Chapter One: Mankey's Paw

"Alright, so if the map is right the Solaceon ruins should be right over… Here they are!" The map in question was quickly rolled up and stored away as I approached the massive building.

"Geez," I huffed. "This thing's really out of the way, isn't it." The ruins were a few hours' travel east of Solaceon Town, to the point where the only reason they were named the Solaceon Ruins was because the town itself was closer to it than Veilstone City.

The faded yellow-brown ruin was surprisingly well-hidden for its size, only barely taller than the trees around it. The large doorway stood open in the front, revealing nothing but a yawning black expanse inside. The more recent additions included a cadre of Psychic-types standing around the structure, and if I looked carefully enough I could detect a faint pink barrier surrounding it. Just outside of the barrier stood a sign reading "Solaceon Ruins: League Personnel Only," along with a uniformed man and woman who could only be League trainers. As I approached, the woman stepped forward and held her hand out. "Halt," she ordered. "I'm afraid the Solaceon Ruins are not open for exploration."

In response, I simply handed her my Trainer ID card, and I could see her eyes widen. "Ch-Champion Lucas!" She snapped into a salute that was echoed by the man with her. "My apologies, sir! Go right ahead!"

I winced internally. I'd never get used to being called that, especially since Cynthia still officially held the title along with most of the responsibilities. In accordance with League tradition, she would be gradually passing the workload on to me for the next couple of years, before officially surrendering the title at the end of it. Not that I was complaining, I mused as the two League trainers waved me towards the Ruins' entrance. I was still only sixteen years old, just barely out of my first few years of traveling. The transitioning period gave me a lot more time to travel and explore before the duties of the Sinnoh Champion started to pin me down.

As I passed through the barrier, I could feel some kind of pressure settling on my mind, and I quickly pulled one of the Pokeballs off of my belt. The worn sphere opened, and in a burst of energy I was joined by the familiar, elegant figure of my Gardevoir. Her eyes glowed with an unearthly light, and the pressure in my head was dispelled almost instantly.

The Psychic/Fairy-type gave me a courtly bow, and her svelte mental voice echoed in my head. Hello Lucas. I take it that these are the Ruins that Lady Cynthia spoke of.

"Yep," I answered as I looked around the dark, dilapidated interior. A bunch of the Solaceon villagers had reported an increase in migraines and hallucinations in the past week, and one of the League's specialists had confirmed an extremely dangerous buildup of psychic energy around the Ruins. The League trainers outside had been part of a cordon established to contain the energy, and even then that was only a stopgap measure at best. The call had gone up to the League for one of their most powerful members to deal with the problem, and I ended up being the one to handle it.

"Stay sharp, Gardevoir," I said as I made my way to the nearest stairwell. "If there's something here bad enough to make them call for an Elite Four member, we don't want it sneaking up on us."

Consider it done, was her reply as we descended into the depths of the Ruins.

-o-

The Ruins were a maze. Gardevoir's efforts kept us safe from the psychic energy pressing down everywhere, and would hold for at least a few hours until we would have to teleport out. Unfortunately, the energy suffusing the air was strong enough to block her from scanning farther than a few meters around them for any other creatures. As a result, it was a couple of hours and several dead ends until they ran into the first Pokémon. Incoming, Gardevoir warned as the figure floated around the corner. As it revealed itself, I couldn't help but stare at it incredulously.

I'd encountered a lot of strange Pokémon on my journey. Spiritomb was an amalgamation of evil human souls stuck in a rock, and radiated enough malice to match. Shedinja was the eldritch, animated husk of an insect. Even the less unique Pokémon could be considered odd by strangers, such as how Ponyta were literally on fire or how Wormadam's secondary typing changed based on where the Burmy had evolved. But this thing blew all of them out of the water. For a start, it only had one eye, and no discernible limbs. Instead, it had several thin black growths extending outward from its eye, forming the shape of a crude letter "E."

"What in the world?" I muttered, bringing out my Pokedex to scan it.

