Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

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    Mei
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    Default Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    Prologue: Snow



    Beneath a steadily darkening sky, snow fell.

    Storm clouds rolled down from the north, where mountains reached up icy peaks to scrape the heavens. Carried on a fierce, chill wind born from the beat of Articuno’s wings, the clouds blanketed the sky above the foothills and the northern plains. Slowly the first flakes drifted down, snatched away by the savage wind before they could touch the ground; as the temperature plunged, more and more began to fall, until the air was a maze of swirling whiteness.

    It was the first storm of the winter, but it would not be the last.

    Slanting diagonally with the force of an icy wind that shrieked and howled with anger, the white flakes gusted and spiraled, flung into cascading waves or miniature cyclones of icy crystals with every minute shift of the wind. An inch of snow already covered the hard-frozen ground, bending into submission the weakening stalks of dried, dead grass. A solitary tree, its branches withered and leafless, creaked and groaned as its roots fought against the force of the wind.

    Through the snowstorm tramped a Zangoose, one razor-clawed paw held up to shield his eyes from the stinging snow. Flakes clung to his thick pale fur, melting only to refreeze into clumps that obscured the red zigzag across his chest and made him appear to be some strange, undiscovered Ice Pokémon.

    Close behind the Zangoose followed a skinny Mightyena, his black coat liberally dusted with snowflakes. With his grey pointed ears flattened back against the wind and his narrow snout hovering just above the snow-covered ground, the Pokémon appeared to be utterly miserable. His red eyes were narrowed to slits, full of boiling frustration at the meager quality of the trail that he had been ordered to follow.

    “This is ridiculous, Zed,” the Mightyena growled finally. Although he spoke in normal tones, his voice was barely audible over the high-pitched shriek of the wind. “How am I supposed to scent anything in this stuff? For all we know, it’s still hiding back in the forest, having a good laugh.”

    “You think I don’t know that?” the Zangoose shot back, angrily slicing one paw out in front of him as though his claws could tear through the wall of swirling snow that surrounded them in every direction. “I’m not the one who insisted we keep going.”

    Growling inarticulately, the Mightyena lowered his head to the ground again. His nose was a frozen, painful lump of cold, absolutely useless—he doubted if he could scent even a noxious Vileplume at the moment—and the snow was piling up, obscuring any footprints they could fall back upon to help them find their quarry.

    “Like looking for a Geodude in a landslide,” the Zangoose muttered sourly.

    Still the snow fell, still the wind howled and bit through their fur to chill them to the bone. The empty, icy scenery of the plains was unchanging; they might have been walking in place for all they knew. The Mightyena, giving up on the futile attempt to find a day-old scent beneath the growing layer of snow, thought dreamily of Aspear berries that could thaw his frozen snout. Zed, his fur caked with ice, focused on following the faint, narrow footprints in the snow, the only sign of the silent companion that preceded them.

    Suffering in silence, the pair of Pokémon stumbled along, growing colder by the instant. Their paws were growing numb; small, barely noticeable irregularities in the terrain caused them to stumble every few feet, often nearly falling when their exhausted nervous systems could not react quickly enough.

    “Orias! Orias!” The Zangoose’s hoarse yell rose above the sound of the storm.

    Several yards in front of them, a small dark figure paused. Turning slowly around, the Weavile brushed snowflakes from his blue-black fur and fixed Zed in a baleful stare. “…Yes?”

    The brief scrap of courage that the Zangoose had found drained away beneath the Weavile’s intense, unblinking gaze. “We… we have to stop,” he muttered. “It’s too cold. Grim’s half-frozen, he can’t smell a thing…”

    The Weavile brought his paws together, the curved claws touching, beneath his chin; the gesture was unusual for a Pokémon. “If we stop now, we’ll only lose time.” His voice was flat, emotionless.

    “We’re losing time already!” Zed replied hotly. “It could have gone anywhere in this storm; we don’t even know where to look for the trail anymore. If we rest now, we can keep searching once the snow stops.”

    “No.” Orias turned his back, curtly ending the conversation.

    “For Arceus’s sake!” the Zangoose shouted. “We’re not Ice-types like you are! We’ll faint if we keep going for much longer.”

    The wailing of the wind was the only sound for a long, long moment. Fear began to grow in the Zangoose’s pink eyes; the Mightyena, half-asleep from the numbing effect of the cold, wondered vaguely why they weren’t still walking.

    When Orias finally spoke, it was quietly and in the same flat tone as before. “I was told that Team Razor was the best tracking team in Nexus City. I see now that I was wrong.”

    “That’s not fair,” Zed protested, indignant. “Just because—”

    The Weavile held up one tri-clawed paw, and the Zangoose’s voice choked off abruptly. “Stay here and rest, if you can travel no farther,” Orias said quietly. “I will continue on.” Another pause, while the snow fell ever faster, and Zed struggled with feelings that mixed relief and apprehension. “When next you present yourself at the Nexus City Rangers’ Guild, Zangoose, I think that you will not find a warm reception.”

    Without another word the Weavile strode off into the snowstorm. Zed watched him for a moment, wondering if it was a bluff, but the dark figure dwindled into the distance and soon disappeared from sight through the tumbling snowflakes. Shivering uncontrollably, the Zangoose collapsed to the ground, too exhausted to stand upright any longer. With a pitiful growl, Grim sat down by his side, and the two Pokémon huddled together while the dark sky emptied snow and ice onto the world below.

  2. #2
    Mei
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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    Chapter One: Ruby


    When she opened her eyes, she thought at first that she had gone blind.

    She could see nothing but faintly glittering whiteness in an uneven mottling of lighter and darker shades. The color pressed against her eyes with the gentle weight of a light blanket. No sky, no ground, nothing but the pallid, monochromatic emptiness.

    It was cold. She had never been this cold before, not that she could remember. The cold seemed to have worked its way under her skin, seeping into the hollows of her bones and filling her veins with ice. Gradually she realized that she was shivering uncontrollably, her teeth chattering, the fire in her chest dwindling to a faint ember…

    There was something odd about that, although she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

    Groggily, she thought that she should probably get up, yet the idea of motion seemed to require so… much… effort. Far easier to simply lie here and wait for something to happen. Her brain didn’t feel quite right; she felt sleepy, a bit disoriented, wrapped in a gentle fog. The back of her skull ached dully, as if she had been hit with something.

    Her hands and feet were beginning to feel numb. It was actually a rather pleasant sensation, she decided, like gradually sinking into a warm bath. She wished hazily that the rest of her body, the parts still icy-cold and wracked with shivers, would just give in and go numb as well.

    And yet the pitiful, smoldering ember deep inside her refused to die. She felt a flicker of irritation—so faint; all of her emotions were faint and dreary—at its stubbornness. She was so tired, and her head hurt… Easier just to go to sleep and forget everything.

    She closed her eyes against the white emptiness that filled her vision, and opened her mouth in a wide, weary yawn. An instant later she was choking and spluttering, trying to spit out the icy coldness that had filled her mouth and slithered down her throat.

    Snow, she realized dimly. She remembered snow.

    It took enough effort to move a continent, but she opened her eyes again. She blinked, numb eyelids moving with agonizing slowness over tired eyes, and the clinging snowflakes fell away from her face. With eyes that stung from the sudden exposure to cold air, she gazed up into a deep-blue, cloudless sky.

    The sight revitalized her, giving her enough strength to stand up and shake off the thin blanket of snow that had covered her. Her feet were still numb, and her balance didn’t appear to be working quite right; she stumbled and nearly fell, catching herself with hands that ached and throbbed when they hit the icy ground. The cold must have been affecting her back, as well: as hard as she tried, she couldn’t stand up any straighter than a sort of stooped crouch. Maybe that was why the ground seemed to be much closer than normal.

    Stamping her feet in an attempt to beat some feeling back into them, she surveyed her surroundings. She stood in a wide, snow-covered field that stretched almost as far as she could see in every direction: a featureless level expanse of white, broken in a few places by the skeletal outlines of small trees. Off to the left—the north, she guessed, although she had no way to be sure—the land rose into rolling hills that sloped gradually higher until they met angular blue mountains on the very edge of the horizon.

    She had never seen this place before.

    The thought was vaguely worrying, but her weary brain—fettered by sheer exhaustion as well as the numbing cold—couldn’t comprehend exactly why. With a mental shrug, she took a wobbling, uncertain step. She had to hurry, had to get to—

    Now, why was it that she couldn’t remember where she was going?

    A frown creased her face, dislodging a few stray snowflakes. Not recognizing the landscape was natural enough, she supposed, but not even remembering what she was doing here…?

    Fear whispered into existence, icy fingers caressing her spine. Had she hit her head on something? Had the cold permanently affected her brain?

    Yet as hard as she tried, she could remember nothing. Some strange sort of fog seemed to have gotten inside her head, coiling around her memories until their outlines blurred and faded away. The memories were so close that it felt as though she could almost reach out and touch them, yet they slipped between her fingers like smoke. All at once she was on the edge of tears, shuddering with fear and frustration.

    A gentle breeze began to blow, picking up stray snowflakes from the ground and sending them spiraling through the air. Although sunlight beamed down from the clear sky, she felt terribly cold. What was she going to do?

    She wanted to curl up into a ball and hide until it was all over.

    Her eyes, nervously scanning her surroundings, caught movement far in the distance. A minute speck of green trundled across the field of snow, moving at a steady pace in the general direction of the mountains. It was too far away for her to distinguish exactly what it was, but she knew that it had to be a Pokémon of some kind.

    And where there were Pokémon, there had to be humans.

    Sighing with relief, she started shakily in the direction of the speck. She had only taken a few unsteady steps when she paused, a strange gleam in one snowdrift drawing her gaze. As the sunlight fell upon the mound of snowflakes, it looked as though there was a faint glow beneath the snow.

    She shook her head, trying to clear it, and the twinkle of color vanished. The cold really must have done something to her brain, she decided, and set off in a weary, shambling walk, aiming for the Pokémon in the distance.

    -----

    Either her brain had been damaged more badly than she had thought or the vast flatness of the plains was playing tricks with her perception, because the Pokémon was much farther away than she had first guessed. When she finally hobbled close enough to be able to identify it, she wondered suddenly if this was all just some strange sort of dream.

    The Pokémon that ambled along the edge of a broad road of white stones was a cute little green turtle, the earthy shell on its back and small leaves sprouting from its head serving to identify it as a Turtwig. But it was staggeringly, impossibly large—nearly as tall as she was!

    Suddenly realizing that following such a mutant might not be a good idea, she tried to walk backwards as quickly and quietly as she could. She must have made some noise, though, because the huge Turtwig halted. Its head turned, and a pair of yellow eyes focused on her face. After looking at her for a moment, its mouth opened in a smile, and it raised one stumpy leg and waved. “Hello!”

    She stared at it, confounded. Yes, this was definitely a dream.

    The Turtwig’s broad smile shrank slightly. “Uh… Are you okay?”

    “You… talked.” Her voice sounded strange in her own ears.

    “Um…” the Turtwig said, an expression of confusion wrinkling its green-skinned face, “Yes, I did. Is… is there something wrong with that?”

    She shuddered. “P… Pokémon can’t talk!”

    It was the Turtwig’s turn to look completely dumbfounded. “…Are you sure you’re feeling all right?” it asked slowly.

    “Well, I did hit my head—I think—but I’m okay,” she replied nervously. This was completely surreal; she couldn’t actually be talking to a Pokémon.

    The Turtwig nodded. “That would explain it, I guess. Because, I mean, you’re a Cyndaquil, and you're talking to me right now, aren’t you?”

    “I'm not a—” She waved her hands wildly in denial—and then stopped, frozen. One of her arms still stretched in front of her, pointing towards the Turtwig, but it wasn’t a human arm at all. It was a short, small appendage, covered with cream-colored fur and ending in a small paw.

    Trembling she raised her hand—her paw—to her face, searching for human features. Instead of a normal nose and mouth, her paw touched a long, slightly curved snout.

    Suddenly the strange feeling she had experienced before—the feeling that there was a tiny flame burning deep inside her—made perfect, terrifying sense.

    I’ve turned into a Cyndaquil.

    “Everything all right?” the Turtwig asked pleasantly.

    She couldn’t help but stare at it, horror-struck. It wasn’t that the turtle Pokémon was unnaturally large, it was that she was too small. She was Pokémon-sized.

    “You’re acting kind of funny…” the Turtwig said, after a moment.

    “Oh? Oh, yes. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha…” Her forced laughter trailed away into an awkward silence. “I… I’m all right.” It was a flat-out lie; she felt as far from all right as it was possible to be.

    “Oh, good! I’m Twig, by the way,” the Turtwig told her, smiling hopefully.

    “Original name,” she replied drily, eyeing the small sprout growing from its skull.

    The leaves of the Turtwig’s small sprout wilted slightly. “Hey, I didn’t come up with it,” he muttered. Brightening again, he added, “And who’re you? I don’t think I’ve seen a Cyndaquil around here before.”

    A name. For an instant she nearly panicked, certain that she would be unable to remember. To her relief, the strange fog that occupied the parts of her mind where memory should be shifted slightly and divulged a single word. “I’m… Ruby.”

    “Nice to meet you, Ruby!” the Turtwig chirped at once. “Are you a Ranger? You’re not from Northtown, are you? I don’t think there are any Cyndaquil there. Were you out on the plains during that huge blizzard yesterday?”

    A Ranger? North… town? Helpless beneath the deluge of questions, she hunched her shoulders defensively, wanting to curl up into a nice, safe ball. “I, uh… I travel around? A lot?”

    She had been certain that the Pokémon would see through such a lame answer, but the Turtwig’s happy smile never flickered. “Oh, okay,” it said, as if that explained everything. “I get it. Still, you must’ve been all sorts of places, right? All over Chelona?”

    “Yeah…” Ruby gulped. Was Chelona the name of this place? She sighed tiredly and hung her head, unable to believe that she didn’t even remember the name of the region.

    “Oh, I’m so sorry!” the Turtwig squeaked, taking the sigh as a sign of irritation. “I’m keeping you standing in the snow; so rude of me… You’re going to Northtown, right? I am, too. We can talk as we walk.”

    Feeling that she was only getting herself into deeper trouble, Ruby reluctantly crossed the remaining feet of snow that separated her from the roadway. The hunched-over stance of the Cyndaquil felt more natural now; she didn’t know whether to be glad that it was more comfortable, or horrified that she was adapting so quickly. A bitter, burning sensation filled her throat; her mouth twisted uncomfortably.

    The road was wide and flat, constructed of some type of smooth white rock. Not a single one of the broad cobbles was broken or missing; the stone felt as slick as glass, but it wasn’t slippery. No snow appeared to have fallen on it.

    “This is a strange road,” she ventured, wondering if the comment would unleash another avalanche of chatter from the Turtwig.

    The Pokémon gave her an odd look. “Well, yeah, obviously. It’s one of the Ways.”

    “The what? …I mean, yes, of course. Everyone knows the Ways, right?” She laughed, awkwardly.

    “Of course!” The little Turtwig sounded almost offended; its yellow eyes glittered. “The Ways are some of the last remnants from the Old Times, when the humans ruled Chelona.”

    Ruby stopped dead, staring at him. “Humans made this road?”

    “Yeah, that what I just said.” The Turtwig frowned at her. “For a traveler, you don’t know very much, do you?” It shrugged, an inelegant movement of its shell, and kept walking. Ruby scuttled along behind him, struggling to keep up with his springy gait.

    “Don’t worry, though, we’re not going to run into any humans walking down the road,” it added, as they continued along. “Humans are practically myths now, as rare as the legendaries. I think there might be one or two in Nexus City, but other than that there aren’t… Is everything all right?”

    “Fine,” Ruby replied vaguely, hastily removing the expression of shock that had crossed her face. There weren’t any other humans in the whole region? What on earth was she going to do?

    They walked in silence for a few minutes, the icy scenery moving by at a Slowpoke’s pace. The Turtwig strolled happily along, a contented smile on its reptilian face. Ruby walked far less smoothly, her stumbles and uneven steps a product of her turbulent thoughts as well as her being unaccustomed to the body of a Cyndaquil.

    “I bet you’ve seen tons of Ranger Teams,” the Turtwig said finally, sounding hopeful.

    Ruby flinched at the statement, wishing that the Pokémon would stop bringing up subjects that she knew nothing about. “Oh, yeah. Loads,” she said, unenthusiastically. “Are you a …Ranger?” Ranger Team, she thought, filing the name away for later. A game of some kind?

    “…Yes!” it replied almost immediately, yet another huge smile stretching its beaky mouth. “On Team, uh… uh… Team Sprouts! And I’m going to be the best Ranger ever, in all of Chelona!”

    “I’m sure you will,” she replied, privately reflecting that being a Ranger must not be terribly difficult if such a silly young Turtwig thought that it could be the best one ever. Watching the little turtle bounce back and forth across the road, brimming with excitement, she couldn’t help but smile.

    Her smile soon vanished, however, as the Turtwig continued to pepper her with questions about the places she had been, the sights she had seen, and the famous Rangers that she had met. She wanted to shout at it that she knew nothing about what it was babbling about, that she could barely remember her own name, that she was a member of a species that had apparently almost disappeared from the region. With an effort she reined in her temper, pasting a smile on her face. Was it convincing? The unfamiliarity of the Cyndaquil’s face made it impossible for her to tell what it looked like, but the Turtwig seemed not to see anything amiss.

    “Will we be there soon?” she asked, after a while.

    The Turtwig paused, halfway through an animated, enthusiastic description of… something. Ruby hadn’t really been paying attention for the past ten minutes or so. “Oh, we’re about halfway there,” he chirped, and resumed his story.

    Ruby groaned and closed her eyes. Only halfway! That must mean another half hour at least; thirty more minutes of listening to the Turtwig babble, or dodging its questions and hoping it didn’t find out that she had no idea what she was talking about.

    Help me, she thought wearily, directing the prayer out across the empty plain. Unsurprisingly, there was no answer.

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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    You description of the environment is what most vibrantly caught my eye. The word choice in many instances of description uses refreshing wordplay and imagery to paint the scene of frigid loneliness and establish the dismal tone of the first chapter and the situation of Ruby, as opposed to cookie-cutter listing or merely glossing over details to create a general picture of a blizzard on the plains.

    The descriptions urged me to read further.

    Still, a lot of the dialogue and character interactions, especially the first chapter, read as if I am simply playing the original game:

    Human turned starter Pokémon “X” finds another starter Pokémon “Y”. Y is an aspiring [heroic title]. Y agrees to travel and take responsibility for X. The two forge a friendship.

    Albeit Ruby’s attempt to forcibly assimilate herself into a role admired by Twig in order to secure a guide into the world is not strictly “moral” and does add to the humanity of her character, all of it seems forced (especially the Pokémon puns and idioms).

    It may be too early to judge, though hopefully the plot is not too reminiscent of the games.

    Lastly, your use of the single sentence paragraph loses its appeal and sense of importance if it is used too often, as is the case with the prologue and the first chapter. Do not be afraid of long paragraphs. It may be a minute stylistic choice and I don’t prefer it, but you may and want to keep using it, though overuse can just make readers wonder why it is even used to this extent.

    Be cautious of overuse of a special device, or it may lose its luster.

    Overall, I’ll be reading the next one and paying attention to character interactions and plot details.

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    Mei
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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    Quote Originally Posted by Brightness
    Still, a lot of the dialogue and character interactions, especially the first chapter, read as if I am simply playing the original game:

    Human turned starter Pokémon “X” finds another starter Pokémon “Y”. Y is an aspiring [heroic title]. Y agrees to travel and take responsibility for X. The two forge a friendship.
    Yes, it's a lot the games, and will be for the next few chapters. It will hopefully become less similar as the story progresses.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brightness
    Lastly, your use of the single sentence paragraph loses its appeal and sense of importance if it is used too often, as is the case with the prologue and the first chapter. Do not be afraid of long paragraphs. It may be a minute stylistic choice and I don’t prefer it, but you may and want to keep using it, though overuse can just make readers wonder why it is even used to this extent.
    Sometimes it's hard to avoid single-sentence paragraphs, especially during dialogue, but you're right, I probably shouldn't be using them as much as I do. I'll try to watch out for that in the future.

