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JFought

Sloooowly writing...
Summary:
A young trio of pokémon meet through circumstance and decide to go on a journey together across Liber: a land ruled by pokémon in a world ruled by humans. In the wake of civil war and an ongoing industrial revolution, the world around them is changing fast, but they still hold hope they can make a place for themselves in it. This is not their story. This story is about a sword.
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It’s a big ask, but I want you to trust me.

I won’t pretend to know how you feel. Our experiences are different, that much is true.

But the worlds we see, they are not that different, for they are grounded in the same earth.

Our feelings, they are not that different, for they come from the same place.

I might not understand you, but I understand you. Deep down, we all understand each other. We all have that same fundamental spark. That same core desire.

And I know that you don’t want things to end this way. That you want to have a chance.

And I want to give you that chance. I want you to give me a chance, too.

So what do you say? Will you change the world with me?

Humans have always ruled the world.

That is, until a mysterious hero introduced the First Magic and expanded the world of Pokémon beyond the limits of what anyone could imagine, leading to the grand war for liberation that ended with the creation of a new nation, broken off and isolated from everything the humans had built: Liber.

Thousands of years later, and though the world has changed much since then, Liber still exists. It is a large and prosperous land populated by all kinds of pokémon and protected by the powerful magic of its Kings. And at the core of its pride is the Traveler’s Guild and the adventurers who wander across Liber’s diverse towns and kingdoms, helping pokémon along the way with their problems. There are all kinds of reasons to become an adventurer, and it’s not at all uncommon for pokémon with big dreams to go out on journeys to find themselves. This story begins with a trio of young pokémon brought together by circumstance who use that as an opportunity to begin a journey of their own, in the hopes that they can each find what they are looking for.

But time marches onwards, history repeats itself in unexpected ways, and it is the inevitable fate of all stories told in this world to converge into a single point. Their story never belonged to them.

This is the story of a honedge, and all the people whose lives became about a sword.
So back in late 2014, I saw a piece of art, and got super inspired. Like, crazy inspired. I came up with a whole world, multiple characters, and plenty for our protagonist to do and see…

And then I realized it sucked. So it died.

Luckily for it, I had a spare Revive handy, and just like in the games, it only restores half. Like any responsible trainer, I finished healing with a Max Potion, leveled it up, and let it evolve. Before I knew it, exactly one year later, I had Sword on my hands. Unlike the original 2014 Sword, which was an escapist fantasy featuring much more prominent PMD elements and without any overarching plot, this was to be a much more focused and complete narrative, with completely new characters and a different spin on the world I had already created. As time went on, it got more ambitious. I kept throwing ideas at the wall, and I began to realize that there was something there: a story worth telling. I began writing on September 29th, 2015, exactly eight years ago to this day, and now here we are.

So yeah, I’ve been teasing this for a very long time, to say the least. Really, there are a lot of things that I’d like to say going into this, but not all of them are fit for this pre-fic section. This story is important to me, that’s the only way I know how to put it. But what does that mean? Can I communicate that? What makes this fic important to me, what makes it feel different, what makes it unique to me? Is there anything of worth here that hasn’t already been done in the eight years it took to write it? Am I late to the party? Do I know what I’m doing? Has any of this been worth it? Does this matter?

I… don’t know the answer to those questions. So I guess I’ll just sum it up by saying that I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Honestly, I’m not even sure if I know what I’m doing, or if I’m even skilled enough to pull off something this ambitious. So at the end of the day, I just hope that this story and the characters who inhabit it can bring something to yours. Nine years worth of development went into this, and I hope at least that much will show, and maybe even make up for my own shortcomings. This fic takes a lot of big, calculated risks: it’s a very slow burn that takes its time setting itself up, and in general represents a very different approach to the idea of a PMD story that, to some, might not seem clear or even to have a point at first. Reading this fic is an investment, I really do have to warn you about that. So I only ask that you come into this story with good faith and a willingness to take it on its own terms. I want you to give me a chance. I’d say more, but at some point I’m going to have to let the work speak for itself.

So yeah. Welcome to the last nine years of my life. And I'm about to post it.

Oh my god I’m actually about to post it.
Because it needs to be addressed, this fic is connected in world and/or character to four previous works: four one-shots (A Game of War, The Evening Thief, It’s Cold Outside, Searching for a Resolution), a one-shot collection (The Myriad Investigations), and a full-blown chapter fic (Chronicles of a Furret). You do not need to read these to enjoy any of Sword, and I mean that: back when I started writing this, the protagonist of that chapter fic didn’t even exist. That guy will be taking his time as far as getting involved in this story goes, so don’t stress out about having not read about his adventures. There will be a point where I’d suggest reading Chronicles of a Furret, but that’s not for a long time. So again, don’t worry about it.

Right now, Sword is exclusive to Serebii and Thousand Roads. I plan to port this over to FFN and AO3 at a later date, but there are a few things I still feel the need to figure out first, and I don't consider it a particularly high priority right now.

Another disclaimer: this fic is called Sword, but it has nothing to do with Generation VIII, the Galar region, or Pokémon Sword Version. This is technically a piece of Gen 6 fanfic, having been conceived around that time. As a result, Gens 7 and 8 have very little presence in the story. However, there is a lot of Gen 9. The reasons for this should eventually become clear, and I shall additionally state that Gen 9 is the farthest into Pokémon canon that I will draw from. There will be no elements or Pokémon from Gen 10 onwards anywhere in this fic, unless GameFreak manages to find some way to literally force me to. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Last, but not least, this fic is rated T for somewhat-mild swearing and definitely-not-mild fantasy violence. This is not a setting where Pokémon bleed very often, but when they do, “fantasy violence” graduates to “graphic violence.” Also deals in very heavy, bleak, and potentially depressing themes, including ableism, PTSD, self-harm, and suicide. I know it’ll seem pretty light-hearted at the start, but I cannot stress enough that this is a story where bad things happen to good people, oftentimes for bad reasons. Oh, and also fantasy politics. Lots of fantasy politics. You’ve been warned.

To elaborate on the swearing, most of it is minor, there are a few characters who go a little harder, and one specific character who goes very hard. Generally the fic tries to stay reserved and keep swears for impactful moments (unless it’s the one in which case oh god run).
Chapters in Sword can get quite long. We're talking way above the the forum's character limit, long. So to remedy this, I split up the chapters in a way so that splits also act as good stopping points. These splits are called sections, and are the way that Sword's longer chapters are split into more digestible chunks. At the beginning of each chapter that needs to be split, there is a Scene Index that includes links to the later posts in the chapter. This way, it is easier to navigate between them and get to where you need to be. Please use these stopping points to take breaks if you need them: think of them as mid-chapter checkpoints, or bookmarks put there for your convenience; I would like to prevent making people read sections longer than 10k words. The Scene Index also gives word count information so that you know ahead of time how long each is and can make educated decisions on how you want to read them.

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PROLOGUE: PERSPECTIVE, ALTERED BY TIME AND PLACE
  1. Looking for New Adventurers
  2. A Floral Errand
 
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JFought

Sloooowly writing...
Section 1 - 8.4k words
Section 2 - 8.9k words
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----------


THE LEGACY OF LIGHT
PROLOGUE: PERSPECTIVE, ALTERED BY TIME AND PLACE

25th Night, Crescent Rain Moon, Month of Fodric, 1831.

The rain fell heavily on the cobbled streets of Riveridge. Doors were closed, windows were shuttered, and the streets were clear. A few pokémon still lingered in the shadows of flickering street lamps, huddling and shivering underneath awnings, covers, bits of roof jutting from buildings, whatever shelter they could find as they tried to sleep through the storm. But there was no escaping the rain. It fell even more heavily from the rooftops than it did the sky, the loud sounds of heavy drops against stone engulfing the world and only broken by the occasional clap of thunder. The cracks between setts overflowed with water, flooding the streets as the drains were unequipped to handle such large quantities. No matter where one stood, there was no respite from wetness and misery.

Only one ‘mon passed through those streets with any kind of purpose. A floatzel, carrying an umbrella, making his way to the tavern. His tails were sheltered within his unblemished white coat, feet protected by rain boots as they plodded through the flooded streets and passed by their unfortunate inhabitants. A braixen lay nose to the wall, upper half covered by tarp. A growlithe lay in the darkness of an alley, head upright watching wearily. A ponyta shivered under a veranda, their flames sparking and smoking as they tried and failed to sleep. The floatzel tightened his grip and remained focused on his objective.

The tavern was closed for the night, as he expected, but he had a hunch that what he was looking for was inside the alley off to the side. He entered, careful to stay away from the large puddles crowding around the drains, and at the end found a meowstic, blue fur soaking wet.

The haggard meowstic’s drooping ears twitched as he approached, though he kept his head low. “How…” His voice was hoarse and weak. “How did you find me?”

The floatzel’s gaze and tone were solemn. “I hired the guild to look for information on your whereabouts. They told me you have been frequenting here consistently for the past several days.”

Slowly, the meowstic looked up at him. His eyes were lost and empty, yet there was a slight hard edge to them. “What do you want?” he asked feebly.

“I came here looking for you,” answered the floatzel, returning a look of pity. “I expected the worst, William, but this…” He shook his head. “You are a noble. You do not belong here, out on the street in the rain.”

“Do not belong here?” William gave a soft, bitter laugh. “If I do not belong here, then where can I? In all of Riveridge there is not a single other place to belong. Besides, perhaps, the bottom of the lake.”

“That is incredibly morbid.”

“Perhaps the sewers, then.”

The floatzel narrowed his eyes. “Get a hold of yourself.” He could feel the beginnings of anger build deep inside him, but for the meowstic’s sake he had to control it. “I understand that our father did not leave us with much.”

William’s ears flattened. “Us?” he hissed. “That is rich, coming from you.”

“I am not only talking in material terms. Our feelings are not that different.”

“Keep your feelings to yourself,” William growled. His eyes fell back to the earth while his tails thrashed against the wet stone. “What do you want with me? I assume it is not to gloat or fake sympathy.”

The floatzel sighed. “You wound me. I simply thought I should find you. As you have most likely surmised, I am on my way back from the ceremony in Grebay.”

“Congratulations, John.”

“I do not need your sarcasm,” John retorted. “But yes, with our father’s passing, I have inherited his title as the Duke of Katus.”

The meowstic’s ears perked up. He lifted his head to face his half-brother, confusion etched across his features. “Of
Katus? Not Volsera?”

John grinned and shook his head. “What’s the difference?”

William’s gaze started to harden, a new fury coming to life in his tone. “Is this some kind of joke? Are you implying that you have forsaken your birthright?!”

“Have you looked around, William?”

William looked back at his brother as if he were mad, his confusion only worsened by the floatzel’s serious expression. “What are you on about?! You have the nerve to spit on your inheritance, and
then come to me about it?!”

The floatzel’s expression did not change. “I asked if you have looked around.”

“I do not understand you, and I don’t believe I ever will!”

“You are not alone,” said John on the verge of snapping. He tried to recover from his poor timing. “I-in multiple senses of the phrase, I suppose, but that is beside the point. You are not the only one trying to brave the storm. There are many others too, who are with us on these streets tonight. I had to pass them by to get to you.”

“What is your point?”

“Our world is changing, William. Every day, more and more pokémon are moving to the cities, looking for more, only to find that the cities do not want them. Rural life is transforming rapidly, tensions between our kingdoms only continue to worsen, and as we speak, King Faraday of Farbroad is rewriting the very definition of civilisation.” John closed his eyes. “The old order that we stand on, it is straining underneath their weight. If not addressed in time, there will be nothing left of us.”

William looked down at the rain-soaked ground. “I do not understand what this has to do with me.”

“Currently, I am returning to the manor, where I will be expected to take up my duties amidst this changing world. And it is quite the heavy burden.”

“Should I wish you luck?”

“No, I am asking you to join me.”


A flash of lightning. The gardevoir looked up at the nidoking with utter bewilderment. “...What?”

The nidoking’s expression did not change, even as the rain soaked his hide. “It is too much to expect that I will be able to turn this tide alone. All I have are words and ideas, I’ll need the assistance of many pokémon in order to realize them. And I believe I should start with you.”

“But…” Fierce emotions bled through the gardevoir’s tight defenses, the claw of his only thumb digging into his right hand. He couldn’t stop himself from shouting. “Why me?! Why not anyone else on these streets, what do I have to offer?!”

Thunder rumbled in the distance. “Intelligence, for one.” The floatzel winked. “You are much smarter than I am; I’m more of a conversationalist, really.”

William wrinkled his nose. “That sounds to me like an excuse.”

“Do you want me to say it? Because I care about you? Because it is true of course, but you would not accept that.”

“Of course I wouldn’t, it is irrelevant!” William’s head fell from his brother’s gaze, forced by the weight of his own words. “I… I am a failure, John. I am not here through some unfortunate luck, I am not like the rest. I am here because I have tried and failed to live outside what I know.”


“You are not the only one who has failed.” The nidoking looked away for a moment, as if contemplating some far off past. “No, it would be more of a surprise if you had succeeded, and I never would have considered you then.”

“But you don’t understand,” the gardevoir tried to explain. “The things I’ve done, th-the mistakes I’ve made!” His voice shook with the memory. “...I’m a terrible person. I would only drag you down.”

“So?” John shrugged. “I have seen what you have done before, and it is marvellous. If I am to be dragged down by brilliance then I never had a hope in this endeavour to begin with.”

The gardevoir just stared at the nidoking. Truthfully, it wasn’t much of a surprise that he would believe something like that. They had not known each other for long, the gardevoir did not even know his name. He couldn’t decide if this move was motivated by faith or ignorance. Perhaps both.

“Do you… really believe in me?” William asked, for the first time moved by his brother’s words.

“Of course I do.” John leaned down and offered William his umbrella, for once allowing the rain to slide off his back.


“I won’t pretend to know why you feel the way you do,” said the nidoking as he offered his claw. “But I’m giving you a second chance. I want you to give me a chance, too.”

“So what say you? Will you change the world with me?”
“What do you say? Will you change the world with me?”

He considered it.
He considered it.

And so, the paw of meowstic met the paw of the floatzel.
And so, the hand of the gardevoir met the claw of the nidoking.

“I’ll… believe in you.”
“I’ll… believe in you.”

“Then we had best get started.”
“Then we better get started.”


Chapter 0-1 - Looking for New Adventurers
~~~
My name is Bertrand, a fledgling adventurer just about to start my journey. But I don’t want to go alone. I’m looking for other adventurers at about the same experience level to form a team with. I’m okay with joining an already existing group, but I’d prefer it if we were all on equal footing so that I don’t feel like a burden. I’ll be waiting in or around the Traveler’s Office, just ask the guide for me. Thanks!
~~~


25th Day, Month of Hovena, 1844.

The morning was bright and quiet. The heat of the summer months had yet to appear, and a local charmeleon found it to be the perfect time to find a shaded table just outside a local restaurant to write. He considered how to end his paper, pen tapping against his snout and tail swaying thoughtfully in the morning breeze. Nothing fancy... That’ll work. He wrote a single word, dropped his pen, and with a triumphant sigh held his request up to admire his handwriting. Now that his morning goal was done, Bertrand pushed himself out of his chair, grabbed his pen, stuffed it in the bag at his side, straightened his belt, and with a spring in his step made his way towards the Traveler’s Office.

As he walked down the cobble sett streets, still soaked brown from last night’s rain, the town of Courière woke up around him. Shops opened their windows and street merchants searched their inventory. Pokémon stepped from their bricked single-story homes and breathed in the wet morning air. A marshtomp bolted down the road and hurried past him -- He needs to learn to wake up on time, thought an amused Bertrand.

It wasn’t long before he made it there: the town square, a large, open area ringed by gardens of yellow and white daffodils in full bloom. Already, the town’s children had begun to play here; a trio of skiddo, quaxly, and poliwag laughing as they ran around kicking up puddles at each other. Bertrand’s tail reflexively wrapped around him as it remembered the last time they played this game, and he gave them a wide berth as he skirted the edge. Overlooking the garden was his destination: a modestly sized building distinguished by the stormcloud emblem on its sign, the Traveler’s Office, where he would be putting up his request for adventurers to hopefully take.

He opened the door and was greeted with the familiar smell of maps and old paper. Like most offices, it was smaller on the inside. The request board was just to the left of him past a round table, currently visited by a frogadier and timburr duo, but first he needed to talk to the poliwhirl at the reception desk in front of him. She waved as he walked in. “Hey Bertrand, what’s up? It’s pretty early y’know.”

“Hi Adeline,” Bertrand greeted back. “I’m here to put this on the board.” He placed his request face down on the desk.

The poliwhirl seemed curious at first, but as she held it up and read it, her expression hardened. “What the heck is this?”

Bertrand wasn’t fazed. “My request,” he stated matter-of-factly.

She shot an incredulous look at him. “You really think this is gonna work?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I mean I figured it was worth a shot.”

“Worth a shot?!” The disbelief in the poliwhirl’s words was palpable. “Do you seriously believe some adventurer is gonna come in here and go ‘Oh this Bertrand guy, he seems like a nice and honest fella, I think I’m gonna join his team.’ I mean you have to be kidding me.”

Bertrand just looked away and rubbed his horn, embarrassed. You don’t hafta be that harsh. “Do you have any better ideas?”

“Oh I don’t know, actually talk to pokémon?” She sighed and handed it back. “I mean, honestly Bertrand. You know you’re not the only ‘mon in this town itching to go on an adventure, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” he said, a little dejected. “But I just can’t seem to connect to anyone willing. I figured this was my best bet.”

“Really now?” Adeline crossed her arms, then pointed a thumb at the two adventurers at the board. “Prove it.”

He anxiously glanced at them. “Uh…” Come on Bertrand, just ask, you’re not a shut-in.

With some gathered resolve, the charmeleon straightened his belt and gripped the strap of his bag as he approached. The frogadier noticed him first, while his partner kept his back turned, half of his head obscured by the wooden beam hooked to his cloth vest.

It was a tough crowd already, but he had the attention of one of them. He took a quiet breath. “So hey there,” Bertrand began. “You seem to be a team, right?” One of his claws began gravitating towards his horn. He just barely saved it by scratching his cheek instead. “I-If you’re looking for any kind of help, then maybe we could try doing a request together…?”

The timburr sighed and turned around to face him with arms crossed. “Sorry, we’re not lookin’ for members.”

The frogadier eyes widened and he let out a nervous chuckle. “Wh-what my friend is trying to say is that we’re already doing just fine on our own. I wish you luck, though.” He turned back to his partner. “Want to get something to eat and check out that bounty request later?”

The timburr closed his eyes and shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, sure.”

And so, they left the office, and Bertrand was alone. He shot a look back at Adeline. See?

Adeline sighed in defeat. “C’mere. If you really want to put it on the board, I won’t stop you.” With the tiniest bit of reluctance, she opened a drawer from behind the desk and handed him a pushpin.

He took it with a “Thanks” and went over to the request board. It was divided into two sections, one for requests, and one for news. His eyes caught on the headline: “Mayor Durivi Imposes Tariff on River Cargo.” Bertrand just sighed. The ol’ count doesn’t give up, does he? He pinned his request to the board and took the time to look at it, too. And what he found there was remarkably coincidental.

---SHADY POKÉMON ON DURIVI ESTATE!---
Type: Bounty
Client: Gilbert Durivi, Clefable
Mark: Vulpix
Reward: 300 Poké
A bothersome delinquent has been spotted roaming the gardens of Count Durivi’s manor. The count is requesting as many adventurers as possible to form a search party and protect the premises from this shady pokémon’s schemes. I, head butler of the Durivi estate, will hold a meeting at noon in front of the manor gates to brief anyone who is interested.
---

A search party, huh? It would be the perfect opportunity. Other adventurers might take this request too, and if everyone was to work as a team, it’d be a good chance to show what he could offer. He looked back towards Adeline. “The count put up a request?”

“Oh, that one? Yeah, the count’s butler came in just as I opened the Office. What about it?”

“Do you think maybe I should take it?”

Adeline leaned on the desk with a skeptical look. “You sure you want to take a request from the count? Of all pokémon?”

“I’m not super thrilled about it,” Bertrand admitted. “But it says he’s trying to form a search party. This might be my chance at trying to find a team to join.”

“Eeehh…” She traced a finger around the swirl of her belly. “Maybe you got a point. If nothing else maybe he’ll learn to appreciate us for once. Of course, since it’s a request meant for multiple pokémon, you can’t take it with you. But I think you already know where to go.”

“Yeah, I do. I think I’ll go check it out at least.” Bertrand walked to the door and waved goodbye. “Wish me luck!”

“Good luck!”

Bertrand exited back into the square and made his way towards the street exiting out on the east side. This was Mepo Street, not the only place to shop in Courière but definitely one of the most notable. The place wasn’t too crowded in the mornings, though even still every stall and shop was either visited or open. He passed by the Kecleon Shop, currently being visited by a deerling with a summer green pelt in lively conversation with the store’s owner at the open awning window. Many of the stall owners eyed them with envy, and Bertrand was sure to move past just a bit quicker so as to not spark the rivalry of the street’s businesses.

Mepo Street eventually opened up into the fountain plaza that lay just in front of the bridge to the count’s manor. He walked just as far as the bridge and peered over its edge at the stream that separated the estate from the rest of Courière. Noon, huh? He looked up at the sky: the sun wasn’t quite there yet. I guess I’ll have to wait a little while. He didn’t really mind: the temperature felt just right, and with all the time he had he could probably afford to bask in the sun for a bit…

---

Bertrand was curled up asleep on a bench by the time noon rolled around. He awoke as a familiar set of voices snuck past him. “Huh?” Bertrand half-opened his eyes and lifted his head groggily. Was that…?

He looked around, but only a few ‘mon were in the plaza, none of them matching the voices he swore he heard. I couldn’t’ve imagined that, right? I coulda sworn I heard the Shell Gang…

His eyes widened, and with a start, he almost fell off the bench and stood up to look at the sky. D-Dialga’s mercy! I need to get to the manor! He grabbed his bag from the bench and ran quickly to make his way across the bridge, his destination looming in the distance.

The estate of Count Durivi was at the end of a stone path that cut straight through a verdant field of wild grass, leading towards a gate between long brick walls that enclosed the main garden, with the decadently large manor itself far past that. As he got closer to the gate, he noticed a few pokémon gathered around. Some he didn’t recognize: an umbreon; the timburr and frogadier duo from earlier; a type of pokémon he had never seen before, with a blue chitinous body and distinctive large horn.

And, unfortunately, he also noticed some that he did. He groaned internally once he saw the familiar trio of wartortle, furfrou, and machop with matching indigo scarves, leaning against the gate bars with smug self-importance. The umbreon glared at them disapprovingly, though otherwise no one seemed to mind them. But that’s because they don’t know them. Bertrand stifled a sigh, gathered his courage, and walked right into sneering range of the group. They all noticed him immediately, but luckily for his sanity, the wartortle only scoffed and continued pretending to look cool against the gate, his lackeys following suit.

Bertrand just stood there awkwardly. He wasn’t really sure what everyone else was waiting for, and he couldn’t go through the gate with those three blocking it. Normally he’d take this as an opportunity to talk to the other adventurers, but he didn’t dare open his mouth: the trio would sense the hesitation in his voice, and while their dismissal of him looked like a lack of care, Bertrand knew better.

Eventually, a familiar delphox wearing a bowtie approached from the other side of the gate: the head butler. He stopped right in front of it and gave the trio an unamused look. “I’m going to have to ask you to move.”

The wartortle, known as Alan, shrugged. “Yeah, sure.” He threw a smug grin at Bertrand, then motioned for the other two to follow him and take their place beside everyone else to await instruction.

Once he had crossed the gate and closed it behind him, the butler lifted a paw to clear his throat. “I assume you are all here about the request the mayor put up?”

The umbreon spoke up first. “I can’t speak for everyone else here, but I am.”

“S-same here,” Bertrand added quickly.

The bug pokémon was about to speak up, but Alan interrupted him. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that goes for all of us, yeah?”

The delphox gave him another hard look. “Very well then, I will get to the point.” He cleared his throat again and held his head up high.

“A few days ago, one of the maids reported seeing a shadow racing through the garden. At the time, no one paid her any mind, but the reports of an odd pokémon have only gotten more frequent among the servants. You are all here today because the mayor himself caught sight of the delinquent drinking from the stream over there.” He pointed towards the stream Bertrand crossed earlier. “And on our side of the bridge.”

The timburr scratched his head. “Is it a wild pokémon? The request said it was a ‘vulpix’ but it didn’t come with a picture. Did he get a good look?”

“He said it had red fur, and multiple tails: we believe vulpix is a good assumption. But we are not yet certain if it is a wild one yet.”

Bertrand put a claw to his chin in thought. Huh. There are no vulpix living in Courière last I checked. So it must be a wild pokémon then.

“Sounds easy enough,” said Alan with arms crossed. “A vulpix in Courière should stick out like a weed, so it shouldn’t take too long to find this thing and turn it in.”

“Are we supposed to turn it in?” Bertrand countered. “The request wasn’t clear about what to do once we find it.”

Alan glared at him, but stayed silent and let the butler answer the question. “The mayor’s only concern is keeping it away from his property, though given this is a bounty, we do require some manner of proof. Live proof would be preferable, for the sake of mediating a suitable punishment.”

“So, turn it in. Got it.” Alan shot Bertrand another smug look.

The umbreon opened her mouth to ask a question, but was immediately interrupted by the machop. “How’re we gettin’ paid? Is it a ‘whoever catches it first thing,’ or…?”

“You will all be paid equally. However, the mayor may see fit to give a bonus to whoever catches it.”

“If I could get a word in,” spoke the umbreon, clearly a bit annoyed. “Why can’t the town guard handle this request?” She took a quick glance around. “Actually, where is the guard? Don’t they work for the mayor?”

Bertrand winced. Not the right ‘mon to ask… The butler’s eyes shut in a grimace, though to his credit, he recovered quickly with a deep breath. “I would not expect an outsider to understand the situation here, but no, not anymore. They organise separately from the mayor and take orders from the guard chief appointed here by Nidekan in Luminance.” He hesitated for a moment, as if unsure whether to admit the next part. “The two are… not on good terms.”

“I see.” She dipped her head politely.

The bug pokémon took his turn to speak up. “So are we being given free rein to search this area?”

“Yes, though we will need different groups to handle different parts of the estate. We have reason to believe the vulpix is not currently past this gate, so I would have some of you patrol the premises in case it tries to get in. I would also like for a group to search the riverbank, and for another to search the town.”

Alan cut in before anyone else could, an arm raised confidently. “We call the river. Swimming’s kinda our thing.”

A bolt of anxiety now that the moment was upon them. Alan could take the river, now was his chance. Bertrand opened his mouth to-

“I can fly, so I could search from the air.”

“Us two will patrol around the gardens. We don’t know the town very well.”

“I’ll do the same. I’m not very familiar with the town yet, and the more ‘mon patrolling the estate, the better.”

…to sigh. He couldn’t even get a word before everyone had already decided on their roles. “I guess I’ll take the town then. I mean, I live here, after all.”

The butler shook his head. “It won’t do to have only one patrolling the town.”

In a moment of hope, Bertrand spotted the umbreon take a contemplative glance at the ground, before speaking up. “I guess I can search the town, then. I could probably use the chance to know it better.”

“Then it is settled. I expect that you will all be successful in capturing this trespasser.” He bowed, then went back through the gate, locking it behind him.

The blue pokémon revealed the wings hidden in his shell and flew off, and after that everyone started to split up. Alan looked directly at Bertrand and gave a salute. “Good luck accomplishing nothin’ Bertrand.” And then he was off towards the river, his machop and furfrou lackeys giving Bertrand sneering looks as they followed.

He could only glare back. Screw them… Meanwhile, the umbreon didn’t waste much time before turning towards the town. Bertrand ran to catch up. “So hey, my name’s Ber-”

“It’d probably be best if we searched the town separately. Courière is pretty large, and I’m sure I’d only slow you down if we searched together.”

Bertrand stopped in his tracks. “...Oh.”

And just like that, he was alone.

Damnit. He sighed. So much for that. He supposed that if he were successful, then maybe he’d have a chance at catching someone’s eye, but he knew better than to hope for something like that. I’ll just head back to the Traveler’s Office and ask Adeline what she knows. And so he sulked his way back over the bridge and into town.

~~~If only someone were willing to form a team with me. I guess I’ll just have to fly solo…~~~
~~~​

The deerling found herself wandering aimlessly back into Courière. The streets were livelier than when she first passed through them to get to the Gracidée School of Medicine, but the energy of the townsmon was lost on her. She kept her head down and focused on the sound of her hooves on the brick. I came all the way here, and for what?

Bitter pains of frustration ebbed and flowed, hanging over them a pervading sense of hopelessness. It had been such a long journey, and now she found herself with no purpose in the middle of an unfamiliar town. But there wasn’t anything she could do about it now, and she figured it was kind of her fault anyway.

She paused in the middle of the street. Just… Think Caitrin. You’ve gotten this far, you can figure something out.

Figure what out? You don’t have any ideas. And you’re running low on silver.

...Yeah.
Caitrin sighed, shook a moment to adjust the satchel harness on her back, and continued her way down south to the Traveler’s Office. She hadn’t visited it yet, but now that she found herself in between a rock and a hard place there wasn’t much choice but to find something to help her financial problems.

She entered the square where the Traveler’s Office was found. The puddles of water that were here in the morning had since dried up, and with the day in full swing most pokémon were working, leaving only a few wandering through the plaza going from place to place. The deerling took a chance to examine the flowers ringing the center field. Looks like the gracidea bloomed a little early this year. And, are those daffodils? She couldn’t help but marvel at it. What kind of gardener do they have here to get daffodils to bloom when summer’s just begun?

She leaned in to sniff one. Something about its aroma made her feel better about her plight, and she silently thanked the gardener for what must've been a huge effort for the sake of the upcoming Flower Festival. That’s something to look forward to, I guess. I’ve never really seen how other kingdoms handle it.

The deerling left the flowers behind for the Traveler’s Office, pushing the door open with her head and nervously poking inside to look around. The guide, a poliwhirl, noticed her as she decided to enter. “Hey there. You need anything?”

“Oh, not really.” The deerling bowed her head. “I was just coming in to check the request board.”

The guide didn’t seem to buy it fully. “No need to look so nervous. It’s over there.” She pointed to the far-left wall. “Knock yourself out.”

“Right, thanks.” She wandered over to it, still somewhat tired from all of the traveling. She suddenly became aware of how heavy her satchel harness felt, even though there wasn’t much in any of the pouches attached to it. “Do you mind if I take this off by the door?” she asked, shaking her back to show it off.

“Sure, I don’t mind.”

She lowered herself to the ground by the door, pulled herself out of the harness, and then moved to study the request board, hoping for something that she’d be capable of handling. Delivery, Escort, Bounty for 300? She didn’t really do bounties, but she was feeling a bit desperate. Maybe if it’s not too hard. And… huh? The deerling tilted her head and took a closer look at one that caught her eye.

---LOOKING FOR NEW ADVENTURERS---
Type: Escort
Client: Bertrand, Charmeleon
Reward: Friendship
My name is Bertrand, a fledgling adventurer just about to start my journey. But I don’t want to go alone. I’m looking for other adventurers at about the same experience level to form a team with. I’m okay with joining an already existing group, but I’d prefer it if we were all on equal footing so that I don’t feel like a burden. I’ll be waiting in or around the Traveler’s Office, just ask the guide for me. Thanks!
---

Caitrin wasn’t really sure what to make of it. Did a child put this up? It’s cute, I guess. It would’ve been easy to write it off like that, but she couldn’t help but give it some thought. I wonder what the story behind it is?

“Hey, um, guide? What’s up with this one?”

“Hold on.” The poliwhirl got off her chair and walked over to the board. “So which one?”

The deerling pointed with her nose. “This one.”

“Let’s see- what.”

Caitrin was taken aback by her reaction. “I-Is something wrong?”

The guide shot her a look of raw incredulity, then massaged her eyes closed and sighed. “No, nothing’s wrong. Look, it’s my fault, I’ll take it off the board.” She removed the pin and pulled it off.

“Wait, but-” Caitrin lifted a hoof and put it back down when the poliwhirl paused. “Are you sure that’s okay? What’s the story behind it?”

The poliwhirl crossed her arms and looked Caitrin over as she dangled the paper in her hand. “It’s kind of you to think about the ‘mon who put this up, but I wouldn’t worry about him. He’s off doing a request right now anyway.”

“But still, isn’t he asking for help?”

“Trust me, it’s not the kind of help you can give him.” She crumpled the paper up and walked back to the desk, throwing it into a bin just behind it.

Caitrin just stared at her, dumbfounded. I can’t believe she just did that. Maybe she was right, though. If he was doing a request, he probably didn’t need the help anyway. I’ll just see what else is on the board, then…

She took another look at the bounty request and carefully tried to read past its obtuse wording. I think, this is calling for multiple adventurers to do a search? I might be able to handle that, and it’ll pay well, so that’ll help a lot. But if the meeting was supposed to be at noon, then it’s probably too late. She looked back at the guide. I can still ask. “So what about the bounty request?”

“That one?” The guide glanced at a clock on her desk. “Unfortunately you’re too late to meet with the client, though technically you could still try to claim it. But with no information, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Caitrin felt the gold earring on her left ear weigh it down into a curious tilt. She walked up to the desk with intent. “Well, what do you know?”

“Not much,” she admitted. “Knowing the client, I can make some guesses on what’s going on here, but the butler didn’t see fit to tell me much of anything. I think…” The poliwhirl spent a moment to rub a swirl around her belly. “...I’d say if you really want to go for it, try checking the town. It’s possible the ‘mon you’re looking for has been seen by someone, and with any luck you’d be the only one searching here.”

“Right, thank you.” Not really the best situation, but maybe she could take another request and keep this one in mind as she went. There was just one last thing she needed to know.

“And, sorry to keep bothering you, but I have one more question. The bounty’s supposed to be for a ‘vulpix…’ do you know what one of those looks like?”

The guide nodded. “It’s a kind of fox pokémon. Have you seen one of those before?”

The term sounded familiar. She thought about forest wildlife. “I’ve seen thievul and nickit before.”

“Then think of one of those, but smaller, redder, and with a buncha tails. Or really, just look for the tails: they’re pretty hard to miss.”

Just as she said that, the entrance door opened, and a stocky-looking charmeleon walked in carrying a tired look of dejection across his face. “Hey Adeline-” He stopped when he noticed Caitrin there. “Oh, sorry. I’ll wait for you two to finish.”

“Wait.” Adeline opened a hand towards Caitrin then closed it as if to put a pin in the conversation. “What brought you back so early?”

The charmeleon seemed confused for a moment. “I’m looking for the vulpix. The butler organized us all and I got assigned to the town.”

The guide’s hand fell onto the desk. Her entire posture sagged in what seemed to be complete resignation.

“Hey Bertrand?”

“Yeah?”

She pointed at Caitrin. “Ask her.”

Caitrin’s ears and tail flew up as she glanced between the two. “What.”

Bertrand looked just as surprised, until the fire on his tail popped and he rubbed his horn. “U-um… So here’s the thing,” he began, his pose gradually becoming more confident. “I’m working on a bounty request right now, the one on the board. My job right now is to just look around town for the mark, but that’s kinda a lot to expect outta just one ‘mon. So, if you have the time for it, I’d appreciate the help, if you’re willing.” His gaze began migrating towards the wall, the last part coming out as a mumble. “The count will pay us all for it, so…”

Caitrin processed his question, and a few other things. Wait, his name is Bertrand? “Were you the pokémon who put up that request asking for team members?”

Bertrand chuckled as if embarrassed. “Yup, that was me alright.” Then his tail popped again and his eyes widened. “Wait, you don’t mean you’re interested in it?”

Am I? She did need the help, and if he needed help too, then maybe this was fate.

“I was definitely wondering about it. It’s kind of a weird request,” said Caitrin. “But I was actually just asking about the bounty, and I think it makes sense for us to work on the same request together. Especially since I missed the meeting.” I’m also not much of a fighter, so it's probably better this way.

Bertrand gave her a hopeful look. “You mean it?”

“Yeah.” She nodded. “I don’t know how helpful I’d be on a team, but I think I’m willing to try it out, just this once.”

“R-right, I’m not trying to assume things or anything. We can figure that part out later, right?” He glanced back at Adeline with a dumb grin on his face. She just rolled her eyes and nodded in validation.

He’s a mess. Caitrin hid her thoughts with a smile. “That sounds like a plan.”

“But you didn’t come back here just to check on your request, did you?” Adeline asked him. “You wanted to ask me something?”

“Right! The request wants us to look for a vulpix.” He looked to Caitrin. “Actually, I should probably get you caught up first.”

Bertrand led her back to the board and pointed out the request. “The vulpix was spotted along the stream and in the garden. There are a few groups patrolling the area around the estate, but we’re tasked with the town itself just in case it’s hiding out here.” He clutched the strap of his bag. “So, we’ll just be walking around. We probably won’t accomplish much, but it’d be a chance to talk and see if this will work out.”

Caitrin tilted her head. “And we’re really all getting paid for it?”

“Yeah. The count’s not normally this generous, but he’s been pretty on edge of late.” They went back to the desk and Bertrand asked his question. “So do you know anything about any vulpix in town?”

“Well, last time I checked there are no vulpix in Courière, so it’s not like the ‘mon should be too hard to find,” she replied. “But no one’s reported anything about this mystery ‘mon either. So either they’ve been sneaking around or they haven’t caused enough trouble to make anyone think anything suspicious.”

Caitrin nodded in agreement. “That makes sense. If it’s the latter, we should probably start by asking the shopkeepers then, right?”

“Yeah. It’s a good place to start at least,” Bertrand agreed.

“Get going then!” Adeline waved them off. “That’s all the help I had to give, the rest is on you two!”

“Right, thanks Adeline!” Bertrand looked at Caitrin. “And uh… What’s your name?”

“Caitrin.”

“Caitrin, right. Let’s go over to Mepo Street, that’s as good a place to start as any.”

“Right, hold on a moment.” She walked over to her harness and crouched low to slide herself back into it. After an experimental shake to make sure it was on her back properly, she met Bertrand at the door. “Okay, let’s go.”

With that, they left the office.

---

The square was only slightly livelier than it was before Caitrin entered the Traveler’s Office. Bertrand led the way down a path she had traveled not that long ago, passing by many pokémon on the way. She tried looking around for a vulpix among them, but didn’t have much luck. I hope this pokémon isn’t all that strong. If it’s red, it might be a Fire-type, which might not be great for me...

“So,” Bertrand spoke up. “You’re carrying a lot of bags. I’ve seen harnesses like that before, but is it really all that comfortable?”

Caitrin tilted her head. “I mean, it gets heavy sometimes, but it’s not that bad. Why do you ask?”

“I was just curious,” Bertrand answered, sheepishly rubbing his horn. “Seems kinda restrictive. I mean my bag already gets in the way a lot.”

He really is a mess. Caitrin smiled. “Why did you put up a request like that anyway? Normally pokémon form teams with other ’mon they know.”

Normally, yeah,” admitted Bertrand, his claw sliding down his head back to his side. “I-it’s just that, no one seems to want me on their team. So I figured it was worth a shot.” He smiled to himself. It seemed just saying it out loud was enough to turn the look on his muzzle less timid and more comfortable. “And shouldn’t I be asking you why you took the request? I mean I may have put it up, but I wasn’t actually expecting it to work.”

Caitrin looked away. “Well, you know. I’m usually a solo adventurer, so I figured this could be worth trying out.” She had left out most of the truth, but Bertrand accepted it with a nod and without thought.

“I know I’ve been a bit awkward. I promise I’m not really like this most of the time, I just, really hope this works out. I’m kind of desperate, in case you couldn’t tell.”

She nodded. “I hope this works out too.”

And with that, they once again found themselves in Mepo Street, far busier now than it was earlier. Pokémon of all kinds wandered the area, crowding around stalls and entering and exiting shops. Caitrin’s eyes were naturally drawn to the largest sign on the street, featuring a kecleon’s head and proudly advertising the building attached to it. Like all of the other Kecleon Shops she had seen on her journey here, its presence dominated everything around it, with many pokémon streaming through the door and others talking to the kecleon shopkeeper directly from the awning. It wasn’t long ago she was there herself. “We should probably ask Kecleon first, right?” she suggested. “He’s probably seen more pokémon than anyone here.”

“Don’t let the other shopkeepers hear you saying that out loud,” Bertrand hushed, sounding oddly nervous about the idea. Caitrin knew Kecleon Shops weren’t exactly popular in the eyes of local merchants, but she still didn’t understand why everyone had to make a big deal of it.

They approached the awning and waited as Kecleon dealt with a marill. Once their business was finished, Bertrand and Caitrin approached. Kecleon perked up as he saw Caitrin. “Ah, you again! Attracted back here by the greatness of my deals, hmm?” He looked to Bertrand. “And is that Bertrand you brought with you?”

