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Heaven's Slice

Chapter Text

Artwork by Sa-Dui

Prologue: An Old Beginning


A ring of overhead lights illuminated the expansive room in the shape of an oval.  Pieces of paint on the wall had begun to peel away, exposing fragments of worn cement like old scars.   At the center of the room, a sturdy steel table, with a latched box resting benignly with its lid half open.   The sides of the ajar container were made of polished aluminum.  The container was positioned directly underneath a myriad of scientific implements.

A young man, short of breath and wearing disheveled a lab coat, entered the room.  He greeted the other three members of the facility with a nonchalant wave before setting down a polished Premier Ball on the long table. 

A Venetian blonde with caramel eyes met his gaze.  “Catch it?” she asked.

“I didn’t pursue Pokémon Research as a career in order to investigate ancient phenomenon.  And I certainly didn’t sign up to go running around an underground maze trying to catch an artificial Pokémon,” he replied to the only female in the group.

The young woman smirked.  “Might as well go back to whatever lousy day-job you had, mister.  The brass has been pushing these esoteric projects under the guise of classified military research and drawing some major funding.  Makes the Mew Project look like a middle school science fair experiment.”

“We’re about to begin the second test, save your flirting for off-hours,” said the older gentleman in the room.  He had short white hair, a trimmed beard, and wore clear rimmed glasses. 

“All other canisters are sealed,” said a scrawny, brown haired man stationed by a computer terminal.  “Environmental readings are stable.  Routine data collection sensors are all normal.  The only worrisome thing is how last time the local Pokémon sensed the device.  We’ll observe to see if a similar occurrence takes place.”

“Odd, isn’t it?” said the young lady as she adjusted herself in her chair and tapped a pen on her clipboard.  “You’d expect the type of uniform reaction we witnessed to be from wildlife fleeing an imminent earthquake or natural disaster.”

“There are certain clues in the environment most humans can’t sense,” answered the young man who had recently joined the group.  He spun the Premier Ball on the desk like a top.   “Humans don’t exactly have superpowers, what we have is volition, a desire to fight against nature.  Animals and Pokémon are much more in touch with nature.”

“No argument there,” she said.

“However,” he said, “the Pokémon fleeing the area above this facility weren’t psychics and this energy-manipulating mechanism we’re testing certainly isn’t natural by any definition.  It begs further questions.  How did all the wild Pokémon know what we were up to so deep underground?  What did they run away from?  And why?”

“Slight changes in seismic activity is our best hypothesis,” replied the man by the workstation.  He adjusted the spectacles that appeared to be a little too large for his narrow face.   “There’s a decent chance this power source connected to the augmenter is causing an anomaly,” he explained, pointing at the screen.  “Sine waves oscillating from the core emanating outwards are creating a pulse of energy the Pokémon can detect.”

“An energy pulse with significant range to pass through all the bedrock.  I can’t blame the Pokémon for running away,” said the young man.  He abruptly lowered his palm to stop the Premier Ball from spinning on the desk.  “Some Pokémon couldn’t get away.  Still tried their hardest to though.  Castform began to act exceptionally strange after the first test.  Sure, the little jerk’s usually wrong about what the weather’s like topside, but you have to admit it was acting a lot different following the experiment.  I’d go as far as to say the little guy looked possessed by the devil.  Something in its psyches had snapped before I recalled it into the Pokéball.  Curiously enough this experiment didn’t seem to affect any of us humans that way.  Only the Pokémon.  That might have something to do with why the ones aboveground fled.”

“How about you stop running your mouth and focus on running the experiment?” said the older man sitting by the mysterious box.

“Forming a hypothesis by asking questions is the first step to better understanding it,” retorted the man standing.  In a swift motion, he snatched up Castform’s Premier Ball from the table and chucked it at the older guy.

The geezer did not even flinch, catching the ball off-hand with a satisfied look on his aged face.  “Tell me,” he said, “do you believe in chance?”

“Chance?” replied the young man, wearing a perplexed expression.  “You talking about luck?  Nah.  Coincidence is too unscientific.”  He thoughtfully lowered his throwing arm to his side, and reiterated.  “Probability on the other hand, now that’s a real mathematical term.”

“Semantics,” argued the lanky fellow by the computer.  “Besides, the data’s the same as it was beforehand.  As far as we know, nothing’s changed.”

“Yet those Pokémon changed,” said the woman with a worried look.  “I don’t think humans are able to understand anything about this type of energy without rethinking a lot of foundational rules governing the universe.  Where does it come from?  How does it enter our world?  Even if this peculiar Null Energy has no immediately observable effect on the composition of reality, what we’re dealing with here is groundbreaking enough to revolutionize modern physics.  We’re talking about the creation of infinite energy from nothing!  And perhaps nothing from energy.  This incredible power is analogous to the creation of the Pokéball.  If we harness it, this is the power that will change the world.”

The man standing pensively tucked his hands into the side pockets of his open lab coat, both thumbs sticking out.  “Certainly,” he said, “for better or for worse depending on the hands this power falls into.”

The white haired man scoffed.  “That however is not our role as scientists.  Or did you forget?”

“Memory’s fine following the last test.  Like the Pokéball, I do not believe this has any effect on humans.  Ignore my ethical quandary and let’s proceed.”

“Initiating test two.”


 ***


Chapter 1: Heaven’s Perpetrator

Years Later, Present Day in the Orre High Desert


 

 

 “Heaven.  A paradise beyond the firmament where departed souls go when they do what is good and just.”

A soft smile formed on her pink rose lips as she read those words from the worn book in her hands.  Who thinks it’s okay to decide my destiny? she asked herself, gently setting the old book on a small, cloth-covered nightstand by her bed.

A snort came from the other end of the mattress. 

“Ungh, Weavile, keep it down, you’re snoring again!” she said to the shadowy mink ball curled up by her legs.  She let out a yawn and stretched.

Warmly lit by a soft orange hue, her room held a collection of antique incandescent lamps placed about the cramped yet cozy setting.  Historic paintings on the wall reminded her of an old-world style, scenes of towns budding into cities, a bit of the lavishness of yesteryear, captured eternally in an expensive wooden frame.  The wall paintings didn’t so much as budge as her whole room shook with a jolt.  This was a modest traveler’s cabin on board a passenger train heading for Agrove, a quiet village near an oasis in the northern region of Orre.  She did not expect very much in terms of comfort when given her assignment, while on business a warm place to rest her head was a luxury; however, this specific rail line had surpassed her expectations several times over.  Three delicious meals a day as the wide expanse of open scenery passed by was nothing to scoff at.  She rubbed her stomach, which had let out a satisfied growl following dinner. 

The last thing I wanted to be is a characteristic spoiled mademoiselle, she thought.  Swore I left that all behind.  The family who built this railway, I was once their daughter.  How things have changed.

Sylisa.  That was her new name.  She had not been very fond of her real name.  Her family’s name had sunken into an unpleasant association in recent times.  As a little girl, she went by Lisa.  She didn’t tell anyone the reason why was because she had trouble pronouncing her given name, Alisha.  A corruption of Lisa felt appropriate for the shady line of business she had gotten herself involved in. 

I’ll have better luck with a different name, now that I’m on my own.  Besides, she thought back to when she decided upon her moniker, what kind of lousy thief uses their actual name?  The feeling in my chest though, being on this train, not as an affluent heir, but as a thief is proof of my curse.

Her dream had always been to become a professional at something, and yet honest opportunities always seemed to reject her.  She called it her curse, and though she had no proof of actual witchcraft tugging on the metaphorical strings of her fate, bad luck followed her like an ominous cloud. 

Sylisa was barely past her nineteenth birthday, eager to prove herself to the world as an adult in the vast world of Pokémon.  Who I once was no longer matters, she thought with a puckered frown, I’m a nobody.  My job is to infiltrate on behalf of clients alongside my best friend. 

Twirling a lock of her ebony hair through her fingers, Sylisa looked at her lounging partner, a mixture of tranquility and somberness on her face.  Being a thief is not easy, even with her by my side.  Aptitude, cunning, and swiftness.  She’s better than I am.  Feel like I’m always trying to keep up.  But I have to defeat my curse.  Until then, I’ll find a way to outrun it by her side!

Laying back on the bed, Sylisa’s steady, rhythmic breathing calmed her urgent thoughts as she rested her head on the soft pillow, looking up at the wood-paneled ceiling.  As she lay peacefully, her breathing moved her chest up and down as the train car gently swayed left and right.  Waiting for her anxiety to pass her over like it had so many times before.  The rocking motion sent her into a shallow trance as she thought about the things that made her happy.  Sylisa wanted to go back on the internet again, and browse around the web searching for laughs with her Pokémon in her arms.  That’s one of her favorite pastimes too.

“I’m a professional in a different way than I imagined,” she whispered.  Then she cleared her throat and said emphatically, to wake her partner, “I’m a professional thief with you by my side!”  The words seemed distant, almost foreign, as she spoke them in her effeminate voice.  Hearing no immediate response, Sylisa poked Weavile’s back.

Weavile softly purred from the edge of the bed.

She always likes it when I call her by her name, but I like to save that for special occasions, Sylisa thought with a mischievous smile.  We’re similar like that.  We’ve got our aliases, I’m really Alisha and she’s—

Suddenly, there was a loud noise from outside and the entire train car rattled, shaking Sylisa from her comfortable position in bed.  “Whoa!” she exclaimed, sitting up.  Yikes.  That might have been a collision with a wild Pokémon or animal on the rail tracks.  Either way, the train did not stop.

Weavile growled.  Curled up in a ball by Sylisa’s legs, she had been lazily watching a laptop computer playing an entertaining cat video on PokéTube.  Her cool body felt very refreshing against Sylisa’s thigh-high stockings.

“Who needs air conditioning with you around, you little icebox!” Sylisa joked, tapping her Pokémon with the toe of her foot.  Sylisa’s eyes felt dry from the lack of humidity in the desert region, and the strong AC fan in the room made it even worse.  Flustered, her thin hands reached for the nightstand to grab a small vial of eye drops and her personal vanity mirror that she always carried with her.  A circular hinged locket, engraved with fine etchings on its sides opened to reveal a small mirror.  She swiped it from a merchant stall about two years ago.  The seller had been involved in rare Pokémon trafficking so she hardly felt guilty for taking it. 

Sylisa stared at herself the tiny makeup mirror, and dexterously applied the moistening eyedrops.  Her amber eyes glistened like two exotic gemstones on her fair skin.  After being doused, they shined brightly, resembling polished gold in the fading auburn light of the sunset over the horizon.  Looking out the window, Sylisa’s pale reflection stared back at her.  Sylisa had thick, flowing black hair that draped about a foot below her shoulders.  Parting around her golden eyes, her dark hair contrasted with her fair face, revealing a subtle hint of caramel highlight in its length covering her shoulders.  Silver studs in the shape of a diamond gave a faint glimmer in the sea of her dark hair, with a more visible dangling hollow ring below her ears.  In the center of each silver ring, a small red feather with a dyed crimson outline danced loosely.  Incidentally, these earrings were one of the first things she pilfered on her way to becoming a professional thief.  Sylisa had stolen them from an unkind merchant who had unfairly hurt her Pokémon servant for causing a mess while restocking the shelves.

““You must be the one to take back the power from the hands of the unjust.”  Oogh!  What the hell did he mean by that riddle about taking power?” she said in a hushed voice.  It must have been the fifth time she pondered it this evening.  Repetition didn’t make it much clearer.  I understand the “take” part perfectly fine, I’m a thief after all, she thought, but the rest of it is as cryptic as ever.  Just like him. 

Meditating on something until the answer came was an old trick Sylisa’s mentor, Mathias, had taught her.  She shook her head and sat all the way up to stretch her limber back. 

“Hey, what do you think, girl?” she asked Weavile. 

No response.

“About what Mathias said about taking power back,” Sylisa said, expressing her doubt through unsure, gentle words.  “Maybe those with the capacity to take from others should be the ones to protect those who don’t.”

Weavile snorted.  “Typical, overthinking,” seemed to be the message.

Sylisa swallowed her pride.  “Gee, I’m starting to think I’m too sympathetic for this line of work.  We’re Night Hunters, after all.”

At this, Weavile’s feathers bristled.

“We’re the crooks who hunt down treasure and mind-flayers.”  Sylisa’s voice lowered.  “Psychics.”

Weavile’s entire body stirred, her delicate hairs and feathers stiffening with the excited, primal thought of her prey.

Sylisa stared at her prickled fur for a moment, then spoke with praise.  “You’ve knocked out plenty.” 

“Naturally.”  Weavile purred. 

“This mission we’re running for the Nightshade Shadows, it isn’t about knocking out the problem.  Our latest assignment goes against the one rule I never wanted to break as a thief: not to kill.”

Weavile did not answer.  

Sylisa knew Weavile was a carnivore, her claws had been stained in the past, though Sylisa never witnessed her kill.  “You’ve done it, I know.  You need to eat, after all.  But it scares me,” she confessed.  “But what scares me even more was the look in Mathias’ eyes when he gave us this mission.  Did something happen to him?”

Weavile’s head shook.  “I dunno.”

Sylisa exhaled, watching the endless sea of sand go by her window.  She reminisced on the day she met Mathias like it was yesterday, though it was long enough ago when she still went by Lisa.  When Lisa was still in her early teenage years, she had been without a home after a disaster tore her from her family, shortly after her curse began to destroy her life.  Before her, at a little distance down a busy street in the marketplace, beyond all the hustle and bustle at the corner, stood a broad-shouldered man with a scar on his lip.  His posture was slouched, like he was saddened by something he had seen.  His twine graying hair had receded, making him appear much older than his late forties.  But his brown eyes were warm, even in the dying light of the setting sun.  Lisa sensed a tremendous feeling of déjà vu, as if he was someone she had met in a past life.  It made her foolishly rush over to him.

Of course, Lisa ran smack into a burly Absol, named Dareveth, Mathias’ loyal companion, whom he called Dare.  Dare had shocked Lisa, but his fur was soft and fluffy, which made her smile.  Mathias then helped her up, as Dare watched with an abstruse stare.  When she explained that she thought she knew him from before, he listened to her without laughing.

Mathias became Lisa’s surrogate father.  He and Dare provided her with shelter from the cold.  He was strict, and awfully cold.  It was to be expected given his line of work with the Shadows.  Mathias was the oldest of the four Nightblades, the title given to the second highest ranking members in the syndicate.  If being in the criminal gang was anything like a regional league, it put Mathias as one of the Elite Four, and probably the most experienced.  Dare used an extremely powerful move, called a hidden technique.  Sylisa saw how Mathias and Dare ruthlessly defended their honor as Nightblades, defeating and soundly humiliating those who sought to take the respected title through a display of battle prowess. 

Though Mathias treated Lisa like his daughter, he was still an assassin.  A Nightblade’s responsibility was to not only use stealth to procure guarded treasure, but also carry out high-stakes assassinations.  He had mastered the art of botany, Mathias used his knowledge to apply natural poisons and disabling spores to both his blades and his Pokémon’s claws.  They called him the Torn Thorn, all the important members of the Shadows had nicknames, and an old-timer like Mathias was no exception.

Then again, no matter how important a member of the Shadows was, they still had to abide by The Code.  The Code, or “Thieves’ Codex” in archaic terms, was a system of rules that governed the Shadows and their Pokémon, creating a chain of command and a list of dos and don’ts for initiate thieves like Sylisa.  Sylisa hated memorizing the asinine list of rules; even though she was shrewd, she found the requisite book-smarts to be useless to her while in the field.  She’d be able to rattle off the names of ancient cities and their unusual histories just fine, but mastering anything requiring rote memorization from a rulebook was where she faltered.  To this day, she would sometimes be subject to an impromptu quiz on her knowledge of The Code and would very frequently misquote the rules to her superior’s displeasure.  No matter how many times she failed, she never felt ostracized by the Shadows.  They were her family now. 

“To think, he once tried to convince me he was a courier.  Did he really think I was that naive?” she asked Weavile.

Weavile huffed, reminding her, “You’re still young.”

“I met you around that time.  On my fifteenth birthday,” Sylisa said.  “You were fully evolved too, gave me quite the surprise.  But it always felt…I dunno…right, you know?” 

Weavile were not only highly territorial, they were also fiercely loyal to their families, never leaving their kin’s side, even at the point of death.  Mathias once told her the ones that traveled with trainers were outcasts or had no brothers or sisters to look after, and raising a Sneasel from young was the typical way to acquire a Weavile who would be loyal and treat its trainer like family.  Sylisa always felt comfortable around Weavile, and she got that unique warm fuzzy feeling when you see an old friend.  They always shared meals together.  The two of them were practically inseparable.

“You didn’t have family either.”  Sylisa assumed, though Weavile never talked about it.  “But then we made our own family, didn’t we?  Mathias was the closest thing to a stern father you always gotta listen to, but once you came into my life I suddenly felt stronger.  The old timer was so cautious, he tried to stop me from discovering his secret connection to the Shadows.  You taught me the basics of tracking though.  Only had to follow the fluffy white fur left in Dare’s wake.”

Weavile didn’t want to take credit, because that experience nearly killed Sylisa.  While Sylisa was watching Mathias and his cloaked contact from a distance, a group of Furret came rustling out from the underbrush where she had been hiding.  They noisily darted out into the field, causing other nocturnal Pokémon like Rowlet, Hoothoot, and Crobat to fly out from the trees, creating quite a cacophonous racket.

“I almost died.”  Before Sylisa knew it, a serrated blade was pressing against her pale neck.  The man with the knife had closed an impossible distance in a split second.  To this day she did not fully understand it.  Humans could not teleport on their own, but they could create illusions and use substitutes to fake their true location.  Still, it was highly unlikely that Mathias would be fooled by a fake even from a master ninja.  “I wonder if there was a psychic around that night,” she pondered.

Weavile’s legs rustled on the bedding as she adjusted herself.  “Wasn’t there.”

“Yeah.  It might have ended different if you were around,” Sylisa said.  “I’ll never forget what Mathias said that night.  “She’s one of us.”  A lie.  Saved my life.”

“You feel you owe him?” Weavile asked, subtly heckling her with a titter.

Before Sylisa could answer, the train ride rocked her room again.  Weavile almost rolled off the edge of the bed.  She caught herself using her claws. 

Sylisa gave her a maternal look and said, “Be careful you don’t rip the covers.  These are made outta of something nice, ya know!”

Weavile grumbled in response and went back to resting on her belly.

“Better get ready.  Hm.”  Sylisa asked herself, “Do I have everything I need?  Pulling off a perfect heist is all about preparation, and the rest – unfortunately, since I’m cursed – comes down to luck.”

Nevertheless, Sylisa could count on a few things beyond her rotten luck.  She had access to several technological aces that made her job as a thief easier.  Prism bombs were high on the list of useful tools for a rogue.  They were pinky-finger sized crystals with sparkling clouds swirling inside, which were crafted in a secret village only known to the Shadows.  Upon impact, they exploded with an incredible burst of smoke and disorienting colored lights caused by a chemical reaction.  She lost track of how many times these deceptively innocuous little crystals saved her and Weavile.

Like Weavile, Sylisa was lithe and always on the move, and her outfit reflected the importance of agility from head to toe.  Her knee-high black boots were made of hard leather and a soft sole for absorbing her nimble jumps.  She wore a rudimentary metal anklet on the back of her left boot, snapped on to one of the wide belts that went around it, secured by a small clip and latch that could be detached to be used as a make-shift zip line.  Her stockings were dark and kept her legs warm, rising up to her short black skirt.  Sylisa’s inner black vest resembled a corset with a lacing resembling the pinnacles of a crown, tailored to fit loosely around her bust.  These ridges were outlined with a stretched border, resembling the sharp fangs of a carnivore’s lower jaw wrapping around and slightly down to her cleavage.  Her midriff was exposed with two sharp angled pieces of the corset vest’s fabric parting out to her hips.  To cover her body on cooler nights, Sylisa wore an obsidian jacket sporting a unique design with a split back two tailcoats.  The coat was lightweight, having been used as a blanket on more than one occasion.  She usually wore the front open; if she buttoned it she became warm quickly.  The inner sides of her jacket had several leather straps that held her lock picking tools and other provisions.  On her mini skirt’s belt, below her midriff where the two ties to her vest dangled, was her Pokéball holster holding a single device – a black and green Dusk Ball.

The most useful piece of equipment in Sylisa’s possession had to be the Armadas, which stood for “Arm Regulated Mechanical Aural Defense Amplifier System”.  Made of what felt like silk, the Armadas was a single long glove Sylisa wore on her left arm.  Its smooth jet black contour stretched all the way up past her elbow to her bare shoulder.  Wrapped around her bicep several sleek power cells rested close together in a circular formation.  These dark, hexagon shaped arrays gave off a faint red glow, barely visible at night, near their boundaries if the Armadas had power.  The person wearing it would be shielded from direct exposure to these power cells by thinly pressed plates of nanofibers stitched on the inside of the cloth.

“I remember when Mathias gave this to me for my birthday,” Sylisa said.  She adjusted the bladed claws on the glove, which resembled rigid nails like Weavile’s but were quite easy to manipulate.  “Thought it was an invitation to cosplay with you, Weavile.  Maybe in another life, if our jobs weren’t so serious.”

Weavile purred happily in response, she had seen plenty of trainers on PokéTube get dolled up with their Pokémon for Super Contests.  Perhaps she thought it would be cute.

“Mathias must have had to pull some serious strings,” Sylisa said, coming back to bleak reality.  “It’s a prototype.  Doesn’t officially exist anywhere outside classified military research files that were leaked on that website.” 

Weavile probably knew the site Sylisa was referring to.  Considering she stayed up late online if she was not running a mission, there were only a few seedy places active during those late hours.  Usually, Weavile would sit and watch her browse around the web.

“We learned the Armadas was underwritten as an infiltration tool for Spec. Ops.  But now it’s in our hands.”  Sylisa reminded her partner.  “Bet you and me are exactly the types of infiltrators that weren’t supposed to get hold of this power.”

The Armadas held an amplifier located inside the palm of the glove.  It always felt cold when she first put it on, but her body heat quickly warmed it up.  Upon twisting a silver ring to activate it, the amplifier would release a concussive burst of energy that seemed to come out of thin air.  Although, priming the Armadas caused its coils to make an audible noise, ruining any stealth.  Not to mention the blast itself was deafening.  When Sylisa did not have time to pick a stubborn lock, had to knock away a chasing guard, or simply improvise a quick exit, as long as the Armadas had enough stored power, it could get her and Weavile out of trouble.

“Okay, I think that’s good to go,” Sylisa said setting down the Armadas.  Then she looked over at her partner lounging on the comfy bed and asked, “How are you doing, sleepyhead?”

Weavile let out a lethargic sigh and rolled lazily onto her back.  The nocturnal Pokémon looked over at her with tired eyes from the late afternoon.

“It’s okay if you’re anxious, Weavile,” she said, “I know I am.”  Then she picked up her Dusk Ball, clasping her hand tightly around the device.  “The Orre frontier is unfamiliar.  I miss Unova.  But I guess it’s also a little exciting.”

The feathers on Weavile’s head, her crown feathers, wilted in melancholy.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to make you sad.  I think of home a lot too.  Miss our little studio loads.  Wonder how Marco’s doing,” Sylisa said, thinking about their nice landlord, a young man with a heavy Kalos accent.  “While the city’s nice and all, sometimes, especially out here, I wonder what it would be like if we were treasure hunters instead of Night Hunters for the Shadows.”

Weavile scratched the feather dangling from her ear and tilted her head.  Her expression conveyed that there was not much difference as both means of living involved using their skills to take things that were not theirs.

“There’s a difference, ya know!” Sylisa said playfully.  “Did I ever tell you, when I was a little girl, no taller than you are, I wanted to be a treasure hunter when I grew up?”

Weavile sniggered and covered her mouth with both paws.  Then she put her paws cutely under her chin, as if expecting a story.

“It’s true!” Sylisa scooched close next to her best friend.  “I loved Archeology.  Learning about ancient cultures and their wild beliefs, the treasures they cherished, and the ruins they kept them in, that’s what little Lisa was passionate about.  I even made treasure maps of the small caves near home, playing make-pretend the whole time.”

Weavile purred and listened; however, when Sylisa referred to herself as Lisa she seemed a little thrown off.

“You’d probably be super bored in those caves, you’re so strong and there were only weak Pokémon living there!” Sylisa explained. “They were always small fries, not even worth the money my parents had spent on the latest redesigned Ultra Ball.  Mom and dad always made sure I had lots of Pokéballs for protection.  Even though, that’s not why the caves were dangerous…”  Her voice abruptly trailed off, as she remembered something terribly upsetting.

Weavile noticed her looking depressed and nuzzled against her side.  Her crown feathers tickled Sylisa as they rubbed against her skin.

“I think I need to get some fresh air,” Sylisa said.  “Gotta stretch my legs and think.”

Weavile nodded in understanding.

Sylisa set her Armadas glove on the table next to her bed.  She stood up, gave Weavile a quick scratch on the back.

“Don’t be gone long,” Weavile grunted.

“Don’t worry so much,” Sylisa said, slipping on her tall shoes by the door.  “Orre has stabilized since the Great War.  As long as I stay close to the railway network my former family helped build, and don’t get caught stealing, I’ll be fine.”

With a grin, Sylisa opened the sliding door leading out to the hallway.  Sticking her head out into the car’s hallway felt refreshing, if anything for a change of scenery.  She began to walk toward the front of the train.  

“Oh wow!” A group of three Sandslash and two Excadrill had been practicing burrowing techniques and proper form with their trainers outside the dining cart down the narrow hall to her right.  Excadrill can dig over 300 feet underground, even through iron, she thought, quietly studying the drill Pokémon. I remember it like yesterday when he taught me that.  Said he read it in a book.  If the little guy ever had a computer, I’m sure he’d learn everything there is to know on the internet.  He deserved better than to have—  Sylisa forced her thoughts to an abrupt halt.  I can’t think about it.  That’s what made me upset to begin with.  I don’t want anyone to see how I’m afraid inside.

The various Pokémon were working on their form with their backs braced against the wall of the shaking train car, perhaps an exercise in maintaining stability if while digging there was a tremor.  Their three trainers looked like a group of foreign prospectors; undoubtedly wealthy and touring from another region to try their luck unearthing relics from the great battles that took place along the coastline as the invading armies pressed inland during the Great War.  There was also an ongoing gold rush after a poor prospector’s Onyx had struck it rich near the Great Canyon.  Gems and precious metals were valuable, but for a thief like Sylisa they were readily available from boutiques or pickpocketing, especially with Weavile’s help.  However, Sylisa was interested in the more obscure types of relics and treasures the past had to offer; items holding meaning always seemed more important to her than things of mere material value. 

“Hey!”  One of the men near the Excadrill waved.  He was heavily built and wore fine clothes, though they were a little worn and frayed.  Atop his ruddy and rounded face, he wore a flashy maroon cowboy hat.  The stout man’s two friends overseeing the exercising Pokémon also gestured a casual greeting.  One had a tall frame with broad shoulders and the other was a gaunt little guy.  Both friends had dark brown hair, and looked a little sleep deprived.

“Hm?”  Sylisa had been taken aback.  What could they want with me?

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.  I saw you earlier with a Pokémon,” said the man in the hat, adjusting a pink toothpick his mouth.  “Figured you trained them too!”

“Oh.  Right.”  She laughed childishly.  “I’m a traveling trainer!”

“Nice,” said the man with a toothy grin.  Then he nudged his tall buddy with an elbow.  “See!  Rick, I told you she was a trainer.”

“You boys need something?” asked Sylisa.

“We’re looking to strike it rich!” blurted the tiny guy on the other side of Rick with squinty eyes. His squeaky voice was a little silly, but he seemed motivated.  “Like, really hit the bigtime jackpot!” 

The stocky man, lowered the brim of his cowboy hat and looked over at him with a disapproving glare.  “Hans, chill out, not so loud,” he said.  “Sheesh.  Anyway, we saw you afore, running ‘round here earlier with an ol’ scroll or somethin’ tucked under your arm.”

Sylisa nervously smiled.

“Do you happen to know anything about the treasure called the Eyes of the Desert?”

Her passion easily betrayed her, the thought of treasure made Sylisa’s eyes light up.  Don’t want to get involved with potential competitors, but I might as well find out what they know.  “Hmm…”  Pretending to be unsure of the topic she already knew about she spoke hesitantly.  “Now that you mention it, that does sound familiar.  Isn’t that part of Orre folklore having to do with the Time Guardian?”

“Yeah.”  Rick, the taller man, answered in a deep voice.  “The Time Guardian is a legendary Pokémon said to control the flow of time around it.  Say it’s real.  Must be loaded with treasures from different eras.  We find it, we don’t hafta do too much work excavating, we’d just go back to the past and bring the ancient treasures back with us!  Would be mint!”

“Maybe there’s treasures from before the Last War!” said the small trainer excitedly.  “Would be worth HUGE money ‘cause ain’t nobody found stuff like that before!”

“Uh-huh.”  Sylisa grinned whimsically, leading them right along.  “Or, maybe treasures from the future too!  Sure that’s gotta be worth TONS!”

“OH-HO!  Now you’re talkin’!” exclaimed the stalwart man in charge.  He rubbed his hands together, enthusiastically plotting.  “Trouble is, we gotta find its Domain – the blasted place where it lives.  Its time power’s only good there, because a Pokémon’s power is tied to nature.  It’s part of the trees and plants just the same as a person’s life story is tied to the homes they live in.  Long as its forest exists, it can manipulate time inside that Domain!”

“But where are we gonna find a forest in the middle of a desert!?” asked the little guy they called Hans.

“Underground, dummy,” said thin-lipped Rick with a sneer.  “Where else?”

“Mmm…the forest is called the Relic Forest, isn’t it?” Sylisa said.  “The Time Guardian’s so-called Gears of Time were said to be the mechanisms it used to move through time.  According to the ancients, the Gears were made of a special material not from this world, and stored within tall stone spires.  …I wonder, could they be the same as the Eyes of the Desert?”

“Holy Miltank!  You really know your stuff!” said Hans.  Hans looked over to the stocky man wearing the nicest clothes.  “Hey boss, let’s have her join our crew!”

“Sorry, not interested,” Sylisa said quickly.

The group of prospectors frowned in unison.  “Aww…but the treasure’s gotta be out there.  We could use another trainer.  We’ll give you a fair split of the loot,” said the leader of their group.

Why would I want a fair anything when I can have it all?  “Sorry!  Got to run!  Time to feed my Pokémon!” Sylisa said, waving in a hurry. 

“See you around!” called out the stout man.

“Phew…”  Sylisa exhaled, relived to see Weavile upon getting back to her cabin.  “Seems we’re not the only ones on this train looking for treasure,” she explained.  “Bunch of yokels are looking for the Eyes of the Desert.”

Weavile growled and sat up ever so slightly.  She was still tired, but then there was the tempting word treasure.

“Don’t worry, you’re gonna outsmart our competition for sure.  You’re going be a ninja with this technique, Weavile!” Sylisa spoke proudly, and snapped the Substitute TM disc into the Dusk Ball after calling her Pokémon inside.  “I never get tired of this stuff!  This technology is phenomenal!  It’s like magic!” 

The TM slipped in perfectly between the upper and lower halves of the ball.  It spun around inside.  While Sylisa waited, she sprang onto the bed and perched herself comfortably in front of the laptop Weavile had been watching before being recalled.

“How does the Pokéball work?”  Sylisa typed.  A huge list of articles popped up, she glossed over the results with the most hits.  “Don’t have time to read all this science…mmm…apparently, it’s got to do with gravity, the same stuff that keeps the moon spinning ‘round the earth and the earth going ‘round the sun.  Pretty neat, huh, Weavile?” Sylisa said, forgetting her friend was busy learning Substitute. 

Like most trainers, Sylisa simply used the devices to make her life easier.  The extent of her knowledge supposed the Pokéball technology had to do with black holes based on what she read.  It made some sense because the large Kalos Pokéball Research Facility was always in the web headlines.  “Pokéball Factory Has Potential to End the World!” and “Millions of Miniature Black Holes Being Cooked Underground by Kalos Scientists!” were just some of the endless doomsday prophecies about blundering scientists accidentally opening a portal to Hell she had seen while browsing the internet.  Truth be told, she had a lot of free time over the past few days.

After what seemed like a minute or so, the TM ejected.  “Poof!”  The next time Sylisa sent out Weavile, she would be proficient at Substitute because time passed at a different rate within the Pokéball.  A Pokémon would not age the same way while within the capsule due to the interaction between the central core of the ball and the cells of the creature that spun around the gravity core.  Lots of Pokémon feared the Pokéball more than they feared another Pokémon.  It had been that way since the creation of the Apricorn, which was a device made from the seed of a plant’s fruit able to manipulate the cells of Pokémon and cause them to enter a sort of stasis.  By halting the metabolic activity of these powerful creatures found in the wild, the so-called “Miracle Device” became one of the foundations to society and humanity’s dominance.  Without it, the world would be a very different place, perhaps even uninhabitable for people according to experts in the field of biology.

“Go!” Sylisa said, releasing Weavile from her Dusk Ball.  Weavile reappeared on the bed lounging.  Same as before.  But with knowledge of a new technique.  A strange thing indeed when Sylisa thought about it too hard.  It’s like Weavile trained rigorously for months mastering Substitute.  “Did you have fun learning Substitute?” she asked.

Weavile gave a sleepy sigh without really answering her.

“Ugh.  Well I hope you’re ready for the mission tonight with all the sleep you’ve been getting!”

It was a two-and-a-half-day train journey east from Greater Port on the coastline.  There was nothing out here in the Orre desert but open sands, cacti, and the occasional rocky crag or mesa.  Pokémon avoided the oppressive heat.  Many of the local desert dwellers were nocturnal and came out when the temperatures plummeted at sundown.  The train was well cooled though, this rail line had the most modern amenities, cable televisions in every car and there was even a designated carriage with a spa room.  Sylisa felt butterflies in her stomach every time she passed the spa on the way to her cabin, she did not want to be spoiled, but she was still a girl with desires for such things.

“We’ll be arriving in Agrove to refuel at approximately 11 PM.”  A lady spoke through the intercom out in the hallway.  “For your safety, all passengers are required to remain onboard.” 

“Hmm…”  According to Sylisa’s computer it was only a bit past 6 o’clock.  “Five hours.”

Her thoughts wandered back to the last interaction she had with the Shadows.  “Leave none alive.”  Those three words Mathias had told her in the briefing a week ago.  She had never seen the old man so serious.   Even fluffy Dare looked more grim than usual.

“—I can’t do that!  I’m not an assassin!” Sylisa had replied rather spontaneously.

Mathias smacked her across the cheek with an open hand in retaliation for her insubordination.  Pain didn’t bother her as much as shame did.  “Pull yourself together.  It’s a dark world out there, not everyone is going to show you mercy.  You’ve been selected for this mission because you’re a Night Hunter with a knack for infiltrating.”

“I know but…I’m just a thief.”

His glowering gaze dropped, he was clearly angry.  “You have the impudence to spit on the hand that feeds you?  Sylisa.  This mission is more important than me, you, or the Shadows.  It will be the only chance we’ll ever get to steal something this valuable from them.  Go.  Before I regret bringing you into this twisted world even more.”

Those biting words from her mentor stung more than the whack across the face.  She had always thought of herself as unquestionably loyal to the Shadows, yet she also thought her tasks as a thief would never include being asked to kill.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Blood Moon Crossing


“Less than an hour till midnight,” Sylisa whispered to Weavile under her breath.  

Her only friend and partner in crime nodded.

A simple clock etched into a carved figurine of a Hoothoot, which had all the distinctive features of being crafted in the Johto countryside, rested on the nightstand where Sylisa kept her reading materials.  Two large eyes staring down at the time on its wooden belly told her it was almost time to disembark.  Beneath her, she felt the train trudge to a slow halt.  Then there was a pleasant jingle of music indicating the start of a muffled announcement coming from the hallway.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Westgate Rail Line will be conducting a scheduled refueling at this time.  All passengers are required to remain on board during the resupplying process.  Thank you for your cooperation!”

“Aw, what a shame.”  Sylisa rubbed Weavile’s soft crown feathers.  “Think they’ll miss us?”

Weavile pouted with crossed arms.  Whenever Sylisa tousled her feathers she would react with aloofness, slightly uncomfortable by her tenderness.  She grimaced and revealed her sharp fangs.

“Always so serious, aren’t you!  But you’re right, girl, as usual.” Sylisa grinned, going on to scratch the back of Weavile’s head instead.  “I’m more of a housecat than you – and you’re the one with claws and hairballs!”

Weavile purred affectionately, she liked being pet behind her ears. 

Sylisa smirked and playfully poked Weavile’s soft cheek with her finger.   

Weavile hissed sharply in response.  “Stop it!”

“Sorry.  I’m really nervous and you’re so cute it calms me right down.  Back to business now that we’re in Agrove.” 

At this, Weavile’s smile returned.  She placed her paws together and listened.  “Plan?”

“Agrove’s station is the halfway point on the journey to the Great Canyon.  And as it would so happen, it’s also the location of our mark.”   Sylisa pointed to the image of the crystallized sphere containing a ruby crystal within that sparkled brilliantly like a perfectly cut diamond.  It was a translucent orb, not much larger than Sylisa’s small clenched fist.  “You woulda thought it’d be worth a pretty penny, but the sum for swiping this is crazy for such a small trinket.  I wonder if it’s got any special powers.”