"Unown, the Symbol Pokémon." The mechanical voice of the Pokedex was disturbingly loud in the silence of the ruins. "When one is alone, nothing happens. However, when two or more of them are together, an odd power is said to emerge." More of the Pokémon's information scrolled across the screen, including a note about how, according to legend, they were apparently the predecessors of the written language.

"Psychics? Gardevoir, can you sense anything from them?" I asked, closing the Pokedex as I did so.

It was a testament to Gardevoir's ability to multitask that she was able to maintain the shield around us as she gazed at the Unown. There's… There's not a lot to sense. Her voice sounded almost incredulous as we watched the thing float farther down the corridor, seemingly ignorant of our presence. I can tell that it's a Psychic-type, but this Unown has very little thought of its own aside from that, she continued. But…

"But?" I prompted, watching as her brow furrowed in confusion.

There's something else there as well, she said. Almost like it's following a command of some sort? The closest thing I can relate it to is reading the mind of a Combee, and even then only when a Vespiquen is around.

That was unsettling, since Vespiquen had the ability to command their pre-evolutions with inhuman precision. The official term for such behavior was only something I'd discussed in passing with Aaron, the Bug-type specialist of the Elite Four. "A hive mind?" I muttered. "Then there's probably something else giving them orders." And the only place such a Pokémon could be would be farther into these ruins, especially since Gardevoir hadn't sensed anything of the sort as of yet.

One look at Gardevoir confirmed that she had reached the same conclusion I had. Must we continue? She asked. We know where this cluster of Unown is; we could just inform Lady Cynthia and allow her to handle the situation.

I was shaking my head even before she finished talking. "We're on a time crunch for this one, Gardevoir. Cynthia specifically asked us to take care of this because we were the closest high-level combatants who were suited to dealing with a potential rogue Psychic-type." The nearest Gym Leaders were Fantina and Maylene, in Hearthome and Veilstone City respectively. Maylene, unfortunately, was a Fighting-type specialist, and would have been more of a hindrance than a help in this situation. Fantina, the Ghost-type specialist, would have been much more useful, but she was currently dealing with an increased spate of wild Pokémon attacks coming from Mount Coronet, part of the fallout from Team Galactic's assault on Spear Pillar and the Legendaries there. As for the Elite Four…

"Aaron's on the other side of the region dealing with some powerful Pokémon Hunters in Eterna Forest, and Lucian couldn't be spared from his spot in Veilstone to check this out." The bookish Elite Four member had apparently been tasked with keeping an eye on the remnants of Team Galactic under Commander Saturn, to make sure that they were truly going legitimate. "Flint's still in Stark Mountain to take care of the Heatran that Buck and I found there, and Greta's overseeing the security of that new Pal Park area they're setting up down south. Cynthia herself is busy meeting with the other regional Champions, so we're on our own here."

Not that I would have turned back even if this weren't the case. According to the reports that Cynthia had sent me, the barrier around the Ruins wouldn't last longer than a day at best, and when it fell the psychic fallout would be devastating to the people and Pokémon living nearby. We didn't have the time to leave this to someone else, and one look at Gardevoir showed that she knew it too.

Well, I heard her sigh, At least this can't be worse than attempting to battle Lord Giratina. And on that reassuring note, we made our way down the corridor after the "E"-shaped Unown.

-o-

"How far down does this place go?" I muttered as I cautiously walked down yet another stairwell. Almost instinctively, I waited to hear Gardevoir's input, then winced when I turned around to see her slowly following behind me, face screwed up in concentration. While we hadn't run into any other Pokémon, Unown or otherwise, on the way down, the amount of psychic energy had steadily increased to the point where lashes of pink power were regularly striking against Gardevoir's shield, and she had to keep even more of her attention on maintaining it. It must have gotten to the point where she couldn't afford the time required to speak telepathically. At least this meant that we were getting closer to the actual cluster of Unown, along with whatever was in charge down there.

After what felt like an eternity, we finally reached the bottom of the stairs. The storm of psychic energy had become a veritable hurricane, making it difficult to walk even with Gardevoir's aid. Even so, we were able to inch our way forward, and as we got through the doorway to the next room we found a sight that we could barely believe.

