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EVERYONE: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Ghosts of the past.

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I think I told you everything I have as far specific corrections and suggestions in Skype (my biggest gripe was the lack of a decent hook to keep readers interested, but you've remedied that well), but overall very very impressive work here. Your characterization and the dynamics between characters are definitely your strong suit, and though the plot so far isn't anything groundbreaking as far as PMD fics go, that sense of a real world with real people (er, Pokemon) makes it stand out and makes it a joy to read. I can't want to read more because I do care about the plot now, yes, but moreso just to see the characters continue to grow and interact. Joshua in particular has a great start to a character development arc as he begins to subconsciously (and through a metaphorical baptism of fire) become a strong leader and make up for his physical weakness with his powerful spirit which even he doesn't seem aware of yet. I'm very eager for more.
 
Chapter Twelve: The Same Old You
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Because I forgot to respond to comments like a doofus.

Comments:

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.
I appreciate the review! Looking back now, I realize it kind of has taken a bit of time to develop the actual plot, and it's something I'll keep in mind for future stories. I'm more used to writing slice-of-life style things more than stories with an actual plot. Regardless, hopefully now things are starting to take shape, and the plot should be moving along. But thanks for the review!

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.
Thank you for the kind words. Again, the plot should be moving along now, and hopefully that particular problem is alleviated soon.

I think I told you everything I have as far specific corrections and suggestions in Skype (my biggest gripe was the lack of a decent hook to keep readers interested, but you've remedied that well), but overall very very impressive work here. Your characterization and the dynamics between characters are definitely your strong suit, and though the plot so far isn't anything groundbreaking as far as PMD fics go, that sense of a real world with real people (er, Pokemon) makes it stand out and makes it a joy to read. I can't want to read more because I do care about the plot now, yes, but moreso just to see the characters continue to grow and interact. Joshua in particular has a great start to a character development arc as he begins to subconsciously (and through a metaphorical baptism of fire) become a strong leader and make up for his physical weakness with his powerful spirit which even he doesn't seem aware of yet. I'm very eager for more.
I assume you meant you can't wait to read more, unless the story was just so awful that you can't want to read more. xD

But nah, thanks for the comment, man! I always love to hear your opinions on things like these. Your suggestions are always really helpful to me and I appreciate them a lot.

AUTHORS NOTES:
For those of you who have already read the first chapter, I have changed things around just slightly. The first chapter has been altered considerably, not in length but in content. If you have already read it, I'd suggest going back and reading just the first part of chapter one again to see what has been changed.

In addition, if you're wondering why Mismagius is capitalized in this chapter whereas all other species' names are not, Mismagius is her actual name. Trust me, it'll make sense later. :V

Chapter Twelve: The Same Old You

Darkness. Dreadful, consuming darkness swallowed all but the brightest of lights in the Forgotten Abyss. Even the oil lantern held by the banette seemed to do little to alleviate the shadows that criss-crossed along the floors as he walked with his team behind him.

“And if you’ll look to your left, you’ll see… surprise! More rocks,” the banette groaned in annoyance. Inside this dungeon, they’d been crawling for several hours. So deep inside, even, the group had to stop and set up camp to sleep, only to wake up and continue their uneventful trek. “Tell me again why we’re wasting our time here?”

“Because somethin’ got Matty’s vines in a twist,” Gene reminded his friend, the gengar grinning in amusement despite his teammate’s less-than-cheerful attitude. “Quit your whining, Eddie, we’re almost at the end, and there’s three-thousand poké waiting for us back at the guild when we’re done.”

“Never should have left Arcea,” Eddie grumbled again. The banette was beginning to regret their choice to leave their homeland. “This was supposed to be a new start for us. A whole new land, full of mysteries to solve and treasure to find, and what do we get stuck doing? Playing hide and seek with someone we don’t know, and that we don’t even know for sure is actually here.”

“We’ll be out of here soon enough, Edward,” the third pokémon said, the froslass trailing behind the group and watching their backs for any threats. “Cease your whimpering. It is beginning to aggravate me.”

“Yeah, listen to Tabitha,” Gene said, gently patting the banette’s shoulder. “We can play rookie explorer later.” Soon enough, the tunnel they were traversing emptied out into the namesake of the Forgotten Abyss; the tunnel led out onto a stony platform, and all around them, the deepest cliff any of them had ever seen. Peering up, nothing but the rocky ceiling, and peering down, the banette shivered; no bottom in sight, only pure, all-enveloping darkness. Eddie’s zipper mouth curled into a disgusted frown. Was there even a bottom? Did it ever end? Perhaps it emptied out into the other side of the earth. The thought seemed impossible, yet with how far down they’d traveled, and seeing how much deeper it went, it didn’t seem so crazy an idea in his mind.

“Well, this is the end,” Eddie said finally. He clutched at his explorer’s badge, all too eager to contact the guild’s teleportation network and get themselves out. “Should we call it in?”

Gene only chuckled, the gengar grinning excitedly at the sight of the abyss. “Guess so. Seems there’s nothing here after all.”

“Wait a moment,” Tabitha said, peering around. The froslass caught sight of a small platform far down, just above the embrace of the darkness below. “Gene, see if there’s anything down there.”

Gene only gave a thumbs up, quickly dashing off the edge of the cliff and gently levitating down, hopping deftly across the rocks on the edge of the pit until he landed on the platform. His eyes scanned the area, seeing nothing at first, until he heard voices - new ones, not belonging to either Eddie or Tabitha. Instantly the gengar shifted into the shadows, obscuring himself from view and watching for the source.

“The gems are revealing themselves more quickly than you’d anticipated,” the first one said. From another nearby tunnel, a heliolisk walked alongside a mismagius. Gene grimaced; they hadn’t encountered such pokémon in their journey here.

“Exactly how quickly?” the mismagius asked, hovering over in full view on the platform.

“The explorer’s guild has already found three of the ice gems,” the heliolisk replied.

“Typical,” the mismagius huffed. Meddling explorer’s had to get involved. “These fickle little jewels seem to want people to find them. Uzziah! Blasted seadra, where is he?”

Suddenly, from a pool of water in the cavern, a seadra popped his upper body out, right on cue. “Veesh is correct. Three of ice now belong to the guild. What’s more, one of the stone gems has been found by a group of native children.”

“Even the natives?” the mismagius said in disbelief. “They might as well be falling from the sky! Landing into the hands of any would-be treasure hunter.” Just then, her expression turned to one of mischief. “The explorers are a problem, but the natives? We could use that to our advantage.”

“How so?” the heliolisk asked.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” the mismagius replied. “Later. For now, what we came here for.”

The mismagius produced a bag from her person, opening it as her two cohorts examined its contents. Veesh beamed, the heliolisk unwittingly beginning to glow in an electrical charge, as Uzziah simply admired the sight.

“All seven?” Uzziah said, nodding in approval.

“M-Mismagius!” Veesh said, resisting the urge to scoop them all up in his hands. “The steel gems! You found them!”

“Indeed,” Mismagius replied, leading the heliolisk towards the inside of the small area. “Uzziah, I want you to return to the surface. Keep scouting out what you can. I’ll find you when this is over.”

“As you wish,” Uzziah replied, before the seadra disappeared once more into the depths of the pool.

Back to the surface? This abyss must be connected the ocean, Gene thought to himself, keeping an eye on the two pokémon left as they approached the inner wall of the platform.

As they neared the wall, the bag in Mismagius’ hand began to stir, the rubies glowing brightly enough to be seen even in their cloth confines. In unison, a pattern emerged on the wall, glowing red and waiting, seven red dots in a hexagon, with one spot in the middle. One by one, the two pokémon began to unpack the gems, placing them neatly in the indents in the wall. Once all in place, Gene heard the sound of the wind beginning to stir for only a brief moment, along with a deep, distorted rumble.

Instantly, the gems vanished from their spots in the wall, and with a mighty roar, the wall began to shake, splitting on its sides and revealing an ancient door. The mechanisms within seemed to grind and moan in effort, echoing loudly throughout the cavern as they pried the stone slabs open, revealing another tunnel that emptied out into darkness.

“Follow me, and stay close,” Mismagius warned her companion. As the two entered, the door began to quickly close behind them.

Gene whipped out from the shadows. Should he follow them? Would the doors open again, or would he be trapped inside? No, he thought. Matty said to scout, and nothing else. He winced as the door slammed shut, locking the two mystery ‘mon inside. Gene shook his head, quickly darting off back to his friends.

Eddie and Tabitha waited far above, the banette impatiently tapping his foot on the ground. As soon as Gene came back, Eddie threw his hands up.

“Finally!” he said. “What took you so long? What were those noises?”

“Matty was right,” Gene said, cutting right to the chase and gripping his explorer’s badge. All his cheerful demeanor dissipated instantly, replaced with a seriousness that was almost alien to the gengar. “We have to get back and tell the guild.”

