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Rory and the Duckletts ~ Part 4

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                                                            “Be mature. We’re both ‘bout what, third years now?
                                                           Closin’ in on fourth? Geez, I can’t even remember . . .”



       “Belue berries? They’re out of season now, and all orans have been sent to those injured in yesterday’s attack. I’m afraid it does boost their price. But dear Merri is a friend of mine, and I know about her allergies . . . I haven’t left this stall since ten. If you would be so kind as to bring me a glass of speluk tea, I would be more than happy to strike you a deal.”

       Adrian narrowed his eyes. “You have got to be kidding me.”

       “Sorry,” said the tea merchant, a Bunnelby with crinkles all along her face. “I just sold my last crate of speluk to a charming young Audino with a precious blue scarf. But I doubt he’s used it all in such amount short time. He went towards the north end of the market. Can I interest you fine souls in a pawful of enigma powder?”

       Rory frowned. “Ain’t that stuff illegal?”

       The shutters on her cart slammed shut after that.

       “I’d love to lend you a pack of the stuff, seriously, but I just finished pouring it all into this fountain. We’re having a ‘Bring your fishy friends’ get-together tonight, and I’m in charge of the drinks. I’m not sure you’d want any now. But if it’s speluk berries that you’re looking for, you should try the Litleo down on the corner of Snowstreak and Fifth.”

       “I’m distributing these to the homeless, I can’t afford to hand them out willy-nilly to those who still have starcoins in their pockets. Now, if you had a hammer for fixing houses with, that would be different.”

       “Hammer?” The Bidoof wrinkled his nose. “Sure, I may gots my hammer here . . . But you know what I’m really missing? My teef. If you see any buck-toothed dentures lyin’ about, I’ll just be waiting for ya right here.”

       “It’s my fault. I was just coming to return Grandpa’s teeth. They were going to be part of my science project, but it turns out that I heard my partner wrong. We’re actually wreath collecting. I’d ask Mrs. Rhodora three floors up - she always decorates for every holiday known to ‘mon, I kid you not - but no one’s seen her leave the apartment for days.”

       The note on her door said Find me an exorcist, then we’ll talk.

       “Yeah, yeah, kid. You and every homeowner in the city. One golem rampage and suddenly everyone’s convinced they’re haunted. You need my services? Tough luck, you can wait in line like everybody else. Or, maybe we could talk trade.”

       “What? Oh, yeah. You can take that thing - I don’t really know what it is, but it fell out of the sky. Would you mind doing me a favor first, though? My Egg is supposed to be hatching any day now and I leant my old baby blanket out to the curmudgeon a few doors down. The wife and I would really like it back, for the sake of sentimentality and all that.”

       “Well, I wouldn’t need this dern quilt if it weren’t so dern cold in this place all the time, now would I? Stupid boarding house. Why, back in my day there was plenty of land in this city for everyone, even the Tyranitars and Charizards.”

       “Cut me some slack, man. I’ll stop breathing Icy Wind through the ventilation system when my lousy roommate throws me down the spare key to our room. It’s been three days since the last time he acknowledged my existence. Who’s cooking breakfast now, Morris?”

       “Yeah, I’m a locksmith. We Klefki tend to be - It’s a stereotype, but a fair one nonetheless. You’ve come to the right ‘mon; B&E happens to be my speciality. Slip me one of them blue glass flutes by midnight and you got yourselves a deal.”

       As they left the creepy alley, Rory threw her hands into the air. “This is getting ridiculous. All I wanted was a wooden bucket. Is that really too much to ask for? Really? Much more a’ this and I’ll start smashin’ heads.”

       “If obtaining one is honestly this difficult, then I can’t say I blame the thief for escaping with ours.” Adrian stared at the two Duckletts waddling around his feet. The towels had long since been abandoned as a means of carrying them - It carried Rudyard’s bread instead, and Adrian had it slung around his shoulders like a pack.

       He sighed. “Woman, three o’clock has come and left us. Forget this whole stupid game. We don’t owe Rudyard a grain of sand, let alone his pretty glass shards.”

       “You still don’t get it, do you?” Rory joined him on the fountain wall, and together they watched Basculin swim circles through speluk tea. Adrian suspected it would be an hour tops before they drowned.

