I didn't mean to get this chapter out so late. I was just having a bit of trouble working on it. Can't imagine what inhibited me.

That's a joke.


Lucky lay on his stomach in his soft bed of hay at the guild. He kicked his legs idly as he turned the crystal over and over in his paws, watching light refract over its angles. It was a pretty thing, all pale blue and translucent, but he didn't find himself particularly interested in it.

Also not interested in the gem was Perry, who was presently flapping about the room in an airborne approximation of pacing. Most would find the sound of constant start-and-stop fluttering annoying, but Lucky had had nearly his whole life and that whole morning to get used to it. Now it was just pleasant background noise to him.

The high-pitched chirping, however, was a little more grating.

"Are you done looking at that rock yet? Can we go?"

Still, Lucky was very good at ignoring people, so he went on pretending the crystal had absorbed all of his attention. Perhaps sensing this was Lucky's game, Perry flew over and landed directly on top of the gem, claws digging in clumsily as he tried to gain purchase.

"Seriously, Lucky!" Perry insisted, glaring at his brother. "We've done nothing productive all morning! We have to go look for the Time Gears, remember?"

Lucky pushed himself up and shifted into a sitting position, still holding the gem with Perry precariously perched atop it. "That's totally not true, you know."

Perry clacked his beak sharply. "What's that supposed to mean?! Even as members of the guild, we should be out looking! Don't you care at all about the fate of - "

"No, that's not what I meant!" Lucky gave a cheeky grin and tilted his head to the side. His tassels bounced with the motion. "I mean we totally have been productive!"

"Nearly getting kicked out of Spinda's isn't productivity."

"But what about our super-duper productive chat with Chimecho?"

"Asking her if the universe is real also isn't productive." Letting out a huffy sigh, Perry flittered back off the crystal and landed on the ground. "I wish you'd take this seriously, at least once. Haven't we waited long enough?"

That was a good question, and not one Lucky could honestly answer. Had they waited long enough? It had been quite a while now since Julia and Flame had headed out for the day, and they could be back at any time. Lucky's intent had been to just drag Perry around on inconsequential little diversions until the pair returned, but he was starting to suspect the bird would reach the end of his rope before that happened.

Really, Perry was far too worried about the situation. Grovyle obviously wasn't going to get away with it, so why panic? With the whole guild out searching for the Time Gears and the Great Dusknoir on the case, the outcome of this whole shebang was an inevitability.

But it wasn't like Perry could help it - the guy had always been a skeptic. That made conversation with him refreshing and, more importantly than that, it made trolling him easier than stealing perfect apples from the guild's food stores.

"Just give me a little more time, bro," Lucky said, tossing the gem in a paw. "I'm, like, super obsessed with this gem and I wanna look at it for a bit longer."

"How can you stand to be so...so nonchalant about the whole thing?" Perry sounded exasperated at this point. "We've got an important mission to do here. The fate of the world is in our paws! And here you are, just sitting, and…" He made a circling gesture with his wing. "...playing with a rock!"

Lucky suddenly hopped up to his feet and gave a wry smirk. "I'm not plaaaaaying with it, I'm just looking at it! You wanna play with it? How about we play catch? That'll be fun!"

"Wh-what?!" Perry backed up, eyes wide in fear. It was clear he knew full well that if Lucky said he wanted to play catch with a pointed crystal, there was a very real chance of him following through with it.

Fortunately for Perry, Lucky just grinned and tucked the crystal away in his bag. "Just kidding! Wow, didja think I'd actually do something as silly as playing?"

Perry gave him a dour look. "Yes. Obviously."

The corner of Lucky's mouth turned up further, exposing his pointed canines. "Awww, were ya scared?"

"No," Perry responded instantly, then amended, slower, "Yes. God knows you're stupid enough to hurl a rock at me."

Lucky deftly bent down and picked up Perry by both of his wings and trapped the struggling spearow in a tight hug. "Aw, I'd never do anything to hurt my pwecious pwecious baby bwothuw!"

"Let go of - !" Perry sighed and stilled his movements, resigned to the abuse. "I know, Lucky, I know."

Releasing Perry so he could flit off and perch on the ledge of the window a safe distance away, Lucky put his paws behind his back and took a moment to consider his next course of action. At this point, the array of time-wasting options had dwindled down to nearly nothing. Hopefully Murphy wouldn't screw him over.

"Okay! I've made up my mind!"

Perry turned his head questioningly but didn't move from his spot. "Have you, now?"

"Yeppers!" Lucky turned to face Perry and stuck out an arm, an invitation for Perry to swap perches. "We're going out to look for the Time Gear!"

Giving Lucky a curious look, Perry dutifully flew back over and landed on Lucky's arm, lightly digging in his talons. The spearow weighed nothing, the pricks of his talons barely enough to register in Lucky's nerves. The reminder made Lucky's smile wane slightly. Poor thing.

Lucky trotted down the hallway and into the crew room. Only Loudred was in sight, sitting on the ground next to the sentry hole. Slow day, Lucky guessed. All the explorer teams in town were bound to be out looking for Grovyle. Too bad for the pokémon who had sent in rescue requests. On the other hand, the crooks must have been having a wailord of a time.

The doors to Wigglytuff's office were closed, as they had been all day. Once Dusknoir, Chatot, and Wigglytuff had gone in to discuss their next plan, none had come out. Lucky took it that planning wasn't going well. It made sense - the feeling of defeat after the brightest minds had failed to formulate a plan of action must have been crippling.

When Loudred noticed Lucky and Perry, he shot them a scowl. "FINALLY going out to HELP with the SEARCH?"

Lucky nodded earnestly. "Yep! We're gonna find it for sure!"

Loudred snorted and turned his head away. "Oh, I'm SURE you will. You're such a HARD WORKER, after all."

Lucky put his free paw on his hip, pouting. Everyone always forgot to include Perry in their insults. It was as if they didn't like Lucky's brother or something. People could be just so cruel.

"Pokémon detected! Pokémon detected!" called Diglett's voice from the hole. Loudred got to his feet, Lucky and Perry temporarily forgotten.

"WHOSE FOOTPRINT? WHOSE FOOTPRINT?"

"It's Pikachu!" Diglett responded. "And Flame! And...someone else? I can't - Excuse me, can you please float closer to the grate? I can't read your print properly if you don't - "

Another voice, high-pitched and screechy, floated from the hole, though it was too faint for Lucky to pick out the words.

"Oh no," Diglett said, "now she's yelling at me."

Loudred huffed and called down, "Just you hold ON, Diglett, I'll get that gate OPEN soon as I can," then headed over to the ladder and clambered up with surprising agility for someone as bulky as him. Lucky and Perry watched him go, then exchanged looks.

"Weird client?" Perry suggested. Lucky shrugged.

"Who knows."

