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Thierry Blackwell, Private Eye.

Discussion in 'Creative Archive' started by Snapdragon, Jun 20, 2007.

  1. ((Trying something a little weird, here. Think film noir meets Mystery Dungeon and they get into a drunken brawl. Or go home to play Snakes and Ladders together, whatever. Basically, a Weavile and Mothim go solve some mysteries, wackiness ensues. I'm not too used to writing first person, so feedback's appreciated. Um... enjoy?))

    Thierry Blackwell, Private Eye.

    The sign wasn't too pretty, by any means; I couldn't help noticing a trickle of still-wet black paint trickling down the rough wood, an inky teardrop being shed by the end of Blackwell. If I was gonna expect any success in this line of business, I had to be able to make a good first impression. A sign that vaguely reminded one of a drooling Slowpoke was not apt to inspire thoughts of a devious mind and a rapier wit. Well... such was the small price to pay for keeping a Mothim off one's back for a few minutes. I suppose I ought to have been thankful that Basil had managed to spell everything correctly, though. I did my best to wipe the underwhelmed stare off my face and nodded. "Yeah, it's a real great sign, all right. One glance at that thing and the troubled masses will be lining up at our door." A baldfaced lie if ever there was one, but Basil looked tickled pink to hear it anyway.

    "See? I thought so too, Thierry. I'm gonna hang it up right now! Just you wait, we're gonna be household names soon. Thierry Blackwell, Weavile extraordinaire and remarkable sleuth... and, of course, me. Basil, his faithful sidekick and detecting aide. I was gonna put my name up on the sign too, but then I ran outta room. I thought about writing it on the back, but then I realized... hey, no, if I hang the sign up nobody will see the back! Pretty smart thinking, right? Right, Thierry? Right?" Mew Almighty, that bug never quit. There weren't a lot of things that Basil could do better than I could. Flying was one of them, and blabbering was another. Only one of the aforementioned talents were useful, and you can guess which one that was.

    He could have a bright future as somebody's yes-man, though. Maybe not me; I'm not the type that's easily flattered. I won't hesitate to admit that I'm a brilliant detective, perhaps even the most brilliant one around. Or only one around, which would of course make me most brilliant by default. But Weavile extraordinaire? I fit the Weavile part of the bill, and that was about it. I have a "lithe build," which is a polite way of saying I'm scrawny as a twig, and I'm pretty pale by Weavile standards. Most Sneasels native to the northern regions are born with a lighter blue coloration, to help us blend in with the snow, but it looks pretty outta place when you're down in the sunny south. That, and my ears are just... massive. Basil doesn't notice them much, since he's got brows the size of Caterpies sticking out of his face, but then again... eh, there's a lot Basil doesn't notice. Prime choice of "sidekicks," this one. Which, it's worth noting, he wasn't. My sidekick. It doesn't even make sense to have a sidekick. I may be severely lacking in the trenchcoat and fedora department, but I also don't own a cape and tights.

    "Whatever you say, kid. And by the way... you're my secretary, that's it." Geez. Basil looked positively crestfallen at that. He must have been real keen on tagging along on my daredevil detecting capers. Action-packed stakeouts, thrilling investigations involving attempting to collect fingerprints from a Wooper, being constantly reminded that Pokemonkind is not exactly the gleaming diadem of brilliance and morality, and all that wonderful stuff.

    Not that I'm terribly experienced in such matters, to be honest. My new headquarters was just that. Brand spanking new. Today had been our moving day, and we'd done a pretty good job. A nice cave, secured with a solid wooden door over the mouth. Two snug little beds inside; a nice little nest of straw for me, and a weird-looking case Basil had made himself out of mud and leaves. These were against the northern and eastern wall, respectively, and a quaint little table and chairs took the western side. A cupboard occupied that corner, though there wasn't much more than a couple apples inside. Yeah, it was technically our home. but it had a nice, professional desk and chair taking center stage. I'd even picked up a typewriter off of one of those Kecleon merchants. Claws aren't much use for typing, it turns out, but Basil's got a knack for it. Hence the secretary title.

    "Secretary... well, okay, but that's only when we don't have a case. When we have sleuthing to do, though, I get to be the sidekick."

    "Oh... very well, Basil. When we get a case, you can be my sidekick. But that's only if we get a case." That cheered the little guy right up. He went right back to putting up the sign, and I went right back to watching him, hands on my hips. Yes, it was a nice cave, in spite of the ugly sign, but that didn't guarentee business. The area was home to many rescue teams, after all, and Pokemon tended to feel much safer unloading their problems on experienced fighters. Sigh.

    Most Pokemon did, anyway.

    "You're looking for a case, are you?" From behind me, a low, breathy voice. Little more than a seductive purr, really. Now this sounded promising. "Maybe I can be of help."
  2. Now, let me get one thing straight: I'm none too big on clichés. If I had been interested in tacking myself onto the largest common denominator, then Basil and I would be a part of Team Tries Really Hard or something, and we'd be out looking for a starter to befriend. Real life doesn't follow the same boring formula that you find in the movie theaters or the drugstore literature aisle.

    With that in mind, I turned around, and found myself faced with a Mismagius. You know what I mean, right? Smoldering, fetching eyes peering shyly out from beneath a wide hat brim, delicate curves ending in a flowing indigo robe... I think you get where I'm going. If this was the face of my very first client, then I had a feeling this line of business might prove to be quite worthwhile, competition from rescue teams or no. Before I had the chance to work on that good first impression of mine, though, Basil butted in. He extended one of his paint-splattered little arm-stubs, all sunshine and oversize wings as usual. "For real? That's great! I'm Basil, and that's Thierry. The detective himself! We'd be happy to hear all about whatever's eating you. Rest assured, Thierry will take care of it in no time flat! The guy's smarter than like... two Alakazams and a Metagross. Seriously."

    Again, flattering, but Basil was useless as ever in his hasty enthusiasm. The Mismagius simply stared down at Basil's offered hand; it was obviously rather difficult to shake hands when one happened to lack the necessary equipment. I nudged Basil out of the way and attempted to salvage things. "Uh... I would be glad to hear the details of your case, if you happen to have need of my services. Why don't we take this to my office? It's much more comfortable in there." And with that, I made my way to the cave, both the Mismagius and Basil on my heels. I held the door open for the pair, then ensured it was securely shut before speaking again. Discretion is an important part of being a detective; some jobs are best kept under the table. "Right... I don't believe I caught your name, miss...?"

    "Gypsy. My name is Gypsy." An amused smile had come to the ghost's face, and she seemed to struggling not to laugh. I really didn't see what there was to be so amused about, until Gypsy spoke up again. "And just for the record, Thierry--may I call you Thierry?--I'm not a miss."

    "Ooohhh," Basil squealed, "I getcha. You're spoken for, aren't you?"

    "No, not exactly. I'm not married. It's just that I'm male, that's all."



    See, that's what I mean. The standard foxy dame in need of help... wasn't exactly a dame. That's one cliché out the window. And, uh... Just for the record, I didn't mean all that stuff about delicate curves and smoldering eyes.

    I cleared my throat, struggling to alleviate the uncomfortable silence that followed that remark. "Er, right. Sorry, I just thought--"

    "Oh, don't worry about it. You're not the first, and you won't be the last. I'm not a Deceiver for nothing." As she--... he spoke, Gypsy produced three pictures from under his hat and offered them to me. Very high-quality sketches, obviously done by a Smeargle. A Lopunny, a Bellossom, and a Kirlia. A rescue team, by the looks of it; each one of them wore a pink ribbon, similar to those stupid bandanas every other team seemed to sport, and I recognized the shot of the Kirlia from a recent issue of the Pokemon news. Something about them embarking on a high-end rescue mission or something like that? I didn't get a very clear look before Basil snatched away the paper to read the comics.

    "These Pokemon look familiar to you? I've heard you're fairly new to the area, so I'll presume not. That's Team Deceivers. Rook the Kirlia leads the team, Jazz the Lopunny and Chichane the Bellossom are the primary members. I do freelance missions with them when needed. They're one of the better-known teams around these parts, Thierry. Not only are their skills as a team astounding, but they've really helped win respect for the male members of the... ah, less masculine species out there. Their aim is to help out Pokemon in need while bringing about gender equality for those not blessed with sexual dimorphism." Call me crazy, but I coulda sworn that Gypsy was staring at my ears enviously.

    "Gender equality? What's the big deal with that? I never thought that was really a problem." Basil scratched one of his brows idly, piping up without thinking once again.

    "No, you wouldn't." Gypsy shot back with a downright icy tone, mumbling something about gender-exclusive evolutions under his breath.

    Okaaay. Better to keep things civil. "Ah... so am I right in assuming that your case has something to do with the members of Team Deceivers, then?"

    Gypsy coughed delicately. Though he returned to his former civility, he made a point of only speaking to me. It was as if Basil wasn't even in the room. "Yes, Thierry, you are. I don't know if you're aware, but there's been a bit of a problem in the area with rescue teams vanishing. It was just the weaker, low-end teams at first--Team Solar was the first to go. We sent out Team Troublemakers to get them, but then they vanished too. It was strange... some of the teams we sent out to rescue them vanished as well, some of them simply couldn't find a trace of the missing Pokemon anywhere. Finally, Team Deceivers decided to step in. The three of them left over a week ago, and there's still no sign of them."

    Well, that was ominous. Intruiging, too. This had the makings of an extremely promising first case. "So you want me to retrieve them? No offense, Gypsy, but I'm not exactly an elite fighter. What made you come to me instead of a rescue team?"

    "Isn't it obvious, Thierry? Anyone can see that strategy isn't really working out. No, a rescue team can't find these missing Pokemon, and that's why I'm asking you. We need brains, not brawn. So will you do it? Take the case, I mean? You'll be paid very well, of course." Once again, Gypsy plucked an object from underneath his hat, slapping it down on the desk. A Reviver Seed--those were hard to come by. Ran you a small fortune on the rare occassions they surfaced in the market. I arched an eyebrow and smirked. "Of course, I'm sure the teams you find will also be grateful for your work. I know Team Deceivers is very generous to those that help them out."

    Well, with an offer like that, how could I have refused? It wasn't like I was up to my claws in higher-paying cases--or any other cases at all--and this whole vanishing team thing... it had my interest. "I'll take your case, Gypsy. Those missing teams are as good as found."
    #2 Snapdragon, Jun 21, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 27, 2014
  3. I had a feeling this case wasn't going to be as easy as I'd hoped. I'd milked what little I could from Gypsy; all he really knew was that the mission was supposed to be in Shady Forest. That was only a short stroll north of Central Square. From what I'd gathered, though, it was supposed to be a very tame area; nothing was native to the forest but Sunkerns, Paras, Rattatas, and the occasional Hoothoot. Usually only beginner rescue teams would have any sort of struggle with the place, not a crew as elite as Team Deceivers was supposed to be. The first stop we made was the Pelipper Post Office; there's one in every town, and they all keep pretty good records of all the rescue requests that go up on their notice board. Once they heard I was investigating the missing rescue teams, they were happy to let me take a look back in their records room. With a Pelipper watching to see I didn't harm their precious records, of course. Either they didn't think very highly of my claws, or they had a sneaking suspicion that Basil would develop an appetite for paper.

    "Here's another one, Thierry. Team Eclipse, departed four weeks ago to Shady Forest, reported missing." Basil swooped past, dropping another file onto the steadily-growing pile as he fluttered about the cabinets. Alright... to his credit, Basil had been very helpful thus far. There had been quite a few teams sent out, it seemed; this vanishing problem wasn't exactly a new issue. I hummed a reply to Basil, then buried my nose once more in the cabinet that had all the files on the teams themselves. It wasn't going to be enough to just know the names of the deployed teams. Intuition told me there would be a common link between the missing teams. If not, then why would some of the teams have returned and others not? "Eclipse, Eclipse... Earnest, Earfuls... Eclipse. Is that the last of them, Basil?"

    "Looks like it. Here, I'll get matching up the team profiles to their deployment papers." Behind me, I felt a soft breeze as Basil landed, a few of the piled-up papers rustling ominously in protest. The storage room was small, admittedly, and crammed with more filing cabinets than I'd ever seen, but it would still be a pain in the neck if the files got scattered by a pair of overexcited wings.

    I shot a glance over to the Pelipper standing guard near the door. It was hard to gauge any sort of expression from those odd-looking pupils, but he didn't seem too annoyed by our poking around. "I'm sorry about the mess, we'll file these away again when we're done."

    "No, don't hassle yourself, buddy. I can handle it. Rescue teams are our post office's lifeblood. I spend hours a day delivering job requests, and that's just in Central Square alone. If you can get all them teams back, then more power to you."

    "Well... thank you. I'll do my best." Looks like some things were universal; rescue teams were just as vital to this place as they were back home. "Basil, how's the matching coming along?"

    "Done and done, Thierry." Basil announced proudly, his tiny little chest puffed out. "Pretty quick, huh? It's my secretary superpower."

    I decided to ignore the stupidity of the secretary superpower comment just this once; he'd done well, that warranted a little appreciation. "I'm impressed, Basil. Seems I didn't chose wrong in taking you in. Let's see what we've got now, shall we?" I took a seat on the floor next to the stack of papers and pulled the first one from the top. Team Solar... right, first team to vanish.

    "Team Solar. Normal rank. Sunflora, Bulbasaur, Cherubi. Hired one month ago to rescue a Parasect from Shady Forest. Client... Bayleef." Alright, nothing sounded too out-of-place so far. I skipped a few files after that--the teams that had returned. What I was interested in right now was the missing ones.

    "Team Troublemakers. Bronze rank. Charmeleon, Meowth, Skutank. Hired to rescue Team Solar, who hadn't been heard from in a week. Client... Sunkern." A relative of the first team's leader, presumably. Okay, made sense.

    "Team Tricky. Silver Rank. Girafarig, Spinarak, Pichu. Hired to investigate disappearance of other teams. Client... Gastly." Still no luck. I read over the rest of the files with all the same results; nothing really jumped out at me as a common link in all these teams. Species, level, color, types... nothing. Okay... maybe I was taking this at the wrong angle. I picked up the files again, put them back in order, then looked over the teams once more.

    "Team Solar. One evolved. Team Troublemakers. Two evolved. Team Tricky, none. Team Ecplise... two. Team Deceivers, all of them evolved." No, still no good. I couldn't see any pattern in that. Had to be something else--it didn't make sense for teams to vanish at random. I've always been a strong believer in seemingly random behaviors having deeper signifigance, and it has yet to steer me wrong. There was something obvious here, I knew it, I just couldn't quite see what it was yet. I set aside the MIA team files for the moment and instead familiarized myself with the ones who had come back. I was dimly aware of Basil scuffling around nearby, probably checking out the files I'd finished with.

    "Y'know what I think, Thierry?" At last, he piped up, positively dwarfed behind the folder he held.


    "I think... whoever's abducted all these rescue teams was only after one of them."

    "Well, that's certainly an interesting theory. What team would that be?"

    "Team Deceivers! Gypsy said they're all about gender equality, right? So let's say there's somebody out there who really doesn't like thinking about, say, male Lopunnies. I mean, no guy should have hips like that."

    "So you're suggesting that somebody would chose an area normally only visited by low-ranking teams and start abducting rescuers at random in hopes that the Deceivers would make an appearance?"