“Oooh!”  Weavile revealed her sharp fangs upon laying eyes on the coveted treasure.  A chilly frost, reminiscent of winter’s cool morning, emanated from her mouth.

“You like the sight of it too, dontcha?”  Feeling content seeing her partner’s enthusiasm, Sylisa checked the power level on her glove, the Armadas.  A crimson array of seven hexagons arranged in the shape of a wheel on her bicep glowed with stored energy.  “I’m fully charged, good.  Let’s hope we don’t have to use it.  Last time I think I might’ve shattered an eardrum,” she grumbled, adjusting the glove’s two hook-like claws, which extended, jutting out over her hand.

Weavile covered both ears with her paws.  “Hate that loud noise.”

Sylisa let out a laugh.  “Don’t worry silly, now’s not the time.  Let’s see here.  I’m sure this window just needs a little shimmying.”  Gradually, she began prying open the cabin’s window with the help of her tools.

Though it was only a bit ajar, Weavile agilely slid through the gap.  Her velvety fur, and limber joints gave her a fluid motion. 

Followed right behind, Sylisa maneuvered lithely, tracing Weavile’s stealthy descent onto the dark ground below.  She landed onto a wooden platform and gracefully took in a deep breath of the cool night air.  As she quietly walked along the wooden platform, she heard the steady hooting of a Noctowl coming from the rooftop of the old station.  

Weavile looked up at the source of the noise, her posture tense and her feathers raised high on edge.  The stars were concealed by wispy clouds, yet the moon was still luminous.  

“We’re lucky there’s an eclipse tonight,” Sylisa whispered.  “Cloud coverage isn’t perfect, but once that light in the sky is out, we’ll have the cover of darkness on our side.  A lunar eclipse will occur around midnight.”  The moon would be cast into the earth’s shadow, the umbra, causing the brightest celestial object in the night sky to turn blood red and eventually blacken.  It would make for perfect cover.

Pointing at the fork in the road up ahead, Weavile wondered “Where to?”

“Let’s see where we’re heading.” Sylisa pulled out her archaic flip-phone.  It was a simple device, free of gaudy decoration, which was strange for a girl’s communication device these days. There was a sticker glued onto the back of the case of the clamshell with her and Weavile laughing together.  It was from a regional Pokémon Fair they had been to not long ago.  That embarrassing picture was supposed to be the silly one of the bunch, but it turned out to be Sylisa’s favorite much to Weavile’s chagrin.  In truth, she had grown attached to the relic because she could not stand the way all smart phones looked identical.  She simply wanted to be different.  “We’re all about function.  Kinda like you, huh, girl?”  

“That picture is so embarrassing.”  Her friend’s cheeks reddened.

“You’re adorable,” Sylisa teased.  Humming a tune from the Fair, she navigated the phone’s rooted functions to a hacked GPS platform, taking in her surroundings as the bootleg map rendered on her phone.  “This village sure isn’t like the big city,” she said.  “Dead quiet.  I miss the sounds of the hustle and bustle, don’t you?”

In an upright posture Weavile scratched her ear, and then scraped at the sand with her foot.  “Too much sand.”

“Phew.  Good thing we got a signal,” Sylisa said as a map finally popped up on the small screen.  “C’mon, girl.”  She was off in a hurry with Weavile following by her side.

Along the way, Sylisa took a brief reprieve under a palm.  There was a modest villa in the distance.  Hmm, Weavile should be right at home in the cool night air.  But I think the sand is really bothering her.  No paved roads makes this difficult for her.  She asked, “Hey.  Are you okay?”

Weavile gave her a flustered nod, cleaning her claws from the abrasive sand.  “It’s annoying.”

“You hate how sand gets everywhere too.”  Sylisa sighed.  “I don’t blame you.”

Weavile growled in discomfort.  Then she pointed to the phone in Sylisa’s hand as if to say, “Let’s go already!”

“Always about the mission at hand.”  Sylisa felt the sensation of something caught in her throat.  “I know we’re thieves.  Night Hunters and all.  We’re not supposed to think about right and wrong too much on the job.  Thing is, I can’t help but wonder if we’re doing the right thing tonight.”

Her partner studied her with a wholehearted stare.  “Right?”

“You probably think I’m crazy, don’t ya?  What’s considered right for a pair of thieves?”

Surprisingly, Weavile didn’t laugh at her.  She silently turned to face the desert sands, which resembled dark waves of a mysterious ocean.  Staring at the expanse, Weavile exhaled in cool contemplation.  “Right to kill those who hurt.  Mind hurters worst.”

“You’re right.  If they’re a bunch of Psychics hurting others, then they don’t deserve their treasure.  Orders used to be simple.  Steal and get paid.  Now it’s all complicated.  Honor before reason…or something silly like that, right?” she said muttering one of the guild’s mantras. 

“No way.”  Weavile shook her head, as if to say that was not it. Weavile exhaled another plume of misty frost from the corner of the mouth.  It was a natural thing the species did to release built up ice from the body.  To a human like Sylisa, it reminded her of a smoker exhaling a cloud after a long draw. 

“Uh, yeah, it was probably something else,” Sylisa replied.  “I’m not great at memorizing stuff.  Flunked so many courses, couldn’t even get my trainer’s license.  Of course, that didn’t stop me!  I don’t need a stupid license to be friends with you!”

Weavile turned and gave Sylisa’s knee a pat as if to say it would be okay.

“Thanks,” she said, taking a moment to rub the back of Weavile’s feathery head.  “But we’d better hurry.  We don’t want to miss that eclipse!”

Her feathers bowed.  Weavile was happy she was finally taking charge with her determined spirit.

“Mmhm, getting warmer,” Sylisa said as a large mansion came into view, built on an elevated sandstone bluff.  “Wow.  This crib looks like the right place.” 

A tall, imposing gate stood before her, bordering a large hedge fence that stretched around the property.  A flickering light came from near the house, which was difficult to clearly see from this vantage point because of the hedges.  The orange glow reminded her of a bonfire.

“Let’s wait here so we can scope out the area.”  Weavile signaled to Sylisa to hide behind a cart on the street near the path leading up to the main gateway.

A frontal approach is out of the question, Sylisa thought.  “Too many guards,” she whispered.

Weavile gave her a poke and pointed up.

A broken wooden plate dangled from a lonely lamp post.  The worn sign gently blew in the night air, nearly all the paint had flaked off, making reading all but the last word “Crossing” impossible.

Well, Sylisa thought, it’s not like I expected there to be a name on the address.  I can’t believe with all my internet prowess I couldn’t find anything remotely useful about this place.  There were only weird rumors.  Everyone knows how easy it is to make up lies on the internet.  I’m going to take timestamped pictures on my phone.  Then maybe those wackos online claiming this is a base for a secret society will give it a rest.

Sylisa heard faint voices coming from outside by the front gate.  Long shadows stretched out from the orangey light behind them as three figures approached the main entrance.

“Keep the perimeter under wraps,” said one of the larger guards, adjusting his flashlight.  “You really don’t wanna to piss off those guys in the robes.  I’ve seen some shit, but ain’t nothin’ like that before!”

“Cripes, Eddie,” replied another guard standing next to a bulky Heracross wearing a bright Choice Band like a bandana.  “The hell’s wrong with you?  First night on the job and you’re already shitting bricks?”

“There’s a blood moon tonight,” said Eddie.  “This place, I’m tellin’ you, it’s got a bad omen.”

“It ain’t even midnight yet.  C’mon man, quit messing.  You’re getting Hercules here spooked,” the other guard said, referring to Heracross.  “What’s gotten into you?”

“You don’t wanna know, pal.  Done near let out a scream when I first saw it, but kept my cool o’course, ha, ah aha,” Eddie anxiously laughed.  “Ah hell, who am I kidding?  That thing was screwed up.”

“Out with it!  Whadda see?”

“A hulking monster.  T’was a sick beast.  Likes o’which you’d only see in your worst nightmares.”

“You’re making it up!”

“Nu-uh.  No sir.  I swear to God I saw it.  Damn thing must’ve been two stories tall.  Had these bright, burning eyes.  Its flesh all covered by ghastly rot, surrounding by a dark black fog.  Two shadowy wings blotted out the whole sky.  Claws the size of cars, I’m telling ya.”

“A Pokémon?” asked the other guard as he apprehensively inched closer to Hercules. 

“Couldn’t been a normal Pokémon,” replied Eddie.  “At least none I’ve ever heard of!  Ain’t no Pokémon able to do that.”

“That?”

“That thing, that thing it did,” he stammered.  “It killed two other Pokémon at once.  They must’ve belonged to the guys in the robes ‘cause none of the other mercs have those types.  And well, I’ll be damned.  The beast stared ‘em both down with these godawful glowing eyes.  At first I thought it was gonna eat ‘em both with one bite from its ghastly maw.  But no!  Blinding flash of light, the kind of flash when a Pokémon evolves, and then, I saw only one Pokémon.”

“Whoa, whoa, hold on!  Where’d the other one go?!” exclaimed the second guard.

“Disappeared,” Eddie said.  “Looked different.  Had new features.  Strange.  Similar to the ‘mon that vanished.”

“A fusion?”  The other guard was practically huddling against Hercules.

“I dunno.”  Lowering his voice, Eddie explained, “I looked away from the flash ‘cause it was too bright.  But the thing is, it didn’t come out right at all.  I’m telling you, the beast created an even more atrocious monster!  Why, it looked so downright hideous, it might’ve been ready to die had the beast not proceeded to —” 

“—HEY!  Stop slacking off you two!” sternly ordered another man from inside the gate.  “Unless you want to switch patrol areas and cover the courtyard you keep yammering about!”

The two guards next to Hercules anxiously apologized saying, “Sorry, Captain!”  They quickly returned to their respective posts on either side of the main gateway.

Sylisa shook her head.  “This has to be a big, fat joke.  Guys in robes?  Two-story beasts?  Fusion light?  Did some psychic get to that guard’s head?”

Weavile wore a suspicious look on her face as well.

Mathias was very serious.  Even fluffy Dare looked under the weather.  Something doesn’t add up.  I’ve seen plenty of home security, and this isn’t a routine property guard.  Just what the heck is going on in there?  What’s with all this commotion out in the middle of nowhere?  And all those weird rumors online about this place.  I wish it was just a bored troll, she thought with a sigh.  “We have to check it out,” Sylisa whispered.  “Could be something big.”

Letting out a huff of icy air, Weavile motioned toward the darkest region of the property wall.  “There.”

“That route looks like our best bet,” Sylisa replied with a nod.  Wrapping a black piece of cloth over the lower half of her face to muffle the sound of her breathing, “Okay,” she murmured, tightening the facemask to cover her petite nose, “onward.”

Darting beyond the front guard’s line of sight, she and Weavile made it to the tall wall.  A large row of hedges acted as an inner perimeter making it difficult to judge what was waiting on the other side.  The stone wall had begun to erode from the desert sands creating footholds suitable for climbing.  As Sylisa carefully scaled the wall, she deftly rolled over the bushes and onto the ground, blending into the shadows behind the low shrubs on the other side of the wall next to Weavile.

Her eyes peered out at the terrace, to the central courtyard.  “No…way…  no, no, no,” she whispered under her breath.  “We’re not prepared for this.  This was supposed to be a heist of some rich bastard, not snooping around a ritualistic cult of mind-fuckers!”

In the courtyard, there were cloaked figures, mysteriously dressed in long thick robes, adorned with a crimson trim.  Some wore dark grey, others were pale as snow, but they all eluded the same aura of otherworldliness.

“My gosh, what’s wrong with their eyes?” she asked.  The longer she stared at them, the more they all seemed to be the same.  The glow unified them, it made them appear to be one strange entity divided among many bodies.  It scared her.  She felt fear in her gut.  Something primal, something she detested.

Inhuman.  They’re so inhuman it hurts to look at them.  That was all Sylisa could think of as she watched them pace near the rear of the outdoor courtyard, their robes illuminated by the light of a flickering fire from beyond her line of sight.  I’m not ready for this, Sylisa thought, her gaze fixated on the supernatural scene with a thousand-yard stare.  This isn’t what I signed up for.  Mathias said I had been selected for this mission because I’m a Night Hunter.  She tried her best not to be afraid, but her body was still trembling.  The longer she stared at the figures in robes the worse it got.  What the hell was he thinking?  That meant only I’m capable of seeing it through, right?  She began to feel dizzy.  What makes me so special?

Wobbling slightly, Sylisa’s head felt light.  Her arms became heavy, her breaths took more effort, and her joints stiffened in hesitation.  The anxiety, the uncertainty, the doubt, and the fear, it was all commanding her. 

Then something grabbed her.  To her surprise, she saw a reassuring claw resting on her glove.  Weavile gripped her Armadas confidently, with sharp fangs exposed and a look of assurance on her face.  Very steadily, Weavile pointed with her claw an invisible path that led to a sparse side of the mansion with little activity.

Sylisa caught her breath.  “I…see.”

Then Weavile pointed up.  There was an open window letting in the cool night air on the second floor.  Nearby, about two rooms down, an ivy grew on a fence in an outdoor garden.

“Yeah.  We can climb that to get in.  Weavile, do you sense any Pokémon?”

Weavile gave a soft feline purr, sounding like a “Nah”.

“Okay let’s—” Something suddenly rattled on Sylisa’s hip.  W-WHAT?!  It was her phone vibrating.  Sylisa bit her lip, and quickly silenced the device.  How could I be so friggin’ careless?   That might’ve completely blown my cover!

Equally shocked, Weavile exposed sharp ice nails before settling into a disapproving glare by crossing her arms and giving a condemning shake of her head.

“Sorry.  Battery’s getting low.”

“Stupid.”  Her red eyes rolled, and her crown feathers quailed with the shadows.  “But I won’t leave your side.”

The jolt of adrenaline managed to give Sylisa the quickness of thought she needed to plan the next move.  “You go on ahead.  I’ll trace your path.”

Weavile gave a quick nod and darted forward on all fours.  Agilely, her nearly invisible form rushed from shadow to shadow, remaining under cover to avoid detection.  She bolted swiftly between the low shrubberies, becoming one with the shadows at every bush before bounding to the next. 

Sylisa followed, at a slower pace on two feet.  She had learned to run silently through training, but the sandstone surface proved to be a new challenge for her.  Using light steps, she allowed the soft base of her boots to absorb the ground impression of her dash.  Sylisa ran landing on the ball of her feet, using her ankles to absorb and disburse the impact by bending them during each step.  When she finally made it to the garden fence, Weavile already had finished clawing her way onto the eave.  She’s so quick!  Sylisa unhooked a metal grapple from her ankle to help leverage her climb.  The two extended claws on the Armadas allowed her to climb quickly.

After she had made it to the top, Sylisa hugged her lissome body close to Weavile and did a quick scan of the area.  “Looks like they’re hanging by the backyard garden.”  She sniffed the air.  “You smell that?”

Weavile nodded.  “Gloom flower burning.”

The pungent smoke made her nose itch terribly even under her mask.  I hope it doesn’t make me sneeze.  She looked over at Weavile, who was gesturing from the windowsill to hurry up.  Sylisa leapt from one part of the eave to another.  She eventually made it safely to the window.  Weavile ducked inside and she rolled in after.

Inside was pitch black.  Sylisa waited as her eyes adjusted, her heart pounding from adrenaline.  Then she noticed something ominous about the room she was in.  There were white ghosts all around her!  Shocked by the sight, Sylisa opened her mouth to gasp, but Weavile quickly raised a paw to cover her mouth.  “Mmphf!” she mumbled, falling backwards toward the window, clumsily bumping her head on the sill.  “Owww…that smarts.”

After making sure Sylisa wasn’t hurt, Weavile ran up to one of the ghosts and pulled down the white cloth.  Underneath the sheet, there was a lifelike statue of a Pokémon. 

“My God!”  With one hand nervously on her chest and the other rubbing the back of her sore head, she slowly got back to her feet.  She walked up to the statute and placed her glove on the smooth stone.  “Such attention to detail – it’s like they’re alive!”

Weavile let out a quiet growl that did not bode well.  The room was an enormous study filled with more of these lifelike figurines; all of them partially covered by the same strange silken white cloth Weavile had ripped off.  Some were posed in a fierce battle stance, others looked terribly afraid of death.  But no matter what their posture or demeanor, Sylisa just could not get over how incredibly lifelike they all looked.  Even their unsightly imperfections were present in abundance.  Scars, markings, and items, odd things a skilled artist might not choose to include in pursuit of beauty rather than grim realism.  Sylisa started taking a few pictures on her phone, holding up a thin scrap of paper with the date and time hastily scribbled on it.  Man, I’m in deep now, she thought.  Might as well document this for quality uploads later.  Pics or it didn’t happen.  Snapping a couple more shots she spoke.  “Hey, I’m glad you’re with me.  You’re always so strong and brave.  You give me courage.”

“Mmhm.”  Weavile inched over to the hallway and peeked out to check for any activity.  Giving her the go-ahead “claws-up” Weavile motioned to follow.

The halls were filled with all types of fancy artwork; plenty of the paintings were foreign landscapes or portraits of Pokémon in gilded frames.  Clearly a wealthy owner.  Usually rich people leave a trail.  But concealing such a large estate with treasures makes me green with envy.  It’s as if this place popped into existence.  Almost every web search led to dead ends.  Except that one.  Last night, Sylisa spent late hours on the train with Weavile comfortably in her lap searching tirelessly for information online.  Just before sunrise, when she was about to call it quits, she found something buried in an online archive.  Though it was early morning and Weavile had begun to snore, she continued to research the topic.  Came across a rumor floating around that a secret society had been here.  Didn’t trust it.  But now I don’t know.  “Psychics or not, this place has a supernatural vibe.”

Weavile paused, entering another unoccupied room filled with more of the lifelike statues.  In the center of the room, a tall, jet-black sculpture sat on a raised marble pedestal.  

Sylisa’s heart started pounding.  “No way!  That’s what I saw in the archive last night.”  It looked like an ancient Pokémon, but she did not know the name of the species.  It was large and had a huge body, just like the blurry image she saw of it online.  “Could this place really be tied to the Organization of Seven Stages?”

Pointing at the black figurine, Weavile’s hiss said it all. “I don’t trust this.”

Sylisa took a deep inhale and tried to control her breathing.  Leaning against a wall, she tried to think this all through rationally.  That website isn’t trustworthy either.  It took off after the success of the Kids Grid.  Everything from current events, to major battles, and even hobbies were discussed by strangers on a regular basis.  The site was regularly flooded with spam generated by Porygon Z.  Trolls would make assertions that they had discovered new Pokémon with fabricated proof supplemented by egregiously shopped evidence.  Dang.  Nothing to go on except a lying website.  Even still, why is it the same exact statue?  Then it dawned on her.  I’m not the first one to come here.

Weavile growled.  She wanted to know what was wrong.

“Just a minute, girl,” Sylisa said.  Her mind was racing.  Okay.  Assume the rumors are true.  There’s a secret organization out here in the desert doing spooky things to Pokémon, far away from prying eyes.  Creepy robes, and whatever ritual those guards were talking about.  Probably psychics, which is where we come in as Night Hunters.  What doesn’t add up is these weird statues.  How the hell did they commission all this masonry?  The Sarsen type of stone they’re made of isn’t naturally from around here.  They almost look like the type of rock from a Neolithic era, maybe from the Bronze Age.  Reminds me of those pictures online of Callanish stones, though I’ve never been there.  If they were individually crafted here by a famous sculptor, it must have cost a fortune just to lug the giant bricks all the way out here to the middle of a desert.  She carefully looked over one of the nearby figures, tooth to claw.  Suddenly she had a revelation. “Our mysterious sculptor didn’t even care to leave a signature on this fascinating work.”

Weavile had been getting antsy.  Her fur was puffed up, making her look a little larger.  Even her collar feathers appeared inflated.

“Back to the Organization of Seven Stages.  What do you think a Stage is referring to?  And why are there seven of them?”

Weavile gave her a quizzical look and tapped gently on the ground.

“Of course!” she whispered.  “A stage could mean a floor.  But there are only two floors to the mansion.  No wait, that’s not certain.  There could be more underground.”  She wondered if that would be possible and considered the topography.   The manor’s built on top of sandstone rock, allowing underground construction.

Weavile had been letting her contemplate, keeping sentry on the opulent hallway.  Her crown feathers were raised high on full alert.  The interior guards indoors were rather loud.  Their Pokémon made a lot of noise too.  The wooden floors groaned when a heavy stride walked over them.

“A hidden lair.  We need to find the basement.  That’s where I think we’ll find the mark we’re hunting.”

“Okay.”  On all fours, Weavile stealthily forged her way through the lavishly adorned passages, darting along a long hall’s carpet toward the main corridor.  At the end of a hall, Weavile abruptly halted.  She peeked over the railing of the main foyer.  Two claws were raised in the air twice in succession.  “Two guards and two Pokémon.”  Weavile was a professional at giving her the details with no unnecessary fluff.

Cautiously, Sylisa peered down the stairwell with her body close to Weavile’s cool coat.  On the ground floor she saw a muscular man with a shaved head next to a mean looking Electabuzz.  Approaching their post, a uniformed individual, wearing a tall collar and cape.  He was holding a fierce Druddigon on a chain.  There were some ugly looking wounds along his neck.  At eye-level, the nail gashes would have been concealed by his cape’s collar, but Sylisa’s vantage straight down from above allowed her to see them clearly.  Those marks aren’t from a human.

“—If I catch you slacking another time, it’ll be lights out for good.”  The man wearing the cape spoke with a threatening voice as the sturdy chains holding Druddigon noisily jangled.

“Won’t happen again, Sir Drake,” replied the guard with the shaved head.  Despite being physically larger, the guard’s timid posture, his broad shoulders tensely pulled back, revealed he was scared by Drake.

“I don’t expect it to.  This is your last chance.”  Drake grasped a cane in his hand and raised the end of it against Electabuzz’s temple threateningly.  “Fool!  Have your Electabuzz give you a shock if you can’t manage to stay awake.”  Drake prodded the Pokémon with his cane and Druddigon let out a cantankerous growl as its heavy chain rattled.   “Do I make myself clear to you?”

“Very.”

“Another sack of spoiled meat.”  With a grunt, the mysterious caped man began to turn.  Drake wore a twisted grin on his face that made him look manic.  But suddenly he paused as if he had noticed something was amiss. 

Crap!  Sylisa yanked Weavile away from the railing just in time as the deranged man looked up exactly at where they had been spying.

They heard Drake sigh and then say casually, “—Why don’t you send out a few more patrols to cover the perimeter.  Can’t have anyone upsetting our plans for tonight.”

“Yes sir,” said the bald guard from below.

Druddigon’s loud stomping echoed from below together with its clattering chains. 

“That was way too close.”  She squeezed tightly onto Weavile.  Then the noise became muffled.  “Sounds like they’re heading outside,” Sylisa whispered in her friend’s feathery ear, “those stairs next to the bald guard go down, we need to get past him and his Electabuzz.  He seems really alert now though.  Don’t think he’ll be dozing off anytime soon after that talkin’ to he just got from the ugly man in the cape.  Maybe we can use his paranoia to our advantage.”

Weavile, slightly smothered by Sylisa, squirmed her way out of her arms and got back to her feet.  She turned her head and looked around, leapt forward on all fours, and rushed over to a festooned mahogany end table.  “This.”  She picked up a porcelain vase, and walked it over to Sylisa with a proud smile showing her fangs. 

“I see.”  It had the image of a beautiful Articuno taking flight.  “Looks quite valuable.  Definitely an antique judging by the craftsmanship.  This type of blue porcelain is made of special kaolin unearthed by Dugtrio in Kanto,” Sylisa said, carefully studying its intricate design.  “Oh wow!  This is one of a kind!  Look at this inscription on the corner of the base.  Craftsmen from long ago used to imprint their work like this when it was custom made.  Almost impossible to forge a unique piece like this!”

Weavile was getting a bit impatient with her analysis of the aged vase and Sylisa could tell by how its fleecy collar was starting to flare up and turn redder than usual.  She let out an annoyed purr.  “That’s not why I got it!”

“—Oh.  Right.  Heh.  Got a’lil carried away there,” Sylisa said with a sheepish grin.  “We’ll use it to draw attention away from the stairwell.  Might raise suspicion, but it’ll give us a clear opening.” 

“Simple plan.  I like it.”  Weavile nodded in agreement.  

“Okay.  You fling it, and then book it down the stairs once the guard investigates.  I’ll jump from landing to landing right behind you.  That thick carpet will muffle the noise while they’re distracted.  Ready?  Three, two, one, time for action!”

Weavile flung the vase in a long arc down the hall and into the next room below the base of the steps.  It broke into a million pieces on the hardwood floor.

“What was that?!” blurted the man next to Electabuzz.  He and his Pokémon excitedly scattered in the direction of the shattering sound, giving Sylisa and Weavile the decisive opening they needed to break into the hidden lower level.  With a quick series of jumps, they passed the guard’s post and entered the dark corridor leading down into the bowels of the mysterious mansion. 

“Ugh…  Yeeesh, what’s that stench?  Smells like garbage day.”  Sylisa adjusted her half-mask to better cover her nose.  

So offensive was the mephitic odor, Weavile wore a scrunched up face and covered her nostrils with one of her paws.  “Spoiled food?”

The darkness grew along with the rank pong the further down they went.  The stairs were no longer made of wood, but large pieces of chiseled stone, carved out of the foundational bedrock.  “It’s quiet,” whispered Sylisa.  “No guards down here.”  Yet the unnerving silence could not explain a very faint, almost rhythmic, vibration in the floor.

Eventually the steps ended with a landing leading to three hallways.  The underground architecture was curved and consisted of dome ceilings that resembled a Kabuto’s shell.   Along the corridors there were dim lamps, housed in glass boxes that once held candles prior to electricity judging from the wax remnants present at their bases.

Weavile begrudgingly sniffed the foul air and pointed to the passage where the stench was coming from.  She pointed.  “Thataway.”

She gave a mute thumbs-up and followed Weavile down the very darkest of the three paths.  They began to hear heavy breathing.  The labored sound was vibrating the entire floor.   Even the wall lanterns were rattling.  Her eyes were frantically trying to make out what lay ahead in this inky darkness.  “What monster could be making such a sound?  Is it a Pokémon?”

“Gonna find out.”  When a wall at the end of the hall approached, Weavile turned into what appeared to be an archaic underground pantry.  However, Weavile bounced right out back into the hallway with a look of utter confusion on her face.

“Weavile?  What’s wrong?” Sylisa asked in a panic.  And then there was a grumble unlike anything she had ever heard.  It was deep, grumpy and brash all at once.  The putrescent odor was worse than ever before.  “What the heck—!?”

A huge wall of flesh came hurdling out through the passageway.  Sylisa could not believe what she was seeing.  An enormous Snorlax broke down half the wall charging after Weavile.

“Oh shit!  Leap to the lamps!”  She dodged to the other side of the hall. 

Weavile evaded, jumping up and swinging from the old lanterns on the wall to dodge the living wrecking ball.  But Snorlax was just getting warmed up, tumbling forward with impressive girth in an all-out attack.

“Dammit!”  Sylisa helplessly watched as Weavile struggled to just move out of the wide charge of Snorlax.

The momentum of Giga Impact hurdled Snorlax into a brick wall, breaking it down, and revealing a hidden area behind it.  There were very bright lights coming from within the once hidden room, which caused Snorlax to angrily cover its tired eyes from the blinding light.  It growled deeply, slumped backward, and swatted loose bricks with its chubby hands.

Seeing an opening, Sylisa said in a hiss, “Weavile, Spite it!”

Weavile’s shadow grew and stretched underneath the massive body of Snorlax.  The ghostly shadow tugged down on the enormous creature with phantasm energy.  Being pulled down prevented Snorlax from charging with another Giga Impact.  Snorlax grabbed the broken wall to help get itself to its feet.

“Nice work.  Use Ice Shard like we practiced.  Then Low Kick!”

Weavile shot multiple shards of ice from under her claws, forming a thin path of ice in front of her.  Like a figure skater, Weavile dashed rapidly on the ice path gathering momentum and charging right for where Spite had locked down Snorlax.  With a graceful pirouette, Weavile spun into a kick after launching from the end of the ramped ice path and powerfully nailed Snorlax right in the side of the leg. 

Snorlax wobbled.  Tottering side to side trying to balance its incredible girth, it fell flat on its big belly and rolled into the side of the wall it had not broken down.  Then Snorlax let out an absolutely filthy smelling belch as its massive stomach pressed against the earth.  It was badly bruised from the fall, though all its blubber absorbed most of the damage to its vital organs.  Finally, it fell back into a deep, noisy slumber.

“Phew, lights out, big boy.” Sylisa sighed, holding Weavile protectively in her arms.  “I hope the loud racket didn’t alert the guards.  We better dash, girl.”  The supernatural ice path Weavile had made had already begun to melt into an unrecognizable path of water, easily mistaken for drool tracing to Snorlax.  It looked like no one was ever here, and Snorlax had had a bad dream.  Sylisa and Weavile hopped over the wall Snorlax’s Giga Impact had partially destroyed which led them into a brighter room. 

“Wow…” Sylisa said as her eyes adjusted to the bright artificial light.  “This place feels like a different era.  The architecture is all different.  It’s all new construction.”  There were bright fluorescent lights illuminating the huge storage bay.  Thousands of crates were kept in this giant warehouse.  Aisles held hundreds of metal boxes, rectangle in shape, about three times as long as they were wide, stacked up to the ceiling on either side of the room.  “This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.”  Sticking to the shadows near the wall, Sylisa and Weavile carefully advanced.  “Even weirder than those lifelike statues upstairs.”

“I don’t like this.”

“Relax.  Only storage.”  A chill ran up her spine as she stooped against a nearby crate and peered around for any signs of life.  Everything was so still.  There was no air movement down here, only storage.  She quickly snapped another picture using her phone and a piece of scrap.  “Mmph!” she groaned, trying to pry open one of the solid crates with her Armadas.  It was stubbornly bolted shut.  After struggling for a while to find a keyhole or other access point to no avail, she moved on to another, and another.  “Hey, don’t you want to see what’s inside these things?” Sylisa asked.

“No way.”  Weavile crossed her arms and shook her head.  She made it clear she did not want to get close to the crates.  “Don’t like.  Too many.”

“Hmm.  I don’t think the treasure would be inside one of these things, would be a real hassle if it got lost in one of them since they all look the same.”  Sylisa tapped on the side of one of the crates.  She didn’t know why, but she expected to hear a response.  When she didn’t, she sighed in relief.  That wouldn’t make sense.  There aren’t any air holes.  Nothing could possibly live in there.  Of course not.  What a silly thought.   She stood back up and ran her fingers over the metal, touching the iron latches.  Her hand shivered.  “Like ice.”

As Sylisa turned around to check on Weavile she heard a whisper.  Softly unintelligible sound at first, but then it morphed into louder syllables resembling foreign words.  It sounded like a child.  No, a group of children.  Playing.  Or something.  It sounded like muffled giggling, but something was off.  The noise did not sound human.  Their sound was stretched out, distorted, like a warped record played on an old phonograph.

“Cut it out, Weavile,” Sylisa was about to say before she realized the voices were coming from the other direction, from the crate.  She quickly spun around to face the distorted cluster of whispers.  They were invisible, but the source was unambiguously coming from the sealed crate.  Sylisa realized she was shaking.  Get out of my head!   The warped voices grew louder, then there was a bright flash of light.  Ahh! 

Suddenly the room she was in changed completely.  She was somewhere high in the sky, a place only Pokémon with strong wings could reach, and the clouds were all below her at the edge of space.  She saw figures in the distance.  A woman garbed in purest white vestments hung limply in the air, controlled by an invisible force that held her aloft like a marionette.  It was then she realized the woman’s chest was blood red.  Stained by a massive, bleeding gash where her heart should have been.

What…what is this!?  Sylisa thought in delirium.  This can’t be real!  None of this is real!  Stop! Make it stop!  Frightened, she started to walk backward, moving away from the disturbing scene.  The distorted voices seemed to follow her, yet she could not turn around away from the impaled woman.  As she moved backwards, the back of her ankles ran into a piece of metal and she tripped clumsily despite feeling as though she were somewhere high in the sky.  As she fell, she saw from her periphery vision that it was the spire of a tall tower overlooking a region she had never seen before.  Unintelligible sounds and the whistling of air filled her head.  When her rear hit the ground, she felt a sharp jolt of discomfort.  The voices and visual hallucinations abruptly stopped.

“Huh?!”  Her entire body was sweating and shivering.  With an unsteady hand, she nervously wiped away the wetness over her heart.  Sylisa asked, “What just happened?  Did you hear that?”

Weavile gave a confused head shake.  “No.”

Oh God!  Am I going crazy?  “When I touched that crate…” Sylisa said, staring down at her fingers.  “I started to hear voices.  It had to be a hallucination.  Maybe it was a psychic’s trap!”

“Told you to stay away.”  Weavile shrugged.

The bright lights above suddenly flickered.  “Bad news,” Sylisa whispered, coming back to reality rather unsteadily.  “We need to hurry before we’re discovered.  And catch that eclipse.”

With a nudge, her feathers tickled Sylisa, causing her to smile.

“Thanks.”  After hugging her friend’s velvety fur, Sylisa picked herself up off the ground and pointed to the far end of the underground warehouse which lead to a massive steel door.  “Back there.  That’s gotta be the place with the treasure.”

Together they weaved in and out of the aisles filled with the locked boxes.  Eventually they made it to the metal barred door.  The hanger was much bigger up close.  A Wailord would be able to fit through it.  It was shut tight, chained down to the cement floor; however, there was a secondary access door to the left of the garage.  “Break it?” asked Weavile.

“Far too sturdy to break down with the Armadas.”  Sylisa pressed her ear against it and Weavile followed suit. 

“Hear anyone inside?”

“No.” 

“Me neither,” Sylisa said, grabbing a pick from her belt and getting to work on the lock.  It was a basic pin tumbler, nothing too special.  Short work for a professional, and it did not take Sylisa much time to pry open.  “Almost…got it.”  The door’s lock clicked open. 

Inside was a darker room.  It looked like an office, furnished with several desks and file cabinets with a couch opposite a wall with a mirror.  On the back wall, there was a giant painting of a Pokémon soaring high above stone towers on wings made of flame.

Sylisa scanned the perimeter and closed the door softly behind her.  Walking in, she peered at her reflection in the dim light.  “My hair’s a little messy.  Looking good, all things considered.”

“C’mon!”  Weavile urged, tugging on Sylisa’s coattails.

There were no strange noises, just the dull hum of an air vent overhead.  Sylisa perused through some of the texts on the bookshelf, searching for a hidden lever while glossing over the various titles to get a better feel for whoever made this their office.  “Ancient Pokémon and Ultra Space, Where and When the Pokéball Manipulates Space-Time, A Primer on Apricorn Malfunctions, Horrific First-Generation Mistakes, Ghostly Teleportation, Not Your Grandfather’s Paradox, Druidic Rituals and Contemporary Scholarship … Geez, someone needs to lay off the fiction.  Reminds me of dad’s old library.  Concerning the Paranormal and that sorta stuff.  Sheesh, is this last book even written in English?  Way too many cryptic symbols on the binding.  They kinda look like eyeballs.”

“Wrong place.”  Weavile growled.  She pointed to the painting of the mysterious Pokémon on the back wall, jumped up onto a cabinet, and started using her claws to pry the painting loose.

Sylisa assisted her partner, exposing a metal wall safe.  “There you have it.  People are always stashing their prized loot behind paintings.  It’s not just a cliché.  Hmm.  A cylinder lock…and a number-pad code,” she said, analyzing her opponent.  “Tsk, tsk.  The buyer’s paying for the novelty of having multiple ways in, which can be taken advantage of.  Weavile, a gust of Icy Wind, if you don’t mind.”

Weavile grinned deviously and blew a small cloud of frost on the combination keypad.  The shimmering ice powder revealed tiny ridges where combo numbers had been pressed due to the code-enterer’s fingerprints.  Judging by the placement and orientation of the ridges, it was clear that the fingerprints went straight onto the eight, moved downward to smudge twice on the three, then took a long diagonal turn to press seven.

“8-3-3-7” Sylisa smirked as she entered the combination.  She hummed a little victory tune from a retro video game as the lock clicked open.  “And presto!  We’re in,” she said.

Inside the safe was exactly what she had traveled all the way here for.  A sparkling translucent orb with a fine ruby crystal in the center.  It was partially wrapped by a white silken cloth which it rested in like an egg in a nest.

“Not so fast.”  Weavile knew better than to snatch the mark like she would steal a Pidgey’s egg.  First, they had to check for traps.

“Better to be safe.  Don’t see any motion detectors, but just to be sure.”  Sylisa picked up a snow globe paperweight from the nearby desk and got ready to swap the two items in case there was a pressure sensor alarm.  Sylisa deftly wrapped the treasure in the silk it was resting in and proceeded to switch it with the paperweight.

“Well, that was easy.”  Weavile scoffed.

Sylisa placed the loot inside her vest pocket under her breast and turned to face Weavile.  “Phew.  We got what we came here for.  Let’s get the hell out of here, girl.  We’ll write a spooky story about it online for the laughs.  I’ve got the proof here on my phone.  Can’t wait to rustle someone’s jimmies online with all the photos I took.”

