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Chapter 37: On the Trail
Rook hadn't exactly expected his rescue mission would turn out like this. Both he and Epel were well aware that they were mostly back up and the main force for this mission was the girl flying ahead of them. (Y/N) was unnervingly quiet, and though Pomefiore's Vice Dorm Leader had heard rumors of her truly terrifying display of rage, this cold fury to him was the true thing of nightmares. That seemed to extend to her monsters as well. The usually jovial and friendly Dragapult was steely and focused, even the Dreepy in his horns seemed angry. While Idia hadn't bothered to lend a hand or offer an explanation throughout this entire fiasco, Rook pitied Ignihyde's Dorm Leader.
He had no idea what was coming for him.
Epel flew closer to Rook, also feeling unnerved by this situation.
"S-should we say something to her?"
The blonde shook his head. "She is a hunter on the trail of her prey. I believe it would be foolish to argue with her."
"I don't know. I've never seen her this angry. I think she might actually kill Shroud if we don't talk her down."
"I can hear you." The girl finally said, causing Epel to yelp and nearly fall off his broom. "Give me some credit, I'm not a psycho. I know the amount of damage my Pokémon can do. Still, it doesn't mean I don't intend to fully pay them back for my leveled dorm." She then glanced down. "There's an island below us. We should camp there for the night."
Rook nodded in agreement. "Oui."
The trio landed on the small patch. While Rook set up the fire, (Y/N) sent Dragapult back into the Pokeball to get some rest and brought out Swampert.
Rook smiled at both his underclassmen. "I should apologize to you both. I am frustrated with myself for underestimating your strong desire to help. Was it not I who said that 'Those who believe in themselves and in their friends are truly strong.'? Yet, I chose to keep you in the dark while I ventured off by myself. I am embarrassed with myself for lying to and deceiving my own heart."
Epel tiled his head. "What exactly do you mean?"
"I am the same as you both. I simply couldn't sit around while knowing that my dear friend is hurt and in pain. I thought that I shouldn't involve my teachers and my friends in my selfish actions, but..."
"Not like I was gotta sit around and wait for a solution." (Y/N) said. "Trainers get their hands dirty."
Epel grinned at her. "Yeah. We're already up here and kickin'."
"Yes, indeed. Very well, let us travel together, Epel-kun. (Y/N)-kun, too. I would ask you to agree to follow all of my instructions. However." Rook turned to the Pokémon trainer. "I seem to be lacking in comparison to your raw strength. I doubt you'd listen if I told you to stop."
Swampert grunted for both of them, but Epel seemed more than thrilled to see his friend truly go all out.
Rook took notice. "Epel-kun and I are both the type who get blinded once we've succumbed to our own recklessness. Your ability to observe and see things we'd otherwise ignore would be a big help."
"I feel like seeing you distracted is a bit of a rare sight, Rook-san. But now I know that you can really be reckless, too."
"Oh, but I am. Were you not able to intercept my escape because I was too distracted?"
Epel laughed. "Aha, yes. Now that you mention it."
EPEL: But, you know, Pomefiore's students are, well...despite appearances, there are many who listen more to impulse, I think...? Vil-san, included."
Rook chuckled. "Do you remember what "strenuous effort" represents in our motto? It means being able to muster up courage to stand up for oneself. The Beautiful Queen we know from the statues and literature possesses the qualities of a uniquely beautiful woman, of course. But I've always thought that she might have been an active woman, too."
"But I don't think she was the type who would've ventured out on her own like we did. I mean, it's not possible, right...?
"Hahaha! Indeed." Suddenly, the blonde became rigid. "Shh, everyone, quiet. I hear a beast about. It's close-by."
Considering Swampert hadn't even twitched behind her, (Y/N) doubted there was any danger. Still she could hear faint rumbling.
Epel blushed. "Ah... I'm sorry... That was just, um... My stomach growling..."
Both Rook and (Y/N) laughed, though the trainer stopped when her own stomach began growling.
"I guess it has been a while since I ate."
The Dorm Leader seemed all too pleased. "Ooh-la-la! I thought that we had angered the forest's guardian by trespassing in their territory!"
"We usually eat supper around this time, so..." Epel explained.
"Vil would surely lecture you for the unsightly show if he were here."
The violet haired lad shivered. "I can already imagine.l
"Very well, let us nourish ourselves before we depart." He glanced over to (Y/N). "Perhaps you can share our route?"
She nodded. "Gladly."
Rook insisted on cooking, and with the combination of his and (Y/N) chosen provisions, he whipped up quite the meal. Once everyone's bellies were full, (Y/N) held out her PokeNav, the beacon still blinking.
