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Old July 30th, 2017 (3:59 PM).
Eliza Prescott's Avatar
Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
Vengeful Ferret
     
    Join Date: Nov 2016
    Location: Upstate New York
    Gender: Female
    Posts: 35
    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 21: Loch Fiodhbòcan



    "You're spoiling me, Mr. Holdt!" Andrea said as she eyed the generous second helping of eggs and bacon that was placed onto the table in front of her.

    Mr. Holdt smiled and nodded. "Spoiling? Nooooo, only making sure that you're well fed!"

    "Well fed? Honey, look at her, she's already quite pudgy. If there's anyone you should be spoiling, it's that skin-and-bones friend of hers." his wife commented.

    Mr. Holdt dropped his hand onto the table hard enough for the silverware to rattle. "Nadine!"

    The words stung a little, but Andrea laughed regardless. "It's okay. A lot of people point it out to me, I'm used to it."

    "Still rude," he said, glaring at his wife.

    "I don't take offense to the truth," she said, trying to lighten the mood a bit. When she realized the mood hadn't changed at all, she pivoted to a new topic. "Mr. Holdt, do you happen to know where the village gets its water?"

    "I do, why?"

    "As part of my investigation into the strange sightings throughout the town, my boss suggested the possibility of something being in the water, something that might make people a little... A little..."

    "Crazy?"

    She paused for a moment before nodding. "Yes."

    "I doubt there's something in the water. Nadine and I have been using the town's water supply extensively for the past few months." He looked over at his wife. "I'm not crazy, am I, Nadine?"

    Mrs. Holdt hesitated to answer and looked away before smiling.

    "Sixty years together and she's still got that snappy wit that I fell in love with," he said with a laugh. "Back to your suggestion... I don't think it's worth your time. But since you're here to investigate things, leave no stone unturned, eh? Your visit to Mrs. Miggins yesterday shows how dedicated you are."

    "I'm so sorry you had to suffer her presence, dear," Mrs. Holdt added.

    "You'll find the village water supply to the southwest, deep in the forest. It's a large reservoir, you'll find it pretty easily."

    "Deep in the forest... Great..." she sighed.

    "If you're worried about getting lost, don't be. It's a well established, fenced off road. It's even paved!"

    "No, I'm not particularly worried about getting lost," she said in a cautious manner as she rubbed at the still-sore wound on her leg. "I just hoped I wouldn't have to walk very far. But..." she looked up and locked eyes with Mrs. Holdt. "Maybe I'll be a little less pudgy afterward."

    Mrs. Holdt looked to her husband and smiled as she pointed her bony finger across the table at Andrea. "See, I told you! She does have a sense of humor."

    "Hmmph," he quipped. "Expect to be on the road for a couple hours, it's several miles away."

    "I can live with that. Anything else I should know before I get started?"

    He looked towards his wife for any input before shaking his head. "You be careful out there."

    "Thanks, I will."

    - - - - -

    The scent of fresh mountain air wafted about. A strong but refreshing breeze whipped through the area. Kimberly opened her eyes to see an endless blue sky above her, marked with thin, feather-like clouds. A pink petal gently drifted down from above and entered her field of view.

    She stood up and observed her surroundings; she was on an untouched mountain plateau, high above a golden valley of rolling hills. Far below, she saw the wondrous, ancient stone structure known as the Dragonspine Wall, snaking its way through the foothills and into an eternal distance. Just behind her was a solitary cherry tree in full bloom. She knew this place: the western peaks of the far away country of Shinikara.

    She took in a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and let it out with a long, happy sigh. As she took in the serenity around her, she felt something strange, as if something was crawling up her leg. She looked down to see that something indeed was: a horde of tiny little insects. With a panicked shake of her leg, everything changed in an instant; she was no longer atop that serene peak, surrounded by the peaceful presence of nature. Instead, she found herself in the back garden of the Holdt residence, laying down in the dewy grass.

    She looked down at her leg to see that there was nothing there, but the feeling of a thousand little feet marching their way up her still lingered and it sent a wave of chills throughout her body. After a deep breath to calm herself, she pushed herself off of the grass and returned to her usual meditation posture. She closed her eyes again and once more focused on her heartbeat in an effort to clear her mind.

    It wasn't long before her focus was broken again.

    "Witch! Get out!" a shrill voice screamed.

    She opened her eyes and looked around, but nothing was amiss. No one was around.

    "You the chimneysweep?!" the same voice shouted.

    "Mrs. Miggins?" she quietly asked without opening her eyes. She was very confused, but tried to regain her focus.

    The door leading into the house opened and Andrea stepped outside. There was a moment of hesitation before she cautiously, quietly and slowly approached. She assumed that Kimberly would be deep within a trance, but she evidently wasn't; as soon as she was just a few steps away, Kimberly opened her eyes and looked upward.

    "I didn't interrupt anything, did I?" she asked.

    Kimberly shook her head.

    "Have you reached enlightenment yet?" she jokingly asked.

    Kimberly looked off to the side and furled her brow as if she were annoyed. "Enlightenment? You have much to learn about my faith..." she said, followed by a sigh. "No. I'm making progress, but I'm also having a very difficult time focusing on my meditation today."

    "What's bothering you?"

    "That lady we met yesterday, Mrs. Miggins. She's in pain. She needs help."

    "Don't we all?"

    "I don't mean it as a joke. It's sad that the people of this village have just... abandoned her like that! Scared, alone, in a crumbling, bug-infested ruin... How could they?"

    "Maybe she doesn't want help. It certainly seemed that way to me."

    "I get the feeling that there's more to it than that. The people in this village... Have you noticed how rude most of them are? Country folk are supposed to be friendly!"

    She laughed. "Country folk? Friendly? You have much to to learn... about us country bumpkins."

    "But have you noticed?"

    "I have. I don't think much of it, though. That's how people were in Goldwheat as I grew up, I can't imagine it's all that different here, just up the road."

    "Maybe I do have a lot to learn... I still feel bad for her, though. Someone should help her."

    "You're welcome to do so yourself. The question is, are you willing to set foot in that disgusting trash heap again? Are you willing to spend the time needed to cut through that foggy, angry mind of hers to try to reason with her?"

    Kimberly bit her lower lip and looked off to the side.

    "That's what I thought. It's easy to say that you care, it's harder to actually show it."

    Feeling as if she was backed into a corner and vulnerable to attack, Kimberly tried to change the subject. "So, what is your plan for today? Will you need my help at all?"

    "I think I will. I'll be investigating the village water supply, see if anyone might have poisoned it somehow. It's a res--"

    "P-poisoned?" The tone of worry in her voice was quite clear. "But we've... been..."

    "Yeah... I doubt that's the case though. Most of the people around here look perfectly healthy, and I feel perfectly healthy... but Dr. Reiland has suggested I check anyways." She lowered her voice to a mere mutter before adding, "Not sure how I will, considering my R-Kit is still broken and I don't have a water testing kit on hand..."

    "What was that last bit?"

    "Nothing, just thinking out loud. Anyways, the reservoir is just a few miles south of town. Since that'll take me out into the forest, I'd feel a lot more comfortable with you around."

    "Very well! I'm ready to get started whenever you are!"

    "Sure you won't pass out from fear this time?"

    Kimberly sighed again. "Don't be difficult, or this will be a very long day."

    "You should lighten up a bit. It was just a joke."

    "Perhaps you need to work on your comedy, then. Jokes are funny, that was not."

    "Sorry, you're right. Let's get started."

    - - - - -

    The two had been walking along Reservoir Road for what seemed like hours. Along the way, they passed the time with aimless chatter, bouncing between a wide variety of topics. They talked about fashion, travel, books, movies, life experiences and their goals in life. The discussions were relatively civil, but they pointed out one thing: there was very little crossover when it came to the things they liked.

    One subject of interest was Andrea's childhood. Kimberly kept pressing her for details about what it was like to grow up in a rural community, but she could do little more than repeat, ad nauseam, that it was simply boring beyond relief, and how grateful she was that she attended a university in an urban setting. Despite repetitive assurances otherwise, Kimberly was absolutely convinced that there was more to the rural lifestyle than sitting inside all day being bored out of one's skull.

    "I'm serious, that's all I did when I grew up. I came home from school, finished my homework, then just... sat." Andrea said.

    Kimberly just couldn't believe it. "That's it? You didn't read books? Play games? Visit friends unannounced? Borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbors and never pay it back?"

    She shrugged. "Well... I guess I did some of that stuff sometimes. My parents just didn't want me to leave the house all that much, they thought the other kids would be bad influences. And they were right."

    "Ooh!" Kimberly's face lit up. "Story time?"

    "Heh. One of my best friends at the time, a kid named Larson, kept trying to convince me to explore some of the old ruined neighborhoods that had been abandoned after the Famine. We went to one of the old mansions and had a look around, and then it happened. The stairs gave way underneath him and I couldn't get him out myself."

    "Goodness!"

    "I had to get our parents involved... they were so mad at us. They probably spent an hour digging him out of the rubble and they made me watch in silence the entire time. After that, I was grounded for three months... Three. Whole. Months! But the kicker is, he didn't get grounded. He got a stern talking to, but not grounded. Lucky punk. After that my parents discouraged me from socializing with the other kids my age, most especially Larson."

    "Larson... why does that name feel familiar? What is his surname, if I may ask?"

    "Reiserben. Please tell me that you don't know him."

    She combed the depths of her memory, but couldn't pin a face to the name. "I don't think I do. Yet it sounds familiar..."

    "Maybe you heard his name on TV? He's one of those 'professional' competitive trainers, or at least he thinks he is. Last I heard, he was traveling in Kanto, trying to... do whatever it is those competitive trainers do."

    "Oh, yes! That does make sense. I believe he was one of the trainers that made it to the semi-finals of the Indigo Plateau Conference? I can't say for certain, I didn't pay particular attention to the details when I saw it in a newspaper."

    "Whatever the case, I honestly don't care what he's doing right now. He is such a jerk."

    Kimberly gave her a stern look.

    "Don't give me that look. If you ever met him, you'd quickly learn that he's the scum of the earth and just how justified I am in calling him that."

    "I'd prefer not to judge a man before meeting him. Of course, maybe you could convince me with some more details..."

    She laughed. "Another story for another time. I don't feel like getting lost in rage today."

    "Is he that bad?"

    She nodded. "Anyways, after that whole business with the mansion, I didn't really do much with my life before leaving to attend university in Aughrim. I just focused on my schoolwork and tried to be a good girl."

    "So you resigned yourself to living a boring life?"

    "I always had a boring life, regardless of what I did. Honestly, this romanticized image you have about country life? It's severely misplaced. It's not glamorous or enjoyable at all. Trust me."

    "Perhaps the grass is greener..."

    "Now that is one thing the countryside is better at, having greener grass."

    As the two shared a laugh, the gentle rumble of thunder could be heard faintly in the far distance and a light shower of rain started shortly afterward. The sky had been cloudy for the past few days and looked as if it were threatening to rain the entire time, but both were caught off guard that it had actually happened. A frigid wind blew in with the rain.

    Kimberly reached into her backpack and unfolded the wide brimmed sun hat that was kept within, then took shelter under it. Unfortunately, it barely provided any protection from the rain. "Ohhh dear... I don't like rain." she said as she huddled her arms together to combat the chilly winds.

    Andrea, on the other hand, enjoyed the rainfall for what it was: a refreshing break from the norm and a chance to enjoy one of her favorite smells, the earthy scent of petrichor. Kimberly pointed out that the rain had ruined her carefully applied eyeliner, but she dismissed the notion and offered a rebuttal. To her, the rain hadn't ruined her appearance; if anything, the rain had actually enhanced it. She likened the streaks that ran down her face to tears of joy at the beauty of the rain.

    "How very poetic of you!" Kimberly mused.

    Another dismissal followed. "If that's poetic to you, you need to broaden your horizons a bit. I was only talking nonsense."

    "No, really! You have an artistic gift and it's waiting to be tapped!"

    "Nope."

    It wasn't much longer before the forest started to thin a bit and the subtle signs of civilization returned. The gentle, ever-present hum of the reservoir's industrial-strength pumping systems began to echo through the forest. Lamps dotted the pathway, which had been kept clear of leaves and other debris, unlike the rest of the road behind them. Eventually, they found a sign that read:

    ARDAIGH COUNTY WATER AUTHORITY
    PUMPING STATION FOUR
    Proudly serving the communities of:
    Doranshire, Oak of Ages, Goldwheat Meadows, Rustlode Bluffs and Tradewind
    Est. 1907 under a charter granted by Queen Stephanie III
    Funded, constructed and maintained by the Eckhardt Steel Corporation
    Drawing life-sustaining water from the placid shores of Loch Fiodhbòcan

    A large brick wall topped with decorative cast iron spikes surrounded the entirety of the reservoir, but didn't restrict access entirely; a very wide opening separated the two walls, allowing visitors and the Pokémon of the forest to come and go as they pleased. The metal gates that were originally built into the wall looked as if they hadn't moved in decades. As soon as they passed the wall, the gentle hum of the machinery shifted towards an oppressively loud mechanical droning that completely shattered the otherwise peaceful atmosphere.

    Andrea shook her head in disappointment. "I think I'll be driven insane by that noise before I'm done here."

    "What is your plan?"

    She dropped her backpack to the ground and rummaged around for a pair of empty glass bottles. "Since I don't have my R-Kit with me, I'll have to do this the old fashioned way."

    "How would that fancy watch of yours help anyways?"

    "I guess you haven't seen it in action, have you? How do I explain it... It can determine the physical properties of a range of materials through a digital scanning mechanism. So far I've used it to uncover a dangerous fungal infestation at a farm, potentially discover an undocumented species of Pokémon, and... that's about it, actually. It's been on the fritz practically ever since I met you."

    "I don't see how I could be causing such problems, but I sincerely hope that I'm not."

    She laughed. "I doubt it. I still don't know what's wrong with it, and I hoped I'd have gotten an answer from Dr. Reiland this morning, but she's still trying to figure out what the problem is. So I'll have to make due without it."

    "Will you need my assistance?"

    She shook her head. "I think I can handle filling a couple bottles with water by myself."

    "Very well. I'll try my meditation again if you don't need me."

    "I think it might be a little difficult with all of this rain and noisy machinery around, but if you want to try, knock yourself out."

    "I'll find somewhere quieter on the other side of the lake." Kimberly scanned the horizon and pointed towards a small but obvious rocky cove about a mile away. "That place looks good. I'll be over there if you need me."

    "Just try to stay where I can see you, okay?"

    "Of course!"

    With a nod, the girls split from each other and went their separate ways. Andrea headed in the direction of the pumping station while Kimberly followed the meandering, mucky coastline of Loch Fiodhbòcan.

    - - - - -

    Nearly twenty minutes had passed since Kimberly arrived at the rocky cove. She was seated atop the largest rock: a smooth, a flat-faced boulder that had been covered in years of hastily written, heavily layered and indecipherable graffiti. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was slow, regulated and purposeful. She was lost deep within herself, completely shut off from the outside world.

    Telandra had been called out to enjoy the scenery as well, but she wasn't really into it. She found the wind to be bothersome and the rain to be annoying, so she spent most of her time perched under an overhanging rock, trying her best to shelter herself from the elements. She, too was in a trance as well; not a meditative trance, but one that involved watching the rippling waters of the reservoir as the rain fell onto the otherwise pristine and glass-like surface.

    Telandra's trance was broken by a most curious arrival: in near silence, a large owl draped in golden feathers descended from the sky and perched upon a sunken log that poked out above the water. It watched the two in silent curiosity, its head rapidly tilting between a variety of angles. Telandra stood up and arched her back at the presence of the Noctowl. A hiss and a growl followed.

    The noise that Telandra was making was enough to break Kimberly free from her trance and snap her back into reality. As she opened her eyes, the gilded figure of the owl was the first sight she saw and its silent presence shocked her. Her once-slow heartbeat immediately began racing and she stumbled backwards in fright. After a quick moment of study, she figured the Noctowl wasn't a threat, as it hadn't attacked by now. She regained her balance and stood up. "So beautiful..." she mumbled to herself.

    The shimmering Noctowl didn't respond. Instead, it continued to stare at her. She took a single step forward, and that was all it took for the Noctowl to extend its radiant wings. She stopped in her tracks.

    The surrounding ambience faded almost entirely, drowned out by a faint, angelic humming sound. The narrow pupils of the bird glowed with an intense lavender light, and an ethereal, almost otherworldly voice said, "ᚦᛊᚠᚠᛟᚱᛏᚦᛁᛜ ᚾᚹᚱᛊ ᛈᚹᚱᚨᚠᛏᛜ"

    The strange voice echoed in her head; it came from nowhere, but it was everywhere. It overshadowed everything around her. The birds, the bugs, the gentle ebb and flow of the rippling water, all were hushed under the angelic sound, a sound that appeared to her as if it were visible within her mind's eye.

    "ᚱᛗᚠ ᚨᚠᚠᛏ ᛗᚹᛟᚲᛉᚱᛏᚦ ᛖᛃᛒᛜ ᛖᛃᛒ ᚹᛊᚠ ᛃᚾ ᚱᛏᛟᚠᛊᚠsᛟᛜ"

    Most people would be confused by what was happening, but not Kimberly; she had experienced this strange sensation a few times before in her previous travels and immediately recognized it as telepathy. Yet she couldn't piece together any meaning from the disjointed, nonsensical and brain-tingling sounds that echoed in her mind. She tilted her head to the side and simply uttered, "What?"

    "ᚨᛃ ᛖᛃᛒ ᛁᛚᚠᚹᚢ ᛟᛉᚠ ᚠᛇᚨᚠᛊ ᛟᛃᛏᚦᛒᚠᛜ"

    Once again, the strange jumble of words and syllables confused her. "I... I don't understand." she said.

    The Noctowl's head twisted upside down. "You do not speak the Elder Tongue?"

    "The elder tongue..?" she said, thinking about it. 'Elder tongue' meant little to her, yet it also intrigued her. Before she could think about it further, she felt a tingling sensation similar to pins and needles in the depths of her mind, travelling downward from the top of her head towards her neck. She gasped in shock and held her hands to her head in an effort to relieve the pain.

    "You do not. That brings confusion. Uncertainty."

    The Noctowl was right, confusion had been brought. She had no idea what to make of the situation before her. With the pain fading, she cautiously kept an eye on the Noctowl and patiently waited for its next words or its next move, whichever came first.

    "I come with important wisdom." the Noctowl stated.

    "Wisdom?" she asked.

    "The crimson rose trembles in the moonlight, but not so alone."

    She tilted her head inquisitively. "Crimson rose? Moonlight? What do you mean?"

    "Beware the wolves which sleep amidst the trees."

    "The what? Wolves?"

    "Within the walls of moss and dripping stone, the heart of the star sleeps."

    The riddle-wrapped words were starting to annoy her. "What are you talking about? Can you explain in a simple to understand manner, please?"

    "Knowledge is power. Observe. Reflect. Think. The answers are clear, but the mind is not."

    "You're right, the mind is not clear..."

    The gentle, angelic humming noise that had rung within her mind ceased in an instant and the Noctowl spread its wings wide. With a powerful leap and a gust of strong wind, it took off into the air and flew straight upward, then disappeared behind the tree line. In the owl's absence, questions lingered.

    Behind her, she heard the sound of heavy, quick footsteps. She turned around to see Andrea atop the rocky outcropping, ready to jump down into the cove.

    "Kim! You okay?" Andrea called out.

    "Yes, I'm fine!" she said with a nod. "Thank you for the concern."

    "I was just coming back when I heard something that sounded like a giant bird taking off. I was worried that something might have happened."

    "It was a giant bird that you heard, yes. A Noctowl, in fact."

    "A Noctowl? Like that one that I saw a few days ago? Was it golden by any chance? Freakishly huge?"

    "Yes, actually!"

    "Uh oh... It's stalking us..." Andrea mumbled almost silently before she grabbed Kimberly by the wrist and pulled her away. "Okay, I'm done here. We need to go. Now, preferably."

    She tried to wrestle herself out of Andrea's vice-like grip, but couldn't break free. "Hold on! What's the rush?"

    "I don't trust giant birds that stalk people. With that big bird lurking about out there, I don't feel safe. I want to leave and you're coming with me."

    "But my meditation--"

    "I'm sorry, it'll have to wait."

    "Very well. If you don't feel comfortable, I understand."
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      #27    
    Old August 16th, 2017 (2:07 AM).
    Eliza Prescott's Avatar
    Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
    Vengeful Ferret
       
      Join Date: Nov 2016
      Location: Upstate New York
      Gender: Female
      Posts: 35
      This one's pretty long, much longer than usual, and it gets pretty heavy with sensitive topics. Strap yourself in.

      Land of the Roses
      Chapter 22: Heart to Heart

      Special guest co-writer: Caitlin Wintersbite


      "'The crimson rose trembles in the pale moonlight...' What could that possibly mean?" Kimberly pondered as she wrote in her diary. "And those other words... those riddles... What could they--"

      "Whatcha writing about?" Andrea asked from behind. She was stood in the doorway, her hair soaking wet from the shower that she just took.

      Kimberly closed her diary and placed the pencil on top of it. "Nothing."

      "Nothing? You don't seem the type to write about nothing."

      "You wouldn't take it seriously."

      "Try me."

      "May I be perfectly honest? I would rather not 'try' you. In these past few days that we have been together, you have been rudely dismissive of just about everything I do. My meditation, my faith, my larger than life outlook, my attempts to help you... I really do not want to have a conversation over something you clearly care little about, yet again."

      The unexpectedly sharp criticism crashed into Andrea like a wave. She knew she'd been a little difficult over the past few days, but she honestly had no idea that her behavior was so bothersome; the words ate at her and made her uneasy. "Have I... have I really been that... bothersome?" she sheepishly asked.

      "Is that a serious question?"

