycanroc flashed a toothy grin Leo’s way.

    “It’ll be a fine tale, I’m sure. Focus on the job and getting it done right.” The red and white Pokémon straightened up and dipped his head towards the Charmeleon. “Until tomorrow, my fiery friend.” And as quickly as he had appeared, the Midnight Lycanroc melted back into the darkening streets leaving Leo alone once more with the now-dwindling line at the well.

    A loud yawn escaped his maw as he stared up at the stars and the outline of High Peak Spring to the north. Tomorrow would bring a whole new challenge there and so soon after he barely escaped Tranquility Weald. A shiver of apprehension went through him.

    “Is this right? ... Is following along on this job my purpose here? Gods, I don’t know...” Leo muttered to the dim stars above. Around him, the tired land of Verus gave him no cosmic answer. No mysterious guiding voice this time to provide cryptic answers. With a dejected sigh Leo turned back towards the Tarnished Crown. The Charmeleon somehow found himself in his assigned room and hammock a short while later, having climbed up the creaking stairs in a fugue state. He had the foresight to make sure his flaming tail was safely over the edge of the hanging hammock before he closed his eyes.

    Sleep came quickly to his exhausted form, dragging him under without much time to be annoyed by Noah’s light snoring a few feet away. Flashes of indeterminate thoughts flitted in and out of his subconscious as the witching hours ticked by; strange and blurry visions that always ended with a pair of watching golden eyes staring at him from the horrors just beyond the dream’s edge.

    End Chapter Three
    Thanks for the prior reviews! I've had a super busy semester and life events, so I apologize for not getting a proper response out to you both! But, I did try to take your advice and suggestions into account in writing Chapter 3! Thank you again!

    Knightfall signing off...
  13. Knightfall

    Knightfall Blazing Wordsmith

    Chapter Four: High Peak

    Cast down from plinths of might,

    Verus’s heroes consumed by blight.

    Bleeding stemmed from heavy blow,

    Weakened land, breathing slow.

    Broken, dying, free at last,

    Sun’s warmth, fading fast.

    Debt paid, at what cost?

    Can not restore what was lost.

    —Scribe Martor Serperior,
    Verse of the Broken from The Rains of Erebus

    Leo was half asleep as their assembled group of four set off on the north road. The night had passed in the blink of an eye. The moment Leo crashed into his hammock the previous night rolled right into Noah shaking him awake rather forcefully that morning. A wake-up call to which Leo responded with a swing of his fist in bleary panic. Only his groggy disorientation kept him from socking the Dewott in the gut, instead causing him to fall out of the hammock, swearing the whole while. Noah had interrupted a rather pleasant dream in addition to needed sleep; though he could not recall the details, Leo was reluctant to leave it for the present reality.

    With this being his first true ‘morning’ in this world not in a dungeon or ruin, Leo could say with certainty that he was not a morning person. He could function just fine as he did with helping Noah scrounge for supplies, but that did not mean he enjoyed waking up at the crack of dawn. The sun was a pinprick on the horizon and they were already a good distance away from Kingsend, traveling north on the rutted, dry dirt road that snaked out of town.

    There was little by way of conversation outside of Jay being moderately surprised he and Noah actually showed at the right time. Leo suspected the early morning had much to do with that, as even Kelly, who was perfectly fine after rescuing him, seemed to drag her paws ever-so-slightly on the packed earth. Luckily, verbose directions were not needed. The road they followed was parallel to the same dried riverbed that went through Kingsend. High Peak Spring had been, in ages past, the source for a sizable river.

    Leo could easily see how the dungeon got its name. The lonely mountain before them was not huge by any means, more akin to a fairly steep and rocky hill than anything else, but it was the tallest formation near the town. At one point, the river had flowed from a source near its peak, thus earning the descriptive name. In the time since the spring dried up, Leo gathered a mystery dungeon had taken root in its place, turning the cave into an anomaly of interest to the Crown.

    The countryside outside Kingsend consisted of mixtures of patches with oak forests and hilly plains. In the misty, gray light, Leo could almost make out various glinting ruins that dotted the landscape. His memories jumped back to his first steps out of Nexus’s cave before the world shifted; he had seen this before, but from a different vantage point.

    Compared with slogging through swamps, sand, and dusty ruins, the hike up the meandering trail up the gentle slope of High Spring Peak was relatively simple. The Charmeleon was panting as he scrambled up the last ridge of dry, packed earth, using roots as a foothold. He rolled onto his back and caught his breath while the other three, more nimble than him, waited for him at the mouth of the cavern.

    “Come on, Leo! We’re ready!” Noah called cheerily, to which Leo grumbled, but rolled onto his feet anyways. He was not yet ready to forgive Noah for dragging him along on this excursion. “High Peak’s a simple dungeon, but you’ll need to stay close. It’s newer than the Weald, so it shouldn’t mess with you too much...” the Dewott explained with confidence.

    The dungeon entrance itself was rather unassuming; an asymmetrical opening partially carved by water that once flowed through it. Now dry, the river bed became a welcoming path into the depths. Just inside the cave, about two steps in, Leo caught sight of something akin to heat distortion in the air; a slight ripple in the still air. As he crept a few steps closer to investigate, a blue paw landed on his shoulder with some force behind it.

    “Careful. That’s the dungeon. I wouldn’t go in first, if I were you.” Jay’s stern voice and strong grip made Leo pause. The blinded Riolu stepped forward instead, briefly checked his bag and nodded back to his partner. “I’ll go first. Noah, you’re next with Leo, and then Kelly will bring up the rear. This should be real simple. Let’s be quick about this now.”

    With that, Jay passed through the ripple and immediately vanished from sight. Leo had never seen what it was like to enter a dungeon and he was caught off guard. Noah, though, took him by the wrist and passed him a flimsy and cheaply-made satchel with a strap of twisted vine.

    “There’s your supplies. Don’t tug on it too hard, or the vine will break... Or, you know, accidentally torch it,” Noah cautioned before he tugged them both through the barrier. Leo barely managed to sling the bag over his neck before he felt a tingling, almost-electric sensation pass over him as he stumbled into the mystery dungeon.

    Leo froze momentarily, getting a sense of his surroundings. He had not felt himself shift, but the cave certainly looked different now that they were inside. The entrance was nowhere to be seen, yet there was a soft, bluish light filling the underground dungeon. Kelly was already behind him even as he turned around to look for the cave mouth. At the very least, he did not feel the same overwhelming malevolence Tranquility Weald exuded.

    “H-How do we get out?” he asked with more of a waiver to his voice than he would have liked. The Charmeleon was quickly getting the horrible sensation of being trapped again. Teeth gritted, he began to look for a way out with more earnest, though with the weak light seemingly without a single source, it was impossible to determine which way the exit was, nor could he really see more than a few feet in front of him. “Oh gods...”

