Being dumped in a familiar place filled with unfamiliar faces was a surreal sensation Adam had experienced before, but he now found it just as unsettling as ever. The few groups of Pokemon Paradise members he had spoken to greeted him politely enough, but seemed particularly occupied with rationing their supplies and betting which trainee was going to come out on top in the practice duels they would be entering the next day. Attempting to introduce himself had brought either wide eyed stares or accusations of lying, and rather than make a fuss arguing the point he quickly resolved himself to settle with pieces of overheard gossip about treasure hunting, what teams had the most fashionable sets of gear, and winning at some strange hockey like game a Beartic had set up out back. They don't seem the slightest bit concerned about what's been going on in Post Town, he thought with unease. Still, I wonder if they have their own adventures and rivals to deal with. I'd love to share stories sometime…
It wasn't that Adam was necessarily disappointed with the lack of reaction he was getting- he had, after all, received a hearty welcoming from the entire core of veteran guild members the day before- but the sheer number of younger members out here who seemed oblivious to his existence made him wonder just how little he really had interacted with most of the guild in the past. It was true that at least half the guild had only joined in the past few months, none of whom ever had any contact with him at all, and a good chunk of the rest were dungeon recruits or wildlings that Flora or the other guild recruiters had brought into the fold earlier on. He never had an issue with increasing their numbers, but with both the world and his life constantly at risk, he had spent practically every waking moment working on stopping Kyurem. As a result he had made almost no attempt to directly support anyone outside of his close circle of friends. If he was going to get anywhere in influencing the guild now he was either going to have to force them to accept his authority or try to earn their respect from scratch.
The Fraxure sighed, looking around the central clearing dispassionately with his bright, ruby eyes as he silently stalked around the edges of the riverbank that marked the edge of their territory. The large patch of land separating the front gate and the rear living quarters really was once a "clearing", but now was packed with tight rows of makeshift wooden stalls that seemed to blossom outwards from the center. Only about ten feet of dusty trail separated the markets from the edges of the river, and was the only sign of the uncluttered meeting ground this area had once been. Perhaps the familiarity of it was enough to calm his thoughts, as he felt progressively more at ease as he made his way around the circular path.
"Hello there, might I interest-"
"WAUGH!" Adam yelped, whipping around to face the source of the noise. Instinctively he hunched up his arms in a tight guard, claws extended, and his tail furiously lashing from side to side.
Seeing nothing behind him, Adam quickly realized the source of the noise was not so much behind him as below. He looked down to find a brown aquatic figure with bulging eyes and a small beaklike mouth that more resembled a pancake than any fish he had ever encountered. It stared up at him from the water's edge, apparently not phased in the slightest by his sudden alarm. "Hello there!" the creature chirped. "Might I interest you in some of my rare and valuable treasures?"
"W-what?" Adam sputtered, unsure of how to react. "You... don't go sneaking up on people like that, for chrissake! What the hell are you doing in our river, anyways?"
"Me? Why, this is my shop! It's also where I hang around when I want to meet up with the rest up the rest of the guild," the creature responded, looking slightly indignant. "The name's Stunfisk, by the way. Owner of Stunfisk's Grotto. Perhaps you'd be interested in some rare and valuable treasures?"
"Let me get this straight. You're a guild member," Adam said, still stuck in disbelief. "You. A fish... a guild member. What, is this some sort of joke?"
"There's at least eight of us seafaring Pokemon in the guild, you know! When my old shoal found out that some big mean dragon was going to turn our nest into a block of ice some of us got real scared, right? And seeing as how we couldn't exactly walk to Glacier Palace we had to ask you land dwellers for help. That Quagsire fella was a real nice guy, getting us acquainted and everything. He even had the bright idea that as long as we kept in touch, we could be doing rescue missons for all the Pokemon trapped in underwater Mystery Dungeons," Stunfisk explained, then twirled in place in excitement. "That's where I get most of my items for my rare-valueable-super-amazing treasure shop! I have Water Stones, Luminous Orbs, even a Mobile Scarf-"
"Forget the treasures!" Adam snapped. Upon seeing Stunfisk's eyes dip in disappointment he shook his head and sighed. "Look… I- I didn't mean it that way. Aquatic dungeon exploring is a pretty neat idea, to be honest. It's just, well, I'm a little overwhelmed that so much has changed here. I've been gone only a few months, but it looks if you had told me back then that the old clearing would have been changed into a shopping mall I wouldn't have believed you." He grinned slightly, only to be met with a confused stare from Stunfisk. Oh, right, Adam thought wearily. "Never mind, that's just a dumb human term. All I'm saying is that I don't know where things are, I don't know who most of these Pokemon are, and I'm having a hard figuring it all out."
"You just need to ask Snooper, he can show you everything!" Stunfisk chirped, momentarily diving with a flourish before surfacing again.
It was Adam's turn to give a confused expression. "Um, I don't know anyone named-"
"Hey Snooper!" Stunfisk yelled, and a long, skinny body popped out a chattering crowd of Pokemon huddled near some shops. It darted away from the group and towards Stunfisk.