“Wait, right about what?” Eddie asked. “Was there someone here?”

“I’ll tell you when we’re out of here. We have to get back to the guild now,” Gene ordered. Not wasting any time, the three explorers of team Phantasm grabbed their badges, holding them up high and signalling the guild before being whisked away in a flash of light.

***​

The morning huddle had ended, Nathaniel beginning to hand out assignments for the day to the apprentices. Once he’d come to the Wayfarers, he looked over his list.

“And finally, Wayfarers. You’re on guard duty.”

“Guard duty?” Kyle repeated in disbelief, pleading with the guildmaster’s assistant. “Come on, you don’t have any requests for us to do?”

“I’ve got enough teams handling requests right now, and team Wayfarers is next on sentry rotation,” Nathaniel said plainly. “Not every day is a fun-filled adventure, sometimes you have to do chores and help around the guild.”

“That’s no fun…” Kyle groaned to himself.

“Well, it’s not my job to make sure you have fun,” Nathaniel said, almost taking amusement in his jab. “It’s my job to hand out morning assignments, and yours is guard duty. You’ve got until eleven a.m. to take care of your morning routine, so I’d suggest you make the most of it.”

As the pawniard walked off, Kyle’s shoulders drooped down in defeat. “Well, this is going to be boring.”

“Come now, Kyle,” Celine said, still as cheery as ever. “We’ve got four more hours until eleven, so there’s still some time to ourselves before we start.”

“Want to come training with me again?” Mia asked, the munchlax giving Kyle a determined glance.

“Well, we’ve got time,” Kyle mused to himself, a lot more receptive now to the idea of training. “Can we, Joshua?”

“We should all go!” Celine said happily. “It looked like so much fun!”

“You guys can go and train if you want. That’s fine,” Joshua replied to both Celine and Kyle.

“You should come too,” Celine said, hovering expectantly over the swadloon. “Doesn’t it sound like a good time?”

“Oh, no, it’s fine, really,” Joshua said, raising a hand in dismissal. “You guys go have fun, I’ll be here when you’re done.”

“Oh, come on,” Celine whined. She wanted to see Joshua step out of his leafy shell for once in his life. She reached out, gently grabbing his hand and tugging him lightly. “It looks like a lot of fun. Don’t you want to have some fun before work today?”

“N-no, I’m quite fine, honestly!” Joshua said, taking his hand away from her grasp. “Besides, I’ve got to take care of our other errands. Go to the bank, stop by the store for supplies... you guys go have fun, I’ll handle everything else.”

“It won’t be as much fun without all of us there,” Celine said sadly. Seemed this wasn’t a battle she was going win… not today, at least. “But fine, I won’t force you.”

“Next time, though” Mia said, eyeing the swadloon with certain twinkle in her eye. Joshua held back a shiver as he composed himself, clearing his throat.

“Yes, well, let’s go get something to eat then, shall we?” Joshua said finally. It wasn’t that he disliked the idea of training; surely explorers must train their skills in order to keep up with the more dangerous dungeons out in the world. The idea was perfectly reasonable. It was what he might find out about himself that caused him to worry.

***​

With the others having gone to Seymour’s dojo to train, Joshua finally had a moment to himself. He bore no ill will to his companions, to be sure - after all, would he have even made it in the guild without their help? Most likely not. Still, even the most social butterfree of a pokémon must need some time to themselves, and Joshua, far from being anything resembling a social creature, found himself at ease on his own, at least amongst the trappings of the village of Independence.

Having already deposited a portion of the team’s earnings in the bank, the swadloon scurried off to his next stop, Amelia’s shop. He could already see it in view up ahead, the ampharos owner holding conversation with a leavanny patron. Joshua stopped in place, squinting at the bug pokémon, and as if sensing his presence, the leavanny turned around, grinning widely at Joshua. That couldn’t be her… could it?

“Mother?” Joshua squeaked, before realizing this leavanny was indeed his mother. “M-mother!

The leavanny bent down to his level, holding her arms wide as the swadloon dashed as fast as his little body could take him, practically leaping in his mother’s embrace. The elder pokémon gripped her son tightly in her arms, as Joshua smiled for what must have been the first time since joined the guild, surprised and overjoyed at her sudden arrival.

“W-when did you get here?” Joshua stammered out, finally releasing himself from her grasp. The leavanny crouched on the ground next to him, giggling lightly as the swadloon looked ready to explode in a barrage of joy and confusion. “How did you get here? Is Danielle doing well? How long are you staying? How-”

“One question at a time, Josh!” the leavanny said with a grin, bringing a halt to the boy’s inquiries. Joshua stopped silent, taking a deep breath and composing himself before looking back towards his mother, unable to hold back as his lips bent into a grin. Amelia simply chuckled to herself as she witnessed their reunion.

“I’ll let you two catch up,” the ampharos said happily, returning to her duties as shopkeeper as mother and son talked. “It’s nice to see you again, Reneé!”

“I’m sorry, it’s just… I missed you!” Joshua said finally, exhaling loudly as he tried again to calm himself. “Okay, let’s start with the when. When did you get here? It’s practically a day’s trip here from Pleasant Meadow!”

“I actually arrived here about an hour ago,” the leavanny replied. “Owen’s caravan was on it’s way to pick up supplies from the dock; he was gracious enough to let me tag along, and I’d been meaning to visit ever since you left.” The leavanny reached out, tapping her leafy hands at Joshua’s explorer badge, pinned neatly to the green sash on his sleeve. “I see you’ve already been promoted!”

“Y-Yeah!” Joshua said. Whereas before, he seemed so indifferent to his promotion, the instant his mother brought it up, it suddenly puffed the swadloon up with pride. “I-I mean, we’ve only done five missions so far, but we were promoted anyways.”

“That’s great!” Reneé replied cheerfully. “See? I think you’ve got what it takes to be an explorer.”

Just as soon as his pride came, it immediately began to dissipate, the swadloon showing his usual meekness. “W-well… it’s just bronze rank… I’m still a long ways off from graduating...”

Reneé couldn’t help but smirk to herself, all too familiar with Joshua’s mannerisms to be surprised by his sudden change in demeanor. “Hey, baby steps, Josh. Everyone starts at the bottom. Your sister had to start there too. Just keep at it; don’t focus on rank, just do your best, and the rest will come in time.”

“How is she doing, anyways?” Joshua asked, trying to change the subject. “Any good news?”

“A little, yes,” Reneé replied. “We’ve been helping her get outside more often. I think she was tired of being in bed all the time, and the fresh air seems to help her a lot.” Suddenly the leavanny laughed, gently patting her son’s head. “Actually, since you left, it seems to have sparked that competitive spirit in her again. She’s been getting out a lot more, trying to push herself to walk more and more. Just yesterday, she got out of bed and walked all the way to the front porch!”

“Th-that’s wonderful!” Joshua said, elated at his sister’s determination. Danielle’s illness confined her to her bed at all times, making such simple things like standing and walking incredibly difficult. Just getting up and walking by herself was an accomplishment of great magnitude in her current state. “What did the doctor say about that?”

“He says it’s good progress, and a sign she’s getting better,” Reneé said, much to Joshua’s relief. If she was able to recover, then maybe he could finally put this whole ordeal behind him and return home….

“What about father? Has he… said anything, since I left?” Joshua asked quietly. Reneé’s smile faltered slightly as he asked.

“He hasn’t said anything yet,” she admitted. Joshua sighed, before his mother wrapped an arm around him again in reassurance. “Don’t fret over it. He’ll come around. Just give him some time.” At this, the leavanny finally stood up, stretching her limbs out and looking down to Joshua. “Well, the important thing is I’m proud of you, and I’m sure Danielle is too. I’m almost afraid to tell her you made it to bronze. She might get jealous,” Reneé finished with a chuckle.

“It’s nice to see you again,” Joshua said. “I-I have to get back to the guild soon, though... “ Reneé crouched down again, giving one last hug to the boy, drawing back and giving a small peck on his forehead.

“And it’s nice to see you as well,” she replied. “Chin up, Josh. Don’t fret over the destination or the end goal; take your time, slow down and enjoy the journey. It’s more fun that way. You're doing a good job, and I'm proud of you.”

“Thanks, mother,” Joshua said finally, straightening himself out and adjusting his coat.

“You’re welcome,” Reneé said fondly, turning back to Amelia as the ampharos wiped her counters clean. “I’m sorry our chat was cut short. I’ll be sure to come back again soon! As relaxing as Pleasant Meadow is, it’s nice to be in the hustle and bustle of city life every now and then.”

“No worries, Reneé,” Amelia said with a grin. “Do write me next time you plan on visiting, I can have my assistant run the shop and we can catch up over a meal.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Reneé replied. “And since you’re in the guild now, Josh, I’ll be sure to write to you too.”

“Y-yeah! That’ll be great,” Joshua replied.

