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EVERYONE: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Ghosts of the past.

Chapter One: Hey You
World's worst critic
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Chapter links have been threadmarked! Go to the top or bottom left of this thread and click the "threadmarks" button. Alternatively, use the Table of Contents section below for direct links to the chapters.

An RP turned fic for fun. Why not?

Not-story-related schpiel that's not important but if you wanna read it anyways here it iiiiiiiis.
Hey! Don't know if anybody remembers me, but that's not important. I'm here with another story. I've been away for some time taking care of life and stuff, so I'm coming back, hoping to write something serious now. As of right now, all of my old stories are considered shelved, to be revived at a later date, but not while this story is still going on. I'm focusing my efforts on two projects right now, this being one of them.

So, sit back, enjoy, and tell me what you think! That's all for now.

Table of Contents


EDITS:
8/13/18: I realize I've been rather... inconsistent in my capitalizing of pokémon species. Corrected in future chapters.
8/23/16: Spruced up the intro for chapter one.
8/29/16: This chapter has been reworked. Ending from chapter two moved to the beginning of this chapter and heavily altered.
9/18/16: Edited dialogue slightly for coherency.

Chapter One: Hey You
Deep, deep in the dark caverns the Sableye crawled. So many glittering gems, so tasty, so appealing... but no! He must return to his mistress with his prize. The time for eating would come later. As he traversed the dank caves, he eventually came to his destination. A large opening in the cave, adorned with torches for light. The sound of a water crashing from a waterfall at the end, with a small clearing directly in front of it. On a makeshift throne of stone, sitting impatiently, was a mismagius, with her head resting on her palm.

The sableye ran up to the ghost pokémon gleefully, all too ready to present his mistress with a satisfactory job well-done. "Master, master! Sheelo returns! Sheelo is here with jewel for you!"

"It's about time," the mismagius said curtly. "Well, let's see it! Give it here, quickly."

The sableye did as commanded, holding his palms out with the small emerald he had obtained. The mismagius grabbed the gem, analyzing it, her face devoid of emotion. "Sheelo," she asked, "describe to me exactly what I told you to do."

"Oh! Oh!" Sheelo stated excitedly. "Sheelo go to Floral Ruins to get important ruby for master!"

"Yes, yes..." the mismagius said, her voice monotone, not taking her eyes off the emerald. "And tell me, what color are rubies, Sheelo?"


"Rubies are red! Pretty, pretty red!" the sableye responded, lightly hopping from foot to foor in anticipation. Surely he was to be congratulated on a job well done.

"Very good, Sheelo!" the mismagius replied, clapping her hands, before holding out the gem to the sableye. "Now, what color is this gem?"

"Gem is green! Gem is..." Sheelo stopped, suddenly realizing his error, his smile fading quickly. The enthusiasm left him, deflating his spirits like a popped balloon. He began to tremble slightly, falling to his knees in defeat.

"You bumbling idiot!" the mismagius suddenly shouted, throwing the emerald, smacking Sheelo square in the forehead. The sableye rubbed his head in pain, cowering and whimpering as the mismagius rose from her seat. "I gave you a simple task, to find the ruby, and you can't even do that right!"

"Sheelo is sorry! Sheelo is very, very sorry!" the sableye sobbed, now prostrating himself before his mistress. "Please don't hurt Sheelo! Sheelo will do better! Better for master!"


The mismagius was about to raise her voice again, before realizing it wouldn't be best to destroy her most loyal servant, the incompetent fool that he was. He was a useless simpleton, but he was an obedient, useless simpleton.

"Get up," she ordered, causing the sableye to slowly rise to his feet. "Do you promise to do better next time?"

"Sheelo promise!" the sableye said, pleading. "Sheelo will do better!"

"Very well," the mismagius said, rolling her eyes. "I have another task for you, one so simple, even you can do it."


"Sheelo ready! Tell Sheelo what mission is!" he replied eagerly.

"Go to the Forgotten Abyss. There you will meet an associate of mine, a seadra, by the name of Uziah. Tell him I sent you, and he will explain the rest. Do you understand? Or should I nail the directions to your forehead in case you forget?"


"Sheelo understands," the sableye replied, bobbing back and forth happily, her previous cruelty all but forgotten by his small mind. "Forgotten Abyss. Seadra. Uziah. Will do! Will do good for master!"

"Good," the mismagius replied. "Get to it, then."

With that, Sheelo sprung away, once again jittering to himself in eager excitement. The mismagius simply brought a ghostly hand to her face, mentally exhausted just from dealing with the fool.

"Idiot..." she mumbled. As soon as the sableye left, the mismagius hovered quietly, as if pacing back and forth. “That little cretin…” she groaned again, before rational thought took her again. Yes, but a useful idiot, came her logical thinking. As hopeless as she knew her servant to be, for what he was good at, he was worth keeping around. She reckoned he could steal a pair of glasses from someone’s face without them even noticing. She would need his thieving hands to do dirty work later.

She idly wandered towards the waterfall, carefully easing behind it to reveal a small shelf carved out of stone, on which lay a simple cloth sack, as well as an old explorer’s badge. It’s color was faded, having been deactivated long ago and taken off the guild’s radar. She took the pouch, glancing inside. Within lied six brilliantly shining rubies, a treasure in and of itself, but she knew these were so much more than simple gemstones. She could feel the power radiating from within them, seeming to pulse in the bag before she sealed it up again. She needed one more to complete the set - one that Sheelo was supposed to retrieve - for their full potential to be achieved. Until then, they were nothing but useless trinkets. Mismagius sighed; she'd have to fetch the last one by herself, it seemed.

The mismagius then grabbed the explorer’s badge. What was once a proud symbol of bravery and honor had since deteriorated to a relic of a time long past. The black onyx gem in the center was now foggy and jaded, and the gold outlines around had lost their sheen to dust. She grasped the badge in her wispy tendrils, clutching it tightly, her eyes growing brighter in a mixture of anger and sorrow.

You had it all within your hands, she cursed to herself. The power was yours…

“And you gave it up!” she suddenly shouted, flinging the badge violently against the stone floor, the clang of the metal almost drowned out by the roaring waterfall. She sighed, walking over to the badge again, delicately picking it up again in regret. No, she couldn’t treat this with such malice. She couldn’t treat the badge’s legacy like this. Not after all he had done for her.

“You might have failed… or given up… but I haven’t,” mismagius said finally. She clutched the badge again, staring deep into it’s black center before hastily putting it away on her person. Soon, she turned to an exit from the cave, holding her bag tightly and keeping it safe. “Soon, I’ll finish what you started.” Years of planning had led to this moment, and now, she felt, things were finally beginning to stir in motion. “Just a few more days… and I’ll finish it; I’ll do what you, in all your power, could not do. And then..." she mused, giggling malevolently to herself. "Then, everything changes."

***

The large tent flapped lightly in the breeze. It was late in the evening, an orange glow from the setting sun radiating all around, the sun itself hidden behind the sizeable green tent. Here was where the explorer's guild made their home, a group of pokémon from all walks of life gathered together under one purpose; to discover all the secrets the world had to offer, and to help and assist any pokémon in need. Many pokémon, young and old, of all types and species, called this place their home, and it was here that Joshua now stood, simply staring at the entrance with fear in his eyes.

The swadloon didn't move, hardly even breathing, immobilized by the fear and panic beginning to set in.

"Oh, what are you doing, Joshua?" he thought, berating himself. "Joining the guild? Really? Do you really think you have what it takes? You're really going to throw everything away for this?"

He shook his head, clearing the negative thoughts from his mind. No! He wasn't going to back down. Now was the time to throw cowardice aside, to finally take action and do what he set out to do! No more excuses! He was going to march bravely in that tent, shuffle directly up the guildmaster, and ask - no, demand - to join the guild! With a deep breath, he slowly began to move forward.

"Wait!" A voice called out. Joshua nearly jumped in surprise, immediately stopping in his tracks and turning to see an elgyem running towards him. "Joshua, wait!"

"I'm waiting!" Joshua called back, somewhat confused by his friend's arrival. What was he doing here? What did Kyle want?

“Just… wait…” the elgyem said, stopping in front of Joshua and pausing to catch his breath. Wiping his brow, he straightened himself out, turning to the guild tent. "Wow, you're actually doing it, aren't you?" The elgyem said in shock.

"Of course I am," Joshua replied indignantly. "Did you think I was lying?"

"No, of course not," the elgyem said, raising his hands defensively. "I mean, it's just... well, I didn't think you'd actually do it, you know?"

"Well, I'm actually doing it, so there," Joshua said finally, puffing out his chest in a vain attempt to show confidence. It didn't fool the psychic type for a second. “I made up my mind, and that’s all there is to it.”

"Joshua, I know what you're thinking, and..." the elgyem sighed. "Look, I don't want to try and change your mind, but... are you really sure about this?" He reached a hand over on the swadloon's shoulder, looking his friend in the eye. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to."

"It's not about what I want, Kyle," Joshua said with a sigh. "You know that."

"But it is, Josh," Kyle answered. "I know you feel like you have to do this, but think about it. Are you really ready for that kind of commitment? It takes dedication to be an explorer. Training day in and day out, participating in dangerous missions, tracking criminals, keeping the villages safe... I mean, are you really sure you're up to the task? Nobody will think less of you if you don’t."

"Are you saying I'm not good enough?" Joshua answered, a twinge of offense in his tone. "I'm going in there, and I don't need you berating me saying I can't do it!"

"Josh, please, I'm not trying to belittle you. Honest!" The elgyem said in retraction. "Heck, I wouldn't even make it in that kind of work. It's so full of danger and excitement, I don't think either of us would be ready for it." He sighed once, just wishing he could verbalize his thoughts without sounding rude or condescending. “I’m just saying… I… I don’t really know how to put it, I’m sorry… but….”

But nothing,” Joshua said finally, turning away from Kyle and back to the guild entrance. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to go in there, whether I like it or not. I have to.”

“Then… then I’m going with you!” Kyle exclaimed suddenly. Joshua jumped in awe, turning back to the elgyem with wide eyes.

“No!” He said defiantly. “I’m not dragging anybody else into this. I won’t have you follow in my footsteps.”

“Do you even have a team?” Kyle said. “You’re really going to go in there all alone, with no friends beside you, to be placed randomly in some group? You know that won’t work out well for you at all. I know you too well.” He knew how distrustful and, frankly, how paranoid the swadloon was around strangers. How Kyle himself had befriended the reclusive swadloon was a mystery, but the psychic knew that Joshua jumping straight into a group of people he didn’t even know would not yield good results. “At least this way you’ll have a friend by your side.”

“But you’ll be throwing away everything just so I won’t be alone,” Joshua replied. “I appreciate the kind gesture, and honestly, I’d like nothing more than to go in there with you beside me, but you can’t just toss away your own living for my sake.”

“Oh, come on,” Kyle said, crossing his arms. “Throwing away my budding career as a professional chess player? Not to make myself sound pathetic, but there’s not much for me out here anyways.” The elgyem placed his hand on the swadloon’s back. “If you’re going to go on this dangerous journey, I’m going to go with you.”

Joshua sighed once. He had hoped not to drag anybody else down with him. “Kyle, please, you can’t…”

“I can, and I will,” Kyle said, looking down at the swadloon with a smirk. “If we’re going to get our asses kicked, then we’ll get our asses kicked together.”

“Language, please,” Joshua said, groaning quietly.

“Right, right…” Kyle replied with a chuckle. “Come on. Wouldn’t you rather have a friend with you for this?”

“I would, but…”

But nothing,” Kyle replied, mimicking Josh with a grin. “We’re going in there, and we're going to march right up to the guildmaster, ask to join, and be a team!” Suddenly, the elgyem grasped the swadloon’s hand firmly. “Come on! We’re walking in there together!”

“We can’t!” Joshua said, trying to remove his hand from Kyle’s grasp but failing.

“Don’t try to dissuade me,” Kyle said confidently. “We’re going in there together, and that’s that!”

“No,” Joshua said, pointing to the sign in front of the guild.

“Approach the sand pit one at a time and await instructions from the sentry.”

“We literally can’t go in together,” Joshua informed the elgyem. “We have to go one at a time.”

“Oh…” Kyle said, laughing awkwardly to himself and rubbing the back of his neck. “I see. Well then, I’m going in first, and then you have to follow me!” Without waiting for Joshua’s response, Kyle ran forward and planted his feet proudly in the circular pit of sand in front of the tent entrance. Immediately, the sand rose slightly and grabbed one foot, causing Kyle to let out an indignant squeal in shock.

“New arrival!” a deep voice bellowed out. Kyle frantically turned his head back and forth, looking for the source, unable to find it. “Stand still, identification in progress.” The voice seemed to be coming from underground!

Suddenly, the sand relinquished its hold on Kyle’s foot, as the voice spoke once more. “Elgyem, Kyle Mason of Independence! Entry permitted!”

Kyle wasted no time, quickly jumping out of the sand pit towards the entrance to the guild. “W-whoa!” He exclaimed. “That’s… weird.” He looked over to Joshua, beckoning him over. “Come on, your turn!”

Joshua wanted to object, but he swallowed his words. No time for objections now. Closing his eyes, the swadloon scooted over into the sand pit, sinking slightly into the earth and squeaking helplessly.

“New arrival! Stand still, identification in progress.”

“Don’t hurt me!” Joshua cried in fear, clutching tightly at his leaf coat and holding his eyes shut.

“Swadloon, Joshua Vensworth of Pleasant Meadow! Entry permitted!”

Just as with Kyle, the sand loosened it’s grip on the swadloon, with Joshua darting away towards the guild tent faster than a Beedrill. “Phew!” He said, wiping his the sweat from his forehead.

“New arrivals, please enter the guild and await further instructions,” the voice said finally, before all fell silent. The two friends turned to the darkness of the tent, peering at the spiralling staircase inside. Down and down it went, into the earth, leading to the underground headquarters of the Independence city Explorer’s Guild.

“Well, no going back now,” Kyle said finally, turning to Joshua, nodding. “You ready?”

Joshua hesitantly nodded back. “I suppose…” he said. “...thanks for coming with me.”

“Of course, Josh,” Kyle said with a smile, patting the swadloon on the back. “Come on, let’s go!”
 
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Chapter Two: Spirits Rebellious
World's worst critic
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EDITS:
8/13/16: Fixed inconsistent capitalization to bring in line with the rest of the story.
8/23/16: Changed the beginner explorer sashes from red to pink.
8/29/16: This chapter has been reworked. The original ending has been relocated to the beginning of chapter one.

Chapter Two: Spirits Rebellious

Down the long, spiral staircase Kyle and Joshua descended. Each step brought them further down, the steps lit by small torches on the sides of the walls. The farther they went, the more anxiety filled Joshua's mind. He was so sure of this just moments before, but the instant he entered, his worries began to return. What if he wasn't cut out for this? What if he didn't even make it in at all?

Joshua shook his head. He was doing it again, letting his anxiety get the better of him. He pressed onward, moving down the stairs more quickly. He had Kyle by his side, too. As much as he was doubting himself, having a friend beside him helped ease his worries, if only slightly.

As the two finally made it to the bottom, the hollowed-out room of the guild headquarters came into view. The entire interior of the guild was carved into the earth; inside were doorways and rooms of all shapes and sizes, underground and safe from inclement weather and disasters. The tent above was the only part of the guild visible from the surface. As soon as they entered the main area, they were greeted by the tall figure of a servine, a small clipboard in his hands.

"Greetings," the servine said cordially, turning to Joshua and giving a friendly smile. “When the sentry told me you were here, Joshua, I almost didn’t believe it!” He chuckled lightly, happy to see the swadloon at the guild. “How is your sister doing?”

Joshua gave a modest wave back, forcing a smile out of etiquette. “Sh-she’s doing well, sir… for her condition, that is.”

“Please, call me Matthew,” the servine replied with a smile. “And that’s a shame, really. You let her know that there’s always room for her back at the guild when she recovers.” He cleared his throat, assuming a more professional posture once more. “But enough of that! How may I help you two? Is there a request you’d like to make of the explorer teams?”

“A-actually…” Joshua started, finding it increasingly difficult to vocalize his thoughts. “I was… I mean, we were here to… er… we were here-”

“We’re here to join the guild, sir!” Kyle interrupted, giving a small salute to the servine. Matthew seemed surprised, raising his eyebrows at the elgyem.

We?” Matthew asked, bewildered. “As in, the both of you?” He turned to Joshua once more, turning his head in confusion. “Am I hearing this correctly, Joshua?”

“Y-yes sir…” Joshua said.

Matthew almost seemed concerned for the swadloon. He could clearly see Joshua was ridden with anxiety at this moment, and he knew the boy to be a scholar; a lover of knowledge and education, certainly not the type to become an explorer. “Joshua, are you sure about that? You don’t have to-”

“P-please, Matthew,” Joshua interjected. “Kyle already tried to talk me out of it. I’m joining the guild, and that’s final.”

“It’s dangerous work,” Matthew added, shaking his head lightly. He almost couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This wasn’t like the swadloon at all. “I just want to make you aware of that.”

“I am aware, and I don’t care,” Joshua said, almost defensively. “I-I mean, I do care, b-believe me, I wrestled with this all week, and I thought ab-bout it long and hard, b-but I mean…”

“He means he’s going to do it,” Kyle added for his friend. “And besides, he’s got me to help him!”

Matthew looked unconvinced. Kyle being there to help Joshua didn’t build confidence. They were both cut from the same cloth, more inclined to intellectual pursuits than adventures full of danger and mystery. Regardless, it seemed they were both here to become part of the guild; if that’s what they wanted, Matthew was not going to turn them away. “Very well,” he said finally, nodding once. “Come with me. We’ll have to get your applications in right away, then.”

The servine began to walk down the main gathering area towards a long hallway at the end of the room, with Kyle and Joshua following closely behind him. They passed by several other rooms on their way there, with Matthew making small gestures to each doorway as they passed.

"As members of the guild, you'll have near-unrestricted access to any facilities we provide, minus the personal chambers of your fellow guildmates." It was clear the servine has gone through this routine before, sounding as if he was reading from a script. “Make use of them as you see fit.” They continued onward, passing by a training dojo, a dining hall, and even a lounge area. Eventually, they reached the residential rooms, seeing several empty spaces with nothing but small, hay cots and drawers for storage. It seemed most of them were unoccupied.

"This is where you’ll be staying," Matthew explained. "To rest and recuperate after each mission. As these are being loaned to you and not given, I expect you to have good stewardship and housekeeping." He continued walking forward, not giving the two a chance to inspect the rooms, the both of them hurrying behind him to keep up with his pace. Finally, they reached a large doorway, ornately decorated with a bright floral pattern, in likeness of a Meganium. Matthew stood next to the entrance, pulling out a small key from his clipboard and unlocking the door.

"This is my office and residence. If you have any questions about anything, or you need to find me for any reason at all, this is where I'll be." With a small push, the door opened effortlessly, as the servine led Kyle and Joshua inside. All within the office was incredibly well kept and decorated, looking more like the room of a dignitary than a place of work. Awards and ornate pictures were spread about, along with cushions of all colors and sizes. At the end was a small desk, where dozens of books and tomes were kept in neat order on top. Matthew walked to the desk, pulling out a drawer with applications to the guild. "Now then, read over these, if you will."

Both Joshua and Kyle took the papers handed to them, reading them over intently as Matthew gave them a synopsis. "By signing these applications, you are accepting all the rules and guidelines of our guild, as well as pledging your services to us as needed. In return, the guild provides you with benefits and rewards as compensation."

As Joshua and Kyle looked over the papers, Matthew cleared his throat, holding his hands behind his back and leaning forward to look at the two recruits intently. “Remember, this is a serious commitment.” He turned to Joshua, not saying a word; his eyes speaking clearly what he was thinking.

“No one will think less of you if you back out. Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

Joshua returned the look, freezing in place as he thought of the ramifications of his actions. Once he signed these papers, there was no going back. After a moment of consideration, he gave a determined nod, signing his name along the bottom of the application. Kyle did the same, the two turning in their applications to Matthew, the servine taking them and placing them neatly on his clipboard for later.

“Excellent. Right this way, please.”

Matthew led the two boys to the far side of the room, towards a large, brilliantly designed chest adorned with the colors of gold and silver. With a flick of the latches, Matthew lifted the top over and reached inside, producing two colored sashes along with explorer badges. “Now then, as I’m sure you’re aware, these are your guild sashes and badges,” he explained. “They identify you as members of our guild. The badges in particular have the unique ability of transporting you from a dungeon back to the headquarters here, so don’t lose them.”

Joshua and Kyle took their new gifts, Kyle looking over them with excitement. The elgyem quickly donned his new identifier, a shining, bright pink sash, pinning his badge on the front and puffing his chest with pride. “I feel like an explorer already!” He said confidently, placing his hands on his hips.

Joshua silently wished he could share that confidence. He took his pink sash and wrapped it around the side of his leafy coat, likewise pinning the badge on the front. For a moment, he simply stared at the marker, the small, pink pin reflecting the lights inside the room. Faintly, Joshua could see his own reflection in the badge, his expressionless face looking back at him.

“I guess this is it. I’m an explorer now…”

“You certainly look the part,” Matthew said to them, smiling. “Now then, there is one last thing to do before you can officially be called apprentices. The matter of your entrance exam.”

“Exam?” Kyle asked, tilting his head. “We have to take a test?”

“All new apprentices have to pass a practical exam,” Joshua replied. Despite his reluctance, the swadloon was well-acquainted with the guilds methods.

Matthew nodded, grinning lightly at Joshua’s answer. “Correct,” he said simply. He glanced idly at the clock on the wall, before turning back to the recruits. “But, seeing as it’s a bit late, the exam will have to begin tomorrow morning. For now, you two may sleep here at the guild, in the rooms provided. I expect you to be up first thing in the morning, and we can begin your test.”
 
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The acest of trainers
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The first two chapters are nicely written and you have some diverse characters, but there isn't a lot on offer here. I enjoyed what I read, but there isn't really a hook or anything that makes me want to come back. The bit about Joshua's sister being injured/sick was intriguing - it would have been nice to see more of him before he joined the guild, as we start the journey knowing very little about him.

The other thing that bugged me a bit, which I only noticed when reading the final part, was that none of the characters struck me as entirely original. You have the kind but stuffy and organised leader, the eager best friend, the nervous lead, and then a bitchy villain with a stumbling, simple minded servant. I understand in early chapters the need/desire to keep things a bit vagyue so you can develp them in the future, but at the moment the characters don't feel particularly unique to the story or even the Pokemon - you mention Mismagius resting on her palm/having hands, which feels like an odd way to describe her body. Similarly, Kyle 'wipes his brow', which doesn't really fit with a rock type.

I think the story has potential, and you have a nice, appealing style with very few errors (the most glaring is that Kyle is called Max twice in the first chapter), but you need to develop the characters a lot more in the coming chapters. The biggest problem is that, for a Mystery Dungeon story, the characters don't feel like Pokemon at all. The limitations and possibilities that come with writing about Pokemon could make the characters and the story feel more alive and original. I think perhaps making the chapters a bit longer and spending more time in the characters heads could help with that.
 
Don't Look Away
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So, I read the first chapter back when you first wrote it so I'll skip over that and go straight into the second one.

To be honest, there's really not much I can say, I mean again I like the flow in your prose and description, it's easy to read and the way your chapter started was actually really good. The problem right now though is that your chapters are kind of short, or rather that not much goes in them. I mean the second chapter is basically Joshua and Kyle getting into the Guild and signing up, so maybe making your chapters a little longer will be better.

The thing with the Mismagius and her sidekick was kind of a weird way to end the chapter, but I assume we'll be seeing more of them soon enough.
 
Chapter Three: Come As You Are
World's worst critic
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Comments:
I think the story has potential, and you have a nice, appealing style with very few errors (the most glaring is that Kyle is called Max twice in the first chapter), but you need to develop the characters a lot more in the coming chapters. The biggest problem is that, for a Mystery Dungeon story, the characters don't feel like Pokemon at all. The limitations and possibilities that come with writing about Pokemon could make the characters and the story feel more alive and original. I think perhaps making the chapters a bit longer and spending more time in the characters heads could help with that.
Duly noted, and I appreciate the feedback. I tend to take my time in explaining a character's motives and backstory, but I'll try to be more revealing in future chapters. Still, I'm grateful for the advice!

To be honest, there's really not much I can say, I mean again I like the flow in your prose and description, it's easy to read and the way your chapter started was actually really good. The problem right now though is that your chapters are kind of short, or rather that not much goes in them. I mean the second chapter is basically Joshua and Kyle getting into the Guild and signing up, so maybe making your chapters a little longer will be better.
Again, duly noted, and I will work on it for future chapters. The first chapters of most stories I write end up being fairly short. Every chapter has an "ending note" that I like to hit, and for the first chapters, it ends up being fairly close to the beginning. Future chapters will definitely have more meat to them.

EDITS:
8/13/16: Fixed inconsistent capitalization to bring in line with the rest of the story.

Chapter Three: Come As You Are

Night was beginning to fall over the guild, with Joshua and Kyle finally arriving to their room in the headquarters. Joshua had already packed his belongings, but Kyle had to go out before the moon rose to gather his own.

“Well, this room is as good as any other,” Kyle said happily, placing his bag on the ground. All of the rooms were virtually identical, and the way it was set up, any empty room could be taken and claimed by members of the guild.

Joshua simply scuttled into the room, taking a brief look around, his face empty of expression. “It’ll do,” he said plainly.

“So isn’t this cool? We’re like roommates now,” Kyle said happily, trying to elicit a smile from his friend. “Living on our own, going on adventures… I know what the guildmaster said, but honestly, being an explorer sounds kind of fun.”

“Maybe…” Joshua replied. He reached into his bag of belongings he had brought with him. It was naught but a few possessions of sentimental value; a faded metal coin, a small chess-piece, and a picture of himself, framed, along with his mother and sister.

Kyle noticed the picture, piquing his interest. “Oh, was that from the local tournament?” He asked. He was familiar with the scene; he had been there to watch Joshua participate.

“Yeah, it was,” Joshua answered, holding the photo in his hands; it wasn’t terribly long ago, only about four years. The photograph showed Joshua, a small trophy in his hands. The swadloon was being hoisted up on the shoulders of a Scizor, his sister, with a Leavanny, his mother, standing beside them, the brightest smile Joshua had ever seen. “First chess tournament we’d played in. That was right before we actually started a chess team.”

“Yeah! I remember now,” Kyle said, standing beside Joshua and looking at the photo together. “Heh, those were the days, weren’t they?”

Joshua nodded, finally beginning to grin just slightly. “Yeah. They were.”

Kyle patted his friend on the shoulder, before moving to his own bag and unpacking. “Oh, you remember that one girl there? The Duskull kid? Celine, I think?”

“Yeah, Celine… How could I forget?” Joshua said. “She was a character, I’ll say that much.”

“Yeah, but she was pretty damn good, I’d say,” Kyle answered, earning a tut from Joshua for his language. “She showed up at the regional tournament and wiped the board with me…”

“She was good, definitely… if not a little eccentric,” Joshua said, still admiring the photograph in his hands. The room fell silent for a moment, Kyle unpacking his belongings before speaking up again.

“So… I take it you and the guildmaster know each other?” He asked.

“Hm?” Joshua muttered, staring at the photograph and not paying attention to what Kyle had said. “Oh, I’m sorry… what about the guildmaster?”

Kyle chuckled lightly at Joshua’s inattention. “The guildmaster seemed to know you personally.”

“Oh, yeah, he knows my family…” Joshua replied hesitantly. “He was friends with my dad when he was in the guild.”

“Right, you told me your dad was an explorer,” Kyle said. “Was he any good?”

“Ever heard of Team Razor Wind?” Joshua asked. Kyle’s eyes went wide at that name.

What!?” He asked in surprise. “Your dad was in Team Razor Wind? Why didn’t you tell me that? They were one of the coolest rescue teams around!” He thought back to his days as a young boy, regaled with the stories the explorers shared with them. One such team was Team Razor Wind, led by ‘Hammer Claw’ William, named such for his unparalleled strength and fortitude in battle. “Didn’t they find the hidden treasure in Madman’s Mark?”

“They did,” Joshua answered. Unlike Kyle, he didn’t share in the enthusiasm for exploration teams. For his family, exploration was like second nature… well, except for the swadloon. All he ever heard about during his childhood was the exploits of his father’s team, as well as the other teams in the guild. “My father was good friends with the Matthew before he became the new guildmaster. We even shared a family dinner together when Matthew was promoted.”

