Special Chapter: The Deepest Wounds
It was said that in the days of humans, Pokémon lived divided into two camps: one that lived alongside humans as their partners and guardians, and one that lived amongst the ebb and flow of nature. Even after that era passed and Arceus himself cobbled together the Cradle, the rough dichotomy remained intact with the arrival of the Pact, dividing Pokémon who attempted to preserve the knowledge of humans in their settlements from those who chose to remain apart, which the town dwellers came to know as 'Ferals'.
The windswept plains of Nagrobek Island were no exception to the rule, as the wild, unplanted fringes were the domain of Pokémon that knew no banner and respected no rule beyond that which their own strength could secure. There, they carried on living as their forebears had for untold eons in the age of humans, waking and sleeping among the elements, and gathering and hunting as their strength allowed. In places of particularly treacherous nature, such Pokémon would sometimes set aside their differences, much as the Pokémon that dwelt inside the maze of barren trees that formed Nagrobek's Mystery Dungeon did. There, deep within under the branches of the dead forest, an Arcanine kept a silent, dutiful watch over a moving set of Pecha bushes.
"I found one!"
A young, cheerful yip carried through the air, followed by the sight of a young Growlithe poking his head up from the bushes, pulling out a Pecha Berry and plodding along for the watching Arcanine waiting at the edge. The younger of the two Fire-Types set the fruit down, giving a playful wag of his tail before his elder as he beamed with pride.
"It was hidden under the leaves just like you said it would be, mama!" the Puppy Pokémon cheered. "Guess those other Pokémon didn't sniff it out that well."
Cheer filled every crease of the young dog's body, only for his happiness to go unrequited by the mother Arcanine. The larger dog shook her head, pawing at the ground as she nosed impatiently at a small pile of gathered berries.
"That's wonderful, dear. We've gathered enough for today," the larger Fire-Type answered. "Take it and let's get going back to the den."
"Eh? Already? But we came all the way here by one of the exits…" the Growlithe murmured, his tail's wag slowing somewhat. "I bet if we wanted to, we could just go on a little further and we could run in the fields outside!"
The mother Arcanine faltered a moment, her ears and head drooping as she went silent. The Fire-Type grimaced, as if struggling under the sudden weight of a large burden.
"Aw, come on, I didn't ask you to teach me to hunt… just to run!" the Growlithe insisted. "Those predators you say are out there shouldn't be an issue as long as you're around! You're tougher and faster than any of them!"
"Eltenios! Now isn't the time!" the Arcanine snapped. Startled by his mother's snarl, the young Growlithe yelped and pulled his ears and tail in tight towards his body. He gave a low whine back as the elder dog looked away, shaking her head reluctantly.
"Just take what you can and let's go back," the mother Arcanine grunted. "It was already dangerous to be out this long right now."
The Arcanine took up a small mouthful of the Pecha Berries and began to pace off. Her child pawed uneasily at his own berry, before picking it up and carrying along after his mother, one question uncomfortably pressing up against his mind.
"Why… was it dangerous?"
Elty ran ahead into his mother's hindlegs as she came to abrupt stop. The Puppy Pokémon shook his head and peered ahead to see the form of a lanky, dark-scaled Marowak followed by an Abomasnow and a violet Zebstrika in lavender scarves sneering and laughing as they neared.
"When I was told I'd have to root around for a feral Arcanine that put a Rescue Team in the medic's ward, I was expecting it to actually be difficult," the lizard jeered. "And here I don't even have to drag in some random mutt to take your place, Pact-breaker!"
A low growl came from the Arcanine's throat, her back arching as she flashed her teeth back at the three intruders, fiery hate burning in her eyes.
"I didn't break the Pact, so I'm giving you the same warning as I gave those earlier intruders," the Arcanine snarled. "Get out of my territory."
"Last time I checked the Company owns this island and we'll do what we damn well please on it," the Marowak spat. "This miserable stick pile you sleep in is no exception!"
"M-Mama?" the Growlithe whined. "What's going on?"
"You and your mother are coming with us, kiddo," the Abomasnow growled.
"Yeah, we have uses for troublemakers like you outside your little freak show of a forest," the shiny Zebstrika taunted.
The umber Marowak held out his bony club, before slackening his grip, letting it slide down before latching on to its center. The lizard spun it around as blue, ghostly fire erupted at its ends, whirling it back and forth wildly before swinging it out to the side with a menacing glare.
"So what are you waiting for?" the Marowak sneered. "It's time for you mutts to go!"
"Over my dead body, it is!" the Arcanine snapped back.
The Fire-Type lunged for the Marowak at rapid speed, lowering her head in a blistering charge only to feel the air pass by her. The dog went wide-eyed with alarm as she looked back, watching the lizard reform from a shadowy haze with a malevolent sneer.
"Ha! You ferals should really get out from under your rocks more often!" the Ghost-Type jeered. "Here! Have another learning experience!"
The Marowak sent his club flying in a spinning arc, clipping the Arcanine in her side and sending her tumbling to the ground with a yelp. Further away, her pup pulled his ears and tail in tight as he backed away with a frightened whimper, only to shriek as he suddenly felt a hand yank him up by the scruff of his neck, bringing him face to face with the Abomasnow.
"Gotcha, you lousy little-"
Before the Ice-Type could finish, the Growlithe in his hands spat out an ember into the creature's face, prompting him to drop the Puppy Pokémon to the ground with a yelp. There on the ground, Elty staggered back up to his feet as the Abomasnow rubbed his face face, a swirl of frigid air swirling about him as his breath came out in a furious bellow.
"Alright that does- Ack!"
A hulking orange blur flew in, sending the Frost Tree Pokémon tumbling back as Elty felt himself get yanked off the ground once again. The Growlithe cringed, feeling the air rush past him until he realized that he was being held in the mouth of a fuzzy, warm Pokémon, prompting him to crack his eyes open and see none other than...
"I'll explain later!" the Arcanine yipped. "Just stay with me!"
The mother Arcanine ran ahead as a stream of ghostly blue fire zipped overhead, tearing along past rows of leafless trees along a narrow dirt path as shouts rang out behind them. The dog bounded ahead where she came to an intersection, where a loud growl prompted her to see a Golem directly ahead, and an open path to her right. The Fire-Type turned on her heels, rushing right into a chamber lined with dead trees where her paws touched a patch of dirt with the shape of a footprint faintly etched in the dirt.
It took only a moment for the Arcanine to realize what had happened before ribbons of silk suddenly shot out from the ground and coated her legs. The Fire-Type lost her balance, pitching forward as her child went flying from her mouth towards the ground.
Elty hit the floor of the dungeon and tumbled along the leaf-littered ground until he came to a panting, whining stop. From behind them, the sound of sneering laughter rang out, growing louder as its culprit drew ever nearer.
"What an idiot!" the Marowak jeered. "I knew that dumb feral would fall for it!"
The Growlithe picked himself up and looked on in horror as the lavender-scarved Pokémon pinned his mother down. The sound of loud blows and a pained cry rang out, only for a gout of fire to shoot out from the group that sent the Abomasnow stumbling back with a pained screech. The Arcanine wrestled herself free, wobbling to her feet as she looked over wide-eyed at her pup.
"Eltenios, run!" she cried. "Don't look back!"
Elty lowered his head and charged ahead as fast as his legs could carry him, his breaths coming out shallow and ragged as shouts and snarls rang out behind him.
"Agh! She burned me!" the Abomasnow cried
"Hurry and pin her down!" the Marowak snapped. "If we try and suck her in with that Apricorn like this, you'll get one of us caught instead!"
"Hey!" the Golem shouted. "Her little runt's running off!"
The Puppy Pokémon heard footsteps running after him, prompting him to start to turn his head back only to abruptly jerk it back into place. No, he could challenge his mother's instructions another time, but not here, not now. The Fire-Type ran ahead for dear life as he heard the racing footsteps and shouts grow louder and louder, the young dog wildly flying around corners in an attempt to try and slow down his pursuer.
Elty came ahead to a chamber where to his left was a set of stairs going up into the roof of an earthen tunnel. Without thinking, the Growlithe charged up the stony steps, spotting light at the end as he ran up into a clearing with a stream and scruffy clumps of grass. The Puppy Pokémon dashed along wildly, only for his feet to get caught on the steps. Elty yelped, pitching forward face first and tumbling onto the dungeon's earthen floor. The Fire-Type curled his body up and quivered, lying frozen on the ground, only to realize the sound of the pursuing footsteps had been replaced with that of the creaking and groaning of strained stone. A loud clatter rang out, followed by silence, and the sound of his own panting, haggard breaths. Little by little, the Puppy Pokémon uncurled himself, rising back onto his feet with an unsteady wobble.
"Mama? Are you alright?"
The Growlithe looked back at the direction of the stairs, and saw naught but a small patch of disturbed dirt in the clearing. Elty ran up and pawed at it, looking around desperately for any sign of his mother only to find nothing but the barren trees around him, along with warm tears bubbling in his eyes as a growing, awful realization began to settle on him.
Elty's cries reverberated through the twisted woods, fading away on the winds out of the Mystery Dungeon long before they could reach the seaside cliffs overlooking it in the distance and the stone complex nestled on it. There, in a thick-walled seaside tower anchoring the complex's center, the sun shone through the windows of a chamber built high enough to peer over the horizon. The room was a far cry from the ebb and flow of the Distortion: a shaded space that looked over a collection of squat buildings ringed by a wall, and a fortified ring of even thicker stone walls going up towards the edges of a seaside cliff built around a central keep to the west.
Inside the office, a Zoroark sat behind a neatly-hewn desk lined with papers on a high-backed chair with lavender cushions, moving a quill back and forth between an inkwell and the papers. The walls of the surrounding room had similarly had no expense spared in decoration, including a large tapestry bearing a map of Anyilla, flanked by a shelf with a number of rare orbs on display, along with four curious, differently colored spheres made from a strange material with white bottom halves separated from the rest by a black lining in the center. The room was silent barring the sounds of the Zoroark's pen moving, only for the sound of knocking and the door creaking to ring out, which prompted the Dark-Type to flick his ears and look up from his work.
"Administrator Elilan, do you have a moment?"
The jet-furred fox watched as the spider-legged form of a Trevenant in a lavender scarf with a three-layered square pattern scuttled in. Recognizing the figure to be none other than his Commander, the Zoroark tilted his head, before giving a surprised raise of his brow.
"Hrm? You're certainly up here earlier than I expected, Betulo," Elilan said. "I thought you said you'd be busier than normal today."
"I felt the circumstances merited changing up my plans a little," the Trevenant responded. "There was an urgent report for your desk."
The Dark-Type shifted disinterestedly, before giving a shrug and leaning back in his chair.
"If it's the daily status report about the prison, you can just leave them in my mail slot," Elilan answered. "I will review it later."
"It's the transcript of a message I decoded from Team Sentinel. They've sent back a report about Subject Red."
The Zoroark abruptly trailed off, shooting a curious stare at Betulo before reaching up and grabbing the envelope out of his claw. The Dark-Type tore the letter open, his eyes moving back and forth along a sheet of paper, working his way down as a disappointed scowl settled over his face.
"Hrmph… they didn't need so many words to say that they barely missed capturing him again," Elilan harrumphed. "I know that I asked for regular updates, but this is ridiculous."
The fox gave a disgusted shake of his head and summarily crumpled up the paper, casting it to the corner of his desk and looking away. Betulo eyed the crinkled ball of a report warily, before clearing his throat to attempt to draw his superior's attention back.
"With all due respect, Administrator, perhaps it would be better to have Sorge and his team let things simmer down for a while," the Trevenant offered. "Subject Red is no longer in Anyilla's waters, and the more they chase him, the further he flees and the harder it will be for them to extract him."
"You speak as if the Empire isn't also looking for Protectors. And Garanza and Linglan wouldn't exactly let the opportunity pass to have another Protector join them," Elilan scoffed. "If Subject Red were to attract attention out there, us hanging back would accomplish nothing but give someone else a head start at intercepting him. You know that the plans we have for the Cradle rely on Subject Red, so why take that risk?"
"Because Subject Blue and Doctor Nyxem's research are every bit as important to those plans," Betulo replied. "There comes a point where taking further action risks the things we already have, Administrator. I know the way Inler has been managing this impasse with the Imperials has been less than ideal, but you can't expect Team Sentinel to constantly pursue Subject Red without drawing any attention to themselves."
The Trevenant shook his head, letting his branch-like arms crackle before he continued on with a stern gaze.
"If Sorge causes a diplomatic incident in the process, you can be sure Inler would notice and the other Administrators would find out about Subject Red and Blue's existence, along with Subject Blue's presence here in this facility."
"And what of it?" Elilan demanded. "The Board can find out all it wants, but once Subject Red is reunited with his counterpart, simple discovery won't do anything to change my new balance of power."
"Assuming Sorge recovered Subject Red and brought him back successfully before they found out, otherwise we'd have bigger issues to deal with than me not being able to sit aside you on the Board. Your peers would at the very least demand Subject Blue be transferred from containment here to Inler's control, and Nyxem's research at Torn Outpost would almost certainly be shut down," Betulo said. "Letting Sorge wait for the right time and place to move after Subject Red is a risk to what you've been working for, but the alternatives aren't any better. It's better to let the unpredictable be what it may and focus on things that are more immediately controllable for now... such as Torn Outpost's next shipment of laborers."
Elilan frowned silently, picking his claws a moment before turning his attention back to his Commander.
"I was under the impression that you were still on top of things for Torn Outpost's logistics," he said. "What exactly is the problem?"
"We're about fifty 'mons short for the next batch to be sent out there," Betulo answered. "I'd instructed some of the guards here to go into the interior to help make up the difference, but the ferals are getting more clever about avoiding them."
The Administrator frowned, giving a shake of his head back at the Trevenant.
"Really now, that's what's been giving you so much trouble?" the Zoroark asked. "You're severely overthinking this problem, Betulo…"
"How so? We've been lucky to get more than one or two Pokémon a day lately" the tree insisted. "We're not getting the numbers we need short of setting one of the forests in the interior on fire."
Elilan tented his claws in response to Betulo's protest, his muzzle curling up in a small smile before replying back to his Commander.
"There's always some crew of disposables out there that slips up during a raid," the fox answered. "Just bide your time and take the numbers you need from the next one."
Much as Elilan had predicted, one week later, there was indeed a hulk full of unfortunates ready for his disposal. The prison hulk's arrival to Nagrobek was a dreary affair, the vibrant Company-issued lavender sails of the ship doing little to brighten up the dingy, run-down shacks of Dulefield Town as the ship's masts poked over the town's hipped roofs.
The scene on and around the ship was little improved, as haggard, reeking Pokémon lay bound on the deck while others groaned from netting dangled over the side of the ship. The local guards were swift to work as soon as the vessel moored, unceremoniously dragging its miserable cargo along up the docks and for a path headed onto solid land.
Among the bound Pokémon were a Trapinch and Gible in cyan scarves, the pair snatched up by a Passimian as they eyed their surroundings in a panic. While the Fighting-Type brought them up the path, they saw line after line of shuttered, decaying huts, a few containing Pokémon who warily watched the accursed procession past their doors and windows. The lemur's course brought the two Ground-Types to a clearing, where they were dropped against the battered cobblestones amid a large crowd of their captured peers in what appeared to be a local square, with their lavender-scarved captors blocking off the entrances and trading sneers with one another.
"Wh-What are they gonna do to us?" the Trapinch gulped.
"I- I dunno, Pekka," the Gible replied. "Just try not to draw attention to yourself."
