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Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Pathways of Aspiration

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by pbugle, Oct 22, 2018.

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  1. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Chapter 16: Fight or Flight
    "He said he'd be here a couple minutes ago, you still think he's going to come?"

    The question was a passing remark, said over infrequent platters of rain against tiled roof and occasional small talk from their few surrounding occupants. The Seedy Pecha, a tavern based around the recreational area of the guild hall entirely too classy to live up to its namesake, provided a fine resting place for Bagon and Raichu. The day was young, the daily fruits of their labor collected, and any light that would of filtered through bar-side windows cut off by grey clouds, a seeming foreboding to both an oncoming storm, as well as the similarly tinted Charmander they would soon meet. Any pokemon fallen to the floor in inebriation from previous day's celebration had left, leaving Chimera and Argon nearly alone, lazing the time away in front of a well worn dartboard tacked to white brick walls.

    "Eh, probably," Chimera replied, reaching for a tray of multicolored darts, much smaller than the ones he was usually acquainted with, "seemed like a 'mon who keeps to their word, wonder what he's been doing for the past–dammit..."

    Three blue darts had been thrown at the board, with two haphazardly pinned to the one and six point sections respectively, while the most recent clattered to the floor with a dull thud. Two yellow darts had already earned his companion eighteen points, with a third soaring through the air to attach itself for a modest addition of three. With an indignant sigh, Chimera reached for a small collection of coins in his exploration bag and held it towards Argon. She eyed the Bagon with morose eyes, but accepted the coinage nonetheless,

    "A-Are you sure? We are just playing for fun, I'm fine if you want to keep the stakes low."

    "Of course," he replied, "I made the bet after all, can only blame myself if things go wrong. Though...I'm a bit surprised, it's not like you'd need to with my piss-poor throwing, but you could just levitate the darts into the board. Why don't you?"

    She tilted her head at the question, closing her eyes to surround another yellow dart in a pink aura. The projectile meandered toward the board in a straight line, lodging itself perfectly in the center,

    "Well...that wouldn't exactly be fair to you, would it? You probably still aren't used to using your short hands for throwing, and the barkeep already said you couldn't use your crossbow to shoot them."

    "True enough," Chimera replied, chuckle accompanied by exchange of narrowed glances with an Octillery pouring drinks, "and I appreciate it. Though...while I like to believe a part of the reason we're limiting ourselves is that we're partners, work wise I mean, the main reason is because of the low stakes."

    Though a tinge of embarrassment came with reminder of his poor performance, Chimera walked back to the board, retrieving darts for Argon and himself,

    "It's an interesting topic at least. What do you say we make a new bet? Whoever gets the lower score this time pays the rent for the next three months."

    "That's...not a bet you're likely going to win," Argon replied, scanning the Bagon's challenging smirk to find that he indeed was serous.

    "Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps I can't throw a dart to save my life, perhaps I've been faking it for just this moment. I'm more trying to prove a point than anything. If we were to do this Argon, and it was completely allowed to levitate the dart, would you still not do it?"

    Chimera was bluffing, that much was easy enough for her to tell. Just as in Uxie's cave, the Bagon's posture concealed his hands, in a failed attempt to hide the periodic shaking that seemed to plague his conscious in times of pressure or nervousness. And yet, the question still intrigued her. Assuming Chimera was somehow able to win, the consequences of upholding the dare would be dire. Her life, once relaxed in pace, would be interrupted with extra missions necessary to match the additional cost of living the Bagon necessitated. Of course, the opposite effect would occur if she were to win, and in her evolutionary abilities was the chance to make the rewards certain. Was upholding a sense of fairness correct, when there was a chance her livelihood could deteriorate so greatly?

    "Yes," she replied, "i-it would suck if I lost, it really would, but it would be worse if I knew I won by not even giving you a chance. I mean...every pokemon is hatched with potential, it shouldn't matter what element you are, how tall you are, whether you can move things with your mind, this should be a game of skill."

    Chimera was slightly perturbed by the response, but his grin soon returned,

    "Fair enough, I can respect that. We're having fun right now, though when the cards are down, I'm worried things can get a little...grey."

    A quint entrance chime directed both pokemon's attention to a familiar Charmander, dyed scales and concealed tail damp from early morning showers. He eyed the two with a smile, avoiding the barkeep's quizzical glances to take a seat near one of the elaborately crafted wooden tables near the tavern's corner.

    "Speak of which..."

    Without another word, Chimera and Argon joined him. A sense of unspoken tension from the previous night seemed to fill the room as orders were taken and drinks and meals served to all, but a toast proposed by the Charmander quickly alleviated this,

    "To friends made and wounds forgiven. Before we start, I feel I should apologize for my behavior yesterday. Emotions and passions are a powerful thing, and despite how my blood boiled at the sight of you Chimera, I realize now I must suppress that part of myself if I am going to achieve my mission."

    They both nodded, though Argon could see a slight hesitation in Chimera as their glasses clinked, a hesitation that she couldn't help matching after a couple of seconds. In the bowls before all three was the contents of a thick stew, consisting of bread, assorted vegetables, and especially small chunks of meat. Chimera dug in first using another tool constructed through his hobby of metallurgy, hosting three short prongs jutting out of the center handle that he would use to carry food to his mouth. Such a tool seemed to the Raichu completely unnecessary, but Chimera was adamant, chalking it up to one of the human customs he was unwilling to abandon just yet. Regardless, looking between Eoin and the forkful of food sent a shiver down her spine, all because of a single thought,

    Meat

    The minute cube of meat about to enter Chimera's mouth was, similarly to the Charmander across from her, dyed to conceal its pallid origins, having a brownish texture unbecoming to its true source. It was a well known fact that, while most meals consisted of root vegetables and berries, there were a small percentage of pokemon around Faire with carnivorous or omnivorous needs. The latter constituted herself and Chimera, wherefore she had informed the Bagon at his first meal that the only source moral enough to obtain this from was the mainland mystery dungeons. She raised her paw to Chimera before the food could enter his mouth, looking toward the Pallid as if she was caught committing a crime.

    "Uh...Eoin," she said, "are you alright with us eating this? I-I mean, judging from where and who it comes from, I can understand if you'd take offense."

    The Pallid eye's were centered on the bowl before him. The disgust in his frown was clear, though it was difficult to judge what part of the meal it was aimed at. Eventually, he turned back to Argon, holding a melancholic smile,

    "No, it is...fine. We all have to eat, the carnivores have to devour some pokemon. In truth, that is not the worst of the problem, but I am getting ahead of myself."

    Chimera for his part had frozen in place with his partners gesture. With the Charmander's approval, he chewed on the cube of meat, watching as his partner slowly lifted a paw to her own bowl to do the same.

    "Well then," she said, "I guess now that we got that out of the way, you could give us your story? I-I just...I need closure. Ever since we met yesterday, there's been this voice in my head saying that I choose the wrong occupation, and that I'm not a good pokemon. I've hurt a lot of pallids in my time here, we both have, it very well could be right, but I need to know from you."

    "You need not worry," Eoin replied, "any pokemon would have done the same in your position, few would have actually taken the time to help me after they knew the truth. But anyway, I suppose I should open this preamble with a question."

    Hasty glances from Eoin confirmed that none of the few pokemon around the tavern were paying the three any mind, and after a moments consideration he raised a hand to his goggles, letting white eyes stare toward both. The Pallid's posture drooped. His voice was slow and deliberate, tail subconsciously concealed between his legs as if he was about to bolt for the exit or hurl himself under the table,

    "Do...do you believe that actions are defined by experience, or that instincts decide who you are able to be? Please be honest."

    The question wasn't a surprise to either, though a moments consideration was necessary before Argon gave her opinion,

    "I'd probably say the former. I-If this isn't some elaborate trick, you're a living testament to that. You aren't defined by where you come from, what species you are, or whether you can breathe fire out of your mouth. Or at least, you shouldn't be."

    "Eh, for me it'd probably be a mix," Chimera replied, looking down to the pronged fork in his hand and the weapon at his side, "the place you come from, the body you inhabit, I think they each have different effects on how you act. It's...push and pull, deciding how much influence from each you're willing to accept and give up."

    Eoin perked up slightly at the response, but any enthusiasm was subverted when he keeled over to the table, holding a hand to his forehead as if to conceal a sharp pain. He raised the opaque goggles to his eyes, not giving either pokemon time to question the brief tapering of his pupils.

    "I appreciate the sentiment. It does a great deal to inflame my heart with drive, though...I have not exactly given a good display showing the former to be true. I fear you were right in a way Chimera, of what you said yesterday, more so than you could possibly imagine."

    The remark only exasperated the quizzical stares shared between Bagon and Raichu, causing Eoin to shoot from his seat, glass raised for another toast,

    "It matters not, all that can be dealt with later. Anyhow, I am sure you both remember what happened after we first encountered each other below Uxie's Cave, correct?"

    The recollection brought a cringe to Chimera's face, but he spoke first,

    "I let you go, Argon offered you that tamato berry, then you walked off the way we came with my badge in your hand?"

    "Correct. From what I can tell, most of my kind are like the ones you usually encounter: thoughtless, aggressive, unforgiving, and nonexistent after the mystery dungeon resets. A few of us, however, go through this...process. Many times our aggression remains, but we start to see things differently. We discover power in knowledge, morality in kindness, and utility in learning. Something in my mind, I do not know what, told me that I wanted to live, and that the badge in your hand was the ticket to all of it."

    A strange sensation fluttered in Argon's chest, one that consisted of equal parts relief and anxiety. If what Eoin said was true, then she hadn't spent the last four years beating creatures as sentient as herself into unconsciousness in self defense. Despite this, the thought occurred that perhaps the sapience Eoin had shown was hidden inside the occasional pallid. Just one month ago they had shoved a stun seed inside the mouth of a transformed bagon and left it to the whims of the mystery dungeon, was there a chance that bagon had the potential to speak just as well as the one next to her?

    "But...something's not right," Chimera said between bites, "even if you were somehow able to figure out how to use the guild badge, how did you get here? More than that, how did you even learn to speak? Awakened or not, it would be next to impossible to learn all that in a month, combined with all that other stuff you supposedly learned."

    "You are correct in that belief. It would have been impossible to learn all I know in such a short time, if not for the help of a certain friend. You remember Uxie, correct?"

    Again, they nodded, eyes a mix of shock and disbelief putting the pieces together,

    "We encountered Uxie at the end of the dungeon. Long story short, we convinced hi—it to leave in order to discover the secrets of life outside of the cave, we haven't spoken since," said Argon.

    "I suspected as much," Eoin replied, raising a hand to his chin,"I still remember that look the lake guardian gave to me on that tiny isle, after my ignoramus brain finally figured out how to get that damn badge to work. I was tired, isolated, barely more than feral at that point, and I suppose it found pity for me. I now realize how similar we really were with your claim; two pokemon entering an entirely new world, one a divine being with the power of knowledge and illusions, another a grey charmander lost in an ocean of distrust."

    Chimera chuckled at the story, not in humor or malice, but understanding,

    "I guess that makes three of us then. I'll spare you the details, but I can relate to entering a world you know very little about."

    "M-Maybe that's why Uxie was so open to you?" Argon commented. "She left us without a trace after exchanging an...item."

    "Perhaps. I would likely be as intelligent as a hatchborn had Uxie not shared with me the same ability it used at the start of civilization. I did not know what it was then, only that after that pokemon closed its eyes and dove into my mind, I truly was transformed. I cannot begin to describe how euphoric it was. Imagine spending the sum of your life trudging through a fog, judging your actions on a blind whim not being able to see past the immediate, then having that gone in an instant."

    The Pallid's eyes shot towards the window in silence. Condensation had since formed from the omnipresent evening rains, concealing what would be an upper view overlooking the guild hall courtyard. As if to illustrate his point, Eoin ran his hand over the window, wiping the collection of moisture onto the table. The courtyard could now be clearly seen to all, though continuing showers as the Charmander sat down made the fog return as quickly as it had left.

    "With the legendary's help, I stowed away on the Draeke, staying on even after you two had left until it made a voyage to the Eastern Faire region. The thirst for knowledge, the need to learn everything I could about the world I now called home was...undeniable. It was overwhelming, but somehow manageable so, if that makes any sense. Uxie helped me along the way of course, brought in books for me to read in the dead of night, disguised my color to those who would be suspicious, helped me attain the items that kept my origins safe. We have since parted ways, though I hope we will meet again."

    "So you're a bookworm then," Chimera said, cracking a smile, "the Charmander that growled at me below Uxie's cave developed a greater interest in reading than I, impressive..."

    "Having to take in so much in a short time, I-I can't imagine what it's like. What's your favorite book to read then?" Argon asked, similarly interested.

    A half second passed when Eoin's mouth opened to respond, but where words should have appeared only came a dull moan. Again, the Charmander's head keeled over toward the table, accompanied by him clutching at his chest and a deep shiver running down his spine.

    "I-I...dear Arceus, please not now, not this soon."

    Eoin's hands shot toward the bag at his side, drink bumping off the table with a crash as he dug through its contents,

    "Where is it? I thought I brought—oh no...how could I have been so careless?"

    "Eoin," Argon exclaimed, shooting to her feet at the display, "do you need medical attention? What can we do to help yo—"

    "Stun seeds!" the Pallid shouted. "do you have any?"

    Argon and Chimera rummaged through their bags, producing only disappointed looks. A glance at the barkeep Octillery saw he was already talking into a silver speaking tube built into the guild hall walls,

    "So be it then," Eoin said, shooting out of his seat onto the tavern floors, "there's no time. I must tell you while I am still here. My mission, I implore you both to accompany me on a mission to the Eastern Faire mainland! I have seen things...horrible things you will have to experience to believe."

    He clamored to his feet, concealed eyes searching desperately for isolation. The Charmander's request was granted by the marble door to a storage closet on the far side of the tavern. Every step of Eoin's sprint to the room seemed to bring another surge of pain into his conscious, but his course remained. The door was forced open as quickly as it was slammed shut, leaving only Argon to look at her partner, gawking expression at the scene being returned,

    "What should we do?" Chimera asked.

    She considered the possibilities. The Pallid was obviously in distress, though provoking him at a point like this could potentially worsen the problem. Deep groans could be heard even through the thick marble door however, and not attempting to provide aid or at least find the problem would be even worse. Had it been most other pokemon, she would have been content to leave it to the guild professionals, but just as the Pallid had stated, he was in a sea of distrust. There was only one other pokemon Argon knew that Eoin was unlikely to respond negatively to in his time of need, and unfortunately for her, that legendary had long since taken its leave.

    "I-I'll follow him, see if I can find out whats going on. We don't know what he's going through, but we don't want to seem like we're cornering him."

    "Oh...right," the Bagon replied, "that's probably true. I'll be here to pull you out if you need me then, answer any questions they have about our new 'friend'. I'm willing to bet he doesn't want his secret being leaked out."

    She nodded, putting one foot in front of the other toward the closet. The groaning had ceased, but in its place was a dull, whispering moan, accompanied by claws scraping against stone wall. Short breaths gave way to long inhalations in an effort to calm her nerves, ending with a sharp creak as a paw laid on the silver door handle slowly forced it open.

    "Eoin," she said, oran berry dug out of her bag in hand, "we're here to help you, we just need you to tell us what's happening."

    The Charmander had curled up into the room's corner, knocking over a broom against one of the wooden shelves on either side in the process. His head shot up at the voice, and the goggles haphazardly clawed off his eyes fell to the floor. Recognizance of the speaker's identity forced the Pallid to turn even more inward, concealing a millisecond look of horror to forces unknown,

    "Please," he pleaded, "shut the door, barricade it, knock me out if you have to. It could be a couple minutes before the effect fades, or a couple hours. The beast...I cannot afford to let him escape."

    The door shut, and Argon raised both paws to Eoin gently,

    "The beast? I don't want to hurt you Eoin. Y-You can't mean—"

    "There's no time. I—aaargh."

    Eoin's head dropped for the last time, subdued scream giving way to a chittering growl. Dyed scales trembled, legs twitched, and grey fire blared. The Pallid looked upward with bared teeth and lunged, cramped conditions of the closet not giving Argon enough to maneuver. Both pokemon fell to the floor with a thud. Sparks crackled preemptively from the Raichu's cheeks as the Charmander's arm raised, just about to strike when their eyes met. For a split second, blue and narrow grey pupils stared toward each other just as they had against the looming stalagmites of an underground lake. Neither said a word, hostile look in the feral's eyes fading into a sense of understanding between the two. Before she could question the situation, three knocks thudded against the door, accompanied by the familiar voice of her partner through the walls,

    "Are you alright? There was a loud noise, do you need my help?"

    "No," she replied, "I...I'm fine."

    She said it again, as though testing to see if she was lying. The Charmander's claws were still raised in a striking position, but it lay still, head cocked to the side and eyes wide. Whatever the creature over top her she was staring at was, it wasn't Eoin. Or...perhaps it was, just not the Eoin she had grown accustomed to on the ballroom floor. Regardless, it slowly reverted to its feet, paranoid glare not leaving its face as it retreated to the far corner of their confines. Halfway to the room's end, the Pallid ran a foot from one room-side shelf to another, punctuating the statement with a growl in what she could only assume was a crude marking of territory. Argon was happy to agree with the declaration, and she likewise sat down opposite the Charmander, back leaned against marble door.

    The Pallid was just as anxious as when Eoin first entered the room, though she suspected this was for different reasons. The creature was cornered, and it knew it, no amount of familiarity could change that fact. If the Charmander's flame was any indication of its agitation, Argon suspected she could cook a three course meal fueled by its own dread. It wouldn't be long for the feral to decide to reengage if nothing were done to quell its nerves. Luckily for her past experience, accompanied by a childhood affinity for spicy foods seemed to provide a solution.

    Argon closed her eyes, letting three red-spiked berries float out of her exploration bag. Its head immediately perked up, temptation taking the place of fear with salivating lips. In accordance with their territorial agreement, she levitated the berry into the Charmander's hand, and exchanged wary smiles after it had fully devoured the tangy food. She did likewise with the second berry, though stopped at the third. The purpose of this whole exercise, she figured, was establishing trust between her and the strange reversion Eoin had endured, and a part of the Raichu's mind was morbidly curious how far she could push it. The pink glow around the third berry faded, and she instead held it in her hand toward the Pallid. The gesture brought a quizzical chirp, but eventually instinct for food overcame apprehension, and the Pallid rose to its feet to walk to her side of the closet.

    "I-uh...I hope you enjoy it, not-Eoin, it's the last one I have."

    Judging whether the Pallid had understood the remark was impossible, but it accepted the berry nonetheless, again beaming a toothy grin half layered with its chewed contents. Argon expected the Charmander to return to its side of the room, but it lay dormant on its feet. In a way, this was her second reunion with the Charmander below Uxie's Cave, and when a creature was neither able to flee nor willing to fight, familiarity again overcame apprehension. It dropped to all fours, tail flame placating below its metal confines to lie its whole body down on the floor, right on top of her lap.

    "Eoin?!" Argon yelped.

    Her bargain had payed off, perhaps even more so than she wanted. Its once greedy smile had morphed into tranquility, and if her hearing still worked, the rumbling chirps coming from the Pallid sounded all too similar to purring. A part of her wanted to back away at the absurd gesture, but the Charmander on her feet, as well as the strange warmth its scales provided, made such movement impossible...and somewhat undesirable. She was trapped, that much was clear, the Pallid nearly as tall as her with eyes closed and tail swishing against stone floor had done a better job at ensnaring her movements than any seviper or tangela inhabiting the mystery dungeons of her daily life. A Raichu who was never one for physical affection, Argon lifted her paws to avoid disturbing the Charmander. It took notice, and the Pallid's eyes opened a smidge, chirping slightly as it craned its neck in her direction with anxious breaths. A quick yelp again escaped her mouth, and she looked between her paw and the way the Charmander in her lap's neck twist and turned, words not being needed to convey the clear request,

    "E-Eoin? If you're still in there, I'm not sure I should—"

    It only let out a soft growl, body curling to pull deeper into the odd embrace. She had known Eoin for barely over a day, and a part of her felt that he was not in a state to make fulfilling its instinctual desires moral. On the other hand, he had informed her that the effect wouldn't be permanent, and keeping the Pallid in a state that wouldn't make it want to bolt out of the closet and attack the first pokemon in sight, not to mention revealing his secret, remained top priority. With a large breath equal part hyperventilation and yawn, she lowered a paw to its neck and started to scratch. Perhaps they could both forget what happened later?

    The effect was immediate. Its tail swished with greater intensity, and breaths quickened to signal a great release of tension. Three knocks again emanated from the marble door at her back, and with a seconds hesitation she shouted back that the situation was within hand. Time passed, and after deliberation with her partner through the wall Chimera walked off, agreeing that visiting a certain Girafarig would be necessary if they were to investigate Eoin's request. After an hour of Raichu and Charmander maintaining the awkwardly comfortable position, light snoozing slithered from its mouth, warmth from its scales forcing Argon to succumb to a similar effect. The adrenaline that had pervaded her body at the start of the encounter faded, bringing with it a quiet contentment that belayed notion of what consequences the reversion would bring.

    It ended when the Charmander turned, yawning as blue and wide-grey eyes met each other after hours of sleep. Argon's paw lay dormant on Eoin's neck mid-scratch, and if there were any sewing pins stored on the shelves between them, the ensuring silence would let both of them hear it drop.

    "Eoin?" she asked.

    "...Yes."

    ****.

    The thought was mutual, and in an instant Eoin broke away from the hold, scrambling to retrieve the goggles knocked under one of the shelves.

    "Arceus, you were not supposed to see that. The beast...I attacked you, did I not?"

    "No actually," she responded, "W-Well, you charged at me, but you stopped. I guess I was able to keep you calm enough that...well you know."

    Eoin froze, face locked in incredibility before looking downward to sneer at his own claws. He sat down next to Argon, taking great care to maintain a distance between the two that wouldn't bring back what had just transpired.

    "It matters not. I...cannot hide my hypocrisy to you any longer. The gift Uxie bestowed upon me, while tremendous, was not perfect. The recursions...the one you just saw, they come with unpredictable intensity. I have been able to subdue its aggression with isolation and stun seeds until this moment."

    Eoin's head drooped, and he snorted towards the metal contraction concealing his grey flame, before readjusting his goggles to hide from Argon's passive stare,

    "For all my talk of civilization, of honor, of knowledge, I cannot escape the fact that deep down, I am just as feral as the Charmander that attacked you underneath that cave, your friend was right..."

    "I...I'm not sure that's the truth, at least not the whole of it," she replied, drawing a puzzled look from Eoin, "I-I mean, I've lived my life with expectations of what pallids are, and I can say for certain that you've subverted all of them. Regardless of what just happened, that shouldn't change all that you've done, or make you any less of the Charmander who learned to talk and dance."

    "But—"

    Again, he looked toward his tail, seeing his own reflection in the warped surface,

    "But he is—I am dangerous. If it had not been you, if it had been your friend or anyone else, I would have attacked as unrelentingly as any other of my kind. How can I accomplish my mission if I cannot even refrain from assaulting those who trust me? I do not deserve to be trusted."

    "Well then...you'll just have to learn how," she said blankly, attempting to convey understanding, "I can try my best to help you, find out what's causing you to act like that and put a stop to it. Pokemon can change. I've always thought you choose who you are, and you've chosen to be better, that's enough to earn my trust."

    Eoin's head remained locked to the floor despite the flattery, seemingly lost in his own expression. In the ensuring silence Argon raised her paw above the neck of the Charmander beside her, before lowering it back to her side, thoughts raging on whether he would appreciate the gesture. Again, her paw hovered just above the back of the Pallid's neck, and again, it retreated to her side. The cycle nearly repeated until Eoin noticed the attempts, melancholic chuckle accompanied by a nearly imperceptible nod.

    "You really believe that?" he asked, turning away to hide his smile as instinctual euphoria carried through his spine. "You are more generous than most."

    "Of course. And I suppose that the first step to that is going through that whole mission you've been talking about. Life's been...pretty nice in the past month, but if there's anything Chimera taught me, it's that variety is the spice of life, can't spend everyday cooked up inside of a room this small."

    The Pallid's smile seemed to fade with recognizance of the road ahead, but quickly returned as she returned the gesture. There weren't any windows to corroborate, but Argon could sense that, for the time being, the clouds had rolled by.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2019
  2. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Alright, getting back into this. I don’t have much to say about the chapter right after the illusions are dropped. It was anticlimactic, but at the same time, I didn’t really see it going any other way. I think it was a bit refreshing to see Chimera and Argon basically talk their way into victory here. I think you handled Uxie abandoning his post pretty well—though I suppose that’s a bit biased coming from me, when I basically have the same logic going on for my centuries-long guardian archetypes.


    My only nagging question is how the Time Gear actually operates. At first, Uxie says that he’s guarding it here to make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands and it isn’t taken away. There’s even talk about not messing with it. Yet, when we finally get down to it, Uxie just… gives it to them. And nothing happens when the Gear is removed. I was hoping that Chimera—aware of the games—would make some sort of comment about time freezing if the Gear was removed or something, since that didn’t really happen.


    Now then, onto chapters 12 and 13, I gotta say… you do well at being unpredictable. Like, really well.

    Argon tossing the Time Gear. Them accepting Gold Rank. Them even staying together as a team. I legit wasn't sure which way you'd go. And that's powerful. I really like the fact that I can read this story and not really predict how it’ll turn out scene by scene unless you clearly want me to—for example, the scene with the Stun Seeds, I knew the ending from the start, but I still loved how it played out for how silly that chapter was. I liked the tone there.


    On to some little critiques, though, I have two things--one on the mechanics side, one on the storytelling side. Major one first: your characters, at times and during some key moments, behave conveniently, so to speak. What I mean is, their emotions come fast, and come when it's most impacting to the plot, and sometimes they don't have as much foreshadowing as, perhaps, the could have taken.


    Using the Argon scene--it seemed really odd and convenient for her to be getting those feelings, then, and not earlier, or perhaps later. I later learned that it's because she's afraid of what it means to be in gold rank, and not necessarily the Time Gear itself--and that, I feel, could have been outlined a bit more clearly, since it was so vagueish in the midst that I actually wasn't sure.


    This sorta ties in with that early criticism I had about Chimera suddenly pouring his emotions out to Argon within minutes of first meeting. It's the same issue, actually--their rapid ebb and flow of emotions could use more buildup.



    As for the minor thing, on the mechanics side--and this is particularly pronounced during chapter 12--the way you describe scenery and movements can get wordy at times! I think what's going on is you get so involved in describing exactly how someone is moving or feeling at specific things that you lose sight of how much the reader can reasonably envision before they sorta muddle the details into a vague picture anyway.


    Now, this is more a stylistic choice. Some people like it wordy. Others, less so. But we talked about this in private, and I think you know what I mean about all this. For all I know, I’m just one of those impatient readers who goes, “Yes, yes, I get the picture—next line please!” while others wouldn’t mind basking in a couple extra sentences.


    And then I got to the next three chapters and… my goodness. I’m… basically fully invested in this story at this point. My god, you’ve hit a ton of good points to keep me interested for a while, so long as you answer a few of them as the chapters progress. I can tell you’re setting up for the next few arcs, and I love it.


    So first thing, obviously, good job overall with how you introduced Eoin. I didn't quite piece it together at first for some reason, but in hindsight it makes perfect sense. Really good work. He was the start of these past three chapters and you did well with showing basically an intro to who he is, as well as delving into the mystery about him--basically that he's part of a "rare pallid" that doesn't simply cease after a Dungeon resets, and has persisted long enough to have some teeny tiny semblance of sapience, and then Uxie gave a jump start after that.


    Very cool concept, I knew it was Uxie pretty early on, but yeah, curious how that'll go, and what you'll do with the Pallids as a whole with this new piece of knowledge. And how this ties into why Dungeons are around in the first place, and so on. So many questions, implicit and explicit, and that's the mark of my kind of writing, in a way, heh..


    Now, onto two small things that I’ve noticed. It’s still a bit wordy, but that’s beside the point, and you’re definitely getting better on that front. The first issue that I noticed is how, sometimes, you’re a bit heavy-handed with the philosophy 101 course. There isn’t a lot of buildup toward it—even if in hindsight the question is warranted—and I sort of got flashbacks to my Philosophy classes back in college. It seemed too… I don’t know. Oddly out of place and out of the blue when they happen, and then to go so in depth about it. I feel like you could explore these things in more subtle ways or, at the very least, using dialogue that’s more casual.


    Next up, as much as I really like how our Charmander is turning out as a character, Chimera and Eoin first meeting felt like a big Conflict Ball. Basically, a point in the story where characters are conveniently opposed to one another despite logic dictating that a de-escalation would have been a lot more likely. I understand that Eoin is a tad feral and Chimera is a hothead, but Argon was right there. I feel like after a month together he’d have more trust in her, being alone with Eoin, that she was safe and all that. So this sorta ties in to “convenient emotions,” but this was another instance where the conflict felt a bit unnecessary and contrived. I did give it a pass overall because Chimera was drunk, and you implied well enough that Eoin was still a smidge feral at that moment, but you could have done a bit more for Chimera’s behavior. I don’t know—it’s getting a bit difficult to sympathize with him. Keep ‘im in line, Argon.


    Still, regardless of those two issues, I see a TON of potential here. I’m following this for sure. Go Eoin! Conquer your instincts! Rise above that bloodlust! I’m totally not biased or anything about this!
     
  3. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Chapter 17: Nature's Beauty
    "Beautiful, isn't it, old chum?"

    The rains had stopped, letting morning fog clear to give the two pokemon on the upper balcony of the WFG hall a view of Pith Town and beyond. White-stone buildings of nearly identical size with red-tiled roofs extended outward. Expanding as such were congested inner streets, ceasing only with the presence of oceanside harbor on one corner, or monumental factories on the other. Chimneys jutted out of the structures in the distance, releasing grey smoke that drifted in the wind like octopus tentacles. Nearly concealing by this exhaust was a massive blob of green to the east. Chimera would have indeed admitted that it was an impressive sight, if not for the fact that the Bagon standing next to Binair over silver balcony rails had his head locked straight down. His eyes didn’t blink, nearly lost within the call of the void.

    "Most any other bagon I've known would have jumped by now; why haven't you?"

    It was a question the former-human had been considering heavily in the past month. The first time he had done it, sightseeing on that familiar cliff side with his companion; next to her one moment and with rocky forehead dug into the beach below the next, it was more a matter of satiating boredom. As frail as his new body was, a certain routine had developed in the Bagon's free time, despite having grown inconsistent as the days went on.

    "I...don't know, not really. I can still feel it looking over the edge, this shot of adrenaline crawling up my spine. But when I hit the ground, there's only a shiver. Something in my mind...this feeling is telling me that what I'm doing is wrong, that it's against my nature."

    Binair walked next to Chimera, occasional glances shifting to the weapon at his side and the grey cape over his back,

    "If we're to analyze this dilemma, old chum, we have to figure out the cause. You know that bagon jump in order to prepare their bodies for evolution, correct? To harden their cells so their forehead grows into a cocoon that protects the development of their wings?"

    Chimera nodded, not shifting his head from the entourage of pokemon below walking into the guild hall entrance. With Binair's info came another cringe, tiny hands shaking with the morning breeze,

    "Of course. Just last night I told someone that they couldn't always fight nature, and that it was in my nature to jump, but the more I do it, the more I realize my mind is shouting at me that it isn't right. I don't understand."

    A pink aura emanated around Chimera's crossbow, shocking him from the trance of below. Peripheral vision showed that a similar light had appeared on the Girafarig's horns.

    "May I?"

    Chimera gestured in approval, letting the device unsling from his waist and float in front of Binair. The Girafarig's eyes narrowed analyzing its inner mechanics from every angle, ending with a smile toward the pokemon at his side.

    "Fine craftsmanship no doubt. And I think we've come to the source of your conflict old chum. You have a particular talent for working with your hands, and with this comes a question you've yet to answer: Do you even want to evolve?"

    "Well, if I did," Chimera replied, flashing a grin to Binair somewhere between humor and melancholy, "I figured I could just mount a giant ballista to my back, how hard could it be?"