“Wow…” Kyle said in amazement. “You didn’t tell me that William was your dad! You just said he was an explorer.”

“Well, I guess it wasn’t as important to me…” Joshua said with a shrug. “I’ve been surrounded by the guild since I was born. My father was in it, his father before him, and his father’s mother before them both… I suppose, after a while, it all just sort of… blends together.” Joshua sighed, becoming more downtrodden as the conversation went on.

“I see what you’re saying,” Kyle said in reply, frowning upon seeing Joshua’s discomfort. He thought about what it must have been like for his friend, to be in a family so a part of the explorer’s guild that it’s almost nothing special. Now he was beginning to put the pieces together as to why Joshua would join up so suddenly. Seeing Joshua growing more uneasy, it must have been a topic of insecurity for him.

The elgyem shook his head, trying to think of a way to change the subject. “Oh, hey, look what I brought,” he said. Joshua looked over at Kyle inquisitively, seeing him pull out a small, rolled up length of thin rubber. With a wave of his arms Kyle unrolled it, placing it flat on ground, revealing a portable checkered board. Reaching again into his bag, Kyle pulled out another small pouch, with chess pieces for each side. “We can play together in our downtime! No need to let our skills get rusty just because we’re explorers now.”

Joshua smirked at Kyle’s attempt to cheer him up. If there was one thing the swadloon enjoyed, it was a good game of chess. “Thanks,” he said simply. “You know, we’ve got a few more minutes left in the day. Want to play a few matches until lights out?”

“I was just about to ask you the same thing,” Kyle said triumphantly. He immediately began to work on setting up the pieces. “So, white or black?”

***​

The orange sheen from the setting sun cast itself over the guild headquarters, with most of the members returning to rest for the day. Far away from Independence, taking in this sight from the hilltops, a meowstic hid. He wasn't here for sight-seeing, instead keeping an eye on the guild, making note of who entered and who left. His unblinking eyes kept vigilant watch, yet he grew more frustrated by the minute.

"I know you're there, Neka."

Behind the meowstic, the bushes rustled, as a small noibat flew out from his hiding spot, perching himself on a nearby branch. "Guess I should have expected that, sneaking up on a psychic."

The meowstic just huffed in annoyance, not once taking his eyes off the guild headquarters. The noibat's expression showed concern for the meowstic, before eventually breaking the silence again. "What are you doing out here, anyways?"

"Watching," the meowstic replied. "Seeing if Matthew stays true to his word."

"Ahote..." Neka said, grimacing. "Matthew gave us his assurance; is that not enough for you? Must you spy on him and his friends every night like this?"

"Yes," Ahote replied curtly. "He and his ‘friends’ do not belong here. I will keep watch over them as I see fit."

Neka flew over to where Ahote stood, landing near the meowstic. "Matthew has already proven his honesty. You know that."

Ahote gave another bothered grunt, as if shaking off the advice his friend was giving him. He knew Neka spoke the truth, but he wouldn't have it. He would keep watch over the guild, if no one else would. "Why are you here, anyways?"

"Your father is worried about you," Neka replied solemnly. "He worries when you sneak out at night like this."

"I can take care of myself," Ahote answered back. After a moment, he seemed to reconsider. "Fine. Let's go home, then."

Neka seemed to perk up at the suggestion, flying up and landing himself on Ahote's head, looking down at him. "Good. No more late-night spying, then?"

"No promises," Ahote said. The meowstic gave one last look towards the guild tent, before turning away and heading home.

***​

Once upon a time, Joshua was able to get a good night’s sleep. This was not one of those times.

GOOOOOD MORNING EVERYONE! COME GET YOUR MORNING GRUB!” a loud, booming voice called out, resounding throughout the guild halls. Immediately after, the whining moans of various guild members was heard, displeased at the less-than-gentle awakening.

“So that’s what that yelling was every morning…” Kyle said, groggily rising to his feet, his eyes half-lidded in fatigue. Every morning in his own house, he’d always heard the faint sound of what sounded like a shout. Now he knew it must have been the guild’s wake-up call. He turned to Joshua, the swadloon tilted sideways and cross-eyed from the shout.

“No wonder the guildmaster expected us to be up…” Joshua said, struggling to reorient himself and rolling himself straight. With a little effort, he straightened his leafy coat, huffing once in mental preparation.

“I see you two have met Reginald,” a voice said. The two new recruits turned to the doorway of their room, seeing the smiling face of a shinx, his tail twitching excitedly behind him. Unlike both Kyle and Joshua, he seemed completely alert and awake, not bothered by their morning alarm.

“Reginald?” Joshua asked, eyebrows raised.

“The guild chef,” the shinx replied, before nodding his head towards the hall. “He always wakes us up when breakfast is ready. You should come get something to eat before you guys go on your exam today!”

“Right, of course,” Joshua said politely, turning to Kyle, seeing the elgyem nearly falling over in sleep again. Joshua nudged him harshly, jolting him awake again.

“Bwah!” Kyle gasped. “Oh… right, breakfast.”

“Well? Come on, sleepy-heads!” The shinx said happily, quickly turning and trotting down the hall. Joshua and Kyle quickly followed behind him, walking down towards the food hall.

“So… what’s your name?” Kyle asked as they walked.

“Oh! Right,” the shinx said. “I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Felix. I’m a new recruit, like you guys! Well, I already passed my exam, but that was only a week ago.”

Joshua scuffled along behind them. “How did you know we were new recruits?”

“Well, I saw you guys walking with the guildmaster last night and I kind of… well, I wanted to see what was going on. There aren’t very many new recruits here, so I was excited to not be the newest one here.”

“I see, well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Felix,” Joshua said courteously. “I’m Joshua, and this is my friend Kyle.”

“Nice to meet you!” Felix said happily, a certain pep in his step as he continued down the guild towards the kitchen. “Right this way. Reginald might have a rude awakening, but his breakfast makes the shouting worth it.”

Together they made it to the kitchen, and no sooner than they had arrived were they greeted with the luxurious scent of home cooked meals. All manner of aromas graced their senses; berries, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, and so much more. The dining area was almost as spacious as the entrance hall, lined with dozens of tables and benches for eating, with several pokémon already gathered for their morning meals. In the corner, amidst the steam and smoke, was the kitchen, with a seismitoad working at preparing their meals. Even whilst working hard under the heat, he still bore a wide grin on his face. He turned to plate a stack of pancakes he had prepared, before noticing the trio of newcomers in the kitchen and giving a hearty laugh.

“Morning, Reginald!” Felix greeted cheerfully.

“Good morning, boys! Good morning!” the seisimitoad said, inadvertently vibrating the bumps on his head in joy. “Got some new friends with you?”

“Yup! This is Joshua and Kyle,” Felix said, gesturing towards each of them with his tail in turn.

“Welcome, lads!” Reginald greeted, bowing slightly as he returned to his cooking. “Whatcha in the mood for? I got almost any kind of breakfast you’d want; berries, oats, waffles, milk…”

“Try the cinnamon Pecha muffins!” a totodile said gleefully, hopping up on the counter to see the new recruits. “I made them myself. It’s a new recipe!”

“Settle down, son,” Reginald said, patting the totodile on the head. “Don’t wanna overwhelm them now.”

“Actually, that sounds perfect,” Kyle said, grabbing trays set aside for guild members and handing one to Joshua, holding the other for Felix. “I’ll take one, please.”

“Me too,” Felix interjected. The totodile started beaming, reaching behind him and grabbing the muffins he had made, giving one to both Felix and Kyle. He offered one to Joshua as well, the swadloon nodding silently as the totodile placed it gently on his tray. As they were heading off to find a seat, Kyle looked over to Felix.

“Want me to hold this for you?” he asked, causing Felix to shake his head.

“No, no, here. Put it right here,” the shinx said, tapping the top of his head with his tail. “I can balance it.”

Kyle couldn’t help but chuckle a bit at Felix’s proposition. “Alright then, if you say so.” With care the elgyem placed the tray on the shinx’s head, the feline balancing it perfectly with a giddy grin.

“Neat, huh?” Felix said, unusually proud of his trick. Felix lead the other two forward to a seat, next to an impatient-looking munchlax.

“The balancing act isn’t that impressive, Felix,” the munchlax teased, tapping on the table with her fingers. “I’ve been waiting for you for like ten minutes.”

“Oh big deal, ten minutes,” Felix teased back, casually dropping the tray down neatly onto the table and sitting down. He motioned for Joshua and Kyle to sit next to him. “Mia, these are the new recruits I told you about. Joshua, Kyle, this is Mia.”

“Yes, hello,” Mia said curtly, giving a small wave before turning her gaze to Felix. “Ten minutes is plenty of time for your food to get cold. Can I eat now?”

“You didn’t have to wait for me,” Felix said with a shrug. “But I’m glad you were so polite and patient!” He added, his tone dripping with sarcasm. Mia simply rolled her eyes, before digging into her breakfast. Felix chuckled lightly at her actions, leaning in closer to Kyle and Joshua. “You’ll have to forgive her, she’s a bit cranky when she hasn’t had her breakfast.”

“I see,” Joshua said plainly, lightly poking at the food on his own tray. He glanced over at Mia, the munchlax bearing a plate loaded with almost everything the chef had to offer, watching her gulp it down without a moment’s rest. Felix giggled again.

“So, you’re the new recruits, huh?” Mia said in-between mouthfuls. “Felix said he saw you guys yesterday when you applied.”

“That’s right,” Kyle replied. “We’re taking our entrance exam today.”

“Hah! Good luck with that,” Mia said with a laugh before filling her maw with a whole muffin, scarfing it down in seconds. “Big waste of time, that is.”

“Oh be quiet,” Felix retorted playfully. “It’s fun, and it’s pretty easy too, so nothing to worry about. It’s just there to make sure you can find your way around a dungeon and follow direction.”

“It’s still a waste of time,” Mia repeated. Joshua gave both of them a look of uncertainty, taking dainty bites of his own breakfast before speaking up.

“Is it the same for every recruit?” Joshua asked, curiously. Mia took a moment to swallow again, before nodding.

“Mhm,” she replied. “Me and Felix took it a week earlier. Same thing for everybody, I think. Gotta deliver some-”

“Don’t spoil it,” Felix said, giving a slight tut towards Mia. The munchlax only shrugged again, returning to eating as Felix addressed the swadloon. “The guildmaster will tell you all about it. It’s a lot of fun, Mia’s just being grumpy.”

“I can hear you,” Mia said, though she seemed more amused than angry. Felix only stifled another laugh at her comment.

“So, if you don’t mind me asking, what brought you guys to the guild?” Felix asked.

Joshua gulped once at the question. “Er, well, I joined because… er…”

“We joined for the adventure,” Kyle interrupted. Joshua shot him a questioning look, which Kyle ignored. “Felt like a change of pace, I suppose.”

“Well, it’ll definitely be a change of pace, that I can say,” Mia replied. “I’m sure the guildmaster told you, though, it’s not all fun and games.”

“Hush, you,” Felix jeered. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.” The shinx turned to Joshua, offering a reassuring smile. “I joined up for about the same reason. I heard all about the adventures the guild had, and I just had to see it for myself!”

“Speaking of adventures,” Mia interrupted. Felix looked over, seeing her plate was now completely empty, the munchlax wiping her mouth clean with a cloth, before letting out a contented belch. Suddenly, she slammed her hands on the table, startling the others and causing them to jump. She seemed much more invigorated than before. “Much better!” she exclaimed, before turning her attention to Felix. “We’ve got a mission to go do, don’t we? So let’s go!”

“But I haven’t finished eating yet,” Felix said, before his foreleg was suddenly grabbed by the munchlax as well as his breakfast. “Whoa! Hold up!”

“You can finish on the way there! Let’s go!” Mia said impatiently, dragging both shinx and his breakfast away. As she left, she turned back to Joshua and Kyle. “Nice to meet you two!” she called back. Felix tried to wave back with his free leg, only tripping over himself as Mia continued to pull him away.

“Interesting people,” Joshua remarked. Kyle couldn’t help but smirk at the munchlax’s complete attitude reversal. Together they finished their breakfast, before noticing the guildmaster himself walking into the mess hall. As soon as he spotted the new recruits, he nodded, approaching quickly, a small box with straps in his hands.

“Enjoyed your meal?” he asked.

“It’s very good cooking,” Joshua said quietly, Kyle nodding in agreement.

“I would hope so,” Matthew joked, the servine briefly glancing at Reginald working his craft. “Reginald likes to call himself the best cook in Independence, and to be honest, I’m inclined to believe him.” With a grin, he turned back to the pupils, placing the box he was carrying on the table in front of them. “I have your assignment for you.”

Both Joshua and Kyle inspected the box carefully; made of plastic, with rubber sealings to prevent any air from getting in or out. Joshua placed a hand on the sides of it, feeling it was cold to the touch. “What is it?” he asked.

“It’s a delivery for one of our clients,” Matthew answered. “Your exam is a simple one; not far from here lies a mystery dungeon, the Luscious Spring. We have a client who has hired us to deliver this package to him. As a team, you two will go to the end of this dungeon to our client, and deliver it to him. Simple, right?”

“Sounds simple enough,” Kyle said enthusiastically.

“Splendid,” Matthew replied. With that, he handed the package to Joshua, the swadloon holding it firmly in his hands. “Just remember, the box must remain sealed until it arrives to the client.”

“What kind of dangers should we expect?” Joshua asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Ah, yes, of course,” Matthew replied. “As I’m sure you’re aware, mystery dungeons, due to their unpredictable properties, tend to be hangouts for less-than-savory types of pokémon. Due to its close proximity to Independence, the Lucious Spring is relatively safe, but there might still be a few ruffians skulking about.” Matthew could see the apprehension in Joshua’s eyes, offering him an encouraging grin. “Nothing more than petty gangsters, though. Young ‘mon who want to feel like they’re tough and rebellious. If you two work together, you’ll be able to handle it with no issue.”

Joshua and Kyle looked at one another, nodding in agreement and steeling themselves for their test. “We’ll get the package there no problem!” Kyle stated emphatically, giving a salute to the servine.

“That’s the spirit!” Matthew said, bowing to each of them in turn. “Now, I have my duties to return to. Come see me when you’re done. Good luck!”

With that, the guildmaster walked away. With both Joshua and Kyle having finished their meal, they began to pack up and leave as well, taking the package with them.

“Come on,” Kyle said. “Let’s give it all we’ve got!”
 
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The acest of trainers
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I enjoyed this chapter mroe than the last two, largely as we got more backstory, more characters and the plot is moving along. The new characters you introduced sound look fun and you've got some good vibes going on here. The introduction of Ahote and Neka was interesting, and I'm intrigued to see how all these elements are going to tie together.

I think the only issues are the same ones I mentioned last time: the first paragraph shifts between Joshua and Kyle's perspectives and internal monologues which is kind of distracting, and you did a better job with the Pokemons physiologies this time, such as Felix carrying the tray on his head, but then you mentioned him being grabbed by his arm, waving his free arm, when it is just as easy to refer to them as legs, or have him be grabbed by his tail. I think style wise, the only thing so far you could serve to change is there's a lot "Now we know why that happened!" in terms of dialogue and narration, statements which are kind of redundant as we as the readers can make those connections ourselves.

It was a good chapter though, and I'm looking forwards to the challenge - just remember to put plenty of scenery description in there. As readers, we want to see your interpretation and descriptions, not just imagine vague caves ourselves.

(BTW, if you want, you can put this story in the Workshop Directory)
 
Marquess of Ostia
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the definition of shit-fic
before anyone asks, Gibus requested I start with this

So I'm a day late on this. Worst friend ever. But to be fair, I only had you reading one chapter, while I had to read three! :p

Positives -

- I really like Kyle and Joshua and how they get along with each other. Josh is the swaddest of all loons. Because of course he is. I also like how both of them have to get over a fear right at the beginning of the story. In a lot of cases, the story is about the character working through that step, but to start with it is definitely a nice touch. It also shows their loyalty to each other that they take the step together.

- Pacing. There's a good balance between description and pacing. The story moves along (especially in chapter three), but at the same time the description continues to allow the reader to really see the action. It doesn't go light on the description, but it also doesn't bog down and slow down the action.

Things to work on -

- Some of the actions are kind of weird in terms of the Pokemon doing them. As Ace pointed out, having a rock type wipe their brow is kind of odd. Also at the beginning having Kyle lay a hand on Joshua's shoulder also seemed off. Do Swadloons have shoulders? I know it can be really weird writing about Pokemon doing more... human... things, but I think it's something to definitely keep in mind as you move forward (especially with how diverse your cast is in terms of body types and whatnot)

- The Pokemon almost seem more human than Pokemon at this point. Which while this can be good in some ways (as in the PMD verse they try to make them human in speech and action in a lot of ways), it's also definitely going to enhance the narrative if they do also act like Pokemon at times. It can be a way to develop the cast further.


Overall, I'm a fan. Definitely going to be reading as we move forward. There's a lot of potential and a lot of good stuff so far!
 
Chapter Four: Made in the Shade
World's worst critic
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Author's note:
Just as an aside, I'm aware that in the traditional games, any children had by a pokémon pair take on the species of the mother. However, for this story, I'm taking a little creative liberty. Children can be of either parent's species in this iteration of the pokémon world. Just a little note in case anybody calls me out on it.

EDITS:
8/23/16: Changed "fire-types" and "water-type" to "fire pokémon" and "water pokémon" respectively.
Fixed inconsistent capitalization to bring in line with the rest of the story.


Chapter Four: Made in the Shade

Lightning cracked the sky, the booming thunder echoing throughout the house, adding its sound to the symphony of the raindrops pelting the roof above. Cooped up inside the house sat Joshua, alone, save for his baby brother Thomas, a scyther. Somehow the youngest child slept peacefully in his crib amidst the thunderstorm, for which Joshua was thankful. His mother had left for the market, and he was the only one home at the time, which meant he was stuck with the responsibility of watching his baby brother. It wasn't as though Joshua did not like babysitting, but a sleeping child was better than a crying child, hands down.

Joshua sat on a couch in the small living room, in front of a table with a chess-board set up on it's surface. Joshua often found entertainment in playing chess against himself, and the sound of rainfall outside the cracked-open window helped kill the normal dead-silence of being home alone. It was a faint background noise that Joshua found relaxing and easier to think in.

As Joshua moved the pieces across the board, the front door swung open, a large, red figure stepping in. It was a scizor, Danielle, Joshua's sister. She walked in and closed the door behind her, shaking the excess water off of her body from the heavy downpour outside. She took a glance around the room, seeing that it was only Joshua and Thomas there at the time.

"You're home early," Danielle said, as she walked inside the living room.

Joshua shrugged. "I finished the exams before everyone else, so they let me leave. You are home a bit early as well."

Danielle grinned, before plopping herself down on the couch next to her brother, reclining slightly and sighing. "Yeah, we were going to have a training session with the fire pokémon today, but the rain forced us to cancel early." She looked over at the swadloon, who seemed intently focused on his chess game. "How did the exams go?"

Joshua sighed. "Okay, I guess..." His tone sounded melancholic.

"What's the matter?" Danielle asked. "Worried about how you did?"

"No, not at all," Joshua replied. "I studied hard for those exams, and I finished early because I knew most of the answers."

"Then what's with the glum I guess?"

Joshua looked down at the chess pieces, his expression turning sad. "Connor called me a nerd... and kept throwing little balls of paper at me during the exam. Each time he'd whisper something different. Nerd, geek, wimp..." Joshua exhaled again. "Maybe I am a wimp. I'm letting silly name-calling get to me."

"Oh, nonsense," Danielle said, wrapping an arm around the swadloon's form. "That kid is probably just jealous because you're smarter than he is."

"What's there to be jealous about?" Joshua asked, not feeling encouraged. "Sitting inside, studying for hours for exams because you have no social life?"

"Come on," Danielle replied in rebuke. "Don't say that about yourself. Kyle seems to like you well enough. Besides, you're a smart kid. Heck, I'm older than you by a good margin, and half the time I feel like I'm not as smart as you are."

"What do you need intellect for?" Joshua asked. "You're strong, powerful... capable. You're perfect explorer material. You'll be top rank in no time."

"You think it's that easy getting to the top in the Explorer’s Guild?" Danielle said almost with a laugh. "If it were all about strength and brawn, then any muscle-bound idiot would be famous. Explorers have to have brains and brawn in order to succeed. I'd love to have your brains for when I join..." She looked at the chessboard as Joshua was playing, motioning towards it with her hand. "Mind if I join you?"

Joshua almost smirked at her suggestion. "Oh come on. Do you even like chess?"

"I like it well enough," she replied, taking a seat at the opposite end of the table. "Besides, it gives us something to do. White or black?"

"White," Joshua said, as he arranged the pieces for the start of a new game. "And what do you mean the guild wants brains? What use would they have for that? You go around exploring dungeons and fighting bad guys."

“Oh come on, Joshua,” Danielle said with a chuckle. "Even you should know more than that. The guild needs smart, capable 'mon. People who can be strategists and fighters. I might fit the bill for a fighter, but I'm no strategist. All the famous, top ranked teams have both. I'm going to have to work extra hard if I want to avoid being curb-stomped. Not all bandits are stupid, you know."

"Maybe..." Joshua said with a shrug. "I know you, though. You never give up. You'll do just fine, I'm sure of it." He steadily moved a chess piece forward. "Pawn to E4."

Danielle grinned slightly. "Well, I'm thankful for the encouragement. You should use some of that encouragement on yourself, though. You need to stop beating yourself up all the time." For her turn, she moved a pawn to mirror Joshua's move. "Pawn to E5."

“I know…” Joshua said, his attention not shifting from the chess board. He moved another piece. “It’s just… nevermind. Queen to H5.”

Danielle looked at Joshua with concern. “What is it? Come on, you can tell me.” She studied the move that Joshua had just made, before moving her knight forward. “Knight to C6”

“It’s nothing,” Joshua said, trying to assuage her concerns. “You’re right, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Bishop to C4”

Danielle wanted to object; something was on Joshua’s mind, but she couldn’t tell what. At the same time though, it was clear he didn’t want to divulge it. She decided to let it be for the moment. He could tell her later, when he was ready. She turned her attention once more to the game at hand, moving her second knight in position to take his queen. “Knight to F6.”

Joshua grinned lightly, quickly moving his queen up and taking one of Danielle’s pawns. “Queen to F7. Checkmate.”

Danielle looked at the board in shock. Did he just say checkmate? Had she lost already? “Wait… seriously?”

Joshua nodded. “Scholar’s mate. It’s kind of simple, really…”

“Easy for you to say,” Danille said teasingly. She smiled at her brother in encouragement. “See what I mean? You just beat me in four moves. You’re a smart kid.”

“It’s not that hard…” Joshua said, not sounding too happy over his victory. “It’s an easy trick… it just makes you look smart. I couldn’t do that against the pros.”

Danielle frowned a bit, until lightning once again shot through the clouds. A thundering crash resounded through the home, this time waking baby Thomas from his sleep, the young scyther beginning to stir and whine from the startling noise. Danielle got up, walking over to the crib where Thomas was, gently picking the child up to calm him. “Oh, there, there. It’s okay. It’s just a little thunderstorm.” Her tone was soft and gentle, as she calmly cradled the child in her arms, rocking him back and forth. She turned back towards Joshua, resuming her normal tone. “I’m going to fix up some food for me and Thomas. You want anything?”

“I’m good, thanks,” Joshua said quietly. Danielle’s expression turned once more to concern. Joshua seemed so distant lately… something was bugging him, and she was going to find out and help him through it, one way or another.

”Another time, perhaps.” she thought. She made her way towards the kitchen, with Thomas in her arms, the sounds of the rain the only sound as the house fell silent again.

***

“Hey… hey, Joshua? You there? Hello?”

Joshua shook his head, suddenly being jolted back to the present with an elgyem’s hand waving in his face. “O-oh! Sorry, I was just… thinking.”

“I could tell. You almost ran face-first into that sign over there!” Kyle replied with a laugh. “What were you thinking of?”

“Just… things. You know, our exam.” Joshua was lying and he knew it, but Kyle either didn’t know or didn’t care, simply shrugging as they continued to walk. The town of Independence was lively, even for the early morning. The sun was just beginning to rise, casting light through the trees and buildings from its low position, throwing shadows to and fro. Amongst the worn, dirt path they walked, giving friendly waves to passerby as the citizens tended to their duties. Various buildings, stalls, and shops lined the sides of the road, with both workers and commoners gathering around to do business.

“Don’t worry, we’ll do just fine. I’m sure of it.” Kyle said. Joshua remained silent, the pair continuing to walk down the city streets. Kyle had the package they were meant to deliver strapped over his shoulders, much like a backpack, looking over a note that had been given to them by the guild’s gatekeeper before they had left. The note mentioned to pass by the town merchant and pick up their 'explorer's starter kit' before heading off on their excursion. In addition to the note was a voucher for said kit, complete with the signature of the shopkeeper herself, one Amelia Stenson.

"I wonder what's in the starter kit," Kyle mused aloud to himself, turning over to Joshua. He suspected his friend might know about it.

Joshua simply shrugged as they continued on. "I don't recall exactly. I believe it's just a few of the essentials; some oran berries for healing, and maybe an elixir or two."

"Elixir, huh?" Kyle said. "That stuff is crazy expensive, at least for me. You're telling me they'll give it to us for free?"

Joshua nodded once. "Just this one time, though. After that, we'll likely have to buy our own, or, if we're lucky, find some in the mystery dungeons."

"People just leave that stuff lying around?" Kyle asked incredulously. It was hard to imagine someone taking such things and carelessly abandoning them.

"Yeah, it's strange," Joshua said. "The… well, the mysterious nature of mystery dungeons is almost unexplainable. I suppose that's why they call them mystery dungeons. Even after so many years of the explorer's guild and all of their exploits, we still have a lot to figure out about these dungeons. Anything from elixirs, to money, berries, vitamins, and even gummis, seem to just... appear. Some explorers go into dungeons just to find the treasures that are scattered throughout."

"But there has to be an explanation," Kyle said, partially to himself.

"I'm sure there is, we just don't know it yet," Joshua replied. "A popular theory is that the thieves that journey in these dungeons, in their haste, leave behind their ill-gotten loot, or maybe they use the dungeons to hide said loot, and they end up forgetting about it." Joshua stopped talking, seeing as the merchant's stand was just coming up. "We're here."

Both Kyle and Joshua made their way to the merchant's stand. It was a simple building, at the end of the street, with a tarp overhead to protect from inclement weather, but no roof to speak of. Behind the counter, arranged neatly on shelves and displays were all of the items the store offered. Behind them were boxes packed with things, haphazardly arranged to be opened and organized later. On top of the counter, brushing away debris and dust with his wings, was a murkrow, too busy with his cleaning to notice the new recruits approaching.

"Good morning," Kyle said, causing the murkrow to jump lightly.

"Oh oh!" the murkrow said, looking over the pair with a sly grin on his beak. "Welcome, welcome! Pardon me, the fall weather is intent on scattering its leaves all over the place. Such a mess. Anyways, how may I help you two?"

Kyle fumbled with the voucher in his grasp, placing it gently on the counter in front of the murkrow. "We were told to give this to you."

"New explorers?" the murkrow asked happily. "Mrs. Stenson!" he shouted out, calling inside the merchants stand to the owner. "You got any explorer kits ready? I've got two kids here with a voucher!"

"I do! I do!" the voice called back. "New explorers, let me see!" From behind the shelves and clutter came an ampharos, her brilliant yellow fur almost as bright as a ripe Nomel berry, though clearly a bit disheveled, her fur slightly rattled from her morning work. As she approached the counter, she eyed both Kyle and Joshua, her eyes growing wide in a mixture of happiness and surprise. "Why, if it isn't my two favorite customers! Joshua, Kyle, welcome!" She gave them both a once over, seeing that they did indeed bear the colored scarves of the explorer's guild, as well as the explorer’s guild vouchers. The murkrow picked up the paper in his beak, handing it to the ampharos. She looked it over, before turning back to the boys. "So you're explorers now, is that right?"

Joshua nodded in the affirmative. The ampharos tilted her head a bit in confusion.

"I never took you for the adventurous type, Joshua" Amelia said, before offering another smile. "But, far from me to judge your intentions. If that's what you want, I'll be more than happy to help you! Just give me one moment." With that, she walked back behind the shelves once more, rustling through her inventory.

As they waited, they could hear the banging and thuds of items falling over, boxes hitting the ground and spilling their contents. “Whoops!” was the exclamation they heard, many times over the few seconds that passed.