      Her friend's sudden change in personality left her confused and all she could offer was a clueless look. She tried to think of the right thing to say, but struggled with choosing the proper words. Before she could, however, Kimberly grabbed her diary and her pencil, then stood up.

      "I need some time to myself. Enjoy your dinner date with your friend." With that, Kimberly left the room in silence.

      "Uhh, w-w... wait..." she whimpered. "I'm sorry!"

      She'd hope that those two final words would bring her friend back, but they didn't. Lost at what she should do, she sulked over to the bed, collapsed onto it and replayed the events from earlier that day in her head. Two specific memories jumped out at her as an explanation for Kimberly's bad mood; when she questioned Kimberly's commitment and capabilities at the top of the morning, and how quickly she had dragged her away from Loch Fiodhbòcan. Kim was clearly upset both of those times, but she bulldozed straight ahead without even thinking about her friend's feelings or what she might have wanted. The worst of it came when she realized that this wasn't the first time in her life that she'd acted that way, that it was a pattern of behavior that she was already aware of.

      "Crud... I've done it again, haven't I..."

      It was especially bothersome that day. In just a short while, she was to meet with an old friend, Eliza McKenna. Eliza was someone that she nearly lost to similar carelessness. She was happy that she had been given a second chance, but there was a bitter feeling to it, the feeling that she somehow didn't deserve that second chance. She recalled the truly disgusting and awful things that she said to damage their friendship and wondered why would anyone would bother with her after that.

      The thoughts were tiresome and enough to drive her insane; she rubbed her temples to fight away the stress, something she hadn't done in ages. The emotions were simply too much for her to deal with at the moment, so she once again buried herself in her work. "Maybe it'll sort itself out... Bad moods fade... right?" she thought as she grabbed her journal and her phone, then dialed one of the numbers in it. After a few rings, her call was answered.

      "Hello? Is this Mr. McElroy? Headmaster of Wicker Heights Elementary?" she asked.

      "That's me! What can I do for you?" a gruff, elderly voice answered.

      "My name is Andrea Dennison and I'm a science analyst working with the Reiland Institute."

      "Ah, yes! I heard you might be in the area, I was hoping you might reach out."

      "This will probably sound crazy, but... I'm investigating some of the strange things that have been happening in this town. I read about an incident that happened at your elementary school a couple weeks ago... Something about... bleeding walls, was it?"

      "You read correctly."

      "So it did happen... sounds like something I should look at. I was wondering if I could get permission to do so?"

      "Of course! How does tomorrow sound? The kids are off on holiday, so you'll be able to do what you need without interrupting anything."

      "Sounds good to me. Will 9 AM work?" she asked.

      "I think it will. I'll see you there."

      "Thank you, sir."

      "No, thank you. I had some people come look at the walls, but they said it was just a bunch of rusty pipes. I'm not so convinced... I'm glad that someone is finally taking this seriously."

      "To be fair, I don't know if I'm taking it seriously yet. I've had a look around at some other things in town and I really don't know what to think about all of this."

      He laughed. "You're not from around here, are you... no, of course not, you don't have the accent... I don't blame you for being a little skeptical. The town's divided about all of this, really. Maybe tomorrow will change your mind and your findings will change their minds."

      "We'll see."

      "Aye, we will. Tomorrow, 9 AM." With a click, the call ended.

      Before she could even put her phone down, a peculiar, heavy mechanical sound bled in through the window. She turned around to have a look and saw a man and a woman pulling up to the house on a dirty motorcycle. With the motorcycle parked, the female driver hopped off and removed her helmet; red, waist-length hair spilled out of the helmet as she took it off. Andrea knew that hair, and who it was attached to: Eliza McKenna.

      "I believe your guests have arrived, Ms. Dennison!" Mrs. Holdt's voice called from downstairs. Her voice trailed off as she continued her thought while wandering into another room, "On a motorcycle, even! I don't see those often anymore, I might have a goosey-gander!"

      She smiled at Mrs. Holdt's child-like enthusiasm, then swiveled around to look at herself in the mirror. She lamented at the fact that the rain earlier in the day had indeed ruined her eye liner, so she hastily tried to recreate the look, something she felt was her look, once again. Time slipped away from her as she carefully reapplied it, making sure that every detail was exact.

      "Ms. Dennison!" Mr. Holdt's voice called out from downstairs. "Did you hear my wife?"

      "Yes, I'll be down in a moment!" she called out as she made her final finishing touches. Satisfied with what she saw in the mirror, she grabbed her journal, her pen and her phone, then rushed down the stairs.

      Outside, the filthy, dust-covered motorcycle was the center of attention. Mrs. Holdt was like a kid in a candy store, totally gripped with awe by the bulky touring motorcycle. It brought her back to her rebellious youth, when motorcycles were all the rage for young folk to ride. She couldn't help but lick her finger and rub it against the paneling in an attempt to wipe away the thick layer of dirt.

      "Nice bike," Andrea said as she stepped out the door.

      "She is," Eliza answered. "Much more powerful than your dad's too. Getting that thing through the cave system just outside of town without throwing poor Travis off the back of it was not easy." She laughed. "Speaking of, this is my partner for the Dahl disappearance case, Travis Dobbs."

      Travis still had his open helmet and sunglasses on as he offered a reserved nod. "'Sup."

      She waited for him to say more, but he didn't. "That's all you're going to say?" She turned back to Andrea. "I couldn't get this guy to shut up while we were on the road!"

      "Ehh," he grunted. "New people. I don't do them very well."

      "But you and I just -- oh, forget it! Travis, this is my... 'little sister', Andrea Dennison."

      He grabbed ahold of Andrea's extended hand and shook it. "Pleasure."

      "I'm not really her sister," Andrea said.

      "Kinda figured."

      "So!" Eliza started. "Ready for dinner? I'm starving!"

      "I could eat," Andrea nodded.

      "Have any suggestions? I've never been to this village before."

      "I have an idea." Travis sheepishly started. "As we were coming in, Boccino's Bistro on Mill Street caught my eye. Saw a brick oven in their window. Brick oven equals good."

      She gasped at the thought and agreed eagerly. "Yes! It's been so long since I've had some good Romatti. That fine with you, Andrea?"

      Andrea wasn't thrilled with the idea; she was never a fan of Romatti cuisine, often finding it to be too 'high brow' for her liking. However, the suggestion sounded good to her, but it wasn't the food that interested her; "Mill Street, huh... Maybe I can stake out that ghost..."

      She tilted her head. "Ghost?"

      "Uhh..." Andrea started, then dismissed the notion with a wave of her hand. "I'll explain over dinner. Boccino's sounds like a good idea."

      "Is that friend of yours that you told me so much about coming with us?"

      Andrea shook her head silently, but refused to explain further.

      "Huh..." She turned to Mrs. Holdt and asked, "You don't mind if I park my bike here, do you ma'am?"

      Mrs. Holdt's attention broke away from the bike, her fingers blackened by the dirt she'd been wiping off of it. "I'd mind if you didn't!" She turned back to the house and shrieked, "Len! Come out here and look at this!"

      - - - - -

      "Bloody bloomin' 'ell this stuff is hot..." a waiter lamented as he carried three plates of food and a bowl of caesar salad through the lobby of Boccino's Bistro. He turned around and rested his back against the door, then pushed with all of his might to open the heavy, ornately carved oaken door, nearly losing his balance as it swung open. "Leas' it stopped rainin'." he said with a thick, nearly unintelligible heartland accent as he looked up at the gloomy, cloud-filled sky.

      "Hey! Dinner's finally here!" Eliza cheered from her patio table.

      "Aye, 's served! 's a bit hot, so do be careful." He handed a steaming plate of spaghetti across the table towards Eliza, followed by the bowl of salad. "One mountain o' spaghetti and some salad for our girl in green..."

      "Thank you," Eliza said with a nod. "Looks good!"

      "And some assor'ed raviolis for our boy in green," he said as he dropped a plate off in front of Travis. "Thank you two for keepin' us safe. Lo'a crims ou' there these days."

      "Too many," Travis absent-mindedly commented as he closely inspected the raviolis. They met his strict standards.

      The waiter dropped off the last plate in front of Andrea. "Last but not least, garlic pizza for the vampire queen..."

      Andrea rolled her eyes at the comment.

      "Believe tha's ev'rythin'," The waiter nodded.

      "Yes, thank you," Eliza said.

      "Enjoy," the waiter said before taking his leave.

      Before the waiter could get far, however, Andrea asked, "Excuse me, umm... This is probably a dumb question, but... do you happen to know when the ghost of Mill Street is rumored to appear?"

      "Ghost o' Mill Street?" the waiter asked as he rolled up his sleeve to check his watch. "Righ' abou' now, give or take a few minutes. Why? You expe'in' to see 'im?"

      She looked out into the road briefly, then returned her attention to the waitress. "Hoping, more than expecting."

      The waiter rolled her eyes. "Bloody touris's..." he mumbled softly. "The ghost of Mill Street ain't real, ya know. 's a myth. 's made up. 100% pure bollocks."

      "You sound so certain," she said.

      The waiter leaned on the table and took a moment to peer at each of them individually before saying, "I been workin' this bloody shift for eight long years, ain't seen no bloomin' ghos's yet." He stood upright again and smiled in a disingenuous manner. "Now, you need anything, anything at all, you lemme know. Enjoy." With that said, the waiter excused herself from the table once again.

      Eliza swatted at the air around her. The pungent aroma of garlic covered the table like a thick cloud. "Oof... I think they went a little heavy on the garlic there..."

      Andrea shook her head. "Are you kidding? I can't get enough of this stuff!"

      "Do you really like it, or are you just trying to show everyone that you're not actually a vampire?"

      "Shut it!" she playfully shouted.

      Eliza began to dig into her salad. "What's all of this ghost business is about, anyways? I understand that you and Ms. Dahl were sent here to... do something... I've forgotten the details already."

      She grumbled as she struggled to lift the monstrous, floppy slice of pizza. "Just work related stuff. Apparently this village has been having a bit of a problem with the paranormal and Dr. Reiland wanted me and Tamara to investigate."

      "Paranormal?" Eliza said with a laugh. "You don't actually believe that, do you?"

      She dropped the slice of pizza back onto the plate and grabbed a knife and fork, then began the delicate process of cutting it into manageable pieces. "Witches, demons, wraiths... What do you make of it?"

      Eliza shook her head. "As that waiter so eloquently put it, it's bollocks. There's only one scary thing in this world, and it's not a ghost. It's a crazed criminal with nothing to lose."

      "I don't think your friend is so certain, Eliza," Travis observed as he studied the look on Andrea's face.

      Eliza turned to look at her partner. "You sound certain. What makes you say that?"

      "Don't see the doubt on her face?" he asked. "Considering how many interrogations you've done over the past few years, you of all people should be able to read a person's thoughts just by the expression on their face."

      "He's right. I didn't believe it until I came to this village, but now I'm not certain of what's real and what's not anymore."

      "Really... what made you change your mind?"

      "It's the people of this village... there are too many people with too many different yet plausible stories for it to be just some joke."

      "Mass hysteria is a thing, you know. Remember the UFO craze that swept through the northcountry a few years ago?"

      "Superstitious folk up there," Travis added.

      "I don't believe it's mass hysteria. These people don't seem crazy... except that one certifiably crazy lady I met the other day." She dropped her cutlery to the table and took on a somber, serious tone with her next words, "Besides, it's not just the people and their stories... I saw something that made me question some of my beliefs about how the world works."

      "Oh yeah?" Eliza asked. "And what might that be?"

      "Just west of here, in the forest... my friend and I encountered... some sort of monster. That's the only way I can describe it. A terrible, horrible monster."

      "I'm not surprised! Pokémon roaming the wilds isn't some strange occurrence."

      She shook her head. "No. This was a genuine monster. From a fairy tale. A freak of nature that shouldn't exist." she explained with grim determination. "It looked... almost human, but it wasn't. It was moaning and gurgling like it was suffering. Its skin was flaking off of its bones..."

      Eliza and Travis looked at each other in confusion as she continued to describe the creature she encountered in full detail.

      "In fact--" She reached for her notebook and opened to the page that documented the creature. "I'm not a good artist, but that's what we found."

      Eliza took a moment to go over the notes. Of particular interest to her was the hastily drawn image of the creature, as well as a quick list of facts about it. "Bipedal... exposed bones... tendons that glow with a violet light... ranged attack..." She laughed before adding, "You still trying to write your monster novel? This would make a good villain." She handed the journal to Travis. "What do you think? Award winning?"

      Travis handed the journal back to Andrea. "I'd rather not--"

      She pounded her fist on the table. "It was real!" She stood up and cautiously looked around before rolling the hem of her dress up enough to expose the bandage that was wrapped around her leg. "That creature did this to me! Unless you're going to tell me that I'm imagining this, too."

      Eliza's eyes widened at the bandage. "Oh my goodness! Are you okay?"

      "I am, no thanks to that... that thing!" she loudly said as she pointed down at her journal.

      "Careful, you're starting to do it again..." Eliza warned.

      She readjusted her dress and sat back down. "Sorry..."

      "There's no need to get angry, It's just... a little hard to believe, you know?"

      "Tell me about it... I've got photos of it, too, but... Not here at the dinner table."

      "I'm not here to question your beliefs, I'll take your word for it."

      An aura of awkward silence swept across the table. Andrea could tell that Eliza wasn't taking her seriously, but she really wasn't up for another argument, so she dropped the topic. Eliza, on the other hand, was curious about how Andrea's life had been in the past few months, but she wasn't sure what to ask about first and spent quite a bit of time thinking it over. Travis had even less to talk about because he didn't know either of them very well, so he resigned himself to a quiet night of listening.

      "Soooo..." Eliza started. "Why couldn't your friend make it? She busy with something? I was looking forward to meeting her."

      "Uhh..." Andrea groaned, then hung her head low over her plate. "She's... having a bad day, and I think it's my fault."

      "Uh oh. I've heard that before."

      She nodded. "Yeah. Funny, isn't it? So little has changed since you and I last spoke... I still seem to be doing everything in my power to piss off my closest friends."

      "Surely you're not doing it on purpose."

      "I'm not. That's the scary thing. I passively do it without even thinking about it."

      "Maybe you need to figure out why that keeps happening? You've been losing a lot of friends over the years... Tobias, Danielle, Larson--"

      "Hey, Larson is a jerk," she interrupted. "He lost me."

      "That's not the point! You could have chose to end your friendship with him quietly, but you made it into a public disaster for the world to see. You've done that with everyone, myself included."

      She grumbled angrily at the statement, but she knew it was true.

      "Hey! I understand why you did it. I don't agree with what you did, but I understand. You were in a dark place and nobody was helping."

      She shook her head. "You tried, at least..."

      "Of course I did! I care about you. You've been my best friend for years and years, it wouldn't have been right to ignore you in your time of need."

      "Well, you kinda did..."

      "Don't try to pin this on me. It was you who ignored someone. I tried reaching out to you for weeks, but you never answered."

      She grumbled; more painful truth. "I didn't deserve your friendship after what I did."

      "Hold on, hold on, I'm confused," Travis interrupted, pointing between the two of them rapidly. "Now, Eliza... On our way here, you told me that there was some sort of bad blood with your 'sister'..."

      "I might have, yes."

      He rubbed at his neck nervously. "Maybe it's none of my business, but... What exactly happened? I'm confused."

      The two girls stared at each other for a brief moment before fixing their attention on him; Eliza chose the menacing glare of death while Andrea gave him a look of befuddlement.

      "Whaaaaat," he asked. "I'm just curious, that's all! You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

      "We really shouldn't be having this conversation in front of him," Eliza commented.

      Andrea rested her chin on her hand as she looked off to the side. "Who knows, maybe it'd do me some good. I've got demons to face, I can't just hide from them forever."

      "You don't have to face them here!"

      "It's fine," she said with a deadpan tone, then let out a long, drawn out sigh. "It all started in December... Life was great. I'd just graduated and earned my biology degree, I was looking forward to my fifth year of studies, I had a decent job... I even had a lot of loyal friends! I had a great boyfriend, Tobias, and we were even talking about getting engaged! It was great, every bit of it. I worked so hard to build that all up... and then..." She brought her hands together loudly and abruptly, causing the other two to jump. "Bam! Just like that, it all fell apart. I crashed into a wall of misery."

      Travis leaned forward, giving her his complete and undivided attention. "How, if I may ask?"

      She kept quiet for a lengthy period of time, with the other two waiting for her response. Travis was genuinely curious. Eliza already knew the details; she was merely interested in whether they'd be revealed or not.

      "How? I don't know if I'm ready to confront how it happened. Not yet. But, umm... Since it was late December, most of my friends, including my boyfriend, had gone to visit family to ring in the new year. I had no one to rely on when I needed them the most. It hit me so heavily that I just... kinda rolled over and died. There was only one thing that I thought could comfort me, and I turned to it... Alcohol."

      He nodded as he followed her story.

      "I spent the next month smashed out of my flipping mind, trying to avoid facing what had happened, avoiding the responsibilities that were starting to pile up. What a mistake that was. My boyfriend came back early to try to help me put the pieces back together, but... for some reason, I didn't want his help. I didn't think he could help."

      "He tried so hard," Eliza added.

      She sighed. "He did. He poured his heart and soul into making me feel better... I'll never forgive myself for chasing him away when all he was concerned about was my happiness. When he walked out on me, it felt like my future followed him. Within a month, I dropped out of college... lost my job... Most of my friends, too. I haven't spoken to him or any of them since. And the worst part? Now I know he's with someone else. Someone who makes him happier than I ever did."

      "Don't say that!"

      She shook her head. Her eyelids grew heavy as tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. "But it's true! I stalk him on FriendZone still... all those happy photos of him and his new girl..."

      Travis shook his head. "Rough."

      "That's putting it lightly..." she said, rubbing away the tears that threatened to roll down her cheek. She took a deep breath to calm herself a bit. "A-anyways, a few days later, Eliza showed up at my university for an unexpected visit. It had been awhile since I spoke to her, so she didn't know that any of this was going on."

      "I found her passed out on the floor of her dorm room, surrounded by empty bottles," Eliza recalled. "I got her back on her feet and she completely lost it, ya know? What was it that you said to me?"

      "I don't even remember, but I can bet that it was filled with swearing and anger."

      "It was. I've heard sailors curse less than you did that day! You were convinced that I'd come to brag about my 'perfect life', and how resentful you were that I was even in your presence. I even remember dodging a few bottles, too."

      "Oh my god, that didn't happen!" she protested, then thought about it. She had absolutely no memory of that day, so anything that Eliza said could possibly be true. "...did it?" she squeaked.

      Eliza nodded. "Don't you remember sweeping up the broken glass?"

      She sighed, shook her head and rubbed at her eyes. "I am so sorry..."

      Eliza reached across the table and grabbed ahold of her hand. "You're past all of that now. Look at you! You've made a miraculous recovery since then!"

      "No... No! I don't think it's fair to say that I've recovered yet! I still have... s-still have..." Her emotions had finally overwhelmed her. "I-I... I have to... to..." she struggled to say as she pushed her chair out and rushed into the restaurant.

      "Uh oh..." Eliza said. "Maybe letting her poke a hornet's nest wasn't such a great idea. I should have changed the subject."

      "You don't think she's going to hurt herself, do you?"

      "That's what I'm worried about..." She stood up and rushed off as well. "Sit tight, I'm going to go find her!"

      He was bewildered that the two had left him so abruptly. "Uhh! I hope you two aren't planning on dining and dashing! I can't pay for all of this!"

      - - - - -

      "C-come on Andrea... Keep it together..." she said. She'd taken refuge from the outside world in the only place she felt she could, a stall in the women's restroom. Her breathing was erratic and labored, and her once pristine eyeliner was ruined yet again. She lightly rocked back and forth in an attempt to steady her shakiness. "She's r-right... You've come so far... A-all in the past..."

      The door to the restroom swung open and heavy, slow footprints cautiously entered. She held her breath in an attempt to conceal the fact that she was hiding away.

      "I know you're in here, Andrea," Eliza's voice called out. "I'm a police officer, don't forget. Hiding from me won't be easy."

      She let out her breath, then lifted her leg and tapped the bottom of the stall door to push it open. "Yeah, I'm here."

      "Y'ok?"

      She shook her head silently and wiped a tear away from her cheek.

      Eliza motioned for her to approach. "How about you c'mon out of there."

      "No... I can't face the world like this."

      "I don't know about you, but..." Eliza started as she looked all around the pristine room. "This bathroom looks pretty filthy to me... Do you really want to remember today this way? Hiding in a filthy bathroom?"

      She looked up at Eliza.

      Eliza offered her hand forward. "So your emotions got the better of you. It happens to everyone."

      She grabbed ahold of Eliza's hand and pulled herself up to her feet.

      Eliza led her out of the bathroom and back into the busy reception area of the restaurant. The scene was lively, busy and continuing as if nothing happened; nobody noticed Andrea's red eyes or her shaky breathing. The world was indifferent to her problems, and that's what Eliza was counting on. Andrea didn't have to face the world if the world didn't face her.

      "I admit..." Eliza started cautiously. "It was probably a bad idea to let you dredge up all of those old memories. I shouldn't have."

      "No... I'm kinda glad that you did. It reminded me of how many friends I've lost over the years. I didn't want to face the truth that I had blinded myself to. Tobias, Danielle, yourself and so many others..."

      "Larson included?"

      "Don't," she snapped.

      Eliza put her hands up defensively as an apology.

      "I'm afraid I might be adding Kim to that list soon. She wasn't very happy when I last saw her."

      "What did you do to her?"

      "I've just been stepping all over her since we got to this place. When we got to town, she wanted to make sure my wound was healing up, but I wouldn't let her have a look. I spent the next day in the Pokécenter with the nurse looking after me, but I kept trying to send her away. She tried to help me with my investigation a few times, but I stonewalled her at nearly every turn. And now she's convinced that I'm disrespecting her spiritual beliefs."

      "Are you?" Eliza asked, head tilted.