Bertrand lifted a claw in greeting. “Hey Matis. I’m just here for guild work today.”

Caitrin nodded along. “Yeah, we’re here to ask if you’ve seen a vulpix wandering around recently.”

Matis’ scales turned orange and he put a claw to his snout. “Hmm. Can’t say I have. But maybe if-”

Caitrin interrupted him before he could get too far into his sales pitch. “Th-thanks. We’ll just look around somewhere else.”

“Wait!” The kecleon’s orange turned to red and he reached out in desperation. “You didn’t even let me finish! I might have something to tell you!”

Kecleon are way too tenacious for their own good. She tried to put him down gently. “We’re not here to buy anything. If you haven’t seen them then I don’t think you have anything useful for us.”

Not one to give up, he turned his gaze to Bertrand. “But, what about you, Bertrand!? Certainly you-”

“I’m gonna go too,” Bertrand said, turning him down. “Thanks though.”

Leaving the disappointed kecleon behind, they made their way back into the middle of the street. “You sure he didn’t know anything?” Bertrand asked.

Caitrin shook her head. “It’s just a sales tactic kecleon like to pull on adventurers. Even if he does know something, it likely isn’t something we couldn’t learn from one of the stall owners here.”

“Oh.” Bertrand gripped the strap of his bag and looked away. “Yeah, that checks out.” There was a slight pause where his expression grew more thoughtful, and he then brought a claw up to his chin. “Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I passed by you earlier on my way to the count’s estate.”

“Really? Small world, I guess.” Caitrin looked around at the shopkeepers running the stalls on the street. “We should probably start asking if they’ve seen anything.”

Bertrand placed his arms on the back of his head. “Right. I know a few of ‘em, actually, so that should make this go easier.”

“You do?” One of her ears tilted. “Do you live here?”

“Yeah. My house is on the other side of town from here.” He used an arm to make a vague gesture down the street. “I live with my parents.”

In hindsight maybe I should’ve figured that out earlier. “Well if all else fails, you know this place better than I do. I think…” She glanced around, taking note of all the stalls and trying to appraise who would be worth questioning. “We can cover more ground if we split up for a bit.”

Bertrand put his claws on his hips and nodded. “I think I can handle that. Sounds like a plan.”

It was subtle, but in that moment something about him seemed equal parts confident and doubtful. Caitrin wasn’t sure what to make of it. For someone who says he can handle it, it’s almost like he expects to fail.

And so, the two split up to ask around if anyone saw a vulpix. But from everyone Caitrin asked, she got a no: it definitely seemed like this vulpix was keeping a low profile. Eventually she reached the end of the street, where a small bakery stood on the corner of the fountain plaza. The smell of freshly baked bread had been weighing on her for a while. I’m starving.

She considered buying something for a moment, and sighed as she figured she probably couldn’t afford to throw around the precious few silver she had. Still, the smell is driving me crazy. I could smell it from the Traveler’s Office, practically. With that thought, something clicked in her mind. ...But maybe it’d still be worth checking out.

She entered the building. Brightly lit by the sunlight streaming through the windows, bread was stacked on shelves and placed on tables all around the storefront. At the counter was a machoke, writing something down on a piece of paper. Caitrin approached him. “Hi there.”

The machoke looked up, and immediately turned the paper over and slid it to the side with an embarrassed look on his face. “Uh, h-hi. What’s up? Looking to buy?”

Caitrin brushed off his suspicious behavior and got right to the point. “I’m looking for a pokémon. Have you seen a vulpix around recently?

His eyes widened. “H…h-have I? Uh-”

“VULPIX?!”

Loud stomping could be heard from the door behind the counter, and another, older looking machoke with slightly lighter skin and an apron came barging out. He came right up to the desk and slammed down a fist. “What do you know about this vulpix, kid?!”

Catrin nearly buckled under his aggressiveness and took a startled few steps back. “I-I was just looking for them, that’s all!”

The machoke baker grunted and walked over to a towel hanging off a hook to wipe the dough from his hands. “Did they put a bounty on her already? You adventurers work quick, don’t you! I found out just this morning!”

“About…?” Caitrin was very confused. The guild never heard anything about this… She looked to the younger machoke, who was sheepishly edging himself into a corner.

“You said you were lookin’ fer one, right?” The baker came up to the counter and leaned on his arms against it. “Tell me what you need to know, and I’ll tell ya.”

“Well…” Caitrin tried to gather herself. She stood tall and asked: “Everything, preferably. Did you have a bad encounter with her?”

He returned a brisk nod. “Y’see, for the past few days, bread has been disappearing from our inventory. Consistently, three loaves, every day.” He held up three fingers for emphasis. “I had no clue what was going on at first, but then my son here,” -- he gestured to the younger machoke proudly -- “he told me he caught the culprit in the act. A vulpix, right? Tell her!”

The baker’s son came out from hiding in the corner. He averted his gaze as he addressed Caitrin. “Y-yeah, yeah I saw her. She was a small thing. Had a bag around her neck, I think. She snuck into the kitchen through the backdoor, and made off with a small loaf as soon as I saw her.”

“And when did you say this was?” his father prompted.

“It was just last night, as we were closing shop.”

“So you see,” said the baker, “this has been a problem for a while now. I have no clue how she’s managed to evade us for so long, but when you find her, make sure to give her the ol’ one-two for us, will ya?”

“I-I don’t know about that,” said Catrin. “But I’ll see what I can do. You said she was using the backdoor?”

“Yeah. C’mon, I’ll show you.”

He gestured for Caitrin to join him behind the counter and led her through the kitchen. As they passed through, she took note of where the freshly baked bread was. Didn’t his son say the vulpix was small? Those shelves seem kind of high. Eventually they reached the back door, which opened out into an alleyway with a short metal collection bin nearby. An ashy smell pervaded the area and mixed with the aroma of the bakery to make Caitrin’s head spin.

“This alleyway leads in two directions.” The baker pointed to the right first -- “That way goes to Mepo Street,” -- and then to the left -- “and that way is the south exit from the plaza. Basically it rounds our store. My son said she went towards the south, so I’d start there.”

So she’s been navigating using the alleyways… Caitrin gave him an appreciative nod. “That’s a great lead. Thank you very much!”

“Hey, no problem! You gonna start from here?”

“No, I have a partner, actually. I need to get back to him and tell him first.”

They went back to the entrance and exchanged farewells. “Good luck!” said the baker, leaving Caitrin to deliver the news to Bertrand. As she left, she heard him speak again: “What’s this paper doing here?”

“Dad, no!

Caitrin walked a little faster.

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Last edited:

JFought

Sloooowly writing...
Chapter 0-1, Section 2
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It didn’t take long to find Bertrand. He was standing near the fountain, stressfully scanning the plaza. He breathed a sigh of relief once he saw Caitrin. “I was wondering where you went. Thought you left me behind or something.”

“No, I was just talking to the baker,” she explained. “Apparently this vulpix is a bread thief.”

“Really?” The charmeleon crossed his arms, his tail frozen in place as he thought. “Makes sense in hindsight… Did he see where they went?”

Caitrin gestured with her nose towards the street the baker pointed out. “He said she escaped using an alleyway that led over there.”

“Courant Avenue?” Bertrand put a claw to his chin. “They probably used it as an escape route back to the manor.”

“Which means…?”

He dropped his posture and sighed. “It means it just leads back to where we started. If their goal was to get back to the estate, we won’t find them in the town. They’d either be on the estate grounds, or somewhere along the stream bank.”

Caitrin felt her spirits fall. “Oh. And the other adventurers are taking care of that, aren’t they?”

“Yup.” Bertrand looked down the path and scratched his head. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to check it anyway, but I don’t think we’re going to find anything.”

It had seemed so promising, too. Caitrin couldn’t help looking away and pawing at the ground. “Sorry. You were probably hoping for a better lead than that,” she said, smiling weakly.

Bertrand looked confused. “You don’t need to apologize. Honestly I wasn’t even expecting we’d get this far.” He rubbed his horn, seemingly embarrassed to be giving a pep talk. “And it’s not really a failure on our part if we can’t find ‘em. That just means they weren’t in town.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She sighed. Now I feel bad for making him cheer me up.

Together, they followed the path south. This road wasn’t quite as lively as the others, with the stream at the bottom of a sloped rocky bank to their left and brick houses with warm colors lined up on the right. They could see the road follow the bend in the stream as it turned left towards the east, until eventually it disappeared behind another row of buildings. Of course, the manor could be seen from here too, with nothing to impede the view. It used to be that the lack of trees bothered her, but over the past month Caitrin had found herself appreciating these kinds of open spaces when compared to the claustrophobia of buildings.

“This part of town looks nice,” she commented.

“Yeah, this is one of the quieter parts. If we keep going we’ll get to the river harbor, and the bridge out of town is just at the end after those buildings over there.” Bertrand shrugged. “If the vulpix is wild it’d make sense they’d go that way.”

I wonder... The baker’s son said she was carrying a bag, which didn’t seem like the kind of thing a wild pokémon would be carrying.

“Wait a second.” Bertrand squinted, then started running down the path.

Confused, Caitrin hurriedly followed. “Why are we…?” she began to ask, before stopping herself as she noticed the trio wartortle, machop, and furfrou, spread out along the road and clearly searching for something. Does Bertrand know them?

The wartortle was standing with his back towards them. His wing-like ear twitched as Bertrand approached, causing him to throw a glance back that grew from neutral to smug as soon as their eyes met. He turned around and crossed his arms with tail held high. “Well lookie here. What are you doing here, Bertrand?”

The furfrou ran up beside his partner and growled. “Yeah, this area here’s our jurisdiction!”

Bertrand crossed his own arms and snorted. “Your jurisdiction? We’re in the town. Pretty sure that’s my role.” His demeanor had noticeably hardened, as if all the prior awkwardness had left him behind at the plaza. Is there something between these two?

The charmeleon shook his head. “Anyway, I’m wondering what you guys are doing here. Do you have some kind of lead on where the vulpix is?”

“Heh, like we’d tell you.” The wartortle caught notice of Caitrin, standing awkwardly behind Bertrand. “Who’s she? And what’s she doing with you?”

“She’s my partner. We’re looking for the vulpix together, as a team.”

“A team?” He scoffed and raised his arms in a condescending shrug. “Bet you had to hire her to help you. How much you paying? Just in case we decide to outbid you.”

Bertrand blanched and looked away. “It’s none of your business…”

The furfrou snickered to himself. “I think you hit the nail on the head!”

“Ha! Figures.” The wartortle turned towards Caitrin and bowed as much as his shelled body would let him. “My name’s Alan, by the way. This here’s Loup, and the other guy-” He finally noticed his other lackey wasn’t near him.

He turned and yelled at the machop, who had been searching through the bushes in front of someone’s home. “Hey, Guy! Get over here, we’re talking!”

The machop’s head jolted upwards, and he turned towards them -- “Huh? Oh!” -- before then running to join. “Hey, what’s Bertrand doing here? And who’s the flower-head?”

Alan scoffed. “Whatever, his name is Guy!” He pulled on his indigo scarf and winked. “And we are an assortment of the best local adventurers in all of Courière! The Shell Gang!”

They were… overwhelming, to put it one way. Loup and Guy didn’t seem like much: neither were meek, but she got the impression they never did much more than follow. Alan, however, acted with an assured confidence. He wore such a bulky shell, and yet Caitrin had never seen someone look so comfortable as they carried themselves. She instinctively lifted a hoof in the face of it. “Um… But only one of you has a shell.”

“That’s not important!” he snapped back. He crossed his arms. “You know what? Never mind. We wouldn’t want you on our team anyway, not if you can’t appreciate a cool name when you hear one.”

Bertrand sighed and brought a claw down the side of his muzzle. “Just tell me if you’ve seen the vulpix or not and we’ll be on our way.”

Alan smirked. “I’ll have you know we’re right on the verge of breaking this case wide open.”

“Yeah!” Guy exclaimed. “I mean we just saw her not that long ago!”

The wartortle did a double take. “Hey! I wasn’t gonna tell them that much!” he shouted. He then calmed down and begrudgingly looked back at Bertrand. “But yeah, we saw her. Lost her afterwards, but we saw her.”

“Where did you see her?” Caitrin asked.

Alan closed his eyes, then shrugged. “I suppose I can tell you. We were on the other side of the stream when we saw her trying to climb down the bank,” he explained. Caitrin glanced towards the rocky slope leading down towards the stream. “We swam over to try and chase after her, but by the time we got here she disappeared.”

You swam here…” Loup grumbled.

“Anyway,” continued Alan, ignoring him. “We’re pretty sure she’s on this side of town, but we’ve claimed it for ourselves, see?”

Bertrand gave Alan a hard look. “We’re supposed to be working together, you know.”

“And I’m saying that you should probably go handle somewhere else. Five ‘mon for this part of town is overkill.”

Frustration flashed across Bertrand’s face, but it quickly turned to thoughtfulness. He let out an exaggerated sigh of defeat. “Come on, Caitrin. Let’s let them handle this.”

“Huh?” That was quick. “I-I mean, sure.”

“Didn’t think you’d back down so easily.” Alan shrugged and shook his head. “But whatever. Just give us a few moments and we’ll have this all wrapped up for you.”

Leaving the trio to go back to their search, Bertrand led Caitrin back towards the plaza. He stopped in front of the fountain and stared down the opposing street to where they came from.

“What are you thinking?” Caitrin asked.

“I don’t think those three are going to find her,” answered Bertrand. “I mean, doesn’t it seem odd? Why was she on the bank of the stream in the first place?”

Caitrin gave it some thought. “If we think about what we learned from the baker, it probably wasn’t that long ago that she stole some bread. Maybe an hour or two ago.”

“Right, so she was probably trying to get back to the estate. But that means she can’t be on the south side of town.”

“Why not?”

Bertrand held both index claws in the air and traced them down parallel to each other. “The stream goes south along the road until it leads to the Brillant River,” he explained, his left claw bending its path until it met his right. “And the river blocks off the estate from the town outskirts. The entire area is basically surrounded by water on three sides, so from the town, there’s no way to get there without some way of crossing the water.”

Caitrin took a moment to process that information. “She probably doesn’t want to use the bridge because it’s too obvious, so that would mean there’s a way to cross the stream from the bank?”

“Yeah, there’s actually three ways,” he affirmed with a nod. “One is the main bridge right there, the other is a small path of rocks crossing the stream from the bank along where we just were, which she must’ve been heading for when Alan found her. And the last is a small maintenance bridge just to the north of here. It’s down that street right there.” He pointed towards the road he was looking at earlier.

So that’s her goal then. It makes enough sense… “There’s just one problem,” Caitrin pointed out. “She only would’ve gotten the opportunity to go that way while we were asking the shopkeepers, since afterwards you were waiting in the plaza and would’ve seen her. So this would’ve been at least ten minutes ago.”

“Oh, right.” Bertrand put a claw to his chin. “Do you think she could’ve come back this way while we were talking to the gang?”

“No, I don’t think so,” answered Caitrin. “I think she’s been avoiding Mepo Street, otherwise one of the shopkeepers would have seen her by now.”

“So no matter what, she has to be on the north side of town.” Bertrand rubbed his horn. “Though yeah, if it happened a while ago, there’s no guarantee we’d find her. She might’ve already crossed the bridge to the estate. The street also bends around towards the road leading to the medical college, so technically it’s possible for her to be anywhere on the west side of town without her having to go through Mepo.”

“Still, it’s the best lead we have. If she’s already noticed the estate’s being searched, she might not have crossed the bridge after all,” Caitrin added.

“Right, we have no time to waste. Let’s go.”

Together, the two hurried their way down the north path from the plaza. Buildings lined both sides of this street, some residential, others business. Multiple alleys and side paths were wedged between buildings. I wonder if she’s gone down one of them? Not many pokémon were around, so it would’ve been the perfect place to keep a low profile.

As they traveled, Caitrin felt the need to ask. “So what was going on between you and Alan back there? You both seemed really hostile.”

Bertrand looked away and gripped the strap of his bag. “It’s uh, a long story.” He let out a heavy, troubled breath through his nose. “Though, I’m actually a little worried.”

Caitrin’s ear tilted. “What about?”

“About what happens if they find the vulpix first,” he admitted. “Count Durivi is the kind of ‘mon who’d have someone punished just for looking at ‘im funny. And knowing Alan, I don’t think he’s considering what’ll happen when we turn the mark in. He’ll probably get her exiled.”

“Exiled?” That was serious. To be exiled was to be barred completely from civilization, denoted by a brand that made it legal to kill anyone who tried to defy the punishment. On rare occasions, a bounty would appear from the local guard for such a ‘mon. Wanted: Dead. “For trespassing? Is that normal around here?”

“When it’s the count, anything’s possible,” Bertrand grimly replied. “I’m thinking, he doesn’t have the freedom to do what he wants like he’s used to anymore. It’s likely possible to convince him to let her off lightly. But he’s also fickle, so you can see the problem there.”

Caitrin was starting to understand. “You’re worried Alan will make a bad case.”

“Yeah.” He crossed his arms. “It’d be even worse if he knew she’s been stealing from the bakery, so we should probably keep that to ourselves.”

“Right…” Caitrin set her sights forward. She didn’t even know what a vulpix was, but she did know she couldn’t let this happen without trying to do something about it.

They followed the road down to a gap in the buildings on the right side. Bertrand led her through the thinly spaced alley and down a staircase leading to a small wooden bridge crossing the stream. They stopped just before it, where Caitrin noticed a heracross flying in the sky over the other side. Bertrand waved to him, and the heracross waved back before continuing his patrol. “Is he one of the adventurer’s searching the estate?” asked Caitrin.

“Yeah. I think if he’s seen something he would’ve let us know, so I don’t think the vulpix has crossed this bridge.” Bertrand sighed. “But that just means that she’s probably on the west side of town, and that could be anywhere.”

Caitrin shook her head. “Not necessarily. She could be hiding in an alley waiting for things to blow over.”

“An alley?” Bertrand grew thoughtful. “Now that you mention it, there are a bunch of side paths around here. Though I don’t know where we’d start.”

“Just hope we get lucky?” Caitrin sheepishly answered.

“Yeah, guess so.”

They went back to the street and looked for the nearest alley on the left side, and from there they began searching. Most of the side paths lead to more houses, with a few proper alleys that Caitrin searched the best she could. But there wasn’t much sign of anything. She noticed a croagunk sweeping the road in front of their house and asked if she’d seen a vulpix recently. “A vulpix? I dunno know what one of those looks like, but I saw some weird ‘mon with a bunch of tails not that long ago.”

Caitrin’s ears flit up at ‘tails’ and she pressed further. “Really? Where did she go?”

“Somewhere down that way.” She pointed down the side path they were in towards another alley. “Seemed like she didn’t want to be spotted.”

This might be it! “Thank you very much!”

After gathering Bertrand, the two approached the entrance to the alley. It was somewhat dark and narrow, though it looked to wind on for a while, possibly emptying out somewhere else. “There’s no guarantee this will turn up anything,” said Bertrand.

“It still won’t hurt to check.”

They carefully started down the alley. It was very silent, and the smell of garbage overwhelmed any scents that could have been useful. Bertrand pushed ahead confidently, glancing around for signs of pokémon having come through. Caitrin was slower to move. She passed by a couple of boxes, and suddenly the fur on the back of her neck started to rise. Her ears and tail perked up, and she stopped moving.

“Bertrand.”

He looked back. “What?”

“I hear someone breathing,” said Caitrin. A soft gasp answered her.

Bertrand raised a brow. “I definitely heard that.”

Caitrin turned towards the cardboard box she had just passed by. It looked pretty light, and probably could have been flipped over easily by a clever pokémon. Bertrand seemed to read her mind and moved to put his claws around it. They heard another gasp, prompting him to hesitate. “It’s okay,” he tried to reassure. “We just want to ask some questions.” With that, he slowly lifted the box.

Underneath was a red fox pokémon sporting six curled tails: sure enough, the vulpix they were looking for. She had a small bag hanging around her neck, muddy, unkempt fur, and was shaking like a leaf as she looked up at the both of them, all six tails flat against the ground. She’s so terrified. I kinda feel bad for her.

Bertrand smiled. “See? We’re not-”

“Well what do we have here?”

Bertrand went from smiling to looking like he wanted to punch a wall.

Alan and his cronies stood at the end of the alleyway, their smug grins putting Caitrin on edge. “Looks like we were right to follow you guys, you led us right to her! ‘Course, it was my idea.”

“It was my idea…” Loup grumbled.

“Who cares, we found her!” exclaimed Guy. “Let’s-!”

Alan put up a claw. “Hey, let’s not get hasty here. After all, we couldn’t’ve done it without our friends here.”

“What are you playing at, Alan?” Bertrand asked, a menacing tone in his voice as he flashed his teeth. Caitrin fearfully stepped back from him as the air around him felt hotter.

The wartortle simply responded by shaking his head. “Dang, why so edgy? I’m saying we can all take credit for this. Just hand her over to us so we can turn her in to the count, and we’ll put in a good word for you as the brains of the operation. Sounds fair, right?”

Bertrand clenched a fist. “I’m not letting you turn her in!”

Alan’s smirk fell into a deadpan confusion. “Huh?”

“Isn’t the entire point of a bounty to turn the mark in?” asked Loup.

“You heard what the butler said!” Bertrand yelled. “We just have to find her, that’s all!”

“Yeah, there she is, we found her, what don’t you get?!” Alan snapped back.

“If I let you bring her to the count you’ll get her exiled!”

“So, who cares?! That’s not our problem! You just don’t want me taking any credit, don’t ya?!”

“This isn’t about credit!”

“Really?! Then what are you gonna do, huh?!”

As the two argued, Caitrin’s attention turned towards the vulpix, who was slowly starting to back away. She tried to get a word in. “Um-”

“I shoulda known you wouldn’t get how this works.” -- the vulpix backed away farther -- “If you don’t want credit, we can just beat you up and take her anyway.” -- her expression turned resolute -- “How does that sound?” asked an oblivious Alan.

“I think-!”

The vulpix bolted. Caitrin wasted no time and chased after her.

~~~I can’t let her get away!~~~
~~~​

“Hey, she’s getting away!”

Verene ran as fast as her legs could carry her, ignoring the shouts of the adventurers sent to catch her. Why are they after me?! What did I even do?!

The alleyway twisted and turned. Verene looked behind her and noticed the deerling was not far behind. I have to lose her. As the alley approached a hard turn, Verene gathered heat from her core, spun around, and launched an Ember attack straight at them. The deerling looked panicked for a moment, just barely jumping to the side and letting the attack sail past her towards the other pursuers. Verene did not waste time checking to see if it hit them, only hoping that their panicked yelps were indicative of a hit.

The alley eventually opened into a street, pokémon milling about peacefully before she had to unfairly ruin it. She elicited surprised shouts as both her and her pursuer disrupted the peace, ‘mon clearing out of the way and watching as Verene ran for her life. She spotted another alleyway behind an artisan’s stall to her right. Without thinking, she turned towards it and, against the protests of the electabuzz operating it, she jumped the table and hurdled into the alley, knocking his figurines across the street in the process. Hopefully that will slow her down.

The vulpix ran down this new path. It dawned on her that she was lost, but as long as she was lost from the deerling’s sights she supposed it did not matter. She made another left as she approached one and followed it right into a dead end. Wait, no! Panicked, she looked around, hoping she was mistaken. But the alley contained nothing but brick walls and wooden back doors with knobs to open them. She could now say for certain that whoever invented door knobs was evil.

Panting slowly turning into hyperventilating, Verene turned around, hoping she had maybe lost the deerling earlier, but just as she did so did her pursuer turn the corner and catch up. She was trapped.

The deerling panted as she approached. Verene took a deep breath and stomped the ground with her paw. I didn’t want to have to do this-

“Wait!” said the deerling. “I’m not here to hurt you.”

Verene couldn’t tell if she was genuine. “You were hired to catch me!” she responded.

“Look.” The deerling tentatively raised a hoof. “This is all just a misunderstanding. I’m not trying to turn you in, I just want to talk to you.”

“A likely story,” Verene spat. “Do you really believe I am that gullible?”

Her supposed benefactor looked troubled. “I’m telling the truth! I know what it’s like to have to scrounge for food. I wouldn’t imprison you for stealing.”

Stealing?!” Verene looked at her with incredulity. “What crime do you think I am guilty of?!”

“See? I’m sure there’s something we’re just not understanding here.” The deerling took a step forward. “I’m sure we can convince the count to be reasonable too, I just need you to trust me when I say I don’t want to hurt you.”

Verene reflexively took a step back. She weighed her options. I have a type advantage, but even still, could I take this deerling on in a fight? On closer inspection, she definitely looked to be stronger than she herself was. Even with that heavy harness, she managed to keep pace with Verene where the rest could not, suggesting she must have been accustomed to carrying her weight around. It seemed that even with her trump card, Verene had no choice but to trust the deerling. And yet…

“A-are you sure?” she asked, dropping her guard a little.

“I’m sure. My name is Caitrin, and…” Caitrin paused, as if unsure, then smiled. “And I’m an adventurer. It’s my job to help pokémon in trouble.”

“I-”

Verene’s ears perked, and she raised her guard as she heard the charmeleon catch up. He almost passed by the dead-end they were in, but noticed in time and ran towards Caitrin. “Bertrand?” she said as he doubled over, panting from exhaustion.

“They’re… They’re coming…”

Right on cue, the trio led by Alan ran in just behind him. “Real cute, Bertrand!” he shouted furiously. “But like hell I was gonna let that trick slow me down!” Verene was not sure what he was talking about, but clearly something had happened back there earlier.

Bertrand straightened up and turned to face him, a claw fishing inside his bag for something. “I mean it you three.” From his bag, Bertrand drew a gleaming silver dagger and pointed it at them. “I don’t plan on letting you take her.”

Alan smirked. “If it’s a fight you want, it’s a fight you get. Bring it on!”

Right as he finished saying that, his body was surrounded with a white glow, and he ran to tackle Bertrand. Bertrand sidestepped left and swung the dagger, the blade making contact with his opponent's cheek and leaving a white trail of energy as it passed through cleanly. It left no visible damage, but the way Alan clutched the spot on his cheek afterwards showed it clearly hurt. The wartortle only contemplated that for a moment before quickly turning to nail Bertrand with a Water Gun.

Caitrin shouted. “Bertrand!” But neither her nor Verene had the luxury of worrying for him. The furfrou and machop ran past the duo as they fought. Caitrin moved to block the former, but she was too far from the machop, who confidently ran straight for Verene, his hands glowing with red energy. Wait no don’t get me involved in this!

Thinking quickly, Verene turned and ran to the end of the alley. She thanked her speed and the machop’s lack of it for giving her the distance she needed to make her next move. Remember your training, you can do this.

Verene whipped around and stomped her left forepaw forward, one in front of the other. She concentrated, then drew that paw to the side against the ground, imagining she were pulling a hair from her pelt. As she pulled, a feeling of nausea formed in the pit of her stomach, as well as the tingling of electricity dancing across her fur, travelling to the tips of her tails. They rose high and unfurled, then she let go and directed the Thunder Wave attack she created at the machop.

He wasn’t expecting it all, a look of shock on his face as thin bolts of lightning shot towards him faster than he could blink and all hit him directly. He collapsed onto his knees just a metre in front of her and shuddered. “Y-you can use magic?!” he managed to croak before shuddering again, the paralysis doing its work.

Her opponent subdued, Verene did not waste her opportunity. While the others were busy fighting, she dashed for the exit. She was about to pass Alan when their eyes locked for the briefest of seconds. He forced Bertrand to jump away with a Water Gun aimed at his feet and turned towards her for another. Verene reflexively stopped her run and dropped to the ground to try and avoid it, but just as Alan was about to release his attack Bertrand figured out his goal and swept his legs with his tail, glowing with a blue-violet energy. The attack missed completely, water raining down harmlessly on the cobble street.

Verene silently thanked him and pushed herself back up, and that was when she heard the machop catch up to her. She turned towards him just in time for a harsh kick to her stomach to knock her off her feet and send her sprawling down the alley.

Verene found herself gasping and wheezing on her side in pain. She kept trying to breathe and kept failing, panic rising as her lungs refused to work properly. She shakily pushed herself up, her bag feeling harsher against her neck. Did I, lose my breath?!

Luckily, the machop was on his knees again fighting against paralysis. She looked down and tried to remember what she was taught should she be reeling from an attack. Her ears perked as they heard a bark of pain from the furfrou, and she instinctively glanced to see that he had been tangled in vines.

Focus. She looked back down and took deep breaths through her mouth, trying to stay calm and hoping that no one was noticing her. She could feel her muscles start working again, but for her liking it was too slow. So, she aimed at the paralyzed machop and with a pained gasp she managed to attack him with an Ember while he was down. She panted from the effort, her legs still shaking. I-I’m not sure if I can run anymore. But after that attack, I cannot cast much more magic either.

Bertrand and Alan were still engaging each other. The charmeleon had just dodged a Water Gun, which splattered on the wall behind him, and Alan followed that attack up with another Tackle. Bertrand dodged it as well, but Alan wasn’t looking at him. Once again, his eyes locked with Verene’s, and he charged towards her. Quickly, she drew her paw across the ground for another Thunder Wave, choking back on the much stronger nausea, and directed it at him. But he saw it coming and ended his attack to sidestep with grace. “Ha! Think I didn’t notice that- ack!”

His gloating was cut short by a seed hitting him on the head. It immediately exploded, tendrils of green energy spreading out and encasing his body. Bertrand, meanwhile, noticed the furfrou struggling to get up next to Caitrin and spat an Ember at him. The pokémon let out one last pained bark before collapsing on his side. Then he ran towards Alan. “I’m over here!”

Verene noticed the vines on the furfrou dissipate into nothing. He’s unconscious. Then-

She gasped when she heard the machop growl. His muscles were visibly tightening, a faint red energy overtaking him. Verene quickly breathed in and hit him with an Ember as he got up, but despite fire scorching his body he was unfazed. He ran to meet Verene, his arm glowing more brightly than the rest of him…

When Caitrin barrelled into him, completely blindsiding him and slamming him into the wall. He tried to recover in spite of his continued paralysis, but with breath fully regained Verene used it to hit him with another Ember for good measure. With a final yelp, his legs gave out and he slumped against the wall. He did not attempt to get back up.

It was only Alan now, dodging Bertrand’s dagger swings and wincing as the Leech Seed slowly sapped away his energy and gave it to Caitrin. “C’mon Bertrand, you know fighting with that knife of yours isn’t fair!”

“Fair?!” said Bertrand with a look of disbelief. “Where do you get off telling me about fairness?!” His fiery tail swung behind him, as if to make a point. He then charged Alan again, dagger raised high for a downwards slash. But rather than dodge it, Alan caught the blade in his claws.

Bertrand stood in shock for a moment. His arm shook as if he were attempting to pull the dagger back, but his opponent held firm. “Just sayin’” said Alan, before he shot a Water Gun directly at Bertrand’s face.

The charmeleon reeled away coughing and sputtering, allowing Alan to yank the dagger away from him and step backwards. He scoffed, then used the blade to cut one of the vines encasing him, causing the rest to evaporate into nothingness. A triumphant Alan then pointed the weapon back at Bertrand. “Now it’s fair!”

Caitrin stepped up besides Bertrand, and Verene prepared to draw more magic. Only then did the wartortle’s expression change. He looked at the unconscious forms of his friends. “Hey, what the hell?! This isn’t the time to slack off!”

Bertrand, clearly hurt from his battle but no less bold, took a step forward. “Now you’re outnumbered,” he growled. “And give me my dagger back.”

Alan panted as he kept the blade pointed forward, his face gradually turning into a grimace, followed by a frustrated growl. “Fine, have it!” He tossed the dagger at them, then used the distraction to run past, the weapon clattering uselessly on the ground just in front of its rightful owner.

Verene stopped channelling her energy, then let her growing exhaustion overtake her. She flopped onto her side, panting with her tongue lolling. It was hardly dignified of her, yet she was too weak to care.

“Hey!” Caitrin ran over to her. “Are you okay?”

Verene tried to muster up a response. “I’ve… never been in a battle like that before,” she managed to say.

“Here, hold on.” Caitrin slipped out of her harness and buried her muzzle into one of the satchels. She returned to Verene with an oran berry in her mouth, placing it in front of her. “Here, this should help a little.”

“Th-thank you…”

“Do you have one to spare for me too?” Bertrand interrupted. He had been swaying slightly and smiling sheepishly, the fire on his tail smaller than usual. “I-I made a show just now, but if the battle went on for any longer I’d be on the floor.”

And so, the three sat down and took a well-deserved break. Caitrin had plenty of oran berries, as it turned out. Bertrand remarked on how many items she had in those satchels, to which she replied, “It’s nothing, really. I just like being prepared.”

Throughout it all, Verene kept a wary eye on them. Can I really trust these two? They don’t seem to mean me harm… After downing her berry, Verene carefully pushed herself into a standing position. She swayed a little, not quite feeling back to full strength, but she could move again.

“So that was magic?” asked Bertrand. “I’ve never seen it used in battle like that before.”

Verene huffed. “So I’m a magic user. What of it?”

He shrugged. “Just saying. I thought it was cool.”

Verene was taken aback. She looked away, blushing under her fur. “You did not track me down and fight on my behalf to gawk at my abilities, I would hope.”

“No,” replied Caitrin. “But we probably shouldn’t talk here.”

Verene shifted her gaze towards the wartortle’s friends, still unconscious on the ground. It was only a matter of time before they woke up. “Very well,” she said. “Where do you have in mind?”

After Bertrand gathered his weapon, Verene followed the two out of the dead end, where they stopped at the alley’s junction. The charmeleon looked down both ways. “You think someone called the guards?” he asked Caitrin.

She tilted an ear in response. “I think it was pretty obvious we were already handling it.”

“Yeah, but then Alan came running out…” He stared down the path they entered through, before shaking his head. “We’ll go the other way just in case.”

Bertrand led them down the other way, where Verene would have gone had she not made such a rash mistake. It wasn’t particularly long, the open street at the end visibly close. As they neared it, Verene could feel anxiety grow in her chest. She stopped. “W-Wait.”

The two stopped ahead of her, Bertrand raising a brow. “What?”

“I think she’s nervous about going out in the open,” Caitrin said, regarding the vulpix with pity.

Verene glared at her. What do you know? But she was right. Her paws felt uncomfortable, caked with mud as they were, and more uncomfortable was the thought of being out in the open, perceived as some stray. She already felt the blow to her ego from realising the scene she had caused not long before. Whatever dignity Verene still had left, she wanted preserved.

With equal parts defiance and poise, Verene sat down and held her tails high. “Whatever it is you require of me, you may ask here. State your questions.”

“Right…” Bertrand did not seem very impressed as he rubbed his horn. “We should probably explain the situation first,” he started. “You’ve been hanging around Count Durivi’s estate, haven’t you?”

She felt her ears fold back involuntarily. “Well, y-yes, I have,” she said, embarrassed to admit it. “I am sure my presence is not much of a bother to him, is it?”

The charmeleon placed a claw on his hip. “Well considering that he kinda hired us to capture and imprison you, I think it is a bother to him, yeah.”

Startled, Verene’s ears perked back up. “That is what this is about, then?” She looked away. “After scaring that maid, I thought to keep away from the manor, but to think that he would still loathe my presence.”

“It was when he saw you by the stream that he decided to send adventurers after you,” said Caitrin.

By the stream? Perhaps this was my fault for overestimating him. “He does not own that,” Verene replied bitterly.

Bertrand smiled knowingly. “Yeah, the count’s kind of a jerk. But what are you doing in Courière? You have a bag, and you can use magic, but I don’t think you’re an adventurer.”

I cannot say who I am. Verene shifted her paws and tried to think of a response. “I… am an adventurer, actually. I arrived here not long ago, but I seemed to have underestimated how, difficult, being an adventurer could be. I figured the manor was large enough, so I decided to live around there.”

Bertrand gave her a sceptical look. “Well yeah. I mean the guide hasn’t seen you once, so you’d have to be pretty bad to not know you’re supposed to go to the Traveler’s Office to take requests.”

Verene recoiled, caught in her lie, and tried to think of something else. “I-I have never been in this town before. Truthfully, I do not know what a Traveler’s Office is, much less where I would find it.”

“You’re an adventurer but you don’t know what a Traveler’s Office is?” Bertrand shook his head. “I’m not sure if I can buy that.”

“Besides,” Caitrin piped in. “I don’t think an adventurer would steal bread from the bakery.”

Verene’s fur immediately bristled, and without thinking she stood tall and indignant. “That is your other accusation?! I admit to having gone there for bread, but that bread was given to me by the baker’s son! I have not stolen anything!”

“Not sure if I can believe that either,” said Bertrand, rubbing his horn yet again.

A thoughtful look crossed Caitrin’s face. “Actually, I’m pretty sure she’s telling the truth there.”

He raised a brow. “You think so?”

“Of course I’m telling the truth!” Verene shouted. “I would never in all my life resort to thievery for anything!”

Just then, Caitrin’s ear twitched, and her gaze shifted to somewhere behind Verene. The vulpix tilted her head. “What?”

She turned around to follow the deerling’s gaze, and saw an umbreon watching from down the alley. The umbreon ran closer, then nodded to Bertrand. “So you found the vulpix?”

Who…? Verene could almost swear she heard Bertrand mutter “Dammit…” under his breath, but he made no show of it and nodded back. “Yup, she’s the one. We were just questioning her.”

“More like throwing baseless accusations,” Verene grumbled.

The mysterious umbreon looked over to Caitrin. “And who’s this pokémon?”

“She’s my partner,” answered Bertrand. “Honestly, it’d be more accurate to say she found the vulpix.”

“I-I think you’re giving me too much credit,” said Caitrin, embarrassed.

“I see.” The umbreon looked Verene over, her gaze narrowing on her paws, then leaned in to sniff her head. Verene reflexively backed away, prompting the inquisitive ‘mon to lean back and regard her with a look that almost seemed sympathetic...

“We should probably take this one to the mayor and collect our reward, then.”

But not sympathetic enough. Wait-

Caitrin tilted her head at the word ‘mayor,’ but Bertrand was unfazed by it. “Yeah, let’s go.”

“W-wait.” There was a sinking feeling in the pit of Verene’s stomach. “I-I thought you said you would protect me?”

“We’re not going to imprison you,” said Caitrin, trying to reassure. “You just need to apologize, and I’m sure the count will forgive you.”

Bertrand looked away as she said that, a look of uncertainty on his face. “...We’ll figure it out when we get there, I guess.”

Verene looked around frightfully, suddenly aware that she was trapped between three pokémon who were all stronger than her. The pain of betrayal stung, and the overwhelming urge to cry shook her body. No… I-I must face this with dignity. He is nobility, it would not do to ignore his summons. She tried to control her breathing, and, flanked on all sides, she was led around the fountain, over the bridge, and down the path towards the Durivi estate.

~~~I-I can handle this…~~~
~~~​

After gathering everyone and alerting the head butler, Bertrand and everyone else, minus the Shell Gang, gathered into the count’s manor. The extravagant foyer seemed to impress everyone as they crowded in, but Bertrand was more worried about the vulpix. How am I going to get her out of this mess? he asked himself. I can’t be sure the count will have mercy, but if all he cares about is getting her off his property, then there has to be something…

“So they have arrived!” called out a voice, old and dignified. A clefable wearing a fancy white general’s outfit appeared at the top of the central staircase and made his way down the steps, small wings fluttering with each careful step. He met them at the bottom and locked eyes with Bertrand.

Count Gilbert Durivi was a complicated individual. He had inherited his title from his grandfather, who, put nicely, was far more popular than he had ever been, though not many in town were still alive to tell that tale. With an infamously short temper and a contempt for the townsmon, most interactions with him were negative, and he used to rule the town with an iron grip before events in Luminance stripped away much of his power. Considering everything that went down almost a year ago, it was a miracle he was still alive, yet he seemed to hold no gratitude for that mercy. Just looking at him, Bertrand could tell he was trying his best to pretend as if nothing had changed.

Durivi looked to his butler. “So these are the adventurers you hired?”

“Yes, my lord.”

The count made a thoughtful noise as he regarded them, eyes lingering on Bertrand for a moment just longer than anyone else. His gaze then focused on the vulpix, surrounded on all sides by the group. His eyes turned harsh. “And that must be the vulpix.”

The poor thing was shaking, but in spite of her obvious fear, she pushed her way to the front of the group, sat down, and bowed her head. “G-Greetings, Count Durivi. I-I would like to apologise for-”

The count cut her off. “Why is it speaking to me?”

The vulpix’s head flew up in shock. “I…”

The umbreon and Caitrin shifted uncomfortably. The rest of the group seemed too afraid to speak. A deep breath. Here goes nothing

“We found the vulpix,” Bertrand spoke up. “And I think this was just a misunderstanding.”

