Chapter 79: Uneasy Peace

Amid the icy passages of the eleventh floor of Haipheh's Mystery Dungeon, Nida and her teammates quietly moved into a small crevice in the icy wall where fog swirled about deeper within. After pushing their way past, the group made their way into the mist, their vision and senses fading out as the haze thickened around them. Nida continued on, flicking her ears and sniffing at the ground to try and pick up any hint of the rest of her teammates, when she heard garbled voices from up ahead, with Pleo's voice becoming increasingly discernible with each step forward.

"I hear Pleo!" Nida piped. "They must be just ahead!"

"A-Ack! Habla bajo!" Pladur exclaimed in a hushed tone. "We're already low on items from those search parties! We'd be in real trouble if we ran into that Clawitzer-!"

As the dungeon's fog cleared, the five began to see the contours of a chamber flecked with clusters of icy crystals ahead of them, when they froze and came to a startled stop. There, in between them and their missing teammates, was Nagant along with the same underlings who'd snatched Pleo back on Sormus!

"… as well," the Fraxure gulped.

Crom and his party members quickly shifted into defensive positions, readying themselves for battle as the Druddigon shot a frantic look over towards the young Lugia.

"Pleo! Get away!" he cried. "We'll cover you!"

"Oi! Simmer down a bit!" Elty snapped. "We're alright here!"

Nida and the others blinked back puzzledly, looking again to see Niilo stepping back from applying an Oran Berry to Pleo's flank and Cabot doing much the same to Kelly a little further away. The Nidorina tilted back an ear puzzledly, before warily walking up with her teammates to the young Protector.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"Uh… well we talked Nagant into not fighting us right now," Pleo replied. "So that's something."

"Mind you there is an entire Empire waiting for you right now," Nagant scolded. "If you want things to stay that way, you better come up with a convincing reason for me not to drag you along!"

Team Traveller's members grimaced and traded nervous looks with one another at the Clawitzer's warning. Amid his teammates' unease, Pleo's features hardened in determination, as he stepped forward towards the wizened shrimp.

"This whole thing is only happening because if you don't take me, the Company will, right?" the Lugia asked. "Well, what if we could do something that would make sure the Company wouldn't do that? Then you wouldn't need to capture me anymore."

"Hrmph, I'm going to need more than mere words to sway me," Nagant scoffed.

Pleo bit his tongue and paused uneasily at Nagant's prodding. Even if she would back off from attacking him, surely it wasn't safe to just blurt out everything they'd found out about the Knights' Ledger. The Lugia's hesitance quickly drew Kiran's notice, prompting him to mull the matter over, before raising a wing for attention.

"It's a bit difficult to explain, but we may have come across something that could make the Company stand down for good," the Swellow explained.

Nagant narrowed her eyes into a skeptical scowl, her barbels flicking impatiently at Kiran's answer, all but telegraphing the words that immediately followed from her mouth.

"And that would be?"

"Well… we met someone with a lot of eyes in different places," Kiran began. "And he told us of some blackmail that could be used against-"

"Save the excuses!" a booming voice snapped. "They're obviously trying to lie their way out of your claws, Nagant!"

Nagant jolted up out of alarm, the gathered Pokémon's attention turning off towards the entrance at the thuds of heavy, approaching footsteps. There at the mouth of the stable zone was the form of a scowling Dragonite, his Imperial First-Rank scarf doing little to disguise his identity from Pladur, who promptly flushed pale at as he recognized it to be…

"H-Huh?! Administrator Darzin?!" the Fraxure squeaked.

Pleo's eyes widened and he whirled over to Nagant as he recalled the night when the Company Administrator tried to snatch him away from Fensedge Village… all the way on the other side of the Cradle. So why was he now here on Haipheh?!

"W-What's going on here?!"

Nagant tightened her mandibles, sensing something had gone deeply amiss for Darzin to have flatly ignored her insistence to stay in port. The Water-Type braced herself and hopped forward, shooting a sharp glare back as she raised a claw up at the Dragonite.

"V chem smysl etogo?!" she demanded. "Go back to town! I told you that I had everything under control!"

Far from the passive-aggressive retort she was expecting, the shrimp's demand did little beyond drawing a low growl from Darzin as he neared with his body poised to lunge forward.

"That's for me to decide," the Dragonite snarled. "And I say it's time for me to take matters into my own claws!"

A weak arc of electricity crackled along his antennae and jolted out at Nagant, sending the Clawitzer toppling over paralyzed before he abruptly flew up and lunged forward. Pleo froze as Darzin barreled towards him, when the voice of a Sandslash and the flashing of long claws announced Niilo's presence.

"Not so fast, you fat jok-AUGH!"

The Sandslash's attempt to interfere was swiftly cut off by an Aqua Tail, sending the Ground-Type pinwheeling into one of the ice crystals. Darzin bore down on Pleo, who hastily attempted to scamper away, only to feel his tail get yanked from behind. The young Lugia thrashed desperately as Darzin pulled him in and latched onto him with his right claw before swiftly pulling out an Escape Orb with his left.

"Ack! Don't let him get away!" Kiran squawked.

The group rushed over towards Darzin, Trizano giving a slash with his wings at Darzin's left arm in a bid to get him to fumble his Escape Orb. The Dragonite jerked his arm back when he felt a heavy tackle at his gut that sent him stumbling back, seeing Cabot pulling away from a Headbutt. Darzin felt his grip on Pleo slacken as he saw Nida trying to tug him free, and after noticing Trizano and Cabot descending on him again as the rest of their companions bore down, he hurriedly threw the orb against a set of nearby ice crystals.

CRACK!

The Escape Orb dashed against the crystals, knocking a few pieces free to the ground as a flash of light swallowed up Darzin along with his captive and his three attackers. As quickly as the light came, it faded, leaving the rest of Team Traveller and Nagant's party to look on with stunned grimaces as Pleo and the others had quite literally vanished into thin air.


Cabot fell forward and landed in a small drift of snow as he felt small, icy objects pelting the back of his head. The Rock-Type got up, noticing that he was under a gray sky with hail falling in front of a foggy cave entrance with forests on either side. There in front, Cabot could see Nida and Trizano getting up and shaking themselves back to attention as the dinosaur rubbed at his head from his unexpected stumble.

"Ngah… where are we now?" Cabot murmured.

"Gwark! Get back! Get back!"

Cabot turned his head at the sight of Pleo jumping back with a start, the Cranidos froze and stiffened up as he watched Darzin righting himself and approaching with bared fangs, and a low, threatening growl.

"Annoying little pests!" the Dragonite snapped. "You should have backed off when you had the chance!"

The four Pokémon blanched as Darzin neared, hastily digging their heels in as Nida stepped forward with her barbs fanned out, trying her hardest to raise her voice back in defiance.

"And just leave our friend to the likes of you?" Nida spat. "As if we'd just let that happen!"

Darzin flashed his claws in response, his tail moving back and forth rhythmically as he glared down at the Nidorina and her companions.

