Chapter 1 - Woke Up in the Wrong Neighbourhood
Mike was not having a good day. The initial evidence of this claim came from the simple fact that going to sleep in one's bed and waking up in a forest clearing was not a sign of a good day.
"…Where the fuck…?" he murmured, looking around as he blinked away the sleep from his eyes.
Finding himself in an unfamiliar place was rather disorienting.
"…Why are my hands green?"
But not nearly as disorienting as finding himself in an unfamiliar body.
He looked down, and his eyes widened. "Scratch that, why the fuck is my chest red?" he asked no one in particular, still laying on his back. He tried to push himself up into a sitting position, but used more force than needed and shot upright, barely catching himself from falling over.
"Why do I feel like I've lost some weight?" he muttered with a smidgen of gratification. He hadn't exactly been proud of his weight, and if there was a silver lining to waking up in a forest, he might've found it.
Now looking at himself properly, he realized that it wasn't just his hands that were green, but everything besides the front of his torso. Twisting around to look at his back, a larger, greener appendage caught his eye, sprouting out from the base of his spine. He stared at it for a good few seconds, before realizing what it was. "A tail. Why do I have a tail?" On a hunch, he waved a hand in front of his nose, and smacked the snout he'd suspected was there. "Yep. Knew it. Fuck my life."
"So I woke up in some forest as a treecko. How lovely." His eye twitched rapidly, giving away his growing frustration with his situation. "When I said I wanted to be in pokemon, I meant as a trainer, dammit!" he exclaimed, before shaking his head. "Then again, I'm sure I'd slit my wrist if a snot-nosed brat with a top percentage rattata jumped me for a fight, so that's a perk of not being a trainer," he grumbled.
Trying to take a step, he only managed to perform an impromptu kick and fell flat on his back, still unused to his comparatively stronger muscles and much lighter body. "Fuck, I feel drunk, and I've never been drunk!"
Two agonizing minutes of stumbling around, muttering curses every few seconds, he managed to regain an acceptable amount of proper motor control. He wasn't an olympic gymnast yet, but he could at the very least walk, admittedly with a very awkward gait, tail flattened against his back to avoid slamming it into something — "Not a fan of the fifth limb..." — but it was still better than crawling. "The hero's lucky they don't have to deal with that nonsense in the mystery dungeon games, fucking hell. Does the amnesia come with a manual for their new body? Because I feel cheated."
Finally able to move around properly, he decided to take a closer look at his surroundings. "Green, green, green, oh look some brown," he said, not happy with the drab scenery. "Not a single pokemon anywhere. Do I need to step in some fucking tall grass?"
Just then, he noticed two bushes that seemed to have been growing together at some point, but had been pulled apart. Oddly convenient, but he'd take it. Stepping over the flattened plants, he found the first signs of civilization. "Is that a... road? Huh, wow." Unpaved, narrow, and dusty, but it looked far too artificial to not be one. "Please don't let there be any trainers…" he muttered, not looking forward to finding out what the inside of a pokeball looked like.
His expectations were shattered the moment he actually stepped out onto the road, and noticed a sign-post. "…T-treasure Town?" he read it out loud in disbelief. "I'm in fucking PMD?! And Explorers too?!" He was almost gleeful at the prospect of not having to worry about trainers when he remembered something that made him freeze in dismay. He hadn't woken up on the beach. The hero woke up on the beach.
Which meant… he wasn't the hero.
The prospect of being completely inconsequential to the world at large did not appeal to him. That was a role played better in his world, where he couldn't care less, being a shut-in. But now, he had been thrown into a different world where he effectively had foreknowledge of events, and he couldn't bear the thought of sitting on the sidelines as the main duo went about fixing everything. Of course, even that was up in the air. "The Darkrai bullshit might even be over already for all I fucking know!"
After yelling expletives at Arceus for a while and receiving no response, he crashed to the ground, anger spent. Lying on his back, tail outstretched between his legs, he finally allowed the seriousness of his situation wash over him. "Whining isn't going to help me, is it...?" he muttered, rubbing his temple. "I need to find my way out of this mess. I need a game-plan," he declared, before blinking. "That… sounded better in my head."
He picked himself up into a sitting position. "Right… first things first, how do I get back home?" He knew the answer as soon as he'd asked the question. "Palkia. Palkia's gotta know!" he said, eyes widening in realization. "But… how do I find him? He only shows up after beating the primal out of Dialga, and only to the hero and partne—" His eyes widened at the obvious answer to his question. "The main duo. Of course. If they can't help me get to Palkia, no one can."
He got up and brushed himself off — "Being intimate with a dusty road, not a great idea," — before setting off towards the town. "Guess my first priority is finding the two of them, huh? Treasure Town sounds like a good place to start." He found it convenient that he'd woken up where he did. Given his luck, he could've woken up lost in a dungeon somewhere… a dungeon such as Aegis Cave. He shuddered at the mere thought of the place.
