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Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Shadows of the Past

Discussion in 'Literature Library' started by Malc Modnar, Sep 24, 2014.

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  1. Malc Modnar

    Malc Modnar Collector

    Sep 22, 2014

    Some time ago, a very good friend told me I should write a story. Writing always came naturally to me, but I'd honestly never considered starting a work of fiction for fun. After thinking it through, I realized I did have a story to tell. As a fan/addict of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, I must admit I was never entirely satisfied with the ending of Explorers. Beautiful though it was, I felt there were questions left unanswered. What really became of Darkrai? What could have possibly twisted him so, driven him to tear down time and challenge the legends? Who was the protagonist, and what was their place in the future? What role did the Time Gears serve, and why weren't they at Temporal Tower in the first place?

    After mulling these questions over for longer than I really should've, I came up with some answers. I've taken great pains to make sure they conform with existing canons (even after Gates to Infinity threw a wrench in the works), and, at the prompting of my friend, decided to turn it into a story. This is my first attempt at writing anything like this - I don't think it's perfect, but I'm happy with what I've done so far and have no intention of leaving this unfinished. So, for your enjoyment, I present my first foray into the world of fan fiction, and make only a single request of you in reading it: criticize me. Please, tell me what I'm doing wrong, where I can improve, what works and what doesn't. You won't hurt my feelings, I won't hate you for tearing me apart. Just let me know.

    Also, for those who don't want to read this on the forum, the story can be found here.

    I hope you enjoy it.
    Stop hovering to collapse... Click to collapse... Hover to expand... Click to expand...
  2. Malc Modnar

    Malc Modnar Collector

    Sep 22, 2014
    Chapter 1 - Are You Alright

        In the nothing of before was born the Original One. Into this endless dark, He sent His Light, scouring the void until but a mote of Shadow remained. He chose for Himself the name Arceus, and unto this new Light the Original One brought three children.


        When one is awakened by the words "are you alright," it's generally a good sign that something has gone very, very wrong. The best response, then, is to remain calm and attempt to quickly and clearly provide your rescuer with as much helpful information as possible. In my case, it would have been best to let said rescuer know that, no, I was not alright, that I had apparently been unconscious for an unknown length of time, and that it felt as though my brain was trying to pound its way out of my skull.

        Instead, being the genius that I am, I immediately sat bolt upright, glanced around in a panic for a moment, then promptly collapsed back onto the damp earth, clutching my forehead as the aforementioned headache punished me for my insolence.

        "I'll take that as a no, then," continued the soft, feminine voice. "Just a moment, I think I've got something here that'll help." Having somehow managed to force my eyes open against my brain's protests, I watched as my rescuer, a wiry-looking absol, dug through the small black pouch she had set beside her.

        "Here we go," she said, fishing something out of her bag before tossing it towards me. I like to think I almost caught it. "Dried persim berry," she stated as I eyed the shriveled pink object resting in the grass. "Mostly carry them for fighting off psychics, but it should help the head-"

        I needed no further encouragement. Biting into the dried husk, I promptly gagged at the berry's surprisingly bitter flavor. Still, if it could kill my headache, I didn't care how bad it tasted. After what seemed like a small eternity, the pounding in my skull had subsided to a blissfully mild throbbing.

        "Thanks," I sighed, mentally debating the merits of worshiping this absol as some kind of berry goddess as I shakily rose to my feet. "I needed that."

        "It's what I'm here for," she replied, slinging her bag back over her shoulder. Eyeing me for a moment, she continued, "No offense, but you look like you just lost an argument with a few dozen angry steelix. What happened?"

        Good question. "I don't know," I began, "All I remember is this... roaring, like the world was falling apart. But before that..."

        Before that, nothing. My memory was gone.

        My memory was gone.

        The next thing I knew, I was lying on the damp earth again, the absol standing over me with an expression of concern on her face. Fortunately, the persim berry seemed to be keeping my headache from worsening. Enjoy the little things, I suppose.

        "Whoa, take it easy, pal," the absol said as I laid on the ground, quietly watching the night sky spin above me. After a few moments, I felt steady enough to sit upright
    once more, and used the opportunity to take stock of my surroundings.

        I was sitting on the bank of a river that cut through a forest, flanked on both sides by dense walls of vegetation. Some distance to my left was a small dirt path that quickly vanished into the trees, while to my right the river stretched in a gentle outward curve, its ends hidden from sight. It was late at night, and the full moon shone bright in the sky above us, its light reflected with crystal clarity from the water's smooth surface.

        It was peaceful. Tranquil. Almost enough to keep me from panicking.

        "What in Arceus name happened to you?"

        The absol's question snapped me out of my reverie. "I can't remember," I began, fighting to keep the fear out of my voice. "I can't remember anything. It's like... the memories just aren't there. It's... blank." I was shaking.

        Stay calm, deep breaths. Relax. I'd apparently been beaten to within an inch of my life. I was in a strange place, with no idea who I was or how I'd gotten there. I needed to stay calm, figure out what I could do, find some way to-

        My train of thought was interrupted as the absol struck me on the head with the back of her paw. I blinked in surprise. "I'm not having you pass out on me again," she stated flatly. "It's late, and I don't feel like hauling some unconscious nutcase of a Pokémon back to the Guild just because he couldn't keep it together."

        I rose to my feet, seething with cold fury. "I'm sorry that my little identity crisis is inconveniencing you," I snapped. "I'm tired, it feels like there's a rhydon trying to ram its way out of my skull, and I can't remember anything past a few minutes ago." The air around me seemed to hum with energy, and the entire clearing grew a shade darker. "Forgive me if I'm a little disoriented."

        The absol fell into a half-crouch, evidently ready and able to fight. After eyeing me for a moment, she relaxed, grinning. "Glad to see I got you on your feet."

        She was right. I was standing again, the world had stopped spinning, and my headache had subdued enough that I could freely contemplate murder. Eventually, I decided that glaring quietly was probably a better solution than killing my rescuer, who was too busy laughing quietly to herself to notice.

        "Don't give me that look," she said, stifling her laughter. "It worked, didn't it?"

        "Injury, amnesia, and now I have to deal with an absol who's too smart for her own good?" I sighed, chuckling softly. "Thanks, I guess. I owe you one."

        "Two, actually," she deadpanned. "That persim berry was expensive." Seeing my glare, she shot me another grin.

        "Let's shoot for three then," I replied. "I don't suppose you've got something for memory loss in that bag?" It was worth a try.

        "Can't say I do, sorry," the absol shrugged. "But I may know someone who can help. There's an explorer's guild in Shimmerlake Village, just up the road from here. Guildmaster Torterra's the wisest Pokémon I know - if anyone can figure out what happened to you, it's her."

        I nodded. "Sounds like a plan, then. When can we see her?"

        "Never, I'm afraid," came a new voice, directly behind me. "You're coming with me."

        I whirled around in surprise, only to be knocked flat on my back as a blast of dark energy struck me squarely in the chest. The attack itself didn't hurt too badly, but it had caught me completely off guard. By the time I managed to regain my footing, the mysterious Pokémon was already on the move.

        His next target was the absol, whom he pummeled with a flurry of strikes. However, she had a moment's more warning than I, and used it to roll away from the assailant and evade the worst of the damage. Leaping back into the fray, the two rapidly exchanged blows, though neither was able to gain a significant advantage. I rushed forward ready to help defend my rescuer, only to stop myself short on impulse.

        Charging in headfirst wouldn't help. I needed to observe the situation, find a weakness, and exploit it. So I watched.

        The assailant was a gengar, and a large one at that. He moved with the practiced ease of someone used to battle, and seemed to be well aware of the risk posed by the absol's superior agility. He fought aggressively, never giving her the chance to do more than simply evade his attacks. As he moved, he seemed to blur, suddenly appearing just slightly off to one side or the other to evade an attack or deliver a blow. Despite his focus on the absol, he kept a wary eye on my position, and used his wraith-like agility to keep the absol between the two of us. Any attack launched at him would risk hitting my rescuer.

        He was clever, talented, and carried himself with the subtle arrogance of one who is in his element and knows it all too well. He was too alert - a conventional attack would be easily evaded, assuming it didn't strike the absol...

        Strike the absol.

        Acting on pure instinct, I spread my arms wide, calling the dark aura of energy into being around me once more. I had only one shot to make this work. The gengar, seeing my impending attack, moved to ensure the absol was between himself and me... exactly like I wanted him to.

        "Absol, jump!" I shouted, unleashing a pulse of dark force directly at her. Hearing me, she threw herself at the gengar, claws wreathed in shadowy power. My attack struck immediately afterwards, hurling her directly at our assailant. The dark pulse would hurt the spectral gengar much more than it would harm her, and, when combined with the force of her own attack, should have been enough to knock the mysterious Pokémon out cold while she sailed through his incorporeal form, relatively unharmed.

        'Should have' being the important words there.

        The attack hit the absol, launching her towards the ghost Pokémon... and they collided. She rammed into our supposedly-insubstantial assailant, sending both tumbling towards the forest's edge. After a few moments the absol rose, battered but still able to fight. Surprisingly, the gengar did the same.

        Something was off. Gengar are ghosts. Attacks like the ones the absol and I had just hit him with were devastating to them. Ghosts don't just shrug off a combined attack like that... and they certainly don't collide with another Pokémon mid-air unless they wanted to. There was no reason for their attacker to let that happen... unless he couldn't stop it.

        I rushed forward, taking advantage of the supposed gengar's disorientation to close the distance. As I charged, I felt a surge of power flooding my limbs, filling me with deadly speed. Normally, What I had planned would pass right through a ghost. I was willing to bet our enigmatic friend would react differently.

        The mysterious Pokémon rose to his feet, noticing me as I reached him. It was too late. At that moment, I tested my new theory in the best way I could think of:

        I punched him in the face.

        To my partial surprise, the attack hit. The 'gengar' stumbled backwards before slamming into a nearby tree. As I watched, his form seemed to flicker and distort, fading away to reveal a scrawny and battered zoroark.

        The zoroark blinked in confusion as his illusion faded. Realizing his disguise had failed, a look of horror spread across his face.

        "I don't..." the zoroark gasped between breaths. "How did you-"

        He didn't get the chance to finish his sentence. The absol darted out, lashing at him with shadow-shrouded claws. The zoroark stumbled, but before she could finish him off, a bright flash of light tore through the clearing. When my vision returned, the mysterious zoroark was gone, leaving nothing but myself and a furious-looking absol.

        "That little..." she snarled, claws still smoldering with dark power, ""I'm going to kill him! Hiding behind an illusion like that, attacking us at random, and - gah!"

        She began taking her rage out on a nearby tree. After watching her for a minute or so, I decided she had calmed enough that my questions wouldn't be answered with a shadow claw to the face. Hopefully. "Do you have any idea who that guy was?"

        "Yeah, me and half of Shimmerlake knew him!" She fumed quietly for another moment before continuing with a sigh. "That Zoroark used to live outside of town with Elder Marowak," she explained. "The two lived together for as long as I can remember. I spoke to him a few times, even. Kept mostly to himself, but he seemed friendly enough."

        The absol snarled and took another swipe at the unfortunate tree, then began pacing back and forth along the bank of the river. "He had us all fooled. A few months back, he and the Elder both just vanished. Few days after that, a local psychic spotted him raiding a warehouse on the edge of town, trying to hide behind an illusion. He's been causing trouble ever since, and nobody can track him down."

        I frowned. The zoroark had been a formidable opponent. If his performance during our battle was any indication of his skill, it was no surprise he'd evaded capture so easily. "And I'd be willing to bet he's keeping the Elder as a last-ditch bargaining chip."

        "Yeah. Marowak was always good to the village... being some nutty zoroark's hostage is a poor reward for all he's done for us." The absol sighed. "But, that's not important right now. We need to get to the Guild so I can report this and you can see if the Guildmaster knows who you are."

        I blinked in surprise. In the aftermath of the fight, I'd completely forgotten my own predicament. I still had no idea who I was or what had happened to bring me here. An existential crisis just doesn't seem all that important when a notorious outlaw is trying to rip your face off, apparently. I chuckled quietly at the thought.

        Hearing my laughter, the absol eyed me warily. "You aren't going crazy on me, are you? I mean, crazier than you already are?"

        I shot her a halfhearted glare. "Not that I know of. So, are you going to take me to this Guild of yours, or are we just going to stand here and question my sanity all night?"

        "Oh, believe me, nobody's questioning your sanity." Motioning for me to follow, she strode quickly towards the small dirt path that skirted the forest's edge. "Come on. This road leads to Shimmerlake Village and the Guild. Bit of a walk, so we'd better get started."

        I actually managed to keep up with the absol for the first few minutes, at which point the world started spinning again. Seeing my discomfort, she slowed her pace, and we traveled in silence for several minutes more before she spoke again.

        "You know, the whole 'quietly brooding on your thoughts' thing is getting old fast. You actually thinking about something, or are you just messing with me?"

        "Can't it be both?" I replied. The absol chuckled, and a moment later I continued. "It's just... fighting like that felt familiar. Like I'd done that before. I was thinking it might help me figure out who I was."

        "Maybe you were some big-shot explorer," she offered. "If that's the case, don't expect me to let you skip out on refunding me for that persim berry. Plus interest."

        "I thought saving your hide back there meant we were even."

        "'Saving my hide?'" she asked incredulously, "I wasn't aware a dark pulse to the back was considered 'saving.' I'll have to remember that one." After a moment of quiet laughter, she added. "You know, I never did tell you my name. It's Artemis."

        "Artemis?" I inquired. "My memory's not exactly the best, but that strikes me as a strange name for an absol."

        "Yeah, well, my parents were strange," she retorted. "Don't get me started. So, what about you? You remember your name, at least?"

        "My name?" I thought for a minute. Name, name, what is my... ah. I remembered something after all.

        I smiled, comforted at the thought.

        "My name is Darkrai."
  3. Malc Modnar

    Malc Modnar Collector

    Sep 22, 2014
    Chapter 2 - Shimmerlake

        The Firstborn Arceus named Giratina, whom He tasked to create the framework of reality.
        The second He named Palkia, whose task was to weave the fabric of the cosmos.
        The third He named Dialga, who was to bring movement to this creation.
        Thus the Three were born, and thus began the Universe.


        "So... remember anything yet?"

        The words snapped my awareness back to my surroundings. We'd been walking for well over an hour by that point, following the riverside trail through the dark woods, and my new-found ally hadn't said a word the entire time.

        Not that the silence bothered me. Something about the cool night air and quiet darkness just felt... right. As if it was how things were supposed to be.

        "Still nothing," I replied. Not for lack of trying - I'd given myself another headache racking my brain for even a shred of memory, with no luck. Eventually, the pounding in my head had gotten bad enough that a silly little thing like remembering my entire life up to that point didn't seem like it was worth the trouble.

        Artemis sighed. "Suppose a nice, easy fix to this whole mess was too much to hope for. I should know better by now."

        I shrugged. "Hey, maybe this Guildmaster of yours will recognize me. Would make finding out who I was a lot easier."

        "Yeah, and maybe I'll find a magic rock that gives me wings," Artemis quipped. After a quiet moment, she spoke again. "So, if you don't remember anything, what was that back there? I mean, I don't doubt the whole amnesia thing, but you obviously know how to handle yourself in a fight."

        "I'm not sure," I admitted. "I was a bit busy trying to fend off a crazy zoroark to stop and ask myself how I knew what to do. I guess it was just instinct."

        "And this instinct told you to catapult me into the air with a dark pulse?" She shot me a glare. "Hate to break it to you, but your instincts have problems."

        "I hope so, because they're telling me you're not going to let that one go anytime soon."

        "'Cause I'm not," Artemis replied, flashing me an evil grin. "Still, looks like you're off the hook for now. We're here."

        As the path curved ahead, the forest abruptly gave way. Beyond was a large, roughly circular lake, its smooth surface mirroring the moonlit sky above. At the distant center of the lake could be seen a small island, dominated by a single enormous tree that rose high above the surrounding forest.

        "That's... big," I said, staring at the arboreal tower. The thing was huge, its vast network of branches stretching out over a good portion of the lake. There was no way something that massive could've grown naturally, I concluded. It must have been the work of a legendary, just like...

        Like what? Where could I possibly have seen anything like this before? I concentrated, desperate to latch onto the memory before it slipped away, only to be rewarded with a renewed throbbing in my skull. Things really weren't going to be that easy, then.

        "That's the Golden Tree," Artemis began, not noticing my discomfort, "Torterra's Guild is actually carved into the lower half - don't ask me how they did it without killing the thing - and Shimmerlake Village is built around the base."

        I looked out at the island in the distance. "I'm going to go out on a limb and assume there's a boat somewhere around here."

        Artemis grinned. "What, you don't want to swim?"

        To my credit, I only briefly considered using an unconscious absol as an improvised raft. Appealing as it was, the idea was clearly impractical.

        "...though it might be worth trying," I muttered. "Just to see if it works."