    The Bagon turned back toward the ground, letting cool air swish past his scales as he tried to parse whether the way his breaths quickened and his vision narrowed was due to excitement, or dread, or perhaps both. If keyboards still existed in this universe, Chimera figured his words per minute would already suffer with arms and fingers as short as they were, never mind having neither at all. On the other hand, their foes were bound to become more formidable if they were to accept Eoin's offer, and not having access to his elemental abilities had been a source of frustration since his arrival. He closed his eyes and sighed, focus stuck between the stubby appendages he could feel and the crimson-red ones he couldn't, unsure which path to take.

    "Huh," he said, turning back to Binair with a snort, "In all seriousness I'm not sure. God...am I really like that pikachu?"

    "I beg your pardon, what pikachu?"

    "Forget about it. Anyway I've avoided the issue until now, even to my partner, but I think I'll have to say no. If nature is something that forces me to lose my arms...then I'll fight it, even if it makes me a disappointment."

    The Bagon expected Binair to object the statement, or at least nod in disapproval, but on his visage instead appeared a nearly imperceptible grin.


    "On the contrary, I couldn't be happier, old chum. I'm willing to bet you aren't fighting your nature at all, only you're more of a chimera than most realize."

    Chimera nodded and returned the grin, but his hands shook even more with the Girafarig's praise. Something about the way he said it seemed...off, like a teacher spouting vague generalities to lead a student to the correct answer.

    "What do you mean by that?"

    Binair's grin only grew, accompanied by an ornate cane levitating from his side to direct the Bagon to the town below. Chimera's vision followed the pointer. He saw a group of pokemon in the harbor stacking crates onto a three-sailed supply ship, most adorned with tricorns or other appropriate headgear. On the grassy field below was another group, with a Breloom that had thrown his croquet mallet to the ground in frustration just as he had one month ago. Past furnished houses and paved streets was a Meowth, returning to town with soot on its face from being in one of the dirtier factory positions,

    "The world we live in, the games we play, the culture we appreciate, doesn't it seem the least bit...familiar, to a pokemon such as yourself?"

    The answer in Chimera's mind was a yes, if only tentatively. The glazed over stare the Chatot that organized their missions gave hunched over a stack of papers was a familiar one, and the vessels, fashion, and infrastructure throughout Pith Town seemed to be ripped straight from a history book, but he'd be lying to say there were no differences. Just the concept of a mystery dungeon had no equivalent to the world he once knew, and the various tools he had crafted along his journey often drew wandering looks from pokemon that had the power of flight or fire at their figurative fingertips. A second passed until the repercussions of Binair's question followed Chimera's conscious, arms shaking ever more despite his attempts at keeping a straight face. He wanted to keep it a secret, something only his partner would know, but the grin on the Girafarig's tail conveyed what its face couldn't,

    "You...you know, don't you?"

    "How could I not, old chum?" Binair replied, hoof raising to pat what part of a bagon could be considered its shoulders. "The way you fight, the way you think, I've studied humanity enough to know that this weapon isn't something native to this world. The reason you've arrived has yet to be revealed, but rest assured, your secret’s safe with me."

    The weapon levitated back into Chimera's hands, helping to alleviate their quivering. Had the former-human's secret been known to most other pokemon, terror would have stricken his heart, but there was a sense of familiarity in Binair's grin that he couldn't put his finger on, one that assured him that the Girafarig was both genuine and able to be trusted with maintaining it. They both turned outward, looking upon a world as recognizable as it was foreign,

    "Knowledge is a beautiful thing, wouldn't you say? And with knowledge, comes power. In the days before the WFG, most pokemon wouldn't give two figs about humanity's history, but I think we both see now that they were fools. Success doesn't come to many, but when one understands the economy of the caravel, the efficiency of the assembly line, and all the other innovations and systems that humanity took thousands of years to develop, one need only know the sacrifices of integrating them into a world such as this to prosper."

    He recognized the feeling: the satisfaction of brewing curiosities being satiated just as they had talking to his partner in the dead of night. Just as before, answers brought even more questions. The most important difference, the Bagon figured, of living in a world privy to such a crude emulation was that, for once, he was on the right side of it.

    "But...how did that knowledge even get here?"

    "An interesting story, but one for another time," Binair replied. "Right now, I figured we should discuss your purpose for coming here."

    "Oh, of course. Argon and I met this Charmander yesterday, and I think he wants us to go on an expedition with him to that island: Eastern Faire. We've been there before, but only to the mystery dungeons around the coast, and he seems pretty adamant that we head into the mainland. I came here to see if you have any missions available that would fit the bill."

    For probably the first time since their initial meeting, Binair seemed shocked. His poised grin soon returned, but for barely a second, the Girafarig froze up, as if the calculations going through his mind had taken priority over keeping his two faces locked in a cordial demeanor. He cantered around the balcony in a pause to consider his options that Chimera couldn't determine as genuine or pretense.

    "I must say, I wasn't expecting this proposal so soon, considering the nature of your partner, but it does make for a fine opportunity. As for a mission you three could go on...you remember the time gears, correct?"

    "Of course," the Bagon replied with a chuckle, "I'm not sure what you're doing with them, but I am sure they would do a fine job at holding down paper."

    "Very funny," came the deadpan reply, "If you're curious, I've been studying the one you and Argon returned, as well at holding it in protection against less scrupulous pokemon. From what I can ascertain, their presence is in someway related to the existence of mystery dungeons, and if they are brought together, the full extent of the powers they each contain will be discovered."

    Chimera could see where it was going, though thought of their inevitable mission came with another resurgence of memories. His fingers twitched, contemplating the possibility that the yellow orbs that surrounded a Togetic would inevitably appear over him,

    "Hey Binair, would-uh...would the name 'Temporal Tower' ring any bells?"

    He blinked,

    "I don't believe so, should it?"

    A breath of relief escaped Chimera's mouth, whether from the Girafarig's ignorance or simply that whatever knowledge of prediction his memories had given him weren't perfect,

    "No, it's just that...nevermind. So you want us to get more of the time gears, how many are there?"

    "Two," Binair replied, "not counting the ones you've already delivered, guarded by Azelf and Mespirit respectively. I'll tell you their locations when your team departs, but more importantly, I was hoping to accompany you for after the job is finished, to instruct you on a little side business someone with your nature would be well suited for."

    "What sort of side business?" Chimera asked, tone shifting. "I can understand why, but you haven't been too keen to giving out details on missions like these."

    A hoof again raised to Chimera's shoulder, followed by a hearty chuckle from the Girafarig directed toward nobody but himself,

    "I prefer to think of it as on-sight instruction being the superior method. Just know that it's an essential position. Without it, our world would have never advanced to the prosperous state we enjoy."

    Indeed, a light seemed to flash in the Bagon's eyes from the proposal, but it quickly extinguished with consideration of its consequences,

    "It sounds interesting, but...I made a deal with Argon a while back, that we'd try to keep all our missions close to home, I think I might be breaking it by agreeing."

    "But there's a difference this time," Binair replied, "you wouldn't have met me here unless you thought your partner must at least have some interest in going. With this, comes opportunity. If she approves of going on this mission, what harm is there in finding some industrious use of your free time?"

    Chimera's head sank, taking great deal to not let it wander over the edge of the rails. His director was correct in that there wouldn't be harm in a single mission, but after staying with Argon to this point, it would be a shame to see it again snowball into an instance that again left their paths divided. On the other hand, the past month of missions had been as unchallenged as it was monotonous, and the Bagon figured that if it kept up for another year or two without something to break it up, he was bound to go stir crazy. His head returned upward, finding that the hoof once at his side was now suspended toward him, mimicking a gesture no other pokemon on Faire had yet understood,

    "Care to shake on it, old chum? Forgive my bluntness, but I can see it in your eyes: that potential. That drive for more that proves we're two threads in the same stitch. I respect Argon's desire to appreciate the smaller things in life, I wouldn't have been able to mark my legacy without pokemon like her, but...you're different, and in my opinion it would be a waste to let this offer slide. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life where you are now?"

    Chimera already knew the answer, even as his conscious considered the possibilities of where it would lead. He had made a promise to his partner, but he had also made a promise to someone he knew before all of this, illusion or not. If he played his cards right, the Bagon was hopeful he could uphold both. Without another thought, he grasped the Girafarig's hoof with his own stubby arm, resoluteness replacing the gesture's initial awkward nature.

    "No, I don't. I suppose you can't fight nature."

    ---​

    Chimera was soaring through the air, or at least the next best thing, and so were his companions. After a brief rendezvous, Bagon, Raichu, and Charmander found themselves in a fragile, narrow box of wood and canvas construction. A large, green wing jutted out from each side of the frame, giving the glider flight despite the Bagon spotting not a single engine for propulsion. In its place, was a Fearow, Staraptor, and Pidgeot, all wearing harnesses tied to sections of the craft that kept it airborne for the vast amount of distance they had to cover.

    “We’ll be dropping you three off at Mount Shayne in five minutes, hope you all don’t mind the cold!”

    An omnipresent shudder ran through every passenger. Argon nodded toward the source of the warning: a speaking tube that ran alongside the Fearow’s harness through the tug rope and into the fuselage, barely able to convey the message against buckling canvas and winds. Chimera’s eyes remained glued to the window, gazing toward the top of the nearly endless canopy of trees precluding their destination that concealed whatever happenings occurred below. Eoin held his fire close as he cast a glance at the various crates contributing to the craft’s crowded nature. Though the Pallid’s doubts were the highest, hopefully Binair had been honest in his promise that no expense was spared in providing supplies for their journey.

    “You know,” Chimera said, chuckling as he turned to the others, “I couldn’t stand traveling like this back in the day, now…”

    He plastered his face to the window, in the process nearly breaking the glass with his rocky forehead. The exhilaration in the Bagon’s smile seemed like a bizarre contradiction to his partner, for the trembling that divulged terror in his heart was equally present.

    “It’s amazing.”

    Eoin snorted, still feeling the citrus-like aftertaste of a heal seed reverberate through mouth.

    “Speak for yourself Chimera. I read about these craft for a short while, there aren’t many ways a catastrophic failure could occur, but I know them.”

    “Are you afraid of heights?” Argon asked. “I-I’m sorry we didn’t ask sooner, it’s just that, well...when you reverted after we took off, I guess the thought didn’t cross our minds.”

    The Charmander made his best attempt at a reassuring smile, before his eyes closed and he buried his head toward the floor,


    “Only a little. The more I read about it, the more illogical it seemed; trusting your life to an amalgamation of plywood and cloth. The mission comes first, however, and I suppose this is better than climbing Mount Shayne from the bottom.”

    The Pallid had removed his goggles, and Argon spotted a slight taper of his pupils. While not nearly as prevalent as when she watched Eoin jam a stun seed into his mouth at the start of their journey, the effect was noticeable. What truly surprised her, however, was that a grin on Eoin’s face had replaced the usual cringe of pain.


    “Luckily I have not had to bear the brunt of it today. The Beast seems to be far more ignorant of the dangers than myself, and the more I succumbed to its control...the more I felt my fear drifting away. It is a bizarre advantage, and to have two recursions in the past day, with any luck my instinct will be more kind for the road ahead.”

    “Hey, if I wasn’t here, you might not of even needed the stun seed,” Chimera replied, previous excitement interrupted by deep breaths and a nervous look toward his partner, “and speaking of which, what even is this mission you keep talking about? I know my stake in this, but now that you’re back, I’d be nice to know why you even agreed to come with us on this expedition.”

    Eoin’s eyes shut after the remark, and he continued fidgeting with his hands, clutching a stun seed as if afraid to let go. Whether from recurring memories, or simply to avoid looking out of the windows, both pokemon would never know.

    “When I went exploring into the forest, and came across the sight that lead to my mission, I was just as mentally unprepared as you two are now. Just know the...shock, the helplessness I felt, and the knowledge of its repercussions lead me to organize a movement, of which I am the leader. I apologize for my obscurity, but there are times when words can only do so much justice. I only ask for your belief that what I say is genuine.”

    The beginnings of a smile attempted to make their way to the Pallid’s face, subsiding to the middle point between neutrality and frown,

    “As for this specific expedition, I follow you both in the hopes that after this is finished, you will allow me to show you what I speak of in person. Besides, if Uxie chose to remain at its post guarding the time gear, I would be months behind my current intelligence. Having Azelf abandon its fool’s bargain, that is a cause I can follow.”

    “So...you’re doing this to get us to join the group that you’ve created,” Argon commented.

    Eoin nodded. His head shifted to the crates of supplies, grey ember escaping his tongue as it settled on the stack of rations packed for their trip.

    “You know,” Chimera said, eyes likewise closed in recollection, “you gotta wonder why they even guard those things. When Uxie teleported us out of the dungeon with that gear, I thought for sure that time in the area would stop, or...something. But no, unless you count nearly drowning as irregular, nothing happened.”

    Argon turned to her partner, faded paperback cover of a childhood story fresh in her mind,

    “Y-Yeah, so did I. If the legends are true, and they really are in place to keep the flow of time in order, then it should have happened. My best guess is that there’s someone or something keeping time in place after they’re removed, or there’s some other effect that we haven’t seen yet.”

    “And with no Temporal Tower…” Chimera muttered under his breath as he turned to the Pallid, “Eoin, you were there after me and Argon left, did you see anything that might have been caused by the time gear being removed?”

    It took a couple seconds before Eoin could raise his voice. The metal cover religiously attached over the Charmander’s flame had been torn off, revealing a grey cinder that divulged how ill-suited its host was to their high altitudes. Despite this, no notion of complaint had been raised throughout the flight, and after preparatory hyperventilations Eoin seemed satisfied that he had an answer.

    “I do, in fact. Most of the memories before my awakening are little more than hazy emotions and feelings, but just before I was able to teleport myself out of the dungeon, I remember this sensation of...pain, followed by a period of nothingness, then a quiet euphoria. Any movement I tried became heavier, as if with every second my very being was continuously sucked out and put to some higher purpose. For what reason I cannot imagine, but the instant Uxie made contact with me and dove into my mind, it ended, and I felt whatever I had lost being returned.”

    Bagon and Raichu shared a glance, each confirming that they were equally surprised by the story.


    “T-That doesn’t sound pleasant,” Argon said, “are you sure you’re alright with coming with us on this mission? I wouldn’t want the same thing to happen to you.”

    “Of course,” Eoin replied, “my purpose is bigger than myself, and I am hopeful whatever powers Uxie used have given me an immunity to any future dangers. Forgive me, it gets a little choppier from here, but the look on its face after the experience was akin to...guilt, a sense of culpability that pervaded all of our future interactions. I occasionally asked the lake guardian about the sensation, to no avail. Only just before we parted ways did I question why it was me specifically who was saved from the dungeon’s effects. Uxie’s answer was the last word we exchanged: ‘Redemption’.

    A call through the speaking tube jolted the trio to attention, bated breaths present in all three exacerbated through the Fearow’s voice,

    “We’re...just about to drop you ‘mons off, hold onto your tails! We’ll be back here in a day or so. Air ‘till this point gets too thin to fly, you’ll have to hike the rest if you want to get to the mystery dungeon at the top. Articuno knows why you’d even bother, but may fortune favor the bold.”

    A sharp snap of tow lines detaching pierced through rattling support frames and buckling fabric. All three pokemon sat down and scrambled for something to hang on to, being jolted from their seats with a roaring thud accompanied by skiis skidding against frozen lake water. Every second of deceleration brought fears of a tree shattering through their fragile craft like claws through caterpie, ending only in the brief second where momentum brought the fuselage backward. Thankful breaths, most noticeable from the Charmander, echoed through the narrow confines.


    They unpacked and equipped clothing supplied for the journey: a blend of mareep cloth sewn into thick blankets and coats. Chimera opened the exit. Chilling air and snow rushed through immediately. Partly concealing by such was view of their means of locomotion, visibly exhausted flying back the way they had come. The Bagon turned, grin forming on his face with sight of the gray and white mountain face in the distance no doubt concealing their goal,

    “Well,” Chimera said, snow condensing on his forehead doing little to cull enthusiasm, “shall we?”

    ---
    Author's Notes: I can't thank Namohysip enough for his reviews of my story. I've been responding to him privately about his feedback, and I want to assure anyone who takes the time to look over my story that I will do my best to reply to feedback, either publicly or through private messages.
     
  4. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Chapter 18: Crimson Snow
    “Y-You know...I haven’t seen a flake of snow in four years. It’s a nice change of pace being here, but...I’m starting to see why I left.”

    Frigid wind flooding into the Raichu’s jaw cut off any further conversation. It was an uphill battle navigating through the twists and turns of Mount Shayne, one that saw Argon periodically checking the mark on their wonder-map, as if analyzing to see if the presider of the WFG hadn’t accidentally marked their location in place of a tropical resort. Hours of travel through a blizzard revealed that their Fearow navigator’s message had been more of a presage than anything. Omnipresent snow took its place upon all three, sticking to legs and tails to create a numbness somewhere between tranquility and agony.

    “You’re not missing much,” Chimera replied, a tiny part of the former-human wishing that whatever force had turned him into a pokemon could have picked something similar to the strange, cloud-like vulpix roaming near their landing site, “where I was from, fresh snow was absolutely peachy keen for exactly one day, until it dried up and and all you had left was a minus twenty windchill and the pleasure of walking like you’re trudging through molasses. At least here we get all three qualities.”

    “Still, there is a unique sense of beauty underneath the toil,” Eoin commented, “my lifespan likely has been less than a hundredth of yours, and I can say without hesitation that the pictures do not do them justice.”

    An unspoken sense of agreement filled the group. Even without looking up, Argon could see the teal tint of luminous aurora reflected in the Pallid’s metallic contraption. The Raichu would be the first to admit to the temptation of a warm bed and actually being able to feel any sensation in her feet and hands. However, as she walked, exchanging smiles between the pokemon on either side of the vast distances they had left behind, there was nowhere else Argon would rather be. If the Pichu yawning in her bed to “Heroes of Time” could see her now, Argon was unsure whether her former self would scoff or quiver. Regardless, she was here now, and the ticking hands of fate powered by the gears they sought had seemed less malicious than her fears proclaimed.

    The familiar tingling sensation of entering a mystery dungeon substituted for any shivering in their necks. Eoin took the lead, wary eyes scanning for sources of danger as they approached a shallower section leading up to the mountain face. Knee high snow made determining what surface they were marching on difficult, but Argon was the first to catch the sudden loss of traction.

    “Watch your step. We might be on a small lake, wouldn’t want to slip, or worse...”

    “Yeah Eoin,” Chimera said, cracking a smile through gusts of icy powder, “adventuring always has that risk, wouldn’t want you to be put on thin ice.”

    A painful groan escaped the gloomy Charmander, though not completely in response to the attempt at humor. Sharp pain echoing through his conscious forced him to his knees. In spite of Eoin’s recognizance of the migraine, it was less severe than that experienced when he attempted to delay a reversion. Argon and Chimera stopped behind the Pallid, simultaneously gasping when a crack followed be several crinkles sounded from under his feet. A single thought beamed into Eoin’s mind, mimicking a form of communication he had grown well accustomed to.

    So, you’re the pallid my sibling spoke so highly of, interesting...


    The ice below Eoin gave way. Chimera was the closest, and dove as far as his feet could in an attempt to grab the Charmander’s tail, missing by mere inches. Argon lifted a hand to her temple and attempted to telekinetically hold the Pallid, but was cut off by an invisible force that pushed him from her grasp. Contrary to their initial belief, the lake did not give way to water underneath the top layer of ice, but formed an icy tunnel angled downward and toward the cliff face. Both reached instinctively for their exploration bags, hearing the Charmander’s screams grow quieter as he slid down.

    “Eoin!” Argon shouted. “Sit tight, we’re gonna get you out of there.”

    Chimera approached the entrance to the unnatural slide with rope in hand. Seconds passed like hours as both pokemon waited for a response. Eventually, Eoin’s voice sounded through the tunnel, carrying a tone more attuned to bewilderment than concern.

    “That-uh...that will not be necessary, I do not believe I am in any danger. Continue navigating up the mountain and through the mystery dungeon, I will meet you two there.”


    Chimera and Argon froze, shared glance between the two attempting to convey what words couldn’t. Again, they heard crackling from the tunnel, punctuated by a loud crash as psychic orbs sent its icy walls collapsing into an impassable jumble.

    “Well…” Chimera deadpanned, ”guess we don’t have much of a choice now. If what I think is happening is happening, we’ll get our meeting with another third of the lake trio, one way or another.”

    Argon was silent staring between her partner and the now inaccessible tunnel, eventually settling on a deep sigh to accept the situation’s sudden deterioration. Clearing the debris would take hours, hours they didn’t have in their wintry surroundings. Eoin had proven himself trustworthy enough, and with any luck would be able to handle whatever was thrown his way. She gave a slight nod to Chimera, shouting what assurances she could through the tunnel before turning to continue up the mountain face.

    They pressed on, footsteps light and tentative in the process. Chilling wind swished against fur and scales. Gusts of white powder blew, concealing movement of any pallid blurs in the distance as well as it did their own. In spite of the mystery dungeon’s peril, a nervous glance from Argon toward the flat lake they had started from forced her paw away from her guild badge. Even without words, they could both admit that whatever dark magic Articuno used had forced the narrow pathways of their surroundings into the safest place to be. A thermos of tapu cocoa levitated out of Argon’s bag as they trudged through the snow, pouring a cup for Chimera and herself. Such a drink would have alleviated the chill running down their spines, if not for a series of dull thuds that sounded in the distance. They looked down, finding faint ripples in the liquid in tandem with the noise.

    “I don’t like this,” said Argon, “t-there’s something out there, and I’d rather we not find out what.”

    “We can’t stop now,” replied Chimera, altering his pace so that he was leading the way, “there’s no shelter where we came from, and we’ll be dead in minutes if we try teleporting before those birds get back. Besides, whatever is out there, we’ll be ready. It hasn’t stopped us before.”

    The thudding became louder, now more akin to a loud crack, followed by periodic shattering. Argon kept pace behind her partner, eyes scanning anxiously through the three feet of distance they could see. He turned back as he walked, brandishing his weapon.

    “Between this thing and your electricity, I doubt there’s anything that could withstand us working together.”

    The Bagon raised a cup to his forehead, tapping against the rocky surface with a satisfying clink.

    “You’d be pressed to find any pokemon more hardheaded than yours truly. It shouldn’t be too hard overcoming any ‘mons we have to butt heads with.”

    For the second time, silence followed. Chimera’s expression pleaded with Argon to at least humor him, but the Raichu seemed frozen, looking past Chimera in a thousand yard stare.

    “C-Come on? It wasn’t that bad, was it—”

    Nothing was said. She pointed past the Bagon, sparks emanating out of her cheeks as resolution overcame apprehension. Slowly, Chimera’s head turned, eyes matching his partner’s initial frozen state. Looming over Chimera not even three feet away was a Rampardos. Splinters of mountain-face rock jutted out of its grey forehead, matching the thick scales and spikes that covered the rest of its body. It looked at the two, a half second passing were pallid pupils looked forward in single-minded rage. An ear-splitting roar echoed through the mountain, forming a battlecry against heavy snow and stone cliffs before it lowered its body to charge.

    “Well...****.”

    ---​

    The two pokemon locked below the frozen lake stood still, staring each other in the eyes analysing the unique specimen before them. Flakes of snow had condensed on the Pallid’s body from the tumultuous slide down, and he took the brief silence to dust them off, concealed eyes analysing their surroundings. Above was the thin sheet of ice his companions had traveled over, snow still visible through the transparent layer. Beams of green light reflected against the cave’s reflective walls, aurora shining downward through the gaps in the snowdrift. This was not the only source, however, for locked underneath the glass-like surface beneath their feet was another beacon. Its aquamarine sheen jutted off in six directions, accompanied by pentagonal radiance as orderly as time itself.

    “Azelf, I presume?” Eoin asked to the three-gemmed pokemon. “Why did you bring me here? I only come to relieve you of the burden that Uxie undertook.”

    It’s not a burden, Eoin, replied the lake guardian, it’s a responsibility, one that my siblings have abandoned in their hubris, in no small part due to the actions of your friends. As for why I brought you here, I suppose my reasoning is one of curiosity. Uxie was always the knowledge seeker, but I cannot deny I was intrigued when he informed me during our arguments of what he had gifted you, and the...condition that resulted from it.

    “It was incredibly generous, but nonetheless I am nothing special. I have learned that every one of the percentage of my kind who are awakened can rise above their ignorance and brutality. Uxie’s gift simply hastened the process, in spite of any unintended consequences.”

    The lake guardian frowned. It was an expression Eoin knew well, one he put on to feign ignorance when forced to conceal dark secrets. The three gems on Azelf’s tail and forehead began to glow, and it slowly levitated toward the Pallid, reaching out with a hand.

    If you really believe that, then would you consent to a little subconscious test? You wouldn’t have come here if you weren’t curious of why I guard this artifact, and I am willing to provide you with answers so long as you’ll do the same.

    Azelf stopped before the Charmander, hand just in front of his forehead waiting for approval. It was true that the knowledge pokemon had shown an unbecoming amount of vagueness in regards to the time gear’s purpose, and standing before him was a legendary with enough connections to lift the fog that had clouded the issue. Besides, if the lake guardians all had similar abilities, he would be dead long before he could put up a fight. With one hand grasped around the warmth of his tail cover, and the other raised to readjust his goggles, Eoin nodded.

    “What do you have in mind?”

    Somewhat of a test, somewhat of a demonstration. Mespirit was particularly adamant that I do this, said that she wanted me to test out a little theory we’ve formed of Uxie’s effect on your subconscious. Fate will decide if you have the willpower to see it through, and if you’ll be the same Eoin in front of me after this is finished.

    A bright red aura emanated from the three gems as Eoin felt Azelf’s hand press into his mind. What fleeting memories the Charmander had flashed before his eyes, ending as his energy dimmed and he collapsed to the floor, whole vision being enveloped in darkness.

    It faded as soon as it appeared, letting Eoin clear the fog out of his head and take note of his strange new surroundings. The icy walls were gone, as was any semblance of cold and the chilling sensation nipping at his fire. He was sitting on a thin blanket of snow, back resting against a dead tree jutting from the lower sections of the mountain. Dense clouds of mist surrounded him, adding to the gloomy atmosphere limiting his vision to the sole other pokemon in the bizarre sequence, one that made his heart jump and the ember on his tail flicker.

    It was Argon, continence as peaceful as the sleeping breaths filling their ill-defined surroundings. Her eyes were closed, tucked into the Charmander as closely as he had been just a day ago. It wasn’t real, of course, days spent under the illusionary power of Uxie had proven to Eoin that a situation like this was too good to be true, and too easy for a pokemon with the powers of the mind to fabricate. Still, if this was all that Azelf had in mind for its supposed test, the Pallid figured that no harm would come in enjoying it while it lasted. His arm wavered just as hers had when reaching a claw to the back of her neck, but assurances that the situation wasn’t real made the gesture come slightly easier. A thick liquid seemed to have condensed around both of his claws, but he quickly pushed the thought away. She pulled in closer, side of her head resting just next to his own maw. They sat still in a minute of quiet contemplation, ending only when the Pallid whispered into the chimeric Raichu’s yellow ear.

    “Thank you, for everything.”

    Lengthy coughs and groans sounded from the other end of the tree, ending their repose. It was difficult for Eoin tell, but there was a sense of familiarity in the cries. It was a jumble of noise, likened to another being’s and his own cries for mercy beneath the cave owned by an old friend. The Pallid’s grey fire blared, seemingly of its own fruition, illuminating the room in contrast to previous experience. Eoin could only watch as Argon’s eyes drifted open, being shocked to alertness looking past him with absolute horror.

    “You...you monster.”

    The look spread to Eoin as his own light let him look over the Raichu. The fur around her neck was not its usual orange color, having been diluted with a dark shade of red. He looked down as she scrambled out of his hold, trembling with recognizance of its source.

    His own claws.

    “No, I...I...it cannot be—”

    He traced her vision, looking to the far side of the tree as another gasp escaped his mouth. A thin line of red trailed off from his own claws through the snow, ending to reveal the source of the moaning: a draconic pokemon he had grown well acquainted with.

    “Y-You killed him Eoin, you killed Chimera.”

    His eyes shut, grotesque imagery piercing through despite his best efforts. Blood covered the Bagon’s body, seeping from puncture marks verbatim to his own claws into bits of charred flesh were his scales had been burnt off. He let out a gurgled cough, covering the snow where it landed in a crimson shade.

    “No...this cannot be real, it is an illusion. It has to be!”

    Argon’s voice answered the plea, piercing into his conscious accompanied by that of the guardians he had come to know.

    It could be, though it may end up being more real than you could ever imagine. Does it really matter?

    The fog dimmed, giving way to another figure buried in the Charmander’s conscious. Standing next to Chimera was a Charmander, exactly matching Eoin’s body structure and height. The only difference of the doppelganger, was that the goggles and tail cover were gone, matching grey scales that showed the Pallid’s true form. It looked toward Eoin with a quizzical chirp, staying in place with a mask of complete innocence.

    Blue, brown, and gray pupils stared into Eoin’s soul. Embers seeped through their cover. His breaths grew in ferocity, and he pointed a claw toward the grey Charmander, vile in his eyes barely concealed underneath their veil.

    “If it is true, than it was the Beast that did the deed, not I. Short as it may be, I have spent my entire life attempting to spread the gift of knowledge to the rest of my kind, but you have not changed, no matter if we wear the same face. You venerate savagery, and should it come to it, that Bagon’s blood will be on your hands, not mine!”

    “That’s not true,” Chimera sputtered out, crimson-soaked hand raising to Eoin before it collapsed to the floor, “this blood is civil.”

    Again, the fog parted. Lying next to Chimera was another corpse, one that drew a malicious glare from Eoin even in its extinguished state. Sprawled decrepit in the snow was a Girafarig. Its predominant head was severed clean off. Its eyes were closed in quiet recollection, conveying a sense of tranquility that made him sick to his stomach. Chimera’s voice snapped Eoin out of his trance, attempt to stand interrupted as the Bagon keeled over, speaking one last time before his final breath.

    “I only wanted to—arghh...I only wanted to protect him! But they were too bitter, too tired of their abusement and destitution, and they demanded blood. You let them. You let everything burn.”

    “You...you do not understand!” Eoin sputtered toward the eyes, living or not, that glared toward him. “The progression my kind deserves is being denied by those that seek to control and oppress. There must be change. Liberty, impartiality, an opportunity for something better, for our ideals to triumph, we cannot hold back on our chance.”

    “So that’s why you’ll let him die?” Argon asked, betrayal evident in her eyes. “Ideals? Because circumstance pushed him to a side that you disagreed with, when were you going to tell me?”

    “I...I should have told you sooner— I should have trusted that you could understand the terror that filled my heart. ”

    Eoin collapsed to the floor. Sweat dripped down his scales as he buried his head to the snow, hands over ears unable to stem Chimera’s groans from mixing with the flickering embers in his conscious. Accusations tumbled to and fro, snapping what was left of his train of thought apart with something far more excruciating and foreign to his new conscious than chilling water could ever be:

    Guilt.

    “Gods...make it stop. Azelf, you have made your point. I beg you, please end this nightmare!”

    Footsteps pattered against crunching snow, barely audible as Eoin curled himself into a ball and began to sob. He gasped as the sound stopped, and he opened his eyes to view the pokemon before him.

    It was himself, holding out a grey-scaled hand with narrowed pupils, seemingly in a gesture of offering. The Beast could not speak the way he could, and yet its eyes said everything.

    “You look so tired. Don’t you want to rest?”

    Without a second thought, Eoin took hold of the Pallid, letting the blood on his own claws spread to it as his vision turned to black, and the Beast took hold.

    ---​

    The Rampardos charged. What awe and terror crept up Chimera’s scales ended in an instant as he felt his partner tackle him to the side. Aurora reflected off of the pointed, grey forehead soaring past them by mere inches.


    The Rampardos turned back. A sense of confusion seemed to have taken over the creature, letting out a short grunt at the sight of the two pokemon before him still standing. Sparks emanated from Argon’s tail. Chimera’s stubby hands fumbled for his weapon. The two shared a nod, judging that they had their foe targeted.

    Snow shrugged off the crossbow string as it released in tandem with a bolt of electricity soaring toward the Rampardos. A half second of hope passed between the two and their dim-witted target. Perhaps the creature’s size and stature only concealed its own weakness? Perhaps the frigid air had made its armored scales brittle, and it would simply be another of the easily-vanquished foes encountered through their journey?