The murmuring was broken by the sound of a sharp rap of bone against wood, the gathered captives watching as a lithe, umber Marowak with a Second-Rank scarf clambered up a crate overlooking the square. The lizard stood up, batting his bone idly against his free claw as he peered down at the pirates with a malicious smirk.
"Good morning, you thieving scum," the Marowak sneered. "Welcome to hell."
The umber lizard's sneer widened eyes and set teeth on edge among the captive pirates, a few visibly attempting to squirm away as the Ghost-Type hopped down and passed by. The Marowak looked around slowly, his face betraying an obvious satisfaction with his captives' palpable fear.
"I'll spare you all the introductions, since I think we all know what this place is and why you're here," the head guard said. "The only question will be whether you mind your place and make life easier for yourself or if you resist and force us to make life… uncomfortable for you. The Pit's always in need of new bodies to work its mines."
The Marowak raised his bone and rapped it against the ground, turning to the guards behind him with an impatient growl.
"Get them marched off and processed," the Marowak snapped. "The sooner these wastes of flesh get out of public view, the better."
Pyry and Pekka yelped as they felt a sudden shove from behind, pushing them forward along the ground, with similar cries and protests coming from behind them. In their panic, the trek from the square went by in a long, hazy blur, the dilapidated buildings of Dulefield Town melting into fields and hills until the pair found themselves getting marched through a gate in a tall, stone wall, ringing squat buildings built under the shadow of a central tower. The two carried on past a wall of glaring passers-by in lavender scarves, towards an entrance in an inner wall that took them to a courtyard where they carried on into the entrance of a hulking stone building with small, barred windows into an open, dimly-lit hall. The pair were shoved to the ground, and lay panting as the hall filled with prisoners, the guards circling around them under the watchful gaze of a Scizor barking orders, waiting to swoop in and drag away one after the other to the different wings of the surrounding prison. Among the milling crowd of guards was the Passimian from earlier, who slowed down at the sight of Pyry and Pekka.
"You two," the Fighting-Type barked. "This way."
The lemur latched onto the pair, tearing off their scarves before roughly forcing white and black striped replacements on. The Passimian drug the two off, carrying along down a row of cells roughly hewn from stone where small, haggard groups of Pokémon peered out. The guard carried on to a rickety set of stairs leading up to a wooden catwalk up to a second level of cells, carrying on to a corner cell facing out to a set of narrow windows. The Passimian fished out a crude key and undid the lock, before unknotting the pair's bindings and unceremoniously dumping them onto the cell's stony floor and slamming the door behind them.
"Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, brats," the monkey spat. "You're going to be in here for a long, long time."
The Gible and Trapinch picked themselves off the ground, where the forms of a Gogoat and an Arcanine came into view, approaching with hardened scowls. His nerves long since depleted, Pekka bolted for a corner of the cell and lodged his head in the corner quivering, until he noticed the sound of slow, regulated breathing, looking up to see Pyry next to him closing his eyes, with a strange ease about him.
"H-How can you be so calm?!" the Trapinch hissed. "We're in Nagrobek! Our lives are over right now!"
"I- I mean, we're not alone…" the Gible murmured back. "My äippä's somewhere in here. If we can find her, at least she'll be there to watch our backs."
The Trapinch's jaw cracked open, as an irritated chitter came back from the antlion as he flailed his limbs indignantly. Pyry had always been adamant that his mother was none other than Beatrice the Swift, but what good was that supposed to do them now?!
"Pyry, she's dead! She tried to raid Vollezee and failed! If she didn't die there in the city, they almost certainly brought her here and made an example of her!"
"Th-That's not true! You heard the stories back on Orleigh! She was caught!" Pyry insisted. "And there's no way a 'mon as tough as her could have just been done in like that!"
Pekka scowled back at the Gible, only for his frustrations to begin to ebb as he saw the little land shark's face remain firm and insistent. Pyry really did believe from the bottom of his heart that his mother would come for him… in a hope that everyone else knew was already in vain.
"… Come on veikka, don't do this to yourself…"
"So soon? I thought you said we shouldn't expect the signal until the end of the week!"
The Trapinch trailed off as he and his partner looked at the back of the cell where the Gogoat looked up and shifted uncomfortably against the wall to their right. The pair blinked a moment before creeping closer, until they were able to see the Grass-Type moving his head and peering through a small hole, speaking in furtive whispers.
"That's what I heard, apparently the schedule has been bumped up a bit," the voice on the other end replied. "As far as I know, nothing else has changed, but you need to make sure this doesn't catch the others unawares."
"I'm just saying," the Gogoat grumbled. "A little notice would've been-"
The Gogoat suddenly stopped as he sniffed the air, prompting the Grass-Type to jump up and whirl around. The goat's startled look quickly hardened into a harsh glare, as the Pokémon lowered his head and pawed threateningly at the ground.
"And what do you think you're doing, you little twerps?" the Gogoat snarled.
Pyry and Pekka felt their blood run cold, and backed away timorously from the angered Gogoat. The Gible quivered, fumbling with his words as he tried to talk down his looming assailant.
"J-Just looking for a place to rest, that's all!" Pyry yelped. The Gible's protest was quickly joined in by his Trapinch partner, who tucked himself behind his teammate as best as his bulky head would allow.
"Y-Yeah, we'll get out of your, uh... leaves!"
The pair turned and bolted, the sound of running steps chasing after them as they made their way for the front of the cell. The pair came to a skidding stop in front of the cell's bars and screwed their eyes shut in a panic only to feel a hot flash zip by and a low growl ring out.
The two cracked their eyes open and peered behind them, where they saw the form of the Arcanine from earlier crouched between them and the Gogoat, her teeth bared as smoke curled from her muzzle.
"Your quarrel is with the Pokémon in lavender, not these pups," the Arcanine growled. "Act the part."
The Grass-Type glared for a long, silent moment, before backing down and throwing his horns back with a snort as he slunk off for the back.
"They'd best not do anything to make me regret trusting them to keep their mouths shut, Sirmia," he snarled.
Pyry and Pekka shivered as they watched the Gogoat slink off back for the wall and opted to keep their distance from the irritable buck, the last they heard of him being the sound of his hooves clopping over back to the far end of the cell.
"Sorry about that, some fresh meat got thrown into my cell," the Gogoat spat. "Let's keep this a bit quieter…"
The Gible and Trapinch trudged along when they suddenly felt a warm nip from behind, prompting them to freeze in panic when a low growl reached their ears.
"Don't mind Bill, he's just a little on-edge from being cooped up in here."
The pair blinked and looked up to see the Arcanine from earlier peer down at them, giving a firm, intent gaze down at them. The pair shrank back timorously, Pyry and Pekka each attempting to slip behind the other until the antlion won out, leaving his land shark companion to stammer back to his questioner.
"You seemed a bit disoriented," the Fire-Type replied. "I suppose confinement does that to Pokémon of your type as well."
"W-Well what are we supposed to do?!" Pekka exclaimed. "We just got dumped here and one of our cellmates just tried to jump us!"
"Take things one step at a time, and keep your focus on what lies beyond these walls," the Arcanine answered. "When the opportunity comes, you mustn't miss your chance to give chase after it."
Sirmia turned and took her leave, pacing over to their left where she sat and looked out through a barred window out towards a column of fog poking over the horizon. Pyry and Pekka blinked, watching as the Arcanine looked out longingly in the distance, before trading puzzled looks with one another.
"What do you think she did to get stuck here?" Pekka whispered. "She certainly doesn't feel like one of us."
"Beats me…" the Gible sighed. "But what was with that Gogoat from earlier?"
The two looked uneasily back towards the far end of the cell, where the Grass-Type was slipping away from the wall. The goat went and pawed impatiently at the ground with his hooves, acting as if his earlier encounter with them had never happened.
"And why was he so worked up about us hearing a little talk?" Pyry wondered.
In the sea southwest of Nagrobek, a small flotilla of ships carried on a northeastern course, flying sails of a constellation of colors, the lion's share being split between ships flying one of two patterns. At the front, a collection of three ships flying blue sails with white flames led the group, being followed closely by four ships flying dark red sails with silvery blades fanned out on them, the largest among them sidled up with the largest of the blue-sailed ships. There, on the deck of the blue-sailed flagship, the form of Pyroar garbed in blue and Bisharp in dark red pored over a sea chart spread out on a repurposed crate, the Dark-Type tapping his foot against the wood impatiently.
"I'm not fully sold on this, Amaro," the Bisharp muttered. "How exactly does splitting our forces help us here?"
"It's simple, Dirk. The prison complex is surrounded by sea cliffs from three sides with a naval garrison at the base. If we want to finish the job and put that place down for the count, we'll need to thin out the defenders," the Pyroar explained. "The fastest way to do that, is to cause a distraction big enough to draw ships and 'mons away from that prison. That should give you and the rest of the flotilla room to go to town on those walls as the prisoners break out, and me a nice chunk of loot for my trouble."
"I suppose I can see where you're coming from, but I'd like to remind you that we don't really have any room for overlooking details here," the Dark-Type growled back. "This will be the most difficult raid any of us have had to do since Vollezee. We had more allies with us then, and you already know how well that turned out…"
"That would be the case if this battle was just about numbers," Amaro countered. "But you know as well as I do that we have another tool to help tip the scales…"
The Pyroar cast his gaze towards the water, where a set of red spikes sliced through the water as a lumbering blue form latched onto the hull. The figure clambered up, revealing itself to be a Feraligatr in a blue scarf adorned with white flames who saluted the two captains with a toothy grin, seawater still dribbling down his scales.
"Kapitein Amaro, I've just heard back from the moles," the Feraligatr said. "They say that everything's ready to go from inside the prison as soon as the flotilla blows the first hole into the prison walls."
"Excellent, Laurens. Go back to your ship for now and tell the crewmembers to get ready," the lion ordered. "As soon as I give the signal, we sail out for Dulefield Town. Tonight, we celebrate our victory in their own taverns!"
"Aye! We'll all be looking forward to it!"
The Feraligatr darted to the edge of the railing and dove off into the water with an audible splash. Amaro and Dirk watched as the reptile slowly surfaced again, powering off towards a two-masted ship in the distance as the Bisharp narrowed his eyes skeptically.
"Hrmph, rising star or not, I still don't like this," Dirk harrumphed. "Out of all the 'mons in the Phlogiston Raiders you could've entrusted espionage to, you had to choose the one that hailed from a bunch of distorted sea rocks on Vollezee."
"Well, he was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, so you'd have to give the credit for this raid happening at all to him," Amaro retorted. "I'm sure that he'll have plenty of time to fill you in on the details when he's sitting as your peer around our table back in Orleigh."
The Pyroar's suggestion at once drew an annoyed hiss and frown back from his Bisharp counterpart, who jabbed a blade into the railing with an audible thunk.
"Amaro, I'm not opposed to putting control of the Council firmly under 'mons friendly to us in the old guard, but even you have to know I'm not just going to giveyou a free second vote for making decisions by having one of your own captains join!" Dirk chided.
"Well maybe this raid will help to persuade you otherwise!" the lion chortled. "But we can hash out the details later, we've got a prison to destroy!"
Amaro shook his mane and began to prance off down the deck, only for a sharp hiss to reach him from behind.
"Can we really trust that information?" Dirk's voice said. The Pyroar paused, before craning his head back towards Dirk waiting behind him.
"From the Imps," the Bisharp insisted. "Of Captain Beatrice still being locked up in that sorry sea rock."
"It's worth a shot, isn't it?" Amaro asked. "With her back on the prowl, it'd put the fear of the gods back into those square-necked landlubbers!"
Dirk scowled back at the Pyroar, who brushed off the Dark-Type's misgivings with a shake of his mane and small, disarming smirk back that served to ease the Bisharp up slightly.
"But even if she isn't," Amaro answered. "I'd say that removing that little cesspit from existence would be a good way to settle the score… for us."
Off under the column of fog, Nagrobek's Mystery Dungeon churned and shifted with the Distortion within, its resident ferals navigating the ever-changing terrain as they attempted to carry on with their lives. Among them were the forms of two Foongus under a sky with trees dangling upside-down in the distance above, watching a noticeably scruffy and haggard Growlithe pass by tugging along a trio of visibly greenish, unripened Cheri Berries through the dirt. The young pup would occasionally drop one of the berries, forcing him to go back and attempt to drag it along.
"… Eh? Isn't that Growlithe a bit young to be gathering on his own?" one of the Foongus asked.
"Just leave him," the other Foongus grumbled. "We've got our own problems with those knot-necks in lavender prowling around and we can't be watching over every random kundel in the dungeon."
Elty watched as the Foongus pair slipped off, shaking his head and glaring determinedly as he brought his meager meal along for a gap among the dead trees filled with fog. He'd been lurching from day to day since the square-necked Pokémon took his mother, with little more than the scraps he'd been able to gather through half-remembered lessons from the departed Arcanine. All the while he'd desperately clung to a faint hope that she would return, even if the Protector herself had to return from wherever the square-necks had taken her egg to make it happen.
The Growlithe proceeded forth, carefully pacing along with his meal into a haze that thickened to the point of being unable to see the nose on his face… before thinning out little by little to reveal the contours of a stony den wedged between tree roots.
Elty abruptly stopped with a start, dropping his berries out of surprise as he discovered the form of a lazing Pangoro occupying his expected refuge. The bear's black and white fur filled into view as the Growlithe made his way forward, fumbling with his words as the creature got up, shooting a harsh glare over at the intruding pup.
"What do you want?" the Pangoro demanded. "I'm trying to sleep here."
"B-But this is my place to sleep," Elty stammered. "My mother found it and everything!"
"Yeah, well it's mine now."
The Growlithe spluttered as his face contorted in anger, the fire in his belly burning as he snorted out some stray Embers.
"You- You can't do that!" Elty cried. "It's mine! This place is-!"
The Fire-Type was cut off by a set of claws digging into the scruff of his neck and lifting him up, sending him flying back into a tree trunk with a shriek. The Growlithe picked himself in a daze and watched as the Pangoro lunged for him, prompting him to curl up and screw his eyes shut before hearing a low growl, looking up to see the Dark-Type looming over him with a hateful glare.
"Take a hint, you stupid dog!" the bear snarled. "Get out of my territory before I shove you into the Distortion!"
The Growlithe yelped and took off running back through the fog for dear life. The pup hurried through the thick mist the best his senses would allow him, picking up speed and bounding out as soon as he saw the shape of the tree trunks outside take form. The Puppy Pokémon stood there panting and looking around uneasily, when his eyes shrank to pins at the horrified realization that he felt lighter after coming out...
He'd left his Cheri Berries back in the den!
Elty paced back for the Distortion before stopping, realizing that the Pangoro would surely be waiting for him on the other end. The Puppy Pokémon pulled his ears and tail tight against his body, tears beginning to well up in his eyes.
"… Why is this happening to me...?"
The Fire-Type slunk off and settled down on a pile of loose leaves, burying his head in them. Everything he did to try and fight to keep himself fed and alive seemed to fail, as if the Travellers themselves preferred he stopped existing. The Puppy Pokémon curled up, sitting there and waiting for the winds of the Distortion to come and sweep him up… off to whatever dark place awaited him and his mother.
KLANK! KLANK! KLANK!
"Get up, scum! It's time to make yourself useful!"
Pyry and Pekka jolted at the sound of harsh clanging at the front of their cell, where the forms of a Passimian and a Vikavolt stood followed by a glaring Exploud with bound arms. The Passimian slipped a key into a lock built into the door and threw it open, hitting the wall with a loud crash as the the sound of other cells opening and indistinct shouting rang out in the background.