    Thanks for the criticism; it was very helpful.

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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    Quote Originally Posted by Mei View Post
    Yes, it's a lot the games, and will be for the next few chapters. It will hopefully become less similar as the story progresses.



    Sometimes it's hard to avoid single-sentence paragraphs, especially during dialogue, but you're right, I probably shouldn't be using them as much as I do. I'll try to watch out for that in the future.

    Thanks for the criticism; it was very helpful.
    I don't mean dialouge; I only refer to narration.

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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    Chapter Two: A Shortcut


    The sun was definitely setting, Ruby decided. She wasn’t sure what its exact position had been when she had first awoken, but she was certain that it was much closer to the eastern horizon now. Both her shadow and the Turtwig’s had begun to elongate, stretching out sideways across the smooth stones of the road.

    “Will we be there soon?” she asked, again.

    “About ten more minutes,” it replied cheerfully. “Although… There’s a shortcut through the hills up there—” It pointed with one stubby little leg, towards where the plain began to rise into low hills— “so we could go that way, if you want.”

    Ruby shrugged her shoulders, a gesture that felt very strange in the Cyndaquil’s body. “Sure,” she said, figuring that it couldn’t hurt to get to wherever they were going a bit faster. Her head ached dully and she was beginning to feel hungry, but she had enough strength left to climb a hill or two.

    “Great!” the Turtwig said chirpily, and led the way off the road and across the field, towards the hills. The snow hushed softly beneath their feet; Ruby thought that it felt unpleasantly, almost unnaturally cold. She walked as quickly as she could, wondering a bit uneasily whether her transformation into a Cyndaquil was the reason she felt so chilly.

    To her gratitude, the Turtwig’s chattering ceased as they neared the hills. Although a contented smile remained on its face—she was beginning to wonder whether it ever stopped smiling for more than a few seconds—the stream of words slowed and eventually stopped altogether as it focused on their path.

    The ground began to slope upwards, and Ruby’s sore feet encountered bumps and pebbles under the thin layer of snow. It became a struggle to keep up with the Turtwig; the turtle Pokémon marched determinedly along, its pace unchanging despite the steadily increasing elevation.

    “Are you sure this is a shortcut?” she complained as they reached the crest of the hill. She had hoped that she would be able to see their destination from the top, but the view was only of dozens more snow-covered hills, every single one looking taller than the one they had just climbed.

    “Of course,” the Turtwig replied, sounding slightly out of breath. “Northtown’s in a valley behind a couple of the bigger hills, that’s why you can’t see it from here. All we have to do is follow that ravine—” it pointed towards a narrow gully that ran between two hills— “and we’ll be there in no time!”

    “If you say so,” Ruby said wearily, wondering whether ‘no time’ was more or less than an hour. She started down the other side of the hill, slipping slightly on the icy slope; her balance was still a little off. The Turtwig followed her more slowly, placing each foot with care.

    The ravine was a narrow depression between two of the hills, its sides high and steep as though a stream had once flowed through it. It was only lightly dusted with snow; blue shadows gathered in its depths. Ruby squinted, wondering if the persistent cold was affecting her vision. An odd sort of distortion seemed to fill the air around the ravine, almost as though she was looking at it through a heat haze.

    The Turtwig saw the strange miasma in the air at the same time she did, and shock painted its reptilian face. “Wait, Ruby!” it called urgently. “Come back!”

    She turned back to look at the Turtwig, confused, and her foot landed on a particularly slippery patch of ice and skidded out from under her. She landed heavily on her back, stunned, and before she could recover she found herself sliding down the hill at a dizzying pace, heading towards the ravine.

    “Ruby!” the Turtwig wailed.

    Seeing the strangely distorted patch of air approaching, Ruby struggled to stop herself, digging her paws into the snow. Her momentum was too great, though, and she continued her headlong skid into the ravine. As she passed through the area where the distortion had seemed to be, she felt a brief sharp chill, as through she had been plunged into a bucket of freezing water. The sensation faded almost instantaneously.

    -----

    To Ruby’s relief, the slope of the hill flattened and she was able to stop herself from sliding any further down the gully. Groaning, she climbed to her feet and tried to brush the snow off of her fur. The bumpy slide down the hill had doubled the number of aches and bruises that she felt.

    “Ruby!” The shout came from behind her, oddly muffled.

    She turned around, looking for the Turtwig, and was surprised to find that she could see only a hazy, rather warped image of it, as though she were looking at it through water or smoke. The strangeness lasted for only a few seconds: once the Pokémon passed the point where she thought that the strange haze had been, she could see it perfectly clearly.

    “Oh, thank Arceus,” the Turtwig panted as it reached her. “I was so worried… Are you all right? Did you hurt yourself?”

    “I’m fine!” Ruby replied, rather more sharply than she intended. “Let’s keep going.”

    Its yellow eyes gazed at her mournfully, and she felt a sudden brush of unease. “This is a bad place, Ruby,” it said, very quietly. “We shouldn’t be here.”

    “What do you mean?” she asked nervously.

    “This place…” The Turtwig swallowed hard, closing its eyes tightly. “It’s a mystery dungeon.”

    Ruby stared at it for a few seconds, lost. “What’s a ‘mystery dungeon’?”

    The Turtwig’s eyes opened, an expression of disbelief replacing its previous fearful look. “You don’t know? I thought you said you were a traveler!”

    “Uh… Well…” She looked away, avoiding its wide-eyed gaze. “I think my brain got rattled around a bit when I fell down the hill. I’m… having trouble remembering things at the moment.” Well, that was certainly true, she thought sardonically.

    “Oh, all right. Well.” The Turtwig took a deep breath. “Mystery dungeons are strange mazes created by a spatial anomaly.”

    It paused, clearly waiting for a reaction, but Ruby just looked blank. “Okay…”

    “They appear all over the place,” the Turtwig continued. “This one here must be new; it wasn’t here the last time I went this way. Anyway, a mystery dungeon essentially takes the features of the landscape and warps them, creating a huge maze. They’re really easy to get lost in, and they’re never the same each time—if you go through a mystery dungeon and then come back a couple of days later, it’ll be completely different. The spatial distortion’s that strong.”

    Was it pulling her leg? Ruby frowned at the young Pokémon, but its manner was deadly serious. “All right,” she said slowly. “So we’re inside a mystery dungeon. How do we get out?”

    “We have to get to the end of the maze. There’ll be stairs that show us we’re going the right way. That’s one of the weirdest things about mystery dungeons: you can go up a dozen sets of stairs, and you’ll come out of the dungeon on the same elevation you went in on.”

    Again, she examined its face for any indication that it was joking. Seeing none, she reluctantly decided not to question its barely-believable statements. “Okay, then. Should we start looking for the stairs?”

    “Wait!”

    The sheer panic in the Turtwig’s voice surprised her. She stared at it; it was trembling all over, quivering like a leaf in a high wind. “We have to stay together,” it gasped, sounding on the edge of tears. “There’ve been Pokémon who’ve been lost in mystery dungeons for months without ever finding the exit; they just wandered around in circles until they collapsed from hunger. Mystery dungeons are really dangerous; only Ranger Teams are supposed to go inside them.”

    “Well, you’re on a Ranger Team, right?” Ruby said, trying to sound kindly. The poor little Turtwig looked as though it would break down at any second. “We should be fine.”

    “I am? …I mean, I am!” The Turtwig nodded to itself. “Okay!” It took a deep breath, and then beamed at her, its confidence apparently restored. “Let’s go, Ruby!”


    Icy Ravine, B1F

    The Turtwig led the way down the narrow path between the two hills. Ruby trailed after it, wondering again if everything that had happened to her since she had woken up was just a really strange dream. She couldn’t decide which aspect of the situation was the most insane: her amnesia, her transformation into a Cyndaquil, or that she was inside what was apparently a warp in the fabric of space.

    She inspected the edges of the ravine closely, but couldn’t see anything that indicated that the rocks were a result of spatial instability. Tiny tremors? Strange sparkles? A large sign saying “Warning: Spatial Anomaly!” in block letters? None of those were in evidence.

    Although… Was it her imagination, or were the rocks steeper and rougher than they had looked like from the hillside, more like walls than natural formations? There was no snow beneath her feet; she could have sworn she had seen snow in the bottom of the ravine.

    The back of her neck prickled. She looked back over her shoulder, but saw only two narrow, high embankments of earth and stone, with a faint hint of sky in the distance. The ravine looked impossibly long; there was no way that they could have walked so far already. Even though she could see that there was no one following them, the sensation of being watched did not go away.

    Facing forwards again, she nearly walked right into the Turtwig, who had halted. Over its shoulder she could see the reason for the pause: the path split into three, with one branch continuing straight ahead, and the other two shooting off at right angles to their current route.

    “Which way do we go?” she asked.

    “I don’t know!” The Turtwig’s voice was filled with pained indecision. “It could be any of them!” It shuddered, and the leaves that sprouted from its head wilted slightly. “We’re going to take the wrong path, I know it. We’re gonna be trapped here forever…”

    “Don’t be ridiculous!” The certainty in Ruby’s voice surprised her even more than the Turtwig. “We’re not going to be trapped. I… I won’t let that happen!” It was incredibly lame, as motivation went, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say. “The worst thing we can do is get scared. Let’s just pick a path and follow it; if we don’t find the stairs, we’ll turn around.”

    “Oh…kay,” the Turtwig said shakily. “Which way?”

    Ruby grimaced; she had hoped that it wouldn’t ask that. “Let’s go—” she paused, staring at the three pathways. They looked completely identical. “Left?”

    The narrow corridor to the left appeared to be identical to the one they had just exited. Even the sunlight was the same, shining vaguely down from directly above even though Ruby knew that the sun had been setting when they’d entered the mystery dungeon. With a sigh she crossed the sky off of her extremely short mental list of ways they could know which direction they were heading in.

    After about a minute of walking, Ruby was surprised to see the rocky walls on either side of her disappear. The ravine had widened until it seemed that they were standing in a large, open space, looking like an asymmetrical, high-walled room without a ceiling. She groaned as she saw that three other paths led into the same area from different directions. “Now which way do we pick?”

    “None of them!” The Turtwig’s voice was back to its usual chirpiness. Seeing Ruby’s confused look, it trotted across the open space to what looked like a vaguely rectangular hole in the ground. “Come look at this, Ruby.”

    She walked over to look, and was surprised to find herself staring at a neat, perfectly square hole cut into the earth. Narrow stone steps descended into the ground; the first three or so were easy to see, but darkness obscured the rest. It was impossible to tell how far down they went.

    “It’s the stairs, Ruby!” the Turtwig exclaimed, all of its good humor restored. “They’ll take us to the next level of the mystery dungeon. You’re amazing; I never would have guessed that we had to go this way!” Grinning broadly at her, it jumped down onto the stairs and disappeared into the darkness. Ruby followed right on its heels, anxious not to be left behind.

    She paused, though, on the second step. Opaque darkness hung in the air a few steps further down, preventing her from seeing what waited at the bottom of the stairs. Ruby looked at it uneasily, her mind suddenly screaming with warnings of danger. What if it was some sort of trap?

    But it was the only way out, the Turtwig had said. Oh, very well. With a humorless laugh, she reflected that her day could hardly get any worse. Gritting her teeth, she stepped forwards.

    There was a momentary, vivid sensation of having walked through a thin sheet of freezing-cold water. Then she was abruptly out in the open air again, with the strange eternally-noon sunlight beaming down on her.


    Icy Ravine, B2F

    What? Ruby looked around wildly. She was in a chamber similar to the one she had just left: the same high embankments leaving only a few paths for escape, the same snowless ground with rocks protruding here and there.

    “But… But the stairs went underground.”

    “I told you mystery dungeons are weird,” the Turtwig said patiently. “The spatial anomaly twists everything around so much that you could go down a hundred sets of stairs and still be aboveground. It’s different for mystery dungeons in caves, obviously; then you’re always underground.”

    “…Right,” said Ruby, not having understood a word. “So, where do we go from here?”

    “We find the next set of stairs, obviously,” the Turtwig replied. “If we’re lucky there’ll only be one or two more, and then we’ll be out—what’s that?”

    Ruby saw it at the same time: a small blob of blue lying a little ways away, a bright splash of color against the grayish-brown ground. They both walked over to it; Ruby, having paws her paws much more suited to grasping objects than the Turtwig’s stumpy feet, picked it up.

    “It looks like a fruit of some kind,” she said, studying it. It was blue and roughly spherical, with slightly bumpy skin. Why was there a fruit in the middle of a mystery dungeon, where there were clearly no trees?

    “It’s an Oran Berry,” the Turtwig clarified. “The juice has regenerative properties: if you eat it when you’re injured, you’ll heal faster. As for why it’s in a mystery dungeon… I’ve heard that wild Pokémon tend to hoard items. We should keep our eyes out for any more. Mind carrying that one?”

    Ruby shook her head, and then paused as her brain finished processing what it had said. “Ah… What do you mean, wild Pokémon?”

    The Turtwig frowned at her. “You don’t know? Wild Pokémon are Pokémon who haven’t become… civilized, I guess you’d say, but that’s not really a nice way of putting it. They can’t talk the way we’re talking now; they aren’t as… intelligent as normal Pokémon. They won’t live in cities: they hide out in the wild and they’re extremely territorial. All that matters to them is survival.” It gulped, and the greenish skin of its face paled slightly. “The really weird thing about them, though, is that they show up in mystery dungeons. A lot.”

    “And you just mention this now?” Ruby exclaimed, looking wildly over her shoulder as though she expected a mob of angry Pokémon to be sneaking up behind her.

    “I thought you knew,” the Turtwig muttered, rather sullenly. “Being such a traveler, and all.” It plodded away, heading for one of the narrow paths. “C’mon. We need to keep going.”

    -----

    The narrow, winding path that the Turtwig had chosen led to another crossroads, and then another. Each time the Turtwig looked back at Ruby with a hopeful glance, and she shrugged and picked one of the paths at random. They reached a dead end, backtracked to the previous intersection, and picked a different path; this one led to one of the open areas that Ruby thought of as “rooms,” but it was empty except for a small pink berry lying discarded in a corner.

    “Ooh, a Pecha Berry,” the Turtwig said happily, picking it up. “Its juice is an antidote to poison, you know. There aren’t many poisonous Pokémon this far north, but it never hurts to be prepared, I guess.” It looked down at the berry again, frowning. “It’s too bad we don’t have a treasure bag with us; I don’t think we’ll be able to carry any more items.”

    “Raaaaaa!”

    Both Pokémon froze at the sudden high-pitched cry. Two small purple rodents scurried into the room from one of the paths, gnashing their oversized teeth in a manner that was distinctly unfriendly. The Turtwig tensed, crouching low to the ground as though trying to disappear. “Ruby…”

    Ruby did not reply; the instincts of a Cyndaquil were suddenly screaming at her to curl up into a ball and hide. Struggling to remain upright and facing towards to oncoming Pokémon, she sidestepped nervously—and collided with the Turtwig. It shot her a single terrified look as the two Rattata scuttled closer.

    Taking a deep breath in an ineffective attempt to calm herself, Ruby braced her feet against the rocky ground. A distinctly human portion of her mind was telling her that puny little Rattata were not a threat, but the Cyndaquil clearly disagreed.

    The two Rattata stopped a few feet from Ruby and the Turtwig. But rather than attacking, they gazed towards Ruby with reddish eyes that suddenly appeared to be large and mournful, and began to wag their tails back and forth rather sadly.

    Ruby felt her heart soften. They’re kind of cute, she thought. It would be a shame to hurt the poor things. Maybe I—

    The rest of the thought vanished in a gasp of pain as the larger of the two Rattata darted forwards and slashed at her with its claws, raising narrow lines of blood across her left side. Yelling, Ruby stumbled backwards.

    “Hey! Leave her alone!” The Turtwig lunged at the Rattata, slamming into it and knocking it away. As Ruby stared in shock, both Rattata growled and moved towards her again—only to be stopped as the Turtwig stepped in front of her.

    Why is it doing that?

    Exchanging looks of bright-eyed maliciousness, both of the rats attacked the Turtwig, lashing at it with sharp claws. The turtle Pokémon soon began to falter beneath the onslaught, red welts appearing on its face as the Rattata’s claws connected.

    A painful, burning sensation filled Ruby’s throat as she watched. A small, selfish part of her mind told her to get away while the Rattata were distracted. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t banish that persistent little voice, one that sounded the way she thought a human’s voice must sound.

    One of the Rattata caught the Turtwig’s sprout with its claws, ripping a jagged tear along the edge of one tender leaf. The Turtwig let out a high-pitched cry of pain.

    Ruby rushed forwards, her paws flailing in a manner that would have worked better for a human fistfight than a Pokémon battle. By sheer luck she managed to catch one of the Rattata on its snout with her paw; it recoiled, squeaking angrily.

    The other Rattata turned to glare at her, a sound more like a growl than a squeak rising in its throat.

    Help me!

    That thought was neither wholly human nor wholly Cyndaquil; in the rush of panic, there was no longer a distinction. The Rattata lunged, sharp teeth snapping together a bare inch from her leg as she backpedalled frantically. Her foot struck a rock and she tottered, arms waving wildly as she tried to keep her balance.

    “Ruby!” The Turtwig tackled the Rattata, forcing it to the ground with an audible crunch. No sooner had it moved than the other Rattata leapt at it, ready to bite and scratch.

    Regaining her balance, Ruby surged forwards, shoving the leaping rat away. It landed hard on the rocky ground, squealing. When it got up again, rather unsteadily, it seemed to consider for a second and then turned tail and ran, purple paws churning as it streaked for one of the pathways.

    “And don’t come back!” the Turtwig called triumphantly. The other Rattata lay limply beside the turtle Pokémon, apparently unconscious.

    “That was so amazing!” the Turtwig gasped, running over to stand next to her. “We did it! We actually defeated a wild Pokémon!” The words spilled out of its mouth, practically tripping over one another. “I actually made that one faint! We showed them, didn’t we?”

    The tight, nervous energy that had filled Ruby during the battle drained away, leaving her exhausted. The prickling, uncomfortably warm sensation in her throat remained; her headache returned, worse than ever. She couldn’t believe that the little Turtwig, far more battered than she was, could still be so upbeat.

    It had gotten most of those scratches because it had protected her, she realized. The idea was so shocking that she sat right down on the ground, stunned. Why on earth had it done something like that? She certainly wouldn’t help it out if it meant that she’d be in danger… would she? Hadn’t she, already?

    “Ruby? You all right?” The Turtwig’s voice was full of concern.

    It was all too much for her to handle. She climbed to her feet with a weary sigh. “Let’s just find the stairs, okay?”


    Icy Ravine, B4F

    Some indefinable amount of time later—it felt like hours, but the never-changing sunlight made it impossible to keep track of time—two very tired and footsore Pokémon trudged through the fourth level of the mystery dungeon. This level was the most complicated yet, full of narrow pathways that repeatedly intersected or led to dead ends.

    Ruby’s head ached worse than ever; the prickling sensation in her throat refused to go away, making her feel as though she were about to vomit. Worse than the physical discomfort, though, was her mental confusion, as she struggled to find a balance between the part of her mind that was grateful to the Turtwig for having saved her, and the part that insisted that she owed it nothing.

    The narrow pathway began to widen, a sure sign that they were approaching another room. Ruby and the Turtwig picked up their pace slightly, each hoping that this chamber would contain the stairs. The Turtwig had insisted that there couldn’t be more than five levels to the mystery dungeon—but then again, it had been equally certain that there wouldn’t be more than three, and here they were on the fourth level.

    From the pathway, it was easy enough to see the dark, square hole in the ground that indicated the stairs. Perking up, the Turtwig trotted into the room, its gaze fixed on its destination.

    Something rattled.

    The Turtwig looked down at the ground, clearly thinking that it had kicked a loose pebble. Ruby didn’t, and so she saw the blur of purple scales as the Ekans struck.

    “Twig, look out!” she screamed—inside her head, the words refusing to emerge from her throat with enough speed. Knowing that the Turtwig wouldn’t possibly hear her soon enough, knowing that it was absolutely futile, she still opened her mouth to yell—

    But instead of words, she breathed fire.