    The bolt tinked off, falling into the snow without even a sound. Argon’s thunderbolt met a similar fate. Electrons diffused easily through its stony scales and into the ground. A glance at Argon found her fur on end, looking toward a pokemon that was more powerful than anything they had faced prior.

    “Well,” Chimera said, gaze switching between his weapon and its target, “I appreciate that we’ve found a foe that forces your level of usefulness down to mine, Argon. Makes me feel less embarrassed.”

    They could only sigh as the Rampardos cocked its head, not a scratch being left on it when it resumed its battle cry. It opened its jaw, revealing bits of snow that condensed into an ice-blue light between its throat. A beam of frost discharged. The ray grew faster than Argon anticipated possible from most rock types, causing her attempt to dive out of the way to be cut short as the cone shot against her feet.

    She moaned. The attack drew a nervous look from her partner as breaths reduced to chittering. Ice crystalized around her feet.

    “Are you alright?”

    “Y-Yeah, I...I’m fine.”

    Numbness growing by the second forced her head to the floor, before abruptly grinding to a halt. A loud crack again cut through the wind, despite being more subdued than the ones foretelling the Rampardos’s presence. She looked up, a shot of adrenaline running up her spine.

    Chimera had charged. His rocky forehead dug into their foe, causing a brief stagger before the pokemon regained its balance. Its eyes fumed, both looking with newfound vigor in their hearts for what she could only assume was a personal challenge.

    “Is that it? Do you want to go, pea-brain? Then let's go! I’ll die before you get to her.”

    “Chimera, this might not be a fight we can win! You just have to keep it distracted, we should run while we have the chance!”

    Her words fell on deaf ears. Argon hacked away at the ice pinning her to the floor as Chimera rushed to put distance between himself and their foe, back toward jagged rocks that jutted out of the mountain face. Only brief outlines through blizzard snow revealed the Rampardos and Bagon’s outline, but that was enough for both to charge, speed only inhibited by knee-high snow.

    They crashed. Argon could feel the vibration through her feet, and could see her partner be launched through the powder.

    “Don’t—arghh...don’t worry. We have to push on, and I can take whatever this blockhead can dish out.”

    The fact that the Rampardos hadn’t moved an inch after their collision proved this was false, but Argon could sense the anger in Chimera’s eyes. He was looking at an obstacle, and the Bagon had proven well enough the only path he knew was straight ahead.

    They reset and charged. Bits of snow fell from their mountain overhang. Again, Chimera was hurled through the floor and into the snow, momentum stopping inches before the jagged rocks at his rear.

    “We can lose it in the snowstorm!” Argon shouted. “It’s not going to let up, we have to leave.”

    It was difficult to tell, but there seemed to be a hint of a smile after every collision, one that accompanied the fire in the Bagon’s eyes. It only lasted a second, before he would force them shut, as if attempting to stem some instinctual, disapproving migraine.

    For the last time, they took their positions, intent on finishing whatever ritual they had started. Argon chipped away at the last bit of ice locking down her feet. She could only watch and shout as time slowed and rocky foreheads met each other.

    “No, wait—”

    The two pokemon had equal speed, but the Rampardos had the advantage in mass. Chimera shot backwards through the air. A painful cry escaped his jaw as the sharp rocks of the mountain face pierced through his arm and leg. The Bagon was a broken mess. He collapsed to the floor, vision being enveloped in blackness.

    “Arghh...please no, not like this...”

    Argon shot to her feat, unable to control her own breaths. Fueled by adrenaline and muscle memory, she untied the various straps keeping her tail in place and zoomed past the Rampardos. It let out a booming roar. In one swift motion, she placed her tail under the Bagon and closed her eyes, surrounding it in pink light to function as a makeshift stretcher.

    “H-Hand on. We need to find some shelter. I’ll get you out of here, I promise you that.”

    The only response was an unintelligible babble. Argon looked to the Rampardos, setting her gaze on the abyss of powdery wind concealing her every surrounding.

    She ran. It followed. Being on all fours forced any semblance of feeling away from all her limbs, but it did little to deter. The snow carried up to her chest, making steps cumbersome and slow. Thuds increased in ferocity, every glance behind her confirming that the Rampardos was getting closer by the second. It opened its jaw, letting out the telltale whir of elemental energy condensing in its jaw. Her fur stood up on end, preparing for bone-chilling crystals to pierce through them when it stopped, interrupted by another noise trudging through mystery dungeons with her partner had made familiar.

    Chimera’s off-hand arm wavered holding the crossbow out. The Rampardos roared in pain, stopping to hold its hands over the bolt sticking out of its right eye. Her partner let out one last chuckle as his muscles gave way and he collapsed.

    They were safe, at least for the moment. No longer being chased let Argon focus on the task at hand, finally able to decipher a sentence from her partner than was more than a gurgle.

    “I brought that on myself. I...I’m sorry for being so stupid. I broke my rule, and now we’re both paying the price for it.”

    “That doesn’t matter,” Argon replied, “great shot, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Gods...I wanted to avoid all of this. Y-You’re going to be alright, don’t worry.”

    The minutes passed. She wandered on. The thin air grew ever more difficult to breathe, and the stress of keeping the Bagon supported through telekinetic powers grew by the second, but fortune smiled upon the Raichu. Her head nearly glazed over the faint outline of a tunnel unnaturally formed in the mountain slope. For one of the brief periods of their treacherous expedition, Argon smiled. She looked back to Chimera, finding his head aimed toward the green and blue sky.

    Immediately, the harsh weather seemed to alleviate as Argon stepped inside of the cave. She set Chimera down. It didn’t take a genius to see the extent of his injuries. His right arm and left leg were bent in ways she didn’t even know were possible. His breaths were sporadic, his blue scales were pale and devoid of blood. She raised a paw to his hand, gasping at the long gaps in the Bagon’s heartbeat.

    Shock.

    Argon froze, staring into the abyss with the knowledge that If Chimera didn’t get treatment soon, her partner was likely going to die. She took in three deep breaths, then turned back to the situation at hand.

    “O-Ok, I got this...please let me have this.


    She took out several blue berries from her pack, grinding them into a thick paste and slathering it onto bandages. They stopped the bleeding well enough, but that was the least of her problems. Chimera’s heartbeat was sporadic, and there wasn’t a single qualified healer that could administer the proper treatment. There was only her, her and the electrons that sparked from the Raichu’s own two paws.

    So it comes to this…please, Arceus, let me remember how many volts it is…

    Too few and the effect would be useless, too many and she’d do more harm than good. Seconds passed of contemplation. The thin air didn’t help any of Argon’s attempts to control her breathing, but knowing that every passing second only increased the chance that her partner would be sent back to wherever humans thought of as the afterlife forced her paws to his chest. Her cheeks sparked, as did her tail as she delivered the first shock.

    “Come on…”

    His chest jolted up, but little else.

    The second shock.

    “Please, let this work.”

    Still, no effect.

    “Work, dammit!”

    She sighed, nearly lowering her head before she let out one last shock, recoiling as the Bagon’s chest again jolted up. Instantly, her paw lowered his hands, moments passing like hours as she determined what fate awaited the former-human.

    Silence...then one heartbeat, then another, and another still. Argon cackled madly to herself, only witnesses being the ice and rock of the cave as her partner’s heartbeat returned to a steady tempo.

    “I-I...I thought I lost you.”

    She drew him in close, watching as the Bagon’s eyes opened to return her smile.

    “Thank you,” he said, forming a toothy grin half layered with his own blood, “my sincerest condolences, now you gotta keep putting up with me.”

    They laughed. The moment didn’t last long, however, before booming thuds sent shivers up their spine. It was Chimera’s turn for his eyes to reveal what words couldn’t, drawing Argon’s gaze to the cave entrance.

    Standing there, fuming breaths obscuring the crimson scar over its right eye, was the Rampardos. It lowered its head, kicking its feet into the snow to charge.

    “Damn…” Argon said, turning back to Chimera with a frown more out of exhaustion than anything, “I guess this is it, either it will kill us, or the cold outside will. I’m...glad we got to know each other. I’d honestly probably be alive if we didn’t team up, but I’m not sure It would be a life worth living.”

    Not a second passed before the Rampardos launched itself toward the two. They both closed their eyes, relieving what memories that had gotten them to this point until oblivion would show its face.

    They would have to wait. The Pallid’s footsteps stopped abruptly, fuming being cut off seemingly mid-breath. A moment passed until their eyes tentatively glimpsed toward their would-be-killer, letting out gasps equal part astonishment and bewilderment.

    The Pallid was motionless in front of them, having been unnaturally interrupted mid-charge, frozen in time.

    ---​

    Author’s Note: My sincerest gratitude to Namohysip, author of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12658897/1/Pokemon-Mystery-Dungeon-Hands-of-Creation). He’s been an amazing help reviewing, betaing, and providing interesting ideas for my story. I’m in the process of reading his story, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2019
  5. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Hello! I saw you’re new to the Serebii Discord, so I went ahead and checked out some of your work. While you’ve released quite a few chapters already, I do want to highlight the first five chapters including the prologue, since I feel like that’s a good checkpoint for the story.

    Chapter 1-5

    My general thoughts are that this fic is going in a very interesting direction. What I like the most about it is how you’ve taken the classic PMD trope of ‘human gets sucked into PMD world’ and have started twisting it. This is one instance where I feel the protagonist’s human life plays a really integral part in the story, with his expectations of what a PMD world should be like vs reality, where instead of the world being at stake, it’s just as mundane, indifferent and grounded as his own world.

    There were huge shades of this in the prologue, with Chimera making an eventual face-heel turn, and the later chapters, from the nightmare(vision???) he has back at his office all the way up to Binair’s speech at the end of chapter 5. His discussion about humans as the dominant species in their universe and his philosophy to strive to be as ambitious as them was what clinched it for me. I do sort of question how Binair came across the information about the human world, since you’d think it would be a very foreign concept for a Pokemon-only world, but I’m sure that will be answered in due time.

    Having a neurotic foil like Argon only adds to the character drama (chapter 1 got that point across really well), and I can’t wait to see how their relationship will develop before it all goes pear shaped.

    There are certain elements of this fic so far that are very, very good. And then there are other elements that weaken the execution and could be improved on. They’re not story-breaking flaws, for the most part, but they do stack up and make for a less polished story overall.

    For starters, there’s the prose. While I feel it can be descriptive in the right places, which adds a lot of imagery to the scene, the flow can be a bit confusing at times. Sentences tend to be quite long and there can be a lot of clauses in just one sentence alone. That being said, I’m guilty of sprawling sentences as well, so take that with a grain of salt.

    Particular in the opening chapters, you also tend to use comma splices in sentences like these that should just be split into two:

    There are other quibbles I have with the technical parts. While I don’t usually like to rag on about typos, I felt it was so frequent here that I had to point it out, particular with the confusion of words like ‘where’ and ‘were’. There are also quite a few lines that are bolded for seemingly no rhyme or reason, like when a character is introduced or when they’re shouting. It doesn’t feel like you’d take anything away from the impact of the story if you just removed them.

    There are certain issues I have with the pacing of the story and the characterization as well, although they’re both building good momentum at the moment.

    I’d say the biggest stumbling block is the ‘in medias res’ prologue, which spoils a lot of the events of the story in hindsight. Like I said, it does set the groundwork for Chimera’s motivation as a human to make a difference in the world. However, you did a good enough job establishing that with his flashbacks/nightmares to his human life, and how he views himself as insignificant. Why not just start at chapter 1 and build the opening hook around that, or at another point somewhere further in the story that isn’t as spoilery?

    This also impacts the chemistry between Chimera and Argon. Similar to what Namo suggested, knowing their relationship will go south ruins a lot of the fun of seeing them develop, knowing what will happen anyway. I get the feeling this should’ve been a big event, and yet it feels like you’ve blown your wad far too early.

    Another point I had was that Chimera’s characterization could be inconsistent at times, particularly towards the beginning. I don’t think his emotional outburst in ALLCAPS was earned at the chapter 2 point seeing how we’re just getting to know his character. And all things considered, he goes from 'fainting due to seeing the Raichu' to 'okay, I'll join you' really fast. It’s sort of justified since you show him thinking back to the plot of the PMD games, but still, I thought you could’ve banked more on the fish out of water scenario, even if it is a bit formulaic for PMD at this point.

    I know I might’ve spent a lot of time talking about the issues, but overall, this fic has a lot of potential. The story is still in its early stages, but so far, I’m impressed with what’s been presented. I hope to catch up with the rest of your chapters at some point, so I’ll see you around in my next review.
     
  6. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Chapter 19: Bitter Recollections
    Author's Note: After one month, it's finally done. A complete rewrite of the prologue through chapter four. If you're already reading my story, you don't need to go back to continue understanding it. However, I believe its made the beginning something I can actually be proud of.

    ---
    Eoin was surprised to find himself standing. He looked around, new surroundings having lost their usual dark tint. A claw raised to his face as the fog around his vision cleared revealed why.

    Oh...you’re back, I questioned how long it would take before we could continue our little discussion.

    The goggles and cover that masked his appearance sat before him. The Pallid scrambled to the icy floor to redon his veil, gasping with recognizance that the grey scales reflected through the ground were in fact his.

    Your other persona was just as concerned with its appearance as you are. Fortunate for the circumstances, all things considered. Especially since you are among your kind.

    “What do you mean I am—”

    Feral growls and snarls cut through Eoin’s ideation. The realization suddenly dawned on the Charmander of his peril. The flat layer of ice impersonating a lake was gone, replaced by an upward cone of rock doubtlessly forming the top of the mountain. Green light cut through gaps in the rock, bouncing off the surrounding icy patches to illuminate the multitude of pallid, grey pokemon on all sides. For a brief second, Eoin’s fire blared and he jumped back, before it settled to a dull flicker.

    The Pallids paid him no mind. Their vision was instead focused on the lake guardian before them, holding a blue gear in its hand that appeared to be the source of their enamoration.

    “W-Why are they not attacking? They are a ceaseless aggression to any other pokemon, what makes me different?”

    You should already know that. On the matter of specifics, the reason is that you can’t...see like they do, at least not currently.”

    Azelf floated toward the Pallid, gems glowing a red radiance. Again, the lake guardian placed its hand before Eoin’s face, waiting for approval.

    Perhaps another demonstration will shed some light on the matter? I can’t revert your mind, but I can simulate the effect to the best of my ability.

    “Will this be any less traumatic than your last demonstration?” Eoin replied, snort synonymous by a shiver running down his spine.

    The Pallid shirked back as soon as the words left his mouth. He shielded his eyes, in a redundant action that drew a quizzical stare from Azelf. The lake guardian couldn’t tell, but the beginnings of moisture had condensed underneath Eoin’s goggles. He started lifted his grey-scaled hand up as if to wipe, before setting it back to his side.

    “I-I apologize. Blunt as it may have been, your little experiment...it helped. You have seen my memories, and I now know what I must do if I am to navigate this perilous game.”

    That wasn’t entirely the purpose, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

    Eoin nodded, letting Azelf’s hand press into his consciousness. A second passed before his eyes opened, and the full effect took hold. He didn’t pass out, instead finding that flowing across his own hands and body was a vibrant, blue energy. It emanated all across him, sporting a shining radiance that pointed to only one source of his studies.

    “Aura?”

    Correct. The essence of what makes every pokemon what they are, condensed into an easily viewable format for your own convenience. Do you have a prefered color?

    It wasn’t just him. An even brighter and stronger shade of blue ran across the lake guardian pressing against his forehead. The strongest source, however, was close at hand in the form of the blue gear grasped in Azelf’s other arm. It was nearly blinding, luminosity filling the inside of Mount Shayne’s peek as quickly as it was lost, pulsating with a rapid vigor. Unlike Azelf, the light did not seem self sufficient. Beams sprawled out of the gear in all directions, holding flickers of aura in near constant motion from their source to the artifact. The motion was condensed, its battery-like efficiency giving recognizance to the source of the time gear’s power:

    The Pallids.

    The pokemon that matched Eoin’s own grey color sat with complacency. Blue radiance that stemmed from every beam began with each creature, all donned with an aura significantly dimmer than the mountain’s two sentient occupants. He gasped, finding that a single trail from the artifact also connected to himself.

    “W-Why?”

    A gear is simply a tool, Azelf replied blankly, it cannot function without having energy to transfer, and the task of keeping time in order is not one without requirements. Dialga was also not a particularly trusting god, and decided that he had to rely on more than himself to avoid the potential for catastrophe. Enter time gears, and the creatures that fuel and protect them.

    Eoin didn’t say a word. His aura shined as bright as ever, and yet with every second, that which stemmed from the himself and the pallids surrounding him dimmed a nearly imperceivable level. He walked up to a polar Sandshrew, looking into the eyes of a feral creature with his best attempt at empathy.

    “Is it...painful?”

    No, the process is so gradual that most do not even realize it is occurring. An incredible amount of aura is required to power the time gears. Fortunately for Dialga, he had friends in high places, friends that could break the natural laws that govern our universe. In exception to myself, the bodies of all the pokemon here will be reborn once the mystery dungeon resets. Their soul will persist, but with more aura to grease the metaphorical gears of time.

    He shivered. Just as Azelf said, Eoin couldn’t feel the draining effect that the beam of aura illustrated. And yet, he couldn’t deny a newfound sense of emptiness in that knowledge. He didn’t dare continue looking. Blue radiance drifted away as he scrambled out of the lake guardian’s grasp, but nothing could stem the placebo from invading his subconscious.

    “D-Does the same hold true for me? I...I must leave if that is true.”

    Oh, it’s not that bad, Azelf replied with a chuckle, looking back to Eoin as he bolted for the room’s exit, you could chop off your own leg inside of a mystery dungeon and have it back after the reset. Your gift would be gone, but...still. It won’t be a problem anyways if we can get you out of the mystery dungeon before that happens. Like I said, you have given me and my siblings some answers, I directed your other persona here so I could return the favor. Should you have any questions, I will answer them as best I can.

    Eoin made it about halfway to the artificially constructed, icy stairs leading down the mountain when he stopped. Bright sunlight beaming down revealed that it would be many hours before the mystery dungeon’s daily reset, and it would be a shame to give way to cowardice when answers were so close. The risk remained, the risk of losing whatever friends and sentience he had left and becoming as trapped as the creatures around him, but fortune favors the bold. He turned back, eyes switching between Azelf and the unnaturally colored scales that separated his kind from the rest, words not being needed to convey the obvious question.

    Your hue? Might as well get straight through the softballs. At least in a metaphorical sense, even gods are not one to make their work a white donphan. When you gotta make a self-sustaining way of creating new bodies daily for a hundred thousand or so creatures that will never even get a chance to eat, keeping track of what their scales looks like kind of goes out the window. The purpose of pallids didn’t need distinguishable color nor sapience. It helped even, providing a clear distinction between them and the civilized. It is much easier protecting an artifact by creating a charmander instinctually driven to protect than one that might desire something else.

    “So, when I was below Uxie’s Cave, that is why I...”

    Eoin looked downward, briefly taking off his veil to look at his own reflection. The icy floor was murkier than below the lake, and he could have sworn that the Charmander mimicking the way he held his hand out held grey pupils thinner than his own. It returned his smile nonetheless, before Eoin eyes shut in recollection of waking up in Argon’s paws. Panicked as he may have been, the Beast seemed to have made a conscientious decision not to attack. Staring at Azelf, finally aware of what the pallid’s true nature was, perhaps his doppelganger’s aggression wasn’t as ceaseless as he once thought? Along with these thoughts came memory of another instance where a Charmander showed leniency, despite having every reason not to.

    “I did not have my gift then. I was as feral as before I met Uxie, but I still walked away, I still was drawn to the Bagon’s badge. Why? If my purpose was to protect the time gear at all costs, why did I not fulfill it?”

    For the first time since their meeting, Azelf didn’t have an immediate answer. Even from looking at the lake guardian, Eoin could tell that he had spent as much time pondering the question. He floated upward, tone more tentative than assured.

    Pokemon are...fast learners, despite their sense of complacency. My best theory is that being reborn again and again with the same soul has some effect on your mind no matter how feral it is. Arceus knows it wasn’t what the gods wanted, but give a pallid enough time, and it’ll start to show more than simple aggression. Some, like you, simply learnt at a faster rate than most of your kind.

    “So that is what I am, an anomaly?”

    To my knowledge, yes. Though, judging from your memories, I am willing to bet your priorities lie more in what has become of those anomalies, and what they will become, rather than how they came to be.

    Eoin couldn’t help but nod. He looked around the crowd of pallids, unable to judge how many few of the hundred or so dispersed throughout the room had the potential to experience the joys and suffering that civilized life offered. More questions fell from the tip of his tongue, but only one did more than dissipate into grey embers.

    “This is a little superfluous, but if I was truly trapped in an endless cycle of rebirth just as most of my kind are, then...how old am I?”

    A slight chuckle from the lake guardian cut through the resulting silence. It echoed through the chamber, dissipating as quickly as it arrived.

    Well, I guess that depends on you base your age off of your soul or your body? If it’s the latter, a little over a month. The former...lets just say you’ll need a pretty big ember to account for the years between now and the dawn of time.

    The Pallid was lost for words. The passive glances from the pokemon around him grew even harder to avoid. They were not the same pokemon of his dungeon of origin. And yet, if what Azelf said was true, they had been his same kin for longer than his reconditioned mind could possibly comprehend. Eoin found himself staring into the eyes of the Charmander reflected through the floor, as if attempting to gauge how many years of entrapment were hidden behind the soul they gatewayed.

    He didn’t have long. Azelf floated upward with time gear in hand, positioning it just below the mountain peak were rock walls converged into a single point. A shudder ran down Eoin’s feet. There was something in the look Azelf gave to the grey pokemon at his side, a looked that seemed to carry over from siblings.

    And now, we come to the real purpose of why I brought you here. My siblings and I have been talking a lot since Uxie left, and while I find some of their arguments...valid, there is a reason we protect these artifacts. The mystery dungeon’s boundaries end at the peak, and I would like to show you the failsafe of what happens if a time gear is taken. You will be safe, I can guarantee that.

    The gear inched ever so slowly upward, stopping one last time as Azelf’s gaze locked onto the remements of grey flame underneath the Charmander’s cover.

    Tell me Eoin, if you were charged with moving a campfire while keeping it alite, what must happen to the surrounding trees previously used to fuel it?

    The Pallid’s head looked around on a swivel, finding that he was the only one phased by the statement. Eoin didn’t know exactly what the lake guardian had in store, but he could tell that it did not bode well for the fate of the creatures around him. He grew silent.

    Please bear with me. I just want to prove a point, and a demonstration seems like it will be the most impactful.

    Primal emotions seeped into Eoin’s conscious. The Charmander didn’t know how, but he had a few ideas of its source. Terror, curiosity, and tranquility appeared as quickly as they left. He shouted out, not giving his words a second thought.

    “If the fire is to be maintained, the trees...they have to be cut down and transported to keep it fueled.”

    ...Correct.

    The time gear raised to the mountain peak. Green pentagons around it faded, as did its blue radiance, as if it were a motor being reduced to low power mode with electrons being cut. A second passed of nothingness, before a once-forgotten sensation coursed through the Pallid’s body.

    Emptiness.

    He collapsed to the ground. Desolation was no longer a placebo, for a glance toward the pokemon around him found that they had similarly fallen the floor. Feral roars filled the room. Eoin drew a hand to his chest, unable to stem the feeling of his entire being ripped out from under him. He tried lifting his arm up, to no avail. Arms, legs, even blinking seemed like it was being stolen from him. His vision drew black, lost in the knowledge that everything that made him what he was had been frozen in time. The last thing he could see was Azelf appearing before him, and a hand being placed upon his head as three red gems shined. And then…

    It stopped.

    ---

    “I...I guess this deathtrap of a dungeon isn’t done with us yet.”

    Crazy as it may have been, Argon was inclined to agree. They may have been frozen in a figurative sense, but for the Rampardos motionless before them, the definition was entirely literal. Its head was lowered, pointed end just inches away from their skulls after the creature had lost control of itself and skidded to the floor. Time refused to move in any cell. Either the Bagon at her side was secretly a gorgon, or a force far more calculating and cruel than cold had sucked out the life force of their adversary.

    “W-What happened?” asked Argon.

    Chimera waved his good hand over the Rampardos’s grey eyes, finding no reaction. With what function was left in his right leg, he hovered it over the creature, just about to kick it for further analysis before pulling back. It was probably best not to test it.

    “I...I don’t know, but we—arghh...we have to keep moving.”

    The chilling numbness that bit against Argon’s fur corroborated the statement. She rushed back to her partner, attempting to analyze the extent of the damage.

    “Can you walk?”

    Chimera gave a slight nod. His left leg stood up well enough, but he howled in agony after attempting to put pressure on his right. The Bagon fell back to the floor, companion rushing to his side with oran berries in hand.

    “N-No, don’t worry about it,” he said, plastic smile broken by another groan, “with how cold it is, I can barely feel it.”

    It was a lie, and they both knew. A near silent sigh escaped Chimera’s mouth as a look between the two said what words couldn’t.

    “Nnngh...alright, you got me. I can probably still move, but I’ll need some help.”

    She nodded. Wind and snow howled from the cave’s entrance, assuring both that venturing anywhere outside of the unnatural cave would meet a slow and painful end. Luckily, or unluckily depending on perspective, the other end of the cavern revealed itself as more extensive than it initially seemed. If they were to have any hope of linking up with Eoin like they had planned, they would need to take the chance. Looking back at Chimera told Argon that the Bagon’s body was shouting out against any movement from the two broken limbs. Without careful preparation, they would only exacerbate the problem.

    She looked to their exploration bags, empty from the process of getting travel and repairing her partner’s injuries. Only ice and snow pervaded their surroundings, nowhere near stable enough for a makeshift splint. Slowly, Argon’s gaze lowered to her paws. With any luck, necessity would again prove to be the mother of invention.

    “W-We have to keep those limbs from moving, hold still. This might shock a bit, but you’re just going to have to trust me.”

    “Sure, yeah, do it,” he replied, “I trust you. Besides, can’t make it worse than it already is.”

    Electrons sparked from Argon’s cheeks. Chimera’s cringe soon faded away as she placed her paws over the broken limbs. Numbness overtook cold and pain, taking with it any ability for movement as the joints locked in place.

    “Alright, that should keep it in place until we can get you to a doctor. C-Come on, we need to get moving.”

    She held her paw out, grabbing the Bagon’s hand and slinging it around her neck. It was a tentative process, but they were able to balance against each other, minimizing the pressure against the paralyzed limb as they began to walk. Ice lined the walls between rock floor, making ever more difficult steps an upward battle towards the mountain peak.

    Bagon and Raichu weren’t sure if they were more relieved or horrified at what they saw. Pallids were interspersed around the narrow corridors, all as motionless as their would be killer. Both pokemon stopped when Argon took a brief period to analyze a petrified Mamoswine. Flakes of frost condensed around its fur, any life left drained from its grey eyes. Most of the pallids they passed kept their feral snarls, but the rare pokemon before them undoubtedly showed there was a specific emotion its kind wasn't immune to.

    Fear.

    “D-Do you...do you think we can still save them?”

    “It’s too late for that,” Chimera replied, nearly falling to the floor before regaining balance against his partner, “we got to worry about ourselves now.”

    He could see the pain in her eyes, but she nodded. They walked past the Mamoswine, quivering with the sight of the thin patches of ice that formed on the surface of a deep pool of water. Their path grew even more vertical past the pool, forming a steep incline of ice and stone. There was nowhere to go but up.

    They nodded to each other, slinging arms ever tighter around the other’s neck. Step by step, they climbed. Footholds were shallow and slippery, but they made progress, climbing upward in a manner that was as safe as it could be given the situation.

    Until it wasn’t.

    A shard up ice under Argon’s feet gave way, shriek filling the cavern as she skidded down the makeshift slide. Their hold took Chimera with her. Neither could do anything to stop their momentum, any sense of friction lost among the ice. It sucked, Chimera would be the first to admit that, but the Bagon concluded that it was only a minor setback. That is, until he saw what his companion was sliding toward.

    The pool of water.

    Chimera’s eyes shot open as she landed into the chilling water with a splash. He crawled to the pool as fast as a single leg and stubby arm could take him. With his help, Argon pulled herself out of the icy pond easy enough, but the damage was done. Both her own fur and the thick coat of wool were soaking wet. Water was already beginning to form into ice, punctuated by Chimera’s partner shuddered uncontrollably. The skin beneath her thin fur turned a pale white.

    “W-What’s happening? I-I can’t feel my legs.”

    The statement was blank, in spite of Argon’s shivering, said as if she were restating the long-winded motto for her own guild. In an instant, Chimera discarded his partner’s wet coat, replacing it with his own. There was now only a raincape to shield the Bagon’s scales from the cold, but he didn’t care.

    “Here, you need this more than I do. S-****, we gotta get moving. Eoin’s at the peak of the mountain, he has to be. If we can get there, he can warm you up. At least I hope so.”

    “B-But Eoin’s a pallid, what if he—”

    “We have to try!” he shot back. “We...we have to hope, we don’t have any other options.”

    They took hold of each other. In spite of Argon’s motor functions being lost to the cold, their second attempt was much more successful. They made it to the top of the fiendish slide, continuing up at a shallow incline towards the mountain peak. The Raichu’s steps became sluggish as the minutes passed, and frequently Chimera found that he now shared the role of being a balancing point.

    “Keep pushing! We’ve gone through too much to give up now.”

    She took another step, any semblance of control over her legs leaving as she fell to the icy floor.

    “I-I...I’m sorry. I don’t think I can.”

    “No…”

    Chimera fell with her. He set her down, watching as her cobalt-blue eyes closed and blackness enveloped her vision. Tears fell down the Bagon’s cheeks. He held her close, finding her orange fur cold to the touch.

    “Goddammit, it can’t be like this. You’re...you’re the partner pokemon for pete’s sake! If anybody's gonna die first, it’s gonna be me. I-I’ve had my second chance, you deserve it more than I do!”

    His words fell on deaf ears; his partner was unconscious. For a brief second, his gaze shifted toward the path ahead. They had been climbing for a long time, and a hint of blue light shined at the end of the tunnel. A glint shined in Chimera’s eyes. He wiped away his tears, replacing fear with determination as he took hold of his partner with his one arm, and pushed against the icy floor with his one leg. The Bagon crawled, inch by bloody inch, dragging his partner in tow. He prayed to Arceus and fate alike that their salvation was within reach.

    The minutes flowed together. Chimera was barely able to move himself, and dragging another pokemon behind him proved tiring. He huffed, bitter that his former occupation confined to a desk left him unprepared.

    “Y-You know, I just realized something…”

    His head turned. Argon was talking. She was talking! He smiled back to her, subconsciously vowing to do whatever he could to keep his partner cognizant.

    “What’s that?” he asked.

    “This would be a really...ironic way to die.”

    Chimera’s smile disintegrated. He dragged Argon and himself over a short drop, both grunting when they hit the ice with a thud.

    “Don’t...don’t say that. We’ll make it out of this. The cold must be making you delirious.”

    “I-It’s true,” she replied, attempt to wave cut off by assurances that her limbs were useless, “m-my whole life, I choose the easy way out. I stayed home, I avoided others, I did as little work as possible because I told myself it would make me happier. Now that I might be at the end of it, being dragged by my half-dead partner in some random corner of a mountain, it’s...liberating, in a way.”

    Just keep her talking, Chimera thought, if she’s focused on something she might not go into shock like I did.

    “Honestly,” Chimera said, punctuating his statement with what was likely the fakest laugh of his entire life, “you’re probably winning on the whole ‘almost-dead’ competition. How ‘bout I pay the rent for the next month after we get back, as a reward?”

    The Raichu giggled for a brief moment, before sinking back into silence. With every second he pushed, the blue light seemed to get farther away.

    “D-Did I...did I ever tell you about my parents?” Argon asked.

    “No, but I’m sure they want to see you. I’m sure they would be proud of everything you’ve done.”

    She sank back.

    “Yeah, they would. M-My dad was a ninetales if you can believe it. He...he was everything I wasn’t, kinda like you. You couldn’t find a more self made ‘mon, always going on missions, dangerous and lucrative ones.”

    Her eyes closed, drawing another gasp from her partner as visages of ornate berries and familiar trinkets appear in her conscious. Sitting on top, was the thunderous mark of a yellow stone.

    “T-There wasn’t a single thing I could ask for that they couldn’t provide for me. Literally. If I made a comment about wanting a ginseng smoothie for breakfast you can bet they’d have a full crate mail ordered to our house.”