It was a massive chamber, probably the same width and length of the temple built on top of it, and it was filled to the brim with Unown of various forms. Several of them were content to stick to the walls in what appeared to be their form of rest, lining the chamber with glowing words that could have been profound statements as easily as they could have been gibberish. The vast majority of the Unown, though, were clustered in the far end of the room. They formed a constantly shifting cocoon, swarming around something in the center. As they did, flashes of pink lightning shot off at regular intervals, creating an atmosphere that was unsettling, to say the least.

I felt my throat go dry as I looked around. There were at least a hundred Unown in the room, probably more. According to the Pokedex, Unown were rare enough that their existence was only confirmed through what were essentially ancient cave writings. None had been seen in the modern day. So how in the name of Arceus did something like this stay hidden for what must have been centuries, maybe longer? And no matter how hard I looked, I couldn't see hide nor hair of any other Pokémon in the room, so all this psychic power was just from the Unown that were… released? Woken up? It didn't matter. This cluster needed to be taken down before anyone got hurt, and only one of my friends had anything resembling a chance of pulling it off. I was reaching for his scarred, slightly scorched Pokeball when a cry of alarm from Gardevoir made me whirl around, previous thoughts forgotten.

She was currently under the scrutiny of several Unown, and as one of them pushed against her barriers they shone alarmingly under the increased strain. Even more of the letter-shaped Pokémon started to take notice, crowding closer as Gardevoir and I quickly went back-to-back. The shield started to shine even brighter as an alarming number of Unown started to throw themselves at it, probably in an effort to get an even closer look at the two of us. Worse, I could see cracks starting to form in the now dome-shaped barrier around us.

"Shit," I swore as the fractures began to spread. I could barely make out anything outside of the barrier aside from Unown, and a quick glance at Gardevoir told me she was struggling to keep it aloft. "Damn it!" I'd seen her barrier tank shots from Cynthia's Milotic without cracking! Just how powerful were these things?

Before I could even begin to think of a way out, the barrier was littered with cracks and clearly on the verge of failing, even as Gardevoir collapsed to her knees from the strain. I barely had enough time to pull out her Pokeball and return her before her barrier failed, and the mass of Unown rushed over me. I found myself paralyzed by a merciless telekinetic grip as a cold spike drove its way through my brain. Words and sensations rushed unbidden to the forefront of my mind as the Unown hive rapidly sifted through my memories.

"Running through the grass was my idea, Professor, not Barry's. I'll take the punishment, just leave him out of it." Standing between Professor Rowan and my oldest friend, ready to give up my own dream so that he had a chance to keep his.

Kneeling down to the curious Pokémon that would become my starter. "Hello Turtwig, my name is Lucas. Looks like we're going to be partners from now on. Together, we're gonna see everything this world has to offer."

"Hm, so you wish to take on the Gym Challenge, Mr. Lucas?" Grinning at the Rock-type Gym Leader from across the field, taking my first step on the path to Mastery. "You bet, Roark! This'll be my first step on the way to the top!"

"I think you've got a lot of potential, Lucas. I'd like you to have this Egg." Cynthia, at the time nothing more than one stranger helping out another.

An army of teal-haired men and women, led by three formidable admins and one shadowy commander. "Anything that opposes Team Galactic must be crushed! The very idea of opposition will not be tolerated!"

Three fairies, each of them a creature of wonder and myth, imprisoned and tortured by cruel, unfeeling men. "Mesprit, Uxie, Azelf! The Lake Spirits… What did Team Galactic do to you?"

"My aim is to rid our world of the vague and incomplete thing we call spirit. By freeing ourselves of that, our world can be made complete. That is my justice! No one can interfere!" Cyrus, arms outstretched as the shadow of Giratina looms above him.

Left becoming back becoming down, waterfalls flowing upwards in defiance of gravity, eldritch rock formations providing sparse decoration in a void of bluish-purplish-black. "The Distortion World… What an appropriate name."

"Forgive me for asking this of you Lucas, but you must defeat Cyrus before he destabilizes the entire dimension! I will stall Giratina as long as I can!" Grinning at Cynthia despite the danger, feeling the adrenaline rush of battle as we faced off against a legend and a madman. "Leave it to me, Cynthia. I'm taking your throne from you one day, so I can just consider this practice!"

