The sun was rising over the city of Andalusst. Light filtered through the window of Mithora’s and Layron’s new bedroom, especially on the Helioptile whose bed was directly across the room from the window. The Helioptile felt warmth on his skin and slowly opened his eyes, awakening from the first night’s sleep he had had in a while in an actual bed in an actual house. He pushed his bedsheets away and sat up, giving his little arms a stretch before standing up and looking outside. It was a lovely day outside. Mithora awoke about an hour later. By that time, Layron had already learned the news of the most recent events in Andalusst, and was more than happy to share them with Mithora.
To the foremost piece of information, Mithora could only roll her eyes. “It had to be ninjas.” She muttered. “Could have been knights or archers or even chaos druids, but why ninjas? That’s just dumb.”
“Because nnnnnnninja!” Layron exclaimed. He set to work in the kitchen, filling a pan with water to wash it out before the day began, exclaiming "Nnnnnnnnnnnninja water!" Having landed a job at the bakery, Layron was assigned to do manual labor chores when they came up, so the other workers in the Roseheart Bakery could stay on their own tasks. When nothing was needing to be done, the Helioptile would work with the other employees to bake and cook meals, but in Layron’s case he would often have to work on specially ordered meals for customers who ordered ahead of time, something the manager was only just starting. So far three orders had been made and all the customers had replied with utmost satisfaction.
Mithora was glad that they got a roof over their head now, even though it was the only form of pay they were receiving. The Explorers Guild itself would have to help them if they needed money, though. Mithora was more than happy to take jobs from the Guild if it meant having something to do that would benefit others, or in this case if it meant engaging in the sport of hunting.
The latest task from the Explorer Guild, and all the guilds in general in fact, was to respond to a bounty placed on three ninjas. A Sceptile, a Greninja, and a Riolu had infiltrated the city earlier that week and had successfully managed to gain intelligence that they weren’t fit to have. Now, the had bounties on their heads and the guilds were all asking their members to apprehend the three spies, going so far as to allow the guild members to keep the reward. The task would be difficult though, given that ninjas were known for their stealth. It was all Mithora could hope that the city guard had enough sense to check all individuals entering and leaving the city - if their search had to encompass the entire plane of Andalusst, rather than only the city, then everyone would be hunting for a long time. Additionally, the location of the mysterious dungeon, aforementioned by the Guardian automaton, had been narrowed down and the Explorers were to find the location itself and begin the excavation process. A task that seemed simpler than finding and capturing ninjas if not for the fact that the search area was centered in a forest full of pitfalls. More annoying than anything was the fact that the entrance was believed to be underneath a stump, and that the forest had many stumps. Adding insult to injury, more like.
“So, as I understand it, you’re going to be looking for the dungeon while I’m looking for the fugitive, right?” Mithora asked.
“Yepers!” Layron exclaimed tossing the pot back into the rack to dry now that it was completely clean. “Ima get my friends to help too!”
Mithora chuckled. “Right. Those two water types.” She replied. “You’ll have to make a few more friends if you don’t want to look like you’re harassing those two, Layron. Promise me you’ll do that, alright?” She paused for a moment and added “Make more friends, I mean.”
“Ya’ok!” Layron exclaimed. He walked over to a rack of accessories over by the kitchen’s back door and retrieved his pair of gloves, putting them on and then walking out the door. Mithora shook her head in disbelief.
An hour later, Mithora was off hunting for fugitives. Based on intelligence gathered from the prison warden for the city, a Heliosk named Donovan, the best target for her to locate was the Riolu who was somewhat of an accomplice for the Sceptile. He had been present with the Skeptile during the performance held for them, so Mithora at least knew what he looked like. Unfortunately, there were many Riolus in Andalusst - for curiosity’s sake, she checked with the local census office and found that fifteen guild teams had a riolu in them, and that was just the ones the census had registered. She had her work cut out for her.
The first thing she would do, Mithora decided, was flag down Riolus and anybody associating with them. Questioning civilians would be a tedious but possibly effective way of locating the fugitive, at least for now. Thus began the process of flagging down anyone Mithora felt might know something and questioning them. At first, several of the Pokemon she attempted to flag down just ignored her and ran away. Mithora considered pursuing them but then she figured she would look a bit too forceful.
