Chapter 3: Anchors Aweigh!
As the weeks passed, Basic Training went by in a hazy, lengthy blur for Cabot. There were exercises to be done, a rekindled (if friendlier) rivalry with Niilo and his companions to indulge in, and Trixie's stern, ever-present barking of orders. A mere four weeks later, all of that had come to an end, which much to Niilo's dismay meant trading in his beloved dark khaki scarf for a naval indigo. The cadets that had managed to hold out through training were graduated and scattered across the various ports of call about the Empire's territory.
Some received postings in and around the capital, while others - like Niilo's buddies in the Dune Devils - were posted to guard Anyilla's fringes on Haipheh Island. As for Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo, the three were posted on the high sea, slated to tend the front lines of defending what remained of the Empire on the waves. Before they knew it, the three found themselves early in the morning at the piers of the naval facility in Tidemill City's eastern district, making their way down docks lined with proud, indigo-sailed ships as the three scanned high and low for the one that they would call their own.
"I can't believe we're actually getting our very first assignments for the navy today!" Cabot exclaimed. "For a while, I thought Basic Training was never going to end!"
"Hmrph, would it have killed them to give us some proper instructions, though?" Niilo asked. "I can't see hide or scale of this 'Captain Nugget' we're supposed to be working for."
"Again, we're looking for the Vasilek," Berecien said. "It's a three masted frigate with Imperial sails, so just keep your eyes peeled."
"That's easier said than done!" the Sandshrew protested. "These entire docks are full of ships with Imperial sails!"
"But… isn't that ship over there the only one nearby with three masts?" Cabot murmured.
The Cranidos pointed off a few docks over at the sight of a frigate with indigo sails. Much to Berecien and Niilo's embarrassment, sure enough, the vessel was the only one of its kind with three masts at the docks, the description they'd been given for finding their new ship.
"… I suppose that would narrow it down, yeah," Niilo admitted. "Come on, let's go."
The trio carried past a few ships on the way down the docks, walking by a Poliwrath and a Throh moving some crates onto a ship, a yellow-eared Raichu that was floating on his tail tying down another ship, and in a sign that not everyone here was terribly busy, a Murkrow, a Persian, and a Gible huddled around a crate playing cards. As the group neared the Vasilek's dock, they noticed a Tentacruel and Sharpedo swimming past a small group of Pokémon clambering the gangplank where there was a Beedrill in an indigo scarf bearing a twinleaf design… the very same that Trixie had.
"Hoy!" the Bug-Type greeted. "Are you three also new recruits for the Vasilek?"
"Uh-huh! We were just looking for it," Cabot nodded. "You're from the crew, I take it?"
"That's right, and welcome aboard," the Beedrill replied. "My name is Jun, and I'm the ship's first mate. Just proceed onto the gangplank and wait on deck with the others. The Captain will address you all shortly."
"Right," the Cranidos said. "Thanks for the heads-up."
The three made their way up the gangplank, clambering up onto the deck as it buzzed with Pokémon crowding together near the bridge. Cabot looked around, recognizing a few faces from Basic Training like the Pidgey and Togetic near the railing, when his eyes caught the sight of a familiar Salandit and Combee waiting in the distance. Seeing Tegu and Melli prompted Cabot to give a cheerful wag of his tail as he realized that he'd have more friends than expected for this maiden voyage…
"Tsk, look what the tide brought in."
… along with more detractors than he'd hoped, it sounded. Cabot peered over at a section of the railing near the stern where he saw an Accelgor, a Lilligant, and a Primeape with visible scuffs shooting unimpressed glares over at him and his teammates before drifting off. The dinosaur shifted uncomfortably a moment over the encounter, wondering if perhaps it was a sign of things to come while working as part of the crew.
"They don't seem too happy with us…" the Cranidos murmured.
"Meh, just ignore them," Niilo scoffed dismissively. "They'll change their minds once they see how well we can hold our own."
"With an overconfident attitude like that we're definitely never changing their mind," Berecien harrumphed.
"Hey, maybe you two look like typical rookies, but once I evolve during our first mission that won't apply to me!" the Sandshrew huffed back.
Cabot and Berecien narrowed their eyes into unamused stares. All through Basic Training, Niilo had gone on and on about him being on the verge of evolving, yet it never happened. Well, here they were about to go on their first mission and he was still the same scaly ball he always was. Was he really going to keep this up for his entire deployment?
"Tch," the Ponyta snorted. "If you say so…"
Before Berecien could say anything further, he was cut off by the sound of a wet slosh and a blast from above, followed by the sensation of water pouring down on him. The Ponyta and the other Pokémon on deck yelped, recoiling from the unpleasant feeling of droplets falling against their bodies and looked around for the culprit, only for a chittering hiss to reach their ears.
"Alright everyone, sit down and shut up!"
The freshly graduated cadets looked up at the stern's railing where the form of a Clawitzer lowering her big claw caught their attention. The pistol shrimp's thorax was wrapped in an indigo scarf with three white leaves, and her shell was worn and scuffed with age, the mark of a 'mon who'd been in the navy for some time. Judging from the piercing scowl she was shooting back at the Pokémon around her, she too was cognizant of that fact, and would not easily let it be forgotten.
"This is your captain speaking, Captain Nagant," the Water-Type said. "I'm aware that 'mons tend to have issues with remembering it, so I'll make this very clear: it's not 'Nougat', it's not 'Nugget', it's 'Nagant'. Are we clear?"
Some awkward coughs went about the deck as the gathered Pokémon shifted glances away uneasily. Satisfied her point had been made, the Clawitzer gave a dismissive scoff, before clicking her claws impatiently.
"Fantastic, then I'll get to the real reason why I gathered you here instead of throwing you straight into work," Nagant harrumphed.
Cabot shrank back and fidgeted uneasily with his claws. A superior with a gruff attitude was nothing new with his experiences with Trixie, but this Nagant was something else entirely. She almost seemed like the type to throw Pokémon that annoyed her overboard!
"Unlike most crews, mine sails closer to the fringes of the Empire's waters," the shrimp began. "As a result, on this ship, you can expect to deal with more hostile encounters than you would on some skiff with the coast guard."
The mention of there being more hostile encounters than normal made a few faces in the crowd visibly waver and nervous murmuring began to float about. With the seas of Anyilla as turbulent as they were nowadays, trouble at sea was already a constant danger in the background. Undeterred, the Clawitzer continued on, giving an expectant scowl at the sailors in front of her.
"Because of this, I expect each and every one of you to do your duties and follow your orders as given," Nagant added. "A crew working in concert out in contested waters can mean the difference between us accomplishing a mission or having the hull shot out from under us."
"Someone's a crabby one, huh?" Niilo whispered to Cabot. As soon as the words left his tongue, the Sandshrew heard a chitinous click, looking up and flushing pale as he saw Nagant's large claw cracked open wide and ready to disgorge a jet of water square at his face.
"And you'll follow those orders without back-sass or any other shenanigans," the crustacean hissed. "If you bring trouble to my ship, I'll shoot you overboard myself so you can swim back to port. Understand?"
The Clawitzer's enunciation drew a gulp and an overhasty nod back from Niilo and the nearby recruits around him. Satisfied that she'd made her point, the shrimp pulled her claw away with a harrumph.
"Good. Your first mission with this ship should be simple enough for all of you rookies," the Water-Type explained. "I've received sailing orders from Admiral Coil to escort a ship laden with copper ore from Sormus to Buyeom. Learn the ropes while you can, since we won't be getting breather assignments forever."
Nagant motioned with her small claw at a flitting Beedrill beside her, who perked up with a buzz at the attention.
"Jun will hand out your individual assignments while we're pulling out of port," she said. "That's all that I have for now. Just get to work and don't let me catch you slacking!"
The Clawitzer turned away and began to hop off for the ship's inner decks as the gathered crew turned and traded murmurs with one another. At the doorway leading below deck, Nagant whirled back with a hissing glare.
"You heard me!" the shrimp exclaimed. "Bring up the anchor and hoist the sails! We're moving out!"
A chorus of hasty affirmations rose up at the Water-Type's orders, as some of the more experienced crewmembers set off pulling the sails up and the stone anchor out of the water. Niilo and his companions felt the boat jolt underfoot and begin to drift off, their gaze moving over to Jun as a group of Pokémon gathered around him for instructions. The Sandshrew let out a disgusted sigh, before shaking his head and turning back to his teammates.
"Bah, couldn't we have gotten a captain who's a little more relaxed than that?" Niilo asked.
"Oh, stop complaining already," Berecien harrumphed. "Everything will be fine as long as we just stick to our duties and follow her orders."
"But she barely noticed us…" Cabot murmured. "How would everything be fine if she'd fail to notice us missing if we fell overboard?"
"This is a frigate, Cabot. Between us on the deck, and the escorts in the sky and sea who help defend it, she likely has to manage over 200 Pokémon as part of her crew," the Ponyta chided. "It's only logical that she wouldn't be familiar with every new face that comes aboard her ship. Especially on day one."
"I mean I guess so… " the Cranidos mulled. "Though, even if we're new… do you suppose our first assignment will still be a fun one?"
The Cranidos moved a claw to his mouth as his mind drifted off to the potential jobs they might do on their maiden voyage. Maybe they'd start with something mundane like being one of the ship's lookouts… or maybe the Captain would aim to wow them and they'd get to do something like steering the ship! Whatever their assignment would be, the thoughts of the different possibilities couldn't help but get Cabot worked up with fantasies and what-ifs that would surely make their first mission memorable.
"Heh, guess I'll just have to wait and see!"
"This wasn't what I was expecting…"
About half an hour later, the Vasilek was powering through the waves on the high sea. The sun shone down brightly and the deck was alive with activity, including Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo who worked on their first assignment… namely to clean the frigate's main deck. The trio carried out their job as ordered, moving damp mops along the deck under the clear skies. But there'd been precious little of interest during their work beyond a sighting of a passing Honchkrow in the distance, and much like their visibly dismayed Cranidos teammate, Niilo and Berecien had proven incapable of hiding their disappointment with their assignment.
"Well, we gotta start somewhere I suppose," Berecien sighed.
"We didn't go through four weeks of Basic Training just to swab decks all the time!" Niilo huffed. "I'm not getting paid enough for something so boring!"
"Oi! At least you guys don't have to constantly move supplies back and forth!"
The three turned around just in time to see Tegu and Melli coming up from below deck. The pair approached each carrying a wooden bucket, the Salandit of the pair sporting a sour frown while his Combee teammate was as upbeat as ever.
"We got some clean water!" Melli cheered.
"Heh heh! Sounds great!" Niilo exclaimed. "We were waiting on a drink!"
Tegu and Melli both gave each other confused looks at the mention of a 'drink'. The Salandit shifted uncomfortably a moment, before clearing his throat and turning back to deflate the Sandshrew's enthusiasm.
"Er… this is for the deck," the lizard said. "Pretty sure you don't want to be drinking seawater anyways."
"If you're thirsty, maybe try asking someone from the galley for some water after your job is done?" Melli proposed.
The two dropped their buckets on the deck, leaving their contents to slosh up and splash onto the wood underfoot. Cabot and his companions watched as Tegu and Melli disappeared again below deck, leaving Niilo to grumble in disappointment.
"Well, it does make finishing cleaning easier," Cabot offered.
The Cranidos walked over to one of the buckets and dipped his mop in it before continuing to swab the deck. His teammates came along to do likewise, when a sharp a buzzing sound rang out behind them. The trio turned around and saw the ship's Beedrill first mate flitting up to them with an curious gaze.
"So how's work going for our new recruits?" Jun asked.
"Meh, could have used something more exciti- Ow!"
Niilo was cut off by a hoof stomping down his tail, prompting him yank it away and nurse it as Berecien shot him a stern glare. Jun gave a skeptical glance at the whole episode, prompting Berecien to hastily cut in to try and salvage the first mate's first impression of them.
"What he means is that it's going great, sir," the Ponyta corrected. "We already did the stern deck."
"That's good to hear, it looks like you rookies are off to a great start!" Jun buzzed. "I can't wait to see how you'll do during the second pass in the evening."
The three stared slack-jawed at the Beedrill as soon as his words left his mouth. Did- Did he just say they had to do all this work again on the same day?!
"Wait, second pass?!" Niilo cried out.
"Majayo. To properly keep a ship like this clean the decks need to be fully swabbed at least twice a day," the Bug-Type explained. "A clean working environment is important for the crew to function well after all!"
A trio of groans rang out in response to the first mate's answer. They supposed swabbing the deck was necessary… but still, there was something about their first assignment that didn't sit quite right with Cabot…
"How come we were assigned to cleaning the deck?" the Cranidos wondered as he uneasily tapped his claws. "I guess… I was just expecting our first job to be something more related to the stuff we learned in Basic Training."
"Well, all recruits have to start somewhere. Captain Nagant isn't the type to fully trust strangers in her crew easily," Jun said. "But if you work hard and do your tasks well, I guarantee you can earn that trust."
"I mean that does make sense…"
The Cranidos hung his head disappointedly, before balling his claws up and looking back up to the Beedrill. The Rock-Type seemed to find a sudden spark of excitement, as a newfound boldness came over him.
"It's just that I thought it would be like the start of a grand adventure!" the little dinosaur exclaimed. "Where we'd explore new islands, fight bad guys, and save lots of Pokémon!"
"Well, I wouldn't get too overexcited," Jun insisted. "We're here to escort a copper ship after all, not save the world."
"Yeah I know…" Cabot murmured with a weak smile.
"But if you rookies keep your work, you can at least see another island soon," the Beedrill offered. "We should arrive at Sormus within the next three hours."
Cabot looked up and gave the Bug-Type a content wag of his tail at the mention of 'another island'. Even though his first assignment aboard the Vasilek had failed meet his expectations, it was nice to hear that there'd be some excitement on his maiden voyage after all. Satisfied with Cabot's turn of demeanor, the Beedrill flitted up, giving a cheerful buzz before continuing on.
"Besides, it's better to start off your career with something simple anyway," Jun added. "After all, you can't really argue with a peaceful mission, can you?"
As the Vasilek carried on for its course towards Sormus, a Honchkrow with a black scarf sporting a golden frond design beat his wings, flying in easterly course away from the Imperial frigate. The Dark-Type flew along until the sight of a trio of ships bearing black sails and golden designs much like the one on his scarf came into view, swooping down towards a large frigate in the center. There, a group of scruffy, grumbling Pokémon had gathered on the deck, with a sizeable number sporting blotches shaped like five-tailed comets. All the while, a Cofagrigus waited expectantly against the railing on the stern, watching as the Honchkrow settled to a stop in front of him before giving an expectant grunt.
"Ah, Marcus, you're back," the Ghost-Type began. "What do you have to report from your reconnaissance?"
"I found the navy ship you were talking about, Captain Sibich," the Honchkrow replied. "They're on course to arrive at Sormus in about two hours."
"Excellent! It's time we finished preparations for this raid then," the Cofagrigus said with a grin.
The wraith floated over to the railing overlooking the deck, nodding to a nearby Bronzong. The Steel-Type floated up and let out a loud, metallic screech that prompted most of the Pokémon on deck to cover their ears, quickly turning their attention to the waiting Cofagrigus.
"Let's keep this short so we can get down to business," Sibich harrumphed. "My source from within the Admiralty has told me there will be a copper shipment today between Sormus and Buyeom."
The Cofagrigus bobbed in the air above his ship's deck floating back and forth pensively before turning his attention back to his audience.