"W-What's going on?!" Pekka yelped.
"Hrmph… it seems it's our turn to crush rocks for them," Sirmia murmured, drawing a blank stare from her Gible cellmate.
"You didn't think we were just going to let you sit in your cells and get fat off of our food, did you?" the Vikavolt sneered. "No, hurry up and help process the current batch of tin ore along with the rest of the scum!"
The Passimian threw a pair of hands into the cell and latched onto Pyry's fin and the back of Pekka's neck, dragging them for the door with a yelp. The two Ground-Types struggled and flailed with startled cries as they were drug through the doorway, where they saw the Exploud from the next cell over glowering behind the Vikavolt. For a brief moment, Pyry and Pekka saw their Gogoat cellmate trade a nod with the Exploud, blinking curiously before the Ground-Types were pinned to the ground by their captors. The Vikavolt gave a sharp buzz, readying a glob of silk between his mandibles, when a deafening blast suddenly rang out that made the Vikavolt jolt upright with a startled buzz.
"Huh?! What on earth was that?!"
The Exploud shifted, the guards unaware that his limbs were beginning to move suspiciously against his bindings, before he threw his head down and charged, bellowing out to the Gogoat inside.
The Gogoat bit down on the Passimian's arm and yanked the lemur in with a shout as the Exploud pushed the Vikavolt in from behind and tumbled into the cell together. Sparks began to build around the wings of the Vikavolt, only for the stag beetle to be struck by a gout of fire from a wide-eyed Arcanine and then slammed headfirst into a wall by the Gogoat, sliding to the ground with a feeble groan. Pyry and Pekka gasped for air, watching as the Passimian was pinned to the ground by the Exploud, only to kick him free and make a frantic break for the cell door, slamming it shut and locking it as he panted haggardly.
"H-Hah! Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, scum!" the lemur snapped. "Consider your tickets to The Pit booked after your little stunt-"
"Stay back! Back I tell you!"
"They're ganging up on us! Sound the alarm!"
At the sound of panicked shouts behind him, all semblance of confidence quickly drained from the Passimian's face. The Fighting-Type looked back and saw beams and projectiles flying wildly around the hallway as Pokémon stormed out of freshly-opened cells and mobbed guards in lavender scarves one after the other.
The Fighting-Type looked around the prison hall in a panic, until he noticed a white-furred Ninetales in Company garb running in in a hurry. Instinctively, the Passimian raised a hand, waving to try and flag his cohort down.
"H-Hey!" the guard exclaimed. "What's going on he-"
The Passimian's eyes widened as the Ninetales' eyes flashed a brilliant violet and a cone of an alike-colored aura swirled from her forehead. The Fighting-Type hastily attempted to fall back, only for the aura to envelop him and suddenly sweep him off the ground before hurling him to the side headfirst against the bars. The lemur slumped over with a weak groan, leaving the fox to step atop the fallen Fighting-Type's body and peer intently through the bars at a slack-jawed Pyry and Pekka.
"Huh?!" Pyry exclaimed. "You just beat up your own buddy!"
The Ninetales stooped down and snatched up the misshapen metal key from beside the unconscious Passimian and slid it into the cell door's lock. The Exploud pulled the door open, leaving the Ninetales to drag the Fighting-Type and throw him beside the Vikavolt before filing out with its occupants. As the Exploud locked the cell door behind him, Pyry and Pekka stared incredulously at the Ninetales who drew an impatient growl from the Exploud.
"Took you long enough!" the Exploud grumbled. "Here I was getting antsy the signal was a false alarm!"
"Yeah, well I can't be bailing all of you out from your own dumb mistakes," the white Ninetales retorted.
"Explain yourselves," Sirmia demanded. "Who are you, and what is going on here?"
"We're members of the Phlogiston Raiders, and we've been waiting for two months to make our move here," the Gogoat explained.
The Arcanine tilted her head before noticing Pyry and Pekka staring off in the distance as pained shouts and screams rang out. The Fire-Type looked back, watching as lavender-scarved Pokémon were mobbed among the corridors, some being pushed into cells and locked up, others being pounced and set upon by angry prisoners, and still others fleeing in a mad dash for safety away from pursuing mobs. The three Pokémon stared incredulously for a moment, before slowly turning back to the Exploud as a satisfied smirk spread over his toothy mouth.
"Liking the handiwork, huh?" he said. Pekka and Pyry peered up at the Normal-Type and then back at the now-closed cell, wincing as the sounds of angry revenge being dealt out in the background filtered to their ears.
"Yeesh, I'll say," the Trapinch murmured.
"What about the Pokémon in the mine the guards keep talking about?" Bill insisted. "That 'Pit' they keep threatening Pokémon with."
"We weren't able to get anyone embedded into it," the Exploud explained. "We'll do what we can to find it and free them once the reinforcements make it up here."
"Well, we don't have time to wait for that. Let's not waste the advantage we've got for now…" the white-furred Ninetales said, before turning her snout up and letting out a piercing howl that made Pyry and Pekka cringe and caught the attention of the newly-freed prisoners.
"Hey! We've got your ticket to freedom here!" the Ninetales shouted. "Just get out of the cell block before the guards can do anything!"
The Ice-Type's call was answered by a loud, roaring cheer from the prisoners in the hall as the crowd began to charge off down for its far end, prompting Sirmia to dash off after the group and Pyry and Pekka to hurry along after her. The hallway quickly thickened with bodies, the scent of freedom prying the convicts away from their cells and indulgences of revenge, sending the thronging mob of Pokémon charging down the hallways past one bend after the other for a pair of double doors with sunlight filtering through their cracks. As the mob neared, the doors abruptly flew open, revealing a Scizor at the head of a smaller group of snarling Pokémon in lavender.
"There they are! Crush those scum!" the mantis at the front cried. "We'll assist the other blocks after this one!"
The Scizor and her underlings filed into position, the guards at the front raising a wall of light barriers while their compatriots deeper within sent a volley of attacks down the hallway. The air filled with yelps and screams as the attacks found their marks, felling a number of prisoners at the front of the mob, only for others to charge ahead and take their place, careening square into the blockading guards. The front line quickly turned into a melee of blows and shouts, with Sirmia caught in the thick of it spitting up a column of fire onto an unfortunate Ferrothorn.
The Grass-Type shrieked and writhed under the flames, before staggering over and slumping to the ground. Sirmia, satisfied with her belly-fire's work, shoved the spiked guard aside, giving a disgusted growl at the prone Ferrothorn.
"Don't get between me and my pup, you vile-!"
The Fire-Type suddenly felt a wet burst catch her in her gut, launching her back and sending her tumbling into a wall. Sirmia staggered up dazedly, growling and seething when she felt her paws leave the ground, looking over in a panic to see a Slowbro with glowing eyes and his arms held out guiding her body into the air.
"Lights out, you miserable mutt!" the Psychic-Type snarled.
The Slowbro moved his arms, preparing to fling Sirmia into a wall, only to feel a pair of sharp pains on his legs. The creature winced and lost his focus, dropping Sirmia back on her feet as she darted back from the startled Slowbro.
"Agh! What the-?!"
The Psychic-Type's gaze darted down, where he noticed a pair of angry-looking critters hanging onto each of his legs: a Trapinch on his right ankle with his powerful jaws, and a Gible on the calf of his other leg.
"You little brats!" the Slowbro seethed. "Get off of me!"
The Slowbro thrashed wildly, flinging his Gible and Trapinch attackers to and fro in an effort to shake them loose. Pyry heard Pekka suddenly yelp and hit the ground with a thud, before feeling a forceful swat that knocked him loose and sent him tumbling to the ground. The Gible looked back and flinched after seeing the guard looming above him, only to let loose an agonized scream as Sirmia wrestled him to the ground with a fierce bite. The Gible and Trapinch picked themselves up panting, watching as the Arcanine got off the unconscious Slowbro and spat up a wad of spittle. The time to celebrate the victory proved to be fleeting, as a deafening blast caught their ears and made the three jolt back.
All eyes turned back through the doorway and into yard, where a large cloud of dust and smoke rose from the wall ringing the complex. The Scizor stared wide-eyed with her jaw hanging limp as the gust cleared, revealing a gaping chasm blasted into the prison wall, with a fiery blur rushing away from it.
"Gah, there's a hole in the exterior walls!" the Bug-Type shouted. "Don't let the prisoners-!"
The Scizor ringleader was cut off by a fiery burst, launching the mantis back with a stunned hiss. From the direction of the shattered wall, the form of the culprit, a Chandelure in a lavender scarf became apparent, prompting the Exploud to crack a broad grin as the guards stood in fixed shock.
"Now's the time to charge!" the Loud Noise Pokémon cried. "Don't let those square-necks bog you down!"
The Exploud charged ahead, the prisoners following in a mob descending on the still-stunned guards. The air grew thick with cries and traded blows as both guards and prisoners fell, but amidst the struggle, an ever-widening path onto the yard opened up, prompting the Chandelure to cry out to the Pokémon inside
"The exit's open!" he shouted. "Hurry up and take advantage of it while you can!"
The mob of prisoners charged ahead, some on the fringes straying off and getting bogged down fighting the remaining guards scattered ahead. From within the melee, Sirmia, Pyry, and Pekka ran ahead, dashing along the open yard for the hole in the wall with all the strength their legs could muster.
"What are we supposed to do after we get out?!" Pekka exclaimed.
"I don't know, veikka!" Pyry panted. "Worry about one thing at a time first!"
From his office in the tower overlooking the cliffside prison, Elilan had watched the prison erupt into chaos, as trails of smoke and dust curled up from within the complex. The low boom of cannonfire rang out from the ship-packed sea below, with a set of four red-sailed ships among them catching Elilan's eye as they led the charge in an attempt to pin down the ships docked at the garrison. Other ships shot volleys of Apricorn grapeshot and lobbed bombs up the cliffside towards the walls of the prison. The Zoroark glared and dug his claws into the window frame to gouge a set of deep grooves with his claws, before instinctively whirling back at the sound of a Trevenant stumbling to a halt behind him.
"Betulo!" the Zoroark Administrator exclaimed. "There's Apricorns flying past my office window! Give me a status report of what's going on out there!"
"The garrison and Dulefield Town have been attacked by pirates and a riot's just broken out in the prison," the Ghost-Type answered. "It started right when the raid did, so our current assumption is that the pirates and prisoners are coordinating their actions."
"What?! Why did it take me this long to find out about it?!" Elilan snapped. "Do something about it!"
The Trevenant opened his mouth to speak back, only for a deafening blast to rattle the office's windows. The pair peered out the window, where a cloud of dust and smoke was rising up from a chunk of the prison's exterior wall freshly reduced to rubble, with other plumes rising further away. Crashes and wooshes rang out, as further attacks continued pouring in from the ships in the sea below. The Administrator gritted his teeth and balled his paws up into fists, his voice coming out in a seething, dangerous growl.
"I don't have time for this…" he fumed. "Just make sure Subject Blue is secured and order your subordinates to fall back to defensible positions, I'll help even the odds a bit."
The fox breathed in and closed his eyes as a corona of magenta light surrounded his body, his eyes shooting open awash in the same hue, the aura about him pulsating for a lingering moment before bursting outwards in all directions.
"Hurry up, the exit's just ahead!"
Sirmia stomped impatiently from the edge of the hole in the prison wall, standing atop a mound of rubble and looking back at Pyry and Pekka as they ran along struggling to keep pace with their peers in their rush towards freedom. The Fire-Type watched as one prisoner after another passed the pair through the hole, prompting her to furrow her brow and wonder aloud to herself whether she ought to have just dragged them over herself.
"We're trying! My legs can't keep up with yours!" Pyry cried. The Gible's partner lurched along, his breaths coming in ragged pants as he called back to the Arcanine at the end.
"Just keep runni-!"
Pekka flinched as a flash of magenta light overtook the yard, prompting the bug and his partner to skid to a stop as dead-looking trees suddenly erupted from the ground, turning the open yard into a cramped series of paths and clearings amid piles of disturbed dirt.
"A-Ah!" Pyry yelped "The wall! Where'd it go?!"
"Feel around for it!" Pekka cried. "It's gotta be some sort of trick!"
The pair frantically felt out ahead of them, only for their limbs to find nothing but empty air. The newly formed woods behind them began to sound out with shouts as a few prisoners fell to the ground after guards caught up with them, prompting some of their peers to charge blindly away in the suddenly transformed courtyard. Pyry looked around wildly, trying to make sense of how the hole in the wall could have been hidden from them so suddenly, only to find himself puzzled time and time again.
"Wh-What's going on here?!"
The two jumped back as a sudden gout of fire tore through the air above them, rending a magenta-rimmed hole with a pile of rubble and the form of an impatient Arcanine staring down at them. Pekka went slack-jawed as he looked around at the dungeon-like surroundings and the ruined wall ahead, trying to make sense of how the sight he beheld could be possible.
"Hurry and get over here!" Sirmia snapped.
Pyry and Pekka ran ahead for the hole ahead of them, jumping through as they faceplanted and came to a tumbling stop in the dusty rubble just outside the prison wall. The Trapinch and Gible stared flummoxed at the wall behind them, before turning back to see Sirmia scowling down at them.
"What happened to you?" the Arcanine demanded. "I stopped hearing you trying to get out after that flash of light repaired the wall!"
"I-I don't know! We just started seeing and hearing things!" Pyry stammered. "It was like it was all-"
A sudden glow of magenta light came from the hole in the wall, leaving behind what seemed to be unbroken bricks. Pyry stared ahead, running a claw over bricks that felt unnaturally smooth to touch.
"One big illusion…"
The Gible trailed off, only for the sound of crunching footsteps to ring out as the moles from earlier and a small party of escaped prisoners ran up to the wall, the Gogoat among them impatiently stamping his feet at Sirmia and her charges.
"Hey! What's the holdup here!" the buck demanded.
"Yeah, why are there no more Pokémon coming?!" a Poliwhirl in a prisoner scarf shouted.
"It's the prison!" Pekka cried. "Some Pokémon's making a bunch of illusions to throw off the others inside!"
A sharp shout rang out as a bolt of electricity flew by and splintered a nearby tree branch, prompting the Poliwhirl and a number of prisoners to break off with a start for the undergrowth. The remaining Pokemon turned where they saw Electrode rolling over a nearby hilltop, signalling to a large mob following behind.
"I see escapees!" the Electric-Type cried. "Don't let them get away!"
"Let them figure it out on their own! We'll come back for them later and we've got ourselves to worry about right now!" the Ninetales shouted. "If we have to retreat and you can't make it to the ships in town, no one's helping you!"
The fox darted off for the wooded areas further inland, prompting Pyry, Pekka, and Sirmia to follow suit as attacks flew along the wall. As the three ran ahead, Pyry and Pekka looked off in the distance, where they could hear distant booms and see smoke curling up from a far-off seaside town with a harbor hosting three haphazardly docked ships. The pair paused as they noticed the ships were flying blue sails with white flame patterns, realizing that the booms were coming from none other than a raid! All they had to do now was make it down to the shoreline and...
"Huh?! Where are you going?!"
Pyry's cry prompted Pekka to whirl his head-dominated body and see his Arcanine guide starting to pace off in the background. The pair ran after her, prompting the Fire-Type to stop, and furrow her brow back sternly.
"The Mystery Dungeon," Sirmia answered. "I have a pup waiting for me back there."