Cynthia again, but this time as an opponent, the final challenge before reaching the peak. "Let's get on with why you're here. As the Pokémon League Champion, I accept your challenge!"

"Congratulations, Lucas." Professor Rowan and Cynthia, smiling proudly as my team and I etched our names in history. "You are Sinnoh's new Pokémon Champion."

And finally, my call with Cynthia just yesterday. "Don't worry, Cynthia. I'll keep everyone safe."

And then it was over. I collapsed to my knees, panting as I tried to reorganize my thoughts after the mental intrusion. Slowly, painfully, I heaved myself up to something resembling a standing position as the Unown swirled around me. The promise I made to Cynthia rang in my head, and the words slowly formed themselves as I spoke. "I… I will keep everyone safe… Safe from you," I gasped.

The mass of Unown surrounding me seemed to swirl even faster after I said it, and the psychic energy filling the room grew even more intense. Pink lightning was everywhere as bolts of energy shot across the room, destroying the ancient stone walls like they were bits of china before an angry Tauros. Desperately, I covered my face with one arm and groped for a Pokeball with the other, but before I could do anything several of the arcs of energy collided at my feet, erupting in a blinding explosion of light and force.

As the blast of light engulfed me, I felt the Unown worm their way into my head once more. The last thing I heard before losing consciousness was a childlike voice saying, "Your wish is granted." And then everything turned black.

-o-

The return to consciousness was cold, wet, and completely without warning.

"Ackglblafllabll!"

Thankfully, years of experience dealing with unhappy Water-types and sadistic mentors reasserted itself, and I quickly got my bearings, reoriented, and promptly realized that I'd been dumped into a large body of water. And I was sinking fast, too. And couldn't breathe. Questions and wonderings were immediately discarded in favor of trying to kick my way to the surface, all while clawing for a particular Pokeball and trying not to lose my bag in the process.

Almost, no, wrong one, shit, ah crap that's really the wrong one, no, no, oxygen come back please!

I was starting to panic before my fingers finally closed around the right ball, and I was just about to call him forth when another figure dove into the water right beside me. Before I could do more than blink, whoever-it-was had scooped me up in one arm, there was a massive yank, and suddenly I was flying out of the water and landing face-first on a bunch of wooden planks.

I lay there for a bit, groaning and coughing up water, until a pair of shadows fell over me.

"Are you alright?" A female voice asked, seemingly on the verge of panic. "God, you came out of nowhere! You're lucky you didn't sink too deep or else the Captain wouldn't have been able to pull us up! What are you even doing swimming around in those clothes! There's so many layers! What were you thinking!"

"Cough… what are you thinking, that I did that on purpose?" I snapped back without looking up. "I got Teleported, obviously! Haven't you ever seen an angry Psychic at work?"

She didn't respond immediately, and the silence was awkward enough to get me to look up, and I was struck dumb by what I saw. I was on a ship, clearly, but wood? And sails? Hadn't those gone obsolete decades ago? What did I stumble onto, a reenactment or something? All these guys were wearing sailor's uniforms, so maybe? They were archaic enough, I guess…

"Brat." That was another voice, male this time. "Explain what you mean by 'Teleported.'" The undercurrent of danger in the voice was enough to cut through my confusion, and instincts kicked in. I scrambled back to my feet, ending up in a semi-defensive stance with one hand brushing at my belt where my team was still hanging.

That was when I first got a good look at the people beside me. The woman who had grabbed me, a young woman with dark blue hair and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, seemed normal enough at first glance, except that she had what was obviously a sword on her waist. More reenactment stuff, maybe? Swords hadn't been used for even longer than sailboats, not when a well-trained Pokémon was infinitely more dangerous.

Her apparent Captain, on the other hand, was a gruff-looking man with an open jacket showing off toned muscles, smoking two cigars at once with frickin bandoliers full of more of them over the coat he was wearing. And I could see the handle of some other kind of weapon sticking out from his back. Oh, and smoke was literally pouring off his body for some reason, not that I could see any Pokémon on him, or around him for that matter…

In fact, when I looked around even more, I realized there weren't any Pokémon around at all. No Machoke pulling at the rigging, no Water-types patrolling around the boat, not even a Wingull perched on the mast!

