Chapter 80: Coming Home
After passing the final Snow Beacon outside Tromba's waters, the Siglo Swellow's crew lowered the anchor as the ship along with the general pace on the deck slowed to a stop. As the schooner bobbed in the water, the deckhands dispersed to wile away the time while Team Traveller's members gathered at the port side railing where they gazed out to sea. After looking on with her teammates for a while, Guardia began to tap her club against the railing restlessly and gave a dubious glance at her friends.
"Are we sure we're supposed to just be waiting around like this?" the Cubone asked.
"I mean, Kline said we were supposed to get into the waters near Tromba to meet him there…" Nida murmured. "He just didn't exactly say what to expect."
Pleo craned his head over towards the mast where Kline's Cell continued to cling against the beam in full view of the crew. The Lugia waddled over, looking up at the Cell as he gave a puzzled tilt of his head.
"Hey Kline, are you near us yet?" he wondered. "Maybe move your Cell a bit if you are?"
Pleo watched as the Cell remained still a moment, before it hopped down to the deck. The seabird jumped back as the Cell slithered off in a hurry, going up to the starboard side of the deck where it stopped in front of the railing. Pleo and his companions hastily followed after the Cell, when the young Protector noticed it was peering through one of the gaps.
The Lugia looked over towards the water where the surface started to froth. The young Protector tilted his head when the sea lurched up around a rising mass as a blue and gray Pokémon half the size of the ship emerged, revealing itself to be a Wailord. Team Traveller's members recoiled as the whale struck the water and rocked the Siglo Swellow's hull; they glanced back and saw Team Zephyr's members and Albert's crew getting up from the middle of the Water-Type's back and shaking seawater off their bodies.
"Ack! I got water up my nose!" Charlie whined. A little further behind, Calidus squinted and blinked his eyes before ruffling his soaked feathers and turning an unimpressed frown down at the Zygarde in their midst
"Remind me how you talked me into this, Kline?" the Talonflame demanded. "You knew that a big diver would make a complete mess when surfacing and get us all soaked."
"Oh, you're back!"
The Wailord's passengers looked to their right where they saw Pleo waving with a wing from the railing, his teammates joining in as the rest of the crew gathered to similarly greet them, leaving Kline to turn back to Calidus with a knowing smile.
"Well, you can't argue with results. Can you?" he chuckled.
Percy reached into a pouch and passed a few larger Poké coins off to the Wailord as his fellow passengers climbed onto the Siglo Swellow. The Gliscor followed suit, as the Wailord slipped under the waves and left Team Traveller to gather around Team Zephyr's members with curious smiles.
"It's good to see you all again," Kiran said.
"Likewise," Percy replied. "We heard from Kline that things had gone well on your end."
"Yeah! We managed to get the Ledger just like we said we would!" Pleo cheered. "We weren't able to convince Cernun into coming along as well, but we did manage to talk Nagant into leaving us alo-"
"Yes, I gathered as much from what I was able to see of you," Kline interrupted. "Though considering the circumstances, perhaps it's best if we skipped the recap this time."
Nida looked about Team Zephyr and Albert's group and saw Alice wringing water out of a cloth map before unfurling it. All along it, the Nidorina noticed the presence of smudged crosses at sea heading in a rough line towards Tromba, making her fold back an ear and raise a brow puzzledly.
"What exactly have you been doing all this time anyways?"
"Oh you know, going around here and there and getting by," Alice insisted as she stepped forward. The Sneasel relaxed a bit, before putting away the map with a wry smile. "It's been decent enough since Albert and Kline aren't all that bad at putting on a show."
Alice's reply drew frowns from Kline and Albert, both of whom seemed to find her explanation less than satisfactory.
"For the record, I am never consenting to do this again once this is all over," Kline fumed.
"Hrmph, you and me both," Albert spat. "You cheapskates haven't given us anything extra beyond just what we need to eat and put a roof over our heads!"
Team Traveller's members rolled their eyes at Albert having the gall to complain about his circumstances. After he and his buddies had spent gods-knows-how-long swindling Pokémon before tagging along with Team Zephyr, surely they would've known better than to expect to be paid for not being turned in. Crom paused a moment, before his eyes lit up from dawning realization and quickly turned to the Zygarde in the group's midst.
"Oh, Kline! There was something that I didn't get a chance to do last time… I wanna introduce you to my dad!"
The young Druddigon leaned over and tugged Pladur to the front of the crowd. The Fraxure shuffled forward uneasily, pulling his tail between his legs and lowering his head as his son happily led him before the one-eyed Protector.
"He wanted to meet you last time, but couldn't since he was still hurt from his battle with Ketu on Giotto," the Druddigon explained.
Pladur looked down nervously at the strange serpent, hemming and hawing before giving an awkward wave of his claw.
"Uh… H-Hi?" the Fraxure stammered. "It's really nice to-"
"You don't have to be so nervous. It's Pladur right? You can call me Kline," the Zygarde insisted. "I'm sorry to hear about what happened to you on Giotto with Ketu. The four of us know how difficult he can be to deal with, but it seems like you've recovered quite well. "
Pladur blinked for a moment, when a small smile spread over his face and his body untensed, leaving him to paw bashfully at the back of his head. As the dragon's earlier unease departed him, Trizano paced up warily, before giving a stiff bow in front of Kline.