        "Come on," Artemis called as she strode ahead, "the ferry's right over here."

        As we followed the path to the lake's edge, I noticed a small wooden dock jutting out from shore. It was a very old structure, the wide planks worn from years of weather and heavy use, but it had clearly been well maintained. There was just one problem.

        "Where's the boat?" I asked as I eyed the dock and wondered if the crazed absol had been joking about having to swim.

        "Who said anything about a boat?" Artemis quipped. Striding out onto the worn platform, she glanced back and added "Don't worry, there's a ferry. We just have to call him first."

        I followed her out onto the dock with a sigh. "You're not very fond of giving straight answers, are you?"

        "Where's the fun in that?" With that, Artemis strolled briskly to the end of the dock, where a large bronze gong hung, suspended from an aged wooden frame. Drawing closer, I saw that the worn metal instrument bore the image of an ornate, fruit-laden tree, painstakingly etched into the surface. Despite its apparent age, the gong had obviously been well cared-for, and its bright shine starkly contrasted the worn frame and frayed ropes that housed it.

        Of course, I had very little time to appreciate this, as, seizing the large padded hammer resting nearby in her mouth, Artemis struck the gong with as much force as she could muster. A deep tone rang out across the lake, resonating with both the crystal waters and my headache-wracked skull.

        I stumbled back, ears ringing from the sound. "Was that really necessary?" I snapped.

        "Yeah, it was," she replied. I didn't buy it, and my expression clearly said as much. "Really. Though that doesn't mean it wasn't at least a little entertaining," she added with a grin.

        "You know, I don't this ferry you mentioned is coming," I said, focusing my will into a thin wall of dark power in front of me. "It looks like we're going to have to swim after all. Here, let me give you a little push."

        Before I could dark pulse the irksome absol halfway across the lake, however, I was stopped short by a deep, rumbling growl that, naturally, came from right behind me.

        Turning slowly, I can face-to-face with an enormous gyarados, rising out of the water to tower over me. It was huge, easily twice as long as the dock we stood on, and I had the vague impression that I had seen knives shorter than its bared fangs. As the rest of my mind babbled in quiet terror, a more rational part pointed out that the giant serpent was speaking.

        "That," it rumbled, "would be unwise."

        I stared at the gyarados for a few seconds, quietly trying to determine how far I could run before being torn to many tiny pieces. Once more, Artemis interrupted my thoughts.

        She was laughing. I glanced over at her, wondering of the little absol had lost whatever analogue of sanity resided in her twisted mind, only to have my attention drawn back by a strange, choking growl from the gyarados. It took me a moment to realize the sound was what passed for laughter on the gyarados' part.

        "That never gets old!" Artemis gasped between fits. After another minute of quiet laughter, she regained her breath and spoke again. "I'd like to introduce Virgil, Shimmerlake's sentry. He'll be our ride to the island."

        I blinked, staring at the giant serpent. After a moment, I managed to figure out how to speak. "So... he's not going to kill us then?"

        "Not her, at least," Virgil rumbled, a grin spread across his wide maw. "What I do with you remains to be seen."

        Artemis strode over to the gyarados' side. "I've never seen the old fish so much as raise his voice," she said. "Worst he does is scare visitors senseless. You should've seen your face!" With that, she broke down into another fit of laughter.

        "I am well able to do more than simply frighten," Virgil chuckled. "Though I admit, your reaction was rather... entertaining."

        "Great," I sighed. "Is this whole village full of psychopaths and sadists? Because I'll probably find more help from the ferals in the woods if that's the case."

        "My apologies," Virgil replied. "I forget that Artemis' company can be... taxing for those unfamiliar with her. If you need aid, Torterra's Guild will be happy to provide it." Turning to Artemis, he added, "I assume that is why you have brought this one here?"

        "Yeah," she replied. "Found him knocked out by the river. Couldn't remember anything besides his name, so I figured he got hit by some kind of psychic and brought him here. And I resent that comment," she added in a hurt tone.

        Virgil turned, bringing his midsection alongside the dock. "Then it is best we bring him to the Guildmaster at once."

        Artemis leaped out onto his broad back without hesitating. I decided that the gyarados probably didn't need to trick me if he wished me harm, and carefully followed her onto Virgil's rough hide. He slowly drifted away from the dock and, glancing back to ensure neither of his passengers were about to fall off, began picking up speed as he swam for the distant island.

        The trip passed in relative silence. Artemis and Virgil spoke briefly, but only in hushed whispers. None of us, it seemed, was willing to break the midnight quiet. As we drew closer to the island, the Golden Tree rose high above us, obscuring most of the night sky. The sheer size of it became apparent as we traveled, reaffirming my suspicions that it hadn't grown naturally.

        "Gyarados," I asked, looking to confirm my earlier conclusion, "that tree... it was created by a legendary, wasn't it? It's too big to be natural."

        Virgil twisted his neck around to face me, an odd look in his eyes. "That would seem to be the most likely answer," he replied after a moment. "Rumor has it that it was a gift to the Guildmaster from Xerneas himself, for some past heroics on her part. Of course, the Guildmaster will say nothing on the matter, so it remains simply a rumor."

        I eyed the gyarados for a moment, suspicion forming in the back of my mind. "Except...that's not entirely the case," I stated. "You know what happened."

        Virgil chuckled in reply. "You are very observant. Yes, I know the story of the Golden Tree, but it is not my place to tell it. That right belongs to the Guildmaster alone, and I will not deny her the chance to share it when and how she chooses." He faced forward once again, adding "And please, Virgil is my name - I would prefer that you use it. I have no need of such formality here."

        I nodded. "I'll try to remember that."

        "Not that this conversation isn't absolutely fascinating," Artemis said, rising to her feet, "but I think we're here."

        "Indeed we are," Virgil replied, pulling alongside a dock identical to the one we had left minutes before. Artemis jumped onto the wooden platform the moment he drew near, and I followed close behind her.

        "Thanks for the ride, Virgil," she said, stretching. "Sorry I kept you up so late."

        "It is no trouble," he replied with a smile. "Your work is worthwhile, and I enjoy the company." Turning to face me, he added, "I wish you the best of luck in finding yourself, Darkrai." With that, he swam off, disappearing into the water a short distance away.

        "Come on," Artemis said, making her way towards shore. "The Guild's just up the path from here... what are you looking at?"

        I hadn't moved from the dock's edge, and instead stood, staring out at the spot where the mysterious gyarados had vanished. "I never told him my name," I stated.


        The entrance to Torterra's Guild was a set of large wooden doors, carved with the same intricate tree emblem I had seen at the dock. The doors were built directly into the side of the Golden Tree at the fork of two enormous roots, each several times wider than I was tall. At the top of each root was a large metal brazier, seemingly grown into the wood and lit with a brilliant white flame. Meanwhile, the Tree itself towered above us, its lower third ringed by even rows of windows set into its smooth surface.

        Of course, knowing that it was probably willed into being by some hotheaded demigod in the space of about ten minutes made the whole affair a lot less impressive.

        I followed Artemis to the doors, which, naturally, swung open under their own power as we drew near. Walking inside, I found myself in a large circular hall that spanned the width of the Tree. There were no windows on this floor, which left most of the room shrouded in darkness, though a handful of torches near the entrance blazed with the same strange white fire I had seen outside. At the center of the room was a large spiraling ramp, carved from the living wood of the Tree and broad enough for three average-sized Pokémon to walk side-by side.

        "Try to be quiet," Artemis said in a hushed voice as she led me towards the ramp. "Most of the Guild will be asleep at this hour, and we'll have to pass the bedrooms to get to the Guildmaster's chambers."

        "You, being considerate of others? I never would have guessed." I replied, slightly louder than was necessary.

        "Shut up!" she hissed. "Unless you want to find out what happens when you wake up half a dozen exploration teams at this hour, because that's something I really don't want to see again."

        Climbing higher into the Tree, I noticed a regular pattern to the Guild's layout: each floor had a wide open area around the central ramp, ringed by rooms on all sides. The floors were completely dark save for the small white torches along the stairway, making it difficult to be exact, but it looked like each floor could easily house about a dozen Pokémon with plenty of room to spare. We passed six such floors before reaching the Guild's uppermost level.

        At the top of the ramp was another door etched with the familiar tree emblem, presumably the Guild's symbol. As we neared the entrance, Artemis turned to me and spoke. "This is the Guildmaster's room," she whispered. "Torterra's nice enough, but she can be a little... strange. Just be polite and let me do the talking."

        I nodded in reply. After a moment's hesitation, Artemis nudged the door open, and we both walked inside.

        The Guildmaster's chamber was built in the shape of a flattened circle, carved into one half of the Tree so that the entryway was against a wall. To our left and right were a pair of unmarked doors, while the far wall was filled with a single enormous window, before which was a small stone platform flanked by two large white-fire torches.

        Guildmaster Torterra stood atop the platform, smiling warmly as we entered. To her right floated the small, blob-like form of a Reuniclus, too deeply engrossed in a the stack of papers suspended before it to notice our entrance. The Guildmaster greeted us as we approached.

        "Ah, Artemis," she said, her slow yet surprisingly loud voice filling the room, "I'm glad to see you returned safely. Was your mission a success?"

        "Yes, Guildmaster," she replied, briefly bowing her head, "though it didn't go quite like I planned it." I blinked in shock at her bowing - I hadn't imagined the absol was capable of that level of respect.

        "I'm glad to hear it," the Guildmaster replied. "You can fill me in tomorrow. For now, I believe we have a more pressing concern." Stepping down from her dais, the Guildmaster calmly strode across the room, stopping only a few steps short of where I stood. Despite her quadrupedal stance, Guildmaster Torterra was only slightly shorter than I was, and could look me in the eye without much difficulty. It was more than a little intimidating.

        For nearly a full minute, the Guildmaster just stood there watching me, her expression unreadable. Her brilliant green eyes, lined with the telltale signs of age, seemed to bore into me. After the first few seconds, I looked away.

        Eventually, she nodded, seemingly finding me acceptable. "Yes... Virgil sent word to my secretary of your arrival," she stated, motioning to the still-preoccupied psychic behind her. "But I get ahead of myself. My name is Torterra, and this is my Guild. How may we help you?"

        Bowing slightly, I spoke, choosing my words carefully. She seemed friendly, but I decided insulting the obviously-powerful torterra was a bad idea. "Thank you, Guildmaster," I began. "My name is Darkrai. Your friend Artemis found me unconscious by a river near here, with no memory of who I was or how I came to be there. She suggested that you might be able to help me."

        The Guildmaster nodded, closing her eyes in thought. "I am sorry to hear that," she replied. "I am happy to help in any way I can, but I am not sure what, exactly, you believe I might do."

        I frowned. "I was hoping you might know who I am," I said, concerned my one lead might be a dead end. "Do you recognize my name? Or... is there someone around here who might have known me?"

        The Guildmaster sat silent for several moments. "Darkrai," she slowly replied, a strange look in her eyes, "I'm sorry to say I am not familiar with who you are, nor would anyone in this village recognize you."

        I sighed, slumping in disappointment. "Thank you for trying, Guildmaster."

        "Don't give up quite so soon," she continued, a gentle smile spreading across her face. "I may not have an easy answer to your problem, but that doesn't mean I can't try. Amnesia is a tricky thing - sometimes memories can be recovered, sometimes not. Whatever the case may be, our guild will assist you however we can."

        "You think you can help restore my memories?" I asked, hopefully.

        "I think our resident doctor would enjoy the challenge," she replied with a chuckle. "Failing that, I have a few... ideas of my own. For tonight, you will stay here with us. Tomorrow, we'll set about learning who you are." Turning to Artemis, she added, "Artemis, I'd like him to stay in your quarters tonight. As I recall, you still have an open bed, correct?"

        The absol blinked in surprise. "Yeah, but-"

        The Guildmaster cut her off. "Excellent. He will sleep there for the night - show him to it. I will speak to the both of you tomorrow." With that, she strode calmly to her platform and sat, looking out the window at whatever lay below.

        Defeated, Artemis turned toward the door. "Come on," she said, "I guess I can tolerate you for one night. My place is on the fourth floor." I followed her onto the ramp without comment.

        A few minutes later, we came to her room. Approaching the door, I noticed a small metal plaque mounted over it, previously hidden by the darkness. Squinting, I could just barely make out the inscription: "Team Exile," carved in simple footprint runes. Artemis nudged the door open without a word.

        As we entered, a pair of the familiar white torches burst into flame. Blinking from the light, I took stock of the room.

        It was built against the Tree's outer wall, with several small windows looking out onto the lake below. Against one wall was a broad wooden basin, filled with water from the small fountain that burbled within. Nearby was a low wooden table, its surface covered with countless scraps of paper. On the other side of the room were two simple straw beds, one of which was disheveled from frequent use, while the other seemed like it hadn't been touched in months.

        Seeing the beds, I realized just how exhausted I had become. It had been a long night, and between the amnesia, crazy bandit attacks, and being scared senseless by a gyarados, I was surprised I was still standing.

        "You can use the one on the left," Artemis said, indicating the less-used of the two beds. Slinging her pack down on the nearby table, she added "I'm fine with you staying the night here, but if you snore, I'm going to toss you out the window. Got it?"

        "Got it," I replied, collapsing onto the bed. It was heavenly.

        Artemis soon followed suit, and the twin torches extinguished themselves immediately after. Judging by the sounds of her breathing, she was asleep in less than a minute.

        I lay sprawled on the bed, blissfully relaxed as I mulled over the night's events. I had a safe place to stay, and, with any luck, Torterra and her guild would be able to help me find out who I was and what, exactly, had happened to me. Artemis may have been a pain, but I didn't know what I'd have done had she not stumbled across me. I'd have to find some way to pay her back... both for her help and her little prank with Virgil.

        I drifted off a few minutes later, my mind filled with thoughts of persim berries and plots of revenge.
    LostSpirit likes this.
  4. Malc Modnar

    Malc Modnar Collector

    Sep 22, 2014
    Chapter 3 - Trial and Error

        Unto the structure of the Firstborn's making, the Lord of Space wove a tapestry, which the Lord of Time set in motion. Thus did the Three work to the will of the Original One, and into this work fell the Shadow.
    Looking upon this new reality, the Original One found it empty, and so brought forth the next of His children.


        I awoke to a mind-shattering cacophony of sound, a deafening screech that blasted me awake the moment it began. Covering my ears in a desperate attempt to block out the noise, I was left wondering how such a horrible sound could possibly form words.

        "Rise and shine, comrades! It's another glorious day in Torterra's Guild!"

        Through half-opened eyes, I watched as Artemis rose from her nearby bed and stumbled towards the door, her expression a mix of drowsiness and bloodlust. In the entrance to her room stood the blue and white form of a swellow, its meticulously preened feathers a sharp contrast to Artemis' unkempt fur.

        "Swellow," she began, rubbing sleep out of her eyes with a paw, "I didn't get back to the Guild until late last night. I am very tired, and really don't appreciate being disturbed, especially by someone who knows I'm not required to attend the morning meeting. So, give me one good reason not to knock you senseless and toss you in the lake."

        "Always one for the team spirit, Absol," the swellow replied, his expression completely unchanged. "Rest assured, we are all very much aware of your... special circumstances. Morning brief was nearly an hour ago."

        "Then why, exactly, are you bothering me?" she asked, glaring intently at the bird.

        "Our illustrious Guildmaster has requested your presence in the infirmary. I was volunteered to wake you." Seemingly satisfied at the explanation, the swellow turned and strode briskly out of the room without another word.

        Artemis sighed and slumped against a nearby wall, eyes closed in exhaustion. "I swear, one of these days I'm going to kill that bird." Cracking open a single red eye, she glanced in my direction. "What are you looking at?"

        "Nothing, Artemis," I answered, grinning slightly. "Nice hair, by the way." Her normally sleek fur was matted and frayed, with a few pieces of straw bedding mixed in for good measure. It was an amusing sight, only slightly lessened by the murderous glare aimed in my direction.

        "Do not push me right now, Darkrai," she said, stumbling over to the water basin. "I'm tired, I had to share my room with a nutcase last night, and now I'm getting dragged out of bed by that annoying swellow. It won't end well for you."

        "What, me torment you while you're stressed?" I asked, running a hand through my own tangled mess of hair. "Sounds a little too close to poetic justice for my liking. It'd just be cruel."

        If looks could kill...


        The Guild's infirmary was located on the second highest floor, directly beneath the Guildmaster's chambers. It was an impressive room that took up more than a third the tree's width, its curved inner wall lined with shelves containing a variety of dried herbs, powders, and other medicines I couldn't begin to identify. In the center of the room stood Guildmaster Torterra and a rather excited looking audino clutching a notepad.

        "Artemis, Darkrai, excellent timing," the Guildmaster greeted us as we entered. "My apologies on the rude awakening, but I thought it best if we begin work as soon as possible. I trust Swellow wasn't too troublesome?"

        "No more than usual, Guildmaster," Artemis replied. "I'm sure we can settle our differences with a friendly chat later."

