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Rookidee bounces across the lavish sitting room table impatiently, waiting for his master to ready himself for the day. They'll be exploring the mansion grounds to find pokemon to battle, and after so many weeks of solo training, Rookidee is ready to pit himself against another in glorious combat in the name of his master.

Well, sort of. His master's father, The Lord of the Manor, is coordinating a grand event in the background. The 'wild' pokemon are actually all in the care of the manor's servants, and each pokemon has been given instructions to provide only a light challenge for the young master and Rookidee. If one were being entirely truthful, this is more a confidence-building exercise than a glorious gauntlet that the Galarian nobility of old would traverse as a coming-of-age.

Not that Rookidee minds, however. Any period spent with the young master is time well spent.

A sound like a great, harrumphing cough pauses Rookidee's pacing. The raven chick bounds over to the side of the table and peers down.

There, gazing up at him with droopy eyes is Stoutland, the Lord of the Manor's First and Most Faithful. The eyes of the great dog pokemon are just as droopy as the blonde fur upon his chops, which forms a long and majestic mustache.

Perhaps "majestic" isn't quite the correct word, but it's the one Stoutland insists upon, so Rookidee will acquiesce. His respect for the prestigious station Stoutland holds as Lord of the Manor's First and Most Faithful demands it.

"Pace not upon furniture within this parlor," Stoutland's tone is sharp and criticizing despite his rug-like countenance. "It would do you well to not mar the table with razor claws and impatience when there exists a perfectly fine floor below you."

"I assure you that mine talons will only tear into those who would challenge the young master," Rookidee's tone is even, but he bows his head and turns his eyes away...surreptitiously checking to see if his claws had indeed left any marks in the richly colored wood.

Stoutland harrumphs once more, a deep sound that reverberates across the painting-adorned walls. "Then perhaps learn patience. The young master shan't be long."

Rookidee bows his head again, not replying and thus not inviting retort.

It takes ten and five minutes more, but the doors to the sitting room slowly swing inward on soundless, oiled hinges. From the entrance steps the young master and his father, Lord of the Manor. The young master is still dressed smartly in his school uniform, though his tie is loosened.

Without much of a thought, Rookidee flutters from the table to his master's shoulder. Leaning down, he takes the tie in his beak and gives it a short tug, returning it to a proper, pristine noblesse.

"Oh, Rook, must you?" The young master complains. The sparkle in his eyes is all humor, however. A thin, fair hand rises so a finger can stroke Rookidee across the bottom of his beak, and the raven chick savors the contact. "The tie is perhaps the worst bit of the academy attire. I feel as if whoever conceived this uniform must have been a hangman in a life prior."

The Lord of the Manor allows a thin smile to grace his angular features as he watches. "Come now, my son. It is the duty of the First and Most Faithful to care for their master. Spurn not his dedication, even in jest," he says, putting a hand on the boy's unoccupied shoulder.

Rookidee can't help but puff up in pride at the words of his Lord.

He would see to the young master's every need without fail! That's what a human's First and Most Faithful does.

...Nay, that's what any good pokemon does.

With a start, Corvisquire awakens. He blinks his blurry eyes and takes the sight of the foliage around him. With a glance down, he confirms where he is, finding rough bark instead of finely polished wood, or the scratchy shoulder of an academy uniform.

Mauville Central Park, perched high in a tree and hidden from prying eyes.

With a beak-cracking yawn, the raven stretches his wings, working out kinks and warding away the pins and needles of sleeping in the wild. For a moment, he debates scavenging a breakfast for himself, but his stomach still feels full from the night prior. With nothing to do, he takes flight and lands on the edge of a building overlooking the streets closest to the park.

Standing high above the land-bound crawlers below on his perch of brick and mortar, Corvisquire surveys the city of Mauville with a narrow eye, taking in the people and pokemon below. He recognizes none of them, and for that, he's thankful. He's been blessedly alone since Swablu's singular visit.

