As focus returns to the story's direction, as does the sharpness (hopefully) of the narrative.


It was an early morning they had to wake to.

Sean went to sleep thinking about what they had spoken of and woke up with it still playing through his mind. He nudged Striker and Guardian and whispered. "Time to get up, okay?"

"I don't wanna," Striker mumbled.

"Sleep is for the weak," Guardian groaned. "And I feel particularly pathetic today."

"Well, if you can enunciate that much, you must have some energy!" Sean determined.

Both of them mumbled something indistinct at him.

"Okay. Come on." He put one paw around Striker's ankle and another whole arm around Guardian's wrist and began to pull. Despite both of them being bigger and their combined weight being much heavier, he was a riolu. He got to be stronger than he had any right being.

The rest of the guild looked on in concern as he dragged his teammates to the morning address and left them on the ground. Whispers began to break out before Armaldo silenced them.

There was no Timber at this meeting. Regardless of how things might have gone last night, Armaldo was a pokémon very set in his ways and didn't buckle for anything.

"New information has come to light," he began without any preamble as to why they'd been woken up earlier than usual.

"Better not be punishing Bidoof more," Flaaffy sniffed. His wool was immaculate as always, not a thread out of place.

Armaldo ignored that. "There was an item Bidoof retrieved from Soothe's dwelling he did not speak of. A blue orb that was not a wonder orb. It is believed he heard something, a voice telling him not to worry coming from the orb. Bidoof doesn't have it on his person, and this guild is going to search this entire building from top to bottom for it."

Chimecho floated in the air, a frown on her face. "A blue orb?"

"Yes. Did you take it from him?"

She blinked. "I gave him a full examination. There was nothing like that but a half-dried oran berry."

"It wasn't a berry," Sean said, speaking up. "I used my Dimensional Scream to look into the past. It was bigger than a normal orb." He cupped his paws together to try and visualise the size. Striker, who had been looking less asleep and more curious, perked up even more at the idea. "But didn't have the patterns and inner symbol lights regular ones do."

"And a voice was coming from it?"

"Telling him not to worry. The voice…" Sean trailed off, gooseflesh pricking up under his fur. He shivered. "It was not a nice voice. Bidoof himself said he's heard it in his nightmares since."

Paras and Marill looked down; Flaaffy kept his head high.

There were questions on the tips of tongues. Sean had seen Bidoof? When? Last night? Why? What orb and voice?

However, the questions had to wait as before Armaldo could open his mouth, Spinda came crashing down the slope.

"Emergency! It's amazing! Emergency! Hooray! Ahhh!"

He crashed into a pole and rolled several feet before just stumbling back to his feet, all in a single motion of movement. "Wynaut has RETURNED!" he shouted, almost without any strange pauses at all. "They're…being a little…you know."

There was a beat where nothing happened.

Armaldo slowly blinked. "WHAT?"


Project P was a little quiet without Wobbuffet. Without that cheerfully loud. "That's RIGHT!" To dress their words to impress.

Wynaut was also much smaller than Wobbuffet and wasn't as striking of a sight. However, their miraculous return brought a huge buzz up in town. While Spinda usually didn't open until past midday, it was open right from the early morning as Wynaut used the excitement of their return to trade lots of tickets for Project P and deliver tremendous prizes.

Still, it was quiet, and every time someone traded for a ticket, they instinctually turned to Wobbuffet to ask if it was a winner.

But Wobbuffet was not there.

"Make way, everyone!" Armaldo's harsh voice cut through the excitement of the townsfolk. "Get out of the way, dammit!"

He came stomping in, ducking his head under the low doorway and looking much too large in the low-roofed café. Pokémon were getting out of the way as no one stood in the way of Armaldo and his target if they wanted to keep paws from being stepped on.

"Guildmaster Armaldo!" Wynaut chirped without all of their usual cheer. "You're up late."

It was early morning, but he knew that was a joke.

"We're going to need to talk to you," Armaldo rumbled. It was like a growl if a growl could be considered words and not a threat.

"We?" Wynaut asked, looking at the crowd. He'd come alone, Spinda stumbling in after him. Then a few guild pokémon popped their heads in.

"Now, Wynaut."

"Is this about my disappearance?" Wynaut asked because, of course, it was. They raised their voice to speak over the crowd. "I don't know what happened. One day I'm walking home after saying goodnight to Spinda; next, I'm stumbling out of the bushes."

"You, Wobbuffet, Octillery, and Swanna," Armaldo listed off. "All four of you vanished. Only you've turned up."

"Was I the first?" Wynaut asked.

"Yes."

"Where's Swanna?" someone called. "Do you know?"

"What about Octillery? He was meant to host the tournament but disappeared!"

Voices began to fuse and clamour, and Wynaut realised that the vague shouting of voices overlapping throughout this morning was mostly that. People trying to ask them what had happened to the others.

"Wobbuffet's missing?"

"Have you not realised?" Armaldo snapped.

"Spinda's doesn't normally open until midday. I assumed she was sleeping." A flicker of distress passed Wynaut's face before fading.

"I'll come to the guild," Wynaut said. "Sorry, everyone, Project P has to go on hold!" They scuttled out from behind the desk and marched with Armaldo, missing the look strange look Spinda gave them.

Spinda gave strange looks, so no one noticed.

After Spinda made his sudden announcement to the guild, Armaldo told pokémon to start searching for the sphere as he came down to fetch Spinda. The Guildmaster's job was never done. At this point, he was considering hiring someone.

Chimecho was too busy, or rather she refused his offer, or maybe demand, to take up an official position on the books, but she continued to refuse, citing she wanted to remain 'one of the apprentices'. She was impossible to understand.