    A hail of fiery embers shot from her mouth, soaring past the startled Turtwig’s head to strike the Ekans. The snake hissed, thrashing painfully from side to side as the fire scorched its scales. Ruby felt flames bloom on her back as she breathed out again, and a fierce smile lit her dark eyes as the Ekans twisted through one more painful coiling motion and then fainted.

    With a strange sort of mental relaxation, Ruby allowed the flames on her back to extinguish themselves. “Are you all right?” Her voice was perfectly calm, a strange counterpoint to the confused tempest of emotions that she felt.

    “F… fine,” Twig said, slightly shakily. He stared down at the Ekans, and then gave it a tentative poke with one foot.

    With a jolt of surprise, Ruby realized that she no longer thought of the Turtwig as an ‘it.’ She’d even called him by his nickname.

    Well, why shouldn’t I? she argued, rather defensively. I’m a Pokémon now; I can’t think of myself as an ‘it.’ That’d just be… awkward. Besides, she added, watching Twig sidle carefully around the Ekans, Twig deserves at least a little respect. He’s trying hard.

    The little turtle laughed nervously, still eyeing the unconscious Ekans askance, and Ruby smiled. And that’s good enough.

    The stairs were only a few feet away. Twig bounded down them first, vanishing through the plane of darkness that, as usual, obscured the lower steps. Ruby followed him, once again feeling the instant-long rush of cold as she stepped out…

    …onto freshly-fallen snow, now blushing a pinkish-lavender in the light of the sunset. Grinning with pure relief, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath of fresh air cold enough to freeze her lungs. Twig, standing nearby, cheered softly. “We did it!”

    Opening her eyes again, Ruby looked out at the most beautiful sight that… well, that she could remember. After the relentless monotony of the mystery dungeon, even an empty field would have looked beautiful, but this sight, of the brilliant sun setting in a blaze of pink and orange above the snow-covered hills, was nearly enough to bring tears to her eyes.

    The Cyndaquil and the Turtwig watched the sunset in silence for a few minutes, until more than half of the orange disk had been swallowed by the horizon and lavender shadow were beginning to deepen beneath the hills.

    Eventually, Twig spoke up, as Ruby had known he would. “See, it was a shortcut, really! All we do is follow that path down the hills, and we’ll be in Northtown.”

    Ruby couldn’t help but laugh. “Twig, I’ll never listen to you about shortcuts ever again.”

  7. #7
    Mei
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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    Chapter Three: Remembrance


    “I have a confession to make,” Twig said hesitantly, as they walked down the small dirt road towards Northtown.

    Ruby glanced at him, but his expression was hard to read in the dim light. “Oh?”
    “Yeah.” Twig nodded, but said nothing else. He avoided her eyes.

    After about two minutes of silent walking, the snow-covered scenery unchanging, Ruby realized that he wasn’t going to tell her. “Well?” she asked, rather irritated.

    “Well what?”

    “Aren’t you going to tell me?”

    “Oh! Oh. Right.” Twig stopped walking; Ruby halted as well, and they faced each other across the narrow path. Scuffing one foot idly across the ground, Twig looked everywhere except at her face. Suddenly he spoke, all in a rush: “I’m not really on a Ranger Team. I’m not even an apprentice. I lied about that ‘cause I knew you weren’t from Northtown and I wanted to impress you. Sorry.” His sprout drooped, the wilted leaves nearly covering his eyes. “Sorry,” he repeated.

    “That’s okay,” said Ruby, slowly. She had to admit that she wasn’t terribly surprised by the Turtwig’s confession, given his uncertain behavior in the mystery dungeon. “I’m not angry, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

    Twig raised his head, his yellow eyes lighting up. “You’re not?”

    “I’m not.”

    “Really? You’re sure?” he pressed.

    “I will be angry in a few minutes, if you keep asking,” Ruby grumbled. “But no, at the moment I’m not. Get it?”

    Twig nodded hurriedly. “I get it. But…” In a heartbeat his demeanor changed from perky back to nervous; if possible, more nervous than he had been before. “I… I had something I wanted to ask you.”

    “Okay…”

    “Do you… I mean, I thought… Maybe we…” he stuttered, once again avoiding her eyes.

    Ruby sighed. “Spit it out, all ready. I won’t bite.”

    From the petrified look on Twig’s face, he didn’t believe her. “What I meant is…do you want to form a Ranger Team? With me?”

    Not waiting for an answer, he rushed on. “I know, you’re not from Northtown; you probably live somewhere else and want to go back there soon. But when we got through that mystery dungeon together… I was really, really scared and I didn’t know what to do, but you… you were so brave, and you made decisions when I panicked… You saved me from that Ekans. I think we’d be a really good team…”

    Embarrassed by the intensity of the emotion in Twig’s eyes, Ruby looked away. Join a Ranger Team? She could honestly admit that the idea had never occurred to her. What purpose could it possibly serve?

    But on the other hand—or paw, she thought with a grimace, looking down at her small paws—she had no place to go. She didn’t know where she was, or even who she was. The only Pokémon she knew in the entire world was Twig, and he thought that she was just a traveling Cyndaquil. Being on a Ranger Team—though, now that she thought about it, she didn’t even know what Rangers were supposed to do—might give her a way to find out about her lost past.

    “…All right,” she said, after a lengthy hesitation. Twig let out a surprisingly loud whoop for such a small Pokémon, but as he started to talk excitedly Ruby held up one paw to cut him off. “Wait. If we’re going to be on a… Ranger Team… together, there’s something you need to know about me.”

    She took a deep breath, not altogether convinced that she was making the right decision. “I… I’m not a Pokémon. I’m a human.”

    “Huh?” Twig stared at her, evidently confused. “What do you mean? You look like a Cyndaquil to me.”

    “Yeah…” She let the word trail away, struggling to find a way to explain. “I’m in a Cyndaquil’s body, but I’m actually a human. I know it.” She laughed ruefully. “You probably think I’m completely crazy, but it’s true. I woke up this morning, out on the plains, as a Cyndaquil. I don’t know how it happened, how I got there, anything. All I can remember is my name, and that I was a human.”

    The Turtwig continued to stare, saying nothing.

    Ruby hung her head, sure that he thought she was lying or crazy. “You probably don’t want me on your Ranger Team now, right?”

    “No, I still do!” The cheerfulness in Twig’s voice startled her. She looked up, and saw that he was smiling broadly. “I don’t mind that you’re a human. That’s kind of cool, actually. I mean, I’m friends with a real live human!”

    It was her turn to stare. “You mean you don’t mind?”

    “Not at all!” Twig chirped. “Well, yeah, it’s kind of strange, what happened to you—you really can’t remember anything?”

    “Nothing,” Ruby replied dully.

    To her chagrin, Twig appeared to be more impressed than concerned. “Wow,” he sighed. “I wish something that interesting had happened to me.”

    Unsure whether to be amused or insulted, Ruby decided to change the subject. “I know this might seem like a stupid question,” she said, “but what exactly does a Ranger Team do?”

    It was the right subject to pick: Twig’s entire face lit up as soon as she mentioned the word ‘Ranger.’ “Ranger Teams are heroes!” he explained excitedly. “They’re teams of Pokémon that protect all of Chelona. They rescue Pokémon that have gotten trapped in mystery dungeons, they explore uncharted areas, they defend towns from outlaws… some of them even hunt for treasure!”

    Ruby smiled with amusement at the Turtwig’s overeager demeanor, yet a small, secretly adventurous part of her was intrigued by what he was saying. “Go on.”

    Twig hadn’t even stopped talking while she spoke. “The Ranger Team Federation was founded about fifteen years ago, when the mystery dungeons first started appearing. Now they’re all over the region, with Guilds in every city. Rangers are even more respected than Officer Arcanine’s police force, you know. All my friends are on Ranger Teams—well, except for Pichu; he’s too young. But his sister—”

    “Wait, Twig,” Ruby said, cutting across the stream of chatter. The mention of youth had triggered something in the back of her mind; she mentally scolded herself for not having thought of it before. “You must have family around here, right? Will they mind that you’ve joined a Ranger Team?”

    Twig shook his head; the edges of his smile shrank slightly. “My mom won’t mind. She lives in Northtown, anyway; I’ll still be able to see her.”

    “And your dad?”

    A flicker of pain crossed Twig’s face, so quickly that Ruby nearly missed it. Instantly she wished she could call the words back, but the damage had already been done. “…He’s dead,” Twig said shortly. “And we should keep walking; we won’t make it to the Guild before midnight at this rate.” Without another word he continued onwards down the road.

    Ruby followed him, cursing herself for having upset him. It had been purely unintentional, but she nevertheless felt guilty for having brought up what was obviously a painful subject. This is a great beginning to our Ranger Team, she thought sourly, watching the Turtwig shuffle along the road with his head hanging low.

    Putting on a burst of speed, she managed to catch up with Twig just as the road began to turn a corner. The Turtwig kept his gaze straight ahead, refusing to look at her. Ruby swallowed hard. “Look, I’m sorry…” she began.

    “It’s nothing,” Twig muttered.

    “No, it isn’t,” she countered fiercely, surprising both Twig and herself. “I hurt your feelings, even if I didn’t mean to, so I should apologize. Especially if we’re going to be a team. Right?” She held out one paw.

    Twig looked at it blankly. There were a few seconds of silence, and then Ruby felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment as she realized that the Pokémon probably had no idea what a handshake was.

    Withdrawing the proffered paw, she offered a slightly timorous smile instead. “I really am sorry.”

    “It’s all right. You didn’t know.” To Ruby’s relief, Twig’s smile reappeared. “Friends?”

    “Friends,” Ruby replied, and was mildly surprised to find that she actually meant it.

    -----

    Night had fallen by the time the two Pokémon reached the Ranger Guild. A thin crescent moon began to rise, casting a faint shimmer of light on the snow. The deep-indigo sky was cloudless and full of stars; a light, cold breeze blew, causing Ruby to shiver despite her downy fur.

    The Guild loomed up abruptly out of the darkness, like a Wailord surfacing from the deep. It had been hidden from the two Pokémon by a high hill beside the road; now, as they rounded the corner, Ruby saw a large, angular building, its windows bright with interior lights. Snow was gathered heavily on its high, slanted roof; icicles two or three times Ruby’s height hung from the gutters. From the very apex of the roof rose a tall flagpole, bearing a large flag with a design that was unreadable in the darkness.

    As they drew closer to the building, Ruby saw that it was laid out in a three-sided square around a central courtyard. Torches flickered in iron brackets placed at regular intervals along the walls, staining the dark stone with soot and palely illuminating the open, empty space. In the center of the courtyard, a long shadow stretching before it across the snow, stood a single Pokémon.

    As she and Twig entered the courtyard, the Pokémon got down off of its tall tail and bounced towards them. A round-bodied, long-eared mammal, with a huge bushy tail trailing through the snow, it managed to look surprisingly official as it stepped into their path.

    “Hello, Twig,” the Sentret said cordially. “Come to visit the Guild, have you?”

    Twig nodded. “We need to see the Guildmaster, Sachi.”

    The Sentret scratched one floppy ear, nodding. “You can go in. They finished dinner more than an hour ago, but the Guildmaster should still be up. You’ll find him in his study, I suppose.” He switched his gaze to Ruby, scrutinizing her with unexpected intensity. “Who’s your friend, Twig? I don’t think I’ve seen her before.”

    “This is Ruby,” Twig explained. “She’s new here.”

    The Sentret nodded. “Fair enough. Go on in.” He gestured towards the large door with one paw and then hopped away, resuming his sentry stance near the edge of the courtyard. Twig called a good-bye to him, and then continued towards the entrance to the Guild.

    The Guild’s front door was rather intimidating: two large, thick slabs of weather-stained wood held in place by heavy iron hinges. Ruby thought that it looked more like the door of a fortress than anything else. Twig stepped up to the doors, grasped a surprisingly small iron ring, and tugged; the doors opened easily, without so much as a squeak.

    By the unsteady light of the torches, Ruby saw that the Turtwig’s face had gone very pale. She was feeling more than a little nervous herself as she peered through the doorway, trying to get a glimpse of what was inside. “After you?” she suggested.

    “Er… all right,” Twig said shakily. Releasing his grip on the ring, he walked between the two doors, pausing fearfully on the threshold for a few seconds before entering. Ruby followed right on his heels, and the huge doors closed behind her just as silently and lightly as they had opened.

    The two Pokémon stood in a long, high-ceilinged hall that seemed to stretch the entire length of one side of the building. A low wooden table ran along the entirety of the hall, its stained surface lightly dusted with crumbs from a past meal. The floor of the hall was plain stone blocks, cold beneath Ruby’s feet; the whitewashed walls were empty of any decoration besides a few small lanterns. It was far plainer than she had expected; she felt almost disappointed.

    “The Guildmaster’s study is this way.” Twig spoke in a hushed voice, unwilling to disturb the stately silence of the hall. With a nervous jerk of his head, he indicated that they should turn left.

    It seemed to take a very long time to walk down the hall; so long, in fact, that Ruby wondered whether they had wandered into another spacial anomaly. They passed two of the lanterns, separated by a good fifteen feet of bare wall, but the end of the room seemed no closer.

    Her paws were clammy with sweat; she wiped them against her sides, annoyed at her own nervousness. Don’t be ridiculous, she told herself. That Sentret didn’t notice that you’re not actually a Pokémon; there’s no way this Guildmaster will either. Nevertheless, she couldn’t help feeling as though there was a giant label on her forehead, proclaiming her freakish transformation for everyone to see.

    Finally, they passed a rickety-looking spiral staircase and stopped in front of a small wooden door at the end of the hall. A bronze nameplate was affixed to the plain wood. Ruby was surprised to find that she couldn’t read it: whatever it said was written in a strange script that looked more like footprints than anything else. Judging from Twig’s anxious expression, though, they had found the Guildmaster’s study.

    “You knock,” Ruby muttered to her companion.

    Twig shook his head adamantly. “No! You do it.” They argued in whispers for about a minute, until Twig finally acquiesced and knocked lightly on the door. In the quiet of the hall, the sound was unnaturally loud.

    “Come in!” a voice called from the other side of the door, clearly audible despite the muffling wood.

    Exchanging nervous, resolute looks, Ruby and Twig entered the study, practically on tiptoe. Both blinked, narrowing their eyes against the sudden blaze of light that greeted them: the small room was full of lamps, each one easily twice the size of the little lanterns out in the hall.

    A massive, brown-furred shape rose from an armchair in the center of the room. “Twig, my boy!” it roared delightedly, stretching out a pair of burly arms. “Come to join us at last, have you?”

    “Yes, sir,” Twig said quietly. Ruby snuck a glance at him, and saw that he was hunched up uncomfortably, as if trying to disappear beneath his small shell.

    “Excellent!” the Guildmaster boomed. Having finally adjusted to the glaring brightness of the room, Ruby saw that he was a huge Ursaring, so tall that his ragged ears nearly brushed the ceiling. In addition to his height, the Guildmaster was impressively rotund: his belly protruded so much that the circle of pale fur on his chest was more of a distorted oval. His thick brown fur was rather matted, and his sharp claws looked a bit scraggly; overall, Ruby received a strong impression of a Pokémon that had once been formidable but was now past his prime.

    The Guildmaster turned his massive head, and Ruby found herself looking into a pair of pale eyes that measured her calmly and coldly, at odds with the Ursaring’s jovial exterior. She only held his gaze for a few seconds before looking away fretfully.

    “A Cyndaquil, eh?” The Ursaring’s voice managed a surprising gentleness for its volume. “Up from Candela City, are you? We don’t have many of your type around here.”

    Ruby shot Twig a panicked glance; they’d talked about providing her with a credible back-story, but Twig had never mentioned any place called Candela City. “S… Southtown, sir,” she stuttered. “My name’s Ruby.”

    She hadn’t meant to be funny, yet the Guildmaster flung back his head and laughed hugely, his broad shoulders shaking. “A pert one, eh? You’d better watch your step around her, Twig!”

    The green skin of Twig’s face colored darkened with embarrassment. “Yes, sir,” he said woodenly. Sidling closer to Ruby, he added in a whisper, “Sorry, I forgot. Candela City’s another name for Southtown.”

    “Oh.” You might have mentioned it before, she thought grumpily.

    To both of the young Pokémon’s profound relief, the Guildmaster’s laughter faded away. “Well then,” he said, clasping his massive paws behind his head, “I assume you’re setting up a Ranger Team, then? Just the two of you?”

    “Yes, sir.” Both Twig and Ruby answered, this time.

    “Excellent!” the Guildmaster boomed, loud enough that Ruby winced and raised her paws to cover her ears. “And your team name?”

    Ruby nodded to Twig, who said quietly, “Team Remembrance, sir.”

    To their mortification, the Ursaring began to laugh again; if anything, even louder than before. “Well,” he exclaimed, between guffaws, “A bit long for such a small team, eh?” He laughed even harder, apparently convinced that he’d just made an excellent joke.

    Twig’s sprout wilted; he looked rather forlorn. Ruby couldn’t blame him—she’d thought that the name was too much of a mouthful, when he had suggested it, but the Turtwig had seemed so enthusiastic about it that she didn’t want to say no. She’d even started to like it, too, as she’d thought about it more—what name could be more fitting for a team in which one member was an amnesiac?

    “Oh, very well,” the Guildmaster said, his laughter winding down. “I’ll put you two’s names on the roster. Ruby, right?” He paused for a moment, as if struck by a sudden thought, and then looked down at Twig with an expression that had changed subtly. “Hmm. A Turtwig and a Cyndaquil… Will you be looking for a Squirtle, eh, Twig? Trying to set up Team Elemental again?” His words sounded teasing, but there was a flinty hardness in his pale eyes.

    “No, sir.” Twig’s response was barely audible.

    “Good.” The finality in the Ursaring’s voice startled Ruby; Twig actually flinched. The Guildmaster relaxed, a smile creasing his broad face. “It’s getting late; you two should run along now. Go up the staircase out in the main hall—you’ll end up in the common room, and Juno can get you settled in.” He nodded to them and then turned his back, indicating that the conversation was over.

    Ruby and Twig snuck out of the study almost as quietly and timidly as they had entered. As the door of the study closed behind them, Ruby felt herself relax, glad to be away from the Guildmaster’s intimidating presence. Twig, though, still looked tense and sad.

    “Everything all right?”

    “Huh?” Twig jumped, startled; his thoughts had clearly been a million miles away. “Oh, yes, I’m fine. Let’s go see… Juno, was it?” With a smile that was too bright and large to be entirely natural, he turned away and headed for the staircase. For a moment Ruby considered forcing him to tell her what was really the matter, but decided against it: their relationship had already undergone enough turmoil in the few hours since they had met without another argument to add to it.

    The wooden stairs creaked alarmingly as they climbed; Ruby half expected to hear the snap of a step giving way. The boards were worn smooth and flat from frequent use; tiny, discolored rags that clung to the very edges implied that there had once been a carpet of some kind.

    Exiting the tight spiral, they emerged in a warm, spacious room. Ruby, who had assumed that the spartan furnishings downstairs were the standard throughout the Guild, was surprised to see that the walls were covered with pictures and decorations, and that a fire crackled merrily in a large fireplace set into the far wall. Low, cushion-covered benches wrapped all the way around the room, looking very appealing to Ruby’s tired legs.

    And there were Pokémon everywhere. Ruby felt a brief moment of alarm as she realized that her guess of how many Pokémon worked at the Ranger Guild had been far off the mark. Even with the size of the building, she had thought that there couldn’t be more than a dozen or so, yet just a glance around the room showed her nearly twice that number. Some of the Pokémon looked young enough to be Twig’s age; others, like the massive Golem reclining near the fire, were clearly old and experienced. A few of the Pokémon glanced over as Ruby and Twig entered the room; Ruby wilted under their curious looks, hunching her shoulders defensively.

    A yellow rodent leaped up from her seat in the far corner and hurried across the room towards them. “Twig!” she exclaimed, a broad smile appearing on her red-cheeked face. “What are you doing here?”

    “I’ve joined the Guild, Sparky,” Twig replied, a strange note to his voice. With a nervous cough, he gestured towards Ruby. “This is Ruby, my new partner.”