"It's an honor to be in your presence, Protector."
Kline's smile slowly faded as Trizano approached him, the Zygarde's demeanor taking a colder turn as he moved his eye up and down to size up the Steel-Type in front of him.
"Oh, you're that Skarmory Valter sent along," Kline said.
"Yes? I mean, the village did think it was proper that an Immortal went along to protect Lugia on his journeys," Trizano answered.
"Hmph, I'm surprised Valter would let anyone from his cult leave Pioppo," the Zygarde muttered. "But I guess it's a start."
Trizano's face fell in reply, which was quickly followed by the Skarmory shooting back a sharp frown at Kline.
"I would hardly think that a Protector who doesn't cultivate acolytes of his own has any grounds for criticizing those of another," Trizano harrumphed. "And the village decides when to let its own residents head off just fine, thank you."
Kline narrowed his eye in response and looked back at Trizano with an unamused stare.
"The village decides it, huh?" he scoffed. "You mean the totally normal village that hides away from the rest of the world in fear, where almost nobody is allowed to leave, and where everyone's lives are centered around a Protector that abuses his powers? You're right, that doesn't sound like a cult at all. Sorry for getting that wrong."
The Pokémon gathered around the pair traded tense glances with each other, when Percy quickly hurried in and stepped between Kline and Trizano to interrupt the two.
"Aherm, perhaps we should focus on other things right now?" he insisted. "Since there is the situation on Tromba we need to discuss."
The Gliscor's interjection drew uneasy mumbles from the gathered sailors, as Beatrix flitted up with a curious tilt of her head.
"What exactly did you all find out about what's going on back there?" she asked.
"Not long after we separated, the Company dispatched a Commissioner to Tromba leading a force of three ships," Kline answered. "The Commissioner is a Marked Charizard named Bunsen, and he seems to be anticipating your return. His underlings arrested the mayor and captain of the guards and have taken over the whole town in order to ambush your ship once you return."
"On top of that, they also seem to be preparing to exile some of the townsfolk to other islands as punishment," Alice added. "From what Kline could tell, they were getting back at the village over the resistance Lyn got when he came to capture Pleo."
Team Traveller's members hesitated after Kline and Alice's explanations. Why, this Bunsen had come into town with a larger force than Lyn had. If they already struggled badly against him, would they really be able to stand a chance against this new Commissioner?
"What are we supposed to do, then?" Guardia asked.
"Well, that's up to you," Kline said. "Even with Pleo's powers and mine at our command, driving off three ships' worth of Pokémon isn't exactly a small feat for a town like Bluewhorl. If it's something that you feel is genuinely beyond your ability to handle, perhaps we'd be better off moving along to get the other parts of the Knights' Ledger before coming to Tromba's aid."
Pleo stopped and pondered the serpent's words a moment, wondering what to say back when Albert abruptly spoke up.
"Do we get any say in this?" he demanded, only to be met with a unanimous reply from the rest of the gathering.
The young Lugia watched as the Nuzleaf and his companions visibly flinched. He turned his mind back to the decision at hand, before shaking his head back with a determined look.
"No. Tromba's my home, and we're right here," Pleo insisted. "If I don't go back and at least try to help everyone there when they need me, how am I supposed to call myself their Protector?"
"I expected nothing less from you," Kline said, letting a small smile spread over his features. "Whenever you feel you're ready, we'll be right there behind you."
The Zygarde's answer prompted a Servine from the crew to step up, who waved his stubby arms in protest.
"Oi, aguanta un poco! We can't just sail into the middle of an ambush with no plan!" Natrix exclaimed. "How are we even supposed to get onto Tromba without getting sunk?"
"He's got a point, Kline," Calidus added. "You mentioned yourself yesterday that they're boarding and inspecting every ship that approaches the island, so we're gonna need more than just false sails."
The Pokémon gathered on the deck shifted uncomfortably, as none of them could think of any reasonable solutions to pass through an inspection with as many potential sources of trouble that were aboard the ship. Team Traveller's members hemmed and hawed uneasily for a moment, before Alice raised a claw and began to speak up.
"Actually… I think there might be a way around that…"
A few moments later, the Siglo Swellow carried on in its dark gray sails towards Tromba as it popped over the horizon, the waves breaking against the hull all the while as the calls of passing ferals carried along with the winds. Unlike past approaches, the ship's deck that day was barren, with naught but Elty, Guardia and Trizano from Team Traveller, along with Albert's troupe and a few deckclaws tending to the rigging. At the same time, Percy, Calidus, and Alice gathered at the bridge as the Gliscor peered through a scope at an approaching brigantine with lavender sails in the distance, before returning the spyglass to his side and turning to his teammates.
"Alright, they're coming," Percy said. "Just act natural and this'll all be over quickly."
"Aye, aye, Captain Percy!" Alice replied as she brought the side of her claw to her head and pulled it away in an overwrought salute.
