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Mt. Moon: Old Tunnel Entrance

Lys’ statement about always carrying rock climbing gear had Ella widen her eyes slightly. Sure there were trainers who packed more than less, but carrying such situational equipment everywhere was overkill in Ella’s eyes. Renting or, if that option wasn’t available, buying and selling to a trainer on the other side of the mountain was easy enough. There was a bit of a hassle with securing climbing gear in small towns, yes, and finding buyers in more remote locations took longer than she’d liked at times, but both of those annoyances were still better than lugging climbing gear everywhere. Plus, there was the matter of her poor backpack, which, despite all its stylishness, was never the hardiest specimen. Lugging climbing gear around would utterly wreck it, and she was far too attached to the upsides of its impracticality to give up on it now.

That all said, she had to thank her lucky stars that she’d been trapped with someone as overprepared as Lys. Having someone like herself around might be easier on her mind, but it was times like these that reminded her how useful diverse personalities were. Even if her gut instinct was to dismiss most of the offered ideas in favor of just pushing ahead in hopes of finding an intact path somewhere along the tunnels, her head told her to think on the ideas anyway.

“Catching some wilds around here might actually be helpful,” Ella said, looking to Sydnee, then to the others. “Pokemon like Geodude or Sandshew might know the tunnels better than us, so we could ask them to point us in the right direction, or even to an exit. And, if we manage to catch something bigger, like an Onix, digging our way out might actually be a possibility.”

She was getting a bit ahead of herself here, but she was pretty confident in the ideas. Still, to reel herself back a bit…

“Completely agreed on the human ladder if things don’t work out though. PE wasn’t my strong suit in school, but if it’s to make sure Sydnee survives, I’ll do my best. Anything for the egg,” she joked, ending with a giggle.

Keaton Plasse

Keaton passed on the biscuits, knowing that her nervousness wouldn’t mesh well with a full stomach considering where they were going. Instead, she focused on the smell of the biscuits and the others’ smiles as they ate, trying to find comfort in those. She’d known she was the anxious type, but she’d done well with curbing anxiety with adrenaline up until now. That said, she also hadn’t been in control of the situations she’d been placed in up until now. Salamandra, Arianna, the Loading Bay gunmen—they had all appeared suddenly, unexpectedly. Now, with all the research and planning that had gone into this, Keaton was feeling the full brunt of doubt. If things went wrong here—if she’d made a mistake, failed to account for some unknown factor that she should’ve known about—there would be no second chance. This was it. Now or never, life or death, and she prayed to god or whatever hell was in the starry void that she’d done enough.

Nic’s mention of codenames threw her for a loop, and she stared openly at him as he spoke, dubbing her Professor Xavier. Her brain told her the fit was a stretch, but her power told her it fit, so she stayed quiet for a few seconds, trying to come up with something to say. Thankfully, Natalie spoke for her, voicing her thoughts more directly than Keaton could’ve managed at the moment, and Keaton shot her a smile for that.

“Yeah, that and most of those names are longer than ours anyway. Maybe for our next mission,” she said, attempting a lame joke that she was pretty sure fell flat.

Resisting the urge to pick at her nails, she focused on Eli’s words, nodding at the part about the napalm and smoke bombs. She’d gone over the risks with Nic during planning, specifically highlighting that it was always smoke bombs over napalm unless the group was in a spot where explosions couldn’t make things worse, but Nic had already known that. With Eli reemphasizing the point now, Keaton knew there was no way Nic could forget.

The landscape under the manhole was both what Keaton had expected and not. She’d expected the dark and damp, the rats and grime, but she hadn’t expected the not completely offensive smell. Another moment of thought, though, had her realize that they were probably in a side tunnel not directly connected to the tunnels she was thinking of, and she was glad for it. Still, she kept her mind off the smell and the state of her stomach, glancing behind her to make sure the group was getting in fine. Lynn was a concern without her powers, and though Keaton knew her thoughts on pity and little bitches, it was better safe than sorry for this mission.

Apart from looking a bit affected by the smell, though, Lynn looked fine, so Keaton focused on looking around at the tunnels as she fished her flashlight out. A click turned the light on, and she pointed the beam around, noting rats skittering out of the way as she did. Rats were good, meant that this part of the tunnels was deserted and maybe even forgotten. Or not.

Packet’s mention of escaped prisoners froze her in her spot, and she quickly redirected the beam of her flashlight down at her feet, looking to Packet with wide eyes. A nervous, hyperadrenalinated part of her wanted to snap at him, maybe even yell a little. Why hadn’t he mentioned this before? What part of “coming in prepared” did he not understand, and how in the world had he survived for so long doing what he did if he was this dumb? The more sensible—and perhaps more nervous—side of her, however, held her in place, and she managed a slow exhalation after a moment, attempting to calm herself. Getting mad wouldn’t do anyone any good, and everyone was counting on her to be level-headed, so she would be.

She continued her patterned breathing as Packet started voicing doubts over their pathing. Having seen the maps he was referencing, she knew he was right, and that only made things worse. That Packet had been around here before made it hard to believe that he’d provided the wrong maps, but the alternatives were worse. Had they been made? And how had the Staff changed the tunnels so quickly, if they’d changed them at all?

The sneaking feeling of helplessness was setting Keaton on edge, and she attempted some hasty blind checks with her powers. Such checks were like shots in the dark, and Keaton had long learned to stake nothing on them. Still, they offered her reassurance and guidance when she had nothing, and the former alone was encouraging enough to have her attempt them now.

The tunnel to their right was nondescript, and Keaton’s power gave her nothing when she prodded it about dangers, risks, and the “right path”. It was the same for the right-split tunnel, but the tunnel splitting to the left gave her something—something weird. Risky. Not dangerous, or was it? Her power was coming up empty, and she wrestled with blind questions for a moment longer until an unexpected question—whether they had time to spare—gave her a hard answer. No.

“Y-yeah.” She cleared her throat, nodding at Lynn and tracing the girl’s gaze to find another deadpan answer. Yes. “We need to go. There’s something out there. Hunch.”