“Not-uh.”  Weavile did not agree.  “Mission first.”

“C’mon, Weavile!” Sylisa grumbled.  “Why are you so serious all the time?”  In truth, Sylisa was too afraid to kill anyone.  She was even more afraid of whatever dwelled here.  All she wanted to do was run off with the loot back to HQ and show off her infiltration skills online.

Weavile shook her feathery head.  She then hugged tightly onto Sylisa’s leg so she could not run away.  “No running!”

I’d make a terrible Pokémon, I’d cut and run from my trainer at the first sign of trouble, she thought.  “I’m going to stay with you.”

Weavile defiantly held Sylisa in place, and nuzzled her crown feathers against her stockings.

“Fine, fine.  You win.  We’ll do what we can.  But we also need to escape.  No sense following orders to the letter if we wind up dead.  Hmm, best way to handle this by doing the absolute least amount of work possible…”  Sylisa rubbed her chin, pondering.  “Ah-ha!  We’ll use the environment against them.  The air is especially dry here, isn’t it?” 

Weavile tilted her head.  She mewed.  “Go on.”

“We can start a fire,” Sylisa explained.  “Arson’s a serious crime; it’ll get noticed and that grumpster Mathias won’t be able to say we didn’t try.  At the very least it disrupts those robed guys and we’ll have proof we were here.”  Sylisa pointed to her phone.  “Plus our treasure of course!”

Weavile nodded, agreeing with the plan.  “Not bad.”

“Let’s go back behind that room with the Snorlax.  We’ll start a fire there, on our way out by setting flame to the old storehouse’s wooden pillars.”

Her shoulders slumped.  She growled low and set her sharp claws out, unwilling to fight Snorlax again.

“Aw.  Don’t give me that look,” Sylisa said.  “I bet the big loafer is still knocked out.  Don’t worry, we’ll flee before it wakes up.”

Weavile tried to force a nod but it came across as half-hearted.  “Then what?”

Sylisa winked confidently.  “Ahem!  Following Shadow, Chaos is a thief’s second-best friend!” 

“That’s not it at all.”  Weavile seemed skeptical of her stitched-together prerogative and even less amused by her butchering of one of the guild’s mantras. 

“Blah, blah.  Hurry up.”  Together they raced back out into the hallway, into the big warehouse room.  There was an ominous groan from behind the giant hanger.  It sounded like metal moving, but the steal door was still tightly sealed shut.  Sylisa and Weavile picked up the pace and raced for the broken-down wall.  To their great surprise, Snorlax was gone.  “Huh?!  Something that big doesn’t just disappear.  You think an investigating guard recalled it after seeing the damage it did to the wall?”

“Don’t care.  Glad it’s gone.”  Weavile shrugged, darting to the interior of the underground kitchen that had been blocked by Snorlax before.  It was very rustic, and had probably not been used in ages for actual cooking, instead becoming a storage facility.

“Here, let’s get this kindling lit.”  Sylisa gathered some dried supplies and built a small pile near the wooden supports.  She lit a long match using the side of her boot.  The flame burned brightly as she set the pile alight.  With the dryness of the desert air, the flames quickly began to spread to the other parts of the structure.  Black smoke rose into the air and the fire rose, licking greedily at the combustible material as it rapidly spread.  “Time to make like thunder and bolt!” Sylisa said impishly. “C’mon!” 

Weavile reminded her.  “Fire’s smell will alert guard’s Pokémon.”

“What’s that?  Something’s burning!” said the voice of the man who had been with the Electabuzz.  Their heavy steps were approaching.

“Crap.  Too soon.  They’re going to block our exit.”

Weavile gave Sylisa’s jacket tail a tug.  “Plan?” 

“Stun and run,” Sylisa said.  Placing her index finger on the control ring of the Armadas, she felt her synthetic glove purr to life.  “You go for the Electabuzz,” Sylisa whispered to Weavile over the charging hum of the Armadas.  “I’ll handle the man.”

“The offering pyre is supposed to be outside, dammit!  Why is there smoke coming from inside?  Hurry up, Buzz, we need to check it out or we’ll get roasted by Drake!”

As soon as the guard’s bulky profile appeared from around the bend of the twisting spiral stairs, Sylisa stuck out her left arm, palm face-out directly in front of the man’s descending path.  She turned her head to the right and covered her left ear with her right hand.  Activating the burst, she felt a huge force of energy from her extended hand.  It sounded like an explosion straight out of an Exploud. 

The guard ran smack into the thunderous blast, and fell back.  His shaved head bumped against the stone wall behind him and he collapsed seeing stars.

Meanwhile, Electabuzz was just as shocked by the ambush.  Rounding the corner to follow the noise, it stumbled over the stunned guard’s body.  Stupefied by the escalating calamity, Electabuzz let sparks fly wildly from its horns, illuminating the dark stairwell with bright flashes of pulsing light.

Weavile threw a sucker punch, jumping on the stunned guard for leverage, then leaping, landing the hit square between Electabuzz’s alarmed eyes.  Electabuzz flinched.  After a graceful landing, Weavile snatched Electabuzz’s yellow and black tail, and forcefully yanked the striped tail underneath the Pokémon’s legs causing it to trip and fall as well. 

“Run!”  Sylisa hissed.  “That blast probably alerted every guard in the building.”

After climbing to the top of the stairs, Sylisa saw at least six guards racing in through the front door.  They all had their Pokémon with them.   Hitmonchan, Granbull, Pawniard, Gabite, Watchog, and Darmanitan, each a significant threat, but together a huge problem.

“Give ‘em the business, boys!” shouted the lead guard to the group of Pokémon. 

Throwing one of her special smoke grenades, a prism bomb, Sylisa managed to interrupt Hitmonchan from striking Weavile with a speedy Mach Punch.  The dazzling light and smokescreen from the bomb created the indispensable chance to escape the onslaught of attacks from the other Pokémon.  Sylisa did a nimble backflip and Weavile used Substitute to dodge several of the Darmanitan’s fireballs thrown wildly at them, however Sylisa’s facemask fell off. 

“Back door!” Sylisa exclaimed.  She spun around on her heel and ran down the hallway.  The corridor seemed to stretch on forever, and she could hear her pursuers noisily chasing after her.  Ahead was a large glass door leading to the courtyard illuminated by the ominous orange glow from outside.  Sylisa said between hurried breaths, “Weavile – Icicle Crash – through the glass!”

Weavile jumped into the air and blew a spear of ice in between outstretched claws.  With impressive strength, Weavile flung the icicle projectile at the glass which shattered into a million pieces. 

Sylisa heard a loud thud from the other side of the glass and then a buzzing groan.  The ice missile struck something solid.  As she leapt through the broken glass, she saw that it was the Heracross from before, the one wearing a Choice Band like a bandana.  Heracross was illuminated by a strange red light, she looked up to see a dark red moon consistent with the eclipse.

Weavile didn’t skip a beat.  She ripped the Choice Band right off with Thief and hastily tied the item around her arm.

To the left, more guards from the estate’s entrance were closing in.  To the right was the ominous orange glow from where the cultists had been spotted before.  And ahead of them was a huge hedge maze.  “Only one way to go,” Sylisa said, dashing into the maze. 

Weavile twisted and turned through the labyrinth at sharp angles making Sylisa dizzy, but she did not give up or slow down.  Just then a massive fireball came searing down from above, burning away a huge portion of the maze right in front of them.  Sylisa and Weavile stopped and looked up, barely avoiding the towering inferno.  It was a Charizard.  And a really big one at that.  Its wingspan must have been the length of three city buses.   

“Oh…shit.”  She gasped, out of breath.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Charizard let out a deafening roar, firing more sweltering orbs at the hedge maze to cut off their exits.  It breathed one Fire Blast after another, without breaks between attacks.  They were surrounded by the firestorm in no time. 

Sylisa stared up at her daunting opponent in an intense mixture of fear and anger.  It was then she realized that someone was riding the giant Charizard.  She could not tell who it was due to the flames and rising waves of heat distorting her vision like a mirage, but it appeared to be wearing robes.

The mysterious figure boomed from atop Charizard’s back.  “THE MIRARI!  WHERE IS IT?!”

“Must be talking about the treasure.”  Sylisa looked over at Weavile.  Weavile looked back at her and tightened her Choice Band.  “The wings,” Sylisa said with a defying point at the gargantuan monster blotting out the bloodshot heavens.  A sea of orange fire reflected off the hooks on her Armadas and Weavile’s claws.  “Ice Shard!”

With a twin slashing motion, Weavile fired a hailstorm of crystallized ice missiles at Charizard’s huge wingspan overhead.  As the blizzard of sparkling shards flew into the cold night air, they reflected the orange glow of the flames below and the blood red sky above, creating a dazzling display.  Charizard breathed out a sweeping stream of fire, melting all the sharp projectiles and turning them into harmless steam.

“No!” Sylisa exclaimed.  Her heart was pounding, her whole body was sweating.  This is the end of the line.  We’re surrounded and there’s no way to counter attack!

“ANY LAST WORDS BEFORE I BURN YOU TO CINDER?!” hollered the voice from above the mighty dragon.

“The thing he wants.  It’s our only chance.”  Sylisa removed the orb from the pocket inside her open corset’s top.  Silently, she held it high up into the air for the rider to see.

“YES!  YES!”  The voice resounded from atop the enormous Charizard’s back.  “THE MIRARI!”

“You want it?!” Sylisa asked angrily.  “Or are ‘ya just gonna gawk?”

“Insolent, wretched thief! You have no idea what limitless power the Mirari possesses!  Relinquish it from your heinous claws and I shall make your death a swift one!”

You’re one rude bastard!  Her body felt hotter from anger than from the surrounding flames.  She was livid and not about to relinquish her hard-fought prize to some jackass.  A feverish emotion of wrath overtook her and her eyes narrowed.  “Oh yeah?” she hollered, glancing down at her left bicep, noting a soft illuminated outline, indicating her glove had recharged.  Staring back up at the face of death she shouted, “How ‘bout you take a picture, ‘cause it’ll last longer!”

She held the Mirari loosely with her fingertips, resting it against the amplifier in her palm.  She intended to launch it straight into the fire.  However, as she activated the burst, it emitted a brilliant flash of light. 

“AHHH!”

Everything around her started to pull away.  Sylisa felt nauseous as the color was drained out of the world.  The Mirari shone brightly in her hand, but the strange orb had started to warp light around it.  Sylisa saw countless eyes all around her, black, colorless watchers, floating in midair, staring into her soul.  What the…!  What’s going on?!  What’s happening to me?!

Everything blurred together.  The bizarre eldritch horror scene around her became a waterlogged sea, leagues under the sea.  And then pressure.  She began to feel not only the weight of the staring eyes, but the aquatic environment pressing down on her whole body.  The sensation only got worse as she felt a terrible migraine.  Through dense miasma of the underwater world, she noticed the swirling eyes that had turned into bubbles.  Beyond the maelstrom of their chaotic congregation, a bright sun was out exactly where the eclipse had been not a moment ago.

This isn’t right!  But the words would not come.  She felt paralyzed by an invisible weight pressing her down into the ground.  Help! Sylisa’s thoughts screamed.  The whole world had changed around her.  None of it was familiar.  She felt dizzy and sick.  Everything distorted beyond recognition.  The manor she had just been in was completely gone.  The outdoor courtyard where she and Weavile had fled had become a sweltering sea of sand.  The cool night sky, the bloody moon, all replaced by a scorching midday sun.  Even Charizard and the rider were missing from the now clear blue sky.  She felt her eyes watering in tears of extreme discomfort.  Wherever she was, it was not a place she recognized.   Very confused, she tried to focus on simply breathing.  She could not remember where she had just been, only what brought her here.  “The Mirari,” she rasped.  However, her hand was empty.

Sylisa could not even move from the crushing sensation pressing down on her body.  If I can just grab my Dusk Ball and summon her to my side!

Her fingers felt like they were miles away.  Suddenly there was a loud screeching noise from overhead.  It did not sound like any bird Pokémon she knew of, it reminded her of the squealing breaks of an automobile in the city, or the sound of a subway train halting suddenly.  The blazing noontime sun made it difficult to see, but she did notice a shadow cast over her paralyzed body.  It gave her a jolt of adrenaline.  The mirage-like haze of the surrounding world began to dissipate.  As the bright sandscape finally came into focus, she felt like she was a part of the world around her again.  Her hands started to move properly and she dug her glove covered fingers into the scorching sand in order to crawl her hand to her belt.  As her bodily senses came back the discomfort of lying in the desert became too much for her.  In every direction she looked, there was nothing.  A land devoid of life.

“I have…to fight…” she groaned, trying to push herself out of the pile of sand.  Nevertheless, her fatigue was too great to fight the oppressive heat.  She could only momentarily lift her head above the scorching sand for a moment before feebly falling back into the sizzling sea.  The instant the side of her face hit the sandy grit, she could have sworn she saw a glimpse of her Pokémon.  Something about her was different, she did not look like Weavile. 

Sneasel?  Wait, wait, no.  That can’t be right, she thought in a daze.  Yet the silhouette above her collapsed body was undoubtedly smaller than Weavile with a single featherlike plume above the ear.  Then her body began to fade like a mirage.

“Wait…!  Come back!” yelled Sylisa, feeling as though her thoughts had been irreparably muddled by whatever had just taken place.  “Don’t…don’t you dare leave me here!” she screamed in feverish delirium.  She suddenly felt sad inside.  Abandoned.  “I can’t remember why you left.  Why did you have to…leave my side?  So…hot…so…tired… I can’t remember the name I called you!  Your real name…!  What was your—”

Her friend’s shadow vanished into a stream of blackened sand.  She was gone.

“No…  What was your name?” Sylisa cried, her parched lips shrieking against the burning sands.  “Please….  Don’t you leave me!  You’re my only friend.”

After Sylisa mouthed those heartfelt words on the blistering ground her consciousness faded. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Shot in the Dark


Awakening with a jolt, as though she had fallen in a dream, Sylisa came to in an unfamiliar setting.  W-What… happened?

She realized her limbs were bound, cold steel pressed uncomfortably against her wrists.  Someone had turned out the lights.  The air felt thick and dank all around her.  An ominous odor of decay hung stagnantly in the air.

Impossible, she thought, trying to wiggle.  I’ve been captured!  With a labored groan, she tried to move.  Her hands were unable to do much and the same went for her feet.  Gradually her eyes adjusted to the bleak darkness.  Like every muscle in her body, her eyes felt exhausted as a few things came into focus.  Bars of steel.  A prison cell.  I’m in a cage, dammit!  Where the hell did that Charizard and the crazy cultist go? 

She tried looking around, but her hair was caught on something sharp behind her.  Nevertheless, the sight in front of her made her palms sweat with worry.  She saw there were other cages, all of them empty.  However, they did not look as sturdy as the one she was in.  I don’t think this is the type of jail run by law enforcement.  Looks more like a makeshift base made inside a cavern.  I can see some distant light, could those maybe be torches in the distance?  Voices too.  They sound like men and Pokémon.  Wait!  What about MY POKÉMON!  Sylisa thought in a worried panic.  Frantically she looked around, her neck aching terribly as she did so.  “Ahhh…ow ow ow…”

Sylisa did not see any sign of her partner.  “Weavile…” she whispered.  However, as she spoke her head hurt viciously.  It was far worse than any migraine.  It felt like a spike being bludgeoned into her brain repeatedly.  The pain would not cease, and she could not use her hands to hold her throbbing head.  “Uwwaah…my head!” she cried.  What’s wrong with me?!  She wanted to scream out, “Nothing is making any sense!”

Breathing heavily as her head stopped pounding, Sylisa thought about the last thing she experienced before passing out.  The night turned into day, and then I saw …Sneasel?   Her mind felt foggy on the details, but that seemed to be the best she could do for now.  At least the pain in her skull subsided.  Oh, and there was the thing I stole.  Um, I think it began with M—  Miyagi?  Mariachi?  What was it?  The thing, the treasure.  That cultist riding the giant Charizard wanted it badly.  I had it right in my hand.  Right here.

She looked down at herself.  Both her arms were badly burnt from the sun.  Oh, no!  My Armadas!  It’s gone!  Not good.  Not good at all.  I’ve been cleaned out!  All my loot, all my equipment, and even Weavile’s Dusk Ball… GONE!  That last thought about Weavile made her head hurt dreadfully again.  My skull feels like it’s going to split in half.  Why?  Why does it happen when I think about Wea—?  “Ouch!” she nearly shouted from the piercing agony deep in her cranium.  

At the very least Sylisa had figured out the triggering condition.  Thoughts about…her cause the discomfort.  I should think of something else.  These sunburns…  They’re from the sun that came out in the middle of the night.  How is that possible?  I was out there, roasting in the desert sun in the middle of the night.  How can that be?  Were my memories tampered with by a psychic?  Wait!  I remember now!  This all happened after the treasure starting shining!  Could that have something to do with it?

Both Sylisa’s hands were very red from sunburns, which made the metal shackles on her wrists terribly uncomfortable.  Huh, my right arm is more burnt than my left, she thought, rationally looking at the two different degrees of inflammation.  Maybe I passed out for a while, then it turned to day and my Armadas got taken.  But that doesn’t explain the eclipse turning into the midday sun, or the disappearance of Charizard.  Even if that’s the case, I was out in the sun long enough after to get a bad burn.  Maybe all morning?  Whatever the difference is between getting tanned and getting burned.  And now I’m here, wherever here is.  Sylisa groaned, her back felt so stiff from being stuck in an uncomfortable position.  Her gaze traveled to the stone walls, in hope they might give her information, but the light was too dim to discern anything interesting about the cave.  I have no idea where I am.  Or how to escape.  My captors are a mystery.  Everything is a mystery.  I’m a prisoner in a dark cave.  It smells bad, like burnt meat mixed with rubbing alcohol.  And…I’m all alone.

She shivered, feeling terribly vulnerable and afraid.  All she could think about was being home.  Going back on the internet and surfing the net with her partner and best friend.  Horribly frightened, and on the verge of tears she said, “I miss you so much Weavile!”  Another earsplitting headache made her so uncomfortable the metallic chains binding her noisily clattered.

“Oy!” sounded a voice from down the hallway.  It sounded like a man’s, tough and dangerous, yet slightly inebriated.  “Heard something rattling, over by the cells, better check it out.  C’mon, you!”

Oh no!  Here they come, she thought wishing she hadn’t made noise.  Lisa, you idiot!

It was too late.  A large shadow from the next room over was approaching.  Another shadow followed close behind the first.  Sylisa wobbled to move, trying to hide near the far end of the cage.  However, she was so afraid she had forgotten about the metal leg shackles clasping her ankles.  They caused her to recoil back loudly as they rattled.

“Aye, awake are ye?”

Now she could see her captors.  A bruiser of a man with shaggy sun bleached hair slumped through the passageway.  Behind him lumbered an unpleasant looking Machoke.  They both had tattoos on their arms, wavy jet black lines that ran up from their wrists onto their exposed chests.

“Machoke, grab the clamps,” the heavily built man ordered.

“Maho-mah!” the strong Pokémon grumbled.  It waddled over to a rickety table and picked up what appeared to be torture implements. 

SHIT!  Sylisa thought seeing the rusty apparatuses.

“Finally awake, are ya?  This ain’t no game,” the burly man said threateningly.   He spat on the ground next to her.  “Before we get to business, you had some effects on you.  Might not have been yours to begin.  Had a nice set o’ lock picks.”

They know I’m a thief.  They’re not with the law.  These are thieves in a different sense.  Bandits.  Her heart sank as she thought how her circumstances had gone from bad to worse.  And I’m at their mercy.

The bandit snapped his fingers next to her face in order to get her attention.  “HEY!  Look here at me when I’m talkin’!  That long glove of yours looked valuable, made of that fine cloth with fancy armor plates and claws on the hands.  Kept that one for myself.  But I ain’t never seen anything like that mysterious orb of yours.”

My glove!  It must be close by.  He has no idea what the Armadas really does.

“You deaf?  Or just stupid?”  He reached a hand inside the cage and tried to grab her by the bangs.

Sylisa recoiled.  His grimy hand still managed to take hold of her hair.  Sylisa decided to remain silent.

“Not much of a talker, are ya?  You got memory problems from lying out in the sun too long?  Or are you pretending to be mute?” he asked.  “That’s okay lass, it don’t matter to me if you’re hardheaded.  You ain’t getting out anytime soon, and I’ve got ways of making you sing.  But this’ll go easier if ya cooperate, right Machoke?”

“Maho-ho-ho!” laughed the Pokémon darkly as it pulled on a set of torment chains strapped to a rack, jingling their links menacingly with a look of vile bloodlust in his narrow eyes.

If I start talking, they delay the torture.  I really, really don’t want to know what those things are used for.

“So, before I put Machoke in there with you, how ‘bout we have a chat?  Yer a pretty girl, don’t wanna ruin that doll face of yours too quick.  Besides, not every day we get a victim pleasin’ ta the eyes, eh Machoke?!”  He and the Pokémon laughed.

The only girls you’ve been with were probably corpses, she thought.  It made her feel sick inside but it was likely true and that was her fate.  Never thought my curse would get me in this much trouble.

“I got me an idea, let’s get ta’ know each other first,” he said taking a swig of something foul from a canteen carried on his belt.  “You, missy, you had a lot of interesting items on you.  See, me and my boys, we can salvage your possessions for coin, but a few things got us wondering.  Figured we’d keep yer body in one piece so you’d tell us about that green ball.”

Green?  That can’t be right, Sylisa thought reminiscing upon the details of her hard-earned prize.  The treasure was red because of the ruby crystal inside it

Her confused expression prompted the bandit to be more direct.  “This,” the big man opened his heavily scarred hand and revealed Sylisa’s Dusk Ball.  He stared at it in great wonder, like a child who had received a toy he did not know what to do with.  “Well?  What is it?” he asked finally.  “You’d been reaching for it when we found you passed out in the sands.  Tell me what it is!”

Is this guy for real?  Maybe this is some sort of test?  Better say something.   “A Pokéball,” Sylisa said shortly.  

“Mah?”  Machoke noisily dropped something metal on the ground.

“A what now?” the bandit asked with a raise of a thick brow.  “Speak up!”

“Poke-É-Ball,” Sylisa repeated.  “Or Poke-Uh-Ball if you’re from that region,” she said subtly deriding a foreign enunciation which did not belong to her.

“The hell is that?” he asked.  “Ain’t no such thing I’ve ever heard of.  What’s it supposed to do?”

Goodness.  Just how drunk is this guy?  Something doesn’t feel right about this.  It could be a ruse, she thought feeling her headache throb uneasily.  Everyone in the world knows about Pokéballs.  They’re as ubiquitous as Pokémon themselves.  How come this bandit doesn’t know, especially if he has a Pokémon?  All her thinking made her migraine so much worse.  “Capture Pokémon with it,” she explained concisely.

“The hell?  Capture them?  In this little thing?  Har-har!  Did the sunshine fry your head-goo too?” the bandit laughed raucously.

“No,” she murmured.  But it sure feels like my brain is about to explode.  Sylisa said, “That’s what you use it for.”

Seeing that Sylisa was not complying with his demands, the bandit radically shifted his demeanor to intimidate her.  “Look here,” he said grabbing her ebony hair and yanking tightly on it through the bars to wrench her close to his disgusting rotted smile.  His breath reeked of strong, pungent alcohol.  “I don’t have time for your games, wretch.  If you wanna lie ta my face, I’ll have ya know I ain’t such a courteous gent.   If ya ain’t cooperating nice like ya look, we’ll just get right down to business n’ have our way with you.  Me ‘n the boys don’t care if you’re sane or not b’cause ya ain’t gonna live through it.  You’ll be begging for death before we’re done with you.  We even let our Pokémon in on it.  Take bets and see how long you’ll last until you expire like a used-up whore.”  He spat as he laughed.

Oh fuck.  I gotta find a way out of here, and fast.  Though Sylisa wore a strong face, her body was clearly trembling.

“Maho-Mah!” chimed in the Machoke.

“Ah, so let me ask you again, sweet-cheeks.  And this time, no bullshit.  What’s this ball thing supposed to do?”

“Does it matter?”  She countered with a sly misdirection only a rogue would think of under pressure, “It’s worth a lot to rich folks,” Sylisa fabricated.  Dusk Balls are common, but he doesn’t know that.

“Oh?”  The bandit’s glossy, somewhat drunk eyes lit up.  “Izzat so?”

“Why do you think I stole it?” she bluffed.  He’s really buying it?  Moron.  All that drink must’ve corroded whatever nugget sized brain he had.

“You don’t say?” he said closing his hand greedily around the Dusk Ball.  “Why’s that then?”

“Because you can’t just run to the local store and buy ‘em,” Sylisa falsely reasoned with the bandit.  What an idiot, she thought.  You can order them in bulk online, dumbass.

“I guess that’s true, little lady,” the bandit chortled.  “Never seen anything like this before in the wares of a merchant we’ve held up.  Oh ho, and we’ve held up many!”

“Mah-choke!” belted the Machoke proudly with a fist pump.

“Say, now—” The bandit scratched her hair with grimy fingers and sniffed it “—You from the High Plains?”

“The what?” Sylisa asked trying to suppress her revulsion at the man as best she could.  She hadn’t ever heard of any place referred to as such before.  Maybe he’s talking about the hills beyond the distant Great Canyon. 

“Joking,” laughed the bandit.  He took another extended swig of the foul liquid in his canteen and let out a filthy belch.  “A stupid bitch like you couldn’t have traveled that far a’cross the sands on her own.”

Sylisa reminisced, I’ve been to several regions.  I’m capable of traveling all by myself!  It wasn’t entirely true because she always had Weavile by her side.  However, she knew better than to blurt that information to her captor.  Instead she quietly watched the bandit fiddle with her Pokémon’s Dusk Ball.  She could tell by his lack of dexterity that he was quite inebriated.  He can’t even snap the ball open.  Wonder if that means she’s not inside.  Damn, I could really use her help right about now!

“Don’t look like you’re from around here.”  He pointed uncomfortably close to her eyes.  “N’uh.  You don’t have dark eyes like most folk.  I notice shit like that.  Them’s peepers o’ yours’re foreign.”  He let out a drunken hiccup.  “Where you from?”

Crap.  Sylisa haphazardly made something generic up.  “You know… other side of the water,” she said. 

“What?  Other side of the water?” the bandit yapped.  “You don’t say.  You can swim?” 

“Can’t you?” Sylisa shot back.  “Strong man like yourself isn’t afraid of a little water, is he?”

“Err…o’course I swim!  Why wouldn’t I?” the bandit countered.  “Psh, that river’s my bitch.  I race Poliwrath there allatime when I’m bored ‘n win errytime!” 

He’s certainly lying.  Sylisa concealed a smile.  Not only did she learn her captor probably couldn’t swim, but there was a river nearby.  That spontaneous bluff of her worked great, however she still didn’t know the lay of the land or what direction the river was in from this cavern she was being held in.  It could prove useful if I manage to get out of here, she thought.  “Are you the only guy around here who likes to swim?” she pressured whilst glancing over at the dangerous Machoke. 

“Yeah, that’d be me.  O’course, that river’s a tough one ‘cause of them rapids!”  He slipped into telling an anecdote, drunkenly slurring his words.  “Last week, a buddy o’ mine got swept up by the undercurrent while he wuz out takin’ a piss.  Made it halfway down ‘round the rocky bank, all the way past the cliffs, flailing and screaming like a newborn babe.  Was funny as shit.”  The bandit’s expression suddenly turned serious as if he had hit a moment of clarity.   “But then… ol’ Leroy got swallowed up whole by a Pokémon.  Poor, poor sonuvabitch…”

“Swallowed by a Pokémon!” Sylisa exclaimed.  What the heck?  Maybe crossing that river’s not such a good idea!  Poor Leroy.  Wait a second!  Pokémon don’t eat people!  At least not any I know of.   Frustrated, she asked, “You didn’t want to give Leroy a hand since you’re such a good swimmer?”

“Bah!  Woulda helped him out, I swear it,” the bandit said in distress as the alcohol was speaking.  “I’ll be damned though, when I saw the size of that Pokémon.  Nope, not’uh, I ain’t gonna wind up as the beast’s dinner too.  No friend o’ mine – hick! – is worth that sorta trouble!”

Great, Sylisa thought quietly, captured by drunken bandits about to torture me and now there’s man-eating Pokémon.  They’re too dumb to know what a Pokéball is.  Their stupidity does me no good now that I’m behind bars guarded by a strong Pokémon like Machoke.  Can this possibly get any worse?

The bandit let out another upset hiccup that turned into a grotesque burp.  “—And now there’s a frickin’ dragon that comes out at night too.  A real problem that.”

“A dragon?” she replied.  Could it be the Charizard?   

“Guessin’ you’ve seen it?” the bandit asked. “Looks like you have.  Daunting beast, ain’t it?”

“Yeah,” Sylisa admitted.  “Huge dark wings and a fiery maw.” 

“Aye.  That’s the one,” he spoke with a lugubrious tone in his deep voice hollowed out by all the drink.  “Didn’t use to be around, but now we can’t go-a-raidin’ at night no more.  Bad stuff, that’s for sure.  Hell, after it’s gone the beast’s got a curse that lingers.”

“What kind of curse?”

“Black cloud follows it around and things it covers, they die.”

Definitely suspicious.  I wonder if the robed cultist is around.  She decided to take a chance and asked, “You ever see someone riding it?”

“Riding it?!” exclaimed the bandit.  “Ha!  You’d think a smart guy like me would stay around to survey that flying death menace?  I like your sense o’ humor.  Who the hell could tame, ‘n ride on that big blighter?”

“Well, in theory a dragon rider could,” Sylisa insisted.  “Specifically, a man in dark robes with a crimson trim.  That’s who I saw riding the giant dragon.  He was after the loot I stole.  You and your boys better have a way of dealing with him and his giant pet menace.”

“Har-har.  You’re full of shit!” the bandit scoffed.  “Oof!  Speakin’ o’ which, Machoke, keep an eye on the lovely lady while I go take care of business.”

Gross! she thought watching the bandit hobble out of the room holding his bloated gut as he left to relieve himself.  “Great.  Now I’m stuck here with the Pokémon until he gets back,” she whispered, “but at least these bars will protect me from the big guy.”

“Mah hoo!” replied the Machoke.  He started beating on his chest to establish dominance now that the bandit was gone. 

“Ugh,” Sylisa groaned in disgust.  I need to find a way out of here!  That meathead is going to torture me.  I bet I could pick this old lock if my hands could just move.  I have a spare hairpin.  I can’t reach it while chained like this.  There must be another way.  Think, Sylisa, think!  Nothing came to mind.  Her heart felt dread like never before.  My life has been one heist after another leading to this.  It gave her pause as she realized how fragile life could be.  And it filled her with anger that she was to lose it all to a bunch of no-good bandits.  I didn’t even get a chance to give Mathias that extra smug look I had saved for completing the job.  The old man’s probably worried about me.

Suddenly there was a loud noise from outside the room where Sylisa had heard voices coming from before.  Then there was a disruptive racket that followed, a cacophony of what sounded like multiple Pokémon attacks.  The whole cave shook as Sylisa heard the clamors grow louder.

“ARH!  WE’RE BEING RAIDED!” hollered a man outside the prison chamber. 

“Get to the front!  All hands up, in arms!” roared another bandit.  “Make ‘em pay with their lives for crossin’ the Dune Devils!”

“MAHO!” Machoke punched its big fists together and ran off in to the direction of the commotion.

An invasion?  Now!? What are the odds?  She tried to loosen the holds on her wrists but they were just too tight to slip out of.  Even if I got a lucky break, I’m unarmed and trapped with no exit.  Geez, I hope whoever is raiding these asshats isn’t worse than them.  Sylisa listened closely, relying on her hearing to try and figure out what was going on beyond her limited range of sight.

“Argh!” 

“No!  Watch out!”

“Oy! Counter the attack, Machoke!  Up on your right!  Cross-Chop!”

“Ma!  Ma-hoke!”

That’s quite a lot of attacks, Sylisa thought.  They sound like energy moves.  Wish I knew what was going on.  If only I could use this golden opportunity to escape!  Sylisa continued to noisily struggle against the binding chains.  C’mon if I can just loosen one arm out of these…dammit.  Her continued struggles were in vain.  Suddenly the cave wall across from the table with the torture implements began shaking.  “Oh great, what now?”

There was a tremor and a huge rock pile fell through from the ceiling.  The blinding sun came pouring in from above.  “No way…” Sylisa said in confusion.  “There’s just no way in hell.”  She knew her luck could not be that good.  From the path of light tumbled down two Roggenrola and a nasty looking Boldore.  “Damn.  There goes the good luck.”

“Rogga!” cried out the Pokémon as they spun chaotically in a Rollout, destroying parts of the cave in an out of control frenzy.  They smashed against the bars of her cell frightening Sylisa, but the steel was far too tough for the rocky Pokémon to break. 

“Get away!” she said to the enraged Pokémon.  The Boldore raised an arm and smashed it so hard into the ground it caused parts of the roof to come crashing down right next to her.  She couldn’t run, this place was about to become her grave. 

“Water Gun!” shouted a man’s voice.  A hailstorm of bullets made of water came pouring in through the hole in the cave’s wall that the Pokémon had entered in through.  Like a Gatling gun, the wild storm of bullets took Boldore by surprise.  It was quickly stunned by the attack, the chunks of rock and crystal it was made out of broken up by the water bullets.  

Boldore was far too sturdy to be taken down in a single attack.  It reared back and prepared an energy attack, priming the glowing crystals on its body to fire a devastating Power Gem up at where the Water Gun had come from.

“Cut in with Aqua Jet!” said the same man’s voice from before.  A blue dart shot down through the opening, the mysterious Pokémon cloaked in an aquatic veil that made it impossible to see and extraordinarily quick. 

Boldore had been turning bright orange from priming the Power Gem.  However, the wickedly swift blue missile struck the Pokémon right before it finished charging up.  Boldore was hit in the arm, and this caused it to tilt its body down unexpectedly.  But at this point Boldore had already committed, it had built up far too much energy and was overflowing with internal pressure from preparing to launch a gemstone beam of light.  “DORE!” it exclaimed as it released the brutal beam of pressurized force. 

The ensuing blast was devastating.  Boldore fired its payload right down at the earth beneath it, sending it soaring up into the air and straight into the ceiling.  Being such a heavy Pokémon, it naturally fell right back down with a tremendous crash, losing its luster and passing out. 

“Rapid-fire!  Knock ‘em out of their formation!” yelled the man’s voice.  A barrage of aquatic bullets flew through the cave.  Like bullets from a Gatling gun, the streams of water traced up toward the remaining Pokémon.  The two Roggenrola quickly scampered off toward the cave entrance, the way Machoke had gone to avoid getting shot.

That was too close!  Sylisa thought breathing heavily.  She focused on the battle scene.

A man had appeared over the knocked out Boldore and was inspecting it.  He had a pressed dark navy uniform with an officer’s cap that matched.  His hair was ashen, the color of gray smoke from a chimney or a cold morning’s sky in winter.  He had fuzzy pale facial hair round his chin despite having a youthful face.  His dark brown eyes were inquisitive.  On the side of his brown leather belt against hip he carried a holster housing a silver revolver, which appeared to be of a high caliber.  He bore a simple badge with an insignia resembling the side profile of a howling Arcanine.

Ugh, just my luck.  Another copper to deal with, she thought.  All I want to do is go home.  Maybe he’ll get me out of here if I play my cards right.  Sylisa faked a weak cough.  “Hey mister!  Thank God you saved me!”

“Young Officer Remington Khachaturian, at your service!” responded the fellow respectfully in a voice sufficiently deep enough to pass for a man.  Being young seemed important to him considering he had the gray hair of an old man.  Nevertheless, he had the fit body and youthful face of someone in their early to mid-twenties. 

Damn, that name’s a freakin’ mouthful, Sylisa thought.  “Hey…err, Remmy, how about you grab those keys.”

“Remmy!?” the uniformed young man recoiled in shock.  He scratched the back of his neck nervously and said quickly, “That’s what she used to—!  No, that won’t do.  Please, call me York.” 

“York?”  Whatever, copper.  Sylisa shrugged having consigned to calling him the shortest number of syllables possible.  “Quick, nab the keys off that desk and bust me out of here while the bandits are busy being attacked!”

“Hold on just a moment!  I’m also an investigator.  The youngest and brightest sharpshooter in the Bureau, a distinct honor among my peers!  I’m going to make Detective or maybe even —”

“—Doofus!” interrupted Sylisa. “You’re not gonna have a name if you keep yammering; those bandits don’t care about your stupid titles and neither do I.”

“Well!”  York tried to regain his posture, but it was clear that his pride had been injured by her words.  Then he saw the clamps Machoke had dropped on the ground near her cage and his cold glare softened.  “I can certainly see you’re distressed, being held hostage by this group of savages.  You most certainly are forgiven for deriding your rescuer.  I’m officially here to investigate the ongoing crimes of this foul lot, including locking you up!”

“Are you joking?” Sylisa asked.  He hasn’t even considered the possibility that I’M the criminal.  Some brilliant detective he is.  Suppose his naivety works nicely.  Best to play the role of a damsel in distress.   “You and what army?!” she asked.

