The pain was intense, no doubt about that… Derek’s senses were so overwhelmed by the pain that he barely registered the sound of hurried footsteps as Ardor rushed to his side. He didn’t even realize that he had fallen until he felt the cool surface of Cael’s blade on his back.
“The pedestal just exploded.” Ardor informed him, slightly breathless. His eyes were wide as he began to inspect the chimchar for any signs damage. It was Cael who noticed first. His scarf snaked into Derek’s right hand, which he had used to slam the button, and lifted it up for Ardor to see. Derek winced as the movement sent a jolt of pain through his arm.
The quilava blinked at the long sword, but he nodded and tried to find what was wrong with Derek’s right arm. It took him a moment, as the mark was faint, but there was no mistaking the purplish vein-like mark on Derek’s arm. Ardor sighed, and helped the chimchar on his feet. “You’re poisoned, it wasn’t bad, but… it’s spreading fast.”
Another pain shot up through his arm, causing Derek to wince again. He managed a small nod as he turned to Ardor. “R-right… Got any antidotes or something…?”
“…only basic Pecha Berry paste… ” The hooded fire type replied grimly. “Not enough for this kind of poison. We would need something stronger.” Shaking his head, Ardor grasped Derek’s shoulder firmly. “Come on, let’s get you up.” He said before he slowly hauled the chimchar up with Cael’s assistance.
“Can you walk?” came Cael’s concerned voice.
Derek tested a leg, then another. They seemed strong enough, thankfully. “Yeah, I’ll survive. It’s only my arm that hurts.” He replied dismissively, only to receive another jolt of pain from his poisoned arm. It felt like something was stabbing him with tiny little knives from the inside.
“Leave it to the amateurs to be underprepared.” Hetterich’s sharp voice interrupted what Ardor was going to say. “Whatever. We all should be going now.”
Derek opened his mouth to retort, but Ardor placed his paw on his shoulder, shaking his head slowly. He just slid his arm over the chimchar’s shoulder and went to help his team member through the door. It must have swung open when the pedestal crumbled.
Way to make a trap, Derek mused wryly.
Before they could make their move however, a shout rang out from behind.
“INTRUDERS! HALT! HALT I SAY!”
It would seem the sleeping barboach had finally woken up. Using his cart to propel himself, the spoon wielding guard wheeled his way to the small escort group with shouts trailing around him.
“I SAY HALT! DON’T YOU DARE MOVE A MUSCLE!”
“Geez, pipe down, will ya?” Derek groaned, clapping his hands on his ears. “You could wake a Snorlax with that.”
The Barboach faltered for a moment, before he glared. “Silence! You have trespass the territory of King Wussy the Great and Terrible! What say you in your defense or—ACK! PUT ME DOWN THIS INSTANCE YOU FILTHY LAND DWELLER!”
Ardor had bent down and picked up the barboach by the scruff of the fish’s neck, who suddenly quailed in Ardor’s grasp. Derek actually found it funny that his teammate’s expression matched Hetterich’s; both had their eyebrow raised, their mouths pulled into a thin line, and they didn’t look amused at all. He would have laughed if his arm suddenly gave a painful twitch.
“Well then, let me ask you something.” Ardor began with a flat tone. “Where can we find your wishcash leader, oh and possibly a stash of Antidotes?”
“W-wha—I-I’ll never—y-you…” the guard’s rapidly sweating face turned mutinous. “You’ll will never know the King’s whereabouts you insolent—AIIIEEEEEE!”
Derek only caught a glimpse of silver as a great blur of black, and navy knocked past Ardor, sending the fire type stumbling backwards. The next second, Derek found the Whisker Pokémon a few feet away on top of one of the intact pillars, held by the strangest looking Pokémon he had ever seen.
The dewott’s elaborate black, navy trimmed long coat he wore flapped to the sides as he landed on top of one of the intact pillars. He had his paw warped around the guard’s antennae, causing the serpentine-like Pokémon to dangle off quite painfully. Derek winced from the whimpers which escaped from the barboach’s mouth.
“Jerky boyfriends should always be ready to get trolled.” the dewott sneered in a sing-song voice. “Oh, and by the way Ardor,” the otter added, scratching his chest with his free paw lazily, “that hood doesn't make you any more cool or badass.”