'I've lingered here long enough,' he muses to himself, thinking of the prior night's dinner of greasy, stolen stromboli that still sits heavily in his stomach. The more human garbage he stuffs down his gullet, the less appealing it becomes. 'Greener pastures are quite literally green in this case.'

He goes to spread his wings but hesitates. Again he looks down, and again he spies no one of note. With a huff, his wings shoot out before he springs into the air with a mighty flap. Beneath him, the ground falls away at a pace anyone else would find alarming, but to a Flying-type such as he, it's practically leisurely.

As he levels off high in the sky, he banks to the west, lazily riding a thermal of warm air rising from the city below up to the edge of the clouds. When his thermal putters out, he glides back down until he reaches yet another thermal, where he starts the cycle anew, flying slowly with barely a single flap of his wings.

Hours pass as the land below slowly passes him by and the sun gradually climbs to beat down upon Hoenn relentlessly. With his metallic feathers hot and his stomach growling, Corvisquire looks down, spying a human town much smaller than Mauville. The greenery surrounding the artificial oasis is encroaching on the edges, unlike the conquering city of Mauville.

'Verdanturf town?' Corvisquire wonders to himself, recalling the map L - the human would show everyone before they hit the wild trails. 'A town renowned for its clean air and integration with nature. The wind patterns keep it clear of ash despite its proximity to Mt. Chimney. Or so the map blurb said.' The avian shrugs to himself. 'Not important. If it's so clean, then perhaps I might finally stumble upon something lacking the taste of grease to eat.'

His mind made up, Corvisquire partially tucks his wings and descends in a sharply angled glide.

The town below is even more quaint than expected, with the largest building being the tall, four-story pokemon center. The people and pokemon milling about below are ignored, however, as Corvisquire banks to the south and soars mere feet above the treetops. Peering downward, he looks for bright colors in the rushing sea of green, a telltale sign of fruit to enjoy.

There! A succulent purple!

Corvisquire folds his wings to his sides and dives down, nimbly twisting around several tree limbs before snapping his metallic blue wings open a foot away from the ground, halting his descent. He smiles at what he finds.

A large, full bush of Bluk berries. The beautifully purple sweets gently wobble in the breeze on their branches, almost begging to be eaten.

"Well well, don't mind if I do," Corvisquire purrs, hopping forward and snagging a berry in his beak. The force breaks the skin of the delicate fruit, dribbling sweet violet juice down the raven's throat. Wasting no more time, he bites down and savors the flavor dancing across his tongue.


The sweetness coating his mouth stays Corvisquire's anger at being rudely interrupted, so rather than snarl, he turns with a grunt. "Ah, rabble. Wonderful..." He sighs.

On the branches of the trees around Corvisquire are perched countless Taillow, all of whom glare down at him with no small amount of displeasure. At their center a puffed-up male sucks in a breath that makes his breast feathers swell even further. "This grove belongs to our flock and has been our territory for generations. You best get going before something bad happens, outsider," he spits.

Corvisquire sneers back, his own feathers ruffling in agitation. "Such bravado for such a thin-feathered, runty fledgling. Tell me, were you the last to hatch amongst your brood? You certainly sound like you were oxygen-starved as a chick. Or perhaps your oaf mother cracked your shell with her fat rear and let an infection permanently addle your already small brain? Begone and waste someone else's time, dullard."

The young Taillow reels back at the vitriol, then grits his beak as he flushes so red in anger that the color bleeds through his feathers. "Y-You! You stupid thief! I'll make you regret that!" He says nothing else, diving at Corvisquire with his talons bared and murder in his eyes.

'How dreadfully slow,' Corvisquire watches Taillow close the distance between them without alarm. 'If Queen Furball and the Treehugger were good for anything, at least they were decent sparring partners.'

At the last second, Corvisquire powers up a Steel Wing and holds it before him like a broad shield, digging his talons into the dirt to steady himself. A moment later, Taillow crashes into the raven's wing and painfully rebounds with a sound like a gong.