The creature's furry body, brown stripes and prominent overbite unmistakably marked the Pokemon as a Watchog. "Snooper? Where is this-" Adam trailed off, realizing just how strange it was to call him as such. Most Pokemon did not have or need unique names, as the act of taking one was considered putting yourself above others of your kind. Aside from tribal leaders and particularly well respected warriors, any sort of identifier beyond a simple species name was rather unusual for a Pokemon to make use of.
"Unusual" seemed to fit Snooper to a tee, however, as he showed none of the zealous cautiousness and steady observation that were the trademark of his species. His movement looked less like a walk and more like a mix of jerky bouncing and uncontrolled fidgeting, to the point Adam wondered how the Pokémon could even stay standing for more than five minutes.
"Still looks like a Watchog to me," Adam muttered.
"And y-you're a Fraxure," Snooper squeaked as it approached, having better hearing than Adam had given him credit for. "But I don't think you go by that name either, d-do you, Guildmaster?"
"Please don't call me that," Adam grumbled. The weasel does have a point though, he silently admitted. "Just my name is fine. Also, I'm surpised you recognize me- I could be just any random Fraxure wandering into town, for all you know."
"Maybe so, but that badge! That badge! It's unmistakable!" The hyperactive Watchog took to sniffing down the front strap of Adam's exploration bag, where his weathered but still gleaming rescue badge was proudly emblazoned. The Fraxure was momentarily stunned into silence. "Black diamond on g-grey circle! That's a Master Rank badge, and the records show that only two exist in the whole guild!" He stood back and grinned widely. "And last I checked, you were not a Servine."
Christ, I never even memorized all the badge ranks, Adam thought. "Well, you caught me. Your friend here told me that you knew a thing or two about what's going on here, so I hoped that maybe you could answer a few questions," he said coolly, trying to ignore the previous invasion of his personal space.
Snooper instantly changed expression, fixing Adam with a narrow glare. "Just... a thing or two?" he growled, his voice now deadly serious. "A thing? Or two? A THING or TWO?"
Adam stepped back, holding his paws up in surprise. "Look, I didn't mean to offend-"
"Nobody... nobody wanted me in a rescue team when I first joined the guild," Snooper lamented, clear irritation crossing his face. "I couldn't battle very well, but I was always really good at memorization. Keeping an eye out everywhere and on everything that happened all at the same time. So Guildmaster Flora gave me a special job." Snooper's eyes grew wide, practically trembling in excitement. "I keep track of all names that come in and out of the guild. And all the teams. And all the missions and shops and items and..." he gasped, shaking Adam's shoulders. "ALL the numbers," he whispered, as if this was some life changing secret.
"Flora still requires my services for the excruciatingly crucial job of memorizing all the required memories, yes?" Snooper squealed.
The fish stuck his tongue out in amusement. "Yes, Snooper, you still have a job. I promise," he replied.
Snooper stepped back and put threw his arms up in some sort of victory cheer. "Then we move. NOW!" he yelled excitedly.
"Wait, what?" Adam yelped, finding himself being dragged along by the Watchog before he had even properly oriented himself.
"Come back anytime!" Stunfisk yelled, flopping upside down with another splash.
The duo quickly rushed their way back to the rows of crates, shacks and shopkeepers. Most of the shops had fairly unremarkable exteriors- they looked like they had been quickly constructed compared to the intricate, colorful designs in Post Town. Most of the Pokemon walking through also looked like recent arrivals, many of them clearly non-Guild members.
"Look, I don't want to spend all day meeting every single Pokemon that works here. I just need a basic picture of what's going on, so I think I can manage with a handful of shops," Adam grumbled. He grudgingly followed Snooper even as the Watchog began rattling off statistics, but a small group of Pokemon off to the side quickly caught his attention.
"This is invaluable, irreplaceable knowledge central to the very function of-"
A group of five gangly looking Pokemon, led by a muscular, blue-skinned Fighting type known as a Sawk, huddled in a circle near the edge of the markets. They appeared to be examining a small collection of mission slips taken from the rescue board, and were openly trading them between each other. Trading missions was a definite faux pas when he and Flora were still one of the only teams actually accepting them, and to see them doing so openly threw him for a loop.
"Twenty independently operated facilities in the central market, selling to an average of 342 -"
"Snooper," Adam said forcefully, holding the Watchog in place so it was clear he meant business. "I need to talk to someone."
Hovering around the group allowed Adam to easily listen into their conversation. "Keeping track of a target all the way through Mountain Pass sounds like a lot of hassle," a young looking Tirtouga quipped.
"Then you want to switch the escort mission to something like a bounty reward," the Sawk replied, pointing to a sheet near the bottom of a stack he was holding. "When Gigalith and I go out on treks we save the bandits for last anyways. They usually give out the best rewards and you take out most of the risk." The two traded sheets of some kind, looking over the details of each mission with a calculating eye. It was clear that every Pokemon here had long since hit the limit of 8 missions allowed to each individual rescue group.