Lucky walked towards the ladder, deliberately taking his time, and before he'd even reached it that high-pitched voice began yelling again, this time much louder and nearer. The owner of that voice seemed to be firing off insults of the increasingly nonsensical variety. Lucky smirked as he began a one-armed ascent. Whoever was causing the ruckus, he already liked them.

The main floor of the guild was chaos. Loudred, Diglett, Sunflora, and Bidoof were all making desperate attempts to keep a hysterical blue-and-pink pokémon under control as she zipped around the room, yelling and crying. Julia and Flame stood in front of the ladder out of the way of the mayhem, apparently over it. The former's arms were crossed as she leaned against the wall while the latter fidgeted uncomfortably. Both noticed Lucky and Perry when they joined them on the floor, but neither gave much of a reaction.

"Wowwww," said Lucky, watching in amusement as Mesprit flailed against the vines Sunflora was trying to restrain her with. "What's going on up here?"

"Long story," Julia said, sighing, "but the short of it is we were too late to stop Grovyle from taking the Northern Desert Time Gear and now the guardian is pissed."

That was completely unsurprising. "Did you try telling her to stop being pissed?"

Julia just gave him a tired look.

Perry let go of Lucky's arm and flitted back towards the ladder. "I'll get Chatot," he chirped nervously, then dropped down the ladder tunnel. In the mean time, Lucky watched the pandemonium unfold in front of him. Now Mesprit was pinned down on the ground, still shouting obscenities, but Bidoof had somehow also gotten tangled up in the vines and Diglett was trying to free him while Loudred yelled at Sunflora for being so rough with such a small pokémon. Lucky would have wanted to leap into the fray to free Mesprit and pretend to side with her so he could join in on swearing at everyone with reckless abandon, but that would have to wait indefinitely.

"Sooooo," he began, "there was a Time Gear at Northern Desert after all?"

Flame nodded. "Yeah, turns out there was a whole mystery dungeon beneath the quicksand pits! And there was a huge lake down there, too! That's where the Time Gear was." She looked down and bit her lip. "But Mesprit thought we were the Time Gear thieves and attacked us. That's when Grovyle ran in and nabbed the Time Gear!"

Lucky gave a little gasp, putting his paws to his cheeks in mock surprise. "You mean you failed? Whatever will Chatot say when he finds out?"

Julia opened her mouth to begin a snappy retort, but at that moment Dusknoir floated up through the floor in front of them, startling her into silence. He took in the scene, then floated towards the captive Mesprit. She was still yelling at the top of her lungs, but when Dusknoir began to speak to her in soft tones, she instantly quieted down. Lucky shuddered involuntarily. Dusknoir sure was...something. The attractiveness sure came in handy when it came to public relations.

"What is the meaning of this?!"

A flurry of feathers accompanied Chatot as he sailed up from the ladder tunnel to fly over Lucky's head and land next to Dusknoir. "Who is this and why are they trussed up like a prisoner?!"

Mesprit started up her crying again and Sunflora had to desperately attempt to explain herself. Bidoof was still stuck in the vines but he seemed to have accepted his fate.

"Geez," muttered Perry as he alighted on the top rung of the ladder. "You'd think a guardian of a Time Gear would be more put-together than this."

"You're telling me," Julia agreed. She took a step into the room, apparently to join the others at the crash site for some reason, but Lucky quickly dashed forward and grabbed her tail to stop her.

She responded to that by shocking him.

"Wow, rude," he said, coughing. The jolt hadn't hurt, but it wasn't pleasant. When would Lucky learn not to grab people by the tail? That answer was too obvious to necessitate an answer.

Julia narrowed her eyes at Lucky. "What do you want?"

He shook his tingling paw out, then put on a grin. "I just got a super great idea. Meet me in our room and I'll show you."

Without waiting for a reply, he turned and jumped down the ladder tunnel, landing in a roll and swiftly hopping back on his feet. He was pleased to find his ankle didn't protest against the action. Those oran berries sure were potent.

Perry joined Lucky in the crew room, looking exasperated. He didn't bother to tell him off for the reckless jump this time, but he did ask in a suspicious tone, "What are you planning? What's this 'idea'?"

Lucky winked. "Just trust me, bro."

He zipped back into his room and plopped down on the bed to wait. He still couldn't get over how comfy the beds here were. Having personally tested each guild member's bed himself, he could confirm they were all just as soft and bouncy as his. He'd kill to have a straw bed this luxurious at home.

Perry settled down in his own bed, which dwarfed him comedically. Neither had long to wait for Julia, who appeared in the doorway within a minute. She'd brought Flame with her, or perhaps Flame had just decided to tag along. Both looked apprehensive.

"Alright, I'm here," Julia said, not yet moving from the doorway to enter the room. "What did we have to come down here for?"

Lucky scooched over in his bed and patted the hay next to him invitingly, an action that Julia completely ignored.

"It's about your Dimensional Scream, silly!" he woofed with enthusiasm. "Do you really want everyone to see you pass out?"

Julia blinked and opened her mouth slightly, as if she was about to ask what the hell he was talking about but couldn't get the words out. Beside her, Flame looked at Lucky curiously.

"That's her ability, right? I remember Julia mentioning that's what it's called…"

"Yep!" Lucky bounced up to his feet and trotted right up to Julia. "See, I got this super great idea! If there was a Time Gear hidden in Northern Desert after all, maybe there's a Time Gear at one of the other places we went to!" At this point he procured the gem from his bag and held it out. "So if you touch this gem, maybe you'll get a vision of the Time Gear in Crystal Cave! Aren't I clever?"

Julia finally managed to get her mouth working again and she set it in a tight-lipped frown. Had he said too much? He knew it was a little soon to be suggesting this, but he had to try it out.

"I can't control what activates this," she said carefully, narrowing her eyes. "I might not see anything."

Lucky put on his best puppydog-eyes and batted his lashes. "Buuuuut you might not not see anything! It's worth a try, right?"

Giving a half-grimace, Julia pushed past Lucky and stepped into the room. She glanced briefly at Perry, who offered her a shrug, then looked back at Lucky. "Alright, fine. Hand it over."

"With pleasure!" Lucky plopped the gem into Julia's paws, then took a step back and rocked on his heels, waiting. Flame came in closer, curious.

"Do you see anything?" she asked. Julia shut her eyes tightly, perfectly still.

"Nothing yet…"

"Hurry up!" Lucky said. "This is so boooooring!"

Julia cracked an eye open to glare at him. "Don't rush me! I'm not some kinda on-demand seer!"

Lucky grinned back, still rocking. Any moment now…

Suddenly, Julia jolted, ducking her head down and gritting her teeth. She swayed unsteadily on her feet and dropped the gem. Flame took a panicked step forward, ready to catch Julia if she fell, but the pikachu's episode ended as suddenly as it began. Brows furrowed, she stared at Lucky incredulously.

"I - I saw Grovyle. He was...he was in some place surrounded by crystals, and there was another one of those floaty guys there - I think he'd beat it up."