    “That sounds...nice,” Chimera replied, words leaving his mouth on their own accord. His partner was freezing to death, and yet as the Bagon mulled over the story, he couldn’t help but feel a bit of envy.

    “A-Anyway,” she continued, “they said I never asked for much, but there was always this sense of extravagance in the way we lived. A-And...it had a cost. Dad was always traveling. Whether on business or explorations, he’d send us letters of all the amazing sights he saw, how much he appreciated the opportunity we had. He always tried to cover up his injuries when I got to see him, but I could see it in his eyes, the...toll it was having on his body and mind.”

    Argon’s words washed away her partner’s jealousy. Her voice grew even softer, barely whispering after a short pause.

    “Eventually, it got to be too much. H-He got back from exploring an uncharted snow valley around my family’s old home outside of Faire. His fire helped, but it gets a lot colder when the places you’re exploring aren’t part of a tropical region. I ran down to see him, and…”

    Chimera was silent. His partner had stopped shivering, emotions bitter and cold running down her spine.

    “I-It was frostbite. He had bandages around his two back legs above the joint. B-Below the joint...Arceus.”

    Both stopped. Chimera grabbed hold of Argon, tranquil expression on her face being met by pure terror. They embraced, as awkwardly as they could with one participant having an arm paralyzed.

    “No matter what happens, you’re gonna be fine,” he pleaded, “you’re strong, stronger than I am. S-Someday, when it’s cold, we’re gonna sit down and share a drink and think about how funny this all was. This’ll just be a memory.”

    She nodded, though her expression didn’t change. Chimera continued their endless drag down the winding paths of the dungeon, passing ice, rock, and motionless pallids along the way.

    “A-And he kept working, even after losing two limbs. I-I was only a Pichu then. They were great parents given the circumstances, sacrificing so much so I could have a career like them. But after that day I...I couldn’t take it. I ran, like I always do.”

    She chuckled bitterly to herself.

    “It was the most pathetic attempt you could ever imagine. I-I didn’t even bring a coat, just some food and a map, thinking that would keep me alive. T-They had to rescue me after three days, Dad hiked all that way with two wheels on his back legs. After they brought me back things...changed. T-They argued, they yelled, but eventually they told me that I could choose my own fate.”

    “And that’s why you left for Faire?” Chimera asked, tone almost as soft as hers.

    “Yes. I-I left...I left because I knew it would be easy. I read these catalogues in my spare time that told me Faire was a land of opportunity, that by joining the WFG I could make a living were I wouldn’t be in any danger. I-It was true, sort of. I had all the time in the world, I had a roof over my head, pathetic as it may have been, and...I was content, or miserable, I can’t really remember.”

    A faint, pink aura emanated from Chimera’s weapon, lifting it a fraction of an inch before it dissipated into nothingness.

    “I was a pikachu for...a week, I think? Maybe less. I-I made a promise the day I evolved, that I would live life in the easiest manner possible. But...that also had sacrifices. My evolutions were so close that I never fully learned to properly use my psychic abilities.”

    “Well, I guess that’s one thing we can relate to,” Chimera said, returning her grin.

    “O-Of course. That’s why I walk everywhere, among other reasons. T-That’s why I got this big, goofy tail strapped to my back, because without telekinesis I can’t move it otherwise.”

    “Could’ve had me fooled,” replied the Bagon, “I just always assumed it was something natural to your species.”

    The tunnels dragged on, ice lining the walls ever more prevalent with each attempt at a step. Her tone darkened.

    “I...I guess w-what I’m trying to say is that dying in this cave seems like...fate. I-I had my Mom read me this book when I was little, Heroes of Time. I fell asleep before the end of it, but it was about a former-human and pokemon that go on a journey to collect the time gears. No matter what promises I made to myself, no matter how much I tried to avoid it, m-my destiny was sealed when I found you on that beach. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a lot through it, but...I guess I have to accept my fate.”

    Again, Chimera stopped, looking toward Argon in an expression between pleading and bargain.

    “I know what you’re talking about, thinking that everything here fits into one pre-planned story, but it’s not true!”

    He whispered.

    “God...please don’t let it be true.”

    Silence followed. Chimera’s heart skipped a beat as his partner’s eyes closed. She smiled back to him, tears soaking into her own yellow cheeks.

    “Y-You know, being with you has made me realize something. D-Dad was always exhausted whenever he came home, but when I looked at him, he was...smiling. Even after the incident, he never stopped laughing. I guess his life had more of a purpose than mine, helping pokemon, contributing to society. Ever since you and I teamed up, we’ve helped more pokemon in one month than four years of living on my own. I-I mean...Eoin’s the only one I can name off the top of my head. But still, it feels nice. Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome,” Chimera instantly replied, “you’re the kindest creature, human or pokemon, that I’ve ever met. You’re more generous than I’ll ever be, and no matter what happens, I’ll always appreciate it.”

    She nodded, eyes still closed with head aimed toward the rocky ceiling.

    “I...I think I’m gonna get some sleep now. It’s peaceful.”

    “No!” he shouted. “You can’t! I—”

    Chimera’s head turned. A brief glimmer of hope filled his heart with what he saw, something that on any other day would only bring exasperation.

    Stairs. Orderly, icy, stairs.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2019
  7. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Review Response to NebulaDreams
    First of all, my sincerest gratitude for giving my story a chance. It's an incredible boost in motivation knowing there are people who are willing to provide the constructive criticism I need.

    As a whole, the more I look at the first five chapters of my story, there's this temptation to go back and give my best shot at revisions. They were stepping stones, in a lot of ways, ones that suffered due to my own carelessness and inexperience. I have no excuse for the grammar errors. I was overly confident starting off, didn't think to closely inspect my chapters after plug and chugging them into a grammar program that's bound to miss these things. You're correct in that the prologue/spoiler seems like its been a problem from the beginning, created more so to keep myself focused on what my story is leading up to than the audience. Unfortunately...I mistook a spoiler for a plot hook. I had this concept in my head when I started making ideas for my story, and it's more a product of my own impatience than anything.

    I can corroborate your comments on my prose. It's overly purple in some parts, noticeably vague in others. I like to believe that I've gotten better, in no small part to having an editor and reviewers like yourself who are experienced. However, only time will tell.

    As for characterization, I think my main problem was that I made it too blunt and inconsistent. 'Convenient emotions' is the phrase for it, not accounting for any foreshadowing to periodic outbursts of emotion. I tried to show my characters as foils, extremes of two different sides. In that, I forwent giving any emotional reasoning for those outburst.

    It's not perfect in the end, but it's mine, and I have an obligation to make it worth my readers time. I appreciate you seeing its potential, I'll try my best to make sure that it lives up to it.
     
  8. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Chapter 20: The Mission
    Author's Note: Hello All! Apologies for the late chapter. Life has been getting kinda busy, but with any luck I'll be able to get back in the game. Also, if you haven't already, I'd highly recommend you check out the complete revisions of the prologue through chapter 4. They're not perfect, nor necessary to read in order to continue enjoying the current chapters, but I believe its made the beginning of the story something I can be proud of.

    ---​

    The feeling was eerily familiar.

    Eoin's entire being had been forced out within the span of a few seconds. It froze his body, taking away any chance for locomotion. There was no doubt in the Pallid's mind that his conscious would soon follow. There was perhaps only one experience he could describe as more painful.

    So, why did he feel fine?

    The precedence of an answer came easily enough. Eoin felt a familiar hand grab his, while another pressed against his forehead. With their touch, came visions of the aura that had stemmed from the room's inhabitants. He gasped; all the blue radiances forming a path toward the time gear had disappeared. The gear itself had been haphazardly dropped in front of the Charmander. It pulsed with unprecedented brightness, enough that Eoin was forced to shield grey eyes already covered by opaque goggles. Seeing such vivid imagery brought another realization to the Pallid; in exception to the time gear, only two other sources of light filled the room.

    Azelf, and Eoin. Every other pokemon was stuck in aura-less paralysis.

    Now you see. For Arceus's sake, Eoin, if you still plan on going along with that Bagon and Raichu's plan to remove the time gears, I'm not sure what else I can do.

    His face was fixed in shock. The pallids before him, while not from the dungeon of his origins, were his kin. They had lived, stared back with eyes so much like his own; Now, they were little more than clay soldiers guarding a charged gear. Eoin tried to scurry toward one, but was stopped by the same arm clamped onto his.

    I know it's awkward for both of us, but please keep holding my hand. Or don't, if you want to end up like them. Lending you my aura can get a little taxing.

    After feeling a surge of pain crawl up his chest from their grip loosening, Eoin complied. For a couple seconds, he stood in tentative silence, before adrenaline again shot up the Pallid's spine. Grey embers fell to the icy floor, born from recollection of an instance that had given the draining sensation so much familiarity.

    "The cave of my origins also had its time gear removed. Are...are my kin there—"

    Just as stiff? Ee-yup.

    A slight chuckle beamed into Eoin's mind.

    Gotta wonder if there's a lucario below that cave. What would they call it? The no-aura pokemon?

    Both pokemon could hear a pin drop underneath their mountainous surroundings.

    Apologies...too soon. But anyway, the pallids here and there don't have to be like this. A time gear only needs to be restored for it to go off of emergency mode.

    Azelf grabbed hold of the time gear, holding it in the direction just before it was originally taken. Perhaps it was simply from being the only other pokemon in the room truly living, but the Charmander could see a change in the lake guardian's expression. Eoin scarcely remembered Azelf looking toward the Pallid with anything other than in impassive glare. Now, however, there was a hint of a smile. He doubted the legendary had much chance for fraternizing after millenia spent protecting the time gear.

    My siblings have already abandoned their duty, Eoin. You and me, we're the last line of defense from the same thing happening across Faire. If the time gears are brought together...lets just say they have a habit of amplification.

    Just as the words finished beaming into Eoin's mind, Azelf eyes closed. The legendary's head drew to the floor, seconds passing as his expression grew fiercer by the second. Nothing had shifted inside of the mountain to justify such change; Eoin could only assume he was likewise stuck in contemplation.

    "Azelf, are you—"

    The Charmander keeled over. Reverberations of Azelf's voice echoed through his mind, more of a scream than anything.

    Don't you dare put that on me, you traitor! They trusted us. We were made with an express purpose. We had a duty, and you just...left.

    Once again, silence. The initial shock of the psychic scream ended, and Eoin was able to pick himself up. With no one else to turn to as target of the lake guardian's accusation, the Pallid could only return Azelf's aimless scowl.

    "Is that really how you think of me? Look around you. Thousands of creatures with the potential for a better life, denied so because of some preconceived notion that they be forced into a higher purpose. Doing nothing to try to fix it, you're no better than...than them."

    This isn't about you! Azelf blared, spatting the words into the recesses of Eoin's mind. Consider yourself lucky you don't have to deal with a voice in your head whenever you try to knock some sense into someone of our destiny. In fact, why don't you come out, brother? It's been long overdue that we settle this face to face.

    Immediately, a brief flash manifested before Eoin and Azelf. When the frost settled, the same remorseful stare between three red gems greeted him. The Pallid had long wondered where it stemmed from, and now he knew.

    "Greetings, Eoin. I'm sorry our reunion couldn't have been under better circumstances. It's not every day you sense a time gear being removed."

    The knowledge pokemon seemed the slightest bit different since their last meeting. A dark blue lei was wrapped around his neck, relative tackiness accompanied by a slight shift in Uxie's posture. Eoin couldn't put his claw on it, but the legendary seemed...looser. The piercing, blind stare that had been donned by Uxie ever since their first encounter had been abandoned, in favor of a melancholic grin.

    But that wasn't it, there was one more glaring difference in the lake guardian. After a moments contemplation, the answer ran clear through Eoin's eardrums. Uxie had only appeared seconds ago, but he had already done something the Pallid had long thought impossible.

    "You are...talking. How? Why?"

    Uxie's face brightened, in spite of the continued stares of his sibling. Another flash of light filled the room, replacing the knowledge pokemon before them with a Charmander. A second burst of illumination, and in the Charmander's place was an Espeon, before being exchanged for a Xatu. In all three transformations, Uxie's smile, as well as the lei around his neck remained.

    "Pokemon around Faire don't exactly take well to having words beamed into their minds, and you can't expand your horizon under an illusion of invisibility. Personally, this is my favorite form. In fact, does it seem a little familiar?"

    Eoin racked his thoughts. The Pallid rarely had the opportunity to see a Xatu on his journey, but a single instance ran clear through his mind. He chuckled; How had he not seen it sooner?

    "You were...the quiet librarian I met at the edge of Pith Town, the one I had to call toward because you were so enamored in a book."

    "An Unabridged History of Political Philosophy, Volume 3," Uxie replied, "a little too didactic for my taste, but after seeing it catch the attention of a certain grey Charmander, who was I to not give it a try?"

    Eoin's fire flared from its cover in recollection. A part of him had always wondered how Uxie had delivered the tools for his education from one side of Faire to the next. Still, even with such familiarity, the knowledge of how it was attained brought uneasiness. They had said goodbye weeks ago, but had they really? Hearing Uxie's telepathic call in comparison to what few words the Xatu had said, the latter was somewhat higher pitched. Less the expected call call of an omnipotent being of knowledge, and laden with stammers more along the lines of a pokemon not used to hearing their own voice.

    "Do you know how nice a ukulele sounds, Eoin?" Uxie continued. "You can't exactly learn how to play one sulking in a cave. The culture of these pokemon has been a tremendous experience to learn, all things considered...notwithstanding the hardships accompanying them."

    For a brief second, Uxie's smile dimmed, letting nostalgia between them fade into the chilling air. He turned to Azelf, arm still held tightly to the Pallids.

    "I...decided to take a page from Eoin's book, and give myself a name different from what the gods had proclaimed. Koios, that's what I call myself now. Would you consider taking up one, brother?"

    Azelf was unamused. With the grey charmander still holding his hand, he floated over to a similarly tinted scorbunny. Its face was frozen in shock. With no control over its own body, Azelf casually laid his other hand over its shoulder.

    Well, that is just fine and dandy! Did you hear that, Scorbunny? Uxi-oh, I'm sorry, Koios here just picked himself up a name. Doesn't that just make you want to jump up in joy? Oh, right...you can't.

    Azelf turned to Eoin, renewed willpower perceivable through the stream of aura flowing between their arms.

    No more avoiding the obvious. So long as 'Koios' here continues shirking his work, the pallids below his cave are stuck in a fate worse than death. Is that truly what you want?

    Eoin already knew the answer. In relinquishing the time gear, the Pallid was the sole survivor of Uxie's Cave. He turned to Koios, the hint of a scowl forming under inquisitiveness.

    "True enough. I need to know. All that paralysis, all that suffering, for what? For me? Whose redemption is this, mine, or yours?"

    There it was, the same solemn expression that had been their parting glance. Koios breathed a deep sigh, eyelids locked in perpetual stare towards the icy floor.

    "We've known each other for…a long time, Eoin. Well, in soul at least. I still remember the first day after Dialga instructed me with defending the flow of time. I was making my rounds around the gear, floating in a little circle. I glance around to the creatures I was told would provide the necessary aura, and lo and behold, a small, grey charmander was sitting in the corner, observing. Not quite understanding, but watching nonetheless."

    Eoin let out something between a chuckle and a snort . A part of the Charmander's brain couldn't deny such enduring familiarity, only it was the part that had wrestled for control of his body since the beginning.

    "Was it really me?" he asked. "Ever since I received your gift, my conscious has been...split. If it was not the same body, nor the same mind, how can we truly say that was the same pokemon?"

    "I have no doubt," Koios instantly replied, "when I dove into your mind, it wasn't my mission to divide it. I simply sped up a natural process, gave it the capacity to experience new knowledge and emotions. I'm sure you know that it can be an overwhelming experience. In hindsight, you'd probably be dead from mental overload if your mind hadn't made such a defense mechanism."

    Eoin wasn't sure if that was better or worse. On one hand, he could hope that the it wasn't permanent. With enough time, perhaps his conscious could adapt further, and not require going back to a mindset unfit for the world he imagined? On the other...

    The pallid let out a small, defeated sigh. "No more denying it then." He let his goggles fall around his neck. "Everything it has done, that it could do—I am responsible for, whether I like it or not."

    Eoin's eyes closed. Underneath blackness, the Pallid swore he could see himself, staring back with the same feral smile that had preceded it taking control. It was naive, brimming with simplicity, and for a brief second, Eoin questioned why he was returning it with a scowl.

    It cuts both ways, I suppose. You are a ceaseless aggression, but...only one of us will end up with blood on his claws.

    He huffed, halfheartedly kicking a chunk of ice across the floor. Azelf and Koios levitated in silence. They were, at the moment, blind to the Pallid's thoughts, but an understanding floated between them to let the Charmander have his moment.

    I really should hate you. You have been my enemy from the beginning, more keen on sinking their fangs into another than taking the time to improve yourself. But, in spite of all of it...I pity you, and envy, in a way. Bitterness, ambiguity, affection for reasons more than simple reproduction, you know none of it. You do not spend hours thinking and overthinking the path you must follow. For all of my life's joy, sooner or later it envelopes the conscious.

    It continued smiling. Arceus knew whether the Charmander staring back at him had gotten the message, but Eoin nonetheless paused. Memories played on repeat, bringing with them another realization.

    And, whenever I started to drown...you held your hand out. True, many instances your timing could have been better, but if Koios truly is correct, then...perhaps we can be more than adversaries.


    A familiar sensation surged up the back of Eoin's spine. It brought along the usual strain, but the discomfort was much less forceful than usual, almost as if being more of an offering than a demand. The Pallid grasped for the collection of stun seeds in his bag, but after a seconds glance at his double's expression, stayed his hand.

    Please, not now. I can handle it currently, and there is much work to be done.

    The Charmander in his conscious remained, as did the strain, but it did not advance as usual. Under Eoin's shut eyes, the Beast's expression remained neutral. Its feral eyes seemed almost...unconvinced. Eoin let out a deep sigh; if it had to be done—

    For my own health,
    I will stop fighting, I promise you that. You will have time in control, just under less...urgent circumstances. You have my word.

    To his surprise, the Charmander disappeared, taking with it the pressing against his conscious. After a few tentative seconds testing his bodies jurisdiction, the grey blaze on Eoin's tail subsided to an ember. He turned to the lake guardians, motioning to continue.

    "Oh, alright then," Koios said, clearing his throat, "for generations I served just as my brother did, floating alongside the grey, unthinking pokemon that attacked any who dared enter the mystery dungeon. My entire lifetime I thought nothing of it, until my wandering mind began to notice...changes."

    We did our duty, Azelf added, I still do. Time continued flowing, the pokemon of the outside world started gaining their sapience, and Dialga made sure that a time gear being taken wouldn't be the first step to catastrophe.

    "They weren't the only ones," Koios interjected. "The signs took thousands of years, and millions of resets to appear, but they became unignorable. A cubone polishing its club with the cavern walls even after its soul was put into a new body. A beedrill smearing its pincers with charcoal to make drawings on the walls. Or...the straw that broke the camerupt's back, a charmander walking away despite everything in its programing telling it to attack."

    Shut eyes stared toward Azelf.

    "You've been doing this just as long as I have, don't tell me you didn't also see the pallids changing."

    Of course I did, Azelf replied, breaking eye contact to stare towards the gear in his hand, but it was not our place to question or alter it. If the pallids did change, it was for a purpose. You were the one that left to go on your own selfish soul-searching, in the process condemning the creatures you supposedly care about. What justification could you possibly have for throwing away your time gear like a used candy wrapper?

    All eyes were on Koios. Azelf punctuated the statement by pointing his own gear towards the knowledge pokemon. His sibling's three gems fumed with every second of silence.

    "It was, pardon the wording, an eye opener, seeing the paragon of the pallid's development. Knowing they could fear, they could experience pain, they could question their decisions, I realized that it wasn't right. The gods couldn't have made these creatures only for them to be trapped for all eternity."

    How can you be sure? Azelf asked. Did you hear their intentions? Did you watch Arceus rubber stamp the form himself? Who's to say it wasn't their place, or that you haven't interfered in the god's plans?

    Azelf turned towards the cave's epicenter. With time gear in hand, he began levitating in its direction, only for his other hand to be tugged back down. He pivoted back, finding Eoin with his feet planted firmly to the floor.

    "I didn't leave simply for myself," Koios growled, "when I looked over memories of the first real visitors I had in decades, I thought...I hoped, that by transferring the time gear to them, they could find a way to fix the faulty system you seem so intent on defending."

    I thought Mespirit was the bleeding heart, Azelf huffed.

    Eoin glanced between them. Shards of psychic energy began forming around the two legendaries. In an instant, he turned toward Koios, just about to jump to his side when the energy dissipated. The Pallid breathed a sigh of relief, accompanying the silent nod between siblings. It seemed, both were content to let words damage where attacks couldn't.

    And how did that plan work out?


    "Better than the alternative," Koios replied, "with protecting the gear out of my hands, I was free to leave that undersea prison and implore Dialga to find another solution to the dilemma. I would have done it immediately, if not for...complications."


    The Pallid shuddered. In his infancy, taking care of a pokemon feral and completely new to the outside world must have been a full-time job. The grey stares from his surrounding kin grew ever heavier.

    "Why bother with me, then? With a cause as important is this, why take the time fretting over a pokemon who didn't even know how to use a toilet?"

    Koios and Eoin looked down in recollection, an impudent smile on one, met by a cringe from the other. Seeing the Pallid droop, and his face turn away in chagrin, Koisos approached. The legendary laid a hand on his shoulder.

    "Memories aside, the answers already been said. I knew what would happen when the time gear was removed. For a brief period after the two left, I accepted it, told myself that the pallids would have to lie in stagnation if I were to have the chance to make my claim. But...when you popped up on that isle, I-I thought of it as a chance to undo at least some of the harm I had caused."

    Levity fell to the floor. Eoin looked up, jumping at the moisture seeping through Koios's eyelids.

    "Lost, afraid, ignorant to what had become of the pokemon your soul had known for eons, y-you deserved better, all of you did. Unfortunately, my powers weren't strong enough to gift everyone. With so much time spent guarding, I let them fall into debility. But...if I could just save one."

    While the correlation was not immediate, guilt still crept up the Pallid's spine. Arceus knew he was thankful his gift, but the knowledge remained that his new life came at the expense of countless others.

    "So, that's it then," Eoin said, chuckling, "I...guess we both have much to atone for, a duty to absolve the incapacity our own existence has caused."

    Koios nodded, lifting up a hand to rub his eyelids. He turned to Azelf.

    "Haven't you ever thought about it? Traveling the world, finding your true purpose, raising a...a son? Does none of that sound appealing to you?"

    Eoin jumped, mouth suspended mid-breath. Analyzing Koios's studiousness in his growth over the past month, the realization dawned on him of the statement's true implications. The smile dawned by Koios whenever he brought the semi-sapient Charmander another book, the proud look it had given the creature once it had learned its first words, every memory came to the forefront. The Pallid had once thought Dialga was the closest thing he had to a father; locking eyes with the attentive legendary before him, he now knew that wasn't true.

    I know my place, Azelf replied, it's not for you to decide. I was made to protect the time gears, and uphold their decisions. By Arceus, I'll have the willpower to see it through.

    "But what if their decisions are outdated?" Koisos retorted. "That's why I came here. One lake guardian isn't enough to be considered worthy of their audience. If I—if we, are to change this broken system, we both have to have the will to ask questions."

    All eyes shifted to Azelf. With Koios's statement, dread crawled up Eoin's spine. The Pallid realized just how important the legendary before them was, and how difficult their mission became. If Dialga was as self-assured as he seemed, they'd in all likelihood need three guardians to jam their feet in the god's door.

    We...we all have a destiny. Since the dawn of time, they've kept the status quo; I doubt three of their washed up children would be able to convince them otherwise. I'm willing to let my destiny stay in this mountain; it's only right the pallids do the same.

    Eoin sighed; This was getting nowhere. Ironic as it may be, the source of the surrounding pokemon's locomotion was the very thing keeping them confined from the rest of the region. They needed some outside source, some extra variable to convince the faithful servant before them that its mission was folly. After a moment's recollection of his arrival, a smile crept up the Pallid's face. He had it.

    "From our actions or not, Azelf, you will not be able to keep the time gear here, anyway."

    He saw the legendary's incredulous scowl and matched it with a smirk.

    "You must know I did not come alone. What will you do about the representatives of the guild?"

    Oh, the half-dead band of two trekking through the mountain as we speak? Azelf asked, voice dripping with gloomy humor. I could restore the time gear right now, let the pallids they've passed tear them to shreds, but the threat of doing so will probably be enough to make them turn away.

    Eoin cursed. The willpower pokemon was correct in how perilous his companion's situation was, and he couldn't possibly bluff against a pokemon that could peer into his mind. Luckily, he didn't need to.

    "Whether they come back dead or alive, Azelf, the Girafarig knows where your time gear is now. If it's not the Bagon and Raichu, it will be another ten exploration teams. What will you do when that happens?"

    Azelf responded with a frown. Eoin felt the legendary peer into his conscious, only now, it was to his advantage. Assured of his honesty, Azelf's three gems dimmed.

    I saw in your memories the influence of the guild. If they invaded, I could hide, but...they'd have pokemon who could sense my aura. I could fight, but the tenth or hundredth team might have a chance of prevailing. To keep the time gear safe, my only option is to—

    "To flee," Koios continued, "during which these pallids would have their aura sucked out from the time gear's emergency mode anyway. Like it or not, you can't stay here. They'll hunt you down, like they would have done for me, whether those two come home empty-handed or in a casket."

    Silence overtook the mountain. Even without the psychic capabilities of the pokemon at his side, Eoin could see Azelf's mind spinning. The willpower pokemon's head lowered to the floor, during which seven stages of grief seemed to flash through his face. Sharp pain coursed through the Charmander's body and into his mind, stemming from the short arm that had been the only thing protecting him from the time gear's hunger. The migraine ended as soon as it appeared, punctuated by the three gems fading to a near non-existent radiance.

    Damn you, damn them too. We give the pokemon of this world a working system, and what do they do? They misuse it, repurpose the instruments of time for their own needs. I...I had a purpose. I knew what I was.

    "You still do, brother," Koios replied, holding his hand out, "I implore you, come with me and let us fix this. Heck, you can argue against me for all I care, but at least let us get through the front door."

    The lake guardians locked eyes, at least as well as they could with only one open pair. Eoin put a hand to his chin. He couldn't let them report the mission as a failure. If Eoin knew the Girafarig well enough, he'd flood the island with more exploration teams than there already was. The Pallid had plans, and such undue attention at such a critical point was something he didn't need.

    Well then, what do we do? Throw away our second used candy wrapper? You already know what'll happen if they're brought together, and that's not something any of us want.

    Eoin's fire blared. It was a risky venture, but at this point the Pallid doubted he had many options left.

    "I will do it, then. Give me the time gear."

    Even Koios's stare was the slightest bit incredulous.

    "Let me explain. If I posses the time gear, they will report the exploration as a success. After that, I only need to buy time. Once I show them...once they see why terror filled my heart, they will both know why they must not complete their mission."

    "Please," Koios continued, "it will be in good hands. The time gear is not being thrown away, just...repossessed. You're still fulfilling your duty, and as the guardians of these objects, it is in our best interest to make sure their use is as moral and efficient as can be."

    Azelf's expression was unchanging. He clutched the time gear close, looking between it and the grey Charmander that could only be described as partially sapient. In a way, Eoin could understand the legendary's apprehension. They both had a duty, were both honor bound to goals that couldn't help but contradict each other. He turned to Koios, finding that he had again reached out toward Azelf, expression solemn.

    "You're right about one thing, brother. I did abandon you. I left on a whim, and I can't imagine how much that has degraded my character. You have very little reason to follow me now, but I ask that you humor me one last time."

    Bits of rock and snow fell to the icy floor, alleviating the silence. It did little to dull the piercing, yellow eyes staring towards Koios's hand. For a brief second, Eoin expected the legendary to act on the red light fuming from its gems. To end their truce in a righteous last stand against the pokemon that sought to take it away. When Azelf's mouth opened, however, what left was not a Shadow Ball, but a long-winded sigh. Yellow eyes met eyelids, owner of the former chuckling softly.

    Do you...do you remember that stupid game we all used to play over telepathy to pass the time? How the decades fly; how long has the campaign been going for?

    Koios returned the sudden grin. Eoin could only shrug at the statement. He looked over between the crowd of pallids, finding an isolated corner of the room. Carved stone of varying shapes lined the ground. The most prominent one, an icosahedron, lay in the center. Carved on its utmost side was a small number one, sending a shiver up the Pallid's spine for reasons unknown.

    "I've lost track, honestly." Koios replied, holding a hand up to hide a snicker, "You always were the best arbiter of our trio. If I remember correctly, we left off in the middle of the dungeon after—"

    After both of your characters spent hours trying to solve the incredibly easy gems puzzle? 'Don't worry brother, you don't need to handhold us'. I was this close to just giving out a vision of the future that would tell you how to solve it.

    Eoin grinned. It was Koios's turn to cringe.

    "I-It...it seemed more complicated than it looked. And it's not like you're the perfect player. How many of your characters died from their stringent adherence to the laws? It got so bad that Mespirit and I started calling your alignment lawful stu—

    Point taken, though...those thieves got what was coming to them.

    Eoin's head tilted. What the two legendaries had said could barely be called cordial, and yet the smile between them had not faltered. It seemed, even with his gift, there was much to learn about civilized interaction. He continued looking toward Azelf. The willpower pokemon's eyes wandered, shifting between closed recollection and the mechanism of time in his hand.

    I guess, what I'm trying to say is... I miss the olden days. When you told me that you were leaving, I was angry, of course, but after a month without either of your psychic presence, I understand the reason for that nostalgia.

    Without another word. Azelf met the Pallid's hand, loosening his grip of the time gear. Silent gasps escaped both Koios and Eoin, quickly replaced with a melancholic smile.

    The mission was important. It still is, but it's not a journey that can be done alone.

    He turned to Koios, posture loosening ever so slightly.

    If you ask me, it's still a fool's bargain, and I'll make that known to the gods, but I suppose resolving this conflict personally is better than
    letting silence burn whatever bridges I have left.


    "Oh. I am...glad, brother," Koios replied, "this'll be better for both of us, I promise you that."

    Azelf's expression remained unchanged, but he nonetheless redirected his attention to Eoin. The gear was heavy in his hands, a sensation exacerbated by the willpower pokemon's glare. It was still a smile, through holding much more purpose than previous.

    The torch is yours to hold now. Keep it close to the chest; I don't think I need to remind you of the stakes at play.

    Eoin nodded. With tentative silence flooding the mountain, he turned toward the stairs. After his first step, however, he shifted back, finding his arm held firmly in place by Azelf. The smile had faded.

    One last tidbit, Eoin. It's a dangerous game you're playing. I'll go along with my brother on our mission, but from one guardian to another, focus on the pragmatic. You know as well as I that these aren't the only pallids that are confined. Help those that can still be helped.

    The Pallid dug his feet into the floor. His tail flared in resolution.

    "You said it yourself, we all have a role to play. You do your part, and I will do mine."

    Koios joined in. He had the appearance of the priest of a mountainous graveyard. Looking over the grey pokemon that surrounded, it appeared too accurate.

    "We've both seen your memories. Your path ahead, I can't deny its righteousness, but the facts remain. Upsetting the status quo… you'll be starting a war."

    Eoin turned away, re-donning his goggles. With Koios's eyes already closed, it was a pointless gesture. Embers fell to the floor as he returned the legendary's gaze.

    "You know that. Don't you?"

    He did. For a brief second, Eoin's eyes closed, and the imagery of a previous dreams flooded his thoughts. He shook his, forcing the blood from his claws as best he could.

    "If it has to be done, I go there proudly. Thank you again, Koios, for everything. We both have a mission greater than ourselves. It is too late in the gambit for doubt."

    Slowly, the knowledge pokemon nodded. Eoin again turned to the stairs, stopping only at a sight that drained the spirit from his soul more so than a time gear ever could. Two freezing and fading figures, brimming with familiarity, appearing as though they'd soon be climbing stairs owned by a higher power than Azelf.
     
  9. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Chapter 21: Friends, Come and Gone
    He had to be here.

