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TEEN: Once a Thief

Chapter 15 - Memory

Treueplatz, 18. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.

Für wen es angeht,

Im Namen von Graf Lacan von Wellenhafen und Eure Majestät Siegmund von Wahrheit möchte ich Sie um Ihre Hilfe bei der Suche nach Pokémon bitten, die für eure Majestät und seine Streitkräfte von Interesse sind. Ihre Beschreibungen, der letzte bekannte Aufenthaltsort und die bekannten Decknamen wurden den beigefügten Fahndungsplakaten beigefügt. Sorgen Sie dafür, dass sie so schnell wie möglich kopiert und verteilt werden.

Nehmen Sie jeden lebendig fest, der den enthaltenen Beschreibungen entspricht, insbesondere die Milza. Dieser Punkt kann nicht genug betont werden, da die Bilanz des Sieges für die gegenwärtigen Feldzüge der Armee gegen das Königreich der Ideale möglicherweise von ihrem Wohlergehen abhängt, mit potenziell existenziellen Auswirkungen auf das Reich, wenn ihr etwas zustoßen würde.

Als solche erwarten Graf von Wellenhafen und Eure Majestät, dass diesen Aufforderungen entsprechend nach Ihren Möglichkeiten entsprochen wird. Die Schatzkammer von Eurer Majestät wird alle zu zahlenden Prämien kompensieren, einschließlich der Prämien, die für Fälle von Identitätsverwechslungen ausgezahlt werden. Für unsere gegenwärtige Mission wäre es weniger schädlich, solche öffentlichen Verlegenheiten zu erleiden und später stillschweigend Wiedergutmachung zu leisten, als zu riskieren, dass diese Pokémon Ihren Gendarmen entkommen, indem sie sich selbst zweifeln.

Ich wünschte, ich könnte offener über unsere Umstände sprechen, aber die Pflicht zwingt mich, vorsichtig zu bleiben. Seien Sie sich bewusst, dass die Festnahme dieser vier für Ihre Reihen die wichtigste Aufgabe sein könnte, die sie jemals erhalten haben.

Wichtig genug, dass es die Zukunft dieses Landes bestimmen könnte, welches wir „Wahrheit“ nennen.

- Dringende Depesche von Ritterin von Herbergau, Sophia Krarmorstochter weitergeleitet an den Grafschaftens Oberwachtmeister von der Osttorsteppe Provinz

After a brief stop to get directions from the receptionist, Lyle and Irune lugged their drunken teammates up to a room on the hostel’s second floor which overlooked the nearby river. Much to the Quilava’s disappointment, there was no lock on the doors, nor on any of the other rooms in the hostel. Either the proprietors didn’t feel they needed them in such a small village where many of the normal residents probably already knew each other, or else they were just too cheap to get them fitted.

Lyle suspected it was probably for the latter reason. While the cushions that had been laid out as rough mattresses on the floor were more presentable than bare heaps of straw, they were visibly worn and threadbare. Said floor’s wooden planks sported stains here and there that looked like they’d come from water leaking onto them from the ceiling… there were some other possible causes for them that crossed the Quilava’s mind in light of the tavern downstairs, but he tried not to dwell on them too much.

The room had little in the way of furnishings beyond a chest and two stools pressed up against the wall furthest from the door—a makeshift table and dresser which did neither task particularly well. And opposite the bedding, there was a piece of glass scuffed about its edges hung on the wall for a mirror.

How on earth had that Braixen ever been excited to spend the night in a place like this?

… Perhaps that was unfair of him. As meager as the accommodations were, he supposed that he shouldn’t be complaining about them too much. They were still better than the ones he’d had in his burrow for the past two years, and they were good enough that his teammates had managed to fall asleep on them a while ago. Kate and Dalton had passed out quickly enough on their bedding, though Lyle suspected those beers the two got plastered with probably helped. He couldn’t hear any sign of Irune being awake either, so why was he still squirming and unable to fall asleep even after the moon had reached its high point in the night sky?

Was it those gnawing feelings of guilt he had over not coming to Alvin’s aid in Moonturn Square? Was he still shaken from his experiences in Primordial Woods? His worries of how the hell they were going to make it across half the Kingdom and through some godsawful Mystery Dungeon out to the Divine Roost?

Lyle’s gaze drifted towards the floor, where from the window’s direction, there was a silhouette of its crossbars dividing up a patch awash in bluish-green light.

Right. Whatever was really keeping him up, the amount of light coming through the windows from the auroras outside definitely wasn’t helping. He couldn’t tell whether this was a fresh set of them or if the skies had just been disturbed all evening, but the ones outside were stronger than he’d remembered seeing in some time. Enough so that he was pretty sure he could read a book from their light without having to light his vents up for illumination.

The Quilava shuffled off his bedding and stretched his body, before stumbling drowsily over to the window. He reared up as he approached and raised a paw to reach for the curtains… only to feel it rub up against wooden timbers. Lyle blinked and looked closer, when he discovered that aside from impressions from where a rod for them used to be, there was no sign of any curtains to speak of. The window at least had wooden shutters, but they were mounted on the outside of the building and opened outwards from the room… without a pull-cord attached for a smaller Pokémon like him to draw them shut. Trying his luck with the Flapple receptionist downstairs would surely go nowhere fast—Flapple weren't normally nocturnal types, and at an hour like this, the Dragon-type was surely fast asleep by now.

“Cheap dump,” he grunted.

Lyle flared in irritation and slunk back to all fours as he drifted back for his bedding. He briefly turned his head after hearing Kate snore and shift in her sleep, as she waved a claw at an unseen presence in her dreams.

“Nrgh… Why would it matter if he wants it or not? He's a jerk and got the snacks, and you want it more.”

Lyle blinked for a moment. That must’ve been one hell of a dream Kate was having there, not that he had any idea of how he’d be having any of his own anytime soon at this rate. The floor creaked as Lyle began to settle back in on his bedding, when he chanced to notice the strap of his bag poking out of the chest-table at the far end of the room.

Right. He still had that Sleep Seed he found from Raptor Rock in there. Dalton and especially Irune would surely give him crap for using it as a sleeping aid instead of saving it for a fight, but it was his bag and Sleep Seeds weren’t that hard to come across. If push came to shove, they could just nick a replacement on their way out of town.

The Quilava walked over and propped the chest open, rooting through his bag with his paws until he came across a seed with ruffled, bristled tips. He pulled it out, and sure enough, it was the familiar pink-and-white of a Sleep Seed. The Fire-type wrapped his paw around it, before reaching up to close the chest’s lid when he noticed something further inside and stopped himself:

There, among his and his teammates’ belongings was a dog-eared, tawny bag tucked towards its rear, with the corner of what looked like some sort of slate poking out of it.

… That was Irune’s bag, if a bit emptier since she’d taken out some of her “treasure” to sleep on again. It was hard to believe she’d been so desperate to get it back on their first night together in Waterhead Cave when it was a ratty mess like that. He figured that all those stupid baubles must’ve helped wear it out, but… Irune had never mentioned having a slate with her.

Lyle took a moment to check his surroundings. There was no sign of movement and heard nothing other than his teammates’ snoring. He knew it was a stupid idea, but he just couldn’t help but wonder…

Was this slate or whatever it was what had made Irune so worried about Myra holding onto her bag? If so, what on earth was it?

Lyle let curiosity get the better of him as he stooped and set the Sleep Seed down on a stool, and tugged the Axew’s bag towards him.

“What on earth have you been keeping in there?”

Lyle tugged at the corner of the object poking out of Irune’s bag, and quickly discovered it was a wax paper sleeve. Of the sort that Hunters would use to keep handbooks or the like safe from being soaked.

The Quilava raised a brow and pulled the sleeve open and found a book with a beaten brown cover and a strap over its front. He cracked it open and found it had blank pages, a few sporting water damage or discoloration from dirt. Probably sometime before the protective sleeve came along.

Lyle flipped through the pages back to the front where he began to see line after line of runes written in messy paw-writing. After going through a few of them, one of the lines caught his attention as he stopped and read it aloud to himself.

“‘I had the same dream again last night’?”

It was a bit hard to make out the rest from his darkened corner. Lyle’s vents began to flicker to life, but he quickly decided against trying to use it to read—just in case Irune wound up smelling their smoke. The Quilava crept forward a couple paces, and he raised the tome up to the light coming through the window as he returned his attention to the passage he’d come across.

I had the same dream again last night. Cade told me to talk to the teacher about it, to see if she could help me make sense of it since like me, he doesn’t have parents to ask. I don’t know if it’s a good idea, though.​
In my dream, I saw the village on fire from high up in the air and a scary monster that was angry at me. I thought it was just a nightmare that kept coming back, but when I described the monster to Cade, he said I dreamed about some sort of god and was worried that I’d make others mad if I told them about it.​
I don’t want them to think that there’s something wrong with me, but will it really upset them so much if I tell them? It was just a dream, right?​

Lyle blinked as he realized that he was reading some sort of diary that Irune had been keeping. Though a ‘dream’, huh? The Quilava couldn’t help but grow curious at the mention and began to turn the page when sharp pain suddenly shot through his right leg.


Lyle reflexively flared up with a start and dropped the diary to the floor. He whirled as he tumbled onto his flank and curled up to nurse his leg where he saw a ruddy streak. Then came Irune pouncing on the dropped book and crouching over it, as she glared up at him and growled much as if he’d chipped one of her tusks.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you to keep your paws to yourself?!” the Axew hissed. “Don’t go through my bag like that!”

Lyle pushed out frustrated fire from his vents and bared his teeth back at the smaller Dragon-type. The little ankle-biter really was trying her hardest to make sure they’d never want to see each other again after clearing out the Divine Roost, wasn’t she?

“Didn’t anyone teach you not to pick a fight?” the Quilava shot back. “I thought we were all supposed to be on the same page here!”

“You don’t need to go through my diary to get the treasure from there!” the Axew spat. “And I certainly don’t need you pawing through it!”

Lyle bit his tongue and hesitated. It was admittedly hard to argue the point. He didn’t think that Dalton kept a diary, and he was pretty sure Kate wouldn’t either given that her ability to read and write runes had always been a bit shaky, but he couldn’t imagine either of them would be happy if he tried to pry into their personal lives unasked.

No. Even if it was nosy, this was the same ‘mon who’d led a Fähnlein straight to them by keeping tight-lipped about what happened between her and the army until it was too late. The least she could afford to do was to at least give him a hint as to what she was up to in there.

“Irune, what’s in that thing?” Lyle demanded. “Why are you so afraid of anyone else knowing about it?”

The Axew turned away and crouched over the book, guarding it much as if she were a Spoink about to be separated from her pearl. She let out a quiet growl and yanked the tome up, wrapping her arms around it tightly.

“I’m not going to tell you that,” she harrumphed. “It’s my diary.

Lyle reared up and let the fire from his vents roar to life, as the Quilava failed to hold back his temper and grabbed at the young Dragon-type’s free arm with a low, irritated growl.

“Well it’s obviously more than just a list of your old crushes for you to be acting like this!” he snapped. “You already screwed us over more than once already by keeping things to yourself, so why don’t you at least give me a general topic of what you wrote in there?!”

The Axew flinched and trembled briefly, before she grit her teeth and whirled around, firmly tucking her diary under an arm as she jabbed a finger back in Lyle’s snout with a sharp hiss.

“H-How about you remember your current circumstances, Quilava?! The diary either stays mine and private, or I walk!” she shot back. “If you’re going to be such a snoop, you and your friends can try your luck getting to the Divine Roost and finding that treasure on your own!

Lyle shot a long, piercing scowl back. Who did this little twerp think she was to think that they’d be the ones who’d be worse off from parting ways? And yet, something about her wavering eyes seemed off. Scared. Desperate, even. As if she were back in Primordial Woods and backed into a corner by Rankar.

He didn’t know what had gotten into her, but Lyle knew Irune seemed agitated enough to do something stupid that she’d regret later. His, Kate, and Dalton’s own hopes for a future boiled down to snagging enough loot from the Divine Roost to pay off Pokémon that would otherwise be at their throats. As unsatisfying as it felt right then, it wouldn’t do any good to alienate the Pokémon that they were clinging to for that chance.

The Quilava let his flames die down and dropped back on all fours. He frowned and kept quiet, brushing past the young Dragon-type as he looked back with a dismissive snort.

“Whatever, just go back to sleep,” he spat. “And try to act like you’re on a team with us. You’re not helping your own odds by constantly being snippy like this!”

Irune fell silent and seemed to shrink back a moment, but Lyle decided he was too tired to see what that was about. He snagged his Sleep Seed off the stool and made his way back to his bed, where he flopped down on his cushions and curled up on them, hiding the seed under his flank. He pawed at the nick on his leg and flattened his ears when he found it still stung to touch. The Quilava glanced off at Irune’s bed under the window where he saw she was settling in uneasily and trying to curl up with a thin blanket as she visibly shivered from the cold.

… Whatever, it wasn’t his job to be her hearth.

The Quilava popped the Sleep Seed into his mouth and bit down. He felt a wave of drowsiness come over him, as the greenish-blue light on the floor faded out and the world went dark and he flopped against his bedding.

It was one of those dreams again. They’d been coming more and more frequently over the last year, but it had been a while since they’d repeated for Irune over the course of multiple days.

She was in a darkened sky, feeling as if she’d just been caked over by a Blizzard. Falling over points of light as the world spun around her. She always felt miserable in this dream for some reason. Probably because every time she had it, she was always helpless. No matter what she tried, she couldn’t move her limbs, couldn’t feel them for that matter, even as the air whistled past her again and again.

The ground disappeared during one rotation, as she caught a brief glimpse of a giant, gray figure spiraling out of the sky. She rolled back towards the ground, and after another spin, the figure in the air was gone.

Everything in this dream would come to her muddled, much like it would’ve if she’d just woken up after a restless night where she’d barely slept. Or if someone really had frozen her over with a Blizzard. But even so, she began to make out more things from the ground below.

Rooftops. With smoke and fires curling up here and there among them. The bay of roars and crash of attacks mixed with the booms of cannons spewing Apricorn shot and Blast Seed shells rang out in the distance beyond its fringes. And here and there, the cacophony would be punctuated by screams.

Of pain.

Of fear.

Of death.

She was spinning slower now, as she saw the rooftops fast approaching, with her body centered over the tatty roof of a pavilion painted in pitted and worn dark colors that had been sealed up. The same one from her hometown. Some of the nearby buildings were different, but every time, the shrine was the same.

And every time, Irune was unable to move. Unable to raise her head, to flail her limbs, to look away as her path evened out over the short stretch of steps up to the boarded-up shrine. She tried to scream and cry out for help, but the words wouldn’t come to her mouth. Not even the pathetic whimper she wanted to let out came as the lanes and rooftops began to take form.

For a brief moment, the rooftops slipped from her field of view as Irune fell lower and lower. Her vision increasingly filled with the steps to the shrine below her until it blotted everything out.

And then like it always did, everything went dark and she could no longer hear or feel anything.


Irune jolted awake as a voice pricked her ears. She felt her collection of baubles brush up against her scales and rattle against each other as they shifted on her cushion. The Axew panted a moment, noticing that the thin blanket the bed came with was lying in a heap on the side, and that Lyle was in front of her, looking down at her and blinking wordlessly.

“Is something going on?” the Quilava asked. “You were thrashing in your sleep again.”

Irune righted herself, and gathered up a few glass beads from her bedding. Now that her eyes were adjusting, she saw that aside from fire flickering out of Lyle’s vents, that the room was still dark. A quick look at the windows revealed the sun was barely starting to poke over the horizon. She briefly noticed that the Quilava’s face almost had a twinge of worry to it, before the Axew forced a neutral expression over her face and shook her head back in reply.

“I… I just had a bad dream. That’s all.”

Irune wasn’t sure if they really were just dreams at this point or not. A part of her wanted them to be, but…

She doubted explaining things to Lyle one way or another would change much anyways. And it wasn’t something that a ‘mon who stole from others by trade needed to know anyways. The Fire-type’s concern seemed to fade away quickly, as his expression hardened and he looked away with a low grunt.

“Hrmph, if you’re still mad about last night, you can just say—

“Lyle, it was a nightmare,” she insisted. “Just don’t worry about it. I’m… sure it’ll go away on its own.”

Irune bit her tongue after the last part of her statement as Lyle raised a brow at her. Why didn’t she just tell him not to worry about her dream? She herself didn’t believe that reassurance, and the way she’d said it couldn’t possibly have made it more obvious she was lying.

The Quilava’s expression confirmed her worries that he didn’t believe her, but even so, he turned away and seemed reluctant to press on further.

“Yeah, they always do,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like this entire journey’s been a bad dream.”

Something about him seemed hurt, even if he didn’t show it much. Was he still upset over everything that happened yesterday? From before then? Over what had happened to his friends? For a brief moment, Irune thought to interject, to insist that she didn’t mean for any of those things to happen.


Irune turned and saw Kate and Dalton cradling their heads, obviously hung over from last night. Her eyes fell on Dalton’s splinted arm, and she couldn’t help but feel an uncomfortable chill at the sight.

It hadn’t even been three days together with this group, and already things were repeating themselves.

… Though why did she care so much if they were? They had joined forces as a matter of convenience. Each of the three had their own path to go if they managed to make it to the Divine Roost and put this nightmare behind them, and she had her own.

For everyone’s sake, it was for the best for them to stay at arm’s length from each other. She’d seen enough over the past year to know that not keeping distant would just end bitterly for everyone.

Like it did for the Balance Bandits.

Irune back to attention after a paw at her arm. A glance up revealed Lyle looking off and frowning annoyedly at Dalton and Kate as they staggered and shrank back from the morning sun. He lingered for a moment before turning back to the Axew with an impatient shake of his head.

“Hurry and pack your stuff up,” he said. “We shouldn’t assume that Graf Wellenhafen is far enough away from us to spend another night here. Let’s grab some supplies before the morning rush sets in and figure out where to go next after we get out of town.”

Lyle started off and Irune shuffled onto her feet to gather her belongings, still breathing tensely from her dream. The floor’s creaks carried on for a few paces, only to suddenly pause. The Axew turned and saw Quilava watching Dalton and Kate feebly lurch and slouch along after him in a visible daze and him flattening his ears.

… Right, they had to manage everything all while Kate and Dalton were hung over. Irune turned her head up to the Quilava and pawed at the back of her head with a nervous hem and haw.

“Er… we are going to do something about those two, right?”

The Quilava studied the hung-over Heliolisk and Sneasel for a moment, before he hung his head with a tired sigh.

“... I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world to try and order some Persim Juice or something like that from the bar to try and get those two over the hill a bit faster.”

After stopping by the tavern and parting with a few loose Poké to pick up a pair of Persim Juices from a much less energetic Decidueye at the inn’s tavern, “Igel” checked out with the Flapple receptionist and led the rest of Team Forager through the inn’s entrance and into the morning daylight.

Lyle took a moment to blink back the morning light as his eyes adjusted to it and his surroundings. The square around the fountain started to fill in with stands and mats from the first merchants drifting in for the day to ply their wares and services—more than he’d have initially expected from a little village like this, but he supposed things would be busier the same week that the Autumn Festival started. No beggars, though. He wasn’t sure whether it was because the village was too little to support them or if they just hadn’t arrived yet due to the hour.

… Or they got run off like places like Port Reyn had done. Thankfully, they weren’t going to be sticking around town long enough to find out.

The Quilava reared up and sized up the surrounding square, and found that the buildings around it were a mix of half-timbered structures punctuated by the occasional one done in the style of its proprietor’s head like a visible Colorswap Consortium shop at one end. A couple of them even had stray walls visibly fashioned from filled-in ruins like the ones on their inn’s ground floor. At the far right end of the square, there was a wooden stage being set up, with a curious platform next to it consisting of an upper floor of shacks that was held up by what looked to be a concrete pillar.

For such a humble village, the place clearly had very old roots, since there certainly weren’t ruins from human times like these back in his hometown.

Lyle and his fellows passed a street that carried off for the river and caught a brief glance of morning twilight as a raft drifted past on its surface in the distance. He then turned his head off at the Bergfried on the hill and noted that the side facing town, there was a design painted onto it in a color that looked similar to army plates: four barbs forming a cross without a center, with four shards set off at angles that made the entire thing look almost like an eight-pointed star. Some local nobles’ heraldic symbol or something like that, he guessed.

He couldn’t tell if they were supposed to be green or red, but either way, it was probably as good a sign as any that the local garrison punched above its weight. And that even without that Fähnlein of soldiers on their asses, that it really wasn’t a good idea to linger here in this village for too long.

“Ngah… keep it down, would ya?”

Lyle glanced behind him and saw Irune grimacing as Dalton and Kate lurched along after her. Guess that was a sign that those Persim Juices hadn’t done their jobs dulling their hangovers just yet.

He could already tell this was going to be a stressful morning.

“Look, we need to get out of here before things get too crowded,” the Quilava insisted. “Just hang in there a little longer, those Persim Juices you drank should help you feel better soon enough.”

He was answered by a pair of weak groans. It probably wasn’t a “yes”, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. The Quilava carried on with the rest of Team Forager for the right end of the square, all as Dalton and Kate flinched from every little noise along the way, such as the rattle of a passing wagon or the Salazzle in front of an apothecary in the background hailing a Hydreigon Carrier coming to a stop with a cheerful “Took you long enough, Harvey!” in the background. Lyle briefly considered keeping an eye on the Carrier to see if he’d be safe to approach for a ride out of town, but he quickly thought better of it. From how expensive their last flight with Hermes was, even if it wasn’t tempting fate with getting shot out of the sky again, he wasn’t sure they could afford another one. To say nothing of how the Hydreigon looked like he had a habit of getting into fights, at least if the cross-shaped scar over the side-head Lyle could see was anything to go by.

Tak! Tak! Tak!

Though the real trouble came from the sound of pounding mallets from a wooden stage being assembled at the other end of the square—probably part of the local preparations for the Autumn Festival. Lyle wasn’t sure how putting it together was making such a racket, but the effect on Dalton and Kate went about as well as expected: with the two winced after each blow like those nails were being driven into their bodies.
Lyle sighed and turned his attention to some of the nearby stalls. He keenly paid attention to the different merchants setting up shop to check if any looked particularly inattentive, or if their shops would be easier to rip off once the square had larger crowds to get lost in. Between the room, the food and drink from the bar, and the mug Kate and Dalton ruined, he was out most of his share of loot from Moonturn Square. They’d even out their money again at a quieter time, but that chunk of change they’d burned through wasn’t going to smooth itself over on its own.

“Lyle? Are you seriously casing Pokémon to rob right now?”

Lyle blinked after hearing a low, unimpressed hiss. He glanced out the corner of his eyes where sure enough, there was Irune frowning up at him with narrowed eyes.

“I mean, what did you expect us to do? Sit on the side of the road and beg?” he whispered back. “That money we parted ways with at the inn could’ve helped us buy a decent amount of gear from one of those dungeon shops the Colorswap Consortium runs in a pinch, or to pay off a Gendarme if we got pulled over for questioning.”

“But we’ve been in town for all of a night!” the Axew whispered in protest. “How can we already be stealing things?!”

Lyle fell silent and looked away for a moment. Why was this kid’s whining getting under his hide so much?

… Right, it was because something about this conversation felt like ones he’d had in the past. Like ones with his parents, not long before they threw him out. Now, like then, there had only been bad choices to pick from. Something he’d tried to explain to them. As for why stealing from others was the best of them… he supposed that in a way, the reason for doing so back then wasn’t all that different, either.

“Because we don’t have a ton of options to work with. There’s still half of Varhyde ahead in our journey. The money and supplies we have right now wouldn’t get us there without eventually having to rip someone off,” Lyle snapped. “We don’t exactly have all the time in the world to do odd jobs for random villagers, so if you have a better idea of how to square that away before Lacan catches up with us, then I’m all ear-”

“There, that should be the last one.”

Lyle glanced further down the square. There, next to one of the lanes feeding into it, was a pair of guards attaching something to a cross-shaped scaffold that stood at the center of a small mound of… Grünhäuter plates?

The Quilava blinked and his teammates slowed and gaped over, the shapes of the objects starting to fill in and grow more distinct as they neared. At the base was a set of four metal tubes with scuffs and dings leaned up against the central scaffold—cannons from the looks of it. It wasn’t unheard of for local Gendarmen or the army to set up displays in towns during the Autumn Festival to show off their armaments to reassure the public and sucker drunks and idiots into enlisting, which probably explained a thing or two about a few posters with patriotic slogans on the nearby shopfronts. Fresh ones that hadn’t gone through their first rain or moon of apathetic neglect.

But how on earth did this little town have all of this to spare from its garrison? Were they all from that Bergfried up on the hill? Lyle trailed off in his thoughts and froze after the guards at the display cleared up in his vision:

It was that same Blaziken and Nidoqueen from the gates last night, just a bit more visibly tired and irritable. The Poison-type of the pair stopped and opened a container with a steaming liquid inside, as she pulled her ears back with an annoyed grunt.

Um Himmels willen
Interjection expressing surprise, shock, or disbelief. In this context, usage is most analogous to “For crying out loud!”, lit. “For heaven’s will!”
₁, I can’t believe that the Ritter von Herbergau would bother shipping this back from Edialeigh,” the Nidoqueen fumed. “After all how much that ‘Operation Siegfried’ was talked about, you’d think that they’d have something more than this to show their home town for helping to capture a port!”

Lyle briefly blinked at the Nidoqueen's grumblings. 'Herbergau
"Errberk Village", derived by phonetic corruption. A more faithful semantic translation would be "Hostel Village (by a River)"
₂'? Was that supposed to be this place's name in Hightongue or something?

“I mean, they’re Ritter. You know how they are about taking loot. Not ‘honorable’ enough for them,” the Blaziken scoffed. “As if holding those scum’s ‘nobles’ for ransom is really so different.”

Lyle turned to his teammates and saw that they were similarly grimacing. A glance around quickly revealed why: they were completely out in the open for those two guards to see! Even so, the pair seemed distracted, and with the quickest way out of the square being the street next to the display… just walking past them was probably the fastest way of getting out of their line of sight.

Irune went up to his shoulder and tugged at him worriedly, leaning in and whispering in his ear.

“Lyle, what do we do here?” she asked. “Those two must remember us from last night. What if they ask us for a bribe? Or question us?”

“Nrgh… we got out from under them quick enough last night, didn’t we?” Kate asked. “It’d look more suspicious if we suddenly turned tail in front of them. Just keep calm and act natural while passing them.”

The Sneasel flinched as another pound rang out in the background and cupped her ears.

“Agh! Though let’s do it quickly,” she insisted. “This place sounds like a madhouse.”

Lyle sucked in a breath and braced himself. He didn’t like it, but even if she wasn’t in her best state of mind, it was hard to argue Kate’s point. If things blew up with these guards, at least they wouldn’t have to worry about running into the paws of others waiting around the square.

The Quilava continued along with his teammates as the Gendarmen continued putting together the display, when he realized something was strange about the Nidoqueen’s question. Why would anyone, much less Ritter, go to the trouble of sending army plates back from the frontlines overseas? Wouldn’t armor plates be needed more on battlefields than for a festival display?

He looked up as the Nidoqueen climbed down from the scaffolding, revealing a large set of armor tied to it, pitted with cuts and gouges that revealed a mail layer underneath that looked like it had been fashioned for the likes of a Kommo-o or a Dragonite. What on earth was up with that? Why display green plates that were obviously damaged like this? Wouldn’t it be bad for the villagers’ morale?

Unless it was his vision mixing things up and the plates were red ones and not from Varhyde’s army at all. The insignias on the armor on the display left no room for doubt: instead of the white Schild der Wirklichkeit one would expect on an army chest plate, there a black one that looked similar to it in design, but inverted.

A Schwert der Wunsche
Sword of Wishes/Desires
₃, a sigil associated with Edialeigh’s patron god. One who had cut down many a Varhyder through the ages to the point where some folktales spoke of him in dread as an ‘Endbringer’.

He sure wasn’t expecting to see anything related to him right now.

Lyle felt a paw tugging at him and saw Dalton insistently prodding at him to move along. Right, now wasn’t a good time to get distracted. Lyle continued on with his teammates and tried to keep themselves inconspicuous. The entire time, Irune’s attention kept drifting over to the trophy pile.

The guards were now slipping scarves about the scaffold’s crossbars, ones fashioned from black cloth with blue and gold horizontal bands—ones that stood out much like bolts of lightning against a night sky. A few of them, including the one about the armor on the crossbars, had what looked like a red crystal at the top. Perhaps they were the Rothäuter equivalent of Stabsoffizier blues?

“They could’ve at least shipped one or two of them back so that way the villagers could chuck Tamato Berries at them or something, but no... that’s too good for their little hometown in Austor Provinz,” the Nidoqueen scoffed. “Or that ‘mon from the Hofstaat who was supposed to have been freed from captivity during that campaign! You’d think someone that high up in the nobility would be getting a hero’s welcome around the realm, but there’s just been silence after the initial news.”

“Tch, isn’t that just a rumor, Zieste?” the Blaziken asked. “Since the only reason I could think of for the court keeping something like that quiet would be if the ‘mon turned collaborator during captivity in a way that couldn’t be covered up. Or died on the trip back across the sea. Or both, really.”

“Look, I know what I heard, Tephros,” the Nidoqueen shot back. “Even if the way all the stories abruptly stopped was a little weird. At first I thought that they’d found the late Queen’s bones out there or something like that! Some of the stories were saying that it involved a potential heir!”

Lyle’s ears flickered briefly at the mention and he cast a sidelong glance at the pair of guards, dutifully making sure the two weren’t looking. Fortunately, they seemed more distracted with whatever rumors they’d been hearing about and weren’t paying particularly close attention away from the scaffold.

“You really should pay less attention to the rumor mill, Zieste,” the Blaziken scoffed. “Why would the King worry so much about an heir of all things considering the stories about the one he’s already got…?”

The Quilava’s nose wrinkled as he neared the end of the pile when he noticed a strange, metallic smell that made him tense up and followed Irune’s gaze at the trophy pile from the corner of his eye. A number of the plates in the mound were visibly damaged, and a couple sported dark stains against their fabric.

It was as good a sign as any that he was smelling blood.

Lyle shuddered briefly and darted down the alleyway with his companions. After casting a quick glance back to make sure he wasn’t being followed, he paused to catch his breath and looked back at Kate and Dalton as they nursed their splitting headaches.

“Argh… so what’s your brilliant plan now?” the Sneasel demanded. “How are we supposed to get loot or a ride if we’re just hiding in the shadows the entire time?”

Lyle propped himself onto his hindlegs and studied the surrounding alleyway, when a loud rattle at the far end revealed a cart pulled by a Dubwool passing. Right, Pullers in a hurry often tried to bypass marketplaces as they started to fill up. Assuming the four of them could get sneak past their attendants or come across a Puller that went without one, such Pokémon were the types who wouldn’t notice things missing from their wagons or carts right away.

“... We’ll try scouting the fringes of this marketplace for marks,” the Fire-type said. “I doubt those two chuckleheads from last night are the only guards in the square. They didn’t seem to recognize us, but I don’t want to leave anything to chance.”

The Quilava shook his head, and started slipping off for the side street as settled up against the corner to steal glances around it.

“The fewer of their friends that recognize us before we start stirring up trouble, the better.”

About an hour later, the Persim Juices from the inn had done their work and helped Kate and Dalton get over their hangovers enough to part an inattentive Eiscue from her coin purse, and a few Oran Berries off a passing wagon.

Well, mostly anyways. With the way they were still flinching from the loud, exasperated growls and clatter of wagon wheels slowing to a stop from just outside the back alley they were hiding in, they weren’t fully back to normal just yet.

“For gods’ sake, Ardun, I told you not to graze along the road after dark! This is what happens when you don’t see what you’re eating!”

Lyle motioned for his teammates to follow him, and they made their way up to a small rubbish heap wedged up against a wall under the shade of trees that towered over the surrounding buildings. Just past it, they could see the occasional fall leaves drifting to earth, along with their would-be marks standing next to a small, low-slung shack without windows: a fuming Bewear next to a wagon with a canvas canopy, who was unhitching a visibly ill-looking Bastiodon who was holding his tail curled in towards his body and fighting back a gag.

“L-Lay off me, Gloria!” the dinosaur whined. “I had to dip into my food budget this month to cover that axle that broke! I had to eat something!

A quick look past the two revealed the shack had an open doorway with a cloth cut into strips covering it and a bundle of herbs hung over its entrance… Oh. So that was why the Bastiodon was in such a rush to be unhitched.

Lyle didn’t expect himself to have much sympathy for a ‘mon that looked just like the snarling Wilders they’d fought off in Primordial Woods yesterday, but the Bastiodon’s remark about having to forage to get by still made him wince. He himself had gotten sick from having to scrounge for scraps to eat in the past in particularly lean seasons, and gods were those miserable experiences. The Quilava shook his head and tried not to think too hard about the Bastiodon’s troubles, when he noticed Dalton giving him a wary look at him.

“... Are you sure we should be stealing from them, Lyle?” he asked. “They sound like they’re a bit tight on money. We’d probably get more stealing from a mark who’s better off and they’d be able to afford the hit better, too.”

Lyle hesitated briefly, when his eyes turned back at the Bewear and the Bastiodon, and then at their wagon. With how shabby it looked, the two really weren’t doing well, especially the Bastiodon. Why, in his present state, the Steel-type looked like he was struggling not to paint the path with those plants he’d eaten.

“Look, whatever you ate couldn’t have been that bad, since you’re still alive,” the Bewear sighed. “Just get it out of your system and we’ll take it easy for a bit. I just hope you didn’t eat something like buttercups since otherwise that’s going to be a real mess afterwards.”

The Steel-type let out a whimpering “B-Buttercups?” when he flinched and curled in on his stomach. The Bastiodon’s eyes widened, before he hurriedly limped past the entrance. Lyle was thankful that he couldn’t hear what was going on past the doorway, or smell it for that matter. There were only so many ways that Puller was going to get his last meal out of his body, and thinking too hard about any of them made his own empty stomach feel queasy.

He and his teammates watched and waited for an opening to sneak past the Bewear guard. The Normal-type fortunately was more preoccupied with keeping an eye on the low-slung shack. She started to fidget her tail impatiently, and when she began to steal glances around her surroundings, Lyle turned his head back to his teammates.

“... I think we can let ‘em off easy,” he insisted. “We’ll just take the Bewear’s spare gear and move on.”

Kate rolled her eyes with a grumbling “ugh, fine” at his insistence, while Irune was still frowning at him. The Quilava pinned his ears back, briefly scowling at the Axew before turning his attention back to the wagon and keenly watching the Bewear.

“Irune, I get that you’d prefer we dealt with this some other way, but we can’t afford to be picky right now. We’re running low on money and supplies for our journey and we’re not exactly close to the end of it,” Lyle insisted. “If you have a better idea of how to handle things and get out of town without leaving a trail behind for Lacan to pick up, speak up or shut up.”

Irune faltered and visibly hesitated after the demand. He doubted he’d get her to openly agree with things, but he was pretty sure he’d gotten his point across. Lyle let out a small harrumph in reply, before diverting his attention back to the wagon and its guarding Bewear.

“Thought so,” he scoffed. “Besides, losing a few Seeds and Wands shouldn’t keep those two from being able to pull stuff around. They’re clearly not pushovers, and it’s better that we put that gear to use against Wilders or Hunters in a Mystery Dungeon than have them use them against other ‘mons like us.”

That… was less reassuring than it’d sounded in his head, but it’d have to do. Lyle learned long ago that it didn’t do any good to dwell on his marks. Most of the time, it just put butterflies in his stomach or threw himself off from grabbing what he needed and getting out quickly.

There would be time to feel guilty about things later. After they were in less dire straits.

Lyle’s ears flicked at the sound of an annoyed huff, and he looked up right as the Bewear‘s patience wore out while standing guard over the wagon. The Normal-type scanned her surroundings for a moment, before she drifted past the shack’s doorway herself. At once, Lyle motioned to his companions and darted across the shaded street, jumping up into the wagon with a Quick Attack to zip him along. He came to a stop amid crates with chalky powder dribbling out of small holes. Finished Gummi Mix from the smell of things. If the Foehn Gang or the Terra Tyrants were still around, it’d have been decent loot to fence with how quickly it’d sell with no questions asked…

No, it was best not to think about such things. He needed to find whatever chest two kept their battle gear in. A glance back revealed Kate clambering up as Dalton came over and eyed the lip of the wagon before stopping. The Heliolisk let his eyes drift down to his splinted arm and then shook his head and spoke up with an uneasy mutter.

“Gods, did this injury come at a bad time,” he said.

“Oi, it’s not as if you can’t do anything right now,” Kate piped. “We need someone to let us know when those two are coming back. A broken arm shouldn’t keep you from acting as a lookout.”

Dalton hesitated and sighed before he stepped aside from the tailgate. Lyle quirked a brow, when he saw a pair of small hands at the top and heard Irune grunt and scrape against the wood of the wagon as she tried to clamber aboard.

Everyone froze briefly from the noise before Dalton hurriedly stepped in and helped her over the tailgate with his good arm. Guess Irune had come around to his argument earlier. As Irune steadied herself in the wagon, the faint scent of Oran berries that led him and his teammates towards a narrow but deep gap between the crates where the canvas wasn’t fully attached. There, on the left, was a small red chest with a padlock over it. Too poorly hidden to be a cashbox, so it must’ve been where the Puller and his bodyguard kept their stuff.

He looked down at the padlock and held it in his paws, before turning to Kate and then to Irune. They probably had a way of making the metal brittle enough to be broken open, but…

“Irune, I don’t suppose your tusks can take apart a lock, can they?” the Quilava asked. He was met by an unamused stare from her and Kate, which prompted him to fold his ears back with a disappointed sigh..

“... Right, guess I should’ve expected as much,” he said. “If Alvin was still here, I’d just ask him to break it after Kate and I made the metal brittle… but…”

Lyle trailed off mid-sentence as his mind drifted back to his Marowak companion and him getting beaten by the guards in Moonturn Square. The Quilava hung his head and a sinking feeling came over the pit of his stomach. Why on earth did he think about that right now? The stoat drooped briefly as thoughts of the way they’d last parted kept lingering. Along with guilty wonderings of if Irune was right and there was something they could’ve done for him…

“And make a racket for anyone on the street to hear? Nah, we’ve got a better way of getting through a cheap lock like that.”

Lyle looked past his shoulder as Kate shuffled up, with her right claw pulling a metal spike from her satchel. An Iron Thorn? But how was that supposed to help? The Sneasel crouched and slid the tip of the spike into the padlock’s opening, as Lyle and Irune both gaped and blinked at her.

“Wait, what are you doing with the lock?” Irune asked.

“Picking it, obviously,” the Sneasel replied.

Lyle quirked an ear. He’d heard of Kate getting out of some improbable situations when they were back in the Foehn Gang together, like the time she’d managed to somehow smooth talk a haul of seized loot out of a garrison of Gendarmen, but this was definitely new. It also seemed to catch Dalton off-guard from his end of the wagon, as he poked his head past the tailgate and blinked at the Sneasel.

“You never mentioned that you knew how to pick locks,” he said. “When did you learn to do that?”

“Oh come on, it’s not that rare of a skill among Outlaws, is it? I learned how to do it about a year after I joined the Mistral Marauders,” she said. “I wouldn’t call myself an expert lockpick, but you don’t need to be one for a padlock like this. Most ones flimsy enough to get past by making their metal brittle are usually cheap pieces of crap that have a single pin keeping the entire lock in place. Stick something narrow and hard in the keyhole and push it up…”

A soft click rang out as the lock suddenly jolted open. Lyle stared blankly as Irune blinked incredulously, watching slack-jawed as the Sneasel pulled the lock off with a quiet smirk.

“And it’ll open up for you quietly,” she said. “With nobody the wiser.”

He’d have to keep Kate’s skill in mind for the future, but for now, they had other priorities to take care of: like getting their loot and getting out before that Bewear came back.

Lyle pushed the chest open and at once was greeted by a small bundle of Oran Berries along with various Orbs and Seeds inside. Lyle and his teammates hurriedly cleared out the chest by shoveling whatever they could grab into their bags to sort out later, Irune more hesitantly than either him or Kate. After clearing out what they could, Kate quietly clamped the chest shut and slipped the padlock back over it.

Good enough, they could take stock of what they’d nabbed in a safer place.

The three turned for the tailgate and hurriedly slunk over. Right at the tailgate’s lip, Lyle stiffened up at the sound of approaching chatter and fallen leaves being crunched underfoot as Dalton’s eyes widened from past the wagon. The Heliolisk hurriedly ducked underneath the wagon as he audibly fought back a yelp.

Lyle felt a chill run down his pelt and startled embers flickered from his vents. The message was clear: they weren’t alone right now.

Kate beelined for the right corner by the tailgate and ducked up behind it while Lyle pulled Irune in by the left. None of them dared to so much as breathe, as they saw the Bastiodon and Bewear return with a low grumble.

“Well, at least now we know you that didn’t eat buttercups,” the Bewear sighed. “Took you long enough. I was starting to think you were going to spend all day in there!”

“Urgh… like we’ve never run unexpectedly late because of you before,” the Bastiodon groaned. “Look, let’s just see if that apothecary in the square has anything that’ll help me feel less crap and hit the road again.”

Lyle blanched and struggled to fight back fire from his vents. These two were already going to leave? But why? And how were they supposed to get off the wagon without either of them noticing? The Bewear’s shadow along with the one of the Bastiodon’s head crest through the wagon’s canvas stopped and turned around as the Normal-type seemed to also be taken aback by the Puller’s proposition, as the Bewear’s folded her arms and let out a sharp harrumph.

“Ardun, you’ve got food poisoning right now. Are you even going to be able to make it past the first road marker without needing to pull over again?” the Bewear asked. “We should rest while we’re here. We can still make up the time if we stick to a quicker pace after you’re feeling a bit better.”

Lyle blinked at the pair’s conversation. Now that he thought of it, it did seem a bit weird that a ‘mon that sounded as sick as the Bastiodon did would be so eager to leave. But even through the canvas, something about the dinosaur’s gait seemed tense and on-edge. The silhouette of the Puller’s head turned about uneasily, before the Steel-type’s shadow leaned in on the Bewear’s and began to speak up in a low tone.

“Because fall levies for the army have been going out,” the Bastiodon said. “Some of the Carriers at our last stop were saying that a Fähnlein had been going from town to town out in the northeast.”

… Wait a minute, Fähnlein in the northeast…? That had to be the same one that shot them down! So they did manage to put some distance between Lacan and themselves!

Lyle caught himself and flicked his ears with a puzzled frown. Something wasn’t adding up here. If the Bastiodon had been hearing rumors of Lacan and his troops, why was he this worried when they were still so far out?

“Ardun, that’s not even in this Provinz-” the Bewear started, only to pause and breathe in sharply with a frustrated sigh. “Look, did any of the stories you heard about this Fähnlein involve them going around and pressing conscripts?”

A pause followed, along with the sound of heavy feet pawing at the dirt.

“Well… no…

“So then why are you wetting yourself like a little hatchling over them?” the Bewear demanded.

Lyle turned his attention to the back of the wagon as a silence hung in the air. If they could just get out quietly while the two were distracted… The Quilava looked over to Kate as she motioned with her paws and hopped the tailgate, coming to a stop on the ground.

“This is as good a sign as any that we should get lost,” the Sneasel whispered. “Come on, let’s get-”

“If the army was going to spring a surprise levy on a town, they wouldn’t send an entire Fähnlein for it,” the Bewear insisted. “Wouldn’t they logically just send a few soldiers and have the local guards do the dirty work of handing them out?”

“Because with the stories I’ve heard coming off the frontline this year, I don’t want to take any chances,” the Bastiodon insisted. “Especially when those Carriers said that they spotted that Fähnlein around Toya Square just yesterday.”

Lyle stiffened up and blinked. Maybe getting shot out of the sky had been a blessing in disguise. If Hermes made it to Toya Square, Lacan and his soldiers would’ve caught up later that day and they’d have to try and outrun him through the countryside!

“... Okay, that’s quite a jump in a single day, but that’s still not exactly close to us,” the Bewear murmured. “Where exactly are you going with this?”

“I overheard a few of the local Gendarmen say that strange fliers from the army came in overnight from Toya Square before moving on in a hurry,” he insisted. “They’re probably scouts or something, and that means that Fähnlein is planning on coming this way.”

Lyle felt startled fire start to simmer in his vents and looked over at his teammates. Kate had visibly stiffened up and Irune’s eyes had shrunk to startled pins. Those soldiers couldn’t possibly have known that they’d go this way from Primordial Woods! How on earth could they have possibly expected that?!

… Except, they themselves were only here because of a map of Mystery Dungeons in that cheap handbook they stole. If the army had sent hundreds of soldiers after a single Axew, what were the odds they’d have been too cheap to give Lacan or any of his underlings similar maps of their own?

Lyle felt his breaths come shorter and shallower as he subconsciously stole glances for the back of the wagon. Screw waiting until the afternoon, they needed to get out of this town. For all he knew those ‘scouts’ were already going around asking questions like that Corvisquire did back in Moonturn Square!

“H-Huh?! B-But how would Lacan-?!”

Lyle heard the Pokémon outside the wagon jolt back with a start and watched as the shadows through the canvas abruptly shrank and moved. Irune reflexively clamped her mouth shut and froze as she realized the two’d overheard her, but the damage was done. In a flash, the Bastiodon poked his head in, where there was a brief moment of surprise before he narrowed his eyes into a harsh glare.

“Hey! What do you three think you’re doing in there?!”

Götterblut, just what they needed now of all times.

Author’s Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Um Himmels willen - Interjection expressing surprise, shock, or disbelief. In this context, usage is most analogous to “For crying out loud!”, lit. “For heaven’s will!”
2. Herbergau - "Errberk Village", derived by phonetic corruption. A more faithful semantic translation would be "Hostel Village (by a River)"
3. Schwert der Wunsche - "Sword of Wishes/Desires"

Teaser Text:

Toya Square, 18. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.

To whom it may concern,

On behalf of Graf Lacan von Wellenhafen and His Majesty King Siegmund von Wahrheit, I wish to solicit your aid in searching for Pokemon of interest for His Majesty and his armed forces. Their descriptions, last known whereabouts, and known aliases have been included with the attached wanted posters. See to it that they are copied and distributed as soon as possible.

Apprehend anyone who matches the included descriptions alive, in particular theᵃ Axew. That point cannot be stressed enough, since the balance of victory for the army’s present campaigns against the Kingdom of Edialeigh potentially hinges on her well-being, with potentially existential implications for the realm were something to happen to her.

As such Graf von Wellenhafen and His Majesty expect these solicitations to be acted on accordingly to the utmost of your abilities. The treasury of His Majesty will make whole any bounties that need to be paid, including for bounties paid out for cases of mistaken identity. For our present mission, it would be less injurious to incur such public embarrassments and quietly make restitution later than to risk these Pokemon slipping away from your Gendarmen second-guessing themselves.

I wish I could be more frank about our circumstances, but duty compels me to remain circumspect. Just know that for your ranks, apprehending these four could be the most important task they have ever received.

Important enough that it could determine the future of this land that we call ‘Varhyde’.

- Urgent dispatch from Ritterin von Herbergau, Sophia Krarmors relayed to the Grafschaft Sheriffs of Austorᵇ Provinz

a. In official German-language media, 'das' is always used as the definite article for Pokémon. Here, the feminine definite article 'die' is used to imply the subject's gender.
b. Derived by corruption and truncation. In a more faithful semantic translation, this would be something along the lines of "East Gate Steppe / Prairie"
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Chapter 16 - Running

Es wird gesagt, dass Pokémon Kreaturen sind, die schon immer von Ereignissen vor ihrer Zeit fasziniert waren. Es ist unser Kanal zur Vergangenheit und zum Wissen unserer Vorfahren, denn selbst Wilden geben ihr Wissen und ihre Geschichten von einer Generation zur nächsten weiter. Man sagte auch, dass Menschen Geschöpfe mit ähnlichen Neigungen seien, mit der Ausnahme, dass sie das Handwerk der Chronik vergangener Zeiten beherrschten, bevor unsere Zivilisationen erstmals unsere meist archaischen Runen verfassten.

Viele dieser Geschichten sind im Laufe der Zeit verloren gegangen, von dem glühenden Blitz und den Unruhen der darauffolgenden Jahre. Daher sind wir bei der Geschichte, die unserer Welt vorausgeht, oft auf widersprüchliche Mythen angewiesen, um einen Einblick in das zu bekommen, was davor kam.

Eine der ursprünglichsten Sehnsüchte ist eine Antwort auf die Frage "Wie sind wir entstanden?" Viele Volksmärchen unter Wilden und Zivilen scheinen darin übereinzustimmen, dass wir unsere Existenz einem Schöpfergott verdanken, einem Architekten unseres Universums, einer Großen Monade, aus der alles, was wir um uns herum sehen und wissen, hervorgegangen ist.

Spezifische Geschichten darüber, was dieses Wesen ist, variieren von Erzähler zu Erzähler. Dass er seine Schöpfung ins Leben gesungen hat. Dass er mit tausend Armen unser Universum und alles, was darin ist, geformt hat. Dass er auf einem schneebedeckten Thron in einem fernen Land regierte. Alle sind sich nur darin einig, dass dieses Wesen es für angebracht hielt, Helfer zu erschaffen, die Bruchteile seiner Macht widerspiegelten, und dass er nur selten direkt mit unserem Universum interagiert.

Woran das liegt, darüber besteht keine Einigkeit. Abgesehen davon, dass dieses Wesen existiert, ist nicht bekannt, dass es seit der Geburt unserer Welt aufgetaucht ist. Selbst als das Gefüge der Realität in Aufruhr geriet und die Schöpfung, wie er sie kannte, auf den Kopf gestellt wurde.

- Auszug aus »Die Gesammelten Legenden aus Wunder«

Lyle's heart stopped as time seemingly froze for a moment. Right in front of him was the armored head of the glaring Bastiodon Puller who was blocking off most of the wagon's exit. Off to the right, the Puller's Bewear bodyguard was hurrying over just behind and peeking under the wagon. The bared-fang snarl she let out as her line of sight fell under them only confirmed the worst was coming to pass.

"Oi, Ardun! There's another one under the wagon!"

Yup, things definitely weren't going well for them right now.

Lyle flinched as a sharp crackling noise rang out. The next thing he knew, the Bewear was stumbling back with a sharp cry, and sparks were flying out from under the wagon that made even Bastiodon recoiled in surprise. Everything went by in a blur after that. He briefly saw a flash of black and red as Kate lunged forward and cut the Bastiodon off with a swipe of a glinting set of claws just behind his armored face. Without thinking, the Quilava spewed out a cloud of smoke out the back of the wagon at the reeling dinosaur, tugging at a stunned-looking Irune with an impatient shout.

"Time to go! Help me grab Dalton and let's get out of here!"

He all but dragged Irune off the tailgate as the Puller and his guard wheezed for air amid the blackened haze. It was already starting to thin, but Lyle could just make out Kate helping tug Dalton to his feet from the side of the wagon. The Quilava ran over and hurriedly pulled the Heliolisk up by his right shoulder, drawing a brief wince after jostling the lizard's wounded arm.

For a moment, Lyle worried that he'd hurt the Heliolisk, only for the Electric-type to stumble and take off running with Kate following suit. He didn't question it and drug Irune along before dropping to all fours, running for dear life after his teammates for the alleyway they'd come from. Lyle's heart pounded in his chest and frightened fire poured out of the vents along his head and back. The one good thing at the moment was that he couldn't hear the Bastiodon and Bewear right then...

"Thieves! Thieves! Get back here!"

Well, so much for that. Just then, Lyle heard the two's voices shouting and heavy footsteps chasing after them, loud and nearby. He didn't dare look back as the shade of the alleyway popped back into view, the Quilava keenly training his eyes on Dalton and Kate's tails to follow after them.

There was a brief shout from behind him, when a glassy blue sphere passed his head and shattered against the wall just above him. The Fire-type's vision abruptly exploded in white, and he and his teammates cried out as sticky silk suddenly gummed up fur all over his body. Gottverdammt, he hadn't seen a Slow Orb in those two's stuff! Where'd they get that one from?!

Lyle desperately tried to fight against the silk tangling up in his fur and get his limbs moving again when sharp missiles abruptly clip him from behind. He tumbled head over heels in the alleyway as stray rocks whizzed past and crashed to the ground, the world spinning around him until he came to a stop on his back. The Fire-type woozily rolled onto his feet, where just past his shoulder, Kate and Irune were also knocked down. Ahead of him, Dalton was stumbling back onto his feet and cradling his splinted arm with bared teeth, staring down the Bastiodon and Bewear as they approached with piercing glares.

"Hrmph, going through all this trouble for a few Seeds and Orbs?" the Heliolisk snarled. "You asked for it!"

Dalton attempted to throw his frill out and fling sparks forward at the pair, when he abruptly froze up with a sharp wince and his electricity abruptly sputtered out beyond a few stray arcs that landed in the dirt. … Right, the nurses warned it'd take a couple days before he could open it again properly.

Lyle ran forward to intervene but came too late to stop the Bewear from lunging forward at the Heliolisk. The Fighting-type threw an arm back, before throwing a punch forward that landed with a wrenching thud against Dalton's stomach. The Heliolisk shot away from the blow, screaming in pain as Lyle's limbs went stiff in fright. His eyes briefly made contact with the Bewear's and widened, only for her to brush past him and go for Dalton with a crushing pin. He briefly saw Kate and Irune run in to aid him and frantically tried to gather fire to force the Fighting-type off when a loud bellow filled his ears from behind.

"Gottverdammte furry rat, I'll stomp you flat!"

Lyle screamed and rolled out of the way as the Bastiodon came barreling through the alleyway, briefly glimpsing Kate frantically spewing an Icy Wind before the Puller rammed her and sent her flying into a wall along with Irune tumbling out of the way of his legs. Hoarse cries from Dalton's end revealed the Bewear had pinned him underfoot, the Heliolisk frantically flailing and desperately trying to summon crackling static as the Fighting-type pulled her arm back for a crushing blow aimed at his head.

"G-Get off of him!"

The alleyway suddenly lit up with a brilliant orange hue. In the flash of an eye, there was a searing flash of heat as a fireball that looked bigger than him sailed in and sent the bear flying into the wall. She struck it with a crunch as the plaster around it cracked, before she flopped over stunned. Lyle looked back and noticed that the eaves and wall near where the Bewear's head had been looked visibly scorched and trailed smoke. Everyone else in the alleyway, even the Bastiodon, abruptly froze with their eyes shrunken to pins as they stared at a figure in their midst.

Irune. The little Axew now had smoke curling up from the corners of her mouth. Her teeth were bared, and much to Lyle's alarm, her red eyes were narrowed with a fierce, almost primal expression.


He stared blankly at the panting Axew for a moment. A sharp clatter rang out, and a quick glimpse out the corner of Lyle's eye revealed that the Bastiodon was nervously backpedaling. He didn't know whether it was actually happening or just a trick of the light, but the dinosaur's armored face looked visibly drained of color.

"Wh-What in the-?"

"I said, get off of him!"

Irune lurched and convulsed as brilliant fire built up in her mouth, before she turned and spewed another gout of fire at the Bastiodon. Lyle stumbled back as the fireball missed his body and felt an overpowering flash of heat, briefly making out a fireball surrounded by what looked like two rings before it swallowed up the Puller. The most godsawful screams followed and Lyle flinched as the heat lingered along with the woosh of strong flames before the light and heat dissipated almost as quickly as it came.

Lyle turned towards where the Bastiodon Puller had been. The dinosaur was there, getting up feebly and whimpering in pain with singed scales trailing smoke as he nursed a fresh burn that ran along the length of his right flank. The clatter of broken plaster shifting turned Lyle's attention to the Bewear stumbling up in the background. Her eyes fell on Irune, where they at once shrank to pins and she stumbled back and stammered in fright.

"O-Oh screw this!" the Bewear yelped. "Our clients aren't paying me enough for this!"