Eventually she managed to flag down some Pokemon who didn’t run away at first sight. Answers about the ninja Riolu were a bit difficult to decipher from the interviewees’ perspectives. Most of them, when asked when they last heard or saw any sign of the Riolu, mentioned the performance that was held for her target and the Sceptile ninja not too long ago, which was useless information. Others mentioned the Riolu being spotted with the hunters, but further questions led Mithora to conclude that this was before the Riolu became a target. Still, the Riolu had associated with the Hunters at one point, so that was a lead to go on.
Mithora started heading toward the Hunters Guild to ask more questions. She had passed by the guild multiple times since she became an Explorer, but she had never actually entered the guild hall. The Hunters Guild was actually rather secluded within the sprawling city, but not so much so that a passerby couldn’t identify it. It was a simple drab building with little more than a logo over the door, yet it was still enough to tell it from other shops and homes.
She glanced around the street, looking at various passer-bys until she noticed one in particular standing by an alley. It was a blue figure wearing a hood, a close match to her target. Mithora walked briskly in the figure’s direction, before it turned to look at her and started sprinting down the alley. From that short glance, Mithora saw that the figure was indeed a Riolu. She quickened her pace. Slowly but surely the distance between the two Pokemon lessened until Mithora managed to leap forward and knock the Riolu down. She quickly removed the Riolu’s hood to realize it was not her target - the features of the face were far different.
Mithora backed away and immediately helped the Riolu get up before it could even reply. “I’m sorry. I mistook you for my target.” She explained. The Riolu apologized as well, and explained that the same thing had happened to him several times that day - his hood was the main issue. He did, however, believe that he saw another Riolu with a hood hiding out in a circular alleyway. It was just a glance but it might have been him, the Riolu explained.
A lead at last! Mithora thanked the Riolu and raced off, following a set of directions the Riolu gave her to find the alleyway from where they were.
A half hour passed though and Mithora was sighing in exhaustion very frequently. Following the directions to the alley wasn’t as easy as she thought, as it had involved round-about turns and diversions thanks to all sorts of blockades in the alley, done by pesky merchants and ninjas alike. Still though, she was finally here. She glanced around - no sign of anything suspicious. The alley was littered with old, broken carts and loose papers that occasionally shifted with gusts of wind that managed to get through. The Fennekin went quiet and closed her eyes, attempting to listen to her surroundings. Everything was silent apart from the gusts of wind, its breath beating heavily…
Mithora marched forward slowly. She kept listening to her surroundings, gauging any movements and keeping herself tense, ready to react to anything. A slight disturbance to her right grabbed her attention. She turned - it was only an old leaflet fluttering in the breeze. Another sound, one of wood falling. She looked to see an old beam of wood had slidden off its ajar position on a wall.
A loud shout was cried out, Mithora’s ears perking up immediately. She dashed forward immediately, before a loud crack sounded behind her. She turned to see the Riolu, whose failed attempt at giving her a high-jump kick had succeeded in giving him an injured heel. Mithora stood tall and spoke up immediately - the Riolu was to come with her. He had him essentially cornered, with a cart to one side of him blocking the most straight path to another alleyway and no alleyway on his other side. The Riolu got down on his knees and started pleading with Mithora, who clearly would have an advantage in this fight. He asked her not to hurt him, that he was just an innocent child wrapped up in some plot he didn’t want a part in, that he would tell her everything she wanted to know, that he had hopes and dreams and didn’t want to die.
This was getting her nowhere. Mithora raised her paw and lightly, very lightly, slapped the Riolu in the snout. He paused and looked at her with big eyes. At that point, Mithora began to explain that she didn’t want to hurt him and that her only objective was to find and bring him into custody completely unharmed, at which point he would be provided for and kept safe. The young Riolu got up with quivering knees and reluctantly nodded.