As the discussion continued, it was easy enough to figure out just what they were planning. The usual rescue system called for a teams to dedicate themselves to a single mission of a difficulty relative to their rank. However, this group had organized a system to collect a large number of missions and trade them around until each team could finish multiple objectives in a single run. They further maximized their profits by deliberately ignoring missions that required travelling particularly far in a single dungeon, as if any rescue that called for significant time investment was not worth doing. There was even talk of a "Wigglytuff Guild" and some other far off collective that actually endorsed this kind of practice.
Sounds completely barbaric, Adam thought.
Seeing that the Sawk was busy examining the footprint runes on a mission slip, Adam calmly positioned himself next to him and coughed loudly. "Hey," he chimed in. "Are you seriously doing what I think-"
"Two hundred Poke for a five star mission? That's it?" the Sawk interrupted with a laugh, as if the newcomer had never spoken. "Nobody is going to miss this trash, that's for sure." With that he crumpled the uppermost slip he was holding and dumped it unceremoniously on the floor.
"Excuse me," Adam repeated, raising his voice as politely as he could muster. "I just had a few questions about what's going on here."
The Sawk slowly turned around and glanced over him dismissively. "Sorry, tusks, but I'm a bit preoccupied to be babysitting new recruits. Ask Virizion if you need some help, she should be back helping with construction."
Adam exhaled and gritted his fangs. "My name isn't 'tusks', it's-"
"Fraxure, yeah, I know. Look, no offense, but your kind has a bit of a nasty reputation with the exploration teams here. I'd be surprised if whoever recruited you didn't end up a few slashes to the face," Adam silently glared at the Sawk, briefly wondering if proper guildmaster policy included slugging subordinates in the face. As if picking up the shift in mood, the Fighting-type's face gradually softened. "Tell you what. Stop by tomorrow and I can show you a thing about how to basic inventory management. Best way to improve is to learn from the experts. Sound good to you?"
"Yeah. Thanks, I'll be sure to keep that in mind," Adam growled, forcing himself to trudge back to the middle of the storefronts before his temper spiked any further. "Hey Snooper," he called out, flinching when his guide seemed to immediately materialize right beside him. "Turns out I'm apparently not important enough to ask certain Pokemon about what's going on around here. Guess I'll be with you instead."
"Most excellent!" Snooper squeaked in honest excitement, and Adam found himself back to nearly covering his face in embarrassment as the lecture loudly continued. "The central market is occupied by six general exploration supply shops, four specialized food and provisions dealers, three residential suppliers, two appraisal services, two hired retainer boards, the standard facilities for mission organization and criminal apprehension, and one... exotic underseas treasure salesfish," Snooper rattled off in quick succession, sparing a glance back at Stunfisk's little grotto.
This guy, Adam thought, his frustration gradually beginning to evaporate into amusement. I wish I had him around when I was studying for my finals in school. "That's... quite a lot, Snooper," he replied slowly, trying to process just what some of those descriptions meant. One in particular nagged at him. "So what do you mean by retainer boards? I've never even heard of-"
"Ah yes, temporary explorer contract services. Very profitable. The nearest one is around the corner. I'll even show you," Snooper replied gleefully, hurriedly pulling him towards the far end of the current row. As if even momentary silence was completely inexcusable in his services as a guide, he immediately went back to listing various figures about the market. "All of these shops are ran on an alternating day/night schedule by 12 guild members and 25 guild affiliated merchants. At least 17 of these outside merchants are members of larger trade groups including the Kecleon Bazaar and the Glacial Merchant Core."
"Kecleon's guild? I thought they only did business with Post Town."
"Unfortunately, evidence suggests that the recent disappearances have been a major incentive. Over seven victims in the past two weeks, and a string of robberies, all focused on Post Town. Incoming merchants believe the situation is significantly safer here due to the Guild presence."
Of course. The kidnappers. The ones we were supposed to have hunted down and captured today. Adam felt a twinge of frustration from earlier bubble up inside him. He looked back at the guild entrance, where two large Fighting types seemed to be casually chatting about something while guarding the gate. I guess having a bunch of young, eager fighters camped up here waiting to spend all of their reward their Poke would make anyone want to set up shop. And now that Kyurem's dealt with…
"Here it is, Yamask's Radiant Retainers," Snooper suddenly announced, stopping in front of an eerily featureless stand painted in solid black. There was no sign or external indication of any kind as to what the shop existed for. Adam was beginning to wonder if the shop was even occupied when the owner in question seemed to fade into existence out of the very shadows, hovering over the edge of the counter.
Adam had read about Yamask in books, but meeting one up close for the first time was strangely unnerving. The Ghost type's shadowy profile and thin, wispy arms seemed to hang in midair like smoke, fluxuating only to protectively cradle the expressionless mask which served as the base of its body. Several large sheets of parchment floated to each side, marked up with a complex and seemingly incomprehensible array of runes. "I see... a new customer," he announced, his voice seeming to simply materialize around them rather than originating from any mouth Adam could identify. His piercing red eyes looked down at the duo with obvious interest. "Or two, perhaps. The insatiable one, and the Fraxure." His unnatural voice was both plodding and inquisitive.
"You know me?" Adam replied cautiously, assuming that was what Yamask had meant.