        "Ah." Guildmaster Torterra smiled knowingly. "Well, try not to leave any marks."

        "No promises." Artemis grinned. "So, what did you need us for?"

        "Well, I was just-" the Guildmaster began.

        "Telling me all about your friend here," the audino blurted, rushing towards us. "Yes, yes, thank you Guildmaster, always a pleasure, happy to help." After eyeing me intently for a moment, the audino began furiously scribbling on her notepad, absentmindedly chewing on one of her long feelers as she did so. "Dark type, obviously, fairly high level - mid fifties, if I had to guess - though I can't say I'm familiar with your species, which is surprising. Still, this opens up some interesting possibilities. There are a few experiments I'd like to-"

        This time, it was the Guildmaster's turn to interrupt. "Audino! Your first priority is doing what you can to assist our guest. You may indulge your curiosity later."

        "Yes, of course, Guildmaster," the audino continued, eyes still fixed on her notepad. Glancing back at me, she added "though I will need to run a few basic tests, of course. Just to assist in the treatment."

        The Guildmaster signed deeply. "Just try not to go overboard." Turning to Artemis and me, she continued "Artemis, I'd like you to come with me. There are some matters we must discuss, last night's mission among them. Darkrai, I will leave you in Doctor Audino's capable hands. She will do what she can to assist you. Meet us in my office when you are done-"

        "Excellent!" the audino shrieked. "I've always wanted to try my hand at treating amnesia! There was a fairly famous case a few years back, and it gave me some ideas I've been dying to try out - I just don't know where to start! Come with me at once!" With that, the audino seized my arm and dragged me towards the rear of the infirmary.

        What followed was an extremely... thorough medical examination, the details of which I'd rather not remember. Simply put, it involved far too much poking and prodding in far too many places for my comfort. After several hours of powders, elixirs, and an alarmingly large assortment of needles, I felt as though I'd been trampled by a horde of particularly angry nidoking.

        The audino, meanwhile, was busy pacing frantically around the room. "It. Doesn't. Make. Sense!" she screamed, a sound that only made my already-pounding headache worse. "I've been working on some of these mixtures for years! Any one of them should've restored your memory in an instant!" Fuming quietly, the audino ripped another page off her notepad and threw it to a nearby wastebasket.

        "Well, I... appreciate the effort," I said, rising shakily from the infirmary bed I'd collapsed into after the audino's first attempts. "Though I think it's probably best if I go catch up with-"

        "Sit!" the doctor snapped. I sat. "There's one more thing I want to try."

        I pressed my hand against my forehead and sighed. "As long as it's not more of that purple sludge."

        For the second time that morning, I found myself on the receiving end of a potentially-lethal glare. "No, I'm not trying the muk extract again. Even if it should've worked, three times is enough evidence for me." Rummaging through a nearby cabinet, the doctor fished out a small glass phial filled with a clear liquid. As she shoved it into my hands, I noticed it glowed with a faint inner light. This did little to ease my concerns.

        I eyed the phial suspiciously. "It's just water," the audino explained. "Drink it."

        "Water doesn't glow." I pointed out.

        "It does when it's from a luminous spring," she replied. When this didn't convince me to down the strange glowing liquid on the spot, the audino sighed deeply. "Right, you wouldn't know what those are, would you? Luminous springs are crucial to the evolution of non-feral Pokémon like you and me. Nobody knows quite why, but their water is charged with some sort of power that allows the evolutionary process to take place. In small amounts, it can be used to purge harmful energy from the body. Normally, I wouldn't even consider this, since the nearest functional spring is an ocean away and that kind of injury is incredibly rare, but..." she shrugged. "I really have no idea what's wrong with you, and this is pretty much the only thing I haven't tried yet."

        "So you're just guessing at this point," I stated, then sighed in defeat. "Might as well get this over with." Pulling the small cork from the bottle's end, I downed the still-glowing water in a single gulp.

        Of course, I blacked out immediately.


        "It is impossible. You are mistaken."

        "I would not so easily forget the signs of his influence. He is involved, though in what way I do not know."

        "I struck him down myself! He cannot possibly have retained even a fraction of his power! Something else must be at work here!"

        "Do you really believe you succeeded where so many others failed? Are you so arrogant that you assume the Shadow would be so easily broken, brother?"

        "Is it arrogance to state the obvious? I watched as the forces of the cosmos tore him apart! He is gone, and even if he somehow survived unscathed, this is beyond him! It is not-"

        "Stop. Do you feel that?"

        "What are you... no. That is not possible."

        "He is listening."


        I noticed a few things as I regained consciousness. First, I was curled into a ball and floating in the center of the Guild's infirmary. Second, I had reflexively raised an aura of energy around myself at some point, which was currently keeping me aloft. Lastly, it looked as though some sort of small explosion had ripped through the room, leaving shattered vials, straw bedding, and a very startled looking audino scattered throughout the room. I was at the center of the blast.
        Releasing my hold on the energy around me, I collapsed to the ground in utter exhaustion. I needed to calm down, gather my thoughts, and figure out what had just happened and what those voices had been. My brilliant plan was, of course, cut short by an excited screech from the audino.

        "That was incredible!" she screamed, lunging towards her nearby notepad. "Whatever caused your amnesia seems to violently react to the energy of a luminous spring! I've never seen anything like it!"

        "You're... enjoying this?" I asked between panicked breaths, bewildered by both the voices I'd heard and the audino's excitement at my nearly leveling her infirmary.

        "Of course! There's some form of previously unknown energy at work here! Just imagine how much we could learn from the interaction!" Scribbling furiously on her notepad, she continued "of course, this calls for further testing. If we tried a larger dose of luminous water-"

        "No!" I shouted, only to be surprised to hear another voice join my reply. Turning to the door, I saw the blob-like form of the Guildmaster's reuniclus assistant floating in the entryway.

        "Audino, you will do no such thing!" he said, drifting over towards us. "I don't know what you just did, but I'm certain any half-decent psychic could sense the force of that blast halfway across the region!"

        "But-" the audino began, ears flattened against her skull.

        "No. This is a reckless and irresponsible experiment that poses a clear threat to the well-being of every Pokémon under our protection. While I value your medical expertise, I cannot in good conscience allow you to endanger the entire village for the sake of your own curiosity." Turning to me, the reuniclus added "I am sorry that the esteemed doctor's inquisitiveness has brought you harm. I assure you, she meant no ill will."

        "It's alright," I said, rising shakily to my feet. "She was only trying to help. I think."

        "Yes, well, I think she's done quite enough helping for today." Looking to the audino, he added "don't you agree, doctor?"

        "Fine," the audino huffed. "I guess we can stop for now. But I expect him back here first thing tomorrow!"

        "We'll see." Floating towards the exit, the reuniclus motioned for me to follow. "Darkrai, come with me, please. The Guildmaster is ready to speak with you." I stumbled out of the infirmary as fast as my legs would carry me, happy for an excuse to leave the cursed place.

        As we made our way up the central ramp, the reuniclus drifted ahead, seemingly deep in thought. We soon arrived at the door to the Guildmaster's room, which the blob-like Pokémon shoved open with a wave of his hand and a small burst of telekinetic force. Artemis and the Guildmaster were seated in front of her dais, hunched over a large map spread out on the ground before them. They both looked up at us as we entered.

        "Glad to see you're still standing, Darkrai," the Guildmaster said, smiling gently. To the reuniclus, she asked "I trust the damage wasn't too severe, Reuniclus?"

        "No more than usual," he sighed. "I'll make arrangements to restock the infirmary again. By your leave, Guildmaster."

        "See to it." The reuniclus bobbed downward in a quick bow, then vanished in a flash of light. Guildmaster Torterra shook her head in disapproval. "I'm sorry Audino was unable
    to help you. Eccentric though she may be, her medical expertise is second to none. It's not often that she fails."

        "So... I'm really out of luck then," I said. No sense trying to beat around the bush.

        "I wouldn't be so sure," the Guildmaster replied. "The answers to our problems often come from strange sources. Artemis tells me you were attacked by Zoroark. Is this correct?"

        I blinked in surprise at the sudden shift in topic. "No, that's right. He tried to hide behind an illusion, but it fell apart when he took a beating. I don't see what this has to do with my amnesia, though."

        Artemis stepped forward. "Darkrai, I've been tracking this guy for months. He's careful, never lets his victims see his face. We only caught on to him because Reuniclus happened to be checking supplies in a warehouse he raided - illusions don't really work against a psychic - and that was pure luck. He always hits his targets when they're at their weakest, always runs when there's a fight. Attacking us outright, especially when he knows I'm after him, just isn't his style."

        "What are you getting at?" I asked, already suspecting the absol's conclusion.

        "He's after you," Artemis stated flatly. "He knew where you'd be, when you'd be there, and planned to capture you alive. I think it's safe to assume he has something to do with your amnesia. So, if we want to find out what happened to you, all we have to do is track him down and ask him."

        "You just said you've been after him for months," I pointed out. "What makes you think you can just catch him now?"

        "What, you think I've just been lounging around, waiting for him to show up?" she replied. "I'm the best bandit hunter in the Guild. I know what I'm doing."

        "Zoroark hasn't been able to steal many supplies since we noticed his presence," the Guildmaster explained. "He's resorted to collecting food and basic supplies from the local outlaws as a sort of tribute. When we found this out, Artemis had the idea to start running night raids on the bandit hideouts, make sure they can't keep supplying him." The Guildmaster motioned to the nearby map, which was covered in dozens of small red X marks. "She's been fairly successful so far."

        Artemis laughed. "He can't keep this up forever. He'll be running low on supplies by now, and if his attack last night is any indication, he's desperate to capture you. He'll have to make a move soon, and that's when I'll get him."

        Guildmaster Torterra nodded. "Yes, and I expect you'll have a much easier time of it now that Darkrai will be joining you."

        "What?" Artemis and I both cried in unison.

        "Guildmaster," Artemis began, her voice strangely frantic, "you know I don't-"

        "I am perfectly aware of your concerns, Artemis," the Guildmaster interrupted. "However, my decision stands. Darkrai will be joining Team Exile as its newest member-"

        "I'm not taking on another teammate!" Aretmis shouted, then cringed, realizing a moment too late what she had done.

        Guildmaster Torterra rose slowly to her feet. Drawing herself up to full height, she filled the room with her sheer physical presence. "Artemis," she began, her slow, normally gentle voice filled with carefully-controlled anger, "You are a member of this Guild. You make use of its facilities and act on its authority. You will do as I say, whether you like it or not, so long as that continues to be the case. Do I make myself clear?"

        I'm fairly certain Artemis actually shrank under the force of the Guildmaster's reprimand. "Yes, Guildmaster." she answered, eyes closed in defeat.

        The Guildmaster stood silently for a moment, staring down at the absol, before placing a single enormous foreleg on her shoulder. When she spoke again, she did so in a quiet voice, mixed with equal parts concern and weariness. "I know this is hard for you, Artemis, but I'm doing this as much for your sake as Darkrai's. I need you to trust me."

        Artemis didn't reply, and instead simply stood breathing deeply for several long minutes. Eventually, she seemed to work up the courage to face the Guildmaster again. "Alright, Guildmaster. I... I'm sorry I snapped at you."

        "You are forgiven," the Guildmaster replied, her gentle smile returning once more. "I'd be lying if I claimed my decisions were always received without complaint."

        I stepped forward. "Excuse me, but I don't think I'm okay with this either," I began, careful to avoid arousing the Guildmaster's anger, "Don't get me wrong, I appreciate everything you've done for me so far, and I'm incredibly thankful for your help, but I don't have any idea what this team you're talking about is, let alone why I'm being signed up for it. I didn't come here to be drafted into some army."

        The Guildmaster laughed softly. "What is it, exactly, you think we do? Don't answer that." She shook her head. "Darkrai, I can't force you to join this Guild. You came here seeking help, and are free to leave as you choose. But if you do, you'll still have no memory of who you are or where you came from, no money for food or shelter, no family or friends to fall back on..." The Guildmaster let her sentence trail off.

        I stood, arms folded, and considered my situation. The Guildmaster was right; I had no plan, nowhere to go, and still didn't know what had happened to me. I sighed. "Well, when you put it like that, how can I refuse?"

        Guildmaster Torterra smiled broadly. "I thought you'd see it my way. This Guild and its teams exist to better the lives of Pokémon however they may - be that by helping those in need, capturing dangerous outlaws, or simply discovering more about the world. If you want to find out who you are, Darkrai, then I know of no better way than to help us do just that."

        "And, if I do figure out some way to regain my memory, I can leave whenever I like?" I asked.

        Guildmaster Torterra nodded. "Of course. Every member of this Guild is here because they choose to be."

        After a moment's hesitation, I made my decision. "Alright, I'll join. But if I see anyone worshiping statues of you, I'm out."

        "Don't worry, the cult worship is optional." Chuckling softly, the Guildmaster slowly scaled her dais. Turning to face us, she stamped a single foot down, and the entire tree seemed to resonate with the blow. "It is settled, then. By the authority of the Exploration Team Federation, I hereby declare Darkrai a member of Team Exile of Torterra's Guild, and bestow on him all the powers and obligations that entails. Artemis, as team leader, you will be fully responsible for the training and instruction of your newest member. Additionally, I expect you to hold your Team to the highest standards of this Guild - no more night missions, no more special exemptions. You will operate as a normal team in every regard, beginning immediately." The Guildmaster glanced out the window behind her. "It seems the day is still young. I expect you to be ready to depart for your first assignment within the hour. Quartermaster Galvantula will supply you with any equipment you need. Any questions?"

        "Just one," Artemis said, a malicious grin spreading across her face. "Does this mean he has to wear the scarf?"
  5. Malc Modnar

    Malc Modnar Collector

    Sep 22, 2014
    Chapter 4 - Watching Carefully

        One He named Groudon, to whom He gave the strength to shape the land.
        Another He named Kyogre, and bestowed on it the might to shroud the earth in seas.
        The last He named Rayquaza, whose power was to cloak the world in air.
        Thus the Shapers were born, and thus did they build our world. But as creation took form, so too did the Shadow.


        "This is ridiculous."

        Artemis and I were making our way back up the Guild's central ramp, having just finished gathering supplies for our assignment. The Quartermaster, a rather strange galvantula who apparently lived in the Guild's basement storeroom, had grown frantic the moment Artemis told him of our assignment. He'd rushed off immediately, only to return moments later with an assortment of berries, glass orbs, seeds, and a length of crimson fabric embroidered with the Guild's tree emblem.

        The scarf was the bane of my existence. No matter how I wore it, it seemed to bunch up in my face, get caught on the small ridges lining my collar, or find some other way to silently torment me. "Why am I wearing this again?" I asked, tugging uselessly at the cloth around my neck.

        Artemis grinned in reply. "It's an Exploration Team Federation requirement. All team members have to have some kind of identification. I've got my treasure bag, you get the scarf."

        "Yeah, well your Federation can go jump in a river. This thing's unbearable." After struggling quietly with the cloth for a few more minutes, I had enough. Tearing it off with a growl of frustration, I looped the scarf around my wrist, tying it off with a quick knot. "There," I said, satisfied. "That good enough?"

        This earned another burst of laughter from Artemis. "Yeah, that'll work," she replied. "Don't know why you didn't wear it like that to begin with. Lots of Pokémon do."

        I was considering a reply, something to the effect of tying the annoying absol's horn to her foreleg with the scarf, when we reached the Guildmaster's room. We entered to find Guildmaster Torterra and her assistant waiting for us, the latter clutching a small stack of papers.

        "Artemis, Darkrai," Guildmaster Torterra began as we approached her dais, "I assume Galvantula was able to provide you all the necessary equipment?"

        "Yes, ma'am," Artemis replied with a nod, "Team Exile is ready to go."

        "Excellent." The Guildmaster motioned to her assistant. "Reuniclus and I have been reviewing our outstanding requests, and we think we've picked out a good first
    mission for your team. Rue?"

        The blob-like psychic floated forward. "There is a cave in the depths of Murky Forest, to the northwest. It's been used as a hideout by bandits and criminals since before this Guild's founding, and we're forced to regularly send teams to clear it out. Recently, we've been getting reports that a particularly nasty duo - a banette and a drapion - have been attacking travelers in the area. We want you two to bring them in."

        "Sounds simple enough. Anything special about this assignment?" Artemis asked.

        "Murky Forest is home to a very old mystery dungeon, one that's only grown more hostile over the years," the reuniclus replied. "It's not very large, but more than makes up for it in difficulty. The dungeon's residents may present a challenge. Other than that, this is a standard bandit run - use the dungeon to cover your approach and capture the targets before they can escape."

        "Got it. I-" Artemis glanced over at me. "-we'll take care of it."

        "See to it, Exile," the Guildmaster ordered. "I look forward to seeing just what you two can accomplish."


        I hate the sun.