"S-Stay away from us, you little freak!" the Bastiodon cried.

The Bastiodon and Bewear turned and fled down the other end of the alleyway for dear life. All the while, Lyle looked on in blank confusion, before he snapped back to attention from hearing his companions' hurriedly scurrying away. He turned and bolted after the sound, briefly glimpsing Kate dragging Irune along by her claw as the four tore along down the alley.

They ducked around the first corner they came across and propped themselves up panting against the wall among a few piles of autumn leaves heaped up out of sight. Lyle turned towards his Axew teammate as his breaths came out ragged and noticed her own eyes seemed shaken.

Wh-What the hell just happened?!

"I-Irune, what did you do there?!" Kate demanded. "Was that Fire Blast?! Since when did Axew know how to use that?!"

Irune cringed and shrank back against the wall, looking much as if she'd been cornered by a snarling Grünhäuter. Was that a Fire Blast? Lyle could've sworn those Hunters back in Moonturn Square said she'd used one on their Grovyle friend, and he supposed there were move tutors out there that taught it to other Pokémon.

Except, Irune wasn't saying anything back. She just stood there, her mouth open in shock as her eyes drifted towards the ground as she fumbled with her words.

"I- I-"

Lyle flicked his ears uneasily. Something wasn't adding up about this. Even if the Quilava supposed it was possible for an Axew to know Fire Blast, he'd never seen a little 'mon like an Axew spew up anything like that. And… there was something strange about its shape, too. Didn't Fire Blasts branch off from their fireballs in five directions instead of four?

His mind turned back to the electrified tackle Irune used in their battle with Rankar back in Primordial Woods. Dalton said that he thought it was a Shock Wave, but was it? Even if it was, just how many Axew were there around who knew both Shock Wave and Fire Blast?

He supposed there were stories of prolonged exposure to the Distortions of Mystery Dungeons sometimes making Pokémon evolve unnaturally early. Did something like that give Irune those abilities? Did the army make her like this?

Lyle opened his mouth to ask her, only to hear loud cries in the distance. Götterblut, of course those two would go off crying to the Gendarmen. The Fire-type stiffened up as his vents came alight with a start. He shook his head and dropped onto all his paws, motioning with his head for his teammates to follow.

"Whatever's going on with her, we'll figure it out later," the stoat insisted. "This is a small town, and it won't take long for the guards here to get on our tails."

Kate flattened her ears at the response and clicked her tongue with a low scoff.

"Oh come on, who on earth's going to believe that an Axew just stomped their tails that badly?"

Lyle opened his mouth to protest when he noticed Dalton looking off at the opposite wall of the alleyway and his mouth flopping open. The color visibly drained from his face as he raised his uninjured arm and pointed off shakily past Lyle's shoulders.

"M-More than you'd think," he gulped. "Look!"

Lyle turned around with his teammates when he saw a damaged wanted poster: the top where the illustration of the culprit normally would be was torn away with only the description and posted reward left behind. He blinked at the sight. Four thousand Carolins? That wasn't half bad for a bounty, but what really stood out to him was the name and the crime.

"... 'Chando Imperagators, wanted for 50 counts of arson in Port Reyn'?" Kate murmured, giving a puzzled tilt of her head. "How in the hell does a Feraligatr's kid set that much stuff on fire without getting caught? Did he have wings or something? Anyhow, how's that relevant to us-?"

"No, not that one!" the Heliolisk insisted. "The ones to its right!"

Lyle turned his gaze right along with the others when they saw them. Three posters, looking like they'd been just freshly put up overnight, with drawings of their species. 'Kate Snibunnas' on the Sneasel's poster, 'Dalton Elezards' on the Heliolisk's, and most worryingly on the Quilava's, 'Lyle Fremders', the false name he'd used to try and hide from his past with!

Lyle's head started to feel faint and his stomach began to knot up as the runes underneath their names came into view. Each of them were wanted for the same litany of crimes: banditry, battery, attacking officers of the realm… and the bounties for each one of them were over twice as high as what that arsonist had! Every team of Hunters in this gottverdammten Provinz would take notice of a bounty that high! The Quilava shrank back and breathed in shallowly when Kate's incredulous voice snapped him back to attention.

"Wait a minute, 'Irune Wildes'? Is that really your Vatername?"

There, on the far right, was a fourth poster pinned up on the wall depicting an Axew. Lyle sized up the poster and saw that the crimes listed were much the same, and yet in spite of it, her bounty was higher than the rest of theirs combined!

He froze with his mouth hung open. Who on earth was Irune? What on earth was she? Just what sort of Pokémon would get Lacan, no- the army as a whole so desperate to capture her?

The Quilava looked over at his Axew teammate and paused after he noticed she was trembling out of fright. She stared up at the listing blankly, before looking back with an almost palpable air of desperation.

"Y-Yes, that's mine," she murmured. "B-But where are we even supposed to run right now?"

Lyle bit his tongue. He'd hoped that they'd have had time to snag a map and size up options, but he was genuinely unsure where they could turn to at this point. With bounties like that, they were lucky that nobody had recognized them in town yet. Fleeing overland was surely a nonstarter since these wanted posters had likely been given out to other nearby towns. Going back to Raptor Rock was similarly out of the question since if Lacan had sent word out here asking the Gendarmen to keep an eye out for them, he had to have at least considered it possible that they'd escaped through Raptor Rock.

The Quilava turned over to his teammates and found that both of them were similarly grimacing. Just then, Dalton raised his head and turned off towards the direction of the passing river, where after a moment's pause, a flash of realization came over the Heliolisk's eyes.

"The river running along the village had some docks along it," the Electric-type said. "There's bound to be some boats and rafts by the water. If we go there, there might be one we can sneak out of here on."

Lyle suddenly stiffened up and felt the color flush out of his face as his mind turned towards the glimpses of the water they'd seen during the day. And the idea of being surrounded on all sides by it, too deep to reach the bottom if he fell in.

"Oh no, you can't be serious–" Lyle started, only to be cut off by a sharp huff in reply.

"Yes, I am serious," the Heliolisk insisted. "Trying to flee out of town means going through checkpoints staffed by guards at all hours. Checks on incoming watercraft are usually done just before docking, and normally the guards wouldn't be paying attention to ones leaving anywhere near as closely, especially at this hour."

The Quilava grimaced and cringed slightly. Sure he wasn't a little Cyndaquil who'd cry for his parents after being stranded on a rock in a stream anymore, but being surrounded by deep water was still an unsettling feeling. Enough so that just looking over the edge of bridges would make his stomach knot up.

Still, it was hard to argue Dalton's point. Even if they did sneak past the village's checkpoints, there was the band of fields and Civils' dwellings they'd have to get past before truly making it into the wilderness. Where for all they knew, there were already Gendarmen combing it and looking for them.

"Scales, you said that you saw a beacon from Newangle City last night!" Kate exclaimed. "For all we know, this river goes straight to it!"

Lyle sucked in his breath and tensed up. Right, he'd forgotten about that. Gods, they were between a rock and a hard place. Even Dalton seemed to hesitate a bit as he bit his lip before shaking his head.

"We could have chances to slip off beforehand, Newangle City's still some distance away. Even if we did wind up going there, we'd at least have the safety of numbers assuming we made it past the gates since it's the biggest city in Varhyde," the Heliolisk replied. "Even if Lacan somehow thought we might wind up there, there's no way he'd have tipped off all of the local guards about us in time."

Those… were a lot of assumptions that Dalton was making right now. Even if Lyle understood the logic behind it, he couldn't say he'd expected to already be in trouble this far out from Toya Square.

The Quilava sucked in a sharp breath and looked down at Irune. Strangely enough, she seemed almost relieved by the prospect of going to Newangle City. She really wasn't experienced as an Outlaw if she found Dalton's reassurance to be anything more than cold comfort. After all, the Gendarmen were the most organized there, and even with the war in Edialeigh, there was always a small army of soldiers garrisoned within its walls. About the last place an Outlaw from outside would want to try and take shelter in.

And yet… between having to choose between hiding in the shadows of a sprawling city versus a little hamlet like this… with Lacan and his Fähnlein coming into the area if they weren't already here…

"We don't have any better options right now," the Quilava grunted. "Come on, let's go!"

The choice was only obvious. Lyle lowered his head and took off running in the direction of the river. The patter of his teammates' feet sounded out behind him as they rushed for the water, and what they hoped would be enough of a break for them to slip away from their pursuers to safer havens.

The run to the docks went by quicker than Lyle expected, as he and the rest of Team Forager dashed through the back alleys of Errberk Village, all but flying past huts and shacks as the earth sloped down and their destination came into view. There, just up ahead amid autumn leaves drifting down from the village’s tall trees, was the wince-worthy sight of the river, along with a set of embankments built along it that anchored a set of crude wooden piers where a few skiffs and rafts had been tied down to them.

"There they are!" Dalton cried. "Just a little further!"

For a second, Lyle thought of just jumping down to the riverbank below, only to think twice of the idea after seeing the drop from the embankment was at least twice a Mudsdale's height. Even if Dalton's arm wasn't broken right now, a fall from that sort of height was surely risking trouble if anyone didn't stick their landing.

Fortunately, there were stairs heading down nearby. Thank the gods. The stoat took off running for them as tense panting pricked his ears, with a quick glance behind revealing Irune trying to keep pace with the rest of Team Forager on her stubby legs.

"A-Are we sure there's someone at the docks who will take us on such short notice?!" she asked.

Lyle didn't have an answer to that. Frankly, he wasn't sure whether or not they even had the option not to try and stow away unannounced. But they had other problems right now, and with his pounding heart and his vents pouring startled fire, Lyle doubted he'd be able to think of a response on the spot.

All of a sudden, a crushing watery jet zipped in and knocked him off his feet. The Quilava yelped and tumbled onto his side as water ran along his pelt and got up his snout, leaving him hacking for air as he heard Kate and Dalton cry out and come to a skidding stop. He briefly saw Dalton's scaly legs stumble as the Heliolisk tried to avoid tripping over him, then Kate's face as she stooped down to try and roll him onto his feet. Irune followed suit and popped in front of him to pull him back up by his forepaws when a yipping voice cut in from further ahead.

"Hey! Who invited you to this party?!"

An all-too-familiar yipping voice. One that judging from the grimace spreading over her face, Irune recognized herself. The Axew turned her head off to the right, and as Lyle followed suit he tensed up at a sight that at once filled him with equal parts dread and bewilderment.

There, emerging from a side street just ahead of the stairs was a party consisting of a Dewott, a Grovyle, an Eevee, and a Houndour that all trained sharp scowls at them. Something about the four seemed vaguely familiar. They all wore silver scarves with designs colored the same shade of red they were wearing—that same three-pointed spike that was on their own scarves, just with an extra chevron underneath.

"Well this is an earth-splattering development," the Houndour scoffed. "We knew you weren't particularly bright Outlaws, but we were hardly expecting you to stay in town while we came through."

"You didn't think we were just going to forget the way you ran our names into the mud back at that Moonturn Square place, did you?" the Grovyle harrumphed. "Just try and run!"

Ach, gottverdammt, that was why those four seemed familiar! That was that Grovyle—'Elma' or whatever her name was—and those Team Pathfinder ankle-biters they'd stolen their current scarves from! But they'd last seen these four in Moonturn Square, then how-?

"Gah… You're kidding me," Kate groaned. "How the hell are you dweebs even here right now?!"

"Our last client was an Arcanine courier who needed an Exploration Team to help him scout out a shortcut to Newangle City," the Eevee scoffed. "Turns out there's a set of Links from one of the Mystery Dungeons near Moonturn Square that'll make it to Raptor Rock in about half a day's journey."

"It only took getting lost in three Mystery Dungeons, running into the occasional Monster House here or there, and running away very quickly, but we and our client survived!" the Houndour chimed in.

That… was some crazy beginner's luck for those four, or else they were tougher than Lyle gave them credit for. Though from the other three's expressions and their grumbling remarks of "Bel, you're not supposed to tell them that", he'd stake his ill-gotten gains on the former. Regardless, the four didn't look like they were in the mood to let getting robbed go, especially with the way the Dewott from their team sauntered up and held out one of his scalchops accusingly.

"The point is, we're stronger than ever now!" the otter insisted. "Right on the cusp of evolution and Vilma got us some drinks to help with training! We even got a few of those 'Looplet' things to help us tan your hides and bring you to justice!"

Right, 'Vilma' was the Grovyle's name. Lyle's train of thought was broken when the Dewott raised an arm, drawing attention to a metal bangle about it with a set of notched grooves along them. The Fire-type blinked a moment, before pinning his ears back with an unimpressed frown.

"... You do know those don't do a whole lot outside Mystery Dungeons, right?" he asked. "You need to fit emeras into Looplets like those for them to have any effect. Good luck getting any of them outside one in one piece."

The Dewott drew his scalchop back with a low growl as the Water-type and his teammates approached, starting to form a semicircle around them. Agh, they didn't have time for this! They hadn't happened to pick up a Petrify Orb from those Pullers earlier, had they…?

"Look, we understand that you're not happy with us, this really isn't a good time! Just let us go and we'll leave and never see each other again!"

Lyle looked up from his bag and saw Irune going forward, waving her arms pleadingly. There was a brief moment of hesitation among Team Pathfinder's members, when Vilma let out a sharp huff and folded the leaves on her arms in on each other into pointed blades

"Why? So you can run our names into the ground in another town?" the Grovyle scoffed. "We're Team Pathfinder! As if we're just going to sit back and let you do that!"

"Yeah, get ready for a whipping!" Nellie growled. "The guards here forced us to change our scarf pattern thanks to you since they at first thought we were part of your band of Outlaws!"

Lyle blinked briefly at the Eevee's fuming. He knew that Lacan and his Fähnlein had been going around searching for them, but they'd managed to stay a step ahead of him since Primordial Woods. Had the scarf confusion with Team Pathfinder been helping to throw the Salamence and his goons off their trail?

"I mean, you could've made it harder for yourselves to be mistaken if you're so worried about that," Lyle harrumphed. "Why, you literally just flipped your old scarves' color scheme and threw in a chevron!"

"What, are you blind?" Vilma snapped. "Our current design has green on it! Anybody could see the difference!"

The Grovyle held out a paw accusingly, only to blink after seeing the rest of her teammates giving sheepish looks at her.

"Oh, is that what that color is supposed to be?" Bel asked. "We were under the impression that you chose red for our symbol."

"It… is kinda hard to tell the difference between the two colors anymore, Vilma," Nellie chimed in.

… Wait, 'anymore'? Lyle wasn't sure what the Eevee meant by that when he could've sworn her kind saw red and green much like Quilava did. An unimpressed scoff snapped him to attention as Kate folded her arms at his side and gave an idle wave of her claw back at the team of Hunters.

"You're upset at us for helping you improve your looks?" she scoffed. "Is it too late to make a trade? Why, those colors you're wearing now look better than the ones we stole off you!"

Lyle sucked in a sharp breath after Sneasel's remark as the Hunters' expressions seemed to grow even angrier, if that was even possible. 'Vilma', the Grovyle from their ranks, was particularly offended as she grit her teeth and flashed her blades with a glare that looked sharp enough to pierce hide.

"We spent ages working on our old patterns! I was the one who came up with the final design!" the Grovyle snapped. "Though here, let me pay you back for wrecking our hard work!"

Vilma lunged forward with an overlapping cross-slash from her blades, and sailed along as her X-Scissor struck Kate square in her gut. Lyle's vents sparked to life and he readied a cone of Embers to intervene, only for a watery jet to clock him in the face. The Quilava tumbled over, wheezing up smoke and cradling his now dampened snout as battle cries rang out around him. He hastily rolled onto his feet as a spray of sand just missed his face. In front of him, the other Hunters were rushing forward, while Irune and Dalton had hurriedly slipped past him to try and fill the gap.

Gottverdammt, just how many Power Drinks had this Dewott gone through in the past day?! He could've sworn the 'mon never hit him this hard during their fight back in Moonturn Plaza!

Dalton motioned for Irune to stay back and charged ahead, sparks dancing on his hide as he neared the Houndour and Eevee with his teeth bared in challenge.

"That's enough!" he hissed.

The Heliolisk sprang forward and tried to bat his frill out to fling a Parabolic Charge forward, only for him to abruptly stop mid-way. Lyle's eyes widened as Dalton's body abruptly froze up with a sharp yelp and the arcing bolts of electricity struck the ground just shy of Nellie and Bel. Beyond briefly flinching, the two were wholly unscathed and hurriedly fell back.

Dammit, so that's why those healers said that Dalton needed to give his frill a rest! Dalton must've forgotten about that himself briefly from the way his eyes were widening.

"H-Huh?! But that should've-! Ow!"

The Hunters didn't wait for him to finish. Before Dalton could react, a swift slash from Vilma's leafy blades sent him staggering back, an opening which Cruz followed up with by throwing a retaliating punch that knocked Dalton off his feet entirely with a pained cry.

"Hah! Time to ride the train to beatdown town!"

Lyle flinched as Dalton hit the ground and the Quilava grit his teeth, fire pouring out his vents as his breaths came out in ragged pants. No, they weren't getting their escape messed up by a bunch of rookie dweebs!

He barreled ahead just as Nellie tried to charge forward to help mob the felled Heliolisk, slamming into her with a Flame Charge and batting her aside. He felt his limbs loosen up as they normally did after such tackles when Vilma briefly appeared in the corner of his eye. Shadowy flecks began to build along her claws, only for her to abruptly lurch when an icy flechette struck her arm. The Grovyle abruptly sprang back with a sharp hiss and crouched along the edge of the embankment looking off at the culprit. Lyle followed the gecko's gaze, where at the other end of his field of view was Kate flaring her ears with a knowing smirk.

"Sorry, Grovyle! But I'm gonna need to put your plans on ice here!"

A pained yelp from behind alerted him to Bel stumbling back from Irune as embers of blue dragonfire smoldered from the edges of her mouth. Clearly these four hadn't gotten that much stronger than last time for the Houndour reel so much from a Dragon Rage. Lyle started to turn towards his Axew teammate when he caught a glimpse of water coming at his face and jumped back with a high shriek. He panted as water splattered inertly along his forepaws and flank, looking up to see that Cruz 'mon facing him with his scalchops drawn.

Right, he needed to stay focused here. Even if it felt like Cruz had somehow gotten a bit stronger than yesterday, he could handle some Guild runt. Especially if he could get under the 'mon's hide a bit and bait him into slipping up.

"What's the matter? You look a bit out of your element, Dewott!" Lyle jeered. "You'll need to be quicker on your feet than that to get the better of us"

"Maybe you should try minding your distance!" the Dewott shot back. "'Cause I'm still going!"

Cruz swung a water-wreathed scalchop, its blade zipping towards Lyle's head. The Quilava let instinct take over and ducked and rolled out of the way as an audible slice through the air pricked his ears, but no pain followed. Then came the quiet growl in frustration as the Dewott swung again, prompting Lyle to do much the same a second time. And then again. And again.

Hah, this Hunter really was a predictable type!

Lyle shot a teasing smirk back, but had only a brief moment to enjoy the Dewott's look on his face before he felt burning pain pepper his right flank and underbelly. Lyle stumbled back, briefly catching a glimpse of star-like lights bursting against his hide. He yelped as his mind went blank briefly, and hurriedly scurried back with his ears pinned against his head as a throbbing ache set in between his ribs.

Okay, these Hunters had to have been chugging Power Drinks. Or else they were having the world's best luck in landing hits in tender places during this fight. Whether it was tactics or strength making them this much annoying, those four were really starting to wear him down, and they needed to swat them out of the way fast.

Lyle snorted up embers and crouched against the ground, only to look up and see his teammates alongside him, and then feel his blood drain out of his face. Amidst the fighting, they'd been herded up against the railing along the ledge overlooking the docks… with the rest of Team Pathfinder standing there and having hemmed them in up against it.

D-Dammit, the docks were right there! Lyle's ears pricked at the sound of shouts from further in town. Local guards, he assumed. At this rate, these four would drag this fight out long enough for the Grünhäuter to catch up with them. He heard Kate suck in a sharp breath beside him, and looked over to see her giving an uneasy glance.

"Gah… any ideas here?" she asked. "I don't think we've got much time left to get out of here."

"Yeah, it's called surrender and give up, Outlaw scum!" the Dewott piped, waving a scalchop threateningly. "We've got you cornered, and you're not getting the drop on us like you did last time!"

Lyle grit his teeth and then, as if on cue, the shouts and trampling footsteps from deeper in town came again. Louder and clearer this time. The Quilava felt his heart flutter and his breaths come tense and short. Those Gendarmen would be on them in instants. They needed to get past these Hunters. Fast.

The humming crackle of electrical sparks snapped Lyle back to attention. A quick glance up and to his left revealed Dalton stepping forward, casting a sideways glance out the corner of his eye..

"Lyle! Throw up some cover in front of me and don't get too close!" he insisted, making Irune's eyes widen in alarm.

"But you aren't able to throw attacks like those as far as normal from-!"

"I know that! Just hit them with everything you've got once you see me get clear!"

The hell was Dalton thinking when he couldn't throw his frill out properly right now?! The Quilava wasn't sure what to make of things, but before he could ask, Dalton darted square for Team Pathfinder. Everything went by in a blur as the four set upon the Heliolisk and he reeled under a hail of sharp blows.


The patter of feet revealed Irune running up wide-eyed to try and fight Dalton's attackers off with Kate hot on her heels. Lyle set off after them, when amidst the fray, he noticed the Heliolisk's hide was sparking.

So that's why he'd said he needed cover! He'd lured those Hunters right where he'd wanted them all along!

Without thinking, Lyle spat up a plume of smoke at Dalton's feet, the Smokescreen enveloping Outlaw and Hunter alike as coughs and cries of confusion rang out.

And then a deafening crackle rang out, followed by stray bolts that zipped past. Lyle dove to the ground and briefly saw Kate pulling Irune back as the world tumbled around them. The electrical static died down as the faint smell of burnt dust and fur lingered. As the smoke cleared, the three looked up to see Dalton coughing and panting, with Cruz and Nellie lying fainted on the ground, and Vilma and Bel struggling to get back up, panting and visibly startled.

"Watch where you throw that electricity around, Scales!" Kate hissed.

"Criticize me about it later!" Dalton barked back. "Don't let those two get back up!"

The Sneasel was more than ready to oblige. Kate swooped down on Bel with a Brick Break at the top of the Houndour's head that dropped him and left him on the ground breathing shallowly. Lyle lowered his head and charged at his Grovyle foe as his body came alight with a wreath of fire, only for her to spring aside at the last minute and onto the railing with a sharp growl.

"I-It's not over, I'm turning this around!" she spat. "You're not getting away from us again-!"

She never finished her words before a gout of blue dragonfire zipped in and struck her shoulder. The Grovyle pitched over the side with a yelp that was swiftly followed by a loud crash and silence. Lyle's eyes widened briefly. O-Oh crap, they hadn't hurt her that badly had they? He'd worried in the past about what would happen if the day came he wound up killing someone on the job, but some guild kid?

The Quilava hurried over and quickly poked his head over to see the damage. A glance down revealed Vilma lying pinned among a stack of wooden crates. He could see she was moving and flailing trying to free herself. Lyle started to feel a bit stupid. The embankment wasn't that high up, so of course she wouldn't be that hurt from a fall.

Groans from behind him turned his attention back to the rest of Team Pathfinder's members as they lay sprawled out on the lane. He probably should've felt a bit worse about beating up a bunch of rookies like that… but then again, rookies usually didn't put up that hard of a fight.

"They're over there! I heard a scuffle!"

There wasn't time to second-guess his actions anyways. Off in the direction of the lane they'd taken to reach the riverbank, a Druddigon with an orange head and scales that blended into his Gendarm armor popped out onto the lane, then a Boltund, and a Politoed. A sharp tug from Kate's claws pulled him forward, where he saw Dalton and Irune already halfway down the stairs, and Kate's face taking up his vision.

"Lyle! Time to go!" she cried.

A gout of bluish dragonfire zipped just overhead before striking the wall ahead of them. Lyle heard Dalton cry out and saw him pulling his splinted arm away from a wall at the base. Evidently he'd had to duck out the way himself. Lyle pivoted and spewed a Smokescreen behind him, hoping that'd slow the guards down before all but tumbling down the stairs. He stumbled his way to the bottom where Kate pulled a still-flinching Dalton along with his good arm, and he saw Irune lingering briefly before looking at him wide-eyed.

"Where are we supposed to go?!" she cried.

"Again, find a boat we can hop onto!" he insisted. "We'll work it out from there-!"

Lyle hastily pulled Irune along as a crackling arc of electricity blackened the pavestones where they'd just been standing, and a bloodcurdling growl from the top of the stairs filled the air.

"Dort drüben!
Over there!
₁ Next to those docks! Stop those thieves!"

That had to be the Boltund from the group. Lyle didn't dare look back to check and kept running off along the docks. He briefly spotted a Masquerain in Gendarm colors in the air, along with a few confused Pokémon looking up and staring at them amid rows of wooden skiffs built around shallow hulls and rafts built around pontoons. A Raticate from beside one of the crafts got up and stomped over puffing his cheeks out threateningly, only for Kate to casually shove him out of the way and into the water with a yelp. Guess that was one way to tell that they weren't going to be welcome back here for a while-


Irune sharply tugged at his hide as Lyle looked forward and came to a skidding stop as his forepaws met the edge of the pier, with nothing but river beyond it. Lyle flared up with a start and whirled around to see the rest of his teammates…

"Halt! Nobody move!"

… and the guards from the stairs approaching at the end of the pier with a small crowd of onlookers. The orange-headed Druddigon paced forward flanked by the Boltund and Politoed, baring his fangs and spreading his wings to make his already bulky body look larger with a sharp growl.

"Put your paws up where we can see them!" the Druddigon shouted.

Lyle looked ahead blankly as his stomach began to knot up. He felt Irune start to shiver through her grasp and could see Kate's plumes and fur standing on end, her eyes wide and panicked.

He… wasn't sure how they were going to get out of this one. No matter how he looked, he couldn't see an obvious way out.

"I don't have all day!" the Druddigon snapped. "Get on with it!"

Lyle looked back at the guards in front of them and then the Masquerain circling overhead. They really were just screwed right now, weren't they? Lyle shakily reared up and started to raise his forepaws when he felt something brush against his back and turned to see Dalton's tail swaying.

"How well can you three jump?" he asked.

Lyle turned to his Heliolisk teammate as he glanced left and noticed a raft on floats that had been laden down with pallets of cargo. Lyle and his teammates traded quiet glimpses with each other as the Druddigon neared and the other guards neared.

"Scales," Kate whispered. "How is that supposed to help us-?"

"Look, there's something that I can try if you can whip up a distraction first," he explained. "But you need to be able to make it up onto that raft."

The Quilava blinked for a moment. He wasn't sure what Dalton was supposed to be able to do here, but he felt hot, irate breath on his fur and looked up to see the Druddigon Gendarm reaching out for him when something snapped in him.

"Get your claws off of me, Grünhäuter!"

Lyle spewed out a plume of smoke that swallowed up the pier and heard the Druddigon and his nearby lackeys hacking as the Boltund let out a startled yelp.

"Ack! I can't see!"

Lyle turned and ran as claws nicked at his hide and crackling electricity zipped about blindly from the Boltund's direction. A splash rang out from somewhere nearby and for a moment Lyle couldn't see Dalton on the pier before. The woosh of an Icy Wind rang out, which turned Lyle's attention back towards the raft, where Kate had already climbed onto its lip with a thump and stopped to pull Irune aboard. Lyle's mind turned back to Dalton's warning and he clambered onto the edge of the raft when he felt claws dig into him from behind and clamp on.

"Got you, you overgrown rat-!"

Lyle squealed in pain and his vents came alight, when he suddenly heard the Druddigon's voice cry out and his scaly claw let go. Lyle hurriedly squirmed and pulled himself up when he heard running footsteps and turned to see the Boltund and Politoed abruptly freeze up.

"Sheriff Pax, look ou-!"

The next thing Lyle knew, he felt a wall of water sweep up his body and knock the air out of him. He pitched forward and hit the wood of the raft's deck, the world spinning in his vision as he tumbled to a stop.

Lyle laid there briefly panting as the raft lurched underneath him and snorted up water from his nose. Since of course he would get water up his nose. He heard a howling voice cry out about "A-Ack! Help me up!" when he felt something scaly grab onto the side of his neck and his eyes shot wide in a panic and his vents hissed from their fire being cut off by moisture on them.

The top of his body lurched up, when Dalton entered his vision, still dripping, dragging him forward with his uninjured left arm.

"D-Dalton?! What on earth did you-?!"

"I bought us some time with a Surf, but you need to stay on your feet since I can't keep coming back for you like this! Those Gendarmen won't stay down for long!"

Lyle looked up to see Kate and Irune hopping off the raft onto the next one over when the Masquerain swooped in. He shook his head and grit his teeth. Normally he'd spit fire in someone's face over a soak like this, but it'd at least gotten them out of a jam, and as the Masquerain reminded, they had bigger problems right now.

Lyle lowered his head and jumped aboard the next raft, Dalton following after and wobbling briefly as the Masquerain sent Kate tumbling back from a wind laden with what looked like silvery powder.

"Eh?! What are you-?!"

Lyle lunged forward as the world blurred in his vision and he felt his head strike the Masquerain's armor. The Bug-type lurched back from his Quick Attack, when a gout of blue dragonfire followed and grazed his wings, sending him pitching into the water. Lyle watched as the Masquerain surfaced, but beyond some buzzes of protest, the Gendarm struggled to do more than latch onto a pier, weighed down by his now-soaked armor. Dalton briefly eyed the struggling Bug-type in the water, before turning his snout up with a sharp scoff.

"Hrmph, serves you right for not minding your plates' coatings!" the Heliolisk spat. "Come on, let's go!"

"To where?!" Irune cried. "You're not expecting us to just sneak back into town at this rate, are you?!"

Lyle scanned his surroundings and heard shouts from the Druddigon and his lackeys coming up from further up the piers. No… back into town obviously wouldn't lead to anything good. Still, Dalton seemed undeterred as he pointed to a small Luminous Orb in his bag and motioned off at the moorings tying their current raft down.

"Keep an eye out for one of these crafts that's less tied down than this one, so we can push off with it during a suitable distraction," he insisted. "We'll only have one shot at getting away, so keep an eye out for something like…"

The Heliolisk trailed off abruptly and Lyle followed along as the Electric-type's eyes fell on a raft that twisted at an awkward angle with a stack of crates heaped up on it with what looked like red spikes jutting up in parts. Lyle could just barely make out the sight of a line connecting it to the piers, and judging from the angle, it seemed like it'd drift off into the river if the mooring was cut.

"Like that one!" Dalton cried. "Watch your step and stay alert!"

Lyle probably should've been more dubious about this plan, but there was no time to question his moves. He shot down the pier along with his teammates, clambering up a small boat with a sail as they heard voices come from the water. Their racket must've woken up the river Pokémon that slept in the netting set out along the approaches of docks like these. The Quilava skidded to a brief stop as he spotted a lower gangplank to his left and ran up it, trying his hardest to not look down and splash the water all around him. There was a loud splash, when Lyle turned his head and froze briefly. Off past the boat's bow, there was Dalton running across the surface of the water to the next pier over. Gods, how on earth could he just tolerate getting soaked like tha-?

"Get it together, Lyle!"

Lyle snapped to attention when felt Kate drag him along with Irune at her side. A quick glance up revealed her scowling, her ears pinned back with an impatient hiss.

"Don't freeze up like that! That raft's not getting any closer just standing around!"

Right. He needed to keep his wits about him and for the love of the gods, to not think about the water below. Lyle made it forward a few strides after Kate and Irune when he suddenly caught a glimpse of fiery blue light coming from his right. The Quilava hurriedly rolled out of the way as cries of pain rang out. On one end was Kate getting up with smoke curling up from her fur and Irune panting wide-eyed. And on the other…

"Don't forget me!"

Was that damned Druddigon Gendarm from earlier. The orange-headed drake lunged forward and came to a gliding stop, crouching on his claws with a bared-fang snarl.

"You should've surrendered while you had the chance, thieving scum!"

Lyle looked over the dragon and his armor briefly and pinned his ears back with a frightened grimace. Gods, this 'mon made Nils look like an underfed Wimpod by comparison! Maybe he wouldn't be as tough as he looked, but when it'd taken all four of them and the element of surprise to pin Nils down…

Lyle suddenly felt the boat underfoot lurch as even the Druddigon visibly fought to steady himself and a yelp rang out from past the railing as a tall wave crested over the edge. Lyle briefly glimpsed Dalton tumbling back along the pier and spotted the Politoed guard from earlier perching on a mooring with a sharp sneer.

"Hah! Don't try to beat a 'mon at his element, Heliolisk! I can keep this up all day-!"

"Ack, Marta!" the Druddigon protested. "Watch where you're throwing that Surf around-!"

An icy flechette suddenly zipped in and struck the Druddigon's flank at once of his chest plate's straps. Lyle briefly saw the strap break and the dragon wince before righting himself as blue dragonfire built up in his mouth.

"You're done-!"

Lyle threw himself forward with a Quick Attack at the Dragon-type to try and cut him off. He felt his head strike the Druddigon's stomach plate as the Gendarm abruptly jerked up and the guard's Dragon Rage sailed off-course overhead. A sharp cry of "Lyle, look out!" was his only warning before a gout just like it struck the Druddigon in his shoulder and sent him stumbling back. The Gendarm's chest plate was just barely holding together with a singed and damaged strap on his left shoulder. One that would probably give way were enough force applied onto it—

And then the Druddigon righted himself and abruptly lunged forward with jaws agape. Lyle squealed and hurriedly leapt out of the way, only to feel the Druddigon's teeth dig into his stomach from below and launch him upwards. Lyle briefly saw the sky and the boat's rigging along with a few stray embers, before the deck of the wood filled his vision and he smacked into it face-first.

Things went by in a dazed blur after that. He heard a snarling "Behave!" along with Kate and Irune crying out. He wearily turned his head towards the sound and saw a green-and-orange blur spin around with a black one crumpling to the deck and a green one running off. Lyle woozily forced himself onto his feet, when he felt a scaly foot step down on his chest and looked up to see the Druddigon glaring down at him as embers swirled around.

"You're a real Dummkopf
Insult analogous to "blockhead" or "pea-brain", lit. Dumbhead / "Stupidhead"
₂, aren't you?" the guard snarled. "If you think you can just make Pax the Unforgettable look like a fool, you've got another thing coming!"

Lyle panted in fright when he noticed the embers were still coming down from above, and one of the autumn leaves in the air was falling past, visibly afire. The Druddigon's eyes then shrank to pins and the dragon's own jaw flopped open as he looked up. Lyle turned his as much as the dragon's grip allowed when he saw that the boat's square sail had caught alight.

"A-Ack! When did that catch on fire-?!"

"Let him go!"

Lyle saw a green blur rush in and heard a sharp thwack followed by a sharp wince, and then another blow. The Druddigon stumbled back as Lyle reflexively scurried away and sprang back onto his feet. His eyesight was wobbly, but he could clearly see that there beside him was Irune, shaking her tusks. A flash of black fur followed as Kate sprang forward, and with a flash of her claws, aimed for the Druddigon's shoulder strap. She threw her claw forward, only for her to miss and dig a gouge into the Gendarm's chest plate. The dragon hastily flung her aside and sprang back towards the tip of the ship's bow, panting in visible surprise before he grit his teeth and let out a threatening snarl.

"Think you can take me?!" the guard spat. "I barely even felt those-!"

The sound of roaring water rang out from along the boat's port side as it abruptly lurched underfoot as water came over the port railing. Lyle hit the deck as he felt a spray of water splash against his fur, briefly glimpsing Kate dig her claws into the wood and hold onto Irune's scarf. The Druddigon was less fortunate as he pitched over the bow with a yelp and a loud splash. Lyle grumbled under his breath and flicked some drops off his fur as the dragon's cries of "Help! I can't swim!" rang out from the front of the boat…

And then shifted over to its left side. Lyle blinked and saw that one of the boat's moorings had come undone and it'd swung out perpendicular to the pier, where he, Kate, and Irune were now looking down the Politoed from behind on its planks, with Dalton staring her down. A brief smirk came over the Heliolisk's face, and Lyle watched as the Politoed turned around, and the fight seemed to drain out of her as her jaw flopped open in shock.

"A-Ack! Wait!" the Politoed insisted. "We can talk this over-!"

Lyle didn't wait for her to finish and spat up a spray of starry lights that pockmarked her armored body from the railing. Irune followed suit with a Dragon Rage from beside him, while Kate vaulted down with an ambushing Feint Attack that caught the guard in her chin and knocked her into the water. One arcing stream of electricity from Dalton later, and the Water-type floated to the surface face-up groaning in pain, earning a sharp huff from the Heliolisk.

"Hrmph, you won't be pestering any villagers for bribes today," he spat. "Good riddance."

There had to be some sort of story between Dalton and the army beyond what he'd said in the tavern. Losing loved ones to the war would make anyone bitter, but at times it felt almost as if Dalton was trying to prove a point when it came to Grünhäuter like these—


The boat abruptly rocked underfoot as Lyle saw the raft from earlier clip the bow of the boat they were on and start drifting past. A chunk of burning rigging fell and hit the deck just by his shoulder, making him flare up with a start as he called out to his teammates.

"Dalton, throw that Luminous Orb and let's get out of here!"

Lyle bounded for the boat's bow and leaped down, coming to a stop on the middle row of a stack of crates piled up two high. He felt his head hit the side of the crate and grabbed onto netting for dear life, looking up as Kate and Irune made it to the top before the world suddenly went white from a flash from the burning boat they had just been on.

Lyle tumbled and froze as his vision swam, jolting back with a startled cry as things began to fill in again and he found himself staring down into burbling river water. He stumbled back up against the crates and turned his head to see he'd accidentally blackened a few timbers from his vents, when he looked left to see Kate and Irune pulling Dalton aboard from the river.

He shakily made his way over and felt his heart sink as he saw other Gendarmen massing on the pier, only to realize that they weren't giving chase and there were a bunch of other figures in front of them. He rubbed his eyes to try and clear his vision and was just able to make out Pokémon in the water dousing the burning boat at the pier and the Druddigon they fought being pulled back up onto the dock. There were angry-sounding shouts coming from various figures in the water and on the docks, with a few even getting into shoving matches with armored figures.

"Lyle! Over here!"

Lyle looked over to Kate as she stood before a small gap between the crates, and he and his companions hastily darted into it. He went as deep as the gap between the crates would allow while the sky above them shrank to a small sliver, before flopping over and panting in exhaustion and fright. Every second felt like a small eternity as beyond trading startled stares, neither he nor his teammates dared make a whisper, until at last the shouts in the distance began to fade out to the point where he could barely hear them over the raft's creaking.

Lyle cast a glance up at the sliver of sky overhead, before he rolled over onto his back with a sigh of relief. The guards must not have spotted them slipping onto the raft, and as long as they laid low, it'd take some time for them to put two and two together and they could breathe.

Even if he wasn't sure how long that moment would last.

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases

1. Dort drüben! - "Over there!"
2. Dummkopf - Insult analogous to "blockhead" or "pea-brain", lit. Dumbhead / "Stupidhead"

Teaser Text

It is said Pokemon are creatures that have always had a fascination with events from before their time. It is our conduit to the past and the knowledge of our forebears, as even Wilders pass down their knowledge and their stories from one generation to the next. Humans too were said to be creatures with similar inclinations, except they were said to have mastered crafts of chronicling bygone ages before our civilizations first composed our most archaic runes.

Much of those histories have been lost to time, from the Great Flash, and the tumult of the years that followed it. As such, for the histories that predate our world, we are often reliant on contradictory myths to catch glimpses at what came before it.

One of the most primal yearnings is an answer to "How did we come to be?" To which, much folklore among both Wilders and Civils seem to concur that we owe our existence to a God of Creationᵃ, an Architect of our universe, a Great Monad from which all we see and know around us sprang.

Specific stories of what this being is like vary from one teller to another. That he sang his creation into existence. That with a thousand arms, he formed our universe and all that is in it. That he reigned upon a snowbound throne in a faraway land. All agree only that this being found it fit to create helpers that reflected fractions of his power, and that he only sparingly interacts with our universe directly.

Why this is, there is no agreement. Other than that if this being does exist, he is not known to have appeared since our world was born. Even as the fabric of reality churned and creation as he knew it was upended.

- Excerpt from 'The Collected Legends from Wander'

a. "Schöpfergott" is more typically translated as "creator god", a variant translation is used here for thematic purposes.
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And I'm caught up. Team Forager really can't catch a break, can they? But I'm sure the Capital city will be perfectly safe and relaxing!

You know I rather adore Team Pathfinder. They're such lovable dweebs.
Hey, everybody. I see that there’s a bit of feedback that’s rolled in since the last chapter, so let’s just jump right into responding to that:

And I'm caught up. Team Forager really can't catch a break, can they? But I'm sure the Capital city will be perfectly safe and relaxing!

Oh ye of little faith. What could possibly go wrong?™

You know I rather adore Team Pathfinder. They're such lovable dweebs.

Glad to hear that you're enjoying them, since it won't be the last you've seen of them in this story. From very early on in development, they were cast as a more tongue-in-cheek / lulzy depiction of what a more conventional heroic team in a PMD story might be like, complete with the embarrassing newbie shtick. Sounds like they've been hitting the mark. o<o

And while I do have a fresh chapter to post today, I also had a small extra in the form of an author’s commentary in Q&A format that I whipped up for the Thousand Roads version of the story, which by virtue of being easy to cross-post, will also be uploaded here. If you’ve read one of the forum versions of Fledglings, you likely recognize the premise from there, and I figured that enough had happened in the story to justify pulling back the veil from the proverbial spinning gears a bit.

But enough talking, let's get into that content:
Trivia #1 (Prologue - Chapter 16)
Author’s Note: This trivia section was written under the assumption that readers had caught up with the full length of the story up to this point. If you’re stumbling across this from before Chapter 16, strongly consider revisiting it sometime after catching up.

What inspired you to write Once a Thief?

Once a Thief originated as a thought exercise during a creative rut in May stemming from a series of DMs with @VeniaSilente in May 2019 about a throwaway premise for a shorter story with a more simplistic plot following Outlaws being forced to carry out an escort mission while being pursued and having to use their skillsets as thieves in the pursuit of a task more conventionally reserved for heroes.

The premise was revisited in an initial elevator pitch doc and progressively built on an on-and-off basis over the rest of the year, with the explicit goal of creating a work that would stand apart from Fledglings to avoid worrying about tripping over continuity and worldbuilding details due to it being a collaborative work and to experiment with different tones and atmospheres. As it so happened, those initial opening drabbles were being created in the backdrop of playthroughs of a few games from the Xenoblade series, which wound up influencing stand-in names and characters during the initial outlining phase, and eventually larger story themes after I started seeing resonance between their atmosphere and the one of the plot I wanted to tell.

Thanks to obvious events in 2020, I had a bit more idle time than normal that year, and opted to experiment with NaNoWriMo writings, which were primarily devoted to a script-level outline of the story as a whole that by the spring of 2021 added up to one that was largely complete. Looking over the work that I had built up up to that point ultimately convinced me it was worth setting aside worries about being overburdened and to take a leap of faith with actually publishing the story.

As recently as six months prior to initial publishing, a number of major structural details of the story were in flux, with concurrent readthroughs of other fics at the time helping to shape the final product. In particular Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rebirth along with a revisiting of Knightfall’s general body of work helped to zero in on setting details by coincidentally happening to touch on similar themes and tones, while one of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Path of Valor was ultimately what convinced me not to airbrush out the Xeno series references that had piled up during draft development, but instead to indulge my inner hack and lean into them in order to share what I enjoyed about my experiences with that franchise with a new audience.

How did you come up with Lyle?

Lyle’s origins are a two-part story, with his role in the story originating as a stand-in character role from a “Freudian Trio” of Outlaws that was used to initially cast the main characters outside of Irune, with Lyle being the “Ego” of the party and arbiter between a competing “Id” and “Superego”. Species was the next major detail of the party to be settled, with trios built around complementing types considered and Quilava chosen after settling on a fire-electric-ice trio.

Lyle’s underlying character significantly predates the process of building out the party roles, with him being a take off a character that I used in PBP RPs in the early 2010s. Said character was a bit of a troublemaker that was named as a throwaway after a character from Animal Crossing: Wild World. After fine-tuning his present portrayal to ebb towards being more withdrawn and cynical, he was a relatively natural fit. Lyle’s name ultimately kept unchanged due to it semantically meaning “the island”, which happened to fit thematically with the premise of a withdrawn character being forced to open up to others over the course of the story, and the rest was history.

How did you come up with Kate?

Kate was the last of the “Freudian Trio” to be cast, and filled the role of the group’s “Id” that was primarily in Outlawry to indulge her own impulses, which still reflects in her depiction as a freewheeling and impish spirit. Her species was left floating for several months into development, with Sneasel ultimately settled on due to a mix of playing to type well with a thief character and wanting to try something different as an author.

If Kate’s personality happens to read familiar to you, then you likely have read fairly deep into Fledglings, since in the earliest drafts of the story, Kate was a fairly transparent stand-in of Alice the Sneasel from that story’s supporting cast. While she to this day shares a healthy number of character cues, she evolved in a more grounded and less optimistic direction as development continued on, which reflects in her name, a clipping of “Katherine” that ironically is associated with “pure” as a meaning.

The details of Kate’s character were largely fine-tuned in her presence in Thousand Roads’ Blacklight PBP RP campaign. That’s not to say that every detail of her portrayal there is canon, since it was primarily used as a beta test for the Sneasel thief that you’ve come to know and love, though most of the details of her depiction were nailed down by the end of that campaign, and having knowledge of it might make a few details in this story stand out a bit more.

How did you come up with Dalton?

Dalton was the second member of the original “Fruedian Trio” of Outlaws to be cast as its “Superego”, and intended to be a spirit from a once-privileged background who was led into a life of crime by loftier ambitions than merely grabbing ill-gotten loot and who’d use his profession as a means to chase after them. Dalton is the member of the core trio of Outlaws that was the most “just because” in casting, with his species initially chosen because I needed an Electric-type to fill my targeted dynamic and liked Heliolisk, and his name chosen initially because it sounded a bit more bookish and “stuck-up”, which survived into the final cut due to growing attached to it.

How did you come up with Alvin?

Alvin from the very beginning was cast in mind for being a character that could have a sense of camaraderie with Lyle with the pair balancing out parts of each other’s personality traits, to the point where in initial development, his working name was “Ego’s Friend”. His fate as depicted in the earlier chapters was a detail that was settled very early on in development in order to give more of an emotional punch to Lyle and his teammates’ loss of normalcy, even if there are things in Alvin’s future that are not yet written and a story for when this tale reaches them.

Character-wise, Alvin originates from a character concept for a companion that was meant for Lyle back in my PBP RPing days that was a bit on the naive side, just retooled and aged up a bit and given a less envious backstory. His name in this story was drawn in mind for his meta role as a character, which is a name descended from the Ancient Germanic “Adalwin”, with a meaning of “noble friend”.

What PMD Games Did You Base Wander On?

All of them and none of them, as Wander is a setting that grabs bits and pieces of canonical PMD games to inform its mechanics, while not being beholden to them. Of them, Wander leans heaviest on Super and DX to inform its mechanics, and in general, it uses item designs that follow after the ones in DX with only modest, if any alterations. Keen eyes will likely be able to discern that there is also a good deal of trainerverse influence in this setting as well, along with shades of influence from various Xeno series games.

You mentioned Xeno game influences earlier, what's that all about?

As mentioned in the first question of this trivia, Once a Thief was cooked up in a backdrop of being written while I was playing games from that series and took influence from Path of Valor with regard to how to handle its references. Namely to throw caution to the wind and bring in elements from that series wholesale adapted to fit into a Pokémon context with varying degrees of blatantness, as you have likely noticed if any of the characters, places, terms, or general concepts floated in this story strike you as familiar.

Once a Thief attempts to represent elements from across all branches of the Xeno series in it while rearranging them into a (hopefully) unique combination, though some entries are leaned on heavier than others. Of them, Xenoblade X is thus far the most drawn-upon source of inspiration from the series by virtue of it emphasizing a sense of exploration in a large and dangerous world and being the only game in the series that is built in mind with a campaign centered around an OC character, which seemed appropriate for a plot centered around OCs. Xenogears is also homaged more prominently than most other entries of the series by virtue of it being an ur-template for recurring plot points and characters in the series as a whole, which felt only fitting to lean on in a setting that attempts to borrow the nuts and bolts of the franchise as a whole.

Why is there so much German?

For a mix of homaging and meta reasons. On the homaging side, German language terminology is fairly prominent in older Xeno games, especially among Xenosaga games, and as a story with a setting that draws influence from the series writ large, incorporating German language content prominently felt like a decent way to incorporate that dynamic.

On the meta side, part of the prominence of German-language content is that my own headcanon about Pokémon is that they do not have a unified language among themselves, which reflects in the worldbuilding of my stories in general. Since hey, Game Freak paid good money coming up with a number of language localizations for their media, and I’ve always liked putting them to good use. In Once a Thief’s case, German is used as a tool for dealing with things from the setting’s past or particular social circles in it, which is why a number of names are German terms that have been phonetically corrupted in an attempt to mimic language drift. In addition, nuances for certain words and phrases in German can often have subtle but important differences from their English counterparts, which for those either with a knowledge of the language or else willing to dig a little deeper, is a handy tool for hinting at things to come in the story.

What’s with the teasers?

They are a flourish that I got the idea from from Knightfall’s writings and then Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rebirth, which are in turn based off a similar style of opener used in Incarceron. It was a flourish that I originally had considered using for Fledglings but ultimately backed out on thanks to a lack of inspiration and revisited for this story as a means of helping to differentiate it from my other works.

The decision to render the teasers in German was settled on within the last 4 months prior to initial release as a vehicle for showing glimpses of the world through the lens of old texts and social circles well outside those of the Outlaw protagonists’. Initial scripts for these teasers are written in English, and then translated by TorchicBellow from FFN into German along with edits to reflect any changes made to keep the German-language prose from reading like the lyrics to a Sawano song. He has my eternal gratitude for his hard work and support he puts into every chapter, and this story wouldn’t be the same without it.
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Chapter 17 - Drifting

Es wird gesagt, dass die Götter, die sie als Schutzherren verehren, ähnlich wie ihre Gründer, bevor sie sich in den Ländern der Wahrheit und der Ideale niederließen, aus einem gemeinsamen Land stammen. Ein entfernter Ort, so weit jenseits von Meeren aus Wasser und Wolken, bis zu dem Punkt, an dem unsere Schiffe ihn nicht erreichen können, den wir als „Einall“ kennen.

Wenn es um dieses ferne Land geht, sind Fakt und Fiktion schwer zu trennen. Es gibt nur Fragmente von Geschichten, die angeblich aus der Zeit vor den glühenden Blitz stammen, und Geschichten von fragwürdigem Wahrheitsgehalt von Entdeckern, die angeblich über Verknüpfungen in den Mysteriösen Orten darauf gestoßen sind der Gottdrachenforst, die längst verloren gegangen sind.

Was wir über dieses Land wissen, ist, dass die Götter, die Wahrheit und Ideale in ihrem Gleichgewicht halten, in einem früheren Leben weitgehend dasselbe getan haben sollen. Nachkommen eines namenlosen Drachens, die scheinbar immer im Widerspruch zueinander stehen und dennoch dazu bestimmt sind, sich gegenseitig auf den Weg zu bringen.

Während das Wirken der Götter, die wir „Wunsch“ und „Wirklichkeit“ nennen, vielleicht nur allzu gut verstanden ist, ist das, was manchmal als „Schwelle“ zwischen ihnen bezeichnet wird, für diejenigen, die in ihrem Schatten leben, immer noch irritierend und schwer fassbar. Ein Wesen, von dem man sagt, dass es nach Wahrheit oder Idealen hungert, um sich selbst zu vervollkommen, wobei sich seine stärkere Sehnsucht in seinen Merkmalen beim Erwachen widerspiegelt, sich aber ständig zwischen beiden bewegt. Eine Stärke, die gleichzeitig schwach ist und unter den richtigen Umständen die Macht besitzt, „Wunsch“ und „Wirklichkeit“ nach Lust und Laune unterzuordnen.

Es gibt kaum etwas Demütigenderes für ein Pokémon als die Anwesenheit einer unvorhersehbaren Macht. Aus diesem Grund gab es, abgesehen von verstreuten Weilern zwischen Wahrheit und Ideale, kein Königreich, das zu Ehren dieser Schwelle zwischen ihren Schutzgöttern gegründet wurde.

- Auszug aus »Ein und Alles - Von Göttern eines Landes von Schwarz und Weiß«

“‘They won’t be paying attention to ones leaving anywhere near as closely,’ huh? Scales, I oughta punch you in that broken arm of yours for this.”

Kate brushed water off her pelt which somehow had stayed stubbornly stuck onto her since pulling Dalton aboard the raft, and flicked it off with a dirty glare off at the Heliolisk inside their hiding place between the raft’s crates. She wasn’t exactly a stranger to tight escapes, but even so, it wasn’t her idea to take the escape route that’d lead to them getting soaked. Dalton briefly shielded his splinted arm, evidently a bit on-edge about the idea of getting it smacked as he answered back with a flustered protest.

“Look, the point is that we managed to sneak away and didn’t get hunted down in some field in the outskirts,” he insisted. “We could be doing a lot worse right now.”

“Oh really?” the Sneasel shot back. “How’s that book with our map doing right now from your little swim earlier?”

Dalton grimaced before looking at his ripped bag, which was still visibly dripping water. Based on how wet it looked, Kate assumed that meant ‘not well’. Her fears were confirmed when the Heliolisk pulled the Hunters’ handbook they’d stolen out of it, whose covers and edges of its pages were all visibly damp.

“... It could’ve been worse, at least,” Dalton sighed. “I doubt it’ll be worth much after the water damage, but it should at least dry out enough to be readable.”

Kate briefly spotted Lyle’s face falling into a frown at the Heliolisk’s reply at the other end of their hiding place, and Kate felt her own doing much the same. Though she wasn’t sure if it was the book that Lyle was the most upset about. Knowing the Quilava and the way they were stuck in the middle of a river, he probably had a knot in his stomach right now. The Sneasel turned away with a scoff, when she noticed Irune pawing at her pendant and looking down at it worriedly. So the Axew had managed to hold onto it through that entire fight jumping from boat to boat. Kate supposed that Irune keeping it safely tucked under her scarf was good for something other than poking at her scales after all.

“What’s the matter, Irune? Is it chipped or something?” Lyle asked.

“No, it’s fine,” Irune replied. “I just… thought that I’d lost it in the water for a moment.”

… There clearly was a story of some sort behind that rock, but what on earth was that thing anyways? Kate swore she’d seen a pendant in that shape and design before but he couldn’t peg where. Was it a lucky charm of some sort?

But Irune had insisted that she needed it for when they got to the Divine Roost. What for? And did it have something to do with that first treasure that she wanted before everyone else?

Maybe she was just full of it and it was something with sentimental value to her. A keepsake from a time in the past, or a token of a place or moment that she’d never go back to.

The Sneasel thought to ask further briefly, only to catch herself. No, everyone had their own secrets. Those trials and heartaches that they kept to themselves. Irune was clearly new to being an Outlaw, and if the Axew’s start was anything like her own…

Well, Kate couldn’t blame her for not really wanting to talk about it.

“I think that the coast should be clear now.”

Kate snapped back to attention, and turned her head over towards Dalton as he crept out from their hiding place. He turned his head to scan his surroundings, before poking it back into their space between the crates.

“We’ll need to figure out a way to get this raft closer to shore and sneak off,” the Heliolisk said. “It looks like we’re already drifted a ways away from that village. Just keep an eye out, they might have dispatched Air Marshals or other guards to come and look for us.”