       “Is there something to get? You decided to waste your day on a wild Swanna chase. And I, in a rare moment of stupidity, decided to encourage you in my following along. Now, if you are quite finished here, I want to continue the hunt for my sketchpad.”

       “Then go, Plum! Flocks and feathers, nobody’s stoppin’ ya. I ain’t asked you once to come along with. You’re keepin’ yourself here, not me.”

       Adrian watched a Cinccino push a broom across the street. Dust billowed in the air, then swirled away down the gutter. The air tasted of sultry and sweat. He started to count the cobblestones, then gave up somewhere between sixty-eight and seventy-three.

       He sighed again.

       “Shall we see if any of these ragtag merchants still has a blue flute in stock?”

       “Yeah.” Rory set each Ducklett in the speluk fountain. “As much as I hate the thought, from the looks a’ things we pro’lly will need Rudy’s help if we’re gonna be catchin’ any crook. Just give me a minute. Ana and Wick gotta cool down first. Hours spent running circles in the crowdedest part a’ the city under the hot sun ain’t good for anyone, ‘least of all a couple a’ Water-hatchies.”

       “You’re preaching to the pastor. I’m roasting. Speaking of which, that blabbermouthed female hasn’t peeped in over an hour. Has it caught sunstroke?”

       “Don’t think so. She looks a’right ta me. What’re the symptoms of it?”

       “You’d know better than I would. You’re the one that found me. Didn’t you take notes? Shoo,” Adrian told the Duckletts, and once they paddled away he dunked his head in the fountain. Droplets flew from his ears when he pulled back and shook his head. “Dear Venka, Woman. I am a desert-variety Grass-Type, and even I have absorbed too much sun today. It’s worse than Iravia - At least then we had Fog coverage to muffle the effects. Stupid Beacon. What a pain in the tail. If we don’t take a rest in the shade soon, I’m going to shrivel to a husk.”

       “And we wouldn’t want that, now would we? A’right, here goes. One last time ‘fore we call it quits, just for posterity.” Rory climbed on the fountain wall and cupped her hands around her face. “Hey! Anybody out there got a blue, glass flute they’re just dyin’ a’ be rid of? Anybody? Anybody at all?”

       Adrian folded his arms. “Nothing. All this, and we hit a dead end. What a waste of time.”

       “And I was so close, too. So close, Plum, to actually gettin’ up and doin’ somethin’ useful  with myself again. Goin’ to sleep knowin’ that I’d finished what I started today. Been a long year spent wanderin’ the Fog and not much else. Wanderin’ ain’t work.” Rory made a chittering noise that summoned Ana and Wick from the far side of the fountain. With one Ducklett tucked beneath each arm, she hopped to the ground. “C’mon. Maybe Rudy’ll take an I-owe-you or somethin’. Guess I could try roughin’ him up, but that seems dangerous. I don’t wanna get crushed by a Wayford. This way, I think?”

       “I believe so. Past the three pink stalls in a row. There was a Sylveon selling cloth, I remember that.”

       “A Syl- Oh. Yeah, I getcha. Funny. ‘member that time back when we-”

       “Hey! Hey, you Chimchar girl. Are you the one who wanted the flute?”

       Rory whirled around, Adrian half a step behind, in time to watch a Togetic descend from above the crowd. He held his head high, wings partially spread even when he landed, fur neatly groomed, and he smiled a smile that would prompt any grandparent to shower him with gifts and cookies. Including the grandparents that weren’t his own.

       Adrian rolled his eyes. “Show-off,” he said to Rory, then narrowed his eyes. “Sand and stars, Woman, please tell me you’re not serious.”

       The Togetic stood a few feet away, smiling kindly down at Rory with his arms crossed, leaning his shoulder against one stall. “Hey there.”

       Rory couldn’t seem to speak for the first several seconds. Finally she remembered to breathe. She licked her lips. “Yeah. Hey there.”

       Despite knowing that she wasn’t watching, Adrian rolled his eyes a second time and leaned back too, against a stall selling metal pans. One of them a few inches from his hand gave a clang.