Durivi looked to Bertrand again, him being the only face the count recognized. His expression was cold and unamused. “Is it wild?”

I’m on the spot now, don’t screw it up. Bertrand gulped. “N-no, we don’t think so.”

“Then why was it on my property?”

“You see…” That was a hard one. They weren’t able to get any definitive answers out of her, only what seemed to be lies. He glanced at Caitrin, but she looked too uncomfortable to say anything. “Well… as it turns out, she’s an adventurer, too.”

“Really?” The count’s gaze was indifferent yet intense. “I have never claimed to expect much from your kind, but surely the guild is above trespassing?”

“She’s gone through some tough times,” Bertrand lied desperately. “She’s had a hard time finding work, and hasn’t been able to afford to stay at the inn for a while. So she started to take residence near the stream. And, well, I guess she just got curious about the manor.”

Count Durivi looked back towards the trembling vulpix. “To be quite frank, I could not care less what the circumstances are. If the situation were different, I would have it marked and exiled.”

“No…” the vulpix squeaked.

“However, I suppose I might have mercy on this one,” he added, no mention of how much more difficult such a process would have been now. “That is, on the condition it can be guaranteed this will never happen again.” He looked back at Bertrand with a glare. “Which I do not believe you can do.”

The timburr stepped forward angrily. “Now look here-!”

Durivi raised a gloved finger. “Silence: I have not addressed you.”

All the timburr’s confidence seemed to sputter out in an instant, and once again, everyone but Bertrand was left speechless.

The charmeleon gathered his nerves. “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to guarantee that. Surely all this is enough to teach a lesson, right?”

The count pulled his gloves tight. “Lessons are worth less than paper. I want a guarantee.”

“Then…” His next words came faster than he could think. “I’ll watch over her.”

“What?!” exclaimed the vulpix.

“You will?” asked the count, ignoring the outburst.

“Are you sure?” whispered Caitrin from behind him.

“Yes.” Bertrand brought a claw to his chest. “I know it doesn’t mean a lot to you, but I’m an adventurer now. And as a future representative of the guild, I’ll personally make sure she never sets down a paw on your estate again.”

The count raised a brow, surprised he would make such a bold promise. “I know where you live, Bertrand,” he reminded him.

“I’m not concerned, mayor.”

The mayor’s wings fluttered in annoyance, but he stayed silent. The tension in the room had grown dramatically; Bertrand could feel his heart thumping in his chest. Finally, Durivi sighed. “Very well. I suppose your word is as good of a guarantee as you can offer. But mark my words, Bertrand, I do not want to see that thing here again.”

Bertrand nodded with equal parts resolve and relief. “You won’t, I promise.”

“As for the rest of you…” The mayor’s gaze flew over the rest of the gathered pokémon, until it lingered on the timburr. “I want an apology from you.”

The timburr clutched his arm and glared at the floor. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“Louder.”

“I’m sorry!”

Durivi nodded in satisfaction. “That is all. The butler will escort you out.” He gave his head butler an expecting look. “He will also pay you all the appropriate amounts. In addition, I suppose it is only fair that Bertrand receive more for taking the vulpix as his burden. See to it that you prepare him a hundred silver more than agreed.” He glared back at Bertrand. “Let it not be said that I wasn’t generous, today.”

The delphox bowed. “As you wish, my lord.”

---

The sun was about halfway through the afternoon as the butler led everyone off the estate. At the bridge, he gave everyone 300 Poké each. Right before giving Bertrand his reward, he looked around. “Where is that wartortle and his band of delinquents? Were they not a part of this request too?”

Bertrand shrugged. “Beats me.”

“I will forward their reward to the Traveler’s Office, then. And this is for you.” He handed twenty gold coins into his open wallet, 400 Poké in all. “I do recommend you give the manor a wide berth for a few days.”

“Thanks, but I’m not worried,” Bertrand replied. And with that, the butler left for the manor, leaving the group of adventurers behind.

There was a silence that dragged for a long, contemplative moment before the bug pokémon said what everyone was thinking. “That count might have been the most unpleasant ‘mon I’ve ever met.”

“No kidding,” grumbled the timburr. “I wanted to punch his face so hard…” He performed a demonstration with his paw.

His frogadier friend put a webbed hand on his shoulder. “Now, now, let’s tone it down a little bit. We should get back to the inn.”

The timburr huffed and let his arms drop to his side. “Yeah.”

Everyone took a moment to say their goodbyes before leaving. Bertrand also had to weather a few compliments. “You handled the situation with the mayor well,” said the umbreon. “If you’re really new to adventuring, I’ll be sure to watch out for you.” And with that and a farewell of her own, Bertrand, Caitrin, and the vulpix were the only ones left on the bridge.

“I have to second what she said,” remarked Caitrin. “Honestly, I don’t know how you managed to stand up to him like that.”

Bertrand rubbed his horn, embarrassed. “Well, when you live here, you just kind of get used to him.”

Caitrin didn’t seem to buy his modesty. “He threatened you. You can’t tell me that didn’t bother you at all.”

He let his expression turn a bit more serious. “Like I said, you get used to it. Honestly, it didn’t feel like I handled it all that well.”

“Ahem.”

Bertrand had almost forgotten about the vulpix. She sat there, drilling holes into his head while her tails stood tall with indignance behind her. “This is all well and good, but I am more concerned about what you promised him.”

“Right.” Bertrand sighed. Forget the embarrassment of praise, here comes the really embarrassing part.

“Oh yeah, what did you mean when you said you’d watch over her?” Caitrin asked. “You can’t actually mean to do that, right?”

Bertrand gathered his nerves. Okay, here goes nothing. “Well, y’see,” he started, looking right at the vulpix. “I was hoping you could join our team.”

Her face was blank for the moment it took her to process that. And then- “Wait, what?!” She jumped to her feet and shot him an incredulous look. “Y…y-you’re, messing with me, aren’t you?!”

“I know it’s a bit sudden, but I figured this would be for the best,” Bertrand explained. “Honestly, I don’t buy for second that you’re an adventurer. But it’s also pretty clear to me that you need somewhere to go. And well, I saw you could use magic, and figured you’d make a good addition.”

“F-For the best?!” she stammered. “Magic is not that special!”

Bertrand smiled weakly and put a claw on his side. “Yeah, don’t buy that either. Magic is incredibly rare: including you, I could count all the ‘mon I’ve met who can use it on my claws.”

“That’s true. The only magic users I’ve ever met were other adventurers,” agreed Caitrin.

“B-But, you’re a fire-type!” the vulpix exclaimed. “And I am a fire-type! You cannot have two fire-types on your team, that’s ridiculous!”

“Why not? Caitrin here can use grass-type moves, right?” He looked at Caitrin expectantly.

“Actually, she’s got a point there,” she added with a guilty look. “Leech Seed is the only grass-type move I know.”

Bertrand held out his arms in disbelief. “But you’re a grass-type!” And then shook his head. “A-Anyway, it doesn’t matter that much! We can still cover for that weakness!”

“I-I, but-!” The vulpix screwed her eyes shut. “You cannot be serious! I can handle myself just fine, I do not need you, nor do I need to be watched! I was just fine before that blasted count decided to get defensive over nothing!”

Bertrand and Caitrin both regarded her, once again taking note of her matted fur, unkempt tails, and dirty paws. They looked at each other, then back at her. “Do you even have any money?” Caitrin asked.

“N…no.” She looked away. “But the baker’s son has treated me rather kindly.”

Caitrin sighed. “If you keep taking bread from there, we’re probably going to get another request to find you. The baker’s son might be okay with it, but the baker himself isn’t.”

“Th-that’s not my problem…”

Bertrand crossed his arms while his tail waved behind him. He could feel his worry gnawing at him as she continued to be difficult. Even without the promise, I can’t just let her suffer on her own. But if she won’t join me, then how…? That’s when an idea popped into his head.

He uncrossed his arms and let his expression loosen. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“M-my name?” She considered the question for a moment, then straightened up. “My name is Verene.”

“Well Verene, I can’t force you to do anything,” said Bertrand. “But I can’t just sit here and watch you struggle like this either. Even if you don’t want to join our team, then I’d at least like it if you stayed over at my place for the night. My parents are really kind, and they’ll definitely feed you better than what you’ve been eating.”

“I have been ea-” The sound of her stomach grumbling gave her away. “Oh.”

Bertrand kneeled down to her level and spoke with a softness tempered by experience. “Again, I don’t want to force anything on you. But your brave act isn’t fooling anyone here. And I do still have to watch over you for now. So.” He offered her a claw. “Please?”

Verene stared at his open claw, the look across her muzzle being one of both irritation and disbelief. “I do not understand why you care so much.” She paused, her defiance wavering. “But… I suppose you are right.” Her eyes started to water. “I have not eaten well in days. A-and I have been sleeping out in the rain for even longer.”

She shook her head and placed a muddy paw into Bertrand’s claws. Despite the tears, her look was fierce. “I accept your proposition. But do not expect me to join your team.”

Bertrand nodded. “That’s all I was asking for.”

The two stood up, and Bertrand looked to the sky. “The day’s only halfway over. I was thinking we should stop off at the Traveler’s Office real quick. I also haven’t had any lunch yet.”

Verene’s stomach growled again. “I suppose I could join you.”

Meanwhile, Bertrand noticed Caitrin had been silent for a while now, only watching wistfully. “Is something wrong?” he asked her.

The question seemed to snap her out of it, and she shook her head. “No, I was just thinking. I think it was a good idea to take that request.” She smiled at him. “If it’s okay, I’d like to stay at your place for the night too. It’d be better than staying at the inn.”

Bertrand put a claw on his hip. “You’d hurt the innkeeper’s feelings with that.”

Caitrin looked away and pawed at the ground. “Well I’m mostly just worried about saving money…”

“I’m just teasing a little. Of course you can stay. I never would have been able to solve this without your help.”

“I still think you’re giving me too much credit,” said Caitrin. “But thanks.”

“I got paired with a couple of saps,” Verene muttered.

And so, the three made their way to the Traveler’s Office.

----------
----------

Bertrand joined the party!
Age: 20
Nature: Relaxed
Characteristic: Sturdy body
An easygoing charmeleon from Courière who wears his heart on his sleeve. Is sometimes a socially awkward mess, but when it comes down to it, he has a great work ethic and is very dependable. Most likely to lead a line.

Caitrin joined the party!
Age: 13
Nature: Mild
Characteristic: Likes to relax
A mild-mannered deerling from Hovena who’s more capable than she first appears. Getting her angry is an accomplishment, and she strives to be understanding and considerate, though she sometimes seems almost too quick to apologize. The biggest hoarder.
In Liber, offering one’s hand to another pokémon can have different meanings depending on context. It can either mean “I want you to trust me,” or “I am not afraid of you.” The latter context is almost exclusively used by bipedal pokémon offering their hand to quadrupedal ‘mon.

I started writing Chapter 0-1 on June 9th, 2021 and finished the first draft on December 13th, 2021, taking 187 days to finish. In total, across both sections and the opening, it is 17,378 words long.

Now you’re probably wondering, “JFought, what do you mean you began writing Chapter 0-1 in 2021? Didn’t you say you’ve been writing this since 2015???” And you’d be right to notice that! The original beginning of Sword is currently known as Chapter 1-1. The Prologue, “Perspective Altered by Time and Place,” was an addition from the 2021 version of Sword. As you can imagine from a fic that took nine years just to publish, Sword’s development history is EXTREMELY complicated, so much so that even just explaining why “Chapter 0” exists would take too long. The TLDR version is that Chapter 1 ended up being unable to carry the rest of the fic’s weight, and that flaw was fundamental to its design (ie, it could not be fixed, trust me and the six years of trying to fix it that I tried). Chapter 0 was the solution I came to, trading the original faster pace of the story for a beginning that could actually set it up properly. Though if you told past me that Bertrand would be the first POV of the story, they’d go “WHO????!?!?!111/?” and promptly have a panic attack ^^;.

In other words, if you were hoping to see extremely old writing material from me, you’re gonna have to wait a bit. We’re building up to Sword’s original beginning, and like I warned, this fic is a slow burn, we’re gonna be here for a while. But I hope you enjoyed this chapter and the vibes I went for, because if you did, you might not mind it as much. Early Sword is pretty much just lowkey, slice-of-life journeyfic vibes, and if that appeals to you then you're right at home.

I did once consider making this a seperate prequel fic, but the setup here is very integral to the plot, to the point where a Sword that begins on Chapter 1 would just begin by telling you to go back here anyway or else risk the fic becoming incomprehensible past a certain point. If I were to say one last thing on this point, I’d say that this is the story’s “Trails in the Sky FC” or “Trails of Cold Steel I.” Sword takes heavy inspiration from the Trails series (also known as “Kiseki”), and the idea for Chapter 0 in part came from there and my desire to do something like it. If you’re familiar with the series, you’ll probably notice a lot of similarities, and maybe even a few references! i mean in some ways Bertrand is a Rean expy. It’s not quite Path of Valor or Once a Thief levels of referencing a big JRPG series, but Sword definitely wears its inspirations on its sleeves, and you’ll notice most of the music I link to comes from Trails.

“But wait! If the chapter was finished in 2021, why did it take you this long to publish it?!” Now THAT is another story. If you read the final Author’s Notes for Chronicles of a Furret, you actually already know why ^^;

Anyway! My goal is to release chapters monthly from here, though I can't make any definitive promises, since I’m a slow writer and Sword’s chapters are pretty demanding in terms of what each is trying to accomplish.

As one last note, I like to listen to a lot of music when I write, and given the JRPG influences, a lot of it is JRPG music. So, to help set the tone for the Prologue of this story...

~~~For low-stake battles in the Prologue...~~~
Sophisticated Fight ~ Trails in the Sky (Wataru Ishibashi)

This is my favorite battle theme of all time, and I like to use it as the main battle theme for Chapter 0.

Feedback is extremely appreciated, and thank you for reading!
 
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Heya, jumping into this story as part of our ongoing review exchange but… a PMD-esque story set in a world where humans are also present? That’s definitely an uncommon bird, and you’ve apparently been working on this story for some time, so let’s see what we’re getting into here…

Introduction

It’s a big ask, but I want you to trust me.

Not even an introduction, huh? ‘Big ask’ indeed. Though I wonder if this is supposed to be the analogue to one of those starting disembodied voices from the canonical PMD games.

I won’t pretend to know how you feel. Our experiences are different, that much is true.

But the worlds we see, they are not that different, for they are grounded in the same earth.

Is this directed at a human that has somehow stumbled into Liber? I mean, it’s not explicitly stated, but it just gives off that sort of undertone.

Our feelings, they are not that different, for they come from the same place.

I might not understand you, but I understand you. Deep down, we all understand each other. We all have that same fundamental spark. That same core desire.

♫ We're all the same, even if from another world- ♫

Oh right, wrong series for that.

And I know that you don’t want things to end this way. That you want to have a chance.

And I want to give you that chance. I want you to give me a chance, too.

So what do you say? Will you change the world with me?

de7.png


Let’s find out!

Prologue

25th Night, Crescent Rain Moon, Month of Fodric, 1831.

Huh, so moon phases are tracked independently of “months” in this setting. That actually makes me wonder what the local calendar system is like.

The rain fell heavily on the cobbled streets of Riveridge. Doors were closed, windows were shuttered, and the streets were clear. A few pokémon still lingered in the shadows of flickering street lamps, huddling and shivering underneath awnings, covers, bits of roof jutting from buildings, beneath whatever shelter they could find as they tried to sleep through the storm. But there was no escaping the rain. It fell even more heavily from the rooftops than it did the sky, the loud sounds of heavy drops against stone engulfing the world and only broken by the occasional clap of thunder. The cracks between setts overflowed with water, flooding the streets as the drains were unprepared to handle such large quantities. No matter where one stood, there was no respite from wetness and misery.

A couple minor tweaks that I’d like to suggest, but otherwise your opening paragraph does a really good job at selling a sense of a deprived atmosphere. Like you can just feel the wet misery seeping through the pages there.

Only one ‘mon passed through those streets with any kind of purpose. A floatzel, carrying an umbrella, making his way to the tavern. His tails were sheltered within his unblemished white coat, feet protected by rain boots as they plodded through the flooded streets and passed by their unfortunate inhabitants. A braixen lay nose to the wall, upper half covered by tarp. A growlithe lay in the darkness of an alley, head upright watching wearily. A ponyta shivered under a veranda, their flames sparking and smoking as they tried and failed to sleep. The floatzel tightened his grip and remained focused on his objective.

I’m honestly surprised that a Floatzel of all Pokémon would bother using an umbrella, but I guessing that the rain isn’t great for his coat. Though boy does this place seem miserable. I take it that this is the Skid Row of Riveridge?

The tavern was closed for the night, as he expected, but he had a hunch that what he was looking for was inside the alley off to the side. He entered, careful to stay away from the large puddles crowding around the drains, and at the end found a meowstic, blue fur soaking wet.

The haggard meowstic’s drooping ears twitched as he approached, though he kept his head low. “How…” His voice was hoarse and weak. “How did you find me?”

I feel as if I ought to be concerned right now. Though given that you have a one-shot that shares this setting that follows a detective, that makes me wonder if Mr. Coat here is also law enforcement.

The floatzel’s gaze and tone were solemn. “I hired the guild to look for information on your whereabouts. They told me you have been frequenting here for the past several days.”

So the guy has means, but not an ability to do his own investigative work. Noted then.

Slowly, the meowstic looked up at him. His eyes were lost and empty, yet there was a slight hard edge to them. “What do you want?” he asked feebly.

“I came here looking for you,” answered the floatzel, returning a look of pity. “I expected the worst, William, but this…” He shook his head. “You are a noble. You do not belong here, out on the street in the rain.”

And there’s nobility here. I mean, I suppose I should’ve expected as much given that Liber is apparently ruled by kings, but I was still surprised to see this Meowstic turn out to be someone of relative importance.

“Do not belong here?” William gave a soft, bitter laugh. “If I do not belong here, then where can I? In all of Riveridge there is not a single other place to belong. Besides, perhaps, the bottom of the lake.”

Well, that took a dark turn quickly.
:copyka2~2:


“That is incredibly morbid.”

“Perhaps the sewers, then.”

The floatzel narrowed his eyes. “Get a hold of yourself.” He felt anger build up deep inside him, but for the meowstic’s sake he had to control it. “I understand that our father did not leave us with much.”

I kinda wonder if either Mr. Coat’s anger should build but get suppressed before he starts speaking, or else if there should be a bit more agitation behind his “Get a hold of yourself” and a bit more of a pause as he tries to manage his mood before continuing on with William.

[ ]

“Us?” William hissed. “That is rich, coming from you.”

Might have been worth showing William’s reaction in a bit more detail. e.x. if he gets pissed enough to stand up or else if he’s just shooting a glare and turning away or something like that.

“I am not only talking in material terms. Our feelings are not that different.”

That… feels like really cold comfort to be offering your brother that’s apparently sleeping soaked in the street, Mr. Coat.

“Keep your feelings to yourself,” William growled. “What do you want with me? I assume it is not to gloat or fake sympathy.”

The floatzel sighed. “You wound me. I simply thought I should find you. As you have most likely surmised, I am on my way back from the ceremony in Grebay.”

“Congratulations, John.”

Ah, so Mr. Coat has a name. Noted, then.

Though thanks to SerebiiForums having a 60k character post limit, I'll be moving the rest of the first section's review into its own post.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Prologue - cont.

“I do not need your sarcasm,” John retorted. “But yes, with our father’s passing, I have inherited his title as the Duke of Katus.”

Wait, I actually just realized, but how does species inheritance work in this setting. Since if it’s inherited through a ‘mon’s mother like in the games…
:copyka2~2:


The meowstic’s ears perked up. Slowly, he lifted his head to face his half-brother. “Of Katus? Not Volsera?”

Oh, so species inheritance is through the mother in this setting. I think. Though I kinda wonder if there should’ve been some passing mention of what Katus is as a location, since as it stands, the names both don’t mean a lot to us as readers, and we don’t really get a solid read on what they mean for William.

John grinned and shook his head. “What’s the difference?”

William’s gaze started to harden, a new fury coming to life in his tone. “Is this some kind of joke? Are you implying that you have forsaken your birthright?!”

John: “Does it count as forsaking if you get presented a decent alternative?”
:joltyshrug~1:


“Have you looked around, William?”

William looked back at his brother as if he were mad, his confusion only worsened by the floatzel’s serious expression. “What are you on about?! You have the nerve to spit on your inheritance, and
then come to me about it?!”

I can’t tell if John’s about to offer William the title of Duke of Volsera as a consolation prize or else if something happened to Volsera such that inheriting the title means you get a name and bupkis along with it.

The floatzel’s expression did not change. “I asked if you have looked around.”

“I do not understand you, and I don’t believe I ever will!”

John: “I’m just going to take that as a ‘no’.”
:mewtwofacepalm:


“You are not alone,” said John on the verge of snapping. He tried to recover from his poor timing. “I-in multiple senses of the phrase, I suppose, but that is beside the point. You are not the only one trying to brave the storm. There are many others too, who are with us on these streets tonight. I had to pass them by to get to you.”

“What is your point?”

“Our world is changing, William. Every day, more and more pokémon are moving to the cities, looking for more, only to find that the cities do not want them. Rural life is transforming rapidly, tensions between our kingdoms only continue to worsen, and as we speak, King Faraday of Farbroad is rewriting the very definition of civilization.” John closed his eyes. “The old order that we stand on, it is straining underneath their weight. If not addressed in time, there will be nothing left of us.”

Oh, so Liber is undergoing a transition into becoming an industrialized society from a primarily agrarian / possibly feudal one. That’s probably a bad omen for what the state of affairs in the cities and socially will be like.

Though I just realized. Given that there are plural kingdoms instead of a singular ‘Liber’, that that means that Liber broke up into smaller states at some point in the past? Since that sounds like it must’ve been quite the source of problems there.
:copyka:


William looked down at the rain-soaked ground. “I do not understand what this has to do with me.”

“Currently, I am returning to the manor, where I will be expected to take up my duties amidst this changing world. And it is quite the heavy burden.”

“Should I wish you luck?”

“No, I am asking you to join me.”

William: “... Why didn’t you just come and say that from the jump?” >_>;
John: “Because you’re obviously bitter with me and I figured that you needed to be talked into things so you didn’t reject them offhand?” ^^;

A flash of lightning. The gardevoir looked up at the nidoking with utter bewilderment. “...What?”

The nidoking’s expression did not change, even as the rain soaked his hide. “It is too much to expect that I will be able to turn this tide alone. All I have are words and ideas, I’ll need the assistance of many pokémon in order to realize them. And I believe I should start with you.”

Oh, so those were memories / scrying of some sort, huh? I suppose that explains the lack of internal thoughts displayed by John and William there. Though I kinda wonder if there’s enough of a jump between whatever was going on between John and William and this Gardevoir and Nidoking that there should’ve been a hard scene separation between the two.

“But…”

Fierce emotions bled through the gardevoir’s tight defenses, the claw of his only thumb piercing through digging into his right hand. He couldn’t stop himself from shouting.

Why me?! Why not anyone else on these streets, what do I have to offer?!”

IMO, this paragraph works better separated into 2 dialogue and one descriptive paragraph. Though I would assume that Gardevoir’s thumb isn’t literally piercing through his hand, so it might make sense to edit the phrasing a bit.

“Intelligence, for one.” The floatzel winked. “You are much smarter than I am; I’m more of a conversationalist, really.”

William wrinkled his nose. “That sounds to me like an excuse.”

… Actually, wait, what is going on between John and William and these two? Are they being viewed through a screen? Being scryed on by Gardevoir? It might make sense to give a bit more of a transition to going back to them since admittedly I’m a bit lost as to how those two relate to Gardevoir and Nidoking right now.

“Do you want me to say it? Because I care about you? Because it is true of course, but you would not accept that.”

“Of course I wouldn’t, it is irrelevant!” William’s head fell from his brother’s gaze, forced by the weight of his own words. “I… I am a failure, John. I am not here through some unfortunate luck, I am not like the rest. I am here because I have tried and failed to live outside what I know.”

Well that can only imply good things™ about William’s sense of self-worth there.

“You are not the only one who has failed.” The nidoking looked away for a moment, as if contemplating some far off past. “No, it would be more of a surprise if you had succeeded, and I never would have considered you then.”

“But you don’t understand,” the gardevoir tried to explain. “The things I’ve done, th-the mistakes I’ve made!” His voice shook with the memory. “...I’m a terrible person. I would only drag you down.”

Okay, so I’m guessing that this bit between John and William is a memory somehow. Though if that’s the case, I kinda wonder if there should be more attention explicitly drawn to “Gardevoir’s mind turned back to the scene between the two nobles” or something like that.

“So?” John shrugged. “I have seen what you have done before, and it is marvellous. If I am to be dragged down by brilliance then I never had a hope in this endeavour to begin with.”

The gardevoir just stared at the nidoking. Truthfully, it wasn’t much of a surprise that he would believe something like that. They had not known each other for long, the gardevoir did not even know his name. He couldn’t decide if this move was motivated by faith or ignorance. Perhaps both.

Oh. I’m slow, but I just realized that you’re attempting to do the narrative equivalent of a scene that rapidly cuts back and forth between two locations or else splitscreens between two events. I’m not fully sure it works in a text-based format versus two back-to-back scenes, though I wonder if doing something like a visual gimmick like indent blocks ( [ indent ][/ indent] with the spaces removed) to separate the text more from each other would’ve made things a bit more obvious.

… Also, I just realized that there wasn’t a lot of description regarding where Nidoking and Gardevoir presently are. I wonder if that was intentional or not.

“Do you… really believe in me?” William asked, for the first time moved by his brother’s words.

“Of course I do.” John leaned down and offered William his umbrella, for once allowing the rain to slide off his back.


“I won’t pretend to know why you feel the way you do,” said the nidoking as he offered his claw. “But I’m giving you a second chance. I want you to give me a chance, too.”

I see the effect you're trying to go for, and while you can do this successfully on AO3 at the moment, it unfortunately doesn't work on this site at this moment in time. As a hack-y thing, I'd suggest playing around with indent blocks to play up the sense of “different scenes playing out in parallel. Though the proper solution would be to petition @Negrek to install something like this on the site or else tweak the table implementation to allow headerless columns.

Since this scene is literally be tailor-made for using it for the idea of showing two scenes unfolding in parallel to each other, assuming that you expanded out the Gardevoir and Nidoking half of the scene to be roughly equivalent in length to whatever part of John and William’s scene is being played in parallel, so it’s a bit unfortunate to see what would otherwise be a neat effect get held back by technical limitations.

“So what say you? Will you change the world with me?”
“What do you say? Will you change the world with me?”

He considered it.
He considered it.

And so, the paw of meowstic met the paw of the floatzel.
And so, the hand of the gardevoir met the claw of the nidoking.

“I’ll… believe in you.”
“I’ll… believe in you.”

“Then we had best get started.”
“Then we better get started.”

Okay, so regardless of whether or not you opt to preserve the splitscreen effect for your opening scene I kinda wonder if this part in particular part could’ve been handled in one scene given that John and the Nidoking’s lines literally are separated by 4 words of difference and the whole “same thing happening across two places” could just as easily

Granted, if you get a proper solution to your splitscreen presentation, go ahead and throw all that advice out the window.

~~~
My name is Bertrand, a fledgling adventurer just about to start my journey. But I don’t want to go alone. I’m looking for other adventurers at about the same experience level to form a team with. I’m okay with joining an already existing group, but I’d prefer it if we were all on equal footing so that I don’t feel like a burden. I’ll be waiting in or around the Traveler’s Office, just ask the guide for me. Thanks!
~~~

Bertrand, huh? I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of this guy in the very near future, though I wonder who he is…


Ah yes, Falcom music. And that reminds me that I need to stop being lazy and make a firm decision of whether or not to put musical embeds in OaT.

The morning was bright and quiet. The heat of the summer months had yet to appear, and a local charmeleon found it to be the perfect time to find a shaded table just outside a café to write. He considered how to end his paper, pen tapping against his snout and tail swaying thoughtfully in the morning breeze. Nothing fancy... That’ll work. He wrote a single word, dropped his pen, and with a triumphant sigh held his request up to admire his handwriting. Now that his morning goal was done, Bertrand pushed himself out of his chair, grabbed his pen, stuffed it in the bag at his side, and with a spring in his step made his way towards the Traveler’s Office.

Oh, so that’s Bertrand. Though live look at his paper:

spongebob-the.gif


As he walked down the brick streets, still soaked brown from last night’s rain, the town of Courière woke up around him. Shops opened their windows and street merchants searched their inventory. Pokémon stepped from their homes and breathed in the morning air. A marshtomp bolted down the road and hurried past him -- He needs to learn to wake up on time, thought an amused Bertrand thought to himself.

It wasn’t long before he made it there: the town square, a large, open area ringed by gardens of yellow and white daffodils in full bloom. Already, the town’s children had begun to play here; a trio of skiddo, quaxly, and poliwag laughing as they ran around kicking up puddles at each other. Bertrand’s tail reflexively wrapped around him as it remembered the last time they played this game, and he gave them a wide berth as he skirted the edge. Overlooking the garden was his destination: a modestly sized building distinguished by the stormcloud emblem on its sign, the Traveler’s Office, where he would be putting up his request for adventurers to hopefully take.

IMO this one paragraph is long and idea-dense enough that you should make it into at least two smaller ones. The line with Bertrand’s thought feels like a decent enough place to divide it up.

He opened the door and was greeted with the familiar smell of maps and old paper. Like most offices, it was smaller on the inside. The request board was just to the left of him past a round table, currently visited by a frogadier and timburr duo, but first he needed to talk to the poliwhirl at the reception desk in front of him. She waved as he walked in.

Hey Bertrand, what’s up? It’s pretty early y’know.”

“Hi Adeline,” Bertrand greeted back. “I’m here to put this on the board.” He placed his request face down on the desk.

IMO, Adeline’s line works better as a standalone from the rest of the description preceding it. Though I’m kind
:copyka:
-ing at Bertrand apparently feeling that the contents of his request need to be kept hidden from the way he doesn’t openly show what it says.

The poliwhirl seemed curious at first, but as she held it up and read it, her expression changed [ ].

What the heck is this?”

It probably makes sense to elaborate a bit on how the Poliwhirl’s expression changes. Like I assume that she frowns or something like that, but it probably makes sense to explicitly say that in the narration.

Bertrand wasn’t fazed. “My request,” he stated matter-of-factly.

She shot an incredulous look at him. “You really think this is gonna work?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I mean I figured it was worth a shot.”

Adeline: “Bertrand… you do realize that we only have finite space on that mission board, right?”
:mewtwofacepalm:


“Worth a shot?!” The disbelief in the poliwhirl’s words was palpable. “Do you seriously believe some adventurer is gonna come in here and go ‘Oh this Bertrand guy, he seems like a nice and honest fella, I think I’m gonna join his team.’ I mean you have to be kidding me.”

Oh, so that’s the story behind the message in before the date stamp in this scene.

Bertrand: “... I mean… yes? There has to be someone out there that needs some extra help, right?”
:fearfullaugh~1:


Bertrand just looked away and rubbed his horn, embarrassed. You don’t hafta be that harsh. “Do you have any better ideas?”

“Oh I don’t know, actually talk to pokémon?” She sighed and handed it back. “I mean, honestly Bertrand. You know you’re not the only ‘mon in this town itching to go on an adventure, right?”

Adeline: “And adventurers do like making sure their recruits have some basic level of survival skills before letting them join.” >_>;

“Yeah, I know,” he said, a little dejected. “But I just can’t seem to connect to anyone willing. I figured this was my best bet.”

“Really now?” Adeline crossed her arms, then pointed a thumb at the two adventurers at the board. “Prove it.”

He glanced at them anxiously. “Uh…” Come on Bertrand, just ask, you’re not a shut-in.

He’s totally a shut-in. Or else close enough to one. >:V

With some gathered resolve, the charmeleon straightened his belt and gripped the strap of his bag. The frogadier noticed first as he approached.

So hey there,” Bertrand began. “You seem to be a team, right?”

[ ] One of his claws began gravitating towards his horn.

If you’re looking for any kind of help, then maybe we could try doing a request together…?”

I kinda wonder if Bertrand’s belt should’ve been mentioned earlier on when he’s first introduced, since this is admittedly coming a bit out of nowhere ATM. Though this paragraph feels like one that would probably be better off broken up, since I kinda wonder if there’s a bit too much going on since you functionally have 2 separate lines of dialogue and 2 separate bits of description mashed all together. Splitting it up and expanding some of the description might sell the sense of time passing a bit more, especially when Bertrand’s entering headrub mode.

The timburr sighed and turned around to face him, arms crossed over the cloth vest with a wooden beam hooked to its back. “Sorry, we’re not lookin’ for members.”

The frogadier eyes widened and he chuckled nervously. “Wh-what my friend is trying to say is that we’re already doing just fine on our own. I wish you luck, though.” He turned back to his partner. “Want to get something to eat and check out that bounty request later?”

The timburr closed his eyes and shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”

Yeeeeeeeah, I don’t blame the two for shooting Bertrand down given that they hunt Outlaws. I do wonder if their clothing should’ve been described a bit earlier on, for instance potentially when Bertrand approaches them by the mission board and gets a better look at them.

And so, they left the office, and Bertrand was alone. He shot a look back at Adeline. See?

Adeline: “Bertrand, you’re supposed to tell them about your abilities and why they should want you to join their team…” >_>;
Bertrand: “Oh come on! I’m a Charmeleon! I spit fire and claw stuff! Just how much does that need to be explained?!”
:WHY:


Adeline sighed in defeat. “C’mere. If you really want to put it on the board, I won’t stop you.” With the tiniest bit of reluctance, she opened a drawer from behind the desk and handed him a pushpin.

Ah yes, pity agreement for the win.

He took it with a “Thanks” and went over to the request board. It was divided into two sections, one for requests, and one for news. His eyes caught on the headline: “Mayor Durivi Imposes Tariff on River Cargo.” Bertrand just sighed. The ol’ count doesn’t give up, does he? He pinned his request to the board and took the time to look at it, too. And what he found there was remarkably coincidental.

Oh hey, another PMD fic with a Count that’s bad news~ Though assuming the ‘count’ is meant to be the nobiliary rank, I’m pretty sure that it should be capitalized if it’s meant to directly reference a figure. Though I can already tell that this isn’t going to be the last we hear of Durivi in this story.

---SHADY POKÉMON ON DURIVI ESTATE!---
Type: Bounty
Client: Gilbert Durivi, Clefable
Mark: Vulpix
Reward: 300 Poké
A bothersome delinquent has been spotted roaming the gardens of Count Durivi’s manor. The Count is requesting as many adventurers as possible to form a search party and protect the premises from this shady pokémon’s schemes. I, head butler of the Durivi estate, will hold a meeting at noon in front of the manor gates to brief anyone who is interested.
---

Oh hey, he’s returning to the story that quickly, huh?
:copyber:


A search party, huh? It would be the perfect opportunity. Other adventurers might take this request too, and if everyone was to work as a team, it’d be a good chance to show what he could offer. He looked back towards Adeline.

The count put up a request?”

I… am not convinced that this is going to turn out to be anywhere near as easy as you expect it to be, Bertrand. Plots don’t work that way.

“Oh, that one? Yeah, the count’s butler came in just as I opened the Office. What about it?”

“Do you think maybe I should take it?”

Adeline: “Will it get you to stop nagging me about trying to set you up with a team?”
:eltywtf:


Adeline leaned on the desk with a skeptical look. “You sure you want to take a request from the Count? Of all pokémon?”

“I’m not super thrilled about it,” Bertrand admitted. “But it says he’s trying to form a search party. This might be my chance at trying to find a team to join.”

That… doesn’t sound like a good omen for what this Duviri’s like, really.
:copyka2~2:


“Eeehh…” She traced a finger around the swirl of her belly. “Maybe you got a point. If nothing else maybe he’ll learn to appreciate us for once. Of course, since it’s a request meant for multiple pokémon, you can’t take it with you. But I think you already know where to go.”

[ ]
“Yeah, I do. I think I’ll go check it out at least.” Bertrand walked to the door and waved goodbye. “Wish me luck!”

“Good luck!”

I kinda wonder if there should’ve been some more description highlighting the gears turning in Bertrand’s head about “okay, Duviri’s a jerk buuuut... it’d help raise my profile” since it’d be a chance to get more of an idea of who Duviri is as a personality and how Bertrand and others in Courière view him.

Bertrand exited back into the square and made his way towards the street exiting out on the east side. This was Mepo Street, not the only place to shop in Courière but definitely one of the most notable. The place wasn’t too crowded in the mornings, though even still every stall and shop was either visited or open. He passed by the Kecleon Shop, currently being visited by a deerling with a summer green pelt in lively conversation with the store’s owner at the open awning window. Many of the stall owners eyed them with envy, and Bertrand was sure to move past just a bit quicker so as to not spark the rivalry of the street’s businesses.

Oh, so it’s summer at the moment in Courière. Duly noted in that case. Though that makes me wonder if Kecleon are similarly scourges for shoplifters in this setting, since if they have hostile business rivalries...
:copyka:


Mepo Street eventually opened up into the fountain plaza that lay just in front of the bridge to the count’s manor. He walked just as far as the bridge and peered over its edge at the stream that separated the estate from the rest of Courière. Noon, huh? He looked up at the sky: the sun wasn’t quite there yet. I guess I’ll have to wait a little while. He didn’t really mind: the temperature felt just right, and with all the time he had he could probably afford to bask in the sun for a bit…

Bertrand’s going to fall asleep and miss orientation, isn’t he? ^^;

Bertrand was curled up asleep on a bench by the time noon rolled around. He awoke as a familiar set of voices snuck past him. “Huh?” Bertrand half-opened his eyes and lifted his head groggily.

Was that…? He looked around, but only a few ‘mon were in the plaza, none of them matching the voices he swore he heard. I couldn’t of imagined that, right? I coulda sworn I heard the Shell Gang…

Yeah, I knew it. Though the ‘Shell Gang’, huh? I kinda wonder if there should’ve been a few more concrete details hinting at who they are, since they’re described in rather vague terms and there wasn’t any earlier hints as to their existence in the prior scene.

His eyes widened, and with a start, he almost fell off the bench and stood up to look at the sky. D-Dialga’s mercy! I need to get to the manor! He grabbed his bag from the bench and ran quickly to make his way across the bridge, his destination looming in the distance.

You see, Bertrand, this is the reason people consume caffeine. To stay awake and not get into these situations. Though just filing ‘Dialga’s Mercy’ away for a potential hint at what this place’s pantheon is like.

The estate of Count Durivi was at the end of a path that led straight through a verdant field of wild grass. It was separated from the main garden by a decently-sized brick wall, with the decadently large manor itself far past that. As he got closer to the gate, he noticed a few pokémon gathered around. Some he didn’t recognize: an umbreon; the timburr and frogadier duo from earlier; a type of pokémon he had never seen before, with a blue chitinous body and distinctive large horn.

And, unfortunately, he noticed some that he did recognize. He groaned internally once he saw the familiar trio of wartortle, furfrou, and machop with matching indigo scarves, leaning against the gate bars with smug self-importance. The umbreon glared at them disapprovingly, though otherwise no one seemed to mind them. But that’s because they don’t know them.

Bertrand stifled a sigh, gathered his courage, and walked right into sneering range of the group. They all noticed him immediately, but luckily for his sanity, the wartortle only scoffed and continued pretending to look cool against the gate, his lackeys following suit.

I’m guessing that this would be that ‘Shell Gang’ that Bertrand mentioned in the narration a bit earlier. Though this paragraph is long enough that you should probably consider cutting it up into 2 or 3 pieces. I gave a throwaway suggestion for a potential 3-paragraph solution above.

Bertrand just stood there awkwardly. He wasn’t really sure what everyone else was waiting for, and he couldn’t go through the gate with those three blocking it. Normally he’d take this as an opportunity to talk to the other adventurers, but he didn’t dare open his mouth: the trio would sense the hesitation in his voice, and while their dismissal of him looked like a lack of care, Bertrand knew better. Eventually, a familiar delphox approached from the other side of the gate: the head butler. He stopped right in front of it and gave the trio an unamused look.

I’m going to have to ask you to move.”

The wartortle, known as Alan, shrugged. “Yeah, sure.” He threw a smug grin at Bertrand, then motioned for the other two to follow him and take their place beside everyone else to await instruction.

IMO, the butler’s line works better as standalone. Though I wonder if Alan and this group he’s in should’ve been introduced a bit earlier on where he mentions that their faces look familiar to him as some sort of “Oh, great, it’s Alan [and his buddies]” sort of thing.

Once he had crossed the gate and closed it behind him, the butler lifted a paw to clear his throat. “I assume you are all here about the request the mayor put up?”

The umbreon spoke up first. “I can’t speak for everyone else here, but I am.”

“S-same here,” Bertrand added quickly.

The bug pokémon was about to speak up, but Alan interrupted him. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that goes for all of us, yeah?”

Oh, so this is going to become Bertrand’s team for the story, huh? Since it sure feels like that’s where this is going.

The delphox gave him another look. [ ]

Very well then, I will get to the point.”

He cleared his throat again and held his head up high. [ ]

A few days ago, one of the maids reported seeing a shadow racing through the garden,” he explained. “At the time, no one paid her any mind, but the reports of an odd pokémon have only gotten more frequent among the servants. You are all here today because the mayor himself caught sight of the delinquent drinking from the stream over there.”

He pointed towards the stream Bertrand crossed earlier. [ ]

And On our side of the bridge.”

I personally feel that this paragraph ought to be broken up into smaller chunks and potentially with a bit of expansion thrown into the embedded description. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as involved as the proposal I put up, but just one or two splits would go a long way to making this sequence a bit more digestible.

The timburr scratched his head. “Is it a wild pokémon? The request said it was a ‘vulpix’ but it didn’t come with a picture. Did he get a good look?”

Oh, so ‘wild Pokémon’ exist in this setting. Wonder if they’re sapient as the townies or if there’s a sapience split.

“He said it had red fur, and multiple tails: we believe vulpix is a good assumption. But we cannot quite be certain if it is a wild one yet.”

Bertrand put a claw to his chin in thought. Huh. There are no vulpix living in Courière last I checked. So it must be a wild pokémon then.

Huh. No Vulpix at all in Courière? That makes me wonder how big the place is population-wise and what local species diversity looks like.

“Sounds easy enough,” said Alan with arms crossed. “A vulpix in Courière should stick out like a weed, so it shouldn’t take too long to find this thing and turn it in.”

“Are we supposed to turn it in?” Bertrand countered. “The request wasn’t clear about what to do once we find it.”

That’s… not a good omen for what Duviri wanted done with the Vulpix.
:copyber:


Alan glared at him, but stayed silent and let the butler answer the question. “The mayor’s only concern is keeping it away from his property, though given this is a bounty, we do require some manner of proof. Live proof would be preferable, for the sake of mediating a suitable punishment.”

>would be preferable

Oh, so I was right there. Though I wonder just how many of these bounties are “dead or alive” affairs.
:copyka2~2:


“So, turn it in. Got it.” Alan shot Bertrand another smug look.

The umbreon opened her mouth to ask a question, but was immediately interrupted by the machop. “How’re we gettin’ paid? Is it a ‘whoever catches it first thing,’ or…?”

“You will all be paid equally. However, the mayor may see fit to give a bonus to whoever catches it.”

Cue the moment where the sketchier Pokémon start giving shifty looks at each other.

“If I could get a word in,” spoke the umbreon, clearly a bit annoyed. “Why can’t the town guard handle this request? Don’t they work for the mayor?”

[ ] The delphox closed his eyes in a grimace.

I would not expect an outsider to understand the situation here, but no, not anymore. They organise separately from the mayor and take orders from the guard chief appointed here by Nidekan in Luminance.” He hesitated for a moment, as if unsure whether to admit the next part. “The two are… not on good terms.”

Ah yes, local politics in action. Though I kinda wonder if the butler’s dialogue should be split off from the line of description preceding things. Since this entire time, we haven’t had a whole lot of internal thoughts from Bertrand’s side about what he’s making of this whole mission request, which feels like it’d be a potentially handy vector for showing off glimpses of what Bertrand’s thinking and what his world’s like.

“I see.” She dipped her head politely.

The bug pokémon took his turn to speak up. “So are we being given free rein to search this area?”

“Yes, though we will need different groups to handle different parts of the estate. We have reason to believe the vulpix is not currently past this gate, so I would have some of you patrol the premises in case it tries to get in,” the Delphox explained. “I would also like for a group to search the riverbank, and for another to search the town.”

Alan cut in before anyone else could, an arm raised confidently. “We call the river. Swimming’s kinda our thing.”

Bertrand: “Hey! You can’t just call-!”
Alan: “Oh come on, Bertrand, like you were really going to search the river?”
Bertrand: “I-It’s the thought that counts!” >.<

“I can fly, so I could search from the air.”

“Us two will patrol around the gardens. We don’t know the town very well.”

“I’ll do the same. I’m not very familiar with the town yet, and the more ‘mon patrolling the estate, the better.”

… Wait, who is saying all of these lines? Is there a reason why Alan is explicitly identified earlier on but not anyone else?

Bertrand sighed. He didn’t even get a chance before everyone already decided on their roles. [ ]

I guess I’ll take the town then. I mean, I live here, after all.”

The butler shook his head. “It won’t do to have only one patrolling the town.”

I kinda wonder if there should be some reflection by Bertrand about how his plans for trying to find a team through this mission have seemingly fallen through. Since you’d think that he’d have a bit more of a sense of disappointment from things.

The umbreon took a contemplative glance at the ground, then spoke up. “I guess I can search the town, then. I could probably use the chance to know it better.”

[ ]

“Then it is settled. I expect that you will all be successful in capturing this trespasser.” He bowed, then went back through the gate, locking it behind him.

It’s kinda related to the above, but Bertrand’s gotten a bit of a lucky break here. Given how hard he was trying to find a team to join, it might make sense to show how he’s parsing things and if Bertrand has any thoughts about the Umbreon.

The blue pokémon revealed the wings hidden in his shell and flew off, and after that everyone started to split up. Alan looked directly at Bertrand and gave a salute.

Good luck accomplishing nothin’ Bertrand.”

And then he was off towards the river, his machop and furfrou lackeys giving Bertrand sneering looks as they followed.

I suspect that these three are indeed that ‘Shell Gang’, but if they are, I find it a bit curious as to why the story never explicitly just goes and says that.

The umbreon didn’t waste much time before turning towards the town. Bertrand ran to catch up. “So hey, my name’s Ber-”

“It’d probably be best if we searched the town separately. Courière is pretty large, and I’m sure I’d only slow you down if we searched together.”

Well, so much for Bertrand getting a break for finding a team.
:copyka:


Bertrand stopped in his tracks. “...Oh.” And just like that, he was alone.

Damnit. He sighed. So much for that. He supposed that if he were successful, then maybe he’d have a chance at catching someone’s eye, but he knew better than to hope for something like that. I’ll just head back to the Traveler’s Office and ask Adeline what she knows. And so he sulked his way back over the bridge and into town.