"I'm waiting." That was the man again, his glare sharpening as I apparently took too long to answer. Danger senses flared as he reached for the weapon on his back, and twin flashes shone from my belt as my friends reacted to the apparent threat.

Lucario and Gardevoir materialized between me and the two of them, the Aura Pokémon instantly summoning one of his energy bones and barking out a warning. Gardevoir fell back to my side, eyes glowing with psychic power, but not before shooting me a look. We will discuss your actions later, she sent, and even with everything going on I couldn't help but shiver a little. Oh, she was pissed alright.

Neither stranger took the appearance of my team well, with the lady unsheathing her sword and the man pulling… a pronged baton of some kind off of his back. I couldn't help but notice, though, that there was… shock? Shock, yeah, in both of their expressions. The guy was hiding it better, but I could tell the swordswoman was struggling not to gape at my friends.

I didn't quite get what that was about. Yeah, Gardevoir and Lucario were particularly impressive examples of their kind, Champion-caliber and all that, but this wasn't quite the appropriate reaction. It was almost like they hadn't seen someone call out a Pokémon before, but that was ridiculous, right?

Right?

"Gardevoir, Lucario, hold on a moment," I said, doing my best to keep my tone even. "They're… probably not hostile? I mean, they fished me out of the water, right?" My self-proclaimed bodyguards exchanged a glance, before reluctantly nodding and adopting less confrontational poses. Seeing the tension slowly bleed out from the two humans across from them, I decided to address them, get some confirmation for the terrifying theory that had popped into my head. "You… haven't seen a Pokémon before?"

"I've… never even heard of one," the woman answered tentatively. "Captain?"

"No," he grunted, relaxing the grip on his weapon and looking me in the eye. "All right, from the beginning: who are you and where did you come from?"

Alright, I could work with this. "My name is Lucas," I began, fishing my now-soaked Trainer ID out of my bag and presenting it to them. "Incumbent Champion of the Sinnoh region. These are Lucario and Gardevoir, members of my team. I was investigating a disturbance in the middle of Sinnoh when I got teleported here. On that note, where is here, and who are you?"

"Captain Smoker," the man grunted. A little on the nose, but I couldn't judge too hard given some of the Pokémon names out there. At least he wasn't being actively threatening anymore, and the cloud of smoke around him seemed to have dissipated a little too.

"Master Chief Petty Officer Tashigi," the woman said, sheathing her own sword and standing a little straighter. "You're currently on the Grand Line, not too far from the island of Alabasta. I can't recall where a Sinnoh Region might be, but when we get there I'm sure we'll be able to figure something out." Considering I hadn't heard of either the Grand Line or Alabasta before, that didn't seem likely, but I could still hope.

"That said, these… beings," Smoker said, eyeing my teammates, "They're common where you come from? Teleportations are a mundane thing?"

"…Well, yeah, as far as Psychic-type Pokémon go, anyway." And from the blank looks, that didn't ring a bell either. Had they really never heard of—no, of course they hadn't. Geez, and now I wish Professor Rowan was here. Actually… I pulled my PokeNav out from my bag, ignoring the way Smoker tensed, only to groan when it wouldn't turn on. "Damn it… fried." A quick check found my Pokedex and watch suffering the same fate. "Ugh… no map, no encyclopedia, not even a timepiece. Looks like I'm explaining this the hard way."

Or, you could ask the Psychic present? Gardevoir asked sharply. From the way Smoker and Tashigi stiffened, she'd broadcasted to them too. Mental conversations are faster than any speech you could attempt, and I'm sure I could answer most of their questions regardless. I winced at her tone. Yeah, she was definitely still annoyed, but that was something to deal with later.

"That would make things easier." Credit where it was due, Smoker took this recent revelation in stride. "I would like to know as much about your… species… as possible."

"Consider it done," I replied, before shivering as a stray breeze reminded me that I was very much still soaking wet. "But, uh, maybe wait until after I've dried off?"