      She nodded. "I tore her away from her meditation earlier today because I wanted to get back to town. She wasn't happy about it."

      "Meditation, huh... That other stuff you could easily apologize for. But disrespecting someone's spirituality is something that is very difficult to atone for."

      "Are you speaking from personal experience?"

      "Yes, I am."

      "How'd you make it up to them?"

      "I didn't. It was me who was having her beliefs stepped all over."

      "Wait. You too? You sure kept that quiet..." she said, looking off to the side in disbelief.

      "You wouldn't have known. It was something I picked it up after you left for university. Helped me to get through the stress of my first homicide investigation."

      "Huh... always took you for someone more--" she started, then stopped. "I'll shut up before I say something stupid. Well? How'd they make it up to you?"

      "It just took some time, that's all. I don't know if that's a luxury you have, but a simple apology isn't where it ends. If she's sensitive about her spirituality, you'll have to show her over the next few weeks that you genuinely respect her decision to believe."

      She nodded. "I'll try. I don't know if I'll be seeing her all that much after I'm done here in Doranshire, but I'll try."

      "Let me know how it works out. Remember, I'm always a phone call away. If you're having trouble with something, I am here to help you."

      She grabbed Eliza and hugged her tightly. "You really haven't given up on me."

      "Of course I haven't! Now, let's check in on Travis, he must be feeling pretty nervous out there by himself."

      - - - - -

      Kimberly stepped through the rain-soaked grass, followed closely behind by Juliano. "Right here, I think." she said as she pointed to the ground in front of her.

      Juliano stood in the position that was pointed out to him and stood firm.

      She returned to the other side of the Holdt's garden. "Here I go!" With a running start, she dove forward and sprung off of her hands into the air. Before she landed, she twisted herself 180 degrees in the air; with her feet back on the ground, she pushed with all her might and started a back flip. She spun in the air once... twice... "Woah!" she shrieked as her arms started to flail uncontrollably. She face planted into the dirt as she narrowly missed the double back flip far from her intended location: into Juliano's awaiting arms.

      He rushed to her aid and helped her to her feet, then wiped away the mud that stuck to the bottom of her dress.

      "I'm fine, Juliano. It was only a little tumble. Perhaps a double back flip is too much for me at the moment."

      He huffed in disagreement.

      "I understand that you believe in me. I have done it before, but... I'm not in the right mind set to pull off those crazy moves."

      He picked her up off of her feet and carried her over to the bench beside the flowers. With an audible thud, he dropped to the floor and sat in front of her, then let out a sequence of deep grumbling sounds.

      Despite not speaking intelligible Glastonian, she had an idea of what he was trying to communicate. "Andrea, you mean?"

      He nodded.

      "The way she's been treating me is part of it... I shouldn't let her get me down. I should be used to being trampled by now, she really is just like Nicole."

      He laughed.

      "I don't know what I'm going to do when she's finished here. Hopefully she doesn't plan on visiting Rustlode..."

      He shook his head and growled lowly, the crossed his arms.

      "Precisely. She's starting to wear me a little thin, too. I can only hope that she doesn't expect me to follow her everywhere like some sort of personal escort that she can order around."

      Juliano looked behind Kimberly's shoulder to see the door open and Andrea step out. He couldn't help but stare at her.

      "What are you looking at?" she asked. She turned around to look and saw Andrea standing there.

      "Hi..." Andrea quietly said. "Mrs. Holdt said I might find you here."

      "Oh. Hello." she coldly said. "Did you enjoy dinner?"

      Andrea sighed and shook her head. "Not really, no. The food was good, but, umm..." She nervously approached. "Seeing my friend after so long brought up some old demons that I never properly faced. It made me realize that I'm just... I'm a terrible human being."

      "Oh, no, Andrea! I'm sure you're a lovely person deep down, but..."

      "But?"

      "It pains me to say it, but you are... kind of an arse. You've got problems that you need to sort out, but you're still a good person."

      Andrea's eyes widened. "If you of all people say it like that, it's gotta be true... Look, I'm deeply sorry for what I've done."

      "Are you really?"

      "I understand that you're mad at me. That anger is perfectly justified. I've been a terrible friend."

      "You're right. You have."

      "Oh... okay, I uhh... didn't expect to hear that."

      She crossed her arms and glared at Andrea. "You didn't expect what? For me to agree with you? Are you here to beg for sympathy, or are you here to actually apologize?"

      "You're right. Sympathy is the last thing I deserve." She took a deep breath and nodded. "This has been a constant problem throughout my life. I get along with people, but then I slowly turn on them. I treat them like dirt, treat them like they're replaceable. Eventually it gets to the point where I'm saying dreadful things to them and wishing I'd never met them. I've already started to go down that road with you and I don't want it to go any further. From this point, that's going to change."

      "Why the sudden change of heart?"

      "Because I realized how important a true friend really is. I lost a lot of my closest friends over the past year because of how I've acted, and I only got one of them back because she was willing to give me a second chance."

      "That's good to hear."

      "Which brings me to you. We've only known each other for about a week, but already you've been a better friend to me than just about anyone I've ever met. I don't want to lose that. Even if it turns out that we won't be together after I'm done here in Doranshire, I still want to be able to call you a friend. Someone I can call on a slow day and just chat with."

      "That does sound nice..."

      "I don't know how, but I'm going to make it up to you. I'll find some way to pay you back for the way I've been acting, I promise."

      "You don't have to. Recognizing your behavior and vowing to change it is all I need to hear right now."

      "I'll leave you alone now. You still need your time alone, and I... I've had a rough night. I-I need to lie down..."

      "Rest easy."

      Andrea nodded and went back inside the house.

      She turned to Juliano and smiled. "Well! Maybe she isn't just like Nicole. I'm still waiting for her to apologize for her behavior, and it's been over a year. That means it'll never happen."

      Juliano huffed and shook his head.

      "Yes, I know that it's easy for people to be disingenuous. I just hope that in Andrea's case, she isn't."
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        #28    
      Old August 17th, 2017 (10:12 PM). Edited September 22nd, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
      Eliza Prescott's Avatar
      Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
      Vengeful Ferret
         
        Join Date: Nov 2016
        Location: Upstate New York
        Gender: Female
        Posts: 35
        Land of the Roses
        Chapter 23: Unusual Findings



        With a spring in his step, Patrick whistled a merry tune as he navigated the halls of the Reiland Institute. In his left hand was a blue folder labeled 'Loch Fiodhbòcan Water Purity Analysis', while his right hand carried a half empty mug of steaming hot coffee. His journey ended at room 237-B, Dr. Reiland's office. Just as he was about to grab the handle of the door, he heard muffled speech from within.

        "Hmm. A little early for visitors." he mumbled. He grabbed the handle and jiggled it, finding it to be locked.

        He knocked on the door and the muffled speech stopped. A few seconds later, the door opened and an elderly man with mess grey hair that went in every direction peered out.

        "Ah, Dr. Venger! It's been awhile since I've seen you over this way."

        "Mr. Adelaide," The man nodded politely. "My work usually keeps me terribly busy, that's why you never see me."

        "I dropped by to check in on Dr. Reiland. I usually help her with opening her medication in the morning."

        "I've already done that for her, I'm afraid." Dr. Venger said. He stepped aside and motioned for Patrick to enter. "Since you're here, we may as well fill you in on a most peculiar discovery that I made."

        He stepped inside the office and greeted his boss. "Morning, Dr. Reiland."

        "Good morning, Patrick," Dr. Reiland said with a smile as she gathered the myriad of medication bottles that were scattered about her desk and put them away.

        He displayed the folder that he was carrying. "I've got the test results for the water sample that Andrea sent us yesterday."

        "Another sample from Ms. Dennison? She's a busy girl!" Dr. Venger commented.

        "She is," he said as he sat down. "But before I get to the results, I'll let you two go first."

        "Do you remember that bone fragment that Ms. Dennison recovered?" Dr. Venger asked.

        "Yeah, I do. What about it?"

        Dr. Venger grabbed a paper off of Dr. Reiland's desk and offered it to him. "Here is my report on it."

        He grabbed the paper and began to read from it. As his eyes scanned through the text, they began to widen. He looked up at Dr. Venger for clarification, only to receive a nod to continue reading. He could hardly believe the words that he was reading:

        Bone Fragment Analysis, Reiland Institute Medical Wing
        Report written by Dr. Venger
        Lab work completed by Dr. Venger, Dr. Brink, Emily Winehaus, et al
        May 20th, 9:07 PM
        Two days ago, an unidentified bone fragment was brought to the medical wing for analysis. It was recovered by our newest field analyst, Andrea Dennison, from what she described as an 'undead skeletal creature' that had attacked her approximately 20 miles west of the village of Doranshire. Obviously a claim like this should be treated with utmost skepticism, but the photos she sent of this creature were indeed puzzling. I have never seen such a bizarre anatomical structure, so I was curious of what our field analyst actually found. I authorized a full battery of tests to determine what this creature was.

        The first test we performed, a DNA test, led to the most interesting and puzzling result. The intent was to discover the species of Pokémon that this creature was in life, but we found that it wasn't a Pokémon at all. The fragment that Ms. Dennison recovered was in fact... human in origin! Thinking that a mistake had been made or that the initial sample we had taken was somehow contaminated, we extracted more bone marrow and tested again, only to receive the same results. Seven separate tests were performed just to be certain, all resulting in functionally identical genetic profiles.

        There is no way for us here in the lab to determine the true identity of who this bone belonged to, but we did make a few determinations: Based on the genetic profile that we extracted, we've determined that the individual in question was a white female of Glastonian ancestry. We are unable to determine anything else about the individual: age, distinguishing features, where she might have lived. I have submitted the profile generated from our tests to the National Crime Lab; perhaps they will have a genetic profile to compare our Jane Doe to. It's likely that this individual has been reported missing at some point, and her family members should be notified of her passing.

        Physically, we've determined that the bone fragment is the scapula of our Jane Doe, or at least part of it. A very clear fracture is present, indicating that the rest of it is still where the fragment was recovered from. I've spent considerable time going over the photos that Ms. Dennison sent to us to make sure that I wasn't overlooking something that would make sense of this mess, but alas, no sense was found.

        I determined that the fragment that Ms. Dennison recovered was integrated into this creature's skeletal structure, attached via tendons and other connective tissue, as it was present in a photo that was taken before Ms. Dennison recovered the sample. Yet none of the other bones present in the photos appear to be human. Unfortunately, without further samples to work with, we can't determine what those other bones may have belonged to. I'll have a word with Ms. Dennison to determine where the discovery was made and send a team out to recover the remains for further examination.

        The implications of these findings are troubling to say the least. None of this makes sense. Why would a human female's bones be present alongside the bones of Pokémon in a creature that logically shouldn't exist? What exactly was this creature that Ms. Dennison encountered? I understand that she was injured by this creature, something that lends credence to her claim that she was attacked. An attack indicates movement, but I can't determine how this creature can even move, since key muscle groups are either badly decomposed or completely absent. Telekinesis from a foreign source is an option, I suppose...

        There is one thing that I can say for certain: the staff of the Reiland Institute has a lot of work ahead of it. We
        will determine what this creature was.

        He lowered the paper in silence as he thought about what he had just read.

        "That was my reaction too, Patrick," Dr. Reiland said. "I've forwarded this report to Ms. Dahl's employer, Dr. Belmonte. I'll see what he thinks. He seems to know a bit more about this creature than we do, maybe he can make sense of this."

        "This feels like some sort of big joke that I'm not a part of," he said.

        "This is no joke," Dr. Venger commented.

        "Of course not, I would never question your work, Dr. Venger, you are one of our absolute best."

        Dr. Venger nodded at the compliment.

        He placed the report back onto Dr. Reiland's desk. "There must be a logical explanation for all of this, something that nobody is seeing. The dead don't just rise and attack people willy nilly!"

        "Evidently, the dead may be starting to do just that," Dr. Venger said. "If we take a step back and assume that is the case, it would readily explain a large part of what your new employee claims to have seen."

        "You're not seriously suggesting--"

        Dr. Venger raised his chin ever so slightly and raised his eyebrow as a challenge to Patrick.

        He sighed. "Well. You're right. If that is the case, it would explain what she saw. But... It just... I don't... What does... How..." He stammered with his words as he tried to articulate his inner thoughts. None of it lined up with what he knew to be true.

        "It's okay, Patrick, we all get stumped at some point in our careers," Dr. Reiland said. "When our beliefs are challenged so soundly, we find it difficult to process what we're examining. It's happened to me several times in the past and it will happen in the future. I'm sure it's already happened to you as well."

        A buzzing sound radiated out of Dr. Venger's pocket; he grabbed his phone and took a brief look at it. "You'll have to excuse me, that's my friend at the National Crime Lab. He wants to speak with me. If he has anything interesting to say, I'll let you know. It was nice seeing you again, Rebecca!"

        Dr. Reiland nodded. "Take care. And visit more often! It feels like I haven't seen you in weeks!"

        "I'll try," Dr. Venger said before closing the door behind him.

        "Really... The dead coming to life..." he said as he shook his head. "I'm sorry, I have an open mind, but... Any more open and my brain might fall onto the floor."

        Dr. Reiland let out a chuckle. "I'd hate to say it, Patrick, but you don't understand what it truly means to be open minded."

        He looked up into the air in thought. "I'll give you that one."

        "But you're right, it does take some leaps of logic, and I actually agree with you. There must be some other explanation. I'm hoping that my correspondence with Dr. Belmonte leads to that explanation."

        "Perhaps there's something that Andrea isn't telling us?" he suggested.

        "Perhaps, perhaps not. It's also possible that she's just as clueless as we are and I'm willing to bet on that possibility. Time will tell." She pointed out the blue folder in his hands. "So, what do you have for me today?"

        He opened the folder and grabbed the front page out of the sleeve within, then placed it onto her desk. "Water test results for the samples that Andrea gathered from Loch Fiodhbòcan. All tests came back negative for toxins, harmful bacteria and chemicals. I even looked for some things a standard test doesn't cover, such as those old Kanetska bio-weapons."

        "Goodness! I don't think you needed to go that far."

        "Testing for them was actually pretty easy and I just wanted to be certain. You never know when some sick bastard is going to test out his latest black market purchase."

        "You've been watching too much television, I think. Well, at least we can rule out water contamination."

        He dropped the folder onto the report. "We can. In fact, the water sourced from that reservoir is above average in terms of purity. Particulate counts are astonishingly low. I'm kinda jealous, you know? Our city water is filthy and it smells like sulfur sometimes."

        "Thank you for getting this done so quickly. I'll let her know the results, it'll help her to formulate her next avenue of investigation."

        "Are you going to tell her about Dr. Venger's report?"

        "I am."

        He paused for a moment before sheepishly offering, "Let me do that. If you don't mind, that is."

        "Oh?"

        "I think it would mean something to her if the person who rudely dismissed everything she said admitted that maybe he was wrong. Besides, she's my responsibility, I was the one who encouraged you to send her out there. I was the one who wanted to test her further. I'm not going to wash my hands of her just because I'm having a hard time agreeing with her findings."

        She smiled. "That's very mature of you. I made the right choice when promoting you to a senior staff position." She picked up the phone on her desk and handed it over.

        Patrick dialed Andrea's number and waited patiently for her to respond. "Gonna put her on speaker, if you want to talk to her, too."

        "Hello?" Andrea's voice asked.

        "Good morning, Andrea!" Patrick answered.

        "Oh, hey Patrick! I figured it was Dr. Reiland calling, not you. What's up?

        "I'm here!" Dr. Reiland added.

        "Yeah, we've got you on speaker," Patrick explained. "We've got some news for you about your findings..."

        "Anything I should be worried about?"

        Patrick reached for the blue folder that sat on the doctor's desk and leafed through the papers. "Let's start with the good news first... Got your water analysis results back. Didn't find anything. No chemicals, no toxins, no harmful bacteria."

        "That'll take a load off of my friend's mind. When I told her I was analyzing the water for you guys, she started getting all nervous and worried. She thought she'd been drinking poison for the past few days!"

        He laughed. "Nope, nothing like that. You let your friend know that you're unlikely to find purer water anywhere in the country."

        "Is there anything else I need to know?"

        He paused momentarily as he looked to Dr. Reiland for approval, which she gave with a nod. "Yes, actually. It's about the bone fragment you recovered from that creature you encountered."

        "Oh yeah? What about it?"

        "Are you alone?"

        "I am."

        "Nobody around who might overhear?"

        "Yes, yes! Tell me what this is about."

        He grabbed Dr. Venger's report next and cautiously thought about how to approach the subject. "First, I should apologize for how I reacted when you came to me with your findings. That was very unprofessional of me."

        "But expected," she said. "I understand."

        "Now... how do I put this... That bone fragment you found, it was... It was human."

        "Excuse me?" she loudly asked.

        "Try to be a little quieter, I don't want to cause a panic. Anyways, one of our staff members, Dr. Venger, made that discovery. You haven't met him yet, but I want you to know that Dr. Venger is a very thorough and serious man. When he discovered that the bone fragment you found contained human DNA, he tested it over and over again just to be sure. In the years that I've worked here, I've learned to never question Dr. Venger's findings, because he is always right."

        "That doesn't make sense... Why would that... How?"

        "I share your confusion, trust me," he said. "We don't know any specifics. All we can determine currently is that the bone belonged to a woman of Glastonian ancestry. We don't know how old she was, where she might have lived, any of that. We don't even know how it got tangled into that monstrosity you discovered."

        There was silence on the line.

        "You still there, Andrea?"

        "Yeah, I'm just thinking. Are you telling me that I was attacked by..." Her voice lowered to a near whisper. "Some dead lady?"

        "As illogical as that sounds..." Dr. Reiland started. "It would be a simple way of explaining what happened, based on the information we currently have. But I can tell you for certain that whatever did attack you wasn't human. It just... had part of one embedded into it."

        There was another long pause. "I don't get it. I-I-I just don't! First a -- Maybe it would help if I knew what you were suggesting, because I'm having a tough time with this."

        "I'm curious, too," Patrick added.

        "Well! I should preface this by saying that I'm not entirely certain about this theory. But it is the one theory that I currently have that answers the most questions. Not all of them, but the most."

        "I'm listening," Andrea said.

        "I looked over your notes about this creature and the photos you sent as well. I'm beginning to think that the creature that attacked you may have been constructed from both human and Pokémon remains and... somehow given life again. Like some sort of Frankenstein monster, only much, much worse."

        "You lost me again."

        "Do you recall how I said that the bone structure of this creature was unusual? Like a jigsaw puzzle, but the pieces were all out of order?"

        "So what you're saying now is that this creature was a collection of... 'spare parts'?"

        "In essence, yes. The piece you sent back appears to be a fragment of someone's scapula."

        "Scapula..." Andrea repeated.

        "Unfortunately, missing something like that... it paints a grim picture for the woman it belonged to."

        "Oh my god..."

        Patrick shrugged. "Can't rule out that she was an amputee."

        "Amputees don't get their shoulders cut off!" Andrea answered.

        "I'll have to do some more reading before I can start to say for certain what we're dealing with. I've also forwarded your findings to Dr. Belmonte. If he has anything interesting or relevant to say, you will be the first person to know."

        Andrea didn't know what to say. "I find this... If I didn't respect you as much as I do, doctor--"

        "I understand."

        "W-what should I do next?" she asked, her voice shaking somewhat.

        "Continue as you were. I'm starting to get the feeling that you will find something worth taking a much closer look at, Ms. Dennison, it's just a matter of time at this point."

        "Understood."

        "Oh! And when you get the chance, drop by the Pokécenter some time today, I have a gift for you."

        "A gift?"

        Dr. Reiland grabbed a small wooden box and opened it, pulling out a pink R-Kit as she said, "We got your R-Kit up and running again. Something fried the internal coding of it, it was astonishingly simple to repair."

        "Oh! Good! That'll make things so much easier! But it might be awhile, before I make it to the Pokécenter, there's a freak storm battering the village at the moment."

        "That's fine, take your time. Your safety is important!"

        "As soon the weather clears up, you'll hear from me. Bye!"

        Patrick ended the call and put the phone back onto the desk. He took a deep breath and sighed, then said, "Do you get the feeling that she's in over her head? After all, Dr. Belmonte sent an expert in the paranormal to investigate. Andrea's only a biologist, and not a particularly experienced one."

        Dr. Reiland leaned back in her chair. "You did say you wanted to test her."

        "But I also didn't expect it to turn into this. She was supposed to have someone help her, a real expert, but now she's got nothing except occasional input from us. And we're not experts when it comes to the paranormal, either!"

        "I think she's been doing a good job so far."

        "Maybe. But I'm just... Even our veteran field analysts would have trouble with the job we assigned her, and I'm starting to feel a little bit bad about throwing her into the deep end so soon. I should have kept her close by in town for a few days, then brought her back to Nettlefield to see what's going on in that swamp. At least that falls under the realm of her expertise, and I could have been there to see how she works."

        "I understand what you're saying. If she doesn't pull through, we can always send someone else out there to pick up where she leaves off. But until then, I'll put a little faith in her."

        - - - - -

        Spoiler:
        Updates and edits:
        • Updated the beginning of the phone call between Patrick, Dr. Reiland and Andrea to reflect changes necessitated by the next chapter.
        • Minor grammatical fixes
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          #29    
        Old September 22nd, 2017 (8:19 PM).
        Eliza Prescott's Avatar
        Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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          Join Date: Nov 2016
          Location: Upstate New York
          Gender: Female
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          Author's note: I've tried to up my descriptive game a bit. Hopefully it's not too distracting, I'm definitely out of my comfort zone. There are also some minor retcons of the previous chapter. It has already been edited to reflect these changes.