Unclenching her hands, she looked around at the group, trying to find a mental foothold. Priorities. What were they?

Eli’s attempt to reassure the group fell a bit flat with Keaton, but Keaton managed to use the attempt as motivation to force herself to calm down. Because she had to. Because they were counting on her.

“I don’t think we should split up. If whatever’s out there finds us—we should stick together.” She held Eli’s gaze. Eli was calm, and so was she. “Our options are right split or straight right. Left split feels weird. Don’t know why.” Her words were coming in staccato and she hated it. “The other two are the same. I think. But we have three right votes, so let’s go right.” Was that risky? She couldn’t be sure, but she didn’t want to stick around and find out what the darkness held.

She glanced around at the group, her gaze stopping on Packet. “You should head back. The maps were wrong, and we're probably going to get lost down here.” The concept of a filter came back to her briefly, but she brushed it off. If Packet wanted in, he was in. If not, he could back out now.

“Let’s go,” she said after another, quicker glance around the group. The maps were wrong. The plan was wrong. What else—how much else—was wrong?

Mt. Moon: Group Campfire

Ella held Sydnee’s gaze as the girl offered to let her hold the egg. Part of her wanted to accept. Badly so. She’d get to touch an egg, after all, or at least look it over from inches away rather than feet. Another part of her wanted to reject the offer, laugh it off as if Sydnee hadn’t guessed the interest behind her gaze. But, those two parts aside, Ella knew Sydnee was right when she suggested waiting on the egg, and after another second of hesitation—an egg!—Ella nodded, offering the girl a grateful smile before tuning back into the escape plan.

“Hey, we’re in this together! Wait up!” she called after she’d recovered from Lys’ sudden break from the group. Someone was a lot more headstrong than she’d let on, which Ella was mostly grateful for. “What if you get lost, or if you run into wild Pokemon? Even if we split up, we should split into pairs. Right?”

Her Pokemon were hot on her heels as she looked behind her for agreement, her pace brisk behind Lys, and she brushed off the feather of irritation as she registered Lys’ longer legs and faster pace. Despite Ella’s heeled boots, Lys was still noticeably taller, which made sense since Ella had limited herself to two inches for the sake of her feet long-term. Still, she didn’t appreciate how quickly Lys was creating distance between them despite her best efforts to close it, and she was relieved when she saw the taller girl stop.

“A sign?” Ella walked towards the dusty stand, giggling as Char coughed from the dust. “You okay?” she asked, registering the thinly-veiled suspicion Fabs aimed at the Charmander in her peripheral vision. Though friendly, Fabs had issues with sharing, but they weren’t big enough to warrant action.

Seeing Lys snap a picture of the map with her phone, Ella grinned. “Smart! Don’t mind if I do,” she said, flashing the taller girl a grin as she fished her own phone out and did the same. The more copies the better, and considering how abandoned this part of the cave was, Ella was willing to bet that the map she’d been referencing wouldn’t help her much here.

“Well, I hope they don’t go nowhere. I’d hate to walk for hours and find a dead end,” she said, answering Lys’ spoken thoughts with a friendly smile. Then, turning back to the map, she tipped her head, frowning. “What are those weird dashes?” Her eyes drifted to the map legend in the corner, and she mouthed an “oh”. “Ladders. Of wood?”

She frowned, glancing at Lys. Abandoned wooden ladders didn't inspire confidence, and she didn’t particularly want to die playing ladder rung roulette.

Aedre Charbonnet

Mesalon City: Gym || @Luckyblackcat@Zanavy

While Ty’s battle with Lan showed his inexperience, it also showed how strong the bond between him and his Pokemon had already gotten. He knew their moves and tics, knew how best to lead them in battle, and though Aedre could say she knew the same of her Pokemon, a part of her was sure that it was very much not the same.

Aedre clapped enthusiastically with the rest of the audience as Lan awarded Ty his badge, hesitantly searching herself for jealousy behind her smile. She’d decided she wanted to try training her Pokemon too, after all, and badges were a part of every trainer’s journey. Despite knowing that, though, she found no ounce of envy or negativity inside, which relieved her until she realized that really, she should be jealous. If she wanted to be a trainer, she needed drive, needed some sort of competitive spirit to keep up with people like Ty, and the fact that she had none… It meant she really wasn’t cut out to be a trainer.

A glance at Amber, who looked all professional interest and zero jealousy either, relieved Aedre, but she couldn’t shake that small voice in her head that put her down for her lack of drive as they regrouped with Ty. She needed to push herself to get better, both for her Pokemon and for her future, considering what might lay down the road. Whoever had taken the package from her likely wouldn’t give it up without a fight, and if she wanted to right that mistake, she needed to get stronger.

“Yep, I’ve got everything!” she said when Amber asked, hoping her smile was bright enough to hide her thoughts. She’d been told before that her emotions tended to show on her face, which she hadn’t thought to mind much until now. On a day to day basis, lab assistant Aedre had nothing to hide. Aspiring trainer Aedre, however, was racking up secret insecurities every few minutes.

When Amber spoke to a girl nearby, Aedre looked over, smiling when she recognized Alexis. She didn’t know the girl well, and what came to mind were Alexis’ interactions with Sophia, but even she could see that Alexis was missing her earlier bluster.

“Good luck!” she called, waving goodbye at the blonde girl in the dress. While part of her felt she should ask whether Alexis wanted them to stick around and watch, another part was eager to get a move on. Watching all these trainer battles was exciting, and she was learning lots, but more than that she wanted a chance to call all her Pokemon out and walk around outside. Maybe she’d get into a battle with some wilds, maybe train and work on tactics she could use in the next battle she got in because she would get in one. Eventually. So, she didn’t suggest asking, settling for looking between Amber and Ty instead.

“Let’s go,” she said, her tone gentle. “Sophia and Oscar are probably waiting.”


DB, Ferris, and Týfurkh

Collab with: @Jerkchicken@Fetzen@Pezz570

“Fine, fine. Just don’t keep us waiting too long.” He said as he defiantly refused to eat.