        We'd been traveling for well over an hour, and the lush forest surrounding Shimmerlake had quickly given way to a vast, rolling prairie that offered no shade whatsoever from the sun's oppressive heat. I trudged on behind Artemis, far too miserable from the heat to pay attention to our surroundings, and silently wondered if Moltres himself hadn't decided to grace us with his presence. After a small, sun-scorched eternity, Artemis spotted our destination.

        "Come on," she called out from ahead, "I think I see Murky Forest over there. We're not too far now."

        "Next time we do this, we're bringing an ice type along with us," I panted.

        "Ugh, no," Artemis answered as she walked. "They complain about the heat even more than you do. Besides, it should be a little cooler once we get to the dungeon."

        "Speaking of which," I began, "mind explaining to me what, exactly, this dungeon thing is?"

        "You don't..." Artemis sighed. "Alright, the basics. We're going into a mystery dungeon. They're places where reality is kinda... broken. They change around all the time, so navigating them is pretty much guesswork. Once you're in a dungeon, the only way out is to make it to the other end. Of course, they also drive any wild Pokémon that stumble in crazy, so it's never easy."

        "Okay," I nodded. "So why are we going into one of these things again? Because it sounds like a great way to get ourselves killed."

        "Only if you don't know what you're doing," Artemis replied.

        "Which I don't," I pointed out.

        Artemis laughed. "Don't worry, I've been through dozens of these things. As long as we keep an eye out for trouble, we'll be fine."

        I shook my head. "That still doesn't explain why we're going in there in the first place."

        "When you're in a dungeon, you're pretty much invisible to anyone outside," Artemis explained. "While we could try to go around through the normal forest, any half-decent bandit would see us coming and bolt. If we go through the dungeon, however, we can use it to get right next to these guys' hideout before they even know we're coming."

        "And nobody has any problems with giant gaps in reality swallowing entire forests?" I asked.

        Artemis shrugged in reply. "Mystery dungeons have been around longer than anyone can remember. Even now that new ones are popping up every few months or so, they aren't really much to worry about. They can't hurt you if you don't go inside, and teams like us can rescue anyone who does get trapped. So long as one doesn't form on a town or farm, most Pokémon just ignore them."

        A moment later, we arrived at the forest's edge. The trees rose high above us, their thick branches interlocking to form a heavy canopy overhead. As we ventured further into the woods, the trees seemed to bear down on us, and the forest floor became shrouded in a thick mist. Despite the shade, however, the day's heat seemed to only worsen as we traveled deeper, trapped by the leafy towers surrounding us.

        I groaned, only to be cut short as a wave of dizziness passed over me. I stumbled, then glanced around. The trees around us seemed to form a narrow path flanked by walls of thorns and branches, while the cover overhead had suddenly grown even more solid. Looking behind us, I was more than slightly alarmed to find that the entrance had, apparently, vanished.

        "Welcome to the Murky Forest mystery dungeon," Artemis said with a grin.


        Murky Forest, Floor One

        "Alright, so there are a few things I probably should've mentioned," Artemis began as she led the way through the corridor of trees. "First of all, stay on the path. Everyone tries to cut through a dungeon wall at some point. Trust me when I say they're tougher than they look - personal experience." Coming to a fork in the path, Artemis turned left almost immediately. "Second, keep an eye out for loot. Dungeons pull in all kinds of weird things, some of it pretty valuable, most of it useful in some way. And last but not least, get to the stairs."

        I blinked. "Stairs?"

        Artemis nodded, glancing around as we entered a large clearing. "Dungeons have different sections, usually called floors. On each floor, there's a big stone staircase, either rising up or dug into the floor - you can't miss it. Climb the stairs and you'll be transported to the next area of the dungeon. Don't ask me why it works that way, 'cause I don't know. It just does."

        I sighed. "And I willingly followed you into this place. Any other surprises I should know about?" No sooner had I finished tempting fate than I heard a loud screeching from across the clearing. Looking towards the sound, I saw the three-headed form of a dodrio charging directly at us, eyes fixed on me.

        Before I could react, however, a black and white blur shot past the sprinting bird, sweeping its legs out from under it. The dodrio slammed faces-first into the ground, and was quickly followed by a rapid series of blows to the back, courtesy of Artemis. The bird gave a final, pained squawk before passing out.

        "See?" Artemis said, a fierce grin spread across her face. "Nothing to worry about-" Her explanation as to why dungeons are harmless was cut short by a chorus of shrieking cries as a group of three more dodrio charged in from a nearby path, bloodshot eyes fixed on us.

        Time seemed to slow to a standstill as I watched the three dodrio approach. Though Artemis had been able to quickly incapacitate the first one, it was obvious that her earlier tactics wouldn't work against these three - by the time she disabled one, the other two would be on us. Evidently she realized this, and was preparing to leap out of the birds' path.

        I considered my options. I could simply dodge their initial attack, but that would still leave us outnumbered and at a disadvantage. I needed to incapacitate at least one to even the odds, but with nine heads between them, it wasn't likely that I could catch them unawares. A frontal attack would hurt me more than it hurt them.

        After a moment, I grinned. Why not do both?

        The air around me started to shimmer as I drew forth the familiar aura of dark power. With a flick of my wrist, I sent a wave of energy rolling along the ground, launching myself into the air in the process. The dark pulse struck the birds in their evidently-vulnerable legs, causing them to skid across the forest floor beneath me. The moment they fell, I darted towards the rightmost of the three dodrio, filling my limbs with energy as I slammed my fist into its back. Artemis, seeing my attack, leaped towards the bird on the right, tearing into it with shadow-wreathed claws.

        Glancing up from the now-unconscious dodrio beneath me, I saw the last and largest of the Pokémon leap to its feet. It rushed me with a stuttering cry, slashing wildly at the air with its beaks and talons. I began focusing my will for another dark pulse, only to have my concentration shattered as a lash of fiery pain shot up my arm. Snarling, I threw my uninjured hand forward, sending a meager wave of energy towards my frenzied opponent. While nowhere near as potent as I'd hoped, my attack was enough to cause the dodrio to stumble. The instant it backed off, Artemis pounced, driving it to the ground and swiftly finishing it off.

        The moment the last of the hostile Pokémon fell, I collapsed to the ground, clutching my arm. Looking down, I saw a long, narrow gash running the length of my forearm, the wound already obscured beneath a smear of crimson. Artemis rushed over and, after eyeing the injury up and down, unslung the pack from her shoulder and began rummaging through its contents.

        "Whatever you're doing, would you mind hurrying it up?" I asked through clenched teeth. "This really hurts."

        "Oh, quit whining," she replied, fishing a small blue berry out of her treasure bag, "that cut's pretty shallow. Nothing an oran won't fix." She tossed me the berry, which I caught and immediately devoured. The oran berry had a strangely pleasant mix of flavors, but I was too busy being distracted by the sudden absence of pain to notice. As I watched, the gash on my arm seemed to rapidly mend itself. It felt weird.

        After a minute, the cut had sealed itself, leaving only a long red line in its place. Though it was still sore, I was able to move my arm without too much discomfort. I shook my head and stood as Artemis re-secured her pack. "So, I think you were saying something about there being nothing to worry about," I offered as we made our way to the clearing's edge.

        "That was unusual," Artemis remarked, turning down the path the dodrio had come from. "Dungeon ferals don't usually attack in groups like that, except in monster houses, and they're usually pretty easy to take down on their own. Still, it's nothing we can't handle if we're careful. Just stay alert... this place is making my horn itch."

        Rounding a corner, we came to another small opening in the trees. In the center of the room was something entirely out of place in a forest: a set of simple stone stairs, rising a few feet above us and leading absolutely nowhere.

        I stared at the odd structure in shock. "I honestly thought you were joking," I said as we approached. Despite clearly being unnatural, the stairs didn't look artificial in the slightest. It was as if they had been shaped naturally from the living rock of the forest.

        "Like I said - dungeons are weird. Now come on." With that, Artemis strode briskly up the stairs, vanishing into thin air the moment she reached the top.

        I blinked in surprise, then shrugged. Nothing else in this sanity-forsaken place had made any sense so far, so I didn't see any reason to expect that to change. I followed Artemis up the stairway.


        Murky Forest, Floor Two

        The moment I reached the top, the world seemed to blur around me. In an instant, I was in another clearing, slightly larger than the one we'd just left. Artemis was nearby, standing over the fallen form of an exeggutor. She glared at me as I appeared.

        "Took your time, didn't you?" she accused.

        "Still getting used to the whole 'staircase to nowhere' thing. Sorry," I replied. Glancing down at the exeggutor, I added "besides, that thing's a psychic-type. There's not much it could've done to hurt you."

        "Not the point," Artemis growled.

        We continued our trek through the dungeon in silence. The dense walls of trees stifled ambient sound, and the crunch of leaves and twigs underfoot was loud by comparison. The quiet was broken as we rounded a corner and were greeted by the frantic chattering of a wild ariados. The moment it saw us, the red spider launched itself towards Artemis, clicking excitedly as it attacked.

        Once again, the world slowed to a crawl as I analyzed the attack. Artemis' agility would do her little good in the cramped quarters of the forest path, and I doubted she would be able to dodge the ambush. Worse, I had the impression that the ariados' venomous stinger would be particularly deadly against Artemis - bugs and dark-types don't mix well. I couldn't attack the spider without hitting Artemis - a dark pulse was just too imprecise - and that would only leave her even more vulnerable to retaliation. Charging in wasn't an option either, since I would end up tripping over my teammate if I tried. I needed a more... unconventional approach, and after a moment, I spotted it.

        Flooding myself with energy, I lunged for the large, round stone I'd noticed by the path's edge. As the ariados tackled Artemis, stinger raised to strike, I hurled the rock, striking it squarely between the eyes. I'd hoped my attack would startle the spider long enough to give Artemis an opening, or perhaps disorient it. Instead, the stone shattered its exoskeleton, sending the feral Pokémon flying back. It tumbled briefly before coming to rest against a nearby tree, completely immobile.

        Artemis leaped to her feet, only to stop in surprise when she noticed the slain ariados nearby, the round stone still embedded in its forehead.

        "That was... unexpected," I stated, more than a little shocked by the force of the throw. "I was just trying to distract it."

        "Well, I'd say it's pretty distracted now," Artemis replied with a grin. "Nice throw. Bonus points for unconventional use of a quick attack."

        "Careful," I warned, "that sounded like a compliment."

        "Nah, you still let the thing ambush us." Artemis eyed the ariados for a moment, then shuddered. "I hate bugs. We should keep moving."

        We followed the path to the next opening in the trees, where the next set of mysterious stairs sat in plain view. Instead of going directly towards them, however, Artemis turned and strode to the base of a nearby tree, where a glistening blue orb made of some kind of glass sat.

        "Wonder orb," Artemis explained as she scooped the small sphere into her bag. "Escape orb, by the looks of it - you can tell by the little marks etched into the surface. It can teleport us out of the dungeon if we break it, but it'll dump us back by the entrance. Can't use it for our mission, but they're always nice to have." With the orb secured, we climbed the stairs to the next level.


        Murky Forest, Floor Three

        As we emerged into the next floor, I immediately noticed another set of stairs nearby. Artemis laughed and walked to them without hesitating. "That happens sometimes," she said as she began climbing. "I once had a dungeon give me ten floors in a row like this. It was great." She vanished immediately afterwards, and I followed suit without complaint.


        Murky Forest, Floor Four

        "We're pretty far in now," Artemis said as we made our way through another of the dungeon's narrow paths. "This place is only supposed to have seven floors."

        "So we just have to fight our way through three more levels of bloodthirsty Pokémon, then we'll get to fight a group of notorious outlaws." I sighed. "Sounds fun."

        We continued to explore the dungeon, encountering only a single jumpluff, which Artemis dispatched with a quick blow to the head, and a small group of kakuna, which we ignored. As we came to the edge of another clearing, Artemis froze, suddenly dropping into a half-crouch as she scanned the room ahead.

        "What's wrong?" I asked, drawing a small amount of energy around myself as I did.

        "Not sure, but my horn is buzzing like a beedrill nest right now," she answered, never taking her eyes off the room ahead.

        "So... you've lost it, then?"

        Artemis sighed. "I'm an absol, genius. I can sense when bad things are about to happen... and that room is giving me a really bad feeling. She eyed the clearing silently for a moment before speaking again. "Oh, that's just fantastic. Look at the ground in there. See all the stuff scattered about?"

        I leaned forward. Sure enough, there were several seemingly valuable items spread throughout the area. At first glance, I saw several orbs, a strip of brightly colored cloth, and a variety of berries and seeds. "I don't see the problem here," I answered, confused. "Looks like a jackpot to me."

        "It's a monster house," Artemis growled. "The items are a dead giveaway. Dungeons sometimes like to pull a bunch of things to one spot like this... and that includes wild Pokémon. The moment we step in there, they'll come at us in a wave."

        "So we just go around, then." I turned to head back, but Artemis shook her head.

        "Can't. We've been all over this floor. Only place we haven't checked is on the other side of this room."

        "Can we make a run for it?" I asked, looking to the clearing's exit opposite us. "Doesn't look like it's that far."

        "Doubt it. The ferals will cut us off when we enter. We'll have to clear a path and run for the stairs first chance we get." Artemis stretched, apparently steeling herself for the fight ahead. "You ready?"

        I focused for a few moments, trying to draw as much power to myself as I could. I rose off the ground as I did, the entire passageway growing a shade darker as I concentrated. "Ready."

        We sprinted in, Artemis rushing in on foot while I drifted along behind her. As soon as we crossed into the clearing, the trees around us stirred to life, and a wave of Pokémon appeared from between the rapidly-shifting branches. A pair of exeggutor emerged and charged me, their multiple heads bellowing incoherently, but I was ready. I focused my will into a series of projectiles, blasting the duo back with carefully-aimed orbs of energy. Hearing a harsh buzzing behind me, I whirled around to find a large beedrill rushing towards me. It was too close for a precise attack, so I simply loosed a rough wave of energy at it, driving it back into the trees. To my surprise, the walls that formed the dungeon's edge seemed to waver as my attack struck them, but I was distracted by a harsh screech before I could pay it any more attention.

        The sound came from a noctowl as it bore down on me from above. I dropped quickly to the ground to avoid its swooping attack, though not quickly enough to escape a glancing blow on my upraised arm from its talons. Artemis, meanwhile, was busy tearing a path through a group of exeggcute and doduo, darting right and left amid the mob. Seeing my predicament, she leaped atop one of her unfortunate opponents and launched herself towards the noctowl, laughing madly as she flew through the air. Her aim was perfect - she collided with the bird mid-air and tackled it in a blur of white fur and shredded feathers.

        The mob of wild Pokémon, startled by the ferocity of our attack, fell off for a moment, many already incapacitated or injured. Seeing an opportunity, I gathered as much power as I could into a single, massive wave. The entire forest seemed to grow dark as it swept across our remaining opponents, battering them under its sheer force. The dungeon seemed to ripple in response, and I could've sworn it lapped up the excess energy like a hungry beast.

        The two of us stood, breathing heavily in the sudden silence. All the feral Pokémon had either been knocked unconscious or fled, leaving us standing alone amid the battle-scarred clearing. Artemis, despite her exhaustion, was elated.

        "Hah!" she shouted, slashing at the air. "Take that, dungeon! Can't stop Team Exile-" she cut herself short, a strange expression passing over her face. She sat heavily, eyes closed, her earlier excitement suddenly gone. I wasn't sure, but she seemed to be shaking.

        "You alright?" I asked, concerned by her sudden shift in behavior. "Did you get injured in the fight?"

        "No, I'm... I'm fine," she answered softly, eyes still closed. "Just... tired myself out. What about you?"

        It was obvious Artemis was lying, but I decided not to press the issue. "I'm alright. A few minor scrapes," I replied, falling back onto my feet as I released my hold on the shadowy energy around me. "This heat's killing me, though. At least there's a breeze now."

        Artemis froze, eyes snapping open. "What did you just say?"

        I blinked. "I said there's a breeze..."

        "No... no, that's not possible. We haven't been here nearly long enough!" Artemis seemed near panic, pacing around for a few seconds before stopping again as the wind picked up. The trees around us were swaying far more than they should've under its influence.

        "What's going on?" I asked, backing slowly away from the suddenly-active dungeon wall.

        "There's a... a thing in dungeons," Artemis answered, frantically digging through her treasure bag. "Nobody knows what it is, but it hunts anyone who stays in a dungeon too long. That's what this wind is, but it shouldn't have started by now! We have to get out of here!" Anything else she said was drowned out as the wind roared through the forest, stirring the ever-present mist into a frenzied turmoil.

        Then, the whole dungeon seemed to distort. A wave of absolute wrongness passed through the air, warping the world as though it were a flimsy sheet of paper. I stumbled under the strange force, and then I heard the laughter. It was a hideous sound that seemed to resonate with every tree, rock, and branch of the dungeon, and it soon gave way to a single, monstrous voice, pounding through my skull.

        "Hello, little Darkrai. It's been far too long since we last met."