    “Dead gods won’t get us out of here. Noah, calm your friend down...” Jay muttered as the Riolu took up point after checking his gear once more.

    “Once we reach the end of the dungeon, we will find the exit. I promise, Leo.” It was Kelly, not Noah, who supplied that bit of comforting info. “Like we said, this isn’t a long or difficult dungeon. We’ll find the bottom and then the exit will be a little further away. No matter how deep we are.” Leo found that rather strange.

    “How does that work exactly...?” He asked even as he began to slowly walk behind Noah through the narrow passage of water-smoothed stone. “How would we find the exit by going deeper into this cave? Shouldn’t we be going up?” It defied basic logic.

    Kelly made an equivalent of a shrug. “That’s really just how they work. There’s at least one guild in Silver City dedicated to studying dungeon mechanics, as well as several royal task forces, yet none have a single definitive answer. Only theories that I haven’t read...” She replied quietly while their party made slow, but steady progress into the slightly-moist dungeon. “Dungeons are a chaotic place. Maybe it showing the exit at the end is its reward for besting its challenges? That’s my take on it. They’re almost like living beings.”

    It was a solid theory as far as it came with pseudo-sentient environments. Leo himself had been thrown from forests to icy mountains to desert in no time at all, so perhaps space was merely a toy ripe for manipulation by these dungeons. He had time to think as their group hiked down a long stretch of the cave. They were slowly descending, he could feel the slight downward slope with every corridor and open, square-like room they came across.

    The light remained constant, much to Leo’s surprise, illuminating their path just enough for them to creep further inside. There were other beings here too. In the dim light, Leo could see them in the corners of the larger rooms; a small colony of Zubat clinging to the cavern ceiling, blue wings folded over themselves, a group of Aron foraging through the stone with their metal paws, and even a shaggy Poochyena that yipped and snapped at them before retreating to its claimed corner.

    Despite Leo’s aversion to getting close to the wild beasts, Jay had no such qualms and followed the most direct path on the map. Thankfully, the dungeon-dwelling Pokémon seemed equally as content to back away and bristle at their group.

    “Left turn up ahead, Jay. There’s a mound of Diglett just beforehand. Tread lightly,” Kelly called yet again from the back as Jay sounded his affirmation. It was an interesting dynamic. From what Leo gathered from their interactions, Kelly played the role of filling in the gaps in the Riolu’s perception. He was able to navigate fairly-independently, but for spotting distant potential foes and reading from a map, he needed extra input. With the Jolteon’s faintly-glowing fur and keen senses, she was well-suited to providing the required input. “You’re coming up on a junction. We’ll need to go left. That’ll bring us to the next floor.”

    Their efficient navigation proved to be a good system. While Leo did not immediately notice, Noah remarked on how quickly they had gone so deep into the cavern. The exploration duo made a good team. Salient. Think that was what Noah called them. Team Salient... Leo recalled while his feet tramped over the cool, dry stone of the dungeon’s floor. The Charmeleon was pleasantly surprised that he had not had to run for his life to outpace murderous Porygon or malevolent environments. This journey was very... Normal. As if he had decided to go on a mild spelunking trip.

    “Shame we haven’t found anything good yet! Though, I expect this part has been picked over pretty good... But that’ll change soon!” Noah remarked to break up the silence that had settled over their group like a thin blanket.

    “You’re sure on that...?” Leo was surprised at the question that came tumbling from his mouth. He had been content to just be a tag-along for this mission and then find his own way once he fulfilled his ‘debt’ to the Dewott. A soft nudge on his side from Kelly likely was a good sign that he had asked the same question she was thinking. Noah craned his head back, unable to turn around quickly in the narrow passage after the junction.

    “Well, I’m as sure as I can be. It’s unexplored as far as I know, so realistically, no one knows what’s beyond the map. Could be a hoard of bandit gold or just an empty room,” he answered with a noncommittal shrug. “Didn’t think you were particularly interested in this exploration, Leo. Color me surprised.”

    “I’m here, aren’t I? Don’t see why I wouldn’t ask what we’re looking for...” Leo managed to reply after a moment’s quiet. This seemed to satisfy the Dewott.

    “Anyways, we’re coming close to the bottom. It’s well-known about the larger room on the right of the next intersection and the path beyond it being the way out... But it’s the smaller room just to the left that’s our goal,” Noah elaborated, gesturing to two squareish rooms at the bottom of the map. “It was long assumed that the left room had nothing of value, but I’ve discovered a secret!”

    Noah did not explain further about his found secret until their party had deviated from the normal path towards the dungeon exit. The small, aforementioned room seemed bigger on the map Noah carried and moved more like an alcove than a chamber. The four ‘mon had to squeeze to all enter the tiny space. The Dewott pushed his way to the far wall and without a word, began running his paws over the stones. His claws definitely seemed to be searching for some sort of purchase, though in the dim light it was difficult to see.

    “Leo! Come up here with that tail of yours! Need the extra light!” Noah called, waving his other paw beckoningly. Leo, eager to appear more useful than a potential target, carefully brushed his way past Kelly and Jay, tail held aloft so its flame flickered merrily off the stones. “Perfect! Think I found it again!”

    Both his paws found a small, almost mechanical cut in the rock face that had been invisible in the blue light. Reaching in, he grunted and found a grasp on something within the hole. Noah tugged his arm back and something within the wall clicked loudly. A ripple of unease hit the Charmeleon at that as he let his tail drop. The atmosphere had changed on the spot; the calm air now replaced with a tension that certainly had not been there before. The dungeon was uneasy about this. There was a hiss and a perfectly-rectangular portion of the wall sank deeper. The layout was surprisingly similar to the door he had bashed himself against when he first woke up in the ruins.

    Before Leo could raise his concerns, Noah had pushed hard against the rock face, forcing the disguised door further in until it swung out into a different passage. The air beyond was musty, but not nearly as bad as the ruins had been. The air had tasted strongly of dust and time there.

    “And there we go! Didn’t I tell you there was more to High Peak?” Noah inquired, mostly of the two explorers in the back of the small chamber. “Come on! Time’s a’wasting!”

    Leo heard a quiet grumble from Jay along the lines of “...actually wasn’t lying..” but did not listen in further beyond a few unsavory words about the Dewott. Kelly was quiet in her usual behavior while Jay vented. Together, the three of them followed Noah through the newly-opened breech in the wall. While dusty, the air flowing from the space beyond did not taste stale, rather it had a similar taste to the filtered, old air in the ruins Leo woke up inside.

    Leo scanned the new area immediately, though he found he needed not worry. Unlike the naturally-formed tunnels and caverns of the prior levels of High Peak Spring, the walls here were entirely smooth and square, well beyond the finish normal tools could achieve. Leo held his tail closer still, the flame tickling his chest as he ventured forth after the strolling Dewott.