Kate straightened her feathers and sharply exhaled, stepping back out alongside her teammates from their hiding place as they slumped to the deck, exhausted. The Sneasel propped herself up against the shade for a moment, as Lyle shook himself dry a few paces away. Götterblüt, that was way too close. If this raft hadn’t been close enough for Dalton’s Surf to push it over…

She shook her head as she tried to blot the thought from her mind. Danger was just part of an Outlaw’s way of life, much as it had been for her parents. All things considered, she supposed she could be having it worse. Why, Lyle looked like he was about to keel over right now. Knowing how squeamish he was about water, he was surely trying to think about anything at all other than being stuck in the middle of a river where all that separated him from drowning was a few planks of wood…

She made a note to stop going down that train of thought, since now she was starting to get worried.

Kate sighed and moved along, annoyedly brushing some lingering water off herself as Dalton pawed at his injured frill. The Sneasel carried on a couple paces, when she noticed Irune was by the rim of the raft, with her eyes closed and visibly shivering.

… She couldn’t tell whether it was from the water, or from how harrowing their ordeal was, but even after the way she’d blown up at them in Primordial Woods something didn’t sit right about seeing her like that. The Dark-type shuffled over, pawing tentatively at the Axew’s shoulder.

“Hey, are you alright?”

Irune cracked her eyes open and looked over warily, seemingly unsure what to make of Kate’s concern. She said nothing for a moment, before turning away with a low grunt.

“I-I’m fine,” the Axew insisted. “The water was just a little cold.”

“Huh?! Who’s there?!”

Kate froze and stiffened up, as they saw the groggy form of a Feraligatr in a plain blue scarf shuffle up with his jaw hanging open, his yellow eyes staring at them as he held out a claw and gestured with an incredulous splutter.

“Who are you and what are you doing on my raft?!”

There was a lingering moment of silence as Kate let out a hissing “Gottverdammt, I knew I saw red spikes near those crates…” under her breath. The Sneasel stared ahead, fumbling and failing to find words to try and explain their presence. Her teammates all looked downright petrified, though strangely enough Kate couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d seen this ‘mon somewhere before…

“... Wait a minute,” the Water-type said. “I saw you four at that tavern last night…”

… At same tavern at The Green Dragonite? Kate admittedly didn’t remember a whole lot about her visit there since those beers were something else, but from how groggy and sluggish the Feraligatr looked, he’d probably gotten smashed by the barkeep’s mix himself.

Kate briefly sized the Feraligatr up as her claws began to quietly extend from her paws when she felt the strap of her bag tug at her shoulder. The Sneasel blinked and eased up when an impish smile spread over her face. It was a gamble and it’d be costly even if it worked, but there might just be a way of getting this ‘mon off their tails without a fight.

“We’re your passengers, of course! You were supposed to pick us up from Errberk Village, but we found you dozing off at the dock,” she explained. “Sorry if we startled you. We were running a bit late so we kinda pushed off without waking you up.”

The Feraligatr blinked, before tensing up and slipping into a guarded stance, eying Kate warily.

“This is a cargo shipment,” the Water-type said. “And I don’t remember agreeing to take on any passengers last night-”

“You must’ve blacked out from drinking since we saw you hitting the sauce pretty hard. We admittedly got a bit sloshed ourselves since I’m drawing a few blanks on your name,” she insisted, giving a wave of her claw in reply. “But you really don’t remember anything about our deal? Because I know we talked it over. Maybe you just needed a little reminder to jog your memory.”

Kate fished through her bag and pulled out a pair of small coin purses—hers and the Eiscue’s from earlier—before she dropped them onto the deck with an audible jingle. The Feraligatr took the bags with a puzzled tilt of his head, before giving them both a brief inspection. The pilot looked over with a brief moment of incredulity as his features eased and a toothy grin spread over his face.

“Heh heh, well I suppose I can’t argue with that!” the Feraligatr chortled. “Though the name’s ‘Boudewijn’. Make yourself at home! It’ll only be a few hours before we reach our destination in Newangle City!”

Kate noticed a brief grimace came over her teammates’ faces and for a second felt her own eyes widen, before she gave a cheery smile and wave at the Feraligatr. Yeah, the pilot wasn’t exactly headed for a safe harbor, but it wasn’t as if they had to go with him all the way there…


Kate waited for the Feraligatr to turn and head back for the raft’s tiller before the four let out a collective sigh of relief. The Sneasel flattened her ears, blowing a puff of frigid air up at her head feather as she stooped down with a shake of her head.

“Thank gods,” she muttered. “I was worried for a minute that we were going to have to conk him upside the head and push him overboard.”

Kate saw Irune shoot a sharp glare back at her. She frowned back, before rolling her eyes and turning away. What was that look supposed to mean? Sure the pilot was a Feraligatr, but they had numbers and Scales had his electricity that he slung around, so they’d have a fighting chance, right?

Thankfully, there’s no need for things to come to that,” Lyle harrumphed. “Since the ‘mon looked tough enough to wash us all overboard without really trying.”

… Kate was going to chalk that one up to Lyle being in a foul mood from being surrounded by water. Even if he’d always been a bit of a naysayer, he didn’t use to be that negative back when they were both on the Foehn Gang.

The Quilava sighed and made his way over to the raft’s port side, peering over the edge. Kate followed after and gaped off where the stoat was looking, where she saw the fuzzy image of white and green spires poking over the horizon.

… That was the same direction that that blinking light came from last night. Were those buildings that she could see from such a distance? If so, just how big were they?

Kate’s ears pricked at the sound of approaching footsteps, and turned to see Dalton making his way over. The Heliolisk lingered a moment resting himself against a few nearby barrels, careful to avoid putting weight onto his injured arm.

“Newangle City…” he murmured. “The Founder’s City and Throne of Truth.”

Kate noticed Dalton pausing and letting his gaze linger off at the spires in the distance. He seemed to have a wistful look in his eyes, which couldn’t help but strike her as strange.

“Scales, why are you waxing poetic about a place that by your own admission is a Pyroar’s Den for Outlaws?”

Dalton didn’t say anything for a moment, when he sighed and shook his head.

“I spent a few years living there,” he replied. “From better times when I was younger.”

Kate gave an askew glance at the Heliolisk. She knew that Dalton struck him as sounding like a bit of a priss from his accent, but somehow she didn’t peg him as having once lived in the capital. What next, would his family turn out to be royalty or something?

“Wait, that’s perfect!”

Kate stiffened up as Irune’s voice piped up and the Axew darted over to Dalton with beaming excitement. She noticed Lyle’s expression fall at the Dragon-type’s remark. Did it have something to do with something they’d talked about before—

“Newangle City’s a place with a bunch of libraries and places where scholars gather! There’s bound to be books with all sorts of old legends in them that would help us get to the Divine Roost easier and understand what’s been going on with me!” Irune insisted. “If Dalton already knows how to get around there, then wouldn’t it make sense to just go along with this raft?”

Kate felt her jaw flop open and stared at the Axew with a furrowed brow. She knew Lyle gave her an earful sometimes for taking risks, but holy crap, this kid was something else right now. There was a moment of incredulous silence among the three, before Lyle cast a glance off at Boudewijn at the stern of the raft and shook his head with a low grunt.

“... We’ll discuss this later, okay?”

So they had talked about this earlier. But Lyle wasn’t dismissing the idea out of hand? He didn’t seriously think they could pull this off themselves, did he?

“Huh? But Lyle—!” Irune started, only for Dalton to sharply cut her off.

“Lyle, what is there to discuss?” the Heliolisk demanded. “Just because I’ve been in Newangle City before doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for us to go there!”

“Uh… yeah,” Kate muttered. “Lyle, I know that you were there for the time that I got that loot of ours back from an army base, but this is a bit riskier than that.”

“... Compared to trying to slip off into the countryside when for all we know every Hunter’s Guild in this Provinz has seen our wanted posters by now?”

A tense silence hung in the air after the words left the stoat’s mouth. Kate had to admit, when Lyle put it in those terms, she was suddenly a lot less sure about if it was still a lesser risk to try and sneak off.

Kate sucked in a breath and hesitated, when the Quilava turned and stared off at the cityscape off at the horizon. There was a brief pause, before Lyle hung his head with a low sigh.

“Let’s take some time to think things over a bit,” he said. “This isn’t a choice to make lightly either way.”

The sound of burbling water and a damp splash pricked Kate’s ears. All of a sudden, Lyle’s vents came alive and he jumped back from the raft’s edge out of reflex. Kate looked down and saw fresh water where his toes were just moments ago, as the Quilava looked down at the river’s surface with a nervous grimace.

“Along with some ways for us to get off this raft. The sooner, the better.”

Kate supposed it was a sensible enough plan. All they’d need to do was to stay alert for prying eyes and just wait a bit.

Simple, really.

Two hours later, “a bit” had yet to come for Lyle and his fellows, as Boudewijn’s raft made its way down the twists and turns of the river, passing plains and fields with the occasional village coming into sight before drifting away. Every now and then, stranger landmarks would pop up along the riverbanks. Here and there, the landscape would be punctuated by the remains of some human ruin, like a line of ruined concrete pylons they were passing in the water that appeared to once be a bridge. Stranger still were the parts of the land that looked unnatural in their own way, much like the slab of earth just downstream of the pylons which overhung the river from one bank to the next like a giant stone table half-buried in the dirt.

Lyle stared up as the raft slipped under the stony overhang and held his breath. Such formations were said to have been left behind by unnatural means, whether as aftereffects from the Great Flash, or from Mystery Dungeons that used to be present and had since dissipated or shifted to another place. He supposed the shelter from the sky ought to have been comforting, since for much of the trip, he and his teammates found themselves stealing nervous glances back towards the south, half expecting a formation of Grünhäuter in the skies—Air Marshals as they were called—to pop over the horizon. Or gods forbid, Lacan himself along with a dozen underlings swooping down on them. Not that the lingering worry of being buried alive by a veritable mountain of stone and dirt was much more pleasant to deal with.

“Something wrong, Quilava?”

Lyle blinked up and looked up over his shoulder where he saw blue scales and large fangs. The stoat stiffening up and reflexively letting out a startled puff of fire out from his vents before realizing from the blue scarf that it was the Feraligatr pilot. Right, that was ‘Boudewijn’, who from what they pieced together from idle conversation over the past couple hours, plied the river with his humble craft floating cargoes down the river to Newangle City and while towing others back up to the smaller towns and villages upstream. He had apparently been a ‘mon of the sea in an earlier season of life, but discovered he was content to drift along with the rivers of the Kingdom and try to float out of the way of its troubles as best as he could.

It almost sounded charming the way the Water-type put it, if it didn’t involve being constantly surrounded by death from drowning just a slip of the feet away. And then there was that constant, lingering unease in the air, that kept making Lyle worry that the Feraligatr had seen through Kate’s story about them hiring his services. Unease that flared whenever Boudewijn shot askew glances at him or others from Team Forager much as the Feraligatr was doing right now.

“Though watch it with the fire,” Boudewijn insisted. “If you set something on alight here and it gets out of claw, you’ll wind up getting soaked even if I don’t throw you from the raft.”

Lyle looked back at his rump and saw that his vents were pouring out nervous fire that lit up the entire end of the raft he was on like a lantern. He supposed he should’ve expected it from the way his stomach was knotting up. The Quilava sucked in a sharp breath and smothered the flames from his body, glancing aside with a paw at his shoulder.

“... Sorry,” he muttered. “I’m just not used to being surrounded by water like this. It stirs up bad memories.”

It wasn’t exactly a lie, as even in the present day, being surrounded by water deeper than what he could ford on his own always made him feel like he was standing next to a cliff. He usually tried to avoid the feeling on bridges by not looking down, but Boudewijn had put them to work helping to keep an eye on the sides of his raft. Kate had initially protested the arrangement as being a ripoff for having to pay to do work, which was swiftly quashed by a gentle and pointed reminder from Boudewijn: that between Wilders in the water and the danger of Outlaws lurking in wait, that not taking a stake in the raft’s well being was a fast way for everyone to wind up needing to swim to shore.

… Not that they wouldn’t wind up needing to do that anyways if Boudewijn ever got wise about their backgrounds, since those Outlaws the Feraligatr was worried about were far closer to him than he’d suspected. But fortunately, the raft captain hadn’t put two and two together, not that Boudewijn’s temperament didn’t help. The captain, while gruff, was of a more good-natured sort. And as the sun came out again as the raft exited the other end of the earthen overhang, the Feraligatr stooped and raised a claw to motion off at the river’s bank.

“Why don’t you try this? Try keeping an eye out on the riverbank,” Boudewijn suggested. “If trouble comes around, it won’t be hard to turn your attention back to the water if you have to. It works every time I have a ‘mon like you that’s squeamish of water as a passenger.”

Lyle tilted an ear back puzzledly and gave a skeptical frown. He supposed it wasn’t that different from just staring straight ahead while walking along a bridge, but would it really work if the water was there right below the riverbank?

… He supposed it couldn’t hurt to try. After all, it wouldn’t do any good to get on the bad side of a ‘mon who was tough enough to knock him into next week in a straight fight. Let alone one who could do that in the middle of a river without missing a beat.

“I’ll try it, but I’m not expecting any miracles here,” the Quilava grunted, shaking his head.

Lyle shuffled back and sat a ways from the raft’s edge, raising his eyes off towards the shore on the other side as Boudewijn instructed. It took a few minutes, but sure enough, if he kept looking at the ledge and stayed dry, it almost felt like rolling along a smoother wagon ride from the other shoreline.

If only Boudewijn could’ve given his advice just a few minutes earlier, since the earthen overhang wasn’t something that popped up everywhere. Not that the scenery around was bad, it was just mostly the expected plains and occasional clusters of red-leaved trees… along with shrubs, fields, and the occasional hinterland burrow or nest. There was an occasional chunk of earth that had been churned up into impossible formations near Dungeon Fog like Raptor Rock off in the distance, and for a brief moment, Lyle spotted a set of riverside caves with walls that looked a bit too straight to be of natural origin.

Perhaps there was more of note already along the river than he already thought, not that he could tell half the time. Whenever Boudewijn’s raft drifted too far away from the riverbank, Lyle’s vision would grow hazy and things would blur together until it drifted back closer to shore. Just as it did when the raft floated past a field planted with Apricorns. The Quilava didn’t think much of it, until he noticed that there were Pokémon in armor milling about and stiffened up.

“... What in the-?”

Lyle looked closer and noticed from the patterns on the armored Pokémon’s scarves that they were obviously Grünhäuter, and the Pokémon milling about as pickers had banded scarves and looked visibly haggard and disheveled. Lyle got up, trying to get a better view of the field when he chanced to see a Vigoroth stumble and trip over with a bushel of Apricorns. The Vigoroth laid there a moment in a daze, when a Throh in army plates stomped up and summarily kicked the Vigoroth, drawing a sharp cry as Lyle faintly heard the Throh’s barks from across the water.

“Hey! Nobody said you could take a break, you useless leech!”

Lyle flinched as the Throh struck the Vigoroth again, and again, the Normal-type yelping before hurriedly scurrying off with his basket in front of a few other weary-looking Pokémon in similar patterns. That was when he saw them in the background: long, low-slung barracks in the distance. The tell-tale sign that this Apricorn field was using penal labor to collect its harvest.

Lyle had no idea who the unfortunate Vigoroth was. Maybe he was a captured Röthäuter drug across the sea when the ships came back from Edialeigh for fresh bodies for the frontline. Maybe he was a local villager who had managed to say something stupid enough about the war to get a Gendarm riled up enough to drag him in as a Sympathizer. Or maybe he was an Outlaw who’d had a job go bad… like him…

Like Alvin…

Lyle hung his head and let his vision drift down to the floorboards. He didn’t know whether being sentenced to hard labor slaving away picking Apricorns would’ve been a more merciful fate. Alvin would still be facing the prospect of a cold, dreary winter shivering his scales off in drafty barracks with danger hanging over his head at every turn, but at least he’d be in a land that was his, and there wouldn’t be some asshole pushing him around treating his life like some piece on a board game.

… Or at least it would be one that would care enough to keep him alive to pick the next harvest.

The Quilava screwed his eyes shut. The voice of reason in his head told him that there was no guarantee such a reprieve would last since Varhyder convicts were subject to army levees themselves. Even if Alvin weren’t about to be shipped across the sea, there wasn’t anything he could do. The first time he’d had to leave Alvin behind, he was buried in the remains of a tent as a wall of soldiers were descending on him. The second time, he was bound with two Grünhäuter in the way, with gods-knew-how-many more right in spitting distance on the other side of the garrison walls they were at. There was nothing he could’ve done for him then, and if the situation were reversed, he wouldn’t have blamed Alvin for slinking away.

… So why did still he feel so awful about it?


… Right, Irune was there to chew him out. To remind him that even with the odds as grim as they were, that he hadn’t even tried to take them on. And here she was shouting at him again, probably ready to give him another earful about—

“Lyle! There’s Pokémon in the water coming right at you!”

The Quilava jolted up and shot to attention with a start, reflexively letting a little fire leak out his vents. Sure enough, there were dorsal fins in the water knifing along its surface straight for them. Lyle’s eyes widened as he hurriedly tried to build up smoke at the back of the throat. Before the smoke could leave his lips, a jet of water struck him in the face and sent him pitching into a crate with a yelp. The Quilava flopped to the deck of the raft, hastily rolling over onto his feet, when he saw green scales and white fins swarming his side of the raft. Furious splashes rang out as a mass of figures swiped and bit at the raft, when a red-striped Basculin from their number stopped to pop over the surface and snarl back.

“What do you think you’re doing just barging through our waters like this?!” the Basculin spat.

An attack by Wilders, because that was just what they needed at a time when they couldn’t run away like this. Lyle frantically spewed what remained of his Smokescreen back at the Basculin, only for the fish to hurriedly duck back under the water. Lyle panted as water dripped off him as his teammates hurried in to try and clear away other Wilders in the swarm. Kate spewed an Icy Wind, and Irune a Dragon Rage that struck a couple of Basculin but otherwise left the mass untouched. A cry from Dalton to “give me space!” prompted Lyle to duck back as the Heliolisk attempted to cast a Discharge over the swarming fish.


Except, once again, the Electric-type’s injured frill got in the way and the range of his attack to fall far shorter than expected. Enough so that all but a few of the swarming Basculin were able to avoid it by just swimming a few paces back in the water.

Lyle readied fire in his mouth when he saw red spikes in the water knifing towards the Basculin and froze. B-Blauflamme, he didn’t see that Wilder earlier! How were they supposed to fight off something that big?! Except, after a moment’s notice, Lyle realized that the red ridges weren’t headed for them, but rather straight for the school of Basculin. A few startled cries rang out and the school of Wilders began to grow visibly spooked at its approach.

“E-Eek! M-Monster!” the earlier Basculin squealed. “Swim away! Swim away!”

The Wilders turned and fled, splashing and crying out in fright as they hurriedly fled upstream from the pursuing spikes. Lyle blinked and sucked in an uneasy breath, waiting for the Wilder in the water to surface when he noticed soaked blue fabric near the creature’s head. It stirred, when the familiar form of the Feraligatr pilot surfaced from the water, waving back with a toothy grin.

“Hah! Nothing like a good set of teeth to scare the fins off a fish when you have to!” Boudewijn chortled.

Lyle breathed a sigh of relief as he flopped to the deck with a wet thump and saw his companions ease out from theirs fighting stances. He turned on his side against the deck where and saw Boudewijn climbing aboard from the river, still dripping water and making the raft tilt to one end. The Quilava sighed and pinned his ears back before attempting to shake himself dry. Getting soaked wasn’t his idea of a good time, but things could’ve gone worse, he supposed.

There was a faint creak, and then a low groan of stressed wood that sent a shiver up Lyle’s spine. He blinked and looked up, seeing that the top of the crate behind him now seemed to overhang him. He was almost ready to dismiss it as his lingering discomfort getting to his nerves when he Irune seemed to have noticed it too, as she looked off at the crates, and at the raft’s deck before pointing off at them with a wide-eyed grimace.

“U-Uh… is the raft supposed to be tilted this much?” the Axew asked.

Lyle followed after the Dragon-type’s gaze along with Boudewijn and his teammates and looked down the length of the raft.

That was when they saw it.

Sure enough, the entire port side of the raft was listing in the water, and the angle seemed to be steepening as it drifted along. Boudewijn looked over the sight and blinked a moment, before screwing his eyes shut with a low grumble.

“Those Wilders must’ve done more damage to the pontoons than I thought,” the Feraligatr sighed. “Go and stand on the starboard end to shift some weight around and pull some crates towards you if you can. It’ll help even things out until I can tow us to shore. Just hold on tight.”

Those last four words spoiled all of Boudewijn’s earlier reassurances as Lyle’s heart began to pound in fright. Just how badly had the raft been damaged if Boudewijn was forcing them to a specific side. Lyle briefly opened his mouth to press Boudewijn further about their situation when the Feraligatr slipped back into the water and his companions were already beelining for the starboard side of the raft. A quick glance at the rising water along the port side was enough to get him to follow suit.

He hurried over just as Kate and Irune were already pushing a hefty crate towards the edge, which were it not resting against others, looked as if it’d have kept sliding from the angle the raft was starting to take. The Quilava hurriedly ducked behind another crate that Dalton was trying to throw his weight behind and pushed it out, every pace towards starboard being a treacherous slog until they couldn’t go any further, and left it pinned up against a small stack of others.

The starboard end of the raft was aloft now, and as Lyle went up to the edge, he could see exposed cylinders of some sort lined up in a row. Probably those ‘pontoons’ that Boudewijn was talking about. Lyle clung to the aloft edge, crouching and holding tight with a frightened shudder as he looked out and saw they were still a good ways from solid land, with murky water in between.

It was like when he’d gotten trapped in the middle of that stream as a Cyndaquil all over again. Except this time, his father wouldn’t be there to save him, and the water looked deep enough for even a Typhlosion to drown in it.

Lyle screwed his eyes shut and let out a low whine, when he felt the raft lurch and turn sharply towards the right. He cracked his eyes open to see the raft swing out, and off towards its front, Boudewijn was towing them with a cable towards a rapidly-approaching sandbar just offshore from a riverbank. He saw the Feraligatr’s pose change as the Water-type’s legs found purchase against solid land, the gator clumsily lumbering backwards, holding the tow cable with claws and teeth as the raft followed his wake when it hit something that almost threw Lyle off the edge.

After a moment to get back onto an even keel, Lyle recognized that the raft was suddenly a lot more level and he was hearing grinding noises coming from its bottom. A look down revealed that the raft had run aground, close enough to shore that one could make it onto land with a little jump. Lyle took off running, using a Quick Attack to help build up speed as he leapt the gap and onto the damp sand onshore, his teammates wading after him in the water when Boudewijn motioned after them with a low grunt.

“Help me prop the port side of the raft onshore,” he insisted. “From the way it was listing, I’m pretty sure that that’s where the damage is at.”

Lyle and his fellows from Team Forager made their way onto dry land and lined up with the lower portions of the tow cable one by one, pulling it aground with concerted heaves following Boudewijn’s cries. Little by little, the raft’s right side came into view as the pontoons came onto the sand: a set of floats made of metal and scavenged ancient resin that were now riddled with tears and gouges. Lyle turned up towards Boudewijn, and from the toothy grimace on the Feraligatr’s face as he went over to trace a claw around the damage… he could tell that it was worse than the captain had expected.

“Bah, I should’ve known better than to try and make this run without Marianne,” the Feraligatr sighed. “You never know when you’ll accidentally rile up some Wilders while drifting along like this.

“Oh? A colleague of yours?” Dalton asked, tilting his head. “Does she normally help you keep watch over the cargo?”

“That’s actually my job most of the time. Marianne’s normally my hull defender. Sticking to the water fits her better as a Primarina,” Boudewijn explained. “She fell ill the night right before our run, and if we backed out, we were going to be out a good chunk of this month’s income.”

Lyle raised a paw and ran it uneasily underneath the gouges along his raft’s pontoon himself. With how much the raft had started listing just after those Wilders tore up the pontoon, they’d likely have sunk in the middle of the river had Boudewijn not pulled them to shore.

Even so… perhaps there was a silver lining to all of this.

“... Will we still make it to Newangle City like this?” Lyle asked.

The Quilava was answered by Boudewijn raising a claw and pointing off at white spires in the distance. They were much closer now, enough to clearly see their towering, rectangular frames, along with the gray, ringlike base at the bottom that marked the city’s walls. The strongest and tallest ramparts in all of Varhyde with nothing like it built prior to them, not even from before the Great Flash… and in all likelihood with nothing like them that would ever match them in the future.

Even so, it still looked like it’d take some time to reach the city on foot. If they were going to try and slip away before reaching the gates, this was likely as good of a chance as they were going to get.

“Yeah, we will. Marienne and I’ve dealt with worse scuffs to the raft than this before,” Boudewijn reassured. “But between patching this up and waiting for the pitch to set we’ll still be stuck here for about half an hour. My gear to do the repairs should be up on the raft next to the spare pontoons. I need to make sure the raft doesn’t drift off, but if you dig my tools out, I can get started.”

Boudewijn motioned off at a crate on the raft with faded red paint with a worn gangplank wedged next to it, prompting Lyle and his companions to clamber aboard and with heaves and tugs, pull it out. There, they took the top off and began to sift through its contents—a few extra pontoons, along with a sealed bucket of pitch, a brush, a set of wooden struts, and a short metal blade that looked like it’d been patterned after a Skarmory feather. After a moment to lower the gangplank down, the four set off up and down the passage, bringing the crates’ contents over to the Feraligatr a few pawfuls at a time. Boudewijn set to work as soon as his tools reached shore, starting by wedging the wooden struts to hold the raft and prop its damaged side up, absentmindedly taking his repair kit’s blade straight out of Irune’s hand much to her blinking surprise.

“Wait, how is that knife supposed to help you?” the dragon asked. “Isn’t there already a hole in your raft? How would that make it better?”

“The floats are segmented so they can be detached from each other for repairs,” the Feraligatr explained. “I mean, sure I’ve got a set of claws and teeth, but for a job like this, I’ll need to make cuts that are a bit more precise… like so.”

Boudewijn stooped and crawled back under his raft where he wedged the knife in a gap between two pontoons and after a few tugs, the ends of both pontoons to the side visibly sagged. He scooted over and repeated the process again at another gap between segments, when the pontoon above him came loose and fell into his waiting arms.

Lyle blinked as the Feraligatr crawled back out along with the pontoon. Boudewijn had made taking the pontoon apart look so effortless. He wondered if the ‘mon had been apprenticed himself when he started his trade… or if these repairs were just so frequent for his raft that they were second nature for the Water-type. A loud thump rang out as the Feraligatr set the pontoon down on the ground and rolled it over to drain it as water came gushing out.

Lyle reflexively jumped back with a yelp, flinching a bit from draining water as it came up and wet his paws. Fortunately, the water’s flow began to slow down, and soon enough all that remained were a few last stubborn trickles. The Quilava and his teammates eyed the pontoon curiously as the Feraligatr rolled it over onto its side with its holes facing them, before the raft captain stooped down and grabbed a large canvas patch from his repair kit.

“Here, you four take a corner and hold it tight against the pontoon, since this one looks like it’s still in good enough condition to patch up,” Boudewijn insisted. “It’s a temporary fix, but it should seal it up good enough to make it to Newangle City.”

Lyle stared down skeptically at the patch as Dalton went over and ran his uninjured arm’s hand over it, before his eyes briefly widened and he gave a curious glance up.

Was in aller Welt…?
"What on earth...?" lit. "What in all (the) world...?"
₁ Boudewijn, where did you get this?” the Heliolisk asked. “This fabric’s woven tighter than what most machine looms can manage! I thought the army normally had first dibs for fabrics made like that…”

The Quilava quirked a brow and cocked his head over at the Heliolisk. ‘Machine looms’, huh? So Dalton worked with textiles in the past? He supposed he could kinda see it since the few fabs with more complicated machinery in them around his hometown and Moonturn Square drove them with Pokémon in running wheels or mills of some sort. And Dalton was both of a species with strong legs and scarily at ease moving about water for a ‘mon that was supposed to be most at home in deserts...

Though still, something about it didn’t add up with his mannerisms, or that accent of his.

“You’d have to ask the salvager I bought it off of in Port Reyn. The story I was told was that it turned up from a shipwreck from the last invasion,” the Feraligatr replied. “But I wouldn’t be using it if it didn’t do its job at keeping water out. Though take a corner and hold it tight up against that pontoon for a moment.”

Lyle nodded back and went over alongside Kate, holding the corners as Boudewijn dipped a brush into a pitch bucket before he spread pitch over the sides of the patch. The Quilava pulled his paws back as the brush moved past and the patch glued in place, Boudewijn doing much the same on Kate’s end before covering it up entirely. Two extra patches later, and the pontoon “was as good as new” and ready to be put back into place. Allegedly. Lyle skeptically eyed the repaired segments. Would that little bit of caulking really be enough to keep things afloat? Boudewijn seemed convinced, as the raft’s captain dusted his claws before giving a satisfied grunt.

“There. Not the prettiest patch job, but she’ll last a hell of a lot longer than an ice plug,” he remarked. “Once I’ve got it back in place on the raft, it should take about fifteen minutes to set before things are good enough to push back out onto the water.”

Lyle bit his lip and grimaced. He supposed fifteen minutes could’ve been worse, but that was barely any time to put distance between themselves and the raft, and if they didn’t take off, it was just long enough to go stir-crazy from sitting around and waiting knowing Lacan was out there with his goons. Lyle felt a prod at his shoulder as Kate stared at him with a quiet grimace, as the Sneasel looked at the Feraligatr and pinned her ears back with a sigh.

“... What are we supposed to do until then?” she asked.

“Make yourselves comfortable, I guess?” Boudewijn shrugged back. “Though if any of you needed to heed the call of nature, now would be as good a time to get that squared away. Since I’d prefer if you didn’t do that from my raft.”

Lyle reflexively flattened out his ears and screwed his eyes shut. That certainly was a mental image he could’ve gone without. But even if Boudewijn was a bit blunt about it, he supposed now would be as good as any to tend to themselves in between legs of their journey, as the quiet growl from his stomach reminded him.

They hadn’t gotten a chance to eat anything since leaving Errberk Village other than a few scraps they had leftover in their bags, and most of the berries they did have didn’t justify scarfing them down for a meal unless they were in a real pinch. The riverbank seemed nice and quiet, so maybe there were a few berry bushes that had managed to go unpicked by Wilders or hungrier fringe-dwellers to work with.

“We’ll see what we can do,” the Quilava said. “Though we really don’t want to just linger around here for too long-”

“Huh? What’s that?” Irune asked.

Lyle trailed off as Irune pointed off towards the treeline deeper inland. The Quilava followed along, when he spotted a gray pointed roof poking up over the treetops. Dalton and Kate quirked a brow, seemingly surprised by the presence of a rooftop of slate-colored shingles this far out as Boudewijn stepped forward and studied the sight of the rooftop for a moment, before having a moment of dawning realization.

“Oh, that? It’s a shrine to Kyurem that the locals from the village past the bend upstream put up,” the Feraligatr explained. “I personally never really counted him as a patron, but the pitch does need some time to settle, so you might as well take some time to take a peek.”

“... Wait, but I thought that there were stories of Kyurem also being a girl.”

Lyle shot an askew glance over at the Axew, and so did his teammates. He hadn’t heard that many stories about Kyurem himself beyond the ones that involved his home village, but in those, he distinctly remembered that Kyurem was supposed to be male.

“Maybe in the really old myths, since I’ve heard the Kyurem of the Founder’s time was a she,” Boudewijn replied. “But I don’t know that much about the gods beyond the kingdom’s patron and the one my hometown had. So you’d know more about Kyurem and what to expect from those myths than me.”

Lyle let his gaze linger on the Axew with a curious frown. So… Irune had heard stories about Kyurem before? Did that mean that she grew up here? If so, why did she seem so unfamiliar with her surroundings?

An elbow at his shoulder snapped Lyle to attention, where there was Kate, and Dalton stepping forward with a subconscious paw at his splinted arm.

“I think we’ll take your advice, actually,” Dalton said. “There… were some things that we needed to discuss between ourselves for our trip anyways, and it couldn’t hurt to give some thanks for our good fortune either.”

The Feraligatr blinked briefly, before turning aside with a low grunt to pick up the pontoon laying on the ground.

“That should be fine, just don’t wander off too far,” Boudewijn said. “I know that you paid me well for the ride, but I do have a schedule to make. If you get lost, I’ll only have so much time to come and look for you.”


Dalton drifted off as Kate followed along, along with Irune, and Lyle at the end. He quietly breathed a sigh of relief as at last, they could focus on going back to ground…

“Irune, what are you doing headed towards the shrine?” the Sneasel asked. “Shouldn’t we be focusing on slipping off?”

Lyle’s ears flicked and he looked up to see Irune at the mouth of the dirt path, whirling around with a startled cry.

“Oh! Uh… w-well, it’s just that the shrine’s right here,” she explained. “And I figured that before we made a decision of where to go, we might as well check it out.”

Lyle pinned his ears at the Axew’s reply, letting out a quiet grumble.

“Gods, Irune, this crap again?” he muttered. “Look, our priority should be finding a place to lie low and then find a Mystery Dungeon to get us-”

“Things aren’t that simple, Lyle.”

Lyle blinked, before glancing over his shoulder at Dalton, who stared at him with a serious frown.

“I’m… not sure if we’d necessarily be better off parting ways here with Boudewijn in our present circumstances,” the Heliolisk said, which drew a puzzled stare from Kate.

“Wait, but I thought that you said that the capital was a terrible place for Outlaws and that going there was a terrible idea,” she insisted.

Dalton stepped forward, passing Irune as he looked back with a motion with his good arm to follow.

“It is, but it’s not necessarily the worst option we have right now,” he said. “I’ll explain on our way to the shrine, but it’s not as black-and-white of a decision if the towns in this Provinz have already been told about us.”

Lyle flattened his ears as a moment of worried quiet settled over the group, before Dalton turned away with a low sigh.

“We should talk it over before we jump to a decision,” Dalton insisted. “Since we’ll be taking a big risk either way.”

The path towards the shrine wasn’t terribly long, if still enough of a walk for Dalton to lay out the particulars of how they were caught between a rock and a hard place right then. They were presently in a Provinz situated on plains directly east of the Kingdom’s capital. Normally, that wouldn’t be the end of the world for Outlaws on the run, but no matter how any of them tried to spin it, there was no getting around the fact that a little riverside village of all places had gotten word of them. If a garrison for a little hamlet like that knew about them, gods knew how many garrisons other towns in the Provinz had been similarly tipped off.

The more the Heliolisk spoke about their predicament, the smaller and more alone Lyle felt. To the point that he almost wished that that god the shrine at the end of the path had been built for really could hear his pleas for divine assistance.

He and his teammates came upon it before they knew it. Sure enough, nestled among a small cluster of trees, there was a small wooden pavillion with timbers that had been painted in light grays. It sported an open entryway with windows on its sides that had reed shades—rolled up to let the air and sun in. Lyle was pretty sure that this shrine still counted as a Bildstock, even if it wasn’t a neat little column like the ones he usually ran into closer to Moonturn Square. A ‘Kapellenbildstock
A type of Bildstock built as a small chapel enclosing a shrine or relic.
₂’, as he vaguely remembered someone, maybe his parents, call them once in the past. Why, the shrine most like it he could recall offhand was the one in his hometown, except it wasn’t a shrine for Kyurem, and nobody went into it.

Not that anyone would want to even if it weren’t sealed up, especially with the god it had been built for. And yet, for whatever damned reason, the dilapidated thing had just been left to rot there and never been properly torn down.

A brief check revealed the smell of food by the shrine’s entrance, except there was nothing left of it aside from a few stray crumbs. There would be no gnawing indecision over whether or not to steal from the gods’ offerings today, somebody—probably the local Wilders—had already made that decision for him.

Lyle’s attention turned to the little shrine’s interior as they drifted past the entrance and looked around. The pavillion’s flooring was made out of gray stone, with the beams of the ceiling rafters painted a matching shade. Curiously enough, running along the eaves of the roof, there were a set of white and black bands that had been neatly painted. Lyle admittedly hadn’t been to many Kyurem shrines before, but he could’ve sworn that they were usually decorated mostly in shades of gray.

And of course, there was the centerpiece of the shrine that Bildstock of this style usually had inside them, in this case it was a gray statue which stood in front of the back wall’s middle behind a protective grate. Still visited by locals based off of the scattered slips of paper pushed past it. It was a sculpture of a craggy, vaguely draconic creature with misshapen wings and horns, along a tail that looked almost like a three-pronged dart. That was certainly a Kyurem statue, alright.

“Place sure is swanky. I haven’t seen one of these in a while.”

Lyle blinked and turned his head as Kate murmured to herself, and walked up to inspect the statue. As Kate ran her claws over the bars of the grate, Lyle could’ve sworn that she had a glimmer of familiarity in her eyes. Kate had always never really liked talking about her childhood, but he couldn’t help but wonder…

“Oh? Brings back memories?”

“... Something like that, even I don’t really put much stock in that whole ‘getting helped by dead ‘mons’ thing,” the Sneasel replied. “I just always thought that Kyurem was a bit of an afterthought since… well, you know, Varhyde’s already got a patron goddess and all that.”

“There are other gods that Pokémon in this land hail. And Kyurem is said to have the power to be a boundary between wish and reality, between truth and ideals,” Dalton explained. “Sometimes leaning towards one or the other in life, but always able to step in and rein things in when one or the other was out of balance.”

Dalton’s face fell for a moment, before he closed his eyes with a low grumble.

“Not that getting killed off while trying to intervene between Reshiram and Zekrom fighting over some miserable little hamlet really is much to show for it-”


Much to Lyle’s surprise, that wasn’t his voice cutting in with the sharp huff, even if he’d had half a mind to do much the same at Dalton’s mention of the ‘miserable little hamlet’. Instead, it was Irune, who had her eyes locked with the Heliolisk’s with a sharp glare.

“Things could’ve gone better back then, we get it,” she said. “You don’t need to be so pointed about it.”

Lyle couldn’t help but give an askew glance back at the Axew. He knew that Irune put a bit more stock in the gods than he did from her reaction to them stealing from the Bildstock outside Moonturn Square, but she sure took Dalton’s comment more personally than he’d expected.

There had to be some sort of story behind that, even if it wasn’t hard to fault the Heliolisk for his train of thought. Pokémon in Varhyde tended to regard the icy drake with suspicion, an unpredictable loose cannon who would at times step in and come to the aid of their patron goddess, but would just as frequently come to blows with her. He’d heard that those who hailed Kyurem as a patron insisted that it came with their god’s duties of overseeing a balance between wish and reality, but that had always smacked him as being ass-covering to not wear out their welcome with those who held more popular patron deities that didn’t cause problems for the Kingdom’s inhabitants. Clearly even a more idealistic type like Dalton thought much the same.

Still, Lyle couldn’t help but be quietly grateful that Irune had cut in when she did. After all, the ‘miserable little hamlet’ was his hometown. All his life, all his father’s life, and all the life of his father’s father’s life, Pokémon from Freeden Village had grown up receiving reactions of some mixture of pity and suspicion whenever the topic of their home came up. A place that for all its sleepy tranquility, had earned the disfavor of the gods, both during their life and during their death.

… It was probably best not to dwell on the topic too much. Even if they made it to the Divine Roost and cleaned it out like Irune planned, there simply wasn’t anything waiting for him back home. So it didn’t make sense to sweat it too much about whether its the folklore was true or not. The Quilava grunted and turned to leave the shrine, when his eyes noticed a strange design on the base of the statue just underneath the Kyurem’s head.


Lyle stopped for a moment and looked closer at the design, where on closer inspection, it was some sort of triangular spike with horizontal bands. The same shape, the same stripes, the same bands of black, white, and gray as…

“Wait. Irune, what is this thing?” the Quilava asked. “And why does it look so much like your pendant?”

Author’s Notes

Words and Phrases

1. Was in aller Welt…? - "What on earth...?" lit. "What in all (the) world...?"
2. Kapellenbildstock - A type of Bildstock built as a small chapel enclosing a shrine or relic.

Teaser Text

It is said that before becoming settled in the lands of Varhyde and Edialeigh, that much like their founders, the gods whom they hail as patrons both hailed from a shared land. A distant place so far beyond seas of water and clouds to the point where our ships cannot reach them that we know as ‘Annal’ᵃ.

Fact and fiction are difficult to separate when it comes to this faraway land, with only fragments of tales said to predate the Great Flash and stories of questionable veracity by explorers who alleged to have stumbled upon it through Links in the Mystery Dungeons that feed into the Divine Roostᵇ that have since been long lost.

What we do know of that land is that the gods who hold Varhyde and Edialeigh in their balance are said to have done much the same in a prior life. Scionsᶜ of a Nameless Dragon that are seemingly ever at odds with one another and yet ever fated to be brought to each other’s path.

While the workings of the gods we call ‘Wish’ and ‘Reality’ are well perhaps all-too-well understood, those of what is sometimes called the ‘Threshold’ between them have remained vexing and elusive to those who dwell in their shadow. A being that is said to hunger for truth or ideals to make itself whole with its stronger yearning reflecting in its traits at awakening, yet ever-shifting between the two. A strength that is at once feeble, and under the right circumstances, possessing the power to subordinate ‘Wish’ and ‘Reality’ at its whim.

Few things are more humbling to a Pokémon than being in the presence of an unpredictable force. It is for this reason that barring scattered hamlets amongst Varhyde and Edialeigh, that there was not a kingdom founded in honor of this Threshold between their patron gods.

- Excerpt from 'Ein und Alles - Of Gods from a Land of Black and White'

a. Derived by phonetic corruption from terminology from the German franchise localization.
b. This name is flatly different from the one given in Hightongue, which refers to a forest whose name is a story for another day. In German, forests are commonly named with Wald, with Forst more typically associated with managed forests or those set aside for conservation or owned by royalty.
c. "Nachkomme(n)" is more typically translated as "offspring" or "descendant(s)".
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Chapter 18 - Threshold

Als Klaus der Erbauer die Gunst der Schutzgöttin unseres Landes gewann, versammelte er schnell Pokémon in großer Zahl und unterschiedlichster Art unter seinem Banner. Inmitten der unruhigen Jahre nach dem glühenden Blitz beschäftigten sie sich immer wieder mit der Frage, wo sie ihr Lager in einem vom Chaos heimgesuchten Land aufschlagen sollten.

Der Erbauer machte sich daran, sein Königreich in einer der Städte zu gründen, die die Menschen hinterlassen hatten. Orte, die wahre Wälder aus Beton und Glas waren, mit Höhen, die die Göttin, die ihm ihre Gunst gewährte, als angenehm empfanden, mit Lichtern, die von gezähmten Donner angetrieben wurden und deren Anzahl die Sterne am Himmel zu übertreffen schien. Er argumentierte, dass es für eine Zivilisation, die auf menschlichem Wissen aufbaue, nur angemessen sei, dass ihr Königreich dabei helfe, eines ihrer großartigen Werke zu bewahren.

Und so machte sich der Erbauer mit der Göttin daran, das Land zu erkunden, um eine solche Stadt zu finden, nur dass jede Stadt, die er traf, weitgehend gleich war: dunkle Hüllen mit zerstörten Gebäuden und Straßen, die weder Nahrung noch Wasser ernähren konnten. Von Wilde und Ganoven durchstreifte Höhlen der Gewalt und Ungerechtigkeit, die eher Dschungeln als der Wiege einer Zivilisation glichen.

Der Erbauer begann zu verzweifeln, jemals eine Stadt zu finden, von der aus er sein Königreich gründen könnte, als er an einem Tag, an dem in Dustermond heftige Winde wehten, zusammen mit der Göttin Realität die Spitze dessen erreichte, was heute „Der Dämmerungsturm“ genannt wird. Dort blickten sie auf die umliegende Stadt und stellten fest, dass sie sich in etwa im gleichen Zustand befand wie die anderen.

Doch als die Sonne unterging, sahen sie, wie die Lichter der Stadt angingen. Weniger und ihre Zahl stark zurückgegangen, aber sie leuchten immer noch inmitten der Ruinen, ähnlich wie der strahlende Glanz, von dem einige sagen, dass er sie mit Energie versorgte, wo ihre Gegenstücke nicht waren. Überglücklich sprang der Gründer auf, und als er den Thron erblickte, den er „Engelstadt“ nannte, sprach er die Worte, die sein Königreich gründeten:

Hier erschaffen wir unsere Zukunft.

- Auszug aus »Die Wahrheiter Chroniken – Eine kurze Geschichte der frühen Jahre unseres Königreichs«

Lyle definitely wasn’t expecting Irune to react like this to a simple question. Almost as soon as he’d asked about the design on the Kyurem statue, the Axew stiffened up and froze, almost like Kate had suddenly spewed an Icy Wind on her. Kate and Dalton also seemed a bit weirded out by how spooked she seemed. The Axew audibly fumbled with her words for a moment, before hesitantly raising her voice to speak up.

“I mean, I guess it is?” Irune said. “B-But it’s just a shrine motif! Nothing to worry about!”

She was hiding something. Transparently enough that Dalton couldn’t help but tilt his head up and rest his good hand under his chin with narrowed eyes which made the Axew wince.

“... You’re not a very good liar, you know. Though I assume this means you pray to Kyurem then?” Kate asked. “Not that I put a ton of stock into gods and stuff, but I’d have expected you to prefer lifting your prayers up to someone who wouldn’t make you keel over just by being in the same room.”

The explanation would make sense, except Irune was insistent that she needed her pendant to find a treasure. Lyle supposed there were stories of treasures kept at the Divine Roost being marked on behalf of the gods they were offered to. So… did that mean she was looking for a treasure that had been Kyurem’s in life?

Irune sucked in a sharp breath and pawed at her shoulder, looking away as she spoke up with careful, guarded words.

“Surely things wouldn’t be that cold just standing around Kyurem, but it’s… complicated. My pendant’s just a visual reference for one of the treasures I’m looking for,” she explained. “Considering everything I’ve been through, if I could count on a god for help, I wouldn’t exactly be picky about who I called out to for aid.”

Lyle blinked and trained a wary stare on the Axew. He couldn’t tell whether or not she’d been truthful with her answer. On the one paw, nothing about it seemed like a lie at face value like her earlier attempt to dismiss the importance of the sigil. But… with how defensive she’d gotten over her diary last night, it was hard not to conclude that the young dragon wasn’t telling them everything she knew.

The Quilava opened his mouth to press her further, when the crunch of footsteps from the forest path pricked his ears.

“Oh? You four are still out here?”

Lyle and his teammates turned to the entrance to the Bildstock, where there was Boudewijn. The Feraligatr captain looked about the group and gave a puzzled tilt of his head, before motioning at the four to follow.

“The pitch over the pontoons should be settled now,” he explained. “I can’t afford to pull into Newangle City too late, so unless there’s something important, we should get everything together and push off right now.”

Lyle bit his lip and froze. Gah, they didn’t settle on whether to go with Bouewijn or slip off! How on earth was he supposed to make a snap decision, let alone for the entire team? Before Lyle could say anything in reply, he was cut off by his stomach growling loudly in protest. His teammates’ own stomachs joined in as well, including Irune’s, whose stomach sounded hungrier than he’d have ever guessed a ‘mon her size could be.

Lyle and the rest of Team Forager traded grudging, flustered looks with one another. Boudewijn raised a brow and opened his mouth to reply, when Lyle heard Irune suck in a sharp breath and felt her brushed past him. She seemed visibly on edge and uneasily fidgeted with her hands. Was there something that was making it hard for her to get her words out?

“Could- Could we get fifteen minutes to check the nearby bushes or berries?” she asked, looking up at the Feraligatr with a pleading gaze. “We haven’t exactly been eating well lately, and we could use something to tide us over.”

She wasn’t wrong, even if Lyle doubted that was the first thing she’d thought of saying. Boudewijn frowned briefly and looked them over afterwards. Lyle quietly held his breath, and raised a paw to cut in and play along, only for the Water-type to lower his head and sigh.

“Alright, but if you’re not on my raft by then, I’m pushing off,” the Feraligatr warned. “I get that your fare was generous, but in a time like this, Marianne and I can’t go making our clients think that we’re unreliable.”

The Feraligatr turned and started to head off, only to pause and glance back over his shoulder.

“If there’s anything you need to get taken care of here, do it in these fifteen minutes,” he said. “Since I’m not planning on making any more stops before we get to Newangle City.”

The Feraligatr plodded off and shuffled along past a bend in the path. Lyle listened in as Boudewijn’s footsteps faded and waited until he was convinced the raft captain was safely out of earshot, before letting out a sigh of relief. He pinched his brow and shook his head to try and calm his nerves, when there was suddenly a tug at his shoulder.

“So… what are we going to do?”

Lyle looked over at Irune, who looked visibly worried and tense. He would’ve expected her to reflexively suggest that they stick along with Boudewijn so that she could get into Newangle City. But with a look like that on her face… was she having second thoughts?

A quiet hem and haw turned Lyle’s attention off towards Dalton. The Heliolisk seemed to be weighing thoughts in his mind himself, before the Electric-type looked down and shook his head.

“We make a decision of where to go next, obviously,” he answered. “Either we go along with Boudewijn and take our chances with the capital’s gates, or else we slip off here and take our chances trying to skulk through the backwoods and hinterland villages until we find a Mystery Dungeon that can get us out of this Provinz.”

Lyle bit his lip and hesitated. Fifteen minutes wasn’t a lot of time to make a decision over something where a wrong choice could mean being caught by snarling Gendarmen and gods-knew-what as a fate afterwards. Still, something about why Dalton was even asking this question felt strange…

“I’m sorry, but why is the first idea even an option again?” Kate asked. “Weren’t you the one who insisted a couple days ago that going to the capital was a bad idea?”

“Yeah, I’m… not really understanding why this is such a hard decision here,” Lyle asked. “Even if the guards in this Provinz were tipped off about us, how’s that a worse option than trying to go to Newangle City?”

“Because we’d be going through it almost blind.”

Lyle blinked as Dalton took out the handbook they’d swiped off of Team Pathfinder and flipped through the pages to the map of Varhyde with the different Mystery Dungeons marked off on it. The Heliolisk ran his left hand along the map and its water stains, when Lyle saw the bigger issue with it:

For all its illustrations and its triangles and dots marking off Mystery Dungeons… the map was clearly lacking quite a bit of detail on it.

“As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this is a copy of ‘The Explorer’s Handbook for Mystery Dungeons’. There’s not a lot in the way of detailed maps of the surface world in it, let alone ones that would highlight good places to sneak around in specific provinces,” Dalton explained. “At least for Newangle City, I’ve been there before and know my way around well enough to know a few places of the sort we could use.”

The Heliolisk seemed to waver a bit himself during his argument, but Lyle had to admit it was a better one than he was expecting. They’d only gotten as far as they had since the night of that raid thanks to his own familiarity with Moonturn Square back when they were trying to get away from Waterhead Cave’s surroundings… while their lowest moment thus far had been in Primordial Woods when they hadn’t known what to expect.

One potential danger after another came to Lyle’s mind: soldiers, Hunters, angry Wilders… hell, it wasn’t even safe to assume that any local Outlaws around these parts would necessarily tolerate them passing through as strangers. The Quilava hung his head and breathed in and out for a moment, when he noticed Irune looking up at Dalton insistently and seemingly fumbling with words in her mouth.

Lyle frowned. He already knew what this was about.

“You’re going to bring up that whole thing about ‘finding out about your power’, aren’t you?” the Quilava grumbled.


Yeah, he figured. The frustrated scowl on Irune’s face all but confirmed it. Strangely enough, even if they were visibly taken aback, Kate and Dalton weren’t reflexively up in arms about the idea. Kate hesitated briefly, before shooting a sideways glance at him.

“Wait, I’m sorry,” the Sneasel said. “When did this happen again-?”

“Last night. You were drunk and getting into a pissing match with Dalton at the time.”

The Dark-type blinked briefly, before giving a murmuring “... right” under her breath. Lyle heard shuffling footsteps against the shine’s timbers, as Dalton paced over and looked down at the Axew with a guarded, serious expression, much like he was sizing up a stranger or a potential mark.

“... What specifically do you want to find out in the capital, Irune?”

“... About whatever that power inside of me is,” she replied. “And why the army would want it for themselves so badly.”

There was a long, lingering pause, and even Kate had a dumbstruck look at the Axew’s answer. Lyle squeezed his eyes shut and brought a paw to his brow. Clearly Irune hadn’t improved her pitch much from the night before in The Green Dragonite’s tavern.

“Look, Dalton,” Lyle began. “I know it’s a bad idea, but-”

“... I might be able to help with that, actually. Assuming we can make it past the gates.”

Lyle stiffened up, and he couldn’t help but feel his mouth briefly flop open in surprise. Dalton, of all ‘mons, wasn’t summarily shooting the idea down? And he wanted to help? Lyle cast a sidelong glance at Kate, who stared at the Heliolisk much as if he’d sprouted a third arm, before folding hers together with a wary cock of her brow.

“Wait, how are you supposed to manage that, Scales?”

“I lived in Newangle City for a couple years while studying at university,” the Heliolisk replied.

Lyle blinked in surprise at the response. He supposed that Dalton did tell them that he’d been to Newangle City before, but it was still unexpected to hear this coming from him. Dalton trailed off and looked away, as he pawed at his right shoulder just above his splint with a low, wistful murmur.

“I… never got to finish my studies there, but even so, it did still open a few doors for me.”

Lyle thought to ask for further details but decided against it. They were on the clock, and from the way Dalton was reacting, it was obvious that whatever happened to cut his studies short was a sore topic. The Heliolisk fished through his bag briefly with his good arm, before he came across a small bauble inside and pulled it out. There, in his hand was a small metal badge, made of tarnished, silvery metal.

“Let’s just say that I can think of a couple places in the city that might have the information Irune’s looking for. And better maps, to boot,” he explained. “Most importantly, even if it’s been a few years, we’d be able to get into them. I can still act like I belong in a scholarly crowd quite well.”

Lyle studied the badge, while Kate and Irune stared at it as if it were one of those treasures they were after, plucked fresh from the Divine Roost. While the badge was dull and corroded in parts, it clearly sported a depiction of Reshiram in flight on it on one end, with some sort of sigil looking like a flame inside a circle with runes at the bottom. He guessed it was meant to be read in Hightongue as ‘Universität von Wahrheit
University of Varhyde
₁’ based off the rune in the middle.

Lyle lifted his eyes from Dalton’s badge with a small frown, when he noticed that Kate and Irune were trading wary glances at the Heliolisk themselves. They must’ve also found something strange about all of this. Every ‘mon had their secrets, but…

“I mean, I knew you were a know-it-all, Scales, but I never pegged you as a nerd,” Kate scoffed.

… Lyle wasn’t sure if he liked this. While he supposed that they hadn’t exactly known each other for long, this was quite a big detail about his past that Dalton was springing on them.

“... Why have you never told us about this before?” Lyle asked.

“Because up until two days ago, we were simply working together on a job. Also, you never asked,” the Heliolisk insisted. “I don’t have a lot of things with me from back then, and it’s one of the few things I’ve been able to hold onto as a keepsake of a simpler, happier time in my life.”

Lyle paused and traded glances with his teammates. … Right, he supposed that there were things that he didn’t know even about Kate even after their time on the Foehn Gang. So expecting Dalton to spill his guts about his life story unprompted was probably a bit much.

“... Alright, fair enough,” Lyle sighed, flattening his ears. “But what are you getting at with this?”

“What I’m getting at is that even if this isn’t necessarily a good idea,” Dalton replied. “It’s likely still a better one than the alternative.”

… Gods, just how bad of a spot were they in if that was the case? Lyle let his head hang; he genuinely wasn’t sure what to say back. On the one paw, Dalton had made some fairly solid arguments… on the other hand, fleeing to Newangle City? A city that was better-garrisoned at all times than even some of the fiercest battlefields in Edialeigh? Even if they’d ultimately just be passing through, Lyle couldn’t even begin to count off the ways that could possibly end poorly.


