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GastlyGibus

I'm battin' a thousand!

Male
The city streets
Seen June 22nd, 2019
Posted May 22nd, 2019
174 posts
5.6 Years
Usual introductory stuff:

Hello! Nice of you to drop by. Welcome to another my little pokémon fanfic! More specifically, a Pokémon Mystery Dungeon fic, because I adore that series.

I may have posted this here before, I can't remember honestly, but that was years ago, and I have rewritten the story extensively, so at this point it may as well be a brand new work. It's an idea I've been kicking around for a very long time now, and hopefully I can commit to finishing this story. How many times have I made that promise?

So, with that said, I hope you enjoy, and do let me know what you think!

This story is rated "Everyone" and should be suitable for all ages, but regardless, here are the only warnings:
  • Minor Language
  • Mild Violence

Summary:
Spoiler:
Stories tell of a world occupied only by pokémon, tales of friendship and trust, of pokémon banding together to help others in need, of exploration and discovery. These stories are filled with examples of heroism, courage, bravery, and determination.

This is not one of those stories.

Born into a family with a long-standing line of heroes, Joshua is anything but. Timid, nervous, and endlessly anxious, Joshua never could play the part of the hero. Yet, pressured by family expectations, Joshua finds himself joining the legendary Explorer’s Guild, the same group that his family has been a part of for generations.

Doubtful of his own ability to succeed, Joshua nonetheless finds himself entangled in a sinister plot by shadowy forces. Seeking an ancient power known only as “The Colossus,” they threaten the peace and sanctity of the continent and all those who live in it. With Joshua caught in the crossfire of a conflict he never wanted anything to do with, he must make a decision: to run away, or to find it within himself to become the hero he never thought of being.


Table of Contents:


***

Prologue

The sun began to peak just across the horizon, casting a dull, orange glow on the world below as morning began, transforming the dark-blue visage of the nighttime trees into a familiar, lush green. From this high up on the mountains, even the faint, subtle heat of the new morning was a welcoming feeling to combat the bite of the cold air. The smaller hills in front cast shadows over the immense forest, which was dense enough to cover any sight of the ground underneath. A picturesque sight to behold.

The Xatu peered at the sun as it rose. Staring intently, not turning away or blinking even once, simply watching. His expression was stern and cold, as if challenging the sun itself to answer him, but being rewarded with only silence, save the hiss of the wind as it blew over the mountain top.

Is this your solution?

The Xatu heard a voice over the wind. Whispering, faint, and familiar.

“No, it is not,” the avian replied blankly, his eyes not moving, focused on the bright orange star ahead. It was a talent his kind possessed, to stare into the sun and divine the future, or make meaning out of the past. Yet as he stood here, he found no divinations, no hidden lessons from the past, no answer at all to the burning question in his mind.

Your time is not infinite.

“I am aware,” the Xatu replied again. “But it also is not too short. If I may find an answer this way, or even a clue…”

You will find no such thing this way.

The Xatu didn’t move. Try as he might, there was no answer to be found. Even now, as he gazed into the future, all he could see was the same cryptic omens of doom. A meteor, crashing into the earth, soon enveloping the world into a stand-still, eliminating all color, all movement, even the passage of time, the loss emanating from the crashed meteor and spreading outward, until the entire world fell still and lifeless.

He did not know what it meant, nor if it was even literal or metaphorical. All he knew was that he could not shake this vision from his mind, no matter how hard he tried.

Move.

Finally, the Xatu closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath before his head turned to the ground, letting out a heavy sigh. He had lost track of how long he had been standing there, staring at the sun as it rose, and the twinkling of the stars when it faded. His talons kicked at the rocky ground below, before beginning to turn away from the sun, heading down the mountain into the forest.

The path ahead was barely lit, the already-dim sun blocked by a thick shield of leaves from the trees. The wind died down as the Xatu descended, the only noise now coming from his talons scratching on the rocks.

