Chapter 17: Ruminations

(The next morning…)

"Kamon…"

"Ugh…" I groaned as I felt myself being nudged in my sleep.

"It's time to get up," I heard my partner say. Wait, Sonchar was waking me?

"Did I sleep through Larry's shouting?" I projected through a yawn as I sat up in my bed.

"Nah, he hasn't woken me up for a few days. I think my body is used to getting up at this time by now, though."

"That's good," I muttered mostly to myself. I wouldn't mind being awoken to my partner's more pleasant voice than the absurd shouting from the gatekeeper. And it looked like there was just enough time for me to stretch myself before we joined the others for the usual morning huddle.

The ritual went about the same as always, with Rowkin assigning everyone their tasks while volunteering some unfortunate soul to lead the morning cheer (today, I had the privilege of hearing each of Douglas's heads lead a different verse). We were all preparing to leave and start our days, until Rowkin surprised us with an unexpected announcement.

"Now, before we begin—" Rowkin began grimly, "and I really should have gotten this out of the way before the morning cheer—there is some news I must share with you all. We've gotten reports that a Time Gear has been stolen."

"WHAT?!" came the collective gasps of nearly every guild member present, my partner included.

"You heard me correct," Rowkin confirmed in a deadly serious tone. "Evidently, there was one hidden away deep within Treeshroud Forest. The Gear that had been placed there was taken, and the flow of time has all but frozen in that region."

"Frozen?" I repeated. "What is he talking about? What's a Time Gear?"

Yet, while I asked, I felt as if I should know what Rowkin was referring to. Something about the term rang a bell deep within my mind, but no image was able to manifest. It was bothering me, enough that I had managed to tune out Sonchar's answer to my question, as well as all our other guildmates peppering Rowkin with question after question of what was going on.

"Please, slow your questions!" Rowkin squawked, returning my attention from my thoughts. "The information I shared is all we have currently been given. Local authorities are already on the case as they try to find out who is responsible for this. All they are asking of us is to keep a vigilant eye, and if we stumble across any information, then we are to report it to Officer Magnezone. That is all we can do for now."

Silence befell the guildmates as each of them took in the Lieutenant's instructions. Whatever this Time Gear was, it appeared that tampering with it left terrible consequences for everyone within its radius. Yet, despite the dread in everyone's expressions, I felt a slight surge of adrenaline at the news that I could not understand the reasoning for. I had to suppress myself from shifting in my place, deciding it best not to put my unexplained excitement on display in this currently bleak atmosphere.

"Worry not, friends," the Guildmaster stepped in. "I know this wasn't the best news to start off our day-"

Judging by the room, that was probably going to be the understatement of the day.

"-but remember, we have a community of Pokemon depending on us. So, whattaya say we try again, and tackle this day with a smile! Everybody ready?"

Wigglytuff's attempt at reigniting his pupils' confidence was met with a few cheers that were half-hearted at best. "Even I could have done better than that," I couldn't help but snark, earning a quiet chuckle from my partner.

"Come on, fellas. Y'all can do better than that!" Chet piped up enthusiastically. The other guildmates appeared unimpressed by him assuming the role of cheerleader. The Bidoof's posture shifted to a slouch as his sudden confidence faded. Holding his head down, he then muttered, "Just warnin', y'all know how Guildmaster gets when ya ignore his pep talks."

"Yeah, Chet's right!" Louis shouted, suddenly much more receptive to the Bidoof's rallying cry. "Stop moping around and show some damn spirit!"

"Hey hey!" Larry responded, clearly offended at the Loudred's arrogance. "Who are you calling 'mopey'! I can show more spirit in one claw than your entire big mouth can spew!"

"What?! You wanna prove it, sushi?"

"Guildmates, guildmates!" Rowkin squawked his interjection in an attempt to corral the bickering idiots. Whatever bizarre thing they were arguing about, or if they were competing for the sake of it, everybody seemed to lose interest, and half the guildmates dismissed themselves. The only two still present, aside from Sonchar and me, were Chet and Daisy.

"Good luck with your trainin', fellas," the former said to us. "I'm gonna be goin' out on a mission!"

"Oh wow! So, they're finally letting you go back out there?" Sonchar cheered excitedly for him.

"Well… not on my own," Chet explained. "Rowkin's insistin' on havin' me tag along with Daisy and follow her lead. Thinks it'd be the best way for me ta get some experience without messin' anything up like I usually do."