A few of the apprentices, Diglett and Paras, had left after him to start searching the path while Marill went into town to ask if anyone had picked it up.

The rest remained in the guild to search it from top to bottom.

Armaldo was listing the reasons why this wasn't in the job description as he stomped and Wynaut waddled up to the guild.

They were chatty, as they always were.

"Nice weather today." A little weak.

"Have these steps gotten bigger?" Not much better.

"…you seem mad." Okay.

"I simply need to ask you a few questions," Armaldo forced out. He should hire an interrogator…or maybe Croagunk could be trained?

Wynaut shrugged with their ear-arms. "I don't know what to tell you." Their eyes were firmly fixed on a piece of his chitin like it could be grabbed and played with.

Armaldo didn't respond, leading Wynaut into the guild and down into the Guildmaster's chambers.

"It's great to see you're okay!" Sean called as he looked up from sniffing the ground in search of the orb.

"Good to see you, Wynaut." Croagunk nodded.

They waved to the two Fighting-type's before entering after Armaldo.

"What were you doing the night you disappeared?" Armaldo asked immediately, right as soon as the door clicked shut.

They were new doors, still heavy, though.

"Just cleaning up inventory with Wobbuffet," Wynaut answered.

"Then?"

"Then she walked home. I stayed behind to help Spinda sweep up. Then I walked to Spinda's place with him before going on."

Armaldo noted that down. "Your home isn't far from Spinda's. Spinda says that Wobbuffet came around a few hours later, worried you hadn't come home. Spinda went out looking while he told Wobbuffet to come to the guild. No one came. By the time he returned, Wobbuffet was missing as well."

Wynaut shivered. "O-Oh gosh."

"What happened exactly after you left Spinda's house?" Armaldo chose not to mention that Spinda himself had been under some heavy suspicion after they disappeared, along with Octillery, one of his most regular patrons.

Armaldo didn't think Spinda was behind anything, but it paid to be careful.

"I…I don't know," Wynaut said, eyes averting to the floor.

"You don't remember?"

"I…I…think I remember saying goodnight to Spinda?" Wynaut raised their head to Armaldo. "And then beginning to walk off."

Armaldo slowly nodded and noted that Wynaut's eyes weren't meeting his exactly, focused on his face but not his eyes. "I see. During the clean up at the café, did you notice anything out of the ordinary?"

He'd grilled Spinda much of the same, and Spinda came up clear to him. Of course, with both pokémon missing, he could only trust him on his gut. Then two more. One came back, scratched up a little by Spinda's reckoning yet smooth and fine now. What had happened, and where were the others?

"No," Wynaut answered.

"Nothing at all?"

"It was a regular early-morning clean up."

He noted it all down.

"What are you writing?"

"What you have to say," Armaldo answered. What you are doing went unsaid.

Armaldo was a bright and cunning pokémon. Not the mastermind prodigy that Rhythm was, but he was still sharp as a tack and twice as rigid.

Wynaut was fine. But the question remained.

"One last time," Armaldo said. "Do you remember anything of the time you disappeared before winding up in those bushes? Remember escaping or simply walking from somewhere to reach those bushes?"

Wynaut hesitated or were they simply trying to think, trying to cling onto any scrap of memory. OR hesitating? Or really digging hard.

Armaldo's eyes didn't leave Wynaut, and their eyes never met his, focused on one of his feathers now.

"No."

Armaldo nodded. "Thank you, Wynaut," he said. "I'm going to take you to Chimecho now."

"Why?" the response was a little swifter than he'd expected.

"You've been missing," he said slowly. "You seem fine, but I'd like to be sure you're okay before sending you back out. Come along, it won't' take long."

Wynaut did follow, and Armaldo held the door for them before beginning the trip to the medical wing at a leisurely pace.

He knew better to take things slow in these times, and an ear-piercing scream shook the windows of the guild before one shattered in a thunderous crash.

Armaldo immediately broke into a stomping run as a shout rang out, mixing with the scream before it suddenly cut out.

Chills went down his spine, and he crashed into the medical wing to find Chimecho unconscious on the ground, a dent in the wall, her window shattered, and Guardian fishing someone back with a shadowy tendril.

"What?" Armaldo demanded. The powdery remains of a ghostly attack was fading into nothing on Chimecho's head, a red mark left from a swift attack. "Just happened?"

Guardian pulled a dazed Striker out from the fall to the ocean and set him on a bed.

"Chimecho just started screaming," Guardian said, weary. "Grovyle tried to ask what was wrong, and she sent him out the window. I knocked her out before catching him."

The medical wing was in shambles. Mostly from digging into it to find any trace of this blue sphere, but a few beds were tipped over, the result of a telekinetic shockwave.

Striker had glass embedded in him, and their healer was unconscious.

Armaldo wondered if he'd ever be free of the headache that had been plaguing him for months.

Wynaut backed away from the carnage and wandered out as Armaldo fought to return sense and reason to the world.

Chimecho had smelling salts due to wanting to be prepared for unique situations, and he picked her up and placed her face in a bowl of them while Guardian began pulling the shards of glass out.

"Ow, ow, ow." Striker winced with each bit removed, but Guardian was quick and thorough about it.

"At least it didn't get in your eyes," Guardian murmured, using slight bits of ghostly energy to draw smaller shards out. This was a moment for Saniya, but Saniya was not here, and they didn't have her energy today.

"Shouldn't have gotten out of bed today," Striker muttered. Guardian agreed and pulled another shard out.