Flame gasped and Perry rose to his feet, eyes wide, but Lucky only gave a mild grin. Closing her eyes again, Julia folded her ears back and rubbed at her temples.

"That's all I saw, though. It was - it was too short for me to figure out what was going on, but - " She opened her eyes and let out a breath. "I think you were right. He must've been there to take the Time Gear."

"Wow, I am clever!" Lucky bounced in place excitedly. "C'mon, we gotta go tell everyone!"

Julia's dubious look returned. "Wait just a moment," she said, crossing her arms. "If we're just gonna tell everyone anyways, why'd we do this all privately here? It's gonna be a helluva lot harder to explain to them this way."

Lucky didn't have an immediate answer. There was, of course, an answer to her question, and she'd probably believe it, but Lucky couldn't really go saying it with Perry and Flame around. That, and her fragile mental state probably wouldn't be able to handle it.

"It was just to test if it would actually work," Perry piped up. "Lucky didn't want you to get embarrassed in front of everyone if you didn't get a vision."

Lucky beamed at his brother, pride swelling in his chest. Ah, his wonderful little excuse machine. Even when Perry had no idea what the hell Lucky was up to, he still backed him up no matter what. Perry had long given up on trying to figure out Lucky's reasoning and had taken to blindly trusting him, as long as he knew that what Lucky was doing was for the good of both of them. And it usually was.

Still, Julia didn't seem to entirely trust that answer. She still looked defensive, maybe even more so now.

"Really," she deadpanned, narrowing her eyes.

Lucky smiled innocently. "Aw, don't be like that! I'm your friend, aren't I? I'm just looking out for you! How stupid would you look if nothing happened? Actually, we'd both look stupid! That'd be even worse!"

Despite not looking convinced in the slightest, Julia gave a slight nod. "Fine. So now all we gotta do is tell everyone all about my powers that nobody knew 'bout 'til now and trust them to believe me, right?"

"But didn't you say Dusknoir is the one who told you about the Dimensional Scream?" Flame asked, sounding hopeful. "If he's still around, he can back you up on that!"

"Don't forget about us!" Lucky added. "We all saw you have the vision, too!"

Julia gave him a look. "You're not exactly the most reliable sources." She glanced back at Perry and her expression briefly flickered to uncertainty. "Well...maybe you're not included in that."

Lucky put his paws behind his back, not saying anything more. There was no choice, of course. If Julia saw Grovyle, she'd have to tell the guild eventually. This indecision was just a stall tactic. She wanted to suspect Lucky, suspect this thing was somehow rigged, but his alibi was solid. There was nothing she could do.

Finally, Julia sighed and let her arms fall to her sides. "Alright. I don't even know if this was a vision of the past or the future, but we've gotta tell everyone. Let's hurry up there before Dusknoir leaves."

Flame and Julia quickly headed out of the room and Lucky began to follow, but Perry suddenly chirped, "Hang on, Lucky."

"Yeeeees?" Lucky sang, tilting his head back to look at Perry. The spearow looked uneasy yet resigned.

"Are you ever going to tell me how you know these things?" The question lacked any real uncertainty. He already knew what the answer would be.

Because of that, Lucky responded only with a conspiratorial smile. After a silent moment between the two, Perry shook his head and flew past Lucky down the hall. Lucky followed at a jog, a leisurely pace by his standards. He wanted to be casual about this, but he also wanted to see how it all played out.

Back on the main floor, the situation seemed to have settled down. Mesprit was gone and the vines were cleaned up. The entire guild was present, talking eagerly with each other about the ruckus that had just taken place there or watching the conversation taking place between Dusknoir, Wigglytuff, Chatot, and a magnemite. Officer Magnezone always travelled with a magnemite or two, so Lucky supposed that meant he'd come by to pick Mesprit up. That was good; she'd certainly fare much better among law enforcement than she would among a bunch of unruly kids.

Julia was by Chatot's side, trying to get his attention, but he kept shooing her with a wing, shooting her stern looks. His conversation with Magnemite must have been too important for him to get distracted by whatever nonsense Julia would be on about.

Boring. When were they gonna call a meeting to order? Lucky could idle away an entire morning, sure, but this was unacceptable. These people had no timing skills.

Having already spent all his time-wasting patience, Lucky padded over to where Loudred and Sunflora were engaged in verbal fisticuffs with a concerned Bidoof off to the side, who was weakly trying to tell them to stop.

"Oh my gosh, who's the hypocrite here?" Sunflora was asking. "You wouldn't even be defending her if she wasn't such a screaming loudmouth!"

"What the HELL is THAT supposed to MEAN?!" Loudred demanded, clenching his fists.

Sunflora jabbed Loudred roughly in the chest, leering. "You know exactly what I'm talking about! The only reason you care about her is because she's just as noisy as you!"

"OH! NOW you've gone and CROSSED the FUCKING LINE! If you DON'T take that BACK, I SWEAR on the GODS - "

"You don't have to swear on them, I'm sure they already hear you from all the way - "

"Wow, what're we yelling about over here?" Lucky interrupted cheerily, skipping in between them. Neither bothered to answer.

"Is there ANYTHING WRONG with TRYING to PROTECT someone who's CLEARLY upset - "

"There is when you're only doing it to get - "

"DON'T you fucking FINISH that SENTENCE!" Loudred reached around Lucky to jab Sunflora back. Lucky was finding this particular location to be incredibly painful on the ears. Another minute of this and he'd definitely go deaf, he was sure of it.

"Hey, guys!" he tried again, waving his arms. Now he was certain both had seen that, but they continued to stubbornly ignore him.

"Am I wrong?" Sunflora challenged with a sneer. "You're racketsexual and don't you dare deny it!"

"That's NOT even a FUCKING WORD!"

Actually, Lucky reconsidered, his brain would probably explode after another minute of this. He'd be dead and deaf, which was worse than just being deaf.

"Guys! Guys!" He bounced up and down, now actually putting in effort to get their attention. Loudred's eyes briefly flicked down to Lucky but he still didn't seem keen on answering. Lucky would have to change tactics.

"FUCK!" he yelled at the top of his lungs. Both Loudred and Sunflora gasped and took a step back, the former accidentally treading on Bidoof's paw in the process.

"LANGUAGE!" Loudred snapped at Lucky, putting his hands on his hips. Sunflora nodded firmly, looking equally aghast at this foul-mouthedness.

"Oh my gosh, where did you learn to say something like that?" she demanded. "I can't believe someone as young as you would say such a strong word!"

"What can I say?" Lucky said, shrugging cheekily. "I just picked it up off the street!"

With their argument sufficiently interrupted, Loudred turned his full attention towards Lucky, already looking tired. "The HELL you want, mutt?"

"I was just thinking…"

"OH, so you actually DO that sometimes?"