“Hyde!  To me!”  York exclaimed with a flourish. 

Suddenly a torrent of water burst through the earthen mound beside the fainted Boldore.  And out from the frothing mist appeared an orange weasel with a fuzzy yellow collar and a knotted bandana to match.  “Buwee.”

“This is my partner, my loyal cadet, and most faithful friend, Hyde!  The two of us solve crimes together,” York explained proudly.  “We’re a great team, the two of us—”

“—Wait one second!” Sylisa snapped with a hostile interjection.  “If you and your Buizel are the only ones here,” she rationalized bit by bit, “then who the hell are the bandits fighting?!”

“Ah ha!  You appreciate my tactical genius!” York boasted with a wide grin showing his pearly teeth.  “You see, earlier while Hyde and I were rummaging through our provisions during our lunch hour, a dastardly horde of wild Pokémon appeared hoping to lay claim to what was rightfully ours all for themselves!  Unfortunately, the curs surrounded us in great numbers and we were quickly outmatched by the swarm.  It was us or them.  Hyde cleared a path through their endless ranks with his signature move.  Never before had we so hastily made a calculated retreat from our pursuers!  We maneuvered over crags and rocks all the way up to this hilltop to secure a more strategic vantage.  When Hyde’s keen eyes noticed a nearby cave, I reasoned this would be a perfect location to lose our pursuers.  And so, I tossed our basket of our hard-earned comestibles into the dark cavern!  …Was somewhat surprised by hysteria, the cave appeared quite empty from the outside.”

“—Let me get this straight,” Sylisa said in a mixture of disbelief and bewilderment, “you were out having a picnic when some wild Pokémon jumped you.  You ran for the hills, Buizel saw these caves, so you tossed your food inside, which inadvertently started a war between the bandits living here and the wild Pokémon?!”

“Not just any wild Pokémon, hungry ones, you know, the types that don’t show mercy.”  York sighed.  “Besides, when you say it like that it makes me sound like a frightened Abra.”

“You’re hopeless,” Sylisa said.  “Just bust me out of here before we both wind up dead or worse.”

“I could never turn down the request of such a fair maiden in distress!”

“Maiden?!  Call me that again and I’ll slice you open like a maiden’s purse,” she said gritting her teeth. 

York recoiled in shock.  “My sincerest apologies!  What then should I call you?  “Milady” is far too formal given the circumstances.  Forgive my prodding into your personal affairs, but are you married?  Perhaps engaged?  I’ll be forthright; “Mistress” or “Madam” does not suit you at all.”

“Shut.  The.  Hell.  Up.  Lock.  Open.”

“What about “Miss”?” York asked not giving up. 

“It’s Sylisa!” she hissed.  “Open the damn door, dimwit.  Can’t you hear?  The fighting’s starting to die down!”

“Of course,” York said, his hands fumbling with the key.  “Hyde, how’s our exit looking?”

His Buizel scurried over to the small hole in the wall and nimbly peered his neck out.  He gave a benign twirl of the tail indicating that there was no opposition approaching.  “Bweee!  Weee!”

“Okay, just a moment, almost have it!” York said mishandling the key so poorly it made Sylisa want to shout at him in frustration.

“You’re taking forever, you klutz!  Haven’t you ever opened a simple lock before?  You even have the damn key!”  Sylisa said.

“There!” the young detective said after prolonged shimmying of the key to open the locks binding her limbs.  “You are free as promised, Sylisa!”

I wish I didn’t give him my name, Sylisa thought wriggling free of the heavy chains around her.  She rubbed her sunburnt arms gingerly.  No chance to retrieve my stuff while the bandits are fighting off a hoard of wild Pokémon.  I’ll have to come back.  “You,” she pointed at York, “let’s get the hell out of here before the damn bandits finish fighting off the hoard.  Have your Buizel widen that hole with another Water Gun so we can slip on out.”

“You heard the lady, Hyde!” York said.  “Burst through the wall and knock those rocks clear!”

Hyde shot a jet of water with enough force to loosen more of the rocks and make a clear exit path to the bright daylight.  “Even more useful than your trainer,” Sylisa gave the Buizel a grin to say good job and deftly leapt up through the exit. 

“Hey!  Wait for me!”  York shouted from behind as he scrambled out of the hole after her and Hyde. 


 ***


The sun’s really bright, Sylisa thought.  She had been in the dark for so long that her eyes had trouble adjusting to the midday sun.  Directly ahead she heard flowing water.  As she squinted to see, she saw a distant city with bleached buildings carved into the face of a large mountainside.  

Hyde popped his head out of the tunnel next followed by York.  “Bubbuwee,” the Pokémon muttered shaking the dirt and grime off his fluffy coat.

The ruckus by the main entrance to the cave was rather loud now that they were out in the open.  Sylisa wanted to get far away from the chaos.  I’ll sneak back later under the cover of night to steal my stuff back.  Hopefully those wild Pokémon will tire out the group of bandits.  Or maybe kill them.  Hmm.  I’m not equipped at all for dealing with Pokémon.  I’ll need to swipe some Pokéballs and recruit a henchmon.

“Hey, about that…” York started to say.

Sylisa ignored him and made a dash down the steep hill toward the river.  It did not take her long to reach the river’s edge.  There was an elevated rock ledge overlooking the water which was about twenty feet above the deep and fast-flowing water.  There were choppy whitecaps.  The current is fast around here, just like the bandit said.  I don’t believe that thing about a man-eating Pokémon though.  Those bandits were drinking heavily.  Leroy probably drowned since he couldn’t swim and his drunken buddy made up the utterly ridiculous story.  Pokémon don’t eat people.  That’s absurd!

York was panting and he soon was beside her on the ledge overlooking the splashing river.  “Huff.  Ho.  Phew.  Sheesh, you sure run fast, Sylisa,” he said, out of breath.  “Do you compete in races with Pokémon?”

“Where’s the nearest town then?” Sylisa asked.  Her index finger locked on to the large city built into the mountainside to the east.  “Going to need some supplies.” 

“Ah!”  York lit up with a bright smile.  “That would be my hometown, Sol de Lune, the city where the sun is of the moon.  Romantic, huh?  Named after the famous eclipse that occurs once every hundred years.  They say it’s almost impossible to see the stellar event twice in your lifetime unless you’re lucky.   Anyway, that’s an old story from an old legend.  If you’re looking for retail, it’s got a lot of shops, a huge open market, and people travel from all over to visit and trade.”

“Never heard of it,” she replied thinking, Sol de Lune’s history seems interesting.  I’ll have to research it online.

The young officer continued to gloat about his hometown with fondness.  “It’s a beautiful place, a genuine paradise out here in the badlands.  Not too far away either.  Pass over this river, called Fector’s Run, and hike about two hours through level land.  Mind, it’s best to cross the water to the north; upstream, by the source, where it’s shallower.  Downstream is where it gets real choppy and dangerous.” 

“Sounds like a decent enough plan,” she answered.  Sylisa’s thoughts were elsewhere.  She adjusted her clothes to try and feel more comfortable now that she was free.  So much had happened to her and she was having trouble with whether it was all just a dream.

“You look a little out of it,” York pointed out.  “If you need to talk—”

“—No, I’m quite alright,” she replied noticing Buizel was being a dutiful lookout and keeping an eye on the cave. “You know, must be nice having a Pokémon like Buizel by your side.”

“Huh?  Don’t you have a Pokémon, Sylisa?”

“I—” Sylisa’s head started hurting again “—had one, yes.”  She held her aching head and walked to the edge of the rock overlooking the river.  Whenever I think of you.  “Why does it hurt so much?”

“I’m sorry,” York said.  “Hyde warms up to people well though, I’m sure you and him will get along fine.”

“Buwee-wee!”  Hyde blew a few big bubbles in the air and spun his forked tail.

“Making new friends huh,” Sylisa said.  She shyly looked at Buizel.  Her hands got stiff.  “I don’t know what to say.”  He’s got such as silly name, sort of like his trainer.

York laughed.  “You don’t have to say anything special; Hyde understands people.  Just say “Hi” or something, he’ll get the picture.  He’s a smart Pokémon, very independent too.  Little scamp’s popular with all the ladies – erm I mean, kids around town.”

Sylisa shrugged and waved awkwardly.  Hyde twirled his tail and ran up next to her playfully.  He put his head to the side of her thigh against her stocking the way Weavile used to.   “Hey!  Stop, that tickles,” Sylisa said, trying not to laugh.  She pet him on the head gently to try and get him to ease up.  But suddenly his neck collar puffed out, startling Sylisa and making her jump.  “Whoa!” she exclaimed.

York burst out into a roar of laughter.  “No need to be afraid of that.  Hyde’s trying to be friendly.  He’s one hell of a swimmer, that pouch round his neck helps him always stay afloat.  Even the best swimmers are wise to be wary of rough waters,” York explained. “He thinks it’s funny to shock folks with it though.  The little guy’s verve has spoiled more dates than I can remember.”

“You know a lot about Pokémon.  You some sort of researcher on the side?” she asked as Buizel playfully blew a few bubbles near her knee. 

“Nah, what I know is what I pick up on here and there over the years.  Hyde and I are Ranger Class, but we’re well on our way to making a bigger name for ourselves,” York said.  “Besides, Hyde is my friend.  If I didn’t know his talents I’d be a lousy buddy, wouldn’t you say?”

I felt that way with her too.  But now I can’t feel anything when I think of her except for pain.  What’s wrong with me?  Why is it this way?

“Are you feeling alright, Sylisa?” York asked.  “You keep holding your head like a Psyduck.  You don’t have any spooky psychic powers right?”

“No,” she said closing her eyes.  “It’s a bad headache that started last night.”

“I’m joshing you.  You’re probably dehydrated and hungry.  I’d offer you food but I’m afraid we expended it during our rescue operation,” York said.

“Rescue operation?  Yeah right.  More like, saving your ass from those wild Pokémon,” Sylisa taunted.  “Although, I want to thank you and Buizel for what you did back there.   You didn’t have to spring me from that cell.”   Oops…I probably should have worded that better, she thought, realizing it made her sound less like a hostage and more like a criminal.  I hope he doesn’t catch on that I’m a thief.  Should be more careful.  I can’t let my guard down, like Mathias taught me.  If the old man knew I was hanging around a detective from the police he’d give me a whack for being stupid.

Casually, York picked up a smooth stone and flung along the river attempting to get it to skip.  It bounced once then plopped into the water unsuccessfully.  “What do you take me for, some sorta sleaze?  No way we were leaving you caged up in that den of mongrels.”

“You got there just in time,” she sighed in relief.  “Usually my luck isn’t that good.  In fact, I’m really unlucky most of the time.”

“Bad headaches and bad luck?  Sheesh, I sure know how to pick ‘em.”  York tossed another flat rock.  This time he managed to get it to bounce twice.

“That’s me,” she replied with a shrug.  “So you better not get too close.”

“Don’t worry, Hyde and I will accompany you back to Sol de Lune.  We’ll go to the Bureau, that’s our headquarters downtown.  Nice place where I hang my hat as an officer.  But before all that, you should really get some food, you look starved.  Once we make it back to civilization there’s plenty of places to eat.  Hey.  Tell you what, I’ll take you to my favorite place in town and buy you lunch.”

Is he seriously asking me out on a date?  Sylisa didn’t know what to say.  Her relationship experience had been minimal despite being in her prime.  Afraid her pale face might be blushing the bright red color of her sunburnt arms, she quickly turned to the only one there who wasn’t York and asked, “What about your Buizel, can he come too?”

“Oh.  Well, in the interest of time,” York replied, “I’ll have Hyde run ahead to swiftly file your paperwork and get you back in touch with your family posthaste!”

I don’t have a family anymore.  And the Shadows sure as hell aren’t going to answer from a man of the law.  I hope he doesn’t give my name away to the authorities, one search of the bounty list and I’m sure he’ll know I’m a crook wanted for stealing!  Can’t let that happen.  She leaned in close to York provocatively.  “That sounds lovely,” Sylisa said teasingly before shoving York into the water below.  “Whoops!  So sorry!” she feigningly cried out.

“Waah!” York yelled falling into the deeper part of the river.  Buizel quickly jumped in after him.

“Watch out for man-eating Pokémon!” Sylisa sniggered.  She quickly turned and ran in the opposite direction to cross the river at a more convenient location to the north.  Behind her in the distance she could hear York and Buizel splashing and scrambling as they were carried downstream.  Gee, I hope that drunken bandit’s story about the man-eating Pokémon wasn’t really true.  I don’t know any Pokémon that would dare eat a human.  At least Buizel can swim.  I can’t have those two detectives following me around.  I’m a thief after all.  I’ll go to that town he mentioned and steal whatever I need, nab a henchmon, come back here and swipe my stuff back from those lousy bandits.  Then I’ll be one step closer to finding her.  I need answers.

A stubborn resolve to press on compelled her forward.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Destined Reunion


Ahead of her, a long shadow stretched over the sands, reaching toward the gates of a large city nestled in a mountain to the east.  The sweltering sun had begun to dip low in the sky behind her and its afternoon light filled the sky with orange, illuminating the bleached stone buildings built right into the mountainside.  Above the vertical incline of the city, a large cumulus cloud hovered lazily against the mountain’s peak, its marshmallow fluffiness dyed a creamy yellow from the light of the sunset.

This is where that detective kid is from? Sylisa thought as she approached the strange city.  It’s not a very large city.  Pretty sure he’s never seen a proper metropolis like they have in Unova.  I remember when dad took mom and me on vacations all over the world from that port.  Fancy cruises, personal butlers, we really had it all.  And yet because of my curse, anyone close to me suffers.  I hate it.  I hate it so goddamn much.  I even lost my best friend.  I can’t even think about her without my head feeling like it’s going to split open.  It’s beyond cruel.  What did I do to deserve this?

During Sylisa’s afternoon journey, she had ample time to reflect.  That turned out to be a negative thing since she could not recollect happy times spent with her best friend, Weavile, or even her name.  Up until now, those were the few memories which brought her comfort.  Unfortunately, they were sealed by pain, forcing her to reach desperately for other memories to give her the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Tired and worn out, she walked toward the high bridge as confidently as she could muster.  Upon her approach, it became clear the entranceway had been constructed like an ancient fortress comprising of two large gates, a mighty portcullis for each, and a stone bridge built over a steep and jagged incline into the city.  Several Pokémon were stationed along with guards along the perimeter.  There were a pair of Palossand stationed above both gateways.  Things were tense. 

Tight security, she thought, starting to feel uncharacteristically nervous as a lawbreaker.  Without her partner in crime, she felt very vulnerable to things she once brushed off by simply having a friend by her side.

One of the watchmen gave her a stern nod as she crossed the bridge.  “Glad you made it back before sundown,” he said.  The huge Bastiodon next to him grumbled deeply while watching her pass. 

Sylisa did not know what to say in response, she strolled in casually as her thoughts ran wildly.  What that guard said was a little off…  I’ve never been to a place like this before.  Perhaps they lock the gate at night?  Unsavory types are usually on the inside of a city’s walls where I’m from.  Then again that bandit mentioned the Dragon only comes out at night.  Maybe that has something to do with it.  Hmm, better start my search at the town square.

After passing the guarded keep tower between the two gates, the first district she encountered was conveniently the marketplace.  Stalls and shops lined the narrow paths leading up through the city.  However, at this late hour in the afternoon most stores had already closed for the day.  Sylisa scoped out the various businesses.

Clothing, electronics, medicine, general goods, munitions, and food.  I’ll wait until it gets darker before I pinch anything.  Then she thought about all the city guards and their tough looking Pokémon.  I should make sure to find a Pokémon.  But to get a Pokémon to comply with my orders and help steal, I’ll need to get my hands on a Pokéball to capture it.  Odd.  I don’t see any Pokéball shops.  Not even a Pokémon Center.  Maybe general goods or electronics would have them.  Suppose I could ask around up ahead.  Looks like there’s a tavern up that hill with a lot of people.

Sylisa walked alone along the stone road leading up the mountainside, passing several small shops with residences on their second and third floors.  Everything was built vertically from a similar bleached stone.  Windows were made of artisan blown glass paneled with a rich dark-colored wood.  Flowers and potted plants decorated the inviting windowsills.  People on the street were carrying groceries along with their Pokémon.  Everyone in their own little world, enjoying the crisp air of the mountainside town.  It was precious in a sense; a part of life she had never experienced.  Most strikingly, Sylisa didn’t see a single person with a cell phone.   Not like they’d get reception all the way out here, she thought.  It’s kind of strange though.

The road split into two paths after an abrupt turn by some wooden barrels with a few claw marks on their bellies.  One path went further, snaking up along the mountain, winding in zigzags along the mountain edge because the city was built steeply.  The other went straight to a welcoming building made of brick and bleached stone with a slanted wooden roof.  It was a rickety building that jutted out almost out to the edge of the cliff, with a tunnel that allowed for foot traffic through the major road she was on.  Its exterior construction was the portion with the main entranceway, a grand set of wood doors.   The rest of the structure had been built into the mountainside making the true size unascertainable.  Behind it, a small courtyard overlooking the market district.   There was a magnificent view of the city gates in front of the desert, all covered by the setting sun’s warm orange glow. 

“Audernaut—” Am I saying that right? “—Adventure Guild” Sylisa said, reading a sign written in Smeargle green ink on the side of a large wooden plank hanging over the great doors.  How quaint, she mused.  Pushing open the country doors, she felt like she stepped straight into an old saloon.  The tavern had a distinct odor of oak from all the distillery barrels lining the walls.  The dining area of the inn was packed; she saw all types of people eating savory meals with their Pokémon.  A tavern that serves Pokémon.  Why am I not surprised.  Could never get away with this back home without the Department of Sanitation giving you a violation.  Things really are different out here on the Orre frontier.

Sylisa made her way through the crowd of people and Pokémon toward the bar, passing a grand piano along the way.  No one was playing tonight; the tavern had been quite lively on its own.  There were two large, crackling fireplaces wrought of gray stone, and the warm glow from high chandeliers.  Everything about the hostelry reminded her of a past she had seen in old photographs.

“Uh-oh,” coughed the burly man behind the counter as he made eye contact with her.  He had a thick brown mustache and chops on his big round head.  His eyes were grayish brown from age and he looked well over forty or fifty.  He wore an apron with several spots on it and rolled up sleeves to show off his muscles.   A small Tympole rolled playfully on the counter next to him.   Tympole had been spraying scalding hot water to clean the glasses and the man was methodically drying them off with a white washcloth.  “Welcome back to Au-dern-ought,” the barman said as naturally as he could, suppressing a cold and distant expression; he looked uncomfortable by the sight of her, yet unable to do much considering he was working.

“Excuse me?” Sylisa asked.  She skeptically placed a hand over her heart.  “This is my first time here.”

“Oh?  My apologies,” he replied from the other side of the grand counter.  Sylisa discerned a look of mild confusion on his face.  “Mistook you for someone else.  Thought maybe you changed your hair.”

“My hair…?”  Sylisa repeated.  She shook her head.  I don’t remember changing my hair or ever being here.  “Whatever.  Read the sign outside.  Is this some sorta Pokémon guild?” she asked.

“Huh?”  He crossed his arms in guarded disbelief.  “This really your first time here?”

“That’s what I just said,” Sylisa said with an impatient fist on her hip.  “Are you slow or something?”

She saw a faint smile on the bartender, but he quickly dispelled it.  “Like I said, thought you were someone else.”

“Riiiight.”  She wondered silently, Maybe there’s someone in town who looks like me.  That would explain why the guard at the entrance gate seemed to recognize me.  But… how many people from around here look like me?  Having a doppelganger all the way out here in these backwoods is creepy.

“Looks like you landed at the Guild’s HQ out in the frontier.  So.  What can I do ya for?” 

“Looking for information,” Sylisa replied leaning up against the counter.

Suddenly, a dark-furred Meowth sprung up from behind the counter, with a “Meorroow!”  It made Sylisa recoil in shock and her heart race.  “Waaah!” she exclaimed nearly falling backward.  “W-What the heck is a Meowth doing startling customers!?”

The bartender strangely burst out into a genuine laugh at the scene.  “This here is Murmur; he gets real feisty whenever there’s talk of coin involved.”  With his huge hand, he pet Meowth’s golden forehead coin, causing the feline to growl.  He then asked her lowly, “You’re not afraid of a lively cat like Murmur, are you?”

“Oh no, I’m okay.  Fine.  Really.  I was just playing along, heh.” Sylisa sighed and thought, Usually Pokémon are less rambunctious, especially indoors.  Come to think of it, Buizel was that way too.  Pokémon out of their Pokéballs sure are free spirited.  It’s so weird how people out here in the frontier don’t keep them in balls. 

The barman beamed.  “I’m sure you’re aware: everything has a price, especially information,” he said whilst pouring a glass of wine and smoothly sliding it down the counter to a patron.

Well that sucks.  I don’t have any finances, those bandits robbed me.  Took all my thief tools too.  “Listen, I’m in a bit of an emergency,” Sylisa said urgently.

“Sure, sure, I know.  You and everyone else in the city have problems that won’t go away on their own,” joked the barman, “Simple fact is: if we did favors for free we’d be bankrupt in a matter of days.”

“There has to be a way you can help me,” Sylisa implored.  “I’ll get out of your hair if you point me in the right direction.”

“Mmm.  So you’re lost?” he reasoned.  “How about you go to the Sheriff’s Office?  Those detectives at the Bureau are always willing to help out a fellow citizen.”

“I’m not from around here though,” she explained.

“Ah, right.”  He lowered his voice and cupped a cautious hand next to his mouth and said forthrightly, “That’s probably for the best.  Everything they do is for reputation and clout so you better be willing to sing their noble praises to high heaven.”

“I take it your motley crew of adventurers isn’t like that though,” Sylisa answered with a wily expression, “that’s more my speed.”

“Heh.  You’re wise for your age.  Maybe I didn’t give you a proper chance after all.”  He stuck out a hand.  “Bennet, Bartender Extraordinaire.  I run the show here for the guild.”

She stared him in the eyes warily before shaking it.  “Not sure who to trust around here,” she spoke softly and honestly.

“Can understand gal, but like it or not you’re gonna need connections here on the frontier.” Bennet went back to cleaning glasses and mugs.   “It’s your choice whose side you wanna take.”

“Then I take it your guild is recruiting new members?”  I’m a thief so I don’t know how I’d fit the role as an adventurer.  And I’m already part of the Nightshade Shadows.  Not sure if there’s any rules in the Code about multiple memberships since I couldn’t be bothered to read the whole damn thing.  Given the circumstances, I’m sure Mathias would understand.  If not, I’ll just give Absol a big hug and he’ll calm right down like he always does.

“Well, if you got the talent,” replied Bennet shrugging.  “We give a substantial discount on relevant info to our members.  It’s free if it’s related to your current assignment.  Can hook you up with room and board if you don’t mind being on-call.”

That would prove useful.  I seriously need a base of operations until I can steal my stuff back from those bandits.  This isn’t a thieves’ guild, but it’ll have to do until I get back in touch with my Shadow contacts.  “I’d consider it,” she said without mincing words, “so where do I sign up?” 

Bennet studied her and then looked around her.  “Hmm, mmm, nuh-uh, nah.  Unless you’ve got one of those invisible ghost types, you can’t join without a Pokémon by your side.”

“Seriously?” Sylisa reacted in disbelief, surprised by the low bar to admission.  “You’re not joking?”

“No.”  Bennet crossed his big arms.  “Why would I be?”

“That’s WAY TOO easy!”  Sylisa replied with a haughty, “If that’s all, what a gag!”  I’ll just run to the nearest store, steal some Pokéballs, and go catch a friggin’ Weedle if that’s what it takes to join!

“So, you have a high affinity with Pokémon?” Bennet asked with seriousness in his deep voice.  “Gosh.  Wouldn’t have guessed that at all, gal; but hey, I’m surprised by lots of folk out here.”

“Is that supposed to be a joke?  Even a drooling five-year-old can catch Pokémon,” Sylisa said.  This guy, Bennet, he needs to watch more reality TV.  I swear the shows they air with the little kids catching Pokémon keep on getting more and more ridiculous.  On the last episode of “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” I streamed online, they had a toddler boy catching a Pinsir while a little girl caught the Scyther it was fighting in the National Park!  Right after the fighting Pokémon were caught, they became as friendly and goofy as the little kids.  What a silly spectacle — Suddenly her head started throbbing again.  “Ow…that smarts… you have any water?” she asked closing her eyes and rubbing her temples to ease the troublesome annoyance inside her skull.

Tympole rolled over on the bar counter to a large barrel and tapped the wooden latch as Bennet placed a clean glass under the flowing water.  He smoothly slid it down the polished countertop as expected from a professional barkeep.  “Water’s always on the house.”

“Thanks.”  She gulped it down.  My, this is the best water I’ve ever tasted!  It’s so cool and refreshing, my whole body feels renewed.  I must have been really dehydrated!   She was so thirsty from before and being out in the sun she downed it in a matter of seconds feeling revitalized.   Bennet poured her another glass.  As she drank she reflected on the journey into town, which had been uneventful other than encountering a few wild Pokémon along the way.  She had managed to avoid the desert dwellers; however, it was much scarier without her partner.  She had seen a giant Mandibuzz flying overhead in circles, and thought for sure she was being stalked.  Mandibuzz turned out to be after a Cacnea.  The giant vulture swooped down and plucked up Cacnea with her vicious talons, carrying its squealing victim back off to her nest.  Nature’s not kind, Sylisa had thought.

Sylisa’s sunburns from earlier still stung underneath her jacket.  Rubbing her sore forearms, she asked Bennet, “How about you point me in a direction where I can get hold of Pokéballs?”

Bennet made a hand gesture running his fingers parallel to his wide mustache over his mouth to say his lips were sealed.  Murmur jingled a fat coin purse.  “Water’s free out in the hot desert, but like I told ya, info costs money for non-guild members,” Bennet replied.  “If you’re serious about joining our adventuring crew, I can do a little digging while you get your affairs in order.”

Then how the hell do I catch a Pokémon?  This is a pretty small city so I don’t think I could just rob another person’s Pokémon to pass off as my own.  …Back to square one: I’ll have to steal some Pokéballs and find a wild Pokémon to snag.  “Fine,” she told him with an expression of fiery determination, “I’ll be back.  With a Pokémon!”

“Aye, you sure you don’t want a stronger drink?” Bennet asked her with a clear passion for good brew.  “Got this crisp tonic and extra mellow bourbon just the other day from a shipment that only comes around every year.  Great stuff, top shelf, I’ll tell you what.”

“Tsk!  I’m underage,” she replied.  

“Blimey!  You are?” Bennet gulped in surprise.  “You don’t look a day under eighteen.”

“The drinking age is twenty-one,” Sylisa insisted, turning around to leave the bar.  Besides, that stuff is bad for the head, reduces dexterity, and turns a thief into a buffoon.  No, if I’m going to heist some Pokéballs tonight I’ll need a clear head. 

Bennet muttered something along the lines of, “Where the hell is she from then?”  Before Sylisa walked out the door he called out, “Good luck!”

Stepping out the busy tavern, and walking a short distance toward the ledge of a cliff looking out at the expansive desert, a brilliant sight greeted her.  Directly ahead, far off in the distance over an ocean of sand, the sun had fallen low in the sky.  Only a small portion of the golden light remained over the horizon.  The sky was canvas of color and light spotted by the distant outlines of a few Flying Pokémon returning to their roosting nests for the twilight hour. 

But it was not the beauty of the scenery which captivated Sylisa.  No.  It was instead a flash of bright green light as the last vestige of the sinking sun disappeared.  That strange, unearthly, yet dazzling radiance caused her to fall into a memory, a flashback of her past, when she was younger and innocent Lisa.


 ***


“HEEEEY!” shouted a young boy with chestnut-colored eyes and messy hair the shade of beach sand.  “I told you to share!” he complained, stomping his feet angrily.  “You stole my Pokémon!”

“You should have been quicker!” Lisa answered without a care in the world.  She was just a little girl, hardly older than her eight-year-old friend, Ted.

“It’s not fair!” protested the other child shoving his hands into the stitched-up stomach pocket of his baggy sweater.  “You said you’d let me catch the next one!” Ted exclaimed.

“Nu-uh!  I said, “I’ll let you catch the next one IF you’re quick!”, big IF,” Lisa replied as she strapped her newly caught creature to her expensive brand-name belt holster. 

“Why’d you get my hopes up?” Ted asked with a sad look on his gaunt face.

Lisa laughed.  “C’mon, it was only a Drilbur!  Nothin’ special.”

“But I really wanted Drilbur!”  Ted explained, “It evolves into a really cool Pokémon, I saw one on TV and even read a book about it.  Excadrill can dig over 300 feet underground and even through iron!”

“Blah, blah, blah!  If you read too much, your eyes are gonna go bad,” Lisa chided with a point, “you already have to wear thick glasses and you’re not even an old fart!”

“Don’t make fun of me!” Ted said while adjusting his prescription glasses that looked more like safety googles.  “You meanie!”

“Aw, don’t cry.  I’m not your mommy!” Lisa sniggered.  She held another Pokéball tight in her little hands.  “That last Pokémon was waaaay too easy to catch with my special Pokéballs!  Tell you what: if you beat me in a race out of the cave then I’ll give you one!”

“I don’t want YOUR capture!” Ted said indignantly.  “I want to catch my own!”

“Tch!  You always miss,” Lisa pointed out.  “I think you need bigger glasses!”

“Nuh-uh!”  Ted shook his little head causing his glasses to sink down his nose.  He pushed them back up and said assertively, “I caught a rare Pokémon yesterday in the forest after school.  You missed class again and the teacher was really angry.”

“Oh yeah?”  Lisa walked up to him with a snide smirk on her pudgy childish face.  “I don’t care about stupid teachers.  Whadja catch?  Oh, wait, lemme guess!  A sleeping Caterpie?” she snorted.

“NO!” Ted yelled.  “I caught a Psychic Type Pokémon!”

“Oh wooow,” Lisa pretended to be impressed without believing him.  “Where’s it now?”

“I…we had to sell it…” Ted replied clearly frustrated.

“You sold it!?  Why’d ya do that, dummy?” Lisa asked in alarm.  All her Pokémon, at least the ones she was bored of, were in her father’s massive PC Box.  It was the recently invented PokéBank, an electronic vault for storing the digital imprints of Pokémon captured by Pokéballs, saved onto a massive cloud server.  Scientists once tried uploading human brains to the same system in the past, but only Pokéballs seemed to work well enough to create a perfect digitalized replica that could be conveniently downloaded at any time, even over a cellphone network.  It was incredible.  Lisa had no idea how it all worked so she assumed it was simply a wizard’s magic.

“We needed money.”  Ted stood by his story.  “Cos it was a really rare Pokémon worth a lot.”

“Izzat so…”  Lisa raised a skeptical brow.  Then she reasoned, “Well, if it was REALLY RARE why didn’t you train it and become a famous, super-powerful trainer?  That way you could have ALL. THE. MONEY!”

“Because…I…”  Ted started to stammer.

“Ah-ha!” Lisa pinched his cheek.  “Caught you in a lie, red-handed!  BUS-TED!”

“Shut-up!  You don’t understand!”  Ted said all red and flustered.  “And I told you not to do that.  It really hurts my skin.”

“Oh sorry, I forgot you were soooo sensitive!” Lisa exclaimed mockingly.  Despite her relentless teasing, down inside she did feel bad for Ted.  He had several illnesses with long names Lisa couldn’t pronounce related to malnourishment.  Ted was from a very poor family and it made his life worse since they often could not pay for medicine, let alone proper food. 

“Grr!  Why’d you have to do that with your nails?  You got sharp claws like a Krabby.”  Ted rubbed his red cheek and pouted.  “You’re such a bully!”

“Quit being a baby!” she replied with an impish wave.  “Gee-whiz.  How old are you now?”

“I’m eight n’ a half,” Ted said arrogantly.

“Well, that makes me your BIG sister ‘cos I’m almost nine!”  Lisa smugly answered with a hint of endearment. 

“W-what?!  W-we’re not siblings,” Ted said as his face flushed beet red.  “I-I d-don’t have any sister.”

“Too bad!” Lisa said rushing at him and giving him a disarming hug which was more like a Beartic hug considering how frail Ted was.  “I’m adopting you!  Eehee!”

“Ow!  Stop it!  You’re hurting me,” said Ted while struggling to break free from her greedy arms.

“Don’t worry,” Lisa said as she squeezed him possessively, “next Pokémon I’ll let you catch, lil’bro!”

“Hey, quit it!  Don’t call me that,” Ted said as he wrestled free.  “You better not steal from me, Lisa.  I only have one Pokéball left.  I saved up all my allowance and—”

“—I wouldn’t dream of it.  Promise!  I’m not a thief who’d steal from her own family,” she said with a mischievous grin befitting her puckish demeanor.  “Besides, I’m all full already.”

“Yeah, only cos you got those fancy Pokéballs from your mommy and daddy’s money!” Ted said. 

“D’aw, are you jealous?” Lisa asked him, all too willing to go toe-to-toe with her newest and only friend.  No one else besides her family would put up with her overbearing shenanigans. 

“Of you?  NO!” Ted said crossing his arms protectively. 

“Here, I’ll give you one, but ONLY cos you’re my lil’bro,” Lisa said holding out a polished Dusk Ball as an offering of peace.  “These work EXTRA good in caves and the dark!” she explained. “I know from practice, NOT from reading silly books.”

Ted suddenly smacked the Dusk Ball right out of her hand, startling little Lisa.  “I don’t want your stupid charity,” he said with conviction, “that’s money from your parents.   And everyone knows they got loaded by stealing!”

“How dare you!” Lisa said, taken aback.  She had no idea what her parents did for a living.  But she always got the best toys and gizmos on a regular basis.  The Dusk Ball Ted had rejected was one of them.  Lisa quickly chased after the green ball as it rolled on the uneven floor and snatched it before it went too far.  “MY mommy and daddy ALWAYS get me the best balls.”  She stood triumphantly with her fists on her hips.  On her oversized belt were several Great Balls, Ultra Balls, and even a custom-made Apricorn.  “In other words, I have a Pokéball for ANYTHING I WANT!”

Ted began to cry.  “You’re so mean!” he shouted as he ran recklessly back into the cave. 

“Hey!  Hey!  Wait, come back!  It’s too dark down that way!”  Lisa said hurriedly chasing after her friend.  Though she treated him poorly, Ted was her only friend.  They had met in school before she was suspended a week for her disruptive behavior in class.

“I’m gonna catch a Pokémon all by myself!” Ted roared with determination.  Something cylindrical fell out of his sweater’s pocket.

Lisa didn’t know he had it in him to be so foolishly brave.  However, he was being stupid running into the section of the cave that was closed off.  Lisa was quick, but she tripped on the thing Ted had dropped on the ground.  An inhaler or something he used to treat his illness.  “Grr!  Lil’bro, you can’t go down that way!” she commanded getting back to her feet.  “It’s waaaay too dangerous!”

“You’re not the boss of me!” he said distantly.  “I’ll show you…I’ll… Waaaaghh!”

“NO!  Lil’bro!”


 ***


Her eyes had been fixed on the horizon.  But now the sky was completely dark, and the stars covered the desert vast like a sparkling blanket.  And she was crying.  There were tears in her eyes and her cheeks felt wet with warm rivers.  “Lil’bro,” she whispered with a helpless sniffle.  “That…time…I’ll never forget that time when my curse got out of control.  After what happened, I could never be the same.”

Ted’s body was never found.  He had fallen into a chasm, a deep one known as a pit canyon.  Those next few days were all a blur, but I still can’t forget it.  It haunts me like my curse.  I screamed, called for help.  Of course, no one came.  Then I ran to get help.  But it was too late.

Sylisa rubbed her wet cheek.  Not even my favorite Pokémon dolls felt good to hug.  After seven days of searching, the Pokémon rescue teams couldn’t find him.  My parents tried to cover up the whole incident, which only made it worse.  Newspapers slandered the family name, calling us heartless for trying to erase the memory of the little boy.  Our fortune started to disappear and we fell into a quicksand of debt hiring legal services.  Dad insisted we were being made a scapegoat for societies problems, he’d say anything to make me think it wasn’t my fault.  Back then, I was just another spoiled rich girl. 

Her eyes were quite misty.  I never considered stealing because we had everything.  A house with three floors, twelve different rooms and a pool.  There were at least two maids.  Dad loved his expensive car collection.  And mom always bought the freshest food money could buy.  My allowance let me buy any clothes, accessories, magazines, music I liked, and purchase any Pokémon that caught my fancy in the luxury boutiques near our estate.  I even had a credit card.  Anything money could buy.  It was too good to last.  I remember not caring about anything.  I used to be so happy.

Sylisa thought to herself, straightening her dark hair and taking a deep breath of the crisp dry air.  Things were never the same after that.  My parents sold their cars, their lavish mansion, and moved to a different town.  Despite our riches and connections, it was not enough.  Some powerful people, more powerful than daddy ever was, used the terrible thing that happened to Ted to destroy our legacy.  A negative stigma had been placed on the West family name.  …And that’s how I died.

“Alisha West,” Sylisa said, recollecting her full given name as she gazed up at the stars.  “Named me after an Alice in the family, though I don’t know who she was.  Everyone called me Lisa when I was a little girl because I couldn’t even say my own stupid name.  Lisa go do this, Lisa dress up in that, it was always all about me.  But Lisa died as well with Ted.  She had to.  Her misfortune ruined our family.  Her curse became too much, even for her.”