"Thanks to Rotom, we have a clear indication where the Island of Woe is. It might be hidden by magic, but I doubt it has the capacity to counter something both technological and supernatural in nature like Rotom."
"So you sent Rotom after those guys when they attacked us?" Epel asked.
"Of course I did. I never intended to let those guys get away with this. Though, I am curious what your plan was, Rook. I had to Rotom to lead me there. How were you going to find them?"
He smirked. "Here's a secret... It is a little thing I like to call my unique magic.
"Your unique magic?" Epel repeated.
"My unique magic is not capable of hurting or controlling another person. It is quite weak, truth be told. However, as a hunter, it is something I must possess."
"I assume it has something to do with tracking." (Y/N) suggested.
"Oui. My unique magic allows me to locate anyone I've cast it on. It matters not whether they're across the seven brilliant seas, or even through the mountains. I can see to the ends of the earth!
"Whoa... Not magic I'd expect outta Rook-san." Epel said.
(Y/N) shrugged. "No, that checks out. I distinctly remember Kitty telling me on more than one occasion how Rook always managed to track him down."
"I cast my magic on one of the Ferrymen when they were taking Vil away."
Epel whistled. "Wow, I didn't even notice!"
"Fufu, now then. Let us be insolent and take a peek." He took out a map to begin his demonstration. "Come. I invite you to try and run away. I See You." A trail of light appeared on the map, but led over the open ocean. "As I expected."
"What's the matter?" Epel asked.
"I did say that I could see the target wherever they are, but my magic is not omnipotent. If the target enters a vehicle or a facility that blocks off magic, then I will lose sight of them. It seems like Vil and the others were taken away in an armored vehicle that blocks off magic receptors. Fortunately, it appears Rotom does not have that limitation."
(Y/N) held up the Nav. "Right. Rotom bypassed the security and sent me his location. He can even give me a basic outline of the island."
"It would appear that you would be much more efficient, Madame Dompteur de Bêtes."
(Y/N) rubbed her chin. "Still, this is a lot of distance to cover."
"Not necessarily." Rook interjected. "One of my ancestors truly enjoyed tumultuous journeys, you see? They built villas all throughout the world, and all those villas are connected with magical devices that will allow us easy transport. I was thinking we could use that method. Fortune, Dawn, Sunshine, Heroes... There is a villa in each of those nations. Our journey will be made easier if we make use of this transportation method.
Epel gapped. "What...!!?? Villas all over the world!? Wouldn't they have needed express permission from each nation in order to build magical devices? What sort of business does your family run!?"
Rook held a finger to his lips. "A secret, dear."
Swampert and (Y/N) both glanced suspiciously at each other. "I think I owe an apology for making fun of his fear."
"Fufu, I must express my gratitude to my forefathers! The teachers must have noticed that we're gone by now, so I also wanted to avoid public transport. Ah, but my ancestors might frown if they knew what we would be using it for. "Do not cause trouble for your teachers!" they might say. However, this is all for beauty and for love. Please forgive me, my mighty forefathers Come! Now that we know what to do, let us make haste and leave before they find our whereabouts." Epel chuckled nervously. "Did I say anything strange, Monsieur Crabapple?"
"Oh, no. You are quite something, Rook-san. And your family sounds amazing, too."
"That's one way to put it." (Y/N) mumbled.
"But I guess that even you're not immune to sneaking around for fear of being reprimanded by the teachers."
"Do you truly believe that there are students who do not fear the explosive anger of our faculty?" Rook pointed out. "I am simply another problem child attending Night Raven College."
(Y/N) sighed. "As if I don't have enough of those to deal with."
On the Island of Woe, Idia was dealing with one of his worst nightmares: having to directly interact with his fellow classmates.
Vil glared at him. "All right, Idia! Explain yourself this instant! I am a world-class model. I am very fastidious with all the materials that come into contact with my skin. How dare you throw us inside an automated cleaning machine!? Moreover, how could you not have any face lotion available? Skincare is the most important step to achieving beautiful skin."
Jamil in contrast looked dizzy "...I think I understand what it feels like riding a tank now."
Riddle wasn't much better. "I feel like a sheet that's been thrown around in a dryer..."
"They cleaned the insides of both my mouth and my ears." Leona complained. "I still have goosebumps."
Azul sighed. "I am all for efficiency, of course, but I will never use an automated body-washing machine no matter how busy I become."
Ortho didn't seem to understand their misgivings. "Eh? Everyone in production all agreed that it's super efficient though."
Leona growled, tugging at the new clothes they were given. "Tsk... This collar is pissing me off the most."
Riddle as well tugged at the offending accessory. "It looks like this choker emits the same effects as my unique magic. I've been trying to use my magic since earlier, but nothing's working."