Lucky held up a finger and made a shooshing noise. "Don't be fucking rude!" he said, eliciting another gasp from Sunflora. "Anyways, what I was thinking…"

He stepped back and took Loudred's hand in one paw and Sunflora's leaf hand in another. "I know you guys, like, totally hate each other and all, but that totally ruins my ships! Loudred, you should stop being in love with Mesprit - "

"I'm NOT!" Loudred protested, his face going red.

" - and Sunflora, you should stop getting your toes sucked on by Fluffy!"

"What?!" Sunflora shrieked. She immediately tried to wrench her hand from Lucky's ironclad grasp. "Oh my gosh, what are you even talking about?! That never happened! Oh my hecking gosh!"

Lucky gave her a wry smile, which only served to heighten her alarm. Watching all this in steadily-growing horror was Bidoof, who seemed to decide it was about high time to escape before he got caught up in the fray of horrible gossip. Unfortunately for him, Lucky saw his attempted escape to the side.

"You two kiss and make up, okay?" he told Sunflora and Loudred, mashing their hands together, then dashed off without looking back to cut Bidoof off.

"Oof!" Bidoof yelped, taking a hurried step back. "D-don't you mind little ol' me, Lucky," he stammered, "I'm jus' heading off to - "

"When are ya gonna tell her, huh?"

Bidoof shrank back further. "Tell who what now?"

Lucky's smile was unfaltering as he said, "Oh, you know. I know exactly who you have a big massive crush on. And you should totally tell her."

"Sh-shucks now, Lucky, I've frankly got no clue what you're on about!" Bidoof stammered, sweating profusely. "I don't got no crush, no siree! As a matter of fact, I - "

"Everyone! Please gather around for a guild meeting!"

Chatot's high-pitched squawk cut Bidoof off and he sighed gratefully while Lucky crossed his arms with a pout.

"You got off easy this time," he said, "but don't you think I'm forgetting about this." Lucky gave Bidoof a two-fingered I'm-watching-you gesture, then abandoned the terrified Bidoof to gleefully take his place in the forming lines.

When Perry landed next to Lucky and gave him a long look, Lucky thought he was about to get a mouthful for his pointless attempts at pushing romance, but the spearow broke into a faint grin and muttered, "Keep at it and they'll never get together just to spite you."

Lucky playfully stuck his tongue out at Perry for that.

Soon, everyone had gathered in their rows, with Dusknoir, Chatot, and Wigglytuff at the front of the room. Lucky shot a glance at Julia and noticed the pikachu's ears pinned back and her expression was one of frustration. Looks like she didn't get to talk to Chatot about her vision yet. Good, that should make things more interesting.

"Ahem!" Chatot looked over the guild members, making sure everyone was present, then began, "Now that that ruckus is over, we may discuss the very serious occurrence that has just taken place. Mesprit has been taken in by Officer Magnezone for further questioning, but we have already gained some important information." He took in a deep breath before continuing. "The fourth Time Gear has been stolen."

Within moments, the room was once again in an uproar. Lucky contributed to the horrified yelling with a few swears just for fun until Perry shut him down by way of wing over muzzle.

"Silence, everyone!" Chatot shrilled, cutting through the noise like a too-sharp pencil tears through thin paper. "Please control yourselves! Now, more than ever, we need to stay in the lane of rational thought!"

Everyone quieted down obediently, but trainees continued exchanging nervous glances.

"Here is the situation as Mesprit has told it," Dusknoir said, folding his arms. "Pikachu and Flame arrived at her lake, situated deep beneath the sands of the Northern Desert, and through an unfortunate misunderstanding, a battle ensued. When all parties were too exhausted to continue fighting, Grovyle made his appearance, wounding Mesprit further and collecting the Time Gear. Mesprit and our two apprentices only made it out by the skin of their teeth." He nodded to Julia and Flame. "Is this all correct?"

Julia nodded sharply. "Yes, that's right, and there's something else I have to - "

"Quiet down!" Chatot insisted crossly. "I've told you, you will get your turn to speak after this meeting!"

"But - "

"No buts! This is far more important than anything you have to say!"

Julia hunched down, grinding her teeth. Flame gave her a sympathetic look. Suppressing a snicker, Lucky silently thanked Chatot for being such a thick dunderhead.

"Anyways," Chatot continued, "this news has vastly heightened the urgency of our mission! There is only one Time Gear left, and Grovyle is still on the large! That means we must - we must - "

Chatot paused, unable to find his words. "We, er…"

"Allow me, if you will." Dusknoir floated in a little closer, as resolute as Chatot was uncertain. "Pikachu, Flame, you found this lake in Northern Desert, where you had searched previously and found nothing, yes?"

Julia was seething too hard to answer, so Flame filled in, "Uh, yeah, it was under the quicksand - or, uh, it wasn't really quicksand, but anyways, there was an entire mystery dungeon under there."

Dusknoir nodded, looking thoughtful. "Then what this means is there is a distinct possibility we have overlooked secrets held by the other two locations."

"One, hey hey!" Corphish piped up, waving his pincers madly. "I'm tellin' you, there's nothing in Eastern Forest! Nothing!"

That got a chuckle out of Dusknoir, which apparently stunned Corphish into silence. "You have been quite insistent on that matter, have you not? I believe you are one to be trusted on the subject."

"S-sir…" Corphish choked out, his eyes welling up in tears. "Th-thank you...hey hey…"

Lucky suddenly found Dusknoir's mono-eyed gaze on him. "Lucky, may I make a request?"

Lucky smiled innocently. "You can if ya want, I'm not gonna stop you."

"Would you give me your crystal for one moment?"

There were those magic words. Almost giddy with suppressed glee, Lucky skipped up to Dusknoir and handed over the gem. But then his paw briefly brushed Dusknoir's hand and the glee was momentarily trumped by disgust. That touch was devoid of temperature, but it still sent shivers down Lucky's spine. He hoped he would never again be subjected to the horror of physical contact with this abomination.

"This came from Crystal Cave, correct?" asked Dusknoir, apparently unaware of the effect he had on the riolu. Lucky nodded, now forcing his smile.

"Now then…" Dusknoir looked at Julia, who was back in full steely glare-mode. "Pikachu, would you be so kind as to touch this crystal?"

"...What?"

Chatot seemed to have found his words again and he looked from Dusknoir to Julia with a confused expression. "Excuse me, but what are you doing, Dusknoir?"

"Pikachu spoke with me the other day," Dusknoir said, "about an ability she possesses known as the Dimensional Scream."

"Oh?"

"It is an exceptionally rare ability that allows one to see the past or the future after touching a certain item," Dusknoir explained. "Pikachu possesses this very ability, and I believe it may prove useful in this situation."

Lucky could feel the heat of Julia's stare burning into his skull but he wasn't quite ready to let the cat out of the bag yet. Instead of acknowledging her, he looked up at Dusknoir and asked, "So, like, what you mean is you want her to get a vision about whether Grovyle is going to visit Crystal Cave?"

Dusknoir nodded. "That is precisely it."