          Land of the Roses
          Chapter 24: Dance of the Orbs



          The weather was unusually violent that morning. The clouds were jostled back and forth like a raging sea by high winds as they let loose a heavy downpour on the quiet countryside. Massive forks of lightning arced across the turbulent sky as they danced between the clouds, but rarely impacting the earth below. The storm displayed the power of mother nature in its as it lingered above the Spritewood, drenching the village of Doranshire as it turned its once quaint dirt roads into muddy traps. Yet at the same time, the mercy of mother nature was displayed as well.

          Lightning struck fairly close to the Holdt residence, creating a massive crash of thunder that echoed across the village. The sound of the thunder was loud enough to wake Andrea from her deep sleep. She wasn't even aware that she had been woken by the thunder and tried her best to get back to sleep, but another rumble brought her back into the realm of consciousness. "Uuuugh... izzat... is that thunder?" she mumbled incoherently to herself as she stretched.

          She tried to roll out of bed, but felt something holding her in place. A lift of the blanket showed that Kimberly's arm was wrapped snuggly around her. She felt oddly put off by it and was tempted to make a scene about it, but at the same time, she didn't want to push her luck considering the disagreement they had the previous night. Instead, she tried her best to gently lift her friend's arm so that she could get out of bed without waking her. Despite her best efforts at being subtle about it, the attempt failed; Kimberly stirred in her sleep and only tightened her grip.

          "C'mon, let me go..." she muttered softly, barely audible, trying again to loosen her friend's grasp. "You're lucky that you're a girl, otherwise I'd rip that arm off..."

          Kimberly's eyes cracked open slightly for a brief moment before they shot open widely. She realized where her hand had drifted and retracted her arm quickly. "Oh! Oh, I'm so sorry! I-I--"

          Free from her friend's grip, she rolled out of bed and stretched. "Well! I haven't been felt up like that since my second year of uni!"

          Kimberly giggled nervously. "I didn't mean to."

          "Don't worry about it," she said as she sauntered up to the window and pulled back the curtain. On any other day, bright sunlight would have flooded into the room, but the light level barely changed with the receded curtains. Her vision of the outside world was heavily distorted by the thick layer of rain that drained down the window. "Hope the weather clears up... I don't fancy walking through that rain."

          Kimberly wrapped herself in the massive blanket and rolled to face away from the window. "Going somewhere?" she mumbled, already half asleep again. A bright flash of lightning illuminated the room and a massive crash of thunder rattled the window and shook the house. The sound jolted her awake again. "Oh! Goodness!"

          "I'm surprised the thunder didn't wake you up earlier... Anyways, I was hoping to go somewhere, but I don't think that'll happen if this keeps up."

          Kimberly enthusiastically jumped out of bed and rushed to the window to watch the storm. "What did you have planned?"

          "I scheduled a tour of a local elementary school which is supposedly haunted. The school's headmaster said that if I were to find any evidence for my investigation into the strange sightings in this village, that's where I'd find it."

          "Oh! Sounds interesting!"

          "I just need the weather to clear up. The school is clear across town and I'm not--"

          Lightning tore through the sky and impacted the tree across the alley from them. Smoke rose and sparking embers rained down from the tree as the hardest hit branch splintered away and dropped to the rain-soaked, muddy path below with a giant splash and an audible thud.

          She clutched her chest in an effort to calm her racing heart. "Holy shhhh... Yeah, this isn't safe to walk around in."

          "Agreed. Looks like I'll be staying here as well."

          "Oh? Sounds like you have your own plans."

          Kimberly cautiously looked up at her before returning her attention to the rolling storm outside. "Well... to be honest, I was thinking about leaving town today..."

          Hearing those words caused Andrea's stomach to drop. She knew she had been difficult over the past few days, but she had no idea that her friend had given the thought of abandoning her any serious consideration. She wasn't sure what to say. She offered a few disappointed grunts and groans, but couldn't formulate a proper thought.

          Kimberly could sense the distress she caused and tried to remedy it. Rather than state the true reason she planned to leave Andrea behind, she quickly fabricated a believable excuse, "It seems like you'll be here for awhile. If I intend to reach Rustlode in time to stick to my schedule, I need to be getting on soon."

          "That's fair enough, I guess..." she said with a tone of disappointment lingering over her words. "I mean... I'd have..." she shook her head as she lost her train of thought. "Nevermind."

          "But," Kimberly added. "Like you, if the weather doesn't improve by noon, I'll probably be better off staying here. I hear that the road from here to Rustlode is difficult and seldom traveled, so I might not find lodgings very easily. I'd like to keep my stops in the wilderness to a minimum, considering what happened a few nights ago."

          "Meaning?"

          "If I haven't left by noon, maybe I could tag along for what you're doing, and then I'll worry about leaving tomorrow morning."

          Despite the possibility, she felt uneasy. The roller coaster ride between not knowing if she was going to spend the next few days alone and the cautious hope that she wouldn't sent her head spinning. She thought she had salvaged their friendship with her heartfelt apology, but she worried that maybe she hadn't. The idea that Kimberly didn't believe that she was willing to change haunted her, as there would be no redeeming their friendship in that case. Her thoughts completely clouded her mind from the reality that Kimberly had her own life to live and her own schedule to work with, and she desperately thought of a way to convince her to stay.

          "Well?" Kimberly asked.

          She snapped away from her thoughts. "Huh? Well what?"

          "Could I perhaps tag along if I'm still here?"

          "Oh! Of course! I'd be happy to have you come along!"

          "Wonderful! I've always been interested in seeing what a countryside school is like."

          "Not any different from what you went to, I imagine,"

          Kimberly laughed. "Very different. I went to a boarding school full of spoiled little brats."

          "Somehow that doesn't surprise me." She immediately thought about what she had just said and felt compelled to apologize. "Sorry, I didn't mean that in a negative way!"

          Kimberly looked up at her and raised her eyebrow. "We need to work on those social skills of yours."

          She grumbled. "Tell me about it..."

          Kimberly stood up and stretched. "What do you say we grab some breakfast? I'm hungry."

          - - - - -

          Downstairs in the kitchen, Mr. and Mrs. Holdt were buzzing around like worker bees, making sure breakfast for their guests was as perfect as it could be. Garden greens, carrots, tomatoes, berries, peach slices and shredded almonds flew from Mrs. Holdt's cutting board and into a bowl, while Mr. Holdt juggled his attention between three separate pans of tuna, eggs and bacon at the stove. A local news report about the weather was blaring from the TV in the corner of the room.

          "Ah, you're up earlier than usual!" Mr. Holdt commented as he saw Andrea and Kimberly walk into the kitchen from the corner of his eye.

          "It's very loud out there," Andrea answered. "I couldn't sleep through all that thunder, especially with it shaking the whole house like that."

          "Heh. Yes, it's pretty bad out there. It's a bit early in the year for a storm like this, too."

          Andrea took a seat at the table. "Do you get weather like this often?"

          "Not too often," he said, nodding towards the television set.

          The meteorologist on the television was stood in front of a screen that showed the radar image of the storm overhead. It almost appeared as if someone had thrown a bucket of red paint against the screen behind him; the monstrous storm cell that covered much of the Spritewood slowly crawled its way to the south rather than the usual east, with a large trail of green, lighter rain following behind it.

          "...sustained gale force winds reaching speeds of nearly sixty kilometers per hour, with gusts measured by our weather station clocking in at around ninety kilometers per hour. Coupled with the rain and lightning, it goes without saying: shelter in place and do not attempt to venture out..."

          Mr. Holdt effortlessly flipped the scrambled eggs out of the pan and onto an awaiting plate beside him. "Seems like every few years, we get a big one that comes out of nowhere. But they're usually in the summer, not spring..."

          "So you're not worried about this?" Andrea asked as she sat down, her words overpowered by another clash of thunder.

          "Nah. Been through enough of them to know this house can take a beating." He removed the slabs of seared fish meat from the pan and placed them on another plate, then brought it over to the table.

          Kimberly shivered in disgust and covered her nose as the plate of fish passed by her. "Ugh..."

          He snickered as he watched her gag. "Don't like fish, do ya?"

          She shook her head.

          "Don't blame you, it's an acquired taste that I picked up a long time ago in Can Minh," he said as he grabbed a knife and fork and began to cut the fish into tiny pieces. "Yeah, just stay inside today. You're not going to get anywhere with the wind blowing like that, and god forbid a branch fall on you. That leg injury of yours was bad enough!"

          "It really wasn't, according to the nurse... Maybe I should call ahead and let the guy I was supposed to meet know I'm probably not going to make it, then?"

          "Wouldn't hurt. I'm sure he'll understand if he's been through one or two of these storms himself."

          "I'll go call him now, if you don't mind. See if I can reschedule for later today or even tomorrow. I don't want him to get ready to leave if he doesn't have to."

          Mr. Holdt popped a piece of fish into his mouth and nodded. "By all means!"

          She pushed herself out of her chair and made her way back upstairs to the tiny bedroom that had been serving as her home for the past four days. With her phone in hand, she opened her notebook and found the phone number for the school's headmaster. She readied herself for his disappointment as she dialed the number and waited for him to answer.

          "Hello?" the headmaster's haggard voice asked.

          "Hello, Mr. McElroy! It's Andrea, the scientist who was supposed to visit the school today."

          "Yes, of course! I was just about to call you!" he said with enthusiasm in his voice. "I'm afraid we'll have to cancel our meeting today. The weather is a little bit too disagreeable at the moment, I hope you don't mind. Lucky it struck when the kids had the day off!"

          "Yeah, I don't feel safe walking around in weather like this," she said as she peeked through the blinds. "Would I be able to come later today if the weather clears up?"

          "Unfortunately not. I have other obligations to take care of this afternoon. But tomorrow afternoon works for me, how does that sound?"

          With a nod, she began to write down some information in her notepad. "I can make that work."

          "Good. By then, most of the students and faculty should be gone. I'll try to see if I can get the first grade teacher to stay awhile so you can talk to her. She'll likely have more information than I do."

          "Any specific time?"

          "Tomorrow at... around 4 PM, maybe?"

          "Four... PM..." she mumbled as she wrote down the time. "I'll be there."

          "Good! Tomorrow it is."

          "Yes. Thanks for being understanding." With that, she ended the call and put her phone back onto the table. Another flash of lightning illuminated the window and the crash of thunder soon shook the house. "Great... now I'm stuck inside with nothing to do."

          She got up to return to the kitchen, but just as she made it to the top of the stairs, her phone began to ring again. Curious of who it could be, she rushed back to the phone and picked it up. Dr. Reiland's name appeared on the caller ID.

          "Hello?" she asked.

          Rather than get an answer from Dr. Reiland like she expected, Patrick's voice spoke instead. "Good morning, Andrea!"

          "Oh, hey Patrick! I figured it was Dr. Reiland calling, not you. What's up?"

          "I'm here!" Dr. Reiland's muffled voice called out.

          "Yeah, we've got you on speaker. We've got some news for you about your findings..."

          - - - - -

          The weather continued its assault on Doranshire for much of the day. Noon had come and gone, but the relentless storm persisted for at least another hour. With both of their plans for the day ruined, Andrea and Kimberly spent the day inside, bored out of their minds. Andrea tried to pass the time by continuing her work, but she had little else to add to her report about her time in the village. Kimberly thought of a few routines she could work into her next coordination appearance, but also had little to work with since she only had two Pokémon. The day was quiet, with relatively little chatter between the two. It was something that both of them found disheartening, but they were both afraid they'd drive a wedge further between them if they tried to speak to one another.

          The afternoon came and went and the storm started to let up a bit. By dinner time, only light rain lingered in the area, with the occasional gust that would shake the frame of the old house. Andrea took the opportunity to visit the Pokécenter and pick up her repaired R-Kit. She was happy that it was firmly wrapped around her wrist once more, but disappointed that her old one was returned to her; she still couldn't get over the fact that Patrick had forced a pink one on her, but she wasn't about to complain about it.

          When she returned to the Holdt residence, the television broadcast was tuned to the weather again. The local meteorologist, having been blind sided by the sudden emergence of the storm in the first place, could only offer cautious optimism about his forecast of sunny weather the following day. Even then, there was little confidence in his words. There may have been truth to his shaky prediction, however, as the rain had stopped entirely by sunset and twinkling stars appeared in the patchy night sky.

          "Yeah... just like that..." Andrea said.

          She was looking over Kimberly's shoulder, who was seated at the table with a pencil in her hand and her notebook open in front of her. A very detailed drawing of the skeletal creature they met in the Spritewood a few nights previously took up the center of the page, with several smaller drawings of the creature from various angles and in different poses filling the margins of the page. Beside the journal was Andrea's own hasty attempt at drawing the creature; the difference in skill and style was like night and day.

          The two had spent the past hour working on the drawing in an effort to pass the time before bedtime; Kimberly's recollection of the creature was scant and foggy, as she didn't see much of it before she fainted from horror, so she relied on Andrea's memory and guidance to sketch the creature. Despite the lack of color, the detail was exactly as Andrea remembered it.

          "This really is... not my usual subject... I'm more into trees and nature, not... this." Kimberly added. "Why does your boss want this, again?"

          "She called earlier today and told me a few things about it. One of her staff members is working on a report about it and wants a better drawing than the one I did."

          "What did she have to say about this hideous thing?"

          Andrea paused for a moment to think over what she learned from Dr. Reiland and Patrick. Nearly every detail she learned about the creature painted a grim picture, especially the fact that a human bone was found within its skeletal structure. She tried to figure out a way of filtering the details somewhat, cautious of the fact that she might upset Kimberly too much with the honest truth. In the end, she couldn't formulate a filtered answer and decided to brush over it completely. "Not much, just... uh... could be a newly discovered species. She's still looking into it."

          "Oh! Cool! And we found it!"

          Her desire to downplay their 'achievement' rose to the surface. "Well... it might not be previously undiscovered, keep that in mind... Not like it's impressive anyways, new species are discovered more often than you think."

          "Well I think it's impressive," Kimberly answered.

          She tried to switch the subject entirely. "No. What's really impressive is your artistic skill, I wish I could do that." she said, marveling at the grotesque drawing.

          "You really think so?" She paused for a moment to inspect her work, then felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up as she looked it over. Despite it being just a drawing, she could swear that she saw the lines moving slightly, the paper gurgling at her. She put the paper back down and covered as much of the drawing as she could with her hand. "I'm not as good as some of my friends, I don't think."

          "Are you kidding me? People would straight up murder someone for that kind of talent. You could easily make a living by selling commissioned art."

          Kimberly giggled at the thought. "I don't know if you've noticed, but I don't have to make a living doing anything. I could probably retire comfortably tomorrow if I really wanted."

          "Oh. Right. Forgot you're richer than the royal family."

          "Let's not go that far... I think you're mistaken anyways. It's not natural skill, it's practice. You can get to this point if you spend a few years working on it. That's what I did."

          "People always tell me that, and it's usually the ones who are born with it that say it."

          Kimberly giggled as she got started on refining the details of the creature's mangled arm. "Hmm... I won't lie to you, it's probably fair to say that at least some of my talent was something I was born with."

          "Lucky you..." she said as she stood up and wandered around the cramped room.

          "Don't feel too bad, you've got your own natural talent! You just have to find it... Now, what did this disgusting monster's arm look like, again? Didn't you say something about sharp blades?"

          "Something like that," she said. Just as she was about to return to the table to guide Kimberly again, she noticed a faint light flitter across the curtains along the window. She drew the curtain to an enchanting sight: several glowing orbs of faded, colored light drifted through the village, weaving in and out of the branches as they continued on their path. She figured that they were the same mysterious lights she saw scattered throughout the Spritewood, but having little experience with them, she couldn't be certain. "Hey Kim, come look at this."

          "Hmm?" Kimberly asked as she turned to look through the window. Her eyes lit up like a christmas tree as she watched the orbs dance through the trees. "Ooh! They're beautiful!"

          "They are, aren't they?"

          "I really wonder what they are..."

          "Maybe I can find out..." she said as she turned on her R-Kit and activated the Accu-Scan app. She undid the locks on the window and slid it open, then cautiously dangled out as she tried to get a reading with her R-Kit. She felt a pair of hands place themselves on her hips and hold onto her. "Hey! What the heck are you doing?" she called out.

          "Making sure you don't fall, silly!" Kimberly's voice said.

          She shook her head and initiated the scan with her R-Kit. The beam of light that usually indicated it was scanning something flickered with red as it bolted around in a haphazard motion.

          "Nothing detected within sensor range," the R-Kit's robotic voice buzzed.

          "Darn..." she whispered. She pulled herself back into the room and shrugged. "I'm going to step outside for a second and see if I can find one that's closer to the ground. I'll be right back."

          "Don't stray too far," Kimberly warned.

          "And... Hands to yourself next time, please?"

          Kimberly put her hands in a defenseive manner. "I'm only interested in your safety, but if that's what you want, that'll how it'll be."

          She reached into her purse and grabbed her phone, slid it between the band of her stocking and her thigh, then grabbed her notebook and a pencil and started to head down the stairs. She saw that both Mr. and Mrs. Holdt were gathered around the window of the lounge, watching the lights as they drifted by. She explained her plan to them and received a few tips on how to get closer to the lights, then stepped outside into the chilly night.

          She followed the path to the main road and raised her R-Kit to the sky, trying her best to aim at the floating orb that hovered nearly a dozen feet above her. To her joy, the blue beam of light on her R-Kit bridged the gap between her and the orb, but before the scan could complete, the orb moved out of range and the beam of light faded into red.

          "No, no, no, no! Come back!" she called out. The light, if it was even capable of understanding her, ignored her request and continued to float away.

          "Nothing detected within sensor range," the R-Kit once again advised as a string of garbage data appeared on the screen.

          "Shut up, I know."

          She tried again with the next few orbs that passed by, but none were in range, even as she balanced precariously on the jagged, moss-choked cobblestone wall that separated the Holdt's property from the main road. She abandoned her plan and reached for her notebook. She noted the faded colors of the orbs, the speed at which they travelled, and how they reacted with the environment around them. The fact that they moved around the trees and the roofs of the nearby houses before impacting them indicated at least a basic level of intelligence, leading her down a rabbit hole of potential explanations and theories.

          "Non-corporeal life... Great, I barely know anything about those..." she muttered as she struggled against the darkness to see what she was writing. "Energy based, maybe?"

          She reached down toward her stocking to grab her phone, then began to write a message intended for her colleague, Patrick:

          Fr: Andrea Dennison, 10:07 PM
          'hey! found a bunch of those glowing lights again, theyre floating around the village. i cant remember, did you ever find anything out about them?'
          As she waited for a reply, she continued to observe the orbs patiently, hoping that one might stray in her direction. Much to her annoyance, the lights continued their silent journey across the sky, just out of reach of her R-Kit's scanner.

          Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 10:10 PM
          'Sorry, no. Been a little busy with your other findings to look for information about them. See if you can get a closer look?'
          Fr: Andrea Dennison, 10:11 PM
          'ill try. kinda scary out here at night. too quiet'
          Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 10:11 PM
          'I can imagine. Stay safe!'
          She noticed that all of the dancing lights appeared to be moving in the same vague direction, north, before disappearing into the thick canopy of the Spritewood. She couldn't see from her vantage point, but a faint cloud of foggy light amidst the trees told her that it was possible that they had all gathered within a small area, just a short distance from her current location. She wanted to see for certain. Before taking off on her own, however, she returned to the bedroom.

          "Any luck?" Kimberly asked.

          "Nope, they're just a little too high off the ground for me to reach," she said as she reached for her purse. She grabbed her phone and put it back inside, then rested the purse over her shoulder. She grabbed her backpack next.

          Kimberly didn't like what she was seeing. "Hold on, friend, where are you going?"

          "Looks like they're heading for the northern end of the village. I figured I might see if they're going any further."

          "And what if they are?"

          "Then I'm going to follow them."

          Kimberly shook her head and put her foot down. "Absolutely not. You're not going anywhere at this time of night. It could be dangerous out there and you have no way of defending yourself."

          She was adamant on investigating the lights further. "I would if you and Juliano came along. C'mon, aren't you just a little bit curious to know what they are?"

          "I am, but..." Kimberly started. She could see the determination in Andrea just by looking at her. "You're going to go regardless, aren't you?"

          She nodded.

          Kimberly's arm twitched at her friend's apparent recklessness. She wanted to explain the virtues of knowing when to let go of something, but she realized it'd fall on deaf ears. She sighed in defeat as she shook her head. "That's another thing you need to work on, listening to advice and taking it seriously."

          "I've gotta get a look at these things!"

          "I understand that... I'm not going to let you go out there alone. But we're only going as far as the village limits, and not a step further! I'll have Juliano drag you back kicking and screaming if I have to. Understood?"

          She smiled. "Deal."

          - - - - -

          By the time the two were back outside, the dance of the orbs had pretty much ended. Rather than the dozens that wafted through the air, only a few lingered and they seemed as if they were lost; they bounced around in aimless directions, bumping into trees and houses, something that Andrea took a mental note of.

          Despite the light of the full moon beaming down on them, Kimberly led the way up the muddy road with a rustic looking yet obnoxiously bright lantern in her hand. Juliano followed closely behind, keeping his eyes peeled for any signs of trouble in the night. Andrea had trouble keeping up, stopping every few seconds to make her note taking just a little bit easier.

          With her latest batch of notes finished, Andrea caught up with the two. Curiosity got the better of her as she watched Kimberly wave the lantern around. "Where'd you get that thing? It would have been useful when we tried getting close to the Oak of Ages." Andrea asked.

          She was hesitant to answer, but eventually did. "I picked it up while you were at the restaurant with your friend."

          "Jeeze. Sounds like you made up your mind about leaving me pretty quick."

          "The problems that have been brewing between us aren't the only reason I intended to leave. It isn't always just about you, do remember that."

          "Right, right... Sorry."

          "And you don't need to apologize for everything!" she said in a reassuring manner, with a warm smile on her face. "I understand that you're feeling a little self conscious lately and you don't want to upset me, but you don't have to walk on egg shells either. Let's just... I don't know, be friends? No drama attached? That's all I want!"

