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Melting Gelid Roses

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Quietly, a blue beetle in light bronze armor waited at an outpost in a tundra under the starry night. He slid his hand up his long horn, which extended up from his forehead. A heavy gust blew and he dropped his arm to his chest as he shivered. After a minute, he beat his wings a bit as his yellow eyes glanced over to the left side of the hut. Grass grew a little better on this side, and appeared greener the further one got away from the place. He turned back and peered through the hut's window, staring at the stone towers behind it. It was an old place, fairly battered from battles that occurred years ago.

"Hey, you!" hissed a voice.

The beetle whirled around to the right side of the hut and watched a red and white penguin in silver approach him. Behind him, the land had less grass, almost none further along. In the distance, ice and snow could be seen encasing the rocks and soil.

"It's Heracross, right?" the penguin asked as he waddled under the open hut, clutching his sack-like tail.

With a blink, the beetle nodded. "Delibird, I take it?"

"That's me," smiled Delibird and proudly pat his chest armor. "Pretty warm out here, huh?"

"W-Warm?" questioned Heracross. "You're joking, right? It's freezing!"

"Nah, this is nothing compared to home," laughed Delibird.

Another gust of wind blew, which breezed right past Delibird as he raised his head to feel the rushing air.

"Right, the f-frigid empire itself," shivered Heracross.

"You make that sound like a bad thing," huffed Delibird. "Not everywhere can be as warm as your little flowerbed of a kingdom."

"Well, colored me spoiled rotten, then," shrugged Heracross. "Anyway, we didn't come here just to discuss climate differences, did we?"

Delibird shook his head. "I wish it were only that," he murmured. "So will you." He unrolled his tail enough to reach inside of it and pulled out a light blue music box. On the lid was a white circle with a blue rose in the middle of it.

Heracross glanced at it and then gave Delibird a quizzical look. "Um…a box?"

"A music box."

"…Is that it?"

"Not even close," Delibird muttered as he opened the box. Strangely, no music sounded from it.

Still confused, Heracross stared at the box. "…A music box without any…music?"

"They told me that wouldn't be enough," sighed Delibird. He pulled a bend spoon from inside of it.

"It's a Twisted Spoon," deadpanned Heracross. "Those aren't exactly the rarest items on the planet."

"No," agreed Delibird. "Neither is this," he pulled out a sparkling fuchsia gem. "This, however," he mentioned as he pulled up a small crystal blue orb, "is not normal."

"An orb?"

"Don't you see a pattern?" inquired Delibird. "A soundless music box, a Twisted Spoon, a Psychic Gem, and a crystal ball. Those, along with these," he pulled out two marbles, "are not a normal find."

"You'd call this proof of the prophet?" questioned Heracross.

"Of course!" cried Delibird. "What else would they be?"

"Theoretically, a bunch of junk or keepsakes," offered Heracross.

"Valid assumption," relented Delibird, "but look closer at—"

Unexpectedly, a faint voice came from within the box, and whispered, "You…are…of me."

With widened eyes, Heracross gazed at the music box.

"Uh, I wasn't going to mention it," Delibird's quaking hands shook the box, "but that happens randomly."

"Some ominous voice bizarrely rings out from that box, yet you think that isn't worth discussing?" snapped Heracross.

"Considering how infrequent it was, I assumed you'd think I was mad," admitted Delibird. "And before that, you probably thought that anyway."

"Perhaps a bit," confessed Heracross. "Now, however, I can see that what your empire has found is actually fruitful."

"You do realize that because of this," Delibird lifted the box up, "we are on the verge of a great discovery?"

"More like the onset of war," sighed Heracross. "I'll need to notify my king immediately."

"Ah, tell him not to forget the deal he made with my emperor," reminded Delibird.

"Yes, of course," nodded Heracross. "Unless you have any more secrets to share, I'd best be on my way back. I'd imagine we have much to prepare for."

"Indeed," concurred Delibird. "Take care."

The two parted ways, with Delibird walking back to the frozen lands and Heracross flying through the grassier plains. As soon as the air grew warmer, Heracross flew higher and above the trees, enough to evade most branches and make his journey home quicker.

Nevertheless, the sun had already risen by the time he arrived at the stone castle amid large grassy fields and several routes, with one leading toward town, a path to the river, and another coming from the forest, like Heracross.

The weight of his wings began to wear him down and the beetle dropped back to the ground. Heracross lumbered the rest of the path back to the castle, making his way through the columns of the courtyard, where several knights practiced sparring with one another. A blue sea lion in samurai armor that stood on his hind legs oversaw them, but turned once he saw Heracross.

"Is everything all right?" the sea lion asked him, peering out from his shell helmet.

"To be…honest, I don't…think so, Samurott," panted Heracross, as he continued past the samurai and trudged straight into the castle.

Inside, his feet nearly slipped on the cool marble tiles and he reached out to a verd antique column. Maintaining his balance, Heracross sighed and straightened himself up again. He glanced at the brown desks and tables along the walls, some decorated with violets and callas in golden vases.

With a parting glance at the purple tapestries of former monarchs and the green banners of legends that built the kingdom, blue beetle made his way past the center of the room, moving beyond the two grand staircases and right along a long purple rug. Still exhausted, he stumbled again, but managed to keep his balance and didn't fall on the rug's woven golden petal designs.

"How am I not dead yet?" Heracross mumbled to himself and he took a minute to catch his breath.

Again, he righted himself up and made his way to large and sturdy green doors. He opened them and walked into the throne room. His eyes glazed along the bright marble tiles on the floor, over to the portraits on the distant walls, past the banners that were hung along the widespread columns of this room.

The dark purple rug led over to the pair of golden thrones with dark cushions that matched the rug, with one that currently housed the large and spiky, rabbit-rhino looking, bright purple king himself. He rose and his large and dark green cape draped over his white uniform, decorated with various badges and sashes. Near him stood a gray, rhino-like creature that wore a similar uniform, sans the elegant cape and short of a few sashes. Heracross bowed once he made it to the center of the room, and again as he neared the throne.

"Milord Nidoking," he greeted as he bowed down before his king. "General Rhydon, sir," he added before he rose again.

"Welcome back, Sir Heracross," Nidoking nodded. In a more concerned voice, he asked, "Would you prefer to rest for a little while? You look more than a bit weary."

"Sire, he went and came a long way for you, on very urgent messages and orders," argued General Rhydon. "He can rest when his report is concluded."

"There's no need to run the poor knight ragged, General," contended the king.

"With all due respect, Your Grace…" interrupted Heracross, "the general is right. I should get on with this before anything else."

Nidoking's eyes refocused on Heracross. "Very well, go on."

"Their messenger shared a soundless music box," reported Heracross. "However, inside it came a faint, whispering voice."

"So, the rumors were true, then?" asked Nidoking.

"While the validity is questionable, sir, the voice from the music box was certainly not from either of us," insisted Heracross. "Furthermore, we were the only two near it, and quite possibly the only two around the area."

"This doesn't necessarily confirm anything," mused Rhydon aloud.

"There have been reports that buzzed around the Iceberg Empire about the white mystic that appears and vanishes around the borders of cities," recalled Heracross. "The mysterious fellow was reported to carry a small blue box, as well as using telekinesis to levitate a Twisted Spoon around him."

"Ah, so a mysterious figure is sighted around the empire," shrugged Rhydon. "Should we be expected to send our own over there over something so commonplace?"

"Along with that," continued Heracross. "The white mystic carried a crystal ball that a few claimed to have heard faint whispers from." Nidoking's eyes widened slightly as Rhydon raised an eyebrow. "Sires, the messenger showed me all three of those items tonight, along with several more within the box. Furthermore, the mystic that carried them around had an uncanny ability to know when and where the guards would be when they tried to capture the elusive figure." The three sat momentarily in silence. "Your Majesty," Heracross spoke up again, "if you care to have my input, I believe this is worth looking into."

A heavy sigh escaped Nidoking and he frowned. "You both realize that, given the furthered confirmation from the empire's rumors, that we very much face the reality of impending war, yes?"

"It would appear that way," murmured Rhydon.

"Oh, the messenger also mentioned that you had a deal with the emperor, sir," remembered Heracross. "Does that…what does it mean, sire?"

"Deal…ah, yes," nodded Nidoking, More sarcastically, bitterly, he added, "Of course he would pile on kind reminders over good news, naturally."

"Sir?"

"Thank you, Heracross," Nidoking waved the knight off. "Go, please, rest now. You've been awake for long enough."

Heracross glanced to Rhydon, who nodded. With another bow, he turned back and marched from the throne room.

Only a second after the doors closed, Nidoking slumped back down onto his throne. Rhydon stepped closer and grabbed his hand.

"Don't do that, please," begged Rhydon with a nervous chuckle. "I'd think you'd come down with something and go mad if anything happened to you."

"How sweet of you to tell me so," smiled Nidoking. He let out another sigh and shook his head as his beam faded. "But what do I do now? We all knew that peace wouldn't last, it never does, but…this will certainly bring the four kingdoms to a head. It only takes one major disagreement, one big conflict, and then…" The king rubbed his free hand over his mouth.

"This is life, sire," murmured Rhydon softly. "When we agree on matters, we create friendships. When we care deeply for one another, we fall in love. And when we disagree one too many times, the road leads to war." He sighed. "Conflict is unavoidable, Nidoking."

They remained in silence when the king could not answer the general immediately.

"You still suspect foul play from one of them?" asked Rhydon. "On this matter, no, but on her…?"

"She was young," muttered Nidoking. "At least, she wasn't old. Illnesses are powerful and wicked by nature, but that…" He shook his head. "I'm sorry, I promised I wouldn't get so caught up over this, and yet here I am—"

"Sire, you don't need to apologize to me," asserted Rhydon. "Not over her."

Nidoking's eyes lowered, though a smirk slid onto his face. He gripped Rhydon's hand, shook it, and playfully demanded, "And you don't get to call me that. Not after everything we've been through." They laughed quietly together and the king exhaled. More curiously, he asked, "When are you going to speak plainly to me?"

"Never, most likely," admitted Rhydon. "In fact, you should be happy that I use your name alternatively, nowadays. I remember back when I couldn't even utter it without putting a title before it."

"Your Majesty Nidoking, Lord Nidoking, Great King Nidoking," mocked the king and stuck out his tongue at the general's scowl.

"I was young!" protested Rhydon. "Young and nervous of everything."

"So, what are you now? An old fart?" teased Nidoking.

"Well, I wouldn't call myself young any more," sighed Rhydon.

"Old fart it is," laughed Nidoking.

"Perhaps," relented Rhydon.

"Oh, come off it," Nidoking stopped laughing and gripped Rhydon's hand again. "You don't have enough wrinkles to be called old yet, and you know it."

"Not as many as you," joked the general.

"Ah, now you're full of wit, eh?" chuckled Nidoking.

"Just enough to handle you," laughed Rhydon.

"Just the right amount, then," smiled Nidoking. They laughed a bit more before they grew quiet again. "Thank you," the king broke the silence. "How do you always know how to fix me?"

"Well, for one, you're not broken," explained Rhydon. "For another, I've served you for quite some time. If I didn't learn how to pick you up, I'd be very poor at my job."

"Serve, work, job, is that all we are?" questioned Nidoking.

"No, but I won't forget my rank," confessed Rhydon. "Nor yours, try as you might."

The king grunted. "Maybe it's just that I know how to look past such trivial things. Maybe you're not looking at the bigger picture."

"I don't know what you're talking about," chuckled Rhydon. "I've gawked at it for years, and right now, I'm holding the damn thing up."

"Clever and full of wit just for me," scoffed Nidoking lightly. More seriously, he gazed into Rhydon's red eyes. "Still…"

"Now you come off it," the general straightened up and guided Nidoking up with him. "War doesn't start overnight. But, in a few nights, a grand ball certainly does."

"Yes, it does," beamed Nidoking as the general gently pulled him from the throne room. "It'll be a nice farewell to happy times."

"Come now, it's just a parting goodbye," insisted Rhydon as he led Nidoking through the main hall. "Peace, war, peace again. It's not the greatest circle, but it is true that the moon sets and the sun rises."

"Don't damn the night, I prefer it," mockingly groaned Nidoking as they walked outside. "War and night are two different things."

"So, what should I compare it to?" inquired Rhydon. "Winter?"

They paused as the two studied the knights gathered around the courtyard. They were broken off into pairs and sparred using various weapons against one another, combined with their natural abilities.

"Things die in war, as some things do during the winter," assessed Nidoking. "It's a justified one, but considering that we're trying to warm up to the empire, I believe that we should refrain from that analogy."

A stream of fire rocketed across the courtyard while a red and black knight rolled across the ground. He stopped and checked to see if any flames had caught to his armor.

"What's the matter, Bisharp?" called a yellow and blue ratel with light chest armor and a collar of fire around the back of its neck. "I thought you could handle your weaknesses?"

"Better than you can yours, Typhlosion," snapped Bisharp as he kicked up a heavy cloud of dirt.

Typhlosion coughed and let his fire die down as Bisharp leapt at him, swinging his short sword swiftly at his opponent.

Even with the dust cloud around him, Typhlosion lifted his lance and blocked the slices from Bisharp.

"Not bad," murmured Nidoking to Rhydon, as they continued to survey the field.

"They've made a good amount of progress," touted Rhydon.

Still, Nidoking frowned as he looked over the courtyard. "Where is Chesnaught?"

"Ah, well, I'd imagine he's out and about," wagered Rhydon. "Like the others, I've run him ragged with my latest training regiments, and I let a few knights off on different days. Today is his day off."

"That's rotten luck," murmured Nidoking. "I'm about to spoil it some."

General Rhydon shrugged. "It could be worse. You could spoil it and I could force him back for more training."

"True," gave in Nidoking. "And Escavalier is over there," he pointed to the heavily armored knight with red and white lances for arms. It jabbed at a red mantis with large claws, as he made an attempt at grabbing the rapid lances. "So, where are the two ninjas?"

"Accelgor should be with the mages back inside," Rhydon answered. "Greninja is either with them or—"

"With Chesnaught," sighed Nidoking. "What was that about things being worse?"

"You could always choose another knight," offered Rhydon.

Nidoking shook his head. "Even if he's not well suited for the conditions, Chesnaught is still the best option. He's kinder, and friendly. If anything turns south, he's also quite capable in a fight."

"So are the others," countered Rhydon.

"Perhaps, but I trust Chesnaught more," admitted Nidoking.

"And there's your bias talking," scolded Rhydon.

"Guilty," shrugged the king. "But tell me, who would you pick?"

The general tightened his lips for a moment. "…Chesnaught," he confessed.

"Thought so," Nidoking smirked. "It might be good for them."

"Them?" repeated Rhydon. "I thought you were choosing three knights."

"Uh, well," nervously chuckled Nidoking. "Oh, come on, Rhydon. You know I'm a sucker for love."

"Ensures a knight and his wife are together, supports the earl with his conundrums, and becomes best friends with the latest couple," observed Rhydon. Flatly, he continued, "No, Nidoking, you have no regards to romance whatsoever."

"Ha," the king nudged the general and wrapped his arm around Rhydon's back. Once more, he sighed. "Does today need to move forward? Can't we just let it stay like this?"

"If we were to do that, there would be unfavorable consequences," darkly murmured Rhydon.

"Naturally," huffed Nidoking. "Right then, I'll send Delphox after them. He'll get them to return quickly."

Rhydon nodded as Nidoking hugged him before he made his way back into the castle. The general's smile faded as he marched forward to the courtyard, relieved Samurott, and began to make his rounds to assist the knights.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

Gently, a breeze passed through the green trees near King's River and knocked a few petals and leaves loose. I watched them as they blew away, across the river and then beyond. The blue water stream cruised gently along, flowing steadily down its somewhat narrow, but fairly deep, trail. My claw scratched at the ground near me as I shifted my attention back and forth between the trees and the glistening river, which was lit up by the few streaks of sunlight that made it through small spaces between branches.

"Hey, Greninja," I called. "Are you coming out sometime today, or not?"

"Do I have to?" he whined from behind me.

Slowly, I lied back and gazed at the flipped world, with the bushes and grass now a ceiling, and the trees and leaves as the ground below. Bored of it, I rolled back over and watched the bushes return to the floor, with Greninja still somewhere behind them.

"Well, I'd appreciate it if you did," I insisted. "It's kind of boring out here. Alone."

"Don't guilt me!" Greninja shouted.

"But I want to see how you look," I pressed on. "I bought you a brand new outfit—"

"Oh, don't treat this like it's the next best thing!" he argued.

Stifling a laugh, I countered, "But it is!"

He paused before he added, "Then people are dumb."

"Will you just let me see you already?" I complained.

"…Fine."

Greninja walked out from behind a tree and several bushes in a white top, a short red swimsuit, and white sandals with red straps. I stared hungrily as he strolled over to me and licked my lips as he slipped the top off. As Greninja let it drop, I whistled and gazed at his bare chest, with a wide grin plastered on my face.

"Looking good," I purred and watched Greninja's face light up, bright red.

"H-Hush up!" he snapped as he tried to pull the shorts lower along his thighs, to no avail.

"Do you really still blush around me?" I teased. "We are dating, you know."

"Oh, so, you wouldn't do that if I did…" Greninja trailed off as he walked right within reach of me and wrapped his arms around me. "Something…" he murmured while I felt his waist press up against mine, raising one leg gently against mine. "Like…" all I heard was his whisper as he rubbed his hands up my sides and brought them gently to my face. "This?" He pulled my head close to his face and I could feel the heat of his breath as the air became stifled between us. His eyes were lowered and my face burned furiously. "Now…what were you on about blushing around each other?"

"T-That's not f-fair," I protested. "You actually did…well…this."

"And you stared, Chesnaught," Greninja countered.

"I'm attracted to you!" I defended. "What, do I not look at you?"

He chuckled and slowly slid away from me. "No, you do. You just do it a lot."

"Because I am very attracted," I closed the gap between us again.

"Uh-huh," he studied me up and down, with a slight pause at my blue and green swimwear. "Huh. Longer." I opened my mouth, but he quickly added, "The pants."

"Swimsuit," I corrected.

"Whatever," Greninja shrugged as he tugged at red hem. "They're tight, unnecessary, and…well, short."

"They're all like that," I soothed, but the frog shook his head.

"These are definitely shorter than they should be," he persisted. "Are you sure you got my size right?"

"Of course I did," I passionately lied. "Do you really think I'd forget?"

Greninja lowered his eyes. "Accidentally? No," he answered. Flatly, he added, "Intentionally? Yes." Slowly, I tried to hide my face as I turned away from him, but he pulled me back around. "Ah…ha," he scoffed at my guilty smile. "Thought so."

"Ok, you're right," I confessed. "But, can you blame me?"

"…Yes."

"Your legs are so firm though!" I moaned. "How can you want to hide those from me? In fact, every inch of you is—"

"Excuses, excuses," Greninja waved his hand in front of his face. Darkly, he continued, "You definitely weren't in this for just the legs."

"Oh, no, feet too," I joked. "Those sandals are cute."

"No, these are just impractical," Greninja griped as he lifted his right leg up to glance at the white sandal on his foot. It dangled by the red strap on the top as he rolled it around. "Who thinks up fashion anyway?"

After a minute of thought, I offered, "Visionaries?"

"Is that what they call perverts like you?" he mockingly questioned as he lowered his leg.

"Hey, I'm not a pervert!" I cried out. Quietly, I added, "…To anyone besides you."

"You better not be," Greninja playfully threatened with a wink.

"Or else what?" I challenged and raised a brow.

"Just imagine that you'll be a little lonelier than usual," he teased with a grin.

"Please no," I softly whined. "These past few weeks have been torture."

"What are you talking about?" he asked. "We see each other almost every day."

"Yeah, but we haven't done anything together in over a week," I grumbled. "Rhydon's been working us to the ground lately, while you've got late night practices, and by the time we get together, we're always too tired to do anything."

"Oh no, we have lives," deadpanned Greninja. "How terrible."

"Come on," I groaned. "You're telling me you don't miss me every waking moment?"

"It's been two months, not two years," came his flat response.

My arm wrapped around his waist and brought him back into me. "So?"

"S-So we d-don't need each, uh, other, um, every day," he stammered as his blush returned.

"No?" I questioned as I slid my arm away from his waist.

Before it left him, he pulled it back. "Ah…well…m-maybe almost every day," Greninja corrected himself as he lifted his free hand to stroke my face. With a grin, my fiery blush lit back up again. His hand slid down and brushed against my furry chest. "You're so soft," Greninja murmured as he brought his hand back up.

My right hand picked Greninja's left hand from behind his back, with my left arm firmly locked against him. Seductively and slowly, I brought the hand to my lips and pressed it against them, kissing the back of his hand. Greninja shivered and moved himself further into me.

"And you're smooth," I purred and kissed a little further up his arm.

"How are you so good at this?" he moaned as I let my hot breath dance over his arm and kissed his shoulder.

"Practicing with you tends to help," I whispered, as I neared his face. Greninja waits, but I tilt my head down and kiss at an open space on his neck, under his tongue.

"Don't be such a tease," he groaned and I chuckled softly.

My tongue slipped out and I licked along the length of his. Greninja gasped and my beam returned as I slid my face up to his.

"But what fun would that be?" I murmured as I moved in.

"Well," he whispered as I neared his lips. "It's less…" Closer. "Fun…" His eyes are lowered and I closed mine. "Than…" The air between us is practically gone and his breath blew against my lips. "This."

An abrupt force pushed me backwards and my eyes briefly fluttered open as I slipped down the side of the grass and tumbled into the river behind me. My eyes shut again as the water fired up around me, with the current trying to push me downstream. Quickly, I reached the bottom and kicked myself back to the surface, launching vines from my shell to latch onto a tree branch.

Dumbfounded, I shook my head to clear the rest of the dripping water from my eyes. Greninja laughed hysterically as I felt the water brush past me.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, but…I could not resist that!" he laughed as he kicked off his sandals. "You should have…seen your face!"

"H…How could you do such a thing?" I cried out in a mock tone of horror.

"Please, now…you're not trying," he managed as he finished laughing. "And you're forgetting that I'm friends with Gardevoir!"

"This definitely would be something she'd pull," I concurred.

Greninja bent his knees and placed his hands on them to get a better look at me. "Oh, you're so cute and sad at the same time!" he cooed.

"Shut it," I barked. "We were having a great moment."

"Aw, you're just mad that I pulled that off perfectly," he teased and dove into the river. I watched him go under and waited to see him resurface near me.

"Maybe you're right," I relented. "But…" With a darker tone, I added, "Let's see how you like it!"

Greninja's expression jumps from confusion to fright as I used my vines to launch me upward and throw my arms around him as I crashed down. We went under the water and I pull a stunned Greninja in close to me, still wrapped tightly into me. The current pushes us along and we re-emerged near a small waterfall.

"Are you crazy?!" yelled Greninja while I spun us around, with my back and shell facing the waterfall as we floated closer to it.

"Hang on!" I shouted, and smiled as his arms flew around me and gripped tightly.

We went over it and slipped down, forced back under the water. I felt my shell hit the bottom of the river and we rebounded back above it once again. Greninja gasped and I laughed while the water continued to pull us. He joined my laughter and we shoved one another around a bit, but kept close as we did so.

After a few minutes, I launched more vines to a nearby branch and wrapped my arms around Greninja again. He held me as I pulled us closer to the riverbank, to a shallower part of the water. Once our feet rubbed against the dirt underneath, we stood up and trudged out from the river, with the water running down our bodies.

"Ok…you're…insane," panted Greninja as he leaned against me.

"And you…started it!" I breathed out and collapsed to the ground.

Greninja followed me down and landed on top of me. For a moment, we gazed into one another's eyes as our chests rose and fell. After we caught our breath, Greninja pulled himself closer to me and brought his hands to my face. I propped one of mine on his waist and rested the other behind his head. We closed the gap and kissed, as my lips pressed against his top lip and tongue. Again, I stuck mine out and ran it across his long one. He moaned in delight and pushed himself further into me while pulling my face closer to his.

Short on breath, we pulled away after another minute and gasped for air. I let myself drop back to grass and Greninja dropped on top of me again.

"I love you," he murmured, and wrapped his arms around me while his feet massaged my tail.

"I love you too," I whispered as I rubbed his back.

Softly, I kiss him again, but it's quicker and I pulled away too soon. We lied quietly as we listened to the water run and the wind blow. Along with those were the quick pounds from our heartbeats racing, as they slowed down while we rested.

Another minute passed before Greninja broke the silence, "So, think you'll be ready to dance in a few nights?"

"Absolutely," I touted. "You'll be begging me to stop before the night's over."

"Now you're confident over it?" he asked.

"Why wouldn't I be?" I questioned. "Fighting and dancing are both about rhythm and I'm a pretty good fighter. It should be easy."

"Oh really?" teased Greninja. "Because if I recall correctly, you rambled off something similar when we first started our lessons a little while back." He smirked as I bit my lip. "After that," he continued, "I do remember you stomped around quite a bit, and then hobbled when the instructor came to readjust your posture."

"Sorry, was that the nice way of telling your boyfriend that you think he sucks at dancing?" I inquired and used my waist to jostle him into me.

"Come on, I didn't mean that," he soothed and rubbed my shoulders. "You were doing fantastic by the last few lessons."

"Maybe, but you did well throughout," I muttered.

"Well, I've danced before," he smiled in reminiscence. I coughed to regain his attention.

"Just don't expect this to be one of the instances," I cautioned.

"What? Why wouldn't it be?" he questioned.

"Keep your expectations low and you'll enjoy it," I went on.

"Chesnaught, we could sit the whole night and I'll enjoy myself more than whatever other parties I've been to," Greninja convinced me. "You know why? Because I'll have the best date throughout the night, and I'll still have you after. And other folks might have a romantic partner with them, but none are as sweet or as kind as you."

My blush burned up again as Greninja kissed my cheek. Still, I frowned after he pulled away. Bitterly, I asked, "Even if your boyfriend didn't present you with a huge bouquet of flowers and completely upstage the rest of his knights?"

He giggled, "Well, what did you expect General Rhydon would do? He had to ask out the King!"

"Right after me though?" I protested.

"Actually, I think he did that to alleviate the tension that sparked up after you asked me out," Greninja mused. "We're the first gay couple under the King to have a public proposal like that, right?"

"Probably," I nodded. "Honestly, I don't recall any same-sex couples showing up to the ball for the past few years." I paused and added, "Besides Nidoking and Rhydon, but they were trying to keep it a secret back then."

"Then they definitely acted up because of us," assessed Greninja.

A sigh escaped me and I nodded. "So, now we caused them to finally show the town and the Kingdom their secret."

"No, we didn't," Greninja shook his head. "They didn't have to do that. It was their choice. They wanted to admit it, or…I don't know, support us?"

"Doesn't that still make it our fault?" I asked.

"Does it have to be a fault?" he questioned and I shrugged.

"If you were to ask me, I wouldn't think so," I clarified. "But, seeing how other people reacted at the ceremony, when I went up to you—"

"That doesn't make them right," argued Greninja. "And if they want to judge us for it, let them." I lowered my eyes and looked away from him, at a few trees across the river. "Oh, Chesnaught, I…I didn't mean about them."

"Maybe not, but that still applies to them too," I murmured. Slowly, I shut my eyes and turned my head back to Greninja before opening them again. His bright pinkish red ones were so captivating and entrancing to behold.

"Still, I…" he started, but trailed off.

"Greninja, I chose this," I reminded him. "I chose you. And I don't give a damn if I get condemned over it. Even if we've only been together a couple of months, I'm still happier with you than I've been in ages."

He smiled as I pulled him back in for another kiss. We turned our heads as our lips pressed together and I rubbed the back of his head. Greninja scooped his hands under my chin and pulled me in closer. Again, I slid my tongue against his, this time moving mine between his and his bottom lip. He groaned and I had to pull back to let out a laugh.

"What?" he questioned.

"Nothing, you're just really cute," I chuckled.

"Right," he murmured. "So, you keep nudging around for my sweet spots. Want to tell me where yours are?"

"Now that would be telling," I quietly teased and brought my head closer to him. "You have to find them."

After looking me over, Greninja slowly moved his mouth back into mine. He shifted his head around and traveled along my lips, pressing gently around as he attempted to find a good spot. Each time, I pushed back to deepen the kisses, but he couldn't seem to elicit the same reaction from me. Disappointed, he pulled away and sighed.

"This is hard," he admitted and I laughed. "Mine are easier to find."

"You have them all over your face," I pointed out.

"Ah, so, to get you to gasp," he giggled as he brought his hands down my chest, "I just need to reach around…" Greninja trailed off and paused as he moved his head back a little further and blinked. He shook his head and lowered his eyes. "Oh, you're bad."

"How am I…?" I began to ask when I suddenly realized where his mind went. "Wait, wait, I didn't mean…you're the one who went there!"

"Sure I am," he murmured and brought his head back closer. "I think you're a little too dirty, Chesnaught."

"You're not so clean yourself, Greninja," I challenged as I kissed him again, but he pulled back and kneeled up.

"Come on, let's go back up the river, once more!" He bounced up and grabbed my arms to pull me up with him.

"Wait, but we were just…I thought…you…" I sighed and dropped my shoulders.

"Well, we need to get our clothes before we forget them," Greninja explained. "And we do need to clean up a bit."

"Clothes, I get," I gave in as I followed him back up the hill. "Dirty though? If anything, the river will only make that worse."

Greninja stopped short and I barely managed to do the same without crashing into him. He spun around and leaned into me, his face close to mine.

"Don't you want to play in the water a little more?" he whispered suggestively.

"Yes," I plainly answered. Thinking for a moment, my face burned up. "W-Wait, what do you mean by—?"

"Exactly what I told you," he chuckled and kissed me once again. Before I could kiss back, Greninja moved back and dragged me back upstream.

We stumbled back by his discarded sandals and top, which he bent over to gather. "Where are you looking?" he asked as he scooped the top up.

"The river," I lied.

"You're really bad," he teased as he slowly crawled about and grabbed the sandals.

"Can you blame me?" I echoed as he stood back up and sauntered back over.

"Of course I can," Greninja whispered as he leaned closer to me. I heard something plop behind me. "Oh," he murmured. "Clumsy me. Could you get that?"

My eyes lowered and I smirked as his smile broadened. Slowly, I turned around and reached down to grab the sandal he tossed away. "Enjoying the view?"

"Oh, yes, the grass is particularly green here," Greninja laughed.

"And the river is so blue," I chuckled as I handed the sandal back over.

We laughed together again, as our hands slowly linked together. Greninja opened his mouth, but stopped as we heard a twig snap.

"There goes the morning," I muttered as I turned away from Greninja and to the bushes. "Stalking a knight and a ninja is really not a good idea," I warned aloud. "You might as well come out."

"Really?" challenged a voice from behind the bushes. Delphox shoved his way out from the bushes, burning off a few twigs that were stuck on his robes and a sack he carried. "Somehow, I think a mage would give you two a run for your money."

Delphox looked up and stared blankly at Greninja and I. For a minute, we sat in silence, as Greninja and I blushed harder by the second.

"W-What?" I demanded and the mage shook his head with a chuckle.

"Sheesh, you two should get a room," mocked Delphox.

"Well, we already use mine," Greninja informed him.

"Of course you do," muttered Delphox. Picking up his voice, he carried on, "Anyway, as much as I would love to watch you two slobber over each other, I'm afraid that I'm here to collect you. The King has requested your return to the castle."

"It's my day off," I argued. "General Rhydon promised me this. I get one day!"

"Unfortunately," Delphox darkly murmured, "that day is over. Nidoking sincerely apologizes for it too, but he urgently requests your immediate return."

"Is it serious?" Greninja asked.

"Supposedly," Delphox shrugged. "He wouldn't answer me and Gardevoir beat me until I left, so we'll find out when we get back."

"All right," I relented. "Just give us a minute to change back into our clothes and armor."

"Oh, I'm afraid I can't," Delphox insisted and repositioned his bag. "Nidoking needs you back yesterday. So, off we go!"

"B-But our clothes," Greninja protested.

"They're right here," Delphox bounced the sack. "Come on, let's go." And he ran off.

"H-Hey!" I shouted.

"Wait up!" cried Greninja.

Hastily, we chased after Delphox and hurried through the forest, still wet from the river and still sour over our free day interrupted.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

Clouds rolled over the sun as Chesnaught and I followed Delphox back on our way to the castle. A chillier gust blew through the tall green trees and swept down to the dirt and dust on the ground. I shivered as it passed through, and Chesnaught wrapped his arm around me to soften the amount that rushed against me. Trying to do the same for him, I wrapped my arm around his waist, but from his shiver, I realized that I didn't do as much.

Undeterred, Delphox continued to travel at a steady, quick pace, as he shifted the sack of our clothes around. We had tried to team up against him earlier, when we first caught up with him, but he quickly outwitted Chesnaught with two spells and used him to stop me. It was a game to the fox, and he enjoyed every second of it.

"Couldn't you just give us back our clothes?" I asked as we approached a more spacious opening. "Or warm us up with some fire or magic?"

"Oh, I could," shrugged Delphox.

"S-So why don't you?" demanded Chesnaught.

He turned back and grinned, "Because your personal torture is too enjoyable."

Chesnaught leaned closer into me and whispered, "He's lucky that his Types are superior to mine. Else, I'd knock him into the nearest tree and be done with it."

"Realize that I can hear you," snapped Delphox.

"Good," laughed Chesnaught.

The fox mage glared back at him, but shook his head. "Courtyard isn't much further, come on." He was right; in the distance, I noticed the castle coming into view.

"Uh, c-courtyard?" shivered Chesnaught, but no wind blew.

"Yes," nodded Delphox. "You usually practice in that place, remember?"

"Delphox, we should go around the back," I suggested. "It'll be more humiliating if we go through the front."

"Indeed it will!" sang Delphox. "Oh, I never get to have this much fun!"

"No, Delphox," I gently lowered Chesnaught's arm and ran up to the mage. "You don't understand. We really can't go to the courtyard, not like this."

"Come off it, Greninja," he grumbled and turned to me. "It's just a little fun—"

As he stared at me, I nudged my head back at Chesnaught, who held his arms close to his chest and fixed his attention to the ground. Delphox frowned and his shoulders dropped.

"Right, that nonsense," muttered Delphox. "Bunch of asinine…but it's nothing new to me, I'll tell you that." He picked his voice up again for Chesnaught to hear, "Ok, round the back it is. I'm sure the giant golem won't mind."

"Golurk? No, he's cheerful enough not to care," I smiled to Delphox and silently worded, "Thank you." He smirked and nodded before I dropped back by Chesnaught.

"Thanks," Chesnaught wrapped his arm back around me. "But, you don't have to act like I can't understand what you're going on about."

With a sigh, I nodded. "I know. It's just…I don't know." Quietly, I fixed my red swim shorts or whatever Chesnaught called it. "It's wrong and unfair," I suddenly voiced.

"Way of the world, unfortunately," answered Delphox.

"They just don't understand," whispered Chesnaught.

"Oh no, they damn well get it," I hissed. "They're just judgmental, chauvinistic cretins. They should be so lucky that we're serving the same king, or else I'd…well, you can use your imagination."

My knight looked away, his eyes lowered, but with a slight smile after my comment. I noticed a few twigs and leaves had caught onto us and rinsed us both off with a ball of water as we exited the forest.

We walked around the back of the castle, where Golurk sat and picked at a tree. He looked down and waved to us.

"Friends!" his voice boomed.

"Hi Golurk," I called up to the golem. "I still need to challenge you to hide and seek later, ok?"

"Kay," he rumbled as we strolled past him and into the yard.

Samurott walked around from behind the marble-encased fountain. "Hey Greninja," he greeted as he shifted his gaze from his sheathing his blade to us. "I heard you taaallk…" Samurott trailed off and his mouth hung open as he stared at me. "Uh…what…?" Chesnaught walked up behind me and rested a hand on my shoulder. "What?"

"What about what?" Chesnaught asked him.

"You're…neither of you are…uh…nothing," Samurott shook his head and quickly pivoted away from us. "I'll catch up with you two later."

"But, Samurott, are you sure you're ok?" I questioned with worry and tried to chase after him.

"No, I mean, yes, I…fine. I'm fine!" he insisted and waved his hand as he zipped away from us. His last shout was, "See you later!"

"Bye," Golurk answered for us.

Chesnaught and I stared blankly as Samurott disappeared around the side of the castle. Delphox, meanwhile, snickered at the scene before he burst out laughing.

"Happy?" I muttered.

"Ha, oh, yes, yes that makes everything better," he laughed.

Once he finished, we made our way back inside of the castle. The back halls were narrower than the main hall, decorated with sculptures large and small. Pictures here were of scenes, instead of the past rulers in the front. We passed one of a coronation, though for what ruler I'm not certain. Another one was of the hokora in the Eventide Forest, with sunlight shining only upon it through the trees.

"Just how long has that shrine been in the forest?" I quietly asked Chesnaught.

"Honestly, I'm wondering the same thing now," he whispered back to me.

"Why are you two whispering about it?" Delphox mocked us with his own quiet tone.

Another door led us to a hallway that was lightly decorated, with just the green banners for the Grass Fields Kingdom itself. I eyed the four mythical creatures on it and slowed my pace a bit.

"Are you all right, Greninja?" Chesnaught asked as my slowed pace pulled him back.

"Oh, yes, sorry," I shook my head and hurried along. "Just admiring the banners."

Delphox opened the next door ahead and peeked out of it. Chesnaught and I watched his head move left and right before he turned back and waved us to follow him. We crept through the main hall and slipped into the throne room.

Nidoking sat on his throne, with one crown on his head and another in his hands. Even from a distance, it appeared that he was contemplating something about it, though that thought ended as he placed it back on the empty throne and he came to the center of the room to meet us.

"Ah, Greninja, Chesnaught, welcome…back…" Nidoking greeted before he trailed off and stared at us.

"Thank you, sire," Chesnaught bowed and I followed.

As we stood back up, Nidoking continued to stare. "…Huh. You two are, uh…well. Maybe you should have more personal time."

"That would be appreciated, sir," murmured Chesnaught, which I nudged him for.

"Perhaps next time, you'll fetch them yourself, sire?" joked Delphox, who curtseyed for the king.

"It's certainly tempting," mused Nidoking as he stroked his chin.

Chesnaught scratched the back of his head and blushed while I pulled my tongue further up on my face, hoping that it hid my own burning cheeks. The throne room doors opened again and the general, Rhydon, hurried in.

"Now what's all this about…" Rhydon started, but stopped as he caught sight of us. "What are you two boys even wearing?!"

"Swimsuits," answered Chesnaught. "They're new and for, uh, swimming."

"…You're just trying to make Nidoking drool, right?" he asked. "It's fine, but it's not that difficult, so you don't need to put that much effort in."

"General!" called Nidoking and I glanced over to see him blushing now.

"What?" asked Rhydon. "You're allowed to humiliate me left and right. I need to get my shots in now and again."

"And you've already had plenty since this morning!" Nidoking growled, but a smile broke out onto his face.

Rhydon grinned, "As you wish, sire. …For now."

"Begging both your pardons," interrupted Delphox, "but we're already aware of your love for one another. Or was there another reason you wanted Chesnaught and Greninja here, sire?"

"Ah, yes," coughed Nidoking and he cleared his throat. "You three understand that we're one of four major kingdoms that have been in conflict over the rumored seer, correct?"

"You mean the prophet that could bring about either great prosperity or destruction upon us all?" I recalled.

"Right," Nidoking nodded. Solemnly, he continued, "This morning, we received a report from the Iceberg Empire. While it was rather, uh, dubious, it's the first news in years that anyone has been able to connect it to this ancient mystic."

"Wait, why would the empire help us?" asked Chesnaught.

"They decided to make an alliance with us, since the other two are a little, ah, less favorable kingdoms to work with," clarified Rhydon. "On a certain condition."

"The deal was that we were allowed to send him three soldiers to assist with the search for the prophet," explained Nidoking, "but that it would be a more permanent trade until further notice. To keep things fair, he'll send me back three that he decides on, but if we ever get the chance to regain our original troops, I'm not certain."

Chesnaught's eyes widened as he realized what this meant. "You're…sending me over there?"

Slowly, after exchanging a glance with Rhydon, Nidoking nodded.

"Sire, Chesnaught can't go," the words slipped from my mouth before I could shut it.

"Of my knights, he's the best option to send over," Nidoking frowned. "I've already decided upon this."

My heart sank as I stared at Chesnaught, who hung his head and couldn't even look at me.

Annoyed, I blurted out, "You'd bring Accelgor over here to be with her husband, but you'd send my boyfriend away from me?"

"Greninja," Chesnaught hissed at me and was about to add to it, but fell silent as Nidoking raised his hand.

"Did I not state that I needed to send three soldiers over?" questioned Nidoking. "Tell me, how many of you are in this room, not counting myself and the general?"

I felt my heart rise again as Chesnaught picked his head up, with a small smile on him. "You're…sending me too?" I asked.

"Unfortunately yes," laughed Nidoking. "I was quite enjoying both of you around here, but I wouldn't dare to separate you two at this point. Aside from that, a Water type would certainly be an ideal choice to send over, second only to Ice."

"H-Hang on a minute!" cried out Delphox. "You mentioned three and there are three of us here. Lord Nidoking, you couldn't possibly—"

Nidoking's smile faded as he nodded. "I'm sorry, Delphox, but you will be the third that I am sending over to the empire."

"Now that's not fair!" he snapped. "You won't separate couples, but you'll take me away from Gardevoir? We're best friends and we work well together!"

"Yes, I know," sighed Nidoking. "But the prophet is rumored to be a Psychic type and supposedly gifted in mystic arts. Not sending one of my two Psychic mages would be not only foolish, but could also be dangerous." He sadly gazed at Delphox, who wore an expression mixed of anger and sorrow. "Would you rather I send Gardevoir? I had considered her, but imagined that—"

"Absolutely not," Delphox voiced broke as his head dropped. "You chose me, and I'm going. She stays here."

The king nodded. "As I figured. The three of you will be leaving the day after the Parting Summer's Ball. I'm sure you've been counting the days down until then, and I refuse to send any of you away a day before." Nidoking eyed the crown on the empty throne before he added, "And, there will be an extra surprise that I want you three around to see."

"Extra surprise?" questioned Rhydon. "What's that about?"

"Oh, you'll see…no one else gets to hear about it before the ball itself," Nidoking mischievously beamed.

"…Am I going to like this surprise? Or should I prepare for the worst?" worriedly inquired Rhydon.

"Hmm…how about a little of both?" slyly answered Nidoking.

"Somehow, I just became more nervous than before you answered," murmured Rhydon.

The king laughed again, but slowly died back down to silence again. "I really wish I didn't have to send you three at all," he confessed. "But we need this alliance and we need to know if the reports are accurate. So…when you pack your bags, dress warm. And…well…my deepest apologies."

"We'll do what you need us to, sire," bowed Chesnaught. "Will that be all?"

"Unfortunately, yes," nodded Nidoking. "Please, resume your, ah…other activities."

He smirked and flashed a wink at us, to which Chesnaught and I blushed again. Rhydon nudged Nidoking as they walked back over to the thrones and Delphox rolled his eyes as he led us back out of the throne room. As if on cue, Gardevoir entered the main hall and zipped down the stairs, right over to us.

"Hello boys," greeted Gardevoir cheerfully. "Ooh, looking good, Chesnaught and Greninja! Those swimsuits show off your assets nicely!"

"That's one way to put it," muttered Delphox.

"Aw, don't be jealous, my delicate Delphox," Gardevoir tugged on the fox mage's cheek. "You're still cute in your own special way."

"Cute?!" Delphox smacked Gardevoir's hand away. "I'm outright adorable, and don't you forget it!"

"Oops, I think I fed your ego," deadpanned Gardevoir.

"Shut it!" Delphox snapped, with a bit more venom than usual.

"It's just a joke," grumbled Gardevoir. "No need to be grumpy about it."

"That's not what he's upset over," I intervened.

"Well then, what is it?" asked Gardevoir.

"The king is sending me away," mumbled Delphox.

"Huh?"

"I'm being sent away, ok?!" shouted Delphox, surprising even Gardevoir.

After a minute, Chesnaught continued, "All three of us are. The king needs us to help investigate rumors in the Iceberg Empire, as part of holding up an alliance with them." He paused, and quietly added, "It might be for a while."

"All three of you," repeated Gardevoir as her face fell.

"We're needed," I emphasized. "No one really wants us to go, not even the king."

"Of course not," Gardevoir murmured and lowered her head. "And you leave…?"

"The day after the ball," glumly informed Chesnaught.

"Gardevoir," Delphox weakly started, but looked away from her, perhaps from a loss of words.

However, Gardevoir brought her head back up with a smile. "Ok, then none of you can argue with me for the rest of the day! And that means we're going to go get Samurott, whether he's training or not."

"Wait, what?" Delphox blinked. "Why him?"

"Because all five of us are going to town and getting whatever else we need for this ball," directed Gardevoir. "And from now until the time you three leave, I'm enjoying whatever number of minutes we have together."

"No complaints from me," I smiled. "Chesnaught and I still need outfits."

"How could you not have bought those ages ago?!" cried Gardevoir.

"Well, we've been trying to go," Chesnaught scratched the back of his head. "We've just been busy."

"Oh no, no excuses," Gardevoir folded her arms. "Now we're definitely going. Let's go grab Samurott and head out immediately!"

She spun around and went for the door, but stopped as the other knights came in. Scizor, Armaldo, and Heracross chattered with one another, but stopped once they caught sight of us…specifically, of Chesnaught and myself.

"Naturally," Scizor huffed and led the other two away.

"Why don't you come back and say it to their faces?!" yelled Gardevoir as she fired a blast at the retreating bug knights.

Delphox had his staff drawn, but the trio disappeared behind the door to the basement. "Louts," he spat.

Escavalier and Accelgor appeared next, and waved as they passed, but mostly whispered giddily to one another.

"Relationship goals," chuckled Chesnaught as the couple disappeared upstairs.

Bisharp entered next and Chesnaught smiled and waved to him. The other knight raised his hand, but scratched the side of his head and retreated for the basement as well.

"I thought he was your friend," I snapped.

"I thought they all were," Chesnaught sadly mumbled.

The last knight, Typhlosion walked in, and smiled at us. Delphox folded his arms crossly while Gardevoir rested a hand on her hip.

"Well, most of them," Chesnaught corrected himself quietly.

"Hey guys," Typhlosion walked up to us. "Is this the fantastic four all assembled to go out somewhere?"

"Just keep your mouth shut and walk away," snarled Delphox as his wand lit up.

"Wow, first of all, rude," Typhlosion raised his hand. "Second, are you guys going to town or not?"

"It's no business of yours," Gardevoir waved him off. "So get."

"Unbelievable," Typhlosion shook his head. "The rest of them waltz by and either throw a nasty comment or outright ignore you, and yet I'm the villain for actually trying to be nice."

"He's…got a point," I shrugged.

"Greninja, you haven't been around him long enough to understand the pranks Typhlosion likes to pull," explained Delphox. "And some of the comments he delivers are just outright crass."

"Listen, ladies—"

"That was on purpose!" Delphox shot a spell at Typhlosion, who leaned away from it as it flew out the door.

"Ok, guilty," laughed Typhlosion. "But really, I'm not asking to go with you guys because I want to mess around with you." He sighed. "I just…know how it feels to be left out."

"You?! You know how it feels to be left out?" thundered Delphox. "Funny, because I don't recall any time where the knights picked on us and you suddenly came to our defense!"

"Easy, Delphox," soothed Chesnaught.

"No, this is Typhlosion, Chesnaught," accused Delphox. "He acts like he could be friendly, but there's always a catch, and—"

"Fine, I also need to get some shopping done and don't want to go alone," admitted Typhlosion. "There's my angle. If you don't want me to tag along, fine, but don't rattle off every insult you can come up with on me."

"Oh, that's rich!" snapped Delphox. "After all of the nasty things you've called Gardevoir and I?!"

"Yeah, you're right, and I'm…sorry," Typhlosion shrugged. "I've been pretty nasty to you guys in the past and it's because I don't like spell casters. I'm ignorant on anything concerning them…but I'm trying to fix that, honest."

"Well…I think it's fine, as long as he doesn't pull any funny business," relented Chesnaught.

"Really? Because I'm with Delphox on this," Gardevoir contended.

"And I'm with Chesnaught," I spoke up. "So—"

"Need a tiebreaker?" rang out Samurott's voice.

We turned to see him come down the stairs. Once I caught his eyes though, he quickly shifted his attention to Typhlosion, who was quite…fixated on the samurai.

"I wanted to go shopping with everyone for the ball," explained Gardevoir. "But I thought it would be just us. Typhlosion wants to tag along, which Delphox and I are against for…obvious reasons."

"First, I think the happy couple needs to get their clothes on," he joked. "And second, so long as he stays in line, Typhlosion might as well come with us." He smirked. "After all, Lopunny will give him hell later at the ball, so he might as well try to enjoy his time before then."

"Don't remind me," muttered Typhlosion.

"…Fine, but he better not ruin our remaining time with my friends," Gardevoir threatened.

"Remaining time?" inquired Samurott.

"Delphox, Chesnaught, and I are being sent to the Iceberg Empire," I informed him.

"Oh…that's…really, it's a shame," Samurott caved as his shoulders dropped. "I enjoyed your company." He paused and added, "All three, of your company, I mean."

"Yeah, that is a bummer," agreed Typhlosion. Everyone stared quietly at him. "…What? Just because I'm not in your little clique, I don't get to agree?"

"No, it's fine, just unexpected," I confessed.

"For you, maybe," shrugged Typhlosion. "But I've known Chesnaught for a while, and even if I like to mess with him, I'm used to having him here." Quietly, he added, "I don't really want him to leave."

"It's out of our hands," reminded Chesnaught.

We stood in the main hall in the silence for a minute or two, and collectively sulked.

"Nope!" Gardevoir clapped her hands together. "This is a waste of our time, and I'm not standing for that." She grabbed Delphox, then me, and dragged us out the door. "Come on, boys! We're spending a night on the town!"

"It's barely past noon," noted Delphox.

"Technicalities," laughed Gardevoir as she surged forward and raced from the castle.

Delphox wailed and I laughed as Gardevoir flew forward, with Typhlosion speeding up after us, while Chesnaught and Samurott fell behind in the distance.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

Walking out from behind a few trees and back to the town gates, I pushed my red shirt down into my white trousers. Voices sounded and I caught just two figures approaching the gates. My face heated, I turned back to the trees and hid myself.

"Red shirt, white pants…what's with you forcing these colors on me?!" I demanded.

"Because you're always in blacks and blues," murmured Chesnaught from behind several bushes. "So, I might as well make you wear attention grabbing colors while we have the free time to do so."

"But I hate attention," I moaned. "Are you almost done?"

"Getting there; the shell makes it hard, you know," Chesnaught explained. More seductively, he added, "And I thought you enjoyed my attention."

Annoyed, I rolled my swimsuit into a ball and tossed it behind the bushes. I heard it thump down as Chesnaught cried out, smirking over the hit.

"What was that for?" asked Chesnaught.

"You have the bag, so you can put it away," I peered out and noticed that the couple had disappeared into town. Mockingly, I added, "Besides, I thought you liked looking at my shorts."

"Well…you're not wrong," Chesnaught chuckled.

Rolling my eyes, I stepped out and back to the gates. Samurott waited, propped against the town's stonewalls, and gazed at the cloudy, but bright, blue sky. Once I stepped close enough, he looked at me and raised an eyebrow, but I shook my head.

"Don't ask," I muttered.

"Wasn't going to pry," Samurott raised his arms in defense. "It's just a…fascinating color choice, even for casual wear." And naturally, he had a simple forest green top and sepia brown pants for himself.

"Chesnaught picked it," I grumbled. "Only he would pick such a conspicuous pair of colors out for me."

"That's…honestly adorable," admitted Samurott with a smile.

"Oh no, don't you take his side," I warned.

"Chesnaught's got good tastes, that's all I'm saying," Samurott smirked. "You look great in brighter clothes."

He winked and I blushed furiously, to which he chuckled.

"Screw the ball. You're both dead before we get back to the castle," I grumbled.

"But then you'll never get to dance," came Chesnaught's laugh.

Before I could turn around, he wrapped his arms around me and spun me around a few times. Gently, he placed me down and smiled broadly while the world around us slowed back down.

"Ha! You didn't even hear me this time," Chesnaught prodded my chest. I grabbed at his waist, and glared at the black trousers he wore.

"Not…fair…" I mumbled.

"What, these?" He tugged at the pants. "I didn't have white. I wore a red top though!" Which was notably darker than mine. "See? We sort of match this way!"

Samurott chuckled again. "I'd make the 'get a room joke,' but I believe you two already have one."

"Yeah, and Delphox beat you to it," Chesnaught added.

"He would," the samurai rolled his eyes. "Speaking of, let's go meet him and the others. Gardevoir almost had Greninja running around in that swimsuit."

"And you thought I was torturing you," Chesnaught playfully nudged me.

He grinned widely as he wrapped his arm around my back while I lowered my eyes. Samurott led us through the town gates and we strolled inside.

A Vileplume watched us enter and quickly slammed her doors to her wooden store the second she caught sight of Chesnaught and I behind Samurott. Another door from a brick building slammed across the street, before we even had a chance to look at it.

"Unbelievable," growled Samurott, tapping on his sheathed blades.

"We decreased our visits here for a reason," I reminded him.

"That's even worse," he complained.

"Tell us about it," Chesnaught mumbled.

Rounding a corner, we continued on, as several folks slipped away from the cobblestone streets once they caught sight of us and disappeared behind the brown or gray stone houses and shops. Others would wave, such as a Kecleon that made a point to become visible and smile at us. All the while, I tugged at my tongue around my neck, either up or down depending on the situation. Chesnaught, in spite of his anxious face, refused to remove his arm from around me.

Near the fork in the street, the north road would lead to the book and potion shops, while the northeast road led to restaurants. We turned for the north road, but an Electabuzz and a Scyther walked into our way. They menacingly smirked at as when we came to a halt. From the north road, a Hitmonlee and a Medicham joined them.

"Step aside," commanded Samurott.

"Aw, we ain't doing nothing," sneered the Electabuzz.

"Fine, but we have places to be, so again, step aside," Samurott ordered.

"Or what?" taunted the Scyther. "Knights aren't allowed to attack citizens, are they?"

"Not under ordinary circumstances," corrected Samurott as his hand went to his blade. Chesnaught tried to push me behind him, but I locked myself by his side.

"Funny, those two behind you certainly don't do ordinary," snickered Medicham.

"Greninja, don't…!" Chesnaught hissed as I surged forward against his arm.

"What's the matter, froggy? Boy toy got you on a leash?" laughed Scyther. Water formed in my hand and I was on the verge of slipping loose from Chesnaught. He caught on and slipped some grass in to absorb the water.

"What'd ya think, gang?" the Electabuzz asked the others as sparks danced around his arm. "Feeling a bit threatened here?"

The Scyther scraped his blades together, while the Medicham pounded her fist into her hand and snickered. Hitmonlee silently glanced at his allies, but spread his legs apart to fight. Samurott grabbed at one of his sheathed blades and was ready to pull it out.

"Excuse me."

The gang barely had time to raise their eyebrows before Electabuzz was coated in a light blue aura, lifted into the air, and slammed back down onto the ground.

A bright pink ball fired around as the ground turned and crashed into Medicham, who flew back into a sign.

We gazed behind them to see Gardevoir grinning as her eyes faded back to normal. Typhlosion stood behind her, collar aflame.

Scyther raised his blades, but a staff blocked it as he swung down.

"Ah-ah-ah," Delphox waved a finger from his free hand and shot a stream of fire to blast the mantis backwards.

Hitmonlee shivered in place, shifting his eyes between his fallen comrades, Gardevoir, Delphox, and Typhlosion.

"Anything you'd like to add, dear?" Gardevoir channeled a pink ball of energy in her raised hand.

Quickly, the Hitmonlee shook his head and ran off.

"Coward!" shrieked Medicham as she forced herself up.

"No, dear, he's the smart one," taunted Gardevoir and she fired her Moon Blast at the Medicham's feet. "You should consider following his example."

"You might want to," advised a singed Scyther, who beat his wings and buzzed off.

"Pah, we can take on a Fairy mage, no problem," Electabuzz slammed the floor and sparks flew from his fists. "But first, I oughta fry them little pond geeks. And the queer hoggie knight too."

"See, now we have a problem," Gardevoir chastised.

She thrust her hand forward and Electabuzz was lit in a light blue aura again. He began to gag and cough as his hands flew to his throat and he sank back down on his knees.

"H-Hey! Cut that out!" cried Medicham. "Knights aren't allowed to—"

"Oh, silly you," giggled Gardevoir as she concentrated on the choking Electabuzz. "Knights have their silly codes and oaths that they abide by, and those keep the townsfolk safe." Darkly, she glanced over to the Medicham and grinned wickedly. "The catch here? I'm not a knight."

Electabuzz coughed out again, with a tinge of blood dripping from his lips. "P-Please, don't do this!" wailed Medicham.

"Hold on, he's learning his lesson," Gardevoir mockingly eased.

"Gardevoir, that's enough!" shouted Samurott.

"Give me just another minute," insisted Gardevoir as she tightened her telekinetic chokehold.

"It's fine, Gardevoir," I called out. "They won't learn from that anyway."

She glared at me and her smile vanished, but she nodded and released the Electabuzz, who gasped out for breath. Medicham ran over and picked him up.

"You're all sick and crazy!" she screamed and helped carry Electabuzz off from the streets.

Samurott watched them go, and then turned to Gardevoir. "What's the matter with you?!" he snapped. "Acting like that will only cause more problems for us!"

"No, that will teach them discipline on their loose tongues," perkily asserted Gardevoir. "Sometimes, only force gets the job done, and none of you knights can lay down the law against asinine knaves like them."

"That's because we have stricter moral codes," Chesnaught chimed in. "Gardevoir, you can't just torment whoever teases your friends."

"Why shouldn't she?" defended Typhlosion. "They're creeps for picking on the two of you and had it coming."

"Violence isn't the answer," argued Chesnaught. "Believing that is why we do have wars."

"So, that's the gratitude from one half of the couple we defended," murmured Delphox. "Greninja, how about you? You appreciate us knocking those louts senseless?"

"I—"

"Of course he appreciated it, but that doesn't make it all right," Samurott snapped again. "You two can't just beat down on anyone that bothers you every time you come here."

"It's not every time," persisted Gardevoir. Samurott gave her a stern glare. "Oh, fine, sorry," she waved him off and folded her arms. "Not like I'll be able to do this much longer anyway."

Delphox placed his arm softly on her shoulder, but Gardevoir didn't relax. Typhlosion let his fire die down and grumbled to himself. I opened my mouth to change the topic, but nothing came out of me.

"Chesnaught? Hey!"

From the northeastern road, Lilligant flew over and hugged Chesnaught.

"Hi Lilligant," my knight hugged her back. He smiled at first, but slowly frowned.

"It's been ages!" she chirped as she released him. Lilligant turned her head and winked at me. "Does your boyfriend keep you busy?"

"Ah, n-not exactly," Chesnaught started and I snickered. "But I have been busy lately, and it has been a while. Sorry."

"No big deal, it's not like you're going away anytime soon," Lilligant laughed. Chesnaught dropped his arms from her and she slowly stopped. More seriously, she asked, "You're…not going away, are you?"

"Actually, I am," Chesnaught sadly admitted. "Greninja, Delphox, and I are being sent over to the Iceberg Empire after the ball."

"Oh, that's a shame," murmured Lilligant. "I'm really upset now."

"Join the club," joked Delphox.

"Well, can I join in with all of you? Before you go away?" Lilligant asked.

"Sure, we already invited Typhlosion," accepted Delphox.

"What's that supposed to mean?!" Typhlosion growled.

"Actually, there was a shop I wanted to visit with you, Lilligant," Chesnaught recalled.

"Really? Then let's go!"

"Uh, but just you," Chesnaught specified. "It's about the…well, you know."

"About the…ooh, I got it!" Lilligant clapped her leafy hands together. "Ok, let's go to it while your friends…uh…"

"We'll find something to do," agreed Samurott.

"Right! So, come on!" She tugged Chesnaught, but stopped. "Oh, but only if it's all right with your boyfriend." Lilligant giggled while Chesnaught rolled his eyes.

"Just have him back before sun down and we'll be fine," I teased.

He waved to me as she dragged him quickly down the north road. Samurott and I slowly strolled over to the others and we went stared off toward the stores.

"She doesn't still make you jealous, does she?" asked Gardevoir.

Tapping my tongue, I shrugged. "There's always that one friend that knows your significant other just as well as you do, if not better."

"That didn't answer the question," Delphox jibed and I narrowed my eyes at him.

"All right, cool off," Samurott stepped between us. "Come on, let's find a store to mess around in until they get back."

Everyone nodded and we approached a small, nearby bookshop.


[Chesnaught]

Lilligant tugged me along for a little longer and until she forced herself to a stop. Stumbling past her, I crashed onto the ground, face-first.

"Ow," my muffled voice sounded.

"Ok, there is no thing that you've told me about," Lilligant started at me right away. I picked my head up as she folded her arms. "What's going on?"

"Maybe I just wanted a minute with my best friend?" I tried with a smile.

"You needed me to get you away," Lilligant assessed. "What for?"

"Can't you ever be surprised by my plans?" I complained. "Anyway, I wanted to visit a few stores around here without Greninja or the others—"

"Ooh, you're getting Greninja a gift for the ball!" She squealed. "Aw, Chesnaught, I'm so happy that you're dating him! You seem so much happier when you're around him—"

"Lilligant," I groaned as my face heated up. Carefully, I glanced around to see if anyone was listening in.

"Chesnaught, come off it," she snapped. "You can't be afraid of the world, just because you're dating another male."

"But—"

"Nope, come on," she dragged me over to the jewelry shop.

We walked inside and glanced around at all of the glittering necklaces, earrings, pendants, and rings. A few patrons browsed about the green painted store, but it wasn't particularly crowded.

"Um, Lilligant," I whispered. "Neither of us are really…uh, jewel type of guys."

"You'd have to come in here if you planned on marrying him," she hissed at me.

"M-Marriage?!" I blurted out and several customers turned to stare at us. "Uh…"

"Yes, my cousin simply can't wait to propose to his girlfriend!" Lilligant laughed loudly. "They'll be coming here soon, too!" Slowly, everyone returned their attention to their own business.

"Thanks," I mumbled.

"Just realize that you're going to start owing me quite a lot," she teased.

"Why helloooooo!" a cheerful voice rang out and we turned to see the green reptilian merchant in our faces. "Welcome to the 'Hidden Forest Jewel' shop! My name is Sceptile, and I'm more than happy to assist you both with whatever fine goods you're searching for!"

"Uh…hi," I waved with an awkward smile. "Um…I'm looking for a gift—"

"That's our specialty!" sang Sceptile.

"Right," I nervously nodded. "So…it's—"

"For this lovely lady right here?" interrupted Sceptile and gestured to Lilligant.

"Sir, please," Lilligant pushed him back. "My friend wants to buy his bo…uh, something special for…someone important?" She shot me a painfully confused look and I shook my head.

"I want something for my boyfriend," I clarified, and kept my concentration on everything that wasn't another customer eavsedropping.

"Ooh, lovely!" chirped Sceptile. "Well, you certainly came to the right place! We have only the finest—"

"Please spare us the sales pitch," asserted Lilligant, as she eyed the rest of the store. "We're already here to buy something."

"Right, of course," nodded Sceptile. A little too loudly, he asked, "Anything you can tell me about your boyfriend to narrow your search?"

My face burned as I suddenly developed a deep fascination with the nearby necklaces. "Um…he's a Water Type—"

"Splendid!" cheered Sceptile. "I already know the perfect gift! I've dated a Water Type fellow several times already, and I know just the thing! Wait right here!"

He hurried off toward the counter, leaving Lilligant and I to stare blankly ahead. Slowly, we turned to exchange perplexed expressions.

"Well…he's nice…and lively," offered Lilligant.

"If he were a little less enthusiastic, I'd feel a lot better," I muttered.

"Hellooooo, I'm back!" We jumped and found Sceptile right in front of us. "Lucky you, sir, we just happened to have one of these left!"

Sceptile shoved a dark blue box into my hands and eagerly watched me. Slowly, I opened it to a pendant inside, shaped like a droplet. Water was contained inside of the gem and I blinked at it.

"Isn't this Mystic Water?" I asked.

"Exactly that!" clapped Sceptile. "Oh, we haven't had a delivery of those in ages and that's our very last one. Congratulations, sir, it's your lucky day!"

"…Sure, great," I agreed. "I'll take it."

"Excellent!" chirped Sceptile. "Let me just go ahead and ring you up then!"

We followed him to the cash counter and I kept waiting for someone to confront me over my orientation, but people seemed to mind their own business, certainly a lot better than others had outside.

"Right, that will be 8500 Poké, or 85 Gold Bars," tallied Sceptile.

My jaw dropped from the price as Sceptile swiped the box out of my hands.

"Huh. The price of love is steep," observed Lilligant. "Good thing you're a knight."

Slowly, I nodded and grabbed my coin bag. Hopefully, Greninja wouldn't want me to buy a nice outfit for the ball.


[Greninja]

My eyes shifted back to the bookstore's door, but it hadn't opened for the past half hour. Samurott slid beside me near a few journals and poked me.

"You ok?" he checked. "You've been glancing at the door repeatedly."

"He's been gone for a half hour," I murmured.

"Oh, Chesnaught, right," he nodded nonchalantly.

"That's not a good thing!" I snapped and caused Samurott to jump back.

"W-Why not?" he asked.

"Separation anxiety?" Typhlosion suggested as he bounced up next to Samurott, who shot him an annoyed look.

"No…ok, a little," I caved. "But it's something else. What if he got hurt or harassed or Lilligant got into trouble or—"

"Or he could be buying you a gift!" suggested Typhlosion and my eyes widened as I stared at him.

"Or…or that," my hallow response rang out.

"You…didn't buy him anything recently, did you?" inquired Samurott.

"Was I supposed to?" I nervously asked.

"Well, not exactly, but it's just kind of customary to buy your date something nice to wear to the ball," explained Samurott.

"And you're supposed to get something that'll last beyond it if you're actually dating them," prodded Typhlosion.

"Why would no one tell me this until now?" I demanded. "How was I supposed to figure that out?"

"Didn't know that you didn't know," laughed Typhlosion.

"I, uh, didn't think to tell you," admitted Samurott. "Sorry."

"It's fine, but…what am I going to do?!" I cried out. "He'll be back any minute now!"

"Well, there's a gift shop right across the street," Typhlosion jabbed toward the shop's front window.

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"Perfect!"

Hastily, I grabbed Samurott and Typhlosion, dragging them both out of the bookstore after me, and ran across to the gift shop across the street. Not spotting Chesnaught, I hurriedly shoved the other two knights into the store and slammed the door shut behind me.

"Could you not do that please?" a calm voice asked. "That door has had enough work done it as it is."

"Sorry, I'm just in a hurry," I apologetically called out. My head whirled around to make sure that the door hadn't broken and I turned back to see the light blue shop filled with all sorts of orange and yellow shelves of various goods.

"Just about everyone is," another voice laughed. I watched as tall, red, chicken-like merchant jumped around from behind a shelf. "Hey Swampert, the door's fine!"

"That's good, thanks Blaziken," his coworker answered and showed up a few seconds after, carrying a few boxes. He smiled while looking at me and added, "Didn't want to charge you for a door."

"Ah, lay off, Swamp," teased Blaziken as he nudged his calmer coworker. "The fellow's probably got a hot date to catch tonight!" He laughed while my face burned up.

"Um…more or less," I confessed.

"Well, you've come to the right store," nodded Swampert. "We should have a great gift for your date around here." He then scratched his head and studied my friends. "Um…are you two dating too?"

"Us? What? No!" Typhlosion rattled off as he quickly glanced at Samurott and pushed himself up from the floor. "Just…just Greninja."

I tilted my head and noticed that Typhlosion's cheeks were a little pink, as was his chin that he had leaned on, but he coughed and turned away before I could observe him anymore.

"All right then!" Blaziken clapped his hands together. "What would you like?"

"Do you still have that Miracle Seed?" asked Typhlosion. "He's dating a Grass Type and that would probably be perfect."

"Oh, I think we still have one of those left," murmured Swampert. "Blaziken, come on, let's go check the back."

They disappeared behind a few shelves of children's toys, while Samurott and I gazed at Typhlosion.

"What? …What?!" he demanded.

"How…did you know they had Miracle Seed?" questioned Samurott. "That's not exactly the most common item."

"No, but I've been here before," explained Typhlosion and his face went a bit red. "Browsing around for gifts that I…well, you know, to nab someone's interests!"

"Yeah, but you specifically knew about the Miracle Seed," pointed out Samurott. "What's up with that?"

"N-Nothing!" Typhlosion insisted. Defensively, he snapped, "What do you care, anyway?!"

Samurott shrugged. "I guess it's no concern of mine, but you sure helped Greninja out well."

"Yes, you really did," I agreed. "Thank you, Typhlosion!"

"Ah, sure, no big deal," chuckled Typhlosion. "Just…let me know if Chesnaught likes it, ok?"

"Sure," I nodded as the two merchants returned.

Blaziken held a green case in his hand. "Here," he clicked it open and showed me the bright yellow-green seed shaped gem inside of the container. "And good thing too! Last one we could find."

"Great, I'll take it!" I grinned.

"All right, it's about 8500 Poké," estimated Swampert.

"…That's…a lot," I mumbled and reached into my coin bag. "Uh…I don't think—"

"Oh, I'll pay for it," Samurott offered. "Just pay me back when we get back to the castle, all right?"

"Really? Samurott, I—"

"Nah, don't say anything, just pay me back before you take off, ok?" he nudged me with a wink, and I blushed while I slipped my hand behind my head.

Suddenly, the door slammed open again. Gardevoir and Delphox surged in.

"Please, not the door…!" moaned Swampert.

"Sorry," Gardevoir apologized. "Greninja, Chesnaught and Lilligant came back. Come on! We need to get you two your clothes!"

"T-They're back?" I stammered. "B-But…I can't let Chesnaught—"

"Samurott's already paying for it, just let him hang onto it until we get back to the castle," advised Typhlosion.

"Ah, that's brilliant!" I beamed. "Thanks again, Typhlosion!"

"Keep that up, and you're going to start owing me back too," he teased.

"Tally it up later, come on," Delphox dragged us out after Gardevoir.

Chesnaught and Lilligant turned as we poured back out into the streets and waved to us. I waved back, but stared at a bag that Lilligant tied around her arm.

"So, now where to?" she asked.

"They need clothes!" Gardevoir pointed at Chesnaught and I.

"Wait, they haven't bought them yet?" questioned Lilligant. "Isn't this a little late?"

"I know, right?" agreed Gardevoir.

"Well, you can waste more time complaining over it, or take them over there already," chimed in Typhlosion.

"Fair point," relented Gardevoir and held her hand up.

"Oh, wait, Gardevoir, no…!" protested Delphox, to no avail.

Gardevoir flicked her hand and telekinetically dragged us all along after her, just as Samurott walked out of the store.

"Guys?"

With her free hand, she jerked it forward and had Samurott sail through the air, catching him before he hit the ground and dragged him along with the rest of us.

"Why, Gardevoir, why?" moaned Delphox.

She hummed and skipped happily down the street until she spotted the clothing shop. Excitedly, she ran forward to the door and dragged us along after her, only for each of us to crash and blockade the entrance.

"Oops," Gardevoir giggled and waved her hands to release us into a pile on the steps to the building. "Well, we're here!"

"Gardevoir?" Typhlosion groaned.

"Yes?"

"You're one of those mages that displays limited regard to other living beings," he asserted as he picked himself up from the rest of us.

"Hey, you just might be onto something!" she agreed. "So, maybe you should keep that opinion to yourself, or I'll demonstrate how little regard I have!"

"Excuse me, darling, but I'd prefer it if you and your friends would quit blocking the doorway to this magnificent venue meagerly called a shop."

The rest of us picked ourselves us and I gazed into the cream colored store. Dresses and suits of all sorts of shades and styles lined the walls just about everywhere. Two merchants leaned against a nearby wall of clothing, eyeing us carefully, albeit…sort of distastefully?

"Hi Jynx, Hitmonchan," Chesnaught greeted.

"Ah, yes, the muscular knight from before," the Hitmonchan smiled and ran his gloved hand across the opposite arm. "Welcome back to 'Simply Chic,' darling."

"You…bought those…from here?" I suspiciously asked.

"But of course, darling," the Jynx flipped her long blonde hair. "There's nowhere better to buy the latest and greatest in fashion, always à la mode. Here? You see the future."

"It's true," chimed in Hitmonchan. "Truly, we are visionaries beyond even our time."

"…Wow, you weren't kidding," I whispered to Chesnaught.

"Don't speak softly, darling," commanded Jynx. "It simply does not suit you, nor will you be heard."

"Uh—"

"No empty words either, please," waved Hitmonchan. "You simply cannot be the one that strapping knight bought those swimsuits for."

"And why not?!" I snapped as my face flared up, with both embarrassment and rage.

"See? Louder, much better, darling," Jynx lightly laughed.

"Now, which among you are looking to make a purchase?" inquired Hitmonchan.

"Just us," Chesnaught wrapped his hand around mine and pulled me forward. He flashed me a smile and I let my shoulders drop down.

"No hand holding," Hitmonchan interrupted and knocked our hands apart. "We're looking to move quickly and get you two looking stunning and fabulous for whatever occasion you've come for."

I glanced back at my friends, who stood awed and in silence…sans Gardevoir, who was bursting in a fit of giggles.

"They're not here for dressing, just you, darling," Jynx pulled me forward and guided me deeper into the store, following Hitmonchan and Chesnaught. "Now, you two are dating, yes? Wonderful," she…assessed more than congratulated or cheered.

"Couples outfits are a specialty of ours," chimed in Hitmonchan. "But, of course, almost everything in fashion is."

"What isn't?" I bitingly asked.

"Most likely disparaging things we simply do not address," asserted Jynx as she lifted my arm, then leaned over, and picked up one of my legs.

"Hey!" I cried out as I stumbled, but she put it back down without much other thoughts and continued walking, forcing me with her.

"Yes, I believe blue is simply the greatest color that he has to offer, so we'll be sure to make that stand out with the tailcoat and trousers," noted Jynx. "The shirt should be something brighter, perhaps cream, though white is also doable. Tie should be red to match the eyes, and in case it is visible under the tongue."

"Mm, blue and green should go well enough, together," agreed Hitmonchan. "But more of a forest green for this one, and definitely a white shirt. And something that definitely hugs the figures to make them both appealing to one another, and to earn envious admiration from the audience around them, naturally."

"With flowing tailcoats to put even dresses to shame?" checked Jynx.

"Nothing less, of course," reaffirmed Hitmonchan.

"Marvelous, darling," laughed Jynx. "But of course, we only craft perfection."

"Absolutely, darling," chuckled Hitmonchan. "Such less and we wouldn't be here."

They then shoved Chesnaught and I aside and quickly zipped around to gather clothing for us. Jynx froze part of the wall, and held some of the clothes against us, looking back and forth between the reflection and us, but obscuring our view.

"This will be perfect, naturally," Jynx took the clothes away and Hitmonchan threw a punch to shatter the ice.

He then helped her box the clothes up, while I shot Chesnaught a perplexed face. Calmly, my knight shrugged and smiled to reassure me.

"We…didn't even see the clothes," I deadpanned.

"You have no need to see them now, darling," stated Hitmonchan.

"Indeed, they will be absolutely perfect once you take them out and wear them for the first time," explained Jynx.

"No, you two made a mistake on my size with the swimsuit," I asserted.

They paused, appeared taken aback, exchanged expressions, and then laughed.

"We never make mistakes, darling," the two informed me simultaneously.

"…Chesnaught…" I grumbled.

"What? I confessed to you before!" he grinned. Though he had, I was more irritated about not throwing our merchants off.

Jynx took the clothes to the counter while Hitmonchan dragged us over. She rang up the prices and bagged the clothes as Hitmonchan placed us before her, and I glared as he lingered before he let go of Chesnaught.

"Your total is 32000 Poké," informed Jynx. "…Or 320 Gold Bars."

"Wait, what?!" exclaimed Chesnaught while my eyes fired open. "The swimsuits weren't that pricey!"

"Darling, please, that's unbecoming," chastised Hitmonchan as he joined Jynx on the other side.

"Oh, I got it!" laughed Gardevoir. "They have the highest prices here, but they're great, really." She handed over the gold bars and tossed the clothing bags into our hands. "You two can pay me back later. You're welcome!"

She strolled back over to the others, who stared vacantly into the store.

"Ah, yes, perfect," Hitmonchan nodded as he counted the gold.

"Splendid indeed," agreed Jynx. "Thank you both for shopping with us. Though, your other choices were simply subpar, so really, there was no better option."

"Naturally," they chimed in together. "Have a marvelous evening!"

"Thank you!" Chesnaught smiled.

"Yeah…thanks," I forced out with my own smile.

Everyone poured out of the store and we returned to the street.

"That…that was the strangest shopping experience I think I've ever had," I confessed.

"That was the strangest one I think I've ever witnessed," laughed Samurott.

"They are pretty…well, they can be glib," agreed Gardevoir. "But, they are simply the best!"

"I can't argue with that," Chesnaught added in.

"So…now what?" asked Lilligant.

"Food might be nice," suggested Delphox.

"Oh, yes, I second that," Typhlosion concurred.

"Ok, food it is!" Gardevoir cheered. "Everyone, off we go!"

Delphox's eyes widened. "Wait, Gardevoir, don't—!"

Before he could even finish the thought, let alone get it out, Gardevoir flipped her hands and telekinetically hauled us after her, back through the streets.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

It's funny how the ballroom isn't used frequently during the warmer seasons, considering how spacious it is, and works well for sparring sessions. Regardless, the knights worked about it now, as we set up various tables along the sides and pinned up decorations along the beige walls. Purple, green, and gold streamers dangled from the ceiling, while confetti filled balls were ready to be pulled open during the night. The middle was left open for dancing and socializing, but there were some seats lined up on the sides as well.

Most of the time, I worked away from the other knights, who were clearly avoiding me. Anyone else to alleviate the tension was currently occupied, sans General Rhydon; Samurott and Typhlosion were off getting the food for the night, while Greninja and Accelgor were out training.

"Right here should be good." The General and I carefully placed down another wooden table. "Perfect. Heracross?"

Silently, Heracross placed down the tablecloth, and then took off without another word. General Rhydon shook his head while I shrugged and smoothed out the cover.

"This kind of stubbornness over romantic inclinations?" The General gazed at the group finishing across the room, as they glanced at us before hurrying out. "Did I give them permission to leave?"

"Honestly, Sir, I'm surprised they stayed here this long." He shot me an annoyed look as I shrugged again, and he let out a heavy sigh.

"And here I thought the orchestra would be the only nuisance to deal with."

"Orchestra? Why would they cause an issue?"

General Rhydon bit his lip before explaining. "It's the Shining Summit players."

"Summit?" I blinked and raised a brow in confusion. "Are they from the Great Mountains Kingdom?"

"Queendom, actually," the General corrected. "Though it's been like that for a while, a lot of history texts referred to it as the kingdom, mistakenly. Gives us a bit of a laugh, but they'll gut you for it over there."

"Yikes. But, why are they coming to play here? They're not like the Empire; they're more hostile around us."

"A bit, true, but not totally." General Rhydon shrugged. "They do have a beautiful orchestra, in spite of its small number. Less than ten of them, but they still play the most enchanting music, rivaling any other major group out there."

I scratched the side of my head. "Those are awfully nice compliments."

"They're certainly worthy of it!"

"…Our King got them specifically for you, didn't he?" My eyes narrowed accusingly.

"W-What? No!" General Rhydon turned his flushed face away from me. "Either way, they have agreed not to instigate anything tonight, and we're paying them handsomely for it, so everything should be fine. Hopefully."

"They'd better be worth the risk of a premature war," I deadpanned.

"Don't be silly; everything will be just fine."

"Famous last words?"

A smile curved onto my lips the second I heard his voice. We turned to see Greninja walk into the ballroom. He looked around at the setup, impressed with it all.

"You guys did a great job!" Greninja congratulated.

"Thanks!" He came up and I hugged him into my side. "Finished training?"

"For now." Greninja sighed. "We must have been out there all morning."

"You were." Rhydon paused and glanced out the window. The sky was bright and sunny. "It's afternoon already. The ball begins in just a few hours."

"Does it really?" Greninja murmured. "I'm already exhausted as it is."

"Then go rest up for a bit." I nudged him to go back outside. "This goes late into the night."

"Yes, I remember." He laughed and waved as he stepped back out of the room.

I turned back to the General, who grinned at me. "To think, you weren't sure if you liked him two months ago."

"Not true. I almost always liked Greninja, not long after his arrival."

"Is that right?" He teased. "What happened to, 'honestly, sir, I hardly know him,' and all of that other nonsense you spat at me?"

"Well it was true!" I defended. "Back then, anyway. And now—"

"You two can't stand to be separated." General Rhydon smiled and rested his hand on my shoulder. "I'm glad you found each other."

Blushing, I smiled back and nodded. "Thank you. After all, you and the king—"

"No, no, don't credit us," he asserted. "We just pushed you. Getting together was just the two you." He smiled again, but cleared his throat right after. "Now, come on, let's finish the preparations already!"

He hurried back around the ballroom, and I followed him, waiting for my next orders.


 

[Greninja]

Night came and the castle was filled with many others walking in and around. I had disappeared into my room to change, glad to avoid the crowds pour in.

On my bed sat my box of clothes from "Simply Chic." Rolling my eyes, I opened it up and slowly took the clothes out. The trousers were a dark blue, as was the tailcoat. I held it up and watched the back of it trail down near the floor, much longer than the usual ones were. Placing it down, I studied the brighter and darker blue designs woven into it, which seemed wavy, and shook my head.

"These will be ridiculous."

Chuckling, I picked up the light cream, almost white, colored shirt. I slipped it on and straightened it as I slipped the pants on over its hem, tucking in the bits that puffed out. Once I finished fixing them, I took out a black belt, tossing it around my trousers to keep them in place. Under my tongue, I slipped the tie on, fashioning it around the shirt. It probably wouldn't be visible under my tongue, but I figured I might as well wear it once. Lastly, I lifted my arms through the tailcoat and let it drape down behind me.

In spite of my misgivings, I had to admit, the clothes fit practically perfectly.

With a heavy sigh, I dug Chesnaught's gift out from my wardrobe and tucked it into my tailcoat's inner pocket. Then, I opened the door and walked out, back to the main hall.

Surprisingly, there were no guests that bustled past me, and I searched to find someone else stride through the hall. I walked partway down the left staircase to check the lower part of the main hall, but aside from Golurk's figure outside, there was no one to be found.

"Wow, you look fantastic, Greninja!"

Turning, my mouth dropped open a bit as Chesnaught walked down some steps. His outfit was similar to mine, but with different colors and sizes to fit him. His dark forest green trousers went down to his feet, snug over his legs. My eyes wandered up at the white shirt he had tucked into them, kept in place with a brown belt. There was a bright red tie right down the middle of Chesnaught's chest, perhaps to match mine. However, he also wore a light pink ruff near his neck, which almost mimicked my tongue scarf. While his tailcoat was partially under his shell, the bottom went down to his legs, just above the floor like mine. While he stepped down, it swayed just a bit, with various shades of brighter and darker greens woven into it.

Chesnaught stopped a few steps down and tilted his head, as he looked me over. "Are…are you all right?"

My face burned, but I didn't even consider looking away from him. "Fine." My voice was distant and I remained fixated on Chesnaught. "You look spectacular."

He blushed deeply and scratched behind his head. "Aw, come on. You're going to make me redder than my tie and we haven't even walked in yet." He jumped and pulled a small blue box from his jacket. "Speaking of, I don't want to forget to give you this."

"Ah, right." I dug out the green case and passed it to him, as he handed me the box. He lowered his hand just before I opened it, causing me to pause. "Aren't you going to open yours too?"

"Yeah, but I want to see you open that first."

Chesnaught smiled and watched me as I slowly opened the box. Inside was a droplet shaped pendant, with a light blue, almost clear, case around the dark blue water that swished within it. Gently, I took it out as Chesnaught took the box from me and stuffed it into my coat.

"This is…Mystic Water?" I gazed at the pendant as it dangled by the thin necklace that held it up.

"Yep! I wanted to make sure you got something that looked great for tonight, and something that you could carry around…well, whenever, I suppose." He helped me put it around my neck, gently bringing it under my tongue as I held it up. The lace was soft, to the point where I barely felt it against my neck, let alone under my tongue. Chesnaught scratched tenderly under my chin before he pulled his hands away, grinning as he did so. "Now you're all set!"

"Thank you." I kissed him right on the lips, pulling his face into mine. However, I broke away from him and held up his hand again, forcing the green case up. "Your turn, let's go."

"Ah, ok." He opened it and let the Miracle Seed slide out onto his hand. It sparkled from the lights as he observed it, grinning again. "Miracle Seed! Perfect pick, you matched our gifts!"

"Happy coincidence," I giggled and took it from him. There was a short pocket on his chest, and I gently stuffed the gem in. It was a tight fit and stuck out a bit, which meant it wasn't likely to slide out. "There we go."

He cupped his hands over mine and I looked up as his eyes lowered. "Thank you."

Before I could respond, he planted a kiss right on my lip and tongue, rubbing my hands with his. I pushed into him and nudged for his tongue, which he slipped across mine. Softly, I moaned as his tongue came back around on my lip and retreated back to his mouth. What was too soon for me, we broke apart, panting.

"And we still haven't even walked in yet." I chuckled.

"Ooh, right. Let's go line up!"

"Line up?"

"Yeah, Nidoking will call us in and we'll process in with the other knights and their dates."

"W-Wait, what? And everyone watches us walk in?"

"Um, yep, guess so!"

He hurried me back up the stairs and we dashed over through the halls and to the ballroom. The knights and their dates were already at the door, with a few walking in already. Escavalier and Accelgor were at the back of the line, turning as we approached.

"Just in time, lads!" Escavalier laughed.

"Oh, Greninja, you two look great!" Accelgor gently squeezed my hand. "Hope you two have a lovely night."

"Thank you, Accelgor. Same to the both of you!"

They nodded and turned back around to follow Armaldo and Blissey inside. Chesnaught and I exchanged nervous smiles as we wrapped our arms together and followed them.

Clapping sounded and I could barely scan the audience around us, catching a glimpse of Blaziken and Swampert as we walked in. A green lizard with a bushy tail stood near them as well, but I lost track of them as we continued inside. At the front of the crowd stood Jynx and Hitmonchan, who clapped especially loud once they caught Chesnaught and I.

"Marvelous, they look simply marvelous!" I heard Jynx call out.

"But of course, they'd get no less from us!" Hitmonchan agreed.

Shaking my head slightly, I glanced around and spotted the orchestra on a slightly elevated stage. I wasn't able to identify them though, as we continued into the ballroom and lined up again, this time in front of Nidoking, who clapped from his throne on the other raised platform.

"Let's give another round of applause for these esteemed knights! And again, welcome, to the Parting Summer's Ball!"

The ballroom vibrated from the ovation that erupted around us. I joined in and clapped as Chesnaught blushed.

Soon, the knights dispersed and the crowd moved in, with all sorts of conversation already buzzing about.

However, Nidoking called out for attention again, and the banter slowly died down. He raised his arm and gestured toward the doors.

"From the Great Mountains Queendom, please welcome Ladies Leavanny, Audino, Ledian, and Lords Feraligatr, Krookodile, and Aggron, the Shining Summit players!"

Clapping sounded as the players strode in. Scizor walked by, cut between Chesnaught and I, and made a point to bump into me as he passed. Though I glared, my eyes caught Chesnaught tighten his hand into a fist and raised it up. Quickly, I stepped in front of him and grabbed his hand, acting as if we were readying to dance.

"Calm down," I hissed.

"No, that was totally uncalled for."

"It's no different from what happened in town the other day."

"Yes it is," Chesnaught grumbled. "Unlike townsfolk, I can teach a fellow knight a hard lesson in etiquette."

"He's just annoyed that we can actually enjoy ourselves." I smiled and lowered our hands. "So, let's not give him the satisfaction of ruining that."

With a deep breath in and out, Chesnaught nodded as I guided him toward the dance floor. I took a minute to study the stage, and the Shining Summit players on it. They were a very small group for an orchestra, with only six of them up there. Krookodile moved behind a timpani, while Ledian slid past him and over to a large harp. Feraligatr, Aggron, and Audino sat in front of them, with a violin, trumpet, and flute respectively. Leavanny held an ocarina, with her leafy hands tangled covering the holes while she held the instrument within her mouth and bottom ends of the leaves. Word fired around from the crowd that the first song would be a waltz.

"She can play like that?" I quietly asked Chesnaught.

"Apparently. I can't even play a simple tune with any of those." We laughed.

Softly, the music started. Chesnaught held his hand out and I took it as he guided me forward. We stepped out with the other couples and stood facing one another. He bowed to me first, and then I to him.

As the music began to pick up, we stepped closer to one another, as he lifted my right hand with his left. He cupped his right arm around my waist while my left arm went over his shoulder.

We swayed a bit before the music picked up its pace again, to which we moved together in a small box formation. He stepped toward me as I stepped back, we slid parallel with one another, and then I moved to him as he backed away. The music continued and we repeated this for a bit.

Chesnaught would go back and forth between checking his steps and gazing into my eyes. Though I had to watch my movements a bit as well, I spent more time watching Chesnaught, with a smile stuck on my face.

The orchestra grew louder and the melody carried on. Couples began to move along and danced around the floor. Quickly, Chesnaught and I followed, with just a bit of a stumble from him. We moved about in an almost circular fashion, tailcoats rising up a bit, and danced around one another as the groups continued to step onward.

Several soft gasps sounded around us. At first, I thought to pay them no mind, keeping my eyes focused on either Chesnaught or our steps. But then clapping came with the gasps and I let my gaze stray to the onlookers. Eyes on us, naturally. However, it wasn't quite what I was expecting; they seemed awed, not repulsed, by the two of us.

Our movements sped up, Chesnaught grinned as he looked around, and then I realized it. Our tailcoats spun around much higher now, and together, seemed to portray a flashing image of a riverbank, with his green designs making the grass and leaves, while my blue patterns created the running waves of the water.

"Told you they were visionaries!" Chesnaught laughed as we continued and my smile broadened.

Again, we spun about and swayed, stepping around as the music continued. The murmuring continued and I checked again to see people nudge one another and point to us. We beamed to one another as the music slowed for the end of the song. Chesnaught spun around and straightened his arm to hold me in place as I spun away from him. I twirled back into him and he dipped me down as the music reaching a crescendo and ended.

The onlookers applauded as Chesnaught pulled me back up and into him. He smiled while he rubbed my back and I stroked his face.

"Mind if I cut in?"

We turned to find Samurott and Lilligant standing nearby. The samurai, dressed in a nice blue outfit, stepped over by me, while Lilligant grabbed Chesnaught's arm with one hand. Her other leafy hand brushed her large pink dress, which had small red petals adorned on it.

"Would you mind if I stole Chesnaught for a bit, Greninja?" Lilligant asked. "I was hoping to spend a little time with him at the ball."

"Um, sure, I suppose." I nodded and scratched the back of my head, but nibbled on my tongue.

"If you'd like, I could take his place, for a bit," offered Samurott. "My date wandered off, so I haven't had a chance to dance yet."

"Oh? Well, yeah, ok then."

Chesnaught hesitated to let me go, but smiled and mouthed his thanks to me. Lilligant then dragged him off and I watched as he disappeared into the crowd. Right after that, I turned to Samurott, as the next song started up.

"So, shall we?"

"We shall!"

Samurott took my hands into his as the music started. It seemed like a slower waltz than before, as we pulled away from one another and then stepped back together. He lifted one hand away with mine, while releasing the other and bringing his arm around my waist. I placed mine around his back as we stepped around with one another in a circle.

His legs drew close to mine, and I had to step around them to keep moving, causing our thighs to slide against one another.

"Sorry," I whispered.

"About what?" Samurott grinned.

Confused, I continued to move with him. For a moment, only the timpani and the violin played, as Samurott released me into a twirl. I spun for a bit and rolled back to him, grabbing his back tightly to keep my balance. Though my heart raced from what I thought were blunders, along with a bulky audience watching us, Samurott's breathing was even and his smile ever present. The trumpet sounded and the other instruments rejoined as he backed away from me. I advanced my steps to him and we synchronized until our hands met again.

The music shifted a bit to an allemande rhythm as we twisted around one another's arms and then back to each other. Samurott brought up our hands and we stepped around in a circle. He smiled as he watched me and we made it back around before raising our other arms and moving in the opposite direction.

It shifted back into the slow and tender music from before, with the violin taking a moment to play alone before being joined by the rest. Samurott and I stepped around with slow steps, toward the center of the floor, and then back out again. Though our thighs continued to cross, he didn't seem to mind, and even made movements that seemed to intentionally bring us together. Our eyes kept meeting as we went, with his having some kind of fire or excitement behind them. My cheeks grew warm as I tried to look away from him, only to burn up from the crowd around.

"Why is everyone still staring at us?"

"It's not us." Samurott smiled as he let me go for a spin, and then pulled me in close. "They're staring at you."

"Oh, well, that's a great way to take off the pressure," I deadpanned. "Thanks for that."

"My apologies, but it's true." He sighed and shook his head softly. "Just…you're a standout, truly. Eye catching, and eye pleasing. You look gorgeous, if I may say so."

My face burned and we slowed to a stop with the music. Samurott pulled my hands away from him, but didn't let them go. I searched his eyes, and there was something about how he looked at me that was familiar. We stood so close that I could almost hear his hear hammer, but I don't know if it was from the dancing or…

"Samurott!" He lifted his head and we looked behind him to find Typhlosion hurry over to us. His eyes seemed panicked, and his pleas quite desperate. "Samurott, please, help me."

"With…?"

"Avoiding the worst mistake I've made in ages."

"Typhlosion!" We cringed at Lopunny's sharp voice snapping out above the crowd. "Wherever you are, I will find you and tear you apart!"

"What did you do?" Samurott hissed.

"It's not what I did! …Well, not entirely." Typhlosion snatched Samurott's hand and tugged. "Please, please help me!"

"Fine, just…go that way, and I'll follow you."

"Thank you!"

Typhlosion nodded and hastily shoved his way through the crowd. Samurott let out a heavy sigh and glanced back at me. Slowly, he dropped my hands from his.

"Guess I'll see you later." He chuckled and turned to walk away, but I grabbed his shoulder.

"Samurott, wait." He stopped and turned back to me. "What you…before, about you complimenting me, that—"

"It's just the truth." He smirked. "Chesnaught will always tell you how fantastic you seem, but you should hear it from others once in a while."

Something about his word choice was kind, yet teetered between careful and reckless. "Samurott, do you—?"

"I've got to run, before Typhlosion dies prematurely." He forced out a laugh and turned away from me. "Go find Chesnaught; I'm sure he needs you back by now."