"You can't go off there alone!" the Trapinch exclaimed. "You'll get picked off like that!"
"Yeah! And we've already needed your help to get by!" the Gible cried.
The pair's protests were cut off by an arc of electricity zipping by overhead, prompting the three to jump back out of surprise, and Sirmia to shake her head back at the young pirates.
"I'm sorry, but this is where our paths split," the Fire-Type insisted. "I'm sure you and your friends can work something out."
"Maybe it doesn't have to," Pekka insisted. "Look."
The Trapinch pointed ahead with a nubby foreleg off at the foggy plume in the distance, following a winding trail that hugged a set of wooded coastal hills back to the village.
"It'll be safer going down there in numbers," Pekka insisted. "You can slip off back for your dungeon in the confusion!"
"Yeah, they can't be checking for Pokémon going inland all that carefully!" Pyry added.
Sirmia frowned before her ears perked up at the sound of approaching footsteps and her nostrils caught the whiff of Pokémon approaching from upwind. The Arcanine peered off at the looming column of fog in the distance, before shaking her head resignedly.
"Good enough. Hold on tight," the dog growled. "I can't turn back to rescue you like last time."
"Hold on ti-? Ack!"
The Gible's words were cut off with a yelp as he felt a nip at his back fin and was hoisted onto Sirmia's back, the dog repeating the process with his Trapinch partner. The pair latched onto the Arcanine's fur as she bounded ahead, sprinting off through fields down the bluff the prison sat on as she dashed off for the churning town in the distance.
Back in Dulefield, chaos reigned in the square where the prisoners had marshaled earlier. Smoke curled over the rooftops as Pokémon garbed in blue smashed storefronts and picked through their contents. Further inland, a group of guards who'd attempted a failed counterattack mounted a hasty retreat under withering fire, with a bellowing Feraligatr leading its charge.
"Hah! Not so tough when you don't have numbers on your side, are you?!" Laurens snarled. The reptile spat up a torrent of water after the fleeing guards, only for the sound of darting footfalls to reach his ears, and prompt him to see none other than his Pyroar captain hurrying up with a satisfied grin.
"Good work, Laurens," Captain Amaro said. "Looks like that little dust-up you arranged is paying us dividends already."
"Hrmph. It's a shame that we're not doing this to their blasted sea-mud capital," Laurens growled. "I've got a score to settle with that place for what it did to my home."
"All in due time, Laurens."
The Pyroar cast his gaze past Laurens, where a red Oricorio, a Honedge, and a Durant were stripping some metal furnishings off of a storefront, when a barrel suddenly shifted and began to move away. The barrel moved along, red paws poking out from under them when the Oricorio suddenly bolted up to attention and pointed out the barrel to her fellows.
"Hey! This barrel's moving!" the bird cried.
The brigands set aside their plunder and bolted for the barrel as it abruptly dropped to the ground. The Honedge knocked it over with the flat of his blade, throwing out a wide-eyed Mienfoo in a lavender scarf. The Fighting-Type attempted to bolt away, only for the Durant to catch the Pokémon by his scarf and lift the hapless guard with his mandibles.
"Dirty square-necked scum!" the Durant snarled. "You should've run when you had the chance!"
"No matter," the Honedge sneered. "When this is all over, we'll take you for a nice, long walk off a short plank."
The Mienfoo quivered at the threat, the Fighting-Type's face flushing pale as he curled up, his innards having grown sick with fear over the fate that would inevitably follow that long walk.
The Durant shoved the Mienfoo to the ground, prompting the other two pirates to swoop down on the Fighting-Type as blows and pained shrieks rang out. Amaro shook his head in distaste before letting out an irritated growl at the three that made them pause and glance up uneasily.
"Hrmph, focus less on settling your scores and more on the task at hand!" the Pyroar barked. "The further we can push out the guards actually resisting us, the more freedom we'll have to clean out the town."
"Fine by me," Laurens added. "More loot's a fair trade over watching some random square-necks cack themselves any day."
Amaro and Laurens whirled back at the sound of the blast, looking back to see smoke curling up from the harbor as one of the pirate ships listed and began to capsize, allowing a corvette in lavender sails to pull in. The harbor's water suddenly went white with churning brine and waves as beams of various lights zipped around and the skies thickened with rapidly approaching shapes.
A cry went up from a street further behind them as a Simisear carrying a chest was felled by a slicing wind from the air, knocking the pirate to the ground and scattering the chest's spoils as a Luxio and Dragonair dropped their loot and fled in a panic. Over by the captured Mienfoo, the Durant looked up, only for a fiery burst from the air to catch him in the head and sprawl the ant out unconscious, leaving his fellows and the Mienfoo to scatter off in opposing directions as Laurens and Amaro noticed that the shapes in the air were sporting lavender scarves and that others could be seen prowling the streets in the distance.
"Over there!" a Graveler cried.
"Those must be the ringleaders!" an Absol shouted. "You heard Captain Lyn's orders, don't let them get away!"
Laurens went wide-eyed as from every direction, the surrounding alleys and lanes suddenly grew thick with Pokémon in lavender scarves. The massed Pokémon spat forth a salvo of beams and projectiles, sending the two scurrying to a stony Storage Shop's damaged entrance for cover.
"You know what? This was a bad idea!" the Feraligatr cried.
"Keep your nerves about you, Laurens!" Amaro snapped. "It'll take more than a single Company shipt to make us turn tail from this town!"
The Pyroar slipped through the storefront as attacks poured through the windows and scattered seeds and berries all around them, before charging and breaking down a side door with a tackle. The pair dashed through into an outside alleyway, where they came face to face with a charging horde of Company Pokémon. Laurens grimaced and braced himself, only for his superior to build up light in his mouth, which he disgorged down the narrow lane, filling the air with pained screams and dust as a loud blast rang out.
Laurens blinked his eyes, struggling to keep the dust out when he saw that the alleyway was now strewn about with the weakly twitching forms of burnt and groaning Pokémon, with a pile of rubble where the side of a shop had been with an open square visible just beyond it.
"We've got an opening!" the Pyroar cried. "We'll regroup and see what we can do to force these new 'mons off-balance!"
The pair ran down the alleyway, over the rubble where the shop corner was as Laurens followed his superior into the square where a barricade of crates and debris had been set up to the left with a rag-tag group of pirates perched behind it braced for battle with an unseen foe.
"Here he comes!" a Carbink yipped. "Get the big one before he-!"
The Fairy-Type was suddenly cut off by a blue blur rushing in, getting flung headfirst into a wall and slumping over. The culprit was quickly revealed to be a Samurott with a drawn seamitar and a lavender scarf with a purple square overlapping a quartet of smaller ones, prompting a Lombre to rush in readying attack, only to be summarily cut down with an agonized scream by a fierce swing from the otter's blade.
A Beartic charged ahead with a fierce roar, readying a claw swipe, only for Lyn to spit a Water Pulse into his face and send him crumpling to the ground. The otter reared up and bellowed, prompting other pirates to waver and their nerves to fail them as the mustelid rushed forth. The brigands scattered madly out of the Water-Type's path, fleeing as fast as their legs could carry them as the Company Second-Rank quickly zeroed in on the Beartic as he staggered to his feet. The Ice-Type turned and saw the Samurott charging, his body freezing in place in stupefied terror.
Lyn raised his blade and prepared to bring it down onto the Beartic's stomach as the Ice-Type screwed his eyes shut and flinched, only for the sound of a roar and a sudden pulse of air to knock Lyn off-balance and stumble into a doorpost. The otter grimaced, whirling back and looking across the square where a Pyroar stared him down amidst a trail of disturbed rubble.
"That's quite enough, you overgrown sea rat!" Amaro snarled. "It'll take more than that for me to let you end a good plundering!"
The Beartic pulled his head back and cracked his eyes open, panting as he saw the Samurott clambering away from a bowed-in wall. The polar bear folded his ears back, hastily scooping up the Carbink and Lombre as he rushed off just as the Samurott got back up, dusting himself off with a threatening growl.
"That's where you're wrong, you filthy pirate," Lyn spat. "You thought that you'd be able to have your way with one of our own islands and that no one else would come to stop you?!"
"Pah! You're just some random Second-Rank!" Laurens growled. "I've turned 'mons of your ilk into quivering messes before and you'll be no different!"
The Samurott glared, pulling his other seamitar free and spinning it about his knuckles, before stopping it with a firm grip on its hilt. The otter swung his blades out wide, giving a low, challenging snarl back at the Pyroar and his protogé.
"Then go ahead and try it, pirate scum!"
The otter's taunt prompted Laurens to spew a torrent of steaming water at the Company Pokémon, catching him in his flank. Undeterred, he grimaced his teeth and swung out his seamitars for a lunging slash, only for a deafening burst of air to strike him in his face.
Lyn recoiled, digging his feet into the ground as he stopped his momentum and sprang forward for Captain Amaro. The Fire-Type hastily tried to sidestep his foe, only for the otter to catch him in the jaw with a retaliating uppercutting punch.
The blow knocked the lion flat onto his back, prompting Lyn to bring the blade in his other paw up for a swift slash when a loud roar rang out from behind.
"Chew on this, you miserable otter!"
The Samurott suddenly felt a crushing, piercing pain sink down on his shoulder, prompting him to bellow out in pain. There, Laurens had bit down deep into his shoulder, sinking a set of fishhook-like teeth into the otter's hide. The alligator pushed the otter down, readying a swipe of his claws for Lyn's neck when he suddenly saw the otter's free arm jut forward.
The Feraligatr went wide-eyed as he felt a searing pain in his side, screaming out muffledly as he thrashed about. The alligator felt a punch at his throat and his body suddenly launched backwards following another blow at his gut, sending him tumbling away into the middle of the square until he hit a crate in the barricade.
Laurens lay there for a moment, his tongue lolling with a tired pant that felt warm, sticky liquid oozing in his mouth from holes where fangs had been torn out. The Feraligatr staggered up to his feet and winced as he felt pain shoot through his side, prompting him to brush a claw up against it and pull it back to reveal it completely reddened with blood.
The alligator fought to keep his balance, only to suddenly feel a frigid blast at his left foot. Laurens' yellow eyes shrank to pins as he looked down and saw his foot frozen to the ground in a chunk of ice.
Laurens looked back up and screamed out of fear at the sight of a charging Samurott. At this point Lyn's shoulder was studded with teeth and portions of his hide had been torn up and dribbled blood, yet, he still kept coming. The Feraligatr pirate tugged desperately at his trapped foot, watching in horror as the Samurott raised a seamitar and barreled for him.
"Time to end you, pirate!"
The otter swung his seamitar for his foe's throat, when a gout of fire zipped by and a burning pain swallowed up his wrist. Lyn bellowed, dropping his blade before whirling and glaring at the Pyroar culprit as smoke curled from the ends of his mouth.
"Well played," Amaro spat. "Exactly the sorts of dirty tricks I'd expect from a Company peon like you."
"You're in no position to be moralizing me," the Samurott growled. "Have at you!"
Lyn fished his blade back up and lunged at the Pyroar, only for the lion to build up light in his mouth. The Fire-Type lowered himself, spitting up a brilliant beam of light that swept up the otter with a yelp and sent him pinwheeling to the ground. Amaro panted, watching satisfiedly as smoke curled up singed hairs on the otter's body with one of his seamitars lying just beyond his grasp. Before the tired captain could relish in the outcome, he suddenly went wide-eyed as the Samurott abruptly threw out a paw and lobbed his remaining seamitar at him, the broad blade zipping through the air and slicing Amaro's foreleg.
The lion roared in pain, looking down at his left foreleg to reveal a red streak forming along a long, straight slice. The Pyroar attempted to dart forward, only to wince as pain shot through his leg, prompting him to totter and struggle to keep himself upright.
Over at the ruined barricade, Laurens finally dislodged his stuck foot enough to limp forward, panting as a loud bellow filled the air. The Feraligatr cringed, looking up to see Lyn grab his dropped seamitar from the ground and run for Captain Amaro. The Pyroar hastily attempted to steel himself, when the Samurott suddenly sprang up, lunging for the Pyroar with the tip of his blade trained square on his abdomen.
"This is it, we're here!"
Sirmia's course down the hill had taken her and her passengers through rolling fields of grass and crops into the outskirts of a ramshackle settlement of wooden huts by the sea. The place already had a forbidding air to it with its decrepit, decaying buildings, but the sight of blue and lavender scarved Pokémon fighting on the shore in the distance couldn't help but make the Fire-Type splutter out of incredulity.
"This is where you're running to for safety?!" the Arcanine cried.
"No! We've got to get through it for safety!" Pyry insisted. "If we can get to those ships out in the water, then we can escape!"
The pair continued bobbing up and down as Sirmia ran forward, shooting her head back with an incredulous scowl. The Arcanine wrenched her head back and shook it with a disbelieving snort, spitting up a few embers as she charged along muttering aloud.
"You sea-walkers truly are a szaleńczy lot, you know that?"
Pyry opened his mouth to protest, only to hear the sound of haggard panting and hurried footfalls. The Gible looked ahead and went wide-eyed at the sight of a Company Trumbeak with torn feathers and a Whirlipede hurrying along in a mad dash.
"F-Fall back!" the Trumbeak yelped. "We'll regroup on the fringes and try to re-enter the town!"
"When's that stupid garrison going to help us-! Ah!"
Sirmia skidded to a stop as the two Pokémon hastily braced themselves and assumed battle stances. The Trumbeak let out a low, somewhat overeager sounding growl, clearly intended to try and intimidate the interlopers ahead.
"What do you think you're doing-?! Eyaaaagh!"
The injured bird was cut off by a plume of fire that swallowed her up, leaving the hapless creature flailing and screaming before slumping over. The Whirlipede braced himself with a visible quiver, readying a Rollout, only for a fierce howl from Sirmia to fray the Bug-Type's nerves and send him fleeing blindly for an alley as the Arcanine charged ahead down the lane.
"Do you have any plans of how to get around here?" Sirmia demanded. "I doubt every one of those lavender knot-necks is going to be so easy to drive off!"
The Arcanine ran along as Pyry and Pekka scanned their surroundings. The sound of rapid footfalls from a street at the end of a nearby alleyway caught their attention, prompting them to see a group being led by a white Ninetales, Exploud, and a Gogoat.
"Ah! It's the moles from the prison!" Pyry cried. "If we stick with them, then we're sure to be-!"
Suddenly, the mood on the other street changed as the moles stopped and hastily tended themselves. The Exploud grimaced and dug his feet in, readying himself for a piercing shout that reflected in a sharp cry back to the other prisoners.
"Brace yourselves!" the Exploud shouted. "We've got-!"
The Exploud and Gogoat were suddenly swept up in an abrupt downburst of icy air, the pair struggling to get up as an icy layer built up over their bodies and pinned them to the ground. The form of a Weavile darted in, prompting the Chandelure to ready a gout of ghostly flames only to be cut off with a shriek by a fiery, bluish ray from a Noivern. The Ninetales snarled and disgorged a frigid wind at an approaching Sylveon, only to be knocked to the side by a Fire Punch from a Kommo-o. Pyry, Pekka, and Sirmia watched as the fox lay panting on the ground and struggled with all her might to get back on her feet, the Ice-Type's efforts being abruptly cut short by a glowing orb of moon-like light from the Sylveon that sent her limply toppling over. The two Ground-Types stared with slackened jaws as the sound of frightened shouts and fleeing footsteps reached their ears, before Sirmia wrenched them back and took off running away from the alleyway.
"Wh-What was that?!" Pyry squealed. "I thought there was a raid going on!"