"I'm a Company Administrator," the Dragonite growled. "Do you four really think that you're going to get the best of me?!"

Nida, Pleo, Trizano, and Cabot braced themselves as the Skarmory of the lot shot back a defiant scowl.

"We wouldn't have come if we didn't think we could," the metallic bird said. "Let's see if you've improved at all since Mengir!"

A loud thud rang out as Darzin stomped the ground in front of him, the dragon letting out a low snarl as he spread his claws ready for battle.

"So be it! There won't be some lucky fluke to save you this time!" he shouted. "I'll beat every one of you into the dirt!"

The Dragonite let out a bellowing roar before casting forward an overpowering vortex of wind at Pleo and his companions. The four hastily dove away as the Hurricane passed by, pinning the lot along the ground as Trizano looked up to see Darzin taking wing and preparing to swoop down at them.

"Brace yourselves!" the Skarmory cried.

Darzin threw himself forward, his fist sprouting into flame as he pulled it back and swung it forward at Trizano. The Dragonite's Fire Punch caught the Skarmory square in his chest, sending him back tumbling when he jumped into the air and beat his wings to slow his body. The Steel-Type wobbled a bit, before he rolled to the side and struck the Dragonite's flank with a glinting, spread-wing tackle.

"Grah!"

"Take this!" Cabot shouted.

The Cranidos charged ahead as the blue flecks of light of a Zen Headbutt began to build up on his head. Cabot lunged for Darzin, only for the Dragonite to jump up and fly out of his reach. Pleo joined in, hastily flinging an icy Weather Ball after Darzin that made the Dragon-Type lurch out of the way to try and regroup when a poisoned barb abruptly zipped in and struck him in his rump.

"Nrk!"

The Dragonite jerked up, reflexively pulling the barb from his hide when he felt a sickened chill run through his body and looked down to see Nida staring back at him with a taunting raspberry.

"Hah! Is that really the best you can do?!" the Poison-Type jeered.

The Nidorina's features remained curled up tight in satisfaction even as the falling hail continued to sting her hide, when Darzin took out a Pecha Berry from under his scarf, gobbling it up much to her surprise.

"Hardly," the Dragonite growled. "I've learned a thing or two about dealing with your kind-"

Darzin's gloat was cut off by an icy Weather Ball striking him in his flank, making him pitch down towards the ground. The Dragon-Type hastily righted himself, pulling up and flying back into the air when he narrowed his eyes at Pleo with a sharp snarl.

"Here, let me show you who you're up against!"

Bright light built up in Darzin's mouth, prompting Pleo to hastily dive out of the way as the Administrator disgorged a thick, overpowering beam. As Pleo tried to fly away, he felt a searing pain across his back, sending him crashing down with a squawk. The young Protector groaned, looking up to see Darzin winded and panting himself from the Hyper Beam. The Lugia quickly stumbled and tried to retreat, when a Stun Seed flew in and struck Darzin's snout, sprouting crackling veins of electricity that stunned him with a yelp as Nida turned her head to her teammates.

"Now!" she exclaimed. "While he can't move!"

The Nidorina ran up, letting poison build up along her paw before she jabbed it hard into the Dragonite's belly. Darzin recoiled from the blow, when Trizano cut in and slashed at his right arm with a Steel Wing, and Cabot began to ready a Stone Edge. With a frantic beat of his wings, the Dragon-Type abruptly backed away and moved his arms to form a translucent barrier of light that lingered a moment before settling onto his body.

"Huh?!"

Cabot looked in confusion for a moment, before shaking his head flinging his stones forward, which found their marks on Darzin's body. Far from the harsh blow the Cranidos had expected, the stones were inexplicably slowed by glints of light and Darzin quickly righted himself and glared back as Team Traveller's members looked on stunned, Cabot realizing out of alarm that Darzin had used a move that should have been impossible.

"Th-That's Barrier!" he cried. "How can a Dragonite like you know that?!"

"Some things are just an art to learn," Darzin growled. "Have fun dealing with it."

Nida's mouth hung open in disbelief, before clamping together with her teeth grit in frustration as she recalled what her mother had said over and over about the Dragon-Type.

"You really are a cheat!" she fumed. "What sort of sorcery is that supposed to be?!"

"Hrmph, a fat lot that means coming from someone who can't fight without the help of dungeon items," Darzin scoffed. "Though let me indulge you at your level a moment."

The Dragonite reached into his satchel, pulling out a wand filled with peach-colored mist at its tip, before swinging it towards Nida's direction. The glassy knob at the end shattered, sending forth a plume of mist that swept over the Nidorina. Nida struggled against the effects of the Slumber Wand for a moment, before her stamina gave out and she slumped over asleep much to Pleo's wide-eyed alarm.

"A-Aah! Nida!"

Cabot reflexively called up pointed stones that he flung up at Darzin's body. The Dragonite fell back in mid-air, just barely pulling his flank away as the Stone Edge zipped past when he caught a glint from the corner of his eye, seeing Trizano swooping down at him in a spread-wing approach.

"You look tired, Skarmory," the Dragon-Type harrumphed. "Why don't you take a rest?"

Darzin swung the Slumber Wand a second time, the final glassy layer breaking and spewing peach mist at Trizano. Much like Nida before him, the Skarmory's energy rapidly left him as he crashed to the ground asleep. Darzin threw the spent wand aside with a clatter, turning around towards Pleo who looked up at him frozen out of fright much like a cornered Rattata.

"A-Ahh…"

The Lugia fell into a trance-like state, his eyes flashing a golden yellow as he opened his beak and spat forth a few rings of golden light that came out in a rough cone. The light faded almost as quickly as it came, making him blink puzzledly at his attack suddenly fizzling out. The sound of a loud snarl drew Pleo's attention back ahead of him, as he squawked in fright at the sight of Darzin encroaching on him.

"Save your games for later, child," he snapped. "You'll have plenty of time to amuse yourself on the way back to Volle-"

"Back off!"

Darzin turned and saw Cabot charging at him with his head lowered, prompting the Dragon-Type to spin and catch the Cranidos square in the face with an Aqua Tail. Pleo recoiled as Cabot cried out in pain from the blow, sailing up before flopping to the ground on his back.

"Still your tongue, Imp brat!" Darzin huffed. "This isn't your fight!"

Cabot groaned and struggled to lift his body back up, the Rock-Type forcing himself back to his feet amid the falling hailstones as he fought to keep his balance.

"You're wrong, it is," the Cranidos panted. "I'm… I'm not giving up. Not like this!"

"Save your blabber for someone who cares," Darzin spat. "I'd like to see you try and stop me in your state."

The dragon wheeled around towards Pleo, who stumbled back with a squeak and cringed as the Dragonite lunged for him, when a sharp shout suddenly pierced the air.

"Stop!"

Darzin looked back and went wide-eyed as he saw Cabot's body suddenly glow and begin to transform, growing larger and shifting shape in what the Dragonite instantly gathered to be the light of evolution.

