0.

~\({O})/~

37.

Port Archaios

~\({O})/~

Sand Continent ~ Waters

Slowly coming to. The smell of sea salt on the air roused Espurr from her shallow slumber.

She sat up where she was, yawning. Besides her, Tricky snored loudly, in a much deeper sleep than Espurr had been. Under one of her paws was the bag of buns they had brought along with them, and judging by the crumbs around her, Espurr gathered she had eaten a midnight snack. Only then, when Espurr blinked the blurriness out of her vision, did she remember where they were.

All she could see for miles around them was the endless deep blue expanse of sea, dotted by clouds on the horizon and the occasional ships scattered around in the near distance. It must have been nearly afternoon; the sun shone down brightly on them from above and made it hard for Espurr's eyes to adjust at first.

They were both on the small back balcony of the ship that they had hopped onto last night, with only a set of barky railings crafted from branches separating them and the sea. It creaked and swayed with the rest of the boat, making Espurr feel unsteady where she sat. Even though she hadn't moved an inch since she had fallen to sleep last night.

She sat up and stretched, feeling an unfamiliar weightlessness on her right shoulder as she did. The strap of Gabite's old exploration bag on her shoulder was missing, something she had become accustomed to even though she never wore it when she slept. Except…

Wait. She had gone to bed wearing it, hadn't she?

That was when Espurr snapped awake completely. She frantically scrabbled around as quietly as she could, looking around for the exploration bag. It was nowhere to be seen, not even near Tricky, who liked to use it as a pillow. With dismay, Espurr noted that the gaps between the railings were just wide enough for their bag to slide through. They must have lost it in the night somehow…

Caught on one of the railings was the nearly empty pouch of blast seeds, gently blowing in the wind. Espurr wasted no time lunging forward and grabbing it before it could fall into the ocean, though it was quite firmly attached to the railing by its rending seams. She scrambled back from the edge, quickly opening the pouch to see if anything was left in there. Inside sat a lone blast seed, at the very bottom of the bag. Espurr hugged it close. If there was one thing in the bag she would have chosen to save, that would have been high on her list. They were at least that lucky.

The number of ships floating in the water around them had nearly doubled the further the ship traveled. With this many boats around, they had to be near something. Espurr nudged Tricky, trying to wake her gently as possible.

"Tricky," she whispered. "Get up. We're here."

Tricky made some indiscernible growling noises, then something that sounded like 'I'm too tired, pops', but Espurr kept shaking. She couldn't be this deep a sleeper, right?

Almost like it was a reflex, Tricky suddenly lunged forward to bite Espurr's arm. Espurr jumped back just in time, but she went too far. She hit the wall of the cabin with a loud bump.

The sudden noise seemed to have alerted whoever was in the ship's cabin. Espurr, who was wide awake at this point, looked towards the cabin with sudden fear. Tricky, who had finally been stirred awake by the bump, just stared around in confusion.

Before Espurr could do anything, the door to the back balcony suddenly opened. Bunnelby lazily stepped out, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he looked around to see what had made the noise. When he saw Espurr and Tricky, he froze. Then jolted to awakeness.

"Wh-what are you two doing aboard?" he asked in shock.

That was the point where Espurr decided this day had it out for her.

Too late to disappear or make a quick escape. She needed to give him some kind of answer that sounded believable for two kids to pull, and didn't involve creepy mushroom assassins in any way, shape or form. So she said the first thing she could think of:

"Uhhhhh… we got bored."

~\({O})/~

Main Cabin

The buns were a little flattened. Somehow, though, even after all the abuse Gabite's old exploration bag had taken, they were still recognizable as buns. Espurr and Tricky dug into them relentlessly, painting the wooden floor with crumbs.

At some point, one of them had offered a bun to Bunnelby. Bunnelby said he only ate raw vegetables and turned them down.

"One of you is going to need to explain to me how you thought it was okay to sneak out in the middle of the night and stow away on a ship you didn't even know the destination of just because you were bored," he told them, his voice taking on the tone of a parent calmly lecturing their child. He sat opposite them on one of the ship's crates, his arms folded. He did not look amused.

"Well, we knew the destination," Tricky let slip through a mouthful of bun. Espurr froze at that. Stupid stupid stupid—

Wait. Maybe she could work with that.

"We… really wanted to see the Sand Continent," Espurr said. "Ever since we were little kits."

Tricky beside her caught on fast enough, to Espurr's relief. She nodded rambunctiously in agreement, humming through a mouth that was full enough to have an entire bun in it.

"So when we heard that the ship was going here, we stowed away."

"Where did you hear the ship was going here?" Bunnelby asked. Espurr quickly blanched. That was right. The only place she could have heard that from the briefing the day she got there.

…Maybe it was better to go with the truth for that one.

"The day we got here, I went up to the second floor and overheard some stuff," Espurr said, choosing her words carefully.

There was a moment of silence as Bunnelby processed that. Espurr wasn't so sure whether it was better if he believed them or not.

"I guess there's no point in going back now," Bunnelby said. "We'll have to go with the flow."

"So we can go out and see?" Tricky asked, suddenly energetic.

~\({O})/~

"You're staying on the ship."

"What?!" both Espurr and Tricky cried out at the same time.

"This isn't fair!" Tricky protested. "What are we going to do on the ship all day when there's this big city in front of us?"

"It's up to you," Bunnelby shouted up at them from the dock. "I'd recommend you spend it thinking about why you shouldn't be stowing away on boats just for joyrides!"

Then he walked away, and both Espurr and Tricky were left in silence. That had not gone how Espurr planned it, but as far as she was concerned it had all worked out favorably for them.

"Well, that was a bust," Tricky said, sitting her rump down on the ship's balcony and pouting.

"Yeah.." Espurr said, sitting next to Tricky. "But at least we're alone. Now all we have to do is wait for the beheeyem to come to us."

She tried to sound confident, but the truth was that she couldn't have felt less so. And when the time came, she didn't want to stay on the ship. But at least they didn't have to worry about it for a few more hours.