    “Ah.” The Pikachu’s smile never flickered as she met Ruby’s gaze, but her dark eyes were suddenly as cold as the snow outside.

    Faced with such iciness, Ruby’s attempted smile slid awkwardly off her face. “Er… Pleased to meet you.”

    “Ruby, was it? I’m Sparky, Ranger Team Thundersnow. I’m a friend of Twig’s… like you, I suppose.” Oh, how dreadfully cold that sweet voice was. “Funny; he’s never mentioned you to me, before.”

    Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be, is it? Looking back and forth from Twig’s suddenly crestfallen face to Sparky’s razor-edged smile, Ruby felt a sick quiver of anger. “I don’t think it’s that funny,” she said, and despite the bitter knowledge that she was acting just as horribly as the Pikachu, she forced her face into a mean grin. “He never mentioned you to me, either.”

    “Ruby’s from Candela City.” Twig rushed in to fill the sudden silence, casting a pleading look at Sparky. “I met her on the North Way today, and we ended up getting lost in a mystery dungeon—”

    Watching Sparky’s face carefully, Ruby saw the exact moment that the false smile crumpled. For a moment she pitied the Pikachu—Twig’s words, however innocently-meant, had bitten deeply—but any traces of sympathy vanished as Sparky interrupted Twig’s gabbled explanation: “That’s nice, Twig. Why don’t you talk to your new friend about it? She might actually care.” Her voice trembled almost unnoticeably on the last sentence.

    Twig’s head drooped, misery overtaking his features. Ruby glared at Sparky with real fury, this time. “Listen, you—”

    “Ahem.”

    Rather than an actual throat-clearing, the word ‘ahem’ was instead enunciated sharply and perfectly. All three Pokémon wheeled around, looking for the speaker, and were confronted by a slender, elegant feline, her lustrous purple fur marked with gold.

    Except that ‘confronted’ was the wrong description, Ruby reflected. The Liepard’s cool emerald eyes made it clear that she was so far above them as to be nearly on the moon; such a Pokémon could never ‘confront’ someone as low as they. Ruby and Twig in particular, that lofty stare indicated, were a pair of Grimer that had crawled across a just-washed floor. Faced with such supreme arrogance, Ruby felt really intimidated for the first time; the Guildmaster at least had been good-natured despite his daunting exterior, whereas this leopard was clearly not friendly in the least.

    “Visitors are not permitted in the Guild after sundown,” the Liepard continued in a flawless, menacing purr, “And are certainly not to be allowed upstairs even during acceptable hours. Send your guests away, Sparky, and then accompany me to the Guildmaster to determine your penance.”

    “They’re not my guests, Juno.” Sparky’s voice was a miserable, terrified squeak.

    “Yeah!” Twig put in brashly. “We’re a new Ranger Team!”

    Ruby and Sparky both winced as the Liepard turned her head towards Twig, eyeing him as though he were a speck of dirt that had somehow managed to achieve sentience. “I beg your pardon?”

    Under the force of the green-eyed stare, even the irrepressible Turtwig was cowed. “We just joined,” he muttered, fixing his gaze on the floor in front of the Liepard’s dainty cream-colored paws. “Ranger Team Remembrance. Ask the Guildmaster.”

    “I certainly shall.” The Liepard whisked her plumy tail once. “Remain here, all three of you, while I discuss this matter with Ursa. If you are found to have lied—” a growl entered the silken purr— “There will be… consequences.”

    Neither Ruby nor Twig dared to even breathe until the Liepard had vanished down the staircase. As the tip of her tail disappeared out of sight, Twig relaxed with an audible sigh of relief. Ruby loosened muscles that she didn’t realize had tensed in the first place, feeling inordinately grateful that she was out of the Liepard’s range of vision. In a way, the cool leopard had scared her even more than the wild Rattata.

    A small crowd had collected while the Liepard had been dressing them down, as Pokémon all over the room had drifted over to see what was happening. Feeling at least a dozen pairs of eyes resting on her, Ruby fought the urge to curl up in a ball and hide, and forced herself to smile, albeit a bit timidly, at the other Rangers. Twig, who clearly knew many of them, showed no sign of nervousness at being the center of attention.

    “Hi, Zigzagoon!” he chirped, waving to a small mammal whose fur bore a striking pattern of brown and white stripes. “Hi, Brine; hi, Oscar! Hey, Norrit!” The Pokémon he had spoken to—a Seel, an Oshawott, and a plump Munchlax—returned his greeting with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

    “It’s Twig, right?” a bulky Rhydon at the edge of the crowd rumbled. “Kurma and Flora’s boy?”

    A faint, barely noticeable charge entered the air of the room; a few of the Pokémon traded significant looks. Twig nodded solemnly. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

    “Hmm.” The Rhydon folded his arms, tapping gleaming quartz claws thoughtfully against his chin. “Your father was a good Pokémon,” he said, after a moment. “I’m Kinley, leader of Ranger Team Peak.”

    “N… nice to meet you,” Twig stammered. A grin split the Rhydon’s rocky visage.

    A sleek, proud-looking Pidgeotto let out a caw that sounded suspiciously like laughter. “Pidge, Ranger Team Whirlwind,” he squawked. “Yes, we all know you, Twig, but who’s your partner? Quiet one, is she?”

    Ruby did her best to hide behind Twig as the Rangers’ gazes shifted from the Turtwig to her. What was she supposed to say? “Uh…” she stammered, overwhelmed by shyness, “Er…”

    “This is Ruby,” Twig said, smoothly coming to her rescue. “She’s from Candela City originally; there weren’t any openings on Ranger Teams there, so she decided to look in other cities.”

    “…And came all the way up to Northtown?” Pidge chuckled. “You must’ve really been desperate. We don’t get many Fire-types around here, as you might’ve noticed.”

    Ruby was saved from having to provide an answer to the Pidgeotto by the reappearance of the Liepard, who stalked up the staircase as though she were climbing the steps to a throne. “It seems… that you two were telling the truth,” the leopard Pokémon admitted, reluctance tingeing her mellifluous purr. Directing a rather ironic glance at the crowd, she added, “Rangers of Northtown, meet our newest recruits, Team Remembrance. Though it seems that you’ve introduced yourselves already.”

    A small cheer went up, loudest at the front of the crowd, where Twig’s friends were sitting. Ruby, still watching the Liepard apprehensively, saw the beautiful feline’s eyes roll briefly skyward. “Yes, yes, very nice,” Juno sighed. “You two follow me; I’ll show you to your room.”

    Without a backward glance she stalked away; the assembled Pokémon parted without a word to give her room. Twig and Ruby exchanged nervous looks and then chased after her, only managing to catch up at the very edge of the room, as the Liepard turned a corner into a dark hallway.

    “I am Juno, the Deputy Guildmaster and director of apprentice training,” the leopard Pokémon informed them silkily, as they walked down the long corridor. The hallway was poorly lit, but there was just enough light for Ruby to see that wooden doors, each affixed with a bronze plaque, lined both walls. She couldn’t see what the plaques said, but she had a suspicion that it would be in the incomprehensible footprint-style writing, anyway.

    “If you would give me your attention, Ruby?” the Liepard asked, a slight sting to her voice, and Ruby jumped, her focus snapping back to the daunting feline.

    “Good,” Juno said, with a faint purr of satisfaction. “Now, this corridor is restricted to the apprentice teams only. Besides yourselves, we have three other apprentice teams at the moment, at various stages in you training.” She paused smoothly in front of a rather shabby door at the end of the hallway. “This will be your team’s room. As apprentices, you are required to reside within the Guild; if you graduate, you may live outside the Guild if you so wish.”

    Juno extended one paw and daintily pushed the door; it swung open with a groan of badly oiled hinges to reveal a darkened room beyond. “You will find accommodations suitable for two Pokémon,” she continued. “The apprentice teams meet each morning in the common room at seven o’clock sharp; I will explain the operation of the Guild further then.” With an arrogant incline of her head, she took her leave, stalking gracefully back along the corridor.

    Ruby and Twig exchanged rather unhappy glances—Ruby, as tired as she was, found the abrupt dismissal rather annoying, while Twig clearly was impatient to start his duties as a Ranger at once, rather than the next morning. Sighing wearily, Ruby entered the room, squinting as her eyes tried to adjust to the sudden darkness.

    The room was small and cold; she guessed that it must be right at the corner of the Guild building, exposed to the freezing wind from two directions. A small, square window in one wall showed the crescent moon floating above distant mountains, its pale rays providing the only source of illumination in the room. On the floor were two… well, she supposed they were supposed to be beds: jumbled heaps of rags and straw that looked more like nests than anything else.

    Twig sneezed explosively. “A bit dusty,” he gasped.

    “Yeah.” The sight of the beds, as unpalatable as they were, had reminded Ruby how tired she was. On legs that suddenly screamed with weariness, she tottered over to one of the heaps and lay down.

    No Rattata jumped out to bite her, so with a slight shudder she burrowed under a layer of rags. Well, at least it was warm.

    “So… I guess this is home,” Twig said, settling down in the other nest, and Ruby managed to pass off a snort of laughter as a sneeze. “What d’you think we’ll do tomorrow?” he asked, his eyes sparkling in the faint moonlight. “I don’t think we’ll get sent out on missions right away; they’d have the more experience apprentices do that. Maybe we’ll get to follow some of the actual Rangers. Didja see that Dewgong, back in the common room? That was Chime, from Team Nevermelt. They’re the best Ranger Team in Northtown! And we’ll get to actually work with them! Aren’t you excited, Ruby?”

    “Mmm.”

    “Yeah, me too. Where do you think we should go first? I think we could handle another mystery dungeon, but of course they have missions outside of mystery dungeons too. You know, maybe we should…”

    Lulled by the Turtwig’s constant chatter, Ruby drifted off to sleep. Her last thought was that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, after all.
    Last edited by Mei; 14th March 2011 at 07:49 PM.

  8. #8
    Mei
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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    Chapter Four: The Rookie Rangers


    Hazy, grayish light filtered into the room, brushing faintly against Ruby’s face. Her eyelids flickered, and then parted; dark eyes still glazed with sleep gazed at her surroundings, uncomprehending. Where on earth was she? This place was utterly unfamiliar. With a huge yawn, she raised her hands to comb them through her hair, which would doubtlessly be a hideous tangle. Why could she never remember to do something about it before she fell asleep?

    Her searching hands found no hair, only short, soft fur. What the—

    Memory of yesterday’s events returned, crashing back into her brain with the force of an avalanche. Ruby squeezed her eyes tightly shut and gave in to her Cyndaquil body’s instinct, curling up tightly and burrowing deeper into the loose nest. She didn’t know whether she should laugh, or cry, or scream. Maybe all three; there were enough emotions ricocheting around in her head to justify any of them. Shivering, she hugged her limbs tightly together, striving to make herself as small as she possibly could.

    After a few minutes the paroxysm of panic faded, and she gradually uncurled. So it really wasn’t a dream, she thought, staring up at the ceiling. I’m still a Cyndaquil.

    Hopefully she prodded the sections of her mind where she thought that memory should be, but all she could find was an obscuring fog, giving no hint as to what it was hiding. No change there, she noted with a weary sigh. She hadn’t really thought that there would be.

    An itching, burning sensation dug at the back of her throat. She coughed hoarsely, and was surprised to see a few sparks shoot out of her mouth, accompanied by a thin wisp of smoke. The painful prickling in her throat intensified; she tried coughing again, and exhaled a tiny flame.

    The fire hovered above the end of her snout, sustained by a long breath. Ruby felt the flames on her back stir to life, smoldering faintly, and grinned with delight at the sudden, pleasant warmth. After a few rather pitiful flickers, the small fire sputtered out, leaving her mouth full of the taste of ashes. The flames on her back remained, though, and she sighed with satisfaction. The room had been getting rather cold. Perhaps there were a few advantages to being a Cyndaquil, after all.

    An unpleasant, acrid odor drifted to her nose, and she frowned. How odd; that smelled almost like smoke—

    With a yelp, she shot straight up out of the nest, dislodging scraps of burning cloth. Frantically she tried to extinguish the flame on her back, but her fright only made it flare higher. She flailed at the smoking contents of her nest with her paws, trying to beat the flames out; thankfully, it seemed that fire didn’t hurt her paws.

    After about a minute of frantic activity, she managed to put the small blaze out. Breathing heavily, she sat down on the floor—wincing at how cold it was—and ruefully surveyed the mess. The nest hadn’t been too badly burned, but sections of it were obviously charred, and scraps of rag and straw were scattered all across the floor. The room practically reeked of smoke.

    “What’s going on?” Twig murmured sleepily.

    “Nothing,” Ruby replied at once, her voice a squeak of fright. She willed the flames on her back to go out; to her relief, they slowly faded away.

    “Oh.” The Turtwig sat up, blinking at her with slightly out-of-focus eyes. “I thought I smelled smoke.”

    She shook her head animatedly. “No, definitely not. No smoke here.” Leaning forwards, she tugged at her nest so that a few of the more obviously burned pieces were hidden from sight.

    “Okay. We should—” The rest of the sentence vanished in a gigantic yawn that stretched Twig’s mouth into a wide square. He yawned again, slightly less loudly, and continued, “We should get up now; it must be almost seven. I don’t want to keep that Juno waiting, do you?”

    Ruby shuddered with horror at the thought. “No,” she agreed. “Definitely not.”

    Chuckling, Twig got up, stretched his legs, and started towards the door. Ruby hastily followed him, casting a guilty look back at her singed, messy bed. The smoke that still lingered in the air stung her throat every time she inhaled. Did Twig really not notice it?

    Out in the dim hallway, it was bitterly cold; Ruby winced at the touch of the freezing floor. Hopping awkwardly from foot to foot, she and Twig scurried down the corridor. Doors stood open all along the walls; clearly, the other residents of the Guild had already woken up.

    A small group of Pokémon had gathered in the common room by the time that Ruby and Twig arrived. Ruby saw the Zigzagoon, the Oshawott, and the Seel that Twig had greeted yesterday, though she couldn’t recall their names. With a sick jolt of unease, she recognized the Pikachu, Sparky. The electric mouse seemed to be in a better mood this morning, talking comfortably with a plump Pokémon that resembled a snow-covered tree—a Snover.

    Sparky glanced up as Ruby and Twig walked in, and the expression that painted her face made it clear that her feelings towards Ruby hadn’t shifted by the width of a Rattata’s whisker since yesterday. Fine, Ruby thought irritably, glowering back at the Pikachu. Be that way, then. A smirk tugged at the corner of Sparky’s mouth, as though she knew what Ruby was thinking; nettled, Ruby looked away from the Pikachu and made a point of scanning the rest of the room.

    Juno wasn’t there yet, thankfully. The rest of the common room was empty; the Ranger Teams must have left already, Ruby supposed. To her disappointment, the fireplace wasn’t lit. Although the common room wasn’t as chilly as the hallway, it was still far from warm.

    A soft giggle caught her ear. Turning to look for its source, she saw two other young Pokémon sitting nearby, looking at her and laughing quietly. Embarrassed, she scowled at them. “What?”

    “Oh, sorry!” one of them exclaimed immediately, in a high-pitched, rather breathy voice. “We weren’t laughing at you.” She simpered, tugging at pink bow that adorned one of her huge, cottony ears. “Are you new here?”

    “Yes,” Ruby said timidly, her irritation diminishing. “My name’s Ruby. I’m on Team Remembrance.”

    The Lopunny giggled again, raising one dainty paw to her mouth to hide a vapid smile. “My, that’s quite a name, isn’t it? I prefer something short and sweet, myself.”

    “Oh.” Ruby hesitated, torn between shyness and the urge to make a sharp retort.

    “Pearl, I think the dear Cyndaquil thinks you were insulting her,” the other Pokémon purred. A sleek grey-furred feline with a thin tail curled into an elaborate corkscrew, she wore a pale blue bow around her neck. “Allow me to apologize for my partner,” she continued. “I’m Lady, of Team Glamour.”

    “Nice to meet you,” Ruby replied automatically. Lady’s whiskers twitched in a slow smile; feeling less shy all of a sudden, Ruby smiled back.

    The Lopunny pouted, folding her arms and hunching her shoulders. “I didn’t think I said anything bad,” she said, somehow managing to maintain her simpering tone even while grumbling.

    “Your reaction to Ruby’s team name was less than polite, dear,” Lady reproved gently.

    Pearl toyed with the large yellow bow that decorated her other ear. “Sorry,” she giggled. “I didn’t mean that it was a bad name, just a funny one. Y’know?” She beamed at Ruby, apparently expecting the Cyndaquil to agree.

    Lady sighed theatrically. “You’re not exactly making it better, Pearl.”

    “No, it’s okay,” Ruby said quickly. Although the Lopunny’s amusement at the team name was grating, she didn’t want it to develop into a full-fledged argument. It was nice of Lady to take her side, though.

    “Ahem.”

    All of the young Pokémon in the room immediately snapped to attention as Juno entered and seated herself regally on the carpet, flicking an invisible speck of dust off her creamy paw. “Good morning, apprentices,” she meowed.

    “Good morning, Juno,” the Pokémon chorused, Ruby and Twig’s voices lagging slightly behind the others’. Juno acknowledged their greeting with an arrogant incline of her head. “I will now announce your assignments for the day,” she said crisply. “Team Thundersnow and Team Glamour, you will take assignments from the Request Board. Team Shiver, you have a lesson with Team Peak; you will find them waiting for you on the North Way just outside of Northtown. Any questions?”

    Her cool tone made it clear that questions would not be appreciated. There was a dull murmur of “No, Juno,” from the apprentices, though Ruby kept a wary eye on Twig, certain that he was going to blurt something out and be rebuked for it. He kept silent, though; she wondered whether he would explode with the effort of holding the words in.

    “Very well. Go about your duties, apprentices. Team Remembrance, you will follow me.”

    “Ooh, ouch,” Lady whispered to Ruby. “Well, today’s your first day, right? Enjoy it.” She nodded to Ruby and then trotted away towards the stairs, trailed by Pearl, who appeared to be preoccupied with rearranging her bows.

    Feeling strangely elated, Ruby joined Twig and Juno in the center of the room. Twig flashed her a quick grin; Juno merely gave her an extremely cool, superior nod. “I see that you survived your first night at the Guild,” the deputy meowed, sounding as though she’d thought that they wouldn’t. “Today I shall attempt to familiarize you with the duties of an apprentice Ranger. Every morning you will assemble in this room, and I will assign every apprentice team a task for the day.” She stood up gracefully, with a ripple of purple and gold fur. “Follow me.”

    The Liepard swept regally across the room, her head held arrogantly high. Ruby and Twig nearly had to run to keep up: Juno walked very fast, despite managing to look as though she were sauntering unhurriedly.

    They clattered down the stairs and into the hall, which was nearly as deserted as it had been the night before. The small lanterns had been extinguished; pallid light streamed in through pairs of high, arched windows. The pale walls looked bleak and cold; Ruby thought, with a brief shudder, that they reminded her of a tomb. The only sound in the hallway came from far down at the other end, where Sparky, the Snover, Lady, and Pearl were clustered together.

    As they approached the end of the hall, Ruby saw that the four other apprentices were standing in front of two huge wooden boards, both covered with sheets of paper. The Snover reached up and grabbed a paper off of one of the boards, nodded to Sparky, and carried it over to a tall set of shelves against the wall. He deposited the paper in a large cubbyhole, and he and Sparky walked away, passing Ruby, Twig, and Juno without a word.

    After a moment, Team Glamour repeated the same process that Team Thundersnow had just demonstrated, taking a piece of paper from one of the boards, conferring briefly, and moving it over to the shelves. Lady winked at Ruby as she and Pearl walked past.

    “Good,” said Juno, rather vaguely. She prowled over to stand in front of the boards and sat down, facing towards Ruby and Twig. “Come here, you two.”

    “This,” she said, after they had crept closer, “is the most important place in the Guild. Every day, Pokémon send letters for help to the Guild, and the Guildmaster and I place them on the board to my right: the Request Board. A variety of missions find their way to the Request Board: attempted rescues for Pokémon who are lost or trapped in a mystery dungeon, escorting Pokémon who are unable to travel alone, and couriering items.