"Since it's guarded by a navy vessel, we'll need to employ more strategy than our normal smash-and-grabs," the Ghost-Type continued. "More specifically, we'll be changing into Imperial sails so we can sail up close to it and ambush it at sea."
The wraith's announcement drew a chorus of uneasy murmurs from the gathered pirates. An ore ship's cargo was a major haul to be had… but with such a well-armed escort?
"Uh… is it really a good idea to just attack a navy ship like that?" a blotch-headed Grotle asked.
"Yeah, every time we've done a job involving an Imp vessel, they've always been a huge pain to fight!" a Scraggy with a similar marking added.
Sibich's red eyes lit up with a smoldering glare, prompting the Grotle and Scraggy to hastily bite their tongues. The Ghost-Type floated over, leaning down over the now-quieted pair with an irritated flash of his teeth.
"My source also informed me this navy ship is full of rookies on their first mission," the Cofagrigus growled. "As such, pushing them out of the way to take our share of copper and prisoners to ransom should not be an issue for anyone worth being on the Shadow Brigade."
The two Pokémon overhastily nodded back and stammered nervous agreements along with the rest of the crew. Satisfied enough with the response, the Ghost-Type pivoted his body, turning his gaze back to the Honchkrow scout perched on his ship's railing.
"Tell the rest of the fleet to change their sails," the pirate captain instructed. "We'll leave as soon as every ship has changed into indigo."
"Aye, captain," Marcus said. The Honchkrow straightened his feathers and leapt from the railing, taking flight towards another black-sailed ship as Sibich turned back to the rest of his crew.
"That applies to the rest of you as well!" the Cofagrigus snapped. "Get the ship into Imperial sails!"
The gathered Pokémon hastily leapt back into action, taking down the ship's black sails and dragging out indigo-colored replacements to take their stead. All the while, Sibich looked at the ocean with a malevolent grin and tented his fingers with anticipation. With the element of secrecy torn away, all the imperfections and inadequacies of the Imps' ore shipment were bared to see, and for a captain of his caliber, no ship full of neophytes could hope to stand a chance against his Shadow Brigade.
"And there she is! The best island in the entire Cradle! Sormus Island!"
Before Cabot and his companions knew it, their work on the deck wrapped up as the air grew hotter and the Vasilek continued on its course further and further northeast. Sandy mounds on the horizon caught their attention, drawing the three over to the railing. The trio watched as the mounds grew taller and discernible as sand dunes, followed by the form of a seaside town of adobe buildings with the occasional building made entirely out of timbers. Their Sandshrew companion stood there beaming, leaving Berecien to peer off in the distance, before giving a dismissive snort and shake of his head.
"Meh, it looks to me like some giant sandbox-"
"Ah it looks amazing!" Cabot cheered. "It's like one giant beach!"
The Cranidos hung over the railing and gawked at the different sights the desert island had to offer. Niilo for his part shot a smug smile at Berecien, who flattened out his ears and let out an annoyed groan. Satisfied with the Poynta's reaction, Niilo turned back to address Cabot.
"Heh, I'm sure you'll love the town too," the Sandshrew said. "Copperband Village is full of great stuff. There's the market, the taverns, our Protector's shrine… why, with all its metalwork, Hoopa's would totally put any other shrine in the Cradle to shame!"
The pangolin continued on, giddily prattling about the greatness of his island's Protector before his audience. The Ground-Type's exuberance drew an eye roll from Berecien, only for the sound of a sharp buzz to cut off Niilo's storytelling.
"Everyone make your way to the front of the stern!" Jun cried out. "The Captain wants to go over docking instructions before pulling into port."
"Hmph, let's go see what the Captain has to say," Berecien proposed.
The Ponyta trotted along, his teammates following after until they reached the front of the stern where a small crowd began to gather on deck. There peering down was the wizened form of a Clawitzer who gave a bat of her small claw against a railing for silence before clearing her throat.
"Alright, let's keep this simple and short. Once we pull into port, I will be occupied planning out a route and schedule with the captain of the ore ship we're escorting," Nagant began. "While the two of us are hashing that out, the rest of you will be loading up provisions onto the ship. I expect the job to be done quickly and without incident. Are we clear?"
A smattering of nods and 'ayes' went back at the Clawitzer's question. Satisfied with the response, Nagant pivoted on her tail, casting a sidelong glance back at the sailors below.
"Good, then return to your posts," the shrimp instructed. "I want that ship docked before the water's dry on my carapace in port!"
Nagant hopped towards the ship's railing, perching on it before leaping forward into the sea with a splash. Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo looked on, watching the shrimp surface and power along for Copperband's docks, prompting Cabot to turn to his teammates.
"Come on, let's get ready," the Cranidos said. "If we do well with those provisions, maybe the Captain will start giving us some better assignments!"
The Cranidos motioned to his friends, prompting them to push off from the railing and towards the middle of the deck where Jun was already buzzing out assignments to the gathered sailors. With rapid succession, orders were handed down: the fliers and swimmers were tasked with helping to guide the ship in, as different teams of deckhands - including Cabot and his companions - were set to work on the ship and on the docks. With a stern buzz from Jun, the three went down below deck, pawing through the cargo hold in search of empty crates and barrels to offload. The frigate lurched along, coming to a dusty harbor lined with warehouses and a line of squat adobe buildings teeming with visiting sailors.
The Vasilek was pulled to a pier at the far end of the harbor, where it was quickly tied down and the gangplanks lowered for the crew to disembark. One after the other, Pokémon filed down, and set about moving cargo to and from the ship… including Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo. The Cranidos brimmed with excitement at the thought of finally having set foot on a different island. His path took him past ships with sails in every conceivable color, past taverns and shops where sailors traded gossip of their encounters on the high sea, a far cry from Polderfield's more inland and sleepy nature. The three along with their crewmates carried on until they reached a yard where some crates and barrels had been set out waiting for them, where they took some of the cargo and began to carry it back to the Vasilek's to be hoisted up to the deck… before returning back to the cargo yard again and again, encumbered all the while with weighty crates and barrels under the scorching sun.
"Ugh, this is so not an upgrade over swabbing the deck…" Niilo whined. "When do we actually get to do something that actually matters?"
As Cabot continued on moving his crate, he noticed Nagant at a nearby dock from the corner of his eye. There, the wizened shrimp was talking to a Beheeyem in front of a caravel with emerald-green sails… though the pair seemed to be strangely covert about the matter. The Cranidos curiously tilted his head, wondering what could be going on between the two captains.
"But, the Captain certainly seems to think it matters," the Rock-Type countered. "With the way how she's focused on that Beheeyem, it seems like the mission is really important."
"Well, obviously. Copper is used to make Bezants and there's only so much mined every moon," Berecien explained. "If an entire shipment would fall into the hands of pirates, it would cause chaos for the Imperial mint at Buyeom Island and anyone who works copper for a living."
Cabot blinked in surprise at Berecien's comment. What the Ponyta said made sense for the most part, but not everything about his description seemed to add up…
"Wait… but if this mission's so important for the Empire's money, why did a bunch of rookies like us get it for our first one?" the Fossil Pokémon questioned.
"It's because pirates rarely ever attack shipments like these."
Cabot and his friends looked around, only to see that their only companions on their portion of the docks were some scattered crates and barrels. Cabot furrowed his brow puzzledly, until Niilo tugged at his shoulder and pointed down at the water, where they they saw a Tentacruel alongside a Sharpedo bobbing in the water wearing the same indigo scarves they did.
"Oh, but how come?" Cabot wondered.
"It's because none of them know when these shipments are," the Tentacruel insisted. "The schedules and routes are kept top secret, so when pirates do encounter a shipment on accident, they'll just think it's an ordinary merchant vessel."
"Yeah, and without knowing what's in it, there's no way they'll bother attacking a ship that has escorts with indigo sails!" the Sharpedo added. The three rookies paused at Sharpedo's explanation, before Cabot gave a sheepish rub at the back of his head and flusteredly replied.
"That… makes quite a bit of sense actually," the Cranidos murmured. "Thanks for that, er…"
"Cyanea," the Tentacruel said. "And the Sharpedo's Katyusha."
"Yeah, good luck with those crates, rookies," the shark chuckled. "Who knows, maybe we'll catch up later."
The two Water-Types swam off with an audible splash, leaving Cabot and his friends to look on after them. With his ego still smarting from the Sharpedo's words, Niilo curled his face into a disgusted frown before mimicking the shark's voice.
"'Nyeh, good luck with those crates, rookies.' Would it have killed them to actually help before leaving?" the Sandshrew complained.
"But wouldn't getting crates into the ship have been harder for them since they're in the water?" Cabot asked.
"Hey, they at least could have done something!" the pangolin huffed, only to be cut off by a shout from the end of the docks.
"Ow! Watch where you're going, blotch-head!"
The three looked down towards the shore and spotted a Krokorok lugging a barrel being snarled at by a glowering Drapion and Darmanitan. The creature wavered a bit, before slinking away, Cabot chancing to notice the form of a five-tailed comet on the retreating Krokorok's head.
"… He's a Marked," Cabot murmured.
"You suppose he did something to rile those two up?" Niilo asked.
It was hard for Cabot to tell from just a passing encounter. He'd never run into any Marked in Polderfield since it was a newer settlement, though they could be found in older settlements where Marked kept to themselves in their own neighborhoods. From the tales he'd heard, it seemed as if few Pokémon really needed a whole lot to be riled up by Marked Pokémon such as the Krokorok. It was said that they were descendants of the Pokémon who helped slay the Old Gods; the Legendaries who watched over the world back when it extended far beyond the Cradle and the Veil that protected it from the surrounding Wastes. Whatever their involvement had been, it hadn't gone forgotten among the Cradle's Pokémon, to the point where ferals were said to single out Marked for attacks… not that encounters such as the one with the Drapion and the Darmanitan seemed to be much of an improvement.
The Cranidos stared off uneasily, only for the sound of a snort and awkward paw of a hoof against timber underfoot to catch his ears, prompting him to turn and see Berecien shaking his head with a sigh.
"It doesn't concern us. Let's just hurry up and get these crates loaded," he said. "We don't wanna just stand around once the Captain is-"
"Sailors, we're done here!" Nagant exclaimed. "Get the last of the provisions onto the ship so we can get moving! I don't like sitting around and waiting, and I'm not giving any free passes for inexperience today!"
Cabot, Niilo, and Berecien jolted up in surprise and whirled their heads towards their captain as she headed back for her ship, staring after her with slack-jawed incredulity. That old Clawitzer expected them to already be nearly finished with loading an entire frigate?
"Wha- But we just started!" Berecien spluttered.
"Well like you said, I guess we'll have to hurry if we wanna make the Captain happy," Cabot offered.
"Ugh, I just hope all of our assignments won't be like this," Niilo grumbled.
The trio sighed and returned to their crates, quickening their pace as the other sailors on the dock similarly hurried their work along under the baking sun. Although his current assignment was far from exciting and the desert heat was wearing on him, Cabot carried on, determined not to let his first mission get the better of him. If he stuck through it, surely Captain Nugget would give him some more exciting tasks in the future… wouldn't she?
The answer to Cabot's wonderings came swifter to the young Cranidos and his teammates than expected as the Vasilek sailed along with the green-sailed copper ship on its port side. About half an hour after leaving Sormus, he and his companions found themselves sitting back on the deck, clustered around a tangled pile of worn-down ropes, picking through and unknotting them as an air of annoyed disappointment lingered among them.
"I can't believe I got assigned to do this of all things!" Berecien huffed.
"Pbbt," Niilo scoffed. "So now you finally agree that our assignments suck?"
"At least our last assignments were ones I could do!" the Ponyta protested. "How am I supposed to untie knots with hooves?!"
"Just stay positive?" Cabot suggested. "We can't possibly be kept on these beginner tasks forever!"
The Cranidos watched as glowering frowns came over his teammates' faces, prompting him to hem and haw with an uneasy grimace.
"Lunch is ready! Come down to the galley if you want some!"
The three turned their heads to see a Lurantis with a cloth slung around her front waving from the entrance below deck. One by one, sailors all around them began to sidle off for the entrance as Cabot perked up at the sound of a faint growl from his stomach. The mantis evidently had quite some experience as a cook, as her call for food had come just when he'd needed it.
"Well, at least we don't have to worry about it for now," Cabot said. "Looks like it's breaktime."
The Cranidos let the rope in his claws drop onto the deck, his companions doing likewise as they made their way below deck. The three carried on, where they came to a line that snaked out of a cramped galley where the smell of freshly prepared Gummis and fruit hung in the air. Cabot and his friends inched forward, taking crude clay plates from a stack on a makeshift counter by the door as they carried along with the sailors in line. The group eventually made their way to a Lurantis and a Torkoal behind a counter who bade them to set their plates down to recieve their meals. The three obliged one after the other, watching as a pawful of gummis, a lump of bread, an Apple, and a Nomel Berry were unceremoniously dumped on their plates before taking them and slipping off into the rest of the mess hall.
"… Quality service there," Berecien harrumphed.
"Well, at least the food looks good… aside from the Nomel Berry," Cabot sighed. "Let's just find a place to sit."
"Er…" Niilo began. "About that…"
The Sandshrew motioned ahead with his claw, prompting Cabot and Berecien to notice that the mess hall was already packed to the gills with sailors clustered around ramshackle tables. Every stool and barrel that passed for a seat already seemed to have someone on it.
"Where exactly are we supposed to sit? This room looks pretty full."
Cabot tilted his head and brought a claw to his mouth as he mulled over what they should do. The ship was teeming full of faces they weren't familiar with and it was unlikely they'd want to make room on their table for three strangers when there was already so limited space to eat. Perhaps… they could try their luck with someone they already knew?
"Maybe we can look for Tegu and Melli?" the Cranidos proposed. "We haven't had lunch with them since the early days of Basic Training."
"That works for me," Berecien responded. "Maybe they managed to grab a table and still have some spots left."
The trio started to mill about the mess hall, looking around for any sign of their old companions from Basic Training. Unfortunately for them, their search proved fruitless, turning up stranger after stranger from the crew with the occasional unfamiliar face they remembered in passing from their training.
"Looks like they got beat to the tables here," Niilo grumbled. "Where exactly would they go if they couldn't eat at a table?"
"Maybe they went up to the deck?" Cabot offered. "I mean, the weather is pretty nice today."
"It's worth checking out," Berecien agreed. "Let's go."
The three sailors shuffled off with their dishes, retracing their steps along the ship's corridors back up to the deck where the sun beamed down with the faint cry of passing Wingull in the background. Cabot looked around, noticing that the deck seemed to have Pokémon who were already present with food, evidently having failed to find seats much as they had. The Rock-Type walked around the deck with his companions, until the sight of movement from the bow caught the Cranidos' eye. There at the bow was none other than Melli and Tegu settling down near the ship's prow, peering off at the waves passing under the ship's hull, prompting Cabot to wave a claw and call out.
The Salandit and Combee looked up from the sea, and after a moment's realization, cheerily waved back at their three teammates to draw nearer. Cabot and his companions hurried over, stooping down to sit at the bow of the ship alongside their friends as they set their food down and began to eat.
"I see you guys couldn't find a place in the mess hall either," Cabot said.
"Hmph, I'm pretty sure some of the veteran crewmembers were hogging seats down there even before the lunch call went out," Tegu huffed.
"I guess knowing when lunch is usually served does come in handy…" Berecien sighed.
"But at least it's really nice up here!" Melli insisted.
"Well, it is nice to finally be able to enjoy the scenery without some tedious task to attend to…" Niilo admitted, his comment making Cabot pause and wonder what the Salandit and Combee had been up to so far.