"What if we told him what's going on?" Tricky asked. "He'd take us into the city that way."

Espurr folded her arms, and took a seat against the ship's mast. The sails gently swayed in the wind above, casting shade down on them.

"Then our plan's messed up," she said. "We're trying to strand them, not get more pokemon involved. Why bring them into the city?"

"Wailord liner approaching!"

The bellow of a loud, large pokemon cut through Espurr and Tricky's ears. Espurr, who had been sitting against the ship's main mast and lounging around in the shade of the sails for the last hour, came to attention with a start.

Both Espurr and Tricky next to her looked behind them, where a large wailord with the scaffolding on it was sailing into the harbor. It cut the waves effortlessly, swimming to a stop at the docks.

"You don't think…" Tricky trailed off.

"What time is it?" Espurr asked, getting to her feet and collecting the bag.

"There's a clock over there," Tricky said, pointing into the town. Sure enough, there was a visible clock tower behind the town gates, an old-fashioned one with a glossy brass bell under it.

Ding dong, rang the clock. The hands were pointed to Nine A.M.

Espurr and Tricky traded looks. Then they scrambled up to the side of the ship, looking at the liner.

If they found them on the ship, this was a closed-off space. Espurr recalled what had happened at Spinda's. The beheeyem weren't afraid to wreck things to get to them. She didn't want to risk destroying the harbor and potentially getting themselves into a bind. It was time to go.

"We can't stay on the ship," Espurr said. "They'll find us here."

"Well, where do we go?" Tricky asked.

"Anywhere," Espurr stressed. "Away from the city. We just have to go. And now!"

She walked up onto the ship's bow, holding her exploration bag and balancing so that she didn't fall off. Tricky walked up behind her, looking down at the docks below.

"That's a pretty long fall," she said, trying to keep the stammer out of her voice.

"I'll cushion it," Espurr said. "Just jump on three. One… two…"

"Three!"

The both of them jumped off the bow, headed for the docks—

Just like Espurr had said, the both of them slowed in descent halfway down, touching the docks like they'd jumped barely a foot.

In the distance, the wailord liner had docked.

"Let's go," Espurr said, paying the wailord liner a steady glance as they began to run in a different direction.

Towards the sands in the distance.

They hadn't gone far when they realized there was a large, solid stone wall blocking them from going any further. It extended far, even out onto the water where it turned and blocked the rest of the coast, and it didn't look like it could be broken by move power alone. It was so high that it looked almost impossible to fly over, let alone climb. Espurr's stomach did a flip-flop at the idea of even climbing that high.

"What now?" Tricky asked.

"A wall like this has got to have a door in the city," Espurr said, now thinking to herself more than anything. "Maybe we have to go in after all."

"And that takes us.." Tricky trailed off.

"Back to the Beheeyem," Espurr finished, looking back the way they came. "We'll just have to be quicker than they are."

The path they followed took them closer and closer to the Wailord Liner. It slowly became less toy-sized as they approached it from the distance. Eventually, it was tall as three stories, and Espurr and Tricky could see crowds that were climbing down off it and onto the docks.

"Isn't this too close?" Tricky asked. "If they're really on that ship, they'll find us here…"

But Espurr was quickly realizing they wouldn't. There was so much noise in this crowd, both mental and physical, and that meant…

"I can't sense anything in this crowd," she said. "And if I can't, they probably can't either."

"So they can't find us?" Tricky asked.

"As long as they don't see us," Espurr answered. "Let's blend in."

And with that, they both scampered out of the alleyway they were hiding in and joined the crowd.

The crowd was tight, cramped, and noisy. Espurr nearly lost Tricky a couple of times in all the chaos and clutter; it took conscious effort from the both of them just to stay together. The crowd slowly funneled down into a single file line as they got further away from the docks and closer to the gates. The pro was that Espurr and Tricky could stay in relatively the same place now without getting lost in the crowd.

The con was that now the crowd was thin enough for the beheeyem to be able to glimpse Espurr and Tricky if they weren't careful. Espurr glanced back every so often, looking for any sign of the beheeyem in the line behind them. Luckily, they weren't in front of them—otherwise Tricky would have spotted them at some point.

"Do you think they just didn't come?" Tricky asked at some point.

"Maybe they didn't…" Espurr said. And she almost wanted to believe it.

But then where were they? Whoever was controlling them couldn't have just called them off.

What neither of them expected was for the beheeyem to approach from the sides.

They passed an alleyway. Tricky happened to look to the left as the line shuffled forward, catching something moving around in the shadows. It looked like… She recognized it immediately. And then pushed Espurr out of the way—

An attack hurled through the air and exploded against the bricks on the other side of the wall. The line descended into chaos.

Espurr picked herself up off the ground quickly. She made sure Tricky was up as well, then quickly pulled her along through the chaos.

"C'mon!" she yelled, swiftly maneuvering over obstacles and members of the terrified crowd. "We need to get to the gate."

She just hoped they could get through quickly enough.

~\({O})/~

~Bunnelby~

Processing wasn't exactly the most exciting thing about explorers' work. Processing for off-continent missions on a place like Sand was especially dull and grating. Bunnelby had to go through two checkpoints—the first to make sure he had the papers to get into the city in the first place, and the second to make sure he had the authorization to get into the continent's restricted areas (which could only be done if signed off on by a high-ranking official at a HAPPI-registered guild.)

He had the necessary papers. It was just that he was going to have to sit through two hot, cramped lines to get it all filed.

Right now, he was in the middle of the first line. The line for passport checking was outside in broad daylight, and it stretched all the way back into the harbor. Bunnelby had been here for at least an hour, and he was finally getting near to the end of it. He could tell the cranidos ahead of him was having heat troubles too—which must have said something, since he was reptilian—and the leavanny behind him had slightly singed leaves. It was hot. But the checkpoint was just ahead, so they'd all be out of it soon. He hoped. It wasn't easy to think of much else right now.