"I- I don't know!" Pekka stammered. "Maybe they're some local Rescue Team that dug in to fight!"
"What sort of random hicks can do that?!"
"Get it together and give me some directions for where you want to go here!" Sirmia snapped. "Or else the two of you are coming to my den!"
Pyry and Pekka cringed a bit at the idea of being drug off to a feral den, before scanning their surroundings. Their eyes darted from one damaged lane to another, the local hip-roofed buildings sporting fresh scars from recent battle, when their eyes settled on a downhill lane that ended with a deep pool of blue, white froth revealing itself to be the foam of breaking waves in the distance.
"There!" Pekka cried. "That one should take us right to the harbor!"
Sirmia lowered her head and took off running down the lane, flying past the shadows of wood and stone buildings as she charged along with her passengers for the sea. The three Pokémon carried on, when they noticed the path ahead spilled out into an open space where trampling footprints had been left behind.
The Arcanine ran ahead where much to her alarm, she saw that she was now in an open square, with a roaring Samurott rushing along at the other end. The Fire-Type skidded to a stop, leaving Pyry and Pekka to tumble off with a yelp, picking themselves off the ground and looking up to see the otter's form lunging for a wide-eyed Pyroar.
The three watched as the tip of his blade caught the sun's light, before sinking deep into the Pyroar's abdomen. A loud, agonized scream filled the air, followed by a horrid gurgling noise that made Pyry and Pekka screw their eyes shut out of fright.
The pair cracked their eyes open to see Lyn yanking his seamitar free, spewing a watery jet at his blade that came off with a bloody spray. The Pyroar tottered a moment, his eyes flickering before he toppled over onto his side, a growing pool of dark, crimson liquid forming underneath the fallen Pokémon's body in front of a horrified-looking Feraligatr in a blue scarf.
Further behind in the alleyways, a host of Pokémon in blue scarves stared dumbly, their eyes widened and faces flushing ever paler out of fright as the scene before them sunk in.
"Th-They got the Captain!" a Pupitar cried.
"What do we do?!" a Bibarel whimpered.
"Retreat! Retreat!" a Crustle shouted. "Every 'mon for themselves!"
The blue-garbed Pokémon turned and scattered, the wounded Feraligatr stumbling back with a whine before bolting out of the square. Lyn sheathed his newly-cleaned blade and growled as he readied to spring forward, only to suddenly whirl his head back and prompt Pyry and Pekka to scream in fright.
"You! Don't think you can escape that easily!"
The Samurott spat up a pressurized orb of water, prompting the pair to dive for cover behind a crate. The two Ground-Types felt the crate splinter beside them, running off for an alleyway as another Water Pulse chased Sirmia off. Pyry and Pekka ran as fast as their legs could carry them, only realizing after running through a blind intersection that the attacks had ceased following them… and that the two of them were alone.
"Forget about her right now!" Pekka insisted. "We need to make it to those ships!"
The Trapinch bolted ahead down the back alleys for the blue seas in the distance, prompting Pyry to dart after him in a hurried attempt to keep up. The duo charged on past ramshackle wooden huts towards a sunlit space, rushing out into an open street only to go wide-eyed at the sight of a lavender-scarved Lycanroc and Golbat that whirled their heads at their sudden appearances and lowered themselves into attack stances.
"Over there!" the orange-furred Lycanroc shouted. "Those two brats are trying to make a break for it!"
"Well let's see them shrug this off!" the Golbat snarled.
The bat sent forth a cutting gust of wind, prompting Pyry and Pekka to dive for cover in an alleyway behind them. The pair ran ahead, weaving amidst the mazelike alleys in a wild zig-zagging pattern between awnings and clumps of rubble as errant attacks zipped past them, the baying sounds of the pursuing Golbat and Lycanroc remaining stubbornly at their heels.
"Agh! We can't shake 'em!" Pyry whined.
Pekka noticed the soil underfoot felt sandy and loose, along with a slumping awning held up by a small row of upended barrels up ahead. At once, the Trapinch cut the Gible off, kicking his feet up widely as he nipped one of his teammate's claws and pulled it onto the edge of his thorax.
"Hold onto me tight and close your eyes, Pyry!" the Trapinch shouted.
"Huh? What's going-?"
Pekka suddenly sprang down and tore into the earth, dragging Pekka along as the sun faded away and the Gible was surrounded by dirt on all sides of his forward vision. The young land-shark screwed his eyes shut, an attempt to cry out of surprise cut off by a freshly dislodged clod of dirt as the Trapinch burrowed along until coming to a sudden stop.
A wooden creak filled the air, followed by the sound of a loud crash that jolted dirt loose from the roof of Pekka's impromptu tunnel. The two heard the pursuers shouts ring out along with the feeling of running footsteps approaching. The steps came heavier and heavier, prompting the two to freeze and screw their eyes shut expecting to be torn out of the ground at any moment… only for the tremors to weaken, and the shouts to grow fainter and fainter until the two could hear naught but the sound of their own panting and racing heartbeats.
The pair retraced their steps along Pekka's tunnel, discovering it to be dark until the Gible felt cloth against his paw. The land shark pushed the cloth up and warily poked his head out, discovering it to be the awning they'd seen earlier, the lot of it and the barrels covering the hole and trail Pekka had left behind. One after the other, the Ground-Types pulled themselves out, noticing fresh footprints left behind by the Lycanroc. Pyry panted for a moment as his eyes adjusted back to the sunlight, until he noticed a strange taste in his mouth and the feeling of mud on his tongue that prompted him to gag and suddenly spit its contents up.
"Pah! Pah! I got dirt in my mouth!"
"Oh boo hoo for you," Pekka grumbled. "I do all of this work digging that tunnel and- Huh?!"
The Trapinch cried out of alarm, realizing that the sea looked far more distant than he last remembered and that the rolling fields near the outskirts could be seen at the other end of his vision. The Ground-Type stammered, realizing that in their haste to flee, they'd run in the complete opposite direction of their escape route!
"Th-They chased us inland!" Pekka yelped. "We need to hurry up and get back before-!"
The antlion looked back at the sea, only for the rest of his exclamation to die in his mouth and his jaw to hang agape. There, out in the harbor was the form of a lone ship with blue sails, slipping out of the port in a hurry with Pokémon following it by air and sea, off for the deep blue beyond Nagrobek Island… and them.
"… they sail off…"
The Trapinch stared blankly, when he noticed the sound of struggling breaths coming beside him, seeing Pyry curling up in a ball. The Gible's face was riven with shock, his breaths coming one after the other hyperventilating as he appeared to slip deeper and deeper into despair.
"Wh-Why didn't äippä come and help?" the Gible whimpered. "She was supposed to be at the prison… She was- She was-"
Pyry yelped in pain and rubbed a claw up against the side of his maw he watched Pekka pull a leg away, chittering frustratedly back at the Gible.
"Get ahold of yourself, Pyry!" the Trapinch hissed. "Look, we'll just lie low in the Mystery Dungeon a little and try to find our way off! It's what we were told to do if we ever got stranded!"
The Gible gulped, running along after his partner as the two bolted for the open outskirts. Along the way, Pekka noticed a chain of hills lined with trees to the west, prompting the two to rush past tattered shacks until they reached fields of berries, cutting through them until the tree line was in their sights just across a slightly raised earthen path.
"There's two of the escapees!"
Pyry and Pekka went wide-eyed at the sound of a loud bellow behind them, dashing ahead only for a blast of icy air to slick the ground in front of them. One after the other, the Ground-Type stumbled and fell face-first onto the ground, lying there groaning a moment only to feel vines and hooves shoving them over and pinning them down, where a frantic look back over their shoulders revealed the forms of an Abomasnow and a shiny Zebstrika glaring down at them.
"Hah! Nice going with your little escape attempt there, brats," the Abomasnow sneered.
"Yeah, with your friends retreating, you've got nowhere to run," Zebstrika growled.
Pyry and Pekka quailed, the world around them spinning as their limbs began to go numb and their heads light out of fear, the sound of ugly laughter and a pair of forceful squeezes against the ground snapping them back to their present circumstances.
"I'm sure the 'mons in The Pit will put you two clowns to good use," the Abomasnow jeered. "There's going to be a lot of examples that need to be made after today to get everything back in-"
The Abomasnow's jeers were cut off by a sudden burning wind blowing in a spray of fire that struck the Ice-Type and his partner, sending them tumbling back with pained screams. Pyry and Pekka lay on the ground and curled up, screwing their eyes shut when they heard the sound of panting and felt a warm, furry creature brush up against them, prompting them to crack their eyes open and see that their rescuer was none other than...
"You shouldn't have kept me waiting," the dog murmured.
"Wh-What are you doing here?!" Pyry cried.
"Yeah, we thought you ditched us!" Pekka added.
Sirmia shook her head back, only to lower and crouch at the sound of a low growl from behind the two Ground-Types. The pair darted behind the Fire-Type, peering back to see Abomasnow and Zebstrika rising to their feet ready for battle when the Arcanine looked back over her shoulder and barked sharply.
"There's no time!" she insisted. "Run for the Mystery Dungeon and don't look back! I will rejoin you!"
"B-But what if you don't?!" Pekka insisted. "There's other guards lurking on the way over there!"
The Trapinch's question drew a pained look over the Fire-Type, who looked back at her approaching foes, hanging her head low as a string of hesitant words came out.
"… Then… I want you to take care of my child."
Sirmia's words sent a sudden chill down Pyry's scales. What… What did she mean by-
"He's still young and needs a defender," the Arcanine said. "I don't know if you two can do it alone, but you're the only hope he and I have right now."
A blank look came over the two, their minds turning back to sea tales they'd heard bandied about Rosequartz's taverns about the words spoken by Pokémon who knew they were about to die. Of the forlornness and acceptance they had of fate being sealed, with nothing left but to face it bravely.
The sound of a bloodcurdling cry rang out as the Zebstrika ran forward, followed by the Abomasnow. Sirmia grit her teeth, before hastily turning her head back and shouting at her two passengers.
Pyry and Pekka watched as Sirmia sprang ahead for the attacking guards, before they turned and bolted for a patch of undergrowth to the left. The pair ran along as the sound of shouts and blows rang out behind them, punctuated by the woosh of expelled fire as they clambered through bushes and shrubs up the steep hillside.
The two continued on, forcing their way past brambles and stones when they reached a path high up that continued on along the winding contours of seaside hills for a plume of fog in the distance. A loud shrieking yelp suddenly pierced the air, prompting the pair to jump up, and look back down the hill below.
The duo looked and saw naught but the unmoving tops of trees from further below them. The pair waited tensely for any sound or movement of Sirmia coming up the hill after them, only for nothing to come but the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Pyry stared down blankly for what seemed like an eternity, his eyes beginning to run damp as he felt one faint hope after another ebb away. The Gible began to sniffle, when a nip at his tail turned his attention back, seeing a shaken-looking Pekka behind him.
"C-Come on," the Trapinch insisted waveringly. "We need to hurry up before they start tailing us."
The two shuffled on, picking up their speed on the path as they ran for the column of fog in the distance. All the while, scattered about the trampled dirt on the way over, little tears were left splattered amidst the dust, as the sound of hitching voices and sniffling came off the hillside path.
The winding path eventually led to a deep, foggy wood, marking the entrance into Nagrobek's Mystery Dungeon. Pyry and Pekka made their way in, dutifully inching along the path into the Distortion. In it, they'd found the floors of the Mystery Dungeon to consist of thickly wooded spaces, with dense undergrowth making all but a few spindly paths and clearings impossible to traverse quickly. All the while, floor by floor, the two noted that the trees around them seemed to be shorn of leaves, flowers, and any sign of life at all... much as if they were making their way through a forest of skeletons.
"Blegh, this place gives me the creeps," Pyry muttered. "What's with all these dead trees? It looks just like that illusion back in the prison."
"Beats me," Pekka harrumphed. "Maybe there's something wrong with the soil, or the water, or…"
A faint wooshing noise filled the air, followed by the sound of the surrounding earth creaking. Pyry and Pekka's eyes shot open wide at the sound, recalling from tales they'd heard at sea that the floors of Mystery Dungeons were periodically swept clean by the Distortion by an all-consuming wind. Pekka looked around anxiously, every further second without hearing any sign of life seeming to confirm his suspicions that the wind was far from a good omen.
"Er, actually I think we got other things to worry about," the Trapinch gulped.
"Th-That doesn't sound good at all…" Pyry whined. "Weren't Pokémon that stuck around when the wind blew like that supposed to get hurt and hopelessly lost?"
"Let's- Let's just stay calm and take things one step at a time," the antlion insisted. "We can do this. We can find a way out…"
Pekka looked around, seeing nothing but boggy water and impassable walls around the clearing. After hearing the sound of shifting branches, his glance shifted to a small passage where a pathway split off for a large collection of dead-looking trees.
"Like there!" he cried. "Those groves are bound to have something!"
Pyry and Pekka darted ahead, hurrying down the passage to a small chamber covered by the branches of dead-looking trees overhead. The shaded space seemed to be bare of anything of note, with the exception of a clump of shriveled leaves, along with a curious orange lump that poked out from it.
The two Ground-Types inched forward where they saw that the orange lump was the form of a Growlithe lying limply in the dirt. Pyry tilted his head and eyed the dog, noticing that its eyes were closed and that no sound or sign of movement came from its body.
"I think it's dead," Pekka grumbled. "Just leave it and let the Distortion take care of it."
"I mean, it doesn't really smell dead…"
Pyry waddled over to the Growlithe, eying the sprawled-out Fire-Type closely as he settled down by it. He reached a claw out and moved it towards the dog's hindquarters, only to catch the sight of its bushy tail and curiosity to get the better of him. The land shark tugged at it when the sound of a loud, high shriek rang out, prompting him to tumble back with a start as its very much alive owner jolted upright and wheeled around wide-eyed in a panic.
"Eyaaah! Idź stąd! Idź stąd!"
"E-Easy there! We- We don't want any trouble!" the Gible yelped. "We were just looking for a way out!"
The sound of the wind returned with renewed force as the three Pokémon felt the gust nip at their bodies and hear the surrounding trees groan and shudder from it. Pyry and Pekka watched as the color flushed out of the face of the newly-awakened feral, prompting their blood to chill and the Trapinch of the pair to look nervously about his surroundings
"Uh… veikka?" Pekka gulped. "We should really get out of here right now."
"I know that, alright!" Pyry snapped. "Do you see anywhere to-?!"
Elty began to shrink back with a frightened whine, only to pause and raise his ears. Pyry and Pekka trailed off as they noticed the dog raise his head and sniff at the air, before looking off down a passage amongst the stone-like trunks and take off running much to Pyry's alarm.
"Hey!" the Gible cried. "Wait up!"
The two Ground-Types chased after the Growlithe as they heard the wind come back once again. The whistling winds had transformed into a howling gale, as the pair found themselves having to shield their eyes to keep pressing forward. When the wind cleared, Pyry looked around in alarm to see that the Growlithe had vanished, with naught but footprints left behind, prompting him and hit teammate to follow them, where they saw the Growlithe clambering up the base of a set of stony stairs. Pekka's eyes widened, realizing that the feral must have sensed a way to escape, and here he was about to run off and leave the stairs to seal up and leave them behind!
"Wait!" the Trapinch pleaded. "Stop!"