Taillow flops to the ground with a wheezing gasp, winded. Before the tiny bird can stand, Corvisquire swings his wing around like a battering ram and slams it into Taillow, making the smaller bird breathlessly cry out in pain as he's thrown tumbling through the air towards a distant tree with almost no arc to his flight. With a thud that makes the surrounding flock flinch, the young Taillow smacks his skull on the unforgiving tree trunk and falls once more to the dirt, dead to the world.

Chuckling deep in his throat, Corvisquire haughtily stares up into the infuriated flock, drinking in their uncertainty and slowly mounting dread like one might a fine wine. "Just a single strike and the mouthy brat falls. Truly, an outstanding display of defense for an ancestral feeding ground," he mocks. "Do I have any other challengers? I've nowhere to be other than this bush enjoying a meal. And I do so enjoy working up a proper appetite before eating."

The countless glowers sent his way bother Corvisquire none. He answers them with a malicious smile, openly inviting them to try where their friend failed.

From the leaves above, a large form zips down and lands before Corvisquire with a flutter of sleek wings.

Corvisquire takes in the newcomer with a raised brow. "Oh? A Swellow?"

Standing before the raven is a larger bird pokemon than the nervous, agitated Taillow up in the trees. She shares the same coloration with the Taillow, with a red face and breast, white underbelly, and dark blue back, wings, and tail. The Swellow differs from her fellows only in size, being two feet tall to the one of the various Taillow, and possessing a backswept fringe of feathers on her head. Corvisquire might have found her fetching if her unmarred coat of feathers didn't announce her weakness like a wailing siren.

"Matriarch Swellow is here!" One Taillow hollers in excitement, hopping in place. "She's going to put this thief in his place!" The rest of the flock needs no other encouragement and breaks out into cheers, broken only by jeers hurled at Corvisquire.

Swellow raises her head higher, and at some unseen signal, the noisy flock quiets into total silence. Swellow then levels Corvisquire with an even stare. "This land is the territory of my flock." Her voice is hard, yet matronly. "Why are you here?"

"Why am I here?" Corvisquire guffaws. "A flock of fools picks a blind leader. The jokes write themselves these days. Why else would I be here?"

Corvisquire smiles nastily. "I'm taking this grove."

Swellow's eyes narrow. "It belongs to us."

"Duly noted and disregarded." The raven steps closer, looming over Swellow. He's easily a foot taller than she is, perhaps a little more. "What sort of stratagem do you have for me? Will you meet me one-on-one? Pile upon me with the bodies of your compatriots? It matters not, but please, do try your best."

Despite Corvisquire being well above her weight class, Swellow's stare remains unimpressed. After a long moment, she says; "I know your sort. You're too large, too groomed to be wild. You belong to a trainer."

Corvisquire sees red.

Swellow doesn't flinch when Corvisquire's beak snaps shut scant inches from her eye with a sharp clack!

"You're playing a dangerous game, Swellow," the raven hisses in her ear, his hateful red eye boring into Swellow's calm hazel. "I will warn you no more on that matter."

Undaunted, Swellow continues. "You stand three heads taller than I and felled one of our own with a single blow," she says, looking up at him boldly. "I will not posture when the conclusion is already foregone. This is our home and we love it, so I will ask you to leave us in peace."

Corvisquire hacks out a harsh laugh and draws his head back. "Ask? Ask? You would presume to ask me?" He turns his back on Swellow, strutting up to the Bluk bush and plucking off another berry. He twirls on his foot and eats the berry in one slow, taunting bite.

To his annoyance, Swellow is unruffled by his disrespect.

"Yes, yes I would," she declares, stepping closer until she and Corvisquire are nearly abreast once more. "This grove and the ones adjacent feed my flock. We've lived here for generations and cared for this land as if it were family. You may eat your fill, but then please be gone."