"Mmmph. What happened?" Chimecho was coming to, and she felt the twin glare Striker, and Guardian sent her without seeing it. "Who wants to kill me and why?"

She had salt on her face and sneezed. "It burns," she said flatly. "Who do I have to kill and why?"

"You already tried," Striker snorted, and she pushed the salt off her face as Armaldo made his presence known.

"I was just bringing Wynaut to be seen by you when an ear-piercing shriek followed by shattering glass broke the peace. What happened?"

Chimecho gave a silent "Ah" and shivered. "Well, I detected a call from someone in the Psychic Network and entered it to see what it was."

"So suddenly?" Guardian asked. "We were in the middle of something?" He pulled more glass out.

"I've never felt one so urgent," Chimecho explained. "So…yeah, I looked in and then just…pain."

Her eyes went a little hollow for a moment; she actually couldn't remember much. Just going in, hearing something, then-

"Oh!" she gasped. "There was a massive emergency call being sent out that I felt moments before the pain! Something about…oh dear."

She glanced worriedly at Guardian; he had a lot of glass. "Meowth of Team Ion being…kidnapped by an audino."

Guardian pulled another glass out and didn't react. Striker's mouth fell open, Guardian pulled another, roughly. "Ow!"

Another. Another. Another.

"Guardian!" Striker was bleeding now and pushed Guardian back from him, a few lines of blood dripping down his chest. Guardian was silently stoic, his chest beginning to heave.

"…where?" Guardian whispered.

The room felt…unwise to be in, and even Armaldo debated moving this to a wider area.

"Where, Chimecho?" Guardian demanded, still as soft as before.

His voice was a whisper, a promise on the wind, a deep and melodic curl along the ears. It was the voice he spoke as The Great Dusknoir, rousing crowds to believe in him and make friends everywhere. It was the voice of a very dangerous pokémon.

Armaldo was tensed, ready to do something if he had to.

"The area around the Crest dungeon and Hillcrest Town," Chimecho said equally as softly.

The Great Dusknoir nodded and rose up. "Heal Grovyle, I am going to the town to ask for Alakazam. If you have been attacked through the Psychic Network now that this has happened, it is undoubtedly unsafe and the work of evil."

With that, he floated up and out of the guild, disregarding anything polite and phasing right through the ground, a very upsetting sight to anyone not acclimated to it.

With his absence, the mood changed in the room. Striker had gone very pale, and that was only probably due to blood loss, and Chimecho rose up and then nearly face planted.

"Oow," she groaned.

"Calm yourself," Armaldo said, drifting to the medical supplies to begin gathering a thing or two. "You yourself have just been injured. Dusknoir will be gone for at least a bit of time."

"You're intimidated by him?" Striker asked.

"No," Armaldo said, and that was the truth. He had monhandled Guardian and taken him to Magnezone without hesitation some time ago. "But I am aware of what he can do."

What he would have done for his son.

"I didn't know you knew anything medical," Chimecho said weakly as she watched Armaldo prepare bandages and pain relief.

He snorted. "What? You thought a criminal on the run couldn't take care of himself? Junior absolutely couldn't do anything healing, never could. How he survived without me is a mystery."

"I didn't mean-"

He silenced her with something to chew on and began stopping Striker's blood flow before mopping it up.

The two pokémon sat in an awkward kind of silence as grouchy Guildmaster Armaldo tended to their wounds. Striker had lots of puncture wounds, not as much glass though, what was left Chimecho was able to pluck out once her head stopped pounding.

Chimecho herself had taken a knock to the back of the head along with a slash to the face from Guardian's reprisal and had a pounding headache.

"The Psychic Network," Armaldo said stiffly. Chimecho nodded, despite Guardian's smart advice, they had to check.

She closed her eyes and briefly pushed back in. The place was flickering; the alarm was cascading through it before the lights went out. Something was moving, somehow, unseeable and swiftly, striking the lights out one by one. Panic was across it, but it was brief as minds either recoiled or were attacked.

She felt something far away ease her mind slightly before she pulled out before the unseen threat came for her again.

"It's going down," she said grimly.

"It's happening again," Armaldo said gruffly, causing Striker to wince as he pulled a bandage tightly. "Again. Again. Again. Darkrai was only a few months ago. Why? Again?"

"M-Maybe it's not," Chimecho began.

Armaldo fixed her with a glare, only it was not a glare; it was the tired gaze of a pokémon with far too much weight on his shoulders. Her mouth slowly shut.

Striker was still pale. "Soothe has Scout," he said under his breath.

"Is she behind this?" Armaldo growled.

Chimecho just looked worried, perhaps even afraid. She wanted to push out to that calming presence again, but it had come with a lingering warning. She almost wanted to say something.

Do not.

"She has Scout," Striker repeated. "…why?"

"Why again?" Armaldo said. "Why is this happening again? What is going on that we don't understand? WHAT?"

"He…Scout…."

"The network is down, something is attacking it, Scout has gone missing BY a Shadow Pokémon. Whatever she is doing…."

"We…have to…."

Armaldo suddenly stood up straight, head nearly hitting the roof. "There is nothing to be done wallowing here. Whatever is going on, we will be ready for it. I have to start preparing." He stomped out, shouting out for apprentices to come to him as Chimecho wavered in fear and Striker felt an old shadow grip him.

He had struck Azelf once, and Rhythm had begged for another chance for him.

Azelf….

Striker stood up. "I'm going to get us help this time." And hopped out of the room, leaving nothing but Chimecho in her ruined medical room.


"The Crest, gentlemon," Alakazam said after appearing with his cargo.