    "Oh... well... when you put it that way..." Basil muttered sulkily, dropping the file he held with a sigh. "I'm stumped. You got anything, Thierry?"

    "As much as I hate to admit it, not really." I replied, my attention still on the files I held. Only one thing really of note. Team M. Magneton, Metagross, Murkrow. How creative. The Murkrow had suffered serious injuries fending off a Parasect. That wouldn't have been so weird in and of itself, considering the forest was home to many Paras, but the team was marked as gold rank. Why would such a powerful team member have such a hard time against one of Shady Forest's Pokemon, much less a flying type against a Parasect? Wait... Parasect... Parasect... I dug through the files once more, until I found the one belonging to Team Solar. "Basil, wait... the first team to disappear. Their mission was to locate a missing Parasect."

    "So the one team Solar was after and the one that attacked Team M...?"

    "We can't rule out the possibility that they're completely different Parasects, considering that Shady Forest is full of Paras. However... I find it a little hard to believe that any Parasect native to that area would be powerful enough to take on a gold-rank rescue team. I think it may be helpful to have a word with Team M... and Team Solar's client." Bayleef. Well... that was pretty vague, but in most smaller towns, Pokemon went by their species just as much as their actual names. It was possible there was only one Bayleef in the area. I looked over to the Pelipper by the door, waving Team Solar's file. "Is there any chance I could get more information on the Bayleef that hired this team?"

    The Pelipper waddled over and took the file, squinting down at it. "Hm... sorry pal, no can do. We only have as much information as the client is willing to share, and with a job this old, I don't think we'd have much luck tracking 'em down again." He shrugged his broad wings and returned the file. "Tell you what, though... you can hold onto all these files on the missing teams. If you don't manage to find out what happened to 'em, we'll have to get rid of them anyhow. There's only room enough in here for the... for the active teams."

    I thanked the Pelipper and scooped up the remaining files. Okay, so we hadn't been able to milk as much information as I'd hoped... but at least we did have some leads. First stop was Team M's headquarters.
  4. I don't really have what it takes to do the whole rescue team thing, I'll be the first to admit that. Even so... it was hard to feel very proud of the cave I shared with Basil when I was standing at the front door of a... well... a giant Metagross. That's what it looked like, really. A big, steely structure with the team's flag proudly flying out front and a cutesy little perennial bed at the Metagross-building's feet. A little out of place, but whatever. You can't blame the team for having other interests than dungeon-crawling. I glanced at Basil, who just smiled his vapid smile, then rapped on the door with the back of my claws. I heard some scuffing for a moment, then the door flew open to reveal a Magneton. Before I had the chance to get in a word edgewise, however, the thing screeched out at me. "BZZBZZ. SORRY, WE ARE NOT TAKING MISSIONS AT THE MOMENT, BZZ."

    Okay, I was just a little floored, there. For one, having three voices positively shrieking at you from only a few feet away... it kinda rattles you a bit, especially with ears like mine. I didn't quite think to explain that it wasn't a job request that brought me here. All that was really running through my head at the moment was something along the lines of "Mew Almighty I think my eardrums have actually combusted." Or possibly even "you aren't even buzzing, you're just saying bzzbzz, what's up with that." It looked as though Basil wasn't going to be much help, either; he'd actually plopped down into the dust beside me, his bug-eyes even buggier than usual. Luckily for us, a Metagross stepped in from behind the Magneton before Shouty McHollersome of the Loudass Table could slam the door in our faces.

    "I, uh... sorry. Sorry about that. Itchy, Sparky and Clyde here... they're all a little hard of hearing."


    "Y'don't say," I grumbled, claws gingerly rubbing at one of my pounding ears.

    "Look... I'm sure you heard what they said. We, uh... we're really in no position to be taking cases at this point in time." Metagross lifted one massive arm to close the door, but I stepped in, one claw holding the door open. The huge psychic had given me enough time to gather my senses, and I wasn't gonna waste that.

    "That's exactly what I'm here to talk to you about. I'm detective Thierry Blackwell, and this is my assistant, Basil. If it's alright with you, we'd like to ask you some questions about your mission to Shady Forest."

    Metagross and Magneton glanced at each other uncertainly. They hesitated for a moment before moving aside to allow me in. I motioned for Basil to follow, and took my first steps into Team M's headquarters. Whoa. Fancy place. All stainless steel and white ceramic and class. Nice couple couches in the middle of the room, separate rooms for their quarters, kitchen, all that jazz. Pretty high-end stuff, for a Pokemon. Metagross and Magneton lead me into one of the rooms; fairly small, dark purple walls, and an impressive picture window taking up most of the outside-facing wall. There was a down-lined nest in the center, with a heavily-bandaged Murkrow roosting on it. Just the bird I was after. "BZZT. THESE VISITORS WOULD LIKE A WORD WITH YOU, OPHELIA. BZZBZZ."

    Yeah, thanks for announcing us, buddy. The Murkrow--Ophelia, I guess--nodded her head serenely. "Well met, Weavile, Mothim. How may I be of service?"

    "Right... My name is Thierry, and this is Basil. We're investigating the disappearances of several rescue teams over the last month. I was wondering if you could tell us anything about the attack in Shady Forest. It was a Parasect that did this to you?"

    Ophelia smiled ruefully and shifted one bandaged wing carefully. "Yes, it was a Parasect. We were hired by a Poliwag to try our luck at searching for the other teams. Team M is one of the more reputable rescue teams in the area, so we didn't think we would have much difficulty. For the most part, it was very easy; Metagross could probably take out half of the hostile Pokemon there merely by stepping on them. We had yet to find any clues, and... let's see... we'd been there about two hours before we reached the deepest part of the forest. There was a clearing with a big stump in the center, and... this big Parasect was just sitting by it, doing nothing. It didn't seem hostile to us, so we decided to ask it if it had seen anything."

    "Okay, nothing unusual in that. Go on." I nodded encouragingly.

    "The moment we all came close, he just lets out with this big cloud of Spores. It put Metagross and Magneton under right away, but my ability happens to be Insomnia. It had no effect on me. The Parasect looked panicked, and it immediately attacked. I thought I could take it on my own. I come from a gold-rank team, and it was especially weak to flying moves. I... I've never encountered such a strong Pokemon before. Even with my advantage, I didn't have a chance. I was lucky Magneton woke up before that Parasect finished me off."


    "Did either of you see where the Parasect went?"

    "No, I'm afraid I had passed out at that point."


    "Are y'sure he wasn't just pretending to be a mushroom?" Yeah, that was Basil. Even the Magneton gave him an unimpressed look.


    "Ah... alright. Thank you for your time." Any longer in there and I was going to go deaf, too. There didn't seem to be any more clues to be had from this story, so it seemed like as good a time as any to gather up what we had and maybe look into our next lead. I took Basil by the hand and led him out of the base. I swear I breathed easier back on the outside, honest. "Okay... so that's a little weird. Extremely powerful Parasect, apparently none too big on talking. I think it's looking more and more likely that this Parasect isn't native to Shady Forest."

    Basil nodded vigorously, obviously excited to be back in action. "Yeah, Thierry, me too! So where do we go from here, though? Are we gonna go to Shady Forest? Look for clues? Take the Parasect on ourselves? I could handle it! I'm real slick with my moves, y'know."

    So bloodthirsty. Where had Basil ever picked up the idea that detective work involved brute force? I was an intellectual, not a bodybuilder. "Mew in heaven, no. If a rescue team couldn't handle him, we would be annihilated. Our next move, Basil, is to look for the Bayleef that hired on Team Solar in the first place. Whoever this guy is, he'll probably be able to tell us more about that Parasect. Who knows? That Bayleef could very well be a suspect as well."

    "Oooh... I always knew those grass-types were sketchy folks. Just one question though, Thierry... exactly how do we go about finding this Bayleef?"
  5. In situations like these, I felt that a "divide and conquer" strategy would work best. All we really knew about Solar's client was that they were a Bayleef, and they were looking for a Parasect a month ago. Not exactly the most specific information around, so I figured we had our work cut out for us. I gave Basil the duty of asking around in the main part of Central Square--the market, the dojo, the square itself. Places like that. I'd be heading to the southern end. For lack of a better word, it's a whole lot slummier down there. Nothing I'd want somebody like Basil roaming around in, that's for sure. It was still fairly early for this end of town. The sun had only just begun to set, casting a warm, nostalgic glow on the unlit neon signs and the chipped, fading paint. It's not many places that will grow big enough to have these seedy pawn shops and bars advertising exotic Beautifly dancers (Beautiflies, for the love of Mew), but I guess you have to take the good with the bad when you get a bunch of Pokemon living in one area.

    Like I said, as early as it was, there didn't seem to be much to see yet. I figured I may as well find someplace that looked likely to at least have a couple patrons about... or, y'know, could serve as a nice dive I could use to kill an hour or two. It wasn't too long before my wandering led me to the Shuckle Lounge. Not very creatively named, and it looked pretty shabby to me... but the fact that the neon Shuckle above the sign was dimly aglow, albeit flickering erratically down by his shell, told me they were at least open. I pushed the door open, and in spite of the early hour, a haze of smoke immediately swirled across my senses. How... atmospheric.

    The inside was a lot more charming than the exterior, I'll say that much. A few small, romantic tables littered the interior at random, with a bar over on the eastern wall. Complete with crusty-looking Shuckle bartender and everything. There was a small area cleared to be a dancefloor, and in front of that, set way at the back of the room, was a tiny little stage with some cheap-looking silver curtains drawn shut. The most ancient-looking piano I'd ever laid eyes on crouched moodily off to one corner, with an equally worn-out looking Ambipom nursing a drink at the piano bench. A few obvious regulars had already gathered to share a plate of sketchy-looking bar food and unwind with their booze. The source of the haze filling the room was pretty obvious. Two customers who were seated together off in the corner: a Magmar with a nasty cough whose tail was not only flickering in a very worrying manner, but letting off a constant plume of smoke, and a Weezing who released his own little cloud with every drunken little hiccup. Yeah, definitely a good thing I'd left Basil behind. He would never have been able to keep his mouth shut about how there were plenty of Chansies in the area who would be able to diagnose a tail flame like that, and also wasn't it a little early to be drinking?

    There were a couple more customers scattered about the lounge, but I didn't want to seem too conspicuous; I could scope them out subtly once I'd made myself comfortable. I took a seat at the bar, the Shuckle barkeep oozing on over with surprising quickness. "What'll it be, pal?"

    "Eh. Surprise me." I wasn't here for the drinks, I was here for clues. Probably end up nursing my drink until I left, anyhow.

    "One Berry Juice special it is." Berry jui--aw, Mew, Arceus, and a motherfucking Pidgey. I looked up just in time to see the Shuckle squirting out a hearty blend of decomposing berries and glandular secretions out of its shell. One shot of vodka, a cheri berry, and a cheap little umbrella later, and I was the proud owner of the least appealing drink that ever was. Lucky me.

    And my luck was only rising from there. From off to my side, a pair of claws tapped the scratched bar and a raspy voice casually piped up. "Hey, Shuckle. That one's on me, okay?" Aw, hell. Either something had swallowed a Graveller and was now trying to seduce me, or... well, actually, that scratchy voice sounded pretty familiar to me. "Well, well, Thierry Blackwell. Imagine running into you here, of all places. Y'remember me, right?"

    I peeled my gaze away from my train wreck of a drink and glanced over... yep. A Chatot with the dumbest grin I'd ever laid eyes on. Now there was a face I never thought I'd see again. "How could I ever forget somebody like you, Quid?" Ah, Quidnunc. He'd been an... acquaintance of mine--and I use the term in the loosest imaginable sense--back before I'd headed south. I'll never quite figure out why a tropical bird would ever wander so far north. Quid claimed he was going to dig for gold, but I never really bought that. Firstly, birds aren't renowned for their digging skill. Second, nobody had ever said there was gold up in the north. Third... all I'd ever seen him do was drink, gossip, and fight. Sometimes all at once. He was a bit of a wank sometimes, but you could always count on him to have some useful information.

    "Hah, knew you'd remember me. Nobody forgets the likes of Quid, and I know it. I kinda figured I'd run into you sooner or later, after your folks told me you'd headed down south, but I didn't think you would stoop to a dirty armpit like this. No offense, Shuckle, I'm just sayin'. So tell me, Thierry. How's the rescue team business going?"

    "I see you spoke with my father," I remarked dryly, idly swirling around my drink. Oh god, were those chunks? "I hate to disappoint you, Quid, but I'm not currently a part of a rescue team. I'm a detective."

    "You kiddin' me?" Quid shrieked with laughter, slapping me with one tiny wing. Ugh, I'd forgotten how obnoxious his chuckles could be. "Hah! I knew your pop sounded way too proud of you! So that squirrelly little Mothim friend of yours wasn't your partner, after all?"

    "Hardly. Basil's my secretary."

    "Good. He looks like he'd be worthless in a fight. Oh, but hey... don't you worry about a thing, Thierry. I won't breathe a word of this detective stuff to your folks. Just let your old man go right on thinking you're one of them Go-Getters or whatever those two-shoes squads call 'emselves nowadays."

    "That's very kind of you, Quid." In all the time I'd known Quidnunc, he'd never been able to take a hint from my unenthusiastic monotone that it would perhaps be a good time to drop the subject. It was nice to see some things never changed.

    "I always did think he was way too stubborn on that whole rescue thing, anyhow. But that's just fighting-types for you, huh? Throwing their weight around like they're something special, getting all high-and-mighty with training this and endurance that. Trust me, Thierry, the last thing you ever needed was some pushy Medicham tellin' you how to rule your life. My folks were the same way, y'know. That's why I took off when I was young. Kids can get away with all kinds of stuff when your kind doesn't evolve. Nobody ever questioned me. You probably coulda done just fine for yourself if you'd taken off earlier. And... oh. I don't blame you for lying about the rescue team thing. Just for the record. Mixed-breed families never work out, kid always ends up with some kind of messy trauma. You're lucky you turned out the way you did, your only quirk's your little thing for--"

    Okay... topic wearing very thin. I do my best to be a patient Weavile; I couldn't possibly hold a conversation with Quid if I wasn't. Even so, his small talk really left something to be desired. "That's great, really. I appreciate your support, Quid. I'm afraid I don't have much time for catching up, though. To be honest, I'm actually on a case right now. Think you could help me out? Heard anything unusual lately? Anything helps, especially if it happens to involve a Bayleef."

    Quid appeared to be lost in thought for a moment; he always got this silly, cross-eyed look when he was concentrating. He did an awkward, swaggering little shuffle on the bar, pacing in a loop for a few seconds. Finally, he stopped in front of me--and helped himself to my drink. How such a tiny bird could down that much in one shot was always beyond me. Even more so when said drink was one part vodka and three parts pure, unadulterated yuck. "Nothin' about Bayleefs, Thierry. Sorry to disappoint. The crowds around here are different from the north. A little loonier, know what I'm saying? Like, get a load of this. The other night, I was sitting here, right? Enjoying a drink, taking in the show--they have this stunning Altaria performing here sometimes, really knows her jazz--and there's this Gengar talking to a Hypo right by me. And they're having the weirdest conversation, I swear. I totally couldn't help overhearing. You know I'm not big on the eavesdropping thing."

    "Oh, heaven forbid."