       “Name’s Roland. You can call me Ro, if ya like. You are?”

       “I’m . . . I’m Aurora.” Rory looked down at the Duckletts in her arms, then set them on the ground where they slumped together in a mass of blue feathers.

       “You new in town? I would’ve remembered a pretty name like that, especially when it goes with such a pretty face.”

       “Yes. I mean, no. I mean . . . Yes? Uh, me and my, um, my brother here-”

       “What the kar-?” Adrian began, but Rory sent him a killer glare. The Chespin shook his head and rubbed his hands up and down his shoulders. Let her have her little fantasy - It wouldn’t do him any harm. At the stall to his left, a jar gave a rattle. Then another. The Poochyena vendor gave a yell and clamped his paws down on the jar, looking around wildly in search of suspicious Psychic-Types.

       “Yeah, we just wandered in from the Fog not too long ago.” Rory interlaced her fingers behind her back and kicked her heel at the cobblestones. “I could really use a tour of the city sometime.”

       “Could you now?” Roland smiled, glanced away for the briefest of moments, and looked back at her to smile again. Rory ducked her head.

       Adrian stuck out his tongue.

       With the sound of a giant statue plowing its fist through a window, a tray of seeds at the Poochyena’s side flipped into the air. They rained down with the speed of hail, bouncing off passersby and falling between the cobblestones. Adrian stared at them for precisely two seconds.

       Then he yelped and clapped his hands to the sides of his head.

       Immediately the Chespin was on the ground, shoving his fingers between the stones to dig out the seeds. They gathered in a pile between his knees. Ten seeds. Twenty seeds. Forty. Sixty-three. Sixty-four. Sixty-five. Sixty-six seeds altogether.

       “Here.” Adrian poured them all in a heap before the Poochyena, ignoring the one that bounced off again.

       “Thanks,” said the Poochyena, regarding the seeds with a look that clearly said the opposite.

       Rory and Roland were still gabbling away, Rory waving her hands and showing her unprotected throat, Roland chuckling and occasionally screwing up his eyes with amusement. Adrian pushed his way through them, picked a final seed from his palm, and faced them again.

       “My apologies - Where do we stand on our bartering now?”

       “Huh? Oh - Oh yeah! Um, didn’t ya say somethin’ about a, um, a flute, Ro?”

       “I did indeed. Why, I saw it just this morning and I-” Roland, swearing, lurched to the left and slapped a hand against his shoulder. “Geez Kit, a little warning would be nice! You’ll get your turn.”

       The poor boy was clearly insane. Adrian regarded him with wary eyes. “You know where we could find it, then?”

       “Certainly.”

       “And . . . Are you planning to disclose that information anytime in the foreseeable future?”

       Roland winked. “Maybe for a kiss.”

       The fur spiked along the Chespin’s spine. Adrian raised one hand to his chest, his tail dropping low and swishing back and forth. Roland laughed and patted him on the head.

       “Oh, don’t get too excited, fuzzrat - I was lookin’ at her.”

       He patted him on the head.

       “For a - Oh.” Rory scrubbed the back of her neck. Her eyes started at Roland’s face and flicked down to his toes. “Well, um. I mean, if I gotta . . .”

       Adrian squinted. Much more of this - the squinting - and he was going to suffer serious visual impairments later in life. “You’re not serious.”

       “Plum,” she hissed, pulling him by the elbow, “listen. I gotta do this. Think a’ the Duckletts!”

       “Doing it for the Duckletts, not because you want to. How selflessly noble of you. Rory, that’s disgusting. You are disgusting.”

       “Are you - ?” And she laughed. “You are! Look at you, Plum - you’re jealous!”

       Adrian frowned. Was he?

       “Woman, you wipe your mouth on your hands, and wipe your hands on me. If I can’t have your respect, can I at least have a say in where you choose to gather your germs?”

       “If you don’t want the flute,” Roland began.

       “No, we do! We do. Hold up a sec more. Geez, my palms’re gettin’ sweaty.” Rory shoved the Duckletts into Adrian’s arms and brushed her fingers against her knees. “Okay. Okay. So, um, do I just go for it or - Oh.”