“We’ll be like pen-pals!” Reneé said jovially, before waving to both Joshua and Amelia. “Owen is going to be taking off soon, and I don’t want to keep him waiting. Until next time!”

“Take care!” Amelia said, returning the wave along with Joshua as the leavanny walked back to the docks, a certain grace and joy in her walk. Joshua sighed. He didn’t realize how much he’d missed his family up until now. It was good news that his sister was recovering, and though he tried not to dwell on the thought, he couldn’t help but feel anxious for her to return to guild. He knew she would; the call to adventure was impossible for the girl to resist, and he knew the instant she recovered she’d be on that first caravan out of Pleasant Meadow and heading right for Independence to be reinstated.

Joshua shook his head, clearing the thoughts from his mind. Later, he thought. With that, he turned to Amelia, clearing his throat slightly. “I need to do some shopping before guild work today. Do you have any oran berries?”
 
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Chapter Thirteen: Can't Stop the Sun
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Chapter Thirteen: Can't Stop the Sun

The breeze of the Pleasant Meadow plains carried with them the scent of all the flowers and flora, the pleasing aroma carried over the hills to the village below. The small village here was much different from Independence; it was here that pokémon came to live a more peaceful, quiet life, away from the busybodies that tended to roam around Independence. Situated among the plains with nothing but grasslands and flowers for miles, it was considered paradise for those seeking to find rest, both physically and mentally.

One of those pokémon was Reneé Vensworth, the leavanny strolling through the village and admiring the orange glow of the evening sun. Pokémon were gathered in their huts at this time, beginning to light their lanterns in preparation for the coming night. The huts were simple in their construction, no ornate shapes or patterns painted on, just plain wooden structures that served their purpose for shelter, and nothing more. It was a quaint simplicity that Reneé admired, and that same simplicity was mirrored in her own home just up ahead.

With a gentle push, the wooden door to her abode opened, Reneé greeted by the now familiar sight of her daughter, lying on a small bed on the side of the den. The scizor was passing the time with a book; considering she was confined to that bed for most of the day, reading was really the only thing she could do to entertain herself.

“Welcome home, mother!” the scizor greeted cheerfully. Despite her condition, Danielle kept her spirits high, welcoming the leavanny with a bright smile. “Josh isn’t with you… so I assume that means…”

“He is indeed an apprentice at the guild, as he said he would be,” Reneé replied with a smile. Danielle returned the smile, though more to herself.

“I should be surprised… but I’m not,” Danielle said with a grin. Joshua’s departure was anything but ceremonial. By the time he’d announced his intentions to the family to join the guild, the little swadloon already had his bags packed and was ready to go. Despite everybody’s expectations of the boy being dashed in light of that revelation, before he’d left, Danielle saw it in his eyes; that rare, almost invisible determination, hidden behind his many layers of fear.

I give him two days. That was what their father had said the moment Joshua had left. Danielle remembered those words well. Though he’d never say as such in front of his own son, his thoughts on the boy’s capabilities were clear, and everybody knew those thoughts.

Suddenly, Danielle put her book down, the scizor placing her claws on either side of the bed to force herself up. She groaned in effort, her mother quickly rushing to her side to stop her.

“What’s the matter? Do you need something?” Reneé asked, placing a hand on her daughter’s own. “I know you’re anxious to get off your feet, but you mustn’t push yourself too hard.”

“I… I can do this, mother,” Danielle said wearily, shooing her mother’s hand away. With great effort, the scizor threw her legs off the side of the bed, leaning upwards. A grimace etched on her face despite her attempts to hide it, already beginning to feel the aches and pains as they flared in intensity from just this simple motion. She would not be deterred, though. She pushed herself up, planting her feet meekly on the floor, fighting the urge to collapse back onto the bed. With a pained sigh, she managed to work up the strength to stand, but only barely, her mother taking the scizor’s arm and throwing it over her own shoulder to support her.

“Outside,” Danielle said wearily, motioning towards the front door. Together they made their way across the den, Reneé supporting her daughter’s weight over her shoulder as the scizor limped onwards. Twice Danielle nearly fell to the ground, only barely managing to keep herself upright with her mother’s help.

Eventually, they made it outside, Danielle motioning towards the front railing just outside their door. She placed an arm on the railing, letting go of her mother and putting both hands down to support herself. She took a deep breath; being trapped inside as she was all the time, enjoying the cool breeze and fresh air was something she rarely got to do.

“Everything alright?” Reneé asked. She could see the strain on her daughter’s face, Danielle trying to hide it, but her mother knew her too well to miss it. Even still, Danielle pushed herself up, taking in a deep breath and holding it, releasing her hold on the railing and standing straight on her own. The scizor stared towards the setting sun, holding as still as she could for a few seconds, before finally letting her breath escape her as she nearly fell over from weakness.

“O-oh!” Reneé gasped, just barely catching her before she fell. “What’s this all about?”

“I’m not going to get better sitting in bed all day,” Danielle said finally, managing to stand up straight with her mother’s help. “If Joshua can make it in the guild, then I can get better, and I need to keep pushing myself to get there.”

“That’s may be true,” Reneé said, offering a warm smile to her daughter. “But if you over-exert yourself, you’ll make it harder for you to recover.”

“I suppose,” Danielle finally said. She looked out towards the sun one more time. She was happy her brother managed to break out of his shell, even if he himself didn’t realize it. At the same time, she couldn’t let her brother keep on alone. She couldn't let herself be shown up by him.

One day, I’ll be back out there, she thought to herself. And I’ll be right there with you. You’re my rival now. Danielle smirked at the thought. She knew Josh was one to avoid confrontations, and even a simple, friendly rivalry was something he couldn’t handle. Even still, she couldn’t allow herself to be beaten, not when the circumstances were beyond her control. Someday, she promised herself. She’d be back at the guild soon enough. She just had to get better.

Finally, Danielle began to move back towards the house, being supported once again by her mother as they went back inside.

***
Earlier that day…

With the Wayfarers gathered back at the guild, it was time for their assigned guard duty. At the bottom of the spiral staircase that led to the surface, opposite the guild hall, there was a small doorway, which led into a tall, circular chamber. At the top of the chamber, instead of rock, there was earth, though it seemed to be flattened and smoothed out completely, with no fractures of any kind, almost like marble. As the trio of explorers looked around, there was nobody to be seen. Just the empty room.

“Um, hello?” Joshua said, hearing his own voice echo off the sides of the stony walls.

“Oh! Oh! I’m here!” a voice called out. Joshua peered around the room, finally noticing a small opening in the rock wall, a thin black tail hanging out before the tiny pokémon tumbled to the floor with a shriek.

“Oh!’ Celine said, rushing to the pokémon’s aid. “Are you okay?”

The tiny squirrel quickly rose to his feet, the group finally recognizing the form of an emolga. He began brushing off his fur from dust and dirt, though the familiar white and black of the emolga’s fur was still marred by the brown of the earth. “Don’t mind me! I’m still getting used to this whole tunnel thing…”

“Tunnels?” Celine asked, looking up to where he fell from.

“I’ll explain later, first things first! Are you the Wayfarers? Here to help me with guard duty today?”

“Yes, we are,” Joshua said with a nod. “Um… what do we do in here, exactly?”

“Well, my name’s Sam, and I’m glad you asked!’ the emolga replied, pointing up to the tunnel he was in earlier. “These tunnels are what we use to keep watch. They go all around the outside of the guild, and they let you see outside, around the entire perimeter.” The emolga then turned to the ceiling, pointing straight up. “That’s the sand pit up at the entrance to the guild. Some real ingenuity right there. It’s like the old grate system that the guilds back in Arcea used to read footprints, but it’s a lot safer, and more accurate, too.”

“That’s really neat,” Celine said, intrigued. “So, you keep an eye on the outside from the tunnels, and then read footprints of arrivals, right?”

Sam nodded with a grin. “That’s exactly right. It’s real top-notch stuff. Problem is, it can’t be done by just one ‘mon. Usually, my friend Jacob and I do the guard duty; he monitors the tunnels, and I watch the footprints. Jacob’s a sandshrew, so he can go through those tunnels faster than anybody, but he couldn’t make it today. I can’t watch the tunnels and the footprints, so that’s where you guys come in.”

“Sounds simple enough,” Kyle said with a shrug. “Um, how big are those tunnels, exactly?”

“They’re a lot more spacious on the inside, trust me,” Sam replied. “So, here’s the plan then. Two of you will be in the tunnels, and one of you will be down here to read footprints. I’ll be switching back and forth and helping you guys out. Easy peasy nomel-squeezy, am I right?”

“I call dibs on the tunnel!” Celine shouted, quickly levitating up to the entrance above and motioning for the others to join her. “Who wants to help me?” Kyle and Joshua exchanged looks.

“I think I’ll stay here and look at the footprints,” Joshua said, holding up his hands. “I’m not exactly built for climbing and tunnel crawling.”