"So what sort of assignments have you guys been getting anyway?" the Cranidos asked.
"Well as you saw earlier we first had to move around cleaning supplies," Tegu answered. "At Sormus we moved crates and Jun assigned us not too long ago to doing inventory."
"Inventory certainly sounds better than what we just got assigned to," Berecien complained. "I have to untie knots from ropes even though I have hooves!"
"Hey, I'd trade. At least you don't have a babysitter hovering over your shoulder the entire time to make sure you're counting right," the Salandit retorted. "Almost makes me wish me and Melli got assigned to guard that cold navy base on Haipheh Island along with our other friends."
"Everyone starts off with these sort of tasks though."
The group blinked in confusion and looked around trying to find the source of the voice. After feeling a peculiar sense of déjà vu, Cabot looked down towards the sea, his companions following his gaze to the Tentacruel and Sharpedo from earlier swimming along in the water.
"Oh, it's you two again," Niilo grumbled.
"Hi!" Cabot cheered as he waved at the two Water-Types.
"Eh? Who are these 'mons?" Tegu questioned.
"The Tentacruel said her name was Cyanea and her friend's called Katyusha," Berecien explained. "We talked to them when moving crates at Sormus."
"That's right!" Cyanea replied. "Since we only spoke so briefly and didn't get to know each other, we thought we'd check up on you guys!"
The Tentacruel's burbling prompted her Sharpedo companion to bob her fins in confusion, before turning to her partner with a puzzled look.
"Eh? But I thought Jun assigned us to make some of the rookies feel more wel- hrmpmph!"
Katyusha was cut off by Cyanea's tentacles wrapping around her snout, prompting the group to give awkward looks at the duo as Cyanea looked back with what appeared to be a forced smile.
"Er… so maybe you guys can tell something about yourselves?" the jellyfish asked.
"Well, my name is Cabot! I'm from Polderfield Town on Giotto," Cabot began. "I worked at a guild and helped my parents with their box buster shop before wanting something more adventurous and signed up for the navy."
"It's Niilo. I'm part of the Dune Devils: Sormus' elite mercenary force," Niilo beamed. "Your navy contracted us for our service and we generously obliged them!"
Berecien rolled his eyes at the Sandshrew's introduction, wondering just how long Niilo would continue overinflating his mercenary company's prestige in front of new acquaintances. The Ponyta shook his head and opened his mouth to introduce himself, only to be cut off by a buzzing cry.
"I'm Melli!" the Combee exclaimed. "Me and Tegu signed up because we got tired of our Community Service on Giotto."
The Bug-Type proudly nudged at the Salandit beside her, prompting Cyanea to fall silent and narrow her eyes into an unimpressed scowl.
Tegu gulped and squirmed uneasily under the Tentacruel's glare. The lizard hemmed and hawed a moment, before clearing his throat, hoping to try and brush his teammate's comment back under the deck.
"Er… former pirates now…" the Salandit corrected, before hastily changing the subject. "How about you two tell something about yourselves, huh?"
"Well, my father used to be part of a sea rod. He met my mother during a trading day at Tidemill City's harbor and fell for her," Katyusha responded. "He left the rod and settled down there, which is where me and my siblings hatched."
Cabot curiously tilted his head at the Sharpedo's story. What was a sea rod? He had heard about ocean clans when he was still with the guild; nomadic groups of Water Pokémon who traveled freely across the Cradle's waters and occasionally stopped by ports to trade goods. Could that be what Katyusha was talking about? The Cranidos fumbled with his words a moment to ask further, only to be cut off by a burble from the water.
"As for me, I also grew up in Tidemill City," Cyanea said. "But it's not where my family's originally from."
"Oh, where are they from then?" Cabot wondered.
"My grandparents used to live in the harbors of Fensedge Village," the Tentacruel explained. "After the Company took over and the situation worsened, they migrated to Giotto."
The jellyfish's words seemed to bring a dark cloud around Berecien, the horse lowering his gaze towards the ground with a low mutter, giving his head a disgusted shake.
"Their treachery against the Empire really did throw a lot of lives into turmoil…"
"Exactly! After hearing stories from my grandparents about how things used to be, I just knew I had to do something to help restore Anyilla to its former glory!" Cyanea exclaimed, waving her tentacles agitatedly. "That's when I signed up for the navy alongside Katyusha."
The Tentacruel went quiet, letting her tentacles slink off into the water with a wistful sigh. Sensing that it was better to move the topic along for her partner's sake, Katyusha turned her body in the water, peering up to see Berecien was staring off in the horizon with a stern-looking gaze.
"So what about you, Ponyta?" the Sharpedo asked. "You're the only one who hasn't introduced himself yet."
Berecien flicked his ears and paused at the question. Sensing the gathered Pokémon were beginning to stare, he shook his head and hesitantly spoke up in response.
"My name is Berecien and… I'm the son of the former Duke of Nagrobek Island."
The group jolted back out of surprise, both the veterans and neophytes in the gathering shooting slack-jawed stares at Berecien. This Ponyta… was a noble?
"Hold on here, are you serious?" Niilo questioned.
Tegu blinked at Berecien's response to the Sandshrew, and thought back to Basic Training. He'd always pegged the 'mon as a merchant's kid, but with how much of a stuck-up dandy he'd been, perhaps it shouldn't have been such a surprise to him that Berecien would turn out to be nobility.
"… I guess I should have known it was you when Trixie said there was a Duke's kid in our group," the Salandit murmured.
"Eh?!" Cabot cried. "But why have you never told us before?"
"Well, none of you ever asked," Berecien said. "Besides, it's not something everyone needs to know."
An awkward silence fell over the group, as the surprise of Berecien's revelation continued to smother the conversation. After a few beats against the water, Cyanea burbled up, raising her voice with an uneasy question.
"So… I suppose that's your motivation for being here?" she began. "Since the Company built a giant prison complex onto your island."
"That's right. I will never forgive those square-necks for what they did to our island after driving my family out," Berecien harrumphed. "Serving in the navy has always been a tradition in our family, but I'm hoping that by being here, someday I can get our island back from the Company."
"Whelp, best of luck with that. Family heritage or not, there's no way I would want to have anything to do with that hellhole," Tegu replied. "The things I've heard about that place make the ghost stories of Pioppo Island look like nothing."
"Hmph, it wasn't always like that!" the Ponyta huffed. "The villagers there lived good lives and there are great open fields for running!"
As Berecien carried on with his retort, he insistently told stories of a better Nagrobek from times gone by that bore little resemblance to the one Anyilla knew today. The fire horse continued prattling, prompting Niilo to give a curious, yet skeptical look back. All this time, he'd felt as if something about Berecien's tale didn't quite add up…
"Wait a minute, so if you're a noble, then why did you train with the rest of us?" the Sandshrew asked. "I was pretty sure that the navy fast-tracked 'mons like you into officer positions."
"I purposely chose to do the same training as everyone else," Berecien answered. "If I want to get strong enough to take on the Company, I can't rely on special treatment as a crutch to take me further than where I rightfully ought to be."
"Do you have any regrets?" Katyusha wondered. "Since you could have already had a higher rank than the two of us!"
The Ponyta stopped and pondered a moment, as the nearby Pokémon continued looking at him. Thoughts of Basic Training filtered back into the horse's mind, of the trials he, Cabot, and Niilo had overcome together. He looked over to his friends and a small smile spread over his face before he shook his head, with that in mind he knew exactly how to answer the Sharpedo's question.
"No, not at all."
Berecien's attention moved past Cabot and Niilo as his smile began to slowly fade away. Cabot tilted his head puzzledly, before turning around to follow the Ponyta's gaze.
"Huh, Berecien? Is something the matter-?"
The Cranidos abruptly trailed off and jumped back out of surprise as he noticed the sight of three indigo-sailed ships coming up from behind them. The group blinked and went up to the railing to stare off puzzledly at the ships, before Melli broke the silence with a startled buzz.
"Eh? But I thought there wouldn't be any other ships on our route!"
From the deck of the middle pirate ship, Sibich floated above the bow peering through a wooden scope, his toothy mouth curling into a widening malevolent smile as his fleet neared their unsuspecting target. The Ghost-Type set the scope aside and playfully let a wisp of blackish haze curl from one of his fingers, before turning back to the deck with a stern shout.
"This is it!" Sibich barked. "Everyone who doesn't have an indigo scarf on get below deck! I do not want to lose the element of surprise because someone slips up!"
"You heard the 'mon!" a Bouffalant bellowed. "Get a move on!"
A chorus of affirmations went up as Pokémon hurried to their tasks. From his place on the bow, Sibich watched as Pokémon in freshly dyed indigo scarves took their places on the deck, while their counterparts still in black scarves scurried along to make themselves scarce. The Cofagrigus scanned the lot's movements with his eyes, inspecting his crew carefully before motioning again for attention.
"And remember, once I give the sign to approach, slow us down and let the other ships go first!" Sibich instructed. "We need to sail right of the Imperial vessel so we can focus on holding off the navy crew while the other ships grab the copper."
As the black-scarved Pokémon on the ship made their way for the entrances below deck, a Combusken among them visibly hesitated a moment, before she turned to the Cofagrigus captain with a skeptical glance.
"But Captain, how do we know for sure we can get close without them being onto us?" the Fire-Type questioned. "They can't possibly think that no 'mon has ever faked Imp sails before in the past."
"Because I'll be sending Marcus ahead as a messenger," Sibich explained. "Once he gives them the proper identification codes, those fools will allow us to sail up to them without suspecting as much as a thing."
The Cofagrigus motioned over to a Honchkrow resting on a nearby railing before giving a nod. The Dark-Type shifted the brim of his head feathers down and took wing, flying off for the Vasilek as Sibich tented his fingers and watched the Honchkrow scout slip off for his targets in the distance.
"Let's see how much my source's intel will pay off this time," the Ghost-Type said.
Back on the Vasilek, the crew was of two minds of the approaching ships in the water. The first camp consisted of sailors who regarded the whole matter with indifference, and waved off the ships' appearance in order to return to their meals and tasks. The others, including Cabot and his companions, were lined up apprehensively at the railing, trading murmurs with each other as to what the unexpected vessels portended for their mission.
"I thought we were the only crew assigned to defend the copper ship," the Fossil Pokémon murmured. "So why are there three other navy ships…?"
The group paused and puzzled over the Cranidos' question, none of them finding satisfying answers come to mind. Berecien narrowed his eyes at the ships, before turning towards Cyanea and Katyusha.
"Have you two ever gotten reinforcements mid-mission like this?" the Ponyta asked.
"None that we didn't ask for," Katyusha replied as she shook her head. "We've had a few times where things changed at the last second before it, but we never got surprise reinforcements in the middle of a simple escort mission when everything was going smoothly."
"Maybe there's something dangerous up ahead?" Cabot wondered. "I mean, we would've been a bit slow to hear about anything outside of Sormus…"
Tegu bit his tongue as a troubled air seemed to settle on the lizard. Cabot tilted his head curiously, only for the Poison-Type to explain his unease.
"Uh… not to jump the gun here," the Salandit began, "but I did hear stories that some of the tougher pirate crews would sometimes use false sails to perform ambushes."
"… Three ships at once? Are there even crews outside of the pirates' so-called 'Council' who could do that?" Cyanea questioned. "They don't seriously go around prowling in a pack like that for random ships to attack, do they?"
An uneasy silence came over the group. Although Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo weren't fully sure what Cyanea meant by this 'Council', it would be unusual for a group of pirates ships to prowl together like this.. But even with their friendly colors, something felt amiss about the approaching ships… but why?
"But I suppose it might be best to play things safe," the Tentacruel sighed. "Katyusha, let's take position near the stern. Just in case."
Cyanea and Katyusha lowered themselves into the water, before swimming off for the back of the ship. The lot watched as the pair slipped off, prompting Tegu to turn to the rest and speak up.
"I saw a whole stack of Seeds and Wands below deck when doing inventory," the Salandit said. "I'm gonna go grab some. Better safe than sorry, right?"
Tegu scuttled off for the entrance below deck, drawing a startled buzz from his Combee teammate as she flitted off after him.
"Tegu, wait for me!" Melli cried.
Cabot and his companions looked on as the pair slipped below deck, the Ponyta and Cranidos watching uneasily when the sound of a dismissive snort caught their ears.
"Pah, it can't be that bad, can it?" Niilo asked.
"… I think we're about to find out," Berecien responded, as he motioned with a hoof at the form of a Honchkrow in an indigo scarf flitting down to the deck before Nagant and Jun.
"I don't recall asking for any reinforcements," the Clawitzer snapped as she aimed her large claw at the Honchkrow. "Who are you lot and why are there suddenly three additional ships to escort a single merchant vessel?"
Marcus flapped back in surprise at the Clawitzer's aggressive posture, only to catch himself and give a ruffle of his feathers to soothe his nerves. The Honchkrow shook his head and drew a wingtip over his beak, clearing his throat to speak up in reply.
"Aherm. We're reinforcements sent by Admiral Coil," the Dark-Type began. "We were told your ship has a lot of freshly graduated cadets and you needed the extra assistance."
The shrimp mulled the matter over, her eyes hardening with a dubious scowl. Even if the Admiralty decided that she'd need additional backup, three ships was surely overkill for a simple escort mission. On the other claw, the Honchkrow knew about the freshly graduated cadets on her crew, which ought to have been impossible for a 'mon without some sort of connection to the Royal Navy. The crustacean frowned, clicking her claws idly before deciding that were the Honchkrow legitimate, there would be a fairly simple way for him to dispel her misgivings…
"Hmph, what's the identification code, then?"
"Alto, Soprano, Bass, Bass."
Nagant paused and twitched her barbels in silence before lowering her claw with a loud sigh. As ridiculous as it was, that was the code per the new standard Queen Aleria introduced last month. Whatever had compelled her to base it around operatic terms was beyond her, but it didn't really matter now.
"Ugh… I would have expected Coil to be a bit more trustful of me," the shrimp groaned.
"Wait, she expected the Admiral to trust her with her hair-trigger temper…?" a Butterfree asked.
Nagant whirled around with a glare and saw the Butterfree alongside a Drifblim and a Minior whistling and hastily looking the other way. In an attempt to regain the irritated Clawitzer's attention, the Honchkrow cleared his throat and prompted Nagant to turn back to him.
"Well, we're just following orders," Marcus said. "Does this mean we have permission to come over?"
"Yeah, yeah, go ahead and tell the other ships," Nagant grumbled.
The Honchkrow beat his wings and set off back for the three ships in the water. A calm began to come over the gathered sailors as some of the more antsy members drifted off to their posts. Satisfied with the explanation, Niilo turned back to his teammates with a self-assured fold of his arms.
"See? Told you it was nothing," the Sandshrew insisted.
"I guess so…" Berecien murmured. Cabot paused quietly at the Ponyta's dissatisfied answer, unable to help but feel a stubborn twinge of unease. On the one claw, it did feel strange that they would suddenly get reinforcements like this when they'd been allowed to sail off alone without incident… on the other, he was new to the navy, so perhaps moments like these weren't as uncommon as it seemed?
The Rock-Type shook his head, rationalizing that if the Captain had decided that the Honchkrow was trustworthy, then there was surely nothing to be worried about. The Cranidos and a few of his crewmates turned their attention back to the ships, watching as the smaller vessels darted ahead of the central frigate and slipped along to the port and starboard ends of the copper ship, the largest ship of the trio turning to sail right of the Vasilek.
"Eh? Why they're moving so weird?" a Litwick wondered.