Corvisquire chuckles. "My my, today has been a humorous one. You go from asking me to leave to bargaining that quickly? And what is this may nonsense? You can only broker from a position of power, you ignorant little Pidgey. No, either you have the power to defend what you claim to love, or you will forfeit it. That is how this world works. Now..." The raven steps closer, calling upon the latent power within him and pushing.

With a hiss of writhing, caustic Dark, a wreath of five Pursuers is born over his head like a cadre of spirits. Each black orb shivers in barely restrained violence, and several of the surrounding Taillow tense.

"Let's see how much you love this grove of yours," Corvisquire grins as his heart begins to race in anticipation of the impending fight. "Step forward so I can break you."

Swellow narrows her eyes and spreads her wings...

...Then flies up to a high branch, no combat stance to be seen.

Befuddled, Corvisquire furrows his brow and waits.

"Everyone..." Swellow's voice is quiet and apologetic. "We're leaving."

Protests erupt from every Taillow, falling together into a nonsensical din that makes a headache bloom in Corvisquire's skull. The raven is too dumbstruck to shout above the noise, however.

'Leaving? What? What does she mean by that?'

Swellow opens her beak and releases a single, authoritative screech, silencing the grove. "I will have no arguments on this matter..." She cranes her head from one side to the other slowly, taking the time to meet each and every set of eyes on her. "Verdanturf well and truly earned the 'verdant' in its name. I and the prior Patriarch knew such a day would come, so we prepared. A new home awaits us."

"But Matriarch..." A young female Taillow asks from nearby, her face heartbroken. "T-this is where I was hatched. This is where most of the flock were hatched! We're just going to give it up to some bully without a fight?!" The Taillow asks, anguished.

Swellow turns her eyes away. "The safety of the flock is paramount..." she forces out. "I will not send you all into, what is the human term? I will not send any of you into the meat grinder that is a trained pokemon in a foolhardy attempt to preserve our pride or bushes of food." She raises her head again, voice stern and commanding. "We will gather in Verdanturf, then I will take everyone to our new home. Scouts! Gather the wider flock. Everyone else, go. Now."

For a moment, none of the Taillow seem to believe their ears, but then one reluctantly spreads his wings and flies away. Then another. Soon the trees are empty and the sound of many pairs of wings beating the air fades, leaving Corvisquire and Swellow alone.

Corvisquire stares at Swellow, slowly processing what happened. "Wha..." He blinks as his Pursuers fizzle out into swirls of dark mist. "That's it? You're going to run away?" He asks, a terrible, hot sensation blooming in his breast. "You're just going to run away!?" He screeches.

Swellow peers down at Corvisquire coolly. "You wish to take the grove, and I agreed to give it," she clicks her tongue. "You're upset that you have what you want?"

"You're supposed to fight for it!" Corvisquire roars, the rage inside of him growing to volcanic proportions in an instant. His breath is fast, his head is hot, and he sees red bleeding into the corners of his vision. "You're supposed to fight me, you damned Pidgey, not run away! You're the worst sort! You're a coward! A coward who can't do anything because you're too weak! Did you even bother trying to grow stronger when you know you have such things on the line?!" He spreads his wings and tries to form another volley of Pursuers, but with this focus so scrambled, he can only spark impotently with crackles of violet energy.

Swellow's composure finally cracks as she leans back, a disturbed expression crossing her face. "I know two things for certain, you sad thing: I know my limits, and I know nothing can last forever."

Corvisquire's answer is a cackle, one that makes Swellow's skin crawl. "So you admit it? You're a coward and a weakling." He glares up at the smaller avian with pure HATE.

Swellow spreads her wings, but before she takes off, she mutters one last reply. "Sometimes, nothing can be done. Like all who wish to live without regret, I've come to peace with that."

Corvisquire freezes, not pursuing as Swellow grows smaller and smaller in the sky. His eyes follow her, but he's looking past her.

"The medication isn't working. Nothing can be done."

"The proper technology just isn't there yet. Nothing can be done."

"I'm sorry. Nothing can be done."