With that, he took off. The barboach screaming painfully all the way down.
“Damnit… of all the times—” Ardor grumbled. “You two,” he turned to Cael and Derek. “Stay here with Hetterich.”
Derek was quick to protest. “Wha-? No way! Who’s that Dewott anyway?”
“You have a boyfriend, Ardor?” Cael sounded almost gleeful, “didn’t know you swing that way.”
A tinge of red colored the Quilava’s cheeks. “His name is Fennec, and this is not the time, Cael.” He growled out, having regained his composure. His eyes flicked to Derek’s steely gaze, and sighed. “Fine, but try to keep up.”
The three once again fell into their formation as they made their way to the corridor where the dewott had disappeared to. Derek lagged behind somewhat, as every movement brought prickling pain over his arm thus forcing himself to slow down. It took a moment for the chimchar to realize that they were back inside the short path where they had come from; avoiding the sharp Spoolstone rocks and the loose leftover threads as they finally arrived on the long hallway.
Fennec was already waiting for them in the middle of the hall. He had warped his arm around the barboach’s neck, whose whimpers and demands of release fell on deaf ears. The dewott’s cool sea-green eyes settled on Ardor as the Hunters stopped to face the unexpected guest.
It was Ardor who spoke first. “Fennec, what are you doing here in all places?”
“You should know, you jerk.” came the condescending reply.
Both Pokémon held their stares for a whole moment, before Ardor’s frown became thoughtful, and morphed into exasperation in a millisecond. “A-alright… I get it…” he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Look, I'm sorry for not seeking you out after that night... but, can you just give me the barboach for now and talk when things are less pressing?”
“I think we can talk right here and now.” Fennec casually twirled a scalchop with his free arm as he continued to stare at Ardor coldly. “You think words are enough?” he tapped his foot.
Derek blinked and turned to Cael, who leaned in. “Is it just me, or they are having a lovers’ spat?” he whispered.
“Hmm~ it is the best bet.” Cael chuckled cheerfully.
“…since when did you get so gleeful?” the scarfed Chimchar was now eyeing the Honedge oddly.
Hetterich gave a huff in front of them. Whatever Cael was going to say was drowned out when Ardor let out a low groan. “What would you want me to do then?” he sounded exasperated.
“If you want this relationship to work, you can't have me spoonfeed you all the time.” Fennec said, shaking his head. “Clueless about dating and love? So what? Make an effort to actually get those concepts instead of looking for me to hold your hand.”
Ardor’s gaze hardened. His fists were clenched as he bit out his reply. “Look, for all I know, you just picked me out of the blue and then you disappeared without so much of an explanation or anything—“ He huffed in frustration as he threw his arms upwards. “Forget it. You're the most confusing 'mon I've ever met. What do you expect me to do, hmm?”
“Can we cut this lover's spat please? Thank you.”
Fennec merely gazed at the Andalusstian noblemen, unimpressed. Sighing, he glared back at Ardor. “You and your questions...” he shook his head. The scalchop he was holding glowed as it was coated with energy, and the barboach squealed in fright as it was pressed against his neck. “Shall I chop off his head then, hmm?”
The barboach yelped as ice started to spread from the end of the dewott’s Scalchop, slowly freezing him.
Ardor covered the distance between him and the Dewott in the blink of an eye. Both of his paws were clasped firmly on Fennec's arms, his hard gaze seem to penetrate Fennec’s cold, almost goading glare. Derek could almost see the tension between the two.
“You are impossible...” Derek heard Ardor mutter before the Pokémon dipped his head in.
It took a moment before Derek realized what was happening—due to his vantage point—but from the disgusted scoff from Hetterich’s direction and the odd chuckling noise from his honedge companion were enough for Derek to take a direct guess.
The Chimchar’s cheeks colored and he averted his gaze away from Ardor and Fennec.
It would seem that the barboach was not amused.
“EUGH! Must you two do that in front of—ACK!”
Fennec’s expression softened considerably as he slowly pulled back from Ardor. A small, teasing grin formed on his muzzle as he spoke, “Was that so hard?” There was a coughing wheeze as the dewott release his choking grip on the guard and a yelp as he handed him to Ardor.