"But of course. My father, the... ascended one, was quite particular on that point." Yamask paused and dragged one of his fog-like arms across a particularly complex series of images and markings, causing that segment of parchment to instantly go blank. "You were a most... trustworthy customer."
Adam scratched his chin. "You father? But that means..." A memory of his early days in Post Town flashed into his mind, and he clearly recalled the eccentric shopkeeper who used to exchange his hard earned gold bars for flat Poke. It all makes sense, really. Glorious Gold. Radiant Retainers. And Yamask evolves into... "Cofagrigus. You're related to the owner of that gold exchange in Post Town, right? How is the old man doing?"
Yamask flipped a parchment upside down and moved an arm gently across it, fine black writing seeming to brand itself into existence where he moved. "He has been... most impressed with developments ever since Kyurem's defeat. The recent surge of interest from the outsiders has significantly increased the popularity of his services, but has brought with it... misguided attempts at counterfeiting and theft." The Yamask's eyes seemed to flicker with a calculating interest. "He hopes to find more trustworthy customers like yourself, as they are always very profitable."
"Very profitable," Snooper interjected, nodding approvingly.
Adam resisted the urge to smack the Watchog. "Well... that's unfortunate about Post Town," he replied, sounding slightly flustered. "I'm planning on shifting around our resources over the next few days to try to deal with these attacks." He shifted his hind legs uncomfortably. "Really though, I came here just to ask what kind of business you do. I don't think I'm familiar with these, uh, retainers."
"Radiant retainers," Yamask replied, pride creeping into his voice. "I... serve as a middleman for independent agents who are... recruited by rescue teams for their services in completing specific missions." Simultaneously the parchments began to roll themselves into tight bundles, hovering loosely on Yamask's sides. "In exchange, the agents are... compensated with a percentage of the rescue reward, while I am given a small fee up front. The most trustworthy agents are given preferred treatment."
Adam's eyes widened as he considered the consequences of what Yamask had meant. "So you help guild teams hire mercenaries," he said flatly. "You both get a cut of the profits, and the team gets to complete a job they couldn't have otherwise." He took a step forward, his voice suddenly becoming more accusatory. "Except that these teams are entirely at the mercy of whoever they hire and never get the experience from missions they should be doing themselves."
Yamask was silent for several seconds, as if carefully calculating the ideal response. Eventually his wispy voice broke the silence, as plodding and calm as before. "Only... reliable Guild members can sign on here as potential hires. They come here either because they lack a functioning team or simply prefer the freedom independent missions provide." The rolled-up parchments fluttered slightly. "As for experience, veteran recruits allow novice teams to gain experience they could not get otherwise- taking a difficult mission in order to fulfill the conditions for a rank promotion, for instance."
"The point of those rescue ranks is to restrict the most dangerous missions to the strongest and most dedicated teams, not the ones that can pay the most," Adam said coldly, unconsciously flexing his claws.
If Yamask was unnerved by the Dragon type's obvious distrust, he didn't show it. On the contrary, the pale facial mask on the creature's face even seemed to curl up into a subtle grin. "Of course. But as a leader of a rescue guild, is it not your duty to rescue as many Pokemon as possible? If the choice is between hiring help for a successful mission or having no chance of success at all, would anyone be at fault for choosing the former?" He once again waved an arm, letting the stack of parchment drop on the counter with a thump. "Everyone gains from my services. Myself, the retainer, the team, and even you."
Adam's gut feeling was that there was still something horribly wrong with this arrangement, but Yamask had made a good point. If every side benefitted to some degree, who was he to make a complaint? It was something certainly to discuss with Flora later, but already Snooper seemed eager to tug his arm elsewhere.
"What gives?" Adam snapped. "I didn't even finish-"
"Not enough time! Many shops to visit, many numbers to tell!" Snooper squeaked excitedly. Dragging him towards a line of various extravagantly decorated general supplies stands, he began rapidly introducing him to each shopkeeper while spouting off trivial details that left even the merchants impressed. "...and here at Lilligant's, at least 80,000 Poke worth of items have been sold in the last ten days, the most popular overall being the Escape Orb, selling over eighty in a single afternoon. Of course, this was mainly due to an attempt by a certain malicious Scraggy hadn't attempted to buy out the market's entire supply of the item and resell them at a significant profit."
"And it might have worked, too, if Guildmaster Flora hadn't handed out enough free rescue orbs from the guild stockpile that the bugger was forced to sell the orbs at a discount right back to us," Lilligant added with a laugh, brushing back the bloom on her head.
Adam was only partially listening at this point, his mind still stuck in the conversation from before. Talking with Yamask had practically confirmed what he had been suspecting that whole afternoon- that Paradise really was beginning to view the rescue process as nothing but a business. When we were trying to stop the Bittercold, there was no need for all these shops or self-serving cliques, he thought. Improving your strength and helping others in the process was the only thing that counted. But now people are treating this place like it's all just a game. Like a social club. If even the guild ranks can be practically bought and sold these days, it's no wonder these Pokemon take it all for granted.