It felt odd to be reminiscing so vividly out in the open.  However, the peaceful courtyard outside the adventuring guild had been quiet.  Patrons were indoors on this chilly night, Sylisa could hear their muffled laughter coming from the warm glow of the tavern’s dusty windows.  The extreme changes in temperature Pokémon had adapted to, and humans simply created shelters and clothes for dealing with.  Sylisa shook her head, coming back to reality.  What caused all that?  I saw the sun set and then that flashback hit me like a ton of bricks.  Why?  Was it that emerald light?

“Oy,” said a drunkard wobbling out of the tavern, “you alright?  Gonna catch cold out ‘ere, dar’lin.”

“I’m fine,” Sylisa replied with a shiver.  So intense was her reminiscing, she felt as though she had briefly been out of her body.  Sylisa hadn’t noticed how cold she was until the man mentioned it.  It really felt like ice had gotten in her bones.  She tightened her overcoat round herself, realizing it was not best to be revealing her midriff out in the cold, and especially not right outside a sleazy bar.

The drunken man, wobbling, leaned against his Pokémon friend, a bright colored Heliolisk, which appeared especially worn out from either the lack of solar power or chaperoning the inebriated man by his side.  “Aye, aye, nighty night!”  The drunk hiccupped and tipped his hat.   Heliolisk started to help him walk up the zigzagging road that led to the residential district of the city. 

“Kay,” Sylisa muttered thinking about other things.  Where was I…?

“OH!”  The swaying man stopped and turned around again.  “Keep a lookout for the Night Dragon!  Big, scary, n’ black wings o’ death!”  The intoxicated man pointed up with a swaying finger at the clear sky.  “Make shhuure ta tell the guards if ya see it,” he slurred with concern in his raspy voice.  Heliolisk nudged him along.  “A’ight, pal, I’m good n’ right, said me peace…hic!  G’night, lil’lady.”

Sylisa gave a weak wave and walked back down toward the winding stone road leading back to the marketplace and front gates.  The drunk had a point, how could I forget about the Dragon?  Should count my blessing: the misfortune of others.  Guards will be extra concerned about the monster in the night skies, presenting a golden opportunity for a thief to take care of some shopping.  Ehehe…  Her thin lips formed a dark smile. 

Suddenly, the cold did not feel as biting.  In fact, it seemed almost welcoming.  The chill in Sylisa’s bones was the proof she was alive and her destiny was in her own hands.  Sylisa felt content with what she had become.  This was her way of coping with the death of Ted, and the death of little innocent Lisa.  Her newfound profession as a thief became her ultimate escape from her family’s misfortune.  Sylisa was a total rebirth of her lost self, a version where Lisa took possession of whatever she desired.

Time to steal some Pokéballs, she thought.  A shame how easily distracted I get without you, Wea…“Ow!”  Her head hurt again but that was nothing new. 


 ***


Sylisa’s first stop was the electronics store.  It was a two-story building situated in the most convenient location.  The guard tower and keep were out of sight due to the large billowing cloths covering the outdoor market stalls. 

Perfect, Sylisa thought as she nimbly snuck around the dark alleyway between the mountain and the stone wall of the building.  “Hmm.”  She rubbed her hand on the brick wall and thought, Made from the same stone material as the mountain rock.  They used what they had to build the buildings and shops.  Must have been one hell of a job, even with Pokémon construction crews.

Using her arms to climb up the side of the wall by pushing both her legs against the alley walls, Sylisa gradually made her way up toward the second floor.  As she scrambled to the first window she inspected it for a security system.  Need to be extra careful considering this is an electronics store.  Place could be wired to high heavens with alarms.  Mm, let’s see.  There aren’t any suspicious wires on the panel.  You’d think they’d put that there and…hmm, oh, what’s this…?  She peered into the window and saw a Pokémon napping in the corner of the floor in a pillowed basket.  It looked like a miniature orange tiger, a Torracat.  Huh.  Figures.  A Pokémon as the security system.  Where the hell do people find the time to train these critters to do everything?

Torracat was in a deep sleep judging by the faint snoring she could hear through the window.  As Torracat snored, small puffs of hot smoke came out from its lethargic mouth.

Aw, little kitty’s sleepy, Sylisa thought.  So cute!  I could just steal you away!  So, what are you guarding…?  Looks like it’s some transistors, motherboards, an odd-looking terminal and…rats!  No Pokéballs on this floor.  At least not out in the open.  They could be behind the counter.  That would require me to break in, and I really don’t want to wake up that kitten since I don’t have a Pokémon to back me up.  Damn!  To the general goods store then.

With panache, Sylisa leapt down from the perch making a graceful landing.  She followed the narrow alleyway further along the mountainside humming a tune in her head as her thoughts wandered.  This store is more exposed.  Those guards will spot a prowler if I go along the street wall, but if I can make it to the far wall then I’ll be in a perfect blind spot thanks to that wooden cart near the side entrance.

Sylisa waited patiently for the guard to come into view.  He was a different man than the one she saw before with the Bastiodon.  Both the Palossand were further past the main gates.  This new guard on patrol had a sturdy Lairon at his side.  The Pokémon moved slowly, but that was favorable since it gave her more of an opening once the two of them passed beyond the nearest outdoor market stall. 

Okay, here it goes, she thought.  Swiftly she darted from shadow to shadow, moving dangerously close to the Lairon on the opposite side of the nearest stall.  She didn’t make enough noise for the Lairon to notice, but the lumbering tank of steel and muscle did pause to sniff at the air.  Crap!  Sylisa thought in panic, Do Lairon have a keen sense of smell?  I never read anything on that.

The answer was not conclusively answered by the patrolling Pokémon’s behavior.  It sniffed twice and then let out a low grumble, similar to the sound of heavy stones rubbing against each other. 

“C’mon pal, no time to smell the roses,” the guard said to his slow Pokémon urging it along.  Then the young man paused as well and took a whiff of the air.  “Is that…mmm… Roselia?  Merchant here must’ve been selling flowers earlier.”

Phew, alright, Sylisa thought.  Her tense muscles relaxed as the night patrol moved on.  Grabbing one of her many hairpins buried in her ebony hair, she went to work on the general store’s side door.  It was a rusty cylindrical lock, nothing she couldn’t handle.  Honestly, I miss her cheering me on while I do this.  Wea… “Urgh…”  The brief migraine made her fingers slip causing her to drop her pick.  She picked it up and started over again, this time with more focus.  Ah, there it is.

The wooden door slowly opened, revealing a dark room.  Very carefully, Sylisa slipped in through the slightly ajar door, as silently as humanly possible.  The wooden boards below her groaned as she walked over them.  The gaps were not filled with bedrock, indicating there was probably a basement underneath her. 

As her eyes adjusted to the inky blackness within the closed store, she started to see the precious merchandise lining all the walls.  Ooh!  Sylisa’s eyes lit up at the sight of some spheres and she rushed to have a look.  Upon closer inspection, they were not Pokéballs like she had hoped, but mere adornments and home décor.  Useless…  Paperweights… she thought with a depressed sigh.  How hard is it to find a darn Pokéball?  I don’t need anything fancy, just the good old “wiggle, wiggle, ding” will do.

As she mused on the unforgettable sound, she heard another sound.  A rustling.  Oh no, she thought, I’m not alone!  The sound seemed to be coming from one of the shopping aisles, deeper in the dark store.  Could it be another guard Pokémon?  Sylisa was too petrified to move.  Her breathing quickened along with her heartrate.  She couldn’t see what was going on so she tried to listen closely over the pounding of her heartbeat. 

“Nibble…nibble…”

Is that the sound of someone eating? Sylisa wondered.  I…hmm…what to do?  …I might as well see if I can catch a peek.  Gradually, she inched along the dark aisle, moving ever closer to the nibbling noise.  Soon she was right across from it.  Oh my!  I think it’s coming from the other side of the aisle!

Sylisa pulled a colorful box of cereal out of the way so she could see through the aisle, and to her great surprise, saw a black cat-like Pokémon munching on the inside of a cereal box it had clawed its way through! 

“…!” Sylisa could not help but gasp when she saw what Pokémon it was.  NO WAY!

Unfortunately, her shock was just loud enough for the feasting Pokémon to hear.  It quickly turned to face her and sharply growled, “Nee!?” as if to say, “Who!?”  Her sharp claws were covered in grain crumbs, and her feathers looked rather battered.  Her dark fur appeared dirty and unkempt. 

“Sneasel?” Sylisa asked the Pokémon through the aisle.  “Could it be?  Is it really you?  It must be!  You’re the Pokémon I saw after I passed out in the desert!  You must be the Pokémon that Weav— Ungh!”  Sylisa groaned and held her head. 

This proved to be the type of opening Sneasel was looking for to escape.  “Neehaa!”  In a mad dash, Sneasel started bolting for the exit on all fours.  She seemed to be calling Sylisa a “Sucker!”

“W-What?!  Hey, get back here!” Sylisa ordered, chasing her down the parallel aisle.  “Sneasel, come back!”

“Neehee!”  The fleeing Pokémon burst out the side door she had left open.  “Loser!”

In a hurry, Sylisa barged out the doorway as well, very close on the Pokémon’s trail.  Sylisa was closing in on Sneasel fast.  Sneasel is not as quick as her! Sylisa thought as she ran.  But the sound of the chase attracted the attention of the nearby patrols.

“Hey!  Hey, you!  Stop!  Someone call the captain!  Suspicious activity afoot!” yelled one of the rookie guards, but not the one with the Lairon.

OH, NOW YOU’VE DONE IT! Sylisa thought angrily as she closed in on Sneasel.  When I get my hands on you, I’m gonna do terrifying things to you as punishment!

As Sneasel rounded a corner, Sylisa preempted the small delay it took her to turn.  Sneasel lifted her two front claws up to become momentarily bipedal.  That was the opening she needed.  With a powerful lunge like a pouncing Persian, Sylisa jumped over the side of the low wall, down to the path below, landing directly on top of Sneasel. 

Initially Sneasel was stunned from being unexpectedly smothered by her.  However, Sneasel started to squirm and try and fight out from under her.  “Neeye fsss!” she hissed.  “Lemme go!”

Sylisa knew Sneasel’s claws were dangerous and especially so since they were near her bosom.  She dexterously wrapped her lithe fingers around the precise spot she knew her old partner was ticklish.  The base of the feathery part.  Immediately as she started prodding with her fingers Sneasel began laughing uncontrollably.  Both claws relaxed and Sneasel submitted under her body hissing and purring.

“Gotcha, sneaky lil’ devil,” Sylisa said.  She triumphantly picked up the giggling Pokémon and held Sneasel close to her chest as she got up.  A group of guards and their Pokémon approached.  Dammit, can’t catch a break.

“What’s a young lady like you doing out in the dead of night?” asked the head patrol wearing the captain’s hat.  A tremendous Pokémon with a stoic expression stood beside him.  It had huge everything.  It was a massive Golurk, made of a wall of thick stone and with glowing eyes like two searchlights, the defining characteristics of a prison, Golurk intimidated her and Sneasel.

“I…”  Think of something, Sylisa!  And then it came to her.  “I caught your thief!” she said, glaring dominantly down at Sneasel.

“A thief?!” exclaimed the guard captain.

“Golurk!?” echoed the huge golem next to him.  Even his voice was frighteningly huge.

“Indeed,” Sylisa wove her roguish lie seamlessly, “heard about how this store was getting robbed in the middle of the night.  Decided to catch the sneaky, rotten, no-good Pokémon responsible myself.  And would you look at who I caught!”  She squeezed Sneasel tightly round her sensitive feathers, causing the once sly Pokémon to snivel helplessly.

“Wait, you went inside and caught the Pokémon?” one of the junior guards chimed in.  “That’s still breaking and entering.  Trespass!  A citation at least, jail time, or thirty days community service.”

“Hmm?”  The Golurk appeared confused, but it was incredibly difficult to read any emotion off that big golem.  The Pokémon’s glowing eyes were like bright headlights on a car.

“Calm down.  Of course I followed it inside,” Sylisa lied through her teeth.  “I had no other choice but to trail the little scamp.  If I wasted time and gotten help, this rascal would have gotten away and taken the food along with it!  Besides, I’m with the Guild.”

“Oh, the Guild eh?” the guard asked in disbelief.  He shook his head and adjusted his hat.  “Those guys are nothin’ but trouble.”

Crap, he’s not buying it.  C’mon, hold your bluff.  “There was a notice about food gone missing.  If you don’t believe me, check inside the shop and you’ll see colorful boxes of cereal all over the floor.  And—” Sylisa lifted up Sneasel’s claw, revealing colorful cardboard underneath the nail “—You’ll find the same exact boxes were torn into by none other than – THIS.  LITTLE.  IMP!”

“Huh…well, I’ll be a Mankey’s uncle…that’s the same color cardboard as my favorite breakfast cereal.”  The captain next to Golurk scratched his chin as he inspected Sneasel.  Then he turned to one of the other guards, “Hey, Simon, call up Jones and tell him his shop’s been fraught but we got our culprit.  Richie, check inside and gather any evidence.  George, go with him and write up a brief report for the guys at the Bureau.”

“Right away, Cap’n.”

“And you… you’re with the Guild you said?” the guard’s captain addressed her.  “Hm.  Nice work.”

“Just looking out for the community.  Know you boys have your hands full keeping us safe,” Sylisa said as she held Sneasel even tighter against herself making the little Pokémon struggle to breathe.  “You can’t be bothered to chase down every little troublemaker, now can you?”

“No, not with the Dragon,” answered one of the older guards in a hushed voice. 

“Enough chit-chat!  Third shift is up, keep up the good work,” the captain said with an irritated growl.   

Golurk looked at the captain like he was forgetting something.

“Oh, right,” the captain turned back around to Sylisa, “I’ll be in touch with the Guild tomorrow to organize your payment.”

“Oh,” Sylisa said with a bit of shock, “that’s not necessary.”

“She does it for free?”

“Eh-heh, just this once!” Sylisa said.  She smiled charmingly in response.

Golurk let out a low and sleepy groan.  It then made a hand gesture pointing at Sneasel and saying, “Give me,” with an open hand pulling in fingers.

“You’ll need to hand over our crook,” the guard captain explained on behalf of the unspeaking Golurk.

“Ah, right, about this little mischief-maker,” Sylisa replied, “I won’t accept any payment for catching your thief because I am a firm believer in rehabilitation over retribution.” 

“Relax.  We’re not gonna kill the little bugger,” the guard responded. 

“Yeah, we’re gonna make sure it can’t steal anymore,” chimed in another watchman.  “Maybe tug off its claws, teach it a lesson for being such a bad Pokémon.”

That’s horrible!  Sylisa thought.  “You can’t take the claws off Sneasel!” she explained, trying to repress how aghast she was by the sheer thought of what the man was saying.  “Don’t you know a Sneasel uses them for everything?  Including marking territory, eating, climbing, hunting, cleaning, even communicating!”

“Sheesh woman.  You sound a little like Ms. Mullen, the doting old lady who lives alone with all those cat Pokémon.  Swear she’s got about twenty of ‘em living with her in her tiny house, Espurr, Meowstic, Purrloin, Liepard, Glameow, Purugly, Skitty, Delcatty, Meowth, Persian…um, did I forget about anyone?”

“Humph.  I am not a crazy-cat-lady if that is what you’re implying!” Sylisa snapped.  “However, I think this little one needs a stern, yet moral companion.” 

“Argh!  Just keep the hungry scoundrel out of trouble, would you?  We got bigger things to worry about.”

“Thank you,” Sylisa said to the guards.  She hurried off with Sneasel securely in her arms. 

Sneasel looked up at Sylisa with nervous eyes like a frightened child. 

“And as for YOU,” she said with fiery wrath, “I’m going to teach you a lesson for almost getting us thrown in jail you won’t soon forget!”

“Neeeyyahhh!” the Pokémon helplessly squeaked.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Tempting Fate


A cool morning breeze blew through the quiet winding streets.  Dawn had broken, the sky had begun to lighten into an indistinct gray.  Due to the mountain the city had been built into, the actual sunrise was obscured. 

In one of the alcoves off the main street, across from a modest corner store with a faded burgundy awning, there was a small patch of greenery.  There on the grass, Sylisa snuggled with Sneasel.  The two of them had no place to go, meaning it was another night out on the streets. 

“Mmmngh…” Sylisa yawned.  Her jacket served as their blanket to keep warm.  However, Sneasel had provided her with much needed company.  Again, her thoughts insisted how strange this was, to be with Sneasel rather than Weavile.  And yet somehow, being together with her felt as natural as it always did.  She squeezed Sneasel close and sleepily rubbed her face against hers. 

Sneasel purred groggily and raised a sleepy eye.

They were the only ones awake at this early hour.  The night patrols on watch down by the gates had finally begun to retire.  It had been an uneventful night, all things considered.  Only having to deal with Sneasel stealing food from the general goods store was a lot better than contending with the Dragon everyone in the city was worried sick about.  Not that Sylisa blamed them for being terrified.  After all, she had come face-to-face with the monstrosity before blacking out. 

Charizard must be the Dragon everyone’s worried about.  I just know it!  Sylisa thought as she woke from a vivid dream she could not remember.  It fits the description.  And it was after the treasure we stole.  Geez, I’m having a difficult time remembering it because it felt so frightening like a bad nightmare.

Sneasel appeared to be a little frightened as well, but for a vastly different reason.  Sylisa’s method of “teaching her a lesson” for getting caught last night consisted of abundant tickling.  Sneasel had been in a daze from laughing so hard, enough to pass right out.

“Hey, sleepyhead,” said Sylisa, “why did you run off from me?”  

“Mew n’yek nia.”  You scare me.

“That’s so mean!”  Sylisa smothered her Pokémon tightly against herself, while trying to figure out why she was not Weavile but Sneasel.  The problem was every single time without fail, when she thought of Weavile her head would feel as though it were about to split in two.

“Nyaaaaaa!” Nooooo!  Sneasel rocked back and forth, trapped in her arms.

“Aw, you’re holding back, that’s cute.”  Mischievously, Sylisa ran her hand along the brim of her feathers.  “But I saved your feathery ass, so you better come clean.”

“Fss!  N’aya!”  Stop!  NO!  Again, she tried to slip out of her hands.

Sylisa effortlessly snatched the feathers on her tail and yanked her right back.  Sneasel’s feathers were her most sensitive region, and even a slight tugging caused her to involuntarily smile. 

“C’mon, I’m tired of your nonsense!  Quit playin’ dumb with me or I’ll have to tickle you again!” Sylisa threatened.  “Why’d you go and run away?  And how the heck did you manage to de-evolve?”

“Nyaaaaawwww…!” she cried.  Oww!

“Ugh,” Sylisa sighed.  She loosened her grip.  “You’re being so difficult!  And your language, it’s a little tough for me to understand.  I always used to know what you meant without thinking too hard.”

“Ne’neh nweow!”  Don’t understand!  Then she went on to say, “Nay, mew n’yech.?”  Why’d you chase?

“I didn’t want to lose you, that’s why I chased you down,” Sylisa explained.  “We’re a team, you and me.  I remember seeing you for an instant right before I blacked out in the desert.” 

Sneasel did not seem to comprehend.  The feather behind her ear wilted back.

“You got a lot smaller than you used to be.  Eehee, it’s kinda cute seeing you like this!”  Sylisa chuckled, realizing how it made her Pokémon more vulnerable to her antics.  “But even if you’re smaller, you should have been more careful while sneaking around late at night!”

“Nia’eh weneh, naw fss n’yew!”  I would’ve gotten away, not for you!  Sneasel growled in an upset manner. 

“Hey—” Sylisa rubbed Sneasel on the head and scratched the Pokémon behind the crown feather next to her left ear “—we’re partners in crime; we gotta cover for each other!”

Sneasel sniffled and turned away from her.

“Now’s no time to play tough-girl.  You’d be short two pairs of claws if it weren’t for me,” Sylisa clarified by lightly tugging the Pokémon’s nails.  “You’re in my debt for once.  Hmm.  And to think of all the times you saved my butt instead.  This is bass-ackwards now that I think about it.” 

Sneasel quickly buried her face into Sylisa’s coat.  “Nyaaaaaa!”  Noooooo!

“Tsk.  You’re such a shy girl once you’re restrained,” Sylisa pointed out with a quick tickle.  “My memories are a bit messy right now too, but let me tell you the truth: you’re the BEST partner a thief could ask for!”

Sneasel looked up at Sylisa and caught a glimpse of her squinting her eyes and holding her head as though she were in terrible pain.  “N’ehwah?”

“I’m fine,” Sylisa groaned, “it’s…nothing.”

“Fsss, necht n’eow.”  Don’t look okay

“Fine.  I’m fine.”  Sylisa regained her composure and said straightly, “Trust me on that.  You’re good.  Damn good.  And together, we’re gonna get even better!  Next time, you ‘n me, we’re gonna give that frickin’ Charizard and his ridiculous robed boss the what-for!”

Sneasel’s feather drooped, she looked unsure.

“Yep,” Sylisa said with an almost provident air.  “Believe me.  That cocky shmuck and his overgrown lizard are both going down.  We’ll steal the treasure and get you back to your old self again!”  She could tell Sneasel was confused, but that was probably because of the hectic evening.  Sylisa wondered, Did Sneasel keep her memories when she de-evolved?  How does that even work?  I thought no Pokémon could willingly undo its evolution…  I haven’t read any books on the subject.

All of a sudden, Sneasel’s stomach made a hungry grumble.

“Oogh.  You too, huh?”  Sylisa felt starved as well.  “Ah yeah, heh, we’re on the same schedule as always.  We really have to do something about our food situation.” 

Sneasel looked in the direction of the general goods store longingly.  She raised a paw and pointed with her nail.

“Absolutely not!” Sylisa reprimanded.  “No stealing cereal!  You’re better than that!  We’re professionals with a notorious reputation, not petty street urchins scavenging for morsels!”  Her stomach growled at the thought of food.  Nevertheless, she refused to stoop to such a low level of existence, in no small part due to her urbane up-bringing.  “We use the money we earn from our jobs to dine as fine as we want.  Fortunately, I think we have a work position lined up that’ll pay until I get back in touch with Mathias and the rest of the Shadows.”

“N’uheow?”  What now?  Sneasel made a confused expression.

“Oh, you know, the Thieves’ Guild!  Our sponsoring organization, the Nightshade Shadows,” Sylisa said expectantly.  “C’mon, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten about grumpy ol’ Mathias and fluffy-wuffy Dare?”

Sneasel shook her head.

“Wow.  Looks like you’ve got head issues too,” Sylisa whispered as she felt her headache return.  “De-evolution must have rewired your brain or somethin’.  That’s alright, I’m sure you’ll remember when you meet ‘em.  Mathias looks mean and scary, he really is, but he’s got a warm look in his eyes he tries to hide.  And Absol is that way too; except he’s also the softest doggy you’ll ever find!”

Sneasel purred happily in her arms.

“Alright, so we’re joining a local guild in order to gather information,” Sylisa explained.  “They’re this lot of frontier adventures, would you believe it?” she laughed.  “And we’re about to become their newest members.  That’s right, the two of us!  A couple of crooks without any reputable contacts.  What a racket.  Still can’t believe I only needed to catch a Pokémon to join up.  True, I didn’t capture you in the conventional sense – like, in a Pokéball – but you probably prefer this way, don’t you?”

Sneasel appeared confused.  She tilted her head as if to ask, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I could always steal back your Dusk Ball from the bandits if you want.”  Sylisa grinned playfully and snuggled Sneasel close to her.  “But I kinda prefer you out here with me!  Eehee!”

For the first time Sneasel didn’t struggle with all her might to try and escape Sylisa’s tight hugging grasp.  She quivered softly and nuzzled close to her body.

“Tsh, aw!  That tickles.  …I think we’re going to be okay now that we’re together.  Let’s head over to register at the guild so we can earn our keep and score some grub.”


***


The tavern was unexpectedly open at this early hour.  To further Sylisa’s surprise, Bennet, the big barman, was still standing at the counter.  He looked weary and had large bags under his eyes.  She wondered, What’s his deal?  Why’s he staying up all night?  

Meowth and Tympole were sleeping in small pillowed baskets with fuzzy blankets.  They both look really comfy, like they’re having pleasant dreams.  Huh?!  That’s…different.  Something doesn’t seem right about this scene.  Meowth has a lighter fur than before.  There’s no mistaking it!  The Meowth that startled me last night had a solid, dark gray coat.  This one has a reddish-brown highlight on the Pokémon’s curled tail and on the claws of its hind legs.  Bizarre.  Maybe it’s another Meowth, like a friend of the dark-furred one?

“Back,” she said, plopping Sneasel down on the worn barstool, “and I’ve got a Pokémon.”

Bennet raised a sleepy looking brow.  “Sheesh.  Amber-eyes, you weren’t kiddin’ around.  Didn’t reckon you’d be back this soon.  Hmm, yeah, you’re pretty efficient, that’s good for business.”  He yawned.

“So…am I in?”  Sylisa asked as her stomach grumbled.  Sneasel rubbed her own belly.

“Hah, sure thing, gal.  You stay up all night and forget to eat?”

“Could ask you what you’re doing yourself, being up this early,” Sylisa cunningly replied.  “You haven’t budged since I left last night.  Don’t you have a pillow with your name on it?”

“Mhm.  Been expecting someone important to show up but she’s running late.  Luckily, I’m a pro who can sleep with my eyes open.  Haha, can you pull off a stunt like that?” Bennet joked. 

“Never tried it personally.”

“Anyway, I got some leftovers from last night if you want to eat.  I don’t mind sharing while we get your application squared away.”

“Snea neehee!”  Bring it!  Sneasel happily squealed.

Ugh.  I hate leftovers, thought Sylisa reminiscing her pampered childhood, but I’m downright starving.  “Fine, thanks, we can discuss business over some food.”

“Oh.  Would you look at that, Murmur’s ears are perking up.  This cat loves his lasagna.”

Huh?!  Sylisa felt a rush of inexorable dissonance boil to the forefront of her mind.  He just called the beige Meowth Murmur!  Same as the dark-furred Meowth from last night.  They’re obviously not the same Pokémon though, doesn’t he know?  The beige Meowth sprung out of the basket and back onto the table near Bennet and rubbed against his giant arm.  Tympole also woke up and joined them on the counter.  Maybe I’m not thinking clearly since I’m hungry, she rationalized.  Sylisa stretched her back, she noticed two wooden figures suspended over the bar in the likeliness of a Solrock and Lunatone.  Oh, now I get it, she thought, Sol de Lune.  Solrock and Lunatone.  Duh.  Can’t believe that literally went over my head last time.

Bennet brought out a large pan half-full of pasta.  He set down some plates on the bar counter for everyone and some utensils for Sylisa.  Sylisa and Sneasel did not waste any time, they were both famished.  The food was a bit cold, but nourishing.  “Cheesy Meat Lasagna,” Sylisa said between bites.  Sneasel purred happily.  Meowth’s paws were full of cheese.  The two of them seemed to get along rather well.  After all, they both had shiny gold objects atop their heads.  “Not bad,” she said.  She was trying her hardest not to show too much emotion in response to the cute scene unfolding right in front of her; it made her so happy inside to see Sneasel had made a Pokémon friend.  “Sneasel likes the food too.”

“Heh, well I’m not the chef, so don’t pay me any complements or complaints,” Bennet replied smiling at the Pokémon.  “Though I can fix up any drink you can dream of.”

“Coffee…” Sylisa mumbled as she ate another bite.  “It’s been a long night and we didn’t get much sleep.”

“Righto!” Bennet said as he went to brew a fresh pot.  “Could use some myself.  Your preference?”

“Black, c’mon,” Sylisa said trying really hard to be cool.  “Is there any other way?”

“You’re a tough girl.”  Bennet said warmly, “I thought for sure you’d go for the sweet stuff.”

“Gee, thanks, you’re SUCH a sweetheart I might puke,” Sylisa said acerbity.  Her derisive comment was bitterer than the brew he poured for her.

As Sylisa and Sneasel ate the food, Bennet got the small amount of paperwork in order.  “Here you are, take your time,” he said giving her a light stack of papers.

The first page consisted of basic stuff: age, height, and general physical information.  Once she arrived on the second page, it began to request things that made her uncertain.  “What’s this thing about sign?” she asked.

“What constellation are you born under?” Bennet clarified.

“Constellation?” Sylisa repeated. “Like stars?  You got to be joking.  You don’t really believe that nonsense about horoscopes, do you?”

“It’s tradition around here.  Our people used to create images by connecting stars, to guide them in their travels across distant lands.  Over time, these sparkling eyes in the sky became the constellations of the night.  While each star is separate, together, they form something greater with meaning.”  He pointed to the large canvas behind the bar, between the shelves of drinks.  She originally thought it was just a decoration.  However, upon closer inspection it appeared to be an actual map of the night sky.  “At the peak of this mountain is a large zodiac, made from stone.  You should check it out if you feel like hiking up to the summit.  According to legend, our ancestors used this replica chart of the night sky to predict cosmological events before they happened, among other things.  Over the years, the signs of the zodiac became a staple for people and Pokémon living here.  And, at the very least, it’s given us something to gossip about with the folk around town.”

“Don’t care much for impractical gossip.  I’m an Aries,” she said hastily scribbling it down.  She vaguely remembered the Unova zodiac.  At the very least, she knew her Pokémon associated with the constellation.  “Where I’m from, that’s Whimsicott.”

“Clever and ambitious,” Bennet said with a smile as he looked over at Sneasel.  “That’s just what I expected from your tenacity when you told me you’d get a Pokémon last night.  You’d prefer to leap before looking if there’s a temptation of excitement or adventure.”

“You might want to stick to bartending,” Sylisa suggested, however she felt as though Bennet had just read her with surprising accuracy given his brief assessment based on the stars she had been born under.  “Astrology’s not exactly a lucrative business.  And you sure as hell can’t tell what a person’s destiny is from a bunch of dumb lights up in the sky.”

“Haha.  Spirited too.  You’ve got that rebellious fire, can see it burning in your bright eyes,” Bennet insisted.  “How about Sneasel here?”

“She’s…umm…I dunno actually.”

“When’d you two meet?”

“My birthday, on the first day of spring,” Sylisa answered automatically.  She realized her mistake as soon as the words left her lips.  The first time I met Sneasel was last night.  However, her memory triggering this response had been of meeting Weavile on her fifteenth birthday more than four years ago.  They’re the same Pokémon…right?  If I remembered her name then I’d know.

“The vernal equinox then?  Maybe she’s an Aries too?”

“Heck if I know; she didn’t hatch from an egg,” Sylisa answered with a glower, feeling as though her mind had been playing tricks on her.  “Why do Pokémon need human horoscopes anyway?  That’s so cheesy.”

Bennet had a deep laugh.  “Curious, are you?  I thought you didn’t believe in any of this gossip.  See here?  It’s only an optional survey.  No need to get all on edge.”

“You’re right.”  She grumbled, realizing that she had gotten a little hot under the collar by considering the silly astrology.  It was more the part about mixing up meeting Sneasel with meeting Weavile, rather than some of the star-reading nonsense being true concerning her personality.  Steadily, she kept filling out the application form to take her mind off the issues bothering her.  “Hey, uh… what’s this part about a class?  I’m so DONE with school,” she griped.

“Don’t sweat it.  That’s something you get to decide, unlike when you’re born.”  Bennet explained, “The long and short of it is, you and Sneasel are a unit.  The two of you have strengths and weaknesses based on what you do.  Class is a way of differentiating certain skillsets from others.  It helps other members of the guild cover the areas you don’t excel at.  Basically, think of it as your role on a team.”

“Hmm.  Oh!  Sort of like a Pokémon’s role in a trainer’s party?”

“Party?”  He then pointed his finger at Sneasel and Sylisa to emphasize, “You two ARE the role.  The party is who you’re working with.”

“Huh…?  Bennet, are you implying people don’t have more than one Pokémon?”

Bennet smiled at Tympole, who understood his gesture and rolled lazily twice over to the wooden keg of water on the end of the counter.  Tympole tapped the lever and fresh water quickly poured out into a glass, from which Bennet took an invigorating sip.  “Ahhh,” he supposed, “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but you’d have to be a mighty strong warlord to sway the will of more than one Pokémon to join your cause in combat and still be effective.”

“That’s so weird.  I could have sworn the norm is a team of six.”

“SIX!?” exclaimed the bartender as he nearly knocked over the foggy glass he put down on the counter.  Tympole snatched it before it spilled.  “That’s stretching it.  Most people only manage to befriend one or maybe two at a time to match their potential and skillset in combat.”

Sylisa gave Sneasel a nervous glance.  Her expression said, “Our skills aren’t legal though.  We’re thieves.”

“If you need a quick refresher, here are the six basic, well-known classes.  Assault are runners of close-quarters-combat and physical moves making contact.  Guardians focus on physical defense and blocking attacks directly, the opposite of Assault.  Ranger, reliant on long-distance attacks and energy moves, which do not require contact.  Curator, a bastion against special moves that do not make physical contact.  Hermes, depending on raw speed to out-maneuver the opposition.  Essence, a class defined by their constitution and being the picture of health to mitigate any damage.”

“Each of those pertains to a quality a Pokémon can be proficient in.  Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, Speed, and Health.”

“Right you are,” he replied.  “When we get intel on threats, they’re assigned a class based off their fighting style.  Guild members also have classes so you can work well together during the mission at hand.  If you become famous enough you can come up with your own class to suit your unique style.”

“Really?” she asked.  “I’d like that.  Most of those class names sound boring.”

“Hey now, don’t get ahead of yourself, rookie.  Having a class indicates your abilities in a concise format for others to understand quickly.  It details your general attributes, what you’re proficient at.  You need significant fame to make up a class of your own!”

“Ugh.  Lame.”  This is like being back in the Shadows again, she thought.  I can’t get a cool name being low on the totem pole.  “I guess we’re Assault, ‘cause it sounds the coolest,” she said checking off a box next to an insignia of a circle with an arrow pointing out at forty-five degrees to the north-east.  “Any reason why this symbol is the same as the sign used for male?” she asked curiously.

He nodded, and pointed to the list of other basic classes, each of which had a symbol.  “Back in the old days, each of the original six classes had been assigned a celestial object.  Six planets were the old names for each class.  Assault used to be called Mars; named for the red planet and associated with fire.  The shield and spear being symbolic of attack power.”

“No kidding.  Everything around here has to do with space, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.  You can see the night sky exceptionally well out here in the desert.  The heavens were really important to our ancestors and studied intensely, almost religiously, by the first people who settled here hundreds of years ago.  They were called the Stargazers of Centennial.  An enigmatic group, despite pieces of their history being carved into the stones of our city’s mountain.”

“Like that zodiac you mentioned at the peak of the mountain?” she inquired.

“Good, you were paying attention.  Not only our ancestors, but also the Pokémon they befriended, had profound connections to mysticism as well as practical astronomy.  Although we’ve modernized as a culture, their permanent monuments depicting various celestial elements are all around the city if you know where to look.  The original class system is based off their astronomical observations and applied to raising Pokémon a certain way.”

She peered at the rest of the symbols next to the classes.  Adjacent to the class Hermes, associated with Speed, she saw a familiar symbol used for denoting the female gender except it had what looked like horns.  “Mercury.”  Then her nail traveled up one line to Curator, or Special Defense.  This symbol did not have horns.  “And this must be Venus,” she assessed.

Bennet gave her an approving nod.  “Mercury’s symbol is the caduceus of the messenger, an enchanted rod with twin snakes.  Venus’ is her necklace, or the symbol for femininity.”

“What about these others?” she asked him.

“Mars and Earth are solid opposites, representing Attack and Defense for Assault and Guardian respectively.  Venus is Earth’s mysterious twin, and therefore the Curator class has its roots in being the patron for Special Defense.  Venus’ mysterious beauty has an opposite in Saturn, which is symbolic of Special Attack, now called Ranger.  Jupiter’s lordliness is the benefactor of Health or Essence.  Finally, swift Mercury is, as you mentioned, associated with Speed.”

Sylisa carefully thought before responding, “You know, Sneasel is able to do a lot of damage, but she’s also very quick.  Does that mean Mercury…err Hermes is a better class?”

“Check ‘em both if you’re not sure.  Mars and Mercury, Assault and Hermes classes, have exceptional synergy together.  Don’t feel like you’re locked into a single class.  There’s plenty of hybrid classes, and newly discovered classes; our guild’s intel will keep you up to speed on those.  Classes are useful for our organizational purposes, but out on the battlefield you better do whatever you can to win.  Don’t forget, once you get strong enough you’ll be able to create your own class to reflect your unique abilities.” 

I’m only here for as long as I have to be, she thought.  “Kay.”

“Very good.  Now, like everyone else, you’ll be getting an assigned code name.  This is for you and your team, of course.  I erm… had it somewhere.  Gosh, where’s that old hat of mine…”  Bennet stumbled around, inspecting the shelves of exotic booze.  He moved a few bottles out of the way and came across a high-crowned, wide-brimmed, felt rancher’s hat.  “Ah hah!  Here you are then.  Draw two slips of paper outta the hat, and there’s your name.”

“Whaaaat!” she exclaimed.  “Leaving a special thing like a team name up to chance!?”