"Nothing can be done."

"Nothing can be done."

"Nothing can be done."

"You can't do anything."

Corvisquire screams.

When the haze of inarticulate anger finally begins to drain, leaving Corvisquire weary and aching, the sun is past noon and on its way into the evening. In his first conscious decision the whole afternoon, he pauses and surveys the grove.

Or what's left of it.

In his rage, multiple trees have been felled as if a twister blew through the area. Not a single trunk isn't covered in burns, rends, cuts, and drill marks. The places he unleashed Pursuers are obvious, as the greenery is dead and decaying, leaves reduced to withered brown husks. The delicious bush of Bluk berries is gone, and in its place is a crater wide enough for Crovisquire to lay beak-to-tailfeather. The ground is little more than blackened and turned dirt.

With a huff, Corvisquire turns to the afternoon sun. "A whole day gone by, and only two bites of Bluk for my troubles," he grumbles in tandem with his stomach, which is now a yawning void in his middle. From hunger or something else, he isn't sure anymore.

He raises his head when he hears bushes shaking in the distance. A scowl returns to his face and his sour mood grips him with even more might.

Only a human would walk towards such bedlam.

Sure enough, a young boy unsurely emerges from the brush only to stop and gape at the destruction around him. "Wha...?" He begins, looking around with open fright.

The boy is a skinny waif of a child. With his gangly limbs, pale skin, and unkempt green hair, he looks as delicate as a sheet of wet paper. His eyes, a plain gray, finally land on Corvisquire.

The raven frowns. "What are you looking at, boy?"

Corvisquire's harsh tone makes the child flinch and recoil. "A-Ah? Did you do all this?" He asks, looking around at the carnage with wide, disbelieving eyes.

Rather than answer, Corvisquire draws back a shining wing, readying a path for his Swift that will nearly brush the boy and hopefully scare him off.

The boy's eyes widen so far that it's a wonder they don't pop out of his head, and Corvisquire can pinpoint the moment the green-headed child's life starts to flash before his eyes.

"Wally! Wwwaallllly! Wait for me!"

Corvisquire holds his attack, turning his red eyes to the bush behind the child.

From the underbrush bursts a tiny Ralts, trundling along on his short legs, legs far too short to keep pace with a human. Ralts gasps, looking at Corvisquire and the leveled clearing with no small amount of fear. "W-What happened here?" He asks, covering his mouth with his hands.

"What is it with everyone's fixation with obvious, asinine questions today?" Corvisquire's patience hits its limit, so he modifies Swift's flight path in his head to strike Ralts and sweeps his wing with a grunt, shooting five weak Swift stars no larger than coins.

The boy, Wally, reaches out with one hand as the other clutches his chest. "R-Ralts! Block it with Confusion!" He gasps out.

The panicking Ralts holds his hands up and screws his eyes shut, a thin semi-circle of pink telekinetic force blinking into being just in time to block the first Swift star. Another strike, and Ralts grits his teeth. Another and his Confusion falters. The final two stars smash through his defense and explode against Ralts with bone-rattling pops, throwing him to the ground where he lays prone, wisps of smoke rising from his battered form.

Wally wheezes. "R-Ralts..." He gasps again, making Corvisquire raise an eyebrow. "Ralts... Please get up," he pleads, sucking down another desperate breath as his already pale face loses what little color it has. "W-We need to run... Uncle was r-right, it's not safe outside of t-town."

With a moan of pain, Ralts slowly gets back to his feet, standing with a heavy wobble and unfocused eyes.

Corvisquire sighs. "Today really is an exercise in frustration," he murmurs, raising a shining golden wing again. "Begone, I have no interest in a pair of weaklings like yourse-"

Before he can finish his sentence, Wally falters, then falls to the ground in a heap on his back, clutching at something in his breast pocket with clumsy, nerveless fingers. His chest is heaving so quickly that it's almost like-

Corvisquire banishes the thought before it can form.