"I'm sorry, but you're required to wear those chokers so we can gather accurate data during the observation." Ortho informed them as his brother side eyed the red head.
"You tried to use magic, Sir Riddle...? Talk about insane, sheesh...Ahem...Thank you very much for cooperating with our decontamination and quarantine procedures. Introductions are only polite, so let me play you S.T.Y.X's introductory movie.
Vil raised a brow. "An introduction movie?"
"Please take a seat and focus your attention on the screen before you."
The boys were subjected to a low budget slideshow one would expect for an introduction to new workers. Still it was better than the two hour presentation Ortho had prepared. Once they were done, they were led to a lab. Leona was, of course, the most difficult of the bunch.
"So, what kind of frightening experiments does the Acting Director have in store for us?
Idia chuckled. "Hihi~ Thank you very much for asking. Care to listen? First we tie you up so as to restrict any kind of movement. Then, we will thoroughly inspect your bodies. We'll start with seeing how stress and Blot accumulates inside the body!
Riddle looked disgusted. What–! Do you think that we would readily agree to such ridiculous methods!?
The flaming blue haired male rolled his eyes. "Uh, I was obviously joking. Man, people who can't take a joke are so scary..."
Riddle clearly wanted to strangle Shroud with his bare hands, but Azul intercepted him.
"I'd say it's time you learned some new jokes."
Vil nodded. "Seconded. We are completely unarmed, what with you having taken away our uniforms and our magic."
Ortho gave his brother a sharp look. "Geez, Brother! They're already so scared and anxious. Please don't agitate them any further."
The Pomefiore Dorm Leader gave a smirk. "My, my... I see that the younger brother is a lot more considerate."
"Remember, we can't collect accurate data if they're in an agitated state."
"I take it all back...... The apple really doesn't fall far from the tree.
"You see, we just wanted to ask for your help with data gathering. You've all experienced Overblot, but you were separated from your Phantom. You're very valuable research subjects."
"Phantoms?" Vil repeated.
"When a mage goes into Overblot, the Blot that's been accumulating inside their body rushes out and becomes a giant manifestation of energy." Idia explained. "You've seen it, too, correct? Remember the giant, faceless monsters you had trailing behind you?"
The boys all grimaced at the memories.
"We refer to those things as "Phantoms". Though... You did go berserk, so I'm not sure how much of it you remember, but you used more magic than you were capable of when you Overblotted, didn't you? Do you know why? This manifestation, this Phantom, if you will it, uses the Blot to transform your negative emotions into a strong energy source. Blot is essentially a toxic substance that comes with using magic. It gives all mages a certain debuff. But with Overblot, those toxic debuffs become strong buffs! Mages who Overblot are able to use magic with wild abandon. And it's done by purifying and recycling the Blot with each use. The Phantom feeds on that energy to level up its ATK. You may very well ask what happens to a mage when they run out of magic, so...They're essentially fired from their role as food.
Riddle gulped. "F-food, you say..."
"It is what it is. Off to the trash with empty juice boxes. Poof. The mage goes kaput, and only the monster born out of negative energy remains. It's a monster that roams the world, lingering while spitting curses left and right. "Phantom" fits perfectly, doesn't it? Your only choices are to be eliminated by the Magical Force or you'll be captured and handed over to S.T.Y.X. for research. It is seldom, but some hide deep within the forests, mingling with the wild magical beasts."
"I've heard that one could lose their life if the Overblot is separated from its energy source." Jamil admitted.
"To think that such a monster would remain free to roam our world." Azul shivered. "It is so sad that I refuse to believe it."
Idia shrugged. "Well, there haven't been many cases of Phantoms appearing, truth be told. In the first place, Overblot isn't possible if the mage himself isn't capable of producing strong and refined magic. It's as rare as pulling four SSR's in one 10-pull, you know? I mean, strong mages are supposedly thoughtful and well disciplined, right? And yet, five cases of Overblot in such a short time? From the same school nonetheless...I think Night Raven College won the lottery. We got ourselves multiple copies of the "Unheard of Problem Children" SSR card. Fuhihi~"
Leona looked ready to deck someone. "You've got real talent for pissing people off, y'know that?"
Azul again acted as the voice of reason. "Very well. I have a question of my own. Were you the one who volunteered us for research?"
"Well, about that..."
Ortho interrupted. "We are not allowed to disclose S.T.Y.X. information to non-authorized personnel. Let's just say that there are as many information brokers all over the world as there are S.T.Y.X. agents. We already mentioned that theInstitute of Magic Science S.T.Y.X. has been researching Blot for a long time, correct? Part of that research is dedicated to analyzing how Blot can be used safely and practically."
Vil blinked, dumbfounded. "Practical use of Blot, you say...!?