    “How far do these passages go, Noah?” Jay called from the rear of their party while Noah lead them down the unnervingly-uniform cuts into the mountain stone. The paths were sloping downward without any visible branches or deviations from the main path. It was as if the mystery dungeon had simply stopped trying to alter the world in this segment.

    “Not much further, my Riolu friend! A couple more turns and we will arrive at the bottom.” Leo was not paying attention to the exchange. There was something amiss with this place, but he could not place a finger on it. The dungeon aura was as vaguely-menacing as it had been earlier, yet the environment could not possibly be any more different.

    “These were carved... Somehow...” Leo muttered under his breath before he stopped dead in his tracks. Jay bumped into him from behind with an oath, however the Charmeleon’s feet remained firmly planted.

    Just before him, the large, square path performed its first deviation and widened into an even larger, perfectly-square chamber. But it was not the sudden change of architecture that startled him into stopping; it was the ancient, rust-covered bulkhead door that starred stoneley at their group from across the room. Noah broke rank first with a grin visible even through the back of his head as he went up and tapped the dull-red metal hull. Intricate notches, grooves, and indentations covered its front alongside the faint, pulsing blue circuitry that Leo recalled seeing in the ruins.

    “And here we are! The last secret of High Peak! A door at the bottom of the mountain! What could be on the other side?” Noah exclaimed with a theatrical flare as he made intense gestures to the sealed door. “The secret of a lifetime, perhaps? Treasure beyond your wildest dreams? An ancient horde of gold? The ancient secrets of Verus? The—!” Noah’s monologue was cut off by a rough cough from Jay.

    “Does it open?” the Riolu pressed as he strode forward to examine the solid gate. “Certainly feels like will take a lot more than our crew to force...” Jay concluded with an exasperated sigh. “This isn’t much of a discovery, Noah. We might be able to sell the map for just enough to cover your debt, but not much profit.”

    “Wait, wait! Don’t give up hope just yet! Leo, come here!” The otter was pushing up on an handle-like indentation as he dug his feet into the stone floor. “Push with me! Put your shoulder to it! I swear I got it to move last time!” Noah barked and like the unwilling participant he was, Leo complied. Gritting his teeth, the Charmeleon leaned into the sturdy, rusting steel. The oxidized metal rubbed off onto his scales as he attempted the fruitless task. As he shifted position, his key tapped against the metal with a soft clink. Leo’s hand pressed into the surface, gripping at the grooves before a tremendous noise silenced both him and Noah. The Dewott’s arm nearly clipped Leo’s snout as the latch gave way at last with a puff of orange rust. Noah grinned and rubbed his paws together excitedly. “Just needed a bit of muscle!”

    From behind the monolithic door, metal creaked loudly and with a cloud dust raining down from its surface, a thin line bisected the solid door cleanly. A faint flicker of the blue circuitry gave way to a rumble that forced both him and Noah away staggering. Ancient machinery protested loudly as it was forced into opening the heavy bulkhead.

    A blast of fan-driven air greeted the stunned and weary explorers. Wordless glances were exchanged between the four as they all slowly stepped forward through the beckoning threshold. The cut stone ended abruptly with a sea of cold steel just beyond. And it truly was cold, with a cloak of chilled air rolling over their frozen group.

    Leo found it hard to gauge the expressions on his companions. The sight they beheld was certainly not what Jay, Noah, or Kelly had expected. There were no mountains of glittering gold, scrolls of ancient knowledge, troves of forgotten weapons, or anything resembling treasure. Leo found his gaze going down and down into the barely-visible bottom of a vast, circular shaft that plunged into the mountain’s heart. It was entirely removed from the “natural” dungeon of High Peak Spring and the carved passage they had just left.

    They were standing on a metal catwalk that overlooked the wide, circular hole. Panels of steel coated the sides of the pit as far down as he could see, interrupted only by segments of thick piping and tightly-packed cables that hummed loudly with electricity. Rings of small lights extended down the metal tube in uniform intervals. While it was faint at their elevation, Leo found hear the whirring of engines or generators rumbling up from the lower levels. His hands gripped the sturdy railing tightly, staring intensely at the engineering marvel that was, for some reason, stuck at the bottom of a mountain in a primitive world.

    “Huh, that’s ... unexpected.” Noah’s reaction perfectly encapsulated the general mood of their group. Leo found himself nodding as he peered over the edge, feeling the cool wind blow up from the lower floors. He glanced to his left and found Kelly and Jay had joined him in gazing at the structure. To his right, Noah leaned on the railing, seemingly less enraptured and more deep in calculative thought judging by his intense gaze.

    “System breech confirmed. Visitors detected. Number: four. Nature: organic. Initiate: welcome program,” a tinny, filtered voice that Leo recognized immediately. He knew even before he turned around that a Porygon would be on the other side. Sure enough, the small, blue and pink blocky creature floated inches off the catwalk, staring at them with glowing, hexagonal eyes. The others were slower to turn around, and the construct began speaking once all had faced it. The Porygon twitched once, putting on a garble of static before another function took control. A voice much too chipper for the construct began speaking excitedly.

    “Hello! You are listening to the pre-recorded visitor greeting message! Assuming you can comprehend this message: Greetings from the churning turbines of the Hydroelectric Generation Plant One! We do hope you will enjoy your time while you visit our facility and learn about its important role! Please follow the Porygon technician to begin your knowledge-filled tour!” A crackle of a fading speaker came from the bird-like Pokémon and it twitched once again, returning to its normal self.

    “Follow, visitors 1 through 4. The elevator is this way.” With that, the small, blocky bird hovered a short distance over to a previously-unnoticed tube of glass built into the rock. Leo watched with vague recollection as part of the tube’s exterior parted, revealing a metal platform and humming components tucked out of sight. The Porygon floated inside and then turned to face the group. “Movement is required to begin your tour. Please initiate.”

    Kelly’s jaw was the first to close. Having come to grips with the situation, she bumped her teammate’s side, stirring Jay from his bewildered trance as well. Leo needed no further coaxing, having dealt with this once before with Nexus. This particular construct seemed far less capable of threats, but he would not take his eyes off it. He had nearly been killed by Nexus only a few days ago; putting his life entirely in the hands of another similar construct would be foolish.

    Noah stretched his legs and grinned. “Well then!” He brought his paws together in a single clap. “Let’s not be rude visitors now. We’ve been invited on a tour... Why not see what’s going on here?” He said with his typical, urging tone that begged others to agree. Jay and Kelly shared an uneasy look between them, but both stepped forward.

    “I’m not sure about this, guys...” Leo began before he was met with Noah’s paw landing roughly on his shoulder. The Dewott gave him a pleading look that battered at the Charmeleon’s will like a siege ram on a closed gate.