The Fire-Type carried on a few more steps, before slowing and looking back down at the two scarved strangers. Pyry and Pekka watched as the Growlithe waited on them, the newfound ray of hope giving them the strength to dash for the stairs as the winds kicked up again. The pair tore up the steps, dragging the Growlithe along as the sound of rending trees rang out and the wind prompted them to lose their footing and stumble onto the next floor. A blast of wind came out, prompting the three to shrink back and close their eyes, as the sound of creaking and groaning stone gradually sealed it away with an audible click that left the three panting and gasping for air on the ground.
"That was way too close," Pekka wheezed.
"Yeah, thanks for waiting for us, feral,"Pyry murmured. "You just saved our hides back there."
"You're welcome… I guess…"
Pyry and Pekka righted themselves and looked over at their Growlithe guide. The feral seemed to lack any joy in his escape, or for that matter fear from his encounter or their presence, or much of anything other than an oppressive sense of moroseness. The two pirates traded looks with one another, wondering what to make of this new stranger.
"Well isn't he the little pill?" the Trapinch harrumphed.
"Maybe something's up with him."
The Gible began to pace forward, leaving Elty to tense up a moment, only to drift back into his depressed, deflated mood after the land shark stopped and began to eye him curiously.
"What was going on with you anyways?" Pyry questioned. "You were just lying there earlier even though the Distortion was acting up!"
"… I wasn't really thinking about it," Elty answered. "It just didn't seem like there was any point."
"Um, not getting blown around to gods-knows-where by the Distortion?" Pekka demanded. "Sounds like a really good reason to me!"
"Yeah, you're a feral here!" Pyry added. "You oughta know this place like the back of your paw!"
"You're wrong! Mama was always there to help me along!" the Growlithe insisted. "To look out for me and help me find my way! Then- Then-"
The dog's voice hitched, his eyes dribbling tears as he began to dissolve into sobs in front of the pirate duo. Pyry and Pekka shrank back uneasily at their guide's sudden outburst, prompting the Trapinch to scuttle up and try to nose at the dog's shoulder to calm him.
"T-Take it easy there! It's alright!" Pekka insisted. "You're okay right now!"
Pyry watched as Pekka's attempt at comfort fell on deaf ears and the Puppy Pokémon continued to bawl. The land shark blinked incredulously a moment, his mind turning back to Sirmia at the wooded path. She said that she had a child… could this be…?
"Wait… this 'mama'…" the Gible began. "Would she be Sirmia?"
Elty sniffled a moment, only to blink and raise his head out of surprise. The Growlithe's face was a mess, stained with tears and matted fur, but in the midst of it all, a strange befuddlement had settled over his eyes, much as if the Gible had proclaimed that the sky was a vibrant scarlet.
"H-Huh? How do you know that name?" Fire-Type stammered. "Pokémon like us never tell them to others we're not close to."
"I mean, we just spent most of the day in a cell with her," Pyry began "And-"
"You saw her?! Wh-Where is she?!" the Growlithe asked. "Please, you need to take me to her!"
"I… I… think that we need to sit and talk this through a moment…" Pekka said.
The Trapinch began to recount their tale, telling about how they had been members of a crew of pirates that had been ambushed by a Company ship at sea and then captured and transported to this island. As the Travellers above would've willed it, they had spent their time in captivity in the same cell as the young pup's mother, and had escaped from the prison with her. They then told of how they made it to town in the hopes of escaping, only to be forced to flee inland and forced to split off from Sirmia before making their way into the Mystery Dungeon...
"And that's how we got here," Pekka concluded.
"But… where is she now?" Elty pressed. "You said that she was with you, right?"
Pyry and Pekka stiffened up and grimaced at the Fire-Type's question. The Growlithe plodded over, nosing insistently as Pyry stammered, struggling over his words of how to share what they knew of his mother's fate...
"I… I mean she… Uh…"
"I hear them!" a whinnying voice cried. "They're on this floor!"
The three froze, the blood draining from their faces as they realized the voice to be none other than that of the violet Zebstrika. Further hammering in the realization was the brusque, rough sound of an Abomasnow's voice calling out after the Electric-Type.
"Come out, come out wherever you are!" the Ice-Type jeered. "The rest of the guards are gonna sweep this dungeon top to bottom anyway, so there's no point in hiding!"
"Who knows, maybe if you come out now you won't have to work as hard at The Pit with the rest of the scum!" the Zebstrika added.
Pekka grimaced, looking around anxiously before tugging frantically at his Gible partner's fin and pulling him back.
"We need to get out of here, now."
The two looked up and saw their feral guide looking back at them. Far from the panic they expected from the Puppy Pokémon, the Growlithe carried a peculiar sense of determination about him, as if he had been expecting this moment to come all along.
"Let me help you," Elty insisted.
"This really isn't a battle you want to pick, little guy," Pyry murmured.
"Yeah, we had to run off the last time we encountered them!" Pekka exclaimed. "You coming along isn't going to magically tip the scales in our favor!"
"I'm not planning on fighting them," the Puppy Pokémon insisted. "Just take that path over there and trust me on this."
Pyry and Pekka traded looks before following uneasily after the Growlithe. The Fire-Type led them down a path that ran along a rocky gully, before coming to a pool in a clearing hemmed by trees where the path split left and right. The dog faltered a moment, lowering his head to sniff at the ground when he headed off left, before his ears suddenly perked up and he turned back at the following Ground-Types.
"Go to your right and wait a moment," Elty instructed, prompting an incredulous scowl back from Pyry.
"Shouldn't we not be just sitting around here when there's those square-necks hunting for us?"
The Growlithe didn't answer back, taking a few steps forward before sitting a few paces from the left passageway's entrance. Pyry furrowed his brow confusedly and raised a claw after the Fire-Type, only to hear the sound of a low growl and feel his blood chill as he spotted the lavender-scarved forms of the Abomasnow and Zebstrika duo from earlier rounding the corner sporting fresh-looking scuffs and burns.
"There you are!" the Abomasnow growled. "Should've turned yourselves in when you had the-"
The two guards blinked and peered down at the sound of a yipping growl. There before them was a scruffy Growlithe with no scarf about his neck, with his body crouched and his teeth bared in fierce hostility.
"This isn't your territory! It's mama's! And it's mine!" the Growlithe snarled. "So go back to your stupid village and leave us alone!"
The Growlithe's snarl drew back dismissive scoffs, with the Zebstrika among the guards shooting an aside glance to his partner.
"Have we run into this yappy little ankle-biter before?" the Zebstrika grumbled.
The Abomasnow frowned, training an insistent stare on the Growlithe that deepened into a growing glare as he began to realize that the pup seemed familiar… and for good reason.
"Grr… we have," Ice-Type growled. "You're that little brat who spat fire in my face last week!"
"Well come closer and get some more, cepy!" Elty barked.
"Rrr! Come on, let's crush these twerps!" the Abomasnow shouted. "After what that lousy Arcanine earlier put us through, she could use a few extra cellmates anyways!"
The Ice-Type let out a deafening bellow before he and the Zebstrika charged forward. Pyry and Pekka turned and began to bolt off, only to look back and see the Growlithe still sitting, unmoving in the face of the quickly-nearing Company underlings.
"H-Hey! What are you doing?!" Pyry cried.
"You can't just stand there like that!" Pekka added. "You'll-!"
The Growlithe stood his ground until the guards were but a few paces from him, when he sprang back and bolted. The Abomasnow lunged ahead, swinging at the Puppy Pokémon only to feel his hand strike empty air and feel the ground shift underfoot.
"Hey, what the-?!"
In the blink of an eye, a deafening, fiery blast filled the clearing, strewing chunks of dirt and wood into the air. Pyry and Pekka shielded their eyes as dirt and dashed fragments of trees rained about them, cracking them open warily to look back and feel their jaws drop at the sight of the two guards strewn about fainted in the middle of a smoldering crater with the Growlithe walking up with a proud wag of his tail.
"Like I said. I wasn't going to fight them," Elty insisted. "I sniffed out that Blast Trap earlier and figured it would take care of those two."
"… Good dog," Pyry murmured. "I wouldn't have expected you to come up with that."
The Trapinch and Gible made their way over to the guards, where Pyry noticed a shredded bag by the Abomasnow's feet and an intact one around the Zebstrika's shoulder. The two wrenched the bag free, taking it for themselves as the Zebstrika let out a loud groan, prompting Pyry to deliver a stiff kick that shuffled the Thunderbolt Pokémon back off into unconsciousness. The pair craned down, collecting the contents of the Abomasnow's destroyed bag when they spotted the Growlithe coming up behind them, peering curiously.
"Where are you going after this?" Elty asked.
"Towards the sea," Pekka answered. "Laying low in the Dungeon obviously isn't going to work if those guards are searching it. So if we have any hope left of getting off this island, it's through there."
The Fire-Type paused a moment, before lowering his head and tail, giving a deflated shake of his head.
"I… I guess that's reasonable," the Puppy Pokémon murmured. "You're sea-walkers. That's your home and you don't have anyone waiting for you here…"
"What would you do if you didn't?" Pyry asked. The Gible's question prompted the young Growlithe to fold his ears back, as he hemmed and hawed over what to say back in response.
"I… I mean, I hadn't thought about that, and…"
"Don't force a decision, Pyry," Pekka murmured, before turning his attention back to the fire dog.
"Look, I don't really know what you want, but we certainly can't stay here and you're a lot more familiar with this island than us…" the Trapinch offered. "If there was anything that you could do to help us get to the sea…"
"I think I know how to get there. I mean, I never went there myself, but…"
Another groan came from the Zebstrika, followed by a second one from the Abomasnow. The three flinched, turning around as they watched the two guards beside them begin to shift and woozily start to right themselves in the charred crater.
"Agh… what happened?" the Zebstrika groaned.
"Ungh…" the Abomasnow wheezed. "Why does everything smell like smoke?"
"Come on," Pyry insisted. "Let's get going before they get up."
The three turned and rushed off, slipping off into the maze of dead wood as they left the site of the Blast Trap behind. All the while, Pyry and Pekka quietly watched after the young Growlithe, wondering what to do with the news about Sirmia when he was in such high spirits...
"Ah! I think that's it!"
The young Growlithe's course led him and his followers through a winding path through the Mystery Dungeon's levels, though by the late afternoon the three had made their way through the surrounding mist of the Distortion and onto a high bluff under the light of a westward-drifting sun. Before them, Pyry and Pekka looked down at rolling green hills that cascaded down to a gray-sanded beach, the two staring in disbelief at the deep blue of the ocean in the distance.
"Well, it's certainly one way of getting back to the sea," Pyry murmured. "I just dunno where we should go from here…"
The Gible trailed off as he heard Elty barking excitedly before bounding off into the grass ahead. Pyry and Pekka went wide-eyed at their guide's sudden departure, darting ahead, only for the Growlithe to suddenly come bounding back and run circles around the pair as they tried to keep their eyes up with the Puppy Pokémon.
"Oi! What are you doing?!" Pekka cried.
"Running around!" the Growlithe yipped back. "The dungeon never has anywhere as open and free as this!"
Pyry and Pekka narrowed their eyes and traded dubious looks at one another, before turning back to their overly enthusiastic guide.
"Uh, yeah… we can see that…" Pyry grumbled.
The young land shark raised a claw to his brow and peered off towards the sea, scanning the shoreline until he saw a shock of gold. The Gible paused, squinting his eyes until he could make out that the gold color was coming from sails swaying in the wind, attached to a caravel that had been run aground on the beach next to what appeared to be signs of movement.
"Ah! There's a ship down there!" Pyry cried. "How fast do you think you can run down there?"
"Heh! Just you watch!"
Elty wagged his tail and bounded off ahead down the hill, tearing through the grass barking happily as Pyry watched blankly. Pekka gaped open-mawed at the hills and the rapidly-departing Fire-Type, before flailing with spluttering indignation.
"Pyry, why didn't you ask him to lead us?!" the Trapinch snapped.
"I… uh… thought he'd be slower?" the Gible answered, before raising his head to call after his departing guide. "Hey Growlithe, wait up!"
The two darted after the Puppy Pokémon, pushing their way through tall grass as fast as their stubby feet allowed. Fortunately, the Growlithe's course took him on a zig-zagging path as he stopped to romp and run around among the hills, allowing Pyry and Pekka to catch up near a path leading down a seaside bluff, when a shadowy ball suddenly zipped in and sliced through the air overhead, making the lot jump up in a panic.
"I see them!" a voice from behind cried. "We've got escapees dead ahead!"
Elty, Pyry, and Pekka, turned and watched as a Linoone, Monferno, and Butterfree in lavender scarves came over the ridge of the hill above. The dog and his companions lowered their heads and ran as fast as their legs could carry them as the Linoone pursued them, the Monferno and Butterfree swinging around onto the beach below.
"Cut them off and don't let them slip past you!" the Monferno shouted.
"Hey wait a minute," the Butterfree said. "What's that ship- Agh!"
A hail of stones suddenly sailed through the air, slamming into the Butterfree and his teammates. The Bug-Type groaned, twitching from under a small pile of stones as the Linoone staggered up along with the Monferno and eased back into a battle stance.
"We've got incoming hosti- Eyaaah!"
The Linoone yelped as a red blur swooped in a buzz, a stiff punch knocking him to the ground. The ferret staggered up trying to regain his breath, only for another punch to hit him, and another, the Normal-Type looking up in a panic to see a Ledian zipping over him and trying to pin him to the ground.
"Get it away, get it away!"
The Linoone lowered his head and charged ahead in a panic, weaving around another punch from the harrying beetle. The Normal-Type tore ahead, making a break up the hillside when a watery jet caught him from behind, sending him tumbling limply down as a Floatzel watched with a harrumph of approval. Keenly aware that he was now alone and outnumbered, the Monferno ringleader flew into a wide-eyed panic, backpedaling and looking wildly for any sign of nearby allies.
"A-Agh! Where's that backup?!" the Monferno whined. "We need-!"
The monkey froze and looked up as a hulking, steel-headed form of an Aggron charged in with his head held low, which slammed into the ape's face. The Fire-Type pinwheeled back, coughing as he tried to stagger back up, leaving the Steel-Type to bring a heavy slam of his arm against the Pokémon's back. The Monferno shrieked before slamming against the ground with a thud and lying there, leaving Pyry, Pekka, and Elty panting as they watched the Aggron motion back over towards the Floatzel and Ledian.
"Rodion, Kichiro. Bring these square-necks down to the beach and keep them tied down," Hess ordered. "We don't need them getting reinforcements."
"It's Keiichiro, and you didn't have to tell me," the Ledian answered. "I vote we ransom these sad sacks to make up for this fiasco of a raid."
"I doubt it would be worth our effort. The last time we tried to ransom square-necks, the Company didn't pay a single thaler and it was the local selyane who paid up," the Floatzel chided. "If it wasn't for the fact they did puppet shows back in their town that the kids liked, we'd probably have taken a net loss on that raid from the provisions we had to waste on them."
"It could still work!" Kichiro insisted, drawing a roll from the Sea Weasel Pokémon's eyes.
"Tell me, who here in this dump is going to vouch for a bunch of imported thugs?" Rodion scoffed. "They'd eat more than we'd be able to get for them, and why should I have to deal with them if we press-ganged them?"
The Floatzel shook his head, before he raised a paw to his muzzle and whistled, bidding a small party of scruffy Pokémon in gold-and-silver scarves to arrive and help drag off the fallen guards. The three youngsters watched as the golden-scarved Pokémon set off back towards the ship, only to cringe as the air behind them filled with a low growl.
"You three," Hess growled. "You're coming with me."