"Oh my gosh, Chet," Daisy chimed in with her signature phrase, "there's no need to be such a worry wart. I know you'll do fantastic!"

"You're gonna have to tell us how it went after you guys get back," Sonchar said.

"We should get going, since our client is waiting for us. Let's move, Chet. Bye, Sonchar and Kamon!"

"See y'all later!"

"Bye Daisy, bye Chet. Good luck!" Sonchar returned the farewell, while I sent them off with a wave of my own.

Immediately after they left, Sonchar and I each grabbed our respective scarves, took our leave from the guild, and walked together towards our separate destinations. I would like to say that there was a companionable silence, but as we traveled the road we commuted through every day, there was an air of anxiety shared between my partner and me. We both had our own hurdles that we would be attempting to overcome today. However, for the first time since I awoke without my memories, we would each be tackling them alone, or at least separate from each other. Not to mention, Sonchar was given the burden of catching me up to speed on everything he would learn by the end of his special training. With everything on my mind, I didn't even have time to ponder on the announcement the Lieutenant had delivered and the recollections attempting to emerge before I felt my partner gently pulling on my arm.

"Whuh-" I started to say before halting my movement.

"We're at my stop," Sonchar answered.

Indeed, we were standing outside Marowak's Dojo, where my partner would spend the majority of his day. The structure was adorned with stones chiseled in the shape of femur bones along the side walls, and mounted just over the entrance was a sculpture of a large, empty skull, presumably the image of the instructor. I found myself lost in the eyeless gaze until Sonchar once again had to get my attention with a nudge.

"Are you alright, Kamon?" my concerned partner asked. "You've been daydreaming a lot."

"Yeah," I answered, likely not very convincingly. "Just a lot on my mind today."

"I know what you mean. I'm pretty nervous, especially since… uh, never mind."

Confused at his hesitance, I pressed him. "What is it?"

"It's just, I know you've got a lot on your mind, so I didn't want you worrying about me, but… I guess I'm just nervous since I won't have you by my side, you know? Sorry, I know it's probably stupid…"

"No, it's not," I attempted to reassure. "I've been having the same doubts myself, since you've always been there to help me whenever I needed it. And hell, you're the one that's going to be working out while I'll be sitting on my butt all day. So really, what's my excuse?" I gave a smirk, hoping that the jab at myself would lighten the mood. It seemed to do the trick, as I was able to get a chuckle out of my partner.

"Well, can't say I've ever meditated myself, but I'm sure it's gonna be a bunch of sitting and 'oooooohm'ing."

"What?" I responded with a snort. "What was that supposed to be?"

"You know, the noises 'mons make when they meditate."

Did he just say "'mons?" 'He must have been spending a lot of time with Chet during my absence,' I thought with another chuckle. "Well, I'll be sure to tell you all about it when I'm done."

"And I'll do the same, which I kind of have to anyway," Sonchar responded. "But you should probably get moving so you're not keeping Milano waiting. I'll see you later?"

"Yeah, I'll see you later. Good luck with the training," I said, leaving him off with a smile.

"You too," Sonchar responded with a grin of his own before heading into the dojo.

With my partner out of sight, my smile faded. With a sigh, I resumed course to Milano's stall. Fortunately, the rest of the walk was short, as all I had to do was cross the bridge over the stream that bisected the town before I would arrive, so I wouldn't be left with my wandering thoughts for too long.

I was expecting to be greeted by Milano, who would usually be standing outside her tent staring vacantly at the passersby. But when I arrived, there was nobody there to greet me. Looking at the flaps that made up the door, I could see that they were left slightly ajar, allowing me a view inside if I stepped close. I decided, however, that would feel rather intrusive, so I elected not to peek in. That left me to awkwardly stand around, not sure of what I should be doing. Perhaps she wasn't home, or maybe she was meeting with another Pokémon? Was this not the time I was supposed to be meeting with her? No, I was sure it was, because Rowkin wouldn't have sent me on my way here otherwise.

"Ugh, what should I do?" I muttered to myself, immediately looking around me the moment I realized I opened my mouth. Fortunately, no Pokémon seemed to notice my quiet outburst, but that didn't completely erase the anxiety from the frustrated slip. The sooner I got in there, the less nervous I would feel, so I hoped she would show herself soon.

With calling into her tent out of the question, I thought back to the previous day when I learned about how my telepathy worked. I knew that I could transmit my thoughts to her if I tried, and even if I didn't link to her, she could still intercept any projections that did not reach another's mind. Thinking it was my best option, I decided to give it a try.