"Identification, please," the monotone diggersby at the gate warbled out. He was wearing a hat that offered some amount of shade, but those big ears obfuscated enough of the hat's brim that it wouldn't do much. "Explorer or tourist?"

"Explorer," Bunnelby said, opening his bag and fishing around in it. He pulled out his passport with an ear, then sealed the bag back up lickety split. "Here's my mission slip. Authorized by the Expedition Society."

The diggersby pulled up a display on a connection orb. "What continent is that on?"

"Water."

A few more clicks on the orb. A grunt.

Diggersby pulled a paper out of one of two identical stacks, set it on the table, and stamped it.

"Keep that on you. It's good for the next three days."

Bunnelby was about to pull the paper off the desk when a shout ran out into the air.

"Bunnelby!"

It was the distinct sound of a child's yelling. Bunnelby's ears deflated a little. He thought he told them to stay on the ship…

Sure enough, Espurr and Tricky were running towards him in the distance. They caught up to the stand in a matter of minutes, huffing and puffing and out of breath.

"We're coming along," Espurr said, almost keeling over from all the running.

"What's this about?" Bunnelby asked, folding his arms angrily. "I thought I said you were staying on the ship!"

"We can explain later!" Tricky said. "We just need to get through!"

"The guard said we had to go here," Espurr explained. "It's important."

This was making a scene. Pokemon in the crowd behind were beginning to get antsy, wondering what was holding up the line. And no matter how Bunnelby cut it… the looks of fear on their face looked genuine. He couldn't say no to that. He just… hoped they weren't playing him.

"They're accompanying me," Bunnelby said to the diggersby. "Stamp them on too."

Two stamps later, and all three pokemon were cleared to enter the other side of the gate.

"Could you please help me with this bag?" the leavanny behind bunnelby asked him. "My leaves are kind of…" she showed him the singed edges.

Bunnelby couldn't say no to that either.

"Of course," he said.

~\({O})/~

Port Archaios

"You two need to explain this to me," Bunnelby said once they were in the inner streets of the city. "Again."

The streets around them were decked out in exotic colors, and smells Espurr had never smelled before hung in the air. It was enough to make her dizzy just from all the new stuff that was going on around her, and almost enough to make her momentarily forget about the situation they were in.

Almost.

She blanched at Bunnelby's demand.

"Espurr, come on," Tricky urged. "You have to tell him."

"It's dangerous," Espurr said. "I don't want to get more pokemon involved than I have to!"

Bunnelby was, of course, right in front of them.

"What's dangerous?" he asked.

Large crowds of pokemon were beginning to file in, and the sounds of a large commotion were beginning to come from the gates they had just walked through. It looked like there had been a holdup at the gates, and even pokemon wearing the fuchsia-colored scarves that marked law-enforcement were arriving and beginning to sort things out.

Bunnelby marched them over to a bench, sitting the both of them down and sitting next to them.

"We're not leaving this bench until you two tell me what's going on," he said.

Espurr glanced at Tricky. She knew it wasn't going to give her an answer she liked, but it was more of a reflex than anything. Tricky's eyes only urged her to tell him.

"There was a pokemon at the harbor who was causing a lot of commotion," Espurr said. "Once that happened, we got out of the ship and ran here. We were hoping we'd catch you."

Tricky looked frustrated. Bunnelby glanced back towards the harbor gates, where there did indeed seem to be a commotion of some kind. It seemed plausible enough.

"Well, if that's all it is…" he said, getting up off the bench. "We'll let the police handle it. It's their job."

"What was that about?" Tricky hissed to Espurr.

"I don't want him in danger," Espurr hissed back. "He's not even involved in this."

"But now we have to go get registered for the mission I'm here to take," Bunnelby said, getting up from the bench. "Let's not waste time."

As much as he wasn't looking forward to standing in another line, he wasn't going to delay it until it got busy.

~\({O})/~

Archeology Division HQ

The headquarters of the Archeology division was the biggest building in town. It was also in the center, the large palace with the gigantic tree sprouting out of it. Fitting that it would be the town's guild and government hall, after all.

But even a great building like that wasn't free of lines. Few of them were actually there on exploration duty—many of them were there for more mundane affairs like city disputes, civilian registration (since you couldn't stay in the town longer than three days with just a paper slip), and merchant business like supply trades. The issue was that for the most part, they were all in the same line until they were filtered out into their own break-off groups. Why it was done this way and not some other, more efficient way, none of them knew.

Bunnelby sat Espurr and Tricky down on an empty banquette. He didn't relish the idea of taking them back into the cramped line, but this place looked safe enough.

"You should be fine here," he said. "Just stay until I get the registration and come back."

Then he left, and Espurr and Tricky were left to their own devices. Espurr craned her neck until she couldn't see him in the crowd anymore. Once he was gone, she leaned back against the seat and at least tried to relax.

Not that relaxing was an easy thing to do in their situation.

"If you told him, he'd be helping us," Tricky said.

"But he'd be in danger," Espurr replied.

"How long are you going to do this?" Tricky asked. "We got a cafe blown up. We ran to another continent. We're in uber trouble!"

"But we're so close," Espurr said. "We're in the city now. All we have to do is find the beheeyem, find the door to the wall, and then strand them out there."

"And what if we get into more trouble then?" Tricky asked. "How do you even know we'll be able to get through that door?"

"We're already in deep trouble," Espurr said. "It's just one last jum—"

"—No," Tricky said. "It's not."

That caught Espurr off-guard.

"What?" she asked.

"It's not just one last jump!" Tricky said. "It's more dangerous than it is now! We'll be all on our own. They can pick us off easy!

"Bunnelby can help us," Tricky continued. "Even if it's dangerous. We just need to tell him what's going on!"

"What tells you he'll even believe us if we tell him the full story?" Espurr countered.

"How do you know he won't?" Tricky stressed. "You never tried!"

Espurr folded her arms.

"I know I'm not good with plans," Tricky said. "But doesn't getting help seem like the better option?"