Percy gave an unamused stare back at his teammate, before looking up and seeing that the Company brigantine had come clearer into view. A yellow-and-black flag was hoisted above the brigantine as it steered up alongside the schooner, a sign demanding the Siglo Swellow's crew to stop its vessel. Percy looked at the flag, before telling the others to lower the anchor, allowing the brigantine to catch up and pull alongside them. Almost as soon as the Company ship was in range, a gangplank was dropped and a small party led by a Grapploct made their way aboard, a few of the sailors on deck visibly tensing up as he looked about with a sharp scowl.
"Where's the captain of this ship?" the Grapploct demanded.
"Right here. Captain Percy of the Theseus," Percy answered. "What exactly is going on here?"
"Commissioner Bunsen has given us orders to inspect every vessel inbound for Tromba until further notice," the octopus barked. "There's a pirate crew that's been using this island as a hideout and they've been sailing around in a schooner just like this one…"
The Grapploct sized up the Gliscor and narrowed his eyes with a harsh scowl, pointing the tip of one of his tentacles accusingly at Percy's chest.
"So why don't you answer a few questions for me?" the Fighting-Type harrumphed. "To start with, where are you all coming from, Captain Percy?"
"We're a merchant crew from Vollezee," Percy replied. "We were just coming by for a trade run."
A Bouffalant and a Jynx with the Grapploct traded dubious stares with each other, while their superior looked around the visibly understaffed deck and turned back to Percy with a similarly unimpressed frown.
"So where's the rest of your crew then?" the Grapploct asked.
"We were sailing over with an empty hold to try and load up on Grepa Berries in Tromba," Percy explained. "Since we weren't coming with anything of value, we couldn't afford to pay more than a skeleton crew."
The Bouffalant among the grunts raised a brow and gave an incredulous look about the ship, before stepping forward with a sharp scowl.
"Hrmph, a skeleton crew for a schooner like this would have more than a dozen Pokémon," he scoffed. "How'd you all even make it out of port?"
The Normal-Type's comment made the Jynx next to him narrow her eyes and pull out a small stack of wanted posters. The Ice-Type took a moment to leaf through them, before coming across one depicting a Growlithe and pausing. The Jynx blinked, looking down between Elty and the paper in her hands, before turning to her Bouffalant colleague.
"Hey, doesn't that Growlithe look familiar to you?" the Jynx asked, making Elty pause and shuffle his feet uncomfortably.
"… What makes you say that?" he insisted.
The Ice-Type turned the paper around, revealing that it bore a picture of a visibly pudgy Growlithe. Elty grimaced and wavered a moment as the Bouffalant poked his head over to look at the poster and sized it up, giving his head a puzzled tilt.
"… Huh, he does look kinda fat like the Growlithe from that old wanted poster," the bull remarked.
The Bouffalant's observation drew a sharp frown over Elty's muzzle, as he stamped his forepaws and glared up indignantly.
"Okay, first off, I'm not fat, I just have a lot of muscle for a Growlithe!" Elty huffed. "Second off, you can't just go around assuming everyone who looks kinda like some fat-pawed sketch artist's drawing is some sort of crook!"
The Jynx blinked at Elty's protests, double checking the poster again before sheepishly blinking in realization that tubbiness aside, it was lacking any defining features that seemed to match up with the pup before her. The Bouffalant and the other grunts were similarly convinced, though the Grapploct's suspicions proved to be unexpectedly stubborn, as the octopus turned to Percy with a stern frown.
"Let us under the deck," the Fighting-Type harrumphed. "If you're really a merchant captain, you shouldn't have any trouble letting us look around on this ship."
Percy froze at the Grapploct's demand. He could hardly let him root around under deck as he pleased and risk discovering Pleo and the rest of his teammates, but he also couldn't afford to draw even more suspicion. The Gliscor opened his mouth to speak, only for his Sneasel partner to step up and block the Fighting-Type's path.
"Arr, I'm afraid we can't be letting ye do that," Alice insisted.
"And why not?" the Grapploct demanded.
"Because we be pirates matey," the Sneasel insisted. "And thar's where we keep our booty and pilfered treasure."
Percy's jaw flopped open as the rest of the crew shot wide-eyed stares at Alice. Meanwhile, the Company grunts were similarly taken aback as they remained fixed on the Sneasel with blank, stupefied expressions.
"… What?" the Jynx said.
"Captain…? She's not being serious, is she?" the Bouffalant asked.
The Grapploct stood in stunned silence at the ridiculous display before him, when his brow scrunched into an offended scowl and he balled a tentacle up much like a fist and gave it a threatening wave.
"Is this some kind of joke to you, Sneasel?!" the Grapploct shouted.
"Yarr… do I look like I be tugging yer tails?" Alice demanded. "If ye think we be the types to just let ye scurvy scallywags below deck to paw through our booty, thar's a plank with yer names on it!"
The octopus turned with a disgusted huff and shot a sharp glare over at Percy, the Fighting-Type seething with visible frustration.
"And I take it that you're the one who put her up to this?" he demanded.
"Natuurlijk niet!" Percy insisted. "I don't know what's come over her, but-"
"So stop wasting my time and get out of my sight!" the octopus snapped.
The Grapploct turned and headed off fuming for the gangplank, leaving the other Company Pokémon to follow suit. After returning to their ship, the gangplank was hoisted and the Siglo Swellow's crew hurriedly moved the schooner along, keenly watching as the brigantine slipped further and further away when Calidus walked over to the entrance below deck.