“It’s a wonder the whole shop hasn’t fallen apart…” the murkrow said idly to himself, sighing lightly. Kyle couldn’t help but chuckle a bit. Amelia was never very organized, despite her profession. If not for her assistant, it was unlikely anything would be nearly as neat as it was.

“Aha! I knew I had you!” Amelia cried out in victory, finally making her way back to the counter, her fur seeming even more frazzled than it was only moments prior. “Do forgive me, we don’t get new recruits too often, I almost forgot where we kept these!” With a triumphant grin, she placed a small box on the table in front of them. Kyle and Joshua both took the box, opening it up and eyeing the goodies inside.

“You’ll find most everything you need for starting out in there. It’s my little gift to the guild, considering what they do for the town.” Most everything was right; Joshua rifled through the box, seeing a healthy stock of items they’d need. Two oran berries, an elixir, ten gravelrocks, a stun seed, and even a reviver seed.

“Wow!” Kyle said, looking over the items. “Is this really for us?”

Amelia nodded once. “Yes it is! But this is the only handout I give, so anything after that you’ll have to pay for. As much as I like you two, I have a business to run.”

“Though she’d probably give it away if you gave her your best sad face…” the murkrow added teasingly, rewarded with a pap from Amelia.

“Oh pish posh,” she said. She turned back to Joshua and Kyle, waving them off as they had everything they needed. “Good luck on your little exam! I’m sure you'll do an outstanding job… Oh! I almost forgot!”

Just before Joshua could turn to leave, the ampharos quickly scurried back behind her shelves, though she found her item much faster this time. She came out with a small envelope attached to a long box. “If it’s not too much trouble, I had this package I was supposed to send off to your mother and sister today, but I forgot to give it to the postman this morning. A little ‘get well’ present. It already has the address and everything on it, so could you just get this to the post office before you leave for your test?”

Joshua eyed the package; normally he would object, but never for his family. Besides, the post office was only just down the street. Kyle quickly snatched up the box, standing straight and nodding to Amelia. “You got it!” he answered.

“Thank you,” Amelia said, before beginning to return to her duties. “Good luck! Tell your mom I miss her the next time you see her. We need to have lunch together one day!”

“I will, thank you,” Joshua replied, motioning for Kyle to follow as they walked to the post office.

“So, how is your sister doing, anyways?” Kyle asked, looking over the little package they were delivering.

“She’s doing well enough,” Joshua answered. “The doctors still don’t know what’s wrong, but they say it’s not getting worse, so that’s good.”

Kyle nodded in understanding. “Well, that’s good. Come on, let’s go get this delivered and go take this exam!”

Together they picked up their pace, speedily heading towards the Drifblim Deliveries building. The sign hung just over the side of the road, attached to the entrance to a large, wooden construct that housed the post office. The sign was crafted in the silhouette of a Drifblim, the post office’s signature, along with the name and their slogan.

“From the lowest low to the highest high, making sure your deliveries are right on time!”

Joshua pushed open the wooden door, the bell inside chiming as the door set it off. The waiting area was spacious, but not nearly as much as behind the counter. Several boxes, envelopes, and baskets were being arranged for delivery, as three of the drifblim were preparing for takeoff.

“Good morning, boys,” a farfetch’d greeted, the desk worker going over paperwork as the two approached. He eyed the package they held, giving a small smile. “Got a delivery? You’re just in time, we’re prepping for flight right now!”

“We did, actually, and awesome!” Kyle said, happily placing Amelia’s package on the counter. Watching the drifblim takeoff was always the best part of morning in Independence. The farfetch’d wasted no time, immediately checking it for postage and address, both of which were present. “Hey Philip! Got one more for ya!”

“Perfect timing,” came the reply, as a pachirisu ran up to the desk, eagerly taking the package in his tiny hands and scurrying off towards the drifblim. Underneath the balloon pokémon was a large basket, affixed with a handle for the drifblim to hold on to, and inside loaded with dozens of packages and parcels for deliver. Each drifblim held their own basket, ready for takeoff. The pachirisu quickly placed the box inside the appropriate basket, before sealing it shut and knocking on it twice. “You’re all set! Let’s go, boys!”

Like clockwork, the pachirisu ran to a nearby mechanism, turning a crank and beginning to open the roof to the building, the sun piercing the inside with its light. Once it was fully opened, the drifblim began to take flight, flying high into the sky and throwing large, round shadows down below as they ascended. Kyle and Joshua promptly turned to leave, wanting to see the sight from outside. They ran to the street, looking up above the post-office and squinting from looking up towards the bright sky. Already the drifblim looked so small, like tiny dots in the sky, getting smaller and smaller as they began their deliveries.

“That must be scary,” Kyle said, imagining looking down from that height. “But it looks like so much fun, too.”

“Maybe you can hide yourself in a box and they’ll deliver you,” Joshua joked, earning a giggle from the elgyem.

“Hah! I’d be scared of them dropping me!” Kyle teased back, before nudging the swadloon’s side. “Now come on, we’ve got a dungeon to go explore!”

Kyle immediately dashed off, practically sprinting towards their final destination. Joshua shook his head, unable to hold back a smirk as his friend decided to race him. He followed after as fast as he could, though lacking legs, he doubted he’d be able to best Kyle in speed.

They ran past the borders of the town, passing by the dojo on their way, just as Seymour was opening it up, the scrafty giving them both a wave.

“Oi lads,” he called out, smiling wide. “If yer lookin’ for some propa exercise, it’s roight here!”

Kyle slowed down, returning the gesture and smiling back. “Sounds like fun! But we’ve got stuff to do right now.”

The scrafty laughed a bit at the remark. “‘Course ya do. Anytime ya need some trainin’ though.”

“Will do, Seymour!” Kyle called out, before Joshua managed to catch up with him. Kyle resumed a leisurely walking pace, as the two were now out of breath. “Come on, you couldn’t beat me even when I’ve got a box strapped to my back?” He teased.

“I think you’re forgetting I don’t have legs,” Joshua quipped back. Just up ahead, they saw where they were supposed to go. The entrance to the Luscious Springs, guarded by a rather lazy looking quagsire, bearing a golden scarf with a guild badge. Kyle approached the Quagsire curiously, seeing that he was actually asleep.

“Uh, hey, Mr. quagsire…” he said, trying to reach up to the quagsire’s gaze, but being too short to do so. He gently poked the water pokémon's side, successfully rousing him from his sleep.

With a long, loud yawn, the quagsire woke up, looking down at the two would-be explorers before him. “Oh. Good morning… uh, it is morning still, right?”

“Yes, it is,” Joshua replied, making sure his guild badge was properly displayed. “Um, we have to go in… may we?”

“Let me see…” the quagsire pondered, idly glancing over the two. “Badges, check. Package, check. Uh…” he suddenly seemed confused. “Do you have your permission slip?”

“P-permission slip?” Joshua asked. He vainly felt around his person, checking his scarf and his bag they’d been given. “Oh great, did we miss the permission slip?”

“Haha! I’m just kidding, you two are fine.” The quagsire laughed heartily, though Joshua and Kyle didn’t seem amused. Regardless, the quagsire kept boasting his large grin, before motioning for the two to enter. “Go on ahead. Good luck!”

Joshua let out a sigh, before making himself straight and scuttling as proudly as he could into the dungeon with Kyle behind him. “Well… here goes nothing. Ready, Kyle?”

“I am!” he replied, seeming much more excited than the nervous swadloon. “Let’s do this thing!”

“Yes, yes…” Joshua said quietly. After a few steps inside, Joshua turned to his friend again. “Kyle?”

“Yeah?”

“I never thanked you properly for… you know… joining up with me. So thanks.” The swadloon shifted uncomfortably in place, straightening his leafy coat. “It means a lot to have you here with me.”

“And you with me,” Kyle answered back, giving Joshua a pat on the back.. “Now come on, let’s go find our client.”

Together, the pair began their foray into their very first dungeon. But unknown to either of them or the entrance guard, a single red eye was glancing at them, stalking the two from the shadows.

“So that’s where you are…” the voice said, giggling childishly to itself, before vanishing into the shadows.
 
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Chapter Five: Where the Wild Things Are
World's worst critic
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I'm doing writing and I'm still alive~

EDITS:
8/23/16: Changed red sashes to pink to bring in line with earlier chapters.
Fixed inconsistent capitalization to bring in line with the rest of the story.

Chapter Five: Where the Wild Things Are

Tall trees surrounded Joshua and Kyle on both sides, obscuring their vision and leading them down a long, winding pathway. Slowly, the quaint sounds of the town behind them grew more and more distant, cementing their path into the Luscious Springs. The singing of pidoves and pidgeys could be heard the farther they went, and even beyond, the faint whisper of a river running through the forest.

“Man, I could take a vacation here…” Kyle mused to himself, pulling the package he carried tightly to his back, tugging at the straps. “When they said dungeons I thought they were like scary places or something.”

“I think the dungeon aspect has to do with getting lost,” Joshua replied, clutching his leaf jacket closer to him. “As for me, I’d rather be home in my warm bed, away from the outdoors.” The swadloon straightened himself out, almost as if trying to appear more dignified than nature. “Out in the open, where there’s danger, and dirt, and… nasty things.” He shuddered at the thought, realizing he’d have to spend more and more time in places like this. The wild; they called it that for a reason. Away from society, there were no rules, and anybody could pounce them at any time. Joshua glanced at the pink scarf wrapped around his leafy sleeve, marking him as a member of the guild. For all he knew - and he knew a fair bit - these scarves would make them targets for bandits and gangsters. These dungeons were havens for the lawless, and explorers weren’t given the warmest of welcomes around these locations.

Kyle simply shrugged, chuckling a bit at Joshua’s disdain for the open air. “Well, at least it’s not some dark cave or something.” They walked for a little while more, Kyle enjoying the scenery with Joshua leading. “So, what do you suppose is in this package, anyways? Feels kind of heavy.”

“Guildmaster Matthew told us not to open it,” Joshua reminded his companion.

“I know, I know. I wasn’t going to open it. Duh,” Kyle said, prodding Joshua playfully. “I’m just wondering. It’s kind of cold, too.”

“Yeah, I noticed that when the guildmaster gave it to us,” Joshua remarked. “It looks like it’s supposed to keep whatever’s inside it cold, so it probably has ice weighing it down as well.”

Kyle thought for a moment, before his expression became almost annoyed. “Are we delivering food to someone? Is that what this is?”

“I don’t know,” Joshua said defensively. “All I know is, there’s a person at the end of this dungeon, and we have to give it to them.”

Kyle just groaned in irritation. “I hope we’re not just delivery boys today. I was hoping for something more exciting.”

Joshua gave a tut at Kyle’s displeasure. “We’re still new to this, remember? Mia said that all the explorers have to do this, so let’s just do it and get it over with.”

Kyle gave a last grumble as they continued, before noticing the sound of the river growing closer. They began to move towards it, hoping to follow it and have an idea of where they were headed. Soon enough, the sounds grew louder, even joined by the crashing of water onto the rocks. The river led to a waterfall, somewhere.

The pair followed the sounds until they reached the source; a huge waterfall, cascading down several feet into a river below.

“Hey Joshua, look down there!” Kyle pointed downward towards the bank of the river at the bottom. A large wooden cabin stood tall, with smoke lightly flowing from the chimney. From the growth of moss on its sides, it seemed to have been there for many years. “You suppose that’s our client?”

“Must be,” Joshua replied, turning his gaze to the cliff that they stood on. The swadloon anxiously peered down the side of the drop, then to the cliff face, before quickly darting away. There was no way to scale the cliff from here. They’d have to find another way down.

“Well, let’s get going then, and-” Kyle started, until he turned back to see Joshua shivering and cowering in place. “Whoa, Joshua, what’s up?”

Joshua meekly pointed forward, and Kyle froze. In front of them, cornering them against the edge of the cliff, were two pokémon, a treecko and a bellsprout, grinning with malicious intent. The sight elicited a whimper from Kyle and Joshua both.

“You two lost or something?” The treecko said, crossing his arms.

“I see some fancy-looking sashes,” the bellsprout commented. “New explorers.” The bellsprout chuckled at the revelation, eyeing Joshua specifically. “I can tell they’re new! Look at this one, shaking like a leaf!”

The treecko leaned forward towards Joshua, placing his hands on his knees as if consoling a child. “Aw, you scared, little guy?”

Kyle stood up, puffing out his chest in a display of courage. “B-back off!” he said, trying to maintain composure. “We’re Independence City explorers o-on an important m-mission, and we will not be threatened b-by you!” The elgyem tried to stand up straight, barely holding back his shivers. Both treecko and bellsprout only laughed.

“Yeah, quit the tough guy act, I can see right through it,” the treecko mocked, holding his hand out towards their bag. “Now, if you give me the bag and that special looking box, maybe we’ll be nice and let you go.”

“Maybe?” Joshua asked.

“Yes, maybe,” the treecko repeated. “As in, if I like what’s in the bag. Now hand it over.” The two would-be thieves slowly got closer, as Joshua and Kyle couldn’t back away with the cliff behind them.

“B-back off! … please…?” Joshua squeaked.

“Or what?” The treecko said, before lurching forward to grab Joshua’s explorer bag. The swadloon yelped indignantly, instinctively swinging his hand rapidly and tossing a razor leaf, leaving a shallow cut across the treecko’s face.

The treecko staggered back in pain, bringing a hand to his face and hissing at the sting. He twisted his brow at the swadloon, who only cowered further upon realizing what he had done. “Oh, now I’m going to hurt you… bad!”

Joshua shrieked again, sporadically waving his hands and throwing out more razor leaf attacks, his only viable method of defense. The treecko bobbed and weaved away from the projectiles, more prepared this time as he kept his gaze fixed on the swadloon, waiting for an opening.

“I’ve got the rocky one!” the bellsprout shouted, turning his attention to Kyle. Kyle trembled lightly, but stood his ground, preparing himself for battle.

The bellsprout swayed to the side, spinning his lanky arms and lashing at the elgyem with a vine whip. Kyle rolled to the side, only to trip over his feet and fall to the ground, narrowly avoiding the attack. The elgyem frantically raised his arm, readying the only attack he knew.

In an instant, a distorting aura surrounded the bellsprout, before he suddenly flew backward, crying out in pain. Kyle steadily rose to his feet, the bellsprout now teetering to and fro in a daze.

“Whoa-whoa-whoa!” the bellsprout yelled. “Where did the lights go?”

Kyle pointed his hand at the thief again, feeling a newfound sense of confidence. “Still think I’m a rock? Could a rock type use confusion?” he said confidently, before blasting the bellsprout again, the psychic energy devastating the hapless flower pokémon.

Meanwhile, Joshua was haphazardly tossing out razor leaf after razor leaf, desperately trying to keep the treecko at bay and only being moderately successful. The treecko was about to close in on the swadloon, until he saw his partner being tossed away by the elgyem. He turned to Kyle in disbelief, recoiling as the psychic pointed his hand at him.

“Whoa, what’re you-” the treecko stammered, letting his guard down. Joshua seized the opportunity, mustering his courage and charging directly at the thief, batting him away with a tackle attack. The treecko fell onto his rear, staring in disbelief, his ego more wounded than anything else. He scrambled to his feet, not even bothering to check on his friend before dashing away.

“H-hey boss! Wait for me!” The bellsprout cried out, twirling around in confusion before eventually managing to run in the general direction of his comrade.

Joshua’s body puffed up and down as he hyper-ventilated, finally glad to be rid of their aggressors. Kyle, meanwhile, put a foot down triumphantly and put his hands to his hips.

“You know, even though I’m not a rock type, I just rocked your world, huh!” he called out, laughing to himself.

“K-Kyle, please…” Joshua said, trying to catch his breath and regain his bearings.

“Oh come on, I wanted to say something cool,” Kyle replied.

“We’re both nerds, Kyle. We are the exact opposite of cool,” Joshua said, taking in a deep breath before finally relaxing his muscles. Kyle deflated at Joshua’s remark, rubbing the back of his head.

“Why do you have to ruin my fun?” Kyle said teasingly. “Still, that was… exhilarating! We won our first fight!”

“Yes, yes, we got jumped at the edge of a cliff by two thieves and almost robbed blind. How exhilarating.”

“Hey now,” Kyle said, patting Joshua’s back reassuringly. He could tell from Joshua’s shivering that their experiences were quite different. “You do know that fighting is part of the job, right?”

“Of course I do…” Joshua replied, sighing. “Doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it. Besides, they ran as soon as they realized they’d have to work. We didn’t win as much as they just gave up.”

Kyle titled his head sideways, before shrugging. He decided not to press the issue any further. “Well, let’s see if we can’t get down to that cabin down there.” He glanced along the edge of the cliff, quickly spotting a staircase.

***​

With newfound determination, Joshua and Kyle followed a path that led steadily down the cliff, going down crudely-carved staircases towards their destination. Joshua scuttled along, keeping himself alert should anything else pop up to cause harm. He kept his coat clutched tightly against his yellow body, as if protecting himself from some invisible assailant. Luckily for the nervous swadloon, they encountered no other thieves or bullies along their path, and soon enough, they reached the cabin they saw an hour earlier from the top of the cliff.

“Finally!” Kyle exclaimed, quickly bounding towards the front door of the cabin and knocking politely on the wood. “Independence Explorer’s Guild! We’re here with your delivery!”

“So professional,” Joshua teased, feeling a sense of relief wash over him as their journey was nearly complete. Just deliver the package, and it’s back to the safety of the guild, in his nice, warm cot…

Kyle stood proudly on the doorstep, ignoring Joshua’s comment. He felt important now, what with his guild sash and important delivery! He stood still, waiting for a response, but receiving none. He squinted his eyes, knocking again. “Hello? The guild is here with your delivery… anybody home?”

Joshua rolled his eyes. How could their client be so curt, not even ready to answer the door? Surely they must have been expecting a visit. He looked up at the roof, seeing smoke still rising from the chimney.

Kyle’s face became disheartened, wondering where the homeowner was. He looked around the yard, before walking around to the side of the house towards the nearby river. “Hey! Over here!” He waved for Joshua to come closer, spotting a slowpoke, the pink pokémon swirling his tail idly in the river, completely oblivious to the two apprentices.

Kyle slowly walked up to the slowpoke, Joshua just behind him, taking the delivery off of his back and holding it in front of him. “Hello sir!” Kyle greeted enthusiastically. “The guild is here with your delivery.”

Seconds passed in silence, the slowpoke never taking his gaze away from his tail in the river. Kyle tilted his head. Was the slowpoke deaf?

“Hello?” he said again.

Finally, the slowpoke turned his head, a dopey grin on his face as he saw the pair. “Hello,” he stated simply, looking down at the package the elgyem held. “Is that for me?”

“Yes sir,” Kyle said, holding out the package eagerly in front of the waiting slowpoke. True to his species, the slothful pokémon languidly reached out to grasp the box. With a smirk, he looked over the duo. “You want to see what’s inside?”

Both Kyle and Joshua nodded in response, to which the slowpoke chuckled. Gingerly, he undid the latches that kept the box sealed, opening the lid as a cloud of icy vapor rose up. The slowpoke inhaled deeply through his nostrils, enjoying the scent, before reaching in and producing one single apple.

“An... apple?” Kyle grumbled. “Is that all it is?”

“Not just an apple,” the slowpoke replied, holding the fruit close to his face, almost caressing it with his cheek. “This is a perfect apple. The rarest kind, so juicy and full of flavor… only found in the toughest of dungeons. This is the… what’s the word…? Oh! The pinnacle of my weeks here in the Luscious Springs.”

Kyle sighed disappointedly. He was hoping it would be something more exciting than just a simple snack. A priceless trinket, maybe, or a sentimental heirloom. Joshua seemed less concerned, simply content that the job was done.

“Well, if everything is satisfactory, then we will be taking our leave,” Joshua said finally. He wanted nothing more than to leave and be back, safe and sound, at the guild.

“Oh oh! I almost forgot,” the slowpoke said. With a yawn, he reached behind him with his tail, pulling out a small pouch, dropping it in front of the explorers. “Your payment, for a job… oh! A job well done, that’s it.”

Kyle quickly scooped up the pouch, examining the contents. The traditional gold-colored coins of their currency, to the tune of five-hundred poké.

“Wow! Five-hundred poké!” Kyle exclaimed, suddenly overjoyed now with their mission.

“Don’t spend it all in one place,” the slowpoke joked. “I’m going to enjoy my new snack now. Take… luck? No, that's not it… oh, take care!”

Kyle waved at the slowpoke as he headed back inside, before turning to Joshua again. “Well, I think that makes us official explorers now, huh?”

“It does,” Joshua replied plainly.

“Oh come on, at least pretend to be excited, won’t you?”

Joshua sighed, before putting on an exaggerated smile. “Golly gee, I’m so happy. This is truly the greatest day of my life. Can we go home now?”

Kyle laughed at Joshua’s act, before joining up alongside him. “Yes, yes we can.”

***​

Night had fallen as Kyle and Joshua arrived back at the guild headquarters, the swadloon practically rolling onto his side in his cot once they arrived at their room.

“Oh, I’ve never been more happy to be in bed!” Joshua exclaimed, exhaling loudly in contentment.

“I can’t believe we only got to keep one-hundred twenty-five of the poké,” Kyle said glumly.

“Guild shares,” Joshua replied. “They always take three-fourths of the proceeds as a sort of membership fee.”

“But I wanted the five-hundred…” Kyle said, though his tone was more sarcastic than genuinely aggravated.

“One twenty-five is still more than we’ve ever seen before,” Joshua added. “It adds up. Maybe we’ll find higher-paying jobs in the future.” The swadloon yawned, wanting nothing more than to close his eyes and sleep. “Come on, it’s getting late, and we need to be up early, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah…” Kyle replied. He turned off the lantern that lit their room, until he froze as a red light came through the window up above, leering over him. He peered up, terrified at the sight of a single, red eye glaring at him.

With a shriek, Kyle fell back, causing Joshua to jump up in alarm as well, until he too saw the red eye. He cried out in fear, about to run from the room until the shadow quickly darted towards the doorway, blocking them in.

“I finally found you!” the shadow said, snaky tendrils that resembled hands rubbing together in a sinister plot. In the darkness it could barely be seen, the only light coming from the red pupil that swayed side to side.

“Wh-wh-who are you? What are you?!” Kyle stammered. Joshua was too petrified with fear to say anything to the apparition.

“Oh, you don’t recognize me?” The shadow replied. Then, in a second, the shadow turned the lantern on once more, revealing the shape of a duskull, hands raised in excitement. “Ta-da! It’s me!”

Celine?!” Joshua finally said, shaking his head in disbelief. He recognized this girl, if only partially, as one of the players in his local chess group back home. She was skilled in the game, and she knew it, never missing an opportunity to show off her prowess. She’d even been invited over to Joshua’s house for a celebratory dinner after one of his victories, but he never considered them more than just acquaintances. She was definitely the last person he expected to see here. “How on earth did you get in here? Why are you here?”

“And why’d you have to freak us out like that?” Kyle shot out as well. Celine could only giggle at their fear and annoyance.

“Well, a little pidgey told me you guys weren’t going to be playing chess anymore, and that… well, it made me sad!” She pouted playfully, placing her hands on her hips. “But I was even more shocked when I asked around, and I heard you were joining the guild! Like… you! Joshua Vensworth, the most socially awkward kid ever, even for a nerd! No offense…” Joshua rolled his eyes at the comment, earning another chuckle from the duskull.

“Well, yes, I’m here, and I’m an explorer now. Is that what you wanted to see? To see if I could actually do it? Well, I did, I actually did it, so there.” Joshua said defensively. “You’ll have to get your laughs from someone else!”

Celine burst out laughing at the little swadloon. “Oh no no no! You’ve got it all wrong!” She said, shaking her head. “I didn’t come here to prove a point or anything. I came here to… well, I’ll be blunt, I came here to join you!”

“You what?” Kyle asked incredulously. “You want to join us? You came all the way out here to Independence, on a whim, and just decided to join an explorer’s team that may or may not have even existed for all you knew? I mean, I don’t mean any disrespect, but… well, we weren’t exactly close friends with one another. We played chess together, but that was about it.”

“Oh, you two were always my friends, even if you didn’t like to think so,” Celine replied with a tut. “You two were the only ones who came close to matching my skill at the game. Now that you’re not playing anymore, what fun is there in staying? So I can beat the same hopeless losers over and over, who couldn’t even dream of being as good as I am? That’s so… boring!”

“I… I don’t understand…” Joshua said, sighing wearily. Though they never were close friends, Joshua remembered Celine as being incredibly impulsive and hasty. Even still, to go so far as to follow them to Independence, and find them in the guild just to join up with them? Joshua couldn’t make sense of it.

“It’s better if you don’t think about it,” Celine said with a wink. She clearly had some ulterior motive; Joshua and Kyle both could sense as much. However, as arrogant and proud as they knew her to be, she was never wicked. Whatever her reasons, neither of them could see any ill will in her request.

“Are you sure you want to join us?” Joshua asked, resigning to Celine’s wishes. “It’s not exactly a fun-filled time being in the guild, and it’s not easy, either.”

“Easy? Who wants things to be easy?” Celine said whimsically. “There’s no fun if there’s no challenge, and as I’m sure you both know, I’m the best at what I do. I was the best chess player at nationals, and I guarantee you I can be the best explorer, too!”

Kyle and Joshua sighed in unison, the swadloon nodding finally. “Fine, you can join us, but we have to talk to the guildmaster, and you have to get an application, and…”

“Already taken care of!” Celine responded happily, producing a small pink scarf she’d concealed behind her back. “The Guildmaster said I could join your team as long as I had your permission! And I think you just gave it to me, so... “ She suddenly jumped forward, grabbing the two boys in a hug, giddy with excitement. “Yay! Thank you! We’re going to be the best explorer team ever!”

Joshua nearly panicked at the embrace. “Personal space! Personal space!” he cried, not used to be embraced by someone he wasn’t close with. Celine giggled again, before relinquishing her hold on the two.

“Hehe, sorry, I forgot about your personal space thing,” she laughed. “Now then, since I’m here and all… “ she started, before yawning loudly and stretching her arms. “I’m exhausted! Let’s go to sleep.”

“We were about to, until you had to jump in and nearly give us a heart-attack,” Kyle said, annoyed.

“Well, you survived, so stop whining,” she teased. “I just wanted to have some fun.”

“Some fun…” Kyle grumbled. With that, he turned off the light, the three of them falling asleep. Mostly…

Joshua lied down with a heavy sigh, trying to piece together what had just transpired. They’d passed their exam and been made honorary apprentices, which was good, but now… to be surprised by someone he thought he never see again, and to have said person spontaneously ask to join his team... it was something he just couldn’t figure out. Perhaps in time she’d reveal more, but for now, he supposed he should be happy to have an extra member. Certainly took the work out of recruiting. With his mind racing, he quickly exhausted himself mentally, soon enough falling asleep himself.
 
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Chapter Six: Thou Shalt Not
World's worst critic
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6,000 words! Whew boy. Better get your reading glasses. :p

Special shoutout to @Infinity Storm for coming up with a random team of thieves.

EDITS:
8/23/16: Changed red sashes to pink.
8/30/16: Fixed minor typos.

Chapter Six: Thou Shalt Not

“Guildmaster Matthew, you have a visitor…”

“A visitor?” Matthew asked, confused. He turned up from his papers towards the clock in his private quarters. It was nearly midnight. Why he’d have a visitor so late in the day was a question he was too tired to try and answer. He looked again towards the pawniard at the door, his assistant, only peeking inside. “The guild is closed for the day. Tell them to come back tomorrow morning.”

“Well, er… he’s already here…” the pawniard said in dismay. Suddenly, the door was pushed open, causing the pawniard to fall over as an angry-looking meowstic stormed up to the guildmaster’s desk. The pawniard dusted himself off as he rose to his feet, sighing lightly. “He kind of… barged in.”

“I needed to talk to Matthew, and I couldn’t wait,” the meowstic said defiantely. The servine guildmaster closed his eyes and shook his head. His least favorite visitor.

“Ah, yes, Ahote. I should have known…” Matthew said sarcastically. He was all too aware that the little meowstic had a bone to pick with him. For as long as he could remember, Ahote would pay ‘visits’ to the guild, often lobbing accusations against them in some vain attempt to get them to leave. Matthew was seriously considering banning him from the premises, and at this rate, that consideration would soon become reality. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit at eleven thirty at night?”

“Are you saying you don’t know what happened?” Ahote accused the guildmaster.

“Things happen all the time, Ahote, you’ll have to be more specific.”