          "Sounds good. That's what I want, too."

          Eventually, they came to the end of the muddy, leaf-covered road. Andrea's earlier guess was correct; far in the distance, congregating among the trees, was a swirling collection of lights, darting back, forth and all around each other. She took out her notebook again and observed the behavior of the lights, wishing she could get closer. Alas, a distant look would have to do.

          With her notes finished, she turned to Kimberly, only to find that she was deep in concentration and completely motionless with her hand to her ear.

          "The heck are you doing?" she asked.

          "I'm listening... Do you hear that?" Kimberly asked.

          "Hear what? I hear bugs and wind. That's about it."

          "Listen closely... It sounds like... like glitter, you know?"

          "Glitter? I don't even know what that would sound like." Andrea answered. She took a moment to listen carefully, but nothing stood out to her. All she could hear was the faint song of a Kricketune, nearly overpowered by the gentle breeze in the trees. "I don't hear it."

          Without a word, Kimberly made a hand gesture towards Juliano and started to walk through the dense underbrush into the forest.

          "Where are you going?" Andrea asked.

          "It doesn't look that far, we can definitely get a closer look without getting lost."

          "I thought you said we weren't going any further?"

          "I don't know how to explain it, but it almost feels like those lights are calling out to us, inviting us to join them."

          The sudden change of heart struck her as bizarre. "Juliano! She told us she wasn't going any further, aren't you going to step in and stop her?"

          Juliano paused for a moment to turn around and glare at her, as if to tell her that he wasn't going to listen to her command, then returned to Kimberly's side.

          As Kimberly made her way into the forest, Andrea shrugged and muttered to herself, "Strange girl... First she wants to leave me, then she doesn't. She doesn't want to go into the forest, now she does..." She shook her head and laughed. "Whatever, may as well take advantage of this opportunity."
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            #30    
          Old October 31st, 2017 (1:28 PM).
          Eliza Prescott's Avatar
          Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
          Vengeful Ferret
             
            Join Date: Nov 2016
            Location: Upstate New York
            Gender: Female
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            Author's note: This one's a doozy, about twice as long as the average. I didn't want to split it up as this is the climax of this arc. Enjoy.

            Land of the Roses
            Chapter 25: Candlefire



            Despite what they initially thought, the journey into the forest took them longer than they expected; the welcoming lights and sounds of the village of Doranshire disappeared into the distance as Andrea, Kimberly and Juliano trekked through the rain-soaked forest towards the cloud of glowing light ahead of them. Eventually, they found themselves shrouded in darkness and silence. The silence was periodically interrupted by a yelp of pain; hooked briars were common along the forest floor, and the darkness did little to help when it came to avoiding them, tried as they might.

            Andrea's once-pristine striped stockings slowly started to shred as they snagged into the thorns, a fact that she loudly and verbally lamented numerous times. Kimberly wasn't safe from the briars' wrath either, but tried her best to avoid vocalizing her pain. Instead, her pain was visible, with several scratches and cuts marking her usually-smooth legs. Regardless of the personal cost, they pressed on; their interest in finding and studying the orbs was oddly irresistible, like a siren's call.

            They fought through the densely packed and overgrown forest until they they eventually came to a rocky clearing, largely devoid of plant life, deep within the woods. Most of the orbs had gathered within the clearing, while a few lingered near the trees and spun around them. The light of the orbs was bright enough to overpower their lantern, and the glittery sound they emitted overpowered the bugs and the wind.

            "So... we found them. What now?" Kimberly asked.

            "We see if we can get a closer look," Andrea answered, dropping her backpack and her purse on a particularly large boulder. She wandered along the clearing, studying the movements of the orbs yet again. Most were clearly out of reach of her R-Kit, but a few lingered closer to the ground and were possibly in range. She returned to the boulder and hopped on top of it, waiting for one of the low-hanging orbs to pass overhead.

            One eventually did. As it drifted closer to her, she held out her R-Kit and tried to scan it, only to be met with the accursed red sweeping beam of failure. In a last ditch effort, she pushed herself to her tip toes, but it wasn't enough. She grumbled with anger and dropped back down to firm footing as it drifted away. "Ugh! Still out of reach!"

            "I'm not sure that you'll be able to get one, friend. They seem intent on staying just far enough away."

            She ignored the comment and tried to think of ways to get closer to the orbs. She studied the trunk of one of the nearby trees, only to abandon her plan of climbing it when she realized it was too wide and too jagged to climb safely. Another thought came to mind. "C'mere and give me a boost, would you?" she called out.

            "A boost?" Kimberly questioned as if it weren't a serious suggestion.

            "Yeah, lift me up. I have to be just a few feet too short reach them with my scanner."

            "Didn't you just tell me to keep my hands to myself?"

            "Now who's being the difficult one?" she joked. "C'mon, before these things decide to run away again."

            A grimace of doubt appeared on Kimberly's face as she thought it over, but she eventually nodded in agreement. She wandered over to Andrea and knelt down, waiting to hear some sort of plan, but none came. Instead, Andrea simply stepped into her awaiting hands with her muddy, damp boots. She did what she could to lift Andrea, but she struggled to bring her up even just a few inches off of the ground.

            "Friend..." she grunted. "I'm afraid you're a little too... too heavy for me..."

            "Easy now," Andrea warned. An unexpected wobble quickly brought her back down to the ground.

            "Nothing meant by it, just the honest truth. I'm not very strong." she explained as she looked up at the orb, spinning around the tree like a planet in orbit. To her, it definitely looked as if it were within reach if one of them managed to get off the ground. "Perhaps you could give me a lift?"

            "What makes you think I'm any stronger than you?"

            "This is just an observation and not meant to be a rude comment, but... I am quite a bit lighter than you."

            Andrea laughed as she navigated to the Accu-Scan app. "I'll let that one slide, but only because you explained yourself before you said it."

            "I am a trained gymnast, too, don't forget! I'd be better at balance as well."

            "Okay, fine! I get it!"

            "Is that thing difficult to use?" Kimberly asked as she watched Andrea effortlessly navigate the intricately layered list of options, menus and popup notifications.

            "Not really. The hardest part is finding and configuring the sensor system, but I'm doing that for you. I'm setting up a broad spectrum scan, should take about a minute to complete." She unstrapped the R-Kit from her wrist, handed it over and explained further, "Try to keep your arm steady and in line with that orb, then hit the 'scan' button. It'll do the rest."

            "Understood... half of that, at least."

            "The important part, I hope. Let's get this circus act started..." She knelt down and placed her hands to the ground. "Now, why do I have to do this? Can't Juliano?"

            Kimberly unwrapped the bindings that kept her heeled sandals wrapped around her feet, then gently tossed them onto the boulder. "He still needs to keep watch for any potential dangers. All it takes is that minute of distraction for things to turn ugly."

            "Right... how difficult should I expect this to be?"

            "Not very. I'll worry about balancing, you worry about keeping me up. Ready?"

            Andrea counted down from three before lifting with all of her might. She struggled to maintain her balance as she held Kimberly aloft, having to rely on the tree beside her to do most of the work. Meanwhile, Kimberly almost effortlessly maintained her balance in Andrea's shaky hands as she pressed the button to start the scan. With her arm held out and following the gentle motions of the orb above her, the R-Kit gathered information about the mysterious light. After just over a minute, the R-Kit let out a satisfying confirmation beep, indicating a successful scan.

            "I think that's done it!" Kimberly said as she took a brief look at the screen. None of the information displayed on it made any sense to her. "I think I'm ready to come down now."

            "Good! Glad to hear it!" Andrea struggled to say as her arms quivered from the stress. With little warning, Kimberly's weight shifted dramatically to the right and she felt her grasp on her friend's left foot slip. "Shoot shoot shoot shoooot!" she shouted in panic. She held out her arms in an attempt to keep her friend from falling, but was only mildly successful at preventing it; she took the brunt of the fall as Kimberly tumbled to the ground, crashing directly on top of her. The impact was enough to knock the wind out of her and her vision flashed white for a brief second.

            "Oof! Nice catch!" Kimberly giggled as she pushed herself off of Andrea. She offered her hand out to help Andrea off of the damp, leaf-blanketed ground. "I should have remembered that balance on both accounts, not just mine, is key to doing something like that. My fault for not warning you!"

            "Gah... Sorry about that," she wheezed as she was pulled to her feet. She clutched her chest and coughed lightly in an effort to regain her breath. "Least neither of us got hurt, right?"

            "Yes, thankfully." Kimberly undid the strap on the R-Kit and handed it back to her. "I'll let you figure out this mess of lines, numbers and words."

            She leaned up against the tree and started to pore over the data that the scan gathered. Like it was for Kimberly, much of it was lost on her; graphs full of detailed energy readings, charts detailing the tiny fluctuations in lumens that the orbs were emitting, thermal readings and other over-the-top information littered the screen. With her background being based in biology, she recognized very little, and what she did recognize made little sense. However, with her background knowledge, she knew that some of the readings pointed to the possibility that the orbs were some kind of non-corporeal lifeform, an earlier theory of hers.

            She knew very little about non-corporeal life forms, as it was a subject that she was only just starting to touch upon when she decided to drop out of her studies. She tried to recall what little she learned and apply it to the information in front of her, but little stuck. All she could think was that some of the graphs related to energy output vaguely resembled some human brainwave patterns that she saw in a book once, yet distinct in their own way. The thermal readings caught her attention as well; the air around the orb was about two degrees warmer than the ambient temperature, while the core of the orb was significantly lower. An interesting observation, but it told her nothing concrete.

            "Hmmm..." she hummed as she continued to scroll through the pages and pages of information presented to her. "I think I'm going to have to take some time tomorrow to look over these readings more carefully, I have no idea what to make of them."

            With her heeled sandals safely back on her feet, Kimberly returned to the clearing beside them and stared up at the lingering orbs. "So, no answers for what they are?"

            She slumped against the tree and began to copy the most interesting of the scan results down into her notebook, clueless as to whether they were relevant to discovering the nature of the orbs or not. "Not yet."

            Kimberly buried her hand into her purse and retrieved her phone, then activated the camera. She wandered around the clearing with her eyes glued to the screen of her phone, in search of the angle needed to capture the perfect selfie of herself in the glowing presence of one of the orbs. Nothing quite satisfied her as she continued her aimless wandering. "Come now..." she whispered to herself.

            Andrea watched from afar, confused by Kimberly's bizarre and chaotic movements. "What are you doing?"

            "I'm trying to get a picture! An opportunity like this might not come around again."

            "Not a bad idea... A picture sounds great." She picked herself up off of the ground and grabbed her own phone.

            "I should be able to get us both in frame if we find just the right angle," Kimberly explained as she beckoned Andrea over to join her under the lights.

            "Huh? Oh!" she said awkwardly. She intended on taking photos of the orbs themselves rather than getting involved in any selfies, but didn't see the harm in it. "Yeah, sure! Why not?"

            The two joined up in the middle of the clearing, arms over each other's shoulders as they tried to find a good angle for their photo. Comments about how difficult it was to find the perfect angle preceded laughter. Eventually, the perfect picture presented itself: a dim purple halo of light surrounded Andrea's head, while a golden orb drifted beside Kimberly as if it were joining in on the moment. The bright flash of light from the camera appeared to startle the orbs and they vacated the area around the two in a haphazard and quick motion.

            "Look at that," Kimberly said, looking the photo over again. "You're smiling!"

            She huffed at the comment and started to record a video of the orbs' movements with her phone. "I am capable of smiling, yes. I just don't like to if I don't have to."

            "Such a dour girl! You have a beautiful smile!"

            "Liar," she thought, but refused to say it. "Andrea Dennison, visual report. Spritewood Forest, north of Doranshire, about 10:40 PM..." she began. "I don't know what these lights are, but they're fascinating. I've taken some readings with my R-Kit and I don't know what to make of them. I'll be including them alongside this video and my written notes so that someone more knowledgeable can go over them." She zoomed her camera in on one of the orbs. "Local legends said something about... uhh... what was it again, Kim?"

            "An elderly lady told me that they were the spirits of the deceased."

            "Right, spirits of the deceased. Not sure I'm ready to believe that, but hey. This is a crazy world, I've learned. The walking dead, rumors of demons prowling the village, who really knows? These lights could very well be ghosts." she said, still filming the increasingly erratic orbs as best as she could. "Anything you want to add, Kim? I'm sure you'll get an honorary mention in the report."

            Kimberly thought about it, but she didn't feel it was her place to speculate. "No, I'm good."

            "One of the villagers told me that someone who used to live here in Doranshire spent a lot of time studying these things. I can't remember his name specifically... it was something like William... William Selkirk, was it? Anyways, that guy left town a few years ago, so obviously I haven't been able to find him and ask him what he found out. It might be worth looking for him, he could have a lot of useful information. Unfortunately, before he left town, he said he was heading for Verdant Vale... He might not be alive anymore." She tried to think of anything else she wanted to say for her report, but couldn't. She rounded off her thoughts for whoever might view her report, then continued to document the orbs' movement in silence.


            - - - - -

            Even though they both told themselves that they wouldn't spend the night in the wilderness, that is exactly what they did. Andrea and Kimberly sat around the campfire they had established in the center of the clearing under the gentle light of the orbs. The fire had a soothing affect on everyone; Kimberly's worries about the dangers of the forest had faded, Andrea's concern about upsetting her friend had subsided and the orbs had nearly stopped moving entirely, hanging from the trees like luminescent fruit. The only one who wasn't relaxed was Juliano, still dedicated to his mission of protecting his master from whatever danger may be lurking in the distant shadows.

            The two spent the better part of an hour chitchatting about a whole host of subjects as they watched the starlight dance of the orbs. Andrea told anecdotes from her days at university while Kimberly reminisced about her attempts at starting a career as an artist. Both were engaged and listening intently to each other's stories. They had seemingly rediscovered the magic that they felt when they first met; it dawned on them that there truly could be more to their friendship than arguments and remaining guarded if they simply relaxed and lost themselves in the ambiance.

            Despite the mild temperatures of the night and her close proximity to the campfire, a chill overcame Andrea and she began to shiver. "Oof!" she said as she huddled her arms together.

            "Are you okay?"

            "Yeah... I just suddenly feel a little chilly, that's all..." She raised her wrist to look at her R-Kit; the temperature was a firm 16 degrees celsius, a fairly standard temperature for that time of year. "It's not even that cold... Wind must have hit me just right."

            Kimberly could only shrug. "I don't feel it. I actually feel kind of hot, myself..."

            "It's because you're practically sitting in that fire!"

            Kimberly scooted about a foot backward. "Oh! I suppose I was."

            "I don't get you sometimes," she answered with a laugh. "But I'm okay with that." She extended her hands out towards the fire, then pressed them back onto her arms in an attempt to warm up, but it did little to help. No matter the effort she made, her trembling continued.

            "I wish I had a jacket for you."

            "It's fine. Maybe it's a sign that we should get back to the village."

            Kimberly nodded. "Mmm, yes. Mr. and Mrs. Holdt must be worried about us. We did wander off without telling them where we were going, we shouldn't have done that."

            Just as they were finished packing up their makeshift camp, the glittery sound effect that had accompanied the orbs all night grew louder and more frantic. Their brightness waxed and waned in a chaotic and unpredictable fashion, their colors shifted at random among the rainbow spectrum and their movements became wild, erratic and frenzied. They cared not if they bumped into each other, into the trees or even the ground.

            "Hold it," Andrea said, placing her arm out in front of Juliano as he readied his cannons to snuff out the campfire. "Something's happening. I might want to stay just a little while longer and observe."

            Juliano huffed and turned his back to the fire, then resumed his dutiful patrol of the camp site's perimeter.

            "Wonder what has them agitated. They've been so peaceful over the past hour..."

            Kimberly shook her head. "I couldn't say. Are we even sure they're intelligent enough to understand emotions like happiness and agitation?"

            "At this point, I still don't know if they even have the most basic levels of intelligence."

            "True..." Kimberly yawned, covering her mouth politely as she did so. Both exhaustion and boredom were starting to set in, so she looked around in an effort to find something to occupy her mind as she waited. As she did so, she noticed something odd about the forest around her and spoke up. "Umm... Have I not been paying attention? Is it darker than it was an hour ago?"

            "Darker?" The question seemed silly to Andrea until she too looked around; tree trunks that she could see when they first established camp had slipped into the shadows, while the orbs themselves seemed a touch brighter. "Huh, it is..." The only explanation was that the moon had been obscured by the clouds, so she wandered towards the far end of the camp and looked up in an effort to find it. She pointed toward the sky as she said, "Well! There's your answer!"

            Kimberly rushed over and looked up. Once again, her hand met her mouth as she gasped at what she saw; the moon was completely shaded from north to south with a deep tinge of orange-crimson, with small bits hazed over by a thin layer of clouds. Against the bright disc in the sky, she saw the faint silhouettes of Zubats fluttering in the distance above them. "By the goddess... it's beautiful..."

            Despite the sight being a marvelous thing to her, Andrea couldn't help but feel discomforted by it. She reckoned that it was only because of the circumstance; this had been the first lunar eclipse that she'd witnessed far away from the safety of her high rise apartment in Aughrim, or the cozy single story hovel in Goldwheat Meadows that she called home for much of her childhood. Once again, she was overtaken by a bout of shivering.

            "Are you okay? You're white as a ghost!"

            "I'm fine, I always look like this," she said, brushing off her friend's concern.

            "No, not quite like that, friend. You look... dreadfully ill!"

            She tried to change the subject away from her sickly pale skin. "Can't believe I forgot! I always keep track of when eclipses happen... Webster loves these things."

            "Webster?"

            "My room mate back in Aughrim. He's a big astronomy nerd." She raised her phone to the sky and began to take pictures again. "Guess I'm lucky I didn't miss it. I didn't even know about this one."

            "Perhaps the moon is why these lights look like they're in a panic?"

            "You think?"

            "Well. The full moon has an effect on human behavior, does it not? Perhaps an eclipse might have the same effect?"

            Andrea stifled a giggle. "No. There's no conclusive evidence of that, just a couple biased reports from cops in high crime areas. But... It is possible for something that isn't human to be spooked by an eclipse, I'll give you that. There's definitely evidence of that."

            "Hmm... Are you almost ready to head back yet? It's getting very late."

            "Just a minute, I'm trying to figure out if there's a pattern to this madness," she said as her attention returned to the whirling orbs, in even more of a frenzy than before.

            "I'm not sure that a few more minutes will unlock the mystery, friend."

            She grumbled, but realized it was true. They returned to their makeshift camp and began to gather their belongings. Kimberly ordered Juliano to put out the fire, but before he could so, Andrea hurriedly picked up the lantern and turned it on. The light of the campfire went out in an instant with a hiss, sending a giant plume of smoke and steam into the air.

            "Okay, let's go," Andrea said, urging the Blastoise and his master forward.

            "Not yet!" Kimberly quipped as she began to stir her finger around the ashes and coals of the campfire. "Safety first. I don't want to be responsible for a wildfire, especially one in such a beautiful forest."

            She nodded in agreement and waited. While she did so, she noticed the orbs above them start to bunch up like ocean fish in a swirling school. Before she could grab her phone to take another picture, they shot off towards the northwest with considerable speed, some of them carelessly smashing into trees and shattering from existence along the way. "Okay, these stupid things are a complete mystery."

            As they made their final preparations for leaving the camp, an odd noise began to sweep through the forest; to the east, the heavy, drifty noise of large, flapping wings was accompanied by a high pitched screech that echoed through the trees.

            She turned around in a panic and shined the lantern in the vague direction that the noise came from. "What in the..?!"

            Kimberly perked up at the sound of it. "It sounded like... like..." she said, trying to think of it. The sound was familiar, but she couldn't recall where she heard it. To her, the exact cause of the noise was unimportant, as she realized what it meant; she stamped down on the wet pile of ashes in an effort to snuff out any remaining embers. "We absolutely need to leave now, I've heard that sound before."

            "Good idea..."

            "Juliano, keep us safe, understand? Stay extra alert, something could easily pop out of the darkness."

            As they made their way away from the clearing, the sound pierced the night sky again. This time it was much clearer, allowing Kimberly to recognize it.

            "Crobat..." Her pace doubled unexpectedly, threatening to leave Andrea behind. "Come now! Quickly!"

            "I don't want to doubt you, but... what makes you think it's a Crobat? They're not a common sight in the wild."

            "It's a sound you never forget. Nicole and I encountered one while we were in Alderney last year... it was terrifying, that noise it makes..."

            "Not to mention the whole laundry list of diseases and health problems a single bite causes..."

            "All the more reason we should pick up our pace."

            Seconds became minutes as they hurried through the forest. The sound of flapping drew closer and closer, the source of it likely attracted by the light of their lantern, until eventually they could hear leaves swaying and branches being struck in the darkness beside them. They grew increasingly worried that they wouldn't make it to the relative safety of the village before the creature in the darkness had reached them.

            "Should have listened to you, this was a stupid and careless idea!" Andrea shouted.

            In front of them, masked by the darkness, a shadowy figure dropped from the sky with a monstrous thud. Andrea expertly trained the lantern's light on it within a second of it landing; a grey creature about the size of a human with large, tattered wings and piercing red eyes stood in front of them for only a brief split-second before taking off again.

            "Run!" she shouted.

            Their pace quickened even more as they began sprinting. Juliano, usually slow and methodical in his movements, exhibited surprising agility as he matched their speed and even surpassed them at times. His dedication to the protection of his friends was clearly evident as he stayed focused on the shadow lurking about in the trees above them; his positioning relative to the girls matched that of the creature, ready to shield them in case it tried to attack. Luckily, the creature lacked ample opportunities to do so amongst the dense trees. Eventually, the sound of the creature's wings grew more distant until it was but a faint whisper in the wind.

            Eventually, fatigue caught up with Andrea and slowed her down considerably. "I think... Think we lost it..." she wheezed in a desperate attempt to catch her breath.