       Roland’s lips fell into place against hers. Eyelids fluttered shut. Rory shifted up to her tiptoes, her hands groping at empty space until finally they touched Roland’s cheeks. Ana squeaked. Adrian held her tight, biting his lip. He was acutely aware of just how sweaty he was, how humid the air was around him. His legs began to tremble.

       Oh gods.

       He was jealous.

       That must be why his stomach churned. Why his breath died away in his throat. His toes curled in, of their own will. He wanted to look away, wanted it so much that it hurt.

       But he couldn’t.

       He couldn’t want it. Surely not. Not him. Not him.

       Two, four, six, eight bricks on the wall behind their heads. Ten, twelve, fourteen. Twenty, twenty-eight, thirty-six, forty-four, fifty-two . . .

       And they wouldn’t stop.

       Passersby were starting to look over. Just when Adrian thought he was going to be sick, Roland pulled away, his green eyes dim.

       “It’s south, at one of the stalls with a white covering.”

       “Hm? Oh. Oh - the flute. Of course.” She stood there, gawky like a Pelipper. “Thanks, Roland. I ‘ppreciate it.”

       “I know the feeling well, sugarpuff.” With a wink and a wave of his wing, Roland took off. He hovered above the crowd for a moment, circled once, and disappeared after a flock of Pidgey.

       “Wow. I ain’t been kissed since . . . Well, never mind, it din’t count anyway. Huh.” Rory scrubbed her temples so fast and hard that Adrian could hear it from a yard away. “Funny. Is your head s’posed to buzz this much after it’s over? Never mind twice then, s’not like you would know.”

       Numbed with silence. Rory saw him and stopped.

       “Adrian, really, quit makin’ that face ‘fore someone thinks y’ate bad berries and tries sellin’ ya somethin’ ya don’t want. Be mature. We’re both ‘bout what, third years now? Closin’ in on fourth? Geez, I can’t even remember. Well, let’s go find that white-covered stall then.”

       Adrian followed her more slowly, clutching the Duckletts close to his chest. He scrubbed his nose. Shook his head. Straightened up. His tail lifted. He twitched forward his ears.

       “Right. Blue flute. Maybe this time it’ll be easy. We’re almost done with this wretched quest.”

       “Hasn’t been all bad though,” Rory said mildly. “We’re makin’ new friends left and right today, aren’t we?”

       Adrian thought back through the events of the morning. Roland with the kiss. The Druddigon and his science project. The newlyweds. That Donphan who did the paintings. That blasted Marshtomp who had the monopoly on sea glass. Rudyard with his Wailord. The Kirlia and Elgyem from the streets. Tyr at the rocks. Maleck with the soap. Nux and Judas at the lake. The Duckletts.

       He shook his head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

       “I think I see it. Yeah, that’s it - Over by that big buildin’ with the dome on top.” Rory gave a whoop and ran forward, more energized than ever.

       There weren’t bricks on the building. The surface was polished and smooth, as though it were made of metal. It had many windows, but all except one were on the second floor. The one that wasn’t had a curtain drawn across it. Classified information, need-to-know basis, those sorts of things. As Adrian gazed at the building, he heard a tinkle of shattering glass followed by a yelp echo from the inside.

       “Hey Plum! I need the thing! Yeah, the towel pack. Get over here, would ya? Geez, you walk so slow.”

       Adrian held up the Duckletts. Ana squawked, scratching at his wrist with her feet for a hold, then spread her wings and flapped awkwardly towards Rory. Wick wasn’t far behind.

       “Here,” he said, untying his makeshift pack. “You had a coin stuck in here, didn’t you? Or did you? Careful with Rudyard’s bread - I’d rather not have to hunt down a second loaf.”

       Rory felt around in the folds of the cloth. Her hopeful smile vanished. “It’s gone.”

       “What’s gone, the bread?”

       She shook her head, staying mute. The Shieldon at the counter drummed his claws. He did have the flutes - lots of them, all different colors.

       “If you don’t have a coin,” he said, straightening up, “we can work out a trade. You see, I left a book here with my associate when I ducked out to use the . . . well, you know. When I came back, the book was gone. According to my associate, some Sandshrew fellow had demanded it be returned to the library at all speed.”