“Someone snuck into the Forgotten Abyss,” Ahote said, the meowstic crossing his arms. “The dungeon you know your little friends are not supposed to be in.”

Matthew sighed, closing his eyes and resisting the urge to lose his temper. “Yes, I’m very well aware, and as I’ve told you dozens of times before, I have already placed an embargo on the dungeon. As much as you’d like to think that every bad thing that happens is the guild’s fault, you’re sorely mistaken.” His tone grew sharper and pointed, already becoming aggravated.

“Then what are yo-”

What I will do is none of your concern, Ahote,” Matthew interrupted. It had only been a minute and he was already done with the conversation. “I’ve had this conversation with you over and over, and it never seems to occur to you that I do not control every last person in the world. I am done with this conversation. You shouldn’t even be here, and if you barge in here again like this, I will make sure it never happens again. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

“Of course,” Ahote said. With their brief conversation over, the meowstic left the guild quietly. As soon as Matthew and his assistant were alone again, the servine fumed, leaning on his desk and slamming his fist down.

“That snide little brat!” Matthew exclaimed. If he were a fire type, he’d surely have flames erupting from his form and end up burning the office down. “I swear, he just does this to get a rise out of me!”

“Should we post night guards so he doesn’t come back?” the pawniard asked.

“No, Nathaniel. I won’t have guild members lose sleep because of one arrogant child,” Matthew replied, contempt in his voice for Ahote. “The brat doesn’t seem to understand just what the guild has done for this place. He thinks because I’m the new guildmaster that he can intimidate me. He’s a fool.”

Nathaniel stood silent, the pawniard idly kicking his feet as he listened to the guildmaster vent. Matthew was normally a dignified, polite fellow, but Ahote knew how to push all of his buttons and make him rage. “So, what did he mean with the Forgotten Abyss? Guild members aren’t allowed there, right?”

“No, they aren’t, but Ahote loves to accuse the guild of wrongdoing every chance he gets.” He finally slumped into his chair behind his desk, sighing in exhaustion and rubbing his temples.

“You said you knew about what happened. Do you?” Nathaniel asked.

“Not yet, but I won’t show for a second that Ahote knows more than I do.” Matthew took in another deep breath before exhaling loudly. “I’ll see what I can find out. It wasn’t anybody here, I’m sure. They know the consequences of going to these dungeons.” Matthew groaned in annoyance, shutting his eyes and leaning his head back behind his chair. “Nathaniel, would you please do the announcements for tomorrow morning? I think I need to sleep in just for today.”

“Of course,” Nathaniel responded. Matthew idly pointed towards the paper on his desk he was working on before being rudely interrupted.

“It has everything you need to know for role call tomorrow morning. I appreciate you doing this for me.”

“No worries, boss,” Nathaniel replied. He scooped up the paper in his arms, careful not to tear it on his bladed hands. “You get some rest. I’ll handle the morning routine.”

“Oh, and one last thing,” Matthew added. “I believe team Phantasm is back from their explorations now. If you see them, tell them I want to see them tomorrow.”

“Will do,” Nathaniel replied. With that said, the pawniard took his leave, quietly closing the door behind him. Matthew sighed again, before standing up, walking towards a large map hung on the wall. He looked over it, seeing the markings made by himself and his guildmaster before him. He glanced at the Forgotten Abyss, a dungeon located far to the west of the guild’s location on the coastline.

Just when things were getting back to normal, Matthew thought to himself. He didn’t know who had gone to the dungeon, but he had his ideas. As for the why, that he was absolutely sure of, and he knew that the answer wasn’t good.

The servine turned his attention to the trappings and trinkets hung all around the walls. Arranged neatly on shelves stood treasures and rarities from the guild’s numerous exploits over the years. The guild had existed for many, many years before, but not here. Its expansion into this new land, and the formation of the city of Independence, had only happened twenty years prior, and even in that short time, they had seen the fruition of their efforts: a diamond-encrusted lute from Shadow’s Den, a golden dagger from Dragontown, a beautiful necklace from the Ethereal Forest, it’s gold chains and jeweled pockets glistening brilliantly, even in the dim lights from the lanterns.

And finally, near the end of the shelf, by his bed, was a framed picture of former guildmaster Theodore, the meganium bearing a small smile that somehow expressed intense gratitude and satisfaction. Matthew mused over his old mentor’s leadership, his gentle spirit but firm guidance. Written underneath the portrait was the meganium’s favorite phrase.

“Good intentions can shape a hero. Good deeds will make one.”

Matthew grinned, if only slightly. He remembered his time in the guild as a snivy, small in stature but with a dedication to prove himself to the guildmaster as being worthy. Even now, with the mantle of guildmaster passed to him, Matthew still wondered if he possessed the same qualities that Theodore had. His smile quickly turned back into a frown as his thoughts were brought back to the present.

I thought you had stopped this, Matthew thought. I can only hope you have, and if you haven’t… I hope that I can have the strength to do it without you.

***​

“GOOOOOD MORNING, EVERYONE!” The booming voice of Reginald the cook cut through the tranquility of the morning like a knife. Celine groaned as she shakily rose from the ground, rubbing her head.

“Does he do that every morning?” She asked, turning to Joshua and Kyle, both equally as groggy as the duskull.

“Apparently,” Kyle answered, slowly standing up and stretching with a yawn.

“I think I’m starting to regret this already,” Celine said, stretching in turn. “What’s a girl to do without her beauty sleep?”

“Morning, guys!” Felix said, the shinx peering into the room with a bright smile. “Hurry up, the guildmaster’s assistant is calling a morning huddle.”

“Oh?” Joshua asked, cocking an eyebrow at Felix’s announcement. “A huddle?”

“Yeah, they do it when there’s special things to discuss,” Felix replied. With a swish of his tail, Felix turned and left quickly, leaving the trio to follow behind him.

As soon as they had arrived in the entrance hall, Joshua saw the rest of the explorers gathered together around a pawniard, the sharp blade pokémon standing with his arms crossed, along with a golett who bore a small scroll in his hands. All around them were the rest of the explorers, with more joining them as they woke up. Apprentices and full-fledged explorers both, most looking tired, though a few pushing past the early morning fatigue and standing at full attention.

“Everyone here?” Nathaniel asked, the pawniard scanning his yellow eyes across the crowd. “Alright! Just a few quick announcements.”

The pawniard paused, as if waiting for something. The crowd remained silent, Nathaniel tapping his foot impatiently, before clearing his throat and casting a glare at the golett, holding out his bladed hands.


“Oh! Right!” The golett stammered, unravelling the scroll and holding it in front of the pawniard so he could read it. “Sorry.”

“Right,” Nathaniel replied, rolling his eyes. “Evolution can’t come fast enough…” he mumbled, before proceeding to read the scroll held in front of him. “First things first, we have some new recruits here with us today. After passing their exam, the guild has accepted Joshua, Kyle, and Celine as new apprentices.”

The crowd clapped politely, causing Joshua to shrink away slightly from the attention as they all turned towards them.

“Charmed, charmed,” Celine said, clearly revelling in the praise, however minor. “Looking forward to working with you all!”

“Congratulations,” Nathaniel said plainly, returning to the announcements. “Uh, let’s see… Ah. Second! Unclaimed rooms are not your personal hangouts, nor is food to be brought into them, period. You eat in the mess hall. Someone left their milk glass out and I didn’t find out until the whole place reeked.”

Joshua glanced around, seeing Mia chuckle to herself, the munchlax subtly admitting it was hers. Nathaniel must have noticed as well, glancing at her briefly.

“Next time I’ll make you drink it,” he taunted, smirking lightly. “Alright, what’s next? Hold the scroll up higher…” he said, the golett doing as ordered. “Third and finally, due to increased activity and danger, the following dungeons are considered off limits: Dragontown, the Clouded Cove, Darkreach Swamp and it’s connected relative Darkreach Den, and the Forgotten Abyss. Any teams with requests tied to these dungeons must have express permission from either the guildmaster or myself. You go exploring there without permission, you’ll be suspended, or worse, discharged entirely from the guild. No ifs, ands, or buts.”

The gathered crowd began to murmur amongst themselves as the golett rolled the scroll back up. Nathaniel cleared his throat again, catching their attention once more.

“Now then, you are dismissed. Apprentices, come see me before breakfast for your assignments.”

A disorganized sort of line began to form, the rest of the explorers heading to the mess hall for their food. Felix and Mia naturally gravitated towards Joshua and the others.

Increased activity and danger? What does that mean, exactly?” Joshua asked Felix.

The shinx pondered for a moment, sitting on his haunches. “He mentioned it last huddle, before you guys were here. Dragontown and the Forgotten Abyss were mentioned that time, but apparently they added three more to the list.”

“I see…” Joshua said. “So I guess you don’t know more about it?”

“Can’t say that I do,” Felix replied. “Not that it really matters, anyways. We’re still rookies, and those dungeons are already extremely dangerous on their own. I can only imagine what increased activity and danger means.”

“Sounds interesting,” Celine said whimsically, causing Joshua to shoot her an accusing glare.

“We’re absolutely not going there, if that’s what you’re saying,” he ordered. Celine only huffed once in amusement.

“I don’t mean right now, silly,” she replied defensively. “I was just saying it sounds interesting. Maybe when we get stronger we can get permission and go to one of those places, that’s all I’m saying.”

“Dragontown sounds scary,” Kyle said, partially to himself.

Mia shrugged, unfazed. “Eh, it’s just a big cave that a bunch of dragons took over as their home turf. Used to be called something else, but now they just called it Dragontown, for obvious reasons.”

They stopped as they were next up to get their assignments. Nathaniel looked them over, standing professionally. “Right, you all have the same assignments: look over the bounty board and complete any requests you want. That’s all.” Nathaniel gave a small, polite bow, leaving the apprentices and explorers to handle themselves.

“Let’s go see what they’ve got!” Celine said excitedly, floating over to the bounty board without waiting for the others.

“You guys got a new member already?” Felix asked Joshua.

“Well, she kind of just… showed up last night and asked to join.” The swadloon shrugged lightly. “Kyle and I knew her marginally where we used to live.”

“Still, that’s cool,” Felix said with a chipper smile. “Extra help is hard to come by sometimes. I’ve been thinking of finding an extra recruit myself.”

“Felix, breakfast,” Mia said, the munchlax grabbing Felix by the tail and tugging towards the mess hall. “Now.”

“I’m coming, I’m coming! Geez,” Felix groaned, giving a nod to Joshua and Kyle as he left. “Good luck guys!”

Kyle snickered at Mia’s antics, before heading to the bounty board with Celine, Joshua following behind him.

“So many requests, I want to do them all!” Celine said.

“Can we do an easy one, please?” Joshua said softly. The poor swadloon was worried Celine would pick the most exciting one to her, and he had no doubt that exciting could also be a synonym for dangerous.

“You’re so boring,” Celine teased, poking her hand across the myriad of papers tacked to the board. After a minute, she found one. “Aha! This sounds good, take a look.”

She handed the paper to Joshua, who clutched it in his tiny hands. “An escort mission…” he said with a grimace. Protection wasn’t something he wanted to do so early on. Maybe when he had more experience with dungeons, but right now? He scanned over the details again. “Shoreline Sanctuary... “ he mumbled. Shoreline Sanctuary was a dungeon located right where the beaches of the continent ended and the mainland began. It was a relatively safe dungeon, often visited by hikers and travelers as it led to a beautiful view of the ocean at the top.

“What’s it say?” Kyle asked, trying to glean the information from behind Joshua.

“It’s an escort,” he repeated. “An archaeologist wants help returning to his campsite at Shoreline Sanctuary. I’ve heard of the dungeon. It’s not very dangerous, so hopefully this won’t be too much of a challenge.”

“Well, sounds good to me!” Kyle said. Celine nodded as well, before hurriedly floating towards the mess hall.

“Then it’s settled. Let’s go get some food and then we can go!” the duskull said cheerfully. Joshua and Kyle nodded in agreement, with Joshua tucking the request inside of his coat before following behind Celine.

***

“Ohh, this is so exciting!” Celine said, shivering with anticipation. The group had prepared themselves for the morning, visiting the store and getting supplies, as well as saving up some of their earnings in the bank. It was mid afternoon, and the group was nearly arriving towards the entrance to the Shoreline Sanctuary.

Soon enough, they could tell they were there, as in the distance they saw a frogadier, slumped on the ground with a backpack and glasses. Once he saw the trio approaching, he perked at the sight of their sashes, immediately rising to his feet and waving.

“Salutations, explorers!” he greeted them, standing straight a bowing. “I had no idea my request would be answered so quickly. I came as soon as I was told!”

“So you’re the client, then,” Kyle asked, waving hello to the stranger. The frogadier nodded in response.

“Jeremy McKinley, archaeologist,” he introduced himself.

“Pleased to meet you,” Celine said.

“The pleasure’s all mine,” Jeremy answered. “You’ve no idea how much your help means to me.”

“So tell us what happened,” Joshua said. The frogadier seemed distraught at the mention, sighing lightly.

“Well, I had decided to go exploring around the area, as I’m inclined to do, and I think I might be on to the discovery of a lifetime!” The frogadier was nearly hopping in place in anxiousness. “I found a cave, cleverly hidden by the sands, completely untouched! I set up camp to go explore further, but… I was jumped.” He suddenly lost all vigor, his shoulders slouched in disappointment. “A couple of thieves found me before I could venture farther, and they chased me out. I doubt they’ll find anything valuable in my camp, but I wanted an escort to get back in case they jumped me again. I love to explore, but sadly, I am an archaeologist, not a fighter.”

“So there’s a cave at the top of the dungeon?” Joshua asked, now thoroughly intrigued.

“There is!” Jeremy said enthusiastically. “It’s hidden underneath the sand. As far as I know, nobody has touched it yet.”

Celine clapped once, giddy with eagerness. “Undiscovered caves? That sounds so… so like an explorer’s job!” The duskull looked towards Joshua and Kyle, about ready to start dragging them into the dungeon. “Come on! I want to see it!”

“Alright, alright, let’s get going then,” Joshua said meagerly.

“Splendid, well then, team… er, what do you guys call yourselves?”

Joshua’s mind went blank. He had completely forgotten about a team name, something nearly every explorer team had. “Um… I, er… we don’t have a name, yet…”

“What!” Celine exclaimed. “You guys haven’t thought of a name yet?”

“It slipped my mind, I guess…” Joshua said quietly.

“Well then, we’ll just have to think of one on the way there. I can’t wait any longer. I want to see a dungeon!”

Without even waiting for them to answer, the duskull merrily meandered towards the entrance to Shoreline Sanctuary. With a deep breath, Joshua steeled himself for another journey into a dungeon.

The Shoreline Sanctuary was very different from the previous dungeon. As it connected to the beach, the grounds were covered in sand, with large, rocky cliffs on all sides directing their paths. In the distance they could hear the crashing of the waves onto the shore, the cool breeze washing over Joshua’s body. He shivered once, clutching his coat as he peered over the hills and rocks, wary for bandits.

Once inside, Celine found herself wandering farther away from the others, darting to and fro as if expecting something to happen. “So this is what a dungeon is like? How mysterious,” she joked. She turned around, hurrying the others along. “Slowpokes. I want to see the cave!”

“Just slow down, please,” Kyle pleaded with her, but his concerns fell on deaf ears. Onward she went, pushing through as fast as she could and forcing the others to keep up with her. With a sigh he pressed onward. “So Mr. McKinley, how far is the cave?”

“At the summit of the dungeon. It’s not very far at all.” Jeremy replied. For the most of their journey, they encountered very little resistance, for which Joshua was grateful. Celine, on the other hand, was disappointed.

“I was hoping we’d meet some bad guys already…” she pouted. She had slowed her pace somewhat, bored by the lack of enemies to fight. “This is boring.”

“Hey, maybe you can think of cool names for our team in the meantime,” Kyle said. “I thought of something cool we could use.”

“Is it chess related?” Celine asked in a sardonic tone. Kyle stood silent for a moment.

“Maybe…” he mumbled.

“No. No more chess stuff,” she said curtly. Before she could continue, she looked forward, seeing a small campsite just up ahead. “Oh! Mr. McKinley, is that your stuff over there?”

“It is indeed!” Jeremy said, quickly running over with the explorers following behind him. “Oh, thank goodness, all of my belongings are still here.”

Joshua scuttled closer, peering over the scant amount of supplies the archaeologist has with him. “They… didn’t take anything?” he wondered out loud. The swadloon raised an eyebrow, confused.

“Everything is as I left it,” Jeremy answered, noticing Joshua’s concern. “What’s the matter?”

“Thieves wouldn’t chase you away and then not take your things unless…”

Before Joshua could finish, from the sands above, he heard a hiss, then footsteps. From over the rocky walls slithered a seviper, with an aipom and sandile behind him.

“Unless it was a trap?” the seviper taunted, his tail flicking threateningly behind his head. Joshua gulped, the rest of the explorers and Jeremy turning to face their foes. “A trap you fell right into. How… convenient.”

“What’s the meaning of this?” Jeremy demanded. The seviper flicked his barbed tail at the frogadier, causing him to cower back in shivers.

“Because, simple fools like you don’t carry anything worthwhile. But explorers? Explorers always have goodies on them. I knew if we chased you away, you’d be back with some explorers. And how nice of you to pick the freshest of the bunch.”

“Nice sashes,” the aipom jeered. “Pink ones. The kind rookies wear.”

Joshua shrunk back, silently cursing the guild’s color-coded sashes. For people that knew of it, the pink was given to beginners who had just started out; they were literally wearing their inexperience on their sleeves.

“So, little swadloon,” the seviper continued. “Got anything good to share with us?”

“And by share we mean give,” the sandile added with a toothy grin.

“Hey losers!” Celine suddenly shouted, standing proudly in front of Joshua. “You pick on him, then you pick on me!” She put her hands on her hips, staring them in the eyes. “And believe me, you don’t want to pick on me. You’ll regret it.”

“Oh, sassy one, isn’t she?” the aipom chuckled. “Bring it on.”

“Boys…” the seviper said, turning to his comrades, before nodding once, silently giving them the order to attack.

The sandile rushed forward first, when suddenly Celine sprang into action, using astonish on the ground type. The sandile flinched, cringing slightly from the scare as Celine called out to her friends.

“Josh, you take the aipom! Kyle, get the seviper! I’ll take care of this punk!”

Joshua didn’t even question her tactics, immediately flinging a flurry of razor leaves at the aipom as commanded. The long tail pokémon lurched sideways to avoid the attack, receiving minor scratches from the onslaught. Kyle meanwhile followed orders as well, using confusion on the seviper.

The seviper hissed in pain at the psychic, coiling his tail and swinging it violently across Kyle’s chest. Kyle cried out in pain as he fell to his back. As Kyle fell Celine turned angrily towards the seviper. She turned again to the cowering sandile, finishing it off with a night shade, causing the ground type to faint then and there. With that, she quickly weaved to the side to avoid another poison tail from the seviper.

“Want to dance, little girl?” the seviper taunted. Celine lunged forward with a punch, the seviper effortlessly ducking his head to avoid it, retaliating with a swipe of his own. Celine ducked back, avoiding it, turning quickly to Joshua.

“Stun seed! Now!”

Joshua quickly reached in his bag, pulling out the seed and tossing it to Celine. With seed in hand, she waited for an opening, before the seviper darted at her with mouth poised to bite.

With her target in sight, she threw the seed, landing it squarely in his mouth. The seviper stopped, falling over and gagging as the seed petrified him and left him paralyzed on the floor.

“One more,” Celine said, turning her eyes to the aipom. The aipom gasped as he realized his two comrades had fallen, immediately turning tail and running.

“Joshua, gravelrock please,” Celine said calmly. Joshua again handed her the item, Celine taking aim and flinging the rock as far as she could. After a moment, the rock fell, striking the aipom on the head, knocking him to the ground and taking him out cold.

“Good job everyone!” Celine said proudly, dusting herself off from the ordeal before tending to Kyle, the elgyem shakily rising to his feet. “You okay, Kyle? Not poisoned or anything?”

Kyle felt around his chest, thankfully seeing no lasting scars or wounds. “I think I’m fine, thanks.”

“That was some quick thinking, Celine,” Joshua said, approaching the two. “How’d you do that?”

“Well, my father had me take self-defense lessons when I was younger. Guess it came in handy after all, didn’t it?” she said with a giggle. She turned to the camp, Jeremy the frogadier crouching down low behind his supplies. “It’s okay now, Mr. McKinley, you can come out now.”

“Oh thank heavens,” Jeremy said, wiping his brow and sighing in relief. “You sure do know how to handle yourselves! Thank you.”

“Now then, you said the cave was around here?” Celine asked, cutting right back to business.

Jeremy almost looked confused, before remembering what they had came here for in the first place. “Oh! Right!” he said, gathering his supplies and motioning for the group. “Come, it’s right here,” he said, pointing to the ground nearby where the sands met the rocky wall. The group peered closer, seeing the smallest opening in the sands, easy to miss by casual observers. The frogadier readied his shovel, planting it firmly in the ground and beginning to clear the path. The others gathered tools of their own that the archaeologist had packed, helping him excavate the cave.

Minute by minute, the expanse of the cave was revealed more, soon enough finding a staircase that lead downwards. Jeremy hopped back to camp, readying a lantern for excursion. “Come now, friends! Let’s see what we’ve found!”

The cave didn’t go very far down, but far enough for the dark to nearly blind them. The stone floors were cold to the touch, having not seen the sun in who knows how long. Eventually, they saw a light down at the end in a small chamber. Seeing the light, they hurried towards it, reaching the chamber. High above them was a hole to the surface, the light from outside shining directly down onto the chamber, on a pedestal situated right in the center. On the pedestal, a gem, bright blue in color, almost like a large chunk of ice, glowing dimly. Jeremy examined the gem with wide-eyed fascination, circling it.

“My… my my my! Would you look at this!” Jeremy said, reaching a hand out to touch the gem. It was ice cold, the frogadier snatching his hands back in surprise.

“What is it?” Joshua asked, peering up at the gem.

Jeremy immediately took out pen and paper, sketching the design down for future reference. “I've no idea, but it's certainly a special find, don't you agree?”

Joshua reached up, placing a hand on gem and feeling the cold surface. He shivered once, taking his hand back. “It is,” he said simply.

Kyle walked over, inadvertently kicking his feet over a small pile of gold coins on the ground, the metal chiming against the hard stone floor. “Hey, there's gold in here too!” Kyle said excitedly, scrounging up coins here and there to take back.

“Well, my explorer friends, why don't you take it? Consider it your payment for a job well done,” Jeremy said with a smile.

“Are you sure?” Joshua asked.

“Please, take it!” Jeremy reassured him. “I've got my sketches here, and I'll be sure to do some research on it when I return. It wouldn't be fair for me to take the treasure from the explorers guild.”

Joshua nodded once, reaching his shaky hands out and grasping the gem in his hands. For a moment, he could only stare at it, entranced by it's sheen and aura. Only Celine nudging him in the side brought his mind back to the present, hurriedly placing the treasure in his bag.

“I’ve got some of the gold, too,” Kyle said cheerfully. “Are we good to go, then?”

“I’m quite alright now, thanks to you,” Jeremy said, turning to the walls. There were markings all along the chamber, and he had taken to sketching them down as well. “I’ll be here for a while, but since you’ve chased those thieves away, I should be able to work in peace until I’m finished.”

“Have fun, Mr. McKinley! Thanks for the treasure!” Celine said, motioning for the others to follow her back up. “Come on, let’s make sure those thieves are gone.”

They went back to the surface, checking around the camp. The thieves were nowhere to be found, for which Joshua was grateful. “Now then, I guess we can go.”

“Oh boy, I’ve always wanted to see how these badges worked!” Celine said happily, grasping the explorer’s badge on her sash and holding it up high. The badges began to glow, sending out a psychic signal that began to envelop the explorer’s, whisking them away and back to the guild.

***​

Back at the guild, as night began to descend, Joshua and the trio finally made it back to their rooms. Kyle was busy counting out the money they received for the gold coins, totalling to five hundred poké after guild fees.

“Not a bad haul at all,” Kyle said confidently. He placed the money in their bag, yawning and stretching his arms. “Much better than last time, at least.”

“Indeed,” Joshua said. He was sitting in his cot, holding the icy gem in his hands and sttaring at his reflection in it. Kyle looked at him, puzzled.

“You didn’t turn that in?” he asked.

“I just wanted to examine it for a bit longer,” Joshua said simply. Truthfully, the idea hadn’t even crossed his mind. It was almost as if the gem didn’t want to be let go. But that was a foolish idea. The gem wasn’t sentient, it couldn’t have desires or wishes, Joshua thought. Nevertheless, it was too fascinating for him to give up just yet. He stared at his own eyes in the reflection, his expressionless face looking back at him.

“It’s so pretty. I wish I could make it into a necklace or something,” Celine joked, before yawning herself. "So I thought of a name for us," Celine added.

"What is it?" Kyle asked, curious as to what she would come up with.

"The Wayfarers," she said happily.

"Wayfarers?" Kyle said, thinking to himself. "It's not bad..."

"Because we're all here for one reason or another. Looking for something, but we don't know what," Celine explained. "Is that right?"

Joshua nodded slightly. "I suppose it makes sense,"

"So that's our name then," Celine stated as fact. "Team Wayfarers, sounds all mysterious and stuff! The Wayfarers..." she repeated the name to herself a few more times, as if trying it out. "It's better than the other name I came up with."

"And what was that?" Kyle asked again.

"Team Celine and the Nerd Herd," Celine said, stifling a chuckle. Kyle did not look amused.

"Yeah, Wayfarers it is," Kyle said, pouting at being called a nerd. Celine only giggled at him.

“Boy, I’m beat! I guess it’s time for lights out, hm?” Celine stated loudly.

“Right, right,” Joshua said, placing the gem back in his bag and putting it away. Celine waved them both goodnight, before turning off the lantern and heading to her cot.

“Here’s to another good job tomorrow, Wayfarers” Celine said, closing her eye and going to sleep, the others following her lead.

***​

Matthew once again was at his desk, the guildmaster sitting quietly amongst his trappings and work. Only the sound of a knock at the door dragged him away from his duties. “Come in,” he said simply.

“Why thank you,” a voice responded. Matthew looked towards the source of the reply, down at his own shadow as it wiggled and made rude gestures at him, before seeming to rise from the ground and materialize. Before the servine stood a tall, frightening gengar, the ghost pokémon grinning in a mixture of wickedness and arrogance. “I let myself in. Hope you don’t mind.”

Matthew was unfettered by the attempted fright. He was well acquainted with the explorer. His name was Gene, a young but incredibly talented explorer who had a knack for getting in and out of places unseen. Matthew glanced over him briefly, reassured by the sight of a black explorer’s sash around the gengar’s arm, the color signifying the master rank, one of the highest achievements the guild offered.

The door to Matthew’s office opened slowly as two more explorers walked in, a banette and a froslass, closing the door behind them. The rest of Gene’s team. “We were told you needed us,” the froslass said quietly.

“Yeah, Natey-boy told us you wanted to talk,” Gene added. “Team Phantasm, at your service! What can we do ya for, Matty?”

Matthew calmly had a seat at his desk, motioning for the others to sit as well. The three of them reclined on the large cushions in front of the desk, as Matthew got straight to business. “I need you three to infiltrate the Forgotten Abyss. You think you can do that?”

Gene’s eyes widened at the proposal, his smile growing eagerly. “Ohohoho… the Forgotten Abyss, huh? Isn’t that place off-limits? What’s got ya spooked over there?”

“Is this related to the Awakening?” the banette asked nonchalantly. The room grew silent at the mention. Matthew only shook his head.

“I hope not. I’d like to believe I’m just being paranoid, but...” Matthew said somberly. “Nobody from the guild would go there, and there’s certainly no treasure to be found. Ahote, one of the natives, told me he saw someone sneaking in there. I believe he was trying to accuse the guild of doing so, but I’m almost glad for his incessant badgering for this.” Matthew stood up and placed his hands on his desk, eyeing all three of the explorers intently. “I trust you can do this without being seen?”

“Well, we ain’t called team Phantasm for nothin’,” Gene said smugly. “So you want us to see what’s goin’ on? Nothing else?”

“Nothing else,” Matthew repeated. “Go to the Forgotten Abyss and investigate. Report back to me if you see anything out of the ordinary.”

“If it’s such a special place, makes me wonder why them natives don’t just guard it themselves,” the banette said mockingly. “Making us waste our time on such a frivolous task.”