Lyle flicked his ears and turned his head towards Irune. She was looking up at him, her eyes visibly pleading.

“Understanding my powers better could mean the difference between us making it to the Divine Roost or not. Please… can we do this?”

Lyle bit his tongue. He wanted to blurt out that she’d lost her mind and that they wouldn’t be going there even if Reshiram herself had somehow come back from the dead to fly them to the Divine Roost, but he couldn’t shake the Axew’s pleading look…

Much less the times that they’d seen her use that power. She’d humbled Pokémon that would’ve otherwise crushed them in battle with it. Considering the sorts of ‘mons who were hounding them from that Fähnlein... was it really a good idea not to try and get every advantage they could to stay ahead of them?

Kate had been quiet through this for a while now. Lyle turned his head, and saw that she was tapping her foot impatiently. She closed her eyes before shaking her head.

“Hey, I’m the risk-taker here, so I’m sure I can hack it either way. What do you say, Lyle?”

Lyle grimaced and looked off towards the east, off in the direction where Errberk Village was somewhere over the horizon. If Lacan had had the foresight to expect them to come towards this Provinz, they’d surely be coming by to look for them. If so, they needed to make it to Newangle City to melt into the crowds before Lacan or any other Grünhäuter caught up with them and got wise to where they were trying to go.

But, that meant being surrounded by water again for hours on end… and having to make their way past guarded walls that shamed those of any other settlement in Varhyde. If the worst really did come to pass, surely he’d be better off fighting on a full stomach, wouldn’t he?

“... I’m in. Gather whatever you can for supplies and let’s try and think of ways to talk Boudewijn into letting us lay low as we make it to the gate,” Lyle said. “Just because the Grünhäuter there might not have been tipped off about us doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and take some precautions.”

Hot, irritated breaths came between Lacan’s teeth as he struggled to hold back angry dragonfire. The Dyad and her most recent companions had been a surprising lot, and he’d tried to keep an open mind for ways she could still catch him off-guard after an agonizingly long year when he’d thought he’d seen just about everything from her.

He knew there was a possibility that the Dyad would make it to Raptor Rock through Primordial Woods and escape far from Toya Square. He’d dispatched Sophia and messengers alongside her to relay word to as many settlements in Austor Provinz as they could in anticipation of that. A decision that had borne fruit from how they had received word of the Dyad’s presence mere hours ago.

He just hadn’t expected things to take him back into the shadow of Errberk Village’s tall trees and windmills. Sophia’s home village, and the place where he’d spent those unsettled years of his youth after having to flee home. One whose sleepy atmosphere belied its martial background as the home of Sophia’s Ritterorden
Analogous institution in the Germanosphere as an order of knights.
₂: the Ritter von Herbergau, whose red sigil watched over the town from the walls of its Bergfried.

He also wasn’t expecting to be standing on a set of damaged docks and staring down a quartet of still-dripping guards who didn’t have so much of a scale to show of the Dyad in spite of directly crossing paths with her. A Boltund, a Politoed, a Masquerain, and a grimacing Druddigon with green-and-orange scales at the head of the group who hurriedly brought an arm out before throwing a claw over his heart in salute.

As if remembering basic decorum was supposed to make the present state of affairs any better.

“State your name and rank, Druddigon,” Lacan snarled. “I was told that you’d received my briefing.”

O-Oberwachtmeister Pax Shardragos the Unforgettable!” the Druddigon squeaked. “M-My apologies, I hadn’t had a chance to review your briefing, so I didn’t realize that those thieves had done something to make them wanted by His Highness! I-If I was aware, I’d have brought more countermeasures to deal with them in battle! L-Like a net!”

This Pokémon was certainly ‘unforgettable’ alright, if for all the wrong reasons. Something about him felt familiar even if Lacan didn’t remember seeing him around Errberk Village while growing up. The Salamence noticed a few nearby Pokémon casting worried glances from damaged boats and elsewhere on the docks, while Sophia was at his side, bringing a wing over her face with a quiet sigh.

… She knew this buffoon somehow? The Druddigon didn’t mention a knightly title, but he supposed Sophia was always fairly open to mingling with commoners. But there would be a time to pry further into that story later. Lacan kept his attention trained firmly on the Druddigon Gendarm who had cornered the Dyad and her party, only for them to somehow slip his grasp inside of such a small village.

“How on earth did you manage to lose them?” Lacan demanded. “You said they fled by raft for crying out loud!”

The nearby guards squirmed and shrank back uneasily, leaving the Druddigon of their lot behind and to stare up with an audible gulp. The green dragon hastily gave an apologetic bow, as he stammered and tripped over his own words.

T-Tut mir leid, Freiherr
Petty nobiliary title in the Germanosphere, roughly equivalent to “Baron”.
₃ Wellenhafen!
” the Druddigon squeaked. “There were some public disturbances after they fled, and our assumption was that they went had gone inland-!”

Lacan grit his teeth as blood pounded in his head and a low growl came from the back of his throat. The Kingdom’s fate, the outcome of Operation Spark and the entire war, was in jeopardy because of this incompetent?

The Druddigon’s counterparts hastily darted away while the Druddigon pinned his wings back and stared with that same frozen expression a soldier might have when looking down an incoming Hyper Beam. The Druddigon stumbled back, tripping and pratfalling as Lacan threw a foreleg to pin the guard to the dock and craned his head in with bared fangs.

“It’s Graf Wellenhafen. And save your breath trying to ingratiate me, Druddigon,” Lacan snarled. “You have no idea how much your actions have endangered His Majesty’s realm and you’re not making my impression of you any better right now.”

The Druddigon flinched and began to visibly tremble, when a flash of blue and black feathers cut in. Lacan turned his head, where there was Sophia stepping in with a sharp, insistent frown.

Graf Wellenhafen, sagen Sie sowas nicht im Eifer des Gefechts.ᴰ¹
“Graf Wellenhafen, don’t go saying things in the heat of the moment.”

Lacan paused for a moment at the Corvisquire’s entreaty, keeping the still-quailing Gendarm pinned underfoot as she pulled her wing back to her side and continued on in their land’s ancient tongue.

Denken Sie daran, dass dies nur ein bescheidenes Dorf mit einer kleinen Abteilung Gendarmen anstelle seiner normalen Verteidiger ist. Eines, über das wir nicht den gegenwärtigen Stand der Dinge das gleiche Wissen haben. Es wäre das Beste, wenn wir die nicht dazu bringen, zu viele Fragen zu stellen.ᴰ²
“Recall that this is but a humble village with a small detachment of Gendarmen posted in the stead of its normal defenders, one that doesn’t have our same knowledge of the present state of affairs. It’s for the best that we don’t get them asking too many questions.”

… Right, he supposed it would be for the best to keep the locals out of the loop. Especially with this level of incompetence in the mix.

Lacan sighed and lowered his head towards the Druddigon’s shoulder. The Salamence nipped at it and, roughly drug the Gendarm back onto his feet, all but shoving him towards his peers with a disgusted snort.

“Go and help my soldiers find leads as to where that raft is headed to,” he snapped. “Consider yourself fortunate that you have an advocate among my ranks.”

The Druddigon panted and gasped for breath, pawing at a shoulder plate that now had wear marks left behind from claws digging into it as Sophia stepped forward with a stern caw.

“This… isn’t exactly the sort of incident that will go unnoticed on your service record, Sheriff Pax,” she sighed. “I can’t speak for how your superiors will see fit to respond to it, but for your own sake, do be more careful while carrying out your duties from now on.”

The Druddigon grimaced and hung his head briefly. After a chorus of apologies and a squeaked J-Ja, Herr Graf!, he and his counterparts hurriedly darted off the docks and back up to the rest of the village as quickly as their limbs would allow. Lacan watched as the four slipped off, before turning towards the river and settling down against the dock of the wood with a frustrated sigh.

“I would’ve expected the home of the Ritter von Herbergau to put up a better showing than this,” he grumbled. “Even when those damned Edialeighers were breathing down the necks of this town, I certainly didn’t remember its defenders being this disorganized when I was younger.”

Sophia let out a quiet sigh and shook her head, as she took her side beside him. Lacan supposed that that was a sign that she wasn’t particularly impressed herself.

“Things aren’t the same as they were back then, Lacan,” she insisted. “In the past, our strength as Ritter was needed closer to home for the sake of the realm, but now…”

The Corvisquire trailed off briefly, seemingly at a loss of what else she could say. It didn’t need mentioning. Lacan knew as well as his subordinate where the strength of the Ritter von Herbergau was needed these days, as it was with every other Ritterorden in the land:


With their training and valor, they fought for king and country alongside their lessers on the frontlines, and when the fates were crueler, they died alongside them there too. From what he had heard, the needs of the war had deprived Errberk Vilage of the ranks of its local Ritterorden, with most of its remaining ranks being too feeble from age to serve in combat, or infirm for one or another reason.

… But it didn’t take Ritter to capture some Outlaws. He supposed that noble sensibilities were always slow to transmit to commoners, and that stronger and more skilled fighters were prioritized for the frontlines, but the sheer incompetence he’d just witnessed from the guards was nothing short of shocking. Let alone in a village with a Ritterorden with a long and storied history that ran as far back as the reign of King Agarez the Great.

Gods above. He had been told that the future of the Kingdom was bleak if Operation Spark failed, but this was something else.

“I fail to see how that excuses anything. Even the villages in my father’s Grafschaft, as scarred as they are, wouldn’t have allowed a band of thieving scum to elude them this easily.”

Lacan trailed off after hearing a sharp caw. He looked down at his Corvisquire subordinate, who seemed to be visibly bristling at and batted her wings out in protest.

“Lacan, everyone’s had to make sacrifices for this war. Even if not every place has had to carry the same burden as Port Velhen, it’s not unexpected for the locals to be worn down and make mistakes."

Lacan froze as the words left Sophia’s mouth. After all the grief and hardship his hometown had had to bear, why on earth would she bring that up? The Salamence got up from the docks with a thump and whirled around, craning his head down with a sharp frown. Sophia froze and blinked for a moment, before apologetically lowering her head and stammering.

“A-Ah! Lacan, I-” she began. “M-My apologies, I didn’t mean to imply that-”


Lacan continued to stare his subordinate down for a brief moment before turning off towards the river with a quiet sigh. It must have been the stress getting to the two of them. Fate and this war had taken its toll on both of them, from wounds left behind on their bodies, and to the people and places they loved.

… Wasn’t that why they were undertaking a mission to do the unthinkable? Why for the past year, he’d been a seeker of power running his wings ragged across the kingdom? For the sake of bringing all those hardships to an end?

“I should have been less glib myself. It wasn’t right of me to be so harsh to this place when it took me in while my father’s Grafschaft was being sacked, especially when Pokémon like your parents sacrificed so much on its behalf. Were your Ritterorden not there to give me shelter, I likely wouldn’t be serving His Majesty today.”

… Even if it still stung that in the end, he couldn’t be a part of that Ritterorden with her. But he’d made his peace with that years ago, and since charted his own path. Lacan heard feathers ruffling as Sophia sidled up beside him, watching as the Corvisquire turned her head and warily eye at him.

He bit the corner of his mouth and shuffled his wings uncomfortably. She seemed uneasy. Had his words hurt her more than he thought?

“Sophia, I-”

“Lacan, it’s okay.”

The Salamence paused and looked down, where Sophia was there to meet his gaze. She ruffled her feathers, as a pang of worry seemed to linger in her red eyes.

“Just… be careful about the past,” she insisted. “It’s important not to forget it, but at the same time, a Pokémon sometimes needs to let things go-”

“Alright, now you’re in for it!”

Sophia jumped up and turned around as a yipping cry filled the air. Lacan crouched and reflexively moved his neck and wings to shield her, just in time to see a Dewott hurriedly darting forward with his scalchops drawn. In the background, an Eevee and Houndour tilted their heads puzzledly, as a Grovyle among their number shook her head and pinched her brow.

“Uh… Cruz?” Vilma sighed. “I’m pretty sure those guys are long gone now.”

“Or arrested. That’s probably just as likely from all these guards here,” Nellie remarked. “Did you two manage to get those Outlaws from earlier?”

Silver scarves with green three-pronged spikes and chevrons underneath. It was just a Rescue Team passing through. Lacan glanced down at Sophia under his wing looking over puzzledly, before quietly drawing it back and suppressing a sheepish grimace. He knew that Sophia had come along in strength over the years, but he supposed that some memories were hard to shake.

Lacan turned his attention down to the four strangers and let his mouth hang incredulously for a brief moment. From Sophia’s askew tilt of her head, he was guessing that these weren’t acquaintances of hers. Which then beggared the question…

“I’m sorry, who are you whelps again?”

Lacan regretted asking the question sooner than he thought. Without prompting, this ‘Cruz’ Dewott sheathed his scalchops and put his paws on his hips, proudly puffing his chest out that same imbecilic bravado he’d seen from would-be warriors enough times in the past to last a lifetime.

“We’re Team Pathfinder, the finest Exploration Team this side of-”

Lacan already knew he didn’t need to hear the rest, and cut the Water-type off with an impatient huff.

“Spare me the theatrics, Dewott,” he snapped. “Do you four know something about those Outlaws that came through here?”

Cruz blinked and twitched his whiskers for a moment, before slouching forward with a disappointed murmur. Hrmph, the Dewott really must've had an overinflated opinion of himself. The Dewott’s Eevee teammate stepped forward along with the rest of her teammates, as they gathered around him and Sophia and looked aside with a sullen frown.

“They’re a bunch of lowlives we keep running into and keep causing trouble for us,” Nellie said. “Didn’t think that they’d slip past you too, since we almost got them!”

“Yeah, we had ‘em on the ropes for a while,” Vilma chimed in. “But then they hit us with a cheap shot and… well, you know the rest.”

Lacan bit his tongue. He could already tell that it would be an ordeal and a half to take this ‘Exploration Team’s claims at face value. They certainly were full of enthusiasm, at least. But even without them moving about constantly, Lacan somehow doubted that they’d ever be served a draft notice for the army…

Well, perhaps that was a bit presumptuous. Especially if the worst in the war’s present direction came to pass.

“Uh… huh,” Sophia sighed. “Though you mentioned that you four ran into these Outlaws in the past?”

“That’s right,” the Grovyle insisted. “They stole one of our bags just outside Moonturn Square and we caught up with them in town. We would’ve beat them there, but they blew up a shop and got away from us.”

Lacan stiffened up and cast an askew glance at Sophia, who was doing much the same back at him. He vaguely remembered word coming from Fähnrich Rank about something along those lines happening. Then, even if their egos were a bit outsized for their level of accomplishment, these four had encountered none other than the Dyad. Why, perhaps she’d let details about the route she planned to take to the Divine Roost slip to them!

“Did they happen to say anything about what their intentions were?” Sophia added.

The Salamence fought back a quiet frown. He didn’t understand why Sophia didn’t just appeal to authority instead of dallying about with such pleasantries. Whatever worked, he supposed, even if the four whelps were starting to wear his patience thin.

“Well, they were in a hurry to catch a boat, so I’d assume they were hoping to go with the flow to freedom,” Bel explained, before raising a paw and pointing off at the horizon. “Maybe to that big city off in the distance? We’d certainly go there if we wanted to get lost.”

Lacan and Sophia followed the Houndour’s paw off along the river. Lacan reflexively stiffened up at the sight and grit his teeth, as Sophia jumped up with a startled squawk.

It was the white spires of Newangle City, looming in faded tones over the horizon.

Even if Austor Provinz directly bordered it, he hadn’t considered the possibility that the four would flee to Newangle City of all places. Would they really be desperate enough to go there? Or was it just a feint to waste their time?

Lacan hung his head with a blank stare. ‘So nah und doch so fern’ indeed. The Dyad was almost in his grasp at last, but even if a river was a narrow route, there were no shortage of paths she and her companions could’ve taken from it.

Ach! W-Was für eine Katastrophe! Neuengelstadt ist eine riesige Stadt mit einer bekannten Diebesgilde! Wir werden es nie schaffen, es mit Pokémon im Wert von nur einem Fähnlein zu durchsuchen!ᴰ³
“Ack! Wh-What a disaster! Newangle City’s a massive city with a known Thieves’ Guild! We’ll never be able to comb it with just a Fähnlein’s worth of Pokémon!”

Lacan snapped to attention and looked over at Sophia as she stared up at him in wide-eyed alarm. Had she really remained silent the entire time he had been lost in his thoughts? Though after stealing a glance at this ‘Team Pathfinder’ and their puzzled expressions, it was hard to fault her judgment. She was choosing her words carefully. There was a time and place for Varhyde’s ancient tongue, and being able to tend to delicate matters in the presence of commoners such as these was as good as any.

Ganz ruhig, Sophia. Das wissen wir nicht genau. Ich weigere mich zu glauben, dass die Dyade ausgerechnet jetzt einfach nach Neuengelstadt gehen würde, um Schutz zu suchen, wo sie in der Vergangenheit mehrere Gelegenheiten dazu hatte und sie die nicht genutzt hat.ᴰ⁴
“Easy, Sophia. We don’t know that for sure. I refuse to believe the Dyad would just go to Newangle City for shelter now of all times when she had multiple opportunities in the past to do so and didn’t take them.”

Lacan let the last few words come out in a low, mulling growl. Yes, that was what made it hard for him to just accept the idea of the Dyad going to Newangle City. If mere shelter wasn’t enough to draw her there, then she wouldn’t change her mind unless there was a greater motive behind her reasoning.

Lacan’s thoughts turned towards the night he and Sophia first came to collect her. She had wielded that fire then. A little over six moons later, she began to wield that thunder. One of her present teammates apparently spoke with a learned Pokémon’s accent.

… Had she begun to wield those other powers that slumbered in her? If so, Lacan supposed he had an idea of what might bring her to the kingdom’s capital…

Es würde nicht lange dauern, die Protokolle am Osttor der Stadt zu überprüfen und Bescheid zu geben, wenn dort nichts von ihr auftaucht. Ich... kann mir einen Grund vorstellen, warum die Dyade es wagen würde, sich in die Stadt zu begeben, selbst wenn sie dort nicht lange bleiben würde.ᴰ⁵
“It wouldn’t take long to check the logs at the city’s East Gate and leave notice if nothing of her turned up there. I… can think of a reason why the Dyad would dare to venture into the city, even if she wouldn’t stay there for long.”

“Wait… ‘Dyad’? Which one of those Outlaws are you talking about?”

Lacan stiffened up and craned his head around to see Bel staring up at him with a puzzled frown. The Houndour traded glances between Sophia and himself, who stood there in startled surprise as he continued on.

“Those Outlaws are the same ‘mons you’re worried went on to Newangle City, right?” Bel asked. “We couldn’t help but notice you speaking in that same language from under that rock we used to live under… even if we would say it was more of a forest. Just how long have you been chasing them?”

Gottverdammt, he should’ve known this was a possibility. He ignored the puzzled glances the Houndour’s companions were trading and answered the Fire-type by leaning in and letting out a low growl. The curiosity abruptly left the Houndour’s face as he shrank back and cringed as his teammates looked on with wide eyes. Lacan hesitated briefly, before hardening his gaze into an overpowering glare.

“Don’t worry about it, Hunduster
₄,” he huffed. “It’s not a matter that the likes of an Exploration Team like yours would be able to do much about.”

Bel hurriedly scurried back to his teammates, as the rest of Team Pathfinder tensed up and gulped. They had overheard far more than Lacan was comfortable with. Was it safe to just let them go? But if it wasn’t, would their absences raise undue questions? Lacan felt feathers brush against his wing, and saw Sophia bat out a wing to motion for a pause, before stepping towards the Exploration Team with a stern frown.

“My apologies, but it would help our investigation if you gave us some space. There’s a guild here in town, why don’t you go and check their mission board?”

The Dewott and his fellows hesitated and traded wary looks with one another before hurriedly slinking off, all but running from Lacan and Sophia’s presence. They slowed down as they reached the end of the docks, their voices carrying along just audible enough for Lacan to hear their voices over the ebb and flow of the river in the background.

“What was with that Salamence?” Nellie grumbled. “Guy gives me the creeps.”

“I know, right?” Cruz asked. “Everything about the way he was acting just screamed dodgy.”

“Whatever, getting into trouble with local military isn’t my idea of a good time, so let’s just put this behind us,” Vilma insisted. “I remember there being a mission posted about some professor looking for help with some sort of research, let’s see if it’s still up…”

Lacan frowned after the four as they passed out of earshot and from his line of sight. Even if it had been unexpected, it was careless of him to assume every commoner he came across would be as unfamiliar with Hightongue as his underlings. After all, he was pursuing a Pokémon whose appearance belied her true nature. Even if it was a less fantastical surprise, it was hardly safe to assume that there wouldn’t be others lurking about in a land as large and varied as Varhyde.

The Salamence eyed his surroundings carefully, before turning his attention back towards the white spires in the distance and speaking up to his Corvisquire companion.

Finden Sie so viel wie möglich heraus, wohin das Floß gefahren ist, und schicken Sie dann eine Nachricht an Fähnrich Rank und die anderen und lassen Sie sie entlang des Flusses suchen. Sagen Sie ihnen, sie sollen sich nach Neuengelstadt begeben, wenn sie nichts finden.ᴰ⁶
“Find out what you can about where that raft was going and then send word to Fähnrich Rank and the others and have them search along the river. Tell them to converge on Newangle City if they don’t turn up anything.”

Sophia stared up worriedly at him briefly, before Lacan looked away and continued on.

Ich bin nicht sicher, ob sie in die Hauptstadt gegangen ist. Aber wenn sie es täte, hätte ich vielleicht eine Vorstellung davon, was die Dyade von einem Besuch dort erwarten würde.ᴰ⁷
“I’m not certain she went to the capital. But if she did, I think I might have an idea of what the Dyad would want from visiting there.”

The Corvisquire gave a reflexive bat of her wings and craned her armored head up with a puzzled blink.

“Wait, you do, Lacan?” she asked. “What would she be looking for?”

The Salamence craned his head over his shoulders, not bothering to turn his body back as he gave a quiet shake of his head and spoke up.

“For direction, and a glimpse into her true nature,” he answered. “It shouldn’t take too long to confirm one way or another if she’s in the city. If she is, we’d do well to try and figure out she’d go to find those answers, and then ambush her there.”

Much as they had promised, Irune and the rest of Team Forager returned to Boudewijn’s raft fifteen minutes later after a chance to tend to themselves and squirrel away some Oran Berries from a nearby field. The rest of the journey downstream had gone by without incident, as fields, woods, and the occasional hamlet here and there blended into one another. Every so often, Irune would look off towards shore to keep herself from nodding off out of boredom.

Or at least she told herself it was boredom. The whole time, she felt a gnawing sense of unease as Newangle City’s spires grew closer and closer, and its gray ramparts loomed taller in the background as they drew nearer. It quickly became apparent that she was looking at a set of circular walls dead ahead—punctuated in regular intervals by what looked like hook-shaped towers that pointed outward and loomed well above them. A sign that the city gates couldn’t be much further ahead now.

It would soon be time to try and hide away while Boudewijn took the raft through them. The plan was simple: to feign stomachaches to get an excuse to lie down in the shade for “rest”, and pass Boudewijn money to slip to the guards to wave them along through an inspection so they could get to a clinic quicker. Even if Irune wasn’t fully sure if it’d work, it sounded simple enough.

Except it meant using Boudewijn like so many others before. She had kept her mouth shut earlier since letting the Feraligatr into the know could only hurt him, but… what good did that do with Hermes earlier?

She turned her head down the raft towards Lyle, who was staring off at shore and occasionally cradling at his stomach. Considering how anxious he’d always been whenever they were around large bodies of water, she wasn’t sure if it was just an act.

The Axew looked away and nervously pawed at her tusks. Had she done the right thing by getting them involved in everything? She had conceded to herself long ago that she couldn’t make it to the Divine Roost on her own, and the others were already taking life into their own hands with their trade. One that they’d inevitably flame out with anyways if they kept at it long enough.

And yet, there was a part of her that always felt repulsed at herself for thinking that way.

“Surroundings got you down, Axew?”

Irune jumped up with a startled squeak and whirled around on her feet to see Boudewijn looming over her. The Axew stumbled back and breathed in and out to calm herself as her eyes drifted out towards shore.


The words died in her mouth when she saw them: patchworks of ramshackle encampments that sprouted on the plains just past the looming gray walls which started to blend into one another the closer they got… refugee encampments. Just like the one outside of Moonturn Square, except they were much bigger and there were so many of them.

“They just keep going on and on…” she said.

“... Probably would’ve kept my mouth shut if I knew you hadn’t seen them,” the Feraligatr said, pawing at his shoulder. “I heard that back in my grandparents’ day, the refugee encampments still fit inside the city walls.”

Irune wasn’t sure what to make of that. Had those encampments been driven out? Or had the city just run out of space inside of the walls? One would think that after seven years since the last invasions were repulsed, that Pokémon without places to go back to would’ve settled into their environments…

“Where did they all come from?” Irune asked. “I never heard of the Edialeighers reaching the capital in the last invasion.”

“There’d probably be fewer of these camps if they had. Though with the way that clearances have been going on in recent years, I would imagine this is the second or third camp for some of these Pokémon,” Boudewijn sighed. “A lot of places got chewed up in the last invasion to the point that they’re still putting the pieces together. Like Benzen Town. That’s definitely not a place I’d want to set foot in anytime soon.”

That was a name that Irune recognized. Cade had told her about it before everything had happened. It was a town where some sort of uprising had started just before the last set of invasions, which had been fiercely fought over between armies and heavily mined with Blast Seeds and Apricorns. Things were apparently bad enough there that there were allegedly stories of fully-evolved Rothäuter taken as prisoners who would break into sobbing pleas for mercy over the mere threat of being sent to clear mines there.

For the longest time, Irune hadn’t thought much of how her best friend had heard of stories like those about Edialeighers. Even if it all seemed so clear in retrospect...


Irune turned her head where she saw Kate staggering forward with her paws clutching her stomach. For a moment, Irune opened her mouth to ask, only to spot Dalton laying on the deck with a hand draped over his head.

“What’s wrong?”

“My stomach’s killing me,” Kate groaned. “I think that breakfast this morning messed me up.”

Irune bit her tongue and quietly grimaced. Right. They were supposed to make Boudewijn think they fell ill. But she didn’t realize that was supposed to be right now. She tried to steal glances at Boudewijn’s expression, which remained unreadable. … Was she supposed to play along even after Boudewijn saw her acting healthy? For that matter, was he even believing Kate and Dalton’s story right now? Since Dalton especially did seem to be laying it on a bit thick-

Irune never finished her train of thought when a sharp thump rang out and the raft abruptly lurched. The young dragon pitched forward onto the deck, as yelps rang out, along with Dalton’s voice loudly crying out in pain. Irune lifted her eyes up from the deck when she saw Dalton cradling his splinted arm with a low whine, before hardening his eyes into a glare at a shape in the water.

Götterblut! Was ist dein Problem, du blöder Fisch?!ᴰ⁸
“What is your problem, you stupid fish?!”

Irune blinked at Dalton’s outburst before seeing blue-scaled flippers latch onto the deck… only to freeze and see the color drain from her teammates faces as a Carracosta’s head clad in a green helmet rose from the water.

Irune’s head began to spin and the world around her started to feel faint and distant. Oh gods, they’d been found out! Why on earth had she been so stupid to think that this desperate scheme would actually work-?

“Is this your raft, Heliolisk?”

The Carracosta locked eyes with Dalton, who froze up and stammered. Irune subconsciously started backing away from the Water-type guard, only to pause when a realization dawned on her:

The guard didn’t recognize them.

“It’s mine actually,” Boudewijn said, waving a claw for attention. “Though what’s going on? I didn’t think that inspections were being carried out in the middle of the river these days.”

“Gods, I wish,” the guard scoffed back. “It’d make my life a lot easier. Yours will be carried out at Berth #5. Second tunnel from the right.”

Lyle and Kate seemed to put two and two that they weren’t in as much trouble as they thought. Or not yet, at least. The pair hurried over and hastily took Dalton’s side, keeping a watchful gaze on the Carracosta while trading glances with one another before Kate stooped down with an impatient frown at the Gendarm in the water.

“Look, can we just make it worth your while to skip the line?” she asked. “We kinda came down with food poisoning and-”

The Sneasel hurriedly cupped a claw over her mouth and made a gagging noise just by the Carracosta. The Water-type recoiled briefly as Kate pulled back, before returning her paws to her stomach with a woozy groan.

“Ungh… I don’t want us making a mess of the water you work in.”

Irune traded glances between the Sneasel and the Carracosta in the water. The Gendarm shifted back to a relaxed position leaning against the raft, before narrowing her eyes sharply at the Sneasel Outlaw.

“‘We’? Your friends got over here just fine,” the guard harrumphed. “And you looked rather healthy on your way over just a moment ago.”

Kate’s eyes widened and she stiffened up with a grimace. Irune opened her mouth to interject, only to find herself at a loss for words as the Sneasel nervously pawed at her shoulder and forced an awkward smile over her face.

“The… symptoms come and go? The point is, that we could totally get sick at any moment!”

Irune was going to take that meant that they weren’t going to get away with hiding among Boudewijn’s cargo until they made it past the city gate. From the blank stares that Lyle and Dalton were both giving the Sneasel and how the two looked like they were trying not to scream, they clearly didn’t think Kate’s attempted excuse was convincing either.

The Carracosta slapped a flipper against the raft’s timbers, before pushing off into the water.

“I’ll take my chances. Just stay on deck where we can see you,” she harrumphed. “You’ll be inspected at Berth #5. If you’re planning on hurrying this along, Feraligatr, I’d suggest you help me out with towing.”

Boudewijn nodded back, and slipped into the river water with a splash, Irune briefly shivering after a few drops got onto her, while Lyle flinched and reflexively flared up after a dash of water hit his face. Irune turned her head and saw the Quilava furiously try and paw the water out of his fur, only to hear the river churning and spot the Carracosta passing while swimming towards a tow cable, before turning her head towards Kate with a sharp scowl.

“Oh, and watch where you blow chunks if you’re planning on having a good visit, Sneasel.”

Kate pinned her ears and frowned in reply and opened her mouth briefly, only to bite her tongue. Thank gods, for a second, Irune was worried that the Sneasel was going to get them arrested before they even made it to the gate. Irune breathed in and out tensely as the two Water-types took the cable and the raft began lurching forward, stealing glances at the approaching wall when she felt a tug at her shoulder. It was Lyle passing by and motioning off towards the back.

The Axew followed along, with her teammates joining up as they gathered towards the rear of the raft as Boudewijn and the Carracosta grew hard to hear. A sharp, annoyed hiss turned her attention back to her peers, just in time to see Kate folding her arms and looking at her and her teammates with an irritated frown.

“I can’t believe you three!” she snapped. “We had a plan here!”

“It was always a shaky one at best,” Dalton sighed, pinching his brow. “Look, the fact that we didn’t immediately get attacked is a sign that the guards on duty don’t recognize us.”

… Small victories, Irune supposed. Even if it’d mean precious little if the guards at this ‘berth’ were better informed than the Carracosta was. Even so, the die had already been cast. Short of trying to swim their way to shore and beat the guards in the water and air there, there wasn’t any way to avoid that inspection at the gates.

“... What do we do now?”

“We keep our mouths shut and act natural until we get past the gates. If one guard at the gate didn’t recognize us, there’s decent odds the rest won’t either,” Lyle said. “And Boudewijn thinks we’re his passengers, so at least he’ll keep things more convincing than when Kate was trying to save our ruse earlier.”

The Sneasel turned aside with a pouting harrumph at the remark as the raft began to fall into shade from overhead. Irune looked up, as gray, ancient concrete from the wall loomed up high into the sky, with a series of tunnels along the bottom running the length of the river which looked big enough to let Boudewijn’s raft through four or five times over. The gate over the river was much closer than she remembered, and she didn’t realize that Newangle City’s walls were this tall. Why, they made that aqueduct outside of Moonturn Square look short!

The Axew sucked in a sharp breath, before giving a worried look over at her teammates.

“What do we do if this doesn’t work out?”

A long silence followed, as a flash of unease came over the rest of Team Forager’s members, before Lyle bit his lip and spoke up with a wavering murmur.

“Run and pray for the best, I guess.”

Irune gulped and felt her stomach knot up at Lyle’s response. Gods, she was starting to get worried she really would get sick in the water now. The sound of splashing from the river and water dripping against wood alerted them to Boudewijn, who walked past them and took his place at his tiller.

This was it. There was no turning back.

Irune felt the raft jolt and looked up, briefly spotting a ceiling with pitted concrete and occasional rust-covered metal beams. Irune briefly realized that things weren’t as dark as she expected, when she noticed a set of lights glowing with the cool blues of Luminous Moss lanterns—hung from the ceiling to illuminate a set of raised metal grates over the water and a concrete ledge just above the waterline to the raft’s left.

They must’ve been at the berth, with the Carracosta swimming to the front of the raft and a small party of Grünhäuter lounging beside a mottled concrete wall with an open doorway that led to stairs heading up. The guards briefly turned their heads as the raft came to a stop, with a Venusaur from their number rising up to approach the raft. Their leader, Irune assumed.

The Venusaur plodded along in his green army plates, vines extending from the plant on his back as he glanced over the raft and its contents when the Grass-type’s attention fell on her. The Gendarm’s attention drifted to the others of Team Forager, when his eyes narrowed enough to make Irune stiffen up and unconsciously suck in a sharp breath. A quick glance from the corner of her eyes revealed her teammates were similarly tense.

… Austor Provinz did border the lands around the capital. Had news of their bounties beaten them to the capital after all?

Irune instinctively lowered her head and shrank back, bracing for an incoming blow at any moment. But the Venusaur didn’t seem motivated to get any closer, and the other Gendarmen on the berth didn’t seem motivated to come over either. The Venusaur scanned his eyes back at her and the rest of Team Forager, and finally to the Feraligatr pilot as the Grass-type raised a vine-like tendril to motion off at them with an accusing frown.

“Who are those four, Feraligatr?” the Venusaur demanded. “You come by this gate enough to stand out, but I haven’t seen you take passengers along in moons.”

“Well, I can’t say I really remember, Herr Bisaflor
₅,” Boudewijn chortled. “But they paid me quite well for the trouble and I needed the extra coin.”

The Venusaur quirked a brow as the Carracosta’s gaze from the water hardened into an unimpressed glare. Irune felt her blood run cold as she tried to look around for any route of escape. Water, with the Carracosta lying in wait, water with another berth on the opposite side of the tunnel that was almost certainly also riddled with guards…

“Kari, did he mention anything about this to you on the way over?”

And the stony ledge with the Venusaur and the other guards, who were starting to stir and get up themselves. The doorway was left unattended, but considering that these were city walls it almost certainly led to even more Gendarmen like them in whatever passages it lead to.

Gods, what on earth had she ever done to deserve options to like these to choose from?

Irune heard the water churn as the Carracosta clambered onto the raft, before motioning at Boudewijn, and then off at the ledge.

“Why don’t you tie down the raft for a moment and answer a few questions?” that Carracosta asked. “We need to get in a few random inspections today anyways.”

... Perhaps there were some things she had done that would be worth some sort of punishment from the cosmos. Especially if the things she’d managed to piece together about why Lacan was trying to capture her were true. But it couldn’t end here. Not like this.

Irune was tempted to just jump off the raft and take her chances with the Carracosta to try and get away. From how the others were eying their surroundings, they must’ve been considering doing the same themselves.

Except, Boudewijn didn’t appear to be particularly fazed. The Feraligatr narrowed his eyes briefly, before motioning with his claws for a stop.

“Look, Officers. Time is money in troubled circumstances like these, especially for Frau Karippas
₆ in the river there. Soaking in the water with your armor on all the time can’t be good for those plates,” Boudewijn insisted. “So how about we come to a mutual understanding and I make things worth your while?”

The Feraligatr reached for a satchel about his shoulder as the guards crouched into battle-ready stances. Gods, was Boudewijn planning on doing something like throwing a Luminous Orb? There was no way that they’d outrun all these guards!

Except, a metallic jingle came as the Feraligatr dug through his bag and fished out a small drawstring bag. After a moment to go through its contents, the Feraligatr pulled out a number of coins of various metallic shades, a couple hundred Carolins from the looks of it, and slid it onto the ground of the berth next to the Venusaur.

“This should be enough to help you, Frau Karripas there, and your buddies get by for a day or two, no?” Boudewijn insisted. “I’ve got friends in the service myself, and I know how frustrating it is to see your pay lose value just sitting in your purse.”

The Carracosta hesitated briefly, before looking over at Venusaur for approval as the other guards on the berth murmured behind him. Irune couldn’t tell whether Boudewijn’s appeal had struck a chord, or if the Carracosta just had the misfortune of being paired with a much less grubby counterpart. The Venusaur said nothing for a while, before snatching the coins off the ground, and let out a low growl in warning.

“Hrmph, just don’t make us regret this, Feraligatr. Otherwise next time, we’ll be asking for a percentage,” the Venusaur harrumphed. “Take your raft and push off already.”

Boudewijn hastily obliged and after wedging his legs against the berth’s ledge, shoved his raft off. The end of the tunnel didn’t look too far away, if further than Irune expected. Just how thick were these city walls? The raft drifted along as the lights from the checkpoint began to dim in favor of the light at the end of the tunnel. One by one, Irune’s teammates drifted off and flopped down with tired sighs, but the whole time, she couldn’t help but keep her eyes trained on Boudewijn as he minded his raft’s tiller.

“You were awfully quick to break out the coin back there,” Irune murmured. “I… just didn’t expect you to be the type to do that.”

Boudewijn broke his attention from the river for a moment, and looked down into her eyes. He seemed to have a flash of unease and said nothing for a moment, before shaking his head with a resigned sigh.

“You have to be in times like these, kid,” the Feraligatr said. “You need to be able to use whatever you can to keep doors propped open for getting by, especially with the way that just about everything seems to be getting ground down by the war effort these days. I needed to get in quicker, and those guards needed to make up for their pay losing value. Think of it as us helping each other out."

Gods, she must’ve sounded like such a hypocrite to her present teammates if they were listening in. She’d spent the last year getting by by stealing from others just for a chance to get the treasure she needed and here she was questioning another ‘mon over paying a bribe?

… Perhaps Boudewijn was more similar to her than she’d originally thought.

“I… suppose, but aren’t you bothered at all by having to do that?” she asked. “I understand if you don’t have a choice, but aren’t you still taking part in something that you know is wrong-?”

Irune briefly felt a paw slip over her mouth and tug her back. She glimpsed out the corner of her eyes, where there was Kate quietly shooting a glare that all but asked her if she was out of her damn mind. Kate’s dirty look vanished as quickly as it came, as the Sneasel turned her snout up towards their Feraligatr captain and forced a weak smile over her face.

“Sorry if she’s bothering you, we’ll move on for a bit of sightseeing here-”

“No, it’s fine.”

Boudewijn pawed at his shoulder and looked aside. He kept calm, but the question obviously needled his hide a bit. More than Irune would’ve expected from a stronger and fully evolved Pokémon like a Feraligatr. The captain hesitated a moment, before lowering his head with a low grumble.

“I don’t like it myself since I promised myself I’d stay on the straight and narrow years ago, but it’s just the reality we have to live with. I know that you’re still getting used to the world and the way things work since you’re young, but things have been this way since before I was hatched,” Boudewijn sighed back. “My grandfather said that in the days when the gods were still among us, before the war started, that it used to be common for Pokémon to be willing to do the right thing even if it meant a little hardship for themselves.”

Irune blinked for a moment. Boudewijn promised himself to ‘stay to the straight and narrow’? Meaning there was a time when he did worse things than bribe guards to get through checkpoints?

“I get that that probably doesn’t sound satisfying to you, Axew,” he said. “But when the choices for a consistent meal are putting your life on the line for a fight that’s not going anywhere or bending the rules from time to time, can you really fault a ‘mon for opting for choosing the latter?”

The Axew looked up at the Feraligatr’s face and realized that his eyes looked tired. Part of her was curious as to what could’ve happened in Boudewijn’s past, and why he would have changed. Though on the other hand… everyone had their secrets, and after how cheerful and relaxed the Feraligatr had been the entire journey up until now, part of her wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“We’re just passing the gates right now,” Boudewijn said. “If this is your first time in the city, you and your friends should pay attention once we get out of the tunnel. It’s quite an experience seeing everything pop up in front of you.”

Irune looked back to see Lyle and Dalton looking on behind them, along with light coming through the end of the tunnel up ahead. The Axew blinked briefly, as Kate hurriedly tugged her along with an overeager “Thanks, we’ll take your advice.”

Irune decided that maybe it was for the best to think about other things for a while. To just forget her worries and troubles for a bit and take Boudewijn’s advice. She stepped forward as the raft started to slip out into the sun, the Axew briefly squinting her eyes as she adjusted to the brightness.

She heard her teammates gasp and opened her eyes, when they went wide in surprise at once. As the blues of the sky returned along with streaks of white punctuating them, her mouth flopped open in awe at the sight of buildings ahead of her that stretched along as far as the eye could see. There, among them were tall spires that sprouted here and there that looked tall enough to touch the clouds.

Ones that looked unlike anything that she’d seen before. Like they hadn't been made by Pokémon.

Author’s Notes

Words and Phrases

1. Universität von Wahrheit - “University of Varhyde”
2. Ritterorden - Analogous institution in the Germanosphere as an order of knights.
3. Freiherr - Petty nobiliary title in the Germanosphere, roughly equivalent to “Baron”.
4 - Hunduster - “Houndour”
5 - Bisaflor - “Venusaur”
6 - Karippas - “Carracosta”


D1. “Graf Wellenhafen, sagen Sie sowas nicht im Eifer des Gefechts.” - “Graf Wellenhafen, don’t go saying things in the heat of the moment.”
D2. “Denken Sie daran, dass dies nur ein bescheidenes Dorf mit einer kleinen Abteilung Gendarmen anstelle seiner normalen Verteidiger ist. Eines, über das wir nicht den gegenwärtigen Stand der Dinge das gleiche Wissen haben. Es wäre das Beste, wenn wir die nicht dazu bringen, zu viele Fragen zu stellen.” - “Recall that this is but a humble village with a small detachment of Gendarmen posted in the stead of its normal defenders, one that doesn’t have our same knowledge of the present state of affairs. It’s for the best that we don’t get them asking too many questions.”
D3. “Ach! W-Was für eine Katastrophe! Neuengelstadt ist eine riesige Stadt mit einer bekannten Diebesgilde! Wir werden es nie schaffen, es mit Pokémon im Wert von nur einem Fähnlein zu durchsuchen!” - “Ack! Wh-What a disaster! Newangle City’s a massive city with a known Thieves’ Guild! We’ll never be able to comb it with just a Fähnlein’s worth of Pokémon!”
D4. “Ganz ruhig, Sophia. Das wissen wir nicht genau. Ich weigere mich zu glauben, dass die Dyade ausgerechnet jetzt einfach nach Neuengelstadt gehen würde, um Schutz zu suchen, wo sie in der Vergangenheit mehrere Gelegenheiten dazu hatte und sie die nicht genutzt hat.” - “Easy, Sophia. We don’t know that for sure. I refuse to believe the Dyad would just go to Newangle City for shelter now of all times when she had multiple opportunities in the past to do so and didn’t take them.”
D5. “Es würde nicht lange dauern, die Protokolle am Osttor der Stadt zu überprüfen und Bescheid zu geben, wenn dort nichts von ihr auftaucht. Ich... kann mir einen Grund vorstellen, warum die Dyade es wagen würde, sich in die Stadt zu begeben, selbst wenn sie dort nicht lange bleiben würde.” - “It wouldn’t take long to check the logs at the city’s East Gate and leave notice if nothing of her turned up there. I… can think of a reason why the Dyad would dare to venture into the city, even if she wouldn’t stay there for long.”
D6. “Finden Sie so viel wie möglich heraus, wohin das Floß gefahren ist, und schicken Sie dann eine Nachricht an Fähnrich Rank und die anderen und lassen Sie sie entlang des Flusses suchen. Sagen Sie ihnen, sie sollen sich nach Neuengelstadt begeben, wenn sie nichts finden.” - “Find out what you can about where that raft was going and then send word to Fähnrich Rank and the others and have them search along the river. Tell them to converge on Newangle City if they don’t turn up anything.”
D7. “Ich bin nicht sicher, ob sie in die Hauptstadt gegangen ist. Aber wenn sie es täte, hätte ich vielleicht eine Vorstellung davon, was die Dyade von einem Besuch dort erwarten würde.” - “I’m not certain she went to the capital. But if she did, think I might have an idea of what the Dyad would want from visiting there.”
D8. ”Was ist dein Problem, du blöder Fisch?!” - “What is your problem, you stupid fish?!”

Teaser Text

When Klaus the Founder won the favor of our land’s patron goddess, he quickly rallied Pokémon of many numbers and many kinds under his banner. In the midst of the unsettled years following the Great Flash, one question that continuously vexed them was where to pitch their camp in a land roiled by chaos.

The Founder set out to found his kingdom from one of the cities that humans left behind. Places that were veritable forests of concrete and glass, with high places which the goddess who granted him favor found pleasing, with lights driven by tamed thunder that seemed to outnumber stars in the sky. He reasoned that as a civilization building upon human knowledge, that it was only fitting that their kingdom should help preserve one of their great works.

And so the Founder set about with the goddess to survey the land to find such a city, only for every city he came across to be much the same: darkened husks with shattered buildings and streets, unable to sustain themselves with food or water. Dens of violence and iniquity prowled by Wilders and Outlaws that were more like jungles than the cradle of a civilization.

The Founder began to despair of ever finding a city from which to found his kingdom, when on a day when the winds blew hard in Dustermondᵃ, he and the goddess Reality came to the top of what is now called the ‘Dämmerungsturmᵇ’. There, they looked out over the surrounding city and found it to be much the same state as the others.

Except, as the sun set, they saw the lights of the city come on. Fewer and much diminished in number, but still shining amidst the ruins much like the radiance that some say kept them fueled where their counterparts were not. Overjoyed, the Founder sprang to his feet, and as he beheld the throne he came to call ‘Angle Cityᶜ’, he spoke the words that founded his kingdom:

“This is where we build our future.”

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. "December" (archaic), lit. "Dim / Gloomy Moon".
b. Name roughly equivalent to "Twilight Tower"
c. Derived from phonetic corruption. A more semantically accurate translation would be "Angel City"
d. Semantic translation. A more literal one would be "Here, we create our future."
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Chapter 19 - City

Als König Klaus Engelstadt gründete, tat er dies in den Ruinen einer Menschenstadt, die so weit verstreut war, dass sie nach dem „Glühenden Blitz“ zu einem unregierbaren Labyrinth geworden war, ähnlich wie andere, die nach der Zeit verloren gegangen sind. Daher hielten es der Erbauer und die Göttin Wirklichkeit für angebracht, eine Zitadelle zu errichten, die eine aufstrebende Zivilisation vor den Gefahren einer unruhigen Welt schützen sollte.

Sie taten dies am Dämmerungsturm und den umliegenden Türmen, die zu Zeiten der Menschheit einst die Zentrale der Vector AG gewesen waren. Ihre dominanten Höhen gefielen unserer Göttin und überblickten jeden, der sich der Erbauer-Stadt näherte, während ihre Lage entlang einer Flussbiegung es leicht machte, sie in eine Bastion zu verwandeln. Deshalb dient ihre Zitadelle bis heute als Verwaltungsbezirk der Hauptstadt unseres Landes. Ein Thron, der sich bis zu den Wolken erstreckt, für die Göttin unseres Landes und für ihre Könige und Helden.

Einen Großteil seiner frühen Regierungszeit verbrachte Klaus damit, den Raum zwischen den zehn Türmen, die jenseits seiner Bastion lagen, zurückzuerobern. Hoch aufragende Monolithen, in denen Maschinen untergebracht waren, die die Lichter und verschiedene von Menschen hinterlassene Handarbeiten betrieben, indem sie die Kraft eines fernen Strahlens nutzten. Er war der Architekt der großen Stadtmauern, indem er die zehn Türme in Wehrtürme verwandelte und sie mit Mauern verband, die mit Hilfe menschlicher Werke errichtet wurden, die den Glühenden Blitz überlebten. Deshalb ist er als „Klaus der Erbauer“ in unserer Geschichte verewigt.

Was auch immer es König Klaus und der Göttin ermöglichte, solche Wunder zu wirken, ging mit Zeit verloren, nachdem Wunsch und Wirklichkeit und die Länder, die sie als Gönner verehren, erstmals Krieg gegeneinander führten. Seitdem oblag es seinen Nachfolgern, zu versuchen, seine Werke aufrechtzuerhalten. Aus diesem Grund beginnt jeder König und jede Königin der Wahrheit ihre Herrschaft damit, im Namen ihrer Schutzgöttin einen Eid zu schwören, dies nach besten Kräften zu tun.

Auch angesichts des Laufs der Zeit und seiner Verwüstungen. Auch angesichts des Wissens, das in Vergessenheit geraten ist. Sogar angesichts derer, die es mit ihrer Gier und ihren bösen Absichten mit böswilligem Wunsch und ruinösem Donner verwüsten würden.

- Auszug aus »Die Wahrheiter Chroniken – Eine kurze Geschichte der frühen Jahre unseres Königreichs«

Gottverdammt, look at all of that!”

Lyle stared at his surroundings with his mouth open as Kate stole the words right out of his mind. The moment that Boudewijn’s raft left the tunnel, it exited out into a collection of ancient-looking structures—human ruins, judging from their shape and construction—that loomed over a sea of wood and half-timbered buildings along both sides of the river that surrounded them. The newer construction looked about par for the course for a Varhyder settlement, punctuated every so often by an occasional structure styled after a Pokémon’s head.

Why, it reminded him a bit of the more central portions of Moonturn Square. Except many of the buildings around them were visibly taller, especially the ruins. Every now and then, shooting out over the thatched and tiled rooftops, there would be some decaying concrete and steel skeleton that dwarfed them rising high above.

All around, the mass of structures seemed to blur into each other, which made it hard at times to tell where the city began and where it ended. The watchtowers and city walls helped bring back some sense of scale, as the whole mass was hemmed in by the same ramparts behind them which carried on in a grand ring. Though even that proved a bit hard to tell sometimes with the way some sections had buildings creeping up their inner surfaces.

He was beginning to see why Dalton seemed nostalgic for this place.

Blauflamme, I knew Newangle City was big, but I didn’t realize that it was this big,” Lyle murmured.

“Well, being the capital of the kingdom helps,” Dalton remarked. “So’s having a history of stability to turn to. Aside from the likes of internal uprisings, Newangle City has only ever fallen to outside invaders once in its history, and that was hundreds of years ago before it was given its present name.”

Lyle blinked and shot an askew glance at the Heliolisk. The capital once had a different name? Maybe that was where the ‘New’ it came from. He’d certainly believe it from all the human ruins scattered about.

Why, even the river itself carried marks of ancient history. Up ahead, there were a pair of corroded towers with struts that looked almost triangular, and between them, a broad ramp that slumped into the river where Pokémon were gathered bathing and washing fabric. Further up, there was a bridge with houses built on top of its span. Curiously enough, the pillars seemed to be mismatched. There were four spread an even distance that seemed to be built in a human style out of concrete, while the rest were nestled between them and made of stone in a style Lyle was more used to. Two of the gaps in the arches were larger than normal: one off-center to the left, and another similarly off-center to the right. Could it have been that back in human times, this bridge somehow stood on just the four older pillars?

He heard the hustle and bustle of voices and carts coming from the inhabited bridge as they passed, which sounded almost like his hometown on market day. Was this from seasonal preparations from the Autumn Festival, or was this bridge just always crowded enough to sound like this? After Boudewijn’s raft passed the bridge and its structures, the human ruins stretched up higher and higher into the sky from a place just off at a bend in the river downstream—enough to make Moonturn Square’s Great Spire look like a little road marker! On the right, the ruins looked almost skeletal in nature, with vegetation in autumn colors spilling out from holes or gutted floors. Some were visibly listing, others had gouges in them or were visibly shorn from taller heights, with a curious patch that was largely empty aside from a few ancient-looking chunks that laid strewn about among more modern construction. The human ruins on the left bank were taller and if nothing else, seemed to stand straighter than the ones on the right. Curiously, a number of them were covered in white and gray tiles or cladding of some sort, some stopping abruptly about halfway up.

Lyle wasn’t sure what the story was behind that. But even the dilapidated towers looked awe-inspiring. From the side, Lyle saw Irune was still staring ahead in blank wonder, as her eyes kept darting up towards the tops of the ancient structures.

“Are… those towers the ones we saw back from the Kyurem shrine?” Irune asked. “Will we be able to go on top of one of them?”

“Gods, no,” Dalton said. “There’s a reason why the vast majority of city life here goes on within a Southern Exeggutor’s height from street level.”

So, about three or four stories up, or at least if what he’d heard of Exeggutor that evolved in the far southern Provinzen beyond the coastal range were right. He vaguely remembered occasionally encountering Pokémon from such Provinzen during the likes of market days. Most of them seemed normal enough, but there’d occasionally be the likes of a snowy Vulpix or a black-furred Rattata, with some Pokémon who’d merely evolved while passing through the area having gotten one of those strange forms. Nobody really knew what happened to those parts of Varhyde to make them that way, only that what few records from those lands predating the Great Flash had no mention of such Pokémon dwelling there.

Still, he was a bit surprised that that was Dalton’s reflexive frame of reference. He must’ve spent time down south, or else in a place where their Pokémon commonly passed through.

“Besides, even if it wasn’t a chore to climb them, there’s nothing for us up there,” the Heliolisk continued. “The towers that have more than the occasional Flying-type’s roost in them are taken up by quarters owned by the crown, or worse still, army installations meant to fend off enemies from the air.”

Irune had a brief flash of disappointment cross her face and looked down with a quiet pout. Had her father been a ‘mon that could fly or something? For one without wings of her own, she sure had a thing for heights.

A sharp crash rang out from the opposite bank of the river, loud enough to make Lyle and his companions flinch. The Quilava turned, where at the bottom of one of the wood-framed buildings, he saw a party of Pokémon in green armor headed by Rhyperior massed at a doorway. He looked on with his teammates, staring as the figures drug a flailing Combusken out, with another following after tugging at the Rhyperior—a female from the looks of it—along with a trio of Torchic. The Quilava was too far away to clearly make out their words but his vision was just clear enough to see the female Combusken pleading with the figures as her children began to cry.

The mood aboard the raft quickly took a dark turn as the figures grew blurry from the distance and the cries began to fade as they drifted off. Lyle glanced over at his teammates, where he spotted Dalton looking back in the direction of the guards, before turning away with a low mutter.

“Gods, what a thing to see right when coming back to the city.”

Lyle wasn’t fully sure what had happened, but his best guess was that the Combusken who was dragged out was some unfortunate who’d tried to dodge a draft notice. The whole incident sure as hell reminded him of the times he’d seen that happen in the past. Why if he hadn’t paid off those Grünhäuter two years ago, his own mother-

Lyle stopped his train of thought as a chill went down his back. The only consolation he’d had in the two years since then that everything had been somehow worth it was that Nils mentioned that his parents wanted nothing to do with him, and that they still had a Quilava about the shop who he assumed was his younger brother. If the army served one of them a draft notice again… what could they do about it?

For that matter, what could he do for them now?

He started turning his attention off for shore to avoid seeing the water when he noticed Irune staring off at the raft’s timbers with an uneasy rub at her tusks. From how troubled she looked, he supposed she must’ve also seen scenes like those herself in the past. Lyle’s ears flicked as he heard approaching footsteps, a glimpse of blue scales revealed Boudewijn walking up to them, as the Feraligatr shook his head with a deflated sigh.

“I’m surprised they’re doing that just before the Autumn Festival of all times,” he muttered. “From the stories I’ve heard coming from the frontlines about offensives stalling this year, you’d think that the army would at least want to not make morale for their new guys worse...”

Boudewijn trailed off after that. Lyle didn’t know whether or not the Feraligatr was worried about letting his tongue run too freely around them or if it was something else. The whole time, Irune remained quiet and stared at the raft’s timbers blankly.