       Rory groaned.

       “Or if you don’t like libraries, perhaps you could do something else for me. I have this Pidove friend - Real scatterbrained fellow, and he left me with this stack of mail to be delivered . . .”

       Adrian’s gaze strayed back to the big building. The door twitched open and a Meowth, dripping with anxiety, slipped out. She glanced around, then jumped over every stair and took off running up the street.

       “I have these letters here - I’m afraid one of the others might’ve blown away, but that doesn’t matter. This one should be delivered to the Sealeo who runs the juice shop a few streets in that direction, this one to a Nesbit fellow . . .”

       Someone had set up a sign at the base of the steps, Adrian noticed now. He wandered over.

       In pursuit of erudition? Inquiries stoke your fancy? Epistemologist in training? Andalusst’s own Researchers’ Guild is now accepting applications. Please see a representative for details.

       Adrian glanced back over his shoulder. Rory was busy arguing with the Shieldon still and didn’t look like she’d be getting the flute from him anytime soon.

       Surely it wouldn’t hurt just to wet his feet.

       . . .

       . . .

       “You did what?”

       Adrian broke off another piece of his chocolate bar and popped it in his mouth. “They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. If it makes you feel any better, I’m almost sorry. Sand and stars, it’s hot. Look at this - My chocolate is melting in my fingers.”

       “You . . . you went and signed us up for the Researchers’ Guild. Behind my back. H-how could ya -? Why would ya -? When did ya -? I’m gonna-”

       Without turning around he gave a sarcastic, “I’m glad you’re being so mature about this, Woman.”

       Rory’s arm dropped back to her side. There was a sound like maybe she had kicked a stone across the street. Adrian glanced at a passing window to watch her reflection. She had the Duckletts tucked beneath her chin, their feathers dusting her nose. She rubbed the space between her eyes.

       “But I don’t want to be a Researcher! They have to spend forever doing things like . . . like . . . lookin’ at boring books and takin’ boring notes. I wanna be free! Runnin’ through the dungeons and the Fog. Escortin’ princesses. Beatin’ up the bad guys.”

       Adrian fanned himself with the end of one ear. “Running through the dungeons and the Fog is what we did every day for a year. You told me you hated it. You wanted to lie around and do nothing for the rest of your life. You said you were going to punch the next princess you saw in the nose.”

       “But Adrian, I can’t-” Rory stopped, her mouth partly open. She closed it again and looked away, then back at him. She breathed through her nose, just flicking her eyes back and forth across his face.

       “S’not like I’m Researcher material. I mean, just look at me. Adrian, you poured over books every day a’ your life. I get that. I get it. But look at me.” Rory set the Duckletts on a wooden bench and flopped down beside them. “I grew up on a farm, and my Gran trained me how to be a great fighter. I need this, Plum! I need th’Explorers Guild as motivation to get myself back inta shape. To wake up in the mornin’ feelin’ like I had a real purpose and a productive day to look forward to. To get things done.”

       Adrian scratched his shoulder. “You didn’t . . . tell me not to . . .”

       “I didn’t tell you not to. Oh, I’m so sorry. I only rambled on for the last three weeks ‘bout how much I was lookin’ forward to joinin’ the Explorers Guild just for fun, but din’t mean a word of it.”

       “I didn’t intend to do it,” Adrian said quietly. “I got swept away in the excitement of the moment. I was in there, Woman. Surrounded by tables and a hundred hard-working Pokémon. They were doing chemistry. They had one room entirely dedicated to that - just chemistry. Other rooms, too. Classrooms. The Researchers run the school system, you know. For the kids. Older ‘mon like us are welcome to listen in and learn all sorts of things. History. Art. The Fog. Math-”

       “I don’t need some big-wig, snot-nosed know-it-alls to teach me math.”

       “And they had their own library! You should’ve seen it. All the ‘mon that never learned to write or who don’t have hands, they can tell their stories to special scribes who copy it down for them. Maybe they don’t have so many books in there, but they have stapled packets. Essays, research. I could spend a week in there and not get halfway done.”