"Maybe it's some sort of tactic to give protection from more angles?" an Aipom offered.
"But if they want to cover more angles, then why are none of them covering the front and back of the copper ship?" the Ghost-Type countered.
Cabot paused, realizing that it was strange that reinforcements so preoccupied with defending the copper ship would have such a glaring oversight. The Rock-Type looked up, seeing the largest of the three ships approaching them when a woosh rang out followed by a pained shout.
The Cranidos whirled around and saw a Bewear fall to the deck from a gout of fire from the larger ship. The dinosaur went wide-eyed, as a malevolent, sneering cackle filled the air.
"Myah-ha-ha! You Imperial fools make this too easy!"
Cabot's blood ran cold as he looked up and saw a Cofagrigus floating over the railing of the attacking frigate with a malicious grin. The Ghost-Type motioned with his hands, prompting the ship to unfurl black sails with frond-like designs that covered up their indigoes they'd used to approach. The deck of the black ship suddenly exploded with activity with glaring and snarling Pokémon taking their places, as a sinking realization came upon the Vasilek's crew…
"Gah, pirates!" Jun exclaimed. "We're under attack!"
"That's right! You fell into my trap just as planned!" Sibich taunted. "And here I was wasting my time making contingency plans for you simple-minded Imps!"
"Time to give you rookies a crash course on the real law of the sea out here!" a Magmar on the pirate ship sneered. The Fire-Type slipped behind a readied cannon with a harpoon lodged in it, as two other harpoons on flanking ends were turned to train on the frigate's hull along with a number of wooden tubes. The Vasilek's crew ran up, hastily lobbing a volley of attacks to stop their attackers, when a deafening blast cut them off.
THUNK THUNK THUNK
A wave of panic went up among the Vasilek's sailors as cannon blasts rang out and Apricorns sailed through the air, a few swallowing up sailors with flashes of light. Although they were overlooked by most in the chaos, the sound of harpoons' metal tips finding their marks and lodging into the frigate's hull were also present in the din, with the sound's culprit made clear as the sailors felt the deck lurch underfoot and the Vasilek started to be drawn in towards the pirate ship.
The deckhands redoubled their attempts to try and ward off their assailants, only to be met with a withering hail of beams and blasts. From her spot on the bridge, Nagant pulled her claw back from a freshly disgorged Aura Sphere, clicking her mandibles irritably before turning to face the deck.
"Get some Protects up to keep those ship-burners off of us and form a perimeter!" the Clawitzer barked. "I didn't come this far just to get my hull shot out by some scum-sucking box with arms!"
Nagant's cry was answered with Pokémon rushing up and throwing up barriers of light along the railings. The incoming attacks began to bounce off the Protects as crewmembers on deck and in the water dug into attack positions to try and drive off Sibich's frigate as it drew nearer and nearer.
"Agh! They've got the copper ship surrounded!"
Cabot turned his head at the cry of one of the Vasilek's lookouts, where he noticed smoke curling up from the deck of the green-sailed caravel in thick black plumes and Pokémon storming aboard from the flanking pirate vessels. The sound of a loud clatter drew Cabot's attention back towards the attacking frigate, where much to his horror, it had come up right next to the Vasilek and its Cofagrigus captain was nearing a freshly-lowered gangplank. The Ghost-Type floated across as a Accelgor and Primeape ran up to dislodge the gangplank, only for the Accelgor to be sent flying headlong into a wall from a shadowy orb flung out from Sibich's right hand, and the Primeape to be flung aside by a Shadow Ball from the Ghost-Type's opposing hand as he crossed over onto the Vasilek's deck.
"Take positions and give those Imps the full taste of the might of the Shadow Brigade!" Sibich ordered. "I want that overgrown crab and her crew swimming back to their home port!"
The Cofagrigus was followed by a mob of black-scarved pirates, with the clunk of wood revealing further gangplanks lowered near the stern and bow of the Vasilek. Cabot looked around in a panic as the pirates forced their way onto the deck, falling back as attacks zipped by overhead.
"A-Agh! Tegu! Where are you?!" the Cranidos cried. "And where are those items you said you wou-?!"
Cabot went wide-eyed as he saw a Scraggy with a black-scarf and a comet-shaped blotch on his head leap in in front of him with a low kick. The Cranidos jumped back as the pirate's foot swung by and narrowly missed his legs, before tumbling onto his rump as the Scraggy readied himself with raised fists.
"You're mine now, Imp dweeb!" the Dark-Type jeered. The pirate rushed ahead and flattened out a hand, bringing it down with a crushing chop, only for Cabot to hastily roll out of the way in a panic.
"Hrmph, I see you found a new friend, Eric."
As Cabot came to a stop, he looked up and saw the Marked Scraggy was joined by a similarly-garbed Combusken and Grotle with alike blotches on their heads. The Cranidos got up and backpedaled uneasily, only for the sound of hoofbeats and footsteps joining him from behind signaling the reassuring presence of arriving reinforcements.
"Ah good, Cabot! You've got them with their backs to the railing!" Berecien exclaimed. "All the better for us to push these pirate scum back into the water where they belong!"
"Do you think Captain Nugget gives any bonuses for speedy victories?" Niilo chimed in.
"Hrmph, let's see you push this into the water!" the Combusken pirate harrumphed.
The Young Fowl Pokémon turned her attention to a nearby barrel and breathed a small gout of fire onto it, setting it ablaze much to the sailors' panic. Visions of fire spreading to the rest of the ship flickered before their eyes, prompting Berecien to hastily charge forward and kick the barrel over the railing and into the sea.
"Thanks for falling for that, horseface!"
The Ponyta was rewarded for his effort by a pair of swift kicks to his side, sending Berecien stumbling back with a yelp. His Combusken attacker raised her right claw to prepare another attack, only to be cut off mid-blow by scaly ball sailing into her.
Feeling a call of duty, Cabot rushed in to assist his teammates. The Cranidos' attention was drawn to the Grotle among the pirates, leading him to lower his head and charge into the turtle with a ramming headbutt that drew a pained bellow.
"Get off of him, Imp dweeb!"
Cabot saw the Scraggy of the pirate trio approaching with his hands readied from the corner of his eye. The Dark-Type lunged and struck the top of Cabot's head with a crushing blow with the side of his hand. The Fossil Pokémon yelped and stumbled back, wobbling in a daze as his focus returned and made his eyes widen with shock after seeing the Grotle flinging a hail of sharp leaves towards him.
The Cranidos hastily leapt out of the way of the incoming leaves, feeling them zip by his hide.
"Bah, that stupid Imp dodged my Razor Leaf!" the Grotle complained.
"Oh yeah? Well let's see him dodge thi- Ack!"
A fiery tackle cut the Scraggy off mid-sentence, launching him back into the railing with a yelp. There in his former place on the deck was the form of a snorting Ponyta, who turned to his Cranidos teammate with a shout.
"Cabot, don't let them pin you down!" Berecien yelled. A low growl rang out from behind as the Grotle lunged forward with his jaws opened for a bite. Before the Grass-Type could clamp down, he was intercepted by a scaly ball plowing into his side, sending him tumbling head over shell into Eric against the railing with a pained yelp.
The turtle heard a snapping noise and felt the railing lean back and give way under his weight. The pair frantically tried to dig into the ship's hull only to feel their bodies slipping off and air passing by underfoot.
The two pirates hit the water, going under the waves with a burbling glug before surfacing with a gasp. From the deck, the scaly ball uncurled itself into Niilo who peered over at the flailing pirates before shooting back a proud grin to his teammates..
"Ha! Two down, one to-"
The Sandshrew trailed off as he suddenly felt a surge of energy come over him and his body erupted in a bright, white glow. Cabot and Berecien gazed over in a surprised shock, watching as the features of the Sandshrew melted away and began to grow taller and larger.
"Is he…?" Cabot gasped.
The two watched as the white figure's back erupted with long spines, his tail and limbs stretching as two arms formed with tapered, sharp claws. The figure's growth settled and stopped, the light draining away afterwards to reveal the form of a newly-evolved Sandslash. He stood disoriented for a moment, only for his daze to be swiftly replaced with a giddy wide-eyed realization as he stared excitedly at his body's new features.
"I- I did it!" Niilo exclaimed. "I finally evolved!"
As Niilo and his companions were focused on his newfound transformation, the remaining pirate had been backpedalling away from the three sailors. The Combusken glanced with a grimace at her friends in the water, and then back at her newly-evolved foe, only for her nerves to fail her and prompt her to run off.
"Yeah, screw you Imps! I'm out of-"
"Have a nice trip with your buddies!"
The Combusken looked back and went wide-eyed as the Cranidos charged her with the dome of his head covered in a sheen of blue light. The Fire-Type hastily tried to jump out of the way, her attempts to evade failing as the Zen Headbutt connected and launched her screaming through the air until she pinwheeled into the water next to her teammates. Back on the deck, Cabot stared out to the sea and smiled weakly at the team's victory, Niilo turning to Cabot and Berecien with a bemused expression.
"So what was that about me not evolving soon?" the Sandslash asked.
Berecien rolled his eyes and let out an unimpressed snort at his teammate's boast. Couldn't Niilo at least keep his priorities straight in the middle of an ongoing raid?
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," the Ponyta grumbled. "You can celebrate after we've driven off the rest of these pira-"
The horse and his companions dove from a jet of water that suddenly zipped overhead. The three looked wildly around the Vasilek's deck, where they saw a general sense of chaos and disorder aboard the frigate. The Sandslash bit his tongue, deciding that his merry-making could wait when it was hard to decide where to even start driving these pirates off. Off by the bow, Cabot could see Jun weaving around a Bouffalant's charge and jabbing back with a stinger. The stern was every bit as chaotic, with the little dinosaur catching the sight of the Litwick and Aipom he overheard earlier jumping out of the way of an electrified cloud of haze from a Koffing and a Charjabug. The Cranidos felt the deck lurch underfoot and went wide eyed after hearing Melli buzz with a start as she attempted to elude a pursuing Rhydon.
"Guys, Melli is-!"
Cabot stopped talking as he, Berecien, and Niilo watched Melli lead the Rhydon right towards a barrel where Tegu popped out with a stick with a glassy knob at its end that appeared to be filled with silky threads. The Salandit flicked the wand, cracking the outer glassy layer as a glob of silk burst out and entangled the rhino, forcing the pirate to struggle to keep his balance. Newly freed from her pursuer, Melli flew up and whipped up a wind behind the Rock-Type that sent him tottering forward towards the ship's railing. The pirate caught himself and began to turn back with a furious growl, only to be cut off by Tegu hastily throwing an orange seed at the Rhydon's face. A loud blast rang out, followed by the sound of a bellowing scream as the Rhydon pitched overboard. Cabot heard a loud splash, prompting the Cranidos to look ahead and see the Salandit peer over the railing, before pulling an eyelid down at a bubbling patch of sea below.
"Seems like she and Tegu are doing alright," Niilo chuckled.
The three began to go over to their companions, when the sudden sound of a loud splash prompted them to turn their heads. Off to the side, the three saw the form of a black-scarved Ninjask twitching and groaning on the deck in a puddle of water as Nagant pulled her large claw down to her side with a harrumph, bidding good riddance to the thieving bug. Cabot's attention began to drift back to the stern and he started to head off, only to turn back to Nagant after noticing shadowy movements from her direction. The Rock-Type's eyes widened, realizing the shadows were coming from the attacking ship's Cofagrigus captain suddenly floating up behind her.
"Ah, Captain! Look out behind you!"
Nagant whirled around at Cabot's cry, going wide-eyed and hastily leveling her large claw when Sibich abruptly cut her off by spewing a purple mist into her face.
The Clawitzer writhed and recoiled back from the venomous haze as she tried to regain her balance. The shrimp hissed, before reflexively shooting forth an orb of pressurized water back from her large claw. The Water Pulse sailed along and splattered against a barrier of light, its Cofagrigus creator curling his mouth up into a malevolent grin.
"Foolish crab!" Sibich sneered. "You really think you stand a chance against my Shadow Brigade?!"
Cabot and his companions watched as the mist condensed and dribbled violet droplets down the shrimp's shell, noticing the seething Water-Type's movements grew noticeably more labored and sluggish. The crustacean fired off a spray of black orbs with a loud hiss, only for the Cofagrigus to slip away to the side and allow a black-scarved Linoone and Whirlipede to rush in. From his position, the Cranidos blanched, turning to his teammates and waving his arms in alarm.
"We've gotta help the Captain!" the Rock-Type exclaimed.
"How?!" Berecien cried. "She's poisoned and where are we supposed to get a Pecha Berry in the middle of all of this?!"
"We've got a stash of those below deck," Niilo said. "Finding one shouldn't be an issue…"
A sharp cry rang out, the three's attention turning back to Nagant just in time to see the Linoone get sent skidding back by a jet of water. The Normal-Type dug in his heels as his Whirlipede teammate zipped forward and slammed into the shrimp, giving the Linoone a moment to regather his focus and retaliate with a tackle that sent the Howitzer Pokémon tumbling backward. Nagant recomposed herself and hopped clear of her attackers, when she saw a clear line of sight between her and Sibich. With one swift motion, she leveled her claw and shot forth another Dark Pulse that - like her Water Pulse earlier - dashed up against a barrier of light.
"I'm more worried about getting it to her," the Sandslash explained. "There's no way that Cofagrigus will just let us run up and apply it!"
Cabot bit his tongue and racked his mind as the battle raged around them. They had little hope of lasting in a battle against that Cofagrigus, something he was bound to drag them into the moment he spotted them approaching. How could they apply medicine onto the Captain before he punted them clear across the deck? The dinosaur thought and thought, coming to the realization there was no workaround so long as the Cofagrigus spotted them… unless… there was something to divert his attention elsewhere.
"You guys go and find that berry!" the Cranidos declared. "I'll try to keep that Cofagrigus away!"
Cabot ran ahead as Nagant continued to struggle with the Linoone and Whirlipede, the Rock-Type looking up and going wide-eyed in alarm as he saw a orb of greenish energy collect in between Sibich's hands. The Cranidos lowered his head and lunged forward with a swift, pursuing tackle that rammed square into the pirate captain's coffin-like body.
The Energy Ball sailed off harmlessly in the air as Cabot and Sibich bounced off each other. The Cofagrigus skidded back and shook off the attack, easing his body and shooting a fierce glare back at his visibly paling Cranidos challenger through blood-red eyes.
"Y-You're not getting away with this, you bully!" Cabot stammered.
Sibich scowled skeptically at the little dinosaur, and noted the sailor was visibly quaking. The Ghost-Type gave a dismissive scoff, his mouth curling into an unimpressed frown..
"And what are you supposed to do about it?" the Cofagrigus sneered. "Ha! I'm Captain Sibich of the Shadow Brigade! A little runt like you is no match against me!"
"I-I'll find a way to stop you somehow!" Cabot insisted.
"As if!" Sibich snarled. "Time to send rookies like you back to the Day Care!"
The Cofagrigus hurled a shadowy orb towards Cabot, prompting the Rock-Type to hastily charge forward as blue aura trailed off his bony skull. The Cranidos felt the attack strike the dome of his head, which send him staggering back along the deck panting haggardly. Much to his amazement, he'd been able to stay on his feet the whole time, the Zen Headbutt's efficacy drawing an annoyed growl back from the pirate captain.
"Tsk, aren't you an annoying little brat?" Sibich harrumphed.
"That's… the plan…" Cabot panted.