    “The board on my left, the Outlaw Board, lists all the outlaws that are currently at large in the general vicinity of Northtown. Of course, none of the apprentices are expected to take these missions yet. The more experienced Ranger Teams will capture them and bring them to justice.”

    Intrigued, Ruby took a closer look at the Outlaw Board. There were six large posters pinned up, each prominently displaying the picture of a Pokémon. Beneath the picture were a few lines of the indecipherable footprint writing, followed by a number—the reward? The Pokémon were all different types and evolution stages, but each drawing conveyed a similar sense of desperation and maliciousness.

    In contrast to the neat organization of the Outlaw Board, the Request Board was a cluttered mess. Sheaves of paper were tacked at haphazard angles, often obscuring other messages. Some were written on nice paper or even official-looking stationery stamped with a flying Pelipper, while others were scrawled hastily on torn parchment or even scratched out on bark.

    And, of course, every single message was written in that footprint writing. Squinting at an interesting-looking note that was daubed onto the paper with what looked like berry juice, Ruby cursed her missing memory.

    “Whoa,” Twig said, sounding stunned. “There’s… so much.”

    Juno flicked her plumy tail dismissively. “Some of these are quite old. The boards haven’t been cleaned for four months or so. Now,” she added, her voice becoming brisk and businesslike, “once you have selected a mission, you will remove it from the board and place it in an assigned cubby over there—” a swish of her tail indicated the rows of shelves— “so that another team won’t take the same mission, and so that I and the Guildmaster will know where you have gone. After that, you will leave the Guild and attempt to fulfill the mission to the best of your abilities. I should stress that you should not attempt missions that are beyond your skill level: you will fail, resulting in inconveniences all around.”

    The steely tone in the Liepard’s meow made Ruby shiver. Twig appeared to be no less intimidated; the sprout on his head drooped slightly and he fixed his gaze on the floor.

    With an elegant movement, Juno stood up and stalked over to the row of shelves. She paused for a moment, looking for something, and then pulled a large leather bag out of one of the cubbies. Turning around, she deposited the bag in front of Ruby. “Here you are.”

    “What is it?” the Cyndaquil asked blankly.

    Juno sighed, sounding very put-upon. “It’s a Ranger Kit. It contains all the essential equipment you’ll need for the operation of your team.”

    “Cool!” Twig exclaimed, reaching out and pulling the bag closer. The old leather creaked slightly as it opened, sending up a puff of dust. Ruby leaned forwards, almost as eager as Twig to see what it contained.

    The first item that the Turtwig pulled out was a folded square of parchment. “A map,” he said, tossing it aside carelessly; Ruby only just managed to catch it before it hit the floor. It might have been of little value to Twig, but she could definitely use it. The edges of the paper crackled as she unfolded it, and she found herself staring at a careful drawing of the Chelona region. For a moment she perused it, and then gave up and folded it again, sighing. She hadn’t known where to look; nothing seemed even remotely familiar.

    A soft gasp from Twig caught her attention. The Turtwig was holding two flat pieces of wood, one in each paw. From what Ruby could see, each object was shaped like a circle with a pair of wings sprouting from it. They were an off-white color, with a faint curve of pastel blue near the bottom of the circle and grey shading on the edges of the wings.

    “What are they?” she asked.

    “Ranger badges,” Twig replied, his voice trembling with excitement. “All the Ranger Teams have them… If you’re wearing one, its power allows you to escape from a mystery dungeon if you complete a mission or if you’ve been defeated.” He stared down at the emblems as though they were the only things that existed in the universe. Very quietly, he added, “I never thought I’d actually have one of my own…”

    “Yes, yes, very nice,” Juno said, sounding bored. “And now that you have received the Ranger Team badges, you are official Rangers, dedicated to protect Chelona and its inhabitants, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Congratulations.”

    Twig, having been brutally returned to the present by Juno’s remark, reverently pinned the wooden emblems to the side of the bag. “This is our Treasure Bag,” he told Ruby happily. “We can store anything we find in mystery dungeons in here.”

    “Okay,” Ruby said unenthusiastically, picturing herself dragging a huge sack of items through a mystery dungeon.

    “So what do we do now?” Twig asked Juno, his eyes shining. “Do we just pick a mission?” He looked eagerly towards the Request Board, practically quivering with anticipation.

    The Liepards’s laughter was a silky purr. “Of course not.” As Ruby and Twig’s faces fell, she continued: “You’re only rookies. You shan’t be taking missions for another few days.”

    “Oh,” Twig said sadly.

    “However, you certainly will not be sitting around idle.” Was that a faint trace of humor in the deputy’s emerald eyes? “The Guildmaster and I have thought up tasks for you.”

    -----

    “This stinks,” Twig grumbled, tossing another round blue berry carelessly into the wicker basket. Ruby, picking up another berry and inspecting it for blemishes, said nothing, but she definitely agreed.

    After a moment, though, Twig’s usual optimism reasserted itself. “I suppose it could be worse,” he said, plopping yet another Oran into the basket. “I bet this is supposed to teach us how important other Pokémon are to the Guild. A team effort, right?”

    “If you say so,” Ruby sighed. The Turtwig may have found the rosiest explanation, as usual, but she thought that Juno and the Guildmaster had just given them this job as something to keep them busy, not because it was particularly important. Inspecting baskets of Oran berries to see if any of them had gone bad? Pointless.

    The morning dragged onwards, and Ruby’s attention wandered. The small storage room they were in was right next to the Guild’s kitchen—it was warm, at least—but the baskets and boxes that lined the walls were mundane and uninteresting, even though the various berries filled the room with a sweet, complex scent. She wondered where the Guild had gotten fresh berries from during the winter.

    They finished the basket of Orans, finding less than a dozen that were unfit to eat, and started another. Twig had long since given up his happy musings; he looked as bored as Ruby felt.

    She dropped another berry into the wicker basket with a lazy flick of her wrist. “Twig, what was Team Elemental?”

    The little Turtwig jumped, surprised; an Oran went flying across the room. “Huh?”

    “Team Elemental,” she repeated, retrieving the thrown berry and glancing at its shiny blue skin. No bruises there, despite its unexpected launch. “The Guildmaster mentioned them yesterday, when we were talking to him.”

    “Oh. Right. Team Elemental.” Twig sighed gustily, a surprisingly loud noise for such a small Pokémon, and picked up another berry. “Team Elemental was the first Ranger Team in Chelona; they founded the Ranger Team Federation. They’re one of only two teams to earn a Gold Rank—the highest rating possible—and everyone says they’re the best Ranger Team ever.” To her surprise, his voice was flat and terse, lacking its usual enthusiasm.

    “All right, but why did the Guildmaster mention them? I mean, we’re hardly likely to become the best Ranger Team in Chelona.”

    In the same neutral tone, Twig said, “Because the Rangers on the team were a Blastoise, a Typhlosion, and a Torterra. Get it?” Blue juice dripped from the berry he was holding.

    It took a moment, but Ruby worked out. “Oh, okay. So that’s why he mentioned a Squirtle.” She chuckled softly. “That’s kind of funny, actually. A weird coincidence.”

    “Right.” Twig looked down at the berry he held, frowned at it, and tossed it into the smaller basket they were using for the rejected fruits.

    They continued working in silence, speaking only when it was time to switch the old basket out for a new one. Twig’s face was set and unhappy; Ruby watched him out of the corner of her eye, wondering what was bothering him. She was barely even looking at the berries now, just glancing at them quickly to see if they were obviously bruised. The work was utterly mind-numbing.

    She had no idea how much time passed before they finished the last basket, but by the increasing complaints of her stomach she guessed that it must be after lunchtime. With a sigh of relief she stood, stretching and yawning as though she had just woken up. Twig trotted over to the doorway that led to the kitchen. “Kater?” he called, poking his head around the doorframe. “We’ve finished.”

    A moment later the door opened wide, providing a glimpse of the bright, steamy room beyond. The wide pink Pokémon that stepped through the doorway almost immediately blocked the brief view of the kitchen.

    “Good,” the Chansey said, smiling down at the baskets of berries. “Thank you; that was very helpful.”

    “So, can we go?” Ruby asked hopefully.

    Kater laughed, shaking her head amusedly. “Don’t be silly.” She reached up and pulled another basket from the shelves, one that dwarfed the smaller baskets of Oran berries. “Peel these Petayas, please; they’re for supper tonight. After that, I’ll get you started grinding Tamato berries for seasoning.”

    “Great,” Ruby muttered. Twig groaned.

    -----

    That night, as the two Pokémon climbed wearily into their beds, Twig said, through a wide yawn, “Still, that wasn’t so bad for a first day, was it? I bet they let us do an actual mission tomorrow.”

    “If you say so,” Ruby murmured, already half-asleep. The smell of burned cloth from her nest was actually rather pleasant, she decided. It made her think of fire.

    Watery moonlight shone through the tiny window, giving Twig’s green skin a silvery cast. “Good night, Ruby.”

    “Good night,” she replied, her eyes already closed. She barely managed to finish the second word before falling asleep.

    -----

    She dreamed of a pair of hands, cupped together so that the fingers formed an empty bowl. Long, tapering fingers, the skin shining faintly where the light struck it. Pale nails like half-moons, slightly jagged where the edges had been chewed. A tiny globe of dark scarlet beaded on a scraped knuckle. The palms were smooth, unmarked by calluses or blemishes. Thin, delicately curving scars braceleted the right wrist.

    The hands were unremarkable, utterly ordinary, but they were her hands. The hands of a human.

    She woke up with tears stinging in her eyes, still a Cyndaquil, still unable to remember. It was snowing outside, and the white flakes fluttered softly against the window.
    Last edited by Mei; 14th March 2011 at 07:46 PM.

  9. #9
    Mei
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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    After an inexcusably long interval, here's chapter five.

    Chapter Five: The Golden Badge



    “…Team Glamour, Team Shiver, and Team Remembrance,” Juno concluded, “you will all take missions from the Request Board today. Any questions?”

    There was the usual mutter of “No, Juno,” from the apprentice Rangers. Twig’s voice, though, rose excitedly in a shout of joy above the neutral tones of the other Pokémon. He ducked his head, embarrassed, as the Liepard gave him a chilly stare, but even the deputy’s annoyance didn’t dim the gleeful anticipation that glowed on his face.

    Ruby, sitting next to Lady and Pearl, couldn’t help but smile at the Turtwig’s reaction. Her own feelings were more mixed: anticipation, nervousness, but most of all gratefulness. Finally, she thought.

    Four days had passed since she and Twig had joined the Ranger Guild, and it had seemed to her that they would never be allowed to go on a mission on their own. Not that she was particularly looking forward to taking a mission—a thin quiver of nervousness ran through her whenever she thought about it—but anything would be better than the days of chores that she and Twig had been subjected to. In addition to their work in the kitchen, they had swept the entire length of the downstairs hall, washed the windows—an experience that had left Ruby, fire-type as she was, so chilled that her paws had been numb for hours—ran errands down to Northtown—that, at least, had been interesting—and kept watch with Sachi the Sentret.

    “Hey,” Lady said, placing her delicate paw against Ruby’s shoulder for a moment, “Good luck today. You’ll do fine.” The Glameow’s bow was a deep azure today, matching the irises of her eyes.

    “Yeah,” Pearl giggled, “Good luck. No pressure or anything.” Lady shot her a sharp glance; she responded with an innocent, why-me shrug of her shoulders. Ruby grimaced slightly: although she enjoyed being around Lady, Pearl’s shallow personality got on her nerves.

    Before she could thank the two apprentices, Twig bounded up to her, talking at an even more frantic pace than usual. He kept up the stream of chatter—exclamations of excitement, theories on what missions would be available, his opinion on whether they should take a challenging one or not—as they and the other apprentice teams descended the staircase and walked along the edge of the hall. As they reached the boards, though, he clammed up as quickly as a Cloyster withdrawing into its shell, his green skin growing distinctly paler.

    “Wait—Twig, Ruby.” The gravelly voice belonged to Brine, the Seel. He waved one flipper at them in greeting. “Either of you seen a Decoy Orb anywhere? We bought one yesterday, and I swear we put it in our Treasure Bag, but now we can’t find it anywhere.” He sighed. “Oscar’s freaking out—it cost nearly all our Poké.”

    “Sorry, haven’t seen it,” Twig said, shrugging.

    Brine’s face fell. “Oh. How ‘bout you, Lady?”

    The Glameow’s eyes narrowed slightly. “No Decoy Orbs in our room, Brine.” A silvery purr whispered from her throat. “You should take better care of your items.” Shaking her head, she stepped around the Seel and began to examine the letters on the Request Board.

    “Well, you know, if you see it…” Brine muttered, and trudged disconsolately away to join his teammates. Twig, still looking rather frightened, stepped up to the Request Board and craned his neck upwards to read the letters.

    After a moment, he looked back over his shoulder. “Hey, Ruby, you’re taller than I am. You want to look instead of me?”

    She shook her head quickly, almost too quickly. “No, that’s okay. You pick one.” Four days had brought no improvement with her missing memory, including the knowledge of how to read footprint writing.

    “Oh, okay.” Twig turned back to the board, evidently concentrating intently. After about a minute, he reached up and detached a fancy-looking piece of stationery. “Here, how about this?” To Ruby’s relief, he read it aloud: “‘A humble request: please carry one small package to my sister (Address: Small Cottage, Chilly Hills just off of the North Way). My sister will provide a reward. Sincerely, Clefable of Northtown’.” He looked up. “Sounds pretty straightforward. What do you think?”

    Ruby frowned. “I don’t know…” She hesitated, struggling to articulate her thoughts. “I thought that Ranger missions would be more… heroic, I guess? I mean, what’s so great about carrying a package? Can’t they just send it by Pelipper?”

    “Well, we have to start somewhere,” Twig said. “We can’t go save Pokémon from huge mystery dungeons on our first day.”

    The way you were talking earlier, we would be saving dozens of Pokémon from mystery dungeons every day, Ruby thought grumpily. But she saw the sense in what the Turtwig was saying; it would be a good idea to start small, with something they were sure they could manage. “All right,” she said. “Let’s take it.”

    -----

    About half an hour later, Team Remembrance stood at the edge of the North Way, looking out in the direction of the Chilly Hills. Clefable’s package, wrapped in several layers of cloth, was buried securely at the bottom of their Treasure Bag. The fairy-like Pokémon had been very polite, but, as Ruby and Twig were now realizing, she had forgotten one rather important detail about the mission.

    Glaring at the unfortunately familiar warping in the air around the snow-covered hills, Ruby grumbled, “She might at least have told us that there was a mystery dungeon.”

    “Yeah,” Twig agreed, squinting into the shimmering haze that distorted the hills. “Well, there’s not much we can do about it, I suppose.” Shrugging his shoulders to adjust the fit of the Treasure Bag against his shell, he stepped towards the haze. Ruby, slogging unhappily through the deep snowdrifts, saw the exact moment that he entered the mystery dungeon: he vanished for a fraction of a second, reappearing blurry and distorted inside the spacial anomaly.

    Gritting her teeth, she walked through the strange haze. For the briefest moment she experienced a vivid sensation of dark and cold, and then she was through to the other side, entering a mystery dungeon for the second time that she could remember.


    Chilly Hills, 1F

    She had been expecting another deep, stony maze like they had encountered in the ravine, so the terrain of the mystery dungeon startled her. The labyrinthine passages and open areas were the same as she remembered, but the maze was constructed entirely of snow, walls of bluish-white ice rising high above her head. Instead of the unchanging sunlight that had illuminated the ravine, the sky was a uniform overcast grey.

    It was very cold. She shivered, hugging her paws close to her body. “Let’s hurry up and get out of here.”

    The room that they had materialized in had only one exit. They took the path, Ruby trying to keep as far away from the walls as possible. The steep piles of snow seemed to radiate a numbing cold… or was that just her being a fire-type, not liking the lack of warmth?

    After a while the path forked; they took the right branch, which promptly led them in a circle. Backtracking, they chose the other path this time, and soon found themselves in an immensely large chamber, far enough across that Ruby could barely see the other walls.

    Something glittered dully in a nearby crevice in the wall. Twig let out a laugh, verging on a cackle, of glee and raced over to scoop out a small pile of coins, some wild Pokémon’s stash. He stuffed them quickly into a pocket of their Treasure Bag, careful not to disturb their precious parcel, but one slipped loose from the rest of the pile and bounced away across the icy ground.

    Ruby picked it up. Twig had told her about Poké, the money system that the Pokémon of Chelona used, but this was the first time she had seen any of it. The golden coin was about an inch across and very thin. One side was stamped with a pair of balancing scales; the other showed, in minute detail, three Pokémon: a Blastoise, a Typhlosion, and a Torterra.

    Team Elemental again. She tossed the coin back to Twig, and the Turtwig deposited it in the Treasure Bag, which produced a satisfying clinking noise as he lifted it again.

    With Twig staggering slightly under the increased weight of the bag, the two Pokémon trekked across the room, leaving behind a faint trail of footprints in the snow. The mystery dungeon was eerily silent: except for the sound of Ruby and Twig walking, no noise disturbed the pristine maze of ice. Ruby shivered uncomfortably, a nervous movement that had nothing to do with the cold.

    Near the center of the huge chamber, a white staircase rose out of the ground like an iceberg out of the sea. Apparently made of white stone, the stairs stretched about four times Ruby’s height above the ground before suddenly becoming blurry and transparent. Ruby assumed that the stairs just stopped in midair, but the very top of the staircase was so hard to focus on that she couldn’t be sure.

    Twig, smiling excitedly, bounded up the stairs. As he reached the place where the blurriness began he seemed to stretch and warp for a second—and then abruptly disappeared.

    Ruby swallowed hard. Spacial anomaly, remember? she told herself. Like the stairs that never went underground, in that other mystery dungeon. Still, it was hard to keep herself walking forwards, when part of her brain was convinced that the next step would send her falling off the topmost edge of the stairs to a brutal impact with the floor. Steeling herself, she climbed up.


    Chilly Hills, 2F

    “I will never get used to that,” she complained to Twig, staring down at the perfectly solid ground beneath her feet.

    “It’s because of the—” Twig began.

    “Spacial anomaly. I know, I know.” Ruby shook her head resignedly and took a tentative step; the ground utterly failed to disappear. “This shouldn’t be possible,” she muttered, shuffling through the snow. But then again, she reflected, a human transformed into a Pokémon didn’t exactly have a right to complain about impossibilities.


    Chilly Hills, 3F

    “We’ve got to be getting close,” Twig chirped as the two Pokémon proceeded down yet another corridor. “I mean, we’ve been almost everywhere on this level. The stairs have gotta be around here somewhere.”

    Humming quietly to himself, the Turtwig trotted around a corner. Ruby, a few steps behind him, only lost sight of him for a few seconds—but in that instant an exclamation of surprise came from behind the high wall of snow. A gust of wind swept along the passageway, stirring up swirls of snow and causing a noticeable drop in temperature. Shivering, Ruby wondered what had caused the sudden chill—but the thought vanished in a heartbeat as Twig let out a high-pitched cry of pain.

    “Twig?” she asked nervously. There was no reply.

    The silence of the ice maze suddenly seemed ten times as eerie as it had a minute before. “Twig!” Ruby called again, speeding up. As she rounded the corner, she stopped dead, staring: the Turtwig stood in the middle of the path, motionless. A thin cocoon of ice covered him completely. Only his eyes moved, blinking frantically at her.

    “What happened—” she began, despite the uselessness of trying to talk to a Pokémon that was frozen solid, but before she could complete the question something struck her in the side, the impact hard enough to send her skidding across the icy ground and drive the breath from her lungs.

    Struggling to regain her balance, she turned around perhaps more quickly than was prudent; her feet slipped on a slick patch of ice and she fell, hitting the ground with bruising force. Dazed, she stared up at her assailant, a conical, black-and-yellow Pokémon sporting a broad, malicious grin. Closing wintry-blue eyes, it exhaled a jet of ice.

    Ruby rolled out of the way, shivering as she felt the temperature fall yet again. The Snorunt made a soft, disappointed noise; eschewing another icy attack, it charged, lowering its head in an attempt to ram her with the painful-looking point at the top of its skull.