To his relief, he hadn't been too far out from the town, and arrived at a familiar crossroads before long. He was about to head for the town proper when one detail in particular caught his eye. Where the entrance to Spinda's cafe should have been, there was instead a large rock. Seemingly insignificant, but it meant a great deal to him. "Spinda's cafe hasn't opened yet… which means I'm early to the party. Not sure if that's a good thing or bad." Taking a moment to collect his bearings, he decided to check the beach first. While unlikely, it was still possible that he hero hadn't even been found by the partner yet.
It took him two entire minutes to set foot off the dirt and onto sand, though he didn't really mind it — the walking helped him get more used to his new body. Casting his eyes over the beach, he muttered to himself, "Small beach. Makes my search easier I guess." After noticing a lack of any conscious pokemon from where he stood, he decided to scour the place for any not-so-conscious ones who could be hidden behind one of the rocks littering the place.
His search turned out to be entirely fruitless, to his dismay. He leaned against one of the boulders to catch his breath. "Now that was a waste of time. I'm probably a little late." He frowned the moment he said that. "Or... I'm far too early."
All this time he'd assumed that he'd been dropped into the world around the time of the story, but now he considered the possibility that it might even be an entire decade before the events of the game.
Spirits dampened, he slid down against the boulder. There was still hope, of course. "Maybe I'm just a little early, and the hero's going to show up soon…" As the thought crossed his mind, he looked around once more and realized just where he was sitting. His memory wasn't as precise as he would've liked, but he was still fairly certain he was sitting in the exact spot the hero washed. As he pondered over his situation, a slight sound caught his attention. "Was that… flapping?" Frowning, he stood up and peeked over the boulder to get a better view of the beach, but as soon as he did so, his eyes widened and he tried to drop back down again. "Oh shi-!"
He was too slow, unfortunately, and a zubat slammed right into his face, knocking him out and sending him tumbling back to the sand.
"Nothing! I can't believe we wasted our time on this loser, and it's all because of you!" complained an annoyed zubat to his companion, a koffing. "I told you he didn't look like he had anything on him!"
The two of them had been following Mike ever since he reached the crossroads at the koffing's insistence, who had believed he would've been an easy mark. Unsurprisingly, they'd found absolutely nothing of value on his person.
"Oi, shut up!" Koffing yelled back. "I told you he looked like he was hiding something in his tail! I haven't met a treecko that keeps it curled up like that before!"
"Bah! Let's just go before he wakes up," Zubat said, and proceeded to fly off in the direction of Treasure Town.
Koffing grumbled, before floating after him. "Fine…"
As they flew over the forested land inbetween the town and the beach, a lone figure walking up the cliffside path leading to the Wigglytuff guild caught their attention. "Hey… is that who I think it is?" Koffing asked, his frustrated expression morphing into one of curiosity.
"Oh-ho-ho, I believe it is," Zubat replied. "Shall we go see what the pup is up to?"
"Why not?" Koffing replied with a grin. Plans made, they raced up towards the clifftop as fast as they could, before settling behind some bushes in front of the guild entrance — nothing more than a large tent hiding the stairs which led down into the actual guild. A minute later, their mark walked up onto the flat clifftop.
A riolu, looking unsure of herself, walked up to the grate-covered hole in front of the tent, clutching an engraved stone. "Here I am again... but why?" She sighed, tired of her almost daily visits. "I've burnt this bridge already." She squeezed the stone tightly, and made to step on the grate. "But maybe…"
Staring at the grate, she shook her head. "…I can't." Head held low, she stepped back from it.
"Pathetic..." Glaring at the object in her paws, she shifted the subject of her distaste from herself to the stone she held. "Thanks, mom and dad. An useless rock is a great parting gift, isn't it?" she muttered, before beginning to walk back down the way she came.
Her stalkers were still hiding in the bush, waiting for her to get out of sight. As soon as she did, they got out of it and floated towards the path. "Did you hear that!?" Zubat asked with barely contained glee, as he looked down the winding path at the retreating figure of the riolu.
"Oh yes I did!" Koffing replied, excited. "If that rock's something those two left her, it's gotta be valuable! Do we take it?"
"Of course! But we'll need help though if we want to deal with her. You know what I mean. Meet me at the crossroads again," Zubat said, and Koffing nodded. They split up, the gas pokemon flying towards Treasure Town, while Zubat followed the riolu from above.
Unaware of her stalker, she decided to go down to the beach — her preferred retreat. "It's like routine at this point. Go to the guild, get cold feet, and watch the sunset." She chuckled derisively. "Dad would be proud."
Simply setting foot on the sand seemed to brighten her mood, as she breathed in the revitalizing scent of the sea, which was now tinted a faint red from the setting sun. It would still be a while before dusk fell, but the sun was already close enough to the horizon to be hued red. Tearing her eyes away from the sea, she looked around the beach for the krabby that usually gathered during sunset to blow bubbles. She didn't know why they did it, but neither did she care to know why — it made the scene even more relaxing and that was all that mattered. However, something much greener caught her eye. "Is... that a treecko?"