    "I know, right? So anyway, it's like some kind of cracked-out campfire story this Gengar's telling. All this stuff about an ancient and powerful Pokemon, master of shadows and Lord Unto the Night and all this crazy Mordor nonsense. Then something about eternal slumber within the dark abyss and calling forth the nightmare with like... I dunno, maiden sacrifices and black candles and terrible poetry. I woulda figured this duo would fit in more at that stupid gothy club run by that Banette up the street. Crazy stuff, huh? So what's that case of yours on, anyway? The missing teams, right? Because I hear an awful lot about them, too. I got a feeling it's all stuff you already know, but I could throw a couple rumours your way."

    "Please do."

    "Sure thing, pal. Some of the folks around here are saying that it's a rescue team from another continent. They were like... crazy-famous where they came from, frigging Lucario-rank or something, but then they came here and the competition choked them out, so they're trimming out the other teams. Oh, and then there's the one that's saying that a gigantic Pokemon's gobbling them all up. Freaking... Wailord or something. I've even heard some Pokemon saying Team Deceivers is behind it, and they just disappeared to throw suspicion off themselves."

    Say what? Well, those all sounded exactly like what they were; baseless gossip. "And why would Team Deceivers do that, Quid?"

    "Well, they're all about gender equality, right? Seems to me they might have a bit of a grudge, you get me?"

    Grudge? Wait... wait. Gender equality... gender... the missing teams. A connection that separated the Pokemon that had vanished from the returning ones. I stood up sharply, Quid's chatter entirely drowned out by the dawning epiphany. Basil had better not have taken too long with his search, because that blabbering Chatot had once again managed to thrust an important hint my way. "Excuse me, Quid, I've got something I've got to check." As I turned and dashed out the door, I could hear Quid shouting behind me, his voice as sharp and clear as my first breath of the cool night air.

    "Hah, there's the Thierry I know! Godspeed, you pasty egghead, godspeed!"
  6. Basil was already home when I got back to the cave; he'd set two places at the table, each plate already bearing a neatly sliced apple. There was a brand-new jar of Combee honey sitting by his place, already opened, and he'd even thought to set out a bowl of eggs. That was thoughtful of him. Clever, too. There was no way I could get angry at him for grocery shopping on the job when he'd thought to pick up my favourite snack. "Hey Thierry, about time. I was starting to wonder where you were! I went ahead and made us some dinner. I was just starving, and I betcha you're hungry too. All that gumshoe stuff really works up an appetite, huh? Apple slices spread with honey, nothing better after a long day! And I knew you're not so big on the honey--didn't really wanna share anyway--so I got you a little something too. So did you find anything out, or... ooh, d'you want me to go first?"

    As Basil was chattering away, I'd picked up the pile of folders from the Pelipper Post Office. I slid into my seat and absently plucked an egg from the top of the bowl. A tap of the claws to break the shell while I spread out the files, and everything was as it should be in the detecting world. The eggs had been hardboiled, but I didn't particularly mind. An egg is an egg, no matter how you prepare it. "I found out plenty of things, but only one of them actually has any importance to this case. I have a feeling I've found exactly what I'm looking for, but we'll just have to see. Go ahead, Basil, tell me what you've learned." He seemed awfully eager; I was willing to bet his search had gone just as well as mine, sans the irritating Chatot.

    "Okay, get a load of this. Almost nobody had ever even seen a Bayleef in the area! I did a whole lot of asking around before I finally met this Tropius who actually knew of one. She was really helpful. The Bayleef she knows is named Hemlock. It's kind of a boyish-sounding name to me, but the Bayleef's a girl. Apparently, she was kind of a weird kid. Into this really sketchy, dark stuff. Always used to get picked on as a Chikorita, kind of a loner. That kind of girl. Tropius wasn't too sure if the Bayleef we're after is Hemlock or not, since she never heard of Hemlock being friends with a Parasect, but it seems to me that Hemlock is the only Bayleef to live here in decades." Basil stopped to cram a honey-slathered apple slice into his mouth, crunching nosily before he continued.

    "Mm, so... once I had a name, it was easier to find stuff out. Lots of Pokemon didn't know who I was talking about, but the name rung a bell with a couple inhabitants in town. Hemlock was apparently part of a rescue team a few years ago, but that team kicked her out because of creative differences. Which is another way of saying they didn't like her, I guess, because you don't need lots of creativity to be part of a rescue team. That same team disbanded three years ago, so that looks like a dead end. Apparently Hemlock skipped town after her team dumped her, and nobody heard anything of her since. And... um. That's it."

    "Hemlock, huh...? Excellent work, Basil. I'm surprised you were able to find out so much." And I meant that. Basil had been quite an asset so far. Considering how clumsy his attempts at detective work had been when I first met him, I was fairly proud of how quick a study he was turning out to be. So now we had a name to attach to our suspect, and perhaps even a motive, too, if she'd taken her exile from a rescue team very badly. It was a little too soon to be making assumptions, though. I finished off the remainder of the egg and picked up the first folder. "Alright, Basil, listen to this. Sunflora, Bulbasaur, Cherubi. Charmeleon, Meowth, Skutank. Girafarig, Spinarak, Pichu. Clefable, Umbreon, Shuppet. Kirlia, Lopunny, Bellossom. Do you see any pattern?"

    Basil thought long and hard about it, but finally conceded. "Sorry Thierry... nothing."

    "I didn't think so. Now listen to this. Female, female, female. Female, female, female... Now do you notice anything?"

    "Well... yeah, you're just saying female over and over. I... wait, Thierry. You saying that all the missing rescue teams were teams of girls? What about Team Deceivers? They're all guys! I mean, that's pretty much the whole point of their team, and they are kind of famous for it, aren't they?"

    I rested my chin in my claws. "Yes, that's the only flaw. If Hemlock left the area a few years ago, though, then it's possible that she hasn't heard of Team Deceivers, or their gimmi--...their cause. Look." I flipped Team Deceivers' file upside-down, so that Basil could read it. He leaned over the table, accidentally putting one hand into his plateful of sticky honey-apples. As long as he kept his paws off the files, I decided to ignore that and press on. "It says that Team Deceivers was officially formed a year and a half ago. Although both Chichane and Rook belonged to other rescue teams before that, they never really garnered much fame. Especially not for being male. It's safe to assume that Hemlock was kicked out of her team before they eventually disbanded, which means that she would have to have left the area over three years ago. If she was the one who arranged for these teams to disappear, then she probably would have seen a Lopunny, a Bellossom, and a Kirlia... and assumed they were female."

    Basil idly sucked on his honey-covered little hand, head tilted in what I assumed was awe. "So it's all Hemlock's doing, huh? Then all we have to do is find her and ruin her little scheme! Wow, that was really quick."

    "It's not quite that easy, Basil." I picked up an apple slice and stared at it thoughtfully. The pieces of this metaphorical puzzle were starting to fall into place, but there were still a few missing. "We don't have a single shred of evidence. All we have at the moment is wild speculation. We're gonna need a confession, an eyewitness... something, if we're looking to incriminate Hemlock. So what do we know so far? For the past month, rescue teams have been disappearing in Shady Forest. The teams are exclusively female, with the exception of Deceivers. The first team to vanish was sent by a Bayleef in search of a Parasect. One of the teams, having one female member and two genderless, was attacked by a surprisingly strong Parasect. As for the client... the only Bayleef to have lived in Central Square was a lady named Hemlock, who was a bit of a social pariah. She was kicked out of a team and her whereabouts have been unknown for years. If the Bayleef we want is Hemlock, then what's her relation to the Parasect? What's her motive? A vendetta against rescue teams, or something deeper? Why is she only after female teams? What has she done with the abducted Pokemon?" I heaved a sigh and dropped the apple slice I'd been toying with. Wouldn't it be nice if cases could just wrap themselves up in a single day? There was so much left to find out still.

    I could see Basil's wings drooping. Guess he really had thought this case was in the bag already. "Wow... guess there's still a ways to go, huh? So where do we start, Thierry?"

    "Hemlock is the strongest lead we have right now. Ideally, we'd talk to her ourselves. That might be a little hard, if nobody's seen her around in years, so we may just have to settle for asking around with regards to the team she was once in. Other than that... the only thing I can think of is going to Shady Forest ourselves and doing some Parasect hunting." Basil's wings perked right back up; I could tell he was gearing himself up to spring into action. "--Not tonight, Basil, not tonight. Even detectives have to sleep. I say we attack this with a fresh mind tomorrow."

    Basil still looked tempted to do that springing into action thing, but he relented. "...Yeah, you're right. It'll all make sense in the morning."

    Which is, unfortunately, just another stupid cliché.
    #6 Snapdragon, Jun 27, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 27, 2014
  7. Right again, Thierry; no late-night epiphanies, no visions, no prophetic dreams laced with convenient foreshadowing. The morning yielded nothing more than the smell of rain and red marks under my fur. Looked like I'd managed to sleep on my claws again. I hauled myself out of bed with a groan and glanced over to Basil's little case. I could see the ends of his antennae peeking out from the patchwork leaves... still asleep, then. I wasn't really in the mood to wait around, but the little guy deserved some rest. May as well get some work done in the meantime. I never really was much of an early bird, so it was a safe bet that the post office would be open; I could ask about Hemlock's old rescue team. Yeah, sounded like a plan. Figured I may as well let Basil know where I was, though. My gaze slid over to the typewriter... no dice. Claws don't agree with keys. Well, hell, at least I'm not a Poliwag. These claws of mine could still manage with pen and paper.


    Gone asking around about Hemlock's team. We'll snoop around Shady Forest when I get back, so don't go anywhere. I have a sneaking suspicion that the clients for the missing rescue teams all have some sort of connection, too, so see if you can find any kind of pattern. That'd be a huge help.


    Okay, I didn't actually think the clients had anything to do with anything. That was just a make-work assignment to keep Basil out of trouble. He's a great guy, really, but idle arm-stubs are the devil's workshop. I left the note laying on the desk, then made my way out the door. The very first thing I noticed was that it my feet were now muddy. It looked like I had just missed an ugly storm; heavy gray clouds were still loitering in the sky, puddles dotted the dirt path leading to Central Square, and the rain-smell I first picked up in the cave was twice as strong out here. Not a very cheery morning, it seemed. Well, at least it wasn't pouring now. I shrugged to myself and squelched my way into town, doing the best I could to avoid stepping in any of the puddles.

    Mud eventually gave way to paved stone. That unpleasantly cool mud-squelch relented, leaving me to track clumps of soggy earth with each step. Central Square was almost entirely deserted. A pair of young Surskits were chasing a ball around in the middle of the square while their mama chatted with the storage Kangaskhan. The Kecleon merchants were struggling to fold the biggest umbrella I'd ever seen and failing miserably. A few more shopkeepers were huddled unhappily behind their counters, hoping desperately for either the sun or a customer to come by. I could feel their hopeful eyes lingering on me as I passed, but I ignored them. This was only meant to be a short errand. Go to the post office, go through the records, slog my way back home.

    Ugh, Shady Forest was going to be disgusting.

    The post office wasn't much better, either. Like all others of its kind, it had an open design meant to mimick the Pokemon who staffed it; in other words, it looked like a giant Pelipper. The roof was open to allow mail carriers to fly in and out easily, and while the top of the "beak" offered some shelter, apparently it didn't do much when the wind was right. Tarps had been strung up everywhere in a crude canopy, and the Pelipper from yesterday was mopping up the wet floor with an undeniably sour look on his face. He looked up the moment I entered, and his expression instantly brightened. "Hey, buddy, back again? You need something from our records?"

    Well, who was I to turn down a Pelipper that wanted to ditch mop duty? "Yeah, but it might be tough to find. Any chance you could give me a hand?"

    And wouldn't you know it, he most certainly could. It was much more comfortable to talk in the records room, as cramped as it was. It had the benefit of an actual roof, which not only kept the records dry, but let us get away from the cold wind that was stirring up. I wasn't one for wasting time, so I shot the Pelipper a grateful smile and immediately set to work picking my way through the filing cabinets. He took up the same position as last time, hanging out by the door and making small talk. "Sheesh... it's a good thing we don't get a rainy season around here. I don't know how they can run post offices up north, what with all the snow and all. I'm miserable enough just delivering in the rain."

    "They use Delibirds up north, actually. Not Pelippers." I replied absently, my focus on the files in front of me. Team profiles were in alphabetical order, not chronological, so that meant either examining each and every file for mention of Hemlock, or looking for another way to find information.

    "Delibirds, huh? Well, makes sense. I'd quit if they tried to transfer me someplace that cold. We never get much snow here, y'know. Not anymore, at least. A couple years back, the Church of the Sacred Trinity got really popular out east. I don't know how you could go for all that primitive land-sea-air stuff, but it's still going strong out there. They do that weird triangle pilgrimage thing every year. Summer, they get to chill at home like normal folks, but then it's autumn up north, praying to Rayquaza, then they come here in the winter to praise Groudon. We always get sunny weather when they stay, makes me real glad we're west of those looneys. Of course, then spring comes and they're off to the coast to worship Kyogre, but I guess we can't keep 'em around forever, huh?"

    Truth be told, I was only lending half an ear to Pelipper. Religion... it wasn't something I concerned myself with too much. I have my beliefs and I'll stand by them, thank you. Nevertheless, it seemed the topic of the day for Pelipper was religious minorities, and since he was letting me dig through the records, I figured I may as well at least provide an audience. He certainly seemed to appreciate it, at any rate. "That's the thing about a big place like Central Square, though. You get this melting pot kind of thing going on. You've got your plain, ordinary Arceus-worshippers, of course, but then there's all kinds of stuff out there, too. I'm not just talking stuff like Mew-worshippers, even if it's kinda weird to pray to this little pink kitty cat..."

    "I happen to be a Mew-worshipper." What was so weird about that? Made just as much sense as bowing down to a horse on tippy-toes with a wheel around its stomach.

    "Oh. Uh... sorry, pal. No offense intended."

    "None taken."

    "Good." And that little awkward moment had done nothing to break Pelipper's stride, it seemed. "But seriously, Weavile. We're talking some freaky stuff. Those Deoxologists with their space virus scam, those strung out hippie Shaymin-worshippers, and I swear sooner or later we're gonna have a holy war on our hands with the whole Dialga-St. Celebi crowd always at odds with the Palkia-St. Jirachi worshippers. There's even been some nasty rumours about the revival of some ancient cult that worshipped a forgotten god. I don't know the whole story, but what I do know is ridiculous. There's never been such a thing as a dark-type legendary, so the whole thing is probably just made-up."

    Blah blah blah. I didn't remember this guy being quite so... Quid-esque. Maybe gossip is just a bird thing. Either way, it had become fairly obvious by that point that I wasn't going to have much luck searching the records, unless I felt like staying there until I turned grey. "Look, Pelipper... I'm looking for information on one Pokemon in particular. There was a Bayleef named Hemlock who served in a rescue team a few years ago. Do you have anything in here on that team? They disbanded three years ago, but anything I can find will help."

    Pelipper thought about it for a moment, pensively waddled towards a filing cabinet, then changed his mind and turned around again. "Hemlock... name rings a bell. Won't be able to help you much, though. Like I said last time, we only really have room for active rescue teams in here. I do remember that team, though. There was this gorgeous Staraptor... Always used to chat me up when I delivered their jobs. Um... Team Zenith, that was their name! That's all I can give you though. Sorry."