“It’s cursed ground to them, they won’t go near it,” Matthew informed them. “Which is why it’s imperative that you aren’t seen. And I will make sure your time isn’t wasted. You will be rewarded accordingly: three-thousand poké, plus whatever items I can find in our stock. Is that satisfactory?”

“That will do just fine,” the froslass answered, bowing politely. “We will do this task for you.”

“It’s a deep dungeon. It may take several days to traverse it. Make sure you prepare for it,” Matthew reminded them.

“Oh please!” the gengar said, huffing at the warning. He tugged lightly on his black sash, as if showing off. “Ain’t nothin’ a master rank team like us can’t handle.”

“Then it’s settled, then.” Matthew said, sitting back down at his desk. “Thank you. You’re doing me a tremendous service.”

“Of course, Matty!” the gengar said, rising to his feet and offering his hand to shake. Matthew grabbed his hand and they shook, the gengar looking the guildmaster deep in the eyes. Behind his visage of carelessness and mischief, the gengar held a deep level of trust for the guildmaster. “We’ll get it done.”

“I know you will,” Matthew said. With their words spoken and arrangements made, the explorers left the office, leaving Matthew alone with nothing but his works and his thoughts.
 
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Marquess of Ostia
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And you were worried about being able to write a good battle scene! I told you this already over Skype, but while it was short, it was certainly sweet. Not every battle needs to be a long drawn out affair (even if I do want to see how you're going to write a longer battle).

Also as much as I like Joshua, Celine (not Dion!) is definitely my new favorite character. She's simply a delight and I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more of her.

I also like the development of Matthew as more of a character. And that's not just because he shares my name! It's always a good thing to show your figures of authority as human, rather than just monoliths that represent an establishment. And I think you do a great job of that in chapter six.
 
Chapter Seven: Behind the Sun
World's worst critic
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Chapter Seven: Behind the Sun

Joshua shivered as he approached the guildmaster's office. He had gotten up early to speak to the guildmaster before morning role-call. With his team bag in one hand, he reached his other hand to knock, trying to shake the fear off of him. He knew he had nothing to worry about concerning the guildmaster, but he couldn't seem to rid himself of the anxiety regardless.

"Come in," the voice of Matthew replied from the other side. Joshua did as instructed, closing the door behind him as Matthew greeted him with a warm smile. "Good morning, Joshua. You're up early."

"Yes, well, I had something I needed to give you," Joshua replied. He reached into his bag, pulling out the icy blue gem they had found the day prior. Matthew's eyes narrowed at the object, the gem wiping all expression from the servine's face. "I-I meant to give it to you yesterday. We found it in the dungeon during our mission."

"I see..." was all that Matthew could say. For a moment, he just stared, before motioning for Joshua to come to the desk. "You went to the Shoreline Sanctuary the other day, correct?"

"Yes sir," Joshua answered.

"And you found this there?" Matthew asked more sternly.

"Yes sir..."

"I see," Matthew said again. He held out his hand, silently asking Joshua to hand it over. Joshua paused, clutching the gem tightly, reluctant release it, before shaking his head and letting it go. He handed it to the guildmaster, the servine taking it carefully into his hands. "So you just found this, right? It wasn't part of the mission? You didn't specifically seek it out?"

"No sir, w-well..." Joshua started, clearing his throat nervously. "W-we were helping our client return to his camp at the summit. He found the cave, and didn't know what was in it. When we got inside, we found that gem, as well as some gold scattered around." Joshua pulled at his coat, the room falling silent. "Do you know what it is?"

Matthew closed his eyes, taking in a breath and exhaling. "Yes, I do. Well, mostly..." Matthew answered. "I do not know what they do or what purpose they serve, but I do know that they come in sets. This is not the only one of it's kind." He turned from his desk, heading to a large chest against the wall. "These gems almost have a mind of their own. They seem to pop up of their own accord, bringing all kinds of trouble with them."

"Trouble? Are they dangerous?" Joshua asked, worried.

"Not by themselves, no," Matthew replied. The servine stretched a vine from his back, opening the chest and gently placing the gem inside. With a slam of the lid, he locked it shut, keeping the key on his person. Joshua almost winced from the slam of the chest. "It's the attention they bring with them that leads to danger." Suddenly, he turned to Joshua, his eyes piercing the swadloon's fragile form. Joshua shivered again.

"What do you mean?" Joshua asked.

"Joshua, you know that I would never keep secrets from you unless it was in your best interests," Matthew said suddenly. He was glad Joshua was the one to find this gem, as they had somewhat of a history together. He knew he could trust the boy, and Joshua could return that trust. "So trust me when I say it's not something that you need to know."

"S-sir?" Joshua asked, trying not to pry, but still confused.

"Listen, I know you found this on accident. I cannot blame you for that. In fact, I'm glad you brought it to me," Matthew started. He walked from the chest back to his desk, sitting calmly and clasping his hands together. "But these gems draw the wrong kinds of people and the worst kind of attention. I need you to promise me you will keep this a secret from everyone else. Only you and your teammates are to know of this. Is that agreeable?"

"Yes, I unders-stand, sir..." Joshua replied.

"And as I said, they come in sets. Should you learn of the location of more, do not seek them out. You tell me immediately, and I will take care of it.” Matthew took in a heavy breath, sighing. “Do not go looking for them. It is too dangerous for even our more experienced teams. Just stick to your apprentice training for now.”

“Yes sir, M-Matthew,” Joshua said softly. Matthew tried to offer him a reassuring smile, though it seemed even the guildmaster was troubled by the conversation.

Before either of them could speak another word, the familiar voice of Reginald came roaring through the guild halls. “GOOOOOOD MORNING, EVERYONE! BREAKFAST TIME!”

Matthew couldn’t help but chuckle at the interruption. He always found Reginald’s morning wake-up call amusing. “You should get some food. Your task today is to find a request on the bounty board and complete it. Good luck, Joshua.”

“Thanks,” Joshua mustered, quietly taking his leave. With the door closed, Matthew sighed again, turning towards the chest with the gem inside of it.

“Of course. As soon as I get word of trouble, you start popping back up again,” he muttered quietly to himself, as if the gem were a sentient being. He knew all about the gemstone, more than he let on with Joshua, at least. Sometimes, he wondered if they really were sentient. It seemed as if they had a desire to be found. A will to be sought out. Matthew had dealt with them before. Three sets, seven gems in each, for a total of twenty-one gemstones scattered across the continent, nearly all of them discovered by accident. When purposefully sought out, they were more difficult to locate, but not impossible. Matthew sighed again, silently cursing his luck. He didn’t want to have to deal with this again.

***​

Joshua hurried out to the mess hall, seeing Kyle as he awoke from his sleep. “Morning Joshua,” Kyle greeted, waving lazily and yawning. “What’re you doing up already?”

“I just went to talk to the guildmaster,” Joshua replied. “Is Celine already awake?”

“Yeah, she went to go eat ahead of us,” Kyle answered. Together they walked to the mess hall, seeing Celine already at a table with food, sitting with Mia and Felix.

“... and then he was all like ‘want to dance, little girl?’ and showed his fangs, trying to bite me. But I was too quick. I yelled for Josh to toss me a stun seed, and I threw it right in his mouth! The look on his face was priceless!” Felix chuckled, both at her story and the way she told it, as Mia simply nodded, focusing on her breakfast more than anything. In the corner of her eye, she saw Kyle and Joshua approaching, waving them over. “Oh hey! I was just telling them about the dungeon yesterday.”

“Sounds like you guys had fun,” Felix said with a chipper smile.

“Oh, but that’s not the best part,” Celine added. “At the end, after we fought the bad guys, we found a secret cave! And inside we found-”

“A lot of gold!” Joshua suddenly interrupted, harshly nudging Celine in her side. Celine glanced down at the Swadloon beside her confusedly, as Joshua shot her a glare, silently asking her to say no more. Celine shook her head, rolling her eye before turning back to Mia and Felix.

“Yes, we found a lot of gold, and treasure,” she continued, much less vigor in her voice. “But yes, it was so much fun!” The duskull immediately resumed her cheerful demeanor, clasping her hands together. “I don’t know why I didn’t join up sooner. Exploring is the greatest!”

“You know, it might get tougher from here on out,” Mia added in-between bites. “I know yesterday Felix almost got us lost in a dungeon for hours.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault!” Felix said defensively. “You were the one who wanted to go left instead of right.”

“Whatever you say,” Mia said with a shrug, the munchlax continuing to scarf down her food.

“Well, I say bring it on!” Celine proclaimed proudly. “I welcome a good challenge.”


“I like this girl already,” Mia said with a chuckle. “You and I need to hang out together sometime.”

“I’d love to!” Celine beamed. Just as she said that, Mia had finished eating, reaching out to grasp Felix’s foreleg, the Shinx instinctively moving to the side to avoid her grasp.

“Yes, I’m ready to go,” Felix responded before Mia could speak. “You could try asking nicely, you know.”

“I could, but I don’t, so let’s get going,” Mia said, hopping off her seat and heading to the bounty board. “Nice to meet you, Celine!”

“You too!” Celine replied. As soon as they left earshot, the duskull turned to Joshua. “So what was that for?” She asked, referring to his rude interruption.

Joshua peered around, making sure nobody was around who could hear them. “Listen, we have to keep the gem we found a secret,” he said quietly. “Nobody else can know.”

“Ohh, are we trying to keep it to ourselves?” Celine said, turning giddy at the idea of keeping secrets.

“Why do we have to keep it secret?” Kyle asked, now thoroughly intrigued. The three of them leaned in closer, speaking in whispers.

“The guildmaster said we couldn’t tell anybody,” Joshua said sternly. “And he told me we shouldn’t go looking for more of those gems.”

What?!” Celine exclaimed loudly. Joshua raised his hands to try and keep her quiet, to which she reluctantly agreed. “The guildmaster doesn’t want us to look for treasure?”

“No, he says they’re dangerous,” Joshua said. “We keep what happened yesterday to ourselves, and we don’t go looking for the rest of them.”

“So there are more of them?” Celine asked. Joshua sighed, bringing his palm to his face as he realized he was only making her more curious.

“Yes, and we’re not going to look for them,” Joshua stated. Celine only huffed in annoyance, while Kyle seemed more confused than annoyed.

“What’s dangerous about them?” Kyle inquired. “Are we in trouble or something?”

“No, we’re not in trouble,” Joshua reassured him. “We just aren’t supposed to go looking for them.”

“How ridiculous,” Celine said. “Telling the explorers to not find treasure. That’s… that’s… so crazy!”

“I don’t know what’s dangerous about them,” Joshua said. “But if the guildmaster doesn’t want us looking for them, we’re not going to, period.”

Celine huffed in disapproval, crossing her arms indignantly. “Absurd. He probably just wants to find them all himself and take all the credit.”

“Matthew is a good man! He wouldn’t be so petty to do that,” Joshua said, almost insulted that Celine would even accuse the guildmaster of such trifling nonsense. “He only wants to make sure we’re safe.”

Celine turned away angrily. Joshua sighed at how she was taking this. He thought it was a simple request, but Celine seemed genuinely perturbed over the whole thing.

“I agree with Joshua here,” Kyle added, mulling over the situation. “I don’t think the guildmaster would try to steal credit from his own guild. That’s just silly.”

“Not as silly as telling explorers not to look for treasure,” Celine rebutted. “You know, the thing that explorers do every single day?” Sarcasm dripped from her tone, her red eye seeming to glow brightly in her dismay.

“Why are you so upset about this?” Kyle said. “There’s plenty of things to find out there.”

“Yeah, but did you see that chamber? I thought we found something really cool, and now the guildmaster doesn’t want us to go find out what's up! We could have been on to something really big! Something amazing! But no, he just wants us to do piddling requests all day, I guess.”

“Come on, Celine,” Kyle said, trying to calm her down. “We’ll find something else just as cool, I guarantee it. There’s still lots of unexplored dungeons around here.”

Celine only huffed again, before quietly calming down. “Whatever,” she said finally, her mood now deflated. “Let’s just eat and go do some plain, boring, safe request.”

Joshua sighed again. Hopefully she'd soon forget about the gems. For now, the three of them finished their meal in silence, before heading to the bounty board and looking for another request.

***​

Celine wandered the streets of Independence away from the others. Kyle and Joshua both went to do their other morning errands, and Celine was heading to Amelia’s shop to buy more supplies. She had never had time to explore Independence properly, having only arrived two days prior. Given that they had a few moments before their next request, she had decided to explore for a bit. She could go shopping when she was done.

She floated past the scant amount of shops set up. The city was still fairly new, but already it had a decent amount of places set up. She even noticed a library on her way through.

“Oh! Books!” Celine said happily. She always loved to read in her downtime, quickly veering from the main road and heading inside.

The library was very small, at least compared to the one in her hometown of Blue Valley. Even still, it added to the library’s charm, giving it a quaint, homey feeling. There was a desk in front of the entrance, the absol receptionist looking down at some reading of her own. She looked up at Celine, offering a friendly smile which the duskull returned. In the back, at least a dozen shelves were lined neatly, containing all of the library’s stock, mostly imported from across the continent from Kingsfall. Celine idly browsed through their collection, seeing many books she’d already read, and some she hadn’t. As she reached the end of her aisle, she saw the study area in the back, along with a familiar face. Surrounded by many books and scrolls was Jeremy McKinley, the frogadier burying himself in his research.

“Hello, Mr. McKinley!” Celine greeted quietly, quickly floating over to where he sat. The archaeologist smiled at her presence, putting down his work to chat.

“Hello, friend!” he greeted excitedly, though still keeping his voice down. “I apologize, but I don’t recall having heard your name.”

“Celine,” the duskull answered with a giggle.

“Ah, a fine name for a fine young lady,” Jeremy said politely. “Come to see what the library has to offer? It’s not much, but they keep getting new books in every week.”

“That's good to know,” Celine said, glancing back towards the shelves. “So, what’re you doing?”

“Oh! I’m actually glad you’re here, because I was doing some research on that hidden chamber we found yesterday!”

“Really, now?” Celine said, her curiosity getting the better of her. “Did you find anything interesting?”

“I believe I have,” Jeremy said, turning the pages rapidly in his journal to the entries he made the day before. “Those symbols on the wall, in the chamber, it was a language. Very old, probably even older than the natives who live here. I’m trying to decipher it, but it’s difficult. There’s no records of it here, so I’m having my assistant in Kingsfall send me anything he can find. But!” The frogadier turned another page, pointing to a series of dots and lines he’d sketched. “Look at this! It just looks like random lines and dots, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, it looks like nothing,” Celine commented.

“But look here!” Jeremy scrambled amongst his papers, finding a map of the area, with the dots and lines drawn over it. “Now look at it! It’s directions to something!”

“That’s so cool!” Celine said, leaning in closer. “So that’s where the guild is, so if that’s there, then this must be…” Celine began tracing her hand across the map, following one of the lines to a dot marked on the map, right where Shoreline Sanctuary was. “There’s a dot on Shoreline Sanctuary!”

“And that’s where the first chamber was!” Jeremy said, almost unable to keep his voice down. “Do you know what that means?”

“These other dots must be other chambers!” Celine said enthusiastically. “Oh my gosh! Who knows what might be in them!”

“It’s so exciting, isn’t it?” Jeremy said, nearly hopping in his seat. Celine could easily see he was a man who loved his work, and she could share in his ecstasy as well. “Some of these are dungeons we know of, but these here?” he traced along the lines, the patterns continuing where the map ended. “These aren’t even on the map! They haven’t been discovered yet. Oh, the secrets they must hold!”

“Mr. McKinley, would you mind making me a copy of that map?” Celine asked, her voice getting quieter. “I would love to see if we can go exploring some of these places.”

“Absolutely, my explorer friend!” Jeremy said cheerfully. “I’ll draw one up for you as soon as I can.”

“Thanks!” Celine said with a bow, shaking the frogadiers hand.

“No, thank you! If you hadn’t helped me out yesterday, none of this would be possible!” The frogadier glanced among his work, before turning shrewdly to the duskull. “I don’t want to get your hopes up, but if this really turns out to be as good as I think it is, I think we might be onto something big!”

“I hope so!” Celine said, before remembering her errands. She glanced up at the clock on the wall; she had spent more time than she intended, realizing that Joshua and Kyle were probably wondering where she was by now. “I have to go now, but do send me a copy of that map. Team Wayfarers would be happy to help you explore those dungeons!”

“Team Wayfarers!” Jeremy said, smiling at the name. “A fitting name for a fine young bunch of explorers. I won’t hold you any longer, but I will give you the map post-haste!”

“Thank you very much!” Celine said, before turning to each side, keeping her voice low. “Oh, and keep this secret between us. Don’t want anybody taking the credit, do we?”

“Oh, of course not,” Jeremy whispered back, his face an expression of child-like excitement. “Have fun on your explorations today!”

“Thanks, see you later!” Celine said. With that, she gleefully headed out of the library, back to her errands. Just ahead was the shop, with Joshua and Kyle waiting impatiently, Kyle waving Celine over as he saw her.

“There you are! Where have you been?” The elgyem asked, annoyed. “You were supposed to buy our supplies for today.”

“I was going to!” Celine said defensively. “I just wanted to see the library first.”

“Well, you have our money, so we can’t buy anything without you,” Kyle said, crossing his arms and tapping his foot. “So come on, you can read when we’re done with our request today.”

“Alright, alright,” Celine said, floating over to the store counter. For the rest of the day, she kept her knowledge of the map and Jeremy’s findings a secret from her team. After all, they weren’t supposed to go looking for more of those chambers. But what if they stumbled upon one by ‘accident?’
 
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Brock's Pikachu
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Post awards feedback:

There are a few glimmers of plot here, but nothing really stands out--there is the main plot of the eager apprentices looking to make a name for themselves and the no nonsense, by the book guild master, hints of Joshua's family history and hints of a sister being sick, and the Mismagius and her bumbling Sableye sidekick. There is potential in all three of these threads, but only time will tell how they develop.

The guild hall has glimmers of good description, but there is potential to be so much more. I especially liked the description of Mismagius' lair--there, it seems like the set itself is a character to Mismagius' and Sableye's repartee. Showing and not telling would really help this out.

Characterization is where the story really shines, even if their personalities are tropes at this point. But tropes in themselves are not bad--you have given them potential in their personalities that make them a sheer joy to read, tropes and all.

Oh boy--bold, bold, and did I mention bold? There's bold everywhere, particularly where something is emphasized. There are other ways to show emphasis, such as capital letters, italics, and underlines. The chapters also seem a bit short--this problem can be easily remedied by some more description or delving further into one of the plot threads.

All the bold is a distraction at times, and there are character inconsistencies (such as Kyle being called Max) here and there, but the inconsistencies are fixed by the second chapter. Spelling and grammar are in good shape, but again, there are other ways to show emphasis besides bold

Overall: 68/100

There's some signs of potential here--cutting down on the bold, lengthening chapters, improving the description, and developing the plot would help take this story to the top.
 
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Don't Look Away
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So heads up, I'm basically just copy pasting what I wrote for the awards here dude xD

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Ghosts of the Past



Plot 5/10: I’ll be honest, Ghosts of the Past only gets such a low score in plot because the story is still only 7 chapters long and just a chapter or two ago finished all the set up stuff that’s usually seen in these types of stories. The last couple of chapters have already given hints to the story to come but so far it’s just been getting to know our main characters and them adjusting to being Explorers so mostly it falls short due to its current length.


Setting 6/10: Ghosts of the Past’s setting isn’t exactly super original, the description doesn’t really make it stand out and while it’s easy to imagine what it is it’s mostly cause the settings we see are what you usually see in PMD fics, I will say that I like the way that Genji plays with how Pokemon would go about their daily lives, particularly in the way the different establishments in the town work, the explanation for where the dungeons came from is an interesting one and rather than just making them places that have always been there they are places that mysteriously appeared one day, so it adds an air of mystery to it.


Characterization 8/10: The characters is where this fic stands out for me more, for one it’s not like the games in that the protagonist isn’t some human who was turned into a Pokemon, it’s someone that’s lived in this world all his life and who had a life prior to becoming an Explorer. Focusing on the character of Joshua and Kyle is probably the best thing that the story could’ve done with what little story it’s covered as it’s allowed us to get to know the two of them well in a short amount of time and to know how it works.


It has mostly stuck to Joshua and Kyle but the other characters it has showcased are fun and interesting and they all have their own unique personalities that allow them to stand out and leave you curious about when you’ll get to learn more. It also helps that the characters capture the atmosphere of the PMD games well…and speaking of atmosphere.


Style 8/10: While the description and the flow of the fic can sometimes cause it to drag, and there’s not much description in regards to setting but instead it’s more focused on the character’s emotions and actions, what helps this fic work a lot better for me than others is the atmosphere it gives out. It’s clear that the fic was created with the intention of capturing the atmosphere of the PMD games and that’s something I myself really like, I think that regardless of what genre you want your fic to have it should still FEEL like it belongs in what it’s based on, and that’s something this fic sells you on from the character’s personalities to the way it showcases its world and Exploration teams.


Technical 10/10: Now, I actually know Genji and he’s a grammar freak, one of the bigger ones I know, it’s kind of annoying actually. But it’s cause of that side of him that his grammar ends up coming out really well here and he knows how to use his knowledge perfectly.

Overall 68/100: Again, this fic is actually on a really good track in my opinion, having gotten the character and world introductions done it seems like it's about to enter its real story, with time I'm sure it'll get a lot better.
 
Chapter Eight: Sincerity
World's worst critic
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EDITS:
8/24/16: Red sash changed to pink.

Chapter Eight: Sincerity

“GOOOOD MORNING, EVERYONE! TIME FOR BREAKFAST!”

By this point Joshua wasn’t too fazed by Reginald’s shouting wake-up call. The swadloon’s body rolled upright, his tiny arms stretching out as he yawned and looked over to see Kyle likewise rising to his feet. Joshua looked over to Celine’s cot, seeing no sign of the duskull.

“Did you see Celine get up?” Joshua asked Kyle, the elgyem shrugging in response. Together they both rushed out the room to find their third member. Their first thought was to check the mess hall, and sure enough, there was Celine. Instead of sitting and eating, however, she was behind the kitchen counter with Reginald and his totodile son, sprinkling sugar crystals over a pan of freshly baked muffins.

“Oh, good morning, Joshua!” Celine said with a happy tone. Joshua raised an eyebrow, confused for a myriad of reasons.

“Your new friend is a decent cook,” Reginald said, the seismitoad smiling brightly as he plated a tray of biscuits, turning to the duskull. “Perhaps if you get tired of exploring, you can join me as my new assistant!”

“But I’m your assistant, papa!” the totodile piped up, crossing his arms and pouting. Reginald chuckled lightly, reassuringly patting the totodile on the head.

“It was only a joke, son,” Reginald replied with a laugh, as Celine giggled alongside him.

“Well, lucky for you, I’ll never get tired of exploring,” Celine said matter-of-factly. She turned to Joshua and Kyle, offering them some of the food she’d just made. “Muffins?”

“Um, what exactly are you doing, Celine?” Kyle asked, tilting his head.

“Oh! Right. Well, I was having a hard time getting to sleep last night, and I ended up being awake super early. Like, super super early, and I kind of snuck out while you were asleep. I found Reginald preparing to cook for breakfast, and I asked if I could help him.”

“I see…” Joshua said, shaking his head. Oddities aside, he was glad she seemed to be enjoying herself today, considering how dejected she was previously as the guildmaster’s warning to them. “Well, if you’re done, then let’s get something to eat and we can go look for a request to complete.”

“Already did,” Celine said happily. The duskull waved her hand in farewell to the two cooks, before joining up besides Joshua and Kyle. She reached a hand into her sash, pulling out a rolled up scroll. “I decided to look for a request while I was up. Gotta go to the Wispy Woods and pick up a Defense Scarf that the client dropped in there.”

“Aw man, the Wispy Woods?” Kyle said, limbs tensing in a shiver. “I’ve heard about that place. Supposed to be crawling with ghost types….”

“And what’s wrong with ghosts, hm?” Celine asked, feigning offense at the comment.

“Oh, n-nothing!” Kyle replied defensively. “Just… you know… the kinds that hang out in dungeons aren’t particularly nice.”

“Oh, I see how it is,” Celine said jokingly, nudging Kyle’s side in jest. “Well, don’t be such a scaredy-caterpie,” she added, crossing her arms. “It’s super easy, we’ll be in and out in no time!”

“Can I see the request?” Joshua asked as he held out a hand.

“I already told you what it was,” Celine retorted, tucking the request back in her scarf. “It’s really simple. Come on, Josh, I made sure it wasn’t anything dangerous. The Wispy Woods are all bark and no bite.”

“But I…” Joshua began, before sighing and slouching. “Fine. Well, let’s get some food then and we’ll be off.”

***​

Before the trio stood the Wispy Woods, a large forest marred by constant fog and a near complete lack of all life. No songs of birds nor insects to grace their ears, no flowers or colors to entice their sight; nothing but the dead, still trees, their leaves having fallen off years before, never to grow back. Contrary to the rest of the land around them, it seemed as though nature had abandoned this place long ago. Rumors abounded that it was haunted, it’s foliage spoiled and destroyed by angry spirits, nothing but the crackling of dead leaves beneath your feet to accompany the trek. Because of this, it was an ideal place for the more conniving and dastardly bandits and outlaws who were undeterred by the dungeon’s uninviting features.

Kyle gulped audibly, his limbs hanging still as he stared onward. “No way, man… I’m not going in there.”

“What’s the matter, scared?” Celine teased, chuckling to herself. “I think it looks pretty neat.”

“Easy for you to say,” Kyle remarked, beginning to turn away. “You guys can go in by yourself, I’ll just wait out here.”

“Oh no you don’t!” Celine said, reaching out and grabbing Kyle by the arm. “We’re a team! You gotta tough it out and be a brave explorer!”

Kyle whined, the elgyem half-heartedly trying to drag himself from Celine’s grasp, before sighing in defeat. “Fine! Fine… let’s just go in and get it over with, then.”

“That’s the spirit,” Celine answered. “No pun intended. Hehe…”

“I agree with Kyle,” Joshua finally said, clutching his coat firmly. “This place is a bit… unnerving. We should move quickly.”

“You got it, boss!” Celine said, bringing a hand to her head in a mock salute. With a spin she turned around, dashing into the woods with Kyle and Joshua behind her.

Kyle and Joshua kept close to themselves, Celine once again leading the group. With the duskull just out of earshot, Kyle leaned in closer to Joshua, keeping his voice low. “Celine seems awfully peppy today, don’t you think?”

“Well, she’s always peppy like that…” Joshua answered, trying to dodge what he knew the point of the conversation was.

“Yeah, but yesterday she was really upset,” Kyle said, looking back towards Celine with a hint of uneasiness. “Seems like she did a one-eighty since then. You think she just forgot?”

“I doubt she ‘just forgot’ like that, but let’s just be glad she’s back to normal,” Joshua answered. “She bounced back quickly, but for the better, I’d say. Let’s keep going, I don’t like talking about people behind their backs….”

“Yeah, we probably shouldn’t… sorry,” Kyle answered, Joshua moving a hand up to hush him. Celine was already moving farther away, until her eye caught on to a tiny glimmer hidden on the ground.

“Ohh, check this out!” Celine cooed, peering closer to the ground and scooping up a small pile of coins. The duskull’s head turned from side to side, glancing around to see if there was anything more. To her delight, there was, the ghost quickly dashing off to the next pile. “Hey guys, help me find some more!”

“Come on, let’s just focus on the mission, please…” Kyle pleaded, not wanting to spend any more time than they had to in this dungeon. “It’s just a little bit of money.”

“Fifty poké isn’t a little bit,” Celine said, holding up the coins to the elgyem’s gaze. She swerved around again, darting off in another direction to look for more. “Just as little bit of exploring and we can go back to our mission.”

Kyle whined again, shivering lightly and looking towards Joshua. “Do we have to?”

Joshua clutched his coat, shaking his head lightly. “We can explore, but just for a little bit. I do want to leave this place sooner rather than later.”

“Of course,” Celine said happily. “Just a little bit. Why don’t you two look over there and I’ll look over here?”

“Why can’t we just stick together?” Kyle asked in vain, as Celine was already floating off away from them.

“I’ll be right over here!” She called out, quickly becoming obscured behind the trees. Kyle sighed, him and Joshua deciding to follow behind her, though keeping a lookout for an scattered items.

***​

“Ahote, please, slow down!” Neka called out, the noibat flapping his wings and zipping from branch to branch, keeping an eye on his friend down below. “It’s hard to follow you through all the trees.”