        At that moment, Artemis cried out. Whatever she said was lost to the nightmarish cacophony of the dungeon, but I turned around to see her rip the escape orb from her bag and smash her paw down onto it in a single, fluid motion. The orb shattered with a brilliant flash, and the world went dark.


        I bolted awake to find myself sitting in the grass just beyond the dungeon's edge. The day's merciless heat had faded somewhat, and the sun was low on the horizon. Artemis sat nearby, staring into the depths of the forest. She spoke as I approached.

        "I'm sorry, Darkrai," she sighed. "I don't know what happened in there, but I should've seen it coming. I let myself get distracted, and that creature nearly killed us for it."

        "I can't say it wasn't you who dragged me into that madhouse," I began, "but I don't blame you for... whatever that thing was. You said it came after us faster than it should have. Sounds to me like there wasn't much you could do to stop it."

        "You're wrong!" Artemis snapped. "Maybe I lost track of time, maybe I didn't. It doesn't matter. I'm an absol! I should've sensed it coming long before we entered that monster house! Instead, I let my own stupid problems get the better of me, and we both nearly paid the price!" Artemis slumped forward in exhaustion. Muttering under her breath, she added, almost too quietly for me to hear, "...I told Torterra I couldn't lead a team anymore."

        "You got me through there alive," I pointed out. "That counts for something, right? Because I'm willing to bet that swellow back at the Guild couldn't pull that one off."

        Artemis laughed quietly. "Only because you'd be too busy trying to blast his arrogant tail off to fight anything else." After a moment, she stood, her familiar grin returning. "Well, I guess keeping you from killing us both on your first dungeon run will have to do. And thanks for trying to help."

        "Had to start repaying my debt sometime, didn't I?" I replied.

        "Believe me, trying to fix my problems is the last way you want to do that." She stood slowly, securing her pack on her shoulder. "Come on, let's get back to the Guild. Reuniclus will have a fit if we're not back by nightfall."

        With that, we began the long trek back to Shimmerlake Village, eager to put our colossal failure of a first mission behind us as quickly as possible.
  6. Malc Modnar

    Malc Modnar Collector

    Sep 22, 2014
    Chapter 5 - Content

        Once more did the Original One look upon His children's works, and once more did He find them wanting. So did He call into being the most numerous of His children.

        Thus began Xerneas and Yveltal, Bringers of Life. Thus began Uxie and Mespirit and Azelf, who gave the gifts of knowledge, of emotion, of willpower. Thus began Zygarde, the vigilant protector. Thus began Kyurem, ever wise. Thus began Lugia and Ho-Oh, the twins Latias and Latios, Jirachi and Victini the Mad. Thus began Regigigas, and thus began the many other Legends who shaped the world.


        By the time we reached Shimmerlake Village, the sun had fallen below the treeline and the first stars were visible in the sky above us. I was surprised to find Virgil already there, waiting for us.

        "Hey, Virgil," Artemis greeted as we walked out onto the dock. "What are you doing here? I thought you'd be in your cave by now."

        Virgil chuckled, a low, rumbling sound that shook the aged wooden platform we stood on. "It's been a long while since I had the pleasure of escorting you to our island at this hour, Artemis. I was eager to hear of your mission's outcome, and so chose to await your return." The gyarados flashed a fanged smile before adding "Though, I must admit, I did not expect to wait so long."

        "Sorry about that. Things... didn't go so well," Artemis said as we stepped onto the gyarados' back. "We didn't make it through Murky Woods."

        "It is not often that the prey eludes our famed huntress, Artemis," Virgil replied, his smile vanishing in an instant. "What befell you?"

        I cut in before Artemis could speak. "She's probably going to say something about it being her fault. Don't believe it. We got attacked by some wind-thing, and Artemis used an escape orb to bail us out. She's the only reason either of us made it out of there in one piece."

        "You encountered the Dweller?" Virgil asked, concern evident in his voice.

        Yeah," Artemis began, "But I should've sensed-"

        Virgil interrupted her protest. "No. The Dweller in the Unknown is a terrible monstrosity of which we know far too little, and that you should not sense its approach is little surprise. Your surviving the encounter is success enough - be content with it."

        Artemis sighed. "Alright. I'll... I'll try. Still not happy to have our first mission as a team end like this, though."

        "I would not expect you to be," Virgil answered as he swam towards the island, "but the fault lies with the Dweller, not your leadership."

        I decided it was a good time to voice my concerns. "So... I should probably tell you that this Dweller thing spoke to me before Artemis teleported us out. I'm guessing that's not a good sign."

        Virgil stopped dead in the water and turned to face me, his expression unreadable. "The Dweller... spoke with you?" he asked.

        "Yeah," I replied. "Knew my name, too."

        Virgil sat immobile for several seconds before turning and resuming his swim across the lake. After a few minutes of absolute silence, it became obvious the gyarados wasn't going to speak anytime soon.

        "Darkrai..." Artemis said, clearly just as unsettled by Virgil's silence as I was, "I didn't hear anything back there. You sure you didn't just imagine it?"

        I folded my arms, annoyed. "I know what I heard. That thing spoke to me."

        "I am... inclined to believe him," Virgil said, eyes fixed on the island ahead. "That the Dweller should choose to speak with Darkrai would be in keeping with what little I know of it."

        I was getting tired of the gyarados' secretive behavior. "Virgil, what aren't you telling me?" I confronted him. "Last night, you knew my name, even though neither of us mentioned it. Now you're saying you expected this thing to try and kill us?"

        "No, I did not expect the Dweller to attack you. If I had, I would have never allowed you to set out for your mission." Virgil sighed deeply before continuing. "As for your name, that was merely a fortunate guess on my part."

        "Don't lie to me," I began, "If you know-"

        Virgil twisted around towards me, snapping his mouthful of alarmingly sharp teeth far too close to my face for comfort. "I do not lie!" he roared, and the lake around us seemed to roll in response to the sound.

        I took several steps back as his hot breath washed over me, painfully aware that I was still standing on the crazed gyarados' back. To my surprise, Artemis did the same - Virgil's behavior was just as frightening to her, it seemed. After several tense moments, Virgil's rage suddenly vanished, and the gyarados just looked tired.

        "I am... sorry," he rumbled, slowly turning to face forward once again. "I should not have reacted so strongly. I value honesty dearly, and to hear mine brought into question... it is a sensitive matter for me."

        Artemis stepped forward, a look of concern on her face. "Virgil... what aren't you telling us?"

        The gigantic gyarados sighed deeply before he spoke. "I have traveled far in my lifetime, heard many stories few here would know. Tales, some so old that they speak of when humans walked these lands, some recent enough that their participants are still among us. Through these many stories, I have found a... commonality. Something they all share."

        Virgil fell silent for several moments. "The legends speak of an omen,' he continued after a time, "Though the details vary from tale to tale, there are mentions of a figure, cloaked in shadow with hair of white, who appears before catastrophe strikes. Where this being wanders, doom is sure to follow... or, so say the tales." He looked over at me, his expression even more unreadable than usual. "They name this enigma Darkrai. When you arrived, I was reminded of these legends... and so guessed your name."

        I turned away from the gyarados' gaze, mulling over his explanation in silence. A cool breeze drifted over the lake's surface, stirring the branches of the Golden Tree high above us. Their distant rustling and the gentle splash of water were the only sounds to be heard as Virgil pulled up alongside Shimmerlake's dock. Artemis and I disembarked without a word.

        "Virgil," I began, turning towards the gyarados before he could depart, "why? If you really think I'm some kind of walking disaster, why would you ever bring me here? Why trust me?"

        "You ask the right questions," he replied, "but are incorrect in assuming it is you I chose to trust. No, had you come to me alone, I would never have allowed you into the village, for the reasons I have mentioned." The gyarados smiled. "However, I was willing to set aside my suspicions in light of Artemis' vouching for your good intentions."

        "Okay, what?" Artemis asked, bewildered. "Virgil, I never said anything about trusting Darkrai. Don't get me wrong, I don't think he's out to hurt us or anything, but I just brought him here to get help."

        "Yet again, you underestimate yourself, Artemis," Virgil chuckled. "Through their horns, Absol are gifted with an incredible sense of danger, as you are well aware. It is an innate talent, one so natural to you that you likely do not realize how often you rely on it. Were Darkrai a threat to the village or the guild, I am certain you would have sensed it the moment you set eyes on him. That you did not attempt to kill him when you first met and, moreover, brought him here to seek aid, said more in favor his trustworthiness than words ever could."

        "Yeah, I wouldn't be so quick to trust my judgement, Virgil," Artemis replied, eyeing me as she spoke. "I mean, my teammate here is clearly bad luck, judging by today's mission. If I can't sense the Dweller-magnet here, obviously I'm not as good at this foresight thing as you think."

        "Hm... I am confident any member of the Guild could tell you as much, Artemis. Your reputation is not, shall we say, one of level-headed decisions." When Artemis responded with another of her murderous glares, Virgil laughed and turned away from the dock. "I speak only the truth! But now the hour is late, and I suspect the two of you are weary from your travels. I will detain you no longer. Farewell and good night, Team Exile," he called as he swam out into the lake, not waiting for our reply.

        "One of these days, that old fish will get what's coming to him," Artemis said as Virgil vanished below the water's surface. She lazily slashed the air in front of her with a single claw. "Right in the face."

        I gave her a skeptical look. "Sorry to break it to you, Artemis, but I don't think that's a fight you'd win." Glancing out at the lake, I couldn't help but be reminded of the sheer force of Virgil's brief display of anger. "In fact, I'm pretty sure the word 'slaughter' is more appropriate."

        Artemis shrugged. "Only if I fought fair. Now come on. It's almost dinnertime, and I'm not missing a meal because you were too lazy to hurry up."


        I was still trying to make sense of Virgil's comments as I followed Artemis up the Guild's central ramp. I'd first come to Shimmerlake looking for answers, but every day seemed to only bring more questions. Who was I before I lost my memory? What had happened to me? Had I really been some ancient omen of destruction, or were Virgil's legends referring to someone else? These questions kept racing through my mind, and I was so distracted by them that I didn't see another Guild member step out onto the ramp until I'd collided with them face first.

        "Ow! Watch where you're going!" the newcomer shouted as we both stumbled back. The stranger, a disheveled-looking zangoose whose mess of fur stuck out in every odd direction, blinked in surprise as he saw me. A moment later, his angry expression vanished, replaced by a broad grin.

        "Hey, you're that new recruit we heard about!" the zangoose beamed. "Derkor... Darkar... ah, what's your name again?"

        "His name's Darkrai, genius," chimed in a new voice. A small, lithe seviper had joined us on the ramp, and was busy glaring in disdain at the zangoose. "Please excuse my teammate's idiocy, I'm fairly certain his egg was dropped a few too many times before he hatched," the seviper said, shaking his head in disapproval.

        The zangoose whirled to face the new arrival. "Why do you always gotta go making me look bad?" he demanded.

        The seviper barred a fanged smile. "Because you always make it so easy." Ignoring his teammate's angry sputtering, the seviper turned to face me. "My name's Sev. The hygiene-deficient zangoose here is Zen. We're Team Nemesis."

        "Nemesis?" I asked, arms folded. "Isn't that name a little... ominous for an exploration team?"

        "My thoughts exactly," Sev replied, bobbing up in a strange approximation of a shrug. "Unfortunately, I didn't find out about it until after my... teammate had registered it with the Guild."

        "I think it's a great name," Zen said, shoving his way forward. "I mean, zangoose and seviper are supposed to be enemies, right? So I thought it should be what we call ourselves-"

        "What are you two blockheads up to this time?" Artemis interrupted as she walked back down the ramp ahead of us. "I mean, besides trying to make us all miss dinner."

        Zen practically collapsed in surprise. "Artemis? You're actually eating with the rest of the Guild tonight? I mean, you haven't done that since-"

        Whatever the zangoose was about to say was cut off as Sev slammed the flat edge of his bladed tail into Zen's chest, knocking the wind out of him and sending him sprawling to the ground. "Sensitive as always, Zen. Shall we not make fools of ourselves in front of our new guildmate?"

        Zen growled, then leaped to his feet, slashing at the seviper with his long claws. Sev dodged the blows and darted up the ramp, and Zen scrambled up after him. Artemis chuckled quietly as the duo vanished around the corner. "Glad to see those two haven't changed."

        "You don't usually spend time with the rest of the Guild?" I asked as we resumed our climb. "Seemed like they were pretty surprised to see you."

        "I've been running night missions for the past couple months," Artemis explained. "Great for catching bandits off guard... not so much for socializing."

        "Sounds like I'm really messing things up for you." I remarked.

        Artemis shook her head. "Nah, not really. I wasn't expecting a teammate, but I can manage." After a moment, she added "besides, it'll be nice to spend a little more time with the other teams. It's... been a while."

        With that, we arrived at the Guild's seventh floor, where the infirmary and mess hall were located. Much of the room was occupied by three long wooden tables, each ringed by a variety of simple stools of different sizes. A door in the back led to another room, presumably the kitchen. The most distinct feature, however, was the number of Pokémon present... or rather, the lack thereof. Only a single table was occupied, and even then had plenty of room to spare. I counted fewer than a dozen Guild members, including the Guildmaster and her assistant.

        "I thought you said the entire Guild would be here," I said to Artemis as we entered the room.

        "This is the entire Guild," she replied. "Well, most of it, anyway. Virgil's obviously not here, and Cleo and Chess are probably off getting the food ready. Only one who's missing is Audino." As we approached the table, a tall, scrawny dewott waved us over to the empty seats near him.

        "Glad to see they finally dragged you out of your cave, Artemis," the dewott greeted us as we sat down. To me, he added "you must be the new guy. Darkrai, right?"

        I nodded. "Yeah. Still getting used to things around here."

        "He hasn't figured out there's no 'getting used to it' yet," Artemis interrupted. "Darkrai, meet Dewott. He's head of Team Knights."

        "Newest team in the Guild," he added with a smile. "Until you came along, all of us were the most recent recruits."

        "Speaking of which," Artemis said with a grin, "how's your team doing lately? I've been a bit out of the loop."

        "Well..." Dewott glanced over at the door to the kitchen. "Cleo set the treasure bag on fire again last week, and Chess still has trouble with any strategy that isn't 'charge the enemy head-first.' But, we've made it through a few missions without any major injuries..." He grinned. "So I'd say we're making progress."

        Before the conversation could continue, the back door burst open and a surprisingly large chespin stumbled through, arms laden with plates of food. A small chimchar bounded out after him, and gave a flourishing bow to the assembled Guild.

        "Fellow guildmates, dinner is served," she announced, and was met with a wave of enthusiastic cheering. The chespin leaped into action, literally tossing plates right and left as he distributed the food amongst the Guild members. One plate slid to a stop in front of me, piled high with several thick slices of some roast berry and drenched in a colorful sauce. In less than a minute, the meal had been distributed throughout the mess hall, and the energetic duo threw themselves into a pair of seats next to us.

        Artemis laughed. "Well, at least they're good chefs. Never hurts to have a fallback."

        "Good?" the chimchar demanded. "Chess and I are not good chefs. We are excellent chefs. To say any less is an insult, especially from someone who insists on skipping out on our meals. Isn't that right, Chess?"

        "Yeah!" the chespin huffed indignantly. "It's bad enough that Audino spends all her time locked in her room lately without you skipping out on us too!"

        "Where is she, anyway?" Artemis asked, glancing around the room.

        "Busy working on something in the infirmary," Dewott replied. "We sent Chess to get her for dinner, but..."

        Cleo, the chimchar, burst into laughter. "She threw a totter seed at him the moment he opened the door! He was stumbling around, running into walls - it was great!" Chess took a halfhearted swipe at Cleo in reply, who, trying to duck under the blow, lost her balance and fell off her seat with a dull thud.

        Dewott chuckled at the two's antics. "He was out of it for nearly an hour. My guess is that Audino didn't want to be disturbed."

        Their conversation was cut short as a loud, bell-like tone rang through the room. Reuniclus, apparently the source of the sound, was floating above the gathering. "Attention, Guild members," he said, his shrill voice loud in the sudden quiet, "the Guildmaster wishes to make an announcement."

        This was met with a wave of groans from the assembled Pokémon, which quickly fell silent as Guildmaster Torterra rose from her place at the table's end. "My apologies, everyone," she began, smiling faintly, "I know we're all eager to enjoy our meal, so I'll try to make this brief. As many of you are already aware, a new member has joined our Guild as of this morning." The Guildmaster nodded to me as she spoke. "While I am pleased to welcome Darkrai into our midst, I regret that he should not join us under happier circumstances. For reasons beyond our understanding, he is suffering from a severe case of amnesia, and cannot remember his own history and identity. Despite her best attempts, Audino has been unable to remedy this condition... something she doesn't seem to be taking well, if her earlier behavior is any indication." This drew a small round of laughter from the Pokémon, and a fierce scowl from Chess.