She began walking over in its direction, but her footfalls hastened when she realized it was lying face-down in the sand and barely moving. "Hey! Are you okay!?" She shook the treecko, trying to get it to respond, before realizing it was unconscious. "Oh, this is bad…" she muttered worriedly.
Setting the relic fragment down, she scooped up some near-freezing seawater and splashed the treecko's face with it. It worked, and it shot up with a start.
"Wuh-what?" he stuttered in surprise. His eyes shot around in a panic, before landing on the riolu.
The pieces of the puzzle clicked together in Mike's head as he stared at the riolu, familiar-looking engraved stone lying next to it. Despite waking up in the wrong place, he'd inadvertently been forced into the player's role in the game, thanks to the zubat and his timely mugging attempt. He would've laughed, but coming off as insane was not his goal. The riolu in front of him was undoubtedly the partner, his partner, and judging by the partner gender choices in the game, male… or so he thought.
He was proven wrong almost instantly however, when she spoke up. "Are you okay?"
He shook off his surprise — he'd rather have a female partner anyways. "Y-yeah, I'm fine." Wiping some water off his face before gesturing towards her wet paws, he continued, "I assume you woke me up. Thanks for that."
"Don't mention it. Now, mind telling me what you were doing here?" she asked, frowning. "Treecko aren't seen much around these parts, let alone tasting sand on the beach. What knocked you out anyways?"
And so began his lying spree. "For your first question, I... don't remember." He did, of course. It was just much easier to take a page from the amnesiac hero's book than trying to explain that he had been searching for a mythical hero on the beach. First impressions counted, after all. "The last thing I do remember was a zubat tackling me, so I assume that's the answer to your second question," he said, inwardly looking forward to Beach Cave. Some revenge would be nice, preferably served with a punch to the face. He hadn't expected her to go stiff at the mention of the bat, however. "Is everything okay?" he asked, a little confused by her reaction.
His question went ignored. "A zubat? Was there a koffing with him?" she asked, voice serious.
A soft thud followed by a faint groan caught his attention. He could barely hear it over the sound of the waves, and the riolu seemed to have heard it too. A few moments passed in silence, and when no further sound could be heard, the two of them decided to ignore it and keep talking.
"Uh, yes?" he replied. Despite not having seen one, he knew there had to have been one. Team Skull would do well in horror movies with their penchant for sticking together. He was a little curious about her reaction though. He'd expected there to be some history between the two poison types and the partner, unlike in the game where they'd seemingly never met each other before despite living in the same town, but she looked like she wanted to kill something after hearing his answer — possibly the aforementioned poison types.
Before she could speak again, a purple blur flew out of some nearby bushes and slammed into her, causing her to drop the relic fragment which was quickly scooped up by a zubat. To his immense surprise, the two members of Team Skull didn't launch off into a terrifyingly bad spiel that did nothing but stroke their egos, and instead shot straight off into Beach Cave before she could even get up.
To his even greater surprise, the riolu ran right after them, without whining about their lost treasure like he'd expected. He hurriedly tried to follow, but found himself being utterly outpaced. "Shit! This isn't the partner I ordered!" He wasn't sure what to expect anymore. Canon had already been turned over on his head — "Confidence isn't something she's missing, that's for sure! No way she hasn't joined the guild already!" — and he could only hope that nothing major had changed, such as Palkia's involvement in the plot.
Part of the reason he lagged behind was his own pathetic pace. His insistence on keeping his tail against his back forced him to adopt a stance halfway between a walk and a sprint, which wasn't exactly efficient. As he kept running however, he began to unconsciously bend forward while lowering his tail to maintain his balance. When he finally realized what he'd been doing, his snout was a mere few inches from the ground and he was half-running, half-crawling. He didn't mind, however — his current pace was a far cry from the stumbling trot from before.
Still, he wasn't expecting to catch up to the riolu, but luckily for him the entry hallway had been completely linear, and running out into the first chamber it led into, he spotted her about to walk into one of the many exits in the room. He guessed that she had taken a moment to decide on one, which had allowed him to catch up before he lost track of her. "Hold up! I want come with!" he yelled out, making her turn around to look at him as he ran up to her.
She frowned at his request. "You do realize you were out cold a few minutes ago?"
"I feel okay-ish, and… well, they stole something of yours. I can't just sit and watch," he replied. Of course, both of those claims were untrue. He head was still pounding, and his personal policy regarding crime was to channel bystander syndrome. This was simply the one case where he couldn't afford to do that. "Besides, this is a perfect opportunity for me to get payback. They are the reason I was tasting sand, like you said."
She hummed in agreement. "Fair enough. I'm Aria." She stuck out a paw, and Mike hid his surprise. He hadn't expected handshakes — pawshakes? — to be a thing, since most pokemon didn't have hands. Or paws. Same difference.