    Sure, it wasn't her objective, not really, but a part of her had been looking forward to another meeting with the Bagon. Staring toward the vast expanse of mountain before her, a figure trudged through the snow, clad in a jagged, red cloak that shielded her quadrupedal body from the gushing frost.

    She had traveled too far, spent too long following the faint outline of an aircraft to miss it. There was a bone to pick, a promise to herself that she was more than just a failure at petty theft. In any other circumstance, the venture would be somewhat dull, just another step for clues in a never ending fight against time itself. However, as the faint, blue, outline of her target made itself clear in the distance, one thing was certain.

    The game was afoot.

    ---​

    Eoin couldn't decide who was closer to death, the surrounding pallids, or the two pokemon who had collapsed to the icy floor.

    Chimera was in front. A fair part of the Bagon's scales were covered in blood and a mishmash of bandages. The sight sent a shiver up Eoin's spine. He looked down to his claws, a couple blinks confirming they were still as clean as ever.

    Gazing back up, Chimera's right was reaching out, unmoving, and contorted in ways the Charmander didn't even know were possible. A curious glance from Eoin between his own flinches found that the Bagon's left leg was in a similar state.

    "W-What happened to you? I...I must tell you something first, there is pressing information that you must—"

    "For God's sake, Eoin," Chimera shouted, "that can wait! She's gonna die if you don't get your fiery butt here right now!"

    The Bagon dragged himself away, revealing the unconscious Raichu behind. Adrenaline shot up the Pallid's spine. She was lying face up on the ground, orange fur across her entire body frozen under a layer of condensed frost. Underneath the fur around her legs, Argon's skin had turned a pale white. For a brief second, Eoin stood dormant. The Pallid gazed toward her with mouth agape.

    "W-What? No...not her, anyone but her."

    The Charmander bolted across the room. A glance over his shoulder confirmed that Azelf was still holding his hand, expression likewise locked in terror.

    "What happened?" Eoin asked. "How did both of you get like...like this?"

    "A combination of bad luck, carelessness on my part, and a visit from one of this death dungeon's grey assholes," Chimera retorted, silently gasping with realization that they were surrounded by said aberrations, "now put that fire to use and help her! I know from experience how hot it can be."

    Eoin nodded. With not a moment's hesitation, he wrapped his body around the Raichu. Her skin was cold to the touch, and even with his natural body heat, the Charmander doubted that would be enough to bring her from death's door.

    "P-Please, don't die on me now, Argon. You reignited my flame, it is only right I return the favor."

    Eoin pulled away, cursing. After hours spent in confined to the inside of an icy mountain, his skin had cooled to preserve his inner flame. Azelf and Koios watched as the Charmander craned his neck down, and shot out a small stream of sooty ember over his entire body. A wince from Azelf confirmed that the Charmander's scales had absorbed the heat, and were now the temperature of a particularly fast-acting handwarmer. Content with his handiwork, Eoin returned the embrace. Pain surged up his conscious once the Legendary was forced to break their hold, but it quickly subsided after he felt the same hand on his back.

    "...Argon?" Chimera asked, eyes wide. "Are you awake? Can you understand what I'm saying?"

    No response. Argon's eyes remained closed, stuck in an expression both lizards could only describe as mortifyingly peaceful. Eoin stomped his feet to the floor. His tail flared over every passing moment as he continued the embrace.

    It could have been minutes, but for all either of them knew it might have been hours. Just as Eoin turned back from another reinvigoration of his body heat, the Raichu's eyes opened a smidge. As ironic as it might have seemed, her body started shivering from the extra warmth.

    "A-Alright, good...that's good," Chimera exclaimed, holding his arm in front of her eyes, "how many fingers am I holding up? And please don't say five, you can direct your complaints to whoever decided giving me cartoon hands was the best choice."

    Argon squinted. The appendage before her was just as blurry as the strange voice of its source. No less out of reach was the answer of where she was, and why she couldn't feel anything below the waist. Still, even in her vision's black borders and relative gaziness, the comforting warmth enveloping her was a welcome addition. She pulled in closer, wrapping the source of heat around her like a blanket. Eoin jumped at the gesture, but after a second's surprise he continued reciprocating.

    "D-Dad? I-Is that your voice?"

    Her head swerved, focusing itself on an empty point just past where the Bagon was lying. She rolled to her side. The ice against her back was less springy than what the Raichu expected.

    "Do I have to go? It's so warm here, c-can you just give me five more minutes?"

    Chimera sighed. He didn't know what hypothermic visions the cold was making her see, but he had a few ideas.

    "Sorry, I can't let that happen. You've gone through too much to spend the rest of your life here."

    "B-But...are you sure?" she moaned. "You know as well as I it's a lot easier staying here in my room than going to those stupid school parties. All...a-all that time learning how to dance, and in the end I always end up standing in the corner, waiting for a pokemon that'll never come."

    The Raichu's head lowered in resignation. Her eyes were closed, expression locked in the gaze Chimera recalled when their lives were being analyzed by a certain being of knowledge.

    "I-I..I sometimes wonder why you even bothered with me, Dad. You were Mom's everything. Y-You meant something to her, you made an impact on countless other pokemon's lives. And here I am, lying on my secluded corner of the earth, waiting."

    The Raichu's skin sent shivers up Eoin's spine, matching Chimera's own trepidation. It should have been a euphoric experience, getting to hold Argon like she had done to him, but the Charmander couldn't enjoy a second of it. She continued looking past both, centered on a phantom staring at her through the ice.

    "A-And what was I waiting for?" she asked. "Looking back, it's been my own fault. It's hypocritical to expect anybody to find meaning in you when you run away from every chance to reach out. Or at least make something better of yourself."

    Chimera waved a hand over his eyes, not sure if the tears were existing or recent. He slammed his arm against the floor, locking eyes with the grey Charmander embracing her.

    "Are you sure you're being careful?" the Bagon spat. "There won't be any electric types to treat her if you send her into shock."

    "As careful as I can be," Eoin retorted. "I understand your warning, the process must be...gradual, if she is to recover."

    Lizards and lake guardians continued gazing toward Argon. Her shivering had increased, and the whiteness under her legs was starting to lose some of its hue.

    "Dad?" she asked. "Who...who are you talking to?"

    She looked around. Her four surrounding inhabitants seemed lost on the Raichu. Instead, Argon's eyes fluctuated between her own paws, the room's icy walls, and the ghostly mirage before her. After a moment of foggy gears turning, shock enveloped her consciousness, before falling to resignation.

    "So, I evolved...can't say I expected that. I-Is this where I think it is? Don't tell me you've kicked the bucket too."

    "Wait," Chimera said, "you think you're—"

    The Bagon jumped up, realization hitting him in the face.

    "Uxie!" he yelled. "C-Can't you go into her mind or something? Make her stop seeing...that?"

    The knowledge pokemon frowned in empathy, but he shook his head.

    "It's a natural process, common during a near-death experience. I'd rather not risk tampering with her conscious. She's strong, though, I have no doubt her mind will work past the delirium."

    The Bagon growled. He crawled over from Argon's side, putting himself directly before her face.

    "Argon, listen to me. You're not dead, and this isn't heaven. I'm probably the best sign of that; you won't find a 'mon like me when he's six feet under anywhere but the other end."

    She had to blink a couple times in tentative silence, but eventually Argon nodded. In spite of this, her expression was the slightest bit incredulous, mind blanking toward the strange Bagon and Charmander who were so close.

    "I am unaware of the family you speak of," Eoin said, "but I can assure you your father is not the only one who has had an impact on another pokemon's life."

    "He's right," Chimera said, "you've been my guide and companion ever since I washed up on the other side of the ice. No need to wait for someone who you mean the world to, you've already found it."

    Slowly but surely, it started coming back. The Ninetales faded from existence, its spirit being replaced by memories of the pokemon that surrounded her. Most of the numbness encompassing her body dissipated, giving her hands some feeling of tactility. She turned to Chimera, then to the lake guardians, then to the Pallid embracing her. Rapid blinks finally removed the fog frozen over the Raichu's mind. Her eyes shot open.

    "W-Wait, I'm not...E-Eoin? You're grey, I thought you always dyed your scales."

    Relieved sighs shook the mountain stone, while Argon hid her inward cringe with a chuckle. She turned away from the Pallid, but for recovery's sake they kept the embrace. After a moment of silence, Eoin felt a paw reach around his neck, accompanied by a scratching sensation that filled both sides of his conscious with euphoria.

    "I-I'm sorry you all had to see that," Argon said, turning to Chimera with a beaming smile. "It's just...it was like my life flashed over when you were dragging me up the stairs. My early childhood, my family home, it all seemed so real, and after a while I guess my mind just couldn't tell what wasn't real anymore."

    "You had me worried there," Chimera said, returning the gesture, "but I knew you'd pull through. You're not a pokemon to take the easy way out."

    Arceus knew she appreciated the compliment, but it took all of Argon's willpower to keep from scoffing.

    "I... I hope that ends up being true."

    She turned to Eoin, separating from the Charmander for a brief second as she attempted to stand. Unfortunately, attempted was the key word. Surrounding smiles disintegrated, eyes watching as the Raichu's limbs refused her command.

    "Wait...oh god. Please, no. Don't tell me it's permanent." Chimera moaned.

    Argon grabbed her legs inquisitively, giving the frigid appendages a testing shake. With only a hint of tangibility going to her brain, she shrugged.

    "I-I'm not sure. It's like they're asleep, I guess it's one of the side effects of the cold. Oh well."

    Silence overtook the cavern. Argon glanced around to the various gloomy faces locked toward her. She could only hope her presence wouldn't continue being such a mood killer.

    "I should have been there for you," Eoin whimpered, "if I had been with both of you earlier, I might have been able to prevent this from happening. Now you could very well have to deal with this fear for the rest of your life."

    Azelf turned away. For perhaps the first time since their reunion, Koios could see guilt overtaking his face.

    I apologise. I was the architect of your team's separation; I never intended on something like this happening.

    Argon's only gestured nonchalantly. Befuddlement filled the room, but the Raichu's blank look prevailed.

    "No worries, I made my choice my coming here. Exploring, having a chance to make something out of my miserable life...it's a sacrifice I've got to accept. Besides, it kinda runs in the family, only right that I find a way to live with it."

    Her words did little to stop infectious guilt from enveloping the Bagon. She put her hand on Chimera's shoulder, his own expression revealing enough grief to rival the rest of the room.

    "This isn't on you, Chimera. I-I'm still not entirely sure if your comment about me finding a pokemon that I mean something to is accurate, but...just know that the feeling's mutual."

    As much as he nodded, Chimera had a hard time believing that. His aspiration had brought them there, and he doubted that boded well for being regarded as someone a pokemon could care about. Still, he knew enough about Argon to trust her judgement, and it was better to snip remorse in the bud before it could spread to others. The Bagon's tears subsided, while a toothy grin slowly made its way back onto Chimera's face.

    Silence doing little to belay anxious stares, Argon again looked down to her feet. After a moment's consideration, her gaze shifted, centered now on the oversized tail loosely dragging across the floor after being untied from her back. With little other means of locomotion, Argon placed herself under the yellow platform. Electric strain filled her mind as heavily as usual, but beggars couldn't be choosers. She turned to the others, letting out a hefty sigh.

    "I-I guess it's better late than never that I actually figure out how to do this consistently. S-Should we get going? We still have a glider to catch to get down the mountain."

    Chimera winced. He knew well enough how strenuous it must be being forced to rely on such a rarely used skill, but like his partner said, they really didn't have many better options. Resolution filled his conscious, a promise being made that the disability that had invaded Argon's legs would not be permanent.

    "We'll be able to teleport the three of you to the dungeon's border," Koios stated, "once you cross that threshold, Azelf shouldn't need to shield Eoin from the time gear any longer."

    Once that's completed, I guess we'll go to the god's doorstep and settle this once and for all. Best of luck.

    Settle what? Shielding? The Bagon's head tilted. Her turned to Eoin, eyes centered on the glowing blue gear poking out of the Charmander's bag.

    "Eoin, while we're here...what exactly are your intentions with that time gear?"

    "You can count your mission as a success," the Pallid replied, "I only ask you both accompany me on a mission of my own before you decide it is worth handing it over."

    A more complete answer could have made Chimera's frown slightly less challenging, but resolution fell between the two lizards that now wasn't the time or place. Three sets of eyes looked upon the lake guardians.

    "If that's settled, then I guess there's no time like the present. I'll be happy to put a couple dozen miles in between me and this ice cream flavored hellhole."

    You know what...you and me both.

    The three gems emblazoned on Koios and Azelf flared. Eoin gave on last glance to the entourage of grey statues populating the mountain. The Charmander's own fire flared in resolution.

    "Until we meet again," Eoin said, "with any luck, at least some of the damage done today will be healed."

    Light flashed over the trio's eyes, and hands placed themselves on their shoulders. Looking between Argon, the pallids, and his own differing brother, Koios couldn't help but agree.

    ---​

    Having left the borders of the mystery dungeon, Articuno had been kind enough to subside her chilling bite to a slight nibble. After hours spent wandering down from the mountain peak, Argon, Eoin, and Chimera had based themselves in a deep alcove bordering the frozen lake of their origins. The former of the trio lay tucked in the deepest end of the recess, resting and preserving body heat. The latter sat at the base, eyes drooping scanning for the return of the promised aircraft.

    "You just had to pick grass, didn't you?" Chimera grumbled. "Why? It's the game equivalent of paper, you should have known that. And now you're stuck with the first shift. Ugh…"

    He let out a deep sigh. Chimera rarely had any better luck when playing rock-paper-scissors, but he couldn't let the isolation cloud his thoughts. No use grumbling on some meaningless, petty crap. Not in a place so treacherous, and not with a partner in such a precarious state. Putting his own life on the line to make way for his destiny was child's play. Someone else's? Someone who had been his confidant from the beginning, that was another story. Chimera could only hope for some source of levity to break up the cruel combination of monotony and culpability.

    As the hours passed, his eyes began to wander. The cold at least numbed any pain not alrighty subsided from his paralyzed limbs, and any blood coagulated around them had washed off. If the Bagon looked closely through the howling wind, he could have sworn he saw the vague outline of someone darting to and fro in the distance.

    "Hey! Anyone out there? You won't last long if you're caught out here without any shelter!"

    No response. The figure darted off without a word; for all the Bagon knew, it could have been his own mind playing tricks on him.

    His boredom wouldn't last. After a couple minutes, a flash of light shot out from above. He shielded his eyes as a burst of red lightning shot out to the ground, with a booming crack to boot. He could only hope it didn't wake up the others.

    "Hark, thy present self! What is the date?"

    When the flash ended, and Chimera looked upon the pokemon before him, his head tilted. Against the dull snowdrift that coated both of their blue scales was a Salamence, donning bright red wings that dwarfed him in height. Overtop the Salamence's back lay a dark, jagged cape. It fluttered in the wind, shadowing an amalgamation of wood and steel mounted to its back that Chimera could only describe as an enormous ballista. The centerpiece of the Salamence's attire, however, lay atop its head, in the form of a jade-gemmed crown of solid gold.

    "W-What the hell. Who are you? As for the date, uh…"

    "Forsooth," the Salamence exclaimed, giving Chimera a miniscule wink, "I did not presume my blood would be so unaware of his fate. How could you not recognize your own anatomy?"

    Without a second of thought, Chimera hobbled towards the Salamence. He shot his good hand out, though it only went to the border of the strange dragon before being stopped by a skin-like surface. He yelped.

    "Sorry...force of habit."

    The test went against his initial theory, though it wouldn't be the first time he had been fooled. Its voice also wasn't what he expected, having a low tone he heard daily, yet was foreign to anyone else he knew. Chimera closed his eyes, and he began doing the math. It would take a little while to see if the timeline of such theory corroborated with the Salamence before him. Until then, he'd see where it went.

    "Ok then. Tell me, oh great traveler," Chimera exclaimed, jumping to his feet, "who are you, and why have you traveled so far to seek audience with pokemon such as us?"

    He winked back, curious if somewhere among the snow, another being was smiling just as much as he was.

    "The tapestry of mine may run longer, but our lives begun concurrently," the Salamence boasted. "I am the face that stares back at you the mirror, the shadow that follows you among the jungle brush, deny it all you want, Chimera, but I am—"

    "You," he finished, expression unmoving from deadpan smirk. "Or me, more specifically. From the future, I presume?"

    The Salamence nodded. It walked up to Chimera, holding its front leg in an unusually familiar gesture. His eyes squinted at the appendage; just how many pokemon on Faire knew? Nonetheless, light seemed to brighten under both, illuminating the scene with an aura ripe for drama.

    "Correct, comrade. As it was foretold, the forests have conspired against us! It will not be long before their limbs of destruction march on our estate, and destroy the great empire you will come to inherit."

    Chimera concealed a snicker. A voice in the back of his mind suggested that there was a smidge of veracity in the Salamence's words, but for now he was content to play the game. It had been a while since he had donned the role, nothing wrong with giving it a reprise.

    "Interesting, interesting," Chimera said, holding a hand to his chin, "and tell me, our great kingdom, you rule it well, correct? A fist of iron, and a willingness to do what needs to be done?"

    The Salamence gave a boastful laugh, motioning towards its ornate headgear.

    "How could I not? Unfortunately, those below us have orchestrated an uprising against our magnanility, and are marching against us as we speak."

    The Salamence's tone grew somber. Grim acceptance flushed over his grin, a contrast to the miniscule giggle the Bagon heard from its epicenter. In spite of this, Chimera had no doubt the role was being played well.

    "My presence here is unlingering, but before they separate my head from my body, I bring with you a warning. Keep—arghhh!"

    The Salamence keeled over, moans painful and lengthy. Over its chest for a thick layer of coagulating blood, as if its chest had been pierced by claws. For a brief second, Chimera's confidence wavered. For all his bravado, the Bagon couldn't imagine a fate worse than being cut down from greatness at the moment of triumph. He rushed down to the dying Salamence, playing his hands on its body. Again, the sensation of touching actual scales all too similar to his sent a shiver down his spine.

    "W-Wait, keep what? What do I have to do for it to not end like this?"

    The Salamence's mouth opened, only to let out another painful moan. Immediately, Chimera threw his bag to the floor. He was just about to start digging for what little medical supplies they had left, when its scowl twisted into a grin. Chuckles again sounded from inside the creature, tone soft and lighthearted.

    "Keep...keep what you value close to the chest."

    The Salamence disappeared. In its place was a familiar pokemon he was tempted to chastise. In hindsight, however, the swears Chimera muttered targeted only his own carelessness. A Zorua stood before him, holding out the Bagon's own golden badge in a gesture of repayment. A glance toward his own exploration bag corroborated that it had been swiped in his distraction.

    "Well...we meet again, Cerise. How'd that parole hearing work out?"

    The Zorua's face drooped. From Chimera's gesture, they both made their way to the edge of the alcove, providing a respite against adverse conditions. As he retrieved the badge held outward in Cerise's jaw, a shudder ran up her spine. He could only theorize that it wasn't from the cold.

    "F-Fine, thanks to you. I'm really sorry about...all that. I'm not petty enough to keep it, I just wanted to find some way to get you back, to prove that I wasn't a complete failure at my craft. But...it was pretty mean-spirited in hindsight."

    "Hey, you returned it, at least," Chimera said, meeting her melancholy with a grin, "consider us even. You really did have me fooled for a moment."

    She smiled back, shaking off the snow that had condensed around her red and black fur. Looking over the bag strapped to her body, Chimera spotted a thin square of grey scales. Likely taken from some material for sewing together bags, Cerise seemed prepared for his earlier method of dispelling illusions. With this in mind, the Bagon kept his bag close and a hand to his weapon. He'd be watching her closely.

    "Well, the games are still fun," Chimera said, "but I think we need to clear the air. Considering your current...reputation, I'm willing to bet my friends deeper inside this alcove would consider using the 'shoot first, ask questions later, policy'."

    Cerise nodded. Her grin fluctuated between smile and cringe at mention of reputation, but what remained was her intense analysis of the Bagon. A question seemed perpetually trapped on the tip of her tongue.

    "Y-Yeah, about that. I've stolen my fair sum of change, no use hiding that from you, but...it's all for a purpose. I promise I'm not doing it out of greed, or anything. When half of your life is spent raised under a tycoon and the other is with high level teams, you understand that they can afford to lose some pocket change here and there."

    Judging from the collection of instant noodles Chimera knew were stacked in the corner of their apartment, he'd beg to differ. However, knowledge of his team's circumstances painted them as the monetary exception. Under his scrutinous stare, the Zorua seemed genuine; she had already proven herself loyal to a fault.

    "And what exactly is that purpose?" he asked, expression neutral. "I've been around here long enough to know that it's quite literally uneconomical going into thievery for chump change. You'd make more money at the theatre. Arceus knows you'd be good at it."

    Cerise smirked back at the compliment. After a moment of her eyes drifting toward the endless abyss of snow before them, she mustered the courage to grin back. With the illusions gone, it was all she could do to show Chimera that the thought was mutual.

    "Well, you remember when I told you my plans for after I had 'liberated' that gold badge from you? The 'heist of a lifetime' at the guildhall?"

    Chimera nodded, a slight sense of nostalgia flowing between them. Monotonous as the old resource missions were, dramaturgy was a hell of a lot more fun than watching your partner nearly freeze to death.

    "Well, when I saw you hand over the time gear to my—the WFG executive, I knew I'd need one of your badges if I could swipe it from the guild hall. That's why I came here, actually, besides finding a way to repay that favor we agreed on."

    "Oh...that," Chimera said, twiddling with his fingers, "I-uh, haven't actually found something for that yet. I will soon, though. Don't worry."

    The Zorua seemed accepting enough. As useful a 'mon with her set of skills might be, debt was a cage in of itself. He knew all too well what its claws felt like.

    "After my first breath of fresh air in a month," she continued, "I went on a little walk, always liked watching those wood and canvas birds take off. When I saw the three of you boarding one heading for the east, I figured I finally had a lead on tracking down the other time gear, so I left."

    Chimera listened to the tale with interest, though his smile drooped with its conclusion. He'd already have to find a way to pry the gear out of Eoin's hands, the last thing the Bagon wanted was another player to complicate the chess board. He shuffled his weight, subconsciously playing himself between her and the path deeper into the cave.

    "And why, pray tell, are you looking for the time gears? Gonna sell them? Make them a nice paperweight?"

    "No," she retorted, "it's a...subject of interest for me."

    Cerise fumbled a large book out of her bag. In exception to the various playwright scripts copied, one of which Chimera recognized as being awfully familiar, the pages contained an amalgamation of chickenstratch notes and sketches. The pentagonal pattern of the time gear had been inscribed on one, while another contained a map with crude X's and lines connecting locations. On the page her paw stopped at, was a pixie-like pokemon with short wings and a roundhead curving into a single point. Due to its graphite nature, Chimera couldn't tell if it was supposed to be pink or green.

    "The clues are there, I tell you," Cerise said, eyes beaming, "time gears aren't my end goal, but all I need is a brief chance to study them. Once I can connect all the dots, they'll lead me to the true tree of life."

    Chimera studied the figure. With memories of another world flashing through his mind, it was familiar, as rearing to escape his tongue as whatever Cerise was holding in.

    "Damn, what was the name? You mean...Celebi? What does she have to do with this?"

    Her head drooped. Seeing this, an entourage of questions nearly escaped Chimera's mouth, but he stayed his tongue. The wind howled as both sat still in recollection. A shift in the snow covered the two in more of Articuno's blanket, and as such Chimera moved back to the deeper recesses of the cavern. Cerise didn't follow, however. Her gaze seemed eternally locked toward a single spot in the jungle canopy below.

    "Hey, you alright? I don't doubt the Dread Bandit Cerise can't take a little cold, but I've seen firsthand how much that stuff can mess you up."

    Cerise shook her head, call having snapped the Zorua out of her trance. Still, she remained, and with only a second's thought, Chimera wandered back to her side. A thin layer of snowdrift had condensed around her red and black fur. The Bagon held his arm out and, after a gesture of consent from Cerise, wiped the snow off of her fur.

    "Have you...have you ever had someone in your life you cared about that left too soon? That you didn't want to say goodbye to?"

    Chimera nodded. A faint Togetic seemed to wave to him through the mountain snow, but after a few tentative blinks it disappeared. All that was behind him, and he knew well enough that, just as before, it was only an illusion.

    "Of course. Who was yours?"

    The Zorua closed her eyes in concentration. After a brief flash of light, a Zoroark stood before them. It held a tender gaze, no doubt born from being seen through the eyes of youth.

    "Mom. After she kicked the bucket, Dad kept telling me it was time to move on, that I needed to carry on her legacy by following her dying wish."

    She let out a soft, bitter chuckle.

    "The two-faced bastard barely even talked to me after her death. After spending so much time absorbed in his 'grand purpose', I didn't expect him to be such a quitter."

    The gesture was somewhat awkward, but Chimera comforted the Zorua with his stubby arm as best he could.

    "I'm sorry, I didn't know. I mean...it's a horrible thing dealing with loss, but I suppose there are times were the best thing to do is accept it."

    "Please," Cerise retorted, "that's quitter talk, and I'm no quitter. If there really is no way to bring her back, then...I'll accept it, but the clues are there."

    She gestured back to the map, letting the Zoroark dissipate into the snow.

    "If there's one thing Dad taught me, it's that history and legends are more useful than you might think. Once I analyze the time gears, the dots will lead me to Celebi. If I can bargain with her to use her time traveling abilities, than I just might be able to give my mom the life she deserves."

    Her intentions were noble, Chimera couldn't deny that, but he feared the Zorua's end goal was more akin to his namesake. He just had an audience, short as it was, with the closest thing to the gods they could get. The Bagon could only hope Celebi ended up showing more philanthropy that what he had seen.

    Nonetheless, Chimera got up to his feet. The weather was picking up, and his shift was almost over. He beckoned Cerise inside, though as he looked over his shoulder, the Zorua was waving for his attention.

    "Yeah, what's up?"

    Her paws fiddled. If it wasn't so cold, Chimera could probably see the sweat coming off them. In Cerise's eyes was the same analytical stare that had been in the back of the Zorua's conscious. She glanced between him, the weapon at his side, and her own notebook, letting out a tentative sigh.

    "I-If you don't mind, I wanted to ask you something. I've kinda had a lot of time to think about this, so I guess there's no better moment than now. A-Are you a—"

    "Yes," he deadpanned.

    "But how could—"

    "I'm honestly not sure either," Chimera responded, "but I'm living with it. I'm more curious how you were able to find out."

    Cerise sat for three seconds in blank contemplation, before the reality of the situation hit her. Her face lit up, and without a second's thought she pounced forward, tacking Chimera into the snow. The Bagon was lucky enough to not land on one of his bad limbs, and as such he didn't attempt to resist. He did keep a close hand on his valuables though; best to start taking the Zorua's advice early. Cerise analyzed the Bagon closely, no doubt contemplating what the creature before her had looked like in times past.

    "You're not lying, are you? Please tell me you aren't lying."

    "Would I have a reason to?" Chimera responded. "When was the last time I lied to you?"

    After some contemplation, Cerise conceded that point. A smile flourished between them. She retreated from overtop the Bagon, and after he had gotten up raised a paw up to shake his hand.

    "S-Sorry about the rashness, probably shouldn't have pounced on someone with a broken arm. But my parents told me so much about your kind! Your culture, your art, meeting one in person… this must have been what that Grovyle felt like."

    Chimera returned the gesture, though he couldn't fully embrace the Zorua's enthusiasm.

    "Well, the admiration is mutual, I guess. I've had a hell of a better time here than the human world."

    Cerise's smile dampened a slight bit, but remained. After another gust of wind nearly sent both hurtling towards the floor, they made their way back through the cave. With biting wind obstructed, and both free to look at the icicles refracting outside sun, Chimera could think of worse ways for his watch to go.

    "Fair warning," he said, turning to Cerise, "if you're gonna be joining our merry band, at least temporarily, make sure you're perfectly honest with the Raichu and Charmander."

    "'Course," she replied, "I'm going down the straight and narrow now, no need to steal if I don't have a reason."

    Chimera nodded, but made a mental note to keep track of her movements. Eoin still had the time gear, and as much as he put his faith in the would-be thief, it would be better to play it safe.

    "Oh, and one other thing," he added, "that Charmander, he's got a...condition. Long story short, he's an intelligent Pallid, but his mind has a habit of occasionally reverting back to a feral. I also haven't exactly given the best first impression. Our initial meeting was...confrontational. If he ends up reverting, be prepared for—"

    They rounded the corner. As expected, Argon was lying with her back against the icy wall, Eoin sat on all fours to the floor in a posture both knew well. Their tranquility, however, ended in an instant as the two appeared. The Pallid jumped up. Its dilated, grey pupils shifted in terror between the familiar Bagon before them, and a metallic, blue radiance that stemmed from his exploration bag.

    Fear invaded its conscious. Argon attempted to hold the Charmander back, but with a remorseful look in its feral eyes, it turned away and charged. The flame on the Beast's tail flared, determined to protect the purpose of its creation from the sudden intruder.
     
  10. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Heya, I figured I'd drop by and let you know that I read the Prologue and Chapter 1 a few weeks ago, but I never really got a chance to review until now ^^;

    So, normally I'm bit averse to the PMD trope of showing the human in their life before they get sucked into the Pokemon world, but I think it works here. For starters, you set up a really strong atmosphere and the depression comes through in a way that shapes how the reader feels about the main character, in a way that you wouldn't get otherwise. So good job on that.

    One criticism that I have is that the description can sometimes feel a bit... overwritten? Not when establishing the tone/setting (as I mentioned above, you're pretty good at that) but when having characters do things, actually. It's like the stage directions are dragged out in such a way that even simple actions sometimes take 2-3 sentences to happen, and the narration tends spend a lot of time elaborating on the meaning behind what happened. I know both our protagonists are pretty contemplative people with a lot of hesitation, but it's okay to sometimes leave that up to the reader. ;) I know you're quite a few chapters ahead in the story and you just finished some revisions, so no need to go back and change things for my sake, just something to think about moving forward~

    ~Chibi~
     
  11. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Chapter 22: Reconciliation
    Author's Note: Hey All! Apologies for the long delay. I've been getting a little sidetracked with other writing ventures lately, but with any luck I should be able to get back to a relatively consistent update schedule. Thanks for reading, and without further ado, here is the chapter.

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    All they could do now was wait.

    Argon saw the disappointment in her partner's eyes at having lost their game, but he staggered out of the icy cave for his first watch nonetheless. Sitting at the cavernous entrance for their promised extraction would no doubt be a boring venture, but with any luck the Bagon would be able to find solace in this respite. Arceus knew she needed it. Light refracted off the ceiling and against the wall, illuminating their insulated alcove in a vibrant blue hue.

    "He saved my life," Argon said, voice refracting against the low ceiling, "i-in more ways than one."

    Eoin couldn't help but nod. In spite of their differences, of their butting heads, they had only known each other for days. No use making a lifetime feud over something so petty in hindsight. Eoin hoped the best for the Bagon on his watch. He was flawed; he went about with a philosophy contrasting to his own. However, as the Pallid gazed down to his own thankfully clean claws, a resolution filled his mind that only burying the hatchet would keep them unbloodied. Eoin already had enough enemies, no use in making one more.

    That left the two of them. Argon stood with Eoin near the end of their terrestrial shelter. With her legs still unresponsive, she sat on her own levitating tail. Such a method of locomotion worked well, but had an obvious effect on her concentration. Electrons stressed through her body, being denied the method of grounding her tail once provided. As such, the Raichu's expression remained perturbed, as if she was being perpetually asked to solve a complex calculus question. That, however, wasn't what had the grey Charmander worried.

    "...You're shivering," Eoin blurted, an inward cringe lamenting his own bluntness.

    "Well, not anymore than you," Argon replied. "Are you doing alright? I-uh...bet that it took a lot out of you warming me up."

    The Charmander shook his head, but his body betrayed him. As insulated as the cave was, his fire had diminished, and in his recent reversion the Pallid had discarded the thick, wool coat currently donned by the Raichu. With a sigh of relief, Argon sat herself against the back wall of the alcove. After a second's hesitation, she lifted the makeshift blanket in offering, gesturing Eoin forward. The Pallid stood with mouth agape.

    "Oh, are you sure that is alright? I am in good condition, I would rather not intrude any boundaries that you—"

    "I-It's fine, Eoin," she replied, giving a slight chuckle toward herself. "For all my babbling back there, this whole experience has made me realize something. Life's a short thing; I've already spent a fair amount of it being quiet and standoffish...no time like the present to try something new."