The Ghost-Type blinked for a second, before turning around to follow the dinosaur's gaze and grit his teeth in frustration. There he saw both of his underlings sprawled out on the deck unconscious, along with a Ponyta and Sandslash giving a Pecha Berry to his Clawitzer foe from a bag slung around the sand-rat's shoulder. The Cofagrigus billowed out haze in frustration, only to feel a painful slam from behind, its Cranidos culprit dashing past him to join his teammates, leaving Sibich behind to seethe as he righted himself.
"Grr… you little…"
"Seems like you're the fool thinking you overcome the Royal Navy so easily, pirate scum!" Nagant shouted.
The Clawitzer shot forth a barrage of black orbs, prompting Sibich to throw up another barrier of light with a harrumph. Behind the group, the Ghost-Type could see in the background how his other ships had surrounded the copper vessel and black-scarved Pokémon swarmed all over the deck. The Cofagrigus smirked and floated up, deciding that he'd accomplished what he needed here on the crab's ship, before turning his attention to an indigo-scarved Honchkrow leading a group of black-scarved fliers overhead.
"Marcus! You and your team go take care of these pests!" Sibich ordered. "I've got more important matters to attend to…"
The pirate captain turned and began to float off for the copper ship, leaving the Honchkrow to surround Cabot and his teammates alongside a Sigilyph, a Pelipper and a Tranquill. Nagant aimed her large claw at Sibich in an attempt to stop him, only for the Honchkrow to shoot out a spray of black orbs at her, the sudden Dark Pulse forcing her to hop back. With her attempts to stop Sibich thwarted, Nagant turned to Cabot and his friends with a frustrated chitter.
"Hmph, let's get these birds out of the way first," the Clawitzer scoffed.
The shrimp aimed her large claw in the air at Marcus and shot a white frigid beam at him. The Ice Beam zipped along, only for the Honchkrow to weave around it with a cawing jeer, prompting Nagant to hiss in annoyance and fire wildly after the elusive Dark-Type. Back on the deck, Niilo ran up to Cabot with a claw wrapped around a Petrify Wand as the other fliers neared, hastily rifling through his bag and pulling out a second wand.
"Here," the Sandslash offered. "We got some items from Tegu when we fetched that Pecha Berry."
The Cranidos looked at the stick, noticing its glassy knob consisted of several layers each filled with cream-colored mist: the unmistakable form of a Slumber Wand. The Rock-Type reached out a claw in order to grab it, only for the sound of a sharp whinny to reach his ears.
Cabot and Niilo looked to their right and saw the Pelipper spitting up a stream of briny water their way. The two hastily jumped out of the Brine's path and fell onto the deck, both dropping their wands in the process. Berecien hastily ran for Niilo's Petrify Wand, before scooping it up with his mouth and swinging it at the Pelipper. A crack rang out as the outer glassy layer at the tip broke and disgorged a shower of sparks onto the bird. The pelican squawked with a start, his body suddenly going rigid before it pitched forward and into the ocean like a brick. Satisfied with the Petrify Wand's effect, Berecien turned towards his two teammates with an impatient snort.
"Look alithe oo tw- Ack!"
The Ponyta was cut off by the Sigilyph shooting out a beam of rainbow light from his third eye square into the Fire-Type's flank, prompting him to yelp and drop his Petrify Wand to the deck. Sensing an opportunity to strike, the pirate's Tranquill partner hastily dove down, aiming to dive-bomb the stricken horse when a sharp cry rang out.
"Oh no, you don't!"
Niilo pulled another wand from his bag and swung it at the Tranquill. The top layer shattered into shards and spilled a spray of yellow balls of light towards the pheasant. The orbs enveloped the Tranquill, prompting the flier lurch in a disoriented daze and miss Berecien entirely as he crashed headfirst into the deck. As his confused foe lay stunned on the wooden planks, Cabot hastily charged into the bird with his head lowered, sending him flying into a mast with a loud squawk, followed by a pained groan as the Flying-Type flopped over unconscious.
"Alright, that's two down!" the Cranidos piped up, only to hear a screech. There off to the side was Nagant, reeling from a Dark Pulse followed by a swift Psybeam from a Honchkrow and Sigilyph flying away from her. The shrimp hissed and hastily vaulted herself upright, bracing her firing claw before shooting out a pulse of water after the Sigilyph, drawing a pained squawk as her shot found its mark on the joint of his left wing.
The Psychic-Type pinwheeled through the air and hit the deck with an audible crash. There, near the foremast was the Sigilyph pirate, staggering up and beating his wings in a daze to try and right himself as a beam of light began to form around his third eye, prompting Niilo to jump up and run in with his claws drawn.
"Time to put these new claws to work!"
The Sandslash leapt forward, bringing his claws down on the Sigilyph with a crushing overhead swipe that pinned the Psychic-Type against the mast with a loud shriek. Niilo pulled his claws back, letting the Psychic-Type flop forward unconsciously as the Sandslash proudly flashed his claws in victory.
"Heh, not bad if I say so myself," the Ground-Type said.
With three of the fliers down, the pangolin and his companions turned back to the remaining Honchkrow. In the air, Marcus fell back, growling in frustration at his teammates' defeat as Nagant hopped forward with her claw leveled and a fierce scowl etched into her face.
"Know when you're beat, vorona!" she hissed. "If you surrender, perhaps I'll put in a good word for you!"
The Clawitzer shot another orb of pressurized water at the Honchkrow, only to be thwarted by the bird banking out of the way. The bird zipped past on the right, coming up behind the shrimp and her lackeys with a jeering caw.
"I'll give up once our crew has that copper!"
As the group turned around, Marcus launched a spray of black orbs at them, striking Niilo square into his face and launching him spikes-first into Berecien. As Cabot scrambled to close the distance with the attacking bird, the Rock-Type tightened his grip around the Slumber Wand in his claws and swung it at the Honchkrow.
A shattering sound rang out as one of the glassy layers cracked and spewed forth a cloud of peach mist at the bird. The Dark-Type went wide-eyed and batted his wings to try and blow the mist away, only for it to envelop his head and his movements to suddenly become lethargic, before his wings gave way and he plummeted to the deck asleep. Not giving her foe any chance to wake up and escape, Nagant fired a white frigid beam at Marcus, the Ice Beam freezing the dozing Honchkrow solid and firmly to the deck in a lump of ice much to the Clawitzer's satisfaction.
"Hrmph! That'll clip their wings!" the shrimp chittered. Berecien looked over at the Howitzer Pokémon, and then back to the frozen-over Honchkrow, the sight of the frozen bird sending a chill down his back.
"Yeesh, remind me not to make her angry," the Fire-Type murmured.
Berecien looked over to see Niilo extending his right arm to him, pinching an Oran Berry in between his claws. A quick gander to the background revealed the Sandslash had already passed one on to Cabot, who was greedily devouring his. Berecien frowned a bit at Cranidos' loud munching, only for a look at his own legs to reveal they'd been buffeted with scrapes and lacerations, implying he was in sore need of the berry's healing properties himself.
Niilo gave Berecien the Oran Berry, who craned his head down to dig in himself. The Sandslash moved along and made his way over to Nagant - snatching up and returning Berecien's dropped Petrify Wand to his bag in the process - to offer her an Oran Berry as well, only for his captain to hold up her small claw to motion for a stop.
"I'm fine," the shrimp grunted. "Just save it for when one of you three need it."
Niilo blinked out of surprise, before putting the Oran Berry back into his satchel. The Ground-Type noticed that the sounds of battle had started to fade away, prompting him to look around and see that the pirates had largely been cleared from the Vasilek's deck. The Sandslash cast a glance over towards the copper ship, which made his eyes widen from shock. There, from the bow to the quarter deck, the ship was completely overrun by black-scarved Pokémon, with plundered crates being visibly pulled off the vessel and onto the two ships flanking it.
"Gah!" Niilo exclaimed. "Looks like those 'mons on that merchant vessel skimped out on their combat training!"
"Hmph," Nagant began. "Let's make our way over there and-"
"Argh! The front sails are on fire!"
"Somebody put it out quick!"
Cabot and his companions turned at the sound of a panicked Pidgey and Togetic's cries towards the Vasilek's bow, where much to their shock they saw the sails on the forward mast were engulfed in flames. The three were about to run for it, only for Nagant to hold out her large claw and block their way with a gruff hiss.
"Grr, I'll take care of this," the Clawitzer snapped. "You three focus on getting the copper ship secure."
The Water-Type began to quickly hop over for burning sail, leaving Cabot to call after her in a fruitless effort to steer her attention back.
"But Captain, wait!"
The little Cranidos' cry fell on deaf ears as Nagant hopped away and busied herself dousing the frigate's front sails. Cabot looked back at the copper ship with a grimace, realizing that its crew desperately needed help right here and now. But a quick lean over the railing and a glance down at the churning sea revealed one hurdle that he couldn't figure out how to surmount…
"… How are we supposed to get all the way over to the copper ship from here?" the Rock-Type questioned.
Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo perked up at the sound of sloshing water and a burbling shout. There below them, they spotted a familiar Sharpedo and Tentacruel swimming up and staring up at them.
"You rookies needed a way over?" Katyusha asked.
"It's a little hectic down here, but we can take you across!" Cyanea insisted. The jellyfish's words brightened Cabot and his companions' expressions, prompting them to trade relieved looks with one another.
"That would be great!" the Cranidos replied. "But how do we get down?"
"There's a ladder just over to your right that's still in one piece!" Cyanea explained as she pointed at a crude ladder made of planks strung together with rope draped over the side of the ship. "Captain Nugget uses it a lot when she decides to swim with the ship, and it should handle all of you just fine."
At once, Cabot and Niilo darted over and began clambering down the ladder, only for Berecien to near and look down uneasily at the sea and the unsteady-looking ropeway below.
"Er… but what about me?" the Ponyta wondered. "That ladder's obviously not made for four-legged Pokémon!"
"Just jump?" Katyusha proposed. "I promise we won't let you drown."
The Ponyta folded his ears back and inched away from the ship's railing with a wary snort, before shooting a scowl at the shark.
"I don't know if you can see it from over there, but my body is on fire!" the horse cried. "Jumping in the ocean sounds like a terrible idea."
"But it's not like you'll die or something, right?" Cabot asked.
"That's besides the point!"
Berecien grimaced and looked at the sea, before hesitantly turning his attention further off at the copper ship and the pirate vessel in between it and the Vasilek. The Ponyta stamped his feet and swished his tail agitatedly as he tried to muster a retort back to his teammates.
"I'll try my luck jumping, thanks," Berecien snorted. "We Ponyta are known to be exceptionally good jumpers."
"What?! Are you crazy?!" Niilo exclaimed. "With how far we've drifted from that pirate ship, there's no way you'll make that jump!"
"And even if you did, you'd still have to run across the deck of that schooner and then jump again to get to the copper ship. On your own," Cabot added. "They'll gang up on you in no time!"
"And that's assuming a flier won't hit you mid air…" Katyusha murmured.
Berecien flattened out his ears and shifted uncomfortably, visibly hesitating between his two options. After casting a glance impatiently at the copper ship, Cyanea splashed the water with two of her tentacles in annoyance.
"Look, we don't have time for your crazy fantasies!" the Tentacruel huffed. "That copper ship is getting into more and more trouble by the second. So take the option you know that works or park your butt on deck! What's it gonna be?"
The Fire-Type wavered and looked down grudgingly at the deck. Taking a dunk in the sea was one of the last things he wanted, but deep down he knew there was no way jumping that far out was gonna work. He could always sit out the fight… but if he couldn't muster the resolve to carry out his mission and help the Pokémon he was assigned to protect over some seawater, what hope did he ever have of trying to bring justice on the Company for his family?
"Nie mogę uwierzyć, że to robię…" the Ponyta groaned. "Let's just hurry up and get over there already."
Berecien jumped off the deck and hit the water, prompting Katyusha to swim up and ease the horse onto her. The Fire-Type staggered up with a much-diminished mane of fire, spitting up water and disgustedly trying to shake some of the unwelcome dampness off. At the same time, Cabot and Niilo lowered themselves down the rope ladder and onto the back of Cyanea's bell, the Poison-Type pushing herself away from the hull and looking up at her passengers.
"Just be sure to hold on, since this is gonna be a bumpy ride!" the Tentacruel said.
"Right!" Cabot piped up.
Cyanea and Katyusha jetted off, bolting across the water as Pokémon in indigo and black scarves churned up the waters around them with fierce battles. Every so often, an errant attack would near, kicking up seawater from impact or forcing Cyanea and Katyusha to swerve out of the way.
"Oi! Those Imps are trying to carry reinfor- Argh!"
Or as in the case of an hapless black-scarved Golduck reeling from a fresh Sludge Bomb: swat would-be attackers out of their path. The duck's cry quickly drew the attention of some of his nearby peers, prompting a Frillish, Seaking, and Basculin in black scarves to swim up and zero in on the party from their right.
"Great, we got company," Niilo grumbled.
"Just try to get them off our tail!" Cyanea exclaimed as she swam out of the way of a shadowy ball in the nick of time. "If we stop to fight them ourselves, they're more likely to knock you three off!"
The Sandslash rooted through his bag and fished out his Confuse Wand from earlier. The Ground-Type swung the wand at his pursuers, shooting out a barrage of yellow orbs that enveloped the Seaking. The fish lurched in a daze, shooting out a pressurized orb at the back of his Frillish teammate's head and stopping her cold with a yelp. In spite of that, the Basculin kept going, and sprung in the air with an open-jawed lunge for Berecien…
"Should have stayed on your ship, Imp- ARGH!"
… only for the Ponyta to kick him in the jaw with his hindlegs. The fish flew up into the air with a loud scream, before falling back into the water with a loud splash.
"Fat'll deach yu!" the horse said as he tightly held onto Katyusha's fin.
Cyanea and Katyusha pressed on, cutting through the water until they finally came closer to the copper ship. Cabot looked around for a spot they could embark, only to be interrupted by a shout, prompting him to go wide-eyed at the sight of another group of black-scarved swimmers coming their way.
"Ah, there's even more up ahead!" the Cranidos cried out.
The three braced themselves on their swimmers as the attackers neared, feeling Cyanea and Katyusha lurch under them as they prepared to engage their attackers. Much to their surprise, before the pirates could get any further, a large wave swept in as a group of swimmers in emerald-green scarves brought a Surf down on the pirates, turning back to an astonished Cabot and his companions.
"Hurry it up!" an Alomomola from the copper ship's escorts yelled. "We can't keep these waters clear forever!"
"Hey, looks like someone on that crew's managing to hold their own!" Katyusha remarked.
"Good!" Cyanea responded. "We'll use this moment to get the three of them onto the ship!"
The Tentacruel bolted ahead towards the stern for a dangling rope ladder, bringing Cabot and Niilo up in time for them to scrabble up it. All the while, Katyusha hung back, leaving Berecien to shoot a puzzled frown down at his carrier. Before he had a chance to speak up, the Sharpedo looked up and suddenly cut him off.
"Alright, are you ready to jump off when I give the signal, Berecien?" Katyusha asked.
"You obviously can't climb that ladder, so I'll jump in the air instead," the shark explained. "When I give the signal, you jump off my back to get onto the ship."
"Alright, here we go!"
Katyusha suddenly shot forth through the water for the hull, prompting Berecien to brace himself and bite down onto her fin even more tightly as his pupils shrank to pins. The Sharpedo swang out parallel to the ship, beelining for the stern as she churned the water up to form a wave ahead and launched herself into the air with a cry.