He accepted the shake before it got awkward. "I'm Mike."
"Well then, Mike, I've got just one question for you before we keep go."
"You said you didn't remember what you were doing at the beach. Care to elaborate?"
There it was. The question he'd been both anticipating and dreading. In all honesty, he didn't want to go down the whole 'I was human' route, because as far as he could remember, nothing really came of the partner knowing the hero was an ex-human. Besides, they just arbitrarily believed it to keep the plot going, which ran the risk of Aria not believing him. As such, that was a no-go. He'd just stick with amnesia and hope for the best.
"Well, it's like I said. I don't remember how I got here," he began. "In fact, I barely remember anything at all. Bits and pieces, sure, but nothing concrete."
"Wait, are you telling me you have… amnesia?" she asked, clearly skeptical.
"Pretty much. In fact, I don't have a clue how I got here."
One truth, one lie.
"I… I guess I'll have to give you the benefit of the doubt then. You still remember how to fight, right?" she asked hopefully.
He could do nothing but sheepishly scratch his chin. "We-ell..."
She groaned in frustration, and smacked her forehead with a paw. "Oh, this is a special day… look, it's best if you just leave before the entrance moves. I appreciate the intent, but you'd just get in the way."
Uh-oh. That wasn't something he could let happen. "Is… there no way I can help? There's gotta be something I can do — maybe something in here that I can use?" he asked, with all the subtlety of a brick in a window.
She was lost in thought for a moment, muttering to herself. He could make out a few words, and the word 'seeds' caught his attention. His hint had found purchase, it seemed. "There is," she finally replied. "Know what blast seeds are?"
"Uh… not really," he lied. "But I assume from the name it's something explosive." And fun.
"Yeah, that's exactly what they are. Little explosives that are fun for the whole family. They're pretty common in dungeons like this… and speaking of that, you do know what a mystery dungeon is, right?"
"I understand the concept, but nothing specific." That was vague enough, he hoped. He didn't want to look like an inexplicably knowledgeable amnesiac.
"Alright then, I guess you can come along. Someone flinging blast seeds would be useful. Stick close and try to save any seeds we find for Team Skull."
"Team Skull? Is that what those two call themselves?" Mike asked, for the sake of keeping up appearances.
"Team Skull has three members, but yeah, those two are part of it." She paused in thought. "Well, a team is what they call themselves, but..." She cut herself off with a shake of the head, before gesturing towards a hallway. "Nevermind. I can explain later. For now, it's best if we just get going. The stairs could be anywhere and we're wasting time." Mike nodded, and they set off.
The hallways weren't as narrow as in the games, and he could walk beside her instead of behind. She was walking slower than he'd expected from a fighting type, who were known for their physical prowess, till he realized with a smattering of embarrassment that she was pacing herself so he could keep up. He quickly sped up, not wanting to be a burden, and she matched his pace without any indication that she'd noticed the change. "So, uh… what exactly did they steal?" he asked, breaking the silence.
"A memento," she replied.
"A memento...?" Mike mumbled. The game never answered the question of where the partner got the relic fragment, and it being a memento from someone made sense. "From wh—?"
"I don't want to talk about it," she interrupted curtly before he could speak further, shutting off that topic without much fanfare.
"O-oh, okay…" He turned his gaze to their surroundings in an attempt to divert his attention from the awkward air that had followed his failed enquiry, and the blue hue painting the walls caught his eye. For a moment he wondered where it was coming from, before realizing that the water likely reflected light into the cave from somewhere, giving the place an almost mystical glow. It also helped illuminate the place, otherwise they'd have to walk in darkness.
But soon enough, his thoughts veered back to what had just been said. He was curious, far too curious about the exact details. He shot down his immense desire to pressure the entire story out of her, however. He'd have plenty of time to ask later.
When they reached the next chamber, a tiny gleaming seed caught his eye, barely visible against the sandy floor. After making sure there were no wild pokemon there in the room, Mike walked over to it. At first glance, he found no way to tell what kind of seed it was, but the moment he picked up the matchstick-sized seed, he realized that it was radiating some heat.
"Find something?" Aria asked, walking closer.
"I… think it's a blast seed?" he guessed, and held it out on his palm. "Here, have a look."
When she picked it up, her eyes lit up in recognition. "Yep, that's a blast seed, alright," she said, handing it back. "Just throw it hard enough to crack it open if you want something blown up. But whatever you do, don't try to eat the thing unless you want a burnt mouth. It's something a kid might do, but I can't be too sure with an amnesiac."
"Heh, okay." That answered his unasked question about how, according to the games, eating an explosive was a legitimate way of using it. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't. Having nowhere to keep it, he held it in his paw, appreciating the warmth it radiated. The fact that they found a seed on the first floor of Beach Cave nagged at him, however. Seeds weren't supposed to spawn till halfway in. Either someone had left it there, or spawns were more random than in the games. But then again, he supposed it didn't really matter. He only remembered where seeds spawned in Beach Cave because he farmed them a lot in his playthroughs. Blast seeds were overpowered in the early stages.