"Thank you." Sean gave him a hefty sack of poké, waving off Alakazam's concerns. "I don't…care, just take it. Thank you for everything you've done."

Really, wasn't Alakazam a tenth ranger of the saving the world teams that had been put together?

Sean had to run to catch up to Guardian, who did not even pause to give any words; he just immediately began to hunt.

The sun was very bright today, and Sean felt something tingly in his stomach. "Will you?" Guardian asked; Sean nodded.

It was an unspoken thing among them, for the most part. Sean didn't like opening up his aura senses; it was too foreign to his still-human mind. Sure, there were myths and legends of human aura users, but he just wasn't used to the sudden intrusion a riolu's rough control brought.

So, he withheld it. Put it in a box over his heart, put that box in a crate, placed bars on the crate and buried it in cement before tossing it into the ocean.

But sometimes, that box had to rise to the top, even be opened. And this was important.

He was not a lucario, but he could still sense some things.

Hopefully, they'd at least be able to find Rai, Mane, and Wigglytuff and get what happened out of the cat's mouth.

Sean had first experienced aura when he first woke as a riolu. Head aching and body unfamiliar, he met the eyes of a baffled grovyle he had a vague familiarity with and experienced a massive surge of complex emotions all at once from him.

It spilled out of him, turning him to panic and striking the grovyle with every ounce of his confusion and panic all at once.

It hadn't been a good day, all things considered, and Sean never wanted to hear Striker cry out like that ever again.

To explain what the aura felt like was to explain sight to someone who had been born without eyes. Not that sight was not a concept to them, for it was just in another way.

He couldn't describe what aura was like in its rawest form, but he could liken it to some things. Colours, smells, sensations. His other senses did their best to make sense of it to a mind that couldn't. It was incomplete, five out of six senses, missing that one final piece to see the whole picture.

But it was enough.

Everything living had some sort of aura. Perhaps aura was life force, but it wasn't a soul. Something else, not really life force either. It was only the closest Sean could maybe draw a connection to.

Plants and trees had little, or perhaps just existed, in a way that his fleshy body didn't really know what to make of. Tasting like green or smelling like the quintessential mossy garden, he had trouble likening it to sight, but most trees felt like the sound of wind through branches.

Plants were easy to describe, people were far, far, more difficult, and Sean couldn't even begin to describe his P.H.D length thesis on what Guardian felt like, let alone anyone else.

The one plus was that everyone's aura was so unequivocally them that it was difficult to mistake. On the surface, many if not most auras looked alike. If he was to look at a strange bibarel and a strange gible, he might not be able to see much of anything different.

He knew Rai and Mane, Scout and Striker, Guardian and Saniya. He knew them.

Sadly, his aura senses did not extend far and were choked out by all the plant life around them. The plight of being the riolu, he sensed everything and couldn't shut it out. It was all or nothing. Thankfully, at least, plants didn't express much being, at least not the kind his mind could develop a headache over.

The shade given by the trees was nicer than the pockets of beaming sunlight. Every time he stepped into the light, something tingled in his belly, but he was too distracted by everything to focus on it.

The tingle didn't fade as he stepped into the shadows but sunk deeper, into his veins, below the claws hidden in his paws, underneath his tongue.

It was not the time to focus on that.

He had Guardian counting on him.

His stomach was tensed.

Alakazam had not brought them right to the Crest but a known teleportation spot relatively close by. They didn't go to the Crest but searching the woods around them on the way to Hillcrest.

"Anything?" Guardian asked, tone clipped.

"The trees are messing with me," Sean said, wincing.

"Very well. There will be no trees."

"Wait!"

Too late. Guardian began to strike them down with blades of shadow and blasts of Shadow Ball's. Well…it was working, but only technically.

"Guardian, stop."

"They are in the way," Guardian said vaguely, gesturing at stumps. "Now they are not."

Armaldo wasn't intimidated by Guardian, probably for a good reason, and frankly, neither was Sean. But he had been once, and he didn't like seeing reminders of what Guardian had become.

The tingly feeling went away.

Guardian's baleful eye drifted down to his, and Sean stared back unflinching.

Striker was not with them.

"We need to find-"

"Destroying the place isn't going to help," Sean said.

"You said-"

"You're going to exhaust yourself; there have to be millions of trees. You won't even get a chink of them before burning yourself out!"

Guardian seemed to puff out as if being bigger meant he could. Then he deflated.

"…then we continue searching as is," he said softly.

"I can still sense some," Sean said, wanting to make him feel better. "Just close by."

"That'll have to do."

They returned to looking. It wasn't that Sean wasn't worried about Scout as well. Honestly, he couldn't bring himself to think about what might have happened to Scout.

He just hoped the warning got out as soon as it had happened, although he feared that was unlikely. If they were still close by, they had a better chance if it took longer to get out….

Well, it had taken them most of the day just to get to this point. Who knows?

Who knows….

/

Rhythm carried an unconscious espurr on his back while a marowak with a fiery bone trailed alongside him quietly.

Rai had made it clear, he was not welcome in Team Ion any longer. So, with no other idea of what to do, Rhythm began to walk back to Treasure Town.

Hoping he'd run into Soothe on the way. She'd warned him away from the guild in a roundabout way, but now things were going grim again, and Rhythm had to believe…believe not only in Soothe but maybe himself as well. Whatever she was doing, he believed she'd do the right thing.

Rai and Mane were struggling.

They'd searched for Scout and Soothe for an entire day and night and most of another day on top of that.

Felines weren't known for their endurance and cardio skills, and while they as explorers had built up a good amount of stamina, it only went so far.