Leaving me with half a dozen unanswered questions, Samurott disappeared into the crowd, following Typhlosion's direction. I turned around, only to have Lopunny pop through the crowd and in front of me. She wore what was meant to be a thin and sleeveless white dress, which didn't go too far past her knees. It was, however, given a large, charred black spot right in the middle of it. She glared and marched right up to me, teeth bared.

"Where…is…Typhlosion?" Lopunny growled with every syllable.

"Ah, not sure. My friend went to go find him, though." I pointed in a direction away from the path they took. "Somewhere that way, I think."

She brushed past me and darted through the crowd. Though I was curious to see the resolution, I shook my head and began to search around for Chesnaught.


 

[Chesnaught]

Lilligant tugged me over to the food table, where several folks were taking plates. I eyed a dish of berries, but she pulled me along the table. Just barely, I caught Heracross gawking at me as he fumbled with a plate.

"So, who did you come with?" I asked to take my mind off of the food we passed up.

"The fox mage himself: Delphox."

"Wait, what? Him?"

"Don't sound so surprised. He's actually quite nice…when he's not berating the world around him." Lilligant paused and added, "It's also unhelpful that he wore bright purple robes that rival my dress."

She pulled me along and we found Delphox as he took a bowl of berries and chomped down on them before noticing us and waving.

"Want any?" Delphox offered to Lilligant.

"No, thank you." She rubbed her stomach. "I've had more than enough."

Just as he shifted the bowl to me, someone jumped into me and wrapped me in a tight hug.

"Chesnaught!" Gardevoir cheered as she pulled away. "Oh, you look so cute! Handsome too, of course." I gave her a smile and nodded, but hungrily glanced as Delphox continued to scarf down berries. "Gallade, over here!"

Earl Gallade appeared from a large crowd of followers, who excitedly cheered and clamored around him. Gardevoir dragged him away from them and winked at their protests. Delphox pulled out his wand and created a barrier to push people away.

"So!" Gardevoir clapped her hands together. "How's everyone so far? And…where's Greninja?"

"Oh, I pulled Chesnaught away while Samurott took a minute to dance with Greninja," explained Lilligant.

"Huh. You're not jealous of that, Chesnaught?" Gallade inquired.

Jealous? "Why would I be?"

"Well, I would, if someone swept Gardevoir away from me." Gallade shook his head. "But, you guys are all friends, so that's silly."

"Aw, Gallade's a jelly belly!" Gardevoir teased as she wrapped her arms around him.

Quietly, he stammered, "Uh, um…well…yes." She giggled and kissed him lightly on the cheek, turning his face red.

"Such a cute couple." Delphox mocked the pair and finished his bowl of berries. My mouth tightened to keep the drool from sliding out.

"Apparently, that's the buzz about you, Chesnaught," Gardevoir poked my arm and winked. "You and your cutie of a boyfriend, that is."

"Us?" My eyebrows rose. "Why?"

"After that waltz with your tailcoats, the pretty mix into a riverside, how could they not?" She laughed as my cheeks fired up a bit. "Honestly, people were whispering about how nicely you two matched when you walked in, but now I hear your names getting tossed around with mine and Gallade's!"

"Apparently, we're a popular couple." Gallade scratched the back of his head, still flushed.

"Can't imagine why." Delphox snickered, to which Gardevoir elbowed him.

"Well, it's about time everyone stopped ridiculing Chesnaught and Greninja," Lilligant piped in. "For two months too many, I've heard so much silly nonsense at their expense and I've grown sick of it."

"Just because some folks are starting with nice words doesn't mean everyone will," I reminded her.

"Better a start than nothing at all," she insisted, and I couldn't argue.

"Gallade and I were off dancing as well, but people swarmed in to gush over him," laughed Gardevoir.

"Me? What about you?" The Earl questioned. "How many guys came over and begged you to at least wave at them?"

"Popular couples are the worst," teased Delphox, who earned dark glares from both Gardevoir and Gallade.

"At least all of you danced!" Lilligant laughed. "We've been stuck waiting for food and now I'm too full to spin around!"

"Well, when you're ready, we'll dance," offered Delphox. "But first…I'm eating more berries."

Out of nowhere, the bowl was lit in a light blue aura and lifted from Delphox's hands. He rolled his eyes as it spun around before him, but I realized that it wasn't any of the other Psychic types with us now. I exchanged confused expressions with Lilligant and we turned to see Gardevoir and Gallade staring with awe behind us.

"And that would be my new acquaintance, Alakazam," he introduced, and snatched the bowl back as we turned around.

Before me stood a yellow and brown fellow, wearing a blue cloak over the rest of his body. He held a pair of spoons in his hand, though he didn't appear to have used them for food. A long yellow mustache trailed from his long face. Nothing about him seemed too threatening, but Psychic types made me wary all the same.

"Ah, you're Chesnaught." I blinked while Alakazam grabbed my hand and shook it. "Pleasure to meet you, I'll be seeing more of you, Delphox here, and…" his eyes lit up in a light blue light and I tingle surged through my mind, "…your boyfriend Greninja, is it? Yes." With that, Alakazam's eyes returned to their normal dark color. "Well, I'll be seeing the three of you once you come up north. Enjoy your night!"

He strode away from us and vanished within the crowd. Though…if I didn't know any better, I would have assumed he vanished into thin air. But—

"Greninja!"

At Gardevoir's call, I whirled around and watched Greninja walk up to us. His smile broadened upon catching my eyesight and I grinned to match him.

"Aw, look, they do suffer from severe separation anxiety." Delphox teased. Lilligant bopped him, followed by Gardevoir smacking him. "Hey, come on! One of you is fine. But having you two beat me together? That's a bit much."

"Then don't mock them!" Gardevoir snapped and Lilligant nodded.

"What happened to Samurott?" I asked Greninja.

"Well, we danced, but then Typhlosion begged him to run off." Greninja laughed while I tilted my head. He stopped and cleared his throat. "Sorry, bad play on words. Anyway, Typhlosion wanted to get away from Lopunny. I think he burnt her dress."

"See?" Delphox prodded Gardevoir with his staff. "You punched me for it, but I told you! She was a poor choice, and now he gets to pay for it."

"Honestly, I don't think any of us expected that one to end well." Gallade shook his head. "The biggest surprise for everyone was Chesnaught and Greninja, perhaps second only to General Rhydon and the king. But even then, I'm not so sure."

A loud gasp sounded and we turned to find a pink blur zip in front of Greninja and I.

"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!" Blissey clapped her hands together, and then bounced up and down in front of us. "You two had the prettiest display on the dance floor! The colors and the spinning and the image were so perfect!" She spun around and shook Armaldo by the shoulders. "Why didn't we get to meet with them sooner?!"

"S-Sorry, L-Lady B-Blissey." Armaldo clicked his claws together.

There was a dark side of my mind that really wanted to call him out on avoiding us for the past two months, but I held back on it. Looking at Greninja, I noticed the same thought went through his head, as he lightly chuckled while glancing at me.

"Well, at least we got to meet at all!" Blissey laughed. "I'd probably smash an egg if I didn't meet the two of you after that performance." Everyone's mouths dropped open as we shared horrified looks for Blissey. "…Did I say something wrong?"

"Mama?"

Blissey gazed down and noticed a small purple kangaroo-like baby at her feet. "Hi there!" The child yelped out and ran under the table. "Oops."

"Hey there, don't be scared!" I crawled down on my hands and knees, lifting the tablecloth up to see the baby nervously look back at me. Slowly, I lifted my hand for her to watch. "We won't hurt you. Come on out." Calmly, I opened my hand and waited for her to take it.

Instead, she giggled and ran out past me. I was about to call out for her when a stream of water popped up from the floor. It spun around in one spot, right in front of the curious baby. She watched it in awe and followed the water as it spun around her. Glancing up, I watched Greninja concentrate and control the stream as it danced around the cheering child. He then used the water to wrap around the baby and slowly lifted her into the air. I stood up as she clapped and floated across along the water. Realizing that she was coming over to me, I held my arms out as the water splashed away and the baby dropped in.

She gazed up at me curiously and I smiled. "Hello there," I playfully whispered. She clapped her hands again and loudly giggled. My friends clapped as I gently rocked her about.

"Goodness me, is that my baby?!"

"Kangaskhan…!"

Her mother, a much larger brown version of the baby, came charging over to us. Behind her was Bisharp. Smiling to Kangaskhan, I handed her baby over, to which she gently took from me and bounced her a little.

"Oh, what were you doing out?" Kangaskhan held her baby up as the child giggled at her mother. "Yes, you think it's all fun and games to give Mama a heart attack, don't you? Back in you go."

The baby yawned as Kangaskhan gently placed her within her pouch, just below her jasmine dressy top.

She looked up at me and smiled. "Thank you so much for finding her. I hadn't even realized that she followed me out. She was supposed to stay home with her sitter while I came here tonight, and I wouldn't have even known if I didn't hear her."

"You're welcome, milady." I bowed gently to her. "I also had some help from my friends." She turned to look at the others, who pointed to Greninja. "Um…especially my boyfriend."

"Ah, thank you so much." She took Greninja's arm and shook it, then did the same for mine, with a tight grip and a rough handshake. "You two might make wonderful parents someday, if you want to." My face flushed as I exchanged embarrassed expressions with Greninja, his face redder than mine.

"Perhaps?" I nervously laughed and scratched the back of my head. "Though, I'm not sure what it'd be like to have a child as a knight, let alone—"

"Knight? Oh my, are you one of them?"

"Me? Yes."

"Oh, listen to me, foolishly carrying on about…!" She shook her head, as her cheeks grew a bit pink. "Bisharp, why didn't you tell me about this fellow?"

"I was in the middle of it." Bisharp rubbed his hands together, but I wasn't sure whether to believe him or not. To think that my own friend wouldn't mention me in passing, let alone the fact that he used to be my closest pal before I started dating Greninja. There was a little bit of guilt in his eyes as he caught mine, and quickly looked down at the floor. "Would you like to, uh, go back home, Kangaskhan?"

"No, I've got her, so she'll be fine now." Kangaskhan patted her pouch softly. "What you should do is actually introduce me to the rest of the knights."

"Yes, right." A little too quickly, he guided her away from us, not even waving with his date as they took off.

My head dropped down a bit and I stared at the floor in front of me. Greninja suddenly grabbed my hand and lifted my face back up.

"Are you ready to come back out dancing with me?" He smiled as his hand caressed mine. I nodded as his other hand gently scratched under my chin. "Good!"

"Ooh, let's go with them, Gallade!" Gardevoir cheered and tugged Gallade as we moved to go dancing again.

For a moment, I paused to see if Lilligant was coming with us, and checked back. She nodded and waved me on, while Delphox mindlessly stared at Blissey, who was talking quickly to both of them. I laughed as Greninja pulled me forward again.


 

[Greninja]

The four of us hurried onto the dance floor as the orchestra started a lively tune, with a bouncy beat to it.

"This will be so much fun!" Gardevoir clapped.

We lined up, with Chesnaught next to me, and Gardevoir across. Our group watched the others grab hands and jumped around in a circle. We shrugged, linked hands together, and followed, swinging one another quickly around.

"This seems so ridiculous," Gallade called as we hopped around.

"Are you joking? It's so liberating!" Gardevoir squealed.

Everyone slowed to a stop as the ocarina and flute took over. Again, we turned and watched as groups skipped to change places with one another. Chesnaught raised an eyebrow at it, but I turned and skipped around with Gardevoir to switch positions. We then watched and laughed as Chesnaught and Gallade did the same.

Abruptly, the music picked up again and we spun around in a circle, swinging quickly once more. Something about it made me burst out laughing, to which Gardevoir joined in, then Chesnaught, and after a minute, Gallade caved. Most of the music stopped again, with the flute and ocarina taking over.

The other four players stepped away from their instruments and clapped to keep a beat between the music. Following them, everyone broke apart and clapped as directed by the orchestra players. This lasted for a good half a minute before the players returned to all four instruments playing for a bit.

It didn't last, however, as the trumpeter and violinist began to play alone together. We followed the crowd as they turned to face their partners and looped around with their hands linked together. Chesnaught held his hands out and we slowly managed one turn around, with my arms feeling as though they might have broken off backwards. Gardevoir and Gallade, meanwhile, turn about twice. Shrugging, Chesnaught held up his arm and I twirled around beneath him.

After that, the timpanist pounded a few notes out, and then stopped as the harpist played a slow and soothing melody. The pairs came together and slowly moved around in a circle with their partners, rocking around as they did so. I smiled as we mirrored the group and easily kept up with the steps. Sighing, I leaned into Chesnaught and he grinned as we swayed.

It ended quickly to the high notes of the flutist, and the others joined in again for the lively beat. The tempo quickened and we spun and swung around with one another once more. We slipped apart and Gardevoir pulled me one way while Gallade and Chesnaught walked another. Laughing, we kicked out with one foot, then the next, and swung each other around again. Gardevoir then snatched my hands and we moved them back and forth as she got closer to me. Her grin helped me laugh harder and we began to walk in a circle, to watch as Chesnaught and Gallade awkwardly tried to keep up with the motions as well. Quickly, the trumpeter played off a few notes on his own, and then with the others joining in right after, as the silly song finally came to its end.

"That was the best ever!" Gardevoir cheered as everyone clapped. "And…now I'm hungry. Gallade, come!"

"W-What?" Before he could comprehend what was happening, Gardevoir snatched him and dragged him back away from the dance floor, happily waving to us as she went.

"Honestly, that was the strangest dance I've ever done," Chesnaught decided. I laughed and nodded in agreement.

Slowly, the Shining Summit put their instruments down and stood up, walking to the front of the stage together. Leavanny blew her leaf and the six hummed together. Their soft melody was enough to get several couples together as they swayed around.

"All vocals, I think." Chesnaught assessed as he watched the group. "Want to listen?"

"Sure, but let's join the others." I wrapped my left arm around his shoulder and my right around his waist. Chesnaught mimicked me and we swayed around with the other couples.

Soon, softly, the ladies began to sing:

High upon the mountains, she lived,

Fierce as the howling wind could be,

They sought to keep caged within,

But she'd rise until she'd reign free.

They sang it from the mountaintops,

Sent it out o'er the cold wide seas,

Across the scorching desert plains,

And echoed it from the forest's breeze.

"Is that a song about their queen?" I asked.

"Sort of." Chesnaught puffed out his cheek to think for a moment. "It's about each of the queens, actually, dating back to the first one who ruled. General Rhydon explained their history to me earlier today, since I didn't quite understand it."

"Ah, ok." I leaned into him as we rocked around, back and forth.

The lords came up for the next verse:

Several a lords laughed about her,

Did call her a fool right to her face,

'Til she raised their home from war,

And e'er more bowed to her grace.

They sang it from the mountaintops,

Sent it out o'er the cold wide seas,

Across the scorching desert plains,

And echoed it from the forest's breeze.

Chesnaught and I swayed about, still listening to the song. "It's powerful, if not a bit daunting," I decided.

"Yep, that's probably the point," he agreed as he massaged my shoulder. We held tight to one another and spun about in a circle, and then two, enough to elicit a few murmurs about the colors from around us.

Together, as a chorus, they sang the last part together:

Many a foe did try to take her life,

Many a lord begged for a royal wife,

Nay, she gave them all none but one,

Guarding her home, 'til she was done.

So sing it from the mountaintops,

Send it out o'er the cold wide seas,

Across the scorching desert plains,

And echo it from the forest's breeze.

Let her glory ring, across these lands!

Amen to all and now let her glory ring.

Carrying out the last couple of words, the group finished their lyrics, and garnered a warm applause from everyone, Chesnaught and I included. The Shining Summit bowed together and returned to their instruments.

"My, that was magnificent."

Chesnaught and I turned to see Nidoking, who appeared to be wearing his usual uniform, but with a red cape instead of the usual green one. He flashed us a smile, but seemed occupied with observing the party around us. For once, I believed that this was the king acting…nervous.

"Are you enjoying the night, your majesty?" I asked and laughed, hoping to get his attention with a title.

"Yes, very much so." Nidoking inhaled deeply and slowly exhaled. "There's just…one last thing on my agenda that I'd like to take care of, specifically for tonight."

"Which is…?"

"A secret at the moment, but you'll find out shortly."

The king winked and strolled away from us, making his way to the center of the room. Rhydon bustled over, apparently trying to catch up with Nidoking.

"Did he just take off again?" Rhydon questioned, though it was more like a complaint.

"Afraid so, general," confirmed Chesnaught.

"He's been running off on me for the past…I don't know, fifteen, twenty minutes!" Rhydon folded his arms and grumbled. "Just what is he trying to do?"

"Sounds like he's looking to surprise you," I suggested. Rhydon gazed at me and tilted his head.

Before he could discuss it any further with us, Nidoking stepped up on the plateau, in front of his throne. "Attention please! Clear a bit of space just in front of me, if you will."

Slowly, the bulky crowd split open, leaving a wide and semi-circular spot before Nidoking. He swallowed hard and nodded with a smile.

"What is this for?" I whispered to Chesnaught and the general, who exchanged shrugs with one another.

"We have no idea," Chesnaught admitted.

"Quiet, please, I'd like your attention for just a moment." Everyone fell silent and watched Nidoking as he surveyed the gathered audience. "General Rhydon, please step forward."

He glanced back to Chesnaught and I, to which I shot him a reassuring smile. The general seemed a bit tense, and once he snatched my arm to drag me forward with him, I felt his shaking hands. Once he tugged Chesnaught and I to the front of the crowd, Rhydon released us, trudged to the middle alone, and stood at attention in front of Nidoking. The king to a moment to warmly smile at Rhydon, which made him relax a bit, but not completely, as he exhaled a deep breath. Nidoking raised his head and gazed out to everyone, with a quick wink to Chesnaught and I. He cleared his throat.

"Well, I don't want to take up too much time. However, it's impossible to keep it a secret, so…I figure I'll just beat the rumors out the gate this time." He inhaled a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "As many of you know, I went to a dark place after my wife died. It got to the point where a lot of us questioned my right to rule. Only one could bring me out of my stupor." Nidoking smiled as Rhydon's face flushed over. "General Rhydon has gone well above and beyond his duties, performing tasks beyond work for his soldiers, many a time for my own good. He has been by my side since we were young, and has always kept me fit for rule. What I didn't realize at first was that he also knew how to keep me emotionally stable. Beyond that, I hadn't even considered that he had seen me as more than his king."

A few whispers buzzed around while Rhydon raised his shoulders, poorly attempting to hide in plain sight. He was, however, laughing, and occasionally glanced around at the gawking faces in amusement.

"Truthfully, I don't think it's too bold to state that Rhydon helped make me a better king, as well as a better individual. To those that knew that, it was no surprise when he asked to be my date for tonight." A few knights, including Typhlosion and Samurott, cheered out for Rhydon, who laughed again and waved a bit to everyone. "Right, well, I've taken far too much time up here already, so now that you all know where this is going, I might just come out with it. So, I'll take this one final minute to ask my love if he would like to share my throne, as he already shares its burdens, and become my husband."

In spite of us understanding this, everyone still gasped as Nidoking stepped over to Rhydon and knelt down. He opened a small black box and Rhydon beamed broadly, nodding, and allowing Nidoking to clamp an engagement bracelet around his wrist. The general helped his king back up and the two shared a strong, passionate kiss, to which I happily cried out for them, along with a good portion of the party, flooded in gleeful uproars and thunderous applause.

Once it died down, Nidoking laughed and held Rhydon close to him. "Well, I think I've embarrassed him enough for a while. Thank you all! Now, I believe the fireworks will be up soon, so feel free to make your way outside to enjoy them!"

A few more cheers sounded about as large groups began to pour out from the ballroom to go downstairs and outside. I moved to follow them, but Chesnaught tugged me back.

"What is it?"

"Just keep quiet for a minute and follow me, ok?"

We waited for an opening in the packs headed out and slipped between them. Chesnaught then guided me in the opposite direction of the outpouring throng, and hurried down the halls.


 

[Chesnaught]

Quietly, I zipped around a corner and pulled Greninja along with me. He huffed and held back a bit, forcing me to turn back around.

"Could you just tell me where we're going?"

"I'm taking you to a more private venue for the firework finale."

"Private?" He looked sideways at me. "…Wait, finale?"

"Yeah, the fireworks denote the end of the ball." I turned back and glanced at the door in front of me. "Oh, we're here!"

Opening it, I led Greninja through the small sunroom, which was mostly dark now. At the end of the room, I slid the glass door open and guided Greninja out, onto the balcony. There was just enough room for the two of us, and the plants that decorated the railing around the platform were off to the sides, giving us the perfect view of the skyline. Though the midnight blue sky was filled with stars, it wouldn't be clear for much longer.

"Wow, this is a great view." Greninja walked up to the white railing and peeked over it to look down at everyone gathering outside below us.

"Carefully near the edge," I cautioned and slid up behind him. "Heracross actually managed to fall backwards over it. Luckily, he could fly, but I don't recommend it."

Greninja bumped into me and squinted at me. "Relax, I'm fine."

"Right, I know, it's just…" I couldn't really explain my abrupt emergence of fear for him. Heights and high winds were never a particular favorite of mine. Instead of finishing my thought, I placed my hand on top of his. Greninja turned to me and I smiled as I gazed back. He blushed and smiled as he wrapped our arms together.

"Did I mention you look spectacular in that outfit?" He giggled.

I laughed and squeezed his hand. "You did. And I think yours looks fantastic."

A firework whizzed into the air and we turned to watch as it burst into the sky. The white flares rained down as another firework launched up. Red bits rained down as three more rocketed up. They were blue, green, and purple. Several more launched up, as the colors flashed and lit up the sky, as the smoke clouds covered the stars.

Smiling, I wrapped my arm around him as Greninja moved into me, placing his hands against my chest and around my waist. We watched a few more fireworks crash off in the distance.

"I'm really going to miss this place," I murmured.

"Me too," he agreed. "But…I'd miss you more."

"Actually…I feel the same." We turned to look at one another. Greninja tilted his head as I shrugged. "It's hard for me to leave, but, I'd probably be a mess if you ever left without me." I sighed. "Guess I'm not very loyal after all."

"You're leaving only because of your king's orders." Greninja rubbed my chest. "I think that's a great show of loyalty." I smiled again as he chuckled. "But, I must admit, I'm happy to hear that my absence would at least bother you."

"At least," I repeated. "At most, I'd either tear the place down or run off to find you again."

"The former, I doubt. The latter, I believe."

"Ok, I'd just go insane or follow you. Better?"

"Yep, that works." He laughed and I dropped my head on top of his. Slowly, he stopped and I nuzzled him.

"Your laugh is the cutest," I whispered.

Greninja pulled his head away from under mine and smiled at me. I massaged his shoulders a little as I leaned in. He met me and we kissed as the fireworks continued to burst into the night.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

Sunlight shined through the window into Greninja's bedroom. Slowly, I pushed myself up from the bed and stretched. Within a few minutes, I rummaged around the room, readying myself for the day. I paused for a moment and turned back to the bed, watching Greninja as he continued to sleep.

If we didn't have anywhere to go, I might have left him there. Slowly, I leaned back onto the bed and kissed his head gently. "Greninja, come on," I whispered.

"Ugh…can't we just stay here and pretend the day never started?"

"Unfortunately, no," I chuckled and gently shook him. "Up, we need to get ready."

"Everything hurts…" Greninja groaned.

"Well, the sooner you get up and rolling, the less time you'll spend thinking about what hurts."

"You have a terrible bedside manner."

"Good thing I'm not a doctor." I rubbed his back gently as he softly moaned. "Huh, I thought I was doing terrible."

"Your manners are terrible, but your treatments are the best," clarified Greninja.

"Ah." I laughed and kissed him again. "All right, seriously, we do need to get going."

"Ok, ok." He pushed himself and shook his head. "Go ahead and start gathering supplies. I'll catch up."

"I haven't even washed off yet."

Without warning, Greninja bounced from the bed and tackled me to the ground. He ran two cool balls of water across my body, smiling as he did so. Within another few minutes, he hopped off and threw a towel on me.

"Done. Now you're, oh, how did they put it?" He cleared his throat, and imitated the clothes shopkeepers, "Marvelous darling! Simply marvelous! Naturally, of course."

We burst out laughing as I pushed myself up from the floor and dried off. Greninja washed himself off as I finished putting my clothes and armor on. "You know, we could have gone somewhere else to keep the room dry."

"What for? We're not staying here anymore and they'll need to clean it anyway." Greninja finished up as I walked to the door. "Besides, there wasn't a rug here, so it'll dry up easily."

Shrugging, I nodded and walked out the door, off to collect weapons for our journey. Greninja already had a few that he would take with him, and I'm sure that the Empire would supply us with more, but I wanted at least a few to take for the road.

The walk to the armory was quiet, with the other knights already outside for practice by this time. Making my way downstairs, I walked into the armory and checked on the weapons.

First, I picked up a silver shield that would be a good fit for Greninja; unlike Delphox and I, he couldn't create his own barrier and I wanted to make sure he had something as a last resort.

Tucking the shield under my arm, I glanced at my options. For a moment, I eyed a bow and its quiver, but decided against it; Delphox and Greninja would be able to attack anything from a distance instantaneously, so using one would only slow us down and leave us vulnerable to close range attacks.

Instead, I moved to the swords. Right away, I took a broadsword and slung it around my back. Along with that, I added a stiletto and a dagger to my belt.

"Three blades and a shield?"

Jumping, I spun around and stared at the doorway, where Samurott had waited. His arms were folded and he cast a scowl in my direction.

"Well, I'm still deciding," I explained. "These are just my go-to choices. And the shield is for Greninja."

"He won't want it. Greninja relies on speed and that would only slow him down."

"Then I'll carry it, but I want him to have something to fall back on, in case of an emergency."

Samurott relaxed his gaze, smiled, and nodded. "In that case, it's a good idea." He walked over and around the wall to his cabinet of weapons. "Come here."

For a few seconds, I hesitated, but sucked in some air and went around. The samurai stood in front of his open cabinet and held up his hand.

"Take a few things."

"What? But this is your supply." I shook my head. "We won't be able to get these back to you—"

"Doesn't matter. You need to stock up." He paused and shrugged. "I'll never use all of those weapons at any one given time as it is."

Nodding, I walked over to it and gazed at the weapons inside. Glancing at the shelves, I carefully slid a slightly decorated ono out and studied it for a bit. Shaking my head, I put it back.

"Too fancy for you?" Samurott teased.

"A little," I chuckled. "You don't have many of those here though. We've got hatchets around the other side, and we can buy another supply if we run out." I glanced back at him. "You can't exactly run home and grab your weapons anytime soon."

"No, but I could send for them."

"Either way, I'll leave those for you." Instead, I took out two sets of shuriken for Greninja and myself. Staring at the naginata and bō staffs, I turned to Samurott. "Do you think Delphox will need anything?"

"The mages hardly ever use weapons." Samurott chuckled. "I remember Gardevoir running around with a sword once, trying to slice at Typhlosion over a rude comment. She held it the complete wrong way, so he knocked it away easily." He shook his head. "She still blasted him away for it though."

"Right, I remember." Still, I took two bō staffs down. "We might be able to practice with these though." Samurott took down the slings for them and I added them around my back with the sword. "I think these will be more than enough. Thank you, Samurott!"

"You're welcome." He smiled for a minute, but then focused and frowned. "Just keep a good eye on Greninja."

Closing the cabinet, I raised an eyebrow. With a slight laugh, I let out, "I usually do."

"No, seriously, watch out for him."

"Ok, I've got it. You don't need to worry; he's my boyfriend."

"Yeah, but he's my friend. Honestly, he's probably the closest friend I have, and I won't be around, so…" Samurott let out a heavy sigh. "Never mind, it's—"

"Don't worry." I rested my hand on his shoulder and smiled. "I promise I'll take extra care of him." To remind him, I patted the shield, to which he nodded and smirked.

"Yes, you're already thinking ahead." His shoulders slumped down. "Sorry, I just, it's weird to have my friends leaving me." Samurott glanced at the cabinet. "I was used to working on my own more often, not fitting in. You remember, I'm sure. Though I get along with the other knights now, it's…I don't know, not the same." He turned back to me. "Take care of yourself as well, please. And Delphox. Gardevoir is going to be a mess without him here."

"She's strong, she'll manage."

"All the same—"

"You have my word." I scratched the side of my head and laughed. "Always wanted to use that one."

Samurott grinned. "It's fun, right?" He cleared his throat and put on a more solemn face again. "Good luck."

With that, Samurott walked out and left me alone in the armory once again. It dawned on me that I forgot to ask him about the ball last night.

"I'm sure Greninja can tell me. They did dance together."

Slowly, I stopped back around by the other weapons and thought back to what Gallade had brought up yesterday. My heart raced a little faster as I thought of the two together.

"N-No. Samurott's my friend." I shook my head. Even if he was stern around me, we still did manage to befriend one another, more so after Greninja grew close with him though. "Doesn't matter. They're just friends."

"Who are we talking about here?"

Again, I jumped up and pivoted to the doorway. Typhlosion wasted no time strolling into the room, with a smirk already on his face.

"It's…no one."

"Didn't sound like no one to me."

"Well, I'm not telling you any more than that. Sorry." I tried to busy myself and checked to see if I could take any more weapons. Remembering the hatchets, I walked over and took a pair for my belt.

"No need to be touchy," laughed Typhlosion. He leaned against the nearest wall and watched me as I checked my supplies. "What's with the shield? You make your own."

"It's for Greninja, as a back-up."

"Ah, right." Something about his tone seemed to…drop a little. "Too bad you're stuck with Delphox. Otherwise, you and your sweetheart could have the trip all to yourselves."

"Delphox will make good company," I argued, though part of me agreed.

"Don't see how. Mages are just nasty little plotters waiting to hex the lot of us."

Turning to him, I waited for a snicker or a follow-up joke. Surprisingly, Typhlosion was straight-faced and folded his arms.

"What's with you and the mages?"

"It's not them, really." He paused for a moment. "Well, not just them. It's anyone that can cast spells." He scratched at his arm and looked down. "Had a friend that got messed up pretty badly by a high ranking mage, when I was younger. I went to complain about it, but he got away with it. I don't know if it was just a rank issue or if the guards I complained to genuinely feared him, and magic users like him."

Typhlosion looked back up at me as my mouth hung open. "Why have you never told that story before?"

"It's stupid, that's why." His smirk went right back onto his face. "I'm not a fan of mages and think they're a little too free in a lot of aspects, but I can work with them. More over, telling people why I feel that way would—"

"Get them to understand you?" He blinked at my interjection.

"…Might be one way to look at it."

"All this time, you could have been friends with Gardevoir and Delphox sooner, if you just explained that."

"Maybe. Wasn't the only time mages rubbed me the wrong way." He shook his head. "Now's not really the time for that though." He picked up a spear and spun it around. "Just here for another of these. Broke one while practicing."

"Right."

Waiting for him to leave, I observed a few other weapons that might be useful to bring, though I think I was all set. Typhlosion, however, didn't walk out right away. After a minute, I turned to him.

"Do…you still need something?"

"Me? Nah. You want a kiss for good luck?" I glared at him as he snickered. "Sorry, ninja frog kisses only, I forgot."

"You know, if you stopped cracking jokes at the expense of others, and actually tried to level with people, you'd make more friends."

"…Sorry." He sighed and stared at the pole weapons on the wall. "I really am going to miss you, honestly."

"Why me?"

"Probably because you're the one that puts up with my crap the most, save maybe Armaldo." He snickered again. "But, really, I guess…I don't know, you're probably the nicest one to have around here. Most…I don't know, easygoing. And even if you hate me like everyone else, at least…I guess you hate me the least."

"I don't hate you. I don't think anyone hates you." His expression softened as he looked into my eyes. "Really, just…ease up and try to be friendly around people. When you're honest, you're not a bad knight Typhlosion. A bit lazy, but not bad."

For a minute, he stayed quiet. Suddenly, he threw his arms around me and hugged tightly. "This is exactly why I'm going to miss you." His voice broke a bit and he quickly turned away from me. "You three just…take care or whatever. And come back, if they let you." Before I could think of anything else, he rushed away.

With a heavy sigh, I stared at the armory and decided to run through the weapons one last time, just in case anything else stood out as useful.


 

[Greninja]

Almost finished packing, I checked on my tools and weapons. The rope, grappling hook, kunai, and lock picks were stowed on one side, with my kusarigama and shuriken wrapped on the other side. Tying the set together, I lifted the pack over my back and started for the door, but stopped short.

Moving back inside, I looked around before I spotted the tachi blade that Samurott had given me two months ago. He had given it back to me after cleaning it, and let me keep it for future use.

Thinking of the samurai again, more specifically with last night in mind, made me shiver. Still, I carried the blade around, along with my pack, heading out the door soon after.

Before I could make my way down the hall, however, I stopped short to find Samurott making his way over to me. He looked up and jumped a bit as I walked over.

"Hey Greninja." He smiled and waved. "Need a hand with that?"

"No thanks, it's not too heavy." Though, I would have liked the help.

"Ok." Noticing the sheathed blade around my arm, his grin broadened. "Taking that with you?"

"Did you want it back?"

"Not at all, I'm happy you'll have it with you!"

With a heavy sigh, I nodded. Looking at his deep red eyes, I murmured, "Samurott, we need to talk."

He smirked. "Well, good, I was hoping you wouldn't leave without a real goodbye."

"It's not going to be a simple farewell." With a sigh, I placed my pack down.

His smile dropped quickly. "Is this going to more emotionally involved? I'm not sure I'm in the mood for tears."

"Depends on where this conversation goes." I leaned up against the wall and folded my arms, studying him. Samurott raised a brow and tilted his head, trying to get a read on me as well.

"Uh…whenever you're ready?"

"R-Right." I shook my head a little, and then fixed my attention back onto him. "Did you have a date at the dance last night?"

"Yes, didn't you see me ask her out at the Bridge Ceremony?"

"Not exactly, as I was a little preoccupied," I admitted. "But I would have expected to have you introduce her to me, somewhere within the two months of this ball."

The samurai swallowed hard. "You're right, I should have. Honestly, I…I didn't think of it. She didn't meet anyone from the castle, really." His eyes dropped to the floor and he scoffed at himself. "And yet I wondered why she didn't quite take to me."

"That's not what I'm focusing on." Samurott gazed back up at me while I shifted my legs. "Samurott, you've been a really nice friend since I've been here."

"Well, I do try to be." He smiled. "Glad you appreciate it."

"I do, I really, really do." I smiled with him for a moment, but frowned before he could interrupt. "But that's the thing. You've been…too nice."

"Too nice?" He repeated with confusion.

"Samurott, there's a difference between paying your friend compliments and…well, flirting."

"W-What?" His face lit up a bit as he forced a disgusted look. "Look, Greninja, you're sweet, and I'm happy that I can flatter you, but—"

"Come on, Samurott." His head jolted back. "Nice words, once in a while, I get. But last night, at the ball…" I sighed. "That dance went a little past friendly."

"What, because we bumped legs?" He shook his head. "I think you're taking that out of proportion."

"Thighs," I corrected. "We had our thighs brush against one another. Repeatedly. And you weren't put off by that all."

"We were just dancing," Samurott insisted.

"Fine, so I'm just going to leave with you lying to me?" His head jerked up as we locked eyes for a moment.

"I'm not…" He looked away, thinking for a moment. "…That obvious?"

"Everyone isn't kidding when they tell you that you suck at keeping secrets." I laughed to ease the tension a bit, but Samurott only smiled. When I stopped, he sighed and we grew quiet again.

"All right, I…I'm bisexual, which pretty much no one knows about, because I hardly flirt or discuss dating around…well, anyone." He sighed. "Lately, though, I've been more interested in males than females." I nodded, but Samurott stared sadly at me. "More specifically, I've been…interested in you."

"Me? For how—?"

"Since we met." I tilted my head while he shook his. "No, I didn't fall for you right away, but I just…I don't know, thought you were cute. But I…I stalled, I didn't want to ask you out right away. And it didn't take long for me to catch on that you had a crush on Chesnaught, so I figured that I could wait until you found out that he wouldn't be interested in you. Then, we wouldn't have anyone else in the way." Samurott shook his head and laughed softly. "Imagine my surprise when I started to notice that he liked you too. After you revealed your crush to me, I realized that I'd taken too long and decided to leave you two to one another."

"That…that happened over a few days, at first," I cut in. "Why didn't you just tell me before I went to go see Chesnaught?"

"Because unlike me, Chesnaught actually is gay. And in all of the time that I've been here, I never once noticed him go out with anyone." Samurott sighed heavily. "When we were walking in the forest, Delphox insisted that I let the two of you talk alone together. And, when we checked on you two, I could tell Chesnaught wanted to open up to you more. So, with you already interested in him…I knew where it was going." He looked up to the ceiling, avoiding eye contact. "So, I decided that I'd support you two together after Chesnaught recovered. It seemed like the honorable decision. And…I thought it would be over after that."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, after the bridge ceremony, I imagined that I'd get over you, leave the two of you in peace and move on." He returned his attention to me and I noted the sorrow in his eyes. "But I didn't. Every day we spent together after, even just the little moments, I kept…thinking about you. The reason I chose my date was to have her distract me, and any time I wasn't with everyone, I went to her." Samurott lowered his head. "It was pointless. For these past couple of months, I couldn't get over you, in spite of knowing that you were happy. It was foolish and still coming after you, like at the dance, that was…I just couldn't control myself."

For a minute or two, I couldn't think of anything else to pry from him. My heart raced and my face was on fire. What made it worse was that, had I not been so adamant over Chesnaught, had the others not pushed me to him…I might have caught on to Samurott's feelings.

Taking a deep breath in and out, I asked, "What about now? Right now, even?"

Samurott tilted his head back up a little, still unsure of looking at me. "Once you leave, I'll figure out how to move on; it'll be easier when you're gone, I suppose." He paused and bit his lip. "If I'm being completely honest, I'm doing everything I can right now to not kiss you." I fidgeted in my position as he gazed back up at me, face flushed.

"That's…flattering, actually." He sucked in air and his shoulders grew rigid. "And I've never had anyone confess their feelings to me quite like that, so it's…you know." I swallowed the word "romantic," or anything near it, to which he nodded. "But…I can't really…I'm happy with Chesnaught, like you've assessed. So, I don't want to break up with him."

"And I don't want you to." Samurott dropped his shoulders. "It's not just some honor code thing, I understand that you and Chesnaught go really well together. So…I can't…I wouldn't want you two to break up." He let out a heavy breath of air. "Aside from that, I'm happy being your friend. You're one of the closest ones I've ever made, and it's not just because of a crush. Getting to know you these past months, I've really come to enjoy…well, you."

He forced a smile up and I did the same. "Thank you."

We walked to each other and embraced, a little tighter than I meant to. It would be the last time that we'd be together though, possibly for good.

But…what if we weren't? Would we ever be able to be together, as friends, if Chesnaught and I came back? Could I even consider holding Samurott again after this?

Slowly, we let go and backed away from one another, his hands lingering as they left me. Our eyes met and I could tell he wanted to go against everything he confessed. Something in there just gave a vibe that was filled with desire for me.

Instead of making another move, he smiled at me. "Keep Chesnaught alive out there, please. I already asked him to do the same for you." Blinking, I nodded. "And both of you watch out for Delphox, ok? He may be strong, but…well, I don't know what you'll run into, so all three of you better be extra careful." Again, I nodded. "Good. Uh, well, I…I'll see you in a bit, I suppose. See you off, one last time." And with that, he turned away, walking back out from the hall.

A good few minutes went by, as I stood there, silently, unable to fully process what had just happened. Shakily, I reached down and picked my pack back up. Calming myself, I walked to the door, only to have it open before I could grab it.

Typhlosion hurried in, noticed me, and quickly shut the door behind him. I placed my pack back down and sat against the wall as he walked to me.

"Getting comfy?"

"Well, you wouldn't have shut the door if this wasn't going to take a little while."

"Um…ok, yeah." Typhlosion plopped down in front of me and waited for a minute. "Uh, you have the time, right?"

"Not exactly, but this could be your last chance to…to…what do you need, exactly?"

"Let's start with me being curious about your relationship with Chesnaught!" Two months later and this is still the hot topic for the castle, possibly even the kingdom. "Now, I get that you two started after Chesnaught recovered from that bandit attack, but how'd you get him so interested in you?"

"Get him interested?" I scoffed. "You make it sound like I controlled his mind or manipulated his emotions to do it."

"In a manner of speaking…" Typhlosion grinned.

"We've barely started and I'm already annoyed with where this is going." I shook my head. "Is that your play Typhlosion? If so, should I bring up how we first met?"

"Flashy splashy tricks only work well so many times. But I digress." He straightened up and relaxed his shoulders. "Let's try this another way. Chesnaught wasn't initially interested in you, right?"

"Well—"

"Romantically, at least."

"I…suppose not."

"Ok, so…how did you get him to that level?" Confused, I tilted my head. "Oh, come on, Greninja. He wouldn't have fallen for you after a single rescue attempt."

"As far as I know, he did. Or…well, it helped."

"But you had to have caught his interest beforehand." Typhlosion scratched one arm with the other, studying me carefully. "You had done something to build that interest."

"If sparring counts, then I did that. We talked a few times beforehand." I sighed. "It was fast moving, it took us about a week, and then we were together."

"A week? That's it?"

"To get started, yes. We're still dating now." I folded my arms and glared. "If you're going to judge this from start to finish—"

"Wait, wait, I'm not…" Typhlosion waved his hands, but gradually let them fall. "Look, I just want to understand how you two have worked out so well thus far."

"Why?"

"Call me curious."

"Don't give me that." I stood up. "Either you tell the truth, or we're done here."

"Seriously?" Glaring, I reached down for my pack. Typhlosion dove on top of it to keep me from lifting it. "Ok, ok, ok! Just wait, I…uh…I wanted advice from you."

"Advice?"

Typhlosion stood up, but kept a foot on my pack. "Yeah. I was going to ask Chesnaught, but I…it's easier to ask you, or you'd explain it better, I guess."

"What kind of advice are you looking for, exactly?" He lowered his eyes and gave me an exasperated look. "Dating?"

"Duh."

"Weren't you the one to just point out how short of a time it's been that I've been dating?"

"Chesnaught's not your first though. And you're not his, right?"

"…No, but—"

"Then you've got experience!"

"And you don't?"

"Oh, I do, but…nothing quite…" He looked away, scratching his neck. "Nothing ongoing."

"Again, I'm not the best choice to ask." I paused and thought for a moment. "Personally, I think your best option would be either Escavalier or Accelgor."

"Uh, no, they're not." I gave him a perplexed face and he shrugged. "I'm not looking for experts on long distance."

"They've been married for four years, and dating possibly longer!" I threw my arms up in frustration. "If they're not a good pick, then no one is!" I paused and pondered that again. "Unless you'd like to try Nidoking and Rhydon."

"Right, the general who kept his feelings locked in since he was young and the king that was oblivious to them until after…" Even Typhlosion couldn't finish the last part. "They're no good either."

"I beg to differ."

"Fine, they might have helped you two, but I'm looking for…well…I don't know, someone who's dating, I guess…more recently, how about that?" He smiled and nodded. "Yeah, that's it! Someone from a couple where you're both on even ground and you've been in love and dating about the same amount of time, and you're both around one another constantly!"

"Typhlosion, there are all kinds of couples out there." I shook my head. "You can't create perimeters to measure love, or follow any singular example."

He stood quietly, and then nodded. His foot slid away from my pack and I lifted it up.

"Honestly, I can't give you good advice yet." I shook my head. "I'm still trying to keep my relationship developing."

"Yeah, I get it," he murmured. "But I just…how do you get someone to notice you, when they're not even thinking about you?"

"Well, don't force yourself onto them, but try to get closer." Typhlosion stared as I shifted my pack around. "Nidoking pushed me into getting to know Chesnaught more, and helped me recognize that it was beneficial to stay around him, to keep trying." A smiled worked its way onto my face. "Eventually, Chesnaught and I just spent enough time to…well, recognize each other, I suppose."

Looking up, Typhlosion smiled at me. But, it wasn't one of his usual ones, the toothy and mischievous grins; it was simpler, genuine.

"Did…does that help?"

"Huh? Oh, sorry." He lightly chuckled and knocked on his head. "That's…it was a sweet story. But, yes, that's helpful, and possibly what I'm looking for."

Shifting my pack again, I watched Typhlosion nod and move to the door, opening it for me. Hesitating, I walked over to it and nearly out it, but stopped.

"That can't be all."

"No, I'll try asking the general for his advice as well." He shrugged. "Maybe I'll learn something new from him, in time."

"You really might." I paused. "Oh, but I do strongly advise against burning dresses."

He winced. "It was a sneeze that got out of control." Typhlosion shook his head. "At least I won't be dealing with her again."

"Isn't this about Lopunny?"

"Not even close!"

Blinking, my eyes wandered as I thought about what we had discussed. "Then who?"

"It's a secret, for now." He winked. "You'll know, some day. After all, we need to have something to bring you back here."

I smiled back to him and walked out, as Typhlosion followed me. He stopped for a minute, and then hurried off, shouting about something else he needed to take care of. Shrugging, I turned and went downstairs.


 

[Chesnaught]

Staring at a portrait of past rulers, I spun about once I heard faint footsteps from the stairs. I hurried over to watch Greninja stroll down with a pack of supplies on his back. Quickly, I went to him and lifted it from him, just as he finished climbing down the stairs.

"Hey, thanks!" Greninja smiled and rolled his arms. "I did have it handled, though."

Weighing the pack, I shook my head. "This isn't that light. Why didn't you call for me?"

"You were getting weapons." He lifted his tachi blade and slipped it onto his back, eyeing everything that I had grabbed. "A good number of weapons, I see."

"Yep! Better safe than sorry, right?"

"Well…I suppose, as long as they don't slow us down much."

"Compared to you and Delphox, I'm slow enough on my own." Realizing that, my shoulders dropped. "Guess I'll be slowing you down either way."

"Nonsense." Greninja leaned up and kissed my cheek. "We'll be fine."

Glass shattered in another room. Greninja and I looked at one another before moving across the hall to the door on the left. He opened it and we peered in at the filled bookshelves as various aromas poured from the room.

We jumped aside as Delphox ran out, carrying his own bag of supplies. Gardevoir stormed out after him, firing a pink ball of light at him. He blocked it with a glowing barrier, which took the brunt of her attack.

"Why would you be such an imbecile and try to take all of those potions at once?!" Gardevoir's eyes were lit up, still furious.

"Sorry, I told you I was sorry!" Delphox gripped his staff tightly.

"That spell took weeks of preparation!" She rocketed another blast at him, which he blocked once again. "The last thing I needed was to be set back to square one!"

"I wanted to help you, ok?!" Delphox barked. "Damn it, Gardevoir, could you relax?!"

"No!"

"It's not like you'll have to deal with me for much longer—"

"Shut up!" She lashed out with a stronger attack, shattering Delphox's screen and throwing him back across the hall. "You don't get to use that against me! Don't you think that leaving me is ever going to help you, understand?! I will—"

"Gardevoir, easy." I tried to walk over to soothe her, but she froze my body in place.

"Don't you dare try to defend him!" She snapped. "All three of you are leaving me! Not one of you deserves any kind of—"

"Mercy?" Gardevoir jolted up at Greninja's voice. She spun about as he approached her. "Are we enemies now?"

Still angry, she shook her head and released me, but tightened her fists.

"This will be our last time together for a while," I added. "You're not going to let Delphox leave on a bitter note, are you?"

"Why shouldn't I?!" Her voice broke and she shivered. "I don't need any of you around. I'm the best spell caster that this Kingdom has ever known!"

"We didn't insinuate that you needed us," Greninja put in.

"Then why?!" Gardevoir cried out. More softly, she added, "Why can't I think of being here without any of you?"

No one answered her as she sank to the floor and pounded it with a fist. Greninja and I glanced at one another, unsure of what to do next.

"Gar." We turned to see that Delphox had walked back over and leaned down by his fellow mage.

"You…you do not get to use nicknames." She glared at him, teeth tightened. "From the first day we met, I offered to use those, and not once did you ever want to! No, you're not using it now!" She hit his chest once, and then again. Delphox flinched, but remained beside her. With a wail, Gardevoir flung her arms around him and sobbed into his shoulder. "I hate you! I hate you so much! And you better pray that we never have to meet and fight…because…because…"

"Because you'll kill me?" Again, she punched him, but he laughed. "Too soon?"

"How am I supposed to even think of that?!" Gardevoir wailed. "What happens if this goes south? What happens if they execute the three of you, or-or if they make you fight us? W-What do I do? I can't…I can't…"

Tears lined up in my eyes and I brushed them away. Greninja came over and pulled me to Gardevoir and Delphox, as the latter rubbed her back.

"It won't come to that," Delphox soothed.

"You can't promise me that!" Gardevoir cried.

"No, but I'll do what I can to avert it." He pulled back from her and smiled. "They're not our enemies yet. And once we're there, we won't become your enemies."

"And what if I never see you again?"

"If we become allies, you will."

They stared at one another and she slumped down. "You're not allowed to be the optimistic one. That's my role."

"You're right. So quit crying." She glanced up at his firmer voice. "If you're meant to see the best of things, then look for them. And you leave the worst of it to me, got it?"

Sniffling, Gardevoir nodded. Forcing herself up, she pulled the three of us in for a tight hug.

"What am I supposed to do without my friends?" She murmured.

"Keep the memories you have of us close?" I offered.

"He's right." Greninja smiled. "We might not be here, but the time we've spent together helped us all grow. So, keep us in mind."

Nodding, Gardevoir released us and waved a glowing hand before her eyes. The tears on her face floated away, but the ones in her eyes still welled up. Slowly, she exhaled and recomposed herself.

"That doesn't solve me being lonely around here." Gardevoir pouted. "Earl Gallade isn't always around."

"No, but we'll still be here."

We turned to see Samurott and Typhlosion walk over. Samurott placed his arm on Gardevoir's shoulder, while Typhlosion folded his arms.

"Though we don't know you like Delphox does, we'll still do our best to spend time with you." Samurott smiled. "And maybe you can teach us spells, or we could come up with something to help you."

"Make ourselves into warrior mages?" Gardevoir grinned, excited by the idea.

"Sure, and I can provide all of the fun comments that Delphox used to bring." Typhlosion snickered.

"Please, you'll never live up to my standards," Delphox huffed.

"He'll do." She smiled to Typhlosion, who turned away, but with a smirk on his face as well. "Now, we'll just search the Kingdom for a Grass type, and I'll have my trio back within my ranks."

Everyone laughed together as the doors from the Throne Room opened. General Rhydon stepped out, with King Nidoking in tow. We quieted down and bowed to them as they entered.

"Bah, none of that now," grumbled Nidoking, beckoning us to rise up again. "So—"

"The engagement bracelet!" Gardevoir jumped over to the General. "Let me see it!"

"Oh, s-sure."

General Rhydon blushed and held up his hand, with a golden bracelet secured around his wrist. Diamonds and emeralds were engraved into it. We moved in as Gardevoir examined it and bounced up and down excitedly.

"Aw, it looks beautiful!" She threw her arms around both of them. "Congratulations!"

"Thank you," the King and the General answered simultaneously.

"Is the wedding going to be soon? Please say yes!" Gardevoir pleaded.

"Um…w-well, we're still deciding," mumbled General Rhydon. Nidoking nodded in agreement.

"Ok." Gardevoir sighed and placed her hands on her hips.

"In a hurry to marry us off?" Nidoking laughed.

"Not exactly," she glanced quickly back at us.

"Ah, we'll invite them back, of course." Nidoking smiled at us. "In fact, as soon as you get invitations, you'd better clear up your schedules and be back here on the date!"

"Yes, sir," we responded together.

"Very good." His smiled faded and he exhaled deeply. "Well, thanks to that mage visitor from the ball, they'll be expecting you soon, so you'll need to get going."

Upon being reminded of him, my hand rubbed the top of my head. Solemnly, the three of us nodded and we all walked out the front door. No one was in the courtyard; presumably, they were either in the back or out training elsewhere. The three of us turned back once again. Nidoking and Rhydon sadly watched us, with the others behind them.

"So…goodbye?" Delphox waved slightly.

At first, no one responded. Then, General Rhydon walked over and pulled me into a big hug. Nidoking followed and pulled Greninja in with us. The others grabbed on as well, and we sat quietly for a few minutes, huddled together.

"If there were any other way…" Nidoking murmured.

Slowly, everyone let go and backed away. I exchanged looks with Greninja, then Delphox, and we nodded to them. Again, we turned away, and walked off from the castle grounds.


 

[Greninja]

Two hours passed since we had left Grass Fields Castle and beyond Eventide Forest. The trail led us along the open meadows of the kingdom, with the grass blowing in the occasional breezes that went by. Sun shined against fields of flowers and trees shifted as the wind went by. For a good portion of the trip, we had a clear view of the sky, which started at a lush bright blue with white clouds, but they began to fade into orange and purple colors.

With a contented sigh, I smiled. "It's beautiful out here, huh?"

"If you can concentrate on it, sure," murmured Delphox.

"Come on, Delphox, Greninja's trying to keep our spirits up." Chesnaught shot me a grateful smile and winked, to which I blushed.

"Sure, happy couple enjoying their new getaway," Delphox muttered.

"That's not fair, Delphox." Chesnaught folded his arms.

"No, you want to know what's not fair? Me being sent out here to play the third wheel." He tightly gripped his stick and glared at it.

"We're sorry for you, Delphox." I reached out and pat his back. The mage flinched at first, but relaxed after the first touch. "It's good to have you, though. Chesnaught and I would be doomed without any kind of magic."

"Yes…I suppose that's true." Delphox sighed and nodded as we continued along.

The further north we went, the colder the climate became. Soon, we reached a spot where the grass began to fade away, leaving only dirt. Far off in the distance, I thought I could see snow.

Chesnaught shivered and tried to hold his arms together. "Ooh, they d-didn't tell us that-that w-we'd hit the cold b-b-by nightfall."

"A little sooner, actually." Delphox lightly laughed, but then sneezed. He wiggled his nose and scoffed. "Stupid chill."

"With the two of you like this, we'd better find somewhere to stay for the night." I gazed around and spotted a fortress in the distance. "That could work as a nice spot."

"What? No way." Delphox shook his head. "If we go in there, we'll get attacked for certain."

"If we keep walking, we'll freeze one-by-one." Delphox raised an eyebrow at me. "Yes, I know we have to get used to the cold conditions, but not at night. That's a bad idea, and we're just as likely to get attacked, if not more so because of our weaker state. We don't know who resides on the outskirts of the empire."

Delphox huffed as Chesnaught nodded in agreement. "All right, we'll stay there."

"T-Then let's go already!" Chesnaught shuffled toward the stronghold, and we followed him.

It wasn't far and we made our way inside of the old structure. While there were some holes throughout the place, we managed to find a room on the second floor that was still enclosed, with a sturdy door and enough space to spread out a bit. Chesnaught placed our pack down while Delphox set down his bag.

With a whip of his wand, he was able to take out the blankets and cushions from his bag. I opened our pack and pulled the tools away as Delphox did the same for us, with a few of our clothes spilling out. Unfortunately for me, this included our swimsuits. Chesnaught grinned as I blushed, while Delphox quietly stared at them.

"…Seriously?" The mage shook his head and stared at me.

"H-Hey, there's likely to be water around the ice," I defended. "You never know."

"Sure, if you want your boyfriend to freeze to death, that's completely fine." I glared at him while he shrugged and laughed quietly.

"Speaking of, do you think we should get firewood?" Chesnaught rubbed his shoulders and stared at us. "It's still pretty cold, and considering the stones used to build this place, I don't think we'll burn it down too easily."

"True. All right, leave that to me." Delphox walked toward the door and opened it. "While I'm at it, I'll set up some incantations and protection spells, which should keep us safe for the night." He turned back to us and thought for a moment. "You two organize things." He pointed at the scattered clothes with his staff, and then walked off.

"Well, he's already a bundle of joy to travel with," muttered Chesnaught.

"He's just sour about being sent away from home." I sighed. "We all miss it, already."

Quietly, Chesnaught nodded and we moved around the room to put the clothes back into the pack. Playfully, Chesnaught grabbed my red swimsuit and twirled it around his hand, grinning at me. Rolling my eyes, I blushed and continued to put the clothes back into our pack. He helped me finish and we rearranged our blankets and pillows, pushing ours closer together and making sure we had distance from Delphox's, as well as enough space in the middle for our fire.

"There. Now he won't complain if we want to whisper to one another." Chesnaught kissed my cheek and I giggled.

With Delphox still out, we explored the fortress a little, venturing to nearby rooms. It wasn't a very large stronghold, and most rooms had wrecked shelves, chests, and dressers. Otherwise, the fort was deserted, and had been for a while. Each end of the building had a tower for the corners, and we gazed out the windows at an old hut in the distance.

Eventually, we returned to our sleeping quarters to wait for Delphox's return. I picked at the walls and sighed, while Chesnaught knocked on the stones, testing their durability.

"So, the ball was a lot of fun." Chesnaught laughed as he broke the silence.

I nodded and turned back to him. "Yes, it was a lot of fun. We need to go dancing again sometime."

"Hopefully the empire enjoys their festivities as much as we enjoyed ours."

After mulling it over, I nodded again. "Yeah. I'm sure they do."

Quietly, we waited for Delphox to walk through, but he didn't come. Waiting alone with Chesnaught was fine, but I didn't want Delphox to walk in on anything.

"Ah, how was Samurott?"

My eyes widened and I bit my tongue. Slowly, I stared at Chesnaught, who turned to face me. He looked a little confused, probably based on my reaction.

"Sorry, I assumed that he visited you before we left." Chesnaught shrugged. "He came by and made it clear that I needed to protect you." He chuckled. "As if I wouldn't do that."

Dread poured over me and I froze over what I would do next. Do I tell him the truth? About what Samurott had confessed to me, everything, do I…tell Chesnaught?

Part of me wanted to keep it buried, and to never admit that anything happened. It was my problem, and I could face it on my own. But…what if Chesnaught ever found out? If I tried to keep it from him, and then one day, somehow, he just learned of it…what then?

"Samurott and I talked actually."

"Oh? What about?"

"He…he confessed that he's, um…been harboring feelings for me." There wasn't a chance in the four kingdoms that I could keep this from Chesnaught, and I might as well tell my boyfriend myself. "He's, uh…actually felt that way almost as long as you have, minus the…the more satisfying results."

"So, he does love you." The tone in Chesnaught's voice held no surprise. "And you?"

"It was flattering to hear, but I…well, I turned him down. He was ok with it, I think, but he knew that we were happy together and…well, he wanted us together too." Chesnaught nodded, but looked horribly unconvinced. "By this point, he didn't have a chance, so it was…hard, but easier than I expected. I mean, I expected him to do something to me, but he…told me to look after you, and wanted me to be happy with you." Though that seemed to lighten Chesnaught's expression, he still seemed bothered by the information. "So…h-how do you feel?"

"A bit annoyed that I ever walked away from you, during the ball."

"Chesnaught—"

"I know, that's selfish, but I…well, Gallade made me think about it, and I guess…I guess Samurott makes me jealous." He shifted in his spot and glanced away from me.

"But…he doesn't have…I chose you." My head dropped and I suddenly regretted telling him anything. Somehow, I think he picked up on that and lifted my head back up.

"You're right. You did." He smiled. "And, past my own insecurities and…well, those are silly feelings to get hung up over. I'm really happy that you told me all of that. You didn't have to."

"It would've eaten me up if I didn't."

"Maybe, or maybe I would have been blissfully ignorant for years." He caressed my face. "So…picking me, after learning all of that…it's really strong of you. And thanking you doesn't seem like it would be enough." His hand slid around my face and he leaned a little closer.

"Wait." Chesnaught paused and I stepped back, whipping my tongue from my neck and letting it slip back into my mouth. "Ok, there."

"But…that's…you don't usually—"

"I don't. But, for you…I like to."

His beam made my heart pound as I went back into him and our lips pressed together. Chesnaught wrapped one arm around my waist and the other behind my neck. I slipped one between his back and his shell, with the other hand pulling his head into mine. Something about his lips against my bare ones made a kiss feel different, and I think it was special to him.

Briefly, barely, we parted to take a breath of air in. Quickly, we closed the gap again. This time, Chesnaught pressed his tongue against my lips and I parted them. He leaned into me and his tongue entered my mouth, rubbing against mine. I groaned as he pulled it over to his mouth, allowing my tongue inside. He moaned as let my tongue poke at his lips, still pressing against mine, and then his cheeks. Too soon, we pulled away from one another, gasping for air.

My eyes met his as I listened to our hearts hammer. Chesnaught rubbed my waist and kissed my face gently, repeatedly, as he fought between doing so and breathing.

"Relax," I giggled. "I'm not going anywhere else tonight."

"Doesn't. Matter." He pressed a kiss to my lips and lingered, but pulled away to let me breathe. "I just want you."

"You already have me." I laughed again as he rubbed his face against mine.

"Yeah, but I'll always want you." And I don't know if he was hung up over those words, but they resonated with me. "I love you, Greninja. I really love you."

"I love you too, Chesnaught. I do."

We moved closer to kiss again, but jumped as the door slammed. We turned to stare at Delphox, who leaned against the fort's nearest wall. His eyes lowered as Chesnaught and I slowly untangled from one another, blushing furiously.

"No, please, do go on." Delphox rolled his eyes as he walked back in and I did my best not to look at him.

Chesnaught, however, spoke up. "Look, Delphox—"

"Don't bother." He rolled his eyes, dropped the wood that he carried in, and set it ablaze. "Like you two could ever stay off of each other."

"Delphox—"

"It's fine, you're dating." He waved us off and flopped over on his bedspread. "Nidoking basically wanted you two to enjoy yourselves."

Silently, we walked over to our blankets and lied down together. Minutes flew by as Delphox grew quiet and we listened to the crackling fire. I sighed as I shifted my head against my pillow.

"Hey…I was thinking…" Chesnaught moved into me, wrapping his arms around my waist. "Maybe, once he's asleep…you and I could—"

"Oh, no, none of that." Delphox shot up and glared at us. "If I so much as hear you two make any moans or groans or…whatever else I shouldn't hear in the middle of the night, I'm going to burn you both to bits." He paused before he added, "And I don't care what type advantages Greninja has, I will find a way to make you pay."

Chesnaught and I exchanged bewildered expressions, both of us amazed that Delphox had heard us. Grinning, Chesnaught called out, "…So, if we're really quiet about it—"

"NO."

Delphox scowled until Chesnaught slid his body a little away from mine, but not completely. Satisfied, Delphox rolled over and went back to sleep. I turned around and wrapped my arms around Chesnaught.

"Next time, I suppose."

We laughed quietly and kissed each other again, as we held one another and drifted to sleep.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

Waking up in your lover's arms should be a blissful experience most mornings. This would not be one of those mornings.

My eyes snapped open at the smell of fire. Chesnaught was right in front of me, his eyes already looking about wildly. Quickly, we jumped up to find Delphox outside of the room, launching a burning door down the stairs.

"Delphox!" He spun about as we hurried over. "What happened? Are you all right?"

"Oh, yeah, I'm fine." He studied his wand and tapped it against his hand. "I walked into the door, and it was practically broken, so I decided to blast it off." The mage sniffed the smoke in the air. "Huh. Sorry about that."

Though I was about ready to go off on Delphox, Chesnaught growled and was set to haul off and deck him. He raised his fist, to which Delphox backed up and readied his wand with a fireball.

Quickly, I stepped between them. "Hey! We're a team. More importantly, we're friends. Let's not fight now."

Chesnaught lowered his hand and dropped his shoulders. Delphox let his fire dissipate and caressed his wand.

"Good." I stretched and moved from between them, letting my tongue fall from my mouth. Wrapping it around my neck, I looked outside of the fortress. "We should get going soon."

"All right." Delphox paused and stared at Chesnaught. "Why don't you pack our things? And Greninja, you take me around this place, so we can give it one last look over."

"Wait, what?" Chesnaught shook his head. "No, we can all pack, and then we can all look around here once more—"

"That will take far too much time, and you were relentless last night, so it's the least you two could do."

Under his breath, I could barely hear Chesnaught mutter, "If we really were, you wouldn't have slept a wink."

"It's either that or I make a mess of everything ten times over while putting things away. Magic has an easier time taking things apart over putting them back together."

Though he rolled his eyes, Chesnaught nodded and turned back to start cleaning our room. Delphox smirked and gestured for me to lead the way around the fort. Shrugging, I stepped downstairs and wandered around, with the fox mage in tow.

"There's not much to this place," I explained. "The rooms are mostly barren, the place is a withered structure, and I'm surprised that this fort is still standing at all."

"You'd be surprised at what secrets you can find buried within." I glanced back as he turned his attention to me. "Or have I been as simple as you've known me for?"

"Well—"

"Rhetorical, don't answer that."

Biting my tongue and stifling my laughter, I continued as we strode past one of the three armory rooms, the smallest. Nothing of use waited in there; broken staffs, a split wooden shield, and an empty scabbard were the first objects that I recalled finding.

Further along, I pushed open the half-hinged door to the library, or…what I suppose one would call it. Inside were only two shelves for books and tomes, but anything that remained there had most of the pages torn out, if there was anything left on the shelf altogether.

"Here. I'd imagine that you would be curious about this one."

"Yes, there are some secrets in libraries." He snorted. "Most people can't seem to keep their attention on the books for too long or else their eyes might bleed from knowledge. It's the perfect place to store secrets."

Delphox whipped books away from one shelf, wincing at the holes in the wall behind it. He shook his head and cleared tomes away from the other shelf, but found nothing of use.

"But, I suppose any secrets that could have been here were long since raided and stolen away." Delphox shrugged and turned to leave, pausing by the door. "I suppose if we weren't supposed to be at that empire already, I could have had more time to search, but, time flies."

"Speaking of, I've seen you perform magic—"

"You're going to question why I forced Chesnaught to pack instead of having him run around aimlessly with us." I blinked while Delphox smirked at me. "Sometimes, we don't need to read minds to state the obvious."

"Care to explain yourself, then?"

"Still needed a bit of a cool-off, I suppose." I lowered my eyes as we closed the library's door. "Oh, fine. On top of that, I wanted to move at a more leisurely pace and I knew that he'd grow bored of looking around this place." Delphox stared at a hole across the stronghold's hall. "Ruins can be fascinating places, if we just take the time to uncover them, bit by bit. You're patient, and observant, so you at least understand my mentality to a degree." He gazed outside and looked around, but shook his head. "Chesnaught's a knight, and like the louts we left home, he needs to hit something to focus."

"That's really not true at all," I contested.

"Of course you'd defend him."

"It's not even to defend him. Chesnaught enjoys scenery almost as much as I do."

"Mm, maybe." Delphox shrugged and turned back to me. "But I've watched the way you to look into things. He skimps over small details. You don't, not when you can afford to observe." The mage lifted his foot from under his robe, kicked a pebble near his foot, and listened to it skip away. "I try to do the same."

"Ok, but that doesn't quite explain why you needed me with you."

"Wanted," he corrected. "Look, you're both my friends, but I get how out of place it is for me to be alone with the boyfriends. Split any of us off into a pair, we're fine. But as a trio, we're a mess. I'm whiny and complain about you two, Chesnaught grows bored while we fascinate ourselves with studying surroundings, and you don't know all of the stories that Chesnaught and I share, reminisce." He sighed. "Truth is, I just don't belong here. I'm taking up time that you two could be enjoying together and I hate that, but I hate being alone as well, so…" Delphox paused to mull it over, but shook his head and turned away. "Forget it, this is an aimless conversation."

"Not true." He whirled around to me. "It's helpful to understand your feelings and it's good to talk about this stuff. If we didn't, then I wouldn't understand why you keep getting annoyed around Chesnaught and I."

"Partially, it's jealousy." I turned my head while he chuckled. "Not of either of you, I'm not interested. Just…I'm jealous of the companionship, of your closeness. And in spite of how connected Gardevoir and I are, she has Gallade." He laughed. "I suppose he feels a little territorial around me, but really, I should feel that way with him."

"Why though?"

"Love, Greninja. It's what you and Chesnaught share, it's what Gallade and Gardevoir have. And…I don't." Delphox's ears drooped and he tapped his stick on the wall. "I'm not even sure it's love that I want, but…I want someone that feels…that someone needs me."

Moving to him, I placed my hand on his shoulder. "While you may not be dating her, Gardevoir certainly needs you."

"Maybe, but…" He sighed. "Honestly, I don't even know where I'm going with this."

For a minute, we sat in silence. Then, I remembered. "Didn't you take Lilligant to the ball? What was that for?"

"A little 'pair the spares' nonsense, I suppose." He shrugged. "Without Chesnaught, I wasn't sure who she would go to the ball with. I figured she'd be better with me than some town oaf." He bit his lip and frowned. "Sorry, that's judgmental and pretentious, but it's…I thought that at the time."

"Are you sure you don't like her?"

"Oh, I like her plenty, but…I don't think we're, uh, couple material." Quickly, he gazed upstairs and studied the rooms up there. "Let's head back up, grab Chesnaught, scan the rooms once more, and take off. We've wasted enough time here."

"So soon? I just got here."

We jumped at the sudden and snickering new voice and hurriedly backed together, scanning the fortress for the source. Neither of us could find anything, but we both definitely heard someone, most likely a male.

"All right, Chuckles, you got us," Delphox called out. "Come on out and we won't hurt you for it, promise."

"The name's Lucario, actually," the voice corrected from all around us. "And quite honestly…I like the idea of you trying to hurt me."

Growling, Delphox lit his staff and glared around the halls. My heart raced quicker as I turned and moved for the nearest hole, but the voice laughed.

"No need to look out there. I'm very much inside already."

"So come out and play," Delphox snapped.

"Now, that wouldn't be any fun." He laughed again; it was unnerving to hear it sound around us. "Go ahead, try to guess where I am."

"Guess? But where…" I froze and my eyes widened. Faintly, I let out, "Chesnaught."

Ignoring Delphox's shout, I tore back down the hall for the stairs. Quickly glancing back, I watched the mage run after me. After a couple of steps, I leapt the rest of the way up and slammed the door open.

Chesnaught jumped back, fell over our filled packs, and looked at me, first shocked, but then a bit annoyed. "Greninja, what is it?"

"He's…not here?"

"Who? Delphox?" Quickly, he pushed himself back up. "Did you guys get separated?"

"No." Delphox came up behind me and turned back to face the stairs. "There's someone else in here."

"What? But that's not possible, we didn't find anyone last night."

"They came by this morning," I clarified.

"Came in, this morning." We jumped at the voice correcting me. "I was very much near enough to visit last night. Just needed the orders to come by."

"Orders?" Delphox let out a laugh. "So, you serve someone like a pet. Quaint. Tell us, who's your master?"

"See, now you're making me angry." The voice snickered again. "Not that I mind."

Chesnaught and I hurried back to the door and Delphox stepped across the landing for us to fit outside. Footsteps sounded from below and we quickly gazed down the stairs to see a black and blue jackal walk along the path that Delphox and I had just taken. Light golden armor decorated his chest, with a blue-tinted tasset over his waist. He loosely held a sword in hand and smirked up at us with his piercing red eyes.

"That's it?" Delphox scoffed. "I was hoping for a ghost, not parlor tricks from a meager knight."

"And I was expecting something a little less scrawny to back that mouth up, but I suppose we can't have everything." Lucario smirked, but then paused. "Ah, I'm not exactly a knight. Don't follow all those limiting rules or 'honor code.' Whatever you call it."

"What do you want?" Chesnaught demanded.

"Just a small box that the empire gave you. And don't deny the potential alliance, a few little birdies already sang about the mage's visit to the ball."

"Who…?" Delphox thought for a moment and shook his head. "Shining Summit. I knew the king shouldn't have hired outsiders."

"Then you're from the Great Mountains Queendom," Chesnaught pieced together.

"From seems too specific, but to keep it simple, certainly." He shrugged and stared at us again. "Now, the box, if you please."

We exchanged confused expressions with one another. "What box?"

Lucario sighed. "Are we really going to play this game?"

"No, we seriously have no idea what you're talking about." I watched as Chesnaught and Delphox nodded.

"See, if you weren't getting in bed with the empire, I'd fall for that more easily. But, considering the direction you're going in and the buzz that I've overheard—"

"While we're certain you've entertained a fair share of rumors, that's not our concern." Delphox readied his burning staff again. "You're sorely outmatched."

"Oh, by who, you?" Lucario laughed. "Now, the big one seems intimidating, and the ninja makes me a bit wary." More seriously than he had been, he pointed the sword at us. "I've been instructed to use whatever means necessary. Hand over the box or I'll have to help myself."

"That sounds like a threat." Chesnaught pulled out his broadsword and passed me the tachi blade.

Twitching his nose, Lucario glanced at his raised sword for a minute. "Oh, I suppose this is quite threatening." He shrugged. "Then again, three against one and with all of their weapons drawn is just a tad more so." He lowered the blade just slightly. "Now then."

In an instant, Lucario leapt up the side of the stairs, catching the ledge and rolling onto it. Delphox launched a fireball, to which Lucario rolled past. He quickly jumped at the mage, sword drawn.

Chesnaught moved ahead and blocked his swing. I swiped at him, but his breastplate took the attack for him. He jumped away and grinned as we readied to strike him again.

As our swords sliced for him, he flipped and twirled between them, not taking a single scratch. Awed, he caught me off guard and I was suddenly slammed into Chesnaught, who kept us from toppling over.

Pulling away from him, I spun about to watch Delphox parry Lucario's sword strikes with his staff, while pushing him back with a glowing fuchsia barrier. Chesnaught charged forward with a heavy swing down.

Lucario ran and kicked off of the wall, slamming into Chesnaught and flipping off of him. Quickly, I launched my tongue and grabbed my knight before he tumbled down the stairs.

Readying a Water Shuriken, I waited until Chesnaught regained his balance. Delphox lobbed another few fireballs, to which Lucario dodged most. A stray one caught his arm, but he rolled quickly along the floor and put it out.

Releasing Chesnaught, I threw the first Water Shuriken at Lucario. He jumped back as it cut through his armor, to which he cried out more in shock than pain. Quickly, I tossed out another one, but he ducked under it and watched it burst against the wall behind him.

Throwing a third shuriken, Lucario smirked and pulled away from it, as it went sailing toward Delphox. The fox mage produced another light blue barrier to block my attack.

"Sorry!" I shout and Lucario laughs as he slips into our room.

"It's fine." Delphox's eyes glow as red and purple flames dance around his wand. He rotated the wand in front of him to create a blazing circle. Jabbing his stick through it, a stream of fire burst through it, and flew into the room.

Chesnaught and I stepped a little closer, waiting as Delphox's eyes returned to normal. The mage glared into the room, waiting for the flames to settle.

"Pity, that one might have actually worked."

Everyone jumped as Lucario strolled out carrying our packs. Angered, Delphox fired a bright green spell ball at Lucario, who merely sidestepped it.

"You are trying to hit me, yes?"

"Piss off, tosspot!"

"Now you're just being rude."

He lifted his own hand and launched a glowing blue ball at Delphox, as the mage created a barrier to take the brunt of it. Skidding back to us, Delphox quickly cast a spell of hex shapes at Lucario who watched with a smirk.

And then…Lucario lifted his hand and froze the spell in the air.

"What?!" Delphox voiced all three of our thoughts.

"Oh, don't be so surprised." Lucario waved his hand again and the hex broke apart. "Or, then again, do. It's amusing either way."

"Uh…what are we dealing with, exactly?" I questioned.

"Aw, the novice reveals himself!" Lucario laughed. "Go ahead, one of you two explain it to him, I'll wait."

Enraged, Delphox cast several streams of fire at Lucario, who merely redirected them into walls. Chesnaught joined in and tossed a stiletto, which nicked Lucario's shoulder.

Still smirking, he jumped away and back down stairs. We chased after him and looked about, but he was nowhere in sight.

"How the actual hell does he do this?!" Delphox cried out.

"Calm down, he's just fast." Chesnaught rested a hand on the seething mage's shoulder.

"Actually, I'm still curious about the whole freezing spells in the air bit," I piped up. "Because…I thought he was more like a knight. And those moves aren't exactly easy for a mage to learn."

"That's because he's both," explained Delphox. "He's a magic knight, or a warrior mage if he doesn't exactly practice the disciplines of knighthood, but that's not the point!" Delphox pulled his ears in aggravation.

"They're rarer than you'd expect," Chesnaught cut in, "since most people either line up as a knight or a mage based on what they can do. Even if an individual has prowess with both swordsmanship, or any type of weapon proficiency, and magic arts, they end up committing to one or the other, since practicing both can be really taxing."

"Taxing?!" Delphox blurted out. "Practicing multiple arts of anything takes years of practice! Studying spells alone can take time from childhood to adulthood! Weapon proficiency and understanding the proper stances takes hours into years of practice! And actually applying them to situational events is just…!"

"What if he just has some knowledge of swordplay, but more adept with spell casting? Or vice versa?"

"Even still, he held his own against three of us." Chesnaught tugged on his facial fur. "That's certainly impressive."

"Pardon, but I can't tell if you're actually complimenting me or touting your own skills."

We whirled around to find Lucario walking toward us. He tossed our packs aside and drew his sword again.

"The box. Which of you has it?"

"What is it with you and this box?" I shook my head. "We seriously have no idea what you're looking for."

Lucario lowered his eyes in disbelief. "Right. And I suppose you weren't armed with these, then?" I watched as he lifted my Mystic Water and Chesnaught's Miracle Seed into the air.

"Those were gifts!" Chesnaught cried out.

"From your king, no doubt."

"From each other!"

"Yes, Type enhancements are always the most thoughtful gift that I purchase for others." He rolled his eyes. "Strategy, and I'm not blind to it."

"Wow." Delphox laughed. "You may be strong, but you're certainly dense."

Before he could continue, an explosive crash from above us sounded as the roof broke open. We looked above to find a swirling ball of sand floating in the sky.

"It's about time you showed up!"

Lucario fired himself into the air and into the dust cloud, which lowered a bit as if to catch him and absorb him into it. Green arms seemed to grab hold of Lucario inside.

"Light them up," Lucario called. "Knock them out and we'll search them after."

A magenta energy ball shot out from the sand cloud and we dashed forward to evade it. I ran to grab our sack, as Chesnaught grabbed me. Delphox cast up another barrier to block the next shot and we ran for the hole, leaping out of the fortress.


 

[Chesnaught]

From the second blast, Greninja tripped coming out from the fortress hole. Quickly, I scooped him and our packs up, lumbering after Delphox, who darted around the tundra.

He lifted his wand and fired a white spell ball at the dust cloud, which followed us in the air. It hit easily and with a soft glow, it shredded the ball of sand to pieces, revealing a green dragon with red-rimmed wings that carried Lucario in its arms. Squinting, I noticed red covers over its eyes and dark green antennae on its head.

"Flygon, shoot them!" Lucario shouted.

"Relax, will you?" Flygon's mouth lit up with a magenta glow. "And move your ears."

Delphox launched a fireball at the two, but the dragon twirled away from it. Flygon then blasted a stream of energy, which rocketed down at us.

Impulsively, I tossed Greninja away and dove aside myself, feeling bits of earth whack against my shell. Once the magenta glow behind me faded, I glanced over and saw a long crater in the ground.

Wait. Delphox!

Looking up, I exhaled and watched the fox mage cast away a barrier that he constructed to defend himself.

Pulling out a hatchet, I aimed and tossed it at the dragon. He rolled away, spiraling around and soaring toward me. Whipping out a shuriken, I waited as he came closer, and then tossed it up.

It was definitely going to slice Flygon's neck, but Lucario lifted his sword to bat the shuriken away.

A fireball whizzed at them next, and then two more shuriken. I looked about and saw Delphox and Greninja attack them as well.

The dragon swerved around each projectile and retaliated with another breath of energy, striking the ground near Delphox.

Greninja shot another shuriken at the two, cutting Flygon's leg. He cried out and tightened his grip on Lucario.

"Go get the mage!" Lucario ordered. "Launch me at those two!"

Nodding, Flygon spun around and threw Lucario between Greninja and I. He then flew toward Delphox, who lobbed another fireball at the dragon.

Tossing one last shuriken and missing him, I quickly pulled out my broadsword again as Lucario knocked Greninja's shurikens away and smashed the ground between us.

He bounced up almost immediately, somehow unharmed from the fall. Swiftly, Lucario ran over to me and swiped at me with his sword. I blocked each swing and knocked him back.

Still very much on guard, he created a blue ball of energy and blasted it at Greninja, who had tossed two more shuriken. The spinning blades were knocked away by the attack and Greninja dove aside as it blasted the ground near him.

With a shout, I cleaved my sword down upon Lucario, whose sword blocked it with his back to me. Pivoting around, he shoved my blade away and looked to hit me with a spell up close.

Instead, he focused the energy into his fist and punched my stomach. I grunted and heaved my hand back, slamming it across his face.

Lucario backed away in pain and I gripped my side. Hard hit, but nothing serious. Likewise, he took a rough punch from me, but rubbed the bit of blood away from his mouth and glared.

"Nice shot," he complimented, "but now I have to hurt you for it."

Before he went for me, however, he noticed Greninja moving closer and closed his eyes. I lifted my sword to attack him, but he launched a red ball of energy at Greninja before I could swing down upon him.

A blast sounded behind me and I glanced to see Greninja fly back. Growling, I swung my sword into a strike against Lucario, who blocked it again.

Grinning, he pushed the blades up at me and threw me back. He tried to swing it across at me, but I parried his blow and forced the sword straight from his hand.

"Yield." I lifted my broadsword and pointed it at him.

"You forget that I don't really play with knights' rules."

Too late, I noticed an orange glow around his hand, which he jabbed at me. A fiery spell collided with me and I flew back from its force, dropping my blade in the process.

Landing, I rolled around on the ground and patted myself to get the fire out. Something splashed against me as another spell blew up and knocked me away.

For a minute, I slammed onto my back and gazed up to see the sky. Struggling, I was able to lift my head enough to watch Greninja run at Lucario as he materialized a glowing blue bone-shaped club.

Drawing his tachi blade, Greninja swiped at Lucario, as blocked the attack with his club. They clashed their weapons against one another, neither conceding an inch.

I rolled over to push myself up, watching Delphox leap away from Flygon's swinging tail. The mage twirled his staff around, and launched a series of spells at the dragon. Flygon had flown up higher as I finally lifted myself from the ground. Unsteady, I threw a shuriken at the rising beast and watched it miss.

A clang returned my attention to Greninja and Lucario, the latter having tossed Greninja's blade aside. I surged forward to assist, only to have a blast of earth knock me off balance and back down.

Forcing my face up, I watched Lucario bat Greninja's legs and knock the ninja down. He lifted the bone club above his head and swiftly brought it down.

"Greninja!" I cried out.

Another clang rang out and I blinked to as Lucario grunted. His bone was caught between two of Greninja's water blades.

"How?!" Lucario snapped.

"You're fast. I used to blindly rush opponents like you, honestly," Greninja explained. "But then someone taught me about patience and its advantages." He glanced over to me and I nodded, getting back on my feet.

Quickly, Greninja spun from his countered stance and kicked Lucario away. The jackal hit the ground and rolled back, but jumped up again soon after.

"Try again," Greninja challenged, holding the water blades up firmly.

Lucario growled with his bone club in front of him, but he paused and looked over to me. Smirking, he took one hand from his club and fired a spell at Greninja.

Angered, I ran forward as Greninja dodged the spell. Lucario grinned though, and quickly sped over to Greninja. He parried the ninja's blade swipes and, launching himself forward with the club, dropkicked Greninja straight into me.

We both fell backwards and crashed against the floor. The shield slid out from behind me and I quickly forced it into Greninja's now vacant hands.

"What—?"

"Just use it!"

Forcing myself up in front of him, I slammed my arms together, watched the green rim fan out, and formed my Spiky Shield.

Lucario had cleaved his club overhead and tried to slam it down on me, but was stabbed by my personal shield instead. He jumped back and ripped blades of grass from his arms.

Shaking my arms, the shield folded away and I glared at Lucario. He held his hand open and channeled a blue ball of energy.

Pulling out the dagger, I held it tightly in my hand. If I could get back to the pack, I could grab a bō staff instead. Reaching down, I brushed my hand along my belt, feeling a few more shuriken and a hatchet remaining.

Staring at Lucario, he only had his club left for weapons. But his spells didn't have an apparent limit and I couldn't counter them easily, regardless of weapons.

A shuriken whizzed out, which Lucario blocked with his staff. I glanced back at Greninja, who dropped one empty hand, while gripping the shield in his other. His eyes met mine and he nodded.

With a growl, Lucario launched his spell at Greninja, who lifted his shield and flew back from a strong hit. I raced forward and threw the hatchet in front of me.

Though his club whacked my axe away, I stepped around Lucario and sliced at him with my dagger. It barely connected, but I managed to deepen the cut on his shoulder, worsening his wound from my stiletto.

He winced and jumped back, knocking my hands with his club. Gritting my teeth, I tightened my fist from the pain, but kept the blade firmly in my hand.

Rapidly, Lucario wildly swung his club at me, forfeiting his stance. I pivoted to let my shell take the blows and swiped my tail at his legs, tripping him to the ground.

I tried to slam myself on top of him, but Lucario rolled away and jumped back up. He panted as he readied his bone club again.

"You're getting pretty sloppy," I taunted.

"Shut up!" He swung the club at me again, but I sidestepped it and caught it tightly in my free hand. Lucario tugged, but his club wouldn't budge.

"Told you."

Growling, he let go of the club and I turned it around. But with a wave of his hand, it began to burn mine and I dropped it. A sizzle sounded from it before the club disintegrated entirely.

Readying my dagger, I watched as Lucario channeled another blue ball in his hand. The longer he held it, the larger the sphere grew, to the point where he had to hold it between his other hand as well.

His head jerked up and he jumped back, evading a Water Shuriken that flew by. I checked to see Greninja had gotten back up, with the shield dented but still in his arm.

"One of you two has to fall eventually." I turned back as Lucario launched the ball at me. Again, I brought my hands up and formed my Spiky Shield, blocking his attack.

Greninja tossed out another shuriken, which Lucario backed away and evaded. He looked back and forth between the two of us as I lowered my shield.

"Face it. You're finished."

Lucario glared, but his ears twitched at a sharp cry that rang out. Greninja and I looked at one another, and then quickly past Lucario to watch Flygon's tail slam into Delphox.

Pulling his tail back, Flygon looked back to us and shot itself forward.

"Just needed my wings."

Before either of us could stop him, Lucario dashed away from us and closed the distance between himself and Flygon. Scooping him up, the dragon spiraled around and launched another breath attack at us.

Slipping in front of me, Greninja raised his shield as the beam came closer to us. The shield took the brunt of it, but the two of us were thrown back.

Grabbing Greninja, I fell back and landed hard on my shell. I cried out and Greninja bounced up from the landing impact, flipping over and into the ground.

He quickly recovered and pulled me up as I watched the dragon fly at us. Pushing Greninja back down, I covered him as a heavy force pounded my shell. I grunted in pain, but pushed myself back up again.

Picking Greninja up, we turned as Flygon shifted Lucario in his arms and swung around the top of the fortress. He flew at us again, looking to attack once more.

Out of nowhere, a bright blue arrow zipped over and crashed into Flygon's wing. He cried out and they went crashing down to the ground.

Checking the area, I couldn't quite place the location from the arrow's launch. Lucario pushed himself up and picked Flygon, brushing off his wing.

"Damn it, that was cold!" Flygon groaned as Lucario finished cleaning the wing.

"Hang in there," assured Lucario. "We'll need to fall back, but this isn't the end."

Nodding, Flygon flapped his wings. Another arrow flew across the air and went for Flygon, but Lucario shot a spell at it, breaking the arrow to pieces.

"Leave the rest to me!"

At the shout of a new voice, Greninja and I turned as a gray four-armed figure rushed past us. We turned to watch it swing four swords at Lucario and Flygon, with one cutting Lucario and another slicing Flygon.

Beating his wings, Flygon's wind pushed the armored fellow back as he grabbed Lucario. Again, he shot into the air and began to fly away from us. One last arrow flew out at them, but again, Lucario fired a spell and broke it.

Watching them fly off until we could barely see them, Greninja and I then turned our attention to the newcomer before us. He spun about to face us and grinned, sheathing his four swords. Silver armor decorated him, with vambraces on his wrists, a tasset around his waist, and greaves on his shins. The rest of his legs and arms were bare, as was his chest. His eyes were a deep red, but still pretty bright.

"You two all right?" He raised a brow and laughed. We exchanged confused expressions with one another before nodding to him. "Sorry about that. Name's Machamp! The Emperor sent us out here to meet you, but we didn't expect any trouble for your travel. Would've come along sooner if we knew."

"Thanks anyway," I stepped forward and held out a hand. "We really needed it." He lifted one and shook it. "I'm Chesnaught, and this is Greninja."

Machamp reached over and shook Greninja's hand with another of his, laughing at our bewildered faces.

"Don't worry, the extra arms throw off everyone." He looked past us and called out, "Hey, Weavile, come on over!" We opened our mouths to interrupt, but he beat us to it: "Don't worry, I'll go grab your friend over there."

We watched Machamp hurry over to Delphox and turned at lightly approaching footsteps. Turning around, we stared as the black weasel-like archer in light bronze armor stood beside us.

"Hey," she greeted. Like Machamp, she wore greaves and vambraces. Unlike him, she wore robes beneath her armor, with only her arms and face freely exposed. Weavile brushed the feathers atop her head and scratched at the yellow jewel on her forehead. In her hand was a dark brown bow, but she had no quiver on her back.

"Hi, thanks for helping us out." I reached out with my arm, but she merely nodded. "Um, I'm—"

"Chesnaught, and he's Greninja." Weavile nodded, a bored expression on her face. "Heard you two before, Machamp introduced me, no need to repeat ourselves."

Tightening my lips, I shrugged and nodded.

"How do you launch arrows without carrying them in a quiver?" Greninja asked.

"I make them before I fire them out."

She lifted the bow and rested her free claw on it. Ice formed around the space between as Weavile pulled her claw back along with the bowstring, creating an icicle shaped arrow. Once she had it back far enough, Weavile released the arrow and let it whiz across the air. My eyes widened as I watched it soar off.

"That's impressive!"

"Thanks."

Silence rolled in quick around us and Weavile put the bow around her back.

"Do your claws serve as your close quarters weapon?" I tried. Weavile shrugged and nodded. She also tapped her belt, which held a knife and a dagger. "Cool."

"Is Machamp a knight?" Weavile nodded to Greninja's inquiry. "And you're an archer, but are you a knight too?" To this, she shrugged.

She looked past us, maintaining her lowered red eyes. We turned to see Machamp carry Delphox over. His robes were torn in several different places, from scratches or burns. His fur was ruffled and there was some dried blood on him, but nothing that appeared life threatening.

"Put me down," Delphox weakly murmured. "I'm fine."

Frowning, Machamp slowly helped Delphox down, as the fox winced while standing. He shook his head and sighed.

"Delphox, I'm sorry," I started, but Delphox waved me off.

"Don't." He took in another breath and exhaled it. "I should have had that handled."

"We still should have helped you," added Greninja, but Delphox shook his head again.

"Do you two not feel anything?" Machamp questioned.

"Sore, but it's nothing serious."

The Empire's knight exchanged a concerned look with Weavile, who…well, didn't change facial expressions really. Turning, I stared at Greninja and my eyes widened. His robes were torn in a few different places as well, with slight cuts and bruises on his body. Gazing down at myself, I noticed similar wounds on myself, with dented armor as well. We didn't look as bad as Delphox, but it hadn't registered until now that the two of us had taken just as hard of a beating.

"All five of you seemed pretty messed up by the time I came over," noted Machamp. "Must have had a harder fight than you realized."

"Much," agreed Greninja.

"Well, that's probably the last bit of trouble you'll hit before the Empire. You should be safe with us." Machamp smiled again. "So, ready to head out?"

"In a few minutes or so." I glanced around, noting our pack some distance away. "We need to recollect our gear and…well, anything we can salvage."

"Oh, that's a pretty good idea! We'll help you out; find everything quick and then get you three to the Empire. Sound good?"

Slowly, I looked at Greninja, and then smirked at Delphox, who rolled his eyes.

"If it's not too much trouble for either of you, that would be really helpful," accepted Greninja.

"No trouble at all! Right, Weavile?"

"Sure." If it wasn't for that sole word, I might have imagined that she'd be inclined to disagree with the idea.

"All settled! Let's grab your gear, and then get you to the Empire to be healed."

Though Machamp's attitude eased us a bit, I caught glances from my friends that agreed with my own wariness of the pair. In spite of our mutual apprehension, there was nothing more we could do on the matter, and we wandered around the tundra and the fortress once more, collecting whatever we could find.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

I stared down at the blue droplet pendant in my hand. Apparently, Lucario had dropped it while we fought outside, and Weavile managed to find it for me while searching the ground. Greninja ran over to me, waving the green seed jewel he bought for me.

"Machamp found it!" Greninja excitedly cried and skidded over to me. "Here." He pinned the Miracle Seed onto my armor, wedging it into my breastplate.

"That's great, thank you; Weavile found yours for me." I grinned as Greninja lifted his tongue and I slipped the Mystic Water around his neck. Though his tongue covered most of it, the bottom of the pendant stuck out, secured in place. "Perfect."

"Thanks!" Weavile walked back over to us, along with a limping Delphox. "And thank you too, Weavile."

"You should thank your girly friend here." Weavile pointed to Delphox.

Fuming, the fire fox's ears lowered, as he grew rigid. "Girly?! I am not girly!"

"Seriously? You're wearing a dress."

"These are robes!"

"No it isn't. Your ninja friend has robes on."

"Mage's robes!"

"It still looks like a dress to me."

Delphox growled. "You have mages! They wear long robes like these!"

Blinking, Weavile shrugged. "Yeah, but even those aren't as puffed out as yours. And they're blue, not bright purple."

Grumbling still, Delphox flung his hands into the air. Machamp returned and watched in half curiosity, half amusement. He held up our pack and shook it a bit.

"Pretty sure that I got all I could find." He went over the list in his head for a moment. "Got a few tossed shuriken, though I don't think it's as many as you mentioned. And I got that dagger you brought up before, Chesnaught." He held up my stiletto, and after I nodded, put it away. "Got your sword in here too, though it's going to need a little sharpening; kind of worn down now. And that shield is dented quite a bit, Greninja."

"That's all right." Greninja glanced at me and we shared shrugs.

"Right, better it than you, huh?" Machamp laughed. "Well, unless you're missing anything else, I think we're all set to travel off to the Empire now! Bit of a walk, but we'll be there in a few hours. Still pretty early too, shouldn't be too bad, temperature wise that is." He led the way and walked off, with the rest of us following.

"Do you have to tell every southerner that?" Weavile questioned, though I couldn't tell if it was genuine curiosity or annoyance.

"Well, better safe than sorry, I'd imagine." He laughed again. "I don't suppose you folks have a lot of winter weather experience?"

"It doesn't exactly snow too often by us, but we've had some snowstorms before." I recalled a heavy one from one of the first years I started under Nidoking's employ.

"Some? Ha!" Machamp bounced the pack around, readjusting it. "It's going to be a rough adjustment for you lot then!" He turned to watch Delphox, who lagged behind a bit and limped with each step. Without warning, Machamp scooped the mage into his arms. "There you go!"