“The Madman. Maybe the title fits,” he said to himself, hoping for maybe some reply from wind, but the voice was now silent. “No… it’s for the best. I need to do this alone. They will all be in danger if I do not.”

The Xatu looked up at the blanket of branches, seeing only a flicker of light through them. A flicker of hope, he thought, though such a spark faded further and further from his mind the more he thought on it. He thought he had found such hope before, but it served only to set him back further.

But his gaze returned to the light through the trees. Just a flicker. That’s all that was needed…
"Johnny rocked that golden circle, and all those VIPs, and that music that had freed us became a tired routine.
And I saw his face in close-up tryin' to give it all he had, and sometimes his eyes betrayed him, you could see that he was sad.


And I tried to rock on with him, but I slowly became bored
Could that man on stage with everything somehow need some more?"

GastlyGibus

I'm battin' a thousand!

Male
The city streets
Seen June 22nd, 2019
Posted May 22nd, 2019
174 posts
5.6 Years
Chapter One: Do Not Look Down

“You can do this… you can do this… you can’t do this…”

The road ahead was empty, the path leading onward towards the horizon, uphill and beyond. The sun shone bright today, unspoiled by clouds, clearly marking the way. Joshua turned around, the little village he called home looking more like a diorama, small as it was from here. The Swadloon gave a heavy sigh, the thought of returning home crossing his mind again, even as he clutched tightly at the straps of his backpack. His expression solemn, the features of his face quivering as his lips curled into a frown.

Joshua turned back to the path ahead. Two choices, two very different outcomes. On the path forward, honor and duty called, a chance for growth and reward… or the failure of misplaced confidence. The path behind, familiarity, ease, and comfort, but stagnation as well. On that path, things would remain the same. On this new path, change was guaranteed, though for better or worse he did not know.

The Swadloon shook his face, his expression straightening out into a steely defiance. He could do this! He made a promise, and he would never break his oath, not if he could help it!

“She wouldn’t give up, and I won’t either!”

He gave one last look to the village behind him, his eyes narrowing at the path as he caught glimpse of movement. Small and yellow, growing closer with increasing speed.

“Josh! Josh, wait up!”

Joshua froze in place. He specifically left home in secret for this very reason; he knew Maxwell would try to stop him.

The small moving figure grew and grew, until the familiar sight stood in front of the Swadloon. Round and yellow, much like he was, though adorned with horns and black stripes. The Elekid paused in front of Joshua, panting and huffing, his hands resting on his knees as he leaned over in exhaustion.

“Didn’t know… you were so quick… ehehe…” the Elekid said between breaths, looking up at Joshua with a small grin. “Y’know, there’s better ways to ask me on a morning jog.”

Joshua met his friend’s gaze with his own. As much as he appreciated the boy’s attempt at humor, no laughter came from him.

“I wasn’t joking when I left that note, Max,” Joshua stated plainly. The Elekid’s grin bent downward. Max straightened his posture, rubbing at the back of his head.

“I figured as much…” Max answered softly. The two stood in silence for a moment, unsure of how to progress now. “I just… I can’t imagine you actually doing this.” Joshua stood up taller, as if defying him.

“Well, I’m actually doing this,” he answered, almost rebelliously. “And I’m not changing my mind, either, so if you’re going to try and bring me home, you’re wasting your time.”

Max flopped onto his backside, sitting down now in quiet confusion.

“Then I won’t try to bring my best friend home…” Max said, defeated. “I won’t try to convince him that he’s not a failure and that he doesn’t need to do this.” Joshua sighed, his face growing solemn, looking down at the dirt beneath them.

“P-please don’t guilt-trip me, Max,” the Swadloon said. “Listen, I’m not trying to prove anything here… and I’m sorry for snapping at you… but this is important to me. I have to do this.”