    It was a pragmatic gesture, of course. Eoin doubted the Raichu wanted either of them succumbing to hypothermia, but the ember inside the Charmander's chest began to flicker. He couldn't put his claw on it, but from a clinical analysis, Argon and the strange sensation appeared to be intertwined variables. He joined her against the wall. The wool coat made a welcome shield against the cold air, though its singular size required certain accommodations to maximize warmth.

    As anxious contentment filled both, Eoin's gaze shifted to the pale, white legs of the pokemon at his side, nearly matching his own in hue. Had the same become himself, the Pallid figured both sides of his conscious would be stricken with terror. And yet, her closed eyes appeared to tell the story of a pokemon without a care in the world.

    "Your legs," he uttered, "you have met a terrible fate. Showing such...acceptance, as you sure you are alright?"

    "O-Of course," Argon replied, turning away the slightest degree, "it's not that bad...really. I'm sure stuff like this happens all the time to members of the guild. It's just something I gotta get over."

    A break in her voice near the end contradicted the Raichu's stoicism. Eoin could see that Argon was lost in thought. She again shook her limbs, their numbness a stark reminder of the divine intervention that wouldn't come. Shivers ran up her spine, turning her sigh into a chitter.

    "I'm an explorer," she deadpanned, "was always meant to be. A-And explorers...they're strong. They hold up a smile, even when things don't always work out for the best. I won't get anywhere feeling sorry for myself."

    Eoin frowned. He knew the expression dawned on Argon's face well, many a time he had seen it staring back at him in the mirror; the face of a pokemon lying to themselves wasn't the hardest thing to spot. He laid a hand on her back. After sensing no flinch of disapproval, it remained.

    "That may be true, but even pokemon with the strongest armor must give themselves a respite. Are you truly unperturbed by this, or are you words simply for my sake?"

    She lifted a paw, wiping away some snot from her nose. The Charmander's hand was a comforting presence, but Argon still found herself shirking away from his gaze. Where was the Raichu from the dancefloor? The confident, open, pokemon that wasn't making a fool of herself? The one whose legs could carry her across the floor as though she was floating through air? The same paw lifted to rub her eyes. That Raichu was gone, cutoff below the waist.

    "Please, say the word and I will drop the subject," Eoin continued, "but denial is a blight. I would know. It builds up, enveloping your conscious until reality crashes you down to earth. My heart would mourn were the same to happen to you."

    A small nod was her only response. Icy numbness had infected more than her limbs, but the Charmander's words were a thawing light in the cold. She was surrounded by friends, and of the two pokemon that had followed her up the mountain, Argon doubted there were any better to let her heart out to.

    "F-Fine. I guess...I'm afraid."

    A slight shock from Argon's fur woke the Pallid, but he kept the hold nonetheless.

    "What am I going to do?" she asked. "I-If they even let me keep my job, no running, no evening walks even. M-My Dad had to relearn how to use the bathroom, for Arceus's sake! Our apartment's on the third floor. I can barely raise a small stone with my mind, there's no way I can consistently lift myself all the way up there."

    Eoin listened, holding his tail flame up to offer what little warmth he could. Seeing the downtrodden posture and quivering breaths of Argon was like a gust against his flame. The Pallid's eyes shot open as a single word lingered in his conscious, bringing new light to the Raichu's predicament.

    Dad?

    "I...do not have any easy answers," Eoin replied, "but in the words of a pokemon who brought me up from one of my darkest moments, I'll try my best to help you, assist you in becoming the pokemon you choose to be."

    "I am sure there are ways to adapt," he continued. "In my brief time in town I have come across a couple psychic trainers. What if we were to go there? Perhaps you hold more potential than you think?"

    Argon gave a short nod, tears giving a brief respite. Like it or not, she would have to learn, and there were always friends along the way to light the path. She turned to Eoin, eyes beaming as much appreciation as they could muster.

    "How do you do it?" she asked. "T-Those things you told me, seeing all the pallids freeze up, finding out that you were basically made to be a battery; how do you keep a straight face enough face to comfort my crying butt after all that?"

    Eoin froze at the question, matching Argon's inceduility. Looking back, it had all happened so fast. Actually having enough time to think seemed like a double edged sword.

    "I am not sure. After I saw both of you coming up the stairs, I—"

    Fleeting memories returned. Motionless, grey faces peered into his conscious. He gestured to cover his ears, but that didn't make the accusations any less loud. His smile faded, leaving only stark hollowness.

    "Their terrible fate was my doing, just like yours is now. I...I brought you on this venture, yet you still hold me in high regard. Arceus above, I doubt I deserve such companionship."

    His head lowered, Argon taking up the Pallid's former reassuring glance. In spite of the circumstances, the Raichu held a smile. Condensation left her mouth with a bitter chuckle, eyes closed and looking inward.

    "Like I said, this isn't on you. I-It's funny in a way, though, isn't it? I guess we both think we let each other down."

    "What do you mean?" Eoin asked.

    The Raichu needed a moment to parse that, herself. She leaned her head against the wall, letting the static from her cheeks flow into the wall behind. The chuckling stopped, replaced by a soreful snort.

    "It's just, you're blaming yourself for me being like this. I'm blaming myself for you feeling like crap because of me. T-This can't be good for either of us. Would you mind if you and I could just...put this behind us? Call it even? I don't blame you for a second."

    After a second's hesitation, Eoin nodded. For what counselling he had offered, the Pallid had forgoed heeding his own advice. The two of them had a long journey ahead, but looking toward the Raichu at his side, a resolution fell between both that there was less to be afraid of than they thought.

    "You know," Eoin said, stifling a snicker, "right before I went up to you during the party, I must have practiced my introduction in front of a mirror two dozen times. Could never get it right. Too many stutters, a smile that was more awkward than inviting... my greatest fear was that you would pick up on my underdeveloped mind's ignorance."

    "Y-You could have fooled me," Argon said, head tilting, "you've shown more confidence in one month than I have in a lifetime. I admire that. I really do."

    Something seemed to shift between the two. Alone, letting everything out with no pressing goal or need for survival, they finally had room to breath. In the chilling silence, both realized just how close each other's breaths were.

    "I still question why, but know the feeling is mutual. My mind...it is as untried as a child's, though my body is not. I required a defense against my own inexperience. Do you know how confusing it is first seeing a pokemon trade perfectly good food for a metal disk?"

    "But you learned," Argon replied, "you're a leader, aren't you? There are pokemon that put their faith in you, that's gotta mean you're on the right path."

    Eoin gestured in concession, but pushed away thoughts of what lie ahead. She would know, they both would, but now was the time for rest. His chest was still fluttering, tail flame still dancing from the strange, sweet sensation that jumbled his thoughts more than the concept of currency ever would. He looked around, grey eyes scanning for the malicious source that had muddled what seemed right and wrong. It was soft, euphoric, and terrifyingly close.

    "I now understand that concept. There is...another, whose navigation continues to elude me. So many interactions, so many tonalities I have yet to learn. I confess, many times I took to the written word, in an attempt to parse exactly how I should be acting."

    The word was unsaid, and a part of the Raichu's mind debated whether it should stay that way. In her very brief time amongst the Charmander, there was no doubt in her mind she appreciated his presence, in one form or another. Still, how long had Argon known the Pallid? Two days? Three, if she stretched it? There was only one other being in the alcove who could match Eoin's inexperience, and she knew well enough the perils of unpractised pairs rushing through mystery dungeons. Nevertheless, excessive hesitation was its own extreme; there couldn't be too much harm in testing the waters.

    "I-If you don't mind me asking, what sort of books did you read?"

    Eoin cringed. He expected the question, but that did not make it any less revealing.

    "Make no mistake, it is nowhere near my most read subject, but if I remember correctly, the last novel I read was titled… More Than Using 'Attract': A Luvdisc's Guide to Understanding Intimate Relation, Second Edition."

    Argon's hold around the Charmander loosened as she felt him dig his back into the icy wall. A different kind of fear pervaded his expression, one that made him feel smaller by the second. She knew it well. It spread to her own smile, mixing in with a self-deprecating chuckle; misery loved company.

    "P-Please do not misinterpret, my mind was clueless to the finer parts of social interaction, and it appeared like a useful resource to—"

    "The one with that really gushy short story in the middle?" she interjected, "with the stoic snivy and energetic fennekin?"

    Eoin jumped, blubbering put to a temporary halt.

    "Yes...the very same. How did you—"

    Argon's pensive grin clicked it all into place. He stared toward her, a second incredulous, than another reciprocating the gesture.

    "L-Let's just say you're not the only clueless 'mon with a bleeding heart and a bad habit of staying inside."

    Silence filled the cavern. There was so much about the other they didn't know, and so little time. Eoin slapped his forehead. What was the proper thing to do now? Stay silent? Vomit out all the muddled thoughts in his conscious? Recite a sappy line from the book? By Arceus, he couldn't even remember any.

    "Eoin, a-are you alright? You seem...tense."

    The Pallid jumped. Adrenaline coursed through his spine. She was watching, she had to be. Expectations were put upon him, and he was failing every single one. And yet, looking into the Raichu's eyes, Eoin found little judgement. Her paws fidgeted. Her smile so endearing and yet fragile enough that a soft breeze could knock over her posture.

    There couldn't be any harm in waiting, could there? There was still planning to be done once they got off this icy hellhole. Once the dark business had been dealt with, once they had lived through the perilous danger of it all and the Pallid could finally settle down into a life not plagued by the horrors of injustice.

    But what if you don't?

    Eoin grunted in realization. The foe they faced, the resources they could muster, it was nothing to sneeze at. Even if by some stroke of the gods his plan managed to succeed, there was no guarantee he'd live through it. And what then? Every second spent wondering, every moment guessing and second guessing himself, what would it be worth? He already knew the answer.

    "Nothing."

    A paw made its way around the back of his neck. Eoin's head turned, just in time to meet Argon's. Brief sparks emanated from her cheeks, lighting up their dark confines in ways that the Charmander's own grey flame couldn't. In spite of nervous breaths and hesitant blinks, her expression conveyed what understanding it could.

    "I-I'm here for you, Eoin, just like you were there for me. Is there something bothering you? You look like you have something to say."

    Eoin's tale flickered. His mouth opened, letting out a brief ember, but little else. Grey eyes closed in resolution. There was no time left for hesitation. She was waiting for something, she had to be! With every second of silence, the Pallid knew he was making a fool out of himself. Objections raised into his conscious, but they fell on deaf ears. With a mind so clouded in ignorance, he wasn't about to let this opportunity go to waste.

    He kissed her. Eoin's face shot forward, nearly knocking the Raichu off balance as he placed his hands around her cheeks. Shock reverberated through both. Argon's eyes shot open, staying that way for several seconds before lulling into their normal posture. A yelp escaped her closed mouth, tone conveying the confusion that ran between them.

    Shivers ran up Eoin's spine. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. The moment dragged on like eons, Argon's lips terrifyingly unmoving. This wasn't like the books at all. Or perhaps it was, and the Pallid had been too much of a fool to heed their warning. The Charmander trembled. Had his callow mind really deluded itself into thinking that such a rash, unconsented, gesture wouldn't ruin what little friendship he had been lucky enough to establish?

    He laid his hand from her cheeks, letting them fall to the floor. The Pallid was just about to break their hold and let loose a stream of apologies when something changed. It was tentative, as unsure as his own quivering flame, but Argon pushed back, lips conforming to match the Charmander's.

    It was Eoin's turn for his eyes to shoot open. A part of the Charmander hadn't expected to get this far. Not a word needed to be said in between blue and grey irises to affirm that both were equally bewildered. It truly was nothing like his research suggested, but that was no surprise; the Pallid always seemed to be lacking in practical experience.

    For a couple more long seconds they kept the embrace. Their heads tilted to and fro, resorting to experimentation in lieu of either knowing how foreign maws were intended to fit. The occasional sparks that zapped Eoin's tongue were an annoyance, but he ignored them as well as Argon ignored the cinders that stung her own mouth. Once adrenaline had lulled, Argon slowly raised a paw to Eoin's chest, pressing the two of them apart as gently as she could manage. Eoin took the gesture well. As relieving as the kiss was, his rashness had already cost him, and pushing her was the last thing he wanted. Their backs returned to the icy wall, crackling of a gray flame entirely insufficient to break up resulting silence.

    "I...I-uh—"

    His mouth retreated shut. Argon similarly attempted forming a cognizant sentence, but found that the air in her throat had already been sucked away. There was so much to say, and yet no way to say it. The feeling of lightness in their chests hadn't faded, as enduring as the ever present question of what to do once the Bagon returned, and life went on. After more than a few moments of silence, both pokemon turned to each other, air finally returning to their lungs.

    "I should not have done that," Eoin whimpered, "I did not consider your feelings, nor the possibility that you would not approve. It will not happen again."

    "N-No," Argon replied, hastily reaching a paw to the back of her neck, "I mean, I would have prefered it if you had asked first, but I understand. I enjoyed it, it was just very...sudden, is how I'd put it."

    Eoin sighed in relief. The Raichu was forgiving, more so than he likely deserved, and he couldn't stomach the possibility of his own actions making any of their future interactions irreparably awkward. In a way, however, the most difficult part still lay before them.

    "Thank you, so much. I-I...I like you, Argon. You have introduced me to a world I could never have imagined, and your presence has made my life all the more brighter."

    The Raichu shirked back, before returning Eoin's smile as best she could. A quiet Pichu cowering under her blanket would have likely killed for a moment like this, and yet there were still nagging questions that interspersed her tranquil euphoria.

    "And I like you too, Eoin, if my shy butt hasn't already given that away. I probably wouldn't even be here right now if I hadn't met you below that cave. I'd be glad to start something if you'd want the same, but this whole thing is moving a little...fast, wouldn't you say?"

    Eoin begrudgingly agreed. It was the price he paid for the mission, a precarious balancing act that the Pallid now realized he had to play.

    "P-Please don't take this the wrong way, but you're still kinda a mystery to me. Your hobbies, beliefs, even what that group you're leading is all about. We still have a lot to learn about each other, no need to rush through it."

    Of course. Argon was more than likely warranted in her concern, and the Pallid's discreteness had no doubt cost him. Still, they were alone; no time like the present to start rectifying that.

    "True, true...someday, once we get down from here, and I show you the reason for our cause, would you care for us to go on a night out?" Eoin replied, flashing the best smile he could. "Watch the stars, go out to eat? Apparently many aspiring couples find those to be prudent activities."

    The Raich's expression was likely the brightest he'd seen since the start of their perilous quest. Her posture loosened, grin all too like his own beaming back.

    "Nothing would make me happier."

    Euphoria flooded Eoin's conscious, only to be struck down by a familiar pressing sensation. The Pallid grunted in realization. The usual pain was still absent, but it was much heavier than inside the mountain, and it didn't take him much thought to understand why. His eyes began to taper, grey scales trembling and fire flushing like a bunsen burner.

    "A-Are you alright?" Argon asked, likewise frozen from again seeing the process. "It's happening again, isn't it?"

    Eoin slowly nodded.

    "I made a promise, and I am a 'mon of my word, even when it is to myself. I concede that the past few moments have been...overwhelming, I suppose it is only right that it happens now. That leaves only one problem."

    Faint footsteps echoed out through the cavernous ceilings. Argon cursed. The Bagon's shift was done, but his timing couldn't have been worse. She turned to Eoin, thankful to see that the Pallid hadn't devolved into his other persona just yet.

    "I-I guess...no better time than now to get you used to being around other pokemon. We would've run out of stun seeds sooner or later."

    "Indeed," Eoin replied, casting a nervous glance to the blue radiance emanating from his own satchel, "I take it the Beast has not had the opportunity to reconcile with Chimera as I have. I recall the anger...the fear well. The two of you will need to be cautious."

    The footsteps grew louder. With a hefty sigh, Argon put on her best smile. Like Eoin had said, the pokemon walking down the alcove certainly had a rougher introduction with the Pallid than her, but with caution, and some pre-established trust, perhaps this would be an opportunity, rather than a curse?

    Eoin's hand shot to his forehead. His growls turned to chitters, a shared glance between Charmander and Raichu confirming that the inevitable was upon them.

    "I prefer to think I have become a forgiving pokemon, but make no mistake, Beast, if you so much as lay a claw on that Raichu...for the safety of all, I will seal both our fates."

    "Eoin, I'm I-I'm not sure that's the—"

    Her objections fell on feral ears. The footsteps around the icy corner reached their apogee, but in their frequency a realization dawned on Argon. It...wasn't just one. Who else had the time or reasoning to mount an expedition to this gods-forsaken mountain?

    The answer came soon enough. Her partner hobbled through first, accompanied by a Zorua barely recognizable in her brief recollection of the past month. What did he say her name was? Cera? Czarise? It didn't matter now. The Raichu knew who she was, and what the Zorua had attempted. Unfortunately, that wasn't the worst of their problem.

    "If he ends up reverting, be prepared for—"

    Argon lurched over, placing her hand on the Pallid's neck. After a few tentative blinks of its dilated pupils, it looked around, centering its vision on the Raichu with an appreciative smile. The peace that had undertook its expression in the broom closet, however, was absent. It looked down, uttering a startled growl at the glowing blue gear shining through its own pack. Another second, and its vision shifted to Chimera.

    "Eoin," Argon uttered, "i-if you're still in there, you can trust us, all of us. Please...don't do anything rash."

    The Charmander trembled in Chimera's passive glare. Its head shifted between Argon, Chimera, and the time gear in its possession, calculations of what to do short circuiting any action into suspension. The Bagon's hands raised. He looked over to Cerise, finding that the Zorua had already bared her claws. A miniscule nudge from her toward Chimera suggested a preemptive strike, but she followed his inaction.

    "I'm not going to hurt you," Chimera said, "at least, not unless you force me to. Hell, I'm torn to **** and got two broken limbs. I'm not about to start a fight I can't finish."

    The Pallid was unconvinced. It sat boxed in, a comforting presence on one side holding its hand, two potential threats on the other. And at its side, glowing vibrant blue, the sole purpose of creation, the artifact that millennia-long instincts had ingrained into the Beast to protect at all costs. The aggressively stanced Zorua was an outlier, but it knew the Bagon well, knew his goal, and knew the potential for pain it held within it. The Charmander cast one last glance to Argon, speaking to her as best it could in a soft growl, before snapping her hand away.

    It charged. Chimera's hand lowered to his crossbow, but his other shot in front of Cerise, waving away the small ball of dark energy the Zorua had began to charge. Argon attempted to follow, but cursed as her legs proved continuously uncooperative. Grey cinders fell from the Pallid's mouth as it tackled the Bagon to the floor. His hands raised, expecting it to mount him and unleash either a barrage of claws or flames, but no such thing happened. Instead, it continued running, giving one last glance to Argon as it made a beeline for the alcove exit.

    "D-Dammit," Chimera groaned, "we have to stop him!"

    Cerise nodded. Her eyes closed, and the exit just three feet before the Pallid was enveloped in light. A second later, no exit existed, replaced by a wall of solid ice. The Charmander growled, head cocking in confusion.

    "I don't know the full story behind your friend here, or why he's got an Arceus-forsaken time gear," Cerise said, "but I've...I've seen what these things can do. My advice? Take it down before it hurts anyone else."

    The Pallids head was on a swivel. Its tail blared, a stream of flames streaking across the icy floor between itself and the three others. Another tentative step forward from Chimera brought another warning shot, before its head turned back to the wall. After a moment's consideration attempting to comprehend the new development, it bolted to the wall, expecting either a burst of blunt trauma, or escape.

    "Wait!" Argon shouted. "Don't—"

    Its body made contact with the false wall, destroying it in another burst of light. Free, feeling the chilling air against its scales, and more than a little confused, the Pallid ran, intent on putting as much distance as possible between itself and the two unknowns.

    Cerise slammed her paw to the floor. Chimera made a similar movement, glancing between Raichu and Zorua for a call to action.

    "We have to go after him."

    "O-Of course," Argon replied, "I should be the one to go, I'm pretty sure he'll be the calmest around me."

    Her gaze drew to Cerise, narrowed eyes shifting between her and the Charmander getting progressively smaller in the snowy outline. The Raichu's mouth opened to raise questions and objections to the Zorua's presence, but given the circumstances, all three concluded that getting the Charmander and time gear back took precedence.

    "I'm not sure that's possible," Chimera replied, gaze lowering to the white-tinted legs of his partner, "you're a lot less likely to piss him off, but you can't run. I should be the one to do it."

    "I'm...not sure you can run either," Cerise said, gesturing toward the Bagon's own broken leg.

    Chimera sighed. He turned toward the Charmander, using the limb for support as he ambled through the snow. A grunt of pain followed every other step, but the Bagon persisted.

    "No," he said, glancing back at Argon, "but I can walk, and there's a lot less long-term harm in putting pressure on my own legs than yours. Besides, those birds might get back here any minute, we need someone to stay back and tell them we're here if they arrive."

    "I'll go with him," Cerise offered, "I know you-uh...don't exactly have much reason to trust me, but I want to get that Charmander back here as much as you do."

    Bagon and Zorua shared a glance. Chimera knew her ulterior motive, knew that the Pallid, and by extension the time gear getting away would deny her prize she was seeking, but he couldn't deny the same reasoning applied to him. They turned to Argon. The Raichu was scowling, more to herself than anyone, but after a few seconds she nodded. Any more time spent deliberating was another second for her new-found partner to get away.

    "F-Fine, but whatever you do, try not to hurt him," Argon said, turning to point to Cerise, "I understand that it's hard to see that now, but he's not like the others, and you can consider any trust between us void if I find out you attacked him unprovoked."

    The Zorua bit her lip at the warning, but she nodded. They turned away, feet carrying them toward the Charmander now a hundred yards out.

    "Chimera, one last thing!"

    The Bagon turned back toward his partner, nodding to go on.

    "I know why you're going after Eoin without me, b-but...is that the only reason?"

    His head shook, drawing a look of curiosity from Cerise. Memories flashed through his conscious, of underwater tunnels, and of bitter wounds taken and dealt.

    "I gotta set this right. I'm sure Eoin's instincts didn't help, but he's shown well enough I'm part of why he's so antsy. If I can make some sort of peace with him like you have, then who knows? The dude might not need to shove a stun seed in his mouth whenever he's around other sentient 'mons."

    A nod between partners signalled for Bagon and Zorua to carry on. The visibility-impairing snowstorm had subsided, and as they took chase, the Palid gave more than a few nervous yelps glancing over its shoulder. A few minutes of jogging, and the alcove was out of sight, replaced by winding ranges of stone and snow.

    "I don't understand," Cerise said between winded huffs, "it should've attacked us, it's not in its nature to do anything else but attack us. What exactly happened to your friend?"

    "I'll go over the nitty-gritty details once we got time, but their nature is to protect the time gear," Chimera replied, "at least, that's what Eoin told me. Attacking is only a part of it. Now that he's the last line of defense against the likes of us, I'm willing to bet his mind thought the best thing to do was run. Pretty frickin' inconvenient when you gotta march through knee-deep snow with a paralyzed leg, but we'll roll with the punches."

    'The likes of us.' Cerise chuckled. The gesture brought an inquisitive look from the Bagon, one that saw her head droop and her feet paw at the ground.

    "Please," she said, "I got to clear this up. I'm not here to steal that gear, just to...examine it. The clues are there, once I sketch them down, you can flush it down a toilet for all I care. You can trust me on this."

    For a second, Chimera simply mulled over the statement, before providing a tentative nod. Neither were naive enough to consider it binding, but they'd cross that bridge when they came to it. The rocky wall to their sides disappeared as time went on, turning the ground beneath their feet into a precarious platform, with sheer falls on either side of its winding path that half of the Bagon's brain felt particularly opposed to. The Charmander was still barely within sight, and as they treaded carefully Chimera couldn't help but let a chuckle escape his own mouth.

    "You should have seen the crap we had to go through getting the first one. Imagine a time gear, sitting on a pedestal with a weighted pressure plate. I go to swap it with bag of equal weight, and the next thing I know the whole tunnels coming down and a giant golem is rolling down the tunnel trying to squash little o'll me."

    His hand raised, concealing a snicker. A look towards Cerise found her in similar disposition. It was nice, enjoying some levity with the Zorua in the moments before facing his own failure. The question was, how much of her knowing smile was a bluff?

    "What Uxie hadn't counted on was my forehead being thick enough to reduce both the golem and the stupidly-intricate system of spear traps he had established into bits."

    "The fool must've counted on any pokemon with a brain matter to body ratio better than a cranidos staying away from the gears," Cerise replied, a self-deprecating grin spreading to both. "Guess he was right in the end about both of us."

    The Zorua closed her eyes. A second flash of light, and before the duo stood a dozen gears, each varying sizes, materials, and levels of ornate carving. A single platform stood in the center, accompanied by two pokemon. One, a vibrant pink and white, with three gems that match its siblings. The other, a dead ringer for the Zorua at Chimera's side, fur coated in dirt and mud in place of present snow.

    "Me? I've got my own stories. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction."

    "Choose wisely, Cerise" the false Mespirit spoke, "for the true path will let you reverse the deaths of those you love, while the false one will only take your own away."

    The illusionary Zorua laid a hand to her chin, before settling on one of the gears and placing it before the center platform. Chimera's eyes shot open at the familiarity of the scene. He turned to the real Cerise, disposition that of a noble guardian, older than time and charged with the duty of protecting the object. He didn't need to dive further into memory for inspiration; a fitting example was only a hundred meters ahead.

    "Did you choose...poorly?"

    A few seconds too many of silence passed as the illusions faded into nothingness. Chimera expected her to join in his barely concealed grin, but Cerise's mask had broken into introspective blankness. It reformed in an instant, her head raising from the ground to portray the utmost confidence.

    "I-I sure hope not."

    The panicked growls of the Beast grew ever closer. Its reasoning became clear as the duo finally approached the Charmander. Cliffside hills had given way to a single, protruding precipice, overlooking knee-high water half melted in the evening sun. Chimera and Cerise stood twenty meters before the Beast. Terror overtook its eyes staring between them and the two-story drop at its back. It was boxed in. Nowhere left to run; only one option left.

    "For god's sake, Eoin," Chimera shouted, "we're not going to hurt you. We're all going to freeze to death if we stay out here any longer, and I don't think any of us want to put up with this!"

    A grey stream of fire shot into the air, accompanied by a hasty snarl. Bagon and Zorua flinched from the warning shot, but their position remained. A step forward from Chimera saw a step back from the Charmander, now barely a foot from the precipice. It glanced over its shoulder. A small lake stared back at it from twenty feet down, not nearly deep enough to cushion a fall, plenty deep enough to fill the Pallid's mind with painful memories.

    "Chimera," Cerise asked, "I'm staying true to my word that I didn't come here to steal it, but...is this really the most qualified pokemon to protect the time gear?"

    The Beast glanced between Chimera and its own satchel. If memory served, a terrible fate awaited itself once the Bagon had what he wanted. Still, he hadn't attacked yet, perhaps buying time as he and the Zorua cut off its only escape route.

    "He...gets better," Chimera replied, a hint of irony following, "smarter, at least. Not exactly the best 'mon if you're looking for impersonal debate, though. But hey, pot meet kettle, amiright?"

    Chimera's eyes again locked with the Beast's, startling it to attention. They then shifted to the time gear as calculations ran through the Bagon's mind. It was his objective, after all. Hours spent trudging through freezing snow, nearly dying from a raging, pallid Rampardos, having to watch as his own partner nearly met the same fate, what was it all for? The answer was clear enough, as well as the obstacle standing in its place. Would it be worth prying the fruits of their labor from Eoin's hands while he was in this state? As defensive as it was, this was in all likelihood the most vulnerable the Charmander would get, not to mention the scenario where he could most justify why he took it. A grab here, a spin of the tale to Argon and Eoin once he reverted that taking it was the only way to calm his alter-ego down, and he might be able to go back to the guild with something to show for it.

    But, what would that make him? Exactly who the Beast thought he was, exactly the type of pokemon that had made its first action upon gaining control a panicked retreat. Chimera's hand raised to his chin, drawing a curious look from Cerise as he weighed the costs and benefits.

    Another step forward for him, another step back from the Palllid, it's own grey tail knocking a small pebble over the edge. The Bagon's glance toward the blue radiance emanating from its satchel did not go unnoticed, grey eyes unable to see the conflict hidden under the Bagon's passive scowl. Any closer, and the intruder would be within grabbing distance of the shining gear. Quivering lips shot out one last cry, before the Beast turned away from Bagon and Zorua, bolting for cliff's edge; desperate times calling for desperate measures.

    "Eoin? What are you—"

    Its legs met open air. The Pallid closed its eyes, cringing preemptively for the rush of pain that it knew would greet it once it met the bottom. Chimera and Cerise jumped to attention. Both tried lunging for the Charmander's leg, but it was a worthless effort. The Pallid screamed. Familiar cries of agony rippled through the mountain as its body hit the ice with a crunch. The two ran to the cliff's edge, silence being all that was necessary to convey the horror that ran between them.

    "A-Arceus," Cerise cried out, "that Pallids crazier than I thought."

    Chimera gave a solemn nod, accompanied by the familiar sensation of feeling like utter ****. The Beast's cries carried up from the lake's bottom, moans mixing in with shivering. As a whole, its landing had been well judged. Most of its scales were only moderately bruised from the two-story fall, with one exception. From the half-frozen top layer of water, the Pallid was unable to judge how easily it would break. With concerted effort, it raised its tail, revealing a narrow, shard of ice jutting out of the lake that had pierced straight through. Blood slowly began seeping into the water, dying it a dark red. A glance from Chimera's side revealed that Cerise had turned away, paw to her throat concealing a gag reflex.

    "Well, who do you blame?" the Bagon deadpanned. "The damned fool, or the fool who made them a damned fool?"

    "I'd still say the damned fool, but you'll have to tell me what I missed that caused...that?"

    Chimera gestured in agreement, before pointing his hand at the exploration bag wrapped around the Zorua's midsection.

    "Do you have any medical supplies? We-uh, used all of ours on yours truly."

    She reached into the bag, handing the Bagon a set of berries and bandages with her muzzle.

    "Looking at your friend, I think I might have some tricks that could help calm him down, or at least make him less likely to attack you. But, how are you going to get down there without hurting yourself?"

    Realization dawned on the Zorua as soon as the last sentence left her mouth, but that didn't make Chimera's lofty grin any less big.

    "I appreciate it. And as for the question...you forgot who you're talking to."

    Without a second's hesitation, the Bagon ran to the cliff's edge. Staring towards the ground below, not to mention the fate that had become of the last pokemon that had attempted such a stunt, half of his mind screamed out in objection. He'd heard it all before, however. The euphoria would come, as well as the feeling of dread upon hitting the ground, but if Chimera angled it right, that'd be all he'd have to worry about. After a readying nod from Cerise, he jumped, angling his rocky forehead as a diver would for it to land straight down. After a resounding crack, Chimera dusted himself off at the lake's bottom. A glance around at the shattered ice confirmed that, where the Charmander had been it's victim, he had been the victor.

    Bloodied, chilling water, and present Bagon sent shivers up the Pallid's spine. Its own satchel had been knocked from its person in the fall, landing about five feet away at equal distance to Chimera. It tried to stand, attempted to launch another warning volley of grey flames at the Bagon, but the four inch wide shard of ice piercing through its own tail overcame the ability to focus on anything else.

    Chimera limped forward. The knee-high chilling water was a familiar sensation, and the Bagon couldn't help but chuckle at the irony.

    "Well Eoin, it's time we finish this. Better do it quickly too; we're both gonna share Argon's fate if we stay out here any longer."

    The Beast growled, haphazardly lunging its arm for the time gear, only to retreat it as another surge of pain ran up its tail. Neither Bagon nor Zorua needed to speak feral to know what 'stay back' meant. He glanced over his shoulder. From the top of the cliff, Cerise nodded, closing her eyes as several small flashes of light emanated behind large boulders near the left and right of Eoin and Chimera. A second later, and the two pokemon on the frozen lake were joined by an entourage of pallids. An Abamasnow, Avalugg, Absol and Salamence, in pairs of two with equally grey fur and scales flanking them on both sides.

    A voice in the Bagon's mind started to panic, but he kept his course. The Pallid chittered, pleading in feral tongue for assistance from the sudden cavalry. The intruder was surrounded, and it wouldn't take more than some ice shards from the surrounding pallids to deter him from the time gear.