“Relax, consider it a rite of passage, it shouldn’t be too embarrassing if you have decent luck.” 

“I have terrible luck!  Sneasel, you do it!” Sylisa said, crossing her arms.

With her retracted nails, she touched her small golden amulet on her chest. “Nia?”   Me?

“Oh-ho, I like that!  Tempting fate by leaving it up to your partner to decide.  Very well,” Bennet moved the old cowboy hat over toward Sneasel and motioned “two” with his fingers, pointing at the folded sheets of paper within. 

Sneasel stuck her paw gently into the dusty hat, careful not to cut at its already well-worn fabric and patched-up areas.  She gradually drew out two pieces of paper, one on each nail of her claw.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: Night's Blight


“Okay, let’s see, your crew’s new name is—” Bennet looked at the papers after taking them from Sneasel and paused dramatically as though he expected an accompanying drumroll “—Rift…Fortune!”

“Dead ass!  Are you for real right now?” said Sylisa in a choppy Unova accent.  She scowled at her Pokémon seated next to her on a barstool.  Sneasel still had a bit of lasagna on her cheek.  “Sneasel, what the heck?   You had one job!”

“That’s the way things go, ahem, Miss Fortune!” laughed the barkeep.

“Oh God.  No way man!” Sylisa said with an expression of trauma on her pale face.  “I don’t want to be called that!”

Sneasel wore a mischievous smile, happy to have gotten back at Sylisa after all the tickling she put her through earlier.  Sneasel’s new friend, Murmur, the beige Meowth who stayed with Bennet by the bar, helped wiped the piece of cheese off.

“Aw, c’mon, it’s not as bad as some of the others I’ve seen pop out of that hat,” said Bennet.

“I…I hate that name!” Sylisa said girlishly.  It made her revert back to feeling like a little kid.  Not only that, it also caused her to start slipping into her Unova accent.  “It’s mad dumb.  C’mon you can’t give me that lame name!  Shit’s whack.”

“Those are the rules you signed up for,” said Bennet to her distress.  “If something as simple as a name’s gonna give you problems, maybe this ain’t the right job…”

“Uugh!  Fine!” she said, begrudgingly accepting the stupid name for the time being.  “At least lemme switch the two words around,” Sylisa bargained, “Fortune Rift is leagues better than Rift Fortune.”

“Haha, whichever way you want to order it,” laughed Bennet.  “Fortune Rift is fine for you and Sneasel.  But since you never bothered to give me your name, I must insist on calling you Miss Fortune.  Miss Rift sounds like you popped out of a hole, among other borderline lewd things.”

“You’re…!  Insufferable!”  Sylisa grit her teeth together angrily behind her sullen lips.  Sneasel sniggered from the barstool next to her.

“Well, that’s all there is to it.  Sorry for the letdown.  Welcome aboard.”  Bennet said with a tired, less than enthusiastic expression, “I’d have you meet your fellow adventurers stationed here, however it’s too freaking early.”

“Yeah.  Says the bartender waiting around for a mysterious visitor all night,” she said subtlety searching for information.  She saw he did not wear a wedding band.  “You get stood up by a date or something?” she perceptively asked.

“Naw, nothin’ like that,” he said nonchalantly.  “All business.” 

Sylisa looked over at the Meowth playing with Sneasel.  “He looks well-rested at least,” she said.  “You woulda thought catching some Z’s would be a better use of time.”

“Hey, at least my eyes are open, aren’t they?  Let me tell you, when you’re as talented as me, you’re able to mix drinks in your sleep.  Call it Sleeptending.”

“Meorroow!” said Meowth as Sneasel poked him sharply.

Sylisa sighed and lightly smacked Sneasel’s crown feather to get her to quit upsetting Meowth.  “Uh huh.  Sure that’s gotta be rough on the body.”  Not to mention whoever he’s serving while Sleeptending.  “Your Meowth here probably thinks you’re awake keeping watch.”

“You know, he’s notorious for staying up later than me most of the time,” Bennet said.  “Little guy never sleeps the whole night, only closes his eyes for cat naps.”

“Come to think of it, your Meowth did look a little different last time I was here,” she pointed out.  “Is this his friend?”

“Who, Murmur?”  Bennet smiled at Sylisa, and then went back to cleaning glasses.  “Heh.  Scamp’s been this color his whole life.”

“…!”  Sylisa’s shoe fell off the barstool’s footrest in her shock, kicking the counter.  I never mentioned anything about the color!  That’s mad sus.  It’s almost like he said it on purpose.  Just…act normal.  “Erm,” Sylisa said with an anxious cough, “I dunno, it could have been all the heat getting to me.  Phew, I’m feeling stuffed.  So, what can I expect now that I’m part of your band of adventurers?”

“Well, in exchange for your services to the guild, you get a safe place to rest, delicious food, fine drink – Of course! –, odds-and-ends, and even,” Bennet paused a dramatic second, “a Communications Terminal!” he said proudly.

“Sweet!  You got a phone?” Sylisa asked happily.  I can try and get in touch with one of my contacts, but I don’t have any numbers memorized.  They’re still on my cellphone those bandits took from me.

“A phone?” Bennet repeated.  “No, no, this Com. Terminal is more subtle than telephone communications!  Don’t want any unauthorized interception of our audio.  Too risky.”

“Really?  You’re paranoid about being intercepted?”  She waved her hand in dismissal.  “Give me a break dude!  Big Brother doesn’t care, especially way out here in the sticks.  I just want to get in touch with the outside world.”

“Mmm.  You haven’t even run a mission with us yet,” he replied.

“I see how it is,” she said leveling with him.  “Tit for tat.  You got a tight ship to run here, I get it.  How ‘bout you at least tell me how it works?”

“You can communicate using instant messages within our network.  You could say sharing info through the Com. Terminal is like magic.”

“Uh-huh, like texting.  Do you have internet?” she replied dryly.  Boy, these folks need to get with the times.  I’m afraid to reveal my power level here in these backwoods.

“Internet?”  Bennet asked unsurely. 

“Like broadband, ya’know,” Sylisa rolled her eyes, “the global system of interconnected computer networks.  Internet protocol suite.  TCP/IP.”

Bennet paused, taking in everything she had quickly said rather slowly.  “Unfortunately, our communications aren’t exactly global,” he replied.  “Don’t think our Com. Terminal even works outside this part of the region.”

“What kinda dumb communication is that?” she said thinking back to all the times in Unova where she had effortlessly accessed every part of the world with but a few clicks on her computer.  Sylisa demanded, “I need to access the WORLD WIDE WEB!  Not some crummy regional network.”

“It’s a Com. Terminal,” he replied.  “I don’t think we’re on the same page at all.”

“You got that right,” she said.  And here I thought I had caught a break from being stranded out here in the boons.  Probably can’t even update my blog or hit up the boards on this lousy network unless the transceivers are strong enough to access a cell tower.  Oh well, might as well see what all the fuss is about the Com. Terminal.   “Okay where’s it at?” she asked.

“Stubborn, as always.  Hey, Murmur, keep an eye on things, would you?  We’ll be back in a few,” said the barman.

“My stubbornness landed me a Pokémon,” Sylisa said picking up Sneasel.  “FYI.”

Bennet did not seem to understand her lingo.  He quietly led her to the rear of the tavern, to the left and down a hall up a short set of stairs.  It appeared to be a short hallway.  However, he pressed on a wall fixture appearing to be a hollowed-out horn with a candle inside.  There was a click and suddenly a fake wall shifted out of the way to the right, revealing a long hallway. 

“Oh neat!  The building goes deep into the mountainside.  Just like a secret base!” she said feeling rather excited. 

“Nyeeaah!” Sneasel said, equally as thrilled while snatching at Sylisa’s twin long coattails playfully.

Bennet gave a nod and motioned with a gesture to follow.  Sylisa did so carefully as her eyes adjusted to the low light.  It was a dim passage, branching out into rooms and corridors; Sneasel darted ahead of Sylisa because her night vision was superior.  Peering into the rooms passed with open doors, Sylisa saw many Pokémon were still sleeping on beds fit for their various physiques.  “Whoa.  I’ve never seen a setup like this before.  Usually Pokémon are in their Pokéball when recovering stamina.”

Bennet put a finger to his lips and said, “Shhh.  Make sure to keep quiet.  These are guild member’s Pokémon, they’re not exactly early birds like you and me.  Don’t want to be rude.”

Pft.  Telling a pro thief to keep quiet.  That’s mad rich, Sylisa thought.  I can’t tell him, but it should become clear that I’m talented at stealth.  Especially now that I have Sneasel with me.  She looked down to check on her Pokémon.  Sneasel returned to following her closely between her twin coattails.

Bennet kept going down the long hall, beyond the resting Pokémon, and toward the main living quarters.  At this early hour, the main room was vacant, but it looked exactly like a cozy secret base being on the inside of the city’s mountain.  The furniture had a rustic look; a bit old, but of high quality.  The chairs, long tables, and benches were all hand-carved, perhaps by a skilled Pokémon or craftsman.  Rugs were fashioned from thick hides like those of a ski lodge she had been to as a child.  There were a few fireplaces with late embers still glowing in them and Pokémon cozied up near the soothing warmth.  After journeying along the long passageway branching off to occupied lodgings, they finally arrived at the rear of the complex.  There was a small isolated room; it resembled the interior of a Packet Radio Van.  There were shelves of wires and coils all attached to several black boxes, really old servers judging by their dust.

“Here she is.  Our very own internetworked transmission platform!”  Bennet said like a proud parent.

Sheesh, Sylisa thought looking at the technical equipment, it’s friggin’ archaic!  “Did you pick this up at the junkyard?” she asked in disbelief.

“As you can probably tell, it’s a brand-new model,” Bennet explained. “Had to order all the special parts and a tech guru from our main HQ assemble it.”

“I wasn’t being sarcastic.”  You really got scammed if you think this is high tech equipment.  What’s wrong with you guys?  “Everything is wired up I see.  But… Where’s the transmitter?”

“We run cables to the top of the mountain through these tunnels.  A Pokémon at the summit helps us boost and amplify the signal when we need to send a message across the desert,” Bennet explained.  “In the old days, we had to use smoke and fire signals, from Koffing and Torkoal.  By comparison, this is a right magical marvel, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Sylisa muttered, “fit for a museum.  I can’t believe your broadcast system actually depends on Pokémon to transmit signals…something about that just isn’t right.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Never mind.  Can this console connect with people who aren’t members of the guild?” Sylisa asked.  Like a cellphone tower or radio antenna.  Some sort of signal amplifier would be all I’d need to get in touch with anyone not from these forsaken boondocks.

“No idea,” said Bennet, “only guild members carry receivers, and our other branch on the other side of the wastelands has recently installed a similar system so we could communicate with them as well.  Saves time and effort of getting a Flying Pokémon to deliver an urgent mail message over that distance.  I mean, wow, it’s like being a psychic!  You just send a message through the air and – Bang! – it appears in another place.  Magical.”

“Whew, magical messages, …great, just great,” Sylisa sighed.  You really are simple folk out here in the middle of the desert.  “How about images?  Pictures, and things like documents?  Can you send those too?”

“You’re quite the visionary.  Stuff like a photograph?  That would take ages to deliver if we could find a way to digitalize it, but I believe it can be done!” 

What the hell?  This is freakin’ me out.  How do you know so little about modern tech? Sylisa wanted to ask.  Everyone around her seemed like an idiot, it was starting to become the norm much to her chagrin.  “What about the Pokémon PC transfer system?” she said quite bluntly. 

“Never heard of that,” Bennet admitted.  “Sounds interesting though.  What’s it do?”

Seriously?  I feel like I’m buggin’ out right now.  Should I even be telling him this?  “Erm, it’s like a terminal,” she said trying to use words he would understand in her analogy.  “Same as transferring data messages around, but with, you know, Pokémon.  Sorta like sending a message using this…um…relic you’ve got here.  Capiche?”

“Oh!  I get it, it’s like a Teleport!”

“Yeah—” Sylisa scratched her head “—right, whatever you say.”  When I get my cellphone back, I’ll use the transceiver beacon at the top of the mountain to get back in touch with the Shadows.  I’m gonna need an evac. stat!

“You sure seem to know a lot about your net systems,” commented Bennet.

“Hardly,” she replied modestly.  Can’t tell him I’m any good or it’ll be ME fixing things that break.  That’s a rookie mistake.

“Well, like I said, we’re supposed to have a few of these radio relays, newest one’s over the Great Mountains.  Far off, by the coast.  There’s water that goes on forever out there if you’ve ever been.”

“Uh-huh, easy, the ocean, I’ve only seen it about a million times,” Sylisa said.  From the corner of her eye she saw Sneasel was playing near some wires.  “Hey!  Be careful with your claws around those!” she warned.

“Must be well-traveled then,” said Bennet, “most folks around here have never seen the ocean.” 

“Doesn’t surprise me. You guys have your own little pocket of the world here.”

“Could say that,” Bennet shrugged, “plus, traveling the desert is dangerous.  We’re quite out of the way here so we don’t get a lot of traffic from the major highways.”

Well, I didn’t see any trains, Sylisa pondered, I’m sure that would help them connect with the outside world.  For there to be no nearby highways, we must be really isolated.  I can’t give up though.  There’s gotta be another way for me to get back to civilization!  “Oh hey!  Do you know where Agrove is?” she asked.

“Nah,” Bennet said with a slight shrug.

“Okay,” she said.  Suppose that’s also a tiny little town out in the middle of no-man’s land.  I didn’t even know where it was until I did my research on the internet.  “What about Phenic?” she asked worriedly.

“Oh yeah, sure, that’s a huge place, capital of Orre,” he replied.

“Phew!” Sylisa exhaled, relieved to have finally found something familiar.  I might have lost my mind if he didn’t know about the region’s capital.  “Any ways to get there?”

“A few.  Problem is if you’re looking to travel there it’s been effectively sealed off by the government.  Need a permit just to enter.  Place won’t even let traders in.  Guild’s been ostracized too.  Strange things going on out there.”

“Huh… Weird.  Phenic’s a welcoming city.”  Sylisa pawed her chin in thought.  She recalled how tourist-friendly the capital was when she had first arrived in Orre.  “Could it possibly have to do with the Dragon?” she asked.

“Unlikely.  Phenic is quite a journey away.  Sure, anything’s possible, that thing’s got huge wings from what I’ve heard, but the Dragon seems to stay around here, looking for something.” 

The Mirari, she thought silently.

Bennet continued to explain the situation, “I’m not gonna ask you to travel all the way out there, you’re obviously a rookie who just joined up.  Besides, we’re understaffed as it is with the Dragon.  We have to keep all hands stationed close by in case of an attack.  Dragon only comes out after sunset, reducing our total operational forces.”

“You ever think about fighting it?” she asked him pointedly.

“The Dragon?”

“Yeah,” she said twirling a lock of dark hair round her finger.  “Sure, it’s huge and scary, but it’s just an overgrown lizard when you think about it.  If you have enough Pokémon, you could foreseeably take it down.”

Bennet thought for a moment and replied, “Your optimism surprises me.”

“Tsk.  It’s your town, not mine,” she shrugged, “all I can advise is, if you don’t want bad luck to spring up, best keep me out of the operation.”

“On the contrary.  I think you might be just who we need.”

“Don’t like the sound of that one bit,” she answered.  “Better up my pay or at least provide some relevant info.  What concrete data do you have on the beast?”

“The Dragon has become more aggressive with every passing night,” said Bennet.  “There is reason to believe the Dragon is tied to the Night.”

“Hm…why’s that?” she wondered.

“Night has grown longer, unnaturally so for this time of year.”

That really surprised her.  “You’re saying the monster can influence cosmic things like the duration of nightfall?”

“Consider why the Dragon only appears after dark, during the reign of Night.”

“Could be nocturnal,” she answered warily, “guessing you already thought that obvious possibility through.”

“The beast’s blighting cloud stems from Night itself.  From what little we know, from our distant observations of the fiend, the strength and size of the miasma cloud surrounding it is related to the duration of darkness.  In other words, its blighting cloud is weakest after dusk, but grows tremendously up until dawn.”

“Think I follow,” she said.  However, she had never heard of such a phenomenon before and the mystery captivated her.  “Nighttime and the Dragon are related somehow.”

“Not “nighttime”,” Bennet clarified there was an important difference.  “Night itself.  Nighttime’s duration is a measurable strength of the Night’s Domain.”

“Domain…  I heard that before on the train.  A Pokémon’s influence on nature is called its domain.”  Strange to personify the night like a Pokémon, but it must be a cultural thing out here; perhaps from their ancestors.  “So, the Night is what makes the Dragon dangerous.”

“Correct,” he said.  “If the Dragon is a part of the Night, it cannot be slain conventionally.  The Night’s darkness always returns without fail.”

“Never thought of darkness that way,” she replied, still feeling more than a little skeptical.  “Could make it an immortal adversary if it keeps coming back.”

“It’s not a possibility we’ve been able to rule out.  As the Night grows, so does the Dragon’s influence.  That’s why folks call it the Night Dragon and refer to its powers as the Night’s Blight.  Only a matter of time before it’s bold enough to make a move on the city.”

“Simple enough.  Forget obsessing over the whole Night thing, and undermine it when it’s most vulnerable.  Make a move before the Dragon decides to, preferably when it is at its weakest, right after twilight,” Sylisa concluded.  “You got a plan, bar genius?”

“Gosh, you’re bossy.  Plans in the works have been keeping me up late every night.  Due to what’s already transpired, we’ll need some creativity for dealing with code word: Nemesis,” Bennet said with a scowl.  “Scourge hasn’t made any direct attacks on the city, but that’s not to say it hasn’t done damage.  Five patrols sent out, total of thirty people and their mons.  Only two managed to make it back.”

“Only two?”  Those are some bad odds even by my standards, she thought.  “It killed all the others?”

“Well…not killed in the traditional sense of the word,” Bennet replied with an expression as convoluted as all the wires coiled about the communications room.

“Whadda mean?” Sylisa asked.

“The Dragon has power going beyond that of most Pokémon.  It’s in a different class of danger all together, because its power derives from the Night itself.  Hence the code name Nemesis; we’re in deep if it decides to raze our city.”

“Mm.  I took note of the city’s layout and composition.  You basically have an earthen fortress here; the city is built into the side of a mountain and your buildings are made of flame-resistant stone,” Sylisa detailed her observations.  “Dragon fire isn’t going to raze your city very easily.”

“Dragon fire.  Humph.  If only it were just that.”  Bennet lowered his voice.  “The beast has a far worse power.  The dark cloud strengthened by Night’s Blight, has the power to erase life.”

“Erase life?”  Sylisa repeated, perturbed by the thought.  “You for real?”  She wondered, Is it related to whatever those cultists were doing back at the manor before I ran into Charizard and that whacked guy in the robes?

“Yeah.  Gone,” Bennet said with a snap of his fingers.  “I haven’t seen it personally, so I can’t verify.  Yet there’s evidence we can’t easily write off as superstition.”

“Jeez.  How credible are the witnesses?”

“Difficult to say,” he said apprehensively.  “The Dragon breaks the minds of those who see it do this erasing up close.”

Not what I wanted to hear.  “It breaks their minds?” Sylisa said worriedly thinking about her chronic headache problem. 

“Aye.  Those two scouts I told you about.  City guards found ‘em halfway in their own graves outside the gates.  They had been wandering in circles for hours judging by their footprints.  Lips parched, skin all cracked and blistered from the sun, eyes as bloodshot as the red moon.”

“Red moon huh…sorta like an eclipse?” she said thinking aloud.

“Hmm?”

“Fuhgeddaboudit.  You woulda thought they’d be fine that close to the gate.”

“Right… they were just out there, in the scorching midday heat, making circles in the sand when the city was right there within sight on a clear day?  Something ain’t right about that.”  Bennet shook his head.  “Took ‘em straight to the infirmary.  Forced ‘em to drink since they were severely dehydrated.  And they kept saying it, mindlessly, obsessively, over and over.  None of it was right.  No.  They were talking like they weren’t even there.  Kept repeating, “Erase the world.”  Unwilling puppets of a psychic is all I could think of.  Muttering in gibberish at first, then biting on their own tongues like enraged madmen as they spoke ever louder.  Truth be told, it shook me up.” 

“Where’re they at now?” she asked.

Bennet lowered his voice.  “They’ve been in comatose, they’re barely holding on to life, too exhausted to speak.  Quarantined down near the morgue because everyone’s afraid they might be cursed.”

Sylisa, just what have you gotten yourself into? she thought worriedly.  “Okay,” she said trying to put on a strong face, “let’s think this through rationally.  There’s got to be a reason that would explain all of this.”

“Your guess is as good as mine, lil’lady.”

“Mm,” she nodded, “might be a psychic involved.  I dunno any psychic dragons.  A Charizard definitely isn’t that type of Pokémon.”

“Charizard?  Wait, you don’t mean…!  You’ve actually seen it up close?” Bennet asked. 

“Well, I think,” Sylisa replied, now feeling somewhat skeptical of her own experiences.  That whole showdown at the manor felt like a lifetime ago, she thought, like a dream I can’t remember too well after waking up.   My head’s all foggy like when I saw Weav— “Oogh…ow!” HER turn into Sneasel.  Even still, I know what I saw in Agrove.  Not entirely sure if Charizard is the same as the Dragon, but it certainly seems that way.

“You got a headache?” Bennet asked in concern.

“Yeah,” Sylisa said looking over at Sneasel and remembering her last moments before losing consciousness.  Sneasel no longer was in the nest of wires, she had curled up next to one of the servers giving off heat from one of its fans.

“Hey.  You gonna be okay?  Can hardly believe you actually saw it with your own eyes.”

She squeezed her temples in contemplation.  “It’s difficult to say how Charizard got so gigantic,” she said, “I’m no Pokémon expert.  But, that’s a fact it was surrounded by the same weird black cloud you were talking about.”

“Then that would make you the third person who has seen it and gotten away.”  Bennet sighed.  “I regret to inform you that the only other two witnesses who saw it up-close went completely mad in the head before falling into stasis.”

“Sneeee!” hissed Sneasel who was again exploring a cove near a tangle of cords.

“Eh-heh,” Sylisa nervously laughed thinking again about her bad headaches.  He’s got a point.  Maybe I should see a doctor.  My headaches are getting worse.  Could it be part of the sickness from seeing Charizard?  I never saw it erase anything though.  She forced a brave expression and said confidently trying to convince herself more than Bennet, “I’m a tough cookie.  Besides, I still got my wits about me.  So don’t sweat it, Benny!”

“True enough, you don’t have any of the signs of mind control the others had.  And I’m not about to believe in some curse without a good reason to back it up.”  Bennet took a deep breath.  “The strangest thing was how they mentioned the names of their group being erased.  “Erase so-and-so,” as if they had stolen memories; reflecting on what happened to their companions and Pokémon from an unsettlingly different point of view.”

“Did you find any evidence at all of the missing members of teams?” she fretfully asked.  “Stuff doesn’t just up and vanish unless it’s going into a Pokéball.”

Bennet shook his head ominously.  She could tell something was really bothering him.  “No hard evidence,” he started to say.  “Found these dark shadows in the sand.  Outlines of people and teams that were on the expedition.  Shadows without bodies in the middle of the day.”

That certainly isn’t good, she thought as she listened attentively.

“The weirdest thing, no ash or dust like there would be if someone got cooked by a fireball,” he explained.  “No.  The remnants were mixed in with the sand and ground itself, like shadows that were once in motion, frozen by time.  Same eerie color as the dark cloud swirling around the Dragon.”

There’s the connection, Sylisa thought, it must be the dark cloud around the giant Charizard.

“Now, I wouldn’t have believed it unless I had seen it for myself,” he said candidly.  “I had my doubts.  But when I saw the scene with my own eyes, it was as if they had been straight burnt out of existence and left behind a shadowy scar right into the sand and rock.  The scene matched up with the two now-comatose scout’s story about their teams being erased by the Night’s Blight, that’s for sure.”

“Erased from existence.  That can’t be easy to do.” Sylisa had been rubbing her head again.  “How does something disappear from the world entirely?”

“You’re asking the wrong guy,” Bennet replied with a grimace.  “I’m just as floored by it all as anyone.  Makes no sense.”

“I take back what I said earlier.  Fighting the Dragon is a death wish.  We need more information,” Sylisa concluded.

“Information—”

“—Has a price,” she said completing his signature line from when she had first met him.  “I know.  My only useful intel is how the Dragon was looking for something of mine and I think I know where it might be.”

“Then you have a lure?!” Bennet asked in a hushed yet excited voice.

“You bet I do,” she said confidently at first before realizing that the Mirari was no longer in her possession.  “Err, I mean I used to.  Don’t worry.  I think I know where it is.  Some bandits took it from me yesterday.”

“Bandits?”  Bennet shook his head.  “What an unfortunate turn of events.”

“Yeah, bad luck.  Real nasty lot too.  They’re holed up to the west, over the river and up by the caves.”  What did that detective kid call it?  The name of the river, was it Fendor something?  Whatever, Bennet probably knows the one I’m talking about.

“—Oh, that reminds me,” Bennet said interrupting her thoughts.  “Before Nemesis became our top priority, there were stories circulating about a man-eating Pokémon somewhere down that very river.”

“WHAT?!”  Sylisa exclaimed in absolute shock.  “W-Wait.  Pokémon they don’t really eat people do they?” she asked nervously.  “Like, we’re not their food, right?  I’ve never seen or heard of such a thing so it must be fake.”

Bennet gave her a puzzled look.  “How’d you get all the way out here without knowing that?”

“You’re lying.  This has to be some sort of sick joke!” Sylisa recoiled and picked up Sneasel, holding her defensively in her trembling arms. 

“Snee?” the Pokémon squeaked, not sure if she was in trouble.

“Pokémon don’t just eat people!” Sylisa insisted.  “It doesn’t work like that!”

“Whoa, whoa, take it easy now,” Bennet said.  “It’s not like it happens here in town.  But out in the wild, yeah, anything’s possible.”

“Pokémon…they don’t do that!  They treat people well and don’t let harm come to them when we capture them.  They’re supposed to be our guardians!  Our loyal protectors!”

“You come from a sheltered household?” Bennet asked her frankly.  “Cause you’re starting to not make a whole lot of sense.  Pokémon are like animals out in the wild.  They think, react, and behave in ways that have nothing to do with people.”

Sylisa thought she was seeing stars.  “How…?” she asked dizzily while clutching tight onto Sneasel’s soft mink fur like she was a therapy pillow.  “They’re only pets…our pets.”

“For God’s sake, pull yourself together!” Bennet implored.  “You’re starting to worry me.   I shouldn’t have to tell you this.  Not all Pokémon are gonna kill and eat you.  But many won’t hesitate to if you aren’t careful.”

“…!”  Sylisa gasped.

“I’m sorry,” Bennet said realizing what he had said was somewhat morbid.  “There’s a reason why having your own Pokémon partner is so important,” he said speaking more sympathetically.  “Can’t be on your own, otherwise it’s rules of nature.  And people just aren’t equipped with the fangs, claws, and powers of Pokémon.  That’s the stone cold truth.”

Sneasel squirmed in Sylisa’s arms and purred.  Sylisa’s thoughts felt a million miles away from her body.  The world she knew so well had been exposed as a falsehood.  Everything she had been told was a great big lie.  Her body was shaking.  The only thing that kept her from breaking down in tears right there on the spot was the little Pokémon in her arms.

“Pokémon can become your friends though,” Bennet said touched by seeing Sylisa holding on to Sneasel for comfort.  “They’ll look out for the humans they bond with like their own family.  If they love you, they’ll protect you from those who would do you harm with their own lives.”

Sylisa tried to not sob or show emotion, yet what she learned rattled her up inside.  The world she knew was gone.  She wanted nothing more than to just head back to Unova to curl up with Weavile in their relatively safe little studio apartment.  In all her missions as a thief with the Shadows, stealing never carried such morose consequences.  Getting caught was one thing, but being eaten alive just for being a human made her feel incredibly upset inside.  But then she quickly started to sober up as guilt flooded her mind.   I might have killed York by shoving him in that river!  This feeling…!  It’s happening to me all over again!

“You okay?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Bennet asked her. 

Sylisa said dead seriously, “Tell me what you know about the man-eating Pokémon living in the river.”

“Strange stuff that.  Code name: Orcus, Devourer class.  It started feeding on human flesh about a month and a half ago.  After someone from town went missing, maybe its first meal?  Here’s all the info we’ve procured.  Orcus is surrounded by a white mist of water from the river, which makes it difficult to see even on a clear day.  It’s got a long body, some kind of serpent I’d gather.  Obviously, it has developed a taste for humans.  However, the Pokémon’s a picky sort.  Only eats men for some reason,” Bennet said with a confused expression.  “Isn’t that weird?”

“Odd.”  It didn’t make her feel much better.  “Has it had the chance to prey on women?”

“Unreliable sources say it hasn’t if given the opportunity.  No one’s gotten close enough to find out anything definite and it’s really tough to see due to that fog,” Bennet said.  “We’re not sure if it’s related to the Dragon, but it might be a good place to start.  Besides, as a girl, you’ll be fine.  Ahem!  I mean, it might still be dangerous, but you need to acquire that lure of yours so we can effectively bait the Dragon.”

“Right.  I have to go back there anyway,” she said insistently as she thought back upon her dead childhood friend, Ted.  I can’t be responsible for another death.  I won’t let that happen.  Not again.  I can’t bear the regret.  Dammit to hell!  Buizel and York better be okay.

“You sure you’re alright?  You’re in a rush suddenly,” Bennet noted.  “Then again, I do make my coffee extra strong.  Heh heh.”

She spoke seriously and concisely, “I don’t have much time.  Bennet, what can Sneasel and I do to get there quickly?  Do you have motor transportation?”

“Yeah, I’ll hook you up,” nodded Bennet.  “However, I don’t want to send you out there by yourself.  Hmm…  Only a few Pokémon around, they’re all especially winded from yesterday.  I could see if one of our newer members could lend you a hand—”

“—That’s good enough for me,” she quickly interjected.

“Figured you’d say that.  Once you get something in that head of yours you don’t know the meaning of the word quit, do you?”

“Been told it runs in my family,” Sylisa acknowledged plainly.  “As for Pokémon, something to deal with the bandits’ Fighting types and the wild Rock types using energy attacks.”

“Alright, I’ll send you out with Daphne.”

“Daphne?  Is that a plant or some sorta naiad?” Sylisa asked cynically.

“She’s the other rookie.  Code name: Blossom Gale.  Curator, that’s Venus, a Special Defense focused class.  Be warned, she’s a bit of a…hmm, what’s the word, distant at first but warms up once you get to know her.”

“Doesn’t matter.”  I don’t care if she’s a bitchy tsundere, she thought, curbing her spontaneous urge to call it out using her internet lingo.  “I’m taking the assignment.”

“I’ll brief her over the guild radio.  You go on ahead, she’ll know you’re coming.  Head toward the market square if she’s not around here in the building,” Bennet replied sitting down at the Com. Terminal’s pilot seat and strapping on a headset.  “She’s got a good Pokémon partner to help you out.  You’ll work well together if you remember the importance of teamwork, balancing attack with defense.”

“Whatever.  You let her know Sneasel’s no slouch,” Sylisa said praising her partner and crossing her arms.

“Oh boy.”  Bennet sighed, muttering something along the lines of, “Why do I get the feeling this is a bad idea?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Sun and Shade


Partnering me with a girl named Daphne for our first mission, Sylisa thought as she proceeded to walk out of the guild’s headquarters in the back of the tavern.  “What do you think, Sneasel?”

“Neeyah!” mewed her friend.  Let's go!

“I guess you’re right.  I should give her a chance.  She might prove useful.”

As Sylisa and Sneasel were walking out of the cozy tavern serving as the guild’s front, a young woman came rushing in through the front door.  She appeared to be in her mid-thirties.  Her long hair was the color of warm cherry wood.  She wore a cream color turtleneck with long sleeves, a woolly light brown business jacket with a subtle plaid pattern, and dark black pants.  In her frail hands, she carried a paper notepad at the ready, which her dark eyes were focused on from behind her sharp, fashionable black-framed glasses.   At her side, a healthy looking Tranquill flapped his broad wings in the air.  Tranquill had a rolled piece of paper wrapped on one of his talons.  And she noticed another Pokémon was following her on all fours with a girlish pen held in its mouth.  Huh? Sylisa thought curiously, is that a Nidorino?  It looks a lot …different.

“Hi, are you Daphne?”  Sylisa asked the woman.

“N-No,” the woman said in a hurry.

“Wait, what’s your name?”

“Je…Jennifer Rees,” the woman replied very shyly.  “But please, don’t feel like you have to call me that or anything!  I’m just a small-time reporter.  A nobody, really.”

She’s a little on the weird side, Sylisa thought.  Maybe she has trouble meeting new people?  “Oh!  I like your Nidorino, that’s a nice feathery pen he’s got,” she said trying to make the situation less awkward.

Jennifer blushed.  “Umm, actually, she’s a Nidorina,” she explained, reservedly hugging her notepad close to her chest. 

“Ooops, sorry!” said Sylisa as the Nidorina growled.  “Aren’t Nidorina blue though?  This one is purple!”

“Don’t apologize.  We get that a lot,” Jennifer said with an uncomfortable shrug.  “Um.  By the way, have you seen Bennet?”

“Oh yeah, he’s in the back working on the Com. Terminal,” Sylisa said with a directing gesture.

Jennifer rushed to the right of Sylisa and toward the back of the tavern without another word.  Her Tranquill and Nidorina followed close behind. 

“Not even a goodbye,” said Sylisa.  “Must be in quite a rush.  I wonder if she’s the girl Bennet was staying up all night for.  She had a pretty face, maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye.”

“Ne…” sighed Sneasel.

Sylisa looked at Sneasel, who had also been brushed off when she tried to introduce herself to the other Pokémon.  “Aw, don’t feel bad,” Sylisa told Sneasel.  “They were a weird bunch, that’s for sure.”

“Neee!  Nyaaa!  Ne!” Sneasel laughed, as if to say, “So are we.”

Together they left the main hall and went outside.  Sneasel was happily scurrying about out in the sunshine, enjoying the fresh air.  Despite the chilly morning, it had turned into a beautiful day.  Sylisa and Sneasel walked down the city’s narrow cobble stone street snaking around and down the mountainside. 

Sylisa said, “We’re supposed to meet at the marketplace by the city gates ‘cause she wasn’t at the tavern.  Just so happens to be around where we broke in to the general goods store late last night.  Talk about a cliché, returning to the scene of the crime.”

“Sne!” Sneasel shot her a cold glare, knowing Sylisa was just as guilty for breaking and entering, but was sadly unable to convey that information to anyone and consequently became the scapegoat for the two of them.

Sylisa could understand her frustration.  “It was unfair to you,” she said, “but at least those guards with the Golurk didn’t take your claws away.  Not only would that have hurt, you’d be made useless!”

Sneasel didn’t like hearing that, she buried her head in one of Sylisa’s coattails, wrapping the narrow cloth around her eyes.  Ignoring the rush of pity rising up from within her gut, Sylisa gave Sneasel a stern glare.

“Hey, c’mon, that’s not like you.”  Seeing she made Sneasel upset, Sylisa said softly, “At least you’re cute enough where the deception worked.  I like that about you, Sneasel.”

“Nee nee!” squealed the little Pokémon, her embarrassed face hiding under the fabric.

Not far ahead, the outdoor marketplace had been bustling with activity with all the stores.  There were plenty of people trading with merchants under brightly colored tents and awnings waving in the pleasant breeze. 

“I can’t believe there’s no one selling Pokéballs!  Makes stealing them impossible,” Sylisa whispered under her breath as she scoped out the stalls for the coveted merchandise.

By the far market stall to the right of the general goods store, where she had briefly hidden from Lairon and the patrolling guard last night before breaking into the store, Sylisa saw a group of people congregating around.  In the center of the crowd behind a counter decorated with all sorts of beautifully colored flowers, a bright white sun umbrella stood out like a giant mushroom. 

“—Why not?  C’mon, I’ll never hear the end of it!” said one of the men near the decorated wooden counter.  He had a frown on his face and wore a beige collared shirt with a matching pair of leisure shorts.  His chestnut brown hair was neatly combed to the side and he wore a pair of expensive-looking gold framed sunglasses.  By his side stood a burly Granbull with a disinterested expression on his chubby face.  

“I’m so sorry for your heavyheartedness,” said a serene girl’s voice from under the white parasol, “but, unfortunately, we’re closing early today.”

“Daphne, you can’t do this to a guy in need!  I’m relying on you,” insisted the emotional customer next to a hefty Granbull the man was running errands with.  Granbull did not seem too interested in what the man with the flashy sunglasses was saying.

““Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” or so they say.  Hm.  Hm.  Lovely.  Which is why you shall tell your beautiful, on-in-a-million sweetheart you ordered a very special bouquet, just for her,” said the girl under the frilly white parasol.  Elegantly twirling her brolly, she went on to say smoothly, “I’ll be sure to collect some exquisite flowers with Rapunzel while we’re on our mission today.  Mmhm!  Rare, mmm – Exotic! – forms.  Mysterious varieties you won’t find lingering around the shop.”  She seemed to motion in the general direction of Sylisa, even though there were no flowers in her vicinity.  “What better place to encounter a peculiar sort of flower, than out in the desert?  You understand?”