“I’m sorry, Neka,” Ahote replied, the meowstic pausing to rest for a moment, holding an arm out to his friend. “Would you like to ride on my shoulder for a bit? We must keep going.”

Neka wordlessly accepted the offer, fluttering down and perching himself on the meowstic’s shoulder. “Must we? It’s kind of scary in here…”

“Well, I think we must,” Ahote answered. “Something is not right here. I can feel it…”

Neka looked at Ahote’s expression, studying it to glean the meowstic’s intention. True, Ahote was a psychic, and he had a knack for ‘sensing’ things in his surroundings. But even still, Neka knew his friend to be a bit paranoid at times, taking even the slightest of readings to mean great danger or trouble. “Are you sure it’s not just this place? These woods are unnatural on their own. Perhaps it is just the spirits playing tricks on you?”

Ahote gave a huff in denial. “It’s not them. The ghosts are one thing… this is not the same. Come now, it’s only a bit farther, and if it’s nothing, we can go back home, safe and sound.”

“Very well,” Neka said, his yellow eyes scanning the forest around them. “What do you feel, then, if not the spirits?”

“It feels like something is going to happen here,” Ahote answered. “I can’t explain it more than that.”

“Do you think it might be some kind of residual energy?” Neka asked.

“Residual energy?” Ahote replied, turning to face the bat on his shoulder. “Surely you don’t believe in those stories, do you?”

“I don’t disbelieve them,” Neka answered quietly. “I know they’re just stories, but look around you! This forest has been dead since we’ve both hatched, and long before that, even. No matter how heavy the rains or how bright the sun, it stays dead. Don’t you find that a bit… supernatural?”

“I admit, it is not natural in the slightest,” Ahote resigned, suddenly turning his attention to the dead leaves crackling beneath his feet. The meowstic idly placed a hand on a tree, the cold wood almost creaking from the smallest push by the psychic pokémon. The stories told of a great battle between two legendary figures; the Aspects, they were called. The Aspects were said to be immensely powerful; ordinary pokémon like himself who had been lifted to greatness by the legendary beings themselves. Ahote’s tribe told many stories of them, their deeds and battles said to have shaped the world as they knew it. In this particular forest, the stories told, the Aspect of Gratitude and the Aspect of Pitch-Black fought a terrible battle, and in their conflict unleashed a blast of power that damaged the forest to its very core. The Aspect of Gratitude was said to be victorious over her foe, but not without consequences.

Ahote sighed lightly. “Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. I like to think it’s the presence of the ghosts who have made this place their home. They’ve twisted this place to suit their own desires, I feel.”

“That seems like it would take a lot of power,” Neka observed, shuddering slightly and wings shaking at the ominous sight of the endlessly grey landscape. “Regardless, let’s keep going. I don’t like being here.”

“I don’t either,” Ahote responded, beginning to move once more with quickness. As he moved on, suddenly, he heard a voice out in the distance.

“I’ll be right over here!”

“Did you hear that?” Ahote asked Neka, the noibat nodding and immediately flapping his wings, taking to the sky to scout out.

“It came from over there,” Neka said, taking the lead and flying over towards the source of the sound. “Follow me.”

Ahote nodded, running after the noibat as Neka weaved through the trees up high.

***​

“Celine! Celine!” Kyle called out, trying desperately to locate the duskull, but failing. Joshua trudged behind him, muttering curses under his breath as his scuffling through the dead leaves was beginning to bother him.

“Why did we let Celine on the team again?” Joshua asked, brushing aside a stray branch as he approached Kyle.

“I think that was your decision,” Kyle answered. He continued forward, growing more and more uneasy as he did. He was already uncomfortable going into the Wispy Woods as it was; having their newest recruit get herself lost was not helping.

Meanwhile, Celine was happily humming to herself, picking up stray coins as she hovered onwards. She peered behind her, faintly hearing the voices of Kyle and Joshua. Well, they’re still in earshot. They’re not too far, right? She thought to herself, before the fluttering of wings and the twitching of tree branches caught her ear.

“Hey, you!” the noibat said, perching himself high above the duskull in the trees. “What are you doing here?”

As quickly as the noibat arrived, a meowstic jumped out from the trees as well, his arms up and ready for a fight, before catching a glimpse of the duskull’s pink sash and badge on her arm. His hands fell limp as he sighed. “Explorers. Figures.”

“And just who are you two?” Celine asked, puffing up her chest in pride, trying to intimidate the would-be aggressors.

“I should be asking you the same thing,” Ahote answered, crossing his arms and narrowing his gaze at Celine. His expression made his contempt clear. “These woods are no place for children.”

“And who are you calling kid, kid?” Celine responded angrily. The meowstic looked no older than she was, and she didn’t take kindly to being called a child. “I’m an explorer, as you already said. I’m here on a mission, if you must know.”

“Yes, I know how your kind acts,” Ahote said arrogantly. “Always poking around in places you don’t belong, pretending you were here first and laying claim to what you ‘find’ in your exploits.” Ahote idly walked past the duskull, keeping his gaze fixed on her as if inspecting her. Celine only huffed in annoyance, her red eye flaring up in anger.

“Don’t act so high and mighty, mister!” Celine responded, bringing her hands to her sides and floating closer to the meowstic. “We’re here to be helpful, you know! It’s not all treasure hunts and games.”

“And so who are you ‘helping’ today, then?” Ahote asked. Neka flew down from his perch on the trees, landing atop the meowstics head.

“Ahote, please…” Neka said silently. “There’s no need to be rude.” The noibat offered a small smile of apology to the duskull, to which Ahote begrudgingly dropped his antagonising.

“Well, we’re here looking for a lost item. Someone dropped something here, and the guild sent us to look for it.”

Neka simply looked down at Ahote, the meowstic turning away from both of them. “See? She’s just here to help someone.” The noibat turned again to Celine, a more friendly smile on his face this time. “I’m sorry, my friend here has had some… bad experiences with explorers. My name is Neka, and this is Ahote.”

Ahote huffed through his nostrils, giving a listless wave to Celine. “Hi,” he said curtly.

“What kind of item are you looking for?” Neka asked.

“We’ve got our own things to do, Neka,” Ahote interjected.

“Hush,” Neka said. “What we’re doing is not that important.”

Celine managed to stifle a laugh at the two friends’ interactions. At least one of them was amiable. “Oh no, you don’t need to help us. We’re quite fine on our own.”

Neka tilted his head to the side. He glanced around quickly. The duskull kept saying ‘we’ and ‘us’ but he saw no others around. “Are there others with you?”

Celine looked behind her. She half expected Joshua and Kyle to have caught up with her by now, but they were nowhere to be seen. “My friends are somewhere here with me… though I think I might have wandered a bit too far away.”

Ahote’s mouth opened to reply, before a sudden shriek in the distance silenced them all. The frantically turned towards the source. Celine recognized that shriek.

“I think that’s them!” she said worriedly, darting towards the sound. “I think they might be in trouble!”

“Let’s go then!” Neka said, taking to the skies and following behind Celine as they both began to head off. Ahote simply stood there, sighing in irritation, before finally moving his feet and following.

“Don’t hurt me!” Joshua squeaked, the swadloon and elgyem finding themselves surrounded on all sides by a quartet of ghosts. Three litwicks and a lampent were closing on on the group, flames burning brightly and poised to strike.

Immediately from the side trees Ahote bounded, landing a few feet away and prepared to fight. “Evil spirits! Away from here!” he shouted, unfurling his ears and releasing a psybeam on the lampent.

The three litwicks turned to face the intruder, flames flickering wildly and tossing out ember attacks on the meowstic.

The ember flames began to fly, before suddenly stopping dead in the air and fizzling out from a strong wind. Just above the group Neka flew, flapping his tiny wings frantically, holding the flames at bay with his gust.

With the ghosts effectively distracted, Joshua mustered up his courage, joining in the fight with his own meager razor leaves. Being attacked from nearly all sides and seeing no way to winning, the ghosts cried out in terror before rapidly turning tail and fleeing. Ahote took a deep breath, slowly approaching Joshua and Kyle, the latter curled up on the ground and covering his face, whimpering lightly.

“They’re gone now. You can stand,” Ahote said simply. Kyle slowly uncovered his face, seeing the meowstic holding an outstretched arm to help the elgyem to his feet. He steadily took his arm and pulled himself up to his feet, breathing a sigh of relief and gratitude.

“Th-thanks… those ghosts came out of nowhere…” Kyle said, before noticing Celine standing behind the two newcomers. His relief was instantly replaced with anger, glaring daggers at the duskull. “C-Celine! Where the heck did you go? We got lost trying to look for you!”

“I came back, didn’t I?” Celine said with a shrug. “And I even brought help.”

“I see…” Joshua said, analyzing Ahote and Neka, the meowstic bearing an expression of indifference with the noibat perched on his head once more. “Who are you?”

“I am Ahote, this is my friend Neka,” Ahote said simply. Neka bowed slightly in respect, smiling at the explorers. “We were looking for something, when we happened upon your duskull friend.”

“Well, we appreciate the support,” Joshua said politely, clutching tightly at his jacket, before turning to Celine. “And Kyle is right, you shouldn’t have wandered so far off.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Celine said defensively, floating over to where they all stood. “But we’re all here now, so we can keep going.”

“You would do well to stick together,” Ahote said. “These woods are not friendly, as I’m sure you just witnessed. If I were you, I’d find your lost belongings and leave quickly before more spirits show up.”

“Speaking of which, do you guys need any help?” Neka piped in, earning a small groan from Ahote. Neka poked his foot on Ahote’s ear in rebuke, turning again to the explorers. “Perhaps I can scout out above and see if I can spot anything?”

“Oh no, I told you, we don’t really need any help,” Celine said. Joshua eyed the duskull suspiciously.

“Why not, Celine?” Joshua asked. “We’d be out of here faster if we had some help.”

“Because we’re almost there,” Celine said. “Just a few more minutes and we’ll be there.”

Joshua’s eyes narrowed at Celine. “How do you know?”

“I just do, okay?” Celine said, turning to Ahote and Neka. “Thanks for helping my friends. I appreciate it, but we’re quite okay now.”

“Are you sure?” Neka asked, when suddenly Ahote began to walk away.

“You heard her, Neka,” Ahote said simply. “She does not need our help, and we must be going regardless.” The meowstic turned and gave a simple nod, as if to avoid bowing and showing too much respect. “Good day, explorers.”

“Good luck!” Neka called out, the pair walking off into the woods and soon disappearing into the fog. Celine turned back to her friends, motioning for them to move.

“Well, let’s get going then!” she said. Kyle groaned as he was forced to keep walking, simply wishing to be out of this forest for good.

“I don’t know why you turned down their aid,” Joshua said again, moreso to himself as he didn’t want to argue with Celine. For about ten minutes time, they kept walking through the woods, following the remnants of a worn dirt trail, until eventually reaching a clearing in the woods. A large section of ground in a circle, with one single, enormous tree in the center, lifeless like all the others. Celine circled around the tree, inspecting it closely.

“It’s gotta be here…” she said to herself, as Joshua and Kyle simply stared up as the tree ascended high into the foggy skies.

“Well, just keep searching around, it’s probably on the ground somewhere,” Joshua said.

“No no, it’s here, I just gotta find it,” Celine said. Joshua and Kyle both were growing increasingly suspicious of Celine’s actions now.

“Celine, what’s up with you? You’re acting weird… like, weirder than usual,” Kyle asked.

Celine ignored him, instead focusing on the ground around the tree, placing a hand along where the roots dug into the soil. She hovered just inches from the floor, feeling her hands along the ground and sweeping away the leaves. Eventually, she stopped, poking at the ground in one area before quickly beginning to clear the area of debris. “Here! I think it’s here!”

Joshua and Kyle ran over to where she was to see what she was doing. They peered down, seeing a stone carving in the ground, like a gravestone. Celine gave a little puff of air, blowing the last bit of dust away, as the stone began to shift, retreating downwards like a trap door.

“Celine, what did you do?” Joshua asked. “How did you know this was here?”

“Just come on,” Celine said, pointing to the newly-formed passageway that lead underneath the great oak. Joshua hesitantly followed after her, growing incredibly uneasy. This seemed all too familiar. The stairs led down farther into the darkness, reaching another room, with another pedestal in the center, and on top of that pedestal, another gem like the one before. Icy blue, glowing intently.

“C-Celine!” Joshua cried out, suddenly realizing the whole intent of her searching. “What did you do?! We’re not supposed to go looking for these!”

“There was no Defense Scarf, was there?” Kyle accused. “You made the whole thing up, didn’t you?!”

“No I didn’t! Well, not exactly, anyways,” Celine said, pulling out the request form again. “This request form is completely legitimate! We just found this on the way!”

“Let me see that form,” Joshua demanded, snatching the paper from her hands and finally getting a good look at it. Everything was legitimate, as she said, until he looked at the back of the request… it had been signed ‘completed’ by the client already!

“Are you falsifying requests, Celine?!” Joshua shrieked, trembling heavily. “We can get in so much trouble for this!”

“I am not falsifying anything, guys!” Celine said, trying to defend herself but seeing it was not working. Before she could even move, Joshua snagged the gem from the pedestal before Celine could touch it.

“No! You can’t have it!” Joshua said, clutching the gem tightly and stuffing it away in the team bag. “We could get kicked out of the guild for this! Do you understand that?”

“If you guys would just let me explain maybe you’d calm down a bit!” Celine said with a sigh.

Joshua reached for his guild badge, preparing his team for extraction. “We’ll talk about this at the guild. You’re lucky I don’t kick you out of the team right now.”

With that, Joshua held the badge up high, enveloping him and the others in a flash of light as they were whisked away back to the guild headquarters.

***​

Back at the guild, Joshua and his team snuck back to their room. When they were all inside, Joshua peered out into the hallways, making sure nobody was around to hear them, before turning back to Celine and Kyle. Celine had her arms crossed, waiting to be scolded, with Kyle simply sitting and trying to get over his fear of the woods.

“So explain yourself,” Joshua asked. He reached inside the bag and pulled out the gem, holding it to Celine’s gaze as if she were a child. “You purposefully went after this after the guildmaster explicitly told us not to.”

“Look, I didn’t falsify any requests or anything, guys, I swear!” Celine started, huffing in annoyance. “I got up really early this morning and I picked that request out from the board. I went to the store, took all of the money I had saved up before I came here, and bought a brand new Defense Scarf for the guy. He seemed happy and signed the form. We can turn it in to the guildmaster and he doesn’t have to know anything!”

“Celine, you broke the rules,” Kyle said suddenly standing up to face her. “The guildmaster said-”

“I don’t care what the guildmaster said!” Celine interrupted. “What we have here is an amazing treasure, and we just proved there’s more of them just like it! Why on earth is the guildmaster telling us not to go look for them, huh? What’s so ‘dangerous’ about them? We just found two of them and we haven’t seen or faced anything even remotely dangerous. A few ghosts and some bandits, but every explorer sees those things!”

“That’s not important,” Kyle said defiantly, losing his patience. He didn’t want to risk being thrown out of the guild so early in. “The important thing is we had a rule to follow, and you deliberately disobeyed that rule! We could get kicked out for this!”

“Not if nobody figures it out,” Celine said curtly. “We can keep finding these things and nobody has to know. Look, guys, I’m sorry, okay? But how can we just ignore this? I really, really think we’re onto something truly amazing here, and I won’t just sit here doing nothing while the guildmaster tells us to not look for treasure. We’re explorers, for crying out loud! This is what we’re supposed to do!”

“That’s enough, you two,” Joshua said finally. He was holding the gem intently in his tiny hands, inspecting it from every angle. “Celine, how did you know where to find this? You knew exactly where you were going.”

“I met Mr. McKinley in the library the other day,” she said reluctantly. “He was doing the research on the stuff he saw in the first chamber, the one in Shoreline Sanctuary. He gave me the map, and I decided to go see if it was true. And it is!”

“Let me see this map,” Joshua said, much calmer than previously. Celine did as she was told, pulling a small, folded piece of paper from her sash. Joshua looked over the map, seeing the dots from the previous chamber etched over a map of the known land. Sure enough, two of the dots were placed over Shoreline Sanctuary and the Wispy Woods. Some of the dots landed on known dungeons, and others went off the map completely, undiscovered as of yet.

“See? Doesn’t this seem like a really cool mystery?” Celine said, pleading with Joshua. “How can you just say no to that because the guildmaster told you to?”

“Because it’s against the rules!” Kyle piped in, staring at the two from afar.

“Kyle, be quiet,” Joshua said, studying the map intently. He looked back at the gem in his hands. Just like before with the other, it seemed to glow and pulse even in his hand, and he found it incredibly difficult to put down. “I… I think Celine has a point.”

“You what?” Kyle said, dumbfounded. He practically ran to Joshua, standing beside him and prodding him gently. “Dude, we’ll get kicked out if the guildmaster finds out!”

“Then he won’t find out,” Joshua said with a sigh. Before Kyle could object, Joshua interrupted him. “Listen, I don’t want to get kicked out either, and I hate the idea of lying to the guildmaster, but…” he turned again to the map, to the drawings and sketches laid over it. “Celine is right. This is more than just a simple treasure. This is something else entirely. And I don’t know why the guildmaster doesn’t want us to go investigating, but… we are explorers, aren’t we? This is what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it?”

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing right now,” Kyle moaned, bringing his hands to his face and falling onto his rear on a nearby cushion. “We’re going to get kicked out for sure. Goodbye, guild! It was fun while it lasted!”

“We’ll keep it a secret, Kyle,” Celine said finally. “Nobody’s going to get kicked out.”

“We can’t let anybody know about this,” Joshua said sternly. “Not the guildmaster, not Felix or Mia, not even our parents. Nobody.”

“Oh, that’s good, I was just about to write a letter to mom about how fun it is to break the guildmaster’s rules,” Kyle said sarcastically, staring up at the rocky ceiling of the guild room.

“Kyle, please…” Joshua said. Kyle simply groaned in response.

“You guys better know what you’re doing,” he said finally. “I’m not going to tell anybody, but I don’t trust Celine over there to keep her mouth shut.”

“Oh what? You think I’m going to go blabbing about this?” Celine said, chuckling. “As if.”

“But we’re going to do this my way,” Joshua said. “That means we do it on my time, how I say. Are we clear?” he asked both of them, but the question was clearly aimed at Celine.

“Crystal clear, sir!” Celine said with a mock salute.

“Good. We won’t go looking for them straight-away. We’ll keep doing our regular requests, and if we have some extra time, we’ll see what we can do about this.” He folded the map up and tucked it away, before finally, reluctantly, placing the gem inside his own sash, hidden away securely and not mixed in with their bag. Night was finally beginning to fall over the guild, as Kyle simply let his head fall backward on the cushion, opting to go to sleep right then and there.

“We’re so going to regret this, I just know it,” Kyle said wearily, yawning once and closing his eyes.

“We should get some sleep,” Joshua said. Celine had already turned in the request to the guildmaster; as far as he knew, they went to the Wispy Woods, found their lost item, and returned it to the client. Hopefully they wouldn’t have to use any more illegitimate methods to keep things quiet. With the lights out and the group retiring to their cots, Joshua closed his eyes and fell asleep.
 
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Chapter Nine: To Defy the Laws of Tradition
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8/24/16: Red sash changed to pink.

Chapter Nine: To Defy the Laws of Tradition

From here up high on the mountains, one could see everything; the bright blue sky above, speckled with clouds that looked like inviting pillows, the deep green leaves of the mighty oak trees covering the brilliantly greener grass underneath, and even the guild headquarters far off in the distance. Ahote squinted his eyes from the sun above, seeing the guild flag flying high above the treelines. It was a sight he’d gotten used to, but not one he particularly welcomed. That flag, its green and magenta flower petal pattern supposed to represent beauty, instead only caused him discomfort. The meowstic had his arms over his chest, crossed in disapproval of the guild’s presence.

Only once he heard the sound of footsteps in the grass behind him did he finally take his gaze away. He turned around to see a sneasel, the sharp claw pokémon giving a soft smile.

“Still staring at that flag, I see,” she said quietly. Ahote only nodded, turning once more to see it waving in the far distance.

“What of it?” he asked simply.

“It’s not going to go away, you know,” she replied. The sneasel stood beside him, her gaze also fixed to the dancing fabric. Quite different from Ahote, her eyes seemed almost intrigued by it. The flag meant outsiders, but to her, outsiders simply meant new people to meet. “Standing out here every morning must get boring eventually.”

“Onida, please…” Ahote said, before the sneasel lightly tugged at his arm.

“Oh come on, Ahote! You sit here and sulk all the time,” Onida said, turning pleadingly at the meowstic. “You used to be so happy and carefree, but now… now you just sit and brood. I haven’t seen you smile in such a long time.”

Ahote sighed, closing his eyes as his head dropped slightly. “I’m sorry. It’s just…”

“I know why it is, Ahote. You don’t need to tell me,” Onida replied, bringing a claw to his chin and propping his head back up. “Chin up, okay? Seeing you sad makes me sad.”

Ahote nodded once, both acknowledging her answer and apologizing. “I’ll try.”

“Good,” Onida said, smiling and wrapping her arms around the boy in a quick hug. “Oh, your father wanted to talk to you before you left today. Are you still coming to the sea with us?”

“After I speak with father I’ll be right there.” Ahote answered, returning her hug with one of his own before turning to head back towards the village.

It was nothing but grass along the entire mountain. Cool and green, still slightly wet from the morning dew, sticking a little to the meowstic’s feet. The hill was high and clear, surrounded by forest on all sides, the chirping of birds just beginning to accompany the morning. Closer to the village, Ahote saw the smoke of the fires rising up.

The village was mostly tents and other portable living arrangements. Originally, the tribe was more nomadic in nature some years ago, but this hill had quickly become their home, and the tents hadn’t been moved since. Already the villagers were up, sending scouts into the forest to find food and firewood, while the rest of the village tended to their daily duties. The tents had formerly been more bright and colorful, but having stood in one place for so long, exposed to the elements, their colors began to fade. Crimson red fabrics had now dulled to almost brown, blues faded to grey, and yellow turned beige. Even still, the patterns and designs, mostly made to represent the various species of pokémon, were apparent.

At the center of the village was the leader’s tent, always remade to represent the current head of the tribe. As such, the fabric was dyed a deep blue with white accents, representing a meowstic, much like Ahote.

Ahote peered inside the tent, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dark as the smell of incense made itself known. Inside, pouring himself a cup of tea, was Cheveyo, a meowstic like his son. He was much older, his fur having lost much of its vibrant hue, and his once-white patches turning to grey. He sat cross-legged on the floor, facing the front of the tent and smiling warmly at Ahote’s entrance.

“Good morning, son,” Cheveyo said, motioning for Ahote to sit. The younger ‘mon sat opposite his father, the older one pouring a cup of tea for the younger.

“You wanted to speak to me?” Ahote asked, taking a small sip from the cup. Kelpsy-berry tea, his father’s favorite, and one Ahote had taken a liking to as well.

“I did,” Cheveyo replied. “I wanted to talk about your excursions outside the village, alone. They worry me.”

“I’m not alone. Neka is always there along with me,” Ahote answered calmly, though he was a bit anxious at the topic so far. “He goes to make sure I’m safe.”

“I am aware,” Cheveyo said, nodding silently. “He is a good friend, and I trust him, but even still, it’s dangerous out there. You know that, do you not?”

“I do,” Ahote replied, looking down at the ground, his gaze turned away from that of his father’s.

“Can you tell me why you go, then?” Cheveyo asked, his eyebrows curved in a show of concern. Somehow, Ahote could tell the older feline knew the answer to that question.

“I think you know…” Ahote finally admitted, squirming lightly as he sat.

Cheveyo sighed. He knew all too well of his son's efforts to 'monitor' the explorers guild. “Son, I know you’re angry at the guild for what happened…”

“I am more than angry,” Ahote said suddenly, finally looking his father in the eyes. “Surely you feel it too, don’t you? How am I supposed to not feel angry? They don't belong here, and I'd like nothing more than to see them back to where they came from across the sea.”

“Son…” Cheveyo said softly, but Ahote ignored him.

“They took him away!” Ahote continued, standing up. “They took him away, and I cannot forgive them for that!”

Cheveyo sighed again, looking up at his son, sorrow in his eyes. “Ahote…” he said, standing up as well and taking in a deep breath.

“No, I don’t want you to explain it to me. If it weren’t for the guild, my brother would still be here!” Ahote stood defiantly, but his posture wilted, beginning to tremble as he lost his composure. Suddenly, his eyes began to well up, as Cheveyo walked over to him, placing his hands on the boy’s shoulders.

Ahote looked up, shaking and showing a rare moment of weakness. He only looked into his father’s eyes for a second, but that second felt like an eternity, communicating his grief clearly into the eyes of his father.

“I… I want Ahanu back…”

Ahote bowed his head down, Cheveyo gripping him tightly in a hug, as Ahote buried his face in the chest of his father.

“It’s okay, son…” Cheveyo said softly, gently running his hands through the boy’s fur, calming him. Ahote only wrapped his arms tightly around his father, not wanting to let go, caught in a moment of weakness and needing protection, protection that only his father could give him.

They stood in silence together, Cheveyo simply whispering assurances into Ahote’s ear as the boy stood silent.

“Son, listen to me,” Cheveyo said quietly, kneeling down to see his son’s eyes, the boy staring down at the floor, a single tear trailing down his cheek. “I miss Ahanu too. We all do… it’s okay to feel sad, or even angry… but you cannot dwell on such feelings.”

“Why did he have to go, huh?” Ahote said sullenly. “If he never became an explorer, he would never have to leave, and he would still be here!”

“Son,” Cheveyo said again, bringing up a paw to wipe a tear away from Ahote’s face. “It is nobody’s fault. Nobody can be blamed for what happened. Ahanu went willingly, and the spirits had decided that it was his time. There is no way of knowing whether things would be different if he had not gone.”

Ahote remained silent, sniffling once before Cheveyo embraced him again. “You cannot linger on your grief. Your grief will turn you to anger, and in anger, you will only make things more painful for yourself. Do you think Ahanu would want to see you angry all the time?”

Ahote shook his head. He remembered Ahanu well, the two brothers always side-by-side, almost inseparable despite their years apart. Even when Ahanu joined the guild and became an explorer, he always came back to the village to Ahote, bringing stories, trinkets, and treasures to share with the family. When Ahote was young, unable to sleep, Ahanu would tell him stories until he slept, fantastic tales of legendary creatures and magical lands, and when Ahote was depressed, Ahanu would cheer him up.

It saddened no one more than Cheveyo when the news arrived that Ahanu and his team hadn’t returned. They’d left on what was to be their biggest mission yet, and after that… that was it. They hadn’t been heard from since, their badges lost and unable to be located by even the guild’s most talented psychics. Ten years ago, that was the last time Cheveyo could remember seeing Ahote smile. Since then, the boy grew up jaded and indifferent, perpetually holding the guild responsible for what happened.

“I know you are sad, Ahote,” Cheveyo continued. “Ahanu will be missed by all of us. But we must honor his memory, not with anger and malice, but with joy and acceptance. Acceptance in his departure, and joy in the time we had with him.”

Ahote stood solemnly, calming down and wiping his face with a paw as he looked up at his father, the older ‘mon drawing him close one last time before holding him at the shoulders, their gazes held on each other. “Ahanu lives on in your heart. The same joy he gave to you, you can give to others, and he will live on through you. Remember him, but do not hold onto grief and mourning. He has gone on to be with his ancestors, and one day, we will be together again. Until then, keep his memory close to you. Remember him as he was, and don’t let his passing extinguish the joy he brought to you.”

Ahote nodded once, giving one last hug to his father before composing himself, taking a deep breath through his nostrils and shaking the sorrow away from himself. “Th-thanks… I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be sorry, Ahote,” Cheveyo said with a warm smile. “Now go. Your friends are waiting for you.”

Ahote nodded his head, wiping his face one last time before exiting the tent and heading towards the coast.

Cheveyo watched as he left, taking a seat once more. Ahote had a habit of holding his feelings back, never wanting to seem weak or frail in front of others. Even after ten years, he hadn’t moved past his grief, keeping it bottled up in himself. It was times like these where Cheveyo had to coax the sorrow out of him, to let his son express himself truly without fear of judgment. Those moments were rare, but it was a slow and sure process that Cheveyo had to work through.

“In time, I know you’ll find your way again,” Cheveyo said to himself, less of sadness and more… fondness. Fondness for how Ahote was, and how he could be if he reconciled his feelings with the present.