"Oh no you don't!"

Darzin rushed forward as fiery light built up at the back of his mouth, only for his flight to be caught up in an overpowering whirlwind, sending him sailing into the tree next to Nida's sleeping body. As the dragon's hefty frame made the tree's wood shudder, the snow on its branches came loose, falling to the ground below and onto Nida, abruptly dashing her sleep and sending her up to her feet in a confused start.

"Ack! Huh?! What happened-?!"

GRAAAAAAWR!

Nida turned and gasped out of surprise as she saw the light fade, revealing a tall, heavy-built dinosaur with dark gray scales, a rock-hard head crowned with large spikes, and vivid red eyes. Why, that was Cabot! The Nidorina looked on in awe, watching as the newly-evolved Rampardos stomped the ground and pointed stones abruptly lurched from the ground's surface.

"I said, I'm not giving up!" Cabot shouted.

Darzin blanched as the Rock-Type threw his arm out towards the dragon and followed through with his Stone Edge, prompting the Company Administrator to jump and hastily try to fly over the incoming barrage. Before the Dragonite could get far, he felt the hail of stones dig into his torso, which despite Barrier's effect sent him crashing to the ground. Pleo looked on as the Dragon-Type panted and struggled to right his body, turning over to Nida with his eyes lit up in realization.

"Nida! This is our chance!"

Nida nodded back before darting off to Darzin's right, Pleo following suit and making his way to the Dragonite's left. Darzin eased himself when he saw the pair bearing down at him, falling back in a bid to evade the two when he felt a sharp jab into his right flank, stumbling back with a sharp cry to see Nida pulling her paw back from a Poison Jab, with Pleo diving at him just afterwards wreathed in blue, fiery light with a Dragon Rush that struck him square in his back.

"ARGH!"

Darzin fell back to the ground, coming to a crashing rest on his stomach. The Company Administrator raised his head up, struggling to lift the rest of his body, only to slump forwards limply, leaving Nida, Pleo, and Cabot to look on in stunned surprise as they realized…

"We… we did it," Nida gasped. "We actually won!"

Pleo beat his wings excitedly for a moment, before sighing out of relief, struggling with his aching limbs to inch away when he turned and spotted Cabot examining his newly evolved body. Pleo tilted his head, before warily going over towards the Rampardos.

"Cabot?"

"Ah! I mean, it's still me here!" Cabot insisted. "I know that I'm a bit bigger and probably look a little scarier, but-"

The Rampardos' explanation was cut short by a soft, warm feeling at his belly. The Rock-type looked down from his newfound height, where he saw Pleo nuzzling at him, pulling back and looking up with a tired smile.

"It's alright," Pleo reassured. "Thanks for helping us. I think you look great after your evolution!"

Cabot gave a bashful smile back, bringing a hand up to the back of his head as he pawed at it sheepishly.

"Well, it wasn't that big of a deal," the Rampardos said. "I was just doing what I would for any of my friends."

Nida cast a sidelong glance at Pleo and Cabot as they chattered with each other, shifting her paws uncomfortably. Less than an hour ago, Cabot was an enemy to their team and had been working to snatch Pleo away from him, and here Pleo was happily playing with him as if he were part of their team all along! Could Cabot really be a friend? Or was this friendliness just an act that'd vanish as soon as Nagant returned?

The Nidorina paused uneasily before noticing Trizano still lying on the ground asleep. The Poison-Type shook her head and walked up, nudging at his body to try and rouse him.

"Trizano?"

The Skarmory groaned, shifting back up to his feet groggily as he ruffled his metallic feathers and craned his head towards Nida.

"Hrn? Cosa è successo…?" Trizano asked. "What exactly did I miss?"

Nida stuck out her paw, Trizano following it over to see Darzin sprawled out unconscious on the ground. The Steel-Type stared blankly a moment, before looking back and realizing that Cabot had grown noticeably taller and bulkier from the Cranidos he remembered fighting alongside earlier.

"Quite a bit, I see," he murmured. Trizano watched as Pleo and Cabot made their way over to them, the Lugia of the pair pausing uneasily before he began to fidget and squirm.

"What do we do now?" the young Protector wondered.

Nida pondered a moment, before looking down at her scarf and seeing her badge glinting on it. The Nidorina ran her paw over it, her mind turning back to her friends still in the Mystery Dungeon.

"Well, letting everyone know we're okay's a start."

Nida pressed down on the metal bauble, lowering her muzzle to it with tired breaths as she spoke into it.

"Kelly?"

"Nida?! Oh Travellers Above, you're still there! Where's Pleo? And Darzin-"

"We're all up at the dungeon's entrance right now," the Nidorina said. "We kept Darzin from flying off with Pleo."

"You did?! What exactly happened? Is everyone alright?"

Nida said nothing for a noticeable pause, the Poison-Type's face curling up in a tired smile as she gave back a laugh through the badge.

"Heh, never been better."


After Hess' hasty induction into Orleigh's Council, the pirate Aggron quickly returned to his crew to relay the turn of events. While some were skeptical of his claims of a newfound seat at the Council's table, the more boastful members were quick to try and puff out their chests, wandering off into their normal haunts in Rosequartz Town to proclaim their new and well-earned rank after braving Pioppo's hidden village. Other crew members found themselves gathering at their base, where they amused themselves over rum and cards as their Aggron captain slouched forward with his head in his claws while Rodion and Kichiro looked on.

"I can't believe that things have come to this…" Hess muttered.

"What? You mean getting roped along into doing grunt work for some square-neck wasn't a great idea?" Kichiro grumbled.

The Aggron looked up and turned his gaze away uneasily, as Rodion reached over and pawed at the Steel-Type's shoulder for reassurance.

"Hess, if it's about what happened on Pioppo, there's no need to beat yourself up about it," Rodion insisted. "Those selyane got lucky and won by a fluke. It happens."

Hess paused at the Floatzel's reassurance, before testily pulling away and letting out a huffy snort in reply.

"H-Hrmph, I don't need a reminder about that!" the Aggron insisted. "I was just having a little trouble working out some stuff we've got to do now we're part of the Council!"

"Well, where do we start?" Kichiro pressed.

"… We've got a deal to keep," Hess sighed. The Aggron reached into the satchel slung over his shoulder and fished out a map of Anyilla's waters, spreading it out on the table before glancing back at his subordinates on the other side.

"Lyn said that part of the deal was that we needed to go around with those hicks' colors to try and get them in trouble," he explained. "Well, what better than doing our normal business everywhere we can for a while?"

Rodion turned his snout down, carefully studying lines on the map marking currents and chains of buoys as his eyes darted back and forth following them. The Floatzel visibly pondered the matter, before noticeably hesitating and looking back up at his superior.

"That would involve a lot of raids," Rodion said. "Shouldn't we be getting the other Council members involved planning this?"