"H-Hey!" Delphox flailed and quickly wrapped his lower arms around the Empire knight, who laughed as the fox's face lit a rosy color. "P-Put me down!"

"No can do! You'll slow the whole group down with that limp!"

"But…I hate being manhandled…" Delphox muttered grumpily, sliding his hands away from Machamp.

"And now you look like a bride," Weavile observed.

"Shut up!"

"Will it get cold quickly?" I asked, already twitching as a gust passed us.

"Sure will," assured Machamp. "Brace yourselves!"

"How bad could it be?" Greninja wondered.

About an hour later, we got the answer. Traveling between the icy walls, with a constant cool breeze blowing, I shivered and held my arms together as my teeth chattered. Even as Greninja wrapped himself around me, I still shook from the steadily dropping temperatures.

Delphox lit a fireball on his wand and waved it around to warm us up a little bit, but this forced Weavile away from us. Trying to adjust, Machamp attempted to walk backwards and had Weavile guide him forward while Delphox continued to heat us up.

"Chesnaught, you look awful." Delphox raised a brow as he spun the fireball about. "Your eyes look like they're ready to burst out and you're either really blue or really pale at this point, nothing in between."

"T-Too much heat, too much c-cold, what do you expect?"

"We'll get you three some warmer clothes when we get there," Machamp promised.

"S-Super."

"So, if you don't mind my asking, what's your story?" Machamp scratched the back of his head with his one free arm. I tilted my head and he pointed at Greninja and I. "You two, that is. I've seen folks get close to warm up, but, ah…well, Greninja was pretty quick about using himself to help Chesnaught."

"Oh, well…" Greninja glanced up at me, unsure of answering.

"We're dating." I smiled and tugged Greninja into me, as if he could get closer.

"Ah, so you are!" Machamp chuckled. "Thought as much, with those gifts to each other you two wanted to find. Just wanted to make sure before assuming anything!"

He smiled warmly and we relaxed. Delphox rolled his eyes and fiddled with his wand, distracting himself.

"How long have you two been going out?"

"Uh…about two months now." Greninja nuzzled himself closer to me.

"Really? I would have guessed two years by how close you are already! Then again, maybe that's what should have signaled how short of time it's been!" He laughed heartily, though slowed when he heard our nervous response. "Ah, sorry. I think you two are pretty great together, and that's just from a first impression!"

"That's how first impressions should be." We jumped at Weavile's comment, which I had barely heard myself. "It's better to observe the couple after you actually know them."

"Eh…right." Machamp scratched at his head again. We continued to traverse the path as more snow banks began to appear. "How about you, Delphox?"

"Me? Single."

"Is that so? No lucky lords or ladies for you?"

"Not presently, no." Delphox's agitation seeped from his tone.

"Single life is fine," wrapped up an undeterred Machamp. "No one right now for me either." He paused and glanced behind him. "You're still single, right Weavile?"

"Yeah."

"There we go. But enough on that." He thought for a moment and then nodded. "What's the Grass Fields Kingdom like? You know, living there?"

"Warmer, for starters," deadpanned Delphox. Machamp laughed. "You laugh too much."

"Do you think so? Sorry about that." Machamp switched our pack from one hand to the other and shifted Delphox in his arms, who grumbled. "Sorry about that too! Gosh, you remind me of Alakazam."

"Alakazam?" Greninja tilted his head.

"An Em-Empire m-mage we m-met at the b-ball," I explained between shivers. "He l-left b-before you c-c-could m-meet him."

"Huh."

"Yep, he's a yellow fellow, long mustache, and…well, I think he'd rather do his own introduction." Machamp paused. "Or…reintroduction, I suppose."

His cheeks were a bit red as he bit his lip a little, but I wasn't sure if I should press him further on the matter. Quietly, I turned my head to watch the snowy walls grow higher around us, but still the cold air burst around us.

"What's the Empire like?" Greninja intervened. "I know we'll be there soon, but I was wondering if you could tell us more besides it being cold."

"Sure! There's a palace surrounded by a moat that eventually leads out into the sea. It's a pretty breath taking sight, besides from the chilly air." He let out a quick chuckle, but stopped just as quickly, remembering that Delphox had scolded him about it. "Anyway, it's also got the capital city around us below. And then there's the glaciers beyond that we'll need to explore for the prophet."

"Oh, that," Delphox cut in. "Tell us what you know regarding this prophet."

"Probably about what you know, or just a bit more, since they're fairly recent sightings. There's a white blur that people keep saying that they see, something that definitely isn't snow. We need him or her to pop up again, so we'll be able to learn more, but from the reports, the prophet seems to appear and disappear, usually only taking small food helpings, if anything."

"Other stuff, like bandages or blankets, went missing too," added Weavile.

"Right, forgot about that. That ghost takes food so often that I forget what else gets taken."

"Ghosts have no need to eat," argued Delphox. "Are you certain this isn't just a teleporter amongst your citizens?"

"Don't know a lot of those, besides Alakazam," mused Machamp. "And he hasn't been hoarding food or gaining much weight from what I can tell. I'm pretty sure I'd notice."

"Would you?"

"Y-Yes." Again, Machamp shifted the pack around his upper arms. "I know Alakazam almost better than anyone, besides himself."

"Anyone would notice," reinforced Weavile. "Plus, he's usually around the palace."

"That's right, that." Machamp nodded quickly. "If anyone else can Teleport around, then I'd say that was it for sure. But like I told you, we don't know anyone else that can pull it off."

"Fine, if you're sure." Delphox folded his arms, unconvinced, but relenting. Greninja and I shrugged to one another.

"Anyway, I thought I was asking you folks about your home!" Machamp shrugged his upper arms. "All I know from you is that it's warmer and grassier."

"Well, I've only been there for a bit over two months," Greninja mumbled. Machamp raised a brow, so he continued a little louder. "Uh, for the first week I was there, I was attracted to Chesnaught. So, I kind of pushed to date him really soon after."

"And a-after he s-saved my l-life from a p-poisoning," I shuddered in.

"Heroics are a good way to get started!" Machamp beamed.

Greninja blushed deeply and I kissed the top of his head. "A-Anyway, it's a pretty, um, vivacious place. There are lush grasslands and forests, a fresh river, busy little town, and all manner of folks to fill it. "

"Neat! Are they all close together? Empire's a little more widespread, I'd say."

"Oh, I…well, between the castle and the town, sure." Greninja scratched his hands, still clinging to me.

"There's more land, of course," added Delphox. "Those are more distanced."

"Ah, got it." Machamp nodded. "We have small villages that are around the northern regions too. We won't pass any on the way in, but maybe we'll stop by one. After all, the prophet seems to show up across the Empire."

"W-Why only around the E-Empire?"

"Don't know. He must live near us." Weavile clicked her claws together, a bit lost in thought.

"T-That would m-make s-s-sense."

"Greninja, try to squeeze your boyfriend a little tighter. Delphox's fireballs can't do all of the work." Machamp winked at him, to which he blushed again. My own cheeks were pretty heated, which I hadn't quite noticed until now. "I don't know which one of you two turns redder, but it's hilariously adorable either way!"

"Um…I'm pretty sure it's me." Greninja giggled as I grinned to him. Another gust of wind made me clutch him tightly and he laughed, rubbing my sides and puffing his breath against me. It wasn't quite warm anymore, but anything beat the air around us.

"How much further is it until we get there?" Delphox puffed out his cheeks. "Being carried around by a big muscular knight is degrading on my part."

"Nonsense!" Machamp shook his head. "You're injured, and I'm helping you. Nothing more to it than that, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool."

"He's actually complimenting you in an evasive manner," noted Weavile.

"Oh. Well thank you!"

"That's not…whatever, you're welcome." Delphox rolled his eyes, but smiled a little.

"We should be there in about another hour or so," calculated Weavile.

"Wow, really?" Machamp grinned. "We've made some pretty good time, then!"

We nodded as we continued along the trail, which was now almost completely covered in snow. As it continued to rise past my ankles, I quaked with every step forward.


 

[Greninja]

Around another wall of ice and snow, we pressed onward. The snow had risen up further along our legs as we shuffled along. Delphox and I were now shivering alongside Chesnaught as we further plowed through the path to the empire.

"H-How m-much f-f-further?" Delphox managed out.

"If I'm not mistaken, around this corner." Machamp carried him a ways forward, past a mound of snow. "Whoops, I was mistaken. Sorry about that."

Still holding Chesnaught, he quaked as my shoulders dropped. We sighed through our shudders and trudged after Machamp and Weavile.

"It's near the tallest tree," she reminded Machamp. "Then it's ahead from there."

"Ah, yes, that's it. Shouldn't be much further though!"

"T-That's what y-you t-told us almost an hour a-ago," chattered Delphox.

"Well, I promise I'm almost done lying about that." Machamp chuckled, to which Delphox hissed.

Already, we passed a fair number of trees, each covered with pine leaves and snow. They were spread apart from one another, so it would sometimes take a stretch of travel before we found the next cluster of trees.

As the snow began to rise even higher along our legs, we noticed some flakes fall around us.

"W-What?! Ok, I-I've had it!" Delphox lit up his staff and pointed it forward, over Machamp's shoulder. "W-Weavile, s-step aside."

Shrugging, Weavile shuffled away, undeterred by the snow already covering most of her legs. Delphox fired a stream of fire ahead of us, melting a good portion of the path. Once he stopped, however, the snow from the sides began to slide inward.

"H-Hurry up and l-let's go."

Weavile and Machamp surged ahead, with Chesnaught and I following them. Delphox held his stick staff up, waiting to launch another fire stream ahead.

"I-It'll be s-slush again—"

However, Machamp bounced around a bit and hurried forward, while Delphox yelped out. Weavile shrugged and followed him, leaving Chesnaught and I to do the same.

Rounding a corner, we gazed ahead in awe. Past the tallest pine tree, there was a large white glacier that stood between the land we were on now and the sea that surrounded it.

Nearest to the water was a large port, with piers that stretched out to the open glacial basin. One tier up from that were numerous shops and houses that lined along the circular ice plateau. Up another tier were more frozen, pale azure houses, along with long stretches of ice that lead further out along the glaciers that ran off into the distance, connecting back to the land on the sides of the glacier.

The level above that included buildings and structures that were more widespread, leaving some stretches of water, with falls that ran down to the bottom, around the port. Above that was another level of water that essentially formed its over moat and stream, with a large staircase that led up to the highest level. At the top was the palace itself, which was centered between the circular city boundaries.

This was the Iceberg Empire.

Awed, I stared quietly, admiring the well carved and crafted glacial city from even a distance. Glancing over, I noticed Delphox was also taken in studying the area, while Machamp proudly grinned as he observed our reactions.

"W-Wow, t-that's impress-impressive," shivered Chesnaught.

Though he mentioned so, he was paying closer attention to holding himself together. I hadn't realized that my arms had slip down his waist and that I had moved away from him. Quickly, I wrapped myself back around my boyfriend; I rubbed and puffed on him to warm him back up a bit.

"We should go." Weavile started walking down the path toward the empire.

"Oh, she's right, we need to get you three there already." Machamp lifted the pack and Delphox around, to which the fox whimpered. "You three need to be patched up and meet everyone still. Come on!"

Though our bodies were practically freezing, I managed to pull Chesnaught along with me as we chased the others toward the empire. As we made our way closer to the city, the snow decreased, but the path was completely frozen, or rather, made of ice. Both Chesnaught and I winced as we made our way down the trail, each step stinging from our bare feet sliding across the frigid walkway.

Somehow, Machamp and Weavile were able to walk across the ice with no problems. While she was an Ice Type, he wasn't, and had bare feet like us. The knight glanced back to see us struggling and frowned.

"Sorry about that. It's probably a total shock for the two of you right now, but we'll help you get used to it in time."

"H-How a-are y-y-you…?" Chesnaught's teeth chattered the rest of his question away.

"Who, me? I've practically grown up in the northern region, so I'm used to this frosty feeling!" Proving his point, Machamp skated around the ice a bit, spinning around while Delphox flailed in his lower arms. "Ha, see? Second nature for me!"

"Q-Quit it!"

"Ah, sorry Delphox!"

A painful amount of minutes later, we reached the capital city. Two short, pink and Fairy-like city folk wandered by, both undeterred by the cold climate themselves. I shook my head and helped Chesnaught forward as we made our way to the city's center, passing a few more buildings and unshaken citizens along the way.

Reaching the staircase, Weavile was the first one to step up them, moving quickly from one step to the next. Machamp carried Delphox up after her, with the two of us shivering as we trailed in tow. Each step was well carved, though I was watched the rushing waterfalls instead as we climbed up, watching it pour to the lower tiers.

At the top, we walked across a bridge that went over the moat, leading to the entrance of the massive ice crafted palace. It spanned across the upmost tier, much larger than the Grass Fields Castle was. Just by looking at the palace from a distance, one could tell there were multiple floors inside of it, each building up to the central tower itself, which must have been the highest point in the city.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Machamp glanced back at us with a broad grin. "This is the Iceberg Palace."

"Name's obvious," muttered Weavile.

"F-From even h-here, it s-sure is b-breathtaking," I complimented. "T-The whole p-place is w-well c-crafted."

Making our way across the bridge, I hesitated a moment, thinking I noticed something swim by in the water below.

"No need to be nervous." I peeked up to notice Machamp had stopped for me. "That's probably another knight. Some of them work just as well in the water as they do on land. Sometimes, they just go for a swim in the ice waters out here."

"T-That's ins-sane," interjected Delphox.

"Yeah, I'm inclined to agree on that notion." Machamp laughed. "Personally, I prefer the hot springs around here! But, more on that later; we need to get you three to the Emperor already."

He turned as I nodded, and we moved to follow him. Again though, I stopped and stared at a shrouded figure in the distance. Barely, I thought I watched someone spin about and walk behind the palace, a long tail following the figure away. Quickly, I turned to Chesnaught, who seemed to have followed my gaze. He shook as he shrugged to me and we continued to follow the others under the overhang and into the palace.

Inside, the main hall was pretty spacious, as well as slightly warmer than outside. It was well decorated, with various designs on the rugs on the floors and ice sculptures lining the walls in the distance. Columns and archways filled in the space across the hall, though they did nothing to contract the weight of the room. Fading sunlight gleamed through windows higher above the room. The banners streamed spaciously across the room, hanging from walls and dangling from the ceiling high above us.

Studying the silver crest on one dark blue banner, I noticed that the bottom had a massive bird with strange hand-like wings on it, with a large orca-like creature over it. Two smaller pixies were on either side of the larger creatures. They appeared to be beneath a level of water, for there was a dragon with ice-like wings above waves between them. An ice golem stood in front of the dragon, while two other beasts were leaping on either side of the dragon, and closer to the water. One appeared to be a unicorn, while the other seemed similar to the creature on Nidoking's fountain. Finally, a smaller bird completed the banner, flying above the dragon, with a long tail and snowflakes descending from its wings.

"Detailed, huh?" Machamp laughed as he caught me gawking at the banner. "Designers and tailors tend to complain about every one of those creatures they need to include on them, so simpler crests either choose just a few of them, or otherwise just make use of snowflake and water droplet designs." He eyed my Mystic Water and nodded. "Similar to that pendant you're wearing."

"The crest is too busy," murmured Weavile. She took her bow from behind her back and inspected it, perhaps for wear from the earlier fight.

"Weavile, you would be the very last person to ask on such a matter."

Everyone spun about as a mage in blue robes appeared from behind a column. Weavile rolled her eyes as the yellow, mustached creature stepped forward.

"Alakazam!" Machamp took a step forward, but faltered a bit. Glancing at the mage, I glimpsed at a slight glare in his eyes, which was gone before I could blink.

"Just how long did fetching them need to take, Machamp?" The mage shook his head and folded his arms. "Honestly, the Emperor expected you back well before sunset."

"We had to fend off attackers that they faced." Machamp glanced to Weavile, who supportively nodded. "After that, we helped them grab their weapons."

"And no doubt you took your time, pausing to show them a view or a few." Alakazam tapped his head, to which Machamp shrugged his upper arms. "You realize your mind is an open book, right?"

"Well, it's always been that way for you." Machamp grinned as Alakazam's cheeks flushed a bit and he coughed to cover it up. "All the same, are you going to keep at me, or introduce yourself to our guests?"

"Chesnaught and Delphox, I've already met. Though, it is good to see them again." He strode over to me and held out a hand. "Greninja, however, is a new face, so hello. As you've heard, I am Alakazam."

Slowly, I took my hand from Chesnaught and shook Alakazam's. "Hi. Um…I guess you already know me?"

"Your boyfriend revealed just a bit when we last met."

"N-Not by ch-choice."

"Oh, it was certainly by choice." Alakazam chuckled and tapped his head again. "It was the information that you kept at the forefront of your mind, and therefore, the most willing bit you wished to share." He patted Chesnaught's shoulder. "Nothing to be ashamed of. Judging by your perspective, you two seem quite happy together."

My cheeks flared up and I turned to see Chesnaught blush too. Alakazam smiled, tugging a bit on his mustache.

"Yes, yes, that's enough embarrassing them." Delphox tapped his wand against his head, redirecting our attention to him.

"Onto you, then. Quite comfortable in Machamp's arms, are you?" Alakazam grinned at Delphox's flustered face as he pushed from the knight's arms, as Machamp carefully set him down. "Admittedly, they are firm and secure, so I can imagine how nice it feels." Machamp himself blushed deeply at the comment.

"Aw, am I about to interrupt a flirting spree?" A hollow and feminine voice from around us giggled. While Chesnaught, Delphox, and I whirled our heads about, Machamp relaxed while Alakazam held his head. Weavile shuddered as a white mage in lighter blue robes appeared from thin air behind her. Her face behind the white…mask…was a ghastly purple grin. "Judging by the looks on their horrified faces? Worth it!"

"Froslass, must you be so…you?" Weavile shoved the mage from behind her, as she floated from the archer's claws.

"Hee-hee! Weavile, honey, you need to let loose more." Froslass spun around and gently wrapped her arms around Weavile, who puffed out her cheeks in annoyance. "If you want, I can help you with that!"

"No thanks."

"Pfft. No fun."

"Naturally, my fellow mage needs no introduction." Alakazam held up a hand to gesture the specter. "All the same, meet Froslass, Grass Field folk."

"Hi there! I'm practically the spirit behind this whole palace! Literally!"

Froslass giggled as she floated up into the air and spun around. Gliding about, she disappeared from sight, and we gasped. Delphox yelped as she reappeared behind him, waving a single strand of his fur, plucked from the back of his head.

"Look at this cutie! Afraid of Ghosts, are you?"

"W-What? No!" Delphox swatted her hand and snatched his fur back. "This, however, is more painful than you could understand!"

"Hey, I totally understand! I practiced plucking hairs from Alakazam!"

"Yes…she did." Alakazam rubbed his mustache and guarded it as Froslass floated near him. "Don't even think about it."

"Too late!"

"Easy Froslass, you'll wear him out for the rest of the night at that rate." Machamp grinned as the ghostly mage rolled over to him and giggled, but dropped it once he noticed Alakazam glaring. "Uh, anyway, do either of you know if the Emperor is available?"

"Indeed he is, Sir Machamp."

Everyone pivoted to the opposite end of the hall, and bowed down. Checking with each other, Delphox and Chesnaught nodded and bowed with them. I blinked and watched a penguin figure walking down from the distance as Chesnaught dragged me down to bow as well.

In a minute, the dark blue penguin reached us. Slightly, I glanced up at his face, which held a stern expression and a golden trident in front of it. His icy blue eyes gazed down upon us and he suddenly smiled. He offered a wing forward to me and helped me back up.

"Allow me to formally welcome you to the Iceberg Empire. I am Emperor Empoleon, as you have undoubtedly guessed by now."

He nodded for Chesnaught and Delphox to rise as well. I smiled and waited for the others to stand as well, but they did not.

"Tell me, what are your names?"

"I'm Delphox of the Grass Fields Kingdom." The fox mage bowed lightly, tried to hide his wince, and stood back up, waving me to follow.

"Oh, sorry. My name is Greninja." I bowed again as well, and then looked as Chesnaught shivered again.

"M-My na-name is Ch-Chesnaught, y-your g-grace."

"Still too cold? You'll get used to it, in time." Empoleon chuckled, though slightly narrowed my eyes. "Nidoking sent fairly strong choices. One of his powerful mages and the celebrity couple."

"Celebrity?"

"Mm, I suppose not everyone in my Empire knows of you two, but I caught the north wind's buzz about a couple that came out two months back. A ninja and a knight." He studied us carefully and nodded. "Nidoking hasn't had many ninjas under his employ over the years, so it was a safe assumption that the two of you fit the bill."

"Why, yes, you are correct, your grace." Delphox smiled and laughed, answering for us.

"Think their relationship is funny, mage?"

"Huh? What? No! No, not at all!" Delphox quivered a bit and stepped back as the emperor glared at him.

"Delphox is one of our closest friends and supported us getting together," I intervened. "We're thankful to have him."

"Are you?" Again, Empoleon observed me, and then Chesnaught. "That's good. Nidoking always valued the strength behind relationships and his forces. I believe that Nidoqueen, may she rest peacefully, was the one who brought about that ideal for him. I suppose I can expect such from the two of you?

"Y-Yes, sir," we answered together.

"Good. There seems to be a wealthy flow of attraction between the two of you, so I expect great strength indeed." We blushed furiously at comment. "Come now, no need to feel embarrassed by that. Love brings out the best, right?" Slowly, we nodded. "Of course. Some of my men freely share interests with one another, from time to time. Builds bonds, which are always useful." Lightly, I tilted my head, confused by how at ease Empoleon was about that apparent fact. "Speaking of Nidoking, it's nice to hear that he's moved on, according to Alakazam."

"Oh, y-yes, he's b-b-betrothed to the g-general," managed Chesnaught.

"Splendid. And I suppose you three understand that you'll be staying here until further notice?"

"We do, sire." Delphox bowed his head, hiding a glint of sorrow.

"Very good. I'll need some time to assess how you three fit in and which of my men I should send to replace you three back with Nidoking." He tapped his sharp flippers together, and then shook his head. "But enough of that, I can worry about that later. I'm sure you're all quite curious about our prophet sightings?"

Chesnaught and I glanced at one another, unsure how to respond.

"Would you tell us more, sire?" Delphox cupped his hands together. "We're still a bit unaware or uninformed on every detail."

"Did Machamp tell you nothing?" He quickly turned back to the bowed knight, who shuddered under the emperor's gaze.

"He told us what he knew, which was everything he knew," Delphox defended. "We were wondering if you could provide us with more information? From the emperor's perspective, with additional reports that might have come in?"

"Ah, of course." Empoleon turned back and nodded. "Most describe the figure as a white blur, appearing and disappearing during late hours of the night. Food is reported stolen, sometimes other small objects, nothing ever in a great supply. What's curious is that we've set up several guard details to try capturing this supposed prophet, but he or she is…quite elusive."

"How so?" I bit my tongue, afraid that I might have interrupted too soon, but Empoleon took no notice.

"The figure will be able to know where guards are posted and appear in less populated locations, as if given advanced notice of where the additional troops are posted. More curiously, however, is that there was one instance that the prophet went to a heavily guarded area. According to what they told me, he or she was able to predict their movements and evade any attempts at arrest. No one was even able to get a proper visual description, beyond one guard claiming that he may have noticed a purple tail, but others were uncertain of that validity."

Each of us exchanged nervous expressions with one another, unnerved by the news.

"Lately, such reports have gone cold, so to speak." Empoleon rolled his eyes, but chuckled a bit as well. "However, we're holding out for the next report of the prophet surfacing. Hopefully, I can send my best soldiers to pitch in for the latest hunt. And I hope that you three will do what you can to contribute as well."

"We certainly will, your grace." Delphox shot us a glance as we nodded quickly.

"Excellent. I'll entrust this lot to help you three settle in." He gestured to the bowed group behind him and they quickly rose up. "Once they've helped you, get some rest and be prepared to begin training with my soldiers tomorrow. Best of luck, and I'll expect to hear great things from you three."

Before any of us could answer, he turned away and strolled back down the main hall, walking from the room and out of sight. We looked at one another, then at our new allies, and though we were told exactly, we were still unsure of what we were to truly expect next from this place.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

Heavy banging sounded at our door early the next morning. Too quickly, I shot up from the bed, forcing myself from Chesnaught's heavy arms, hitting him in the face.

"Ouch."

"Sorry." The banging sounded again. "We're up, we're up!"

"Practice begins soon," grunted a gruff, unfamiliar voice. "Get to the Main Hall. Be ready."

Heavy footsteps plodded away from the door. Rolling from the bed, I slipped into my new clothes that we were given late last night, which included a warm blue shirt and thin matching pants, both with simplified crests of the empire. After that, I pulled my usual robes over them. Chesnaught, however, tugged the covers back over himself and rolled over. Sighing, I poked at his buried form.

"You heard him. We're going to be late for sparring."

"It's freezing," came his muffled response.

"Yes, but we'll get used to it in time." I shook him. "Come on, it takes you longer to get ready than me."

"No, come back into bed and let's stay warm here together."

"Chesnaught."

"Aw, come on."

"Fine, I'll leave you here." I tapped my foot and thought for a moment. "But when they send you packing back home, King Nidoking will be disappointed to learn that we couldn't uphold the alliance he strived to forge."

A heavy sigh was emitted, followed by Chesnaught poking his grumpy head out from the covers. "I hate it when you do that."

"Use reason?"

"Yeah." He laughed as he threw off the rest of the covers and started to put on his new undergarments, nearly identical to mine besides size, and then the armor. I grabbed a few pieces and helped him put the rest on. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." He kissed my cheek. "Ok, come on, we're late by now."

"I can think of worse things to be."

Opening the frozen door, I stepped outside and turned to wait for Chesnaught. Instead, I blinked and suddenly a blue robed figure appeared. With just a gasp, I readied a water blade and pointed it, as the hood flew off to reveal Alakazam.

"Easy there, good sir," Alakazam held up a hand, though his voice was unwavering for someone at the other end of a weapon. "It's only me."

"Wait, where'd you come from?" Chesnaught asked as he came out.

"Sorry, I thought Machamp had mentioned that I do that. Teleport." Within a flash, the mage vanished before our eyes. "He loves to bring that up with other people," Alakazam called, and we glanced back into our room to find him waiting inside. "You forgot to make the bed."

"We're running late for training," I explained.

"Oh, no problem."

Walking out and pulling both of us close to him, Alakazam smiled. In another flash, we were suddenly in the Main Hall of the palace. Chesnaught and I broke away from him, gazing around the room.

"That's incredible!" Chesnaught beamed at Alakazam, who shrugged and nodded.

"It's kind of second nature for me, so I guess I forget how impressed others can be by it." He chuckled. "And look at that, you went from running late to being early."

"Thank you very much." I bowed to the mustached mage. "That was kind of you to come looking for us."

"Oh, I can't really take that credit. Your friend Delphox wanted me to make sure that the two of you were up and ready."

"Wait, Delphox has been up?" Chesnaught scratched his head. "I mean, he gets up faster in the mornings than either of us, but I didn't think we slept in that late."

"You didn't. Froslass woke him up early to start training."

"They're training right now?"

"Yes." Alakazam brushed his mustache. "Come to think of it, I better be getting back to them." He frowned and glanced upward. "Hopefully, Froslass hasn't gone overboard with their practice."

"What would you consider overboard?"

"Uh…"


 

[Meanwhile]

In a room of ice-crafted mirrors, Delphox rolled away from a burst of repulsive purple winds. He clenched his teeth and glanced at two of the mirrors, both of which displayed Froslass's wide grin.

"This is not the type of training I had in mind!" Delphox whirled around and hurled a fireball out of his wand, which flew off through the empty air.

"Too bad!" Ice Shards soared across the sky and pelted Delphox, who yelped from the barrage. "The Iceberg Empire is vast and easy to get lost in. Opponents will try to use that to their advantage. So! You'll need to do your best to counter that, and the knights will probably be reliant on you more than themselves!"

"W-Why?"

"Because you're a mage!" Froslass giggled and clapped, still missing from Delphox's sight. "And mages are better at covering wide areas."

"While you have a point, I still think there are better ways to go about this."

"Aw, what's wrong? Scared of more Ghost attacks?"

"Actually…yes!"

"Tough luck for you!"

Again, a gust of dark wind rushed through the air. Delphox cried out as it smashed the ice all around him.


 

[Greninja]

"…I…I'm sure your friend is doing fine, honestly." Alakazam laughed nervously and scratched behind his head. "Anyway, I—"

"Alakazam? That you?"

The group turned as Machamp made his way through one of the archways, walking into the room.

"Hey there, newcomers!" He grinned to Chesnaught and I, waving. "Can't wait to get started with you today."

"Yes, excellent," huffed Alakazam before either of us could respond. "If you'll all excuse me—"

"Wait, what's the hurry, Alakazam?" The knight frowned and shot his…the mage an inquisitive look. "You had enough time to spend with them, but nothing for me?"

"No, I just…" Alakazam shook his head. "Froslass is alone with Delphox, and I really shouldn't just leave all that work to her or—"

"Work? She loves it!" Machamp folded his arms. "Come on, you could just spend another minute around us."

"Why? Just for you?" His demeanor grew colder by the second, completely directed to Machamp. His face, however, was the opposite, redder. "Is that what you'd like?"

"Aw, come on, not that again—"

"It's on your mind, not mine," snapped Alakazam. "Maybe if you put some substance behind your thoughts, we…forget it." He shook his heads, and then pocketed them. "I don't need to wait around and be insulted."

"Most people would be flattered to know—"

"Then most are gullible, lonely, or just as crude as you are!"

"…Al—"

"Don't." Alakazam shook his head and folded his arms, as if holding himself together. "Just…let me be, Machamp."

He turned back to Chesnaught and I. Fortunately for me, my tongue covered my tightly closed mouth; my boyfriend was not quite as lucky, looking as though he were sucking in air. As obvious as it was, Alakazam hardly reacted to it, instead just trying to grin, but instead grimacing at us.

"My apologies to leave you both on such a sharp note. I do hope that we'll be able to spend time together later."

Sliding out two spoons in each of his hands, he winked and teleported away. Machamp let out a heavy sigh and shook his head.

"He's unbelievable."

Chesnaught glanced at me for support, to which I only shrugged. "Um, we weren't too off—"

"Oh, please don't think less of him," interrupted Machamp. "That was all meant for only me to hear, and I pressed him."

"It's fine, really," I insisted.

"We were just…wondering what that was all about."

"…Right, of course." Machamp forced a smile, but let it drop quickly and sighed. "Well, a few—"

"More minutes and the others will be here, very good, Machamp," bellowed a gruff voice, matching the one we heard earlier.

Looking past Machamp as he spun around, we watched as a…giant tree-like creature stomped across the hall. He wore a piece of silver armor, but most of his white body was left freely exposed, with bushy green hands and stubby feet totally visible. Machamp saluted as the large fellow came over to us. His pale purple eyes surveyed Chesnaught and I, too awed to follow Machamp's salute.

"Impressive that new runts like you two could be ready so quickly," he boomed. "And somehow managed to not get lost on your first day in this huge of a palace."

"Uh…we had…help, sir," I managed.

"That's obvious," the tree…yeti huffed. Neither Chesnaught nor I could pick up on his sarcasm, if either statement had been spoken in such a manner.

"Permission to speak, General Abomasnow?" Machamp eyed his superior with uneasiness.

"What, to defend these two?"

"They're new, sire—"

"So? That excuses them from showing respect? That allows them to lazily be guided around this palace—?"

"We weren't guided," I cut in. "We were taken here directly."

"Yes, by one of the mages, obviously." General Abomasnow shook his head. "One flies, and the other teleports. And that's without their usual assortment of magical assistance. Of course one of them would get you here so quickly."

"Beg pardon, sire," Chesnaught started, "but were you hoping that we wouldn't get here in time? We're meant to foster the alliance between our kingdoms. I don't ask for kindness, but one would imagine that you're looking to outright overturn the decision your emperor made with our king."

My eyes widened at Chesnaught's…direct attitude with the empire's general. He wasn't quite like that with anyone else before. Even the general himself was taken aback, while Machamp's mouth fell open.

"N…Not at all!" Abomasnow coughed. "I'd never go against his grace." He shook himself down. "At any rate, the two of you best be ready for training with our troops. We're expecting you to fall in easily."

"We'll do our best," promised Chesnaught. "Better yet, twice as well."

"That remains to be seen, but at least you've got vigor."

"He certainly does, sire!"

From the distance, a trio of bears made their way into view. They were led by the tallest, a polar bear with an icy beard and silver armor, with blue tints and fabrics woven into it, and a long ice club in his hands. A daunting giant panda followed him, with darker silver armor than his counterparts and two, sheathed katana poking out from behind him. In tow behind the two was a shorter brown bear, carrying a lance, a halberd, a glaive, a war hammer, and a sword-staff in his vambrace covered arms.

Lightly, Machamp waved as they strolled over. "This is our resident bear bundle," he introduced. "Big fellow is Beartic, dark eyes there is Pangoro, and buried behind those weapons is Ursaring."

"You know, we're fully capable of introducing ourselves," snapped Ursaring, who tilted the weapons too far forward and hobbled around to regain balance.

"Forget our roll call, tell us more about this alluring newcomer," purred Pangoro, his eyes settled on…Chesnaught.

What?

"Oh, uh, this is Chesnaught," Machamp raised his hand to my boyfriend, as Chesnaught's eyes widened and mouth dropped open a bit.

"Such a cute little guy," cooed Beartic, which…did not fit the deep voice that emitted the line.

"Hoho, think I know who I want my sparring partner to be," chuckled Ursaring as my cheeks flared up.

"No chance, I saw him first," contended Pangoro.

"Relax, you two," laughed Beartic. "There's plenty of him to go around."

"Uh, no, there's not." The three turned their heads down to me, raising brows in…amusement?! "Y-You can all keep your distance from him, thank you."

"And who is this brittle critter?"

Brittle?!

"That's—"

"My name is Greninja," I intervened before Machamp could take their attention from me.

"And he happens to be my boyfriend," added Chesnaught proudly. I whirled around to see him beaming at me.

"…Is that all?"

We jumped and spun around back to the bears, as they smirked in satisfaction.

"Of course that's all! That's all you should need to back off!" Clenching my fists, I quaked in anger at the triad.

"Check it out, the quivering little froggy has some fire in him," mocked Pangoro.

"How adorable, he must be really defensive," Beartic…chirped. "Listen, petite frog, unless you're married to that handsome hedgehog, he's fair game."

"N-No, I'm not," argued Chesnaught, shivering back a few steps.

"They are pretty close, these two," added Machamp. "None of you should—"

"Wow, is that Machamp giving us lectures?" Pangoro laughed. "How's your dating life going again?" Machamp shuffled back a bit, annoyed but unnerved. "Same old story, huh?"

"And what if it is?" The knight folded his lower arms together. "At least that makes more sense than what you three have going on."

"Excuse you?" Ursaring huffed. "The 'thing' we have going is a mutual three-way relationship, and it happens to work out just fine."

"Though adding a fourth would be a delight," mused Beartic, still eying Chesnaught.

"Three should satiate you clods," came the monotone voice of Weavile. A few seconds later, she rounded a column and into sight, bow across her back.

"As if this was any of your business?"

"Don't make it that way." Weavile's lowered eyes were more threatening than if she were glaring.

"Surprising update," announced a new voice, "Weavile will smash heads that continue to underestimate her."

Dashing in was a red and white penguin, with…some type of a sack-like tail?

"Delibird." Weavile nodded to him and folded her arms.

"Chilling delivery," Delibird joked. "The others should arrive shortly, general."

"Shortly indeed."

Abomasnow pointed across the hall, where a pair of…oh, frogs, walked over to the rest of us. As least, one seemed like a green frog or toad, while the other appeared to be a very large tadpole. Both wore lighter armor than Machamp or the bears, with their arms and legs mostly exposed. The pair set their eyes on me and scurried over, each one studying me from either side. Neither spoke for a few minutes, instead just observing my discomfort.

"This is the Poli duo," informed Machamp after neither made a presentation. "The shorter green fellow is Politoed, while the bulky blue one is Poliwrath."

"Everyone knows who we are," muttered Poliwrath, with…no visible mouth, as he waved the other knight off, eyes fixed on me. "Who we don't know is this tall and handsome fellow."

"Um—"

"Hey, back off, Poliwrath," cut in Politoed. "I saw him first!"

"And what makes you think he'd be interested in you?!"

"Because we're both a little more mature than a tadpole, for starters!"

"Oh, please! You're jealous because he's clearly already watching me more." No, I wasn't. "After all, I'm the one who saw him first."

"You're both wrong," barked Chesnaught. "I saw him first."

The two stared blankly at Chesnaught. They glanced at me, then to each other, and back to my knight.

"Just what do you care, anyway?" Politoed placed his hands on his hips. "He's not even your type."

"He happens to be my boyfriend," growled Chesnaught, which…didn't deter either of the frog knights.

"You think that means anything?" Poliwrath laughed. "He's probably just holding onto you until he finds someone better."

"No, I'm actually really interested in him," I defended.

"It's fine," chuckled Politoed. "You've got to keep him believing, we get it."

"What are you even on about?!" I snapped, throwing my hands into the air. "First the bears, now you two, who's next?"

"What's with all of you?" Chesnaught joined in. "We're both taken. Find someone else to lust after."

"They should, but they're not going to," explained another new voice. We turned to watch a short, though heavily armored, blue sea turtle. His face was covered in a darker, rock-like mask, matching his bulky shell. "We take what they can around here. Carracosta's the name."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Winter's harshness teaches one many things," interrupted a purple and white stout that walked from behind Carracosta. "These lessons differ greatly from those that the arctic regions teach." She had long fur covering over her arms, almost like whips. Her silver armor was lighter as well, with nothing on her arms or legs, as well as kimono-like robes beneath it. "And isolation in solitary lands can easily madden one."

Chesnaught and I glanced at one another, and then back to her. "Uh…"

She giggled. "Sorry, I have fun messing with new folks like that. I'm Mienshao."

"Nice to meet you, miss…" I started and coughed, noticing the red eyes lower. "…Mister Mienshao?"

"Not bad," he complimented. "It took the rest of these louts much longer to realize it."

"I still confuse you for a female."

"Of course you do, general." Mienshao sighed and lowered his head.

"So, what did you mean, with all those, uh…words?" Chesnaught scratched his head.

"Oh, that." Mienshao chuckled. "Just me being silly and going for the philosophical—"

"He meant that they're lonely and just prefer it to get with whoever, considering how anyone could freeze at any moment out here," interrupted Carracosta.

"Well, I was trying to put it more delicately, but—"

"You're always too damn delicate."

"Wait, what was that about?" Chesnaught was teetering between confusion and worry.

"The Frozen Fields beyond the palace," explained Carracosta. "You probably saw it on your way in, though probably didn't recognize it. Vast white, nothing but the cold region that just goes on north. Eventually, you should hit the sea, but if you get lost out there, well…" He shrugged and lifted his flippers. "And we have assignments that require us to go out there. Some resources the town needs are out there. So, rather than wait around to see who comes back and who doesn't—"

"Soldiers will just have flings with whomever and not develop attachments," Mienshao finished for him. "Yes, yes, brutal tales for breakfast, thank you very much, Carracosta."

"You're welcome."

"That's…awful," murmured Chesnaught. I grabbed his hand tightly.

"Relax, we haven't lost anyone within two years," soothed Mienshao. "And the longest anyone's been lost recently was a few hours!"

"Technically, it's only been a year." Carracosta sighed. "Remember that one fellow from town—"

"Ok, but we haven't lost anyone," insisted Mienshao. "And I blame his friend; she shouldn't have let him go alone."

"Wasn't she ill?" Machamp scratched his chin. "Didn't he need to get those herbs—?"

"Seriously not helping calm them down, Machamp!"

"Sorry."

"If you want calm, I've got just the knight for the job!"

This next voice made me pick up my head. He…sounded familiar, somehow. Turning, I watched a large and bright blue salamander be guided in by a taller…blue…duck.

No. He can't be here.

"Meet Quagsire," he introduced, not noticing me right away. "He's the most relaxed guy I've ever met."

"Hello," Quagsire sluggishly lifted an arm.

"Call him what he really is," snapped Ursaring. "Lazy."

"Maybe a bit," yawned Quagsire.

"Ursaring, if you really want to test…" Unavoidable. His red eyes caught sight of me and suddenly the focus was gone. Memories flashed back into his eyes, as they already had mine. "…Greninja?"

"Golduck." I wanted to spit the name out and never use it again, but I already knew that I was far from able to do that.

"W-What are you doing here?"

"Obeying my king, and now my emperor." I folded my arms. Glaring should be easier than this.

"Oh." Golduck scratched the back of his head. "Well, you look as fantastic as—"

"The day you left? Better, actually."

"Um." Chesnaught! "Am I…missing something, Greninja?"

"Hello there," he already started to try to show off that friendly side. "I'm Golduck."

Not with him, you're not.

"He was my first boyfriend." Chesnaught's face fell, his eyebrows raised. "Until he up and left me."

"Greninja—"

"Don't. Even. Start." My heart raced as I maintained the glare, easily now. Hands shook, either rage or fear. Didn't matter. "You don't get to finesse out of this one."

"Come now, I would never—"

"Take off on me? Leave me in the middle of the night, without any kind of word otherwise?"

"Hey, I did bring it up with you—"

"Once." I'd give him no quarter, just like he had given me. "About two weeks before you vanished."

"It was fair."

"It was cruel."

"That much was unintentional," he tried. "I really did enjoy that night we shared, truly, no fault on your part—"

"Of course it wasn't me. I didn't trod off, scared of facing what really mattered."

"I went on to become a knight, you should be proud!"

"I'm proud that I didn't mourn you for longer."

"Enough." The blasted general finally stepped between us, as if he would be able to stop me. "Greninja, yeah? Angry now? Good. Save that for practice and learn to channel it, use it."

I'll use it with my blade, and channel that straight through your beady purple eyes.

"Aw, it was just getting good," laughed Pangoro. "Swimmers are going to have a great show coming up."

"Keep it up, chubby buns," mocked Golduck. "I might stay out of the water just for you."

"Who the hell told you that name?!"

"Ah, save it," Abomasnow intervened again. "Golduck, you've got practice in the water today, along with the rest. Pangoro, you need to learn more discretion."

"Yes, sire," they reluctantly managed.

"Right then. Ground knights, to the practice field," Abomasnow directed. "Chesnaught, you're obviously with them. Greninja, you'll be with our water knights, as they teach you more combat maneuvers in the pool."

"You're splitting us—?"

"Correct." There was a hint of delight that made me ready to lash out at the general at any given moment. "He's more than capable of swimming adeptly. You're not. Water types can also use the environment around them, whereas you'd need to focus on actually breathing underwater. Is that clear, Chesnaught?"

"…As ice, sir."

"Splendid. Let's go, everyone move! We've wasted more than enough time already."

General Abomasnow led several knights across the hall, with Machamp and Weavile waiting on Chesnaught. He still held my hand, and gazed down at me with his big, dark eyes. Scooping up my other hand, shakily, he tightened his grip. Golduck slid over to him.

"So, you're a friend of Greninja's?"

"His boyfriend, actually," corrected Chesnaught.

"Oh." Golduck lowered his eyes and nodded. "Well. Your tastes have changed, Greninja."

"Yeah, they've gotten better," I hissed. Shrugging, Golduck walked away from us. Under my breath, I admitted, "I should have come up with something more witty."

"So," Chesnaught exhaled and I whirled around to him, "that one time you tried to tell me about your first love and choked—"

"Chesnaught, I am so sorry, I didn't expect him to be here. If I had, I would have—"

"Calm down, Greninja." He smiled and pulled me in to place a kiss on my head. "I wouldn't be thrilled to see my ex either."

"Maybe, but yours isn't actually here." I nibbled on my tongue.

"True." Chesnaught softly rubbed my hands with his; he was still smiling at me, but there was a moment that he glanced past me. "Will you be—?"

"I can handle him." My eyes narrowed at the duck, as he waited near the entrance, letting several other knights pass.

"Actually, I was going on a broader scale and wondering if you'd be fine without me?"

"Ah. Um…yeah, I think so." He nodded and paused; it took me a moment to register. "Wait, are you ok without me around?"

"Honestly, I'd feel better if we were together, but if you're fine, then I'll be ok."

Chesnaught wrapped his arms around me and we embraced. My still racing heart sank a bit, and I heard his hammering away against me. Pulling back, I reached up and guided his face to my lip and tongue. Waiting to watch his grin grow, I then leaned in and pressed against his lips, kissing him tightly. My tongue brushed against some of his fur at first, and then he slid his against mine. Barely breathing against him, I pulled him in closer, resting my hands along the back of his head. He rested one arm around my waist, stroking the side of my face with his free hand.

Machamp cleared his throat and we untangled from each other quickly. Our cheeks lit up and Chesnaught nervously smiled, looking at the other flustered knight. Weavile had stopped watching, and instead picked at her claws. Slowly, he waved to me and trudged after them, the three disappearing across the room.

Heavily exhaling, I walked over to the palace entrance, intending to surge past Golduck, who had waited the whole time. Of course, he caught up a second after I passed him.

"Really needed to affirm that you moved on from me, huh?" He huffed.

"What?!"

"Come on, like that kiss wasn't intentionally time."

"Get over yourself, Golduck!" I pivoted to him as we both halted. "If you weren't here, I would have kissed him the same way. I love him, which is easily more than you could give me."

"You loved me once."

"A harsh lapse in judgment," I snapped and stormed off. "One that I learned from!"

Stomping out onto the bridge, the other Water Pokemon—and Delibird—nervously watched me. The only one that didn't seem tense was Quagsire, who I strode next to.

"Can you explain how this works?"

"Hmm. Well, we're just waiting on everyone to get here."

"Well, we're all here." I glared back to watch Golduck wink at me, and then hurry over to the other end of our bridge line up. "So, then what?"

"Someone else is coming for today's training."

"Oh, someone's late?"

"Nope. He's waiting for us first." Quagsire yawned. "He should be popping out soon."

As soon as the words left the salamander's lips, bubbles formed in the water before us. Suddenly, a burst of waves shot up as a dark figure fired itself from the water and over us. Crashing down on the bridge, I stared in awe at the emperor, garbed in almost platinum armor. He turned as the water dripped from his figure, flapping his flippers to shake some off quicker.

"All seven of you are here, good," Empoleon nodded. "Then we may begin our sparring. First, just to make sure, everyone met Greninja?"

"We could do introductions again, or chat more," suggested Poliwrath. I glanced over to watch him wave at me, rolling my eyes in response.

"You can ask him more later. Practice is essential, especially for him." Empoleon scanned each of us quietly. "Delibird, you'll be my opponent."

"More like target," murmured Carracosta as the red penguin shakily stepped forward. His tiny form compared to Empoleon's made me inclined to agree with the other knight.

"S-Sire…" Delibird gulped. "I-I still ha-haven't learned p-proper techniques to—"

"Have you been tutored on new attacks?"

"Y…Yes."

"And practiced them?"

"No."

"Delibird…"

"Yes, sire."

"Good. Then, we'll begin." He turned back to us. "The rest of you, observe."

With that, Empoleon jumped off the other side of the bridge and back into the water. Delibird shook himself off, sighed, and jumped in after him. Everyone along our side of the bridge jumped backwards into the water. Following them, I jumped under as well.

Waiting until the bubbles blew away from around me, I gazed around, spotting some of the other knights floating in the water. Below us were frozen ice structures, carved to simulate underwater environments. Some were simple stones; others mirrored ruined structures. Still, some were shaped like reefs, which I didn't expect to run into many up here.

Across from us, Empoleon floated and waited as Delibird swam across from him, eyes barely opened. He shook his head and glared ahead, ready to challenge the emperor.

Opening his sack, Delibird unveiled a glowing sphere from within. He aimed it at Empoleon, who merely floated down onto an iced rock.

Throwing his orb, Delibird carefully watched as it neared Empoleon. The emperor simply waited for it to get close, and then smacked it away. Shocked, Delibird watched his ball explode several feet away from the fight.

Shaking his head and folding his arms, Empoleon waited still. Flustered, Delibird traced a circle with his flippers in the water. A stream of bubbles formed and Delibird blew forward, creating a Water Pulse.

Undeterred in the slightest, Empoleon just waved his wing and knocked the pulse apart. He shook his head, and then glared at Delibird, who flailed around.

Swiftly swimming forward, Empoleon spun around, using his beak to drill at smaller penguin, who failed to swim away from the attack.

Spiraling upward, Empoleon flung Delibird from the water and back up to the surface. He shrugged and paddled up above the water as well. The other knights swam up after, and I followed.

Resurfacing and climbing onto the bridge, I watched Delibird cough out puffs of water, sprawled, gasping for breath. Empoleon outstretched his wings and sighed.

"You'll need to practice harder than that, Delibird."

"Of…of course, sire," panted Delibird.

"Seriously. One hit, that's kind of—"

"Awful. I understand, emperor, sir."

He dragged himself back over to the rest of us in line, still coughing a bit. Empoleon sighed.

"Well, I had hoped for a better demonstration, but today's practice is about knocking your opponent out of his element, in this case the water. Or her, but Weavile and Froslass are not present, so—you get it."

"But…sire, each of us is just as capable of fighting on land as in the water," I pointed out. "Couldn't the fight just continue on land?"

"Hmm, you raise a fair point." He glanced down. "Delibird, shall we continue?"

"Please no. Everything hurts still."

"And there's your answer, Greninja." The emperor returned his attention to me. "While we're capable in both environments, if we take too much of a beating in one, we'll likely be unable to continue in the other, thus being vulnerable to our opponents. While Delibird could get back up and try to fight with me, his chances of success are dramatically lowered than they were beneath the water."

"It's also advantageous to learn fighting off opponents that might be more skilled underwater, but less so on the land," added Carracosta.

"Excellent point," agreed Empoleon. "Now, who's next…?"

"If you'd like me to learn, sire, I suppose there's only one way." I stepped forward, perhaps still looking to exhaust my anger from earlier. Folding my arms, I did what I could to avoid even looking at Golduck.

"Right then," consented Empoleon. "And your opponent will be…Quagsire."

The sluggish knight stepped forward and smiled to me as I dropped my arms. Studying him, I checked for anything that proved contrary to his appearances and attitude; there must have been a reason that Empoleon chose him.

"When you're both ready, jump into the water," directed Empoleon as he dragged Delibird back.

Walking to the edge of the bridge, I glanced down at the pool below us. Turning to my left, Quagsire strolled up and waited.

"Ready when you are," he murmured with a lazy smile.

"Same, let's go." I leapt into the water and heard Quagsire crash into it before me.

Swimming further down to crafted pillars, I spun about and watched as Quagsire floated around, spinning around and practically enjoying himself in the water.

It's a trick, I thought. He's just waiting for me to exhaust myself, I'm certain of it.

Preparing a Water Shuriken, I waited for him to slow before throwing it. He continued to flow around, spinning in place and happily flailing around.

Sharply, he stopped and forced himself down furiously. Crashing onto an ice pillar near him, a tremor launched across the water and vibrated around me.

Shaking, I swam back from the pillar as it shattered from his Earthquake. Glancing back to him, he was slowly paddling over to me.

Quickly, I launched a Water Shuriken at him, to which Quagsire ducked under and swam forward. Materializing another, I watched and threw it, only for him to dodge it again.

Nearing an icy rock, Quagsire flung himself down again, smashing it with his body. Again, everything vibrated around me and I had to swim backwards to avoid ice shards that broke from around me.

Trying to return my attention to the salamander, he had already swum close to me. Twisting his tail back, he whirled it forward and slammed it right into my chest.

Even though the water slowed the impact, I still flew back and crashed into a wall of ice behind me. Sharper bits dug into me and I reached for my back. Pushing from the wall, I spun around and noticed it went on for a bit, larger than other structures and with its own stalactites hanging above me.

Quagsire floated behind me, preparing another attack. My heart raced as my eyes tightened. Twisting around, ignoring my sore back, I threw out a Water Shuriken.

As expected, he evaded the first, and I followed up with a second. He advanced on me again, evading the Shuriken. Readying my last one, I spiraled it out and Quagsire dodged it again.

Perfect.

His tail curled back and he whirled it around. Swimming down, I slipped under the shadows and disappeared from his sight, as he waved his tail at empty water. He blinked in confusion, searching around for where I had gone.

Swiftly, I swam behind him and roughly kicked him into the icy wall. He crashed into it head on and I watched as the stalactites shook. Helping them, I threw another two Water Shuriken out, cutting them free.

Too late, Quagsire gazed up as the icicles rained down upon him, crashing into him and pushing him down further. After the barrage ended, he floated in place for a bit, shook himself off, and tried to swim up.

Giving no quarter, I threw another two Water Shuriken at him, these two connecting and slicing him. Quagsire coughed out and, slowly, his body stiffened.

For a moment, I waited, but my heart hammered as I shivered. A minute passed and he still wasn't moving. Paddling over to him, I grabbed him and swam up for the surface.

And then it hit me—his tail came from behind, crashed into my back, and flung me above the water.

Rocketing from the pool, I flailed around and paddled to the bridge. After coughing, I climbed back on and shook myself off. A sharp ache surged from my back, hurting more now that I had returned to land.

In moments, Quagsire and the other knights returned to the bridge as well. I pushed myself up to at least my knees and heaved. Slowly, the salamander walked over and plopped himself down before me.

"That was…great work," I managed out. "I didn't…even consider…you faking it."

"It wasn't completely fake, actually," he softly explained. "You did a good job with the icicles and I thought I was done. But…you didn't finish me off."

"We're not…actually fighting," I reasoned. "I could have killed you…but we're not really enemies."

"Actually," Empoleon rang in, "we were expecting you to go to that limit. I would have sent two knights over to hold you off from the finishing blow. It's how we normally end battles, mine being the exceptions, usually. My fault though, I didn't quite explain that."

"Sire, I'm a ninja. I'm trained…to assassinate." I shook my head. "If you wanted me to finish Quagsire…he would have been dead."

That silenced the emperor for a moment as the other knights muttered to one another. Quagsire shifted a little in his seat, but didn't move; instead, he smiled at me, relieved perhaps.

"Well then." Empoleon cleared his throat. "Thank you for…not only your restraint, but your willingness to save a life over taking one. That's…much less common around this empire."

"No offense, but…you might want to change that," I suggested.

"Perhaps we should." He nodded. "Next two, fight only to surface your opponent."

Quagsire hopped up and helped me up from the ground. He guided me over as Carracosta came to balance me up on my legs again. We watched as Golduck and Poliwrath jumped into the water next, and the other knights dove in to watch their fight.


 

[Chesnaught]

Following Weavile and Machamp through a corridor, we emerged from a room that led back outside. An arena was carved out on the ground before us, mimicking a worn battlefield in appearance. Trees, rocks, and plenty of ice were structures that coated the ground, with a fence half my height around the area.

"Right, all here?" Abomasnow glanced around and nodded. "Good. We'll split into teams of four then."

Four? There were only seven knights…wait.

"Beartic, Ursaring, Pangoro, with me," the General summoned the bears over to him. "You four, to the other side. And here," he tossed a light blue flag to Machamp while taking out a dark blue one. "First team to either bring the flag back to their side or eliminate the opposing force wins this session. We start at the icicle shattering."

My teammates sighed as they made their way across the field. Marching alongside them, I gave them quizzical glances, waiting for someone to read me. Instead, they all frowned and gazed at the ground, shoulders slumped.

"Why do you guys look like we've already lost?"

"Because we probably already have," muttered Weavile.

"How?"

"Abomasnow almost always pairs us up like this," explained Mienshao. "Bigger, stronger, and offense heavy knights on one side, supposedly meeker ones as target practice." Sh…he dragged his sleeve-like fur along the ground, making a messy trail in the snow. He noticed after a minute and groaned. "Sorry guys, I did it again."

"Just cover it," I suggested and kicked some snow over it. "Ok…it's obvious that we walked here, but, at least it doesn't lead straight to us."

"It doesn't really matter," mumbled Weavile.

"They preplan this everytime," continued Mienshao. "Pangoro or another Fighting type against Weavile, Ursaring is annoyingly persistent against me, and they use Beartic to hold off whoever the strongest is on our side, usually Machamp. With the General in play, that'll just make this quicker."

"We have three Fighting types on our side," I contended. "We can win this easily."

"I'd agree, but with the General, they're going to use a Hailstorm to their advantage," clarified Mienshao. "Beartic suddenly becomes faster in it, wallops Machamp, and then zips over for me. Ursaring stalls me for just long enough, and then I get pounded. Every. Single. Time."

"But you and Weavile are really fast." I shook my head as we trudged behind mounds of snow and rocks. "One of you just needs to get the flag."

"We used to rely on that, but Pangoro learned all of my routes," murmured Weavile. "He knows which way I'm taking before I do. And I'm better at fighting juggernauts from a distance, not up close like with more realistic sized targets."

"They don't know me though." The other three turned their heads and raised brows at me. "What? If they think they're going to be dealing with the same strategies as usual, they've got another thing coming."

"No offense, Chesnaught, and I'd agree otherwise," Machamp intervened, "but you'll be going up against Abomasnow. And you haven't exactly gotten that used to the cold just yet."

"Who decided my opponent?"

He shrugged. "No one, but considering that they know…" Pausing, Machamp smacked his face. "Wow. No wonder Alakazam berates me so often over smarts."

"Wait, what?"

"To throw them off, we'll run each other's routes," I explained.

"But…we practice them in order to work properly with our individual positions on the field." Mienshao dropped his arms again. "That's why we usually don't switch them."

"Who came up with that? I know the Emperor wouldn't approve."

"…The General." Weavile scratched down a rock in annoyance.

"Right. So, how does this normally work?"

"Well, with just the four of us, it's simple," described Mienshao. "Weavile takes the forest route, Machamp goes along the rocks since there's less snow, and I usually take the center with the snow mounds."

"Ok, then this time, you'll take the forest," I directed. "Machamp, you'll take the snow mounds. And I'll travel through the rocks."

"You're pitting me against the General?" Weavile scoffed. "What did I just tell you?"

"The General's going to be an immobile target," I gathered. "His plan is to have the three of you fall before anyone gets there. But he thinks that I'm going ahead for the flag, since I'm new and will haplessly wander up to him."

"But what if they do expect you to make changes?" Weavile folded her arms.

"That's where you come in," I revealed. "You'll be the most critical component."

"Look, I'm fast, but taking down the General or even just nabbing the flag will take time."

"That's your final goal." I smirked. "Your first objective is to make sure all three of us advance safely."

"…What?"

"Put your bow to good use. Snipe them from vantage points to help us."

Smirking, Weavile nodded and readied her bow. Machamp drew two swords in his upper arms, and slammed his lower fists together. Mienshao picked out two thin knives and kept them concealed under his long fur.

"Those are…?"

"These? Kabutowari." He unveiled one and gazed over it. "They're believed to be able to rip open helmets and break skulls, but that would require a lot of force."

"Then why…?" I left the thought in their air as Mienshao darkly grinned.

A sharp shatter rang out from the sky. I whirled my head up to watch ice shards cascade down over the field.

"Whenever you guys are ready," Machamp stuck the flag behind two larger rocks.

"Let's go." I pulled out my broadsword and moved ahead.

Everyone made his or her way forward together, but spilt up as we reached a wide enough part of the arena. Mienshao nodded and walked toward a patch of trees, while Machamp steadily strolled up the middle. Glancing back at Weavile, who formed an icy arrow and nodded, I went toward the stones. Hail began to rain down overhead as I marched onward, with my armor taking hits from the ice chunks.

If Mienshao were the quickest, he would most likely run into his opponent first. Pangoro would be waiting along the other side, while Beartic would be ahead of me.

Instead, as I slowly made my way forward, Ursaring jumped from the rocks nearby and swung down with his war hammer.

Quickly, I rolled away, lifting my broadsword to counter his next swing. The impact quaked through me as I staggered back.

"Huh." Ursaring looked me over. "They assumed that you three would change spots, but I was meant to face Mienshao."

Damn it, they knew my plan.

"No matter." Ursaring lifted his hammer again. "Sorry, cutie, but I guess I'll have to knock you around a bit."

An arrow whizzed past me and sliced one of Ursaring's arms, catching him off guard. He fumbled with his weapon and staggered back.

Seizing the opening, I punched him in the gut and knocked the bear back with the flat side of my sword. He crashed into a rocky wall and crashed to the ground.

Ursaring's war hammer flew off and smashed into some rocks, knocking chunks off of them. Quickly, I scooped up a smaller stone and aimed as Ursaring stood up.

"Yield."

"You think a pebble and your stupid sword will stop me?"

"No." I glanced above him at a pile of stones along a cliff that were poorly held in place by a tiny rock at the end. "But I don't have to."

Tossing my stone, I knocked the other one above him, which loosened. Ursaring glanced up too late, as an icy arrow knocked into the small stone, sending the others pouring down over the bear knight.

Grasping my sword tightly, I waited for him to move again, but only his stomach rose and fell. Nodding, I advanced along my path, making for a break in the rocks.

Standing between them and peering through, I watched as Machamp jumped back from Beartic's massive swipes. The polar bear pulled out his icy club.

"Just hold still, Machamp," he growled and smashed down.

The four-armed knight dodged the blow, but its impact shook the ground around him, causing Machamp to slip over the ice under the snow mounds. Beartic raised his club again.

Leaping out, I shouted out and growled at Beartic. He spun around and swung the club down for me, which I rolled away from.

Firing back up, I thrust forward with my sword, but the club was large enough for Beartic to twist into a parry.

Pulling back, I sliced forward again, but he leapt back from the attack. Quicker than I expected, he ran forward and smashed down with the club again.

Rolling back, the quake from its force made me trip on the ground. Jumping up, I barely managed to guard myself as Beartic zipped in front of me and threw a heavy punch, forcing me back again.

He then opened his mouth and shot a ball of ice into the air. I glanced up and jumped back as icicles crashed down from the frosty orb.

Several bits of ice sliced at me, with my armor taking a good number of his, but some penetrated and cut at my under-armor and clothes. Staggering, I forced myself back up and turned as Beartic raised his club again.

Once again, a well-timed arrow flew out and knocked into Beartic's icy beard. He blinked and scratched at it, confused.

Swiftly, Machamp slid forward and delivered a Low Kick to Beartic's legs. The massive bear toppled over and crashed to the ground, yelping out in pain.

Hurrying over to him, I steadied my sword as Machamp raised his fists. Though breathing steadily, Beartic didn't budge.

"Nice work," I complimented.

Machamp grinned and laughed. "Thanks! You know what they say about being bigger and falling harder!"

Another arrow whizzed between us and I jumped back. "Hey, what's her big idea?!"

"She's trying to get our attention," clarified Machamp. "Which would be…Mienshao!"

He hurried through a snow bank and I chased him as we entered a cluster of trees. Glancing around, Weavile rocketed another arrow past us.

"That way!" Machamp beckoned me after him as he followed the direction the arrow flew in.

"How—?"

"I've worked with Weavile a few times, I learned how she communicates."

He pulled branches aside and allowed me to pass before following. We rushed around another throng of trees to find a thin clearing, where Mienshao slid under Pangoro's heavy fist.

"If you just give up, it's less painful," taunted Pangoro.

"Funny." Mienshao twirled around and whipped him with the long fur-sleeves. "I wanted to tell you the same thing."

Baring his teath and growling, Pangoro reached back for his katana, which had fallen from him. Glancing back in confusion, he forgot for Mienshao for a moment.

And that would be all the ermine needed. Thrusting a palm into the panda's chest, Pangoro coughed and tried to turn back around. Deftly, Mienshao delivered a Jump Kick up at Pangoro.

Stumbling, Pangoro collapsed into a crowd of trees behind him, sliding to the ground.

"Good call, Chesnaught." Mienshao twirled his kabutowari and smirked. "Pangoro was much easier to deal with. I must confess, I thought I needed help for a bit, but it worked out in the end."

"Um…great." I shook my head. "Anyway, let's get to Abomasnow."

The others nodded and we surged ahead, pushing out of the mini forest and back near the palace. Abomasnow's figure was covered in a distance from us, with a heavy hailstorm still raging around the arena.

"We have to get to him!" Waving my teammates forward, we forced ourselves through the raining hail, buffeted by more rough balls of ice. "Hang in there!"

As the words tumbled from my mouth, a heavy blizzard blew at us, pelting each of us with clods of snow and ice. Battering us backwards, I could barely see ahead as Abomasnow's figure launched another wave at us.

Just before another pile of snow smashed into me, I watched Weavile zip over and slice at the General. Smacked in the face, I fell over and hit the ground, clawing to get the snow away from me.

Coughing and pushing myself up a bit, Machamp abruptly lifted me back up. A long sleeve of fur brushed over my face and wiped the slush away, revealing a giggling Mienshao.

"Come on!" Machamp tugged me forward and we ran over as Weavile back-flipped from the palace wall, dodging a rugged body bash from the General.

Whirling around, the General jolted back at the sight of us, one too many Fighting types for his liking. Nevertheless, he buckled down and raised his arms to attack with another Blizzard.

Slashing his arms down in a dark wisp, General Abomasnow jumped a bit as Weavile sliced again at him. He grabbed her arms and lifted her from the ground.

"Enough from you!" He rumbled.

"Enough, period."

She kicked away from him and dropped to the ground. Digging through some snow, Weavile tugged up a dark blue flag and held it up.

"Apologies, General," sneered Weavile as she tossed the flag at him. "But you lose."

Letting his bushy arms fall, Abomasnow remained silent for a moment, eyes widened. He shut them and nodded, and then looked over to the rest of us.

"Congratulations. You've won."

Gathering the unused weapons on the ground, he nodded at us again. "That will conclude our current session. We'll resume training later, with the other knights as well."

Each of us nodded as he marched back inside, and then smiled to one another. Weavile slung her bow behind her back and stretched, while Mienshao cheered and Machamp patted me on the back. I laughed, but then shivered as a gust kicked up around us.

"All that fighting, all that armor, and you're still cold?" Mienshao tilted his head.

"Can't h-help it, I guess." I tried to chuckle, but chattered my teeth instead.

"Better get you over to your boyfriend to warm up," joked Machamp.

"Yeah, as long as the ex isn't making him more steamed than…" Weavile started but then clamped her mouth shut as my face fell. "I…sorry, Chesnaught, that was stupid."

"It's fine," I forced out and shook my head. "Maybe I-I should go calm h-him down."

Truthfully, I tried to push Golduck to the back of my mind, but my heart kicked up again at the thought of him around Greninja. Bidding the other three farewell, I lumbered into the castle, rubbing a few sore aches as I made my way back to the Main Hall.

Suddenly, my heart felt a heavy longing for him, and I sped up to find him, hoping to see him waiting for me back inside. Stumbling a bit, I stubbed my leg along the corner of the wall, clutching it tightly and hopping around. I stopped and gently rubbed it, feeling heavier from the pain I sustained from the practice before.

Pushing myself up and forward, I lumbered onward once again.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

After I staggered around a bit, I pushed open the door to the Main Hall. Just as I walked in, I heard the main doors open. Peering over, my face dropped as two knights helped Greninja inside, with bandages wrapped around his body.

"Greninja!" My shout grabbed their attention as I charged over to them. "What happened? Are you ok? Who did this?"

"Chesnaught, slow down!" Greninja pushed himself up and from the other two knights, who backed up. "I'm fine."

"Bandages are not fine, what happened?"

"Training." He smirked. "You didn't take it all that easy on me our first time either, remember?"

"Screw that, who's head do I lob off?" The salamander knight backed up a bit, a slight nervousness in his eyes. "You then, huh?"

"Hold on, Chesnaught! Don't' kill Quagsire." Greninja grabbed me and held me in place, while the short turtle knight slid over to Quagsire. "He took a rough beating from me too. It's the way they practice here, but we'll change that. We're both fine."

"Well, thanks to you holding back, honestly," interrupted the turtle. "After all, one of you could have done much…worse…" He paused and nervously chuckled. "Not helping, is it?"

"No Carracosta, it's really not."

"He's a Water type, right?" I shoved against Greninja, who kept my arms locked into him and his legs between mine. "Let's see how well he holds up—"

"Enough, Chesnaught!" Swiftly, Greninja whacked my head with two fingers. It…hurt more than I expected, honestly. "It was practice. He's not an enemy."

"But—"

"Remember why we're here." I sucked in a heavy breath and held it for a bit. "That's it, easy." Slowly, I exhaled for a bit and let my shoulders drop. "There you go. Better?"

"For now." I glared at Quagsire, who seemed to calm down himself. "Sorry, I…"

"You two are dating, right?" Carracosta pointed at Greninja and I as we nodded. "Ah, now the spurt of rage makes sense. Nice work, Quag. Remind me to keep you away from my sweet shellfish."

"My apologies to you, Chesnaught." Quagsire yawned right after and I growled as I nodded. "And again to you, Greninja. Last thing I wanted was to…" He yawned again and stretched. "Ruin a happy couple. And now if you'll excuse me, I'll…need some rest."

"Are you actually going to make it this time? Or pass out in the halls again?"

"…Hmm…maybe…"

"To which one?" Carracosta watched as Quagsire stepped forward and stumbled. "Ah, forget it." He grumbled and hoisted Quagsire up. "Come on, I'll help you get some rest." Carracosta smiled to us and lightly waved. "Sorry to cut this short, but he's a mess if he doesn't get up without help. You two take care now!"

"And then we can eat, too," murmured Quagsire.

"Quiet, you."

We waved as the turtle knight dragged his salamander companion around the columns and disappeared from sight. I folded my arms and turned back to Greninja.

"Sorry. That was…brash of me."

"It's fine. Who knew you cared for me?" He laughed and wrapped his arms around me; the vibrations from his laughter spread to me and I chuckled with him. However, Greninja pulled back and frowned. "But your armor looks dented." He pushed against one bump on my arm and I groaned as I pulled it back a bit. Greninja gently rubbed over it, massaging it lightly. "You're hurt too."

"Just bruised."

"Have you even checked yet?"

"Um…"

"Chesnaught!"

"What? I came looking for you the second practice was over!"

"I…thank you." He reached up and planted a peck on my lips. "But you need to take care of yourself too."

"After you, though. You're priority."

"Don't tell me that." He picked up my hands. "I don't want to see you hurt yourself for me."

"That's kind of what knights do. Get hurt protecting and defending others."

"Yeah, well…" He stopped and sighed. "I suddenly hate our professions."

"Come on, it's not that bad." I tugged him into a hug. "We just need to be the best at what we do."

"And that's what bruises and scratches from practice are for." He smirked at me while I rolled my eyes.

"Ok, ok, I won't flip out over whoever beat you up next time."

"Thank you."

"I'll just gut them when you're not looking."

"Chesnaught!" He folded his arms and tried to glare at me as I grinned back. It took a minute, but a smile broke onto his face as well. "Don't you dare. Honestly!"

"Is that a smile of approval?"

"No! Damn it."

"Aw, come on." I kissed his head. "No one's allowed to hurt you."

"That's kind of what happens." He glanced up at me and I sighed. "So, you were telling me about how wonderful our vocations were?"

"Hey, mine is about risking my life, not yours."

"You're right." He smirked again. "Mine's about taking lives and gutting the people that hurt you."

"Greninja…"

"Oh, not so funny anymore?"

"Fine, point taken." I rubbed his back as we gazed at one another, and I lost myself in his eyes. "Just…I know you can't promise me, but be more careful. I can't…I don't want to—"

"Me neither, so do the same yourself." Greninja pulled my face into his and pressed out lips together again. He took longer as I lifted my arms around him, sliding my tongue against his. We broke apart sooner than I wanted and he smiled. "And let's keep doing that every day we can."

Grinning, I opened my mouth to agree, but heard a door slam. We jumped and whirled around to watch Delphox stomp into the Main Hall, fuming.

"Delphox," Greninja started. "Is everything—?"

"No, not a single damn thing!" His robes were torn up and his fur was ruffled around. "Gardevoir may have her moments, but these mages take the cake for their ridiculous training exercises! Especially that wicked, ghastly witch! No one can learn properly if they can't even comprehend what they were thrown into and she's an absolute monster—"

"Such a nice compliment, thank you!" Froslass suddenly appeared in front of Delphox, making him jump back and scream. "Ha-ha! You have the cutest scream and terrified faces, honestly!"

"Back off, you…DEMONESS!" Delphox threw his hands up and barreled off, grumbling and snarling as he disappeared.

Alakazam teleported into view and shook his head. "Oh dear. He's bound to get lost like that."

"What happened with your training?"

"Huh? Oh, nothing in particular." Alakazam shrugged. "Froslass is just a little over excited when it comes to training…well, newcomers, and she can be overwhelming on the first go of practice."

"That's an understatement, but thanks anyway, Alakazam!" The other mage giggled and floated around, twirling across the air. "But you're right! I can't wait to practice some more with that fire fox!"

"Playing with fire isn't exactly your strong suit," reminded Alakazam.

"That's why it's fun to face off with him! He can burn through my ice, but my ghostly tricks can mess with his mind!" She poked at Alakazam and giggled. "Just like you!"

"Please don't remind me." He shuddered and backed away from her as she glided across the room again. Alakazam turned and looked over Greninja and I. "It looks like you two had your own rough training sessions."

"Yep, but we managed!"

"Honestly, I wasn't expecting the lethality behind…" Greninja stopped as I gazed down at him.

"Lethality…?"

"Um…Empoleon usually instructs his Water knights to halt just before making a killing stroke."

"…I'm going to hurt that Quagsire—"

"Chesnaught, relax!" He grabbed onto me and shook me into focus. "I pointed out how flawed it was, it's fine. Like I told you, we'll work on changing their training."

"Ah, it might not be what you two are used to, but out here, it is effective," defended Alakazam. "We're more prone to harsher conditions, considering the location and, well, the higher mortality rate."

"Which is exactly why training shouldn't add to it," countered Greninja. "Or would you like to be within an inch of your life when a ninja's hand slips a little too close to your throat?"

"A ninja…oh, you! Of course, you have training on assassination." His smile dropped and the mage's eyes widened. "Oh dear, you have training on assassination. That could have been—"

"Disastrous."

"Point made and taken." Alakazam nodded. "I thank you on behalf of my colleagues for not, ah, beheading them or worse."

"It shouldn't even come to that." I rested my hand on Greninja's shoulder. "Luckily, Greninja knows when to hold back."

"Ah, you helped with that." I blinked as Alakazam stared. "Um…sorry, I tapped into your mind a bit." He scratched the back of his head. "Perhaps we have a few outdated methods around the Empire."

"No kidding."

We listened to another door open again and watched as Machamp and Weavile came in. The archer pointed to me and tugged Machamp over to us.

"See? He's fine, and no blood on the floor." Weavile shrugged. "Told you he wasn't that impulsive."

"Oh no, I was. Greninja stopped me."

"Ha! And I told you that it was a lucky thing his boyfriend would be there!" Machamp beamed. "Nothing as anger inducing as knowing someone hurt your lover." Alakazam shifted uncomfortably around us and he folded his arms, which Machamp turned his attention to. "What is it, Alakazam?"

"N-Nothing."

Before Machamp could pry at him, Froslass squealed and flew across the room, throwing herself around Weavile. Although she appeared rigid and annoyed, Weavile didn't move away from her.

"Weavile! Training time is done!" She cuddled around Weavile, gently stroking around her face. "We should go out around the town."

"Froslass, I'm not going dress shopping with you," grumbled Weavile as she blushed lightly. "Dresses are…not my style."

"Who cares about that? We should go scare the pants off of black market vendors!"

"…Now you're talking." Weavile toothily grinned.

"Yay! I always know what you like best, huh?"

"Y-Yeah…" Weavile trailed off and stared at the rest of us. "I-I…just give me a few minutes, I need to, uh…take care of some things."

"Couldn't I come with you?" Froslass danced around in front of Weavile, rolling up closer to her. "You always go around all alone, so why not just let me—?"

"N-No. It's fine, I…I'll just be a few minutes."

Weavile pushed away and sped off through the hall. Froslass chased after her, disappearing around a column.

"Wait up, Weavile! Please? Just once, take me around with you!"

After a minute, we heard no more from the pair and turned back to one another. Alakazam watched Machamp for another few seconds before clearing his throat.

"Well, I, uh, have a few errands to take care of myself, and I'd like to have some time to rest as well, so I'll be off." He shook my hand, and then Greninja's. "A pleasure to see you two again, as always. Take care!"

He glanced back at Machamp, who watched him expectantly. Instead, the mage winked out and disappeared. Lowering his eyes, Machamp grumbled and folded his lower arms.

"Is there…something up with the two of you?"

"W-What? No, he's just…always like that." Machamp exhaled and his head drooped. "Well, with me, anyway."

"The way you spoke before, you seemed like you were…well, closer," I guessed. "I thought you and Alakazam were…um, at least good friends."

"Oh, we are, honest!" Machamp weakly smiled. "He's not exactly the warmest, but we really are friends. He just…doesn't like to show it, I guess." Machamp shrugged and lifted his head again. "Anyway, I was thinking of taking a nice, long dip in our palace's hot springs. I was planning on inviting a few folks, but seeing as how everyone took off, I guess it'll just be the three of us." He forced out a laugh. "We can still chat and have plenty of fun though. How about it?"

Grinning, I turned to Greninja, whose cheeks lit up a bit. He looked me up and down, softly smiled, and nodded.

"Sure thing, Machamp! We could use it too!"

"Great! Let's go get changed and I'll take you two over!" He beamed and led us through the hall, taking us to a room that led upstairs. "Our hot springs are fantastic, if you'll take my word on it. There are some others scattered around the Empire, but the ones we have here are just so warm and relaxing! Oh, and some bubbles rise up along the sides that soothe your back just perfectly! You two will love it!"

"Oh, I'm sure we will," mused Greninja aloud as he lowered his eyes to stare at me. I winked at him and scooped his hand into mine. Machamp glanced back and laughed.

"Right, hot springs are great to get couples closer together! Warm up and melt into each other, sink into the water together, and…" He chuckled. "Well, I don't need to tell you two the rest."

He opened a door at the top and we stepped through to the sound of an argument. Exchanging baffled expressions with one another, we walked down the hall to find two of the knights arguing.

"Poliwrath and Politoed are at it again," mumbled Machamp. "And of course, they're right along our path."

Reluctantly, Machamp waved us on to follow him, as we approached the squabbling pair. They snapped and shouted at one another, practically ready to start a brawl of their own right then and there.

"Honestly, you should have seen yourself against Golduck," mocked Politoed. "You telegraphed every move and made a complete fool of yourself, as usual."

"Excuse me?!" Poliwrath punched the wall behind him, cracking the ice slightly. "At least I did a fair job holding my own. You couldn't even take care of Carracosta, and he was distracted trying to attend to Greninja!"

"Hey, he wasn't the only one!" Politoed tightened his fists. "You saw Golduck stealing glances at Greninja, and don't tell me that you didn't! There were so many times you could have beaten him easily, but no, you just had to—"

Machamp cleared his throat as we stopped near them. The two spun about and glared at Machamp, ready to redirect their argument to him, but softened upon noticing Greninja.

"Oh hey! Hi there, Greninja." Poliwrath slid over to him first, grabbing his hand. "It's a pleasure to see you once again."

"Buzz off, he's not interested in you!" Politoed shoved Poliwrath aside, snatching Greninja's hand into his own. "However, he's right that it's lovely to see you once again, Greninja!"

Before I could move myself between the frogs, Machamp tugged Politoed away with one arm and pushed Poliwarth aside with another.

"Hey! Machamp!"

"What's the big idea?"

"Sorry, I forgot that you two were blind," quipped Machamp. "Because that's the only way neither of you would have noticed that Greninja's actual boyfriend is standing right beside him." He grinned menacingly over them. "Or should I let him at you? After all, he's ready to punch someone across the face at the moment."

The pair shivered and turned from Machamp to peek at me, and then back to him to shake their heads.

"Good. Now, quit trying to rip each other apart and buzz off."

Nodding quickly, the two bumped into each other, yelling at one another as they raced off. Machamp sighed and pulled one hand over his face.

"Terror twins indeed…"

"Thank you for stopping them," both Greninja and I got out together.

"Not a problem! Those knuckleheads need to get leveled once in a while."

"Why exactly are they always fighting with one another?" Greninja turned his head slightly. "They bicker more than anything else, as far as I'm aware."

"From what I hear, they've been like that since they were young. Those two have always wanted to outdo one another, and were ready to bash the other's head anytime either one could." He looked at the fractured wall and gazed at it. "They should be much closer than that to each other. Brothers shouldn't hate each other so much."

"They're brothers?" Greninja and I looked at one another and then back to Machamp.

"Sure, you didn't…? Of course not; they were probably arguing the second that you met them." Machamp shook his head. "Well, yeah, brothers. The Poli-pair that hates one another." He huffed and rolled his eyes. "Anyway, my room is further down and around the corner, but I think you two are just a few doors down here, right?"

"Um…yeah, that one." Greninja pointed to it, though I had no idea how he was able to distinguish the doors.

"All right, let's all get changed and I'll meet you two back over here. I might be a few more minutes since I need to check on something before I leave."

We nodded and strode to our door while Machamp walked further along. Shutting the icy door behind me, I turned to find Greninja taking off my armor.

"Wow, if you wanted to move that quickly—"

"Hush up." He tossed the armor over my arms aside, and then ran his hands along my bruises, which…were larger than I expected. "I knew it, they banged you up." Taking off my breastplate, he dropped it and gaped at the gashes through my clothes. "Chesnaught! They tore at you!"

"It's not that bad." I paused and stared into Greninja's worried eyes. "Is it?"

"Yes, it is!" He hurried over and dug through our pack, pulling out bandages. "Go sit on that bed."

"So you do want—"

"Chesnaught."

"Ok, now's not the time, got it."

With a heavy sigh, I sat down on our bed, threw off the rest of my clothes, and rested my head on my hand as Greninja came over. Creating a ball of water in one hand, he washed out my wounds and brushed away the dirty ice. Patting me dry with a cloth, he slathered healing ointments where needed and bandaged my cuts. Tying them tightly, Greninja then wrapped up whatever bruises he could find.

"There." He sat up and let out a breath that he was holding. "All better."

"Thank you, doctor." I lightly poked his belly and he giggled.

"You'd better be grateful." Greninja puffed out his cheeks and held up his head.

"Of course I am." He stared at me, unconvinced. "Here, I'll prove it with payment."

With a smirk, I tugged him lower and into me, placing a kiss onto his lips and tongue. He moaned lightly as I slid my tongue into his mouth, exploring a bit. Greninja ran his hands over my chest, running it through my fur and over the fresh bandages, as my hand rubbed at the ones on his back. Moving my tongue from his mouth, I guided his over and opened my lips wider to let him in a bit.

Pulling back, we broke apart for air and wiped the saliva from our faces. I grinned as he sat on my lap, taking off his robes.

"See?"

"Stop getting so excited. I'm just changing."

"Well, I was talking about my satisfaction with your care, but if you want to go there…" I lied back on the bed and Greninja, losing his balance, slipped over on top of me. "I'm comfortable with it."

"Machamp is going to be waiting for us."

"He mentioned that he'd be a little while."

"Mm, fair point…" He leaned close and moved his face near me, and let his legs rub against mine. "…But we should still be ready first." With a peck on my lips, Greninja pulled away and chuckled, continuing to discard his robes while I grumbled to the ceiling.

"Why are you such a tease?"

"Because you make it too easy."

Heaving out a sigh, I pushed myself back up and watched Greninja dig through the pack. Sensing my gaze, he threw back my swimsuit over my face.

"Hurry up," he scolded. "You're taking forever."

"Sorry, I was just enjoying the show," I teased.

Discarding the rest of my armor, I took off the robes underneath. And without them or Greninja around me, I realized just how cold the room was again. Shivering furiously, I shook and pulled my blue and green swimsuit on, hoping it would help just a bit. Unsurprisingly, it didn't.

Greninja had his smaller red one on, along with his sandals. He pulled out the towels and stared as I trembled.

"Is it drafty, or are you just that excited to see me?"

"N-N-Not fu-funny."

"Really? I thought so." He snickered and wrapped one towel over my chest, tucking it back behind my shell. "Hmm. Hopefully it'll stay up, at least until we get there."

"T-Thank you."

"You're welcome." He placed another kiss on my lips, breathing hot air into me. I moaned softly as he pulled away and threw the second towel over his bare shoulders. "Come on, let's head outside. Hopefully Machamp will be ready quickly."

Nodding, I followed him out to the halls again. Unfortunately for us, Machamp wasn't the one who walked over to our door, but instead, the triad of bears. Spotting me almost immediately, they grinned and strolled over to us.

"Hey there, power planner," purred Pangoro. "Nice work kicking our asses today." He emphasized it with a wink, and then licked his maw.

"Um…thank…you?"

"My pleasure."

"Honestly, we thought you were mostly just cute," added Ursaring. "We're excited to know that you've got some good strategies to work with on top of those looks."

"Right, so long as it's looking and not touching," cut in Greninja. "Or anything that revolves any of you being remotely within his vicinity, which you all are in."

"Think we could get some overtime out of you?" Beartic smirked, ignoring Greninja. "You can come with us as is. That look is flattering on you."

"What?"

"Beartic! Flattering is much too modest," chuckled Pangoro. "It simply doesn't take all of your physical assets into account."

"That's because it's my job," intervened Greninja, tugging me away. "His boyfriend, remember?"

"Don't let that leash hold you down, Chesnaught." Ursaring wickedly grinned. "Come on with us."

"My boyfriend isn't a leash," I snapped. "And he's not holding me back from anything. I'm going with him, not any of you."

"There's always later," suggested Beartic.

"No, there isn't."

"We don't have to convince you the hard way, do we?"

Greninja lifted a water blade past me. "Try anything and I'll gut all three of you."

"Cute; little froggy thinks he can stop us."

"Want to try it?" Greninja taunted. "I really hope you do."

"They're not worth it," I whispered.

"You are," he hissed back.

"Ok, frog. Let's see what you—"

"Hey!"

Everyone jolted up and pivoted around. Golduck was walking up the hallway, focused on the bear trio. My heart hammered, from nervousness into anger.

"What's up, Golduck?" Beartic folded his arms.

"Actually, you are. All three of you." He pointed back behind himself. "The Emperor and the General requested that you meet them in the Throne Room."

"Right now?"

"No, Ursaring, when it's most convenient." Golduck rolled his eyes. "Yes, now, immediately."

"That's no fun," muttered Pangoro, who eyed me. "Just us, or can we have an audience for moral support?"

"All three of you are going, and only the three of you," clarified Golduck. "That's more than enough support."

"Figures." The panda turned back and winked at me. "Catch you later then, Chesnaught."

"We're looking forward to it," included Beartic.

"Don't wait up," snapped Greninja and I nodded.

Slowly, the three bears trudged away, taking turns to peer at me before they disappeared. While that solved one problem, I turned my attention to Golduck, who was fixated on Greninja, staring with…most likely lust. Moving closer to Greninja, I made sure there was barely any room between either of us, glaring at Golduck.

"Greninja, you look great."

"I don't want to hear it, Golduck."

"Really, you do, honest." He smirked and continued to eye Greninja up and down. "Much more toned and developed from the last time I saw you. Looks great."

"Yeah, I try to look better for better folks that deserve it." Greninja wrapped his arm under mine. "Especially for my boyfriend."

"Of two months, from what I've heard."

"Is that supposed to mean something?" I growled as Golduck backed up a step, but maintained his ground.

"Oh, I suppose not. It's just, well, there's plenty of time for you two to explore more about one another." He lowered his eyes and focused on me. "Maybe see sides of each other that you weren't looking to find."

"Would you like to test the waters for yourself?" I raised my free fist slightly, just about ready to deck the duck. "Because those bears brought up a good point: I'm more than ready to go another round for overtime."

"You really think you could take me, short stuff?" He has, what, inches on me?

"Golduck, if you don't get out of here and leave us alone this instant, I swear I will make your life a living hell," threatened Greninja. "Should you live."

"Aw, Greninja darling, I'm flattered that you detest me so much." I raised my fist, but Greninja pulled me back. "You really think you need to restrain him?" Golduck ran a webbed hand over the ruby on his forehead. "I'd love to see him try to take me."

"And why is that, Golduck?" We turned our heads to find Machamp in a short black swimsuit storm up the hall, narrowing his eyes as he approached.

"It's fun to take you muscle heads down a peg or two," mocked Golduck. "I'm sure I'll get a chance later though." He spun away from us and waved back. "Take care, Greninja."

"Go drown," he snapped in return.

With a laugh, Golduck disappeared through the stairwell. Greninja folded his arms and heaved a held breath. Returning to Machamp, I looked him over and noticed the black swimsuit was possibly even shorter than Greninja's, leaving most of his legs freely exposed. Undeterred by the cold, he smiled and held three towels in three of his hands.

"Sorry about that."

"No, thank you for coming." I smiled back. "And for the towels."

"Huh? Oh, right." Machamp laughed. "I guess I should have known that you two would have brought some if you had swimwear, but I wanted to make sure. Nothing wrong with extras, though!"

"Not a thing," I agreed and took one from him, wrapping it around me. "I don't understand how you're not doing this. You're all skin."

"Is it really all that cold for you?"

"Y-Yes!" My teeth chattered as the last of my rage slipped away, my heart steadying a bit, but drumming to the cold air. "Y-You guys ha-have the w-w-weirdest tolerance to this f-frigid…everything!"

"Well, I suppose it does help that we grew up with it." Machamp laughed again. "Sorry about that. But come on! Let's get you to the hot springs; you'll feel much better once you're in there."

He waved us on and led the way. I started after him, but stopped when I realized Greninja hadn't moved.

"G-Greninja?" I walked back as he jumped and turned to me.

"Right, s-sorry." He frowned and dropped his head. "I was just…that was so…"

Resting my right hand on his shoulder, I smiled at him. Gently raising his head with my left hand, I kissed him gently on the lips.

"It's over f-for now," I soothed. "Let's try to re-relax a bit."

Smiling at me, he nodded and locked his hand into mine. We continued across the hall and caught up with Machamp, who had slowed and waited for us. He glanced back and grinned as he led us back downstairs, though we went through a different stairwell than before.

"So, Machamp," Greninja piped up. "Are these just hot springs, or more like an onsen?"

"Hmm. It's not exactly a facility that operates around it, but we do have some extra supplies that make the area more cozy, even while it's partially outdoors, but within the palace's walls. Even got a supply room just before going out." He nodded. "I guess it's sort of like a bathhouse, in that case." He chuckled. "Our personal onsen, if you will."

"D-Didn't even k-know there was a name for it," I confessed as we rounded a corner in a less familiar hall. "Is this m-more towards the back of the palace?"

"Yep! It allows for a little more privacy, in case there are visitors to the palace." Machamp snickered. "I remember one time, some poor fool got lost and walked in on the General bathing. I didn't see it, but I heard that it was not a pretty sight."

"Which, how the General looked or acted?"

We all burst out laughing as we turned and went down a long corridor. At the end, Machamp opened a door that led to a small room with a wooden structure and door built leading to the next one. Machamp slid it over, which led to a room to leave the towels, and stood near the next sliding door. He tossed Greninja his towels, and he placed their towels down, while I reluctantly took mine off and did the same.

"Glad you two decided to join me!" Machamp laughed. "I thought I'd be all alone here." We glanced at one another and he forced out another laugh. "N-Not that it's a big deal, and it's ah…well, good time for thinking, but company and talk are my preference!"

Walking through the door, Machamp's face fell and he froze. Looking ahead, I stared at Alakazam, who was around the other end of the hot spring.

"Oh." Alakazam's shoulders went rigid as he stared ahead at the three of us. Around him was a white swimsuit, which covered just his lower body with his top and legs freely exposed. Folding his arms over his chest, the mage's face burned red as he glanced away from the attention stuck upon him. "I, uh…I could go."

"No!" Machamp's eyes widened as he nervously looked at me. "I…well, it's fine if you want to stay, that is. We don't…want you to feel unwelcomed." Though nervous, his recovery wasn't half bad.

"W-Well…I did come here to relax." Still blushing, Alakazam lowered himself to the water and slowly dipped his legs in. He moaned in delight and threw his head back, letting the water soothe him. The rest of us fidgeted around, slipping closer to the water ourselves. A quick glance revealed that everyone was flushed. Tilting his head back to face us, Alakazam raised an eyebrow at our sudden speed to slide into the water. "What? I'm not going to use all of it any time soon."

"Ah, no, of course not!" Machamp laughed again. "It's just…r-refreshing! You seemed taken with it, so we wanted to join in." He grinned while Alakazam rolled his eyes, but nodded.

The rest of us hopped in. I moaned in delight at the warmth of the water, easing and sinking quickly into it. Though it burned a bit initially, I just wanted to melt away the icicles that I imagined should have encased my body. Bubbles pushed through my shells and flowed along my back, almost massaging me on their own. Greninja bounced around a little, splashing the water on himself before rolling back into me.

Machamp slid around a bit as well, spinning about and soaking himself before taking his place on the same side as Alakazam. The mage quietly watched him, tugging on his long mustache as he did so. He shook his head and then smiled at us.

"Feels nice, right?"

"Heavenly…" I groaned out. "I needed this."

"It's really exquisite," concurred Greninja as he leaned against me. Under the water, he rested on my leg and my smile sprawled further.

"Most of us love coming here too," explained Alakazam. "It's great to lounge here and let the water warm your skin or soothe your bones." He stretched his arms and tilted his head back. "And it's nice when the snow falls on top of it, melting away just as it reaches the water. Lovely, to say the least."

"Sure is," Machamp agree, and I watched him gaze at Alakazam. "…Did you, uh, get your errands done?"

"Hmm? Oh, of course I did." Alakazam picked his head up and glanced at Machamp. "You think I'd be here if I didn't?"

"Well, I would be." He chuckled and sank closer to the water. "I love coming here, and I'd fall behind in anything if it's been a while."

"Coming too frequently isn't advised either, Machamp."

"But it feels good…"

"Mm…I can't argue that."

Greninja and I turned to one another, smirked, and turned back toward Machamp and Alakazam. Just slightly, Machamp had drifted over to the mage, who was more focused on us.

"So, if you two don't mind, could you tell us more about…well, the two of you?" Alakazam smiled while I wrapped my arm around Greninja and pulled him in closer.

"W-Well sure," Greninja let his hand dance along the water. "What would you like to hear?"

"Whatever you're inclined to share. First meeting, special interactions, first date, and even the big confession." He paused and gently laughed. "Sorry, if the confession was really that big of a deal."

"Oh, it was!" I laughed while Greninja sank into me, pulling his tongue into his mouth before letting his neck plunge beneath the water. "Hey, my eyes only!"

"I'm not burning my tongue over that," Greninja teased back. He blushed as he faced Alakazam again. "W-Well, the Grass Fields King requested two ninjas to his kingdom, in case he needed back up for the potential war rising, or whatever the business with this prophet leads to."

"Hopefully not war," murmured Machamp.

"Hopefully," agreed Greninja. "Anyway, I, um…I arrived with another ninja, who everyone mistook for a male while they thought I was a female."

"It was the other way around?"

"Yep."

"I see." Alakazam shrugged. "Not that it should have made a difference, but I guess knights can be like that. No offense, Chesnaught."

"None taken." I watched Machamp eye Alakazam sideways as he dipped lower into the water.