    Well... at least it was something. I shrugged and made for the door. I didn't mean to seem rude, but there was nothing more for me to find out here except for a mail-bird's opinion on various religions. "I told you, anything helps. I really can't afford to stick around and chat, but it's been nice. Thanks, Pelipper."

    "Anytime, Weavile. Good luck on that case of yours, and be sure you stop by if you need anything else, okay? I don't mind the distraction; this mop and I aren't best buddies, if you get my drift."
  8. I swear I only made it twelve steps out of the Post Office before it started raining again. Kinda made me feel bad for Pelipper. His mop had to be fighting a losing battle against this sudden torrent. Of course, it was one thing to be cleaning up puddles, but it was another thing entirely to be standing in them with icy-cold water soaking into your fur. Even snow doesn't seep straight into your bones like rain. I bowed my head against the downpour and turned for home. It wasn't that far, and if I ducked into a store for cover, who knew how long I'd be waiting for the storm to clear. If I was going to get much done in Shady Forest today, then I was going to need lots of time; this rain would make it very hard to track anyone that had been in the area. And there was still the matter of Team Zenith, too. As crucial as rescue teams were to Central Square, I probably wouldn't have too much trouble getting some information on them. Maybe one of the older rescue teams would have knowledge of them. I could try Team M, they were probably the most experienced team left in the area. But then again, that didn't say much. Team Deceivers was pretty high-ranking, and they'd only been around for a little while.

    This probably doesn't put my powers of observation in a very positive light, but it actually took me a minute to notice that I was no longer being battered by the rain. I looked up to see the underside of a dark magenta umbrella. Which was a little weird, considering I wasn't carrying one. A quick glance to my side solved that little mystery: Gypsy was walking alongside me with an amused smile on his face. The umbrella simply levitated between us, courtesy of Gypsy's ghostly powers. "I was wondering when you'd notice me, Thierry. You seem to have quite a lot on your mind... is the investigation going well?"

    "Yes and no, really. We've done okay so far, but the burden of proof is proving a bit of an obstacle." I explained what I had found out so far. The gender link between the missing teams, our theory regarding Team Deceivers and the kidnapper's assumptions about their genders, Team M's injuries from the Parasect attack, and Hemlock's possible connection to it all. Not a whole lot when you boil it down, but my client deserved to know how the job was going. Keeping a customer in the dark is not a good way to build faith in one's abilities, as it tends to lead to the assumption that you're making it all up as you go along. Which is true in some cases, but it's also bad for business to let the client know that. "...So basically, all that remains is to investigate Shady Forest and do a little research on Team Zenith. There's no record of them in the post office, so I'm probably going to have to do my investigating the old-fashioned way."

    "Come now, Thierry... who better to ask about rescue teams than a rescue team member?" Gypsy's smile grew, and I think he winked at me right then. As weird as it was to have a guy wink at me, he raised a good point. Maybe I should have met up with Gypsy sooner than this. "Before I became an exclusive member of Team Deceivers, I would freelance for any team that would have me. I did a mission for Team Zenith a few years back. Come to think of it... you said the Bayleef's name was Hemlock?" I nodded. Gypsy thought for a moment before he contined, "I... actually, I think I served as a temporary replacement for her. I recall the members--Staraptor and Seviper--discussing her during a mission. Um... yeah, I remember now! She creeped them out, apparently. Hemlock ran with a pretty shady crowd... something about a sketchy... Dusclops? No... some sort of ghost, and brainwashing too. I can't really recall... it was a very long time ago. I only remember that much because I'm a ghost-type myself, and it seemed to explain why they didn't trust me very much. Is that of any help to you, Thierry?"

    Hm... on the surface, it didn't really seem like I'd found out anything of importance. Basil had already told me that Hemlock was supposedly into some pretty grim stuff. Basically, Gypsy had verified what I already knew and nothing more. Nice to know Basil's information was accurate, but not really that crucial. I had a gut feeling, though, that this stuff held some sort of relevance I was overlooking. "I... think so, Gypsy. Thank you."

    "Make no mention of it, Thierry. Anything I can do to help you find my teammates is a worthwhile effort." We had arrived outside of my cave, so Gypsy drew to a halt. I did likewise; I had a feeling he had a little more to say. My intuition proved right this time around. "Thierry... the remaining rescue teams met last night. I told them about you, and... we decided not to send out another search team. It wasn't worth the risk of losing more fighters, and our resources are quite stretched as it is, what with all the help requests coming in and so few teams being left to answer them. In other words... at risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, you're Central Square's last hope. If you aren't capable of solving this case, then we may very well have no choice but to give up on the missing teams. I hope you understand what that means."

    Basically, the lives of a bunch of girls and a trio of gender-benders were in my claws. But hey, no pressure or anything.

    "Make no mistake, Thierry. I'm not telling you this because I doubt your abilities. You've discovered a good deal in only two days. I only want to impress upon you just how important this task is. Do the best you can... if not just for my sake, then for everyone else's."

    "Rest assured, Gypsy, I don't give up very easily. One way or another, this case will be solved."

    "You have the tenacity of a rock-type, Thierry. Don't let me distract you from your investigation, then. I'll be off now. Good luck and goodbye." With that, Gypsy took his leave. I didn't linger long to watch him go; he was right about the gravity of the case. The less time I squandered, the better. Plus, y'know, it was still raining out, and he was the one with the umbrella.
  9. Getting back inside... tt was kinda like a scene from an old sitcom. "Honey, I'm home" kind of thing, get what I mean? Only replace the vapid, smiling housewife with a vapid, smiling Mothim, and the casserole in the oven with a typewritten sheet. Oh, and a towel. That was nice. I busied myself with drying off my drenched fur, while Basil was more than happy to flutter around me, waving that sheet around and chattering away like a Taillow on meth. "Wow, Thierry, is it ever pouring! It's totally Skitties and Snubbuls out there! I feel sorry for you, out there with no umbrella. I thought about grabbing mine and looking for you, but I knew that I'd be more helpful back here and you're pretty tough anyway, so a little water wouldn't bug you too much. It didn't bug you too much, did it, Thierry? I'll feel real bad if it did. But I did find something, just like you asked, so that makes up for it, right? Right, Thierry? It makes up for it." Basil remained fluttering in front of me, practically vibrating with excitement. He paused for all of two seconds before he picked right up again. "Well... aren't you gonna ask me what I found? It's totally clever, wait until you hear it. You'll be so proud you won't even believe it."

    Okay, I'll bite. I draped the towel over my shoulders and raised an eyeridge. "What did you find, Basil?"

    In response, he thrust the typewritten sheet into my face. It seemed to be a list of Pokemon--the missing teams' clients--with what looked like move charts beneath each name. "Look, Thierry! All the clients have moves that screw with a Pokemon's status! Bayleef gets Poisonpowder, Sunkern gets Grasswhistle and Worry Seed, and Gastly gets Hypnosis and Confuse Ray, Snover gets Grasswhistle and Swagger, Quagsire gets Yawn. Hemlock's friend, the Parasect, he gets Spore, Stun Spore, and Poisonpowder. Even the Poliwag that hired Team M gets Hypnosis! Well...? Real sharp of me to pick up on that, wasn't it? Did I just blow this case wide open for you or what?" And there he fluttered, just grinning away like an idiot.

    "Basil... status-inflicting moves are very common. Most Pokemon have at least one in their natural moveset, and pretty much all of them can at least learn Swagger with a TM. I'm sorry to say it, but I don't really think that's a decisive link between the clients."

    "But..." I hated seeing him so utterly crestfallen, but not everything was that easy. He had to learn that much if he was going to be by my side for very long.

    "I'm sorry, but it's true. You can find a common factor between any two Pokemon at random, but that doesn't mean they have any sort of relation." I shrugged, slinging the damp towel on top of the kitchen table as I scoured the cupboards. I was certain I had a map around here somewhere... I didn't own a whole lot of possessions, but it was still easy to misplace things when you were moving.

    "I don't believe that." Basil was being stubborn, it seemed.

    "Try me."

    "Qwilfish and Chatot."

    "Neither one evolves." Hm, we were running pretty low on apples. I made a mental note to pick up a few on the way back from Shady Forest.

    "Dewgong and Tropius."

    "Dual-types that are both capable of learning Headbutt." Eh... may as well take an apple for the road, too. Never hurt to bring snacks.

    "Rattata and Wailord!"

    "They can br--..."

    "They can what, Thierry?"

    "I'll tell you when you're older."

    "You just don't wanna admit I'm right."

    Ah, there was the map. Way back in the corner, behind a basket of Chesto berries. Weird place to put a map--probably Basil's doing. I pulled it out of the cupboard, along with an apple, then shut the door with a decisive snap. "Forget the childish argument, Basil. Grab the umbrella, will you? We're going to Shady Forest. I'm afraid that this rain has ruined our chances of playing the bloodhounds, but perhaps we can catch Team M's Parasect friend off-guard. If I lived in a forest, I wouldn't expect many visitors in this weather."

    "What happened to finding Hemlock, Thierry? I thought she was our big suspect here." Basil still looked pretty gloomy about his status condition point, but he was good enough to let it die and just fetch the umbrella like a reasonable bug.

    "Oh, she is. Bear in mind that she skipped town years ago, however, and it becomes fairly safe to guess that finding her won't be easy. I think we'd be better off questioning our Parasect friend--at least his whereabouts have been verified within the last year."

    "Fine, fine. You're the boss."

    "That's what I like to hear." Food, map, umbrella... no magnifying glass, since Basil had sat on the last one and they weren't all that useful anyway, and a fingerprinting kit was just as pointless with most Pokemon didn't have fingers. Anything else...? My eyes drifted to the desk, lingering on the spiteful typewriter before landing on the Reviver Seed Gypsy had left as payment earlier. I'd forgotten about it entirely until now. On a whim, I grabbed it. Hey, couldn't hurt. "Now then... shall we be off, Basil?"

    "Heck yeah! The game is afoot!"

  10. We hadn't been inside Shady Forest for more than ten minutes before I began to feel it was a mistake. We shouldn't have come when it was raining. I didn't just say that because I didn't want to get wet; Basil's ugly plaid umbrella sheltered us from anything the leafy canopy above didn't halt. It was because the platter of rain on the leaves drowned out all the normal ambient noise of a forest, the squelchy loam beneath our feet had lost any tracks it could have once held, and that rainy forest-smell was enough that I couldn't detect if any scents were out of place. Still, we'd gone to the trouble of coming all this way, and doing something was better than doing nothing, even if it felt a bit like a fool's errand. "Right... Team M ran into their Parasect in the heart of the woods, so chances are that's where we'll want to head. Keep an eye out for clues, but be sure to watch out for other Pokemon, too. We're not in Central Square anymore, so we can't expect the locals to be so helpful."

    "Right-o, Thierry! Heh... this is kinda like being a rescue team, isn't it? Fighting our way to the deepest part of a hostile land, bravely marching on in the face of unknown perils--"

    "Basil." Could have just been my imagination, but I thought I heard something underneath the rain-patter and Basil-chatter. My ears gave an involuntary twitch as I raised a claw.

    "I know, Thierry, I know. You're not big on the whole rescue team thing. But I'm just saying..."

    "Basil, shut up." Couldn't this kid take a hint?

    "Look, just because you don't like the idea doesn't mean that I--"

    A flash of white from within the greenery. Something coming this way, and fast. As fond as I am of rational thought in place of brute force, there are times when pacifism goes right out the window. One solid backhand from my claws swatted Basil out of the way, and I struck out with the other hand blindly. I could feel my claws connect with something, heard a high-pitched shriek, but the momentum of our assailant kept them going. They rammed right into me like a brick, and next thing I knew... I was flat on the ground with a mess of heavy white fluff in my face. What...? Were we being attacked by a flying Mareep?

    That question was answered by a soothing, soprano voice humming. That obviously wasn't Basil, and sheep aren't known for their singing voices. It was an Altaria. Great. I had a fluffy dragon-bird sitting on me. Well, I wasn't in the mood to be put to sleep by its little tune, so I did the first thing that came to mind: opened my mouth and let out an Icy Wind. The Altaria gave a shriek and shot away from me like I'd jabbed it with a red-hot poker, hopskipping awkwardly on the ground. Well, as long as it stayed on the ground, that gave me an advantage. I charged after it, getting in a Quick Attack before it had the chance to take flight. The Altaria seemed barely phased by the light hit, however, and simply began singing again. This time, the tune was different. Dark and heavy instead of gentle and soft. That wasn't Sing... that was Perish Song! I pressed my claws to my ears, trying to block out the sound, but too late. My vision clouded for a moment, but that moment was enough.

    The Altaria took advantage of my distraction and hit me with a Dragon Pulse, which once again sent me ass over teakettle. Ouch... with moves like this, it was obvious that this Altaria was neither native to the forest nor something I would be able to take down very easily. The clock was ticking, too. Well... if there was one thing I could be grateful to my father for, it was teaching me how to throw a punch. I got on my feet, and not a moment too soon. A Dragonbreath hit the ground I'd occupied mere seconds ago, sending loam, steam and embers flying. I could see the Altaria swooping down, and readied myself. Closer, closer... I could hear my own heart pounding. Things were getting so blurry--it was hard to focus on the Altaria bearing down on me. The Perish Song was starting to get to me... if anything, at least it would take that Altaria down too. Basil would be safe.

    Basil. A little streak of gold shot in front of my fading vision, tackling the Altaria. "Snap out of it, Thierry! We gotta take this thing down, quick, or it's curtains for you!" His voice was just enough. The darkness retreated from my vision, my head stopped pounding, and the screaming beat of my heart turned regular once more. I didn't know how much longer I could last, and our prospects were bleak; neither Basil nor I were fighters, and this Altaria obviously outlevelled the both of us. It was only a matter of time before the Perish Song took me down, provided the Altaria's powerful attacks didn't do the trick first. Still... that song had weakened the Altaria just as much as it had me, and we did outnumber it. Basil was showing incredible courage, darting all around the larger bird and firing off a flurry of Psybeams and Gusts. I shook the cobwebs out of my head and steeled myself. Now or never, Thierry.

    "Mew help me..." I took a deep breath and broke into a run. I may be pathetic by Weavile standards, but I can still run. With enough speed behind me, I leapt, feeling icy-cold energy gathering around my claws. "Basil, duck!" He wasted no time in diving out of the way. The Altaria looked up at me, surprise written all over its face as I brought my fist down in the strongest Ice Punch I could throw. Mew must have heard my prayers that day; a flurry of snow and ice engulfed the Altaria, sending it crashing to the ground. Frozen solid. Frozen... but still alive. I could feel the dark creeping up on me again. My heart was pounding out an erratic war march somewhere up in my throat. I landed on my feet, swayed, felt the ground rushing up to meet me. Basil squealed in dismay, though my normally-sharp hearing had trouble picking the sound up. I was dimly aware of something bright shining nearby... was all that lame stuff about going into the light actually true? No way I was going to let my demise be so cheesy.

    All at once, my senses snapped back into clarity, just in time to catch the Altaria's last cry, and the spray of ice shards that pelted me. Basil fluttered in the air nearby, looking just about as dumbfounded as I must have. After a moment, he smilied sheepishly and giggled. "Wow... never underestimate a Hidden Power, huh? That was a lucky shot--a few seconds later and I'm pretty sure it'd be too late. You're okay, Thierry, aren't you? You really had me nervous for a while there. But hey... we did it! We totally trounced that Altaria! Wasn't easy though, was it? What's up with that? Shady Forest's supposed to be easier than easy, isn't it? What's a fully-evolved dragon type doing kicking around here?"