Mithora thus escorted the Riolu to the Andalusst prison, half-carrying him along the way due to his bruised foot and possibly sprained ankle. He would definitely need some medical attention after trying an attack like that, but she continually assured the Riolu that he was going to be safe and that he was going to be alright. Several Pokemon along the way noted Mithora escorting the Riolu and began assisting him as well, as they explained that they had been searching for the Riolu as well. When they arrived at the prison, although the Riolu ninja was still a bit nervous from the day’s events, he was a bit more confident about his situation than earlier.
Layron was swift to gather his friends and start heading out into the Andalusst Field, towards a dense woodland known as the Subseed Forest. It was riddled with pitfalls and tall trees, along with stumps of old, fallen trees. To find the dungeon located within and alert the Explorers Guild was their mission, though as simple as it sounded it would prove difficult in that the entrance was indicated to be hidden under a special stump. Additionally, It was an important point presented by one of the Explorers Guild administrators, Gavina, that they were to, under no circumstances, disturb the local wildlife. Thus, clearing a path to the dungeon for later use was not an option. Combine that with the fact that they had to scan the entire forest to find the one tree stump that looked out of place, and they had a very difficult challenge ahead of them.
“Graaaaaaaass!” Layron exclaimed as he raced out from the city, occasionally falling and rolling around a bit before flopping back up and running ahead. Trailing behind him were two other Pokemon, a Mudkip and a Chinchou.
“W-wait up!” The Mudkip exclaimed. “Please? Pretty please?!”
“Come on, Virgo.” The Chinchou exclaimed. “Ya gotta be swift. Like a Pyroar!”
Virgo stopped and shuddered. “B-but Pyroars are scary! Haven’t you ever heard them roar? I m-mean, even Litleos have a scary roar, Cetus!”
Cetus stopped and chuckled a bit. “Litleos roar like cats, dude.” He replied. “How can that be scary?”
“It just is, ok?!”
Layron called out to the two water Pokemon. “Heyaguys! C’mon already!” He exclaimed, already standing at the edge of the forest, jumping up and down like an overeager child. Virgo and Cetus quickly caught up with him and he started walking into the forest. “This is gonna be fun! We’ll get to see the forest, we can go dungeoneering, we can learn all about the past, we can…” Just as he was about to continue, his foot slipped a little into a slight depression covered by a bush. Layron flailed his arms for a few moments before he started to fall in.
“Look out Layron!” Cetus yelled, rushing forward and tackling him making both Pokemon tumble safely across the ground and away from the pitfall.
Layron quickly recovered and stood up. “Guys, I think the past wants to kill me!” He exclaimed, a fearful look on his face.
Virgo carefully approached the pitfall and examined it. “We’re going to have to tread carefully guys.” He said, his voice quivering just a bit. His fear was justified though - there were some rocky spikes at the bottom of the pit, upon closer inspection. The Mudkip shuddered in fear and backed away, not wanting to experience a fate like falling into such a pit. As much as he didn’t want to go into the forest now, they still had no choice if they were going to find this dungeon. “O-Ok… let’s go guys!” He said, trying to act brave.
The three Pokemon began their march into the woods. Layron took point, identifying any pitfalls that they might run into. He occasionally fell into them, at which point Cetus would step in and save the Helioptile. Virgo took up the job of finding a way around the pitfalls - the Mudkip went so far as to make a map of their path so that the other guild members could follow the same route in the future. The trio’s search kept up for about an hour with no end in sight. Virgo came up with an efficient method of scouting in that they would search the forest in grid-shaped areas and, as soon as they covered the entire place, start over if they failed to find the dungeon entrance. Their first run through didn’t turn anything up but on the second, in the northern-central part of the forest, Layron crawled onto a tree stump and exclaimed “Bisha Basha bosh!”
Cetus and Virgo, in the midst of examining some pitfalls, turned and examined the stump the Helioptile was standing on. Virgo took a walk around the former tree and examined the unusual stump - it had odd markings in different spots that could have been mistaken for branches if not for being so close to the ground, and there appeared to be some sort of hole underneath the hunk of wood. Virgo nodded his head. “I think this is it!” He declared with confidence. He even went so far as to smile and say “that wasn’t so scary after all.” As if jinxing himself, a loud and shrill hissing made itself heard from a nearby bush, to which Virgo jumped behind the stump. Layron held up his hand and shot a small burst of electricity at the bush, which made a Vibrava jump out, hiss for a moment, and fly off. “I-is it gone?” Virgo asked in a wobbly tone.