-o-

Fortunately, I had packed for a several days' long journey just in case, and my bag's storage function had kept most of its contents dry. A quick change later, and I was seated in Smoker's cabin, explaining the ins and outs of Pokemon to him and Tashigi.

"So there are eighteen of these 'types' which can be used as categorization?"

Correct, Gardevoir, who'd elected to remain standing behind me, replied. Though it is not uncommon for a Pokemon to have dual-typing. I myself am considered both Psychic and Fairy type, which means I am biologically well-suited to manipulating energy of both types.

"I see, I see," Tashigi muttered, jotting something down in the notebook she'd brought with her. Well, the third one. The other two had long since been filled up, and were sitting on the desk nearby.

"And, it's only Psychic-types that are capable of telepathy?"

"Well, yes and also no," I answered. "In general, Psychics are the ones who can do it, but there are outliers who also possess the capability." I gestured at Lucario, who had categorically refused to return to his ball and instead decided to meditate in the back of the room. "Lucario is actually a good example. The Lucario evolutionary line possesses an above-average aptitude for a power known as Aura, which among other things lets them sense the intent of others. Some more well-trained Lucarios have actually been said to communicate verbally. Mine can't; he can only convey feelings as of right now, but it's still an impressive feat for a Steel-Fighting type."

"You mentioned evolutionary lines just now. Explain."

Evolution is, of course, when a Pokemon grows from one form to another. It's a permanent and drastic physical change, and most Pokemon have set lines they follow. Some lines come with deviations, such as my own, which starts as Ralts, but leads to Kirlia and ends at either Gallade or Gardevoir, like myself.

Evolution can be triggered through various means, most often through an increase in strength, but other ways include high amounts of trust between a Pokemon and their trainer, exposure to certain minerals or artefacts, or simply through aging. And it never occurs more than twice in a given line.

"Right, right," Tashigi muttered, and I couldn't help but stare as her scribbling intensified. "Well, I think that's everything, except…" She was suddenly on her feet and pointing at Lucario dramatically. "You said your Lucario was a Steel type? I want to fight him!"

My teammates and I blinked in shared surprise. Smoker, on the other hand, sighed in exasperation.

-o-

It turned out that the whole lack of Pokémon thing this strange place had going on meant that the peacekeeping humans had to be even tougher in order to actually enforce their mandates. Or at least, that was what I gathered from watching Tashigi and Lucario clash, sword to energy bone. It wasn't particularly close, Lucario was Champion-level for a reason after all, but the fact that he even had to use Bone Rush in the first place spoke well of the woman's fighting prowess.

"Sheesh… These people are no joke," I muttered. "She could probably give some trainers out there a run for their money, all on her own." If I had to guess, Tashigi was on the level of a trainer with two badges, meaning she could have theoretically fought one of Gardenia's official team members and come out on top. The only ones I knew of back home who could've matched that type of feat were maybe Bruno and Koga from Kanto's Elite Four, and even then…

They are supposed to be this world's peacekeeping force, Gardevoir pointed out. With a lack of Pokémon at their disposal, it makes sense that they train their bodies to their utmost to compensate.

That made sense. Smoker had been kind enough to fill me in on some of the mechanics of this place, with their Marines, World Government, and rampant piracy problems. It was like something out of a fantasy, where humans capable of feats only the strongest Pokémon could imagine battled it out on a sea with weather so volatile it could have been run by a schizophrenic Castform, all for a treasure hidden at the farthest reaches of the most dangerous sea.

"And if our home's anywhere, it's all the way at the end…" I muttered. And it wasn't like Gardevoir could just warp us back home. Long-distance teleports weren't unheard of, but any distance longer than maybe a couple hours' walk and it was just more efficient to travel normally because big surprise, ripping holes in space to travel through is a really strenuous task. Any Pokémon capable of long-distance Teleportation likely spent several years training in it to the exclusion of all else, and was working for one of the Leagues regardless.

A questioning grunt jolted me from my thoughts, and I realized Lucario had finished his spar with (read: thrashing of) Tashigi, who I could see was unconscious on the floor of the training room behind him.