~~~If only someone were willing to form a team with me. I guess I’ll just have to fly solo…~~~

Bertrand: “Starting to think that I should’ve just stayed at the café.” >_>;

The deerling found herself wandering aimlessly back into town. The streets were livelier than when she first passed through here to get to the Gracidée School of Medicine, but the energy of the townsmon was lost on her. She kept her head down and focused on the sound of her hooves on the brick. I came all the way here, and for what?

Bitter pains of frustration ebbed and flowed, hanging over them a pervading sense of hopelessness. It had been such a long journey, and now she found herself with no purpose in the middle of an unfamiliar town. But there wasn’t anything she could do about it now, and she figured it was kind of her fault anyway.

She paused in the middle of the street. Just… Think Caitrin. You’ve gotten this far, you can figure something out.

Your first paragraph is long enough that you should probably consider breaking it up again. Though this is certainly a new face. I wonder if we’re still in Courière or if we’ve jumped to another location in Liber.

Figure what out? You don’t have any ideas. And you’re running low on silver.

...Yeah.
Caitrin sighed, shook a moment to adjust the satchel harness on her back, and continued her way down south to the Traveler’s Office. She hadn’t visited it yet, but now that she found herself in between a rock and a hard place there wasn’t much choice but to find something to help her financial problems.

Oh, so this is how Bertrand’s getting his solution to his “no teammates” problem, huh? Though Liber’s currency is silver, huh? Filing that one away for the future.

She entered the square where the Traveler’s Office was found. The puddles of water that were here in the morning had since dried up, and with the day in full swing most pokémon were working, leaving only a few wandering through the plaza going from place to place. The deerling took a chance to examine the flowers ringing the center field. Looks like the gracidea bloomed a little early this year. And, are those daffodils?

She couldn’t help but marvel at it. What kind of gardener do they have here to get daffodils to bloom when summer’s just begun? She leaned in to sniff one. Something about its aroma made her feel better about her plight, and she silently thanked the gardener for what must've been a huge effort for the sake of the upcoming Flower Festival.

That’s something to look forward to, I guess. I’ve never really seen how other kingdoms handle it.

Would suggest breaking up this paragraph, though so Caitrin is a foreigner to wherever Courière is in Liber, huh? Wonder if that will affect her mannerisms or outlook on life at all relative to the other Pokémon we’ve seen.
The deerling left the flowers behind for the Traveler’s Office, pushing the door open with her head and nervously poking inside to look around. The guide, a poliwhirl, noticed her as she decided to enter.

Hey there. You need anything?”

“Oh, not really.” The deerling bowed her head. “I was just coming in to check the request board.”

Oh, so this is going to be Bertrand’s teammate, huh? :V

The guide didn’t seem to buy it fully. “No need to look so nervous. It’s over there.” She pointed to the far-left wall. “Knock yourself out.”

“Right, thanks.”

She wandered over to it, still somewhat tired from all of the traveling. She suddenly became aware of how heavy her satchel harness felt, even though there wasn’t much in there at the time.

Do you mind if I take this off by the door?” she asked, shaking her back to show what she was talking about her satchel.

“Sure, I don’t mind.”

Would recommend chopping this paragraph up and the “what she was talking about” part IMO works better just reiterating “satchel” or else picking some synonym like “bag”.

She lowered herself to the ground by the door, pulled herself out of the harness, and then moved to study the request board, hoping for something that she’d be capable of handling. Delivery, Escort, Bounty for 300? She didn’t really do bounties, but she was feeling a bit desperate. Maybe if it’s not too hard. And… huh? The deerling tilted her head and took a closer look at one that caught her eye.

---LOOKING FOR NEW ADVENTURERS---
Type: Escort
Client: Bertrand, Charmeleon
Reward: Friendship
My name is Bertrand, a fledgling adventurer just about to start my journey. But I don’t want to go alone. I’m looking for other adventurers at about the same experience level to form a team with. I’m okay with joining an already existing group, but I’d prefer it if we were all on equal footing so that I don’t feel like a burden. I’ll be waiting in or around the Traveler’s Office, just ask the guide for me. Thanks!
---

Yeah, I knew it.
:hoodLUL:


Time to see what the reaction will be from Caitrin’s end.

Caitrin wasn’t really sure what to make of it. Did a child put this up? It’s cute, I guess. It would’ve been easy to write it off like that, but she couldn’t help but give it some thought. I wonder what the story behind it is?

I can already tell that Bertrand would be dying of embarrassment in live time if he were here and somehow privy to Caitrin’s thoughts.

“Hey, um, guide? What’s up with this one?”

“Hold on.” The poliwhirl got off her chair and walked over to the board. “So which one?”

The deerling pointed with her nose. “This one.”

“Let’s see- what.”

Adeline:
Caitrin: “... Because I need an easy job? I mean, there’s not something wrong with this Charmeleon, is there?” ^^;

Caitrin was taken aback by her reaction. “I-Is something wrong?”

The guide shot her a look of raw incredulity, then massaged her eyes closed and sighed. “No, nothing’s wrong. Look, it’s my fault, I’ll take it off the board.” She removed the pin and pulled it off.

“Wait, but-” Caitrin lifted a hoof and put it back down when the poliwhirl paused. “Are you sure that’s okay? What’s the story behind it?”

Caitrin: “Again, I need an easy job. It’s a simple escort mission, right? What’s the worst that could happen?”
Adeline: “Deerling, the ‘mon literally has zero experience adventuring!” >_>;

The poliwhirl crossed her arms and looked Caitrin over as she dangled the paper in her hand. “It’s kind of you to think about the ‘mon who put this up, but I wouldn’t worry about him. He’s off doing a request right now anyway.”

“But still, isn’t he asking for help?”

Adeline: “... I suppose that he is, yes.” https://cdn.discordapp.com/emojis/803141280380485632.webp?size=44&quality=lossless

“Trust me, it’s not the kind of help you can give him.” She crumpled the paper up and walked back to the desk, throwing it into a bin just behind it.

Caitrin just stared at her, dumbfounded. I can’t believe she just did that. Maybe she was right, though. If he was doing a request, he probably didn’t need the help anyway. I’ll just see what else is on the board, then…

Aw… no teamup with Bertrand this chapter? :<

She took another look at the bounty request and carefully tried to read past its obtuse wording. I think, this is calling for multiple adventurers to do a search? I might be able to handle that, and it’ll pay well, so that’ll help a lot. But if the meeting was supposed to be at noon, then it’s probably too late. She looked back at the guide. I can still ask. “So what about the bounty request?”

“That one?” The guide glanced at a clock on her desk. “Unfortunately you’re too late to meet with the client, though technically you could still try to claim it. But with no information, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Okay, nevermind, Caitrin’s getting a second chance, since I’m pretty sure that that’s Duviri’s mission she just picked up.

Caitrin tilted her head and walked up to the desk. “Well, what do you know?”

“Not much,” she admitted. “Knowing the client, I can make some guesses on what’s going on here, but the butler didn’t see fit to tell me much of anything. I think…”

The poliwhirl rubbed her belly. [ ]

“I’d say if you really want to go for it, try checking the town. It’s possible the ‘mon you’re looking for has been seen by someone, and with any luck you’d be the only one searching here.”

I kinda wonder if Adeline’s line should be divided up into pieces with the embedded description expanded a bit to sell a stronger sense of a pause in her speaking.
“Right, thank you.” Not really the best situation, but maybe she could take another request and keep this one in mind as she went. “I just have one question. The bounty’s supposed to be for a ‘vulpix…’ do you know what one of those looks like?”

So Vulpix aren’t exactly common wherever Caitrin’s from as well. Duly noted.

The guide nodded. “It’s a kind of fox pokémon. Have you seen one of those before?”

She thought about it. “I’ve seen thievul and nickit before.”

“Then think of one of those, but smaller, redder, and with a buncha tails. Or really, just look for the tails: they’re pretty hard to miss.”

That actually makes me wonder if A-Vulpix also exist in Liber as well. Even if they’re obviously not from anywhere around here.

Just as she said that, the entrance door opened, and a dejected-looking charmeleon walked in. “Hey Adeline-” He stopped when he noticed Caitrin there. “Oh, sorry. I’ll wait for you two to finish.”

“Wait.” Adeline opened a hand towards Caitrin then closed it as if to put a pin in the conversation. “What brought you back so early?”

Ah yes, time for that teamup with Bertrand to unfold.

Adeline: “Bertrand, I thought you were doing that search for the count!” >.<
Bertrand: “I was! But… I’ve kinda gotten stuck doing solo work for it.” ^^;
Caitrin: “Wait, ‘the count’? As in ‘Count Duviri’?”
Bertrand: “Yeah? Why? Where are you going with this?”

The charmeleon seemed confused for a moment. “I’m looking for the vulpix. The butler organized us all and I got assigned to the town.”

The guide’s hand fell onto the desk. Every one of her features fell in what seemed to be utter resignation.

“Hey Bertrand?”

“Yeah?”

She pointed at Caitrin. “Ask her.”

Adeline: “Also, she saw your friendship """request""" earlier.” https://cdn.discordapp.com/emojis/803141280380485632.webp?size=44&quality=lossless

Caitrin’s ears and tail flew up as she glanced between the two. “What.”

Bertrand looked just as surprised, until the fire on his tail popped and he rubbed his horn.

“U-um… So here’s the thing,” he began, his pose gradually becoming more confident. “I’m working on a bounty request right now, the one on the board. My job right now is to just look around town for the mark, but that’s kinda a lot to expect outta just one ‘mon.”

[ ]

“So, if you have the time for it, I’d appreciate the help, if you’re willing. The count will pay us all for it, so…”

IMO, Bertrand’s line might flow a bit better divided up into pieces with something added prior to his last two sentences to show some combination of him pausing or Caitrin reacting.

Caitrin processed his question, and a few other things. Wait, his name is Bertrand? “Were you the pokémon who put up that request asking for team members?”

Adeline: “Yes, yes he was.” https://cdn.discordapp.com/emojis/744858829958807602.webp?size=44&quality=lossless

Bertrand chuckled as if embarrassed. “Yup, that was me alright.” Then his tail popped again and his eyes widened. “Wait, you don’t mean you’re interested in it?”

Am I? She did need the help, and if he needed help too, then maybe this was fate.

“I was definitely wondering about it. It’s kind of a weird request,” said Caitrin. “But I was actually just asking about the bounty, and I think it makes sense for us to work on the same request together. Especially since I missed the meeting.” I’m also not much of a fighter, so it's probably better this way.

Caitrin: “(But let’s not talk too much about this.)” ^^;
Adeline: “(This is going to be a giant disaster, I can already tell.)” https://cdn.discordapp.com/emojis/659983090747441181.webp?size=44&quality=lossless

[QUOTE]
Bertrand gave her a hopeful look. “You mean it?”

“Yeah.” She nodded. “I don’t know how helpful I’d be on a team, but I think I’m willing to try it out, just this once.”

“R-right, I’m not trying to assume things or anything. We can figure that part out later, right?”

He glanced back at Adeline with a dumb grin on his face. She just rolled her eyes and nodded in validation.

He’s a mess. Caitrin hid her thoughts with a smile. “That sounds like a plan.”
[/QUOTE]

On the one hand, this is cute and endearing. On the other:

[IMG]https://i.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/000/732/258/de7.png

“But you didn’t come back here just to check on your request, did you?” Adeline asked him. “You wanted to ask me something?”

“Right! The request wants us to look for a vulpix.” He looked to Caitrin. “Actually, I should probably get you caught up first.”

Bertrand led her back to the board and pointed out the request.

The vulpix was spotted along the stream and in the garden. There are a few groups patrolling the area around the estate, but we’re tasked with the town itself just in case it’s hiding out here.” He clutched his bag. “So, we’ll just be walking around. We probably won’t accomplish much, but it’d be a chance to talk and see if this will work out.”

Caitrin tilted her head. “And we’re really all getting paid for it?”

“Yeah. The count’s not normally this generous, but he’s been pretty on edge of late.” They went back to the desk and Bertrand asked his question. “So do you know anything about any vulpix in town?”

Okay, yeah. That Vulpix is not some random wild for Durivi to be noted as being unusually generous. Which probably doesn’t bode well for why Durivi wants that Vulpix.

“Well, last time I checked there are no vulpix in Courière, so it’s not like the ‘mon should be too hard to find,” she replied. “But no one’s reported anything about this mystery ‘mon either. So either they’ve been sneaking around or they haven’t caused enough trouble to make anyone think anything suspicious.”

inb4 it’s not a Vulpix at all but something like a Zorua that’s cycling through disguises.

Caitrin nodded in agreement. “That makes sense. If it’s the latter, we should probably start by asking the shopkeepers then, right?”

“Yeah. It’s a good place to start at least,” Bertrand agreed.

Bertrand: “I’m… actually a bit surprised that I didn’t think of that myself, really.” ^^;

“Get going then!” Adeline waved them off. “That’s all the help I had to give, the rest is on you two!”

“Right, thanks Adeline!” Bertrand looked at Caitrin. “And uh… What’s your name?”

“Caitrin.”

“Caitrin, right. Let’s go over to Mepo Street, that’s as good a place to start as any.”

That actually makes me wonder if “Caitrin” sounds normal or exotic to Bertrand. Or else if names in Liber and its kingdoms are fairly uniformly dispersed.

“Right, hold on a moment.” She walked over to her harness and crouched low to slide herself back into it. After an experimental shake to make sure it was on her back properly, she met Bertrand at the door. “Okay, let’s go.”

With that, they left the office.

Betrand: “Mission accomplished! I’ve officially got a teammate!” ^^
Caitrin: “... Shouldn’t we also be worrying about that search too?”
:eltywtf:

Alright, so I make it a bit of a tradition to write up summaries of my reviews since not everyone has the time to pick through my full blow-by-blows and making a cliff’s notes tends to be handy. Though in general, I thought that the story gave off a charming vibe and it did a good job at making the readers want to get to know more about the characters and the world since it by and large feels lived-in and like it has history.

That said, I do think that there’s a couple technical issues that are holding the story back at the moment. The big and obvious one is that the split-screening format for the first scene doesn’t quite hold up. If you have a version of this story hosted on AO3, I’d recommend experimenting with a dual-column setup if you wish to stick to your guns on things, though for your version here… it’s hard to give as clean a solution at this point in time for technical reasons, but I’d suggest playing around with the use of indentation to distinguish the bits of the two parallel scenes more from each other. I also noticed that you had some paragraphs that felt particularly busy with multiple interleaved strings of dialogue and description. On the other hand, there were also some parts where the description felt like it was a bit… sparse? Like there were a few parts where we saw names of places and figures that I assume are important in Liber get thrown around, but due to lacking context to explain why they matter, they kinda feel like just random names. Granted, it’s the prologue and later chapters could do the heavy lifting on that front, but it’s something that I noticed.

Though altogether, I’m having fun with the story thus far. Hope the feedback was helpful, and kudos for sticking out your project for so many years @JFought . I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of where of where it goes in our review exchange. ^^
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Heya, it took a little while, but I’m back with the next review of mine from our review exchange, this time catching up with the rest of what you had publicly posted for this story:

Chapter 0-1, Section 2

The square was only slightly livelier than it was before Caitrin entered the Traveler’s Office. Bertrand led the way down a path she’d walked along had been down not that long ago, passing by many pokémon on the way. She tried looking around for a vulpix among them, but didn’t have much luck.

I hope this pokémon isn’t all that strong. If it’s red, it might be a Fire-type, which might not be great for me...

I mean, it’s not as if it’d be any better if this Vulpix was white, Caitrin.
:copyka:


Though a couple small suggestions for tweaks there.

“So,” Bertrand spoke up. “You’re carrying a lot of bags. I’ve seen harnesses like that before, but is it really all that comfortable?”

Caitrin tilted her head. “I mean, it gets heavy sometimes, but it’s not that bad. Why do you ask?”

Bertrand: ‘I mean, is that your day job, or…?” ^^;

“I was just curious,” Bertrand answered, sheepishly rubbing his horn. “Seems kinda restrictive. I mean my bag already gets in the way a lot.”

He really is a mess. Caitrin smiled. “Why did you put up a request like that anyway? Normally pokémon form teams with other ’mon they know.”

[ ]


“Well, no one seems to want me on their team. So I figured it was worth a shot,” Bertrand explained. “And shouldn’t I be asking you why you took the request? I mean I may have put it up, but I wasn’t actually expecting it to work.”

IMO, you should probably drop some sort of description paragraph in in this block, since up to this point, you’ve had around 5 paragraphs of mostly straight dialogue. Plus I’d presume that Bertrand might be a bit on the more flustered side from Caitrin’s question. Might be worth describing the reaction a bit more explicitly.

Caitrin looked away. “Well, you know. I’m usually a solo adventurer, so I figured this could be worth trying out.” She had left out most of the truth, but Bertrand accepted it with a nod and without thought.

Bertrand: “Wait, you’re an adventurer? Diaga’s mercy! I’ve hit the jackpot!”
:eltystarry:

Caitrin: “Aaaaand I’m getting worried about how well this team is going to function now.” -_-;

“I know I’ve been a bit awkward. I promise I’m not really like this most of the time, I just, really hope this works out. I’m kind of desperate, in case you couldn’t tell.”

Well, if nothing else, Bertrand is definitely frank.
:copyber:


She nodded. “I hope this works out too.”

Caitrin: “Even if I’m admittedly a bit more pessimistic now than when we first joined up.” >_>;

And with that, they once again found themselves in Mepo Street, far busier now than it was earlier. Pokémon of all kinds wandered the area, crowding around stalls and entering and exiting shops. Caitrin took note of Kecleon again. Like all of the other Kecleon Shops she had seen on her journey here, its presence dominated everything around it, with many pokémon streaming through the door and others talking to Kecleon directly from the awning.

We should probably ask Kecleon first, right?” she suggested. “He’s probably seen more pokémon than anyone here.”

I think that I’m missing something here, since ‘Kecleon’ was never established as a character earlier either in this chapter or the preceding one, and the only indication at all that this happened is a blink-and-miss-it moment in the background from a scene from Bertrand’s POV.

It probably makes sense to remind the audience “oh right, that happened”. For instance, if it’s specifically going to be here, consider something like:

And with that, they once again found themselves in Mepo Street, far busier now than it was earlier. Pokémon of all kinds wandered the area, crowding around stalls and entering and exiting shops. Caitrin took note of a shop shaped like a Kecleon’s head approaching, and sure enough, Kecleon was still there from when she’d stopped by earlier. Like all of the other Kecleon Shops she had seen on her journey here, its presence dominated everything around it, with many pokémon streaming through the door and others talking to Kecleon directly from the awning.

We should probably ask Kecleon first, right?” she suggested. “He’s probably seen more pokémon than anyone here.”

Something to consider, anyways. Though I wonder what the Kecleon’s deal is for rolling on a species-name basis when everyone else doesn’t seem to.

“Don’t let the other shopkeepers hear you saying that out loud,Bertrand hushed.

B
ertrand seemed a bit nervous about the idea. Caitrin knew Kecleon Shops weren’t exactly popular in the eyes of local merchants, but she still didn’t understand why everyone had to make a big deal of it.

Oh, so those Kecleon shops do have some vicious business rivalries, huh? ^^;

They approached the awning and waited as Kecleon dealt with a marill. Once their business was finished, Bertrand and Caitrin approached. Kecleon perked up as he saw Caitrin.

Ah, you again! Attracted back here by the greatness of my deals, hmm?” He looked to Bertrand. “And with a friend?”

bender-laughing.gif


inb4 this guy just picks up random junk off the ground and resells it like the RBDX Kecleon Brothers.

“It’s nice to see you again,” Caitrin greeted. “And actually, we’re here to ask you if you’ve seen a vulpix wandering around recently.”

“Hmm.” Kecleon’s scales turned orange, and he put a claw to his snout. [ ]

Hmm. Can’t say I have. But maybe if-”

IMO, Kecleon’s color change and pondering description works a bit better if it’s pulled ahead of his dialogue and expanded by an extra sentence or so.

Caitrin interrupted him before he could get too far into his sales pitch. “Th-thanks. We’ll just look around somewhere else.”

“Wait!” Kecleon’s orange turned to red and he reached out in desperation. “You didn’t even let me finish! I might have something to tell you!”

Kecleon are way too tenacious for their own good. She tried to put him down gently. “We’re not here to buy anything. If you haven’t seen them then I don’t think you have anything useful for us.”

Cue the blue of sadness/disappointment. Though I’m actually a little surprised that the red was surprise and not anger on Kecleon’s part.

Not one to give up, he turned his gaze to Bertrand. “But, you, charmeleon! Certainly you-”

“I’m gonna go too,” Bertrand said, turning him down. “Thanks though.”

Cue the attempt to ply the two with free samples / discounts.

Leaving the disappointed kecleon behind, they made their way back into the middle of the street. [ ]

Now that I think about it, I passed by you earlier today on my way to the count’s estate,” Bertrand noted.

Whelp, guess not, then. Though this IMO is another paragraph that’s better off hacking up and expanding a bit. Since it might be worth setting the scene for what Bertrand and Caitrin’s present moods are. e.x. if they’re flustered at all by Kecleon’s bout of aggressive salesmanship.

“Oh? Small world, I guess.” Caitrin looked around at the shopkeepers running the stalls on the street. “We should probably start asking if they’ve seen anything.”

Bertrand placed his arms on the back of his head. “Right. I know a few of ‘em, actually, so that should make this go easier.”

[ ]


“Really? Do you live here?”

“Yeah. My house is on the other side of town from here; I live with my parents.”

Marked off a spot where I felt that there could’ve been a bit more description from either Caitrin or Bertrand’s end. Though huh, I actually didn’t realize that Bertrand was this deeply rooted to Courière. I kinda wonder if it should’ve been hinted at a bit more prior to this point, especially in the last chapter.

“Well if all else fails, you know this place better than I do.”

Together, the two asked around if anyone saw a vulpix. But from everyone Caitrin asked, she got a no: it definitely seemed like this vulpix was keeping a low profile. Eventually she reached the end of the street, where a small bakery stood on the corner of the fountain plaza. The smell of freshly baked bread had been weighing on her for a while. [ ]

I’m starving.

She thought about buying something for a moment, but sighed as she figured she probably couldn’t afford to throw around the precious few silver she had.

Still, the smell is driving me crazy. I could smell it from the Traveler’s Office, practically. With that thought, something clicked in her mind. ...But maybe it’d still be worth checking out.

I chopped this paragraph up a bit and suggested a potential spot to expand things a bit, though I actually wonder if it’d have made more sense to keep Caitrin’s thought process wholly in direct or indirect thoughts. Since it feels a little weird to “hear” Caitrin’s inner thoughts, and then get told that she was thinking something when she could’ve just continued her inner monologue for us to see it ourselves.

She entered the building. Brightly lit by the sunlight streaming through the windows, bread was stacked on shelves and placed on tables all around the storefront. At the counter was a machoke, writing something down on a piece of paper. Catrin approached him.

Hi there.”

Ah yes, unconventional bakers for the win. Even if this guy probably won’t have as easy a time self-stoking his own ovens.

The machoke looked up, and immediately turned the paper over and slid it to the side with an embarrassed look on his face.

Uh, h-hi. What’s up? Looking to buy?”

Caitrin brushed off his suspicious behavior and got right to the point. “I’m looking for a pokémon. Have you seen a vulpix around recently?

[ ]


“Have I? Uh-”

“VULPIX?!” [ ]

Does the Machoke have any reaction to Caitrin’s questioning? I kinda get the vibe that he’s supposed to be a bit flustered, but it’s a bit hard to visualize at the moment. Also, given that this “VULPIX?!” party is a third party, it might make sense to give more of an explicit indication that it’s not Bertrand such as throwing in “a [whatever] voice cried” or something like that.

Loud stomping could be heard from the door behind the counter, and another, older looking machoke came barging out. He came right up to the desk and slammed down a fist.

What do you know about this vulpix, kid?!”

I’m… just going to go ahead and guess that these two got shoplifted by this fox sometime in the recent past.

Catrin almost buckled under his aggressiveness and took a startled few steps back. “I-I was just looking for them, that’s all!”

The machoke grunted and walked over to a towel hanging off a hook to wipe the dough from his hands.

Did they put a bounty on her already? You adventurer’s work quick, don’t you! I found out just this morning!”

Yeah, that Vulpix totally shoplifted from this bakery. Since I can see that “bounty on her already” part.

Bertrand: “Well hey, on the positive side, we’ve learned that the ‘mon we’re looking for is apparently female.” ^^;

“About…?” Caitrin was very confused. The guild never heard anything about this… She looked to the younger machoke, who was sheepishly edging himself into a corner.

“You said you were lookin’ for one, right?” He came up to the counter and leaned on his arms against it. “Tell me what you need to know, and I’ll tell ya.”

… Wait, is that Caitrin or the younger Machoke speaking in the second paragraph. I don’t really know why, but something about it feels ambiguous. Maybe the fact that I read “edging himself into a corner” as backing away instead of “corner of the counter”.

“Well…” Caitrin tried to gather herself. She stood tall and asked: “Everything, preferably. Did you have a bad encounter with her?”

“Y’see, for the past few days, bread has been disappearing from our inventory. Consistently, three loaves, every day.”

He held up three fingers for emphasis. [ ]

I had no clue what was going on at first, but then my son here.” He gestured to the younger machoke proudly. “He told me he caught the culprit in the act. A vulpix, right? Tell her!”

Huh. While it makes sense that there’d be Machoke that’d just never evolve into Machamp, I’m still surprised at the perceptible age difference. I wonder what Younger!Machoke’s analogous age is supposed to be.

Though IMO, this is another one of those “break up and expand” paragraphs. It doesn’t have to be in exactly the fashion indicated here, but something along those lines would be a good alternative to the present formulation where all of this is in one paragraph.

The baker’s son came out from hiding in the corner. He averted his gaze as he addressed Caitrin.

Y-yeah, yeah I saw her. She was a small thing. Had a bag around her neck, I think. She snuck into the kitchen through the backdoor, and made off with a small loaf as soon as I saw her.”

Oh, so it was the older Machoke who was responding to Caitrin earlier. Yeah, see the earlier notes about it reading ambiguously. Though I see I was right about the Vulpix nicking things from the bakery.

“And when did you say this was?” his father prompted.

“It was just last night, as we were closing shop.”

[ ]


“So you see,” said the baker. “This has been a problem for a while now. I have no clue how she’s managed to evade us for so long, but when you find her, make sure to give her the ol’ one-two for us, will ya?”

I kinda wonder if there should be a moment where we see more of what Caitrin and especially Bertrand are doing to react to these revelations, since they (and again, especially Bertrand) have kinda been a bit absent for the past few paragraphs when this sleuthing is their present job.

[ ]


“I-I don’t know about that,” said Catrin. “But I’ll see what I can do. You said she was using the backdoor?”

Might make sense to show off Caitrin and/or Bertrand getting a bit uncomfortable at the idea of slugging the Vulpix. Like I gather that that’s how they’re meant to feel from Caitrin’s dialogue, but I wonder if more could’ve been provided for describing their reactions or else internal commentary about how things are going on.

“Yeah. C’mon, I’ll show you.”

He gestured for Caitrin to join him behind the counter and led her through the kitchen. As they passed through, she took note of where the freshly baked bread was. Didn’t his son say the vulpix was small? Those shelves seem kind of high. Eventually they reached the backdoor, which opened out into an alleyway with a dumpster nearby. The smell of rotting bread countered overwhelmed what was the aroma coming out of the bakery and made Caitrin’s head spin.

Caitrin: “... Why do you just have this heaped up out here?”
:TailsEww:

Younger!Machoke: “Trash collection’s a bit slow in this part of town, so… yeah.” ^^;

“This alleyway leads in two directions.” The baker pointed to the right first -- “That way goes to Mepo Street,” -- and then to the left -- “And that way is the south exit from the plaza. Basically it rounds our store. My son said she went towards the south, so I’d start there.”

So she’s been navigating using the alleyways… Caitrin gave him an appreciative nod. “That’s a great lead. Thank you very much!”

Caitrin: “Though seriously, clean up that back alley of yours.”
:squirpuke~1:


“Hey, no problem! You gonna start from here?”

“No, I have a partner, actually. I need to get back to him and tell him first.”

I… actually didn’t realize that Caitrin had gone off on her own without Bertrand. It might make sense to state that more explicitly when Caitrin goes off for the bakery, since at first I assumed that Bertrand followed her and the lack of mentions about him was an oversight and not deliberate.

They went back to the entrance and exchanged farewells. “Good luck!” said the baker, leaving Caitrin to deliver the news to Bertrand. As she left, she heard him the elder Machoke speak again: “What’s this paper doing here?”

“Dad, no!

Caitrin walked a little faster.

Caitrin: “Yeah, probably not a good idea to hang around that elder baker while he’s in a mood.” ^^;

It didn’t take long to find Bertrand. He was standing near the fountain, stressfully scanning the plaza. He breathed a sigh of relief once he saw Caitrin.

I was wondering where you went. Thought you left me behind or something.”

“No, I was just talking to the baker,” she explained. “Apparently this vulpix is a bread thief.”

[ ]


“Really? Did he see where they went?”

Some recommendations for paragraph rearrangements and a description paragraph. Since you’d think that Bertrand would have more of a reaction to Caitrin’s findings that might be worth explicitly noting.

Caitrin gestured with her nose towards the street the baker pointed out. “He said she escaped using an alleyway that led over there.”

“Courant Avenue?” Bertrand put a claw to his chin. “They probably used it as an escape route back to the manor.”

“Which means…?”

The charmeleon sighed. “It means it just leads back to where we started. If their goal was to get back to the estate, we won’t find them in the town. They’d either be on the estate grounds, or somewhere along the stream bank.”

Caitrin: “...”
:gardexhausted:

Bertrand: “Though I’m honestly a bit surprised that she managed to never get stopped during all of this, really.” ^^;

“Oh. And the other adventurers are taking care of that, aren’t they?”

“Yup.” Bertrand looked down the path and scratched his head. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to check it anyway, but I don’t think we’re going to find anything.”

Bertrand, stories don’t work that way. You’re totally going to find something.

Caitrin felt her spirits fall. “Sorry. You were probably hoping for a better lead than that,” she said, smiling weakly.

Bertrand looked confused. “You don’t need to apologize. Honestly I wasn’t even expecting we’d get this far.”

He rubbed his horn, seemingly embarrassed to be giving a pep talk. [ ]

And it’s not really a failure on our part if we can’t find ‘em. That just means they weren’t in town.”

Bertrand: “I mean, if she really just went back to the manor, she might even be caught already and we might be getting paid for just wandering about a bit.”
:joltyshrug~1:


“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She sighed. Now I feel bad for making him cheer me up.

Together, they followed the path south. This road wasn’t quite as lively as the others, with the stream to their left and houses lined up on the right. They could see the road follow the bend in the stream as it turned left towards the east, until eventually it disappeared behind another row of buildings. Of course, the manor could be seen from here too.

This part of town looks nice,” commented Caitrin.

I wonder if there could’ve been a bit more detail describing what this place is like, especially if there’s a noticeable difference in architecture between the shops earlier and these houses’. Like are there any distinctive features that tick off the “yeah, this looks like a comfy place” radar in Caitrin’s head? Since as an outsider to Courière, she’s not necessarily guaranteed to hail from a similar environment, and it’s a potential tool for hinting at what her life prior to coming here was like.

“Yeah, this is one of the quieter parts. If we keep going we’ll get to the river harbor, and the bridge out of town is just at the end after those buildings over there.” Bertrand shrugged. “If the vulpix is wild it’d make sense they’d go that way.”

Caitrin: “Wait, but why would a Fire-type want to go towards a river harbor?
:eltywtf:

Bertrand: “Emphasis on the ‘bridge out of town’ part. Since, you know, going back into the wilds.”

I wonder... The baker’s son said she was carrying a bag, which didn’t seem like the kind of thing a wild pokémon would be carrying.

Bertrand: “... She could’ve stolen it? I mean, she already took the bread, so…” ^^;

“Wait a second.” Bertrand squinted, then started running down the path. Caitrin hurriedly followed.

“Why are we…?” she began to ask. Then she noticed the trio wartortle, machop, and furfrou, spread out along the road and clearly searching for something. Does Bertrand know them?

Ah yes, it’s the Shell Gang again. Or at least I think it’s the Shell Gang.

The wartortle caught notice of Bertrand as he approached. [ ]

“Well lookie here. What are you doing here, Bertrand?”

I kinda wonder if more should’ve been said about Alan’s demeanor / expression while approaching. e.x. Is he sneering? Does he have a smugface? Feels like you have some room to put in some more detail here that would help establish the tone of this encounter a bit more.

The furfrou ran up beside his partner and growled. “Yeah, this area here’s our jurisdiction!”

[ ]


Bertrand crossed his arms and snorted. “Your jurisdiction? We’re in the town. Pretty sure that’s my role.”

[ ] He shook his head. [ ]

Anyway, I’m wondering what you guys are doing here. Do you have some kind of lead on where the vulpix is?”

If this is being written from Caitrin’s PoV, it might be worth having her comment a bit more on how Bertrand is reacting to Alan and the gang. Since he presumably is a bit annoyed right now, and Caitrin is probably drawing inferences based on what she sees.

“Heh, like we’d tell you.” The wartortle caught notice of Caitrin, standing awkwardly behind Bertrand. “Who’s she? And what’s she doing with you?”

“She’s my partner. We’re looking for the vulpix together, as a team.”

Alan:
bender-laughing.gif

Bertrand: “We are, okay?!” >.<

“A team?” He scoffed and raised his arms in a condescending shrug. “Bet you had to hire her to help you. How much are you paying? Just in case we decide to outbid you.”

Bertrand blanched and looked away. “It’s none of your business!

Caitrin: “Wait, how on earth did you-?”
Alan: “Heard while going through town of a super-derpy listing on the mission board asking for friendship. Figured it’d be Bertrand, really.”
:gardeshrug~1:

Caitrin: “... Ah.”

The furfrou grinned wickedly. “I think you hit the nail on the head, Alan.”

“Ha! Figures.” The wartortle turned towards Caitrin and bowed as much as his shelled body would let him. “My name’s Alan, by the way. This here’s Loup, and the other guy-”

He finally noticed his other lackey wasn’t near him. He turned and yelled at the machop, who was searching through the bushes in front of someone’s home.

Hey, Guy! Get over here, we’re talking!”

… Wait, is Guy related to those two Machoke at the bakery? I mean, nobody said there ever had to be only one family of Machop-line Pokémon in this town, but now I’m wondering…

“Huh? Oh!” The machop ran to join them. “Hey, what’s Bertrand doing here? And who’s the flower-head?”