Time would pass as he waited for Týfurkh to finish.”So are we ready to go?” The man would say coolly. He was ready to explore these tunnels and see if there could be anything gained from this exercise. Truthfully he was hoping for yet another exit/entrance than the one they were shown.

”Yes I’d say so. So which direction do you want to go ?”

“Let’s scout the tunnels on the outer perimeter first,” Ferris suggested. Always taking the left or rightmost path meant reaching the wall of the Kharu’s domain at some point, and perhaps finding some paths out on the way. Looking down the tunnel to the door where he’d exited the dining room, he made a turn or split in the tunnel further down.

“Let’s go this way,” he said, turning towards the tunnel leading the other way from their sleeping quarters. If there were secrets in these tunnels, they’d be placed away from the guests.

“Sounds good to me. Either direction is fine as we’re trying to be through so it’ll all get explored eventually right?” The man would say to Ferris. It would be expedient to go with Ferris’s suggestion. Get to the outer area first and then move inwards. Hopefully they wouldn’t need to go too inwards as that would mean crossing paths with these dubious allies.

Ferris nodded, leading the way down the tunnels. With the crystal jade candle he’d gotten earlier, he was able to light their way through the darkness, refusing help from the slaves they passed. Down the hallway they went, the faintly-lit room up ahead revealing itself to be a kitchen. Slaves bustled around the room, tending to pots and fires as others prepared ingredients on the side. Their faces were rather devoid of emotion as they worked, making it difficult to tell what they were thinking, or if they were thinking at all.

“They’re treated better than most slaves,” Ferris commented as they paused by the doorway. “Better trained too.”

”They are still slaves though and I very much dislike the fact.” Týfurkh commented on the view, holding his voice low enough so only his companions could listen. ”What boggles me most is how they got all those resources here and, maybe even more importantly, why. Wouldn’t the surface be a nicer place overall ? I mean… the madmen there haven’t been around long enough for all of this to be built in order to get out of their way, have they ?”

Ferris nodded. The concept of a slave was a low one, and the stigmatisms that came with it made the situation seem worse than it was, though Ferris doubted they’d seen it all.

“Being underground offers secrecy and mobility,” he noted in a similarly low tone as they passed the kitchen. “They could come up from anywhere in the city, provided they dig the tunnel.”

The next room along the hallway appeared to be a storage room, with baskets, pots, and vases of varying sizes lining the floor and shelves. A few slaves were inside, poring over the supplies, though without any hint of meaning to keep a written record of their supplies. Were they looking for something, then, or were they counting and making mental note of the stock?

“Maybe this is easier for them,” Ferris suggested. “It seems like it’s their choice to stay underground. Theirs or the Kharu’s.”

“Truthfully I think there’s some sort of criminal operation operating here using these tunnels.
They can easily evade the notice of the authority figures here real easily. And no doubt with the Cult running around, that this is also helping them from having the Cult attack them.” The man would say to the two. He just wondered what exactly they were doing to make money now that the cult was controlling the town.

One of the nearby slaves passing by looked to the man as he spoke and frowned. “Freshlanders.” She said, walking away with the shake of the head.

Ferris watched the slave pass, noting the word she’d muttered. “Freshlanders.” It was clearly a label meant for the three of them, but perhaps it applied to all of Salencia’s residents. The word seemed to imply that the slave came from a place where the land or waters were not fresh, but there was little way to tell exactly what she’d meant.

“What do you mean, ‘Freshlanders’?” he asked, raising his voice a bit so that it’d reach the slave, but not so much that it’d echo too far down the halls. It wasn’t meant to be a rude question, and he didn’t think it rude, but he was interrupting the slave so he’d understand if she ignored him. At the same time, though, he was mostly expecting an answer, if only because he knew himself to be a guest and therefore somewhat more important than a slave’s time if his usual experiences with slaves applied here.

The women paid the mercenary little more than a shrug. “No manners.” She said as she turned a corner and disappeared from sight.

The words took Ferris aback for a second since he hadn’t expected the slave to answer back so brusquely, but he took it in stride, turning to DB and Týfurkh. “They retain more individuality than I’d expect of slaves treated poorly.” Then, focusing on DB, he nodded. “These tunnels are definitely well-suited for covert operations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if trafficking slaves is one of those. But, I’m glad that they’re the ones in control of these tunnels instead of the cult. Having to deal with an underground army would be difficult, if not impossible if you aren’t aware of the full extent of the tunnels.”

”If I were you I wouldn’t even dare to think about dealing with any kind of army in the first place, not even if this was my own home.” Týfurkh added with concern in his voice. He didn’t feel very comfortable with this whole underground thing as well, but wasn’t sure if Ferris’ expectancy in terms of the Pactmakers’ capabilities wasn’t an even more serious threat than that. He kept his voice low so as to deny any eavesdroppers to do their dirty work. ”If we stick to our original plan to go outwards I’d say this is the right tunnel to go.” and he pointed towards… Well towards what ? Just another entrance, basically. Speaking of ‘North’, ‘South’, ‘East’ and ‘West’ felt a little weird in this underground maze for Týfurkh. ”Does anybody have a candle and some means of lighting it ? I mean a real candle with a real flame, not a jade candle. Got an idea…”

Ferris nodded at Týfurkh’s comment about armies. As a mercenary, his scope of focus had mostly been individual or limited to a small party. He had not, however, forgotten about the might of armies and nations, and coming to the Nation of Sight had reminded him again. There’d been no shortage of the visible effects of war along his path through the Nation of Touch, and even the country folk enjoyed the novel conversation topic. While he felt out of touch listening to talks of drafts and militias, he’d paid attention to what snippets he’d heard of the war, if only because he’d be heading into a potential war zone. The machinations of nations worked on the larger scale, but their effects trickled down all the same.

“The right tunnel it is,” he said, noting Týfurkh’s confusion. The connection between Týfurkh’s pointing, looking confused, and asking for a candle didn’t click for Ferris, but he figured it wasn’t a big deal. Jade candles weren’t a great source of light, but they were a helpful and freely offered source that Ferris didn’t mind. Trying to navigate the dark by touch and smell alone was much harder, after all, and he’d done it enough to appreciate most sources of light.