        After a moment, the Guildmaster continued. "However, despite the grim condition of his arrival, I have no doubt Darkrai will prove to be a valuable member of this Guild. In time, I hope, he will recover his memory, but until then I ask that you all do your best to make him feel welcome, and that you refrain from pestering him about his condition." Glancing at Zen and Sev, who were seated across from us, she added "I'm talking to you, Team Nemesis." Another round of laughter broke out, which the Guildmaster spoke over. "Now then. I don't think I can stand the sight of this delicious feast tormenting me any longer, and I have no desire to provoke a riot among my own Guild. So, without further adieu, let's all-"

        "Eat!" the Guild members shouted in unison, and immediately tore into their meals. The food was a beautiful medley of flavors, with the mild taste of the large, lumpy blue berries complemented by the strange but delicious yellow syrup they were drenched in. It was heavenly, and the next thing I knew, my plate was empty.

        "I didn't realize how much I missed you guys' cooking," Artemis said, leaning back from the remains of her meal.

        "Well, maybe we'll be seeing you more often, now that you remember what you're missing," Cleo replied , and Chess nodded enthusiastically in agreement. "So, how'd the mission go?"

        "Yeah, tell us!" Zen shouted, loud enough to draw the entire room's attention. "How'd the legendary Artemis' new team do on its first job?"

        "Er..." Artemis grimaced and looked down at her plate. "It didn't go so well. We had a run-in with the Dweller. Had to use an escape orb."

        The room grew quiet, and for nearly a minute no one spoke. Eventually, Guildmaster Torterra broke the silence. "That is... unfortunate," she began, her brow furrowed in thought. "What forced you to delay long enough that it could find you?"

        "That's the weird part," Artemis replied. "We weren't in there for that long. Hit a monster house on the last floor, but we should had plenty of time left before it showed up."

        The Guildmaster smiled softly. "Then, if you are certain you made no mistake, we should treat this as nothing more than a run of bad luck. Reuniclus and I will make arrangements to ensure the bandits' capture - do not let this trouble you any longer." Turning to the rest of the Guild members, she added "But enough talk of misfortune. I'm eager to hear the rest of your adventures. Dewott, I believe your team was attempting to recover some lost item?"

        Dewott grinned and launched into his tale, detailing how he, Cleo, and Chess had been sent to find a rare seed that had gone missing. Their story was met with a mix of skepticism - Dewott's claims of having fought off a dozen rhydon single-handedly may have been slightly exaggerated - and laughter, particularly when he mentioned that Chess had nearly devoured the seed, having gotten it mixed up with their supply of food. Zen and Sev shared their day's adventures soon after, though their constantly interrupting and arguing over details made their story somewhat hard to follow. The last team, consisting of the swellow that had woken us that morning, a proud-looking pidgeot, and a rather militant talonflame, gave a brief, dry description of their patrols over the mountains to the north.

        In that way, the gathering dragged on far into the night, and it was a long time before we made our way to our respective rooms. I stumbled in and collapsed onto my bed without hesitation, and Artemis did the same. Despite that day consisting of a long string of disappointments, frustrations, and near-death encounters, I was oddly relaxed. Sure, I'd been experimented on by a crazed audino, dragged into some legends-forsaken forest, and nearly killed in a number of new and exciting ways, but... I was content. Not exactly thrilled, but happy to be where I was nonetheless. As I finally drifted off to sleep, I couldn't help but wonder why I felt like that was unusual.


        The moment it began, I knew it for what it was.

        A nightmare.

        No! Don't let go! Just a little longer...

        I was drifting above a narrow stone path that stretched onward as far as the eye could see. On either side was a sharp drop, falling away to reveal swirling clouds below. In the distance, I could barely make out the shape of a large, blue tower, its upper portions wreathed in angry red clouds. As I observed my surroundings, I felt- no, knew their significance, in a way far more fundamental than mere words can express.

        It's too soon for farewells! You two... are coming with me!

        This was a place where heroes walked. A place where the legends clashed with mortals, where the fate of the world had been decided by a single decision. Getting here had been a struggle, and some who had set out to reach this place had fallen to ensure others would succeed where they had failed. It was a place of determination, of hope... and of tragedy, a sacrifice so profound that it chilled me to the core. Something very dear had been lost here.

        It's a world of perpetual darkness. The sun never rises... so morning never comes.

        I knew all of this in an instant. I'm not sure how, or why, but I was as sure of the knowledge as I was of my name... which is really about as much as I could ask for, all things considered. In the same way, I knew that the nightmare belonged to the lone figure climbing slowly up the path.

        I was lucky to have known you. Though the parting hurts... the rest is in your hands!

        He was a charmeleon, and carried himself like someone who knew exactly how powerful he was. I could tell at a glance that he was accustomed to fighting, but wasn't the type to seek trouble. The heavy brown bag slung over his shoulder confirmed this, as it bore the distinctive badge of an exploration team. I drifted along silently behind him as he made his way towards the tower in the distance.

        You have to go home... tell everyone about what happened here. So that... nothing like this ever happens again.

        As the last words rang out through the empty air, the charmeleon collapsed onto the ground, sobbing quietly on the empty road. I drifted closer, curious, when the figure suddenly whirled to face me. His eyes burned with hatred as he saw me, and the fire on his tail grew to immense size.

        "You!" he screamed, his rage palpable in the waves of intense heat radiating from him. I drew back, startled, and he responded with a blast of fire that flew from his mouth in a roar of pure hatred. Waves of intense, searing pain washed over me, and the nightmare shattered.

        I bolted awake, shaking in a cold sweat. Looking around in a panic, I saw that Artemis was still sound asleep in her bed, and the room was undisturbed. I was safe.

        I stumbled over to the nearby trough, splashing the cool water over my face in an attempt to calm myself. I just stood there for several long minutes, staring into the pool as I tried to bring my breathing under control.

        What had I just seen? It was a dream, that much I was certain of, but somehow, I knew it wasn't mine. Which begged the question... who's was it? The charmeleon clearly wasn't happy to see me, but that meant he at least recognized me. Was he someone from my past, then, trying to contact me? If so, why did he react so violently to my presence? I had far too many questions and far too few answers... something I seemed to be making a habit of.

        After a while, I stopped shaking and made my way back to my bed. I sat looking at the ceiling for the longest time, thoughts rushing through my still-shaken mind. It would be several hours before I calmed enough to fall back asleep.
  7. Malc Modnar

    Malc Modnar Collector

    Sep 22, 2014
    Author's Note: Chapters 1 - 5

    So, I'm 18,000 words in so far, with Chapter 6 coming together nicely. Because this is my first story of any significant length (and the first I've decided to publish) I wanted to take a moment to describe some of my discoveries, observations, and concerns about my work so far. This is as much for my sake as anything else, so I can't promise it'll be the most interesting read. I'll also be explaining some of my goals so far here, so if you think it's best to read without knowing what the author had in mind (an opinion I'd actually agree with), I suggest skipping this little aside. I also won't be posting this on FanFiction, for the same reasons. So, in no particular order, I present my various musings on writing.

    Audino broke into this story. I have no idea where Audino came from - she wasn't in my initial outlines, and her character was completely unplanned. Around the end of Chapter 2, while I was busy fleshing out the Guild, I realized it would make sense for them to employ some sort of doctor. At first, I thought she'd be a background character at most, like Quartermaster Galvantula (who I only mentioned once, at the start of Chapter 4). It seems our eccentric friend wasn't content with a mere supporting role, however, and she just took on a life of her own. From what I can tell, it seems like she'll be playing a major part in events to come... whether I want her to or not!

    Things don't go according to plan. In case it wasn't obvious from the above, I really have only a vague idea of what will happen next. I went into this project with a very clear outline, and promptly threw about half of it out the window by the start of Chapter 3. Several things have already happened that I didn't expect, and I've found I can't reliably predict how any character will react to a situation until I'm putting it down in words. Case in point: Virgil's outburst in Chapter 5. I honestly expected him to react a lot more violently than he did, so much so that Artemis would have to intervene. But, when it came time to actually write the exchange, Virgil decided otherwise and proved himself to have much more self control than I thought he did. I suspect it's a subtle form of madness to have entirely fictional creations defying my intentions, but the results are entertaining and whatever they're doing seems to be working.

    Names have power... I hope. I've had several people point out that I use names inconsistently (Swellow calling Artemis "Absol," Dewott going by his species name, etc.), which is actually intentional. Every character has a proper name, which I've selected based on a combination of their personality and place of birth (I doubt most of this will make it into the story). However, this raised a question: if these pokémon have names, why didn't the ones in the games also? For this, I turned to a fan theory I quite like: everyone has a proper name, but it's considered very personal. Sharing a private name serves as a sign of trust (Artemis' meeting with Darkrai) or a more casual personality (Virgil, Cleo and Chess). I tried to convey this in the story through things like Swellow's meeting with Artemis (they are not on good terms, hence the species name), but I suspect I failed in that regard. A few related bits of trivia:
    • Some names, like Artemis or Cleo, I've pulled from mythology and history. Others, like Sev and Zen, are just simplified versions of the species name. There's a pattern to this: the former were born in the area around Shimmerlake, while the latter were born elsewhere. As for why this is, I plan on explaining that... later. :D
    • A few names the characters haven't decided to share yet: Muse (Audino), Oda (Dewott), Rue (Reuniclus), Tertius (Swellow).
    • In the case of a certain charmeleon, I've selected his name from elsewhere in the games' canon, one that seemed appropriate. I do not chose names at random.

    Dialogue is weird. I'm convinced I'm doing this wrong. Whenever I'm writing dialogue, I always spend far too long selecting modifiers, describing actions, and generally messing with conversation formats. I've wasted more time than I'd like to thinl trying to decide between "said," "replied," or "answered," wondering if I should just drop the middle phrase altogether, and berating myself for making a character sigh or chuckle for the umpteenth time. Nobody's called me out on this so far, which has only made me even more paranoid.

    I write in bursts. Strangely enough, I seem to only be able to write at certain times of day (usually 3 AM, much to the detriment of my sleep schedule). I'll go days without being able to do anything, frustrated that I've made no progress on the story, only to sit down and churn out two thousand words in a single sitting. Why this is, or how I can use it to my advantage, continues to elude me - the moment I think I've figured it out, my attempts to replicate it fail.

    Darkrai has legs. Did you know that Darkrai has legs? Because he does.


    So, those are my thoughts on the first five chapters. As I've said, I've never done anything like this before, so all of these things are new to me. I hope you found my ceaseless ramblings useful/entertaining/tolerable. If you like the story so far, know that I'll try to get Chapter 6 out soon. If not, then please remember to edit your hate mail for spelling and punctuation. Good grammar is important! :tongue:
  8. Malc Modnar

    Malc Modnar Collector

    Sep 22, 2014
    Chapter 6 - Mixed Success

        And so was life born, and all the many creatures of the world given form and thought. Then did the Original One look out upon His creation and be content, and in this moment did the Shadow awaken.


        "Up and at 'em, guildmates! Morning brief is in ten minutes!"

        I groaned and slowly sat upright, silently cursing my decision to join the Guild. If it weren't for the ridiculous amount of sunlight streaming into the room, I would've sworn I hadn't been asleep for more than a few seconds.

        Artemis rose from her bed nearby, stretching. Seeing me still sitting, bleary-eyed with exhaustion, she said "Come on, get up. Neither of us wants to be late for the briefing." She yawned and added "Trust me when I say the few extra minutes of sleep isn't worth it."

        I stood, eyes shielded against the harsh morning light, and looked forlornly at the bed. The idea of collapsing back into it was horribly attractive. "Sorry," I mumbled, rubbing sleep from my eyes, "Just... didn't sleep too well." I decided I'd tell her about the nightmare... some other time. When it seemed appropriate. Instead, I walked over to the nearby trough and dunked my head in, letting the cold water shock me into wakefulness.

        "Don't worry, we'll break you of that habit soon enough." After taking a few moments to smooth out her fur, she said "Alright, let's get going. Meeting's on the first floor." I nodded an affirmative and followed her out the door.


        "Glad to see you two finally decided to join us," Reuniclus greeted as we descended the ramp to the Guild's first floor. "Now that all teams are present, we can begin."

        The room was abuzz with conversation when we arrived, with all of the Guild's members save Audino, Virgil, and Quartermaster Galvantula present and grouped into their respective teams. Everyone quickly fell silent down as Guildmaster Torterra cleared her throat, a sound would put some rockslides to shame.

        "Alright, teams," she began, "Jobs for today are as follows: Team Nemesis, you'll be headed west to Gravel Coast. We've received several lost item requests for the area, and I'd like you to handle them. Reuniclus will give you the details."

        Sev nodded as she spoke. "Got it. Anything special circumstances we should be aware of?"

        "Nothing in particular," the Guildmaster replied. "Just remember that this is a fairly old dungeon - it may have a few surprises in store. Nothing you can't handle, I'm sure."

        On hearing this, Zen grinned broadly. "Of course we can handle it!" To his teammate, he added "Bet ya' fifty poké I'll find the stuff before you do!"

        Sev sighed and struck the zangoose's skull with the flat of his bladed tail, sparking another round of fighting between the two. Guildmaster Torterra shook her head in amusement. "Just... try not to get ahead of yourselves. Now then, Team Knights. We've received a missing Pokémon report in the Tarnished Hills region. Apparently, a pair of young sentret wandered too close and became trapped in the dungeon - I'd like you three to find them. Standard search and rescue."
        Dewott smiled and flicked one of the bladed scalchops from his waist, giving it a lazy twirl before sheathing it once more. "We'll bring them home safe and sound."

        "See to it. Next up is Team Exile. You'll be-"

        "Going back through Murky Forest, I know," Artemis interrupted. "Don't worry, those bandits won't be so lucky this time."

        "Actually... no," the Guildmaster replied. "While I appreciate your enthusiasm, we can't risk another approach through that dungeon. Even if you aren't attacked again, the disturbance yesterday likely alerted the criminals to your intent. Instead, the two of you will be assisting Audino with a special assignment. Speak with her after the briefing, and she'll explain the job."

        "Guildmaster..." Artemis began, "I'm sure whatever you need us to do is important, but... are we really just going to let those bandits run loose?"

        "Of course not. I'll be sending Team Gladius to apprehend them. While the dungeon is no longer an option, Gladius should be able to fly in and catch them by surprise."

        The talonflame I'd seen the night before emerged from the crowd, flanked on either side by his avian teammates. "Rest assured, Guildmaster, we'll get the job done." Artemis groaned quietly at the words.

        "Great," she muttered as the Guildmaster turned to confer with Reuniclus, "As if he wasn't arrogant enough. I'll be hearing about this one for weeks."

        I looked at her incredulously. "I'm surprised you'd let anyone give you grief. Seems like it'd just be asking for a beating."

        She shrugged. "Guildmaster Torterra gets upset when I pound the leader of her top team to a miserable pulp. And that's only if I can catch him without his two lackeys around."

        "Before you all depart," the Guildmaster announced to the gathered crowd, "I have one final piece of news to share with you. As you are all aware, mystery dungeons have been growing increasingly active these past few years, and dozens of new dungeon sightings have been confirmed. At the request of the Exploration Team Federation, Audino has been working closely with a group of independent researchers to investigate this phenomenon. This morning, we received a summary of their findings. Reuniclus?"

        The blob-like assistant floated forward, clutching a stack of papers in one hand. "According to this report, more than ninety new dungeons have been confirmed in the past eighteen months, some as far north as Pokémon Square. There has also been a global increase in dungeon instability of more than sixty percent since last winter, a trend that seems to be accelerating." Seeing the quizzical expressions of the assembled Guild members, he added "Simply put, mystery dungeons are becoming more dangerous and unpredictable with each passing day. Why this is happening, or what we can do to stop it, is currently unknown."

        "However," the Guildmaster continued, silencing the concerned murmurs that had begun to spread through the room, "we will not allow this news, troubling though it may be, to discourage us. You are all talented explorers - I am confident you will rise to whatever challenges this instability may present. Now get out there and make me proud!"

        A cheer went up, and each of the teams set about preparing for their missions. Artemis and I made our way to the Guild's infirmary, where we found Audino pacing restlessly across the room, a large blue and brown berry clutched in one hand.

        "You certainly took your time getting here!" she half-shouted as we entered.

        "Guildmaster had an announcement to make," Artemis replied, shrugging off her outburst. "We came straight here after morning brief was over."

        Audino rolled her eyes. "Yes, fine. I'm sure whatever she had to say was far more important than my work."

        "Actually, she was telling us about your research on dungeon instability," I pointed out.

        Audino stumbled, then stopped in her tracks as my comment visibly interrupted her train of thought. "Oh," she said after a moment, "Well, good. That saves me the trouble of having to bring you up to speed. Now come, over here. I want to get this test started as soon as possible."

        Artemis sighed, and the two of us followed the diminutive physician to the back of the infirmary, where several beds had been hastily shoved aside. In their place was a large stone podium, above which floated an intricately carved cube about the size of my head. It glowed with a faint blue light, and a soft humming sound became audible as we drew closer. These facts did not comfort me.