"What a brilliant suggestion!" Chatot exclaimed, clapping his wings together. "Who would have known Pikachu had such a useful ability? Well, now, what are you waiting for, Pikachu? Come touch the crystal!"

Julia tore her gaze away from Lucky to stare at Chatot. "Is that it? Am I finally allowed to fucking talk?"

"Lan-guage!" Lucky shouted at her gleefully.

"What I've been trying to say this whole goddamn time," Julia growled, cheeks crackling with sparks, "is that I've already had a vision."

Lucky closed his eyes and let the shocked exclamations of "What?!" and "Seriously?!" and "Oh my gosh!" roll over him. After that shouting match between Loudred and Sunflora, this was like audial candy. He opened his eyes to shoot a grin back at Perry, who now wore a knowing but concerned expression. Then Lucky met Julia's eyes and he reveled in the distrust harboured within them. He couldn't believe he'd actually been able to pull that off.

When the crowd had quieted down some, Dusknoir began to speak again, his voice full of undisguisable surprise. "What do you mean, you've already had a vision?"

Julia jerked her head at Lucky. "Apparently Lucky had the same idea as you. Before this meeting started, he got me to try touching the gem, and I got a vision of Grovyle in Crystal Cave. That's what I've been trying so hard to tell you."

"This is unbelievable!" Chatot squawked, flustering. "Why, if I'd known what you had to say was so important, I would have allowed you to speak! Next time, you must try harder to get my attention!"

The dancing electricity on Julia's fur increased in ferocity. "Noted, sir."

"And you?" Dusknoir now turned to Lucky. "Why did you bother to go along with what I was asking if you had already conducted this experiment?"

Oh no, he'd asked it. Lucky hadn't even practiced what he wanted to say. Shit, he was going to flub this up so badly.

"No offence, sir," he said, blinking up at him innocently, "but I just wanted to watch you lose."

A mixture of expressions crossed Dusknoir's face. Lucky decided to imagine it was the seven stages of grief - shock, denial, anger, bargaining, and whatever came after that - then he casually skipped back to his place among the group. From back here, he couldn't tell what expression Dusknoir wore when he fixed his gaze on him, but it didn't matter. Lucky had one-upped the current most beloved figure on the continent for the sole purpose of one-uppery and there was nothing that figure could do about it.

Actually, in retrospect, it wasn't that big of an accomplishment. He couldn't really troll Dusknoir properly - after all, what would the people think if their idol actually lost his temper at some dumb kid? - but for the circumstances, it was a pretty bang-up job.

"Oh, good heavens!" Chatot flapped his wings in agitation and looked to Dusknoir worriedly. "You must excuse Lucky, he's quite the avid troublemaker, you see. He meant nothing by it, I assure you!"

Dusknoir nodded slowly, deliberately taking his eye off Lucky. "It's no concern at all, Chatot. All that matters is that we now have a lead on Grovyle. Pikachu, you said you saw him in Crystal Cave, correct?"

"That's the thing I said," Julia snarked. "He'd attacked one of those blue guardian pokémon and said something about a Time Gear, so it's safe to say the guy went and took it."

"T-took?!" Chatot exclaimed. "You mean to say it's already happened?!"

"We can't be certain," Dusknoir replied, recrossing his arms. "The Dimensional Scream does not indicate whether the event occurred in the past or the future. However, one thing that Mesprit told me gives me some hope. She claimed Uxie contacted her telepathically after their Time Gear was stolen to alert her of the thief."

"That's right!" Flame said suddenly. "Mesprit said something like that when we met her, right, J - Pikachu?"

Julia gave a nod. She seemed to have calmed down, but her tail-tip was still flicking about in annoyance.

"Then we could reasonably expect this third being would have also contacted Mesprit had their Time Gear been stolen, but she made no mention of any other telepathic communications."

"So that means there's still hope!" Chatot finished for Dusknoir enthusiastically. He looked briefly over to Wigglytuff, who continued to stare straight forward, then announced, "I see no need to hesitate any further! Let us all be off to Crystal Cave! We must find and protect the final Time Gear before Grovyle steals it!"

A cheer rose up throughout the guild. Everybody made a beeline for the ladder and scrambled to ascend as quickly as possible. The only ones who remained behind were Chatot, who had realized with a start that Wigglytuff had actually fallen asleep with his eyes open and was now frantically trying to awaken him; Dusknoir, who was slowly turning the crystal over in his hands, eye narrowed; and Julia, Flame, Perry, and Lucky.

"Wow, that took wayyyy too long to get to the point, huh?" Lucky asked casually, grinning at Flame and Julia.

"I know," Flame responded with a sigh. "Honestly, I'm thinking we should've just yelled at Chatot about the vision from the start!"

"Did you do that on purpose?" Julia asked Lucky, her voice oddly quiet. "Did you just want to trigger my ability before Dusknoir could ask about it?"

She was a sharp one. Of course she'd see through the whole thing.

"Yep!" Lucky said. He wasn't scared of Dusknoir, but he decided to lower his voice, too. It would be lame to gloat right in front of his victim. "I figured he was gonna come up with the idea to make you have a vision, so I decided to try it out before he could!" He winked. "Am I a smart cookie or what?"

"You're...pretty dedicated to your craft," Flame carefully replied, smiling slightly. "Come on, we should join the others. We don't want to let them beat us there!"

Without further discussion, the four followed their guildmates up the ladder and out of the guild. Dusknoir avoided looking at Lucky as he passed, turning this scheme into an even greater victory for the riolu. Who knew Dusknoir had it in him to be so petty?

The sky was a dark, miserable grey, the kind that promised rain but never delivered. Lucky hated looking at it, but still he scanned the heavens, eyes peeled for pelippers.

"Are you daydreaming?" Flame asked. "Come on, we have to go!"

A dark shape flew by high overhead and Lucky grinned. "Hey, Perry, go hail that guy!"

Perry quickly flew up and chased the pelipper. When Lucky looked back down, Flame and Julia were looking at him in confusion.

"What're you doing?" Flame asked.

"We'll be wayyyyy too slow if we walk," Lucky said, "so I got another one of those super-duper good ideas of mine! We can ride some pelippers over instead!"

Flame perked up. "Oh, that's a good - "

"You've done this before?" Julia interrupted, voice hard. Lucky froze up. Shit, where was Perry when Lucky needed him?

"Uh, yep!" Lucky crossed his arms and grinned casually. "I do this all the time! Beats walking all the way to every dungeon, right?"

Julia wasn't quite done yet. "And how much do you pay them? I can't imagine you'd have a lotta money if you're hiring lifts all the time."

Lucky turned his gaze back up, pretending to be looking for Perry. For what it was worth, he didn't see his brother up there, anyways. Stupid good-for-nothing ditching brother. "We, uh, we come from a super rich family. Basically, we don't even need to be taking jobs, that's how rich we are."

"Bullshit."

"Wow, don't be rude, you peasant! Now I'm definitely not giving you any of my money, ever! Don't even bother asking for a loan!"