Suddenly, the swadloon found a large book shoved into his hands by Sam, the emolga smirking lightly. “Better read up, then.” Joshua looked down at the book in his hands, reading the title: Pokémon Physiology: a comprehensive guide to the species. He began flipping through the pages, each one detailing a different pokémon species and offering diagrams explaining their physical characteristics, bone structure, and other useful information.

“Fascinating,” Joshua said. If he didn’t have a job to do, he would love to spend a few hours perusing the pages of this work of academia.

“Don’t lose that, it’s my only copy,” Sam said sternly, before showing Kyle to the side of the wall, helping him climb up to the tunnel above. “I’ll show these guys around the tunnels. I’ll switch back and forth periodically to help you all out, and we’ll be done in no time. Trust me, guard duty is super easy.”

Joshua was only partially paying attention, his gaze fixed on the pages of the book. “Sure, sure…” he said quietly. With that, Sam led the others into the tunnels as Joshua flipped through page after page. Each species was listed in alphabetical order along with references to pages for any previous or future evolutionary stages of said species. He moved along to the “S” section, looking for himself in the book, eventually landing on the swadloon page.

“Swadloon, part bug, part grass… characteristics…” Joshua skimmed through the words, most of it already known to him, before finding the section he was interested in, beginning to read aloud to himself. “Evolution. Evolutionary methods unknown, see addendum sixteen on page eight-hundred one… oh come on.” Joshua grumbled, quickly flipping the pages to the addendum mentioned, finally landing on the page mentioned, which described evolution and all of their methods, his eyes hastily scanning the words written.

Though evolution in and of itself is not entirely understood, there are several factors proposed for most species that outline the general methods for attaining an evolution. However, these do not apply to the species listed with this addendum. While the general consensus posits that maturity and age contribute greatly to the evolutionary process for most species, the pokémon under this addendum do not benefit from this or any other methods. Some members of these species can evolve fully as early as childhood, and some can reach their elder years without ever seeing their final evolutionary form. For all intents and purposes, at the time of this publication, the evolutionary method for these species listed under this article is unknown.

“Figures…” Joshua said listlessly, idly closing the book with a sigh. Maybe he could ask his mother, though if the top scientific minds of Arcea had no answers, he doubted she would be of any more benefit. Perhaps he’d be stuck as a helpless swadloon for the for the rest of his days, never to see-

“Look alive, guys! We have a visitor!”

“Wah! I’m listening!” Joshua said, jumping in surprise as Sam’s voice called out from the tunnels above. The time for self-pitying would come later. For right now, there was a job to do. Joshua glanced up at the ceiling, faintly hearing the dirt above give way to footsteps. In an instant, the earth above sank slightly, forming the outline of a large, circular footprint, rounded at the base and having three small claws at the front.

Sam suddenly poked his head out from the tunnel above, looking down at Joshua. “We got a charmeleon, check the footprint!”

“Charmeleon! Footprint! Got it!” Joshua stammered, opening the book again and turning to the “C” pages, finally finding the entry on charmeleon. At the bottom of the page he saw the footprint, looking up again at the ceiling. “Uh, looks like a match to me.”

“You’re all clear, friend! Come on in!” Sam called out to the visitor. Just as soon as he did, the footprint faded as the charmeleon stepped inside, heading down the stairs. Joshua caught a glimpse of the fire pokémon as he entered, giving a relieved sigh before Sam popped in the chamber once more. “Good job! See? I told you this was easy.”

“So, if you guys can actually see the pokémon outside, what’s the point of the footprints, then?” Joshua asked. Sam climbed down from the tunnel much more gracefully this time, hopping onto the floor in front of Joshua.

“Just a security measure,” Sam explained. He peered over Joshua’s shoulder, reaching a hand to the book and turning the pages towards the very end, landing on the section of a pokémon called zorua, a grey-furred fox with deep red highlights. “See that shifty lookin’ fella? That’s a zorua. This guy can make itself into whatever it wants by illusions. And he’s not the only one. There are other kinds of pokémon that can alter their appearances; powerful psychics who can make you see things, pokémon that can bend light and change their looks, and even some that try to use disguises. It doesn’t happen very often at all, but when it does, the footprints don’t lie. No illusion or psychic tricks can change your physical state, so if we see one thing out there and the footprint doesn’t match, then we know it’s a trick.”

“That’s… kind of smart, actually,” Joshua said.

“Heh, thanks, but I didn’t come up with it,” Sam said modestly. “But yeah, it’s basically just to make sure what we see is accurate.”

“Sam, we’ve got another one coming up!” Celine called out from inside the tunnels.

“Gotcha!” Sam replied. “I’ll call it out, you look it up, same as before. Easy!”

“Sure, sure,” Joshua replied, watching the emolga scurry up back inside the tunnels. He opened the book once more and readied himself for whatever Sam called out.

***​

As the sun began to set, Kyle and Celine were diligently keeping watch from inside the tunnels. They were indeed spacious, just as Sam had told them, and truthfully they were actually quite cozy. Each section of the tunnels led out into a slightly wider space, with small windows carved into the sides to look out towards the perimeter of the guild. Kyle wondered how long it must have taken to carve out everything in the guild; not just the tunnels, but the inside as well, all the different rooms and facilities, the main entrance, and everything in between. Seeing it all work together elicited a feeling of awe in the young explorer. The builders of the guild must have taken great pride in their craft.

“Well, looks like we’re pretty much done for today,” Sam said confidently, patting both Celine and Kyle on the back. “See? Guard duty ain’t so bad after all.”

“That was actually really fun!” Celine said enthusiastically. “Can we do this again some time?”

“Hah! That’s the spirit,” Sam replied. “I’m sure you can, whenever Nathaniel gets you back on the rotation. Everyone takes turns, so I’m sure in another week or so you’ll be back here.”

“Yeah, I’ll admit, this was a lot cooler than I thought it would be,” Kyle added, wiping his brow from a good day’s work. “Thanks for the help, Sam.”

“Anytime, friend,” Sam replied eagerly. “I’ll go ahead and clean up for tomorrow, you guys can head to Nathaniel and get your report. I’ll be sure to put in a good word for you.”

“Thanks,” Kyle said, rising to his feet and stretching his limbs. “Not too bad for-”

Kyle stopped. Suddenly, out of nowhere, something felt… different. It felt as though there was something he was forgetting… but it was more than that. Something felt wrong. He peered out the window again to the entrance. Nothing to be seen in the shadow of the dark, but just as he was about to turn away and dismiss the feeling, he caught a glimpse of movement. A shadowy figure darting off towards the side of the guild. “Guys! I see something!”

“What is it?” Sam asked in confusion. Kyle didn’t take time to explain, retreating from the window and running further down the tunnels.

“Over here!’ Kyle said, rushing to the next vantage point and peering out the window. Here they could see the west side of the guild, peering into the forest beyond. Nothing to be seen, no movement.

Surprise!” With a loud shout, the window was instantly obscured by a sableye, the ghost pokémon bearing a twisted grin before suddenly shouting again at the explorers, a high-pitched, frightening cry, causing them to fall back, staggered. Their vision went dark for a split second, and for a moment, they couldn’t move, their muscles locked tight in fear.

“What was that?!” Kyle said finally, reeling back to his feet.

“I don’t know, but we better go check it out!” Celine said. Quickly she went back to the window, hoping to see their attacker before finally catching another twitch of movement. The sableye was breaking into the guild windows! “Guys! He’s trying to get in through the window!”

“Let me see!” Sam said, peering out for only a second as the sableye darted into the now-opened window. “Th-that’s the guildmaster’s office! Hurry!”

They all ran as fast as they could, practically leaping out of the tunnels in front of a startled Joshua. “Guys, what’s going on up there?!”

“We’ve got a thief! Come on!” Sam explained. Joshua wasted no time, running after the group as they headed to the guildmaster’s office, hoping to catch the intruder before anything could be stolen, or worse. They passed by room after room, seeing the faces of bewildered pokémon staring at the commotion before they eventually reached the guildmaster’s doors. There was no time for pleasantries, with Sam quickly swinging open the door to the office. The guildmaster was nowhere to be seen, but their thief was. The sableye had a hand on the guild chest, opening it with one hand before turning to the explorers again.

“Get your hands off that!” Kyle called out, quickly thrusting his arms out and unleashing a blast of energy. The hidden power harmlessly phased right through the sableye, causing him to giggle.

“Explorers no hurt Sheelo!” the sableye said angrily, dropping into a fighting stance.

“Dodge this!” Sam said, mimicking Kyle’s movements and blasting a small jolt of electricity at the sableye. The lightning connected, the sableye shrieking in pain and falling back. With a group of explorers now fighting him, he realized this was not a fight he could win.

“Bad! Explorers bad!” The sableye said angrily, immediately phasing away into the shadows and slipping away. The shadow moved upwards, crawling along the walls before materializing at the window again, the sableye grinning maniacally at the group. “Sheelo get you! Sheelo get you good next time!”