       Rory started to pick up the Duckletts and towels. “I don’t care. You know who’s team leader here, Adrian? Me. And I want to join the Explorers. C’mon, up on your feet. We’re goin’ there right now. We’re gonna register to join ‘em, and then we’re gonna march back here and tell Chelle that we can’t be part of her borin’ ol’ Guild.”

       Adrian crumpled his chocolate bar wrapper and hurried after her. Wiping his mouth with his wrist he said, “Solstice gave me these.”

       Rory snatched the scraps of paper from his hand. “What are they?”

       “Accessory tickets, or something. If we take them to Chantelle’s shop, she’ll let us pick out something from her cloths. Like those fighting vests you’ve been wanting.” He shrugged. “You can have them both. Use our starcoins, buy yourself something nice. Customize it, whatever. I don’t care.”

       Rory stopped walking. “You mean it? I can have anythin’ I want?”

       “Of course. I have no need for such trivial things, especially in this heat.”

       “Liar. Plus I’m still mad at you.”

       “I can’t hold that against you.” Adrian scratched his ear. “And, you know. If you ever get so frustrated that you wish to leave me alone for good, you’re welcome to. The Guilds accept single-member teams. You could leave them for the Explorers any time you want. Why not, actually? We could still share that rickety little house. Come to think of it, this could possibly be the greatest idea I’ve ever had in my life. It may allow us to reap twice the rewards.”

       “Nah. Th’Explorers are all the way ‘cross town. And without you by my side, I’d need a’ put in twice as much work. Three times, actually, if I do the math right.” Rory fanned out her accessory tickets. “I’m gettin’ excited now. These’ll be great. I can get somethin’ nice for my date tonight and I won’t look like such a bum off the streets.”

       Adrian almost forgot to sweat. “Your what?”

       “You heard me,” Rory said, and she bared her teeth in a grin. “You ain’t the only one keepin’ secrets today, looks like. I met this guy while I was gettin’ this.” She produced a large piece of sea glass - petal pink - from the folds of the towels. On her shoulder, Wick clucked his tongue admiringly. “I was walkin’ a ways behind him when he tripped. He started a’ get back up when this Wigglytuff shoved him in the dirt. I punched her in the nose and, well . . . We’re goin’ out to Fern’s around sunset.”

       “Good for you then, I suppose?”

       “Darn right.”

       Adrian took the sea glass and held it close to his face. “Well done, Woman. I was beginning to suspect we would be doing this for the next two days.”

       “Aw, shoot. I know I’m awesome - You don’t gotta lay the flattery on so thick.”

       He rolled his eyes. “I suppose we should look for Rudyard, then.” He scanned the surrounding area, then pointed to a statue of a Piplup spouting water into a small fountain. “But first I need to take a dunk.”

       “Yeah, and the Duckletts too. Ana’s not feelin’ too good, I think. Ah. Well, it took us a couple hours, but we’re finally gonna get that bucket from Rudy. Hey, did ya ask Chelle ‘bout if she’d seen your sketchpad?”

       “No luck. Too many people. Too many papers. Too much to do. Ugh, this water is warm.” Adrian stuck his head beneath the fountain’s dribble anyway. “That reminds me. Before we officially become members of the Guild, we need to take an admissions test. I signed us up for the day after tomorrow.”

       “I hate you.”

       “That suits me just fine.” Adrian pulled back and shook himself. “Hm. There, Woman. The small building with the red bricks and the pink sign. Does that look like a bakery to you?”

       “Is it? This day’s just gettin’ better and better. Geez, am I ever glad I left the house this mornin’. I guess Rudy can wait a little longer . . .”

       “Let’s go now, please. I need the shade.”

       Rory trickled water on her forehead. “I almost don’t dare to hope. It looks reliable enough. Bet they got frosting too. Think they take barters?”

       Adrian groaned and covered his face with his hands. “I swear to every god above, if I hear the word ‘barter’ one more time today, I am going to lose it. I’ll run off into the Fog, and I don’t care if I cross paths with you or this wretched city ever again. A thousand days, my foot. This is not what I signed up for when Theo threw me out. Now, for the love of Venka, or whichever crazy deity it is that you Thrishum people worship, can we please get out of the sun?”