"A-Anyway," continued Greninja, "a knight challenged my partner and I to matches against him and a fellow knight, and we beat them fairly easily. But, uh, the point is that I spotted Chesnaught around that time. And, well, after the General of the Kingdom took us to meet the king, I had a chance encounter with this guy right here." He tugged on my cheek and we laughed.

"Aw, that's cute!"

"It wasn't at the time," I confessed. "I crashed into Greninja and knocked him to the floor. I didn't show it, but I was kind of mortified over that."

"I definitely didn't catch that." Greninja smiled. "You were really quick to help me out and ease me up."

"Well, yeah! I would have felt worse if I tried running off."

"That makes sense, though I think I would have took off myself!" Greninja giggled. "So, right then, I was already smitten with him, but I figured it was just because he was physically attractive."

"Knew you just wanted me for my body," I joked and the other two laughed.

"Oh, please." Greninja nudged me and shifted onto my lap. "After that, we had spent a few days around the castle, but Chesnaught and I didn't really interact much, aside from me stealing glances at him until he noticed me, and then I'd turn away."

"Wow, you were really shy."

"To tell you the truth, I still am," confessed Greninja. "I just…well, with Chesnaught around, I feel…more open? Safer, at least." My heart skyrocketed and I smooched Greninja's head.

"So, then what?" Alakazam shifted around, but remained concentrated on us.

"Oh, well, I made some friends in the Kingdom." Greninja sighed. "I kind of miss them, thinking about it now. But, at least Delphox is here with us."

"Ah, right, he mentioned becoming friends with you at the ball," recalled Alakazam. "It's nice that the three of you came here together; at least it wasn't just one of you."

"We think so," I agreed. "Hopefully, Delphox does too…"

"Deep down, I'd wager he's happy to see you two." Alakazam nodded. "We haven't had any particularly long chats, but he makes sure to mention the two of you, and constantly watches out for you."

"Sounds like him, but that is good to hear too."

"So, Greninja made friends, and…"

"Well, this part is embarrassing, but…" Greninja scratched the back of his head. "We saw Chesnaught in the town and the other mage, Gardevoir, dragged us off to chase after him." He chuckled. "She knew I was interested in him even back then. But, uh, anyway, we watched him visit who we had thought was his girlfriend."

"Wait, girlfriend?"

"They thought I was straight," I laughed. "She was actually just a really good friend of mine."

"Ah, ok then." Alakazam nodded. "So, you're both gay?"

"Yep."

"Got it."

"What's next?" Machamp sat back, also invested in our story.

"Um, after that, I felt pretty defeated and wanted to get over what I thought was just a crush." Greninja stroked his hand around in the water, hesitating.

"Our General actually tried to take the initiative and paired us up to spar the next day," I jumped in. "Though, I was afraid to actually fall for Greninja right away, since I barely knew him. And…then I walloped him a little too much." I scratched at the side of my head and heavily exhaled. "Not my finest moment."

"Poor Greninja," sympathized Alakazam.

"It was even worse than that, because he kept making suggestive comments and positions!" Greninja laughed. "Or, that's how I kept picturing it. So, I ran off once we had a break between practice, trying to wash off and get Chesnaught out of my head before going back."

"Something else happened?"

"The King, Nidoking, strolled out and had a long chat with me. And…then he helped me realize that I had more than a crush, and he encouraged me to at least try to get closer to Chesnaught." I sighed. "He was really helpful with that."

"Wow, I didn't know the Grass Fields King was like that," confessed Machamp. "I heard he was really nice, but I didn't know he was so personable with his troops."

"Yeah, he really is." I tilted my head. "Isn't Emperor Empoleon like that?"

"Uh…well, he's not outright mean, but…I wouldn't…" Alakazam tugged on his mustache. "Friendly isn't the first word I'd use for him, but not the last either."

"Oh."

"Yep…what's next?"

"After that, we went on an assignment in the forest with a large group. We divided it down, so Chesnaught and I managed to be paired off with Delphox and my other friend, a samurai named Samurott."

"Wow, a samurai? Mienshao would love to meet him!"

"Maybe they could meet some day," suggested Greninja.

"Preferably without you there," I mumbled, to which Greninja poked me in the belly.

"Why's that?"

"Samurott confessed to an attraction," explained Greninja as he sank back into the water. "Um, to me, that is."

"Gosh, another one?" Machamp laughed. "Apparently, you're the hottest fellow around!"

"Oh, I don't know about that—"

"Of course he is," I cut in, "but he's my hot guy." And I wrapped my arms around Greninja as the other two laughed again.

"So, back to the story," insisted Greninja. "We were in the forest to get something from a hokora shrine, but bandits attacked us." Greninja sighed and lightly touched my chest. "One of them stabbed and poisoned Chesnaught."

"Yikes!" Machamp's eyes widened as he frowned. "That must have been awful."

"Ah, I was doing fairly well before that," I chuckled. "But yeah, after the poisoning, I was a choking mess." I leaned down and kissed Greninja's cheek. "This hero here, however, sliced the offender, and managed to wash out the poison, essential to saving my life."

"Wow, how heroic!" Alakazam admired that part and sighed. He turned and stared at Machamp. "In fact, that reminds me of…"

"…Us?"

"S-Sort of." Machamp beamed while Alakazam smirked. He jumped and shook his head. "A-Anyway, that's not…I want to hear the rest of their story."

"After that, I was definitely falling for Greninja," I confessed. "Before, he had caught my eye when we first met, and I was really getting interested in him when we sparred and chatted before the forest incident. But, his actions definitely got me thinking more and more about him, so I was positive by then that I was falling in love, especially after my General, Rhydon, helped me discover how strongly I felt."

"That's so cute!" Alakazam clasped his hands together. "Is there more?"

"Yep, the big confession!" I laughed, and Greninja leaned back against me while I cuddled him.

"Ooh, this is the best part!" Alakazam nudged Machamp, who nodded happily, but also scooted closer to mage.

"So, um, we were planning to meet up, since Chesnaught wanted to pay me back for helping him." Greninja laughed. "You really didn't need to."

"Come off it, you knew I was way too stubborn to take 'no' for an answer." I laughed. "I thought it was just going to be dinner."

"And drinks."

"Yes, that too." I tickled him and everyone laughed. "He never lets that go."

"Nope!" Greninja smiled. "Anyway, I stumbled outside, because we forgot to really pick a time to meet after my training time."

"Ha, I've done that before." Machamp shook his head. "Sometimes, we just rush too much and forget the details, which can be important."

"And they help you avoid walking in on someone," I noted.

"How so?"

"King Nidoking and General Rhydon were having a moment in the garden behind the castle," explained Greninja. "A very intimate moment."

"Oooh." Machamp and Alakazam turned to each other and laughed.

"Yep. So, I hid behind a wall and listened while they…kissed and whispered to each other."

"Peeper," I teased.

"How was I supposed to know? I was looking for you!"

"Same for me, which is why it was awful that I walked outside and on them." I laughed. "That was pretty bad. But, Greninja came to my rescue again and showed up, causing the two of them to hurry off to give us alone time."

"They knew about you two before you did."

"Apparently!"

"So, after that, Chesnaught was making suggestions and he brought up his friend." Greninja flicked at the water. "And…I was dumb enough to outright deny letting him see her."

"You didn't!" Alakazam gasped while Machamp nervously laughed.

"But he did," I chuckled. "So naturally, I got defensive, wondering if he found something wrong with her, and then he told me that he didn't want me around her, and I was completely lost by that point."

"And then I just confessed right there, because I figured that the whole thing was going crashing to the ground." Greninja buried his face in his hands. "That was the worst thing ever."

"No, it was the best, because I wasn't sure if you liked me." I kissed his head again. "After that, I actually kissed him right on the lips, because I wasn't sure how else to respond, and I thought that by him confessing, it confirmed we were both in love."

"But he didn't tell me before that, so I was clueless when he did it."

"What! That must have thrown you off big time."

"It did," laughed Greninja. "I could barely even speak or function after that!"

"So, then I confessed to him, and after that we kissed a bunch of times." Greninja spun around and kissed me on the lips. "Like that." Machamp and Alakazam laughed. "But, I knew the other knights weren't going to tolerate it so much, so I wanted to keep it a secret."

"Wait, they what?" Alakazam tilted his head in confusion.

"Oh, sorry. The knights in our kingdom are, um…less tolerant—"

"About romantic interests? How absurd!" Alakazam folded his arms together. "Honestly, you'd think everyone could just find someone to fall in love with and shut up about who it is. Some days, it's hard enough to just find someone who…really cares." He quickly glanced at Machamp, who nodded, but refused to look back at Alakazam.

"Well, they're still not over it," I realized. "So…maybe that's part of the reason we got sent here."

"But your king is gay!"

"Bisexual, actually," I corrected. "He had a wife before his fiancé."

"Oh, he did, that's right." Alakazam nodded. "Sorry about that."

"No, it's fine, he's trying to move on now, so that's good." I smiled. "The General's been crazy over him for ages, so you can imagine how delighted he is now."

"He hadn't told Nidoking before he got married?"

"From what I've been told, no, he kept it buried for ages, especially after the Queen came into the picture." I sighed. "He still regrets that he hadn't spoken up sooner, and that she died before he could enter the picture."

"Tragic," murmured Machamp.

"Yeah."

"Was that all for your story though?" Alakazam tried to shift the focus back to us. "Your relationship was kept a secret from everyone? Because it became well known by the time of the ball, so I assumed…?"

"Oh, no, I ruined that myself." I laughed. "We kept it a secret for about a week, and we had maybe two dates including dinner on the first night, but I knew Greninja didn't want to hold it in."

"I could have!"

"But it was torturing you."

"Not torture, but I'll admit it wasn't fun."

"Right. So, we had this choosing ceremony before the ball, where each knight is meant to ask a lady to the dance by presenting a flower to her." I chuckled. "So, I picked out a bluebell and walked straight up to the stage where Greninja was up with the King and some others. And I just presented it to him in front of the whole town."

"Aaaahh, that's the cutest!" Alakazam clapped lightly, but excitedly. "And you two have been together ever since?"

"Well, it's only been two months, but…yeah." Greninja smiled up at me as I kissed his cheek. "That is still some time."

"I think it's plenty to know!" Alakazam happily sighed. "The two of you have such a nice story, and it's so romantic! We don't hear that many up here."

"Really? Isn't anyone here dating?"

"Well, you already know about the bears, which…well, they could be in love together, but they look too hard beyond one another." Alakazam shook his head. "It's odd, because around each other, they can be really endearing…or, at least when they think no one is looking." He chuckled. "Anyway, besides them, you've seen Froslass and Weavile, and I'm willing to wager that there could be a spark between them. And then there's the Emperor's wi…uh."

"The Emperor is married?" Greninja raised his head a bit.

"Um…y-yes, but he doesn't like…we're not supposed to really share…ah, what does it matter?" Alakazam splashed a bit of the water. "You two are with us now, so, you might as well know. Emperor Empoleon has a wife and a son."

"Oh wow, that's nice!" I paused. "But…we haven't seen them around yet."

"And you won't," cut in Machamp. "Ever since that prophet surfaced, Empoleon had them sent away."

"So that's why his methods are so driven," realized Greninja.

"Well, they've always been like that, but yes, that's been the driving factor lately."

"Got it. So…no one else for romantics?" I pried, hoping to squeeze the obvious out of them. Machamp shifted his eyes between us, and Alakazam, who merely racked his brain and thought hard.

"Hmm. Well, I'm pretty sure Carracosta has someone, but…he doesn't tell anyone about it. I'd imagine that she, or he, isn't exactly a warrior of any sort." He stirred the water around and continued to think. "Golduck flirts with a good number of town folk, but he seems terribly interested in Greninja lately." Alakazam shuddered. "Which I am now fully against."

"He flirted with you a few times before," pointed out Machamp. "In fact, he was pretty adamant about it for a while."

"Yes, well, I've never really been too interested in him." Alakazam rolled his eyes and puffed out his cheek. "He's just so…I don't even know the right word for it. Cunning seems too kind, so perhaps manipulative." He turned to Greninja. "Am I wrong?"

"Once upon a time, I would have disagreed, but today, that sounds about right." Greninja folded his arms and shook his head. "I'm so annoyed that I ever even bothered with him."

"Please forgive me for bringing him up," apologized Alakazam. "Anyway, Poliwrath and Politoed don't have anyone that I'm aware of, though with their constant bickering, I don't think that would work out well regardless. Quagsire, Delibird, and Mienshao are single as well, though I don't know about their interests. Though, Mienshao is mistaken for a female frequently. And I'm not really sure anyone would want General Abomasnow…ah, don't tell him that." We laughed together over that. "But, I believe…that's all of us. Mostly singles, sans Emperor Empoleon, Carracosta, and whatever is going on with Beartic, Pangoro, and Ursaring."

"What about the two of you?"

"Us?!"

"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to imply it as you two together." Yes I did. "But, um, I was wondering what the two of you are looking for."

"Ah, the t-two of us." Alakazam poked at his fingers while gazing down at the water, face flushed. "Well, Machamp is…um, pretty open, right?"

"Not exactly." He slid closer to the mage, finally right next to him.

"Well, more so than me." Alakazam held his shoulders. "I'm, um…well, I…"

"Are you gay too?" Greninja tilted his head in confusion. Alakazam hesitated before slightly nodding his head, and then put more into it. "Oh. Why didn't you say so?"

"Because I…overcomplicate it." Alakazam sunk into the water, picking his head up just a bit to talk. "I'm not…I'm, um…"

"Alakazam." The mage jumped up as soon as Machamp touched his shoulder. "Come on. I want to hear too."

"Y…You should already know!"

"But I don't, honest." One hand eased Alakazam back down. "Please? We used to be so close." Another arm draped around his back, pulling him closer. "Best of friends, even, remember?" A third arm cupped his hands beneath the water, and Machamp leaned in. "Just…" Closer. "Tell us. Tell me."

"M-Machamp…please…"

"It can be like before. When we were younger, remember?" My chest tightened as Greninja and I leaned over, waiting expectantly. "Wouldn't you like to—?"

"Stop!" The mage smacked the knight's hands from around him and Alakazam folded his arms around his chest. "Just…stop already, Machamp."

Taken aback, Machamp shook his head. "Alakazam, I'm sorry, I didn't—"

"Yes, you did. Again." He stood up quickly. "Damn it, Machamp. Every time I relax just enough for you to…"

"Please, Alakazam, I wasn't—"

"Forget it. Just…leave me alone."

He hopped up from the hot springs and quickly zipped from the area, hurrying back inside. Machamp dropped his head and stared quietly at the water, crestfallen.

Greninja leaped up and pulled himself out of the water. "I got Alakazam." He winked to me as I nodded, and chased off after the mage.

Quietly, I gazed across the pool, as Machamp picked his head back up and gazed at me. He opened his mouth, but only sighed and shook his head.

"So, there is plenty going on with the two of you," I started, and he jumped at my voice. "Mind explaining what exactly that was all about?"

"It's ah…bit of a long story." He grimaced, perhaps hoping that would end it.

"Well, we have time." Machamp exhaled and deflated, surrendering to my obstinacy.

"If you insist, but I can't exactly explain all of it, just my side of it." He leaned back and gazed up at the sky. "Alakazam and I have known each other since we were kids. We both grew up not too far off from here, but perhaps closer to your kingdom than here, since there was some grass. It's a haze for me." He sighed. "He was always kind of shy, not unlike Greninja, at least when we were young. But, he had a big heart, and he loved to help out others whenever he could, just without them really knowing who it ever was. Another kid might play too close to the cliffs, but someone would pop in and take him back to safety at the last second." Machamp smiled, softer than usual. "I loved how heroic he could be, even back then, especially without any credit from anyone. He just helped out when he could."

"And…you?"

"Oh, I was getting in over my head over similar stuff, like stopping a boulder from crushing some kids that were playing too close to rocky cliffs." He chuckled. "Alakazam would have to sometimes save me too, and he'd try to disappear, thinking he could keep away from me. But, I never gave up, and one day, I just caught up with him and kind of forced myself around him, not leaving him alone until he gave up and befriended me."

"Sounds like you were bit of a nudge."

"Yeah, but I couldn't help it. He was so great, and I just wanted to be around him more." Machamp chuckled again. "Even back then, I knew I wanted to grow up alongside him. And for a while, we did just that. We grew older, and bolder. With me around, Alakazam wasn't so flighty, and would stick around to help out folks more. Just the same, he wasn't one for credit and shied away when people went to thank him. I got fed up after what I thought was one too many times, grabbed his hand, and forced him to stick around with me." Machamp weakly laughed. "Wow, I was really was a nudge, huh?"

"A forceful one," I teased, and he laughed a little harder.

"Maybe that wasn't always the right way to go about it, but…I don't know, it worked. He would stick around if I was determined enough to get him to stay put." He smiled and glanced down at me. "When we were teenagers, and into young adulthood, he had this bushy tail. It was so fluffy and I loved poking at it. I think he used to get embarrassed from it, but let me goof around with it." He sighed. "And he was always smart too, reading whenever he had the free time, studying spells and other related stuff. Sometimes, I'd try joining him, but too many times, I wanted to pull him away from it." Machamp shook his head. "I…thought he gave the books too much attention, and I wanted more of it. It made more sense back then, but now…"

"Not quite?"

"Not even close; he's a fantastic mage, and anyone could tell you that." Machamp nodded. "Even though I tried to pry him from the books whenever I could, I told him every day how great he was." He blushed and cleared his throat. "Anyway, we were getting involved with the Empire's royalty some years back, and they were looking to recruit us both. One day, though, Alakazam got kidnapped by bandits. I remember I freaked out and charged off after him, ready to deck anyone that got in my way."

"I can imagine how horrifying that must have been."

"It was. Relentlessly, I climbed across frosty hillsides and cut through pine forest branches. To be honest, I don't think I worked as hard for anything in my life as I did running after Alakazam." Machamp inhaled and exhaled again. "Some, um, flirty fiery fellow had helped me out. Long hair, fellow fighter…anyway, not the point, but I had promised to reward him afterwards." He shook his head. "That was a mistake, but I didn't realize that back then. Eventually, I found the bandits and Kadabra, or uh, Alakazam, when he was…well, different."

"What happened?"

"Well, the fire guy and I planned to pull a fast one on them, and he acted as a traveling merchant, selling me as a more prized asset than Alakazam. Pretended that he needed a mage though, for some stubborn client. He managed to tempt the bandits with me, and they traded Alakazam over for me." He smiled again, wider now. "As the trade completed, we both lit up, Alakazam and I. We evolved, and both became more powerful, a few pegs down from what we are today." He sighed contentedly. "To tell you the truth, from that moment on, I always felt bonded to him, more than we ever had been before that. It's what…why I want to be around Alakazam, even to today. Anyway." Machamp coughed and cleared his throat. "Working together, we took down the bandits and got back home."

"That sounds great. Did something…go wrong?"

"…It did. The fire guy I was with, I can't even remember his blasted name now, but he was more interested about getting…um, intimate with me. When we got back, he messed with me, and I thought about what he offered." A tear slid down from Machamp's eye. "I didn't mean to think too hard about it, but I did, and…well, Alakazam flipped out over that. In the end, I didn't even do anything with fire what's his face, but because Alakazam had caught more than a glimpse of my thoughts, he didn't…well, he thought I was in it for the wrong reasons. So, we've had this strained relationship since then." He heaved and shuddered. "Alakazam and I are still friends, I think, but he…pulls away every time I try to close the gap I created."

"I see." I sat back and stirred the water. "And whenever you tried to explain—"

"He'd cut me off, or push me away further." Machamp choked up as his voice broke and he turned away. "Sorry, I shouldn't be so…well, you get it. Just…it hurts to think about, how we were, and now…how we are." He punched at the water, growling. "If I just hadn't let that idiot around me, if I just told him off, we'd still be…close. And he might even let me…we might even…be like you two."

"Us two?"

"You and Greninja."

"Wait, so then…you do love him."

Machamp nodded. "I've been trying to tell him that, but he won't listen to me. He just can't seem to let me in anymore." He sighed heavily and folded his lower arms together. "More than anything, I just want to be close to him again. Even if that just means that we're only friends, I just need him to open up around me again."

"Why haven't you just forced it out?"

"Why didn't you just cave to your feelings about Greninja before?" He shook his head. "I'm too afraid, I've always been around him. And now he hates me."

"He doesn't seem like—"

"Ah, don't try to soften it. Deep down, he really does, and I just wish…just once, if I could get him to…just stay around me long enough. If he just let me speak, and if I just could tell him." Machamp shook his head and got up. "It's far too late at this point, though. We're barely friends these days."

"Machamp, please." I jumped up, and the cold air stung, but I fought it off. "If you really do love Alakazam that much, you have to try again to tell him."

"Chesnaught, I can't—"

"If you think he pretty much hates you, what do you have left to lose?"

"I don't know, but he won't—"

"You're not even trying." I shook my head. "If you think it's worth anything, if you think that the two of you were ever worth anything, you owe him at least that much. Just find a way to blurt it out to him."

"…Maybe. I, uh…I could try, sometime."

"Make it sometime soon, ok?"

He nodded and bowed his head. We climbed out from the water and I waited for him to walk around, only to have Machamp throw his arms around me and lock me into a stifling hug.

"Thank you, Chesnaught! You're the best!"

"Ah…you're w-welcome. But…can this wait…until we're inside?"

"Oh, right, sorry. You're probably freezing." He released me and grabbed my arm. "Come on, let's get you in and dried off."

And Machamp dragged me back in, grabbing the towels to help me dry off. Somehow, his beam seemed brighter than it had before.


 

[Greninja]

Following the puddles and wet footsteps, I chased Alakazam down the corridor, around the corner. He had the towel draped around his shoulders, but didn't even consider drying off.

Quickly, I ran after the mage, grabbing his shoulder before he walked too far. He whirled around to lash out at me, but restrained himself upon catching my eyes.

"Ah. You." Alakazam deeply sighed. "Not who…I expected."

"What? You wanted Chesnaught here instead?"

"No, but I—"

"Machamp then? After you blew up at him?"

"Please, Greninja, I…" He clutched his head and sank to the floor. "Did I really get that nasty with him?"

"Seriously, Alakazam? It certainly wasn't all that friendly, what did you expect?"

"I don't know, I panicked. When he gets close to me again, when he speaks to me, I just feel like I'm going to fold and fall right into his four arms." He shivered, but it somehow wasn't just the cold. "He's always known the right words around me, and it's the hardest thing in the world to remind myself that he's not sincere, that I can't give into what I feel." Alakazam stood back up. "And I won't let myself fall like that."

"Wait. So…you don't hate him?"

"No, completely opposite." He blushed a dark red and rubbed his shoulders. "No one knows because I keep acting like hostile around him, but really…I'd lose my mind if anything happened to him."

"Then why don't you tell him that?"

"Tell him?! No!" Alakazam whirled around to check if anyone new had appeared, relieved that we were still alone. "Oh, no, never! By this point, I don't understand how he can even consider speaking with me."

"Um…maybe he likes you too?"

"Please, Greninja." Alakazam turned from me. "He doesn't see anything beyond a broken friendship with me. That and…well, another attractive body."

"…Yeah, you're going to need to take it from the top."

"Gracious, where are my manners?" He smiled to me. "This might be a little long winded, but if you're willing to listen, and…" Trailing off, Alakazam checked the room, with only pictures, paintings, desks, and ice sculptures for company. "Ok, as long as no one else is here too. Anyway, I already know your answer, but would you want to—?"

"Alakazam, I fed you my whole story with Chesnaught." I shook my head and smiled. "Could you at least tell me about your history with Machamp?"

"Certainly, but it's extensive." He took my hand and led me a little further down the hall. Opening a door, we walked inside of a type of break room and sat down on a wooden bench. Alakazam took in a deep breath and slowly released it. "Ok, where to begin with this. Well, from the beginning would make the most sense."

He smiled to me, but it dropped quickly. There was a faint pain in Alakazam's dark eyes as he glanced down to the icy ground, unable to fix on one spot. He shut then and muttered incoherently to himself. Snapping them open again, Alakazam frowned at me and shook his head.

"Sorry, I forget that I can't…I was trying telepathy, which, I forget, doesn't work with you."

"Right. Part Dark."

"My apologies." He stroked his long mustache and nodded. "Ok, well, to begin, Machamp and I grew up together in a small village called Caulfield, some distance south from here." He paused and nodded. "It's actually near the halfway point from your kingdom and the empire."

"Oh, so you're not from here, originally."

"No, but we were still in the northern territories, so my home has always been within the empire." I nodded while he twirled his mustache. "Yes, um, Machamp and I were just Machop and Abra back then. He was brave and would try to help out anyone whenever they were in some type of trouble, always around to comfort folks afterwards with that big smile of his. You've seen it; he still has it today."

"Yeah, he beams broadly and laughs a lot."

"Yes, that's it!" Alakazam smiled fondly. "I love watching his face light up." He shook his head and tried to cover his scarlet cheeks. "Sorry, that's…anyway, Machamp was great at helping anyone he could, so I guess it was always going to be in him to become a knight, to protect and serve. Even when we were young, I think…no, I'm almost positive that I had feelings for him. When I was young, I didn't understand it, but I watched him from afar, and my cheeks burned up back then like they do now." He hugged himself tightly. "Oh, I was so awkward. I couldn't even be around people."

"Sounds familiar." I chuckled and Alakazam giggled with me.

"I guess that's why it's easier for me to explain it to you." He deflated a bit and shook his head. "A-Anyway, I'd help others out too, just indirectly and never around where they could see me, or I'd disappear if I showed up."

"Too bashful?"

"Horrendously so." He laughed a bit. "To tell you the truth, even though I talk a big game today, I'm not totally over it." Alakazam cupped his hands together and pressed them together. "Would you still relate?"

"Of course! You heard my story."

"Ah, yes, that was recent. Sorry, it slipped my mind."

"Don't worry about it." I patted his shoulder. He turned and I smiled again.

"Chesnaught's so lucky to have you, Greninja. You're the sweetest."

"Careful, or I'll have to advise you to get in line." I smirked and we laughed.

"Gracious, I'd rather you didn't have someone else lusting for you." He shook his head. "I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you, since I've only…I'm stuck on Machamp, really."

"Wait, what?"

"I'd better get back to the story, to explain." He inhaled, and then exhaled. "So, uh, one day, young Machamp tracked me down in my favorite hiding place, and I tried teleporting away and keeping my distance for a while. But, he refused to leave, and he just waited around for me."

"Sounds like he was interested."

"Curious, actually." Alakazam picked at the bench, scraping up a loose bit of wood. "But I could care less; back then, I was desperate for a friend, and he was perfect." He paused and then smiled. "He helped other children out when they would lose a toy up in a tree, recklessly climbing up just to get it down for them. It was easier when I teleported and grabbed it; he also wouldn't risk his life over such little things whenever I pitched in, so I just stuck around him."

"You two made quite the pair."

"We truly did." He interlaced his hands together, twiddling his thumbs. "We grew older together, and evolved into Machoke and Kadabra. He became even more muscular and was just gorgeous." Alakazam shivered again and slumped in his seat. "Sorry, it's a superficial attraction to a degree, but I just can't help pining over how well toned he is."

"That's fine, physical attraction helps, but…don't you mean was?"

"What? Oh, yes, I…well, no, he still really is, isn't he?" I nodded and Alakazam laughed. "Right, of course. Meanwhile, the biggest feature I got was a bushy tail."

Alakazam brought his legs up and hugged them to his body as the laughter died down. I waited as he gazed off, reminiscing.

"Anyway, we, um…gained new interests. I became the book obsessed mage you see today, and Machamp worked out frequently, strengthening his muscles, his whole body even!" Dreamily sighing, Alakazam sank further into his seat. "He's always been so strong. Lots of times, he'd try to stop me from reading so much, but he didn't have to work so hard at that, since I would peek from behind my books just to watch him train. A few times, I even tried to work out with him." Alakazam burst out laughing. "Let me just make it clear that, physically, I'm a mess."

"No, just lacking in muscles," I corrected. "You're far from a mess."

"Aw, thank you!" He blushed a little more from that, but then heaved and nodded. "So, anyway, we were still kind of independent heroes, of sorts. I still wanted to hide, but Machamp would grab my hand and keep me beside him. And, of course, I wouldn't dare leave his side." Alakazam sighed. "I'd never leave him when he got close to me like that."

"You were really all over him."

"Secretly, yes. As you can imagine, I discovered that I was had definitely fallen for him by that point." Alakazam poked the wall and shook his head. "I should have told him back then, but he was so social with everyone else we met that I just…thought he wouldn't really be interested in me."

"Wasn't he, though?"

"Once, I thought that. He talked to me while we were invited to a party as young adults and we got carried away about a romantic topic or two." Alakazam slid his hand to his face. "I don't recall precisely how, maybe we drank too much, or maybe it was just really late, but Machamp had suggested something about kissing, and I let him plant a big one on my lips." He touched his lips and quivered. "Best moment I ever had with him, but I read his mind and knew he was just experimenting, so I held back on confessing my feelings to him."

"Did you read his mind often?"

"More than I care to admit, yes." Alakazam held his arms out, as if they had grown heavy. "So, a good number of times, I'd default to consulting his thoughts over speaking with him. There was a time where he had to tell me how great he thought I was every day. Literally, he would make mental notes to do so, just to make sure I'd feel better about myself."

"How did that work out?"

"Perfectly. I loved that he even cared." He paused and tugged on his mustache again. "You know, there were times that he considered me…more than a friend. But, I don't think he quite saw me as a lover, or his mind wasn't clear about that." Alakazam shook his head. "Either way, him caring about me as even a friend was suffice enough back then for me."

"Um, you should have pressed for more." I shrugged. "Not that I'm the best one to tell you that, but—"

"I know, I know. We could have been…well, like you and Chesnaught. Surprisingly though, that's not when I blew it."

"No?"

"Not quite. At least I hadn't been so…he hadn't…I don't know how to clear it up."

"That's ok."

"No, I need to tell you the rest. If I don't, I'll never get it out."

"Whenever you're ready."

Alakazam nodded and shut his eyes, breathing carefully. I turned and gazed around the break room. A few more desks and benches were around, along with storage cabinets, but nothing in particular stood out to me. Turning back to Alakazam, he opened his eyes and nodded again.

"So, uh, one day, some knights were venturing around the empire to recruit new, willing, and able bodies. Naturally, Machamp jumped for the opportunity, and I tagged along with him, determined to follow him off to this palace." Alakazam twirled his mustache around and looked up at the ceiling. "I lucked out that they needed mages as well, otherwise they would have been plenty satisfied with Machamp. And he wouldn't want to leave me, but I knew he was longing to become a real knight, so I…forced myself after him."

"You didn't want to be a mage?"

"Actually, I wasn't sure I wanted to work directly for the emperor. Being a mage always seemed fun to me."

"Ah ok."

"Mm. So, they were pretty much ready to recruit both of us, but the mage before me wanted me to practice certain spells for my first day there." Alakazam frowned and sank down on the bench. "One day, while I was practicing off on my own, which was stupid, but I really wanted to impress everyone with new spells, especially Machamp. Sorry, anyway, on one day bandits kidnapped me while I practiced. They heard about my involvement with the palace and thought they could extort wealth from them by using me."

"That must have been terrifying."

"It was. I thought that the empire would just let me die and find some other young adult to train in the mystic arts."

"But then what happened?"

"Someone had told Machamp about it, and he ripped across the land to come save me."

"…I'm sorry, but Alakazam, how can you not even imagine that he loves you?"

"Because his love for me is just platonic." Alakazam sighed. "It's almost always been that way, though he's had some…well, certain types of thoughts about me. I thought that he might be, you know, in love, but…well, that wasn't the case."

"How?"

"The story will explain that." Alakazam cleared his throat and stared across the room, staring out the slightly opened door. "We should have closed that. Anyway, he worked with some fire fellow to rescue me from the bandits. I can't even remember who it was, but Machamp got this fighter to pose as a slave trader, who boasted to the bandits that Machamp was worth much more than I was. But, he claimed that he need to have a mage for the next trade he was making, and feigned desperation to trade his more worthy asset for the bandits' mage, me."

"He traded Machamp for you?"

"Yes, and the bandits accepted. As they exchanged the two of us, Machamp and I evolved to our current evolutions. He had a surge of strength, and with two extra arms, he ripped the cage he was trapped in open. And with my mind racing, I fired a plethora of spells that rained down on the bandits."

"Wow, so you two evolved together, and because of that trade?"

"Correct, and…well, I've always thought that connected us, on multiple levels. He could suddenly sense me crawling in his mind, and I could sense energies that coursed through his body." Alakazam hugged his shoulders. "It was fantastic when that first happened, sensational beyond my wildest imagination. He even used it to trace my panicked thoughts of the lead bandit trying to attack me and struck him down with one heavy blow."

"That's incredible!" I shook my head in disbelief. "Alakazam, this still isn't making sense to me; you two were amazing together!"

"Perhaps we still could be."

"What?! Why aren't you?!"

"Well…after we stopped the bandits and Machamp rescued me, we returned home, and the fire flirt that helped him had…well, Machamp had running thoughts about them together. Intimately."

"Oh."

"And…they mirrored thoughts he had about me prior to that."

"Oh. Oh no."

"Yeah. So, I had my heart shattered and knew that we would never really work out." Alakazam sniffled and dropped his head. "He's tried to convince me otherwise, and I'm always tempted to listen to him. But…he wasn't the only friend of mine who lied over the years. So, I just…won't let him convince me otherwise."

"But…he could care about you, still."

"Thank you, Greninja, but I've let go of such wishful thinking long ago." His voice broke and Alakazam sobbed. "Everyone is convinced that I hate him at this point, and maybe I should, but…I can't. And that's just so masochistic of me. But, even Machamp thinks that we're not friends anymore."

"He's told us otherwise."

"Cover. It's just him keeping face." Alakazam coughed and cried again. "He really thinks that it's hopeless to talk with me at this point, and whenever he tries, I just get so upset and push away from him." He clutched his head and wildly shook it. "And he's right to. I don't deserve Machamp. I don't deserve…love."

"Alakazam, no!" I grabbed his shoulders and forced him to look at me. Tears streamed down his cheeks and welled up in his eyes. "You just need to tell Machamp how you really feel. Even if it's not going to win him over completely, at least he'll understand you more. Either way, more than anything and regardless of the outcome, don't you dare ever think that you're not worth love, or anything else."

"Greninja, I'm not—"

"Nonsense. You are." I smiled to him. "Alakazam, you're kind and thoughtful. And you put others before yourself on several occasions."

"That doesn't…I…"

"Please, Alakazam." I pulled him in for a hug. "I know how you feel. It's exactly what Golduck put me through when he first took off on me. We had a night together, and he had contemplated leaving our home. When I woke up and he was gone, I thought that it was me, that I wasn't worth him or anything else."

"So…you…moved on?"

"I'm right here, aren't I?" I pulled back and grinned at him. "Someone reminded me that I was worth enough on my own, and even though I've still got a few insecurities from it, I've forced myself forward and took time to myself, learning to appreciate me for myself." He nodded, wiping away his tears. "And now, I'm much better off."

"And you've got Chesnaught."

"Yep. And we love each other to bits." I sighed. "To tell you the truth though, we haven't been together for all that long, and I don't know if it'll be a relationship that will last forever. But, even still, I'm ok with myself, and that matters just as much as my love for Chesnaught does."

"You…have to love yourself?"

"Absolutely." I smiled. "And you should too. Don't give up completely on telling Machamp the truth. But…don't feel like the world stops and ends because he might not feel the same. Because one day, you'll find someone."

"Like you?"

"Like me."

"Ok." Alakazam heaved and shook his head, clearing away his tears the best he could. He smiled to me and held my hands in his. "Thank you, Greninja, for both your advice, and for listening to my whole story. You're possibly one of the best individuals to enter my life."

"You're more than welcome, Alakazam." I pulled him in for another hug. "Now, come on. Let's go back and get the others."

"W-Wait, now?"

"Might as well, right?"

"I-I don't know if I'm ready right this second."

"Hmm." I drummed on the bench and nodded. "Ok, you don't need to confess to Machamp right now. But, don't forget to work on telling him."

"No, I won't, I mean I will, I…you get it." He glanced up to my smile and returned it. "You really do get it."

"Yep."

"Right, ok." Alakazam picked himself up from the bench, and then pulled me up. "Well, I can get started by at least opening up more to him. And we should, at the very least, go get your boyfriend."

"That would be nice!"

We laughed and stepped outside of the room. Not too far down the hall, I heard a gasp and turned. Machamp slipped behind Chesnaught as they approached us.

"Come on." Chesnaught dragged Machamp out. "They're just walking out."

"Right, I just…ah…you know." He awkwardly grinned and waved at us. Both Alakazam and I waved back.

"So," I started, "now that we're all sorted out—"

"You four will come with me."

Everyone jumped and whirled around. We looked down to find Delibird had appeared.

"Hello."

"Uh…hi." I looked worriedly at Alakazam, back to Machamp and Chesnaught, before turning back to Delibird. "Now's not the best time."

"Considering your apparel, I agree, but the emperor needs your immediate presence. You can change back after meeting with him."

"It's f-freezing!" Chesnaught shivered as he stepped forward. "W-What could the emperor possibly need from us?"

"He needs everyone," clarified Delibird. "The prophet has been sighted once again. And this time, they've got a lock on his trail."

The air abruptly stiffened as we exchanged astonished expressions with one another. With no other choice, the four of us followed Delibird as he took us to Emperor Empoleon's throne room.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

Delibird led us down the halls toward the throne room. Once we returned to the main hall, he glanced back and watched the four of us shiver and shake from the icy surroundings.

"What's the matter?" He smirked while asking.

"O-Oh, come off it, D-Delibird," managed Alakazam. "N-Not all of us are c-completely resistant t-to the c-cold."

I glanced back and watched as Chesnaught hugged himself tightly, failing to keep warm. Sliding over to him, I tried to press myself against him, only to feel our wet bodies squish against each other. We both quaked from the contact instead.

"S-See?"

"Well, you're the mage." Delibird shrugged. "Warm yourselves up."

"…Um. R-Right."

Alakazam lifted his arms before himself and turned to the rest of us. Concentrating on them, he created a ball of fire. Carefully, he expanded it as he muttered incantations.

"Please, if you're going to do that, you might as well leave it to me."

We spun around as Delphox stepped from behind a column, wearing fresh robes and wand ablaze. He motioned his hand and the fireball launched from the stick, split into four smaller flames, and floated around us.

"Thank you, Delphox. You have great timing." I smiled at him, to which he smirked and nodded.

"Managed to find your way around?" Alakazam chuckled. "Good work."

"Yeah, well—"

"The lost lotus will find its way back to its roots, eventually." Mienshao stepped forward from behind the same column, smiling with certain…smugness to him. "Delphox only needed to ask for some assistance."

"Uh-huh." Alakazam knowingly grinned.

"…Ok, fine, I got lost," snapped Delphox. "Mienshao found me was really helpful at escorting me around the palace."

"Told you they wouldn't believe us."

"Well, no one asked you to spout one of those stupid proverb lines," barked Delphox. "You could have at least made it less obvious! Everyone from here knows you only use those when you're fooling around!"

"True." Mienshao shrugged and chuckled. "If it's any consolation, I did quite enjoy spending my time with you."

"Oh, I'm sure…wait, you did?"

"Certainly," continued Mienshao. "Perhaps there was the air of familiarity between us, but I find you most engaging, and quite intelligent as well. Your attention to detail was also pleasing, as I do enjoy going over them with others."

"You do?" Delphox picked at his robes and kicked a little at the floor. Mumbling, he added, "I thought you were just being courteous the whole time."

Delibird cleared his throat. "As much as I'm sure everyone would love to listen to your tour of the palace, I do believe that we were summoned for more pressing matters, Mienshao."

"Mm." A slight disappointment in his eyes, Mienshao let his arms dangle as he nodded and stepped forward. He halted and perked up. "We're all needed, correct?"

"It's about the prophet, so what do you think?"

"Ah, then Delphox will be coming with us." Mienshao beamed back at our fox mage, who shyly smiled back and picked at his wand.

"Obviously. Why?"

"Just checking."

"Uh…sure. Anyway, we'll—"

"My, my." Scowling, I turned and watched Golduck strutting over to us. "We're all gathered now, how fascinating. And quite dressed for the occasion."

He lined up to stroll right up to me, and Chesnaught looked about ready to swing a punch, but Machamp was the one that stepped in the way. Annoyed, Golduck frowned down upon him.

"Can I help you?"

"Not really." Machamp grinned and folded his lower arms. "Need something?"

He eyed me past the four-armed knight and shrugged. "Perhaps, though not at the moment." He then glanced past the other side of Machamp and smirked at Alakazam. "Though, maybe I could use—"

"Don't even think about it."

Machamp maintained his smile, but his voice was far more intimidating than I had heard before. Golduck laughed and backed up, still eyeing Alakazam, who had halted Delphox's fireball in position to launch it forward.

"Such hostility," mocked Golduck. "Anyone might think you two were—"

"Golduck, just shut up, will you?" Even if I wanted everyone to start pounding on him, I'd rather my friends not get into trouble over someone like Golduck.

"Mister Popular making tight new friendships, huh?" He folded his arms. "Outclassing their loyalty to a seasoned knight around this palace. You'd think they'd have stronger ties to someone they've worked with longer."

"Bonds are something we're still working on," noted Alakazam. "And we've certainly not established them with the likes of you."

"Haven't you?" Machamp faltered a bit while Alakazam's fireball crackled. Golduck laughed. "My, this tension is delicious."

"Come on Golduck," whispered Delibird. "Lighten up, will you?"

"Sorry, what was that?" Delphox lit his wand again and pointed it at Golduck. "Light him up? Gosh, this ear fur can make it so difficult to hear sometimes."

"Ok, ease up." Delibird stepped between Golduck and the rest of us. "We don't have time for these arguments, nor does Golduck have the energy to get assaulted by a fraction of our army."

"Pretty sure I could take all of them—"

"You really want to have a bad time, huh?"

"Delibird is right," intervened Mienshao. "Emperor Empoleon must be waiting on us."

"More accurately, he'll be waiting on just a few of us."

Touching my shoulder, Alakazam tilted his head at Chesnaught, who blinked and locked his hand into mine. A bright flash lit around us and we were suddenly before large, dark blue doors in a quiet, isolated hallway. Though banners sporadically decorated the walls, there was little here that stood out in particular.

Releasing me, Alakazam teleported away. Momentarily, he reappeared with Delphox and Mienshao. Teleporting back and forth once more, Alakazam returned with Delibird and Machamp. He panted and dropped to a knee against the floor.

"…Seriously?" Delibird folded his arms and tapped his foot. "You're just going to leave him back there?"

"Ah, it's…not that…far." Alakazam exhaled, and then took in a deep breath. "Besides, he was…acting uncouth."

"Are you ok?" I leaned down and studied Alakazam. He had grown paler and seemed to droop lower to the ground.

"Teleporting…takes a bit…out of me…used in excess," explained Alakazam.

"Haven't I told you not to do that?" Machamp bent down and scooped Alakazam up. "Just once, can't you listen to me?"

Weakly, Alakazam laughed. "I'll work on it." He slid his arms around Machamp's back to steady himself, and Chesnaught nudged me as Machamp's face flushed over.

Mienshao stepped up to the door and knocked. He turned back and smiled as he brushed his whiskers. "Shall we?"

Together with Delibird, he opened the large doors as Machamp led us in. To make up for the simple hallway, Empoleon's throne room was grandiose by comparison. Upon entering it, the ice became sturdier and much more supportive, as though more carefully crafted. The whole room itself appeared to glisten, in spite of the little light. It was wider than Nidoking's throne room, with multiple pillars lining the ends of the walls in the distance, and decorated by frozen droplets that circled around them. In the center was a fountain with a wider basin below the water that shot into the air and fell into its smaller basin.

On the lower level, four ice sculptures of Empoleon were placed along the sides of the room, with two larger ones before the small stairway and overhang created by the stretched out extra level. Along the second tier, banners draped over a railing, with the castle crest across them. Curtains hung along the wall behind it, with what I imaged was a pair large portraits covered up by them. Centered and aligned perfectly with the fountain was an iceberg that led up a few steps to the massive cerulean throne atop it.

From it, Empoleon pushed himself up and down the stairs, as each of us bowed to him. He waved his wings and I glanced back to the lower level, where Weavile and Poliwrath emerged from the far right, while Frosslass and Politoed came from the left. From below the second tier, Abomasnow crouched slightly as he stomped forward. He blinked as he surveyed the group that entered.

"You're short a few folks," he rumbled.

"They should be coming along," reported Mienshao. Glancing back, he smiled somewhat more menacingly than before, and added, "Right, Delibird?"

"Y-Yes, of course." The small penguin gulped. "Carracosta was with Quagsire, and I passed Golduck along the way to gather this large group."

"There will not be much time to wait for them," murmured Empoleon. He shook his head slightly and blinked, staring blankly at us. "Um…the four of you were…at the hot springs?"

Turning to Chesnaught, Machamp, and Alakazam, I couldn't tell whose face was the deepest red between the four of us. Quietly, Alakazam crawled out of Machamp's arms and sank to the ground. Delphox bubbled with suppressed snickers.

"Er…right then." Empoleon cleared his throat and jabbed a flipper at Delphox. "And what's with the fire floating around, Delphox?! Are you trying to destroy this palace from the inside out?"

"Um…no." Delphox coughed to stop his laughter. "It's, uh…to warm the others up."

"Aw, how sweet," teased Froslass, and Weavile cracked a smile at Delphox's annoyance.

"Actually, sire, the ice still seems in tact," pointed out Abomasnow. "And you know how much I hate fire, so…"

"Indeed! Well spotted, Abomasnow," complimented Empoleon, relaxing. "Now then, you all already know that the prophet was sighted recently."

As he began, the doors behind us burst open once again, with Carracosta and Golduck dragging Quagsire into the room. The salamander's eyes barely looked open.

Weavile was the first to ask: "What happened with him?"

"Blasted fool wanted to sleep the damn day away, if we'd let him," grumbled Carracosta. "Apologies, your highness, we should have left him. Or, rather, I should have, but Golduck happened to spot me and helped bring him here."

"Lucky that Golduck was around for that," applauded Empoleon.

"Yeah…lucky." The duck glared at Alakazam, who smirked slightly.

"As it happens, you three are just in time," explained Empoleon. "In fact, Carracosta, wasn't it someone that you had spoken with that sighted the prophet?"

"Um…y-yes. There was a sighting and I was pointed in the right direction," elucidated Carracosta. "Weavile and Froslass were of great assistance in chasing this prophet."

"He's definitely a Psychic," reported Weavile. "He tried to attack us with Psychic bursts, and powerful ones."

"Too bad for him that we resist them," giggled Froslass. More seriously, she continued, "Though…his speed and strength were much more than we were anticipating."

"If you were expecting anything less, that's foolish," chastised Golduck. "This prophet has eluded capture for ages now. Of course he would be a force to be reckoned with."

"No kidding," deadpanned Weavile. "However, we did manage to confirm that he very likely is male, judging by the grunts we heard. He's also quite tall, well over both of our heights. On top of that, he cannot teleport, as we previously imagined, or if he can, he held back on doing so."

"We also froze his tail, so we now have a good idea of which direction he traveled in," noted Froslass. Solemnly, she continued, "Though…the anchored path led out to the Frozen Fields…"

"Could someone explain that more in depth for us?" Delphox folded his arms and sighed. "Besides just the place we go to presumably never return?"

"Specifically, we can't explain much to it beyond that," expounded Alakazam. "The reason that we know so little is because most of us don't take the time to stay far out there. We go out for the crops, medicinal herbs, and minerals that will only be found within that part of the region, but it's also heavily hampered by scattered blizzards." Alakazam glanced down to the ground. "Beyond that, we know of nothing out there. It goes on to the sea, but what's in between it…we're not completely sure. All we are certain of is that there is a great amount of snow, stones, and space between the vast stretch of land." He looked back up at Delphox and us. "It's easy to get lost out there, and if you're out for too long…well, the odds of your survival are lowered each day."

"Fantastic," deadpanned Delphox.

"The path is marked for us," Weavile informed, "so we can resume whenever we're prepared to pursue."

"Excellent work," commended Empoleon. "It's late in the evening now, and travel at this hour would be unwise. However, there is enough time for another bout of training, as well as enough to make final preparations before the morning."

"It'll be best if we train together in a larger group this time," instructed Abomasnow. "We'll need to refresh group tactics as well, but we'll keep things interesting."

"More like unfair," Chesnaught muttered.

"Since the wind is picking up tonight, we'll head over to the indoor arena. Not as varied as the terrain outdoors, but it'll do."

"Should be fun," quipped Golduck. I glared back at him to meet the leer I knew would be fixed on me.

"Very good. Get to work, everyone; I'm expecting nothing less than your best at finally seizing this elusive mastermind."

"Sire, hold on a moment, please," piped up Machamp. "Where are the bears?"

"Per Abomasnow's recommendation, they are en route to the Grass Fields Kingdom," revealed Empoleon.

"Wait, what?" Chesnaught stepped forward. "Why would you send them back?"

"In exchange for you three," continued Empoleon. "Nidoking was short several soldiers, and as I explained on your arrival, I needed to trade him soldiers of my own. General Abomasnow recommended that I send Pangoro, Ursaring, and Beartic to them."

"But you were going to evaluate things further, weren't you?" Chesnaught shook his head, annoyed. "If anything, the only reason they were chosen was because they lost in our practice with General Abomasnow."

"Hmph. How accusatory of the southerner," snapped Abomasnow. "I selected the group that I determined would be a well balanced trio, exactly what we were given with you three. The trio that works best together would be the bears, and they're exactly who I recommended that the emperor send over."

"That should explain it for you, Chesnaught." Empoleon nodded. "It was a calculated choice."

"…R-Right." He's very unconvinced. "My apologies."

"Quite all right, you're merely looking out for the empire's best." Empoleon chuckled. "You're still learning, not a problem. If that will be all, then everyone should get to training and preparations."

Each of the knights nodded, saluted, and bowed to Emperor Empoleon. We turned to leave, but as the throng reached the door, the emperor rang out again.

"Greninja, Machamp, wait; you two will come with me."

Glancing at Machamp, he shrugged and we turned back to the emperor, nodding. Chesnaught and Alakazam hesitated as Delphox turned back.

"Don't we all need to train, sire?" Alakazam turned his head and blinked. "It's important, isn't it?"

"Machamp is notably one of our strongest," corrected Empoleon. "Greninja is highly skilled as well, to which I witnessed in our training earlier. They'll be fine and can adapt to the situations that they'll face alongside the rest of you tomorrow."

"If…you are certain, sire."

"Quite. Now, take Chesnaught and yourself to fetch some proper clothing and armor, but be quick about it. Off with you lot."

Alakazam locked eyes with Machamp before nodding and walking away with Delphox. Chesnaught remained still and watched me, still hesitant to leave. I smiled and nodded, to which he returned before following the mages out of the throne room.

"Well, before we continue on," sounded Empoleon as he approached us, "we will need to get you two clothed as well."

Machamp laughed as our faces flushed over. Somehow, though, I gathered that it would be the least of our worries.


[Chesnaught]

After another couple of teleportations, Alakazam and I arrived at the training room, just as everyone else had walked over there as well.

"Teleporting may make you fast, Alakazam," rang out Carracosta. "But how exactly did you and Chesnaught get your clothes on just as quickly?"

"Actually, I kind of struggled getting into all of mine," I admitted. "Alakazam imagined we might be a few minutes late."

"Lucky you," rumbled Abomasnow, eyes lowered. "Right on time again."

Glaring right back at the General, he broke it as he turned to open the door to the training room. Delphox elbowed me and scowled at me as the door swung forward.

Our group strolled inside to the fairly spacious room. The arena was marked with carvings across the center of the room, with small icebergs spiked out of the ground to promote alternative terrain vantages. Beyond that, the field itself was purely ice and snow, sans the circular pool in its midpoint…and, studying the field a little more, I caught four additional holes for extra exit points from the water, forming a box near the inside of the arena.

General Abomasnow waited for everyone to filter in, and counted each of us out. "Twelve total, minus myself." He nodded. "Very well, I'll sit this one out. Meanwhile, we'll have two bouts, six fighters participating in each. Delibird has gathered weapons for us, but you are not limited to them. Compete until only one of you remains standing. Whoever yields must leave the arena, but you are to fight until you lose all energy to continue. Work with or against whomever you like. Any questions?" He tugged on the fur that covered his mouth, waiting as no one spoke up. Delphox shook his head when I opened my mouth to do so. "Right then. First up will be Alakazam, Carracosta, Poliwrath, Politoed, Quagsire, and Weavile."

Each one moved over to Delibird, who opened his tail-sack as they searched through the weapons he brought. Frowning, I realized that I had just been set up to fight against Delphox soon after this match. Still, I smiled as Alakazam brushed past me with a smirk.

Enjoy the show, came his voice, but…his mouth didn't move. …Telepathy. Right.

Weavile pointedly walked across the other side to stand next to Alakazam in the middle. Carracosta lined up with the two of them, adjacent to Quagsire. Though Poliwrath and Politoed lined up next to one another, they kept narrowing their eyes at one another. The pool swirled between the six as they formed a circle around it.

Stepping forward, General Abomasnow lifted a small gong from Delibird's sack, holding it up. "Once it rings out, you may begin. Knights at the ready?"

"Yes, sir!"

Taking a closer look over them, I watched Weavile grip her bow, dagger on the belt and a quiver of icy arrows. Poliwrath spun two sai around, tucked between his fists. Politoed pulled out nunchaku, spinning them around. Quagsire smiled while pushing his hands through two katar daggers. Carracosta clapped his flippers together, which held metal bands around them. They were called tekko; I think Greninja showed me them once before.

Oddly enough, Alakazam reached into his robes and pulled out two spoons. I raised a brow in confusion at his choice, especially when compared to the others.

Roughly, Abomasnow bashed the gong and it rang out. "Fight," he announced.

Forward first, Weavile swiftly, unexpectedly swiped out with her dagger, and Alakazam backed away from the slash. She lunged forward at him again, to which he winked and Teleported away.

Both Poliwrath and Politoed surged forward at her next, to which Weavile retreated. Fixating on each other instead, Poliwrath hammered down with his sai, to which Politoed leapt aside.

He twisted around his nunchaku and twisted them around Poliwrath's legs. Grinning, he pulled them from his brother's legs and tripped him, causing Poliwrath to crash down hard onto the ice.

"Aw, that was quick, even for you," ridiculed Politoed.

Firing back up, Poliwrath threw a heavy punch at Politoed, who yelped and jumped back once again. The larger knight chuckled.

"Still too jumpy to stand your ground properly," scorned Poliwrath.

Before he could continue his taunting, Poliwrath glanced back just in time to spot Quagsire stabbing forward with a katar. He swung his arm up to evade the attack and hammered down with his fist.

"Bah, too easy, Quagsire!"

Groaning, the salamander lay still on the icy floor. Carracosta waited patiently as Politoed swung his nunchaku at Poliwrath again, and then slipped into the pool before him.

"You think you're so damn tough," snapped Politoed. "But you've just got big fists! That's all you can really use to back yourself up."

Swiping across with one sai, and then the next, Poliwrath grunted and glared at his brother's nimble evasion.

Spotting an opening, Politoed swung his nunchaku forward and smashed Poliwrath right in his armored center. The breastplates loosened and revealed the white and black swirl behind them.

Grinning, Politoed laughed. "Really, brother, you're not that strong."

"And you're not very smart."

Tackling Politoed, Poliwrath grabbed onto his brother and recklessly dove at the ground. Slamming Politoed with a Submission, both brothers cried out, with the green frog yelling out louder.

Pushing up from the ground, Poliwrath shook his arms, dropping his sai. Weakly, Politoed forced himself up as well, leaving his nunchaku on the floor.

"See? You think you can taunt me," lectured Poliwrath. "But what do you have to back yourself up? Nothing."

"Not true," snapped Politoed. "I've got an edge on you!"

Bouncing into the air, Politoed flipped about and rocketed back down, kicking his feet square into Poliwrath. Yelling out, Poliwrath stumbled back and fell to the ground again.

"Pathetic," mocked Politoed again. "You really thought you were going to defeat me?"

"Don't need to think," managed Poliwrath as he pushed himself back to his feet.

"Perhaps that's the problem altogether," teased Politoed. "That's what it's always been with you. Never thinking, always acting."

"Like this?!"

Rolling forward across the ice and building shards around himself, Poliwrath tackled at Politoed again and slammed an Ice Ball into his face.

Politoed crashed to the ground and whined, rubbing his bruised face. Poliwrath folded his arms together and laughed.

"Who's pathetic now?"

"Both of you, really."

Turning too late, Poliwrath watched as Carracosta sprang from the corner opening and surging forward with an Aqua Jet. He tackled both Poliwrath and Politoed, and the two flew back into an iceberg.

Skidding against the ice, Carracosta twirled around and leapt forward, slamming his tekko-covered flippers into the brothers. They both yelped out and groaned as they slumped further to the ground.

"What happened?" Carracosta huffed. "Weren't you two full of bluster before?"

Staggering to his feet, Politoed rolled forward into the ice, creating his own Ice Ball. Raising his hands near his swirl, Poliwrath launched out a Bubble Beam.

Slipping past the bubbles, Carracosta hammered his flipper down on Politoed's Ice Ball. Gasping and attempting to fire out a Bubble Beam as well, Politoed hiccupped and only spat out a few bubbles, none of which harmed Carracosta.

"Shame." Carracosta smacked Politoed back and into Poliwrath again, smashing the two back against the ice before they sunk to the ground.

Pausing to look around, Carracosta then stepped forward. "I believe you two have a hypnotic combo that might have actually work, had you cooperated." He crouched down as the brothers squinted at him. "Guess you two will need to wake up first."

Groaning, Poliwrath and Politoed slumped down again. Carracosta waited again and turned around as an icy arrow launched out at him.

Almost casually, he sidestepped it and watched it shatter against the iceberg above the brothers.

"That's not going to work, Weavile," called Carracosta. "You'll need a much better distraction than the brothers."

"How about me, then?"

Whirling around, Carracosta watched as Alakazam slid forward and shot a bolt of lightning at him. The prototurtle yelped as it connected and he fumbled back.

Another arrow shot out, and tore through Alakazam's sleeve. He lowered his eyes and shook his head.

"Really, Weavile?" He sighed. "These look so awful when torn."

Carracosta leapt up from the ground and swiped his flipper at Alakazam who backed away from it. He threw his arms forward again, but the mage continued to dodge the attacks.

Three arrows zipped through the air this time. Annoyed, Carracosta raised several frozen rocks around him, using…I couldn't even begin to guess. Magic?

"Arrows only work so many times, Weavile!"

Launching the stones through the sky, I watched them crash around the archer on the other side of the field, surrounding her in her snow patch.

"Thanks."

Carracosta jumped as Alakazam spun his spoons around. A peculiar ray fired from them, with purple waves bursting at the turtle knight.

It connected and Carracosta wailed as he was forced backwards. The ray let up and the turtle's head spun around.

"What was that?" I blinked and shook my head.

"Psybeam," noted Delphox. "Carracosta is now confused."

Dazed, Carracosta lifted his flipper and stomped forward. Alakazam chuckled and sidestepped as the turtle rushed into a wall of ice.

Laughing, the mage twirled his spoons around, and flicked one against the turtle's head. Carracosta swung at him, but slammed his flipper back against the icy wall, hurting himself again.

"The spoon gimmick is weird," I murmured.

"Oh, that's no gimmick," explicated Mienshao. "Those spoons help Alakazam focus his energy and enhance his powers. They're like his personal staves, so to speak."

"So, he can just concentrate his energy through them?" I shrugged. "I guess that's useful. But, really, couldn't he be better equipped?"

"Perhaps, but you're just watching him in action. Observe."

Shaking his head, Carracosta growled and summoned icy stones once again. He launched them at Alakazam, who skated past one and…

My mouth dropped open. Another stone had slowed as Alakazam raised his spoons at it. The stone came to a halt as Alakazam rotated his hands around it, drawing it closer to him.

Using the spoons, he coated the stone with a fuchsia aura, patting the air around the rock and scooping more energy around it. Once he finished, he lifted his right hand, with the stone floating above his spoon.

"Ancient Powers are a bit outdated for me."

Lobbing the rock back at Carracosta, the turtle's eyes widened as he ducked down into his shell. The stone slammed into the wall behind him, with the force of the impact pushing Carracosta forward.

Waiting, Alakazam twirled his spoons around. He glanced at the brothers, still down on the ground from their earlier beating.

"Why didn't you two just work together?" Alakazam picked at his mustache. "You'd have performed far better had you cooperated, as…yes, Carracosta already told you."

He turned back around as Carracosta pushed his head back out and forced himself up from the ground.

"Still standing?" Alakazam jerked his head away from another arrow that flew past him, which Carracosta batted away. "Cute."

"Please, I could crush…"

Eyes widened, Carracosta stared past Alakazam. Blinking, the mage turned back as Quagsire slammed his katar daggers into the floor.

Rumbling filled the arena as it shook and quaked from Quagsire's attack. Alakazam looked about wildly, searching for a safe spot, but Carracosta charged forward.

"What are you—?!"

Slamming the ground and raising his flippers, Carracosta lifted several layers of ice that blocked the oncoming waves of Quagsire's Earthquake.

Gaping, the salamander stared as his widespread attack was blocked by Carracosta's icy shields. Alakazam folded his arms and nodded.

"Well done. I hadn't realized you had been perfecting your Wide Guard."

"It can be helpful in specific situations," claimed Carracosta. "You're welcome, by the way."

"Right, thank you."

Pushing up from the ground, Politoed had stepped forward and croaked softly. Both Alakazam and Carracosta turned as the frog's eyes glowed in a soft blue light, along with the swirl on his stomach. He rotated his hands around it and sent out a blue, swirling rings at the opposing pair.

Their eyes drooping, Alakazam shook his head and teleported away as Carracosta slumped to the ground, his Wide Guard falling with him.

Stomping over, Poliwrath raised his hand and slapped roughly across Carracosta's face, snapping the turtle away and crying out in agonized pain.

"Bravo," deadpanned Poliwrath. "You actually made us work together."

"And we hate you for that," chimed in Politoed.

Wincing, Carracosta glanced past the two and snickered as he ducked away. They blinked and turned to find Quagsire focusing on his fist.

"Uh-oh," they murmured together.

Flying forward with a burst of energy around his fist, Quagsire launched his Focus Punch at the brothers, slamming them back and into the wall. They fell back to the ground, groaning before falling silent.

"Mm…powerful." Quagsire yawned and shook his fist. He smacked his lips as he turned to Carracosta, who stood back up from behind an iceberg. "Hello."

"Um…hi, Quagsire." Carracosta glanced at the unconscious brothers and shrugged. "Well, they were starting to work out well. Nice work on your part."

"Thank you."

An arrow whizzed out and sliced against Quagsire's armor. He groaned and fell backwards as around barrage launched out.

Ducking behind a glacier, Carracosta watched as several icy arrows crashed against Quagsire and knocked him to the ground. The salamander covered his head and moaned again as the arrows slowly stopped.

Peeking back out, Carracosta blinked at the downed Quagsire, surrounded by shattered bits of ice all around.

Gasping, Carracosta was telekinetically lifted high from the ground as Alakazam emerged from his own hiding spot.

"Well, it's been fun, Carracosta," taunted Alakazam. "But, this does have to end soon." The mage nodded. "But hey, you did great."

He picked up his spoons and concentrated on the turtle. The peculiar ray picked up around the spoons again…

But then Alakazam sputtered. A dark claw slashed across him and came down as Weavile dropped her arm.

"Sorry, Alakazam." She shrugged. "I know we usually work together on bigger fights, but it was too easy of a win this time around."

"Funny," grunted Alakazam. "I actually…trusted…him."

Her eyes widened at Alakazam's smirk, catching on too late. Weavile watched as Quagsire pushed up and gripped the ground, launching another Earthquake.

Around her, the icy floor caved in and opened to the pool below. Weavile slipped in and scrambled back to the surface, gasping.

"You think I can't swim by now?!" She brushed her face dry as best she could. "That's nothing, Quagsire!"

Chunks of ice collapsed around Weavile, who flailed in the water. She reached back for her quiver, but couldn't feel any prepared ice arrows.

Shutting her eyes, the ice crashed down around Weavile and she sank back under the water.

Clutching his chest, Alakazam focused on the pool and locked his hand ahead. He quaked as he rose it, lifting Weavile back to the surface.

Throwing her limb form aside, Alakazam turned as more ice crashed around him and Quagsire. Using his spoons, the mage redirected some chunks to hit the salamander, but took heavy blows from others that crashed around him.

My eyes widened at the ruined arena, with water crashing against the broken ice arena. Weavile was flat on her back, not moving. Neither Poliwrath nor Politoed budged either. Both Alakazam and Quagsire pushed up from the ground, but glanced up as Carracosta fell back down.

The quaked slam sent out a slight force that pushed Alakazam and Quagsire back down. Blinking and whirling around, Carracosta stared at the other five knights, waiting for one to move again. None did.

"Congratulations, Carracosta," rumbled General Abomasnow. "You win."

"Um…hooray?" Carracosta hesitantly waved his flippers around. "This…doesn't feel like a win, honestly."

"Tough." Abomasnow hammered on the gong three times, eliciting groans from the fallen knights. "All of you, back up and over here. Clear the field for the next match."

"Field?" Delphox shook his head. "You mean the ruins."

Stepping forward as the knights came back near the door, Abomasnow raised his arms. Icy blasts burst forth as they coated the room almost completely. The General disappeared behind clouds of hail as ice slammed and shattered. I glanced at Delphox, who shrugged to me.

We turned back and watched as the blizzard lifted, with the arena somewhat cleaned up of broken ice chunks. Some of the floor was still smashed open as the water swayed softly.

"Golduck, Mienshao, Delibird, Froslass, you four are up with the newcomers." I scowled at him not even calling us by name. "The six of you, take weapons and your positions at the center and get ready for the gong."

Walking over to Delibird's open sack, I glanced at the few weapons that remained. Mienshao picked up his Kabutowari and walked off. Delphox followed him, already armed with his wand. Froslass placed an icicle staff into the small weapon pile and giggled.

"Just kidding, that's mine!" She picked it back up and floated over to me, patting my head. "Would be fun to see you try to whack me with it, though!"

Erupting into another fit of giggles, she glided into the arena to meet the others. Looking back down, I spotted a broadsword that resembled my own and reached for it. Quickly, a webbed hand gripped it and scooped it up.

"Whoops." Golduck snickered. "Sorry about that, little knight."

"…Really?"

"Yeah. Every inch counts."

"That's not…whatever."

Grinning, Golduck waltzed off to the center. Glancing back down, my options were limited to a bō staff and a flail. Picking up the staff, I twirled it around; not very heavy or long, but I could work with it.

Turning, I watched Delibird take the flail and roll up his tail. He inspected the weapon, which had a dulled head for training, and lightly spun it around away from his body. Judging by the perplexed expression, he didn't seem to know how to use it very well either.

Slowly, we joined the others that surrounded the pool in the middle. Delphox made a point to distance himself from me, positioned past Mienshao on one side. Froslass floated near me as well, and I cautiously eyed her. Delibird stood some distance from Golduck, who walked over to stand opposite from me.

"Same rules, and you start again at the gong," called Abomasnow from the door. "Knights ready?"

"Yes sir!"

Propping up the staff, I pointed it forward, and Golduck smirked. He wouldn't be the first to attack me, but he definitely wanted to toy with me. Again, I glanced over at Froslass, who tapped at her staff. Past her, Delibird started swinging his flail again. Shifting my eyes, I watched Mienshao lift his arms, the kabutowari concealed beneath his long fur. Delphox lit his stick, caught my eye, and nodded.

Once again, Abomasnow bashed the gong, and even from a distance, it loudly rang out. "Fight!"

Thrusting her staff forward, Froslass aimed at the water, cast a spell, and began to freeze it over. It was Mienshao who leapt at me first, twirling around and lashing his long arms down. I jumped back and jabbed forward with the bō, which he deftly evaded.

Glancing past him, I watched Delphox hurl a fireball out at Delibird, who sidestepped it to keep the flail's momentum rolling. Golduck ran forward and dove into the freezing pool, barely escaping beneath its surface.

Returning my attention to Mienshao, he came running forward again and swiped at me with the blade-like weapon. Barely, I tilted my body opposite from his blows, slipping past each strike. Ducking after his last swipe, I dropped one hand from the staff and punched forward at his gut.

Connecting my punch, I forced Mienshao back and he dropped his kabutowari, clutching at his stomach. Turning back, I rolled aside as Froslass launched another icy spell.

She missed both of us as it shattered against a nearby iceberg. Cackling, she waved the wand again, creating a small tornado. I backed up, knowing that she was aiming for me.

Before she could attack, a fireball flew out and went straight for her head. Yelping and ducking from it, she let the tornado dissipate. Froslass and I both turned to see Delphox readying another fireball.

"Don't look so startled, Froslass," taunted Delphox. "I thought you enjoyed playing with fire."

"Fair point." She grinned wickedly and raised her arms. "But two can play with weaknesses, my foxy!"

Thrusting her arms forward, an eerie purple gust picked up around her and rushed toward Delphox.

Smirking, Delphox sped off from the Ominous Wind's onslaught, and reached an opening. Froslass's eyes widened as he twirled his staff around and jabbed it forward. Purple and red fire billowed out and streamed at Froslass.

Desperately, she waved her icicle staff and water burst from the frozen pool, breaking through its frozen surface. It flooded in front of Froslass, but too slowly, as flames broke through and scorched her.

Abruptly, a palm thrust into my arm and I cried out. Whirling around, I caught Mienshao spin back and grab his weapons again.

Quickly, I lifted the bō and jabbed it up at him. It knocked him back and the weapons from him once more. Thrice more, I poked at him, increasing the force of each blow. Two connected as he scrambled to his feet, only to slip back on the ice.

As he fell, I jumped up and slammed down with the staff, ramming Mienshao against the ground. He yelled in agony as the ice cracked beneath him.

Pausing, I turned to find Delphox backing away as Delibird wildly swung his flail around. Missing a few blows, his free wing coated over in frozen ice chunks as he swung an Ice Punch at Delphox, missing that as well.

"Hold still so I can smash you!" The red and white penguin wildly swung the flail around, waving it at Delphox.

"That's…really not how it works."

Spinning and sliding forward, Delphox swiped his leg under Delibird. The penguin lost his balance and crashed against the floor.

Turning, I watched Froslass wave her wand at me, whipping up the twister again. She launched it forward at me as Mienshao forced himself back up from the ground.

Diving aside, I slammed down and turned back as the wind rushed past me. Mienshao's eyes widened as it flew at him.

"Why me?"

Unable to evade it, Mienshao was hoisted from the ground and thrown around, slamming into the nearby iceberg. I winced as he slid down and slumped to the ground. Froslass shrugged and disappeared from sight.

My observation was cut short by a loud scream. I spun around and watched as Delphox burned Delibird against the ground, a stream of purple and red fire coating the surrounding area.

Splashing sounded as Golduck leapt from the northwest hole. His tail was covered in water and he slammed it down on Delphox.

The mage yelped and rushed aside, ending his attack against Delibird. Dousing the penguin up, Golduck scooped Delibird up and steadied him. He shook and was charred from the burns, but Delphox hadn't put everything into the attack. Nevertheless, the penguin appeared to be on his last breath already.

"Thanks…Golduck," he panted. "But…I don't…think…"

"Right."

Kicking Delibird's feet from under him, Golduck pulled back, coated his hand with frosty shards, and hammered the penguin into the ground. I gaped as Delibird stayed against the ground, not moving.

Growling, I stormed forward and back toward the pool. Golduck turned to me and grinned, pointing his blade in my direction.

"Ha. I knew you couldn't resist."

"What?"

Running forward, he jumped up and swung the sword down at me. I rolled aside and thrust out with my bō, but missed him.

Lowering his eyes, Golduck concentrated on me and smirked. The red jewel on his head began to glow as his eyes shined a light blue.

"Poor little knight just can't resist getting in over his head," he mocked.

"Where are you even coming up with this?"

Swinging my bō staff overhead, I slammed it down at Golduck, who backed away from the blow. My mouth parted as he ran forward and jumped at me, his head thrust out.

Delivering a strong head-butt, I shouted and backed away, groaning. My head was spinning as he pulled back with his sword.

Gritting my teeth, I raised my arm slightly as the grass tingled across it.

His eyes widened as he caught on too late, and I hammered a Needle Arm into him. Fumbling back, Golduck staggered from me while I slouched, leaning on the staff to remain standing.

Breathing heavily, I clutched my head and shook it a bit, trying to fight out the dizzy spell setting onto me. What did he…?

Gazing across the way to Delphox, the mage was now creating a screen and backing up from Froslass's alternating gusts of Ominous and Icy Winds. A few shots broke through and hit Delphox, but the mage refused to let the ghost get the better of him.

Whipping his wand back and thrusting it forward with a fireball, Froslass gasped and took another hit, shrieking from the burn.

Again, a rough thrust slammed into me and I groaned. Turning, I watched as yellow bubbles of energy zapped away from me and into Mienshao. He smirked and breathed in, refreshed. I gasped and slumped to my knees.

"What…what did you…?"

"Drain Punch." Smiling, Mienshao lifted his balled fist from under his fur sleeve. "I took some of your chi and used it to recover my own."

"That's…disgusting."

"But effective."

"Very."

We jumped at Golduck's speedy return, and he reared back with an Ice Punch. Sluggishly lifting my staff, I turned to face him.

Instead, he slammed his fist into Mienshao, and forced him back into the icy wall near us. I blinked as he dropped his hand, letting the ice bits fall from it. He turned to me with a twisted grin.

"It's no fun if he does all of the work for me."

"You're sick."

"Nah, just eager."

Thrusting forward with his sword, I leaned back as it shot out past me. He turned to slice at me again, but I blocked it with my bō. His jewel glinted again as he forced himself closer to me.

"Funny, you thinking you can actually do better than me."

"Considering that I don't waste my time taunting, I should hope—"

"Oho, no, not this." He laughed as I shoved him away from me. "I was referring to our mutual love interest."

He…what.

"You're not dating Greninja anymore," I snapped, and swung my staff at him. Without effort, he used the broadsword to block the stroke.

"Aw, did I hit a nerve?"

Growling, I swiped at his legs and knocked him off balance. He toppled to the ground and I slammed the rod into his stomach. The wind was knocked out of him, but he still grinned.

"Look at you! There's a fire beneath that soft face," he ridiculed.

"Do you want me to make this hurt?"

"As if you could." He laughed. "Now I understand why Greninja likes you: you're soft and easy to handle."

Snarling, I lifted the bō and thrust it down over his head, to which he rolled away from. Still, I prodded after him, striking at him even as he jumped back to his feet.

"Relentless, huh?" Crouching, he threw a punch at my stomach, but I barely flinched as I hammered down with a Needle Arm. Aggravating me, he evaded it with a chuckle. "Slow, but durable. I guess that's a fair trade-off."

Golduck stroked upward with his blade, which I batted down to the ground and from his hands. Holding up his hands defensively, I pointed ahead with my rod.

"Funny enough, his father might have actually liked you," noted Golduck. Menacingly, he added, "If you weren't gay for his son, that is."

Ramming forward with the bō staff, I knocked him upside the head. Golduck reared back, shaking his head. I spun the rod around to smack him again, but he spat a shot of water at my face, and I fumbled back.

"And unlike me," Golduck carried on, "you're not even a Water-type to cushion the blow."

"Don't you ever get tired of being so damn insufferable?!" I wiped the rest of the water from my face. "Seriously, no wonder Greninja absolutely despises you!"

Striking a nerve, he leapt forward with an Ice Punch, which I staggered away from. Glaring, he swiped at me with his webbed claws, which I easily dodged.

"Now what's got you worked up?" Smirking, I went for the jugular. "Wow, don't tell me you seriously still care for Greninja. You? Really? He wouldn't even consider ever getting close to you again, even as a friend, let alone anything more—"

That scored me a rough punch across my face, and he quickly followed up with a concentrated head-butt. I trudged back, watching the gleam fade from his gem.

"Fighting types are all the same, weak in the head," sneered Golduck. "You especially."

"Where did that come from?" I forced a laugh. "So, you can dish it out, but you can't take it when push comes to shove? Greninja's even better off to be rid of you."

Hissing, his tail soaked up in a blue glow and Golduck smacked at my body with it. Swiftly, I latched onto him and bashed him again with a Needle Arm.

"Hold him steady, Chesnaught!" Delphox. I turned as he charged a bolt of lightning on his wand, a grin gradually appearing on his face. "Nice and still."

"Right, like you're going to stop me."

Throwing his head back, Golduck knocked into me, and I lost my grip. He twisted around my arm and held me in place until a shock surged through me.

"Damn it!" Fire crackled across from me, as I doubled over and sank to my knees, dropping my staff beside me. "Hang on, Chesnaught!"

"Oh, this is just laughable."

Picking my head up, I watched Golduck race over to Delphox. He twisted around and slammed his Aqua Tail against the fox mage, eliciting an agonized yelp as Delphox fell to the floor.

"Delphox!"

Golduck just laughed as he walked back over to me. Picking up the bō, he twirled it around and pointed it at me.

"This is just too rich."

"Better cheapen it for you!"

Appearing before me, Froslass summoned another pair of powerful winds. Golduck eluded both attacks and smacked her down with my staff.

Slamming the ground, I forced myself up. My knees buckled and I grinded my teeth, but I glared ahead at the duck. Mienshao had gotten up and walked behind Golduck, ready to attack as well.

"Please."

Forcing it backward, Golduck thrust the rod into Mienshao, who failed to catch it in time. He then shot it up, whacking Mienshao under the chin, before following through with the attack overhead and down against me.

Unlike Mienshao, I snagged the bō before it crashed down over me.

"Keep deluding yourself," managed Golduck. "If you really think you're any good for Greninja, you'll be able to prove it. Just let me know when you fail, ok?"

Ripping the rod from him, I twisted the bō back around to jab at Golduck, but he hurried forward to slam into me with one last head-butt. I stumbled back and he tackled me to the ground, ramming my head against the ice.

"Bah. It was almost too easy provoking you."

At first, everything went dark and faded for me. I heard Golduck laugh, weakly, but then he cried out. Froslass giggled again before I slipped away, unable to hear anything else.

For a short while, maybe a couple of minutes, I imagined I was resting. The pain surged across me, though, and I slightly opened my eyes to squint.

Not too far from me, Golduck fell to his knees. A rough whack rang out and he fell to his side. I blinked and saw a stick drop beside purple robes.

Opening my eyes a little more, I watched Delphox turn back to Froslass, who drifted across the air near him. Debating on standing again, I waited a moment as the mages readied their rods.

"Realize that you can't win this, foxy!" Froslass giggled, weaker than before.

"Recognize that this fight is already over," returned Delphox.

An Ominous Wind gusted out from Froslass's side, and a stream of Mystical Fire surged from Delphox's. Crackling, the fire burst and grew brighter, breaking past the purple wind and blasting Froslass.

She floated back before she sank to the ground, groaning. I shut my eyes and waited.

"Congratulations, fireball," called Abomasnow. "You nearly melted the whole room, but whatever works to win it."

Panting, Delphox dropped to his knees. Leisurely opening my eyes as the gong rang out, I turned to see him heaving over the floor, brushing his sweaty fur. His fine purple robes were torn in several places, but he still seemed mostly together otherwise. Picking his head up, he watched as Mienshao pushed himself back up. He then turned to me and forced himself up, staggering over.

"Hey…hey," he managed, "are you…ok?"

"Ah…I will be." I scratched my head as Delibird poked at Golduck, while Mienshao helped Froslass back up. "What did I miss?"

"Um…Froslass wiped Golduck down with a few brutal hits after you went down," recalled Delphox as he rubbed his head. "We fought in a three-way, but Golduck was basically pelted with a series of spells. Still, he managed to fend off Froslass for a bit, but then I just beat him with my stick." He breathlessly chuckled and patted his wand. "After I smacked him in the head, Froslass and I fired out some heavy spells at one another, but I turned up the heat and fried her." He smiled and shrugged. "Yay me?"

"Definitely! Great work, Delphox." His shoulders relaxed a bit after I patted him lightly on the back.

"Ok, mages, get to work on patching everyone up quickly," ordered Abomasnow. "And after that, we prepare for your hunt tomorrow."

Frowning at that, I turned quietly to Delphox, who had tensed up again. Glancing at Alakazam, the mage folded his arms and stared quietly at the floor before returning my gaze.


[Greninja]

Quietly, Machamp and I had followed Emperor Empoleon through numerous corridors. Climbing up numerous icy stairs, passing banners and pictures that had all begun to blur together, I had reached my limit of silence.

"Where exactly are we bound?" I refused to remain clueless the whole time.

"The bell tower," revealed Empoleon.

"Up there?" Machamp shuddered. "Sire, that room has been mostly off-limits since…since—"

"My wife and child left," finished Empoleon. "That is correct."

"Was it an important room to them?"

"It was…my son's favorite, when he was young," murmured Empoleon. "And where I proposed to my wife, coincidentally." He opened his beak to discuss it further, but clamped it shut. "Currently, it is only used for emergencies upon invasions of the empire. Which, thankfully, have been seldom."

"So this is the highest point in the Iceberg Empire," I realized, as we neared the end of our ascent.

"Correct." Empoleon smirked. "You noticed it upon your arrival, as all typically do."

"Impossible not to," chimed in Machamp.

Ascending the remaining steps, we soon reached a dark blue door, with the usual ice misted up, preventing us from peeking inside.

"Now then." Empoleon turned to us and away from the door. "Machamp, you will remain outside while we discuss private matters."

"Private…what could be so private that one of your top knights shouldn't know, whereas I'm invited in to hear this?"

"It concerns your former king and his history." He returned his attention to Machamp. "Now then, you'll wait out here. I highly doubt we'll need to be guarded, but you're welcome to it."

Though the four-armed knight nodded, I could see a glint of uneasiness in his eyes. Catching my eye, he shot me a smile, but I shook my head.

"With all due respect, your imperial highness…that's not happening."

Frozen mid-pivot, Empoleon waited for a moment while Machamp's eyes practically burst from his head. He opened his mouth, but Empoleon swung back around before he could speak.

"You won't come to hear something this important?" Empoleon tapped the tip of his wing against his beak. "It's vital for you to listen to this."

"No," I persisted, "not unless Machamp comes with me."

"Even if I order you to?"

Glaring, I folded my arms.

"…Very well. Machamp, you may join us."

Machamp's arms fell and his mouth dropped open.

"It is critical that Greninja is open-minded to this discussion," Empoleon murmured to him, not really hiding his words from me, but…hiding it in general. "Should Alakazam search your mind, you are to limit the information to him alone. That's an exception, not an allowance. Do not speak unless I grant it, and do not freely discuss it again."

"Yes, sir."

"That goes double for you as well, Greninja." His voice returned to a normal tone, still authoritative. "I'll allow Machamp in as well, but this stays between the three of us. If Chesnaught must know, you limit what I'll inform you to him alone. Not even Delphox is to learn about this."

"Sire, he's a Psychic type," I pointed out the obvious. "If Alakazam is capable of prying the information from Machamp, Delphox is just as likely to do so. And if Chesnaught learns of this, then that only provides one more candidate for each of them to pick at."

"…Right." Empoleon chuckled, and then softly laughed. Machamp's noticeable wince made it clear that this wasn't a frequent enough occurrence. "Forgive me, I had planned this out more poorly than I realized. …My wife would like you." He cleared his throat and nodded. "Very well. The five of you and myself will be the only ones that can know this information. That, however, is as much as I am allowing, and thus ends our negotiations on the matter."

A chuckle escaped me as I nodded, but Empoleon seemed content with the results himself. Only Machamp remained stupefied over the results, as Empoleon opened the door and bid us to enter.

My mouth parted and my tongue slipped down from my face as I gazed inside, or rather, out. The bell tower was finely crafted, with the decoratively carved icy columns symmetrically spaced around the room. While the room itself had raised walls that kept us inside of it, there were long windows up further in the room, in each of the four cardinal directions. Within the space of each window, four bells crafted of crystals hung neatly and evenly, each tethered by dark blue ropes that led back down to the floor.

Above us, in the room's center, was a fifth bell, grander than the other four, with snowflakes and droplets lightly carved on the outside. Closer inspection revealed that it contained some of the same creatures from the empire's crest, such as the great orca and the shifting dragon. Stepping beneath it, I gazed into the mouth and stared at its long clapper within. Another dark blue rope descended from the top of the bell, much thicker than the ones for the bells in the windows. It was tied around the roof at the top, with one long and powerful strand for pulling not far from the floor.

"Spectacular," I murmured. "I can understand the fascination of this room."

"Nothing short of majestic," agreed Empoleon.

Quietly, he strolled over to the north bell, touching its rope lightly. He gazed out beyond the window and stared across the vast white land and distant waters with fixated fascination.

"Sire?" Machamp broke the emperor's concentration after a long couple of minutes. "Is that…?"

"His favorite, yes. Well, besides the grand bell itself." Empoleon's smile quivered. "He was so curious to know just how far beyond the sea went, if it would be a short or long journey to the land beyond this continent." He turned and took a few steps to the middle, pausing. "I proposed to my wife by the southern bell. She always loved gazing over the city below, admiring its full view from up here. Second to actually being in the city itself for her."

A soft, yet chilly, gust blew through the room. Though the bells swayed, they did not ring out, not even with a slight clank.

"…Apologies." I blinked and turned to the emperor. "I would offer to ring one, but none should be unless it is an emergency."

"They used to sound lovely," mumbled Machamp.

"Indeed."

Silence shrouded over us as the wind hushed from its gentle breeze. Continuing to the southern window, Empoleon gazed out of it, his eyes lowered. The city was lit with several soft lights, some flickering out as the minute passed.

Unexpectedly, Empoleon broke the silence. "Tell me, Greninja, what do you know of Nidoqueen's passing?"

"Uh…that she did pass. From…an illness, I think." There was a pause that insinuated I knew more. "Um…it tore Nidoking's heart apart. To, uh, the point that he questioned his ability to rule? It took Rhydon to get him out of that depression."

"Is that all you know?"

"Well, if you'll excuse the curtness, sire, I don't make it a point to ask people about their troubled pasts."

"No, no one does," he agreed. "Though, perhaps that's the problem." He shook his head and lowered his eyes. "Was it an undetermined illness that took her swiftly?"

Anyone else would claim that the room caused me to freeze, but his words made me tense up. I blinked and eyed the emperor curiously.

"How…did you know that?"

"Nidoking managed to give me some details during her last days," explained Empoleon. "Tell me, though, what type runs through Nidoking?"

"Ground, sire," I mentioned. "Ground and Poison."

"Precisely, though he is dominantly a Poison type." Empoleon folded his wings behind his back, glancing at a nervously shivering Machamp before continuing. "Did you happen to know that Nidoqueen had the same typing?"

"Well, I imagined so, sire," I rattled off. "They had similar names and appearances, so I imagined that was one more thing that they shared."

"Intelligent observation," complimented Empoleon. "And correct. But explain to me, how often have you heard of a Poison type falling to an illness?"

If the emperor hadn't shaken me enough before, he had done the trick now. My eyes widened as I stared blankly at him.

"It's…I…rare, sire," I managed. "Typically, Poison types have an immunity to diseases, but they're not completely…free of them."

"Right, but even still, how often do such illnesses plague those with Poison for an extensive duration of time, much less kill them quickly?"

"I…wouldn't know, sire," I forced out, chills tingling down my back. "But I, uh, wouldn't imagine it to, um, be very frequent."

"You would be correct in that assumption." Empoleon studied me carefully and nodded. "Would you like to know my theory on the matter?"

"Certainly. Um…sire."

"She was cursed."

"The queen…cursed?" I swallowed hard and adjusted my tongue scarf. Cursed?

"Yes, I do believe that this was the case," clarified Empoleon. "The probability that she had died so easily from sickness alone is dramatically, laughably low. A curse, however, would be a much more likely explanation."

"Sir, that would…don't curses leave traces?"

"Yes, but which type recognizes and reads them?"

"Type? I…" Hesitating, I thought a moment to myself. "…Ghost type, sire?"

"Correct. And tell me, which type is easily plagued by spirits, besides the Ghosts themselves?" Narrowing his eyes, he added, "Which type is the most common to practice casting spells?"

"That's the…Psychic type, sir."

"Indeed, both of which are the top of Nidoking's employ," noted Empoleon. "Neither of which would presumably have been able to identify a curse."

"Wouldn't they recognize it quicker, sire?" I couldn't let him accuse Delphox or Gardevoir of a slip-up. "If it does more harm to them, surely, they would have noticed it immediately—"

"Not if the Ghost that cast it wanted it hidden."

"But…another knight, Golurk—"

"Was absent at the time," disclosed Empoleon. "Perfectly awful timing, I might add."

My eyes practically popped out of my head from these revelations. It couldn't be so simple, and yet…was it?

"As astounding as it may seem, I have no evidence to back my claims," divulged Empoleon. "The only way to have done that would have been to…examine the deceased with the proper type."

"Froslass." I nodded. "You would have had her…?"

"Indeed, but when I suggested it to Nidoking, he refused, at first still believing that his wife would live, and then again after he knew she would not. I don't blame him, as it might have defiled her, and I would imagine that he couldn't bare seeing any more harm come her way."

"It…makes sense, sire."

"True, and I've been looking to explain it to Nidoking for some time, but talking to him about the matter is…difficult." Empoleon scratched behind his head and sighed. "It pains me to have this notion and keep it to myself, but perhaps, should you get a chance to speak with him again, you would be able to tell him? I would hate for you to bring it up at the wedding, of all places, but—"

"Sire, I couldn't." He didn't have a chance at getting me to not only break Nidoking's heart all over again, but also devastating Rhydon in the process. "I'm sorry."

"No, no, you're right, that was a foolish suggestion," corrected Empoleon. "Though, I will need to have you explain this to him in the future."

"Why me, sire? Why not Chesnaught?"

"Of the two of you, who is better at concealing sensitive information? Even if neither of you truly are, between a ninja and a knight, who is the better option to trust?"

"Even if I cannot argue that point, sire, I…still, he should have been the one to hear this. Nidoking had specifically selected him for peaceful negotiations."

"Truthfully, I did want him at first," admitted Empoleon. "However, that closeness to his king might have left him close-minded to my theory, and currently, it is only that. You, however, were not originally from the Grass Fields Castle, according to what I've been told, correct?" I nodded. "Not to suggest that your loyalty to your former kingdom should falter, nor should you lose faith in them now. And yet, I knew that, of the three, you were the most likely to listen through to my thoughts, which admittedly border on the line of madness."

"Not madness," I corrected. "Wild guessing, I could give, but…the idea does seem plausible, in spite of being farfetched."

"These are vital pieces of information for you to know, Greninja, in order to understand my motives." Empoleon sighed and slouched, deflating his typically sturdy and powerful stance. "I sent my wife and son away from this place in order to keep them safe, hidden from harm's way. While I am on this throne, I am directly in the path of attack. My family, however, shall not pay a price for my participation in the coming war." He shook his head. "They will not only carry my lineage and legacy on, but I love them both far too much to put either one at risk. As soon as I had heard of Nidoqueen's sudden 'illness,' I made plans to hide my family away. After her death, I did so, and had sent the two somewhere unknown to me."

My heart sank. "That would mean…you haven't seen either of them in years."

"Correct."

"But…how can you stand that?"

He lowered his head and turned away from me. "I cannot. I simply continue to."

"Emperor," Machamp softly started, unable to piece words together. Still, Empoleon briefly nodded and smiled to him.

"Our only option…really, my only option—"

"You had it right, sire," jumped in Machamp. "Ours."

"…Thank you, Machamp." Empoleon nodded again and turned away. "Our best option is to continue moving forward, regardless of however painful it may be."

"Which…leads to tomorrow." I shifted around on my legs, noting the topics that came together.

"This prophet, working with us, our alliance, could procure safety and good fortune upon those in our lands. However, should he fall in with the wrong side, those that have a hunger and thirst for power, I can only imagine dark times ahead of us."

"That's why you'll stop at nothing to catch him," I realized. "You not only want to see your family again, but know that this seer could very well doom them and everyone else."

"Precisely." Empoleon turned back to Machamp and I. "You have only been here a short time, and I apologize for dumping this into your lap so suddenly. But I need you and your allies to understand and cooperate with us."

"But…what will you do, should we find and bring back this…prophet?"

"Execution has crossed my mind, as I would imagine it would ensure safety." I gasped, but Empoleon rested a wing on my shoulder. "That will not be done, however. Along with the rumors that his ability will be passed on, I have also grown to understand that this would be an unfavorable motion overall. And…your challenge of my methods has recently helped push that idea from my mind." He heavily sighed. "Enough death runs through this empire, like a plague of its own. I would prefer to minimize the casualties."

"So then…?"

"It will have to be a process that I continue to plan out," decided Empoleon. "We cannot force the prophet to work for us, I realize, but I can plead for an alliance."

"Do you think he will be open to listen, sire?" Machamp placed his lower hands on his hips. "He has been unpredictable thus far."

"Not entirely," countered Empoleon. "And thus far, I have not noticed any form of hostility or malevolence from the prophet. As such, I'd imagine that he could be reasoned with. But there is only one way to find out."

"Bring him here," my voice echoed.

"Correct." Empoleon studied me quietly for a moment, glanced to Machamp briefly, and then nodded as he whirled around to gaze over the darker city. "It's only grown later into the night, and the two of you will need rest. Please, calm your minds and get to that."

We nodded to Emperor Empoleon and pivoted around, leaving him to his lingering thoughts and memories as we exited the tower.


For our return descent to the palace, my mind wandered as I processed over Empoleon's conversation. Astoundingly, it was the most open I'd ever seen the emperor, and from Machamp's reactions, it was about as emotional as he would ever be. Why he limited this to just us, and continued to want it limited, baffled me.

"We should share everything with the others," I decided as we neared the halls to the bedchambers. Machamp, predictably, shook his head.

"Emperor Empoleon implored us to share only if it was vital," argued Machamp. "They can learn it in their own time, not before."

"Before we go hunting for the prophet?" I shook my head. "Look, you can question whether or not to tell Alakazam, but my friends need to understand this to be on board with the idea."

"It's not something Alakazam would want to listen in on," decided Machamp. "If it comes from you tomorrow, maybe, but…not from me."

"You'd be surprised what he'd listen to you about," I countered. He shot me an inquisitive look, and I bit my tongue. "It's…something that the two of you need to work out, really."

"There's a lot we need to work out," grumbled Machamp. He exhaled heavily and leaned against a wall. "To think, he wanted to discover the gelid roses with me at one point, before we arrived here, before…well, I'm sure you heard the story."

"Your shared story, yes, but…gelid…roses?" I tilted my head at this. "Chesnaught has reviewed numerous flowers with me before, but…I've never heard of those."

"Oh, no? Well, I suppose it's unlikely, since the stories are most prominent here in the north." He cleared his throat and shifted his legs. "Well, it's an old legend, but there's a story that was known years ago about two friends, typically a Grass type and an Ice type, though there are variations of the story to allow for a Bug type and a Water type, and the pair is usually changed based on who tells it, though I believe the best fit pair would be a Snover and a Sunflora, as in my opinion, they're…"

He blinked as my head drooped from the details.