***​

Waves floated gently to the shore, softly hissing as they dragged along the sands. Here on the shoreline, where the forest clashed with the beach, the heat of the sun could be felt in its full intensity, and the winds whistled through the trees and flora as they pushed the waves to the land.

“Come on, hold it still, I can get it this time!”

“You sure? Last time I ended up with apple bits all over my face.”

“Yes I’m sure, I’ve been practicing, just hold up the stupid apple, Vai!”

Vaiveahtoish sighed, the kirlia sitting atop a tree branch and holding a shiny red apple in his hands. With little effort he levitated the fruit with his psychic energy, holding it steady and lowering it a few feet off the ground. Onida eyed her target, the sneasel taking aim and taking in a deep breath. She stood straight, before thrusting her leg forward, assuming a fighting stance and holding her arm high in the air. In seconds she conjured up a thin icicle, holding it briefly before tossing it forward like a javelin. The icicle whizzed directly at the apple, spinning violently in the air and striking the fruit, drilling a hole perfectly down the center and coring it cleanly.

Yes!” Onida cried out, clapping in celebration. Vai clapped along with her, tossing her the now-cored apple as a reward. “See? I told you.”

“That’s pretty neat,” Neka said, the noibat perched up in the trees with Vai, nibbling at his own fruit as he admired her aim.

“I’ll say,” Vai added, clapping along with Neka. “You’ll be scout material in no time.”

Onida quickly dug into the apple, chomping out a large portion and humming contently to herself. “You know it,” she said triumphantly. As the group lazed about, a rustling in the bushes caught their attention, all turning to see Ahote stepping out from the forest onto the sandy shores.

“Look who decided to show up,” Vai said with a smile, tossing an apple from the tree to the meowstic. “Decided brooding wasn’t fun today?”

“Still more fun than failing the trials for the third time.” Ahote replied back sarcastically.

“You failed your trial again?!” Onida said in shock, turning to the kirlia in the tree. Vai simply shrugged, his smile growing wider with amusement, almost laughing at the accusation.

“Yes, I did,” he said, as if proud of his failure. He was coming of age now, and as customary for his clan, he was to partake in what they simply called ‘the trials.’ Of course, Vai had failed these trials each time, seemingly on purpose, much to the chagrin of the rest of his family.

“Your father is going to kill you when he finds out, you know that, right?” Onida asked.

“I’m sure he already knows,” Vai replied, ripping into the apple in his hand with his teeth. Unlike the others, he seemed perfectly content with his third failure.

“Come on, Vaiveahtoish,” Neka said, concerned for his companion. “Don’t you want to become stronger?”

“Depends on what you mean by stronger,” the kirlia replied. He finished eating, hopping gracefully out of the tree and landing on the ground with arms stretched to the side like a dancer. “Are my current abilities not strong enough? Are my psychic skills not up to the task? I much prefer them over what the clan would have me use. Not as clumsy or random as brute force. An elegant weapon, if I may say.”

“Suit yourself,” Ahote said with a shrug. Arguing with Vai was pointless, considering they’d tried to talk sense into him the first time he’d failed, and the second time after that. The meowstic idly glanced around, the entire group gazing over the others. “So, were we just going to stand here all day?”

“We were waiting for you, actually,” Onida replied, pointing a claw towards the waters. Not too far out, only about a quarter of a mile from where they stood, an island stood peacefully, only scant feet away from the mainland. “I hear there’s a tree on that island that grows perfect apples.”

“Water?” Ahote said at the thought of having to swim to the island. He wasn’t too fond of swimming.

“Don’t want to swim?” Vai said. “Then you can stay here and do nothing.” Vai immediately began darting off towards the island, Neka hopping of his branch and following.

“I’ll help you over, just come on,” Onida said with a wink, dragging Ahote towards the island by the arm, the meowstic surrendering himself to her grip. By the time they arrived, Neka was already on the island, perched on a tree. Vai was halfway across the water as he made his way as well.

The kirlia reached the shore, standing up and shaking himself of excess water before turning towards the mainland. “Water’s not so bad,” he called out, motioning for the two to come over. “Come on, Ahote, you’re no charmander, it won’t kill you to get a little wet.”

Ahote grumbled to himself, until Onida stepped forward, letting the waves envelope her pointed feet. She took in a breath, holding her paws up, palms facing down, then let out a blast of freezing breath towards the water as she exhaled. Almost instantly, the surface of the water began to chill and slow, before ultimately freezing in a thin bridge for them to cross. The sneasel reached out to grab Ahote’s hand, her claw-tipped feet easily digging into the ice bridge and offering support for the meowstic.

“Aw, how cute,” Vai said sarcastically, turning back to the island and rushing up towards the center. It was a steep climb, the island covered on all sides by rocky walls, which the kirlia managed to scale with a bit of effort. Onida and Ahote followed behind him, as Neka simply flew to the top.

At the top was a small clearing, surrounded by thick bushes and tiny trees, and in the center, the largest apple tree any of them had ever seen. It looked more like a weeping willow, except for the small dots of red that betrayed its true nature. The large, wispy leaves draped all along the sides of the island, providing a near-perfect shade that blocked out the sun and created a cool, grassy hideout.

Neka immediately flew up into the branches, snagging an apple and plucking it free, letting it fall to the ground. Ahote picked it up, examining it before taking a single bite.

“Are they perfect apples?” Neka asked.

Ahote only nodded in affirmative, quickly taking another bite as Neka began to pick more of them, letting them fall to the ground one by one as the group gathered them up.

Vai grabbed a perfect apple himself, reclining just underneath the base of the mighty tree and munching happily on his treat. “The perfect relaxation for a perfect apple,” he mused to himself, the rest of the group likewise beginning to sit and relax as they ate. Neka began plucking a few more apples, making sure to leave some so as not to be greedy. As he reached one last apple at the end of a large branch, the apple fell off onto the rocky sides of the island, flying off the rocks and onto the sandy shores below.

Neka looked down, not wanting to spoil a perfect apple, though it surely must have been bruised by now. Regardless, the noibat flew down to the base of the island, plucking up the apple in his feet before stopping dead mid-flight, beginning to shiver at what he saw.

“G-guys?” Neka called out loudly, keeping his eyes stuck to the rocky walls of the island. “Can you come over here?”

“What is it?” Vai said in irritation, sighing as he rose from his spot in the shade. He was just beginning to get comfortable until Neka called out. Idly he moved to the side of the clearing, peering down at the noibat on the sands. “What are you looking at?”

“Just come over here, quickly!” Neka reiterated. The rest of the group rose, Ahote and Onida exchanging shrugs and confused glances. Together, they all climbed down to the bottom of the island to where Neka stood. One by one, they all realized what he saw.

Carved into the island, hidden amongst the stone, was what could only be described as a doorway. The grooves were much deeper than the surrounding rocks, the ornate design in the center giving away its purpose. A pattern of dots, two rows of three, with one single dot in the center, forming the shape of an H.

“A… door?” Vai said, thoroughly intrigued by the sight. He reached out to touch it, before Ahote grabbed his hand.

“Wait,” Ahote said. “We don’t know what this is.”

“Well, how else are we going to find out?” Vai said, ignoring Ahote and reaching his hand to touch the symbol. One by one the dots illuminated, and the grooves began to spew dust as the ancient mechanisms began to turn once more. Slowy, the great stone door sunk into the sands, revealing a dimly lit passageway.

“By the spirits…” Neka muttered, shaking in fear. Vai took the initiative, heading in and disregarding the pleas of his fellows. Hesitantly, the rest of the group headed inside.

The passageway was short, and at the end, a small room, circular in nature, a bright light shining in from the top. Vai looked up, the beam being natural sunlight shining in from a hole at the top. At the center of the beam, on a pedestal, a dull, orange gem, carved into a perfect cubical shape.

“What do you suppose this is?” Onida asked. None of the group could say for certain. Vai almost reached out to grab the jewel, before hesitating.

“What’s the matter?” Ahote asked the kirlia.

“It… it looks dangerous…” Vai answered plainly.

Ahote only grimaced, before finally reaching out himself and grabbing it in his palm. Neka gasped, as if awaiting some horrible fate for touching the treasure, but all remained still. Ahote analyzed the gem in his hands, clutching it tightly, before turning to the others.

“What should we do with it?” he asked. Vai only shook his head, unknowing of the answer. Neka could hardly speak in anxiousness, leaving Onida to finally break the silence.

“Take it to your father,” she urged. “He might know something about it.”

“You’re right,” Ahote said, holding the gem in one hand.

“Do be quick,” Neka advised. “This is very… scary.”

“I have to agree,” Vai said. Normally, Vaiveahtoish was the most courageous of the group of friends, but the mystery and ominous nature of this finding left even the brave kirlia feeling uneasy. “We should go right away.”

“Then let us go,” Ahote said simply. With that, the group left the room behind, as somehow, the light above the pedestal ceased to shine.

***​

“They asked for us by name?” Joshua asked Nathaniel, the guildmaster’s assistant nodding once. The morning announcements had already been made and assignments for apprentices were being given out.

“They specifically asked for Team Wayfarers, and so that’s your assignment for today.” The pawniard said, folding his arms behind him. “Your client asked to meet at the library. I probably don’t have to say this, but if they’re asking for you by name, then you’ve likely made an impression on them. Don’t let them down.”

“We won’t, sir,” Kyle said with a nod.

“Good luck,” Nathaniel replied, heading off to attend to his other duties. As soon as he left, Joshua, Kyle, and Celine all huddled up.

“Um, how many missions have we done so far?” Kyle asked in confusion. “I only count four, if we’re including yesterday’s excursion.”

“Does our entrance exam even count as a mission?” Joshua asked in response, equally bewildered. If they didn’t consider their entrance exam, then the grand total for completed missions was exactly three, and one of them had been completed in a manner that was less than legitimate. How someone would have already heard of them, let alone request them personally, was beyond him.

“Does it really matter?” Celine asked, clearly overjoyed with the idea of being a big-name team. “It just means we’re doing good so far, so if we do this mission well, they’ll spread the word, and we’ll be even more popular!”

“That’s true,” Joshua replied. He idly glanced at his pink sash, signifying their normal rank. Only three missions to their name, so far, but a personal request would surely be a boon to their efforts. “Well, we shouldn’t waste any time then. Let’s go see what this person wants.”
 
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Chapter Ten: Phenomenon
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Chapter Ten: Phenomenon

Once again the bustling city of Independence was caught up in it’s morning routines. Along the central earthen road, various pokémon were out and about getting ready for a new day. At the sides of the road, stores and shops began to open their doors, signs flipping in the windows to signal they were open for business.

“Hey kids! Want to buy some fresh fruit?” a machop greeted the Wayfarer’s as they walked past, waving a shiny red apple in his hand and gesturing to his fruit stand, lined up with all kinds of freshly picked berries and produce of all colors and sizes. Joshua simply gave a friendly smile, shaking his head as the machop turned to the next passersby.

Soon enough, they reached the library, a larger building tucked in the middle of the line of shops. It was far more ornate than the rest of the simplistic shops, with a small porch just outside the entrance adorned with wooden beams to support a balcony up on the second floor. Together Joshua, Kyle and Celine headed towards the front door, large and imposing with shining metallic handles carved in the shape of spoons, much like an alakazam’s. With a tug Joshua opened the doors, the group heading inside.

The absol receptionist turned to the group, nodding a welcome before returning to her reading. As the apprentice explorers entered, a meowth sitting at one of the lobby tables perked up, taking notice of their sashes and showing a small smile.

“Team Wayfarers?” she asked, beginning to sit up in attention. Celine was the first to approach her, offering a ghostly hand to shake.

“That would be us!” Celine said happily, the meowth taking her hand and shaking. Joshua and Kyle both nodded in greeting. “You requested us?”

“Yes, I did,” the meowth said, her smile beginning to fade slightly as her purpose for calling them was brought up. “My name is Amanda; I need you guys to do a rescue.”

“A rescue?” Celine said, crossing her arms and puffing her chest out proudly. “Absolutely! So, where are we going and who needs rescuing?”

Amanda looked over the group in turn, as if analyzing their ability, gently nodding in approval. “It’s my fiancé, Frederick, a meowth like me. He liked to call himself a treasure hunter back before we met. After we got together, he promised to stop going on his little adventures, but yesterday…” the meowth turned to the windows, grimacing in worry. “He said he had one last hunt to go on, just to get it out of his system or something… and he hasn’t come back yet. I think something happened to him.”

“Then we’ll do whatever we can to bring him back safe and sound!” Celine said with enthusiasm. “So, did Frederick mention where he was going?”

“I… I don’t remember…” Amanda said sadly.

“I believe I might know,” another voice said. Stepping out from the back of the library was the familiar form of a frogadier, the archaeologist giving a humble bow and grinning at the explorers.

“Oh, good morning, Mr. McKinley,” Joshua said with a wave, slightly surprised to see him here. “How do you know where he went?”

“Well, unfortunately, I think I might have been the reason our friend Frederick left so abruptly,” Jeremy confessed, frowning slightly as he took as seat next to Amanda. “I was in here planning out my next outing. Frederick was there as well, and we struck up a conversation. If he used to be a treasure hunter, perhaps seeing me and my work struck a chord with him and made him decide to go on one last adventure.” Jeremy turned to Amanda, downtrodden. “I apologize, I had no idea that my simple conversation with the lad would cause him to do this.”

“It’s not your fault,” Amanda said, sighing. “I think he’s always wanted to have one last adventure. We were planning on settling down soon; he had a nice job down at the docks and we even found a place to live, so I think he’s been feeling like this for a while now. One last treasure hunt before hanging it up.”

“Once I’d heard he went missing, I recommended your team for the job.” Jeremy said to the explorers.

“I see,” Joshua stated. “So, you said you know where he went?”

“He mentioned something about the Glalie Grotto when I last saw him,” Jeremy added, pulling out a map and pointing to the location. “It’s an older dungeon, an abandoned mine said to be filled with all kinds of gold and jewels.”

“Gold and jewels?” Kyle asked. “I’d think a place like that might have been cleaned out by now.”

“Well, they also say there’s a terrible beast down there that chases intruders away,” Jeremy added. Amanda shivered and shook in worry, whimpering lightly at the idea of her fiancé trapped in a dungeon with some kind of monster. “I-I mean, that’s all just hearsay and rumors, of course! Surely there’s nothing to worry about,” Jeremy immediately added.

“There’s always a catch…” Kyle said with a groan. He looked over both Celine and Joshua, the three all nodding in unison.

“Let’s not waste any time then,” Celine said, proudly displaying the pink sash she wore on her arm, showing off her explorer’s badge. “We’ll get Frederick back! Don’t worry about a thing.”

“Thank you,” Amanda said simply. Celine turned to the rest of the team, leading them out to the city streets again.

***​

Far away towards the south of Independence the Wayfarers traveled. The dirt path that lead to the city continued onward, leading to a lush, green meadow, littered with flowers of every color imaginable. Celine felt the wind caress her limbs, sighing contently. In the distance the group could see large towers of smoke, fires from the nearby native settlements that made their camps in these meadows, just where the forests began. Thankfully, most of the native clans were friendly towards the settlers of Independence and other colonists, so their presence wouldn’t cause any alarm.

As they traversed through the meadow the Wayfarers came to a large hill, and on the bottom, on the other side of the hill was a small entrance to a cave. Like a crude entrance to a mine shaft, with wooden support beams around the outside. Joshua shivered as he approached, feeling a strong chilling breeze that contrasted with the warm, sunny weather outside.

“This must be Glalie Grotto,” Joshua said, clutching at his coat. Glalie Grotto truly lived up to its designation as a mystery dungeon. Attempts had been made to start a mine, but the ice pokémon effectively brought any mining efforts to a halt. While it was clear that ice pokémon had made this dungeon their hideaway, no one was sure why, or even where they came from. This part of the country wasn’t known for its cold air, and the closest part of the region where ice pokémon could thrive was miles away, towards the mountains in the west. Theories has been set forth by explorers that this dungeon was in fact a large cave network that connected to a colder part of the land, but it had yet to be proven. Whatever the explanation, the ice pokémon were intent on keeping it a secret.

“Well, our client is inside, so let’s get a move on!” Celine said, ignoring the chill and heading straight inside.

Kyle turned to Joshua, grimacing slightly. “You really think there’s a monster in there?”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Joshua said, equally as concerned as his friend. “If there is, then we should go in there and save our client from it, and hope that we don’t runs into it.”
Inside, the light of the meadows quickly began to fade, replaced only by the cold darkness of the cave. And cold was right; the air inside felt like the entire cave had been packed with ice in the winter. In fact, several puddles were formed on the ground from icicles dripping overhead, the small pools of water even freezing themselves. Kyle took each step carefully, Joshua likewise moving a bit slower than normal, both worried that they might slip and fall. It seemed as though the entire dungeon was damp and wet, and combined with the eerie drop in temperature, all three of the explorers found themselves suddenly shivering.

Celine wrapped her arms tight to herself. Even as a ghost pokémon the cold was affecting her. “Geez, did the ice pokémon have a party in here?” She exhaled through her skull mask, seeing the moisture in her breath begin to fog. Off in a passageway to the side, the duskull swore she saw movement, what looked like a group of snorunt suddenly scampering off at the arrival of explorers.

“I’m glad I wasn’t invited if they did,” Kyle joked aloud, rubbing his hands up and down his own arms. Though the brightness of the meadows was behind them, it’s light reflected off the crystals and ice along the cave walls to properly illuminate the way forward. Every so often he would pause, hearing the scuttling of feet in some side passageway, shivering in a mixture of cold and uneasiness.

Suddenly, the entire group stopped at the sound of heavy footsteps. Much heavier than what they’d been hearing before. Someone - or something - was closeby!

Joshua froze in place, eyeing the side passages before noticing a snover pop out into view. The Frost Tree pokémon eyed the group almost playfully, waving in what seemed to be a friendly manner, before suddenly launching a large icicle at the group. Joshua slid out of the way, narrowly avoiding the attack as the snover giggled.

“Want to play?” he asked, a mischievous, almost childlike tone in his voice.

“Let’s play, then!” Celine said suddenly, grabbing a gravelrock from the ground and tossing it straight at the snover, the projectile hitting the snover with a loud thud. The ice pokémon recoiled from the attack, suddenly finding himself enveloped in a mystic energy. Kyle had his hand outstretched, grabbing the snover with his psychic confusion and slamming him against the wall behind him. With a loud crash the snover fell to the ground, turning in fear and running from the explorers. As his footsteps began to fade into the distance, the group found themselves in silence for only a brief moment, before more rattling in other passageways became louder and more apparent.

“I don’t think we’re welcome here,” Joshua said fearfully, beginning to rush forward and motioning for the group to follow him. “Quickly, let’s go!”

Neither Celine nor Kyle questioned their leader, following behind the swadloon and peering behind them every few steps to make sure they weren’t being pursued. The farther in the cave they descended, the colder it became, the explorers huddling closer together to share warmth.

Deeper and deeper they progressed, narrowly avoiding contact with any other attackers. It had only been a few minutes, but in the chilling embrace of the grotto, it felt much, much longer. After a while, the group paused to gather their bearings.

“Just how deep does this cave go?” Kyle asked wearily. The elgyem leaned back against the wall of the cave, trying to catch his breath, the icy air making breathing more difficult than it needed to be.

“I have no idea, but we must be-” Joshua began and suddenly stopped, hearing more footsteps up ahead. Tentatively, the swadloon peered down a large tunnel, towards the source of the sound. In what little light they had, for a split-second he saw a spiraled tail, like that of a meowth, poking out from behind a corner. “H-hey! Is that you, Frederick?”

As soon as he called out, the tail retreated into the depths. Joshua immediately began to chase after it, Celine and Kyle hurriedly trailing after him. The tunnel wound and wound further inwards, until eventually opening out into a large chamber, surrounded on all sides by ice, but more importantly, gems and crystals of many different colors.

As the group entered the room, Kyle suddenly gasped, grabbed from behind by an unseen hand and his mouth covered by a paw. Joshua and Celine turned, seeing the elgyem being held hostage by a meowth!

“Alright, none of ya move, or the green guy gets it!” the meowth threatened, extending his claws in a display of power.

“No wait!” Joshua said, holding his hands up to try and calm the meowth. “W-we were sent to rescue a meowth named Frederick, is that you?”

“Rescue?” the meowth said, before noticing the pink sashes the group bore. The meowth closed his eyes and sighed in relaxation, loosening his grip on Kyle and wiping his brow. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see the sashes. I’ve been trying to outrun some gangsters all through this cave! Guess it left me a little on edge… you say you’re here to rescue me?”

“We are,” Celine said, happy that they’d found their client. The meowth was fairly standard for his species, save a simple, blue scarf he wore around his neck. “Your fiancé is worried about you, she sent us to come find you.”

“Ah, figures she’d do somethin’ like that,” Frederick said, chuckling lightly before beginning to examine the chamber around them.

“Well, let’s go, then!” Celine said, reaching for her badge to recall them back, until a sudden jet of water shot from behind her, barely missing and striking the wall with incredible force. As the group turned towards the source of the blast, they were greeted by the sight of three pokémon; a corphish, a buizel, and a clauncher, eyeing them all with malice in their gaze.

“Oh, poor little kitty,” the clauncher said, his stare fixated on the meowth. “You think explorers are going to save you?”

“I don’t need no explorers to kick your little crustacean tail!” Frederick said proudly, producing wild laughter from the three outlaws.

“Hah! So I guess you were just running to get a good exercise!” the clauncher said with a howl. “And here I thought you were running away like a scaredy-cat!

“You got a problem with our friend, here?” Celine said, stepping in between them. She readied herself for a fight, seeing that these pokémon were not intent on backing down.

“Yeah, and you’d be wise to not get in the way little girl,” the clauncher spat. The two pokemon behind him began to creep forward, themselves preparing for attack. The clauncher turned again to the meowth, holding out a claw expectantly. “Now, if you just hand over that little treasure you found, maybe we’ll forget this all happened. Nobody needs to get hurt, but we ain’t above doin’ some hurtin’ if you don’t cooperate.”

“Over my dead body,” Frederick responded, extending all of his claws and crouching down low.

“That can be arranged,” the clauncher responded. He turned briefly to his comrades before jutting his larger claw forward and preparing to fight. “Get ‘em!”

The buizel zipped forward first, lunging himself at the meowth with a quick attack, dashing right past the explorers and ramming right into Frederick’s chest. Joshua turned to help the meowth, only to find a bubblebeam flying right by his body, mere millimeters from his face. In a panic, the swadloon threw up a protect, enveloping himself in a translucent barrier just in time to block another bubblebeam from the corphish, the shot slamming against the barrier and splashing harmlessly onto the ground.

The clauncher went next, spraying several quick jets of water with pinpoint accuracy at Celine. The duskull quickly rolled from side to side, barely avoiding the attacks before dematerializing and disappearing in thin air. The clauncher looked around in confusion, until Celine reappeared right in front of him, slashing down in a shadow sneak and momentarily stunning him.

The corphish reacted to Celine threateningly, throwing out another bubblebeam and knocking the duskull back. Kyle turned to Frederick, the meowth fending off the buizel with a barrage of fury swipes, slashing at him viciously with his claws. Seeing Frederick was able to handle himself, he turned again to the corphish, utilizing the only attack he knew and enveloping the water pokémon in a confusion.

The corphish gasped a bit as the energy surrounded him, but quickly began spewing bubbles from his claws, breaking free from the psychic’s hold but still taking damage. In retaliation the corphish again shot out another bubblebeam, striking Kyle in the chest and throwing him back.

“K-Kyle!” Joshua cried out, turning angrily towards the corphish and lashing out with a flurry of razor leaves. The bandit shrieked in pain, the leaves cutting all across him one after another. He vainly tried to bring his claws up to shield himself, before eventually fainting, collapsing on the ground.

Meanwhile Frederick had wrestled free from the buizel, lashing out again with a faint attack, striking the buizel across the chest. As the buizel reared up for another charge, Frederick suddenly reached in his scarf before flicking his hands out, tossing out a barrage of… coins? The metal pinged and smacked against the buizel, the water pokémon momentarily staggered from the sheer amount of them.

Kyle sprang back to his feet, reaching out again, this time to the buizel, grabbing him in a psychic grip and tossing him again to the floor. With two of their opponents down, they all turned to the clauncher, his face laden with pure panic as he saw his comrades defeated.

“Fine! Keep your stupid treasure!” he shouted, quickly spinning around and fleeing, leaving his friends knocked out on the floor.

Celine floated over to the now-unconscious bandits, poking them lightly before huffing in relief. She looked over to Frederick, the meowth dusting himself off, then looking to the scattered coins on the ground. “What did you do just then?”

“Oh, that?” Frederick said, smirking lightly. “It’s a special little move I call Pay Day. I just kind of… toss all my poké at ‘em. Usually takes 'em by surprise, and somehow I always end up finding more than I threw out,” he added, chuckling lightly as he went to pick up the scattered coins, tucking them away back in his scarf.

Joshua had likewise straightened himself out, walking over with Kyle to the rest of the group. “Well, now that they’re taken care of, let’s leave. I’ve had quite enough of this cold.”

“Me too,” Kyle added, shivering again as if on cue.

“Me three,” Celine said with a nod. She turned to Frederick, before holding up her guild badge, the team quickly whisking themselves away out of the dungeon.

***​

As soon as the group made it back to Independence, they headed straight for the library with Frederick in tow. Just outside the building stood Amanda, who nearly screamed in delight upon seeing Frederick.

“Freddy!” she cried, lunging after the treasure hunter and hugging him tightly. Celine only chuckled at ‘Freddy.’ As soon as the two felines embraced, Amanda let go and smacked Frederick directly across the cheek. “That’s for scaring me half to death!”

“I’m sorry, Amanda, really!” Frederick said, holding up a hand to sooth his stinging cheek. “I didn’t mean for it to get out of hand. I got chased by bandits, and-”

“You were chased?!” Amanda said loudly. “Why? What did you do?”

“Nothin’, darling, I swear!” Frederick said defensively. Celine narrowed her eye on the meowth suspiciously.

“They asked you to hand over your ‘treasure,’” Celine brought up, looking over the meowth intently. Frederick only tugged lightly at his scarf, as if suddenly feeling hot. “Did you take something from them?”

“I didn’t take nothin’!” Frederick said again, turning back to Amanda. “Look, I’m safe now, right? That’s all that matters, ain’t it?”

“Freddy…” Amanda said with a sigh. “If you took something from those bandits, what if they come back? I don’t want them hounding you!”

"They ain't comin' back, dear," Frederick said.

"Do you know that for sure?" Amanda asked, silently urging him to tell the truth.

“Okay, okay, geez…” Frederick said finally with a sigh, his arms falling flat to his sides. “I didn’t take anything, but I found something and I think they wanted it.”

“And what did you find?” Joshua asked. At this, the meowth reached into his blue scarf, pulling out something that caused all three of the explorers to gasp.

A ice-blue gem, no bigger than his palm, surrounded by a pale glow.

“I found this out in another dungeon, actually,” Frederick stated plainly. “I mean, it looks icy, feels cold. I thought it had come from Glalie Grotto, so I went there to see if I could find out more, and then I got jumped by those bandits, and… well, you know the rest.”

“So they were after this?” Celine asked, reaching out for the gem before Frederick snapped it away from her grasp.

“Yeah, but it’s mine now,” he said, almost as if accusing Celine of trying to steal it. Amanda jabbed her fiancé sharply in the shoulder, earning a grunt and a look of annoyance from the meowth.

“I don’t want you holding on to that if it’s going to get you into trouble!” Amanda said sternly.

“What? Then what do you want me to do?”

“Give it to them,” Amanda said, gesturing towards Joshua. “They’re explorers, they know what to do with treasures like that. And plus they deserve a reward for having to save you!”

“Oh come on…” Frederick stated, looking back and forth between the gem and the explorers, before finally giving up and handing the gem to Celine. “Fine. Take it, then.”

“We’ll make sure it stays safe,” Celine said, in turn handing the gem to Joshua, who stashed it away inside his explorer’s sash. Frederick grumbled lightly, before nodding towards the group.

“I guess I do owe ya for savin’ me,” he said finally, closing his eyes and sighing. He turned to Amanda, holding her hands in his. “I promise I won’t go out huntin’ for no more treasure. You have my word.”

“Aww,” Amanda said, giving the meowth a light peck on the lips before bowing slightly to Joshua and friends. “Thank you guys so much. I hope that little treasure is a good enough reward for your efforts.”

“It is,” Joshua said, simply content that they’d completed the mission and made the couple happy. “I’m glad we could help.”