"Milano? I'm outside your stand," I projected. I only hoped that there wasn't another telepath in the area that would pick up on my transmission instead.

I stood around for another minute waiting, wondering if I should just return to the guild and come back later. Before I took a step, though, Nero came flying out of the stall and once again perched himself right atop my head and made himself at home.

"Do I look like a nest to you?" I asked with an indignant huff.

"Apologies, Kamon. Mother ready for you."

"Wait," I immediately responded, not expecting to understand his mental voice. "I thought you didn't speak human?"

"Only little," Nero clarified. "Mother teach when have time."

That explained the bizarre speech pattern. I wondered just how long his mother had been teaching him. It probably wasn't too long, since Milano did say that Pokémon pick up on language rather quickly, but I doubted she started teaching him immediately after our conversation yesterday.

"Mother ready for you," Nero repeated, preventing me from succumbing to another daydreaming session before flying to the other side of town.

Taking a breath, I stepped through the makeshift door into the bird family's home. Sitting inside at the end opposite of the entrance was the Xatu, arms resting properly over the robe-like feathers layered around her legs. Her eyes appeared to be closed, and I was unsure if she was resting or if she herself was in a meditative trance.

Once I had taken a few steps inside, her eyes opened and she greeted me. "Good morning, Kamon."

Clearing my throat, I returned the pleasantry with my voice, "Good morning." My response came out as little more than a mumble, since I knew the town would start becoming active soon and I didn't want any passersby to eavesdrop on our conversation.

Whether Milano noticed my tension or not, she did not mention it. She merely made a gesture with one wing pointing to the bed where I had awoken the previous day. "Please have a seat."

I obliged, still feeling a bit strange about occupying the one bed while she sat herself on the floor in her own home. Then again, thinking more about it, I wondered if this even was where she slept. Perhaps this stall was merely a place where she did business, and the purpose of the bed to was to make her clients comfortable as she did… whatever it was that she did with them. It would explain why there was very little in the way of personal belongings, as well as the fact that the tent itself couldn't be the most secure place to live.

"How are you feeling this morning?"

"Well enough, I guess," I answered indifferently. Apparently, being able to only speak to one other person did not yield the greatest skill in small talk. Fortunately, she didn't seem to mind taking the initiative.

"How is Sonchar? I hope you and he were able to resolve things while you were away from your guild?"

"Yeah, we were able to clear the air. He thought I was upset with him for how our fight with Drowzee went. Thought it was his fault that I…" I paused for a moment, not sure how much I wanted to share with her about our conversation. "That I was mad about everything that happened. But we talked, and he knows that wasn't the case."

"That is good to hear," she replied. "I was certain that his concern for you would supercede any misgivings you may have had. Yet, it must have been relieving to have that confirmed for yourself."

"Heh, you could say that."

"Now, that is perhaps enough lingering on the past few days."

I nodded my head in agreeance. While it was certainly reassuring to know that Sonchar's loyalty was apparent to anyone that knew us, I wouldn't mind moving things along.

"As I mentioned yesterday," Milano resumed, "there are many meditation techniques I am familiar with. There are a few that I think may be beneficial for you, but those will come later if you are interested. Today, we will be focusing on the issues that have led to your mental fatigue."

I nodded again to let her know that I was following along.

"For this, you will be sitting in place for a good amount of time, so please take a moment to make yourself comfortable."

"Does it matter how I'm sitting?"

"Not necessarily. You may sit or lay, so long as you are in a position where you won't feel the need to adjust yourself."

"Understood," I said, after which I adjusted myself to sitting cross-legged with my hands resting over my lap. "Ready."

"Now then, close your eyes." I did as directed. "Good," she continued in a soothing voice. "Take a deep breath, and relax yourself. Clear your mind. Let all worries fade as your thoughts are cast aside."

Her instructions ended as quickly as they began. Following them, I sat in place, making certain to keep my movements minimal. It seemed easy enough. Yet, as I held still, I felt an itch on my muzzle. I started to lift my hand to scratch it, but stopped myself as I recalled her directions and placed my hand back down. I did my best to ignore the itch on my face, only to feel it move to one of my knees. With my hand already close to it, I decided it would be better to just take care of it, and scratched my knee, bringing me instant relief. Which was short-lived, as the itch taunted me by manifesting on my upper arm.

I grunted slightly in frustration, only to realize that I was losing this test of willpower. I had to ignore these urges to soothe my discomfort, and just let myself relax.