"I think we need to take a load off," Mane said suddenly. The first words he'd spoken in almost two days.

Rai almost didn't hear him, too tired, determined, and not prepared to listen. "Wha?"

Mane's eyes were red for a lot of reasons, but he curled his lips into a smirk and brushed up against Rai. "Get it?"

"No."

Mane bumped him, and Rai fell bonelessly onto his side. "Gonna need you firmer than that," he purred, leaning it. Rai's paws reached his shoulders before he could do anything, however.

"What. Are you doing?"

"What do you think, babe?"

"Mane, stop!"

"Aww." He pouted and then licked Rai's nose. "Give me a chance. I can relax us both."

"Mane," Rai's tone touched something, and Mane did pause. "Don't do this, please."

Mane blinked innocently.

Rai's expression was crumbling. He'd yelled, screamed, and been driven. Not once had he let himself cry.

Mane being silent was somehow better than this.

Because Rai knew what Mane was doing.

It was his old fallback when he couldn't handle his own emotions.

Mane leaned in again and licked below Rai's eye where a tear did fur, whispering something comforting. He was purring something fierce, and Rai hated that he didn't hate it.

"Please," Mane asked softly, and Rai might have said yes had they not been interrupted.

"Found them!"

Mane recoiled impressively as Sean and Guardian came charging through the brush. His own expression crumpled as he took a heavy breath. Rai's tail curled around his, and he whispered. "I'm worried."

The Great Dusknoir rose up, ready to demand answers and explanations of how they could have let this happen. But he was Guardian, he was still Guardian, and he saw them and knew it was not their fault.

"Are you two okay?" Sean asked carefully, boxing his aura up and sinking it deep within him. He couldn't look at them like that when just his eyes made his heartache.

There was not an immediate response to Sean's weak question before Mane cracked a smirk. "Do we look alright to you?"

"No."

Mane didn't even snort at the response, just closing his eyes slowly and sinking to the ground and placing his head on the leaves. Rai kept on standing, fuelled mostly by spite at this point.

"…what happened?" Guardian asked.

A flicker of anger returned to Rai, and he squinted against tears. "Wigglytuff knew all along that 'Victory' wasn't Victini but was actually Soothe leading us into a trap."

Guardian's eye flickered dangerously.

"He believes she's not evil," Mane said. "He trusts her for some reason." Rai's hackles raised, but Mane was just stating what Wigglytuff believed. "Trusts her more than he trusts any of us, it seems."

Guardian needed a moment to compose himself again.

"Where is he?" Sean asked.

"I sent him to warn the continent," Rai said. "He knows better than to come back here now."

That explained how the warning got out at least; Wigglytuff did that at least.

"Can you tell us what happened?" Sean asked softly.

Rai nodded, and so they did.

"We came to Hillcrest like the letters were telling us too. Minior fell from the sky during the festival, and that was terrifying."

"We got two letters, one saying one thing and another saying plans had changed and to come to the Crest," Mane continued. "Should have guessed something off had happened."

"Soothe was in Treasure Town," Sean revealed, and both of them closed their eyes in pain. "She was Bidoof's friend Bell, actually. She…." He needed to tell them, had to word it carefully. They were scared. "She helped us. She stopped a hidden pokémon that might have made several townsfolk go missing and then disappeared."

They eyed him warily.

"Why?" Mane asked.

"We don't know," Sean answered. "Bidoof got put in jail for it all, but he…I trust him." The words came back to him. "She…whatever she's doing, she did help." He didn't say maybe she was not so evil; she'd kidnapped Scout. But it didn't need to be spoken to offer some hope.

"Perhaps," Guardian said gravely. "Just perhaps Scout is going with her willingly?"

"Why would he do that?" Rai demanded, offended at the mere suggestion.

"Saniya," Guardian answered as if that explained it all. And in a way, it did.

"Look," Mane said. "Saniya is great and all, but…but Scout wouldn't just do this to us! Not just for her, not without finding a way to let us in on it!"

"Maybe he thinks he can convince her of Saniya's plan," Guardian theorised.

Rai and Mane shared a look. "What…plan?" Rai asked.

Guardian, and Sean, blinked in confusion. "The plan that Giratina outlined!"

Again, they were puzzled.

"You… don't know?" Guardian asked, concerned.

"What plan!?" Rai shouted. He was tired, frazzled, and seriously on edge. Mane debated flirting some more to direct that 'energy' elsewhere and began thinking of electric pick-up lines.

Sean's expression turned a little concerned. "I suppose you've been travelling a lot. Not long after we all split up to do our respective thing, we managed to find Giratina, and, among other things, it explained how to purify the Shadow. Saniya and I should be able to do it together without too much risk, so she's gone out to find the other Celebi to learn her side of it."

He shrugged. "I've just got to contain it. We realised that if we could learn this and then find Soothe, we could purify her. So, we asked Chimecho to tell you guys to make sure to just bring her in. You…you didn't hear it?"

"We got no messages," Mane confirmed.

"…Chimecho mustn't have been able to find you."

Guardian was looking concerned again that hope was dashed against the rocks if Scout didn't know the plan. So, there had to be something else.

"Continue your side," he requested, and Rai continued.

"Well, we got to the Crest and went in. At the end, a Slumber Orb hit us, and I saw Soothe. When we woke up, Scout was gone. We all chased after her right away, but I think the path might have been a decoy now."

"We've been searching ever since," Mane finished. "There's no sign of either of them. Hopefully, this place will get fucking stormed by pokémon once people hear that a saviour has been kidnapped by a Shadow Pokémon. He better be okay; if she's hurt him…."