    "Isn't it obvious, Basil?" I stood up and made a show of calmly brushing the mud and leaves off of my fur. I didn't want to admit it, but my heart was still racing. That had definitely been too close. "If it were just defending its territory, it wouldn't have tried to kamikaze with a Perish Song. It was sent to stop us. There's something important waiting at the heart of the forest, I'm more certain of that than ever." It seemed as though Hemlock had caught wind of our investigations. If she was seeking to take care of us before we found out any more, then that would be a bit of a problem. Unlike rescue teams, we really didn't have the option of just forcing our way through. "Basil... we're going to have to be a little bit more subtle from here onwards. I'm going to stick to the trees, okay? I need you to Camouflage and scout ahead for me. If you see anyone suspicious, let me know."

    Basil's scrawny chest puffed up with pride at having been given such an important task. He saluted sharply. "Leave it to me, Thierry! Those goons will never see us coming!"

    "Well, yeah, that's sort of the point. Now get going. They probably expected that Altaria to finish us off, so we want to keep the element of surprise." Basil nodded and darted forward, seeming to vanish into the foliage. I waited long enough to give him a head start, then set myself towards the nearest tree. I stopped only long enough to pick the cloud-fluff off of my claws, then hoisted myself up into the cover of the canopy. "Nice try, Hemlock, but it takes more than cotton candy to bring me down."
  11. It was much slower going from that point on. Travelling by the treetops means you don't leave any prints, but it requires a whole lot of dexterity and balance. You try jumping from one flimsy branch to another and tell me how easy it is, you'll see what I mean. The fact that everything was slippery from the ever-present rain really didn't help things much either. There were a few close scrapes where the only things saving me from a fall were my reflexes and these beastly claws I call hands. We were forced to take an incredibly indirect route through the woods; whoever meant to stop us wasn't joking around. Basil could be quite stealthy when he decided to keep his mouth shut. Thanks to his undetected scouting, we were able to bypass most of the guards without them taking any notice of us. If that Altaria we encountered was intended to be little more than a weak little suicide bomber, then I really didn't want to tangle with any of the elite goons.

    I pulled up abruptly, ducking behind the trunk of an oak as Basil popped up next to me, his usual ruddy coloration slowly leeching back into his skin. His voice was little more than a whisper, but hey... big ears do come in handy sometimes. "Thierry... I think we're close! This must be their last layer of guards." Okay, that was the good news. Which, naturally, always came hand-in-hand with the bad. "But I dunno how we're gonna get past these ones. I circled all the way around, and there's guards completely surrounding whatever's up ahead. Four Exeggutors, one at each compass point, with Noctowls positioned in the trees between each of 'em. They're really not kidding around any more. They don't want us getting to the core of these woods!"

    Well... this was a bit of a problem. If we approached from up high, the Noctowls would sound the alarm. If we came from the ground, the Exeggutors would spot us. Just finishing off one, we could maybe manage, but we'd never have a chance if we were outnumbered. Carefully, quietly, I lowered myself back down to the ground. Well... I could try using Hail; that might give us both a distraction, and some cover. But that would definitely give us away. A decoy...? We couldn't guarentee that we'd be able to draw away more than one guard, and remaining as inconspicous as possible was our main goal. I could try sending in Basil alone, but there were Noctowls; their sharp eyes would see through his Camouflage right away. Basil could try a Poisonpowder... but that would take far too long. The guards would be able to raise the alarm long before they succumbed to the poison. If only we were ghosts, and we could just glide by invisibly. The patter of the rain would mask some of our approach, though it seemed as though the downpour had finally begun to let up. About time, too; I was chilled to the bone, and I could feel the mud oozing up under the loam I stood on.

    ...Mud... ground... hey... they had guards watching the land and the trees, but what about underground? I dropped to my knees with a grin, claws shoving loam out of the way with ease. The mud was just the right thickness; even with claws meant for slashing, not tunnelling, I cut through the soil like butter. "I guess we have no choice but to get our hands dirty, then. Basil... this may take some time. Keep an eye out for me, will you?" I didn't even need to look at the bugger to know that he was grinning like a fool at my little plan. Didn't take much to impress him, really. He took off into the air as quietly as he could, and I set myself down to a nice, long dig. Let me tell you, it gave me a newfound respect for Sandslashes. It was hard work, and I found myself having to tunnel around tree roots and rocks more often than I would have liked. I'm not sure how long the digging took me; there was quite a lot of distance to cover, and since I only had Basil's estimates to go by for exactly where I would come up, I wanted to give myself a little extra distance. By the end of it, I had gone from soaking wet to coated in earth, and bone weary to boot. All just because I was following a theory.

    Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through all this, really.

    At last, the tunnel was as complete as it was going to get. All I needed to do was break through to the daylight on the other side. I had momentarily retreated back to the entrance, both to get my eyes adjusted from the inky blackness of the tunnel and to check up with Basil. Considering how weary I was, it also seemed like a nice time to split that apple I'd brought with him. There was no way of telling what was up ahead; we'd want to save some strength for that. "Whew... remind me to never do this again. I'd say I'm about a hundred meters along. Too close?"

    Basil shook his head, antennae waggling like puppy tails. "You're in the clear if you're that far. I did another fly-around. The circle the guards forms is pretty huge. They're all within earshot, but they're spaced out enough that they gotta be guarding a pretty big area. If I had to guess, I'd say the, um.... cir... rad... no, the diameter is like... half a kilometer around. We're talking tons of room. Sorry I can't be more specific than this, I know it's a pretty hazy plan without knowing anything for sure."

    It was my turn to shake my head, raising my claws reassuringly. "It's risky, sure, but it's the best I could come up with. Still... that's the life of a detective, Basil. We investigators dance with danger more times in a day than the average Joe scratches his ear." Which is usually not the case, if you'll recall everything I said earlier about Wooper fingerprints and the like, but hey... life is strange. "Well... we've already wasted enough time trying to navigate this forest. No sense in hanging around any longer." I discarded the apple core and stood up, motioning for Basil to follow. He fixed me with a nervous stare, then glanced down into the endless black of my tunnel. It was all I could do to keep from rolling my eyes. Honestly, a bug that shoves himself into a tiny little case every night shouldn't have any issue with a cramped, dark tunnel.

    The difference between shouldn't and don't, however, can mean a lot. In this case, it meant I was trekking down the tunnel with Basil clinging onto my back like some kind of trembling, girly accessory. At least it was a short hike. I stopped at the end of the tunnel, my claws hesitating as they gave the roof of the tunnel an experimental scratch. "Mew Almighty, I hope you're still on my side right now." We'd been lucky with the Altaria, so no reason why things should go sour now, right? I closed my eyes in preparation of the shower of dirt, then punched my claws up through the soil. Voila ici, light. Slowly, carefully, I raised my head up through the hole I'd made. Y'know, as if avoiding sudden movements would make a giant magenta headdress stick out less. Thank the heavens and the furry pink thing living there, the coast was clear. I hauled myself out of the hole, pried Basil off of me, and brushed the dirt out of my coat the best I could.

    So exactly what was it that was so worth guarding, anyway? I gestured for Basil to be quiet, then stole forward. All the hunting instincts a Weavile comes equipped with come in pretty handy when you're in a prey situation, too; my feet barely made a sound in the soft loam, and every sense was on edge, waiting for the screech of a Noctowl or the babble of an angry Exeggutor. I noticed the trees thinning out as we went, offering up less and less cover. Finally, we reached a point where they just stopped completely--a clearing in the middle of the woods, with irregular patches of raw dirt interrupting the vegetation. A large stump sat smack-dab in the center of it, and curled up on said stump... a Bayleef. I froze, ignoring Basil as he smacked into the back of my head. Was this Hemlock...? Just conveniently sitting there, waiting for us to happen by? She had her back to us, making it hard to tell for sure, but I had a feeling that there was something sinister cooking behind her eyes.

    "So good of you to come, Mr. Blackwell. There's no need for you to hide. Come on out, I'd much rather talk face to face."

    Well, so much for stealth. Nevertheless, an invitation to talk was a hell of a lot better than screaming for her guards to come mash us into a pulpy substance. I stepped out into the open, slowly circling around to her front. I could feel the slight breeze of Basil's wings behind me... kinda reassuring, in a way. "For somebody who prefers to talk face-to-face, you sure don't skimp out on security."

    "If they let you slip by, then my security obviously leaves something to be desired."

    "Touche." Now that I had the chance, I studied the Bayleef closely. She was young, fairly pretty--for a leafy dinosaur thing, anyway--with a delicate, pouting mouth and wide eyes. But all the same, those wide eyes of hers were lined from lack of sleep, and they had a glassy, unsteady sort of gleam to them that I didn't like. In spite of her ladylike smile and her elegance, relaxed posture, that stare of hers completely gave her away as somebody you watched your words around. We were on thinner ice than I knew. "Hemlock, I presume?"

    "In the flesh. Now, Mr. Blackwell... I'm sure you've been through quite a lot to get to me. You must be absolutely brimming with questions. It's too bad for you that I hate nosy little snoops." Hemlock wrinkled her nose haughtily, her smile growing by the second. "However, I do admire your... what's the word you gumshoes use? Moxie? I'll let you ask away. But if you ask me a question I don't like... well... you'll see. So what will it be, Mr. Blackwell? Shall we play twenty questions, or shall I let you leave this forest unscathed?"

    "After I went to all this trouble? I'd hate to cut our little playdate short." If Hemlock had gone to all these lengths to keep us away, why humour us now? She seemed to believe that we knew more than we did, if she had gone to these kinds of extremes. I had a feeling she wanted to toy with us--tell us what she assumed we already knew, then spring a trap on us. As for how much I could gleam from her, well... best to start out safe. "You disappeared after Team Zenith kicked you out. Why don't you tell me a little more about that, Hemlock?"

    A spasm of fury shot through her face at the mention of Team Zenith, but that smile of hers was just as quick to reappear. "Team Zenith...? Hah, what a bunch of close-minded Mareeps. They had wrapped themselves up in their cozy little coccoons of the mundane, and feared anything that was different from their precious little beliefs. I tried to open their eyes to the truth, the same way Neiro did to me, but nooo... they just wouldn't listen. After they exiled me, I turned to Neiro, and I never looked back once. Zenith was just a bunch of lost causes; I'm totall over that now." So she said, but that look in her eyes told a different story. Better not test her.

    She seemed to think pretty highly of this Neiro guy. Better play along, see if I could get anything about him out of her. "Ah, yes... Neiro. He's pretty important to you, isn't he?"

    "I see you've done your homework, Mr. Blackwell. Very good. Yes, Neiro means the world for me. I would gladly follow him into the gates of hell itself. And so I shall, it seems. Maybe if I were an Ivysaur, not a Bayleef, I could have marched alongside him, but alas... my abilities being what they are, all I can do is swear my soul to our slumbering Lord. If He intended for me to give my life for Neiro's cause, then I won't hesitate to throw myself into the abyss, all in the name of our Nocturnal Lord and my beloved prophet."

    Whoa... okay, this had officially crossed the line from "slightly unnerving interrogation" into "crazy lady ranting about Mew knows what." Where had all this Nocturnal Lord stuff come from? Did this Neiro have some sort of god complex, or was Hemlock just completely off her rocker? Maybe it was just a little bit of both. Either way, I had to keep on bluffing. Slipping now could be a deadly mistake. "And the abducted rescue teams...? Where do they fit into Neiro's plans, Hemlock?"

    She broke into a giggle then, a high-pitched, nervous sound that seemed almost closer to a sob. For a moment, I was sure I'd slipped up. "Mr. Blackwell, you were doing so well. I thought this would be obvious! The maidens are to join me, of course. Our spirits will be the spark needed to once again light our Lord's dark flame. He will reawaken on the night of the new moon, when even the heavens hide in fear, and He will feed on our pure souls. Neiro and his followers will honor our sacrifice, and then they will go forth to do the bidding of our sanguine deity. They'll take the ignorant and the dull into the welcoming embrace of the eternal slumber, and so shall the Lord Unto the Night come to outshine even Arceus himself."

    Yeah, okay, lady. Her melodramatic little blurb on the black abyss or whatever had made on thing clear to me: not only was Hemlock completely batshit insane, but she was acting on behalf of something bigger. This single-minded fanaticism of hers reeked of a cult to me. And it also sounded awful familiar, too. Somewhere in his usual chatter, Quid had mentioned something about a Lord Unto the Night. He'd overheard a... a Hypno and a Gengar talking. Pelipper had spoken about rumours of some cult looking to revive a dead god, and how dark-type legendaries didn't exist. Even Gypsy had said that Team Zenith mistrusted him because he was a ghost, and a ghost Pokemon had gotten Hemlock thinking all these weird things. So Neiro... if he was the one Quid had overheard, then he was a Gengar, and the brains behind this cult. They were looking to bring back some ancient legendary by virtue of maiden sacrifices. Hence the abduction of female-only rescue teams, minus the Deceivers. Hemlock had resigned herself to being a sarcifice in place of a regular cultist because... why? She was female?

    Of all the things to think of, my mind drifted to what Basil had said to me this morning. The clients of the rescue teams and their movesets. Sunkern and Snover, Grasswhistle. Quagsire gets Yawn. Gastly, Gengar, Hypno, Poliwag, even the Exeggutors and Noctowls standing guard had Hypnosis. Team M's Parasect had Spore. The Altaria that attacked us? Sing. But Hemlock... Poisonpowder, that's it. She couldn't put Pokemon to sleep. I stalled for time, trying to piece together exactly why sleep moves were so critical. What did I know about legendaries other than Mew? "Are you sure Neiro's plan will work, Hemlock? You don't have quite as many maidens as you think you do. I'm sure you're aware of Team Deceivers' gimmick, even if you didn't know it when you first lured them out."

    "Yes, that has proven to be inconvenient. No matter, though. Once you fail, they'll have no choice but to send out more teams. Even if they don't... we'll go to the bars, the clubs, the markets. We'll take children if we need to. This has been a long time coming, Mr. Blackwell, and we won't be stopped so easily." If I had been paying more attention to Hemlock, maybe I would have noticed the edge in her voice. I was completely wrapped up in this new twist that had been thrown at me, though. My mind was going miles a minute, trying to figure out what made sleep so critical. Why did Pokemon put their enemies to sleep? To get in hits while the foe was helpless, of course. Focus Punch. Hyper Beam. Giga Impact. Recover? Giga Drain. Dream Eater.

    Dream Eater. Nightmare. There were moves that depended on the enemy being asleep to work. Some legendaries could use Dream Eater as a TM, but lacked sleep-inducing moves. Uxie could Yawn, but it wasn't a singular, omniscient being even in the religion it belonged to, and this dark lord stuff didn't really fit. How was I even supposed to know exactly what this long-forgotten deity of theirs could do? "Hemlock... there's just one thing I need to know. What is this Lord Unto the Night of yours called? Who is it really?"

    "You're playing dumb with me, Blackwell." Mistake. "How boring. I don't like putting up with annoying little bores that feign ignorance. You know perfectly well who our Lord is, Weavile! I'm not about to let you patronize me! I've had enough of this charade!"