       Rory shook her head in thorough disgust. “We need to get you a kissin’ cloth, Plum. No wonder ol’ Croakie wanted us Fire-Types for farmin’ way back when - Y’all are useless when it comes to hard work outside.”

       “Says the Chimchar who would rather pass the day dancing in her dreams than actually making something of herself.”

       “Hey, I’ve earned every thread a’ that blanket.” She slugged him on the shoulder. “C’mon, my cake awaits.”

       It was a cozy little shop with cozy red bricks tucked cozily together. It smelled of cream and butter even from the outside. “The Sugarplum Bakery,” Adrian read as he pushed open the door. “I like this place already. Maybe today is starting to - Ahchoo! Ahchoo! Oh, you have got to be f-”

       “If you start swearin’ in front a’ the Duckletts, I ain’t buyin’ you chocolate for a month. I don’t wanna be blamed if’n three-week old Ana starts spoutin’ off a dozen of those every time she opens her beak. No wonder your allergies are actin’ up, it reeks of Meowstic in here.”

       “I was going to say freaking. Or flipping, perhaps - I suppose I hadn’t decided. Honestly Woman, when have you ever known me to succumb to something so uncivil as profanity? And yesterday doesn’t count. Snff!” He rubbed his snout with a fist. “I’ll . . . wait outside.”

       “Take the Duckletts and things then, will ya?” Rory licked her lips. “Apple pie, though . . . Hang on a sec, Plum - You got a’ li’l bug stuck on your ear. Hey, hold still!”

       He could breathe again back in the open air, even if it did smell of too-hot bodies under the too-hot sun. Adrian skimmed the crowd, wondering if one of those innocent faces was behind the stealing of his sketchpad. And the murder of the Duckletts, too. He sat down in a shady spot beside the bakery’s wall with Ana and Wick to count the passing species. Three Growlithe. Two Mareep. Four, five Smeargle. One Aron. One Elgyem. Two Mudkip.

       One ‘mon he was shocked to not recognize. It was tiny and pink and round, and it floated through the air puffing happy puffs of purple steam. Oh, when he got his hands on that wretched little thief he’d really do something awful to him - whatever Rory didn’t get the chance to - and that would really be something. He was going to relish watching every tuft of fur fall out one by one.

       A blur of black and pink and white crossed his vision.

       Adrian raised an eyebrow. Quickly double-checking to be sure he wouldn’t make a fool of himself, he snatched the loaf of salac bread from the Duckletts and rolled to his feet. “Rudyard!”

       The Gothita paused, cocked his head to the right, thought for a moment, and slowly turned around. He regarded Adrian with a puzzled frown, then set his wooden pail down by his feet.

       “I thought I saw a pussy cat.”

       Adrian waved this helpful comment away as he ducked around a cluster of Fennekin. “How fares the Wailord?”

       “Yes, she’s good. I can tell. Now she can go for hours. Those Blastoise really helped her cool off.” His blue eyes lit up brighter. “I can give you a lift now, if you like. I’m all rested up. Did you bring me a sandwich?”

       Adrian handed him the salac bread. Rudyard hugged it, snitched a bite, and put the rest away behind his back. His hands were empty when they came forward again.

       “How do you do that?” demanded Adrian, twitching his whiskers.

       “Do what?”

       “Tuck objects away into empty space like that and pull them out again later. This is the second time today.”

       “You can’t?”

       “Not without pockets!”

       “I don’t understand,” Rudyard said, looking genuinely sorrowful.

       “You think I’ll just blow it off if you don’t answer the question? Gosh darnit, I am a ‘mon of science! Now you just-”

       Rudyard rubbed his knuckles against his chest. They started to glow blue, along with all three of his bows. Behind him, a Pikachu froze solid mid-yelp.

       “Just . . .”

       Rudyard glanced up at him. The top of his head came only to Adrian’s chin, but to the Chespin, he may as well have been a Stoutland.

       “Is something wrong? You got your tongue?”

       “Ah . . . You know what? I think I’d rather not find out.” Adrian rubbed his forehead, then stopped. “But I’d like to ask you something else.”