With that, Sheelo leaped away, the thief darting away into the forest to the west.

“What's all the commotion?” Guildmaster Matthew said, finally arriving to the source of the noise.

“Someone tried to break into the guild chest,” Sam explained through labored breath, the fatigue catching up to him now that the situation had been dealt with.

The guildmaster walked further into the room, inspecting everything with a keen eye. The office appeared to be in order, nothing missing from the shelves or walls. The servine stepped over the chest, gently opening the lid and analyzing the contents. He gave a silent sigh of relief as everything seemed untouched. Even the icy blue gem, which he suspected was the target of this attempted robbery, remained in place.

“I’ll have to count our funds again to make sure, but as far as I can tell, nothing has been taken,” Matthew said finally, closing the lid to the chest and locking it securely. Sam and the rest of the Wayfarers all released their held breath, thankful that they had managed to stop the thief before he could steal anything.

“Oh thank goodness,” Joshua said wearily, straightening his coat and composing himself.

“You all did a fine job today,” Matthew said to the group with a smile. With an outstretched vine he grabbed a small pouch from his desk, bringing it over to the group and dropping it in front of them. “Here is your payment. You’ve earned it today.”

Celine grasped the bag and peered inside, counting out the coins within and beaming in delight: one thousand poké.

“That’s half for Samuel and half for your team,” Matthew reiterated. Without any objections Celine split the amount evenly, handing five hundred to Sam and the rest for the Wayfarers. “Samuel, if you could please check the locks on the windows before you go? After that, you are finished with your tasks today. The rest of you, you may retire for the night. You did a good job today.”

“Thanks a lot, guildmaster!” Celine said, all four of them giving small bows of appreciation. Sam went off to finish his tasks as the rest of the explorers headed towards their bunks for the night.

“So, how did you do that?” Celine asked Kyle as they left. Kyle turned a questioning eye towards his friend.

“Er, do what?” Kyle asked.

“You seemed to know that someone was out the window before you even looked,” Celine clarified. “Almost like you could sense it.”

“I… I did, didn’t I?” Kyle said, suddenly remembering what had happened. “I don’t know, honestly. I just felt like something was not right. Something just started nagging at me in the back of my head, as if telling me to double check things.”

“Sounds like a psychic premonition,” Joshua said. “Is that something you’ve done before?”

“No, I’ve never had anything like that happen ever,” Kyle explained. “I mean, I am a psychic pokémon, but that kind of ability usually only happens with experienced psychics. I’m still just a kid.”

“Well, I think it’s because of that training you’ve been doing with Seymour,” Celine added cheerfully. “Maybe your training is helping you get better attuned with your own abilities.”

“Maybe…” Kyle said. It seemed weird to gain such an ability from only two days worth of training, but now that she mentioned it, his practice was leaving him feeling more alert and prepared. “I suppose you’re right.”

“See? Doesn’t training sound like fun, Joshua?” Celine said, turning to the swadloon. “You might learn something about yourself that you never even knew!”

“That’s what I’m afraid of…”
Joshua mumbled under his breath.

“What did you say?” Celine asked, leaning closer.

“Oh, n-nothing, I just said that’s what I was thinking of,” Joshua replied, hoping she didn’t catch his slip.

“Then we should do it soon!” Celine said with glee, as the three finally made it to their room. “Whenever you’re ready, of course, but the sooner the better, I think.”

“Some day, maybe,” Joshua said, shuffling over to his cot and yawning audibly. “But for now, let’s just get some sleep.”

“Righto, boss!’ Celine said jovially, reaching a hand over to the lantern and turning it off, enveloping the room in darkness. Joshua finally had an easier time getting to sleep, ending the day on a high note as he closed his eyes and drifted off into his dreams.

***​

Sheelo dashed through the forest, giggling maniacally to himself as he whirled past the barrage of trees all around. His footsteps echoed through the night air, the crackling of leaves and twigs underfoot giving away his position, though thankfully for him, there was nobody around to catch him. In a short time he came to where he was supposed to be, seeing a heliolisk with a dimly-lit lantern in his hand.

“There you are!” the heliolisk said in relief. “What took you so long?”

“Sheelo had trouble, but Sheelo do good!” the sableye said, bouncing from foot to foot in giddy excitement. “Do good job!”

“Let me see, then,” the heliolisk demanded. The sableye could hardly contain himself, holding out a tiny pouch he had with him and handing it to his partner. The heliolisk snatched it impatiently from his grasp, looking inside before a wide smirk crossed his face. “And you planted the decoy, right?”

“Yes! Yes! Sheelo put fake jewel in chest and take real, delicious jewel!”

“Excellent,” the heliolisk said with a grin, before noticing that Sheelo had only brought him one gem, and the other two decoys he’d been given were still inside. On their own, they were almost indistinguishable from the real thing, but when they were side-by-side as they were, the differences could be seen clearly. “Wait, there’s supposed to be three gems in here. Uzziah said the guild found three of them. Why is there only one?”

Sheelo frowned. “Sheelo only see one gem! Sheelo only take one! Sheelo not see any other in chest!”

“There was only one in the chest?” the heliolisk asked again with a grimace, before a sudden thought hit him. “Wait… I think I might know where the other two are…”

“Veesh know?” Sheelo asked, tilting his head. “Where?”

“I don’t know for sure, but this could actually work in our favor,” Veesh said, sealing up the bag again and grasping his lantern. “But later. Let’s go before someone finds us.”
 
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Chapter Fourteen: Carry On
World's worst critic
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Chapter Fourteen: Carry On
It was morning again at the Independence Guild. The insides of the hall shone brightly from the sun shining through the windows high above, threatening to blind those unfortunate enough to stand directly in its beams. With tired eyes the freshly awakened explorers and apprentices alike were gathered in the main hall for the morning huddle, as the guildmaster stood at the center of the group, the servine looking down at his clipboard.

“... so just as a reminder, make sure you keep your valuables hidden away and secured while they are inside the guild halls. I don’t want to frighten anybody, but it never hurts to practice some personal responsibility. Our sentries will catch any would-be thieves, and I’m double checking the locks on our windows, so I’m confident we won’t have another repeat incident of last night.” Matthew cleared his throat, looking up towards the group and motioning towards Sam and the Wayfarer’s. “On that note, I’d like to congratulate our sentries from last night, Sam, Joshua, Kyle, and Celine. You did a fine job!”

The gathered guild members began to clap lightly for the four, Sam, Kyle and Celine enjoying the praise while Joshua simply gave a meek wave in response.

“Alright, that’s it for announcements. Apprentices, come see me for your tasks today.”

As the crowd began to line up, Joshua, Kyle and Celine huddled together.

“So what do you think that thief was after last night?” Celine asked, leaning in and speaking quietly.

“I have an idea, and I don’t like it,” Joshua answered.

“What is it?”

“He was going after the guild chest. That’s where the guildmaster put…” Joshua peered around, making sure nobody was paying them any attention. “... that’s where the guildmaster put the first gem we found.”

“I knew it!” Kyle said louder than his friends, prompting Joshua and Celine to shush him. Kyle grumbled before whispering again. “See? The guildmaster was right. Those gems are bad news.”

“He could have been looking for treasure,” Celine said with a shrug. “We don’t know if that sableye was specifically looking for the gem, you know?”

“That’s true, but it’s worth noting that a thief going after guild stores isn’t exactly the smartest option,” Joshua replied. “How often do thieves try to break into the guild? Considering how heavily guarded it is, it doesn’t seem likely that our thief was after some quick poké, unless he was after something specific.”

Before they could continue their conversation, they were next in line, as Matthew looked over the three of them and giving a small grin. “Wayfarers, I’m sure you’re eager to get back out there today, so your task is once again to find a request on the board and complete it.”

“Yes sir!” Celine said happily, leading the way as they left towards the mess hall for breakfast.

“I think Joshua is right,” Kyle said, continuing their talk. “The guildmaster said those gems were dangerous, and I think this confirms it. It’s too coincidental that a thief would target the guild of all places, right as we start to find these stupid gems.”

“That may be true,” Celine conceded. “But that just means we have to find them first!”

Kyle smacked his forehead in irritation, shaking his head. “Good grief, you just don’t get it, do you?”

“I think you’re overreacting,” Celine retorted, crossing her arms defiantly. “You saw that sableye. He was a total wimp! Got hit with just one attack and immediately ran away! If that’s the kind of thieves who want to steal our treasure, than I’m not worried at all.”

“Come on, Josh, be the voice of reason here,” Kyle said pleadingly to Joshua, hoping that the swadloon might change his mind after last night. “We can still play this off as an accident! We can just go to the guildmaster and say we found those other two gems on our missions. Nobody has to know!”