“Ah!”  The man wearing the large shades nodded.  “I see.  Very good.  I’ll leave it to you.” 

The girl giggled.  “But before you go, a free sample!”  At this, the small Pokémon blending in with the vases of flowers on the counter suddenly puffed a cloud of purple fragrance from her arms shaped like bouquets into the face of the man.  He didn’t look sad any more.  In fact, his glum face began to smile.

“T-Thanks.”  His tense posture relaxed, his shoulders slumped, and his knees gave a slight wobble.

“There, there, Edmund,” said the girl under the umbrella as she rubbed her Roselia’s succulent dew-covered petals.  “Please do not trouble your heart any longer.  The striking bouquet I assemble shall be every bit as wonderful as this indulging aroma.  Yes, it shall be spectacular, chimerical, romantic, and MAR-VEL-OUS all at once!  She’ll be swooned, overwhelmed, starry-eyed in wonder at the breadth of your love for her!  And moreover…  You’ll be sure to find yourself back in her good favor by demonstrating such gentlemanly generousness!  Hehe!”

“You…you’d do that?  After all you’ve been put through?” he said, nearly speechless.  Dumbfounded by the sickly-sweet cloud of Roselia’s fragrance.  It was as though all his inhabitations had evaporated and he was no longer worried at all.  “Daphne…you’re—!”

“—An angel from heaven?” answered the fair girl from under her shade with a cherubic chuckle.  “Oohoho, yes, I know, I know.”

I hate her already, Sylisa thought crossing her arms and letting Sneasel know by rolling her eyes.  “Manipulating people’s minds with plants is the work of a witch,” she whispered to her friend.

“You’re prudent beyond words,” said Edmund.  “How can I ever thank you for your assistance?” he asked smiling with a relaxed, toothy grin.  Even Granbull appeared rattled by how quickly Daphne had set his friend’s heart at ease.

“I’m sure I’ll think of something in return,” said the girl with Roselia.  “What you’re asking for is my specialty.  I’m simply the best when it comes to winning over everyone’s hearts,” the young girl said twirling her parasol daintily and letting out a long sigh.  “Ahhh…  It’s my angelic aroma.”

PSH… Yeah, no wonder that guard’s Pokémon smelled something suspicious around here last night, Sylisa thought reminiscing how she had almost gotten caught due to the lingering floral aroma.

“I’ll be sure to tell her!  Thank you again, Daphne!  You really are a gift from heaven!” Edmund said, stepping away from the counter.  He turned to Granbull and said, “C’mon, Grim, we’ve got great news to tell Allie!”

“Grubble grubble…” muttered Granbull following Edmund with a very weary expression between his two tusks.

As the swooned patron moved away from the modest trading counter, Sylisa walked up to the stall to introduce herself to this Daphne girl.  She did so brashly, with a blasé look on her face, her posture unyielding.  Her jet-black boots treading over fallen leaves near the flower boutique created a conspicuous rustling.

“Oh my,” said the girl abruptly from under her white parasol.  In a mature cadence, she spoke, “An acrimonious shadow sinisterly approaches!  With hair as dark as a starless night!  Her avaricious heart flutters with the same acquisitiveness hidden deep within her golden eyes!”

“—You’re Daphne?”  Sylisa said trying to get a better look at her.  She’s not from around here either, she has blue eyes

Daphne’s long hair was a white-gold blonde.  She had numerous fresh flowers resting in it, like lilies in a quiet river.  She was not very tall, rather on the petite side.  However, her sunbrella and billowing skirt made her appear more present concerning her constitution.  Her dainty, flowing skirt looked a lot like her umbrella.  Below she wore elegant milky-colored shoes, with two straps that ran up her legs around her bleached stockings.  Her dress, a mixture of cloudy white and serene sky blue, was as frilly and flashy as her parasol, complete with lace, bows, and ribbons that made her look very much like a porcelain doll.  While her skirt looked like her parasol, her top resembled a white and blue petal tulip wrapped around her torso.  From the lacy straps on her pasty shoulders, her sleeves were cerulean and snowy down to her wrists, complete with a puffy azure rose design and leafy garlands on both of her gown’s elbows.

“Ah!  That I am!” exclaimed the girl with a million-dollar smile of pearly whites.  “Daphne Abagail Gates!  To whom do I owe the pleasure?”

“…”  Sylisa did not answer.

“Humph!  How rude!” Daphne said with a sour pucker on her pink rose lips.  “A cruel thing indeed for you to demand my name without offering the same courtesy.  My, my.  Such insolent boorishness!  Have you no manners?  No respect for the fundamental virtues of civilized interaction?”

“I uhh…” Sylisa answered unsurely.  She can’t be older than me, but why do I feel like she’s more mature?  She dresses like a child!  Daphne could easily pass for eighteen if she weren’t wearing that ridiculous doll outfit.

“Come now, speak up!  It’s harmless to share your name, is it not?” Daphne said with a graceful wave of her hand.  “Ohhh, unless you’ll fall over dead if you tell me.  Wouldn’t that be something!”

The other people around her started murmuring to each other, intrigued by the flower girl’s noticeable exhibition with the mysterious black and caramel haired girl.

“Who’s that sullen girl talking to Daphne?” asked a brawny man with a chubby Makuhita next to him.

“She looks dangerous,” said a young woman.

“Why are her eyes yellow, mommy?” asked a cute little girl.  “And the back of her hair is sunny too!”

A middle-age woman quickly pulled on the little girl’s delicate arm.  “Stay back sugarplum, that Pokémon with her looks scary.”

“Wait a minute,” exclaimed another man, “isn’t that the Pokémon that got caught stealing cereal from Jones’ shop!?”

Sylisa, suddenly feeling shy from all the onlooker’s attention, lowered her voice and leaned close to Daphne.  Her perfume was way too strong.  “I’m with the guild,” she said almost mutely, trying not to gag from inhaling Daphne’s floral fragrance.

“OH!  HA HA!” Daphne laughed boisterously because Sylisa revealed she had been trying to be discrete.  She raised her sweet voice even louder for all to hear, “YOU MUST BE MISFORTUNE!” 

“Keep it down…!” Sylisa hushed urgently.  Despite being a little brash, Sylisa’s shyness kicked her in the face when she felt the attention of crowds.  “Not so loud…!”

“What’s that?  Louder?”  Daphne was on a roll.  “Heavens, my dear!  You certainly look the part of calamity: gloomy, glum, dressed in all black on such a pretty day!  My, my, you’re like a miniature storm cloud.”

“Q-Quit making fun of me in front of people!” Sylisa demanded looking down at her dark clothes feeling incredibly self-conscious in front of everyone.

“How could I possibly make fun of “you”?” asked Daphne.  She spoke innocently at first, like a diffident nymph, but as she spoke her voice grew in steady crescendo.  ““You” are an unidentified shade who never gave me her name.  You know, they say a name is the sweetest sound to a person’s ears, but you seem to be lacking mellifluousness altogether.  Hmm…sniff sniff.  …A trace of muskiness, as one would expect from a cave.  There’s a perturbing aroma about you, it certainly isn’t floral.  Perhaps, paradoxically, you are fortunate to have arrived at my perfume emporium.”

The people nearby started laughing.  Sneasel covered her face out of embarrassment for Sylisa.

“…!”  Sylisa’s pale cheeks turned beet red.  I didn’t think she’d be this much of a bitch, she thought unable to come up with a response.  The laughter continued all around her.  No!  This feeling!  It’s worse than my stage fright I could never get over!

“Anyway, it’s not like I care who you are!” Daphne said vociferously in a sort of dramatic sing-song, “TRA-LA-LA, let us be on our mission, like canorous Nightingales, my dear undertaker!” 

“Wait, I’m not an under—” Sylisa started to reply, but by now the jeers coming from around her were simply too much.  She felt awful being ridiculed by Daphne and rather shaken up inside.  However, she could do nothing since this place was certainly the flower girl’s purview. 

“Misfortune, do hurry up,” chided Daphne as she waltzed from the shop dancing past people and Pokémon with hasty aplomb.  “If there’s one thing I cannot stand – besides no-good, double-crossing psychics – it’s belatedness!”

“Hold on!” Sylisa said racing after her with Sneasel in tow.  “Stop bossing me around!”

“Hmm?” Daphne deftly spun around on her cream-colored shoe’s heel.  With inhuman quickness, she snapped closed her parasol and pointed it like a lance directly at Sylisa who had been rushing after her, poking her right in the chest.

“OUCH!” Sylisa shouted in pain.  “That hurt, you brat!  What the hell is that thing made of?!”

“You joined this morning, didn’t you?” Daphne said raising her umbrella from in-between Sylisa’s breasts to under her chin.  “That would mean you are MY junior.  And I will not tolerate insubordination.”

“Fuhgeddaboudit!” Sylisa said angrily swatting the umbrella’s top away.  “I’m not working with you.  And neither is Sneasel!”

“Is that so?” Daphne replied with a frightening weight of authority that did not befit her diminutive frame at all.  “Has the mere derisiveness of onlookers to my facetious performance truly broken your spirit?  Has my discursiveness utterly shattered your soul?  Ahh!  Ohh!” She gasped and flourished theatrically.  “To know that it is I, nay, my innocuousness, which has brought about such misfortune to Misfortune herself!”

“Quit your yattering with big words and go back to selling stinkin’ flowers to losers,” Sylisa crudely ridiculed.  “C’mon Sneasel, we’re getting out of here!”  Sneasel did not respond with so much of a purr however.  “Huh?  Sneasel?”  Sylisa looked at where Sneasel had been following.  To her surprise, Sneasel was with another Pokémon, transfixed by Daphne’s Roselia; a Pokémon with healthy bright green leaves and vibrant flowers that oozed a heady aroma.  Like Daphne, Roselia exhibited an elegant demeanor and appeared a bit haughty based on her surprised reaction to Sneasel.  Roselia was about half the height of Sneasel, but Sneasel had hunched down on all fours to make up for the difference.  The two were very close.  Sneasel was practically wrapped around Roselia, smelling her colorful petals.

“Enraptured by beauty, compelled by splendor, the little imp is captivated by the marvel of my darling Rapunzel!” Daphne said with great embellishment.  With a flick of her wrist she pointed her parasol back at Sylisa like a baton.  “And you, my icy shadow, have the gall to complain that my profession is incommodious!”

You gotta be kidding, Sylisa thought as she saw Sneasel was completely intoxicated by the scent of Roselia.  “Sneasel!  What are you doing?!” she asked in a panic.

“Oh my, oh my, what does it look like, sweetie?” Daphne hummed as she trotted over to the two Pokémon, her frilly white skirt swaying along with her buoyant stride.   With an elegant curtsy, Daphne pet Sneasel on the head with a delicate touch.  Sneasel purred softly and nuzzled closer to Roselia.  Her eyes looked so relaxed, like she was completely on another plane of existence while inhaling Roselia’s scent straight from the source of her petals.

“Sneasel, stop foolin’ around!” barked Sylisa.

“She’s not the fool here,” Daphne whispered, mollycoddling the back of Sneasel’s neck, “that privileged honor would belong to a conspicuous shadow of mine unable to grasp the patrician pleasures of aromatherapy.”

“Nugh!” Sylisa couldn’t even find words since she was so angry.  Daphne had gotten under her skin, but the worst thing about it was how effortlessly she had completely controlled her emotions.  Not to mention her partner in crime, Sneasel.  Sneasel’s face was practically buried in Roselia’s sweet flowers.  The pale green face of Roselia was blushing from all the attention, the little flower tried to pull away coldly, but Sneasel was very insistent on staying close to her aromatic bouquets.

“I didn’t expect a little thief to be so adorable,” Daphne said rubbing the intoxicated-looking Sneasel on the belly.

“Huh?”  Sylisa said in shock, “How do you know Sneasel’s a thief?”

“Truth be told, I didn’t.  I merely had my suspicions based on what some of the commoners recently said,” Daphne pertly replied while at the same time giving her a cunning smirk, “but now I know for sure, don’t I?”

“Guh!”  You’re much sneakier than I gave you credit for, Sylisa thought, humiliated at how she had played right into Daphne’s hand.  “Sneasel was hungry,” Sylisa insisted, adamantly defending her Pokémon.

“Oh, pishposh, aren’t we all, Misfortune?”  Daphne through her aloofness reasoned, “Nevertheless, just because one’s belly tells them to do something doesn’t mean we should listen to it and steal something of value from others.  Would make us no better than the beast we’ve been assigned to subdue.”

“You’re REALLY pissing me off!” Sylisa fumed.  “All you do is make assumptions!  Sneasel was only eating cereal, not humans!”

“Ahem!  So then, the mission—” Daphne abruptly said, “—we’re to investigate a certain man-eater, are we not?  A much more, mmm, villainous food-thief, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yeah.  We have to hurry because—” Sylisa paused, she did not want Daphne to know that York might be in grave danger due to her recklessness before when she shoved him into the river to lose him.  “Erm… uhh…”

“Hmm?  Cat got your tongue?” Daphne asked sunnily.

“No.”  Sylisa shook her head, her ebony hair bounced against her shoulders.  “I’m feelin’ antsy, t’is all.  Don’t want to lose my nerve.  Capiche?”

“Bravado, is it?”  Daphne gave her a judgmental glare.  “I should have known.”

“My first mission,” said Sylisa, “it’s that simple.”

“Very well!”  Daphne hummed airily.  She spun around, as though she lacked a care in the world, springing along down the dusty path leading out of the town.  A wake of heavy fragrance from the flowers in her hair, followed her, stimulated by her graceful movements.  Roselia and charmed Sneasel trailed her buoyant footsteps like obedient entourages.

Sylisa begrudgingly shadowed at a distance thinking, It’s impossible to tell whether she’s serious or not.  Especially when she hides under that stupid sunbrella.  Can’t get a good read on her.  What lousy luck to get partnered with her.  Is this also part of my curse?

“Ah ha, look who we have here!  My two favorite identical twins!” she said frolicking over to the city gates. 

Daphne and her entourage approached two guys waiting near the open gates by the stone bridge.  They were both rather tall and wearing casual outfits, their jeans and plaid shirts reminded Sylisa of lumberjacks.  Both men were probably in their late-twenties or early-thirties.  They had the same reddish-brown hair and brownish-hazel eyes, with shallow, tanned faces and bristly beards.  Next to them were two Pokémon, on one side a strong, sturdy looking Carracosta and on the other an agile, floating Drifblim.  Carracosta wore a helmet made of rock.  Drifblim had been carrying something judging from the ropes tied up near its base.

“Blossom Gale, reporting for duty!” Daphne said running up to them with a fresh smile.  “And this bleary gloominess tagging along is Misfortune!”

“Hi!”  One of the twins addressed her with a warm demeanor.  He had more freckles on his face and nose than his brother.  “You’re the girl Bennet was talkin’ bout?  Fortune’s Rift, was it?”

Sylisa felt relieved to be called that goofy name after the relentless hounding Daphne had given her new nickname.  She nodded quietly.

“Nice ta’ meet ya’.  Name’s Dale, and this is my lil’bro, Marvin.”

Lil’bro, Sylisa thought.  The same name I gave Ted, my briefly adopted friend.  Her remorseful feelings made her mind travel somewhere very distant while Dale continued to speak.

“We help out guild members with their jobs,” Dale explained to Sylisa who still had a look on her face like she was out of touch with the world.  “Me ‘n Marv handle acquisitions.”

“She prefers tiny words,” Daphne interjected.  The flower-girl said to Sylisa with a hand on her hip, as if she were speaking to a child, “Basically, if you need something special for a mission these two fellows make sure you get it!  Simple!”

“I know what acquisitions means!” retorted Sylisa, bitterly snapping back to reality.  Gah, how embarrassing.  I’ve gotta stop checking out like that.

“My, my.  Your vocabulary is growing like a fertile bed of marigolds!” teased Daphne. “Impressive.  Must be my nurturing influence.  The next phase to make you more sophisticated like myself is to use my signature Roselia perfume!  Mmm, I can see it now.  You’ll be oohing and ahhing like a refined princess at even the slightest of cute Pokémon, charmed by the flowery trance of an evanescent ecstasy.  “Daphne,” you’ll say tenderly inhaling my special fragrance, “please teach me the blissful delights of enamor for all things beautiful!”  To which I shall reply with aromatic vim, “All in due time, my Black Rose!””

“What.  A.  Freak.”  Sylisa chose to ignore her.  There’s no winning an argument with this one, she thought disdainfully crossing her sunburnt arms, she’s a showboat looking for attention.  Cut her off from her water and she’ll wilt like a flower in the desert.  Sylisa pointed at the big eggplant colored Pokémon hovering off the ground and asked, “Who’s he?”

Dale gave Drifblim a pat and uncoiled the rope tied to his cloth tendrils.  “This is my business partner, Drifblim.  We call him the Big Daddy.  Ol’ Daddy-o swoops down when he goes out late in the evening and gets hold of all sorts of stuff you wouldn’t believe.  The desert is loaded with cool things adventurers leave behind.”

“You’re saying you salvage stuff from guild members who didn’t make it in the desert!” Sylisa said aghast.

“Whoa, whoa, easy does it.”  Dale put his hands up in the air defensively.  “I ain’t saying anything requiring testimony, if you catch my drift.  Sure, some of the stuff we find might’ve been…you know… abandoned.  Don’t sweat the details.  All you need to know is that if you need stuff then we’ll supply you.”

I don’t trust this one bit.  What have I gotten myself into?  Even the Shadows, assassins, never went after their own for salvage, Sylisa considered worriedly. 

“What’s on your mind?” he asked.

“You woulda thought their jank equipment is why they failed,” Sylisa said, “I don’t feel like winding up like the last schmucks to use whatever stuff you’re recycling.”

“Yeah, that’s easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.”  Dale smiled.  “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Sylisa asked.

Daphne predictably chimed in.  “Honestly, Misfortune, have you been listening at all to the man or are you still daydreaming about my lovely plans for you?  It’s all rather simple: If you don’t want to wind up in a position where your belongings are recycled for the next adventurer who comes around the block, YOU must make it back in one piece!  Understand?  It’s all up to Y-O-U!  And Sneasel too.”

Dale nodded.  “Right on.  Blossom’s spot on the money.”

“I always am!” she said flourishing cutely.  Roselia acted in kind.  “Besides, you have me and Rapunzel by your side!”

“Great,” Sylisa supposed, “so not only are we using questionable hand-me-downs, but if by some bad luck we don’t make it back, we’ll get written off as salvage sources for Drifblim?”

Dale gave a nervous laugh.  “Ah ha haa…ha.  Geez, this girl’s sense of humor is raw,” he said anxiously scratching the back of his neck. 

“Tell me about it.”  Daphne let out an exacerbated sigh.  “She’s a comedy routine.”

“Excuse me.” Sylisa crossed her arms defensively.  “I’m not from around here.”

“Me neither!” Daphne said.  “But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be rude to our suppliers!”

“Naw, I ain’t takin’ offense.  It’s a rough world out on the frontier,” Dale explained to Sylisa.  “Sol de Lune is a nice pocket of sanity and peace, but step away from civilization out there it gets ugly real fast.  Faster than an Unburdened Drifblim.  That’s for sure.”

Marvin gave a mute nod.  Carracosta let out a low grumble to agree.

Those quiet two are a little unusual, Sylisa thought.  She looked back over at Dale and Drifblim to ask, “So what exactly did you…acquiesce?”

“You mean “acquire”, dearie,” Daphne pointed out, snobbishly correcting her. 

“Glad you asked.  Wait until you see this!”  Dale said excitedly.  He rushed over to a plastic tarp which Drifblim had been fastened to earlier.  Carracosta followed him.  With a swift slash using his powerful fins, Carracosta undid the thick tarpaulin covering what appeared to be a small dune buggy. 

“Whoa.”  Drifblim could carry that!?

“TA-DA!” Dale exclaimed.  “A Desert Patrol Vehicle!  A DPV!  Gosh, I love these things.  Ain’t nothing in the world like flying through the desert cooled by the open air whipping by.  This one’s not in terrible shape either, looks like she’ll maybe, possibly, probably run!”

Sylisa inspected it with a grimace, half-expecting to find the sun-bleached skeletal remnants of the DPV’s former owner still sitting in the driver’s seat.  Its metal frame had been worn down, the suspension looked ready to buckle, and the operator’s chair was little more than an uncomfortable curved sheet of steel.  The extra-large four wheels were probably the nicest looking components of the machine.  The passenger compartment was more like an open cage with a windshield attached as an afterthought.  The metal bars where the headlamps were housed were very worn down.  Even the bull bars in the front had tumbleweeds stuck in between their rusty tubes.  Don’t know much about automobiles.  Dad sold his collection before I learned how to drive.  But I can tell this thing is a piece of junk.

Marvin quietly walked up to the DPV and gave Carracosta a hand gesture.  The Pokémon responded in kind, and then rolled underneath the DPV’s frame to help prop it up using his heavy-duty shell as a lift.  Marvin quickly slid under the engine and got to work on something having to do with the vehicle’s main drive transmission.  Sylisa couldn’t be sure what he was doing, she didn’t know very much about mechanics or cars.  There were a few gears and belts scattered about near Marvin’s toolkit so she assumed it had to do with the DPV’s gearbox.

“Ahem!” Daphne coughed, starved for attention since everyone had been focusing on the DPV and not her.  “This mission has my poor heart worried sick as can be!  For shame!  Even my signature joyousness has been stifled, diminished, all but lost!  No thanks to the dreadful risks we must face together over yonder creek.  Specifically, MAN eating monsters!  Heavens, despite being of the fairer sex, the thought of such persnickety beasts when it comes to human food engenders ample distress at the outrageous absurdity of it all!”  She then lowered her chirpy voice just enough to murmur within Sylisa’s earshot, “It doesn’t help being partnered with the embodiment of doomful pessimism herself.”

“Do you ever shut up?” Sylisa growled.

“Ahh!  Such impertinence!” Daphne gasped.  “I’m gravely wounded by your crass words, my unpleasant shade!”

“Tch.  Look who’s talking.  You’re always in the shade under that dumb umbrella,” Sylisa wittily snapped back.  “Quit being a hypocrite.”

Daphne for once appeared caught off-guard by her comeback.  “My gorgeously fair complexion demands such sacrifices!” she said flippantly.  “You should consider applying my signature Aloe Vera to those painful looking sunburns on your arms, dear.”

“Ladies,” Marvin finally spoke up.  His was a low voice, but he had been so quiet up until now it surprised everyone.  Everyone looked at him in shock and awe as he rolled out from underneath the vehicle.  Carracosta turned on his side and let the vehicle back down on its big wheels.  Marvin stepped up to the helm and turned the key.  Nothing.  He tried it again.  Nothing.  Then he smacked the base of the steering wheel with a blow from the side of his fist and suddenly the machine hummed to life.  “Your chariot awaits,” he said simply over the motor’s steady hum.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Midday Melee


“Onward we ride!” cheered Daphne, seating herself comfortably in the patrol vehicle’s passenger side.  Her Roselia, Rapunzel, leapt onto Daphne’s lap with a bubbly bounce.  Sneasel, still captivated by the lovely scent of flowers on Roselia’s body, curled up warmly near Daphne’s hip on the seat.  Daphne smirked haughtily, closed her frilly white parasol with a snap and pointed its tip at Sylisa.  “Ah-ah, my dear shadow, it is high time you assume your chauffeur duties!  Chop-chop!”

“Don’t “chop-chop” me!”  Wearing a grimace on her pale face underneath her messy bangs, Sylisa exclaimed, “I’m not your dang taxicab!”

“Pardon my insolence,” Daphne replied, waving her closed sunbrella like a Braixen’s wand.  “However, you cannot expect a lady to operate such a coarse piece of machinery through the desert.”

“What the hell are you implying?” Sylisa asked with plain ire in her golden eyes.

“Please, perish the thought, ehehe!” Daphne chuckled as she rubbed Roselia’s green leaves.  “Be reasonable.  How could I possibly steer with these two delightful Pokémon resting so comfortably upon my lap?”

I wouldn’t want a ditz like her in charge of my fate anyway, Sylisa thought as she inspected the slightly corroded contraption, noting the shift lever.  A quad with manual transmission. Learned to drive with a clutch that time I flew in to Icirrus City and all they had to rent was a manual.  “I can handle it,” she said, her fingers gripping the worn wheel tightly.

“Nya…”  Sneasel gave a pleased purr as Daphne coddled her with a happy smile.  Roselia also gave a joyful nod. 

Glowering, Sylisa looked helplessly at her spellbound Pokémon.  “Better hold on to something that isn’t Sneasel,” Sylisa said roughly.  She turned to see Dale, Drifblim, Marvin, and Carracosta waving goodbye from the city’s gates.  The engine roared as the vehicle took off heading west.

“And so we set off!” said the pampered little princess with a grin.  “On wings of wheels, with the thunderous howl of an Exploud!  An angel of blossoms and her misfortunate sidekick together make way to solve a great mystery!  Was it fate that crossed the threads of our paths?  Will my beatific providence counteract the shadowy murk at my side?”

Sylisa grumbled, “The engine isn’t loud enough.”  She did her best to focus on controlling the swift DPV instead of being distracted by Daphne’s larks.  The route back to the caves over the river is a straight run across level ground, Sylisa thought, I walked the distance yesterday while dehydrated and it took almost two hours.  With a DPV souped-up to meet racing speeds of a Ponyta, the journey will probably only take twenty minutes.  Then we need to find the man-eating Pokémon lurking downstream.  I hope that detective kid and Buizel are okay…  Please let them be okay.

“You suuure you know the way?”

Sylisa nodded her head calmly and explained, “I came from this way yesterday.  Not a moron.  I know the route.”

“Thank goodness!  Don’t go falling into any Trapinch pits!” Daphne warned.  She scooped up Rapunzel and held her close against her bouncy bosom.  “Phew.  It’s so very hot, but this breeze feels fine.  I must be careful Rapunzel is not to suffer windburns.”

“Why don’t you keep her in a ball then?” Sylisa said.

“Hm?”  Daphne tilted her head.

“Never mind.”  Don’t have time for this nonsense.

“Say, I’ve been meaning to ask you something,” Daphne said.

“Don’t like the sound of that.”

“Oh, quit being so abrasive.  It’s just a question.  Nevertheless, a philosophical one.”

Sylisa shook her head.  “I don’t do philosophy.  Boring and doesn’t mean crap at the end of the day.”

Daphne cupped her hands around her mouth.  “What a bore!”  However, she then said quite seriously, “Still, even a shade like you must have an opinion of her own.”

A shade?  “Why the hell you callin’ me that?” Sylisa demanded.

“Force of habit,” Daphne chirped.  She smiled brightly and waved her hand dismissively.  “Besides, you’re dressed just like a shadow!”  Her excessively cheerful demeanor evaporated as she placed a hand on Sneasel’s head and said, “But you know, you can prove you’re more than that.  I’m open to hearing what you think.”

“Why would I care what you think?”

“You’re pricklier than I thought you’d be,” Daphne said. 

“Yeah, you’d be too if someone got your best friend sozzled.”

Daphne slumped her shoulders, and coddled the two Pokémon.  “I’ll just ask: Why do flowers flourish in harsh places?”

“Don’t care,” Sylisa said.  “Why do orange lizards spit fireballs?” she remarked, thinking of Charizard.

“Mmm, good point.  Plants are versatile like Pokémon.  They’ll adapt and alter their form based on the environment they live in.  A lot of animals do that.  Even humans change how they look and behave to suit a situation.  I’ve always found flowers that manage to overcome a harsh, inhospitable land are especially beautiful when they succeed.  They’ve got character acquired through perseverance.  Some of them are helped along the way.  Be it people, animals, or Pokémon, whoever helps make the flowers beautiful in their environment are the unsung heroes of something wonderful.  That in itself is romantic.”

“Mhm.  Shuuure.”  Sylisa stared at the wide-open desert without really listening.  Daphne’s voice reminded her of a radio talk-show host droning on the air.  It was not long before she started rambling about when in the morning it is best to feed Roselia because of lower temperatures and less evaporation, how much water her Pokémon’s roots needed, the influence of bright sunlight and stress on Rapunzel, her growing season, etcetera. 

“By applying fertilizer in the morning, there’s the benefit of cooler temperatures and reduced winds.  Evenly spreading her nutrients throughout topsoil, I give her fresh well water, high in mineral content, so necessary elements reach the roots quickly and trigger absorption almost immediately.  This helps her with the stress from midday heat, she’s much more receptive to absorbing the nutrients as they move down through the soil than when she’s busy with photosynthesis.”

Sylisa kept trying to tune her out unsuccessfully.  The DPV had an exposed passenger cabin, so the wind was very loud as she sped along under clear blue skies.  If Daphne opened her sunbrella, she might be carried away.  Then I wouldn’t have to put up with her.  The thought of this scene brought a spontaneous, girlish laugh as Sylisa imagined it.  “Eehee.”

“What’s so funny?!” Daphne asked over the breeze. 

Sylisa quickly put on a straight face.  “Was just thinking: This sure beats walking,” she said.  “We’re almost to the river already.”

After traveling a fair distance in a short amount of time, the familiar scenery came into view.  A craggy cluster of hills on the other side of a rushing river.  The caves are in the distance.  That’s the bandits’ hideout.  I need to get my equipment back from those thugs.  But first we must make sure York and Buizel are okay by investigating downstream— Sylisa paused and considered the worst.  If they got eaten I can’t let Daphne know it was my fault.  Her slumped posture straightened up as she found her buried courage.  No!  It’s not going to turn out like that!  They’re going to be okay.  I won’t let my curse get the best of them.  It’s mine to bear, not theirs! 

Daphne spoke up as the path adjacent to the river turned too narrow for the DPV to handle.  “We should proceed on foot from here, Misfortune.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Sylisa said, making a swerve.  She parked the vehicle in the shade, near a small pool of clear water by a sandbar with palms.

Daphne waved her hand up and through her hair, causing more of her strong, flowery perfume to waft through the air.  “Your driving, mmm, a solid B.”

“I didn’t ask for your evaluation.”  Sylisa agilely hopped out of the still vehicle, escaping the magnified Roselia scent in the process.  “You going to give me back my Pokémon any time soon?” she asked concerning Sneasel.

“She’s such a sweet little rapscallion when enchanted by Rapunzel’s perfume!” Daphne said with a chuckle. 

“Enough already.”  Sylisa tapped her foot impatiently on the ground.  “You’re holding her hostage.”

“I can see why you like her.” Carrying Sneasel and Roselia like two little babies, Daphne gracefully exited the DPV as well.  Once Daphne’s shoes were on the pebbly ground she squeezed Sneasel’s belly causing her to purr. 

Sylisa looked up at the tall cliffs surrounding both sides of the river.  “The river that flows through here used to be a lot deeper,” she said.  “This isn’t safe.”

“Oh?”

“See for yourself.”  Sylisa pointed.  “Level lines along the cliff.  Means the river once filled up the entire basin.  Over the years, the water’s current carved out the sides of this sandstone cliff before it receded.  The rock walls of these cliffs are weakened enough to pose a danger of landslides.  This place is perfect for an ambush.  Remember, there’s a group of bandits nearby.  We need to keep our guard up.”

“My, Misfortune, you’re simply full of surprises.  Hehe, I expected you to be well-versed in underhanded tactics, but your considerable knowledge of geology is quite a pleasant shock.  I must concur with your judgment.” Daphne delicately said, “Rapunzel, darling, let Sneasel be.”

Roselia’s fragrance subsided and Sneasel groggily came back to her senses again.  She looked up at Daphne’s close face with wide-eyed surprise.  “…Nee…neyah nya?” she groaned as though she had been roused from a pleasant dream.  “What’s going on?” is what she seemed to say.

“There, there little one,” Daphne said.  She gently let Sneasel down on the ground.  “Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from.”

“Hopefully not,” Sylisa said with a gesture to draw Sneasel away from Daphne.  Once Sneasel was safely out of Daphne’s clutches, Sylisa asked, “What’s your angle anyway?  Why’s a flower girl running bounty hunter missions for an adventure guild?”

“Oh!  I thought you’d never ask!” Daphne smiled, her pearly teeth glimmered with sparkling glee.  “Rapunzel and I joined this merry band of adventurers after we first arrived here in the desert from far away to the north.  The two of us were rather desperate when we came to this strange place.  It was all so unfamiliar, so foreign, and terribly worrisome.  Even a little sad at times, I must admit.  Luckily, we found a home at the Audernaut Guild and could even drum up business on the side.  Say, since you asked a question, so now it’s my turn.  Why did you join, Misfortune?”

“Why does it matter?  Just here to get a job done,” Sylisa said.  Her body cagily tensed up, she felt caught off-guard by her numerous similarities to Daphne.  Could it be coincidence?

“Good grief!” Daphne exhaled.  “You’d go so far and question a trivial request for your background.  No less after asking the same of me.  You won’t even tell me your name.  How can I ever hope to trust you?”

“Truth is: You probably shouldn’t.”  Sylisa thought, I didn’t come here to make friends.  I’m a thief with dangerous associates.  Need to get back in touch with the Shadows as soon as I can.  Dammit.  My curse really did a number on me this time.  No doubt Charizard and his goons are searching for the treasure.  This whole situation is messed up.  My partner isn’t the same.  What happened to her?

“Aw, you’re giving me the cold shoulder.  You’re so unfriendly,” muttered Daphne.  “Brooding and conniving too.  Boohoo!  I divulged my inner secrets so carelessly to a total stranger.  Have you no heart?”

“It’s not like I don’t have a heart,” Sylisa replied.  She crossed her arms guardedly.  “I’m new around here.  Haven’t figured out who I can trust.”

“Honesty causes loyalty, silence suspicion.  You can certainly trust me; this lovely lady wouldn’t tell you a lie.”

Sylisa flinched as Daphne squeezed and nudged her on the arm playfully.  “Who ever mentioned anything about lying?  How very suspicious of you to say that.”

“Would this pretty face tell you a lie?”  Daphne began batting her eyelashes melodramatically.

“You know, people who tell you they don’t lie are usually the biggest liars.”

“Aw, you’re way too cynical,” complained Daphne, “Lighten up, will you?  I know you’re going for this cold-as-ice façade, but you could stand to be a little warmer to me since we’re working together as partners on this mission.”

“Yeah, doesn’t that worry you at all?” Sylisa asked, raising a brow.

“Hmm?  What exactly are you implying about our relationship?” Daphne asked with a confused look on her face.

“Isn’t it obvious?  We’re both rookies sent out on a dangerous mission,” Sylisa explained, “we’re going after a man-eating Pokémon with zero experience and next to no intel.”  Ever since the botched heist in Agrove, I’ve been beyond worried.  Sylisa’s entire body, especially her stomach, felt tense.  The last thing she wanted was to wind up in a similar situation that she did at the manor.  Just thinking about what happened made her head sting.

“You’re new here.”  Daphne answered her with a crafty expression.  “That’s how things go out on the frontier.  One minute you’re alive, the next you’re dead, toodle-oo!  Are you afraid of a little danger?  Some risk?  Are you the type of girl who lets getting her feet a little wet scare you?”

“Not at all.”  Sylisa shook her head.  “On the contrary, I’m being cautious.  We only got here because Drifblim salvaged another adventurer’s DPV.  Let’s be real.  Doesn’t the very nature of our throwaway employment concern you?”

“I see it as an opportunity.  Therein lies the quintessential difference between us two—” Daphne pointed her parasol emphatically at Sylisa “—you are the pessimistic sort whereas I am overflowing with optimism!  You seem all calm and collected, but I know the truth, you know.”

“W-What truth?” Sylisa questioned with sweaty palms from Daphne getting up very close to her.  Something about her scent makes me feel weird.  I don’t like it.  It’s so pungently floral.  It brings back weird memories every time I smell it.

“You’re obviously worried about something!” Daphne replied with a smug grin.

“Yeah right!” Sylisa scoffed.  Sheesh.  Didn’t expect her to be so blunt about it.  I’m not only concerned for York and Buizel, but also our own safety.  And I’m really worried about Sneasel too, why the heck did she de-evolve anyway?  She’s not as strong as she once was.

“If you keep making that glum face, it’ll get stuck like that, wrinkles and all!” teased Daphne.  “Wouldn’t want your charms to be lost, Misfortune.”

“Will you quit it?” Sylisa said, pressing two fingers to her forehead in irritation.  She gave Daphne a mild shove on the shoulder with her other hand.  “That’s not my name!”

“Touchy, touchy,” chided Daphne as she backed off and went next to Rapunzel.  But then she and Rapunzel rushed close to Sylisa with the narrowing path.  Shoulder to shoulder with Sylisa, Daphne leaned in uncomfortably close once more and supposed, “Come to think of it, I’ve never encountered someone with your type of portentous demeanor so bothered by a silly nickname.  Say…does it have anything to do with why you’re here in the first place?”

Is she a damn psychic type?  Sylisa wondered and swallowed dryly.  She’s reading me like a book.  I don’t get it.   She’s the outgoing one, always babbling about herself, yet I still don’t know a single important thing about her.  What’s going on? 

“Humph!  Fine, ignore me,” Daphne replied as she adjusted the fresh flowers in her long blonde hair, “I don’t really care, it’s not like I’m your friend or anything!”

Sylisa sniggered, and coughed to try cover it up.  There it is, she thought, concealing a spontaneous smirk with her palm.  A classic line I’ve been expecting ever since Bennet told me about her.