“Well, we’d better get going,” Amanda said, giving a wide smile to the explorers before turning to leave. “Thank you so much! I’ll be sure to spread the word about your team!”

“Thank you very much!” Celine called back, waving to the two as they left. As soon as they were gone, Celine turned to Joshua and Kyle. “A job well done, if I do say so myself.”

“Very,” Kyle said, nodding in agreement. “Of course he had to have one of those gems, though.”

“That's just... too odd.” Joshua said, pulling out the gem again and analyzing it. The same as the other two they’d found. Now he could see partially why the guildmaster said they attracted attention, though whether that was because of the gem itself or simply because the bandits wanted any treasure they could find remained to be seen. Even still, it was awfully convenient. “There’s coincidences, and then there’s… well, this.”

“Well, does it really matter?” Celine asked. “We lucked out big time, and that’s a good thing!”

“You don’t find it the least bit strange that, as soon as we go looking for them, we just so happen to find a client who found one himself?” Joshua replied to Celine. “That’s just too convenient. I almost can’t believe that it was simply luck.”

“I told you, these things are bad news!” Kyle said, still trying to talk sense into both of them.

“Hush, Kyle,” Celine said, turning again to Joshua. “I’m not denying that it was really convenient, because… I mean, it was. But we should be happy that it turned out in our favor. That’s one less gem we have to go looking for.”

“Right…” Joshua said, tucking the gem back into his sash. Even though she had a point, there was no denying that this entire mission was entirely too convenient. They just happened to be referenced personally for a mission, and that mission just so happened to involve finding another gem. It couldn’t have been simple chance. But what else could it be? Was there some kind of other force at play here? If so, what, or whom? Joshua couldn’t wrap his head around it, and was beginning to get a headache thinking too much on it. For now, they’d found another piece of the puzzle, but that piece only led to more questions. He’d have to answer them later, it seemed, and for the time being, with a job well done, the group decided to head back to the guild to rest and recuperate.
 
Last edited:
Chapter Eleven: It's Getting OK Now
World's worst critic
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EDITS:
8/28/16: Spruced up Seymour's dialogue.
8/29/16: More dialogue tweaks.

Chapter Eleven: It's Getting OK Now


“Already everybody, quiet, please,” Nathaniel spoke, gathering the apprentices together for another morning huddle. “We have a few promotions to announce.”

Joshua and the rest of his team had gathered amongst all the other apprentices, eyeing each of them and their colored sashes. He saw a lot of green, some silver, one gold, and even one blue, the symbol of diamond rank. The swadloon idly glanced then to his own pink sash, the sign of the simple normal rank, the starting point for every new apprentice.

“Team Lightningrod, please come forward,” Nathaniel called, the pawniard motioning to the golett beside him as the explorer team stepped up. Joshua stared on as the team walked up, a pikachu, a blitzle, and a cubone, each of them bearing silver scarves with their own guild badges. The pikachu appeared to be the leader, his eyes narrowed and determined, along with the rest of his team. Each of them seemed so confident, so determined, so driven…

So unlike him, Joshua thought.

“Due to your exceptional efforts and hard work, the guild gives you the rank of gold,” Nathaniel said, the golett reaching into a box on the ground, removing three gold-colored sashes. In unison the explorer team removed their own silver ones and exchanged them, each of them putting on their new, gold colors. Celine giggled as the pikachu had to hop up to tie the sash on the blitzle’s neck, but soon enough, all three of them stood proudly, striking a pose as the rest of the apprentices applauded their accomplishment.

“Congratulations, keep doing good work, blah blah blah…” Nathaniel muttered, disinterested. He looked again at a list he had on the ground, reading another name. “And last, Team Wayfarers. Please step up.”

Joshua was caught by surprise, not expecting to be promoted so quickly. Celine, of course, immediately tugged at both Kyle and Joshua, absolutely giddy with anticipation, as the three of them moved up to where the pawniard stood. Nathaniel eyed each of them intently, face devoid of emotion. “Your sashes, please.”

The group all removed their pink sashes, tossing them into the pawniard’s grasp as the golett beside him removed three more scarves, green in color, handing one to each explorer. Kyle took his immediately, tying it neatly around his neck, Celine’s around her arm, and Joshua’s on his leafy sleeve. The green of the sash nearly blended in with the green of his leaf coat, the badge pinned neatly on its side glimmering brightly in the light.

“Congratulations, you are now bronze rank, the first step in your journey as apprentices,” Nathaniel said plainly. It seemed he was reading from a script - one he’d recited numerous times before, judging by his lack of interest. The gathered apprentices all applauded for the newest recruits, Celine giving a bow as a performer on stage. “Keep up the good work.”

“Thanks!” Celine said happily, as the Wayfarers returned to their original spots.

“And that does it for our morning huddle. Come and see me for your morning assignments, and you are dismissed.”

As soon as the group began to disperse, Mia and Felix trotted over to Joshua. Felix stood right next to Joshua, comparing their green sashes.

“Look, we match now!” Felix said joyfully, a bright smile of the shinx’s face. “Congrats, you guys! Feels good, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” Joshua said quietly, not quite as enthusiastic as his friend.

“Much prettier than pink,” Celine said with a chuckle, admiring her new accessory.

“I’ll say,” Kyle responded, holding his chest up and giving a small pose.

“See? Being an explorer isn’t so bad,” Felix said, gently nudging Joshua’s side. The shinx had noticed how apprehensive the swadloon had been when he first joined up. Even now, Joshua seemed lost in his own thoughts, when he should have been happy at his promotion. Felix thought he should, at least.

“I… I suppose,” Joshua said finally. Felix shrugged. Maybe he’d come around to it later.

“Team Wayfarers and Team Chargers,” Nathaniel said. Joshua looked around, seeing that it was only them left, the pawniard eyeing them expectantly. “For the both of you, your task is to find another request on the bounty board and complete it. That is all.”

“You got it!” Felix said, before Mia tugged lightly at the shinx’s fur.

“Let’s go eat,” the munchlax said, sounding more like an order than a suggestion.

“I know, I know!” Felix said, beginning to trot along to the dining hall before Mia decided to drag him. “Care to join us?”

“Of course!” Celine replied, as the five of them made their way to the dining hall. The morning in the hall seemed livelier than usual, full of chatter and laughs. Joshua noticed Team Lightningrod from earlier, surrounded by several other explorers, most likely congratulating them on their promotion. Gold rank was no joke, being about the halfway point to master rank, one of the highest promotions that guild gave. Joshua merely glanced back at his new, green sash. He wondered if, maybe, the Wayfarers would ever reach that height. It seemed like such a lofty goal, but if they kept at it, eventually, they might be good enough to earn it.

The five pokémon soon gathered their breakfast, Mia once again bearing the largest amount of food in the bunch. The instant they sat down, Mia unceremoniously began to dig in, the rest of them following suit.

“So I heard you guys got a personal request,” Mia said first, turning her gaze to Joshua with a smirk. “A new member and a personal request so soon. I think Felix and I might have some competition at this rate.”

“I-I mean, we were just as surprised as anybody else,” Joshua muttered. He hoped that this wouldn’t turn into some kind of rivalry. The swadloon had no intentions of competing with anybody. “One of our first clients just… recommended us. Guess he was happy with what we did before.”

“That’s a good thing!” Felix said, beaming brightly at the swadloon. “Keep it up and you’ll be getting more and more requests from all over. It helps everybody out; the guild gets more recognition, people send more requests, and we get bigger and better with each one!”

“Mhm,” Mia said, only halfway paying attention to Felix and his optimism. The munchlax took a muffin, practically swallowing it whole in seconds, before turning to Joshua. “So what was it?”

“Hm?” Joshua replied.

“The request. What did they ask you to do?”

“Oh, right,” Joshua stammered. “It was a rescue mission. The client got lost in Glalie Grotto, chased by bandits. We had to fight them off and get him out of there.”

“Ohh, bandits,” Mia said with a grin. “I always love beating up some bandits. Did you teach them a lesson?”

“I suppose so,” Joshua replied, idly taking a small bite of his own food.

“I guess you like fighting, huh?” Kyle asked the munchlax.

“You bet!” Mia said proudly, curling her hand into a fist and punching the air. “I mean, that’s half the fun of being an explorer, isn’t it? Treasure is cool and all, but I love those times when you get to bring it to the bad guys!”

“Heh, I’m not too fond of the fighting, actually,” Kyle said weakly.

“Oh?” Mia asked, shoving another whole muffin down her maw. She politely brought a napkin to wipe her mouth before addressing the elgyem again. “Why’s that?”

“Well, honestly, I’m not very good at it… fighting, I mean,” Kyle replied quietly, poking at his plate. “I really only have one attack… and that’s confusion.”

“You know, you can go see Seymour over at the dojo. He’s one of the best fighters here,” Mia said, before suddenly sprouting an idea. “He could teach you some moves. In fact… Joshua!” Joshua jumped slightly at the sudden mention, the munchlax gazing at him with a certain fire in her eyes. “You mind if I steal Kyle from you for just a bit?”

“Uh, sure?” Joshua replied, his brow raised. “What are you going to-”

“Great! Kyle, let’s go!” Mia said suddenly, grabbing at Kyle’s and tugging. “Come on, you gotta see the dojo!”

“What, now?” Kyle said in protest. “Can I finish eating?”

“I’ll hold onto this for you,” Celine said with a giggle, taking Kyle’s single pastry in her hand. “You should go check it out. We’ll catch up with you later.”

“Come on! You’ll love it, I promise,” Mia said excitedly, the munchlax pulling harder at the elgyem and forcing him to stand up and leave.

“Wh-whoa! Alright, alright, I’m going!” Kyle said in surprise. Looked like an impromptu trip to the dojo was now on the schedule.

As they left, Celine looked at Felix, the shinx simply watching the entire scene unfold, barely managing to hold back a grin. “I like her,” Celine said in amusement.

***​

Tiny little shadows dotted the ground, cast by the drifblim as they were already taking off to do their deliveries for the day. Mia walked ahead of Kyle, the elgyem finally breaking free from her grasp though succumbing to her lead. He wasn’t too keen on the idea of going to the dojo; he was never one for fighting, only learning the most basic of psychic techniques when he was younger. But, he supposed that was the entire point of going, wasn’t it? With a sigh, he resigned himself to the training session, at least for today.

Soon they approached the familiar tent of said facility, dyed a bright orange with red highlights, and much larger than any simple tent Kyle had ever seen before. Outside in the training yard, the owner Seymour leaned lazily over the fence, the scrafty watching a much younger looking scraggy take punches at one of the training bags. There were such training bags scattered all over the grounds, in addition to target boards, concrete blocks, weights, and all manner of training equipment. Kyle noticed the scrafty wearing a black cloth belt around his waist, keeping his shed skin from falling. He recognized that as something top fighters wore; an expert belt, they called it, said to enhance the wearer’s attacks against opponents.

“I come here every morning,” Mia explained to Kyle, the two of them standing at the edge of the fence and watching the young scraggy fight the bag. “If you wonder why I eat so much in the morning, it’s so that I can have energy to train.”

“Wow, every morning?” Kyle asked. Mia only nodded in determination.

“Yeah…” Mia said, trailing off a bit. “When I was just hatched, a lot of the kids made fun of me. They’d say I was fat, that I was a slob, I ate too much…” Mia stopped for a bit, before narrowing her eyes, that certain spark in her showing up once again, pumping her fist in the air. “That’s why I became an explorer. I wanted to get stronger! To prove I wasn’t just some overweight layabout.” She held an arm out to Kyle, pointing to her bicep. “Here, put your hand here. Feel this.”

Kyle slowly placed a hand on her arm as Mia began to flex. Underneath her thick fur, Kyle was shocked to feel almost pure, powerful muscle. “Wh-whoa,” he muttered. “You must have trained a lot.”

Mia nodded, smiling. “Yup. I’d like to see those kids laugh at me now! They’d get a face full of muscle if they tried.”

“Punch it harda'!” Seymour shouted, a determined smirk on his face as he called out to the scraggy. “Come on, bruv, the bag just insulted ya mum!”

“Me mum?!” the scraggy exclaimed, growing incredibly angry at the inanimate object. “Don’t talk bad ‘bout me mum!” The scraggy threw a series of ever stronger blows against the bag, causing it to swing violently under the pressure. Finally, the scraggy brought his head way back, one foot sticking out in front of him and almost falling over backwards, before suddenly rushing forward. The scraggy’s thick skull slammed against the bag with a resounding crash, sending the bag careening back and swinging in all directions from the force of the headbutt.

“Just like that!” Seymour said, cheering on the young one on before noticing Mia and Kyle on the fence. “Oi, g’ mornin’, Mia! Brought a friend with ya, eh?” The scrafty spoke loosely and jovially, his accent reflecting a sort of carefree air about him.

“Good morning, Seymour,” Mia greeted, gesturing towards Kyle. “And yes, this is my friend Kyle. We wanted to do a little practice today before our missions today.”

Kyle only gave a meek wave, feeling a bit intimidated by the scrafty. “Well, ya came to the roight place!” Seymour eyed the elgyem, recognizing him from a few days prior. “How ya doin’ lad? I’ve seen ya 'round ‘ere before. What can I do ya for today?”

Kyle froze up briefly. He’d seen Seymour before around town, but now that he was here to train, he seemed much more imposing than before, despite the scrafty’s carefree demeanor. “Um, I guess I’m here to… well… get better at, er, fighting.”

“Roight, I ‘ear ya,” Seymour said, hopping up from the fence to crouch in front of the elgyem, bringing his gaze level with Kyle’s. Seymour stared directly into Kyle’s eyes, causing Kyle to shiver lightly. He felt as though the scrafty was peering into his soul. After a few seconds, Seymour nodded, standing up straight and leading the group to the practice yard. “Alroight, let’s get ya started, yeah?”

Kyle turned briefly to Mia questioningly. “Um, what just happened?”

Mia only shrugged. “Beats me. He does that to people before he trains them. Won’t tell me what for, though.”

“Weird…” Kyle said, tossing the confusion to the side as he followed behind Seymour, the scrafty beginning to stretch out just a little. Suddenly the scraggy from before ran right up to Mia elatedly.

“Mia! Mia! Come an’ see what I can do!” he cried out. Mia chuckled in response, Kyle himself stifling a small laugh at the little one’s enthusiasm.

“Go on, show me,” Mia said. The scraggy hopped in place before running up to another nearby training bag. Just like before, he threw his head far back, kicking a foot out before forcefully ramming his head into the bag. The bag swung high from the impact, until falling back and smacking the scraggy onto his rear. Even still, the child was immensely happy, looking over to Mia again.

“Didja see that? Didja?” he asked.

“Mac! You finally got that headbutt down!” Mia cheered, giving the child a high-five.

“Alroight Mac, settle down,” Seymour said with a grin. “You can show-off to ya friends later. We’ve got some trainin’ t’ do.”

“Ohh, are you ‘ere to train?” Mac asked Kyle, looking at the explorer with wide eyes. He’d never seen a pokémon like elgyem before, and judging by his stares, he must have been fascinated.

“I guess so,” Kyle said, unable to hold back a smile. Rambunctious little child, this scraggy, though with how young he was, Kyle was impressed by the force of his headbutt.

“Roight, now, lemme see what ya got,” Seymour said, directing Kyle towards the center of the field. Seymour pointed at one of the training bags, looking down at Kyle. “Give it ya best shot. Whatevah’ ya got.”

Kyle nodded, holding out his hands and focusing his mental energy. The bag seemed to sway slightly from the psychic grip, suddenly flying back with a crack as the attack connected.

“That’s… really all I can do,” Kyle said meekly. Seymour only nodded in response, studying the bag and then Kyle again. “That’s my only attack.”

“Nothin’ else?”

“Nothing else,” Kyle said plainly. “Like, I can do the miracle eye technique, but aside from that… nothing.”

“Well, let’s fix that, then,” Seymour said, taking a stand next to Kyle, assuming a proper exercise posture, feet spread shoulder-width apart as he took in a breath then exhaled. “Mia, since ya ‘ere,” he said, gesturing towards the opposite side of the field. “Why don’tcha be my trainin’ partnah?”

“Sure!” Mia said, quickly stepping into the field herself, across from Seymour and Kyle.

“We’ll start wit’ some defensive techniques. This ‘ere’s is a lil’ technique every psychic can learn,” Seymour began. “It’s called reflect.”

“I’ve heard of that,” Kyle piped up.

“‘Course ya ‘ave,” Seymour said with a chuckle. “I teach this ta every young lil’ psychic student ‘a mine.” With that, he began to focus, taking in a deep breath again. “Now, I ain’t no psychic type, so no practical demonstration, but I can still teach ya.” Steadily, the scrafty regulated his breathing, in through his nostrils, out through his mouth. “What I’m about ta do‘s called iron defense. Diff’rent technique, but same principle.”

As he spoke, he began to focus again, clenching his fists and flexing lightly, and for a moment, Kyle swore he could see a shining aura envelope Seymour.

“Iron defense makes ya skin tough as nails,” Seymour continued. “Reflect does much tha’ same, but it’s with ya mind instead a’ ya muscles, yeah? Now, focus ya mind. Like an iron defense, put energy into ya body, like ya makin’ a shield. Instead a' focusin' powah outside of ya for an attack, direct it inside. Mia, come an’ give me a simple tackle. Don’t hold back.”

Mia nodded, prepping herself for a full on tackle, running forward with impressive speed and lunging forward, turning to her side and ramming into the scrafty with her shoulders. Seymour caught her in his hands, not even staggered by the attack, effortlessly catching her mid-charge and pushing her back. “Ya see? Di’nt even leave a scratch. Ev'ry pokémon has a source to their abilities. They can direct it outward to channel an offensive attack, or inward to boost defense. Use ya psychic ene'gy, an' let it flow inside ya. Now, you try.”

Kyle did as instructed, focusing his mental energies as Seymour instructed him. He tried to concentrate on making himself a shield, just as he was told, feeling the psychic energies begin to manifest.

“Now Mia, go on and tackle ‘em. Not so strong this time.”

Mia nodded, returning to her position opposite them before charging again, less speedy than before, but still with enough force. Kyle squinted, trying to focus, catching her tackle and flinching before the munchlax successfully knocked him to the ground. Kyle groaned as he rose to his feet, rubbing his chest in slight pain.

“Chin up, try it again,” Seymour encouraged. Kyle grunted before rising to his feet again, resuming his position. “Take a deep breath. Focus on ya defense. Like makin’ a shield.”

Kyle tried again, focusing his efforts and building up energy. Seymour gestured towards Mia again, the munchlax charging at Kyle once more with a tackle.

Kyle held his ground, holding his hands out to catch the attack. The tackle connected, and for a brief second, Kyle stood his ground, holding Mia back slightly, only to be pushed back again by her strength.

“Good, good, ya almost got it,” Seymour said. He reached down and helped Kyle to his feet, taking a stance once again. “Come on now, don’t give up. Third time’s a charm, yeah?”

Kyle shook his head, trying to bring his mental strength back up to task. He mimicked Seymour’s stance, taking in a deep breath through his nose, exhaling loudly as he focused on Mia, preparing himself for her tackle.

Like a shield, Kyle thought to himself. Like I’m making a shield to block her… Kyle steeled himself for another tackle, his mental energies beginning to arise again. Seymour nodded to Mia one last time, Mia running full speed and holding her shoulder out to tackle.

The attack connected, and Kyle held his arms out, grasping Mia and catching her mid-tackle. He faltered for a second, falling to one knee, before releasing a sudden crack of psychic power, pushing back with all of his might, stopping her charge and sending her back.

“There ya go!” Seymour said proudly, clapping at the demonstration. “That’s how it’s done!”

Kyle shakily rose to his feet, panting from the amount of energy required to use the reflect. “I… I did it.”

“Amazing!” Mac called out, the young scraggy swinging from a nearby tire swing hanging from a tree. The child was keen on simply watching them practice, a dopey grin on his face.

“Ya sure did, mate,” Seymour said, patting the elgyem on the back. “You keep practicin’ that, and you’ll be a lot harda to knock down.”

“Thanks, Seymour,” Kyle said, beginning to appreciate the training now. Seymour walked over to the pile of supplies, pulling out a target board and setting it up on the opposite end of the field.

“Now, reflectin’ and defense is all well an’ good, but as I like ta say…”

“Oh! Oh! I know!” Mac stammered out. “Tha best defense is a good offense!”

Seymour chuckled at the child’s enthusiasm. “Roight ya are, Mac. Now, ya say confusion’s ya only attack? Well, I can show ya a lil’ somethin’ else. A very simple, but very effective technique for fightin’ bandits and tha like. It’s called hidden powah.”

“Hidden power…” Kyle recited. “I think I’ve heard of that too, actually.”

“It’s a move that any ol’ pokémon can learn. From tha smallest weedle to the mightiest salamence.” Seymour continued. With the target board set up, he walked back to Kyle, eyeing the board intensely. “It kinda sounds like somethin’ out of kids books, but really, ya get it’s power from ya hopes and dreams.”

“My… hopes and dreams?” Kyle asked, confused. “What do you mean?”

“Well, maybe not hopes and dreams,” Seymour said with a laugh. “But hidden powah is a technique that differs from pokémon to pokémon. Every pokémon has a diff’rent hidden powah, even if thea’ the same kind or species. Ya gotta focus on ya drive. Ya motivation, what makes ya who ya are.”

“I… think I get it,” Kyle said, a bit confused. He wasn’t exactly sure what his motivation was. He figured he’d find out when he was older, but now, it seemed he had to discover it right this moment.

“Like, take me for example,” Seymour said, assuming his fighting stance again. “I like ta go wit’ tha flow, I don’t worry meself over silly things in life, I go whe’e life takes me, and I adapt. My hidden powah comes out as watah, like a flowin’ rivah.”

“Mine is like a beedrill!” Mac called out again, suddenly rushing over to the training yard and setting up his own target board, though not without diffculty at the board was much larger than he was. Without prompting, he joined aside Seymour and eyed the board, the child gathering energy in his hands almost without effort and blasting it at the target, striking it with several needle-like projectiles. With a hop, Mac walked over to Kyle, idly poking him in the chest. “It’s all in ya heart! Roight hea’!”

“Alroight, Mac, settle down now,” Seymour said, patting the eager young ‘mon on the head. “But he’s roight. It’s all about ya personality, who ya ah’ inside.”

“Mhm,” Mia said, simply listening to the explanation. “You have to focus on your goals. Why did you become an explorer, Kyle?”

Kyle thought for a moment, not entirely sure if his reason was an adequate one. “I… well, honestly, I joined because Joshua did. I didn’t want to see him go in alone.”

“So ya joined for ya friend?” Seymour said, nodding. “Admirable, lad. It shows ya’ve got loyalty to ya friends. I want ya to think about that when ya try it. Think of ya friends, like ya fightin’ for them, an’ let the powah outta ya.”

“I… I’ll try,” Kyle said with a bit of apprehension. He wasn’t entirely sure how to go about doing this. Just… focus on his friends? Was that it? With a deep breath, he took aim at the target board as Seymour crouched down beside him, laying a hand over his shoulder.

“Pretend like ya doin’ a confusion attack, but instead a’ focusing on the target, get ya strength from inside ya,” Seymour said. “The powah comes from inside ya, not out. From ya heart, not ya head.”

Kyle nodded, closing his eyes. He tried to think of the reasons for joining the guild. He thought of Joshua, the friendship they shared, how he felt about his friend going on this dangerous journey without help. He wanted to be there beside him, to make sure that he was safe, to let him know he didn’t have to do this alone. With a deep breath, he felt something begin to stir inside him, like his psychic powers, but different. More raw. With an exhale, he grabbed hold of this power, thrusting an arm outward and producing a small sphere of energy that dissipated as soon as it materialized.

“That’s it, ya almost got it,” Seymour said, looking over to Mia. “Mia, ya mind demonstratin’ it yaself?”

“You got it,” Mia replied, taking a spot next to Kyle and focusing her energy. The munchlax seemed so determined out in the training yard, staring down at the target. “Think about what you want. I want to become stronger, to be the best at what I do, and never to settle for anything less.” With a loud yell, the munchlax thrust out her hands, blasting a bright beam of energy at the target board, hitting it almost dead-center and leaving scorch marks on it’s surface. “My hidden power is fire, like a flame that keeps on, looking for more to keep itself going.”

“Mhm,” Seymour said. “Once more, Kyle. Try again.”

Kyle thought for a moment, closing his eyes and trying to replicate their instruction. He brought both of his hands up, trying to grab at the energy again, letting it flow outward to his limbs. This time he felt a much firmer grasp on the energy, seizing it tightly before crying out, thrusting both arms out and blasting the target board with a brilliant sphere of light. A loud crack, and the board wobbled in place from the hit, the wood beginning to splinter and split on the impact zone.

Seymour clapped, walking over to the board and inspecting it. “Hmm… no scorches, no burnin'… I wonder…” he suddenly stood up, moving in front of the target board and eyeing Kyle. “Do it one more time. I want ya to hit me with it.”

“A-are you sure?” Kyle asked, to which Seymour only chuckled.

“I can take it, lad,” Seymour replied, grinning, before dropping down into a defensive stance, bending his knees and readying himself for an attack. “One more time, let’s go.”

Kyle nodded, doing exactly as he did before. The energy built up within himself, and once more, he felt it as he tugged on its lines, drawing them to the surface before lashing out again, throwing the same bright sphere out as Seymour took the full force of the attack. The scrafty grunted quietly, but was otherwise unfazed, standing up and smiling to himself.

“The heart of a fightah,” Seymour said. “Ya hidden powah is fightin’!”

“Fighting…” Kyle thought to himself.

“A good choice, if I say so.” Seymour said with a laugh, as if Kyle actually had a choice in the matter. “Fightin’s supposed to represent honah and courage, loyalty to one’s friends and allies.”

“Wow,” was all Kyle could say. He never envisioned himself as honorable or loyal, but maybe that’s why it was called hidden power.

As the group finished their exercise, Joshua, Celine, and Felix came running up to the field, Kyle and Mia waving at them as they approached.

“Everything going well?” Joshua asked Kyle, to which the elgyem gave a simple nod.

“Yeah, it is,” Kyle said, a bit of confidence sparking inside him as he turned to Seymour. “Thanks, Seymour.”

“Anytime, lad,” Seymour said with a contented smile, folding his arms over his chest. “You keep practicin’ an’ it’ll pay off.”

“Seymour really knows his stuff,” Felix added, the shinx’s tail swishing happily behind him.

“What did he show you?” Celine asked, hovering over to where Kyle stood, inspecting him as if expecting some kind of physical change from just one training session.

“I’ll show you on our next mission,” Kyle said with a smirk, Celine playfully pouting in mock disappointment.

“Speaking of which, I have our next mission,” Joshua said, producing a single scrap of paper. “I suppose it’s fitting that you came to train; the client had some items stolen by bandits, we’ve got to go get them back.”

“Alright!” Kyle said, pumping his fists in the air as he filled with more confidence. “You guys should come here next time too. It’s pretty nifty.”

“Oh, here you go, Seymour,” Mia said, handing out a small pouch of fifty poké for the session. Seymour politely declined, shaking his head with a smirk.

“First lesson’s on tha house,” he said jovially. “Explorah’s get their first lesson free, so any a’ y’all wanna come and see what ya can do, I can show ya.”

“Thanks a lot, Seymour,” Kyle said with a bow, offering a hand to shake with the scrafty. Seymour grasped the boy’s with a firm grip as they shook hands. Kyle turned to Mia, sheepishly rubbing the back of his head. “And, uh, thanks for dragging me out here.”

“Sure thing,” Mia said with a wink. “One thing I’ve learned as an explorer, sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone. Sometimes someone else has to drag you out of it, heh. Sorry about that.”

“No, I appreciate it,” Kyle said, as the two left the yard to join up with their friends. Seymour gave them all a wave farewell, as did Mac, the rest of the explorers waving back as they said their goodbyes for the day.

"Oh, here, I said I'd save this for you," Celine said, handing Kyle his pastry from breakfast.

"Thanks," Kyle said, taking a quick bite as they left. This time, Kyle felt a growing sense of enthusiasm for their next mission. Part of it was eagerness to put his lesson to practical use, and part of it was just… confidence. He had a lot to learn, both about being an explorer and about himself, but today was just the first step, and now, he was ready to keep going, and to see this adventure through to wherever it took him. Loyalty, Kyle thought. Loyalty to his oaths as an explorer, to see the job done right, and loyalty to his friends. He idly glanced over at Joshua as they walked, smiling a bit to himself, grateful he had a friend to journey alongside with.
 
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