    “Leo, my buddy... This is the chance of a lifetime! You aren’t going to pass up the chance of adventure, will you?” Leo was about to easily refute that claim, but Noah spoke up again in a softer, but no less urgent tone once the duo of Team Salient had left earshot. “... This place... It’s a human structure. I know it. It matches the ruins I’ve seen before...”

    Leo’s rebuttal died in his throat and the Dewott smiled, knowing he had won already.

    “You say you’re human, yeah? Came stumbling out of a human ruin? Maybe this will give you some answers. Or maybe not. You won’t find out unless you get moving...” Leo looked down at his feet briefly and huffed. The otter certainly had an argument; if Leo was to find out more about his purpose, this human-built facility might hold some clues. To risk another attack by refusing or take a chance to investigate what this ruin had to offer. Against his better judgement, Leo knew what he had to do. That was why he was in Verus in the first place.

    “Fine... But stay alert. Okay? I... I don’t fully trust the Porygon,” Leo cautioned softly as he lifted his head to meet Noah’s gaze. The Dewott did not seem interested in pursuing that warning further.

    “Eh, we’ll be fine. Probably. Now come on; time’s ticking, Slowpoke!”

    Goaded by Noah, Leo wearily left his spot by the railing and reluctantly moved towards the glass elevator. Once both he and Noah were within the machine, the Porygon let out an affirmative chirp which coincided with the curved glass door sliding into place with a “click.” Being human prepared him for the experience of the sudden, stomach-lifting and nauseating lurch of the elevator, but Kelly and Jay were clearly not taking it well. The blindfolded Riolu leaned against the back of the cylinder, panting and holding his head while the Jolteon whined and tucked herself into a ball of bristling yellow fur. Noah was taking it well enough, though Leo could see him grit his teeth in obvious discomfort from the rapid descent.

    A small screen flashed numbers in rapid succession as the elevator descended further into the mountain’s hollowed heart. From twenty on down, going lower and lower towards zero. Leo found himself smiling; a faint smile, but a smile nonetheless. The flickering panel, the lurching machine, the hum of electricity, it brought back vague memories of his life as a human. Nothing concrete, but enough for Leo to feel it was familiar and almost comforting. The Charmeleon let out a brief sigh in disappointment as the machine slowed, bringing inertia with it. However, based on the groans that came from the others, he was alone in longing for the experience. With a brief shake of his head, Leo calmly exited the elevator.

    “Dead gods... My head...” whined Jay while he shuffled out from the tube, followed by a silent and skittish Kelly. Noah rubbed his temples and hissed quietly to clear his head.

    “Visitors 1 through 4, follow. Please.” While the grumbling group gathered, the Porygon guide moved its angular body in a sign meant to convey haste.

    “Don’t get your wings all in a tizzy now; we’re coming!” Noah snapped back as the Dewott gestured for Leo to come over and help the two ‘mon of Team Salient. Leo nodded in agreement and quickly went to Jay’s side, supporting the groaning Riolu while he took in his surroundings.

    The bottom of the shaft was just as massive as the top made it appear. The area, from what Leo could tell, was roughly circular, with tunnels and passages leading off at various intervals. Sheets of metal uniformly covered almost every surface of the cylindrical chasm. Small red and white utility lights ringed the chamber, illuminating the maze of rusty catwalks and stairs that criss-crossed the diametric gap. Similar to what he had seen at the top, huge lengths of pipe were bolted firmly into the mountain.

    The noise was louder here in the pit. The hum of power was more intense, but above it all was a muffled churning. That was the only way Leo could accurately describe the odd noise that seemed to originate from the center of the chasm. The massive conduits creaked every so often to add to the cacophony of noise in the strange, underground chamber.

    “Proceed down the corridor. Unit 0171-Vertex will receive you.” The Porygon that had corralled them suddenly stopped at the entrance to the passage that was illuminated with squares of dull white light from the ceiling. “Unit 0171-Vertex is excited to meet Visitors 1 through 4.” Its monotone voice then went quiet though its piercing white eyes never left the group.

    “... Well, come on then. Ain’t going to meet our host by standing around!” Noah stated, as if it were obvious as to what they should do. The Dewott had stepped into the tunnel and waved his arms up and down back at the hesitant trio. “See? Nothing’s going to happen! Just come on! I, for one, am stoked to see what’s ahead!”

    Leo remained behind Jay and Kelly, determined to not be a part of this. He would follow, but he wouldn’t be used by Noah as an example to get Kelly and Jay to come along. That was fine by him though, he got to continue to observe the massive structure they were in the belly of.

    From the outside, High Peak Spring was not an impressive mountain, but it was still a tall outcropping of rock. The mystery dungeon within it, however, was short. A few floors to the bottom. Mystery dungeons, from what Kelly had explained and what he had personally experienced, twisted and warped space, yet five floors of moderately-tall tunnels did not explain the massive leftover space that existed. Maybe that was why Noah got curious about this place to begin with. There was a discrepancy and this structure, buried far beneath the peak, made up for it.

    It was ancient, enigmatic even. It was clearly a machine, but Leo could not fathom what purpose it was designed to accomplish.

    “Leo! Come on!” Noah’s voice beckoned him over and with a sigh, Leo pulled his gaze away from the massive network of pipes and conduits. The Charmeleon cautiously stepped over to the passage where Noah was standing, Kelly and Jay a few feet ahead. The tunnel was illuminated dully by panels stuck to the walls and ceiling. With no torch to be seen, soft white light poured from the fixtures. The Kelly was momentarily astounded by the squares of glass, while Jay obviously could not fully appreciate the marvel. Noah stood tapping his foot at the front of their group, waiting impatiently with arms folded. The wonder of artificial light seemed to have worn off quickly on the Dewott.

    Kelly pressed a paw to the smooth, cool glass while her wide eyes were reflected in the polished surface. She turned to Leo, fur abuzz with excited static electricity.

    “I-I... I never thought I’d get to see something like this up close! O-Only the richest in Silver City have one or two of these lights! But here! T-There’s dozens! A hundred easily!” She laughed and bounded over to the other side of the passage, admiring yet another identical square that flickered slightly every three seconds. Leo had seen these before, both in the ruins of his awakening, and before, when he was a human. The details got foggy beyond that.

    “Didn’t I tell you we’d find something good down here?” Noah called, shaking the Jolteon from her excitement. “Maybe we can ask these guys if they wouldn’t mind losing a couple of these lights? If each of us took two or three, we’d be able to die rich ‘mon!”

    Just then, the tunnel dimmed considerably with every panel decreasing in brightness simultaneously. Noah quickly stopped his get-rich-quick idea and meekly gulped. However, rather than a rebuke, there was a soft click and an electric hum to their immediate left. An unassuming portion of metal wall recessed back and slid out of sight, revealing a smaller, illuminated passage.