    It struck only a glancing blow, yet Ruby still found herself staggering from the impact, rattled. Sliding helplessly along the ice, she collided with Twig’s frozen form. The two Pokémon both toppled; Ruby, at least, was able to roll in a way that cushioned the worst of the impact, but the immobile Turtwig met the ground with bruising force.

    Curled up in a painfully tight ball, Ruby pressed her paws over her eyes. A high-pitched, brittle laugh nearby made her shudder with fear. Her thoughts raced crazily, unable to focus: It’s going to kill me— I’m safe if I stay curled up like this— It’s going to kill me—

    Another blow, thankfully softened somewhat by her defensive position. The Cyndaquil rolled away helplessly, until she ran into a wall hard enough to daze her. She flopped to the ground, too dazed to maintain the defensive curl. Equal parts confused and terrified, she waited for the Snorunt to finish her off.

    “Ruby.” The voice was so slurred she was almost unable to recognize it as Twig’s. “Ruby, get up!”

    But I don’t want to—

    “Ruby!”

    A brief, annoyed sound from the Snorunt; a howl of wind precipitated another drop in temperature. Twig’s sudden pained shout tore at Ruby’s heart.

    Why am I such a coward? Buoyed up by a sudden flash of anger, Ruby rose unsteadily to her feet, fighting off the wave of fear that just the sight of the Snorunt brought. The conical Ice-type laughed unpleasantly as it turned towards her, unleashing a blast of frozen air.

    Darting awkwardly out of the way of the attack, Ruby was relieved to see Twig charge forwards and slam into the Snorunt from behind, nearly succeeding in tackling it. Despite the layers of ice crystals caking his skin, the little turtle didn’t seem to be badly injured. “Use a fire attack!” he called, as the Snorunt squirmed away from him.

    As the Turtwig’s words sank in, Ruby wished she could slap herself. Fire melts ice—how on earth had she not remembered that? Eager to make up for her blunder, she faced the Snorunt squarely and opened her mouth, waiting for a flame to emerge.

    Nothing happened.

    Nonplussed, she tried exhaling, and succeeded only in directing a puff of condensation-fogged air towards the Snorunt. Horror-struck, she searched for any hint of the itching sensation that had heralded fire before, but still found nothing.

    “What are you doing?” Twig yelled, real frustration making its way into his voice as he dodged one of the Snorunt’s ice beams. “Breathe fire or something!”

    I can’t! The words choked up in her throat, unable to be spoken; she coughed out a feeble wisp of smoke, without even a single spark to accompany it. Close to tears, she did the only things she could: waving her paws wildly, she ran at the Snorunt.

    She actually hit it; sheer surprise had kept the Ice-type Pokémon standing in one place while she charged at it. Flailing away madly, terrified that at any moment it would recover and hit back, Ruby managed to punch its soft conical outer layer four times before it knocked her away. Finding her balance much more quickly than she had before, Ruby rushed towards it again, too focused on keeping it on the defensive to feel fear.

    Twig had been as surprised by his partner’s unorthodox action as the Snorunt had been, but now he tackled it once again, pinning it to the ground while Ruby directed rather feeble punches at its head. “Please just leave us alone,” the Turtwig begged, a nervous tremor undermining the attempted bellicosity in his voice. “We’ll just go our way, and you go yours, all right? Just leave us alone.”

    The Snorunt made a soft, muffled noise, which Twig—optimistically, in Ruby’s opinion—took for assent. The Turtwig stood up and stepped aside, allowing the rather squashed-looking Snorunt to regain its feet. Ruby stopped her ineffectual buffets, but she eyed the Snorunt warily, ready for it to attack again.

    Rather than attacking, though, the Snorunt turned tail and fled away down the corridor, moving so rapidly that it was out of sight in a matter of seconds. Ruby forced herself to relax, wincing as the bruises that covered her sides began to complain fiercely. Twig shook himself, sending melting ice crystals in all directions. “Well, at least we got it to see sense,” he commented. “Wild Pokémon aren’t all bad, I guess.”

    A bitter laugh escaped from Ruby’s mouth before she could stop it. “Not all bad?! It beat me to a pulp, it froze you solid, we barely defeated it, and you say it wasn’t bad?”

    “It was just defending its territory,” Twig countered, starting to walk again. “I don’t think the wild Pokémon are any happier with the spacial anomalies than we are.” He looked back over his shoulder at Ruby, who was trailing after him. “And hey, what was up with you during that battle? Why didn’t you use your fire?”

    His tone was worried, not accusing; if anything, that only made it worse. “I couldn’t,” Ruby muttered, avoiding his eyes.

    “What do you mean ‘couldn’t’?” Again just quizzical, not critical in the least. How could he be so nice, when her failure had nearly cost them everything?

    Hot tears stung at Ruby’s eyes; a few escaped to roll down her face, melting the snowflakes that had landed on the soft fur. “I don’t know how,” she sniffed, wiping the tears away angrily. “I don’t know how to do anything. I’m s—sorry…” The last word fragmented as she began to cry in earnest. Mortified, she covered her eyes with her paws, trying to hide.

    Twig touched her shoulder gently; she flinched away from the unexpected contact, wishing irrationally that he’d just leave her there and go on without her. “Wow,” he said softly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”

    “’S okay,” Ruby muttered, her voice muffled. “’M useless, anyway.”

    “You’re not useless!” the Turtwig said, shocked. “You did just as much against that Snorunt as I did!”

    Ruby shook her head adamantly. “I froze up! I let it hurt you just because I was so scared it would attack me! I’m a coward,” she added disconsolately. “You’re probably better off without me.”

    “Don’t say that!” Twig shouted, sounding angrier than she’d ever heard him before. Removing her paws from her eyes, Ruby found herself staring at the Turtwig’s angry face, barely two inches from her own. “We’re a team, in case you’ve forgotten,” he continued, yellow eyes blazing, “and I’m not gonna let you beat yourself up like this just because you were scared. Everyone gets scared sometimes, and you’re not going to quit because of that. I won’t let you!”

    “Hold on,” Ruby protested, startled out of self-pity by his vehemence. “I didn’t say I was quitting…”

    “Didn’t you? ‘You’re probably better off without me’,” Twig repeated in a high-pitched imitation of Ruby’s voice. He leveled a glare at her, filled with enough determination to shift mountains. “Well, I’m not. So you can stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

    The Cyndaquil gaped at him, wondering when this determined Pokémon had replaced the talkative, silly Turtwig she knew. “…A—all right,” she managed to stammer.

    “Good,” Twig said firmly. “So that’s that, then.” Without another word he resumed walking. Ruby stood still for a moment, feeling the tears that still clung to her face slow freeze into ice crystals. Twig’s intense reaction had successfully stopped her from feeling so morose; now she wasn’t sure whether to be angry or grateful.

    We’re a team, in case you’ve forgotten. She repeated the Turtwig’s words to herself, and then hurried down the icy corridor to catch up with her teammate. Twig glanced back as she reached him, and she forced herself to smile.

    “Thank you.”

    An answering smile blossomed on Twig’s face. “Just don’t do that again.”

    -----

    “Well, that was more complicated than I thought it would be,” Twig said tiredly, as he and Ruby emerged from the mystery dungeon. The sudden bright sunlight, a notable contrast to the overcast gloom of the maze, forced Ruby’s eyes into a pained squint. She nodded in agreement, to tired to say anything. Her feet felt as though they were about to fall off.

    “And there, that must be Clefable’s sister’s house,” Twig continued, raising one stumpy leg to point. At the foot of the closest hill stood a small wooden hut, its roof liberally frosted with snow. Despite the bright sun, light shone from its circular windows. “Let’s go deliver that package.”

    “Huh? ...Oh, right.” Ruby shook her head, trying to clear away the daze of tiredness that had settled upon her. Between the battle with the Snorunt and the long trek through the mystery dungeon, she had forgotten what the goal of their mission was.

    Clefable’s sister, rather shorter and plumper than Clefable herself, answered the door when they knocked. Introducing herself as Clefairy, she invited them inside, an offer that the two tired and cold apprentices accepted eagerly.

    The interior of her house was warm, perfectly round, and decorated in more hues of pink than Ruby had known existed. A large, incredibly detailed picture of the full moon rising over the mountains hung directly opposite the door. Ruby looked at it closely, marveling at how realistic it was.

    “Beautiful, isn’t it?” Clefairy exclaimed, seeing Ruby’s interest. “Done by Ardo, the Smeargle. Cost me nearly all my Poké—” she gave a breathy little laugh— “but I just had to have it. Doesn’t it just make you want to dance every time you see it?” She twirled a few steps to demonstrate.

    “Uh… sure,” Ruby said uncertainly. Thankfully, Twig came to her rescue, pulling the small package out of the bottom of their Treasure Bag and handing it to Clefairy with a flourish.

    The plump pink Pokémon let out a squeal of excitement as she took the parcel. “Is this what I think it is?” She carefully teased aside a layer of the cloth wrapping; the light reflected off a grayish, translucent surface. “Oh, Arceus, it is! Bless Clefable’s heart, she’s so good to me!” Setting the little package reverently on the table, she directed a radiant smile at Twig and Ruby. “And so sweet of you two to come all the way out here to deliver it. I’d better give you something for your trouble; wait just a minute…” She bustled over to a tall cabinet that stood next to one of the windows and began to rummage through it.

    Ruby and Twig both looked at the little package lying innocuously on the table, wondering what it could possibly contain. After a moment, comprehension appeared on Twig’s face; nodding, he mouthed the words “moon stone” at Ruby.

    The Cyndaquil frowned. What was a moon stone? The Clefairy certainly seemed to be interested in the moon, but had Clefable managed to find her an actual lunar rock? Before she could ask Twig, Clefairy returned, clutching a small round object.

    “Here you are, dears. Thank you so, so much for bringing this to me.” She passed the object to Ruby: a small sphere made of blue glass. It looked rather dusty and old, but Ruby had no idea what it was.

    “Um, thank you.”

    “Yes, thanks a lot!” Twig added happily. Taking the sphere from Ruby, he tucked it into a pocket of the Treasure Bag. The two apprentices left the house, Clefairy still thanking them profusely.

    -----

    It was late afternoon by the time they returned to the Guild, having had to go on a lengthy detour to avoid traversing the mystery dungeon again. Snow-covered and footsore, Ruby thought longingly of the nice, comfortable nest waiting for her in their room. Twig looked just as tired as she felt, and he wasn’t talking—a sure sign that he was truly exhausted.

    Sachi the sentry was in the Guild’s front courtyard as usual, but rather than balancing on his tall tail he was pacing back and forth. Twig, perking up slightly at the sight of the Guild, called a greeting to him; the Sentret replied distractedly, his mind clearly elsewhere.

    The long hall on the ground floor of the Guild was deserted, as usual; after a few days, Ruby had realized that there were only Pokémon there in the early morning, when they were picking their assignments for the day, or the late evening, for dinner. A delicious smell of stewing berries wafted faintly through the hall. The Cyndaquil’s stomach growled; all that she’d eaten since she’d woken up had been a few apples in the mystery dungeon, and now she was ravenous.

    As they drew closer to the spiral staircase that led up to the second floor, the soft rumble of a conversation slowly became audible. Ruby glanced around, wondering where the talking Pokémon were; after a moment, she realized that the noise must be coming from the Guildmaster’s study. Peering past the staircase, she saw that the study’s door was very slightly ajar.

    Although she knew that she shouldn’t eavesdrop, she couldn’t help but be curious. Lagging behind Twig, who seemed to either not have heard or not be interested, Ruby tilted her head in the direction of the Guildmaster’s study.

    “…I don’t remember hearing of anything like that,” the Guildmaster said, as Ruby listened intently, “but I’ll keep an eye out, eh?” Perhaps it was just the muffling effect of the door, but Ruby couldn’t hear a single trace of the joviality that had been so apparent the one time she had spoken with him.

    “I suppose I shall have to be content with that.” Now, who was that speaking? The flat monotone was unfamiliar.

    “None of my Rangers have made any reports of anything unusual, but I’ll ask my deputy, Juno, just to be safe. She hears things I don’t, sometimes. Ha ha ha…” The Ursaring’s laughter, horribly forced, died away very quickly. Twig was climbing the stairs; Ruby darted a quick, nervous glance at him, and then crept closer to the study. What could the Guildmaster be talking about?

    “Very well,” the flat voice said. “I shall return to Nexus City. You have your instructions, Ursaring.” An inarticulate grumble was the Guildmaster’s only answer.

    Without warning, the door of the study swung open. Ruby, who had allowed herself to sneak far too close, scrambled backwards to get out of the way and managed to trip over her own feet and fall flat on her back.

    “Oh?”

    Head swimming, Ruby stared up at the Pokémon that had exited the study. Tall, bipedal, with blue-black fur and a red crest atop its head, the Pokémon returned her stare, albeit with much more menace. Suddenly it brought its paws together beneath its chin, claws touching at the tips—Ruby gulped nervously as she saw the razor-sharp edges on the claws. “S—sorry,” she stammered, shrinking beneath the stranger’s baleful stare. “I was j—just walking, I didn’t m—mean to…”

    The Pokémon stared at her for a moment longer, during which Ruby’s imagination produced dozens of terrible images of what would happen once it saw through her pathetic excuse. But abruptly it turned away, waving one paw dismissively. Ruby scrambled to her feet, dusting herself off, and watched incredulously as the Pokémon walked away down the hall without a backwards glance.

    Twig was waiting at the top of the stairs, apparently having missed the entire thing. “What happened to you?” he asked, as Ruby raced up the stairs. “You look like you’re being chased by a dozen Gastly.”

    Ruby shook her head and leaned against the wall, trying to catch her breath. “The strangest thing just happened…”

    Haltingly, she explained what she had overheard. Twig frowned in bemusement, tilting his head to one side. “The Pokémon sounds like a Sneasel or its evolution, I forget what they’re called… There aren’t any in Northtown, though, as far as I know. And I dunno why one would be talking to the Guildmaster like that. Are you sure you heard everything right?”

    “I think so…” Ruby said, trying to remember. It had been awfully hard to hear, but she was fairly certain that she’d gotten what little she had heard right. Sighing, she admitted defeat. “I have no idea.”

    “Me neither.” Twig looked as though he was about to say something else, but at that moment the members of Team Shiver trooped up the stairs, and the mysterious conversation was forgotten as Twig hurried over to talk to his friends.

    -----

    Late that night, Ruby awoke from a confused dream about a mystery dungeon on the moon that was full of dancing Clefairy to find that the real moon, nearly half full, was shining into the room through the tiny window. Yawning, she rolled over, turning her back on the silvery rays. No doubt that was where the odd dream had come from.

    Twig was sitting upright, a small dark silhouette looking down at something in his nest. “Twig?” Ruby asked sleepily. “You still awake?”

    “No,” the Turtwig said quickly. In a movement obscured by the room’s darkness, he placed his feet over whatever it was that he had been looking at, but not before Ruby caught the gleam of moonlight off of a reflective surface.

    “What are you doing?”

    “Nothing,” Twig said, sounding even more unconvincing than before. Ruby sat up, brushing scraps of straw off of her fur, and walked unsteadily over to his nest. The Turtwig glared at her.

    “Let me see,” she demanded.

    “No.”

    “Let me see.”

    No.”

    “Let me see.”

    Twig’s glare redoubled in its intensity, but he reluctantly shifted his feet aside. “Fine,” he muttered. “Be that way, then.”

    Ruby frowned down at the object he had been concealing, her sleepy brain trying to process what she was seeing. For a moment, she thought it was one of their Ranger badges—it was the right shape, a winged circle—but the moonlight glinted on it in a way that made her certain that it was not wood. She bent down to pick it up, ignoring Twig’s soft growl of anger, and gasped in surprise at how heavy it was. The object was a Ranger badge, as she had thought, but it was made of solid gold.

    “Where did you get this?” she asked, holding it up to look at it more closely. The emblem wasn’t new: the gold was scratched and dented, and one of the wings was malformed, as though it had melted and had been inexpertly repaired.

    “It was my father’s,” Twig said, a note of challenge clear in his voice.

    Ah… Looking down at the golden Ranger badge in her paws, Ruby felt the pieces of a puzzle begin to fit together. “Who was your father, Twig?”

    The Turtwig took a deep breath before answering, his gaze flickering back and forth between the badge and Ruby’s face. “Kurma, a Torterra… The leader of Team Elemental.”

    How could she not have realized? Ruby set the badge down carefully on Twig’s nest. “I didn’t know… I’m sorry.”

    Will you be looking for a Squirtle, eh, Twig? Trying to set up Team Elemental again?

    “Nothing to be sorry for,” Twig said, rather more gruffly than usual. Placing one foot protectively next to the badge, he gave Ruby one the smallest smile she had ever seen. “I should’ve told you before. I just… It’s hard, having everyone know who he was, you know?”

    “I understand.” Ruby nodded. On her first day as a Pokémon, when she and Twig had first decided to become a team, she had thought that Twig’s suggestion for the team name had been based solely on her missing memory. She realized now, though, that Team Remembrance had quite a personal meaning for her partner as well.

    “Well, I’m going to get some sleep.” Twig’s normal cheerful tone was back, but the moonlight provided enough illumination for her to see that he wasn’t smiling. “You should too, Ruby. It’s another big day tomorrow.”

    Ruby agreed quietly and returned to her own nest, burrowing deeply into the mix of rags and straw. Twig’s quiet snores soon filled the tiny room with their comforting rhythm, but it was a long time before the Cyndaquil finally drifted to sleep.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    Wow, this is great. I love PMD (I even have a fic that desperately needs updating myself in my sig, LOL, similar names FTW), and other than the uncreative MC choices, it is very good. I love the scene with Twig in this chapter because you expect it yet don't expect it, and it's very poignant. Very well done, I'll be following.

    P.S.: You mind if I use your format for mystery dungeons, with the italicized floor number and everything, in my fic? (credit given, of course?)

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Soul of Fire

    Thanks for the review! And certainly, use the italicized floor number.

    Edit: And here's chapter six.




    Chapter Six: Tranquility



    Again Ruby dreamed of a pair of human hands, nearly invisible where she stood in the deepest shadows. From somewhere far away came the sound of water faintly dripping, each drop spreading tiny echoes through the vast, empty room. The air was cold and clammy against her skin, the stone floor icy beneath her bare feet. She could feel herself shivering.

    In what she thought the center of the room, where the darkness thinned and stretched, a point of light gleamed rosily. Limited human vision struggling to cope with the dark, Ruby focused in on it. A tiny light and the tarnished gleam of old metal beneath it… Her pulse began to race.

    “I… I’m not sure I can…” Her voice, trembling like a Butterfree’s wings, sounded unfamiliar to her own ears.

    A brief flick of dark feathers against her wrist steadied her, reminding her that her partner was still there, and that whatever happened, they would face it together. Her hands twitched with nervous anticipation; commanding them to be still, she took a deep breath. “All right, then.”


    “Ruby?”

    The point of light shone invitingly, beckoning her forwards. Stretching out her hands, she took a step…

    “Ruby, it’s time to get up.”

    The dream receded hazily, leaves scattered by the cold winds of awakening. Ruby opened her eyes with reluctance, staring blearily up into Twig’s face. “Wha?”

    The Turtwig grinned. “I said, it’s time to wake up, sleepy. The other apprentices all got up a while ago; if we don’t hurry, we’ll be late.”

    “What?” Ruby scrambled to her feet, sending small scraps of straw flying. Picking a particularly large stem off her disheveled fur, she blinked at Twig in utter dismay. “Why didn’t you wake me up earlier? Juno will kill us!”

    “Sorry,” Twig sighed, already heading for the door. “You looked so peaceful, though; I didn’t want to disturb you.”

    “Twig, if the other alternative is a very angry Liepard, you’re probably better off waking me up.” The dream forgotten amid fears of the deputy’s wrath, Ruby scurried out of the room and down the corridor.

    Fortunately, Team Remembrance arrived in the common room a split-second before Juno prowled elegantly up the staircase. After sending the other apprentice teams off on their daily duties, the Liepard informed Ruby and Twig with her usual icy aloofness that they had the day off, due to their successful completion of their first mission the day before.