“No... not really...” the fire type replied, looking as if he was trying hard not to roll his eyes. “Where are you going then?” he added as Fennec began to turn and walk away.
Grinning slightly, Fennec ran a paw through his hair. “Somewhere.” He said as he retreated. “Just somewhere”
The ensuing quietness didn’t last very long, as Hetterich coughed loudly and the barboach guard squirmed on Ardor’s grip.
“E-er… like, um...” the guard found himself stumbling on his words at the end of Ardor’s piercing glare. “C-can you let me go n-now?”
Ardor raised his eyebrow. “Release you?” he chuckled and brought the barboach to his eyelevel. “Oh, I think I have something better in mind.”
For some reason, Derek felt the furs on the back of his neck stand at Ardor’s oddly calm tone. Even the Guard found himself gulping.
“O-of course… a-anything you s-say”
The door opened just as the meatroot went into the Supply Bag.
It didn’t take long for their new guide to usher them towards there Wussy was hiding. According to the barboach, said whiscash had settled himself between several units of guards in the centre of the dungeon. But knowing the nature of Mystery Dungeons, it could be anywhere.
“You done, Derek?” Ardor asked.
Shouldering the bag again, Derek gave an affirmative nod. “Yeah.” He replied and quickly rejoined Ardor and Hetterich who had stood in front of the door. He didn’t manage to take two steps before another jolt of pain ran through his arm. A quick look told him that the poison was rapidly crawling up towards his chest, which was not good news at all.
“Are you holding well?” Cael asked.
Derek brushed the Honedge’s scarf away with a shake of his head. “I’m fine, really.” He attempted a smile, which didn’t seem to convince his Honedge companion. Cael stared for several moments before he nodded slowly. “If you say so.” He uttered, floating closer to the scarfed fire type’s side.
“The barboach said they have supplies and berries stored anyway.” Derek shrugged, wincing slightly from the pain. “So I guess it won’t be much a problem.”
Cael said nothing.
The next chamber was definitely larger than what they had passed through. It was massive to put it simply. Derek couldn’t even see the roof of the cave. Somewhere within the chamber, water dripped down into what Derek guessed as an underwater lake. That must how the barboaches and Wussy travelled here. The small group of five stopped as a barboach rolled his water filled cart up, brandishing a large, red rubber plunger threateningly. “Halt! Who goes there?”
“It’s me, and several trespass—I mean, g-guests for the Royal Highness King Wussy the Fourth.” Their own barboach guide corrected hastily at Ardor’s glare.
“Guests?” the plunger-armed guard blinked. “Oh, alright I guess.” He nodded briskly. “This way, and don’t try anything funny.” He glared, which by all accounts, failed comically. Derek had to clamp his hand on his mouth to stop laughing.
Deeper into the cave, the more cluttered it seemed to appear. Rooms and alcoves were dug into the walls, some sporting rudimentary wooden doors while some were left open, showing stacks of crates and sacks of berries and tools. Several barboach were seen zooming to and fro these rooms on their water filled carts.
It wasn’t long before they saw the wishcash himself. Wussy had situated himself—and his own water-filled pulley—on top of a makeshift throne made of wood and chunks of basalt. His greedy little eyes flickered to Ardor once, and a rather sleazy smile broke on his face.
“Oh? And who do we have here? Messengers from the city? Come to give your rightful toll fee to me, hmm?” he rumbled gleefully. “Finally the guilds have recognized my greatness~”
“Actually,” Ardor interrupted, “The Hunters Guild have requested your presence on their headquarters.”
Wussy faltered for a bit. “Wait, wha-? My presence on their—” his beady eyes blinked. “Oh, no, no. That will never do my dear fire type. They will have to come to me first.” He grinned.
“Which is impossible for the moment since the Hunters Guild Leader has specifically asked you to come.” Ardor said.
“And, like I said, that Weavile and the Pancham will have to COME to me.” Wussy puffed up his cheeks stubbornly. “I wouldn’t move a fin out of this cave! None!”
Derek groaned. “You’re so childish, you know that?” he muttered. Unfortunately, the whiscash heard him.