He didn't want to finish that sentence. Although the idea that they may have the ability to purify at least relieved the wound slightly.

Just in case the worst happened….

Unless she wasn't evil? She'd helped at town? But why did Wigglytuff lie? But…but…but.

There were too many unknowns here. Was this what it was like to be Scout all the time? Playing with about three different manuals, one in French and another in German, and all of them missing random pages?

"We need to find him," Guardian said. "But you two need rest."

"No, we don't!" Rai insisted, standing on wobbly legs.

"We do," Mane said flatly. "Imagine what Scout would say when you can't even tackle-hug him."

"What would he say if you're flirting was as tepid as your fire?"

"See?" Mane managed to get up to bump Rai over again and laid on him.

"Don't do this again," Rai mumbled.

"I'm not," Mane assured but licked his neck anyway. "I'm allowed to be a sleaze as well as love you. I'll save the shock jokes for later."

"You're giving in too easily," Rai groaned, but Mane's inner heat eased his aching muscles, and he couldn't keep his eyes open. "This isn't fair."

"I trust them," Mane murmured into Rai's fur.

Rai was slipping. "…me too."

Guardian and Sean looked over the two as they settled, and Guardian gave a sigh. "Go," he said. "I'll guard them."

"That is part of your name," Sean joked weakly. "Are you sure I shouldn't wait?"

"No, we don't want to lose any more time."

"I…I could guard them?"

"You could, but between the two of us, you stand a better chance. You're smaller, faster, less terrifying and can use your aura senses."

"Sean," Mane's voice was sharp and clear, and he pulled up from Rai slightly to shake his fur away from his neck. "Take the Silver Bow."

Sean was taken aback. "Pardon?"

"Guardian, can you remove it?" There was something excited but also steely in Mane's voice.

Guardian could and did so with a tendril, taking it into his hand and feeling it for a long moment.

"It was Scout's first," Mane said, slumping down on Rai again. "If there's anything at all it might do to help you…."

"I don't-"

"Please," Mane said. And that was that.

Sean quietly took the Silver Bow and held onto it firmly. "I… I'll do my best," he said, instead of anything else.

Mane nodded and then subsequently lost consciousness.

"Be careful," Guardian asked, holding out a Rollcall Orb after resting it on Rai and Mane to register them to it. It'd only last about a day before resetting, and the range wasn't infinite, but just in case, he'd be able to call upon them.

Sean took it with a grateful smile.

He turned tail and opened the box again. He shivered in the cresting sunlight; it was nearing dusk but not quite there yet. The tingle was back, stronger now that he held the Silver Bow, but he had a mission to do and set his mind on that instead.


"What the fuck is that?" Rumble said, hackles raised and flames crackling. Kogeki said nothing, but his fur had spiked up, and he crackled with electricity.

"A friend," Nelia said soothingly, drawing a hand across the monsters stony surface, dipping into the shadowy texture and causing it to twitch.

"You have friends?" Rumble said, disbelieving.

Nelia turned a half-smile on him that was more distressing than any glare could. "Would you like to talk to her?"

His eyes flicked to the creature; he didn't have any idea what that was. Rocky, serpentine, shadowy. Was it a Ghost or something pure Shadow? He had no idea.

Its empty, hungry eye gazed blankly at him, and Rumble felt a phantom itching go down his back. A constant prickle that had remained even after he revived, the feeling of the Fallen stroking his back as she murdered him.

Nelia's smile did not change yet deepened as Rumble was cowed and shrunk away, pressing near to Kogeki as if that was of any safety or comfort.

"Hmm," Nelia hummed, closing her eyes and considering the next step. It'd be lovely to drag the entire town into hell, but the pieces had to be moved carefully, and she had detected something being sent out in the Psychic Network before she crashed it.

Something she'd need to review in private, where Rumble's snide comments weren't there to distract her.

Still, the guild was burning, so time was not in strong supply, no matter how well she'd planned it.

"Violet, dear, take Rumble and Kogeki out back and tend to them. They got a little scratched up by the unevolved guild pokémon."

Violet, for that was what the monster once was, nodded, giving off the sound of scratching stones before sinking into Nelia's shadow.

"P-What?" Rumble squawked before yelping as something grabbed him through his shadow, Kogeki as well.

"Play nicely on your tea party," Nelia called before the two were dragged into the shadows and out of sight.

Violet was very useful, Nelia thought as she strolled towards her town. Truly it was almost a pity she waited so long to use the painting on her. But only almost, visiting her dear friend for companionship over the last few millennia had served a better purpose.

With her boredom relieved for the day, Nelia put on her people face. The citizens of Blackstone Village had never been overly connected to the Clefable Guild. The guild had not been permitted to have their base within the confines of the town itself and had long been regarded as an outsider.

It was the guild's fault that the place was a dead tourist zone. Not many people wanted to visit the dangerous place outlaws were kept or go further to where the rest of them lived free, untouched by the so-called mighty guild.

It wasn't an overt resentment, not in the least. The Clefable Guild, and Clefable herself, were well respected, and their role in society was a sorely needed one.

But they were always the outsider. It was Blackstone Village and the Clefable Guild. It was Indeedee and Abra, two connections to the Psychic Network.

Nelia knew that Clefable had never really liked her. That was fine; everyone else did. But the times they had met to discuss important matters, Nelia could always sense a restrained sense of scorn.

What a silly pokémon.

Descending into town, Nelia ensured a most calming smile upon her face. She was well known as a relaxing figure to be around, a kindly listener and someone you always felt safe with. It was easy to start young, care for the babes while she did her paperwork, imparting an emphatic sense of calm upon them, so they were used to it.