Had something Boudewijn told her back when they were going through that tunnel stuck with her?

Lyle flattened out his ears and turned his attention to their Feraligatr pilot. The wonder of his surroundings had worn off by now, and he frankly just wanted to get off the damned raft and figure out how on earth he and his teammates were going to make it back out of the city and through the rest of their journey to the Divine Roost. If Lacan had thought of informing the Gendarmen about them as far out as Austor Provinz, it’d only be a matter of time before he caught up with them again if they stayed in one place.

“Boudewijn, where exactly is our stop?” he asked.

“Right over there.”

The Feraligatr raised a claw and pointed off at what appeared to be a pair of unnaturally tall stone piers with tall parapets on opposite sides of the river. To the left, there was a small, strip-like island with a set of wooden piers teeming with barges and swimming Pokémon of various shapes and sizes, with timbered buildings and shacks built around the stone pier and even a few that had been built up at its top. It took Lyle a moment to realize it, but it dawned on him that he was looking at what was left of an ancient bridge span, one originally wide enough to carry six or seven Pullers and their cargoes walking astride each other.

“I’ll be towing you up to the docks from here,” the Water-type explained. “Just hang tight for a bit.”

The Feraligatr slipped into the water with a splash that made Lyle reflexively flinch. A few moments later, Boudewijn was back at the front of his craft with his trusty tow cable and started pulling the raft forward. Lyle reflexively recoiled from the raft’s edge as the water around it sloshed, as Dalton and Irune settled down against the deck and Kate drifted off towards the back of the craft. The whole time, the Quilava dutifully kept his eyes on shore, as the sounds of Pokémon loading and unloading at docks mercifully drowned the river’s sounds out by growing louder and louder until the raft finally made it up to the docks. The raft slid up against a pier, where it jostled up against it and made Lyle and his fellows stumble as they tried to keep their footing. Lyle pratfell and flared up briefly, hurriedly getting back up onto his feet just in time to catch a glimpse of Kate turning her head briefly and quickly hiding something behind her back. He quirked a brow when he heard dripping water coming from the pier, where there was Boudewijn, pulling himself onto the docks and looking down at them with a toothy smile.

“Welcome to Newangle City,” the Feraligatr said. “She’s full of highs and lows, but I hope you all find what you came here for.”

Lyle looked up at the buildings by the ancient bridge and further ashore as Pokémon milled around on the land, in the air above, and in the water behind them. He raised his gaze off at the tall towers looming in the distance behind them when from the corner of his eye he spotted Irune doing much the same. The Axew grimaced briefly, before lowering her head with a quiet murmur just loud enough for him to hear.

“I hope so too.”

Boudewijn went over to one of the moorings to tie down his raft as the Quilava went along with Dalton and Irune to fetch the gangplank when it dawned on him. Where the hell was Kate right now? He turned his head over towards the rear of the raft and saw her holding a sack of coins in her claw… the same sack ones they’d given Boudewijn earlier.

Lyle fought back an urge to shout out a demand of what the hell she was thinking when all of a sudden, a gout of blue dragonfire sailed in and hit Kate’s shoulder. Lyle’s eyes shrank to pins as the Sneasel recoiled with a sharp hiss and dropped the coins to the deck with a loud clatter. He already knew the culprit before he turned around: Irune, who was narrowing her eyes at the Sneasel with an angry snarl.

“Kate! What do you think you’re doing?!”

“Huh? What’s going on here-?”

Everything went by so quickly afterwards. First Dalton running towards them before freezing and looking-up wide-eyed at the pier, then Irune doing much the same. Lyle flattened his ears and turned his head up as a shadow fell over them. It was Boudewijn looking down at them with a surprised gape, which made Lyle’s blood run cold as a single word crossed his lips:


Lyle’s mind went blank for a moment, before he reflexively grabbed at the bag and held it up towards the Feraligatr with a nervous stammer.

“H-Here,” he insisted. “Sorry about that, we got your stuff mixed up with ours and almost walked off with it.”

Boudewijn said nothing for a long while, giving suspicious glances between him and his companions. The Water-type narrowed his eyes briefly, before throwing out a claw and snatching the coin bag away with a low harrumph.

“Tch, you four really do remind me of when I was younger,” the Feraligatr grunted. “I remember using excuses just like that one when I got caught nicking things in the past.”

Lyle briefly felt a twinge of surprise at the Water-type’s answer, only to be keenly reminded that he was standing cornered on a raft. He suddenly felt a lot smaller now with the water all about him, and for a second, he thought he saw other Pokémon from the nearby docks starting to stare at them. Gods, had they seriously gotten through those giant gates and everything only to be undone by this?

H-Herr Impergator
₁, I swear, it was really just a-!”


Lyle grimaced and pinned his ears back as his teammates abruptly tensed up and braced themselves in anticipation of a soaking blow. A loud thump rang out, which made Lyle screw his eyes shut and flinch. He waited a moment, before warily cracking them open to see that Boudewijn had set up the out gangplank. There was a brief silence as Lyle watched the Feraligatr study them carefully for a moment from beside it, before the raft pilot folded his arms and shook his head.

“... I’ll let you go this time. Times are tough, and you’re obviously in a hard place. I’ve been there myself,” he insisted. “Just make a point of dealing with your problems in a better way in the future. In my own experience, thieves don’t usually get happy endings, and Newangle City in particular isn’t kind to ones that get caught.”

Lyle wasn’t sure what to make of Boudewijn’s gesture, but he wasn’t going to stick around and complain about it. He nodded back and hastily scampered up off the raft with his teammates. After four made their way up the docks, they beelined for the buildings clustered around the remains of the bridge, ducking down a back alley between two sets of cramped, timbered buildings built under the shade of the span’s arch. Lyle didn’t stop running until he saw the afternoon sun fade away completely with the shade and he could no longer see the docks behind him. He stopped and panted for air as his heart pounded in his chest as Dalton stumbled past and slumped against a wall doing much the same. Gods, that was way too close.,

Asharp yelp rang out behind him, which sent Lyle springing up with his vents ablaze. He turned around, where behind him,Irune was jumping back and pawing at her side. Off to the left, Kate was pulling an ice-slicked claw back, with her eyes narrowed into a withering glare.

“Irune what the hell?!” she hissed. “There must’ve been at least a month’s wages in that bag! We could’ve used that to get a head start here!”

“Kate, we’re not robbing a ‘mon that stuck his neck out for us just five minutes ago, alright?” the Axew snapped. “For gods’ sakes, have some standards!

“I’m inclined to agree,” Dalton huffed. “Seriously, trying to steal from someone blocking our only way of escape?”

This had gone on for long enough.

Enough, all of you.”

Lyle stepped towards Kate and Irune with a sharp frown, stopping in front of the Axew with a loud harrumph.

“If you’ve got a problem with one of us in the future, bring it up quietly,” he growled. “We can’t exactly help you get to the Divine Roost if we’re busy rotting in a cell.”

The Axew turned away and gave an unimpressed snort in reply. He would take that as a ‘fine’, and he supposed it solved half of the problem…

“And Kate, I’m sure you’ll find someone else to steal from, so just let it go already,” he grumbled. “And don’t go surprising us like that! We’re a team of four, not an entire band. It’s not exactly hard for us to wind up getting into situations where we’re in over our heads in our current situation.”

Assuming that they weren’t already. The Sneasel remained quiet for a moment, before she folded her arms and pinned her ears back with a low pout in reply.

“Well that’s a nice goal, but since we’re short on money again, what do we even do right now?” she grumbled. “Somehow, I don’t think that we’re going to just be able to slip in and out of the gate to sleep in the fringes. And with how crowded this place looks, I’m not holding my breath on finding another burnt-out house like we did in Moonturn Square.”

Lyle’s ears flicked after hearing an approaching clatter coming down from the alleyway, prompting him to look out and see a Tauros tugging a wagon laden with hay. The Puller and his cargo made their way up a ramp leading up to the bridge’s surface where a small market of shops and stalls had been set up near its edge. Why, it even looked like there was a beer hall there! Lyle raised a paw and let out a low grunt in reply.

“We can restock for the next leg of our journey,” he said. “There’s no shortage of ‘mons here that can help us with that and we can afford to be a bit picky with our marks.”

Lyle started off, only to be held back with a sharp tug from Dalton’s good arm as the Heliolisk gave a sharp glance down at him.

“Maybe, but I’d recommend taking a look around first before risking trouble,” Dalton said. “I’ve been here before during a better season of my life in the past, and it isn’t the sort of place where we’d want to be fumbling around in the dark.”

Lyle blinked at Dalton’s reply. He’d gathered that Dalton had a background that was very different from his own given the Heliolisk’s accent and mannerisms even before the Electric-type said he’d been a student here. Even so, it was still hard to believe the ‘mon had really been in Newangle City before. Let alone enough to be familiar with it. The Quilava opened his mouth to ask for more detail, only for the Dalton to quietly slip out of the alley and warily eyeing his surroundings, before eyeing his fellows on Team Forager with a tilt of his head.

“We’ll take a quick walk through our surroundings to see if there’s any promising marks, but we should make a point of putting distance from these docks and getting our bearings before we get into too much trouble,” he insisted. “Ideally someplace that’s a bit further from the Eastern Gate we entered through since that’s the first place the Grünhäuter will start looking if they get wise to us.”

Right. That made sense. Lyle was frankly surprised it was still possible at all to steal things in the capital with the way that ‘mons outside talked about it. Though he supposed having a guide who knew the ins and outs of the city didn’t hurt.

“I think I know just the right place in the city to do it, too,” the Heliolisk added. “Though there’s something we should take care of first.”

… And of course there’d be a catch. Lyle and his fellows turned expectantly towards the Heliolisk, as Irune blinked at him with a puzzled frown.

“Wait, there is?” she asked. “What is it?”

“That blanket up there to your left. I see scarves hidden under it, and there’s a couple others hidden further along the line.”
Of all the places Kate imagined herself being after robbing that caravan just outside Waterhead Cave, being smack in the middle of a hive of wood-and-stone buildings was never one of them. Sure, it’d crossed her mind before everything happened that things could’ve gone south and that maybe she’d need to get out of dodge, but even then, she never saw herself being in the capital of all places. Much less clambering up a wooden post towards a bunch of clotheslines strung up from underneath a window, for that matter.

Though she supposed a lot of things that seemed unimaginable had been happening lately. The Sneasel’s ears flicked as her eyes fell on a white blanket—one that didn’t look washed enough from its dingy coloration—before glancing down towards the alleyway where Dalton and the rest of her teammates were waiting on her.

“Scales, you know that I could’ve just cut the line with an Ice Shard with how tightly it’s strung,” she harrumphed. “It’d have made this go by a lot faster.”

“Better to be safe than sorry by avoiding a racket,” the Heliolisk replied. “You never know how closely these clotheslines are being watched. A lot of dwellings in Newangle City are communal, and the skies here are busier with fliers than they are in most other settlements.”

Maybe that’d explain a thing or two about why the laundry didn’t look all that well-washed. But was climbing up here really that much harder to miss? Kate brushed her thoughts aside and turned her attention back to the lines above. She followed the blanket’s clothesline with her eyes back to the base of an open window and tested it with her claw. It didn’t feel that sturdy, so then all that was left was to pull her claw up a bit to build a bit of momentum, and…


The line gave way with a downward swipe, the Sneasel latching onto the loose end and riding down into the alleyway with a rolling stop. Lyle and Irune didn’t wait for her to get back onto her feet, and promptly threw back a couple sheets to get at a pair of colored scarves from underneath. Dalton did much the same with the blanket, where Kate looked down and spotted a scarf made of silvery fabric that felt silken to the touch.

“Whoa-ho, fancy.

“Hey! What are you doing down there?!”

Kate briefly glanced up to see a Bibarel glaring down from the window. She snatched the scarf and took off running, following after Lyle’s heels as Irune and Dalton ran after her. The Bibarel’s shouts rang off in the distance, intermixed with footfalls and the jostling of wood and wire bins that the Sneasel forced her way past as one alleyway seemed to blend into the next. Kate wasn’t fully sure where they were going right now, other than “away from the angry tree-killer trying to catch up with them”, with her only guidance being Lyle’s fire further ahead of her.

“Quick! This way!”

Kate planted her feet and skidded to a stop, turning back to see Dalton at a broad stairwell made of crumbled concrete that was wedged between rows of squat wood-timbered buildings. Guess they were going that way, then. The Sneasel darted up the steps, briefly noticing that large parts of the surrounding walls were made up of bare concrete faces, until they popped out into a broad street with Pokémon milling about.

“Hey, watch it!”

Kate hurriedly jumped out of the way of a Rhyhorn laden with bags who stumbled to a stop as Lyle and Irune stepped back before running past him. Gods, they hadn’t even been in the city for an hour and here they were almost getting stepped on by others overlooking them. She thought she’d left that behind years ago. Her breaths came tense as she followed Dalton’s tail, bobbing and weaving past passers-by until she followed him into a back alley just past a stall with stands filled with spiky green fruits. She stopped along with her teammates and paused to catch her breath, when she noticed Irune stop and sniff at the air before screwing her eyes shut.

“Ew… what is that smell?

Kate sniffed at the air and supposed things did smell a bit rank. She glanced at Lyle, who was pinching his paws over his snout, and then at Dalton as he motioned off at the stand and its green fruits.

“It’s those Durin Berries over there,” he explained. “They have a strong odor, so if anyone was trying to scent us, it should throw them off our trail for a bit.”

“Ugh, why didn’t you just lead us through an open sewer while you were at it, Dalton?” Lyle groaned.

Dalton narrowed his eyes briefly only for his own nose to twitch before he visibly fought back a gag. There was that inner priss of his in action. Even so, part of Kate couldn’t help but be surprised by her teammates. She always thought her own sense of smell was pretty good, but even if these Durin Berries didn’t have the sort of odor she’d want constantly to be around, there were worse to be had in the refugee camps she’d grown up in after mom had to settle down...

… No, she didn’t want to think about that right now. She shook her head and continued down the alleyway, giving an irritated twitch of her tail feathers.

“Come on, let’s get going and get some fresh air.”

The others were all too eager to do so, and as the smell of the produce stand started to thin out further along the alley, she noticed the rest of Team Forager breathing in and out sharply—probably trying to get the scent out of their nostrils. Even so, there was something about all of this that she couldn’t wrap her head around…

“How did you know how to go up those stairs anyway, Scales?” Kate asked, turning her head over to Dalton. “Since I didn’t smell those Durin Berries from all the way over there, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got a better nose than you.”

“I actually didn’t notice the stand until we got onto that last street,” he answered. “But I knew to come this way because I saw that poking out over the rooftops.”

Dalton lifted his splinted arm and pointed off up ahead as Kate followed with her eyes. Much to her surprise, high above, there were a set of concrete slabs set atop tall pillars with some sort of fencing along their edges. The things had to be at least twice the height of the surrounding two-and-three-story buildings and they looked wide enough to squeeze at least two or three of them side-by-side together. The Sneasel turned her head to try and follow the slabs’ path, but they just kept going on and on. A few of them looked like they had chunks missing, but from their construction, they appeared to be—

“Are those bridges?” Irune asked, her mouth hanging agape. “What on earth were those built for?”

“Human machines. Ones that supposedly could travel faster than a galloping Rapidash on their own,” Dalton answered. “Most bridges of this sort in Newangle City have fallen into disrepair or been destroyed through the ages, but the ones that are still around and passable provide paths to go between districts in fairly short order.”

Kate stared up with an incredulous gape at the bridges as she tried to wrap her mind around Dalton’s explanation. Did those human machines have sails? It’d explain how big the bridges were, but she’d never heard of a boat or one of those ‘Segelwagen
Land sails
₂’ which were supposed to be used in the desert or plains Provinzen ever going fast enough to keep up with a galloping Rapidash.

“Though let’s hurry and change our colors. We might as well make it a bit harder for those Grünhäuter to find us while we’re here in the city.”

Kate snapped to attention after hearing Dalton’s voice and felt scaly digits tug at her paws. She looked down, where he was taking the silver scarf from her. She at once tightened her grip on it, flattening her ears with an unamused hiss.

“Hey! What’s the big idea?! That’s the scarf I found-!”

“Yes, and it’s one given out to students from Universität von Wahrheit.”

Kate blinked as Dalton turned the scarf around, where sure enough, there was a design of a blue flame in an enclosing circle on it that looked much like the one on his badge. He lowered his head briefly, before letting out an unimpressed harrumph.

“And just who here do you think would be most likely to convincingly pass himself off as still being a student from it?”

The Sneasel trailed off and looked off at Lyle and Irune as the pair stared at her with unamused frowns. Dammit, she liked that scarf… but if it really was one that was meant to be worn by prissy nerds, it was hard to argue that Scales would have the easiest time selling the act.

“Ugh, fine.”

Kate let the scarf go as Dalton claimed it and tossed a wadded-up blue scarf back at her. The Sneasel unfurled it and was immediately greeted by a white circle with four triangles around it much like the corners of a square. It wasn’t as nice as the last scarf, but she could certainly live with this.

The Sneasel raised the scarf and started to tie it around her neck, only to discover much to her dismay that hung too loose around her neck—it had clearly been sized for a ‘mon that was shorter and had a thicker neck than a Sneasel. The Dark-type paused briefly, and turned to see Irune looking at a set of matching scarves in Lyle’s paws. They looked to be light red with a yellowish tinge, with some sort of design involving a pair of concentric tan circles with a small spike poking up from the inner one.

“Bah, of course the next nicest-looking scarf doesn’t fit me,” she sighed. “Guess you’re getting this one, Irune.”

The Sneasel passed her scarf over to Irune who took it only to look down at it with a blank stare. Kate quirked a brow at the Dragon-type’s reaction. Was there something wrong with it she hadn’t noticed? The scarf Dalton gave her was sized about right for the Axew, and while bold, a ‘mon could do worse than to have a scarf with that pattern on it.

“Something wrong, Irune?”

“No, no. I… just was a bit surprised by the design.”

“By a Drachensiegel
Dragons' Sigil
? I can’t say I’ve seen too many scarves with ones that big on them, but they’re not that rare as a design,” Lyle said. “Just wear it with the symbol rolled up or facing inwards if you’re worried about it being too noticeable.”

“Right, I guess I’ve heard of them before. But that’s not what I was getting at,” Irune explained. “This symbol’s supposed to be on things that come from the Divine Roost. I just… wasn’t expecting to see it on a random scarf like this.”

Kate quirked a brow at the Axew. Things from the Divine Roost really had lucky charms on them?

“Because it’s a lucky symbol that’s supposed to help its bearer remember their home and guide ‘em back safely?” Kate asked. “Why, even Edialeighers are supposed to put stock into that superstition. There’s a reason why ‘mons who’ve done stints in the army like hiding it somewhere on their garb.”

Dalton seemed to tense up briefly after the mention of the ‘army’. There was a brief silence, before he shook his head and let out a low sigh.

“It’s a symbol which was popularized around the time of the Kingdom’s founding that’s said to originate from a faraway land called ‘Annal’,” he explained. “There’s some folklore about how it reminded the Founder’s patron of a place she’d seen in her life before the Great Flash, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it was used to decorate things that came from the Divine Roost.”

The Axew fell quiet for a moment, before looking down at the scarf with a quiet murmur.

“Right, I guess that makes sense. And I suppose a blue scarf would go better with my scales than one that’s a shade of green.”

… Oh, so those two scarves she and Lyle found were green, apparently. Well, at least they didn’t have to worry about it looking too much like their current ones. Even so, something about Irune’s comments didn’t sit right with Kate. She supposed that the idea of things from a shrine to the gods being marked with lucky symbols sounded a bit dippy, but the Dragon-type sure sounded convinced about it.

It was those last few words Irune said in particular that felt off. Like she was trying to hide something.

The Sneasel finished putting on her new scarf and went over to help tighten Irune’s as Lyle and Dalton finished up. Before she knew it, they were all done, and staring down at their red-and-silvers lying on the ground. Lyle let his vents flare up as he walked forward, embers built at the back of his mouth.

“I suppose that it’s time to torch these and get moving.”

“Hold on, Lyle.”

Kate flicked her ears as Irune’s voice suddenly cut in, just in time to prompt Lyle to smother the cinders in his mouth. A couple stray wisps of smoke curled from its corners as the Axew hurriedly cut in and stepped between them and pawed at her right tusk uneasily.

“Are we sure it’s a good idea to get rid of our current scarves?” she asked. “It wasn’t as if it made a ton of difference the last time we did it.”

Oh boy, they were doing this again, huh? Lyle didn’t look particularly amused by the idea himself, as he reared onto his hindlegs and folded his forearms with a sour huff.

“Yeah, no thanks to the scarf that you wouldn’t let me burn and insisted on burying in the forest.”

“But can we even burn these here?” the Axew insisted. “And what if the scarves we just stole get wanted too?”

Kate turned her head over at Lyle, and saw he was visibly biting his lip. Guess that was a sign that he hadn’t thought of that. Had Irune had a bad experience since being put on the run after ditching a scarf or something? Since the Axew didn’t seem to have gotten attached to those colors they stole from those Team Pathfinder ‘mons…

“... She does have a point, Lyle,” Dalton cut in. “If the guards here didn’t know about our colors going in, they’re more likely going to be looking for us after any trouble we cause in these new ones we just stole. At the very least, we shouldn’t get rid of our original scarves before lining up another set that we can change into.”

“Yeah, and if we do need another set in a hurry, isn’t it easier just to try and change the pattern of ones we already have?” Kate asked. “If we need to wash our paws of them in a hurry, it shouldn’t be hard to dump them in a gutter or something like that.”

The Quilava flattened his ears and raised a paw with a sigh. For a moment, Kate worried that Lyle was going to make things difficult, since he always had been the type to second guess suggestions. Though much to her surprise, he stooped down, and grabbed the red scarves before handing them off to her.

“Fine. But at least wad ‘em up and hide them in one bag, so that way we can get rid of them easily if things come to that.”
Kate balled up the scarves before going over to Dalton and summarily shoving them down towards the bottom of his bag. The Heliolisk winced briefly from his right arm getting jostled, before piping up with a sharp cry.

“Hey! What on earth are you-?!”

“I mean, your bag is the one that’s all chewed-up at the moment, and you can’t use items all that well with that busted arm of yours,” she said. “You said that you wanted to get a replacement for that book we stole from those Hunters, so there’d be no harm if you were the one in charge of ditching things if we had to, right?”

The Heliolisk grumbled and rolled his eyes, before swinging his bag around to adjust the wadded-up scarves with his left hand. Guess that was one way to tell she’d won Scales over with her argument, even if some acknowledgement from him would’ve been nice.

Kate’s ears pricked at the sound of footsteps against cobbles as Irune drew near and gave a worried glance up.

“Wait, where exactly is this place that you wanted us to get our bearings, Dalton?”

“The Administrative District,” he explained. “It has a number of vantage points that overlook the city’s northern bank, so it’ll make going over options a bit easier.”

… ‘Administrative District’? As in a district where Pokémon who ran stuff would be? Kate wasn’t sure how good of an idea it’d be to go skulking around a place like that, but Scales was the one who knew where he was going in this city…

“Wait, how are we supposed to get there anyways?” the Sneasel asked.

Dalton raised his left hand and motioned off towards the leftward part of the ruined bridges above. A pair of Pidove flew past, which at first made Kate wonder if Dalton had lost his mind and expected them to travel on Carriers they’d have to grab onto by their ankles… when she saw it.

There, poking out just past the rooftops, was a ramp made of stone and wood with tightly-spaced arches running up it. There were hazy figures climbing it, some Pokémon, while others appeared to be carts or wagons from their size.

“We go up, of course,” Dalton said.

The walk to the ramp went by smoothly enough, and after pocketing a couple odds and ends off a few less attentive marks at some stalls built at the ramp leading onto the bridges, Team Forager made their way up and onto its upper spans. The lengths of the bridges’ spans were largely empty and mostly paved over with stones, with occasional patches of ancient asphalt and concrete which could be seen in more dilapidated sections. Every now and then, there would be concrete walls that occasionally had rib-like structures that curled in towards the road: posts that once had metal slats which had been harvested and melted down, probably centuries ago.

Their journey took them deeper into the city, following the ancient bridges along their length until whenever their spans ran out. Whenever they came to such points, they’d cross over on narrower extensions made of hanging bridges built from wood and rope for shorter gaps—with other stretches of the ancient bridges had ramps that went back to ground level. It was a strange dichotomy whenever they made the crossing one way or another: ancient, crumbling, and largely straight lines above, and cramped, haphazard roads flanked by half-timbered buildings that stretched up four to five stories below, occasionally punctuated by human ruins that jutted out among them like oversized blocks. Every now and then, there’d be a row of buildings built up tall enough for shopfronts and small markets to spill out onto the bridges’ spans, while in others where the bridges’ full width was still standing, the entire left or right half would be taken up by dirty and reeking masses of tents and mats clustered so thick that one could barely see the pavestones—refugee encampments of the sort Boudewijn had mentioned on their way into the city.

Lyle made a point of picking up the pace whenever they passed by such places, he didn’t need to see the disappointed gazes of the beggars they walked by. Much less to risk some desperate type from them finding out that they were still carrying a decent chunk of money on them.

It almost felt like going through parts of Moonturn Square, with the way modernity piled up on top ancient ruins. Except here, it just kept going and going wherever one looked. Whether on the bridges, or up into the skies with the gray-and-white spires of the Administrative District that grew ever higher as they neared. High enough that some of them looked almost like they were touching the clouds.

Blauflamme, and I thought the Great Spire was tall,” he murmured. “Though why do those towers have those gray and white tiles or whatever those things are? Most of the shorter ones we’ve seen so far don’t have them.”

“The gray-and-white surfaces on those towers are panels put up where windows or missing walls once were to protect the interiors from the elements,” the Heliolisk explained. “Putting them up is a tradition that began in the times of King Agarez the Great, and most human ruins in the Administrative District are at least partly covered by them. Even if they haven’t exactly been maintained well in recent years.”

Lyle turned his head up to see Irune panting and looking past Dalton at the head towards the spires in the background. The Axew stared up at them mesmerized, almost as if she’d brought her bead collection back out, with her attention curiously focusing on the tallest one in the center.

He wondered what the story behind that was, only for the Axew to glance back down at their Heliolisk guide.

“How much longer do we need to go until we reach the district, Dalton?”.

“We’re just about there, actually,” he said. “Couldn’t you tell from the surroundings?”

Lyle looked up as Dalton pointed off towards the base of the ruins, where he saw that they were approaching a ring wall that had been built between the gaps of a set of stone-cladded towers that looked almost like squarish, upside-down hooks. They were shorter and inward-facing unlike the ones at the gates, but from how high they loomed into the air, they had to be at least twice as tall as any of the more modern buildings nearby.

Lyle walked along the length of the wall from along the base of the road, marveling at its size. Why these had to be taller than Moonturn Square’s fortifications, and this was an inner wall! Which wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact that there wasn’t a good view across the river like Dalton said there’d be…

“Are you sure this is the right district, Scales?” Kate asked. “Since I’m not exactly seeing how we’re going to spot much of anything across the river like this.”

“The vantage point I had in mind is still a bit higher up than this,” the Heliolisk explained. “There should be a path we can take towards it right about…”

The Heliolisk followed the length of the inner wall with his eyes, and raised a hand to trace his gaze. Lyle quirked a brow and followed after Dalton’s fingers, where off to the left, he saw the Electric-type’s fingers stop. There was a brief outcropping that split off and overhung over a few smaller buildings underneath. It was another ramp made of a patchwork made of wood and stone like the one they’d taken to get onto the ruined bridges, along with a few wagons making their way up and down it.

“There,” he insisted. “That’s our way up.”

Gods, that high up? Lyle was surprised that anyone other than Flying-types would want to live so far off the ground when drawing wellwater was bound to be a chore. He dismissed it as just another quirk of this strange, ancient place and set off alongside their companions. They followed after the flow of traffic on the road as flying Pokémon casually flew past them, dutifully keeping their distance whenever they spotted Gendarmen nearing. As Lyle climbed up the ramp, he noticed that there top of the wall looked like it was anchored by a set of ancient bridges, or at least what was left of them that had had the space below them filled in.

All around, there were other remnants of bridges that converged in towards the ring. Nowhere near as complete as the one they’d taken, but still intact enough to see that they must’ve once been linked together in a network, almost like a giant web of some sort that radiated out from the ones where the wall now stood.

Lyle felt his feet even out from under him and noticed there was a wooden railing that ran the length of the edge to the right. He walked up close to it and slowed his pace as he gaped out and let his mouth hang open and his vents came alight in surprise.

A ‘mon really could see a lot from up here. Much of it the view was muddy from being so far in the distance, but from the features, he gathered that they were looking roughly towards the eastern gate they’d come through earlier. There was the river they’d floated in with Boudewijn and his raft, the docks, and the route they’d taken from there to get here. And all around them, a veritable sea of ramshackle buildings, interspersed with crumbling human ruins here and there.

He’d heard stories while growing up about how the capital was built among ruins of a great human city. About how it was filled with ancient structures of scales that nobody in all of Wander had ever built again since their construction. But to see it with his own eyes… it just made him feel like he was walking in the shadow of a city built for fearsome giants.

Lyle stole a glance at his teammates. Kate was just off to his left, with Irune beside her as well, with both of them appearing similarly floored by the vista. Like him, they gaped out at the spread of the city below, all as the Axew gave a quiet murmur to herself.

“Scales, is this the ‘Administrative District’ you were talking about?” she asked.

“Sort of, we’re presently at the district’s edge. The spiral road that scales its walls allows for Pokémon to reach its different levels,” Dalton explained. “It’s the remains of a district built by a mysterious institution called Vector ‘Ah-ghee’ which used to use the buildings here in the time of humans. It’s also where King Klaus founded our land, so it’s also the place where the Crown keeps the royal palace and the rest of the citadel which anchors Newangle City.”

Lyle quirked his brow and turned back at Dalton. He knew that Dalton said he’d come here to Newangle City before, but he weren’t expecting this level of familiarity with the city from him. And Dalton said he was here as a student, so then…

“Just how do you know this district so well again, Dalton?”

“... It’s where I used to go to university while I lived here, back in better times,” he sighed. “It’s not as if the city’s been sacked since the last time I was here, so it hasn’t changed that much.”

Lyle blinked at the Heliolisk’s reply. He’d figured for a while that Dalton had an upper-class upbringing just from his mannerisms and his accent. But hadn’t he said he’d been an Outlaw around Port Velhen? That was all the way across the Lesser Mist. How on earth did he wind up going from here to there?

There were other things about Dalton’s story that didn’t seem to add up from what he could recall. He spent time around someone who was familiar with counting money, in Hightongue, at that. He apparently had seen cloth made from a machine loom before, and was familiar enough with it to ask Boudewijn about the fabric he used for his patches. And of course, the Heliolisk had a brother named ‘Dieter’ in the army who bit it from something that still tore the ‘mon up inside.

How on earth did Dalton go from a world where he was apparently being educated far from home to turning to a life of crime? What next, would he turn out to be some disowned prince who’d been kicked out of his home?

“Lyle. Heads-up.”

Lyle felt a prod at his shoulder and snapped to attention as Kate and the others hurried behind a wagon. The reason why quickly became apparent: there was a large party of Gendarmen headed their way. Lyle stiffened up briefly and sucked in a sharp breath as he joined his teammates, but still too slow to avoid being spotted by a Mamoswine in green plates. He bit his lip and held his breath as the Ice-type cast an askew glance that lingered on him briefly, before the guard let out a low grunt and continue on.

Lyle wasn’t sure if word of them hadn’t reached the capital yet, or else if those scarves they stole were saving their asses at the moment. Either way, considering how it’d taken all of a night for wanted posters for them to hit the streets of Errberk Village, it probably wasn’t safe to assume the guards’ ignorance would last for long. Whatever gear they needed to grab and whatever information Irune was hoping to discover about herself needed to be squared away as quickly as they could manage. He relaxed a bit after the party of armored guards shuffled out of earshot, his breath coming with tense pants as he looked over at his teammates similarly letting out sighs of relief… along with Kate flattening her ears with an unimpressed frown.

“I suppose that I should be less surprised that a prissy type like you would hang around high society, Scales,” she grunted. “Not that I don’t mind a challenge or that the marks here wouldn’t be rewarding, but are we really going to be able to snag anything while going out to those scenic spots you mentioned?”

Dalton shook his head back and raised turned his head off inward from the wall. When Lyle turned to follow, he saw there was a bridge splitting off from the roadway and onto a network of raised roads which teemed with Pokémon heading in and out of it.

“If a decent opportunity arrives for us, maybe. Not that I don’t consider myself partial towards robbing the rich, but there’s safer places to look for a mark in this city,” he said. “We don’t need to hang around here for much longer than to get our bearings.”
Dalton took a few steps forward, before motioning for the rest of his teammates to follow.

“There’s an overlook for the other side of the city we can get to after crossing the Administrative District’s inner walls,” he explained. “And besides, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten the chance to get a view of things here.”

The bridges that Dalton took Lyle and the rest of Team Forager through reminded the Quilava of the ones they’d taken over to the Administrative District—just narrower and branching off into many more directions. They sprouted almost like a web of some sort, with some sections abruptly ending from having collapsed with the ages, while the remaining ones had been turned into bustling streets. Far below, there were other streets on the proper ground, wedged in between towering spires with white-and-gray cladding that seemed to stretch up towards the sky.

History and modernity had a way of just blending into one another. The cladding that some of the taller towers had was much newer than Lyle expected, with Dalton explaining that they’d been added and replaced when needed by successive kings since the reign of Agarez the Great. Both to protect their internal structures and to beautify what were otherwise crumbling facades… which even to this day appeared to be incomplete from the way how some of the shorter buildings had chunks of missing cladding while still others had skeletal interiors partly overgrown with plants left bare for the world to see.

G-Götterblut, just look at all this!” Lyle exclaimed. “Dalton, this is just one district?! There must be more Pokémon than in all of Moonturn Square living on this one street!”

“It’s less impressive than it looks,” Dalton remarked. “Most of the floors of these buildings that are more than about ten removed from some sort of accessible surface aren’t consistently inhabited. Few Pokémon without wings have the time or energy to climb all of those stairs on their own or else to wait for the Tuggers manning the cargo lifts to take them up or down.”

Lyle blinked and peeked over a nearby railing to inspect his surroundings more closely. At both street levels, the exteriors had been gutted, with more normal buildings built into their facades, much like in Moonturn Square’s marketplace. Such construction carried on for four or so floors, when new shingled and thatched rooftops would be built increasingly into the human ruin itself. By the sixth to eighth floors, sure enough, the signs of habitation started to give out, aside from scattered holdouts that continued further on.

Lyle noticed Irune gaping up at those upper floors herself, and curiously enough, there seemed to be a look in her eye. That same sort of excitement and yearning that she’d had while they were flying with Hermes.

“Feels like a bit of a waste,” Irune murmured. “Though what are all those floors normally used for, then?”

“They’re mostly used for storage or else kept vacant for use as citadels in the event of a siege,” the Heliolisk explained. “I’ve heard in the outlying districts, some of the vacant floors of the taller ruins there are taken up by refugee camps and even heard rumors of stray Wilders living in some of them. But I don’t know how much stock I put into them when towers like those usually have Air Marshals posted on the roofs...”

Gendarmen or soldiers unwittingly sharing space with Wilders in the middle of a city like this? That definitely seemed far-fetched, but what did he know? Lyle continued on, only to sidestep Kate as she stopped and squinted off at the towers above. The Quilava looked up, and saw shapes fly up near their tops and circle around, a few slipping onto various rooftops, including a black-and-blue blob that he could vaguely make out that had six wings and three heads on it.

“... Wait, so does that mean that there’s an Air Marshal garrison there as well?” she asked, pointing off at the tower she spotted. “If so, is it really a good idea to linger around here? Since I’m pretty sure that I just saw a Hydreigon flying around.”

Dalton’s eyes followed Kate’s claw, and when Lyle did the same, he noticed she was pointing off at a central spire towering over the surrounding ones. After a brief pause, the Electric-type’s eyes narrowed and he glanced around warily before letting out a low grumble under his breath.

“It almost certainly does, even if it’d be hard to tell just who’s coming and going from there,” the Heliolisk muttered. “That’s Dämmerungsturm, where the king’s palace is. You might have spotted a guard, but you could’ve just as easily seen someone flying in towards one of the palace complexes on one of the roofs.”

Where the king’s… palace was? Lyle supposed that the story checked out from the tales he’d heard of Newangle City and the Crown while growing up, but… something didn’t add up with what Dalton had told them about the towers.

“I thought that you said that nobody lived more than about ten floors up or down from the streets here,” the Quilava remarked.

“I said from an accessible surface. That includes rooftops,” the Heliolisk explained. “It’s said that the practice started after the tallest rooftops were given over to shrines for gods to roost in when visiting the city. The kings of the land wanted to be closer to them, and so the lower rooftops in Dämmerungsturm and the surrounding towers are taken up by palaces for the court and quarters for nobles summoned by them to stay in…”

Dalton trailed off to himself as his eyes lingered wistfully on the towers for a moment, before he looked down and shook his head with a low grunt.

“Though that’s enough of us getting our heads up in the clouds,” Dalton insisted. “The overlook I told you about is just up ahead. It’s pretty hard to miss.”
Lyle couldn’t help but wonder what Dalton’s look was about, when he was snapped to attention by a loud gasp from Irune. He looked over and saw her mouth hanging open and her attention fixed off where Dalton was pointing:

It was the rooftop of a human ruin, with a tall statue of Reshiram made of polished white stone gazing out in the direction of the river.

“... No kidding,” Kate murmured to herself. “Though how are we supposed to get up to it?”

“There’s a path up to it,” the Heliolisk replied. “Follow me.”

Dalton headed through the crowds of Pokémon as Lyle and the others followed closely to avoid falling behind. After what felt like a sea of bodies passed by that made it hard to see much that wasn’t past their heads, he found that Dalton had taken them to a flight of steps cobbled together from wood and stone which wrapped around the walls of the building the statue rested on. No space along the path had gone to waste, as the whole time, Lyle found himself pushing past Pokémon going to and from past cramped shopfronts and entrances to simple houses making their way up and down the flight steps providing access, an awful lot of them hawking amulets and papers of some sort. Shopkeepers plying wares to pilgrims, perhaps?

The steps began to even out, and the crowds started to thin, which Lyle quickly realized it was simply from there being more space. They’d stepped out into a rooftop plaza of some sort, where dead ahead was a view of the entire northern bank of the city.

And the Reshiram statue that stood guarding it under her watchful gaze.

Dalton and Kate were quick to set off, and made their way past the statue as Lyle followed along. He turned his head and glanced at the statue as they passed, when he noticed Irune lingering in front of it with a blank stare.

Gods, he hoped that keeping her focused and moving along wasn’t going to be a regular occurrence here in the city.

“Irune, come on,” he said. “You can look at the statue later-”

Lyle trailed off after he noticed the details on the statue were worn with age and that the glyphs on the pedestal were shaped like various footprints arranged in patterns. Just how old was this thing, anyways?

“I… just didn’t realize that there were so many Pokémon that still left prayers.”

Lyle turned back at Irune, who was now looking off at the ground and pawing at her tusks. He turned back towards the pedestal of the statue, when he noticed that all along it below the glyphs, it had been covered from top to bottom in various papers.

“... Huh?”

That really was a lot of prayers. Lyle supposed that the statue being in the middle of a big city didn’t hurt, but somehow it didn’t occur to him that it’d also double as a shrine. He walked up to the pedestal close enough for the runes written on them to begin to take form, and sure enough, they were wishes left behind by other Pokémon like the ones at the Bildstock west of Moonturn Square. Except here, there weren’t visible gaps between stones to slip all of them in, so most of the prayers and petitions were leafletted on top of each other. To the point that some of them were plainly visible for passersby to read—or at least the wishes were, anyways. The confessions seemed to be firmly hidden on the backs of the papers.

They… didn’t look all that different from the ones Pokémon from Moonturn Square would leave behind at the Bildstock, or the ones that some Pokémon from his hometown would for that matter. There was one by some Hunter wishing for luck for his team to make it to their next guild rank, another by some lovebird wishing to catch the favor of a crush, one for good luck in some manner of fighting tournament that was apparently going on…

And then there were the prayers that made him feel uneasy just looking at them.

There were a few wishing for vengeance on Edialeigh for everything Varhyde had been forced to endure over the course of the war, and that Reshiram would come and set their land afire in vengeance. There were others that just flatly wished for peace of any sort. A couple desperate-sounding ones wished for the safe return for a relative from the frontlines, to be passed over from the army’s levies, or for healing from wounds taken while fighting in the war.

… He almost had half a mind to put one up himself. Hell, he’d admit to his whole life as an Outlaw if it’d somehow, let him see Alvin again alive and well again.

But what was the point? There was no Reshiram to answer all these prayers right now. And even whenever there was one again, why on earth would she lend an ear to the pleas of an Outlaw?


Lyle’s vents came alive with a start briefly as he felt tugging at his shoulder. He looked down and saw Irune pawing and Kate and Dalton staring back at him from a railing along the rooftop. The Axew gave an impatient stare up at him, before motioning off to their waiting teammates.

“The overlook’s over there,” the Axew insisted. “Weren’t we supposed to figure out where we were going?”

Lyle blinked for a moment, before shaking his head and flattening his ears with a quiet sigh. To think that he’d ultimately need to be the one pulled away from being distracted by the scenery.

“Sorry,” he replied. “Though you’re right, we should take care of that quickly and not dawdle here.”

The Quilava followed Irune along, quietly stealing glances back at the statue before he caught up with his teammates at the railing. Past it, was an overlook. The view was a bit muddy from this distance, but it really did look like a ‘mon could see the entire northern bank of Newangle City from it. There were a small handful of bridges that ran across the river, with a sea of buildings made in rougher styles at the other end. Above it all, human spires shot up in their midst, ones which had gone entirely uncladded and sprouting vegetation from their upper levels. Some of them were visibly leaning, while others had gouges torn out of them.

… Was that what the spires around them looked like underneath those panels on the outside?

Why, there was even a curious bowl-like structure off towards the northwest that pressed up right against the city walls. One that looked just like the central marketplace in Moonturn Square, except it looked big enough to fit the whole of the town’s central marketplace in its hollow!

Dalton raised a finger, moving it off towards the north, as he settled it over a bridge just past the river’s bend.

“Over there, on the other bank of the river near the part with the toppled human spires,” the Heliolisk said. “There’s some marketplaces there that are used by merchants that we can hit up, and it shouldn’t take too long to get there if we exit through the Lower Streets.”

Lyle squinted and strained his eyes to try and make out what Dalton was pointing at, when he noticed there were chunks of towers lay on their sides without obvious roofs or ceilings. He flicked his ears, before giving a worried frown at the Electric-type.

“What the hell happened to those buildings out there?” he asked.

“According to folklore, there used to be a Mystery Dungeon there in the early days of the kingdom that had a Link to a distant land,” Dalton explained. “The part of it that used to be visible aboveground faded away sometime before the events of the first war between Varhyde and Edialeigh after the Great Flash and left those ruins behind. Its remaining entrances are now all underground.”

That sounded like it could come in handy for getting out of the city, really.

“I don’t suppose that that Mystery Dungeon will get us closer to the Divine Roost, will it?” Lyle asked.

“Hardly,” Dalton scoffed. “Its known exit loops back to its entrance and the only known Link inside that feeds into that Mystery Dungeon goes to a cave system in unknown parts that no Exploration Team has found an exit to yet.”

… Or not. Lyle sighed and leaned forward, when he noticed Kate quirking her brow, and shooting an askew glance over at the Heliolisk.

“Eh? We’re supposed to go all the way out there?” she asked. “I get not wanting to raise too much hell in this district when there’s literally nobles and prissy types living right above us, but if we’re not going to stick around this city for long, why not hit up whatever we find on the way back down?”

Dalton shot a serious look back at the Sneasel, and gave a small frown in reply.

“Because this is Newangle City and not some peasant village,” the Heliolisk insisted. “As big as this city is, you need to have a good feel for what territories you can do things in before going and causing trouble, just like anywhere else as an Outlaw.”

Guess that meant that that part of the city Dalton wanted them to go to was a bit of a dump, then. Lyle looked out at the cityscape below, it was far enough that his eyes couldn’t make out much of it beyond gutted spires flecked with autumn vegetation poking out of a muddy jumble.

“Also, those marketplaces aren’t close to any garrisons or Guilds that would potentially cause us trouble,” the Heliolisk added. “As a matter of risk management, it’s the best place that I know enough about to be comfortable with our odds of stealing what we need.”

A marketplace would be full of potential marks, and if Dalton was convinced that was the place to be, it was hard to argue with him as the ‘mon who knew the lay of the land. Lyle turned his head towards Irune after hearing her ask something in passing about whether they should start “by that bridge over there”. Guess that was a sign her farsight was better than his was.

From how long it’d taken them to make their way up to this overlook, it’d take a good hour or so in order to make their way over and then reach that district. A glance up revealed that the sky was starting to turn orange, which was probably as good a cue as any that they should move along.

“Let’s get moving then,” Lyle said. “Those marketplaces aren’t going to get any closer from us standing around like this.”

He just hoped that Dalton’s memories of the city were as good as he remembered.

Author’s Notes

Words and Phrases:

1. Impergator - “Feraligatr”
2. Segelwagen - “Land sails”
3. Drachensiegel - “Dragons' Sigil”

Teaser Text:

When King Klaus founded Angle City, he did so in the ruins of a human city spread out so far and wide that it had become an ungovernable warren after the Great Flash, much like others which have since been lost to time. As such, the Founder and the goddess Reality saw fit to build a citadel which would shelter a budding civilization from the dangers of an unsettled world.

They did so at Dämmerungsturm and the towers about it, which had once been the centerᵃ of Vector Ah-gheeᵇ during the era of mankind. Their commanding heights were pleasing to our goddess and overlooked all who would approach the Founder’s city, while their location clustered along a river’s bend made them easy to turn into a bastion. This is why to this day, their citadel serves as the Administrative District of our land’s capital. A throne that stretches up towards the clouds for our land’s goddess, and for her kings and heroes.
Much of Klaus’ early reign was spent reclaiming the space between the ten towers that lay beyond his bastion. Towering monoliths which housed machines that fueled the lights and various handiworks left behind by humans by drawing from the strength of a distant radiance. He was the architect of his city’s great ramparts, turning the ten towers into Wehrtürmeᶜ and connecting them with walls built with the aid of human works that survived the Great Flash. Thus why he has been immortalized in our history as “Klaus the Founder”.

Whatever enabled King Klaus and the goddess to work such wonders was lost to time after Wish and Reality and the lands which hail them as patrons first made war against each other. In the ages since then, it has fallen to his successors to attempt to maintain his works. Which is why every king and queen in Varhyde begins their reign by swearing an oath in the name of its patron goddess to do so to the best of their abilities.

Even in the face of the march of time and its ravages. Even in the face of knowledge that has grown forgotten. Even in the face of those who would lay it waste from their greed and evil designs, with malevolent desire and ruinous thunder.

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. ‘Zentrale’ in German carries connotations of a focal point, especially from which something is controlled. As such, it can also mean “headquarters” in some contexts.
b. Derived by phonetic approximation of the original letters.
c. Plural of ‘Wehrturm’, a word for a defensive tower. Left untranslated for flavor purposes.
Chapter 20 - Surprises

Selbst wenn wir in gemeinsamen Ländern leben und gemeinsame Sprachen sprechen, sind wir Pokémon Kreaturen, deren Formen und Arten so unzählbar erscheinen können wie Sterne am Himmel. Und doch haben wir trotz aller Unterschiede eines gemeinsam: die Fähigkeit, die Kräfte der Welt, in der wir leben, zu nutzen.

Warum das so ist, bleibt bei Wilde und Zivile gleichermaßen in Mythen und Folklore verborgen, wobei einige sagen, dass unsere Stärke die Macht unserer Götter widerspiegelt. Dass, ob groß oder klein, mächtig oder schwach, wir alle Träger einer endlosen Energie mit grenzenlosem Potenzial sind. Diese Energie hat im Laufe der Jahrhunderte viele Namen erhalten, die wir heute als „Äther“ kennen.

Der Besitz eines von Äther erfüllten Körpers ist das Zeichen, das Pokémon von anderen Lebewesen in unserer Welt unterscheidet, in denen oft Potenziale verborgen sind, die über das hinausgehen, was uns natürlich oder intuitiv erscheint. Und doch wissen wir aus unseren Aufzeichnungen und unserer Folklore, dass es möglich ist, die Weisheit zu besitzen, diese Macht zu manipulieren, auch ohne sie selbst ausüben zu können.

Es heißt, dass Menschen in ihren letzten Lebensjahren eine große Fähigkeit entwickelt haben, den Äther von Pokémon zu manipulieren. Einblicke in diese Weisheit und die Wunder, die dadurch gewirkt wurden, sind in den bis heute erhaltenen TMs und VMs zu sehen. Seltsame Relikte, die mit einem geeigneten Attacken-Lehrer einen größeren Einfluss auf den Äther des Körpers eines Pokémon haben können als wochenlanger Unterricht durch auswendig gelernte Wiederholungen.

Wozu Menschen sonst noch fähig waren, indem sie solche Kräfte manipulierten, wissen wir nicht, abgesehen von wirren und widersprüchlichen Geschichten über fantastische Maschinen und großen, strahlenden Glanz. Basierend auf den Geschichten über die anderen Wunder, die die Menschheit vollbracht hat, scheint es jedoch sicher zu sein, zu dem Schluss zu kommen, dass sie sich ohne den Glühenden Blitz sicherlich in etwas viel Größeren hätte werden lassen.

- Auszug aus »Das königliche Lexikon der Wissenschaften und Künste«

The path from the outlook and the Reshiram statue down to the ‘Lower Streets’ proved much simpler than Irune expected. After retracing their steps down to the first intersection of the raised street they came from and turning right, she and the rest of Team Forager came across a collapsed span of raised street that had been turned into a ramp heading down to ground level.

Being on firm ground aside, these ‘Lower Streets’ weren’t that different from the cityscape they’d left behind on what Dalton called the ‘Upper Streets’ above them. The main difference was that there were more open areas between them, some of which looked like they’d still be in shade from the towering monoliths all around them even if the sun weren’t currently setting. The main difference that stood out was that these Lower Streets were less rigid and grid-like based on the lines of open spaces she and her teammates came across. In spite of the various shacks that now filled the gaps between the towers, they clearly once aligned with the platforms above. Perhaps those gaps had once used to be broad boulevards of some sort.

What really surprised her was the way that the Lower Streets looked better-kept than the better-lit upper levels, even if she supposed the candle and Luminous Moss lanterns around the shops that were starting to be lit up might have helped with that. Irune supposed it made sense that Pokémon would prefer their homes to be closer to places where they could draw water more easily, but it was still a bit surprising. She’d heard during her wanderings over the past year that in larger settlements, that quarters in higher floors which weren’t easy to fly out of were usually less desirable and cheaper to live in for such reasons.

Even if she understood the practicalities behind why that was so, something about Pokémon not wanting to be high up never made sense to her. There was always a liberating feeling from being up high and looking down on the world, one that made her wish sometimes that she’d been born as some other Pokémon who could just spread their wings and fly away as they evolved.

She cast a wistful look up at the streets and towers above her, before looking back down towards her teammates and realizing that she didn’t recognize the surroundings of the street they were presently in. Had she been that distracted from constantly glancing skyward? Maybe she had been, since she couldn’t remember ever coming across another place quite like these streets during her wanderings in the past year.

Or hearing another place like it for that matter. One of the things that stood out after Irune paid closer attention to her surroundings was that she could hear Hightongue being spoken, and lots of it. It was a language that Varhyde’s nobles and educated Pokémon were supposed to favor, and she’d learned enough of it from the village school to at least address a Pokémon as “Herr So-and-So” or “Frau Such-and-Such” to be polite when she had to, along with a few phrases she’d picked up on the run which were… much less polite. But even so, much of the ancient tongue was a mystery to her, enough so that most of it might well have been a string of harsh and throaty growls. And yet, she was hearing honest-to-goodness conversations in it on the street—even between the likes of shopkeepers and their customers!

Dankeschön, kommen Sie wieder!ᴰ¹
“Thank you, come again!”

Including from a shop that was coming up on their left which smelled of broth. The speaker was a Druddigon who was dismissing a Cubchoo with a bowl of soup towards a set of simple wooden tables and stools that spilled out into the street before turning back to a pot behind the counter. … “Scarlet Dragon’s Soups”? Maybe those runes over the shopfront weren’t meant to be read in Commontongue. If they weren’t, then that’d make them… “Shardragos Suppen
Druddigon’s Soups
”, at least if she was remembering things right. It certainly sounded really flowery for the name of an eatery, but it definitely rolled off the tongue better that way.

“Lyle, what about those two? You think they look like promising marks?”

Irune raised her head after hearing Kate speak up and saw her motioning off towards the counter as Lyle turned his head. Gods, did they really have to do this right now? She turned back towards the shopfront, just in time to see the next customers cross their path and approach the counter: a Dusknoir with a scarf with a sigil that looked much like a flame on a green background. And there alongside him, was a Charmeleon draped in a hooded cowl of the same color who was casting glances about nervously.

… Maybe she’d been spending too much time around Outlaws like these three, since the thought crossed Irune’s mind that the pair did seem rather distracted. Though this wasn’t just another random marketplace full of nobodies who’d go off on their merry way, they were quite literally on the doorstep of the king and court whose soldiers had been chasing her for the past year.

“Don’t risk it, Kate,” Lyle said. “We’re in the Administrative District, remember? If we get caught stirring up trouble, there will be a ton of guards up on our ass.”

Thank goodness Lyle at least wasn’t interested, even if she doubted it was from any real sense of idealism. Kate pouted but otherwise gave no protest before she and her other teammates continued on. Irune began to trail after them, but even so, part of her couldn’t help but be curious about the Charmeleon and Dusknoir at the counter as they began to pass.

She remembered hearing a lot of stories about heroes or kings wearing capes while growing up. She supposed that she’d also heard plenty of stories of Pokémon on Exploration Teams that wore garb that wasn’t too different like Reunion Capes…

Was the cape one? Since Dalton didn’t say anything about Exploration Teams hanging around this district. The Axew turned and drifted over towards the pair as the Dusknoir patted at the Charmeleon’s back, and watched the Ghost-type push him towards the counter with a gentle shove.

“There’s not many other places in Varhyde where you can practice your Hightongue just by going about daily life on the street, Lohe,” the Ghost-type said. “The chef here’s fluent, and I’ll pay for whatever you want. So go on, order up!”

Maybe they really were an Exploration Team, since the two seemed to know each other quite well. Even so, something felt off about the pair. The Charmeleon looked over at the counter and visibly gulped before saying something under his breath. Irune couldn’t make out what the Fire-type was saying at first until she drew a little closer, and her ears began to pick up on a nervous stammer.

“I… Uh… H-Herold? Is this really a good idea?”

Irune paused and blinked after hearing the Charmeleon’s voice. Some of his words sounded slurred, almost as if he’d been drinking a lot. Except, from his expression and gait, the ‘mon was very much sober. Was it a lisp of some sort? And why did it sound vaguely familiar…?

She thought it over briefly until it dawned on her. It sounded familiar to her because it was. It was like the one that Cade used to have growing up together in her hometown. Except she remembered her friend’s being a lot less noticeable.

Irune heard movement and looked up to see the Dusknoir’s red eye peering down at her. She stumbled back with a stifled yelp and turned her head at the sound of approaching footsteps from the street. It was her fellows from Team Forager, who were looking on with wary pauses. The Ghost-type narrowed his red eye into a sharp glare that prompted Irune to scoot away uneasily. Whatever ideas any of them had of robbing the two, they were definitely gone now. Irune could already tell that picking a fight with these two was a bad idea just from looking at them. Why, it was as if the Dusknoir was defending family!