"Sorry, not important. At any rate, the couple began simply as cheerful explorers, looking to find hidden treasures scattered within the land. Their first find were seeds that grew into deep blue roses, though oddly in their pattern. They grew best during the winter, and yet, there needed to be some substance of warmth for them to grow just right." Machamp smiled before continuing. "Many rumors ran around about how the friends were best in growing them because of their close relationship, which…as it would turn out, blossomed into love."

"Had to go for the cheesy line, huh?" I giggled as he stuck his tongue out.

"It's part of the story, honest!" Machamp laughed before continuing. "At any rate, the lovers would continue to explore, moving further north as they continued to search for treasures and chased rumors behind even older legends." His shoulders dropped as his smile faded. "One day, however, the Grass type…"

"Just go with Sunflora and Snover, for a clearer story," I murmured.

"Right. Well…one day, Sunflora went out exploring alone, while Snover had been a bit ill. Sunflora ventured far into what we have come to know as the Frozen Fields and…well, some assume it was an avalanche, others believe that there was a killer out there, and the rest just imagine the explorer had gone out too far under a harsh blizzard, straight into the sea. But…Sunflora failed to return after that day."

Machamp lowered his head, tapping lightly on the walls. My breath tightened and my shoulders dropped.

"It was especially eerie for us, considering that someone else practically mirrored the story, just a year ago," darkly murmured Machamp. "But…that only makes a sad tale even more depressing, so…anyway." He cleared his throat again. "Snover waited a while and went out searching after recovering, but…never found Sunflora. The poor and lonely explorer fell into a long period of anguish after that, some even suggest that it lasted for a lifetime. However, though Snover had fallen into despair, the explorer decided to plant seeds somewhere out in the Frozen Fields, hoping that there might be a day for Sunflora's unfeasible return. Legends state that the gelid roses will only bloom and reveal themselves to a pair of lovers that share a strong love for each other, attaining an impossible love together."

He straightened up and stepped away from the wall as I hastily brushed my wet eyes.

"Nowadays, blue roses are mostly a myth, with seldom claims that anyone has actually seen something so mysterious and elusive. Marketers love to create their own, especially Roselia and Roserade, who have access to their own blue roses, separate from the tale and typically not from the wilderness, nor do they flourish in frigid environments." He shrugged. "Blue roses have gone on to still bode the same meaning of mystery and attaining the elusive in today's world, but the true gelid roses are all but a myth. Merely, they make lovely decorative pieces in art and furniture for most today."

"I-I see," I managed, and coughed to bury my cracked voice. "Um…wow."

"Yeah, that's the gist of it." Machamp nodded and patted my shoulder softly. "Sorry, I'm only making bedtime even more nightmare inducing than Empoleon's stories alone did. I just…it's a sad story, but…the charm is in discovering those roses. That's what we would focus on."

"You and Alakazam?"

"Wait, I, uh…oh…well, yes." Machamp scratched behind his head and weakly chuckled. "Ha…well, you do know our story, right? Chesnaught told you?"

"Ches…right, yeah," I lied.

"Ha, thought so." Machamp nodded. "That's good, I'd prefer he helped fill you in on what's going on between Alakazam and I."

"And that would be…?"

Machamp nearly rocketed into the sky. We spun around to find Alakazam strolling right over to us.

"Hi there, Alakazam." I smiled and waved as he approached, to which he returned to me.

"Hello Greninja, sorry that you couldn't witness Chesnaught and I get our rear ends handed back to us during practice." He laughed, but stopped as Machamp and I froze. "…What?"

"Who hurt you?!" Machamp stomped forward and observed Alakazam, who appeared unharmed.

"Oh, everyone, it was practice," reiterated Alakazam. "I was actually pretty close to winning my match, but Carracosta was the winner in the end, mostly thanks to myself and Quagsire, but a win is a win."

"What about Chesnaught? Is he ok? Where is he?"

"Relax, Greninja, we're all fine and recovered now," soothed Alakazam. "Anyway, Chesnaught did pretty well holding his own in a match, but Delphox ultimately won that one. They're still gathering some equipment for you. I just finished for Machamp and myself, which by the way, you're welcome, Machamp."

"Thank you!"

"Delphox won? That's…good," I managed. "He didn't hurt Chesnaught too much, did he?"

"Not at all, no," shared Alakazam. He blinked, frowned, and folded his arms. "But, uh…Golduck did."

"…I'll kill him."

"That would be treason, which I highly advise against," cautioned Alakazam. "But, if you beat him up a bit when you get a chance, I'm all for it. And…would be open to assisting you."

"What? Alakazam, as annoying as Golduck can be, he's still our ally," chastised Machamp.

Barely audible, I whispered to him, "How hard would you beat him if he hurt Alakazam?"

"Within an inch of his life, if that," muttered Machamp. Louder, he continued, "At any rate, we do need to cooperate tomorrow, so…just hold out on that."

"Yeah, yeah," I grumbled.

"Anyway, what did I miss with you two?" Machamp and I glanced at one another. "Ah, right, time with the emperor. Did that go well?"

"Mostly," I determined, though I wasn't sure of it.

"Alakazam, I…want-wanted to, uh, t-talk to you about s-something."

"Would it be whatever's on the back of your mind?" Alakazam twirled his mustache. "You have thoughts that are basically screaming, 'don't tell Alakazam, don't tell Alakazam, don't…' you get my point."

"Ah…that's, uh-um, about something else entirely," nervously laughed Machamp. "No, it's…s-something…different."

"Well, that certainly should be interesting, considering you now have two things you're not telling me." Alakazam folded his arms and narrowed his eyes. "Go on."

"It's just…I wanted you to un…understand that, you see…the time, a while back when we…look, I wanted you to know that I…" His face flushed and terribly flustered, Machamp wildly shook his head. "Forget it. I…don't think you'd want to hear it right now."

"Try me."

"Didn't I?" Machamp sighed. "You're not open to it right now, and rightfully so. I'll just…save it for later. Goodnight, to both of you."

Quickly, Machamp spun around and hurried down the hall, retreating to his room. Alakazam huffed and turned his head away.

"Alakazam, why would you do that?!" I folded my arms as he dropped his. "Machamp might have been planning on telling you how he really feels about you!"

"Yes, I know that it involved me, and that it had intimate intentions in mind." Alakazam let out a forlorn sigh and his shoulders slumped as he hugged himself.

"Then why wouldn't you listen?!"

"Because now isn't the time," decided Alakazam. "Tomorrow, we're going out to hunt down this prophet. If he were to tell me that he wasn't really interested in me, or only saw me in…well, you know what way, then I would be a disaster case tomorrow. And, if he truly confessed to me…" Alakazam swallowed hard and shook his head. "I would be an absolute fool tomorrow, focusing more on him than our assignment."

"Or, you might have that out of your head entirely," I suggested.

He thought for a moment and shook his head again. "Perhaps, but I've already learned how to keep my pining for him balanced or buried by my work. If that were to change, I don't…I'm not sure how I would act, let alone how he would."

"I…see."

"You still wish to contend with that point?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Why?"

"Because you're doing what the empire does best: repressing your emotions." I shook my head and lowered my arms. "Alakazam, I can't force you, but keeping your feelings for him bottled up is a poor choice."

"Do you really think I want to?!" Alakazam covered his mouth, and then his eyes. "Greninja, I'm sorry, please don't hate me for that."

"Calm down, it's fine," I soothed, but had to chuckle. "At least you're showing emotion now, though."

"Oh…well, I suppose." He giggled, but then coughed to cover it up. "Believe me, Greninja, I want to get this over sooner, not later. But…we have a priority." He wistfully sighed once more. "Truly, I want to tell him, and I want so desperately to know his answer. But my emotions have always been the bane of my intellect, able to trump them beyond my control." He weakly laughed. "I really wish I could get rid of them, sometimes, but…at the same time, I don't know how I would be, if I were void of them." He looked into my eyes and frowned. "I don't suppose you've ever related to that idea before?"

"Believe me, I have."

"Really? Wow, you seem great with them now, though."

"It took some time, but I figured things out." I smiled and placed my hand on his shoulder. "You will too, I'm sure."

"Hopefully." Alakazam smiled. "Thank you, Greninja. Anyway, I believe a certain someone is on his way in, so…have a goodnight. And, ah, don't stay up too late."

With a wink, Alakazam turned and traveled to his room. I blinked and twirled around, waiting for a minute before Chesnaught and Delphox appeared down the hall.

"Greninja, hey!" They hurried over to me, and Chesnaught tugged me into a hug. "I missed you! And…well, I know it was only a few hours, but—"

"How hard did he hit you?"

"He…? Oh. Alakazam caught up with you first, then?"

"Yes, he did." I folded my arms. "How bad?"

"It was more his comments than his actual beating," admitted Chesnaught. "And I got a few nice shots in as well."

"Relax, Greninja," assured Delphox. "I made sure to soundly, and brutally, take care of your ex." He patted his staff in his open palm with a grin. "Hope you don't mind."

"Clocked him outside the head?"

"Yep."

"Shocked him silly with a spell or two?"

"You know it."

"Good enough." I sighed and put up a smile. "Thank you, Delphox. And congratulations on winning!"

"Aw, thank you, Greninja!" His beam grew brighter. "Froslass was tricky, but I managed to overcome her in the end. I wish you were there to witness it! And that Chesnaught and Mienshao were conscious, but, all's well that ends well, I suppose."

"Sounds about right," I laughed. "Oh, but uh, tomorrow, about hunting the prophet?"

"Hunting?" Chesnaught shook his head. "What did the emperor talk to you about? You're sounding as savage as they can." Delphox sucked in his cheek before nodding.

"Sorry, but we definitely need to bring this prophet in," I explained. "Empoleon has a theory that…wait." I stared down the hall and shook my head. "Hang on, Delphox, come into our room for a bit."

Though he opened his mouth to protest, Chesnaught yanked the mage after me as I walked over to our bedroom and opened the door. Scanning the hall, I nodded and shut the door behind me.


After filling them in on everything that I discussed with Emperor Empoleon, Chesnaught and Delphox sat quietly on the bed with me, mouths dropped open.

"…Look, I know it's a lot," I caved, "but I think it's plausible."

"Queen Nidoqueen murdered without Gardevoir or I noticing?" Delphox hugged his stick and numbly shook his head. "That can't be…we couldn't have missed that. We wouldn't."

"You've mentioned that curses are really difficult to pick up on, at least to me on one occasion," recalled Chesnaught. "But…gracious, the poor emperor's family. Separated for years now, and he has no idea where they are or when he can bring them back home…"

"And leaving the prophet out in the Frozen Fields could result in either his death, or someone else capturing him against his will," I reiterated. "Even if we don't agree on some of the policies here, Empoleon was desperate to get me onto believing him with these theories. He's really cautious about it, but definitely wants to help."

"Can we be sure it wasn't him?" Delphox steadied himself again. "I mean, Froslass doesn't seem the type to curse a queen and plot to catapult the kingdoms into a colossal war, but…Empoleon could have."

"That's the only Ghost type here," I countered. "And I don't think Empoleon has the motivation to do that. Why would he go out of his way to hurt Nidoking? Chesnaught was still starting out in the kingdom at the time, I wasn't even around, and though we know you're a great mage, they seem wary about fire around here. Empoleon has only gained the three of us from his exchanges with Nidoking, and we cost him three soldiers of his employ." I shrugged. "It's not outside of the realm of possibility, but considering that he sent his own wife and child away after the incident, I think Empoleon isn't the one to look out for."

"Greninja makes a good point," agreed Chesnaught. At Delphox's questioning brow, he added, "Look, we may be boyfriends, but I really do agree on the points he brought up."

"Yeah, yeah, I do too," confessed Delphox. "It's just…I don't know. I can't imagine that I failed King Nidoking so miserably." He sighed and deflated. "Gardevoir is going to be horrified if we end up determining that Empoleon is right."

"We'll take it one step at a time," decided Chesnaught. "For now, we'll focus on finding the prophet and getting him back here safely. Regardless of what Empoleon's intentions are, regardless of the orders that follow, it'll be up to us to keep the prophet safe." Delphox and I nodded in accord. "Great. At least we've got each other in on this. Glad he gave in to you telling us everything, Greninja."

"Me too. I wouldn't have kept it from you guys, but I…I guess it's easier knowing that Empoleon is at peace with having a few of us know." I sighed. "I just need to find a way to let Alakazam know tomorrow."

"Leave that to me." Delphox smirked and tapped his head. "Psychics have a way of passing information without speaking, remember?"

"Right." I smiled, but then yawned. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize, it's late." Delphox hopped off the bed and walked over to the door. "We need to get some rest and be prepared for tomorrow, come what may, or as prepared as we can be." He scratched his ears and nodded. "See you two in the morning." He opened the door, but stopped midway from exiting. "And you two better get some rest!"

"Ha, we will," assured Chesnaught before he let out a yawn himself. "I had more than enough of a workout for the night, so I'm ready for rest. Goodnight, Delphox!"

Chuckling, Delphox waved before closing the door behind him. Chesnaught took off his last pieces of armor before rolling over on the bed. I curled up next to him and sighed, longer than I meant to. Chesnaught pulled me in closer and gazed into my eyes as I stared back.

"Everything ok?"

"It's a lot to take in." I shook my head. "Machamp even told me this sad story about roses that only grow in colder climates, but its origin was from two lovers that were separated."

"How were they—?"

"One, um, died."

"…Oh." Chesnaught frowned. "That's depressing."

"Definitely." I buried myself into his chest fur and breathed into it. "Let's stick together tomorrow, ok?"

"Without a doubt," reassured Chesnaught, and he rubbed my back. "We'll stick close to each other."

"Yeah. Oh, but the roses in the story," I recalled, "they were blue, and they're meant to blossom only around lovers who attained an impossible relationship with each other." I cuddled into him. "Think maybe we might find one out there?"

"It'd be nice," mused Chesnaught. "I like to think that our love is that great."

"Me too." I yawned again. "Ugh. I wish we had one more night. And I hope that I can get a good night's sleep."

"I'm right here if you need anything."

"Thank you, Chesnaught." I scooted up and kissed him on the lips, which he returned. We held it and licked each other for a bit, but broke apart at Chesnaught's yawn. "Ok, guess it's time for bed."

"Unfortunately." He kissed my cheek and brought me closer into him. "Goodnight, Greninja."

"Goodnight, Chesnaught."

Nestling into him once more, I fell in sync with his breathing as I shut my eyes.


[Chesnaught]

Morning came a little too quickly, and it hadn't helped that Greninja tossed around for the first hour after we fell asleep. It was helpful to have our equipment ready ahead of time though, and Greninja was happy to slide his tachi blade around his back, along with several shuriken strapped to his belt. Though, he was perturbed about spare silver pauldrons I forced him to wear.

"They clank and I can't move my arms freely," he complained. "On top of these cloaks that we're all wearing for the fields, it's too much."

"It's barely any kind of defense as it is, and you need some protection," I argued. "Plus, they're not that noisy and don't inhibit your movements that badly."

"Oho!" I cringed at Golduck's jeer from behind me. "Trouble in paradise after all, I see. Told you so, little Chesnaught."

Whirling around, I turned just in time to watch Greninja haul off and punch Golduck straight in the bill. The duck fumbled back as he glared at Greninja pinning my Miracle Seed on my armor. Smirking, I slipped his Mystic Water around his neck, earning a soft kiss on my cheek.

"Whatever," hissed Golduck as he trudged off.

Sheathing my broadsword, I placed it behind my shell, along with an extra shield and a bō staff. Greninja tilted his head and blinked at me as I added some shuriken and a dagger to my belt.

"It was pretty useful during practice," I clarified. "And unlike you, I can't move quickly, so I might as well carry extra weapons."

"Good, I'm not the only one!" Carracosta wobbled over to us, gripping his tekko and struggling with his vambraces. "Stupid things and their laces."

"Here, let me." I twisted the laces around and tightened them on the prototurtle's flippers. "How's that?"

"Feels like they'll stay on." He smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Chesnaught."

"You're welcome."

A harsh clatter made the three of us cringe, and we turned to find Delibird had fallen over by a stack of spears, while Quagsire yawned and slumped down next to him.

"And…that would be my cue." Carracosta sighed and made his way over to help the pair clean up.

Checking with Greninja, we moved to follow him, but stopped at another shout. We glanced over to see Mienshao stepping between Poliwrath and Politoed.

"It's not like he was ever going to stay with you, anyway!" Politoed huffed and folded his arms.

"He might have if you hadn't gone around trying to swipe from me!" Poliwrath slammed his fists together.

"Ok, that's enough," interrupted Mienshao. "Brothers should get along, don't you think?"

Together, they shouted, "No chance!"

Sighing, Mienshao waited for the two to storm off before shaking his head.

"Hey, happy couple!" Machamp walked over to us, with Weavile tagging alongside him. "How are you two doing this morning?"

"Still a little tired, but we'll be good to go shortly."

"Great, we'll be heading out soon." Machamp wore his signature beam, keeping his spirits lifted. "I think we'll do really well if we're all working together."

"Yeah, how fun," deadpanned Weavile. "We're such a stable and cooperative group."

"We could be, you know."

"Doubtful." She folded her arms and sighed, before turning her attention to us. "…Glad to see that you two are still holding your own around here. And together, no less."

"We wouldn't have it any other way," Greninja answered for both of us.

"…Cute." Weavile couldn't help but smirk. "Maybe…"

A shrilled laugh rang out and Weavile shivered. Froslass flew over to us from the distance and excited floated around each of us before stopping in front of the archer.

"Weavile!" Froslass excitedly swayed Weavile's arms around. "Ready to finish what we started?"

"Sure, but we better grab him this time." There was more than a hint of determination in Weavile's voice, brief as it was.

"Well, let's certainly hope so."

Our group turned to watch Delphox and Alakazam approach. Instead of his heavier set of robes, Alakazam was wearing some blue garments around his waist that traveled up to his stomach, but left his legs, arms, and chest bare. Though he wore vambraces, pauldrons, and short grieves, I still shot him a quizzical look.

"Look, I'm best when I can move quickly," he explained. "If this prophet really wants to go all out, I'll give him an easy first choice."

"That's ridiculously dangerous, Alakazam!" Machamp's face was flushed over, and everyone stared at his bare and exposed chest, matching the mage's. "W…What?!"

"Everyone unanimously agreed that you're the last one who should be arguing armor selections," teased Alakazam. Machamp's blush only deepened. "Regardless, it's fourteen against one. Not to say that this will be an easy task, but I like our odds."

"Hopefully, we won't need to fight very much, if at all," I murmured.

"We need to do what it takes," affirmed Alakazam. He stepped aside and chattered with Machamp and Weavile, while Greninja slid next to me, blinking in confusion.

"Machamp filled him in this morning," whispered Delphox. "I went to, but he explained that to me just after I started."

"That's good," Greninja mumbled. "Not that we're working against anyone here, but the sooner we figure this out, the sooner we can sort out the rest."

"Right." I nodded and we separated as the other knights made their way over to the Grand Hall's entrance.

General Abomasnow waited there for us, quietly nodding. He moved his arm to open the door, but paused.

"Every last one of sticks together, understand?" His volume had its usual bluster, but something about his tone was…softer. "You work as a cohesive unit, no matter what you face out there. We've tried having everyone prioritize himself or herself before, so let's see if you can all make it home together, regardless of the turnout."

"This is…unlike you, General," cautiously noted Golduck. "…Are these Emperor Empoleon's orders?"

Not answering him, Abomasnow pushed the main doors open. "Get out there, and do this Empire proud. Above all, get back here, and that's an order."

Silently, the General stomped away from us, refusing to look back. A few murmurs buzzed around as we exchanged unnerved expressions, but after a minute of debate, we regrouped and set out across the palace's bridge under the pale morning sky.

Briskly, we marched from the steps and into the capital city. We passed a few igloo houses, one of which Carracosta halted in front of and took a step towards. Quickly, he fell back into pattern with the rest of us, but I stared the quiet igloo as we left.

Soon after, I noticed a pair of pink Pokemon watch us. I tilted my head and blinked at them. By the higher pitch of their giggling, I imagined both were female. Glancing back over, I caught Froslass blowing them kisses while Weavile glared behind her.

"Well, while we're briefly parading through this place," started Greninja, "I don't think we ever got the name of it."

"Ah, that's poor form on my part," apologized Machamp. "This is Winterburgh, which naturally spawned the nickname of Iceburgh from funny and clever folk."

"They missed such a great opportunity when naming this place," moaned Delibird.

North of a market square, we proceeded forward and through the frosty trail. I shuddered as the cold air picked up, and tugged up on the cloak around my armor. Greninja moved closer to me, and then wrapped his arms around my waist to close the gaps. Unfortunately, it didn't help as much as I wished it had. Twirling his stick around, Delphox produced a small ember and had it sail around us.

"Thank you."

"No problem."

Eventually, we reached the outer limits of the city, approaching the northern boundaries. Icicles were pegged into the ground with dark blue rags tied on them, which were Weavile and Froslass's markers for where the prophet had been. Everyone stood quietly as we gazed across the vast snow coated fields before us, extending far into the distance. A long breeze howled past us as we waited.

Golduck broke the silence. "Well, we can wait until the sun sets, or we can move while there's still daylight." He stepped forward and waved us after him. "Come on."

Most of us hesitated to follow him, but after Delibird hurried along, followed by Quagsire and the frog brothers, the rest of us picked up after him, and from the city.

About one hour of traveling later, Delphox had cast more fireballs to float around half of our group. All around us blurred white snow banks, boulders, and walls of ice. There were some small caves that we passed and searched inside of, finding nothing helpful in any of them. Snowflakes danced down overhead, with more falling down the further out we ventured. Reaching the last of Froslass and Weavile's icicle markers, we paused and stared at the remaining stretch of the Frozen Fields before us. Ahead, there was still mostly frosted fields going forward; behind us, only the faintest glow of the city let us spot our way back.

"There has to be a way we can move forward," called out Alakazam. "Are you two certain these are the last of the markers?"

"This is as far out as we could get," shouted Froslass. "The prophet just disappeared after that."

"We'll keep moving then."

"Bad idea," cautioned Golduck. "Look around, there's nothing out here. We move out further, we'll only get lost." He shook his head. "I understand that the Emperor wants us to find this prophet desperately, but he visits the city, however irregular his appearances have been. Our survival isn't guaranteed out here."

A chorus of agreement rose up from half of the group, with my friends notably not agreeing with them.

"My knight is right," bellowed a voice. "It was a worthwhile effort, but you lot should return to the palace."

Whirling around, we watched the massive Abomasnow stroll out to us in the Frozen Fields. Though it was a little more difficult to see him, something about his eyes was a bit…brighter? He carried a

"General?" Mienshao stepped toward him as he approached. "Why are you out here?"

"Retrieving you knights," he thundered. "The Emperor has come around to my point of view, and requires that you return immediately."

"You actually persuaded him to bring us back?" Politoed tilted his head. "That's impressive, to be honest."

"Indeed," agreed Abomasnow. "Now, come, you've been out here for far too long already."

"But…we haven't made much progress," called Poliwrath. "Wouldn't the Emperor want something to show for our effort?"

"Not if it costs you all your lives," rumbled Abomasnow. "Do I really have to order you lot to return?"

Everyone exchanged puzzled expressions with one another. Delibird shrugged and began to walk toward Abomasnow, but Golduck held up his arm.

"The kris dagger is an interesting choice to bring out with you, General." He frowned and narrowed his eyes at the wavy blade tucked into Abomasnow's belt. "And that great axe behind you wouldn't suffice?"

"Extra preparations are required out here," he bellowed. "Anything else?"

Still holding Delibird back, Golduck continued, "Yeah. Did you leave just one of the bears with Empoleon, or are all three of them still with him?"

"All three, of course!" Abomasnow folded his arms. "I wouldn't leave our Emperor completely defenseless."

With a chill rushing down my back, I unsheathed my broadsword, as the rest of the knights brought out their weapons as well. Abomasnow backed up, unnerved but…with a twisted grin under his facial fur.

"W-What do you think you louts are doing?! I order—"

"Drop the act," snapped Carracosta. "The bears are en route to the Grass Fields Kingdom already, courtesy of the real General Abomasnow's orders."

"…Blast. I knew we should have run one more check in with the palace."

With a wicked laugh and a burst of snow rushing past him, the massive form of Abomasnow flashed in a carmine light. It faded and before us stood a smaller figure than the General, but one around my height. Beneath a massive red mane with black tips, a dark gray fox snickered with a twisted smirk fixed on his face. A black cloak flowed from him, nearly matching the length of his mane to the ground. It billowed from another gust of wind.

"Who are you?!"

"Zoroark is my name," cackled the illusion crafting fox. "And this should be such a delight, with your entire roster out here!"

"All of us against just you?" Golduck laughed and pointed his knightly sword forward. "I don't think that's much of an issue."

"Whoever mentioned that I would be alone?"

Another howl of wind picked up as a larger, green figure soared next to the fox. The dragon touched down as the blue and black jackal hopped down beside him, drawing a sword and readying a spell.

"Damn it," hissed Delphox.

"Bravo on deducing our master of illusions," mockingly congratulated Lucario. "Minor setback. Now we'll just have to deal with all of you sooner than anticipated."

"You're joking, right?" Golduck laughed. "There are still only three of you. What do you expect to accomplish against the rest of us?"

"Oh, you're actually asking?" Lucario smirked. "Hmm, where to begin? Zoroark is masterful not only with trickery, but excels with that shiny dagger of his, along with using some tomes for spells. I myself can use this sword and a larger variety of spells on my own. And Flygon? Well, he's a dragon."

"Wow, really?" Flygon beat his wings and folded his arms. "Look, I'm a lot more than just the big dragon of the group, ok?"

"Aw, it's ok, baby," soothed Zoroark. "We know you're more than that, but dragons in general strike fear into the hearts of enemies."

"Not a chance," challenged Machamp. "Draw your weapons, but you'll be overwhelmed easily."

"Numbers do not win wars," warned Lucario. "Flygon?"

"What, now?"

"Yes, right now!"

Greninja and Delphox raced forward, rushing to strike at Lucario. He raised his free hand and the earth beneath them rose, causing both to jump aside.

Zoroark grinned and raced at Greninja, kris drawn. I threw a shuriken at him, which he deflected aside, as I charged to Greninja's side.

Teleporting to Lucario, Alakazam lifted his spoons as the Mountains Knight fired a blue energy sphere at him. Catching it, Alakazam redirected it back at Lucario, who sidestepped it.

"Ooh, how skillful," jeered Lucario. He stepped aside again as a volley of ice arrows flew past him. "And if I wasn't paying attention, those might have actually landed."

Froslass drifted over and launched powerful purple gusts at Flygon, who flew around each burst of wind. Delibird threw a bright ball that exploded around the dragon, but he glided past it, unharmed.

"Eyes front, knight!"

Driving his dagger back and slicing forward, I quickly formed my Spiky Shield, which surged out and pierced him at the last second.

He screeched upon getting stabbed by the grass needles, and leapt backwards as I helped Greninja up, who threw another two shuriken at the retreating fox.

"Flygon, any day," boomed Lucario, jumping back from both Poliwrath and Mienshao, who swiped their blades at him. Politoed tried to hammer down with a nunchaku, which the jackal rolled away from.

"Hold on, I need to get the right angle!" Flygon flew back as Weavile shot another volley of arrows at him, with Carracosta jetting forward to slam him. "Keep them off me, will you?"

"That's a little more complicated, darling," yelped Zoroark, who jumped aside from Quagsire's Aqua Tail and kicked the salamander away.

"There's no chance that we're letting you pull something off," shouted Machamp as he hammered down at Zoroark, who slipped away from the attack. Mienshao raced up and thrust a sharp palm into the fox, who yelped and hurried away.

Delphox twirled his staff around and summoned a stream of fire, with some embers scorching Lucario. Golduck rushed in and swung his blade at the jackal.

Unfortunately, Lucario parried the attack and fended Golduck off, in spite of the recent burn. Greninja and I tossed a pair of shuriken at him, missing, but then turned our attention to the dragon that soared overhead.

"We need it now, Flygon!" Lucario managed to find some space as Greninja aimed a Water Shuriken and tossed it at Flygon, scoring a direct hit, but failing to damage the dragon greatly. "Use that blasted Hyper Beam already!"

"Just another—"

"Now!"

Flapping back as I cleaved my blade at him, Flygon rushed forward and swept Greninja from his feet. I doubled back and helped him back up from the ground, but turned in time to see Flygon fire a bright and powerful energy beam from his mouth. It was a scarlet or magenta ray, the last bit that I could process as I scooped Greninja up and lifted my extra shield in front of us.

Doing us no good, Flygon's heavy blast rocketed up off of our feet and sailing through the sky. Clutching tightly to both the shield and Greninja, I tried using every ounce of my will and strength to hold on.

But the rush and might of the Hyper Beam knocked the wind out of us both, and my eyes slid shut, just as I heard a long skidding against the snow. Soon after, my mind slipped away.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

My eyes opened to the white world around me. I winced and squeezed them shut, blinded by how much brighter everything seemed. Slowly, I opened them again, squinting at the snow around me. Pain fired through my body, and I rolled to my side, groaning at the sting of both my soreness and the icy touch of the snow.

Forcing myself up a bit, too quickly, I fell back to the ground, in a crunchy, yet muffled, plop. Nothing lit up in heightened pain, so I imagined that I hadn't broken anything. Again, I rolled around and pushed myself from the floor, a little slower this time.

It turned out to be too quickly still; as I stood up, the world around me began spinning. I gripped my head and sank back to my knees, growling. Shutting my eyes again, I lifted myself back up again, and then slowly peeked out once more.

With a blink, I glanced down at my now dented armor. Bits of it were broken off in a few places, probably more from the crash landing than from Flygon's attack. Squinting, I noticed my silver shield in the distance. Unsteadily, I lumbered over to it, pushing my feet through the clumps of snow and ice.

If there was any doubt to the force of the…Hyper Beam, that would dissipate with one glance at the hole pierced through my shield. I lifted it from the snow and stared at its core, ripped clean open. Flipping it around, I gazed at the metal that hadn't blasted away, with select segments past the middle instead forced backwards and outwards.

Exhaling, I turned and stumbled, and sank to the ground with a yelp.

"Chesnaught!"

Greninja hurried over as I picked my head up. Gazing at him, I smiled; though his robes had been torn up a bit, he didn't have any signs of heavy damage either.

"H-hey…" My shoulders slumped and I couldn't help myself as my body swayed forward.

"Hang on!" Greninja caught me as I fell into his arms. Pushing me back up and steadying me, he started to look me over. "You've got some cuts and bruises in some openings of your armor. Nothing seems serious yet, but you definitely took the brunt of that attack."

"No, my shield did." Barely, I hoisted it up and heard a slight gasp escape Greninja. "That beam tore straight through and into me next."

He shook his head and studied the shield more carefully, with one hand still keeping me propped up as he crouched down. "It must have just barely passed through the shield in the end of its launch. Only the center is really ripped open, and even with the damage, it's not missing too much. Otherwise, the same would have cut through your armor and into you." He banged on my dented armor and nodded. "In fact, it might have just gotten started as the attack ended."

"That's a pretty picture."

"Hush." I chuckled even as he glared at me. "You still took a heavy force from that beam. And our landing definitely wasn't soft." He pulled his arm back, with part of the sleeve torn open. Slight scratches, one heavy bruise, but otherwise ok. Good. "I took a tumble, but you must have slammed down harder after me."

"Not on you, though, right?"

"No, you kept me behind your arm mostly." He sighed. "Thank you, by the way."

"You're welcome." I managed a grin. "I had to keep at least you safe."

He smiled and released the shield, then rubbed his hand against my cheek. His hand was much warmer than I expected it to be.

"Yikes, you're freezing," he murmured. That made more sense. "We need to find somewhere for you to warm up."

"Just…go get Delphox." I shuddered and sank lower into the snow. "He'll…w-warm me up."

"Um…I don't see him." Greninja glanced around us and shook his head. "This isn't where we were before. Chesnaught, we went flying back further than we realized. I don't see any signs of anyone else around us."

"Then we…n-need to get b-back." I tried to pick myself back up, but moaned and dropped back down. "Damn it."

"Easy, I've got you." Wrapping his arms around and under me, Greninja helped me up from the ground, keeping me steady as we stood up. "There you go."

"Thanks. Now…we need t-to find the others."

Again, Greninja shook his head. "That's unlikely, considering that we're lost. We need to find somewhere for you to rest and recover first."

"But—"

"Ah, no arguing." He bumped me up as he repositioned himself beneath me, taking my weight onto his back and one arm around his shoulders. "It's still snowing out here, heavier than before."

"Wait, r-really?" I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head a bit. As they opened again, I stared ahead and focused as the flurries of snowflakes came into view. "I c-couldn't even see those b-before."

"Good, maybe they're still light for now. But, we need to find somewhere in case it picks up into a real snowstorm." He scanned the environment around us, glancing at the larger rock and ice formations in the distance. "Hopefully, there's a cave that we can duck into. It might still be cold, but we'll be protected."

"Right." My forehead ached and I clutched it with my free hand. "Ugh."

"Are you ok enough to move?"

"Doesn't m-matter, does it?" I glanced at him, and my stomach lurched as his worried eyes. It makes me assume that I've taken more of a hit than I realized. "W-we need to find s-somewhere else to be, and I'm n-not going to g-get there w-with-without walking." I shrugged slightly. "Well, you c-could drag m-me, but that'll t-take longer. And I'm n-not too f-fond of the idea."

"Neither am I." He cupped his left arm around my waist and gripped at my right arm with his. "But I'll help you along. We'll get there together."

"Together," I faintly repeated.

We stepped forward, slowly, and it took more effort than either of us realized. Another step, still a challenge, still staggering onward.

After a bit, though, we gained momentum and trudged through the snow of the Frozen Fields. Somewhere, out in this vast white, I hoped that our friends were searching for us.


[Meanwhile]

A black and carmine burst lights up the sky in the distance. Delphox skids back against the snow, growling at his shattered barrier. Sliding to a halt, he drops to a knee and glances to the side, where Machamp pushes himself back up.

"This doesn't make sense," grumbles the four-armed knight.

"Which? The dragon practically dancing in the cold winds, or the fox not taking as much of a beating from your punches as he should be?"

"Both."

"Yeah, well…" Delphox turns back to the fight before him, as Zoroark flips away from a wild flurry of swipes from Golduck's sword. "They're not only holding their own, but they're taking us down bit by bit."

"And that damn dragon's beam separated us from the others." Machamp grits his teeth as he watches Zoroark spin and kick Golduck backwards. "Damn it."

"That's our cue to get back in."

Staff ablaze, Delphox surges forward, with the wind whipping against him as he charges. Zoroark glances at him through the corner of his eye and snickers, not budging.

Just as Delphox nears, he is knocked from his feet, flying back. Hitting the snow, he flops over and rolls around, forcing himself to a halt. Lifting his head, he glares as Flygon beats his wings, touching down beside Zoroark.

"Oh, this is such fun!" Zoroark claps excitedly and bounces around on his feet. "Can you believe Lucario was even worried about this being a challenge?"

"Well, we were supposed to face off with the whole army for a little longer," murmurs Flygon. "I don't understand why he had me use my Hyper Beam so early in the fight. It's exhausting to use that even just once."

"Clearly, he wanted this." Zoroark gestures at the fallen Empire Knights, some pushing themselves back up from the ground. "Six for us to play with, while he toys with the other six. And we've already incapacitated those extra two, so it's going perfectly thus far!"

"That's even weirder," notes Flygon. "The ninja and his knight were more of a hassle back at the tundra fortress."

"Oh, that was them?" Zoroark smile droops and he combs through his mane. "No wonder he wanted that attack launched out: Lucario probably wanted them out of the way first."

"Yet they weren't the reason that we needed to escape last time. That four-armed oaf was. Him and—"

Flygon yelps as an icy arrow shatters against his body. He shivers as he and Zoroark turn to glower at Weavile in the distance.

"Damn her," growls Flygon. "T-Those stupid arrows are g-getting colder."

"Then drink, baby! Drink!"

Zoroark races off from Flygon as the dragon digs past his breastplate. He pulls out a vial of a teal bluish liquid, and drinks from it. Blinking, his eyes widen as he notices the bottle is nearly empty.

"Uh-oh."

He glances as Delphox rushes at him again, and flies into the sky. Another ice arrow zips the sky, but Flygon bats it away with his tail.

Further away from him, Weavile gapes as the shattered bits of ice cascade from the sky, and the dragon remains undeterred.

She digs another ice arrow from her quiver, her supply running low. Turning back, she readies it between her claw and the bowstring, but winces as Zoroark dashes up to her.

In a flash, Zoroark whips out his kris dagger. Taking the arrow away from her bow, Weavile lifts it to block the dark fox's first swipe.

"Stupid move, little weasel," snarls Zoroark as he brushes forward with the dagger again. It clangs against Weavile's bow, to which the fox grits his teeth at. "That won't save you in close quarters."

"Doesn't need to," mutters Weavile.

Pulling out her dagger, she stabs forward as Zoroark jumps back. He blinks as his grin disappears, while Weavile smirks.

"What? You thought you were the only one with a sharp little toy?"

Not answering, Zoroark dives forward at her, swinging his kris at her. Blocking it with dagger, she knocks the Mountains fox away and twirls around to swipe at him.

Slashing his arm, Zoroark yelps and kicks Weavile back. He clutches his arm and watches blood drip past his fur.

"Blasted…" Grumbling into mumbling, Zoroark recites a quick incantation to halt the blood from gushing out. The cut, however, remains. "At least they'll keep this fun."

Glancing up, Zoroark sidesteps a swinging nunchaku. He sweeps the ground as Politoed bounces up, with Zoroark only swiping the snow.

Quickly, Politoed follows up and bashes the nunchaku against Zoroark's stomach, and then quickly against his shoulder. Twirling it around, he pulls back to slam down against the illusion fox once more.

But Zoroark slashes forward with his kris dagger, forcing Politoed to block with his weapon instead. Weavile rushes forward and slashes at Zoroark again, hitting only armor this time.

Eyes glowing a light blue, Zoroark's twisted grin returns to his face. A crimson aura flows around his body and he lifts his arms up before slamming down to the ground.

Before either Empire knight can react, a pitch-black shockwave zips through the snow, blasting into Weavile and Politoed in a black and carmine flash.

Sailing backward across the frosty terrain, Weavile and Politoed crash down as dark sparks fizzle from their bodies. The two skid to a stop and hesitate before pushing back up from the ground. They look back to find Zoroark rushing back over to Flygon, who spirals through the air to evade pillars of fire and water.

"Ugh. I thought your cut would have thrown him off more," bemoans Politoed. "He shouldn't be so adept with both weapons and magic."

"Him, that jackal that's on their side, and even the dragon is both a brute force combined with special skills," assesses Weavile. "They're all annoying in that regard. But making him bleed proves that we can beat them."

Just as she gets the words out, the pair watches as Carracosta slams into Zoroark, bashing him down into the ground. Wiping his soggy fur, Zoroark recovers quickly and leers at the prototurtle.

"You're in my way," he snarls, his attention shifting between Carracosta and Flygon. "Move."

"Really? You're the one that started all of this," snapped Carracosta. He briefly glances back at Flygon and huffs. "You mean to tell me that you turn tail the second your boyfriend gets into trouble?"

"Running from a fight, you mean?" Zoroark snickers. "Not at all." He raises his blade and crouches into an attacking stance.

"Seems like it, if I'm not mistaken," taunts Carracosta. "Rushing over to the dragon mid-battle, leaving two opponents still standing, and not even looking to fight me? That's certainly not how you're meant to deal with enemies."

"And I suppose this is?!"

Lashing out, Zoroark twists his body around and swipes wildly at Carracosta. The prototurtle turns around and blocks the attacks using his shell.

In a spin, Carracosta slams his flipper down at Zoroark, who flips away from the tekko-powered attack. A burst of snow flies out around Carracosta and he backs away to defend against an oncoming attack.

To his surprise, however, Zoroark has instead run off and continues his way toward Flygon, who continues to dodge attacks from Golduck and Delphox. Though he pursues, Carracosta soon falls behind in the distance.

"Will you just stay still?!" Golduck pants after yelling at the dragon. He whips his tail around and launches another stream of water out at Flygon, who zips past him. "Damn you!"

"You stole my line!"

Barely, Golduck backs away from Zoroark cleaving at him with his kris. He moves his sword to block the dagger, with the dark fox snarling at him.

"Aw, you actually took time out to come defend your boyfriend," taunts Golduck. "How cute. Quaint, but I suppose that is cute."

"It's natural, you shallow fool," snapped Zoroark. "Now, if you don't mind—MOVE!"

Rearing back, Zoroark kicks forward with his leg, sending Golduck flying back. He grins, but gasps just as he turns around.

Machamp shouts and hammers his fists down at Zoroark, directly hitting him. The slam forces Zoroark back.

However, the illusion fox pops right back up and swipes at Machamp with his dagger, striking his armor. Gritting his teeth, Machamp backs away and evades Zoroark's unrelenting assault.

"This isn't possible!" Machamp pulls back and throws a punch forward, hitting Zoroark across the face. The fox spits, but turns back grinning. "How?!"

"You can't just punch away darkness, you know."

"We'll see about that!"

Quickly, Machamp throws a flurry of punches, only to watch Zoroark sidestep each attack. He backs away as the fox rushes him again.

Swiping up with his free hand, Zoroark scratches at Machamp, forcing the knight to stumble back. He pulls back with his kris dagger, slashing down at Machamp.

Stumbling slightly, Machamp yelps as the dagger grazes his shoulder. He grasps it and finds a cut forming.

Turning back as Zoroark slashes up with his dagger, a clang sounds out. A sword flips through the air and to the ground, while Delphox fumbles backwards.

"What?! Where did you…?!"

"You wanted me to stop hurting your precious dragon?" Delphox huffs as he twirls his stick around. "Fine. But now you get yours."

Jabbing it forward, a fireball flies from Delphox's wand. Zoroark raises his hand to counter it, but it's too quick and bursts over his hand. Yelling, Zoroark clutches his hand.

"How pathetic." Delphox readies another fireball and launches it out. "Burn quickly."

Instead of zipping over to the opposing fox, however, the mage gawks as a long green tail swats the fireball to the ground and into the snow. It sizzles as it's put out, and Flygon hisses.

"Both of you, huh?" Machamp scoops up his sword and points it forward. "Against both of us. Let's settle this."

"Just you two?" Golduck leaps at Flygon, who scoops Zoroark up and twirls away from the slash. The duck grumbles and backs away before the dragon can retaliate. "Three on two, because I could care less about even odds."

"That makes six of us, then."

An ice arrow crashes into Flygon's wing and he screeches as he flails in the air. Weavile, Politoed, and Carracosta rush up to join their allies as the dragon regains control of his flight pattern.

"Z-Zoroark, what do we do?" Flygon whimpers at the sight of all six. "I'm running out of my Yache Potion."

"Y…yeah, and my Chople one is running low too," groans Zoroark. "Though…I wish I had an Occa Potion instead." He meets Flygon's worried eye briefly. "I'm going to need a minute. Keep us airborne."

He mutters softly at his hand while Flygon soars into the sky, evading a volley of arrows and fire streams. Under a blue light, the burns weaken and fade slightly.

The six Empire knights watch the dragon carry the fox away from them and out of sight, flying off.

"Oh, blasted cowards." Carracosta sighs and lowers his flippers, shaking his head. "Well, no matter, they're not our primary objective."

"Forget that one too," quips Delphox. "My friends were sent sailing off from that dragon's destructive beam! We have to rescue them."

"Now's not the time," assesses Weavile, glancing at the sky before slightly lowering her bow.

"Of course it is!" Delphox folds his arms and frowns. "You can't seriously expect me to just wait for them to die, can you?"

"They might be, but I think they're tougher than that." Weavile shakes her head. "But that makes no difference. We can't go help them while those two are out of our sight. If we go looking for Chesnaught and Greninja now, we could be playing right into their trap."

"Or worse," adds Politoed, "we could end up finding Greninja and Chesnaught, only to have them get caught up in our fight too."

"But we can't just leave them," protests Delphox. "Not after those horror stories about loss and death out here, we can't!"

"Hey, I understand how you feel," soothes Politoed. "My brother and I would rather tear each other bit by bit, but…not even I can really stand being split up from him, not like this. He…he could really be in trouble." He swallows hard and briefly shakes his head wildly. "B-but knowing him, I'd imagine that he's probably fine. Anyway, my point is, we'll get to the rest, but we do need to follow what Weavile suggests and keep our focus here first."

Reluctantly, Delphox nods. "…I don't like it. But…you're right."

"Believe us, Delphox, none of us want to be out here." Carracosta sighs as his shoulders slump. "We've heard and told enough stories to give us nightmares for months, and now we're out, lost, in the exact place that we've feared for the longest. I wouldn't claim that we're as good as dead, but it's not tipped in our favor."

"Bah, we'll get through it," insists Golduck. "Last thing I'm dealing with is dying with you lot stranded out here."

"Wow," deadpans Weavile. "Thanks."

"Oh please, I didn't mean it like that." Golduck rolls his eyes, waving his hand in front of his face. "Dying out in the middle of nowhere to those creeps? I refuse to go down with that as my legacy."

"…Honestly, I'd rather not die like this either," admits Carracosta. "Morbid and hopeless as it seems, those trembling tools shouldn't be how we die. We need to drag them back down from the skies and finish this."

"If we can get this over with already so we can regroup with our fellow knights, that'd be ideal." Machamp folds his lower arms, while one upper arm gingerly touches the side of his head. "Alakazam's thoughts have been racing and panicked every time I try to reach out to him."

"Wait." Delphox blinked and shook his head. "You can…do that?"

"Not too effectively, but yes." Machamp let his arm drop and shook his head. "Pairs that evolve in a trade evolution always have some kind of bond. It's different for everyone, but in our case, I can slightly sense Alakazam's thought patterns, and rarely, reach out to his mind. Likewise, he can sense my flow of energy, able to tell if I'm overexerting myself and the like."

"So, every time you get punched too hard, Alakazam can sense that," interrupts Golduck. Machamp glares as the duck huffs. "Figures. He's probably an absolute mess if he can actually tell how much you're getting beaten up."

"Like you're not?!"

"Yeah, I am, but I don't have my not-boyfriend feeling every bit of thrashing that I'm taking." He folds his arms and wins out against Machamp's glare, which subsides as the four-armed knight deflates. "If he really is able to tell how hard of a bashing you're taking, you either need to isolate yourself from this fight, or get it over with."

"What, do you think I'm not trying?" Machamp pounds his fists together. "They won't let up for a second, so I can't either. They'll soar back down any second, I'll bet. The sooner we get through this, the quicker we can start making our way back to the others. Then, we need to focus our efforts on rescuing Chesnaught and Greninja."

"Do you really think they can be found?" Weavile sighs. "Not to be the pessimist of our group, but it's going to be really difficult to bring them back home."

"It can be done if we really start to work together," asserts Delphox. "We're too broken up on how we're fighting right now, too spread out. What we need to do is concentrate less on saving our own hides and focus on protecting one another."

"That's not how it works up here," scoffs Golduck.

"Tough, that's what we need if we really want to pull through this," snaps Delphox. "I'm not suggesting that we disregard ourselves entirely, but we need to function as a cohesive unit. We're taking on those two pests one by one, or just with a single partner. That's not good enough." He pats his staff against his open palm and nods. "There are six of us, and I'll be damned if we actually lose to the likes of those two dastards."

"So," voices Politoed, "how do you suggest we work together, uh, better?"

"We fight together," declares Delphox. "If there's one thing that my former kingdom wanted us to do, it was to establish strong bonds with one another. Your emperor was impressed and pleased upon learning that Chesnaught and Greninja were in a relationship, and implied that it could be key in their survival out here." Delphox exhales and inhales. "We're not exactly perfect together, but we need to fight like a true team out here. Guard and attack with one another like you would your closest comrades. Picture how you'd fight with someone that matters and bring that ferocity forward." He smirks. "I know that we all have at least one person we'd fight our hardest for."

"Yeah?" Golduck folds his arms. "Who's yours?"

"My best friend." Delphox sighs and glances down. "If she were out here with me, I wouldn't let anyone come close to harming her." He jerks his head back up. "I know you all have someone that'd you do the same for."

Staring quietly, the other knights check with one another, waiting silently for opposition to the idea. Nothing comes.

"See?" Delphox tightens his fist and raises it. "We can redirect that ferocity, that protective instinct, and use it with one another." He frowns as the knights glance at one another, raising eyebrows or narrowing eyes. Sighing and shaking his head, Delphox taps his stick into his open palm. "I know you lot have worked together before. Now let's really test it."

"You Grass Fields geeks have the most farfetched plans, that's for sure," murmurs Golduck. He watches as the others turn to him, puffing out his cheek and waiting a moment. "Come on, who really thinks that we're not working together enough?"

"I don't," voices Machamp. Golduck lowers his eyes and rests his free hand on his hip. "Look, just because I've become good friends with the three newcomers doesn't make my opinion any less valid. They're right, we're not a cohesive unit."

"Chesnaught proved that," notes Weavile. The group shifts their attention to her as she folds her arms. "He helped us win against Abomasnow and the three bears with an easy tactic change. Machamp, Mienshao, and I would have never even thought of it, not because it was anything impossible, but because we didn't trust or understand one another." She picks her head up and smirks at Delphox, whose ears twitch in anticipation. "Delphox is spot on with this; we're not working together properly."

"Greninja also pointed out our lack of mercy in combat," recalls Carracosta, as he taps his flipper against his chin. "Being so hard on one another does nothing to strengthen teamwork. Perhaps we need to forgo what we're used to and follow through on this method."

"Then," Politoed glances around for a moment, looking at his allies again, "all we have to do is work together, like we're working with the ones that matter most to us?" He turns to Delphox, who smiles and nods. "…That seems easy enough."

"It should really be for one another, not someone else that isn't here," mutters Weavile, picking at her armor with a sullen frown.

"Well, let's be honest: we're not that attached to each other," clarifies Golduck. "This still doesn't seem like it'll work out, but if everyone is willing, we might as well try."

"Try as much as you like!"

Twisting around, the sextet watches as Flygon flies back into their view. Once low enough, Zoroark hops from his arms and slams down into a mound of snow, grinning wickedly. His arms have several bandages that wrap around his wounds.

"Your defeat is guaranteed either way."

"Quickly recovered from that burn I gave you?" Delphox folds his arms, a smirk concentrated on his opponents. "Not bad. And it's impressive that you two can handle some of your bigger weaknesses." He narrows his eyes as Flygon stores a pouch onto his belt. "If, of course, you're actually overcoming them."

"If we're still standing, I'd imagine we're surmounting whatever you're throwing at us."

"Oh?" Golduck sneers. "Let's see if that holds water, shall we?"

He runs forward as Weavile rapidly launches arrows past the duck and at their enemies. Another dark burst flows from Zoroark as he shatters the icy arrows, while Flygon surges to meet the duck.

Skidding to a halt, Golduck hesitates as Flygon swoops at him. The duck then steps aside with a smirk, as a ball of water quickly launches itself into the dragon.

Flygon screeches as Carracosta rams into his body, knocking the dragon to the ground. He squints, but then forces his eyes open as Golduck cleaves his sword down.

Watching Flygon roll away from the slice, Zoroark charges to him. Fireballs impede his route as he twists and turns to evade the barrage.

His advancement is stopped altogether as Machamp storms into the illusion fox's path. Alternating between sword sweeps and powerful punches, Machamp forces the fox further back still.

While Zoroark manages to avoid most of Machamp's strong blows, some graze him. Though he swings back with his dagger, the knight pulls his arms away fast enough to evade counterattacks.

Politoed hurries forward and lashes down with his nunchaku, whacking the back of Zoroark's head and forcing him down to the ground with a yelp. Snow bursts around him as the frog rears back to attack again.

Abruptly, a loud snarl erupts from Zoroark as dark waves blast his opponents back. Baring his teeth, Zoroark spirals around bursts of fire and spells from Delphox, who repeatedly slings out magical bursts that just miss the darker fox.

Glancing down, Delphox fires at it, with an eruption of snow smashing Zoroark to the ground. The dark fox lifts his head up slowly, staring ahead.

Though Flygon rises back from the ground, another set of ice arrows crash into him. He wails out and sweeps his tail to smash a wave of snow at Weavile.

Carracosta spins around in front of Weavile and lowers his head as the wave crashes against his shell. He glances past his shoulder and glares as Flygon flaps his wings, clutching his chest as he brushes off icy shards.

Though Golduck throws an Ice Punch at the dragon, he misses and Flygon tackles him backward. Tumbling back, Golduck is caught by Carracosta, while Weavile fires another pair of arrows at Flygon.

They hit, and the dragon screeches from the pain. He grasps at his belt and opens the pouch, sliding out an empty vial. Popping it open, Flygon opens his mouth a bit and waves it, with nothing left to dribble out.

"Uh oh."

Turning, Flygon's eyes widen as he spots Zoroark struggling to fend off Machamp and Politoed. He rears back to fly over, but another arrow barrage crashes into him, sending him crashing back to the ground.

Writhing from his pain, Flygon jerks his head around as Golduck strolls over him. An icy mist swirls around his hand. Flygon's eyes waver as sweat drips down the side of his face. Pulling back, Golduck pauses at spotting the empty vial and smirks.

"Was it a potion the whole time?" He chuckles. "Pathetic. But, at least that explains it." Golduck focuses on Flygon, who tries to push himself away. "Now, let's see how much this actually hurts you."

Rearing back further, Golduck then drives forward and slams his frosty fist into Flygon, who screams in agony.

Another punch elicits another scream into the air, as Zoroark slams the ground and unleashes loose another dark burst. Machamp and Politoed back away as it rushes through the snow at them, unable to rush away.

Waiting for it to hit them, the pair blinks as bright wall appears and negates the brunt of the attack. They turn back as Delphox lowers his wand and nods.

Zoroark rushes to Flygon as Weavile nocks an arrow. She fires it out and watches as it shatters against Zoroark, but the illusion fox barely loses momentum.

Breathing in and out again, Weavile crafts another arrow and launches it. Again, it hits, but Zoroark surges forward still. She glances at Carracosta, who pulls back with the tekko on his flippers. Watching Zoroark near them, Weavile slides her hand to the dagger on her belt.

Both knights jump as they watch Politoed fly across the sky and slam Zoroark down. He springs away from the downed fox as Machamp steps over, slamming a fist into Zoroark as he pushes up.

With a grunt, Zoroark slips out a vial, and rolls away from Machamp's next punch. He takes a quick swig to empty the potion's remaining contents. Though Machamp lands another punch, Zoroark pushes himself from the ground.

"Again with this?!"

Machamp pulls back and throws another punch. Zoroark grabs and redirects the knight using his own power against him, throwing him to the ground. Growling, Zoroark lifts his kris dagger.

"I could end you in an instant," threatens the dark fox.

"Not happening." Zoroark flinches as the blade is zapped from his hand. He watches as the fox mage strolls over to him, wand ready. "Shame. Your blade lacks your Psychic resistance."

"You think that I need it?!" Zoroark raises his claw.

"No," interrupts Golduck. "But I know something you do need."

Jerking his head up, Zoroark spins around. His mouth falls open as his eyes trace a sword against Flygon's neck. Golduck lowers his eyes with a dark grin across his bill.

"What's wrong? Weren't you in the middle of an attack?" Golduck barely contains his bubbling laughter as Zoroark falters. "You're more than welcome to follow through. As am I, right?"

"Bastard!"

"Whoops, I think this blade is slipping." Zoroark gasps as Golduck laughs. "Come on, don't you want to see how strong your precious monster's scales are?"

"W-wait a second!" Zoroark lifts his hands into the air. "Easy…don't hurt the dragon, ok? Let's just take a breath," he steps forward, disarmingly, "I'll stop attacking…"

Tightening the grip on his blade, Golduck watches as Zoroark approaches. Carracosta rears back his flipper as Zoroark blitzes at the duck.

Throwing a punch, Zoroark knocks the blade away from Flygon's neck. He then throws another at Golduck as the dragon guards him from the prototurtle's attack.

Golduck fumbles back as his allies swarm the assailing pair. Latching his arms around Zoroark, the dragon leaps into the air, evading an onslaught from Machamp and Politoed.

"Give me a second while I give them a rumble," whispers Flygon to Zoroark.

"A what—?"

Zoroark doesn't finish as Flygon lobs him further into the sky. Exhaling, he sails down to the ground and stomps hard, launching an Earthquake across the snow.

Clouds of snow burst as the ground crackles and ripples toward the Iceberg Knights. Five of them fumble around as they attempt to get away from the oncoming quake.

However, Carracosta runs toward the cracking ground. He slams his flippers to the ground and raises them, along with several layers of ice that block each wave of the Earthquake's tremors.

Mouth agape, Flygon barely manages to lift his arms and catches the plummeting Zoroark.

"It's over," softly realizes Flygon.

As Zoroark climbs from his arms, Politoed leaps forward with an Ice Ball in hand. He slams it into the dragon, and Flygon yelps out as he crashes to the ground.

Shouting, Zoroark pulls his claw, but gasps as a heavy chop hits him in the back. Barely glancing past the corner of his eye, Zoroark manages to spot Machamp as the four-armed knight grabs the fox and throws him down, into the dragon.

"These…damned…frostbitten freaks," manages Zoroark. "We can't…lose…"

"Z-Zoroark." Flygon coughs between pants and Zoroark slides off of him, glancing back at the approaching sextet. "I…I can't…keep up." The dark fox inspects the green dragon's frost coated body, with shards of ice jutting from his shivering chest and droopy tail. "S-Sorry."

"Don't be." Zoroark helps Flygon from the ground as the knights surround them. He exhales and nods. "Let's get out of here."

Beating his wings, Flygon wraps his arms under Zoroark's arms, while he wraps his around Flygon's waist. The dragon bursts from the ground and rockets into the sky, soaring away from the knights.

Weavile pulls back and launches an arrow at the dragon, who manages to spiral away from it. She readies another and narrows her eyes.

"Forget it, Weavile." Delphox rests his hand on her shoulder. "We've won."

"Have we?" She sucks in her cheek and puffs it back out. "They still split us up from the others. We still didn't capture them. They ran us ragged."

"We're alive." Delphox smiles. "They're gone, at least for now. We can call it our win."

Hesitating, Weavile relents and nods, smirking at Delphox. "Yeah, I guess that's the important stuff. Good plan, by the way. Still needs work on our part, but it's a start."

"Yeah, we really came together! Oh, and that was a great Wide Guard you pulled off, Carracosta," compliments Machamp. He softly pats the prototurtle's shoulder and grins.

"Thanks. I forget that it actually has its uses sometimes," admits Carracosta, chuckling. "Glad we're just finally rid of those two cowardly fools."

"Me too," chimes in Politoed. "But I thought Golduck was really going to gut that dragon!"

"It was very tempting," confesses Golduck. "Either way, I enjoyed watching that wicked fox squirm."

"Do you think they were holding back, though?" Politoed folds his arms. "There were a few instances that I'm pretty sure that…Zoroark could have stabbed one of us and ended the fight like that. Even if they wanted to capture us, they didn't need to keep all of us alive." He glances around at his unnerved allies and tilts his head. "Is that a little too crazy? Am I over thinking it?"

"Truthfully, probably not." Machamp shrugs. "But, I'd rather not focus on that."

"He's right," agrees Delphox. "What's important now is that we work on finding the others as quickly as possible. Machamp?"

"Hm? Oh, right, Alakazam." Inhaling, Machamp raises one hand and lightly touches his head. Slowly, he exhales and shuts his eyes. "Give me a minute or two."

"Just tell your not boyfriend to hurry it up," grumbles Golduck, rubbing his cheek.

Weavile and Politoed sink to the ground and sigh. Carracosta and Delphox quietly exchange a nod before surveying the open, icy landscape around them.


[Elsewhere]

Snow crunches beneath the knights' feet as they wander across the Frozen Fields. Mienshao lets his sleeves drag against the ground a bit before lifting them back up, and Delibird wipes the snow tracks. Poliwrath glances around the area, spotting glaciers and icy walls in the distance around them.

Froslass floats up in front of the knight's face, interrupting his observation. "See anything you like?"

"Honestly, Froslass, I don't have time for trickery right now."

"That didn't answer my question."

"And you're not getting one."

"It doesn't take a lot to pay a female a nice compliment, you know," taunts the ghostly mage. "But fine, I'll leave you be. For now."

"Hope we can leave here soon." Quagsire yawns. "I'm a…little hungry, and getting sleepy again."

"No sleeping out here," orders Poliwrath. "We don't want to freeze. Or, more likely, get lost…forever."

"And I thought it was between Weavile and Carracosta for the bleakest knight," mutters Mienshao.

"Delibird, don't you know your way around most places?" Froslass sways over to the short penguin. "You are the one that delivers most messages for us."

"When I explore known routes, yes," corrects Delibird, twisting his bag-like tail around. "We're out in these fields; I don't know backwards from forwards out here."

"Couldn't you…figure it out?" Quagsire yawns again. "You're also pretty…good at that. Plotting…new paths…"

"Right, but again, that's when I'm familiar with the environment. The Frozen Fields are uncharted and specifically left alone."

"Let's not focus too much on not knowing this place," suggests Mienshao. "We're here now, so we are literally in the unknown. We might as well make the best of it and make sure we complete our mission."

"She's right!" Poliwrath places his hands on his hips and nods. He pauses as Mienshao darkly glares at him. "That is…uh…he's right!" A nervous chuckle escapes him. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it," grumbles Mienshao. "That's only the fourth or fifth time this week alone. I'm already losing track of it myself."

"Um…doubly sorry."

"Again, I'm used to it." Mienshao sharply exhales and shrugs. "At least I have a friend that can relate to that now."

"So…let's go find that prophet!" Froslass twirls around. "Or…uh…a way out? …Which is our main objective?"

"What we need to do is get back with our group already!"

The others halt and turn back to Alakazam, who hastily brushes his mustache as he paces. They exchange expressions of apprehension and bafflement with one another before returning to watching him.

"Uh…Alakazam?" Poliwrath steps forward a bit. "You ok? You seem a little…jumpy."

"Do I?!" The mage yanks on his mustache and grits his teeth. "None of you seem as concerned about this."

"We are, just…staying focused." Poliwrath shrugs. "It's not like we're not worried about the others. I, uh, I may not be my brother's best friend, but…I don't like being totally cut off from him, especially in this kind of environment."

"You don't understand!" Alakazam shakes his head. "I can feel Machamp taking more hits than he should be, and he's grown more exhausted the longer we've stayed apart. The others are definitely in need of our help!"

"Uh…you can what?"

"They're connected from their trade evolution," explains Froslass. "Trade evolutions share bonded traits with one another, in some capacity or another. Depending upon relations between the pair, they can have just a brief bond, or one that changes them for life." She smiles softly. "I don't think we need to go over which one Alakazam falls under, do we?"

"Never got trades," mutters Poliwrath. "Guess that never helped with Politoed…"

"So then," intervenes Mienshao, "can you use that to guide Machamp back to us? A leaf guided by the wind, ah…ok, I can't really think of a clever little proverb right now, but it would be great if you could."

"That's what I'm trying to do!" Alakazam wildly scratches his head, and then slowly drags his hands down over his face. "But I can't keep a long enough connection with him, and every time he takes one hit too many, his ruptured energy bursts interrupt my concentration and we can't properly establish a link! And this just keeps happening, so they are clearly in dire need of our help!"

"Yikes, calm down, Alakazam," urges Delibird, against Alakazam's protesting groans. "I'm sure they're fine. Golduck is with them, along with Delphox and Carracosta. If anything, I'd be more worried about us."

"Well, on that much, I can agree."

Halting, the sextet exchange unnerved expressions with one another. They turn their gaze upon the fields around them, only finding that there are mounds of snow, walls of ice, and glaciers in scattered positions around them.

Laughter rings out all around them. "Sorry, I'm sorry…this is just so terribly enjoyable, watching everyone freak out."

Touching his head lightly, Alakazam turns and scans the area around them. His eyes glow briefly, but soon fade. "Glacier to the right, he's behind it."

"Oh boo, are you a Psychic?" Lucario emerges from behind the glacier that Alakazam called out. "And that much more of a head case than the fox mage, no less."

"Why don't we find out who the real headache is?" Alakazam slides out his spoons and narrows his gaze to the opposing warrior.

"Alakazam, hold," interrupts Mienshao. "Perhaps he can still be reasoned with."

"Yeah, Alakazam," laughs Lucario. "Listen to the lady, will you?"

"…I take it back." Mienshao flipped his sleeves up, revealing his kabutowari. "Let's bury him once and for all."

"Do try."

Together, Mienshao and Alakazam charge forward. Waiting, Lucario smirks and raises his hand.

A pillar of snow bursts up and blasts Alakazam skyward. Mienshao skids to a halt and rolls aside, dodging the next snow geyser.

Undeterred, Lucario waves his hand, causing snow to quickly drift from under Mienshao. The ermine falls over and slams into the ground, groaning.

"Cute tricks, but that's nothing." Lucario turns to find Froslass drift up to him. "Ready for a real magic show?"

"Now, now," taunts Lucario. "A good magician saves his best tricks up for a proper finale." He catches sight of her icicle staff and laughs. "And look at you, still channeling magic through a wand. Adorable."

"Oh, it's not for lack of experience," giggles Froslass. Her eyes darken as she lowers the staff. "It's to balance my strength."

Raising her hand, a purple spell forms as she swirls it around. Lucario rolls his eyes, but soon glances down to find the snow freezing around his legs.

"…Well played."

Froslass jabs her fist forward, and the spell sails at Lucario. He dips his body sideways, evading her attack.

Frowning, she spins her specter around and floats closer to Lucario. He winks at her, a fireball in hand.

"Just not well enough, huh?"

Blasting the ice around his legs, Lucario tumbles away and launches an Aura Sphere at Froslass, knocking her away.

Still on the ground, Lucario gazes up to see a sai stabbing down at him. He rolls aside and sweeps at Poliwrath's legs, knocking the frog to his level.

"Feeling down, are you?" Lucario smirks as he rises. "How unfortunate."

Constructing a bone-shaped club, Lucario spins it around and whacks Poliwrath head-on. The frog drops his sai and clutches his body with a wheezing grunt.

"Gracious, you'd better get that checked out."

"Well, I think I've got just the thing!"

Blinking, Lucario turns around as a glowing white orb lands into one of his hands. He tilts his head before the ball bursts and blasts him away, into an iceberg.

Delibird shuffles forward and readies another Present as Lucario slides back to the ground with a growl.

"Do you need some yourself?" He lifts the orb with a grin. "Because I've got plenty right here."

"That façade is unlikely to fool anyone, you realize."

"Ha, you think—"

Before Delibird can even collect his thoughts, Lucario zips over with his club. The penguin stumbles back as Lucario quickly hammers the club over his opponent's head.

Wailing, Delibird drops his Present and clutches his head. Spinning around him, Lucario lifts the club back and slams it into Delibird's back, launching him at the same iceberg the jackal hit.

Slipping down from it, Delibird moans and drops his head. He gawks upon spotting his Present, which explodes and buries the penguin into the iceberg.

"Huh. A charming bonus," notes Lucario, resting a hand on his hip. "Now, where was I…?"

"Hmm…six feet under."

Glancing over his shoulder, Lucario spirals around to dodge Quagsire's katars, but takes a harsh blow from the knight's tail.

Skidding back, Lucario back flips away from another katar swipe. He raises an eyebrow as the salamander follows through with the attack and buries his blade into the ground.

"…Oh, you're trying to launch an Earthquake, I get it now." Lucario chuckles. "Clever, aren't you?"

"On a good day."

"Guess this wouldn't be one."

Digging his bone into the ground, Lucario vaults himself into the air and twirls over Quagsire. Halting his attack, Quagsire turns around in time to watch an Aura Sphere hit him directly.

Bouncing off of a wall, Lucario lands and rolls along the ground. Snow splashes up as Quagsire falls over, as Lucario dives on top of him.

He punches the salamander across the face three times, each blow with more strength than the last. Kicking off from Quagsire, Lucario blasts him again with an Aura Sphere, burying the knight into the ground.

"Next time, you'll need to properly back up your back talk."

A white glow coats Lucario's hand as he waves it back and forth. The ground crumples around Quagsire as he the snow and ice buries him beneath the earth.

Squinting, Lucario seals the snow and ice around Quagsire, leaving just a small hole open near his face.

"Sporting chance," mocks Lucario.

"Oh, yours?"

Heavily sighing, Lucario sidesteps Mienshao's swipe with his kabutowari. Quickly, Lucario strikes Mienshao's arm, forcing the ermine to drop his weapon.

His eyes widen upon spotting a menacing smile from Mienshao, as if releasing the weapon had been his plan.

Pulling his arm back, Mienshao whips Lucario harshly across the face. He follows up immediately with his other hand, whipping Lucario in the stomach and forcing the warrior to double over.

"My, my," laughs Mienshao. "And here I thought I had a delicate touch."

He pulls his arms back once again and hammers forward with his long whip-like fur, striking Lucario to the ground.

"Alakazam, go!"

Forcing his eyes open, Lucario struggles to rise back up. Alakazam teleports behind him as his eyes glow a soft blue.

"Guess I really am the headache." He lightly touches his head, and Lucario shouts out. Telepathically, he adds in, That makes you the head case, however.

Lucario howls as he clouds his head with aura, to no avail. He blinks and stares at a tall reptilian figure with green, armor-like skin.

"Use whatever means necessary, Lucario," rings out a sturdy, yet feminine voice.

"You know that I will," agrees Lucario's voice, "but only by my hand, madam. With proper restraint."

"Restraint like yours needs to be unshackled. You could be a true leader that way."

Alakazam chuckles. The Mountains Queen herself, huh?

"Stay away from my mind!"

Growling, Lucario swipes behind him with his club, to which Alakazam easily sidesteps. He bends one of his spoons over Lucario and digs it into the aura around the jackal's head, taking a bit of it away.

"She sent you on a mission here, and big surprise, it is related to the prophet."

"You know nothing!"

No…it appears that you don't.

"May we have more information, My Queen?" Lucario's voice is slightly unsteady. "We could find it useful. More than just a meager box would be helpful."

"Everything you need to know has already been discussed," reminds the Queen's voice.

"Get out of my head, sorcerer!"

Lucario growls and shakes his head wildly about, his eyes aglow bright blue. Alakazam flinches as he continues to concentrate on Lucario's mind.

"My, my, she hasn't explained much of anything to you, has she?" Alakazam wags his finger disapprovingly. "Such a shame. I would have thought she would have explained this whole debacle through properly."

"She did, or what we needed…hey! Get out!"

Lighting his hand, Lucario slings a spell back and fires it at Alakazam. The mage leaps aside, but loses his concentration.

"Mienshao!"

"On it!"

Spiraling around in a twisted leap, Mienshao whips his arms around and slams down at Lucario.

Rolling away, Lucario manages to evade the first strike. However, as the second comes crashing down, he jumps up and latches onto it.

"Wait, what?!"

"Ooh, these are nice and soft," purrs Lucario. "A pity."

He tugs Mienshao forward, forcing the knight into a stumble. Lucario releases one hand from the fur and fires another spell back at Alakazam, who catches it with his spoons.

"Taking far too long, my good sire," jeers Lucario.

Turning back to the struggling Mienshao, Lucario's arms glow in an orange light as he lifts his opponent into the air. Quickly, he pulls down, slamming Mienshao into the ground, with a burst of snow erupting around him.

"Easily managed." Lucario steps around and readies to block a spell. He lowers his hand and backs up a step as Poliwrath and Froslass guard Alakazam. "…Ah."

"Ugh, even he needs to learn how to really compliment a lady," grumbles Froslass. "Honestly, doesn't anyone teach a knight etiquette anymore?"

"…Technically, I'm not a knight," corrects Lucario.

"We apologize," mocks Poliwrath, pounding his fist into his palm. "In a second, though, you'll be even less than nothing."

He pulls back his fist as Lucario rapidly unsheathes his sword. Poliwrath winks as the jackal stumbles back again.

A purple spell blasts the warrior back and crashing against the snow on the ground. He skids to a stop as Froslass jabs her rod forward, with a dark purple wind billowing from behind her and into Lucario.

Each gust of wind strikes Lucario and knocks him back further, forcing him to slice aimlessly with his sword to propel himself forward again. Reaching the ghostly mage, he strikes down with his blade, which she guards with her staff.

"Admirable, but pointless."

"Um…that was my line," mutters Lucario.

Abruptly, a sharp pain rises as he is flung back and away from Froslass. Staggering back, Lucario manages to look up as Poliwrath hammers forward with his heavy fist again, smashing the jackal back and into a wall again.

"Should I keep going?"

"As much as I'd enjoy allowing it, I must implore you to desist." Alakazam stepped forward. Straightening up, he turns to Poliwrath. "Um, that means you stop."

"Yeah, I know," snaps Poliwrath. "I'm tough, not stupid."

"Oh, right, of course." Alakazam clears his throat. "Excuse me."

Tapping his hands to his head, the mage's eyes glow blue once again, and Lucario howls once more as he grasps his head.

"N-no, get away from there!"

"Beg pardon, but I am far too curious about your motivation." Alakazam tapped into Lucario's mind once more, with a soft glow over both of their eyes. "Just what is it that makes you so…?"

A scream rings out, and for a moment, only Alakazam and Lucario stand around. Alakazam blinks and suddenly finds himself in a craggy environment, with gray and brown stones surrounding him. A small village burns behind Lucario as the jackal grabs at his ears.

"What the…?"

Softly, a silver bell drops in front of Lucario, letting out a soft ring. He gasps and grabs at it, unable to pick it up from the ground.

"No…no…please…!"

Blinking, Alakazam backs away as Lucario lifts his head, scowling directly at the mage. Tugging on his mustache, Alakazam glances around at his comrades in the frosty fields once again, who tilt their heads in confusion at their astonished ally.

"Just what—?"

"Never. AGAIN!"

Lucario dives forward and tackles Alakazam into the ground. He raises a fireball above his head and launches it down as they slide back, missing Alakazam's head.

"Blasted telepaths like you deserve no mercy for trifling like that!"

Consumed with a raging aura, blue flames burst from around Lucario as Alakazam stops skidding and backs away.

"You should die…you deserve it…you do…!"

"…Then what are you waiting for?"

Panting, Lucario fixates his glare on Alakazam, who observes the warrior. A spell materializes in his hand as he pulls it back.

A icy gust blows over Lucario's hand, which drops behind him in a case of ice. Fumbling, Lucario falls back as the enraged aura around him dissipates.

"Poliwrath, end it."

An Ice Ball in hand, Poliwrath slams down and punches it through Lucario. The ball shatters and Lucario gasps as the punch follows through into his gut.

Pulling back his fist again, Poliwrath prepares to hammer down once more, but Lucario grasps his blade. Jabbing back, he punches the hilt into Poliwrath, forcing the knight to stagger back.

Froslass floats over and aims her staff as Alakazam rises with his spoons. Quickly, Lucario launches himself up with a burst of snow, jumping back and spinning around.

He swings at Froslass, which she blocks the blow. However, Lucario quickly jumps off from his attack and strikes at her again, swinging up and knocking her back.

With his free hand, Lucario creates a red ball of magic and presses it into Froslass. She wheezes as it bursts, and Froslass flies back from the warrior, who dives away from Alakazam's Psybeam.

Heavily breathing, Lucario hesitates and glares at Alakazam. The mage pauses as well, before straightening up again.

"So, it's answers that you seek," muses Alakazam. "And your Queen keeps those from you."

"She's not 'my' Queen," snarls Lucario. "And you know nothing."

"I know that you're in pain." Alakazam lowers his arms and slides his spoons behind his waist garments. "Please, I'm certain that we can—"

"Don't!" Lucario fires a spell, which sails past Alakazam and crashes into an iceberg behind him, shattering it. "Stay away from me…!"

"You can't run from that, Lucario."

"I'm not running."

"But you want—"

"What I want is for you to stay out of my head, and either fight me, or let me go."

"Please, I understand the agony that you're—"

"Choose!"

Lucario points his blade forward, waiting for Alakazam to strike. The mage waits, lowering his shoulders.

Swiftly, Lucario spins around and blocks a swing from Froslass's staff. Poliwrath punches at him again, which Lucario barely blocks and skids back from.

Glancing back once more at Alakazam, the warrior blasts the ground around him, with a burst of snow and ice splashing away from him. Alakazam barely makes out the sight of the jackal launching himself into the air and onto a cliff above a tall wall, running across it and away from the field.

"What did you see, Alakazam?" Froslass glides over to him, swaying lightly as she fixates on him. "His mind, what did he know?"

"Not what I expected," murmurs Alakazam. He rubs his head and shakes it. "There's a box that belongs to the prophet, Lucario has a shaky tie to the Mountains Monarchy, or uh, Queendom, and they were sent to do more than just capture the prophet for themselves, but…" He sighs. "Not even Lucario is completely aware of it. And according to his own mind, he's the one on top of their mission."

"So…who cares?" Poliwrath shrugs. "That doesn't seem to help us out much, and he still tried to kill you, right?"

"I…" Alakazam scratches his head and tugs on his mustache. "Well, yes…"

"Worry not, Alakazam." The mage perks up and turns to Mienshao, who guides Delibird to a hole in the ground. "You just discovered a lot at once. He's not one to be trusted, being the enemy."

"No. He could kill." Alakazam nods. "The strength and resolve were definitely in him."

"We just didn't him the chance," murmurs Delibird as he pulls out another Present. "Good on us."

Plopping it down, he and Mienshao back away as the orb blows up, knocking the snow away. Quagsire flails his arms around, throwing away piles of snow that he was digging at.

"Is it…already over?"

"For now," confirms Poliwrath. "I imagine this still isn't the last we'll see of that lunatic, though."

"Definitely not," agrees Alakazam. "And…" He pauses and grasps at his head, wordless muttering to himself. Picking up, he beams and glances back to his friends. "It's Machamp! I can hear him! He's ok!"

"Perfect!" Mienshao applauds with his floppy arms. "And the others?"

"H-hang on, I…I'll see if we can keep our connection. It won't last long, but…I've got it."

Tightly, Alakazam clings to his head, while Froslass pats Poliwrath. Mienshao and Delibird help Quagsire from the hole, as the salamander yawns.


[Afterwards]

Flygon soars across the chilling sky, shivering as the cold air hits across his body. He spits of a fireball into the sky, letting it sail off.

Zoroark rubs the dragon's back as he descends, landing in the middle of several sharp icebergs. Groaning, Flygon's arms slip away from Zoroark as he sinks to the ground.

"Are you going to make it, baby?" Zoroark lightly pats the dragon, pulling out and flipping through a crimson tome.

"Maybe. I didn't think we'd be out here this long." Flygon shakes as he folds his arms and wraps his tail around his waist. "This was supposed to be much easier, dealing with them."

"True, and yet, we did manage, in spite of the odds." Zoroark backs into Flygon, pushing his mane into the dragon. "Any good?"

"A little. Thank you."

"My pleasure." Zoroark winks, shuts his tome, and backs closer into Flygon. "Perhaps Lucario is still handling his targets."

"Do you think he could even see the flare?" Flygon shudders, gripping at Zoroark's mane. "I'm not sure that was the best idea in meeting up."

"Remember that he has a tracing spell on our equipment." He smirks and tugs Flygon closer into him. "The Queen and our mages made sure we come back together, at the least."

"At least they prepared us for that," mumbles Flygon. "I wish someone else was in charge of intelligence on them, too. It was a lot for us to undertake." He nuzzles Zoroark, pushing past the mane and against the fox's head. "You must have been lonely, working your way up there."

"All better now," whispers Zoroark, sliding his hands back across Flygon's waist. "Maybe Lucario will take some time finding us. And we do need to warm you up."

"Yes please."

"So, let's." Zoroark grins and turns to Flygon, sliding his hands up from the dragon's waist, slowly guiding them back down. "Ready for me?"

Smirking, Flygon slides his tail past Zoroark and rubs it behind the fox. He pulls Zoroark closer and his smile broadens. "Always."

"None of that now, boys."

Rolling his eyes and huffing, Zoroark slips his hands away from Flygon as the dragon burrows his face into the fox's mane. Lucario strolls between the icebergs, squeezing into the circle with his allies.

"Did you manage to get anything from them?" Zoroark's grin drops as Lucario stares quietly at him. "No, huh?"

"You have a few candidates for who you want to use." Lucario shrugs and leans back against the nearest glacier. "Though, I take it you found one of your own as well."

"They have a fox mage, so that should be a clear fit." Zoroark sighs and shakes his head. "But that damned duck…do you know that he actually threatened Flygon's life? What kind of a sick monster actually does that?"

"A kind that gets the job done." Lucario watches as Zoroark scowls at him. "Oh, what? You expected me to sympathize more?"

"Just a tiny bit, yes," snaps Zoroark. "They held a sword to his neck and everything."

"War isn't pretty, Zoroark."

"Yes, but…he did it because he knew it would…"

"Get to you?"

"…Right."

"Again—"

"Same thing, it's war, I got it." Zoroark turns back to Flygon, who still quivers from the cold air. "We finished our potions, so…can we at least get out of here?"

"Certainly." Lucario nods and pushes away from the glacier. "That tracing spell combined with my aura will run out in another few hours, so we'll need to move quickly."

"Does…do I have to fly again?" Flygon droops and shivers harder. "I-I don't know if I can, honestly."

"Actually, it shouldn't be too far, since the glow gets brighter when we're closer." Lucario digs past his armor and pulls out a soundless silver bell on a necklace. A soft green light glows around it. "See? It's brighter as we near it." He pulls out a pouch, which has a much brighter orange glow to it. "That one led me back to you two."

"Wait, you…used the bell?" Flygon shook his head. "You even brought the bell?"

"It goes everywhere with me," murmurs Lucario. "And I would never let it out of my sight."

"Of course, it's a perfect choice, just…well, I, uh," stammers the dragon. "I-I didn't really expect you to actually…use it for this."

"This bell is precious, not without uses," amends Lucario. "I knew we needed to bring things that we wouldn't lose." His comrades nod, but wait silently for a minute. Another minute passes before Flygon sneezes. "That should be our cue to get moving."

"Lucario?"

"Answer's still no." He turns and checks the bell, waiting for the glow to pick up slightly. "Let's move. We need to report to the Queen."

"We were going to ask why you're still doing all of this," interrupts Zoroark. "We're not exactly the Queen's knights, but…you make that point very clear to everyone."

"You already know that I'm not good with being tethered."

"So why—?"

"That's also not being explored, pal." Lucario glances back to the couple. "Are we going to wait until this runs out, or are we moving?"

Flygon and Zoroark exchange pitful expressions with one another before rising and following Lucario from the glacier circle. They watch as he shakes the bell slightly, intentionally, as he points it around, guiding them from the Frozen Fields.

A tear escapes Lucario's eye as foreign, ancient laughter echoes in his mind.


[Greninja]

The sun had disappeared over an hour ago, as storm clouds had rolled in. At first, just a few more flakes than before began to cascade down lightly. After that, however, a blizzard of flurries rolled in and obscured the world around us.

A surge of snow billows in a swirl of wind and buffets my face, as I stagger back a bit. Chesnuaght groans, his body icy from the climate, and mine no better. He was relying on me at this point, barely walking as I guided him around, most of his body draped across my back.

Wiping my face, I stepped forward, but Chesnaught slipped down my back slightly. Bumping him up, I tried again, but again, he slid down, anchoring me with him.

"Come on, Chesnaught," I urged. "Just a little more. You can rest later, I'm sure we'll find somewhere in just a few minutes."

"Too…c-cold…" His weight dragged me lower to the ground. "C-C-Can't…so-sorry…"

His breath slowed and he sank down, pulling us down. He slumped over and I tugged at him, to no avail.

Touching at his chest past his armor, I panicked over the lacking response. I gripped my hand around his wrist and waited.

First, I was left with nothing. Then, a soft, steady pulse briefly calmed me.

Shooting up, I cupped my hands around my mouth. As loud as I could muster, I bellowed out, "Someone! If you're out there, please! HELP!"

A coughing fit overtook me and I sank back down beside Chesnaught. Glancing around the Frozen Fields, all I could see was the blizzard billow around us, with just snow to make up the ground that was near and visible.

It was delusional to think any of my friends could hear that. They were far from us, and we had drifted even further away trying to make our way for shelter. No one else would be out here, as anyone foolish enough to stray this far would likely be dead. And the crushing realization swept in:

We would die here.

Turning, I glanced at Chesnaught, who was completely still. Was he already leaving? I wrapped myself around him. This wasn't even close to my mind on how we would end our journey. Would he even hear me whisper my last words of love to him?

How can I possibly make this count?

…His body shuddered and rose up. My eyes widened, and I was afraid that I would be too late. It lowered as he let out a chilled breath, still shaking.

Waiting a minute, tears welled up in my eyes. His body rose again, paused, and then fell again.

No. I refuse to let him die like this.

Forcing myself to my knees, I picked Chesnaught up and wrapped him around my back. Taking all of his weight up was difficult, but as my knees buckled, I gripped tightly to him and stood back on my feet.

"Not yet," I whispered to him. "Just stay with me, a little longer at least."

Another breath came from him, and sent a chill down my spine. We're still alive.

Stomping forward, his weight dragged me down once again. I groaned and quaked beneath him, but grunted and stood back up. Again, I stepped forward, carrying him. Another step, followed by another, and one more…

Soon, I was able to keep walking, half carrying and half dragging Chesnaught with me. And I chanted to myself, I can do this. I know I can.

But after another minute of staggering forward, Chesnaught slipped from behind me. I tried to bump him back up, but his weight pulled me back to the ground, harder this time.

Even with myself tangled up, even with Chesnaught around me, I shuddered and quaked. Chesnaught's breathing had weakened, and his latest breath barely brushed against me.

He's dying. We're dying.

Such a thought should have given me the strength to rise again, but I couldn't. Every part of my mind screamed, Stand up! Save him! Save yourself!

…But I couldn't. My own body was too heavy to lift anymore. The wind howled and the blizzard kicked up, with the snowfall increasing in volume.

It would bury us. We were literally prepared for our graves, out here in this blizzard. Out in the cold, frozen world, this…this would be it for us.

And I turned to Chesnaught, with my mouth opened. I leaned in and forced my lips against his forehead. Not really a kiss, not the passion I wanted, but…it beat leaving him with nothing.

…This…would be…it.

My shoulders…sank. My vision…failed. I curled into…Chesnaught…once more. I wanted to…believe that…we weren't dying out…in the cold. Just…watching…a new snowfall. Peace…fully…together. And…he's tired…so he fell…fast asleep. And I…am sleepy too.

The world…dims around me. I catch a…white…it's snow…but that's…approaching…? Walk…it's walking? Or…drifting…

It's…some…cloaked…hand…reaching…

My eyes snapped open from the darkness and I gasped. I stared forward at a cackling fire before me.

Impossible.

Touching myself, my skin was still chilled, but had warmed up significantly from earlier. Was…was it still earlier? …Was I even alive?

Blinking, I stared around me. Cavern. The walls were jagged, icy covered rocks, but they surrounded us. Further ahead was the mouth of the cave, and the storm raged on. I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. Forcing them open, I was met with the same view.

Whirling around, I spotted Chesnaught immediately next to me. My hands flew out to touch him, patting around him. Real. Solid. But was he…?

"Chesnaught?" I shook him. "Chesnaught, please."

Nothing. Eyes wavering, I shook him harder, more forcefully.

"Please, just get up already…!"

"…Five…more…minutes…"

He groaned and rolled a bit. Throwing myself into him, I wrapped my arms around him, tightly embracing him, and kissed at his head. His body rumbled with a soft laughter and he leaned into me.

"What'd I do to earn that wake up call?" He yawned and I squeezed tighter. "Greninja?"

"You're alive." I nearly sobbed. "I thought…I thought we wouldn't…"

"W-wait." He pulled back and stared at me. "You mean that really…" Shaking his head, he gazed past me, then up, and around. "…Where are we? Did you find this place?"

"No, it…it wasn't me." I shook my head slowly. "Not unless I can suddenly sleepwalk and masterfully explore the terrain with my eyes closed."

"Then you…we both…Greninja, I'm sorry." He wrapped himself around me again. "You could have died too…that would have been my fault."

"This isn't even close to being your fault," I reassured as I pulled back from him, still with my arms around his sides. "I'm just glad that we made it…"

"But…who…how—?"

"Oh, you are both awake!"

Jumping, we whirled around to the cave's entrance, where a white-cloaked figure appeared before us. He took a few steps into the cave, and flipped off his cowl, revealing a grayish white head with…odd shaped ears, purple eyes, and a feline-like face, seemingly pleased at our recovery judging by the soft smile. Behind him was a long, purple tail that flowed leisurely, back and forth. Someone the likes of that I've never seen before, certainly.

"My apologies for leaving you two alone," murmured the hoodless figure. "I was unsure of when you would wake, so I imagined I had more time to myself."

"Who…who are you?"

"I am…not certain, of what my name was supposed to be, in all honesty," he admitted. "What I was called and the only name I know myself by is Mewtwo."

Chesnaught and I exchanged shocked expressions before turning back to the patient Mewtwo. The wind howled outside behind where he stood, as the blizzard raged on.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

For a moment, we quietly watched the cloaked figure before us, who glanced back outside and scratched behind his head. There was an odd…appendage that connected the rear of his head, past his neck, and to the top of his back.

"This storm grows stronger," he called over the next howl from the wind. "We will need to stay inside until it passes."

Chesnaught and I watched as the…Mewtwo moved further into the cave. He seemed to be caught between walking and…floating, taking one step, gliding a bit, and then down for another step.

"Forgive me for shouting," he murmured in a deep, soft voice, serene in spite of the world around him. Mewtwo smiled as he sat beside us, hovering a bit over the ground for a moment. "Ah." He allowed his body to drift down, against the floor like us. A slight shiver crept across him as he shuddered a bit, but the calm smile remained. Even seated, he almost towered over Chesnaught, more than a foot taller than him, and more so than I. "Are either of you well or ill? You were out there for a while, I would imagine."

"Oh, uh, we're…we'll be fine," managed Chesnaught, still in awe. "Um…thank you."

"Yes, thank you for rescuing us." I forced a beam of my own, though concentrated on his purple eyes. They held a focused, yet soothing, gaze, surveying both of us before him. "How did you manage to find us?"

"It was you, I believe." Mewtwo nodded. "Yes, your voice sounds like the one I heard cry out for help."

"You…actually heard that?"

"Barely, but yes." He sighed and let his shoulders drop. "It was also difficult to find you at first, as I was unable to trace any thoughts from either of you, but I managed to locate you from a distance, along with a little assistance to interrupt the weather."

A breeze drifted into the cave, to which Mewtwo turned and lifted his right hand. A faint violet glow surrounded it, and it coated the walls of the cavern. Two layers of ice rumbled and slowly emerged from the walls, creating a door to close us inside of the cave. He turned back and waved his left hand, creating a burst of life back into the dwindling fire. Mewtwo smirked a bit as he rubbed his three balled fingers together, pleased.

Chesnaught excitedly reached over and shook me by the shoulder. I glanced at him as he grinned.

"We did it!" He clasped his hands together and leaned forward. "Ah, M-Mewtwo, this is perfect! Once the storm lets up, we need you to come back with us!"

"Well…I suppose I should escort you from this part of the land, yes," agreed Mewtwo. "It is rather dangerous for you two to be out here."

"No, no, we know that," clarified Chesnaught, "but we would really appreciate it if you came back with us, to our palace."

"…Oh, you mean…the one by the icy plateau…" Mewtwo stiffened slightly, and his expression became disheartened.

"Right, that's the one!"

"Wait, Chesnaught." I placed my hand onto his arm, and he jerked back before turning to me, baffled. Slightly, I shook my head. "You've been there before, right, Mewtwo?"

"More than once, though not quite inside." He shook his head. "They have hunted me there, and around the…city, I believe it is called." Mewtwo slumped a bit, clearly bothered from his previous experiences. "Your attire makes more sense now. Both of you are soldiers from the palace."

"Correct, but we're not quite from there originally," I explained. "We came from another kingdom to help them."

"Assist in my capture, is it?" Mewtwo brought his arms up and hugged himself together. "Very well. I suppose it was impossible to evade them forever."

"Evade?" Chesnaught tilted his head. "Weren't you stealing food and supplies from the city?"

"Never that much, but…yes." His frown and figure drooped as he deflated. "It is difficult to survive out here. I made sure that it was not food that someone else needed, just enough to keep myself filled. And just a few supplies when I needed them, but nothing that could not be replaced." He sank lower to the ground, letting his head drop as well. "That does not excuse my actions, but I…did not know what else to do."

"Come in and introduce yourself?" Chesnaught shrugged. "That would be a little more…well, I guess, uh—"

"I am afraid that I do not socialize very well." He glanced up at us. "I cannot even remember the last time I spoke with someone else." He returned his gaze to the fire, as it cackled lightly. "Perhaps it…is because I find others…difficult to trust."

"Yet," I spoke up, "you rescued us, without hesitation?"

"If I had not, you most likely would have died." He slowly shook his head. "I have found a corpse before, and it is unpleasant to feel the last bit of heat drift from the body. It made me wonder if I could have been faster, if I had noticed sooner…" He shuddered and sighed. "My apologies. That is besides the point." Mewtwo picked his head back up and stared at us. "Will you…is there a way…what will happen to me?"

"Uh." Chesnaught blinked. "Shouldn't you be able to tell us?"

"Do you not hail from the palace? Would you not know it better than I?"

"As far as I know," I intervened, "they just want you at the palace to keep you from being taken away by another monarchy." I folded my arms and studied the fire myself, watching the flames gently dance around. "I know that the emperor does not want to harm you."

"…No?" I picked my head up again. He held his stare, slightly narrowed, notably unconvinced. "A ruler, not interested in punishing a criminal?"

"He's more interested in your powers than in persecuting you."

"…Of course." Mewtwo folded his arms as well, his eyes lowered. "Naturally, a monarch only seeks more power."

"Not all of them are like that," cut in Chesnaught. "I can speak for the king from my former kingdom, he's…well, he's not power hungry."

"All those in positions of power only thirst for more," argued Mewtwo.

"Maybe you're right," I conceded. "But it is crucial that we keep you from meeting the wrong ruler. Your power is capable of destroying the world."

"It…is?" Mewtwo's eyes widened and he dropped his arms to the ground, pushing back a bit. "But…how?"

"Don't you know?" Chesnaught folded his arms as I released mine. "Are you unaware of what you can do?"

"Perhaps, as I am still learning," admitted Mewtwo. "But…I did not realize that I was capable of destroying the entire world. Are you certain?"

"We…well, you have great power." Chesnaught pointed at the icy door by the cave's mouth. "It's not exactly normal that someone could do that. We can't."

"There is truth to that, but…I am not alone in that ability." Mewtwo frowned again. "There are others that use magic, are there not?"

"Yes, there are, and those that use telekinesis like yourself," I concurred. "But you're capable of more than just that."