Finally, Perry reappeared in Lucky's field of view, followed by a trio of pelippers. Good god, that took way too long. The four landed in front of the group and once again Lucky was struck with revulsion. Dumb stinky pelippers. Why'd they have to be the modus operandi for this world, anyways? Why couldn't it have been swannas instead? Those would have been way nicer and also way prettier than these nasty big-billed birds. Still, a beggar couldn't be a chooser, he supposed.

"These guys have agreed to take us to Crystal Cave," Perry explained, gesturing with a wing. "The cost is seven thousand Poké each, but they can take the payment later since it's so urgent."

Julia looked them up and down, apparently deciding it was better than nothing, and shrugged. "Fine by me."

The three flightless pokémon each boarded a pelipper and Lucky had to fight horrified shivers. He didn't want to have to touch one, let alone ride it, but they had no choice. He made sure to dig his claws in a little, though.

"Scared, Lucky?" Julia asked from her pelipper, an eyebrow raised.

"N-no way!" Lucky quickly responded, wincing when his voice cracked. God dammit, keep it together, Lucky! he told himself. He couldn't fall apart over something as silly as this!

In unison, the three pelippers began beating their wings until they became lifted off and took to the skies at a slow but steady pace. Perry flew alongside Lucky's pelipper, flying in a stop-start pattern. It was hard for him to keep airborne if he didn't flap his wings as rapidly as he was capable of, so he had a hard time regulating his speed. It was either zip or hover in place at any given moment. Lucky wished the pelippers would fly a little faster to give his bro an easier time, but of course they were too lame to do something as basic as that.

Gradually, the pelippers did pick up speed and soon wind battered Lucky's face, flattening his fur and making his feelers flop against the sides of his head. Despite the less-than-optimal choice of ride, Lucky couldn't help but enjoy the feeling of freedom up here. The wind, the cool and crisp air, everything just made him feel so...so alive. This world was so alive. Despite the current grey and gloom, this world was beautiful. At times like these, Lucky felt an infinite gratitude that he could live and die in a land like this. If only he could have been born here, too.

A tiny brown blur sped down between the back of the pelipper's head and Lucky's chest and settled against the latter's fur.

"S-sorry," Perry stammered, trying to rearrange his wings into a comfortable arrangement, "it-it's r-r-really c-cold up h-here, a-and - and I didn't - "

"Shh." Lucky let go of the pelipper with one paw and stroked his brother's shivering head. Those feathers were practically frozen. Lucky hadn't even noticed the chill of the altitude. Perry pushed against Lucky's paw gratefully and tucked his head under a wing to rest.

Lucky kept his paw on Perry's back, staring straight ahead. He kept silent to let Perry sleep and allowed his mind to wander. What would he do when he met Grovyle? Would Grovyle feel the need to attack them? Would he even get the chance? And flying the pelippers over like this...was this really what they were meant to do? What would happen if they arrived ahead of Grovyle?

Thoughts like this continued to swarm Lucky's mind, drowning out the roar of the wind. He closed his eyes, visualizing all the scenarios that could take place in a matter of hours. So deep in thought was he that he didn't even notice when the pelipper he was riding came to a stop.

"You fall asleep or somethin'?"

Julia's voice roused Lucky from his daydreaming and he shook his head out. The pelippers had landed right in front of the entrance to Crystal Cave and Flame and Julia had already disembarked.

Julia jerked her head toward the cave. "C'mon, we don't got all day. Aren't you supposed to be the chipper one, anyhow?"

Ohhh, was she making a jab at him? Now that was something he couldn't abide by. Lucky hopped off his pelipper, jostling Perry awake, and skipped right up to Julia to lean in close to her.

"You want me to be chipper, huh?" he asked, mouth turning up in a wry smile. "How's this for chipper?"

Then, without waiting for an answer, he turned on his heel and zipped into the cave. He heard Julia shout, "Hey!" after him, but he didn't plan on stopping for her. It took only a few moments for Lucky's eyes to adjust to the darkness of the cave as he wound through the passages at top speed. Feral pokémon occasionally spotted him and tried to attack, but he deftly evaded the blows. Who had time to mess around with ferals, anyways?

The cave got darker as Lucky descended deeper and deeper within. Without a light source, even he was having difficulty seeing the way.

Something fired a rock blast at him from behind and he only had a split second to skirt backwards out of the way. Unfortunately, his dodge put his feet on a collision course with a cluster of exposed pointed crystals behind him and he screeched in pain, quickly dropping forward to his knees to avoid absolutely skewering his paws. Shit shit shit, that hurt.

The shadowy shape of a graveler appeared before him and Lucky had to roll to dodge as it punched down at him. Gritting his teeth, Lucky hopped back onto his feet and gathered a ball of energy in his paws. This pokémon wasn't worth wasting a special attack on, but he wasn't about to kick it with his feet all bloody like this.

As Lucky fired the attack, the cave briefly lit up silvery-blue, flecks of light reflecting off the crystals and spiralling across the walls. Then the blast connected with the graveler and it toppled backwards and didn't get up. The light fizzled out and the cave returned to pitch-blackness.

Lucky breathed hard through clenched teeth. That was such a stupid mistake. Now he'd have to use up an oran berry just to correct a dumb error. Suppressing a sigh, he rifled through his bag until his paw brushed the rough skin of an oran berry. He pulled it out and prepared to squeeze the juice over his feet...then changed his mind and popped it in his mouth instead. He couldn't help it, these goddamn things were too tasty to resist. Besides, it'd do the job either way. The only difference was how long it took.

After testing a step forward and finding the open wounds smarted just a little too much to be bearable, Lucky sat down with a huff to wait. It was fine, he was pretty far ahead of everyone else. There was no way they'd catch up to him -

He pricked up an ear. Voices, coming from one of the tunnels he'd entered this room from. No way, was that really them already?!

But there was nothing he could do. Trying to outrun them now would be a painful and foolish endeavour, and even Lucky wasn't that desperate. He'd only be trolling himself if he tried that. So he sat and waited as the tunnel gradually filled with orange light.

"He's in here!" Julia called a moment before she dashed into the room and skidded to a halt. She was out of breath and on all fours, a rare sight indeed. Flame and the torchlight of her blazing back were the next to enter, followed shortly by Perry. Upon spotting him, Perry immediately flew over to Lucky, looking both exasperated and worried.

"What is wrong with you?!" he demanded in a high-pitched twitter. "What possessed you to run ahead without light - oh my god, are you bleeding?!"

Lucky put on a grin to mask his pain. "'Tis but a scratch!" he reassured Perry, who did not look reassured in the slightest. The spearow flitted about, frantically checking Lucky for further injuries. Meanwhile, Julia rose back up on her hind legs and walked over, looking unimpressed.

"You done tryna be a hotshot?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. Lucky pretended to think about it.

"Mayyyyybe. Just for now, though. Don't you worry, I'm gonna go straight back to it as soon as I feel better!"