After the explosion at Spinda's, Espurr wasn't too sure.

"Maybe we can tell the police," she said. "Bunnelby isn't going to get out of that line anytime soon, right?"

The line Bunnelby was in was long and ended at a place Espurr and Tricky could barely see from their seats.

Tricky sighed. "Something tells me no."

~\({O})/~

Port Archaios Police Station

"As it turns out, we've placed an arrest recently for three pokemon similar to the ones you're describing," the totodile at the front desk said. "If you'd like to come back, we can show you some photos and you can tell us if they're the same or not."

"We'd like that," Espurr said, staring up at Totodile from the other side of the desk with Tricky.

The photos were taken in bad lighting, but from safely behind a glass screen. And the contents of the pictures showed what was clearly three beheeyem.

"So they got locked up," Tricky said once they had managed to get themselves situated properly on one of the similarly cushy booths in the police station. "That means we don't have anything to worry about, right?"

"I don't think so," Espurr said. She wasn't entirely comfortable that the walls of a prison could contain the beheeyem, but that prison was built for handling dangerous pokemon. If there was any place that could contain them, this was it.

"See?" Tricky said, looking proud of herself. "I told you getting help was the better option! We would have been worried all day if we hadn't gone!"

Having the beheeyem gone was only one worry off Espurr's mind, but she was happy to take it.

"Yeah," she admitted. "You were right."

~\({O})/~

Port Archaios Jail

The jails were in limited number here, so the Beheeyem had been locked up in a single cell. Not that having the combined power of three pokemon meant anything—the walls were made of a substance that didn't seem to react to their attacks. They couldn't even put a dent into it.

They had several chances to stone their way out of the place. But they didn't. They had been ordered only to makes waves and create confusion when they had to. Turning 'mon to stone would have revealed their tracks too fast. It would have outed them before they had a chance to reach the target.

"Hey." A voice from the cell facing them. An incineroar casually flicked pebbles from the ground besides him into the glass, making a 'plink' noise with each one. "Coneheads. You guys all mutes?"

He annoys them.

Fools.

The voice reverberated through their heads, and only theirs.

I granted you immense power, power no pokemon has seen before. I granted you that power to do one job. And look where you end up.

The atmosphere in the cell and only in that cell suddenly grew too heavy to breathe properly.

I should remove you. There are many pokemon in this world who would do a better job rather than fail me like you have.

The beheeyem were reckless. They can do better.

I expect as much of the pokemon who pledged themselves to be my servants.

They deserve another chance.

Very well.

The heavy atmosphere lifted in a second.

This material is infused with the stone of my mountain. It shall break.

Dark veins spread out through the glass, expanding from within. The glass door of the beheeyem's jail cell suddenly shattered apart.

Go now. They are within your sights.

The incineroar within the other cell quickly stumbled up and backed against the wall of his own cell once he saw and heard the shattering of the Beheeyems'.

"H—" he began. "Wait. I was only messing around. I didn't mean that!"

The beheeyem approached his cell, separated only by the glass of the prison cell.

They would love to use him as a warm-up.

Very well. He is a witness, after all.

The incineroar watched in terror as veins of darkness began to bleed into the glass of his cell. It blew apart the same way the Beheeyems' had, pelting him with slivers of sharp glass. He looked up as the Beheeyem closed in on him, raising their blinkers and rapidly charging a ball made up of black sparks—

~\({O})/~

Police Station Lobby

The sound of something shattering suddenly turned Espurr and Tricky's heads.

The alarms in the police station began to whir. Snapped awake by the alarm, two guards who had been sleeping on their haunches immediately got up and started running for the back.

"You don't think…" Espurr said to Tricky, beginning to get up off the booth.

The screams of two pokemon from within the chamber—the guards.

The totodile at the front desk quickly hopped off her seat. She pressed a button, a gate lowered over the entrance to the back of the station. There was a moment where everything was quiet…

Then the gate blew apart—

Espurr and Tricky hit the ground to avoid being speared by the debris. From the newly cleared entrance to the jails backstage emerged what Espurr had been fearing that entire day: the Beheeyem.

They didn't waste any time. The Beheeyem quickly began to charge another attack. It was all Espurr and Tricky could do to pull the totodile out of the way before the attack could demolish the tiles in the area it hit.

No sooner had they managed to dodge the Beheeyem's attack did Espurr pick herself up, help pull Tricky to her feet, then bolt for the door. They just managed to make it before another attack went flying their way. Espurr kicked the door of the station closed before it could hit them. The attack sent the door flying. The crowd around them reacted with fright as the door sailed over their heads and crashed into the building on the other side of the street.

Espurr and Tricky quickly made themselves scarce in the chaos. Espurr looked back as she ran, seeing the Beheeyem emerge from the side of the building rather than the front. They blended into the crowd, though the tips of their cones stuck out among the top.

Soon, the mental noise of the crowd grew far too immense for any psychic to have a hope of discerning anymon from the rest of the mess. Espurr managed to relax on that front, but that didn't mean the chase was over. Somehow, the beheeyem were still within a dangerous distance from them.

Espurr picked up the speed. She began to bump pokemon out of the way, ignoring the grunts and cries of annoyance as she led Tricky through the crowd.

That was leaving a trail, one the beheeyem were picking up on. They began to follow in the direction she and Tricky were going. That was fine. As long as they got out of here faster they could get lost afterwards. What was a good place to go?

"What if we hid on the roof?" Tricky asked, looking up at the signs that stood on the roofs of many of the buildings. Sure, they didn't all have flat roofs, but those signs were more than big enough to hide behind until the danger had passed. All they had to do was somehow get up there without the beheeyem following them…

"That's a good idea," Espurr said. "We just need to get up there without being followed. Let's try…"

She slowed down, trying to look more causal. There was still a large enough crowd that the mental interference worked in their favor, but the pokemon were beginning to thin out enough now that soon they'd be visible anyway. Espurr scanned the sides of the buildings, looking for an alleyway with a dumpster or something else they could climb on. Soon, her eyes caught sight of one. But it was on the other side of the street. They wouldn't be able to get to it without catching the eyes of the beheeyem, and their window was closing fast.