"I…I do know that my capacity for my abilities is greater still." His body deflated again. "This does not mean…I cannot be responsible for…"

"Not yet you're not," soothed Chesnaught. "That's the point. We're hoping to keep you safe from that future."

"Future?"

"Yeah, you're associated with that, right?"

"We all are."

"True, but there is more that can learn about your abilities, and become more powerful yourself?" Chesnaught shook his head. "You have extraordinary, and unique, powers, right?"

"I…suppose?"

"So…you, you're…the prophet?"

"The what?"

Mewtwo blinked and gazed at us with more confusion than before. Chesnaught raised an eyebrow and turned to me, and I rested my hand on his leg, turning back to our rescuer.

"Can you see into the future, at will?" I pulled my hand from Chesnaught and pressed it against my free hand, studying Mewtwo.

"No, I…that sounds familiar, but I cannot do that."

"Wait, what?" Chesnaught's arms dropped. "You can't even read the future yet?"

"Am I…supposed to be able to?"

"If you were who we believed you to be, then yes." I watched as Chesnaught's mouth dropped open next. "You…can't see the future, or predict outcomes?"

"Not that I am aware of." Mewtwo paused for a moment and then perked up again, smiling with a renewed interest. "Oh, I understand now. You mean the seer."

"Um…yeah, that's another name for it," relented Chesnaught.

"My apologies, that's the only name I know that one by," explained Mewtwo. "The seer is…capable of even more extraordinary feats than I am. The seer can see into the future and determine various kinds of outcomes, from simple decision making of another being to the probable conclusion of a war that has not even started."

"Yes, that's…exactly what we know," muttered Chesnaught.

"Then…all you know is what we know," I realized.

"I suppose so. The only thing that I know is that the seer and I are linked, not by gifts of future sight, but…something else." He sighed. "I do not know what that is, though. I used to have a box of items, and it…I am not certain of how to explain it, but I thought there was a connection between us through the contents of that box."

"Box?" Chesnaught scratched his head. "Greninja, does that…haven't we heard about that before?"

"Right, it's something…" I paused and thought back for a moment. "…The empire has it. That box must be in the palace."

"Your emperor has it?" Mewtwo folded his arms, and tilted his head. "It is mine, as far as I am aware. I took it everywhere with me."

"Apparently, you're not the only thief," joked Chesnaught. "They must have found it after you dropped it, or something, right?"

"I…do recall losing it, while fleeing from guards with firewood." He pointed at a stack just a few feet away from us, a little further into the cave. "They must have given it to your emperor."

"Maybe that box is key in solving how you relate to the pro…seer," I suggested. "We can't convince you to return with us, but—"

"We promise that we'll do everything in our power to protect you, if need be," cut in Chesnaught. I turned to him and he smiled with a nod. "You saved us, Mewtwo. We owe you our lives, and we won't let anyone harm you. Even our emperor, should he really have duplicitous motives, we…we'll keep you safe."

"Those are only words, not guarantees," noted Mewtwo. "But…you truly believe he wishes me no harm? You believe that he is not power hungry?"

"From my conversations with him, no, I don't believe that," I determined. "None of us can predict the future, but…we would be grateful if you gave us just one chance." I nodded back to Chesnaught, and then gazed back into Mewtwo's eyes. "We will help you in any way that we can."

"…Sincerity fuels your words," observed Mewtwo. "And, at least between you two, there seems to be…something comforting." He smiled again, relaxing his body once more. "I have not felt that way about anyone in a long time." He mused on our conversation and then nodded himself. "I would like to learn more about the world, and cannot do that out here. So…if you will have me, then I shall go with you." He sighed, but still smiled. "I suppose my options were limited regardless, and that I would be taken prisoner if I refused."

"You could probably annihilate us if we tried that," countered Chesnaught. "We're not looking to take you in as a prisoner. We want you to be an ally."

"Again, you are overestimating my powers," reiterated Mewtwo. "Though…I may be underestimating them myself." He maintained his smile and nodded. "Ally, was it? I suppose that I…could consider the empire that, should you two be right."

"Good, that's fair," I agreed. Still, it wasn't enough for me. "Is there a way that we could reward you, for rescuing us?"

"As I am returning to your palace, I do not see much in material worth that you could offer," pondered Mewtwo. "…Would either of you…perhaps be my friend? I was told stories when I was younger, some that involved friendship and building ties with other individuals." He glanced at his bare feet and tail curled around them, swaying slightly. "I have…never had friends before. Perhaps this is…an unusual request."

"Not at all! We'd be happy to be your friends."

"That easily? I…thank you." His beam broadened and his tail seemed to wag a bit quicker. "I am not certain what friends do together, but…it is reassuring if we have a stronger connection, I believe."

"There's definitely truth to that," agreed Chesnaught.

"Then I must get you two home, to safety." Mewtwo turned and telekinetically opened the icy cavern doors slightly. A sharp gust of wind billowed into the cave and he quickly closed the doors again. "Um…perhaps…we should wait the night. Hopefully, the storm will quiet down by the morning."

Glancing at Chesnaught's shivers, I giggled. "That's probably a good idea."

"Right." He stood up and drifted a bit past us. "I believe that I stored blankets in here, somewhere." He dug past a few rocks, searching around. His tail lightly swayed as he searched, but stood up as he paused for a moment. "Oh, are you two a couple, by the way? Lovers?"

"H…how did you know?"

"Well, I can read minds, as all Psychics can," explained Mewtwo. "But…that would be rude for our first meeting. Instead, I had a different clue."

He turned back and pointed as we scooted around and followed his hand. Down past us, a few blue flowers…roses had risen from the ground.

"Are…are those…?"

"Gelid roses, I believe they are called. Ah, here they are." He turned back to us with two dark blue blankets. "I was told a story long ago about them, that they bloom only when lovers with a strong bond are present."

My face burned and I glanced at Chesnaught, who grinned under his bright blush. Glancing back down at the flowers, I blinked, noticing that though they had risen from the ground, they had not bloomed.

"Shouldn't they…open a little more?"

"Hm?" Mewtwo crouched down and blinked at the flowers himself. "You are correct, they should bloom in the presence like yours." He looked back up at us, puzzled, but still excited. "I have not seen these in a very long time. Perhaps there is something new that we have discovered about them!"

"Is our love not strong enough?" I bit my tongue as the words tumbled from my mouth. Nervously, I turned to Chesnaught, who frowned and nodded.

"Maybe not, or not yet," he murmured. "I wonder how we can fix that?"

"Perhaps it is another matter entirely," mused Mewtwo. "Though, I do not imagine that you will be able to solve it tonight. They have been around for ages, and yet, are as elusive to mortal eye as I try to be, better even."

"Well, that's not very reassuring," I mumbled. A little louder, I quipped, "And you seem pretty happy about this."

"Sorry, I just finding it fascinating." He smiled again, and poked at the flowers. "Learning and sharing information has been a hobby of mine, since…that was all I could do for a while." Mewtwo picked himself up from the roses and inched away, giving us a little more space. "And now that we know these flowers have a chance of appearing around the two of you, we may have a better sense of direction making our way back to the city."

"Wait, really?" Chesnaught scratched his head. "How do those correlate, exactly?"

"It is from the end of the story, about the Frozen Fields Lovers," described Mewtwo. "One planted the seeds for the roses across the fields, in futile hopes that they could guide the lost lover back home. That was their purpose, to grow and create the returning path." He wrapped his cloak around himself, tightening it against his body. "If that is true, then we should be able to use them to get back home."

"Seriously?" I unwrapped the other two blankets that Mewtwo gave us. "That seems so…I must admit, well planned, but could they really account for flowers to do that?"

"Have you not witnessed extraordinary events with your own eyes, unable to explain it?"

"I…suppose," I relented. "Magic certainly qualifies. In fact, our innate skills and powers kind of qualify as well, now that we're thinking about it."

"Of course," agreed Mewtwo. "It does sound uncanny, I admit, but we should be open to any possibility, and anything helpful." He yawned and shook his head. "But again, now is not quite the time for that."

Mewtwo scooped up some snow to douse the fire, but I sprayed water of my own instead. He smiled and nodded to me, returning the snow to the ground. Chesnaught took one of the blankets and wrapped it around us, but I stopped him from taking the second one.

"Wait, Mewtwo, we could share this one," I suggested. "Don't you need one?"

"No, I do not believe so." He flopped over and rolled into his cloak, wrapping himself snug. "I only use them on colder nights, but this night, in spite of the blizzard, is not at its worst. This should be adequate."

"Are you sure?"

"Certainly." He smiled again. "Your concern is appreciated, though. Thank you."

"You're welcome." I shrugged and helped Chesnaught wrap the second blanket around us. Though, I made sure it was more around him, as he shivered a bit. "Goodnight, Mewtwo."

"Goodnight Greninja and Chesnaught."

We waited a few minutes and watched as Mewtwo's breathing steadied, as his body rose and fell. Wiggling closer to Chesnaught, I wrapped my hands around his chest as he slid an arm behind my back.

"It is a good night," I realized.

"Yep, in spite of everything," agreed Chesnaught. He kissed my head and rubbed my back. "Goodnight, Greninja."

"Goodnight, Chesnaught."


[Meanwhile]

Beneath a frozen butte, Machamp patted the crevice of a cavern, housing himself and his five allies. They huddled inside around a small fire that burned in a pit.

Delphox quietly watched his stick beneath the dancing flames, his eyes drooping.

"We shouldn't rest," grumbled Golduck. "We need to…find those louts…and Greninja."

"And Chesnaught," snapped Weavile, a notable distance from the fire. Softening, she sighed. "Regardless, it's pointless right now. We're exhausted from fighting, it's dark out, and a blizzard is kicking up, on and off."

"Couldn't' you…get rid of it?"

"I can control ice, not the actual weather itself."

"So learn." The duck paused and then smirked. "Or, get your girlfriend to."

"Piss off." Weavile curled up and rolled away from the duck.

Carracosta rolled his eyes. "You must really want her to kill you in your sleep, huh?"

"I'm just stating the obvious."

"As am I." He shrugged and glanced down at his tekko, still attached to his flippers. "She has a neat little dagger beside her, you know."

"Don't remind him, Carracosta." Weavile turned back and smirked to them. "It'll be more fun if he's unaware."

"Ha, like you would risk it," retorted Golduck. "Look, I may be an ass, and I'll admit that, but this lot still needs me around."

"We do?" Delphox yawned. "From what I gather, I'm pretty sure that we'd manage."

"Sure, right." He weakly laughed. "I'd love to see…which of you would…hold a blade to a dragon's throat. Without…remorse."

Golduck flopped back over and fell asleep, quacking a bit before quieting.

"Good riddance," murmured Weavile. "Does anyone want me to do the honors?"

"Nah, don't worry about it, Weavile." Machamp trudged back in and sat down with the group. "He's not worth it."

"If Emperor Empoleon and General Abomasnow didn't value him, he wouldn't be so lucky," griped Weavile. "…Night."

Rolling back over, she soon stiffened a bit, with her body rising and falling in a steady rhythm. Delphox's head bobbled, but he shook it and sighed.

"Are we ready to sleep yet, or should I keep this thing going still?"

"Maybe a little longer," suggested Politoed. "If you fall asleep first, I can put it out. Or Carracosta."

"More likely you," decided Carracosta, flopping onto his chest. "Getting pretty drowsy myself, to be honest."

Yawning again, Delphox pushed back a bit from the fire. "If you guys have it handled, then."

Politoed laughed. "I think between the three Water types, we should have it handled. Even if we fall asleep for a bit, I don't imagine this getting out of our control."

"Hopefully not," murmured Machamp, his lower arm picking at the ground.

Silently, Carracosta and Politoed exchanged worried glances. Delphox rubbed his eyes and shook his head.

"Alakazam is fine, Machamp," reminded the fox. "He's still with the others."

"But his thoughts were so unnerved…" Machamp shivered and shook his head. "He's never that unsettled, not about anything. At least…I can't remember him ever…"

"He's probably worried about you," reminded Politoed. "You guys are separated." He grabbed his feet and waved them around. "I…I feel like that about Poliwrath." He softly chuckled. "I didn't think I'd miss my brother this much."

"It's easy to feel like something is amiss when our other half is missing," quipped Carracosta. "…I think the time apart is good between Mienshao and myself, because I'm starting to sound like him."

"Kind of." Delphox nodded, but then shook his head. "Though, kind of not."

"Look, I get it guys, and thanks, but…I just…" Machamp sighed. "My heart is still pounding just thinking about him."

"Not good," advised Carracosta. "He'll be struggling to relax if he can tell you're restless too. Can't he sense your energy like you can his?"

"Right, I…you're right."

Sucking in air, Machamp took four seconds to hold it. Exhaling, he rested for the same seconds before repeating. After a minute, he steadied his breathing.

"…Well?" Carracosta stifled a yawn. "Better?"

"For now," muttered Machamp. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." The turtle sighed. "Believe it or not, I know how you feel. However, I envy your shared abilities with Alakazam." He chuckled. "Wish I could have that, some days."

"With who, again?" Politoed innocently smiled at Carracosta, who lowered his eyes. "What?"

"None of your business." He tucked his head in. "Goodnight."

The other three waited a moment as Carracosta snorted and slumbered. Politoed rolled his eyes and sighed.

"Worth a shot. It'd be great if he finally told us."

"He's entitled to privacy," contended Machamp.

"People don't really give that to Poliwrath and I over our spats."

"You two yell about them all the time."

"So? Still some private stuff to shout about."

"Right." Machamp leaned back and sprawled out against the ground. "Anyway, I need to get some sleep, or I'll keep Alakazam awake."

"He might not mind," proposed Delphox, "if you two can establish another connection."

"Tried it, and I bet he has too." Machamp sighed. "I don't even want to go over what's in my head without him in there."

"Then don't. Just rest, and we'll get back to them tomorrow."

Nodding, Machamp slowly shut his eyes. Smirking, Delphox lowered his head, letting his eyes close as well.


[Elsewhere]

Within a cavern, Poliwrath and Delibird patted mounds of snow to close up the opening. Once finished, they fell back and sat down, sighing before laughing together.

"Didn't think we'd ever get that done!" Poliwrath massaged his hands. "But, we did some pretty good work! I don't feel so much as a breeze through this wall."

"Um…I think you're exaggerating a bit on that one," murmured Delibird, eying a few holes. "I guess it's better than nothing, though, and they are faint bits of air."

"So long as none of us freeze tonight, it works."

"Right."

The pair turned into the cave, glancing at their allies within. A dwindling fire crackled between them, Alakazam tending to it, with Mienshao sitting nearby it. Quagsire was sprawled out a short distance away from it, snoring. Further away, Froslass patted on the cavern walls, crafting various shapes along it.

"Out of everyone, Quagsire has the right idea," decided Poliwrath. "We need to get some rest."

"Rest is for the weak!" Froslass twirled around and floated into the air for a moment, then flopped down against the ground. "…I'm feeling a little weak, I guess."

"Even the most vivacious of spirits need to recognize their own limitations," spouted Mienshao.

"…Ok, you definitely have to make those up."

"Multiple times, I have admitted to it."

"Oh right." Froslass shrugged. "Well…your point stands."

"That it does." Mienshao chuckled softly. "I do try to make sure they have some logic behind them, at the least. It gives them purpose to be spoken." He shrugged. "Still, they can't all be winners."

"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm already set for tonight," called Delibird. He yawned and sat down near the entrance. "I'll be over here, just in case anything tries to break through. Night!"

"Goodnight, Delibird."

Poliwrath left the penguin to rest by their covered entrance and sat beside his companions near the fire. Mienshao forced a smile to him, but Alakazam remained focused on the flames, watching them flicker and fade.

"Your mind clearly isn't on keeping that up," muttered Poliwrath, folding his arms.

"What was your first clue?" Alakazam's eyes sharpened into a glare, and the fire blazed under his gaze.

"Easy, Alakazam," soothed Mienshao. "You're among friends here."

"Barely," he mumbled. "We've worked together for years, and I think this is the first time I've heard anyone acknowledge one another for friendship."

"Past yourself and Machamp."

"…Sure, yeah." His eyes softened, and the fire calmed, though remained strong. "To be fair, I guess the same applied to the bears."

"True, though…neither case is a sturdy example of a straight-forward friendship," noted Mienshao. He mischievously grinned. "You and Greninja are a bit better of a recent example, I believe."

"If he and Chesnaught are still alive, yes, that would be correct." Alakazam sighed and huddled his legs close to his body, knees to his chest. "We were just getting to know them, and now they've been blasted off to who knows where in this blasted hellscape."

"Home," mumbled Quagsire in his slumber. The others watched as he snored again.

"Could be worse," countered Poliwrath. "Imagine actually knowing that they're dead. Wouldn't that be gruesome?"

"Honestly, Poliwrath?" Mienshao huffed and shook his head. "I thought that being away from Carracosta would at least give me a respite from negative thoughts such as that." He dragged his arm against the ground and lowered his head. "Now, I just hope he and Delphox are doing ok, with the others."

"They're fine," insisted Poliwrath. "Alakazam got a stable connection with Machamp, and even if it cut out pretty quick, we still confirmed that they're alive." He rolled his eyes. "Same goes for the new couple, and I've seen them both fight to know that. Greninja is clever and strong-willed, so I doubt he's dead, especially after handling underwater tremors. And I'm pretty sure that Chesnaught's tough enough to survive getting rocketed around by a heavy blast, or better, so I'd imagine he'd be fine too."

"That's not the worst that they're up against," argued Alakazam. "The attack was just the given conditions for them. What they're facing is being lost alone in the Frozen Fields." Alakazam shut his eyes. "Given an approximate estimation of the potential damage to the shield that Chesnaught might have used, on top of the damage they could have taken from the landing, I would imagine that they're started out worse for wear than most other unfortunate souls out here." He peered his eyes open slightly. "The chances of their combined survival is low, and their probable refusal to abandon one another practically wipes out their individual odds. Given Chesnaught's lower tolerance to cold climates, on top of those other conditions, he doesn't have much hope."

"…And you thought Carracosta was bad," laughed Poliwrath.

"You're not mentally focused enough for that kind of a detailed analysis," determined Mienshao, ignoring Poliwrath. "Alakazam, you're still panicking."

"Do you expect me not to?!" Alakazam threw his legs forward and slammed his hands against the ground. "My new friends have critically low chances of coming back alive out here, unless they happen onto nothing short of a miracle! My other allies are separated from us and will have encountered Lucario's accomplices! We're lost and still need to work our way back home, or else we face similarly disparaging odds of endurance! And on top of it all…!" Gritting his teeth, Alakazam turned away.

"…Machamp is still missing, right?" Poliwrath dropped his arms. "And you were cut off from talking with him."

"It's my fault," murmured Alakazam, hugging himself together.

"Your connection is strained to begin with," analyzed Mienshao. "You're a distance from him, and he's not a Psychic. You couldn't expect to maintain it."

"Our connection is strained," repeated Alakazam. "It's my fault."

"…My apologies." Mienshao tugged on his whiskers. "That's not at all what I meant."

"Yeah, and you're not the only one," started Poliwrath. "I screwed up my bond with Politoed because I'm too stubborn. Not that he isn't either, but…" Poliwrath rolled his eyes. "Point is, you're not the only one at fault, and you're not the only one that's upset over soured relations."

Alakazam picked his head up and stared at Poliwrath, who winked at him. For the first time in hours, he smiled and nodded to the knight. Mienshao patted his back, along with another arm.

"Wait, wha—ah!"

Froslass giggled as Mienshao flew back and fell over. Poliwrath laughed with her as Alakazam shook his head. After a minute, Mienshao picked himself up as Froslass quieted down.

"You need to calm down regardless, Alakazam," she reminded him. "Machamp can sense your energy like you can his thoughts, right? So, if you're like this all night, he won't sleep either."

"I…that's right." Alakazam smiled to Froslass. "You remembered?"

"Don't you keep track of everything I've told you?" He nodded to her. "Well, I learned to do the same with you. I'm not as good, but…I try."

"Before, when I snapped about friends—"

"You were right," interrupted Froslass. "We…we don't really spend time together, in spite of working together. None of us." She floated back up and grinned, spinning around. "We should work on that when we get back home!"

"She's right," agreed Poliwrath. "And, no offense Alakazam, but screw your odds. We'll make it through this. Everyone."

"Truthfully, I don't believe in my estimates either." Alakazam returned his attention to the fire. "I recognize them, but I don't believe them. Or rather, I can't."

"So don't!" Froslass flopped back down to the ground, away from the fire again. "Just picture everyone back home, nice and safe!"

"Strengthened desires can steady a shaky resolve," chimed in Mienshao. "…Ok, I liked that one, but really, they're right. So, let's rest, and we'll set back to finding everyone tomorrow."

"Everyone…eat," muttered Quagsire, rolling in his sleep. "Back…home."

The group chuckled at the slumbering salamander. Shortly, they spread out and joined him in resting, as the fire died out.


[Greninja]

Rumbling woke us up the next morning, and I hopped upright from the blankets. Chesnaught snorted and pushed himself from the ground as well. Mewtwo flailed his arms and flinched as he turned back to us.

"Sorry!" He sighed. "I attempted to open it carefully and quietly."

"It's fine." I laughed as Chesnaught rubbed his eyes. "We need to get up anyway."

"True," concurred Mewtwo. "Shall we set off?"

"What about the flowers again?" Chesnaught yawned. "Don't we…need to wait on them to pop up?"

"Precisely why we should begin our travel now," clarified Mewtwo. "They will appear fairly quickly, but will take time."

Glancing down, I saw that several patches of roses had risen from the ground since last night, gathered around Chesnaught and I. They bloomed a little more than they had before, but still were not opened completely.

"Then let's get going." I tugged Chesnaught's arm and guided him out from the cave.

"Wait…wait!" Chesnaught halted and held back on his movement. "The storm, what about the blizzard?"

"All the more reason to travel now," elucidated Mewtwo. "The storm broke up overnight, but we should not wait for it to begin again."

Zipping back past us, he gathered his belongings, taking the blankets and storing them within a sack. He glided back over to us and smiled, setting the pack beneath his cloak.

"It is not much, but I am fairly certain that I will not return here anytime soon."

Chesnaught and I nodded, as the three of us emerged from the cave. We squinted at the Frozen Fields, white snow brightened by the sunlight. Cupping my hands over my eyes, I waited as they adjusted to the morning.

"Come, move forward more," urged Mewtwo, and he pulled us along. "Perhaps here, we might…yes!"

He pointed down and I watched as flowers broke through the snow. Excitedly, Mewtwo pulled us around, guiding us as we trudged through snow mounds. The second he spotted a hint of green from the ground, he pulled us forward in that direction.

We made our way past tall walls of ice and glacier peaks, and I stared at short hills in the distance. Every so often, Mewtwo would pull us around a large boulder, or between two short icebergs. Eventually, we came across a frosted stone run, and Mewtwo sighed as he checked the budding flowers.

"Through here, then," he murmured, and guided us around the rocks. We stumbled around and searched for the direction that the flowers grew in. "Over here!" Mewtwo would call out and drag us off, but then stop short as we crashed into some stones.

At one point, Chesnaught pried himself from a rock and snapped, "Can't we just…go around?!"

"If we knew it would take us back, certainly," determined Mewtwo. "But, I only see flowers growing around these stones."

"Can you see around them?"

"Some, yes. Others…" Mewtwo hopped up and grabbed at the top of a massive boulder, but slid down in spite of his efforts. "Well, even I am not so tall."

After a series of tight turns and bumping into the rocks, we made our way from the run and back to an open stretch of snowy fields. We stepped around carefully, watching and waiting to spot blue and green flowers appear.

"Here, this way," pointed Chesnaught, and we made our way to a crowd of icy pillars.

Wandering around them, we peeked around each pillar. Eventually, I walked around one as Chesnaught shrugged and I watched a rose rise from the snow.

"There." I looked up and pulled Chesnaught along as Mewtwo floated behind us. "Right over…that way."

Pointing ahead, I took us forward through the field, and we passed tall glaciers. Stepping forward, I heard a crack and stopped.

"Hold on."

Mewtwo drifted ahead, levitating a bit further above the ground than usual. Touching down lightly with his foot, he flew back as the frozen floor broke open, a crack thundering forward past us as snow and earth caved in.

We waited until everything stopped, watching as the last of the snow poured down the crevasse. Glancing at one another, we crouched down and peeked beneath the opening, staring into an abyss.

"These…are taking us the right way, aren't they?"

"Of course, but this terrain is not without normal dangers." Mewtwo lifted himself and surveyed the land around us. "It stretches forward, not across, so…"

He lifted us up, and we strolled away from the fissure, back to solid land. We waited a moment and Mewtwo tugged us forward. Moving carefully, we waited, but heard nothing break apart. Studying the ground, we watched as a few roses spurted forth.

"There we are."

Slowly, we navigated forward along the field, wary of the slightest cracking. We watched as fewer roses appeared, but still guided us ahead. After a distance of travel, I watched as the crevasse ended, meeting a close back into solid ground once again.

Returning to our quicker pace, we surged forward as a gust of wind picked up and howled past us. Chesnaught shivered and I pulled him closer to me.

"Are w-we go-going to get c-caught in a b-blizzard?" Chesnaught's teeth chattered and he held himself together as I tried to rub around him, ineffective in my efforts to warm him.

"Not to my knowledge," assured Mewtwo. "At least, not yet."

Another minute or so, the wind subsided and we pressed onward. Again, we wandered between a pair of icy walls. Gazing up, I could barely spot the top of the glaciers.

"To be honest, I assumed we were at the highest points around here," I murmured.

"We have traveled a bit, and might have stepped down," mused Mewtwo. "Though, the levels of the fields are difficult to keep track of."

"More that contributes to how easy it is to get lost out here," grumbled Chesnaught, still huddled together. "Were we even at the end of fields?"

"No, not at all." Mewtwo glanced back for a moment, and then to us again. "All of that distance we traveled? It does not cover just how large this land is. We did not even come close to reaching the sea beyond it."

"That's…ridiculous," decided Chesnaught.

"So, besides avoiding detection, why were you out here, Mewtwo?" I cast a sideways glance to the cloaked…cat? It's difficult to call him that for certain.

"Here is where…I feel I have been for a long time." Mewtwo touched his forehead, hesitating. "I…cannot actually recall much of my life prior to it. That has always been strange to me."

"Well, you seem like you've come along fine so far," noted Chesnaught. "Pretty cool that you were able to actually live out here for so long."

"Yes, though I am…not certain this is only…" He stopped and narrowed his gaze ahead. "There are…others ahead."

We squeezed past the narrow end of the glacial walls, staring ahead past short icebergs and frozen stones.

"Where, exactly?"

"Not far, and there are several of them." He touched his head and shook it. "One among them sensed my presence. Prepare yourselves, they will find us."

Withdrawing my tachi blade, I stepped forward as Chesnaught pulled out his sword. He stayed behind me, keeping Mewtwo close in tow behind him. We lined up behind a boulder and waited quietly for a moment.

Silently, as well as I could, I slid along the boulder's length. Snow crunched a bit beneath my feet, but not loud enough to alert anyone. I peered around the rock and stared ahead as my eyes met dark ones before me.

Dropping my shoulders, I sighed as yellow arms flew around me.

"Greninja!" Alakazam pulled back, grinning at me. "I was wondering why I could sense…! Is Chesnaught—?"

"Present." Chesnaught peeked out behind me. "Just give me a second to—"

"Ha! You're both here!" He bounced past me and hugged Chesnaught as well. Quickly, he broke away, and shouted, "Here, right over here! It is Greninja and Chesnaught, they're right here!" He sighed and clutched his chest, and then grinned again to us. "I don't think I've ever been happier to be wrong!"

Stepping past the stone, I watched as several empire knights hurried over to us. I smiled, but then my shoulders rose up as I glanced back to Chesnaught. He went to grab for Alakazam, who had stepped behind him.

"Ha, what'd I tell you?" Poliwrath clapped his hands together. "These two are tough enough to weather even a blizzard from the Frozen Fields!"

"They're really alive after all!" Froslass spiraled around and grabbed onto Delibird, dancing around with him. "This is great!"

"Y-yeah, but I can't…ah!" Delibird fell forward as Froslass zipped away from him, twirling around.

"It is a great relief to…" Mienshao trailed off as he watched Alakazam back away from the boulder, and Chesnaught hurry behind it. "Alakazam? What is it?"

"They…they found…!" His eyes were wide and he quaked as he slowed to a stop. Turning to me, he gawked before managing, "H…how?"

"Did they find something to eat?" Quagsire poked his belly and huffed. "It's been ages since we ate."

"It's been two days tops, Quagsire," deadpanned Delibird, picking himself up.

"Ok, but what's gotten into you, Alakazam?" Poliwrath stepped forward, but I slipped in front of him. "Greninja?"

"Uh, ok…how do I…?" I scratched behind my head and sighed, tugging at my tongue. "Look, Chesnaught and I were, we almost…um, we were rescued by someone."

"Beg pardon, but…someone?" Mienshao shook his head. "Who else—?"

"Did the others already find you?"

"N-no," managed Alakazam. "It's…"

Chesnaught stepped from behind the rock, and Mewtwo slowly drifted out behind him. They gasped and gawked at the taller figure behind him, hands already reaching for their weapons.

"Now, hang on a minute," urged Chesnaught. "He's not hostile, and he's not the prophet."

"B…but he has the cloak Weavile and I saw!" Froslass shook her head. "It's him! He's the one we saw before!"

"Right, but he's not the prophet like we suspected," explained Chesnaught. "This is Mewtwo. He's a mage, and powerful, but not…he can't read the future."

"How can we be sure that he's not mind controlling them?!" Delibird flailed his flippers around. "What if he's making Greninja and Chesnaught act this way?!"

"Um, I can't be controlled like that," I countered. "Alakazam could—oh! Alakazam can prove that Chesnaught's not under control either!"

Whirling around, my shoulders fell at Alakazam, who still gawked at the sight of Mewtwo. Clearing my throat, he jumped and wildly shook his head.

"Sorry, right, I—I can."

Touching his head, he stared at Chesnaught as his eyes lit up, and waited a moment. His shoulders relaxed and his hand dropped from his head. Smiling, he nodded to the others.

"Other than being alarmed at our reactions, Chesnaught is his usual self," cleared up Alakazam. "And Mewtwo is just as nervous as us, not even considering an attack."

"You can read minds as well?" Mewtwo slowly emerged from behind Chesnaught.

"Correct!" Alakazam bowed to him. "I am Alakazam, as you are now aware. Like you, I am a Psychic, capable of telepathy, as well as a mage, skilled in magic." He straightened up and smiled to Mewtwo. "If you could, can you tell me…where we were, earlier this morning? Without reading our minds, that is."

"I…have no idea," admitted Mewtwo. "…Is this a test?"

"An attempt at one," confessed Alakazam. "Perhaps another. Two days from now, what will happen?"

"Well, I am imagining that we will be at the palace," determined Mewtwo. "Hopefully, by then."

"Froslass, select an attack," instructed Alakazam.

"Wait, don't—!"

"Relax," eased Alakazam. "Froslass, please don't actually attack him. Just…check."

She darted forward and flew at Mewtwo. He ducked back behind Chesnaught, who blocked Froslass from passing him.

"Nope, no good!" Froslass zipped around Chesnaught and wrapped her arms around Mewtwo. "Got you! Hug attack prevails!"

"Hugs…can be lethal?" Mewtwo blinked. "I was not aware of this."

"It's…not actually an attack," clarified Chesnaught.

"Oh." Mewtwo nodded as Froslass giggled and floated off from him.

"Ok, that settles it for me," decided Poliwrath. "He can't be an all-seeing prophet if he doesn't even anticipate an attack, let alone grasp at what hugs are."

"Grasping hugs," murmured Quagsire. He reached forward and tightly squeezed Delibird. "Lethal hug…!"

"No! Q-Quagsire, please!"

"Ah, that is the lethal hug," surmised Mewtwo. "Still, it seems less like a normal one."

"Don't worry about it," I soothed. "So, is that all cleared up, then?"

"For us, yeah." Poliwrath shrugged. "Looks like the guy we were looking for, though."

"Well, that's because he still is," I reiterated.

"Mewtwo needed to gather supplies and scraps to survive out in the Frozen Fields," elucidated Chesnaught. "He's been rushing around the city to gather supplies, but that's it."

"Just a thief, then," determined Mienshao. "Though, I would have done the same, so, I wouldn't really hold him accountable. It'll be up to the emperor as for what happens after we explain this to him."

"Do you think he'd punish him?" My arms dropped and I frowned. "If he does, I can't support that."

"Considering everything…I honestly have no idea," admitted Mienshao with a shrug.

"That's not reassuring," objected Chesnaught.

"We'll work it out," reasoned Alakazam. "I doubt the emperor will react harshly to petty thefts. Though, we might need to compensate for the losses, meager as they might amount to."

"That's more like it."

"Either way, you'll have little to fear with us," claimed Alakazam.

"Perhaps not," murmured Mewtwo.

"Right." Alakazam hesitated as his shoulders dropped and he frowned. He spun around to me again. "Um, I realize they would be with you, but you didn't happen to run into Ma…the others, did you?"

"No, we found you first."

"Yes, of…of course." He deflated and nodded, forcing himself back up. "Still, it's great to have you two back!"

"Oh, just them?" Everyone jumped at the calling voice. "Why is it always just those two?"

Stepping away from the boulder, we watched as Delphox strolled forward from behind an iceberg. He smirked and folded his arms.

"No one is ever happy to see me, then?"

"Nope, never happy," returned Chesnaught, grinning. "Only ecstatic!"

Delphox walked straight over to us, hugging me tightly. He backed up a bit, and Chesnaught scooped us both into his arms.

"This trio is back together!" He laughed and swayed a bit with us in his arms. "We've missed you, Delphox!"

"Missed me? You're the ones that were missed!" He laughed as we pulled apart from one another. "Don't ever get blasted off like that again, you hear?"

"Right, because it was intentional," I joked and he laughed.

We turned and watched as the others gathered with us. Froslass cheered, dancing around Weavile, who smiled at her.

"So, you miss me much?"

"Did I ever!" She grabbed the archer's arms and lightly swayed around. "We should go shopping once we get home!"

"Well, I did miss you," muttered Weavile.

Golduck glanced at me, blank at first, but smirked right after.

"That the prophet?"

"No," I snapped. Turning out to everyone, a little more calmly, I reiterated, "He's not the prophet, but he's coming back with us."

"Sure, might as well." Golduck shrugged. "Even if you're pissed, it's nice to see you like that instead of dead." He turned and patted Delibird, who clapped at his return.

Rolling my eyes, I watched Politoed hop over and halt in front of Poliwrath. The frogs hesitated, and then hugged one another.

"Glad to see you again, twerp," laughed Poliwrath.

"Same! I knew you were too stubborn to die," teased Politoed.

"Listen, you little pest—!"

"Quit picking on my height!"

They bickered at one another as Quagsire stepped in between them and pushed them apart.

"The two of you should be happier and just hug, at least for today," he murmured. "Brothers can get along, you know."

With that, Quagsire backed away from them. The brothers hesitated again, and then happily hugged one another once more.

"But…where are—?"

A hearty laugh erupted from the iceberg. We turned as Machamp and Carracosta trudged out from behind it.

"Took us long enough, but we made it!" Machamp placed his lower arms on his hips. "Great to see everyone together again!"

"Did we miss the party?" Carracosta smirked as Alakazam rushed over to them, and I couldn't help but follow him, a bit further back. "Not quite then. Good." He shuffled aside as the mage neared them, and I stood next to him.

"You're ok!" Alakazam clamped tightly around Machamp, even raising a leg around the knight to pull him in closer. "I thought you might…oh, who cares? You're fine!"

"Alakazam, this is…unexpected!"

Quickly, Alakazam pulled back from Machamp, blushing deeply. "W-well, I, uh…you had me worried."

"Just me?"

"Of course just you!" Alakazam clutched his hand into a fist. "Anyone else would…" He paused and turned to Carracosta. "Especially you! Carracosta definitely could hold his own, best out of everyone."

"Oh, think so?" The turtle laughed. "Nice of you to notice, then."

"That's it?" Mienshao walked over to them, and everyone else followed, gathered in an open patch of the fields. "Come on, you must have something more pessimistic to add in, don't you?"

"Only if you can come up with a knock-off proverb," teased Carracosta.

"I can't think of one right now."

"Then there's your answer!" He patted the stoat and laughed. "Good to see you again."

"Likewise." Mienshao grinned at Machamp. "Ok, go ahead, continue!"

"What?" Alakazam blinked and shook his head. "He doesn't need to—"

"Yes, I do." Machamp's arms dropped from his sides, his four arms hanging. A blush settled in over his face as he picked himself back up. "I, uh, I really…have a lot…"

"Please, Machamp—"

"No, Alakazam, you need to know." His tone was firmer than we had heard before, possibly more than anyone. Even Alakazam went silent and only nodded. "While we were out there, the only one I could think about was you. Every time I had a minute to breathe, you were on my mind. We tried to connect, sure, but that wasn't the only means. I didn't want…I was afraid of not being able to…get back to you, or you to me."

Quietly, Alakazam uttered, "But…why?" Machamp's shoulders dropped and Alakazam glanced down. "I was a complete mess over not being with you, but you should have been fine."

"Were you even listening to your thoughts?" Alakazam looked back up at Machamp. "Because I was. You were scared…and I didn't want to imagine that neither of us…that I'd never get the chance."

He raised his lower arms, but stopped and dropped them back down. Alakazam wildly glanced back and forth at them, and looked up to Machamp again.

"Regarding…?"

"Exactly what everyone is assuming." Machamp sucked in a sharp breath of air, and held it for a few seconds. He released it as Alakazam slightly tilted his head. "We've all but gone over it together, and I didn't get a good enough look around in your head, but I know you have an opinion on this."

"Maybe I'm assuming this correctly, but specify the subject," insisted Alakazam. "I can read minds, but yours has always been…more challenging to sort out."

"Sorry, but I have this whole speech ready as is," informed Machamp, briefly wiping his head. "Just take it as it comes. Really, it's about time we addressed it properly anyway."

Still hesitating, Alakazam glanced to me and I shooed him, forcing him to return his attention to Machamp.

"And I don't care anymore, if you don't feel it too. By now, you just need to know."

"Machamp, what are you talking about?"

"What I've been trying to tell you since the beginning." He breathed in deeply and exhaled, eyes focused solely on the mage. "I love you, Alakazam." Softly, he smiled. "Always have. Always will."

For a moment, Machamp waited as Alakazam stared up to him. Before he could add anything else, Alakazam threw his arms around Machamp's neck and shoved his lips into the four-armed knight's. Machamp's eyes widened as Alakazam squeezed his shut, shifting his lips around before relaxing his grip around the knight. Lowering his eyes, Machamp wrapped his lower arms around Alakazam's waist, sliding his upper hands past the mage's long mustache and to his cheeks. A slight jump came from Alakazam, but he relaxed again, as Machamp gently closed his eyes as well. They tilted their heads as they deepened their kiss, and Machamp scooped Alakazam in closer to him.

My hands flew up to clap, but a heavy blue flipper pushed them down. I blinked and turned to Carracosta, who placed his other flipper against his lips and winked at me.

Silently, I watched, as the couple broke apart to breathe, panting, still wrapped up in one another. Nothing else, no one else, existed.

"Wow…that was, ah, great," managed Machamp. "The mustache tickled and your lips were warm and soft." He laughed while Alakazam blushed a deep scarlet and giggled. Abruptly, Machamp stopped and blinked. "I…thought you hated my laugh. And, well, me, by this point."

"Hating you is effectively impossible for me," declared Alakazam. He lightly stroked Machamp's cheek and gazed into his eyes. "I've never hated you. Not your boisterous laugh from that big grin that's impossibly infectious. Not those bulging muscles that can still have the gentlest touch behind that enormous strength. Not your deep red eyes that glow beneath even the faintest moonlight. Not your unending effort to both be strong and yet still kind, down to even the most closed off among us." Tears lined his eyes and he shivered through his broad beam. "I can't hate the knight that never gave up on me, the one that stayed by my side from the very beginning, the one that always wanted me around when no one else did, even…even when I gave up on you."

"…You had a fair reason," admitted Machamp. "I shouldn't have—"

"Had a valid, lustful thought towards someone else?" Machamp blinked as Alakazam shook his head. "I'm the fool that actually took offense all this time over you having a normal attraction to someone that was…genuinely appealing. And I took out that frustration on you, when we weren't even spilling out our feelings to each other." He half-heartedly laughed and backed away from Machamp. "I don't even deserve you." The smile dropped and Alakazam hung his head. "The truth is I never thought that I did."

"Why not?" Machamp closed the distance between them again. "Everyone deserves someone that loves them, even if it's not a romantic type. We all need at least just one person that's willing to stick by our side." Gently, he raised Alakazam's head back up by the chin and grinned at him. "You talk about me staying by your side, but you're the one that's followed me ever since I asked. Even here, you came to this empire when you weren't sure what you wanted to do next, all because I wanted to become a knight. And even after, even when we became so distant, you stayed with me, and you still wouldn't disappear from me completely, when you could have left and gone wherever else you wanted." He lightly brushed the tears that fell from Alakazam's eyes, with his shoulders dropping. "If either of us was undeserving of the other, I'd imagine it was always me. Because you've always deserved me, if not better."

"…I could travel this entire continent and the world around us, and I can't imagine finding anyone better than you," confessed Alakazam. "More importantly, I don't want to." He wrapped his arms around Machamp's sides and smiled. "You're all that I've ever wanted."

"Big muscles strike your fancy, eh?" Machamp's grin widened again. "Thought that might keep you around."

"What kept me around this big lug was his bigger heart," corrected Alakazam as he kissed Machamp again. They held it for a bit, but still broke apart after a minute. "And it'll always keep me with you." Machamp brushed his own eyes with one hand while his lower arms cradled Alakazam. The mage twirled his mustache and slyly checked Machamp up and down. "…Though, in all honestly, the muscles certainly help."

Machamp blinked and burst out laughing. "Knew it!" He kissed Alakazam's head and rubbed his back. "That's perfect for me, though, and easy to maintain. And, if we're being honest, then I sure love that big brain of yours!"

"You think I'm boring, don't you? Or, well, can be?"

"Are you kidding? I get lost in everything you talk about!" He paused and chuckled. "Well, sometimes, I don't really understand, but even then, I love to listen to you!"

"Oh. Um…that explains it better." Alakazam rubbed his arm. "…I always thought you started focusing your thoughts on my body because I was dull."

"No way, you're just super hot!" Alakazam blushed furiously while Machamp's cheeks lit up. "Long, wavy mustache, cute thin body, soft dark eyes, all around smart, selfless, who wouldn't think you've got everything going for you?!"

"Ah…I, uh, didn't, um…oh." Alakazam's shoulders rose up while he tried to hide his face behind them. Machamp pulled him in for a tight hug, to which Alakazam buried himself into the knight's chest.

"So, does that mean we can start dating once we get back to the palace?" Machamp glanced down past his flushed face as Alakazam nodded quietly, still pressed against his chest. He laughed, which made the mage practically melt against him. "Perfect! I can't wait!"

"Congratulations."

Alakazam jumped into Machamp's arms and the two turned to stare at Weavile. Their red faces flushed darker as they turned and stared at everyone around them.

"Ah…ha," managed Machamp. "Sorry that took so long, everyone."

"Oh please," quipped Golduck. "You just gave everyone the show we've all been waiting for since you two got started here. The tension has been ridiculous since day one."

They watched as the other empire knights nodded, and I imagined they both wanted to blush harder and sink into the snow by this point.

And then I gasped, staring down at the snow around them. "Guys, look!"

Everyone directed their attention to where Machamp and Alakazam had been standing. Blue roses had erupted from the ground, bloomed around the new couple. They blinked as Machamp set Alakazam back down between open spaces of the gelid roses, and they picked a few up from beneath the snow.

Chuckling, Alakazam turned back up to Machamp. "If we didn't make it official ourselves, I think this does."

With a quick laugh, Machamp leaned in and kissed Alakazam again, scooping the mage's face into his. Just as they were getting back into it, Delphox roughly cleared his throat, and they sprang apart once again.

"I'd deliver the ever classic, 'get a room,' but you both already have one each." He patted his stick against his hand and shrugged. "Perhaps that makes it, 'pick a room,' instead."

"Is no one else still shocked by the roses?" Weavile pointed down at them. "Because that's kind of…weird."

Froslass floated around to her again. "Haven't you heard the stories?"

"Yeah, but it's…still strange." She shrugged. "Then again, magic is odd in general."

"So are flowers," chimed in Quagsire. "Painful, too, especially for me."

"This is quite useful, however," spoke up Mewtwo, with attention refocused to him. "These flowers surged from the ground even faster around the new couple, and their bond is key to guiding us to the city once again." He straightened up and smiled to me. "Combined with Chesnaught and Greninja, this should be much faster."

Golduck scoffed. "Is that how you're claiming to have made your way back? Magic flowers?"

"Are you really going to be skeptical to this?" Chesnaught folded his arms. "Tell me, were they beneath Alakazam and Machamp a few minutes ago?"

"Nope, magic shenanigans make sense to me," corrected Golduck. "The very idea that we're following flowers to go back home is just ridiculous in general."

"If you have observed the world carefully thus far," calmly countered Mewtwo, "you would realize that is certainly not so."

Quiet for a moment, Golduck chuckled. "Great, arguing with me already. He'll fit right in."

"You're right for once," I snapped. "He will." Steadying my breathing to relax my quickened heartbeat, I surveyed the others. "Are we ready to go home now?"

"Nah, none of us froze out here," joked Delphox. "That's sure to be a disappointing story, no?"

"Then we'll have lived to disappoint," touted Chesnaught. He took my hand into his, nodded to Mewtwo, and smiled to me. "Let's go."

With Mewtwo, the three of us took the lead. Delphox trailed behind us, guiding Alakazam and Machamp with him, and observing the gelid roses appearances for himself. Everyone else followed, fanned out, and hands on weapons, ready to guard. We were expecting some kind of return of our opponents from earlier, but they didn't appear.

The trip home was astoundingly uneventful, as we trekked across the snow-blanketed fields. Heavy buffets of wind impeded our movement every so often, but beyond that, the trip back was much duller than we really anticipated. All the while, we watched as bushels of blue roses fired up from the ground, blooming quicker than ever. Checking behind me every so often, Machamp and Alakazam gleefully joined Delphox in watching the flowers rise.

"Our trip may have been more hectic, but they get a much better show from the flowers," muttered Chesnaught.

"Jealous?"

"Actually, a bit more than I expected," he admitted. Smirking, he added, "But, we made them appear without any help ourselves, so…it evens out."

"Of course." I rolled my eyes as he nudged me, and we laughed.

Not long after, the city came into view. Chesnaught excitedly tugged me forward a bit, and I was ready to sprint, but held back instead. He blinked and turned as I pointed to Mewtwo, who had stopped a few paces behind us. We walked back over to the cloaked mystic.

"Is everything ok, Mewtwo?"

"I am…nervous, to put it lightly," he confessed. "This city might still believe me to either be a legend or a thief, and I do not…know how to handle that."

"Don't want to be recognized?" Golduck smirked as he approached. "Don't blame you." He turned to the rest of the group. "Close in, guys; we don't need flowers anymore, so let's keep it tight."

Everyone sheathed their weapons, gathered around Mewtwo, and surrounded him, blocking almost every angle that could easily sight him. In spite of his height, it would be harder to pick him out as a specific individual of interest.

"Just keep the hood down, act natural, and no one will even consider gutting you," eased Carracosta.

"Really?" Mienshao shook his head. "Mewtwo, you'll be fine."

They were right; we marched back through the city streets, with a few citizens smiling and clapping to see their knights come home. Battered, but alive, most were relieved to see us; no one was concerned about, or perhaps even noticed, that we had added an extra companion to the group.

Advancing past a few igloo homes, I thought I noticed Carracosta wave slightly toward one. Ignoring that, we reached the palace steps and climbed up. Halfway up, Mewtwo tugged Chesnaught and I closer to him, his arm noticeably shaking.

"This is still—"

"We're right here," assured Chesnaught.

"And we'll stay close," I chimed in, patting his hand.

Reaching the top, everyone stared ahead. Waiting for us on the bridge was Emperor Empoleon himself, with General Abomasnow a slight distance behind him. For the first time, I think the general was genuinely smiling, if only slightly. Empoleon beamed as we approached, his eyes counting out each of us before settling on Mewtwo.

"Outstanding," he applauded. "Everyone has returned, and your mission was a success!"

"Not entirely," started up Golduck.

"While we brought back the thief that the city has reported, he's not the prophet after all," divulged Poliwrath.

"And we had to fight off some soldiers from the Mountains," added Politoed.

"Hmm. Mountains soldiers? That is most troubling." Empoleon sighed, smiled faded. "Expected, however, as I didn't imagine that we would go through this without any kind of resistance." He returned his attention to Mewtwo once again. "And you tell me that this…is not our elusive prophet?"

"No, sire, and we've proven that he's not capable of seeing the future," explained Alakazam. "He is, however, a worthwhile addition around here."

"Is he now?"

Empoleon approached and I listened as the majority of our group backed away. Glancing around, only Delphox, Chesnaught, and I remained closely around Mewtwo.

"…You three refuse to back away…"

"Sire, we need to know exactly what you're plans for Mewtwo are," announced Chesnaught.

"Mewtwo?"

"His name."

"Ah." He nodded, his eyes still trained on the mystic. "And…why this sudden resistance?"

"We just want to be sure." Chesnaught folded his arms.

"Did I not convince you, Greninja?"

"Chesnaught already explained it." My shoulders lowered slightly. "I am trusting in you, though. Please don't prove me wrong."

"Right. And Delphox?"

"Neither of my friends moved." He shrugged. "That's all the reason I need."

For a moment, Empoleon waited. In that time, footsteps trudged behind us. I turned back as Alakazam and Machamp joined us. Weavile followed them, with Froslass drifting over.

"All four of you would even consider opposing me?"

"Do we have to?" Weavile folded her arms. "Sire, I'll speak for all of us. We don't want to commit treason. But, we need to know what you're planning on doing with Mewtwo."

"Yes, and I collected reasons from the Grass Fields trio," noted Empoleon. "You four have a sudden change in behavior, however."

"Nearly dying can kind of do that to us." Froslass giggled. "This seems silly, Emperor."

"That it does…"

His eyes narrowed as I listened to more footsteps scuffle up behind us. My eyes widened as I saw the rest of the knights line up with us or around Mewtwo.

"And what am I to make of this?"

"Froslass already told you, sire," explained Carracosta. "We thought we might have lost our lives out there. Greninja and Chesnaught nearly died, and the worst crossed our minds for their sakes. Going against them now…we can't."

"Rarely is there a time that we ask you to explain your actions and motivations to us," chimed in Mienshao. "This once, however, we would like to know."

"With all due respect, we did earn it." Everyone gawked at Delibird. "…What?! I'm not completely weak!"

"Clearly not," laughed Empoleon. "Very well, I'd rather not have my whole army suddenly turn against me over this. Greninja and Machamp should understand enough, but let me clarify." He shook his head. "No, I don't have anything foul in mind for you, Mewtwo. However, I am going to insist that you remain at this palace, for the time being, and potentially for a while to come."

"This was already made clear to me."

"Yet you still don't understand," noted Empoleon. "None of you do. If Mewtwo is not the prophet, that seemingly lowers the level of interest on him. But you have already encountered those that believe he is still a figure of interest. Surely, they will report back to their superiors on this matter."

"So…those soldiers we encountered…"

"They've likely already returned to report what transpired out in the Frozen Fields," determined Empoleon. "Mewtwo's life, while safe for now, is mostly certainly still in jeopardy." He folded his wings behind his back and shook his head. "Misinformation can spread easily, and it only takes a mere sighting to have such a false reputation race beyond our borders."

"Am I meant to stay here forever, then?"

"Only until I get this sorted out," decided Empoleon. "We don't want anyone seeking power to find you, much less predict their actions upon a disappointing discovery. That will, however, take time, as we'll need to prepare meetings with the other kingdoms." He shook his head. "However, those come later, after everyone here has had amble time to recover, and you have had time to adjust."

"…What did you seek, sire?" Mewtwo tilted his head, still studying the emperor. "Were I the prophet?"

"Personally? Perhaps knowledge of when the war could break out, its results, and guidance on what I need to keep my empire and family safe." Empoleon shrugged. "Beyond that, I have no immediate desires from such a seer. Regardless, however, I would have very much insisted on you staying here, as I am now." He shook his head. "This, however, is entirely up to you. We can offer you as much protection as we have here, and it is your best bet. You are, however, not bound here, and free to leave, if you believe you have a higher chance of survival elsewhere."

For a moment, Mewtwo remained silent. He glanced at the rest of us and shook his head. He turned back to Empoleon.

"There is no longer safety for me in the Frozen Fields," he realized. "In spite of being there for so long, it is now entirely possible for at least several of your soldiers to find me once again."

"Yeah, that would be pretty difficult, though," murmured Delphox.

"But possible." Mewtwo lowered his head. "I cannot detect ill will or deceit in your motivations, nor anyone in here. Were I to return out there, and one of these other kingdoms were to find me next…I do not know for certain if those would grant me more favorable results."

"One of the other three might," noted Empoleon. "Three of the soldiers, these front three, are from that kingdom."

"Even so, you claim there are others," contended Mewtwo. "I cannot afford to risk survival out there alone anymore, nor can I trust my next visitors to be as hospitable as Greninja and Chesnaught have been." He turned back and smiled. "As…everyone here has been."

"Your decision, then?"

Hesitating, Mewtwo pivoted back to Empoleon. "I will stay, on a few conditions."

"Very well."

"First, I would like to not be considered a prisoner," declared Mewtwo.

"Done, as you're already not one," determined Empoleon. "Though…I am going to need to work on compensating the losses in goods this town has had, small as they might be."

"I…will try to help with that, if possible."

"No, it's best if you're not out there much, among the public," realized Empoleon. "You can be, but for your safety, I cannot recommend it." He frowned. "Sorry, that does seem like a prisoner's restrictions, but believe me, the less known you are, the better."

"…Perhaps." Mewtwo sighed and picked his head up. "Second, I do have a box that I have misplaced, and I was informed that you may have it in your possession."

"Box…ah, yes, that…raises some questions of my own," recalled Empoleon. "However, yes, we'll return that to you." He straightened up. "On a condition of my own, that is."

"Your condition?"

"Yes, I would like to know just how long you've been out in the Frozen Fields for."

"Oh, I am…not certain." Mewtwo clutched his head and shook it. "I cannot remember the amount of time…it has been a while, however."

"Hmm." Empoleon tapped the tip of a wing against his beak. "A couple of decades or so ago, I do recall…activity out in the Frozen Fields…something mystic." He studied Mewtwo carefully. "I wonder…"

"…Wonder what?"

Ominously, the Emperor continued, "…The name that you call the prophet by, is it that, or…?"

Blinking, Mewtwo let his tail sway. "I know your prophet as 'the seer,' but either title works."

"…Seer…hmm." Empoleon nodded. "That was used more frequently sometime ago. However, I only have suspicions on my old memory." He shook his head. "It's a mystery for me to work on."

"What would that be?"

"Your personal history," decided Empoleon, "and your connection to the seer, the prophet. I believe one might exist, but I'll need to work on that theory."

"If it's anything like the other one," mutter Delphox, "it better have lighter results."

"Possibly, though unlikely," revealed Empoleon. Smiling, he shook his head. "But, that is for me to uncover. The rest of you, celebrate and rest. You have all had quite the adventure for the past few days now." He fixated his eyes on Chesnaught, then Delphox, and lastly me. "This sense of unity…it's good, and it should last."

Turning away, he strolled back to the palace. Everyone exchanged mixed glances, varying between relief, confusion, suspicion, and exhaustion. We turned back as General Abomasnow approached.

"General," greeted Golduck. "…It is you, correct?"

"Who the blasted hell else would it be?" Abomasnow folded his heavy arms.

"We might have encountered a doppelganger," disclosed Golduck. "One that impersonated you, sir."

"How flattering," deadpanned Abomasnow. "Give him hell?"

"Not nearly enough," darkly uttered Golduck.

"So long as you're all back, we can manage," decided Abomasnow. In a sharper, harsher tone, however, he bellowed, "You lot have a lot to make up for, acting up in front of the emperor like that! Expect a much more rigorous training regiment to start up soon!"

Almost everyone seemed to deflate at once, and I thought I heard a few groans. Abomasnow growled, silencing them quickly.

"How soon, sir?" Chesnaught scratched behind his head. "The emperor did mention that we could rest a little."

"Mm…I'll think about it," muttered Abomasnow. "Not that long, though!"

With what I think might have been a chuckle, he trudged back to the palace. Golduck sighed and followed him back in, with Delibird in tow. For a minute, everyone else remained silent.

"Resting and eating would be good," voiced Quagsire, and he made his way back to the palace.

"You know, Quagsire's got a great idea," realized Poliwrath. "Let's get to that, huh?"

"Definitely, I could use something to eat," agreed Politoed.

The brothers followed after the salamander, with Weavile quietly following after them.

Froslass twirled around and drifted forward. "I've got some spell scrolls that I've missed looking over, so I know that's something to get back to!"

"Honestly, I think I could collapse any second now," murmured Delphox. "Even a colder bed beats the frozen ground again."

Patting my back and Chesnaught's, he followed her inside. He slowed and turned back as Mienshao hurried behind him, whispering something to him. They laughed and chattered together as they walked back inside the palace.

"Well, if no one minds, I'll be elsewhere," announced Carracosta. "I've…somewhere else I need to be."

He waved to us and turned away, wandering back down the palace's plateau. Turning back, I watched as Machamp wrapped his lower arms around Alakazam's waist. The mage giggled and pulled him in closer.

"And you two?" Chesnaught chuckled at the pair. "Your plans?"

"Catching up, naturally," declared Alakazam. "We've got a lot of missed opportunities to get back to."

"Ha!" Machamp rested his head on top of Alakazam's. "That's putting it lightly! We're spending all our time together from now on!"

"Of course." Alakazam turned around tugged Machamp's face closer to his. "I'm never letting you go again."

"Likewise, buddy!" Machamp kissed him lightly, but pulled back to scratch his head. "Huh…need to start calling each other by more endearing stuff now, right?"

"If you'd like."

"You better believe it!"

They laughed and we waved as they stumbled together back to the palace. Sighing, I sat down by the edge of bridge, quickly joined by Chesnaught and Mewtwo.

"What do you think?" I turned to the cloaked mystic. "Will you be able to adjust here?"

"I will learn to," decided Mewtwo.

"We'll be here to help you out," reminded Chesnaught. "If you need us for anything, just come find us!"

"Certainly, and thank you both for everything."

"Thank you, Mewtwo." I smiled to him. "You're the main reason we're back home with everyone else."

He smiled back. "I only wanted to help my new friends." Glancing at the water ahead of us, Mewtwo nodded. "I've…been here before. In fact, I think I remember seeing you around here, Greninja."

"Really?" I scratched behind my head. "It must have been one of my first days here."

"Most likely," agreed Mewtwo. "With you two here…I think I can manage." He stood up. "Though, I think you deserve some time to yourselves. I'll…explore."

He stood up, smiled again at us, and drifted away, alternating between floating and walking around the palace perimeter.

Alone with him, I sighed and leaned against Chesnaught. He wrapped his arm around my lower back and brought me in closer, massaging gently.

"Kind of funny," he started after a minute. "A couple of months and change ago, the most nerve-racking, heart-pounding thrill that I had to deal with was taking you out on our first date." I burst out laughing and he grinned.

"Well, I think I beat that out with actually mustering the courage to tell you how I felt," I teased. Sighing, I rested against his chest. "But…I think this adventure beats it by a long shot."

"Yeah, I agree with that." He sighed and brought his hand up to my shoulders, rubbing me. "Think we can manage here? This'll be our new home, huh?"

"Honestly, I do miss Grass Fields and all of our friends back at home. I hope they're all doing well." I sighed and shook my head. "But together, and going forward with everyone united, I think we'll be fine." I giggled. "Besides, I think I'm getting used to the colder climate already."

"You're insane."

"Why's that?"

"Because I don't want to be out in the cold for another second," deadpanned Chesnaught. "This is a far cry from ideal weather."

"What, really?" I grinned as his lowered eyes and frown. "I thought you might enjoy the refreshing air."

"Not even close."

"Could've fooled me!"

"Can we just get back inside? I'm still freezing."

"Aw, are you? Maybe I can help with that."

Smirking, I scooted into his lap, and tucked myself between his legs. Chesnaught grinned quickly and wrapped his arms around my back.

"…So, high risk does earn high reward?"

"Hush up."

We laughed and leaned in, kissing one another. He massaged his arms along my back and ran his tongue against the length of mine. I pulled his face into mine, breathed whatever heat I had into him, and rubbed around his neck. My legs wrapped tightly around his waist and he pressed deeper into my lips.

Softly, we pulled apart after a minute, still breathing against one another. I leaned back enough to look into his dark eyes, trained solely on me. One hand slipped away from him, and I let it dangle off the bridge, near the water.

"Still want to go inside?" I lowered my eyes and brought my hand back up to brush his fur.

"Mm…yeah, I do."

My laughter was replaced by a gasp, as he hopped up and carried me from the bridge. He chuckled and kept his arms tight around me, bringing me back to the palace. It took me a moment to actually resist.

"H-hey! Quit that, this looks so embarrassing!"

"Nah, you're cute like this."

Chesnaught kissed my cheek as my legs brushed against his tail. I couldn't deny that I was enjoying being pampered a little bit.

In spite of the long journey back, and though we were still adjusting to the cold, this place was more familiar now. We started building new ties, made differences, and inspired changes.

This empire had become home.

Chapter Text

[Grass Fields Kingdom]

Inside the castle halls, Samurott stepped down from the stairs, blankly staring at the door. Stumbling a bit, he grabbed the railing, and then sighed. Shaking his head, the blue sea lion descended to the bottom. Gazing at the front doors once more, he turned away from them and made his way for the throne room.

Lifting his arm to open it, he paused and listened carefully. Hearing a few voices from within, Samurott gently pulled the door open, limiting its sound as well as he could.

Peeking in, he glanced down the room to Nidoking seated on his throne, with Rhydon standing to his side in front of a vacant throne. Typhlosion stood before them, just below the thrones and the king.

"Honestly, Escavalier would be the better option," explained Rhydon, scratching his head. "His was more…stable, perhaps? Though, there was the theft incident that brought them together, so—"

"Yeah, I've had that suggestion, but it's not…asking him would be weird," determined Typhlosion.

"Perhaps it might be easier to discern if you were more specific," playfully prodded Nidoking with a smirk. "We're trying to guess whom you're currently engaged with—"

"Engaged?!"

"Figure of speech."

"Oh. Sorry."

"At any rate," continued Nidoking, "your best approach is to directly confront this matter of yours, and just be true to whomever your heart is set on."

"But…I'm no good for just approaching someone," weakly admitted Typhlosion, hanging his head. "Everyone knows my reputation, so it's not like I'm the best choice for…well, anything."

"That's contrary to what I've heard and observed, as of late," noted Rhydon. "Following Chesnaught's departure, you've become far more…diligent, yes?"

"But that's just me filling in," grumbled Typhlosion. "It's not exactly something that makes me anyone's new favorite knight or anything."

"It is a starting point, however."

"Not for what we're talking about."

"In general, then." Rhydon shrugged. "Now would be as good a time as any."

"Maybe, but…I don't know if I'm ready…"

"All in good time, then," soothed Nidoking. "Though, if you're looking for advice on patience and opportune moments, Samurott might be glad to lend some advice."

Jumping up and spinning around, Typhlosion gawked as the samurai froze. He peered at the door, which had opened too wide, and easily revealed him.

"Listening in on private conversations is quite rude," teased Nidoking. "You do know that, correct?"

"M-my apologies, my liege." Samurott bowed down. "I was, um…I—"

"I can barely hear you from all the way out there!" Nidoking laughed. "Come, come in. Your presence is already known."

Samurott stepped inside and trudged forward, avoiding eye contact with Typhlosion, who scowled at him as he went red in the face. Rhydon clasped his hands behind his back as Nidoking chuckled.

"Sire." Samurott bowed down again as he reached the throne. "You wished to see me?"

"…You too?"

Blinking, Samurott picked his head up. "Um…pardon, sir?"

"First, pick yourself up, please." Nidoking waved his hand, bidding Samurott to rise on command. "Good. Now, second—actually, that's it exactly. You're the second one in here to arrive, but not on my orders."

"Come again?"

"Typhlosion came in here earlier asking about a summoning," explained Rhydon. "Neither Nidoking nor I requested him in however. Instead, we carried away with a few questions that he had for us, unrelated to his appearance here."

"But…" Samurott turned to the still scowling Typhlosion. "Why were we both summoned here, on neither of our kings' orders?"

"Gracious, Samurott!" Rhydon deeply blushed and stomped with his foot. "We're not married yet! I'm still your general!"

"For a matter of time." Samurott shrugged. "Do you intend to wait a while?"

"A bit longer," chuckled Nidoking, also blushing lightly. "It hasn't been very long since the proposal, and we still have arrangements to make."

"Keeping your subjects waiting is poor form," joked Samurott, relaxing his shoulders.

"Speaking of waiting," interrupted Typhlosion, a hint of anger still in his voice, "just when will we be able to figure this summoning out?"

Abruptly, the throne room doors slammed open. Whirling around, Samurott drew his blade, but faltered upon sighting who strolled in.

Gardevoir drifted forward, telekinetically dragging an airborne and helpless Lilligant. Beaming, she waved to everyone as she approached the throne, while her captive flailed around.

"Greetings, your majesties!"

"This engagement is already short-lived," mumbled Rhydon, and Nidoking chuckled.

"And hello to you two as well, Typhlosion and Samurott," excitedly greeted the mage. "Goodness, how lovely to see you all in one place! And look! I even brought Lady Lilligant with me too. Now we're all together!"

"Please save me," whispered Lilligant, rolling around in the air.

"Um…where do I even begin?" Typhlosion tilted his head, watching Lilligant dangling from above. "Uh…did you summon us here?"

"No, the kings did!"

"We did not, Gardevoir," affirmed Nidoking. He slowly grinned at Rhydon's glare.

"Fine, so she did," grumbled Typhlosion. "Mystery solved." He sighed and blinked at Lilligant. "As for that, why?"

"Why what?"

"Oh, come on, Gardevoir," snapped Typhlosion. "Like you don't have a clue what's wrong?"

"Nothing should be wrong at all!" Gardevoir threw her arms up, and Lilligant fell from air, thudding against the ground. "I've got my three best friends in the whole kingdom right here with me! Everything's perfect!"

Silently, the others exchanged unnerved glances to one another. Samurott sighed and stepped toward her.

"Gardevoir," started Samurott, "while we're happy to be your friends, we're not exactly…not that we're not getting closer, but—"

"It's been a month since they left!" Lilligant groaned as she picked herself up. "Can't we at least socialize normally?"

"This is absolutely normal for the soldiers of the Grass Fields Army!"

"Not quite," muttered Typhlosion.

"At any rate, I'm not even in the army," whined Lilligant.

"Not yet!"

"…C-come again?"

"Honestly, we could use another helping of feminine charm around here," declared Gardevoir. Everyone watched as she pulled Lilligant forward. "That's why, as of here and now, Lady Lilligant is now joining our troupe not only as a friend, but as a member of the army!"

"Wait, I'm what?!" Lilligant's eyes widened and she shuddered. "G-Gardevoir, I couldn't possibly—!"

"Nonsense! You'll make a lovely addition around here!" She smiled and brought Lilligant's leafy hands up in her own. "Besides, just think of working alongside your best friends in combat and more mundane missions!"

"B-but I've never even fought before!" Lilligant shook her head. "I can't be in an army if I can't even fight."

"Oh, but you probably wouldn't be much good as a physical combatant anyway," deduced Gardevoir. "Perhaps I'll teach you some magic spells."

"That's still—"

"Tricky, you're right," cut in Gardevoir. "But, that's ok! Even if it's all on me, I'll get you whipped into shape in no time at all!"

"I—"

"You're welcome!"

"Now, Gardevoir—"

"Relax, King Nidoking!" Gardevoir bounced around. "I'll do everything it takes to have her ready, and General Rhydon can have her tested later on to see if she can form in ranks with us. She'll be perfect, I promise!"

"Hold on, that's not—"

"Ooh, you know what?" Gardevoir clasped her hands together. "We should find somewhere around town to get started!" Lightly, she gasped. "And we should all go together! It's so perfect that we're all here together after all!"

"Uh—"

"Farewell, sires!" She waved and stepped back. "We'll be back later tonight, or so, but until then, take care!"

Telekinetically, Gardevoir forced Samurott, Typhlosion, and Lilligant into the air. Charging from the throne room, she raced off, with her three friends yelling behind her.

Silently, Nidoking and Rhydon blinked out of the open throne doors. They turned to one another and stared quietly.

"Well," started Nidoking. "You're welcome to sit in that throne now."

"Oh, no," murmured Rhydon, sadly glancing at it and deflating. "I-I'm not…king."

"Yet." Groaning, Rhydon lifted his head as Nidoking laughed.

Along the trail outside of the castle, Gardevoir surged ahead, her friends crying out behind her. She skidded to a halt as she slid up to three of the knights from the castle, on their way back.

"Oho, what's the hurry, lady mage?" Ursaring shifted a sack from one shoulder to the other, and blinked at the sight before him.

"And…what are you doing with all of them?" Pangoro snickered. "Not using them to create a spell of some kind, are you?"

"No, but I'm sure that I can use bear furs for something." Gardevoir dropped her friends to the ground, and folded her arms. "What are you three up to, anyway?"

"We're not 'up to' anything," snapped Pangoro.

"Well, Beartic might be a bit more up than usual," joked Ursaring. "What did that jeweler tell you again?"

"Something about 'sending shivers down his spine,' I think." Beartic chuckled as the other four groaned. "Cute line."

"More like fake," snapped Typhlosion. "Sceptile handles his customers with excitement and flamboyance, but definitely with respect."

"As do all of the shopkeepers," defended Samurott. "They're not—"

"What, fun?" Ursaring snorted. "Whatever. This whole place needs to loosen up and just enjoy having a freedom with each other."

"We don't have to deal with a blistering cold that threatens to kill us every night," huffed Gardevoir. "So, we don't have to thrust ourselves into relationships with whoever we please."

"Then you might be missing out," mocked Beartic. "Kind of like how I'm missing the cold."

"Ah, the cold comes back whenever we're apart," joked Pangoro. "And whenever these prudes force us apart, of course."

"They don't force you apart," cut in Lilligant. "You lot could at least carry a normal conversation, or even mention your former kingdom once in a while, aside from how hard life was there. I've been around the castle just as often as you lot, lately. Everyone expects you to behave with at least some decency in public." She shook her head. "Which, somehow, proves to be a challenge for you three, constantly snogging and grabbing each other all over—"

"You mean like this?"

Beartic wrapped his arms around Pangoro from behind, while the panda dragged Ursaring into a deep kiss. Glaring, Gardevoir waved her hands and forced the trio apart.

"Now I'm forcing you apart," she cheerfully gibed. "You're free to do whatever in private, and some affection in public, but at least try to be respectful to the others you're around."

"Isn't the king marrying that butler-general of yours?" Pangoro snorted. "Either way, I'm pretty sure you're not in charge."

"No, but I will take command over louts like you."

"Sure, right." Beartic shook his head and lifted two crates back over his shoulders. "Have it your way, your not-so-highnesses. Ursaring, Pangoro, let's go."

Ursaring nodded and followed as Beartic walked around the group. Pangoro lifted his bag again, but bumped past Gardevoir as he followed the other bears.

Pivoting, Gardevoir telekinetically lifted a nearby boulder. Lilligant jumped up and grasped her arms.

"Gardevoir, no! They're not worth it."

Growling, Gardevoir relaxed and dropped the stone back down. Its rumble elicited the trio to turning back and quickly forward again, hurrying away from mage.

"They're still adjusting, I suppose," murmured Samurott. "It's not an excuse, but it does make sense."

"No, it doesn't," contested Typhlosion. "They've had long enough, and they don't have to act overt around everyone."

"Town complaints have worsened because of them," revealed Lilligant. "They had a hard time adjusting to gay couples already, but having a three-way relationship can be daunting, at least to outsiders."

"Bet it's only because it's gay," grumbled Typhlosion.

"Well…"

"Enough," intervened Gardevoir. "Their relationship shouldn't be a problem, but their actions should at least be a little more respectful. That's what we decided, and that's what we'll hold them to." She shook her head, but forced a smile. "Anyway, we still need to get started with our time around town, so let's get to it!" Gardevoir twirled around and winked to Lilligant. "After all, we've got a new ally to train!"

She marched ahead, bouncing about as she led the way. Lilligant followed, deflating as she trudged after Gardevoir. Tilting his head, Samurott hurried after her, with Typhlosion trailing behind him.

"You ok, Lilligant?" The samurai caught up with her, as she glanced at him. Quieter, he added, "You can go over it with me."

"Samurott, I don't know if I can live up to Gardevoir's expectations," bemoaned Lilligant. "Fighting wasn't a major motivation of mine…well, ever, really."

"At least give yourself a chance, Lilligant!" Samurott chuckled. "You haven't even attempted to practice yet."

"It's not something that I really need to try out."

"Look, if nothing else, it could be helpful self-defense, which you never know if you'll need one day," offered Samurott. "If that's not good enough for you, then maybe just try powering through one session to help out Gardevoir." He smiled to her. "She seems pretty happy working with you."

"D-do you think so?" Lilligant waved her leaves around. "She does seem a little happier, but I didn't think that I could bring that out of anyone."

"Sure you can! Let's list everyone: Chesnaught always loved your company, and Delphox took you to the dance. Greninja warmed up to you once he and Chesnaught were dating, and Gardevoir seems a bit more bubbly when you're with us." Lilligant blushed lightly and nodded, to which Samurott smirked. "After all, you're sweet and cute, so I'd imagine any of us would be in a better mood, all thanks to you!"

"Careful Samurott." Lilligant giggled. "That last one was borderline flirting."

"Just borderline?" He grinned and winked at her. "I think I need to work on being more overt around cute and lovely ladies, then."

"Oho, think you've got a chance with me, then?" Lilligant laughed. "Well, sorry, but I'm more interested in stealing gay knights from their boyfriends."

"Ha, well, if you want to make it a challenge…"

"Hmm, well, I might be a little more open to alternatives," joked Lilligant. "After all, ladies around town chatter about how enticing foreigners can be."

"Do they?"

"Of course." Lilligant spun around. "Ladies will gossip about whatever they please."

The pair laughed while Typhlosion rolled his eyes. Gardevoir dropped back and fell in step with the duo.

"Did I miss a joke?"

"Sort of," giggled Lilligant. "It's a bit lengthy, by now."

"Aw, oh well." She wrapped her arm around Lilligant and tugged her head. "What is it with you Grass types that bond so well with Water types, anyway?"

"Um, I don't know about that." Lilligant brushed a petal on her head. "After all, a certain frog ninja had a jealous streak of me for a while, from what I was told."

"Oh, good point!" Gardevoir laughed. She slowed and sighed. "Though, that's ancient history by now."

"It was mere months ago." Lilligant patted Gardevoir's free hand. "They'll be back again, for the wedding."

"Of course."

"All three of them."

"Yes, of course." She tightly hugged Lilligant as the quartet walked along the outskirts of town. "Thank you, Lilligant! You're exactly the lady I need around me."

"The w-what now?"

"The lady!" Gardevoir pulled away and coolly pointed at Lilligant. "You're the lady, Lil!"

"Um…th-thank you."

Gardevoir giggled and hurried ahead, as Lilligant lowered her head and blushed. Samurott raised an eyebrow while Typhlosion snickered.

"W-wait, Gardevoir, where are we going?"

"Somewhere that Lilligant would feel comfortable training!"

"Then we're not going into town?"

"Not yet; we need to find a spot to train her first!"

Walking away from the town, the others followed Gardevoir around, as she glanced around the area around them. Bouncing up, she glided over to a flower field. Lilligant clapped excitedly, and hurried over to her.

"Oh, yay!" Lilligant spun around and took in the different kinds of flowers. "There are so many here! Gosh, I wonder if I collected all of these yet—"

"Ah, hold on." Gardevoir grasped onto Lilligant, forcing her to sit still. "We need to get you to practice first. You can go flower picking later."

"But I don't pick flowers!" Lilligant shook her head. "I find ones that are ill or uprooted, and then I give them new homes!"

"Right, good, but you're missing my point."

"Um…sorry."

"Let's just check to see if you have any physical viability," decided Gardevoir, and she slid over to Samurott. "Sword, please."

"Hang on," protested Samurott. "I've only got those and one other type of—"

"Sword. Now."

Unsheathing the shell blade, Samurott handed it over to Gardevoir, who faltered taking it into her hands.

"Geez, Samurott!" She grunted and dragged the sword across flowers, as Lilligant gasped. "How do you even move around with such heavy things all the time?"

"It's not like I can run much when I'm locked in combat," reasoned Samurott.

"Whatever." Gardevoir heaved and swung the sword around, cutting flowers up from the field and eliciting a yelp from Lilligant. "I don't get how knights even tolerate such heavy weapons. At least wands and staves are typically light."

"Every fighter has a different style," offered Samurott.

"Sure, right." Gardevoir grinned and turned to Lilligant. "Ok, ready to try this out?"

"N…no." Lilligant whimpered as she shuddered over the hacked flowers.

"Come on, you can do it!"

Thrusting the blade forward, Gardevoir watched as it plummeted to the ground, flatting more flowers. Lilligant flailed her arms around, to which Gardevoir sighed and picked up the sword again.

"Yeah, leaf hands, I know."

She took Lilligant's hands, holding them for a moment. Lilligant's eyes quickly shifted between Gardevoir's hands and her own, until they were wrapped around the blade.

"Ok, I'm going to let go."

"Do you…have to?"

"Yes."

"W-wait, what—?"

Gardevoir released her grip from the shell blade, and Lilligant almost immediately fell to the ground from its weight. Flower petals flew up around her, and she rolled over and softly moaned into the earth.

"Um…ok, so." Gardevoir bent down and flung the sword back to Samurott, who huffed and snatched it back from the ground. "Unless we have a better weapon on us, that'll do it for physical practice."

"Actually, I might have just the—"

"Samurott, please don't make me," whimpered Lilligant into the ground.

"But it's actually—"

"Let's just move on," agreed Gardevoir. "Perhaps we can channel her inner magical capabilities?"

Digging beneath her robes, Gardevoir pulled out a small tome, and flipped through the pages. She nodded as she turned back to the beginning of the book.

"Simple spells are the best way to get you started, as magic takes time," explained Gardevoir. "It's different from our inherent abilities, in that we can summon and create different elements that are unnatural to us." She grinned to Lilligant, as the latter slowly rose from the ground. "For example, using fireballs would be totally against most forms of attacks that you could pull off, right?"

"Uh…c-can we not start with fire?" Lilligant shuddered and gripped herself. "I'd rather n-not even try to gamble with that."

"Ha, fair point," relented Gardevoir. "But, I don't think fire is ever a good skill set to start with, unless you're inherently used to it." She spun about to Typhlosion, who had lowered his eyes. "Would you agree to that point?"

"Yeah, fire is best left to Fire users," bitterly agreed Typhlosion. "Grass types should stick with Sunny Day if they need to sizzle up."

"S-s-sizzle?"

"Eh…I mean, uh…flame on?" Typhlosion blinked as Lilligant continued to quiver. "Or, well, fire up? It's not like you're actually catching fire, honest."

"Well, so long as we don't bring that up anymore," snapped Gardevoir, as she narrowed her eyes on Typhlosion.

"Whatever. Excuse me for trying to help."

"Indeed, and thank you." Gardevoir wrapped her arm around Lilligant and tugged her closer, as the latter blushed slightly. "Ok, let's start you with a basic spell not related to Grass or Fire." Tracing the page, Gardevoir tapped over one spell. "Here, this is good. Creating a ball of water from thin air."

"Aha, so, Water types are easier to work with," observed Samurott. "Perfect, of course. Water is, after all, beneficial to plant life."

Giggling, Lilligant nodded, while Gardevoir and Typhlosion rolled their eyes. Gardevoir pushed the tome into Lilligant's hands, and stepped away from her.

"Water can be simple to start with, but potentially lethal at more advanced states," explained Gardevoir. "In fact, I suppose the same could be given for any Type, really. But, the point is that this is a pretty easy spell to follow, and unless you manage to hit Typhlosion, it's mostly harmless."

"Mostly?" Typhlosion growled as his collar crackled. "If that so much as splashes me in the slightest—"

"Oh, please," cut in Samurott. "If you need, I can shield you." He stepped in front of Typhlosion, putting himself between the badger and the others. "Does that work?"

"Y-yes." Typhlosion's cheeks lit up as he scratched the side of his head. "The distance should have covered it, but…thank you."

"You're welcome." Samurott turned back to Gardevoir and Lilligant. "Carry on, ladies!"

"We will!" Gardevoir stepped in front of Lilligant, as the Flowering Pokemon glanced up at her. "Now, watch closely and carefully, ok?" Quickly, Lilligant nodded. "Ok."

Gardevoir cupped her hands, bringing them closer together, but with enough space between them. Slowly, she rotated them in a clockwise direction, but then shifted around counterclockwise once they met half way. As Gardevoir rotated her hands back and forth, a small droplet of water formed between them.

"Wow…" Lilligant watched in awe, tracing Gardevoir's movements.

As she continued, Gardevoir separated her hands further, and moved them around back and forth as well as up and down. Carefully, she guided them into a rotating maneuver as the ball of water increased in size, almost as big as Lilligant's head.

"Not bad," complimented Samurott. "That looks well formed, Gardevoir."

"Of course."

Smirking, Gardevoir halted her hands on either side and tossed the water ball into the air. It scattered as the water rained down into droplets that fell around her and Lilligant.

"That was amazing," cooed Lilligant as she twirled around, admiring the water drops that hit the grass.

"Y-yeah, sure," murmured Typhlosion, crouched behind Samurott.

"Now, it's your turn." Gardevoir tapped at the tome before Lilligant. "Yours won't be quite as big as mine, at least not to start. Just follow my movements, and the instructions in that tome." She smiled and patted Lilligant's shoulder. "It's also an easy spell since you don't need any chanting or rituals included before it. Just the motions with your hands."

"…Um…" Lilligant glanced down at her leafy arms. "Do…will these even work?"

"Pretty sure as long as you have limbs, it's possible," determined Gardevoir. "Here, I'll hold the tome up, and you just give it a shot."

Nodding, Lilligant passed the book back to Gardevoir. She stared at the tome as she moved her hands around, each leaf flapping about to create a circular motion. However, her hands had rotated a little too close together, and in full rotations.

"Dear, that's not quite right," interrupted Gardevoir. "They need to be further out."

Rapidly, Lilligant forced her arms much further apart, and continued to spin them around one another. A tiny bubble popped up between, as water whirled around it. Lilligant shivered as the water ball shook violently.

"Ok, hold on, let's just—"

Holding up her hands, Gardevoir motioned to get Lilligant to cease her spell. However, Lilligant forced her hands forward, and the bubble fired off, splashing against Samurott's chest.

"Huh." He shrugged and glanced back at Typhlosion, who had ducked back down behind him. "Guess you had reason to worry after all."

"Knew it!" Typhlosion shot up and leaned over Samurott's shoulder, poking at his breastplate. "Are you ok? I know that's water on a Water Type, but—"

"Didn't even come close to hurting me," laughed Samurott. "Thanks for the concern though." He turned back to Lilligant, who hung her head. "That was a pretty good first attempt, Lilligant! It was a surprising attack, regardless of strength!"

"It's…not even meant for attacking," deadpanned Gardevoir. "That spell is actually meant to encourage growth in plants and helpful for gardening."

"Isn't that good, though?" Samurott tilted his head. "Lilligant turned it into an attack to use for defensive measures, and it's useful for her home life all at once."

"Except that it takes a heavy amount of practice to make that something damaging," elucidated Gardevoir. "That's the kind of attack that, unless you're exceptionally proficient in spell casting, will get yourself using for most offensive or defensive scenarios."

"So, I goofed again," moaned Lilligant. "Maybe I'm not too great at magic, either."

"N-no, no," insisted Gardevoir. "Samurott's got a good point, you might…be better off with more attack oriented spells!"

Again, Gardevoir skimmed the pages in her book, and tapped at another spell. She showed it to Lilligant and grinned.

"Summoning lightning would be way cooler, I think," she chirped. "And, it's not as lethal for you either!"

"Is it my turn to protect you?" Typhlosion smirked as Samurott sank in place. "Just get down, I'll bend over you, and you'll be safe."

"…Wait, what?"

"Here, like…uh…" Typhlosion pushed Samurott down at first, but hesitated as the samurai's face bumped into the knight's stomach. "…You know what? Forget that. We can just…um…I'll—"

"Just leave it to Gardevoir," decided Samurott. "I'm sure she'll make certain that I'm not electrocuted."

"…Sure, right, trust me," poorly soothed Gardevoir, as she nervously giggled at Samurott's questioning eyebrow. "Anyway, Lilligant, this shouldn't hit any of us, as it will be aimed at a distance."

Gardevoir stepped away from Lilligant and stared ahead at a small stump. Jabbing her left hand forward, she pointed at the stump. Zigzagging her right hand, Gardevoir pointed up to the sky.

Everyone gasped as thunder boomed and a bolt of lightning flashed behind some darkened clouds. With a crackle, the lightning bolt crashed down and zapped the stump, shocking it before setting it ablaze.

"There we are," aired Gardevoir. "An offensive spell to utilize. How about you try that?"

"Uh…ok."

Shaking, Lilligant studied the tome before giving it back to Gardevoir. She shuddered as she pointed to a branch on the ground, and her free arm shook as she guided it skyward.

"No, Lilligant, that's not going to—"

Before Gardevoir could stop her, lightning flashed in the sky. Gasping, Lilligant turned and caught Samurott's eye.

"Turn, Lilligant," called Gardevoir. "Now, Lilligant, turn!"

Typhlosion shoved Samurott to the ground as Lilligant spun around, facing the town. The lightning bolt crackled down and flashed behind the walls of Springton, and the quartet watched, awestruck.

"Uh…" Typhlosion rolled off of Samurott and chuckled. "Sorry about that. Are you ok?"

"Fine," grumbled Samurott, as he brushed himself off. "And you?"

"Yep, just my pride."

"Good." He smiled and patted Typhlosion. "Nice rescue, though."

"Oh…that…that can't be good," groaned Gardevoir.

"Did…did I just kill someone?!"

"…Ah…well—"

"Gardevoir, this is serious!" Lilligant wildly shook her head. "If I just electrocuted someone to death accidentally, I'll never forgive myself!"

"But…no, I don't think—"

"What's going on out there?!"

Gazing at the top of the wall, the group watched as a white and green figure leapt up and then down. He rushed past the trees and slowed to a halt as he neared the four, chuckling as he relaxed.

"Earl Gallade, oh thank goodness you were there!" Gardevoir dropped her shoulders and wiped her forehead, a bit less sweaty. "Is everything ok?"

"Well, a merchant yelped about his now fried berry soup," explained Gallade. "But, it did smell better than before, so that might actually be for the best."

"S-sorry," murmured Lilligant, as she lowered her arms. "That…was my fault."

"Yours?"

"Not entirely," intervened Gardevoir. "I'm teaching Lilligant magic!"

"Oh?"

"Yep! She's going to join the army!"

"Oh!" Gallade smiled and placed his hands on his round waist. "Sounds like you've got a nice planning going so far!"

"It's not nice at all!" Gardevoir backed away from Lilligant's outburst. "This is a terrible idea! I'm useless with a weapon, and I can't even pull off the most basic of spells!" She roughly shook her head as her voice broke. "I can't fight at all. I'm not worth the aggravation, and we should quit before I actually hurt someone."

"We are not giving up!" Lilligant glanced up, blinking through her watery eyes, as Gardevoir clamped her hands around her shoulders. "You're just starting out, Lilligant. We will find a way to help make you strong and battle ready, in time. For now, you're like any of us as we started out." She softly smiled. "You'll get this, I know it."

"What if I can't?" Lilligant shook her head. "Gardevoir, I'm not that strong, and I just started practicing this kind of thing now. You guys have worked at combat and related situations for years. If anything starts up soon, I'll just anchor everyone around me."

"That's the point of practice," eased Gallade, approaching the pair. "All you need to do is continue trying at this, and you'll become stronger as you learn more."

"If I was actually capable of it, sure," mumbled Lilligant. "But I'm not. I'm terrible at whatever we'll try."

"There has to be something that you're good at, Lilligant," moaned Gardevoir as she dragged a hand over her face. Peering past her hand, she murmured, "Besides your flower collecting hobby."

"N-not that I know of, really," admitted Lilligant. "I'm…I don't know, I like dancing, I guess, but that's not—"

"Wait, you dance?"

"Yes, though often I practice alone." Lilligant placed her leafy hands against her face. "To be honest, I'm not even sure if I'm that good—"

"Well, you have to try showing us, at least."

"Uh…I—I, um—"

"Please, do try," encouraged Gallade. "Gardevoir is quite a lovely partner to dance with, and I'm not half bad myself, but we're always enthralled to see others flow around with their own styles." He beamed at Lilligant. "I bet you'd look magnificent, especially out in this field of flowers."

"O-oh, I don't know—"

"Watch it, Gallade," teased Gardevoir. "You're not allowed to cheat on me, no matter how pretty the other lady looks."

"S-sorry," mumbled Lilligant as she deflated.

"Darling, please, it's not at all your fault." Gardevoir picked Lilligant back up and patted her gently. "Gallade's right: we want to see you at what you can do, what you do best." Gardevoir grinned and picked up Lilligant's hands. "So, show us, please."

She shuddered, but nodded slightly, and Lilligant backed away from Gardevoir and Gallade. Breathing in and out, Lilligant relaxed her body and slightly lowered her head.

Waving and bending her leafy arm, Lilligant shook one around before forcing it to stop. She repeated the move with her other arm, stopping abruptly again. Slowly, she brought her head up as both arms swayed around, with flowers below her swaying with her movements.

Her friends' mouths parted open as Lilligant pulled one arm across her chest, swaying her body around. She spun slightly, as petals drifted up by her bottom. Gliding back, she twirled, as a flurry of petals flew up around her.

Toddling forward, Lilligant crouched and spun her hands around in quick rolling motions. She brought them up as pink and red flowers scattered around her, with grass blades rocking as she drifted about.

With a wiggle, followed by a dip, Lilligant rose up and pirouetted twice, with the flowers swinging to her motions. She rolled the center of her body, with her hips sliding around as she brought her arms back up. Petals rained down past her as Lilligant swayed her hips and body around in the cascade.

Twirling back down, Lilligant crouched and spun in a circle near the flowers on the ground. A wave of petals kicked up, as violets and yellows mixed in with her movements.

Spinning quickly as she shook her waist around, Lilligant spiraled back up, with the petals spinning and swirling around her. Petal blades whipped past Gardevoir and Gallade's faces, as the pair backed further and lined alongside Samurott and Typhlosion.

As she slowed, Lilligant thrust her arms out to either side, and the petals halted. Spiraling, she bent back and tilted, with the flowers swarming around her.

Leaping forward, Lilligant pirouetted twice more and thrust her arms forward, as the petals ripped and soared across the air, gliding off in a heavy whirlwind from the field and past the trees in the distance.

Lilligant turned to her friends, who gawked at the disappearing petals and slowly turned back to her. She flushed as she brought her hands back to her face.

"Wow! You're an amazing dancer, Lilligant!" Gardevoir applauded her and bounced around, as Lilligant's face grew darker. "That was fantastically stunning!"

"Gosh, d-do you really think so?"

"Absolutely!" Gardevoir clasped her hands together. "My gracious, I think you might even be able to use that kind of a dance offensively!"

"R-really?" Lilligant shivered and giggled a little. "The petals can be a little rough if they're too close to someone, but I never really considered that to be an attack."

"Of course it is! That's a powerful Petal Dance!"

"W-well, that is the name of it," murmured Lilligant. "It's one of my favorites."

"Doesn't all of that spinning confuse you?" Gallade shook his head, still bewildered. "It was as captivating as Gardevoir claimed, but…really, you're not at all dizzy or confused from that?"

"Not really, no." Lilligant shrugged. "I guess I go at my pace, my own tempo."

"That's incredible."

"Definitely," chimed in Samurott. "Your dancing shows that you have a true mastery over your inherent skills and can rely on those better than any sword or spell as a mere extension."

"Thank you," giggled Lilligant. "I've practiced these for a while now, so that does make more sense." She sighed and brushed herself down. "There's another dance that lets me move around like a butterfly, a Quiver Dance. And one more that might confuse other people, based on how I teeter around."

"What other kinds of dances do you know?"

"W-well, only some of them I can use to really help out," explained Lilligant. "But, there are others that I've learned from other cultures. There are so many kinds, like a rain dance, dancing like a dragon, moonlight dancing, a fire dance, dancing with swords, and even dances with feathers."

"Huh. That's more than I expected," murmured Typhlosion.

"These are spectacular!" Gardevoir bounced around again. "Oh, Lilligant, this is it! Your niche among our army could be your dances! They're in a class all their own!"

"Um…are you sure?" Lilligant folded her arms and tilted her head. "Dancing doesn't exactly seem like the best…I mean, they can be helpful, but…for fighting?"

"For fighting with those petals, confusing enemies, or boosting morale," listed Gallade. "Dancers are a proud source of entertainment, but they would have just as much of a profound inspiration on soldiers as anyone else, and could prove useful in uncanny ways that are not easily anticipated."

"Aw…you guys sure know how to flatter me," giggled Lilligant.

"It's not just flattery," insisted Gallade. "With perhaps one more powerful attack under your belt, you might be truly capable of holding your own with the best of the knights."

"L-let's not get too crazy," muttered Lilligant.

"Really though," persisted Gallade, "it's worth the effort. I was actually listening to a popular buzz around town just now, or a little while back. A few clamor about tutors and those that are capable of teaching moves to students." He nodded and smirked. "There was even some talk about special moves that certain Types can learn, including Grass, Water, and Fire Types."

"Uh, what? That's amazing," cooed Gardevoir. "We should get in there and learn those moves as soon as possible!"

"Huh?"

"We're going through town, right now, and learning those moves for you guys," declared Gardevoir. "Samurott, you and Typhlosion look out for tutors of the Fire and Water moves. Gallade and I will scour the streets for someone that can teach Lilligant her own signature move to help balance her with those incredible dances!"

"Wait, we're splitting up?"

"Yes, of course." Gardevoir placed her hands on her hips. "Look, we put in good time to help Lilligant discover her best abilities, and that's been a success so far. But now, we need to work on getting the three of you up to the next level! Time is short in a day, and we need to get started with these tutors as soon as we can! More practice in more time is better than starting too late and scrambling to learn later on."

"Um…well, that makes sense," agreed Samurott. "Just…go easy on Lilligant?"

"She's in great hands!" Gallade and Gardevoir spun about with one another, as the Earl laughed proudly. "After all, she has Grass Fields' most popular couple to help her find that tutor and cheer her on!"