“I…” Joshua began, looking down at his hands, clasping them together nervously around as he scuffled along. “Listen, I know it’s dangerous, and I know what the guildmaster said, but…”

“But what?” Kyle asked incredulously. “Why do you want to go after these anyways? The guildmaster said-”

I know what the guildmaster said!” Joshua replied, almost angry now, though trying to keep from berating his friend. “I know you don’t want to, Kyle, and I’m inclined to agree with you, but I just… I just have this feeling, and I can't shake it. A feeling that we need to do this...”

“Just a feeling,” Kyle said softly, giving a weary sigh. “Fine. Whatever. I still think this is a bad idea.”

“I know you do, Kyle, I’m sorry…” Joshua said reluctantly. “Look, let’s just get some breakfast and head out.”

“You want me to go grab a request from the board?” Celine asked.

“No,” Joshua said, shaking his head. “I think I know where to get a request from today.”

“Oh?” Celine said, tilting her head slightly. “What did you have in mind?”
***
The library door swung open with a gentle push, a quiet chime ringing to alert the librarians of a new arrival. Joshua had a suspicion, and that suspicion was confirmed when he peered towards the back tables, behind the aisles, where Mr. McKinley sat, once more pouring over his research.

As soon as the Wayfarers approached, Jeremy took notice, a warm smile crossing his lips as he waved them over. “Good morning, my friends! I saw miss Amanda walking down the street the other day with her fiance. I’m glad to see the mission was successful!”

“It was,” Joshua answered. “We appreciate the recommendation, by the way.”

“You’ve proven more than worthy of it,” Jeremy complemented, before turning in his seat to give the group his full attention. “Now then, what can I help you with today?”

“We wanted to know if you had any good leads on our… ‘search,’” Celine added. Kyle only stood back with arms crossed, the elgyem still pouting over their decision.

“Oh, that,” Jeremy said, gathering his map once more. “I was actually planning a little excursion today to visit one of the sites I believe contains our treasure,” Jeremy said with an enthusiastic smile. “The Static Crevasse. I was going to go myself; I wouldn’t want to constantly interrupt your team with my requests. I imagine you have plenty of work of your own to do.”

“Well, our task for today is to complete a single request,” Joshua stated matter-of-factly. “We came to you so we could help you. We help you search for the gems, and in doing so, complete a request.”

"I even brought a request form, so you can fill it out when we're done," Celine chimed in, holding up a small piece of paper and handing it to the frogadier. "If you fill it out, it counts as a request, so don't worry about wasting our time."


Jeremy took the form, looking over it. “Hmm, that would be beneficial to us both, but I have nothing to offer in payment, unfortunately…” Jeremy said sadly. “My personal funds are stretched thin as it is, and I’d hate for you to return empty handed.”

“We’ll count any treasure we find along the way as payment,” Celine said cheerfully. “Just like we did last time.”

Jeremy smiled at her pep. “Very well, then,” he answered with a grin. “Then it seems we have an agreement.” The frogadier stood up, quickly beginning to pack up his research into his satchel. “Well, if you’ll give me just a few moments, I shall return home and gather my tools, and then we’ll set off straight away!”

“Sounds like a plan!” Celine said, nodding. “We’ve got some errands to run as well, so how about we meet back here in… say, an hour, and we’ll be ready to go.”

“An hour it is,” Jeremy said, giving the team a salute before strapping his satchel over his shoulder. “I shall be here in one hour, and not a second later!”

With that, Jeremy turned to leave, the team waving goodbye as he did. Kyle simply glared at Celine and Joshua, still bearing a twinge of disapproval yet resigning to their wishes.

“I know I’ve said this like a million times, but I hope you guys know what you’re doing,” Kyle said finally.

“I hope so too,” Joshua said. It didn’t reassure Kyle in the slightest, but nevertheless, the elgyem was compelled to follow along with their plan. With their request settled, the group headed out to town to prepare themselves for another dungeon.
***

Darkness began to overtake the light, the last vestiges of the sun’s position beginning to disappear. The natives were ending their tasks for the day, with Ahote stacking a freshly-cut pile of firewood in a neat pile, ready to be lit for whenever they were needed.

The meowstic placed the last bit into place, dusting his hands free from debris and ready to call it a night. Before he could, however, a trace of movement caught his gaze, and from behind him a familiar friend walked past, analyzing the stack he had just made.

“Are you sure that’s enough firewood?” the kirlia asked with a sarcastic smirk, noting the sheer amount gathered.

“Never hurts to be prepared,” Ahote replied, returning the grin with his own. “Not that I’d expect you to know that.”

“I’m always prepared,” Vai replied jovially. “In fact, I’m so prepared, that it never looks like I am.”

Ahote chuckled to himself at his friend’s remark. “Why are you here so late, anyway? Shouldn’t you be back at your tribe by now?”

“I told them I was going to gather for a few more minutes. They shouldn’t worry,” Vai answered. The kirlia gracefully climbed the firewood like a great staircase, placing himself at the top triumphantly as if staking claim on land. “Did you show that little jewel we found to your father?”

Ahote shook his head. “I haven’t. Must have slipped my mind. I doubt he’d know much about it anyways.”

“Maybe you should take it to the guild,” Vai said, looking towards Ahote with a wry smile. “I hear they’re good with stuff like that.”

“As if,” Ahote answered, narrowing his eyes in disapproval.

“Calm down, it was just a joke,” Vai said, turning his gaze towards the horizon, seeing the guild flag waving frantically in the breeze. “Actually, I came here to ask you something.”

Ahote cocked an eyebrow at Vai, crossing his arms. “A question?”

“Yes, a question,” Vai said, turning his head back to Ahote. “Would you hate me if I joined them? The guild, I mean.”

Ahote pondered for a moment, shaking his head. “Hate you? No, of course not. I’d think you foolish, and maybe a little naive, but I wouldn’t hate you.” Ahote looked up at Vai with a critical glare. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of joining them.”

“Fine, I won’t tell you that,” Vai said jovially. “I mean, I’m not dead set on it, but…”

“But what?”

“It’s not as if I have many options if I don’t,” Vai replied. The kirlia assumed a more dignant tone, standing proudly atop the firewood and peering at the guild once more. “It’s not as though I don’t respect my father, I do, but the things he wants for me are… well, they’re not what I want. If I stay with my tribe, my path is set, and there’s no straying from it.”

“So you’re running away from home, essentially,” Ahote said plainly. Far from him to judge Vai’s actions, though, his tone bearing sincerity without criticism. “Are you sure that’s a wise decision? I have a hard time believing your father would approve.”

“I’m not after my father’s approval,” Vai said bluntly. “He already knows I don’t want to fit his mold, and with the guild… I’ve not seen them personally, but the stories I’ve heard; grand adventures, dangerous outlaws, it sounds like a life I could get behind. A way to hone my skills without having to restrict myself.”

“You’re really set on avoiding the hunters, aren’t you?” Ahote asked. It was Vai’s time to become a tribe hunter, the hunters providing protection for the rest of their tribe. Ahote couldn’t understand why, but Vai was completely adamant on making sure that wasn’t his fate.

“It’s not the hunters themselves I dislike,” Vai said. “It’s their ways. I know here in your tribe it’s not so rigid, but with mine, there’s specific codes and oaths you have to take to become a hunter. Rules that are rigidly enforced. I’d love nothing more than to be an honored protector, but… I just can’t restrict myself the way they want me to.”

“I see,” Ahote responded. “So the next best option for you is the guild?”

“I know you have your opinions of the guild, but they’re not the same as mine.” The kirlia suddenly held his hands out to the side, leaping off the firewood and landing elegantly on one foot, then twirling in place as a dancer and striking a pose. “It’s something I’ve thought about for a while, now. You might think me foolish, but it seems like the only option for me right now.”

“Well, I’ve long thought you foolish, so my opinion of you won’t change much,” Ahote said with a jovial grin. Vai couldn’t help but laugh at Ahote’s jest.

“Then I’ve nothing to worry about,” Vai said cheerfully, his stance dropping to a normal position once more.

“Are you really sure of this, though?” Ahote said finally. “These people, these foreigners, they’re not like us. They come from different lands, with different ideals and different worldviews. They don’t understand things the way we do.”

“Then perhaps they can learn something from me,” Vai replied, undeterred. “I can show them how we think, and perhaps I can learn a little of them as well.” The kirlia’s smile slowly faded, turning to Ahote, his expression silently pleading for understanding. “I don’t know, but what I do know is that I can’t stay with my tribe, not for much longer. I don’t intend to pass the trials, and if I don’t…”

“I understand,” Ahote said with a small nod. The meowstic closed his eyes, taking in Vai’s words and letting out a deep breath. “If you feel that you must do this, then I can’t stop you.” The meowstic’s mouth curled into a small grin again, peeking one eye up at Vai. “Just don’t come crying to me when it’s not the paradise you thought it was.”

“Duly noted,” Vai replied, smiling more fondly this time and walking beside Ahote, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I figured I should at least tell you before doing anything.”

“I appreciate that,” Ahote replied. “You should go home, before your tribe begins to worry.”