[ ]


“Whatever, his name is Guy!” Alan pulled on his indigo scarf and winked. “And we are an assortment of the best local adventurers in all of Courière! The Shell Gang!”

Might be kinda funny to have Alan and Loup give some annoyed faces or something over Guy spacing out like that. Though I see that I was right on my guess that Alan and his buddies were this Shell Gang. Though he’s giving off some “Jr. Troopa” vibes in the sense of being a surprisingly persistent pain to deal with for the longer haul of the story. We’ll see if it pans out or not.

Caitrin felt a bit overwhelmed. “Um… But only one of you has a shell.”

“That’s not important!” he snapped back. He crossed his arms. “You know what? Never mind. We wouldn’t want you on our team anyway, not if you can’t appreciate a cool name when you hear one.”

Caitrin: “Trust me, buddy. With your attitude, I wouldn’t join you even if you did outbid Bertrand-” >_>;
Bertrand: “Caitrin! Don’t just acknowledge that in front of them!” >///<

Bertrand sighed and brought a claw down the side of his muzzle. “Just tell me if you’ve seen the vulpix or not and we’ll be on our way.”

Alan smirked. “I’ll have you know we’re right on the verge of breaking this case wide open.”

Narrator: “They are absolutely not on the verge of breaking the case wide open-”

“Yeah!” Guy exclaimed. “I mean we just saw her not that long ago!”

Narrator: “Or maybe they are after all.”

[ ]

“Hey! I wasn’t gonna tell them that much!” Alan shouted.

He calmed down and begrudgingly looked back at Bertrand.

But yeah, we saw her. Lost her afterwards, but we saw her.”

Might be worth describing Alan getting angry/frustrated a bit more explicitly at Guy. Especially if he’s doing anything generally analogous to a dope slap or something like that.

“Where did you see her?” Caitrin asked.

Alan closed his eyes, then shrugged. “I suppose I can tell you. We were on the other side of the stream when we saw her trying to climb down the bank,” he explained. Caitrin looked towards the stream and noticed the rocky slope leading down to it. “We swam over to try and chase after her, but by the time we got here she disappeared.”

Wait, Guy and Loup can swim-?

You swam here…” Loup grumbled.

Yeah, I thought so. And the Vulpix just went and outran Alan from there, didn’t she?

“Anyway,” continued Alan, ignoring him. “We’re pretty sure she’s on this side of town, but we’ve claimed it for ourselves, see?”

Bertrand gave Alan a hard look. “We’re supposed to be working together, you know.”

Alan: “We’re supposed to be doing a lot of things, really. You’re supposed to be working with that Umbreon, and yet look at you now.”

“And I’m saying that you should probably go handle somewhere else. Five ‘mon for this part of town is overkill.”

Frustration flashed across Bertrand’s face, but it quickly turned to thoughtfulness. He let out an exaggerated sigh of defeat.

Come on, Caitrin. Let’s let them handle this.”

“Huh?” That was quick. “I-I mean, sure.”

I kinda wonder if Alan and the Shell Gang were meant to give off stronger bullying / “back off or I’ll make you” vibes for the “go someplace else” bit. Since without something like that happening, it feels like Bertrand is displaying a pretty noticeable lack of fight when getting blocked out of his potential mission bonus.

“Didn’t think you’d back down so easily.” Alan shrugged and shook his head. “But whatever. Just give us a few moments and we’ll have this all wrapped up for you.”

Bertrand led Caitrin back towards the plaza, leaving the trio to go back to their search. He stopped in front of the fountain and stared down the opposing street to where they came from.

“What are you thinking?” asked Caitrin.

Bertrand: “That you probably aren’t remotely impressed with me as a partner after seeing that.” -_-;
Caitrin: “To be fair, it wasn’t as if those three were an appealing alternative.”

“I don’t think those three are going to find her,” answered Bertrand. “I mean, doesn’t it seem odd? Why was she on the bank of the stream in the first place?”

Caitrin gave it some thought. “If we think about what we learned from the baker, it probably wasn’t that long ago that she stole some bread. Maybe an hour or two ago.”

Bertrand: “Yeah, but that still doesn’t understand why she’d want to be right there next to the water.” .-.
Caitrin: “... Maybe it’s a reverse psychology thing?”

“Right, so she was probably trying to get back to the estate. But that means she can’t be on the south side of town.”

“Why not?”

[ ]


“The stream goes south along the road until it leads to the Brillant River,” Bertrand explained. “And the river blocks off the estate from the town outskirts. The entire area is basically surrounded by water on three sides, so from the town, there’s no way to get there without some way of crossing the water.”

I kinda wonder if there should be some sort of body language like Bertrand pointing out the river’s course with his claws or something like that. Since this is a fairly long string of dialogue paragraphs without much interleaving with them, and I kinda wonder if there’s more that can be said about what the characters are doing or thinking.

Caitrin took a moment to process that information. “She probably doesn’t want to use the bridge because it’s too obvious, so that would mean there’s a way to cross the stream from the bank?”

“Yeah, there’s actually three ways,” he explained. “One is the main bridge right there, the other is a small path of rocks crossing the stream from the bank back where we just were, which must be where Alan found her. And the last is a small maintenance bridge just to the north of here. It’s down that street right there.”

He pointed towards the road he was looking at earlier. [ ]

“There’s just one problem,” Caitrin pointed out. “She only would’ve gotten the opportunity to go that way while we were asking the shopkeepers, since afterwards you were waiting in the plaza and would’ve seen her. So this would’ve been at least ten minutes ago.”

It might make sense to show what’s going on in Caitrin’s head a bit more for how she’s processing this information that Bertrand’s revealing. Though yeah, this is why stopping and taking a moment to show off the surroundings a bit more in-depth might be called for, since this is a lot of post-facto details that we’re finding out.

“Oh, right.” Bertrand put a claw to his chin. “Do you think she could’ve come back this way while we were talking to the gang?”

“No, I don’t think so,” answered Caitrin. “I think she’s been avoiding Mepo Street, otherwise one of the shopkeepers would have seen her by now.”

“So no matter what, she has to be on the north side of town.” Bertrand rubbed his horn. “Though yeah, if it happened a while ago, there’s no guarantee we’d find her. She might’ve already crossed the bridge to the estate.

[ ]

The street also bends around towards the road leading to the medical college,” he said. “So technically it’s possible for her to be anywhere on the west side of town without her having to go through Mepo.”

Bertrand’s dialogue is long enough that it probably makes sense to try and think of ways of splitting it into two parts around some sort of “pause”.

“Still, it’s the best lead we have. If she’s already noticed the estate’s being searched, she might not have crossed the bridge after all,” Caitrin added.

“Right, we have no time to waste. Let’s go.”

Caitrin: “So that’s why you just rolled over for the Shell Gang earlier.”
:Bulbuhh:

Bertrand: “I mean, I didn’t figure out the specific direction we should be checking until afterwards, so…” ^^;

Together, the two hurried their way down the north path from the plaza. Buildings lined both sides of this street, some residential, others business. Multiple alleys and side paths were wedged between buildings.

I wonder if she’s gone down one of them?

Not many pokémon were around, so it would’ve been the perfect place to keep a low profile. They followed the road down to a gap in the buildings on the right side. Bertrand led her through the thinly spaced alley, where a staircase led down to a small wooden bridge crossing the stream. Caitrin noticed a heracross flying in the sky over the other side. Bertrand waved to him, and the heracross waved back before continuing his patrol.

Is he one of the adventurer’s searching the estate?” asked Caitrin.

This paragraph is big and event-dense enough that it should probably be formatted as a few smaller ones. Though for whatever reason, it feels like an abrupt enough transition that you could’ve put a hard scene break in. Perhaps it might make sense to emphasize Bertrand and Caitrin leaving their “present place” a bit more explicitly?

“Yeah. I think if he’s seen something he would’ve let us know, so I don’t think the vulpix has crossed this bridge.” Bertrand sighed. “But that just means that she’s probably on the west side of town, and that could be anywhere.”

Caitrin shook her head. “Not necessarily. She could be hiding in an alley waiting for things to blow over.”

inb4 the Vulpix has just been chilling in spitting distance of the bakery all this time

“An alley?” Bertrand grew thoughtful. “Now that you mention it, there are a bunch of side paths around here. Though I don’t know where we’d start.”

“Just hope we get lucky?” Caitrin sheepishly answered.

“Yeah, guess so.”

Bertrand: “... Look, I know that this sounds like a terrible plan, but-”
Caitrin: “Nah, it’s fine. We don’t have anything better to work with right now anyways.”

They went back to the street and looked for the nearest alley on the left side, and from there they began searching. Most of the side paths lead to more houses, with a few proper alleys that Caitrin searched the best she could. But there wasn’t much sign of anything. She noticed a croagunk sweeping the road in front of their house and asked if she’s seen a vulpix recently.

A vulpix? I dunno know what one of those looks like, but I saw some weird ‘mon with a bunch of tails not that long ago.”

Whelp that trail’s getting nice and toasty, I see.

[ ]

“Really? Where did she go?” Caitrin pressed.

“Somewhere down that way.” She pointed down the side path they were in towards another alley. “Seemed like she didn’t want to be spotted.”

This might be it! “Thank you very much!”

It might be worth making Caitrin explicitly have a “... wait a minute” moment to emphasize how much or not it’s sunk in as to what she and Bertrand are looking for.

After gathering Bertrand, the two approached the entrance to the alley. It was somewhat dark and narrow, though it looked to continue on for a while, possibly emptying out somewhere else.

There’s no guarantee this will turn up anything,” said Bertrand.

“It still won’t hurt to check.”

They carefully started down the alley. It was very silent, and the smell of garbage overwhelmed any scents that could have been useful. Bertrand pushed ahead confidently, glancing around for signs of pokémon having come through. Caitrin was slower to move. She passed by a couple of boxes, and suddenly the fur on the back of her neck started to rise. Her ears and tail perked up, and she stopped moving.

Bertrand.”

I actually hadn’t realized it until just now, but it’s actually pretty clever on Vulpix’s part to move around these back alleys if they’re this riddled with garbage, since it means that attempting to track her by scent will be significantly harder thanks to all the other strong scents competing with hers.

He looked back. “What?”

“I hear someone breathing,” said Caitrin. A soft gasp answered her.

Bertrand raised a brow. “I definitely heard that.”

Oh, well. TIme to meet the Vulpix, I guess.

Caitrin turned towards the cardboard box she had just passed by. It looked pretty light, and probably could have been flipped over easily, even by a vulpix. Bertrand seemed to read her mind and moved to put his claws around it. They heard another gasp, prompting him to hesitate.

It’s okay,” he tried to reassure. “We just want to ask some questions.” With that, he slowly lifted the box.

Underneath was a red fox pokémon sporting six curled tails: sure enough, the vulpix they were looking for. She had a small bag hanging around her neck, muddy, unkempt fur, and was shaking like a leaf as she looked up at the both of them, all six tails flat against the ground. She’s so terrified. I kinda feel bad for her.

Bertrand: “Um. Wait, Caitrin. If that Vulpix is wild, you probably don’t want to be cornering her like tha-”

Bertrand smiled. “See? We’re not-”

“Well what do we have here?”

Bertrand went from smiling to looking like he wanted to punch a wall.

Alan and his cronies stood at the end of the alleyway, their smug grins even putting Caitrin on edge.

Looks like we were right to follow you guys, you led us right to her! ‘Course, it was my idea.”

Bertrand: “Alan, are you serious?!
:WHY:


“It was my idea…” Loup grumbled.

“Who cares, we found her!” exclaimed Guy. “Let’s-!”

Alan put up a claw. “Hey, let’s not get hasty here. After all, we couldn’t have done it without our friends here.”

“What are you playing at, Alan?” Bertrand asked, a menacing tone in his voice. He was clearly sick of them.

Oh, so there’s that fire and fight in Bertrand coming out. Though I kinda wonder if some other body language should’ve been done to emphasize the “clearly sick of them” instead of saying it. e.x. if his tail flame is visibly burning brighter, if he’s flashing his teeth, etc.

The wartortle simply responded by shaking his head.

Dang, why so edgy? I’m saying we can all take credit for this,” he insisted. “Just hand her over to us so we can turn her in to the count, and we’ll put in a good word for you as the brains of the operation. Sounds fair, right?”

Yeah, I don’t trust Alan not to welch on this deal at all.

Bertrand clenched a fist. “I’m not letting you turn her in!”

Alan’s smirk fell into a deadpan confusion. “Huh?”

“Isn’t the entire point of a bounty to turn the mark in?” asked Loup.

“You heard what the butler said!” Bertrand yelled. “We just have to find her, that’s all!”

While I understand that we won’t get a full answer as to what’s going on inside Bertrand’s head this scene since we’re in Caitrin’s PoV, I kinda wonder if there should’ve been more hinting at what’s going on such that Bertrand’s moved enough to go “... you know what, I can do without Count Durivi’s money” since this is admittedly coming a bit suddenly right now.

… Unless that is entirely the point for Caitrin’s perspective, but still.

Alan: “Bertrand, she has a bounty on her. Look, she’s probably just some wild who’s been causing trouble in town, so why do you care so much about this?”
:eltywtf:


“Yeah, there she is, we found her, what don’t you get?!” Alan snapped back.

“If I let you bring her to the count you’ll get her exiled!”

[ ]

I can’t tell whether or not it’s deliberate that Caitrin doesn’t know about this being the fate of the Pokémon that they catch, but if Bertrand did, it might’ve made sense to play up a sense of him being uncomfortable with it which gets more and more pronounced as he gets a better idea that Vulpix is just some scared kid. Since I admittedly didn’t place him as really caring what became of the Pokémon he helped cash in that bounty on up until this point.

Like I don’t think that Bertrand’s destination to go “yeah, I can’t take this bounty” is bad, per se. But I do wonder if there should’ve been more buildup leading to this moment.

Caitrin: “She’ll… what?
:grohno~2:


“So, who cares?! That’s not our problem! You just don’t want me taking any credit, don’t ya?!”

“This isn’t about credit!”

“Really?! Then what are you gonna do, huh?!”

As the two argued, Caitrin’s attention turned towards the vulpix, who was slowly starting to back away. She tried to get a word in. “Um-”

Caitrin: “So… uh… what exactly did you do to be in danger of being exiled again? That’s not seriously the sentence for shoplifting in this town, is it?”

“I shoulda known you wouldn’t get how this works.” -- the vulpix backed away farther -- “If you don’t want credit, we can just beat you up and take her anyway.” -- her expression turned resolute -- “How does that sound?” asked an oblivious Alan.

“I think-!”

The vulpix bolted. Caitrin wasted no time and chased after her.

Caitrin: “Oh for crying out loud…”
:mewtwofacepalm:


~~~I can’t let her get away!~~~
~~~​

Huh. Is that a scene title or something? Otherwise, what are we looking at here?

“Hey, she’s getting away!”

Verene ran as fast as her legs could carry her, ignoring the shouts of the adventurers sent to catch her. Why are they after me?! What did I even do?!

Well, if she’s a wild Pokémon, I suppose that’s one way of learning that they are also sapient in this setting. Though I wonder if there should be further hints regarding what Verene’s background is, or else if the lack of details is intentional to keep her background mysterious to the reader.

The alleyway twisted and turned. Verene looked behind her and noticed the deerling was not far behind. I have to lose her. As the alley approached a hard turn, Verene gathered heat from her core, spun around, and launched an Ember attack straight at them. The deerling looked panicked for a moment, just barely jumping to the side and letting the attack sail past her towards the other pursuers. Verene did not waste time checking to see if it hit them, only hoping that their panicked yelps were indicative of a hit.

Cue the angery Water Gun from Alan in 3… 2…

The alley eventually opened into a street, pokémon milling about peacefully before she had to unfairly ruin it. She elicited surprised shouts as both her and her pursuer disrupted the peace, ‘mon clearing out of the way and watching as Verene ran for her life. She spotted another alleyway behind an artisan’s stall to her right. Without thinking, she turned towards it and, against the protests of the electabuzz operating it, she jumped the table and hurdled into the alley, knocking his figurines across the street in the process.

Hopefully that will slow her down.

Verene: “Also, so much for staying in the shadows in this town.” .-.

The vulpix ran down this new path. It dawned on her that she was lost, but as long as she was lost from the deerling’s sights she supposed it did not matter. She made another left as she approached one and followed it right into a dead end. Wait, no! Panicked, she looked around, hoping she was mistaken. But all that was in this alley were doors and knobs to open them. She could now say for certain that whoever invented door knobs was evil.

I snerked. Though I’m actually surprised that the average door in this setting doesn’t have a more generalized opening / closing mechanism. Unless these are all private residences or something.

Panting slowly turning into hyperventilating, Verene turned around, hoping she had maybe lost the deerling earlier, but just as she did so did her pursuer turn the corner and catch up. She was trapped.

The deerling panted as she approached. Verene took a deep breath and stomped the ground with her paw. I didn’t want to have to do this-

Wait, Verene knows attacks beyond Ember?
:copyka:


“Wait!” said the deerling. “I’m not here to hurt you.”

Verene couldn’t tell if she was genuine. “You were hired to catch me!” she responded.

“Look.” The deerling tentatively raised a hoof. “This is all just a misunderstanding. I’m not trying to turn you in, I just want to talk to you.”

Verene:
press-x-to-doubt-la-noire.jpg

Caitrin: “I mean, I haven’t attacked you in spite of you stopping to talk, have I?”
:wellyousee:


“A likely story,” Verene spat. “Do you really believe I am that gullible?”

Her supposed benefactor looked troubled. “I’m telling the truth! I know what it’s like to have to scrounge for food. I wouldn’t imprison you for stealing.”

I didn’t see that one coming. Though I wonder if this could’ve been foreshadowed a bit more in the scene where Caitrin went into the bakery, since you’d think that if she had a stint with food insecurity in the past, that being there might brush up on some memories or the like.

Stealing?!” Verene looked at her with incredulity. “What crime do you think I am guilty of?!”

Huh. Maybe Verene really is a wild Pokémon.

“See? I’m sure there’s something we’re just not understanding here.” The deerling took a step forward. “I’m sure we can convince the count to be reasonable too, I just need you to trust me when I say I don’t want to hurt you.”

Caitrin: “Which would be nice if you did, since… fighting you is going to be an exercise in pain based off that Ember you spat up earlier.”

Verene reflexively took a step back. She weighed her options. I have a type advantage, but even still, could I take this deerling on in a fight?

On closer inspection, she definitely looked to be stronger than she herself was. Even with that heavy harness, she managed to keep pace with Verene where the rest could not, suggesting she must have been accustomed to carrying her weight around. It seemed that even with her trump card, Verene had no choice but to trust the deerling. And yet…

“A-are you sure?” she asked, dropping her guard a little.

Caitrin: “You do realize that if I genuinely meant you harm, I could’ve just popped a Stun Seed right about now to keep you from running away.”
:eltywtf:

Verene: “I… didn’t realize that, actually.” ._.

“I’m sure. My name is Caitrin, and…” Caitrin paused, as if unsure, then smiled. “And I’m an adventurer. It’s my job to help pokémon in trouble.”

“I-”

Verene’s ears perked, and she raised her guard as she heard the charmeleon catch up. He almost passed by the alley they were in, but noticed in time and ran towards Caitrin.

Bertrand?” she said as he doubled over, panting from exhaustion.

“They’re… They’re coming…”

Verene: “A-Ack! You led them straight to me!”
:eltyscared:

Bertrand: “Look, it wasn’t deliberate! We really were trying to help you-!”

Right on cue, the trio led by Alan appeared just behind him. “Real cute, Bertrand!” he shouted angrily. “But like hell I was gonna let that trick slow me down!”

Verene was not sure what he was talking about, but clearly something had happened back there earlier.

Bertrand straightened up and turned to face him, a claw fishing inside his bag for something. “I mean it you three.” From his bag, Bertrand drew a gleaming silver dagger and pointed it at them. “I don’t plan on letting you take her.”

Oh, so straight-up weapons exist in this setting. Noted, even if I wonder what their combat niche is here.

Caitrin: “Bertrand, why on earth do you have that?!”
Bertrand: “... It’s handy for cutting fruit and ropes?” ^^;

Alan smirked. “If it’s a fight you want, it’s a fight you get. Bring it on!”

Alan: “I’d just like to remind you that I’m the one with the bony armor over most of my body and a type advantage, Bertrand. That little letter opener of yours isn’t going to change squat.”
:smugcat:


Right as he finished saying that, his body was surrounded with a white glow, and he ran to tackle Bertrand. Bertrand sidestepped left and swung the dagger, the blade making contact with his opponent's cheek and leaving a white trail of energy as it passed through cleanly. It left no visible damage, but the way Alan clutched the spot on his cheek afterwards showed it clearly hurt. The wartortle only contemplated that for a moment before quickly turning to nail Bertrand with a Water Gun.

Oh, so it’s basically “Slash in a Can”. Or at least I think that that’s the implication since normal daggers definitely don’t leave energy contrails when swung around like that.

“Bertrand!” Caitrin shouted.

[ ] but neither her nor Verene had the luxury of worrying for him. The furfrou and machop ran past the duo as they fought. Caitrin moved to block the former, but she was too far from the machop, who confidently ran straight for Verene, his hands glowing with red energy.

Wait no don’t get me involved in this!

Thinking quickly, Verene turned and ran to the end of the alley. She thanked her speed and the machop’s lack of it for giving her the distance she needed to make her next move.

Remember your training, you can do this.

This feels like a paragraph that ought to be chopped up into a few smaller pieces. Doesn’t necessary this many, but at the very least, I think that Caitrin’s speech tag should be cleaved from the following description, with the dangling bit smoothed out with an addition going into things.

Verene turned around and stomped her left forepaw forward, one in front of the other. She concentrated, then drew that paw to the side against the ground, imagining she were pulling a hair from her pelt. As she pulled, a feeling of nausea formed in the pit of her stomach, as well as the tingling of electricity dancing across her fur, travelling to the tips of her tails. They rose high and unfurled, then she let go and directed the Thunder Wave attack she created at the machop.

He wasn’t expecting didn’t expect it all. There was a look of shock on his face as the thin bolts of lightning shot towards him faster than he could blink and all hit him directly. He collapsed onto his knees just a metre in front of her and shuddered.

Y-you can use magic?!” He shuddered again, the paralysis doing its work.

Huh. So apparently this is just flat-out illegal for a move. Guess Guy must be onto something after all with the ‘magic’ comment, though I suppose I should’ve seen this coming given that the full summary mentions that Liber’s kings wielded powerful magic.

Definitely different in tenor than giving a whiny ‘I call hax’, even if that’d also be apt. :V

Her opponent subdued, Verene did not waste her opportunity. While the others were busy fighting, she dashed for the exit. She was about to pass Alan when their eyes locked for the briefest of seconds. He forced Bertrand to jump away with a Water Gun aimed at his feet and turned towards her for another. Verene reflexively stopped her run and dropped to the ground to try and avoid it, but just as Alan was about to release his attack, Bertrand figured out his goal and swept his legs with his tail, glowing with a blue-violet energy. The attack missed completely, water raining down harmlessly on the cobble street.

I should be a lot less surprised that Charmeleon can learn Dragon Tail, but this still surprised me a bit. What on earth do Bertrand’s parents do for him to have picked this up, though?

Verene silently thanked him and got back up, and that was when the machop caught up to her. She turned towards him just in time for a harsh kick to her stomach to knock her off her feet and send her sprawling down the alley.

On her side, in pain and panicking, Verene gasped and wheezed on her side in pain. She flailed about in a panic, trying to breathe again and failing. She shakily pushed herself up, her bag feeling harsher against her neck. Did I, lose my breath?!

Luckily, the machop was on his knees again fighting against paralysis. She looked down and tried to remember what she was taught should she be reeling from an attack. She heard a bark of pain from the furfrou, and saw that he had been tangled in vines.

Focus.

She looked back down and took deep breaths through her mouth, trying to stay calm and hoping that no one had noticed. She could feel her muscles start working again, but for her liking it was too slow. So, she aimed at the paralyzed machop and with a pained gasp she managed to attack him with an Ember while he was down. She panted from the effort, her legs still shaking.

I-I’m not sure if I can run anymore. But after that attack, I cannot cast much more magic either.

There’s some phrasing here that might need a bit of smoothing out plus a lot going on in this one paragraph such that it probably works better separated into a few smaller ones. Though is magic something tied to the health of its caster in this setting? Or is it like DnD where you have “spell slots” that get expended after use and Verene’s been burning through a bunch prior to this? While I get that a battle isn’t exactly a great environment to go full exposition dump on the audience, I do wonder if there was room to hint a bit more at what magic in Liber is like given that this will be a big mechanic that won’t be shared with other stories.

Bertrand and Alan were still at it. The charmeleon had just dodged a Water Gun, which splattered on the wall behind him, and Alan followed that attack up with another Tackle. Bertrand dodged it as well, but Alan wasn’t looking at him. Once again, his eyes locked with Verene’s, and he charged towards her. Quickly, she drew her paw across the ground for another Thunder Wave, choking back on the much stronger nausea, and directed it at him. But he saw it coming and ended his attack to sidestep with grace the thin bolts.

Ha! Think I didn’t notice that- ack!”

His gloating was cut short by a seed hitting him on the head. It immediately exploded, tendrils of green energy spreading out and encasing his body. Bertrand, meanwhile, noticed the furfrou Caitrin had dealt with struggling to get up and spat an Ember at him. The pokémon let out one last pained bark before collapsing on his side. Then he ran towards Alan.

I’m over here!”

This why you don’t stop to gloat while fighting, Alan. Though I kinda wonder if given that Loup is functionally being reintroduced to the camera after a long absence, if it might make more sense to depict him reeling from a blow from Caitrin instead of a post-facto “had dealt with”.

Verene noticed the vines on the furfrou dissipate into nothing. He’s unconscious. Then-

She gasped when she heard the machop growl. His muscles were visibly tightening, a faint red energy overtaking him. Verene quickly breathed in and hit him with an Ember as he got up, but despite fire scorching his body he was unfazed. He ran to meet Verene, his arm glowing more brightly than the rest of him…

Verene: “Wh-What the-?! Is this guy using magic too?!”
:eltyscared:


When Caitrin barrelled into him, completely blindsiding him and slamming him into the wall. He tried to recover in spite of his continued paralysis, but with breath fully regained, Verene used it to hit him with another Ember for good measure. With a yelp, His legs gave out with a yelp, and he slumped against the wall. He did not attempt to get back up.

Verene: “Oh thank goodness. There’s just that loudmouth Wartortle left.”
:sweats:


It was only Alan now, dodging Bertrand’s dagger swings and wincing as the Leech Seed slowly sapped away his energy and gave it to Caitrin.

C’mon Bertrand, you know fighting with that knife of yours isn’t fair!”

“Fair?!” said Bertrand with a look of disbelief. “Where do you get off telling me about fairness?!”

His fiery tail swung behind him, as if to make a point. He then charged Alan again, dagger raised high for a downwards slash. But rather than dodge it, Alan caught the blade in his claws.

Bertrand:
laughter-worried.gif

Um… when did your reflexes get this quick again, Alan?”

And yeah, same deal as with the last review, so...
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Chapter 0-1, Section 2, cont.

Bertrand was caught off guard.

Just sayin’” said Alan, before he shot a Water Gun directly at his opponent’s face.

The charmeleon reeled away coughing and sputtering, allowing Alan to yank the dagger away from him and step backwards. He scoffed, then used the blade to cut one of the vines encasing him, causing the rest to evaporate into nothingness. A triumphant Alan then pointed the weapon back at Bertrand.

Now it’s fair!”

I kinda feel like “Bertrand was caught off guard” is one of those moments where we’re being told something that we should see in a bit more detail. For instance, is Bertrand stunned and going wide-eyed? Is he trying to fight for control of his dagger? Just feels like there’s some sort of vision in your mind for this scene that isn’t quite coming through at the moment.

Bertrand: “I-I call hax.”
:quilaeep:


Caitrin stepped up besides Bertrand, and Verene prepared to draw more magic. Only then did the wartortle’s expression change. He looked at the unconscious forms of his friends.

Hey, what the hell?! This isn’t the time to slack off!”

Caitrin: “No, no. I think you were onto something about this being a fair matchup earlier.”
:trollzel:


Bertrand, clearly hurt from his battle but no less bold, took a step forward. “Now you’re outnumbered,” he growled. “And give me my dagger back.”

Alan panted as he contemplated his situation. [ ]

Fine, have it!” He threw the dagger at them, then used the distraction to run past them, the weapon clattering uselessly on the ground just in front of its rightful owner.

This is another situation where it probably makes sense to describe Alan’s reaction in a bit more depth. Like is he getting snippy and defiant? Does he have a flash of nervousness after realizing that he’s in a bad spot? It’s a bit hard to tell one way or another at the moment, while adding description would go a long way to help the reader visualize things and pick up inferences about Alan.

Verene stopped channelling her energy, then let her growing exhaustion overtake her. She flopped onto her side, panting with her tongue lolling. It was hardly dignified of her, yet she was too weak to care.

Okay, so she’s probably not a wild Pokémon given that using magic is treated as an unnatural behavior by the story, though that makes me wonder what on earth is Verene’s story.

“Hey!” Caitrin ran over to her. “Are you okay?”

Verene: “Define ‘okay’.” @.@

Verene tried to muster up a response. “I’ve… never been in a battle like that before,” she managed to say.

487.jpg


“Here, hold on.” Caitrin slipped out of her harness and buried her muzzle into one of the satchels. She returned to Verene with an Oran berry in her mouth, placing it in front of her. “Here, this should help a little.”

“Th-thank you…”

[ ]


“Do you have one to spare for me too?” asked Bertrand, swaying a little and smiling sheepishly, the fire on his tail smaller than usual. “Honestly, I made a show just now, but if the battle went on for any longer I’d be on the floor.”

I kinda wonder if it’d have made more sense to put in a description of Bertrand swaying and looking a bit worse for wear before he speaks up. Especially if Caitrin and Verene had to turn to notice him.

And so, the three sat down and took a well-deserved break. Caitrin had plenty of Oran berries, as it turned out. Bertrand remarked on how many items she had in those satchels, to which she replied, “It’s nothing, really. I just like being prepared.”

Verene kept eyeing them warily the entire time. Can I really trust these two? They don’t seem to mean me harm… After downing her berry, Verene carefully pushed herself into a standing position. She swayed a little, not quite feeling back to full strength, but she could move again.

Verene: “(I mean, they did bail me out from getting caught and turned in for a bounty… on the other hand, I know exactly nothing about either of these two.)” .-.

“So that was magic?” asked Bertrand. “I’ve never seen it used in battle like that before.”

Verene huffed. “So I’m a magic user. What of it?”

He shrugged. “Just saying. I thought it was cool.”

‘Magic user’, huh? A little surprised that there’s not a snappy term like ‘caster’ or something like that, but eh. Your setting, your rules.

Verene was taken aback. She looked away, blushing under her fur. “You did not track me down and fight on my behalf to gawk at my abilities, I would hope.”

“No,” replied Caitrin. “But we probably shouldn’t talk here.”

[ ] The wartortle’s friends were still unconscious on the ground. It was only a matter of time before they woke up.

Very well,” Verene said. “Lead the way then.”

I’d suggest throwing in a small extension where Caitrin explicitly points out Guy and Loup passed out in the alleyway. Since as it is, it feels like there’s a bit of a jarring transition, especially if this narration is meant to specifically be from Verene’s point of view.

After Bertrand gathered his weapon, Verene followed the two out of the alley and back out into the open streets. She was led back to the town square, where they gathered in the field at the centre. Verene sat down.

So? What questions do you have to ask of me?”

“We should probably explain the situation first,” Bertrand started. “You’ve been hanging around Count Durivi’s estate, haven’t you?”

Verene: “And if I was? That’s not seriously a crime, is it?” ^^;
Bertrand: “Have you seriously gone your entire life without a conception of what ‘trespassing’ is?” >_>;

[ ]

“Well, y-yes, I have,” she said, embarrassed to admit it. “I am sure my presence is not much of a bother to him, is it?”

I would recommend throwing in some description of how Verene and potentially the other characters react here.

Bertrand + Caitrin:
:gardexhausted:

Bertrand: “Again. You have a bounty on your head, Vulpix.

The charmeleon rubbed the horn on his head. “Well considering that he kinda hired us to capture and imprison you, I think it is a bother to him, yeah.”

Verene was startled to hear it.

That is what this is about, then?” She looked away. “After scaring that maid, I thought to keep away from the manor, but to think that he would still loathe my presence.”

Given that this scene is being told from Verene’s perspective, it might make sense to go into a bit more detail about how Verene was startled through stuff like her reaction and internal thought process to hearing this. Since this is one of those moments where things are told, but not really shown to us as readers.

“It was when he saw you by the stream that he decided to send adventurers after you,” said Caitrin.

By the stream? Perhaps this was my fault for overestimating him. “He does not own that,” Verene replied bitterly.

I… kinda feel as if there’s more going on between Verene and Durivi that we don’t know about. Which is a little strange if this scene is meant to be written from Verene’s perspective since you’d think that we’d see a bit more of her thought process regarding Durivi while we haven’t really seen much acknowledgement of him from her up to this point.

Bertrand smiled knowingly. “Yeah, the count’s kind of a jerk. But what are you doing in Courière? You have a bag, and you can use magic, but I don’t think you’re an adventurer.”

I cannot say who I am. [ ] ]Verene tried to think of a response.

I… am an adventurer, actually,” she said. “I arrived here not long ago, but I seemed to have underestimated how, difficult, being an adventurer could be. I figured the manor was large enough, so I decided to live around there.”

:copyber:


Only good things can come from keeping secrets like this, I’m sure. Though part of me feels like it’d make more sense to see Verene’s reaction in a bit more detail. For instance, does she tense up and have a moment where she’s uneasy or something? Like it’s kinda implied from the existing text, though I wonder if it can be shown more.

Bertrand gave her a sceptical look. “Well yeah. I mean the guide hasn’t seen you once, so you’d have to be pretty bad to not know you’re supposed to go to the Traveler’s Office to take requests.”

But was it a
:sceptical~1:
look?

Verene was flustered, caught in her lie, and tried to think of something else. “I-I have never been in this town before. Truthfully, I do not know what a Traveler’s Office is, much less where I would find it.”

“You’re an adventurer but you don’t know what a Traveler’s Office is?” Bertrand shook his head. “I’m not sure if I can buy that.”

Reminder that if this scene is meant to be written from Verene’s perspective, it probably makes sense to phrase the narration as more in her own words, while this section reads almost like omniscient perspective. Though as a general rule of thumb, but most verbs in the form of “was [verb]ed” or “had [verb]ed” work better framed without it since it feels more active.

e.x. The first sentence, without changing anything about the narrative style or adding further detail can be rendered as “Verene grew flustered after being caught in her lie, and tried to think of something else.” , which reads a bit smoother by virtue of not using passive voice.

“Besides,” Caitrin piped in. “I don’t think an adventurer would steal bread from the bakery.”

Verene’s temperament turned to shock. “That is your other accusation?! I admit to having gone there for bread, but that bread was given to me by the baker’s son! I have not stolen anything!”

“Verene’s temperament turned to shock” feels like something that should be shown more. e.x. Something like “Verene’s mouth flopped open at Caitrin’s response. Th-That Deerling just picked apart her story like it was nothing!” communicates the “shocked”-ness, while showing things off in a bit more detail and showing more of Verene’s thought process.

“Not sure if I can believe that either,” said Bertrand, rubbing his horn yet again.

A thoughtful look crossed Caitrin’s face. “Actually, I’m pretty sure she’s telling the truth there.”

[ ]


“You think so?”

Might be worth indicating if Bertrand had any noteworthy reaction here to Caitrin, especially if he did something like a double-take or catch himself out of uncertainty.

“Of course I am telling the truth!” Verene shouted, indignant. “I would never in all my life resort to thievery for anything!”

Sticker, sceptilisk,


Okay, Verene.

Just then, Caitrin’s ear twitched, and her gaze shifted to somewhere behind Verene. The vulpix tilted her head. “What?”

She followed the deerling’s gaze and saw an umbreon watching from afar. The umbreon ran over, then nodded to Bertrand. “So you found the vulpix?”

Oh boy…

Bertrand: “... Would you believe that this is a completely unrelated Vulpix?”
:Fearfullaugh:


Verene could almost swear she heard Bertrand mutter “Dammit…” under his breath, but he made no show of it and nodded back. “Yup, she’s the one. We were just questioning her.”

Verene:
whywouldyoudothat.jpg

Bertrand: “Oh come on, Umbreon was very obviously not buying my explanation, so what was I supposed to do?” >_>;

“More like throwing baseless accusations,” Verene grumbled.

The umbreon, most likely an accomplice, looked over to Caitrin. “And who’s this pokémon?”

“She’s my partner,” answered Bertrand. “Honestly, it’d be more accurate to say she found the vulpix.”

“I-I think you’re giving me too much credit,” said Caitrin, embarrassed.

I’m surprised that Verene is remaining this calm instead of actively freaking out since from her perspective, Bertrand and Caitrin just ratted her out. How is she reacting during all of this anyways? It might be worth showing off in some form of description in between some of these paragraphs.

“I see,” said the umbreon. “We should probably take this one to the mayor and collect our reward, then.”

Caitrin tilted her head at the word ‘mayor,’ but Bertrand was unfazed by it. “Yeah, let’s go.”

“W-wait.” There was a sinking feeling in the pit of Verene’s stomach. “I-I thought you said you would protect me?”

Actually, why is Verene just standing there instead of trying to make a run for it right now? Like I get that she’s worn down from battle, but unless she’s blocked off from all directions (which isn’t communicated), you’d think that this would be exactly the sort of situation from her perspective where it’d make sense to cut and run.

“We’re not going to imprison you,” said Caitrin, trying to reassure. “You just need to apologize, and I’m sure the count will forgive you.”

Again:

bender-laughing.gif


Though didn’t Bertrand just worry about Durivi exiling Verene when talking with Alan earlier? Unless this is deliberately playing along to not raise suspicions with Umbreon, though I wonder if that should be hinted at more if so.

Bertrand looked away as she said that, a look of uncertainty on his face. “...We’ll figure it out when we get there, I guess.”

Verene: “Bertrand, you said that he would exile me if I got caught!” O.O
Bertrand: “Yeah, I know. That’s… why I was hoping we’d figure something out beforehand.”
:Fearfullaugh:


Verene looked around frightfully, suddenly aware that she was surrounded by three pokémon who were all stronger than her. The pain of betrayal stung, and the overwhelming urge to cry shook her body. No… I-I must face this with dignity. He is nobility, it would not do to ignore his summons. She tried to control her breathing, and, flanked on all sides, she was led around the fountain, over the bridge, and down the path towards the Durivi estate.

This feels like something that we should’ve seen play out in live-time a bit more during this whole episode from Verene’s perspective. Since you’d think that the thought that “y-you tricked me!” would’ve come up on her radar a lot earlier on when Bertrand and Caitrin are getting chummy with the Umbreon.

~~~I-I can handle this...~~~
~~~​

After gathering everyone and alerting the head butler, Bertrand and everyone else, minus the Shell Gang, gathered into the count’s manor. The extravagant foyer seemed to impress everyone as they crowded in, but Bertrand was more worried about the vulpix.

How am I going to get her out of this mess? he asked himself. I can’t be sure the count will have mercy, but if all he cares about is getting her off his property, then there has to be something…

Verene: “You could’ve just pretended you didn’t see me and let me go, but no…” >_>;
Bertrand: “To be fair, that ship kinda sailed once that Umbreon spotted us.” ^^;

“So they have arrived!” called out a voice, old and dignified. A clefable wearing a fancy white general’s outfit appeared at the top of the central staircase and made his way down the steps, small wings fluttering with each careful step. He met them at the bottom and locked eyes with Bertrand.

Oh, so that’s Count Durivi, huh? Definitely wasn’t what I was expecting at first.

Count Gilbert Durivi was a complicated individual. Frankly, everyone hated him, having inherited his title from his more popular grandfather, though not many in town were still alive to tell that tale. With an infamously short temper and a contempt for the townsmon, most interactions with him were negative, and he used to rule the town with an iron grip before events in Luminance stripped away much of his power.

Considering everything that went down almost a year ago, it was a miracle he was still alive, yet he seemed to hold no gratitude for that mercy. Just looking at him, Bertrand could tell he was trying his best to pretend as if nothing had changed.

:copyka:


Oh, so there’s been recent social and political unrest in Courière, huh? Definitely some foreboding undertones to this bucolic-seeming town. Though it makes me wonder how on earth this guy is still alive in that case if almost everyone hates him.

Durivi looked to his butler. “So these are the adventurers you hired?”

[ ] His gaze then focused on the vulpix, surrounded on all sides by the group. His eyes turned harsh.

And that must be the vulpix.”

I’d chop up this paragraph and throw in a brief reaction / acknowledgement from the butler as an addition to your description segment.