"Gods, Lucky!" Flame gasped out, leaning against a wall to catch her breath. "Can't you ditch us any slower?!"

Julia crossed her arms. "Or try not ditching us at all?" she added. "I don't want this becoming a pattern."

Oh dear, she messed up. Lucky smirked at her, pleased that karma was out to get her, too. "Wow, isn't it obvious by now, Julia? It totally is a pattern already. Remember Amp Plains?"

Now it was Julia's turn to falter. Her ears drooped slightly and her eyes narrowed. "Of course I do."

Lucky wondered how far he could push it. "And Waterfall Cave?"

Julia looked strained, flicking her gaze over Lucky as if trying to figure out whether he was bullshitting her or not. "I, uh - "

"Cut it out, Lucky," Flame said, looking playfully reproachful. "I went on that mission way before Julia even joined!"

Ugh, stupid Flame! Why'd she have to ruin that? It could've been really funny! "But maybe she diiiiiid go before you met her!" Bracing himself against the pain, Lucky stood up to put an arm around Julia's shoulders. "We've been friends for, like, a super long time."

"No, we haven't," Julia grumbled, shoving Lucky's arm off. Lucky met her eyes and gave her a knowing look.

"Are you suuuuuuure about that?"

Silence. Julia's stare wavered but she didn't look away, engaging him in a wordless challenge. Lucky continued smiling, enjoying how uncertain she looked. She was going to crack soon. She couldn't be able to stand this much longer.

It was Perry who broke the silence with an irritable chirp. "We don't have time to mess around! Grovyle could already be there!"

Julia tore her eyes away and nodded firmly. "Right. Hey, Lucky, how badly wounded are you? Can you run or do you need to collapse dramatically?"

Now she was speaking his language. Lucky put a finger to his lips, grinning mildly. "Hmm, who knows! Maybe I'll run for now and collapse a little later down the road!"

Rolling her eyes, Julia roughly grabbed one of Lucky's legs and lifted it right up to inspect the underside of his foot. Lucky yelped and flailed his arms to try to keep his balance, but Julia was only taking a quick look and she dropped the leg almost right away.

"You'll be fine," she said bluntly. "Let's get a move on, and don't run off again, got it? You're useless to us injured."

"Wow, harsh," Lucky said.

Perry took up perch on Lucky's arm as they continued down the dungeon, this time at a more reasonable speed. The ferals slowed them down somewhat, but Flame and Julia did most of the work defeating them. It was nice to have bodyguards again and Lucky enjoyed the overall peaceful stroll through Crystal Cave.

Sooner than Lucky would have expected, they arrived at that final room with the trio of towering crystals. Flame and Julia paused, mesmerized by the sight, and Perry too stared at the crystals in awe.

"Welp, that's it!" Lucky announced, crossing his paws behind his head. "This is where me n' Fluffy n' those guild people got stuck! I guess there's nothing we can do but go back!"

Both Julia and Flame gave him a look. He held up his paws defensively.

"What? This is so obviously a dead-end! There's literally nothing we can do!"

"There's got to be something," Flame argued, walking up to a crystal and putting her paw on it. As she did, the crystal flashed and suddenly changed colours, startling her. "Whoa, did you see that?! It went from pink to red!"

"Wowwww, really? That sounds so coooool!" Lucky dashed up to another crystal and prodded it, changing its colour as well. He had to admit, the colour-changing gimmick was kind of fun. He kept prodding to make it go through all of its possible colours.

Julia went over to the third crystal and tried it out for herself. "You were here already, weren't you?" she asked. Though she didn't look away from the gem, Lucky knew who she was talking to. "I can't imagine you'd come all this way and not try messin' around with these things."

"You got me, I totally knew they changed color," Lucky admitted. Flame sighed, putting a paw on her hip.

"Then why wouldn't you say so? This is definitely some kind of puzzle!" She touched her crystal again to change its colour to orange. "If we can figure it out, we might open the way to the Time Gear!"

"But think about all the possibilities!" Lucky said, waving an arm dramatically. "It could take us aaaaages to figure out what we're supposed to do with them!"

Relieving himself from his perch, Perry flew up and observed the three crystals from above. "There's got to be a logical answer. Let's think it through together and I'm sure we'll come up with a solution."

Lucky heard a soft gasp from the other side of the room and noticed Julia looked a little unwell. Oh, that's right, her Dimensional Scream must have gone off.

"Hey," she said weakly, "I think I know what we've gotta do."

Flame glanced over. "What's that?"

"They all need to be the same colour. Same colour as Azelf."

"What's an Azelf?" Lucky asked as he tested how quickly he could make the crystal swap colours. There seemed to be a bit of a lag, unfortunately. Looks like he wouldn't be holding any raves in here any time soon.

"I had another vision," Julia explained. She had already changed her crystal to blue and was now looking over at the other two. "Azelf - the lake guardian - looked blue in that first vision, n' the second one said the crystals had to be the same colour as him. All three need to be blue."

"Got it," Flame said, and tapped the crystal she stood at until it matched Julia's. Lucky changed his crystal as well and hopped back out of the way.

The moment all three crystals shone the same blue, the ground began to tremble. Flame and Perry had also backed up, but Julia seemed to be hesitating for whatever reason. Lost in thought, by the looks of it. What an absolutely galaxy-brained individual.

Quickly, Lucky dashed across the space between the three crystals, grabbed Julia's paw, and yanked her back across the threshold just as the ground broke behind them and a spire of deadly-sharp crystal rose up from the ground. The two landed in a messy heap and looked back at the rising mess of crystals. There appeared to be a hole at the bottom of the structure that lead downwards into a pitch-black tunnel, and once the spire had reached its peak, the gap was large enough for a tall pokémon to walk through.

Julia disentangled herself from Lucky and shook herself off like she'd been dunked in water. Lucky got up as well, brushing yellow hairs off his fur. Did she shed on him? Gross.

"Th-that was incredible," Flame managed, though she sounded a little less enthused than someone who had just seen an entire mound of crystals break through the ground in front of them should be. She was regarding Julia and Lucky with a vaguely worried expression. Oh, geez, did she think just because Lucky had saved Julia that there was some kind of romance blossoming here? That was absolutely not how romance worked. Lucky had to suppress the strong urge to school her on the ways of proper shipping.

"Yeah, no kiddin'," Julia mumbled, straightening her bandana. She shot a glance at Lucky, looking as distrustful as usual. But then her expression changed, melting into something more like curiosity. "Hey, thanks, bud," she said. "Who'd a thought something like that'd just pop outta the ground?"

"Not you, obviously!" he teased, poking her nose. "I totally just saved your life, y'know. You're indebted to me forever and ever!"

Julia didn't give a snappy retort to that like Lucky had expected, or even just some dismissive remark. Instead, she gave a slow nod.

"Guess I am."