    “Understand that this will not be a regular occurrence,” she added, emerald-green eyes glittering, “but is rather the charitable whim of the Guildmaster, who saw fit to reward you for a mediocre success at an unchallenging task.”

    That was a bit harsh, Ruby thought grumpily, as Twig’s face fell. Sure, delivering a package wasn’t the most challenging job for a Ranger, but they had needed to go through a mystery dungeon, after all.

    “One other item, now that you have completed your first mission,” Juno continued smoothly. “As Guild apprentices, you are required to turn over to the Guild forty percent of any reward money gained.”

    “What?” Ruby asked, incredulous. “That’s not fair! Why should we—”

    “Guild policy,” the Liepard explained, looking smug. “If you graduate, you will be allowed to keep all money you earn, but until then…”

    To Ruby’s surprise, Twig had regained his smile. Setting the Treasure Bag on the floor, he began to rummage through it, shifting aside the few items they had managed to collect. “But, this was our reward,” he said, holding up the small glass sphere that Clefairy had given them. “So do we get to keep it?”

    “A Foe-Seal Orb?” Juno scoffed, flicking her tail dismissively. “The Guild policy applies to Poké only. Keep it; it might be useful, I suppose.”

    Grinning to himself, Twig placed the… Foe-Seal Orb, was that what it was?... back into the Treasure Bag. Ruby, watching the deputy nervously, saw the Liepard’s eyes narrow further. “Very well,” Juno said, a hint of a growl entering her silky purr. “You have the day off, as previously stated. Don’t get in anyone’s way.”

    Fortunately, Twig waited until the deputy had descended the stairs before starting to giggle nervously. “Phew, I’m glad she didn’t take it.”

    “You asked her that just to annoy her, didn’t you?” Ruby sighed, marveling at her partner’s bravery. She would never have dared to do something that would irritate Juno; the elegant Liepard still scared her far more than any other Pokémon at the Guild.

    “Well, not really,” Twig admitted, between giggles. “I really was curious about whether they counted items. I mean, what would we do with sixty percent of an orb? And, hey!” he added, eyes sparkling. “We’ve got the day off! What should we do?”

    “…I don’t know,” Ruby said, slow to follow his abrupt subject shift. “What do you want to do?”

    Twig gave the question serious thought, tilting his head to one side and closing his eyes. “Ooh, I know!” he exclaimed suddenly, wrecking the air of solemn contemplation. “Let’s go down to Northtown!”

    The Cyndaquil grinned. She’d been to the town in the valley below the Guild twice before, once running an errand for Kater the Chansey and once picking up the package from Clefable, but she’d never gotten a chance to look around properly. “Fine with me,” she replied, rather airily, but her eyes sparkled with excitement.

    -----

    Northtown was a brisk ten minutes’ walk from the Ranger Guild, nestled in the bottom of a steep, sparsely forested valley. The largest building in the town, a cylindrical stone edifice that Twig called the Round, could be seen clearly from the precipitous path that led down into the valley. The other buildings, scattered between the Round and the pale cobbled North Way, were harder to make out, their roofs camouflaged by a liberal frosting of snow and ice.

    Slipping and skidding down the treacherous path, Ruby and Twig counted themselves lucky to complete the journey without any bruises or scrapes. Yesterday’s warm sun had melted much of the snow on the path, but the frigid overnight temperatures had refrozen it into a thick layer of ice. Clinging to each other for support, the two Pokémon eventually reached the bottom of the valley, where the path leveled out and broadened as it ran through the trees and into Northtown.

    Apparently forgetting about the unsafe footing, Twig charged ahead towards the center of the town. Ruby, chuckling with good-humored exasperation at her partner’s impulsiveness, walked at a much slower rate, giving herself a chance to look around as well as to avoid slipping and falling.

    The Round drew her eyes immediately, intriguing in more ways than one. The massive, broken-topped tower looked startlingly out of place amid the much smaller dwellings that surrounded its base, and for good reason: as Twig had explained to her the first time they’d visited Northtown, it had originally been built by humans. Abandoned long, long ago, the Round still betrayed signs of its creators in its perfect, angularly cut stonework and the corroded sheets of metal fastened to its outer wall. The Pokémon of Northtown used it as a market and sort of town square, now, and Ruby couldn’t help but feel uneasy at this reminder of how few humans remained in the region.

    Clustered around the base of the Round like mushrooms around a tree trunk were nearly twenty small houses. Northern Chelona’s winters were harsh and the houses were built with the weather in mind, sturdily constructed of stone or wood, with peaked roofs that would allow the snow to slide off. Wisps of smoke rose from the few houses that had chimneys, wafting in faint scribbles of darker grey across the cloudy sky.

    The town seemed less busy than when Ruby and Twig had been here before, with not a single other Pokémon to be seen. No sooner had she thought that, though, than one of the doors swung open and a Pokémon emerged. A bulky, brown-furred rodent with a broad tail, it waddled along the path away from the center of town, acknowledging Ruby with an affable greeting. Ruby nodded back shyly, rather intimidated by the Pokémon’s huge teeth.

    “Ruby,” Twig called, “Hurry up! You’re slower than a Slowpoke!”

    “Am not!” she retorted, nettled; she wasn’t that far behind him. A few more steps were enough to catch up with the Turtwig at the entrance to the Round. He was bouncing from foot to foot, an odd little dance that Ruby thought was laughable… and yet strangely cute. What did he have to be so excited about, anyways? He’d lived here; he must know every inch of the town.

    And yet he had such an idiotically happy expression on his face. Ruby shook her head, unable to stop herself from smiling. With Twig enthusiastically chirping suggestions of what they should do first, the two apprentices procceded into the Round.

    In a marked contrast to the emptiness of the rest of Northtown, the Round was bustling with activity. The open interior of the tower was lined with small shops, leaving a broad clear space in the center where more than a dozen Pokémon wandered to and fro. After a brief, whispered consultation, Twig and Ruby plunged into the crowd; Ruby, at least, intended to experience as much as she possibly could.

    They went to the item shop first, a huge stall run by a pair of taciturn Kecleon siblings. The items, laid out in careful rows, ranged from the practical—orbs and rocks to hurl at wild Pokémon—to the utterly bizarre: neither Twig nor Ruby had any idea what a Magmarizer did. Unfortunately, Team Remembrance’s total funds came to about thirty-five Poké—the amount that Twig had found in the mystery dungeon yesterday—so eventually the two apprentices dragged themselves away from the Invisify Orbs and moved on without purchasing anything.

    The next stall consisted of a single desk, with a Plusle and a Minun seated behind it. Interrupting one another and finishing each other’s sentences, the two young Electric Pokémon gave a rather garbled summary of their services: they linked moves together, so that a Pokémon could use multiple techniques simultaneously. Even after their spiel, Ruby still wasn’t quite sure how that worked—and anyway, the price was far out of their limited range.

    Further along the Round was a large stall that seemed to deal in items of clothing: all sorts of bows, scarves, sashes, and belts hung from tall racks, while long bolts of cloth were piled thickly on the shelves. While Twig looked interestedly at a mossy-green scarf with a pattern of leaves, Ruby drifted over to the rolls of fabric. A broad expanse of dark material caught her eye; black and faintly glistening, it looked as though a starless portion of the night sky had been cut into cloth. Hesitantly, she reached out to touch it; the fabric felt like water sliding across her paw.

    “You have expensive taste.”

    Ruby jumped, snatching her paw away. A thin, yellow Pokémon, apparently wearing a dress made from leaves, was standing next to her. “S—sorry,” Ruby stuttered, “I wasn’t trying to steal it or anything…”

    “That’s Reaper Cloth,” the Pokémon continued, reaching out a delicate, green-veined arm to straighten the dark cloth. “Charged with spiritual energy, you know. It’s very popular with ghosts, for some reason.”

    “Oh.” Surreptitiously Ruby wiped her paw against a roll of thick white material, hoping that she hadn’t accidentally picked up any spiritual energy. A crackle of electricity erupted as her paw touched the fabric; flinching backwards, she winced as she felt a numbing tingle spread along her paw and up her arm.

    The Pokémon’s laughter sounded like rustling leaves. “And that’s Mareep wool. Still quite a lot of static, even after it has been spun. You probably won’t be paralyzed for very long.”

    Great, Ruby though furiously, her eyes watering from the pain. Her entire left arm had gone completely numb. Before she could touch another dubious cloth, probably soaked in Ekans venom or something, Twig bustled up to them, holding an extremely convoluted knot of red string. “Excuse me, Leavanny, but what’s this?”

    “A Destiny Knot,” the shopkeeper replied, winking. “Give it to the Pokémon you love, and if they untangle it they’ll end up returning your feelings. It’s only twenty Poké; would you like to buy it for Sparky, Twig?”

    The Turtwig dropped the Destiny Knot as though he had been holding a hot coal. “N—no,” he muttered, his reptilian skin flushing a deep emerald. Leavanny laughed again, her narrow shoulders shaking.

    Ruby and Twig couldn’t move on to the next shop fast enough, Leavanny’s soft laughter still ringing in their ears as they scuttled away. Twig’s skin gradually returned to its normal color, although the little leaf atop his head looked rather wilted; Ruby’s paralyzed arm, however, showed no sign of improving. Silently fuming, she tried to lift it, but was unable to twitch a single muscle. I’m never touching anything in a store again, she decided firmly.

    Her sour mood lasted as they passed the bank—the proprietor, an extremely suave Nuzleaf, suggested that they open an account, but with only fifty Poké it was hardly worth it; the item storage, a long warehouse that took up nearly a quarter of the Round’s circumference; a small kiosk for collecting mail that couldn’t be brought to the post office further up the valley; and Jynx’s stall, where Pokémon could bring found items to be appraised. They spent a small amount of time at Machamp’s Supplement Shop, which dealt in zinc, protein, and other power-enhancing vitamins—though nothing that cured paralysis, apparently—but the supplements were so exorbitantly expensive that Twig soon abandoned his idea of bulking up quickly by eating a protein every day.

    By the time they left Machamp’s shop, it was nearly noon, so at Twig’s suggestion they headed over to the Berry Delicious Café for lunch. They’d visited the café once before, picking up a basket of berries for the Guild’s cook, and Cyan the Simipour greeted them as enthusiastically as if they were regulars. Apologizing for the lack of variety in the berries—winter made it hard to get a good selection, he explained, even with his cousin Simisage sending fresh ones up from Easttown regularly—he was only too happy to provide them with a piping-hot berry pie and a juice each. At Ruby’s insistence, they ate on the other side of the Round rather than at the table in front of the café—although she had realized by now that some Pokémon ate others, the sight of the fresh Magikarp filets refrigerating in a snow-packed case turned her stomach.

    The sun had come out, and despite the Round’s towering stone walls a few faint beams made their way down to ground level. The two apprentices sat on a low wooden bench, mercifully free of snow, and ate their lunch as they watched the inhabitants of Northtown go about their lives. Despite a mouth full of warm pie, Twig still managed to keep up a running commentary: “That Linoone there’s Loraine; she’s always wanted to join the Guild but she’s not really cut out to be a Ranger… See that Pichu over there, talking with Kecleon? He’s Sparky’s little brother. Cute, huh? …Ooh, there’s old Pewter—see him? The Lairon with only one eye—he used to be a great Ranger, but he retired three years ago after he lost his eye in—” Twig stopped for a moment, swallowing a huge chunk of pie with a blissful sigh. Biting off another section, he kept talking, peppering the ground in front of him with crumbs. “Look, that’s Team Mercy over there: the Houndour and the Togetic. They’re an interesting story: Houndour used to be an outlaw, but Togetic reformed him…”

    Letting his words wash over her in a gentle wave, Ruby leaned back on the bench and closed her eyes. The weak sunlight warmed her just enough that she could almost forget it was winter; her belly was full of pie; and she suspected there might have been a Cheri Berry or two in there, because her paralyzed arm was suddenly feeling much better. Yes, she decided, sighing contentedly, things were looking up.

    She didn’t know how long she sat there, basking as well as she could in the faint light and listening with half an ear to Twig’s ceaseless chatter. It felt strange to even think it, she thought sleepily, but she could get used to this. Life as a Pokémon wasn’t all that bad, really. As much as she wanted to get her memory back, she supposed that she wouldn’t mind being a Cyndaquil for a while longer…

    A cloud covered the sun, and Ruby shivered as the warmth vanished. Sitting up slightly, she opened her eyes; the Round seemed much dimmer now, the bright paint of the stalls made gloomier by the lack of sunlight. There seemed to be fewer Pokémon around, too, though the market was by no means empty.

    “Should we be getting back to the Guild soon?” she asked, wondering what time it was.

    “I suppose,” Twig agreed reluctantly. “It is a long walk, after all.” His beaky mouth was stained dark with berry juice, and a crumb of crust clung just below his left eye. Yawning slightly, he stood up and hopped down from the bench.

    There you are!”

    The voice was unfamiliar to Ruby, but Twig flinched like a prey Pokémon that had just been spotted by a Braviary. His face rapidly draining of color, Twig hunched over, seemingly trying to hide inside his own tiny shell. Ruby frowned at him. “What’s wrong?”

    Before he could answer, Ruby found herself brushed aside as a large Pokémon pushed past her to stand menacingly over Twig. “Twig, I’ve never been so angry in my life! You run off to join the Rangers, and all I get is a note a few days later, telling me where you’ve gone? You could’ve been devoured by wild Pokémon for all I knew!”

    Sorry,” Twig murmured.

    “‘Sorry’? ‘Sorry’?! That’s not good enough, young Turtwig!” The Pokémon stomped one heavy foot; flinching, Twig crouched even lower to the ground, the leaves on his head drooping noticeably. As if realizing for the first time how upset he was, the Pokémon moderated its tone slightly. “Well, at least you bothered to send a note, but honestly. I’m not happy, Twig.”

    The Pokémon was a Grotle, Ruby decided, noting the reptilian tail and the small bushes that bloomed from its shell. Yet the faint wisp of memory that had reminded her of its species confused her: she felt certain that Grotle didn’t have yellowish skin or teal shells. In addition to its odd coloring, the Grotle seemed to give off a faint luster, its shell practically sparkling when the sun touched it.

    “I really am sorry,” Twig repeated despondently. “I was going to come visit you, but I didn’t have the time…”

    The Grotle’s stern expression softened. “I just don’t want anything bad to happen to you, Twig. You’re all I have left.”

    A look of extreme misery crawled across Twig’s face. “I know,” he whispered. Ruby, suddenly feeling extremely uncomfortable, wondered if she should go look at Kecleon’s shop again, and let the two Pokémon talk in privacy.

    Reaching out one yellow-scaled paw, the Grotle patted Twig’s shell. “I am proud of you, though, Twig. Following in your father’s footsteps at last.” It was an inadvisable comment—Ruby clearly saw the look of stark pain that flashed from Twig’s eyes—but the large tortoise seemed oblivious to Twig’s reaction. “So tell me: who’s on your team? Did you change your mind and decide to work with Sparky and Aris after all?"

    “Uh… No,” Twig said. “Er… That’s her over there; you walked right past her before.” Smiling tightly at Ruby, he added, “Ruby, this is Flora, my mother. Mother, this is Ruby.”

    The Grotle’s dark-eyed gaze was extremely cool as she turned to regard Ruby. Suddenly feeling acutely shy, Ruby tried a smile; it ended up as more of a nervous grimace. “N—nice to meet you, Flora.”

    “A Cyndaquil,” Flora stated, sounding surprised. Ruby grimaced, waiting for a joke about Team Elemental, but after a split-second pause the Grotle smiled and said, “Pleased to meet you, Ruby. I’d ask you to keep my son out of trouble, but Arceus itself wouldn’t be up to the task.”

    Ruby laughed nervously; Twig, blushing, forced a chuckle as well.
    “Anyway,” Twig’s mother continued, “I’ve had my say; I’ll be heading home now. And Twig, the next time something important happens, you tell me. Don’t just send a note, understand?”

    “I understand,” Twig muttered, abashedly. With that, Flora excused herself, ruffling the leaves atop her son’s head fondly before leaving. A small smile tugged crookedly at the corner of Twig’s mouth as he watched his mother walk away. “We should go back to the Guild, now, Ruby,” he said, and they did just that.

    -----

    As the afternoon drew on towards evening, Ruby and Twig secured comfortable cushions in the Guild’s common room and watched as the other Rangers returned from their missions. Team Munchers was the first team back; true to form, the Munchlax and the Lickitung were enthusiastically speculating about what was for dinner. Twig had remarked to Ruby a few days previously that Team Munchers had been extremely low-motivation until they discovered that they could work for food, and now they were one of the hardest-working teams in Northtown.

    The next team to return, much to Ruby’s disappointment, was Team Thundersnow, glowing with success from a completed mission in a treacherous mystery dungeon. Unwilling to face Sparky’s scorn yet again, Ruby remained in her comfortable seat while Twig got up to talk with Sparky and the Snover, Aris. The Pikachu flashed her a supercilious look; Ruby scowled right back, annoyed at her pettiness.

    She didn’t have to sit by herself for very long, though: Team Glamour appeared only a few minutes after Team Thundersnow. Both Lady and Pearl were splattered with mud and looked exhausted. Pearl’s eyes were rimmed with red, as if she had been crying.

    “Hello, Ruby,” Lady purred, prowling over and settling herself elegantly on the cushion that Twig had vacated. Pearl smiled tremulously, and then hurried away in the direction of the apprentices’ rooms, leaving a trail of muddy pawprints across the smooth floor.

    “Is she all right?” Ruby asked, staring after her.

    Lady laughed softly. “Just upset, and very tired. Dear Pearl doesn’t like getting her paws dirty, you know.” She raised one of her own delicate paws to her mouth and began to lick away the coating of mud, producing a sandpapery scraping sound. “Bleh, disgusting.”

    “Where did you go today?” Ruby asked curiously.

    “The mystery dungeon in Murky Mire,” Lady sighed. “Not a pleasant place, but the reward was too good to pass up.” Abandoning her impromptu bath, she stretched luxuriously and then curled up on the cushion. “How about you, dear? I didn’t hear Madame Juno tell you what do.”

    “Actually,” Ruby grinned, “we had the day off. Twig and I went down to Northtown and looked around.”

    Lady let out a silvery growl. “Lucky you. Say, did you see Leavanny’s shop? Aren’t her ribbons gorgeous?”

    “I suppose,” the Cyndaquil said, wincing as she remembered what had happened to her in the shop. After a moment of hesitation, she passed the story along to Lady, and the Glameow purred loudly with amusement.

    “Oh, that’s terrible, dear. Leavanny is a character, isn’t she? But she does that most wonderful things with cloth...” Her ribbon was silver today, with a stripe of dusky indigo along one edge; its top-most loop brushed against Lady’s whiskers as she shook her head gracefully. “Oh, look—here’s my charming partner, though her mood doesn’t seem much improved.”

    In fact, Pearl looked more upset than ever as she stomped over to stand in front of Lady. “You took my gold ribbon,” she accused, folding her short arms across her chest. “I told you that you could borrow it if you wanted, Lady; you didn’t have to steal it.”

    “I didn’t take your ribbon,” Lady replied, her good humor evaporating in a heartbeat. The tip of her long tail twitched back and forth as she held her partner’s gaze.

    Pearl shook her head violently, her long ears swinging back and forth. “Then why isn’t it in my box, Lady? Well, why?”

    Lady hissed, revealing tiny, pointed fangs. “I said that I didn’t take it, Pearl! You probably lost it; you’re always leaving your things scattered everywhere. And stop it with that kicked-Lillipup face you’re giving me. Now cheer up, or go back to our room and throw a fit there, instead.” The last words snapped out into a sudden silence; the other conversations around the room had lulled, allowing Lady’s voice to be heard clearly.

    Ignoring the curious stares, the feline held her head high and proudly, glaring at Pearl. Ruby, meanwhile, shrank down her seat, trying to blend in with the cushion. A plump Swellow nearby—Justin, of Team Whirlwind—shook his head disapprovingly, musing aloud that team spirit among the apprentices wasn’t what it used to be.