    That, however, didn't happen. The four remained in place, gazing toward Chimera with nonchalant acceptance. Another look to the Charmander's confused chitters, and it all clicked into place. He quickly glanced back to Cerise, seeing her eyes closed in concentration keeping the four in place. So long as the Beast didn't see through, the Zorua very well might've given Chimera the edge he needed.

    For the Pallid, it was a hopeless situation. It clutched its tail, desperately trying to limp away as the introducer approached step by step. Its efforts were in vain. The Charmander turned back, finding the Bagon directly before him, crossbow bolt drawn from his bag shimmering in the sun-refracting ice. Reinforcements unwilling to view the Bagon as a threat, and its own wound taking away all its focus, there was little that could be done. Its eyes closed, resigned to the pain that was to come.

    "Bite down."

    Five seconds passed. When it became clear that its tail had not been forced into the water, nor the bolt jammed into its thigh, the Pallid's eyes tentatively opened. The crossbow bolt was being held by the intruder horizontally, a similar one clutched in the Bagon's own mouth.

    "If you don't want to, that's fine, but you're gonna have to endure some pain if we're going to get you better. I sure as **** know it's easier if you got something to bite down on."

    The Pallid chirped in confusion, clutching at the shard of ice impaling its tail. It glanced around, finding its surrounding kin nodding in approval. Befuddled thoughts clashed through its feral mind. Why weren't they attacking? Weren't they just as fearful as he was that the intruder would take the time gear? Chimera laid a hand on its tail, and for another brief second the Beast expected it to be stomped into the chilling water, but instead the Bagon grasped the shard. To the ice at their side were the bandages and berries placed by Chimera. With a tentative growl, the Pallid bit down, mimicking the action Chimera was demonstrating. If its fate had been sealed, the least it could do was delay the inevitable.

    "Good, good. If you're still in there, Eoin, get ready...this is gonna hurt you a lot more than its gonna hurt me."

    He pulled. The Beast cried out, teeth clenched as the bloodied shard was pulled from its tail. Charmander's tail flickered between torch and candle length. Another stiff tug, and Chimera tossed the intrusion to the side.

    "There, was that so hard?"

    Chimera reached for the supplies. The Beast stared back at him, eyes conveying a simple question even as an oran berry paste was plastered over the piercing wound and the Bagon wrapped the last bandage over its tail.

    Why?

    "If you want to hear me say it, Eoin," Chimera said, "I...I'm sorry. I'm sure you've already realized it, but most people around here aren't the type to snuff out your tail like yours truly. The Pallids I've met haven't exactly been too keen on preserving life either, but hey, I'm willing to be the better 'mon. Truce?"

    The intruders words were incomprehensible, and yet his actions and expressions had conveyed all it needed to hear. The Pallid gave a tentative flick of its tail, finding the worst of the pain to be over. It'd be sore in the morning, of course, but it could have been a lot worse. Dilated, grey pupils eyed its four surrounding kin to see if the Bagon's actions stood for most pokemon. A smile from Chimera to the Zorua hidden utop the cliff, and the surrounding pallids nodded.

    Chimera stood up, placing an arm to balance his still-paralyzed leg after nearly tripping to the ice. Another panicked gasp, though not as prevalent, overtook the Beast as the Bagon walked over to pick up the time gear. There he stood, an inner debate in microcosm going through his consciousness before Chimera walked back and shoved the satchel into the Beast's hands.

    "I will say this, though. We all sacrificed a lot getting this thing. S-Some...some more than others. You better have a damn fine reason why you're keeping this from us. Capiche?"

    The Beast didn't know itself, but it gave the closest thing it could to a nod. With the worst of the encounter over, Chimera glanced back to the top of the cliff. Cerise was on top, eyes still closed as the illusionary pallids began walking from eyesight. The Bagon conveyed what gratitude he could as the Zorua pointed toward a spot on the cliffside suitable for climbing.

    "Well Eoin, shall we-arrgh—"

    Chimera tumbled over. He looked to his arm and leg, cursing at the fact they were still in a bum state. There was still a cliff to climb, and a long hike back if they were to regroup at the aircraft. As he went to his knees, however, the Bagon felt an arm make its way over his shoulder. Familiar chirps sounded from the Beast as it offered itself as a balancing point. Even in its limited intelligence, a certain resolution filled the Charmander's mind, one to make things right with the intruder while it still could. A smile from itself to the Bagon was returned in kind.

    "A-Alright Eoin," Chimera said, chuckling to himself, "'preciate the help. This'll be a hell of a story to tell once, well...once you can actually talk."

    It growled back, tail flickering in approval. Cold water and colder actions aside, Charmander and Bagon had a long road ahead of them. In his limited capacity, the Pallid thought the same as the civil: Perhaps the other wasn't as mindless as initially thought? And as the two regrouped with Cerise and made their way back to the landing site, both could feel bitter memories fading into the snow.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2019
  12. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Chapter 23: Ménage Mirage
    For the first time Chimera could remember since the beginning of their exploration, the air had lost its chilling bite.

    His eyes opened. After his grogginess cleared and his vision had regained some sense of clarity, the Bagon looked around. Miscellaneous crates of supplies still peppered the cramped insides of the glider, and a glance through one of the porthole windows confirmed they were still in the air. Where snow-lined mountains had been, however, vast canopies of tropical trees took their place. He breathed a sigh of relief. As excruciatingly muggy as Eastern mainland air was, it was a welcome respite in comparison to what they had come from. After today, the Bagon would be more than happy not seeing an inch of snow for the rest of his life.

    "I still don't know how in Arceus's name you managed to sleep through that turbulence."

    Chimera chuckled. After moving his head from the window it was leaned against, and hastily wiping away the usual stream of drool that had dribbled down his mouth, he turned to the Zorua opposite him. She was scrunched up in a pile, eyes bloodshot, and holding the familiar expression of someone who needed their damn coffee. Where before, however, Cerise had been facing him, she was turned to the front of the craft, facing nothing. Jogging his memory of waking up, the Bagon's head tilted. Had she been mumbling something to herself?

    "It's the head and neck muscles, I suppose," Chimera replied. "Guess the body kinda sorts all that small stuff out when you're made to jump of cliffs. Doesn't mean it sucks any less not having anything soft to lean against. Though...looks like Eoin and Argon got that taken care of."

    A knowing smile formed on the Bagon and Zorua as they glanced over to the back of the craft. Even with the Pallid having lost his orange facade, the Zorua had made smuggling both herself and him on board almost too easy. Light snoozing from both Charmander and Raichu filled their small confines. Wooden floor of the craft not the most desirable place to sleep, the two were sitting up, back to back. Heads were resting on the other's shoulder, while tails were angled out of the way, sitting on the other's lap.

    "They've barely said a word since we boarded," Cerise replied. "Cute though, seeing them like this. Never thought I'd be sitting here jealous of a Pallid, of all things."

    The Bagon gave a terse chuckle, careful not to wake them. True, he had seen some signs in the brief period he had seen them together, but nothing to this extent.

    "Which Eoin do you think she's leaning against? For his sake, I hope it's not the civil one, dude was never too keen on flying. I'm...glad though, that she managed to start something. More progress than I ever made."

    "You and me both," Cerise replied, similarly chuckling, "never had the time really, nor the motivation. Most 'mons usually don't take well to a Zorua that either spends her days studying a glorified rock or waiting in the brush to pickpocket someone for pocket change. Rightfully so."

    Cerise let out a soft sigh, unbuckling her bag to take out the same notebook she had initially shown Chimera. The Bagon kept his glare neutral. For all their banter, they'd more than likely have differing opinions of each other if the thief had succeeded in their initial encounter. In spite of this, he knew the resigned laugh that left her mouth well.

    "Doesn't have to be that way. You ever thought about joining the guild, joining the team? Might take some...convincing, from those two, but I'm sure we'd be able to work something out."

    The Zorua took more than a few seconds pondering. Her eyes shifted, fluctuating between the Bagon before her, and something tucked into the recesses of her exploration bag. Buckling canvas from the craft filled in the silence, along with continued snoozing from the two pokemon at their side.

    Cerise shook her head, digging her maw into the bag to reveal a particular object. It was a small, metallic hexagon, about the size of a fist and inscribed in a silvery, blue sheen. Intricate carvings and runes adorned the hexagon. Inscribed lines jutted in from each corner, converging to form a single point. A lone needle ran on a pivot from the center, like the analogue arrow of a compass or volt meter. She held it in her mouth carefully, setting it on the ground before them as if it was crafted out of fine porcelain. If her very soul had not rested on the relic being preserved, Chimera wouldn't know.

    "Thanks, but...I got my own path to follow, sunken cost fallacy and all that. Besides, me and the guild haven't exactly seen eye to eye for a while. Dad had me study regulation enough back in the day to know that you'd be jeopardizing your future having a team member with a seven month track in prison."

    Chimera's thoughts paused at the last of the Zorua's words. He instead looking toward the metallic hexagon before them. A certain sense of familiarity filled his conscouse. He'd seen this before, being presented with an unknown item of mysticism. Underneath Cerise's hollow smile, the Bagon could sense she too knew the scene.

    "You won't get any judgement from me of the 'Dread Bandit Cerise', but if you don't mind me asking...how many times exactly have you been arrested? The last time you went in was a month, right?"

    The Zorua shivered, breaking eye contact. Her paw then took hold of the relic, holding it close to her chest.

    "Arceus, I think the number of stints I've taken is something like...thirteen? Give or take. A-And It really is a stupid name, isn't it? Some tauros-crap I thought of after my first pickpocket. A careless step here, an attempt at theatrics that ends with me tied up and behind bars there...it all adds up. You weren't the first 'mon I tried pulling a stunt like that with out of boredom, though you were the first one that ended up humoring me. I appreciate that."

    "Feeling's mutual," Chimera replied, flashing her a grin. "I enjoy talking with Argon, but it does get pretty fricken' tedious doing the same thing everyday. Guess she makes more of it than I do."

    "So, why do you do it?" he continued, tone neutral. "Can't imagine spending a month doing pushups and eating cardboard, preserved oran berries is helpful for whatever you're trying to do."

    Looking into her eyes, the Bagon saw a slight shift in the way she returned his gaze. Her head drooped, paws aimlessly fiddling with the needle of the hexagon.

    "When I started it off, after I...parted ways with Dad to find Celebi, was more about survival than anything. Could've gone to one of those nine to five factory jobs, but spending a couple hours in a mystery dungeon swiping change off of the teams that go by gives you a lot time. Following the mismash of clues left behind by the legendaries, I thought I needed it. Eventually though, It became...liberating in a sense, not having to care about prepping for where I'd be in a couple years, or what others thought of me."

    "Eh, I can understand that, in a sense," Chimera replied, "spent a lot of time caught in the rattata race myself. Still am too, in a way, but at least now I got something to look forward to."

    "You're more prepared than us. Talking with Cerise...I'm not sure either of us know what we're gonna do if we ever get Mom back."

    Chimera jumped, as did Cerise. His eyes darted around the fuselage, eventually settling on Fennekin that had appeared seemingly out of mid-air. Her voice was the slightest bit different than the Zorua's, staring toward the Bagon in pensive silence. Chimera shot out of his seat. He scrambled for his weapon, only stopping when Cerise waved her paw between him and the aberration.

    "How the hell did you—"

    "D-Dammit, Sophia," the Zorua sputtered, "I told you not to show up in front of the Bagon!"

    Cerise shirked back as soon as the words left her mouth. A glance from Chimera to Eoin and Argon confirmed their snoozing still filled the room, and a voice inside his head thanked Arceus for them both being heavy sleepers.

    "I-I'm sorry, Cerise," the Fennekin replied. "I just thought we'd get introductions out of the way before they—"

    "You couldn't have just waited until I told him?" she shot back. "How do you think this makes both of us look?"

    "Hey, you're not the only one who hasn't had someone else to talk to in the past month! You and I both know you weren't going to tell him."

    Chimera was lost. On instinct, the Bagon reached for a loose berry from one of the supply crates, throwing it at the Fennekin. Suspicions were neither confirmed nor denied as the berry went straight through her body.

    "Cerise, is...is this an act? Like the Salamence and pallids way back?"

    The foxes heads shot back to Chimera. They immediately looked away, staring toward the floor like it was the only thing on the craft that wasn't staring back.

    "Well y-yes...and no," Cerise replied, "It's complicated. Let's just say the mind gets kind of messed up when your subconscious end up giving an actual body and voice to your childhood imaginary friend."

    Sophia nodded. She stepped toward the Bagon, having realized the pecha berry on the floor was phasing through one of her legs.

    "Yep. Been that way for a while, longer than either of us could have expected. We talk a lot. Not much else to do besides that, study notes, and improve your illusion abilities when you're locked up for a month. She took your victory due to her carelessness very personally. Good for me, at least. I can finally speak aloud now, instead of just in her mind."

    "Yeah, it's great," Cerise replied, tone half laden in sarcasm, "but would you mind just...sitting back for a little while we sort this out? We can talk later, I'd rather not put this off any longer than I have to."

    The Fennekin stepped aside, sitting herself on one of the seats opposite them both. Chimera could no doubt see the cheery smiles that had made its way to both of their faces, even if his own was stuck in deadpan contemplation. Silence enveloped all three as glances were exchanged. Cerise looked toward Chimera, metallic hexagon being pulled closer to her chest as she waited for the Bagon's inevitable judgement.

    "I wouldn't blame you to say there's something a little messed up here," Cerise said, raising a paw next to her head in a twirling motion. A look toward Sophia confirmed that she was of similar disposition. The Bagon hadn't said a word. One second passed. Then another. Then another couple, until his scrutinizing stare was broken by a soft chuckle to forces unknown.

    "Honestly, Cerise...I've seen weirder, it's a hell of a lot better than a volleyball. Looks like you and Eoin have more in common than you think."

    The Zorua let out a deep sigh, chuckling more in relief than anything. Sophia did similar, having just realized she was holding in a breath. The Fennekin rose from her seat and walked toward Chimera. She extended a paw to shake, only for both to blink as it went straight through the Bagon's hand. She turned away, clearing her throat.

    "S-Sorry, I just...it's nice getting to talk to someone different. Anyway, where were we?"

    "The time gear," Cerise said, jumping up in realization, "Chimera, I realize I don't exactly have the best reputation, but would you mind if I were to take a look at it? I've been planning this for...Arceus knows how long."

    Chimera nodded, gesturing towards the blue radiance seeping through Eoin's bag. Even so, the Bagon couldn't help but huff at the irony; in spite of it being his primary objective, a Zorua not even sent on their mission was getting more benefit out of their reward than he ever would.

    "Yeah, sure. I'm not sure we'll be able to get it from them without waking them up, though. Seems pretty—"

    It was done. In one swift motion, the Zorua had opened the bag held protectively in the sleeping Charmander's hand and hoisted it out like she had scored lucky on a crane game. Eoin and Argon's snoozing continued filling the room, having been undisturbed.

    "Never mind."

    "Always helps to have a certain set of skills," Sophia commented, "served us better in the past couple years than most of the academic stuff they taught us."

    "I don't doubt it" Chimera asked, turning to the two foxes with a grin. "But tell me this then: how much poké would I have after four years with a principle of one hundred, an interest rate of four percent, and a period of four years compounded quarterly?"

    Silence. Cerise shook her head, shrugging as Sophia cast her a curious glance.

    "Don't look at me. If you don't know it, chances are I don't either."

    "You see, that's the difference between us," Chimera said, "I've been through the rattata race, you've been lucky, or smart enough to avoid it."

    "We tried," Sophia replied. "Learning that stuff, I mean, but it kinda went by the wayside once Cerise decide to continue Mother's research. All that long-term scholar stuff didn't really seem that important to her compared to—"

    "The mission," Cerise finished, "I'm willing to bet you'll beat me in the long run Chimera, but as of now? I got family to save, future be damned."

    The Zorua's frown dissipated as she began to analyze the time gear. Another reach into her bag, and she pulled out the notebook, frantically writing observations with a pencil clutched in her mouth.

    "Blue aura, reflective quality in material, arrow carvings matching those of legends," she mumbled, smile growing with every second, "now...comes the interesting part. Chimera, have you ever heard of the Passage of Time?"

    His eyes closed, hand raised to his chin. It had been so long.

    "Can't say I...wait. Vaguely, yeah. What about it?"

    "That's the key," she chirped, "the evidence has been a little spotty, but if the legends have any truth in them, then the purpose of time gears is to serve as conduits for the Passage of Time, making sure that the flow of time remains consistent across the world. At least, that's what Mom concluded. She had her doubts of course. There's pages upon pages of notes proposing different theories, could never find an explanation for why pallids existed either, but if she is…then I'll say the benefits of being right outweigh the cost of being wrong. After all, why would they build waypoints like these—"

    She held out her paw, placing the hexagon with the center needle next to the time gear. Chimera's eyes widened; the object's size was a perfect fit for the center hole of the time gear.

    "—without a compass? It's right. It's gotta be right. And once this works, once this points me to the Passage of Time, I'll be one step closer to finding Celibi and getting my family back. "

    The Fennekin opened her mouth, as if to object, but no words came out. Chimera studied the object. As interesting as it was, a tinge of doubt lay in the Bagon's mind. Eoin had already told him everything he knew, and nothing of what the lake guardians had said told of a compass. And yet, seeing the Zorua's determination, he similarly found himself lost for words.

    "Well then, what are we waiting for?" said Chimera. "Legendaries are a-waitin, don't want 'mons like us wasting their time."

    Cerise beamed back his smile tenfold. As she picked up the hexagon, laying it just above the similarly sized cutout in the center of the gear, even Sophia drew closer to watch. Utter quiet filled the room. Argon and Eoin's snoozing seemed to have lulled down into nearly a whisper. Her paws trembled, sweat beginning to bead down from their pads onto the relic. Breaths quickened, a silent resolution passing between all that this was the moment.

    "N-No we don't. Who knows? They might even be inclined to bring back that special one you told me about. Anyway...need to concentrate."

    For a brief second, as Cerise's paws lay frozen before the two pieces, Chimera's thoughts wavered. Did he want the Togetic to return, even if splitting hairs told him she had never really come in the first place? Half of his mind said yes, but something wasn't right. From what the Zorua had insinuated, the Zoroark she had shown him was long gone. The human? She still had a long life ahead of her, one no doubt filled with as much enjoyment in that world as the Bagon had managed to find in his own.

    He turned back. After another hour-long second, Cerise lowered the hexagon. It slotted into the cutout with an almost foreign neatness, as if it had been forever designed through the millennia for that specific object. Two relics connected, Bagon, Zorua, and Fennekin held their breath.

    Nothing.

    A whole lot of nothing. The needle remained in place, not moving an inch even after Cerise began to hastily turn the gear clockwise. A glance to the Zorua after minutes had passed found that she was, in a figurative sense, frozen. Mouth closed, eyes unwaveringly staring at the gear in disbelief, like a poker player being shown an opposing royal flush.

    "Did...did you put it in sideways?" Chimera asked.

    Her paws shot to the gear. Wordlessly, she took it out, twisting it so that the corners of the hexagon lined up differently with those of the gear. Nothing. She tapped the needle, fiddling with it like a pilot attempting to jump-start a propeller. Nothing. She grabbed the connected relics, banging it against the floor of the craft with a resounding clang. Nada. Cerise let go of the gear, staring forward with a omnipresent quiver.

    "Cerise," Sophia whispered, "I'm sure that there are plenty of other explanations for this, but...do you think that Dad's theory might be—"

    "Save it," replied the Zorua, holding up a paw. "P-Please. We've been through this."

    "But what if he's right?" Sophia implored. "He's been studying this stuff for almost as long as Mom, what if—"

    "I'm not willing to believe that. I- we've given up to much for it to be nothing. I just...missed something. A minor setback, nothing more."

    Cerise turned to Chimera, expression that of a tipped over spoink.

    "Please, your team was the one that got this thing in the first place, is there anything I missed? The compass...there had to have been some mention of it, wasn't there? And why these time gears even existed in the first place?"

    "Yeah, Eoin told me everything he saw while we were coming down from the mountain. I'm not sure if he's hiding anything, but—"

    The Bagon's conscious caught up to his mouth. It lay agape, both Zorua and Fennekin waiting anxiously for a reply. Was it worth saying? No matter what Chimera told the truth, it wouldn't be encouraging. Yet, in Cerise's eyes, it seemed the pokemon wouldn't be content with a comforting lie.

    "No, I'm sorry to say, never heard anything about a compass. I've talked to Uxie, and from what Eoin told me about him and Azelf, they're a pretty direct source. Didn't hear about the Passage of Time either, sounded like the time gears got their power from the Pallids...weird as that may seem."

    Sophia again cast a wary glance to Cerise, only to find that the Zorua was looking away, eyes closed and paw to her forehead as if stifling a headache.

    "L-Like I said, it just needs more time."

    "But if it doesn't match up with what we've researched, how can you be sure there even is a Passage of Time, or Celebi for that matter?" Sophia asked. "Please, Cerise, I'm not sure how many more sleepless nights we can take, or how many more pokemon you can pickpocket before this starts to catch up with us. M-Maybe it might be worth taking Dad up on that offer he made when he—"

    "I know about the offer," she shot back, voice seething, "and no. If that two face had tried to help us with this, we could have gotten Mom back years ago. Just have some Arceus-damn faith, will you?"

    She huffed, showing none of the previous observance as she grabbed the hexagon in her jaw and shoved it back into the bag. The Zorua then took hold of the time gear, placing it back in Eoin's own exploration pack. In averting her gaze from Sophia, Cerise suddenly realized the other occupant of the glider. Black fur on the back of her neck shot up.

    "S-****, I'm sorry for dragging you into this. I'm sure you three already got enough to worry about."

    "Don't worry about it, Cerise. Do you wanna...sit down and talk about this?" he asked. "You seem like you're a bit conflicted with yourself, I can relate."

    Before she could answer, Sophia bolted up to the Bagon. Her paw pointed forward, centered on Chimera's gold-level badge. Looking into the Fennekin's eyes, the Bagon swore he could almost see...tears? Could illusions cry?

    "Please Mr. Bagon, I've kept my mouth shut until now, but since you're here now...we need a second opinion. When Cerise and I first set out, I was all for it, but the longer we went on, the more pokemon we hurt; I-I'm not even sure if it's worth it anymore. Even if we do somehow succeed, what if Mom doesn't approve of what we've done? What if...what if she thinks it would have been better for us to leave her at rest?"

    The Fennekin dissipated for an instant as Cerise jumped towards her. She went in for the tackle, only to fall to the floor as her body went straight through. She cursed, breaths fuming and eyes laden with tears all too similar to Sophia's.

    "If Mom was still around, then maybe I wouldn't have spent the better part of my life talking to a Fennekin who's not even real!"

    She shut her eyes, tears soaking into her fur as she looked down in concentration. Sophia's own eyes shot open in terror, and a second later the Fennekin disappeared in a flash of light, this time for good.

    Not a single soul left in their narrow confines moved an inch. From the Cerise's empty look toward the space where Sophia had been, the Zorua appeared like she had just killed a 'mon. Her legs gave way, and she collapsed to the floor, eyes motionless and bloodshot.

    "S-Sophia, I...I didn't—I'm sorry."

    Chimera stepped forward, just about to place his hand on the Zorua's back when the glider made contact with the ground. It fell down with a resounding bang, Bagon similarly tripping to the floor as groggy moans from Charmander and Raichu gave way to yelps. Just as before, the craft bounced back into the air for a brief second, before returning to earth with another resounding clang.

    "Wh...what happened?" Argon asked, eyes shooting open towards Chimera and Cerise. "Did we miss anything important?"

    Eoin made a similar gesture, before looking down to confirm that he had reapplied his scale's artificial, orange hue. A quick examination of his exploration bag confirmed that the time gear was still in place, seemingly untouched. Canvas buckled, and wheels skidded to a stop as Chimera locked eyes with Cerise. The Bagon didn't need to be an aura reader to know that the smile put on by Cerise toward the two was as much of an illusion as anything else she had created. A silent conversation took place in milliseconds between Bagon and Zorua, ending with a minuscule nod from the former, and a heavy breath from the latter.

    "No," Chimera replied, "nothing too important. Looks like we're at the way station though. You two get enough sleep?"

    Eoin nodded. He redonned the goggles, vision alternating between the paralyzed limbs of the Bagon, the punctured tail on himself, and most notably, the pale white legs of the Raichu.

    "I believe so. Do as you wish, Chimera, but I would recommend we all get some proper medical attention as soon as possible. I would hate for any of us having to experience any...permanent injuries."

    The Pallid got up to his feet. Another glance towards the Raichu's legs was all the motivation Eoin needed. In spite of the helpful nature of his outstretched hand, Argon couldn't help a shiver running up her spine. Was she really this much of a burden now?

    "T-Thank you, Eoin, but I think It's been long enough that I can try sta—"

    Just as the Raichu made to stand, what little control she still had over her legs gave way. Every pokemon in the room simultaneously jumped as Argon began falling toward the floor. Her arms scrambled for a balancing point, finding it in the Charmander's own reach. With a defeated sigh, she hung her arm over Eoin's shoulder, lifting her other paw up to hide her face.

    "Dammit...still got a long way to go, I guess. Thanks again, really. Y-You've held your hand out in more ways than one, guess this'll be a learning experience for both of us."

    "Only returning the favor," Eoin replied, returning the Raichu's smile. "If we both are as inexperienced as we say, then I look forward to teaching each other in the road ahead."

    Chimera turned away, raising his own hand to conceal a giggle. When he had turned to Cerise, however, it lulled to an awkward pause. The Zorua was peeking out one of the side windows adjacent the door.

    "****."

    "Cerise, you okay?" he asked. "You look like someone who just lost their keys."

    Quick as a Greninja, she ducked away from the window. A brief flash of light enveloped the Zorua, in its place appearing a Riolu. It ambled over to the door, drawing confused glances from Raichu and Charmander alike.

    "I-I should probably get going. My record's clean now, but you never can tell which pokemon around Eastern Faire have good memories. If anyone asks, my name is Aria, and I'm a Riolu living in the mountains that decided to shepard you three up, in exchange for transportation here. Sound reasonable?"

    The Bagon's narrow-eyed look remained, but he nodded. The two walked up to the front of the craft, and the Riolu put her hand on the door handle, before glancing one last time toward Chimera. Eoin and Argon followed close behind.

    "I guess this is it them," Cerise said. "Thanks for everything Chimera, I'm sorry you had to see...all that. I hope we'll meet again."

    "So do I," he replied, flashing her a grin, "hope things work out better between you and Sophia. Sounds like she really does care, and I think you and I both know what that means."

    The Riolu flickered, and Cerise reappeared. For the moment, she was silent, concentrating as if lost in thought to forces unknown. Chimera was just about to interject when she looked back up, smiling and giving the Bagon a terse nod. Another transformation back into the Riolu, and she began opening the door. Sunlight cracked into the door as it opened a smidge, until Chimera's hand fell over the Riolu's. It phased through the spike on the metallic pack of the illusion hand, touching black fur.

    "And Cerise, one more thing."

    She looked back. Chimera had leaned in close, glancing over his shoulder to confirm that Argon and Eoin couldn't see. His tone had lost its usual levity, expression similarly having morphed into a resolute scowl. Teeth, once shining in humor, gritted against each other, as if about to bite down at any second. Neither malicious nor vindictive, yet filling its intent of making her heartbeat rise.

    For all their banter, what were they? Thief and explorer, only exchanging pleasantries from the former's failure. With his hand on her paw, something clicked in the Bagon's mind of what he was about to do. She would continue stealing, be it as it may for an ambitious cause. The Zorua had made that clear. And what if she was caught? He would be to blame, the Bagon that had let a known criminal escape without a word of deterrence. His eyes closed, brief images flashing over his conscious of the frozen lake, of the tiny slip of paper crumpled in the human's pocket. No, it would not happen again. Chimera's eyes were wide as he placed his other hand on Cerise's back, before retreating it to the side as it clenched into a fist.

    "I want to help you," he whispered. "You've done me a good turn, and if we do ever meet again I'd be happy to return the favor. But if worse comes to worse, and we ever, ever get in another situation where our business contradicts...I'll have you behind bars myself. We each got a job to do, and fact of the matter is I don't think either of us are going to compromise on that. Nothing personal, just wanted to make that clear. Alright?"

    The Riolu's face shot back, but after a moment's contemplation she nodded, smile having similarly been reduced. Chimera's hand lifted, and she opened the door, walking out with head lowered and pace brisk, but not too brisk. Just as the Riolu was about to leave his sight, she turned back.

    "Best of luck, Chimera. I hope you find what you're looking for."

    "And you too, Aria," he replied, amiable tone returning. "And don't think we can't keep the game going once that happens. Score's still one all, I think."

    After one last glance over her shoulder, Cerise departed, leaving Bagon, Raichu, and Charmander to hobble out of the craft. Just over the horizon, above the distant layer of trees on all sides, the three could barely see the icy mountain of their origins, peek where they had encountered the lake guardians nearly concealed with clouds. The ground before them was a combination of dirt and gravel, stretching in a long and narrow line that formed an airfield, perhaps one of the few spots on Eastern Faire where the sky wasn't shielded by jungle canopy. Next to this airfield were rows upon rows of gliders, parked next to each other nearly as numerous as the plentiful amount of bird pokemon either resting from previous or preparing for future flights.

    Almost instantaneously after the three had exited, a team of two consisting of Whimsicott and Gardevoir rushed toward them, with stretcher in hand. Silver guild badges adorned red and white bags laden with various medical accoutrements. At the sight of Eoin and Argon, the Gardevoir turned to her assistant, pointing towards the stretcher only for Argon to raise her paw.

    "Please, I can walk...sort of, just need to get somewhere to sit down."

    The Gardevoir nodded, pointing to a multi-story brick tower that rose just above the treeline. Pokemon stood on the top, either observing the various craft circling in the air, or shouting back orders to the pokemon below.

    "Medical office is just under the observation tower. Some broken limbs and a punctured tail should be childsplay to treat. As for you, Argon...it's bad, but I've seen worse. Knew this one Grovyle—Gods rest his soul—whose team got caught in one of those dungeons. Poor fellow ended up losing his arm. Recovery won't be short, but if the gods are kind you'll be up and walking eventually."

    An omnipresent sigh of relief left from all three. Chimera was just about to question how the Gardevoir already knew their names, but after a moment's thought he figured he'd be meeting with the explanation soon enough. After wooden crutches were distributed to the Bagon, adjusted to their shortest length to accompany his arm size, they reached the tower. Eoin was just about to open the door, when he saw that Chimera had turned away. The Whimsicott was positioned as if it had just whispered something into his ear.

    "Are you coming?" he asked. "I'm sure you need treatment as much as the rest of us, and there is something I need to show you and Argon after that happens."

    "Y-Yeah," Chimera replied, "I'll be with you guys soon, it's just...I made a promise, and apparently they want someone to debrief about this whole mess as soon as possible."

    The Pallid's mouth opened to object, but after glancing to Argon and the blue radiance barely seeping out of his exploration bag, it shut.

    "Fine," Eoin replied, "but make sure you are back here as soon as possible, I cannot stress the urgency of this enough."

    The door opened, and Gardevoir and Whimsicott entered. Eoin and Argon were close behind, latter's arm still slung around the former, before stopping one last time. The Pallid noticed well enough the occasional glances the Whimsicott would give to his goggles and tail cover. Its arm raised to the Charmander, just about to comment on the strange accessory before it fell to the side. As the Pallid turned away, he breathed a deep sigh of relief; he'd just dodged a bullet. Bagon and Raichu looked toward each other, words not being needed to convey best wishes.

    "Chimera, I...thank you, for saving my life. I-I know we've had our disagreements in the past, but I hope we'll be able to keep this up in the future."

    "No problem," the Bagon replied, returning her a grin more genuine than boisterous, "that's what partners are for. I was only returning the favor, after all."

    After Eoin and Argon had entered, the Bagon was alone. He got off his crutches, planting himself on a metal bench against the tower wall as he mulled over the Whimsicott's message. He had made an agreement after all, the question was, where was the other half of it?

    He wouldn't have to wait long. A faint rumbling noise carried around the corner of the tower. It chugged along, like the engine of an old train as it approached. The Bagon's expression twisted into incredulity. It was familiar to something from his old life, some omnipresent mechanism he had been forced to get acquainted to on his commune to the daily grind, yet slightly different.