The poor thing was shaking, but in spite of her obvious fear, she pushed her way to the front of the group, sat down, and bowed her head.

G-Greetings, Count Durivi. I-I would like to apologise for-”

The count cut her off. “Why is it speaking to me?”

Caitrin: “Oh, well this is going well right now.”
:mewtwofacepalm:

Verene: “Thanks a lot, Bertrand.”
Bertrand: “L-Look, we can still make things work right now!”
:Fearfullaugh:


The vulpix’s head flew up in shock. “I…”

The umbreon and Caitrin shifted uncomfortably. The rest of the group seemed too afraid to speak. A deep breath. Here goes nothing

“We found the vulpix,” Bertrand spoke up. “And I think this was just a misunderstanding.”

Bertrand: “I mean, you’re not really going to exile a little ‘mon like this over an understanding, right?” ^^;

Durivi looked to Bertrand again, him being the only face the count recognized. His expression was cold and unamused.

Is it wild?”

I’m on the spot now, don’t screw it up. Bertrand gulped. “N-no, we don’t think so.”

Oh, so wild Pokémon are sapient and intelligible in this setting. Since Verene speaking up was not a sufficient giveaway to Durivi.

“Then why was it on my property?”

“You see…”

That was a hard one. They weren’t able to get any definitive answers out of her, only what seemed to be lies. He glanced at Caitrin, but she didn’t say anything.

Well… as it turns out, she’s an adventurer, too.”

Verene: “(Bertrand, how on earth is this supposed to help me here?!)”
:grohno~2:

Bertrand: “(I’m getting to it!)”

“Really?” The count’s gaze was indifferent yet intense. “I have never claimed to expect much from your kind, but surely the guild is above trespassing?”

“She’s gone through some tough times,” Bertrand lied desperately. “She’s had a hard time finding work, and hasn’t been able to afford to stay at the inn for a while. So she started to take residence near the stream. And, well, I guess she just got curious about the manor.”

Durivi:
:sceptical~1:

Bertrand: “Look, truth is stranger than fiction sometimes, okay?”

Count Durivi looked back towards the trembling vulpix. “To be quite frank, I could not care less what the circumstances are. If the situation were different, I would have it marked and exiled.”

“No…” the vulpix squeaked.

Bertrand: “So… you mean that you’re not going to mark and exile her? Since you did say ‘if the situation were different’.” ^^;

“However, I suppose I might have mercy on this one,” he added. “That is, on the condition it can be guaranteed this will never happen again.”

He looked back at Bertrand with a glare. [ ]

Which I do not believe you can do.”

Bertrand: “... Oh damn it. I suppose this is what I get for getting my hopes up.”
:uhhh:


Though I kinda wonder if it makes sense to describe how some of the others are reacting right now. Especially if getting marked and exiled is a particularly harsh and unpleasant fate. Since if they’re starting to feel sorry for Verene, you’d think it’d start to impact their reactions.

The timburr stepped forward angrily. “Now look here-!”

Durivi raised a gloved finger. “Silence: I have not addressed you.”

All the timburr’s confidence seemed to sputter out in an instant, and once again, everyone but Bertrand was left speechless.

Yeah, this is why I figured that it might’ve made sense to draw more attention to the other bystanders’ reaction, since this is admittedly coming a bit out of left field right now.

The charmeleon gathered his nerves. “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to guarantee that. Surely all this is enough to teach a lesson, right?”

The count pulled his gloves tight. “Lessons are worth less than paper. I want a guarantee.”

[ ]


“Then… I’ll watch over her.”

It might make sense to show off the gears turning in Bertrand’s head a bit more. e.x. He’s trying to find some solution to keeping Verene safe, keeps drawing blanks and then has a realization. Or else is beating himself up for being an idiot to think he had a way of getting her bounty without harming her and then said realization dawns on him.

Caitrin: “Bertrand, what are you doing-?” O_O;
Bertrand: “Look, it’s this or letting her get marked and exiled, okay?”

[ ]


“What?!” exclaimed the vulpix.

“You will?” asked the count, ignoring the outburst.

I just realized, but how are everyone else reacting to things at the moment? Since if it’s a particularly out-of-left-field idea, you’d think that there’d be more surprised and startledness from the others present that might be worth managing.

“Yes.” Bertrand brought a claw to his chest. “I know it doesn’t mean a lot to you, but I’m an adventurer now. And as a future representative of the guild, I’ll personally make sure she never sets down a paw on your estate again.”

Yeah, this is totally not going to last for more than like 5 chapters. I can already tell.

The count raised a brow, surprised he would make such a bold promise. “I know where you live, Bertrand,” he reminded him.

“I’m not concerned, mayor.”

Oh, well that took an ominous turn there.
:copyka2~2:


The mayor’s wings fluttered in annoyance, but he stayed silent. The tension in the room had grown dramatically; Bertrand could feel his heart thumping in his chest. Finally, Durivi sighed.

Very well. I suppose your word is as good of a guarantee as you can offer. But mark my words, Bertrand, I do not want to see that thing here again.”

Bertrand nodded. “You won’t, I promise.”

de7.png


Though hey, I suppose this means that we’ve gotten a team of three out of things?

“As for the rest of you…” The mayor’s gaze flew over the rest of the gathered pokémon. It lingered on the timburr. “I want an apology from you.”

The timburr clutched his arm and glared at the floor. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“Louder.”

“I’m sorry!”

I feel as if there’s some sort of disconnect here since Durivi goes from addressing the entire group to the Timburr specifically without much in the way of an explicit shift in focus, so at first I thought he was demanding an apology from the entire group and was a bit confused. It might make sense to have him complete his thought to the entire group a bit more before having a “but before that” moment that focuses on the Timburr or something like that.

Durivi nodded in satisfaction. “That is all. The butler will escort you out.” He gave his head butler an expecting look. “He will also pay you the appropriate amount. In addition, I suppose it is only fair that Bertrand receive more for taking the vulpix as his burden. See to it that you prepare him a hundred silver more than agreed.”

[ ] He glared back at Bertrand.

Let it not be said that I wasn’t generous, today.”

The delphox bowed. “As you wish, my lord.”

I’d personally expand the bit before Durivi glares at Bertrand a bit. Like does Bertrand have any thoughts of what just happened? Is he having a moment of “wait, that worked?” unreality or something like that? Just feels like there’s a bit more that can be said here.

The sun was about halfway through the afternoon as the butler led everyone off the estate. At the bridge, he gave everyone 300 Poké each. Right before giving Bertrand his reward, he looked around.

Where is that wartortle and his band of delinquents? Were they not a part of this request too?”

Bertrand shrugged. “Beats me.”

I like how even the butler knows that the Shell Gang is bad news.
:copyber:


Bertrand:
giphy.gif


“I will forward their reward to the Traveler’s Office, then. And this is for you.” He handed twenty gold coins into his open wallet, 400 Poké in all. “I do recommend you give the manor a wide berth for a few days.”

“Thanks, but I’m not worried,” Bertrand replied. And with that, the butler left for the manor, leaving the group of adventurers behind.

Butler: “I was referring more to your newfound teammate.”
:AlviseUnamused:

Bertrand: “Meh, how hard could it be, really?”

“That count might have been the most unpleasant ‘mon I’ve ever met,” said the bug pokémon.

“No kidding,” grumbled the timburr. “I wanted to punch his face so hard…” He performed a demonstration with his paw.

His frogadier friend put a webbed hand on his shoulder. “Now, now, let’s tone it down a little bit. We should get back to the inn.”

The timburr huffed and let his arms drop to his side. “Yeah.”

I kinda wonder if there should’ve been more description in the paragraph right before this block regarding the general mood. Especially if everyone is just keeping polite faces up and then just collectively exhaling and letting out their true feelings right afterwards.

Everyone took a moment to say their goodbyes. Bertrand also had to weather a few compliments.

You handled the situation with the mayor well,” said the umbreon. “If you’re really new to adventuring, I’ll be sure to watch out for you.”

[ ] And with that, Bertrand, Caitrin, and the vulpix were the only ones left on the bridge.

IMO, it probably makes sense to explicitly state that the others left the bridge, since as of present, you did not do that.

“I have to second what she Umbreon said,” remarked Caitrin. “Honestly, I don’t know how you managed to stand up to him like that.”

Bertrand rubbed his horn, embarrassed. “Well, when you live here, you just kind of get used to him.”

Ah yes, Apathetic Citizenry. Always handy for helping nobles with 0% Approval Ratings to get their extra leases on life.

Caitrin didn’t seem to buy his modesty. “He threatened you. You can’t tell me that didn’t bother you at all.”

He let his expression turn a bit more serious. “Like I said, you get used to it. Honestly, it didn’t feel like I handled it all that well.”

Narrator: “It totally bothered Bertrand.”

“Ahem.”

Bertrand had almost forgotten about the vulpix. She sat there, drilling holes into his head while her tails stood tall with indignance behind her.

This is all well and good, but I am more concerned about what you promised him.”

Bertrand: “The part where you didn’t set foot on his manor again? I mean, that surely wouldn’t be that hard, would it-?”
Verene: “And about the part where I’m on your team now?” >:|
Bertrand: “... Right, I did say that, huh?”

“Right.” Bertrand sighed. Forget the embarrassment of praise, here comes the really embarrassing part.

“Oh yeah, what did you mean when you said you’d watch over her?” Caitrin asked. “You can’t actually mean to do that, right?”

Bertrand: “I mean, given that Durivi went full ‘I know where you live’ on me, I really, really think it wouldn’t be wise to back out on watching over her.”
:ohnowen:


Bertrand gathered his nerves. Okay, here goes nothing. “Well, y’see,” he started, looking right at the vulpix. “I was hoping you could join our team.”

It took her a moment to process what he just asked. Things eventually sank in, and at once, she jumped to her feet and gave him an incredulous look.

Wait, what?!” She jumped to her feet and gave him an incredulous look. “ Y…y-you jest, surely?!”

I would suggest pulling forward the embedded description in Verene’s line of dialogue into the paragraph beforehand.

“I know it’s a bit sudden, but I figured this would be for the best,” Bertrand explained. “Honestly, I don’t buy for second that you’re an adventurer. But it’s also pretty clear to me that you need somewhere to go. And well, I saw you could use magic, and figured you’d make a good addition.”

“F-For the best?!” she stammered. “Magic is not that special!

:eyes:

Well then. That has some implications for this setting, which could be downright wild to see in action.

Bertrand smiled weakly and put a claw on his side. “Yeah, don’t buy that either. Magic is incredibly rare: including you, I could count all the ‘mon I’ve met who can use it on my claws.”

Verene: “But you admit that you’ve met others-”
Bertrand: “Verene, I’ve met like three Pokémon that could do it in my entire life.” >_>;

“That’s true. The only magic users I’ve ever met were other adventurers,” agreed Caitrin.

“B-But, you’re a fire-type!” the vulpix exclaimed. “And I am a fire-type! You cannot have two fire-types on your team, that’s ridiculous!”

That sure didn’t stop every named team in PMD RBDX aside from Team ACT from doubling up on types in their party. >:V

“Why not? Caitrin here can use grass-type moves, right?” He looked at Caitrin expectantly.

“Actually, she’s got a point there,” she added with a guilty look. “Leech Seed is the only grass-type move I know.”

Bertrand held out his arms in disbelief. [ ]

But you’re a grass-type!” And then shook his head. “A-Anyway, it doesn’t matter that much! We can still cover for that weakness!”

And then some Flygon in a Monster House used Earthquake and everyone got wiped. Since yeah, even if Verene’s got an ulterior motive here, she kinda has a point.

Though this segment has been a bit heavy on dialogue without much in the way of description interleaving. It might make sense to expand Bertrand’s moment of disbelief a bit more.

“I-I, but-!” The vulpix screwed her eyes shut. “You cannot be serious! I can handle myself just fine, I do not need you, nor do I need to be watched! I was just fine before that blasted count decided to get defensive over nothing!”

Bertrand: “You literally needed to steal food from shops to get by, though.”
:eltyunamused:

Vulpix: “Again, I was handling myself fine!” >_>;

Bertrand and Caitrin both regarded her, once again taking note of her matted fur, unkempt tails, and dirty paws. They looked at each other, then back at her.

Do you even have any money?” Caitrin asked.

“N…no.” She looked away. “But the baker’s son has treated me rather kindly.”

Oh, so that’s why he was being super flustered and shifty when Caitrin was questioning him and his dad.

Caitrin sighed. “If you keep taking bread from there, we’re probably going to get another request to find you. The baker’s son might be okay with it, but the baker himself isn’t.”

“Th-that’s not my problem…”

Caitrin: “Uh, yes, it is. Since if you keep this up, eventually someone else in town is going to put a bounty on you.” >_>;

[ ] An idea popped into Bertrand’s head.

What’s your name?” he asked.

It might make sense to describe the mood between some combination of Verene and Caitrin and Bertrand’s reaction before he gets his idea, since this seguing into asking for her name felt a bit abrupt to me.

“M-my name?” She considered the question for a moment, then straightened up. “My name is Verene.”

Verene: “... Also, why are you asking for this now of all times?” >_>;
Bertrand: “I mean, we are going to be stuck with each other for a while, so…” ^^;

“Well Verene, I can’t force you to do anything,” said Bertrand. “But I can’t just sit here and watch you struggle like this either. Even if you don’t want to join our team, then I’d at least like it if you stayed over at my place for the night. My parents are really kind, and they’ll definitely feed you better than what you’ve been eating.”

“I have been ea-” The sound of her stomach grumbling gave her away. “Oh.”

Bertrand: “As you were saying?”
Verene: “Look, I never said that I’d been eating well.”

Bertrand kneeled down to her level. [ ]

Again, I don’t want to force anything on you. But your brave act isn’t fooling anyone here. And I do still have to watch over you for now. So.” He offered her a claw. “Please?”

It might make sense to expand the bit with Bertrand kneeling down to Verene’s level with some note about his expression or demeanor or else whatever’s going through his head at the moment. Like I get the feeling that you had a specific vision in mind for what this moment looked like, but it’s a bit hard to tell what it was just from the provided text.

Verene stared at his open claw, the look across her muzzle being one of both irritation and disbelief. [ ]

I do not understand why you care so much.”

She paused, her expression softening as her eyes started to water.

But… I suppose you are right,Her eyes started to water. she said. “I have not eaten well in days. A-and I have been sleeping out in the rain for even longer.”

She shook her head and placed a muddy paw into Bertrand’s claws. Despite the tears, her look was fierce.

I accept your proposition. But do not expect me to join your team.”

She’s totally joining his team. She just doesn’t know it yet. Though IMO, this paragraph has enough going on in it that you should strongly consider formatting it as multiple smaller ones.

Bertrand nodded. “That’s all I was asking for.”

The two stood up, and Bertrand looked to the sky. “The day’s only halfway over. I was thinking we should stop off at the Traveler’s Office real quick. I also haven’t had any lunch yet.”

Well, somebody’s a workaholic there.

Verene’s stomach growled again. “I suppose I could join you.”

Meanwhile, Bertrand noticed Caitrin had been silent for a while now. [ ]

Is something wrong?” he asked her.

I kinda wonder if it’d have made sense for the narration to describe Caitrin’s expression a bit more. Especially if Bertrand’s immediate reaction is that “something’s wrong”.

She shook her head. “No, I was just thinking. I think it was a good idea to take that request.” She smiled at him. “If it’s okay, I’d like to stay at your place for the night too. It’d be better than staying at the inn.”

Bertrand put a claw on his hip. “You’d hurt the innkeeper’s feelings with that.”

Actually, wait, does Bertrand still live with his parents? Since if so, that’s going to be fun to explain to them.
:copyber:


Caitrin looked away and pawed at the ground. “Well I’m mostly just worried about saving money…”

“I’m just teasing a little. Of course you can stay. I never would have been able to solve this without your help.”

Whelp, guess we’ll be finding out one way or another as to what Bertrand’s living situation is like next time.

“I still think you’re giving me too much credit,” said Caitrin. “But thanks.”

“I got paired with a couple of saps,” Verene muttered.

And so, the three made their way to the Traveler’s Office. [ ]

I get that these sections are technically portions of a larger chapter, but something about this ending note feels like it’d be stronger to put more focus on how events have shaken out for Bertrand’s day, since he’s managed to accomplish his goals of getting a teammate well beyond his initial hopes, and it might make sense to reflect a bit on that.

Well, things are definitely coming along quite nicely for Bertrand and his teambuilding prospects there. Even if I kinda wonder if it really made sense to bill this section as a fragment of a larger chapter since if you had just straight-up billed it as its own chapter, I’d have believed it since it feels fairly “complete” in terms of the stuff that goes on in it. But authorial decisions are authorial decisions, and I’ll reserve my energy to focus a bit more on what I felt worked and what I felt didn’t from Section 2 of your first chapter.

Okay, so the main thing that stood out to me this chapter was that you were obviously having fun with characterization. Since just from the interactions that we saw, we got a decent handle on Bertrand and his new teammates’ personalities, Alan and the Shell Gang’s and Durivi’s. There’s definitely some promising chemistry for the future, especially with the way that Verene is keeping secrets at the moment and not necessarily the world’s most eager recruit into amateur adventuring. I also liked the worldbuilding that came out in this chapter, especially the revelation that there’s a magic system of some sort in this setting. It’s definitely different from what most other stories do, but there are some wild possibilities that can come from giving your cast a potential avenue for breaking the “rules” of Pokémon, and I’m looking forward to learning more about how it works and what it can do in this setting.

As for what I felt were the main weaknesses of this chapter… I found that most of the issues from Section 1 aside from the wonky splitscreen formatting are still present here, so in the interest of avoiding coming off as a broken record I’ll focus on the stuff that more specifically stood out to me while reading. One of the big recurring issues that I saw was that you seemed to have some issues with a lack of “show and not tell” this chapter. Like “[X] felt [Y]” tends to be a bit more interesting if we get to see what that looks like in terms of reactions or internal thoughts. It also carried over a bit to descriptions a bit, which made a couple moments like Bertrand’s about-face on turning Verene in a bit jarring since there was a certain subtext to his mood while doing it that kinda got lost by virtue of it not being explicitly communicated.

I also thought that a number of paragraphs in this section were very idea-dense, to the point where I genuinely feel that they’d probably have worked better as multiple paragraphs. Now granted, some of my proposed remedies are an artifact of my own style as a writer, but it’s something that probably merits consideration even if you opt for a different solution in the end. There also seemed to be some moments in this section where the narrative perspective was a little weird. My presumption was that you wrote each scene as definitively being cast from a certain character’s point of view, but there would also be points in them where the narration felt less like things as seen through said character’s eyes or filtered through their thoughts and more like we were seeing things through a floating camera. Granted, floating camera is fine… for an omniscient perspective, but for a limited perspective that’s meant to be specifically tied to one character, you want to reflect things that they would specifically see and sense with some degree of their own mood and personality coming through.

But altogether, even with those rough edges, I thought it was a pretty good start thus far. Dunno if you’ll go back to smooth them out at some point or else opt to make any tweaks in further sections and chapters, but you’ve done a good job at getting readers invested in Bertrand and his world around him. Kudos for sticking it out on your baby, @JFought , and I’ll be looking forward to crossing paths with this story again sometime in the future.
 

JFought

Sloooowly writing...
First, review replies!

Spiteful Murkrow said:
So what do you say? Will you change the world with me?
de7.png


Let’s find out!
>:)>:)>:)>:)>:)>:)>:)>:)>:)>:)>:)>:)>:)

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Huh, so moon phases are tracked independently of “months” in this setting. That actually makes me wonder what the local calendar system is like.
Yup! Moon phases only show up in the "date header" when its currently nighttime, and the name of the moon is determined by a moon calendar that runs underneath the main one. It'll get elaborated on slightly, though the full details of the calendar will probably have to be saved for an Author's Notes or as an extra, as it's a lot to go over ^^;.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
I can’t tell if John’s about to offer William the title of Duke of Volsera as a consolation prize or else if something happened to Volsera such that inheriting the title means you get a name and bupkis along with it.
Most of the things regarding John's relationship to Volsera and what he means by "Duke of Katus" are meant to be a bit unclear at this point, and will slowly be elaborated on as we go (the entire thing is a complicated territory dispute that can't exactly be summed up quickly). Though admittedly I might have been a bit too opaque about the nature of it, as Katus isn't actually a location, and John didn't technically give up his title. It'll be a tiny bit more clear in the next chapter.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Oh, so Liber is undergoing a transition into becoming an industrialized society from a primarily agrarian / possibly feudal one. That’s probably a bad omen for what the state of affairs in the cities and socially will be like.

Though I just realized. Given that there are plural kingdoms instead of a singular ‘Liber’, that that means that Liber broke up into smaller states at some point in the past? Since that sounds like it must’ve been quite the source of problems there.
:copyka:
The nature of Liber and its kingdoms will become a little clearer with time! It's a bit of an odd setup...

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Oh. I’m slow, but I just realized that you’re attempting to do the narrative equivalent of a scene that rapidly cuts back and forth between two locations or else splitscreens between two events. I’m not fully sure it works in a text-based format versus two back-to-back scenes, though I wonder if doing something like a visual gimmick like indent blocks ( [ indent ][/ indent] with the spaces removed) to separate the text more from each other would’ve made things a bit more obvious.
I'm sorry to hear this part didn't work for you! I didn't exactly choose to write it this way for want of a better method: to some extent it is meant to be jarring, I just didn't anticipate the italics getting mistaken for 'flashback text' in this specific way, though in hindsight I realize that it's easy to read it that way because of how other stories normally handle italic scenes.

Expanding the non-italic scene is out of the question for several reasons. Outside of using indents, I can't really think of any way to make it more obvious that there's no literal relation between the scenes (or at least, nothing else that looks halfway decent). I might end up trying the indent solution, but for now I think I'll stick to my guns and wait for more feedback, as if it continues to not work for people I'd like to get a better feel for the ways in which it doesn't.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
… Also, I just realized that there wasn’t a lot of description regarding where Nidoking and Gardevoir presently are. I wonder if that was intentional or not.
To some extent this is intentional (they definitely aren't in Riveridge...), to another its just the fact that there's no room to describe the area and I'm expecting the reader to simply slot the characters into a visually identical scene :P.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Okay, so regardless of whether or not you opt to preserve the splitscreen effect for your opening scene I kinda wonder if this part in particular part could’ve been handled in one scene given that John and the Nidoking’s lines literally are separated by 4 words of difference and the whole “same thing happening across two places” could just as easily
this is the one part where i'll have to explicitly disagree but i can't say why.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Ah yes, Falcom music. And that reminds me that I need to stop being lazy and make a firm decision of whether or not to put musical embeds in OaT.
You can expect a lot Falcom music where that came from :p.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Though that makes me wonder if Kecleon are similarly scourges for shoplifters in this setting, since if they have hostile business rivalries...
:copyka:
this reminds me i still need a plan for how to elaborate on kecleon wb in Sword. there's more than you'd think.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Huh. No Vulpix at all in Courière? That makes me wonder how big the place is population-wise and what local species diversity looks like.
Ngl it is actually slightly terrifying that you managed to catch on to that immediately ^^;. The average population size for any given location in Liber is the lower than the average in the European Middle Ages, and far below the population size of the industrial age. There are a few reasons for this.

Species diversity does have it's own internal logic, but admittedly I realize that most people probably won't pick up on it, as Liber has a lot of immigration and wandering 'mon that cause exceptions to appear everywhere (Bertrand included, actually, as will be mentioned off-hand in the next chapter...), and from an author's perspective this is my pass for when I just need a specific 'mon for what I want. So if you actually try to find patterns it'll start getting confusing, though for some places it's more obvious than others.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Oh, so I was right there. Though I wonder just how many of these bounties are “dead or alive” affairs.
:copyka2~2:
The "dead or alive" aspect of a bounty can vary greatly depending on who's putting up the request and who is being hunted. Usually the guild tries to mediate them and make sure that bounties stay reasonable: this will be elaborated on in a future chapter. Durivi doesn't have a preference, so technically its "dead or alive" here.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Though I wonder what the Kecleon’s deal is for rolling on a species-name basis when everyone else doesn’t seem to.
It's not that he doesn't have a name: it's that his species is so ubiquitous as shopkeepers that some people just call them that as if it were its own occupation. His name is Matis :p.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Cue the blue of sadness/disappointment. Though I’m actually a little surprised that the red was surprise and not anger on Kecleon’s part.
Red is for anger! (though in this case its meant to represent 'driven and aggressive'). I might change the description/color here if it comes across as surprise though.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Huh. Is that a scene title or something? Otherwise, what are we looking at here?
This is how I handle perspective changes in the fic. There are multiple places in this fic where the story will need to switch between POVs mid-scene, and the purpose of this "closing thought into transition" is meant to make this less jarring by essentially turning the transition into a part of the scene. What you're commenting on is actually the first stress-test for it ^^;. It didn't seem to explicitly bother you outside of slight confusion from seeing used like this for the first time, so it looks like it worked?

Spiteful Murkrow said:
I snerked. Though I’m actually surprised that the average door in this setting doesn’t have a more generalized opening / closing mechanism. Unless these are all private residences or something.
i'm glad you liked that line i actually almost cut it out. I decided to go back and provide a little more description on what kinds of doors these are (they're meant to be backdoors, you're explicitly not meant to enter through them and they're probably all locked anyway). The average door does actually have more generalized opening mechanisms (usually push/pull or double-action). But door knobs still found a niche in Liber. After all, they're great for making things difficult for certain kinds of Pokémon...

Spiteful Murkrow said:
Oh, so straight-up weapons exist in this setting. Noted, even if I wonder what their combat niche is here.

Oh, so it’s basically “Slash in a Can”. Or at least I think that that’s the implication since normal daggers definitely don’t leave energy contrails when swung around like that.
What happened there will get elaborated on eventually! And I definitely plan to justify the use of conventional weaponry in this setting. As you can probably imagine from a fic called Sword, weapons are very important to this story in a way that goes far beyond aesthetic.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
I should be a lot less surprised that Charmeleon can learn Dragon Tail, but this still surprised me a bit. What on earth do Bertrand’s parents do for him to have picked this up, though?
all his dad had to do was exist. though Bertrand isn't the only character carrying an interesting egg move with them...

Spiteful Murkrow said:
‘Magic user’, huh? A little surprised that there’s not a snappy term like ‘caster’ or something like that, but eh. Your setting, your rules.
magic has been a mechanic in this setting since 2016 how the actual **** did i never think of caster what the hell I-I mean yeah y'know I have some pretty disciplined reasons for everything I do really. >_>

Spiteful Murkrow said:
I kinda wonder if it really made sense to bill this section as a fragment of a larger chapter since if you had just straight-up billed it as its own chapter, I’d have believed it since it feels fairly “complete” in terms of the stuff that goes on in it.
If you can believe it, the cutoff between sections was actually an extremely last minute decision. The scene break there originally just didn't exist, and that line at the end of Section 1 was part of the preceding paragraph. I'd say... the point of Chapter 0-1 as a whole is to quickly introduce a bunch of concepts in an engaging way so that later chapters could build on them. Section 1 kinda struggles to do this on its own, courtesy of the original intention of reading it alongside Section 2, which ended up getting the bulk of it. So really I'd say its Section 1 that benefits more from these two being included together.

But that aside, it's mostly just an outlining thing ^^;. As will be established soon, each chapter of the prologue begins in a specific way, which means that each time a chapter gets out of hand in terms of word count, if I make the splits into two seperate chapters, that suddenly means more work for me. And I am very bad at anticipating how long chapters will be. I'd prefer to try and stick to my outline as closely as I can get away with.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
I also liked the worldbuilding that came out in this chapter, especially the revelation that there’s a magic system of some sort in this setting. It’s definitely different from what most other stories do, but there are some wild possibilities that can come from giving your cast a potential avenue for breaking the “rules” of Pokémon, and I’m looking forward to learning more about how it works and what it can do in this setting.
I'm excited to show it off, honestly! Verene is a rookie when it comes to magic, so she won't be doing anything crazy anytime soon, but I do have plans to give something of a taste of what to expect at higher levels with some of the prologue's material.

Spiteful Murkrow said:
But altogether, even with those rough edges, I thought it was a pretty good start thus far. Dunno if you’ll go back to smooth them out at some point or else opt to make any tweaks in further sections and chapters, but you’ve done a good job at getting readers invested in Bertrand and his world around him. Kudos for sticking it out on your baby, @JFought , and I’ll be looking forward to crossing paths with this story again sometime in the future.
I did my best to smooth out some of them, and I do recommend checking out the changelog when you can! I hope the story can continue to be enjoyable as we progress. I really do want to get ahead in this fic: eventually, I hope it'll become clear why I could never give up on it, throughout all the development hell and interfering projects and GameFreak-induced plot-twists.

Second, I made some changes to Chapter 0-1 based on feedback. I don't normally announce that I've done this, unless it involves something important enough for you to know going forward. And to keep things simple, the changes that are most relevant to you, assuming you already read the previous chapter before this post went up, can be found here:

There were two versions that went up since the chapter was first uploaded. The first went up on November 18th, while the second went up as of this post. If you read the chapter before November, then all of this is relevant. Otherwise, you can ignore the edits under "November edits."

I'm actually a little embarrassed about the state 0-1 released in: it definitely needed a more thorough editing pass than what I gave it, and you'll notice most of the changes are from November.

Major Changes:
  • November edits:
    • I moved the date backwards! Originally, Chapter 0-1 took place on the 27th Day of Hovena. Now, it's on the 25th Day of Hovena. The reason for this was one part outline change and one part genuine mistake that I do not know how I made, and know even less how I never caught.
    • The scene with Kecleon was changed: it's now shown that him and Bertrand are familiar enough with each other that they know each other's names. In addition, the moment afterwards was replaced with this:
      Leaving the disappointed kecleon behind, they made their way back into the middle of the street. “You sure he didn’t know anything?” Bertrand asked.

      Caitrin shook her head. “It’s just a sales tactic kecleon like to pull on adventurers. Even if he does know something, it likely isn’t something we couldn’t learn from one of the stall owners here.”

      “Oh.” Bertrand gripped the strap of his bag and looked away. “Yeah, that checks out.” There was a slight pause where his expression grew more thoughtful, and he then brought a claw up to his chin. “Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I passed by you earlier on my way to the count’s estate.”

      “Really? Small world, I guess.” Caitrin looked around at the shopkeepers running the stalls on the street. “We should probably start asking if they’ve seen anything.”

      Bertrand placed his arms on the back of his head. “Right. I know a few of ‘em, actually, so that should make this go easier.”

      “You do?” One of her ears tilted. “Do you live here?”

      “Yeah. My house is not too far from here.” He used an arm to make a vague gesture down the street. “I live with my parents.”

      In hindsight maybe I should’ve figured that out earlier. “Well if all else fails, you know this place better than I do. I think…” She glanced around, taking note of all the stalls and trying to appraise who would be worth questioning. “We can cover more ground if we split up for a bit.”

      Bertrand put his claws on his hips and nodded. “I think I can handle that. Sounds like a plan.”

      It was subtle, but something about him seemed equal parts doubtful and confident in that moment. Caitrin wasn’t sure what to make of it. For someone who says he can handle it, it’s almost like he expects to fail.
    • I added an entire new exchance that takes place after Bertrand and Caitrin deduce that Verene traveled north of the plaza, and before they reach the maintenance bridge. This one in particular is important, because it explains why Bertrand was so wary of Alan finding her. I'm a little embarrassed about this, because I did originally consider slotting this scene in, but then decided "well the reader can probably figure out what's bothering Bertrand based on the confrontation scene right?" and no you're wrong you're an idiot past me. It also contains a bit of worldbuilding too, so I recomend reading it.
      As they traveled, Caitrin felt the need to ask. “So what was going on between you and Alan back there? You both seemed really hostile.”

      Bertrand looked away and gripped the strap of his bag. “It’s uh, a long story.” He let out a heavy, troubled breath through his nose. “Though, I’m actually a little worried.”

      Caitrin’s ear tilted. “What about?”

      “About what happens if they find the vulpix first,” he admitted. “Count Durivi is the kind of ‘mon who’d have someone punished just for looking at ‘im funny. And knowing Alan, I don’t think he’s considering what’ll happen when we turn the mark in. He’ll probably get her exiled.”

      “Exiled?” That was serious. To be exiled was to be barred completely from civilization, denoted by a brand that made it legal to kill anyone who tried to defy the punishment. On rare occasions, a bounty would appear from the local guard for such a ‘mon. Wanted: Dead. “For trespassing? Is that normal around here?”

      “When it’s the count, anything’s possible,” Bertrand grimly replied. “I’m thinking, he doesn’t have the freedom to do what he wants like he’s used to anymore. It’s likely possible to convince him to let her off lightly. But he’s also fickle, so you can see the problem there.”

      Caitrin was starting to understand. “You’re worried Alan will make a bad case.”

      “Yeah.” He crossed his arms. “It’d be even worse if he knew she’s been stealing from the bakery, so we should probably keep that to ourselves.”

      “Right…” Caitrin set her sights forward. She didn’t even know what a vulpix was, but she did know she couldn’t let this happen without trying to do something about it.
    • Instead of taking Verene to the square, Bertrand and Caitrin stop in the alleyway instead. The scene was rewritten pretty heavily as a result: it isn't major, but there are a few new character moments in here, so I'll put it here anyway:
      After Bertrand gathered his weapon, Verene followed the two out of the dead end, where they stopped at the alley’s junction. The charmeleon looked down both ways. “You think someone called the guards?” he asked Caitrin.
      She tilted an ear in response. “I think it was pretty obvious we were already handling it.”

      “Yeah, but then Alan came running out…” He stared down the path they entered through, before shaking his head. “We’ll go the other way just in case.”

      Bertrand led them down the other way, where Verene would have gone had she not made such a rash mistake. It wasn’t particularly long, the open street at the end visibly close. As they neared it, Verene could feel anxiety grow in her chest. She stopped. “W-Wait.”

      The two stopped ahead of her, Bertrand raising a brow. “What?”

      “I think she’s nervous about going out in the open,” Caitrin said, regarding the vulpix with pity.

      Verene glared at her. What do you know? But she was right. Her paws felt uncomfortable, caked with mud as they were, and more uncomfortable was the thought of being out in the open, perceived as some stray. She already felt the blow to her ego from realising the scene she had caused not long before. Whatever dignity Verene still had left, she wanted preserved.

      With equal parts defiance and poise, Verene sat down and held her tails high. “Whatever it is you require of me, you may ask here. State your questions.”

      “Right…” Bertrand did not seem very impressed as he rubbed his horn. “We should probably explain the situation first,” he started. “You’ve been hanging around Count Durivi’s estate, haven’t you?”

      She felt her ears fold back involuntarily. “Well, y-yes, I have,” she said, embarrassed to admit it. “I am sure my presence is not much of a bother to him, is it?”

      The charmeleon placed a claw on his hip. “Well considering that he kinda hired us to capture and imprison you, I think it is a bother to him, yeah.”

      Startled, Verene’s ears perked back up. “That is what this is about, then?” She looked away. “After scaring that maid, I thought to keep away from the manor, but to think that he would still loathe my presence.”

      “It was when he saw you by the stream that he decided to send adventurers after you,” said Caitrin.

      By the stream? Perhaps this was my fault for overestimating him. “He does not own that,” Verene replied bitterly.

      Bertrand smiled knowingly. “Yeah, the count’s kind of a jerk. But what are you doing in Courière? You have a bag, and you can use magic, but I don’t think you’re an adventurer.”

      I cannot say who I am. Verene shifted her paws and tried to think of a response. “I… am an adventurer, actually. I arrived here not long ago, but I seemed to have underestimated how, difficult, being an adventurer could be. I figured the manor was large enough, so I decided to live around there.”

      Bertrand gave her a sceptical look. “Well yeah. I mean the guide hasn’t seen you once, so you’d have to be pretty bad to not know you’re supposed to go to the Traveler’s Office to take requests.”

      Verene recoiled, caught in her lie, and tried to think of something else. “I-I have never been in this town before. Truthfully, I do not know what a Traveler’s Office is, much less where I would find it.”

      “You’re an adventurer but you don’t know what a Traveler’s Office is?” Bertrand shook his head. “I’m not sure if I can buy that.”

      “Besides,” Caitrin piped in. “I don’t think an adventurer would steal bread from the bakery.”

      Verene’s fur immediately bristled, and without thinking she stood tall and indignant. “That is your other accusation?! I admit to having gone there for bread, but that bread was given to me by the baker’s son! I have not stolen anything!”

      “Not sure if I can believe that either,” said Bertrand, rubbing his horn yet again.

      A thoughtful look crossed Caitrin’s face. “Actually, I’m pretty sure she’s telling the truth there.”

      He raised a brow. “You think so?”

      “Of course I’m telling the truth!” Verene shouted. “I would never in all my life resort to thievery for anything!”

      Just then, Caitrin’s ear twitched, and her gaze shifted to somewhere behind Verene. The vulpix tilted her head. “What?”

      She turned around to follow the deerling’s gaze, and saw an umbreon watching from down the alley. The umbreon ran closer, then nodded to Bertrand. “So you found the vulpix?”

      Who…? Verene could almost swear she heard Bertrand mutter “Dammit…” under his breath, but he made no show of it and nodded back. “Yup, she’s the one. We were just questioning her.”

      “More like throwing baseless accusations,” Verene grumbled.

      The mysterious umbreon looked over to Caitrin. “And who’s this pokémon?”

      “She’s my partner,” answered Bertrand. “Honestly, it’d be more accurate to say she found the vulpix.”

      “I-I think you’re giving me too much credit,” said Caitrin, embarrassed.

      “I see.” The umbreon looked Verene over, her gaze narrowing on her paws, then leaned in to sniff her head. Verene reflexively backed away, prompting the inquisitive ‘mon to lean back and regard her with a look that almost seemed sympathetic...

      “We should probably take this one to the mayor and collect our reward, then.”

      But not sympathetic enough. Wait-

      Caitrin tilted her head at the word ‘mayor,’ but Bertrand was unfazed by it. “Yeah, let’s go.”

      “W-wait.” There was a sinking feeling in the pit of Verene’s stomach. “I-I thought you said you would protect me?”

      “We’re not going to imprison you,” said Caitrin, trying to reassure. “You just need to apologize, and I’m sure the count will forgive you.”

      Bertrand looked away as she said that, a look of uncertainty on his face. “...We’ll figure it out when we get there, I guess.”

      Verene looked around frightfully, suddenly aware that she was trapped between three pokémon who were all stronger than her. The pain of betrayal stung, and the overwhelming urge to cry shook her body. No… I-I must face this with dignity. He is nobility, it would not do to ignore his summons. She tried to control her breathing, and, flanked on all sides, she was led around the fountain, over the bridge, and down the path towards the Durivi estate.
    • On Serebii only, I had to change the section break to take place after the scene in the bakery. This was not voluntary, the edits just pushed the second section over the character limit :)))).
  • February edits:
    • Caitrin is now mentioned to have an gold earning in her scene in the Traveler's Office. Originally, I was going to first mention this in 0-2, because I couldn't think of a natural way to do it in this chapter. Then I thought of one ^^;.
    • Additionally, Caitrin's first impression of Bertrand was changed to describe him as "stocky."
Minor Changes:
  • November edits:
    • Most of the minor stuff was making prose changes based on some of Spiteful Murkrow's feedback, along with a few other small changes I felt the need to make on my own initiative. This includes some more detailed descriptions, changing the pacing of a few scenes, and splitting some of the paragraphs where I felt it'd best benefit.
    • Caitrin's satchel harness gets a slightly better description, specifying that it carries multiple pouches along its length.
    • I changed the description of the back alleyway behind the bakery. Specifically, I decided the implication of a dedicated trash collection service in the suburbs was a bit too modern for the time period, and changed it to instead imply that the bakers burn their garbage and collect the ashes in a small bin outside to be thrown out later.
    • The doors in the dead-end Verene runs into are now specified to be back doors.
    • The butler wears a bowtie now :D
  • February edits:
    • A few more small changes based on Negrek's feedback! And then a couple description edits of my own.
    • I made a very small, subtle change in the opening that might help make the transition less jarring. We'll see if it pays off.
    • This part:
      “Yeah. My house is on the other side of town from here.” He used an arm to make a vague gesture down the street. “I live with my parents.”
      I changed the location of Bertrand's house since then! So this isn't true anymore.

And finally, the next chapter is in the next post!
 
Last edited:

JFought

Sloooowly writing...
This time, Bertrand introduces his new partners to his parents, and they complete their first request as a team. (or, well, "team")

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Section 1 - 6.3k
Section 2 - 9.7k
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12th day, Month of Fodric, 1835.

The sun shone brilliantly on Riveridge that day, not a single cloud to blot the atmosphere. In the noble district, things were as peaceful as ever, and Duke John of Katus made sure to appreciate it. Dressed in his best white suit, one that bulged slightly around his flattened floatation sac, he sat and waited on the steps to his friend’s manor, his tails drumming the ground. It was a welcome change of pace, away from the shouting of children.