The hippowdon they were using as a visual shield from the beheeyem was making a right turn, so Espurr smoothy bridged the gap in front of a family of grovyle instead.

"If we can get to that alleyway over there, we can get onto the roof," Espurr said, pointing it out to Tricky. "Be ready to run when I say so."

At this point the beheeyem were much too close for comfort—only a few pedestrians away from them. Espurr caught sight of a few unattended barrels sitting next to one of the buildings. Those would do. With just a mental push, the barrels fell over and rolled into the beheeyem. The door of the storefront they were sitting next to opened, and a large dragonite walked out. He looked down at the barrels angrily.

"Did you knock these over?" He questioned the beheeyem. Espurr quickly took advantage of the distraction, using pedestrians as cover as they both ran for the alleyway so the beheeyem didn't notice.

She wasn't entirely sure if they did or not.

They entered the alley, looking at the trash can that was supposed to be their ticket up onto higher ground. The building was two floors high, and the trash dumpster barely even scaled a fourth of it.

"Get up on top," Espurr said. "I'll propel us."

Tricky did as she said, hopping up onto the dumpster. Espurr followed suit.

"Ready?" she asked. Tricky nodded. "One… Two… Three…"

Before they could do anything, the dumpster was blown away from under them.

Espurr was sent flying back. Tricky landed somewhere next to her. The alleyway was a dead end.

Then the light was blotted out. The Beheeyem entered the alleyway, casting the street in front of Espurr in shadows. Espurr hardly dared to move, not that it mattered much at this point. The beheeyem clearly knew it was over. They raised their blinkers at the two of them in unison, letting black sparks collect around them once more…

Not if Espurr had anything to say about it. She concentrated her mental energy, then jumped off the ground. A small psychic boost blasted her up into the air. She landed on one of the beheeyems' head cones—

The attack sent the beheeyem stumbling back—Espurr had done it way too fast for them to react properly. Espurr kicked back the cone she had hurtled into, then slammed back into the one behind her with her body force and knocked that beheeyem forwards. Another boost propelled her over the head of the third one, and she landed out in the town. Then she realized: in all the kerkluffle, she had forgotten something important: Tricky was still in the alleyway!

But the beheeyem wanted her. Not anymon else. It was time to end this for good.

"Hey!" she yelled to them, catching their attention from a distance. "Try and catch me!"

Two of the beheeyem started after her. Espurr briefly wondered what happened to the third, but two was more than enough reason to start running. So, she did. Now, for the city outskirts.

She didn't know where she was going to find that door yet. But as long as she got them outside the city, then she could take it from there.

~\({O})/~

Tricky had taken the fall much harder than Espurr had. By the time she managed to get up, she saw to her horror that there was a beheeyem hovering over her.

She yelped in fright and curled up. What had happened to Espurr?

But the attack she was expecting never came. Instead, it felt like something was being inserted into her mind very painfully, but there was no cut. The beheeyem's lights flashed, and somehow Tricky knew what they meant:

If you want to see your friend again, get up.

So, she did.

"What did you do to her?" she asked, spitting the words out at the beheeyem. The beheeyem didn't answer, only started moving towards the exit of the alleyway. But Tricky stayed still.

"I'm not moving until you tell me," Tricky said. "Where is Espurr?"

There was still no answer from the beheeyem, but it stopped and twisted around just a little. Suddenly, it felt like Tricky's brain was being sliced in half—

She felt to the ground, moaning and clutching her head in her paws and trying to bear the searing pain from whatever was happening to her—

All of the sudden, it stopped. She looked up at the beheeyem, who was still in the same position it had been before the attack on her brain. All Tricky could do was pant from all the exertion and the pain, and stare of at the beheeyem in hurt.

Come.

And Tricky didn't have a choice. She had to go.

Trying not to pay attention to the tears flowing out of her eyes, she reluctantly stepped after the Beheeyem.

~\({O})/~

Archeology Division Headquarters

"You're all set," the pokemon at the counter said. Bunnelby took the paper slip that determined 'yes, he could enter the fenced off section of the Sand Continent for research purposes', and left the desk.

When he came back to the booth Espurr and Tricky were supposed to be sitting on, he found that it was completely deserted.

Immediately, Bunnelby went into panic mode. He knew it was the better option to leave them on the ship; leaving two children alone in a large town like this was a bad option! Now what was he going to do?

Wait. They had an expedition gadget. Assuming they had thought to bring it, he could just give them a call. Bunnelby pulled his own gadget out of his bag, slotted the connection orb in, picked out the contact from the expedition society roster (new members were added by default), then pressed the button that contacted Dedenne.

The line whirred for a minute, but eventually Dedenne's voice came into focus: "Whosit? Bunnelby? Is that you?"

"Dedenne," Bunnelby spoke up. "Can you wire me through to the newbies?"

"The newbies?" Dedenne asked. "Like I haven't tried! We've been searching for them all day! Are… Wait. Are they with you?"

"Long story," Bunnelby said, trying to fight the beginnings of an anxiety-induced headache. "I'll explain it all when I get back."

"So they are with you!"

"Can you please just wire me through?"

"32nd time's the charm, I guess…" Dedenne's voice didn't sound very enthusiastic. "But, sure.

~\({O})/~

Espurr hugged the pouch with the blast seed in it close as she ran. It had migrated through various places on her person throughout the day, but she'd made sure she never ever lost it. She only wanted to use it if she had to. Once she was sure she had enough of a head-start on the Beheeyem, she spun a corner and continued down a slightly narrow alleyway. She could see the looming wall in the distance in front of her. She just hoped she could find the gate once she got close enough.