    “Fine,” Pearl whimpered, sounding once again as though she were about to cry. Tugging furiously on the pale ribbon by her right ear, she scuttled away.

    “Partners,” Lady scoffed, apparently not caring who heard. “Who needs them?”

    “I do,” Ruby said staunchly, watching Pearl with an unaccustomed feeling of sympathy. “Twig’s a great partner.”

    A soft, slightly incredulous noise was Lady’s response. “If you say so. Where is the little chatterbox, anyway?”

    “He’s over there—” Ruby pointed, only to lower her arm as she realized that Twig was no longer standing with Sparky and Aris. A quick scan of the room revealed no trace of the little turtle. “That’s odd. He was there a moment ago.”

    “See?” Lady said contentedly, as though Twig’s absence confirmed her aspersions against partners everywhere.

    A rather uncomfortable silence descended in their small corner of the room. Watching the other Rangers socialize, Ruby wondered where Twig had gone; he seemed to have completely vanished. She snuck a few glances over at Sparky, who was still talking happily with her teammate and Team Whirl, but Sparky never looked in Ruby’s direction. In the center of the common room, some of the more senior Rangers—Team Peak’s Mamoswine, Team Nevermelt’s Glalie and Dewgong, and Team Whirlwind’s Fearow—had their heads together and were talking seriously, in voices too quiet for Ruby to overhear.

    A few minutes later, Kater called up the stairs that dinner was ready, and in the ensuing rush down to the first floor Ruby managed to slip away from Lady. It seemed to be an unwritten rule of the Guild that all the apprentices ate together at one end of the table; she ended up squished between Aris and Brine, while Lady sat gracefully next to Zigzagoon. Somehow, Twig was still missing, and Pearl seemed not to have come down for dinner either.

    Piling a heap of berry hash onto her plate, Ruby did her best to ignore the cheerful conversations going on around her. Concentrating on swallowing the tangy stewed berries, she received quite a shock when a Pokémon shoved in between her and Aris, squashing her even further against the Seel on her left. Turning to tell the rude intruder to go sit somewhere else, she nearly choked on a half-chewed berry when she found herself staring into Twig’s reptilian face.

    “Where were you?” she demanded. “You just disappeared—”

    “Tell you later,” Twig said, winking, and began to pull plates of food toward him across the table. Watching him shoveling in food at an impressive rate, Ruby supposed that she would have to be content with that for now.

    -----

    “You what?” Ruby asked.

    “Asked Pompey if he could give you some pointers,” Twig repeated, his enthusiastic smile fading slightly. “I mean, he and Houndour are the only other Fire-types in the Guild, and I figured that if you’re having trouble with your fire, one of them might be able to, I don’t know, tell you what you should work on…”

    “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to help,” Pompey added in his deep, slow voice, “but I wouldn’t ignore a Fire-type in need.” Team Peak’s spacious room was much larger than Team Remembrance’s, but the red-furred quadruped still seemed too big for the enclosed space. The floor creaked beneath his massive hooves every time he so much as shifted his weight.

    Ruby fidgeted, uncertain. She couldn’t deny that she needed help, and yet… Looking at the huge Camerupt, she wasn’t sure whether she’d be able to use the same techniques that he did. Honestly, the Pokémon had two volcanoes on his back.

    But still, who else was she going to learn from? Certainly not Twig. “All right,” she said. “I’ll give it a try.”

    “Good.” When Pompey cleared his throat, the windows rattled. “Well, Camerupt and Cyndaquil don’t have very much in common—” No, really? Ruby thought— “Including the source of our fire: yours is a flame near your heart, while mine comes from the magma flowing through my body.”

    “There’s magma inside you?” Twig’s voice squeaked incredulously. Ruby stared at the Camerupt, wondering why he wasn’t bursting into flames. Just having a small fire feels weird enough; I can’t imagine having actual lava inside me…

    “I can give you a few things to think about, though,” Pompey continued, ignoring their surprise. “First, fire is dangerous. If you use it incautiously, you could seriously hurt—maybe even kill—other Pokémon. Never lose control of your fire.” His large eyes were half-shut, giving him a sleepy, complacent look at odds with the seriousness in his words. “Second, and hopefully helpful to you: to use your fire you must be calm and relaxed. Emotions will only get in the way. Achieve tranquility, and you will find your fire.”

    That made sense, Ruby supposed, remembering her panic during the fiasco of a battle against the Snorunt. Nodding, she waited for him to say more, but the Camerupt twitched his long red ears and remained silent.

    After the pause had stretched on for a bit too long, she realized that no more information was forthcoming. “Wait, that’s it?”

    Pompey looked rather sheepish. “I said that I might not be a lot of help…”

    “Oh.” Well, he’d told her to keep calm; she supposed she could start from there. It was a bit ridiculous, she realized with a mental smirk: the volcano-backed camel trying to teach his techniques to a fire mouse. “Well, thank you anyway, Pompey.”

    “Yes, thank you!” Twig chimed in, looking so pleased that anyone would have thought he’d been the one getting advice.

    Pompey bowed his huge head gravely. “Of course.”

    -----

    The next day dawned dark and ominous, heavy clouds boiling in the sky while a harsh wind lashed the trees in the valley below the Guild. Shivering even though they’d each eaten an Aspear Berry before setting out, the two Pokémon of Team Remembrance made their way down the North Way and into the dense network of hills that spanned the land between the plains and the northern mountains. According to their map, that was where they would find their destination, a mystery dungeon called Frozen Cave.

    The stakes of the mission were higher than they had been two days ago: rather than simply couriering an item, they were searching for a lost Pokémon, a Phanpy trapped in the cave’s depths. Twig had suggested that they take an easier mission today, perhaps one that didn’t involve entering a mystery dungeon at all, but Ruby had overruled him: she wanted a chance to put Pompey’s suggestions into practice, and a mystery dungeon would be the ideal way to do that.

    In addition to the frigid wind, it began to snow; not gentle pretty flakes but soggy clumps of snow and ice that stung as they splattered against the unprotected Pokémon. Shivering, Ruby blew on her paws in an ineffectual attempt to warm them. Twig, the sprout on his head withering as the ice touched it, squared his shoulders and trudged stoically onwards.

    Finally—it had only been about a thirty-minute walk, for all that it had felt like days—they reached the entrance to the mystery dungeon: a dark hole that gaped at the foot of one of the hills, no more than three steps from the road. Standing at the edge of the pit, Ruby found herself trembling with apprehension as well as cold. The mouth of the cave looked like just that: a mouth, perfectly round and terrifyingly dark, waiting to eat them both.

    “We have to go down there?” she asked, voice much closer to a squeak than she would have liked.

    “I… I guess…” Twig said, sounding more than a little shaky himself. Peering carefully over the edge, he stared down into the shadowy depths for a moment, and then quickly backed away. “It looks, uh, very deep.”

    A hailstone bounced off of Ruby’s skull, eliciting a hiss of pain from the Cyndaquil. “Well, standing around isn’t doing much,” she said grimly, glowering at the unpleasant mixture of sleet and hail that the sky was now disgorging. “So, I guess we should…” She couldn’t quite make herself say it.

    “We’ll jump together,” Twig said, and despite his obvious terror there was a note of firm resolve in his voice. He held out one stumpy paw and Ruby, vastly grateful, grasped it as tightly as she could. “One…” Twig whispered, staring down into the gaping mouth of the cave. “Two… …. …”

    “…Three.”

    Screaming, the two Pokémon plummeted together into the darkness.


    Frozen Cave, B1F

    Ruby clung to the ground, ignoring how the harsh rock abraded her paws. Eyes closed, she breathed deeply, almost sobbing, as she tried to calm her frantically racing heart. The scene played over and over again across the insides of her eyelids: falling uncontrollably, unable to see, certain that at any second she would smash into the unforgiving ground… And then the sudden, intense cold of the passage into a mystery dungeon… And then this.

    Slowly forcing her clenched paws to release, Ruby managed to sit up. The world swam dizzily around her, and eventually resolved into a wide, low cavern, lit by the sickly glow of some sort of luminescent lichen. The ceiling was close enough that a Rhydon would have had to stoop to fit; elongated stalactites and stalagmites made it appear to be even closer.

    A strangled groan from behind a broad stalagmite sent her running to see whether Twig was all right. To her relief, he didn’t seem to have any obvious injuries beyond a shallow scrape along the side of his head. He was very pale, though, and his eyes were slightly unfocused as he blinked up at her. “Ruby? That you?”

    “Are you okay?” she asked, concerned.

    “…My head hurts…”

    Ruby felt a brief, sickening flutter of panic; letting out a long breath, she willed it to go away. Calm, remember? ‘Emotions only get in the way.’ “Do you need an Oran Berry?” she asked slowly. “Here, I can get one out for you—”

    “No,” Twig muttered. “Save it, we’ve only got one…” Moving with a jerky lack of coordination, he got to his feet, swaying from side to side. “Okay,” he said, sounding slightly more lucid despite his still-cloudy eyes, “So, we’re in the mystery dungeon… What now?”

    “We go find Phanpy,” Ruby replied promptly, filling her words with completely false enthusiasm. Watching Twig worriedly, she added, “Are you sure you’re up for it? We can go back…”

    “How?” The bite in Twig’s words seemed to startle the Turtwig as badly as it did Ruby; a look of incomprehension passed briefly over his face, and he continued in a much more reasonable tone, “The… whatsit… ranger badges won’t activate unless we complete the mission or one of us faints, so unless you want to somehow climb back up…” He waved one leg in the general direction of the ceiling; looking up, Ruby realized that she couldn’t even see the hole they had fallen through.

    Only one option left, then. “Okay,” Ruby said, trying to ignore the rising unease she felt. “Let’s go find Phanpy, then.”

    Easier said than done, Ruby soon realized. Blundering around through the maze of shadow and half-light created by the luminescent lichen, it took them more than five minutes to even find their way out of the first cavern. Squeezing through a claustrophobically tight passage, small enough that the rock walls on either side brushed against her fur, Ruby wondered for the first time how they were supposed to find a Pokémon in a place whose layout shifted constantly. In their previous excursions into mystery dungeons they had focused only on finding the stairs so they could escape as quickly as possible; what if, concentrating on getting to the next level, they walked right past the poor Phanpy?

    “Impossible,” Twig said when Ruby vocalized her concerns. “We’ll know when we’re on the same level of the, the dungeon as it.”

    “Really?” As much as she wanted to believe, the Cyndaquil was skeptical. “How?”

    Twig was silent for a long time. “The… ranger badges?” he ventured at last. “I think…”


    Frozen Cave, B3F

    ‘Frozen Cave’ wasn’t living up to its name so far, Ruby reflected sourly. Aside from a damp coolness in the air, the cave wasn’t even cold, let alone frozen. There was no sign of any Ice Pokémon, either. The single wild Pokémon they had encountered had been a tiny blue bat that had fluttered as fast as it could in the opposite direction as soon as it had seen them.

    She turned her head to complain to Twig about this point, and found that he was no longer next to her. Twisting around, she saw that he was far behind her, walking so slowly that he hardly seemed to be moving at all. His head hung so low that his snout was practically touching the ground.

    He perked up slightly as Ruby hurried back to him. “What’s wrong?” he asked, raising his head slightly. Perhaps it was just the poor lighting, but he still seemed to be having trouble focusing.

    “You’re eating that Oran,” she told him flatly.

    Twig shook his head, adamant. “I’m not injured.”

    “An apple, then,” Ruby insisted. Reaching past his head to open the Treasure Bag, she felt through its meager contents for a minute and then pulled out a small, bruised apple. Shoving it under Twig’s snout, she locked eyes with him, feeling a lurch of nervousness as she saw how distant and cloudy his gaze was. “Eat.”

    The Turtwig muttered unhappily, but he ate the apple, core and all. “Feel any better?” Ruby asked, looking at him with concern.

    “I guess…” Twig said vaguely. His color seemed to be slightly better, or maybe that was just the odd illumination. “Let’s keep going,” he said abruptly, and moved off in a shuffling walk, faster than before but still not close to his normal pace. Ruby fell into step behind him, still worried.


    Frozen Cave, B5F

    “Twig?”

    “…Yeah?”

    “Do you know how deep this cave goes?”

    “I… no, I don’t.”

    “Oh.”


    Frozen Cave, B6F

    As they progressed deeper into the mystery dungeon, faint traceries of frost began to appear on the walls. The uneven stone beneath Ruby’s feet was very cold; now and then, she saw a small disc of ice where a pool of water had frozen. The stalactites and stalagmites glistened with the faintest coatings of ice crystals. Was it her imagination, or was the cave getting darker?

    Her musings on the scenery were shattered as a horrendous, ear-splitting shriek rang through the cavern. Something large and soft cannoned into her, bowling her over. The initial attack was less damaging than the aftermath, as she crunched against a stalactite hard enough to wring a shrill cry of pain from her throat.

    The abominable shrieking was still going on, echoing off the cave’s walls to produce an utter pandemonium. Regaining her feet, Ruby caught a dazed view of Twig grappling with a spherical pink-and-yellow Pokémon, apparently the source of the unbelievable uproar.

    Her ribs were bruised; it hurt to inhale too deeply, but she took a big breath anyway, preparing to launch burning embers. She was calm, she was relaxed—

    What are you doing, you idiot? You might hurt Twig!

    The tenuous tranquility vanished like a popped bubble. Abandoning any pretense of attacking, Ruby clapped her paws over her ears, trying to drown out the noise. Dithering indecisively, she watched as Twig slammed the shrieking Pokémon into the ground, and then pelted it with a hail of sharp-edged leaves.

    The siren wail died away as the Pokémon went limp. Ruby’s ears were ringing, and she could barely hear her own voice as she asked, “What was that?”

    “Whismur, I think,” Twig panted. The Turtwig looked awful: legs trembling, fresh bruises on his face, a thin trickle of blood running down his chin from an older scrape, and a still-slightly-vacant look in his yellow eyes. Standing there with only a few bruised ribs, Ruby felt profoundly guilty.

    “Please eat the Oran Berry, Twig,” she murmured, and the Turtwig must have realized the extent of his injuries because he pulled the small blue berry out of the bag. The small berry was battered and its skin was wizened with age, but it still produced an immediate effect as he swallowed it. Twig stood up slightly straighter, no longer trembling with exhaustion; the scrape on his face scabbed over and the worst of his bruises faded… his eyes were shadowed, so she couldn’t see whether their dazed look had faded.

    “Feeling better?” Ruby asked, with a forced cheerfulness.

    Twig nodded slowly. “Much.”

    She would have been more comforted if he had been looking at her, rather than vaguely over her shoulder, when he’d said it.


    Frozen Cave B9F

    To be able to use her fire properly, Ruby needed to be calm. That was what Pompey had said. To be calm, she had to let go of her other emotions, prevent them from affecting her. She needed to be calm.
    She repeated that mantra over and over in her head as she and Twig stumbled away from the pair of unconscious Whismur, but it didn’t help.


    Frozen Cave B11F

    As the two weary, battered Pokémon materialized in the eleventh level of the mystery dungeon, Ruby immediately felt that something had changed. The quality of the light was different in some indefinable way, slightly brighter than the murky phosphorescence she had grown used to. Senses fogged with tiredness, it took her the better part of a minute to locate its source, the ranger badges fastened to their Treasure Bag. The two wooden emblems were glowing with a pale light.

    “Twig…?” Ruby asked.

    Her partner turned his head slightly at the sound of his name, but did not reply. Fighting down an urge to grab him and shake him, Ruby settled for placing a paw on is shell. It was dry and brittle beneath her touch; she wondered whether that was bad. “Twig,” she repeated, “should our badges be glowing like that?”

    Twig twisted his head around, trying to catch a glimpse of the Treasure Bag, which was still on his back. He must have seen something, because his face broke into the first smile she had seen from him in hours—a shallow grin that didn’t touch his eyes, but still a smile. “The… The Pokémon’s on this level somewhere,” he said, his voice hoarse. “We’re nearly there…”

    Pure, sweet relief swept over Ruby; before she could stop herself, she gave Twig a quick hug. “We’re nearly there,” she repeated as Twig stared solemnly across the dim cavern. “All we need to do is find that Phanpy, and then we can get some rest.”

    “Yeah,” Twig agreed quietly, and started across the cavern towards one of the narrow passageways that would lead to another chamber. “Some rest would be nice…”

    Given how spectacularly poorly the mission had gone so far, Ruby was certain that it would take them hours to find the lost Pokémon. But no sooner had they entered the passageway than she heard a feeble, high-pitched cry from up ahead, nearly drowned out amid the scraping sounds of shifting rock.

    “Help!”

    “Do you think that’s… whatsitsname…?” Twig asked.

    Ruby nodded. “It must be.” Calm, she reminded herself. I am feeling very calm. She took a deep breath in, trying to fill herself with confidence. Flashing Twig a terse grin, she stepped out of the cramped passageway and into the largest cavern they had seen so far.

    As the dungeon had continued deeper into the earth, the size of the caves had dramatically increased. This one could have contained the Guild building with room to spare. Spears of rock dripped from the ceiling and rose from the floor, meeting to form columns as thick as Ruby’s entire body. The stairs to the next level were visible as a dark, square hole only a few steps to Ruby’s left, but she ignored them, her attention entirely occupied by what was happening in the middle of the cavern.

    A tiny blue elephant, bruised and trembling, was backed up against a stalagmite the size of a large tree. Looming menacingly towards it were two spherical rocks with humanoid arms—Geodude, Ruby recognized. One of the Geodude reached out and swatted the Phanpy with an open hand; the smack of rock against flesh made Ruby wince with sympathy.

    “Hey!” Twig called furiously. “Leave her alone!”

    The smaller Geodude swung around to glare at him, its eyes glinting unpleasantly in the dim light. The other ignored him, grabbing the squirming Phanpy’s ear and tugging viciously. The little blue Pokémon let out a pathetic squeal.

    With an outraged shout, Twig lurched forwards, Ruby right on his heels. Twig sent a hail of tiny leaves flying towards the Geodude—rather pointlessly, Ruby thought, sure that little leaves would have no effect on a creature seemingly made of solid rock—and to her astonishment the wild Pokémon writhed in pain as they connected. Growling, the larger Geodude abandoned its torment of the poor Phanpy and hurried up to join its friend, rocky hands clenching into fists.

    Ruby didn’t feel particularly relaxed at the moment, but she doubted that fire would do much against a rock anyway. Instead, she opted to try tackling the Geodude the way she had seen Twig do to other Pokémon. Smacking into the Geodude’s side, she felt as though she had run straight into a rock wall—which, basically, she had. The Rock Pokémon didn’t seem fazed in the least.

    Twig unleashed another barrage of leaves, sending the other Geodude scurrying backwards. The Phanpy let out a brief, squeaky cheer; hearing it, Ruby grinned. Okay, we can do this. Trying empty out her emotions, she ready herself for a fire attack.

    A scraping, grating noise shattered her concentration. Looking in the direction of the sound, Ruby saw a huge Pokémon heave itself out from behind a stalagmite. At first she thought it was another Geodude, but it was far too large for that, with four brawny arms instead of two. A look of unmistakable anger appeared on its rocky visage as it looked down at the scene.

    “Uh oh…” Twig said, very quietly.

    There was no way a simple tackle would work against this monster. Her heart pounding, Ruby tried to produce a flame. Nothing emerged, not even the smallest cinder.

    Calm, I have to be calm, she thought, feeling a queasy flutter of terror.
    The Graveler took a heavy step forward, its four arms flexing. Don’t panic don’t panic don’t panic don’t panic—Ruby could feel a scream working its way up her throat. She coughed, a frenzied desperation convincing her that it might jar some fire loose inside her. A lone minuscule spark dropped from her mouth, fizzling out instantly. Can’t panic— Hugging its arms tightly to its body, the Graveler dropped to the ground and rolled towards her.

    I’m being calm!” Ruby shrieked, about as far away from calm as it was possible to be. “Why isn’t it working?!” Desperately she tried to curl up, hoping that it would lessen the impact, but the Graveler was moving so fast that she didn’t have a chance.

    The collision was so fast that she didn’t feel a thing, only saw a brief supernova of white that instantly gave way to darkness.
    Last edited by Mei; 21st March 2011 at 07:17 PM.

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