"Wally!" Ralts forgets all about the battle and the Swift burns adorning his chest as he rushes to his trainer's side. "Wally?! What's wrong?! Oh no, oh no!" Ralts frets, his voice warbling and eyes glistening. He turns to Corvisquire, face pleading. "Please! I need your help! I-I need to get him back to town! I don't know what's wrong with him!"

Corvisquire tilts his head, hardening his heart. "Are you listening to yourself, you little fool?" He mocks. "You're asking a pokemon you were fighting but ten seconds ago for help. In what world does that make sense to you?"

"Please! I'll do anything! Anything!" Ralts begs, tears beginning to pour down his cheeks. "Wally is my trainer and I love him! I don't want him to die!"

"I love him."

"I don't want him to die."

"I love him."

"I don't want him to die."

"I love him."

"I don't want him to die."

"Nothing can be done."

"There must have been something I could've done!"

Images flash by Corvisquire's eyes, and as though in a trance, he marches up to Ralts' side. "His condition. What's it called?"

Ralts' teary face snaps to look up at Corvisquire. "W-What?"

"The boy's ailment, fool!" The raven barks, making Ralts flinch. "What is it? What's the name?"

"I-I-I don't know!" Ralts cries and flinches away when Corvisquire glares down at him with barely-contained fury. "Wally came to Verdanturf because his lungs are bad, and living in the city was making him sick. I don't know what it's called!"

With a click of his tongue, Corvisquire pushes away his disgust at touching a human for just a second and grasps the boy's wrist with a set of talons. The instant Corvisquire confirms his suspicions, he steps back as if burned. "Tachycardia with a regular rhythm, shallow hyperventilation..." He looks at Wally's pale face, noting the boy's wide eyes looking at him without really realizing what he's looking at. A glance at the boy's lips confirms that they're gradually turning a worrying blue. "Oxygen isn't getting to where it should be. This looks like a stress-induced asthma attack." He looks over to Ralts. "Does he carry some sort of medication? Like an inhaler?"


Corvisquire growls. "Are you the boy's pokemon or not?!" He demands, once more making Ralts cringe and bow his head. "You should know these things! I'm talking about a small, plastic apparatus with an aerosol canister sized to fit in a hand."

"His shirt pocket!" Ralts answers instantly. "Wally keeps that thing in his shirt pocket!"

With no finesse, the raven bites the breast pocket on the child's shirt and rips it open without regard for the button keeping it closed. Sure enough, inside is an inhaler. He takes it in his beak and tosses it to Ralts, who fumbles and nearly drops it. "Take the cap off the end and hold it to his mouth. Press down on the aerosol canister as he's breathing in to administer the medicine. Quickly, now!"

Ralts wastes no time in doing as ordered, rushing to Wally's side. "Don't worry Wally, j-just hang on!" He pleads, shakily holding the inhaler to the boy's mouth and depressing the canister. A puff of white gas is shot down Wally's throat and almost immediately the green-headed boy breathes a bit deeper.

In his confusion, Wally tries to weakly resist with a distressed gasp, but Corvisquire clasps the young trainer's wrist in his talons once more, this time pinning him to the ground. The raven looks over to Ralts. "Again."

The Psychic-type obeys immediately, puffing another dose into Wally's mouth as he breathes in again. After a tense ten or so seconds, Wally's breaths begin to deepen and color starts to return to his face.

Corvisquire watches silently, tracking Wally's eyes as the glazed look in them begins to fade. "Fool."

Ralts turns to look at the raven, rubbing at his puffy, teary eyes as he does so.

"Stay with the boy. He'll recover over the next few minutes." Corvisquire spreads his wings. "Cherish what you have while you can. That naive happiness of yours will run out soon, mark my words."

Without looking back, Corvisquire rises up and into the sky, his thoughts in disarray.

"Nothing can be done."

"Nothing can be done."

"Nothing can be done."

"There must have been something I could've done!"

"So this Courtney lady is no good?"