The Beheeyem were hard to lose. The two of them floated into the alleyway, then began to make after her as quickly as they had rounded the corner. This building was long, so there weren't any turns or obstacles Espurr could throw them off at. And without those, she was quickly realizing she was at a disadvantage. She just wasn't as fast as they were, and she was beginning to get quite puffed out. The beheeyem floated along without even a sign of being tuckered out, and it wasn't long before Espurr couldn't run anymore…

But she didn't need to. There was a gate just ahead, and if she could just hold out long enough she'd get there with time to spare. With one last desperate burst of energy, Espurr made for the gate. She managed to reach the door before the beheeyem could catch up, swinging and latching it shut. At last, she was reasonably separated from her pursuers.

The beheeyem glowered at her from the other side. But they didn't try to break down the gate like she expected. Maybe they figured it would be too much work to keep going after her like this. She'd surprised them before, after all.

But suddenly something Espurr didn't expect happened. There was a sudden jab in the backside of her head. It felt like a needle was being inserted into her brain, but when she clutched the area that was throbbing in pain, nothing was there. Espurr wasn't a dummy—she knew what was happening. It must be some kind of psychic trick.

And she was too tired to push it out.

The lights on the end of the beheeyems' blinkers flashed, and somehow Espurr understood what they said this time: We have your friend.

Who they were talking about, Espurr knew too. Tricky. They must have…

Now they had her cornered, and she knew it. She had done everything she did to make sure others didn't get in danger from this. She had to be the one to deal with it herself.

But that couldn't come at the expense of Tricky.

"How do I know you're telling the truth?" she asked. It was worth a shot.

You don't.

The fact that there were only two of them was enough to send Espurr's mind into doubt.

And more and more it was looking like she didn't have any choice but to co-operate.

She reached into the pouch and pulled out her final weapon—the last blast seed.

"Promise me you'll bring her here," she said. "Otherwise I'll detonate this and go find her myself."

You know those do not harm us.

"You don't have to worry about the blast seed. You have to worry about what I'm going to do once it goes off."

She didn't know what she was going to do. She just had to keep talking big long enough to find a proper plan.

~\({O})/~

~Tricky~

The beheeyem led Tricky out into a crowded street, filled with pokemon of all shapes and sizes. 'Mon in shopping stalls tries to pawn off their wares to 'mon hurrying by in the streets, while others hurried by to get where they needed to go. A pack of children on their own were playing with a ball in the streets, dangerously close to getting popped on a nidoran's needles.

Any of them could help Tricky. There were so many pokemon here, and she was in the middle of it all. In mortal danger, and no-mon knew anything. And after the sheer amount of pain that had coursed through her head the last time, she didn't know if she had the bravery to call out for help. If she had to go through the mental torture she had in the alleyway again she thought it might kill her.

She didn't think the beheeyem was actually listening to her. If it could hear her trying to make up escape plans, it would have fried her brain by now for sure. She didn't know for real, but that piece of logic brought her at least some comfort.

But even within the sanctuary of her head, she still needed to think of something, and fast. What would Espurr do in a situation like this?

Run away all on her own, probably, Tricky realized. She had to think for herself on this one. But then she shook her head to clear it. She didn't need Espurr's help. She could make a plan all on her own to get out of this! She tried to recall what Nickit had said to her during their card game… something about not playing the most powerful card first. Tricky didn't know how that applied to this situation.

As her mind wandered, she suddenly realized: if the beheeyem hadn't killed her by now… they must be using her to get to Espurr! This one must have been taking her to Espurr's location right now! If she did something now, she'd never find them in time.

That settled it. She'd let the beheeyem lead her to Espurr, then knock it out when it wasn't expecting that! Tricky's moping transformed into a lively trot, feeling very proud of herself for her plan. Then she felt something foreign poking around in the surface layers of her mind. She immediately scaled back her excitement. She must have drawn its attention somehow.

But the shock she was expecting never came. Tricky, who had scrunched her face up to brace for another shock, warily opened an eye to see the beheeyem facing away from her just the way it always had been. That sealed it, it had to be careless. If it knew what she was planning, it definitely would have fried her. But she was being careless too. She needed to be more careful from here on out.

The beheeyem led her down several more streets, into the more rugged section of town, until she could see the large walls that separated the city and the rest of the continent looming over them in the very near distance. Tricky was led down a long, narrow alleyway, until they finally reached where the beheeyem was taking her. The other two beheeyem glowered back at them, and behind them, behind a wire wall, was Espurr.

Tricky couldn't help but call out at that point. "Espurr!" she yelled. "Over here!"

Espurr leapt up from where she was resting, making sure not to get too close to the gate but making sure she saw Tricky clearly all the same.

Before she could even register it, Tricky suddenly had the blinkers of two beheeyem pointed down at her from either side. The lights flashed, and flickered with black sparks.

Either you or her.

Tricky could hear the thoughts, even though they were directed to Espurr.

Choose.

She saw Espurr over by the gate, looking like she was actually considering it. She couldn't be.

But it was.

"Fine," Espurr said, smartly concealing the blast seed behind her back. "Me."

With that, she opened the gate.

And drop the seed.

The blinkers around Tricky began to flash threateningly, charging up...

Espurr knew better than to mess around, it seemed. It didn't look like she did it eagerly, but she dropped the seed to the ground. An invisible force knocked it back, far out of her reach. Tricky could read the look on Espurr's face: she was at a loss.

Luckily, Tricky wasn't. As energy began to collect around the beheeyem's blinkers, aimed straight at Espurr, she suddenly darted forward and latched onto the cone of the beheeyem that had led her here.

The scene devolved into chaos. The beheeyem flailed wildly about, swinging Tricky around with it. Espurr took the opportunity to run back and grab the blast seed that had been knocked out of her reach. The beheeyems' attack changed aim at the last second towards Tricky, still holding on to their partner's cone for dear life. By the time the beheeyem realized their mistake, it was too late—

Tricky was spry enough to launch up into the air just in time. The attack that had been meant for Espurr and then her instead slammed point-blank into the third beheeyem. Tricky hit the ground in a rolling ball at the side and scampered back to Espurr.