“But can you do this is what I’m concerned about,” Max answered grimly. “And please, I’m not trying to belittle you here, but think about it. Joining the guild? Are you - hell - are either of us cut out for that?” Max stood up again, idly holding his hands together, twiddling his thumbs. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always wanted to join the guild, but think about it. That’s a dangerous commitment, going out into unknown places, fighting criminals, rescuing others from disaster… and that’s assuming you even get accepted in the first place.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Joshua answered quietly, his eyes turning down to the ground. “This isn’t some flight of fancy, some… decision I made on a whim. I’ve thought about this for a long, long time. I’ve gone over everything, the danger, the risks… whether I could even do it or not…” He paused briefly, before looking up, meeting Max’s gaze now. “But I have to try.”

“But why?” Max asked, his hands open, as if expecting an answer he could grasp.

“Even if I told you why, you would try to dissuade me,” Joshua admitted, before letting out a sigh, deflated. “Max, I’m sorry… but I’ve made up my mind.” Max’s posture fell, looking the Swadloon in the eye, neither of them speaking for now. An awkward silence, until the Elekid straightened up again, crossing his arms.

“Well, if I can’t change your mind, then… then I’m going with you!” he announced proudly. Joshua raised his hands in protest, nearly letting his backpack fall from his grip.

“What? You can’t do that!” Joshua replied in surprise. “Your parents will absolutely kill you if do!”

“And yours won’t?” Max answered, defiantly staring down his friend, the Elekid’s steadfast expression mirroring that of Joshua’s only moments ago. “I told you I’ve always thought about it, and now you’re giving me the perfect excuse to try!”

“You just spent the past few minutes telling me it was dangerous and neither of us could do it,” Joshua said flatly. “No, I won’t let you!”

“It didn’t persuade you, and it won’t persuade me either,” Max stated boldly. He peered down at the Swadloon, holding a confident grin, before uncrossing his arms, his smile turning more genuine. “Besides… you’re my best friend, and I’m not going to let you do this alone.” Joshua smiled for only a second, before his mouth curled into a frown again.

“Max, I… I appreciate you caring,” he started. “But-”

“No buts,” Max interrupted. “I tried to stop you, so now you’re going to have to stop me.” Before Joshua could even open his mouth to answer, the Elekid quickly threw his hand out, prodding the Swadloon in the side and smirking. “Tag, you’re it!”

In an instant, the Elekid darted down the road, moving into a full sprint as he peered back at Joshua.

“Catch me if you can!”

Joshua shook his head. He couldn’t believe what just happened. He had no choice now but to chase after the Elekid, though he couldn’t nearly match his friend’s speed.

“H-hey! I’m serious!” Joshua called out to him. “Come back here! This isn’t funny!” Max turned around, walking backwards, slowing down to let Joshua catch up, though still outpacing him considerably.

“Then why are you smiling?” Max replied, his own smile growing wide as the road he raced on. Joshua peered up, trying to keep his composure, but seeing Max grin like that… he couldn’t help but smile back.

“D-damn it, Max!” Joshua swore out loud. “Get back here!”

“Ah-ah, no swearing!” Max chided, wagging a claw at him before turning around again, running forwards again up the hill, away from their home. “Last one there’s a rotten egg!”

Joshua was forced to give chase, huffing in exhaustion as he raced after his friend. What had seemed difficult only moments before was now turned into a game by the Elekid, with Joshua unable to hold back a small grin. He knew Max was more impulsive than he ever could be, but this was far more than Max had ever demonstrated before. Joshua couldn’t tell if he should be thankful or upset. Even now, he still didn’t know if either of them were making the right decision. But for that moment, as they both dashed down the road, away from home, towards uncertainty and the unknown, he was glad he would have a friend by his side when he got there.
"Johnny rocked that golden circle, and all those VIPs, and that music that had freed us became a tired routine.
And I saw his face in close-up tryin' to give it all he had, and sometimes his eyes betrayed him, you could see that he was sad.


And I tried to rock on with him, but I slowly became bored
Could that man on stage with everything somehow need some more?"

GastlyGibus

I'm battin' a thousand!