"You can all come out now," the Talonflame said.
Calidus was answered by Crom poking his head out warily, before venturing out along with a small crowd of the Siglo Swellow's deckhands who breathed audible sighs of relief. Among their number was Kline, who hopped along the deck and beelined towards Alice with visible agitation.
"Alice!" Kline snapped. "That was-"
"Amazing!" Elty exclaimed as he wagged his tail excitedly. "Oh, you should've seen the look on those square-necks' faces when-!"
The Growlithe looked around and saw that Alice aside, everyone was shooting unamused scowls at him, prompting him to bite his tongue and sheepishly pull his ears back before amending his praise.
"Er… never mind," he said, as Kiran paced forward towards Alice and shot a sharp frown at her.
"Telling them we're pirates was 100% more reckless than needed!" the Swellow fumed.
"Well hey, it worked out didn't it?" the Sneasel insisted, before giving a teasing smirk. "Besides, if they had looked hard enough below deck they would have found you, so if anything I saved everyone!"
Alice's argument failed to impress her Zygarde teammate, who rolled his eye with an unamused grumble.
"Ugh, it must run in the family to pull stupid stunts like that."
Alice blinked a moment, before realizing what Kline was talking about and sticking her tongue out at the serpent. Crom looked on from the side, tilting his head as he wondered what family Kline was alluding to when the sound of a sharp buzz cut in and drew his attention towards Beatrix flitting up and motioning for attention.
"Given the limited time we have, perhaps we should focus more on our plan here," the Illumise captain insisted. "We've gotten past the inspection well enough, now how about actually making it to shore?"
"Eh? But I thought it was pretty straightforward," Guardia said.
"Yeah, Dimitri's going to sneak me along with Pleo and Kline to one of the beaches to the far side of the island," Nida explained. "And from there we'll go and try to find mami."
"While that was happening, the rest of us were supposed to wait for the ship to dock," Crom chimed in. "Then we'd try and get ahold of Hatteras and the other villagers to work out how to start fighting back."
"And Kline's Cells would write out short messages for us to let each other know what's going on," Guardia added. "Simple enough, right?"
Beatrix hesitated a moment, before giving a firm nod back at the three.
"Right, but I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page," the Illumise said. "We've only got one shot at this, after all."
The gathered crew members murmured in agreement, leaving Beatrix to clap her tarsals together and buzz out to her subordinates.
"Alright, everyone to their positions!" she shouted. "The shore's not that far away, so get to it!"
One after the other, the sailors began to make their way back under deck as Pleo and Kline made their way over to the railing with Dimitri. Nida began to follow along after the three only to pause and look back over her shoulder reluctantly towards Crom.
"Are you sure you're alright with us not being together, Crom?" Nida asked. "This is kinda a big moment and everything."
"No, no, it's alright. I'm sure that I'll be more helpful staying far, far away from Mar- er… being with the others," the Druddigon insisted. "We've got more 'mons to track down after all."
Nida frowned and flattened her ears out, finding Crom's eagerness to be away from her mother to be a tad more… transparent than usual. Even so, there was no shortage of things that needed to be done after arriving at Tromba, and if Crom really couldn't swallow his discomfort, there was no reason to force the matter.
"Alright, just… take care of yourself, okay?"
Crom nodded back as Nida watched Dimitri jump into the water and the deckhands lowered a rope ladder down towards him. The Nidorina hurriedly made her way over, carefully clambering down the ladder and taking her place on Dimitri's back as Pleo fluttered down with Kline poking his head out from Percy's bag hanging from his beak.
After a quick glance back to verify his passengers were secure, Dimitri pushed off for Tromba and began to dive down. Nida looked off at the ship as the bubble of air formed around Dimitri's back, watching as for a fleeting moment Crom looked and waved after her. The Nidorina replied in kind as the water closed in and Crom slipped from view, the Poison-Type shaking her head as she turned away with a low sigh.
The mess hall of Haipheh's naval base was a long, stone building with a tall gabled roof. Inside, rectangular wooden tables had been set out all along as Pokémon queued in front of the kitchen to receive their rations before gathering at the tables and wiling away their time over food and chatter. All ranks of Her Majesty's navy were represented in the hall, with common sailors and mercenaries dining at much the same tables as a fuming Commodore Valan did with a visibly displeased Nagant.
There, amid the din of overlapping chatter, Cabot's voice filtered along with a recounting of his attempts chasing after Team Traveller, as he, Berecien and Niilo shared a table with a surprised-looking gathering composed of Orcutt and his crew, along with Tegu and Melli. As the Rampardos' account carried on, and the surprise of seeing Cabot returning with his towering new form wore off, the Vespiquen of the group gave a sharp buzz as she realized there had been a shared thread between their experiences that day…
"So wait, has everyone here run into the Protector then?" Melli asked.
"Sure looks like it," Orcutt grumbled. "We came across him sneaking out of a house out in the fringes."
"We tried to stop him, but his buddies overwhelmed us," Chalco explained. "The medic said we should take it easy for a bit, but… eh, getting a bite in the mess hall shouldn't hurt much, right?"