"That wasn't as fast as I thought it'd be," I remarked as I got up off my seat on the floor. "Is she that much better than you expected?"

Lucario nodded, and as we made our way to the cabin Smoker had given us we swapped notes on how strong Tashigi was, and how she might stack up compared to both us and any other people we might meet out on the seas.

"Probably equal to one of Gardenia's," I concluded eventually. "Not one of her strongest," I added hastily, seeing Lucario's skeptical look. "I'm thinking of one of the Pokémon on her League-official team, one of the ones she uses for her Gym battles." Neither Lucario or Gardevoir had been on my team during that fight, but they'd both badgered stories out of the team members that had, and back when he was newly hatched Lucario had made a habit of digging up old recordings of those Gym battles and using them as inspiration for his training.

And she still has a lot of potential for growth, Gardevoir remarked. I noticed that after a while, she started reacting quicker to Lucario's movements, when at the start she was really struggling to track him even without his Extremespeed. Given more time, and more fights like those, she might become a force to be reckoned with. Lucario barked in agreement, a canine grin on his face as he stared into the distance, clearly imagining the fights the swordswoman could give him in the future.

Not that I was doing much different. Tashigi was a very fundamentally solid combatant, and she was obviously comfortable with that sword despite how large it was. She still had some bad habits, though. Blocking instead of dodging or parrying, something which could be rectified by having her fight someone physically stronger than her, some reaction training to get her more accustomed to high-speed combat, maybe getting some practice against high-speed projectiles, get her more used to dealing with those guns I'd seen various grunts wielding…

A paw on my shoulder pulled me out of my thoughts, and I realized I'd been drawing up a training plan for Tashigi like she was a Pokemon. Uh, whoops. Thankfully, no one else was around to see me blushing, though both of my friends shot me very amused looks. Made me thankful that we'd arrived at our cabin, since it let me suppress those thoughts in favor of ducking inside and taking a look around.

It was, as I expected, a very spartan room, with a small desk beneath a round window, a dresser in one corner, and a one-person bed stuffed in the other. I sat down on the bed with a sigh, and debated releasing the rest of my team before deciding against it. The room was barely big enough for the three of us as it was, and releasing everyone else would just be asking for trouble. Torterra especially would probably capsize the ship outright.

"Well," I sighed, "Looks like we're stuck here for a while, or at least until Smoker finds out someone I can hitch a ride with to farther down this Grand Line place." The gruff, white-haired captain had said he'd call in to see if there were any records of Sinnoh in this World Government's files, but I wasn't going to hold my breath, especially since he had admitted that past a certain point in the Line, it was basically all pirates and lawlessness, with few if any Marines daring to brave those seas.

Actually, Gardevoir spoke up, and I looked over, only to pale when I recognized the look she was giving me. Now that we have a moment, Lucas, I believe we have something to talk about. I winced at the sharp bite in her tone. Oh boy, here it comes.

"Look, Gardevoir, I can explain," I started nervously as the Psychic/Fairy-type loomed over me. A quick glance told me that Lucario had long since made himself scarce like a coward, and I whimpered internally as my friend's eyes began glowing an ominous bright blue.

-o-

Smoker raised a brow as he saw the blue, jackal-like Lucario race past. The thing had come across as a rather stoic sort, so the look he vaguely identified as near-panicked was a surprise. What on this ship could have spooked something that would fight barehanded against a trained swordswoman without even flinching?

YOU IDIOT!

He got his answer when an invisible wave of force blasted past, causing the nearby grunts to stumble and causing him to snap into his Logia form on instinct. The familiar female voice roaring in his head didn't do him any favors either.

WE STUMBLE UPON THE BIGGEST GROUPING OF UNOWN IN CENTURIES, A COLONY OF PSYCHICS SO POWERFUL THEY CAN LITERALLY REWRITE REALITY ON A WHIM, AND YOU RECALL THE ONLY POKEMON KEEPING YOU SAFE FROM THE BACKLASH? YOU SLOWPOKE-BRAINED, SELF-SACRIFICING—I SWEAR THE ONLY REASON LADY CYNTHIA HELPED YOU BACK IN ETERNIA IS BECAUSE SHE KNEW YOU'D HAVE STUMBLED YOUR WAY TO AN EARLY GRAVE WITHOUT IT, BECAUSE YOU HAVE ALL THE SURVIVAL INSTINCTS OF A CONCUSSED BAGON!