"Alright," I eventually heard Milano say. Immediately, I let out a breath, opened my eyes, and shifted my position slightly. "I imagine clearing your mind entirely is easier said than done?" she asked in a slightly teasing tone.

"Heh, yeah," I answered with a chuckle. "I guess thinking about nothing makes you rather itchy."

"Minor physical discomforts are usually the first obstacle in this exercise. You'll find that the more you practice, the more easily your mind tunes out those nuisances. If you are are ready, you may go again."

Gesturing in the affirmative, I once again shifted myself into a comfortable position and closed my eyes. It wasn't long before I felt the familiar discomforts begin to manifest, but expecting it I had enough discipline this time to not let it distract me. Instead, I focused on the soothing aura that I felt Milano projecting. It was very similar to the feeling she was radiating when I was on the verge of having a panic attack the prior day. When I first experienced it, it felt manipulative, like she was using it to try to keep control of the situation. After having some time to talk with her, though, I found myself feeling less perturbed by it.

'Wait, I should be trying to clear my mind,' I thought to myself. The instruction was to empty my thoughts, and I was now realizing how easy it was for them to wander. But… would focusing on not thinking also be counter-productive? It felt oxymoronic, if anything.

I wondered if Sonchar was having just as difficult a time with his physical task as I was with my mental one. Then again, his wasn't purely physical, since he was also learning about ways to incorporate teamwork into our outings. And when we were both finished, he would have to bring me up to the speed to the best of his ability, but what did I have to share? I doubted Sonchar had any practical use for these meditations. At the least, I could let him know that he was completely wrong about the 'oooooohm'ing he seemed to think I would be doing.

I chuckled at that recollection, then immediately stifled it. Why was it so difficult to think about nothing? The more I tried and failed, the more frustrated I became with myself. And the more irritated I was, the more difficult clearing my mind proved to be. Milano must have picked up on this, because she ended the session then.

"You may open your eyes."

"Sorry…" I grumbled as I obliged. "This is more difficult than I thought it'd be."

"There is nothing to apologize for," she tried to reassure. "Simple as the task may seem, it is only natural that your mind would focus on all manner of things. I would even guess while tuning out your thoughts, you questioned the paradoxical nature of the exercise."

"That… did come to mind, yes," I answered, surprised at the accurateness of her observation. "Will I be trying again?"

"Not at this moment," she answered after a moment of contemplation. "I believe it would be wise to take a break."

'So that I wouldn't keep frustrating myself,' I finished for her in my mind. But she was probably right. While Milano was understanding about my failure, or at least tactful explaining what I did wrong, I was certainly hard enough on myself for the two of us. "So, what will I be doing in the meantime?"

"You may relax for the time being. Or if there is anything on your mind that you wish to share, I am always willing to listen."

The idea of simply resting did sound appealing, but I imagined that I would be doing plenty of that in the next few days. However, there was something on my mind that perhaps she would be able to explain. Something that had been bothering me since the morning huddle. I was hesitant to bring it up when I recalled the anxiousness I felt during that moment, but I figured Milano would likely be able to slake my curiosity.

"There was something I was wondering if you could explain to me? This morning, during our briefing, Rowkin told us that something called a 'Time Gear,' I think, was stolen from somewhere. Do you know about that?"

"I am aware of that event, yes."

Waiting a moment for her to elaborate, I realized I'd have to prod her. "Do you… know what a Time Gear is?"

"A Time Gear is an artifact that maintains the flow of time in the region where it is located. There are several of them that have been spread throughout the world after the events that caused the distortion of time and space, each of them heavily guarded."

I recalled Rowkin mentioning earlier that the flow of time in the region had all but frozen, so I wasn't surprised to learn about the their purpose. "Who guards them?"

"It is not information widely shared," she eventually answered. "As you can imagine from recent news, the whereabouts of the Time Gears are kept hidden from the masses. As for their defenses, I could not say even if I was privy to that information. All I can say is that it would take either an overwhelming force or an immensely skilled covert operator to penetrate or bypass the defenses. Seeing as there have been no reports on the culprit or culprits themselves, nor any casualties, I believe it is safe to assume it is the latter case."

So, there was no information on who it was that stole the Time Gear. Either the thief was as skilled as she seemed to think, or the gears weren't quite so well guarded after all. I figured the former was more likely the case this time, as I felt there was a little more she knew than what she was sharing. I decided not to press her on that, seeing as she made it clear that she would not share that knowledge. Still, there was one other thing I was curious about that she had not explained. "So, if time stopped in the area, how did the thief manage to get out of the region?"