Berecien let go of Katyusha's fin and sprang up for the copper ship. For a fleeting moment, the horse took in his surroundings with awe, watching the green sails of the copper ship grow larger as he closed the distance, only to look down and see the waves of the sea underneath… approaching and growing closer by the moment.
The Fire-Type sailed along through the air, flailing his legs in a panic as the deck neared. The horse threw out his front legs over the railing and felt it strike his chest, knocking the wind out of him as he started to slide back. Berecien desperately tried to cling to the railings with his forelegs, when he saw Cabot and Niilo's claws suddenly latch onto them. The two tugged the Ponyta over the railing, sending him faceplanting onto the deck when a splash from the sea behind them rang out, revealing Cyanea waving from the water.
"Alright, you rookies see what you can do up there!" the Tentacruel exclaimed. "We'll try to bring more reinforcements from the Vasilek over!"
"Got it!" Cabot replied.
The three watched as Cyanea and Katyusha slipped off, the sound of shouts and blows being traded on the deck turning their attention back to the battles aboard the ship. There, the situation with the pirates was every bit as dire as earlier, with the crew of the ship pinned down as the attacking pirates continued to control the bow and slip off with ore-laden crates. The sight drew a snort from Niilo, who flashed his claws and readied his feet to spring ahead, calling back to his teammates
"Let's show these pirates who's boss on these waves!" he shouted.
"But where do we even start?" Cabot asked. "There's fights going on everywhere!"
The Ponyta looked around, trying to make sense of the mass of melees when he caught sight of a Golbat launching a Clefable in an emerald-green scarf back along the deck. The horse grimaced as he noticed the Beheeyem captain from earlier run in to come to the Fairy-Type's aid, only to be cut off by a Haunter as a Machoke slipped off behind lugging along a large wooden crate for a gangplank.
"Let's start by stopping that group over there with copper crate," the Fire-Type proposed. "I'll help the ship's captain and the Clefable take down the Golbat and the Haunter covering for the Machoke, while you two get that roughneck."
"Hmph, works for me!" Niilo responded.
Berecien ran ahead, wreathing his body in flames as he launched himself into a burning tackle at the Haunter. Cabot and Niilo bolted for the Machoke as the the sound of the Haunter's pained yelp reached the Machoke's ears, prompting the Fighting-Type to turn back at the commotion.
"Hands off the crate, pirate!" the Cranidos snapped. The Rock-Type flicked his Slumber Wand, breaking the outermost of two remaining layers of his wand and enveloping the Machoke's head with a peach mist. The Fighting-Type shouted out of surprise and fought to keep his balance, only for his eyes to slip shut as the pirate pitched forward face-first with the crate onto the deck.
"Let's get rid of this guy before he wakes up!" Niilo cried.
Cabot and Niilo both grabbed one of the Machoke's legs and dragged him towards the railing. There, the two heaved the Fighting-Type up and unceremoniously shoved him over the railing with a loud splash. A ghostly shriek rang out, prompting the two to whirl around and see Berecien slamming into the Haunter pirate with another Flame Charge, sending the wraith flopping down unconscious onto the deck. The Ponyta let out a satisfied whinny, the sound of moving air and footsteps evidencing the arrival of the copper ship's Beheeyem and Clefable approaching from behind, a quick glance revealing their black-scarved Golbat attacker sprawled out fainted in the background.
"That's more like it!" the Ponyta exclaimed.
"Where have you escorts been all this time?" the Beheeyem demanded. "My First Mate and I haven't seen so much as a flier from your ship!"
"Yeah! You navy 'mons are supposed to protect us from attacks like these!" the Clefable huffed.
"Er… sorry, we just had some trouble defending our ship," Cabot murmured.
"But we're here now and ready to help turn the tide!" Berecien declared. The Ponyta held his head up proudly, only for his brimming confidence to be cut off by the sound of a pained scream in the background. The group whirled around, watching as an alight Parasect was pitched overboard from the deck by a tackling pirate Heatmor. A look about the ship revealed other fights in the background, most of them faring poorly for the members of the copper ship's crew, prompting the Beheeyem captain to narrow his eyes at his lacking reinforcements.
"… Just the three of you?" the merchant captain questioned.
A squeaky, ghostly voice cried out, prompting the party to look back towards the rope ladder to see a Litwick, an Aipom, a Togedemaru, and a Brionne climb up. The Brionne and the Togedemaru hastily laid down a suppressing stream of bubbles coupled with bolts of electricity respectively, allowing the Litwick and the Aipom to beeline for their waiting compatriots.
"Captain Nugget's sending reinforcements as fast as she can," the Aipom explained. "You guys just need to hold on for a little longer!"
As if on cue, an icy beam zipped by, prompting the Clefable First Mate to dive to the deck. The Fairy Pokémon got up, scowling back at the Aipom as she brushed some dust off her body.
"Well that's great, but what do we do next?" the Fairy-Type asked. "In case you haven't noticed, we're all bottled up on the stern right now!"
"They're taking copper crates from all over the ship," Berecien began. "If we spread out and approach things the same way we just did with those pirates earlier, we can take the ship back piece by piece."
"And how do you propose we do that when our reinforcements have to swim out from an entire ship's length to get here and these pirates' don't?" Niilo wondered.
Cabot's gaze turned to the sides of the ship where he noticed how every so often a group of pirates would dart off under covering fire with a crate for one of the black-sailed ships. A cursory glance revealed that the gangplanks seemed to shift around a fair bit, with closer examination revealing that they were held in place with nothing more than some rope ties.
If their supports were that flimsy, then maybe…
"What if we destroy their gangplanks?" the Fossil Pokémon proposed. "That way other pirates can't just stroll over from their ships and it would keep them from making off with more copper."
"… That's not a bad plan actually," the copper ship's Beheeyem captain admitted.
"Great! What are we waiting for then?" the Brionne asked.
"Yeah! Let's go kick those pirates' butts!" the Togedemaru added.
"On it!" Berecien cried. "We'll take the gangplanks at port, you take the starboard!"
"We'll try to give you all suppressing fire and pass the plan along to the rest of the crew," the Beheeyem said. "You just get out there and cut those gangplanks off!"
The two teams darted towards opposing sides of the ship, Cabot and his companions bobbing and weaving past attacks flying around them for an unattended gangplank tied down halfway to the ship's midpoint on the port side.
"Let's not waste any time here!" Niilo exclaimed. "They'll be onto what we're doing in any second!"
The Sandslash brought his claws down in a swooping arc, slicing through the bindings with a single blow and sending the gangplank toppling into the sea. The wood hit the surface of the sea and bobbed at an angle, drawing a commotion on the pirate ship on the opposing end as Pokémon in black scarves attempted to hoist and reattach it. Before the plank could be raised back up, Berecien spat out an Ember onto the part still above the surface of the water, setting it alight and prompting the pirates at the other end to startledly drop the gangplank back into the sea out of alarm.
"Okay, that's one down!" Cabot piped up.
"Oi! What are you lot doing?!"
The three sailors turned around and saw a black-scarved Mareanie escorting a a Furfrou and a Marked Quilladin carrying a heavy looking crate. The three pirates glared fiercely at their unexpected interlopers, prompting Cabot to stamp the deck and lower his head.
"Taking this ship back from bullies like you!" he snapped. The Cranidos lunged at the Mareanie with a forceful Zen Headbutt, prompting Niilo to fish into his bag for his Petrify Wand as the Quilladin and Furfrou attempted to set the crate down. The Sandslash swung the stick, breaking its last glassy layer as it spat up a shower of sparks onto the Quilladin, stiffening the Grass-Type's body and making the crate slip out of his grip and onto the two pirates' toes with a loud slam.
"We can't get bogged down!" Berecien yelled. "Let's keep moving!"
The Ponyta and his companions charged off for another gangplank further down the deck, the Mareanie staggering up and limping after the trio. The Poison-Type readied a jet of scalding water, only to catch a glimpse of a Beheeyem's palm lights and get sent flying into the sea with a Psybeam. Up ahead, Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo made their way to the gangplank, Niilo darting in with his claws ready, only to hop back with a startled cry as the deck rocked underfoot, with the form of a glaring Seismitoad rushing across the gangplank.
"Grr, how did you Imps even get on here?!" the Water-Type demanded. "No matter, I'll be sure to give you a nice fall overboard!"
The Seismitoad opened his mouth and spewed out a wide torrent of muddy water, prompting Cabot and his teammates to dive wildly out of the way in opposing directions. Niilo hit the deck with a bump, hastily righting himself as he fished out a Confuse Wand from his bag. The pangolin whirled and readied the wand for a swing, only for a heavy punch trailing a greenish-yellow aura from the Seismitoad to knock him flat on his back, sending the wand clattering away.
Satisfied with the dazed state of his foe, the toad rushed up and readied a second Drain Punch, only for the sound of stomping hooves to reach his ears. The Seismitoad turned and watched as Berecien picked the wand off the ground, giving it a sharp shake that shattered the last glassy knob on its end and sendt out a hail of yellow orbs of light that enveloped the pirate. The three watched as the Water-Type tottered about in a daze, Berecien flinging his spent wand aside and whirling towards Cabot with shout.
The Cranidos ran ahead and caught the Seismitoad in the stomach with a headbutt, sending the Water-Type flopping back onto the deck near a small group of Pokémon in black scarves. The toad groaned in a daze for a moment, only to ready a torrent of Muddy Water… and spew it all over the nearby pirates, their pained screams drawing winces from Cabot and Niilo as Berecien shook his head and snorted impatiently.
"Okay, let's take care of this gangplank and go!"
Niilo slashed the rope holding the gangplank to the copper ship, sending the end of the planks tumbling into the sea with a loud splash. Eager to beat any would-be pirates from attempting to hoist it back up, Berecien spat out a cone of embers, which struck the ropes on the other end of the plank and and set them afire.
"And that's it for our side!" Niilo exclaimed.
The Ground-Type's celebratory mood was cut short by a slicing gust of wind that zipped into his flank. A hail of hard seeds followed towards the three's direction, along with a bolt of lightning, a Gravelerock, and an errant Apple, forcing Niilo and his companions to dive and take cover behind an upended barrel as the Sandslash hastily scarfed his remaining Oran Berry.
"Agh! We need to fall back before they gang up on us!" Cabot cried.
The three hastily got up and bolted for the stern as fast as their legs could carry them, passing pirates along the way. Much to their surprise, as they neared to the stern, they noticed the pirates were falling back to the bow as a green-scarved Clefable charged to the front lines and flung a large orb of pinkish light after some of the retreating brigands.
"Good work out there!" the Fairy-Type said. "We'll take it from here!"
Cabot and his companions looked around the ship and noticed that the deck now had a good deal of indigo-scarved Pokémon aboard it, and the pirates had been pushed all the way back to the ship's midpoint. The trio looked around in surprise, only for footsteps to announce the arrival of the team of four sailors from earlier.
"We took care of the gangplanks on our side!" the Litwick of the group began. "What about you guys? Did you manage?"
"Uh-huh!" Cabot nodded. "We sure did!"
"Not a moment too soon, it seems," Niilo remarked. "Looks like the cavalry's already turning the tide here."
The Sandslash motioned with his claw towards the bow, where more and more pirates fell back as indigo and green-scarved Pokémon kept pushing forward. A few of the pirates already jumped back for the relative safety of their ships, the Seismitoad from earlier barking orders in an increasingly frantic hurry after being freshly snapped out of his confusion.
"Nrgh… everyone fall back to your ship!" the Water-Type shouted. "Our work here is done!"
"Hmph, let's not give them any chance to escape!" Berecien exclaimed.
The indigo-scarved Pokemon shouted back a chorus of affirmations, before charging after the fleeing pirates. Berecien pawed his feet and called for his companions to follow, only to be cut off by a jeering cry from the pirate ship to their right.
"Here, have a parting gift, you stupid Imps!"
The three turned to the side, where they saw a Metang floating above the pirate ship's railing with glowing blue eyes. The Steel-Type brought his right arm up, telekinetically lifting a barrel off the deck and into the air, before swinging his arm forward and sending the barrel flying through the air in an arcing path directly for them. The group hastily dove out of the way as the projectile struck the deck with a loud slam, prompting them to look back at the and barrel as a faint whiff of smoke reached their nostrils.
"What the… ?"
Niilo and his companions eyed the barrel where they noticed a hissing noise with straw poking out from a gap between planks formed from impact. Mixed in among them were scaly orange objects, which made the three scratch their heads puzzledly, until they looked down and went wide-eyed at the sight of a burning fuse and a moment of sudden realization:
"Th-This entire barrel is filled with Blast Seeds!" Cabot cried out.
Niilo hastily leapt forward and swiped at the fuse with his claws. The pangolin felt the satisfying snap of rope, and turned back beaming… only for the sound of burning to return. Much to the lot's alarm, the fire from the severed tip of the fuse had spilled embers on the rest, setting it afire much closer to the barrel's tip. Berecien rushed ahead, lowering the flames on his body and trampled on the fuse for dear life… only to see the burnt length of the fuse continue on past his hooves.
"The fuse isn't going out!" the Ponyta shouted. "Those pirates must have done something to it!"
"A-Aah! We don't have time for this!" Cabot yelped. The Cranidos' panic prompted Niilo to look around hastily, when his eyes noticed a section of charred and tottering railing behind them, prompting him to cry out for his teammates' attention.
"There's a weak spot in the railing over there!" Niilo said as he pointed at the damaged railing. "Let's hurry up and roll this thing off!"
The three sailors shoved the barrel along forcefully, sending it rolling for the charred railing. The barrel hit the wooden barrier with a loud crack and sagged outward, but much to their alarm failed to move forward, leaving the bomb and its still burning fuse stuck on deck.
"Gah! It didn't break through!" Berecien yelled.
"Let me try something!" Cabot piped up.
The Cranidos lowered his head and dashed forward, blue flecks of light dancing past his eyes from the dome of the head. Cabot braced himself and felt the barrel dash off his bony head, pausing and screwing his eyes shut, half-expecting the barrel to blow up in his face. The Headbutt Pokémon heard a loud crack and looked up to discover his Zen Headbutt had launched the barrel through the railing, propelling it and a few mangled chunks of wood high up into the air until it landed in the sea right near the pirate ship.
A deafening blast rang out, followed by a shockwave and flash of heat that nearly knocked Cabot off his feet. The Cranidos struggled as he felt the deck lurch underfoot, bracing himself against the railing where he looked ahead and saw flames and smoke curling up from the schooner directly across. The Rock-Type watched as the pirate ship began to list, Pokémon in black scarves diving overboard in a panic as the schooner tipped over and floated on its side, bringing its masts onto the copper ship with a loud crash. The world seemed to go by in a daze as the black-sailed masts snapped and lay on the deck near the bow, the air filling with the sounds of panicked yelps and shouts as Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo stared ahead in slack-jawed amazement.
"We… we took out one of their ships!" Cabot gasped.
"Heh, well that certainly makes our job easier," Niilo said satisfiedly.
Cabot and his companions looked up towards the shout, and hastily dove in different directions with yelps as a shadowy orb struck the place they stood. The three got up and looked back at where the Shadow Ball had landed, where much to their horror they saw Sibich descending with his eyes filled with burning hatred.
"That was my fleet's chaser, you worthless little runts!" the Ghost-Type seethed. "I had to raid Fensedge Village to get it!"
In a panic, Cabot brought his Slumber Wand up for a swing at the Cofagrigus, only for Sibich to quickly notice the wand and throw a Shadow Ball at Cabot's right claw. The orb struck Cabot, knocking the wand clear over the railing and making the Cranidos wince in pain as he pulled his claw towards his body to nurse it.