For once, the beheeyem seemed to be genuinely taken aback. They stared at their third partner, who was now a statue of solid stone. Then, the two of them whirled back around to Espurr and Tricky, their lights aflurry with black sparks-

That was when Espurr threw the last blast seed.

Set off in such a small place, the explosion damaged the walls. It threw Espurr and Tricky back across the alley; they landed in a pile of semi-soft sacks. But most importantly, the two remaining beheeyem seemed to be down for the count. And that was what mattered.

"Hah!" Tricky couldn't help but prance a bit in celebration. "That's what you get for coming after us, meanies!" she blew a raspberry at the stone beheeyem in the middle. "A taste of your own medicine."

Espurr walked forward and tentatively gave one of the beheeyem a kick. It didn't stir.

"It's knocked out," she said. "I don't think they're gonna get up anytime soon."

Tricky, who was winding down from the exhilaration, was finally coming back to her senses. She walked over to Espurr, planted her feet in the ground, and firmly nudged Espurr's attention towards her.

"What were you thinking?!" she yelled in Espurr's face. She didn't realize she had the yell in her until it came out.

"What do you mean, what was I thinking?" Espurr asked, folding her arms. "I had a plan."

"So you abandoned me and ran off?" Tricky snapped. She could feel her hackles raising in anger.

"I was trying to lure them away," Espurr snapped back indignantly. "They want me. Not anymon else, me. I didn't think they would try something like that…"

"But they did," Tricky said.

"And it worked out!"

"It nearly didn't!" Tricky's voice rose into a yell again. "Tell me you had some kind of plan back there. Tell me they weren't just going to let them do that to you!"

She angrily stuck a paw out in the direction of the stone beheeyem statue.

Espurr couldn't. Tricky decided to continue.

"You didn't even say anything to me before you left! How do you think I would have felt if I went looking for you and they got you while you were on your own?"

She noticed her breathing was getting quick and heavy. Old memories began to resurface, but she grit her teeth and buried them. She didn't need that now.

"And how do you think I would have felt if I kept bringing other pokemon along with me, and then something happened to one of them?" Espurr cut in. "They only went after you because you're with me. I'm not putting anymon else in danger from this."

"So you're putting yourself in danger?" Tricky seethed. "That's the most reckless thing ever! And it's selfish, too!"

"How is it selfish?" Espurr asked. The mask was finally beginning to slip. "All I want to do is keep everymon else out of danger!"

"But you don't have to do it alone!" Tricky pointed out. "What if you can't do it alone? What about everymon else? What if you…"

She paused to mitigate her breathing.

"Besides…" she continued. "We're a rescue team. There's no team if we don't do it together."

Espurr still had her arms folded, but it was a moment before she answered.

"What do you think we should do, then?" she said. "We've tried everything."

"Well, who else do we know that has rescue team training and could help us?" Tricky asked.

She let the silence punctuate the obvious answer.

~\({O})/~

Archeology Federation Headquarters

~Bunnelby~

Bunnelby had looked everywhere, and he still hadn't found Espurr and Tricky. After they had disappeared from the booth, he had immediately aborted any plans for the day to go look at them. He was generally pretty good at keeping his cool, but this was beginning to make even him begin to lose it. Two kids, lost in a big city… all because he'd left them alone! He had to find them.

He'd gone down to the police station to ask them to help him look, but the building was fenced off and all the glass in the windows had been blown apart. Having more than enough problems on his plate currently, Bunnelby decide to leave that fiasco to the police and continue the search himself. And now the sun was beginning to set, and still no luck. He had made a full round of the city, asked around at nearly every establishment he could find, asked Dedenne to make just one more call, and made it back to the Archeology Division's headquarters. Now was a good time to start panicking, he thought.

"Bunnelby!"

The sound came from the west side of the building. Bunnelby looked left to see both Espurr and Tricky running towards him down the street. They both looked very beat up and puffed out.

"Bunnelby…" Tricky panted out as they slowed to a stop, panting for breath.

"Where were you two all day?" Bunnelby asked, his emotions finally getting the better of him. "I asked you to sit on the bench, and you ran off without telling me. I searched the entire city for you two!"

"We're sorry…" Tricky apologized meekly.

"We… need your help," Espurr admitted.

~\({O})/~

Bunnelby took them both to an inn in one of the quieter districts of town, where they ate a light dinner that had been bought from the market just before. Espurr and Tricky had been somewhat perplexed that it consisted mainly of leafy greens, but ate anyway.

"Done eating?" he asked, when the large majority of the greens had been eaten between the three of them. Espurr and Tricky both nodded. "Alright," he said. "You two need to explain to me what is going on, right now," he said.

"We're being hunted," Espurr began. "By beheeyem."

"They chased us away from our village!" Tricky cut in. "That's why we went to Lively Town."

"Then, when they reached us there, we planned to lead them here and strand them," Espurr continued. "They're relentless; they won't stop."

"They've got freaky powers that turn pokemon into stone!" Tricky added.

"And they're not afraid to hurt other pokemon to get to us," Espurr finished. "That's why we've been trying to keep everymon else out of it."

"Did you guys happen to go by chance to the police station?" Bunnelby ventured.

"We did!" Tricky said. "But they kinda blew it up."

Bunnelby took a moment to process all of that, rubbing his temples for a moment. As outlandish as it sounded, it put a lot of the things he had seen today into perspective. And the bit about turning pokemon into stone… that sounded eerily close to what Mawile had given a lecture about only a couple of weeks ago. Wasn't that what had happened in Pokemon Plaza?

Maybe there really were dark powers at work here.

Bunnelby mused in thought a while longer. But even so, what to do? This seemed like something that lay out of the paws of the authorities. The first thing to do was to confer with Ampharos and Mawile.

He pulled his expedition gadget out of his bag. He saw Espurr's eyes follow it. "They really turned other pokemon into stone? Like, stone statues?"

"Are you calling somemon?" Espurr asked.