Vai gave a slight nod in agreement, waving goodbye as he left the camp to head back to his own. “See you around. Good night.”

“You too,” Ahote said softly, watching as Vai left. With his work done for the night, Ahote retired to his own tent, treading quietly as most of the tribe was beginning to sleep.

Ahote had his own tent, situated next to his father’s, similar in coloring but slightly smaller in size. The younger meowstic scanned his eyes over Cheveyo’s tent, large and sturdy, befitting of a chieftain with ornate patterns and designs in both the fabric and structure. One day, that would be his dwelling. Ahote Stood motionless; he idly wondered if he could succeed his father in leadership. Times were quiet now because of Cheveyo, having built lasting coalitions and trading agreements with a majority the neighboring tribes. Cheveyo had the kind of diplomacy crucial to such arrangements. Perhaps Ahote would grow into the role, he thought.

Pushing his thoughts aside, Ahote headed towards his own, smaller tent. The meowstic walked wearily to his chest, opening it and peering inside. However, what he was looking for was no longer there.

“Looking for jewel?” a voice said behind him. Ahote whipped around, greeted by the sight of a sableye, the impish ghost clutching his orange gemstone tightly and lips twisting into a cruel, taunting grin.

Before Ahote could even speak, the sableye was off, darting away with tremendous speed. Ahote dashed out of the tent, catching a glimpse of the thief as he retreated into the forest. Ahote bounded after him, pushing himself as fast as he could and quickly running out of breath. He wouldn’t let a thief get away with his treasure!

As he sped through the trees, Ahote finally caught sight of something. The figure, a heliolisk, stood still, eyeing Ahote and waiting. Ahote didn’t slow down, intending to tackle the pokémon, until it held a hand up to the meowstic.

“Stop.”

Ahote slowed down, a bit surprised at the calm nature of this person. Just as asked, Ahote stopped just in front of the heliolisk, pausing to catch his breath and then standing straight, analyzing the heliolisk accusingly. Just as they stopped, the sableye appeared from the shadows behind the heliolisk, dropping the orange gem into the heliolisk’s waiting palm.

“I believe this belongs to you,” the heliolisk said calmly, holding the gem out in offer to the meowstic. Ahote snatched it up instantly, scoffing at the two of them.

“Who are you? What is the meaning of this?” Ahote asked.

“I needed to get your attention,” the heliolisk answered. Ahote turned to the sableye suspiciously, before the heliolisk raised another hand. “He works for me. He won’t pick your pockets unless I ask him to.”

“You could have just found me,” Ahote retorted.

“I wanted to meet with you privately, away from prying ears,” the heliolisk replied.

“And just who are you?” Ahote asked, crossing his arms. “What do you want with me?”

“One question at a time, please," the heliolisk said with a slight chuckle. “My name is Veesh, and I meet with you as a representative of my mistress. She believes we may have similar interests, and that you may be helpful to us, Ahote.”

Ahote raised an eyebrow. “How do you know my name?”

“It’s my job,” Veesh said plainly. “If you’ll stop pestering me, I’ll answer all your questions.”

Ahote pouted, tapping a foot impatiently until finally huffing in resignment. “Fine. Explain yourself.”

Veesh cleared his throat, turning to the sableye beside him and motioning for him to sit. The sableye faithfully followed orders, placing himself on the ground with crossed legs, still sporting a toothy smirk. “Now then, I came to you because of that gem. My mistress has been looking for them for quite some time. Yours is not the only one, you know. There are others.”

Ahote glanced at the gem in his hand, the orange sheen still seeming to glow brightly even amongst the growing darkness. “Others? And what does your ‘mistress’ want with them?”

“The gem you hold has power,” Veesh explained. “But only when gathered with the others of its kind. On its own, you’ll find it’s quite worthless.” Veesh held his hands together, as if calculating his next words carefully. “This power, however, is quite worth the effort to track them all down, and my mistress believes you may be able to assist us in this endeavor.”

“And why is that?” Ahote asked. “Why should I help you?”

“Because our interests intersect here,” Veesh answered. “As I said before, it is my job to keep tabs on people, and I have it on good authority that you and the guild here do not get along very well. It is my understanding that you wish to see them gone, no?”

Ahote begrudgingly gave a small nod, turning his head towards the east where the guild lay. “Perhaps.” He then turned back towards the heliolisk, eyeing him accusingly. “And why do you want them gone?”

“For much the same reasons as you, I believe,” Veesh said. “The guild… they mean well, I’m sure, but they are not the paragons of virtue they claim to be. I’ve seen their methods… they are selfish, taking payment for their ‘help,’ combing the land for more treasure to fill their own pockets. I do not think their presence here ‘helps’ anyone, and both I and my mistress would very much like to see them gone.”

“And how do you plan on doing that?” Ahote said, holding the gem up between them. “What kind of power are you suggesting? I wish the guild gone, but not by violent means.”

“I… cannot say for certain,” Veesh said hesitantly. A small twitch of his brow went unnoticed by Ahote, the heliolisk planning his conversation with caution. “My mistress was unclear on what, exactly, these gems are capable of.” He raised a hand as if to assuage Ahote’s concerns before they could be spoken. “Rest assured, a non-violent solution is in both of our best interests.”

Ahote stood still for a moment, closing his eyes and pondering on the situation before him. The entire thing sounded too outlandish for his likes, and this Veesh wasn’t exactly the most trustworthy person in his mind. Ahote suspected he was being tricked. “I think you have the wrong person,” Ahote said finally. He clutched the gem tightly in his hand, beginning to walk away. “Find someone else to do your scavenger hunt.”

“You’re throwing away a great opportunity here, Ahote,” Veesh called out. “Opportunity not only to remove the guild from here, but to see your brother again.”

Ahote stopped dead in his tracks, spinning around in a mixture of disbelief and offense. “How do you know this?” Ahote said, almost angrily. “Tell me, now!”

“You are Ahanu’s brother, correct?” Veesh said, just barely holding back a grin. Now he had the boy’s attention. “I know of him. Leader of Team Vigilance. Your brother lives, Ahote. My mistress believes that, with the gems, she can help you locate him.”

“You speak lies,” Ahote said. “My brother is gone. I know this for certain.”

“Do you?” Veesh asked, The heliolisk glanced down at the sableye sitting next to him, the ghost pokémon hopping up and producing a small, black sash, hopping over to where Ahote stood and handing it to him.

“This… this is…”

“Ahanu’s explorer sash,” Veesh said. “My mistress found it in her travels. It’s black, a master rank sash, which she believes may have belonged to Team Vigilance.”

Ahote wanted to object. A simple sash didn’t prove anything. It could have been dropped from anyone, years ago, even. But as he held it in his hand, he felt something. The feeling was faint, teetering on the edge of his psychic perceptions, eluding his attempts to identify it. But this feeling… it felt familiar to him. Against all of his logic and reasoning, something inside of him wanted to believe what he was being told.

Ahanu…?

Ahote stood motionless, bowing his head for a moment until finally looking back towards Veesh. “... If what you speak is true, then... I will help you. But only if you promise to find my brother.”

“Of course, Ahote,” Veesh said with a small smile. The sableye began to dance in place with giddy excitement.

“Ahote help! Ahote help friends!” the sableye said enthusiastically. “Make Ahote happy! Make mistress happy!”

“Calm yourself, Sheelo,” Veesh said sternly. Sheelo only partially obeyed, still tapping his feet on the ground in tiny hops, snickering quietly to himself. “As I said, our interests are the same. My mistress believes the gems can solve both of our problems, and with your cooperation, we may find them much sooner now.”

“Then I will help you,” Ahote said plainly, before eyeing Veesh, his expression one of distrust. “But we will not harm anyone, understand? I do not fully trust you, and I do not want to resort to violence. If we can remove the guild peacefully, then that is what we will do.”

“Understood,” Veesh said finally. “Keep the gem, then, but keep it secret. This must be kept between us. The guild is after such treasures themselves, and we cannot risk them finding out.”

“Very well,” Ahote said. By now the moon had taken its position high in the sky, Ahote turning back to his camp. Ahote glanced up, realizing the time.

“I will find you when you are needed,” Veesh said, nodding for Ahote to leave. “We must begin searching as soon as we are able, so be prepared.” Veesh turned again to Sheelo, waving him forwards. “Come, Sheelo, we must leave.”

Sheelo gave one last mischievous grin to Ahote, before scampering towards his companion, as the three parted and went their separate ways. Ahote stared at the sash he held as he walked. Could it really be true? Was Ahanu still out there? All these years he’d thought his brother gone, but now… the sash, and what Veesh said, cast doubts on his mind. It definitely bore a trace of energy in it still, a certain something that Ahote couldn’t grasp, but something that stirred his curiosity into a frenzy.

If you’re out there, Ahanu, I will find you, Ahote resolved to himself. He took the gem, wrapping it up in the sash and trekking back up the hill to his tribe.
 