    The four cautiously peered inside once the sound had stopped. Just inside were walls similarly-lined with glowing panels along a short hallway that ended in a vast, semi-circular chamber that was bathed in soft blue and golden glows. As if drawn inside by the ethereal lights, Leo crept into the new passage first. His heart pounded as his wide eyes reflected the vast array of flickering panels and pillars etched with circuitry that were arranged along the walls that displayed constantly-updating readouts and numbers. The computing machines hummed quietly, dutifully calculating and monitoring while the room pulsed with lights from the supporting pillars and army of screens. The four Pokémon slowly walked inside the marvelous chamber, their bodies awash in the warm illumination.

    Towards the back wall, screens larger than all the others displayed illegible statistics and figures while a few select monitors flicked between video feeds of the whole complex, from the passage they were just in to the hidden door all the way back in the bottom of High Peak Spring. Leo gulped slightly as he got closer, able to see that the moving shapes in front of some of the lower banks of computers were in fact blocky Porygon; an army of the chirping, monotone creatures pecked and hovered along the curved, flowing glass screens. For now, at least, the digital birds appeared to ignore the four visitors.

    The Charmeleon, now steeped in artifacts of the world he had left behind, leaned in to read the fast-moving words and phrases flowing from top to bottom on the nearest of the multitude of elegant screens. For that’s the main word Leo had for this place. If it were not for the location at the bottom of a rocky chasm, it would fit right at home in a lavish palace. The others lost their fear as well and got closer to examine the alien artifacts before them.

    “Ah! Hello there! You have at last arrived!” A cheery, electronic voice called out to the group. “So good of you to be here! My circuits are overloaded with glee from having visitors!”

    Leo let out a startled yell as he tried and failed to spin around, instead losing his balance and sprawling against one of the consoles. The machine let out a series of short, irate beeps and tones as the Charmeleon peeled himself off the screen. He rubbed his scales were his dangling key had been sandwiched between himself and the sensitive machine. A static shock passed through him from the massive computer, making him yelp softly.

    Once focused, Leo saw exactly what addressed them all and it sent a shiver down his spine. A mirror image of Nexus floated a meter off the ground; the curved, sleek form of the Porygon2 swiveled effortlessly as its white eyes took in each of them in turn. Seemingly satisfied with the cursory inspection of the visitors, the Porygon2 fluttered its round wings and rose up to alight on a similar electronic ‘nest’ on top of a short pillar.

    “Allow me to introduce myself. My decency routines have not aged well from disuse.” Leo’s nervous gaze met equally-unsure glances from Jay and Kelly as they stood rapt before their host. Noah had simply turned around and settled with his back against a silvery machine, looking rather comfortable despite the nervous looks the surrounding Porygon gave. They clearly did not want the Dewott using their devices as a rest.

    “I am Unit 0171: Vertex. You may refer to me however you please. I am in charge of this marvelous installation. You are the first visitors we have had in a very long time.” Vertex bowed its pink head at them all. “It will be my pleasure to showcase the capabilities of this facility. But first, are there any questions for me?”

    Surprisingly, Kelly was the first to speak up at Vertex’s invitation. “Err... Vertex... M-Might I ask how long this... Has been here? Under the mountain?” She asked while glancing at the golden ceiling above her head. “And what exactly do you do here...? With all these... Flashing things?” The Jolteon inquired further, not knowing the correct term for the alien devices.

    “And how long will we be kept here?” Jay added quickly. Leo could tell the Riolu of Team Salient was trying to keep calm with the paw clasped tightly on Kelly’s back.

    “You mind if we mark this place on a map?” Noah called from his comfortable position against the console that continued to beep with quiet urgency beneath his back. A Porygon prodded the Dewott's feet to try and move him. “We do need to report this if we’re to collect the bounty for discovery...” The Dewott said calmly, drawing a glare from Leo. If the Porygon2 was made irate or perplexed by any of the statements, Vertex did not show it on its pleasant face.

    “I will go in turn, if that is okay with you all.” The small bird fluttered its wings and adjusted its form atop its pulsing pillar. “This installation has been here for a very long time. Multiple centuries, to keep it succinct. And our purpose is to generate energy and supply it to other installations.” It chirped quietly and made a minor movement on its nest that caused one of the screens on the back wall to change from scrolling data to show a video of the base of the vast chasm down the hall. “Our operations are centered here where the turbines are located under the floor, which feed power to the vast array of conduits and pumps that direct it abroad to—.”

    “T-That picture! I-It’s moving!” Kelly squealed excitedly, interrupting Vertex as she stared at the video on the screen that showed several Porygon quickly floating and moving about the central chamber outside. They appeared to be clustered about several consoles that were flashing rapidly. “Oh dead gods, it's really moving! The picture is moving! H-How is it doing that?”

    Vertex patiently waited for the Jolteon to slow her rapid questions before it fluttered its rounded wings. “Technology! The intricacies would take a week to fully explain, but think of it as thousands of tiny dots on the screen that shine in different colors to paint a picture. They do this so fast that all the pictures blend together and appear to move,” it chirped happily. To Leo, the Porygon2 appeared to relish the opportunity to explain things to its guests.

    “W-Wow! I think I understand! Kind of...” Kelly answered while she stared up at the moving image rapturously. Leo had not seen the Jolteon so enthralled in the short time he had known her. It was rather amusing to see the normally calm and collected Jolteon be so giddy.

    Vertex chirped affirmatively and then continued its lengthy explanation of the various functions of this strange installation. Even though he was the most equipped to comprehend the advanced technology, Leo found it all washing uselessly over his head. The Charmeleon gave it a real attempt, but he found himself slipping into a stupor. It was just like a lecture from... Well, he could not recall from where, but he recalled the sensation.

    Many minutes, perhaps an hour later, Leo woke with a start. A high-pitched, electronic beeping had begun abruptly. Rubbing his eyes, Leo scanned the room to find the source of the annoying, grating sound.

    “I swear on the gods’ graves that I didn't touch a thing!”

    Leo groaned loudly and pressed his hand over his eyes and sliding it down his snout in exasperation. Noah was attempting to divert blame after the computer he had been leaning on started flashing red and beeping loudly. A cluster of Porygon were surrounding the console and Vertex was concentrating hard in its ‘nest’ to get a handle on the situation.

    “I just shifted my back and then BAM! Started beeping like that!” Noah shouted up at Vertex, who appeared to ignore him. “You can fix that, right?”

    As if on cue, the machine went totally dark; its vast array of buttons and glowing screen blinking off in an instant.

    “It is not your fault, guest. A simple matter. It is nothing we cannot--” Vertex began before it was sharply cut off by another console, this one on the opposite end of the room, suddenly flashing red and beeping. And then another. And another. Over the course of ten seconds, every computer and even the large wall monitors flooded the chamber with a red light. Messages in a language Leo did not understand screamed up the screen at a breakneck pace.