Male
The city streets
Seen June 22nd, 2019
Posted May 22nd, 2019
174 posts
5.6 Years
Chapter Two: For Better or Worse

Maxwell and Joshua had both ceased their little game, too exhausted to continue running, panting and huffing as they walked to their destination. At the least, the air was warm and inviting, a cooling breeze washing over the pair. Even from here on the hills, Max swore he could smell the ocean. Joshua straightened both his leafy coat and his backpack, nearly letting them both slip in his fast pace earlier. Max was simply hunched over, arms hanging low and horns nearly jutting forward instead of straight up.

“Maybe running… wasn’t such a great idea…” Max stated with a laugh. He took in a deep breath, finally standing up vertically, stretching out his arms.

“Don’t look at me, that was all on you,” Joshua quipped back, the Swadloon catching his breath soon after. The two shared a chuckle, casually walking now up the path, the dirt road closed off on either side by bright green grass, still shining softly from the morning dew. Max rested his hands behind his head, relaxed and looking content.

“Hey, it got you moving, didn’t it?” Max answered. Joshua looked over, a single brow raised in confusion.

“I thought you didn’t want me to leave,” he stated plainly. Max only shrugged in response.

“Only because you’ve told me before how you’d never do it,” Max answered. He reached over and pet at the Swadloon’s head, earning a slightly annoyed grunt from Joshua, but only making the Elekid chuckle again. “I saw you up on that hill, standing there. You weren’t moving, even when you didn’t see me coming.”

“You’re confusing me,” Joshua said. “First you come up trying to tell me I shouldn’t go, and then suddenly, you’re the one dragging me out towards the guild.” Max suddenly stopped, reaching out to gently grab Joshua’s hand, forcing him to stop as well.

“Josh, I have never - not once - seen you make a decision and be happy with it,” Max said, frowning slightly. “Even while you were adamantly refusing to go back home, you still didn’t look happy with what you were doing.” Joshua sighed in response.

“It’s a serious decision,” he replied quietly.

“I know that, but just once, I’d like to see you do something and be happy that you’re doing it.” Max offered a smile to his friend, to which Joshua gave a smaller one in turn. “So I figured, if you’re so dead-set on joining the guild, the least I can do is try to get you to smile while you’re at it.”

Joshua stood silent, looking Max in the eye. Thinking on it, he nodded and smiled in thanks.

“I really appreciate that, Max,” Joshua said. Max only gave a claws-up and a wide grin in response, patting Joshua on the back before beginning their trek once more, motioning for Joshua to follow him.

“Anytime, friend,” Max stated cheerfully. “You know you're like a brother to me, and I just want to see you smile more often. Lately you've been really... gloomy. No offense, of course.”

“None taken,” Joshua replied, taking a short breath. “I just… well, it’s… complicated.”

“It’s more family pressure, isn't it?” Max asked. “Listen, I’m not trying to persuade you now - I mean, we’re already halfway to the port,” he added with a small chuckle, before resuming his serious tone. “But I keep trying to tell you, you don’t have to live up to his standards.”

“It’s not that,” Joshua answered solemnly. “Listen, I don’t really want to talk about-”

Max raised a hand to interrupt him.

“Touchy subject?” Max asked. Joshua only nodded, to which Max shrugged and nodded back. “I’m sorry. I get it, really. I just want you to know, is all. If your life is being dictated by what other people want, then it’s not really your life that you’re living, you know?”

“I know, I know,” Joshua said. “Nobody told me to do this, this is my decision alone.” Max playfully jabbed at the Swadloon’s side, grinning again.

“Then be happy with it!” he responded cheerfully. “You gotta live your own life, Josh. I mean, look at me,” Max added, gesturing to himself. “You said it yourself, my folks would probably kill me if they knew what I was doing right now. But I’m out here with you because I want to be.” He paused for a moment, the two walking along wordlessly, before he spoke up again. “You know they were talking about a boarding school for me? My folks?”