“I’ve only got this jade candle and some scented oils. If either of you has something to burn and something to start the burning with, we could get a fire going for a bit.” he offered. Týfurkh didn’t strike him as the type to make meaningless suggestions, so he figured he’d trust the archer’s judgment.

“Would this work? ” The man broke his silence as he slyly produced an oil lamp with a manicured wick. Laying it on the floor, he’d kneel and light the lamp. The oil lamp would produce a warm light compared to the “cool” light of the Jade candle. “Lead the way.” He’d say passing the lamp to Ferris.

Týfurkh smiled a little. One could even argue if it was a slight smile of supremacy as apparently none had got the true reasoning behind his request. ”I’m not interested in the light or the warmth, the jade candle does enough of that. I’m interested in the movement of the open flame, so please hold still for a moment and don’t speak. I doubt it’s possible to perfectly seal such an extensive network of tunnels, so we might have a very slight draft of air around us without noticing. If it is present it will probably lead us to the nearest exit and guide our way.”

Týfurkh’s words prompted a nod from Ferris. It made sense, and his statement made Ferris wish he’d thought of it first. But, there was no use dwelling on that, and Ferris raised the candle as asked, waiting silently for the tip of the flame to settle. After another few seconds, its left and right flickers stilled into a steady tilt towards the tunnel on their left, and Ferris looked in the indicated direction, not making out much in the darkness.

“Left then,” he said, glancing between DB and Týfurkh before leading the way down the dark hallway, one candle in each hand.

The sound of echoing footsteps came from down the hall, behind the group. "Have I become your errand girl now?" A woman’s voice said. Her words sounding almost musical. "I find your requests growing increasingly dull."

“Insolent women. One would think you would be more respectful to the one who liberated you from servitude.” Remarked a peckish voice.

"Liberated?" The woman laughed. "Oh, Talon… I wonder are those your words or that of your master?”

“Mine, of-”

"You give him far too much credit." The woman continued, cutting Talon off. "Your master did not liberate me, he simply empowered me."

"It’s true, Talon." Pitched in a third voice. "I did merely empower the girl. Though, one would think she would still be grateful? Mayhaps I supported the wrong one then… It would be a shame if history had need of repeating itself."

Svephraey and the Kharu-Natjer, with Talon perched on his shoulder, turned the corner, entering the same corridor as DB, Ferris and Týfurkh. The Kharu-Natjer’s stare turned immediately towards the three explorers, almost as if he expected them to be there. Talon’s gaze followed soon after. Svephraey, however, seemed too caught up in the conversation to notice. It was only after the Kharu-Natjer came to a halt that she noticed their new company.

"While I do not restrict my guests from exploring these ancient tunnels, I do request that they not light any fires in areas without ventilation." The Kharu-Natjer said.

Svephraey looked from the group to the Kharu-Natjer, her eyes narrowing with a hint of annoyance. Both Talon and the Kharu-Natjer seemed to ignore the look.

“Foolishness.” Talon said while making a clicking sound with his beck.

"Foolishness?" The Kharu-Natjer repeated, his gaze wandering from the men to the flickering flame. "Perhaps… though also clever." His lips curved into that smile of his. The one which did not meet his eyes.

Ferris’ eyes narrowed slightly as the Kharu turned the corner with his familiar and Svephraey. He and the others had fallen silent when they heard voices, and judging by the way the Kharu immediately looked to them, the slave owner had known they’d be here. His knowing gaze, which was unafraid to admit that he’d known of their presence, was as unsettling as his smile. Though Ferris had seen many smiles in his years, it was the personal ones—the ones that said they knew something that he did not—that stood out to him. He was a hunter, and as such he tended to have the upper hand when it came to the flow of information. Under the Kharu’s gaze, though, he felt closer to prey.

With a quick breath, Ferris blew out the wax candle, lowering it in favor of the jade one. The Kharu-Natjer nodded in appreciation. “We were trying to figure out which way to head,” he said, though he had a sneaking suspicion that the Kharu already knew that. “You could guide us instead, though.”

It was a straightforward ask, and Ferris was aware that it could come off as rude, but it was the one he defaulted to. Mincing words was only helpful when he wasn’t caught in the act, so he stood firm, meeting the Kharu’s eyes solidly.

"A tour?" The Kharu-Natjer asked, brow raised with amusement. "Is that what you seek?"

”Why beat around the bush." Svephraey interjected, looking to the Kharu-Natjer. "You know just as well as I that these pups are sniffing around for answers. Is that not why you led us here?”

The Kharu-Natjer looked to Svephraey and smiled. Svephraey’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Well then, now seems like as good a time as ever to take my leave.” Svephraey continued. ”After all, I have gratitude to be showing, don’t I? Best I be getting started on gathering your requested sl-" -The Kharu-Natjer gave her a sharp look- "-ew of supplies." Svephraey continued, undeterred by the man’s menacing glare.

Svephraey eyed the Kharu-Natjer with delight, as the man quickly smothered the look. "Yes," The man agreed. "Best be off with you." Paying the group one last glance, Svephraey gave the Kharu-Natjer a nod and took her leave.

Talon hunched forward, his silvery feathers alternating back and forth from a ruffled and smooth state. Looking eager to follow, he trailed the woman with hungry eyes. A stern gaze from the Kharu-Natjer seemed to put an end to that, as the familiar quickly eased up on his perch.

The Kharu-Natjer then turned his attention back towards the group. "So," He said. "Where is it you would like to go?"

The man known as DB had stayed quiet during the meeting with these people. More importantly he succeeded into not rolling his eyes when referred to as “pups” by that woman. They would be asked what they were looking for. “The exit of course.”

"These tunnels have many exits leading all across the town. Is there any exit in particular that you would like to go?"

Ferris paused. “Is there one that leads to the clocktower?” He suspected that there likely was, just as there was probably an exit that led to or nearly to every important building or landmark near town.