Molina's face curled down into a sharp frown, as she gave an irritated snort following her teammate's comments.
"Hrmph, I told you we should've torched the place," the Camerupt fumed. "Those stupid peasants probably helped him get away."
Tegu hung back in his seat as he frowned as well, his pride still stung from his earlier defeat as he shook his head with a low grumble.
"Hrmph, we only bumped into a few of his friends, but the less said about our run-in the better," the Salandit huffed. "Those dirty little brats took my bag and cleaned it out!"
Berecien struggled to fight back the urge to roll his eyes at the idea of a 'mon as sticky-pawed as Tegu complaining about being robbed. Beside him, Niilo opted for a more cordial tack as a small smirk settled over his face and he gave a reassuring wave of his claws.
"Well, hey. At least you got the bag back," the Sandslash teased.
Tegu narrowed his eyes disgustedly and turned his snout away with a loud huff. Orcutt tilted his head a moment at the Salandit's response, before shaking his head and turning his attention over to Cabot.
"So what about you? You three ran into them in the dungeon, right?" the Cacturne asked. "What's the story about how they gave you the slip?"
Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo traded glances with one another and shifted uneasily, before the Rampardos of the lot pawed at the back of his head and began to speak up.
"Er… well like I said earlier, we were doing pretty good at first and even had them on the ropes," Cabot explained. "But, one of them managed to get ahold of our Escape Orb and used it to teleport out of the dungeon."
"It was that yappy Growlithe with them," Berecien harrumphed. "He got lucky and managed to pull it out of my bag."
Chalco's mood darkened at Berecien's explanation. Much to the Ponyta's relief, the Marshtomp seemed to find his explanation believable, watching as she shook her head with a sour frown and low grumble.
"Of course that lousy piski would pull something off like that."
"At least it's not all bad," Niilo insisted. "We learned that they sailed back into Imperial territory, so we're bound to run into them again soon. And since Cabot evolved during all of this, they'll be facing two fully evolved 'mons next time they encounter the three of us!"
Berecien snorted and flicked his ears in annoyance, turning to Niilo with a sharp scoff.
"Hrmph, it's only not three because Ponyta evolve late."
Orcutt and his companions traded knowing smirks with one another before Niilo chimed back with a teasing "sure it is" to the Ponyta's declaration. A few laughs went about the table, only for Tegu to be conspicuously absent from the group's bantering, as the topic of conversation had done little other than to curl his mouth into an increasingly bitter scowl.
"Meh, it's not like evolving makes you that much stronger…" he muttered. The Salandit's grumbling made Cabot blink puzzledly, when he recalled that Tegu always had been a touch sensitive about his inability to evolve…
"I mean, it's not like we're saying you can't be strong when you're not evolved," the Rampardos explained. "It's just that being bigger and able to hit harder can make a real difference in battle."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Tegu huffed. "You were a Cranidos when you captured the Protector on Sormus and things went well enough there, didn't it?"
"But… aren't you happy for Cabot?" Melli asked. "You said you were happy for me when I evolved."
"I am," the Poison-Type insisted. "I'm just saying that there's no reason to get so worked up about him evolving since it isn't gonna make the difference whether we capture that Protector a second time."
"Pah, anna tauko," Molina scoffed "Just admit you're jealous because you can't evolve."
Tegu shot a sharp glare back across the table at the Camerupt. Sensing that his friend's mood had taken a turn for the worse, Cabot patted reassuringly at the Salandit's shoulder.
"Hey, me being evolved will help you guys too," the Rampardos said. "For example, I can now pick up stuff easier, or help patch up other 'mons better now that I have hands instead of claws. I never did a lot of scratching as a Cranidos anyway, so that's definitely not a bad thing, right?"
"Hrmph, way to rub it in," Tegu growled.
Cabot fell silent and hesitated over what to say in response as Tegu turned back to his drink and bitterly drank the last of his rum. The Rampardos looked on and thought to himself how he'd even begin to cheer the Salandit up, when Tegu pushed away his cup and let out a loud belch. As Tegu continued to sulk, Cabot eyes lit up as an idea sprang to mind, prompting him to look at the Poison-Type with a barely suppressed smile.
"Well, what if I told you that there are other things I'm better at now that I'm evolved?" he asked.
"Yeah, like what?" Tegu answered. Without saying anything, Cabot reached for his own cup and threw it back as he glugged down its contents, licking the edges of his mouth a moment before opening it wide.
Tegu blinked out of surprise and the Pokémon at the nearby tables looked over upon hearing Cabot's massive belch. The Rampardos shot an impish smile back at Tegu as he and the other Pokémon at his table burst into laughter, Berecien being the visible exception as his mouth hung open in disgust and he shot a fuming scowl at his teammate.
The Rampardos laughed a bit at his feat, before he looked at Berecien with a large, teasing grin.
"Heh, alright. Maybe you've got a point, Cabot," Tegu chuckled. "That was a pretty good bur-"
The laughter abruptly died down as Cabot watched his companions' faces drain of color and heard loud footsteps approaching. The Rampardos turned around and flinched as he saw Valan stomping over with his fangs bared.
"What's the meaning of that disgraceful display, sailor?!" the Salamence snapped. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was talking to a common pirate!"