"Uh… well, they kinda chased me off from their meeting room," Hess replied. "I think they expect us to go about this alone."

Kichiro and Rodion frowned at their captain's reply. Hess had told him his promotion happened… in unusual circumstances, to say the least. But hearing how little respect he commanded still couldn't help but stir up doubts as to whether the whole venture had been worth it.

"Sounds like that Council seat's really working for you," Kichiro harrumphed. "Though how are we supposed to go around just raiding everything? It takes time to plan out a raid where we actually get decent loot out of it."

"Well, given all the places we need to hit, I think just stirring up some trouble would be fine," Rodion offered. "We'll grab some low-hanging fruit, sail off, and get out before the locals know what hit 'em."

Hess bit his tongue and wavered a moment. Pulling off one successful raid on short notice with his crew already was like pulling teeth at times, and now they had to handle an entire string of them in a matter of days? The Steel-Type pawed uneasily at his scarf, glancing down at the silvery stone underneath he kept for good luck as he murmured back a reply.

"I just hope we're not pushing our luck here," the pirate captain said.

"Let's take things slowly and start by looking over what islands to raid first," Rodion offered.

One after the other, the three pirates turned their attention down at the map, their eyes moving from one island to the next as they began to plot out the Iron Fleet's next course of action. All the while, Hess' mind kept circling back to his defeat on Pioppo and his worries about whether it was undermining him in front of his underlings, with one solid conclusion…

Whenever they crossed paths with that bird again, he'd need to settle that score once and for all.


Back on Tromba, the sun beamed down on the island's beaches as the waves lapped up against them. The beach overlooking the town from the west was quiet that day, its sand undisturbed barring Pyry and Pekka sitting there idly shifting it around. The Trapinch of the pair burrowed his body into the sand, before popping out and dusting himself off while the Gabite kicked at a pile of sand underfoot. Every now and then, the two would look back at the town, where the lavender sails of Bunsen's fleet could be seen looming over the harbor much to Pyry's audible displeasure.

"Remind me why we're sitting here instead of getting sloshed at that Kangaskhan's bar?" the Gabite asked.

"Because the square-necks that took over the town have been swarming the place during our afternoon breaks?" Pekka retorted. "Besides, she stopped letting us have more than one drink during the day anyway."

Pyry frowned and cast his glance down at his feet, idly moving his toes around in the sand as he let out a low sigh.

"Right… I just don't know why those square-necks are getting to me so much."

"I mean… when Mildrew and his yappy grub were in a good mood, it wasn't all that bad before that Charizard's goons came along," Pekka murmured. "I dunno, it almost felt like a place to call home."

Pyry blinked back at the Trapinch's reply. While he hadn't put much thought into it, working at Gwenith's bakery and the various sights about Bluewhorl had become almost second nature to him, and the villagers had long since stopped reflexively treating him as a hostile stranger. The Gabite mulled the matter over, wondering if getting accustomed so quickly was a good thing or not, when he noticed a patch of blue scales bobbing in the waves, which made him turn back to Pekka.

"Veikka, was that fish always there?" Pyry questioned.

"… Ei, I don't think he was," Pekka said. "Do you think he's a spy?"

The Gabite frowned and flashed his teeth, narrowing his eyes at the Pokémon out in the water.

"Hrmph. Well let's let him know we're onto him."

Pyry brought his claws together, cupping his mouth before letting out a sharp scold out over the waves.

"Hey, fishface!" the Dragon-Type growled. "We can see you lurking around there!"

The hidden figure rose above the surface, revealing himself to be a Kingdra. The seahorse quickly slipped from view again, carrying along just beneath the water's surface before settling in a tide pool where he propped his body up and shot back a sharp glare.

"I was taking a moment to rest, you stupid airbreather!" the Kingdra snapped.

Pyry and Pekka flinched from the irritated seahorse, when Pekka noticed that the Kingdra wasn't wearing a scarf, but a blue-and-red belt. Realizing the Pokémon was from an ocean clan and not in much of any position to spy on anyone above water, Pekka shifted his shoulders and offered up a wary apology to try to calm the Kingdra.

"Uh… sorry? Though what exactly brings a nomad like you here?" the Trapinch asked. "In case you hadn't noticed, Bluewhorl Town's not a very friendly place to visit right now."

"I can see that. Everyone else turned around as soon as we saw all the Company ships in port and stuck me with having to scout this glush!" Kuda spat. "How on earth did you hicks even manage to bring this upon yourselves anyway?!"

"Oi! We're not hicks! We don't live here!" Pyry protested. "… Sort of."

"It's all because this island's Protector woke up," Pekka sighed. "Those square-necks chased him off some time ago and now they sent another bunch to just sit around here and ambush him once he comes back."

Kuda let out a low grumble and shook his head, the Kingdra brushing his fins impatiently against the tide pool as he turned back for the sea.

"Oh, Ataman Viktor is going to love that…" he muttered, prompting Pyry and Pekka to blink and stare back in surprise.

"Uh… are we missing something here?" Pekka wondered. "Who's this 'Oughtaman' you're going on about?"

Kuda paused from his efforts to leave the tide pool, before answering the Trapinch's question with a sharp, impatient scowl.

"Hrmph, it doesn't concern you," the Kingdra huffed. "Just go on with your lives and try to keep your heads down for a while."

The seahorse worked his way out of the tide pool and back into the sea's waters, fighting against the waves before he zipped along and dipped below the water's surface. Pyry and Pekka looked on after the departed Kingdra, before turning to each other unsure what to fully make of their encounter.

"Pbbt. What a weirdo," Pekka chittered. "Though what do you think he meant by that last part?"

"Probably just some stuck-up fish being a jerk," Pyry harrumphed.

The Gabite turned back off towards the sea, wondering what had motivated the Kingdra to skulk about in such a fashion. The Dragon-Type paused as the thought came to mind that perhaps the uppity seahorse had some sort of connection to Pleo and the Siglo Swellow…

Nah, what would the odds of that be?

He dismissed the notion with a snort and kicked at the sand as he returned to lazing about on the beach with his companion.


About half an hour after Darzin's defeat, his body had been propped up against a thick palm tree, showing little sign of activity beyond an occasional twitch of his antennae and the faint rising and falling of his chest. All the while, Team Traveller's members gathered around, watching the Dragonite keenly as they traded wary murmurs with one another.

"Are we sure this is a good idea?" Pladur asked.

"Nagant did say she could handle him," Kiran replied. "Just… be careful."

Darzin abruptly shifted, his antennae twitching as the drake's eyes began to crack open and a dazed groan came out from his maw.

"Urgh… of course they left me in this miserable weather," the Dragonite grunted. "Where did those four run off to-?"

The Dragon-Type's words abruptly trailed off as he looked before him, spotting Team Traveller alongside Kelly and Nagant's party clustered around him with Pleo standing at the fore. The Dragonite grit his teeth, letting out a seething snarl at the young Protector before him.

"You!"