“Boarding school?” Joshua asked, a hint of shock in his voice. “There isn’t even a boarding school here. Unless…”

“Unless I went back to Arcea,” Max stated, lips curving into a frown. “They want me to go back, to finish my studies and be a good little… who even knows? Some thankless job balancing books? Can you believe that?”

Joshua fidgeted as they walked, tugging at his coat and backpack again.

“I get what you’re saying,” Joshua said plainly. “Live your own life.” Max nodded.

“Heh, sorry for unloading that on you,” Max replied. “Just demonstrating my point, and letting you know I’m not just tagging along for you, so don’t feel guilty about it.” Joshua nodded again, before letting out a sigh.

“I understand,” Joshua said. His gaze peered down at the ground now, face growing into a sullen expression.

“Still not sure about it, huh?” Max asked, walking just a little closer to the Swadloon, trying to comfort him a little.

“It’s just… I mean, just listen to us!” Joshua started, throwing his hands up in disbelief. “We’re talking about this as if it’s guaranteed, and we don’t know if they’ll even accept us yet.”

“Well, we’re about to find out,” Max answered, pointing ahead, down the path. After their long trek, down at the end of the path, their destination was waiting. The city of Independence.

The pair picked up their pace, reinvigorated at the sight. Tall, proud buildings of brick and mortar, a far cry from the modest wooden constructs of their hometown of Pleasant Meadow. Dozens of offices, shops, and stalls lined perfectly parallel to the roadways, which slowly morphed from dirt and gravel to finely-laid concrete. Even from here, they could see ‘mon of all kinds, rushing to and fro in the bustle of city life.

Most impressive of all, the docks. Huge, intimidating galleons built of iron and wood, sails folded as they lay still and anchored, proudly bearing the flags of their home country of Arcea - three stripes of orange, blue, and green, diagonal and parallel to each other. Large, muscular pokémon carried heavy loads to and from the galleons and the city itself, a never-ending routine as long as goods were wanted and coin was plenty.

Max and Joshua made it through into the streets of the city, suddenly realizing just how small they were compared to the buildings, and even the citizens themselves. The pair stopped to avoid being trampled by a passing Machamp, carrying four heavy barrels, one for each arm. A Timburr shouted at nobody in particular, advertising his little stall full of hand-crafted trinkets and games. Joshua’s mood lifted almost instantly; no matter how many times he visited Independence, he was always impressed with its beauty and grandeur.

But neither Maxwell nor Joshua were here for sight-seeing. They hurried along into the heart of the city, avoiding pedestrians along the way, ignoring the smells of freshly made bread and pastries as they passed the bakery, despite their long hike and growling bellies.

At the center of the city, only constructed a few years prior, stood the signature tent of their final destination: the Independence Explorer’s Guild. Maxwell and Joshua glanced at each other for just a moment, both of their expressions bearing concern for the other. With a final nod, they made they way to the front of the tent.

The tent itself was quite modest, compared to the intricacies of the surrounding city. Dull yellow fabrics covered the insides, accented with stripes of orange and red, made to resemble a Ninetails, the visage of the original founder, Janus. Even from the front, peering inside the entrance, Joshua and Max only saw a single, circular staircase, descending downward below the city itself. And sitting in front of the entrance sat a lone ‘mon, red and black, shimmering like metal, impatiently tapping his claw at the wooden table where he waited, a stack full of papers in front of him. The Pawniard didn’t even seem to acknowledge the pair as they approached, his gaze showing boredom and disinterest.

“Excuse me…” Joshua said softly, clearing his throat. “Are we too late to sign-up for recruitment?”

“Need a voucher,” the Pawniard replied curtly, his gaze not leaving the papers in front of him.

“Come again?” Joshua asked.

“Your voucher,” the Pawniard said again, sitting up now and finally turning his eyes to the Swadloon and Elekid, his dull expression never changing. “Who is vouching for you?”

Joshua gulped, beginning to grow fearful. Even with his family’s extensive history with the guild, he had forgotten that younger pokémon like himself needed someone to vouch for them. The Swadloon shrunk away, realizing his journey was going to end before it had even started.