“What’s that simper all about?” Daphne asked without missing a beat.  “Please, don’t tell me you don’t have any friends because you’re too cool!”

“That’s not it at all.  Weav— ungh! —, I mean Sneasel is my friend,” she said rubbing her forehead from the headache.

Human friends,” Daphne emphasized.  “A gloomy girl like you needs to have companionship.  It’s good to have company in traveling and in life.  It’ll make you feel better, guaranteed.”

“Sneasel’s good company,” Sylisa insisted.

“Hmm.”  Daphne studied Sneasel with a suspicious glare. 

“Neya meu fssss!” Sneasel hissed, as if to say, “Why’re you staring?”

“She doesn’t like the way you’re staring,” Sylisa told Daphne.

“Can she… talk with you?”

“Not exactly.  I get what she’s thinking.  It’s been this way ever since we met.  We’re always together, so we understand one another really well,” Sylisa explained.  The weird thing is she devolved and I still understand her like the good old days.  I don’t think she remembers being evolved though.

“Really?  You can understand that!?”  Daphne’s jaw dropped in shock.  “All I hear is purring, mewing, and hissing.”

“Words aren’t everything when it comes to communication—” Sylisa pointed at Daphne “—besides, you talk too much about a whole lot of nothing.”

Daphne rebuked with a predictable, “How rude!”  

Meanwhile, Roselia and Sneasel skipped along together on the narrow rocky shoreline between the shallow part of the river and the steep cliff wall.

“Look there, the river is starting to get rough,” Sylisa said.  “A thick fog is forming further downstream.  We must be close to the place.”

“Thank you, Misfortune, for stating the blatantly obvious,” Daphne sneered.

“Stop calling me that already!” Sylisa said as Sneasel growled from tension in the air.

“Better cross your fingers, or whatever you do so our target shows up,” Daphne suggested.  “Oh!  And maybe your toes too!  That’s double — no wait, quadruple the luck if we both do it!”

“Crossing your fingers is pointless,” groused Sylisa, “it won’t change anything if you’ve got bad luck following you around like a Pokémon.”

“Oh right, ahaha, look who I’m with,” Daphne laughed.  “I’ve been wondering: Have you always been unlucky?”

“Some people are born with more luck than others,” Sylisa said, “and some people have all their luck taken from them.  I’m in the second group.”

“Oooh, woooow, that’s like, sooooo dark and onerous!” Daphne said.  She grinned and poked Sylisa on the shoulder.  “Why don’t you write a story about it?”

“Already got a blog online.  It isn’t really a story.  It’s a persona,” Sylisa explained.  Haven’t updated since I was on that train.  How long has it been?  Two or three days?  Haven’t gone this long without internet in my life.  Better update my status ASAP or my peeps might get worried.

“A persona, huh?”  Daphne rubbed the petals of a large lily in her hair as she thought.  “Oh!  I know, how about you call it “Misfortune’s Misfortune”?  No, no!”  She energetically rebounded, impetuously skipping along the trail.  “Scratch that.  Sounds too much like a double negative, which would imply good luck.”

“A-HEM!” Sylisa coughed.  “You really won’t take a hint when someone doesn’t like being called something.  Are you sadistic?”

“Mmm.”  Daphne placed a fist under her chin and extended her pinky to look posh, as if she had been sipping a fine cup of tea.  “Nope!”

I wouldn’t be so bothered by the nickname if my curse wasn’t real.  Something skittered nearby.  The approaching sound of claws on rocks grew louder, and Sylisa realized she had jinxed herself.  “You gotta be kidding!” she exclaimed, turning about.

Sneasel raised her claws as two Pokémon aggressively approached from behind.  One came out from the water, and the other from the sandbar.  They were both reptiles, though not very large, they had cunningly planned an ambush.  A light tan colored Pokémon with dark set eyes slithered forward on all fours from the dry bank of the river.  Another smaller Pokémon jumped out from the shallow water, standing upright on hind legs with wet blue scales glistening in the midday sun.

“Oh wow.  Look at this dynamic duo!”  Daphne said.  Excitedly, she danced on the spot, swaying her hips as though she were performing on stage.  “They’ve managed to corner us.”

“Why do you sound impressed?!”  Sylisa asked.  Her muscles tensed up, causing her to quiver.  She held her trembling arms close against herself and walked back a few steps.  “We got jumped!”

“They must be jealous of our own duet,” Daphne said as the two creatures approached Roselia and Sneasel.  “I bet this Sandile and Totodile are partners.  One by land, one by sea, together in har-mo-ny,” she sung.

“Now what?” Sylisa asked, as the two wild Pokémon opened their large jaws, revealing rows of razor sharp teeth.  They started making clicking noises with their tongues, as if they were laughing together.

“I think they’re taunting us,” Daphne guessed with an intense look in her eyes.  She threw open her parasol to her side.  “Come, let’s teach them a lesson in pain!”

Rapunzel positioned herself to the right of Sneasel, staring down the amused Totodile with a flowery hand on her hip.  She pointed at the blue alligator and let out a puff of pollen from her hand as if to identify the Totodile as her mark.

“Be careful, Sneasel,” Sylisa said.  You don’t have the same strength you did before.

Sneasel put her back to Rapunzel as the Sandile circled around them, forming a pincer formation with Totodile.  Surrounded and defenseless, Sylisa retreated further back, but soon hit a steep wall.  Her heart started to race.  Without her equipment and unable to escape, her only hope was relying on her Pokémon.

With a growl, Totodile moved in first.  It dropped onto its belly and charged forward through the water like a torpedo.  Hissing, Sandile also jumped forward, its darkened eyes narrowed and focused on its prey.

“Oh darling,” said Daphne, “it’s time for a lashing.”

Daphne’s Pokémon hopped and dug her roots into the earth.  Sylisa saw them boring into it, kicking up loose gravel into a plowing path resembling the trail of a Diglett.  Her two streams of vines traveled under the shallow water and erupted out underneath Totodile.  They splashed water in every direction as they shot up like ferocious weeds, knocking the gator to the side and onto dry land.  Totodile defensively covered its belly, bright red with lash marks from the whipping.

“Sneasel, watch out!” Sylisa said as the Sandile flung a large glob of sandy mud at Sneasel with its front paws. 

The muck nearly hit Sneasel straight on, and though she was a smaller target than before as a Weavile, her dodge was not good enough.  The muck got on her feathers, staining and dragging them down its weight and disorienting her.  She went from an agile dodge to clumsily trying to catch her footing on the uneven terrain. 

“Damn, it got you,” Sylisa said angrily.  “Strike back!”

Sneasel lurched forward, but her movement was not the same without her chief mechanism for balance.  The feathers aided her in sensing the environment; they were like a sixth sense to her kind.  From slight changes in the wind to maintaining a handle on the terrain while shifting around the battlefield, Sneasel’s feathers were like an extra set of eyes on her back for detecting motion all around herself.

“To the left!” Sylisa said, guiding her.  “Wall!”

Sneasel understood, she backed up on her rear leg, and pounced backward.  With her claws, she clasped onto the side of the rock in the nick of time and Sandile lunged directly underneath her with a powerful Bite.  Sandile could not climb after her, so Sneasel thought she had gotten out of its range.

“It’s not done yet,” Sylisa said.  “Don’t move.”

Sandile turned around, its tail glowing silver.  A powerful Iron Tail broke into the bottom of the stone wall Sneasel hung on to, causing it to collapse.

“Get outta there!”

“Nyaah!” Sneasel shrieked as she hopped from rock to rock while the weakened wall fell.  Though her balance was impaired, she managed to avoid being crushed by rolling forward.

Sandile hissed and turned to give chase.  Its jaws snapped viciously, rushing after Sneasel.  Sandile moved quick, sliding on its slick belly and using its stubby legs like oars.  It soon caught up to her, and began making swipes.  The brawl continued, with Sneasel barely able to avoid its slashes with short dodges.  Sneasel was not agile enough to completely out run the crocodile however; her movements were slowed by the grime.  A few times she tripped over rocks she could not properly sense as she tried to evade.

“This isn’t good,” Sylisa said.  “She’s running out of steam.”

Meanwhile, Totodile had been taking a sound beating from Rapunzel’s vines.  Her quick attacks with substantial reach left the gator unable to advance into biting range.  After a large root slammed into Totodile and knocked away, Daphne looked over at the difficult situation Sneasel was caught in.

“This has gone on long enough,” said Daphne.  “Time to end it.”

“You got a plan?” Sylisa asked.

“Watch and learn.”  Daphne’s parasol had on its top a round, reflective circle.  She aimed it at her Pokémon, but raised slightly skyward.  Like a mirror, the reflective circle running around the crown of her brolly shimmered with a dazzling light from the concentrated midday sun. 

That’s why it hurt so much when she stabbed me in the chest with the damn thing.  She’s got a freaking reflector.

“Charge up!” Daphne exclaimed.  The bright light focused on Rapunzel, and her body began to glow.

“What are you doing!?  You’re gonna set your ‘mon on fire!” Sylisa yelled.

“Tell Sneasel to withdraw,” Daphne replied, her eyes focused on the light shining on her Roselia’s leaves.

“The hell?”  Confused, but unwilling to argue, Sylisa said, “Get out of their way, Sneasel.  Move to your right.”

Sneasel clumsily rolled to the side, her tiny body splashing in the shallow water and out of the way.

“NOW!”

There was a brilliant burst of light as not one, but two bright beams shot out from the Roselia’s pink and blue flower hands.  The two bursts of concentrated light almost hit both targets dead on, but they managed to avoid the full brunt of the attack.  Even still, the blasts sent Sandile and Totodile sailing through the air in opposite directions.  Their scaly hides were badly scorched by the Solar Beams grazing them.

“God!” Sylisa exclaimed.  Her eyes hurt from the flash of light.  “What was that?”

“That, my dear, is what you’d call a two-for-one deal!  We don’t even charge,” Daphne chuckled.  “Impressed yet?  Or still doubting our bounty hunting skills?”

The two injured Pokémon scurried off at blistering speed.  Instinctually, Sylisa reached for her belt.  No Pokéballs!  Watching the Sandile and Totodile scamper off, Sylisa frowned as her empty hand closed into a tight fist.  “Dang.  Could’ve used more Pokémon,” Sylisa huffed.

“Oh?”  Daphne looked at her curiously, then at Sneasel.  “Fancy that dark type, did you?”

“Ehh, I’m not a gym leader, I don’t care much ‘bout types.  Would’ve thrown balls at ‘em both,” Sylisa declared.  “Need more muscle with Sneasel the way she is now.”

“The way she is now?”  Daphne repeated.  She looked even more intrigued than a moment ago.  “Can’t help but wonder what you mean by that.  Did something happen to her?”

“Yeah.”  Sylisa hesitated.  Her gaze dropped.  Daphne did help her out.  I’m not sure if I can tell her.

Sylisa waded into the shallow water and knelt down next to Sneasel.  Gingerly, she wiped the mud off her feathers with hands soaked from the clear water.  It tickled Sneasel, and Sylisa smiled at the memory it jogged of giving Weavile a bath.

“Well?” coughed Daphne.  “You said something happened to her?”

“I…can’t tell you the details.  At least not right now.”

“Pft.  You’re like a stubborn Shellder.  I’ll figure it out on my own if you won’t tell me.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Sylisa said almost hopefully.  Wish I had the answers.  Her condition worries me.

“I never back down from a challenge,” Daphne said seriously.  Then her whimsical, carefree laughter dissolved the tension.  “Unless it involves dealing with my three least favorite things.  And I won’t be telling you any of those secrets, so there!”

“Whatever you say.”  Sylisa sighed.  “Ya’know, for a girl who carries around a death ray, you sure act childish.”

“Hah!”  With a self-satisfied smirk, Daphne said, “A death ray!  I rather like that.  Alas, my death ray only works in the bright midday sun.”

“If there’s clouds, all you can do is hide under it?”  Sylisa smirked.  “It may be powerful in direct sunlight, but it’s awfully inflexible.  You better hope we don’t get any rain.”

“Where do you think we are?” Daphne said smugly, “A DES-ERT!  Literally the sunniest place on planet Earth.”

“Sure.  Provided you don’t stay out after dark,” said Sylisa.

“I’m never out late.  Raising a plant Pokémon takes more effort than you think.  Rapunzel loses energy when the sun goes down, so she has to work twice as hard.  No late-night escapades if we can help it.”  Daphne went over to Roselia and lifted her up.

Sylisa started to walk again, following the river.  “Those limitations will make you weak,” she insisted.  “Especially when things don’t go your way.”

“Spoken like a true pessimist,” Daphne said brushing off the criticism.  “There are plenty of ways for us to prevail without sunshine.  Yet having mother nature on your side makes for an easier skirmish.  You saw how quickly Rapunzel dealt with those Pokémon once she was powered up.”

“Humph.”  She saved Sneasel’s ass.  I’m grateful for that.  “Those two were a couple of small fries.”

“And they still gave Sneasel trouble, didn’t they?  Looks like you two need to work out some more,” Daphne suggested.  “Oooh, I know!  How about I draft you a proper training schedule?”

“No thanks.” 

“You’ll never get better by denying my guidance.  How come you’re so obstinate to improvement?  Don’t you want Sneasel to become stronger?”

“That’s the thing.  We used to be on top of our game,” Sylisa said in her defense.  Oh crap!  I see what she’s doing.  She’s trying to wrestle out information about what happened to Sneasel.

“Hmm.  Perhaps these types of errands will help you get back there,” Daphne said.

“I hope,” Sylisa replied, adjusting her short skirt.  Her clothes had gotten damp from cleaning Sneasel up after the fight, plus her chest felt sweaty.  She moved uncomfortably, walking along further into the canyon.  Suddenly, there was a hand on her wrist.  “Ow, that hurts,” Sylisa told Daphne, who had grabbed her tightly.  “Lemme go!”

“I think it has something to do with why you two showed up here!” Daphne declared.  Her strong hold released Sylisa’s hand.

“You’re cunning like a Delphox,” Sylisa said, rubbing her arm’s tender sunburn.

“Don’t compare me to devious psychic types,” Daphne remarked with an upset scowl.  “I’m the real deal.”

Why’s she getting all flustered?  Sylisa again adjusted her clothes, this time her top, which while damp felt too tight on her.  She decided to change the subject as they moved.  “Do you think it’ll show up?” Sylisa asked.  “Or is it hiding from us cause we’re chicks?”

“The man-eater?”  Daphne sighed.  “They say three things never remain hidden for too long: the Sun, the Moon, and the Truth.”

“What’s that’s supposed to mean?” Sylisa asked.

“It’s an old proverb.  Usually it means you just need to look up.”  Daphne gestured skyward with her parasol.

“Huh?”  She looked at where Daphne was pointing.  “Oh!”  At the top of the ridge was a man she recognized.  He had a bare back and tattoos all over his arms.  She saw his shaggy sun-bleached hair was in a grubby ponytail from behind.  “That’s—!”

“Shh!” hushed Daphne with a finger over her mouth.  “I think he’s relieving himself.”

“What?  Eww!  That’s so gross.  He wasn’t lying about pissing in the river.  Sneasel, cover your eyes and don’t look at that jerk,” she whispered.

Daphne giggled softly into her hands and whispered, “So, Misfortune, you know this flower-waterer?”

“One of the bandits I had the displeasure of meeting,” she explained.  “He’s the jackass who locked me up and threatened to have Machoke torture me.”

“Oh my!” Daphne exclaimed as the earth shook violently. 

“What’s going on?!” Sylisa asked.  She fell to her knees, hugging Sneasel to protect her from falling rocks.

A huge torrent of water came rushing upstream.  It was a white misty spray that went against the river’s current.  Suddenly what looked like a long jet surrounded by a tornado spun high out of the aquatic maelstrom.  There was a scream from atop the river’s edge.  Sylisa looked up to see the man had been pulled down from the cliff and straight into the mouth of the tall water spout’s vortex. 

“That thing!  It just ate him!”  Terror gripped Sylisa, and she pulled Sneasel closer to her shaking body, her arms locked tightly around the Pokémon, horrified at what might happen if she let go.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Visage of Vice


“Looks like we found our man-eater,” said Daphne brusquely.  “Rapunzel, set up our Toxic Spikes!  Keep our opponent locked down in that corner of the stream!”

Roselia jumped into action. The flower Pokémon quickly set up a ring of poisonous barbs around the surging water storm. 

Oh crap, we’re really doing this.  “What is it?!” Sylisa shouted as the mysterious body within the fog moved closer to the floating purple perimeter.

“I’d be a rotten psychic if I knew!” Daphne retorted with an uncharacteristic vulgarity.  “Why the hell aren’t you letting Sneasel fight?  Have her use Foresight to see through the mist!”

“Sorry!”  Sylisa let Sneasel go and had her follow Daphne’s suggestion. 

Sneasel’s eyes glowed bright and the glimmering gem on her forehead radiated an impressive burst of silvery energy, clearing the mist. 

The Foresight revealed a Drampa the size of a school bus.  Its big, lumbering body was pricked by a few of the purple barbs as Drampa rammed forward with an aggressive Dragon Rush.  Drampa barely missed Roselia with its initial assault.  However, it managed to smash into the side of the cliff by the river causing rocks and debris to fall dangerously close to them.

“That’s Drampa!” identified Daphne.  “Look out!”

“Oh no!  Use Substitute!” Sylisa said.

She did not use the move, Sneasel jumped out of the way as rocks fell from the sides of the cliff.  Her movements were quick, but her dodges covered less ground.

“What’s wrong with her?!  I taught her to use that TM yesterday!”

“C’mon, Misfortune, snap out of it and support me!” Daphne insisted.  “We’re a team here!”

“Right.”  Sylisa shuffled to the side, following Sneasel at a distance as she worked on flanking Drampa.  How’re we gonna intimidate something like that?  Sneasel isn’t as strong as she used to be!  And Drampa is so powerful!  Maybe misdirection?  Sylisa called out, “Get it to turn, use Screech!”

Sneasel made a shrill scream to try and direct Drampa to the side.  However, Drampa did not have to move, it used its long neck to track Sneasel’s movements while remaining stationary.

“Screech!?  What the—!?  A shriek isn’t going to do squat when you’re our vanguard!” Daphne shouted.  “Drive in an attack!  Take advantage of an opening!”

“O-Okay!”  Daphne’s a completely different person in battle, thought Sylisa.  Not to be outdone, Sylisa called out, “Sneasel, help Roselia by closing in on Drampa with Fury Swipes!”

“Rapunzel, we’re setting up a barrage!  Pin Missile for multiple strikes, rapid fire!”

The two small Pokémon faced the goliath Drampa unafraid.  Roselia launched her barbs in an impressive five-round volley.  Three jabs nailed Drampa dead-on in the side of the cheek, in the snout, and near the bottom of the creature’s body by the cloud.  Two of the bullets flew by, one managed to still strike the creature’s tail, but the other missed.  “Four hits!” Daphne cheered.

Meanwhile Sneasel had maneuvered into a flanking position parallel to Roselia’s line of fire.  Seeing an opening, Sneasel rushed in at the wounded Drampa.  Her twin claws extended from her paws like icicle blades.  She raised them and began eviscerating Drampa’s side in a cascade of swipes.  The first slash broke flesh, the second tore through a layer of sinew, and the third caused bright draconic blood to sputter out.

However, before Sneasel could strike with a fourth blow, Drampa retaliated with a howling Dragon Rage.  The blue and scarlet flames spewed down at Sneasel and though she desperately tried to protect her face from the serpent’s flame, the attack left her badly hurt.  With no access to first aid, she could not weather another gout of flame.

“NO!”  I can’t expose her to an attack like that, her body’s already at her limit.  “Pull back, Sneasel!” Sylisa told her.  “Use Assist to help Roselia with her attack!”

“Keep the pressure on it.  Rapunzel, Seed Bomb, low trajectory and minimal velocity!”

Roselia fired a pair of two tulip-sized seeds from the centers of her flower arms.  Like cannonballs they arched above the retreating Sneasel.  Sneasel employed her Assist technique to leap into the air in an agile front-flip right before the projectiles passed her by.  Using her claws, she hooked onto the two Seed Bombs in midair, spun about and flung them at Drampa with twice the force.

A crackle of sounds and spores followed as the Seed Bombs shattered against Drampa’s body leaving behind huge bruises and inflamed flesh.  A squall soon surrounded the injured Drampa, who had its eyes dead set on Roselia.

“It’s charging Razor Wind!  Rapunzel, quickly, Double Team!”  A mirage of copies formed by flowers that looked like Roselia sprung up like weeds around Drampa.  It lashed out in every which way with its whirlwind attack, trying to strike them all.  “Great, now a retribution Venoshock!” 

The real Roselia launched a powerful florid wave of Venoshock at the poisoned Drampa, mixing bright toxins on its withering skin.  The poison seeped into its body through the open gashes, reacting with the toxins and boiling inside the creature’s veins.

Drampa growled loudly and started to channel its inner energy to build up power by using Work Up.  Its serpentine body began to radiate a yellowish glow.

“It’s plenty powerful already; don’t let it further enhance its strength!”

“Taunt it, Sneasel!” Sylisa shouted.  Sneasel slashed at the shallow river water, spraying Drampa with her attack.  Getting the Pokémon’s attention was half the move; Sneasel then made an obscene gesture, understood only to the Pokémon present, at Drampa.  Unsurprisingly, this enraged Drampa. 

“Shit!  It’s pissed!”

“It’s distracted!  Ice attacks!” Daphne instructed. 

Drampa brought its large tail out of the raging water and prepared to swing it forcibly at Roselia with a Dragon Tail in order to bat her away downstream.

“Ingrain!” 

Roselia’s roots barely managed to take hold in the shallow water, but it was enough to not get battered away by Dragon Tail.  The force knocked some of her petals off, and she looked as though she was in serious pain from suffering the impact.

“Is she alright?!” Sylisa asked.

“Don’t worry about us, focus on Drampa!  You need to deliver burst damage pronto!” Daphne said hurriedly.  “Rapunzel, recover with Leech Seed!”  Twirling her petal arms, Roselia spread countless spores at Drampa.  The seeds burst to life upon coming into contact with Drampa.  Their vine tendrils latched onto the lower body of Drampa, their roots furrowing down into the riverbed and reemerging beneath Roselia packed with absorbed nutrients.

We’re a team.  I need to attack Drampa with attacks while Roselia is taking hits and covering, Sylisa thought.  “Sneasel, Ice Shard!”

Sneasel’s claws turned a chilly blue.  She cut through the shallow water to give her talons an additional coating of flash-frozen ice.  Swinging her claws forward, she launched the ice missiles like daggers at Drampa.  The two blades slammed into the Pokémon’s body, dealing intense damage as they pierced through the serpent’s thick rubbery skin.  Drampa’s high internal body heat melted the icicles, the puncture wounds opened in their stead and blood poured out.

Sylisa didn’t even have a chance to congratulate Sneasel for the impressive hit before Drampa reared its serpentine body back.  With a mighty howl, it swung its whole cloud-like body down into the water to create a massive wave.

“It’s trying to flush us downstream with Surf!”

The wave was cascading right at Sneasel, the closest to Drampa.  She jumped out of the shallow water at the dragon.  Her leap carried her over the wave before it had gotten too massive, and her sharp claws hooked into Drampa’s side, effectively anchoring her.

The huge wave of Surf came rushing toward the rest of them.  Sylisa spun round and brought her hands to clasp the side of the rock wall before the wave hit.  She looked over her shoulder right in time to see Roselia covered by water, but unmoving thanks to Ingrain.  Two of her vines had whipped back, racing along the riverbed, and had wrapped around Daphne’s ankles to keep her stationary as well.  Daphne opened her parasol as a shield. 

The water then hit Sylisa, and knocked her against the rock wall she was holding on to at the side of the river.  It hurt, and she lost control as her muscles seized from the pain.  Her head narrowly missed smashing against the stone.  The water stung her eyes, drenched her whole body, and made it difficult to hold on.  Still, she refused to let go, her knuckles a defiant white.  She cried out as a second aftershock wave slammed into her.

Daphne had been shouting something at her but the water in her ears had muffled it.  The Surf retreated, and Sylisa let go of the rock wall and landed on unsteady feet, her vision obscured by darkness.  She pulled her drenched black hair away from covering her eyes. 

The first thing she saw was Drampa’s large, bloodied maw opening wide.  Sneasel had been shaken off to the side of the Pokémon, and Roselia was right in front of Drampa’s line of sight.  Drampa unleashed an earsplitting Hyper Voice and shook the entire riverbed with a robust barrage of soundwaves from deep in its throat.  The initial burst of noise disoriented Roselia and knocked her down.  Using her claws to pull herself around Darmpa’s body, Sneasel barely managed to dodge the attack by getting behind Drampa where the reverberating uproar was less intense. 

Daphne’s yells were drowned out by the din.  The noise echoed to become even louder in the canyon.  Rapunzel and Daphne were brought to their knees holding their ears. 

Sneasel had barely enough stamina to stay clear of the falling debris from the dragon blasting the region with noise.  She looked to Sylisa in a mixture of despair and fear.

Momentarily uncovering her ear, Sylisa lunged forward, threw her hand into a fist and made an uppercut gesture.

Her crown feather twitched in understanding.  She darted through the foam and mist deftly avoiding Drampa’s thrashing tail.  From the right, she flanked Drampa and cut into the Pokémon’s side with a Slash.  Drampa lurched to the left from the attack, but its Hyper Voice was not abated in the slightest.  It howled even louder, trying to find the source of the attack that just sideswiped it.  By the time it had managed to locate Sneasel, she was right under the Drampa’s neck. 

Sylisa ran her hand across her throat.

Sneasel spun with a pirouette, freezing the splashes of water below Drampa to form ice ledges to rush up at the Pokémon’s vocal cords.  Sneasel raised her claws and with an uppercut she nailed Drampa.  The noise immediately stopped and Drampa’s head was knocked backward from the impact. 

Sneasel managed to land on her feet, but Drampa was quick to retaliate with an Aqua Tail. 

“NO!” Sylisa yelled as the bludgeoning force of Drampa’s attack sent Sneasel soaring into the air.  Landing far out of melee range and obstructed from reentering the fray.

“Rapunzel, recover with Giga Drain!”

Roselia slammed her petal hands into the river.  From the point of impact, a wave of vibrant green energy reached out from the ground and pulled at Drampa’s life force.  The dragon scoffed.

“Even with Ingrain and Leech Seed we aren’t getting enough health back,” Daphne mused.  “Poison isn’t going to work fast enough either.  And we can’t take another direct hit.”

“I’m on it,” Sylisa said bravely.  Sneasel can’t close that distance in time.  Even if she did, she’d be in too close.  She’s on her last legs, she can’t take another hit.  She has to use a distance attack.  But if she misses, Roselia is in deep trouble.  What can I do!?  Sylisa felt the panic of any trainer starved of options.  Something that Daphne had told her earlier stuck out in her mind.  She quickly looked up.  The boulders!   If she can loosen them!  “Look up!  Aim your Icy Wind at the rocks!  Use the attack’s power to push yourself back!”

Leaping into the air, she blew a gale of wintery wind up past Drampa.  The cloud of frost battered the boulders already disturbed from Dragon Rush and Hyper Voice; the surrounding ice particles made the rocks heavier, and soon there was a loud crumbling noise as the stones gave way.

Daphne saw what she was doing.  “Don’t let Drampa dodge those rocks, Rapunzel!  Release a burst of Sweet Scent!”

Roselia pushed her petal hands out in Drampa’s direction.  So fragrant was the Sweet Scent it could actually be seen in the air as a vivid cloud of pink.  The wafting odor engulfed Drampa, and for a brief instant, its eyes turned soft and the Pokémon appeared stupefied.  That little delay in reaction time was all those tumbling stones needed to come smashing down on Drampa.  Water splashed high into the air, and when it settled, revealed a pile of rocks where Drampa once hovered.

“What a sneaky use of those stones,” Daphne murmured, clapping her hands at the pile of rubble with an impressed expression.  “Well, that seems to have worked—”

Daphne had spoken too soon.  There was a tremendous burst of surging energy that split its way out from the rubble.  Drampa’s whole body glowed with a powerful light.

“What’s happening?!” Sylisa asked frantically as the riverbed shook from a mild earthquake.

“Oh no.  It’s gone Berserk!” Daphne called out through the raging chaos of falling rocks from the ridges on either side of the river and debris once covering Drampa that had been blown away.  “You have to drop it fast or we’re done for!”

“Berserk?!  What does that mean?!” Sylisa frantically questioned. 

“It’s boosting all its power!” Daphne explained as Roselia and Sneasel barely dodged the collapsing environmental hazards.

Drampa leaned backward, its heavy body spent from the numerous attacks and damage sustained over time from Roselia’s Toxic Spikes and Leech Seed sapping its health.  It coiled up, tucking its head under its long-coiled body defensively like a death adder.  This appeared to be a sign of its submission, but Daphne knew better when she saw its skull glowing. 

“It’s winding up for a final attack by boosting itself further with Calm Mind!” she said, pointing at its head.  “You have an opening.  Execute it!” she commanded to Sylisa from afar. 

Execute?!  Sylisa’s whole body froze up thinking back to what her mentor, Mathias, had once told her.  How she had opposed him because she did not want to become an assassin.  Mathias, the Torn Thorn, a Nightblade of the Nightshade Shadows.  He wouldn’t even flinch at executing a target.  But he’s not here to protect me.  I have to be the one to slay this enraged Pokémon.

“What are you waiting for!?”  Daphne hollered. 

Drampa’s mouth opened wide, its neck raised towards the sky, obscured between the two ridges of the valley.

“Misfortune!” Daphne shouted, desperately trying to get her attention, “Are you trying to get us all killed by fire and brimstone?  Wouldn’t make for a very good ending!”

“Execute…” she said indecisively.  The word was so distant.  Sneasel was in the midst of a combat maneuver to avoid the thrashing monstrosity’s glowing tail.  Drampa had uncoiled itself, raising its head high up to the heavens.  All she had to do was give Sneasel the order.  The order to kill.  She knew the one.  “Mathias’ hidden technique,” she told herself, “the move used by the Torn Thorn!”

Drampa was turning red its entire body swelled with power.  The sky above started to grow large glowing cracks of light as Drampa prepared to use its ultimate move, a dreadful Draco Meteor.

We’re going to die!” Daphne cried as the fissures in the cliffs ripped open.  Flame and magma spewed from not only the sides of the rock but also the crimson maelstrom forming in the sky.

“I won’t let you!” she yelled.  “Sneasel, hidden technique: Punishment!”

Sneasel hissed loudly as she rushed at Drampa with her palms glowing.  She dashed up to bottom of the dragon with her palms out and both her hands collided with the beast’s belly as its head roared at the heavens.  At the twin points of contact, two dark voids opened on Drampa’s glowing form.  These black circles widened, converging into one massive shape covering most of Drampa’s underside.   Sneasel tugged an ethereal power straight out of Drampa through the gap, stealing the creature’s draconic strength in a devouring motion.  Her fragile body glowed with a shadowy aura and two augmented claws of clear crystallized ice shot out from her palms, surrounded by diamond dust and a nebulous black glow.  With a vicious uppercut, Sneasel’s blades slashed straight up through Drampa’s belly and neck.

It had no chance to scream.  The whole length of Drampa’s neck had been vertically split into a slit.  Sneasel landed in the other direction, facing away from Drampa’s carcass as the power she consumed vanished along with Drampa’s life.  From the now visible intestines of the dragon, a man’s unconscious body, coated in slime and gall, rolled out into the river.

Daphne huffed.  She wiped down her white dress to pull together her ladylike composure once more.  “That could have gone better, wouldn’t you say?  For your battling assessment today, I’d give a C-minus.  And that’s only because I’m a very generous lady.”

The wind had been knocked out of her.  “W-What…What have I done?”  Sylisa said.  Her vision clouded as guilt and pain racked her body.  The rush from fighting had vanished, leaving behind only the consequence of her choice.  I had Sneasel kill another Pokémon.  It was us or Drampa but…I…  “I…  I… killed it…”

Sylisa looked at Sneasel’s victim, an expression that betrayed guilt, disgust, and self-loath.  The disarray written all over her face could not define the depth of her miserable feelings.  Her body shook, her knees wobbled uncontrollably at the sight.  And then she felt her eyes sting from the bitterest of tears.

“You killed a monster,” Daphne said, squeezing the water out from the bottom hem of her frilly skirt.  “Drampa won’t be eating any more people thanks to our work today,” she explained in a surprisingly sympathetic manner.  “That was an effective move Sneasel pulled off at the end.  Using Drampa’s power against it.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.”

“No…” Sylisa whispered.  “You don’t understand…”  Punishment isn’t just a move, it’s an assassination technique.  Mathias and Dare use it to kill targets that fight back or resist.  When Dare is in trouble, Punishment changes the odds.  It’s a siphoning attack, taking advantage of a bad situation.  The ultimate table-turner.  Takes away an opponent’s power and turns it against them with a spike of lethal damage.  It’s how Mathias got his nickname, the Torn Thorn, as a Nightblade assassin.

“W-What?”  Daphne said.  “I understand it worked well enough to stop the dragon.  It was life or death.”

“Something terrible came over me when I said it.  I felt it in my heart.  That power was supposed to be his.  Not mine.”  Clutching her hands to her chest, Sylisa shivered.  “I didn’t want to become like him.”  I just wanted to be a professional thief, an infiltrator…not a killer…not an assassin… 

“Like who?”

“Somebody I once knew.  And just like him, I stained my best friend’s claws with another Pokémon’s life.”  Sylisa whimpered, “I had her kill him.  I killed Drampa.”

Daphne coughed loudly over Sylisa’s distresses and trotted on over to her, picking up Sneasel and Rapunzel along the way.  “What’s gotten into you, Misfortune?  This is what you signed up for, isn’t it?”

Sylisa shook her head.  “I don’t know, Daphne.  I didn’t want to turn Sneasel into a killer.”

“There was no other way.  You made a decision to save us.”

“There might have been another way.  What if we stole its will to fight instead?”

“You’re talking nonsense, Misfortune.  You can’t steal a Pokémon’s heart.”

“Your Sweet Scent did.  I saw the look in its eyes.  Its gentleness was buried inside.”

“Technically its spirit’s anger was suppressed for a moment.  Emotions are tied to the senses, my dear.”  Daphne winked at Rapunzel.  “Her aroma caused a happy memory to resurge.  Meaning it must have felt happiness at one point for it to have worked.  But we didn’t really steal anything.”

“I disagree.  You took away its ability to feel hatred.  …What if we could have done that instead?  We were supposed to stea—” Sylisa paused “—steer ourselves in a better direction,” she finished the near-confession smoothly.

“Riiiiight.” Daphne shrugged, overlooking her chance to further pry.  “Well, thanks to you the world has one less man-eating monster.  That is a better direction, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yeah.”  Her voice was weak and rasped.  I didn’t expect Daphne to be the one trying to make me feel good about this.  “It didn’t shock you?” Sylisa asked. 

“Whatever do you mean?”

“What Drampa did.  Eating him like he was food,” Sylisa said, squeezing water out of her soaked hair.  Drampa didn’t have the same shadow aura as Charizard, so it couldn’t have been the Night Dragon.  “I can’t quite explain it, but something about it isn’t right…”

“Oh please!  If I got shocked by things like that I don’t think I’d be able to keep on going in this crazy world,” said Daphne.  “Yes, it was outrageous, but, here, don’t worry, it’s over now.”  She handed Sneasel over. 

Sylisa held her seriously wounded Pokémon gently in her arms.  “You were so brave,” Sylisa sobbed, hugging her close to her heart.

“Aw, c’mon Misfortune, cut it out!”  Daphne twirled around like a top and faced the other way under her umbrella.  “You really shouldn’t cry.  It’s totally not your thing if you’re going for that cool, shadow girl mien.”

Sylisa sniffled and tried to bring herself back.  Fear, guilt, disgust, and relief, all those feelings caught up with her at once.  I was so worried, she thought, trying to hold back a cascade of tears, so worried about you Sneasel.  My heart feels dizzy.  The whole time I wanted to run away somewhere safe.  But I’m happy we didn’t lose.  I’m happy we’re together.  Sneasel purred softly in her arms and closed her battle-weary eyes.

Meanwhile, Daphne was applying some sort of oil to Roselia.  It looked like suntan oil, but smelled fragrant like healing balm.  She was rubbing it on Roselia’s torn petals and on her scratched up leaves while humming a sweet summery song.  “La de da, la-da-da-dum-dum.”

“What are we going to do about the half-eaten bandit?” Sylisa finally asked after regaining her composure.  “He — this thug wanted to do terrible things to me while I was locked up and vulnerable.”

“Did he now?  I guess messing with Misfortune really does have dire consequences,” Daphne said with a facetious smile. 

“What do we do?” she asked.  “Should we leave him for dead?”

“Tell you what, I’ll have Rapunzel keep him knocked out until we return back to town for an interrogation.”

“H-Huh?!  You think the two of us can carry a big bruiser like him?”  Sylisa asked.  “Our Pokémon are too hurt to help!”

“True enough.  I’m much too delicate for menial labor,” whined Daphne.  “Getting him back to the vehicle is going to be a real hassle.”

Just then, from the top of the ridge, a familiar voice shouted.  “SYLISA!”