    “That is... Unusual,” Vertex remarked in a distinctly-subdued tone. Its rounded face reflected no hint of emotion in the barrage of flashing screens. “Guests, I am afraid that our tour must be cut short as we sort this out. Please show yourselves out. I cannot spare escorts right now. Do have a good day.” It did not even look at their group as it immediately went to work sorting out the digital mess.

    Kelly and Jay had swiftly retreated to the center of the room alongside Leo and Noah. The four interlopers cautiously backed up through the open doorway.

    “Right... Time to go,” Noah whispered as the alarm tone grew louder. Leo lightly nudged Kelly; she had not taken her eyes off the amazing room the entire time.

    “Kelly? ... Come on. We've got to go...” Leo’s claws touched her yellow fur and lightly tugged on the bag slung over her side. “We'll come back another time...”

    At last she turned away and resumed walking down the branching hallway back towards the large central chamber. The Jolteon was stone-faced, but Leo could tell she was bitterly disappointed from leaving the fantastic room early and probably thinking of ways to get back at Noah for screwing things up. Leo sighed and walked at the rear of their silent group as they followed arrows on the floors and walls as Vertex indicated.

    “Child of ruin...”

    Leo’s eyes went wide. No. It could not be that thing again. The voice, the same that had spoke shortly before his day suddenly changed for the worse. In his short existence on Verus, he had grown to fear two things: mystery dungeons and the cold voice in his head.

    “Time runs short. This shackle will break. Freedom’s deluge will spring forth.”

    As quickly as it came, the voice departed Leo's head, leaving the Charmeleon quite confused. What in the world did that cryptic blurb mean?

    The metal floor, illuminated walls, and mountain all suddenly shuddered. Not violently, but a short vibration the made the four exiting Pokémon pause at the bottom of the main chasm.

    “... Warning... 25% capacity. 27% capacity... Outflow disabled... Warning...”

    Leo’s head snapped up. There was a garbled voice droning out from several box-like devices from the catwalks above their heads. He jogged up to Kelly, Jay, and Noah, the latter two arguing about the logistics of reporting this dungeon discovery to the Crown.

    “Err... Guys? Guys!” The Charmeleon interjected. Those droning words could not possibly harken anything positive. “You hear that...? I think we should really get moving...” he said, trailing off as Noah turned to look at him.

    “Hmm? Why the rush, Leo? Don't you want to stay a little longer and look around?” The Dewott said nonchalantly as he waved a dismissive paw at the droning voice. “Ignore whatever gibberish its spouting. Doubt it means anything...”

    Leo found his head tilting in confusion. While it was somewhat garbled, Leo could understand the words well enough.

    “... Warning... Storage at kkksssh percent capacity... Structural stress critical...”

    “You... You don’t hear that? The warnings?” Leo asked once more, looking between Noah and Jay as he did so. The two gave him a shrug and the Charmeleon grit his teeth. While he was perplexed at why only he seemed able to hear the broadcast, he guessed there was not much time left before something happened.

    “... Eighty-five percent capacity... Warning...”

    Leo’s heart beat quicker as he stood in the heart of the slightly-quaking machine. Kelly was gazing up reverently at the vast constellation of lights and conduits, rooted to the floor. To his right, Noah and Jay continued their negotiations against the curved metal railing in the center of the chamber. Why are they not concerned?!

    In this world, Leo had so far been the follower. The one who needed guidance. Guidance with his new form, guidance to escape the clutches of the ruins he was ‘born’ in, guidance to navigate and escape mystery dungeons. Nexus, the voice, Noah, Jay, Kelly: they all were his guides in the strange and foreign world of Verus. But in that instant, the Charmeleon’s newest guides were oblivious to the literal warning signs sounding right above their heads. It was his turn to guide them.

    Teeth gritted, Leo jogged over to Kelly and gave her a hard shove from the side. The Jolteon’s fur shocked him and she let out a yelp before stumbling to the side. He did not give her the chance to retort at him for breaking her reverie of the machine. Leo ran up to the Dewott and Riolu and snatched both of their wrists as they gestured.

    “We’re leaving. Let’s go.” The firmness of his words was a shock to even himself. Leo did not think himself one to lose his temper, but that command held barely contained anger. Noah’s next proposed offer fell back down his throat. Leo tugged forcefully on the two stubborn ‘mon, peeling them from their spots on the railing. “Go on! Don’t make me drag you! Go! Go!”

    He gave them another hard tug that made the stunned Pokémon start moving on their own volition towards the glass door of the elevator. Leo whirled around to the Jolteon and simply pointed at the direction Noah and Jay went.

    “Let’s go! Now!” Leo figured there would be time to regret the harshness in his words later. Not waiting for the Jolteon to begin moving, he dropped into a brisk jog as fast as his short legs would carry him. He was inwardly glad his last couple days had involved running for his life; he could run fairly well even with his swaying tail.

    The Charmeleon all but shoved Jay and Noah into the cylindrical elevator before muscling his way inside on top of them. The Porygon that manned the controls during their arrival was absent, as were all the other Porygon. That only added to Leo’s sense of looming dread. Kelly’s bright yellow form jumped over the threshold for the sliding doors a second later, giving Leo a tense glare all the while. He guessed he deserved that.

    Leo had studied the instrument panel on their descent and jabbed at the circular indentation that indicated the top floor. The glass doors slid shut with a click, sealing the four irate ‘mon inside from the rest of the rumbling chamber. He could hear the muffled sound of the broadcast, though the words truly were indistinct behind the thick glass. A shudder passed through the elevator, indicating it was rising from the floor. But even once the capsule appeared to settle into its ascent, the shuddering only intensified.

    The glares coming from Noah and Kelly seemed to lessen as they too felt the unusual tremors. For the moment, all appeared normal outside the glass bubble in the mountain’s hollowed-out heart. The minute tremors and muffled voice even ceased. The only noise was that of their elevator as it creaked and rose meter by meter. Leo let out a breath he had not realized he had been holding in. Perhaps there was nothing to fear. Were his nerves just that fried that he was able to get so worked up over what was probably routine for this strange place?

    The mounted rings of lights on the interior of the great chasm went dark the instant the hum of unseen generators died. Their small elevator ground to a quick halt. The chasm was plunged into a deep, silent darkness for several long seconds. Leo’s heart quickened again from the sudden turn. He had allowed himself a flicker of optimism and the world had snuffed it out not three seconds later. Leo could only hear the sounds of his teammates’ short, shallow breaths as they all awaited what was to come.

    One by one, bright flood lights flickered to life from the bottom of the chasm upwards, each floor having one or two that shone down onto the lower levels. Leo had to shield his eyes at the sudden flood of illumination. By the painted numbers on the wall, they were four floors from their destination with their stalled elevator.