Du brauchst nicht so nervös zu sein, mein Kind. Was auch immer deine Bedenken gegenüber deinen früheren Freunden sind, ich bin mir sicher, dass du hier bessere finden wirst. Dies ist schließlich dein Zuhause!ᴰ²
“Don’t be so nervous, my child. Whatever your misgivings about your past friends, I’m sure you’ll find better ones here. This is your home, after all!”

Could the two be family somehow? It’d certainly didn’t seem plausible and Irune couldn’t make heads or tails of most of what the Dusknoir said, but something about it stood out to her:

She could’ve sworn she heard the Dusknoir call his companion his ‘child’.

“Don’t drift off like that!”

A quiet hiss snapped Irune to attention as she felt a paw clamp onto her arm and tug her along. She turned her head up, where she saw Lyle frowning down at her, with Kate and Dalton just behind. The Quilava hurried her along as some more chatter came from the direction of the eatery, right as a voice filtered over from the direction of the counter.

“A-Ah… G-Guten Tag
“Hello” / “Good day”
₂ I-Ishh- Ich bin der Glutexo, u-und ich möchte eine Suppe bestellen.ᴰ³
“I am the Charmeleon, and I’d like to order a soup.”

Irune blinked briefly and peeked back towards the shop. It was the Charmeleon again, who was staring across the counter with a nervous, uneasy smile as the proprietor shot him an askew look. Was… it normal for Hightongue to sound like that? She briefly noticed Dalton staring off at the counter himself from the corner of her eye, as Lyle continued pulling her forward.

“Come on, others are going to notice you stopping and staring at strangers like that.”

Irune shook her head and continued down the street along with the rest of her teammates until they reached an intersection. They made their way left and found themselves on a street that had been planted with trees along its sides. The shopfronts drifted by as they passed as Irune couldn’t help but cock her head at Dalton as a nagging thought lingered in her mind:

Why had Dalton stopped to stare at the two Pokémon at the soup shop himself? Did he notice something about those two that Lyle and Kate didn’t?

“How come you looked at those two Pokémon at the counter, Dalton?” she asked. “Were they Pokémon that you met from when you were in university?”

“Not at all,” the Heliolisk answered. “I can’t speak for the Dusknoir, but I’d have remembered that Charmeleon from back then if we’d met somehow.”

That comment got Lyle and Kate’s attention as the pair turned their attention over to their Heliolisk teammate. Irune at first was going to ask what Dalton was getting at when it occurred to her that she probably already knew the answer:

He must’ve somehow recognized the Charmeleon’s accent himself.

“Because the ‘mon was dressed like some wanna-be noble and was obviously terrible at Hightongue?” Kate asked. “Otherwise, I’m not sure what you’re getting at-”

“He was speaking with a Rothäuter’s accent.”

Irune paused as Lyle and Kate both looked visibly taken aback. Kate opened her mouth briefly as a thought seemed to cross her mind only to catch herself. The Sneasel flattened out her ears, before rolling her eyes with an unimpressed harrumph.

“Ha ha, really funny pun there, Scales,” she said. “Charmeleon have red scales, so clearly he was a-”

“Kate, I’m not joking,” he replied. “That really was a Rothäuter’s accent.”

Something stirred inside Irune from the way Dalton said that word. It wasn’t as mean-spirited as some of the times she’d heard it thrown around in the past, but it still bothered her. And before she knew it, the words were already coming out of her mouth.

“Th-That’s not true! Pokémon from Edialeigh in general speak like that!”

Irune bit her tongue and froze as her teammates stared at her. She should’ve known better than to blurt that out. Especially when it never seemed to help Cade when she tried to stand up for him from the village bullies. Dalton remained quiet and blinked, before shaking his head and pawing at his injured arm’s shoulder with a low sigh.

“I don’t know how you know that, but I suppose that would be a bit more accurate, yes,” he said. “Though I’m not really sure what other Pokémon from Edialeigh you’d expect to run into on this side of the Sundered Sea.”

There was a long silence afterwards. That Charmeleon, a soldier? Why the ‘mon looked like he’d be more at home being apprenticing alongside the glassblower’s son back in her hometown! Lyle and Kate must’ve been thinking similar things, since the pair both seemed to have visible twinges of discomfort as they spoke up.

“I mean, I suppose I’ve heard stories of ‘mons in our army sometimes being levied young… but why would there just be a captured Rothäuter wandering around the streets of the Kingdom’s capital?” Lyle asked. “I thought the ones that got dragged over here were put to work doing stuff like picking fields or clearing mines from the last invasion.”

“I suppose somebody in the army thought that he was too valuable for that,” Dalton scoff. “But I don’t think we should worry too much about it. Whatever’s going on with him doesn’t concern us and the further we stay away from getting entangled with more matters involving the army, the better.”

Irune fell quiet and decided not to press the topic further. Dalton did have a point, even if she wasn’t sure how much longer they could all stay ahead of the army given what happened to the others she’d traveled with over the past year-

No. Things didn’t have to end like that again. At least some of her teammates could make it to the Divine Roost with her this time.

If they didn’t, Irune wasn’t sure if there’d be enough time for her to try again.

“Tch, preaching to the choir there,” Kate harrumph. “Though just how long are we supposed to keep our paws to ourselves, Scales?”

Irune turned her head over towards Kate as she folded her arms with an impatient tap of her foot. Dalton briefly narrowed his eyes, before speaking up in hushed tones.

“Until we reach the marketplaces, Kate,” Dalton insisted. “We haven’t even made it across the river yet! Do you see anywhere around here that looks like a marketplace?”

Irune let her eyes wander and looked off down the street where much to her surprise, above the crowds, there was a rusted metal archway straddling it with some sort of sign and a string of lanterns hanging from the top. She blinked a moment, before she raised a claw to point it out.

“Wait, but isn’t that a marketplace right over there?”

Her teammates turned off in the gate’s direction, while she got up onto her tiptoes to try and get a better view. She could only make it out in brief snatches from taller passersby, but just past the gate, the street they were on widened out. On the other end, it was a broad boulevard with two rows of trees running its length with an inner section trafficked by Pullers and their wagons and swifter Pokémon, and on either side were outer fringes that hugged rows of shopfronts.

Ones that were packed with Pokémon filing in and out of them, with a worryingly large number of their patrons clad in armor plates of various styles.

Had they walked up to a garrison? Irune didn’t see any walls or fortifications ahead, but where else was one supposed to see so many Pokémon outfitted like that? She turned towards Dalton, and noticed he was visibly blanching and backpedaling. As good a sign as any that this marketplace was somewhere they didn’t want to get close to.

“Irune, that’s Arsenal Avenue,” Dalton chided. “It’d be smarter to try and steal from just about any other marketplace here in Newangle City.”

‘Arsenal… Avenue’? The more she looked at the street with its shops and the armored figures milling about it, the more the name seemed to fit. Gods, it was like someone had made a market specifically for the soldiers of Lacan's Fähnlein!

She bit her tongue and turned away. If Dalton thought it best to just move along as someone who once lived in this very district, it’d be wise to not question his judgment.

She began to retrace her steps up the street, only to notice Lyle stopping and shooting a puzzled look over at their Heliolisk teammate.

“Actually, wait,” the Quilava said. “Not that I’m exactly eager to chum it up with a bunch of Grünhäuter, but what the hell kind of marketplace is this, Dalton?”

“Holy crap! They’ve got armor on display over there!”

Irune and her teammates whirled around where much to her alarm, Kate was already halfway over to Arsenal Avenue’s gate, ducking past other Pokémon as she beelined up to display not far past the gate… one that had a few sets of armor arrayed on sets of posts meant to mimic the bodies of Pokémon. Irune felt a flash of heat beside her and saw fire pouring out of Lyle’s vents as his mouth hung open in shock. There was a moment’s pause, before the Quilava threw a paw over his face with a low grumble.

“Come on,” he sighed. “Let’s make sure she doesn’t get into too much trouble.”

A thousand thoughts swirled around in Lyle’s mind as he, Dalton, and Irune ran past the gate and into Arsenal Avenue, with his wonderings about if Kate had lost her damn mind taking up most of them.

He tried not to think too hard about the sheer number of Pokémon in armor all around them and kept his head down.

By the time they made it to the shop they saw Kate headed off to, she was already gone and there was nowhere left to go but further down the street. As they carried on, he noticed that the ground floors of the surrounding buildings were crammed with shopfronts that plied all sorts of wares: scarves and Looplets, Seeds and Wands of various types, and of course a stall here or there selling lucky charms, even if Lyle wouldn’t have called that ‘armor’. Some of the shops lived up to the street’s name more directly, with various plates hung out on display, some of them white or tan from their cloth having not yet been dyed. Reshiram’s Fur, there had to be more armorers on just this one block than in all of Moonturn Square!

Amidst the blur of passing Pokémon, Lyle caught a glimpse of black and red at a shopfront off to his right. Sure enough, it was Kate: idly poking and prodding at a set of armor made for a bipedal Pokémon about her size. Lyle shook his head and approached as the Sneasel continued to paw at the plates, Lyle’s ears pricking after he heard it rattle and jangle from her tugs.

“Oh hey, it took you all long enough to catch up. Is this thing made with mail?” Kate asked. “I didn’t even know that they sold armor like this.”

Lyle flattened his ears as frustrated fire danced on his vents. Irune and Dalton didn’t look much more amused either, with the Heliolisk of the pair having visible sparks arcing on his hide. Dalton stepped ahead before Lyle could say anything, and latched onto Kate with his good arm, sharply tugging her back towards the street.

“Hey! I wasn’t done!” Kate protested.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure you weren’t,” Dalton grumbled. “Let’s just get out of here before we run into-”

The Heliolisk turned and stumbled into a wall of green up ahead, the Electric-type falling and jostling his splinted arm with a sharp yelp. Lyle looked up and felt his eyes shrink to pins after he see the wall of green was the green scales of a Tyranitar. One clad in green armor.

Gods, Dalton really was right about coming here being a bad idea-

Watch where you’re going, civvie!

Lyle yelped and jolted upright at the sound of a bellowing roar. His attention shot back towards the Tyranitar as he gave an annoyed brush at his flank before the Rock-type leveled a sharp glare down at him. A flash of black and red tipped him off to Kate hurriedly slipping past the Tyranitar, as Irune went for to Dalton on the ground. His mind went blank in a panic until something snapped inside, as Quilava turned and tried to dive ahead into a Quick Attack. He felt his head hit something hard, and heard a sharp growl from above. He gulped, as he realized the soldier had cut them off from going back out onto the street.

“Disrespectful little twerps! Aren’t you at least going to apologize to your betters before you try to scurry off?”

Lyle breathed in and out as his heart pounded in his chest. It was like dealing with Nils all over again, if Nils were twice as tall and he didn’t have a chance in hell fighting against him. The Quilava felt fingers dig into his hide and looked off to his shoulder to see Irune hiding behind him. Off to his side Dalton’s eyes seemed to take on a fiery tinge and he could’ve sworn he saw sparks on his scales. Was- Was Dalton really just ready to slug it out with this ‘mon?

… No, they couldn’t afford getting in trouble over stupid crap like this. Least of all in a place where there’d be more Pokémon like this right on the street next to them. There weren’t even money or goods on the line, all they needed to do was just give the ‘mon what he wanted and move along.

... Tut mir leid, Herr Despotar
,” the Quilava muttered. “It won’t happen again.”

He pinned his ears back as the words left his mouth. He knew that it was the realistic solution to his problems, but having to suck up like always left a bitter feeling in his stomach. Thankfully, it seemed to satisfy the Rock-type, who brushed past him with a sharp huff.

“I’d hope not, Quilava!” the soldier spat. “This isn’t a public museum! Either buy something, or make way for those of us who have actual business here!”

Lyle looked over at Irune and saw that she’d come out from behind him and was sporting a fierce scowl much like Dalton’s. Except, there was a minor tremor running down her scales, as if she was about to explode. Lyle set his teeth on edge as he remembered that inexplicable power that came over Irune back at Primordial Woods, and then again in Errberk Village. Now definitely wasn’t the time for her to be throwing that around. He went behind the Axew’s back, and sharply tugged at her shoulder.

“Come on, Irune. We’re not supposed to be here anyways.”

Irune breathed in and out briefly as she shook her head and followed along, Dalton still stood his ground like a gottverdammter idiot for a moment, prompting Lyle to hurriedly motion at him with his paw to come along. The Heliolisk hesitated, before he relented and trailed after them with a low harrumph. Lyle hurried down the street with the two as the crowds and trees along the boulevard drifted by. After going down the block far enough for him to be convinced the Tyranitar was safely out of sight and earshot, he pinched his brow and turned towards his teammates with a sharp frown.

“Gods, would it kill you two to read a room sometime?” the Quilava snapped. “What on earth do you think would’ve happened if we actually took a swing at that guy?!”

The Heliolisk and Axew both fell silent for a moment. Curiously, there seemed to be what almost looked like a flash of guilt over Irune’s face. Had that power of hers almost come out back there? He thought to ask her, when he was answered by a low grumble as Dalton turned away with a bitter frown.

“We could’ve ended things in a way that didn’t involve letting that damn Grünhäuter walk all over us,” he muttered. “Not that there’s we can do much about it now.”

Lyle flicked his ears and shot an askew glance. What on earth was Dalton’s story with the army, anyways? Sure they were Grünhäuter and enemies, but the Heliolisk just seemed so bitter every time they had to deal with them somehow.

… Didn’t his own brother used to be in the army? Did it have something to do with that?

“Uh… wait, did we see Kate run deeper down the street while we were talking with that Tyranitar? Otherwise, how do we know we’re going the right way?”

Lyle turned over to Irune looking over at him worriedly and then looked down Arsenal Avenue. He… wasn’t sure if he had an answer to that. The Quilava gaped around the sea of Pokémon, and tried to make sense of the crowds surrounding them as he kept searching for any sign of Kate or her plumage. All of a sudden, he felt a poke at his flank and shot up with a sharp yelp as his vents flared to life.

“You know, you’re less likely to get run over in the street if you stand in the center median where all the trees are.”

He whirled around along with his teammates. Sure enough, there was Kate, stretching her arms behind her head with an impish grin. The Quilava rubbed at his flank growling under his breath, before narrowing his eyes into an irritated scowl.

Seriously, Kate?!” he snapped. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

“Yeah! And what was the big idea of just abandoning us back there?!” Irune fumed.

“Bold of you to assume that I did,” she answered. “I was keeping an eye on you the entire time… oh, and on that pompous windbag’s money.”

Lyle and his teammates blinked after hearing the sound of jingling coins and saw Kate pull out a large drawstring bag from her satchel. One that they didn’t remember her having before coming into the city.

“Though are you sure that this isn’t a good place to steal from marks, Scales?” the Sneasel asked. “Since that last ‘mon we ran into was loaded-”

“Kate, put that away!” Lyle hissed. “We’re in a public place!”

Lyle hurriedly shoved the drawstring bag back into Kate’s satchel before leading her and their teammates over a quieter alcove off to the side of the street. After taking a moment to wait and make sure they weren’t being overheard over the sound of the passing traffic, Dalton pinched his brow and let out a low sigh.

“How on earth did you stay alive on your last crew taking stupid risks like that?” he muttered. “Seriously, why didn’t you just go ahead and steal from Graf Wellenhafen while you were at it?”

It was a question that Lyle sometimes wondered himself, even if he already knew the answer: because she was damn good at getting in and out with other ‘mons’ stuff and had teammates to back her up whenever she fell short. She always had an eye for opportunities that Alvin’s brawn and his ability to stay on his toes made achievable, even if part of him wondered if they had been pushing their luck a bit too much lately.

He noticed Irune brushing up against the trunk of a nearby tree and watching the passers-by as their ranks were as thick as ever, including those in the crowd who were passing dressed in various sets of armor. Not all of them in army greens, either.

“Why are all these ‘mons buying armor anyways?” the Axew asked. “Isn’t that just something that’s given out by the army? Who are all these Pokémon?”

“Mostly better-heeled soldiers and mercenaries who are looking for extra protection,” Dalton explained. “The Kingdom’s standard issue armor is built in segments designed to be used across as many Pokémon as possible and only provides so much defense before it gets damaged beyond use. If you want something that better fits you, or has something like a mail layer to make it more durable… this is the sort of place you’d come to in Newangle City to get it.”

Kate shuffled her arms briefly before leaning up against the trunk their tree. She raised a brow, before raising her voice with a wary, questioning tone.

“So… they’ll just sell to anyone with money, then?” she asked. “Since just saying, if we wanted] some armor… we could always get it while we were here.”

Lyle threw a paw over his face and saw Dalton and Irune’s jaws drop. Good gods, he didn’t remember Kate being this slow to quit while she was ahead back in the Foehn Gang. He pinned his ears back and leaned in, tugging at her with an impatient hiss under her breath.

“Kate, we’re not stealing armor on a street filled with Grünhäuter!” he snapped. “We ‘re already lucky that you didn’t get spotted ripping off that Tyranitar earlier!”

“Hey, I just was going to say we could get it, not steal it. I’m not that reckless,” she insisted. “ Besides, we don’t need to steal it in the first place. That Tyranitar was planning on buying stuff from that armorer, so there has to be enough for us to be able to afford something with it.”

Lyle tightened his muzzle into a deepening scowl. Kate had always been a more daring type as an Outlaw, but this was just ridiculous. She seriously expected them to part with a bag that was obviously full of money before they’d even left Arsenal Avenue? Dalton and Irune took the suggestion little better, as Irune flusteredly stumbled over her words and struggled to tamp her voice down as she spluttered in protest.

“H-Huh?!” Irune exclaimed. “But that sort of money would be good enough for-!”

“Us to buy some protection,” the Sneasel insisted. “After everything we’ve been through so far, do you really want to try making it to the Divine Roost without something to give us an edge?”

Lyle blinked for a moment and gave a quiet wince after one of the lingering wounds on his upper back flared up. He ran a paw over it and trailed off in his thoughts. Even if snagging the money off that Tyranitar wasn’t the smartest thing that Kate had ever done… she still had a point with her argument. They’d gotten badly chewed up just going through Primordial Woods. Would having gone through it with even a partial set of cloth armor have really made things worse for them?

And with the way Lacan had tracked them down on what otherwise ought to have been a smooth flight… they were probably going to need to go through a couple other Mystery Dungeons just to get close to one of the Divine Roost’s approaches.

The Quilava briefly worried that Dalton and Irune were going to think that he’d gone mad for even entertaining the idea, but strangely enough, neither of them raised their voices in protest. He looked aside and spotted Irune glancing up at Dalton’s splinted arm, and the Heliolisk doing much the same himself. He and the others had gotten most of their bandages from the night before off by now, but even then, the lingering scrapes and scuffs were there for everyone to see.

There was a moment of relative quiet as Electric-type paused in visible thought, before he shook his head back with a low sigh.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Kate has a point,” Dalton murmured. “The Mystery Dungeons that specifically lead up to the Divine Roost are said to be particularly treacherous. We’d be fools not to try and get any advantage we could before going into them.”

Lyle… wasn’t expecting Dalton to say that. Kate clearly wasn’t either from the dumbfounded look she had on her face. It faded almost as quickly as it came, as the Sneasel cracked a cheeky grin and gave a playful jab at the lizard’s hide.

“Hah, I knew you weren’t a total pill, Scales!” Kate cheered. “How many Outlaws do you see strutting around in sets of-”

Dalton cut her off by brushing her claw aside and shot a stern frown down at her. Was there still something about Kate’s idea he didn’t like?

“But if we have to spend it on this street, we’re not buying armor,” he insisted. “Even if it didn’t make us stand out like sore thumbs in front of all these Grünhäuter, it’d get torn up after enough skirmishes.”

Hrmph, Dalton could’ve just said that it was time to move on, except… for some reason, the Heliolisk didn’t seem like he was in a rush to leave. Was there something else sold here on Arsenal Avenue that he thought would help them? Kate and Irune both looked similarly confused by Dalton’s reaction, with the Axew holding her head at a puzzled tilt in reply.

“But then what are you suggesting we should buy?”

It was a fair question, really. Even if Lyle wouldn’t have been terribly surprised to learn that there were places that made them on this street, it wasn’t as if trying to buy something like a cannon or a dart-thrower would be a better idea even if they could somehow afford one. Looplets, perhaps? But there was no reason to hang around here to get them when one could usually find Looplet crafters within spitting distance of any Guild. He turned back to Dalton, just in time to see the Heliolisk raising a hand and pointing off down the street.

“Something that will last permanently and isn’t sitting on our bodies for the world to see,” Dalton replied.

Lyle followed Dalton’s fingers and noticed he was pointing at a cramped, dingy shopfront with a Rotom and Joltik at a counter that ran along the street. He turned his attention back to the shopkeeps as they inspected a glinting disc that a Clefable handed over. He wasn’t sure what to make of it, before he saw pair pass a small bag of coins over to the Fairy-type before he drifted off, and the Joltik carefully slip the disc into some sort of clear sleeve afterwards before ducking into the shop with it.

Was it a junk shop of some sort? Lyle wasn’t sure how any of the ancient relics or odds and ends that such places peddled would help them. He felt a prod at his shoulder and saw Kate walking ahead with his teammates, motioning with a claw for him to follow.

“Come on, Lyle. Let’s see what this place has got.”

Lyle carried along with his teammates for the cramped shopfront, wondering what on earth about it had caught Dalton’s eye. Lyle looked up and got a better look at the shopfront as they neared. On the signboard over the entrance, there was a painting depicting a cheerful Rotom surrounded by disc-like shapes. Beneath it were runes with the name of the shop—‘Amp’s Augments’.

It suddenly dawned on him: those discs were tay-emms. Or else something like one. Those two Pokémon had parted with a decent amount of coin for that disc, and those were the only ones he could think of that would justify that expense on a street full of armorers.

“Greetings, and welcome to ‘Amp’s Augments’. The fastest Move Tutor this side of Arsenal Avenue,” the Rotom crackled. “Got a technique in mind you’d like to learn today?”

So that’s what Dalton had been getting at! Learning a move was just the sort of leg up they’d need to get through a tougher Mystery Dungeon, and it really would be easier to hide from the passersby on the street.

“... ‘Move Tutor’?”

Lyle peeked over his shoulder at Irune as she blinked puzzledly and eyed the Rotom with a skeptical frown. The Ghost-type was wholly unfazed, and floated up towards with a cheery crackle.

“Surely you’ve all heard of a ‘move tutor’ before? You know, a teacher who helps you pick up moves beyond what your body can naturally learn,” the Rotom explained. “Watt and I run one of the few shops on this street that can get you started with a fresh move in mere minutes!”

Wait, ‘Watt and I’? He turned back towards a set of stairs that headed deeper into the shop just in time to see the Joltik returning from further inside. Did Amp mean to say that he and this ‘Watt’ were the only two Pokémon that worked at this Move Tutor?

Lyle folded his arms and peered down with a dubious frown. Something smelled about this alleged Move Tutor. Discs like tay-emms needed to be interpreted to have any effect and doing so was a feat that only a small number of types of Pokémon could manage on their own.

And last he was aware, Rotom weren’t one of them

Hold on a moment. Why should we believe your tutoring will work again?” Lyle insisted. “I haven’t heard of too many Move Tutors who could teach others from tay-emms that weren’t Porygon.”

“Not without the right tooling anyways,” Amp rebutted. “Pay attention to the Reader on the counter.”

Amp motioned with a tendril off at a case of some sort on their counter as Watt pulled off a cracked sheath made of ancient resin. Underneath was a scuffed, strip-like object that sported a faint, red sigil that looked almost like two comets swirling in on each other and was topped by a cracked circle with worn buttons of some sort.

He thought that the sigil looked familiar, but before he could gather his thoughts, the Rotom slipped into the object. The color of the strip abruptly changed as a layer of electrified plasma settled over its surface. It rose off the counter and into the air as tendrils sprouted from the sides and a pair of eyes popped up over where the circle up top was. Much to Lyle’s surprise, the strip suddenly split wide almost like a jack of some sort, as Amp gave a cheery wave back.

“Convince you enough? Or do I need to also demonstrate that the ‘Beeoh-dah-ten’ Transmitter on this thing is still functional?” he asked.

Lyle stared dumbfounded at the device hovering over the table, staring at it much as if it were an enchanted stone. Kate and Irune similarly looked stupefied while Dalton only seemed mildly fazed by the sight. Had the Heliolisk seen something like this before in the past? If so, what the hell was it?

“Ah! How are you doing that?!” Irune cried.

The ghost in the shell twirled about, and motioned inward with an electrical tendril, closing his eyes with a contented buzz.

“Humans left behind many relics after they vanished in the Great Flash, some of which were specifically built for my kind to indwell and manipulate like this tay-emm reader.”

Lyle didn’t know that there were machines that could do that. Gods, that thing must’ve been as old as the ruins all along the street they were walking on! Lyle turned his head in time to see Dalton blinking and eying the device Amp was indwelling, as he inspected the reader and the comet-like sigil on it closely.

“... How on earth did you two get this?” the Heliolisk asked.

“Family heirloom. Or at least mostly, anyways,” Amp replied. “Though are you really surprised at a tay-emm reader turning up here in a city that’s already full of human relics?”

“They’re not anywhere near as common as they used to be in the days of legend, but readers like these still turn up every now and then. Their pieces that are still usable can be put together into working units like the one Amp’s in right now,” Watt explained. “That’s what keeps us in business competing with the likes of those Porygon which you’re probably are more familiar with.”

The thing must’ve been worth a fortune. Lyle would have had half a mind to just grab the reader and run, but even if they weren’t surrounded by tough fighters, it likely wouldn’t end well. From the way that Amp and Watt handled it, it’d probably break from so much a strong shake. And they wouldn’t exactly be learning any moves without someone who knew how to use it.

Lyle watched as Amp settled the device against the table and clamped it shut, before pulling his orange body from it. The layer of plasma melted away, revealing the battered resin and the swirl-like sigil that had originally been there as the Rotom floated about him and his teammates curiously.

“Satisfied?” the Ghost-type asked. “If so, what sort of services can we provide for you today?”

Lyle blinked for a moment and wasn’t sure how to respond. On the one paw, they were already pushing fate by just lingering here around Arsenal Avenue with that money Kate stole. Though then again, they were right here. He didn’t know how much money Kate had snagged off that Tyranitar, but surely it had to be good for at least one or two of them to learn a move.

… It was hard to argue they didn’t desperately need a leg up for the rest of their journey. And there weren’t many things a ‘mon could buy with ill-gotten gains that were easier to hide than a tutored move. He’d experienced that firsthand from his time in the Foehn Gang, and the Will-O-Wisp he’d learned back then was about the only thing of that time he’d been able to hold on to.

But on the other paw, the going rate for being taught even simple moves from a Move Tutor commonly went over a thousand Carolins. Or two to three times the amount in Poké. Why, they could buy everyone a good set of Wonder Orbs with that sort of money, or some decent Seeds and Wands, or…


Too late. Kate had already thrown the pilfered bag of coins out onto the table and made the decision for everyone. A few gold-colored coins spilled from the sack, leaving Amp and Watt to stare blankly at it, as Kate folded her arms with an impatient click of her tongue.

“That depends. What sort of tutoring can we buy with this?”

Lyle blinked as Watt pawed through the bag and pulled out coin after coin, each sporting a polished shine like they’d been minted just yesterday. Blauflamme, just how much money was in that thing? It just seemed to go on and on, to the point where Dalton gasped briefly and Irune stared at the gleaming baubles with mesmerized awe. Watt seemed taken aback himself, as the Joltik assistant counted up the last few coins with gaping incredulity.

“... Fünftausend
Five thousand
. Th-This is Five thousand Carolins!” the Joltik exclaimed. “How are a bunch of scruffy-looking types like you walking around with this sort of coin?!”

F-Five thousand Carolins?! He’d thought that there was only enough in there for one or two moves to be tutored. Why, this would teach the lot of them anything the Rotom had in stock! Even Hyper Beam if he had the tay-emm on him! That sort of money could’ve taken them through Primordial Woods with a loadout that’d make any team of Hunters blush in embarrassment. Over and over again.

Lyle reflexively raised a paw back to reach across the table and snatch the coins back. There was no way in hell that it made sense to just dump that money into learning moves when they hadn’t even been eating properly. He then heard a wince and turned and spotted Dalton shifting his splinted arm.

Lyle caught himself and let his paw drop back to his side. Right. All the gear in the world didn’t mean anything if they couldn’t actually get through the Mystery Dungeons they needed to go through. The ones that fed directly into the Divine Roost were supposed to be among the most treacherous in Varhyde and Edialeigh. Perhaps in all of Wander. And what if they got into a fight while getting out of Newangle City? Would they really hold up against the local guards just with their present strength?

Amp and Watt were both looking at the lot of them. The Quilava bit his lip, as his words came to his mouth without him even thinking.

“We just have different priorities really,” Lyle insisted. “But you didn’t exactly answer my friend’s question. Prices haven’t exactly been stable lately, so what can we get for all this?”

Amp looked down at the money skeptically, and then back at Team Forager’s members. Lyle pinned his ears back and felt heat flash up along his vents, wondering if the Rotom sensed something was wrong with them. The Ghost-type lingered a bit, before giving a small buzz and taking the bag for himself.

“It should cover at least one move for each of you,” Amp answered. “Maybe more, maybe less. I can cut a bit of a discount if all four of you pay for a session, but it all depends on what you choose to learn.”

That… was honestly relieving to hear. It wasn’t as if they all needed to be tutored something expensive like Hyper Beam... so who knew? Maybe there’d still be a decent chunk of the money left over afterwards. Enough that they could put it towards food and shelter away from prying eyes, or for supplies to get them by in places where it was too dangerous to just steal whatever they needed.

When he looked at it that way, he supposed the way forward was only obvious…

“We’ll do it,” Lyle said. “It’s just… we’d like some time to think over what we’d like to learn, since this isn’t a trivial decision.”

“We’ve got a list of moves that we offer tutoring services for in the waiting room inside,” Watt said. “The weather’s been getting chilly lately, so why not make the decision in a warmer place?”

“Besides, I’d need a quieter environment than this to tutor in anyways,” Amp chimed in. “As soon as you make up your mind inside, we can go ahead and get started.”

The Rotom motioned with a tendril to follow as Watt took the tay-emm reader and resheathed it before propping it on his back and heading inside. Lyle and his companions traded brief glances with one another, before making their way up the steps to the threshold of the shop’s interior. Lyle made it to the top of the steps, before sucking in a breath and stepping forward.

“Alright, let’s see what you’ve got for us to pick from.”

Sophia beat her wings as the wind went passing by through the sunset sky. It always seemed to carry lots of memories during flights like these. Some of them were happy like ones of her flying along with her father during one of those rare snatches of relative peace as she grew up while the world seemed to be spinning apart. And then there were the others that… weren’t.

She tried not to dwell on them too much and focus more on her surroundings. There was the river below, along with the refugee encampments that filled in the closer one got to Newangle City. Up ahead were the city walls, tall stretches of concrete which ringed the city—anchored by ten towers looming at least three times their height. She’d been told while growing up that back in ancient times, those towers housed massive machines that somehow gathered energy from far, far away and turned it into tamed thunder. The same tamed thunder that humans were said to power lights and other pieces of machinery they made. Both in the days of man, and in the early years after the Great Flash.

They had stopped working after Wish and Reality first clashed in their new world, and now over a thousand years later, all that remained of them were their decaying husks. The towers, and of the ramparts that Klaus the Founder had built between them.

“That’s the East Gate just up ahead. We should check its Wehrturm
Defensive tower

Sophia looked left past her wings as a current of air rocked her wings. Lacan pulled forward from using a Tailwind behind her and motioned with his helmeted head at the top of a tower just north of where the Eastern Gate straddled the river. It was part of the fortifications the city’s defenders used, ones that had been built on the ruins of ancient civilizations that nobody fully understood.

Sophia watched as Lacan entered a dive for the tower and followed along. As she neared the Wehrturm and the surrounding walls, every now and then, she would make out spots that had been visibly patched with stone and mortar and others that still sported ancient scorch marks. Scars from battles and sieges past, like the ones that preceded the fabled Sack of Angle City, or from attacks from the Endbringer.

They and the camps full of unfortunates below were stark reminders of why she, Lacan, and the rest of Fähnlein Stärke
“Strength”, used here in German-style naming convention for the name of a military unit.
couldn’t afford to fail. Of why their mission couldn’t afford to fail. No matter what it took for them to secure its success.

The empty air quickly ended as Sophia watched her shadow fall over the top of the wall and its parapets. She saw Lacan come to a stop on an open stretch cleared for landing fliers, and beat her wings to brake in the air as she came to a perching stop beside him. As usual, Lacan didn’t waste any time seeking someone out, and promptly stomped forward towards a group of guards centered around a Toucannon who were lazing about playing a game with those picture cards that were popular among the commonfolk. A game came to a swift end as Lacan spat a gout of blue dragonfire just over their heads and scattered the group with a chorus of sharp yelps.

“For gods’ sake, get off your feet and at least try to look alert!”

Sophia quietly grimaced as the Toucannon and the other soldiers got up with sour glares leveled in their direction. Ones that swiftly slid off their faces at the sight of the armored Salamence and his wings spread wide. She supposed that was one way to tell that Lacan had was stressed right now. While the Salamence had a bit of a temper at times, she didn’t remember it normally coming out this quickly.

“Who on earth is in charge of this Wehrturm?” the Dragon-type demanded. “There is an urgent matter that requires him to be immediately briefed.”

“You mean ‘requires her to be immediately briefed’.”

Clawed footsteps against stone tiles rang out as an Empoleon in green plates entered from the left of Sophia’s vision—a Hauptmann based on the design on her scarf. The Empoleon approached and glanced between her and Lacan, before turning the corners of her beak down into dubious frown.

“Though it’s usually me who’s questioning Pokémon that pass through here,” she said, quietly sizing up Lacan’s scarf. “You’re certainly far from the frontlines… Oberst Brutalanda. Who are you two and why are you here harassing my subordinates during their break?”

“That would be Graf Wellenhafen, Impoleon
,” the Salamence tersely answered. “I need to know the passengers of so much as every dinghy that went through the East Gate’s river entrance today.”

The Empoleon’s mouth hung open along with a furrowed brow. That… was probably a sign that she and Lacan needed to take a few steps back and explain things a bit more.

“Apologies for any inconvenience we may be causing you and your subordinates, Frau Hauptmann. But we’re here in pursuit of a group of fugitives wanted for crimes against His Majesty’s realm,” Sophia explained. “We have reason to believe they may have passed through your gate.”

The Empoleon’s expression didn’t change and she briefly started to speak only to catch herself. Probably words that the Empoleon thought better of in light of her and Lacan’s relative rank. Sophia raised a wing for attention, only for the Water-type to cut her off with a shake of her head and a quiet scoff.

“I’m sorry, but why are you two carrying out the duties of common Gendarmen on the home front?” the Empoleon demanded. “Does His Majesty’s army have nothing better to do with its Stabsoffiziere these days?”

“Normally it would, but these are unusual circumstances, Frau Impoleon.”

Sophia shifted a satchel off her shoulder and began to root about it with her beak, before settling on a wad of wanted posters that she raised up for the Empoleon to take. The Empoleon briefly studied them as Sophia returned her beak into her satchel and fetched the envelope which contained their royal commission signed by King Siegmund—one which had grown creased from the number of times she’d had to produce it on her and Lacan’s behalf over the past year. After finding it, she passed it along afterwards to the Hauptmann, as Lacan let out a low, impatient rumble from the back of his throat.

“If this was a matter that could be entrusted to local Gendarmen, I assure you, His Majesty would’ve done so long ago.”

The Empoleon opened the envelope and began to read the letter inside. The routine had become almost predictable for Sophia by now. The reader would go down the lines of runes with a skeptical frown or some similar reaction, which would linger until reaching the signature and pawprint of King Siegmund himself at the bottom.

And the Empoleon, like so many others before her, widened her eyes briefly at the sight. She hesitated and folded the letter back up, before turning back to the Toucannon among the roused guards just off to their right.

Soldat Tilo, go and review the logbooks of the East Gate’s entrances,” she ordered. “There’s only so many parties that come in with Axew, and if any of the other three were with her, they’ll surely make hers stand out.”

The Toucannon hastily saluted by putting a wing over his armored chest before vaulting off the ledge of the wall and entering a dive. Sophia supposed that one way or another, they wouldn’t be kept waiting for an answer for long. The Empoleon approached Lacan and began to talk as Sophia’s attention drifted off towards the sprawling city off on the other side of the walls—towards a veritable thicket of wooden and thatched roofs nestled in and among ruins of the past. Ones which towered above them like rocks above a shallow sea.

The Corvisquire quietly sucked in a breath and set her beak on edge. If the Dyad and her companions had come here through that raft, this would be where they were spotted first. But… who was to say that they just showed themselves at the gate? Someone had apparently smuggled them into Moonturn Square and she’d only learned of their presence thanks to the four being spotted after a series of clumsy attempts to steal from the townsfolk.

… What if it happened again? Sophia wasn’t sure if four regiments could find the Dyad in that maze of buildings, let alone their Fähnlein’s roughly four hundred troops that were presently able-bodied. The Corvisquire turned away, just in time for her to notice the Empoleon brushing at one of her plates and skeptically frowning at Lacan.

“Though, if I may go ahead and ask, Graf Wellenhafen, but what on earth is going on here?” the Water-type asked. “It may have been a while since I was last deployed for frontline combat, but you can’t expect me to believe that His Majesty would seriously be this concerned over a band of four Outlaws.”

“That is a matter that doesn’t concern you,” Lacan harrumphed back, narrowing his eyes. “His Majesty deemed apprehending those four a matter of utmost importance, and that should be more than sufficient to justify a simple log check.”

The Empoleon shot a sharp scowl back in response. Sophia supposed the pair’s reactions to each other were only understandable. It was always a frustrating experience whenever her own curiosity was brusquely rejected by a superior like they were doing to this Hauptmann. At the same time, it was hard to fault Lacan for being short of patience after their recent ordeals.

There was just always a part of her that felt uncomfortable seeing him like this. It felt so jarring when thinking back to those days when they were both young together in her hometown…

She supposed they had greater concerns at the moment. The Corvisquire hastily stepped forward and cut in with a wing. She turned to the Empoleon, and lowered her head with an apologetic bow.

“As I’m sure you’re well aware, Frau Impoleon, but the Founder himself was recorded as saying that there are circumstances where some truths must be kept hidden due of the needs of reality,” she explained. “I wish that we could be more frank with you about our mission, but this is one of those circumstances where it’d be negligent of us to not heed that ancient wisdom.”

The Empoleon shot a sidelong glance in return but otherwise kept quiet. Probably the best that could be hoped for, really. The Water-type seemed to be weighing whether or not to press further, when the sound of hurried wingbeats rang out. Sophia turned her head for the outer edge of the city wall, where the Toucannon from earlier was flying up from below onto the wall’s ledge, panting for breath.

Hauptmann Gulkin, those thieves are there in the logbook!” the Toucannon cried.

Sophia beat her wings out subconsciously and fought back a startled caw. Everyone’s eyes fell on the flustered Toucannon, who hurriedly gave a salute over his heart before speaking up.

“They passed through as passengers on a raft that went through Berth #5 of the East Gate four hours ago,” he explained. “Same scarf patterns that you reported and everything!”

Sophia’s heart skipped a beat as she turned over to Lacan. At once, a tense, dangerous look settled over the Salamence’s face, and he turned over to Hauptmann Gulkin with an impatient cock of his head out toward the city.

“Then we will be in need of your subordinates’ aid to find them, Frau Hauptmann,” Lacan said. “Pass word along to them and to your superiors that these posters are to be copied and distributed. And that your forces should make themselves available to take direction from ‘Fähnlein Stärke’ for this search effective immediately.”

The Empoleon paused and blinked in reply, and for a moment, Sophia thought that she would have to step in again and try and assuage Gulkin’s pride. Except, the Water-type seemed to have a flash of realization come over her eyes, as she grabbed at a satchel about her shoulder.

“... Wait a minute, did you say ‘Fähnlein Stärke’?”

… She’d already heard of them before? Sophia felt a twinge of unease come over her. Fähnlein Stärke was a phantom which, outside of their royal commission, existed only in records deep within the Generalstab. Ones which would be sealed away if not outright destroyed after their mission was complete. Their pursuit of the Dyad hadn’t ever taken them to the royal capital in the past year, so how on earth did Gulkin already know of it?

“Yes, I realize that it’s a bit unusual for Pokémon of our rank to be directing such a small unit,” the Corvisquire started. “But-”

“Because if so, we’ll go ahead and start looking for those Pokémon like you asked, but we can’t take orders from you. Or at least not just yet,” the Empoleon explained. “I received a directive from the Hofstaat itself three days ago that if any Pokémon of Stabsoffizier rank from Fähnlein Stärke arrived at the gates or walls, that I was to inform them to appear before His Majesty for a summons.”

The Empoleon pulled out an envelope of her own and pulled out its letter, unfurling it between her flippers to read. Sophia stepped forward and at once saw the same signature and pawprint on it at the bottom, along with row after row of runes above them. Ones that as she read them to herself, made her face twist into a deepening grimace.

“I don’t suppose His Majesty said when the summons was supposed to happen after we arrived?” Lacan asked. “Since this really is a matter that-”

“It says to come immediately upon receiving notice, Lacan.”

She pointed out the last few runes towards the bottom of the paper for her Salamence companion, just above the signature and stamp. She watched as his own eyes went back and forth reading the lines. Their movements grew slower, as the reason for the summons had been spelled out as clear as day:

King Siegmund received their correspondence after they’d captured the Dyad earlier this week, and he wanted to know why they hadn’t brought her before him since then.

Sophia traded a nervous glance over at Lacan, who appeared to be on edge himself. His wings were held low, as he looked aside and screwed his eyes shut with a tired sigh.


Author’s Notes

Words and Phrases:

1. Shardragos Suppen - “Druddigon’s Soups”
2. Guten Tag - “Hello” / “Good day”
3. Despotar - “Tyranitar”
4. Fünftausend - “Five thousand”
5. Wehrturm - “Defensive tower”
6. Stärke - “Strength”, used here in German-style naming convention for the name of a military unit.
7. Impoleon - “Empoleon”
8. Wunderbar - “Wonderful”


D1. “Dankeschön, kommen Sie wieder!” - “Thank you, come again!”
D2. “Du brauchst nicht so nervös zu sein, mein Kind. Was auch immer deine Bedenken gegenüber deinen früheren Freunden sind, ich bin mir sicher, dass du hier bessere finden wirst. Dies ist schließlich dein Zuhause!” - "Don’t be so nervous, my child. Whatever your misgivings about your past friends, I’m sure you’ll find better ones here. This is your home, after all!"
D3. “Ich bin der Glutexo, und ich möchte eine Suppe bestellen.” - “I am the Charmeleon, and I’d like to order a soup.”

Teaser Text:

Even when dwelling in shared lands and while speaking shared tongues, we Pokémon are creatures that come in forms and kinds that can seem as uncountable as stars in the sky. And yet, for all our differences, we share a common thread—an ability to wield the powers of the world that we live in.

Why that is so remains shrouded in myth and folklore among Wilder and Civil alike, with some saying that our strength echoes the might of our gods. That whether great or small, mighty or feeble, that we all carry flickers of an infiniteᵃ energy with boundless potential. This energy has gone by many names through the ages, which we know in the present day as “Ether”.

Possessing a body imbued with ether is the mark which distinguishes Pokémon from other life in our world, which often hides potential beyond what comes naturally or intuitively to us. And yet, we know from our records and folklore that it is possible to have the wisdom to manipulate this power even without being able to wield it by oneself.

It is said that in their twilight years, humans developed a great proficiency at manipulating the ether of Pokémon. Glimpses of this wisdom and the wonders that were worked because of it can be seen through the tay-emmsᵇ and fow-emmsᶜ which have survived to this day. Strange relics that, with an appropriate Move Tutor, can leave a greater impact on the ether of a Pokémon’s body than weeks of tutoring through rote repetition.

What else humans were capable of through manipulating such power, we know not beyond muddled and conflicting tales of fantastical machines and great radiances. Though based on the tales of the other wonders that mankind accomplished, it seems safe to conclude that were it not for the Great Flash, they surely could have transformed themselves into something so much more.ᵈ

- Excerpt of ‘The Royal Lexicon of Sciences and Arts

a. Semantic translation. A more literal one would be “endless”, with the “endless energy” in the original text alluding to the same concept as “infinite energy” does here.
b. Derived by phonetic approximation of the original letters.
c. Derived by phonetic approximation of the original letters.
d. Semantic translation. A more literal one for the portion following the Great Flash would be roughly “they surely could have become something much greater”.
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Well it looks like both sides of this game of cat and mouse are in trouble now, which is, I suppose, only fair.

From Dalton's description the army basically hands out Munitions Armour as standard kit, which (combined with a few other things)has me wondering if the setting is to some extent inspired by the Thirty Years War?

In any case, there's nothing quite like getting to a new town and picking up some new equipment and/or spells.

A grammer error to note:

on behalf of her and Lacan’s behalf over the past year.
Should be either "on behalf of her and Lacan over the past year. " or "on her and Lacan's behalf over the past year."

The ghost in the shell


Edit: Somehow this got deleted, but I appreciate how our protagonists aren't Mystery Dungeon's answer to Professor Moriarty but just skilled crooks who mess up and barely escape each time.
Heya, looks like there’s a review this time around, so in grand tradition, I’ll be replying to it before kicking things off with the next update.

Well it looks like both sides of this game of cat and mouse are in trouble now, which is, I suppose, only fair.

And a handy way of getting a glimpse at what things look like from the antagonists’ end of things. :V

From Dalton's description the army basically hands out Munitions Armour as standard kit, which (combined with a few other things)has me wondering if the setting is to some extent inspired by the Thirty Years War?

It’s more of an anachronistic grab bag, which is just as well since there’s literally decaying “twenty minutes into the future” skyscrapers lying around. For instance, you would almost certainly not see mention of a ‘Generalstab’ in the Germanosphere during the Thirty Years War, but that region’s pre-Westphalian era did factor in quite a bit for some of the setting flavor and inspiration.

In any case, there's nothing quite like getting to a new town and picking up some new equipment and/or spells.

And what a town it is. This one will have a bit of a longer stay than normal since: A: It’s functionally several towns in one, B: there’s a specific moment that this story has been building towards that’s due to happen within a few updates down the pipe.

Should be either "on behalf of her and Lacan over the past year. " or "on her and Lacan's behalf over the past year."

Fixed, thanks for pointing that out.

Edit: Somehow this got deleted, but I appreciate how our protagonists aren't Mystery Dungeon's answer to Professor Moriarty but just skilled crooks who mess up and barely escape each time.

Yeah, one of the major goals doing all the way back this story’s inception phase was to do something centered around “basic, average Outlaws”, sounds like things have been landing decently well on that front. ^^

And while it was a bit late thanks to a mix of holidays and real life messing up my beta reading pipeline, I’m here with the last update of 2023, and most likely the last until the end of Review Blitz on Thousand Roads this year. Maybe. I technically do have the chapter after in a mostly-complete state, so it’s not impossible that I could squeeze another update out during it, even if I’m not really expecting it. As those of you who paid attention to the first post likely noticed, I also put up some goodies prior to getting this update up, including a smattering of some character arc, and some flavor titles of the rough arcs in this story that may or may not be familiar to you depending on how tuned-in you are to the non-Pokémon side of this story’s meta.

But enough chatter, let’s get to the real reason why you’re all here:
Chapter 21 - Bygones

Neuengelstadt, 15. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.

Für wen es angeht,

Durch königlichen Erlass von König Siegmund von Wahrheit wird der Empfänger dieses Briefes hiermit angewiesen, alle Untergebenen unter seinem Kommando anzuweisen, für die Ankunft etwaiger Truppen der Fähnlein-Stärke der Armee Seiner Majestät bereitzustellen und die Nachricht von deren Ankunft unverzüglich seiner Majestät und sein Generalstab zu übermitteln.

Alle Vertreter von Fähnlein Stärke aus den Mannschaftsrängen müssen an den Toren gehalten werden und dem Generalstab seiner Majestät mitgeteilt werden, dass dieser einen Abgesandten entsenden soll, um sie zu treffen und alle Neuigkeiten und Erkenntnisse in einer sicheren Umgebung zu besprechen. Sollte ein Vertreter im Rang eines Stabsoffiziers vor Ihren Toren erscheinen, müssen Sie ihn oder sie anweisen, mit sofortiger Wirkung in seiner Residenz im Heldenschloss vor seiner Hoheit zu einer königlichen Audienz zu erscheinen.

Sie müssen allen Anfragen, die diese Vertreter bei Ihrer Ankunft an Sie stellen und die sich nicht auf ihre Vorladung beziehen, nicht nachkommen. Ihre Angelegenheiten von Fähnlein Stärke beziehen sich auf Angelegenheiten, die die Sicherheit des Reiches und seine Kriegsanstrengungen betreffen, und es sollte davon ausgegangen werden, dass sie den Segen seiner Majestät haben.

Jeder Versuch, den Erlass seiner Majestät zu behindern, wird als Insubordination gegenüber der königlichen Armee behandelt und dementsprechend bestraft.

- Dringende Depesche vom König von Wahrheit, Siegmund Wieshus, weitergeleitet an die Wehrturmhauptmänner der Neuengelstädter Mauern

High in the skies above Newangle City, Lacan banked around the Administrative District’s spires. He watched as his shadow danced from one tower’s cladding to another, all awash with the orange, sunset hues that looked almost like he’d painted them himself.

Being in the air was always a soothing experience for him, as the world below always seemed so far away, and even the fiercest foes and strongest ramparts seemed conquerable. He knew all too well that such feelings were often mere illusions. Even if he’d been told before that his strength was the envy of many a Pokémon of his rank in the army, he had lived experience and battle scars to prove that his power still had limits.

… Not that there was hardly any harm indulging one’s follies from time to time. Gods knew that he hadn’t had many opportunities to do so in recent years.

He turned his eyes towards the rooftops of the white-and-gray cladded towers and watched as countless figures teemed about on them. There were the garrisons for the Air Marshals and flightworthy soldiers, the first line of defense against any aerial assaults. There were the quarters for various nobles, residences which were maintained among the spires for when they were summoned by the crown. And of course, there were the rooftop shrines that had been set aside as roosts for visiting gods, including the one at the very top of Dämmerungsturm that had been built where the Founder and his patron goddess had once roosted. It housed the great eternal flame that Reshiram herself first stoked which was revealed to the world every night after its sliding shutters were moved away. A great sanctuary whose interior was said to have drawn inspiration from the Divine Roost itself for its layout…

And if all went well, soon enough, it’d be filled once again with awed and worshipful pilgrims.

The Salamence trailed off in his thoughts and sighed, when he realized his surroundings were strangely quiet beyond the sound of winds gusting past his ears. He braked in the air, and glanced back with a worried murmur.

“... Sophia?”

Lacan turned his body around just in time to spot his Corvisquire Obertsleutnant rounding around a broad tower just to the northeast, one which was a good distance behind him. A part of him felt a small pang of guilt. He supposed he should’ve expected that Sophia’s armor would encumber her more as a smaller Pokémon.

He dove down and banked to fly through a gap in the broad tower, glimpsing up at a ceiling with exposed metal beams above him. Even here, directly beneath Agarezpalast
Agarez’s Palace
₁, the traditional residence of Varhyde’s kings up until the reign of King Sansa, which was somewhere on the topmost roof above him, there were lingering scars from past wars. Some of the broader towers in Newangle City had holes punched into them like this one, while others had sections which were abruptly shorn off. Some through the ravages of time, some all at once from cataclysms like the Sack of Angle City, the name by which the Kingdom’s throne had been called when it happened.

And like in so much of Varhyde, there were newer scars left behind from things going unmaintained due to the needs of the war. There were segments of the towers that were missing chunks of cladding which had been dislodged by the elements, and others had grown stained and discolored. Supposedly in times of peace such as the golden years of King Sansa’s reign, the crown had the resources to repair and replace such segments to make sure that the towers’ appearances stayed smartly maintained, like giant Bildstöcke for the land’s patron goddess…

But those peaceful days were long over, and it would be obscene to indulge in such extravagances with the Kingdom’s present state. Why, with the circumstances that King Siegmund ascended to the throne in, Lacan doubted the King would dream of a gesture that would risk rankling the commoners after they had been asked to risk and sacrifice so much.

After popping out the other end of the tower’s hole, Lacan spotted Sophia off to his left. He beat his wings and came up behind her, and batted his wings out as he neared. A stiff Tailwind kicked up between them, the wind ruffling the crow’s feathers and making her glance back with a startled turn of her head.

“If you need a helping claw, don’t be afraid to ask for it, Sophia,” he insisted. “I wouldn’t dream of denying it to you.”

The Corvisquire remained silent. Was something troubling her? He knew that Sophia had been prone to melancholy spells for some years, but he didn’t think that she’d been going through one of them recently…

The Salamence pulled alongside her and slowed his pace and turned a worried gaze over to his companion. She didn’t say anything in reply other than to keep her attention trained on the passing towers ahead of them, before finally giving a quiet murmur in reply.

“Lacan, you don’t need to watch over me like some fledgling. Lend your strength to those who need it more,” Sophia insisted. “My wounds healed much longer ago than your own, and the last time I was assessed by a physician, I was told I won’t be a Corvisquire for much longer.”

Lacan reflexively opened his mouth to protest. To remind Sophia that the entire reason why she still trailed him in strength to such an extent when they’d shared most of their childhoods with each other was because of those injuries she’d sustained in battle. It had taken her three years after suffering them to recover to the point where she could fight again. And if it wasn’t for those own injuries of his he’d endured that gotten him sent home while they were last deployed, she’d-

No. Lacan didn’t want to think about what would’ve happened if he wasn’t there to shield her during that ambush. He had always felt guilty for not being able to be there at her side in that dark time when she was still recovering from her wounds. Perhaps it was part of the reason why she was still suffering from those melancholy spells she’d had since her parents died.

Gods forbid Sophia had actually died on either of those occasions. Lacan didn’t know what he’d have done afterwards if she had, and he prayed he’d never have to find out the answer to that question.

“There’s nobody else for me to look after right now, Sophia. And it’s important that you remember to care for your own interests from time to time,” Lacan reminded. “I understand that your Ritterorden trained you about the importance of self-sacrifice, but it’s important not to give up more than you can shoulder.”

“... That is merely part of my duties as a Ritterin, Lacan,” the Corvisquire said. “You should know this.”

An uncomfortable silence came over the pair as they pulled up along the length of Dämmerungsturm. Sophia always had been willing to sacrifice for others and try and offer what comfort she could, to the point Lacan had sometimes wondered if the fates had intended for her to be a Kaplan
₃ instead of a Ritterin.

It was that part of her that Lacan that quietly dreaded would one day claim her life.

It was part of the reason why he’d volunteered to take charge of Operation Spark in the first place after he was forced back to Varhyde a little over two years ago to recover from his own wounds he’d taken shielding Sophia in battle. A chance, however slim, that the war could finally be ended swiftly, that the fears of generations of Pokémon in Varhyde could finally be laid to rest.

Along with their much-denied yearnings for vengeance.

A flash of autumn colors crossed his eyes as the terraced gardens came into view up ahead on the southern face of Dämmerungsturm. That was their destination, Heldenschloss
Heroes’ Palace/(Unfortified) Castle
₂. A palace that prior to King Sansa also moving Varhyde’s kings into it, had been a domain set aside as a residence of the Heroes of the land’s patron goddess—not that there were any Pokémon who were still alive to claim the title.

Many centuries ago, the terrace had been a sloped roof, only to be laid waste by the thunder of Edialeigh’s patron god during war. Through determination and force of will, the scarred portion of the tower had since been rebuilt into the leafy terrace that was there today. With the way it stood out against the tower’s white and gray cladding, it provided an easy marker during daylight hours for fliers to spot the King’s residence.

Even if the air was a bit chilly, he could see what compelled their forebears to not just abandon the place.