Even the Ghost's and Psychic's of the town did not realise their belief in her words was affected by empathy. That the calm, steady leadership she was, was ingrained in them.

It was important because sometimes things went a little awry, and she had to be convincing to ensure they didn't try and peak under the covers.

"Citizens!" Indeedee said, putting on a relieved expression as she met a crowd of curious pokémon. Smoke had been noticed, and there was a debate on who to go. Arcanine was the fastest and had already left; Nelia sent a silent note to Violet to ensure he does not mess this up on her.

"I've just returned from seeing Clefable," she explained. "Seems that there was a small accident with a training Torkoal, and it has blown a lot of smoke around, so for everyone who has sensitive noses or hay fever, you might want to visit Glameow."

That was an acceptable answer, and they trusted her and her steady calmness and began to dissipate.

She swiftly moved on, giving greetings to many pokémon as she came along, not stopping for gossip as she normally would.

"Very busy, all the paperwork, you know how it is."

A few chuckles were given at Indeedee and her paperwork; it seemed that it never ended.

Someone was waiting for her, and she rather wanted to chat with him before the hour was out.

After extracting herself from the various happy pokémon, Nelia entered her place of work.

He was there.

"Why Trill, you should have told me," she said as the bird behind the desk stiffened. "If you wanted to spend time with your apprentices, you might as well have asked."

Trill was a very smart, very clever pokémon. And those were two different things.

He did not reply to her immediately, not with words, not even with emotion. There was a curious flattening of effect and expression, effectively giving her radio silence as to what he was thinking as his emotions themselves seemed to flatline.

Yet that in itself told her too much.

"I trust it was to your satisfaction?" he asked stiffly. He fluttered his wings, a nervous habit he'd taken from one way of living to another.

Nelia smiled dreamily and stepped up to the table, propping an elbow and then her head on her hand. Staring much too closely at him. "Well, I'm afraid not."

Flattened affect again, too clever for his own good, really. It wasn't as fun if they didn't rise to it all.

"…I see," he said when she didn't elaborate. There was a muted yearning for that to be elaborated on before he quashed it. He so did love being in the know.

"I'd almost thank you," she continued, cheerfully wondering how much it'd take to see his composure crack. "It's so rare that people are so eager to help me that they move my plans up for me without asking."

Her tone was light and full of levity.

Trill shivered and brushed it off as another flap.

"I had…perhaps foolishly assumed you would be pleased," he said stiffly.

She continued to smile dreamily. "Ohh, I am," she assured him, raising a hand to pet at some of his feathers. He looked most uncomfortable at the contact. "But it's still a little reckless. After all, what would I do if they escaped?"

Something distant and small in Trill's eyes was snuffed out by her words, and he swallowed. Logically, he still remembered caring for them like his own chicks.

Little Sunkern, furiously driven to show that any pokémon can be strong. He made sure to guide her the right way and put her passion for helping and improving herself while fostering that fiery strength that made her unique. One day a mission came up to find a Sun Stone, and Trill let Blossom take it despite even Rhythm not being sure if she could handle it.

"This is something she wants to do," he had said. "Nay, perhaps needs to." And Rhythm had accepted that, knowing Trill knew them better than he did.

He remembered quiet little Whismur, unable to speak up for himself. He was bold, for sure, but suffered from selective mutism. That hadn't gone away after he evolved. Rather Trill took it upon himself as a similarly voice-orientated pokémon to coax and coach him to know when to speak, why to speak, where to speak, what to say, and how to say it.

Eventually, they moved on to singing; there were few greater embarrassments Trill had than showing off his singing voice. He only did it for Rhythm at request, but Boom had needed it, so he taught him. Eventually, he wouldn't shut up, but Trill could never bring himself to chastise him too much for being loud when so much of his life he'd been so quiet.

And then…Corphish. He'd once lived in Drowned Cave before it had become the dungeon. Saved by some graduates of the Wigglytuff Guild, along with his parents, just in time.

He was such an odd little fellow, but Trill had liked him. Jet was quiet where Boom and Blossom weren't, but just as perceptive as Blossom with just as much bite as Boom. He was a steady rock, and Trill had wanted to see that fostered. He'd never be the flashiest, the big guy, or the leader. But he'd be their rock that carried them forwards.

And now they were dead. Dead because of him.

Logically he grieved, but that was the most he could do. The Shadow of Kabutop's scythe had bled more than his blood. It had taken his love with it, staining the floor of Brine Cave until there was nothing left.

Nelia watched it all with a smile. Despite what he believed, it wasn't all gone. At least, not yet.

"Pity you don't have an answer," she said as if he'd really been silent in the wake of her words. "I might do with some advice since I now need to figure out what to do exactly."

"Pardon?" Ah, there it was. That snuffed spark sputtering back to life.

"Blossom, she escaped," Nelia said casually. "Jet and Boom sacrificed themselves so nobly to do it. Of course, she has to live with the weight of knowing that had she not used the Rollcall Orb to bring them to us, only she would have died, and they may have lived. Ah well, lesson learned, I suppose."

A flicker crossed his face as fast as a shadow would, and she felt it in a moment, raw disgust for everything that was in front of him. Her smile did not abate; Trill did not show it.

"I would suppose you'd go after her," he said, slowly, as if trying to pluck racing thoughts out of his head and couldn't focus on talking like a normal person.

"Why is that?"

"She…she would reveal you to the world," Trill spluttered a little. He didn't like this, being forced to explain why Nelia should kill his student.

These were the games she played.