For many other Pokemon, the economic growth of the guild might have been a sign of a lasting peace finally taking root. For Adam, this meant needless complacency, and he did not like that one bit.
"Snooper, I think I need to have a serious talk with our leadership," Adam said sharply, interrupting an explanation on Wonder Orb exchange rates that he had paid little to no attention to.
"R-right now?" Snooper replied, sounding taken aback. "But we just started, there's so much more to tell, so many Pokemon to meet!"
"I've seen enough," Adam growled, his tone even managing to momentarily silence the Watchog. "We can do the rest tomorrow. Plus, I don't even have-"
A high pitched scream followed by several quick shouts coming from the back of Paradise interrupted his train of thought. Heads all around turned to check out the ruckus, followed by a rush of something grey and furry sprinting through the marketplace. "What the hell is it now?" Adam muttered. He quickly recognized the large eared, mouse like creature as a Minccino, its large fluffy tail easily distinguishable even though it didn't even reach his waist. It had managed to use its paws to carry some sort of a large sack over its shoulder. Subconsciously, Adam positioned himself to intercept and nabbed the Minccino's tail as it ran past.
The mouse was immediately forced to a halt, and pulled frantically against Adam's ironclad grip. "LET… GO!" she squealed. Several other nearby Pokemon stopped and yelled something which neither of them could make out.
"Look, kid, I'm not going to hurt you," Adam said as calmly as he could muster. "Just tell me what the problem is. Please?"
"Bad scary Pokemon, they want… hurt me," the Cincinno squealed, looking on the verge of tears. Instantly Adam tensed up, mind racing as he wondered if and how he needed to intervene. Surely today of all days there wouldn't need "Need run! Sister need help, bad Pokemon coming," she sputtered, her awkward, broken speech an obvious sign of wildling origins. How she even managed to find the guild would likely remain a mystery.
Not wishing to cause more of a public scene than had already happened, Adam reluctantly let the Pokemon go. "Just... get out of here, alright?" he asked softly. The grey mouse nodded hastily, and he watched her dart towards the entrance.
"Patrol coming through!" another voice immediately yelled, and several shoppers around flattened themselves against the walls of the stands. Adam spun around quickly, finding a group of Pokemon rushing right towards him- a Cranidos, Scrafty, and a lithe, blue skinned badger known as a Dewott leading the charge. They all looked significantly more muscular and battle scarred than the Most alarmingly, he recognized the Dewott- she was a promising recruit with a troubled past who he had trained briefly before he had begun his expedition to Glacier Palace. This made things somewhat more complicated. They all wore elegantly decorated rescue bags with shining gold badges attached.
"Hold up a second," he called out, only to be interrupted by the sight of two of the group flipping clean over him. The Scrafty didn't even bother trying to avoid him, ramming through his shoulder and knocking him aside.
"Tou alright there? S-somebody must really be in trouble," Snooper quipped, obviously finding the situation as entertaining as most of the other bystanders.
"Yeah, I'd hate to be that outsider," the Lilligant replied. "Bet you that furball doesn't make a hundred paces out of this place before they catch its sorry little-"
Time seemed to grind to a halt as Adam's frustration reached a boiling point, his battle instincts subconsciously driving him on the alert. Can I really even get them to listen to me now? he wondered in disbelief. To the side, Snooper appeared suspended in the middle of a discussion with another shopkeeper. Is this just how things work around here now? Nobody even cares when our own members act like thugs? Around him several Pokemon had already gone back to browsing through items, as if nothing had ever happened. But why would they care about it, it's not like an assault on our home turf is worth interrupting their shopping trip, he thought angrily. I guess it's time to give at least a few of them a little reality check.
What happened next quickly became one of many topics of gossip within Paradise. In one instant the Fraxure's body began to visibly tremble and blur, the next, the air surrounding him was torn asunder like the roar of a jet engine. In the space of a second Adam vanished from the spot he was standing and reappeared several hundred feet away, right at the entrance to Paradise. His sudden appearance in front of the patrol forced them to skid to a halt, looking shaken by his blindingly fast movement. He immediately staggered his body into a fighting position and hunched his arms in front of him.
"Go on, take one more step," he snarled, visibly showing off his razor sharp fangs. "You of all Pokemon should knowhow seriously I deal with attacks on innocent Pokemon, Oshawott." The patrol leader blinked in confusion before a sudden realization crossed her face.
The Cranidos spoke up, sounding irritated. "Listen, friend, we don't have time for-"
"Do not talk," the Dewott interrupted, holding a paw up authoritatively. "Get in formation. Now," she ordered, her tone suddenly formal and professional. The Cranidos and Scrafty looked at her in disbelief for a beat before standing at attention at her left and right. "There may be a misunderstanding, human-kin." It was an unusual title, but an accurate one, and succeeded at confusing her partners even further. "We have been assigned under Leader Keldeo and Guildmaster Flora as the primary guardians of the territories containing our food supplies and living quarters. The Pokemon you encountered was caught stealing a large quantity of berries from one of our larger Oran fields."