Cabot stammered back in reply, inching back nervously from Valan's withering glare as he tried to muster a defense for himself.
"I- I- Uh…"
The Commodore stepped forward and leaned in, making Cabot squirm as his attention went about the mess hall and he noticed all of the other Pokémon were staring at him. His flustered embarrassment was swiftly cut short by the sound of a low growl from Valan, prompting him to turn his attention back to the dragon's angry eyes.
"Well?" Valan demanded.
"E-Er… it was just a burp?" Cabot squeaked. "I-I mean everyone burps sometimes and I did say 'excuse me'…"
"I don't care about your excuses!" the Salamence snarled. "You rock-headed, disgraceful-!"
Valan paused and turned his head back to see Nagant hopping over with a sharp scowl. The Clawitzer came to a stop between him and Cabot, holding her claws up in a defensive stance.
"Commodore, I think that I'm perfectly capable of handling my own subordinates," she huffed. "And we have more pressing concerns to worry about right now than their table manners."
"Don't you think I know that?" Valan growled. "We're just dawdling here while the Protector and those pirates are slipping further away because you failed to catch them!"
Nagant shot back a stern frown, adamantly waving a claw in front of her Salamence superior.
"Commodore, we know that they sailed westward, further into our waters," she reminded. "The rest of the navy will be able help us make up lost ground as we resupply."
Valan said nothing for a brief moment, before shaking his head with a sharp huff.
"So then help me expedite that, Captain Nugget!" he fumed. "Time is of the essence here!"
The Salamence stormed off, leaving Nagant behind to screw her eyes shut and grumble frustratedly under her breath. As Cabot watched Valan slip away, he let out a sigh of relief, before turning to his Clawitzer superior.
"Thanks for sticking up for me back there, Captain," he said.
"Hrmph, it happens," Nagant muttered. "Though one thing before I leave, Cabot."
"Grow up," she hissed.
Nagant hopped off, leaving Cabot and his friends to turn their attention back to each other and their rations on the table.
"Yeesh, what a pill," Orcutt scoffed.
"I'll say," Tegu added. "She shot me on Buyeom just for putting my feet on the table!"
Cabot took a moment to let his heart settle before looking off at Nagant as she hurried after Valan and exited the mess hall after him. The Rampardos turned back towards his food uneasily and began to pick at it, wondering to himself just how long they'd be able to continue covering up Team Traveller's escape from the rest of the navy. The Rock-Type paused and reasoned to himself that surely they'd manage long enough for Pleo to get back home and make his move against the Company… though with a hostile fleet occupying it, it beggared the question of how far along they'd gotten, and what he and his companions were up to now.
Back in Bluewhorl Town, the Siglo Swellow had since completed its approach into town and docked among the ships at the harbor under the noses of the patrolling guards. In the mess hall below deck, safe away from prying eyes, the bulk of the crew gathered around a map of Bluewhorl Town spread out on a table, trading tense and antsy murmurs with one another as they stole glances at the map before them.
"So… what now?" a Dwebble asked.
"Well, logically we should start heading out to contact Hatteras and other 'mons in town that can help us drive out those Company goons…" Vicente murmured. "But we never settled on who exactly would go out and how we'd contact them without drawing attention."
"Well, Hatteras lives at the lighthouse next to the guild," Kiran said. "If he's under house arrest there, it'd be a simple matter for me to fly over and it shouldn't raise too many eyebrows."
Calidus thought the matter over a moment, before shaking his head and raising his voice in reply.
"Things probably aren't going to be that easy, Kiran. Recall that Kline spotted guards patrolling around the lighthouse where your Guildmaster lives," the Talonflame reminded. "So I don't think that it's a matter of just flying up there."
"Well, I think that's something the two of us can do something about," Percy chimed in, before turning to Kiran. "Calidus and I can stir up a distraction with the guards. If they're not paying attention to the lighthouse, you shouldn't have any issues getting to him."
Kiran raised a wingtip to his beak as he mulled Percy's offer. While it was fairly spur-of-the-moment, attempting to distract the guards with non-locals who could feign ignorance about Tromba's state of affairs did seem advantageous for stringing out their patience…
"Hm, alright," the Swellow replied. "That ought to give me the opening that I'd need-"
"And I'll lend a wing to your endeavor, too!" Trizano exclaimed.
Percy and Calidus shot dubious stares at the Skarmory as Kiran ruffled his feathers irritatedly and narrowed his eyes into a sharp scowl.
"With all due respect Trizano, but I think this requires something less… theatrical," the Swellow harrumphed.
"Well, if there's no drama, of course. But you can't take that for granted! If Percy and Calidus are busy distracting the guards, surely you'll need someone to give you backup if things go awry in the lighthouse," Trizano insisted. "Who better than Trizano, the Valiant Knight Skarmory?"
Percy and Calidus paused at the Skarmory's insistence, trading hesitant glances with each other before coming to a shared conclusion.
"I mean… I guess it wouldn't hurt," Calidus said, as Kiran's features curled into a resigned frown and he let out an annoyed sigh.
"… Fine," Kiran sighed. "Though I'm 50% less reassured than I'd like to be from all of this."