"I'm relaying this to the Expedition Society," he explained. "Having as much help as we can get will make this easier for everymon."

"Ooh!" Tricky piped up. "Call Ampharos! He knows all about the beheeyem!" Espurr beside her looked suddenly worried at that. Bunnelby didn't miss it, but tried to set it aside to deal with the main issue at paw.

But before any of them could do anything else, there was a sudden knock at the door. Both Espurr, Tricky, and Bunnelby looked at it with expressions ranging from confusion to apprehension. Who would be knocking on their door at this time of night?

"I-it's me!" called out the rosiela receptionist that had been at the desk. Bunnelby got up from where he sat, hopping over to the door and opening it.

The receptionist indeed stood at the door, but her face was fear-stricken. Behind her, pointed at her from either side, were the blinkers of the beheeyem. They whizzed and popped with black sparks, and at the last second the aim changed—

"Bunnelby, duck!" Espurr managed to shout out, before an attack spawned.

Bunnelby ducked just in time. The attack whizzed over and carved a nasty dent into the wall on the other side of the room. The secretary, no longer the center of attention, fell to the ground with a gasp and began to creep away down the hall.

Second after that, a powerful force pinned Espurr, Tricky, and Bunnelby to the wall. An attack spawned, but it was noticeably weaker and taking longer to form than it had before. Espurr connected the dots quick: all this psychic energy they were expending keeping them to the wall must have been sapping their energy!

Meanwhile, not having to have done any athletics in a good hour or so meant she was running on full. She focused on some of the belongings in the apartment. The table in the middle began to rattle, then shot towards the beheeyem—

It rammed into them full force, sending them careening out the door and back into the hall. Espurr, Tricky, and Bunnelby fell to the ground immediately and without cushioning.

Espurr knew better than to spend time picking herself up off the floor. As much as the fall jarred her, within a second she was standing and ready to battle again. But nothing came. The hallway outside was quiet.

Bunnelby stood up off the ground, joining Espurr with Tricky.

"Stay quiet," he told them. "I'll bet they're waiting just outside to ambush us."

"So do we go out the window?" Tricky asked, glancing at the window outside."

"We're three stories up," Espurr said. "We'd just break our legs."

"I have an idea," Bunnelby said. He pointed to the phone on the desk. "See if that phone is still working. We can phone the police station."

Tricky got on that immediately. Bunnelby crept towards the door, where all was silent still. "We know you're out there!' he yelled. "We just called the police!" he cast a look at Tricky, to make sure she had actually managed to phone the police. "Do you still want to pick a fight?"

For a moment, there was nothing.

Then all of the sudden the wall exploded outwards-

Bunnelby swiftly covered his face with his ears. Espurr was blown back a bit by the rubble, but she managed to keep herself steady. Tricky, who hadn't been in the blast zone, jumped back but was fine. What Espurr hadn't been expecting was another stone attack to fly directly through the debris.

It very nearly hit her. It would have, in fact. She just wasn't able to get her muscles to move in time. Thankfully, something pushed her out of the way first, before she could even register what was flying towards her. By the time Espurr managed to make sense of her surroundings, she noticed that Tricky was right on her.

They didn't have time to react. The Beheeyem were already scooting in.

Bunnelby was faster than the Beheeyem were. As they moved in, his ears began to glow, surrounded by twin auras of white power. He hopped forward and twirled around, his ears fanning out and making contact with one of the beheeyem. Shocked by the impact, the beheeyem was sent reeling back.

The other one had been lucky enough not to get hit. Espurr and Tricky were still pulling each other apart when they saw that the second beheeyem was about to stone Bunnelby! The attack was forming quickly—they had seconds, if not less. Sensing that psionic activity wouldn't be quick enough, Espurr ran forward as fast as she could. An ember from Tricky flew over her, knocking the beheeyem off course. The attack flew up into the roof.

Espurr laced her paws with her mental energy, then punched upwards—

The beheeyem had no time to recover from the last blow, let alone this one. It was sent reeling back, falling against the wall in shock. It huddled up in the corner, covering its face with its large blinkers in order to guard from any more attacks. Espurr kept her mind trained straight on the beheeyem, in case it began to move again.

"Go help Bunnelby!" she told Tricky.

Using his ears as fists, Bunnelby was doing a good job of fending off the second beheeyem. It tried its best to stay out of the way, deftly floating back and to the left and right to avoid Bunnelby's punches. Eventually black energy began to cover its lights again, and it swung its blinkers at Bunnelby—

Tricky collided into the beheeyem from the side, knocking it off-course and to the floor before it could touch him. At some point, the desk with the phone that stood on the far side of the wall was hit by a stray piece of energy and was sent crashing to the ground.

Bunnelby took advantage of the moment while it was down. He sprung up, spun in the air, and landed on the beheeyem's midsection.

"You're under arrest!" he loudly proclaimed. "Stay down, and don't dig yourself a deeper hole than you have already."

There was the sound of tromping down the hallway. Several pokemon wearing the fuchsia scarves ran in, looking around at all the destruction in shock.

"Which one of you phoned?" Bunnelby asked.

Espurr and Tricky shared a look.

"…Neither of us," Tricky said.

The rosiela clerk walked in with quick, jittery steps, pointing at the beheeyem.

"It's them," she said. She was still shaking. "Those ones. They took me hostage and then blew up this room."

With both the beheeyem down for the count, the crew of policemon moved in, and began to pick up the pokemon and cart them away.

Things blurred together for Espurr after that. She knew Bunnelby went to talk with the police officers. After this incident, they said they would be holding the beheeyem somewhere more secure, so they didn't break out this time. Tricky had jumped around and excitedly declared that they'd won, and the rosiela clerk offered them another room free of charge for the disturbance. Espurr paid attention to it all, but not too much. Feelings of relief she hadn't felt in nearly a week were coursing through her brain. It felt alien after all this time.

All she could really think about was that for the moment, they had indeed won.

~\({O})/~

Music of the Week!

Cheetah – Hans Zimmer