Adam arms fell limply beside him as the pieces came together. "For God's sake," his muttered. "So she was just- look. You were right in chasing the thief. That being said, from now on if Flora or I, or anyone else in charge of security tells you to go somewhere or stop, I need you all to do it immediately. No questions, no hesitation. Don't even think about it. I don't know what that wilding trash thinks is proper, but I will not be allowing us to be doing whatever we damn please." He paused and brushed his shoulder in annoyance. "And don't just ram through people either! One petty thief isn't so much of a threat that we need to throw out every semblance of common courtesy. At the very make some attempt to move around them. Remember, we're all on the same side here."
"I apologize, sir. I had not recognized you at first." The Dewott seemed to consider the Fraxure for a moment before continuing. "I seem to recall you being much shorter before you left," she said with the faintest hint of a smirk.
"Likewise. Evolution has its perks," Adam replied, his face softening slightly. "Now then. I don't know what these merchants or the rest of the veteran members think constitutes security here, but the days of sitting around waiting for trouble to come to us are over with. Pokemon don't come here because they want to join a bunch of prissy, self-serving gangs who occasionally help each other out, they come here because we represent the difference between right and wrong in this world. And if we're the only Pokemon left with the guts to keep it that way, then we better do it right."
He took two steps towards the front gate and rested a paw against a thick log that formed the base of the archway. A fiery anger bubbled in his voice. "This gate doesn't just signal the start of our territory. It's a clear line between us and those miserable savages out there without a home of their own, who live for nothing but murdering each other and stealing whatever they can get their paws on. We live on the brink, my friends, and there is no way in hell I am going back."
Adam slowly turned back to the patrol, his voice brimming with determination. "So stay vigilant. Cover as much ground as you possibly can, and be prepared to help me investigate what the hell has been going on in Post Town and make sure these thugs are brought to justice. And tell those entry guards to do their jobs or I will find somebody who will. Nobody should be getting in here without a guild badge or a good reason for it." He briefly flexed his arms and gave the trio another look over. They're not novices, he thought, looking at their gold-plated rescue badges with a hint of pride. We can make this work... they just need a reason to fight. "Now then. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to help keep our home safe?"
There was some modest shuffling in the group followed by a few murmured nods of assent. "We will do our best, Guildmaster," the Dewott stated confidently.
"Good, I expect nothing less," Adam replied. He tossed over a small pouch from inside his rescue bag to Dewott, who grabbed it with a look of surprise. "I want you to give this to the victim of the robbery. Tell them that I personally apologize for not catching the thief, and that I hope this is adequate compensation. Then I want you to put up a bounty for that Cincinno in my name. 1000 Poke reward for catching it, dead or alive. You got all that?" There were several more nods of assent. Good. This will be a nice test to see how well they follow orders. He turned back to markets, feeling a newfound sense of purpose. As began to leave the group, he stopped to call over his shoulder. "And don't call me..." He paused and shook his head with a bemused grin. "You know what, never mind."
For all the barely controlled chaos that the market clearing had turned into, Adam was relieved to find that the inside of their house (and it really was a house, Gurdurr's carpentry was too skilled to call it anything less) was as spartan as it he remembered. Two hay beds, a few shelves with an assortment of scrolls and ink scattered on top, and his discarded rescue bag were all that decorated the otherwise bare interior.
The Fraxure sat on his bed with his eyes closed, holding what looked like a small chunk of hard, brownish clay. He had managed to find material for a proper whetstone at Stunfisk's and traded for it before heading back inside. Feeling out the slight ridges and chips on the edge of his right tusk, he carefully smoothed out the ivory surface one inch at a time. It was simple if tedious process. He had never even particularly cared for even having tusks at first, but after reading in the human world that they would permanently break unless regularly sharpened, he had decided to take no chances.
Truth be told, the "official" explanation never made much sense to him. Not that he'd ever tested going without, of course, but sharpening as far as he understood it would make his tusks more liable to break, not less. After all, if you wanted to bash something repeatedly you'd use a sledgehammer, not something that would shatter like the sharp end of a sword. The reason he suspected other Fraxures were really so obsessed with keeping their bodies in perfect condition was because it let them rip through opponents in their brutal territorial fights all that more easily. He held little to no pride towards his species line, but the thought that Fraxures as a whole were inherently violent or destructive was difficult for him to accept.
The sound of Flora entering knocked Adam out of his train of thoughts. She stared at him and gave a small giggle. "Don't let me interrupt what you doing," she said with a smirk. Adam shrugged and went back to sharpening, while Flora pulled out some pea-sized, pearl colored seeds from a bag of her own. "What do you think about these? I think the trader called them hydrangeas. You can really feel the life brimming inside them, with some synthesis I bet they'll grow in no time."
"Well, I wish I was a grass type so I could know what in the world you're talking about," Adam said snarkily.
"I don't think you need to be a grass type to appreciate good flowers," she countered, gracefully curling up on her bed. "There are so many Pokemon moving in that I think trying to liven things up would help keep everyone happy. In fact, I had been planning on travelling around for the next few days to the nearby settlements to pick up some supplies. I would really like it if you could come along."