Right as they were about to enter a hallway leading out of the room, a shrill shriek caught their attention. A shellos had slithered out of one of the other exits, and it had clearly noticed them, and was currently snarling at them. Mike took on a defensive stance, not looking forward to his first fight. Unfortunately, his idea of a defensive stance boiled down to waving his fists in the air menacingly, leading to him dropping it in embarrassment the moment he noticed Aria looking at him like he was insane.
The shellos cared nothing for the display. It charged at them blindly, a faint white aura coating it in what Mike guessed was a tackle. He sidestepped it, not having any way to fight back aside from the blast seed, which he didn't want to waste. Aria acted in the blink of an eye, however, and as soon as he dodged the slug, she slammed into it from the side, sending it rolling towards a wall. It crashed into the solid rock, and didn't get up afterwards.
Mike winced. "Ouch… poor bastard."
"Don't bother feeling sorry for it. The pokemon in this cave are as feral as they get," Aria said, staring coldly at the slug. "Never understood why, though. The pokemon elsewhere are still normal… somewhat."
Mike nodded sagely, having no idea what she was talking about, till he remembered how recruitment worked in the PMD universe. The pokemon in Beach Cave were simply unrecruitable, which made sense after her explanation. Recruiting what were basically animals to go dungeon-diving didn't sound like a good idea.
After that, it was simply a matter of them walking around and him letting Aria deal with the wild pokemon, as they looked for a way to the next floor. Mike was curious about how those worked. Aria had mentioned looking for stairs. He'd believed that the stairs in the games just represented something like a portal, but could they literally be stairs? That wouldn't make any sense in places like Steam Cave or Temporal Tower, where they'd be unmistakably going upwards. With convenient timing, the very next thing they found was a set of stairs built into the floor, seemingly going down into nowhere.
"You know, when you said stairs… I didn't think you meant it literally," he muttered, voicing his thoughts. "I thought they'd be portals or something."
"Mmm, they might as well be portals. These don't really go down as much as they simply connect to a different set of rooms and hallways, be it on a higher, lower, or the same level," Aria explained. "In short… lots of space-bendy stuff."
"Uh… so they're portals but they look like stairs? Just... why stairs? What mad god was in charge of designing these dungeons?" Mike asked, baffled. Aria only shrugged in reply.
Choosing not to make any further comments, he walked down and found himself in yet another chamber, but all thoughts about odd portal designs were forgotten when his eyes landed on not one, but two more seeds lying on the ground. Aria, following close behind, questioned Mike's sanity as he went to pick them up, thanks to him letting out what she would later describe as a maniacal cackle.
"-leven, twelve. I've got twelve of them."
"I'm pretty sure that's more than enough blast seeds..." Aria said with a frown, more a little worried at the prospect of having so many of the tiny explosives tossed around considering how deceptively powerful they were. They were standing in front of a set of stairs which, if she remembered correctly, led into the final chamber of the dungeon. "How… how are you even holding so many? I can't hold half of that without feeling like my paw's burning, and you're a grass-type!"
"Simple. It's worth it for the explosions!" After having witnessed the power of a single seed when he'd panicked and tossed one at a kabuto that got too close, he'd opted to ignore any sleep seeds in favor of more explosives. Still, she had a point. He had all the seeds clutched in his left hand to keep one hand free, and it felt like grabbing onto a piece of burning coal. He was quite grateful for the resilience of his new body, because he still couldn't feel the sting of an actual burn despite the heat. He was sure a simple oran berry would be enough to fix any lasting damage — assuming they were as potent a curative as in the games.
"...Okay then. Your paws, not mine," Aria muttered, shaking her head in exasperation. She then redirected her focus onto the stairs, peering down into the dark depths. "Let's not wait any longer. Those two are down here, I'm sure of it."
She was about to take a step when Mike stopped her. "Wait, hold on. There's… something bothering me about all this. Isn't there supposed to be a shortcut out of the dungeon at the end? Are Team Skull even going to be here? They could have left anytime, right?"
"Is that all? Yeah, there's a shortcut at the end of some dungeons, this one included, but there's a reason they can't leave," Aria explained distractedly. "It'd take a while to explain though, so do you mind leaving it for after we're done with them?"
Mike ignored her growing impatience. "Is it something that they know too?"
"Yes," she said with huff, looking ready to turn her back on him and confront the two without waiting any longer. That changed when Mike brought up his next point, and she froze.
"Why'd they run into a dead end then, if there's no way out but to fight?" Mike asked, gratified when his words made her pause. "They certainly didn't seem too keen on fighting you, so… this is weird."
"That's... a very good question," she muttered. All thoughts of charging in blind were gone, replaced by careful contemplation.
"This just screams 'ambush' to me," he continued. "I don't think they know I'm here, so how about you go in first while I sneak behind? That way, in case I'm right, I can ambush them in turn. A surprise blast seed would certainly hurt."