"Hm," she hummed, pretending to think it over. "You might be right." She put a little too much teasing into the voice as his eyes narrowed a fraction, catching onto her. There was nothing he'd say that'd be the reason she'd decide to kill Blossom.

Smart and clever, after all.

Nelia giggled as the moment broke and pulled back. "Well, I've got a thing or two to think about. Your dear sweet friend seems to have done something a tad bit silly. One could say she's trying to goof me." She raised her eyebrows at the idea. "Me of all pokémon? How silly."

Trill observed her carefully, itching to speak, but unlike Rumble, he knew how to hold his tongue.

Nelia had gone through what she had detected before sending out her little plaything into the Psychic Network. Trill was fun but very slow, and she had time to pick it apart.

In one instant, she had been very, very, angry. In another, she had returned to serene and continued teasing Trill.

"What has she done?" Trill asked because he still was the partner of Rhythm and Soothe and was a lot more brash than people realised.

"She's kidnapped Scout," Nelia answered, entirely honestly. And she smiled at his expression. "Oh yes. And I have my doubts she's on her way here to deliver him into mother's arms, so I have a sinking suspicion she's striving to something seriously…silly.

Trill turned green. Alliteration brought back only one memory, a scythe ripping through his chest.

Nelia was back to serene. "Hm. Hm. Hmm…Soothe is an unfortunate risk now." She handled a thin silvery tube, pointed at the end with groves like a flute. She did not handle it with her hand because that'd be rather foolish indeed; rather, it floated above her hand, bobbing and turning as she examined it curiously.

She chuckled and banished it. "Really, I am kinda impressed. By taking the channel, I had hoped, apparently vainly, that she'd be forced to come crawling back before she hurt that precious bidoof of hers. Instead, she's done the stupidest possible thing. I suppose it's true what they say." She shrugged. "No plan survives contact with the stupid."

Trill didn't respond, and she sighed. "In some ways, I'd prefer to have Rumble here; at least he'd make inane comments, so it wasn't like I was talking to myself."

He rolled his eyes, so daring. "Fine. Why is what she has done so foolish?"

"Besides the obvious?"

"Besides that, yes."

"Too bad, I'm going to exposition at you anyway." Trill sighed. "Without this channel, she's liable to the Reverse Mode, and having also left the Connection Orb, there's no way for me to contact and 'soothe' Soothe. She's a big bubble of constrained murder, and that'd be okay normally. But I'm not actually sure what would happen if she wrung the cat's thin neck."

She rubbed her chin, fantasising for a bit. "Yeah, this could be a problem. A big problem. The biggest of problems, actually. Hm. Hm. Hm."

"How can you be sure she's not coming here to…deliver him?" Trill asked, filing away the fact that Scout was important for later considering.

"Trill, please." Nelia rolled her eyes. "I'd deduct points for something that obvious to get me to talk, but I did want leading questions, and you are at least speaking the dumb ones rather than not at all."

He tried not to puff up in irritation at that.

And failed.

"Soothe never knew when to accept defeat and play nice," she explained slowly as if demeaning a child. "I thought you would know that by now. You spent enough time around her."

"Perhaps I never really knew her," he said stiffly.

"Ohh, you did. And also didn't. She never did tell you guys much of anything, did she? Peh. She's a difficult one, a very difficult one. But very fun to play with."

"Hmm, I suppose Timber leaked the news to her, and she figured something out she wasn't meant to," Nelia mused, putting some pieces together. "Ah Soothe, such a rash young lady. She never does learn. She never does learn….

She snapped her fingers. "Alright. I've decided what we're going to do. You've inspired me, Trill, really you're incredible."

Trill leaned in, morbidly curious.

"The Clefable Guild won't stay secret much longer, even with Violet dealing with Arcanine. Clefable herself is still alive, assuming Rumble actually did as he was told and didn't outright kill her. Either way, we'll be seeing a few more friends very soon, yours and mine."

And the ones buried underground, screaming in the cages.

It was a shame most pokémon weren't strong enough to maintain themselves. The caged maddened ones were dangerous only in their savagery; there was no finesse or mystique about them. They were useful for about one to three things.

But at least she had a few that were strong enough to hold onto themselves. Her generals, in a sense.

Hopefully, Clefable would be reasonable, but Nelia had the means to buy that for at least the short term.

For now, she had to be ready.

"Trill, go to your little murder trap and be ready to release them at my signal. Perhaps if it takes long enough, you might even be able to see if Jet or Boom are strong enough to hold onto themselves, although I personally doubt that quite a lot."

Trill ruffled his feathers and flew off. For all his foolish arrogance at trying to alert Team Voyage of what was really going on, it really did work out pretty alright.

Blossom was not a threat.

No matter how far she ran.

And run she did.

Run through the trees after Jet and Boom gave themselves up for her. She ran to the town and then avoided it because Nelia knew she would be too paranoid to trust anyone there and that the guilt of leaving them all unknowing would eat at her later on.

She ran to Yellow Petal Town, shrieking, but the Psychic Network was down. So she ran on, blurting out half warnings from a hysterical pokémon about another few knew. Those that did knew was an upstanding individual.

After all, no indeedee were evil. They couldn't be. They'd die.

"By the time we leave Blackstone Village, it will be burning."


Sorry this chapter took as long as it did. I had some trouble getting the opening segment done, but once it was, I wrote the whole thing in one day!

You might be noticing that unlike the previous villains of The Great Dusknoir and Darkrai, we see what Nelia is doing a lot. Unlike them, she's a FAR more active villain, and we'll be seeing what she's up to a lot.

The discord if you want: discord . gg/bHxZZF58