"Try and keep your voice down," Grovyle hisses to Marshtomp. The Gecko pokemon looks over his shoulder to the trio of nearby trainers, each one looking down at a picnic table with a paper map spread across it. Brendan and Zinnia argue animatedly over differing routes while a stoic Courtney watches the bickering.

Lee, along with Vulpix, are away for a last-minute, early-morning meeting with Doctor Lanes. Considering the harsh route and probable two-to-three-week walk ahead of the group, Grovyle can't help but applaud his master's initiative, though anything that speeds Lee's recovery is something Grovyle will support.

His thoughts return to the matter at hand as he lets his yellow-eyed gaze wander, taking in the small groups everyone's various teams have divided up into. The hotel grounds where everyone stayed their final night in Mauville is a regular circus of pokemon, one passersby can't help but slow down to observe. With so much attention fixed on the more boisterous of Grovyle's fellows, no one noticed him quietly gather Marshtomp and Shelgon for a private conversation.

One far away from Courtney and her pokemon.

"Zinnia hasn't told me much." Shelgon's voice has a metallic timbre inside his shell. The encased dragon looks between Marshtomp and Grovyle. "We did room with Courtney last night, however, so Zinnia was likely being cautious. Considering her hotheaded nature..."

Marshtomp laughs. "A Dragon calling someone else a hothead? You see somethin' new every day," he grins widely, then sobers up. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense that your girl is treating this so seriously. Don't wanna tip your hand early, or that's how Brendan phrases it." He gives Grovyle a sidelong glance and crosses his muscular arms, drumming his thick fingers on his bicep. "Did Lee call my boy's dad about this yet?"

Grovyle nods, shifting his twig in his mouth; he's going to need a new one soon, at this rate. "Last night. Professor Birch was understandably cagy when details came to light but understood in the end. We have only my master and Zinnia's word on Courtney's true allegiances, and while we know they can be trusted on word alone..."

"The Pokemon League will want 'proof.'" Shelgon finishes with an annoyed grunt. He paws the grass in irritation. "Stupid humans and their stupid rules. This would be so much simpler if humans would trust their instincts properly. None of this bureaucratic nonsense is needed, you just dispose of bad eggs before they ruin the clutch."

Marshtomp shrugs. "Would you not have trusted her from the get-go? I mean, she seems kinda creepy, but not bad to me," he asks, playing devil's advocate.

Shelgon snorts. "That's because your sort can barely tell mud and water apart."

The mudfish scowls, a vein bulging in his forehead. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Enough, please. Let's return to important matters here." Grovyle sighs and raises his claws between Marshtomp and Shelgon before they can level the area over a disagreement. "We need to be wary and ready to act at the first sign of foul play. According to my master, Courtney presents a very real and significant threat due to her status within Magma and the prowess of her team. Zinnia and my master are going to try and pump her for information during our travels, and in a best-case scenario, convince her that Magma's mission is demented. Until she is gone or neutralized, we need to be ready at all times." Grovyle pauses to rub the Miracle Seed woven into his neckerchief, feeling the vibrant life energy within. His master insists the Grass-boosting trinket should be kept close at hand from now on. "Are we in agreement?"

Shelgon rumbles in thought. "I'll not be passing this information to Goomy." He declares. "He has enough on his plate. Zinnia's upcoming acquisition will also be kept in the dark until properly vetted."

"Um..." Marshtomp rubs his chin when the other 'mons look his way. "I'm pretty sure both Breloom and Mawile can handle the info. If my boy gets any new teammates, I'll make sure they're trustworthy first."

Grovyle nods. "Vulpix already knows. Understandably, I will refrain from informing young Shinx for some time. Hopefully, this is all wrapped up before she can begin to comprehend things like subterfuge."

Marshtomp grins at his friends. "Man, what a journey this is turning out to be, huh?"

"I'm certain some could do without the drama," Grovyle's retort is as dry as the desert they'll be braving in the coming days.