"That's not a bad idea... fine, let's do it." A shared nod between them, and she started down the stairs, Mike following slowly behind. He kept an ear open for any signs of trouble after Aria left his line of sight, having reached the bottom. Soon enough, he heard her confront her muggers. "You two, give it back!"
Then came a prompt which would have made Mike's hair stand up on end if he had any. "Now, boss!" A moment later, he heard the muffled whump of a body hitting the floor, along with a pained grunt that was unmistakably feminine, and he knew it was time for him to act. He wasn't expecting the sight that beheld him when he stepped out onto the final floor, however.
"Chaw-haw-haw!" An obnoxious laugh greeted his ears. "This'll teach you not to mess with us!" The owner of the laugh, a skuntank, then noticed the new arrival. "Eh? You're that wimp she was talking with! What're you doing here!?"
Mike said nothing, he was momentarily stunned by the presence of the all too familiar skunk in the pit where they were supposed to fight the other two members of Team Skull, who were presently on the other side of the large chamber. Skuntank himself lay on top of a struggling Aria, pinning her down. Fortunately for Mike, all three of them were as shocked at his appearance as he was at seeing Skuntank. Aria's predicament made him snap out of his confusion as quickly as it had set in, and in a fit of rage, flung a blast seed at the skunk. It found its mark, and he tumbled off Aria as a wave of flame washed over him, miraculously missing the riolu.
Mike absently noted something shiny drop from Skuntank's paws, but paid it no heed. He wasn't done yet. While the flying members of Team Skull were still frozen in shock, Skuntank himself was stunned from the concussive force of the explosion. As Aria picked herself up, Mike, abandoning all restraint, prepared to hurl every single blast seed he had left at the skunk, all at once. She was about to thank him for the timely rescue, but one look at what he was about to do, and her eyes widened. Acting fast, she barely managed to throw herself to safety before the seeds went flying.
A deafening blast followed.
As the resultant shockwave battered Mike into taking a few steps back, a downright insane grin found its way on his face at the sight of the massive plume of flame he'd created. It sent a shiver down Aria's spine as she picked herself up yet again, and she began walking towards him with slow, deliberate steps. Mike failed to notice her till she bopped him on the head with the back of a paw. There wasn't much force behind it, but the metallic protrusion more than made up for it. "Ow!"
Aria was furious. "What the hell was that!? I could've been caught in the blast!"
"Re-lax," Mike started, drawing out the 'lax' and infuriating Aria even more. "It was calculated!" He didn't bother making it sound believable. Inwardly he was immensely relieved his braindead move didn't hurt her, but he wasn't about to let it show. "And hey, it worked right?" he added, gesturing towards the aftermath of the explosion, the sand cloud it had kicked up having settled.
Skuntank lay silent against the far wall, presumably having been sent flying by the sheer force of the detonation. Mike could make out some blackened patches here and there on the skunk's body. He didn't feel an ounce of guilt however, partly because he hated the skunk with a passion for his actions in the game, and partly because he hadn't killed him or anything, so it wasn't like he had gone overboard.
That's what he told himself.
Aria stared at the scene for a while, before she groaned, anger having dissipated. "…Just what kind of idiot did I bring along?"
"Hey, it's not like there was much else I could do! He looked pretty strong, and you were down!"
"I-" She started, but cut herself off, slapping a paw over her face before groaning. "Fine. I suppose that entire situation could've gone out of hand otherwise. But for the record, the only reason I couldn't kick him off me was because I was about to faint from the smell." She scrunched up her face in a grimace. "Sweet Arceus, the smell."
"…I believe you," he said without a hint of sarcasm. "But what even happened there? How'd he down you in the first place?"
"Ambush, like you predicted. Got tackled from the side, right as I entered." She noticed Mike's worried expression. "I'm fine, don't worry. You got him before he could use the seed," she reassured him. "In hindsight, it's a good thing you came along. Thanks."
"You're quite welcome." He finally realized what he'd seen drop from Skuntank's paws. It was likely a sleep seed, meant to keep Aria down. "Now, what about those two over there?" he reminded, gesturing to the pair of thieves who were staring at their unconscious leader in mute panic.
"Leave them to me," she muttered and began walking towards the cornered poison-types, who were now backing up against a wall.
Mike was intrigued. They obviously had some history between them, but now he wondered just how strong Aria was, to make them cower like that in anticipation of what was coming. She had taken out all the wild pokemon they met on the previous levels with a single hit each, but they were weak anyways so he didn't think much of it. This? Zubat and Koffing weren't exactly pushovers in the game, and the partner was lucky to have had you conveniently show up in time to help them, because there was no way they could've won otherwise. But now, he was unsure as to why Aria let him tag along. His help should've seemed unnecessary at the time, since they hadn't expected Skuntank to be there, and he was pretty sure she could trounce the other two members of Team Skull by herself.
Which was precisely what she proceeded to do.