"There is one nearby, yes," The Kharu-Natjer said, "but that is in an area closely monitored and controlled by the Cult. So it is an exit we tend to leave alone."

”How about showing us all the exits ?” Týfurkh, of course, was aware that the number he was talking about could be quite large, but so was his degree of disappointment when it came to certain statements. The word ‘pups’ had not slipped through his attention,and neither had the statement that lighting a fire was a clever move despite being against some rules. These, in themselves, seemed rather ridiculous and probably were nothing but a pretense. This was a stone tunnel, nothing could burn here, and if a flame was considered to be too oxygen-consuming then what about the growing number of persons walking around here ? ”If we are going to make a tour then I suggest we make it a big and thorough one.” he added, trying to remain calm.

The giant couldn’t resist to stare a little at Talon though. This creature might not be talking about metal men sitting on donkeys, but still Sil had already won the competition about his sympathy. If a stare had been capable of putting a nail into somebody, the feathered familiar would have found himself dead on the wall now. His conscience reminded him about having tried to convince DB to stay here just… half an hour earlier maybe ? If put into that same situation again he probably would be a bit less eager to do the same thing now despite his rational thinking giving confirmation that all arguments used were still valid.

"I’ll happily show you one or two," The Kharu-Natjer said, "but all of them? That is a tall order for someone such as I."

The Kharu-Natjer nodded for the three to follow as he led away from the direction they had initially been heading and around the passage from which he had appeared.

”This labyrinth isn't unique you know." The Kharu-Natjer said after a short period of silence. "Since coming to these lands of yours, I've identified several other locales which appear to have tunnels hidden under its structure. Sadly the entrances to many of these sister tunnels have been sealed away. Some have even collapsed. This town, however, was one of the unique few. Nearly all of its entrances were left intact.

"It was an odd thing to find such passages, let alone to find them unknown to the ones above. They had... a sort of protection on them. A ward which encouraged onlookers to turn a blind eye... This magic... It is a special kind. A magic only a rare few can use."
The Kharu-Natjer paused, looking to Talon. The familiar was to shift uncomfortably on the man’s shoulder. The bird paid the Kharu-Natjer a quick glance. Then with a snap of the beak and a quick ruffle and smoothing of his feathers, Talon seemed to settle down. The Kharu-Natjer continued speaking soon after.

"Such powers are not unknown to my kind. Though we tend to see more natural forms of this power rather than artificial. In my homeland, it tends to seep forth from the land and the creatures that dwell there. It is more rare in your land, however. The most you see of it here typically comes from The Being of Many Names and also... well..." The Kharu-Natjer looked to his shadow. Its shaded form reached unnaturally towards a nearby crystal jade candle. An effect caused by the Distortion.

"I had to disperse the ward in order for us to effectively use these tunnels. It wasn't easy, but I managed... However, this made the entrances, the ones more available to the public, a risk to keep around. Such entrances we decided to seal off. The rest of them, we do our best to keep hidden."

The Kharu-Natjer came to a halt at what appeared to be a spiralling stairwell guarded by two of his slaves. They looked to the three but did not make eye contact with the Kharu-Natjer.

”And here we are." The Kharu-Natjer said. ”This here is one of my favorite entrances. It is built into a well, you see. The stairs spiral around the well, opening up into a shed. The entrance is covered with a stone slab sealed by a lock. By sequentially sliding some of the stone bricks built into the well, you can unlock and open the stone slab. The stone bricks even have handles on the inside of the tunnel. It allows us to open and lock it from the inside as well. Clever, isn't it?"

Hearing that the Kharu hadn’t ordered the construction of the tunnels surprised Ferris, as did the Kharu’s mention of the Being and another form of magic not tied to a person. Such broke the laws of the world as he knew it, but it made sense; there were things he couldn’t explain, like the Being’s abilities and the shifting scent in the stairwell on Ferris’ first meeting with the Kharu, and thinking of those as other forms of magic helped them make sense again.

“How do you use this form of magic, then?” It was obvious that the Kharu knew how to use the magic he’d mentioned, but how did the magic work? Ferris wanted the answer to that, and to whether or not the shifting scents had been this strange magic, but without informing the Kharu of his abilities. Whether or not the Being already laid him bare to the Kharu, it was good form to conceal one’s hand, and Ferris saw no reason to help the Kharu acquaint himself with Ferris’ ability. As for whether the Kharu was telling the truth, Ferris saw no reason for the Kharu to lie. Bringing up the magic was necessary because the Sightless were using it, and pooling intel on a common enemy was as trustworthy a process as any.

”Oh?" He said, amused. ”Did my tour of this entrance not interest you? Well, no matter.

The Kharu-Natjer eyed the Crazed with a smile. ”How do you use this magic? Well… you can’t. At least not usually. It’s... hard to explain…”

The Kharu-Natjer led them away from the tunnel and motioned them to follow. ”In truth, my understanding of it is limited… It is an understanding wrapped in myth and personal experience. Some say it is the ultimate magic, and all other magics spawn from it. Others say it is another magic entirely. External to the world we know. Me though? I’m of the opinion this magic is of the world."

”This magic… it is world shaping. It alters that which should be. The distortion afflicting this town, that is the magic at work...

”This power… it is more like an entity than anything else. To use it requires one to be of such power. So, you either control it, or you connect to it in some fashion.

”Our legends tell of wars fought over the power long ago. Wars fought amongst gods. Wars where the people were used as pawns. I dare say these labyrinths are remnants of such wars… When traveling to this land I searched the libraries of Hearing for similar tales, but found little of use. I found it rather strange that your people seem to be ignorant of such stories.”

The Kharu’s explanation left something to be desired, and Ferris doubted his asserted lack of familiarity for a second, thinking it was possible that the Kharu was lying or misleading them in order to maintain his upper hand. The next second, however, had him realize that the Kharu wouldn’t have mentioned the novel form of magic if that were the case, and Ferris figured it wouldn’t hurt to take the man’s words at face value, at least for this conversation.