    "Thierry, behind--!" I could hear Basil let out a squeal behind me, and wheeled around just in time to see a Parasect pinning him down with one claw. Stupid. I'd played right into Hemlock's clutches, and had been too busy speculating on her crazy little cult to give any mind to my surroundings. I raised my claws instinctively, backing away slowly. Basil was squirming underneath the Parasect's grasp, screaming for me to run. My back hit the stump that Hemlock had seated herself on. I felt her breath tickle the back of my throat, then she shoved me forward, right into the Parasect's waiting clutches.

    The last thing I remember was a cloud of sickly-green Spores bursting in my face, then a silent darkness that rushed in like a pouncing animal.
  12. Everthing that falls asleep eventually wakes up. Of course, sometimes a little outside help is to thank for that. When I finally came to, it wasn't a slow and natural thing. If I had to describe it, I'd say something closer to "a sudden jolt to consciousness because a Lopunny is shaking the crap out of me." To my credit, I woke up fighting. Even if the Lopunny was holding me off the ground, and even if I was kind of a wuss, I still managed to flip myself out of his grip, and land a spectacular kick right on the stupid furball's face in the process. It wasn't often I pulled off badass moves like that, I'll tell you that much. Of course, then I hit the ground with all the grace of a drunken Golem, so that kind of negated how cool that last move looked. The Lopunny danced in place, both hands over his nose. "Aw, jeez, that smarts! Will you chill out, Weavile? We're on your side, for cryin' out loud!"

    ...Oh, right. One of the Deceivers was a Lopunny, after all. "Eh... sorry about that. Kind of a knee-jerk reaction. Jazz of Team Deceivers, I take it?" I pulled myself up into a sitting position and took a good look at my surroundings. It was dark, for one thing. The only source of illumination came from the walls; there was some sort of luminescent crystal in them. Behind me was a solid-looking door, different from the rock surrounding it. I was surrounded by Pokemon sitting in a loose circle--the missing rescue team members, by the looks of it. Close to where I sat, I could see Basil still curled up, fast asleep. Good, he didn't look injured.

    "Heh... I see my reputation precedes me." Jazz immediately stopped dancing around and holding his nose to strike what he must have thought was a very noble pose. "Jazz, the enchanting siren of the Deceivers. These two are Chichane, the shining flower, and Rook, the lying eyes." Neither Chichane nor Rook seemed to share Jazz's enthusiasm for cheesy titles. The Bellossom rolled his eyes and grinned at me from behind Jazz's back and piped up with a grin.

    "Heh... in other words, we're Team Deceivers. So who are you, and how'd you guys ever end up down here? A Weavile with ears like yours and a Mothim don't really seem all that likely to get mistaken for maiden sacrifices, you know what I mean?"

    I nodded. "My name is Thierry Blackwell, and the snoozing bug over there is Basil. I'm a private investigator. Gypsy hired me to find you lot. Never quite imagined it would be like this, but, well... I crossed swords with a neurotic Bayleef and ended up here."

    This time Rook spoke up. "So you've met Hemlock too? She was our client. I thought she seemed a little off, but I never thought it went as deep as this." He sighed and took a seat across from me. The other Deceivers followed his lead, likewise slumping on the ground. "From what we've gathered from our time in here, she's Neiro's right hand. She follows his every word blindly, and he gets somebody to handle all the dirty work while he stays safe behind the scenes. He's pretty good at covering his back. Even if we won't make very good maiden sacrifices, there's no way he's just gonna let us live considering how much we know now."

    Which is pretty cheerful news to wake up to. I scratched one ear and heaved a sigh. "Wonderful. So just how much do we know, anyway? I wasn't expecting for any of this crazy cult business to play a very big role in this case, so I didn't really do much looking into it. All I really know about Hemlock's religion of choice is based on guesses."

    Rook shot a glance to Jazz, who nodded for him to keep talking. "We're probably not the best authority on it, either. All we know is what Team Solar told us they'd overheard in their time here. Apparently, the cult is lead by a Gengar named Neiro. He finds Pokemon that are capable of learning sleep-inducing moves and charms them into his cult with his smooth talk and big words. He's planning to resurrected a dead god by providing sacrifices. I'm a bit of a mythology buff, so I have some knowledge of the being he's after. Its name is Darkrai. Long ago, it was revered as the god of the night. Pokemon would offer up sacrifices to it on the night of the new moon. It's a little different from most sacrificial rituals that ancient civilizations practiced, though. The victim was never killed. They were left alive, but after the night of the new moon, they spent the rest of their lives locked in an endless nightmare. It was believed that Darkrai was similar to Drowzees and Hypnos in that it fed off of the dreams of other beings. The only difference is that Darkrai survived off of the negative energy of nightmares, and its prey never woke up."

    Darkrai... so that was the name of Hemlock's precious Lord Unto the Night. It looked as though I'd been on the right track with my assumptions. "That's terrible... why would anyone want to revive a monster like that?"

    "I can't say that I understand Neiro's motives and more than you, Thierry." Rook shrugged his shoulders. "The only one who could tell you that is Neiro himself, and frankly... you probably don't want to get close enough to him to find out."

    "Yeah, you're right. But what's our next move? We just sit around and wait for all the teams to get claimed as sacrifices?"

    "Not if I get any say in it!" A voice interjected, causing me to glance over to the right. A Charmeleon had stood up, abandoning her place in the almost-circle to approach me. "The name's Firebrand of Team Troublemakers. You bunch of pansies might be happy to sit around hoping you die of old age before they throw you to Darkrai, but I'm nobody's maiden. I'd sooner take up snorkelling than be some kind of sacrifice!" Firebrand spat out a few wisps of flame angrily, punching a fist into her hand suggestively. "Look, Weavile, they're starving us down here. There's no sun for the grass types, and there's some sort of sinister aura in here that's keeping our Girafarig and Kirlia from using their crazy psychic mind powers. Even Miracle Eye can't take it out. That means to teleporting, no telepathic communication with anyone on the outside... even our only ghost can't get through these walls. If you're some kinda detective, then I figure you must be pretty bright. You gonna help us escape? Because lookin' at you, I get the feeling you won't be much use if we have to fight our way out."

    Her words were met with mutters from the other teams. At the very least, Firebrand raising her voice was enough to wake up Basil. He crawled over to me with a yawn, his wings dragging sluggishly on the ground. "Huh... what's going on, Thierry? Where are we, and who are all these Pokemon? Hey, is that Gypsy's team?"

    I shushed Basil gently, my attention still on the other teams. I didn't much appreciate what Firebrand had said about my use in a fight--I had taken out that Altaria, hadn't I? So what if it had a massive weakness to ice, and it was two against one? I... well, okay, Firebrand had a point. "Don't worry, I don't plan on sitting pretty, either. If there's a way out of here, then the sooner we find it, the better." I got to my feet, motioning for Basil to follow. "Come on, Basil, let's take a look at this place. Everyone, if you have any sort of abilities that could help me out, then I wouldn't mind volunteers." My remark was met with silence, so I decided to start by checking out the walls.
  13. I picked a wall at random, tapped my claws against it. Solid stone, didn't sound hollow. The surface was smooth, so chances were this wasn't a natural cavern. Upon closer inspection, the luminous crystal in the walls wasn't so natural, either. The patterns it formed were too straight and sharp for that. Grooves had been carved into the stone, and the crystal had been inlaid for the specific purpose of shedding light. Or just looking pretty, whichever. Basil, Firebrand, and Rook had decided to join me, and each watched me inspecting the wall with varying expressions: impatience, a completely blank poker face, and utter awe. Yeah, guess who was making which face.

    "It's no good, Weavile. We've scoped out the room tons of times already. Not a single breeze or crack in the stone." Firebrand remarked, her swinging tail throwing unusual shadows on the walls.

    "Interesting pattern in the crystal, though, isn't it? I'm afraid my knowledge of ancient civilization only extends to myths, so I couldn't say for certain, but these look a little bit like the runes that preceded our current Unown-based alphabet." Rook reached out a hand and traced the patterns, then locked eyes with me. "It's just a theory, but I think we may be in the remains of Darkrai's temple. It's possible that whatever is suppressing my psychic abilities and Shuppet's ghosting powers has to do with this place. Both our typings are weak to dark-types... perhaps Darkrai is just so powerful that his lingering presence is enough, perhaps there's more to it than that."

    As fascinating as that was, it didn't really give us much to work off of, in terms of escape. Hm. Beside me, I heard Basil piping up. "Hey... how come they have a Shuppet as one of the sacrifices, anyway? I thought they had Insomnia. Ophelia from Team M did, that's why she got attacked. Parasect's Spore didn't work on her."

    "Yeah, that Shuppet's got Frisk, not Insomnia. But good try." Firebrand shrugged her shoulders.

    "Go figure. If we had somebody that was immune to sleep, then this whole situation wouldn't be half as bad. Hey... where are you going, Thierry?"

    I could tell the walls wouldn't be letting us out too easily. If Rook was right and we were in the remains of Darkrai's temple, then the same stone that had withstood the ages was also gonna withstand my claws. Instead, I turned my attention to the door. It was definitely a new addition, made out of sturdy-looking steel. I gave it an experimental tap, too--yeah, sounded pretty sturdy. I wouldn't be bringing this down with brute force, either. But... "Hey... Firebrand? C'mere."

    She scuffled her way over, looked the door over, then cast a critical gaze my way. "You think I'm stupid or something? We've already tried bustin' down this door. I even made a go of meltin' it. Launched Flamethrowers until I was just spittin' out smoke, and all that door ever got was red-hot and solid as ever. Nothing's budging it, I tell you."

    Melting it...? Hmm... I looked down at my claws, then over to the other Pokemon. "Says you, Firebrand. I think this door could be our ticket out, but we should think this out before we go busting down the thing. Everyone... I'd appreciate it if you could tell me what moves you're capable of, and what items you have on hand. I don't have much to offer myself, but this is the kind of thing you rescue teams were made for."

    Shuppet was the first to come forward. She rattled off a complete inventory of each team's items, down to the last little Plain Seed. We had a handful of Oran berries, some Gravelerocks, my Reviver Seed, and a bunch of other stuff that I dismissed as being no help to us. Link Boxes and TMs for moves we didn't really need, things like that. Basil was just gaping at Shuppet in awe the whole time she recited the list, so once she finished, she shot him a grin. "...What? I'm a Frisker. Not like I have anything better to be doing in here, anyhow."

    Hearing everyone else's moves didn't give me a whole lot to work with, either, until I got to Team Solar. I was surprised to hear just how many moves their leader was capable of; I was expecting your typical Tackle and Growl newbie team, and for the most part that's what I got, but Sunflora could probably take me on. She seemed almost apologetic about her level, though. "Yeah, I know, somebody like me stuck on a pathetic team like this. You know Sunkerns are some of the weakest Pokemon out there, and we really aren't that much better off once we evolve. That's just the way the cookie crumbles, I guess."

    Huh... guess not all teams were destined for greatness. "At any rate, Sunflora, you could be the single most vital Pokemon on our side right now. Our escape is gonna generate a lot of noise, so we're probably going to have a bunch of Neiro's goons hot on our tails. Your job is to protect Team Deceivers. They're the strongest ones we have, so they're our best bet right now. We stick together as best we can; if anyone gets separated, we may not have time to go exploring these ruins in search of them. Spread the word to the others; we're getting out of here."

    Sunflora looked as though she could have outsmiled even Basil right then. She raised one leaf in a salute, then skittered off to inform the others. I returned my attention to the door, then motioned for Firebrand to come over. "Alright... no sense delaying. I need you to Flamethrower this door."

    Firebrand just rolled her eyes. "You daft or something? I already told you, I've tried melting the door, and it didn't work."

    "Just trust me, Charmeleon." Firebrand's unimpressed expression didn't change, but nevertheless, she let out a jet of flame at the door. I stood back, waiting until I could see that telltale light spreading in the steel. "...Okay, stop." I held up a claw, and Firebrand ceased. Sure enough, there was a large circle in the door that was glowing hot. I stepped in front of Firebrand, and let loose with an Icy Wind. That definitely killed the heat, leaving a layer of frost where the radiance used to be. I followed up with a good, hard Brick Break, and sure enough, broke right through. It only took a bit of effort to make a hole big enough to escape through. Yeah, I know. Both Basil and Firebrand looked absolutely dumbfounded... hell, I only half-believed that a scrawny thing like me had actually just punched through a steel door.

    "Whoa... Thierry, how'd you do that?" Basil squeaked, tiny limbs flailing away.

    "Science, Basil. Heating a substance to extreme temperatures then abruptly cooling it renders it extremely brittle. You probably could have punched through it, too. I'll explain it better later. For now, we need to concentrate on our escape. It might be a bit of a squeeze for the bigger Pokemon, but it's better than nothing." As awesome as it was to bust through metal using only the magic of physics and my scrawny little arms, it had made quite a bit of noise. I only hoped we could get everyone out in time before somebody got it into their heads to investigate.
  14. Our escape got off to a good start. I kept mental note of all the Pokemon as the passed through the makeshift hole: Sunflora, Bulbasaur, Cherubi, Firebrand, Meowth, Skutank, Girafarig, Spinarak, Pichu, Clefable, Umbreon, Shuppet, Rook, Jazz, Chinchane, Basil. Seventeen of us if you counted me; it wasn't going to be too easy for such a large group to move undetected. At least we were outside of our prison now, though. Our little group had ended up standing in a long corridor, illuminated by similar runes to those in our cell. Everyone seemed to be looking at me expectantly. Obviously, they expected me to continue playing the hero and lead everyone outta there. Of course, I didn't have the slightest idea which way would lead us to freedom, and which would just take us deeper into the depth of Darkrai's lair. Rook seemed to be the expert on the place, so I turned to him. Before I could ask anything, a dismayed squeal from Pichu caught my focus.

    "They found us! Look!"

    My head snapped in the direction that Pichu was pointing. Sure enough, a Roserade skidded around the corner, a small army of grass-types pouring in at his heels. "Wh--the sacrifices have escaped! Raise the alarm, Snover, the rest of you, stop them!" We didn't even have the time to twitch before we heard an annoying wail echoing down the corridor, hailstones plinking against the stone like a drumbeat. "Escape! The sacrifices are trying to run! Neiro, Neiro, where are you?!"

    Well, Shuckles. I turned an about face and gave the Umbreon in front of me a shove. "Don't just stand there! Run for it, everyone!" We didn't know how many followers Neiro had, but it seemed to me that there had to be more than seventeen of them. Rescue Teams or not, if any of us decided to stay and make a stand, we'd just end up right back in that cell. And we'd probably get a door that didn't have a gaping hole in it, too. The others caught on quick. We stampeded blindly down the hall, Roserade and his followers hot on our tails. An erratic spray of Bullet Seeds echoed off the walls around us, and I saw a vine snake out and snare Jazz by the leg. I lashed out without thinking, my claws making quick work of the fragile vine. Rook shot me a grin, though his look of gratitude was short lived.

    "There they are! Yawn division, stop them!" An Empoleon was barring our way, the passage behind him all but filled with a Snorlax... and there were more behind him, judging by the voices. They were aiming to surround us, then hit us from both sides! Our entire group churned to a halt. I felt Jazz push past me, facing the Roserade at our tails with a fearsome snarl. My attention was on Empoleon, though; I could have sworn his steely beak curved into a grin as he raised a flipper...