"I'm afraid I do not know. I can only presume that the Time Gear protects the one holding it from the effects of the distortion. Up until now, nobody has ever dared to tamper with the Time Gears, though now I fear that others may feel emboldened to try to do the same."

"What would happen if more were to be taken?"

A familiar pause from the bird followed my question, one that I had begun to associate with anxious anticipation. "It… is difficult to say. What I do know is that if enough of them are disturbed, the flow of time would continue to destabilize, spreading from region to region, until the entire world is engulfed in a familiar catastrophe. One I pray we never have to relive."

The way she spoke made it seem like she herself had lived through the events she was alluding to. Not only that, the soothingness she was projecting began to fade, and was replaced by a creeping feeling of dread, causing a shiver to run up my spine. Perhaps realizing this, she closed her eyes, and then the projections faded away entirely. Letting out a breath, I averted my gaze to the ground in front of me.

"Please forgive me," she apologized after noticing my avoided eye contact. "As you likely guessed, those events in the past are not the most pleasant memories for anyone who lived through them. Most Pokémon are fortunate that they were born after things had begun to stabilize. Yet for many of us, the consequences are still felt to this day."

"I… understand," I said, though not entirely truthfully.

Her descriptions of the history she had lived through were far too vague for me to make any sense of. All I could piece together was that the disasters had occurred long enough ago that most of the Pokémon living today were fortunate enough to have been born after the world had settled down and returned to a peaceful state. I wanted to press her for more information, to learn more about what exactly had caused the first distortion of time and the consequences that followed. I decided, however, that it would perhaps be best not to ask her to relive those memories, at least not when the recent theft was still so fresh in her mind.

I couldn't help but feel that my questions were what led to her current distress, even if I had no way of knowing how heavily recent events were weighing on her. Though it wasn't much, the least I could do would be to steer the conversation in a lighter direction. It wasn't as if I was going to have any luck clearing my thoughts in the current mood anyway. Thinking about what I could say, my mind returned to when I spoke with Nero earlier.

"So, uh, Nero told me you've been teaching him to speak human?" I mentally cringed at the awkwardness of the transition, but it was the best I could do.

"Indeed," she thankfully responded. "It is something I work on with him when we have time. Unfortunately, through no fault of my son's, it has not been the quickest process."

"How long would it normally take?" I asked.

"Hmm…" she somehow muttered her projection, and I decided not to question it. "It would depend on the species itself, as well as how exposed they are to others speaking. When I was with my trainer many years ago, I was able to pick up on it rather quickly, perhaps a couple weeks, as most Psychic types tend to do. However, that was with constant interactions around humans and a developing team, an advantage Nero unfortunately does not have."

"Do you think…" I began to ask hesitantly. She tilted her head slightly, allowing me to continue. "Would it be possible for me to learn Pokémon Common the same way?"

"I will admit, I had considered that possibility after our conversation yesterday." Somehow, that didn't surprise me. "However, with your mind translating our language directly to your mind, it would be a much more complicated process. You mentioned the only instances where you were not able to understand anybody were when you were suffering through severe mental exhaustion or when your head was aching after hearing a piercing screech. I imagine neither situation would be suitable for expanding your knowledge."

I nodded in agreement, not wishing to ever experience either of those scenarios again if I could help it.

"The only other option to learn at a quick pace would be to find some way to 'deactivate,' for lack of a better term, your mind from translating Common."

"Is that something I could just do?" I asked skeptically. "And if I did… Would I be able to turn it back on?"

"I do not know. Your ability is not something I have ever seen before, so I do not have a definitive, reassuring answer. Therefore, it would be up to you to decide if you wanted to take that risk."

This time, it was my turn to deliberate on my answer. The chance to be able to speak for myself and not have to rely on my partner was a very tempting offer. Yet, I wondered how long it would take for me to learn to speak coherently. Milano did mention that being in constant contact with others speaking, Pokémon were able to pick up on language quickly. Would it work the same for me, though? I had some recollections, as frustratingly vague as they were, of my humanity, so I worried that my mind would not be able to adapt to the speech in quite the same way. And then, how would I possibly explain a blatant change in my behavior to my guildmates when I would suddenly not be able to understand them? My mental link with Sonchar only worked one way, so he would not be able to translate anything said to me, so I would be limited to non-verbal communication with my partner. Our current story about my condition was suspicious enough; there was no way that we could reasonably explain this phenomenon.