“Maybe the wars were not waged here then,” he suggested. The simplest conclusion was often the correct one, in his experience, and helping him reach this conclusion was his doubt in the Kharu’s stories. As far as he was concerned, religion was a means to an end for those in power. Believing that a higher power would right wrongs in the afterlife rendered subjects more docile, and purporting to be chosen by said higher power helped establish the authority to rule. The many Mistresses of Merchants had already shown that those in power had their choice of avenues to exploit, and the Kharu’s story made Ferris think that perhaps the man had already taken his pick. His hold over his slaves, for starters, seemed to be deeper than simply owning or training them, and Ferris didn’t think it a stretch for the Kharu to have convinced them of a false narrative to gain their loyalty.

Still, Ferris was reserving his opinions for now, so he pondered the Kharu’s question from a more neutral standpoint. “Or, if this town is under the thrall of this magic like you say, it’d be difficult to say how far its influence extends. We could all be under its thrall right now and be none the wiser, if what you say is true.”

What he’d just suggested was a conspiracy theory of sorts, ridiculous and all, but Ferris was entertaining the notion. After all, there was no explanation for the Sightless’ abilities in regards to the magic he was familiar with. Besides the possibility that this novel magic type might render his nose useless, there wasn’t much that would change how he approached the situation. After all, the Being’s magic had been too far out of his comprehension for him to try resisting it, so perhaps there was a large, all-encompassing nugget of truth to what the Kharu was saying, and perhaps his disbelief was more due to a desire to maintain control than due to ignorance. Considering everything that had happened so far, upending his worldview didn’t seem like such a drastic step, but he’d need more concrete proof first. Something to tie the types of magic, perhaps, or a better explanation of the Kharu’s type of magic. Without more foundational evidence, it was hard to imagine trusting a theory, much less a simple story from the Kharu.

The Kharu-Natjer smiled politely but said nothing. They spent most of the remainder of the tour in quite. The Kharu-Natjer, showed them two other exits, nowhere near as intricate as the first. He led them back to their rooms and bade them goodnight.
@LuckyBlackCat Yep pretty much! Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a whole lot of being busy, esp over the next two weeks, so yeah. Fun.
Yeah, just been busy with life here. My posting pace is basically a crawl currently, and I can't promise a post anytime soon, so don't wait up on me. I'll just slide back in when I'm able, if you'll still have me then.

Cavan Maynard

Mushroom Forest || Night

The climb down was a shaky one for Cavan since his mind was still caught on what he’d seen moments prior. A mess of leaves and wood filling a dragon-like frame—had Blossomon really become that? And if Blossomon had, was it really Cavan’s job to deal with it right now, with a Rookie-level digimon who had virtually no chance of winning?

The obvious answer was yes, but that made no sense. As much as it was clear that this was real life and not part of some game he’d started playing before he could spell Wednesday correctly, a part of him still wanted to process it like the game, if only because he’d gone through some of this in the game. Talking to Blossomon was the goal, and though the situation had changed, maybe the core principles were still in place. That meant there was probably something he was missing here, like an Ultimate-level ally he could recruit, or some easy-fix artifact or cure he’d overlooked. Either of those made more sense than having him and Bax fight Blossomon in monster mode, because what kind of quest put a Rookie against an Ultimate?

Spotting a Ninjamon with a guy around his age at the base of the tree brought a grin to Cavan’s face, and he jumped off the last branch, landing on his feet and jogging over to the dude. “Let me guess—Clock?” There were only two other guys in the chat, so he had a good chance at guessing. As for why this guy struck Cavan as more of a Clock than an Apollo, Cavan wasn’t really sure. Maybe it was that Apollo was a guild leader and a pretty active player overall, so Cavan was expecting somebody more talkative, but now that he was thinking about it, this dude looked pretty chill, and Clock hadn’t sounded very chill from the few messages they’d exchanged, so…

“Wait, Apollo? Asher?” Cavan blinked, looking the dude up and down again. He didn’t strike Cavan as the mature authority figure Apollo sounded like over text, but hey what did Cavan know anyway? “Eyy, nice to meet you, guild leader,” he said, resuming his grin as he raised a hand to clap and bump fists with Asher.

Looking around and spotting nothing but the Ninjamon at Asher’s side, Cavan furrowed his brows. “You had a Vorvomon, right?” he asked, then shrugged. “Well, this is Bax,” he said, indicating the Gabumon at his side, who eyed Asher with clear suspicion, “and Flynn,” he said, throwing a thumb at the Kiwimon behind them.

“Great, another one. Is this it, or should I just wait here until everyone who needs help climbing a tree gets here?” Flynn asked dryly.

“Nah, I don’t think we’ll need it,” Cavan said, looking back to Asher with a grin. “So, I have an idea, and it might be kinda dumb, but hear me out.” He looked between his audience, who looked varying shades of wary and interested. “You know the portal thing Blossomon had? Well, it’s there. Behind all these trees. Problem is, Blossomon’s also there, and he’s turned virus—into this huge, gnarly lizard thing. He’s a whole lotta leaves now, and he doesn’t look nice. But, you saw the mission right? ” Cavan fished his digivice from his pocket, turning it on. “‘Return Mushroom Forest to its original state’—that definitely means we need Blossomon back, and I’m willing to bet that portal in there is how we’re going to do that. Maybe it’ll portal us to somewhere where we can get help, or maybe it’ll portal us to a lower-level place to train—I don’t know, but my gut says it’s the key.”

He looked to Asher, his grin wide. There was something exciting about the situation. Sure it was dangerous, and sure what he was suggesting was potentially very stupid, but it felt like the moment before he attempted a new trick. He knew what he needed to do, and all he had to do was go for it. If he fell, he fell. If he scraped his shins and elbows up, then he’d get a few more bandages, but there was never a world where he didn’t attempt the trick at least a dozen times. Jumping into the deep end was how he learned to skate and swim, and that’s how it worked. That’s how he worked.

“How about it? One of us can distract the thing, and the other can make a run for it. Check the portal out. If it’s broken, we bail. If it’s not, well, we save the day.” He could feel Bax’s eyes on him, but he didn’t care. This—this was exciting.