    It was Basil who spurred us into action, ducking down a side passage with his wings churning furiously. "Everybody, this way! Keep moving!" What other option was there? We hurtled down the passageway, just in time to hear an unmistakable roar from behind us, a jumble of shrieks from the grass-types... and the hiss of a massive wave bearing down on us, courtesy of the same Surf that had hit Roserade's crew. There was no way we'd outrun that! One of the teams had stopped running entirely; Pichu, Girafarig and Spinarak glanced at each other and nodded. I slowed for only a moment before I realized what they were doing, then picked my speed back up. Behind me, the passage was filled with the ethereal green glow of three Protects, absorbing the brunt of the Surf and leaving little more than a few raindrops to hit the three girls. Judging from Girafarig's hoofbeats, they wouldn't be lagging behind for long.

    The passage was leading us downwards; the runes were getting sparser as we went, and there was little room for all of us to maneuver in the narrow path. I didn't like it one bit, but what choice was there? Spinarak's cry echoed through the dark tunnel behind, high and anxious. "They're on our tails again! There's no way we could hold back that many of them! Faster, guys, c'mon!"

    "Oh, jeez, they're over here, too!" From up ahead, Firebrand pointed down a side passageway. No sooner had she spoken up than an Ice Beam suddenly burst through our ranks, not only scattering Pokemon left and right but hitting Firebrand square in the face. She shook it off and prepared to charge whoever had fired off the attack, but we couldn't afford to be delayed any more. One of her teammates, the Skutank, shouted something to her, but I couldn't hear amid the squeals of our group. Whatever she'd said was effective; Firebrand nodded and started running again. Most of the others had recovered enough to take up running again, but a few lingered to support injured comrades.

    "Help--Cherubi, she's frozen, she can't move!" Bulbasaur's panicked cry brought me running, but Firebrand beat me to it. With an intimidating "Move!!" she bulled her way through the fleeing Pokemon, hitting the ice with her flaming tail and shattering it like so much glass. Without another word, she slung Cherubi over her shoulders and darted off once more. I only stuck around long enough to steal a glance down the side corridor. For a moment, my eyes locked with a Delcatty, then I noticed that she also had a small army at her back. That was all it took to get me to keep running.

    Ever deeper, ever darker. My uneasiness was doubling with each passing second, but now there was a huge group pursuing us, there was no way to fight our way back up. All we could do was keep on following the road down.

    Until it ended. Our group tumbled hastily into a large chamber, but the sight of it was enough for us to forget the hounding urgency that snapped at our heels. The room was massive, positively radiant from the runes and pictures crowding the walls and overflowing onto the floor. Compared to the darkness of the passageway, it was like stepping into daylight. The crystal carved into the floor all led to an impressive altar in the room's center, and beyond that... a massive, gaping hole. Even with the runelight that flooded the space, the hole was an inky black. The room itself was full of Pokemon, of Darkrai-worshippers, and perched on the altar with a triumphant smirk on her face...

    "So nice of you to join us, Mr. Blackwell. I see you brought your friends, as well."

    "What can I say, Hemlock? Our last playdate was so wonderful, I thought I'd let some others in on the fun." I slowly pushed my way to the front of the group, dimly aware that our pursuers were solemnly filing into the room behind us. Strangely enough, they simply hugged the walls, blending in with the other followers already gathered.

    "What a charming idea, Mr. Blackwell. I was thinking the same thing myself, as a matter of fact. I can see you already met most of my friends on the way here, but you have yet to meet the most important one of all, don't you? Neiro... won't you please come say hello?"

    The room was dead silent. I waited tensely, scanning the congregation that surrounded our group. ...Well, what was he waiting for? Was Neiro going to show his face or not?

    "Hello," A voice hissed from behind me, icy breath prickling my neck like actual icicles. I wheeled around sharply, stunned to find my nose inches away from a leering Gengar. A sharp gasp rose from the rescue teams; they obviously hadn't sensed him coming any more than I had. I backed away on instinct, bringing me farther from the rescue teams and closer to Hemlock. Neiro took a step forward for every one I took back, steady smile etched into his face. "So you're this Mr. Blackwell Hemlock has been talking about so much. I have to say, I expected something a little more... formidable. Nevertheless, you've proven quite a thorn in my side. No ordinary Pokemon would be both clever enough to unearth my plans and foolish enough to meddle in them."

    In spite of myself, I felt a smirk rising to my face. Mew above, this cheeky bastard just made my blood boil. I welcomed the feeling; it was easier to be angry than it was to be afraid. "Lemme get this straight. A false prophet who thinks he can awaken a dead legendary with the power of the Sleepy-Time Cult is calling me foolish? Yeah. Pot, kettle, black."

    Neiro's smile was unrelenting. I had stopped backtracking, so he had instead begun circling me. He was trying to intimidate me, I could tell; I instead turned my gaze to the others. Team Deceivers had pushed their way to the front, grim and tense. Firebrand stood behind them, her tail's flame easily twice its normal size and casting a heartening glow onto the crowd. Basil was, of course, also at the frontlines, meeting my gaze with his own intense, buggy stare. Chichane had a grip on his tail; even I could see that the little guy was just itching to charge in. The sight was enough to bring a smile to my face, even as Neiro spoke up.

    "Go ahead, Blackwell, sneer all you like. You aren't chosen like we are; we could never make you understand with words alone. Perhaps, then, the time has come for our actions to speak for us." He halted his in front of Hemlock; I turned to face him, knowing that the teams all had my back. Neiro waved a hand dismissively, calling out to the followers assembled around us. "Separate the maidens from the men and bring them forth. The new moon is waiting; tonight we make the offerings!"
  15. I lunged forward with a snarl, but Hemlock had anticipated me; she fired a Razor Leaf over Neiro's shoulder. I threw up my arms to defend myself and felt the sharp sting of the leaves biting through skin. Before I had the chance to recover, however, strong arms seized me. I found myself being dragged to the side by a Poliwrath, with Basil and the Deceivers suffering similar fates. The other Pokemon were shepherded up to the altar where Hemlock waited. Many of them looked terrified; the Deceivers were the strongest Pokemon on our side, and I suppose that they felt a little lost without my leadership. Of course, with Firebrand in the midst of their ranks, there was never any need to think they were leaderless. She stared Neiro down even as she was shoved onto the altar, and her voice rang out strong and defiant. "Big words, ghostie, but that's all they are! Twelve of us! That's all you got! I heard that loopy Bayleef of yours talking--" Firebrand met Hemlocks' steely glare with a pleasant little smile, then plunged on, "--and I happen to know you need twenty-one of us! You're nowhere near raisin' up your precious Darkrai!"

    Neiro was quiet for a moment. He slowly walked up to the altar, then laughed. "If I require somebody to point out the obvious, sacrifice, I'll do it myself. Hemlock makes thirteen, which means we'll need eight more maidens." He turned his back on Firebrand, oblivious to her fiery glares, and once again addressed the crowd. "It was not my wish to waste the souls of my beloved followers, but it seems as though I am left with no choice. However, I am not a cruel man; I will not forcibly take the souls of Darkrai's children. I leave the choice in your hands. Who amongst you will make the noblest of sacrifices, and live in eternal glory in the name of the Lord Unto the Night?"

    Surely even mindless cultists couldn't be that dense. Surely... surely I thought too highly of a mindless cultist's free will. I let out a groan as the Delcatty that had chased us earlier stepped forward, followed shortly by a Gardevoir, then a Sceptile, a Plusle, a Minun, two Haunters and a Shroomish. Solemnly, silently, they filed up to the altar and joined the rescue teams. Twenty-one Pokemon. I shot an anxious stare over to Basil. He was positively dwarfed by the Slowbro that held him. We would have to slip free somehow; just standing by and watching this happen wasn't an option. I twisted my head in the opposite direction, towards Rook, who held my gaze levelly. He gave an almost imperceptible jerk of his head towards me, then glanced over to the Cacturne holding him and raised an eyebrow.

    Rook's telepathy may have been out of commission, but I got the idea. I took a deep breath, and at the same time Rook's eyes started glowing an omnious blue, I shot an Icy Wind at the Cacturne holding him. It was enough for her to lose her grip, and Rook squirmed free, that blue glow now erupting over his body. I felt the Poliwrath that had me pinned behind torn forcibly away. The distraction was enough for the Slowbro to ease up on Basil; by the time he even noticed, Basil had slipped away and fluttered at my side. Jazz and Chichane were likewise free, with the Quagsire and Wigglytuff that held them knocked out by whatever they'd pulled. We wasted no time; the five of us made a dash for the altar. The followers around us weren't going to take that lying down. Even as we started running, they were closing in on us, trying to block our way.

    Beside me, I heard Basil scream. A Carnivine had snapped her jaws shut on his wing, and was now shaking her head wildly, as if trying to tear it right off. An Ice Punch to the side of her face forced that massive trap of hers open, and Basil shot forward like a squealing arrow, straight into the face of a Skiploom. I kicked a charging Paras out of the way and continued running, trying to reach the altar before Neiro could organize his followers. "Idiots, put them to sleep! They can't fight if they're asleep!" Whoops, too late. I suddenly found myself staring down a Lunatone in the midst of launching a Hypnosis. I ducked out of the way, more concerned with reaching the rescue teams than beating up rocks. I heard Chichane scream from somewhere to my left, but a loud "got it covered" from Jazz pushed me onwards.

    Weavile speed does have its perks; I was first to reach the altar. However, Hemlock stood in my way, her eyes gleaming wide and wild in the pale light. "Over my dead body, Blackwell! You're not going anywhere but the abyss beyond!" She reared up, ready to bring her forelegs down on me.

    I raised my claws, but before I had the chance to do anything, a voice from behind Hemlock yelled, "Aw, go blow it out your earhole, you psychotic witch!" and I threw myself flat on the ground just in time to avoid a Flamethrower. Hemlock was not so lucky; she let out a scream and flopped off the altar, desperately rolling around in hopes of extinguishing her flaming back. I locked eyes with Firebrand and grinned. She just shrugged casually. "What? She ticked me off. Now don't just stand there, get movin'!"

    Basil and the Deceivers reached the altar shortly afterwards. The rescue teams all but engulfed us into their ranks, valiantly staving off both the rushing followers and the eight sacrifices that had volunteered themselves to Neiro. I fought my way over to Sunflora, who was spitting Bullet Seeds into the fray like there was no tomorrow. Admirable, but we needed her for something more important. "Sunflora! Quick, they're gonna try and put us under! Start firing off Worry Seeds!"

    "O-oh, right!" Sunflora gasped, then turned her back on the fray and gave her head a good shake. Seeds scattered left and right. One of them hit me right in the chest. The minute it made contact, shoots erupted from it and lanced their way into my skin, anchoring the seed in place. My heart had been pounding from the rush of battle, but I swear it doubled its tempo the moment the seed landed. I couldn't tell exactly who else she'd hit, but I could see seeds on Rook and Jazz for certain. I turned back to Sunflora to congradulate her, but instead of a smiling flower, I found myself staring at a Vulpix. Sunflora was sprawled on the cold stone at our feet. Fast asleep. I lashed out on instinct, kicking the Vulpix off the altar, then backtracked into crowd, trying to reach Rook. "Sunflora's down!" I shouted over the din. "We can't rely on any more Worry Seeds!"

    Things were taking a turn for the worst. Neiro seemed to have his followers back under his control, and was rallying them together. We had left ourselves trapped on the altar; we were surrounded on all sides. Even above the battlecries and shouts, I heard Neiro roaring out an order. "Everyone, hit them with a sleep move on my command! The sooner they fall, the sooner Darkrai will arise! One, two... three!" The air became thick with Sleep Power and Spores, Hyponsis waves further distorting the field as a cacophony of Yawns, Grasswhistles, and Sings assaulted our ears. My heart kept up its rabbit-quick rhythm, far too edgy to relax or rest. All around me, Pokemon fell. All that remained were those Sunflora had seeded: Rook, Jazz, Umbreon, Firebrand, and me. Many of Neiro's followers had been hit by the crossfire and now lay slumbering and immobile. Even so, the five of us weren't enough to take down the number that remained. Even if we had been, Neiro was no longer interested in us.

    "Dream Eater, those of you that can! If you can't, then just keep the remaining ones busy!" He was going to do it. Even if it meant giving up his sleeping followers, Neiro still intended to raise Darkrai. The five of us threw ourselves at the first followers we could get our hands on, but it was an act of desperation. We gave it our best effort, but still motes of pale violet light seeped from the sleeping Pokemon, gathering into one large orb above the altar. Rook and Jazz were back to back, scything through Pokemon with staggering efficiency. Umbreon had tried to hit Gengar with a Shadow Ball, but the Roserade from earlier took the attack for him and countered with a Magical Leaf. I kicked away the Hypno I'd been facing and darted forward. She had the right idea; take out Neiro, and the followers would all be lost.

    Even when the floor is crowded with sleeping bodies, don't underestimate a Weavile. Empoleon stepped in my way and swung his massive flipper like a sword. I didn't even think; I just leapt into the air, landed on his flipper, then vaulted myself over his head. I didn't bother trying to take him down, I just kept running. I could hear him clanking behind me, but what could a Weavile do against an Empoleon? Neiro seemed to have noticed me coming, and began charging up a Focus Blast. I didn't falter--if I could get at him before he shot that thing off...

    As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about. Jazz plunged down from the sky, both feet coming down on Neiro's head with an audible 'thunk.' He didn't even pause for a second before he jumped again, this time whooshing right over my head and landing a Jump Kick on the Empoleon. In the meantime, I could see Neiro recovering, so I shot forward and backhanded him with my claws. Yeah, Assurance to the face, buddy. He reeled back, stumbling on the sleeping body of a Sunkern, but he raised his hands. I readied myself for an attack, but instead he began... chanting. "Oh noble naster, Lord Unto the Night, your sanguine servant calls you! On the night when the heavens tremble, come forth and feast on the dreams of the unworthy! Drag the ignorant and undeserving into the depths of the abyss, and guide your chosen children onward to glory!"

    All of us had heard him speaking; we all shot anything we could at him. I got in an Icy Wind, backed by Rook's Thunderbolt and Firebrand's trademark Flamethrower. Seconds later, Umbreon pounced at the same time that Jazz dove in for another Bounce. Injured as he was, Neiro was still quick enough to dive out of the way, then drive his clawed fingers into Jazz's fur. He tore out the Worry Seed implanted there with a jerk, clutching it with a fanatic gleam in his eyes. "You're too late, all of you! You'll be the first he claims for your blasphemy! Just you wait!"

    "Not interested in hearing it." Rook fired off a Shadow Ball of his own. Direct hit. Neiro staggered, then Umbreon leapt, sinking her teeth into the top of his head. Firebrand was the next to latch on, her fangs glowing red-hot as she hit him with a Fire Fang. Jazz shot me a wink, then held up a fist. The two of us darted in last, connecting with dual Ice Punches. It all proved too much; Neiro finally went down, his fist still tightly clenched around Jazz's Worry Seed. The five of us stood, staring at each other in silence. Even the followers that still stood were stock-still, utterly awed and suddenly leaderless. That was it, then...? We'd done it? Rook was the first to speak up, his voice low and soft. "...We'd better wake up the rescue teams. It would be best if we could get out of here before anyone gets the idea to get even with us."