"No," I answered with a shake of my head to reinforce the point. "I would rather not take the chance."

Though I didn't elaborate on my reasoning, she still nodded in understanding. "I expected as much. There is, however, one more option that might work."

"There is?" I perked up.

"It would still be a slower process, but I believe it would at least eliminate the risk of losing your ability." My eyes widened once her mental voice suddenly changed to one that sounded very similar to the garbled noise I heard Nero speak the previous day. "Am I correct that you did not understand that?" she then asked in her "human" voice.

A shake of my head was my answer.

"Then, that is how I can teach you, if you are interested. Much like how I teach my son, I can speak to you in human, and then translate it in Pokémon Common. In time, you should be able to pick up on it much the same."

"You would really be willing to work with me on that?" I asked, a bit overwhelmed by everything. "You've done a lot for me already... I don't know if I could ask anymore of you."

"I assure you that it is of no trouble. However, if it soothes your conscious, you could perhaps help me in teaching Nero."

"With learning the human language?" I asked.

"Indeed. This would be mutually beneficial with both you and my son present, and may speed up the process on both accounts."

Considering her offer, I felt a lot better about the arrangement. I did not much care for the feeling of owing somebody, so it certainly helped me to know that I could also assist in her son's learning. I somehow got the feeling that Nero would pick up on human faster than I would on Pokémon, but at least that would give me someone else that I could speak to on an even level without having to ask Sonchar to act as my mouth piece. "Okay," I answered. "I think that will work."

"Very well," Milano nodded in acknowledgment. "I believe your Guildmaster has granted you three days off of your guild work, so that will give us the next two days to dedicate if we begin tomorrow. After that, we will simply have to work within the timeframe your guild work will allow. As for the moment, I believe we should get back to your current lesson, wouldn't you say?"

"Yeah," I chuckled, "we probably should."

With our plans for the next couple days made, she had me return to my training. I would like to say that I was able to reach that trance, but each session would result in its own mental distraction, this time including my thoughts about the near future. At the very least, I was pleased that I was able to ignore the physical discomforts without much difficulty, so that was a step in the right direction—or at least that was what Milano assured me. After the third attempt, she decided that was enough practice for the day.

"I will see you tomorrow morning around the same time," she said as she sent me on my way.

"I'll see you then. And thank you again for everything," I said with a grateful smile.

"You are welcome, Kamon. Send my regards to Sonchar and your guild, if you would?"

"Will do," I obliged, after which I began to make my way back to town. As I reached the bridge, I saw Nero fly overhead as he made his way back to their home. Either his timing was impeccable, or Milano must have called to him telepathically. I decided not to pay it much thought, and continued on toward the dojo where Sonchar was spending his day. Seeing that the door to the structure was open, I decided to peek in to see if I could spot my friend inside.

Much like the guild, the first room in the dojo was large and circular, with a couple halls leading to lower levels into the ground. I didn't have to wonder what those halls lead to, as Sonchar, along with several other Pokémon, were all standing at attention. Their focus was on a stout reptilian Pokémon, who wielded a femur-shaped club and had an outer skull that resembled the intimidating structure decorating the door I was spying through.

"That will end today's lesson," I heard the dojo master state. Based on the town's naming conventions, I presumed he was called Marowak. It appeared that Nero was not the only one with serendipitous timing. "I expect to see improvement in your performances tomorrow. And," he cast his piercing gaze at a small but similar looking Pokémon that stood next to Sonchar, "if I hear any more jokes about walking around with my 'bone in my hand,' so help me I will personally throw you into the mouth of the Sharpedo Bluff."

Not expecting… that, I had to suppress a snort at the comment, as did a few of the students. Poor Sonchar looked awkward as the apparent offender merely crossed her arms, and gave an unimpressed huff. I had no idea what came over me, but I couldn't help myself from chiming in on the situation. "I guess the joke's on him, since you used to live there, huh?"

Clearly startled, Sonchar looked around until he spotted me outside as I wore a smirk on my face. The grin faded, as the other Pokémon around him followed his eyes' movement. With all their attention turning to me, I all but jumped away from the doorway. I then quickly moved myself to the side of the building outside, deciding to wait for my partner where I wouldn't further embarrass him, along with myself.

It was only a few minutes later when I heard a series of footsteps leaving the guild. A few of the Pokémon chuckled as they passed me and headed into town. Whether or not they were amused by my little display, I chose not to pay it much mind, and instead waited for my partner to arrive.