"Maybe so, but you all seem to have sorted things out," Beatrix buzzed. "As for the rest of us, we'll be hunkering down here until everything's settled and the signal for us to help goes out."
"Actually, I wanted to go out too."
The yipping interjection caught Team Traveller's ears, prompting them to turn as the sailors cleared the way and look down as Elty stepped forward towards the table. The Growlithe's insistence prompted a few of the sailors to trade puzzled looks, before raising a brow down at the Puppy Pokémon.
"Eh? What for?" Natrix asked.
"You need some 'mons to help raise some hell, don't you?" Elty began. "Well, I just happen to know a few that are in town right now!"
The sailors fell silent for a moment, wondering just who in town Elty could be referring to when he'd only been on Tromba for a little over a week… until it dawned on them that the Fire-Type wasn't talking about townsfolk, but…
"Wait, you're talking about your pirate buddies? They'd probably just cut and run with whatever they could carry off during the fight!" a Golduck scoffed. "Why should we waste our time with them?"
"Yeah, the rest of us agreed to not go out and see our families until this all settled down to keep the guards from catching on," a Sliggoo harrumphed. "Why should you get a pass to go and see those vándalos?"
"Because we need 'mons to help us fight and those square-necks wouldn't suspect that they'd want to help out the townsfolk," Elty retorted. "Besides, with the way things are, are you really in any position to be picky about who's giving you help?"
The crew hesitated a moment before grumbling to themselves, though none seemed convinced enough to flatly tell the Growlithe 'no'. After pondering the matter to herself, Beatrix shook her head, before giving back a grudging sigh.
"I don't really like where this is going, but I can't really say you don't have a point," she said. "Who's going with you?"
"I'll come along," Alice offered. "You could say I've got an edge in speaking their language."
"I'll go too!" Guardia chimed in. "You two could use all the help you can get with these Company yajū around."
"Teams do tend to work better in fours…" Crom said to himself. "I guess I'll help round things out."
Crom started to go forward when he felt a sharp tug at his arm. The Druddigon paused and looked back, where he saw his father looking back at him with his eyes wide in alarm.
"Mijo!" the Fraxure protested. "There's no reason for you to-!"
"Dad, I know it's risky. But these are my friends and it just doesn't feel right to sit back while letting them be in harm's way," Crom insisted. "And I'm not even a regular crew member anyways! If Bunsen's looking out for 'mons from this ship, I'd be less likely to get noticed than you would."
Pladur hesitated at his son's reply, tapping his claws together uneasily as he tried to muster a rebuttal, only to manage little more than a grudging murmur.
"I… I just would be more comfortable if I was there looking out for you…" the dragon said.
"I'll fill in for you."
The sailors turned their attention as Ander stepped forward from the group, prompting a few of them to raise their brows in surprise and wonder aloud as to what brought about Ander's sudden interest.
"Eh? Never pegged you as the type to be eager about dealing with a bunch of former pirates," Philips remarked. "What gives?"
Ander hesitated a moment, seemingly having no good reply to the Raichu, before shaking his head and giving a sharp buzz back.
"Pladur wanted someone to look out for his child, and I'm willing to help Alice out with it," Ander replied. "That should be reason enough."
Team Traveller blinked at each other puzzledly, while Philips and a few of his fellows traded dubious glances with one another. After a moment to think the matter over, the lot opted to brush their misgivings aside, as Scyther's insistence seemed explainable enough as him merely wanting to look out for his teammates.
"I think we can work with that," Beatrix said. "Good luck, everyone."
Kiran and Alice nodded back before making their way up for the deck with their respective teams. As Crom made his way off after Elty, Pladur watched him keenly, before shifting uneasily and casting a worried glance over to Natrix and Philips beside him.
"Did… Did I make the right call there?"
The Servine and Raichu looked towards each other hesitantly for a moment, before the serpent of the pair turned back to the Fraxure with a reassuring wave of his fronds.
"Hey, we're all in the same boat here," Natrix insisted, before Philips cut in with additional reassurance of his own.
"Yeah, even if things did get a bit hairy I'm sure those Protectors would be able to help 'em…"
As Team Traveller's scouting parties left the Siglo Swellow, life at the guild complex in Bluewhorl carried on during an unusually quiet day. The normally packed main tent was largely barren, the mission board was still full of postings well into the late morning, and the few teams visiting eagerly ducked away to leave after carrying out their business in the guild.
In normal times, Guildmaster Hatteras would watch over the proceedings from his office in a stone two-storied building that overlooked the guild's tents from a small rise. The office's window that day showed little sign of life beyond being lit up by an occasional flash of fire. Inside, Commissioner Bunsen walked about, examining bare walls where tapestries had once hung, and a wooden desk with signs of wear but little to show for it other than a still-untouched stack of papers from the guild and a childish drawing of two Ampharos and a pair of Mareep. As he returned towards Hatteras' seat, the Charizard stopped at the desk to rifle through the papers with a dubious frown, when the sound of footsteps from the hallway and a voice rang out from the doorway.
"Captain? Why'd you summon me out to Administrator Darzin's old office?"
Bunsen craned his head back and spotted his Roserade first mate pacing in, who looked about the office's walls and furnishings. The Marked Charizard gave a bat of his wings, before turning around with a small smile towards his subordinate.