Darzin threw his arms out, attempting to grab at Pleo as the Lugia jumped back with a startled squawk. The dragon lurched forward to try and give chase, only to feel his chilly body refuse to budge further.

"Huh?!"

The Dragonite looked down, seeing that his body below his chest had been encased in a lump of ice attached to the tree trunk behind him. The Dragon-Type stared blankly when a large blue claw abruptly thrust into his field of view, a quick glance revealing Nagant was looking back at him with a sharp glare.

"I suggest you don't try that again," Nagant said. "I thought that we had an agreement between us, but I suppose the real question I ought to be asking myself right now is why I shouldn't turn the Company Administrator in our midst over to the Admiralty. I'm sure they'd have no shortage of things they'd be dying to learn from you."

Darzin paused for a moment, before gritting his teeth and sinking back with a frustrated sigh, realizing that he had few options other than to humor his captors' curiosity.

"Grr… what do you want from me?"

"What are you even doing here?" Nida demanded. "And how do you know Nagant?"

"Hrmph. We had an alliance of convenience," Darzin scoffed. "I have some priorities that the Company alone won't fill for me, and she happened to be able to make a trade for my help."

Team Traveller grimaced at the Dragonite's reply, giving wary glances over at the elderly Clawitzer before Nida spoke up.

"Is that true?" the Nidorina asked, prompting Nagant to hesitate a moment before pulling her claw away from Darzin's body.

"Da," the pistol shrimp answered. "He cornered us on Mengir while we were spying on the Board before we came to our… arrangement."

Nagant's expression took a sour turn, as she shook her head and scowled back at her captive trapped against the tree.

"Not that much has come of it since working with him has proven to be next-to-impossible," she huffed.

"I'm the problem here?" Darzin spat. "You've literally been leaving me in the dark over your attempts to seize that Lugia!"

"And you've been constantly breathing down my neck while trying to micromanage my attempts at holding up our bargain," Nagant retorted. "Why, you even laid an ambush for him on Tromba without me knowing about it!"

Team Traveller's members jolted up in alarm, Crom and Kiran quickly speaking up to try and press Darzin further about Nagant's comment.

"An ambush?!" Crom exclaimed.

"What did you do?" Kiran demanded. "What's out there waiting for us?"

The Dragonite reflexively clamped his jaws shut in reply, before hardening his brow back into a withering glare.

"Hrmph, why don't you sail off and find out?"

Nagant summarily leveled her claw and spewed out an icy beam that struck Darzin's right shoulder, making the Dragonite bellow in pain. As the drake latched onto his shoulder and attempted to rub feeling into it, the Clawitzer hopped up towards him, her claw raised as she leveled an icy glare back at the Dragon-Type.

"Do be aware that the moment you lose consciousness is the moment my patience with you is over," Nagant snapped. "Don't test it and answer their question."

Darzin glared back, hesitating a moment before lowering his antennae and speaking up with a sour grumble.

"The Board got wise to your travels and dispatched a Commissioner to lock down Bluewhorl until you came back," he explained. "I had an opportunity to put my claw on the scale and saw to it that the Commissioner would be a Marked that I could keep loyal, to improve my odds of capturing that Lugia."

Team Traveller's members blanched at the Dragonite's answer, the word 'Commissioner' stirring up unpleasant images of some fierce Pokémon casually bullying and tormenting the townsfolk much as Lyn and his underlings did every time they came ashore…

"A-And this Commissioner's there right now?!" Crom cried.

"Obviously. When else did you think that ambush would have taken place?" Darzin scoffed. "Anyway, by making the Commissioner a Marked it would ensure that your Lugia friend would either manage to slip away in a weakened state, or that the Commissioner would be desperate enough to be rid of his dreaded 'demon' that he'd gladly hand him off to me."

Pleo and his companions said nothing, their heads drooping as an overpowering feeling of dread came over them. They'd come all this way thinking that Tromba would be a place of refuge, a safe harbor, but now…

"How are we supposed to get back now…?" Pleo murmured.

"Hrmph, that's not my problem," Darzin huffed. "I've given you what you wanted and don't have anything else to say. So let me go already!"

"So be it," Nagant grunted. "I'm a 'mon of my word… if with some caveats."

The Water-Type reached into a satchel and fished out a lavender scarf with an intricate fractal pattern of purple squares dyed on it, holding it aloft as Darzin recoiled and grimaced for a fleeting moment at the sight.

"Namely that I'll be asking for a price for your freedom," Nagant said.

"And what do you think you're doing with that?" Darzin shot back. "That's my scarf."

"I'm well aware," the Clawitzer retorted. "I can see the pattern on it as clearly as you can."

The Dragonite turned up his snout with a fuming growl, snorting out hot air from his nostrils as he glared back at the Water-Type.

"Are you really so petty as to humiliate me on my way out?!" Darzin seethed. "What on earth does the Admiralty teach its captains these days?!"

"To recognize insurance when they see it," Nagant answered. "Which is why you're going to cease chasing after this Protector."

Darzin fell silent and bit his tongue at the shrimp's reply. Even though the elderly Clawitzer hadn't outright said so, it would've been obvious to even a child that she was threatening him with blackmail.

"An Administrator's scarf is fairly distinctive in the Company's territory, the fabric to make it isn't cheap, and few tailors can make its pattern without defects," Nagant mused. "Merely going back to Vollezee without it and needing a replacement is bound to raise some questions, but it's certainly not unprecedented since even they get damaged occasionally."

The Water-Type slackened her grip, twirling the Administrator's scarf about the tip of her claw as she continued addressing her Dragonite captive.

"However, I'm sure it will be different if your scarf turns up intact in the claws of an Imperial Captain alleging that you've been plotting against them," she said. "I certainly hope you've built up some goodwill, since I can't imagine they would just dismiss such an event, even with that strip of my scarf in your claws."

Darzin said nothing, scowling back at the impudent shrimp for a moment before he gave a grudging mutter back.

"And just where are you going with this?"

"I'm looking for you to make a decision. Would you rather yield to my demand and merely have to explain to your peers why you need a new scarf?" Nagant pressed. "Or be condemned as a traitor by your own faction?"

The Dragonite glowered, casting his glance over at Pleo with a noticeable pause before he closed his eyes with a frustrated grimace and spoke up with a throaty grumble.

"… Ugh, I'll leave the bird and his friends alone," he replied. "Now hurry up and let me go."

"Fine," Nagant harrumphed. "Niilo, give him an Aspear Berry."

The Sandslash rifled through his bag and pulled out a round, yellow berry, stripping the rind and pressing its juices up against Darzin's joints. The residue of the berry bubbled against the ice's surface, making it thin out until the Dragonite was able to snap the thinned sections of ice and free his limbs. Team Traveller watched as Darzin brushed the ice off his body, the Dragon-Type looking back at them with a sharp glare.

"Don't think for a moment that this is the end of things."