Eventually, John spotted who he was looking for: a kadabra, making his way up to the manor. He wore a dark red uniform completed by his white undershirt and grey bowtie. John stood up and watched him approach. “The tutor, I presume?”

Behind the kadabra was a suitcase, held in the air by psychic forces. “Perceptive were it not obvious. Kent Greywatch, a tutor from the royal academy.” He bowed. “It is an honour to make your acquaintance, Duke of Volsera.”

“Please, of Katus. And the honour is all mine.” John returned the bow, perhaps to spite the difference in station between them. “Let us save the pleasantries and proceed inside; there is already a room set up for you.”

John led the tutor inside and through the halls of his friend’s manor. Kent spoke as they travelled. “To confirm the details, I will be tutoring two pupils today?”

“Yes, my son and the son of Lord George Pyrre. This will be their first lesson in history, beyond the odd story or two.”

“I see.”

They approached the door where the children were waiting. John spoke up just as they reached it. “If you do not mind, I will not be in the manor for this session, for I have an important meeting with the Archduke to attend. If you need assistance, the Pyrre family servants have been instructed to aid you should you call for them.”

The kadabra waved him off. “That is more than necessary: I am quite experienced in handling children. Though I appreciate the hospitality.”

The door was opened, revealing two young pokémon sitting on stools at a low table together. A chimchar wearing a black tie, fidgeting in his seat, and an oshawott with a matching white one, glaring at his impatient classmate. The meowstic nanny who had been previously watching over them quickly took her leave, careful to avoid walking too close to the higher class ‘mon.

John began with an introduction: “This is your tutor, Sir Greywatch from the Royal Academy. He will be teaching you Liberian history today. I trust you will not give him trouble?”

“Of course not,” replied the oshawott. The chimchar answered with a shake of his head.

John clasped his paws together. “Everything is settled then. I shall be back before noon.” And with that, he was off.

The briefcase finished its midair journey on the carpeted floor, where it flipped itself open. The tutor walked up to the table’s end, his eyes flashed briefly, and multiple books rose into the air to be set down neatly in a stack in front of him. “Before we begin, may I have the names of my pupils?”

The oshawott stood in his seat and bowed. “I am Charles Katus, son of the Duke of Volsera and heir to House Katus.” Then he sat back down in a polite and orderly fashion.

“And I’m Ben!” exclaimed the chimchar with a dumb grin on his face. Charles glared at him again, and he corrected himself. “-juhmin.
*cough* Benjamin. Son of Lord Pyrre and heir to his house.”

The tutor decided to ignore that greeting mishap and introduced himself. “As you already know, I am Kent of House Greywatch. I am a tutor from the Royal Academy and am here to teach you the history of both our country, Liber, and our kingdom, Fodric. Today, we will start from the very beginning of Liber and the reign of King Drygon. Then, we will start on the beginning of Fodric’s history and how our great kingdom came to be. To start with, I am assuming you are both already at least somewhat aware of how Liber was founded?”

Charles nodded. “The legend of Lux.”

Benjamin looked to his classmate. “But that’s just a story, right?”

“No, it is very real,” the kadabra corrected. “Regardless of your familiarity, it would be best to refresh your knowledge of it and clarify any misconceptions, so that is where we shall begin today.”

The tutor cleared his throat, making sure his pupils were paying attention, then began.

“A long time ago, before the founding of Liber, humans ruled the world. They are a species of unmatchable intellect and ingenuity, who used those attributes to craft complex societies for themselves. However, the world they had built was only for themselves: in human society, pokémon were enslaved. To them, our only purpose was to do their bidding. And so it was, for tens of thousands of years, until one day, when a pokémon with a formidable power rose to challenge them.”

Benjamin rubbed his chin and spoke up. “Lux?”

Kent nodded back to him. “Yes, Lux, the hero of Liber. Few knew him well, and to this day we are not certain what species of pokémon he was, but his power, the First Magic, was unmistakably real. The First Magic gave Lux the ability to do that which was not possible, and he turned that power against the humans.”

A pause for a breath. “The humans, who had previously drawn comfort from their superiority, had never before dealt with such a fierce and uncontrollable power. And the pokémon of the time saw in Lux a hope that they had never before felt. Lux encouraged them to join him in a grand war against humans, which would go on to be known as the Liberation War.”

The chimchar gasped. “Did he actually win?!”

The tutor looked at the chimchar incredulously. “Yes. You are here, Benjamin, are you not?”

Brushing it off, he continued his lesson with a point to the ceiling. “But he could not do so alone! From the army of pokémon he had amassed, he chose ten extraordinary individuals, the Ten Kings, to give fragments of his power to. With eleven magic wielding pokémon at the helm, the humans, even with all of their power, were no match. They fled their lands and kingdoms, and Lux, seizing an opportunity, used his power to separate those abandoned lands from the rest of the world. When the humans came back with reinforcements, they found their world gone, drifting far away from them in the ocean. Lux called this reclaimed continent Liber, and he split the land between the Ten Kings to rule over. And then, as a last act of sacrifice to ensure the humans would never take back Liber, he split his magic into hundreds of fragments, giving the gift of magic to many so that they may defend themselves. And in doing so, he disappeared, never to be seen again.”

“Why did-”

“Please raise your hand before asking a question.”

Benjamin raised his hand. “Why did he commit suicide?”

Kent’s head shook in disbelief. “Where did you-” A quick cough, and he was composed again. “I just explained why.”

“Yeah but I dunno. It sounds like he was pretty powerful, so wouldn’t it have been better if he was still around?”

“Lux was not a god, he was mortal. By sacrificing himself he ensured that all of Liber could defend itself long after he was gone. Surely you understand the importance of magic?”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense,” Benjamin remarked. He dropped his hand back onto the table, seemingly satisfied.

The oshawott raised his own paw and waited for Kent to gesture approval before speaking. “What is the relationship between the Ten Kings and today’s Kings?”

“I was about to get to that,” he answered, clearly more pleased with Charles’ decorum. “Nine of the Ten Kings of old would go on to found their own Kingdoms. Clygem and Hivech in the north, Hovena and Farbroad in the south, Fodric and Osoté in the west, Prestin and Yagora in the east, and Kakura in the centre. Finally, King Drygon, the leader of the Ten Kings, declared himself King of Liber and ruled from his capital city Liberation, now known as Kosento. Of course, as will be explained in later sessions, the heart of Liber would change under Emperor Attilio, who erected a city on newly created land, which we now know as Capital.”

Kent paced around the desk, having entered a state of rhythm. “To answer your question,” he continued, “The current Ten Kings are related to the old ones through the magic they wield, the King’s Magic, which has been passed down through generations of Kings. The King’s Magic is Lux’s blessing, and is what grants them their legitimacy to rule.”

He momentarily paused, as if to place special emphasis on his next words. “It is an incredible power that grants our Kings the powers of gods. And the Emperor’s, of course, is the strongest among them.” Then he continued his pacing. “With each of their powers, they protect our civilisation from any and every threat. One might say that if it were not for them, Liber would have fallen back under human influence a long time ago.”

Charles nodded as he scribbled furiously in his notebook.

Benjamin raised his hand again. “So why didn’t they call Drygon the Emperor? What was up with him?”

“You will have to be patient, Master Pyrre. We are starting from the beginning, not the middle. Liber was a very different place before Attilio’s reign; back then, the Kingdoms were only loosely connected.” He returned to his original position and held his hands together. “Now, do either of you know what Liber was called when the humans still ruled it?”

Charles did not speak, while Benjamin raised his hand.

“Yes, Master Pyrre?”

“No.” The chimchar put it back down.

Kent blinked twice, then sighed, his ear twitching. “Very well. If you would open these textbooks-”

“Reading?!” Benjamin interrupted, face stricken with horror. “No one told me we’d hafta
read!”

One could swear they could visibly see a vein popping in the kadabra’s head. “I will not tolerate these kinds of outbursts!”

“But-!”

Charles whispered to him in a scolding voice. “Benjamin, you are making me embarrassed to be associated with you.”

The chimchar groaned. “Uuuugh, fine.” He rested his chin on the table and watched a textbook float in front of him with barely disguised disdain.

“Chin up, Master Pyrre, we have much to go through! Now if you would open past the foreword…”



Chapter 0-2 - A Floral Errand
~~~
Hello! I am part of the Courière Town Guard. Today, I was supposed to buy bundles of a certain kind of flower for the display outside my home. But I just learned this morning that my scheduled time off got cancelled and that I will be stationed at the Route 32 exit effective immediately for the rest of the day. I will not have time to do my shopping, and I can’t ask my family to do it for me, so I would appreciate any adventurer who would run this errand for me! You can find me at my post, where I will be able to give an in-depth brief of the task. Thank you for your time!
~~~


Evening on the 25th Day, Month of Hovena, 1844.

After the bounty request was finished, Bertrand introduced Verene to Adeline, and the three went out to grab a late lunch at a local restaurant just a little ways from the square. She seemed almost skeptical of the place at first, but the braixen owner took that as a challenge, and before long the vulpix was devouring her food as if it were the first real meal she’d eaten in days. It likely was.

It was there that Bertrand took the opportunity to try and talk about the current situation. “I do not understand what makes me a desirable candidate,” Verene had said, having taken the time to swallow first. “We are strangers. You do not even know my circumstances.”

“Me and Caitrin don’t know each other very well either,” Bertrand made sure to point out. “We’re all just figuring this out as we go. Tomorrow will be our first real day as a team, so I’d least like if you could give it a chance. It doesn’t have to be a commitment.”

She took a long moment to consider that. “If I must.” By Bertrand’s standards, he considered that a win.

He had to admit, he didn't actually have much of a plan for her. The idea had come to him so hastily: he just figured it'd be neat to have a magic user on board, and the new job would help to keep her off the streets and out of Durivi’s sight. But it only recently occurred to him just how young she seemed, and when he asked about it during lunch she refused to come clean about her origin. It all left him with some uncertainty regarding their arrangement: he just had to believe they could work this out.

As for Caitrin, she had kept to herself during their lunch, watching quietly and nodding along when she wasn’t seeming lost in her own thoughts. Bertrand had thought it was a little weird how she didn’t offer any input, but didn’t think to question it. He felt he was lucky she was there at all.

Afterwards, most of the rest of the day was spent getting prepared for dinner that evening. Caitrin went with Verene to gather some of her things from her old hideaway, while Bertrand told his parents they were going to have guests that evening. Of course, they immediately sent him out to buy supplies for dinner, but he sucked it up and when everything was ready, just as the sun was getting close to setting for the day…

“Take me to the bathhouse,” Verene commanded.

Bertrand groaned. “But dinner’ll be ready soon.”

“I refuse to greet your parents like…” She brought up a muddy paw, looked at it with disgust, then held it out to make a point. “This.”

“We probably won’t be that long,” said Caitrin. “Hopefully.”

And so, instead of going to dinner, they traveled west of Courière’s inner plaza and followed the road to the end as it bended north. Further and further away from his home. Hopefully they don’t mind us being late. Bertrand wasn’t sure how to explain they were late because they went to the bathhouse of all places. He was already a little anxious about introducing these two to his parents, given their tendency to get carried away, and he was sure he wouldn’t hear the end of this if they found out…

Their destination was a large wooden building just a little ways from the stream as it came from the east. It had a distinct wet smell to it that made Bertrand shudder as they approached the entrance.

As they entered the lobby, they caught the attention of a golduck, on her knees wiping down the floor with a towel. She stopped mid-scrub to look up at Bertrand with wide, surprised eyes. “It’s starting to get late,” she said. “Are you all going inside?”

“Um, I don’t think so.” Bertrand looked back at Verene.

“I will need someone to help wash me,” she said.

Bertrand felt fear start to creep onto his face. “You’re kidding.”

“Do I look like I can comb my own fur?”

He grabbed his tail and desperately pointed at the fire on it.

Verene gave him a deadpan look. “Were you not the one who decided it would be a good idea to have two fire-types on your team?” She shook her head. “Honestly.”

Tail hugging the floor in dejection, Bertrand turned back to the golduck. “It’ll be me and her.” He shot Caitrin a hopeful glance. “Do you want to come in too?” Bail me out.

Caitrin gave him a smile of pity. “I think you’re on your own, Bertrand.”

The golduck wiped her forehead. “There's only one other ‘mon here, but he’s soaking in one of our private rooms, so you’ll have some privacy,” she said. As if it helped.

Grumbling the whole way, the charmeleon led Verene through a hallway and past a couple of leisure rooms before reaching the bathing room. It was spacious and empty, and the shallow pool of water in the middle was relatively clean. It won’t be for much longer. Bertrand looked around and found a shelf with a few brushes and a towel he could use, while Verene left her bag against the wall and tepidly entered the bath.

Holding a brush in one claw and a towel under his other arm, Bertrand looked at the water for a moment, then tested it with a foot. Immediately he felt a shudder that ran all the way to his tail tip. He took an anticipatory breath. Here we go...

Carefully stepping the rest of the way in, he tried to ignore how cold it was compared to his body heat, and he took care to keep his tail above water as he waded over to Verene. “I don’t have fur, I don’t even know where to start.”

Verene sighed. “First you use the brush, then… Well normally you would…” She paused, ears flattening a little, then shook her head. “Use a wet towel, I suppose. Then brush again. It is not that difficult: a kit could do it.”

Bertrand placed the towel in the water and clutched the brush he had chosen. “Here goes nothing.”

Carefully, he began to brush Verene’s fur. As soon as the brush made contact, she jolted. And as soon as he pulled, she winced and threw a seething glare back at him. “What brush are you using?!” she spat.

Bertrand felt a jolt of panic and a sudden fear of being bit, and he pulled away. “I-I don’t know, I just picked one!”

Thankfully, Verene only huffed and turned her head back forward. “It does not matter. Keep going.”

With a sigh of relief, Bertrand went back to work. Her fur was heavily knotted by mud. He had to tug to get some of it out, but to his surprise she barely reacted. “I’m surprised you’re so calm. I thought you were going to bite me or something.”

Verene gave him another glare. “Do you take me for a savage? I should be offended.”

“I didn’t mean it that way. Sorry.”

It was right around then that all of the pieces started to fit together in his mind. Verene was not a normal pokémon, and not just because she could use magic. The way she talks, the things she’s said, her behavior, there’s only one explanation that makes sense. But… It doesn’t make sense.

The idea that a vulpix could be a noble simply seemed far-fetched to him. He couldn’t really explain why he felt that way, it just didn’t make intuitive sense. Ninetales were admired for their grace and rarity, but he could never describe them as noble. He tried to imagine one in the Count’s position, wearing clothes and signing papers, and the image ended up feeling wrong and nonsensical in his head. It didn’t make sense; there had to be a different explanation.

Bertrand pulled at a knot on the back of the vulpix’s neck, causing her to growl. But she didn’t do anything. He sighed. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just overthinking it.

It took a long while and a lot of pulling on the disgruntled vulpix’s fur, but eventually the worst of it was over and he could move on to using the towel to scrub off the grime. Before long she was freed of mud and dirt, and with one last brush to make sure her fur was straight, the two were soon freed from the now murky bath.

The moment he got out, Bertrand grabbed his tail and quickly moved out of the way of Verene as she shook herself dry. Though her fur was still slightly damp, with her tails hanging low and head resembling a red mop covering her eyes. She sat down and huffed in discontent. “You will make me presentable, and then I shall meet your parents.”

Bertrand groaned and clutched his tail tighter. I asked for this…

---

The sky had turned a fiery orange by the time everything was taken care of. As pokémon returned to their homes and street vendors closed their stalls, Bertrand led his guests down the darkening streets towards his home.

“I cannot believe you made me apologise,” Verene grumbled.

“The baker had a right to know what was going on,” Caitrin replied. “You’re lucky his son came clean, y’know.”

Verene was not convinced. “They make bread in excess; a few missing loaves are inconsequential. He did not need to know a thing.”

A relieved smile grew on Bertrand's muzzle as he listened. She hadn't seemed completely happy with her grooming earlier, but at least she wasn't complaining about being dirty anymore. He was going to do his best to make this work. Not just so that she’d agree to be his partner, but because it felt rewarding to see her acting livelier than the state they found her in.

Soon, they had returned to the fountain plaza, and took the road north again, traveling far down its length until they reached a large, gray brick building with double doors and a smoking chimney, with a wide path leading to the stream on the right side and a smaller path wedged by the neighboring building on the left.

Bertrand stopped right in front of it and took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Don’t be anxious, this’ll go fine. “Okay, we’re here!”

Verene glanced at the sign above the door. “A smithy? Surely you do not mean you live here.”

Bertrand put a claw on his hip. “Well, my parents are the blacksmiths, so yeah, I do. We don’t enter this way, though.” He motioned for them to follow and led them down the smaller path, towards the home entrance. There, he walked up to the wide back door, took another breath, gathered some confidence, and knocked.

Before long, the door opened inward, revealing a druddigon. “Hey Bertrand!” greeted Bertrand’s father, smiling a toothy grin. Curious, he leaned his head over his son. “Are these your friends?”

“Yup, Dad, let’s go!” Bertrand tried to push his father inside to save himself the embarrassment. But he didn’t budge, instead using a claw to effortlessly push Bertrand inside behind him. “Hey! Dad!”

The druddigon ignored him and greeted his guests. “Welcome to our home! I’m Bertrand’s dad: you can just call me Dad if you want.”

Horror washed over Bertrand. “No!” he cried.

“I think I’d rather know your name,” replied a sheepish Caitrin.

Verene just smiled slyly as she dipped her head low. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Dad.”

Verene!” Bertrand tried to force himself past his father’s heavy frame with a growl. “P-please just stick to names!”

The druddigon chuckled and pat Bertrand on the head before pushing him stumbling back again. “Alright, alright, I was just messing with ya Bertrand.” He faced his guests and offered a claw. “My name’s Cyrus, nice to meetcha both!”

A voice roared from behind Bertrand. “Have you invited them in, yet?!”

“I was gettin’ to that!” Dad yelled back. “Why don’t you greet ‘em?!”

“Why don’t-?!” The voice cut off, and both Bertrand and his dad moved out of the way as a charizard came stomping through the foyer. She kept her wings folded as she peeked through the entryway to quickly offer her claw. “Name’s Lucia. And-” Her eyes widened and head turned between the both of them. “Oh, you’re both adorable.” She craned her neck back towards Bertrand. “Where’d you say you picked ‘em up from, again?”

Bertrand crossed his arms and shot her his most annoyed looking glare. “My job.”

“Oh, cut the attitude!” his mother retorted before addressing her guests. “So what are your names?”

Caitrin introduced herself first, still looking embarrassed to have witnessed that. “My name’s Caitrin. It’s nice to meet you.”

Verene bowed her head once again. “And my name is Verene-” She paused as if she had just barely stopped herself. “...Just Verene. I am grateful to be accommodated by such a generous host.”

Mom lit up like the fire on her tail and clutched her chest. “Oh, stop. I only did half the work.” She then shot a glare behind her. “Right?”

“Now I pitched in too!” Dad complained. Bertrand knowingly kept his mouth shut.

His mother quickly swapped back to a friendly demeanor and ushered in her guests. “Now let’s come along! I prepared everything myself~!”

“No you didn’t!”

---

Luckily for Bertrand’s sanity, his parents got their act together and behaved once dinner started. Everyone had situated around the short table in the kitchen, Bertrand and his parents all sitting on the ground next to each other, and the guests in cushions on the other side. Tonight’s dinner, courtesy of his mother (and, as he insisted, his father too), was an assorted salad of berries and fruits, carefully chosen for Caitrin’s convenience.

“I was going to treat ourselves to some river fish from the harbor, but I decided to change plans just for you, Caitrin!” Mom had said.

“Actually, I-” Caitrin spoke up before hesitating. She instead tilted an ear and smiled. “I appreciate the thought.”

During their meal, the topic of their guests came up. “I couldn’t help but notice that gold earring you’re wearing, Caitrin,” said Mom. “From your name, I don’t imagine you’re from the lowlands. You some kinda traveling merchant?”

Bertrand noticed Caitrin tense up, but she relaxed quickly. “Yeah, I used to be. The earring’s more of a memento nowadays.”

“Ah, so you’re an adventurer now?”

Caitrin nodded. “Yes, I am. I’m from Hovena, and I have the badge to prove it too.” She glanced at her satchel harness, placed on the ground near a wall.

“Hovena? That’s far from here,” remarked Dad. “You woulda had to pass through Fodric. Are you on a journey or somethin’?”

“Um, well…” Caitrin’s ears fell a bit, an anxious look crossing her muzzle. “Not exactly. I was actually here to see the Gracidée School of Medicine.”

Of all the reasons for her to be here, Bertrand had not expected that. “The university?”

His mother likewise raised her brow. “Really? Did you need something from there?”

Caitrin avoided everyone’s gazes. “I guess you could say that…”

The fire on Mom’s tail popped and her eyes lit in understanding. “Oh! I see now.” She placed a claw on her cheek. “No one told you about the requirements, huh?”

Verene looked up from her staring contest with her food. “Requirements?”

Caitrin tilted her head with a sheepish smile. “You got me, as much as I’m embarrassed to admit it. No one told me I needed an endorsement to enroll.”

“Nothin’ to be ashamed about,” said Dad, shaking his head. “Courière gets hopefuls who didn’t get the memo all the time.”

“I can imagine,” said Caitrin, nodding in agreement despite the downtrodden look in her eyes. “It’s probably for the best. It was pretty rash of me to begin with; I probably wouldn’t have made it that far anyway.”

Bertrand stared at his half-finished plate. I did get the feeling something was bothering her… Still, he would've thought she'd known better. Who got that idea in her head in the first place?

He decided she didn't deserve to feel bad about it. So he gave Caitrin the most reassuring smile he could. “Well, I think it’s pretty impressive you got this far. And you already got a badge too, right?”

Caitrin’s ears flit up in surprise. “I-I only have the one,” she said hastily. “I only passed through Fodric. And the Honeycomb Badge is pretty easy to get when you’ve been all around Hovena already, so…”

“You need to give yourself more credit!” Mom insisted. She grabbed Bertrand by the horn and shook him gently. “Especially if my dolt of a son here thinks you’re good enough!”

Embarrassment shot through him from horn to tail. “I-I’m an adult, mom…”

“I really don’t think it’s all that impressive, but I guess you’re right.” Caitrin shifted on her cushion, looking a little more comfortable. “I did make it this far by myself. And I’m glad I got to meet you all, at least.”

Lucia nodded back. “I’m glad I got to meet you too!”

Dinner continued in silence for only a moment before Dad piped up. “And so what about the vulpix?”

Verene’s eyes widened, and she hastily swallowed her food before brushing a paw across the side of her muzzle and shaking her head. “Y-yes?” she responded in a clear attempt at dignity.

“Well I was wonderin’ about your story, too, is all,” the druddigon clarified.

Bertrand leaned in, interested. She probably isn’t gonna reveal anything though.

“I see.” Verene dipped her head. “Unfortunately, that information is a private matter that I would prefer not to divulge. I hope you understand.”

And then leaned back. Yeah, figured.

Mom craned her neck down to him and whispered. “She’s so well-spoken! You didn’t just pick her off the street, did you?”

He covered one side of his muzzle and whispered back. “Funny story about that-”

“I can hear you both,” said a completely unamused Verene. Embarrassment buzzed through him and he hastily tried to hide it by biting into a baked apple.

“Well I didn’t mean to pry,” Dad tried to clarify.

“Oh but we can pry a little, right?” Mom insisted. She leaned over the table towards Verene. “Bertrand said you can use magic.”

The vulpix couldn't make eye contact with her. “W-well, yes. I can.”

“You know, they say less and less ‘mon are born with the ability every year,” Mom continued. “I bet you can pull some incredible stuff with it!”

Verene started rubbing a forepaw into the cushion, her tails rising as she did so. “I-I’m only a novice,” she squeaked. She seemed to glare at her own response, before raising her head high with a bit more confidence. “I currently specialise in the electric-type, though I have aspirations in other types as well. My focus is on practical applications and self-defence.”

“Practical uses for electricity?” mused the charizard as she craned her head to place a claw on her cheek. “You seem a little young to be an electrician.”

Verene’s ears folded. “I am not an electrician.”

Mom’s getting carried away again. Bertrand gave his mother a hard stare and poked her arm. “Don’t you think you’re teasing her a little too much?”

“I was gonna say,” commented Dad as he shook his head.

“Both of you? Oh, come on, it was a light joke. This is the wrong part of the country for an electrician anyway. Caitrin probably doesn’t even know what one is.”

The deerling tilted her head and smiled awkwardly. “Can you leave me out of this?”

Bertrand sighed. Despite everything, at least his parents were hospitable. He just hoped Verene wasn't too put off by all this. She seemed pretty fragile right now, and he couldn't blame her.

Dad’s tail whipped back and forth. “I know Lucia can be a bit much at times…”

“Cyrus, please.”

You’re the one pushin’ her.” The druddigon snorted, then turned to Verene with sympathy in his eyes. “Don’t worry about our questions if you don’t wanna answer ‘em. I’m not the type to judge.”

Guilt started to creep onto Mom’s face, and she nodded to the vulpix as well. “I only mean to tease. Don’t hesitate to tell me if I make you uncomfortable, I will always make exceptions for you. Just know that whatever your circumstances, you’re welcome here.”

Verene closed her eyes and hesitated for what felt like a long moment. Then dipped her head again. “I appreciate it.”

The rest of the meal, thankfully, went smoothly.

---

25th Night, Growing Flower Moon, Month of Hovena, 1844.

“And you two will stay in here.”

Bertrand opened the door to the spare room. It was a small place mostly meant for storage, though Mom had always insisted on keeping it spacious for guests. Some spare blankets had already been gathered together to form makeshift beds on the floor, both lit up by the light of the moon peeking through the window. “I know it’s not much, but we only have a couple proper beds.”

Verene hesitated on entering, while Caitrin smiled and nodded. “This is more than enough, thank you.”

The charmeleon watched awkwardly as they got situated, Caitrin placing her harness near the door and Verene sniffing one of the beds before dragging it away from the other. Bertrand coughed, then spoke up. “So uh, what’d you think?”

Without a word, Verene dramatically flopped into her bed, prompting an amused glance from them both. Caitrin sat down in her own and addressed him properly. “Your parents are very kind,” she said. “You don’t see many dragon ‘mon in Hovena. Are they more common around here?”

Bertrand rubbed his horn. Technically I’m not a dragon… “Kinda? My mom’s actually from Yagora out east, while Dad used to live in the highlands. So I can’t really say my kind’s ‘common’ here, but it’s still Oso-”

Not Osoté. Nidekan.

He sighed. “Well, you get it.” He sat down against a wall, allowing his bright tail to curl into his lap. “Dad moved down here first, then Mom met him as part of her journey as a smithing apprentice, and they decided they worked well together. Dad’s an armor specialist, while Mom’s better at weapons. ‘Course, Dad can still do both, but they like to stick to their strong points.”

“They sound like they’re made for each other,” Caitrin remarked.

“Yeah, they are.” Bertrand pulled his dagger from his bag and held it by the blade, his tail flame casting its shadow across the room. “Mom made my dagger for me when I came of age in the Youth Festival last year, and Dad says he’s preparing something for my journey too, though he’s been pretty secretive about it. I know they can seem like a bit much at times, but I’m lucky to have ‘em.”

She nodded back. “Yeah…” Something about the deerling’s eyes seemed wistful at that moment, her smile fading as the look across her muzzle turned complicated and unreadable.

She pointed that expression away from Bertrand, towards the moonlight of the window. “So… why do you want to be an adventurer?”

“Huh?” The way she said it: it was a serious question. It wasn’t like this was the first time he had been asked something like this. Everyone always had to make it their business what Bertrand was going to do next with his life. But admittedly, he was never really good at putting it into words.

“I just like helping other pokémon,” he answered, staring hard at his dagger. “I mean, I could become a blacksmith and take on the family business. But, making weapons never really seemed all that fulfilling to me, and it's not like I’m good at much else. ‘Adventurer’ just seems like the next best thing.” He had to fight back a twinge of embarrassment before he could admit the next part. “It was… kinda a childhood dream of mine.”

He placed the dagger back in his bag. “I figure, if I’m gonna do something with my life, it should be something I enjoy, and at the very least I could try going on a journey and seeing where that takes me.”

Caitrin showed no reaction. “But you don’t really need a team for that.”

Bertrand felt himself grow flustered. What was up with her? Was she really trying to make him admit it?

I wouldn’t last on my own. I think traveling alone sounds scary right now. I just want to be with other pokémon. I regret what happened with Alan.

“Well, being on a team comes with a lot of perks,” he finally said, rubbing his horn. “‘Friends make the journey sooner,’ as they always say. Not that I couldn’t go on my own, but it’d just be easier, to have someone I could rely on, y’know?”

At that, Caitrin’s expression finally softened. “I can get that. Trust me, I already know how hard journeying on your own can be.” She turned her head away from the window, towards the ground, with eyes closed in a moment of contemplation. “I think I’m glad I met you, Bertrand.”

Bertrand’s own eyes widened. “R-really?” A hopeful feeling began stirring in his chest, though he didn’t want to just say what he was thinking out loud. He clutched his tail and focused on the jolts of feeling that came from tapping its sensitive, fiery tip. “So, uh, tomorrow, then…”

The deerling stifled a laugh. “Sure.” She glanced towards Verene, who hadn’t moved since falling onto her bed. “I don’t exactly have any plans for my own future right now. Not that this is what I had in mind, but I would like to try giving your request a chance. And…”

She didn’t say the next part, though given she was looking at the vulpix, Bertrand was sure their thoughts were aligned. Did she fall asleep, or is she listening to us?

He decided to fill the silence. “We’ll figure things out with Verene tomorrow.”

Caitrin turned back to him with an awkward smile. “R-Right. Guess we will.”

He could feel the moment for conversation start to pass. Bertrand got up and walked to the door. “See you in the morning, then. My parents are already planning breakfast.”

The deerling nodded. “Thanks. And, good night.”

“Good night.”

He took it slow returning to his own room. Somewhere inside him, Bertrand felt he dodged the rain. She never asked why he was desperate enough to put up a request. But even while that reason hung invisibly over all their heads, it didn’t scare him anymore. He did it. He actually managed to find a team.

Maybe he was getting ahead of himself, but he felt good about this.

~~~This’ll work out. I’m sure of it.~~~
~~~
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Last edited:

JFought

Sloooowly writing...
Chapter 0-2, Section 2

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Sunrise on the 26th Day, Month of Hovena, 1844.

The light of the morning sun slowly flooded the room. Verene was bothered at first, not quite ready to wake up yet. As her mind got to work anyway, she noticed something about her senses felt off. It was warm, and soft; the air smelled distinctly like grass, but mixed with other, strange scents…

She was too tired for this: she tried to ignore that feeling and go back to sleep, but as the light shone in her face she figured she might at least turn around to avoid it. And so she opened her eyes and was instantly confused.

Verene jumped to her paws in alarm, tails puffing up to twice their size. Wait, w-where am I?! She looked around the cramped room she was in, spotted the deerling still dozing in the corner, and the events of yesterday returned to her, slowly and surely like a haunting dream. O-oh, right. This is Bertrand’s home.

Another pulse of fear shot through her heart. She moved her head quickly to search her bed, only to feel the bag she was searching for swing on her neck, carrying the weight of the only object of worth it contained. It took only a moment for her to realise and breathe a sigh of relief. Palkia's mercy…

Carefully, she padded over to the door and peeked out into the connected room. It was the forge, she remembered, though it was obvious enough from the literal, unlit forge in the corner, as well as the anvil and tools spread across tables, shelves, and racks. Light spilled in from a crack in one of the walls, though on second look she realised it was actually a massive set of double doors. She could hear the voices of Bertrand’s parents coming from the kitchen, and her ears flattened as she took a step back.

Verene shivered. It felt odd, to be in a stranger’s home. The smells of steel and coal were foreign to her, and the hard, uncarpeted stone floor felt cold and wrong under her paws. W-what do I even do with myself? she wondered. She tried to remember what she was taught about guest etiquette, but most of it eluded her, last night being the only time she had ever used that knowledge. Perhaps I should just go back to sleep, and wait to be called.

She arrived back in the makeshift guest room just in time to catch Caitrin stretching. The deerling’s ears perked up as she noticed her enter. “Oh, good morning Verene. I figured you were already awake.” She stood tall and smiled.

Verene looked away. “I was just heading back to sleep,” she said to excuse herself. “I did not mean to wake up so early, the sun was just in my eyes.”

“Well, you were looking out the window all night.”

“I know what I was doing.” Verene stomped back over to her pitiable bed of cloth and flopped down on it. “Wake me when breakfast is prepared.”

She heard Caitrin sigh, but paid it no mind. It was partially that deerling’s fault she was in this mess, so she did not see why she should try and make friends. How pathetic I must seem. Picked up off the street like some dirty orphan by a charmeleon whose kindness borders on psychotic. Taken care of and fed by his idiot parents that he must’ve gotten it from. I must seem like a pet to them. And who even knows what the deerling is here for.

A twinge of anxiety started to creep into her heart, and she curled into a tight ball in the hopes of escaping it. And yet, I am stuck here. What can I do now? I know from experience that there is no life for me here, but there is no going back anymore. Whether I like it or not, I am completely at the mercy of this charmeleon, the count, the town at large… No matter how forcefully she shut her eyes, she could not stop the tears from leaking through. D… damn it. Why? This isn’t fair.

“Verene?”

Verene gasped, and opened her eyes to see Caitrin right in her face. Her disarmingly grassy scent was overwhelming, and she wore a look of concern. “Are you okay?”

The vulpix felt a shiver as she forced back the compulsion to bite her for getting too close. She tried to think of a way to respond, but her words failed her. So she shut her eyes again and attempted to ignore the deerling.

“Verene?”

“I-I’m scared.” The words left her muzzle against her will.

There was silence for a moment. Please go away.

And then Caitrin spoke once more. “I know this probably wasn’t what you were hoping for when you came here. And it’s not like I expect you to trust me: we’re still strangers, after all. But, sometimes, you just have to go along with wherever life takes you. And it’s not like this is any worse than what you were going through before, right?”

Verene kept her eyes shut and head low against the straw as she shook her head weakly.

“I think you should try to look on the bright side of things like that,” she said, tone soft and assured. “Maybe you’re not sure what to do next, but you have the chance to make a choice on that.”

Verene opened her eyes halfway until Caitrin was blurry in her vision. Her voice wavered as she spoke. “I…I-it’s not as if I have many choices in the first place.”

She couldn’t quite make out Caitrin’s reaction, but the deerling’s calmness did not seem to falter. “Well, any choice is better than no choice.” Caitrin leaned down again so that their noses nearly touched. “And it’s a nice day out, so now’s as good a time as any to try and figure that out.”

Verene shivered again. “By playing adventurer with that charmeleon?”

“You don’t play adventurer,” said Caitrin as she straightened back up. “It’s a job: you’ll get paid for it, and get the chance to interact more with the townsmon and gain more experience so that you’re in a better spot to figure out what you want to do next than before. And, you still haven’t really told us why you’re in this town to begin with.”

The truth was, Verene never had much of a plan. I was ejected from a boat. That was the true reason she was here. Homelessness, bread begging, inconveniencing the local nobles: they were simply the unforeseen consequences of an admittedly rash string of decisions born from understandable yet humiliating circumstances. But she could never admit this. It was better, perhaps, that Caitrin believed whatever more dignified purpose she thought Verene could possibly have.

Just then, Caitrin’s head bolted upright at a stomping noise, and a druddigon’s head poked through the open door. “Mornin’! Food’s read-” His voice faltered upon seeing the two. “...Am I interrupting somethin’?”

“N-No, we’re fine,” Caitrin replied hastily. “We’ll be out in a minute, okay?”

“Uh, right. Just don’t take too long.” And then he stomped off.

The deerling sighed, and she turned back to Verene. “Well?”

There was no escaping this, it seemed. I cannot argue with her logic. She felt a slight pain in her stomach. And I’m hungry…

With a huff of discontent, Verene rubbed her head into her paws to get the tears out of her eyes, then shook the discomfort away and pushed herself onto her haunches. “I will admit, I can see the wisdom in your words,” she conceded, adopting a more dignified persona. “But do forgive me if I am not quite happy about it. I will go along for today, and that is all I will guarantee.”

Caitrin’s ears swivelled behind her and she pawed awkwardly at the ground. “I’m not saying you have to be happy about it. I just want you to know it’ll be okay.”

Why do you care? Though she kept such bitter thoughts to herself.

After shaking off her remaining tiredness, Verene followed Caitrin into the kitchen, where both Cyrus and Lucia waited by the table. Two plates had been prepared, both featuring… crepes. Really?

Lucia spoke up. “The one on the right is for Caitrin, and the one on the left is for you Verene.” Something about the way she said it sounded oddly competitive.

Verene sat in front of hers and judged it. Both had been cut up into convenient pieces, hers powdered very lightly with sugar and featured a filling that from the smell of it must’ve been a jam made with a mix of mago and cherri berries. Though from the colour it also looked to be cooked almost too well, and she could feel the heat still radiating off of it. She glanced back up at Bertrand’s parents and noticed the druddigon eyeing her intently with his clawed hands holding his forearms. What is he looking at me like that for?

Caitrin had already begun eating hers. “So what do you think?” asked the confident charizard.

The deerling swallowed, face beaming. “It’s delicious, thank you!”

“And uh.” Cyrus tapped his claws together. “How’s yours?”

Verene baulked at first, but she was hungry. With some hesitation, she bit a whole piece off the plate and started chewing through it.

Her eyes widened. Perhaps all of those days eating nothing but bread had lowered her standards by a considerable amount, but the sweet, slightly burnt tartness was easily one of the best flavours she had experienced in recent memory. She couldn’t help licking her lips upon finishing… before brushing her muzzle with some embarrassment and feigning indifference. “I-It’s… decent.”

Cyrus’ maw fell open in distraught, while Lucia pumped a fist in the air with a barely concealed “Yes!”

Verene tried to ignore them as she ate another. What was that about?

The odd couple aside, this all registered as vaguely familiar to her. The circumstances were far different to what she had once been used to, but this was the first morning in a long time where she could say she felt safe. The bed was poor, and the food was for peasants, but what right did she have to complain, after having struggled on the streets for the past half moon? It would take some time to get used to, but perhaps I could live here, for the rest of my days, until…

Until what?


She caught herself about to cry again. And so she shook her anxieties away and instead attempted to place her thoughts on how delicious the food was, growling threats to herself as it only barely worked. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Cyrus hang his head and mutter dismally.

By the time they both finished, she heard Bertrand walk into the kitchen, his bag rustling at his side. He leaned over the table as Caitrin finished her plate. “You both ready?” he asked.

Verene turned her head away. She did not see the need to give such an obvious answer, nor did she like being rushed.

“Are you sure you’re not hungry, Bertrand?” Lucia asked.

Bertrand gripped the strap of his bag and adjusted it. “I’m fine, Mom, I mean it.”

Lucia craned her head towards her mate, a claw on her cheek. “Oh, he hates us.”

Cyrus crossed his arms and nodded solemnly. “It was only a matter of time, Lucy. It always happens.”

Bertrand hung his head low and grumbled. “Why can’t you two be normal around friends?”

Friends, now? The presumptuousness of this lizard. Verene merely huffed, standing up to walk off the cushion and towards the backdoor. She stopped there to glare back at her appointed ‘friends.’ “So shall we be off, then?”

Caitrin abruptly stood up. “Hold on a moment,” she said before running back to the spare room. Bertrand, meanwhile, met Verene at the door.

Waiting together, there was the slightest moment where he seemed unsure on whether to speak, before he broke it. “I know you didn’t really ask for any of this,” he said hastily. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

Verene lifted her tails proudly behind her as she shook her head. “Do not speak of it. I will not make myself useless.” She threw him a glare. “Granted, I would prefer if you did not take me for granted.”

The charmeleon sheepishly tapped a claw against the side of his muzzle. “R-Right. I’m glad you’re giving this a chance, at least.”

Verene turned towards the door. “I said to not speak of it.”

Before long, Caitrin arrived with her satchel harness secured on her back. With everyone ready, Bertrand led the way, and Verene followed the two through the door and out into the open streets of Courière.

Courière, the Grateful Town of Medicine
Kingdom:
Lowlands Republic of Nidekan
Classified as: Suburban Township
Music: Leisure Day from Trails of Cold Steel (Takahiro Unisuga)
A riverside town in the middle of the Brillant Plains known for its specialty in medicine. Located on the outskirts of the wetlands, the ease of access to the many herbs that grow there made it the medical capital of Liber a long time ago. It's a bustling town, that acts as something of a waypoint between the larger trade hubs of Luminance to the east and Orbaie to the west, connected to both by the Brillant River its name is in partial reference to. While the commodification of its primary exports have made its old title somewhat redundant, the Gracidée School of Medicine is still the most prestigious in Liber, making this town the premier place to go for aspiring doctors and medics. Its ‘Grateful’ epithet, meanwhile, comes from an old story about its founding, where a flock of shaymin turned the once desolate riverside into a bountiful field of flowers. Most gracidea you will find in western Liber can trace their origins to here, as they are an especially popular export at the beginnings and ends of spring.