That was kind of weird of her, but Lucky could work with that. "Wowwww, are you really that eager to be my life servant 'til you die? Because I totally wouldn't mind, but I bet you'd have a reeeeeal bad time!"

"Lucky," Perry said warningly, hopping up to his side and giving him a reproachful look. Lucky stuck his tongue out at him, but he knew Perry was right. Who knew how much time they'd have before Grovyle showed up?

"Alright, geez! We're going!" Lucky crossed his arms. "I was just messing around!"

"We, uh, probably don't have time for that right now," Flame said, now looking even more withdrawn. God, was teasing a crime now? That wasn't even remotely close to flirting. Lucky wanted to let Flame know in a very blunt manner that no, he wasn't encroaching on Flame's girl, but he remembered what Perry told him earlier about trying to force romance. He'd ruin things for sure if he said something like that.

Julia nodded and retied her bandana to be a little tighter. "We'd better head down there," she said, nodding to the entrance in the crystal spire. "I get the feeling we're close to the Time Gear now."

"Race you there!" Lucky yelled, dashing into the tunnel. Before he could get too far, something yanked roughly on his tail and unbalanced him. He landed on his butt, whimpering from the smarting pain in his tail. So that's why nobody liked having their tails tugged. He understood now.

"Hold your fuckin' horses, bud," Julia snapped, back to her regular coarse self. "You want me to put a fuckin' leash on ya? 'Cuz I'll do it if you try n' pull this shit again."

Lucky looked up at her, allowing his watery eyes to aid his pitiable expression. "Awwww, you wouldn't be such a meanie, would you?"

Julia wasn't having it. "Don't test me," she deadpanned.

"So boring." Lucky got back to his paws and blinked back the tears. "Fiiiiiine, I guess I'll walk like the rest of you slow boring people."

"Good," Julia said, taking up the lead. Flame followed close behind, shooting a nervous glance back at Lucky. Pouting, Lucky trotted along behind them. Perry flitted around his head, looking disapproving.

"Seriously, Lucky," he quietly chirped, "do you even have a plan here? I'm starting to think you have no idea what you're doing!"

Lucky clasped his paws behind his back, smiling faintly. "Oh, I know exactly what I'm doing, don'tcha worry bro." He didn't elaborate further, as usual, and Perry gave a frustrated sigh.

"I hope so," he muttered, then flew a little ways ahead to fly alongside Flame and Julia.

The tunnels down here were lighter, softly illuminated by the glowing crystals that lined the walls. Of course, Flame also lit up the caverns with her flaming back, but it was hardly necessary. It drew feral pokémon to them like a beacon, too, though odds were they'd encounter the same ferals regardless. And now that Lucky's feet had sufficiently healed, he could return to kicking the absolute shit out of anything that crossed their paths. It was only once he jump-kicked a floatzel in the face and scored a one-hit knockout that Julia and Flame stopped to stare at him.

Lucky blinked at them, one leg still raised. "What?"

"You're…" Flame began, brows furrowing. "...really, really strong."

"Well, duh, of course I'm strong!" Lucky said, putting his paws on his hips. "Because my family's super duper rich, I got a ton of lessons to toughen me up! That's what you get when you're, like, a bajillionaire!"

Beside Julia, Perry covered his face with a wing.

"But - but you're so young!" Flame protested. "There's no way you'd be able to get that strong just from lessons!"

Julia remained silent but she seemed to be deep in thought. Lucky was also deep in thought, trying to figure out how the hell to carry this lie.

"Okay, it's not juuuuuust from lessons," he said, drawing out each word to buy him a little extra time to think. "I also take a lot of protein drinks! Every day I have, like, ten of each kind!"

It was extremely obvious no one was buying that. Well, if he was going to lie blatantly, why bother making it believable now?

"Okay, that's actually not the real truth." Lucky winked at them. "I drink the blood of my enemies."

Flame's mouth was set in a frown. "Lucky, that's not even - "

"Don't bother." Julia put a paw on Flame's shoulder and shook her head. "He's just going to keep kidding around. I don't think that's important right now."

Reluctantly, Flame nodded. "You're right, let's forget about it for now."

The four went back to walking through the cave, though there was now a feeling of tension between Flame and Lucky. Was she jealous or something? It was clear that Flame was plenty strong on her own. So was she just trying to call Lucky out? So, so lame. What fun is there in ruining the mystery? She should let some secrets go unspilled.

The level of light began to increase as they went along and the overall pace picked up some. Julia's ears were pinned forward, almost looking like a dowsing rod. Fittingly, when they emerged from the caverns, the four found themselves facing a massive lake edged by glimmering crystals. Hanging from the ceiling in place of stalactites were even more crystals. This was just altogether way too many crystals. It was starting to get ridiculous.

"Whoa," Flame said, staring out at the lake. "This must be Crystal Cave's lake! The Time Gear's gotta be nearby!"

"If the Time Gear had already been taken," Julia said, "this place would've looked all greyed-out. Look, I'm pretty sure that's it out there."

She pointed out to the middle of the lake, where something glowed green just beneath the water's surface. Lucky felt his heartbeat in his throat at the very sight of it. There was no doubt about it, that was the Time Gear. Not that there was ever any doubt it'd still be here when they arrived, anyways.

"Hey, what's that?"

Flame's voice pulled Lucky's attention away from the Time Gear and he turned to look where she was pointing. A good ways down the shoreline extended a land bridge that reached halfway to the centre of the lake, and two faint figures stood at the end of it - one blue, and one green.

"That's Grovyle!" Julia exclaimed, eyes going wide. "Did he pass us in - ?" She shook her head and gestured to the others with an arm. "C'mon!"

She dropped to all fours and sprinted towards the bridge with Flame, Perry, and Lucky in hot pursuit. The latter quickly overtook Julia and grinned as he raced forward. What would happen if he interrupted the scene Julia's Dimensional Scream had shown her? Would her vision retroactively change? Or would Lucky break the timeline? The anticipation made his heart race faster than it had from seeing the Time Gear. Grovyle was already in his sight, less than thirty yards away. Any second now, he'd -

Lucky's foot caught on a crystal that he hadn't noticed growing up from the ground beneath him and he was suddenly falling on a collision course with a cluster of gems. He'd be absolutely speared if he didn't do something. In the split-second before painful impact, Lucky twisted his body in the air, redirecting his path just enough to spare him from the crystals. However, by doing so, he had no chance to shield himself from the rock-solid ground.

Lucky's head collided with the ground, pain radiated through his skull, and spots briefly danced across his vision before everything went black.


Damn, these chapters just don't know when to stop, do they? I'll have to do a better job of cutting them off. Speaking of length, Chapter 21 is partway done now and yes, it's just as huge as I thought it would be. I'm planning on uploading it in two parts to make it easier on you guys. Seriously, it's twice the length of this chapter. I'll try to get it out as soon as I can, but I'm expecting it to take about a month or so. Sit tight and wait for it, it's gonna be a wild one. I'm not going to let this story fail.