    We had barely reached the altar when the ground beneath us began trembling. We ground to a halt, looking around in alarm. Did one of the followers use Earthquake? Our question was answered by a collective wail from the followers. Each of the ones still standing immediately dropped to the ground in a bow. But why...? No... no freaking way. I leapt off the altar, running to the edge of the massive hole at the end of the room. I couldn't see anything down there; it remained as dark and empty as ever. But then a low, ominous roar echoed through the shaking room, and a pair of glowing blue lights blinked into existance within the pit. I gasped and stepped back from the edge as a dark streak shot out from it. I barely caught a glimpse of white and orange before the dark thing plunged headfirst into the glowing orb of energy that the followers had built up with their Dream Eaters. The orb seemed to pulse for a moment, then turned a sickly dark red. It didn't remain that color for long, however, before it exploded into a hail of dark little sparks.

    Where the energy had once been, there was now a Pokemon. That same Pokemon that had emerged from the void. A strange, black creature that floated in place, a white crest emerging from his head and drifting behind him. His eyes glowed a deceptively calm sky blue from behind a strange orange collar that looked more like a giant set of jaws to me than anything. I thought that Hemlock had been a nuisance, and Neiro himself a threat... but staring down a legendary Pokemon? An honest-to-goodness god?

    Yeah, things were looking pretty grim right about now.
  16. At first, none of us moved. The fact that we were in the presence of a legendary Pokemon seemed to have rooted us all in place. Even I was just gaping up in awe. Darkrai floated there, flexing his clawlike hands slowly, the abruptly raised them and let out another low, eerie cry. As if in response, the fallen Pokemon all around us began... muttering. Bodies shifted and turned restlessly, aimless hands grasping at the air. Somebody's claws seized my ankle, so I let out a shriek and backed off. I tripped over Skutank's sleeping bulk and fell with a thud. It was like landing in the middle of a zombie movie. Before I could rise to my feet, though, I picked out a familiar voice amid the atonal groans.

    "D... Dark... help, Thierry... we... Dark..."

    Right next to me... Basil! I lifted his tiny body up, shaking him vigorously. "Basil! Basil, it's me, I'm here! Wake up! It's just a nightmare, we need you here, not... Basil, come on..." It was no good. No matter how much I shook him, Basil remained limp and muttering. It was like Rook had said... the sacrifices were left alive, but they lived our the remainder of their days in an endless nightmare. Surely it couldn't mean... Basil had to wake up again. He had to.

    "Blackwell! Forget the Mothim, we got bigger problems!" Umbreon's sharp voice brought me back to my senses. I laid Basil down and rose to my feet. Darkrai had finally decided to act; he lifted one hand and swept it dramatically. All at once, the runes around the room died out, leaving us in utter blackness. I couldn't even see the glow of Firebrand's tail. I hate to admit it, but I'm no hero. I couldn't find any of my allies, Basil was gone, I was blinded and facing down a legendary Pokemon... my instincts got the best of me; I turned and ran. Around me were the feeble moans of Darkrai's victims, the sighs of the remaining followers as they sank to the the ground...

    "Jazz! You haven't got a Worry Seed. Protect, quick!" That was Rook's voice. I drew to a halt, desparately casting my gaze around.

    "Got it!" There. I caught a brief flicker of green light as a protective barrier sprang to life. From the corner of my eye, a split-second gleam of a fire-tipped tail. To the right, golden rings and red eyes shining in the dark. The violet-blue shine of Rook's glowing eyes. The runes on the wall blinked back to life, leaving us all unscathed. The few followers that had once stood against us, however, were now felled, claimed by Darkrai. Hah, so much for chosen childred. Darkrai stared us all down with its piercing gaze, then let out another roar and shot forwards. But... none of us were standing in the direction he was going. Why...?


    "He's heading for the stairs! If he reaches Central Square...!" I started running... the best I could, anyway, with Pokemon sprawled all over.

    "Leave it to me!" Umbreon got there first. She leapt in front of Darkrai, her eyes gaining a sinister red glow as she snarled. "Even a god's not immune to a Mean Look!" And Umbreons weren't immune to the wrath of dark-type legendaries, either. Darkrai must have realized that she had trapped him in here for as long as she was standing, so he lashed out with one arm, swatting her against the wall with a horrible crunch. Umbreon landed on her feet, but even I could tell the blow had left her swaying.

    "Stay back, Umbreon, we need you alive from now on! C'mon, boys, it's our turn now!" Firebrand let loose a Flamethrower, which hit Darkrai square in the back. He seemed utterly unfazed, but the look he gave Firebrand was enough to give me goosebumps. He shot after her with startling speed and swiped her with the back of one arm. Firebrand was determined to give Darkrai hell, though; no sooner had he made contact than she buried her teeth in his flesh, claws digging in for dear life. He let out an aggrivated roar and started swinging wildly, trying to shake her loose. Well, no way we were gonna leave her on her own!

    "Let's go, Weavile!" I heard Jazz call to me, moments before a Thunderbolt from Rook struck Darkrai. I grinned and charged as Jazz took a running leap. He hit high with a Jump Kick to the side of the head; I came from the opposite side, hitting low with a Brick Break. Darkrai let out a screech and hit the ground, finally flinging Firebrand loose. She let out a cry as she flew through the air, but Rook caught her with a Psychic and let her down easy. Jazz, in the meantime, was on top of Darkrai, throwing punches like there was no tomorrow. It looked like he was gaining the upper hand for a moment, but then Darkrai seized him in both hands and threw him. Rook was too slow to make the catch this time; Jazz kissed the floor, and Darkrai was up again. With his back to me. I darted in without thinking, digging my claws into his back and clinging while I shot off the strongest Icy Wind I could manage.

    "Damnit, Weavile, what are you doing? Did you forget you're a total pansy?" I could hear Firebrand yelling, moments before a burst of indigo-blue flame exploded just below me. So Firebrand had switched to Dragon Rages now? "Let go! He'll knock you out with one hit, you moron!" Another burst of flame, this time followed by a Magical Leaf and a Water Pulse. Darkrai was flailing wildly, torn between trying to reach me and pry me off and stopping the three Pokemon that were firing off attacks at it. As much as I hated to admit it, Firebrand was right. I couldn't take on a legendary. None of us would be able to take too many hits from him. Losing wasn't an option, though; we couldn't let him reach Central Square. We had to seal him away again.

    Somehow, in between holding on and spitting out Icy Winds, my gaze landed on Basil. ...No. Sealing him away wasn't good enough. We had to destroy Darkrai... somehow. But there was no way that five of us could pull that off...! Okay, think, Thierry, think... when muscle's not enough, the mind steps in. There had to be a way. Of course, it's pretty hard to focus when you're hitching a ride on a flailing legendary and you narrowly missed having your tail set aflame. Darkrai was always happy to oblige, though; he threw himself at the wall, back-first, crushing me against the stone and forcing my grip loose. I hit the ground near Umbreon with a groan. Firebrand hadn't been kidding around; I felt like I'd just been mowed over by a Snorlax. Still... I had some fight left in me, and I had a perfectly functional mind. I was seeing this through to the last.

    "Rook!" I forced air into my aching chest and yelled, though the sound was weak and ragged in between my coughing for breath. "Rook! Can you Trace?"

    "What are you talking about, Weavile? This ain't no time for doodles!" Firebrand fairly screamed at me as she narrowly dodged a Pursuit from Darkrai.

    "I meant his ability! Rook, are you a Tracer?" I yelled out in frustration, forcing myself back on my feet.

    "Yeah, he is! Tell me you have an idea, please!" Jazz answered for Rook, who had been completely winded by a Quick Attack.

    "I think I do! Jazz, get ready to Magic Coat when I give the word. Firebrand, we're gonna get Darkrai to try and put us under!"

    "Are you crazy?! That's the last thing we want! Anyway, we got Worry Seeds, why--"

    "Would it kill you to just shut up and do it?!" I'm not always so sharp, but it was very hard to stay patient in a situation like this. With one hand pressed over my aching ribs, I ran in close, and was relieved to see Firebrand following my lead. The two of us leapt, scoring a hit with our claws, then backed away. "Huh... they call you Lord Unto the Night, huh? You're not that intimidating. Quick Attack, really?" I backed away from a swipe from Darkrai's claws, trying to goad him further.

    Firebrand had finally caught on to what I was doing, it seemed, as she spat out a Flamethrower at him to draw his attention and pulled a face. "He don't look like a god of the night to me. He needed a whole army of followers t'put the sacrifices to sleep, didn't he? He couldn't put us under! He's real crappy at his job, ain't he?"

    "Hah... you're not kidding!" I lured Darkrai back my way with an Icy Wind and smirked. "He did try to put us to sleep, didn't he? Wow... Sunkerns had better luck than he did!"

    That was it. Darkrai let out a scream of fury and swung his arms. "Jazz, now!" I screamed as the runes surrounding the room went dark, plunging us back into the inky black. Only... all the darkness seemed to be sucked into one spot, almost like it were little more than a curtain that was being pulled away. The place where Jazz once stood was now covered by an orb of swirling black, blue, and indigo. In a sudden burst, the darkness erupted forth, surrounding Darkrai himself. He let out another cry of raw, wild rage as the dark smothered his form. We all watched in silence as it receded, leaving Darkrai sprawled and shuddering on the floor.

    I turned towards Rook and gasped. His eyes were wide and unseeing, his face a mixture of shock and awe. "I... I'm seeing into his mind. All the sacrifices, they're... they're fighting him too. I... something's leeching out of him, into me. Thierry, how did you...?"

    "Call it a hunch. Do any of you know Dream Eater?"

    "I do." Umbreon limped forward.

    Jazz stepped forth too, then jerked his head at Rook. "All the Deceivers do. Lemme guess, Weavile... suck him dry?"

    I nodded. "Drain him of everything he's got."

    Which turned out to be an awful lot for one Pokemon. In the end, we had a massive orb of violet energy dancing above Darkrai's prone form. Jazz looked over to me, waiting for orders. "Okay... let it go. Wake these Pokemon up."

    The three Pokemon all dropped their arms, and the light scattered into countless tiny balls of light. They settled like snowflakes, sinking into the chests of the sleeping Pokemon scattered around them. Silently, anxiously, we waited... nothing. The victims all stopped their uneasy struggling, but none of them woke up. I could feel the others watching me, so I turned to Rook. He still had that faraway gleam in his eyes. "Rook... tell me what you see right now."

    "Darkrai... he's weak, he can't even get up. All the others... they're tired too, but they're here. They're still sleeping, Thierry."

    "Then it's not good enough. Rook... you only stop Tracing when a battle is over, right?" I turned to Darkrai with a snarl. "Guess that shows us this battle isn't over." I stepped onto Darkrai's chest and reared one hand back.

    "Word to the wise, Darkrai. Dead gods should stay dead." I shot my hand downward. My claws pierced right through. Darkrai suddenly jolted awake, hands clamping around my throat. His grip soon grew weak; with a final low, gurgling cry, Darkrai... dissolved. He left no body, just blew away like dust back into the dark pit he had crawled from. I stood where I was, numb and shaking.

    "...He's dead."

    I didn't even register whose voice it was. Whoever had spoken, though, sounded the way I felt: absolutely shocked. I almost think I would have stayed like that all night, in some sort of awed trance, if it weren't for a tiny, sleepy voice.


    "Basil." I lifted my head to see him sitting up, rubbing his owlish eyes with a smile. My head dropped again as I let out a noise. I wasn't quite sure if it was me laughing or crying. Mew above, I couldn't even believe any of this.

    "Thierry... Thierry, it's okay. We won!" Basil was fluttering at my side in no time, his usual sunny self even in this dark place. "You should have seen it, Thierry... we were all giving it our best against Darkrai, and it was so hard to see, and Neiro and Hemlock were there and they tried to stop us but I hit Hemlock in the face with my wing and she got a nosebleed and... Thierry, really, we're okay, it's all over."

    "You clueless twit..." I laughed and threw an arm around Basil, quite nearly dropping him out of the sky.

    "Heh... pretty slick, Weavile. For a pansy, anyway." Firebrand punched my arm and grinned. "Not too many guys can say they slew a legendary, huh? Now if you'll excuse me... I think Meowth and Skutank are awake."

    "I didn't just--" When she said it like that... slew a legendary? Me? Runty little Weavile with big ears? Anyway, I had hardly acted alone. I glanced over to Rook and Jazz, who were supporting a very sleepy-looking Chichane.

    "The important thing is that everyone's okay." Rook spoke, nodding to me. "I know you'll want to bring Neiro and Hemlock back with you, but if I may... not all these Pokemon are deserving of punishment. The only thing they're truly guilty of is needing something to believe in."

    "Yeah, that and kidnapping innocent Pokemon and trying to feed them to a dead god." Chichane grumbled, earning a laugh from the rest of us. "Look, whatever. You look like crap, Weavile, and Darkrai or no, I got a feeling you're not made for this brawny stuff. You leave Neiro and friends to us. Cult members are like Mareeps, they'll follow if their leader does... and with five angry rescue teams bearing a grudge against him, Neiro's gonna follow."

    Heh. I smiled at that, then glanced down to Basil. "Sounds good to me. C'mon, Basil. It's time we headed home."
  17. So that's the long and short of it. My life in Central Square started off with a real bang. I know it sounds implausible, but I did my best to tell it honestly, without embellishing or exaggerating. Not all cases are like that, but Basil said that makes it all the more important that I keep a record of this case. The kid's a bit hopeless at times, but sometimes he comes up with surprisingly brilliant stuff. (NOTE: I am NOT hopeless. Thierry, you owe me like five jars of honey for typing out all the times you called me dim. I am a genius in dictating moth form. Or... actually, am I the one dictating if I'm typing what he's saying? Which one of us is the dictator? Wait. We're not dictators. I swear. Oops, Thierry's still talking. I hope you don't proofread this, Thierry, because I totally missed that last part.) Something something something, and there isn't always a happy ending in the real world. I guess we should be grateful.

    Most of Neiro's followers claimed that they were under a form of Hypnosis the whole time. It seemed pretty unlikely to me, but the authorities bought it. They probably didn't want to have hundreds of guilty Pokemon on their hands. The only ones who were convicted were Neiro and Hemlock, who stood by that crazy ghost to the end. Birds of a feather, I suppose. The two of them were banished. If they ever come within fifty miles of Central Square, then any Pokemon who sees them is obligated to either attack or report it to the nearest rescue team.

    Speaking of rescue teams... each of them made it back intact. The teams have been honored with medals, and Basil and I were lucky enough to be included. The medals all look very exotic, though I can't for the life of me decipher what "Hearthome Normal Rank Cool Champion" means. It seems that Quid was the one who supplied the medals, I'll have to ask sometime. I remain on good terms with all the rescued team members, Teams Deceivers and Troublemakers especially. As a matter of fact, Firebrand has invited the two of us to stop by for lunch and sample her world-famous barbequed Pidgey. I hope the neighbours aren't Pidgeots.

    As for that lucrative reward Gypsy promised the teams would give me? You've probably forgotten about that, but I figure I should at least bring some sort of mention to the whole reason I took the case in the first place. Well... a Pokemon should never reveal his salary, but we'll be able to afford Combee honey (NOTE: YES) and fresh eggs for a while. I won't say any more than that. What I will say is that my door is always open to those who need my services. If ever you find yourself with a mystery on your hands, just remember a little cave outside of Central Square with a very sloppy sign out front. You may have trouble reading it, but with any luck, you'll recognize the name: Thierry Blackwell, Private Eye.


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