"Hey, Kamon," the aforementioned Chimchar called to me. He was walking side by side with the Pokémon that I guessed was the one that made the quip about the instructor. I then noticed that this one was holding a club very similar to the instructor's, and apparently had much more of a sense of humor about the implication than he did.

"Hey punk, you gonna answer him?" the Pokémon asked in a stern, female voice.

"Wh-" I started to respond, only to immediately squelch myself. "What?"

"I was, uh, just asking how your visit with Milano was?" Sonchar answered in a slightly nervous tone. I must have gotten lost in my observation when he asked the first time, so I made sure to answer quickly this time.

"Sorry, got a little distracted. But it went alright, I guess. The medita-"

"Earth to Riolu!" the stranger interrupted and received an annoyed glare from me. "Your head in the clouds there, aura boy?"

"Oh, he was answering me," Sonchar quickly jumped in, likely noticing my patience starting to wear. "Remember? I mentioned earlier that he can only speak to me telepathically."

She gave me a scrutinizing glance as she seemed to recall, before responding, "Oh right. He's that mute you been babysitting around here."

"Hey, he's not-" Sonchar started to defend, before she cut him off.

"Ah come on, I'm just messing with him. Don't tell me he's got a stick up there like the old man." She pointed her free hand back at the dojo behind them, clearly comparing me to Marowak. "Anyway, I've got things to do, so I'm outta here."

"Oh, uh, alright," Sonchar responded. "Well, thanks for helping me out with my training today." I raised a brow at the thought of her being helpful, but decided not to voice it. "See you during tomorrow's lessons?"

"Eh, dunno," she shrugged indifferently. "Depends if the 'master's' gonna keep being a stick-in-the-mud. Guess we'll see what happens. Later, pipsqueak."

"See ya, Kara."

When she passed by, she roughly nuggied my head, bursting out laughing when I batted her hand away and not even looking back to meet my glare. Thankfully, her steps didn't slow in her amusement, because she was seriously getting on my nerves.

"She's a real treat, isn't she?" I rhetorically asked after another breath.

Sonchar gave a nervous chuckle before he responded. "She's not so bad. I mean, she has a weird sense of humor, but she was a lot of help with my training."

That she was helpful in any way was hard for me to believe, considering her obnoxious first impression. Still, I decided I would take his word for it, since they were on friendly enough terms to leave the dojo side-by-side. I also decided I wouldn't dwell on that fact, and instead inquired about his training. "Speaking of which, how did that go?"

"It went alright, I think," Sonchar answered as we started walking towards the guild. "Marowak had us go through some trial dungeons in teams, and I was paired with Kara."

"Dungeons?" I repeated in disbelief, considering that we had only been with our respective trainers no more than a few hours. "You guys had enough time to travel to a dungeon?"

"Oh no, the dungeons are actually under the dojo," Sonchar explained. "They're pretty weird, too. The first couple floors are filled with pretty weak Pokémon, but they get a lot tougher the further you go in."

I quirked a brow as he explained, before a question sprang to mind. "What would happen if any of the ferals got out of there?"

Sonchar shrugged. "I don't think it's ever happened, but I guess Marowak would take care of them? He is really, really tough."

"Tougher than the Guildmaster, you think?" I smirked at the image of those two conflicting personalities squaring off.

"I wouldn't know about that," Sonchar chucked, equally amused at the thought. "I've never seen either of them get really serious, but it'd probably be a scary scene. Anyway, we didn't really spend a lot of time learning about strategy, since Marowak wanted to see what we could do. That'll be what we work on tomorrow. But how did your day go?"

"It was… an experience, I guess," I answered, grateful that Sonchar's new friend wasn't there to interrupt me this time."There was definitely a lot more sitting and talking than your training. But I'm afraid to report that no oooooohm'ing took place."

"Oh, be quiet!" Sonchar stuck out his tongue and gave me a gentle shove in response. Though slightly caught off guard, I couldn't help but let out a snort at his playfully indignant response. "But that was a nice trick with your voices there."

"That reminds me, Milano might actually be able to teach me how to speak your language."

"Really? She can do that?"

"I hope so. She says it may be difficult. But at the same time, she asked if I could help her in teaching Nero how to speak human."

"That's good for you," Sonchar responded with a bit less enthusiasm than I would have expected. "That means you won't need me to translate everything for you, huh?"

Oh, so that was why he wasn't showing much excitement. I supposed I shouldn't have been surprised, considering the jealousy he was trying not to show when I was sharing with him the conversation Milano and I had the previous day. He must have thought that I wouldn't need him anymore if I no longer required his help just to communicate.