The Dragonite leapt up and took to the air, leaving Nagant to reflexively move her claw up after him, only to stop and watch after the departing drake as he slipped from her range. Elty pinned his ears back, going up the Clawitzer with a worried frown.

"Are you sure you made the right call there?" the Growlithe asked. "Just how much do you trust a 'mon like that?"

"Hrmph, not much obviously," she retorted. "But with his scarf in my claws, I'll be able to handle any trickery from him well enough."

Nagant's face fell into a stern frown, as she shifted her firing claw back to Team Traveller with a guarded tension about her body.

"Though as for you, I'm still undecided," the Clawitzer continued. "You never did finish telling me what your plan was or why I should humor it."

Team Traveller's members hemmed and hawed at the shrimp's insistence, as they tried to square away the easiest way of convincing her without saying too much. After a pondering twitch of her whiskers, Nida realized that Nagant and Darzin had worked together after coming to a deal with each other. So… if that was the case…

"Well… you were willing to make a deal with Darzin to help get Pleo, weren't you?" the Nidorina offered. "So why not make one with us? We have blackmail that can make the Company stand down, and all we want is to be left alone."

Berecien and Niilo traded dubious looks with one another at Nida's offer. Nagant's reaction proved little better, as she narrowed her eyes back and let out a sharp hiss.

"No, absolutely not," she scoffed. "Why on earth should I take such a blind leap of faith?"

Nida paused at the shrimp's reply, before shaking her head and folding back an ear curiously.

"Well… do you really need Pleo?" Nida asked.

"Of course we do! With him under our banner, we'd be able to force the Company into surrender and finally reunite Anyilla!" Nagant exclaimed. "Would you rather see the Company take over and bully your island with even more impunity if they get him first?"

"And the commonfolk have been in an uproar after you left Giotto. Bringing Pleo back is the fastest way to get them to calm down," Berecien added, only to be summarily met by Guardia folding her arms and turning up her helmeted snout.

"Hrmph, you all never struck me as the types to need a god to fight your battles for you, and it'd be quite arrogant to think you could force him to," the Cubone scoffed. "But if we already have a way of getting those knot-necks you're fighting with into leaving us alone and have Pleo explain that he's not mad with your colony, doesn't that solve your other problems?"

"This way would involve whatever you dug up on Pioppo, I presume?" Nagant demanded.

Guardia and her teammates widened their eyes and blanched at Clawitzer's question, their alarm and fumbling attempts to cut in with an excuse doing little more than to deepen her scowl.

"Don't play coy with me, I know from what my crew found that you went there. The only reason why anyone would go there would be out of desperation or because they knew to look for something," Nagant harrumphed. "Even my immediate superior gave me a startled look when I brought that island up, and changed the topic as soon as he could. So since you've been there, tell me. What exactly is out there?"

Team Traveller's members paused as they weighed over just how open they could afford to be about the Knights' Ledger. After mulling the matter over, Kiran reasoned that it surely wouldn't do any harm to bring up the broad strokes of the Ledger… or at least as it related to their shared enemy.

"We found some records from back when the Company was still loyal to the Empire. They were… less than flattering about them to say the least," the Swellow explained. "We figured they wouldn't want them coming out, so they'd rather leave us alone than risk getting them exposed."

"And why shouldn't I just capture you all here and take those records for myself?" Nagant questioned. "You're a merchant crew, while I have a navy at my back. What can you offer that would sway me?"

"Because… Tromba is where he's needed," Elty said.

Nagant said nothing back, her expression visibly unmoved by the Growlithe's appeal. Sensing that he was losing the shrimp's patience, Elty hastily carried on, hoping to keep Nagant's attention before her mind made itself up.

"Look, I know that it sounds a bit corny and I wouldn't have cared about this if you'd asked me a couple weeks ago, but Tromba is his island, and now it's in trouble," he insisted.

"Hrmph, his island is hardly the only place in Anyilla with troubles, Growlithe."

"Maybe not," the Puppy Pokémon admitted. "But if your home was in trouble and its Protector was around… wouldn't you want the same if there was a chance of doing something to help it?"

Nagant fell silent at Elty's words her mind drifted back to her former home on Conntow. For ages, it had been said among the local Pokémon that even while he slept, Zygarde, the local Protector, kept balance in the world around him. For years after the loss of her family to the Great Calamity she'd lifted up prayers to Zygarde to no avail, in the hope that he'd awake and restore the island they both called home. If he had merely been awake at the time of the Great Calamity, surely his power could have saved the island, and the Pokémon who were eagerly awaiting him…

Were he awake then, it would've been unforgivable if any Pokémon denied him the right to defend the city that had grown in his shadow. Even now, in her advanced years and the memories of happier times slipping from her, she had never fully abandoned glimmers of hope that she'd live to see her Protector restore what was rightfully his. Then… even if it was a mere hamlet, was it right to force the same upon another Protector just because he had fewer souls at home to call out to him? Nagant shifted uncomfortably at the idea, remaining in conflicted thought as Elty shook his head and continued on.

"As long as his home needs him, we're going to keep on fighting to get him back there," he said. "Are all those Pokémon upset with you right now going to be less upset if he runs away a second time? A third? If he's always looking miserable every time so much as a feather is seen of him?"

Nagant faltered and looked away from the Growlithe, shifting her gaze towards the ground. The Water-Type lingered a moment, when she felt a hand prod at her left arm, turning her head to see Cabot looking down at her with pleading eyes.

"Captain, is capturing Pleo really the only way we can move forward?" the Rampardos asked. "Isn't there anything different we can try at all?"

The Clawitzer hesitated, saying nothing for a long moment before turning over to Team Traveller with a wary glance.

"… What would you do if I let you go?"

"We'd go and get our home back, and then blackmail the Company into leaving us alone," Nida answered. "It'll be a hard fight, but we've got friends there to help us. Even if Pleo's still young and learning as a Protector, we're not just going to let ourselves get pushed around."

Nagant frowned back, making Team Traveller's members tense up as the lot half-expected her to berate them or shoot an errant jet of water into their faces, when the Clawitzer surprised them by closing her eyes with a loud sigh.

"… Fine, I'll humor it," she murmured.

Pleo and his companions exhaled out of relief, happy that in spite of their fears they'd seemingly gotten through to the Clawitzer. Cabot meanwhile stared at Nagant stunned, half-disbelieving that after their conversation on Buyeom that she was actually agreeing to let Pleo go.

"Do you really mean it, Captain?" the Rampardos asked.

Hrmph, I don't kid around, Cabot," the shrimp scolded. "You of all Pokemon should know that." Pleo beat his wings excitedly, the young Lugia letting out a happy chirp in reply. "Thank you!" he exclaimed. "I promise that you won't regret-"

"The pleasantries can wait for another time," Nagant interrupted. "If we're going to go through with this arrangement, you must leave Haipheh as soon as possible."

"Huh? Why are you in such a rush to shoo us off?" Guardia asked. "Aren't you in charge here?"