"Debatably most popular," muttered Typhlosion. "If I recall, although there was a lot of resistance and dissent earlier, buzz still swarms the streets on Greninja and Chesnaught." Gardevoir and Gallade lowered their eyes as Samurott deflated. "Not to mention that the top couple, above all others and rightfully so, should always be King Nidoking and General Rhydon." Typhlosion paused and snickered as Gallade and Gardevoir seethed at him. "Sorry, does the truth hurt?"

"Never you mind," snapped Gallade. "Lilligant is still very much in good and sturdy hands, between this power couple." He spun around to Lilligant, who had slumped a bit, but flailed to straighten up. "Ready to go, Lilligant?"

"Oh, um…yes, I suppose."

"Perfect!" Gardevoir telekinetically grabbed her friends. "Then off we go!"

"Not again—"

Charging off, Gardevoir flew back to the main gates of Springton. She quickly dropped Samurott and Typhlosion before racing off, still dragging Lilligant and Gallade through the air.

Silently, the samurai and the knight watched as their friends vanished down a path and behind several buildings, and blinked at one another. Shrugging, Samurott got up, and then pulled Typhlosion up after him.

"Might as well get started on our search, then," decided Samurott and led the way into town.

"As you command," muttered Typhlosion, prompting Samurott to turn back and raise an eyebrow.

"Command?" The sea lion tilted his head. "What's with that?"

"Don't play dumb," mumbled Typhlosion. "You may have an equivalent rank to us knights, but you're definitely held above us in rank." Typhlosion sighed and dropped his shoulders as he walked forward. "If I have it right, you're just below Gallade's rank, and he's not even around the castle that often. So, if command were to defer from Nidoking to Rhydon, then you two would be next in charge."

"Why would—?"

"Hypothetical situations where Nidoking and Rhydon aren't around," clarified Typhlosion. "Not that any big ones have happened, but Rhydon will let you take over as instructor for our sparring sessions."

"W-well…yes, that's true, but…um." Samurott scratched behind his head as Typhlosion lowered his eyes and smirked at him. "…Ok, fine, so maybe they hold me just a bit above the rest." Samurott shrugged. "Doesn't mean anything, under most situations or otherwise."

"Not at the moment…"

"Anyway, what does that matter now?" Samurott folded his arms. "You act like ranks mean something while we're just walking around town."

"Maybe not that exactly," grumbled Typhlosion. "It just makes it difficult…"

"What's difficult?"

"Nothing." Typhlosion sighed as Samurott halted and frowned at him. "Ok, fine, I guess I just…don't want to disappoint you, or anything."

"Disappoint me?"

"Yeah, I don't know." Typhlosion scratched behind his head. "I already have everyone hating me enough as it is. Even if you guys hate me a little less, it's not—"

"Hold on. Hate?" Samurott shook his head. "None of us hate you." Typhlosion lowered his eyes again and stared at Samurott. "Oh, come on! Who hates you?"

"Everyone."

"At least among our group. Who?"

"Gardevoir, probably." Typhlosion shrugged. "She still has a slight annoyance with me, even if she doesn't show it as often. Gallade hates all of us by association, since we take away his bonding time with Gardevoir. And Lilligant is repelled from me just because of the incompatibility with fire."

"Pretty sure none of that is true, at all," countered Samurott. "Gardevoir is excited about spending time with each of us lately, to fill the void that the others left." He rubbed his chin, but shook his head. "Although I'd imagine that Gallade would love more time to himself and Gardevoir, he doesn't begrudge anyone else for being with her. After all, it's her choice to choose who she spends time with, and Gallade seems more eager to spend time with us lately, perhaps to help us cushion Gardevoir's buried sadness." He smiled and nodded. "And Lilligant doesn't hate you, as she hardly snaps at you. You saw her around those bears, right? Those are the types that she doesn't like. Us, on the other hand, she likes. We are all becoming closer friends as of late, so we should all like spending time together." Samurott nodded and placed his hands on his hips. "You worry too much, Typhlosion."

"If you think so."

"Oh, cut the rank crap."

"Sorry." Typhlosion shrugged. "But…what about you?" Samurott tilted his head and Typhlosion cleared his throat. "Well, I mean…w-what do you think? Uh, of me, that is."

"Hm? Me?" Samurott blinked. "Um…I think you're fine." Typhlosion deflated and Samurott scratched behind his head. "What? What's wrong with that?"

"Just fine?" Typhlosion sighed. "That's hardly convincing."

"We're just starting to bond," reasoned Samurott. "Look, if I disliked you, even just a little bit, I'd probably avoid spending time with you. I don't." Samurott rolled his shoulders. "If I'm being totally honest, I like spending time with my friends, and I include you in that group. You're a little hotheaded, but I've noticed that you're actually pretty defensive over the others." He smiled. "I can always appreciate an ally that looks out for others, and the more time we spend together, so much the better."

"Geez, ok, long version!" Typhlosion laughed while Samurott rolled his eyes.

"Hey, you were the one acting all jittery over my opinion." He shrugged. "So, I gave it to you in full, right off the top of my head."

"So I noticed." Typhlosion chuckled. "Well, I…you did help me feel better, so…thank you."

"Anytime."

"Even if you're acting a little off lately."

"Excuse me?"

"Come on, don't act like you don't know." Typhlosion lowered his eyes at Samurott again. "Just what was that earlier, with Lilligant?"

"What do you mean?" Samurott paused and tilted his head. "She's cute."

"You've never been interested in her before," countered Typhlosion. "Suddenly, you're infatuated with her?"

"Oh, come now," defended Samurott. "We hadn't spent as much time together earlier, so I didn't take to her right away. This past month, being around her more, she's easy to fall for." He lowered his eyes and smirked at Typhlosion. "Are you honestly going to tell me that she's not cute?"

"N-no, she's…pretty."

"Aha! So, you're going to challenge my affections for her, huh?"

"Don't be ridiculous." Typhlosion shook his head. "I'll admit that Lilligant can be captivating, but I'm not interested in her."

"Really? Not even a bit?" Samurott blinked and blankly gazed at Typhlosion. "Well then, why should it bother you if I'm starting to flirt with her?"

"Because…" Typhlosion hesitated and thought for a moment. "It just seems a little forced, in my opinion. You two are just really becoming friends now."

"All the more reason to bring up the idea of dating," decided Samurott. "We should try experimenting before we become too used to one another as friends." He sighed and shook his head. "Better to act over hesitating."

"M-maybe," murmured Typhlosion. "But…sometimes, it's good to wait, too."

"Perhaps we can agree to—"

"Hey!"

Samurott and Typhlosion spun about to spot two ruffians from their last visit with Greninja and Chesnaught. Rushing over to the knight and the samurai, Electabuzz and Medicham held up two swords each.

"You're the lame knights that were around that gay couple from before!" Electabuzz growled as sparks danced around him.

"And you're those annoying creeps from last time," sneered Typhlosion. He paused and glanced around before chuckling. "What's the matter? You're short two members this time around."

"W-we don't need them!" Medicham sliced the air with a sword. "We can take you two down without those cowards!"

"Oh yeah?" Typhlosion grinned. "I'd like to see you try."

"Typhlosion."

"Hm?" The honey badger turned back to his companion. "What is it?"

"You don't need to fight this one." Samurott smiled at Typhlosion's confused expression. "I need some exercise, so I'll take care of them both for us."

"Us? Uh…I mean, if you're sure…"

"Yes, it won't take long."

Samurott stepped forward and drew his long blades. Sweating and shivering slightly, the ruffians recoil back a bit. Gritting their teeth, however, the two raised their blades for a fight.

"Neither of you must have heard of me." Samurott continued to smile, delivering his words in the same even and tempered tone. "That's ok. It means people have grown used to seeing me around these parts."

"Oh what, you're a gay's buddy and a foreign freak too?" Electabuzz stepped forward. "That'll make this even easier."

"Ah, you really haven't heard much from me." Samurott shrugged. "Poor work on my part, perhaps, but I'm assuming you just haven't listened the right stories. You see, like the ninjas, King Nidoking sent a special request to have me at his castle." Samurott smirked. "He was looking for a very capable warrior, and the ever elusive samurai."

"So?!" Medicham slid a foot out to ready her stance. "What the hell does any of this even matter?!"

"It means that you're so far in over your heads that you truly won't understand just what's about to happen."

"Y-you can't!" Medicham shook her head. "We could t-take you, but knights are strictly prohibited to harm town citizens!"

"True, we're not allowed to maim nor kill any of you." Samurott's grin broadened. "That's why I'm going to defeat both of you on my own without any serious injuries."

"Ha!" Electabuzz lifted his blade higher. "Not a chance for that!"

"No chances at all." Samurott hunched down. "It's guaranteed."

Leaping forward, Samurott sliced down with his blades, locking Medicham's against the ground.

She struggled and yanked on them, unable to move her sword. He shoved her away and knocked her blade to the ground.

Growling, Electabuzz jumped forward and swung his sword down. Samurott deftly lifted his blade and easily blocked the blow.

"Is that all?" Samurott smirked.

Roaring, Electabuzz broke out of Samurott's grip and cleaved up, knocking Samurott's blade away.

He stabbed forward, but gawked as the sea lion blocked with his other blade.

"He can't handle both of us!" Medicham scrambled back up and snatched her sword. "Let's attack together!"

Both ruffians swiped at Samurott who blocked and parried their attacks. His movements were calm and flowing, as he easily maneuvered around each strike.

"Keep it up, Samurott!"

Nodding to Typhlosion, Samurott blinked upon hearing a louder clang. He turned back to find his sword locked between those of his opponents.

Together, they flipped the sword from the samurai's grip and launched it away, with it landing away from him.

"Don't worry," assured Typhlosion, as he reached for Samurott's fallen blades. "I've got them!"

"No need."

From his belt, Samurott snatched and opened two golden war fans. Both of his opponents faltered, but paused before laughing.

"Fans?" Electabuzz laughed. "Are you joking? What kind of a weapon is that?"

"Just the one that I will defeat you with."

"As if!"

Electabuzz jumped forward, thrusting his sword out. Samurott lifted his fans and easily caught the blade in between them.

He watched as Medicham followed up, and flipped Electabuzz's sword away. Tossing one fan up near her, Medicham yelped and fumbled back, watching the fan soar to the sky.

Swiftly, Samurott tugged the blade from her loose grip and tossed it aside. She gaped as it clattered to the ground.

Chuckling, Samurott waited before he lifted his hand. The second fan landed right into his hand, and he fanned himself.

"Whatever!" Electabuzz pounded his fist to his palm, and sparks charged around it. "We don't need swords to beat you!"

Rolling his arm around, Electabuzz threw his fist forward. Spinning his fans as the fist flew forward, Samurott then sidestepped the fist, and smirked.

Electabuzz blinked and stared at his hand. No sparks remained on it, as Samurott fanned himself again.

"How embarrassing…"

"Shut up!"

Medicham kicked forward at Samurott, who merely ducked from her jump. She crashed into a wall and fell to the ground, groaning.

"No, Medicham!"

"Just so we're clear," pointed out Samurott, "that was her own doing. I was just fanning myself, after all."

"You…you bastard!"

Leaping forward, Electabuzz dove at Samurott, who spiraled around the attack. The thug slid across the ground, and spat dirt from his mouth.

"Oh, are you all right?" Samurott grinned. "Do you require any assistance?"

"Just shut up and die already!"

Once more, Electabuzz swung a charged fist at Samurott, who opened and closed his fan to the ruffian's sight.

Too late, Electabuzz stumbled as he crashed into several crates, which collapsed over him. Samurott shrugged and waved his fans again.

"Either of you interested in going another bout?"

His opponents only groaned as they picked themselves up and ran off.

"Didn't think so." Samurott flipped his fans closed and sheathed them back along his belt. "Scoundrels."

"That was fantastic, Samurott!" The samurai turned and grinned as Typhlosion carried over his blades. "You didn't even hit them! They did it all to themselves!"

"Well, the goal was to just tire them out altogether, but whatever works."

"And that worked beautifully!"

"Glad you thought so," laughed Samurott. He smiled as Typhlosionhanded him the blades, and sheathed them. "Well, shall we be on our way?"

"Right, we've got tutors to find." Typhlosion laughed. "Though, maybe you don't need one!"

"Perhaps not desperately, but I could certainly learn more." He patted Typhlosion's back and nodded. "Plus, it'll give us something to do."

Nodding, Typhlosion followed as Samurott walked around the streets, and the pair searched for those that could tutor them with new moves.

Chapter Text

[Springton, Grass Fields Kingdom]

The afternoon sunlight fell behind a cloud as Samurott and Typhlosion continued to stroll through the town. They glanced through brick and wooden buildings, peeking for appropriate types of tutors. After an hour of combing around, the pair had learned nothing new.

"Well, that was great of Gallade to help us out," grumbled Typhlosion. "Sure, tutors are around this town, but they're not teaching anything that we wouldn't know or something dire that we need."

"To be fair," debated Samurott, "I doubt they'd be as easy to find." He paused as Typhlosion walked forward. "Um, northeast goes for restaurants."

"So? Maybe there's a cool battle chef here or something."

"…Seriously?"

"Fine." Typhlosion drummed his sides a bit and turned around. "So, what, down the north road for shops?"

"Hmm…yes," decided Samurott. "We go that way, and we'll have a better chance." He shrugged. "There are several book stores, so we might be able to find something in one of those, if there are no actual tutors."

"Doubtful, but whatever."

Just as they started down the path, Typhlosion caught a glimpse of a figure in a brown cloak against a wooden building. He veered over and walked to the hooded fellow.

"Hey, excuse me," started Typhlosion, slowing his approach as the hooded fellow turned to him. "You wouldn't happen to know much about tutoring for abilities or skills, would you? Special moves, that is."

Though the cloaked creature pushed off of the wall, it froze as Samurott stepped behind Typhlosion, trying to walk over. Quickly, the hooded being flipped his cloak and briskly strode away from the duo. Raising an eyebrow, Typhlosion turned back to Samurott, who stopped and shrugged.

"Maybe they don't like foreigners," he suggested. "Wouldn't be the first time."

"That crap gets old," snapped Typhlosion. "If anyone insults you again about that, they better hope that I'm not there."

"Yikes, no need to take offense for me," chuckled Samurott. He paused and tilted his head at Typhlosion. "Actually, why are you?"

"Do you think I'm heartless or something?" Typhlosion scowled. "You can put up a front all you like, but I know insults about being from far away are cruel."

"It's not…ok, it can get a little annoying." Samurott rolled his shoulders and smiled. "Thanks, though. I'm not…no one is usually around to help with that."

"Yeah? Well, point out who does it next time," growled Typhlosion. "I don't care where or when. I'll get them back for you."

"Unnecessary, but it's an appreciated gesture."

"You're welcome."

Samurott glanced behind him, spotting a blue monkey walking down the road. Tapping Typhlosion, he hurried over to the smaller simian.

"Excuse me," began Samurott. "Sorry, but you appear to be a Water Type."

"Me?" The Simian turned to Samurott, eyes closed. "I am, but why does that concern you?"

"Oh, my apologies. I'm a Water Type as well," explained Samurott. "My friend and I are searching for tutors."

"Friend?"

"Right here." Typhlosion slid up alongside Samurott, but blinked as he stared at the monkey. "Um…sorry, I'm in front of you."

"Duh, I can tell that much now," mocked the monkey. "Anyway, you two need tutors of your type?" He sniffed the air and nodded. "Well, you're telling the truth about being a Water Type. And your friend here…is Fire, right?"

"How'd—"

"Something faintly smells like smoke or ashes around you," revealed the monkey. "It's not overpowering, but it's a giveaway to your Type."

"Um…" Typhlosion scratched his head. "I mean, you're right, but that's…creepy?"

"Ha, it can be." The simian smirked. "So…I think that I can help—"

"Hold it right there!"

Glancing up, Samurott and Typhlosion watched as a red monkey charged over to them, scowling the darkest look he could muster. He quickly shoved the blue simian behind him and glared at the pair before him.

"You two monsters keep away from my brother, have you got that?!"

"W-what?" Samurott shook his head. "This is a misunderstanding. We're not threatening your twin, we're—"

"Yes, you are," snapped the red ape. "And we're not twins, we're…forget it. Now back off."

"For what?" Typhlosion stepped forward. "Look at us: we're not thugs, we're knights."

"Kn-knights?" The blue monkey stepped back. "Y-you didn't mention that."

"Huh?"

"That's exactly the threat here," growled the red monkey. "You're both knights, and that makes you two enemies."

"How does…that doesn't make any sense," contended Samurott. "We help protect this town, and the kingdom at large."

"So you claim."

"So we do," retorted Typhlosion. "You've got a lot of nerve—"

"Not nearly enough!" The simian growled at the knights again. "Not even close."

"Look, we're sorry if you're threatened by us," defused Samurott. "We're just trying to find tutors for special attacks that we can learn."

"And that's not us," fired back the monkey. "We're not even from this town. Even if we were those tutors, we wouldn't help you. Now, step aside." He tugged on his brother's hand. Quietly, softer, he compelled him, "Come on, we're leaving."

Hurriedly, and in a huff, the pair of simians stormed away from Samurott and Typhlosion, who exchanged unnerved expressions to one another. Quickly, though, Typhlosion scowled and stomped the ground.

"Those louts had more than nerve!"

"Annoyingly so," agreed Samurott. Still, he sighed and shook his head. "But fuming over them won't do us any good." Typhlosion opened his mouth to argue, but Samurott lifted his hand. "It won't, honest. We just need to find someone to teach us special moves somewhere around here, so let's just get back to it."

"What kind of special moves?"

Straightening up, the pair whirled around as a blue mudfish with spiky orange gills from his cheeks and large black fins on his head. He shifted crates around his arms and poked his head from behind them to make eye contact.

"Uh, we're not exactly sure about them," explained Samurott. "But, we are looking for something specific to our Types."

"Wait a second, you're the shopkeeper from earlier, with the Miracle Seed," realized Typhlosion. "Swampert, right?"

"That's me," confirmed Swampert. "And if I didn't know any better, I'd imagine that you two are looking to learn the Pledges."

"The what?"

"Perhaps you two should follow me inside," suggested Swampert. "It's going to be a bit to explain."

They shrugged to one another before following the merchant inside his store. Swampert froze and spun around as Samurott and Typhlosion shuffled in.

"Please don't let the door—!"

The trio winced as the door slammed shut behind them. Swampert sighed and shook his head.

"Guess I should get around to ordering a new one anyway…"

"Ah, quit complaining," called a voice.

Turning back in, Samurott and Typhlosion watched as a tall, red, chicken-like merchant appeared. He smirked at the knights and nodded.

"You royals are back again, huh?"

"Technically, we're not royals," pointed out Typhlosion.

"Eh, you live in a castle, close enough." He laughed and patted Swampert's back. "Need help with these crates, or do you want me to serve them?"

"Neither. Or, um, both, in a sense."

"…Huh?"

"Help me find a spot to put these down for now," instructed Swampert. "And then we'll take these two out back."

"To storage?"

"No, outside."

"Um…why?"

"They're looking to learn new moves, and we can teach them the Pledges."

"Oh, neat!" Blaziken grinned. "Haven't gotten to show those off in a while!"

Lifting the top two boxes from Swampert's stack, Blaziken strode through the store and placed them down behind a rack of shelves. He helped Swampert line up the rest before the pair walked back out before the knights.

"Come on out back, boys," called Blaziken.

Samurott and Typhlosion watched as Swampert closed up the store before following Blaziken to the back, led out the rear door. Both knights gazed around, with the backyard fenced around what appeared to be a training ground. Several training sandbags were set up around the area, outside of a marked arena.

"There's not a lot of room," admitted Blaziken. "But, we work with what we can."

"Why is this here?"

"To keep in shape, of course!" Blaziken beamed. "Swampert and I love training together, so we made sure that this was set up back here."

"Huh." Typhlosion nodded. "That seems like a good idea."

"Yep!" Blaziken took a minute as he observed the samurai and the knight. "So, I forgot, but you two are dating, right?"

"Nope, not us," clarified Samurott. "Our friend that came last time was dating someone else."

"Ah, the frog, right?" Blaziken chuckled. "Guess that was wishful thinking on my part."

"Pardon?"

"It's just that you two seem like a cute couple together," suggested Blaziken. "Fire and Water is a more enchanting mix than folks give it credit for."

"…Wait, then…are you and Swampert—?"

"Dating?" Blaziken laughed. "Yep, we are!"

"Really?" Samurott shook his head. "My apologies. I hadn't realized—you two act so professionally in the store…"

"True, and we do try to keep it that way in front of patrons." Blaziken shrugged. "As you're aware, the town doesn't exactly embrace gay couples, so we try not to air it. Every year, if we attended the ball, we went as friends and never performed dances together."

"That's awful," murmured Typhlosion.

"It could be worse," determined Blaziken. "And regardless, your friends are helping create a change alongside the kings, so who knows? In time, we may see changes in people's acceptance."

"Hopefully sooner than later."

"Yes, that would be ideal." Blaziken scratched behind his head. "Sorry, that's a little, um, too much, right?"

"Not at all!" Samurott smiled. "We're happy to listen to your story."

"Definitely," chimed in Typhlosion.

"Thank you." Blaziken sighed and flexed his hands. "Still, I must apologize about my mistake. I didn't mean to be presumptuous on your relationship."

"No worries," insisted Samurott. "We're friends."

"Yep, friends," echoed Typhlosion.

"Uh-huh."

Blaziken scratched his chin and stared at Typhlosion for a moment. Swampert, however, strolled out and came between the knights, making his way over to Blaziken.

"So, has Blaziken told you two anything interesting?"

"As a matter of fact," intervened Blaziken as he wrapped his arms around Swampert, "I did."

"…Oh." Swampert nervously chuckled. "Um…w-well, that's—"

"Fine," persisted Samurott. "Our king is gay, remember? And his soon to be husband also acts as our general?"

"Yes, but…other knights have, uh, varying reactions, correct?"

"Because they're idiots," cut in Typhlosion. "Not like us."

"If you two insist," relented Swampert, and he cupped his hands over Blaziken's. "It does get tiring to hide it, honestly."

"He worries a lot," teased Blaziken, dropping his head on top of Swampert's, fitted neatly between his fins. "Swampert's has always been the more reserved between the two of us."

"Of course I have," retorted Swampert. "You were too much of hot shot that flirted with everyone!"

"Guilty," sang Blaziken. "I was quite the charmer some time ago."

"You act like that didn't happen a few years back, or anything."

"Ah, true," chuckled Blaziken. "I was already a Blaziken and still flirting with all kinds of cuties." He tapped on his chin and nodded. "Really, I had the biggest weakness for strong or muscular types."

"Which certainly changed a whole lot," murmured Swampert as he flexed. Blaziken laughed and tightly hugged Swampert. "I think I can feel your drool already."

"Um—"

"Oh my, I'm so sorry!" Swampert quickly dropped his arms and bowed his head, with Blaziken slightly sliding over his head. "You two don't need to see all of this nonsense from us. We have Pledges to teach."

"Can you start by explaining those?" Typhlosion folded his arms and tilted his head. "Just what are these…Pledges?"

"Exactly how they sound, to a degree," explained Swampert, as Blaziken pulled away from him. "It's an oath that you declare, which in turn allows you to summon a stream of power from within."

"Uh…knights should be able to do that naturally, no?" Samurott stroked his whiskers and raised an eyebrow. "We do swear loyalty to our king."

"That's the thing though," expanded Blaziken. "It's not as personal of a connection to use that for a Pledge. Certainly, if you have a mighty bond with your king, then it would work wonders." He folded his arms and studied Samurott and Typhlosion. "However, I'm guessing that neither of you has an overly fantastic bond with him, correct?"

"N-no, but—"

"Pledges are personal," continued Swampert. "If either of you so wishes, you could depend upon a connection to the king. However, these are most effective when used in conjunction with another Pledge performer, if you will."

"Another?"

"Yes, though it must be another Type of Pledge," revealed Blaziken. "There are three Types, and two kinds of Pledges can be utilized together at once."

"Together, they make powerful combinations of both offensive attacks and defensive strategies."

"So, the optimal idea is to Pledge to another user," determined Samurott.

"Generally speaking, though there are multiple ways around that," elucidated Swampert. "Otherwise, it would be tricky to change the combinations around when need be."

"Ours would be an obvious example of a romantic Pledge, though yours certainly does not have to be such a case." Blaziken smirked as Typhlosion shifted slightly. "For example, a strong friendship could suffice. Or, a common goal that two individuals fiercely share with one another, if they are too distant with one another."

"Though that works, it's not favorable," advised Swampert. "The better relationship between the Pledge users, the stronger their abilities work together."

"So…we not only have to learn how to do this," realized Samurott. "But, we also have to grow closer as friends."

"Precisely."

"Huh." He shrugged and smiled to Typhlosion. "There you go, Typhlosion. Now we're definitely spending more time together."

"Y-yeah, great."

"Don't sound too excited," teased Samurott.

"Whatever."

Blaziken nudged Swampert as Typhlosion turned away from Samurott, cheeks flushed. Both grinned to one another, but quickly returned their attention to their new students.

"Now, Pledges are meant to be an unspoken display of a bond," carried on Swampert. "However, since the two of you are starting out, you may want to decide on what you'll vow to."

"To share that example, I'll reaffirm my love for Swampert," declared Blaziken. "His firm arms are the only ones that I ever—"

"Don't overdramatize it," interrupted Swampert. "They'll think it's impossible that way."

"You never let me make it fun," teased Blaziken, and he stuck his tongue out. "Fine." More seriously, he took Swampert's hands into his and gazed longingly into his eyes. "With everything I have and all I can give, I will stand by your side, until the end of my days."

"That's still overdramatic," whispered Swampert. Louder, he added, "But I love that kind of devotion." He brought his hand up and stroked Blaziken's cheek. "And I want to do all that I can to return it every day I'm with you."

Together, they turned away from the knights and concentrated on a lone target sandbag, raised on a stake. In a synchronized motion, Blaziken and Swampert lowered their arms to the ground and scooped up with them to the air.

Beneath the target, a pillar of fire burst from the ground, quickly followed by a column of water. Both attacks mixed together, with the water twisting around the flames. Together, they engulfed the target in a massive burst.

After a moment, the pillar evaporated as a rainbow appeared in the sky. It shimmered down, with the trail leading back to Swampert and Blaziken, who turned back to the gawking knights.

"Flashy, right?" Swampert laughed. "There are three kinds of combinations between the three Pledges. Lucky for you two, you're learning the spectacular one."

"Wow, it…sure is dazzling," admitted Samurott.

"Beautiful," murmured Typhlosion.

"As nice as the resulting rainbow is, that's not all it does," disclosed Blaziken. "You know how inherent skills are capable of further afflictions against opponents, right? Like if I were to throw a Fire Punch, there's a chance that I could burn you."

"Not me," snickered Typhlosion.

"A hypothetical target, then," muttered Blaziken. "Regardless, the rainbow's enchanted with a special power boost that doubles those inherent effects."

"So, if you used it against me," pondered Samurott, "it would become more likely to burn me?"

"You got it!"

"That's a powerful rainbow," murmured Typhlosion.

"Pledge power," corrected Swampert. "And now, you two should try it out."

"But, wait, what makes this so specific to us?" Samurott frowned. "I don't see why others wouldn't be able to use something like this."

"Other Types do have specific moves of their own," reasoned Swampert. "However, there has always been a significant and fluid connection between the Fire, Water, and Grass Types." Swampert shrugged. "As far as we're aware, others have attempted to replicate these combinations with their variations, but have met with a lack of success."

"It's something that we learned not to question," joked Blaziken. "We were inquisitive about it when we were first taught the moves ourselves, but…we never really got the answers for it."

"Weird," mumbled Typhlosion.

"So, are you two ready to begin?"

"We might as well," decided Samurott. "Typhlosion?"

"Sure, we can handle this."

"All right, then let's give it a shot." Blaziken stepped over to Typhlosion. "For the Fire Pledge, you'll need to feel an intense desire towards your oath. Though you don't need the drama that I put into it, you need to have that much motivation and energy in your conviction." He folded his arms and nodded. "So, once you select what your oath will be, truly believe in that over all else. Nothing should be able to block your goals, great or small."

"There's a similarity for the Water Pledge," described Swampert, approaching Samurott. "To use it, your oath must be clear on all levels. In your heart, in your mind, this is what you have decided on, what gives you balance. Any obstacles that would keep you from it must learn to bend with your will." He sighed and relaxed his arms. "You need to be able to change your patterns to follow through with your oath. Find a sense of harmony with it."

"Wait, really?" Typhlosion shifted uncomfortably. "That seems a lot more complicated than how you two described it before!"

"Honestly, I didn't think you'd need to put those emotions into it," admitted Samurott.

"Didn't think it would be that easy, did you?" Blaziken laughed. "These Pledges take some practice, you know!"

"For now, settle on an easy oath," suggested Swampert. "Just learn to cooperate and use these moves altogether, to start."

"Um…ok." Typhlosion turned to Samurott. "I…I think that we—"

"Stop." Blaziken shook his head. "Your fervor is already wavering. If you could even summon a flame from that, I'd imagine it'd burn out quickly."

"Sorry." Typhlosion shut his eyes, inhaled, and slowly exhaled. He quickly opened his eyes and locked onto the samurai. "Samurott, I know that we can learn these Pledges! So, let's go!"

"Nice to see you a little more confident again," teased Samurott, and Typhlosion slouched. "But yes, that kind of enthusiasm is inspiring."

"That's not your Pledge, is it?" Swampert placed his hands on his hips. "You're not just going with it, you need to complement with your oath."

"Oh, uh, sure." Samurott scratched behind his head. "…Does that mean that I have to get fired up too?"

"No, your oath," emphasized Swampert. "Typhlosion's is separate from yours, but will mix together so long as you both share your goals." He lifted folded his hands behind his head. "This is what you want from it, though. Does that make sense?"

"Kind of?" Samurott shrugged. "I suppose it's worth an attempt." Samurott sighed and shook his arms. He stared at Typhlosion and nodded. "We will learn these Pledges, Typhlosion. Whatever it takes."

"Not bad," determined Swampert. "Now, normally, these need to be decided on beforehand, so that you can pull off the Pledges in a fluid motion. But, so you two can learn, try performing it now."

Exchanging baffled expressions, Samurott and Typhlosion shrugged to each other. Mimicking the rising motion that their tutors pulled off earlier, the pair attempted to summon pillars of fire and water. However, only a splash of water and a flicker of fire came from the ground.

"That was pathetic," muttered Typhlosion.

"It was a first attempt," reasoned Blaziken. "Your first few won't be quite so spectacular." He scratched beneath his chin and pointed at the knights. "First, you two will need to master channeling the proper devotion towards your individual Pledges. Getting that right will enable you to create your oaths alone, which can function as individual attacks." He shook his head. "But, to get the full effect, you'll need to learn to cooperate and coordinate with one another."

"Let's give it a few more attempts," offered Swampert. "And we'll see where we can get you two today."

Sighing, Typhlosion and Samurott nodded to the merchants. They turned to one another, and silently nodded again.


[Meanwhile]

Along the town's bridge, Gallade led Gardevoir and Lilligant forward before they came to a stop. He scratched his head and sighed.

"Honestly, I was hoping that I could find someone that would offer more information on these tutors," confessed Gallade. "By now, we should have met at least one that knows about these moves."

"You only picked up on the buzz about it before, right?" Gardevoir folded her arms and tapped her head. "Perhaps it was just aimless chatter and banter that you overheard."

"No, no, it was definitely about tutoring," insisted Gallade. "I just wish that I had overheard about where to find someone for that."

"Probably not out on Sunset Bridge," mumbled Lilligant. More clearly, she tried, "Maybe we should split up further and continue asking around?"

"We shouldn't completely separate, though." Gallade sighed and stared at the two for a moment. "But, if it's faster that way, perhaps you two should stick together, while I go searching off alone."

"Gallade, there's no need," debated Gardevoir. "We work fine with all three of us."

"But what if we're not?" Gallade placed a hand on his hip. "Lilligant's right, and we might be taking too long searching around as a big group."

"Perhaps not, but let's try a few things first," determined Gardevoir. "First, you give this side of town a quick sweep. See if we missed anyone."

"Just me?"

"Yes, it will give Lilligant and I a chance to rest for a moment." Gardevoir leaned back against the bridge's rail. "We have been hurrying around for a while now. So, you take a quick check for a bit, and meet us back here. If you find nothing, come collect us and we'll…well, let's see if we can't find Samurott and Typhlosion first." She turned away and gazed out past the bridge. "Perhaps they've had more luck."

"…If you're sure, Gardevoir." Gallade scratched behind his head and shrugged. "I guess I'll take my leave then. Rest up, and I'll be back shortly."

With a nod from Lilligant, Gallade hurried off, returning to check the town's nearby shops and streets.

"…Is he out of sight?"

"Huh?"

"Gallade, dear." Gardevoir glanced over her shoulder. "Can you see him?"

"Oh, I…no." Lilligant checked past the bridge for another moment. "He's nowhere around here, anyway. Nowhere immediate, that is."

"Very good." Gardevoir sighed and rubbed her head. "I've been meaning to get away from him for a little bit."

"W-why?"

"Between you and me," Gardevoir glanced around and leaned close to Lilligant, "I've been craving some lady talk."

"O-oh."

"About serious matters…"

"…Um…" Lilligant blinked at Gardevoir, who leaned ever closer to her. "G-Gardevoir?"

"Hm?"

"W…what are you talking about?"

"…Ah. I should just come out and tell you, huh?" Gardevoir pulled back and giggled. "You see…Gallade and I have been dating a little while."

"Right—"

"But not quite that long."

"…Ok…?"

"It's just…I don't know if I'm ready."

Lilligant tilted her head as Gardevoir twisted back around, gazing at the sky over the bridge. Twisting her leaves around one another, Lilligant slid up next to Gardevoir along the bridge and stared out with her.

"If you need me, I could support you," offered Lilligant. "I…I think—"

"Such a lovely offer," cooed Gardevoir. "But that's the thing: I need to do this myself."

"That m-makes sense." Lilligant blinked. "Um…what exactly?"

"Forgive me." Gardevoir giggled and shook her head. "I've been going on, but I haven't even explained."

"So…what is it, then?" Lilligant scooted closer to Gardevoir, now paying her more attention than the view.

"Well, I'm not sure just yet, and I may need some time…"

"…But…?"

"I think that…I want…"

Very close to Gardevoir, Lilligant leaned over as Gardevoir tightly gripped the railing of the bridge.

"…Oh, Lilligant…" Gardevoir turned to her friend, gazing into her eyes.

"Yes?"

"The truth is that I want to propose to him!"

Twitching, Lilligant backed away as Gardevoir clasped her hands together. She stared at Gardevoir as the mage bounced around in place.

"Y-you…what?"

"Propose, marry, I want to be the one to do it!" Gardevoir clapped her hands excitedly. "See, I don't want to do it anytime soon, and…well, maybe not Gallade, if we don't work out over the next few months, but it's going to be a year somewhat soon, so I was thinking that I'd ask for him."

"Uh…I don't…understand?" Lilligant dusted the railing beside her, turning her attention from Gardevoir. "H-have…you guys have dated for…not even a year?"

"Not yet, no." Gardevoir shrugged. "Perhaps it's a little further off than I realized, now that I think of it again." She giggled. "Earl Gallade is very sweet, though. And, I figured, that maybe, some day, that I could get him a marriage bracelet."

"B-but…doesn't it seem—?"

"Too soon, right? Yes, I know." Gardevoir sighed and turned back out to the bridge. "It's not like with General Rhydon and King Nidoking; they've been dating quietly for a few years." She drummed lightly against the railing and swayed about. "They've been public knowledge for a while, of course. Unofficially, that is. Officially, it's only been since the ceremony."

"Right, but—"

"It still makes sense for them to be engaged," decided Gardevoir. "Nidoking has never been without Rhydon, and after he helped the king move past the queen's death, it's only natural." Gardevoir hummed to herself. "I remember when I first spotted them with Delphox, and we were so excited when we figured—"

"Hold on." Lilligant folded her arms. "You're getting away from the matter at hand. You want…to propose to Gallade?"

"You make it sound so strange." Gardevoir spun back to Lilligant and folded her arms together. "What, are you so stuck in your ways as well? Can't a lady propose to a male? Are we so stuck in tradition that we can't bear to reverse a scenario?" Gardevoir scoffed and shook her head. "Really, it's always a male that proposes to a female, and I for one think that we should be sick of waiting on that. We can go out to buy a bracelet anytime we want!" Gardevoir pounded one fist into another. "Gallade may be a higher social rank, so it might seem odd, but I think it's completely doable! Don't you?"

"That's…not even what I'm getting at."

Silent now, Gardevoir blinked at Lilligant, who blankly stared back at her. Deflating, Lilligant looked down, and Gardevoir tilted her head.

"Oh, Lilligant, what is it?"

"Marriage…you're not…serious about this, are you?"

"Of course I am!" Gardevoir smirked. "Why ever would I not be?"

"Because we're failing you," murmured Lilligant.

"Huh?"

"Tell me the truth, Gardevoir." Lilligant returned her attention up to Gardevoir, locking eye contact with her. "Have you really been thinking about marrying Gallade for a while now? Or are you just trying to feel better?"

"Feel…? What are you talking about?" Gardevoir shook her head. "Now I'm confused."

"It's because of Delphox being gone still, isn't it?"

Gawking, Gardevoir stumbled back as Lilligant sighed. She regained her balance and threw her arms together again, glaring at her friend.

"Lilligant, I have absolutely no idea where you'd get that—"

"Please don't deny it." Lilligant sank lower, but focused on Gardevoir. "It may have been a month since they left, but we haven't done anything to ease your pain, have we?"

"That's not true—"

"Then what is?" Lilligant straightened up once more. "Gardevoir, it's no secret that you miss them. Everyone can tell that you're going just a little bit…you're not the same without Delphox. Samurott, Typhlosion, Gallade, and I have tried our best, but…we're not enough to help you get by without him, are we?"

"No, you don't understand—"

"Maybe I don't," determined Lilligant. "I don't know you as well as Gallade, and not nearly as well as Delphox. But I know when you're rushing things." She placed her leafy hands onto Gardevoir's shoulders, who flinched at the touch. "I know you love Gallade, and I'm sure you might want to marry him some day. But…you can't decide that while you're still grieving."

"Excuse you?" Gardevoir smacked Lilligant's hands away from her. "I am not grieving! My friends are away at a frozen empire, sure, but they're not dead! I'm doing fine."

"Are you?"

Recoiling again, Gardevoir stepped back once more, as Lilligant stepped forward.

"Your behavior, lately, has been notably more erratic than ever," pointed out Lilligant. "And it wasn't me that was around to notice it, even though you've had me around the castle far more than even Chesnaught had me there."

"Then who—?"

"Samurott and Typhlosion." She folded her arms again. "They may not know you that well either, but better than me, at least by checking your typical actions. And they're worried about you enough to have explained it to me."

"When?!"

"Earlier this week, actually." Lilligant sighed. "That's why I've been meeting you so eagerly as of late, even though I know you'll telekinetically drag me around with the others regardless, and why I'm even entertaining the idea of joining an army. I thought I could do more for you by getting closer to you." She turned away from Gardevoir and gripped the bridge tightly. "I thought…maybe I could do better than they have, that you needed a lady to bond with. Even with Accelgor around, she's far too invested her husband, and rightfully so, having been apart from him for so long."

"How—?"

"Greninja told me."

"Of course."

"Her husband actually dragged him around to help with anniversary ideas, those few months back," recalled Lilligant. "It…actually hurts me too, thinking about Greninja and Chesnaught being so far away. They're my friends too, and…I miss them." She pivoted back to Gardevoir. "If it hurts me this much, then I can't fathom what losing the two of them on top of Delphox does to you."

Quieted again, Gardevoir could only stare at Lilligant. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Lilligant waited as Gardevoir grabbed at the bridge's railing again, and watched as she shuddered.

"Is everything all right?"

Both whirled around to Gallade, who strolled back across Sunset Bridge and to the pair. He scratched behind his head.

"Unfortunately, I still couldn't find any tutors, but…really, are you two ok?"

"Fine," lied Gardevoir. "It's just…let's find Samurott and Typhlosion." She tugged at Lilligant and they strolled away from the bridge. "Maybe they've had better luck."

"Gardevoir, I'm so sorry."

Freezing, Gardevoir dropped Lilligant's arm and spun back to Gallade again. He frowned at her as his shoulders dropped.

"Not just for this, but…I…" He sighed. "When I saw you two practicing today, I thought that I could help. And I've been trying to really spend more time with you, lately, really." Gallade dropped her head. "But…I haven't been, have I?"

As he tilted his head back up, Gallade found Gardevoir right in front of him. They quietly gazed into one another before she closed the distance and kissed him. He blinked for a moment but wrapped his arms behind her, pulling her in for a deeper kiss. But just as he did so, she backed away, and shook her head.

"It's not you, Gallade." She smiled to him. "You're wonderful, really. And, I…I'm fine!"

"Gardevoir…"

"Come on."

Again, Gardevoir tugged Gallade over to Lilligant, and interlocked her arms between them. Lilligant narrowed her gaze on Gallade's arm, but quickly shook her head and nodded. Gallade smiled to Gardevoir, who beamed to the two.

"Those louts have had long enough." She giggled and pulled the pair forward. "So let's catch up with them!"

"Um…how are we going to find them, exactly?"

Stumbling at Lilligant's question, Gardevoir halted. Gallade and Lilligant glanced to one another and shrugged as they watched Gardevoir gaze upward.

"For a town that was named for being little, this place is a little too big when you're searching for something or someone specific," noted Gallade.

"So long as the sun's out, we can still find them," decided Gardevoir.

While they stared at the sky, the trio watched a rainbow flash overhead. They gawked as it appeared, shuddered, and quickly dissipated.

Blinking at the sky, they turned and exchanged unnerved expressions with one another. Gardevoir then grinned.

"Something tells me that's the right direction to go!"

"Oh, well, probably," agreed Gallade, as he trembled a bit. Lilligant closed her eyes and tightly gripped herself. "But…Gardevoir, you've got that look again. The one you get before you grab us—"

With a cheer, Gardevoir bounced up and raced off, telekinetically dragging her friends behind her.

Racing through the town, they whipped by confused townsfolk and shopkeepers as Gardevoir rocketed in the direction of the faded rainbow. A few gasped and shouted at the green and white blurs before them, but failed to stop them.

As she charged through the market streets, Gardevoir forced herself to stop. Gallade and Lilligant flew past her, to which she quickly pulled them back to the ground before her.

"Honestly, I can move faster than you," complained Lilligant, with a groan. "Do you have to do that?"

"Yep!" Gardevoir widened her grin. "It's fun."

"Super," grumbled Gallade. "Anyway, I think we're in the right place, so it's through one of these shops, I suppose."

"Where should we start?"

"Hmm." Gardevoir glanced around. "I'd imagine that…if Samurott and Typhlosion were looking, they'd check familiar places." She spotted the gift shop. "And as I remember, they were in there for Chesnaught's gift. So…let's."

Dragging her friends' arms, Gardevoir pushed at the door, growling at its refusal to budge. Placing a hand on the door, while lifting the other, she held the knob while twisting her free hand around.

"What are you—?"

A click sounded as Gardevoir dropped her free hand. Lightly, she turned the shop's knob and carefully opened the door.

"Am I dating a thief?"

"Well, I did steal your heart."

"Seriously, Gardevoir, what?"

"Oh, it's just simple magical lock picking, Lilligant," nonchalantly explained Gardevoir. "You feel around until you catch where the lock is, turn it—"

"How often do you do this?"

Staring at Lilligant for a moment while puffing her cheek out, Gardevoir wordlessly pushed the door open further and strolled in. Gallade shrugged and followed, as Lilligant threw her arms up and shuffled in after them, closing and locking the door behind her.

Glancing around, the three noticed the missing merchants and some boxes that had been organized, but not properly put away. They separated, checked between shelves, and shifted around until they met in the back.

"Maybe we picked the wrong store," whispered Gallade.

"Wait, hush."

Lilligant leaned against the back door and listened quietly for a moment. Gardevoir and Gallade leaned against it with her.

A bit of crackling and swishing was heard by the three. Gazing at each other, they waited as Lilligant slowly opened the door.

Peeking out, they watched as Samurott and Typhlosion whipped up another stream of fire and water, with the two pillars swirling around one another.

"Good," called Swampert. "That's actually a nice combination so far."

"Try to maintain it," instructed Blaziken.

Together, the pillars wobbled as they swayed into one another. They collided and fell apart, as the knight and the samurai deflated.

"Really? I thought we had it that time," bemoaned Typhlosion. "What's with this?"

"It's us," corrected Samurott. "We need to cooperate better."

"He does have a point," agreed Swampert. "But that takes time for you two to mix your attacks together. Just getting the Pledges to work out individually is your first step."

"If you two can practice together, then you'll be able to get it over time," added Blaziken. "Remember, as long as there is a clear link of trust between you two, this should work out nicely."

"Strong bonds do take time," advised Swampert. "Build it and keep practicing it here with us, whenever you're both available."

"Guess that's what we'll do," decided Samurott.

"Wait a second." Typhlosion tilted his head and folded his arms. "You told us that there was a Grass variation of this, right?"

"Yes, that's correct," mumbled Swampert.

"Well, we have a friend that could learn this too then," revealed Typhlosion. "She's a Grass Type, and this could be a very helpful move, especially if one of us could help her with it."

"Oh, that's brilliant!" Samurott clasped his hands together. "Getting her to learn this would help us use other combinations to great combinations!"

"That, uh…requires a Grass tutor," enlightened Blaziken. "And, ah…we, um, aren't—"

"But you must know one, right?"

Silently, Swampert and Blaziken gave each other uncomfortable expressions, wincing to one another.

"What…aren't you two telling us?"

Before either merchant could explain, the four were interrupted by a yelp. Whirling around, they watched as Lilligant, Gardevoir, and Gallade crashed to the ground, knocking the door open.

"At least the back door is in better condition," grumbled Swampert.

"Yeah, but our locks are awful," lamented Blaziken.

"What are you guys doing here?"

Samurott walked over and helped Lilligant up, as Typhlosion followed him. He helped Gallade and Gardevoir steady themselves as the merchants walked over.

"You know these intruders?"

"They're our friends," explained Typhlosion. "We…didn't know about the breaking and entering bit, though."

Sheepishly, Gardevoir giggled. Lilligant and Gallade sighed as Typhlosion rolled his eyes, while Samurott shook his head. Swampert stepped forward and observed Lilligant, who turned to him.

"This…isn't the Grass friend you two mentioned, is it?"

"Actually, I am she…uh, her," stumbled Lilligant. "Um…I'm the friend."

"Well, that makes it easy," determined Blaziken. "She can't learn the Grass Pledge."

"What?!"

"Why not?"

"Only certain individuals are capable of learning these Pledges," explained Swampert. "It's not something that we can decide, it's specific to the very users you encounter."

"Each of us have encountered and worked with various users of similar Types," revealed Blaziken. "Most cannot learn these Pledges, and the ones that can are a very select group."

"That sounds like you're choosing them to me," snapped Gallade. "You two won't even give Lilligant a chance?"

"Not us, but the Pledges themselves," explicated Swampert. "There are books and portraits that depict those that can use the attacks. Come."

Both merchants led the quintet back inside, and rummaged about their shop. Swampert dug up a scroll from behind the counter and showed it to them.

"These are the ones that can learn the Pledges," he explained, pointing at the species' names on the list. "For the Grass Pledge, it includes the earth turtle, the forest lizard, even the meadow serpent, but none of these listed includes anything about a Flowering Pokemon that matches your friend's appearance or description."

"And here's a book," added Blaziken, opening a text before them. "This has a few depictions of varied users of the Pledges over…here." He flipped to the page and pointed them out to the five. "None of these are like your friend."

"But…we could try, couldn't we?"

"That's what we tried to explain before," reasoned Swampert. "We have tried to teach others not on these lists prior to meeting you. Once, I attempted to teach it to a haughty duck that insisted on learning it, but he was unable to, no matter how many attempts he made for it."

"Wasn't a lack of effort, either," added Blaziken. "And that wasn't the only time we attempted it either."

"So…it's totally impossible for me to learn this," surmised Lilligant.

"You and many others," repeated Blaziken. "Few, very few, species can actually learn these Pledges."

"It has something about sea lions on here," noted Samurott, as he scanned the scroll of names. "And…Typhlosion, you're this one, right?"

"Uh…yeah, that's me," confirmed Typhlosion. "Weird, it got the 'volcanic' part right, too."

"Well, at least you two started to learn a new trick," concluded Gardevoir. "Lilligant will just have to find something else to pick up on, over time."

Everyone turned to her, as she folded her arms together and glanced back to the door. She sighed and drifted over to it.

"We'd better get back to the castle. It's getting late."

Opening the shop's door, Gardevoir quietly slipped outside. Glancing to one another, Gallade and Lilligant hurried out after her. Typhlosion shrugged to Samurott, who shook his head.

"Our apologies."

"Ah, it's no trouble," eased Swampert. "We understand that they were eager to learn more and help your friend out."

"Yeah, but that's not all of it," elucidated Typhlosion. "Well…we were helping two friends today, and failed to help either of them."

"Yes, we noticed," chimed in Blaziken. "But we'll check around town sometime, if you two would like, and try to help at least one of your friends with learning something new."

"Thank you. For that and the new Pledges."

"You're welcome," returned Swampert. "And please, do come by for more lessons, when it's possible. We'd be delighted to help you two learn more."

"We will, thanks again!"

Both Typhlosion and Samurott bid the merchants another farewell before they followed their friends back outside. Together, the pair chased after the three, as they crossed the town for their trip back home.

For a while, Gardevoir quietly led the group, as they silently followed her. At the edge of the town, however, Typhlosion grumbled.

"Look, we tried to find someone for all three of us," he fired off. "Samurott and I just happened to find tutors for ourselves first. We did ask about one for Lilligant too, and not just to those two merchants."

"No one thinks that you hadn't," intervened Lilligant. "It was nice of everyone to try for me, and I thank you all for doing so."

"You're quite welcome," purred Samurott. Clearing his throat, he shook his head. "At any rate, I'll take it that we can attempt this again when we're all free?"

"There's no point," murmured Gardevoir. "It's just a waste of time."

"Well, if you lose hope like that, it is," countered Gallade. "But we can try again—"

"Why?" Gardevoir stopped and turned to her friends again. "Lilligant told me that she's not interested in joining the army. I'm not going to keep forcing her out to make her do something that she'll never take to."

"What about it helping her with self-defense, if nothing else?" Samurott folded his arms. "Honestly, I thought of today as just another way we could spend time together. Would it be so wrong if we just came out to do that?"

"If you want to, go ahead," muttered Gardevoir, and she turned around again.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Typhlosion quickly chased after her and slid in front of her. "Just what got into you, anyway? Before, you're acting like your usual self, all cheery and full of inexhaustible energy, and now—"

"Now you don't need to worry about me anymore," she cut in. "It doesn't matter how I act, if I'm a little more ecstatic or erratic than usual, or if I'm calmer like I am at the moment. There's no need for anyone to judge me on that."

"We're not judging you," insisted Gallade, as he picked up Gardevoir's hands. "We're worried about you because you're…not yourself lately." He smiled softly to her. "Please, Gardevoir, if I stay with you, will you feel—"

"What, better?" She pulled her hands from his and shook her head. "This is better. And I'm just fine." She spun away from her friends again, brushing past Typhlosion. "I don't need everyone keeping me under observation. I'm not a mess, and I'm not falling apart. So quit treating me like I'm fragile."

"Gardevoir," tried Lilligant. "Please." She hurried in step with the mage. "We're trying to help you because we want to make sure you're ok. None of us think you're weak. We just understand and want to sympathize, empathize with you." Lilligant slipped in front of Gardevoir, who refused to look at her. "Please? I've been…trying to bond with you, even just a little. Please don't shut me out."

Her mouth twitched as Gardevoir continued to avoid Lilligant's gaze. As she looked up, however, there was a heavy rumble in the distance.

Twisting around, the five watched as they gazed to the castle, where the crash sounded. Quickly, they charged off once more.

As they rushed toward the castle, the group slowed to find Ursaring helping Beartic up from the ground. Pangoro growled at the group before him, fists raised.

"Touch him again, and I don't give a damn what kingdom we're in," snapped the panda. "I will rip you lot to pieces."

"Good luck with that," retorted Scizor, jabbing a claw forward. "You chubby wads are even worse than we could have hoped for."

"At l-least Chesnaught was one of us," chimed in Armaldo. "Delphox and Greninja were even better than you three!"

"Let's not get crazy," muttered Scizor.

"No, he's right," enforced Heracross. "Greninja did, what, seduce Chesnaught? That's only one, and that's all he did. Delphox was only as bad as he was around Gardevoir. And Chesnaught was nice enough before that nonsense happened."

"Nice doesn't even begin to compliment Chesnaught," snapped Bisharp. "He was great before…"

"Friends," moaned Golurk.

"What the hell is going on?!"

Gardevoir rushed forward, right beside Pangoro. She glared at the five knights before her, narrowing her gaze against them.

"Great," grumbled Heracross. "This won't end well."

"Run that by me again, bug," snapped Gardevoir.

"Stand down, Gardevoir," commanded Scizor. "We're not here to fight with our allies."

"Then why are you?"

"These bears are no partners of ours."

"Damn right we're not," spat Ursaring. "First off, we've seen way better looking options."

"There he goes again," complained Heracross. "They're going to get gross and unhinged quickly."

"What, that?" Gardevoir shook her head. "That's nothing. They're just acting lewd for fun."

"It's vile," snapped Scizor. "Just what kinds of creatures actually spout the crap that those three do? And they're not even joking about it; they're actually trying to have a three-way relationship."

"Don't forget that it's a gay one," taunted Beartic. "That was the other part of it that disgusted you three, right? We'll make sure to keep that up."

"See?" Scizor shook his head. "Gay relationships are one thing, polygamy is another, but trying them together?"

"Trying? We're not experimenting with this," snapped Pangoro. "We're dating each other, and we're proud of it. Get over yourself."

"D-don't threaten Scizor like that!" Armaldo stepped forward. "You three…don't even like being here!"

"Between everyone that keeps looking down on us, and the warm climate, how could we not love it here?" Beartic rolled his eyes. "No, please, we'll wait."

"Ok, hold on," urged Gardevoir. "We'll take care of this."

"Gardevoir, please, step back," insisted Bisharp. "None of this concerns you."

"Excuse me? Who the hell are you to talk?"

Faltering, Bisharp stumbled back by Golurk as the mage pushed past Pangoro, lifting her arm. A pink sphere charged alongside it as she focused on the knights before her.

"Still causing mischief, even without your smarter half," jibed Scizor. "Really, you need to mind your business, Gardevoir."

"No, she's right where she needs to be," snapped Gallade. He hurried in front of Pangoro as well, extending the blades on his arms. "What kind of dishonorable foolishness are you five getting into anyway?"

"Dishonor?" Golurk tilted his head. "Friends…"

"And exactly what did you do to poor Golurk?" Gallade shook his head. "There's no way that he'd side with you four against innocents, much less allies."

"Innocents?" Heracross stepped forward. "They're anything but that! Haven't either of you heard them? Seen the way they feel each other up, in front of anyone? They're an embarrassment to this kingdom, and probably doing it on purpose!"

"Funny," growled Typhlosion. "I doubt any of you would care if it were two lovely ladies sliding along each other."

"Look, Gardevoir and Gallade arguing is one thing," challenged Scizor. "But you? The laziest knight?" He scoffed. "Exactly why should we consider listening to you? You're just barely a grade above Chesnaught, who is only one peg over those three."

"And those three and towers above you lot!" Samurott stomped forward, drawing his blades. "Typhlosion is far from the laziest, and he's far from a disappointment like the ones I see before me! This is treason!"

"Harks the foreigner, as he draws his blades on his comrades," snapped Armaldo.

"Watch it, pal," growled Typhlosion. "You don't want me to put you down again, do you?"

"N-no."

"He's justified," snapped Scizor. "Samurott's not even from here, and yet gets held in high esteem over us? Gallade prances about more often than he is actually around here. And Typhlosion is the butt of our knights!" He snapped his claws and jabbed them forward again. "Just who do you three fools think you are?"

"The best representation that your king has to offer," snapped Lilligant. "They're far better to have around town than you. Perhaps that's why most prefer them to company."

"You're out of sorts if you believe that," called out Bisharp.

"Me?! You're the worst thing that ever happened to Chesnaught, you deceitful monster!"

Lilligant stormed forward as petals and leaves caught around her, swaying as she lined up against the knights.

"Out of all these knights, he put his faith in you! And the minute he opened up, you crushed it." She forced her hand forward and narrowed her gaze on him. "You're the very knight that I'd challenge myself."

"And accomplish what, lady?" Bisharp folded his arms. "Chesnaught probably gets his worst ideas from some flower fool like you."

"Like finding better company than trash like you?" Lilligant tightened her focus on Bisharp, who stumbled back again. "You're the worst scum here!"

"Debatable," contested Typhlosion. "All of them are scum."

"Scum?" Golurk shook his head.

"Why won't he wallop them again?"

"He's not going to attack his friends," snapped Gardevoir. "Just because you could twist his views of our new knights doesn't mean than you'll get him to face off against us." The sphere of energy crackled in her hand. "He's far better on loyalties than the rest of you louts."

"Talking like Delphox doesn't bring him back—"

"You shut your mouth, Heracross," roared Gallade. "What the hell even are you? A messenger? You're certainly a poor excuse for a knight, that much I'm aware of."

"And you're a lousy earl," contended Heracross. "At least I'm around whenever my king needs me!"

"Your gay king," reminded Typhlosion.

"Bisexual," corrected Samurott. "But, the point remains."

"He's just confused, as is General Rhydon," condoned Scizor. "They're both better together after the queen's death, and that's acceptable enough."

"Actually, they're kind of cute—"

"Shut up, Armaldo!"

"They're not just comfort blankets to each other," thundered Gardevoir. "Don't try to bury their love!"

"Oh, that is a perk," realized Ursaring. "The king here is actually engaged to his general. That lobster…bug…thing, whatever, he's right: they're cute together."

"Confused together," insisted Scizor.

"Insulting our king is insulting our kingdom," roared Samurott.

"Yeah, what he—"

"We don't listen to foreigners," snapped Armaldo. "He's never belonged here."

"Oh? You lads want to run that by me, then?"

Everyone turned as Escavalier and Accelgor rolled in. Both stood in the middle of the two groups, surveying each party.

"My, Escavalier," murmured Accelgor. "I thought you were so proud of this army, touting how they acted so unified. This…certainly isn't what you described."

"No, it certainly is not," her husband agreed. He pointed a lance forward. "Just what is going on here?"

"They attacked us for being together, and went on about how we don't even belong here," surmised Pangoro as he pointed to the first three bugs. "Then they got the golem to come after us, and forced that sharp fellow to join in."

"What a surprise," deadpanned Lilligant. "Bisharp is somehow not the worst."

"Do you really think I'd attack first?"

"I don't know what to think," snapped Lilligant. "You broke my best friend's heart because he fell in love."

"Gardevoir," interrupted Accelgor, "where do you and your friends come in to play?"

"We heard a crash while coming back from town and came here to find Beartic on the ground," explained Gardevoir. "Scizor was instigating against the bears, and we stepped in."

"Oh please," retorted Scizor, "there's far more to it than that!"

"No, that's more than enough for me."

Accelgor shuffled beside Gallade and folded her arms together. Scizor stumbled back, while Heracross and Armaldo trembled.

"W-what are you doing?!"

"My job. Protecting Nidoking, and this kingdom, from any and all threats." Accelgor nodded to the group before her. "That includes whatever dissent might arise from his poorly selected knights."

"You can't be serious."

"If she's not, then I am." Escavalier floated beside the ninja, and held his lances in place before him. "And if any of you dare threaten my wife, I will end you."

"Escavalier, we're on the same side," argued Scizor. "You'd never side with that trash around you, not including Accelgor or yourself."

"Careful, Scizor," barked Escavalier. "Didn't I just warn you?"

"What—?"

"You're threatening them," he pointed to the others around him, "and that threatens my wife, who's right over here. And that's crossing the line."

"That…that's not—"

"Sorry," rang out Golurk.

Stomping past the bugs, the golem made his way to the others, facing them. He blinked at the group below him and nodded.

"Did…did Golurk just betray us?" Armaldo shook his head. "Did he really just do that?!"

"My friends," sang Golurk to the others below him.

"Now you've got it," assured Gallade.

"Well, that settles it for me," murmured Bisharp. Turning toward the castle, he walked away.

"Just where do you think you're going?!"

"The only reason I even joined in was because you told me that Golurk even went against them," revealed Bisharp. "He's usually good at knowing his enemies." He shrugged and continued back to the castle. "And right now, he's decidedly against you lot."

The three bug knights shuddered as they turned back to the other eleven, all poised against the trio.

"Nope, forget this," decided Armaldo. "I get my tail handed to me enough as it is, and I'm not dealing with this." He bowed lowly to the larger group. "Sorry that I was rude and wrong, it won't happen again, I promise."

"Armaldo, do you have no spine?!"

"Not for this!"

Quickly, the arthropod knight hurried away from the group, rushing to the castle as well. Heracross shrugged and started after him.

"You too?!"

"Hey, if you want to fight all of them yourself, be my guest." Heracross shrugged. "You're the one that started all of this, anyway."

Beating his wings, Heracross flew away from the scene as well. Quaking, Scizor turned back to the army that stood against him.

"I…I…w-whatever!"

Charging off, Scizor hurried away from the group. Pangoro charged after him, but Gardevoir held him back.

"Hey, we're owed an apology!" Pangoro roared. "Get back here!"

"Enough, that's the end of it," decided Gardevoir. "If they ever threaten any one of you ever again, I'll personally take care of them myself."

"When did you decide that?" Ursaring folded his arms. "You were acting just like them earlier today."

"No, I wanted you three to behave," affirmed Gardevoir. "I wasn't even close to beating you senseless because of…actually, I don't even understand their motivations!"

"Confusing," rumbled Golurk.

"Hey, you're the one that wanted to split the earth open on us," snapped Pangoro.

"Sorry," echoed Golurk.

"He warms up over time," explained Gallade. "Golurk is probably one of the nicest knights, if not the nicest one here now."

"Doesn't matter," cut in Beartic. "We're used to prejudice by now, that's nothing new." He shook his head. "Sorry, mage…Gardevoir. We're not going to stop how we act. No one bats an eye if you were to kiss this guy, right?" He pointed at Gallade, who shrugged and nodded. "If that's not a problem, why is it one when the three of us decide to kiss one another?"

"It's not," realized Gardevoir. "Before, I thought you were doing it because you were trying to creep others out on purpose. I…I didn't realize that you were just defending yourselves."

"Eh, we might be a little aggressive about it," relented Ursaring. "But we're not wrong here. We shouldn't have to apologize for being…well, us."

"No, and you won't." She shook her head. "I promise you three, I won't let anyone harass you like that ever again."

"Again, you care…why?"

"Because they were savages to my friends that you're here for now." Gardevoir hugged herself as she shuddered. "And…I'd never…I would never let them…get away with that."

"Hey," Pangoro backed up, "are you ok?"

Dropping to her knees, Gardevoir squeezed her eyes shut. Retracting his blades, Gallade leaned down beside her and held her closely.

"No, I…I'm not." She sniffed and shook her head. "My friends are…I mean, three of them, they're n-not…they're…gone." Tears slipped down as Gardevoir hastily wiped them away. "T-they're not dead, b-but they're so f-far away from me, and I-I can't p-protect them from creeps like those s-sorry excuses for kn-knights."

"…Who is she going on about?"

"Our friends," snapped Typhlosion. "The ones you're here in place of!"

"What, the hog, the frog, and the fox?"

"They have names!" Samurott growled, sheathing his blades. "They're Chesnaught, Greninja, and Delphox."

"Right, right, those three." Ursaring rubbed the back of his neck. "Those three are fine. They kicked the snot out of us."

"They what?!"

"Chesnaught did, actually," corrected Beartic. "We trained against him and some of our knights. He managed to defeat us and outsmart our general."

"That doesn't surprise me," touted Typhlosion. "He has excellent skill."

"Don't know about the frog, uh, Greninja, but I think he can hold his own," debated Pangoro. "And we hardly got to know the fox, but if Chesnaught's there, I'm sure they're in good hands."

"Of course," murmured Samurott. Clearer, he added, "All three of them are capable enough alone, and better together, but we don't know anything about the Empire."

"The worst that they're dealing with would be the cold and the prophet running around," explained Ursaring. "If anything bad happened to them, someone would have come down here to let us know within a few days."

"Then…"

"If it's been a month, they're fine," determined Beartic.

"Greninja and the others?" Accelgor exhaled and nodded. "Good. I'd rather not worry about him myself. The last thing I need is for him to get into troubled waters. His father would be furious, and I wouldn't be any better myself."

"Hey, don't you forget Chesnaught," piped up Escavalier. "It's good to hear that they're both doing fine." He nodded to the bears. "We just wish we were there as well. Accelgor and I worked alongside Greninja and Chesnaught for numerous training sessions, and Gardevoir was inseparable from Delphox."

"Didn't we just tell you that there's nothing to worry about?" Pangoro scratched his head. "Honestly, this kingdom…"

"Look, thanks for the help, now and later, but we've got our own agenda to work with here."

Beartic grabbed Pangoro's hand, wrapped his arm around Ursaring, and guided them off towards town, leaving the rest of the group behind.

"Someone should keep an eye on them," determined Accelgor. "For their safety more than anyone else's."

"They're big and powerful," argued Escavalier. "Shouldn't have any trouble without these louts around, right?"

"Would you like to risk that?"

"No, dear."

"Then, we have our next assignment, don't we?"

"Yes, dear."

"Very good." She turned and nodded to Gardevoir, as Gallade helped her back up. "Please rest up, Gardevoir. You were very brave confronting them, along with your friends, and you all deserve to rest." She grasped the mages hands and patted them. "They're ok. All three of them will be fine."

Softly, Gardevoir nodded as Accelgor released her hands. Turning back to her husband, the pair took off after the three bear knights.

"Come on," whispered Gallade. "Let's get back home."

He guided Gardevoir back toward the castle, as their friends followed them. Waiting in the courtyard were Nidoking and Rhydon.

"Your majesties."

"Majesty," corrected Rhydon.

"Oh, just accept it, Rhydon," teased Nidoking. More seriously, he turned to the others. "And you, well done. Apparently, this kingdom, fitting as it seems, is still growing, even today."

"Sire?"

"We saw the whole thing," unveiled Rhydon. "If you five hadn't showed up, I would have personally torn those knights of mine to pieces." He lowly growled. "They've got new lessons to learn instead."

"Peace, Rhydon," urged Nidoking. "There are other ways to help enlighten those three…or four. Five?" He gazed up to Golurk, who stomped over to the castle. "Golurk, what do you think of us?"

"Friends."

"And what about Greninja and Chesnaught?"

"Missing friends," wistfully rumbled Golurk.

"And now how about our newest knights?"

"The bears?"

"Yes."

"New friends," determined Golurk.

"Good enough for me." Nidoking shrugged, and then smiled up to the golem knight. "That will be all. Thank you, Golurk."

"You're welcome." He waved to the group below him. "Bye."

Stomping off, Golurk disappeared from sight. Everyone glanced to the distance, perplexed at his sudden disappearance.

"He's really good at hide-and-seek," mused Gallade. "You'd think someone so large would actually have trouble with that."

"Ghosts," Rhydon shrugged. "At any rate, you five did well to defend not just your new allies, but also what they mean for this kingdom."

"We shouldn't even be fighting amongst ourselves," murmured Samurott. "We're on the same side."

"Some forget that," reminded Nidoking. "Just pray that they have the luxury to do so. Harder times call for us to work alongside even those we dislike, for the better of this kingdom."

"Do you really think that we'll have that much trouble anytime soon, Sire?" Typhlosion tilted his head. "Everything seems…fine, for now. Besides that disaster you had to witness."

"Hopefully things stay that way," solemnly wished Nidoking. More cheerfully, he clasped his hands together. "After all, Rhydon and I would like to make wedding preparations!"

"Nidoking, really, now?"

"Of course! That's what we were about to get into!" The king rubbed his hands together and grinned. "Once we decide a date, we can send for Greninja, Chesnaught, and Delphox to return here, and we'll have them back for more than just the wedding itself! They have to help out, after all."

"Provided that Emperor Empoleon agrees to it," reminded Rhydon.

"Ah, I'll convince him."

Rhydon sighed as Nidoking laughed, tugging his fiancé back to the castle. They stopped as Nidoking spun back around.

"If anyone of you are interested in helping us out, don't hesitate to stop by! You know where to find us."

With another laugh, he turned and dragged Rhydon back inside. Chuckling, the quintet returned their attention to one another.

"So…the sun's almost gone," pointed out Gallade.

"Lilligant needs to get home," realized Gardevoir.

"Oh, that's fine, I can…stay here, I suppose." Everyone turned to Lilligant and shot her confused looks. "What? Am I still joining this army, or not?"

"Do you…really want to?"

"Only if Gardevoir keeps helping me out," insisted Lilligant. "And yes, it has to be you."

"Of course!" Gardevoir quickly hugged Lilligant tightly. "I would love to help you out and have you here!"

"G-great," gasped Lilligant, barely patting the mage's back.

"Fine by me, but…first, let's you and I have a minute alone," insisted Gallade, tugging at Gardevoir. "Just us."

"Sure, yes."

Releasing Lilligant, Gardevoir turned and held Gallade. Quietly, the pair waved before walking off from their friends, strolling behind the castle. Lilligant heavily sighed as she watched them go, and folded her arms together as her head drooped.

"Hey, Lilligant," piped up Samurott. "We'll help you train too."

"Aw, thank you, Samurott," giggled Lilligant, perking up again.

"Yeah, you head inside, and we'll be with you in a minute," offered Typhlosion. "We'll get you a room for the night and then we'll see if we should go bother our betrothed majesties."

"Ha, that sounds great, sure!"

Nodding, Lilligant hurried across the courtyard and to the castle. Quietly, Samurott turned to Typhlosion, who sank back into place. The samurai raised an eyebrow at the knight.

"Why aren't we going inside with her now?"

"I just…wanted to, um…talk, a little?" Typhlosion shrugged. "We did just deal with a bunch of assholes, but we also learned a new trick or two today, so I…well, are we going to keep going with that?"

"Absolutely!" Samurott smiled to Typhlosion, but then frowned. "Is that…what you really wanted to talk about?"

"Well…that, and uh, what comes with it."

"You mean bonding?"

"Ah, sure, that." Typhlosion scratched behind his neck. "Though that makes it sound kind of, um…well, uh, weird, right?"

"Not really." Samurott shrugged. "You wanted to spend more time together, right? This will guarantee that."

"Right, but…uh." Typhlosion kicked at the ground and turned away from Samurott. "We don't, you know, have to only hang out to train, do we? After all, we do plenty of that here, and now we're going to do more of it, so…"

"Typhlosion, I think it goes beyond training to actually strengthen a friendship." Samurott smiled again to the knight, who glanced back to the sea lion. "And you're still quick to everyone's defense, especially mine, so…I'm looking forward to, well, getting to know you better!"

"M-me too, ah, with you, that is." Typhlosion dropped his head and waved off. "Ah, you know what I mean."

"We mean the same thing," laughed Samurott. He stopped and rested his hand on Typhlosion's shoulder as the knight looked to him again. "Let's go help Lilligant before she gets lost, though, ok?" Typhlosion nodded. "Good. Then, maybe tomorrow after training, it'll be just you and me, ok?" Samurott patted his shoulder as Typhlosion nodded again. "Great. Again, I'm looking forward to it!"

"Yeah, me too," repeated Typhlosion, as he watched Samurott walk back toward the castle. Softly, as his cheeks flushed, he whispered, "More than you know, Samurott."

Breathing deeply, Typhlosion looked up at the sky and smiled. Shaking his head, he grumbled and hurried after Samurott, following the samurai back into the castle for the night.

 

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

The wind blew gently and I shook my head, gawking at the grass fields before me. I glanced around, spotting the abundance of trees, a flowing river, and fields of flowers. Twisting back, under the orange skyline, stood the stony Grass Fields Castle.

Home.

Slowly, I start towards it. A little quicker, and then in a flash, I'm suddenly taking the path right back to the courtyard. Delphox and Greninja are already there and turn back to me.

"Finally, he caught up," laughs Delphox.

My mouth opens, but Greninja giggles as well. They turn and begin to walk away, with Greninja turning back. He waves his hand and beckons me after them.

Stepping forward a bit, I suddenly stop. A shiver jolts up and down my body, and I look down. My feet are caught in ice.

"Chesnaught, come on!"

Again, Greninja waves me on, but I'm not able to move. I try to call out to him, but there's an abrupt gust of snow that howls around me. And suddenly, all I can see is a vast blizzard, with no trace of the grassy fields.

Before I can even call out, a casing of ice appears before me. I whirl around to find it extending all around me, rising from past my legs until it finally closes over my head. I pound at the icy prison, but I'm unable to break free.


With a gasp, I jolted up in bed, and panted. Clutching myself, I shivered and shuddered as my eyes met the dark, icy room of the Iceberg Palace. Our room.

Grasping my head as my teeth chatter, I turn to find Greninja rolling away from me, wrapped in dark blue blankets. Puffing into my hands, I shiver a sigh and grip the blankets, tugging back a bit from him.

"G-Greninja, please," I groaned. "I'm c-cold."

"Mm." Was he even awake? I peeked over and glanced at him, as he pulled himself closer together. "Mmm."

"Hey…Greninja!"

"Wuh—?!"

He jumped up and stared ahead, waiting a few seconds. Blinking, he turned to me, and sighed.

"Chesnaught." He breathed easy and his shoulders dropped. "You scared me for a second there."

"Yeah, well you should have seen me a few seconds ago!"

"Huh? What happened?"

"I was having a nice dream, back in Grass Fields, and then suddenly I was encased in a giant block of ice!"

"…Oh." He chuckled. "Um, sorry."

Slowly, he wrapped the blankets around us and pushed me back down to the bed. His hands stayed against me, and he waited a moment, lowering his eyes and smirking.

"C-come on, I'm f-f-freezing!"

"Sorry." He gently leaned closer into me, still smiling. "Can I do anything else to make it better?"

"Quit t-teasing me, and just get o-over here."

"Fine."

Greninja lied on top of me, and the blankets finished draping over us. We pulled them tighter around us, and he snuggled into my chest. My legs wrapped around with his as I kept the blankets tucked in. Warmth began to flow back into me and I sighed in relief.

"Better?"

"Much."

"Good." He kissed my cheek, but kept his face near mine. "So, still thinking about Grass Fields, huh?"

"Well, yeah. That was my home, before this place." I brought my hand to his waist, rubbing his back gently. "I can't exactly get used to a cold, wet world as easily as you can."

"Oh, quit acting like I fit right in here," he mumbled back. "I like warmer water, too, and you're not the only one that left your home behind."

"Right, you and Delphox were there too, I get it." His heartbeat kept a steady rhythm that I focused on, calming my racing pulse. "But, unlike Delphox, who can warm himself up whenever he needs, or you, who can handle colder environments as a given, I'm not exactly holding up so well."

"Sure, not holding up at all," deadpanned Greninja. "Let's see, you've spent the past month teaching soldiers new tactics, recruited a powerful new mage, encouraged a new couple to get together, and currently have your boyfriend flopped on top of you to warm you up." He lowered his eyes. "Sounds like you're struggling with this new environment."

"When you put it like that," I muttered. He laughed and massaged my chest, rubbing around my fur. "I guess we're both doing pretty well."

"Yes, I would think so." He slowly slid his hands across my chest, and brought each to my shoulders. "Now, let's get back to sleep, or we'll be exhausted tomorrow."

"Today, you mean."

"Goodnight, Chesnaught."

"Good morning, isn't it?" A pillow buffeted my face. "Night it is!"

"Worst kind of person," sleepily mumbled Greninja.

He slid down my chest, and his breathing against my body slowly became a steady rhythm. Lightly kissing his head, I kept my arms around him for a little longer, watching the ceiling for a bit. Sinking into the bed, I exhaled once more as my eyes slipped shut.


Under a purple skyline, I shake my head as my eyes open. Around me, there is a white, rocky island. It's small, and I stare at ruined columns around me. There's a temple before me, and I amble my way over to it.

"Has your shield grown sharper?"

Halting, I spin around, but no one is behind me. Turning back into the temple, I spot King Nidoking, solemnly staring at me.

"I…Sire?"

"Has it?"

"It's…I guess so." My shoulders drop, and I frown. "What's this about?"

"Good. I need it to be." He turns into the broken structure, hands behind his back. "I need you to be stronger."

"Sire?"

"You need to be stronger than ever, is that clear?" He spins back to me as I hear waves crash against the shore outside. "He needs you to be."

"…What?"

"Have I not made myself clear?"

"Wait, I…I don't…"

A heavier wave crashes and the whole place disappears into darkness.


Again, my eyes snapped open and I sharply inhaled. Blinking, the icy room is brighter, and I searched around it, finding nothing new.

"Chesnaught, are you ok?"

Blinking hard, I turned to my left as Greninja crawled back onto the bed. The blankets slipped from body as I leaned up, met with the familiar cold air again.

"What happened?" My ninja quickly pulled the covers back up around me, and wrapped his body around mine. "Are you cold again? I'm sorry, I thought that if I went quickly with the blankets, I could get up without—"

"No, no, not that." I dragged a hand over my face, and tried to steady my breathing.

"Chesnaught, your heart is racing."

"King Nidoking." I shook my head and Greninja tilted his head at me. "He, I…I don't know why, but I dreamt about him. Us."

"…Um—"

"We were on an island that I've never seen before," I continued. "He was telling me that I needed to be stronger."

"…Uh—"

"Greninja, I'm being serious."

"Sorry." He chuckled a bit and plopped back on the bed. "Was it meant to relate to the first dream?"

"No, this felt different. It wasn't about what we didn't have, but instead about what was coming." I scratched my head and glanced up at Greninja, who waited patiently. "That's all, really. He was telling me that I needed to be stronger for 'him.'"

"'Him?'" He blinked and tilted his head. "Me?"

"If I had to guess, yeah?"

"Well, I don't mind you keeping me safe." He wrapped his arms around me and kissed my cheek. "But, I'm going to do the same for you too, ok?"

"R-right, yeah." I shook my head. "Something still seems wrong about it. He was really grave, worried over it…"

"Maybe because he's a dominant authority figure in your life?" Greninja pulled back a bit and shrugged. "His presence would remind you of something that you absolutely needed to know?"

"But I already know to protect you." I smiled. "That's my instinct."

"Then maybe it's not about me." Greninja lowered his arms from me. "But I don't know who else he'd refer to."

"Contrary to popular belief, you're not the only male in my life," I teased.

"Well that I know," he grumbled. "I thought we were being serious on this."

"We were, I'm sorry." I sighed and shook my head. "It was too short to really piece anything together, though."

"Then I guess we'll have to figure it out later." Greninja bounced from the bed and stood up, stretching. I watched as he suddenly stopped, and glanced over his shoulder to me. "Where are you looking?"

"The wall," I lied.

"You're still bad, huh?" He turned back around and folded his arms. "Unfortunately for you, it's time to get dressed."

"It is?"

"Yep."

Throwing clothes at my face, I managed to grab some, but the rest flopped against me. Dragging them away, I grinned as Greninja folded his arms, lowering his eyes, but still smiling himself.

Putting the dark blue shirt on, I rubbed my arms at the heavy sleeves. Standing up and dragging up the matching pants, I patted them, as they rubbed against my legs.

"These are…warm," I murmured. "And a little snug."

"They came last night, after I requested warmer clothing for you," explained Greninja. He smirked. "I…might have gotten the size wrong, though."

His eyes scanned up and down my body, and his beam hungrily widened. I rubbed around and smirked back at him, chuckling.

"I thought size mistakes were only on my end," I joked.

"Your bad habits must be spreading," he teased, and winked at me. "At least you fill it out very nicely."

"Is this why you wanted me to get dressed?"

"Of course." His smile remained as his arms lowered. "After all, I wanted you to be much warmer for our stay here."

"Well, it's working."

"The clothes?"

"Them too."

"Oho." We laughed as he stepped closer to me. "Just how bad can you get?"

"Not too much, I hope." My arms wrapped around his waist. "After all, I heard you like nice guys."

"You heard right." His hands slid back up along my chest. "Maybe we can—"

A knocking rapped against our door and we both froze. Sighing, Greninja dropped his head against me, and I chuckled.

"Yes?"

"Are you two done untwisting from one another?" Delphox's sharp tone could have cut the door open all on its own. "Or should I come back in an hour?"

"That second one sounds good," I called out, and Greninja whacked me.

"We'll be out in a little bit, Delphox," he corrected.

"…Do you two consider an hour to be a little bit? Because I'm getting mixed—"

"In a few minutes, honest," rebounded Greninja. "You can go ahead, if you want."

"Not really. I was sent to collect you two."

"Sent?" I slid my arms from Greninja as we came apart, if only by a bit. "Emperor Empoleon needs us?"

"Him too." Greninja and I exchanged confused expressions as Delphox sighed. "Mewtwo and Empoleon, all right? Both of them wanted to speak with both of you."

"Oh, Mewtwo." I kissed Greninja's cheek and walked around to gather my supplies. "We'll be out in just a bit, Delphox!"

"Again, you two didn't clarify what you call a 'little bit,'" he retorted.

Nodding to Greninja, I opened the door and Delphox blinked at me. He glanced down, wrinkled his face, and shook his head.

"Do I even want to know?"

"What?" I glanced down at my clothes and shrugged. "So, I'm showing my figure a little. Nothing wrong with that."

"Greninja, did you get these for him?"

"Guilty."

"Ugh." Delphox smacked his hand against his head and shook it. "You two are perfect for each other, you know that?"

"Thanks!"

Grinning at his scowl, I stepped outside as Greninja followed, closing the door. We turned again to Delphox, who tugged his royal blue robes around.

"Those kind of fit you a little tighter too," I teased.

"Oh, shut up." He blushed and pulled the bottom out further, as it drifted back into him. "…Fine. Maybe it's just how they make clothes here."

"Aw, Delphox, you're not afraid to show yourself off, are you?" Greninja patted his shoulder. "I think you look fine."

"Don't you start! It's not—I'm not!" He folded his arms together and puffed out his red cheeks. "The two of you are just too much!"

"Sorry, Delphox." Greninja dropped his hand away. "I didn't mean to—"

"It's fine, Greninja." Delphox forced his arms together and turned away, starting back down the hall. "Let's get over me being self-conscious and get you two over to the other two."

"Are you in that much of a hurry to be rid of us?" We followed after him, and I clasped Greninja's hand in mine. "We don't get a lot of free time together—"

"Please, don't act like we don't see each other at all." Delphox looked over his shoulder. "Furthermore, don't act like you two wouldn't rather be with just each other."

"Delphox, we're still friends, you know," reminded Greninja. "We like being with you too."

"Y-yeah, I know, b-but…" He inhaled and sighed. "Forget it. Sorry."

He folded his arms and faced forward again, quiet for a bit. I raised an eyebrow to Greninja, who shook his head and grasped my hand tighter.

We walked out of the hall and across a balcony. I watched as Carracosta glanced around and dropped his shoulders. Greninja slowed as I stopped, and looked out to watch the turtle knight leave.

"He couldn't have looked any more suspicious." I turned and nodded to Delphox, who gripped the railing before us.

"Maybe it has to do with that mystery lover of his," Greninja suggested. "The others have brought that up before."

"It's likely that, but still." Delphox shook his head. "I don't get what he's so secretive about. The two of you walk around holding hands and kiss whenever. What is he hiding?"

"That's his business, I guess." I shrugged and turned back to Delphox. "Weren't you in a hurry before?"

"Huh? Oh, yes."

He rushed ahead of us and we followed him once again. I watched as we entered another room, with a few sparse ice sculptures lined up on pedestals down the room. I glanced at them, making out shapes of different exotic beasts, but didn't pay them much mind. Greninja and Delphox, on the other hand, seemed taken by looking them over.

"Where are we going exactly?"

"Hm? Oh, to the library." He glanced back with a smirk on his face. "Don't look so annoyed, Chesnaught."

"Why would I be annoyed?"

"Oh, come off it," he scoffed. "Like you would actually enjoy reading."

"You…you do know that I enjoy research on plants and their significance in culture, right?" I smiled. "How do you think I learned all of that? Just word of mouth?"

"N-no!" He threw his head back forward. "But I doubt that you'd appreciate it as much as myself."

"Well, you bury yourself in books constantly, so I'm not arguing on that," I relented.

"Good."

Walking a little quicker ahead, Delphox shuffled to two doors and pulled them open. He strode inside as Greninja and I followed.

My mouth dropped open at the two floors of bookshelves, lined to the brim with all kinds of books. They came in all kinds of sizes and filled the walls of the room almost entirely. I gawked as Delphox turned and placed a hand on his hip, smirking again.

"This has to be twice the size of what we have back home," I murmured.

"Thrice the size, I'd wager." Delphox laughed. "Emperor Empoleon is big on books, as it turns out."

"I wonder if it's difficult for him to read with flippers," pondered Greninja aloud.

Delphox opened his mouth to respond, but hesitated. He blinked as his hand hung in the air, a finger raised. Slowly letting it drop and closing his mouth, he brought his stick up to his face, gently tapping it against his cheek and thinking.

"Nah, he has those claws on the insides of them, right?" I pointed at my hands and wiggled mine. "They're shorter than mine, but it works the same way, I think."

"Yes, of course, obviously," chimed Delphox. "Who wouldn't know that?"

Greninja folded his arms and lowered his eyes at Delphox while I snickered. The fox mage blushed and turned his head away.

"Fine, I'll admit that it slipped my mind." He pivoted around and made his way back for the double doors. "Anyway, I'm sure they're waiting downstairs, so you two can just go to them."

"Wait, you're not staying?" Greninja tilted his head. "I thought we were all going to—"

"No, I'm off to go find Mienshao," interrupted Delphox. "I was supposed to meet with him by now, I'm sure."

"Ah, so that's it." I smiled. "You've been getting pretty friendly with him, haven't you?"

"Well, yes. He can relate to the struggles of being constantly mistaken for the wrong gender." He rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Naturally, that's who I would make best friends with."

"Actually, I thought you two had more behind it than that," I pried.

"He's pretty nice as well, and makes a good listener." Delphox tapped at his stick before lowering it. "If that's all, I'll be off to meet him." Pushing the doors open, he stopped. "…Let's make sure to spend time together later, though."

"Really? You want to—?"

"Yes, yes. Now, go."

Charging off out the doors, we watched him disappear back down the halls as the doors obscured our view of him.

Glancing back inside, we peeked over the railing, gazing at the study below. Mewtwo sat in a chair by an icy table, flipping through a book, while Empoleon stood nearby him, shifting his attention between the mystic and some cased ice sculptures.

"Hey, Chesnaught, this way."

Greninja beckoned me over to him, and we went down the quarter turn staircase. Stepping across a red, gold, and blue rug, we made our way over to the pair at the table in the room.

Although the Emperor seemed to notice us first, Mewtwo quickly stood up and glided over to us.

"Chesnaught! Greninja!"

"Mewtwo, hi!" I smiled as he settled down a bit, still excited to see us again. "How are things?"

"Fascinating, actually!" Mewtwo beamed as he drifted around, mesmerized by the bookshelves. "There are so many texts in here to learn from, be it from history, legends, complete fiction, sciences, music even, and I am so amazed by it all!"

"That's right, you didn't have much exposure to this stuff," realized Greninja. "So, everything here is very new to you."

"Yes," murmured Empoleon, with an…exhausted expression on his face. "Every little thing is almost entirely new to him."

"Wait, why are you here too, Sire?" I folded my arms.

"It started with me just showing Mewtwo where the library was," explained Empoleon. "And then I answered some questions, and then some more. And…I have no idea how long we've been here this morning."

Greninja searched around and glanced out a sunny window on the far side of the room. "What time did you start?"

"Ah…it was still dark outside."

"There is actually so much that I am learning from the Emperor," revealed Mewtwo.

"Are you sure he isn't just trying to indoctrinate you?"

"No, I'm not," grumbled Empoleon. "It's impossible to lie to him."

"Well, it is very easy to deal with," reasoned Mewtwo. "Really, did you think your best fib would be about your favorite color?" He gestured around the room. "Your banners are all blue."

"So?! Silver is in a lot of them!" Empoleon huffed. "Besides, that's my second favorite color, so that should have worked." He slouched and sighed. "Who am I kidding? I'm having the exact same problem with him as I did with Alakazam. Psychic Types read minds and see through every single lie."

"Just the easy ones, I am sure," comforted Mewtwo. "…Though, that passage to your private chambers that not even the General is aware of seems most interesting—"

"Hey, hey! Boundaries!"

"Sire, if we're the last ones up, you're probably needed elsewhere by your other soldiers," I suggested. "Maybe you should—"

"Go to them, yes, good idea!" The Emperor slightly laughed, which sounded a little delirious to me. "Mewtwo, I leave you in capable hands, though perhaps not for our nation's specific history, I'm sure that they could help you on…well, other inquiries that you may have. Take care, you three!" As he strode past me for the stairs, I'm pretty sure I heard him mutter, "First a nap is in order…"

We waited as Emperor Empoleon climbed the stairs and disappeared from the library, listening for the doors to click shut.

"He finally left." Mewtwo lightly sighed. "I would have imagined that he would tire out much sooner than this."

"You wanted to get rid of him after all?"

"Not at first, but the Emperor has kept a…suffocating closeness, within just a month alone," determined Mewtwo. "While I appreciate him teaching me about the world and current events, I grow weary of his constant presence, and his lingering suspicions of me."

"Lingering suspicions?" Greninja scratched behind his head. "Like what?"

"He has a theory that I still possess some kind of importance," divulged Mewtwo. "I do not quite understand what he imagines overall, but I would imagine that it has something to do with my muddled history." He glanced down at his hands as his face fell. "Or perhaps he wishes to explore my power more."

"If he were looking to exploit you, wouldn't he have tried it already?" I rubbed beneath my chin. "Not that I'm really sure how he'd use it, or if it would take a long time to figure out the best way, but I feel like it would be more obvious."

"Perhaps, and you do raise a good point," agreed Mewtwo. "Though, the Emperor is certainly more clever than he lets on." He rolled his shoulders and smiled again. "Even still, there is some sincerity behind his desires to help me learn more about my past, so he might care more than I can discern."

"This place is full of difficult to read people," I muttered. Clearing my throat, I did relent to add: "Though, he does have a family, so that might make him sympathetic to your needs."

"That is the same conclusion I had reached."

"What, because he's married and has a kid, that excuses the possibility of ulterior motives?" Mewtwo and I turned to Greninja, his fists balled up between his folded arms. "A father isn't completely cleansed of sins, you two realize, right?"

"Greninja, I thought you were more sympathetic to Empoleon."

"Huh?" He blinked and dropped his arms. "I…I am." He shook his head, blinked at me, and focused on Mewtwo. "I'm sorry, you're probably right."

"So," I started up to change the subject, "what have you been learning, Mewtwo?"

"All kinds of information," he returned with renewed vigor. "I find it truly fascinating how civilizations seemed to form based on legends."

"…Wait, what?"

"Well, I was unable to find any specific origins of the nations, yet," revealed Mewtwo. "But at the moment, since I have caught up on mythologies and beliefs that the continents were formed by such gods, it is not a far jump to conclude that people built and shaped the modern world based around such stories."

"…Um. C-could you, uh, give us a refresher course on these…legends?" Greninja scratched his arm beneath his sleeve, wrinkling it a bit before fixing it again. "I feel like I might have…forgotten learning about them."

"Yeah, I definitely did," I freely admitted.

"Oh, of course!" Mewtwo floated back to the table and waved us over. "Come, come, this will take a bit of time."

"I think I'm understanding why Emperor Empoleon fled," I whispered to Greninja, who whacked my chest as we walked over to the table.

Sitting across from Mewtwo, we watched as he flipped through pages of a maroon book with his right hand, doing the same with a gold and silver book using his left. I watched as a red, green, and blue book with yellow symbols suddenly opened and the pages flapped around with that as well. I shot Greninja an unnerved glance, to which he chuckled, not nearly matching my reaction.

Eventually, the pages slowed as Mewtwo halted the books from turning any further. His eyes scanned through a few lines and he quietly nodded. Bringing his hands back together, he spun the books around, and I glanced at some pictures that the pages flipped to.

"From the beginning, most legends state that the universe started with a singular being," started Mewtwo. "The Alpha being, born—"

"Oh, Arceus." He blinked and looked up at me. "Uh, sorry. That one is the easy one to remember." I nervously chuckled and sank in my seat. "Sorry."

"That is fine, it saves me from detailing such a being having come from the egg before the universe was even formed and reigning judgment over all types." Mewtwo smiled to us, while I rubbed my head and Greninja scratched behind his. "Anyway, after Arceus gave birth to the entire universe, according to legend, he had created the other gods to govern over different realms. The god of time, the god of space, goddesses of will, knowledge, and emotion, those were some of the first that came into existence, alongside the gods of life and destruction."

"The…what?"

"God of Life, Xerneas." He blinked and tilted his head. "Have you not heard that one before?"

"No, I thought Arceus was responsible for everything." I blinked and turned to Greninja, who blankly shrugged back to me.

"Arceus was able to create the world, but it was more like a palette for a painting that still needed to be filled in," explained Mewtwo. "Several gods and goddesses were created under his reign, and he had them further develop the world." He flipped a few pages and pointed at three creatures on a page before us. "Surely you have heard of the clash between the mighty god of the sea and god of the land, as they attempted to first form the world, right?"

"…Uh…I…might have?"

"Hmm. There is more to go over than I expected." Mewtwo rubbed beneath his chin, but shook his head. "Another day, perhaps. I just want to get through a basic run down to how the world of today was established."

"So, what came next?" Greninja shifted back up in his seat. "Arceus created other gods, he had them fill in the world, and then…did Xerneas breathe life into everything?"

"Essentially, yes." Mewtwo smiled again and nodded. "Further legends state that Xerneas was also capable of granting eternal life, and that to counterbalance it, Arceus needed to have Yveltal snuff life from creatures, but then that became a mess, and gave Yveltal a reputation as a god of death, which came with more negative connotations than initially intended, but—" He stopped short and looked as we stared at the books before us, puzzling over a picture of a red winged beast with a blue cervidae, a deer or an "eucladoceroes" according to the book. "Ah." We returned our attention to him. "Sorry, that is getting further from the point again."

"That's ok," soothed Greninja. "We'll…do our best to keep up."

"Thank you." Mewtwo bowed his head. "Let me try to continue this once again." Picking his head back up, he glanced at the books before nodding once more. "After Arceus created the known universe, after Xerneas breathed life into everything and everyone, after the world around us was shaped, the gods seemed pleased with what they had made." Mewtwo dipped his head a bit. "However, they quarreled over their territories, like the feud between land and sea. Even after the dispute was settled, gods and goddesses still wanted to know what to do with their lands."

"So, there was more fighting?"