       Rudyard spread apart his hands with a smile, snapping the Pikachu back into life. “Be my guest, be my guest, put my service to the test.”

       “Woman told you we were out looking for that blasted criminal who made off with my sketchpad, didn’t she? Well, he left behind a trail of pawprints. I don’t suppose you’re any good at ground tracking?”

       “What did they look like?”

       Adrian looked around for a quill and pot of ink. Finding none, he instead formed a few Pins in his hands and rearranged them in his palm: one large pad in the center, four thin, long ones up above. “Like this.”

       Rudyard tilted his head first to one side, then the other. “No. Sorry. These things all look the same to me. I don’t particularly recognize it.” Helpfully he added, “But I can play the guitar.”

       At this sentiment, Adrian shook his head and folded his arms, vaporizing the Pins back into light. “For just one day - one day! - I wish I could observe the way your stream of consciousness flows. It really, really irritates me to know I never will.”

       “Evidently I need new eyebrows, but we don’t always get what we want, do we?” Rudyard shifted his gaze past Adrian’s shoulder. A door swung open, then softly shut. “Hey Plum!” Rory called, and Adrian turned around.

       “No cake?”

       “Nah, they still gotta bake it. I placed an order. But look!” Rory held up a small white box. “I had some spare change. Cookies!”

       “Thank starlight. Perhaps I can go to bed happy tonight after all.”

       “Can we have him?” Rudyard asked, standing on his tiptoes to see inside.

       “No,” said Adrian, pulling the box away.

       “Sure,” said Rory, pulling it back. “You allergic to peanut butter?”

       Rudyard shook his head no, so Rory handed him a cookie. He broke it in half, then broke the two halves in half, and stuffed all the pieces into his mouth at the same time.

       “They’re pretty,” Rudyard observed, “but they sure do tickle.”

       “Don’t taste as good as mine,” Adrian agreed.

       “They’re delicious,” corrected Rory. “Ya’ll’re just real picky.” Facing Rudyard again she said, “Can ya scout around for us from up above now? We found you the glass.”

       “What glass was that?” he asked, staring at the cookie box.

       “The . . . the sea glass. The glass you said we needed a’ give ya ‘fore you’d lend us a hand and the bucket. The glass I just spent two’n a half hours wanderin’ around the market lookin’ for.”

       “Oh, that glass,” Rudyard said, with an air that implied he still had no idea what she was referring to. “Coolness. Trade you my pail for it.” He examined the pink shard and nodded. “All right then. Shall we end this?”

       “Right now?” asked Adrian.

       “All of us?” asked Rory.

       Rudyard grinned. “Of course. You haven’t lived ‘til you’ve flown above the clouds. My treat.”

       “I am quite curious to watch this Wailord fly up close and in person. Does it speak?”

       “‘Course! She can tell you her greatest quality in eight different languages.”

       “Can she really?”

       “Dunno. It’s all Greek to me. Rory-friend, Marissa’s this way. You coming along?”

       Adrian turned to see Rory still standing where they’d left her, a Ducklett on each shoulder. She was squinting at the sky with one hand over her eyes.

       “Nah. I . . . I think I’m gonna go use these tickets at Chantelle’s.” She swallowed and took a step back. “I got a date tonight, you know.”

       “Ick.” Rudyard wrinkled his nose. “Limerence is disgusting. Call me when you get over it.”

       Adrian could only stare.

       “Eh, the murderer can wait,” Rory said, reading his mind. “He don’t got anythin’ better to do.”

       And with that she turned on her heels and sauntered off, swinging the Duckletts in their pail as she went.

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Rory and Adrian of Team Plum Pudding

Synopsis: Rory grows attached to some baby Duckletts, only to discover them dead within the hour. She proceeds to drag Adrian around during her search for the killer. Her heavenly virtue may be forgiveness, but BABY DUCKLETTS, MAN! WHY?

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This entire chapter was only four short lines on my plot outline.

Coincidentally, the last chapter's outline was also only four lines long.

I think something's wrong here.

If you're interested in seeing how Adrian's excursion into the Researchers Guild went, you should read Plum Pudding's written app.


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Rudy's Yard of Refs

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Total Drama x2

The Chaos King x1

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