“I… I, er…”

“Now you listen here, friend!” Max declared, walking straight up to the table and slamming both of his hands in front of the Pawniard. Now they had his attention. “Do you expect me to believe you don’t know who this is?”

The Pawniard glanced quickly from Max to Joshua, then back to Max, eyes narrowing in annoyance.

“Go on. Enlighten me.” Joshua stared dumbfounded at his friend, wondering just what was going on in the Elekid’s mind, until Maxwell spoke up again.

“This here is Joshua Vensworth!” Max proclaimed boldly. Joshua seemed to twitch at the mention of his surname. “Son of legendary explorer William Vensworth? Ring any bells?”

The Pawniard looked back towards Joshua, his eyes scanning the boy thoroughly, the Swadloon trembling in fear, before turning back to Max with a crude stare, then finally bursting into sardonic laughter.

“Hah! That’s a good one, kid!” The Pawniard replied mockingly. “And I’m the queen of Arcea.” His laughter immediately ceased, his angry glare returning, staring daggers at them both. “Now scram, kids! No voucher, no sign-up.”

“You really want to do that?” Max asked, not backing down for even a second. “You’re going to make the great ‘Hammer Claw’ Vensworth hike all the way to Independence with his bad leg, because you wouldn’t even sign-up his son for recruitment?” Max looked at his claws for a moment, eyes narrowing casually. “I’m not sure he’d be too happy about that.” The Pawniard was angry now, leaning forward over the table towards Max.

“Now you listen here, punk, I don’t much appreciate being lied to by-”

“He’s telling the truth,” a voice called out from inside the tent. The three of them turned towards the entrance, seeing the silhouette of a large, bulky figure, standing up straight and proud with cream-colored spikes and armor. A Chesnaught, tall and imposing, though smiling warmly at the two would-be explorers, his prickly beard giving him the demeanor of a friendly old man.

“G-Guildmaster!” the Pawniard exclaimed, instantly correcting his posture and sitting straight, his mean visage changing into one of surprise. “I didn’t see you there...”

“No, you were too busy scolding these young men, Zachary” the Chesnaught answered, calmly approaching the three and showing a friendly grin towards both Joshua and Maxwell. “This boy is telling the truth. That is indeed William’s son.” Joshua again recoiled slightly at the name. His reputation preceded him, it seemed.

“This kid?” the Pawniard asked incredulously, pointing a bladed hand at the Swadloon. Joshua only clutched at his leafy coat anxiously, his lowly backpack sagging behind him. “This puny little-”

“Zachary, enough,” the guildmaster said sternly, narrowing his gaze at the Pawniard. “Let me handle this.”

“Yes, of course, guildmaster,” Zachary replied, turning back and staring down at Joshua in disbelief, to which the Swadloon could only cower at, retreating slightly into his leaf coat. The guildmaster gestured for the pair to follow him, closer to the entrance of the tent.

“You’ll have to forgive Zachary. He forgets he’s the guildmaster’s assistant, and not the guildmaster himself.” The Chesnaught chuckled lightly, before returning to the pair. “Now then, I’m surprised to see you here, Joshua,” the guildmaster said. “You never struck me as the adventurous type, yet you’re here asking to sign-up for recruitment, is that correct?” Joshua nodded meekly at the taller ‘mon, clutching at his backpack tightly.

“Y-yes sir, guildmaster, sir,” he replied quietly, stammering over his words.

“Please, call me Matthew,” the guildmaster answered. He looked over both Joshua and Maxwell, then turned towards the streets behind them. “I don’t see your parents here. Did you come alone?”

“Y-yes, guil- er, mister Matthew,” Joshua said softly. “Maxwell and I came here ourselves to sign-up.”

“I see,” Matthew said, tapping his claws together. “Surely you remembered that the younger recruits need someone to vouch for them?”

“I… forgot about that part,” Joshua answered with a nervous laugh, shivering slightly.

“Do your parents know you’re here?” Matthew asked plainly. Joshua shook his head.