    "What the hell? Is that a...car?"

    It was. From around the tower corner, a shimmering, metallic green automobile ambled towards the Bagon, kicking up small plots of gravel in its wake. It was open top, with only a boxy pane of glass as a windshield. Narrow wheels more befitting of a bicycle accompanied its narrow and boxy appearance. If Chimera were in any other world, he would have called it something between vintage and outdated. The only difference he could perceive between the vehicle before him, and the especially early models of vehicles from his own world, was the driver's seat. Or, lack thereof. While ornate leather seating was present on the passenger side, the driver's side was completely empty. Standing on the floor, controlling the wheel would have been uncomfortable to most pokemon, in exception to the two, familiar faces that smiled toward the Bagon.

    "Greetings, old chum. Wonderful weather for a drive, wouldn't you say?"

    The Girafarig's horns were imbued with a pinkish aura, telekinetically directing the automobile's steering wheel so that it pulled in front of Chimera. The gesture did little to calm his incredulous stare.

    "How...how did you—"

    "Suits your fancy?" Binair replied, tapping the green door with his hoof. "I assure you, I am not solely compensating for something. I simply figured this would make for a better entrance than a carriage. A wondrous innovation, wouldn't you say? Finished overseeing the final assembly after you left. The first of its kind, in a way at least. Might take some time retooling the factories, but I can confidently say it will have a wondrous impact on Faire's populace."

    Another glow of the Girafarig's horns, and the passenger door opened. Binair's cane levitated out, pointing toward the short seat at his side, size as though it was specifically crafted for Chimera.

    "This...is about that mission we agreed upon, right?" he said, feet frozen in place. "We going somewhere?"

    "Correct. There's a certain location I wanted to show you, but I figured we'd have the debrief on the way there. After I was informed of your team's condition, I knew it wouldn't be right for you to have to walk."

    Chimera nodded, cringing with a glance toward the arm and leg still paralyzed in place. The more he looked towards Binair, however, the greater sense he got that something was...off. The Girafarig's usual assertive grin was there, but under it, was a sense of perturbation. A smile the slightest bit plastic. A posture the slightest bit awkward. His hoofs tapped on the floor like he hadn't had a wink of rest. After standing up from the bench, and taking hold of the crutches, Chimera ambled towards the vehicle, clambering himself in the passenger's seat.

    "Care to drive, old chum?"

    "Are you kidding?" Chimera replied, wiggling his one, good, pathetic stump of an arm. "The last time I had to drive, I was tall enough to not need a booster seat."

    Binair was a surprisingly smart driver. He had little reason not to be, for as the minutes passed the Girafarig had barely said a word. His eyes remained locked on the bumpy, gravel rock road that cut its way through dense jungle canopy. They truly were in the mainland. As Chimera leaned his hand out of a car window for the first time in his new world, it grazed more than a couple of branches jutting out from side path trees.

    Caravans nearly as long as trains passed them on the road. The first group of Mudsdale and Rapidash carriages were filled to the brim with produce of all kinds. Berries, root vegetables, and potatoes ever familiar to the stew the Bagon had eaten in his first meal with Eoin were stacked atop the clattering cart. The contents of the second caravan was more ambiguous. Soldier pokemon directed carriages supporting tall and wide boxes, covered with tarps. If Chimera listened closely, he could almost hear faint growls as they passed. A stiff bump of the vehicle knocked him back to attention; when they reached their destination, he was going to have to ask Binair if suspension had been invented yet.

    "Chimera, would you oppose to me asking you a somewhat personal question?"

    How often did a superior have the tact to ask for permission? Chimera shook his head, raising his head to the wind like a dog through a car door. Sure, a brisk twenty miles an hour wasn't exactly thrill seeking, but he'd take it over free fall any day of the week.

    "Thank you. Now, I understand any conflicts of interest this question might entail, but may I have your assurances that you are honest?"

    Chimera nodded. Binair looked him in the eye, giving occasional glances back to the road as his hoofs returned to tapping on the metallic floor. The question was on the tip of his tongue, and a glance at the frowning tail bobbing with the suspension confirmed it was similarly in doubt.

    "In your travels, did you ever happen upon a Zorua...perhaps one who recently concealed herself as a Riolu? Boastful demeanor, fascination with legends and relics, ambition matched with a slight bit of overconfidence? You quite possibly might have seen her close by with a Fennekin."

    The car swerved, saving itself at the last second from drifting into the forest canopy as Binair waited for Chimera's response. The Bagon fell back onto his seat, expression frozen. Two sides tore into his conscious at which pokemon was better worth betraying, but after a moment's thought the answer was obvious.

    "Y-Yeah. Met her on a while back when she tried to steal one of our badges. Met her again on our way back down from the mountain. She...she helped us a fair bit, seemed to have her own trouble to deal with. Do you know her?"

    "Of course I—"

    Binair's tail fell to a frown, his own eyes similarly drooped. The automobile again continued to drift, but a flare of the Girafarig's horns put it back on course.

    "Yes, we are—were, well acquainted. While waiting for your team's return, I saw her peeking through the aircraft windows...judging from her reaction, I assume she saw me as well. For most, her illusions are enough to fool the average pokemon, but when one such as I spends the better part of their years surrounded by someone even more envious of them than her, you start to notice the tonalities that give it away."

    The Girafarig sighed. He lifted his hoof, smacking the button of a small, metallic container in between the driver and passengers side. After the cover sprang open, an especially thick wallet levitated into the air at his side. It was green canvas, ornately inscribed, and filled with enough coins to pay the Bagon's rent twenty times over. It levitated to him, opening itself at Binair's side opposite Chimera. In the Bagon's brief glimpse it its contents, he spotted a faint, black and white photo sewn onto the inside. On the left side of the picture was the same Girafarig, decidedly more youthful, and with a beaming smile nuzzled against another pokemon. From the way the wallet was placed, Chimera could only guess as to who the other figure was. What he did see however, was a sizable egg, positioned between the two. Momentary glances confirming the road ahead was empty, Binair stared at the photo.

    Whatever change in tone the Bagon had seen looking toward his boss increased tenfold. As the road winded on, and the Girafarig's glances to the photo grew ever more present, Chimera swore he could see moisture beginning to form in his boss's eyes. Binair pulled his head away, blinking the beginnings of tears away as his horns began to glow. The vehicle pulled to the side of the road, and after the brake pedal surrounded itself in a psychic aura, they were motionless.

    "Sir, something wrong?" the Bagon asked.

    "It's a chimera, you know."

    The wallet closed, shoving itself inside the storage container that similarly shut.

    "I...don't follow."

    "The plan," Binair replied, "of cheating time and returning her mother. I wish to gods human and pokemon alike for her sake that it wasn't, but I've had it confirmed on good authority. The compass...it is more of a meter than anything, a simple tool the gods used when crafting the time gears, before discarding it. Once I had it confirmed however, I had lost too much reputation in her eyes for my words to have value."

    Chimera bit his lip, fiddling to unbuckle the seatbelt as he turned toward Binair. The notes, maps, the hexagonal compass, he couldn't deny their aura of mysticism, and yet any attempt to raise an objection on her behalf found the air sucked out of his mouth.

    "Well, what did you do?" he asked. "To piss her off so much? If you don't mind me asking. She sounded pretty dedicated when I talked to her, but I don't see why she'd completely disregard your judgement. Hell, you haven't been wrong so far, at least with the time gears."

    Carriages rumbled past as the Girafarig seemed unwilling to avert his gaze from the road ahead. His hoof moved, gesturing tentatively to the metallic gear shift. Chimera reached over, and as the vehicle was put in park, Binair's head had turned, both sets of eyes staring absently to the plethora of incoming traffic.

    "It's...not an easy task, building up a world, nor one that leaves much room for other considerations. We had our disagreements, and if I'm being perfectly honest, if I had been there for her more in her early youth, this whole mess could have been avoided."

    "Well, there's still time," Chimera replied. "You saw her, didn't you? I'm sure she just needs someone to talk to; seems like she's only had herself for a while. That, and someone to say that sneaking around in mystery dungeons looking for pickpockets isn't the best long-term strategy. "

    Chimera's head tilted, before retreating to a passive stare. A lowly thief, born of the richest 'mon in the region? Granted, Chimera would sooner jump off another cliff than know what it was like raising a child, and it wasn't like he was in a position to object.

    The Girafarig stared at him, perhaps a second too long. His eyes shifted, glancing between the Bagon before him, the photo hidden under the storage compartment, and the frequent supply carriages rattling past. He was only a lowly employee, wasn't he? Granted, one that had been given more opportunity than in any other world, and yet something in Binair's look was different. His hoof raised, placing it on the Bagon's shoulder.

    "I...I plan to, but before I do, there is some business that needs to be taken care of. There's a plan, old chum, there's a plan. We need only show conviction, and not hesitate in the path ahead."

    His hoofs glowed, gear shift and pedal surrounded in tandem by light as the vehicle continued chugging along. The minutes passed, the twisting turns of the dense, jungle road continued. Just over the forest canopy in the distance, Chimera spotted a grandiose, red shingled roof. Even with only vague outlines of the ornate windows and marble pillars, the Bagon could tell it was the near equal of the guild hall.

    "She was going to be an actor, you know."

    Chimera jolted upward, another bump on the road punctuating the statement. He glanced over to meet the Girafarig's eyes, but found them centered on the road, seemingly lost within a dead-eyed stare.

    "I figured," Chimera replied, "she's got a talent for thievin', though. Probably would have gotten away with my badge if those two things didn't contradict with each other."

    The Girafarig let out a terse snort, holding it for a half second before it fell into a sigh.

    "I had it all planned out. She was to have the best training, the best education. Throughout all of it, however, I failed to realize how much my absence was driving her away. And now...I let her future slip between her paws."

    "I don't think she blames you about that, Sir," the Bagon added. "For what it's worth. Hell, I'm willing to say she feels just as bad about the whole thing as you do. At least part of her does."

    Binair's two heads lulled, latter half taking a slight nibble out of the passenger side's leather seating. The sound of gravel against tires was interrupted as the Girafarig's hooves stomped to the metal floor.

    "A thief," he said, spitting the words with no shortage of vile. "I appreciate your understanding, old chum, but it doesn't change the fact that's what I turned her into. One that I have no doubt I'll meet again through jailhouse windows in the upcoming weeks. I-I've been to her performances, funded the construction of the penitentiary theatre myself, as well as the one way glass I can observe from, for her sake. Little Zorua plays the best partner in 'Heroes of Time' you can imagine. I-I...I'm proud of her for that, for what it is worth."

    Chimera was just about to chuckle that he had his doubts at the claim, but the Bagon stayed his tongue. His hands jittered, incredulous scowl forming his face at the prospect of hearing such a foreign tone from someone in authority. The Girafarig's confession was nearly a whisper, without a hint of bravado to speak of. The automobile approached one last corner, nearly coming within eyesight of the chateau so buried within the island's mainland.

    "Sir, knowing this, I apologize for not bringing her to you," Chimera said, cringing as his eyes met his own gold badge, "or letting a thief go for that matter."

    "Don't be, old chum" came the instantaneous reply. "It is...for the better, all things considered. When the time is right, I shall try my best at being the pokemon she deserved. If the gods are kind, I can push aside my hubris enough for it to let me."

    Chimera reached down, unlatching the protective box and reaching for the wallet haphazardly shoved inside. Binair flinched, but after a moment's pause from the Bagon, gestured in approval. Chimera held the wallet up between the two of them, giving the Girafarig as much of a look of reassurance as he could.

    "I have no doubt. Hell, you're a heck of a lot better boss than I ever experienced. Just give it time. Besides, I think you have a pretty good reason why she'd be willing to give you a second chance."

    "Any why is that?" Binair asked, flinching again as Chimera laid his hand on the wallet.

    Chimera smiled, giving him a toothy grin as he glanced over to the driver's side, looking Binair straight in the eye. He opened the wallet, unable to see it himself, but wide enough that it was in full view of the Girafarig. A second passed, then another, then another still, before exchanged glances removed any doubt. Binair let out a defeated sigh. The Bagon knew, and it wasn't like he had been subtle.

    "Well...you're her pops, aren't you?"

    Chimera glanced back, suspicions being confirmed as brown eyes stared toward the picture. Standing next to Binair in black and white, with its arms cradled around his neck and eyes staring lovingly towards the egg between them, was a Zoroark.
     
  13. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Chapter 24: Thawed Perspective
    Author's note: Hello all! Apologies for the long delay. A combination of summer jobs and side writing projects would be most of the cause, though as of now I can confidently say that I remain set on continuing this story for as long as I am able. A big thank you for those who continued reading even in that delay. Without further adieu, here is the latest chapter.

    ---​

    The room itself was a relatively drab thing. Putrid grey bricks lined the walls in a square that seemed to get smaller with every minute. Only the occasional cabinet, stethoscope, or shelf of amalgamated berries broke up the monotony, as well as a large, red cross painted onto one of the sides. Had it not been for the sole window opposite the cross, the three pokemon occupying the WFG medical office would have no trouble mistaking it for an underground bunker.

    Eoin sat on a wooden stool adjacent to the red cross, claws fidgeting and feet alternating in rapid taps. Between that, and the clock stationed above the window whose hands seemed to tick with an amplification equal to a Kricketune chirp, chilling silence had overtaken the room. His neck craned, first glancing to the clock, then to the forest trail through the window with carriages of all manner and size moving through. It came to rest on the center of the room, with a Gardavoir and Raichu, standing adjacent and sitting on a medical chair respectively. The latter's legs were freshly wrapped in a thick layer of bandage and cast, holding an expression with bated breaths that equaled his own. The former held an almost blank demeanor, having spent the past hour or so attending to both of their care. In spite of this, Eoin did not miss the occasional glances the Gardevoir would give to himself, or to the goggles, tail cone, and freshly applied scale paint that the Pallid could only pray did a sufficient job at concealing his identity.

    "Are… are you sure she is going to be alright?"

    The Gardevoir let out a deep sigh, returning a layer of bandages to the shelf before locking eyes with Raichu and Charmander alike. From that same shelf, she procured a pair of crutches, leaning them against the chair.

    "Like I said, recovery might take a while, but the damage wasn't as severe as I thought it would be. It was a gift from the gods that you got to her as fast as you did, not to mention Argon here was a lot more acclimated to colder environments than most of the tropical Raichu I've treated… 'mons will start shivering like it's Articuno's hatchday when there isn't a snowflake to be seen."

    Every ounce of breath Eoin and Argon were holding in seemed to exhale at that moment, accompanied by a smile between the two that shined with a brightness not discovered before. A slight chuckle left the Raichu's lips, closed eyes suggesting its direction to be no one but herself.

    "Thank you, doctor," Argon replied. "I-It means a lot, guess all that time trudging through snow back home amounted to something."

    A moment of silence passed as Raichu and Charmander stared at each other. The Pallid raised a hand to his goggles, nearly lowering them until a reminder of their present company stayed his hand. Instead, he let out a half chuckle, one that Argon was glad to match.

    "At the very least," said the Pallid, "there is a bright future ahead of this dark business. With your approval, I could start practicing my bridal carry for our first night at the beach."

    "I wouldn't stop you," Argon replied. "But that's a big burden for a pokemon that's already swept me off my feet once."

    They turned to the Gardevoir, finding her quite immune to the levity that had infected them both.

    "Anyway, I'd give it maybe two weeks or so until the tissue heals enough to walk again. I'd also recommend that Eoin here keeps off his tail until the puncture wound fully heals. In the meantime, dare I ask what mission of the guild was so important that the three of you nearly had to kill yourselves to achieve it?"

    A slight slouch overtook the two as their smiles froze in place. Neither said a word. Eoin shook his head a miniscule bit as Argon's eyes wandered over to the blue radiance seeping from his canvas bag. With a sigh, the Pallid stepped in between them, posture shifting so that the bag was concealed from view.

    "Simply a scouting mission, one of my own creation if you can believe it. The Bagon did have a certain insistence that we complete the mission, one we were willing to follow despite the hardships we faced. I-I doubt many pokemon have charted the peak of that mountain before."

    The Gardevoir's brow furrowed. She glanced over to Argon, a second passing before the Raichu gave a corroborating nod.

    "If you insist. Must've been important for you to press on through that storm. I am just the doctor though, not like the Presider pays us to ask questions. Treatment wise, you two should be good to go, guess they'll bring the Bagon over when—crap…"

    The Gardevoir shot to attention. After half a second of thought, and a green palm lifted in defeat to her own face, she made her way to the door. Argon and Eoin could only look at each other as the Gardevoir opened the door a smidge.

    "He's already—"

    She closed the door, turning back to Argon as she lifted a hand to her back, tugging the pink spike protruding from it like it was a collar. In the brief moment the door was open, the Raichu could have sworn she heard footsteps, accompanied by the creaky squeak of wheels.

    "I'm sorry, Argon," the Gardevoir said. "I probably should have told you this earlier, guess my mind gets all muddled when it's in the immediate treatment phase. A little while after you all left on that expedition, Executive Binair told us he had gotten a letter, asking where you were. A few hours later, we were told we'd be having a very special guest from outside the region for when you all got back, one that wanted to speak to you alone. I-uh… I suppose it'd be best if I let you see for yourself."

    As the Gardevoir went to open the door, something clicked inside the Raichu's mind. The explanation and sound ran over and over in her mind. Eoin placed a hand on her shoulder, finding her expression turning into a deeper shade of terror with every second.

    "Argon, w-what's wrong? Are you alright?"

    The Raichu stared toward the door, feeling the creaking of wheels and pawprints becoming ever closer as it began to open.

    "No. Please, not now. N-Not when I'm like this."

    The door opened, seemingly of its own fruition. Argon's feet shook with every creak of the hinge, paw raising to cover her eyes. The Raichu was nearly about to turn away and let her own bandaged legs be hidden by the medical chair, but turned back as the final beam of light flowed in from the opening. She let out a deep sigh, giving her head a preparatory shake to clear the mind.

    "I understand this was short notice! You have my word this won't happen again, but is it too much to ask for a 'mon to see their own dau—oh, sweet Arceus…"

    Standing in the doorway, holding an expression of shock that not even an encounter with a legendary could equal, was a Ninetales. Flecks of grey fur coated his main. His mouth stoop agape. His face held perpetually bagged eyes and wrinkles that only time, and a nearly endless life of leadership could bring. In spite of this, the feature that drew the most gazes from Charmander and Gardevoir alike were the two prominent wheels mounted to the flank of the fox. They shone in the sunlight that reflected in, being positioned against two stumps that served as the Ninetales' rear legs.

    "I… I…"

    The clock ticked, and tocked. Every click was like a crash, punctuating the silence that had settled over the room. A dead eyed stare filled the Ninetale's gaze through his stammer, as if preparing for a hypnosis attack that would never come. With every shift of the clock hands, his eyes seemed to likewise shift between those of the Raichu before him, and her two, bandaged legs that bore into his conscious like nothing else existed.

    "I-It's good to see you, Dad," the Raichu finally said, doing her best to pull up a smile. "I… I'm sorry for not writing sooner."

    With a lurch of her hands to move on the seat, Argon turned to Eoin and the Gardevoir. After a slight chuckle devoid of any sense of humor, she gestured to the two, while locking eyes with the Ninetales as best she could.

    "E-Everyone, this is my dad, Sean. Was a former guildmaster outside of Faire; couldn't ask for a better parent or explorer."

    The Ninetales blinked, as if needing a moment or two to even decide whether the statement was true. He let out a small nod, before placing his front foot forward to carriage him into the room. Just before the rim of his back wheel would have left the door, he stopped, letting it hang open. Now but a few feet before Argon, Sean turned towards the other two; at the very least, the stare was gone.

    "Pleasure meeting you," he said, pausing only slightly at the Charmander's attire. "I-If you wouldn't mind...would my daughter and I be able to have a little discussion, in private? On my honor as a guildmaster, I swear that you will have nothing to worry about."

    In an instant, the Gardevoir nodded, making her way through the door. The Pallid's feet, however, remained rooted in place, unwilling to move until his own eyes locked with Argon's. From the Charmander's upright posture, to the neutral expression of support that ignored the outside world, a simple message was conveyed without a single word uttered.

    I'll stay with you, for as long as you need.


    An especially tempting voice in the Raichu's mind suggested to say yes, but was silenced as she took the time to glance over her father. He had always been good at hiding his own melancholy, his own weakness. However, the trained eye of a Pichu had no trouble seeing his downtrodden stare, or the way his eyes would blink in rapidity, as if from knowing what would seep from his tear ducts if he didn't.

    "Y-Yeah, it'll be fine, Eoin," Argon said. "This...this needs to be done."

    Blue and goggled eyes irises met one last time as Argon gave a silent nod. With a final glance between the two, the Pallid departed. The door closed with a final click, leaving Ninetales and Raichu to look at anywhere in the room but each other. Even before it had closed, Argon could hear it. Her vision seemed to flash as she closed her eyes. Visions of letters unwritten, of days unused. Of a lazy and scared Raichu chucking into the sea what she thought was the last hope she had of becoming something even comparable to the pokemon before her. Her ears drooped in preparation; this had been a long time coming, hadn't it?

    "I—"

    "I-It's not serious," Argon interjected. "Well, not too much. Just got a bit careless on a mountain exploration. You got nothing to worry about, I promise. I'll be back on my feet in no time."

    The Raichu could only guess the cacophony of emotions running through Sean's mind. His mouth opened, trying to speak, before shutting as his gaze returned to the floor. The process repeated, again and again, before the Ninetales finally flared to life. The two wheels creaked in objection as he slammed a paw to the floor, causing a nearby tray of medical supplies to rattle in its wake.

    "But it could have been!" Sean almost shouted. "I would know. A few minute's delay in getting treatment, a storm the slightest bit chillier than you think it's going to be. It's a dangerous business, what you're doing. What if the next exploration you go on, you are not as lucky?!"

    She blinked, blinked again, and blinked once more, unable to parse whether the Ninetales before her had even known the one she had grown up with. After all the training, all the explorations, all the speeches, this was his highest priority?

    "... Y-You're not—"

    The Ninetales forced his head to the floor, beating her to the punch as an ember from the back of his throat almost scorched the ceramic tile.

    "You could get hurt, hurt enough that every waking moment of your life is forever changed. You could have the pokemon you work with and pass by on the streets forever look at you differently. You could end up driving the very pokemon that mean the most to your heart away from tearing apart your own body! I-I don't...I can't…"

    What happened next, the Ninetales couldn't stop. Sean's next words died in a whimper. His breath hitched on his throat, ember inside lulling to ash from its previous inferno. His ears drooped, twitching only the slightest bit as he heard a faint lurching sound, accompanied by something akin to footsteps. The beginnings of tears had begun to form around his eyes when his head raised, finding a paw from Argon raised toward him, above the two crutches she used to support herself. At the offer, he lurched forward. The Raichu was nearly knocked off balance, regaining herself as she returned the tight embrace of Sean's paws. With his head resting to her side, she could only let out a sudden yelp as what tears hadn't already collected on his fur soaked into hers; when was the last time her father had cried in, well… ever?

    "I-I'm so proud of you, Argon," Sean whimpered. "By the gods, I'm proud. I just… I wish you didn't have to go down this path. The danger. The pain. I-I never knew what that little Pichu had to fear when I put that piece of parchment in front of you, guess now I know."

    It took a fair amount of restraint on the Ninetales' part for Argon to not be crushed by his grasp. Upon spotting a loose pile of paper on one of the shelves, she reached a paw to her temple, covering a single sheet in a psychic aura. Strangely, the processes seemed to come much earlier than normal, as if some unknown force was helping to push the paper along. It stopped in front of Sean's nose, allowing the ninetales to lose some of the excess mucus that had come with his tears.

    "I don't understand," Argon whispered. "I-I mean, I'm not complaining, but you always said that injury was just something an explorer had to accept. Even after it happened, you never wavered on that."

    "That was when they were my own," Sean instantly replied, nearly knocking over the two from abruptness. "That was… t-that was before I knew the pain my example would cause."

    The Raichu's ears perked up. Something seemed to click as she ran her paw over the Ninetales' back. The biting chill that had invaded her as the door was opened had vanished, replaced by a skip of her own heart staring towards her father's unending shivers.

    "B-Before you ask, this isn't on you, Dad," Argon replied. "A while back, I had thought it was fate. That whatever I did in my life I was going to end up following in your footsteps. I was wrong, though. Gotta accept my share of the responsibility of this whether I like it or not. I-I chose to do this, every step of the way. Wouldn't be fair to you or anyone else to shoehorn away the consequences."

    The ticking of the clock dulled into the background as the two sat in silence, paws clutched around the other's back. Little by little, second by second, the Ninetales' sobs faded. He took his paws from her back, signalling the end of the embrace. The two backed away, at least as well as they could, with one donning wheels and the other crutches. Sean blinked, tears in his eyes still shining in the overhead light. At the very least, the worst of it had faded, instead replaced by an expression no less somber towards the Raichu.

    "Yet it wouldn't be fair to you for me to avoid my share in it. I have no doubt that this whole venture was your choice, Argon, but my actions still led you to it. You wouldn't be in this state if I hadn't pushed you, even in your early youth. I-I just… wanted you to experience the same purpose and wonder I had, little did I know what that would entail."

    "W-Well, if it's any consolation," Argon replied, letting out a soft, bated chuckle, "I'd probably be dead right now if you hadn't, or at least would have lost a lot worse. I'd be lying if I said that your example didn't help pull me into this, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, is it, Dad?"

    The Ninetales blinked, shaking his head upon realizing his gaze was still locked onto her bandaged legs. Brief bits of ash left his maw as each of his tails drooped. His eyes wandered, aimlessly wandering around the room.

    "Do you still have it?" he asked. "That old guildmaster acceptance form I somehow thought was a good idea to frame? Please don't tell me you kept it for my sake."

    Again, the Raichu let out a humorless chuckle, shifting her weight ever so slightly away.

    "Y-Yeah. Does a great job covering that a hole in the plaster from when I thought moving that heavy cabinet against the drywall wouldn't mess up my concentration. But… that wasn't all the reason why I still have it, at least not now."

    "Then, why?" Sean asked. "It would make excellent kindling, I say that much. Especially after all this."

    Argon lifted a paw to her chin, words failing. In her haste, a crutch nearly slipped from under her shoulder. She let out a small yelp, nearly falling to the floor before some force seemed to steady her; either an invisible ghost pokemon was on community service, or she was just being delirious.

    Regardless, the question bored into her. Why? Why keep something laden with such memories, unsigned, even? Ever since leaving for Faire, it went against everything the Raichu had stood for. What happened to making her own fate? To 'living life in the easiest manner possible'? She scratched her head, locking eyes with her father as an answer at least somewhat fitting manifested.

    "I-I guess… it was to serve as a reminder, even after I made that promise after you and Mom waved goodbye. Of the Ninetales who could come home after his third fourteen hour shift in a row and still smile from knowing he had helped other pokemon. Of the parent that, even though we had our disagreements, still wanted the best for his child. O-Of the pokemon that, even after losing so much, still did more through his lifetime than I ever will."

    Sean stood in a paralyzed stupor. His eyes were wide open, moisture from previous tears still reflecting in the overhead light. He looked over the Raichu, desperate to spot any of the tells that years of experience showed would reveal her dishonesty. Rapid blinks, feet shuffling involuntarily from their own trepidations after she would proclaim her enthusiasm for studying management philosophy. Yet, her ears twitched, and her paws trembled from adrenaline, but none of the former Pichu's usual signs made their appearance.

    "You really mean that?"

    Argon nodded. She tucked in her chest, lasting for a good few seconds until the stoic facade broke, and she couldn't hold her breath any longer. Three long breaths left her snouts as she returned to her father's stare, mouth curled into a tepid smile.

    "Yeah. I do. I-I'd probably still be in my room if it weren't for you and the others, doing Arceus knows what as the days passed. In the past few weeks, I've felt more purpose out of this than the last four years here. I-I've formed a team, explored places and seen pokemon that seem straight out of an adventure novel. I've even-uh… found someone."

    At the last statement, the Ninetales blinked, brain short circuiting for a brief moment. A second later, his eyes shot open, accompanying a gasp Argon hadn't heard since she took her first steps.

    "The Charmander?"

    She nodded, ear to ear smile met by a look from Sean of shock, and something else she couldn't exactly describe.

    "Just yesterday, actually. His name's Eoin. N-Nothing serious, we've more or less decided to take it slow from here on out, but… he's nice, really nice. Smart. Gentlemonly. Type of pokemon to give you comfort in your worst moments."

    From Sean's expression, one would think the pokemon before him had just earned platinum rank and defeated primal dialga single-handedly.

    "I-I'll say, my little Pichu's all grown up. I'm glad, Argon. Real glad. Take care of him likewise in his lows. If he truly is the one, I can say from experience that the two of you won't have an ounce of regret as your grow into old age together."

    "Seems easy enough," Argon replied, giving a slight chuckle. "From what he's told me, seems like Eoin will only get happier as his scales start to grey."

    Upon final mention of the Charmander, Argon's ears perked up. Her head raised to the clock, a slight gasp escaping her maw; had it really been that long?

    "In fact, I should probably be getting back to him. He's been really anxious about showing me… something. It's apparently got him pretty worried."

    "Oh?" Sean replied. "Curious. What could possibly—"

    Ever so slowly, the Ninetales lowered his head from Argon's face. Careful not to look, but enough that the message was conveyed.

    "You will have to walk, I presume?"

    "Probably, y-yeah. Don't quite got these psychic powers mastered, as you can probably tell. Heh, might be months before I finally figured out how to do it consistently, even if my legs heal before then."

    In spite of her words, the Sean's head raised. The two wheels on his rear creaked as the Ninetales flared to life, wide eyes and beaming smile the very same from when the guildmaster of old would discover a new valley to explore.

    "Well, I wouldn't say that. You have talent, Argon, you simply need a method to bring it out into the open. I could be your instructor in that regard. It'll be just like old times! Somebody with enough knowledge and experience that, in time, I have no doubt you will have enough psychic aptitude to put Uxie himself to shame."

    "W-Well, I wouldn't know about that," Argon replied, scratching her neck. "I mean, first of all I… never mind, but second of all, I'm not really sure if it's something the two of us would be able to do. N-Not that I wouldn't appreciate your help, but something like that would probably need an experienced psychic, somebody who's been doing stuff like levitation for years."

    Sean simply chuckled, filling the room with his voice as he walked up right before Argon, a knowing smile on his face.

    "A practical concern, but you'd be surprised what a retired fox with all the time in the world occupies himself with over the years. Perhaps… a little demonstration is in order."

    Argon was given not a second's warning as her father's fur began to glow, surrounding itself in a deep, rose-colored aura. The two wheels at his rear did likewise, filling the room with a soft rumble. Frame and all, they began to buckle. Followed immediately was a slight rasping sound of the assembly moving, of its own fruition, away from Sean. The Raichu was tempted to jump forward and catch her father from falling, but was stopped by his stare, lips smiling as he looked toward the Raichu without a care in the world. With the assembly gone, the Ninetales' flank was suspended freely in the air, psychic aura dissipating to a faint tinge.

    "W-What? How did… how can—"

    "Simple practice," Sean replied. "That, and a few favors called in from the guild's most experienced psychics to speed up the process. After the first few weeks, I was able to keep this up uninhibited for hours. Wheelchair became more of a public formality than anything after that. With a determined explorer such as yourself? Once you get back from what Eoin needs to show you, I'd estimate you could attain this in half the time."

    Finally finding the strength to speak, a deep smile was shared between Raichu and Ninetales. She took hold of the crutches, ambling up to the levitating Ninetales to hold him in a tight embrace.

    "Thank you, Dad. Really. I-I'm so sorry I didn't write earlier. Gonna feel great connecting with you guys again."

    "Pleasure is all mine, Argon. I have no doubt you'll make your own fate as time goes on, whether in my footsteps, or through your own path."

    As the hug continued, Argon felt her tail move from her back, seemingly of its own fruition. Like a magic broom, it lowered itself under her, allowing the Raichu to free her hands and clasp further around the Ninetales. When her eyes open, she saw Sean glancing toward the door, a grin on his face the slightest bit mischievous.

    "Now, let's go back to your suitor, shall we? Would be a shame for you to miss the dad talk a former guildmaster can give to that Charmander.
     

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