"Not quite. Arceus had the planet divided," explained Mewtwo. "Different landmasses were separated from one another, and gods could choose the domain that they preferred within each to govern." He flipped through a page in the maroon book and tapped on the picture of gray dragon. Mewtwo then pointed at a blue bird in the multi-colored book. "For example, these are two creatures that favored colder environments, and thus sought out territory in more frigid lands, such as this one."

"Each one would take the location they liked the best and expanded on it," surmised Greninja, studying different pictures with renewed interest.

"Yes, exactly. Now, Arceus and Xerneas had created lesser creatures, which the gods divided among their nations and gave them different gifts to help them live in such places."

"Types," I murmured.

"Correct. It started simply, with those in colder regions gaining Ice, those in heated places taking on Fire. Grasslands were easier to navigate if one understood the earth, thus Grass Types came to be. To explore the oceans across the planet, Water Types came as well. Those without the greens around their earth would be Ground or Rock Types."

"What about something like Fighting or Psychic Types?"

"Those were created in domains that they were needed," continued Mewtwo. "Fighting Types were to help with heavy lifting, but that purpose changed to sport as well as guarding. Psychic Types were to read the stars and lands around them with only thoughts, but they gained new intents and ideas, to further the knowledge of those around them." Mewtwo spread his hands on the pages and smiled. "Soon, all of the Types that we know now came to be, though many claim that there are more out there." He flipped through the pages. "I am not certain where I read it, but there are more discoveries they mention, something about the gods hiding abilities within us still."

"Makes sense," mused Greninja. "After all, we're always discovering new things about ourselves."

"But wait," I piped up. "If the gods had ruled over these lands, then what happened to them?"

"It is not known precisely when they vanished, or why they chose to," revealed Mewtwo. "What is believed, according to some tales, is that the gods were satisfied with the way they made the world, but wanted to do more than they could offer, at least, not without causing chaos." Mewtwo chuckled. "There are a few stories that lead to this decision, such as flooding the planet, drying it out, heavy wind and thunderstorms, earthquakes, ice ages, and other natural disasters, all caused because the gods were trying to maintain the world, but live among it as well."

"Huh." I tapped on the table and stared at the books. "They could have kept those natural disasters with them. Was it like unleashing an evil onto the world and not being able to bottle it back up?"

"Well…ah, actually, yes." Mewtwo pointed at the maroon book. "Supposedly, that is one version of it, anyway. Others considered that the gods grew weary with their playthings, or lazy over the planetary preservation. It became tiresome, given that common mortals grew to outnumber them, and therefore, they were either overwhelmed with watching over such creatures, or they merely chose not to."

"Ha, I can relate to that idea." I yawned. "Getting tired of something makes sense."

"But, shouldn't gods have the energy to keep going, and not need rest in the same sense that us mortals do?"

Quietly, I lowered my eyes and frowned at Greninja. He blinked and then shrugged with a smirk to me. Mewtwo laughed and we turned back to him.

"These are the questions that we come up with, though no one today would know the answers." He sighed and gazed at the books. "Most of these may turn out to be stories that we have passed on, and might not even be true at all."

"Guess we'd learn someday," I determined.

"Perhaps. Or we may never know." Mewtwo rubbed under his chin and studied the pages. He pointed at the gold and silver book. "Then again, some scriptures insist that the gods walk among us still, waiting for the right time to appear once again, if they are ever needed." He shook his head. "Some reports believe that they have seen such creatures walking among us, and others claim to have fragments from different gods with them. Colorful wings, strange stones, powerful orbs, secret slabs, melodic bells, and enchanted flutes, to name a few." He pointed and flipped through the books, showing illustrations of some mentioned items. "These were rumored to have ties to each god of legend, in which—"

"Hey, wait, that's the one we gave King Nidoking!" I glanced over to Greninja, as he poked at a page. "Chesnaught, do you remember it?"

"Um…not exactly. I was kind of poisoned at the time."

"Oh."

"That one?"

"Yes, here." Greninja showed Mewtwo the page and he puzzled over it. "It's this gold and gray jewel here. Did you read much about this yet?"

"Not that one." He scanned the page for a moment. "Strange. It details this object with having otherworldly properties, but fails to mention what for."

"Sorry, that's probably not that big of a deal, then," decided Greninja. "It just seemed like the same stone that we had retrieved for our former king."

"It very well could be," suggested Mewtwo. "Perhaps it is of high value, fit for a king."

"Maybe, but I wonder if Nidoking even knows the importance behind it," pondered Greninja. "It was out in a forest shrine when we got it for him."

"Hmm." Mewtwo gazed at the page for a minute, narrowing his eyes a bit. "Why would it have been away from the king…?" He shook his head. "I will look into it later. Now, where was I?"

"Items that called each god or goddess to the world?" I scratched behind my head. "Uh, did I get that right?"

"More or less, actually." Mewtwo's smile returned. "Regardless, though there have been myths of these gods, these legends, there is no definitive proof of them. So, even if such items exist, we may never actually know if they could summon a god."

"That would be disappointing," I bemoaned. "All sorts of stories catering to them for them to not even exist…"

"It is not proven one way or the other," reminded Mewtwo. "Therefore, those items could still be important." He shook his head. "Anyway, my point was that the gods and goddesses eventually ascended to a higher plane." He flipped to the ends of the books, pointing at several pictures of different countries. "It is told that each one was able to pass on their domains to the mortal creatures that roamed the worlds below them, and that they gave us the world before they left."

"Just like that?"

"Well, they would have little use for it," determined Mewtwo. "Unless the theory that suggests they still walk among us proves true, in which case, they do have use for it, and merely wanted to blend in with the masses." He tapped his cheek and studied the books once again. "Though, I suppose this is where conflicting questions are born, based on what people believe in." He picked up the gold and silver book, flipping through it again. "This one does mention that some artifacts were found, so Greninja may be right about more existing." With a sigh, Mewtwo placed the book back onto the table, puffing out his cheek, unsatisfied. "I would not know where to begin with that yet. It will require further study."

"Did…did it take you this whole time just to learn that much?"

"Oh, no, that was just part of everything I read over." Mewtwo laughed. "There is plenty more for me to dig around through. I was just intrigued on the subject of origins, and thus went as far back as I could. Today, our civilizations hold banners and statues based on these legendary creatures." He pointed at a cased sculpture near the table, and I noticed it was carved like the bird from the picture. "Some follow such stories religiously, some enjoy the themes from it, and some fail to care at all. They all spawned different cultures from it, which spun out to what we have today, all across the world."

"Across the world," repeated Greninja. "So, you mean, other countries have kingdoms like ours?"

"Yes, of course," confirmed Mewtwo. "Although, each one follows the gods of old in a different perspective. Whereas the Iceberg Empire might revere gods of blizzards more than gods of the oceans, another kingdom within colder regions may favor more aquatic based gods."

"It…kind of seems like they're all worshiped here," I noted. "There are whole bunches of creatures that appear on the banners."

"True, yes. Perhaps that was not my best example," admitted Mewtwo. "Though, maybe I need to study more on which gods are the preferred ones of this Empire. I did ask Emperor Empoleon, but he seemed to give conflicting answers." He shrugged. "Chesnaught, I do believe that you are correct on the assumption that multiple gods and goddesses are worshiped here. Though, now I am uncertain of how to explain the differences of other countries."

"We have a friend back home that came from another country," chimed in Greninja. "And our former king is to be married, so we could try asking him when we go back."

"Ah, that sounds ideal!" Mewtwo clasped his hands together. "First hand experience would be preferable to learn from, rather than old texts."

"But Samurott doesn't really talk much about differences from his homeland," I pointed out. "He could have a similar way of living to us."

"Well, I suppose there could only be so many differences," rationalized Mewtwo. "They could very well be comparatively meager in the grand scheme of everything."

"Did you get to that much research on our countries?" Greninja leaned forward. "I was kind of curious about how our four kingdoms in specific came to be, and how they were divided. Was it just because the gods supposedly created our borders?"

"That is the initial part of it," clarified Mewtwo. "These four kingdoms are told to have warred in centuries past." He sighed and his face fell again, as Mewtwo pushed forward another book, one colored purple and orange. "You might not be surprised of the death tolls numbering the hundreds, but they certainly were not lost on me."

"What caused the conflicts?"

"Various reasons in the very beginning. Family disputes, romantic affairs, class shifts, to name several. Typically for control over all territory, which continued for centuries until the current monarchies rose above all others in their respective territories." He sighed. "I believe there are still some that feud for control of their country to this day."

"Deserts were the last, I believe," I recalled.

"Huh?"

"They had an uprising when they tried to dethrone their former leader," I unveiled to Greninja. "I don't know much about it, but that was the latest war between a single country."

"Astounding." Mewtwo shook his head. "I did not realize such a war had occurred in our lifetimes."

"Yeah, it was a number of years ago, and pretty quickly resolved," I reiterated. "We should probably ask Emperor Empoleon for more information on it."

"He might also be able to better explain what we're still at odds over," added Greninja. "Borders are already decided, so that shouldn't be such a big issue between the nations."

"Oh, that much I already know," piped up Mewtwo.

"How?"

"They have been warring for the recent decades over controlling fate itself," continued Mewtwo. "It all comes down to the mystic of legends: the seer, the prophet, or whatever else we may call this legendary, even mythical, being."

"Uh…where are you going with this?"

"The seer is potentially linked to the gods, a creature born with the gift of seeing the future," explicated Mewtwo. "It is written that the one whom the seer sides with will receive great glories throughout his or her life." He shuddered and flipped through the pages, showing an illustration that divided each of the four major countries of our continent by their sigils. "Capable of seeing the future, knowing how to achieve victory in battle, predicting how a nation can be prosperous, and all benefits that an all-seeing, all-knowing mind might offer, this seer is extraordinarily worthwhile to anyone and everyone." He lifted the book with telepathy, gazing at it through his glowing eyes. "Though the seer could be of any Type, many consider such relations and abilities point to a Psychic one. Perhaps this is why I was easily suspected." He lowered the book back to the table, and his shoulders dropped. "I am still…nervous over such an accusation."

"Empoleon and everyone here understand that you're not by now," soothed Greninja.

"That is not the problem," murmured Mewtwo. "It worries me as to how the rumor started to begin with, how and why I am connected in all of this."

He lowered his gaze at the table, unusually somber. Quietly, Mewtwo gazed at his hands, which trembled slightly.

"Hold on," I tried. "We don't have any proof that you're connected anymore, right?"

"That is not true."

Lowering his hands past the table, he pulled up a small, light blue box. It was a music box, based on the careful, yet ornate, design. I studied it, noting the gelid rose that was clearly placed upon it, which stood out past the curved lines and tiny snowflakes. As he opened it, I peered inside, waiting for music to start. Nothing came, as I gazed at a bent spoon, a fuchsia gem, and several orbs.

"These are yours, right?" Greninja leaned over the table a little more, focused on the box's contents.

"Yes." Mewtwo frowned, still unable to pick up his head. "I do not know what these are for, but I have kept them with me for as long as I can remember. I feel tethered to them, in a way that I do not understand."

"But, what does this have to do with—?"

"Mewtwo…"

My eyes widened and I froze. The voice, indiscernible by even gender, came from within the box itself, and echoed softly, faintly, but definitely there. I turned to Greninja, mouth dropped open, and he shared his shock with me. Returning our attention to the music box and Mewtwo, we waited silently in awe.

"You are a part of me," whispered the voice.

"…What does that mean?" Chesnaught asked.

"I…I do not know," Mewtwo shook his head.

"Does it always do that?"

"Periodically, but it is not nearly as clear as it is when I am around."

He drifted away from the seat and made his way across the room, away from the box at the table. Greninja and I glanced at one another, and waited for the box to speak again.

"You…are…of me," came its fainter whisper.

"That's crazy!"

"Very." Mewtwo made his way back to us, and gently closed the box. "I do not understand it, though I do know that some items inside are useful to Psychic Types such as myself."

"This still doesn't make sense, though," I countered. "What does any of this have to do with your connection to the prophet?"

"A mysterious voice, my inability to remember my past, this box knowing who I am, and consistent mistakes to be the seer myself," listed Mewtwo. "And now this."

He pulled out a gelid rose, and placed it within the box. We waited in silence once again, a little longer now.

"Some day," whispered the voice, "I will tell you everything…"

"T-that, uh, h-how'd—"

"My curiosity got the better of me," mumbled Mewtwo. "I asked Alakazam to borrow a rose, and when I was alone, I put it with the box."

"But…if those were only for true love, or impossible love, along those lines," rambled Greninja. "How does this even work?"

"Sadly, I do not understand it myself." He shuddered and stared at the box. "It…makes me afraid."

"I don't blame you. A voice in a box that you've kept for years, and it knows you by name? And now it's giving you promises based on a magic rose?" I shook my head and clutched my chest, heartbeat hammering. "I don't understand how you seem so reserved about this."

"Believe me, I am not." He sighed. "I do not…I feel uncomfortable to share even this much." Slowly, his purple eyes rose to meet ours. "It is…not easy."

"You can share with us whenever you need to," offered Greninja. "We're more than happy to listen."

"Thank you." Mewtwo sighed, and finally smiled again. "That is reassuring of you."

"That's what friends are for!" I grinned. "It's how we help one another." I tapped at my cheek and gazed at the books before us. "You know, in spite of everything, think of how cool it would be, if you're definitely connected to this seer."

"Cool?"

"Yeah, and if all of these stories are actually true!" I smiled at them, and then to a puzzled Mewtwo. "Can you imagine, being related to gods? Having the power, maybe even blood, of legendary creatures that courses through you?" I slammed my hands on the table and jumped up. "That's really exciting stuff! Who knows what you could be capable of?!"

"Oh…I…suppose."

"Chesnaught, tone it down," complained Greninja, and he pushed me back into my seat. "Seriously, this stuff scares Mewtwo, and you bring him right back into it."

"Well, taking his perspective certainly does make it more enchanting," admitted Mewtwo. I winked at him and he chuckled. "It does, at the least, calm me a little more."

"If you insist," relented Greninja. "Regardless, I think it would do us some good to head out of here for a little while."

"Yes, of course." Mewtwo watched as we stood up, and pulled a book back over to himself. "Sorry to have kept you two. Though, I hope we can speak more later."

"Why don't you come with us this time?" I placed my hands on my hips and tilted my head at Mewtwo. "We could all spend time together, you know. Greninja and I are probably going to go find some of the others to talk to."

"That sounds nice, but I am fine here," decided Mewtwo.

"Mewtwo, you do this a lot." I frowned and raised an eyebrow. "You go on about making friends, but then you're afraid to talk with everyone here."

"No, that is incorrect. I speak with others often enough."

"More like whenever necessary," I teased, but he just shrugged. "Empoleon takes up some of your free time, but you're not really making friends with him when he does that. And with us, you're fine, but anyone else, you get evasive."

"I am merely content with the company that I have," insisted Mewtwo. "You two are kind to me, and that makes enough."

"We're flattered," chimed in Greninja, "but you could still stand to open up a little more. Chesnaught and I aren't always available." He scratched behind his head. "What about Delphox and Alakazam? I know that one's loud on top of being prickly, and the other is typically not alone anymore, but you seemed drawn to them given your shared Type."

"Yes, I do find them fascinating," confirmed Mewtwo. "Though, they are fine to observe from a distance."

"They could probably benefit you more if you got to know them," I persisted. "Mewtwo, if you get to know others, that's a good thing."

"Well…perhaps." He hugged himself and stood from the table. "It's just…this is the same Empire that hunted me, that keeps me here."

"They're also the ones that stood up for you."

"Along with standing their ground against their secretive Emperor—"

"My point stands."

"…Very well." Mewtwo dropped his arms and heavily exhaled. "I…could use more friends."

"Great!" I spun around and led the two from the room. "Let's see who and what are nearby!"

Climbing back up the stairs and exiting, we strolled back into the hallway. I pondered retracing our steps back, but decided against it, and continued the path down the hall. It didn't last long and we ended up outside.

I met the cold air with a grimace, as Greninja and Mewtwo brushed past me.

"Isn't the air so refreshing, Chesnaught?" Greninja winked to me and giggled.

"W-why do you take d-delight in this?"

"Oh, come off it." He folded his arms. "You have nice, warm clothes now."

"It's still cold."

"He does raise a valid point."

"Mewtwo, you're wearing even less than he is!"

"The cold does not bother me as quickly."

"Everyone who lives here insists on that," I managed. "And every single one of you is absolutely insane for even thinking that."

"Do you not live here now?"

"D-did you just—?"

Greninja laughed and Mewtwo smiled, containing his own chuckles. I folded my arms together and shuddered, scowling at them.

"N-not funny."

"Lighten up."

"That would make him colder." Greninja laughed again, and this time Mewtwo joined in on his own joke. "My…my apologies, Chesnaught."

"Uh-huh, yeah, l-laugh it up," I grumbled. Still, I couldn't contain my own smile.

As we crossed the walkway, I gazed across the railing, with the Frozen Fields in the distance. Directly below, there were some structured stones built up in piles that lead to the castle.

"What is this called?" Mewtwo pointed at the pent roof above us. "It is beneath the actual roof outside."

"Mokoshi. It's a decorative roof cuff, and goes under the actual roof of a building." He glanced over the railing and nodded. "And that's what you would call a burdock piling, which is essentially a specific way of building a stonewall."

"Fascinating."

Mewtwo wandered across, grasping at pillars and lightly swinging around them. We watched as he wandered around the corner, and we followed to find ourselves at the front of the palace, its southern side.

"It overlooks the waterfalls out front," pointed out Mewtwo.

"The ones beside the stairs, right?" I stared at the rushing waters below. "They actually look beautiful when you're coming up the stairs." From above, though, they were a bit more intimidating, just falling away from us, leading out past the city ports and into the oceans.

"This whole place is more beautiful than I recall." He smiled and made his way forward by the railing. It creaked, and he backed away slightly. "Hm. That could use repairs, perhaps." He shrugged and gazed out to the city, and stared at the world that waited beyond. "Still, it is…beautiful, to finally have a minute. Just to take it in."

"The view?"

"The world."

Glancing back at Greninja, we both exchanged awed expressions before joining Mewtwo at the railing. Past the many buildings of the city, with a few citizens wandering around for their daily activities, we took in the snow trails and mounds that led away from the central territory. I saw trees in the distance, remembering Grass Fields.

"Have you…ever been beyond the Empire?"

"No." A soft wind gusted past us, and my shoulders fell at Mewtwo's response. "I have been hiding away and focused on survival for so long, that I had forgotten to simply take in this much."

"We'll take you out, some day," promised Greninja. "Chesnaught and I will take you with us, when we can go back beyond the borders, go back to the Grass Fields Castle to visit." I turned and watched him smile to Mewtwo. "It's warmer there."

"If it is south, I would imagine so." He paused and chuckled a little. "You meant…I understand."

"Here isn't all bad," insisted Greninja. "But Chesnaught would beg to differ."

"Oh, come on." Frowning, I rolled my eyes as Greninja giggled. "I hate the weather, not the whole place."

"Yeah. I love the water being all around, though." He grinned and tugged at Mewtwo. "Anyway, come on! There are steps over this way. Let's get back inside, and go find someone for you to befriend." He guided Mewtwo forward and winked back at me. "Besides, I think Chesnaught needs to warm up a little bit."

Smiling, I watched them walk forward and over to a stairway along the walkway. Turning back, I gazed out once more, and listened to the crashing of the waterfalls nearby. The wind brushed past me once more, and the railing creaked as I gripped it. Shuddering, I stepped away and hurried after Greninja and Mewtwo.

The stairs led back down to the main gates, and I stepped back inside the Main Hall of the Iceberg Palace. Greninja and Mewtwo were already there, making their way over to a door along the right side.

"Chesnaught, come this way!" Greninja waved me over, and I followed after him.

A dining hall waited for us inside, with a long, wooden table before us. Weavile sat there, and she tossed fruit around, dunking it back into the bowl. She just lobbed an orange in when the door shut and she turned to us.

"Hey." She smiled slightly, though frowned a bit at seeing Mewtwo. "Is everything ok?"

"Yep! Just showing him around some more."

"Ah." She gazed at me for a moment, and then chuckled. "So, I see Greninja dressed you today."

My cheeks flared as Greninja proudly nodded, even through a deeper blush than mine. Weavile laughed a little again, while Mewtwo raised an eyebrow and scratched his cheek.

"Well, you're just in time." She smirked and picked up her dagger from the table. "I think Quagsire's about to come out to stuff his face."

"Oh?"

We watched as Quagsire pushed the opposite door open, carrying in a pot. He placed it down on the table, and placed a bowl before himself.

"Are you sure you don't want anything, Weavile?" He yawned and tapped the bowl. "I brought you out one, just in case."

"Nah, I already ate." She twirled the dragger around her claws, but grabbed it and glanced over to us. "Though, I think it's the first time any of them would be eating today."

Quagsire blinked and turned over to us. His lazy smile broadened.

"Hello."

"Hi Quagsire," Greninja greeted. "How are things?"

"Same as usual." He yawned and glanced around the table. "Oh, no dishes."

Slowly, he stood up and wandered off, back out the door from where he came. Weavile picked at the table, debating on carving it, if I had to guess. She shrugged and leaned over, propping her head up with one hand.

"So." I nudged Mewtwo forward, and he lightly gasped. "Mewtwo was looking to talk with some of the other soldiers. Right, Mewtwo?"

"Really?" Weavile turned her attention to Mewtwo, who visibly gulped.

"…Yes." He inhaled and breathed out slowly. "You seem…very independent. That is good."

"Uh, thanks?" She scratched at her nose, but frowned.

"It is…ah, cool, how you are able to…work well alone, on given assignments." He smiled a little. "And how well you can…break away from the crowd."

"…Yeah, that's actually not something I like."

"Huh?"

"I, uh, kind of hate being alone all the time." She slumped onto the table and sighed.

"Wait, really?" I stepped forward. "But, you're usually trying to be alone, right?"

"That's because I suck miserably at socializing," she revealed. "I don't want to deal with embarrassing myself."

"But…you made being a loner seem so cool."

"Unintentional." She shrugged. "Being alone is good, and I need a lot of alone time, because I really like unwinding." Weavile sighed again. "But…even lonely folks need friends, right?"

"That's a feeling that I can relate to," chimed in Greninja. "Actually, I've made more friends this past year than ever, now that I think about it."

"Your boyfriend must help strike a good cord," joked Weavile.

"Actually, I lost most of the friends that I had made back home, and ended up being friends with new Pokemon in their place."

"Uh…huh." Weavile waited a moment before she buried her head in her arms. "This is that whole embarrassing bit I mentioned."

"It's no big deal," I alleviated. "My new friends like me for who I am now, instead of just being a good knight. So, it's better this way." I scratched my shoulder and clawed down at my arm. "Actually, you do have a point! Greninja and I make stronger friendships when we're together."

"You don't have to try so hard, Chesnaught," Weavile muttered from beneath her arms. "I'm a social pariah, I just know it."

"Everyone gets to that point now and again," I insisted. "That's exactly how I ended up losing half of my friends!" …Wow, I had gotten casual about that.

"His point is that you don't give up trying to make friends, Weavile," surmised Greninja. "Even if we don't fit in with some crowds, we can keep trying. As long as you're trying, that's always a good thing." He smiled and shrugged. "Everyone belongs somewhere, with some folks, at some point. It may be quick, or take a while. But, we all get there, eventually."

"Maybe…"

"Mewtwo wants to get there too," I added. "Don't you, Mewtwo?"

"Well, I…" He sighed. "I am…trying to."

"Yeah, it's hard opening up." Weavile picked her head up, and…she genuinely, softly smiled to Mewtwo. "As you've learned, I'm awful at it. But, it's good to try at all, right?"

"Yes, that does make sense."

"Just take it slow." She smirked and plopped her head back down. "Believe me, I know." She lowered her eyes at us. "And you two, take it easy on him. You may think you're helping, but don't go over the top with pushing him into anything he's not ready for."

"We're not, we're not!"

"Weavile, we're just looking to help him talk a little more," insisted Greninja. "We don't have any intentions of inviting the whole palace to talk with Mewtwo."

"Good." She propped her head back on her right hand and drummed the table with the left. "Well, Mewtwo, I'm shy myself, and Quagsire is pretty easygoing, so you wound up starting with the better options that this place offers."

"Perhaps so." He smiled. "Thank you."

"I try."

The door opened again, and we watched Quagsire lumber in with three more bowls. He set them on the table, and slid them down by us.

"…Oh, wait."

Trudging over, he collected the bowls and brought them back to the pot. He opened it and steam soared out. He faced us once again and smiled.

"Is anyone else hungry?" He prodded the ladle around. "If not, I could eat the whole thing, but I figured you guys might want some."

"Yes, please!" I grinned. "My stomach should be growling as I breathe by now."

"If you do not mind."

"We could all use something to fill up." Greninja smiled. "What'd you make, Quagsire?"

"Sitrus Stew." Quagsire poured the citrine liquid with berry bits into a bowl, and stuck his tongue out as he did so. "It's pretty tasty, and has several flavors if you mix it the right way."

"Quagsire always mixes it well," piped up Weavile. "And usually, he makes two batches to eat for himself."

"Two?"

"I've cut back," murmured Quagsire, patting his stomach.

"He eats a lot in one go, and then he's good for the day," clarified Weavile. "Though, cutting back, you're eating more than once a day, right, Quagsire?"

"Um…yes." He contentedly sighed. "It's nicer some days. More food throughout."

"That…must have been an interesting way of eating," decided Mewtwo.

"It was how I ate," airily reminisced Quagsire.

"Did…you enjoy it?" Mewtwo paused and shook his head. "I think you already made that clear."

"Yep, I enjoyed it." Quagsire still smiled and poured out another bowl of stew. "It was nice, eating all at once."

"Sorry, I did not mean to make you repeat yourself."

"That's fine, I don't mind."

The salamander knight stirred the stew remaining in the pot, sniffing at it as his smile broadened. Peeking at Mewtwo, who appeared either unsure or distressed, I cleared my throat.

"…So, Quagsire, what have you been up to lately?"

"Cooking."

"As in overall, not just today. Besides training. And swimming." I shrugged. "You know, your other recreational activities."

"Sleeping?"

"…Uh…"

"Froslass and I went to the city with him last week," threw out Weavile. "So, he did that."

"What'd you guys do?"

"Ate out."

"Oh."

"And shopped," added Quagsire. "Froslass wanted to take you dress shopping, but you were adamant about not going. You tried to reason that I wouldn't like it."

"W-well, I just…it didn't seem like you would!"

"I wouldn't mind."

"Whatever." Weavile pouted. "The weapons shop was cooler to visit anyway."

"Weapons are helpful." Quagsire poured the next bowl of stew. "How many was that? Three, right?" He checked over the bowls. "Yep, three. Are you sure that you don't want any, Weavile?"

"Again, I'm sure, Quag—hey wait, you better not eat the whole pot." She folded her arms and leaned back on her chair. "They might want seconds."

"Aw, right." He sighed and stirred the stew in the pot again.

"Um…we could just have the one," offered Greninja. My empty stomach wanted to argue with him.

"Hmm." Quagsire shook his head. "No, I can make more later. It's nice to share a meal with friends."

Everyone smiled as he poured out the last bowl. He pushed it to his seat, and then carried the other three bowls over to us.

"Took you long enough," complained Weavile.

"We were having a conversation," excused Quagsire. He yawned. "Besides, slow and steady is good for pouring stew."

"Sure, right."

He plodded back to his seat, plopped down, and immediately gulped down the stew in his bowl. We stared at him as he swallowed and patted his stomach, while Weavile chuckled.

Shrugging, I picked up my bowl and sipped from it, with a few berry bits passing through with the citrine stew. I chewed on them, savored the remaining juices for a moment, and then swallowed.

"It's a good mix of flavors," I complimented.

"Yeah, it's dry and bitter, but sweet and sour too," recognized Greninja.

"Delicious," agreed Mewtwo. "You did wonderful, Quagsire."

"Thank you." Quagsire smiled and nodded. "Sitrus touches nicely over different tastes. I'm glad it came out well."

"It always comes out well, Quagsire." Weavile rolled her eyes, and walked to a cabinet away from the table. "You're one of the best chefs in the palace."

"Yes, I do like eating, so I like cooking too." He yawned. "It's still nice to hear when I do well though."

"You must be talented to keep up with cooking and training, among other activities," decided Mewtwo.

"Talented sounds nice." Quagsire yawned. "Better than being called lazy all these years."

"Have you been around here for a while?" Greninja raised his arm to wipe away the remnants of stew from his tongue, but Weavile tossed him a napkin. "Ah, thanks!"

"Hmm. After Abomasnow, there were a some, but none of them are here anymore." He shrugged. "So, I guess that makes me one of the oldest here."

"Wait, wait, what?" I shook my head. "You…you're one of the first knights under Empoleon's reign?"

"Not the first group." He yawned again, unfazed by my surprise. "Abomasnow is the only one from that set."

"Does that make you part of the second line-up?" Mewtwo sipped some stew after asking.

"There wasn't a second group; just new soldiers they added in after losing some." Quagsire lightly drummed the table. "They had some before me, then I joined, then Poliwrath and Politoed, at least out of the soldiers you know."

"Interesting." Mewtwo nodded, fascinated by the news. Meanwhile, I had to close my mouth and glanced at Greninja, noting that I wasn't the only one awestruck. "Weavile, how long have you been around, comparatively?"

"Oh, uh…not as long." She shrugged. "I came before Machamp and Alakazam, if only just barely. We're the latest recruits still around before you guys came last month."

"Wait, but you've all served years here, right?" Greninja clutched his bowl of stew, twisting it around as he listened.

"Yeah. We're not exactly the newest for soldiers here, but we are compared to everyone else here." She scratched beneath her chin, thinking a moment. "Besides the bears leaving, we had maybe another three other soldiers come and go after us, actually."

Mewtwo nodded while Greninja and I gawked. Weavile tossed her blade back and forth in her hands, undisturbed with the information she shared.

"Um…sorry to hear?"

"It's life." Weavile shrugged. "We told you guys repeatedly that we've lost soldiers up here."

"True, you have," agreed Greninja. "But…we didn't imagine so many."

"At least it wasn't from a war." Quagsire smiled again. "We haven't had to deal with one, in spite of that being on everyone's minds."

"Do you think there ever will be a war?" Mewtwo tapped his hands together. "The Emperor explained that I might have been the cause, if I were truly the prophet of legends. Is that still possible, for the war to erupt over that?"

"I hope not." Quagsire contentedly slumped down in his seat. "It's been a couple of years that we're together. I like the soldiers we have now, and we're all becoming friends."

"Yeah, I agree with that." Weavile smirked. "We even got Emperor Empoleon and General Abomasnow to soften up lately. I never saw them like that."

"Emperor Empoleon was happier when his family was still around," noted Quagsire.

"Has anyone helped him consider bringing them back?"

"Nope."

"Huh." I scratched my arm as we sat in silence for a minute. "Shouldn't we?"

"Maybe."

"Look, I don't know about anyone else here, but I need to stretch my legs." Weavile hopped up from her seat. "Anyone else want to roam? If we find the Emperor, we can ask him about it. Or, better still, we can find what everyone else is up to."

"Well, that was our original plan," reminded Greninja. "We'll join you right after we finish this stew."

"It has been nice spending time with others," realized Mewtwo. "I suppose getting better acquainted with the rest of the army would be worthwhile."

"Sounds good to me!"

"For a little bit, maybe," murmured Quagsire. "I could use a nap soon, though."

"Figures." Weavile rolled her eyes. "You're always napping when you're not training or cooking."

"Or swimming."

"Sure, whatever."

"It's fine," I intervened. "We don't get many days off, so we should try to enjoy anything we can with whoever is available." I sucked down the last of my stew, savoring the mixed flavors as I swallowed the lukewarm liquid. "But first…can I get seconds?"

With an exasperated groan, Weavile slumped back into her seat. Greninja and Mewtwo chuckled at her, and then continued with their stew as well. Quagsire nodded as I grinned and brought the bowl back over to him. And for a little while longer, we socialized as we ate.

It was nice while it lasted, fleeting as it was.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

Back in the main hall, I scratched my head, still trying to memorize where each of the doors led. I turned to Weavile and opened my mouth to question it.

"If you're going to ask me which way to go to find someone, I have no clue." She shrugged. "This place is huge, and I've got ideas for where the others might be, but nothing definite."

"Why don't we start with Froslass?" Chesnaught smiled and folded his arms. "She's a friendly face for anyone."

Weavile's shoulders shot up and she jolted back a bit, narrowing her eyes at us. I tilted my head and blinked at her.

"You two are friends, right?"

"Sort of…"

"Oh." Chesnaught rubbed his arm. "Sorry, I thought…you two seemed close, so I assumed—"

"We're the only females on the main royal army," explained Weavile. "She was here before I was, so I think it's mostly that she wants to get close with another lady around here, and I'm her only option."

"That's…not friendly, then," I noted.

"N-no, it's not just that," corrected Weavile. "We are friends, it's just…we're really different, I guess. She likes feminine things, like dresses and make up, which I don't really care for myself." She smirked and crossed her arms behind her head. "She loves teasing and scaring the nonsense out of anyone she can though, and that can give me a laugh or two. And she respects my skill as an archer, and tries to get me to socialize more, so…I guess we get along fairly well."

"Have you two been socializing more lately?"

"Um. I'm not very social, so…not exactly. But, she's usually good at finding me from time to time anyway."

"So, would she be busy with anything now?"

"Not likely. I mean, probably, since she's in her study, but she wouldn't mind any of us dropping in."

"Then let's drop by and spend some time with her," decided Chesnaught. "Um…which way do we go for her room?"

"The study is this way."

Guiding us, we followed Weavile across the room. I peeked at the throne room behind the staircase, and thought I caught a glimpse of the door cracked open. Another door opened ahead of us, and I returned my attention to following Weavile through.

Quagsire yawned, and dropped behind us. Mewtwo gazed around the hall, checking the different portraits and ice sculptures that lined the walls. They featured various scenes of the Iceberg Empire, or at least, some of them depicted frosty sceneries and characters.

"It's down this way," uttered Weavile. I had barely heard her, as Chesnaught tugged me along after the archer around a corner.

At the end of the hallway, we slowed as Weavile approached a door. There were purple flames that lit the door's sides, but the ice around them remained frozen, as if nothing burned around it.

Knocking, Weavile stepped back and waited. She tapped on her dagger and sighed, slouching back by the left wall. A click sounded and the door creaked open. Giggling rang out from within the dark room.

"Well, let's head in," ushered Weavile. She stepped forward, but stopped quickly. "If any of you haven't been here before, don't touch any purple flames. It doesn't have the same properties of usual fire, so ice won't melt, but…well, you definitely won't feel good if you touch it, ok?" She continued ahead, and all four of us folded our hands in front of us.

Inside, the room remained dark, and I watched as Chesnaught's figure bumped into a bookshelf, and then a desk. Something slid roughly against the floor, and I glanced back at Quagsire's form, while he rubbed behind him, likely his tail.

"Uh, Weavile?" I slowly stepped further into the room. "Are you still there?"

"Nope. The darkness swallowed me whole." I lowered my eyes at her sarcasm, and she laughed a bit. "Sorry. I gathered it'd be hard to see me. I'm trying to find Froslass so she'll light this place up."

"Ooh? Is that so, my dear?" The ghost maiden's voice echoed around us, making it near impossible to locate her by sound. "What if I like to leave it dark and spooky, hmm?"

"Froslass, even you have limits to staying in the darkness," called Weavile. "Besides, I thought you were trying to be more social."

"But I am!" She giggled, and it seemed to faintly sound from the shelves around us. "Finding me in the dark makes for a fun game, doesn't it?"

"Not really."

"Aw, are you sure? Anyone else?" No one responded for a moment, and Froslass sighed. "Fine, fine. Here."

A heavy gust billowed through the room, and my arms shot up to cover my eyes. As I lowered them, I blinked, the room still darker than most of the palace, but visible under faint light. I glanced up, watching purple flames dance overhead. Weavile walked ahead, waving us on to follow her, and rounded a bookcase to the center of the room. I blinked at a few vials that were crammed into the shelves and desks, but shrugged and continued ahead.

"Eheeheehee! Welcome, everyone!" Froslass twirled around and drifted about. "I'm not used to visitors of my little potion cabinet here, ahaha!"

"You specialize in potions?" Mewtwo blinked and tilted his head.

"Huh? Oh, uh, no, I wouldn't call it my expertise, exactly," admitted Froslass. "I just, you know, have the vials for it, so…that's what I called this place."

"Ah, I understand now."

"Huh. You've been here a while, and you never visited this room yourself." Froslass sighed. "Sorry, I guess I should've brought you over here. You are a mage like the rest of us, after all."

"Am I?"

"Uh…got me there, ahaha…" Froslass floated lower to the ground. "You're…actually unique in your own way, and you don't know quite as much in regards to spells like we do. But, Psychic power typically works well with it, so I'd imagine that you could muster that one pretty well!"

"Yes, I do suppose so."

"So, what have you been up to?" She turned to me, and I blinked as her yellow and icy blue eyes locked onto mine. "Um…you know, besides reviewing spells and…uh, crafting potions, right?"

"Just tapping into hexes and dark arts in general." She grinned while I scratched behind my head. "It's a half-joke. I do that sometimes, but that's not the extent of what I do."

"Right."

"Yeah, it's not as funny anymore, I know." She tumbled across the air and floated away from us. "Besides playing fun tricks on everyone, I haven't had much to do lately. Empoleon typically asks me to be involved with rather, um, gruesome tasks. Not that I mind much, it's just, well, when we haven't had many folks dying as of late, it gives me less to do. I can sometimes determine how they died, or explore any remaining properties in their life force that can be extracted and used in magic."

"Um…sorry?"

"Oh, no, don't be. It's a good thing, when people aren't dying, that is." Froslass smiled. "I also love shopping around town, so I have that to look forward to! And around here, I've been practicing to become a better mage! So, those two are good. I guess I read sometimes, but every mage does that, so it's a little more boring when I go over it, huh?"

"Not really." I placed my hands together and glanced around the room. "You've got a lot of scrolls and books to choose from, so I guess that's something that many mages could take interest in. You all end up learning different kinds of material."

"True, you raise a good point." She smiled and nodded to me. "Pretty nice insight there, ninja frog."

"Thanks?"

"You're welcome!" She swayed about and continued to stare at me. "Hmm. We're asking all about me, but what have you all been up to?"

"They're just showing Mewtwo around and getting to know the rest of us better," divulged Weavile. "So, talking about you is pretty intentional."

"Ok then!" Froslass clapped her hands together. "Any questions for me on me then?"

"D-do you often practice hexes?" Chesnaught shuddered, and backed a few steps away from Froslass.

"Ooh, I forgot that you Fighters get freaked out over Ghosts." She chuckled and glided over to him. "Not too spooky for you, am I? Afraid of a little dark magic, some twisted hexes and spells?"

"N-no."

"You're about as good of a liar as that Delphox," deadpanned Froslass.

"That doesn't answer my question!"

"Yes it does." Froslass twirled around before Chesnaught, fluttering her eyes at him. "I practice various kinds of hexes, sinister spells, and what you fellows consider dark magic, curses. You're lucky that I do, after all."

"But…some of those…involve really bad stuff," piped up Chesnaught.

"Killing, that's what you mean," pointed out Froslass. "At least, that's the typical thought or baseless assumption from knights like you. And it's true, some curses and spells dip into that." She shook her head and backed away from him. "Why do you think that I'm the one who goes off to examine fallen folk around here? I don't go around committing murder myself, but getting energy from the dead works just the same for a lot of dark magic spells that require it."

"S-so…you, uh—"

"No, Chesnaught, I don't go around murder sprees." Froslass rolled her eyes, but then giggled. "All of you knights get so frightened from the mere mention of a hex. You'd be doomed if there weren't good to come from such dastardly magics."

"Like what?"

"Curing certain diseases, for starters," answered Froslass, turning back to me. "Usually, medicines and salves are the proper direction for those. But, to cure some more deadly things, you have to go a little deeper along the dark side of the world. Countering curses, likewise, involves being versed in curses." She grinned and swirled back to me, floating to match my height. "Ghosts can fend off one another, you know, and curses work in much the same way."

"Right, I think I've heard of that. Ninjustu dabbles in otherworldly arts and abilities, so ghostly techniques are bit known, like being a solid counter to itself." I nodded. "That would be pretty useful to make use of such abilities, then."

"Talk like that must be why Emperor Empoleon took a quick shine to you," noted Froslass. "He's always looking to find the strategy in things, looks for everything useful, no matter what."

"Greninja's been giving him ideas since day one," murmured Quagsire, and Froslass nodded. My face flared a bit and I tapped my hands together.

"Any other questions?" Froslass swayed away from me and danced around between the five of us. "Weavile, dear?"

"Huh? N-no."

"Hmm, ok then." She grinned and floated to Mewtwo. "You then?"

"Um…did you have to be so eager chasing me, before I was brought in?"

"Huh? Oh, the ice spell and tracking part, right." Froslass blushed a bit and giggled nervously. "Sorry, that…I was, you know, eager to help out my emperor. Nothing personal, really, and I…I hope we can become friends in time."

"Perhaps so…I would like that." Mewtwo smiled, and Froslass mimicked him. "So, what is it like being deceased?" Her smile dropped straight to a frown after that.

"Dead?"

"Correct."

"Um…I'm not."

Mewtwo blinked and tilted his head. "But…you are a Ghost."

"Right, but I'm not…" She shook her head. "Ok, you're right that some Ghost Pokemon don't come into existence until they've died once before. But, not all of us are like that."

"I do not understand."

"Uh, well, being a Ghost doesn't exactly mean that we're dead," explained Froslass. "Some Pokemon evolved and gained a spiritual energy through their core." She swayed slightly back and forth. "It's…different for each of us. There are legends that insist that another Pokemon had to die for me to come into existence. Which isn't true, since I evolved from exposure to a Dawn Stone." She shrugged. "I exhibit a lot of similarities to otherworldly beings, and can channel similar energies myself, hence my being a Ghost. But, I'm still alive, I still eat and rest, and I still feel."

"Oh, I…I see." Mewtwo nodded, still studying Froslass. "I have not studied enough notes on the different Types of Pokemon yet, so this helps. Thank you."

"Eeheehee! You're more than welcome!"

"So, you're not dead, but can extract the energies of the deceased," reviewed Chesnaught. "That's…still pretty eerie, I can't deny that."

"…Yeah, I'll give you that." Froslass raised and dropped her arms, annoyed at Chesnaught. "I don't know what you want me to explain now."

"It's just…you're somehow still really cheerful in spite of that," pointed out Chesnaught. "Isn't that…a little cruel?"

Though he was a bit blunt, I had to agree with him on that thought. Turning to look at Froslass, however, I realized he had taken it too far. Her expression soured immediately, eyes narrowed into a glare.

"Oh, I'm sorry that's so much of a contrast for you," she bitterly mocked. "It must be really shocking, someone so cheery and taking gleeful delight in scaring people, while she also works so closely with the dead."

"That…doesn't sound strange to you?" Chesnaught shivered a bit, but he wasn't catching on quick enough. I motioned my hand across my throat, but he had missed it. "It's…awfully unsettling."

"Do you honestly think I'm an invalid of some kind? Or do you really think I'm just that twisted inside?"

"W-wait, I didn't—"

"Of course I know how sickening that sounds! Do you think I'm that comfortable with looking over dead beings just because I'm close in nature to one?!" Her eyes had tears form in them, but the ferocity in her tone made it hard to notice otherwise. Weavile winced and dropped her head. "I hate it, ok? Working on the dead in order to be able to utilize that for the better of our empire is hard. It's emotionally crippling, because I get to stare at lifeless bodies while sucking away whatever use they have remaining. But I'm good at it, and I need to do it." She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, but shook her head, and flew to Chesnaught's face. "Have you ever had to look over a dying friend before?"

"Y-yes."

"Really? Did you have to wait for their life force slip away, and then, to keep someone else alive, have to extract their remaining energy from their lifeless corpse?! Because I'll bet not, knight!" She darted away from him, retreating back to the middle. Deflated, she sank lower to the ground. "You heard those stories about us losing knights here, didn't you? Quagsire, they've heard them, haven't they?"

"By now, yes." I shuddered at Quagsire's quick response, devoid of his usual sluggishness. "Or, I think so."

"Who do you think gets to look over all of them, once or if we found the bodies?" Froslass couldn't prevent a tear from sliding out. "I desecrate my fallen allies to use my curses and hexes. I do that so I can hopefully stop looking at my friends on the ground. And having a level head about that is part of what helps me get through it." She shook her head. "Only Alakazam and Weavile, besides Empoleon, have ever seen or understood the use in that. Every other knight here has been horrified or afraid of ever knowing that I can just so carefully do that, that I can just up and lift…do that. So much so that it scares them more than a delightfully spooky ghost that enjoys silly little pranks and giggling too much."

Chesnaught's shoulders fell and he frowned. He stepped forward toward Froslass, but hesitated, and I watched as we waited.

"So I put on that much of a show, and I keep up a cheery, positive, almost stereotypical face. Because it keeps everyone more relaxed than the truth." She shuddered and lowered her head. "More than that, though, it helps me cope! I can actually fool myself into believing that, if I act silly enough as I better our forces with dark spells, that I just maybe can deal with having to extract shreds of energy from those that die around me. Doing that helps me keep it together." Froslass raised her head and glared at Chesnaught. "So, yeah, it's not a pretty sight. Yeah, it's scary, more than you even understand. But I do what I have to."

"Froslass, I…I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well…how would you have even known? …I shouldn't have exploded like that myself, especially not on you." She shook her head and folded her arms together, gazing down at the floor. "Besides, it's not like I talk about it anymore…not since…not for a long time…"

"Huh. So that's what the charade is for."

She jolted up and everyone turned toward the front of the room. Delphox and Mienshao walked from behind the shelves and stared ahead at the rest of us. Delphox, in particular, smirked a bit.

"Here I thought you just enjoyed all of this cryptic nonsense for your own sheer joy." He nodded. "It's nice, hearing a little past that cheerful façade."

"Why?" Froslass's frown fell. "What, do you like knowing how I tormented I am? Does that make you feel better? Or do you like having someone to pity?"

"No. Neither of those." Delphox straightened his face and posture. "I pegged you as similar to a friend of mine, cheery in her own right, but usually falling on that to be a mask. I thought you were the same, but it's nice to actually know that you are now."

"I doubt your friend deals in the same kind of misery that I do."

"Not exactly, but she has her insecurities." He stepped forward and softly smiled to her. "Ones that she tells me about, and ones that I help her cope with. And I've been meaning to get you to do the same." Froslass turned away from him, but Delphox continued forward. "I know teasing me means that you like me, because that's how my friend acts around me. And she's closer with me than anyone else. So…please, accept my help. Anytime you need a shoulder, let me know."

"…You have your own struggles to deal with." Froslass sighed. "I appreciate it, though. And Alakazam already offered the same. So…maybe, being at least this open with my fellow mages…" She smiled again and giggled her usual laugh. "Maybe I can be a bit closer to the friendly ghost we all loathe!"

"That's the spirit!" Delphox grinned as Froslass laughed with him. "So, do we have anything to work at now?"

"No, I…I can use Quagsire's help." She smiled to the salamander knight, as he nodded. "You're the only one that really changed your mind on me."

"It still scares me," admitted Quagsire. "But only because it's not a fun topic, not because of anything about you."

"Good. Anyway, we have ingredients to go hunting for, and as nice of an offer Delphox has, I doubt he has the physical strength that I need." She grinned as Delphox seethed. "There's that fuming fox we love! Now, you're all welcome to play around in here, if you like, but if you break anything, then I'll consider using you for my next hex!"

"Actually, they have more parading around to get to," intervened Weavile. "So, uh, we'll be off."

"Well then, off we all go!" Froslass giggled and swayed around. "Nice of you all to visit, and thanks sharing them, Weavile! I haven't gotten that out in ages!"

"Uh, yeah. You're, um, you're welcome."

"Eeheehee! You're welcome to come with us, Weavile, dear." Froslass winked to her. "I could certainly use a sharp eye out there."

"Pretty sure you'll be fine with Quagsire."

"Ah, yes, that's true." She twirled and scooped up Quagsire's hands in her own. "Come on, then! Let's get going!"

"Um…ok." Quagsire yawned. "Can we consider napping soon after?"

"You can rest when you're dead!"

She laughed as they left, with Froslass dragging Quagsire off. Weavile waited and scratched behind her head as they took off.

"So, that…wasn't what I expected," she confessed.

"No kidding." Delphox chuckled a bit. "She's…certainly more complex that I had anticipated." He smiled to Weavile. "I'm guessing she relies on you to help her feel something close to normal?"

"How'd you—?"

"We're two sides of a coin, you and I." He nodded. "My friend has a perfect appearance, but deep down…well, she needed me before, but I'm sure she's fine now."

"Somehow, I don't believe that."

"To be honest, that's more what I need to believe." Delphox frowned and shrugged. "But that's neither here nor there. Mienshao and I have our supplies gathered, and we're off, so—"

"Would you like to join us?"

Delphox winced and slowly turned to Mienshao, who grinned at him. Twitching a bit, Delphox glanced back at the rest of us, with Weavile nodding.

"Yes, of course, you're…welcome to join us."

Sighing, Delphox started off, while Mienshao chuckled and followed right behind him. I shot Chesnaught an inquisitive look, as he shrugged back to me. We ambled after them, with a smirking Weavile and an undeterred Mewtwo in tow.

Stepping close and into Chesnaught, I tugged his arm to get him closer down to me. He blinked and raised an eyebrow as I cupped my hand around my mouth.

"Are you ok? That was—"

"Kind of deserved," quietly interrupted Chesnaught. "…Froslass and I are more alike than I realized."

"More alike?" I pulled back and studied Chesnaught. "What does that—?"

"See, I told you they'd start whispering to each other in under a minute." Delphox pointed back at the two us, and Mienshao smiled. "They're all over each other, more than any other couple that I know, sans my former king and his general."

"My, my, so they are," concurred Mienshao, and my face burned. "Though, I still do believe that Alakazam and Machamp are already at that level themselves, if not beyond it."

"Please." Delphox shook his head. "They're getting close, but these two are worse."

"True, that the sun and the moon do dance so well together," recited Mienshao. "None, however, match the bond of a rose and its petals."

"…Had to go for the imagery, didn't you?"

"But of course."

"It doesn't make sense."

"They're so close that they're one being?" Mienshao flopped his arms out and down. "How doesn't that make sense, may I ask?"

"Let me rephrase: that makes a poor analogy."

"But one nonetheless."

"Must you be so…you?"

"Who else would I be, exactly?"

"Ugh." Delphox shook his head, and I could picture him rolling his eyes. "Why are we even friends?"

"Because you find my mediations soothing, of course," pointed out Mienshao. "Naturally so, as it helps you find your center, relax, let loose from worldly attachments—"

"Yes, yes, how therapeutic," cut off Delphox. "But I'm certain friendships must run on more than just that. And before you bring it up, no, our mutual feminine appearances do not justify it alone either."

"Well, most guys like me because they think I'm cute," noted Mienshao. "Then I tell them that I'm a male too, and that ends it, so long as they don't have to associate with me."

"Typical."

"Aside from that, maybe it's just because I'm more optimistic than you," Mienshao determined. "You need a source of positivity, since you're weighted down by your separation from your friend, combined with your typical magical frustrations, plus Froslass's…unique training methods, on top of having no significant other—"

"That's irrelevant."

"Could've fooled me." Delphox shoved Mienshao, who laughed and strolled back over to him. "Well, you tell me. What do you like about me?"

"It's honestly astounding," came Weavile's voice before Delphox could reply. "How can you two talk about other couples being too invested in each other, and then proceed to ignore the rest of us being here since we followed you?"

"You were invited to come with us," contended Delphox. "We're doing what we always do, and the rest of you just happen to be around for it."

"So you two basically bicker like an old married couple?"

"We engage in completely complex conversations, thank you very much!"

"Right." I watched as Weavile smirked and rolled her eyes. "So what are you two up to anyway?"

"On our way to resolve a bet between the brothers," revealed Mienshao. He deflated and shook his head. "We're not proud of condoning to such."

"A bet?" I blinked and tilted my head. "What's that about?"

"Oh, they want to see which of the two is more resilient with the attacks that they can take," explained Mienshao. He shook his head and tugged a bit on his mustache. "They want to see how they do with consistent physical and magical barrages."

"But today isn't supposed to be a training day." Chesnaught folded his arms and frowned. "Can't they just wait until tomorrow to check on that?"

"Unfortunately no. They got into another argument over who was more capable of undertaking attacks, and one thing led to another before Delphox and I walked in." Mienshao shrugged. "One thing led to another, they goaded us into testing our abilities, and now we're caught in the middle of it."

"How did they pull you in?" Chesnaught scratched his head. "Delphox is easy, you just have to insult him or pepper him with compliments until you get him to bend whichever way you want him to."

"Excuse me?!"

"Yeah, that's kind of true."

"Don't you dare help him, Greninja!"

"Sadly, I must admit that I have something of an ego like Delphox," disclosed Mienshao, and chuckled as Delphox glared at him. "Careful, don't walk into that wall. Anyway, those two know how to sway me over easily."

"How?"

"Hm? Oh, easily. They touted my past, mentioned how impressive I am based on individual strength, and presto, I've joined their silly schemes."

"Your past?"

"Of course. Everyone knows—"

"Mienshao, they don't."

"They what?" Mienshao blinked and slowed to a stop, turning back to Chesnaught and Greninja. "Ah…have we not had much time to talk, then?"

"Honestly, in the month we've been here," I recalled, "Chesnaught and I have probably spoken to you and Carracosta least of everyone."

"Goodness, that's just embarrassing." Mienshao slouched and let his arms hang. "I thought…but I know so much about you two. How did—?"

"That's because I told you everything," pointed out Delphox, a smug grin stuck on his face. "You've spent so much time around this bitter fox that you think you know his friends better than you actually do."

"My apologies, Chesnaught, Greninja. I do believe that he's correct. So, let's see what I can amend before we resort to the brothers' shenanigans." Mienshao straightened himself up and cleared his throat. "Well, you must not know much of it, but I actually come from a temple in a region known as the Glacial Peaks. It's located between the Mountain Monarchy and the Iceberg Empire, though easily closer to the empire, as you'd imagine."

"The where?"

"It appears that I've missed explaining far more than I realized." Mienshao dragged his hands across his face, exhaling in exasperation. "No matter. The important detail is that I was originally a monk from a mountain temple." He smirked. "Shocking, I know. At any rate, I more or less grew up there, honing my body and abilities to their maximum." His face soured as he smirk wavered away and his eyes narrowed. "One day, however, a terrible incident occurred, and the temple was left devastated. Remaining monks relocated to other temple locations, but some of us attempted to fight back that day, and, well, the emperor wanted one of us brought here, after the tale was recounted to him."

"…Wait, so—"

"Long story short, I impressed Emperor Empoleon with my skills and became a knight, similar to sōhei, for the Iceberg Empire." He winked and chuckled. "Nothing too special, though I suppose defending your home from wicked spirits would be something to impress, yes?"

"Spirits?" Chesnaught's arms dropped to his sides. "You mean…ghosts?"

"Presumably, but they weren't…like anything we've ever seen." Mienshao frowned again, twisting his mustache in his hands. "They were…very unlike the Ghost Pokemon that we interact with. Froslass, for instance, unnerved me at first, but she showed characteristics like those that any other Pokemon displays, namely emotion." His eyes narrowed again. "What I saw that day…those spirits had a single minded ruthlessness about them. Why else attack a temple? We had nothing for them to gain."

"So…if they weren't Pokemon, what were they?"

"No idea." Mienshao scratched behind his head. "Furthermore, they might have been Pokemon, for all that I know. Maybe I just couldn't identify them, and maybe I had been prejudiced." He lowered his arm. "All the same…it was frightening."

"Still, you managed to fight back, and that's impressive when facing an unknown threat," I commended. "It makes sense as to why you were sought out afterward."

Mienshao grinned to me, though I shuddered upon seeing it. Something about his smile was just…particularly unsettling, and appeared different from his other grins. He must have noticed me falter, as it disappeared as quickly as it came.

"Thank you, Greninja. I must admit, I do take some pride in that." His gaze shifted back to the floor. "Though…the day itself still haunts me, to be completely honest."

"So, I've seen you fight, and you mentioned meditating with Delphox." Chesnaught folded his arms behind his head. "But…what else are you interested in?"

"Besides not being mistaken as a female?"

"Like Delphox, yeah."

"And besides the proverbs?"

"Those suck anyway."

"Thank you, Delphox! I was missing Carracosta."

"Guys."

"Sorry, sorry." Mienshao chuckled again. "Well, let's see here. I do enjoy reading sometimes, though not nearly as much as Alakazam, and I'll admit that Delphox likely outclasses me. From what I've gathered, Emperor Empoleon can be invested in reading as well."

"As am I," voiced Mewtwo.

"Ah, you too? Goodness, maybe I'm not as much of a reader, then."

"Please, of course you are," insisted Delphox. "You don't have to out-read someone to like literature. You just enjoy what you do read, plain and simple."

"Fair enough." Mienshao smiled. "Another thing that I do enjoy would be calligraphy. I do love art, but I'm not quite as good at painting as others might be. But illustrating words, that's soothing in a way that I can't quite describe."

"He makes words look pretty, and has the indecency to not call himself an artist," Delphox scoffed. "Such audacity."

"Come to think of it, I've had you attempt it before," realized Mienshao. "Tell me, what do you think of it?"

"Calligraphy? I need to learn it better."

"But your stylizations look so nice."

"Those are just based on spells and incantations that I've practiced," admitted Delphox. "It's not specifically stylized as yours is."

"Isn't it?" Mienshao smirked. "You point out that I should call myself an artist, but refuse to do the same for yourself, and your artwork?"

"Well…I…ok, that's fair." Delphox folded his arms and rolled his eyes from Mienshao's beam. "Don't be so smug about it."

"Finding a crack in a outwardly perfect structure yields its share of delights."

"Now you're just being annoying on purpose."

"Didn't we have to go watch the brothers kill each other, or something?" I turned to Weavile, as her eyes lowered. "Not that watching you two bicker isn't cute, or anything."

"Piss off."

"Maybe Mienshao needs to share more meditation techniques with you, Delphox."

"Do I need to repeat myself?"

"If you want."

"She has a point," intervened Mienshao. "We do need to carry on with this…uh, I don't even understand why we're doing this anymore, actually."

"Because hitting them sounds like fun?"

"Delphox."

"What? They literally asked us for it!"

"Should we attempt to talk them out of it?" Mewtwo blinked and shuddered as everyone turned to him. "It…seems wise, and does avoid unnecessary violence."

"As nice as that would be, I doubt we'll be able to," informed Mienshao. "Politoed and Poliwrath enjoy arguing with one another. And, unlike Delphox and I, their banter isn't always playful." He blinked and scratched his chin. "Actually, it's usually not. It starts petty, but typically erupts into something extreme between them."

"They seemed happy to be back together after our time in the Frozen Fields," I noted. "What happened to that?"

"Some habits die hard," suggested Mienshao. "There's a bitter clash between the brothers that goes fairly deep, one that's never been settled as years have passed. Sibling rivalries in general are hard to break out of, as some persist throughout life."

"Siblings should get along," insisted Mewtwo. "I understand there were wars between such throughout history, but today, could they not simply express themselves in a calmer setting?"

"Not all of them have the luxury of that option," Mienshao explained. "Sometimes, siblings may compete to outdo one another, like Politoed and Poliwrath. It can be worse, however, if the pair or pairs in question have a deeper, more antagonistic nature with one another. They may have been raised different, to the point of even having opposing environments that cause them to clash as only foes would." He shrugged. "Siblings fight even today, and will continue to do so, I suppose."

"That…sounds horrible." Mewtwo folded his arms in close to himself, shaking his head, and frowned. "Family belongs together, and should not spend the time over their differences."

"Not all family members get along, and sometimes it's better if they stay away from each other." The practiced words fired from my mouth before I could stop myself. I bit my tongue as Mewtwo turned to me, a bit hurt by my addition.

"Just because it is does not mean that it should ever be," persisted Mewtwo. "I have dreamed of having a family, and I do not like to think of them ever hating me, or the other way around."

"Maybe yours would be better then," I offered, and forced a smile. Mewtwo seemed to pick up a bit from that, but remained glum overall.

"Wait, do you not have a family?" Delphox folded his arms. "I find that possible, given your circumstances of being alone out in those frozen wastes, but you've never had anyone, ever?"

"As far as I am aware, no." His heavy purple tail swayed lowly around him, just above the ground. "I do not recall my early life, so I cannot be certain. But, I…have no memories of parents, siblings, or any other relations."

"Oh." Delphox roughly scratched his arm. "Um. Sorry, Mewtwo. That sounds lonely, to have never known anyone for family."

"It is a desire of mine to have one, but I suppose that I truly would not recognize its absence if I never had one." Mewtwo smiled, but I couldn't shake the feeling that he held a forced tone, posture even. "Thank you for your concern, Delphox."

"Ah…sure." He nodded and tapped at his wooden wand. Delphox had more on his mind as well, but spoke no more.

"We may as well get to the brothers now," reminded Mienshao. "After all, regardless of what we do, they'll need to be dealt with. Plus, they might be trying to kill each other if left alone for too long." He glanced at Mewtwo, who has clasped his hands over his mouth. "Figuratively, that is! They, ah, they wouldn't actually kill each other, ha! Uh…I hope." He watched as Mewtwo relaxed slightly, and then nodded. "They'll be outside, southern courtyard."

Leading us through the halls, I ambled after Mienshao, but slowed as a heavy weight held my arm back. I glanced back to Chesnaught, and his widened eyes studied me. Anxious.

"What is it?"

"Just…about before—"

"Everything ok, lovers?"

"Fine, Delphox," called Chesnaught. He stared quietly at me for a moment as we walked a bit to catch up. "Maybe we'll get back to it later," he relented.

Continuing after the others, we filed through a room filled with banners and tapestries. As we shuffled through it, I glanced at some of the depictions. One detailed a hall of swords with different colors of light around them. Another portrayed a large, glowing stone between mountains, perhaps at a valley's end. After those interrupted the Empire's sigils of strange creatures, the gods, with snowflakes and water droplets around them. Beyond that, there was a tapestry that was a distant illustration of several lands, the kingdoms, and a few islands just a little away from them. I glanced across the room at another, one that included a war scene between two rather hefty dragons. Before I could investigate it further, a door creaked from further ahead. Bellowing erupted from outside.

"Oh, they're already going at it." Mienshao groaned and rubbed his temples. "Let's get this over then."

Everyone followed him outside, and I gazed around the southern courtyard. A fountain sprayed from the center, coming from a sculpture of an orca, and poured into a basin that spread into smaller ones that traveled around the perimeter of the court, almost reflecting a miniature moat. Pillars decorated the sides, filling the space around the ends.

Past the fountain, Poliwrath and Politoed glared at one another, and I listened as we closed in.

"You and your blasted, pompous ass—"

"This again!"

"Yes, this again!" Poliwrath slammed his fist into his palm. "You always think you're some kind of a tactical master, just because you're careful about silly nonsense—"

"Magic isn't nonsense, and it's important to be prepared against it!" Politoed fiddled with his hair curl. "Just because we have a higher natural guard against special abilities doesn't make us invulnerable!"

"Ha! You're the one claiming to be concerned with defenses, yet as I recall, your actual guarding is poor!" Poliwrath folded his arms. "You think you're so damned important just because of that stupid crown—"

"See, here you go again with the crown!"

"That's where all of your loftiness comes from!" He jabbed a finger at his brother. "You think that just because mother gifted you with that stupid thing—"

"You're just jealous that she gave it to me, instead of you," fired back Politoed. He placed his hand on his hip and laughed. "What, you thought that because you worked hard like father that she'd gift it to you?"

"I could care less about it entirely!" Poliwrath massaged his biceps. "These are hardworking arms, and I'm perfectly proud of them!"

"Now who sounds vain?"

"There's a difference!"

"Uh-huh."

"Should we interrupt?" Chesnaught's whisper fell on deaf ears, as Delphox shrugged while we continued toward them.

"Besides, I'm a truer, stronger knight because of it!" His glare narrowed as Politoed laughed again. "Just because you weren't as skilled as I was—"

"Oh no, you don't get that line!" Politoed growled. "I'm far more skilled than you'll ever be!"

"I'm sure you think you are," snapped Poliwrath. "But let's be realistic: I'm the one with the power behind my punches."

"This is exactly why you're not better, and why I was given the King's Rock!" Politoed slammed a foot against the ground. "You think brute force is all you'll ever need!"

"It has a lot that one needs to survive!"

"And that's by far not all you need!"

"This will go right back to that stupid bouncing crap—"

"That's right, I can bounce all around," mocked Politoed, hopping back and forth. "The kind of skill you and your precious fists lack in."

"Don't need it."

"Oh, of course you don't!" Politoed darkly smirked. "Remind me, who was it that had that bird's affections?"

"She certainly wasn't interested in you, the airhead!" Poliwrath huffed. "Remind me, how did things go with that lotus dancer?"

"That idiot was dumb enough to actually confuse us for one another," snapped Politoed. "He was a buffoon if I ever knew one."

"He was cute! Cuter than her!"

"She was much more elegant."

"And the first?"

"The best of all, and she wanted me."

"In your dreams, she was smitten with yours truly—!"

"Is that what you tell yourself?"

"That's what I know!"

"Why are we looking to get involved with this again?"

Both knights spun around to our group, and Weavile groaned; I think she might have cursed under her breath, but I couldn't quite make it out. The pair stormed over, pointing at Mienshao and Delphox.

"About time!"

"Apologies, Poliwrath—"

"Save it, Mienshao!"

"You have your tomes to test this, Delphox?"

"I told you I was gathering scrolls, Politoed—"

"Whatever, same difference."

"And what's with the audience?" Poliwrath folded his arms. "You come to watch me beat the stuffing out of this lowly lord of the frogs?"

"Ha! If anything," countered Politoed, "they're here to clean up the mess that you'll leave across the courtyard, once I'm through with you."

"Is that so, you little pest?!"

"Yeah, you big jerk, it is!"

"Guys, come on," started Chesnaught, taking a step forward.

"Please," murmured Mewtwo.

"You always hold the stupid height thing over me, but you're just quicker to fall—!"

"That help you feel better, buried down there by the ground—?"

"Cool it!"

Both brothers jerked up and blinked, turning their attention to me, as did the others. I shuddered and deflated a bit, biting my tongue over my outburst.

"Sir, yes sir," purred Poliwrath, and he winked to me. "With that kind of command, I'd stop for you anytime."

"Don't listen to him," insisted Politoed, flicking his hair and lowering his eyes. "You deserve someone more elegant."

"Ha, you mean a twerp like you?"

"Watch your mouth, you oaf!"

"As I recall," interceded Mienshao, "Greninja is quite content with Chesnaught, and they're still very much dating. Would either of you two prefer to have a go against him, hm?" He folded his arms and grinned. "If I have this right, Chesnaught survived out in the Frozen Fields, in spite of his type's distaste for this cold world. Oh, which, coincidentally, that same type happens to have a significant advantage over yours, right?" Neither Poliwrath nor Politoed answered, but instead seemed to sink to the ground. "Gracious, I don't think I've ever quieted you two that quickly myself. What a treat!" He tapped his foot. "I believe, however, you do speak at this point, yes?"

"Our apologies, Chesnaught," murmured Poliwrath. "Didn't mean to disrespect you at all."

"Same to Greninja, sorry," chimed in Politoed. "We're easily captivated by another frog around here."

"Better." Mienshao nodded and dropped his arms.

"Did you and foxy here get what you needed, or not?" Poliwrath stretched his arms, twisting them around and forcing them out.

"Yeah, we're ready to get this show started." Politoed split his legs, and reached at the ground, tapping it before hopping back up.

"We certainly got what we needed," snapped Delphox. "This show is over, however. Mienshao has no interest in beating you to a pulp for sport, and as much as I'd enjoy it myself, I have to agree that it wouldn't do much."

"What?! It's like training," thundered Poliwrath, slamming his fists together.

"Yeah! What gives, you two agreed!" Politoed waved his arms around.

"Coming off like a training exercise seemed helpful upon initial suggestion, in spite of the day off," recounted Delphox. "But hearing you two before, and more importantly, listening to our friends, on top of your little screaming match just now, it's beyond clear that this isn't to practice anything." He lowered his eyes, but they remained full of disdain. "Catering to your little blood feud on our day off is certainly wasting time best concentrated on more important matters."

"But—"

"But nothing." Delphox folded his arms. "We're of a sound mind on this matter. If you want to kill each other, go ahead, but you're not using us."

"We don't want to kill each other!" Politoed sank down a bit more. "Look, we're competitive and are nasty about it, but I…I'd never want Poliwrath dead."

"Same," chimed Poliwrath. "You were with us out in those frozen wastes too, Delphox. You know that we're not completely twisted."

"No?" Mienshao shook his head. "It's easy to fool those not accustomed to such behavior. Delphox, Greninja, and Chesnaught wouldn't know otherwise, even after the time they've spent here, let alone your own comrades." He lifted his arm and pointed back. "Poor Mewtwo there doesn't even know if he has a family. And not that every relationship should be perfect, and sometimes, family just can't get along." The knight shook his head. "But you two, in spite of all your hatred, still don't want each other dead, and still can stand being around one another constantly? You care about the other's wellbeing? That's a familial bond, how it should be." He glared at the pair. "So start acting like you love each other, and appreciate what you have here."

Politoed and Poliwrath remained silent, and only nodded in response. They glanced to one another, but I wasn't quite sure if they were looking for support, or placing a silent blame.

"Hey." Everyone turned to me again, and I stumbled in place. "Uh, we've had off from training today, right? We should…do something fun. Um…as a group, I mean."

"Yeah, we've still got a few hours left," agreed Chesnaught. He smiled and I softly exhaled, relaxing a bit. "We might as well do something together."

"Hmm." Delphox grinned. "How about we watch Mienshao's skill at calligraphy?"

"Absolutely not."

"Isn't that the pen art thing?" Poliwrath scratched his arm. "That sounds interesting."

"Yeah, I'd like to see what you can do, Mienshao," chimed in Politoed.

"See? That would help the brothers cooperate," persuaded Delphox. "That will make everyone else feel great too…and you can show off a bit, huh? How about it?"

"…Fine, fine, you've twisted my arm enough." Mienshao puffed out a cheek and glared at Delphox's snickers. His eyes lit up quickly, though. "One condition: you get to help me and showcase your work."

"What?!"

"And you're bringing it to life with some magic," furthered Mienshao. "I've seen you create illusions of words popping off the pages. Show it off a little."

"B-but—"

"Yeah, Delphox, you help too!" Chesnaught grinned. "It'll be nice for us to see you two make literal magic together!"

"Why would you…forget it, fine." Delphox blushed and scratched behind his head. "But you better not tease me about any sloppiness."

"Sloppy magic making then, it's settled," joked Mienshao, chuckling as Delphox folded his arms.

"Froslass won't like us doing that without her," murmured Weavile.

"She can join in when she gets back with Quagsire," I suggested. "And we should try to go grab Alakazam and Machamp. And, uh…is anyone else around?"

"We'll waste our last few hours trying to find everyone," noted Mienshao. "Better to just find them, grab Froslass and Quagsire when they return, and just leave it open if anyone else wants to join in."

"Ok then." Chesnaught clasped his hands together. "Now, let's go find the happy new couple and get a real show rolling!"

"Do…do you know where they are?"

"Not a clue!"

"Uh-huh…we'd better get searching then." Mienshao glanced at everyone and nodded. "It's likely best if we split into pairs and spread around the palace. We can cover more ground like that." He frowned and turned to the brothers with lowered eyes. "That is, if a certain pair is willing and able to get along."

"We'll play nice enough," insisted Poliwrath.

"Yeah, promise," added Politoed.

"Good. We'll try to cover it based on directions, then. You two can take the southwestern areas of the palace." He tapped his hand against his chin. "Delphox and I might as well explore the northwestern end, and can get supplies while looking around. Greninja and Chesnaught can go to the northeastern side, toward the bedrooms." Delphox burst out laughing. "They will strictly be searching for their friends, right you two?" Chesnaught and I nodded through our blushed faces. "Good. That leaves Weavile and Mewtwo. Hmm." He scratched behind his head. "You two are comfortable enough to work together in the southeastern end, right?"

"Sure, as long as Mewtwo's ok with it."

"Yes, I am, and we can."

"Great. We'll take around a half hour or so to roam around, and meet back in the main hall." Mienshao clasped his hands together, and pointed back to the palace. "So, let's get going."

Together, we went back inside and through the corridor. I tried glancing over the tapestries again, hesitating at scenes depicting four kings meeting in a large palace that I was unfamiliar with. I couldn't take the time to observe it, though, and hurried along with the group.

Back inside the main hall, everyone split apart into the respective pairs and ventured off. Chesnaught and I climbed upstairs and made our way to the bedroom halls. It guided around in a wide loop, and I scratched my head.

"It shouldn't take long to search around here, right?"

"No, but it might be better if we cover more ground between us."

"Wait, we're splitting up?" Chesnaught frowned. "But…we're already apart from the group." He scooped my hands up and brought them to his chest. "Plus, everyone already knows that we're the most likely to waste time together, so…why don't we?"

"We could, right?"

I smiled as he brought me in close for a kiss. Our lips met and I shuddered as his arms left my hands at his chest and went around my back. I rubbed his soft fur and I moved into him, but paused for a moment. We could, but shouldn't. I reluctantly pulled back, leaving my hands on his chest, and stared as he blankly gazed back at me.

"While I'd like to…I'd really, really love to," I started, but Chesnaught placed his hand on my lips.

"Nah, you're right. We'll take too long and get nothing done." He grinned. "Besides, we need to go bother Machamp and Alakazam, already. We haven't seen them all day."

"Can I make it up to you later?"

"Depends on if we're making out later." Chesnaught laughed as our faces flushed red. "It's fine either way; we'll find plenty of time together, even if we have to wait until after training tomorrow." He winked. "For now, you check in here, and I'll check around ahead. But first…"

He scooped my face into his and we kissed again. I pressed into him as his tongue slipped into my mouth, and I already wanted to go back on our decision. But he pulled back a bit, and we broke apart again. Nodding, he walked through the hall, making his way to scope out other rooms.

After I watched Chesnaught leave, I shook my head and wandered through the hall. Alakazam and Machamp's rooms were on the opposite end. Turning left, I ambled ahead and glanced at a few ice sculptures of the mythical creatures between vases with the empire's sigil and busts of Empoleon. Some blue banners with the crest distracted me a bit further before I shook my head and turned right around the next corner. Their room was just a little further ahead at the end.

"Well, well."

I froze in my tracks and my heartbeat picked up. My fists tightened and I didn't even want to look through the open door next to me.

"It's rare to see you completely alone, Greninja!" Golduck's cheer made me want to punch him immediately. I turned my head at his approach and glared as my hands trembled. "Where's your big bodyguard?"

"Cut the crap, Golduck," I snapped. He ignored me, glancing back and forth through the hall.

"Ooh, you are completely alone after all!" His stupid grin fired me up as my breathing became sharper, quickened. "What, did you get lost?"

"Just shut…wait." I shook my head. Control it. "Have you seen Alakazam or Machamp?"

"Quite often. They're just a few doors down from me, after all."

"As in recently, like nearby."

"Hmm…you know, I can't recall." He smirked. "Why don't you come inside, and give me a minute to recollect—"

"You're a disgusting waste of space, you know that?"

"Oh ho! Not holding anything back, are you?" He nodded. "Good, I like that."

"If you haven't seen them, then we're done here." I pivoted away and started back down the hall.

"Aw, wait a minute, my precious Greninja!" I kept walking. "Come now, that's no fun." His footsteps rushed up and I wanted to hurry away. "What, we can't just talk, like civilized adults?"

"No, because you wouldn't know how to be civil if you were given the best teachers for things like manners and decency!" I spun around and stormed over to him, as he stopped and waited. "You're scum, and we both know that!"

"So, you're still hurt, obviously."

"Piss off." Punching him was the least I wanted to do. "You left me."

"But we were good before that, right?"

"Not even close."

"No? As I recall, you seemed, what was it? Oh right, happy." He smirked and I threw my hand out. He caught it. "Not quite that way now, though. Ooh, your pulse is racing!"

"I could break your arm right here and now."

"Right, I'm sure you could. And you've learned dozens of techniques to kill me, too, I'd imagine." Still, Golduck smiled, enjoying every second. "But you forget: I could do just the same to you, couldn't I?"

"Yeah." I ripped my arm out of his hand, and held my glare. "You could have been better though."

"Honesty? Does it hurt admitting that?"

"That's not the part that hurts at all. You were supposed to be an elite ninja. You were one of the best that we had, and you could have risen up through the ranks easily." My eyes narrowed. "But you didn't. Instead, you took off."

"After we had a lovely night—"

My hand smashed right across his face this time. Sloppy, and it hurt me a bit, but worth some pain to make him feel worse. He grasped at his cheek and stumbled back, holding onto it. I waited, watching to see if he'd attack back. But he steadied himself, and straightened back up again.

"Damn, you're strong." He chuckled, the bastard. "That's definitely going to bruise, and I think I can taste some blood from my cheek already."

"Good."

"Ha!" He rubbed it, but still smiled at me. "Yeah, I deserved that."

"You deserve a hell of a lot worse."

"…Would it be any consolation that I struck out in the city today?"

"No."

"Huh. I thought you would've like to hear that."

"I don't give a damn, Golduck."

"That hammering heartbeat tells otherwise."

"It's anger, ok? You make my heart race because I despise so much as seeing you now." He deflated a bit from that. "What, haven't you noticed?"

"How could I? You and I have hardly had any time together."

"And I fully intend to keep it that way!" I twisted away from him, but he reached out and grabbed my shoulder. "Let go, now!"

"Just wait a minute, please—"

"There is nothing more to talk about, Golduck, don't you get that?!" I spun around again, ready to hit him harder. "You left me. I loved you, and you left. And you not only left me, but you went out of your way to make sure that I wouldn't follow."

"That's not—"

"You left my father a trail," I thundered. "I told you that I wasn't ready to tell him, but you went right ahead, decorated the floor with withered lily petals, and led it right back to my room." He sank lower, and I stormed closer to him. "You knew how it looked, you knew what would happen. And yet you went out of your way to do that."

"I did." He shrugged. "The roses were fresh, right?"

Again, I punched him, right against his arm. A clean hit this time, and he grabbed his arm right after, wincing in pain.

"Someone back home warned me about you," I rambled on. "They told me that you were a deviant, that you would never be interested in me for long." I dropped my arms. "But I was young and stupid, thinking that you were actually interested."

"You were right, I was—"

"No, you weren't."

"Yes, I was. I still am, in fact."

"Go to hell."

"Been there already." He shrugged and waited, but I didn't lash out again, as much as I wanted to. "Greninja, I am still interested in you, honestly."

"That's disgusting to know, thanks."

"Come on, don't act like you wouldn't entertain the thought—"

"I wouldn't—"

"Now, no. But if we met again, and you were single?" He let out a quick laugh. "You and I would be back together instantly."

"You're beyond delusional." I shook my head. "I would sooner die than be with you ever again."

"Don't talk like that—"

"It's true!"

"If you want to believe that, fine." He looked me up and down, and I raised my hands again. "What?"

"Get away from me."

"Look, it's not because—"

"Back away, and leave me alone!"

"I was scared."

"What?!"

"I was scared," he repeated. "Everything, ok? It was everything."

"You don't—"

"Please, just let me get this out." He clasped his hands over his bill and shook his head. Before I could open my mouth again, he started back up. "I just couldn't handle it. Becoming a top ninja, my reputation in town, dating you in secret—that was too much to handle, and I realized it all too late."

"Commitment issues?! That's your excuse?!"

"It's not an excuse, it's just…ok, I can see how you'd label it an excuse—"

"You used me, and you want me to accept your fragile explanation as—as what, exactly?!"

"Nothing, you don't need to accept it." Golduck shrugged. "Just so you understand. I felt like I had too much pressure to live up to, and I wanted to get away from all of that." He finally frowned. "It's not easy, especially having so many others eye you over—"

"Over your strength, you bastard! They wanted you to be strong. I wanted you to be strong with me." I shook my head. "But instead you played with my head, got me twisted enough to actually open up to you. I trusted you, and you blatantly betrayed me!"

"And I'm sorry for doing that." Liar. "I didn't want you following me, because…I knew that you would. You'd follow me wherever I went, and you'd try to convince me to stay behind with you and everyone else's expectations."

"So because you needed approval of the world around you, that's why you couldn't stay? On top of your asinine fear of commitment, you needed constant appraisal?"

"Yes." He rubbed his arm and face. "I knew that your father would stop you from following me. It wasn't right, but it was the only way to make sure you wouldn't come after me."

"You're beyond despicable."

"That was how I was back then." He smiled again, and…ugh, it looked genuine. "But I've changed. I'm stronger, I'm one of the best knights here—"

"Super, that's all the opposite of what I care about from you!"

"But I'm better now, Greninja!" He stepped toward me, towered over me, and I stepped back. "I can be better for you, out here."

"Are you serious?"

"Of course I am." He stepped forward again as I retreated. "I couldn't stay with anyone after I left you. Truly, I tried, but getting with anyone else just wasn't the same as being with you, having what we had." He paused and looked into my eyes, as my stomach twisted in painful knots. "I love you. Let's do what this empire best offers, and let's start over."

He held out his hand, but I batted it away immediately. Golduck frowned again, and I glared at him.

"You don't get it, do you?" My heart still raced, but I refused to hold anything back. I didn't care how loud I was getting. "Do you really think I'd fall right back into your arms because you told me all of that crap? You left me! You hurt me! Get it through your thick skull: I don't love you anymore, and I never will again!" He backed up and I stepped forward. "Chesnaught is great on many levels, and I've already been dating him longer than I did with you, but guess what else he has over you? He's selfless, and he's courageous." Golduck glowered at me at last. "Why would I want to be near a coward that went to lengths to break my heart, when I'm with the best boyfriend I could ask for? What kind of a stupid trade would that be?"

"Hang on, I'm plenty brave in a fight—"

"That's not where I need it." I folded my arms. "Chesnaught came out at a ceremony in front of an entire crowd from the town, and in front of his fellow knights. Do you know why? Because he didn't want to hide our relationship." I narrowed my eyes as Golduck shifted and stumbled back. "Mind you, this was after I told him that I was ok with keeping it a secret until he was ready. And do you know what happened when his fellow knights stabbed him in the back? He stayed the course, stayed with me." Golduck swallowed hard, and I watched him twitch as I continued. "When faced with moving up here, he didn't want to be separated from me, but would do so out of duty. Lucky for us, our former king was willing to send me along. I told him about a friend of ours that was interested in me, and he was jealous, but trusted me. As I recall, you never wanted others from home looking at me for too long. And that brings us to here, with you dropping back into my life—"

"Don't act like he's been a saint about that."

"He stood by me," I snapped. "Every time you make me feel awful, he's quick to comfort me. Whenever you make me uncomfortable, he protects me." Golduck fidgeted and his knees buckled just slightly, as I stood up straight. "I don't care if you love me anymore. That's behind me. I love Chesnaught, and I'm happy with him. So don't stand there and try to make me to give that up, because you already ripped it away from me once."

For a minute, I waited as he lowered his head, studying the ground. Golduck's eyes wavered and twitched as he silently poured over everything. He had to have known that he had no chance with me, so what was it that he was piecing together?

"Well?!"

"…If you're actually happy then…"

Golduck's bill closed and he winced as he gazed behind me. I turned as Chesnaught, Machamp, and Alakazam walked up.

"Again, though, that's only if you think you'll stay happy with him," mocked Golduck. He smirked, and his armor went back up. "Doubtful though. Give it time; all good things end, don't they?"

With a forced laugh, he strode away from us. My shoulders dropped as I exhaled heavily, and turned to my friends.

"How long were you there?"

"Long enough to see your boyfriend grin over you seamlessly defending him." Alakazam smirked as Machamp elbowed my blushing Chesnaught. "He wasn't kidding about being invited to a show."

"That wasn't a show, that was the execution of our fellow knight," joked Machamp. "I thought we were going to see magic writing, not outright murder!"

"Oh, we'd better get going for that, actually," noted Alakazam. "Chesnaught here told us that the others were wandering around to search for us."

"We have some time," noted Chesnaught. "If only a little."

"Right, time, Alakazam." Machamp wrapped his arms back around his boyfriend. "So, you and I have another few minutes—"

"Ah, I think we've spent more than enough, um…" Alakazam dragged Machamp in for a kiss. They broke apart quickly, but both grinning. "So, anyway, we'll give you two a minute to yourselves and meet you outside."

"We will?"

"Yes, now come on."

"Wait, are we being polite, or are we doing something—ow, what?"

Alakazam dragged Machamp around the corner as they made their way outside. Chesnaught scratched behind his head, while I lowered mine.

"Sorry. I wasted my time instead of just—"

"You defended yourself. And me." He smiled to me. "There's no need for you to apologize at all."

"…Ok, yeah." I nodded as he pulled me in for a hug. His steady heartbeat eased mine, and I held him close to me. "I can't stand him."

"Neither can I." He lightly kissed the top of my head, and nuzzled it. "I don't even understand him being a knight. He's anything but honorable."

"Not all knights are." I pulled away from his embrace.

"True, I learned that the hard way."

"No, that's not—"

"It's fine." His smile faltered a bit, and I frowned. "Don't worry about it, honestly. Do you have anything else that you want to go over with me?"

"After all that, no." I had my outburst for the day, and what I wanted to be for the month. I started down the hall. "Let's just get back to the main hall and enjoy the rest of the evening."

"What about your father?" I turned my head back to Chesnaught, and he frowned. "You told me that Golduck is the reason your father found out about you, but…is he really that…the two of you, are you—?"

"Before I left home, I didn't get to bid my father farewell," I recounted. "Just whatever stood in his wake, and neither of us cared much by the time I left."

"Greninja…"

"Again, I'm sorry."

"Don't. I shouldn't push you." He walked alongside me and held my hand. "You're right. Let's focus on having a good night."

Once more, I nodded and we smiled to each other. Together, we walked out of the bedroom halls, and tried to enjoy the rest of our night with our friends.

It wouldn't last.


[Later]

Behind the palace, Delphox whipped a ball of fire around, staring off into the distance. He gazed out at the vast white of the Frozen Fields, much darker under the night sky.

"Careful," cautioned a voice behind him. "Someone will think you almost miss it out there."

"Ha, please, Mienshao." Delphox spun around, smirked at the stoat, and jumped from the short wall he was perched on. "I'm amazed that we actually survived out there."

"You and everyone else," muttered Weavile, walking outside to the duo. She watched Delphox's fireball and shuddered.

"Sorry." The fox mage cast it away and let the orb dissipate.

"It is nice that we were able to pull together," agreed Mienshao. "Machamp and Alakazam have been especially happy to be together again."

"That? They're literally inseparable," noted Delphox. "Honestly, I think they do everything together now."

"Well, of course!"

Froslass popped up from a mound of snow beside Weavile. She grinned at Delphox and Mienshao, but frowned at their lacking reactions.

"Um…one of you two should have freaked out from that."

"That would work if you didn't do it so often, Froslass," pointed out Weavile.

"Mm." She rolled her eyes and curled around the archer's back. "You know, while you have a point, maybe I just need to change it up." She slid her arms across Weavile's, to which the weasel gasped and shivered. "Perhaps spread my targets out a bit, change who I scare each day."

"Or maybe you should just take a little time off from being a ghoul," teased Mienshao.

"Hey, do I criticize your meditations and monk rituals?" Froslass twirled away from Weavile and glided over to Mienshao, glowering at him. "No, I don't. So, you keep your practices, and I'll stick with mine."

"There's a difference between which is harmful," pointed out Mienshao. "Though, I suppose you would ignore that."

"Honestly, you have such nerve—"

"Hey, what's the commotion going on out here?" Poliwrath stepped outside and blinked at the group before him. He folded his arms and nodded. "What are you all arguing about, anyway?"

"Just Froslass making the issues," declared Delphox.

"It is not just me!"

"Sounds like you and I on a good day, Poliwrath," chimed in Politoed as the frog emerged behind his brother.

"Are you two getting along?" Weavile rolled her eyes. "It's not going to be like earlier, is it?"

"We behaved for the calligraphy show," insisted Politoed. "Which was pretty fantastic, so good job on that, Mienshao and Delphox."

"And we're trying not to fight as often, anymore," revealed Poliwrath. "We did mean it, out there, and we'll follow what Mienshao told us before."

"As you should." Delphox folded his arms and glanced around. "Where are the double couples, anyway?"

"Greninja and Chesnaught wandered off with Mewtwo and Quagsire, but I think they went separate ways from each other at some point," explained Weavile. "Machamp and Alakazam slinked away on their own, still tangled up together, whispering and kissing the whole way out."

"Figures." Delphox rolled his eyes and shook his head. "I'm worried about Mewtwo, though. He should want to spend time with other mages. He barely joined in with our show, as captivated as he was." He rubbed his wand. "Plus, he's constantly around Greninja and Chesnaught."

"He just needs to grow more," pointed out Mienshao. "And he gives them space."

"Not enough, and three can be such a crowd."

"It wasn't with the bears," contested Weavile. "I wonder how they're doing in your kingdom, now that I mention it."

"Hopefully well," murmured Delphox. He sighed and walked away from the palace again, gazing out to the few city lights in the distance. "Hopefully everyone there is."

"Got a girlfriend or boyfriend, over there?" Poliwrath unfolded his arms and walked over to Delphox. "What's your type, anyway?"

"Honestly, I'm still asking myself that," decided Delphox. He chuckled. "It's been years, decades, and I still can't decide."

"You just want to find someone that loves you," mused Mienshao. "We all want that."

"Yeah, that's true." Sighing, Delphox leaned over the frozen railing and shook his head. "As for who I left behind, she was a very special individual. We've spent a good portion of our lives together, and I…I really miss her. Every day."

"So, it was a girlfriend?" Politoed tilted his head. "…Is she?"

"No, she has a boyfriend," murmured Delphox. "Well, at least when I left she did."

"Do you really think much has changed?" Froslass floated over to him. "We haven't had too much that really shook things up here."

"Everyone acts differently now," countered Delphox. "Plenty changed here, in just a few weeks." He flopped his head against the ice and sighed. "Who knows how much changed back where I came from…?"

"Change can be a good thing," eased Mienshao. "The stream flows though its path, but the water must pass all kinds of obstacles to get to its destination. Water adapts, after all." He patted Delphox's back, and then chuckled. "Just ask these frog knights here."

"Water changes a lot."

"A whole lot."

"Not always good, either."

"Bad currents give bad days."

"Thank you," snapped Mienshao. "You're kind of devaluing my point."

"It's fine, I understand," insisted Delphox, picking himself back up. "Anyway, I don't know about any of you, but it's late, and I should probably get to bed soon. Mages are practicing early tomorrow."

"Everyone's practicing early tomorrow," grumbled Weavile. "Even these two."

"Wait, what?" Politoed's mouth dropped open. "When did you hear about that?"

"He mentioned it the other day." She rubbed her nose. "Weren't you paying attention?"

"Forgot about that myself." Poliwrath stretched. "Even a day off can't be spent without having hell to pay after. We'll be woken before sunrise."

"Better get some sleep then," advised Weavile, as she walked back into the palace. "Night, everyone."

"Yes, goodnight," chimed in Delphox.

Weavile and Delphox trudged away from the group outside, and then separated from one another inside. Poliwrath and Politoed watched for a moment, but then shrugged to one another.

"I've still got equipment to put away from yesterday, so I'll probably sleep after that," decided Poliwrath.

"Well, you better hurry, then," complained Politoed. "We're probably going to be paired off tomorrow, and the General will probably put us together, again, so you better be well rested!"

"Ha, you're one to talk, midnight croaker!" Poliwrath nudged his brother before heading back inside. "Night Froslass, Mienshao."

Politoed watched his brother walk off, and then waved to his friends before following him inside as well.

"Not that I'll need much rest, but I guess staying out here doesn't do much good," decided Froslass. "What about you?"

"In a moment, I'll retire for the night," decided Mienshao. "Everyone came out here to breathe again, and I'd like some time to admire the stars before bed."

"You know what? I changed my mind; I'm going to start criticizing your habits."

"Goodnight to you too," laughed Mienshao.

"Goodnight. And, about before, in my study?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." Mienshao smiled. "Talk to myself or anyone whenever you need to, Froslass."

"I should." She nodded. "We'll see. Anyway, night!"

"Again, goodnight."

He watched Froslass float back in before going over to the railing, gazing down at the fading city lights below, disappearing as the citizens went to sleep. Pausing, he turned and looked back at the windows of the palace, searching for his friends, before turning back to the night sky.


[One]

Delphox walked through a long hallway, shivering a bit as he went. He glanced around at the designs in the hall, which appeared sharper, more sinister at night.

"Figures that I would be in the creepy part of the palace, he muttered."

He walked along, glancing outside to Mienshao, who stared quietly away from the palace. Delphox hesitated a moment and watched his friend, before shaking his head.

"He's fine alone."

As Delphox continued, something cracked behind him. Whirling around and whipping out another fireball, the mage stared ahead, finding nothing.

"Well…this goes against every horror tale that I've read," he muttered. Louder, he called out, "Hello? Anyone there?"

Scanning the hall, he noticed nothing. Shaking his head, he turned back and walked along again.


[Two]

Weavile sighed as she stomped down a flight of steps, grumbling through the stairwell.

"All I had to do was relax," she berated. "But no, I tensed up, and then completely shut down. Again."

Scratching behind her head, Weavile sighed. Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, the archer stalled while looking at the banners.

"Definitely overdid it when they decorated that," she decided.

Faintly, she heard a giggle. Jerking up, Weavile returned her attention back up the stairwell.

"Froslass? Is that you?"

Starting back up, she froze upon hearing something clatter down the steps, one by one.


[Three]

Poliwrath reached the armory, lining lances against the wall. He brushed his head as he gathered a pile of clubs, and then dumped them into a barrel.

"General didn't tell me it had to be perfect," chuckled Poliwrath. "Wonder if I can speed up the rest of this."

Grabbing a few swords and daggers, Poliwrath flung them into a chest and kicked it closed. He nodded and brushed his hands together.

"Easy work after all!"

Observing the room, he checked each set of weapons. Staffs were stacked up against a wall, while smaller knives and blades for poles were organized on a nearby table.

"Huh. I was expecting those to be a mess too." He shrugged. "No matter, at least everything's in here and accounted for."

Something smacked down behind him. Whirling around, Poliwrath raised a fist, only to find a fallen lance.

"Ah, my nerves are shot," he grumbled.

He jumped at hearing something else smack down outside of the room. Eyes widened, Poliwrath quickly checked around the room, but failed to find a missing weapon.


[Four]

Politoed quietly clapped his hands together, watching the door before him. He groaned and flopped back on his bed.

"Can't Poliwrath just hurry up already?" He heavily exhaled. "I don't need him slamming the door shut just as I'm falling asleep."

Shifting his gaze around, Politoed giggled quietly. He then let out a soft croak, and giggled again.

"Well…while he's not here…"

Again, the toad croaked, and laugh