Except, there was only so much that he could enjoy the sights with King Siegmund’s summons lingering at the back of his mind. It was the law of the land that any Pokémon who held a noble title had to present himself as soon as physically possible upon being summoned by the reigning monarch, and as a Graf, he was no exception to it. He already had an idea of what it would be about: King Siegmund surely wanted an explanation for why the Dyad was still not in his presence.

Lacan just hoped that that last minute turn of fate against him just outside Moonturn Square hadn’t worn out His Majesty’s patience.

“We’re here, Sophia,” he said. “Mind the crosswinds while landing.”

Lacan banked and swooped towards the gardens as Sophia followed him. There, the lowest level of the terrace had a paved space of gray brickwork along the tower’s edge, with markers pointing out directions for fliers and those who carried along air carriages used by some local nobles to safely land without running into each another.

The Salamence came to a jogging stop along the rooftop plaza, beating his wings to slow himself as the pair’s arrival made other nearby fliers and Pokémon tending to air carriages to turn and gape briefly. He paid their prying eyes no heed and made his way up to the gates leading into the terrace’s gardens, where a Haxorus and Raichu in green plates stood watch alongside a small party of their peers. The pair stiffened up and stood at attention after seeing him approach, and hurriedly stepped out into his path as the Haxorus reared up with a startled huff.

“H-Hold it! This is the main gate to Heldenschloss!” the Haxorus protested. “This is the King’s palace! You can’t just barge in here!”

Gods above, he did not need to deal with this right now. Lacan narrowed his eyes in reply, as a low, irritated growl rose from his throat.

“Are you blind?” the Salamence snapped. “Or do His Highness’ honor guards no longer receive training in identifying basic military ranks these days?”

The Haxorus seemed to grow spooked and wavered briefly, before the Raichu of the pair stepped up. The Electric-type studied his scarf briefly, before pointing a paw up at his face with a sparking snort.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re an Oberst, big whoop. ‘mons with your rank aren’t that rare,” the Raichu scoffed. “Look, just because you’re a bit up there in the army doesn’t mean you’re allowed to just swoop in without-”

“I’m afraid that things are a bit more complicated than that, Herr Raichu.”

Lacan turned just in time to see Sophia shuffle a satchel off her back and fish through it with her beak to pull out their royal commission along with their summons. The Haxorus took the papers and glanced at them before swiftly blanching. The Raichu glanced up at his taller and bulkier companion with a puzzled blink, then back at the Salamence as he narrowed his eyes into a piercing glare back at the two guards.

“That would be Oberst im Generalstab
“on the General Staff”, a traditional appending to the rank of a military officer with membership in such a body in a Germanosphere army, especially in Prussia.
₄, you impudent rat,” Lacan growled. “I believe that those papers should speak for themselves, though please do go on and tell me how King Siegmund doesn’t have time to meet with me. I’m sure he’ll be just thrilled to hear about how you interfered with one of his summons.”

The color quickly drained from the guards’ faces as their peers quickly backed away, leaving the pair to squirm under Lacan’s gaze. Lacan had supposed he’d heard tha King Siegmund’s conscientiousness for his realm’s war effort had prompted him to choose less accomplished guards for otherwise ceremonial duties such as his honor guard. Perhaps he’d been a bit too much so from the way these Pokémon were reacting to being caught off-guard like this.

“R-Raimond, why does nobody ever tell us about these-?” the Haxorus of the pair whined. “I-I mean, m-my apologies, Herr Brutalanda-”

“That’s Herr Graf von Wellenhafen to you, Haxorus,” Lacan snarled. “Now both of you, stop wasting our time and let us through!”

The Raichu blinked and turned his gaze between him and Sophia before Lacan stepped forward and loomed over the guard. He let hot, impatient breaths out between his teeth, which at once made the Electric-type look up, and stiffen up with a startled squeak.

“Y-Yes, Herr Graf! We’ll see you to him right away!” the Raichu squeaked. “B-But… uh… as for your Corvisquire companion…”

“She will be attending as well given that the summons was directed to all Pokémon from my Fähnlein of Stabsofficier rank,” Lacan harrumphed. “Now, are you two going to bring us along, or am I going to need to see ourselves in?”

The two guards audibly gulped, the Haxorus subconsciously shrinking back as the Raichu stepped forward and motioned for the Salamence to follow after them.

“R-Right this way, Herr Graf,” the Raichu insisted. “It’s just a short walk to His Majesty’s quarters from here.”

Finally. Lacan just hoped that the welcome they’d received wasn’t a portent for how their audience with King Siegmund was going to go.

“I’ll say, I wasn’t expecting you to want to be tutored this move of all things.”

Lyle let his eyes drift around and take in his surroundings. He was in a chamber with thick, bare concrete walls and a circular aperture where a heavy door apparently had once been. Tubes of ancient resin hanging from the ceiling that had been filled with Luminous Moss bathed the space in cool blue light. He certainly didn’t expect there’d be something like this just off the street from a city street as crowded as Arsenal Avenue, perhaps it was once an armory or some sort of treasure room?

Whatever this place used to be, the Rotom and the Joltik were putting it to other purposes these days. On either end of a wooden block sitting in the center were simple, large wooden stools to sit on. Ones which in spite of their construction looked sturdy enough to hold even the likes of Sheriff Mack on them. Off on the end of the chamber opposite from the circular entrance, there were lanes in front of sandbags heaped up against the wall, along with what looked like dolls of Pokémon sitting in front of them. If they were anything like the last Move Tutor Lyle had visited, they were Substitutes, likely bought off a more enterprising Ditto judging from their sheer variety of forms.

That time, he’d been tutored Will-O-Wisp by a Porygon who ran a shop not too different from this one. It should’ve been a happy moment for him, especially since he was spitting fire hot enough to burn consistently in a matter of days afterwards. Except, that moment had come back in those awkward first weeks after he was thrown out of his family’s home and had to turn his fellows on the Foehn Gang to take their place.

“Quilava, are you alright? You’re kinda spacing out right now.”

Lyle blinked and snapped back to attention to see Watt giving him a sidelong glance. Right, those two had a business to run and he and the rest of Team Forager needed to make this tutoring quick if they were going to make it to those marketplaces across the river.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he told the Joltik. “It’s just that the last time I was tutored through a tay-emm, it was a bit disorienting.”

“Well, it is a bit of a surprise to discover the powers that slumber within one’s natural Ether,” Amp explained. “But if you’ve already been tutored once before in this fashion, you’ll probably find this session a bit easier.”

… “Ether”? Lyle vaguely remembered the Porygon also mentioning something about it when he was learning Will-O-Wisp. He knew he’d heard the term for medicines like those Max Elixirs that Pokémon sometimes drank when they were feeling worn down, though one of his old comrades had explained that it was also technical jargon among Move Tutors for the energy within Pokémon that allowed him to do things like wield his fire in battle.

Maybe it’d make sense to ask Dalton after this if the two were related somehow. That had to be something that Pokémon would learn about in a university, right?

A loud crackle rang out, as Lyle briefly caught the Rotom diving into the tay-emm reader. Like out on the table outside, the device took on its orange sheen before Amp sprang it open. Except, Watt wasn’t there on the wooden block anymore.

The Ghost-type floated in place for a moment, as scuttling and shuffling came from the floor. Lyle peered over the block, just in time to see Amp’s Joltik assistant coming back with an orange disc in a cracked sleeve made of ancient resin with a few lines of faded runes on it. It was in a strange script he couldn’t read, except it looked vaguely familiar to the strange runes they’d seen in Team Pathfinder’s handbook. The Joltik set the sleeve down on the wooden block and turned his attention to four particularly large runes near its top. There was a moment of silence, before the Joltik glanced up to meet Lyle’s gaze.

“You’re sure you want to learn this move, right?” Watt asked. “Since if my memory serves me right, your kind normally learns this move naturally not long after evolution. I mean, the customer’s always right in the end, but we can’t exactly refund a move tutoring service if you’re not satisfied with the result.”

Lyle paused briefly and thought the matter over. Most of the tay-emms that Amp and Watt said he’d be able to pick up hadn’t sounded that impressive. He supposed there was that Wild Charge tay-emm they had, but using that technique that was supposed to hurt its user in the process. He considered Brick Break for a while since it would’ve certainly helped in fights like the one with that damned Tyrantrum, but with his stubby Quilava arms and a fighting style he’d practiced for years that worked best bobbing and weaving away from his foes… he decided to stick with strengthening the skills he had.

After all, it wasn’t like evolving was going to be some magical cure-all for his life right now…

“I’ll have bigger problems to worry about after evolving than when I pick up a move or two,” the Quilava grunted. “I might as well get some extra practice in while life’s still less complicated.”

Watt cocked a brow curiously, before Amp raised a tendril to cut him off. A faint click rang out as a metallic cord telescoped out from under the sheath of the device Amp was indwelling. Lyle blinked and stared puzzledly for a moment. He opened his mouth to ask what the cord was, before the Rotom raised a tendril and gave a brief, buzzing chirp in reply.

“As you said earlier, Watt. The customer’s always right. No sense in questioning something he’s got his mind set on,” Amp remarked. “Though let’s get right to things, Quilava. Just keep your eyes focused on the light. The tutoring process will only take a minute.”

“Literally,” Watt chimed in. “It takes about a minute for a tay-emm to imprint on a Pokémon’s Ether and alter it. So sit tight and stay focused.”

Lyle breathed in to calm himself and watched as Watt slid the disc into the reader Amp was indwelling. The Move Tutor leveled the reader out against the wooden block and gave the orange plate a tentative spin, before stopping to poke his head out from the reader’s confines.

“Just try not to blink too much while it’s reading,” the Rotom remarked. “I assume you already had it explained to you last time, but for this process to work optimally, your eyes need to be open.”

Amp slipped back into the reader as it spun to life and the tip of the cord took on a white light as it shone into Lyle’s eyes. Lyle fought every urge in his body to try and close them, instead keeping his attention trained firmly into the eerie light, as it blinked and strobed.

It really was like the time he picked up Will-O-Wisp. He thought back to the day when he’d learned it, just after helping to fence their loot with Boss Gunther from one of the first jobs they’d done after getting kicked out from his home. Alvin had noticed his mood and helped spot him a few ill-gotten gains so that his stash could buy it. He insisted that “family is who looks out for you” and that there would be plenty of times for Lyle to pay things forward with his new move.

… Not that there’d be any more chances to do so. Not while Alvin was likely about to be dragged aboard some gods-forsaken ship to be deployed across the sea, if he wasn’t out on the water already.

The light abruptly vanished and things went dark. Lyle pinned his ears back and blinked to adjust his eyes to the change in lighting, watching as the disc in the tay-emm reader slowed to a stop. Amp clamped the reader shut and something seemed to loosen inside as Watt was able to remove the disc smoothly out. The reader then lost its orange color as the Rotom pulled himself free and floated into the air, zipping around Lyle’s head with a curious buzz.

“Well? Aren’t you going to try out your new move, Quilava? Go on, light up those Substitutes over there!”

Lyle turned as Amp pointed off with a tendril at a few things that looked vaguely like dolls of various Pokémon, including one that, much to Lyle’s annoyance, looked like a small, somewhat misshapen Floatzel. From the looks of how torn up the sandbags behind them were, he supposed that was one way to tell that the Rotom wasn’t just some huckster who parted fools with their money.

Lyle shuffled off his seat and made his way over to a set of markers drawn onto the ground opposite the Floatzel Substitute and tried to clear his head. He thought back to when his father had helped his mother first practice Flamethrower herself. He’d said the trick behind it was a deep breath out, forceful like blowing glass for a bigger vessel like a pitcher, but with a sustained breath that kept the fire fed with air the entire time..

It sounded simple enough, except for the fact that Lyle hadn’t blown through a glassblowing pipe in over three years. Still, it wasn’t as if he’d completely forgotten everything he’d learned, so it at least ought to help…

There was only one way to know for sure.

Lyle sucked in a sharp breath and felt the fire in his belly dance, hotter and stronger than he’d expected it to. He curled his mouth as if he were blowing through a pipe and breathed out. At once, a brilliant column of fire spewed out from between his lips towards the Floatzel Substitute as it bowled over and began to waver and deform in the fire.

H-He was doing it! Blauflamme, he was really doing it-!”

His breath suddenly hitched and he felt his innards abruptly flare up much like times when he accidentally swallowed his Embers. The Quilava’s eyes shot wide and he bowled over, coughing and wheezing as a few puffs of smoke came from his muzzle. He reared up, breathing in and out, pawing at his throat with a quiet groan as a crackling cheer alerted him to Amp approaching him from behind.

“Hey! Six seconds! Not bad at all for a first attempt!” the Rotom insisted. “The way you kept the fire coming out consistently was pretty impressive, too! Have you been practicing to learn this move?”

There was an awkward silence between the two. Lyle supposed that in a way, he had been practicing for it through the glassblowing techniques his parents taught him. Even if he didn’t want to think about it too much, much less mention it to a stranger.

“No, I hadn’t,” he replied. “I haven’t gotten a chance to train for new moves in years.”

Lyle headed off past Amp and Watt, and didn’t bother making eye contact as he left the circular doorway back for the dimly-lit hallway back to the shopfront. He retraced his steps through corridors lined with exposed and pitted concrete surfaces until he found himself back in the waiting room where the shopfront was. There wasn’t any sign of his teammates in the room and for a moment he started to grow uneasy, only to notice as his eyes adjusted to the evening light outside that they were waiting at the bottom of the steps.

Figured. And here he was getting worried over nothing.

The Quilava shook his head and made his way out of the open doorway, coming down to the stoop of Amp’s shop on all fours. His teammates turned their heads as he approached, with Kate flicking her ears with a teasing smirk.

“Took you long enough,” she said. “I knew that you were a little out of things, but I thought I was the one that learned things slowly.”

Lyle pinned his ears back and curled his mouth into a sharp frown. Maybe it was just the stress of the day getting to him, maybe it was the lingering discomfort from accidentally swallowing his own fire, but he didn’t need to deal with this right now.

“Kate, move tutoring doesn’t work that way!” he protested. “I was barely in there for five minutes! That’s short for a tutoring session!”

Kate rolled her eyes in response but otherwise didn’t contest the point. Lyle sighed and shook his head as he started to head off for the street, when he noticed Irune eying him with a curious tilt of her head and moving a finger up to her mouth.

“... Wait, what did everyone choose to learn anyways?”

Kate and Dalton traded glances with one another at the question. Now that Lyle thought of it, they never did tell him in advance what they planned on learning. They’d just split their money four ways and trusted each other to buy something they could afford with it.

“Psycho Cut. Duh,” Kate spoke up. “I was never too good at taking a punch, so figured it’d be handy to have a move to deal with Fighting-types better.”

“I opted for Rain Dance,” Dalton tsked, shaking his head in reply. “It’s one that I’ve wanted to learn for a while since it helps a number of other moves that I know.”

Lyle bit his lip. Maybe he should’ve thought of learning something other than Flamethrower. Sure, it was a stronger move, but Kate and Dalton’s both sounded like ones that would catch enemies they’d fight more off-guard. He reared up and rubbed at the back of his head, before offering up his own explanation.

“I went with Flamethrower,” he added. “I know it’s a bit basic, but it’d let me hit harder and be on the quicker side to get experienced with, so…”

He could already see Kate raising her brow and Dalton bringing his good hand to his chin with an unimpressed stare. He’d take that as a sign they weren’t impressed with his choice.

Except, Irune hadn’t said anything this entire time, and was starting to look flustered for some reason.

“Though made you so interested?” Lyle asked “Did you pick up that X-Scissor that Joltik was trying to sell you on?””

Irune hesitated for a moment, before pawing at her tusks with a quiet hem and haw.

“I… er… went with Protect.”

Lyle blinked and had to make sure he was hearing things correctly. Protect? As in the same move that ‘mons used to make shield formations in larger battles? But why would Irune go through the trouble of learning that all by herself? Dalton and Kate both seemed just as surprised as he was, and opened their mouths to speak.

“Aren’t you a bit small to be effectively covering for anyone with that?” Kate asked. “And Protect’s most effective when multiple Pokémon use it together, just saying.”

“Irune, you are aware that Protect doesn’t keep you from being pushed back by attacks, right?” Dalton added. “Just how hard do you think it’d be to knock a Pokémon your size around?”

The Axew shrank back and visibly opened her mouth to retort, only to catch herself. Had she chosen a move without thinking it through herself? Or else what was the story behind that reaction of hers? She seemed to trip over her words briefly, before shaking her head and giving a defensive huff in reply.

“I know that. But I’m not going to be little forever,” the Dragon-type insisted. “I guess I just wanted something in case I stopped being little sooner than expected. And I figured having a way to stop a strong attack if it came down to it would be helpful for if that ever happened.”

Lyle shot a sideways glance at the Axew. She was hiding something, she had to be with the way she was acting and the way she’d reacted to him coming across her diary the night before. But… what?

For that matter, why did she feel like she was on pins and needles trying to put her words together when answering them? Was she trying to avoid telling them a lie of some sort? For whatever reason, the Axew seemed like she was just unable to tell a convincing lie even if her life depended on it.

… Then did that mean that was there something she was afraid of which she wasn’t telling them about?

Gottverdammte Diebe!"

Lyle flared up with a start at the sound of a bellowing roar from down the street and watched as his teammates turned their heads and the color visibly drained from their faces. Lyle glanced over his shoulder himself and felt his eyes shrink to pins as fire began to pour out from the vents on his head and tail:

It was the Tyranitar from earlier, storming through the crowds visibly seething. The armored Rock-type leveled a claw as he neared, baring his fangs as sand billowed out from vents along his body.

“Did you really think nobody else on the street would see you stealing from me?! Give me back my money!” the Tyranitar snarled. “Do it quickly and I’ll make sure there’s something left for the Gendarmen to punish when I’m done sorting you out!”

Lyle froze out of fear as the Tyranitar stomped up close enough for the soldier’s shadow to fall over him. He looked aside, where Kate was similarly wide-eyed, before curling her face up into a forced smile.

“J-Just saying, that could've been any Sneasel who stole from you!” Kate insisted. "It's a big city!"

Lyle fought not to throw a paw over his face. Gods, if Kate was going to try and deny things, why’d she have phrase it like that?

Lyle flinched as a weak electrical crackle rang out, and he turned to see Dalton had stepped between them as a weak arc of electricity broke off between him and the Tyranitar. The soldier’s eyes abruptly widened and staggered as Lyle noticed there was a small darkened mark just past the edge of the soldier’s chest plate and on his right arm. Lyle backed away uneasily as the Tyranitar growled and struggled to keep his balance as his limbs locked up,when he turned and noticed other Pokémon on the street all staring at them.

Yeah, they really needed to get out of this district.

“This way!” Dalton cried. “I know a shortcut we can use to shake him off!”

Lyle needed no further prompting and dropped to all fours before he took off running after Dalton. Kate followed along, all but dragging Irune with her as they rounded a corner and into an alleyway as the Tyranitar’s shouts and those of a couple others rang out behind them. The broad, sunny avenue turned into a darkened alley where everything seemed to blur into one another. Lyle felt something whistle just overhead, and watched as a spray of stones flew just past his ears. He stumbled as his foot stepped on one of the rocks landing ahead, his legs gave out from under him as he stumbled and slammed into a plastered wall.

The Quilava desperately got back onto his feet as he heard the Tyranitar lumbering along in pursuit. He felt an icy blast of wind from just beside him and turned left to see Kate had caught up with him and was spewing an Icy Wind down the alleyway. He looked back and briefly saw the Tyranitar wasn’t alone anymore and there were other figures in green armor recoiling from the chilling wind. His vents came to life in a panic and he spat up a plume of smoke before turning and running after Kate as fast as his limbs would carry him. He tore along down the alleyway, the walls and clutter all seeming to blur together until he heard a thumping noise just around a corner to the left followed by Kate’s voice.

“Ah! They’re over here, Lyle!”

Lyle felt a sharp tug on his scarf and skidded around the corner into a courtyard with a ramp filled with bins and sacks of trash that ran up against a dilapidated wooden grate. One of the horizontal boards looked broken at one end, with Irune and Dalton both frantically tugging at it as there was signs of some sort of darkened passage beyond the barrier. Dalton abruptly froze up and grasped at his splinted arm. Their eyes met briefly, before Dalton motioned at the loose board with a frantic pant.

“There you two are! Help us get this board off!” he cried.

Lyle froze briefly as Kate wedged her claws under the loose end of the board and pulled and the board flexed. The shouts were getting louder now. They didn’t have much time, time that he wasn’t sure was enough to get through these boards. Lyle bit his lip as his breaths came shallow and frantic when he noticed the end of board Dalton and Kate were tugging had chop marks on it and it was flexing more noticeably towards its midpoint. He turned his attention over to Irune, who was still hacking away at the other end of the board when it dawned on him:

“Irune! Throw your tusks at the middle of the board!” he cried.

She didn’t bother to question things and hurried over, throwing a pair of blows down at the flexing wood and leaving behind a two gashes as something cracked and the plank’s angle became uneven. Lyle stepped back, before lunging forward with a fiery tackle. His head hit the wood and he felt it give way as splinters and cinders danced around. He stumbled back and cradled his head as a loud clatter rang out. To his right was half the plank as Irune clambered up from the other and threw a chop of her tusk at it. The sound of splintering wood rang out as the shattered board broke and sagged to one end, leaving a visible gap in the grate. Dalton didn’t bother to wait, and clambered over, slinking through the hole and tumbling over it as he hurriedly got up just as the cries in the distance started to become distinct enough to make out.

“Hurry up before they catch up with us!”

Kate was the next to make her move and vaulted through the gap with a smooth jump. Irune went next and stumbled at the top, prompting Lyle to hurry over and steady her when a loud snarl rang out from behind.

“There they are!”

He didn’t even have to turn around to know it was the Tyranitar. Reshiram’s Fur, how did a ‘mon get over paralysis that quickly?! Lyle hurriedly shoved Irune through the hole and started to clamber through. He a loud crash cut him off along with a hail of splinters as something struck him in his rump. He fell through the hole and hit the ground facefirst as his senses briefly wavered. Lyle stumbled up and lunged ahead in a blind panic, his surroundings blurring into inky darkness. As he slowed back down from his Quick Attack, he began to see his teammates in the darkness and snatches of the world around him:

Straight tunnels, patches of pitted concrete and tile with surprisingly open chambers. While distant, he could still hear the soldiers from outside and panted tensely as Kate turned to Dalton wide-eyed.

“Scales, where on earth are we supposed to go now?


Lyle saw Dalton pointing off into the distance and saw there was some sort of flight of steps going down. He didn’t question it and took off along with his teammates for them. They were strangely large, as if they were intended specifically for the likes of a Machoke to climb, and seemed to just keep going down without end. After what felt like an eternity, they came across a long stretch of flat ground where the four ducked into an open doorway to their right.

Lyle smothered his fire and stayed there, with nothing but the pounding of his heart and the winded breathing of his teammates to give them company in the darkness. After a few moments to regain his nerves, Lyle noticed that there were no other sounds coming from their surroundings, as he stooped down and pawed at his still-smarting rear.

“Ugh, I always knew that Grünhäuter were a pain in the ass, but I could’ve done without one who took it literally-”

He trailed off as the fire on his vents flickered back to life and he began to see his surroundings more clearly: it was a ruined wall that had separated wherever they were from a neighboring ruin.


Lyle steadied his fire and studied the wall closer and noticed it was made of a mixture of brick and concrete, a telltale sign that the ruin they’d stumbled into had been made by humans. Lyle motioned to his teammates as they retraced their steps out, saw from their footprints in the dust that they’d come from the left, and opting to continue further rightwards. The more distance they put between themselves and that soldier they robbed, the better.

The tunnel went on a ways until they came across a fork that opened into a large, open chamber to their right, with a pockmarked white glyph against a blue background made of tiles in the wall. Lyle stared blankly as Dalton looked up at the glyph before shaking his head.

“Just as I thought,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been my first choice for a way across the river, but we should be able to follow these tunnels past all the same. There should be a chamber where things open up just ahead.”

Everyone blinked at Dalton’s explanation. There was no way that one glyph said all of that… right?

“Scales, how on earth can you tell that just from a sign?” Kate demanded.

“From past experience.”

Lyle decided not to question it. Especially when the alternative was turning around and marching right back into that angry Tyranitar claws. He carried along with his teammates down the tunnel and started to notice what looked like ruined frames every now and then that had tattered images within them—ancient paintings of some sort, he guessed. There was one with fragments of a strange script that had a bunch of boxes set against a blue sky which looked vaguely like the towers of Administrative District, except they were mostly blue themselves. A little further down, there was an image of what looked like a Scorbunny waving from beside a yellow loop with three blue glyphs under it. Just past it, there was another image with a pair of red comets swirling in on each other on a black background above a line of grayish-white glyphs.

Wait a minute. They’d seen that design before back in Primordial Woods. Then did that mean whoever built the ruins there also built these ones? That same design was also on Amp’s tay-emm reader. Did that mean the humans that built this place built that contraption, too?

“We’re here.”

Lyle snapped to attention and saw that his fire was now illuminating a large, cavernous space that he couldn’t see the other end of. He and his teammates stepped forward as the chamber’s contents came into view. There were ancient bridges, some standing, others partly-collapsed. Here and there, he saw flights of stony steps in various states of wear and decay making their way down to a set of raised platforms between trenches.

It was like they’d come across a set of docks, except they were deep underground. If there had been any water here once, it was long gone, and there didn’t seem to be a shoreline that they connected to.

Kate faltered a moment, and pinned her ears back warily. So it wasn’t just him who found this place strange and off-putting right now.

“The hell is this place?” she asked.

“The Undercity. These tunnels run underground beneath most of the districts of Newangle City, including the Administrative District,” the Heliolisk explained. “Nobody’s really sure what they used to be used for. They’re normally blocked off outside of dire circumstances such as sieges, and even in peacetime they’re not fully controlled thanks to those Mystery Dungeon entrances I mentioned a while back.”

The Heliolisk trailed off and looked down the length of the chamber, as he seemed to drift in his thoughts for a moment.

“When I was in university, some of my professors theorized they might have been a system of mines from before the Great Flash,” he explained. “Or a system of passageways for large human machines to pass through back when Newangle City used to be a human settlement.”

That must’ve been one hell of a mine or system of passageways or whatever this used to be for tunnels this big to be dug down here. Why, this Undercity was almost a city unto themselves! If obviously much less lively and worse for wear than the one they’d left on the surface.

Lyle flicked his ears after hearing a quiet grunt and turned to see Irune hop into one of the trenches. She gaped down its length for a moment, and Lyle followed after to try and see what she’d spotted. Perhaps her farsight had allowed her to see something, since when he checked the tunnels on either side for himself, all he could see was a deep darkness that seemed to go off into an infinite abyss.

… He wasn’t sure that he liked this. Why, the only indication they weren’t in a Mystery Dungeon right now was the lack of fog to indicate they were passing through Distortion. He raised his eyes and saw Irune looking back at Dalton, nervously pawing at one of her tusks as she gestured off at the tunnel entrance in the distance.

“Just how far are we supposed to go down this thing?”

“Not far at all, or at least not in the grand scheme of things,” Dalton reassured. “We’re just following the tunnel until we come across the next chamber of this sort to the northwest. There’s another exit there that opens up on the opposite bank of the river from the Administrative District.”

Huh. It wasn’t quite making their way across a bridge, but that still worked out well enough. There wouldn’t exactly be a picturesque sunset sky overhead, but it’d get them where they needed to, and without undue attention, to boot.

… Except, something still felt off. Dalton seemed to have a tense air about him, even as he started clambering down the platform. He’d stop and scan his surroundings, as if he were double and triple-checking for the presence of traps in a Mystery Dungeon.

“Is something wrong, Dalton?” Lyle asked. “You’re a bit on-edge right now.”

There was a long pause, before the Electric-type trudged forward with a quiet shake of his head.

“Just… stay on your guard,” the Heliolisk insisted. “These tunnels aren’t as lonely as they look.”

Sophia had only heard about what the interior of Heldenschloss was like from what Lacan and others who had been inside had told her of it, which had made the journey from the gates most informative. The Haxorus and Raichu from the honor guards—Max and Raimond as she’d gathered—took her and Lacan past a set of double doors that opened out into a grand chamber which that had been furnished with gray, almost silvery tiling with white stone walls lining it along with a mural at the center with Reshiram on the left and Zekrom on the right. It was a scene depicting them locked in fierce battle above the Sundered Sea, with fire and lightning streaking across the background.

A humbling reminder to all who saw it of the power their patron goddess and her rival had wielded throughout the ages.

As they made their way deeper into the palace, Sophia quickly learned that the inhabited spaces of Dämmerungsturm weren’t all that different from the ones built in the other towers of the Administrative District. They were cavernous spaces that had been built for a time when lights of glass and ancient resin kept even deep catacombs awash in light at all times of the day, and been modified through the ages to form more manageably-sized rooms. Chunks of the floors had been cut away to let in shafts of light from the windowed exterior, but even then, there were still portions where torches and lanterns had to be pressed into service to try and fill the ancient lights’ absence.

The entire journey would’ve been fascinating were it not for the crushing atmosphere that lingered around them ever since receiving the King’s summons. Just what on earth were she and Lacan supposed to say to King Siegmund? Lacan had notified Siegmund of the arrival of a secure caravan with the Dyad three days ago, and now they had nothing to show for it. She ruffled her feathers and felt her breaths coming tense and shallow.

Keine Angst, Sophia. Es wird funktionieren, da bin ich mir sicher.ᴰ¹
“Don’t worry, Sophia. Things will work out, I’m sure of it.”

Sophia felt a nudge behind her and looked up to see Lacan nosing at her. She wasn’t sure how much she believed his attempt at a reassurance. She knew that Lacan’s late father had apparently been an accomplished Feldmarschall
Abbreviated form of “Generalfeldmarschall”, or “General Field Marshal”. Historically one of the highest ranks attainable in a Germanosphere army.
₅ that King Siegmund and his own father were quite close to, but even through his helmet and mailed armor, the Salamence couldn’t hide a palpable sense of unease.

Versuche einfach, dich von den Dingen abzulenken. Was auch immer passiert, ich bin bei dir. Für immer.ᴰ²
“Just try and take your mind off of things. Whatever happens, I’m with you. Forever.”

Sophia stiffened up at his last words. It was probably a slip of the tongue of his, but those words felt eerily similar to the ones he’d told her on that awful day when she’d received the news of her parents’ deaths back in her hometown. She noticed their guides pausing and looking back at them, before she shook her head and turned away with a low sigh.

Erschrecken Sie mich nicht, indem Sie so reden, Lacan. Versuchen wir einfach sicherzustellen, dass Seine Majestät nicht in schlechterer Stimmung ist, wenn er uns um unseren Bericht bittet.ᴰ³
“Don’t scare me by talking like that, Lacan. Let’s just try and ensure that His Majesty isn’t in a worse mood when he asks us for our report.”

Really, managing His Majesty’s mood was about the best they could hope for right now.

They continued on down a hall which was deep enough into the building to require illumination by lanterns. Amid the dim light, she noticed that all along the open portions of the hallway, there were paintings and tapestries hung up for display. A number of them were depictions of events from history and folklore that she’d read about in books or heard about in stories. There was the painting of the fabled construction of Angle City’s walls by Klaus the Founder. There were multiple scenes of battles from past ages, with the patron goddess of the land featuring prominently in many of them…

And of course, there were the portraits, which after inspecting the labels more closely, she realized were of various monarchs from Varhyde’s history. There was a towering Samurott in a flowing white royal cowl with his blades drawn for battle: Agarez the Great of House Riese, who began the tradition of cladding the Administrative District’s spires and won resounding victories over Edialeigh by taking his foes unaware even as Wish and Reality made war with each other during his reign. There was a portrait of King Hogne not far away, who by a stroke of fate and parentage, closely resembled his ancestor in appearance. Hogne had the dubious distinction of being the last King of House Riese, which had been extinguished during the fabled Sack of Angle City thanks to the machinations of Edialeigh’s then-King Marveni.

A sober reminder that even great glories could be undone by fate and a rain of ruinous lightning. And of the horrors that potentially awaited if their mission didn’t succeed.

Sophia turned her head up just in time to see a portrait of a Gallade in a royal cowl with his arm-blades drawn and an air of pervasive self-confidence: Sansa the Godsly, the king who had built Varhyde’s modern military and was said among his contemporaries to be much like the Founder himself. Sansa was a contradictory figure, whose reign was marked by both great triumphs in building institutions like Varhyde’s Generalstab, along with great tragedy. After all, it was under his reign that gambles he’d made to secure a lasting peace for their land fell apart in a hail of consuming thunder as the opening salvos of war with Edialeigh broke out during the reign of their Queen Maynus.

The same one which they were still struggling to conclude in the present day 70 years later, long after the two had passed away without heirs of their own to carry on their houses. There was a portrait of a Lucario in royal garb afterwards with the label ‘King Baanders’, and then one of an elderly-looking Mienshao. Sophia at first thought it was Siegmund’s, when she noticed that something seemed to be wrong with his body and stopped in front of the portrait briefly:

There weren’t any battle scars on it. Sophia double-checked the label under the portrait and blinked after seeing the runes: ‘Waels Lucarios of House Baanders’.

She supposed that would explain the discrepancy—the portrait was of King Siegmund’s father.

“Hrmph, I didn’t expect that sort of brushwork would be in a royal portrait,” Lacan scoffed. “I’m surprised that King Waels was satisfied with it as a finished product”

Perhaps there was more to the portrait that was wrong than she’d noticed. Sophia continued on with Lacan down the hallway as she stole a glance back at the late king’s portrait. Waels had passed on shortly before Benzen Revolt, before the tide of war last turned to bring Edialeigh’s armies back to Varhyder soil. Before thrusting the kingdom into crises that Siegmund had spent much of his early reign digging out from, including through campaigning on the battlefield himself.

The same changing of the tides that had claimed Lacan’s hometown and left it a still-hobbling shell of its former self, along with both their parents, and untold comrades over the years.

Sophia shook her head and tried to push the thoughts from her mind. Every time she dwelled on them for too long, it just took her to worrisome places that made her wonder how much more she could bear. She briefly noticed the Raichu’s up ahead twitching his ears when she raised her head and noticed there was some sort of noise coming from down the hall: rumbling chiming, which formed a coherent melody.

She stopped as Lacan seemed to blink in surprise for a moment, but otherwise seemed unfazed. What was going on?

“Lacan, what’s that sound?”

“It’s an ancient instrument made out of pipes. An ‘organ’, I believe it’s called,” he explained. “King Siegmund was fond of them even back when I was a child, so he must be listening to someone giving him a performance.”

Right when he was expecting them for a summons? Sophia supposed that their arrival had been on short notice… would he be upset with them interrupting things? Strangely enough, the Haxorus and Raichu traded glances with one another, before the Dragon-type of the pair turned back with an uneasy paw at the back of his helmeted head.

“Actually… I’m pretty sure that’s him playing that ‘organ’ thing right now,” the Haxorus said. “Though the door to his chamber’s waiting room just up ahead, Herr Graf.”

The King was able to play a human instrument? Sophia supposed that his body’s general shape as a Mienshao was supposed to be similar to the ones humans were supposed to have, but it still surprised her. What on earth did this ‘organ’ look like?

Lacan himself quirked a brow at the pair, as they took the last few steps up to the entrance of the King’s quarters. It was a pair of doors with white and gray designs where a Beartic and Golurk in armor stood guard. Both of which sported segments that audibly rattled with the sound of mail whenever they moved, while some others appeared to be entirely made of metal. The Raichu and Haxorus hailed the pair and after a brief exchange of words, the guards opened the doors.

Sophia carried in along with Lacan and sucked in a sharp breath, unsure what she’d find on the other end. She stepped out into a spacious chamber that was aglow with the warm tones of candlelit lanterns. In front of them was a low table set out ringed by white cushions, along with a few bookshelves set up against the walls, lit up by a wall of tall, striplike glass letting the last rays of sunlight filter through them.

The floors and walls were covered with wood and stone paneling and flooring built over the ancient steel and concrete underneath. Why, it reminded her more of the stories Lacan had told her when they were younger of what his parents’ manor in Port Velhen used to be like than a human ruin over a thousand years old.

She supposed that the emphasis on white and gray didn’t hurt that feeling either. After all, this palace had originally been built for Varhyde’s Heroes and not its kings. And it was a reminder to all who entered this place that it was the quarters of Pokémon whose duty was to pursue and long after the same truths as her patron goddess.

She peered out past the windows as she and Lacan neared the table and its cushions and saw that a wooden balcony had been built out onto the exterior. Based on its construction, it appeared to be a much more recent addition to the ancient structure that had fashioned by Pokémon. Perhaps it was a perch of some sort? King Siegmund surely couldn’t fly, but such a vantage point would give him a commanding view of his kingdom, or else the stars and auroras of the night sky.

Sophia fidgeted her wings and looked over at her Salamence companion. He looked impatient, and moved his tail back and forth as he frowned at their Raichu and Haxorus guides.

“We were told the king wished to see us immediately,” he said. “Is there a reason in particular why you’re not taking us directly to him?”

“Max and I will inform His Majesty of your presence, Herr Graf,” the Raichu insisted. “Just… please just wait here patiently. There’s been a lot on the King’s mind lately and I don’t know how he’ll react if you go about rooting about his quarters.”

Sophia uncomfortably ruffled his feathers. She wasn’t sure if that was a good sign for what their summons was going to be like. Lacan raised a brow, before settling on a set of cushions by the table with a low grumble.

“Fine,” he grunted. “Just don’t keep us waiting long. I doubt His Majesty summoned us to idle about in his quarters.”

The two guards saluted and slipped out of the room and past a doorway to the left. Lacan hung his head, pawing at his snout with a forepaw with a low sigh. Sophia supposed that with the news they had to bring before King Siegmund being… unenviable, that it’d be best to avoid imposing himself if at all possible. Even so, she couldn’t help but be curious…

“How do you know King Siegmund so well, Lacan?”

“He was a benefactor of mine while I was living in Errberk Village, so I've seen him a bit more often than a Pokémon of my station normally would,” the Salamence explained. “He and my father knew each other in life, and I suppose he just wasn’t comfortable seeing the child of a close friend of his fall through the cracks.”

Lacan trailed off, before hanging his head with a low sigh.

“I just don’t know how much that will be on his mind today,” he said. “I’m not the helpless child I used to be, and I can’t imagine that the King doesn’t have higher expectations of me now.”

Sophia supposed that it would only make sense. Prior to them winding up on Fähnlein Stärke, Lacan had already built up a fairly impressive string of accomplishments in battle as an Oberst. To the point where he had been brevetted as a General in his last campaign before that wing injury sent him home.

Sophia wasn’t sure how either of them would be able to give the King a satisfying explanation. Four days after finally having the great hope of Varhyde in their grasp after a year of pursuit, and they were really supposed to tell him that they’d lost her to an Outlaw raid of all things? And that was before getting into some of the more concerning reports that their colleagues had turned up from Errberk Village:

The Dyad’s elements were beginning to manifest more frequently. And as such, it meant that the window of opportunity for fielding her as part of Operation Spark was closing—far quicker than her, Lacan, or anyone involved in Operation Spark’s planning had expected.

She knew not what would become if that window closed before they were deployed for Operation Spark, but she prayed that they never had to find out.

Sophia turned her head when she noticed that the rumbling, chiming music was still playing in the background. Across the table, Lacan looked about the chamber uneasily, before rising to his feet and shuffling forward with a low grunt.

“Hrmph, how long does it take those two to inform the King of our arrival?” he murmured.

Sophia turned her head as Lacan made his way over to the door. She got up, only for him to put a claw on the door.

“Stay here, I’ll handle it,” he said. “And if the King isn’t in a good mood… well, it’d be better for a familiar face to try and ease him out of things.”

Sophia paused and shot a worried glance over. The Salamence seemed to carry an uneasy aura about him. Was it really wise to just let him continue on?

“Lacan, are you sure that will be okay?”

“I’ll be fine, I’m sure of it,” he said.

The Salamence pushed the door open and stepped in. Sophia briefly heard voices on the other end before the door closed shut after his tail. The music trailed off and abruptly stopped as voices faintly carried on through the walls.

Sophia sat and fidgeted in place uncomfortably only to notice that the voices were louder than she expected. She noticed that the door to the King’s chamber was ajar. It was the height of foolishness, but what if Lacan was in trouble right now? Didn’t he deserve to have an advocate by his side?

She got up and quietly made her way towards the door, creeping over as she began to make out the voices coming from within more clearly.

“... I wasn’t aware you had an organ in your quarters, Your Majesty,” Lacan said. “Let alone that you’d become so proficient at playing it.”

“It’s the same relic I used to play at the Royal Reliquary,” an elderly, yipping voice remarked. “I merely had it moved to my quarters so that I could use it easier.”

All of a sudden, a gust of wind came from within and blew the door out. It struck Sophia in the side of her beak, prompting her to hop back with a startled caw.

And then the second voice spoke up again.

“Whoever’s out there, if you are going to eavesdrop you might as well come in and show yourself.”

Sophia grimaced and set her beak on edge before falteringly pulling the door open. She came across a room that had a large bed set out—One with a proper mattress and white sheets. To her right were more of those strip-like windows with the balcony running past, left open to let in light along with the wind that had given her away. Furniture and decorations hugged the walls: a dresser, a table with a mirror with a portrait of a vaguely melancholy Incineroar in a white cape.

Gods above, she thought that she’d been listening in on a parlor of some sort, not the King’s sleeping quarters! She grudgingly turned off to his left where there were Lacan and their guards, along with the form of an elderly Mienshao in a white cape seated on a wooden bench. Behind him was some manner of metal contraption with pipes that stuck upwards and a set of appeared to be white and black levers, along with a small wooden obelisk with a metal rod that stood up in its center.

Sights which would’ve been fascinating to behold were the King of the whole realm not staring her down with a stern frown. She noticed that Lacan’s face looked visibly pale, as he stepped out before the Mienshao and bowed his head with a flustered stammer.

E-Eure Majestät, verzeihen Sie die Indiskretion meines Untergebenen. Es gehört zu ihrern Aufgaben Informationen zu sammeln und-ᴰ⁴
“Y-Your Majesty, forgive my subordinate’s indiscretion. It’s a part of her duties to gather information and-”

“Let’s not stand on ceremony, Graf. These are serious matters which are best discussed in frank language,” the Mienshao said. “Your subordinate carried out her duties by heeding my summons. Even if it’d have been more convenient to have received earlier notice of your arrivals.”

Sophia blinked and watched as Fighting-type’s stern gaze turned towards Raichu and Haxorus guards. The pair noticed the Mienshao’s expression, before letting out startled yelps.

“W-We insisted that they wait for you in your waiting room,” the Haxorus said, nervously pawing at his chest plate. “But-”

“Enough,” the Mienshao said, motioning for a stop with an arm covered in sleeve-like wisps of fur. “My summons have been fulfilled, even if it was not fully in the fashion that I wished. Herr Maxax
₆, Herr Raichu, you two are dismissed. We’ll have more to discuss about your performances later.”

The two guards looked back at the Mienshao king, before hurriedly saluting, paws out and then drawn towards their hearts, before taking their leave from the quarters. She could hardly fault their reactions. Siegmund had a reputation for being slow to anger, but ruthless when stirred to parcel out retribution, and the guards were clearly keen on leaving while they were in they were still in his good graces.

Sophia froze as the Mienshao approached her with a skeptical gaze as Lacan quietly made his way beside her. Siegmund shot an askew glance between her and the Salamence, before speaking up.

“So this is that Oberstleutnant of yours whom you spoke of, Graf Lacan,” he said. “I’ll admit, I was expecting someone a bit more… experienced-looking.”

Sophia hurriedly saluted and sucked in a sharp breath as the Mienshao looked at her. Lacan seemed to be fumbling with his words as Siegmund cut him off with a low grunt and folded his arms.

“... I gathered from your lack of communications that the Dyad managed to escape during transport,” he said. “Is she still well at the moment?”

“She is. Or at least she was as of at least four hours ago, Your Majesty,” Sophia said. “We had been following her trail and it led us here.”

“... Into Newangle City?

“Your Majesty, I realize that it sounds… improbable, to say the least,” Lacan answered. “We did indeed track the Dyad through the East Gate of the capital.

There was a long, lingering silence between the three of them. Sophia studied Siegmund’s expression to try and gauge his mood, but his expression remained guarded and hard to place. The Fighting-type looked over at Lacan, before narrowing his eyes briefly and giving a sighing shake of his head

“I’m afraid that I must ask you to remain patient with me a bit longer, Frau Kranoviz,” he said. “There are some matters which I need to discuss with your superior on a personal basis.”

That did not sound remotely promising. Why was the King being so evasive? Was Lacan in trouble right now? Sophia jolted upright, before raising a wing in stammering interjection.

“I-If it’s something involving the needs of our mission, surely I-”

“Will be able to discuss those matters at length. Afterwards,” Siegmund replied. “I would kindly ask you to keep your curiosity in check this time. I’m sure Graf Lacan will inform you of whatever he deems necessary for your mission to succeed.”

She wasn’t sure what to make of the King’s tone. It sounded understanding at least, but it gave a distinct impression that he was warning her somehow. Sophia lowered her wing and glanced over at Lacan. He seemed to be at a loss for what was going on himself, but at the very least King Siegmund still expected them to return to their mission after this?

Frau Kranoviz, I don’t mean to be impatient, but would you kindly take your leave?”

Sophia looked up to see the Mienshao king giving a frowning glance at her. She ruffled her feathers and turned for the door, briefly glimpsing as the Mienshao made his way for a door to a wooden balcony and motioned with his paw at Lacan to follow.

“It has been a while since we last met, Graf,” the Fighting-type said. “We have much to discuss, and we might as well do so someplace with more space.”

Sophia couldn’t help but feel a lingering unease about her as she drifted out the door of the King’s quarters and let it close behind her.

Just what were the two going to talk about, and why didn’t the King want her to know about it?

Author’s Notes

Words and Phrases:

1. Agarezpalast - “Agarez’s Palace”
2. Heldenschloss - “Heroes’ Palace/(Unfortified) Castle”
3. Kaplan - “chaplain”
4. im Generalstab - “on the General Staff”, a traditional appending to the rank of a military officer with membership in such a body in a Germanosphere army, especially in Prussia.
5. Feldmarschall - Abbreviated form of “Generalfeldmarschall”, or “General Field Marshal”. Historically one of the highest ranks attainable in a Germanosphere army.
6. Maxax - “Haxorus”


D1. “Keine Angst, Sophia. Es wird funktionieren, da bin ich mir sicher.” - “Don’t worry, Sophia. Things will work out, I’m sure of it.”
D2. “Versuche einfach, dich von den Dingen abzulenken. Was auch immer passiert, ich bin bei dir. Für immer.” - “Just try and take your mind off of things. Whatever happens, I’m with you. Forever.”
D3. “Erschrecken Sie mich nicht, indem Sie so reden, Lacan. Versuchen wir einfach sicherzustellen, dass Seine Majestät nicht in schlechterer Stimmung ist, wenn er uns um unseren Bericht bittet.” - “Don’t scare me by talking like that, Lacan. Let’s just try and ensure that His Majesty isn’t in a worse mood when he asks us for our report.”
D4. “E-Eure Majestät, verzeihen Sie die Indiskretion meines Untergebenen. Es gehört zu ihrern Aufgaben Informationen zu sammeln und-” - “Y-Your Majesty, forgive my subordinate’s indiscretion. It’s a part of her duties to gather information and-”

Teaser Text:

Newangle City, 15. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.​

To whom it may concern,

By royal decree of King Siegmund von Wahrheit, the recipient of this letter is hereby ordered to instruct all subordinates under their command to stand by for the arrival of any parties from Fähnlein Stärke of His Majesty’s army and to relay news of their arrival at once to His Majesty and His Generalstab.

Any representatives of Fähnlein Stärke from enlisted ranks are to be kept at the gates and notice served to His Majesty’s Generalstab to dispatch an emissary to meet them and review any news and findings in a secure environment. Should a representative of Stabsoffizier rank appear at your gates, you are to direct him or her to appear before His Highness for a royal audience effective immediately at his residence in Heldenschloss.

You are to defer to whatever requests those representatives may ask of you upon your arrival not pertaining to their summons. Their affairs of Fähnlein Stärke pertain to matters regarding the security of the realm and its war effort, and should be assumed to have His Majesty’s blessing.

Any attempts to impede His Majesty’s decree will be grounds for being treated as insubordination against the Royal Army and punished accordingly.

- Urgent dispatch from König von Wahrheit, Siegmund Wieshus relayed to the Wehrturmhauptmännerᵃ of the Newangle City Walls

a. Plural of 'Wehrturmhauptmann', or a 'Hauptmann' that would watch over a Wehrturm. Such word compounding which is common practice for word formation in German.
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Chapter 22 - Desire New

Die Geschichte von Wahrheit und Ideale als Königreiche existierte lange Zeit im Schatten der vielen Auseinandersetzungen zwischen Wunsch und Wirklichkeit. Und doch bleibt es bis heute ein Rätsel, warum Wunsch und Wirklichkeit auf ihren Wanderungen nach dem Glühenden Blitz so nahe beieinander liegende Länder zum Wohnen auswählten. Ihre genauen Begründungen sind inzwischen verloren gegangen. Einige vermuten, dass es das Schicksal der beiden ist, sich im Laufe ihres Lebens näher zu kommen, während andere vermuten, dass der Glühende Blitz einfach zu einer Zeit stattgefunden haben könnte, als sie beide von ihrer ursprünglichen Heimat entfernt und nahe beieinander waren.

Wie unsere Schutzgöttin wählte der Gott, den wir Wunsch nennen, einen Helden und half dabei, ein Königreich nach ihrem Geschmack zu gründen. Königin Galea, die zusammen mit dem Gott, der ihr beistand, das Königreich von Ideale inmitten der Ruinen einer Stadt des Lichts gründete, die einst der Standort der legendären „Illumina“ gewesen sein soll. Ein Ort, den die Bewohner des Landes der Wahrheit heute Donnerturmstadt nennen.

Auch wenn es in dieser Stadt Orte gab, die Wunsch als Schlafplatz gefielen, heißt es, dass es letztlich ihre Wünsche und ihre Stärke an Idealen waren, die ihn dazu brachten, Galeas Bitten zu folgen, um unsere unruhige Welt in eine zu verwandeln, die ihrer Meinung nach besser für ihre Bewohner war. So starke Wünsche, dass manche sagen, sie hätte es für angebracht gehalten, dem ein Ende zu setzen, wenn die Welt sie zurückgehalten hätte.

Niemand weiß, wie wahr diese Geschichten sind, aber sie sind auf jeden Fall glaubwürdig, wenn man bedenkt, was über Wunsch und diejenigen, die er als seine Helden in der Geschichte ausgewählt hat, überliefert ist. Besonders angesichts der großen Gewalt, die dieser Drache von Reines Schwarz über uns und unserem Land von oben herab verübt hat.

- Auszug aus »Die Wahrheiter Chroniken – Eine kurze Geschichte der frühen Jahre unseres Königreichs«

Lacan held his head up stiffly as the clatter of sliding wooden partitions rang out and the wall in front of him slid aside at the tug of the King’s paw to reveal a wooden balcony outside. The King stepped out, and after a moment to suck in a breath and steel his nerves, Lacan followed after him into the brisk air.

The balcony was simple, but well-hewn in construction, and wide enough for just about any Pokémon on land to comfortably fit on it. Function had evidently been prioritized over form, with the timbers feeling sturdy underfoot but bearing few decorations barring a Drachensiegel here or there carved into the wood just below the railing.

The sun was already starting to set, as burnt orange hues reflected off the river bounding the Administrative District to the north as stars began to twinkle in the skies above. Below, they were mirrored by the lights of countless lanterns and candles in the windows of the city below sprawling out to its circular walls and the ten towers that anchored it. In more normal circumstances, Lacan would’ve been content to just look out over the scene and bask in its wonder.

But things weren’t normal right now. The Mienshao’s frown at the corner of his mouth made that much obvious, even as he kept his gaze turned away and glanced out over the surrounding cityscape.

“I was hoping you’d have something to show me for your efforts, Lacan,” Siegmund said, still looking away. “Especially after you passed word of finally intercepting the Dyad just three days ago.”

Lacan quietly grimaced. There had been times in the past when the King had received him warmly, much as if he was his flesh and blood…

But none of that warmth was there today, and Lacan could hardly fault him. After all, this wasn’t an occasion to prattle on about his recovery from the wounds he’d sustained prior to his assignment to Operation Spark, or about the paints he dabbled with in simpler times much like his father had.

They were there to talk about how for the third time in a year, he had grasped the fate of Varhyde’s future in his claws only to have nothing to show for it.

“Your Majesty, I’m not one to make a habit of making a fool of myself,” the Salamence said, lowering his head apologetically. “I would not have come here to the capital if the Dyad’s trail had not taken me here.”

The weasel’s expression grew guarded and serious. It was hard to imagine he thought much of excuses, much less coming from a noble of middling rank such as himself. The very fact that he was here addressing the King in person was a privilege that Grafen rarely enjoyed in Varhyde, especially ones without accomplishments to their name like his father.

It was likely because of his father that he had this opportunity with Siegmund, and he would be a fool to squander it by making the King believe that he took it for granted.

“I understand your apprehension, Your Majesty. But the fact that the Dyad came here not even a night after fleeing Primordial Woods makes me believe she won’t leave right away,” Lacan insisted. “She and the ruffians with her fled Errberk Village after they were caught stealing from a wagon, and they would need time to reprovision in a strange environment. Time which we can use to track her down.”

“I still don’t understand how things came to this,” Siegmund sighed. “If she could have been persuaded to come quietly…”

“As you’ve seen from the reports from our first few months pursuing her, our attempts to do so were unfruitful,” the Salamence said. “Somebody put her up to the idea that she couldn’t trust the power within her to the realm and to keep running away, and we’ve been dealing with the consequences of her stubbornness ever since.”

Lacan braced himself as the Mienshao remained silent and kept his same, stony expression from the corner of his eye. He wasn’t sure whether or not he was persuading the King, or simply digging himself in deeper right now.

He’d explained in an urgent dispatch after the debacle in and around Waterhead Cave that he needed what he hoped would merely be a few days’ more time to recover her. While King Siegmund would surely understand a delay of a couple days, being half the kingdom away from that backwater where those damned Outlaws had thrown his mission off-course was another matter entirely.

… And yet, the fact that Siegmund hadn’t cut in yet wasn’t a bad, sign was it? Perhaps if he just explained why the Dyad had most likely come here, he’d understand…

“That’s why I have reason to believe that the Dyad may want to linger here,” Lacan said. “It would appear that she is looking to better understand her true nature.”

Siegmund turned his head warily to the side. He twitched his whiskers briefly before speaking up in a guarded tone.

“And what gives you such confidence in your theory, Graf Lacan?” the Mienshao pressed. “After all, it’s already deeply surprising to hear that the Dyad would come here of all places.”

“Observed behaviors,” he replied. “She picked up a pendant during her travels that she keeps with her, one that appears to be styled after a Diennesse Wedge.”

The Mienshao jolted upright from the railing and shot an alarmed stare back.

“A Diennesse Wedge?” he asked. “How on earth did she get that?

“She didn’t. Hers is a cheap trinket made of painted stone, of the sort that might be sold as a protective amulet. A scratch test we conducted confirmed as much,” the Salamence explained. “The more important factor is that she’s been holding onto it and been trying to make her way to the Divine Roost at least since we apprehended her, and likely for much longer.”

Lacan shook his head, before turning out towards the evening cityscape and letting his eyes fall over the warren of streets and buildings below.

“The Dyad appears to have heard some of the lore regarding her true nature and is trying to piece those stories together,” he explained. “I believe that’s why she came here—to try and fill in more of those gaps. It’s the most likely thing that would motivate her to risk coming here instead of searching for a safer refuge for a fugitive.”