Adam flipped the stone to his left tusk, rubbing down the flat edge like sandpaper. "No thanks," he replied. "There was a thief today that stole something from the berry fields. I think they might be connected to our bandit problem, and on top of that, it looks like our security force needs to learn how to organize properly. I think I'll be plenty occupied these next few days."
Flora hesitantly stretched and dropped the seeds back in her bag. "Oh. Well," she said softly, clearly trying to hide the disappointment in her voice. "At least you're getting settled in, right? I heard you gave away our mission reward to Maractus down in the Oran fields. That was very nice of you, she seemed to appreciate the help."
Adam paused for a moment, then switched to scraping down the sharp tips of each tusk. "It wasn't charity. I made a mistake and I paid for it. Our reputation is worth more than a few coins." He sighed. "What I don't understand is why so many people are acting like I didn't even exist. Every single Pokemon in Post Town and Paradise were aware of when we fought Kyurem! I know I've been gone a few months, but outside of a handful of Guild members in the market almost everyone acts like they've never even heard of me!"
"Hmm…" Flora pondered, casually wrapping herself up. "You think that when you went back to the human world it might have had something to do with it?"
"Well, it's just a thought, but Hydreigon did say that when you returned to the human world, everyone would forget their memories of you," Flora replied gently. "The only reason some of us continued to remember was because of how strong our bond was. Outside of the Pokemon you were close to and those that you had a significant influence on, everyone else may have been impacted like normal."
It was painful to admit, but the logic seemed foolproof. Adam suddenly felt sick to his stomach. Was I that close to being erased from history? And was it really my fault for not connecting to enough people to begin with? "I think I… I think I need to take a walk, Flora. Maybe blow off a bit of steam," he said weakly. "Then we can talk about what we'll work on tomorrow. Does that sound alright?"
"Alright," she said, now eyeing him with a twinge of concern. "Just come back before sundown, okay?"
Thwack. A narrow crack spontaneously wedged its way up the surface of smooth rock, carved into the boulder by a narrow blast of air. Thwack. A cross section instantly formed in the same spot, the source of which extended from a naturally armored shoulder blade to a ruby shaded paw. The natural rock formations were plentiful on the borders of Paradise's territory, especially in the sections Gurdurr's construction crew had yet to properly terraform and develop. They were also relatively isolated, perfect for training Pokemon that did not want to be disturbed.
In China, Shaolin Monks would test the strength of their fists by punching at a candle flame at a distance, and by attempting to extinguish the fire by air current alone. Managing to tear skin- let alone rip through solid rock- by deliberately missing a raw punch was inconceivably difficult for all but highly trained Fighting type Pokemon. Caring little for elemental limitations or his own personal safety, Adam had made this his goal at the first available opportunity.
Hunching his shoulders up and bobbing gently on both legs, the Fraxure gradually loosened his muscles. Focusing entirely on his battle instincts, time gradually seemed to slow to a crawl around him. Thump. He could make out the reverberations of each of his heartbeats now. Thump. Every twitch of his scales. Thump. Stimulating the brain to temporarily build fast reaction times were a skill any Pokemon could develop, but Adam had pushed this to the absolute limit. Thump. Almost unconsciously, he twitched his right arm back and shot it forwards mere milliseconds later. Then back again, then forward. Then back. Then forward. Faster and faster, quicker his nervous system could possibly react. Thump.
Blood vessels began to build up in his arms from the sheer muscle strain, endorphins now rushing though his body. When it felt like his tendons would nearly rip out of their sockets, he thrust his entire body forward in a spectacularly well-coordinated punch. His arm shifted from stationary to several hundred miles per hour in the space of a moment.
To an outsider it looked like Adam's arm had blurred for a split second before a blindingly fast jab had pulverized the boulder into a several foot wide crater like it was made out of putty. But no ordinary punch could deal the kind of damage needed to cripple an opposing Pokemon in a single strike. What he had developed was a martial arts based on full body assaults with the kind of power he needed to battle monstrosities like Kyurem. Their first encounter with the beast had left both Adam and Flora nearly dead and had seemingly destroyed Hydreigon, the creature that had brought him to this world in the first place. After barely making it back to the guild, the two of them had begun taking different paths to push their strengths beyond the seeming limits of their natural abilities. With his Dragon-type body's inherent superhuman strength, specially tweaked attacks that overloaded his muscles to extreme levels, and his obsessive training regimen, there seemed to be no limitations to the overwhelming damage he could dish out in a single attack.
Almost no limitations.
Without warning, Adam gritted his fangs together and forced himself to resist screaming in pain as his right arm suddenly began to violently spasm in place. It twitched uncontrollably, as if the right side of his body was being electrocuted, and small trickles of blood began to seep out between the scales in his elbow joints. Slamming his shoulder against the remains of the boulder, he hastily grabbed a small clear bottle from inside his pouch with his other arm and downed the black elixir inside before tossing the empty container aside.
Panting and with more than a hint of anger evident in his expression, he gripped his injured arm and held it in place for nearly a minute before he finally regained control of his muscles. Taking a deep breath to recover, he took a few steps back and glanced over at the remains of the bottle he had shattered. "Concentrated Protein and Carbos boosters," he muttered, then grinned. "She would have hated this if she saw me now."