    A violent rumble shot through the chasm and far below them a massive conduit bolted to the mountain wall creaked. Leo quietly took a step back from the edge of the window, his arm outstretched to push Noah back too. There was a screech of metal and sparks. The viewport suddenly shattered in a flurry of glass shards and water. Leo crouched low and gritted his teeth while the glass stopped flying and the water stopped spraying over them. His scales deflected most of the shards, though some fragments stuck in his arms without drawing blood.

    The cavern shuddered and their stalled elevator creaked loudly. Only the sound of groaning metal and dripping water punctuated the brief quiet. The Charmeleon took stock of his companions, who had been spared most of the glass thanks to his own scales.

    “C-Come on. Let's climb out through the window. There's a walkway right outside we can drop onto...” Leo urged after finding his voice and an iota of confidence.

    With a few swipes of his feet, he brushed aside a path through the glass. The crimson emergency lights bathed the rumbling cavern in a hellish red. Leo ducked beneath the curved metal crossbar and jumped the small distance to the wet catwalk. He waved his hand for the other three to follow while he leaned over the soaked railing to examine the damage below. Right away it was easy to see the source that stopped their ride.

    Having ripped itself from the massive fastening bolts on the wall like an enraged giant, one of the massive conduit pipes had ruptured, spraying a fierce jet of water and twisted metal shrapnel across the divide. The shards had destroyed the cables for their elevator while the water had shattered the glass. Leo was grateful that no injuries had come from the mechanical failure. The sound of paws hitting metal caused him to turn around. Noah was the last to jump from the elevator and was dusting himself off while the group got their bearings.

    “Erebus's cold pits... That could've gone better!” The Dewott said with a snort like a dissatisfied customer. Noah glanced about in the red-tinted light and looked up. “Dead gods... That's like, eight flights of stairs to where we came in! And a ladder! They expect us to walk and climb the rest of the way?!”

    “I-I think we should take any avenue they provide us at this point. I-I am not comfortable with the situation now in the slightest...” Kelly spoke up while Noah ranted. Her ears were pressed firmly against her skull and she was tensely crouched where she sat.

    “Agreed... Whatever's going on here, they can sort out for themselves. We need to get out and report it to the Crown...” Jay plucked a small shard of glass out of his arm with a muffled yelp. Still steadying themselves, the shaken group made for the wide ladder that connected the narrow maintenance floor to the wider walkways above. Water droplets rained down on them from the burst pipes above their heads, making the metal floor slick and unsteady.

    After testing the rounded rungs, built for beings much taller than they were, Noah was the first to scale the sizable ladder. Even for someone as nimble as the Dewott, it was a challenge with the raining mist. Leo stood by the base of the structure with Kelly while Noah called down to guide the blind Jay up the rungs. The fine mist irritated Leo's tail and made a small cloud of steam around the flame. There was an issue as to how Kelly would scale the rungs with her four legs. On the floor above, Noah yelled that he and Jay would scavenge for something to tie to her or a long plank of metal.

    Just as Leo was about to call up and tell them to hurry, the entire cavern shook violently. The quake hurled both Leo and Kelly into the railing, the Charmeleon slamming into it first and allowing himself to be a buffer for Kelly. Groaning, the two peeled themselves back from the edge. Leo felt several bruises in the works on his right side. The Charmeleon shook his head clear just in time to be thrown to the side once more. Deep below, the central chasm ruptured with force that Leo could not fathom. A mind-bogglingly huge geyser of water jetted up past their floor, showering everything beneath it in a downpour. Sputtering and coughing, Leo shielded his tail until the colossal jet subsided. Everything was drenched and the cavern rumbled underfoot once again. A violent gurgling noise soon filled the air from below.

    “K-Kelly! Come on!” Leo gasped, scrambling haphazardly to his feet on the slick grate. The Jolteon had fared somewhat better than he had, but was definitely dazed and soaked. Leo vaguely knew his body was strong, but he had not quite gotten the chance to test it until now. His arms went underneath Kelly’s midsection and hefted her over his shoulder with a yelp from the Jolteon. She was not that heavy, but right then, as he tried to scale the slick rungs, he very nearly dropped her. Leo positioned himself to climb the rungs using his left side, with Kelly now clinging to his scales with a terrified grip on his right.

    “S-Someone! H-Help! Get us up! Noah! Jay!? ... NOAH!?” Leo screamed with increasing volume with his growing frustration and discomfort. “HELP!” His voice was hoarse and both sides of his body were on fire. When he had somehow managed to get within one rung of the next floor, the hissing Charmeleon barely registered Kelly’s death grip loosen from his side. She had jumped off him to the top, leaving him to climb the rest of the way. Chest heaving, Leo pulled himself to his shaking feet. They had gone only a couple meters up from where the elevator had stopped. There was no time to rest though; the violent sounds of rising waters signalled time was short.

    With a deep groan, Leo took in the situation while the whole cavern shook violently. The roar of the churning waters was growing louder and louder with every passing second. Grasping a sturdy pipe, the Charmeleon braced himself for the next round of rumbling that sent quakes through the ancient metal walkways. In the dim red light that bathed the cavern, Leo’s hopes of escape were crushed one by one as he surveyed their only escape route. While the section the four of them had pulled themselves onto was relatively intact, the same could not be said about the path ahead and behind.

    The massive spouts of pressurized water and collateral damage from the bursting conduits had shredded the steel framework as if it was paper. Despite Noah, Kelly, and Jay’s best efforts, the twisted metal that blocked their path was too much for their combined strength. The air itself was filled with swirling droplets blown around by air from the churning floodwaters. Exhausted and shaking, Leo could not do much beyond shuffling towards his companions that were still fruitlessly expending energy into forcing the path open.

    “HI-YAHH!” Noah’s shout somehow managed to rise above the roar of their imminent destruction. A blade of water guided by one of his shells sliced into the twisted barricade, but did little besides rattle the mess of metal. The Dewott than shouted an equally-loud curse to the dead gods before he gritted his teeth for another attempt. For all his faults, of which Leo knew many, he had to admire Noah’s tenacity. The Dewott kept at the blockade long after Jay and Kelly both could no longer muster the effort to break it down.

    Leo made a concentrated effort to summon fire in any form, but aside from the desperate attack on Nexus, he had failed to produce another ember since then. Slumping against the wall beside Jay and Kelly, Leo could only watch numbly with them as the swirling current kept rising. Whatever words they might have exchanged would have been drowned out by the roar of the flood. The usual countermeasures against certain death while exploring dungeons were useless. The two members of Team Salient had fruitlessly tried to use a strange orb that would normally whisk them out of a dungeon, or so they claimed.

    But this cavern was not in a dungeon. They had delved beneath the High Peak mystery dungeon and rendered the Escape Orb useless. Without the strange energies of the dungeon to activate it, the ball of crystal was just a decorative bauble.