“W-what was that you LITTLE—”
‘I’m afraid it was not the Proxy Leaders who asked you.” Ardor bit out, sending a sharp glare at Derek’s way before he turned back to Wussy. Several barboach guards had taken their places beside their leader, brandishing their plungers out, but the Quilava wasn’t fazed. “I was talking about the real leader of the Hunters. She alone had asked for you personally.”
Derek had to admit, Ardor’s lying skills was superb. Even he almost believed what his teammate had said.
Wussy’s face went red, then deep purple. “AND I SAID I DON’T CARE! IT IS CLEAR THAT THIS IS AN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT! YOU HAVE TRESPASSED THE SACRED GROUND OF THE CAVES OF IVOR AND EVEN BROUGHT A PRISSY UPPITY-GENERAL-UPPERCLASS-MON…THING WITH YOU!” Wussy pointed a fin at Hetterich’s direction, who looked extremely offended. If the situation wasn’t so dire, Derek would have laughed out loud.
Derek blinked in confusion. "Caves of Ivor? But isn't this Basalt Halls?" he was cut off by their Mienshao client, who glowered and stomped towards the whiscash, eyes blazing in anger. “Now see here you brat of a fish—”
Wussy wheeled backwards in response, eyes wide. “GUARDS! GUARDS! ARREST THEM! THEY ARE TRYING TO KILL ME!”
“Great… you just have to provoke him, do you?” Ardor remarked dryly at their Mienshao client before he delivered a solid punch to one of the guards which had attacked.
Hetterich scoffed. “And I should have never choose amateurs.” He remarked. The next second, he was wheeling on his foot to roundhouse-kick a bucket-helmeted guard, which sent it flying.
Derek didn’t have time to gape as the rest of the guards closed in on them. He and Cael went back to back dispatching the barboaches, delivering slashes and punches, while Cael provided Derek with much needed cover when water and ground type attacks were launched. Protect proved to be very useful too in this kind of situation.
Meanwhile, Ardor and Hetterich were battling their way through the remaining guards in a flurry of punches and kicks. Both were moving in such precision and power that Derek had to force himself to look away before he could get too distracted.
It was not long until the guards were lying unconscious on the ground and Wussy quivering on his throne, whimpering like a five year old. He wailed and curled himself into a fetal position before Ardor could even take ten steps to him.
Ardor’s eyes twitched as he loomed over the dark blue fish. “Now then, ready to come quietly?”
“Yes, yes, yes don’tkillmepleasedon’tkillme!” Wussy screeched, bawling loudly.
Hetterich groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Will you be QUIET?! A real noble would have accepted his defeat graciously… not crying like a hatchling!”
“… agreed.” Derek nodded wryly. “You’re a big crybaby.” Derek sweatdropped, chuckling with Cael. The moment of relief was short lived, as he suddenly crumpled to the ground, barely holding to Cael’s cross guard with a wheeze. It felt like someone was stabbing his innards.
“Derek!” he heard someone –Ardor?—shout from somewhere. Everything started to blur in Derek’s eyes.
The momentary lapse of concentration must have provided Wussy with enough time to wheel out of his throne, smacking his tail on the hidden pressure plate under his “seat”. There was a clack as the wooden contraption of the throne seat slid open and out came an odd iron muzzle of sorts, which emitted a click as it locked and aimed itself directly at Ardor.
Ardor let out a sharp gasp as he felt something collide to his side, sending him tumbling away from the throne. There was a cry of pain behind him along with the noise of projectiles. Getting on his feet, the Quilava got on his feet and immediately went to gasp Wussy’s tail and dragged him to Cael before he rushed to his teammate who had taken the brunt of the trap.
“Bubble trap.” He heard Cael mutter from behind him as he slowly pushed Derek up. He looked battered from taking the barrage of Bubbles head on, which had rendered him unconscious… hopefully. The most worrying part was the purple hued vein-like growth which had spread all over Derek’s face and chest. They need an antidote, fast.
“High pressurized Bubbles… never seen anything like it…” Hetterich said calmly as he went to inspect the now deactivated nozzle. “Your friend was either courageous, or foolish.” He added in an offhanded shrug.
Ardor ignored the Mienshao and quickly went to check for the Chimchar’s pulse. For a dreadful moment, he felt nothing, but then he felt it. They were extremely faint and irregular from the poison, but it’s there.