The enormous quantity of vitamin stimulants Adam had consumed over the past few years had certainly contributed to his unusually muscular physique, and were likely the only reason he had been able to develop such a brutal fighting style without shredding his body in the process. He had long stopped feeling any semblance of guilt about his dependence on the stimulants gradually developing into an addiction, and he was prepared to continue funding reward missions out of the guild reserves for the rare and valuable mineral compounds necessary to create the mixtures. For Paradise's champion, fighting for justice at any cost was the only reason worth living. The only concern he had was how to make the rest of the guild see things the same way.
But still, Adam thought with an uncharacteristic sense of hesitation, this isn't enough. I can't so much as touch Ghost types like this, and I'm burning through stamina far too quickly against everything else. To duel against the absolute toughest opponents, he would have to fortify his body even further with Dragon Dance and combine his strikes with devastating elemental attacks. This of course meant aura manipulation, which as of late had proven to be an overwhelming roadblock.
He had told nobody about his condition since his arrival in Paradise, and planned to keep it that way. To the Fraxure, admitting weakness was admitting failure, and a weak leader was an entirely useless one. It would mean not only disappointing himself but disappointing his newfound family- no, for the partner who risked everything to bring him back, it would be utter betrayal. The thought of helplessness struck him with a terror that shook him to the core.
Maybe it's better now, his thoughts raced. Maybe I can do this, and everything will be back to normal, and we can forget about all those last few months and I can move on with my life.. Unnatural anxiety welled up inside him, some of it possibly a side effect of the drugs. I can do this. I can do this and I'll never havs to worry about failing to save anyone ever again, and the last few months will all just be a distant memory.
Adam took a deep breath and relaxed his body. Carefully he lifted his arms up and to the side of him, paws loosely outstretched. He held his feet evenly shoulder-width apart. This was the focusing stance, a fundamental starting position used by many bipedal Dragon-types. With it he could easily tap into his own aura currents and even track those around him.
The essence of any Dragon-type powers flows from emotions. Aura is both spirit, life force and willpower, and thus fueled by desire. Adam focused on all the necessary fury in his heart to force the necessary killing intent to trigger. It was a trivial task on his end- his consciousness simply embraced all the frustrating doubts of earlier that day, the scars of thousands of battles burned into his psyche, and the fear of once again failing to protect the people he cared for.
I won't accept it, he thought firmly, focusing every fiber of his body to this clear strand of will. I will never accept it. A warmth shot through him, billowing like fire, fluxuating with the contours of his limbs. I will NEVER accept it. It grew tighter and stronger, bursting out of his body in an uncontrollable wave of pulsating energy. I will NEVER AC-
His last thought before the world grew dark was a lingering shadow of regret.
Freezing. Sore. Wet.
You stumble through the dark woods, clutching a bloody gash on your left shoulder, your thoughts a mixture of misery and rage. You felt the sense of helplessness before – when you first arrived in the mystery dungeon world – but now you feel cheated on top of that. Didn't you beat Kyurem? Wasn't the world saved? So why did you get dumped in the middle of God knows where, still stuck in your Pokémon form, being hunted down by a mob of psychotic trainers who either wanted to capture you or keep your head as a trophy?
Oh, you made them think twice about it. The trainer Pokémon were better organized, maybe, but at the end of the day they weren't much tougher than dungeon wildlings. You took down at least 20 of them, but that just made their trainers all the more determined, and you had nothing to show for it now but a broken rib and enough cut wounds that your entire torso felt slick with blood. You focus on your aura sense, and up ahead you feel a strong life presence near a pocket of warmth that prickles against your scales. Likely a human and their campfire.
Good. If you're going to fight to the death, you'd at least prefer to be warm first.
The rocky earth eases up into a fine sand underneath your positive approach the campsite. Nobody is around when you arrive, so you warm your numb, battered paws by the fire silently. Then the girl walks in, and you glare at her without budging an inch.
"You're the Axew that Del and the others were looking for," she says matter-of-factly. You raise your on injured arm and will your aura into a reflection of the unadulterated spite you're feeling right now. Effortlessly it molds into a glowing trifecta of deadly claw-blades, which wrap around your paw like a bloody gauntlet. The message is obvious enough, and the girl steps back. "Look, I'm really sorry about what happened," she says defensively. "Axew normally only live in wildlife reserves, so those idiots think that they can get a big reward if they take you in." She sighs, and holds her hands up as if in surrender. "I'm not... going... to hurt you, okay?" Her tone is calm and deliberate. "No Pokeballs... you're safe here. Please, trust me."
There is something pleading and honest in her tone which dissolves whatever resistance you have left, and in a few seconds you crumple unceremoniously onto the sand. Your mind is lost in a haze, too exhausted to care about what's going on around you. You don't even budge when something big and warm is suddenly draped over you. Purely by instinct, you eventually drag yourself underneath and curl up into a ball.
Your last thought before the world grows dark is a lingering shadow of regret.