Alice Takigawa

Mushroom Forest || Night

The trek through the forest was silent, which was both annoying and not. While Alice didn’t want to talk to Afton, she also didn’t like that they hadn’t shared what they knew. They were on the mission together, after all, and sharing information and discussing possible plans seemed to be the obvious next step. That said, Alice wasn’t about to initiate a conversation, and since it didn’t seem like Afton was planning on initiating one either, they were at an impasse. One of them would have to give in and start the conversation, and though a part of Alice knew that she probably should, that it’d be the best and more mature course of action, she didn’t. Doing so would be like admitting defeat in some way that she couldn’t quite put a finger on, and it wasn’t like she needed anything from Afton anyway. All of the information she needed was on her Digivice, and all of her questions could be asked and answered when they found a Floramon, so she trudged on in silence, ignoring the glances Doru directed at her. He could pretend like taking the mature loss was some sort of win, but she wouldn’t. She’d rather have silence.

Afton stopped suddenly, forcing Alice to stumble back awkwardly in order to avoid crashing into her.

“What?” Alice asked, fully irritated as she looked around. Following Afton’s gaze, she spotted a light-colored tree with large purple mushrooms growing out of it. Considering the fact that it lacked leaves, it looked pretty dead to her, but one dead tree was nothing much.

“That’s a Woodmon with five Mushroomon on it,” Afton said, her voice flat as ever.

“Yep, and they stink,” Monodramon said, swiping at his snout with a wing.

Glancing to Doru, who was looking intensely at the tree, had Alice realize that she was probably the only one who hadn’t caught on, and she was none too happy about that.

“Aw, you found us?”

A pair of blue eyes opened on the tree, and the middle of the trunk cracked open to reveal a maw of jagged wood that curved upwards on either side to outline a grin. On top of the trunk, the mushrooms lifted their caps, revealing toothy smirks that glinted in the moonlight as the Mushroomon stood and flexed their hands through fuchsia gloves.

“Your turn to hide then!” the Woodmon exclaimed happily, its voice higher than what Alice would’ve expected, but with a throaty scratchiness that created an unsettling contrast. “I’ll start counting now.” It covered its eyes with its spiky arms, the Mushroomon on it continuing to leer. “Ten, nine, eight…”

Alice looked to Afton, eyes wide. Running seemed like their best bet since they were both outnumbered and outmatched, but exposing their back was like asking to get attacked. Taking the Woodmon at its word didn’t seem like a good idea no matter how she looked at it, yet there wasn’t a better option at the moment. The risk, then, was equal parts necessary and worth it.

“Should we?” she asked.

Afton nodded, her eyes steady as she met Alice’s gaze, and Alice got the impression that they had the same idea. “Run.”

They turned tail and ran, with Monodramon being the only one who seemed caught off-guard, judging by his cry of surprise. Doru, on the other hand, had kept up with Alice, flanking her as he glanced behind to where a sinister quintet of laughter chased after them. Nearby was Afton, who maintained a few feet’s distance but didn’t seem to be running at full speed beside Monodramon. Given her outfit, Alice wouldn’t have thought her particularly athletic, if only because the athletes she knew tended towards tennis shoes and athletic wear even on their downtime. From the way Afton effortlessly kept pace, her strides looking like a casual jog even in a pair of ostentatious platform boots, though, it was clear that Afton’s frame was leaner than it seemed, and this realization had Alice grit her teeth as she tried to speed up her own pace.

Spotting a faint glow in the darkness ahead, Alice frowned, glanced at Afton, then veered towards it. A few seconds later, a dragon-like digimon revealed itself between the trees, its claws and horns glowing bright enough to faintly illuminate the Floramon beside it.

“Vorvomon?” Alice looked around as she came to a stop beside the lava digimon. “Where’s Apollo? Asher?”

“We’re headed to the Flower Council to find them,” the Floramon said, looking over them warily. Since they weren’t digivolutions of Mushroomon, Alice figured the Floramon would connect the dots soon enough, so she turned her attention backward instead, peering through the leaves as another slew of delighted laughter echoed out.

“We’re being chased. Five Mushroomon and a Woodmon. Help us out,” Afton said, and Alice fixed her with a stare, surprised. That wasn’t cool, and it didn’t seem like something someone who liked coming off as cool would do, yet Afton had done it—and looked cool while saying it, Alice realized in retrospect. Though she’d thought them helping was a given when the Woodmon caught up to them, informing the other party was better, and now she was back to being too conscious of Doru’s eyes on her.

Just as Alice opened her mouth to add something—please, or that she agreed?—the stomping started, the sound muted but able to shake the leaves behind them as Alice glanced at the others.

“Fe fi fo fum, ready or not, here I come!” the Woodmon shouted, and Doru gave Alice a nod. Yeah, this was happening, and Alice was going to prove that Doru was better than the loudmouth Monodramon. Somehow.

“Doru, Metal Canon!” Alice called as the quartet of Mushroomon burst through the trees, sniggering with delight as they reached into their pockets. They were going to use their signature mushroom bombs, no doubt, but Metal Canon was a stronger move, and that’s what counted.

Doru shot her a questioning look but complied, his mouth opening and glowing with energy as an iron sphere formed between his jaws. Beside him, the Floramon lashed out at the closest Mushroomon with vines, and Monodramon followed suit after getting a nod from Afton, leaping at another Mushroomon and ramming his head into it as fire pooled in his jaws.

Given that Metal Canon took a bit to charge, it took a few seconds before Doru actually launched his first attack. Alice had thought this a calculated loss that would pad the way for a bigger win when the move struck, but as she watched Monodramon and Vorvomon throw out one fiery breath after another, she realized that she’d miscalculated. Besides the advantage the dragon digimon had with their fire-based moves, there was the simple fact that Metal Canon didn’t have enough DPS for this battle. While it hit hard, it failed to one-shot any of the Mushroomon, and as the last Mushroomon fell, Alice realized that the only digimon Doru had done more damage than was Floramon.