Siegmund twitched his whiskers briefly, before leaning against the railing of his balcony with a low sigh.

“I suppose it’s hard for me to contest your argument, Graf Lacan. The Diennesse Wedge isn’t exactly common knowledge outside of those who are well-versed in tales of the gods, in particular of its wielder,” he said. “Though there’s far from a singular place in this city where one could find such knowledge. So how do you narrowing down where the Dyad would seek out this knowledge, then?”

Lacan … hadn’t worked that part out. And with the Dyad traveling in the midst of a band of companions, it wasn’t safe to assume that she’d be groping about blindly in Newangle City. The very fact that she’d made it into the city without being detected was strongly suggested at least one of them was familiar with it.

He could see the skeptical glint in Siegmund’s eye. Even if Lacan was the type to blow hot air and prattle on with empty words, he doubted the King would have patience for it.

Perhaps it was best to just be honest, even if it surely wasn’t what the King wanted to hear.

“I suppose I’d start by trying to find places where the Dyad would be looking around in the first place,” he said. “After all, the answers that she seeks aren’t available in casual reading material. So she’d surely be asking others in this city about places where she could potentially find them.”

“Yes, you could certainly do that, and with enough time and soldiers, you’d likely succeed,” the Mienshao replied. “Alternatively, you could steer her to a place where this material is already present.”

The Salamence blinked in surprise and cocked his head with a puzzled frown. ‘Steer’ the Dyad? When he didn’t even know where she was in Newangle City to begin with?

It wasn’t as if Siegmund had poor judgment, the Mienshao’s years of experience as a strategist were testament enough to that. Siegmund had helped draw up the campaigns to drive out Edialeigh’s armies during their last invasion, and personally campaigned on the frontlines to help achieve them—as the scars on the Fighting-type’s body beneath his white cowl attested.

But even so, the Salamence was genuinely at a loss as to how Siegmund expected him to accomplish such a feat.

“I’m… not fully sure how that would be possible at this point in time, Your Majesty,” he said. “What are you proposing that I should do?”

“Well, Graf Lacan. Let me answer your question with one of my own,” the Mienshao insisted. “Did the Dyad come to the City alone? If not, tell me of these ‘ruffians’ she’s traveling with?”

“Outlaw scum from the hinterlands as usual,” Lacan harrumphed. “With how frequently she’s been associating with such Pokémon this year, I’m starting to think that she’s developing a type.”

Or at least as much as she could as a fugitive anyways. Much to Lacan’s surprise, the King’s expression visibly eased, and a small smile came over his muzzle.

“I thought as much based on your past reports you sent me,” the king said. “Though that should speed things up considerably.”

“How… so?”

“I’m not privy to all the details, but the local Gendarmen have had contacts with Pokémon from similar circles in this city,” the Fighting-type explained. “It’s an arrangement that was first set up in King Sansa’s day and all these years later, it still sometimes provides valuable insight as to the goings-on of the more restive quarters of the city.”

Lacan batted his wings subconsciously and glanced around his surroundings. Perhaps it was just reflex from the incident in Errberk Village, but it didn’t hurt to make sure that they weren’t being overheard. It was hardly his place to judge what King Siegmund found necessary to keep his realm secured. Not after much of his early reign had been spent clawing it back from red-clad hordes after a failed attempt at suing for peace. Even so, a part of him was startled to hear the King discussing such unsavory connections so frankly.

Perhaps that explained why Siegmund insisted on having this conversation between just the two of them.

“Get in touch with the Gendarmen and explain your situation. I’m sure that they’ll be able to lean on those contacts to steer these Outlaws towards mounting a heist in short order,” Siegmund instructed. “Was there any place in particular that you had in mind?”

Where on earth would he even start? It wasn’t as if knew every bookshop in Newangle City that might have a dusty mythology tome buried somewhere on its shelves. Though… perhaps he was going about this all wrong. What he needed most was for the Dyad and her companions to reveal themselves and make mistakes. And the most likely sort of place where they would slip up in such a fashion would be one that was normally widely trafficked.

A place like…

“The Royal Library. I’m not sure if I’d want to have the Dyad come there while it’s open to the general public, but I know for sure there would be books she’d be looking for there,” he explained. “Considering how it’s a public institution trafficked by Pokémon from throughout the city, it’s likely she would’ve already considered it as an option.”

Siegmund brought a paw to his chin in thought, before turning aside with a quiet nod.

“Then do so, I will see that the Library is closed for however long you deem necessary,” Siegmund said. “Either those brigands will take the bait, or they’ll give away their location and we can deal with them accordingly. Though don’t leave anything to chance, be sure to have at least five Rotten
"Plural of "Rotte", a name for various military units in the Germanosphere. Within the context of a Fähnlein, a Rotte is a small unit composed of 8-12 soldiers."
₁ of your soldiers there for the occasion.”

Lacan jolted his head back with a startled blink. Five Rotten was a good quarter of the troops in Fähnlein Stärke. Troops that could otherwise spend time canvassing the city with local guards. What on earth was Siegmund thinking here?

“Isn’t that an overly large force to center on a library?” he asked. “I was under the impression that the royal commission I was given allowed Fähnlein Stärke to requisition local assistance as needed. There isn’t exactly a shortage of Gendarmen that could do the task.”

The Mienshao king narrowed his eyes briefly, much like how a master painter might scrutinize a disappointing piece by an apprentice. For a moment, Lacan reflexively opened his mouth to protest and offer a defense, only for the Fighting-type to motion for silence.

“I trust that during your pursuit of the Dyad that you’ve been keeping up with current events to some extent,” Sigmund said. “Tell me, what have you heard during your travels regarding Operation Siegfried?”

‘Operation Siegfried’? Lacan hadn’t pried too much into the campaign since he’d heard hearsay about it, but…

“That it was a campaign that captured a port town well behind enemy lines led by a recently-promoted General who transited his forces through a nearby Mystery Dungeon?” he asked. “I must confess that I’ve been a bit behind on news from the frontline lately.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to, since barring a catastrophe, most of the details surrounding Operation Siegfried will remain crown secrets until well after my death,” Siegmund explained. “But the long and short of it is that Operation Siegfried was a feint to deflect attention from the route you and your supporting forces will need to take to reach Donaterm City.”

Lacan blinked at the Mienshao’s response. A feint? He had heard that the war effort had been coming under increasing strain as of late, but for the King to already start setting things in motion for Operation Spark when he’d only had the Dyad at all just a few days ago…

The frontlines must have been more precarious than he realized.

“One of the secondary objectives of Operation Siegfried was to gauge what the cost would be in the event that the Dyad had to be recovered on Edialeigher soil,” he explained. “The exercise was carried out with a proxy target who… the Hofstaat hoped could potentially address some of the difficulties regarding my son.”

Lacan caught himself and had to fight to keep himself from raising a brow. The Salamence hadn’t heard much about the Crown Prince in recent years, assuming that Siegmund’s son was even still the Crown Prince with some of the rumors that had swirled about him after Queen Anna’s death…

Though where was Siegmund going with this? After all, he doubted the king had brought the topic to delve into rumors about his family life…

“What was the conclusion of that exercise?”

“That having to recover a Dyad under such conditions would bleed Varhyde’s armies white and risk returning the Kingdom to the chaotic state of affairs I inherited from my father,” he explained.

Lacan bristled at Siegmund’s explanation. But everyone in Varhyde who was old enough knew of the times Siegmund alluded to. Of how not even a year into King Siegmund’s reign, the Benzen Uprising broke out at a time when the war in Edialeigh seemed to be stalemating.

Town after town along the coast of Sundered Sea erupted into open revolt against the crown afterwards. Soldiers had to be pulled from the frontlines to try and quell the disorder, including his own father. The frontlines on Edialeigh’s soil collapsed because of it, and within the span of a year, Edialeigh’s soldiers in their red plates were laying waste to towns along the coast. Loyalist and rebel-held alike.

Including his own hometown, whose persistent loyalty to the crown had not saved it from such a fate.

Lacan didn’t want to believe that there were truly enough fools among the commonfolk who would risk repeating such a catastrophe. And yet, if history was any guide, King Siegmund’s fears were more than justified.

“It goes without saying that it is paramount to avoid returning the realm to such circumstances, which is the entire reason why I approved Operation Spark,” the Mienshao insisted, shaking his head. “With how much trouble the Dyad has given you over the past year, it’d be the height of negligence for you not to err on the side of caution with apprehending her.”

Lacan fell silent and turned aside. Even so, he dug in his claws. Yes, he understood the King’s argument. But at the same time, there was a critical oversight with the Mienshao’s plan:

“I understand your concerns, Your Majesty. But even so, I must contest your strategy there,” the Salamence insisted. “I wouldn’t want all those soldiers present. Or at least not all outside the library.”

Lacan watched as Siegmund twitched his whiskers puzzledly and eyed him keenly. The Dragon-type weighed his words in his mind, before he spoke up to explain himself in a rumbling voice.

“After all, if the Dyad saw that many soldiers prowling outside the Royal Library, she would likely decide to try her luck elsewhere,” he explained. “It would be best to lure her inside and have those soldiers lie in wait to ambush her there. She’d be unlikely to make it out of the building, and even if it did, it’d buy time for the other units to converge and either apprehend her outside, or else follow her back to her hiding place.”

Siegmund hesitated a moment, before letting a small, proud smile creep up over his muzzle.

“You really do take after your father, don’t you? With a mind like that, I look forward to seeing the same White Wings about your neck, and you using your skills at the fore of this realm’s armies.”

Lacan blinked a moment at the weasel’s words. The White Wings of a Feldmarschall? The pattern modeled after Reshiram’s wings and its attendant baton was the mark of the highest rank a soldier could have in the army, and granted its holder the rights and privileges of a high noble. A part of Lacan felt a swell of pride over the idea of being able to wear the same patterns as his father, an honor normally reserved for Generals who had managed feats such as capturing a major settlement in battle.

But there would be plenty of time to daydream about honors after Operation Spark succeeded, and just its success would be a reward higher than any rank that could be bestowed:

A chance to avenge all the destruction and misery that Edialeigh had left on this land. On his world.

“Though is there anything else that you need for your mission?”

Lacan studied the King’s expression carefully, even if they both understood how paramount Operation Spark’s success was, he wasn’t sure how the King would react to him asking for still more assistance.

“There are a few tomes from the Royal Library that would be helpful to cross-reference for my mission. And obviously, extra bodies to help search for the Dyad,” the Salamence replied. “But we’d already be spending time around the Royal Library, and the issue of additional strength can be solved by assisting Gendarmen if need be. After all, considering how Fähnlein Stärke was formed to be a covert unit, working through proxies is probably the safer course of action to preserve Operation Spark’s secrecy.”

The Fighting-type cocked a brow, before turning and facing him as his expression grew stern.

“Really? Nothing at all?” the Mienshao asked. “Feldmarschall Kant was loyal to my father and I until the bitter end. It would be unbecoming of me to not repay it by extending such a favor to his flesh and blood.”

Lacan stiffened up briefly and fidgeted his wings. It always made a part of him feel uneasy leaning on his father’s accomplishments to get things, especially when it didn’t feel like he’d properly earned them. King Siegmund had already given him no shortage of aid while growing up on account of his friendship with his late father. Just what on earth could he offer at this point?

“Personal sentiment aside, you are in the Kingdom’s capital, Graf,” Siegmund said. “There’s certain resources that will be hard to access again once you leave it. If you can think of anything here that you think would materially help Operation Spark’s chances of success, by all means, tell me.”

Lacan opened his mouth only to catch himself. There was one thing he could think of asking for, but the last time he’d brought it up with the Generalstab, he’d been brushed aside and told his concerns dealt with crown secrets.

Well, he was here with King Siegmund himself, and if there was ever going to be an opportunity to ask…

“I would like a chance to review any records regarding what transpired during Operation Avalanche,” he said. “In particular, if there were any from during King Sansa’s reign specifically dealing with how it reached its ultimate resolution.”

Siegmund pulled his cowl tight around his body and narrowed his eyes. Lacan briefly bit his tongue, wondering if he’d perhaps been a bit too bold in his request. The specifics of what had happened in Operation Avalanche were murky, with the only agreement being that it had at once gone horrifically awry, while also helping to usher in the end of the Advent War. The war between Varhyde and Edialeigh before the one that raged in the present day.

… No, Siegmund had asked him for anything that he needed. No matter how it made him look, he’d be a fool not to try and make the most of the Fighting-type’s offer.

“I realize that it surely sounds presumptuous to ask for such a thing, but with how little of a margin for error we have, it would be best for me and my subordinates to know everything we have to know before we hit the sea,” he insisted. “A part of that would be understanding what went wrong with the Kingdom’s past attempt at securing and drawing upon the power of a Dyad like the one we pursue today.”

The Mienshao stared at him wordlessly for a moment, before folding his arms with a dubious frown.

“And you intend to accomplish all this while organizing a search for the Dyad at the same time?” the king pressed. “Isn’t that a bit much for you to shoulder alone?”

“I’m well aware, Your Majesty,” Lacan said. “That was why it was my intention to dispatch my Oberstleutnant to review those records for me.”

Siegmund seemed genuinely surprised by that comment. The Mienshao briefly looked through the windows, where Sophia was seated at the table in the waiting room at attention and worriedly stealing glances at her surroundings.

There was a long silence, which Lacan thought to try and explain his rationale further. The moment he opened his mouth, the Mienshao frowned and shot a wary, sidelong glance from the corner of his eye.

“And not assigning her to organize the search for the Dyad in your place as an Oberstleutnant? Are you sure about this, Graf Lacan?” the Mienshao pressed. “I understand that the Generalstab likely already provided you a truncated version of events, but there is a reason why you were instructed to be sparing about sharing details of Operation Spark and the things that would be needed to see its success through. As I’m sure you already know, the way the commonfolk would react to such details becoming known would be… unpredictable, to say the least.”

“I’m aware, and Oberstleutnant Sophia is more than capable of shouldering such a burden. She’s been a dutiful member of the Ritter von Herbergau and a loyal subordinate for years,” the Salamence retorted. “She has gone above and beyond in her duties to the crown during this mission and long before it. I’d trust her with my life.

Lacan didn’t realize how forceful his words were coming out until the ending enunciation reverberated in his ears. He bit the inside of his mouth and fought back a grimace. He’d always been quick to come to Sophia’s defense, but addressing the King in such a tone surely wasn’t helping his case.

“Your Majesty, I-”

“Have told me enough to make an informed decision.”

Siegmund raised a paw for a stop, before brushing his cowl aside with a quiet click of his tongue.

“Tell your Oberstleutnant once you go back inside to report to the Royal Reliquary effective immediately,” he said. “I will arrange for her to review whatever files can be gathered up there.”

Lacan had to fight to keep his jaw from flopping open out of surprise. He supposed Siegmund did say to ask him for anything, but a part of him wasn’t sure how earnest the Mienshao was. Even so, there was a grave air about the Fighting-type, as he turned his snout up with a stern frown.

“This isn’t a favor I grant lightly, Graf Lacan. Even if I admit that it’s motivated in part by personal sentiment,” he said. “If at all possible, I’d like to see you come home alive after Operation Spark to see the fruits of your and your father’s labor. To see what I wasn’t able to give Anna thanks to my cowardice and naivete when I was younger…”

The Mienshao king trailed off as a wistful look came over his face, he turned and gazed out at the night sky and the sprawl bounded by the city’s circular walls below.

“A realm that’s finally at lasting peace. One where Pokémon that dwell in it will never have to fear the capricious desires of the Pokémon across the sea in Edialeigh or their depredations,” Siegmund remarked. “One where Edialeigh’s crown and their so-called ‘City of Light’ from which it reigns from are but faded cinders and faded memories.”

It’d been about an hour after Lyle and his teammates made their way northward from that strange chamber with the concrete platforms. Unlike the tunnels they’d gone through earlier, the ones around them right now were much wider, and somehow even more barren and desolate. Some of the tunnels’ walls and ceiling were pitted and looked much like they were parts of a natural formation, aside from a few chunks here and there that still had smooth sections of concrete. The ground was similarly irregular, with portions of the ground which were gouged with shallow pits and rises that were partly filled with stagnant water. And every now and then, Lyle swore he’d see a corroded metal bar lying around. Occasionally, there’d be a pile of rubble he and the others would have to climb over or snake around in whatever space remained—the leftovers of prior cave-ins. Not recent ones, he hoped.

Their only companions the entire time had been the hums of the Wonder Orbs they’d occasionally been rubbing to make sure they were ready for use. More worrisome was how the entire time, they didn’t seem to be short on would-be foes. As they went down the tunnels, they’d occasionally hear sounds of movement in the distance or catch glimpses of eyes glowing further off in the darkness. On a couple occasions, they even ran into a Wilder that ambushed them. A Rattata here, a Voltorb there…


Along the Zubat he just shot out of the air with a Flamethrower and left twitching weakly at the wall of the tunnel. Lyle braced himself in anticipation of more to come, since Wilder Zubat weren’t solitary creatures. Fortunately, nobody else came, and after a glance back at his teammates, he saw Dalton venturing ahead and motioning with a hand to hurry along.

“That fight made more noise than I’d hoped,” the Heliolisk murmured. “We should get going before anyone else comes to investigate.”

Music to his ears, really. Lyle quickly hurried along with his teammates and took his place back at the head of the group as they continued on deeper into the tunnel. He knew he’d heard of long tunnels made back in human times, but this one just kept going and going…

That other chamber had to be close by now, right? The encounters he and his teammates hadn’t been particularly hard, but they were starting to take their toll. Enough so that they’d already had to stop once to distribute healing berries between themselves. It didn’t help that those ambushes seemed to always involve Pokémon that were just beyond Lyle’s sight from his body’s fire. Oftentimes, their only warning was just a growl or the sound of pattering footsteps right before being attacked.

“How much further do we need to keep going like this?”

Lyle turned his head back towards Irune and saw her clinging tight to Kate with a nervous gulp. He would’ve thought that she’d be able to see better than him with her farsight, but even so, she seemed to be visibly rattled. Kate looked down at her with what seemed like a twinge of pity, and briefly patted the Axew’s head before turning to Dalton.

“Scales, you’re the guide here,” she said. “Are we there yet?”

Why was Irune so rattled at the moment anyways? Was it because they were quite literally in the dark right now? Or was something else weighing on her? He started to pace toward her as Dalton brushed past him and went deeper off into the tunnel. The Heliolisk went ahead a few paces, when he paused and studied the tunnel lit up by the glow of Lyle’s fire.

“Almost. We should be entering the remains of another chamber like the one we were in earlier,” Dalton said. “Once we get there, there should be some steps up on the right that will take us back up to the surface across the river from the Administrative District.”

Lyle hoped that getting out of the place wasn’t also going to be a pain in the ass, but he supposed that it was nice knowing that they’d see the sky again soon enough. He carried on as Dalton studied the wall briefly and walked along its length, running a hand along it when the Heliolisk suddenly stumbled. Lyle flared up and hurried over as Dalton sharply pulled his foot back. Gottverdammt, another Wilder? It was some sort of crustacean that had an Occa Berry’s color with a flash of cream on its underbelly. Wait, those claws, that fan-like tail, it was-!

“Gah, there’s Corphish down here, too?!” Kate cried.

Lyle jumped back and arched his body, as his teammates took battle positions. Except… the Corphish just kept staring off blankly into the tunnel, fixed and unmoving. Lyle crept forward and sniffed at the Corphish, only to realize that it didn’t smell anything like one. He snuck up and gave a wary poke at it when discovered that it wasn’t hard to the touch. It was like it was a doll, or…

“A Substitute?” he murmured.

He definitely wasn’t expecting to see one of those down here. Lyle knew that Substitutes were sometimes used as more than just training dummies like the ones Amp and Watt had at their shop. Back in his hometown, some of the younger Pokémon would keep them around as dolls, especially if their parents were too tight on money to afford one that wouldn’t melt into mist if it was thrown around too much.

Except that still didn’t explain why it was just lying around.

“Keep your fire dim from past this point, Lyle. This last stretch could get a bit dicey.”

Lyle looked over at Dalton and immediately noticed that the Heliolisk looked on edge—much as if he’d seen a ghost. He followed the Electric-type’s gaze off to the wall, where there was a ruddy, sloppily painted sigil on the wall… which looked like some sort of Crawdaunt’s claw. Lyle glanced off at his side and Kate and Irune staring up at it, before Kate blinked and turned aside with a small frown.

“Scales, isn’t that going to make things harder for us?” she harrumphed, folding her arms. “I know that my darkvision is decent, but it’s not as if the Wilders that live down here aren’t more used to it than me.”

Lyle expected Dalton to waver more after Kate’s counterpoint, especially since he was the one with the busted arm that didn’t mix well with scuffles. But the Heliolisk’s expression didn’t change at all as he warily glanced down the length of the tunnel.

“Just trust me on this one,” the Electric-type said in a low tone. “A lot of these tunnels are less empty than they look, and there’s more than just Wilders down here.”

There… were? Lyle hesitated a moment at Dalton’s demeanor and noticed Irune starting to get visibly worried. She stole uneasy glances around her, before tilting her head puzzledly.

“... Do you mean that there’s Grünhäuter patrolling down here?” she asked. “I thought that you said these tunnels weren’t used outside of times of crisis.”

Dalton blinked and hesitated a moment, before pawing at the back of his head with the hand on his good arm.

“Well, yes. I suppose that wouldn’t be impossible,” the Heliolisk said. “It’s a big tunnel system, and I suppose there have been stories of them using these tunnels to get around in past sieges…”

He trailed off, his posture tense and braced as if he expected them to be jumped at any moment.

“But they aren’t who I was worried about right now,” he said. “I’m more concerned about others who had the same idea as us.”

‘Others who had the same idea as us’? As in other Outlaws? It hadn’t occurred to Lyle that there’d be others beyond themselves down here…though from personal experience, Outlaws weren’t above territorial squabbles like Wilders. Or the Kingdom itself for that matter. But there were really bands of Outlaws that managed to hold out here in the Capital with all the guards roaming around?

That was probably as good of an argument for not brushing Dalton’s advice aside. After all, any Outlaw gang that could make it in a territory like this was definitely not one they wanted to get on the bad side of.

Lyle fought against his vent and tamped down the fire coming from them, the visibility in the tunnel dropping down to about twenty paces in any direction. After asking Dalton for instructions of what to do next, he drifted over with his teammates for the right wall of the tunnel, glancing up at the pitted and scarred wall above him.

“Gods, I can’t wait until we’re out of this hole,” Lyle grumbled. “And here I thought Waterhead Cave was unpleasant to go through.”

He carried on with Dalton walking alongside him to his left, just in case there was something else the Heliolisk noticed that they should be aware of. The tunnel walls drifted past them mostly in darkness, time seeming to slow to a crawl as he felt his heart thump in his chest. After a small eternity which surely couldn’t have been more than a couple minutes, the wall abruptly gave way to half-crumbled remains of a concrete platform. Lyle clambered up and stopped to help his teammates up and then down a shattered hallway that appeared to have once had straight, smooth walls.

He briefly spotted a faded blue square with a white glyph a little ways down along the side of the wall next to a fork in the path, when Kate’s ears suddenly pricked up. Then his own did the same. Footsteps, not far away and growing louder.

“Somebody’s here,” Kate whispered.

Lyle fought against his body’s flames and cut the fire from his vents entirely, plunging him and the rest of Team Forager into darkness. He held his breath as the sound came again, this time mixed with the sound of wingbeats. Maybe they were just getting wound up over the likes of more Wilders, but after Dalton’s warning earlier…

“Think it’s more Wilders?” Lyle asked. “Whoever’s out there, they don’t sound big.”

“Oi, Igna! We’ve got intruders poking about in here!” a voice squawked. “Up there past the platforms, one of them had fire on his body!”

Lyle reflexively lit up again with a start at the cawing voice. He hurriedly tamped his fire out, but the damage was already done. There further down the tunnel was a pair of ghostly blue lights along some sort of whitish rod, with a glimpse of a bipedal figure about his height holding it.

He couldn’t get a good view of the figure holding the light, but just from the glimpse and the sound of increasingly large-sounding footsteps and wingbeats, it was obvious the Pokémon out there weren’t exactly small and unthreatening like he’d hoped. Lyle felt his heart begin to flutter and set his teeth on edge as he fought back a quiet whine from his throat.

A-Ach, Schei-
“Ah/Oh, shi-”

“So much for an easy exit,” Kate whispered. “Looks like we’re gonna have to fight our way out of here.”

Kate flashed her claws and started to walk ahead, only to abruptly stop as Irune blocked her path. The Axew looked up at her, with an expression that struck Lyle as being equal parts anxious and frustrated.

“Kate, we have no idea who we’re up against!” Irune hissed. “We can’t just blindly pick a fight here!”

“It won’t stay a battle between two Pokémon either, Kate,” Dalton added. “I would’ve hoped you as an Outlaw by trade would expect as much starting a fight with rivals.”

“Well give some better ideas to work with then!” Kate snapped.

Lyle felt his heart pound as the light neared and grew ever-clearer in his vision, when his mind turned back to when they first entered the Undercity. Earlier on, there was that strange blue-and-white sigil at the end of a tunnel on their side of the chamber. If this was really a place with a way out, wouldn’t it likely have a sigil like that, too?

It was just a hunch, but he didn’t have any better ideas to work with at the moment. The winged Pokémon with the figure with the torch or whatever it was was doing a flyover now. It wouldn’t be long before the two ran into them, along with any buddies of theirs.

“Dalton. You know how we saw that symbol coming into the Undercity?” Lyle asked. “Do those show up anywhere in particular chambers like these?”

“The ones that are still around usually are nearsteps that go up towards the surface,” Dalton explained. “Or at least to ones that used to, why?”

“There’s one in by that branching path up ahead, so that’s probably our way out of here,” the Quilava insisted. “Come on, we’re gonna need to make a run for it!”

Lyle abruptly lit up as the right wall of the chamber with its mottled teal paint came into view and bolted ahead after where he’d remembered seeing the white sigil. Sure enough, it was in a passage that split at both ends, and was quickly approaching… along with their pursuers.

“Hey! Stop and put your paws where we can see them!” the cawing voice cried.

Lyle didn’t bother to stop or even look back, and instead kept running. A slicing gust of wind and a gout of bluish, ghostly fire zipped in, a yelp from Kate suggesting that they’d missed by hairs. Lyle quickly whipped his head between both directions at the fork, and after seeing pricks of colored light from the right, hurriedly bounded up the steps.

He tore along and looked back to see his teammates rounding the corner, with the sound of the pursuing wingbeats and footsteps right behind them. It dawned on him that they weren’t going to be able to outrun their pursuers, so they had to do something to buy some time or else they’d be quite literally fighting in the dark in short order. The Quilava hastily rifled through his bag, blindly grabbing at a Wonder Orb inside and lobbing it just as he spotted the glow of ghostly fire coming around the corner.

The Orb broke with the sound of shattering glass, followed by a pair of startled yelps. Gottverdammt, they could’ve used that in a Mystery Dungeon! It’d have worked against an entire chamber in there, while he’d have been lucky to have worked more than ten paces out using it right here and now!

“Agh! Ansel, you idiot! You could’ve told me they were right there!

He supposed whatever he’d grabbed, that ten or so paces was enough, even if it was a bit unnerving to think that their ambushers were that close to them. The Quilava turned to his companions, who briefly faltered and glanced back in disbelief, before he motioned up the steps impatiently.

“Go! Go! Go!”

Lyle tore along and darted up the stairs as best as their size would allow him. He reached the top, and came across a tunnel that had been covered with wooden boards. The others caught up shortly afterwards and immediately began frantically feeling around for any sign of a loose plank to pull aside. There was a creak, when Lyle turned over to Kate and saw her tugging at one that looked loose…

And riddled with claw marks on it.

“Hey wait a minute,” she said. “Looks like someone’s come through here before-”

The board abruptly gave way under her weight, and sent her pitching forward. Lyle hurriedly followed after her and tumbled out onto a set of worn and ground-down steps with some weathered propaganda posters and a pile of shattered exposure chests that reminded him of the back of the Box Buster shop in his home village. Big cities had Box Busters too, didn’t they?

Kate hastily picked herself up and dusted herself off as Dalton and Irune caught up. Lyle turned and bolted up the steps, he saw that overhead, the sunlight was gone, replaced with moonlight along with bluish auroras that he glimpsed between narrow gaps overhead in some sort of alley. He ran ahead wherever the alleys took him, running along what felt like a veritable warren until he popped out into a cobbled street with a few passersby drifting past.

He paused to let his racing heart slow down as he heard his teammates catch up, only to pause after looking at his surroundings. All about them were various buildings and shacks with thatched and shingled roofs, with the spires of the Administrative District off in the distance towards the south crowned with a fiery light coming from the top of Dämmerungsturm. The Quilava turned and stared at the darkened monoliths against the starry sky and the bands of colored light behind them, when Dalton’s voice pricked his ears.


Lyle turned and saw Dalton pawing at his left shoulder with his good arm, with the Heliolisk’s eyes narrowed into an annoyed scowl.

“From now on, let’s try and stay out of trouble until we make it to those marketplaces, got it?”

He nodded back all too eagerly. He’d had enough excitement for one day, and it’d be nice to have some peace and quiet before finally getting some sleep.

After leaving the Undercity, Lyle was all too eager to get away from the exit tunnel they’d taken, just in case those two Pokémon they’d run into were attempting to track them. The first thing that Lyle noticed as he went along was that the district they’d stepped out into was cramped with narrow and winding streets, some of which looked like they’d struggle to fit a larger Puller passing through, let alone a wagon. It sort of reminded him of the district where they’d gotten off Boudewijn’s raft, and he swore that a few of the shabby-looking buildings looked like they’d been made of the same timbers as the barges and rafts even if he couldn’t see signs of a dock anywhere.

Even so, there were still differences from the neighborhood around the docks. Here, there would occasionally be the skeleton of a taller human ruin which rose up, unclaimed by civilization from the gutted upper levels and darkened silhouettes of branches that could be seen against the auroras and moonlight. And while the area around the docks hadn’t exactly been obviously wealthy, it certainly felt a cut above their present surroundings.

“Is that part of a boat? Dalton, where did you take us?”

Lyle turned and saw Irune pointing and gaping at a post jutting out from a building facade with a carving of a Gyarados head that looked like it was styled after a ship’s prow. Hell, it probably was a ship’s prow once from the way the paint was flaking off of it. He turned and cocked a head at Dalton himself. What was the story behind this neighborhood anyways?

“This is Shift Square, a district just to the east of the Great Arena and the neighborhoods built on its slopes where more normal Pokémon live,” Dalton explained. “There’s a stretch of shoreline along the bridge that I was originally going to take to get here that has places where boats are brought in to be scrapped.”

Lyle supposed that explained the nearby buildings, even if he was surprised to hear that Pokémon would live this meagerly just across the river from where the King and Hofstaat lived. Kate seemed even less impressed than he did, and had a twinge of discomfort cross her face.

“I don’t think I missed much by never coming here before,” she muttered. “I’ve spent time in refugee camps that felt less miserable than this!”

Lyle wasn’t sure if he agreed with Kate there, though from what he knew of her history, she was definitely more qualified to cast judgment. Neighborhoods that felt worn-down and meager weren’t exactly rare in even Varhyde’s smaller towns, but now that Kate mentioned it, the buildings seemed to get visibly shabbier as they went along. Some of them were obviously put together from scraps of unpainted wood and metal. Others went without blinds or shutters for windows, while still others didn’t have doors beyond some cloth strips hung over the doorway—the sort of thing one would expect from a rural peasant barely able to afford a mat and mailpost for their burrow or nest.

“I… suppose that portions of Shift Square did used to be refugee encampments earlier on in the war,” Dalton said. “I guess that parts of it still reflect those origins.”

Lyle hoped that they wouldn’t be here too much longer, since even the streets seemed to get worse as they went along. The back lanes grew increasingly cluttered with untended garbage, a few carrying vile, gag-inducing odors that the Quilava tried not to think too hard about. The one spot that seemed to be a reprieve from it all was a weirdly tidy corner with a set of wooden boards set up with line after line of tiny runes on them. He wasn’t sure what it was at first, when he noticed flowers and little stones and notes set at their base.

… Just like the Gedenksteine
“Remembrance Stones”
₃ in his hometown, where Pokémon who’d died from the war and weren’t able to be sent off at home had their names engraved. These boards were obviously shabbier since they were made of wood, and they had a hell of a lot more names on them.

He hurried and continued along after that, and noticed his teammates had similarly had a chill come over their moods. Nobody said anything afterwards until they spotted a line of Pokémon queued up at an open-backed cart manned by some Pokémon in green plates next to some lanterns that had been set up. Most of the Pokémon lining up looked visibly lean, a few had missing limbs or other ugly scars, all waiting for packets being handed out from the back of the wagon.

Lyle knew what the line to a food dole looked like, and he knew how unruly they could get if it came up short. With the tense, sullen mood in the crowd and how the Gendarmen would occasionally shove back Pokémon trying to sneak around them, he already knew it was a bad idea to hang around.

“Is there a side street that we can take, Dalton?” he asked. “That crowd up ahead just screams trouble.”

“Yeah, off to the right.”

Lyle hurriedly rounded the corner with his teammates and moved along. They didn’t need to risk the Gendarmen noticing them, and none of them needed to get a good look at that sort of misery right here and now. Irune seemed to be visibly bothered by her surroundings, and she went over and tugged at Dalton’s side with a worried frown.

“Is… it really a good idea to be stealing from Pokémon in a place like this?” she asked. “It just feels so… meager.”

“Things are thankfully a bit less rough in the area around those marketplaces, but there’s a bit more of this to go through before we reach them,” the Heliolisk said. “Though there are worse places we could’ve wound up in. Like Zelba City. Now that district is a real dump.”

Wait, there were districts here called ‘cities’? There was probably some story behind that, but Lyle wasn’t sure if he wanted to know what that place was like if Dalton was comparing it negatively to this one. He and Team Forager entered an intersection of back alleys, with clotheslines dangling between rows of ramshackle tenements. Lyle noticed Dalton slow as they passed through, as he stopped and pointed off to their right.

“After all, even if you won’t find a noble’s salon around here, you can’t say that the residents don’t at least try to make things feel a bit more homely.”

Lyle turned and followed the Heliolisk’s finger off towards a small, crude pavillion made of unpainted wood with misaligned shutters. There were a few odds and ends set out in various places, their arrangement giving away that the place was some sort of shrine. Irune seemed particularly fixed at the sight, before she turned her head over to them.

“If we’re not in a hurry, could we take a look?”

Lyle traded glances with Kate and Dalton. On the one paw, they weren’t going to get to those marketplaces any quicker like this. On the other paw, the shrine was right here, and small enough that it wouldn’t take long to duck in and out.

And with how their luck had been lately, even if it was on the superstitious side, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to try and curry a bit of divine favor.

“Fine. But I’m not sure what you’re expecting to find in a neighborhood as poor as this one,” Lyle said. “Just make it quick. We still need to hit up those marketplaces and find a place to sleep tonight.”

He shuffled up to the entrance of the pavillion along with his teammates, only to freeze in surprise once he crossed the threshold. All around him were a collection of wooden statues and painted panels dedicated to various gods. Made well enough and with enough care that they looked more at home along that path up to the Reshiram statue in the Administrative District than in a dump like this.

Maybe that was a bit unfair to Shift Square’s Pokémon, since even if there hadn’t been any living gods in Varhyde for years, they still commanded respect among the Kingdom’s Pokémon. He supposed the shrine being shared between gods should’ve been less surprising to him as well. After all, he remembered Moonturn Square had one where a statue of Celebi shared the same roof with one to Hoopa.

Even so, this was the first time he’d ever seen a shrine to so many gods in one place. One corner of the pavillion was devoted to Ho-Oh, the Great Bird of Seven Colors, with incense and fragrant ash set out. Another to Xerneas, the Voice of Life, with wooden branches set out. Why, there was even a corner set aside for Latios. Lyle blinked and went over, where he saw a few coins left sitting at the base of the statue. The sight drew a smile and small chuckle from Dalton as he walked by and picked a few of the coins up from the base.

“Honestly, this little shack feels more earnest than that big statue back at the overlook,” Dalton remarked. “The Pokémon that lived here wanted to make this shrine and pooled their own efforts to put it together.”

Lyle noticed Irune paying particularly rapt attention to something behind the Latios statue. He turned to look himself and saw that on the wooden panels behind the statue, there were scenes of the Latios playfully wheeling about in the sky. The scenes were a bit rough around the edges, but their creator had clearly invested a lot of care and effort on behalf of his patron.

One that gave the urge to just stop and stay a while taking them in.

“I… guess I can see where you’re coming from,” the Axew murmured. “Latios looks so… free in these paintings. I don’t know if a shrine commissioned by a noble would ever look like this.”

‘Free’, huh? If it weren’t for the fact that the Vatername he saw on Irune’s wanted poster back in Errberk Village was the sort which Wilders recruited into civilization had, he’d have guessed that Irune’s dad had been a Carrier or something like that. A set of clinks snapped him out of his thoughts as Dalton returned the offerings back to their place beside the Latios shrine and continued on. He followed after, only to see the Heliolisk suddenly freeze just ahead. Kate caught his change in demeanor, too, and tilted her head puzzledly.

“Scales? Why are you reacting like tha-?”

Lyle caught a glimpse of black paint splattered about up ahead and stopped dead in his tracks after rounding the corner. The space ahead had been a shrine to Reshiram, except the panels had black paint thrown onto them, recently enough that he could see beads still dripping like black tar. The wooden statue to Reshiram had met a similar fate, and been toppled over with gashes cut into it.

Something came over Lyle and he hurriedly turned the statue up, setting it back on its stand. He’d never considered himself as the type of ‘mon to put much stock in dead gods, but something about seeing this humble shrine defaced like this just didn’t sit well with him. Dalton and Kate stared blankly ahead as Irune went up and pawed at the statue. She put a hand on the black paint, only to pull it back sharply after discovering it was still wet.

“I- I don’t understand,” she stammered. “Who would do something like this?”

“Look up,” Kate remarked. “It should give you a few ideas.”

‘Look up’? Lyle followed after Kate’s claw and went rigid with shock. There, to the side of the black paint were a set of scrawled runes and the silhouette of a great, deep black dragon with outstretched wings and a dart-like tail.

Zekrom, the patron god of Edialeigh, and the Endbringer who was said to have razed entire kingdoms with his lightning.

“I’m going to go ahead and guess that’s not supposed to be part of this shrine,” Lyle murmured.

“Gee, what tipped you off there, Lyle?” Kate scoffed. “The fact that it’s a scrawled mess? Or that there’s still black paint dripping down?”

Lyle held his tongue at the Sneasel’s remark, not least of all because the scene was uncomfortably familiar. He supposed it was only to be expected when there had once been a proper shrine to Zekrom in his hometown.

He never fully understood why it was so. The way his parents explained it to him, it and a number of shrines like it had been built in Varhyde during the reign of King Sansa. At a time when as impossible as it sounded, Zekrom was said to have once been friendly to Varhyde… one that was swiftly drowned out and forgotten when the Dragon of Deep Black once again brought death and destruction alongside Edialeigh’s forces later on in King Sansa’s reign.

Back in the early years of the war before the gods that took part of it all killed each other off.

Lyle supposed that even if those memories were hazy now, that Varhyde’s Pokémon never forgot what happened. Or forgave it. Even if the Zekrom shrine in town was boarded up and decaying after being torched in the past, it was still standing. He’d never heard of another one in Varhyde all his life that was in a better state than it.

“I-I just don’t understand why whoever did this would need to destroy a shrine to make their own,” Irune murmured. “Reshiram and Zekrom are counterparts to each other and at least where I grew up, there was a shrine to Zekrom in it.”

Lyle stiffened up at the Axew’s reply and whirled around, just in time to catch Dalton and Kate staring at her much as if her tusks had just fallen off. Irune also came from a village that still had a shrine to Zekrom? He doubted she ever saw what it really looked like or that it was in good condition, but still, that was one hell of a coincidence.

“Because whoever made this wasn’t interested in making a shrine,” Dalton said. “That message is a curse.”

Dalton pointed out the set of runes underneath the scrawl of Zekrom, made in the same paint, with loose, messy strokes much as if made in a fit of rage. He had to read the line a couple of times since some of the runes used didn’t look like ones which were normally used, but he thought that he managed to piece together the message…

“‘May the gods hear our cries for aid and judge this den of liars,’” the Quilava said. “Am… I reading that right?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s correct, yes,” Dalton remarked. “I… might be reaching for the next line, but I’m pretty it says. ‘May they grant this hole the same peace they visited upon Freeden Village.’”

Lyle reflexively pinned his ears back at Dalton’s narration. Gods, whoever wrote that sure knew how to get under his hide. The Heliolisk trailed off and pawed underneath the runes, giving a frowning shake of their head.

“You definitely don’t see too many Pokémon write a message out like that,” he said. “Especially not with some of the runes this ‘mon used. Or at least, not among Pokémon from Varhyde.”

… Meaning that an Edialeigher wrote it? Lyle supposed that he couldn’t definitively rule it out after they came across that Charmeleon earlier, and it was genuinely hard to imagine a Varhyder doing something like this to a shrine of the land’s patron goddess.

“W-Wait, what did that writer mean by that last bit?” Irune asked. “I’ve- I’ve been to Freeden Village before and there wasn’t anything obviously special about it!”

Lyle turned and stared at Irune as she turned her head up at Dalton and noticed that she looked visibly alarmed. Did she not really know the tale of how Freeden Village was said to have earned the disfavor of the gods? After all, if an Edialeigher had heard the tale to allude to the ‘peace’ the gods gave to his hometown, what were the odds that Irune hadn’t?

Actually, as crazy as it sounded… could Irune have also been from Freeden Village like him? While he admittedly hadn’t been back home for almost three years at this point, he couldn’t say he ever remembered seeing her in the village when he was younger. Even so, that reaction of hers felt familiar, like ones he’d had on a couple of occasions when he was still new to the Foehn Gang… and a couple assholes on the gang had found out about his hometown and ribbed him over being as living jinx carrying the town’s curse.

… Maybe he was just overthinking things. Varhyde wasn’t a small kingdom, enough so that he barely knew about the towns past the neighboring Grafschaften where he grew up. It was surely more likely than the two of them somehow hailing from the same two-bit village without ever knowing each other.

He considered just asking Irune and settling the matter once and for all, only to bite his tongue. Maybe it was better to set the topic aside. If she had somehow grown up in Freeden Village, he was sure that one way or another, he’d know for sure eventually. It was probably time to move on anyways, since lingering around this of all things wasn’t exactly going to lift the mood.

“It’s just a curse some punk put up,” Lyle huffed. “Let’s just get out of here right now.”

He made his way out of the shrine as Kate and Dalton followed after him. As he turned back into the alleyway, he noticed that Irune wasn’t there with them. He poked his head back through the entrance, where he saw her still looking back at the desecrated Reshiram shrine. The Axew shook her head and shuffled back out and rejoined them with an uneasy paw at her shoulder.

“Sorry to keep you all waiting. Though I suppose you’re right and we’ve got more important things to worry about…” she murmured. “Though what do we do now?”

Kate paused a moment and let her ear flick at the sound of something in the distance, before raising a claw and motioning off down the alley to their left. There at the end, Lyle could spot glimpses of colorful stalls and different figures slipping past the mouth of the alleyway.

“Scales, is that the marketplace we were looking for?” she asked.

“The edge of it, yes,” Dalton said. “We might as well get started, though stay sharp. Just because we’re not in Armory Alley right now doesn’t mean that things can’t go sideways for us quickly.”

Much as Dalton had predicted, after slipping out of the alleyway, Kate and the rest of Team Forager came across Shift Square’s marketplaces. They were clustered along both sides of a road that headed off towards a bridge going back towards the Administrative District as buildings of three to five stories of wood and scrap clustered among gutted human ruins. Layout and towering ruins aside, it didn’t all that different from that marketplace they’d gone through in Moonturn Square…

Aside from the fact that it was still crowded at this late hour, with throngs of Pokémon continuing to do their trading and bartering under the glow of lanterns hung out over stalls and shopfronts and hung across streets on lines. A great place to just slow down and soak in the hustle and bustle of passing Pokémon and wagons.

“Hey! Stop!”

Kate ignored the cries of protest as she snagged a Luminous Orb off the counter of a wood-and-canvas stall tended by a Kadabra and took off running. She dashed ahead, ducking and weaving past passersby before popping into a back alley. The others were already waiting there and waiting for her, including Dalton, who sized her up briefly with a small frown.

“You should’ve been more careful about picking marks, Kate,” the Heliolisk remarked. “Many of the vendors here aren’t exactly pushovers.”

Kate couldn’t help but scoff internally at the Heliolisk’s remark. They’d attempted to seek marks quite literally at the doorstep of a Hunter’s Guild once already in their journey. So long as they were quick on their feet, how could this possibly be any more risky?

“Ah, lighten up, Scales,” Kate insisted, giving a dismissive wave of her claws. “We’ve already made up most of those items we burned through back in Primordial Woods. Not bad for only our third go!”

The Heliolisk briefly rolled his eyes, but didn’t contest the point. Good enough, Kate supposed. She started putting away the Luminous Orb into her bag as Irune looked at her, when she noticed the Axew was holding a meager coinpurse. So she’d managed to actually steal something after all… except, why did she look like she was expecting the sky to cave in on her at any moment?

“Don’t you think we’ve taken enough already?” Irune asked. “These Pokémon probably worked hard to get the things we’re stealing from them. And the longer we keep at this, the more likely we are to run into trouble.”

Kate pinned her ears back with a quiet sigh. She supposed that was one way to tell that Irune still wasn’t used to stealing things. How on earth had she survived as an Outlaw before Lacan caught up to her anyways?

“Yeah, and we worked hard to nab it,” she said. “And it’s going to a good cause… namely to keep us out of trouble and get you closer to your treasure.”

Irune opened her mouth briefly to protest only to catch herself. Kate wasn’t sure whether or not the Axew really agreed with her, but it got the point across at least. Lyle was already starting to drift off, though Dalton seemed to be weirdly hesitant and on-edge as he kept stealing glances at his surroundings.

Was something wrong? She wouldn’t have pegged Scales to get confused by their surroundings with the way he’d taken them to this place through the Undercity, so what was going on?

Gottverdammt, I didn’t realize we’d been getting this close to the northeast end of the market,” the Heliolisk said.

“Why? What’s wrong with the northeast end of the market?” Lyle asked.

As if on cue, Dalton raised a hand and motioned off down the street, where a few stalls could be seen with various dungeoneering items set out. Among the buildings in the background, Kate spotted a building made out of a gutted concrete structure with a tent shaped like a Baxcalibur’s head attached to a part which had partly collapsed. Between the wares being plied and the number of Pokémon going past in groups with coordinated scarves…

“Right, you mentioned earlier that there were Hunter’s Guilds in this city,” the Quilava said.

Kate supposed that would explain why that shop had so many Wonder Orbs just set out on display. It was a bit weird to be in a place where the local guild wasn’t the most prominent building in its surroundings, even moreso to see one styled after what she assumed was its guildmaster’s head. She always thought that was more of a thing in podunk towns, or else something that some more tacky merchants like the Colorswap Consortium would find more up their alley.

Except, that didn’t solve the issue of what they were supposed to do right now.

“So… what’s the plan then?” Kate asked. “Since it’s not as if we don’t need these items. It’s not that hard to nick things in front of a guild, is it?”

There was a moment of hesitation, before Lyle turned back from the edge of the alley and shook his head.

“We only need a few more Seeds and Berries to cover what we went through in Primordial Woods,” the Quilava began. “Let’s just get them, meet up at the end of the street, and then put some distance from this part of the marketplace. It’s late enough that we should probably be worrying more about trying to find a place to spend the night and figure out where we’re going to go from here, anyways.”

Lyle reflexively set off, only for Dalton to grab at him with his uninjured arm and look about uneasily. The Heliolisk studied his surroundings closely, before leaning in with a wary murmur.

“Actually… I think that Irune may have been onto something earlier, Lyle,” the lizard said. “We’ve pushed our luck enough in this marketplace for a while.”

Kate pinned her ears back as Lyle turned back to Dalton. Gods, this wasn’t a hard thing. They just had to get those last Berries and Seeds and then get to the end of the street. How hard could that be?

“Let’s focus on finding a place to stay the night for now. Ideally someplace off the street.”

Great, now Scales was getting cold feet on top of things. Maybe he just needed a bit of a shove to get him back on track.

“Hey, hurry up slowpokes! See you at the end of the street when you’re done!”

Kate darted out into the crowd and briefly turned back to wave at her teammates still in the alley. She saw their shocked expressions, before they vanished amidst the faces in the crowd. Seeds and Berries… Seeds and Berries. She briefly glimpsed a Pecha Berry lying on the counter of a stall kept by a Delibird distracted by talking with a Prinplup off on the side. She walked by and in a swift motion, snagged it off the counter and ducked back into the throng. She weaved around bodies and passing wagons, but didn’t even hear a cry coming from the Delibird’s stall. Guess that was one way to tell that nobody had noticed her.

“Heh. Easy peasy.”

The next few stalls that she hit up went by similarly easily. A Totter Seed, a Cheri Berry, a Heal Seed… There was a brief moment when she thought she heard wingbeats overhead, but the whole time, her marks had at most caught passing glimpses that were easy to shake. It was all well and good, except she kept getting things a little at a time. If only there were a place where she could get more than a single Seed or Berry in one go…

“Oi, Masch! Hurry it up with the stock out there! Don’t just leave that inventory sitting around, each of those boxes is worth more than your week’s pay!”

“Alright! Alright!”

Kate’s ears swiveled and she turned around towards a stall built into the front of a human ruin where just in time to catch a Machoke taking a crate off a stack and bringing it in through a side entrance.

Expensive gear available in bulk? Now that she could get behind.

She hurriedly darted along and scanned the surroundings, noticing a wooden door leading further into the shop. She hurriedly breathed an Icy Wind over the door’s edge to freeze it over. It almost certainly wouldn’t hold, especially against a Machoke of all ‘mons, but the noise would give her a sign of when it was time to go.

Kate hurriedly darted over to the crate and popped the lid of the topmost crate open, seeing that it was filled with Oran Berries inside. She blinked briefly, before her face fell.

“Tch, this is what that Machoke was getting yelled at over?” she scoffed. “Boy, his weekly wages must really suck.”

She quickly snatched one, then another. She put her paws in deeper to reach for a third, only to feel them tink against something glassy.


She tightened her grip around the object and pulled it out, revealing it to be a glass flask capped with a cork and filled with bright red fluid. Quite thick from how slowly the air bubbles in it moved when she flipped it over.

“What in the-?”

The door opened with a sharp, icy crunch, as Kate grasped the flask in her claws and whirled around. Just in time for the Machoke to return from inside the shop.

“For crying out loud, who on earth delivers a batch of Drive during peak hou– Hey!

Whelp, that ‘Drive’ answered the question of what the fluid was, and a sign to bounce. The Machoke’s expression changed the moment his head poked out past the doorway, as he wound up an arm for a punch with a sharp snarl.

“What do you think you’re doing?!”

Kate answered the Machoke by blowing an Icy Wind in the Fighting-type’s face, dashing the bottle against the ground by his feet. There was a snarling “get back here” and then a pained yelp, probably a sign that the Machoke hadn’t been watching where he was going.

She ducked back out into traffic, springing up and vaulting over the back of a passing Stantler puller much to the ‘mon’s alarm, dutifully ignoring the Normal-type’s cries as she ran to the end. There was an alley off on the left side where she could see the glow of fire coming from it. That must’ve been their meeting place.

Kate stumbled into the alley and leaned against the wall to catch her breath. Götterblut, that was way too close for comfort. Maybe Scales had been onto something about them pushing their luck.

“What the hell happened to you?”

Kate’s ears perked up at Lyle’s voice. She turned, where further down the alley, she saw him looking up with Irune at his side. The pair seemed visibly worried, as Dalton hurriedly pulled her over to their hiding place.

Kate stumbled forward, her heart still pounding from her earlier close call. She hoped it wouldn’t take long to help Irune find out about her powers of hers, since they couldn’t put this craphole behind them soon enough. Kate wasn’t a stranger to mounting daring raids, but those always had safe places to slip away to once the deed was done, not more streets with prowling guards on them.

“Kate, did anyone follow you here?”

Kate looked up at Dalton as he looked visibly on edge. She looked back at the alleyway and saw nothing but passing traffic, before turning back with a puzzled tilt of her head.

“I mean, if someone did, you’d think they’d have caught up by now-”

A slicing gust of wind suddenly sailed in from further down the alley and caught Kate in her stomach. She fell back, and heard Lyle yelp after something loudly smacked against him, along with Irune and Dalton raising their voices in alarm.


Kate stumbled up as Irune’s voice reached her ears. She watched Lyle right himself by a bin filled with trash, only to freeze and flare up with a grimace. She followed his gaze deeper down the alley and stiffened up when she saw it herself:

A lanky lizard that had blackish scales with a violet tinge. It had a bony head with a vaguely star-shaped marking between its eyes and grasped a bone that looked longer than it was tall. Was that a Marowak? Kate blinked for a moment since a bunch of little things seemed off compared to Alvin, but no, this ‘mon was clearly some sort of Marowak.

And she was looking at them much like how Wilder predators were said to look at their cornered prey.

“Well well well, what do we have here, Ansel?”

Wingbeats rang out from above as a tawny blur dropped down from the surrounding rooftops. Brown feathers, a tall red head crest, and a long, thin beak that looked like it’d give one hell of a jab… that was a Fearow, alright. He and the strange Marowak didn’t have any armor plates, but from the overpowering glare in their eyes, one could’ve been forgiven for thinking they were somehow connected to them. Kate reflexively readied an Ice Shard, only to freeze after she noticed a peach-colored orb in the Fearow’s talons—a Slumber Orb, surely already prepared for use.

“You tell me, Igna,” the bird replied. “Since all I see are a bunch of stupid mudders who think that they can just swoop into this town and poke their sticky paws wherever they please.”

Kate looked on at their assailants, and flattened her ears with a low hiss.

Gods, she really hated this dump.

Author’s Notes:

Words and Phrases

1. Rotten - Plural of "Rotte", a name for various military units in the Germanosphere. Within the context of a Fähnlein, a Rotte is a small unit composed of 8-12 soldiers.
2. Ach, Schei- - “Ah/Oh, shi-”
3. Gedenksteine - “Remembrance Stones”

Teaser Text

The history of Varhyde and Edialeigh as kingdoms have long existed in the shadow of the many clashes between Wish and Reality. And yet, to this day, it remains a mystery as to why it is that Wish and Reality in their wanderings after the Great Flash would come to choose lands to dwell in that are so close to each other. Their exact rationales have since been lost to time, with some suggesting that the two are just fated to draw close to each other across their lives, while others have suggested that the Great Flash may have simply occurred at a time when they were both away from their original home and near to each other.

Like our patron goddess, the god we call 'Wish' chose a hero and helped found a kingdom to their liking. Queen Galea, who alongside the god who aided her, founded the Kingdom of Edialeigh amidst the ruins of a City of Light that is said to have once been the site of the legendary ‘Lumenaᵃ’. A place that those who live in the land of Varhyde now call Donaterm Cityᵇ.

While that city too had places which Wish found pleasing as a roost, it is said that what ultimately drew him to heed Galea’s pleas were her desires and strength of ideals to shape our unsettled world into one she thought better for its inhabitants. Desires so strong that some say that had the world held them back, that she would have seen fit to end it.

Nobody knows how true those tales are, but they’re certainly believable from what has been recorded of Wish and those he has chosen as his Heroes in history. Especially in light of the great violence that this Dragon of Deepᶜ Black has visited upon us and our land from above Edialeigh’s banners.

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. Derived by phonetic corruption from terminology from the German franchise localization.
b. Derived by phonetic corruption. A more semantically accurate translation would be "Thundertower City"
c. Semantic translation. A more literal one would be 'Pure', with 'Pure Black' in the original text alluding to the same concept as 'Deep Black' does here.
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