"Oh, just figured it was worth getting out of the ship for the morning briefing for once," Bunsen explained. "Though I'm surprised you could recognize it after all the changes that sheep made to it."
"I mean, the floorplans of most of the compound didn't change much after the locals converted it into their guild," Sicula replied. "I remembered it from the dossier we received."
Bunsen looked down at the papers on the desk as his features slowly took on a more serious expression, the Fire-Type craning his head back up as he opted to hurry past his initial pleasantries.
"So how have things been going with the town?" he asked.
"Well, all the relocation notices have been handed down," Sicula answered. "Most of the townsfolk are following along with the guards' orders, and every ship that approaches the island is being inspected like you instructed."
The Roserade trailed off and brushed her right set of petals against her left arm, her mood having darkened and taken a more sober turn.
"That said… I've been hearing from some of our ranks that trouble may be brewing. Some of the villagers still insist that their island's Protector will 'blow us over the horizon'," she muttered. "And there's murmurs going around of secret meetings at night."
Bunsen frowned at his subordinate's reply. He had thought that the display he and his underlings had made had hemmed in Tromba's ever-present tendency to revolt. Though, if Sicula's report was anything to go by, it would seem that it'd merely gone into hiding much as a Sudowoodo in a forest.
"Hrmph. With the way things are going, perhaps Darzin's successor will have to come back to this office sooner rather than later," Bunsen grumbled. "If they're already up to such mischief while we're here, who's to say they won't devolve into a pirate haven after we leave?"
"I certainly wouldn't rule it out, but that's someone else's problem," Sicula said. "Our mission is merely to intercept the crew we know they've already been harboring, clean house, and then get out."
Bunsen paused and mulled a moment at the Grass-Type's reply, before narrowing his eyes back sternly.
"Perhaps there's something we can still do while we're here. Go and start enforcing those relocation notices you sent out, and prepare the prisoners in the cell block to join them after that's done with," he ordered. "Maybe what this hick rock needs is a good shot across the bow to remind them what happens when they stir up trouble."
Sicula saluted back to the Charizard before turning and slipping out the office's door. Bunsen watched as the Roserade headed off into the hallway, before shaking his head and turning towards the window to look off at the guild's buildings and the sea in the distance with an impatient sigh.
"Just wait a little longer for me. Daddy's almost done with business."
Just offshore Tromba, Dimitri swam along beneath the sea's surface, Nida watching from his back as waves passed overhead and the ever-shrinking distance to the sea floor evidenced the nearing shoreline. After the water grew shallow enough for Dimitri to skim the sand below with his scythes, the Kabutops pulled up and surfaced, the Dive bubble over his back bursting and showering his passengers with a spray of sea water.
Nida blinked away beads of salt water and shook her head, opening her eyes to see the white sand of her island's beaches in front of her. Without prompting, Nida got off and waded onshore, feeling the sand's grains between her toes. The Nidorina paused a moment before giving a cautious paw at the sand underfoot to reassure herself she wasn't dreaming and was finally back home on Tromba. After her few doubts were satisfied, Nida smiled and looked off towards the treeline where the island's forests began, starting off towards them when a voice interrupted her from behind.
The Nidorina turned back towards the water, where she saw Pleo waddling up, his wings and head pulled in tight against his body as he glanced about his surroundings nervously.
"… What do we do if someone recognizes me?" he murmured.
The Lugia's worries were answered by Kline hopping up in front of him and looking up with a reassuring smile.
"I wouldn't worry too much about it, Pleo," the Zygarde insisted. "There may be a lot of enemies here, but they were told they'd be lying in wait for a pirate crew, not a Protector. Also, this is your home. There's no shortage of Pokémon on this island that would help us out if we needed it."
"Maybe, but before we go in, are we sure it's the right move to bring Pleo along with us?" Dimitri asked. "I know we agreed to go as a party back on the ship, but this is our last chance for anyone to turn back or else change our strategy here."
"Yeah, we're sure. Mami is the strongest fighter in the entire town, so of course we need to let her know what's going on!" Nida exclaimed. "It's not as if we're completely safe just sitting on the ship, so let's go and give the town the confidence it needs to fight back by letting them know their Protector's got their backs."
Nida, Dimitri, and Kline turned back to the young Lugia, who blinked back a moment, before smiling and raising his head high.
"R-Right! Nothing will ever change if we just fly away every time things look a bit scary!" Pleo insisted. "Let's go!"
Kline smiled and nodded at Pleo's newfound confidence, before pivoting on his tail over to Nida with a tilt of his head.
"You know this island the best out of us all here," he said. "Why don't you lead the way?"
"Right," Nida replied. "Mami is probably back home right now. Come on."
The Nidorina led the group off the beach as they made their way into the treeline. All the while, a visible nervousness settled about the Poison-Type as she worried to herself just what the home she was returning to would look like.
- aguanta un poco - Spanish: "hold on a little", analogous to "hold your horses" in usage.
- Natuurlijk niet! - Dutch: "Of course not!"
- piski - Finnish: "mutt"
- anna tauko - Finnish: "give it a break"
- vándalos - Spanish: "troublemakers"