Idia tilted his head. "Why are you so surprised? We study sociology, the environment, economics, and whatever to dispute theories and controversies, right? Magic is just another branch. As magic users, we believe that the "waste matter" produced by Blot can be a valuable resource. Recycling is the thing now, isn't it?"
Jamil huffed. "Recycling energy, huh..."
"So, what?" Leona growled. "You forcefully kidnapped precious "samples" so you could proceed with your research? How absolutely magnanimous of S.T.Y.X."
To his credit, Ortho did seem remorseful on that front. "I really do feel ashamed and sorry that we forced you to cooperate. That said, I'm sure that you don't want to Overblot again. I'm pretty sure you don't want to be Phantom food, too. It's important to know and understand how Blot works in order to prevent misuse. Don't worry. S.T.Y.X. is fully equipped with the latest technology. If it's accurate data you want, then this place is happy to provide. I believe that it will be beneficial for your futures, too, so please cooperate."
"You sure do know your way around a sales talk." Vil huffed as Ortho began handing out tablets. "But let me guess. We're not going back unless we give you the data that you want, correct?"
"I'm so glad you're quick on the uptake, Vil Schoenheit-san."
The older Shroud sighed. "Let's get this over with, then. Look at the tablets we've provided you with."
Azul frowned. "Is this a continuation to the movie?"
"It's a non-disclosure agreement... Please sign at the bottom once you're done reading the contents. We'll send you a PDF version of the form later, too."
Vil looked absolutely furious now. "Come again? First, you force us to come here, and now you're making us sign an NDA?To top it off, you have armed guards watching over us. Tell me, how is this fair!?"
"Ah, here we go~ You're definitely the type who'd get mad even though you read the Terms & Agreements. I mean, you could've just read it without complaining. This contract is meant to protect you. I believe we had an agreement. If you don't give me a headache, then we'll let you off easily. If you agree to help us with the data, then I'll sponsor a program to help manage your Blot. Research should take a day at most. We're only asking for 24 hours out of your entire life. If things end smoothly, then we can all go live our happily ever afters. Come on. I'm not doing this because I want to either. All I wanna do is grind for my oshi's card. If you want to go home early, then read and sign the damn thing."
Everyone again looked ready to kill him, but Riddle had a steely coldness to him.
"I'm curious, how were you planning on handling (Y/N)'s Pokémon? They can hardly sign binding contracts."
That seemed to finally knock Idia off his high horse as he flinched. "Well..."
Azul joined in. "So true, Riddle. Considering her situation, it would've been very difficult for (Y/N) to protest. It seems S.T.Y.X. were more than happy to steal an exotic species for testing."
"And the little ones, no less." Jamil added.
Ortho jumped in. "S.T.Y.X. is not an organization of thieves! The monsters would've been safely tested and returned!"
"Tell that to Rapidash!" Riddle yelled. "She was hurt simply defending both herself and me!"
"Collateral damage." Idia finally said. "Either way, the monsters weren't a priority, more a bonus feature. None of them were capture anyways, so it doesn't make any sense talking about it."
Leona smirked. "Oh, you're gonna have a fun time explaining that to the Herbivore."
"Anyways, just sign so we can get this over with!"
In contrast to the request, the boys instead began to meticulously comb through the document.
"Oh, my god...We're gonna die here if you read that word-for-word.
Vil side eyed him. "It is only natural for us to read a contract thoroughly before agreeing to sign.
"Indeed." Azul agreed. "I must make sure that I will suffer no losses by signing."
Riddle nodded as well. "I completely agree. I will not sign anything that will violate the law in any way."
"Y'all are so unfazed... Guess that's an SSR problem child for you..."
Eventually, everyone signed off on it, much to Idia's relief.
"Thank you all for signing so we can formally begin with our research."
Ortho motioned to the next room. "The battle simulator's observation consoles are all ready."
"K. We'll divide you into two teams first. Let's have Subject A, Subject C, and Subject E undergo the first test. Subject B and Subject D will follow. Ortho, take A, C, E to the battle simulator."
Ortho saluted. "Roger~! Riddle Rosehearts, Azul Ashengrotto, and Vil Schoenheit, please follow me."
Idia turned to the remaining two. "You two please stay on stand-by here. I'll be away observing, too, so if anything happens, feel free to address our staff."
Leona yawned. "Hey, Acting Director. You got some room service menu for grabs here?"
Idia twitched. "Unbelievable, Leona Kingscholar~~~~ Sorry, but we don't have any...God... Doesn't this imbecile know that you can't just eat anything during an observation...?"
As Idia walked away mumbling, Jamil caught sight of something on the monitor. For a briefest of seconds, a familiar face appeared, mischievously grinning at the unsuspecting Shroud.
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