"No. Ever since you left Giotto we've been working together with another crew that's led by a higher ranked Salamence. I sent word to him about your presence this morning and he'll probably arrive here by the end of the day," Nagant explained. "He doesn't know anything about any arrangements that I've been making, and you shouldn't expect him to honor any bargain between us."

"Yeah, that Commodore Valan's a real stick in the mud," Niilo added. "He'd Hyper Beam any of you into next week if it meant getting ahold of Pleo."

Wait… Valan? As in the Lieutenant that served under Admiral Coil all those years ago?! Guardia and the others grimaced as their minds turned back to the tale Valter told them on Pioppo. Having yet another strong Pokémon with no shortage of underlings giving chase to them was the last thing that they needed right now. Sensing the group's unease, Nagant gave a reassuring wave of her claw and shook her head back.

"Don't worry about it too much. I'll see to it that Valan doesn't find your trail so long as our arrangement is in place," the Clawitzer began, before her features hardened into a stern frown.

"Though there are limits to it. I've got an estate to restore and I won't stand by this deal if it means the Empire is endangered," she warned. "If anything happens to you out there, I will track you down and bring you back to Tidemill City myself even if I have to chain you to the center mast to do it. Are we clear?"

The gathered Pokémon shuffled uneasily at the shrimp's ultimatum, only for Pleo to step up with a confident glance, giving a firm nod back at the Water-Type.

"Understood," the Lugia chirped. "But I really think that we can do this."

"… Let's hope so. Just don't make me regret this," Nagant said, before shifting her gaze over to Kelly.

"Though this is the point where we should part ways," the Clawitzer remarked. "The rest of my crew is waiting for me, and I'm sure yours is as well."

Team Traveller nodded back, before Kelly moved away to prepare a safe space to teleport from, prompting Elty, Ander, Guardia, and Trizano to follow after her. Nida began to make her way over to the group as well, only to catch herself and flick her ears as she felt cloth straps tugging against her shoulder, prompting her to turn to Niilo and hand over Tegu's bag.

"Oh right, this came from a friend of yours earlier," the Nidorina said.

Niilo took the satchel from the Poison-Type, pausing after he noticed it felt unusually light. The Sandslash opened the bag, peering inside before raising his head back up with an annoyed frown.

"And where's the stuff in it?" he asked. "Knowing the 'mon this belongs to, I doubt you took an empty bag earlier."

"Eh, we put them to good use," Nida replied, waving her paw back dismissively as she made her way to Kelly's teleport circle. "We wouldn't have made it past those patrols in the dungeon without them."

Berecien narrowed his eyes as the Ponyta curled his mouth into a sour frown and gave a disdainful snort.

"I can't believe we're making an agreement with a bunch of thieving dranie like you," he grumbled, his complaints being swiftly answered by a smug smile from Elty.

"Nah, it's compensation for the whole 'kidnapping a Protector' thing you guys did on Sormus," the Growlithe teased. "Or do I detect a hint of jealousy that your sticky paws aren't all they're cracked up to be?"

Berecien spluttered angrily back at Elty's retort and opened his mouth to snap back, the Growlithe blowing a raspberry as he vanished in a flash of light with Kelly and his teammates. After a few moments as the Ponyta continued to fume over his wounded pride, Kelly returned and turned her attention back to Team Traveller's remaining members.

"Alright everyone, it's your turn."

Crom, Pladur, Dimitri, and Kiran made their way over to Kelly, prompting Pleo to walk off after them when he heard a downcast sigh. The young Lugia paused and turned back, seeing Cabot hanging his head and looking at the ground in low spirits.

"I suppose this is goodbye again," the Rampardos murmured.

"Well… yeah. My home's in trouble, and the Pokémon there need me to help them," Pleo answered as he shifted uneasily. "You understand, don't you?"

"I do, but… I just wish that we didn't have to part ways like this," Cabot said.

"But, Cabot, it won't be for that long," the Lugia replied. "I'm sure we'll see each other again soon!"

Cabot blinked in surprise at Pleo's exclamation, the Rampardos staring back at a loss for words as the Lugia gave a determined look back.

"I know we'll be able to get through this and beat the Company. Besides, we're friends!" he insisted. "Maybe I can't see you until we've gotten everything sorted out, but that doesn't mean I don't want to see you afterwards! I just know that you'd love Tromba, and Bluewhorl, and everyone there…"

Pleo paused at the sight of the downcast Rampardos, wondering to himself if there was anything at all he could do to lift his spirits. After a moment's deliberation, his eyes lit up as an idea flickered across his mind. The young Protector craned his head back towards his wings and nosed about before clamping down on a loose feather and plucking it out. Cabot raised a brow at the seabird's preening, as Pleo turned back to face him with a silver plume held firmly in his beak before bringing it up to Cabot's hands.

"If you had something to remember that by…" he offered. "Maybe it'd help?"

Cabot took the feather and ran it between his digits, looking down in fascinated awe at the silvery-white feather. The Rampardos' gaze lingered on the plume for a moment, before he looked back at Pleo with his mood having taken a visibly happier turn.

"Heh," Cabot chuckled. "I… I guess I can try that out- Huh?"

Cabot looked down to see Pleo wrapping his wings about his body in an embrace, prompting him to join back with a hug of his own. Team Traveller's members blinked out of surprise and Niilo and Berecien looked on silently for a moment, when the quiet was broken by Nagant hopping up with an impatient hiss.

"Alright, alright, break it up you two!" the Clawitzer snapped. "We don't have time for all of this!"

Cabot gave a sheepish smile back to his captain as Pleo let Cabot go and shuffled up to Kelly's teleport circle. The Lugia put his wings out and began to entwine himself when a sharp call drew Pleo's attention and turned it back to Nagant.

"Just don't do anything stupid out there," she scolded. The Clawitzer said nothing for a moment before a faint smile spread over her mouth.

"And good luck… Pleo."

The young Protector blinked in surprise for a moment, before nodding back gratefully.

"Thanks, and good luck to you too."

With that, the Lugia and his friends were swallowed in a flash of light, vanishing and leaving Nagant and her subordinates behind in the snow-covered forest. The Clawitzer and her party quietly looked on at the now-empty patch of forest, before turning and making their way off towards Whitepalm Town in the distance.


At the same time, within Inler's office at the Company's headquarters, the Nidoking shuffled through papers at his carved wooden desk as the patter of harsh rain could be heard outside, his work that day having gone by slowly since Lyn had hurriedly pitched his fallback plan to retrieve the Protector. While he and the rest of the Board had found it adequate enough, the Poison-Type was still plagued by a dissatisfied mood from the debacle with the Ditto earlier, which had made his work more of a chore than normal.

The Director peered down at some paperwork documenting a recent harvest of Apricorns from Mengir when a deafening thunderclap made him fold his ears back, before getting up and turning out the window. The Nidoking looked out at the pouring rain and dark gray clouds overhead, pinching his brow with a frustrated sigh when the sound of the door creaking reached his ears. The soft tramp of footsteps against his rug rang out, prompting him to turn and see the approaching form of an Inteleon in a Third-Rank scarf, who he recognized as none other than the Pokémon in charge of the Company's Intelligence Division.