Thinking back to the jab I threw at myself to lighten the mood this morning, I tried a similar tactic to cheer up my friend. "It will probably be a long process before I can actually hold a conversation. She doesn't know if I can 'deactivate' my mental translator without me losing the ability, so she's not sure how that will affect things. Besides, I probably won't be talking much anyway, with how much a pain in the ass half the guild members are." Even though he didn't vocally express his agreement, Sonchar still couldn't fully hold back a giggle, nor could I help but smile when my efforts had prevailed.

Our conversation died down once we reached the guild, after which we reported our progress to the Lieutenant. We were given the rest of the afternoon off, and we spent our time walking around town and then lounging at the beach. Chet joined us after returning from his outing with Daisy, seemingly in high spirits at being allowed to get some on the field experience after his lackluster performance during our training. He was rather modest initially, claiming that it was Daisy's expertise that got them through their mission, but she was quick to praise his contributions, which brought a smile to the Bidoof's face.

After listening to the recount of their day, Daisy split off from us to spend the rest of her night with Larry, leaving Sonchar to recount our own separate trainings. He described his time in the dojo and with the other students, namely his new friend, whose species I learned was referred to as Cubone. To my surprise, Chet mentioned he wouldn't mind getting to meet her, though I decided not to voice that.

Sonchar of course gave significantly fewer details about my side of things, only including the bits about the meditation itself and leaving out the bits about my future lessons. As I listened to his shortened recounting, I realized I really had absolutely no idea how I was going to break it to the other guildmates that I could suddenly speak their language. What would I even tell them? As far as they knew, I was able to understand their words perfectly well on my own, as they were all unaware of my mental translator. And it wasn't as if I had mentioned some sort of injury that would have prevented me from speaking that I suddenly overcame. I recalled Sonchar mentioning that I was shy when I first learned about my telepathy's limitations, but I somehow doubted that excuse would work after all this time.

I was once again pulled away from my thoughts by my partner, who thankfully didn't bring attention to the consistency of that habit this time. It was near dinner time, so the three of us headed back to the guild. Dinner was pretty uneventful; apparently, me sitting on my butt all day wasn't exactly exciting dinner conversation, not that I minded. The less questions they asked, the less Sonchar was put in a position where he had to tell half-truths. They were more interested in how badly Chet managed to screw up, only to be surprised—and a couple of them seemingly disappointed, much to my and even Sonchar's aggravation—that he performed adequately. Poor Chet was overwhelmed by the praise, some of which seemed a tad patronizing from the more experienced guildmates, but genuine nonetheless.

Once the conversation started to dwindle, we all headed off to our respective quarters. Sonchar and I both had a lot to look forward to tomorrow, so he was quick to turn in for the night. That left me once again on my own in the darkness with nothing but my thoughts after the long day. Instead of sulking, though, I decided to make use of the time, and practice my meditation on my own. The guild was quiet and void of distractions, and I wouldn't have to feel Milano's gaze on me as I tried to center myself. That did leave me without her soothing projections, which admittedly did help ease the tension and allow me to relax. I would instead have to make due with what was available to me.

With a soft gaze, I watched my partner as he slept, his faint snores being the only sound other than the nightly wind. Following the rhythm of his quiet breaths, I released another one of my own as I sat myself on my bed in position, legs crossed and arms resting on my lap. Focused only on the sounds of his breathing, I let all other thoughts drift away until my mind was truly empty. The sensation didn't last very long, however, maybe only a few minutes. But even so, a slight smile crept its way onto my face when I knew that I had finally reached that trance.

Perhaps I could have tried again, to see if I could maintain that euphoric emptiness, but I decided to simply enjoy the feeling of success. Better not to ruin the moment if I was unable to recapture it, I thought. Instead, I laid myself down and allowed my eyes to rest. Well… I would have, if not for the footsteps I heard approaching our room. Sitting up quickly, I looked to the doorway, only to see Chet lethargically walking towards where I was sitting.

"Chet-" I said before closing my mouth. What was he doing? He didn't even seem to be awake, his eyes appearing to be lidded as his forepaws reached the edge of my bed. I could only step off and stare in sheer disbelief as he welcomed himself onto my own bed without preamble.

"What just happened?" I projected to the void as I was left with nowhere to sleep. 'Guess I'll be getting some more practice in after all…'


Author's Note: Please check my profile for some special shout-outs!