        "Audino, what is that thing and why is it floating?" Artemis asked, eyeing the strange device with suspicion.

        "It's called an enterstone," she explained as she rummaged through a nearby cabinet, tossing several unidentifiable objects aside in the process. "Some colleagues of mine - an absolutely brilliant pair of 'eons from up north - developed it to help study mystery dungeons. Out in the wild, a dungeon is too dangerous and unpredictable to experiment on in any controlled fashion. This little wonder actually taps into the surrounding environment to create a tiny artificial dungeon inside it. It took me all night to set it up, but I think-"

        "Wait a minute," I interrupted, "You're telling me you just created one of those dungeon-things inside the Guild?"

        "Of course not!" she huffed. "Dungeons exist in their own parallel pockets of space. Technically, this little dungeon isn't anywhere. Besides, it's barely the size of a cheri berry. Perfectly harmless." Fishing her notepad out from the cabinet, Audino leaped to her feet, stumbled, and came came to a rest leaning against a nearby wall, blinking in confusion.

        "Audino..." Artemis began, her voice tinged with concern, "when was the last time you slept?"

        The physician laughed in reply. "Sleep is like a chesto for someone with too much free time." She crunched loudly into her berry before tossing the remains aside and scribbling several incomprehensible lines in her notes. "Besides, how can I think about something as trivial as sleeping when I'm on the verge of a world-changing discovery?"

        Artemis muttered something under her breath. "Please tell me this isn't about your 'eighteenth-type' theory again."

        "It's not a theory!" Audino snapped. "My research has made it quite clear that the current type system doesn't encompass certain forms of attack. However, as much as I'd enjoy educating you on the topic, that's not why I called you here. No, my current interest is in our newest recruit."

        "I was under the impression you had a job for us," I said, arms folded, "not that you wanted another chance to experiment on me."

        "I'm getting there, if you would just let me explain," she huffed. Flipping through her notes, she turned to a map depicting Shimmerlake and its surroundings, covered in a mess of lines and indecipherable scribbles. "As Guild physician, I'm sent copies of every mission report each night. When I read the incident described in yours, I initially wrote it off as a side effect of dungeon instability - we've already had a couple similar incidents this month, and this looked similar enough - but something didn't add up. Look at this." She pointed to her notes. Judging from Artemis' expression, they made about as much sense to her as they did to me.

        "This map shows the local network of ley lines and intersection points," she explained unhelpfully. "Where two or more ley lines meet, there's a good chance a mystery dungeon will form. We can then calculate the dungeon's relative stability by multiplying the inflow rate of each line by the region's ambient aetheric charge, then dividing the sum of all lines by the native environmental resistance-" She paused, apparently noticing our utter confusion for the first time, and sighed deeply. "Simply put, the Murky Forest dungeon is one of the most stable dungeons we have on record. Your presence shouldn't have attracted the creature so soon.."

        Artemis rolled her eyes. "Thank you, Audino. As always, your genius is invaluable in pointing out the obvious. I still don't see what this has to do with my teammate here."

        "But it's so simple! Something you did destabilized that dungeon - there's no other explanation for what happened. Artemis, you've been on plenty of missions without any trouble, so I doubt you're the cause. Darkrai, on the other hand... this was your first mission. You're the only variable."

        "Don't try to blame this on me," I began. "I didn't-"

        "Oh, be quiet," Audino interrupted. "I'm not blaming you for anything. If my suspicions are correct, there's no way you could've known what would happen." She motioned to the enterstone. "I've gone through all the trouble of setting this thing up so we could find out exactly what caused the attack."

        I nodded. "Alright. What do you want me to do?"

        "Simple!" she replied, a broad grin spread across her face. "I just need you to attack the enterstone."

        "You're joking."

        "Humor is a waste of everyone's time. Don't worry, the stone can withstand anything you could possibly throw at it. It's entirely safe." Audino took several steps back as she said this, and Artemis followed suit.

        "If it weren't for the food, I'd be convinced you're trying to kill me," I muttered. Deciding that I might as well get it over with, I focused, rising into the air as the familiar tingle of energy surrounded me. Bringing my hands together, I directed my will in the space in front of me, where a small orb of dark power formed. Satisfied that the attack was as weak as I could make it, I carefully flicked the dark pulse towards the enterstone.

        There was a brilliant flash as the attack made contact, and the device began to shake violently, its blue light flooding the room as it grew brighter. Artemis dove for cover, and I raised my arms in an attempt to shield myself from the inevitable blast. Audino, meanwhile, was too busy frantically scribbling in her notes to notice our panic.

        Surprisingly, no explosion came. After several seconds, the enterstone faded back to its original soft glow, its agitated vibration slowing as it did. I breathed a sigh of relief, and Artemis poked her head out above the bed she had hidden behind. "We're not dead?" she asked, looking herself over for injuries.

        Audino, for her part, seemed pleased with herself. "Like I said. Perfectly safe." Her voice was dripping with smug satisfaction.

        "You have an interesting definition of 'safe,'" I remarked. "What, exactly, just happened?"

        "To be honest, I'm not entirely sure," Audino replied, scanning her notes. "For some reason, your attack significantly destabilized the mystery dungeon. I've never seen anything like it."

        "Great. So in addition to crazy bandits, the dungeons themselves are trying to kill you." Artemis shook her head. "I'm starting to think you're more trouble than you're worth, Darkrai."

        I ignored her comment. "So basically, I can't set foot in a mystery dungeon without it going berserk."

        "I wouldn't be so sure," Audino answered hesitantly. "The enterstone's dungeon was perfectly stable until you attacked it. It seems dungeons react to the energy of your attacks, not your presence." Her ears shot upright. "So! As long as you stick to attacks that internalize your energy, like, say, a simple quick attack, you should be able to complete missions normally!"

        "Fantastic. This 'exploration team' thing just keeps getting better and better."

        "Oh, quit complaining. Nobody said this was an easy job." She smiled broadly. "Besides, I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to practice your technique on your assignment today!"

        "You still haven't told us what you need us to do," Artemis pointed out. "Kinda makes it hard to plan a mission when we don't even know what our goal is."

        "Right." Audino flipped to another page of her notes. "There's a dungeon to the south of here, near the coast. Echo Caverns. We received a report that a Pokémon may have become trapped in the dungeon, and the Guildmaster and I agreed that you two are particularly well suited to handle the rescue."

        "Echo Caverns?" Artemis asked. "Never heard of it."

        "I'm not surprised. It's a relatively young mystery dungeon - seven floors in length, only formed about a year ago. Plus, it's fairly remote, so we rarely get jobs in the area." Audino glanced out a nearby window. "If we leave now, we should be able to get there before noon."

        That was unexpected. "'We?' No offense, Audino, but you don't strike me as much of an explorer." The idea of escorting the crazed doctor through a cave full of ferals was not appealing.

        Audino laughed. "Oh, I refuse to set foot in one of those things. I'm far too valuable to risk myself unnecessarily, especially when we have several perfectly capable teams who will happily go in my place! Still, I can only do so much cooped up in this infirmary. Furthering my research calls for field work, and this presents the perfect opportunity. So, while you're in the dungeon doing... whatever it is you do in there, I'll be performing a few tests on the area's ley lines."

        Artemis shook her head. "Audino, I swear, if you break the dungeon, I will haunt you."

        "Noted. Now get out of here! I have to get my equipment ready, and I'll work much faster if I don't have you two distracting me. I'll meet you by the dock in ten minutes."


        Twenty minutes later, Audino stumbled down the path to the docks where Artemis, Virgil, and I were waiting. She carried a large brown backpack, stuffed to the breaking point and haphazardly adorned with a number of unidentifiable instruments, which she rummaged through as she walked. I was fairly sure the rattling sound could be heard across the island.

        Artemis eyed the doctor as she approached. "Sure you've got enough supplies there, Audino?"

        "Of course I don't," she replied regretfully. "I'm leaving several of my instruments behind. Still, it's better than letting you carry them - Arceus knows you'd just break something."

        "Amiable as always, Muse," Virgil greeted her from the dock's edge. "What occasion brings you out of your cave?"

        "Special assignment, if you must know," she answered tersely. "Believe me, I wouldn't be bothering you if I didn't have to, oh wise one."

        Despite standing between them, Artemis somehow managed to glare at both Virgil and Audino simultaneously. "You two going to be a problem?"

        For several moments, neither spoke. Virgil eventually broke the silence. "I have no intention of quarrelling with the good doctor. As for her intentions..." He trailed off.

        Audino folded her arms. "Oh, believe me, I've said everything I need to say to the pompous old fish. I won't waste my breath." With that, she strode out onto his back and sat down, actively ignoring her surroundings.

        "What's wrong with those two?" I asked as Virgil began his swim toward the distant shore.

        "Just ignore them," Artemis replied. "They've been fighting like this since they broke up a while back."

        "Wait a minute. You mean they were- I don't-" I fumbled for words. "How does that even work?"

        Audino huffed indignantly. "Evidently, it doesn't."

        "We are both seekers of knowledge," Virgil explained. "Our mutual fondness for discovery drew us together. I only later realized that, while I simply sought understanding of the world, Muse would not be content until she'd dissected its every last detail."

        "So says the old fish," she shot back. "I just think it's because he couldn't keep up with me."

        Though I may have imagined it, Virgil seemed to flush a darker shade of blue. "I... ah..." he began. "The passions of the heart are not always, er... farsighted, shall we say-"

        "So, Audino," Artemis interrupted, changing the subject with the tact and subtlety of a charging rhydon, "You still haven't told us who we're supposed to be rescuing."

        The doctor shifted uncomfortably. "Right. Well, there's an espurr that lives not far from here-"

        Virgil whirled to face us. "Almighty Arceus above, Muse. You're sending them after the scarred one?"

        "Let me finish!" Audino shouted. For someone so small, her voice was impressively loud. "Now then, as I was saying, this espurr lives with Weavile, just downriver from Shimmerlake. The two usually keep to themselves, on account of the espurr's... condition."

        "The child hatched wrong," Virgil added, his voice tinged with sorrow. "All espurr are born with immense psychic energy, contained in a sensitive node in each ear. As long as the ears are curled shut, they can keep their power in check for the most part. This child... he has no such control."

        Audino shook her head sadly. "I've tended his case since he was left in the Guild's care a few years ago. He was a mess, at first - only a dark type could get near him without the proper precautions. He lived away from town, so his... accidents wouldn't cause too much damage. I thought we were making progress..." She trailed off.

        "What went wrong?" Artemis asked, concerned.

        Audino shrugged. "I'm not sure, honestly. There was some sort of explosion about a week ago. We found their hut in ruins. Weavile was alright, but the espurr was gone. Apparently, something startled him into losing control, and he fled. Yesterday, Reuniclus detected a strong surge of psychic energy in the Echo Caverns area, so we're sending our only all-dark type team to investigate."

        Virgil growled. "I don't like this. The child is dangerous at the best of times. If he's frightened, lost... " The gyarados sighed. "Be careful. His power may not affect you directly, but it can still cause great harm."

        Artemis nodded. "We'll try."

        The rest of the trip passed in silence.


        The entrance to Echo Caverns sat at the end of a dry streambed, although calling it an 'entrance' was hardly appropriate. It was a large, jagged hole in the ground that sloped quickly into the depths, and seemed to have once carried a branch of the nearby river underground before some ancient shift diverted its flow.

        I stared into the dark pit. "So, let me get this straight. We're going down there, practically blind, to rescue a walking disaster who probably doesn't want to be found."

        "Of course not!" Audino replied, busily unpacking several strange devices. "There's a species of bioluminescent lichen that grows on the cave walls. It should provide enough light to see by." She unfolded a set of long metal rods, connected at the base and topped with a pair of smooth crystals. "Oh, that reminds me: the lichen's spores are extremely toxic. Try not to disturb the caps."

        "Well, that's a huge comfort."

        The doctor smiled broadly. "Glad I could help!"

        Artemis sighed. "Alright, I'm pretty sure standing around listening to Audino describe exactly how many ways this dungeon will try to kill us isn't going to help. Let's just get this over with."

        I followed her into the pit, stumbling briefly as a wave of dizziness washed over me. Glancing back, I saw that the entrance had vanished behind us. We were now inside the Echo Caverns mystery dungeon.


        Echo Caverns, Floor One

        "Stick close," Artemis warned, creeping forward silently, "dungeons like this are always a pain."

        I nodded, though the expression was probably lost in the darkness of the cave. After a few moments, we came to a large, open area. Pockets of strange, glowing growths were scattered along the walls and floor, illuminating the room in an eerie green glow. As we drew closer, I noticed clusters of long, wavy stalks sprouting from several of the patches. I gave them a wide berth as we crossed the room.

        Several narrow tunnels branched out from the cavern, and Artemis chose one seemingly at random to follow. We made our way quickly to the tunnel, but no sooner had we reached the room's edge than Artemis froze and, an instant later, dove to one side.

        She moved not a moment too soon. What I'd mistaken for a boulder lunged after her, swiping clumsily with its four arms. The graveler roared and, seeing that its initial target had evaded it, turned and began a rolling charge towards me.

        A familiar cold detachment washed over me as time slowed to a standstill. The rocky creature was slow, but powerful. I could easily avoid its initial attack, but a prolonged battle would likely end in its favor. The graveler had already built up momentum - it was moving too quickly to change course. It was a weakness I could exploit.

        I made my decision. Focusing, I called up an orb of energy in one hand, made all the more powerful by the abundant darkness around me. As the graveler rushed closer, I prepared to release my attack - and at the last moment, realized exactly what I was doing.

        No time to think. I threw myself out of the creature's path, struggling to smother my own attack as I did. I almost succeeded - much of the energy had dispersed when the graveler slammed into my side, shattering my concentration and releasing what remained in a small flash of darkness. Though significantly weakened, the dark pulse still caught the graveler off balance, sending it tumbling to one side. Still reeling from the pain of being rammed by an aggressive boulder, I followed it up with a desperate punch.

        Needless to say, this was a poor decision. A lance of pain shot up my arm, while the still-disoriented graveler seemed entirely unfazed by the quick attack. Fortunately, Artemis intervened, tearing into the creature's exposed flank with shadow-wreathed claws. It growled weakly and struggled to its feet, but was quickly driven down under Artemis' assault. It finally fell to the cavern floor and lay unmoving.

        I leaned against the cave wall, panting heavily and clutching my injured hand. Artemis eyed me and began rummaging through her bag, a glint of mirth in her eyes.

        "You punched a rock type," she said with a grin. "That's a whole new level of crazy, even for you." Fishing out an oran berry, she tossed it in my direction.

        "Not like I had much choice," I growled, stuffing the oran into my mouth. "Unless you want another run-in with that Dweller-thing." As the berry took hold, the pain in my arm faded to a dull throb. I sighed with relief.

        "Hm... good point. Hang on, I may have something here to help." Artemis began digging through her bag again, eventually finding a thick leather pouch, which she threw toward me. I caught it and, flipping back the cover, found it contained about a dozen short, bladed spikes, forked at one end and made of a strange bluish metal.

        "They're called thorns," she explained. "Balanced so you can throw them fairly easily. I never could get the hang of them, but considering what you did with that rock yesterday..." she shrugged. "Figured you might be able to use them."

        "Thanks," I replied, drawing one of the spikes and feeling its weight in my hand. Curious, I flicked it at a nearby pillar. It missed, and instead sailed across the room, colliding with the far wall with a loud crash. The thorns would take some getting used to, it seemed.

        "Nice shot," Artemis snickered.

        I shot her a glare and made my way over to the thorn's resting place. Glancing at the far wall, I noticed a deep gouge where the spike had struck. The blade seemed as sharp as ever. I slipped the thorn back into its pouch, which I then looped around my waist, adjusting it until the heavy bag rested comfortably at my side.

        "Ready to go?" Artemis asked, and I nodded my agreement. We made our way down the tunnel and into another open area, this one much smaller than the first. A staircase was set into the floor, descending several steps before coming to an abrupt halt. Artemis climbed down without hesitating, vanishing the moment she reached the bottom step.

        "Dungeons," I muttered, before following her down.


        Echo Caverns, Floor Three

        The next floor passed without incident. A single swoobat ambushed us as we reached the next stairwell, but made the mistake of flying within reach of Artemis' claws and was quickly defeated.

        We heard our next attacker before we saw it. We were crossing a long, high-ceilinged room when a thundering roar tore through the cave. The exploud charged in from a side passage a moment later, bellowing loudly as it rushed towards us. Caught off guard, I lobbed a thorn at the Pokémon. It narrowly missed, merely grazing one of the exploud's cone-like ears before vanishing into the nearby tunnel. Far from slowing it, the wound only seemed to make the creature angrier - it let out another bellowing cry that reverberated through the cavern, its sheer volume enough to send both Artemis and me stumbling backwards. It rammed through us a moment later, knocking us to the ground before whirling to make another pass.

        "Alright, I've had enough of this!" Artemis growled, leaping to her feet. "Darkrai, go left!" With that, she bounded to the right, surrounding herself in a nimbus of dark power as she ran.