“Cael, fetch—ah?” the quilava blinked in confusion when the sword floated towards him—Wussy warped tightly with his green scarf—and calmly and handed him a vial of antidote. “Here you go. Be quick… and get away fast.”
Ardor frowned. “Get away? What do you mean?”
Cael merely cocked his body sideways. “Just see for yourself. Better be quick with the antidote, as his body will work the rest away… Ah, I think it’s started.”
“What are you talking about—oh.” To say Ardor was baffled was an understatement. The white, glowing particles covering the scarfed fire type wasn’t easy to miss after all. Moving quickly, the hooded quilava uncorked the vial and helped the unconscious chimchar to drink the antidote, and then distanced himself away.
Ardor watched with bated breath as the light particles and energy tendrils swept all around Derek, encasing him in a cocoon of intense light, and slowly changing his body structure to the atomic level. The light was so intense that Ardor had to shield his eyes, but he could feel the evolution energy coursing through the chimchar’s body and into the air in waves. Derek seemed to gain some more height and mass as the energy intensified, seemingly solidifying around the center before it burst outwards, dissipating into thin air.
Groaning softly, the newly evolved Pokémon pushed himself up and blinked his eyes open blearily. Ardor noted quickly that Derek’s blue eyes had gone several shades paler and brighter, which was interesting to say the least. Evolution rarely changed small details of the body after all.
“Ugh… my head…” the Monferno wobbled on his feet. “Uh—oh… Ardor…” he blinked when he found Ardor’s paws holding his shoulders firmly. “What just…happened?” his words slurred a bit as he tried to fight off the dizziness that had just washed over him like a wave. “I feel all dizzy…” he groaned out.
“Well, you evolved.” Ardor replied with a grin. “Thanks for pushing me out of the way just now.” He added with an afterthought.
“…what do you mean?” Derek blinked in confusion as he tried to stabilize himself. He stared at Ardor when he finally got a good look at the hooded quilava. “Wait… since when did you get shorter?”
The statement caused Ardor to laugh. He grinned widely as he patted Derek reassuringly. “Nah, you just got a few inches taller, that’s all.” His eyes flickered to the whimpering and shaking form of Wussy, who was still bound on Cael’s scarf, and sighed. “We still have a job to do… I guess Cael can fill you in while your body adjusts.”
“Oh…” was all Derek could say as he finally registered why he had a tail with a flaming end which had flicked about since he woke up.
A few minutes later, they had properly tied Wussy up with a rope and were getting ready to exit the dungeon. The whiscash had readily told them that he had hidden the exit with his throne. A quick Lava Plume and Crush Claw later, hot and arid air was flowing into the chamber along with the light from the afternoon sun from the doorway.
“You sure you can hold on your own, Ardor?” Derek asked, feeling around his throat. His slightly deeper voice was one of the things he needed to get used to.
Ardor waved a paw dismissively. “I’ll be fine.” He replied, holding the rope which had bound their captive wishcash. “I’ll just tag along with another team and catch up with you in Geoda.” His green eyes flicked to their assigned client. “You got Cael with you to help escort our client.”
Hetterich’s eyes narrowed at Ardor’s flippant tone. “Your superiors shall hear of this… inefficiency, Ra’Ael. I’m a ‘mon of my word.” He warned.
“I’m sure you will.” Ardor flashed him a challenging grin. “Well, I best get going now. Good luck you guys.” he said as he tugged their squirming captive.
Wussy's wailing trailed behind all the way. "You don't understand! This caves are sacred! Y-you know, the Ivors built these halls and..."
"Yeah, I know." Came Ardor's flat reply. "But I am not a Researcher."
Cael nodded, his single eye twinkling mischievously as he said, “When you return, I have some questions which I would like you to answer, Ardor. Remember that.”
Both Ardor and Derek stared at the long sword oddly. Said long sword had begun to giggle to himself.
“Okay, I think that’s enough, Cael.” Derek cleared his throat and turned to the doorway, positioning himself abreast of Hetterich and Cael. Turning his head, he saw Ardor giving an encouraging grin as he backtracked towards the entrance corridor before he disappeared from view. Breathing softly, the Monferno’s tail flicked as he and Cael stepped through the doorway with their client, and into Geoda.