"W-w-wait, we're sorry!" Zubat pleaded, trying to talk her down even as she dug her feet into the sand in preparation of... something. Mike had no idea what she was planning, but her targets seemed to, and tried to brace themselves for whatever it was. They barely got a moment to do so, before Aria shot forward in a blur and shoulder-charged Zubat into the wall.
"Was that... quick attack?" Mike wondered aloud, both shocked and impressed. Considering how weak it normally was in the games, his surprise was justified. Koffing tried to tackle her in retaliation, but she effortlessly sidestepped it. With a quick swipe, she backhanded him like she had done to Mike less than a minute ago, only with some actual force behind it this time. Mike cringed at the wet crunch that followed, and Koffing dropped like a bowling ball. A weak groan told Mike that Zubat was still conscious. "Hey Aria, don't knock him out, I've got some questions to ask." Might as well ask about Skuntank's unexpected presence — his lackey would surely know what he was doing there.
"Mmkay," she hummed nonchalantly, as if she hadn't wiped out two tutorial-bosses without breaking a sweat. She picked up the bat, who started to struggle weakly, and tossed him towards Mike, before walking towards Koffing. What for, Mike didn't see, as he focused his attention on Zubat. The poor 'mon came rolling to a stop in front of him, and he had to resist the urge to kick him again. He'd already been smacked around a bit.
"So, as you probably heard, I have a few questions. It'd be in your best interests to answer them properly." He then let a cautionary twinge slip into his voice. "Got it?"
"Y-y-yes..." came the faint reply, accentuated by pained moaning.
"Glad we're on the same page. So, first off, what the hell was that smelly bastard doing here?" he asked, pointing at Skuntank's unconscious figure. "I only saw you and Koffing come in, so how?"
"The boss came along to h-help us steal the treasure. He s-snuck in with a vanish seed while you were talking with M-Miss Aria on the beach," Zubat answered in a tiny voice. "We grabbed the t-t-treasure and followed him inside right after that."
That could only mean Skuntank had used a vanish seed to get inside unnoticed, and set up an ambush. Mike was impressed, he'd been expecting Team Skull to be far less competent — or smart, for that matter.
"So, it's Miss now, is it? Yeah, too late for that." Aria added, amused by the obvious attempt at placating flattery. "Anyways, where's my relic? None of you seem to have it."
"Relic? You mean the t-treasure? It s-should be behind a rock, near the entrance," Zubat answered, and Aria went to check.
Mike decided to continue once they were done talking."So, vanish seed, was it? I assume from the name it makes you invisible, so why use it to do nothing but sneak in? Hell, he could've just jumped us right there on the beach and we'd be caught off-guard. And where did he even get one?" He could vaguely recall that they were somewhat rare in the games, so having one handy just like that was odd.
Zubat looked at him like he was stupid, and before he could answer Mike, Aria replied for him. "Going invisible makes you go blind too, for some reason." Oh, Mike knew the reason. Invisibility prevented light from getting into the eyes, which in turn prevented them from working. Still, he was shocked to know that physics still mattered in a world of creatures that were essentially magic. "As you can imagine, that makes them a little useless most of the time. For the same reason, vanish seeds are fairly cheap. So he probably got it from town."
Mike wasn't convinced. "How'd he know to bring one along then?"
"I'm willing to bet it was simple coincidence. Knowing him, he probably planned on eating it and hiding in plain sight. The coward's afraid to fight," she spat.
"That... still makes no sense," Mike said. "How the hell did he walk in here blind? Even better, why not have Zubat use it? He doesn't need eyes to see, right? He could have snuck up to us and... oh, right. The flapping. Yeah, nevermind, back to Skuntank."
"Boss was facing the entrance of the cave before he ate the seed. After that, I don't know anything, I s-swear!"
That, to Mike, meant that Skuntank walked straight for a bit till he got inside and ran into a wall. That was an insane amount of dedication, he decided. Still, he had a newfound respect for the skunk. He'd improvised an entire plan out of a vanish seed, and a sleep seed he'd found in the dungeon. That also meant this wasn't just some arbitrary mugging, as was the case in the games. Aria seemed to have picked up on that too. "Just how long had you been planning this?" she asked, a little disturbed by the idea of having been followed around. "And why?"
"Ever since you w-walked away from the g-guild. K-koffing and I overheard you t-talking about that r-relic thing, and thought it'd be valuable," Zubat stammered, sounding terrified. Mike supposed he would be too, if he had to tell someone he'd been eavesdropping.
Aria didn't react the way he'd assumed she would, to his surprise. "You did all this for this stupid rock? The only reason I even came after it was because—!" She cut herself off abruptly, before scoffing. "Nevermind, just… it's worthless!"
Oh, if only she knew…
"So, are we done here? I got no more questions. You?" Mike asked. Aria responded with a quick shake of her head. "Okay."
"T-then can I leave?" Zubat asked hopefully. "I was helpful, r-right? I s-swear I didn't lie at all!"