The three shrank back, before pulling their heads in and follow the Aggron for the beach. There, they saw the gray sand teeming with Pokémon in golden scarves, setting to work haphazardly fitting planks against the hull of a caravel beached in shallow waters as a bucket of pitch was heated over a makeshift fire. The three guards from earlier were drug along to a stone outcropping where the Linoone and Butterfree were tied down to the rock, with a Purrloin and Jigglypuff working on binding up the remaining Monferno when his eyes suddenly shot open wide.
"Eyagh!" the Fire-Type cried. "Let go! Let-!"
The Monferno thrashed and knocked back the pirates with a spinning, burning somersault, only to run up the beach and Hess to slam his fist down on the monkey's head. The creature groaned and tottered, pitching facefirst into the sand as the Purrloin and Jigglypuff came back and drug off the fainted guard. As the ape was carried off, a small crowd of golden-scarved Pokémons drew near to form a rough circle around Elty, Pyry, and Pekka, with the Aggron captain at its head.
"Who are you three and what do you think you're doing leading those square-necks to my ship?"
Pyry and Pekka gulped and inched back from the glowering Aggron, the Growlithe with them shrinking back and trying in vain to hide behind the Ground-Type pair at the sight of the hulking creature's fangs. Pyry quailed, waving his claws desperately to try and persuade the surrounding pirates that he wasn't a threat.
"Y-You've got it all wrong! We're from the Devastating Drakes!" the Gible yelped. "These 'mons ambushed us!"
"Yeah! We were escaping from the prison!" Pekka insisted. "We're not with them at all!"
Hess' scowl eased and was replaced with a curious glance as murmuring went about the gathered pirates. The three youngsters peered around uneasily, only for the Floatzel from earlier to approach and look off at smoke curling over the hills in the distance.
"So some 'mons did manage to get out after all," Rodion murmured. "Were there any others with you?"
From his place beside Pyry and Pekka, the Growlithe shifted and hid from the Sea Weasel Pokémon behind his companions. The Fire-Type's ears were pinned firmly back, as he stammered back a response to the taller stranger.
"N-No? These were the only two sea-walkers I ran into," the Growlithe said. "And they said that the others they ran into were scattered when the lavender-scarved Pokémon sent reinforcements into the town by the sea."
A deathly quiet came over the gathering, as somber, glum looks settled over the golden-scarved Pokémon. The Ledian peered down at the sand of the beach, shaking his head with a low murmur.
"Then if they can't fly or swim their way off the island, they won't last that long on their own," Kichiro said.
"So… it's just us, then?" Pekka asked.
"Unless anyone else comes from down the hill in the next few minutes, it looks it," Rodion grunted back. "We've already pushed our luck enough making these repairs. So if there's any reason for you to not come with us, you need to make a decision here and now."
The gathering cleared out as the golden-scarved Pokémon made their way back for the ship and returned to the process of repairing the damaged caravel. Pyry and Pekka began to follow along after the group, only to peer back and see the Growlithe looking down at the ground, shifting uncomfortably.
"Hey… little guy. Are you coming?" Pekka asked.
"I… I just don't know," Elty murmured. "I mean, I know I'm having trouble back in the dungeon, but if I leave, then…"
Pyry paused, his mouth hanging open as he struggled with how to explain things to the Fire-Type. Here, the dog had been so convinced that his mother would return for him, that she'd be able to watch over him again… much the way he'd felt about his own mother. If he told the Puppy Pokémon about what he and Pekka had heard… how would he react to it?
Perhaps… it was best to not to deal with the full story just now. They'd made a promise to Sirmia before they separated… After all that had happened, maybe this was the time to bring that up.
"Hey… Growlithe. Uh, about what happened to your mother…" the Gible began. "Well, we don't know what exactly what went down, but we do know there's something she asked us to do."
"She said that if she ever had trouble getting back to you, that she wanted us to look out for you until you could get on your feet," he explained.
"Obviously, we can't exactly pass as ferals like you," Pekka added. "So if you're having trouble, we're not going to do any better."
"So… I guess what we're saying is... if you wanted us to look out for you, the only way we could do it is if you came to the sea with us," Pyry said.
Elty looked up and stared blankly at the Gible. Sensing that he'd unloaded a bit more on the Growlithe than he was ready to deal with, Pyry stammered, waving his claws to try as he tried to reframe his words.
"I-It doesn't have to be for that long if you don't want it!" the land shark insisted. "I mean, if you really wanted to, you could go back after you were tougher and… uh… sleep in leaves, mark trees, and… what exactly do feral Growlithe do again?"
A crash rang out as a beam of light zipped by and kicked up a plume of sand on the beach. The three yelped and dove towards the sand, when a loud bellow rang out in the air.
"There! Down on the beach!"
The three looked up and watched as a mob of Pokémon in lavender scarves rounded the top of the hill and began hurling attacks down towards the beach. The pirates around the caravel grimaced, their captain darting to his ship's hull and pushing it along as he turned back to the three youngsters.
"Time to go!" Hess shouted. "Hurry it up or we're leaving you on the beach!"
The Steel-Type's cry prompted the pirates to rush towards the ship, wildly clambering aboard rope ladders and gangplanks as the ship was pushed out onto the water. Pyry and Pekka ran along, charging into the shallow water and latching onto a lowered gangplank and pulling themselves up towards the deck. The two reached the deck's wood and laid there as the gangplank began to get pulled up by the golden-scarved pirates when the sound of a sharp yip reached their ears from below.
There, in the water was the form of the Growlithe. The Fire-Type lurched over to a nearby rock, where he peered up at the passing gangplank and leapt up, only to go wide-eyed as he felt his teeth and paws miss its tip
Elty felt a sharp pain shoot through his forepaw, looking up to see Pekka clamping down and trying to pull him up with Pyry tugging at his hindlegs. The ship lurched forward, prompting the three to pitch forward when they suddenly felt a Charmander latch onto them from behind, and drag them onto the deck.
The three lay there panting as shouts and attacks flew by, thinning out as the beach faded further and further in the distance. As calm began to return to the deck, the three picked themselves up, Pyry and Pekka breathing a passing thanks to the Charmander as Elty shook his forepaw and shot a dirty glare at his Trapinch companion.
"You bit me!"
"Well, yeah. But you're onboard," Pekka retorted. "Wasn't that what you wanted?"
The Growlithe looked around the caravel's deck, seeing the golden-scarved pirates settle down as a relief came across the ship. The puppy looked off at Nagrobek in the distance, before turning back to the Trapinch and Gible before him, a small smile coming over his muzzle.
"Yeah… Yeah, it was."
On the waters south-west of Nagrobek, the battered form of a solitary ship in tattered blue sails limped along in the water. There, a silent Feraligatr paced the unusually crowded deck, passing wounded Pokémon who were laid out for treatment and gloomy deckhands setting about making meager repairs to the damaged hull and torn-up sails. The Water-Type turned away, hanging his head as a Kangaskhan with an empty pouch came up from behind him, uneasily plodding forward and pawing at the reptile's arm.
"Captain Laurens?" the Kangaskhan murmured. "What do we do now?"
The Feraligatr said nothing, giving a glum shake of his head before continuing on with his plodding course down the deck. The reptile propped himself up against the railing when he noticed the waters churning and looked up to see a carrack with dark red sails barreling towards his ship.
"Huh? That's Dirk's-"
The clatter of a freshly-lowered gangplank rang out, as the form of a Bisharp stormed aboard. A few Pokémon in Dirk's path shrank out of the way as Laurens looked up, and saw the Dark-Type running up with a fierce kick.
Laurens gagged as he felt Dirk's clawed foot dig into his stomach and kick him off balance, sending him tumbling to the ground on his back. The Feraligatr coughed on a mouthful of spittle, his eyes shrinking to pins at the sight of a glinting blade lowered at his throat, with its livid owner glaring down at him.
"What the hell was that?!" Dirk seethed. "You said that you had 'mons in there that would distract the guards enough for us to have our way with that blasted sea rock!"
"Th-They did what they were supposed to, Captain Dirk!" Laurens insisted. "We were just caught off-guard by those square-necks and- AUGH!"
The Feraligatr howled in agony as he felt a searing pain run across his stomach, prompting him to clutch at it and feel a lukewarm, sticky fluid oozing down it. The Water-Type fought against his spinning head, trying to suppress a whimper as Dirk flicked a few drops of blood from his blade onto the alligator in disgust and stamped down on his tail.
"Just caught off-guard?! Half of the ships that were with me are rotting on the seafloor right now!" the Bisharp shouted. "Where is Captain Amaro?! I'm getting an answer for this even if I have to cut it out from him!"
Laurens grimaced, lowering his head and turning his gaze away from the Dark-Type. He struggled with his words, swallowing back a bitter lump to finally answer Dirk's question.
"He's… He's dead…"
The alligator felt Dirk's foot leave his tail and watched as the Bisharp backed away with a stunned stare. Laurens coughed and rolled over, uneasily pushing himself onto his knees as he tried to get back up to face the Bisharp.
"Th-They got him while we were onshore! We just need to fall back for now and regroup!" the Water-Type insisted. "I swear on my tail, we can avenge him-!"
"Save your breath, you miserable feral!"
Laurens abruptly froze as the sight of Dirk's right blade glinting and stopped just below his chin, the Feraligatr's breath dying in his mouth and his blood running cold at its sight. He felt his muscles quiver, their wounds and his mortal danger weighing on them as he looked up to see Dirk seethe in disgust.
"We were set up! Those Imps told us that Beatrice was on Nagrobek because they expected us to just sail in like this!" he hissed. "They probably didn't even have a scale to show that she was even there!"
The Feraligatr's eyes widened as he noticed Dirk's left blade jerk back, the Bisharp raising it up in the air for a downward slice as its owner narrowed his eyes at him.
"Something that your moles should've been able to tell!" Dirk growled. "And you never saw anything wrong with that!"
Laurens heard a woosh as the Bisharp's blade fell, prompting him to screw his eyes shut as his scarf tugged at his neck and the sound of ripping fabric reached his ears. The Feraligatr felt the point of Dirk's right blade leave his throat and fell forward limply, his eyes shooting wide as he gasped for air on the ground.
The alligator ran a claw for his neck, where in spite of his fears, his scales had remained unbroken, only to realize the scarf over them had been reduced to a frayed strip. The Water-Type pulled his tail in close to his body, looking up to see Dirk glaring down at him, the remainder of his scarf impaled on his blade.
"We've taken enough pointless risks for one day. Go do whatever you want with what's left of Amaro's crew," the Bisharp spat. "Mine's heading back for Rosequartz where we'll lay low and I'll need to break the news about Amaro to the others."
"Captain Dirk, I-I'm sure that I can-"
"Go and sail into a sandbar for all I care," the Dark-Type interjected. "I'm the Council member with most seniority now, and it'll be snowing in summer before I promote the 'mon who got Amaro killed to be my peer!"
The Bisharp stormed off for the gangplank, leaving Laurens to rise wobbily to his feet as he continued to pant, a few crewmembers gathering around uneasily. The alligator looked over to the gangplank, where he saw Dirk throw the blue scrap of cloth into the sea, and lower his blade to point back at the Water-Type.
"One more thing," Dirk spat. "Get some new sails before you return back to Rosequartz."
"H-Huh? But the damage is nothing that we can't patch up-"
"They're Amaro's colors, for his Phlogiston Raiders," he interrupted, glaring back at the alligator. "And if I see you show your face in Rosequartz again with them, I'll gut you where you stand so that way Amaro can deal with you himself in the Spirit World!"
The Bisharp turned and made his way over the gangplank for his ship, leaving Laurens to backpedal and run off with his head held low and his tail pulled in towards his body as Dirk's carrack pushed off. The Feraligatr bolted for the stern, his earholes picking up the fading sounds of uneasy chatter behind him
"… Do you think that Captain Dirk would do the same to us if we kept our scarves?" a Beartic gulped.
"It won't matter to me, I'm finding another crew once we get back to port. After a disaster like this, the Phlogiston Raiders are through," a Crustle harrumphed. "But do let me know how that works out."
Laurens continued on until he reached the railing of the stern and leaned over it. The alligator let his jaw slump onto the railing, staring blankly out at the sea. The sound of nearing footsteps caught his ears, prompting him to look back and see the Kangaskhan from earlier making her way over, an uneasy grimace settled over the creature's face.
"Captain Laurens…" the Normal-Type murmured. "Are you alright?"
A long silence followed as the Feraligatr and Kangaskhan stared at each other. The Water-Type lowered his head, shaking it before turning back towards the sea.
"I'm... fine," Laurens muttered. "I just need some time alone to think."
The Kangaskhan shifted back uneasily, before turning and shuffling off. There, in his newfound solitude, Laurens trained misty eyes back at the fading form of Nagrobek Island, carrying on with his craft as lone tears dribbled into the sea as the sound of sobs floated over the churning waves.
Back in Elilan's office, the Zoroark Administrator sat at the front of his desk, idly picking at his claws as a tense silence filled the room. The Dark-Type waited a moment, the sound of the door opening and uncooperative bodies being drug along catching his ears and prompting him to turn and see a Ninetales, Exploud, and Chandelure bound before him with Betulo and a party of guards lead by an umber Marowak following along. The guards marched the prisoners in before unceremoniously throwing them to the ground, leaving Betulo to carry on over to the desk and glare down at the trio. Elilan flicked his ears and pulled his claws back to his side, a smile spreading over his face as he sneered at his new captives.
"When I was told I'd be able to interrogate some of the pests who ruined my afternoon, I was expecting more than you three," the Zoroark scoffed. "I suppose I should give credit where it's due though. Your stunt's been more of a headache than any past episode pirates have managed to accomplish, so congratulations."
"Spare your breath, Zoroark," the Chandelure snarled. "You lucked out and you know it."
The wraith's hiss was met with silence, followed by the sound of a derisive laugh. The three Pokémon blinked, watching as the Zoroark Administrator shook his head, before shooting back a cruel grin.
"'Luck out'? You're more delusional than I thought you'd be! This is Nagrobek! The island's defenses have been reorganized entirely around keeping this prison operational!" Elilan sneered. "Did you seriously think that we hadn't come up with ways to counter little insurrections like these?"
"We've flushed out most of your friends from the other cell blocks," Betulo added. "The rest are bound to get hunted down in time from the wilderness."
The moles' eyes suddenly widened and their expressions developed a blank, stupefied look about them. Elilan paced up, smirking down at his captives as their expressions sank and grimaces spread over their faces.
"I'm obviously going to be busy figuring out how many examples need to be made from your lot today, though I can guarantee that you three will be among them," the fox said. "Do you have any words for me to pass along?"
The Zoroark took a moment to relish the brigands' helplessness, only to watch the three's eyes harden into fierce glares. Somehow, in spite of the direness of their situation, the three seemed as full of defiance as when they'd first entered the room.
"Go walk a plank," the Ninetales spat.
The Ice-Type's impudence was met by a sudden flash of red claws, sending her slumping limply to the ground with a yelp. The Exploud and Chandelure recoiled at the shout as Elilan drew his claws back, shooting a dirty glare at the fallen Ninetales before relaxing his features as a small, cruel smirk crept over the ends of his muzzle.
"Really now, was that all you could think of?" he sneered, before turning to the guards in the room.
"Get these wastes of air out of my sight, and tell the other guards to have them processed and sent out to Torn Outpost by sundown."
"Understood, Administrator," the Marowak answered, as he turned to the three prisoners. "As for you! Since you all like snooping around so much, time for you to see what The Pit is really like!"