"Ah, Olivia," Inler greeted. "I take it that you have news from the interrogation?"

"Hrmph, it depends on your definition," the Inteleon replied. "I wasn't expecting my subordinates to get much out of that gumwad, but things managed to surprise my already low expectations."

"What do you mean by that?"

"The Ditto claims that he was forced to deceive Commissioner Lyn by our three operatives that were stationed on Buyeom Island," Olivia explained. "Not only that, but he said that the Commissioner's first mate and the notary he hangs around with were in on it as well."

Inler paused at the Water-Type's reply and narrowed his eyes into a dubious scowl.

"And have you found anything that would point towards him speaking the truth?" he pressed.

"It's a spy's word against that of our own people, so the question is which of the two is more likely," Olivia said as she crossed her arms. "That one of the best teams under my command have been plotting treason with two members from the expedition you sent out, or that the Ditto was simply naming off most of the Second-Ranks around the Commissioner to try and get us to waste our time."

Inler's muzzle fell into a sharp frown, the Poison-Type letting out a low grumble from his throat before speaking up.

"Hrmph, it wouldn't be the first time an Imperial spy's tried to turn our ranks against each other…" the Nidoking muttered.

Olivia paused, sizing up the Company Director before her. From the way he'd described things, it was as open-and-shut a case as she and her subordinates surmised. But in spite of all that, the Nidoking's face still remained firmly fixed in a skeptical frown.

"… And yet you don't sound convinced, Director," Olivia remarked. "Is there something that you think we're missing here?"

"Perhaps it's just my old age, but I'd like you to task a few operatives to watch over the Board's members for a while," Inler said. "If the Empire's attempting to interfere with our attempts to retrieve the Guardian of the Seas in such a manner, we shouldn't assume they aren't similarly targeting the higher ranks."

"Understood, Director."

Olivia turned and pushed the door open, slipping off into the rooftop garden as she closed the door behind her. As the thud of the closing door reverberated, Inler turned his attention back out the window, looking off at the surrounding city of islets with a low growl as the rain pattered outside.

"And it'd help make sure they're not causing their share of mischief either."


After returning to the Siglo Swellow, the ship quickly undid its disguise as a derelict and set sail as Team Traveller reoriented themselves with the rest of the crew. The deckhands' initial enthusiasm surrounding the team's reunion and their tales of their encounters with Nagant and Darzin were quickly quashed, giving way to concern as the topic of conversation inevitably turned to the presence of a Company Commissioner on Tromba and the ambush he had been setting for them, drawing the expected alarm and confusion from their ranks…

"H-Huh?! But that means those square-necks are in town right now!" a Bayleef exclaimed.

"You don't suppose he was bluffing, do you?" Pat asked. "Marley did always say that Dragonite was a cheat and a liar. Who's to say he was being truthful there?"

"As loath as I am to admit it, I think he was telling the truth," Kiran sighed. "He tried to keep what was happening in Tromba quiet at first, so why do that if it's really safe?"

The crew's members traded grimaces and uneasy glances with one another. All this time, they'd taken it for granted that all they had to do was sail home with their Protector, but with that no longer the case…

" …What are we supposed to do now?" a Sliggoo asked.

"Isn't it obvious?" Guardia scoffed. "We sail in and kick those rotters out!"

The Cubone's cry drew skeptical mutters and frowns in response, the gathered deckhands finding no shortage of potential problems or shortcomings of the Ground-Type's suggested approach.

"You can't be serious…" a Nosepass grumbled. "We'd be sailing straight into an ambush!"

"Yeah, and the only armaments we've got beyond our own abilities and a small stash of dungeon items is a Lyle Gun!" Natrix protested. "How do you expect us to fend off a ship's worth of Company goons with that?"

"I mean, we know about their ambush, which they don't know yet. And it's not as if fighting a Commissioner is gonna be harder than fighting an Administrator," Nida offered. "Besides, if we can make it to land with the sails Valter gave us we'll have us a chance to work with the rest of the town so we don't have to fight them alone."

The Nidorina's insistence prompted the gathered sailors to hem and haw uneasily, as Vicente stepped forward to air their collective misgivings with a dubious shake of his head.

"Those still aren't odds that I'd bet on," the Hitmontop said. "And what about the Ledger you found? I thought you sought that out precisely because we couldn't take on the Company in a straight fight."

"He does raise a point," Beatrix added. "Besides, after that Commissioner and his goons have had the chance to stomp around, we don't exactly have a home turf advantage. We'd be going in blind with no help until we made contact with everyone else."

"Not to mention we have to organize everything on the fly once we do that," Vicente muttered.

Nida and Guardia fell silent in reply, only for Dimitri to raise a scythe and clear his throat for attention.

"Actually… maybe we wouldn't be as alone as we think," the Kabutops began, prompting Vicente to blink back puzzledly.

"… What do you mean?" the Hitmontop pressed.

"Well, in my last message that I sent out to my rod, I'd told them that I was headed out to Tromba," Dimitri explained. "Since they wanna see for themselves that Pleo is safe, they'll surely be nearby and able to lend a helping claw."

"And Kline will be there too!" Pleo insisted. "Don't you remember how we agreed to meet up again near Tromba? He left his Cell here before leaving, so he should know about what's going and will surely help us!"

The young Lugia paused and remembered that before he left, Kline's cell had been on the ship's mast. Pleo looked off at the mast, wondering if Kline could even hear them right now.

"… Wouldn't he?" Pleo asked.

Pleo watched the mast a moment and tilted his head puzzledly, when the outline of a Zygarde Cell filled in and wriggled back and forth in reply. The nearby crew members began to chatter in reassured tones with each other, taking the Cell's appearance to be an affirmation as Vicente turned over to the ship's Illumise captain.

"… It's your call, Captain," the Hitmontop said. "Admittedly these are still some long odds, but I can't say we have nothing going in our favor."

Beatrix paused and fluttered in place in quiet deliberation. After a moment's pause, she turned back, with newfound determination coming over her eyes.

"Let's press on," she answered. "We came all this way to get back home, we might as well learn more about what we're facing before throwing in the towel."

The Bug-Type turned and called out to her crew, prompting them to return to their places on the deck and maneuver the sails in place to push the Siglo Swellow forward along the winds, carrying on across the sea for Bluewhorl and the unknowns waiting for them.


Author's Notes:

- (¡)Habla bajo! - Spanish: "Keep it down!"
- V chem smysl etogo?! (В чем смысл этого?!) - Russian: "What is the meaning of this?!" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- Cosa è successo? - Italian: "What happened?"
- Ei - Finnish: "No"
- glush (глушь) - Russian: "backwater", "(place in the) middle of nowhere" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)