"Did you honestly think some cheap little trinket would save you?!" the Cofagrigus snapped. "For the amount of pain you've caused me, I'll be sure to kill you slowly so your screams can linger a while! Perhaps I'll start with keelhauling you under my ship!"
"T-That's not gonna happen!" Cabot stammered. "We'll beat you just like your lackeys!"
"Without that crab to hide behind?" Sibich snarled. "Ha! We'll see about that!"
The Cofagrigus formed a bubbling, green ball of light between his two upper hands and threw it at Cabot. The Cranidos attempted to dodge it by jumping to the side, only for the Energy Ball to brush his side, sending him tumbling back towards the railing.
"Well I'm definitely not gonna sit and wait for you to kill us!" Niilo shouted.
"Me neither!" Berecien added. "If you want our hides so badly, you're going to have to work for them!"
Berecien and Niilo charged forward, the Sandslash curling up in a spiky ball and rolling himself forward in a curving arc that slammed into Sibich from behind. The Cofagrigus turned around with a growl, only to be knocked back by a flaming tackle from Berecien.
"You little pests will regret the day you crossed the Shadow Brigade!" Sibich hissed.
The Ghost-Type flung a shadowy orb at Berecien, sending the Ponyta tumbling away from him with a pained yelp. The Cofagrigus moved in to pounce on the stunned horse, when he suddenly noticed Niilo rolling for him again and hastily formed a second Shadow Ball…
… only to get hit by a painful slam from behind, sending his attack wildly off course. Sibich noticed Cabot darting away behind him while rubbing at a fresh dent in his sarcophagus, seething at how the dinosaur had managed to strike him once again. Before the Ghost-Type could react further, he was struck in the face by another Rollout from Niilo, knocking him to the ground and making him billow out shadowy haze in a seething rage.
"Grr, I've had enough of this!" Sibich bellowed.
The Cofagrigus floated up and formed a green ball of energy, hurling it in a forceful drive at Niilo as the Sandslash attempted to hit Sibich with a third Rollout. The Energy Ball struck the Sandslash with a yelp, sending him flying and crashing down onto the deck unconscious. Cabot and Berecien blanched as the shock of their friend's sudden defeat sank in, their stunned fright fueling a malevolent, widening grin on Sibich's face.
"Fools! Did you really think you stood a chance against me?" the Ghost-Type sneered. "I'm Captain Sibich of the Shadow Brigade! I don't lose to some random Imps!"
The Cranidos and Ponyta both flushed pale as they realized just how dire their present circumstances were. Here they were, with their backup on the other side of the ship, facing down an opponent who was out for their heads and was strong enough to make good on his threat. Judging from the Cofagrigus' expression, he too seemed to be aware of his advantage, as his malicious smirk widened and flashed his saw-like teeth.
"Myah-ha-ha! You Imps are nothing but weaklings without somebody else to hide behind!" Sibich snarled. "But now you're all alone, with nobody from the rest of your precious navy to save you!"
"Except they're not alone!"
Sibich's teeth gritted at the sound of a chittering cry, prompting him to whirl around just in time for an orb of pressurized water to strike him between his eyes.
The Ghost-Type tumbled back from the Water Pulse, before shaking off the attack and brushing water off of his face. The pirate captain glared angrily, his gaze quickly settling on Nagant perched on the railing with her large claw aimed at him.
"Grr, you should learn to just give up, you overgrown crab!" the Cofagrigus seethed.
Sibich formed another Energy Ball and threw it at Nagant in rage, prompting the Clawitzer to counter the attack with a Dark Pulse. As the two Pokémon traded blows with each other, Cabot turned to Berecien, sensing the two now had an opportunity to change the course of battle.
"Come on! We can turn this around!" the Cranidos cried.
The Rock-Type lowered his head as blue light began to gather on his dome and charged into Sibich, Berecien following suit with a burning tackle. The pair's attacks made the Ghost-Type audibly wince, throwing his arms out wide as his voice came out in a hateful hiss.
"I've had it with you brats!" Sibich shrieked.
The Cofagrigus whirled around and flung a Shadow Ball at where Cabot and Berecien stood, prompting the two to hastily jump out of the way into different directions as a spray of splinters filled the air.
Sibich flinched and tottered forward as Nagant shot a spray of dark orbs at his back, making him stop and rest against the deck on his knuckles a moment to catch his breath.
"This is our chance to finish it!" Berecien yelled.
The Ponyta lunged and jumped into Sibich with a fiery somersault, his Flame Wheel knocking the pirate in the railing with an audible crack. Seizing his opportunity, Cabot lowered his head and charged towards Sibich with a Zen Headbutt once more.
"It's over!" the Cranidos shouted.
Sibich went wide-eyed as Cabot jumped at him, the dome of his skull striking him square in the face. The railing abruptly cracked under the force of the blow, launching Sibich through it and off the deck of the ship
Cabot, Berecien, and Nagant looked over the railing and saw Sibich floating still and facedown in the water. The three stared in silence only to notice the ship had similarly gone quiet, with a quick glance around revealing the remaining pirates had collectively flushed unhealthily pale at the sight of their routed superior.
"A-Aah! They got the captain!"
All semblance of organization among the pirates melted away as their strategic retreat quickly devolved into a rout. Pokémon flew and swam away from the copper ship in a panic, with black-scarved Pokémon on the bow leaping into the water in a desperate bid to escape the mob of green and indigo-scarved Pokémon charging forward. Cabot turned and began to dart ahead, only for the sound of splashing from the water to reach his earholes, making him look down and see Sibich dazedly latch onto a passing Milotic who hurriedly tugged him away and swam after a pair of hastily departing ships.
"Aah! He's getting away!" Cabot cried.
Nagant hopped onto the railing and fired a series of orbs after the Milotic, only for the fish to weave away from each one. The shrimp hissed and readied a dive into the sea to pursue, only for a fleeing Mandibuzz to fly past and knock her to the deck with a cutting gust of wind. The shrimp staggered up in a hurry, looking back towards the sea where she discovered her target had slipped away. The captain chittered angrily, slamming her claw against the railing with a loud thunk as Berecien shook his head.
"Psiakrew…" the Ponyta groaned. "On the positive side, I don't think there's much of a fight left for us here on deck."
"A-Aah! You stupid clods! You left me behind!"
"H-Help! I can't swim!"
The three peered over and saw a Sudowoodo flailing in the water along with a few other pirates of his ilk. Back on deck, a number of Pokémon in black scarves were slumped over on deck, while a handful of shaken stragglers inched back, slowly raising their paws and appendages up in surrender as Nagant clicked her large claw in annoyance.
"Hrmph, there's nothing else we can do here," the Howitzer Pokémon huffed. "Go and tend to the wounded, I've got a lot on my claws right now with those thugs at the bow."
"Aye aye!" Cabot exclaimed.
The Clawitzer hopped off the railing and began to make her way over to the bow, leaving Cabot and Berecien to turn to each other with tired, but beaming expressions.
"We… really did it," the Cranidos began. "We saved the ship!"
"Heh, we did," Berecien replied, only for a woozy groan to cut him off. The pair blinked and looked behind them, where they saw Niilo's form twitching weakly further along the deck. The Ponyta shifted a bit and pawed at the deck awkwardly before sheepishly speaking up.
"Right. Let's just help out Niilo and the other wounded for now so we can go back to our own ship," the Fire-Type said. "I could use a long rest after that fight."
Cabot looked at Niilo, grimacing a bit from his injured state. Even in spite of his present condition, the Sandslash would certainly have a lot to be happy about once he was lucid again…
… but that could wait. For now, it was best to focus on getting their friend patched up.
Half an hour after the attempted ambush of the copper ship, the forms of a battered frigate and brigantine with black sails limped along in the seas southwest of Sormus. The deck of the frigate was more crowded than normal, as a sorry-looking cohort of pirates gathered around a mob of their compatriots who'd fled the capsized ship. The group from the sunken ship was short about a third of its members, the bulk soaked in seawater while others were bruised, burnt, or covered in mud. An air of trepidation surrounded the ship-deprived pirates, especially around a visibly unnerved Seismitoad who stared down a bandaged Cofagrigus floating up to him in a rage.
"You blithering fool!" Sibich seethed. "How could you have let this happen?! I trusted you to captain that schooner!"
The Seismitoad audibly gulped, backpedaling along the deck as the Ghost-Type advanced on him until he felt the wood of the mast prod his back. The toad fumbled with his fingers, hastily stammering out the beginnings of an explanation.
"Er… well you see Captain Sibich… those Imps-"
"Don't give me that!" the Ghost-Type bellowed. "You were made captain with the job to lead one of my ships and ensure it comes back in one piece! And now it's gone!"
"B-But Captain I wasn't there when the barrel was thrown back!" the Seismitoad stuttered. "If anything my crewmembers should be blamed for not being competent enough to- Ack!"
Before the toad could finish his explanation, he was hit by a shadowy orb that knocked his head against the mast and sent him slumping face-first onto the deck. The Water-Type wheezed from the wind being knocked out of him, as satisfied growls floated among the gathered pirates, a visibly singed Metang in particular murmuring how the Seismitoad's predicament 'serves him right'. The amphibian laid there groaning in pain, feebly trying to get up, only to flinch at the sight of Sibich's floating body looming over him
"I'm not interested in your excuses!" the Cofagrigus hissed. "You failed me, and there will be consequences for it!"
The Seismitoad's pupils shrank to pins at the Ghost-Type's mention of 'consequences'. Captain Sibich was well-known among the pirates of Anyilla to suffer failure poorly, and with how severe his own had been, all the treasure in Tidemill City would likely prove insufficient to ransom his life.
"H-Hold on a moment!" the Water-Type stammered. "I've done an excellent job as a captain so far! W-We can work this out!"
"Yes, by putting an end to the grief you've caused me!" Sibich snarled. In a panic, the Seismitoad hastily readied a jet of water, only to suddenly feel a crushing grip on his throat that bottled the water up in his body. The toad flailed and struggled, before feeling his feet lift off the ground and see Sibich's red eyes boring into his.
The Water-Type screwed his eyes shut, bracing himself for the sudden blow that would mark his end as a pirate, only to abruptly feel the hands gripping his neck jerk him up and throw him down. The Seismitoad captain hit the deck, twitching his legs numbly as he realized he still heard the sounds of the rolling waves and of jeering pirates, prompting him to look up and discover that he was very much still alive, with Sibich glaring down at him.
"Effective immediately, you're relieved of duty," the Cofagrigus growled. "Since you don't have a ship to captain anymore, I'll have to put you to use for more practical tasks like cleaning my ship!"
"You can start with the heads," a Bouffalant riddled with welts poking out from his fur ordered. "They haven't been flushed out properly since we were last in port and some of the crew have been complaining about the air around it."
"Get out of my sight!" Sibich shouted. "Now!"
The Seismitoad hastily got up and clambered off as fast as his injured body allowed. A few members of the crew threw in taunts as the now-disgraced captain fled, prompting Sibich to let out an annoyed harrumph and turn to the rest of his crew.
"Don't just stand there and jeer like a bunch of spectators!" the Ghost-Type barked. "Get back to work!"
The pirates drifted off to tend to various tasks, leaving their captain alone with his Bouffalant first mate. Sibich floated back and forth fuming impatiently on the deck, before whirling and throwing a Shadow Ball at a nearby barrel in frustration, reducing the container into a pile of splinters.
"Grr, this shouldn't have happened!" the Ghost-Type seethed. "I'm Captain Sibich of the Shadow Brigade! My plans are always perfect! This plan was perfect!"
"It seems like your Imperial source was wrong about how strong that crew was," the Bouffalant sighed.
"He promised me an easy score!" Sibich growled. "This was supposed to be like taking Gummis from a hatchling!"
"Do you think we've been set up…?"
The Cofagrigus angrily breathed in and out at his first mate's answer, before his breaths quieted and his temper slowly ebbed away. The Ghost-Type raised a hand to his mouth, before shaking his head.
"… No," Sibich answered. "He still needs me for a few raids and he wouldn't have supplied me with those eggs last time if that was the case."
"So what do we do now then…?" the Bouffalant asked.
"We get back to Orleigh and recover from this… incident," the Cofagrigus said. We'll see where we go from there."
The Ghost-Type harrumphed and floated for his cabin, loudly slamming the door behind him as the Bouffalant shook his head and turned back to bark orders at the newly-crowded deck. The black-sailed ships carried on, lumbering over the waves as grumbles and curses lingered over their defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
Back at the Vasilek, the crew of the frigate worked under the burnt light of the setting sun, tending towards what seemed to be a never-ending list of problems that had risen since the Shadow Brigade fled. There was plenty ship damage to be repaired to the Vasilek from bow to stern, to say nothing of the even more tattered copper ship. There were also wounded to be tended to in the sick bay, and when its space ran out, in hallways and on the deck. In the midst of it all, there were the captives taken from the Shadow Brigade that needed to be bound and restrained wherever the battered ship could accommodate them, leading to the small amount of space aboard the ship being prioritized for the stronger swimmers. When space ran short, a few of their more sinking-prone peers were unceremoniously dumped in some netting hung over the side of the ship, the churning waves below daring them to try and struggle against their otherwise completely inadequate prison.
During the hectic buzz of work, Cabot and Berecien had been kept busy lugging supplies up and down from the hold and deck. The duo made their way up, dropping off a few buckets of pitch at a gangplank lowered to the copper ship, before they noticed a Sandslash with a bandaged stomach leaning against a railing on the other side of the deck. The two paused a moment, looking back to see that Jun was preoccupied with managing prisoners, before opting to take a break from their duties and go over and join Niilo with tired sighs.
"Yeesh, the ship certainly has seen its better days," Niilo said.
"Well, at least things still ended on a mostly high note," Cabot insisted. "We managed to beat those pirates and save most of the copper!"
"It would have been even better if that Cofagrigus hadn't gotten away," Berecien sighed. "Then again, we should probably be happy with every victory we can get."
The three turned around and saw Tegu and Melli nearing their place on the railing. The pair shifted a bit, casting a close eye on Niilo before speaking up.
"I see you're finally back from the medics," the Salandit began.
"We'd heard that you'd gotten thrown around earlier," Melli added. "So we wanted to see how you were doing."
"We're doing alright…" Cabot replied. "Though it took a bit longer for Niilo to get healed enough to get back on his feet."
Tegu looked at Niilo with a puzzled tilt of his head, before a smug smile spread over his face. For all the times Niilo kept bragging about how tough he'd be once he evolved, out of all his friends he was the only one to get put down for the count.
"Heh, sounds like that evolution's working out just like you said it would during Basic Training," the lizard snickered.
"Hey, that Cofagrigus was pretty damn hard to fight!" Niilo protested. The Sandslash's comment brought a stunned silence over the pair, prompting Melli to blink out of surprise with all three of her heads.
"Wait, you really fought against Sibich?" the Combee wondered. "But he's supposed to be one of the toughest pirates!"
Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo traded confused looks with one another. That Cofagrigus was a strong foe and did almost get the better of them… but could he really have been as big a deal as Melli made him out to be…?
"He is…?" Cabot asked, prompting Tegu to nod in response.
"Yeah. The pirates in Anyilla are lead by a council of four and Sibich's one of them," the Salandit explained. "If you managed to get the better of him, then you've got to be some of the luckiest Pokémon on board right now."