“Yepers.” Layron said tremulously, grabbing Virgo’s hand and pulling him up onto the stump. “I don’t thinks that counts against us!”
Virgo got out his map again and carefully scanned their trail, then marked off the exact spot where the stump was. “Alright guys… now we just have to dig this thing out.” He said. He knelt down to start digging before a snicker emanated from behind another bush.
“Should we… do something?” Virgo asked his partner Cetus, unsure of what to do in a strange situation as the one they were watching: Layron and a Phantump were having what could only be described as a slapping contest as they repeatedly slapped each other in the face, neither apparently flinching at any point. On one side of the dungeon stump was a small group of Phantumps who had been following the group, planting the coverings on the pratfalls to mess with any groups that came in the forest. Their plan having failed, they came out earlier to confront Layron and company before their leader was slapped in the face by Layron, who was slapped back and initiated the contest seen before them all.
A flash of red wizzed overhead before a Hawlucha landed on the stump. “I came here as fast as I could!” She exclaimed before she saw the slapping contest and scowled. The Hawlucha immediately got between the two Pokemon and exclaimed “I ran all the way out here in response to a cry for help and this is what I arrive to see?” She started scolding Layron for engaging a native in such a way before he explained the traps that they had set and how one of them nearly killed him. In the end, one of the Phantumps was called out for taking the pitfall pranks too far and was told the error of his ways.
The Hawlucha, or the Explorers Guild administrator Gavina as it turned out, forgave Layron for slapping one of the Phantumps and assured him that the trio’s good work would be well noted. In fact, she even stopped and offered to teach them how to do some neat crafting with the Apricorn fruits that were lying around the forest. Apricorns were, by themselves, too hard to be consumed. When properly crafted, however…
Mithora was graciously thanked for her services to Andalusst by Prison Warden Donovan. The Riolu sat on a bench in the warden’s office as he and Mithora had their exchange, getting his foot bandaged up by a medical expert. The damage to the Riolu’s foot was nothing too severe, they were told. Donovan told Mithora that he would put a good word in with her guild that she be given a reward for her efforts, to which she turned down at first but was eventually forced to humbly accept - Donovan wouldn’t have such good services going without reward. Mithora was informed that she could retrieve her rewards as soon as word could get to the Explorers Guild that the Riolu had been apprehended, and that she could leave the remaining two ninjas to other teams for the time being.
Mithora left the prison with her hopes high. The mission had been slightly tedious but it wasn’t as difficult as it could have been. She made her way through the crowded streets of Andalusst, smiling at the blue sky as clouds floated overhead, and eventually made her way back home. She was glad she could live in a place like Andalusst, where peace was somewhat generally abound but there was at least excitement and things to do. The sun was starting to set by the time she got back in, making a beautiful orange hue over the wall of fog in the western side of the city. She walked inside to be greeted by the noise of music playing upstairs. Curious, she walked up there to find Layron bounding around the hall playing some sort of woodwind instrument.
“Hiya Mithy look what I got!” Layron exclaimed, pausing to show her the instrument he had received. It was apparently an Apricorn, a very hard nut found from some bushes, that was carved out to function as an instrument. He explained how he and his friends had found the dungeon with little trouble and that the guild admin had rewarded him with the instrument.
“So, he just gave this flute to you?” Mithora asked.
“Nopers! He gave me this ocarina!” He said before playing a few notes on it. Mithora couldn’t help but feel a bit dizzy as he played his little apricorn ocarina. He stopped and added “He taught me how to make it!”Mithora couldn’t help but groan. With how he was playing this new tool of his, he would be doing it at all hours of the night. She crawled into her room and plopped down on her bed, and found a strange relaxation in the music the Helioptile was playing that lulled her to sleep.