        It was a clever tactic. The exploud could only shout in one direction at a time - if we weren't near each other, it couldn't disable both of us with a single attack. The echoes would still be unpleasant, but it was better than standing still and letting the thing pound on us. I threw myself into motion, rushing at an angle towards the feral Pokémon.

        The exploud, realizing it was being flanked, halted its charge and turned its attention towards Artemis, sucking in a breath of air in preparation for another screech. Though its back was turned to me, there wasn't much I could do to leverage the situation - I still wasn't used to fighting with the thorns, so I couldn't hope to do much more than distract the creature.

        And distract it is exactly what I did. I threw another thorn at the exploud as it began another sonic attack, and this time scored a direct hit. The metal spike sank into its back, cutting its cry short and causing it to whirl around to face me.

        "That's right, big mouth," I taunted, flicking another thorn from the pouch, "bring it on."

        The exploud roared in response, the sound blasting through my skull and leaving me too stunned to move. It lowered its head and began to charge, when Artemis swept its legs out from under it with a well-timed night slash. It fell to the ground, and a series of quick blows from Artemis ensured it didn't rise again.

        "Thanks for distracting it," she panted. "Glad to see I finally found a use for you."

        I clutched at my forehead, trying to drive out the ringing in my ears. "I don't suppose this makes us even?"

        She grinned. "Sure it does. For the thorns, at least."


        Echo Caverns, Floor Six

        The next few floors passed in much the same way - Artemis and I would encounter a feral Pokémon, I'd distract it with several thrown spikes, usually missing at least once, and Artemis would move in to finish it off.

        "This is doing wonders for my self esteem," I muttered as I retrieved another poorly-aimed thorn from the cavern floor.

        Artemis, who stood over a newly-unconscious mawile, laughed. "It's not that bad. You're doing better than Cleo did when she tried using those things."

        "The chimchar?" I asked. "At what point did you decide giving her a bag full of knives was a good idea?"

        "She handles them fairly well when she's cooking," Artemis replied with a shrug. "Not so well in a dungeon, as it turns out. Dewott's got a few new scars to prove it, too."

        I shook my head and followed her down a nearby tunnel. As we rounded the corner, we came across another Pokémon, sitting in the middle of the stone hallway. I began to draw another thorn, but Artemis raised a paw to stop me.

        Looking closer, I realized why. The Pokémon - an espurr - was crying quietly, his back turned to us. He seemed perfectly normal... until I noticed his ears. They seemed withered and oddly small, and were bent upward at a strange angle, the tips curled in an attempt to fold flat. The air around them shimmered visibly, and a warbling hum rang through the tunnel as he wept.

        Artemis crept closer. "Uh... hey little guy," she began, "we're with Torterra's Guild. We're here to rescue you-"

        The air exploded in a wave of psychic energy. Artemis, who was much closer to the espurr than me, was sent flying and slammed into the tunnel wall. An angry buzzing rang through my skull as the wave passed over me, driving me back several steps.

        "No no no no no!" he screamed, stumbling to his feet. "You weren't supposed to find me here! Go away!" The espurr sprinted down the tunnel, hands to its ears.

        I rushed over to where Artemis had fallen. "You alright?"

        She groaned and shakily sat upright. "Yeah... I'm fine." She winced and began rummaging through her bag. "First time I've ever been attacked by a rescue target, though. Can't say I enjoy it." Finding a slightly bruised oran berry, she threw it into her mouth. After a few seconds, she rose to her feet. "Alright, let's get moving."

        We'd taken two steps when a frantic screeching tore through the tunnel the espurr had vanished down. A pair of golbat came barreling towards us a moment later, swooping down before we could react. I flicked a thorn after the closest one, but the golbat's frantic flapping made it an impossible target. It swept in and, with a frantic cry, sank its teeth into my arm.

        I shuddered in revulsion as the Pokémon latched on and began greedily sucking at the wound. It hurt, it was just plain wrong, and it took a tremendous effort to keep myself from screaming. Fighting against pangs of terror, I clumsily drew a thorn in my free hand and, with perhaps a bit more force than was necessary, drove it down into the golbat's skull. It spasmed violently, then fell still.

        Artemis, meanwhile, had dispatched her attacker quickly, and made her way over to help me detach the vampiric Pokémon's corpse from my arm. It was an incredibly unpleasant process.

        I threw the slain golbat aside. "No." I eyed the bite wound, which still bled freely, and shuddered again. "Just... no." Artemis handed me another oran, which I devoured quickly. The bleeding stopped almost instantly. "Tell me that doesn't happen often."

        "It doesn't."

        "Are you lying to me?"

        "Do you really want to know?"

        I glanced back at the fallen golbat. "I don't."


        Echo Caverns, Floor Seven

        We appeared in the middle of an enormous hall, far larger than any of the other rooms we'd seen so far. Its distant ceiling was cloaked in shadows, and the scattered patches of glowing fungus did little to illuminate the immense cavern. Artemis lowered herself into a half crouch as we arrived.

        "Watch out," she warned, "my horn's buzzing like a beedrill's nest right now."

        As we advanced slowly across the cavern, a faint sobbing became audible. The cave sloped down to an end ahead of us, and a small, grey form could be seen curled against the far wall. The espurr glanced up at us as we approached, its eyes filled with a mixture of sadness... and terror.

        A moment later, I found out why. A deafening cry tore through the cave as a gigantic creature swooped down to land before us. A terrible glow filled the cavern as the noivern opened its fanged maw, its clawed wings spread wide as it readied its attack.

        "This day just keeps getting better and better!" I cried, diving for cover behind a nearby stalagmite. Artemis did the same, and a brilliant beam of light slammed into the ground where we'd stood moments ago, leaving a sizable crater in the stone floor. The noviern, however, was not satisfied with a mere show of force. It launched itself into the air, wheeling above us as it readied another attack.

        Obviously, our first priority was getting our opponent out of the air. Unfortunately, with the creature moving so erratically, I doubted I could reliably hit the thing even if it weren't actively trying to kill me.

        Before I had time to consider the situation further, the noviern swept down for another attack, this time aimed directly at Artemis. She saw it coming and leaped out of the way, narrowly escaping the blast. The noviern rose back into the air, and that's when I saw my opening.

        As it beat its way back up, the noviern's movements seemed sluggish. Whatever it was doing to generate that beam must have been incredibly draining, and for a few seconds after it attacked, it was vulnerable. I just had to lure it in.

        I growled and drew a thorn in each hand. "Why do I always have to be the bait?" With that, I stepped out from behind the stalagmite, standing in full view of the circling Pokémon. It saw me immediately and, with a fearsome cry, wheeled around and dove after me. Its fanged mouth filled with energy, and the instant it was close enough, I threw myself directly towards it, arms raised above me.

        A wave of heat washed over me, and I felt the iron thorns tear through the fragile flesh of the noviern's wing as it sailed past. Unfortunately, I didn't realize a critical flaw in my plan - the creature had two very large talons, which lashed out at me with blinding speed and drew lines of burning pain across my back. The noviern slammed face-first into the hard floor of the cave, crumpling with a pained squawk. I flew through the air for a second more before meeting a similar fate, skidding several feet across the rough stone and throwing up a thick cloud of dust in the process.

        Artemis charged forward and, with a series of savage blows, finished off the downed noviern. I struggled to sit upright, my whole body protesting its recent abuse. Artemis rushed over, but stopped several feet away, a horrified expression on her face.

        "Darkrai," she began, eyes wide, "the lichen..."

        I blinked at her in confusion, then looked around. I'd landed in a large patch of the glowing blue fungus, which had released up the cloud of dust on impact that now surrounded me. I slowly waved a hand in a halfhearted attempt to clear it. Didn't Audino mention something about it being toxic?

        For some reason, I found the thought hilarious. I started laughing at the absurdity of the whole situation, and passed out a few seconds later.


        There was a brilliant flash of light as a fiery warmth surged through me. I gasped and shot upright. Artemis stood over me, her silver explorer's badge clutched in her teeth. A strange blue sprout was wrapped around it, glowing with a faint inner light that quickly faded away. The plant seemed to wither almost immediately, and Artemis breathed a sigh of relief.

        "What," I asked, heart pounding in my chest, "was that?"

        "Reviver seed," she replied anxiously, fixing the badge back onto her bag. "I... you kinda just died."

        I stared at her for nearly a minute. "I died." I rested my face in my hands and breathed deeply. "Okay, you're going to tell me exactly what just happened, how I'm still alive, and why I shouldn't go running for the dungeon exit as fast as possible."

        Looking up, I immediately regretted my words. Artemis was shaking visibly. "You were... pretty torn up," she began, eyes downcast, "That noviern did a number on you with its claws, and you hit the ground pretty hard. Combine that with the lichen and..." she trailed off, and didn't speak for several seconds more. "I always carry a couple of these seeds with me. They're very rare, so the quartermaster can only give us a few a year. When we're in a dungeon, if someone gets hurt badly, the seeds will latch onto our team's badge and activate. They can bring someone back from the edge of death... like that."

        I turned to see the crushed patch of lichen I'd fallen in. Even from several feet away, there was a pool of blood easily visible in the center. My blood. Judging from the smears, Artemis had been forced to drag my mostly-dead body out before she could use the seed.

        I tried to speak, but couldn't find any words. I'd nearly died - had probably gotten a lot closer than most anyone that lives to tell about it - on behalf of some Guild full of Pokémon I'd only met days prior. Yet... Artemis was clearly shaken by my near demise, and had risked being poisoned herself to save my life. Even if it tended to end horribly, the Guild was clearly trying to help. Thankfully, a third voice saved me the challenge of expressing myself.

        "I'm sorry..." a half-sobbing whisper came from behind me. I turned to face the sound.

        It was the espurr. His matted grey fur was flecked with dirt and mud, and his eyes were red from crying. "I- I just..." his voice waivered, and he burst into tears. "I just wanted to stop hurting people!" he bawled, and buried his head in my shoulder. "I kept breaking things, s-scaring people away! I ran here, 'cause I thought, if I tried hard enough, I c-could evolve and... and... I'm sorry!" As he cried,waves of psychic energy swept across the cave, buzzing through my skull.

        "Er... hey..." I began, placing a hand on the espurr's back. "It's alright. You can't hurt us." As I said the words, something strange happened. I felt a small surge of energy well up, purely on reflex, and flow into the crying Pokémon. A faint shroud of darkness enveloped his head, concentrated around the ears. The psychic energy vanished almost instantly, and the espurr blinked in shock.

        I picked him up and rose to my feet, careful to keep the energy from spilling into the dungeon. "Come on. Let's get you out of here."


        The espurr had fallen asleep by the time we returned to Shimmerlake. Reuniclus was waiting for us as Virgil pulled up alongside the dock.

        "I see your mission was a success," he greeted us as we disembarked. "Weavile will be happy to know her charge has been recovered safely."

        "Actually," I began, "Audino and I have been talking, and we had an idea."

        Audino grinned. "I was considering my stock of medical supplies, particularly my reserves of luminous water. While admittedly limited, it turns out I've got more than enough to trigger an evolution in a smaller Pokémon... like, say, an espurr."

        Reuniclus froze. "You cannot seriously be considering helping him evolve. Do you have any idea how utterly catastrophic that would be?"

        "I don't see the problem," I replied. "According to Audino, a meowstic has much greater control over its psychic abilities. Seems like a perfect solution to our friend's problem."

        "The evolutionary process also greatly increases an espurr's power!" Reuniclus snapped. "If he can't control it-"

        "And what if he can?" I asked flatly.

        The psychic folded his arms. "No. You have no idea what you're asking for. I'm sorry, but I can't take that risk. He's unstable enough as it is. I will not allow this to continue, and nothing you say will convince me otherwise."

        "Are you sure?" I asked with a smile. "Because I should probably wake the little guy right now and let him know if that's the case. Though I suspect he'd be pretty upset. I don't see that ending well for... pretty much anyone in the village, really."

        I will cherish the memory of Reuniclus' expression for the rest of my life.

        A few minutes later, we stood in the Guild's infirmary. A small metal basin had been set in the room's center, and was filled with several dozen vials' worth of luminous water. The Guildmaster, Reuniclus, and an elderly weavile I hadn't met before were all gathered around alongside Artemis and me, while Audino was busy explaining the process to the espurr. He held my hand tightly the entire time.

        "...will ensure the process isn't interrupted," she continued. "So, just step into the water, and tell the voice you wish to evolve. Once that happens, evolution will begin - just keep calm and everything will be fine. It shouldn't take more than a few seconds."

        The espurr nodded. "Alright."

        "I will do what I can to contain your power during the evolution," Reuniclus added, a note of displeasure still in his voice, "though I cannot promise I'll be able to continue after the process is complete. If you fail to control yourself, you will become far more dangerous. Are you certain you want to go through with this?"

        The espurr nodded. "I do. I... I won't hurt anyone anymore."

        Reuniclus sighed and glared disapprovingly at me. "Then there's nothing I can do to stop you." He motioned to Audino. "Begin the procedure."

        Audino lifted the espurr and gently placed him in the basin. As he released his grip, the aura of darkness around his head vanished, and a violent pulse surged through the room. Audino stumbled back, clutching her forehead, and even the Guildmaster grimaced in pain. Then, Reuniclus spread his arms wide and began to hum, a vibrant blue light enveloping him. A glowing sphere appeared around the basin, and the psychic pressure faded to a dull buzzing.

        A soft voice rang out, seemingly from nowhere. "You who seek evolution," it intoned, at the same time gentle and surprisingly loud, "these waters hold the key. Do you wish to evolve?"

        "Y-yes!" the espurr answered.

        For several seconds, the room was absolutely silent. Eventually, the voice spoke again, strangely hesitant. "You are... scarred. I shall do what I can to mend you, but cannot promise success. Do you still wish to proceed?"

        The espurr gulped, glancing towards me for guidance. I did my best to smile reassuringly, and the espurr nodded.

        "Then let us begin."

        The luminous water's glow intensified, quickly growing to a near blinding white. I raised a hand to shield myself from the light. A strange, bell-like tone rang out, fading to silence as the waters darkened. Looking up, I found that the little espurr had vanished. In his place stood the blue-furred form of a meowstic. Though his ears still stood out at an odd angle, they no longer seemed nearly as withered. The meowstic flexed them experimentally, then smiled.

        "I- I think it worked..." he whispered. Reuniclus eyed him warily, then, slowly, lowered the barrier. Nothing happened.

        Guildmaster Torterra, who had kept silent up until this point, stepped forward and smiled gently. "Congratulations, Meowstic, on your successful evolution."

        It was too much for the little guy. He burst into tears, rushing over and ramming me with a surprisingly forceful hug. Aside from a quiet buzzing, there were no side effects to his outburst. "Thank you!" he choked out between sobs. "Thank you so much!"

        I patted him on the head. Despite the evolution, he was still pretty short. "I'd say it wasn't a problem, but I think we all saw otherwise. Don't worry about it."

        He quieted down after a while, and slowly walked over to the elderly weavile. "I'm sorry I ran away, auntie Weavile."

        The weavile smiled. "Don't fret, little Meowstic. You meant well." She turned to the Guildmaster. "I thank you all for your assistance. Truely, you've worked a miracle here."

        "The Guild is happy to help," Torterra replied, "which is why I've already arranged for you to stay in the village until further notice. If you wish, it can be made permanent. I see no need to continue your hermitage."

        Now it was the weavile's turn to tear up. "Thank you, Guildmaster. I... words cannot describe all you've done for us." Facing Artemis and me, she added "especially the two of you. I don't know exactly what happened in that frightful cave, but I understand you put yourselves in harm's way for our sake. I don't know how I can ever replay this."

        Artemis laughed. "We're explorers. It's what we do."


        Dinner that night was a cheerful affair. Artemis' retelling of our day's events was particularly popular, although Chess had nearly been sick at the mention of the golbats' attack. I shared his sympathies. Still, the story of our fight against the noviern enthralled the assembled guild members, and inspired Zen to rush downstairs to the quartermaster's booth to "try out some of those thorn-thingies." Judging by the zangoose's dejected return several minutes later, Quartermaster Galvantula had the good sense to refuse his request. We made our way to our rooms late that night, full of good food and cheer.

        As I lay in the darkened room, mulling over the day, a question sprang to mind. "Artemis, are you still awake?"

        "For the moment," she answered sleepily. "What's up?'

        "I was just wondering... what happened to your old teammate?"

        Artemis didn't respond. Instead, she rose and walked slowly to the nearby window, staring silently out at the lake below for several long minutes. "Who... told you about that?" she asked quietly.

        "Nobody needed to. You weren't exactly subtle about it."

        Artemis sighed. "Look, Darkrai. You're my teammate. It's not that I don't trust you, but..." she trailed off. "I just don't want to talk about it. Not right now."

        I nodded. "Alright, Artemis. Sorry to bring it up."

        Artemis remained silent. She was still standing at the window when I finally drifted off to sleep.
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