            "I would rather not stick around to find out. We need to keep moving."

            "What the heck was that thing? That didn't look like any Crobat I've ever seen, and I've read about almost every subspecies!"

            "I don't know. I've never seen anything like it either."

            After a moment's rest, the two were off again, and just in time; once more, the hideous shriek of the monster echoed through the woodland. They narrowly avoided the trees that they could barely see as they sprinted through the forest, ignoring the stinging grasp of the nettle bushes that they had so cautiously evaded just an hour earlier.

            Up ahead of them, a dim light flickered amongst the trunks. At first, they thought that it was the welcoming safety of the village, but they soon realized that it was too dim and too low to the ground to be one of the sodium lamps that lit Doranshire's nights. The light was also mobile, swinging back and forth in a haphazard fashion. Regardless of whatever it may be, a source of light was a source of hope.

            Before long, they found the source: a hooded figure in ragged leather clothing carried an archaic-looking lantern constructed of glass and dull, grimy brass. A pungent candle that smelled of burning animal fat hissed away within. The hooded figure stopped in its tracks and put its hand out, urging them to stop. "Careful!" a soft, feminine voice said from within the hood.

            "There's a Crobat out there, lady!" Andrea shouted. She took a moment to slow down and catch her breath again. "You gotta get out of here!"

            "Aye, I've been hearing it. I've been hearing you, too. That is no Crobat, I'm afraid. Come! I can lead you to safety!"

            "How far is the village? Where is the village? Kim and I have been running in circles it feels like."

            "Your village is in the direction you've been coming from."

            "Oh for cryin'--"

            The woman made a gesture for them to follow. "There is a cabin nearby that we can shelter in."

            "Cabin?" she asked. She put two and two together: knowledge of the land, the rugged leather clothing, a forest cabin, it all added up and clicked in her head. "You some sort of hunter?"

            The unearthly screech echoed through the forest again.

            "You can ask questions later," the figure warned. "If you value your life, you will follow." The figure abruptly turned around and started to rush away.

            "I don't like this... What should we do?" Kimberly asked.

            "I don't know, but that cabin sounds like our best hope," Andrea said. She cupped her hands together and called out, "Hold up, lady! We should stick together!"

            With fear in their minds and having no idea where they were, or even what direction they were traveling in, the three reluctantly agreed to follow the mysterious figure. While Juliano kept a watchful eye on the tree tops, the girls quietly exchanged questions with each other about their newfound acquaintance: who was she? What was she doing in the forest in the middle of the night? What did she mean when she said the creature flying in the darkness wasn't a Crobat?


            - - - - -

            "Just over here," the hooded figure said, guiding the three through the thinning grove towards a clearing.

            Andrea shined her lantern around. A moderately sized cabin constructed of crudely cut timber and brittle plaster sat in the middle of the small clearing, it's view of the sky largely obscured by the thick canopy around it. The land around the cabin was littered with all sorts of junk; old barrels, wooden boxes, a crumbling well, a rickety tool shed, some benches and a rust-covered anvil. The area looked oddly welcoming despite the circumstances and the rustic nature of it.

            As they approached the cabin, both Andrea and Kimberly took note of the various fur pelts scattered around the area; some hung from ropes in the trees, while others were nailed to the trees themselves. Most seemed useless to a fur trader, being stained with blood, heavily tangled or caked in mud. Nearly every pelt was a deep black or grey in color and sported markings and patterns that allowed Andrea to quickly identify them: Mightyena.

            "Yeah, this lady's gotta be a hunter..." Andrea commented quietly.

            "Those poor things..." Kimberly added.

            "Sometimes hunting is in the best interest in the ecosystem."

            The hooded figure stopped at the front door of the cabin and struggled with the archaic handle before forcing the door open with her shoulder. The inside of the cabin was just as rustic as the outside, but much more welcoming; a large fire pit sat in the center of the room, with still-active embers sparking under a small cast iron pot filled to the brim with bubbling, heavenly smelling broth. Four hand-crafted wicker chairs surrounded the fire pit, with tables, shelves, crates and barrels hugging the walls. The thick stench of hickory incense hung heavily in the room.

            The figure reached for the hood atop her head and pulled it back. The identity of the mysterious figure was a surprise to both of them: she was a young woman, likely no older than either Andrea or Kimberly, with a soft and friendly face that lacked any sort of imperfection or scarring, an oddity considering the rustic lifestyle she appeared to lead. Even in the harsh orange lighting from the fire pit, the blue of her eyes was easily apparent. Angelic-looking blonde hair hung over her eyes, draping over her leather clothing and reaching towards her hips.

            "Wow," Kimberly instinctively whispered as she studied the woman's appearance.

            "Please, have a seat," the woman said, gesturing towards the chairs beside the fire pit.

            "Thanks for taking us in..." Andrea said as she sat down. "What the heck was that thing? You said it wasn't a Crobat... didn't look like a Crobat."

            "It sounded like one, though," Kimberly added.

            "Demons prowl these woods during the night of the blood moon," the woman said as she placed a roughly cut branch onto the dying fire.

            Andrea perked up at the word. "Demons?"

            She stirred the broth within the pot. "Monstrous beasts of the night. Winged terrors with horns, rippled grey skin. Unearthly, unholy creatures that prey on the weak and unaware."

            Andrea combed the depths of her memories of her biology studies; the description the woman offered didn't match anything that she had read about. She knew of Pokémon with wings, Pokémon with horns and Pokémon with grey skin, but none that had all three. The closest example she could come up with was the long extinct prehistoric monster known as Aerodactyl, but the likelihood of them finding one in modern Lanark was next to none. "Hmm. Won't this... thing come for us here? What makes this cabin so safe? I could probably kick that door in and I'm not very strong."

            "A ward of protection is in place."

            "A ward?" Andrea asked.

            "Like... magic?" Kimberly added.

            Andrea shook her head. "Don't be silly."

            She sampled a bit of the broth and nodded with approval before answering, "Forgotten methods of protection from centuries ago, developed by the Tracker's Guild. Did you notice the pelts among the trees? The herbs at the bases of the trunks?"

            "I did," Andrea answered. "What are you? A hunter, fur trapper?" A look around the room showed an extensive collection of bundled herbs, dried herbs and herbs packaged in jars and boxes. "A botanist, even?"

            "Hunter, mainly," she said. "The village council employs me to keep the local predator population in check. Experience and reading have taught me that these pelts serve as an excellent warning to the more... difficult creatures of the forest. The herbs serve a similar purpose for the others."

            "Huh... I do remember reading about a 'Tracker's Guild' back when I studied history in school... Said something about how they were hired to take care of problems like Ursarings and Rhydons back in the medieval times. They used all sorts of methods to protect villages, farmsteads and merchant caravans, right?"

            She nodded. "Over time, the threats have changed. Trackers aren't as common as they used to be, nor are our services as necessary as they used to be. But if you look closely, you can find us."

            "Hmm. Interesting! I didn't know you guys were still around." Andrea said. "Sounds like you know a lot about this this subject. When would it be safe for us to return to the village?"

            "Dawn," she answered.

            Andrea grumbled at the thought and leaned back in her chair. "Ugh... Mr. and Mrs. Holdt are gonna be maaaaaad..."

            "I'm sure they'll understand," Kimberly said.

            "Are you two hungry?"

            Andrea shook her head and accompanied it with a negative hand gesture, while Kimberly indicated that she was with a nod. "What kind of soup is that?"

            "Wolfsbite stew."

            "Wolfsbite? I'm not familiar with it."

            The woman approached the pot and stirred it some more. She brought the spoon above the surface, bringing with it a cube of firm, crimson meat. "Diced Mightyena flanks, pepper, rosemary and potato in bone stock. No sense in letting my catches go to waste. Mightyena is quite the delicacy after you get used to it."

            Kimberly grimaced at the mention of the ingredients. "Oh... that wouldn't work for me. I'm a vegetarian."

            Her eyebrow raised with curiosity. "Hmm... Are you... I do have some vegetables lying around, we can make something for you." She turned to Andrea again. "Sure you're not hungry, miss?"

            Once again, Andrea declined the offer.

            She motioned for Kimberly to follow her. "Join me in the kitchen, we can go through my vegetables and see what you might like."

            Kimberly and the woman disappeared into another room just beyond the fire pit, while Andrea took the time to inspect her surroundings some more. A look through the various crates and barrels scattered around the room offered a look into the woman's rustic lifestyle; more herbs, coils of twine, rusted scrap metal, glass vials filled with various colors of sand and powders, swatches of exquisite fur, first aid supplies and bundled leather were all neatly categorized throughout the containers.

            A table in the corner of the room caught her attention next. Along the edges of the table was a large collection of melted candle stumps, blackened by soot from extensive use. Papers from a variety of little villages and hamlets from around the country spoke about hunting contracts and licenses, indicating that the Spritewood wasn't the woman's only hunting ground. A peculiar looking book with yellowed pages sat in the center of the table, open to a faded sketch of an owl clasping a key, flanked on both sides by roses. Pictograms that appeared to be from a foreign language were scrawled onto the page in burgundy ink.



            She reached for her phone and took a photo of the page. "Such a beautiful drawing..."

            Her attention drifted to a wine rack beside the table. Most of the bottle slots were empty with the exception of three. Curious, she pulled one of the bottles from the rack and inspected it. The bottle's label indicated that it was a craft wine by the name of Heart Attack, an apricot wine that Andrea had grown very fond of during her final year at university. The intoxicating aroma quickly overpowered her as she removed the cork from the nearly empty bottle.

            "Mmm... Heart Attack! How I miss you..." she mumbled as she placed the bottle back onto the rack. "This girl's got some good taste."

            Next to the wine rack was a window that offered a glimpse out into the darkened clearing. Looking outside brought the flying creature that had chased them back to the front of her mind. Even though she didn't see much when she shined her lantern on it, she couldn't shake the image from her head.

            "What the heck was that thing... What the heck is anything?" she muttered to herself. "First that skeleton monster, and now... a 'demon'? There is something seriously weird about this forest... Starting to think that maybe Dr. Reiland was right, I really did need Tamara--"

            The sound of metal hinges grinding against each other, followed by the loud sound of wood smashing into stone erupted from the other room, shattering the silent ambience of the cabin. A sharp scream and a cry for help came next.

            "Ahh! Help! Get off o--" Kimberly's voice cried out before being muffled.

            Adrenaline spiked within Andrea. She immediately dropped to the floor and grabbed Juliano's Master Ball, which rested next to the chair that Kimberly had been seated at, then rushed across the room towards the doorway. She stopped just short of entering the other room, taking a brief second to steady her nerves and her breathing. Without wasting too much time, she peaked her head around the door frame.

            She was greeted by a horrific sight as she entered the room: rather than the charming young woman that they had spent the past half hour with, a withered old hag was in her place. She appeared to be centuries old, with rippled and ragged skin hanging off of her frail-looking figure. Her eyes were hollow and barely visible under the tangled mess of white, wiry hairs that sprouted from her brow, themselves hidden by the ratty and unkempt yellowish-gray hair that hung off of her spotty, partially bald head. Behind her, a door out into the forest was wide open.

            "Don't worry about your friend..." the hideous woman rasped with an ancient-sounding, hoarse voice that echoed around her. "You'll be joining her soon enough!" She raised her decrepit hand and sparks of orange light began to arc between her bony fingers.

            The strange sight spurred Andrea to action immediately. Thinking only of Kimberly's safety and with careless disregard for her own, she stood firm for a brief second, then charged as aggressively at the miserable wretch of a woman as she could; she lowered her head and rammed the full force of her shoulder into the woman, sending her flying across the kitchen and into a cabinet filled with herbs, gemstones and wooden dishes. She stepped over the battered old woman and rushed out of the open door.

            "Kim!" she called out, her voice echoing through the silent forest. "Where are you?!"

            "Get your hands off of me!" Kimberly's voice shouted in the distance. It was obvious that she was struggling against a kidnapper, but Andrea couldn't see anything.

            "God darn it!" she angrily shouted. She gripped the Master Ball tightly and tossed it into the air.

            With a burst of bubbles and bright flash of light that briefly lit up the forest, Juliano appeared in the sky and dropped to the ground with a graceful thud. He turned his back to her and hunched over a tiny bit, then let out a deep grunt.

            "What are you waiting for? Someone took Kim, we've gotta find her!"

            He lowered to all fours and grunted again, followed by an angry growl.

            It dawned on her that he was trying to give her a ride. She jumped onto the hard and jagged shell of the Blastoise and wrapped her hands around his shoulder-mounted cannons for a bit of stability. Before she was ready for it, Juliano stood up and rushed into the forest as quickly as he could. "Woah!" she shouted as she tried to stay on top of him. "Kim, we're coming!"

            "Heeeeelp!" Kimberly's voice called out again.

            Juliano's heading changed to match the direction that Kim's voice came from. Nearly every aspect of the ride atop the Blastoise's back threatened to throw her off, from the sudden turns, the collisions with the trees and the jumps over fallen logs. Yet through it all, her white-knuckled grip on his steel cannons kept her on top of him.

            "I don't know what to expect... but be ready for a fight." she warned. "That lady... what the heck was she?"

            Kimberly's pleas for help grew closer and closer; her captor hadn't gotten very far with her. A source of light appeared in the distance, shrouded by the silhouette of two men struggling to carry a young woman away. Juliano's pace quickened even further as he pushed himself to his highest limits. Within a dozen seconds, he was on top of them.

            He skidded to a stop and shook his shell violently, carelessly throwing Andrea off, then blitzed off to the side. He curved around for a flanking position, charging with the full force of his weight into the captor that was guiding the way with a lantern. The man was lifted off of the ground and slammed hard into a tree, a grisly crunching sound echoing through the forest as Juliano dropped the limp body to the ground.

            The Blastoise immediately turned around and locked eyes with the remaining two kidnappers, who had dropped Kimberly to the forest floor in a hurry. Blastoise's weren't known for their emotional expressions, but the two could see it in his eyes: he was pissed.

            One of the captors reached into his jacket and pulled out a long, curved knife, then fiercely charged at the Blastoise while shouting at the top of his lungs. As Juliano turned around to deflect the incoming attack, the man raised the knife high into the air, then brought it down as hard as he could. To his surprise, the knife simply bounced off of Juliano's shell with a faint burst of sparks.

            Juliano used his momentum to his advantage to sweep the man off of his feet with his broad tail, then put his massive foot onto the man's throat. He fixed a cruel gaze onto the last of the captors and let out a monstrous, bellowing roar that shook the air around him. The final captor, having seen how easily the Blastoise had dealt with his comrades, saw the futility in fighting and ran off into the forest without delay.

            Juliano reached down and wrapped his clawed fingers around the man's neck, lifting him off of the ground. The man struggled valiantly against Juliano's crushing grip, but he couldn't break free. All he could do was flail his legs wildly, tickling Juliano's chest with weak kicks until he finally got the bright idea to spit into his face. His patience was already thin and that last act shattered it. With a forceful overhead toss, the man was thrown into the darkness, colliding with the ground with an audible thud. Gurgling groans of agony came from the darkness.

            Meanwhile, Andrea had managed to pull Kimberly aside to safety during the scuffle. "Kim? Kim! Are you okay?" she asked.

            Kimberly couldn't offer a coherent answer; she didn't appear to even be aware that Juliano had intervened and taken care of the kidnappers. Her breathing was erratic, her mind was running wild and she could hardly contain herself from yelling for help.

            "Listen to me!" Andrea shouted as she vigorously shook her friend. "We have to get out of here, NOW."

            Unfortunately, the energetic shaking did little to bring Kimberly back to reality. She'd calmed down, but only ever so slightly; she still continued to quiver uncontrollably and gibber incoherent words, but at least the screaming had ceased.

            "Juliano, come here," Andrea ordered. "This stupid forest, I've had it! We need to get back to town, and fast. Carry her if you have to."

            He approached and knelt down in front of his master, gently patting her on the shoulder, but it did little to calm her nerves. He extended her arms outward and picked her up.

            "Please, please... let this map work..." Andrea said as she navigated through her R-Kit. Much to her relief, the map showed that they weren't too far from the village. She knelt down and picked up the kidnapper's fallen lantern, then pointed to the southeast and urged Juliano to lead them back to the safety of Doranshire.


            - - - - -

            "Set her down here..." Andrea said, guiding Juliano to a bench that sat in the center of the Doranshire's empty and silent commercial street. Not a soul lingered in the streets and the sky was empty of the orbs that had graced it just a few hours earlier. The only sign of life was the flickering, buzzing neon sign that advertised an ATM at the convenience store down the road.

            Juliano set his panicked master down on the bench and sat on the ground in front of her. Her breathing finally seemed to steady as her eyes met with his, and she whispered his name repeatedly in an effort to comfort herself.

            Andrea sat down next to her. "You okay?"

            "Where..." she muttered as she looked around. Panic surged through her veins again. "Where are they!? Are they gone?"

            "Yeah. Juliano made sure of that."

            She looked around some more. The darkness obscured her vision, with only a single street lamp lighting the area around them in a harsh-yet-dim orange glow. "So we're..."

            Andrea nodded. "Yeah, we're back in Doranshire."

            The words of comfort were enough to break her already shaky nerves. She reached out and grabbed ahold of Andrea, wrapping her arms tightly around her, then proceeded to wail loudly and uncontrollably. "Oh thank the goddess... Thank you..." were the only words that she had the ability to form.

            "Hey, shh shh shhhhh... It's going to be okay! I'm going to keep you safe, I promise..."

            Juliano glared at Andrea. He knew those words were a lie.

            "I can't thank you enough... I would have--"

            Andrea placed her finger on her lips and interrupted her. "Hey! Don't even think of it like that. We got out of there alive and that's what matters."

            "Thank you..."

            As they embraced each other, Andrea saw some movement out of the corner of her eye; a portly and solid looking man, clad in the characteristic green and white uniform of the Lanark Police Force, was advancing in their direction. His big bushy mustache and round, ruddy cheeks painted the picture of a cheerful protector and put Andrea at ease.

            "Evenin'!" his thick, burly voice called out in a friendly manner. "I could year you two wailin' from clear across town. What's the trouble?"

            "Good... Let me do the talking, okay?" she quietly whispered.

            Kimberly nodded as she tried to regain her composure.

            The officer turned his flashlight on and shined it in their faces to get a good look at them. "What are you two doing up so late? Just get out of Black Hog? Need me to walk you home?"

            "No, we're... we... we need help," she pleaded. "We were camping in the forest and..."

            The officer patiently waited for her to finish her thought, but she never did. "And?"

            She thought long and hard about what she was about to say, worried that it wouldn't be taken seriously. "Something attacked us, and I don't know what."

            "Try your best. What would this 'thing' be? A Mightyena, maybe?"

            "No, it was... I... I don't know how to explain it, but there's a... a witch out in that forest! And a... a demon! A bat thing!"

            The officer put his hands to his hips and shifted his weight onto his other leg, readying himself for yet another of the wild and fantastic stories he'd heard over the past few weeks. "Uh huh. Demons and witches."

            "That's the only way I can describe her. We were out camping and... a giant bat thing swooped down, started chasing us. We got away from it and that's when we met her... She was so young and beautiful... She claimed she was a local hunter working for the village."

            The officer continued to nod as he listened to her story. "Local hunter? Huh... don't know of any women who hunt on these lands... Tell me more about this lady. What makes you say she's a witch?"

            "She offered to bring us to her cabin, to protect us from the bat. When we got there, she... she turned into this hideous monster. She looked like she was hundreds of years old! Almost like a corpse, but she was standing there, threatening me!"

            "Right..." he muttered to himself.

            "That's when the men barged in and took Kim away!"

            The officer's posture straightened and the expression on his face changed from bemused to concerned. "Kim?" he asked.

            "Her," she said as she rested her hand on Kimberly's shoulder.

            In an instant, the officer's posture relaxed again. Once again, his interest in her wild story faded.

            "Me and this Blastoise chased her kidnappers down before they got away. We scared one of them off, and the other two... I don't know, it all happened so fast. They didn't chase after us, but..." She picked up the lantern she had taken from the kidnappers. "This belonged to one of them."

            The officer reached out and grabbed the lantern. He noted the cracked glass and the squishy candle within. "Looks pretty old and beat up... Never seen one with a candle in it before... Curious..." he mumbled. He eyed her suspiciously, once again shining the flashlight in her face. "You sure you're not drunk?"

            "Absolutely. I've been sober for almost five months. I'll take whatever sobriety test you want."

            He shook his head and let out a sigh. "I might regret this, but... Why don't you come down to the station? We'll get this whole thing straightened out, see if there's anything about this wild story of yours that makes sense."

            "Do you believe any of it?"

            "Well, uhh... Your witch story? No. Been getting a lot of reports about that lately, none of them have checked out. But those kidnappers you talked about... We have had a few girls your age go missing over the past couple of months, this is definitely something we're going to have to look at, even if your credibility is... W-we'll look at it, that's all I'm saying."

            She leaned in towards Kimberly and spoke softly. "You hear that? We'll be at a police station, we'll definitely be safe there."

            He motioned for the two to stand up and follow him. "Alright, let's go before you wake up the whole village! Station's just up the street. We'll need to get some official statements and some paperwork done." He took one look at Juliano and offered a polite nod. "Oh, and uh... recall this Blastoise, would you? Town ordinance, there's a curfew on Pokémon past 11 PM. I understand if you called him out for your protection, but I'll handle that from here."
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            Old 1 Week Ago (3:36 PM).
            Eliza Prescott's Avatar
            Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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              Join Date: Nov 2016
              Location: Upstate New York
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              Land of the Roses
              Chapter 26: Doubt and Fear



              "Good morning, Doranshire! Your daily weather report will be coming shortly, but we are beginning this broadcast with a breaking story that has been developing in the early morning hours."