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System
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“If we’re going to get our asses kicked, then we’ll get our asses kicked together.”
Best line in the chapter.
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.
I ship it.
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!”
I ship it so much!

Anyways~ While some things were predictable, they were good predictable. I'm also starting to see slight dimensions on some of the characters which is good because no one likes single dimension character's. PMD itself is already interesting naturally, but with the mismagius,it seems even more interesting. There is also the obvious secrets of Josh and the mismagius, which make me want to read on. Which I will. This is just a chapter 1 review after all. Anyways, I think it was a nice first chapter that worked well to introduce the characters, and had enough to make one want to know more about them.
 
Thesaurus rex
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A disclaimer here - I don't usually read Mystery Dungeon fics, since I'm not familiar with the source material, but the Review Game's forced my hand in this instance

Technical Accuracy/Style
There's almost nothing to pick on in regards to the technical aspects - most of the errors I think are either typos or artefacts from editing. In style terms, the prose is functional. It does the job it needs to, but there are no risks taken, aside from, perhaps, the unconventional use of bolding for emphasis. The overall effect is of bread and butter - there's nothing wrong with it in the eating but you won't tell your friends about it either.

Setting
Related to above, it's functional, albeit thin on the ground. It doesn't do much to support the atmosphere or tone of any one chapter.

Plot
If this is adapted from a roleplay, then I reckon there's been a lot of polishing done, because it's very coherent for that kind of adaption. The pacing shows up an identity problem - it moves rather sedately for an epic, but the plot's very pared-down for a slice of life. So it's kind of ended up as neither one nor the other. To an extent the relatively snappy chapters save it. Overall the tone is off - that business with the gems suggests the idea of a lurking threat, but we only really know that from Matthew's inner monologue. There's a running theme of the guild not being an easy option, but there's no real sense that Team Wayfarers are ever in danger of failing.

Characters
The characters are, for the most part, constructed from decent building blocks (Though I'm not sure about the capering, third-person, Sheelo). That they've been pared right down to the bare essentials contributes to the general identity problem of the story. The conflict over the gems does the most to tease out Wayfarer's differences by showing. And that's sorely needed at that point - Celine makes herself seen enough with her act-today-think-tomorrow personality, but Kyle and Joshua could almost be interchangable in many scenes.

Final Thoughts
I think if you were to sum up the problems with the story, it would be this - it feels like reading an RPG. The tone, the pace of the plot, the level of characterisation and worldbuilding detail are all on that level.
 
shame personified
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Hello! I'm here to offer some post-awards feedback. Congrats on your win, first of all! I hope my comments will be somewhat helpful to you for when you write in the future.

From past reviews, it looks like people agreed that there wasn't much of a plot just yet, especially considering how many chapters are in the fic now. It looks like you've put a lot of effort into remedying this. The first few chapters are more slice-of-life than anything, serving to show how the guild works, how mystery dungeons work, and how inexperienced Joshua and Kyle (and eventually, Celine) are. At some point, the idea of crystals are introduced, and they seem to have the power to turn the characters into someone they're not. The guildmaster also hints at trouble being afoot, but everything is still fairly vague at this point. I'm still of the mindset that the plot doesn't start to be introduced as soon as it should be, but I'll be interested to see how it all unfolds.

The fic starts out with Joshua, a socially awkward, nerdy swadloon who makes a big deal about becoming an explorer for an indiscernible reason. I'm wondering if Joshua really had a reason to join. Was he running away from his problems at home? I got the impression that he was joining to help his sick sister somehow, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

His closest friend, Kyle the elgyem, decides to join the guild with Joshua. I'm also unsure about his motives. Kyle rarely mentions his family or his past, if at all, and thus, his sacrifice for Joshua doesn't really have much impact on me. What did he give up in order to join the guild with Joshua? I can tell the two are close, so that's not an issue. Joining the guild is just portrayed to be a lifelong commitment, so I can't help but wonder why the two kids would give up their life to join if neither one of them is 100% inclined to do so.

As far as setting goes, I only really know about Independence Town and a couple of dungeons that have strange, unexplained idiosyncrasies. (For example, Glalie's Grotto houses all kinds of ice-types, even though ice-types are supposed to thrive on the opposite side of the world. Why are they here, then? The fic literally says it's a secret, among many other things, and I'm not sure yet what that means for the story.)

Another aspect of the fic I'd suggest adding some nuances to are the game mechanics are used in fic. They aren't expanded on much at all, and the explanations for how they work are almost identical to the in-game ones. My biggest complaint about this is how easy it is to join the guild. Again, the beginning of the fic makes it seem like joining the guild is essentially the same as dedicating your entire life to exploring mystery dungeons, fighting off bandits, and finding treasure. Yet two very young kids are able to get accepted into the guild before they have any training whatsoever, and only with one exam to start actual requests. There's talk of guildmembers being able to graduate from the guild, and most of the guildmembers seem to be young and generally inexperienced... so there are several pieces of the puzzle that don't fit together to help explain worldbuilding to readers.

Joshua is a shy, socially awkward, intelligent swadloon that hesitates to join the guild because it's not anything he think it'd be good at. Again, I still don't really know why he dedicated his life to the guild if he had no interest in it. And again, there's hints of him doing it for his family, but the few scenes of his family I've seen so far make it out like Joshua joined of his own accord for another reason. There's hints of Joshua being more complex in that way. What I also found interesting is that he doesn't like fighting, but he refuses to train, even after experiencing firsthand the dangers present in mystery dungeons. He claims he's afraid of what he'll learn about himself if he trains, and that has a lot of potential.

Kyle the elgyem and Celine the duskull are more standard. Kyle's the loyal friend that follows everyone around blindly, even if it means getting himself in trouble. And Celine's the one who causes the trouble, as she's impulsive and loves excitement. There's other, minor characters, like Sheelo the sableye, who also seems to have potential. Sheelo seems like a pawn in the overarching plot that's slowly working itself in the fic, but it seems he's a terrible pawn and will end up creating more obstacles rather than being helpful. So that'll be amusing to see. Ahote the meowstic also bears a deep resentment toward the guild, but wants to remedy that, another character plot that has potential. Still, for almost 15 chapters in and for lots of slice-of-life-esque chapters in the beginning, I thought I'd have gotten a more in-depth glimpse of the characters by now.

Your writing style is pretty good. There are really good pieces of description scattered throughout, but in a lot of places, there's pages where you use passive voice and "tell" rather than "show". So it's a little inconsistent at the moment, but I really do think you have a writing style that could keep the reader engaged at all times. I'm wondering if the fic wouldn't sound better in first person, since I kind of feel like I'm reading a first person fic sometimes.

I think I said a lot more negative than positive, but the fic did deserve the win. The fic looks like it's going in an interesting direction, and all the questions I have are borne out of my interest in the fic. Looking forward to more. 8)
 
Don't Look Away
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Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Ghosts of the Past

Plot 6/10: There isn’t much of a plot quite yet, it’s still building it up to it slowly, with chapters about discovering mysterious stones of different colors as well as chapters focusing on other external characters who are either villains or people who just don’t agree with the heroes. We’ve also been getting chapters that focus on character development like with Kyle starting to train so he could become a better combatant.

However, the plot itself still hasn’t gotten in full gear, but what we have now isn’t so bad and at least we do know that there’s a plot and have an idea of where it’s going to go.

Setting 7/10: There’s actually a fair deal of description for both the dungeons as well as all the areas that the group visits, and it does help to both give a better feeling for the world the characters live in as well as giving you that feeling similar to the PMD games. It’s nothing too detailed sure, but it’s enough to help you imagine how everything looks and works. The Pokemon also have their own different cultures and outlooks, which is a plus.

Characterization 7/10: Aside from Joshua, Kyle and Ahote, we haven’t really looked a that much into some of the characters, there are some side characters that are pretty interesting, and I do have to give props for the fact that every character introduced feels genuinely unique in how they act and some in how they talk as well.

Joshua’s story is also interesting since he’s trying to be like his sister while also make his own place in the world and proof his dad wrong, and his reunion with his mom was particularly touching. It also did good work on exploring Kyle, who honestly seemed like the least interesting of the characters in the story. Ahote’s story and views are also interesting as they make sense, but also make him easy to sway as seen in chapter 14.

Style 8/10: I like the style for this story, sometimes it can get a little wordy with the descriptions and the chapters feel like they go on for a while without much really happening in the story, but it does have a nice flow and the way the dialogue is done is both fun and reminiscent of the games. Battles are also well done, but nothing really exceptional either.

Technicalities 10/10: There’s no grammar mistakes I can actually point out and everything is done in a way so that it never feels boring, the prose adapts to the situation, being light or dark depending on what happens and the description is also well done.

Overall 76/100: Overall, I think the story is doing pretty well, the plot is still pretty slow but I think the characters are what shine brighter in it and make it entertaining.
 
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