Mike unceremoniously silenced him with a punch to the face. "That was for knocking me out, twit." He felt better now that he had managed to get the revenge he oh-so craved. "So, do we leave now?"
Aria looked between the two of them, seemingly unsure what to make of the ruthlessness he had displayed, before shrugging. "Yeah, sure," she said, and headed for the stairs they had entered through.
"I thought you said there's supposed to be a shortcut here?" Mike asked, confused.
"Yep. And here it is," she answered, confusing him further. Noticing his hesitation, she muttered. "Ah, just get up here."
Mike did as asked, and walked out onto the beach where they had met. The sun had already set, but the moon was bright enough that it didn't matter. To say he was surprised was an understatement. "What the fuck?"
"Yeah, it's weird. Dungeons are... sentient, in a nutshell. They can sense when outsiders enter, and won't change their layout till all of the outsiders leave. Some floors are completely fixed and go against that rule, however. As long as every outsider inside is on that kind of floor, the dungeon is free to rearrange itself. When that happens, the stairs leading to those floors turn into shortcuts that lead directly outside the dungeon," she explained. "If you hadn't guessed, the floor we fought Team Skull on was one of those special floors."
"That... explains a lot," Mike said slowly. It was a lot to take in. It sounded like it was common knowledge if, according to Aria, even Team Skull knew it. With a start, Mike realized he had forgotten to ask them something. "Wait. Shit. I forgot to ask them why the hell they didn't just snatch the relic and fly away. It sounds easier than what they went for."
"Well... I imagine it's because of —" Aria began, but didn't finish her sentence, instead tensing her leg muscles. She performed a quick attack and shot straight up into the air, landing gracefully without disturbing the sand. "— this," she grinned, enjoying Mike's dumbstruck expression.
So the two flying types would have been knocked out of the air. "Uh... yeah. Okay. That answers my question," Mike said slowly, still in shock.
She let the grin slide off her face. "I think that's enough showing off on my end. So… tell me, what are you going to do now?"
"I... don't know, honestly. My first priority would be to get this amnesia sorted out. Is there anyone that could help with that in this town you mentioned?" Mike asked, hoping the answer was no. He was almost certain there wasn't anyone like that in Treasure Town, but canon had been turned on its head already.
To his relief, she shook her head. "No, unfortunately."
"Damn… what do I do then?" he muttered, faking dejection. He intended on steering the topic towards exploration teams, but he had to do it slowly. "Assuming there's even a way I can recover my memories, I'd have to find a way to survive till then."
"Well... there is one thing you could go for," Aria said after a short pause. "Do you know what an exploration team is?"
Looked like she did it for him. How very convenient. "No, but from the name it probably has something to do with exploring mystery dungeons... right?"
"Yup. They do a lot of things, including rescue pokemon stuck in dungeons, fight outlaws, and more," she explained. "In turn, they get paid, and pretty well at that."
"Lemme guess, that's what you are?" Mike asked, confident he knew the answer.
"No... not exactly."
Mike was floored. He was glad for his poker face, because he couldn't figure out a single excuse for her not being an explorer, aside from simply not wanting to be one. That would be bad for him. He was thus relieved as soon as she continued. "I'm considering it though. You said you're terrible at battling, but that can be compensated for. Your advantage comes from the fact that you're sharp and quick to notice details, as our stint in the cave showed. That's invaluable for an explorer. Besides, we made a pretty good team in there."
"Is this going where I think it is?" Mike had a strong feeling it was.
"Probably. You want to form a team with me?"
"Yes!" Mike all but shouted. He was ecstatic — he got the result he wanted without even having to convince her.
"Great! Although... try to be more reserved with the blast seeds next time, m'kay?" she suggested with a smirk, and Mike looked away, scratching his chin sheepishly. "Anyways, to make a team, we'll have to sign up at a guild, and the nearest one is Wigglytuff's Guild." She shot a glance at the moon, which was shining in all its glory. "But it's pretty late now, so the guild is closed. We'll have to wait for tomorrow. We can get some sleep at my place, if you're interested."
Sharpedo Bluff this soon? Mike wasn't going to turn down the offer, though. "That sounds good."
"How about we get going then?" she proposed, gesturing towards the path leading away from the beach. Mike nodded his assent, and they began walking.
Soon after, Mike realized he had a question. "There's something bugging me. You obviously have a name, but we were calling the members of Team Skull by their species names. How does that work?"
"Your amnesia hit a lot of things didn't it? Everyone has a name, but it's perfectly okay to refer to someone by their species name," Aria explained.
"So the three of them do have names then?"
"Yeah, although I think their parents hated them," Aria snickered.
"Their names are Bob, Skull, and Sonic. Skuntank's their leader, but the team isn't named after him." She paused to let it sink in. "Go ahead and figure out who's who."
Mike took but a second to put the pieces together, and he couldn't help but chuckle. "Yeah, someone really hated them."