              "Police have discovered the remains of two men in the forest north of Doranshire early this morning. The identity of one of the men is unknown at this point, but the other has been positively identified as Stewart McInnis, the prime suspect in a lengthy string of kidnappings and murders throughout Ardaigh and Crown Counties over the past eighteen months. County police have declined to comment about how exactly the two men have died but noted that several knives and rope were found in their possession, as well as evidence of a brutal struggle between the two men and an unknown Pokémon. The Ardaigh County sheriff has announced that the search is on for two persons of interest who are thought to be connected to the deceased individuals. Let's listen."

              The broadcast switched to a recording of a tall and lanky man, dressed professionally in a white shirt and a green policeman's cap, addressing only a single news reporter. Despite his enthusiasm for elaborating on the details, it was clear that he hadn't gotten much sleep.

              "There are two people that we're searching for," he started. "A witness provided a statement that there were three individuals at the scene where the two deceased men were found, and that third individual is still alive and out there somewhere. We don't have a name and we don't have a description, unfortunately, other than 'a male in dark clothing'."

              "And the second individual?" the reporter asked.

              "The witness described the second individual very well, to the point where we have been able to make a positive identification. We are looking for a young woman by the name of Carice Weathers, a hunter employed by the village to keep local wildlife populations in check. She has waist-length blonde hair, ocean blue eyes and no discernable markings or blemishes on her skin. If anyone has any information about her whereabouts, or this other unknown gentleman, please contact my office as soon as possible. We have reason to believe that this could be the potential break we need in multiple disappearance cases over the past few months."

              "Who is this witness? What did they witness?"

              "I can't disclose that information right now. All that I can say is that we may have a credible lead into what I feared was happening all along, a trafficking ring targeting our young girls. We must do everything we can to stop this, so if anyone out there has any information, no matter how small or unbelievable it may sound, come forward."

              - - - - -

              It was a long and arduous night for Andrea and Kimberly; neither had slept much by the time sunlight had started to pour in through the narrow windows of the station. Much of the night was spent talking with various members of the police, trying to recall the details of the bizarre night they experienced. Witness testimonies were extracted, official statements were recorded and half-hearted assurances that the people responsible would be found and dealt with were given. Neither of the two particularly believed those assurances, especially Andrea; she had seen what was out there first hand and she was certain that the police weren't ready for it. Alas, her warnings went unbelieved.

              Despite the time of night, a team of eight officers was assembled to investigate their claims. Within an hour, they had discovered the remains of the two men who had attacked them, and a short time later, the cabin was located as well. The cabin was eerily silent and empty, the dying embers of the fire pit still glowing when two of the officers entered to search it. Every room of the cabin was examined for possible clues that would corroborate the girls' story about the youthful hunter being an ancient witch, but nothing stood out to them.

              Eventually, the two officers who had searched the cabin returned to the station with Andrea and Kimberly's belongings. Their purses, their backpacks, their phones and the precious Pokéball that held Telandra, all of which had been abandoned in a fevered hurry, were returned to their rightful owners. At that point, the two girls were released and told to go home; their presence at the station was no longer needed. Rather than head back to the Holdt residence right away, they both agreed to grab some coffee first.

              "So tired..." Kimberly mumbled, taking a whiff of her steaming black coffee in an attempt to jolt herself awake.

              "Yeah, I didn't get much opportunity to sleep, myself..." Andrea added. "Every time I'd nod off in that uncomfortable metal chair they had me sitting on, they'd wake me up for more information. I have half a mind to sue for torture."

              "Do you think they believed either of our stories?" she asked with a wide yawn that she didn't put any effort into politely covering.

              "They must have believed something, otherwise they wouldn't have mobilized the entire village's police force and the deputies to look into things."

              "I don't know... It's an unbelievable story to start with... and then we were sleep deprived and stressed when they kept asking us questions? Pardon me if I'm wrong, but..." she said, stumbling over her words. "But..."

              "But?"

              "I don't bloody know! I can't think straight!"

              Andrea wretched as she swallowed a gulp of the bitter beverage. "Don't worry about it. Let's just take it easy today, okay? No stress, no overthinking, just... relax, ya know?"

              "I would like nothing more."

              Andrea downed the last of her coffee. "Welp. Let's get back to Mr. and Mrs. Holdt and hope they don't ask too many questions. I don't have the patience to explain this story again."

              - - - - -

              Andrea was seated at the table of her home away from home, the tiny bedroom of the Holdt residence. All around her were papers covered from top to bottom with her handwriting, small drawings and diagrams. The writing was neatly divided into sections detailing her day to day experiences in Doranshire and the surrounding wilderness, ranging from discussions she had with the locals to the frightful events of the previous night. She was determined to cover every base in her increasingly lengthy report to Dr. Reiland.

              Light snoring came from the bed behind her; Kimberly was snuggled up in the bed with her Skitty, Telandra, dozing away peacefully.

              "Right... that old crazy lady, Mrs. Miggins..." she quietly mumbled to herself, starting a new section in her report. As she wrote down her introduction, she idly mused about the situation regarding the old woman. The storm that happened the previous morning came to mind, and whether it had finally destroyed the rest of that miserable ruin she lived in, lingered in her mind. "Someone should really go check in on her... Won't be me, though."

              As she continued with her report, her phone lit up and started to rumble. The sound of it vibrating against the wooden desk was unexpected and she nearly fell out of her chair from fright. She picked it up and checked the message that she had just received:

              Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 9:07 AM
              'Hey! Just heard on the news that the Ardaigh county sheriff is organizing a massive search operation in the forest outside of Doranshire. Dr. Reiland and I can't get any details, what's going on? Everything okay?'
              She sighed. She didn't even think about how her colleagues would react to what happened, but at least they appeared to be open to the idea of listening to her crazy tale. She started to type a response:

              Fr: Andrea Dennison, 9:08 AM
              'i'm okay. gimme a few minutes and i'll call. writing at the mo and wanna finish this last paragraph before I lose my focus'
              Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 9:08 AM
              'Okay. Call us when you're ready. Glad you're safe! We were a little worried.'
              She finished writing the last few thoughts she had about her encounter with Mrs. Miggins, then picked her phone up. Before she entered Dr. Reiland's number, she leaned back in her chair and thought about how best to explain the story. Based on recent conversations she had with the good doctor, she understood her boss as someone that was ready to accept that something strange may have happened. However, the tale of a demon chasing her right into the lair of a thousand-year-old witch probably pushed it too far, she thought. She would clearly be lying if she went with that story, even if it were true. She wanted to smudge the facts somehow, but realized that doing so would sink not just her investigation, but possibly her career as well. Even worse, it might put lives in danger.

              She entered Dr. Reiland's number and readied herself. Nervousness welled within her. Just as she was about to press the call button, movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention; Kimberly turned in her sleep and murmured something incomprehensible. She didn't want to bother Kimberly during her sleep, so she slinked out of the room and found somewhere quiet. It bought her a few extra minutes of preparation.

              "Here goes..." she said.

              The phone rang just once before it was answered. "Good morning, Miss Dennison!" Dr. Reiland started with.

              "Yeah... morning," she answered back.

              "Patrick is here as well. We've both been trying to find out what's going on over there but we can't get any information. Do you have any idea?"

              Patrick's voice chimed in next. "The only thing I got out of the news is that they think a trafficking ring is preying on women in Doranshire and they might have found a suspect."

              Andrea nodded. "That does make sense... but... that's not everything."

              "Sounds like you know what's going on," he said.

              "I, uhh... might have been in the center of everything," she said in a cautious manner. "But before I explain what that means, I need to say it... Dr. Reiland, there is definitely something strange happening in this village, something paranormal. Something sinister."

              "I was beginning to suspect as much, considering your encounter with that skeletal creature a few nights ago... but it sounds like you've found something new." Dr. Reiland commented.

              "Hold on, hold on. What do you mean, you were 'in the center of everything'?" Patrick asked.

              She held her breath for a moment before she began. "This story is going to sound crazy, and I feel like this is a bad idea to explain, but... I'm just going to tell it. I don't know what else to do."

              Dr. Reiland could hear the shaky tone that Andrea was speaking with. "You're always welcome to tell us what is on your mind. Here at my institute, we're a team, a team that you're now a part of. We listen without judgment. Never forget that."

              The words were of little reassurance. "Umm... well. Uhh. You know those orbs that Doranshire is known for? It all started when I noticed that they started to show up in large numbers. I wanted to get a closer look, so Kim and I went outside, following them to the edge of the forest."

              "At night, I'm assuming," Dr. Reiland surmised.

              "She asked for my advice. I encouraged her to get a closer look." Patrick commented.

              "Yes, and we did. We followed them to a clearing in the forest and established a small camp so I could study them for awhile. That's when it started to get... really weird."

              "How so?" Dr. Reiland asked.

              "You know the eclipse that happened last night?"

              "...Eclipse? What eclipse?"

              She sat there, trying to process what Dr. Reiland had just asked her. "There... there wasn't a lunar eclipse last night?"

              There was a pause on the line before both of her colleagues answered in unison: "No?"

              "I... I didn't imagine it... did I?" She tried to think rationally. She remembered seeing the moon bathed in a crimson hue, she remembered the forest darkening even further, and she remembered taking photos with her phone. "Wait! I took some photos of it!" she said with excitement.

              "Took photos of something that didn't happen?" Patrick asked. "Now this I've gotta see."

              "Yeah, hold on," she said, navigating through the photos on her phone. Just as she remembered, nearly a dozen photos of the full moon, splashed with varying shades of red and orange, were found in her photo library. A wave of relief washed over her; she wasn't losing her mind. "Check your e-mail, Patrick. I've sent them over."

              "Checking..." he said. There was a moment's pause before he asked, "You took these last night?"

              "I did," she answered.

              "And you're sure that your phone isn't broken? Color balance on the camera is correct?" he continued to prod.

              "Absolutely." In an effort to prove her case, she turned her phone around and snapped a quick selfie in front of the neatly kept garden outside of the Holdt residence, as much as she loathed doing such things. A quick look showed that her phone accurately displayed the spectacular array of colors that was on display in the garden, which helped to prove her point. She sent it to Patrick.

              Another pause followed. "Well. Your phone's camera is definitely working... Still find it hard to believe that a lunar eclipse happened, considering I was out stargazing last night and didn't see it myself."

              "Ask anyone in this village and they'll tell you that it happened. I'm sure of it."

              There was another pause before Patrick spoke up. "What do you think, Rebecca?"

              "Well..." Dr. Reiland started before pausing for a moment to examine the photos. "Even though one... wasn't supposed to happen--"

              "It didn't happen," Patrick interrupted. "As I said, I was stargazing, I think I'd have noticed that."

              "It does look like a lunar eclipse, I can say that much... But, as I was about to say, the next lunar eclipse visible from Lanark is..." Her voice trailed off as if she was retrieving the information she wanted from elsewhere. "Five months from now. Not last night. Is this what you meant by something paranormal, Ms. Dennison?"

              "That's not what I originally meant, actually... After Kim and I noticed the moon, something started to chase us through the forest. We thought it was a Crobat, but--"

              "A Crobat? In the wild?" Patrick asked.

              "It wasn't a Crobat. At least... it didn't look like one I've ever seen. I didn't get a good look at it, but it looked like... like a man with grey skin. Horns on its head, too. Over the past few days, some of the villagers warned me about demons in the woods... I'm starting to wonder..."

              "A demon, you say... That's..." Dr. Reiland bumbled. "What happened next?"

              "We were chased to a cabin that a local hunter worked out of... Something about her seemed suspicious right from the start, but we really had nowhere to turn with that thing out there, so we stayed with her. She was so hospitable, but she wasn't interested in our safety. She wanted our guards down, and she achieved that." She took a deep breath. "That lady... she wasn't human. I don't know what she was, but she was not human."

              "This story is--" Patrick started before quickly being interrupted.

              "What makes you say that?"

              "When we met her, she was the most beautiful woman imaginable. Perfect skin, gorgeous hair, not a spot or wrinkle on her face... She went into a different room, and then when I saw her again... she was the most hideous thing I had ever seen. She looked centuries old, almost like a walking corpse."

              "Hmm," was all that Dr. Reiland offered.

              "What are you suggesting she was? A witch?" Patrick asked.

              "You joke, but..." she said, shaking her head at the thought. "Whatever she is, whoever she is, she's got people working with her. Three of her goons tried to run off with that girl I'm travelling with. I was lucky to save her before they got away or did something worse."

              "Goodness! Is everything okay?" Dr. Reiland asked.

              "I think so. We're back in town and neither of us are hurt, thankfully, but Kim's pretty rattled. I'll be honest, I am too."

              "I'm not surprised, if everything you say is true."

              She figured that Dr. Reiland wouldn't believe her story and had prepared for the eventuality, but it still made her feel ill to hear it. "I know you don't have any reason to believe me yet, but I'm not lying."

              "I don't think you're lying... You've been a truthful employee so far, but I think in this instance, you might not have all of the facts correct. Stress can cloud the mind, create fuzzy details. Not to mention, there are some particularly nasty Pokémon out there that like to play tricks on the mind... But, considering what we know from the news reports, there is some semblance of credence to your story."

              "I just wish I had compelling evidence... It'd make me feel a lot more comfortable. Unfortunately, I was too terrified to take pictures or R-Kit readings or anything like that."

              "Don't worry about it! Even if you don't have any evidence, surely the police will find something."

              "If they do find something that proves my story, I don't think they're going to release that to the public... Last thing that's needed in this village is a panic." She sighed. "Anyways, there's something else I need to say. I'm done with this investigation. Done. I haven't looked into every rumor, but I can't do this anymore. Maybe it was my own stupid fault, but I could have gotten killed out there. The risk just doesn't feel worth it anymore, and I'm in over my head as it is. I can't do this."

              "That's a bit disappointing, but I understand."

              "You do?"

              "Yes. I allowed you to carry on with this assignment because I had hoped that it was something simple, something that you could take care of on your own. Now I realize this probably isn't the case. Too many strange things are adding up for this to be something that even a veteran field analyst could handle alone, and I don't want you getting hurt."

              "That's relieving to hear... Well, I'm writing up my finalized report right now and I'll submit all of my findings and experiences either later today or tomorrow, I'm not sure which. I've got a lot of data to compile and information to sort through."

              "Good! I was just about to suggest you get started if you're sure about this."

              "I am," she said, pausing briefly. "Before I get back to work... What'll happen with this village? Who's going to deal with whatever is happening here?"

              There was another pause as Dr. Reiland pondered the question. "That is a good question. According to my colleague who arranged this investigation in the first place, Ms. Dahl was intended to deal with any paranormal activity that you two discovered. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that is going to happen. I'll get in touch with her employer again and ask for his advice."

              She shook her head. "I dread to think it, but I don't think she's alive anymore... Especially not after what I went through last night."

              "Each passing day does make that more and more likely, yes."

              "I just find it so suspicious that she went missing just before she got started on this. I don't know a lot about her, but I get the feeling that she was a woman who always got results... I'm an idiot who's out of her depth and even I found evidence that something spooky is going on here. She probably would have cleaned this whole mess up, and that makes me think that whatever is going on out here is directly tied to what happened to her."

              "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The police are investigating both her disappearance and this... matter in the forest, let's trust them to do the job right."

              She nodded. "Right... I'd hate to leave this unfinished, but..."

              "It happens. On that note, you'll be needing a new assignment! The trouble is... I don't have anything lined up at the moment. How about you, Patrick?"

              "I don't have anything for her, either," Patrick's voice answered. "I'll dig around and find something. It'll probably be back here at the lab."

              "Oh... darn... I was kinda hoping to do some more travel. I'm loving the outdoors! I never got to experience it much as I was growing up, this is so refreshing."

              "Really? Last time we talked about it, you said you weren't a fan of field work. I believe you complained about mold growing on a wall."

              "Well... now that I've done it for almost two weeks, I'm actually starting to enjoy it. Having Kim by my side has definitely helped, that's certain. We don't always see eye to eye, but something about her sickeningly sweet personality just gives me so much energy and focus."

              "Are you enjoying the actual work, or are you enjoying her?" he questioned.

              She raised her eyebrow. "What do you mean by that?"

              "Remember, she's not an employee of ours and she's got her own life to live. Will you be able to enjoy the work you do out in the field without her at your side?"

              A fair question, and one she didn't have an honest answer for. She tried to compare her time in Nettlefield with her journey down the northern stretch of the Rosencoast, through the Spritewood and finally in and around Doranshire. It may have been her disdain for the task at hand in Nettlefield or the brevity of that particular assignment, but she certainly had more positive memories from the past week. She just wasn't sure if it was Kimberly's presence that made the work enjoyable, the work itself, or the freedom to do what she wanted, away from the prying eyes of her superiors.

              "I... I don't know. Probably." she answered in a cautious manner.

              "It was luck that brought you two together. Luck doesn't last forever." he said. "Ahh, it's not like it matters, anyways. We don't have any field work open at the moment, just lab work. It's that simple."

              "Fair enough."

              "Dr. Venger's team should be in the Spritewood tomorrow to recover the creature you found. We'll have one of them come pick you up and get you back to Loch Alstan safely." Dr. Reiland said.

              "Sure. I'll give them a hand while we're out there. Not gonna lie... I kinda want to get a closer look at that thing again, especially now that it's not the most terrifying thing I've ever seen."

              Dr. Reiland let out a hearty chuckle. "I believe that covers everything. You're safe, sound, and working on your report. Is there anything you'd like to add, Patrick?"

              "Mm-mmm," he stated nonchalantly. "Oh! Wait! Before I forget, it's your first pay day!"

              Andrea's face lit up. "Is it, already? That's some comfort, at least. First thing I'm buying are some new boots, I think, these aren't the best for travel."

              "I did wonder about those, I must admit... I miss the days when I wore fashionable clothing..." Dr. Reiland mused. "Ah! Memories! Drop by the bank in that village when you get some time. I think you'll be happy with your earnings."

              A grin that stretched from ear to ear appeared on her face. "I will, thanks!"

              "Very well. We'll be hearing from you soon, Ms. Dennison! Take care, and extend my thanks to your friend!"

              "Thank you, doctor." With that, the call ended. The smile on her face faded as she sighed. "Kim's gonna be so disappointed... I get the feeling she really wanted me along for her trip to Rustlode... And now she's gotta find someone to travel with, too..."

              She was about to go back inside to continue working on her report, but the thought of finally having some spending money for the first time in nearly two months was a more alluring call. She wasn't sure if the village had a proper bank, as she hadn't seen one in all of her time spent there. She opened the map and looked around the village, perplexed by its lack of a bank, until she noticed that it was paired up with the post office. She set out the route and began walking.

              As she walked through the town, she noticed a stark difference in atmosphere. The quaint life of the country folk had been put on hold, most of the businesses that were usually booming with customer activity were empty or closed and the sound of music that could usually be heard on Main Street was gone. All she could hear was the wind blowing through the trees above her.

              She arrived at the post office. Before she entered, a poster taped to the front window caught her attention; she took a moment to examine it:

              MISSING
              Oakley Hardt
              5'4" tall, 122lbs, 22 years old.
              Brown hair, brown eyes.

              Last seen walking her pet Stoutland on Whetstone Lane, May 20th.
              Witnesses reported seeing her in a pink hooded sweatshirt, faded blue jeans and white high top sneakers.

              TIPS that lead to her whereabouts should be directed to the Ardaigh County Sheriff's Office.


              "Man... That could have been us, too." She shivered at the thought. "What's going on in this country? So many young women are disappearing..."

              - - - - -

              "Come on... where are they?" Kimberly said as she dug through the contents of her backpack, her voice shaking. Her breathing was erratic and tear streaks stained her cheeks. "I couldn't have run out already..."

              One by one, the contents of her backpack spilled out onto the bed and the floor as she carelessly tossed them to the side: notebooks, pencils, a first aid kit, a bag of trail mix, the clothes that she bought for Andrea a few days previously, they all meant nothing to her at that moment. At last, she found what she was looking for: a nondescript pill bottle, labeled with the name Tenzepam. Her shaky hands struggled against the cap until she got it open. She feverishly shook two pills out of the bottle and gobbled them down like a starving animal, nearly choking on the acrid capsules in the process.

              She returned the top to the bottle, then buried it back at the bottom of her backpack under the rest of her belongings. She attempted to steady her breathing, but it was impossible; every time she closed her eyes, the events of the previous night played in picture perfect clarity. Most haunting were the images of the hunter, her face melting like a candle as she transformed from the most beautiful woman she ever laid eyes on, into a monstrously hideous wretch with hollow, dead eyes.

              She tumbled to the bed and grasped at her hair tightly. "Go away..." she pleaded as she held her head between her knees. "You... you can't hurt me... Just go... go away..."

              Though it felt like an eternity of torment, eventually a few minutes passed as her nerves slowly started to soothe. It wasn't any conscious effort on her part that brought her relief, but the medication that she had taken. Despite the images of the wicked woman still being fresh in her mind and the feeling of her would-be kidnappers' hands caressing her up and down being oddly palpable, her breathing slowly returned to normal.

              "Not... real..." she whispered to herself, repeating over and over like a skipping record.

              "What's not real?" Andrea's voice asked.

              Her eyes shot wide open; Andrea was standing at the door, looking at her. "No... not now..." she thought. "I'm a wreck, you shouldn't see this..."

              Andrea was perplexed by the silent, wide-eyed stare that she was receiving. The first thing she thought of was the thousand-yard stare that she'd seen in history and war books. "Dumb question that I probably know the answer to, but... you okay? You don't look so good."

              She fought against both the haunting thoughts and the medication she just took in an effort to maintain some sense of normalcy. "I wish I was okay."

              "Ah..."

              "I woke up screaming... Gave poor old Mrs. Holdt a heart attack. I'm... I think I'm getting over it, though."

              "Bad dream?"

              She nodded silently. "I... I was reliving it... Last night, I mean."

              Andrea grumbled at the thought. "Darn it, I should have been here. I promised I was going to keep an eye on you."

              "Don't beat yourself up, friend! I'm sure whatever you were doing was important."