Verene’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the sun as she stepped out from the shade of the sidepath. The air carried the slightest hint of humidity, which combined with the distinctly sweet and grassy scent of gracidea blowing in the breeze told the story of a town in preparation. As she followed Caitrin and Bertrand through bricked streets, busied by pokémon walking from place to place or readying colourful, flowery displays outside their homes, she could not help but notice how different she felt compared to yesterday. She had spent so much time attempting to hide her indignity, but now, she felt clean, and the wind was nice and cool against her fur. A few times she would catch the eye of a townsmon and feel a quick flash of anxiety, and that feeling would fade at the realisation that she appeared to belong here just as much as anyone else did.

She held her head high and inwardly scoffed. Perhaps the deerling was right, and there was some comfort to be drawn from all this. But it did not change her circumstances, nor her position on them.

Eventually, they reached the Traveler's Office, Bertrand holding the door open so they could all stream in. The poliwhirl guide, Adeline, was busy sorting through papers piled on her desk. The only attention she seemed willing to divert was a greeting: “Good mornin’ Bertrand.”

“Hey Adeline,” the charmeleon greeted back, closing the door behind him. “You look busy today.”

“Well it is almost the end of the month,” she replied. She grabbed a pen and began writing something down on one of the papers. “I’d like to get these reports sent to the Guild Center early so that I can actually enjoy the festival this year.”

It was an innocuous statement, yet there was a hint of unease in her tone that seemed to have an effect on Bertrand. “Y-Yeah,” he stuttered, as if to try and maintain normalcy.

Verene tilted her head. It was a rather perplexing exchange, at least until she realised that the difficult circumstances of last year would have prevented the Flower Festival from occurring. All because of him…

Bertrand broke through her thoughts. “Anyway, I’m just here to get everyone up to speed on what we’ll be doing today.” He looked back at his companions. “We can sit over there,” he said, pointing at the nearby table.

Verene walked over and jumped onto a stool, Bertrand taking his own while Caitrin tilted an ear at one before evidently deciding to stand. “So what did you need to discuss?” she asked.

“It’s about our- er, well, my goal.” He rubbed his horn. “I don’t have any badges yet, after all.”

Verene allowed her tails to hang off the edge of the stool. She had read about guild badges in stories featuring adventurers, but the details had always been glossed over for the sake of plot. “What is this about badges?” she asked. “I am new to adventuring, need I remind you.”

Bertrand’s eyes widened slightly, and his tail wrapped around to tap against the edge of the table. “Uh-”

“Badges are about recognition,” Caitrin spoke up. “Normal ‘mon tend to use ‘adventurer’ to refer to anyone taking on a request, but in reality, there aren’t usually any limits on who’s allowed to fulfill them. So what separates any common pokémon from an actual adventurer is the badges they carry.”

“R-Right,” said Bertrand, looking abashed. “The badge is how the guild knows you’re a ‘certified adventurer,’ and certified adventurers get paid extra for each job they report in on. So if you want to make an actual living off of guild work, you pretty much have to get one eventually.”

“Or you can become a guide,” Adeline cut in, still writing her reports. “I hear the Guild Center in Luminance is hiring for paper pushers too.”

Bertrand shot her a deadpan look. “Yeah, but no one wants to do that, Adeline.” The poliwhirl only shrugged.

It made sense enough: the fact that non-adventurers could take requests was news to her already. “I recall Caitrin saying she already had a badge. So does that mean she is already certified?” Verene inquired.

“In Hovena it does,” Caitrin answered with a shake of her head. “A badge only certifies you in the kingdom it’s from, so the Silver Honeycomb Badge I have only matters to the Hovena guild.” She glanced back at Adeline. “If I showed it to a guide in Osoté, it wouldn’t mean much to them.”

“Nidekan,” corrected Bertrand.

Caitrin’s ears flew up. “O-oh, right.”

There was an awkward pause.

Bertrand continued. “Anyway, in the long term our goal would be to travel to every kingdom and earn the badge from each of their Traveler’s Guild branches, but for now, that just means we need to earn the badge for the Republic.” He scratched under his chin. “What was it called again?”

“The Storm Badge,” said Adeline. She was looking up from her papers now. “The Nidekan branch got accepted by the Capital branch at the beginning of the year, so you don’t need to worry about it being illegitimate or whatever.” She pointed at them with her pen. “Luminance’s actually seen quite the influx of adventurers hoping to earn their eleventh badge. I was under the impression you were one of ‘em, Caitrin.”

Caitrin threw her an uncertain glance and hid it with a laugh. “Heh. Funny how things work out like that, then.”

“Wait,” interrupted Verene. Anxiety creeped its way into her voice as the implications of the conversation started to sink in. “Is it necessary to go to Luminance’s Guild Center to acquire this badge?”

“Well I can’t give you one,” Adeline answered. “All I can do is manage requests and give you advice. The Guild Center is where the serious guild work goes down.”

Bertrand responded with a troubled look and a rub of his horn. “Yeah… I am pretty much asking you both to go on a journey with me.”

If Bertrand hadn’t been pushing his boundaries before, then he certainly was now. He would have me back in Luminance! I can’t go back there!

Caitrin only nodded back to him. “We talked about this last night, so I’ll just say I’m still willing to try it.”

And then they both turned to Verene.

Her ears folded and she avoided their gazes. “I-I’m a stranger. Going on a journey is-” She winced trying to control her fear and shook her head. “Y-you are asking too much.”

Though she kept her eyes closed, she could still tell the disappointment from Bertrand’s voice. “Well, I wasn’t planning to leave until the day after tomorrow. So you don’t need to make a decision now or anything.”

A shard of annoyance cut into her anxiety as Verene opened her eyes and huffed. That’s not the issue you imbecile. Yet she held her tongue. Do I even have the fortitude to make such a journey? The courage to wander Luminance’s streets again? And two days from now?

“Two days is still pretty soon,” Caitrin pointed out for her. “Is there a reason?”

The charmeleon’s features rose somewhat, a little of that dumb excitement returning to him. “Y’know how the Flower Festival falls on the Summer Solstice this year, right? I read in the paper there’s some city rivalry going on across the continent to try and pull the biggest celebration, and they say Luminance’s is gonna be so big it’ll rival Ebeld’s all the way in Yagora.”

Verene tilted her head, sceptical. “That is a tall order considering how big the Summer Solstice is over there.”

Bertrand chuckled. “Yeah, but the point is that it’ll be big, which also means there’ll be a ton of requests.” He brought a claw to his chest and clenched it, determination shining in his eyes. “It’s the perfect time to go for the badge.”

What trivial reasoning. He’s hopeless.

“That makes sense,” Caitrin evidently disagreed. “So I’m guessing you earn the Storm Badge by doing requests in Luminance?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” answered Bertrand. “Though the requests we do don’t have to be in Luminance. Any requests we do in the Republic should count, right Adeline?”

“Yup.” The poliwhirl guide pointed her pen in the air. “I’ve been building Bertrand’s résumé for a while now. Just need to add you two to it and mail that off to the Guild Center. Then bam: you’re a team. Won’t be official ‘till you get the badge, though.”

Verene’s heart quickened. “A-A team already?!”

Bertrand quickly reached a claw across the table. “Not yet! Uh…” He pulled it back and started rubbing his horn. “I-It’s just, y’know, assuming we do become a team, th-then that’s how it’d work…”

If Bertrand were not so fortunate to be a fire-type, Verene would have burned him.

“Maybe we should just do a request first,” Caitrin cut in, one ear folded back nervously.

“R-right…”

Verene vented her frustrations in a curt sigh. “Fair enough.”

She jumped off the stool and followed Bertrand as he led them to the request board hanging on the wall, where he gestured to it. “Here it is. The left is for news, and the right is where the requests are.” A flicker of worry seemed to cross his features, and he looked at Verene. “Can you read?”

Verene’s fur bristled with anger. How dare you insinuate- “Of course I can,” she spat.

In response his face took on a different kind of worry. He looked back at the board and muttered as if hurt. “Can’t always be sure…”

She growled to herself. You should be sure. Though for now she recognised the need to put his ignorance aside to focus on what was important. So Verene perused the board’s contents.

The ‘news’ side seemed to consist entirely of clippings from only two different publications (most of which were The Lowlands Beacon). The right contained the requests as he said, all neatly flat papers of the same size and in the same written format pinned to the board. There were only a few that morning. Helper, Search, Helper, Helper, Escort… She noticed two of them featured the same handwriting -- it seemed reasonable to guess it was Adeline assisting someone who could not write it themselves. Though that was not the only thing she noticed.

Helper, I need someone to… help me study?!

In pure disbelief, Verene narrowed her eyes at the request. “What kind of…?” Her gaze flew to another one. Helper, my wagon broke?! “Who-?”

“Oh hey!” Bertrand suddenly exclaimed. He reached out to one of the requests on the board and lifted the paper’s corner, his tail raised high as if greeting an old friend. “This is from Claude! Did he come in this morning?”

“I thought you’d be interested in that one,” Adeline replied, her attention firmly on them now. “He actually came in right when I opened. Said he didn’t have much time.”

Caitrin tilted an ear. “Who’s Claude?”

“He’s an old friend of mine!” he said with an excited grin. He backed away to give the other two room to read the request before pointing at it. “We should do this one!”

Feeling sceptical and concerned about the other requests, Verene approached to read it. She had to rear up with her forepaws against the board to get into a comfortable reading position.

---A FLORAL ERRAND---
Type: Search
Client: Claude, Pawmot
Reward: 40 Poké
Hello! I am part of the Courière Town Guard. Today, I was supposed to buy bundles of a certain kind of flower for the display outside my home. But I just learned this morning that my scheduled time off got cancelled, and that I will be stationed at the Route 32 exit effective immediately for the rest of the day. I will not have time to do my shopping, and I can’t ask my family to do it for me, so I would appreciate any adventurer who would run this errand for me! You can find me at my post, where I will be able to give an in-depth brief of the task. Thank you for your time!
---

To ensure what she had read was real, Verene sniffed at the ink. Written recently: it was real. “This is a joke.”

Bertrand rubbed his horn again (it was quite possibly the only thing he knew how to do and she was getting sick of it). “I’m not sure what you were expecting…”

Verene pushed herself off the wall and glared at him, tails fanning with indignance. “I was expecting jobs that were much less… petty. And forty silver shouldn’t even be enough to count as payment. Do they allow just anything on this board?”

“Well I had to approve them first.” Adeline’s reply radiated disapproval. “What d’you think being an adventurer’s about?”

Adventuring, for one!” she answered in bewilderment. When she looked back at Bertrand and Caitrin, she noticed the charmeleon looking away hiding his muzzle behind his claw, and the deerling regarding her with an awkward smile.

This only made her more bewildered. “Do you two find this amusing?!”

“N-no…” Caitrin tilted her head, and her smile faltered by a fraction but not entirely. “I mean, we’re called that, but you can’t make money off of traveling alone.”

“Acting as a community center for everyone to help each other out is the entire point of the Traveler’s Guild,” Bertrand added. He moved his claw to his hip, revealing his own sheepishly amused grin. “You really didn’t know that?”

Verene stepped back. “I-” All of her indignation turned to embarrassment as she realised. Everything I know about adventurers is from-

Adeline scoffed. “It sounds almost like she thinks we’re all like in those tall tales you hear.”

Verene winced and her ears folded. …is from fantasy novels!

How was she supposed to know that adventurers were not actually like that?! Real-life experience. And where was she supposed to get that, anyway? By not being-

She shook her head. Her past circumstances were relevant only insofar as they pertained to the direct consequences. Such as now. Arguably. But regardless, she did not want to think about it.

Verene glared at her ‘partners,’ furious at what she did not know and furious at them for pointing it out. “Wipe those smirks off your faces,” she growled, ears still stuck against her head. “Or I will leave right now and not give this a second chance.”

Caitrin’s ears bolted upright and her face fell immediately, stricken with guilt. “I-I’m sorry,” she apologised. She stepped back and averted her gaze. “I wasn’t trying to make fun of you.”

Bertrand looked at Caitrin with surprise. “W-well I wasn’t-” And gripped the strap of his bag. “I-I mean we weren’t-” Then sighed, before meeting Verene’s eyes again for only a brief moment. “...Sorry.”

The disgraced vulpix considered whether the apology was worth accepting. “You two continue to test my patience, yet I suppose you both seem sincere enough,” she decided. She gave them both hard stares, holding her tails high with dignity. “Nevertheless, I must request that no further fuss be made of things that I do not know. I am new to this, and I would hope this is not how your organisation treats those who seek to learn from it.”

She heard Adeline mutter to herself. “Bertrand sure knows how to pick characters…”

Verene shot her a glare. She resented the idea she was part of any larger trend, while also deeply concerned about it.

After another moment of awkward silence between them, Bertrand walked up to the desk and placed a claw upon it. “Is there anything else we should know about the request?”

“Nope, he didn’t say anything not already in the write-up. You’ll have to find him to learn more.”

“Right, thanks.” He looked back to others. “Are we ready?”

Caitrin lightly shook the harness on her back, then nodded. “Ready.”

And Verene sighed. “Let us be quick about it.” At least it won’t be difficult.

With a “Good luck” from Adeline, Verene followed her appointed partners out of the office.

~~~This is ridiculous…~~~
~~~​

Courière’s northern exit into the Flueve Causeway (also known as Route 32) was found following the road north of the blacksmith. From what Caitrin remembered about maps of the area, the stream flowed from a source to the west of town, meandered east to define the town’s northern border, then bent south for a short while before bending back east to join the Brillant River. And the only bridge crossing the eastbound stream was the one just ahead as she caught sight of the simple stone gateway that marked the exit.

As they went, Caitrin couldn’t help but steal a few glances back at Verene. She was walking along closely, an air of defiance in her expression and posture that shrunk away each time they passed another ‘mon in the street. It was hard to not be worried. Caitrin’s impression of her so far was that she must’ve been young, and at least somewhat sheltered. She knew she was the one who encouraged the vulpix to join them this morning, but watching how hard she was trying to hide her fear, Caitrin was starting to doubt the advice was actually any good. Was that advice meant for her, or for me? she wondered.

That thought was when the regret finally sunk down to her stomach. If she hadn’t pressured her like that, Verene might’ve decided to go back on their agreement instead of forcing herself to come along. She’d be with Bertrand’s parents, pokémon who’d do a much better job of making her comfortable and getting her to open up than Caitrin ever could. But it was too late now. She could only hope that maybe, by some crazy chance, this would all just work out somehow.

They continued on like this, Bertrand confident, Verene flighty, and Caitrin unsure, until they reached the exit gate. Standing in the shade of the gateway was a raticate wearing a tough-looking cloth chestpiece and clutching a short spear carefully in his claws. Bertrand waved to him as they passed, and soon they were crossing the sturdy wooden bridge towards the gate on the other side. “They usually station Claude up here,” he explained.

The station gate was much larger and of sturdier-looking brick than the previous one, standing tall with its walls extending protectively along the water in both directions. Caitrin spotted the shapes of a few pokémon on the wallwalk. The gateway itself was large enough to feature a small guard station built into its side, signified by its door, small sign, and open window. And past it, the flat, grassy fields of the Brillant Plains could be seen stretching out ahead of them, a neatly defined dirt path cutting through it off into the distance.

It was quiet as they approached, though Caitrin could hear the slightest shuffles of activity coming from inside the station. And on the outside, two pokémon in black cloth armor stood at the gate’s opposing corners with their backs turned to them. On the left was an odd brown lizard with a skull for a head, holding a tall spear while looking stout and serious. And on the right was what she recognized as a pawmot, holding his own spear in one paw while he casually rubbed his cheek with the other. His ears twitched as they approached. “Huh…?”

“Hey Claude!” Bertrand called out. With a grin, he picked up his pace, prompting Caitrin to follow suit (though she noticed Verene lag behind).

The pawmot turned around, and his face lifted from confusion to excitement once he caught sight of his friend. He waved back. “Bertrand! What’re you doing here?!”

Bertrand slowed as he got closer. “It’s been a few days, for one!” And as soon as he stepped within range of Claude’s arm, the briefest look of panic crossed his muzzle, as if he had just made a terrible mistake.

Claude laughed. “You’ve been busy, haven’t you!” And then he placed his free paw on the charmeleon’s shoulder.

The instant the two touched, a strong shiver seemed to pass through Bertrand’s body. He had already preemptively winced, but the contact literally shocked him out of it, the seizure passing through his tail until his flame sputtered with a loud crackling sound. It took Claude a short moment to process what just happened before he removed his paw, and the charmeleon’s body instantly relaxed.

Caitrin had stopped just a few steps away, feeling a different kind of shock. “B-Bertrand?”

Bertrand was hunched over, panting. “Should’ve… been more careful…”

The pawmot just stared at his paw, then back at Bertrand, before rubbing his yellow cheek again, sparks flying as he did. “Heh… Some things never change?”

A sigh from the lizard guard as he shook his head disapprovingly. “Indeed…” he muttered.

Somehow it didn't surprise Caitrin at all that these two were friends. To Claude’s credit though, he seemed strong, and despite his absentminded actions a more capable air started to settle around him as he calmed down, his expression growing into the kind of resolute confidence she would expect from someone working in the military. She took note of the emblem on the front of his chestpiece: a silver outline representing the head of some abstract, horned monster. His uniform wasn’t worn at all, and he seemed to wear it proudly.

“You’re okay, right?” he asked Bertrand, a hint of concern still lingering.

“Yeah…” The charmeleon straightened back up and rolled his shoulders, his tail still shivering somewhat. “B-Barely bothers me nowadays.”

Claude nodded with what seemed to be both relief and embarrassment. “Sorry about it.” Then he struck the ground with the bottom of his spear. “Anyway, what did bring you here?” His gaze shifted to Caitrin. “And who’s the deerling?”

Bertrand’s eyes lit back up. “Oh, she’s my new partner, Caitrin!” he introduced for her.

You didn’t need to- “Y-yeah.” Caitrin took a step forward and dipped her head respectfully. “I’m an adventurer from Hovena. We happened to run into each other on a request, and it turned out we were both looking for partners.” Technically that was a small lie, but it wasn’t like it mattered. Bertrand didn’t seem to notice, at least.

Claude’s face grew thoughtful. “Caitrin huh? I thought I heard Bertrand got wrapped up in something.” He then smiled and offered his paw to her. “Name’s Claude! Don’t worry, I don’t bite!”

Caitrin put on her best attempt at a polite smile and took a step back. “I believe you.”

The pawmot stared in confusion at his paw again, before pulling back. “Oops, right.” He pat the nearby wall a couple times, before his gaze caught on something behind Caitrin. “And who’s…” He squinted. “Wait, is that the vulpix we heard somethin’ about yesterday…?”

Verene was sitting by herself all the way back at the edge of the bridge, her tails fanned out as she watched. Bertrand’s eyes widened a bit when he realized. He brought a claw to the side of his muzzle and called out: “Verene! Why are you over there?!”

“I am spectating!” she shouted back.

Caitrin and Bertrand matched sighs. “Don’t mind her, she’s with us,” he clarified before turning back to Claude. “It was a whole thing, but she’s with my parents for now and is following along for today.” He laughed awkwardly and rubbed his horn. “A lot really did happen yesterday…”

Claude put on a warm smile, then switched his spear to his other paw so he could rub Bertrand’s shoulder. “Well I’m glad you finally found someone. How’re things going with Alan?”

“U-um.” Bertrand’s tail whipped back and forth. He tried to laugh it off. “W-well, y’know how he is. That’s not why we’re here, though.”

The pawmot’s smile fell, he blinked, and for a moment it felt as if there was some unspoken understanding between the two. “Oh.” He nestled his spear into his elbow so that it leaned over his shoulder, then crossed his arms. “I mean I am supposed to be on duty right now, so let’s make it quick.”

Caitrin’s ears had turned straight towards them. That was weird. It’s like the mood completely shifted.

“Right.” Bertrand reached into his bag and pulled out the request paper. “We’re here about the request you put up. You said we should talk to you about it.”

The pawmot lit up with recognition and went back to clutching his spear. “Oh yeah!” He smiled and rubbed his cheek. “I didn’t think you’d take it, but in hindsight you would, huh?”

Caitrin decided to let it go -- It doesn’t matter right now -- and cut in with her own question. “You said you needed someone to get a type of flower for you?”

His smile fell away into small surprise, as if he had just realized Caitrin was still there. “Oh right, normally around this time of year I’d set up the flower display outside my home,” he explained. “We live pretty close to the medical college, so I like going all out for the students on their day off. We usually get asters.”

What? “Asters?” Caitrin’s ear tilted and her head followed. But asters are-

“They’re a kind of purple flower,” Claude continued, as if there wasn't something seriously wrong with his story. “Normally I’d get them myself, but well…” He beat his chest with a paw, causing the slightest metal rattle to sound from underneath the cloth.

Bertrand crossed his arms. “I’m surprised you’re not letting Felix handle it.” He didn’t seem to realize the issue either.

Claude sighed. “You know how he is. I know as his father I should be letting him take on a little more responsibility, but I also know he’d just get distracted. And my mom hasn’t been feeling very well recently, so there really isn’t anyone else.”

Caitrin dipped her head in sympathy. “I’m sorry to hear that.” But he’s a father? I didn’t realize Bertrand had older friends…

She shooed away the thought to focus on more important things, like how neither of them seemed to realize it shouldn’t even be possible to find asters. He seems pretty confident though… She didn’t want to bring it up just to get contradicted. So she sidestepped the issue instead. “So you’re sure we’re looking for asters?”

His expression shifted into uncertainty. “Well, Florent says they’re asters. Small purple flowers, right? Sometimes pink, I guess? With thin petals?”

That sounds right… It still wasn’t impossible he was mistaken somehow. They didn’t have much hope otherwise. She nodded in acknowledgment. “I just wanted to make sure. Where do you normally get them?”

“I always get ‘em from a flower shop owned by a famous gardener who lives in town. Bertrand can show you.”

Bertrand nodded in affirmation. “Yeah, it’s just on the other side of town,” he said. “We won’t find him there, but it should still sell what we’re looking for.”

But how? What Caitrin actually said was a bit more ambiguous. “I’d sure hope so…”

“Anything else you need to know, or should I wish you luck?” Claude asked.

Caitrin was about ready to leave, but something made Bertrand hesitate. He crossed his arms, tail curled curiously. “Actually, I was wondering why you were called for gate duty on such short notice. I noticed a few pokémon up top, too.”

Both Claude’s and Caitrin’s ears perked. Oh right, I noticed that too.

The pawmot adjusted his grip on his spear, looking conflicted. “I’m not supposed to tell civilians, but…” He shot a glance at his companion, then at the door to the guard station, before leaning in and whispering. “The guard chief’s paranoid.”

“I heard that,” said the lizard guard without turning his skull head.

He shot him another glance and threw his free arm into the air. “Well it’s true!”

“Did something happen?” asked Bertrand.

Claude sighed and kept his voice low. “Osoté’s been fortifying the new river border down the road. Again.” He clutched his spear in both paws and held it a little more closely. “It’s a day's worth of travel away yet somehow that makes it our problem. And King Luis’d be out of his mind to try and start a war now.”

The turn in conversation broke Caitrin out of her concerns about asters. It was difficult for her to understand the context, given she only really knew the outcome of the civil war and not much else, yet she could still tell that something about the guard’s tone seemed almost nervous.

She noticed Bertrand’s tail rise and wave a bit before he spoke. “Yeah, seems pretty paranoid to me.” He was smiling, yet he sounded uncomfortable.

I don’t get it, but it doesn’t sound that paranoid to me, she thought to herself. Back in Hovena we’d treat that even more seriously. Though the situation of her homeland was maybe a different kind of complicated…

“Anyway, we’ll take care of the flowers,” said Bertrand as he gave his friend a pat on the shoulder. “Shouldn’t be anything to worry about, right?”

Claude smiled and relaxed. “Yeah.” He returned to a natural, confident stance. “When you get the flowers, just take them to my home. My son can pay you, so don’t worry about bothering me.”

“Right, thanks. Good luck with your duties.”

“And good luck with your work!” Claude blinked before turning to Caitrin, as if it were the second time he had forgotten she was there. “And to you too, Caitrin. Make sure to keep him in line.” He winked.

Caitrin could acutely feel Bertrand’s embarrassment as she tilted her head and returned his smile. “I-I’ll do my best.”

The charmeleon sagged a little and sighed. “You didn’t hafta answer that…”

With that, they left Claude behind, met back up with Verene (she defiantly insisted she had heard everything), and left to search for flowers. Impossible flowers…

Once they were about halfway across the bridge, Caitrin decided now was the best time to speak up. “Hey Bertrand?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you sure those are asters he uses for his display?”

He raised his brow. “Yeah, why?”

She took a deep breath. “Asters aren’t in season.”

His eyes widened and he stopped in the middle of the bridge. “Wait, what?”

“They’re an autumn flower,” she explained as she stopped in front of him. “They don’t bloom until late summer at the earliest.”

“But-” He grabbed his horn in clear disbelief. “But he gets them every year! I’ve seen his displays!”

“I know, that’s why I’m confused. You shouldn’t be able to buy them, or even get ahold of them at all this time of year.”

Bertrand glanced back at the gate worriedly. He looked ready to turn around. “Maybe we should tell him.”

Verene sat beside him and rolled her eyes. “If he says he uses the flower in his display, then clearly that means it can be bought. Even if it does not seem probable.”

“Or he’s just mistaken somehow, but I don’t know how he would be,” Caitrin added. It’s not like the gardener would lie to him, right? This whole situation just seemed weird. She looked to Bertrand. “We’ll just have to see about that gardener I guess.”

At that, Bertrand’s look grew suddenly thoughtful. He grabbed his chin and looked down, his tail completely still. “Hm.”

“What’s wrong?”

He looked back up. “The thing about that gardener, Florent. He can use magic.”

Caitrin’s eyes widened as it immediately clicked. “Oooh.” Just like that, everything made a lot more sense. That’s how they got daffodils growing in the town square.

Verene tilted her head. “You mean he’s using magic to grow flowers out of season?”

“It’s not unheard of,” Caitrin informed her. “There’s a town in Hovena that specializes in a kind of magic that helps them grow trees faster. But I never would’ve thought I’d see something similar in another kingdom.”

“I never even put together that’s what he was doing,” admitted Bertrand as he rubbed his horn. “Problem is, he’s not in town right now. He left for Luminance a while ago to help with the festivities there.”

“I would imagine his shop still sells them,” Verene remarked dryly.

Caitrin shook her tail anxiously. “I’d hope so, or we’re out of luck.”

“He’s probably gotta have some,” Bertrand reassured. “C’mon, let’s go.”

And so Bertrand led Caitrin and their reluctant tagalong through town in search of a flower out of season. The mentioned flower shop was located fairly deep in the west part, operated by an ivysaur wearing a tiny sunhat using her vines to tend carefully to the potted plants that made up the shop’s small, outdoor garden. Caitrin found it impressive how she managed to be so dextrous with them; it must’ve taken a lot of practice.

“Asters?” she asked with a troubled expression across her face. “Those should be out of season, but…”

“But?” Bertrand pressed. Meanwhile, Verene impatiently pawed at the dirt.

“Florent was growing some on his own to sell, but by the time he had to leave they hadn't budded yet. He had to take them with him to Luminance.” A vine snaked out from the flower bud on her back to pat the charmeleon’s muzzle. “Sorry, Bertrand.”

He sighed and rubbed the spot. “Damn. It's fine. Thanks anyway.”

Verene stopped digging and scoffed. “After walking all this way…” she muttered under her breath.

With their prospects bleaker, the three left the shop behind and paused in the street. Caitrin traded an uncertain look with Bertrand, but it was Verene who spoke first. “So now what?”

Bertrand crossed his arms and anxiously scratched his chin. “I dunno. Tell him the bad news?”

It was unfortunate, but Caitrin also found it a little strange. There was no reason to go to the trouble of growing asters this time of year unless there was someone to buy them. Since Claude was a regular, it’d likely be for him. But if that were the case, the gardener wouldn't just take them out of town like that, or his client would never be able to receive them. Unless…

“Maybe we should check the post office?” suggested Caitrin.

Bertrand raised a brow. “Huh?”

“And how would the post office be relevant here?” asked Verene in a condescending tone.

The doubt in her words planted itself in Caitrin’s head. She backed up a step and straightened her neck to fight off discomfort. “I just figured it'd be worth checking, but I guess it's not really guaranteed to turn something up…”

Bertrand’s claws pressed harder against his chin. “Actually, you might be onto something. The gardener might’ve intended to have them delivered once they bloomed, right?”

Caitrin hastily nodded back. “Th-that’s what I was thinking, yeah.”

Verene’s ear flicked, and she turned her doubt towards Bertrand. “If so, then how would Claude pay for them?”

The charmeleon’s tail seemed to wave in thought as he stared hard at the ground. “Right, he wouldn’t be able to…”

Caitrin felt herself wilt as her own doubt grew. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she admitted. “Sorry.”

“I still think it’s worth checking,” said Bertrand as he brought his gaze back up. “It’s not like we’re gonna find asters anywhere else.”

Is it…? Verene had made a good point. And given that, the vulpix didn’t look very happy about Bertrand’s decision. Instead, she just huffed and muttered to herself. “We’re running in circles…”

Caitrin’s ears fell. This was a mistake, wasn’t it?

---

“Hold on, let me check.”

The quaxwell receptionist left Caitrin and her partners to wait at the post office’s front desk. The building was very spacious and appropriately busy for this time of year, the trio being at the head of a long line of pokémon here to check for letters. Behind the desk sat rows of cabinets that stretched until they reached the back wall, which didn’t raise to touch the ceiling. Instead, there was an opening that demonstrated its purpose when a fletchinder flew through, carrying a small mailbag strapped to his body. Caitrin watched him get to work sorting swiftly through mail and cabinets with his beak and talons, one among many birds with just the right size and dexterity to do the same.

While waiting, Verene took a moment to sniff at a feather lying on the wooden floor. “I see the Noble Wings maintain high standards,” she muttered sarcastically. Caitrin couldn't help but throw a worried glance at the mailbirds, but it seemed everyone was too busy to notice.

Eventually, the quaxwell returned carrying a letter. “It turns out we do have a delivery for a pawmot, Claude. We received it from Ride-On Couriers not that long ago,” he said. “It came with this letter.” He placed it on the desk.

Caitrin sighed in relief. Thank goodness I was right. “Our timing must be Dialga’s blessing,” she spoke aloud.

“No kidding,” Bertrand remarked, looking pleased. He reached for the letter, but just as he did the quaxwell snatched it up in his hand-like wings.

“Excuse me,” he said with hardened eyes. “But you aren’t a pawmot, and I don’t think your name is Claude.”

Bertrand’s own hand hung in the air for a moment before he retracted it, tail waving anxiously. “B-but we’re here to deliver it to his home. Here.” He reached into his bag and pulled out Claude’s request to show it off. “We’re adventurers. He hired us to pick it up for him.”

The quaxwell leaned in and squinted. His beak didn’t show emotion well, but the skepticism shone in his eyes. “That seal looks official… May I see a badge?”

The charmeleon’s eyes widened in momentary panic. Caitrin quickly stepped forward to cut in. “I have one.” She used her head to gesture to one of the back pouches on her harness. “It’s in my back left. It’s a Hovenan badge, but it should still be proof we’re real adventurers.”

Following her prompt, Bertrand found the silver, combee-shaped badge and showed it to the wary post worker. He examined it with the same skepticism, but luckily, his gaze began to soften just a little. “Seems legitimate enough,” he admitted in an almost reluctant tone, before pushing the letter forward and addressing Bertrand again. “The letter is meant to be delivered with the package. The delivery is a large one, so one of your partners will have to pull it by wagon. Wait around the side of the building.”

With that sorted, the three did as told, making their way outside and following a dirt path to a large set of double doors built into the brick building’s side. As they waited there in the shade, Caitrin felt the need to remark. “What was his problem? If he works at the post office then shouldn’t he have known you, Bertrand?”

Bertrand rubbed his horn. “I’ve never seen him before. Must be stuck-up and new.”

“Well we are badgeless amateurs,” Verene emphasized. “Save for Caitrin, who I suppose we must rely on.”

Caitrin’s tail raised up, and she prodded at the ground. “I don’t think my badge will get us that far…” She would never call herself ‘reliable,’ either. The thought of her only badge -- which she had gotten so easily she couldn’t even call it earned -- being their only mark of professionalism made her ears twitch with unease.

Verene spoke up again. “Why asters, anyway?” she asked with a hint of annoyance. “If he wanted a purple flower, there are countless to choose from.”

“Well, it’s not just about what they look like,” said Caitrin. A few pricks of self-consciousness invaded the corners of her mind, but she pressed on. “He likely chose asters because they represent wisdom. Their spirits gather knowledge and wishes throughout the blooming period, and when they die during the Wise Moon, they release it all into the air, and you’re supposed to reflect on what you’ve experienced throughout the year so far.” She pawed at the ground, wondering if any of this mattered to someone who clearly didn’t care about these things. “It’s not really meant for summer, but I can kinda see why he chose it, if it’s supposed to be for the students.”

Bertrand had a claw under his chin, seemingly interested in her story. “I’ve never thought of that…”

Meanwhile, the vulpix’s head was at a slight tilt. “I suppose it makes sense that you would know that.”

Caitrin swore she could feel the flower on her head wilt. W-was that an insult?

Right then, the doors swung open, and a small wooden wagon pushed by the large, unmistakable frame of a cyclizar rolled into view. The dragon pushed and steered it with his head, the wagon only being half his size. True to expectations, it carried multiple pots growing bunches of pale purple flowers, distinguished by their several, thin petals that spread out like the light of stars. It felt sort of surreal, to see it so early in the year, but there was no denying what it was.

Once the wagon was in front of them, the cyclizar stood on his hind legs and saluted. “It’s all yours! Make sure you bring our wagon back when you’re done!” And then he bounded back inside and closed the doors behind him.

Verene whined. “We have to walk back here?!”

“We can’t just keep the wagon,” Bertrand told her. “That’d be rude.”

“But-” The vulpix fidgeted. “How far is Claude’s home from here?”

He put a claw up to his chin. “About… it’d take a few minutes, at least.”

She whined even louder and shot a glance towards the sky. “And then we take a well-earned break, right?”

“Actually, I was gonna take us back to the Traveler’s Office to do more requests…” Bertrand rubbed his horn as if he already knew how Verene was going to respond to that.

And sure enough, her tails fell and she groaned. “But I am exhausted…”

But you haven’t done anything. Caitrin decided to ignore her for the moment: the cyclizar had pushed the wagon by its front, so it needed to be turned around. She rounded the wagon to reach its handle, which came out of the vehicle as two chains connected at the ends by a wooden beam, meant for a quadrupedal ‘mon to carry in their mouth. She stepped between the chains and tasted wood and dirt as she did so, then with a little effort heaved forward, using the ample room of the post office’s side path to pull the wagon in a circle so it faced the right direction. She gave Bertrand and Verene an expectant look.

Verene’s ears fell with an almost strange worry. “Is it not heavy?”

Caitrin dropped the handle. “Not really,” she replied.

At that, the vulpix’s expression turned instantly into indignation. “Well I’m not pulling it.” And then she stomped off.

Caitrin felt a spike of anxiety and pawed at the ground. “I wasn’t expecting you to…”

Bertrand watched the vulpix go, his muzzle set in a slight frown, and he sighed. “Maybe being an adventurer isn’t for her after all.”

And in the spike’s wake was the dark weight of guilt. “I’m the one who convinced her to try it,” Caitrin admitted.

Bertrand turned his head to look at her, confusion clear as day on his features. “I’m pretty sure I did,” he said. His gaze then grew even more troubled, but in a way that seemed directed towards himself. “Hell, it’s up to me to make this work in the first place. I’ll see if-”

Suddenly, his consternation melted away and his eyes widened. “Wait, does she know where she’s going?!” And then he wasted no time in running off while calling after her.

Caitrin just watched him go. Then turned to stare at the flowers in the wagon, hoping to find some personal solace. It really was a miracle, and they must’ve made such a long journey. “I’m sorry you had to hear that…” she whispered to them.

She looked down at the handle lying in the dirt. Aside from the vulpix, the request had actually gone pretty well. Far better than she could have expected, given the unlikeliness of it all. And Bertrand was a good partner: he was supportive, and kind, and she was grateful to have this chance. So why didn’t she feel good about it? She searched the handle for answers, but it was just a piece of wood.

She picked it up and started pulling. This is going to be a long day…

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The Traveler's Guild is a government-affiliated organization originally founded to ease the burdens of travel for the many nomadic pokémon who call Liber home. But nowadays, it's more known for its other purpose: to regulate and enable “adventuring” as a profession. Adventurers are pokémon (usually travelers) who are willing to take on a variety of requests for variable payment. These requests can range from lending a hand for work, to acting as an escort between towns, to taking on bounties for dangerous outlaws, and all the way back to saving a child from a tree. In essence, adventurers are independent freelancers and odd-jobbers, and the Traveler's Guild acts as the mediator through which requests are brokered.

The key to the guild is the Traveler's Office. These act as small-scale hubs for adventurers to meet each other, take requests, peruse maps of the area, and get advice and information from the local guide. The Traveler's Guild is responsible for drawing Liber’s maps, and every town deemed major enough to earn a notable place on it has at least a Traveler's Office to its name.

Anyone can take a request, but only certified adventurers are considered part of the guild. To become a certified adventurer and take advantage of the several benefits that come with it, one must first earn a badge. But a badge only holds sway in the kingdom it represents, and so the truly dedicated must travel across Liber to earn them all. Each badge has different requirements to earn, with multiple tiers of recognition starting from Silver. Following that is Painted, then Gold, and then the highest honor, True.

The badges and their kingdoms are as follows:
  • Capital’s Eon Badge, representing the Dragon-type.
  • Fodric’s Sail Badge, representing the Water-type.
  • Hovena’s Honeycomb Badge, representing the Bug-type.
  • Yagora’s Mountain Badge, representing the Rock-type.
  • Kakura’s Sun Badge, representing the Fire-type.
  • Farbroad’s Clever Badge, representing the Electric-type.
  • Prestin's Winged Badge, representing the Flying-type
  • Osoté’s Crown Badge, representing the Ghost-type.
  • Hivech’s Might Badge, representing the Fighting-type.
  • Clygem’s Snowfall Badge, representing the Ice-type.
  • And finally, with the recent addition of the Republic of Nidekan to the guild system, is the Storm Badge, representing the Dark-type.
 
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JFought

Sloooowly writing...
(author's notes gets its own post because genuinely **** serebii's character limits it was the exact length to be unsalvageable)
I began writing Chapter 0-2 on December 14th, 2021, and finished it on February 10th, 2024, taking 788 days to finish, or two years and a couple months. In total, it is about 16.1k words.

So I’ll admit, this chapter gave me issues ^^;. It ended up being a case of “this chapter wants to do too many things,” and trying to figure out how to navigate that proved extremely challenging. I actually had to rearrange some things in order to “solve” this chapter: originally, the request they did was something completely different. I wanted to use this chapter to formally introduce the setting’s magic system, but in the end it turned out to work poorly for the pacing. That, and the request ended up getting so long that I realized that it actually just needed to be its own chapter. So now it is! We’ll be covering it in Chapter 0-3.

It’s also another two-section chapter, and I swear they’ll start getting shorter! This one just kinda crept up on me towards the end. I project the next few should all be under 10k, but also I’m bad at estimating things so I can’t actually make any promises. The main reason the first two ended up long is because there were so many things they wanted to establish about the characters and the world, while also trying to give them problems to work through. The bulk of that is over now, so we should be able to settle into a more focused episodic structure moving forward. Next chapter is pretty much only the request and the stuff connected to it; that’s why I think it’ll be one section.

As for writing pace, I think the next few chapters should also be a bit quicker to write? I have a fairly solid outline for how I want them to go. The next “problem chapter” according to my vibe-based predictions is Chapter 0-6, so hopefully I’ll be able to keep a good pace until then.

I guess one last note, originally Courière had a different town theme. Originally it was the town theme for Leeves from CS3, and while I like that song a lot, when it came time to write the chapter I found it was just ever so slightly off from the vibe I wanted. It’s kind of a shame, as there are no other towns in Liber where it would fit better, so it’ll never get used in this fic. So, I’ll just go ahead and link you to it here. It’s a good song with a very strong vibe.

Endless Possibilities ~ Trails of Cold Steel III (Takahiro Unisuga)

That's all, see you next time!
 
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