"Tch…" Smoker reflexively dug a finger into his ear to clean it out, grimacing as it didn't do anything for the ringing in his head. "Telepathy of all things… Just when you think you're getting used to what the Grand Line has to offer."

-o-

And I hope you've learned your lesson, Gardevoir huffed, finally done berating me for my actions.

"Yes, ma'am," I groaned from where I was lying facedown on the floor. My friend had decided to punctuate her "lecture" with some physical blows, though thankfully she'd still held back enough to cause minor cosmetic damage as opposed to what I knew she was capable of.

"Urgh," I groaned, pushing myself back into a sitting position. "I severely doubt we'll ever end up in that situation again. What're the odds of finding another colony of Unown out here?"

"What are the odds of finding any Pokémon out here" was what I didn't say, but the words hung heavy over us as I leaned back against the bed with a sigh.

"A whole new world out there," I muttered, torn between excitement and despair. "Exactly what I'd wanted, a whole new place to explore, but home's so far away…" Oh Arceus, what was Cynthia going to think? What was Mom going to think? Barry, Professor Rowan, Dawn, how were they gonna take the news? That their rival, protege, friend, just up and vanished doing League work?

There was a huff, and I started when Lucario, who must've snuck back into the room, laid a supporting paw on my shoulder. I looked over to see a smile on his face, and when he extended his Aura I couldn't suppress a small gasp. The sheer amount of confidence, of faith, was near overwhelming, faith in me, in my choices, and in my ability to get us all home.

Lucario's right, Gardevoir added as she knelt down on my other side. We've been by your side all the way to Distortion and back. We will find our way home, Lucas, together.

"…Heh." I grinned. "Since when were you the one for sentimental lines like that, Gardevoir?"

Hmph, my friend scoffed playfully. Since Torterra can't be here without capsizing this boat, I suppose I have to do what I can to keep you on the right track.

"Land ho!" And that's the first good news I've had today! I perked up at the call, rushing out onto the deck to see a dark brown speck off in the distance, growing larger by the second.

"That didn't take long at all," I commented, hearing Smoker and Tashigi come out from inside the ship. "You guys weren't kidding when you said we were close to land."

"We're not exactly here on vacation," Smoker grunted back, dragging… Some random guy in a jacket and top hat. He was wearing cuffs, though, so was he a pirate? "Enjoy your last breaths of free air, Mr. 11," the white-haired captain growled. "Because when we're done here, you and the rest of your Baroque Works comrades are getting a one-way trip to Impel Down."

I watched, confused, as Smoker ordered a few grunts to tie the man to the mast. Why bother bringing him out of whatever cell he was in? Tashigi probably noticed my confusion, because she quickly walked over to explain.

"That's Mr. 11, a Frontier Agent for the criminal organization Baroque Works. The only lead we have on them right now involves Alabasta, whose princess, one Nefertari Vivi, has been missing for two years. We're here to get to the bottom of this, and hopefully bring Baroque Works down."

We? Gardevoir asked pointedly, getting Tashigi to flush in embarrassment.

"Well, uh," Tashigi stammered, "Well, I-we were just thinking that your team's abilities would be a big help with figuring things out, and they obviously can hold their own in a fight so I was hoping you'd be willing to–"

"We'll help," I interrupted, striding past her to focus on the strip of land ahead of us. "My team and I have some experience with criminal organizations. It'll be just like old times." And if there was even a small chance that our help would avert the kind of disaster that bastard Cyrus had tried to cook up, then there really wasn't any choice at all.

"New world, same old problems," I muttered with grim amusement, and I felt more than I saw Gardevoir roll her eyes behind me.

Here we go again.


Here's something a little different from my usual, featuring the main character of my most recent run in Pokémon Platinum and a colony of reality warpers who take subconscious wishes a little too literally. Big thanks to The Patient One for lending a helping pen with getting this out, and let me know what you guys think!