              "Uhh... yeah..." Andrea's grip on her purse tightened for a moment before she dropped it onto the table. She took a seat on the bed next to Kimberly and pointed out the streaks under her eyes. "Maybe I'm different than you, but... dreams usually don't make me cry. Is it something else that's bothering you? Something you might want to talk about?"

              She looked down and to the side, away from Andrea. The only noise she made was a deep sigh of sadness, a troubling sound.

              "Look, I know. I've not been the best person to talk to, or even the best friend. But I'm here to listen now, I owe you that much. Apart from the obvious, what's really bothering you?"

              She turned to look at Andrea again, looking deeply into her eyes. "I need an assurance that you won't belittle me over it."

              "If this is about your faith, I'm done doing that. That was cruel of me and I am so sorry. Your decision to believe is your own, it wasn't right of me to judge."

              A smile graced her face. "I already feel a little bit better..." She took a deep breath to start her explanation. "Usually when I am feeling down, or when I've seen something that truly bothers me deep down, I try to meditate in an effort to clear my mind... but I can't! I try and I try to clear my head, but I keep seeing it..."

              "That bad, huh? Guess I shouldn't be surprised. I can't even imagine how traumatic it must have been to be dragged out of that cabin."

              She nodded. "When I close my eyes, I see her, that wretched woman... Beauty melting away, her eyes hollowing out... and then those men grab me." Her hand slapped down at her thigh, then started to rub away. "I actually feel their hands pulling at me still, it's so unsettling. I don't know what to do. The thoughts and pictures are at their worst when I try my best to escape them."

              Andrea tried to think of ways to make her feel safe or at least more comfortable, but none seemed particularly practical. "There has to be some way..." she thought, before a light bulb flashed in her mind. "If I'm wrong about this, do forgive me, but... maybe the fact that you're focusing on escaping those thoughts is what is bringing them to the front of your mind."

              "Yes, that's the problem."

              "What if you focused on something else?"

              "Like what?"

              "Well... can't believe I'm going to suggest this, but... What if I joined you in your meditation? So you're not alone."

              She tilted her head to the side, not out of skepticism, but surprise. "Join me?"

              "Even if this meditation stuff isn't for me, I just want to make you feel more comfortable."

              Another smile. "Just knowing that you want to give it a try makes me feel more comfortable. There is a problem, however... I don't know how it will work."

              "I was thinking that if you guided me through the process, you'd be focusing on something other than escaping your thoughts."

              She shook her head, skeptical that it would work. "It won't hurt to try, I suppose. Follow my lead."

              The two hopped off the bed and congregated in the center of the cramped room. Kimberly sat down first; she crossed her legs, rested her hands in her lap and interlocked her fingers. She looked up at Andrea. "It's not a complicated posture, truthfully."

              Andrea hestitated to sit down in the same manner. "I'm not worried about it being complicated, it's just... Can I sit some other way?" she inquired.

              "What do you mean?"

              "Well, I, uhh..." Andrea started, pinching the hem of her thigh-length minidress and gently lifting. "What I'm wearing doesn't mix well with sitting like that."

              Kimberly giggled at the thought. "Sit however you please, but it wouldn't bother me, anyways. Our eyes will be closed."

              "Still," Andrea stated. She dropped to her knees and rested atop her ankles. She placed her hands on her lap in a dignified manner and nodded. It was slightly uncomfortable at first, but she grew accustomed to it fairly quickly.

              She meticulously guided Andrea through her usual process of meditation. It wasn't about clearing the mind and focusing on nothing, the key was to focus on the void of everything itself. To imagine oneself in an empty room, bereft of any detail, color or texture: emptiness at its purest. Andrea found the concept puzzling at first, but embraced it in her attempt to clear her mind. She found it difficult, struggling for much of the same reasons as Kimberly; despite her efforts at focusing, images from the previous night played in her mind, but nowhere near as intensely.

              The next part was perhaps the most difficult for Andrea: consciously regulating her breathing and heartbeat while maintaining the thoughts of the empty void. The breathing was the easiest of the two, but she lacked the discipline to lower her heart rate. She was cautious of even trying, thinking it to be a dangerous thing to do anyways.

              Kimberly opened her eyes and saw that Andrea's breathing had slowed and her posture had improved compared to normal. "You're doing well." she said with a smile.

              "But how are you doing?" Andrea asked without opening her eyes or moving at all.

              "I've given up, it's too difficult... but watching you try has brought me comfort."

              "Good."

              "Do you see anything? Or is your mind still blank?"

              Under her eyelids, Andrea's eyes darted around rapidly. Vague shapes and shades of orange and brown accompanied by blurs of blue and green, all obscured with a thick, cloudy fog, presented themselves to her mind's eye. Her brows furled as she tried to visualize what her imagination was cooking up, but it only grew more and more distant and blurred until eventually it faded entirely. "There was something... But I couldn't tell what. Maybe my mind wasn't as clear as I thought."

              "That's likely," Kimberly said with a nod. "I wouldn't expect much from it, truthfully. Meditation is an art that requires discipline and years of practice in order to experience all that it offers. It can be confusing to determine what is just your chaotic thoughts and what is deliberate."

              "Just hearing that is confusing..." she said, opening her eyes again. "How you feeling?"

              Kimberly smiled. "Better, thank you. You're a good friend."

              It made her happy to see that her well-meant attempt brought comfort and security to Kimberly, but she knew it wouldn't last forever. In fact, she had news that would probably ruin that comfort in an instant; as they sat in silence on the floor, she wrestled with whether it was the right time to tell Kimberly that she was being reassigned and that they might not see each other again. She didn't want to, but felt that it was better to say it then and there, rather than spring it on her the following day.

              Her eyes drifted to the floor. "I've... got some bad news."

              "Uh oh."

              "I'm being pulled off of this assignment and brought back to Loch Alstan. I'm not fit for this investigation, I never was... That means that we might not see each other again... not for awhile, at least."

              Kimberly's good mood began to wash away. "I suppose I should have expected it, considering the nature of your job. I should be ready for it, as I intended on leaving today, but... our time in the forest last night really brought us closer together, I feel. Especially now that I owe you my life. It's not making it any easier to accept."

              "I was worried you might take it a little rough."

              "It's just that... I've found a good friend in you, you know? It took me until now to truly realize it, but there's something special about you, something I rarely find in other people. Someone who understands the true value of friendship, that friendship is a two way street. These past two days haven't just been 'me, me, me' which is so often the case with other people I know."

              The praise was starting to get to her, and she didn't like it. "I think you're giving me too much credit. We'll still be friends after we part ways, you can count on that. We've got each other's phone numbers, and we can always take time out of our lives to see each other. Maybe even partner up in the future if the circumstances allow!"

              "I like forward to it!"

              She laughed. "Right... before I get too emotional, let's save that for tomorrow, okay? I need to get back to work on my report, anyways. I promised my boss I'd have it done by tomorrow and I still have so much more to do."

              "By all means, continue! If you need my help with it, let me know! I'll be out in the garden in the meantime."
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              Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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                Author's note: Up until now, the chapters have followed a fairly consistent timeline, with each one being in chronological order. These wrap-up chapters break from that, either taking place in the near future or in the distant past. The next proper chapter will resume the timeline as normal.

                Land of the Roses
                Season 1 Wrap-Up #1: The Stolen Tome

                Silvergarden Royal Archives, November 1872

                "Now where is it..."

                An elderly man in a hooded robe navigated a dark and musty maze of bookshelves, lit only by a collection of dim candles that were scattered around the room. In his hand was a scrap of paper with the words 'Raeghan Doran: Orb Study' written on it, accompanied by the numbers '11', '92' and '.27'. He frequently compared the numbers to those engraved into the ornate bookshelves until he had finally found what he was looking for.

                "Lord Doran's research... at last..."

                He looked side to side in a suspicious manner to see if anyone was watching him, then grabbed the decaying, leather-bound book and hid it under his robe. With the book safely within his possession, the elderly man slinked into the shadows, never to be seen in the archives again.

                - - - - -

                It was a dreadfully snowy day; visibility could be measured in mere inches and the biting chill of the wind would drive any sane person indoors. Yet through the blizzard, the elderly man made his way into the wilderness, towards his final destination: Alben Tower.

                Eventually, he reached the walls that surrounded the tower and passed through the exquisitely designed cast iron gate. Rather than approach the main entrance, he made his way to the rear of the tower, ending his journey at a large metal door. He knocked five times in a specific rhythm.

                The small window on the speakeasy door slid open and a gruff man's face appeared on the other side of the door. "Lord Alben expecting you?" he barked.

                "No, but his mistress is," the elderly man replied.

                The door guard glared at him suspiciously. "Mistress? Lord Alben ain't got no mistress! Bugger off!"

                "He does. Lady Candlefire."

                The guard's eyes narrowed even further, almost to the point where they shut entirely. "What's your name?"

                "Thomas Hollingshead."

                The small window on the door closed with a bang before a series of locks could be heard opening on the other side. The door slid open and the man motioned for Thomas to enter. "Right this way, Mr. Hollingshead. Lady Candlefire is in her study."

                The study was a cozy and packed room; one wall was dedicated to a small library, with hundreds of books neatly stored in alphabetical order by author and further divided by subject. Another wall housed a collection of curios and artifacts such as crystals, unlabelled burlap satchels and an enormous collection of polished brass trinkets. A roaring fireplace warded the room from the biting chill of the outside world, while a large window on the other side of the room offered a view of the raging blizzard. A globe sat under the window, with several locations across the world marked with red pins.

                In the center of the room, behind a heavy oaken desk, sat a young woman; silky blonde hair that dangled to the floor obscured her face. She was clad from head to toe in black clothing, not a common trend at the time, a look that was complimented by intricate and priceless golden jewelry set with purple, black and grey gemstones. Her sharp blue eyes darted back and forth as she studied the manuscript that was in her delicately manicured fingers. Not even a heavy knock on the door to the room broke her concentration. "Come." she said in a flat and disinterested manner.

                Thomas entered the room and reached into his hooded robe, retrieving the book that he had taken from the Royal Archives. Without a word, he placed it onto the desk in front of the woman.

                The woman's eyes left the pages in front of her and rested on the book. "Is that... It is! Lord Doran's research!"

                "A gift for you, Maphesia," Thomas said.

                She put down the book that she had been reading and carefully picked up the decaying tome that rested on her desk. She ran her finger across the top of the cover in a loving manner. "How difficult was it to walk away with this book?"

                "The decision to was harder than the act, that's for certain. It seems the Greybells do not take security as seriously as they used to. This tome was filed away just like any other."

                She nodded. "Yes, I understand that you've risked much to bring this book to me. But that risk will pay off once we unravel the secrets within."

                "And what secrets might those be?"

                She glared at him. "You ask too many questions. Never you mind the details. Just appreciate the results."

                "Yes ma'am. Sorry ma'am."

                She waved him away in a dismissive manner, her attention fully wrapped in the book in front of her. "Now, leave! I need to get started on this!"

                Raeghan Doran: Orb Study
                I was very fortunate when the false king Antial II of Clan Greybell appointed me lord of these lands. That fool knows not the gift he has given me, the eternal curse he has bestowed upon his lineage.

                These lands hold power unlike anything else in the kingdom. I speak of the orbs, the enchanting lights that linger in our forest. I thought nothing of them at first: curious nuisances at best, as they terrified those miserable peasants that tend to the land. But my advisor in the arcane, Lady Mishel, encouraged me to listen to the plight of those wretches, and that I did. Their stories about the orbs intrigued me. They had all sorts of imaginative stories about the orbs, some that caught both my and Lady Mishel's attention.

                The most common claim is that these orbs are the spirits of the dead. I don't know where this belief originated from, but it is a claim that I am confident my advisor and I have proven. We managed to capture one in a containment vessel. Months of study and experimentation followed. I myself led the experimentation, calling upon the rituals of old that my ancestors employed during the civil war many centuries ago. I talk of blood magic, the art of extracting the very essence of life itself and using it for other purposes, be they benign or malevolent. Many of those wretched commonfolk who work my land were sacrificed and drained in our experiments until eventually we came to our conclusion that the orbs are indeed the spirits of the dead, the pure energy of death.

                Though the orbs contain great potential, they are useless without the catalyst that unlocks their power: the blood of man. It is a dangerous gambit we make with our continued research. With so many people going missing, suspicion is growing. Thankfully, that wretched lot is gullible and believe our stories about the monsters that lurk in the forest... but we do have to be careful.

                My knowledge of the old arts is only partial; many manuscripts which detailed the workings of blood magic were destroyed upon the establishment of the Greybell dynasty. We learn just as much about the art as we do about the orbs... One thing is for certain: just as not every man is the same, nor is the blood that flows through his veins. Some are virtually useless to our ongoing research, while others are unusually bountiful. We do not yet know why this is, but Lady Mishel has taken a liking to sacrificing young women...

                Lady Mishel has already mastered the energy within the orbs. She has ensured the bounty of our harvests through her incantations and spells. She has strengthened the men of the Tracker's Guild and guaranteed the security of my lands. She has healed ill and wounded lords around the kingdom, earning us quite a bit of tribute money. Her spells have even given rise to the forges that supply dark iron weaponry to the trackers and knights. We are quickly rising in power, both in men and money; we may soon be able to challenge the Greybells for control of Silvergarden, but I will not start a war with just man and mundane metal. No. I will bide my time, I will work with Lady Mishel to increase our capabilities even further until we may crush them with barely a lifted finger.

                Perhaps the most promising of Lady Mishel's experiments is not that which strengthens our armies, encourages the loyalty of our commonfolk or even lines our coffers with the finest gold in the kingdom... I have known her for over fifty years at this point. I have watched her grow from a beautiful young lady into a wizened old woman, frail with age. Yet... I have noticed something odd over the past few months: she grows younger by the minute. I still remember that golden face she had when we were lovers in our youth. That golden face has returned. Through the power extracted from the orbs, she has turned back the ravages of time.

                If she has mastered that eternal fate that has plagued mankind since its creation, perhaps she can do more. Perhaps... she can restore the dead to life? No doubt, more research must be done, more sacrifice must be made.

                In the following pages, I will detail our research and arcane methods. In time, trusted colleagues can be recruited and this knowledge can be shared. Nothing will stop us from our goal: ending the false monarchy of the Greybells, and restoring our True King.
                "At last... Lord Doran, your work will continue..."
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                Old 1 Week Ago (3:42 PM).
                Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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                  Land of the Roses
                  Season 1 Wrap-Up #2: Spare Parts

                  Followup Report: Bone Fragment Analysis II, Reiland Institute Medical Wing
                  Report written by Dr. Venger
                  Field Work: Emily Winehaus, Heidi Ashcroft, Red Williamson, Dedrick May, Geoffrey Clarke Jr.
                  Lab work completed by Dr. Venger, Dr. Brink, Emily Winehaus, Geoffrey Clarke Jr.
                  May 25th, 1:42 PM

                  I knew something was fishy when our field analyst, Andrea Dennison, described the creature that attacked her in the Spritewood. She called it an 'undead skeletal creature', a description that does not match anything known to science. True, there are Pokémon out there that integrate exposed bones into their anatomy, such as the Houndoom family, or use bones as part of a spiritual culture, such as the Marowak family... But none like the creature described.

                  In my previous report, I mentioned assembling a team to locate and recover the remains based on Ms. Dennison's advice. She has a very good memory, as the team was able to locate the creature's remains with little difficulty. The difficult part was transport... loading a few boxes of decomposing remains and bones onto a train was something I hadn't initially accounted for and caused a few delays and even a police inquiry, but we finally got our materials back to the lab for testing.

                  DNA testing on every small piece of this creature's puzzle-like structure has led to some interesting yet... troubling results. This creature is not natural, that is for certain; the genetic profiles for nearly seven different Pokémon species were generated during our tests. I don't need to explain why this is alarming. It is as if this creature was constructed from 'spare parts', like out of some horror novel. But how? By who? And for what purpose? I can have a guess at the purpose, I suppose, judging by the sharp 'arms' it has and the incredible physical capabilities that Ms. Dennison described it as having.

                  The arms... they were definitely constructed by someone with considerable crafting skill. Knives and blades made of bone were common among our primitive ancestors, but they were crude and were meant more for hacking and stabbing rather than precision cutting. These arms were as sharp as forged steel blades, carved from the ribs of a Wailord. Our analyst is very lucky that she escaped relatively unharmed (she did suffer minor injuries that she has more or less recovered from at this point); I believe that just one swing of this creature's bladed arms would have been enough to cleave her in two, if her account of its agility is to be believed.

                  The creature lacked much of anything else. Decomposed flesh was incorporated into its structure, likely as 'padding' in the event that it got into a physical confrontation with something. Our initial guess was that it served as muscle for locomotion, but we found that wasn't the case; it wasn't in the right areas and there wasn't enough of it. It also lacked a coherent circulatory system, which is not surprising. We found absolutely no traces of blood anywhere within the creature's system, as if it had been drained entirely prior to 'assembly'.

                  There were no major organs present, not even a brain. How this creature did much of anything is beyond me. My colleague, Emily Winehaus, suggested it was possible that the creature was being telekinetically controlled from an outside source. It's a theory that has merit, as there are numerous species of Pokémon that demonstrate such marvelous abilities, and it would also explain how this creature was capable of moving with the absence of the required skeletal, muscular and nervous systems necessary for locomotion.

                  When Ms. Dennison made her initial report about the creature, she described it as having "glowing purple tendrils" that connected the various pieces together. My field team did describe tendrils that connected the bones together, not unlike the tendons and ligaments which keep us together and allow our movement. However, they were not glowing by the time the field team arrived, nor were they glowing at the time that Ms. Dennison took her photos. Was this perhaps an error on her part, a misremembered detail? She was under much stress when she saw the creature... Alas, we may never know unless another one of these eldritch beasts is discovered.

                  And now for some more grim news. We also found four more human bones within the creature. Of the genetic profiles that we generated, three matched the same profile we generated in our previous test, indicating that three of the bones belonged to our Jane Doe. The fourth generated a different profile, that of a woman of Kalosian ancestry. Again, I will send this new profile to the National Crime Lab to see if we can determine the identity of this individual.

                  Regarding our Jane Doe, we did come up with an identity thanks to a friend at the National Crime Lab: Moira Winslow. Based on the bones that we recovered (one of her vertebrae, part of a fibula and a rib), we are confident with the grim reality that she is no longer living. She was an eighteen year old woman who lived in the village of Redfern Crossing, and was reported missing during a visit to the city of Alderney in January. Absolutely no evidence of her whereabouts or ultimate fate have ever been found... until now. I can only offer the deepest condolences for her friends and family.

                  At this time, I am requesting that Dr. Reiland compile any information she may have received about the beast from her colleagues alongside this report, Ms. Dennison's report, Ms. Dennison's photos and the exquisite drawing provided by her associate, Ms. Kimberly Fairbrooke, and send it to those colleagues. We have not reached any solid conclusions yet, which is quite frustrating... I usually find work like this to be simple and straight forward, but this... this is too surreal and too strange. Everything I know is being thrown out the window.

                  We are on the verge of discovering something marvelous... or horrific. We must dig deeper and find the truth of this matter.
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                  Old 1 Week Ago (3:45 PM).
                  Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                  Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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                    Land of the Roses
                    Season 1 Wrap-Up #3: The Spread

                    Lanark Ministry of Wildlife
                    Lady Abigail Plame
                    Acting Head Minister

                    June 2nd

                    To Dr. Reiland and her esteemed colleagues:

                    First and foremost, I would like to thank you and your staff for your continued dedication to the preservation of our kingdom's greatest resource, the environment. Through your perseverance and your tireless research, you have shed new light on the delicate ecosystems that are challenged the most by our modern society, and the ways with which we can protect them. You are a shining beacon of hope that this world, or at least our corner of it, will remain pristine and beautiful for generations to come.

                    Almost three weeks ago, you alerted us to a potential ecological crisis that was emerging in the marshes north of Nettlefield, a crisis we thought we had dealt with over half a century ago. Perhaps we did deal with the Blastcap infestation back then, and it has only just returned. I have spoken with the Head Minister of State, he has promised me that there will be increased scrutiny of goods imported from countries that have known Blastcap infestations to help contain our own.

                    Regarding the actual infestation site itself, it is much larger than your colleague, Mr. Adelaide, reported and it continues to grow. Our expeditionary team that was dispatched to investigate established a camp about half a mile from the perimeter of the affected area. Within two days, the affected area had grown around the camp and continued a great distance. Based on satellite data and some math, we've determined that this infestation likely started to grow just a week prior to its discovery; it is far more aggressive than the outbreak of the 1960s.

                    Your report mentioned the possibility that we would encounter a new species of Pokémon, one that is likely related to Blastcap. We did indeed find this new species, and lots of them. The expeditionary team has captured thirteen of these specimens at the time of writing; They are being transported to the Eilean Cailc Research Center off the western coast of Glastonfell to study them in a contained environment.

                    You are welcome to send a science team to join in the study, and we will give your institute the incredible honor of naming this new species! If you do intend to send a team to study, make sure that they are well trained in dealing with aggressive Pokémon. Several of the Eilean Cailc staff have been injured, some seriously. These creatures do not appear to tolerate the presence of humans.

                    Containing this outbreak is an ongoing effort. If you have been watching the national news or even looking up in the sky, you will see the billowing smoke from the control fires we have set. At its current rate of expansion, there is no other way to contain it, it must be burnt and destroyed. It pains me to destroy such beautiful wetland, but it is already beyond repair and we must prevent more destruction.

                    Perhaps this is a consequence of our own policies. Over the past half century, the Ministry has engaged in an aggressive stance of environmental protection. It has been so strict that much of our beautiful countryside is not actually seen by the people that we have been preserving it for, and because of this... we were unaware of the severity of this infestation. Perhaps if more people were encouraged to monitor the countryside, this could have been prevented. A review of this archaic policy is under way.

                    Thank you.

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