“N-no… well, they do now, probably,” the Swadloon replied anxiously. “I left them a note… I didn’t want to argue with them…” Matthew simply nodded in understanding.

“I tagged along too, didn’t want my best friend to go alone,” Maxwell chimed in afterwards, leaning over and wrapping an arm around the Swadloon with a smile.

“I understand,” the guildmaster said, grinning at the pair. “You don’t need to explain, I believe I can see your reasoning. Though once again, I’m surprised you’ve decided to sign-up at all.”

“It’s… I have to do this, mister Matthew, sir,” Joshua said, finally looking the Chesnaught in the eye. “I have to at least try.” Matthew closed his eyes and nodded sagely.

“Well, normally you’d need someone to vouch for you, but in this case…” Matthew began, holding his hands behind his back, standing up tall. “Your family has a history with us, so I’m sure you’re fully aware of the responsibility that recruitment entails.”

“I-I am, Matthew,” Joshua answered.

“Of course.” Matthew said simply. “It was always your father’s intention to have his children carry on the family tradition…” he continued, before his face grew disheartened. “Your sister, Danielle, is she well?” Joshua nodded slowly.

“She is… for her condition, that is,” he clarified.

“I do hope she recovers,” Matthew said calmly. “You let her know that there’s always room for her when she is on her feet again.” With that, he clapped his hands together once, offering a warm smile to the pair. “Now then! I believe you two boys need to sign-up still.”

“Yes sir!” Maxwell stated enthusiastically.

“And you, Maxwell, is it?” Matthew answered, looking down at the Elekid, the little yellow ‘mon standing tall and proud for his small stature. “I’m glad Joshua has a friend to join him here.” Maxwell smiled in appreciation. “Come, let’s get you two ready.”

Matthew led the pair back towards Zachary, the Pawniard looking up at the guildmaster with a nervous glance.

“Zachary, please sign these two up and have them ready for the recruitment trial,” Matthew ordered, to which the Pawniard saluted in respect before filling out the papers. As Zachary worked, Matthew leaned down towards Joshua and Maxwell, eyeing them both sternly. “Now listen, both of you. I would like nothing more than to have both of you here as apprentices, but the life of an explorer is not for the faint-of-heart, as I’m sure you’re aware. I’ll allow you to sign-up, but you still need to pass the trials, and I cannot do that for you. If you fail…” Matthew paused, with both Max and Joshua silently concentrating on the guildmaster’s words. “If you fail, I cannot accept you, and you’ll have to go back to Pleasant Meadow until the next recruitment period. Do you understand?”

Joshua and Maxwell nodded slowly, their expressions just as serious as the Chenaught’s.

“We understand,” the two said in unison.

“That’s good,” Matthew answered, standing back up and pointing them towards the spiral staircase in the guild tent. “Down the stairs, the sentry will guide you the rest of the way. Good luck to you both.”

Joshua and Maxwell both nodded, waving at the Chesnaught in appreciation.

“Thank you, mister Matthew!” Max said cheerfully, bounding towards the stairs, extending his claws towards Joshua. “Come on, let’s go!”

As the Elekid waited by the stairs, Joshua turned back up to Matthew, the guildmaster giving him an understanding nod and a smile.

“Thank you, Matthew,” Joshua said softly, before turning towards the stairs where Max waited. This was it; the potential start of his new life. Assuming he passed, of course. The thought of failure loomed over him like a dark cloud, returning home to his family empty-handed. His one and only show of courage would be dashed to the ground in pieces. Joshua shook his head to clear his thoughts. Now was not the time for pessimism. He came here for a reason, and he wasn’t about to go home without a fight.
"Johnny rocked that golden circle, and all those VIPs, and that music that had freed us became a tired routine.
And I saw his face in close-up tryin' to give it all he had, and sometimes his eyes betrayed him, you could see that he was sad.


And I tried to rock on with him, but I slowly became bored
Could that man on stage with everything somehow need some more?"

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