“Oh, are all the little mushrooms gone?” The Woodmon feigned surprise as it stepped forwards, its eyes round but brimming with mirth. “Then it’s time for some fun!”

Smashing its two large, branch-like arms together, it cackled, leering as its eyes swept across the group. Though Alice hadn’t questioned why it’d stood back as they made quick work of the Mushroomon, she had to now, and the only explanation she could come up with was that it didn’t care—that it was much stronger than its rookie-level counterparts and had no problem assuming that it could tank them all alone, and that in itself was scary.

“Eenie meenie miney mo, let’s see which one takes a blow!” the Woodmon shouted, charging for the Floramon, its arms raised.

“Monodramon!” Afton called.

“Doru, Hyper Dash Metal!” Alice shouted at the same time.

Again, Doru shot her a funny look, but he followed her instructions again, charging at the Woodmon alongside Monodramon, who’d streamlined his wings against his body as slivers of flame leaked from his jaws. They made contact with the Woodmon with consecutive headbutts, and the Woodmon cried out as it fell, the Floramon stepping out of the way and directing the vines she’d tripped the Woodmon with onto its arms. As the Woodmon struggled against its thin restraints, snapping vines easily despite its stunned state, Doru, Monodramon, and Vorvomon bombarded it with attacks. Doru had chosen Beast Attack, Alice realized from a distance, and judging by the way the Woodmon’s side gradually splintered away under his claws, Alice realized it was working.

“This isn’t fair! You’re not playing fair!” the Woodmon cried as its struggles got weaker. “I-I don’t want to play anymore!”

Within another few seconds, though, the Woodmon froze, then collapsed in on itself, its form dissolving into small blue cubes that glowed as they swirled towards the digimon around it. Monodramon was the first to jump towards the data, growling as he looked between Doru and Vorvomon, his gaze challenging. While the Floramon was the first to step back from the fray, Doru was a close second, and Monodramon was left staring down Vorvomon as the data flowed into the two of them.

“Doru! Why aren’t you absorbing the data?” Alice was all confusion as she came to a stop beside Doru, looking between him and the last traces of glowing data. Was he really letting his maturity come between him and digivolution?

“It’s just some data,” Doru said, his tone placative. “There’ll be more later.”

“That’s not the point!” Alice hissed back, but her words grew quiet as she saw Afton approaching with the rest of the digimon. Where the Floramon looked concerned, Monodramon was fully smug, which wasn’t made better by the lack of tells on Afton’s face.

Holding Alice’s gaze for a second, Afton blinked, then looked to Doru, nodding. “Thanks.”

At that, Doru hesitated, looking at Alice questioningly. Her “don’t talk to her or else” glare, though, prompted him to settle for a nod, which Alice wasn’t too upset about. It was simple, did the job, and she’d have a word with him about all of this later.

A snort from Monodramon made Alice want to snort as well because, really, what was this? They were guildmates and perhaps part of the same party, but gaining experience was an individual thing. Trying to pretend like everything was going to be split fairly when Ephie was involved was a joke in itself.

The disapproving look Afton shot Monodramon had the purple dragon straighten a bit, though her attention shifted immediately to the Vorvomon and Floramon. “Were you heading somewhere before we met?”

“I was taking him to the Flower Council so he can be reunited with his humanmon,” the Floramon said, glancing at Vorvomon briefly before continuing. “I can take you to them too. They will know where the other humanmon is, if you are looking for him.”

“Take us to them,” Alice asserted immediately. Though she was acutely aware of how unnecessary her rushed tone was, she didn’t want to be left out of the decision-making like some blind follower.

“This way,” the Floramon said after a hesitant glance at Afton, who’d only spared Alice a bland glance. Under the Floramon’s guidance, the forest felt slightly less ominous than before, even if it’d remained just as dark and crowded.

Afton Reimer

Mushroom Forest || Night

“Announcing Aftonmon, Alicemon, Dorumon, Monodramon, and Vorvomon! Found in the southern woods!”

The forest clearing wasn’t bright, but there was enough clearance above to allow moonlight to illuminate the area and reveal the numerous digimon speckling the trees around them. At a glance, the crowd appeared to consist of Floramon and its champion forms, Ninjamon and Kiwimon, and a closer look simply revealed more and more of the same plant-based data digimon. Even considering how the Floramon from earlier had immediately helped them against the Mushroomon and Woodmon earlier, the crowd of digimon gathered around the clearing, simply standing around and watching, felt a distance from friendly.

“Humanmons, tamers, and digimon, you stand before the Flower Council. We have already met Cavanmon and Ashermon, and we have sent them with guides to see Blossomon,” a Floramon slightly larger than the Floramon beside it said, its voice feminine and steady as it carried around the clearing. “You are welcome to meet them there, but we have been informed that battle has broken out near our southeast border. Thus, we humbly ask for your assistance on the front.” The Floramon met each of the tamer’s eyes in turn, communicating an elegant plea with its gaze. “Our battles along the border are usually won, but at too great a cost for us not to ask for help. So please, offer us your aid and let us work together to limit the casualties in these endless battles.”

“Let’s do it. There’s no reason we need to all be in the same place, so if Asher and Cavan are already with Blossomon, we might as well go and help fight,” Alice said, looking at Afton expectantly. She expected Afton to agree with her, and Afton had to admit she was tempted to. There really wasn’t a reason they all needed to see the old flower together, and though pooling information was a priority, they needed information to pool first.

“Vorvomon,” Afton said, looking to the fiery dragon, “will you be joining us on the front?”

Whether or not he wanted to join them didn’t matter too much. He’d be a force on the battlefield considering his natural advantage over all plant digimon, but Afton couldn’t fault him if he wanted to reunite with his tamer instead. Considering his temperament so far, he seemed the type to prefer a fight over most things, but Afton didn’t want to assume—yet. So, she waited for his answer, a small, silent part of her thinking that Monodramon’s challenging glare at Vorvomon would be enough to convince the fire dragon to tag along to the war front, and another, smaller, and more cynical part of her wondering whether he’d be interesting enough to prove her wrong.

Pokemon: Sanshu

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