The guards at once latched onto the three Pokémon, the Exploud and Chandelure struggling only to be stilled by a sudden weak, crackling arc of electricity from a Magneton among them. Elilan watched as the three were drug away, drifting back for his seat as an Alakazam walked past the departing group and cleared his throat.
"Administrator, the Officer who came to Dulefield Town's relief during the raid is here to see you."
A long silence followed from the other end of the room, Elilan folding his ears back as his gaze settled into a firm, unamused stare before Betulo finally shook his head with a sigh.
"Send him in."
The Alakazam nodded back and went up to open the doors to the chamber, where the form of a Samurott covered in lacerations and bruises walked in with a contented smile. Elilan scanned his scruffy guest, noticing a worse-for-wear Second-Rank scarf adorning the Water-Type's neck. The Zoroark frowned a moment and narrowed his eyes at the sight of the otter. Just what could this Second-Rank have done that his own guards wouldn't have been able to manage eventually?
"And just who might you be?" Elilan demanded.
"Officer Lyn, Administrator," the Samurott answered. "I received word of a pirate raid being plotted against this island by Orleigh's so-called Council."
The Water-Type fished through a tattered satchel, where he unfurled a blue scarf with white flames, its lower half stained a deep red color. Lyn twitched his whiskers and gave a gruff, proud grunt as he showed off his bloodied scrap.
"I doubt you'll have any more problems with that in the future," he said. "Especially with that Captain Amaro."
Betulo stared blankly for a moment at the sullied scarf. Did this lackey mean to insinuate that he slew Captain Amaro? Betulo fumbled with his words a moment, dumbfounded at the Second-Rank's surprise accomplishment, only for Elilan to interrupt with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders.
"Hrmph, I'm sure it's something that we could've handled on our own," the Dark-Type harrumphed. "Thank you for your concern, Officer."
Lyn blinked and tilted his head at the Zoroark, the otter grumbling a little under his breath at his surprisingly unfriendly reception. The Trevenant Commander joined by crossing his branch-like arms, narrowing his solitary ruddy eye with a visibly skeptical gaze at the Water-Type.
"How did you come across this intelligence, Officer Lyn?" the Ghost-Type demanded. "It's a bit more than I would've expected from a member of your rank."
"I met a team of scouts while probing the waters near Giotto," the otter answered. "They came across some pirates who were a part of this conspiracy during their reconnaissance."
Elilan paused and raised a brow at Lyn's words. The Zoroark shifted quietly, shooting a wary, intent gaze at the Samurott in front of him.
"… Some scouts?"
As soon as the words left the Dark-Type's mouth, the door at the other end of the office creaked open and footsteps rang out. Elilan watched as Betulo shifted back surprisedly, seeing the forms of a Kommo-o, a Weavile, a Sylveon, and a Noivern approaching. The Trevenant's eye lit up as he gave a small wave to the Weavile in the group and was answered by a nod back. His superior's demeanor took a sour turn, a deepening frown spreading over the Administrator's face as Lyn turned and gestured with a paw at the newcomers.
"Yes, Sorge and his team here. It was their intelligence that enabled me to come to your island's aid," the Second-Rank insisted. "They held up far better than I expected battling in town, so perhaps it's a sign that they're being underutilized in their current positions."
Elilan grit his teeth and furrowed his brow into an unamused scowl, shifting his attention towards the Kommo-o and his companions. Lyn blinked a moment at the Administrator's tangible displeasure, watching as the Dark-Type growled and shook his head.
"… Perhaps," Elilan muttered. "Would you kindly give me a few moments alone with these scouts, Officer Lyn?"
Lyn gave a surprised look at the sudden request for his departure. Surely Administrators were supposed to spend more time going over reports of their despised enemies being laid low, were they not?
"Hrm? What's the matter?"
"I… want to get a chance to speak with them and learn how they came across their intelligence," Elilan insisted, drawing a puzzled frown back from the Samurott.
"… But I don't understand why I can't be present for tha-"
"Because these are sensitive matters, Officer!" the Zoroark snapped. "So listen to your superiors already!"
Lyn scowled and grumbled under his breath over his superior's blatant hostility. Keenly noting that the otter's body was tense and wound up, Betulo cleared his throat and attempted to dispel the unseemly cloud of hostility in the room.
"You have a crew back in town, do you not? Perhaps you should make sure they're feeling alright for now since you look a bit haggard yourself," the Trevenant offered. "I'm sure the Administrator can catch up with you later on when he needs to make a damage assessment."
"… Very well, some rest could do us good," Lyn replied. "And it would be nice to focus on something else while waiting for the rest of the Board to respond to my message."
The Samurott's words narrowed Elilan's eyes into glaring slits, prompting him to ball his claws up into clenched fists as he fought to keep his voice from betraying seething frustration lurking underneath.
"I notified the other members of the Board of the events here today," Lyn insisted. "With the mess in town and at the local garrison, it seemed like something to make them privy to sooner rather than later."
The Samurott shook his head, before stretching against his wounds and turning to the waiting Kommo-o behind him.
"But I will take my leave here, Sorge," the otter said. "Let me know if you need any further assistance from my crew."
Lyn turned and began to make his way for the exit, leaving Elilan to train an increasingly harsh glare at the four 'scouts'. The fox waited until the door closed, before springing up and storming over to the waiting Kommo-o and his team.
"Why are you all here?!" Elilan hissed. "You said your last lead steered you further away from Anyilla's waters!"
"It did, but as we attempted to track Subject Red, we found signs that he'd been trying to return to Anyilla," Sorge explained.
"While we were out there, we discovered that pirates from Orleigh's council were planning on raiding Nagrobek," the Weavile added. "There wasn't enough time for us to send a message out, so we hailed a Company ship to get you reinforcements. Nothing wrong with that."
The weasel's explanation was met with an impatient stamp against the ground from the Zoroark, who kept giving a piercing glare back at the party. At once the four Pokémon quieted down as a seething growl came out from under Elilan's breath.
"I assigned you first and foremost to focus on recovering Subject Red, not to abandon your mission because you felt a need to look out for my welfare!" the Dark-Type snapped. "In the future, you will leave me to deal with what happens on my island. Understood?"
The members of Team Sentinel quietly traded uneasy looks with each other, before Sorge turned back to his superior and responded in a reluctant voice.
"… Yes, Administrator."
"Good. I want you to reprovision and return to the mission I gave you by tomorrow," Elilan ordered. "The longer we wait, the harder it will be for you to find Subject Red's trail again."
One by one, the four Pokémon darted out of the room, leaving the Alakazam outside to shut the door after them. In his newfound solitude, the Zoroark Administrator flopped back into his seat and buried his face in a palm, growling under his breath as his Trevenant Commander scuttled up.
"Is something the matter, Administrator?" Betulo asked.
"This was a crisis that we could have handled on our own!" the Administrator fumed as he slammed his desk. "And one that would've been able to give you the recognition you finally needed for me to make my case to the Board!"
Betulo paused in thought in moment, before shaking his head back. Elilan tilted his head puzzledly, opening his mouth to speak, only for his subordinate to explain his seeming lack of concern.
"The actions of the lower ranks tend to get lost in the haze whenever large events like these happen, Administrator," the Trevenant reassured. "That Samurott's just a Second-Rank, so what are the odds we'll ever hear from him again?"
The skies southwest of Nagrobek flushed a burnt orange as the sun began to slip over the horizon, bathing the deck of a battered caravel with golden sails with its waning light. There, on the port side of the deck, the form of a young Growlithe in front of a Gible and a Trapinch stared out excitedly at the sea, his tail wagging as he gestured out to a bobbing pink buoy in the water.
"What's that over there?"
"That's a beacon, one of the Crystal Beacons to be more specific," Pyry answered. "It helps let passing ships know where they're going and if there's anything they need to avoid in the water."
"Oh? And what about that stone on the rope down there?" Elty asked.
"That's the ship's anchor: it keeps the ship from moving around when its captain wants it to stop," the Gible explained.
"And those pieces of cloth above us?"
The Growlithe's yip drew an annoyed groan from Pekka, who reared up and waved his stubby forelegs irritatedly.
"Bah, give it a rest already! We've been at sea for less than half an hour!" the Trapinch hissed. "There'll be plenty of other times we can explain this stuff to you!"
The three looked up and saw the forms of the Aggron captain and his first mate approaching with a trio of golden cloths dangling from Rodion's paw. Elty watched as the pair walked up, giving a curious tilt of his head at the cloths as he noticed that they were emblazoned with silver teardrop-like designs.
"Huh? What are those?"
"They're the scarves that Pokémon from our crew wear," the Floatzel explained. "If I remember right, you two are from the Devastating Drakes, right?"
"Er… yes? But why do we need new scarves?" Pekka asked.
"Well, we're a few deckclaws short from that last raid, and we need to start filling places where we can," the Water-Type explained.
"Right," Hess added. "So we're a bit open to recruits right now for the Iron Fleet."
The Aggron's explanation drew a frown from a Ledian sitting on the rigging of the mast overhead. The Bug-Type shook his head before a mischievous smirk began to spread over his face.
"You know," Kichiro sneered. "You can just be honest and say we'll press-gang them if they refu-"
The Bug-Type's words were cut off by a loud thwack from the Aggron captain batting his tail forcefully against the mast. The Ledian lost his balance, tumbling through the air with a yelp before hastily evening himself out just above the deck. Kichiro chittered angrily and shot a dirty glare at his captain who rolled his eyes in response, before the beetle flitted off and left Elty tilting his head puzzledly at the whole episode.
"What are 'recruits'?" the Growlithe asked. "And what's the 'Iron Fleet'?"
Hess' eyes lit up and his maw cracked open into a toothy grin at the Growlithe's question. Pyry and Pekka traded curious looks with one another, as the metal lizard wagged his tail.
"The only crew in all of the Cradle with the means to fly silver and gold from its masts!" Hess cheered. "Not even Beatrice the Swift could do that back in her day!"
The Aggron beamed and puffed his stony chest out proudly, drawing an excited wag of the Elty's tail. Further behind, a Sableye looked up from untangling some knotted ropes with a puzzled tilt of his head.
"Isn't that just because the other crews say it makes them stand out too much- Gah!"
The Sableye was swiftly silenced by a swat from Rodion's paw and an icy glare, prompting the Ghost-Type to slink off with a grumble. Hess blinked, a sheepish grimace coming over his face as he turned back to his fledgling audience.
"So yeah, if you need a new crew to call home, you can't really do worse than us!" the Steel-Type insisted.
Pekka tilted his head and cracked his maw open slightly, lowering his head and giving it an unimpressed shake.
"I… was expecting a bit more from a recruiting speech ," Pekka murmured.
"Aherm. I would like to add that Hess as a captain does have some of the best fortune of any crew in Orleigh," Rodion offered.
"That's right! Ever since I got my lucky charm, I've always been able to get back to port safely!" the Aggron offered. "So as long as you're with us, you'll never have to worry about not having a place to turn to!"
Pyry blinked and traded a dubious look with his partner over the Aggron's mention of a 'lucky charm'. Most crews usually tried to emphasize their accomplishments when trying to wow new recruits, not that they were always able to get away. And something about this crew's name felt vaguely familiar...
"The 'Iron Fleet'? Aren't they the guys who keep making lame excuses for whenever their raids go bad?" Pyry whispered. "Pretty sure I heard them say once that they couldn't get loot because of a single Skarmory."
"I thought they were the crew with the captain that bought and then abandoned a bunch of cannons because he kept getting trapped in their Apricorns," his Trapinch teammate whispered back.
"So… what do we need to do as 'recruits'?"
Pyry and Pekka looked ahead and watched as the Growlithe stepped forward, sitting and staring up intently at the pirate captain and his first mate. Rodion took the chance to take a step forward himself, as he cleared his throat and began to speak up.
"Help keep this ship afloat and pitch in during our raids," the Floatzel answered. "In return, we'll split our shares of the loot, make sure there's always something to eat and drink, and that whenever we have to cut and run, we'll do our best to make sure we can get you out."
"Heh, I'm great at running!" the Growlithe yipped. "I'll do it!"
"That's great! Though… what do you want us to call you for a name?" the Steel-Type asked. "I do need something to call you in case another Growlithe joins the crew."
Elty shifted shyly, seemingly wavering in his response a moment before replying back.
"Uh… well… my mama would always call me 'Eltenios'," the Fire-Type answered. "I guess you can call me that."
The Puppy Pokémon's response drew a brow raise from the Aggron pirate. Pokémon in the Cradle's various islands and waters always seemed to have a penchant for coming up with the darndest names, but this name was almost as much of a mouthful as Kichiro's!
"Well that's certainly quite the long name," the captain murmured.
"'Eltenios' is fine," the Floatzel insisted. "But just out of curiosity... does it mean anything?"
"My mama always said it's a special word that Growlithe and Arcanine used from a long, long time ago," the pup explained. "And that it meant that I'd never, ever give up."
The Aggron captain smiled at the name's explanation, and knelt down to extend a claw and pet the top of the young Puppy Pokémon's head. Of all the Pokémon to pick up as a new recruit, he certainly could've done worse than choosing someone with fire in his belly like this pup!
"Well I think it suits you," he said. "So what about you two? What's your names? And you going to join with your friend?"
Pyry and Pekka traded hesitant looks with one another, before looking over at the Growlithe and how content he seemed to be here amongst Hess' company. Even if the Iron Fleet was far from their first pick, they could do worse for a crew to be on while watching out for Eltenios… right?
"I'm Pekka. And… I mean, he is going to need someone to show him the ropes…" the Trapinch murmured.
"Pyry, and we do have some experience…" the Gible added. The pudgy land shark peered down at the satchel slung over his arm, prompting him to sidle up to Elty and slip it onto the dog's shoulder, leaving the Fire-Type to gawk back puzzledly.
"It's for you," the land shark explained. "If you're going to be working with us, we've gotta do something to make sure you can pull your weight."
Yeah, with your feet, I'm sure that you can get stuff around in that bag faster than we ever could," Pekka said.
"Heh! Sounds like you're all settling in good enough!" Hess chortled. Sensing the time was appropriate, Rodion stepped forward and passed the golden cloths over to the three Pokémon, revealing them to be pre-tied scarves ready to be slipped on and worn.
"Put these on," the Floatzel said "And with that, welcome to the crew. I'll come by to give you your first assignments later."
The Aggron and Floatzel turned and made their way down the deck, leaving their newly-inducted members to slip their scarves over their necks. Pyry and Pekka toyed with their new garments, attempting to adjust the knots to allow a better fit when the sound of excited yips prompted them to look over and see Elty bounding in circles on the deck. Pekka tilted his head skeptically a moment, before turning to his Gible partner.
"… Veikka, was this really a good idea?" the Trapinch murmured. "I mean, we basically drug a 'mon that's been living under a rock his whole life along with us out to sea. And how are we supposed to break the news about his mother?"
Pyry looked at the Growlithe, watching as the Fire-Type darted around with a fiery spark in his eyes. After a long pause, the land shark shook his head as a small smile crept up over his face.
"… We already came this far together, didn't we? I think we can work things out," he replied. "Give it a few weeks. We'll figure a way to tell him… For now, let's just let him have his moment and give him a chance to learn the ropes a bit."
- mama - Polish: "mom"
- äippä - Finnish: "mom"
- Kapitein - Dutch: "Captain"
- kundel - Polish: "mutt"
- szaleńczy - Polish: "insane", with nuance closer to "stupid" or "foolish"
- Idź stąd! - Polish: "Go away!"
- selyane (селяне) - Russian: "peasants", "hicks" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)