Cabot's eyes widened at the Salandit's explanation. Was Tegu really saying he just fought one of the toughest pirates in Anyilla and won? The dinosaur stood there in stunned silence, before realizing that his first mission had had every sort of adventure he'd been daydreaming of earlier to Jun.. Yes, it was far from preferable for the Shadow Brigade to have raided the copper ship, but he'd gotten a chance to come to the aid of Pokémon in need and fight off their would-be attackers… why, by time the day ended he'd even have gotten to see two islands outside of Giotto! However unlikely it had seemed earlier, he'd truly gotten the start to his grand adventure he'd longed for after all.
The Cranidos smiled quietly and basked contentedly at his realization, only for the sound of a snort to jolt him back to attention. Cabot turned his head to see Berecien giving a humble shake back, his demeanor far more subdued than he'd expected for a 'mon with as much pride as him.
"Well, the Captain did help us out in the end," Berecien said. "We wouldn't have been able to defeat him if it wasn't for her."
"Actually, it wasn't just her either," Cabot insisted. "If it wasn't for you two, we never would have had those wands and we might have never gotten to that fight against Sibich."
Tegu blinked in surprise for a moment, before giving the Cranidos a proud, yet sly grin back.
"Heh, well you're welcome," the Salandit chuckled. "Nothing makes a battle fairer than when you have an item on you and your opponent doesn't."
The lizard's comment made Berecien roll his eyes with a sigh. As useful as items were, having a Pokémon with such a… peculiar definition of fairness praising their utility in battle was enough to make a 'mon feel dirty and dishonorable.
"For a certain definition of fair…"
"Ow! Watch it with those stingers!"
The group looked over to the other side of the deck, where they saw the black-scarved Honchkrow from earlier being prodded by Jun to join a group of tied up pirates guarded by several Pokémon in indigo scarves. The crow was forced to the ground where his legs were tied together, batting his wings out in flailing protest when it became evident his flight feathers had been freshly sliced. Marcus shifted against his bonds as a nearby Machoke complained loudly about rope burns, prompting the bird to give an irritated growl and shake of his head at his fellow pirate's whining.
As Cabot looked closer, he noticed that a curiously large amount of the pirates had a five-tailed blotch on their head. What would lead to a pirate crew having so many Marked among its rank? And with how hostilely they were received by Pokémon back on land…
"What's going to happen to those Pokémon anyways?" the Cranidos wondered.
"A judge will take their case, and based off what's presented in front of him, he'll hand down a sentence that he sees fitting," Berecien answered.
"Uh… but what if he doesn't like a Pokémon that's on trial?" Cabot asked.
"Well, tough for them, I guess," Niilo shrugged, prompting his Cranidos ally to shift uncomfortably. Yes, the Marked along with the rest of the Pokémon they'd captured from the Shadow Brigade were pirates and deserving of punishment… but on the other claw, if a judge could go out of his way to give a harsher punishment for what they were, could they really get a fair trial?
"Oh, it's the swimmers from lunch!"
The group turned around at Melli's cry, and looked down at the sea. There, cutting through the briny surface, they spotted Cyanea and Katyusha coming up from underwater, sidling up against the ship with wide grins.
"Hey, we heard you rookies did great!" the Sharpedo cheered.
"Yeah, a few more fights like that, and you'll almost be as good as us!" Cyanea insisted.
"… Niin…" Niilo said as he rolled his eyes. "I suppose we should thank you for the lift out to that copper ship. We wouldn't have fought much of anything there without it."
The Sandslash's reply drew a cheery burble back from the Tentacruel, who waved a tentacle back with affected modesty.
"Well, you're welcome," the Tentacruel beamed. "Why, if we'd stuck around just a bit longer, that Cofagrigus never would've gotten away with how well we can move around in the water!"
"Are you talking about moving around your bodies or your mouths?"
The group turned around and saw Nagant approaching them from behind. The shrimp hopped on her tail, clambering onto the ship's railing and looking down at the sea. From her place in the water, Cyanea had a moment of realization: this was the perfect chance to tell Captain Nugget how well she'd done during the fight! The Poison-Type bobbed up and down in the water for attention enthusiastically burbling and waving her tentacles.
"Oh, Captain! I was just telling the rookies about-"
"How you're supposed to be diving for the copper that was in that sunken pirate ship," Nagant grunted. "Is there a reason why I can see you here on the surface, Cyanea?"
As quickly as Cyanea's enthusiasm had come, the jellyfish found herself blinking in stunned silence. The Poison-Type looked around awkwardly a moment, before sheepishly lowering her body further into the water.
"Er… right," the Tentacruel muttered. "Let's go Katyusha."
The two Water Pokémon began to swim off and dove back under the surface, slipping off into the deep blue to return to their work salvaging sunken crates. Satisfied to see her two more senior subordinates making themselves useful once again, Nagant turned to Cabot and his companions.
"As for the five of you…"
Cabot wagged his tail out of excited anticipation. After they helped fight off those pirates, managed to sink one of their ships, and helped defeat Sibich, the Captain now had something she felt was important enough to tell them personally! Perhaps it was a reward, or a promotion, or at the least an assignment more glamorous than the menial tasks they'd received so far!
"I want you to clean the deck," Nagant instructed. "There's still debris everywhere and the crew won't be able to work well in these conditions."
The five Pokémon stared at the Clawitzer slack jawed, with Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo in particular seeming particularly stunned. After risking life and limb fighting with a feared pirate captain, that's all she had to say to them?! Niilo shook his head in disbelief, spluttering out the beginnings of a heated protest.
"I don't want to hear it, Sandslash!" the Clawitzer snapped. "I just gave you an order, and I expect to see you follow it! So get to work!"
The group flinched, before grudgingly hurrying back to work. Nagant shook her head, before hopping off the railing and making her way over to her Beedrill first mate with a tense expression.
"Jun. Do you have a moment?" the shrimp chittered.
"Of course, Captain!" the Beedrill replied.
Nagant carried on, leading her first mate off towards the bow of the ship. Jun followed along as the sounds of the crew faded out, prompting him to wait a moment as he and Nagant scanned their surroundings. After finding the rest of the crew suitably far out of earshot, the wasp beat his wings and gave a curious buzz to his superior.
"Is something the matter?" the first mate wondered.
"It's this raid, Jun," Nagant said. "A lot of things aren't adding up here."
"What do you mean, Captain?" the Beedrill responded.
"I mean that those pirates knew things that shouldn't have been possible for them to know," the Clawitzer explained. "They knew that we were escorting a copper ship, they knew about our route, the right code to signal us… they even knew we just added a bunch of freshly graduated cadets to the crew!"
Jun rubbed his stingers together uncomfortably as an unwelcome realization came over him. The Captain was definitely right that normal pirates shouldn't have known any of that information… surely she couldn't be suggesting that…?
"… Do you think somebody leaked the details of our mission to them?" the wasp asked.
"No other explanation would make sense," Nagant insisted. "There's a mole somewhere in the Admiralty, probably a clerk with contact to internal records. If he's willing to pass information onto pirates, then we should assume that anyone could learn anything through him."
"What do you think we should do about it?" Jun murmured. A long silence hung in the air, with Nagant twitching her barbels tensely, before finally speaking up.
"I don't think that we have a lot of options," the Clawitzer sighed. "Let's just let the Admiralty know about there being a potential mole among their ranks and try to be more cautious. If we avoid dealing with middlemons when we can, it's bound to help the mole make a mistake that would get him caught."
"And what about us in the interim?" Jun buzzed.
"Focus on getting the ship to Buyeom," the Water-Type answered. "I'll be busy writing up reports about these pirates to the local court, and the less time I have to spend away from a nice stiff bottle of vodka after we pull into port, the better."
The Beedrill frowned a bit at his superior's mention of 'vodka', but decided to shrug the matter off. She and the crew had been through a lot, and a stiff drink couldn't possibly slow down reprovisioning that much when they had bigger things to worry about first.
Jun gave a salute, before flitting off, leaving Nagant behind to turn around and clamber down into the sea, sinking in and letting the saltwater flow over her gills. The mission today was far more of a clawful than she'd imagined for a training mission, and it was a miracle they were still completing it in some form at all after everything that had happened. In spite of that, she couldn't help but smile at how things had turned out….
Even if they were a bit rough around the edges, she was now confident the new recruits from Giotto would fit right in with her crew.
The Vasilek continued its course southeast for Buyeom Island well after the sun set and the moon poked over the horizon. After the moon reached its high point in the sky and began to drift west, the island's presence was announced by faint vein-like lights off in the horizon and a newfound excitedness about Jun who remarked about how it was 'nice to be home again'. The frigate followed along dutifully after the lights, pulling into port in a town filled with tightly-bunched buildings with curved slate-tiled roofs and hulking black stone walls that ringed the settlement. The Vasilek was quickly tied down, leaving the crew of the frigate to tiredly unload the ship, before shuffling off under the glow of lanternlight for a squat set of barracks built next to a shipyard at the end of the harbor.
Daybreak and a good night's rest served to piece together in much of what had been lost in the blur of arrival, filling in details that had been lost about the town in the initial night as the Vasilek's crew woke up and drifted into it. The settlement was called 'Magmapool Town', and a quick glance revealed it to be far larger than Polderfield, with a busyness about it that made it feel like Tidemill City in miniature. The walls of the town's buildings were revealed to be done up in whites and pastel colors, with gaudy gates watching over the entrances to the black walls. The veins of light they saw earlier that night were streams of lava that slowly ebbed off the top of a volcanic peak that trailed a wispy plume of ash, while puffs of steam billowed up from bubbling pools of water scattered around the town, including one located directly next to the barracks by the shipyard.
And so it was that at noon, with the hubbub of the town at its midday lull, that Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo found themselves at the Vasilek's moorings, stretching and yawning contentedly from a night's rest and morning spent lounging and sightseeing about town with a newfound vigor and freshness about them.
"I didn't think it was possible after that raid, but that break in town really turned that day around," Berecien said.
"Yeah, the hot sand was really amazing!" Cabot cheered.
"Well, it was certainly a lot better than the hot springs," the Ponyta chuckled.
"Eh, the sand was alright, but I enjoyed just getting the view from up here now that I'm taller than the two of you," Niilo remarked. "Though our downtime would've been really great if we had it in Copperband Village. The hot sand here's got nothing on a whole island full of it!"
The Sandslash's declaration drew a long frown back from his Ponyta teammate, with his Cranidos peer joining in with a flustered scratch at the back of his head. The Rock-Type hemmed and hawed a bit, before giving a disarming wag of his tail and speaking up.
"Well, I'm sure we'll get a chance someday," the Cranidos insisted. "But let's just try and enjoy where we're at for now?"
"I doubt there will be a whole lot more we can do," Berecien responded. "After what happened, I'm sure Captain Nugget wants to get out of port as soon as she can to put this mission behind her."
"But that can be exciting!" the Rock-Type beamed. "Who knows what our next mission will be?"
"We get to clean below deck this time?" Niilo snarked.
Cabot gave a sour frown back at the Sandslash's retort as a wry smile came over Niilo's face, drawing a stifled laugh from his Ponyta companion only for him to abruptly stop and realize that getting stuck cleaning again was hardly funny at all. The Cranidos shook his head and continued on with his companions, making their way up the gangplank and onto the Vasilek's deck, which curiously was mostly devoid of activity with only a Pokémon here or there on it.
"Eh? Where is everyone?" Cabot wondered.
"Oh, there you three are!"
The three paused and turned around at the sound of a sharp buzz. There behind them was none other than Jun flitting up to them with a firm, expectant gaze.
"The Captain wanted to speak to you rookies," the Beedrill said, before gesturing with one of his pincers. "Come, she's been waiting!"
Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo watched as Jun flitted off, giving each other curious looks before hesitantly following after the wasp. All the while, Niilo shifted uncomfortably, wondering just what sort of trouble they could've gotten into just by relaxing with the rest of their peers in the morning.
"Er… we didn't do anything wrong right?" he asked.
"No, not at all!" Jun insisted. "The Captain just wanted to talk with you about yesterday's mission."
The three followed as the Beedrill carried on, mulling over what Nagant wanted to talk about with them. Before Cabot and his companions knew it, they had arrived at the Vasilek's stern, where Nagant was idly looking out at sea. Jun waved for attention, only to find the shrimp unresponsive, prompting the Bug-Type to make his way over and draw her attention with a buzz, which made her turn around and notice her guests.
"Oh, you're finally here."
"You wanted to talk to us, Captain…?" Berecien said.
"Da. I wanted to say I noticed what you were up to during the pirate attack yesterday, especially when it came to fighting that Cofagrigus," Nagant responded. "I wanted to thank you three for the hard work. It's not easy for a lot of rookies to keep their nerves in such a situation on their first mission."
The three blinked out of surprise, wondering under their breaths for a moment if they were dreaming. After how brusquely she'd brushed them off yesterday, they thought that the Captain had completely overlooked their help in yesterday's fight, but all along she'd remembered them enough to pull them aside to praise them!
"Oh! Er… well you're welcome, Captain!" Cabot replied as he wagged his tail.
"Just keep up the good work," Nagant continued. "I'm sure we'll be running into each other in the future, and I'll keep you three in mind when giving out assignments for our next mission."
Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo's expressions brightened up at their captain's words. Their work yesterday really had paid off if Captain Nugget was thinking of giving them things to do other than swabbing the deck! Though, with the Vasilek still firmly moored and the ship not in any obvious shape to leave, it did make Cabot wonder…
"So what do we do next?" the Cranidos wondered.
"We're not receiving any sailing orders until the evening, so feel free to do whatever you like," Jun answered.
"Maybe enjoy the sights around town a bit here," Nagant suggested. "Jun told me you had a thing for seeing new islands."
"Heh, now that sounds more like it!" Niilo exclaimed.
The Sandslash and his companions turned to take their leave, only for Nagant's voice to suddenly call out beside them.
"One last thing," Nagant said. "What are your names?"
"Oh?" Cabot responded as he curiously tilted his head. "It's Cabot."
"And I'm Niilo."
"Hmph, I'll be sure to remember them," Nagant grunted. "Carry on."
The trio moved along to the ship's gangplank and clambered down it for Magmapool's docks. There, the three continued on a little ways until they were sure they were out of earshot, where the lot broke into giddy hurrahs.
"Ah, I can't believe it just really happened!" Cabot cheered. "We impressed Captain Nugget and she knows our names now!"
"Well, it was certainly a pleasant surprise after her response right after the raid," Berecien replied. "Let's just hope this actually results into less deck swabbing."
"Eh, let's worry about that later," Niilo insisted as he gave a dismissive wave with one of his claws. "Let's just enjoy Magmapool Town a bit more for now!"
"Right!" Cabot piped up.
The group carried on down the docks, making their way for the gates leading back to the town. All the while, Cabot couldn't help but brim with energy over how Nagant had finally recognized them, his mind racing with excited thoughts about what the future held in store. Maybe they'd run into more pirates… or maybe they'd have a big battle against a Company ship! Who knew, with how much his first mission had exceeded his expectations, perhaps something really dramatic would happen. Why, maybe he'd even get to a meet a Protector!
… Perhaps that was a little too wishful of a thought. With the Protectors of Anyilla slumbering for centuries, there was surely no way that would ever happen…
- Majayo (맞아요) - Korean: "Exactly" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
- rod (род) - Russian: "clan" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- vorona (ворона) - Russian: "crow" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- Nie mogę uwierzyć, że to robię - Polish: "I can't believe I'm doing this"
- Psiakrew - Polish: "Damn", lit. "dog's blood"
- Niin - Finnish: "Right" (used sarcastically in context)
- Da (Да) - Russian: "Yes" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)