    Leo could not even hear the incessant clangs of shell against metal from Noah’s feverish attempts to escape. The walls were too steep and wet for any of them to climb. The path beyond the blockade was almost certainly swept away or collapsed from the quakes. For all the enigmatic warnings and heralds Leo had endured during his brief few days as a Pokémon, he couldn’t help but bitterly laugh at how it was all for naught. They would be swept away by the rising waters and torn apart by the swirling debris, drowned, or simply crushed by the immense pressure.

    Child of ruin. Hah... I’m sure this is what that thing meant. This is just the punchline to some sick cosmic joke... He thought while he awaited for the churning abyss to swallow them whole. While he did not get a response from the enigmatic creature that occasionally haunted him, he had an inkling that the being was certainly watching.

    “Were my instructions not clear? I explicitly told your party to show yourselves out of my installation, not stand about. Why is it my guests always have such terrible listening skills?”

    While the roar of the rising flood had drowned out every other noise, Leo heard the digital voice of the “host” of this place without interference. He leaned up and saw that all three of his companions were too frantically looking about, undoubtedly having heard the same comment from Unit 0171.

    “That was a purely rhetorical question. Your presence here distracts from my attempts to salvage my disintegrating facility. I am afraid you all will have to be escorted out immediately.”

    The same second the voice went silent, eight flashes of light erupted, two bursts on either side of the four beleaguered Pokémon. They were brief and once Leo could see again, he was startled to see two blocky Porygon had flanked him and his companions. Their white, glowing eyes gave away no emotion whatsoever from the digital constructs. The exhausted team could not hope to react fast enough to move away in time.

    “Stand by for transmittal. Please do not disrupt the transmittal. Serious or fatal injury may occur,” the Porygon droned in a singular, impassive voice.

    What then looked like a small sphere of black electricity appeared at Leo’s before rapidly expanding in diameter to envelop the Charmeleon in full. Paralyzed with fear of whatever “fatal injury” might occur should he even twitch, Leo felt the energy pour into his being. His body, down to its components, was charged with an overwhelming power that felt like they were being ripped apart and recombined over and over again. With vision obscured and body thankfully completely numb to the sensations of being torn asunder, Leo could only pray that his soul would find rest once he inevitably died to this attack.

    But the lightning then departed without so much as an errant spark or scorch left on Leo’s red scales. He regretted opening his eyes to confirm the lack of electrical burns as they were immediately blinded by a bright light.

    “Gaah!” Leo gasped while stumbling backwards. His right foot caught on a rock and he was immediately sent to the ground. Thankfully his rear landed on a patch of soft grass as opposed to more merciless rocks. Wait. Grass? Leo’s hands reached down and sank his claws into a clump of dewy grass. Daring to open his eyes again against the light, the Charmeleon soon realized a vital change in the situation. “W-We’re outside!”

    True enough, the Charmeleon had been whisked from the very depths of High Peak to the summit near the cave he had entered earlier. Once Leo had recovered from the sun’s dazzling glare, he saw with relief that scattered around him on the grassy slope was Jay, Kelly, and even Noah, all in similar states of groaning and disbelief.

    Leo turned his gaze down the long, forested slope, eyes snaking over the winding path of the dry riverbed before catching sight of Kingsend’s dull metal structures in the distance. It was idyllic, watching the town and its grassy hinterlands bask in the mid-morning sun that warmed the broken land. The Charmeleon was then thrown to the side by a violent shudder that passed up through the mountain. Flurries of leaves showered down from trees and small cascades of pebbles stirred on the rocky cliffs. Picking himself up, Leo dragged himself over to the cluster of his companions with a widening pit of dread forming beneath his feet.

    The group of four, disorientated and exhausted as they were, knew exactly what the source of the muffled tremor was. Their gazes locked on the mouth of the cave on the neighboring slope. High Peak quivered from deep within its core, sending more pebbles and small rocks bouncing down the mountain. A horrendous cacophony of screeching and howls erupted from the dungeon’s maw, immediately followed by the exodus of a colony of frantic Zubat and sprinting Poochyena, the Pokémon darting past the dumbfounded four without even a glance in their direction. The ground rippled fiercely and the tremors grew in volume, from a distant hum to an approaching roar. Flocks of birds and bird Pokémon took flight from their roosts in terror.

    (Continued in next post)
  14. Knightfall

    Knightfall Blazing Wordsmith

    All four of the dungeoneers huddled tightly against each other. Leo’s grip on the nearest tree trunk tightened, claws sinking into the skinny pine’s bark while his other wrapped around Jay’s shoulders. The Riolu hunkered down beside Kelly, with Noah braced between the Jolteon and a sturdy boulder. The vibrations made Leo’s gritted teeth chatter and rattled his insides, causing no small amount of discomfort. Leo could not think as more rocks skittered past their entrenched position. Roars from within the earth boiled the air, threatening to shake the mountain to pieces. Dust coated the four sheltering Pokémon as High Peak’s precipices began sloughing off chunks of packed dirt, trees, and mossy boulders. A massive rock tumbled from the slope above and bounced off Noah’s boulder, sailing over the heads of the team before taking out the top half of the pine tree Leo was clutching. He did not know which of them had started screaming at first, but it hardly mattered; they all were yelling in terror now.

    It was then that the shimmering entrance to High Peak’s mystery dungeon rippled and cracked. A split second later, the anomalous piece of reality within the mountain exploded, signaling the death of the High Peak Spring dungeon.


    A brilliant shower of stone, water, twisted steel, and enigmatic energy erupted from the cavern’s maw with such force not before witnessed by any of the four Pokémon at the forefront of the natural disaster in motion. Everything within the mountain’s immediate radius was peppered with debris of some kind. A rock the size of Leo’s head landed at his feet with a blast of pulverized earth. Jay yelped and Kelly hissed when a smattering of rocky hail sprayed their backs, leaving welts and bruises in their wake. Noah had his top fin grazed by a barreling projectile, leaving a painful cut for the Dewott to deal with.

    After a minute of being pelted by dirt, the projectiles were replaced by a fine mist that saturated the mountain air. Daring to look up, Leo saw that the cave had been split open twice its original size and was spewing an ocean’s worth of water out from the destroyed mystery dungeon. A waterfall blasted in a huge arc down the short mountain, demolishing the earth where it landed. The dried-out riverbed that cut through the fields and forests beyond the settlement was flush with water again.

    Kingsend would soon bear the full brunt of the deluge’s freedom.

    End Chapter Four

    Author's Notes:
    Sorry for the delay on this chapter! Realize it's been some time since the previous update. Been a whirlwind of a time for me, but all good things though. Leo and company were never truly neglected though, and I intend to keep on trucking with this. Hope you all enjoyed!

    Knightfall signing off!

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