I wake up the same way I have for the past few weeks- in a pile of blankets on the floor. The house Kim managed to rent while we were out here was somewhat large, but also incredibly drafty.
I look over towards the pair of them. They’re both still asleep in bed- Julius has a similar number of blankets as I do, but Kim’s managing to remain comfortable with a single sheet. Her tail hangs out of the side of her bed, a safe distance away from the blanket on top of her.
Untangling myself from the mass of fluff I managed to practically cocoon myself in the previous night, I rise to my feet, curious as to the weather. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’m really that interested in whether it’s “snowing” or “fresh snow” outside, but it’s important to know if any of us plan on leaving.
I’m startled on my way to the window by a loud clanking sound from behind me. I spin around in surprise, and breathe a sigh of relief as Ampharos dashes into the room after a kettle. He picks it up, and gives Kim and Julius a look to make sure they’re still asleep. Kim’s dead to the world, but Julius twitches a bit, and wakes up.
Ampharos gives him an apologetic smile, and whispers, “Sorry! I thought tea would be a good way to start the morning, but the kettle was on its side, held in place by one of the pans...”
Julius shrugs, and seems to drop off again immediately. Ampharos turns to me, and motions towards the kettle. “Tea?”
I shake my head, and he turns back to the kitchen. “Alright, no problem. Talk?”
I follow him into the other room. “Sure. What about?”
He places the kettle over a small fire pit. “Well, I figured I’d check up on you. You’ve made quite a bit of progress in the past month, but you don’t really talk about it.”
I sigh. “I’m alright, Ampharos. What else is there to talk about?”
“Well, I don’t know what goes on in your therapy sessions, so I don’t know how well you’re actually doing. I just know you’re no longer depressed. Have you discussed Arceus’s rejection? Chance’s mistake? What exactly goes on in there?”
I sigh again. “Look, Ampharos- if you’re curious about these things, you don’t have to beat about the bush. Arceus’s rejection was tough, but I think I’ll be fine. Chance’s mistake was just that- a mistake. I assume even luck gods make those sometimes.”
I think I know what his next question is going to be, and Julius enters the room before he can ask what I think about what happens when all of this finishes.
He rubs his eyes, and staggers over to the edge of the fire pit. “Far too cold... Don’t know what Chance was thinking...”
“She couldn’t control which way this one went, Julius. Remember, distortions like the Shards and I don’t have threads. I’m sure that if she really wanted to, she could have sent the Shard off to Gaineamh. Point is, we have to deal with this until she points us in its direction.”
As Julius begins muttering under his breath about how he had wanted to go to Crainn, I feel a tug at the back of my mind.
You know, I think I’m close to figuring this out. I just have to...
She cuts off, and I’m silent for a moment before trying to get her attention. Chance? Are you-
I found it! Other side of the mountain, and about three miles across a plateau of ice. A family of Sentret were just murdered, but there’s no murderer! This means-
She seems to notice my discomfort. Oh, for Arceus’s sake, Heath, people die all the time. Murder’s not even the least pleasant way. But this is important- you can stop this before it happens again. If you get moving now, you guys can get there by the end of the day.
I turn to Julius and Ampharos, who are busy discussing the state of Rescue Team business. “Guys? Chance just told me that she found the Shard.”
Julius lightens up. “Really? Alright, then! We can take care of it, and then we can blow this popsicle stand.”
Ampharos raises an eyebrow. “She found it just as we were talking about it? Hmmm... Either she’s just insanely lucky, or she wasn’t taking this seriously, and only really looked when we brought it up.”
I note that he doesn’t touch on the fact that this puts her reliability in doubt. Julius either doesn’t notice, or doesn’t care. “Where are we looking at, and how soon can we leave?”
“I guess we can leave as soon as Kim is mobile. And I can lead you guys there- Chance’s instructions seemed fairly simple to follow, and if her lessons were accurate, it’ll try to track me down. At that point, well... Let’s just hope I can fight it.”
The pair of them nod, and the three of us wait for Kim to wake up.
The four of us begin to move around the mountain. Julius asks questions the entire way, mostly about Chance’s lessons. A good number of them are easy to answer, but on one occasion, he asks about my true form. I manage to shoot him down, but not after stammering out a half-hearted attempt at description.
It’s around noon that we reach the other side. This just so happens to be when the wind picks up, and we end up in a snowstorm some fifteen minutes later. The wind is biting, and we only manage to keep moving thanks to the warmth provided by Kim’s tail. Our group needs to stop no less than four times, and we’re all worn out by the time we arrive at the place Chance mentioned.
I look around, trying to spot our target. Kim leans over towards me.
“Heath... I have a feeling that what we’re looking for isn’t here.”
I relay her reaction to Chance.
I see... That’s unfortunate...
Julius shivers, and begins shouting at the sky. “Are you KIDDING me? We slogged all the way out here on a wild Ducklett chase?”
Kim grabs Julius’s shoulder. “Calm down, Julius. Perhaps the feeling of malice we got when we encountered the false one wasn’t really accurate. Chance mentioned murders- look for corpses.”
I’m about to nod when I hear Chance shoot the idea down. If you’re killed by a distortion, you don’t leave a body. I’m sorry. I thought I had found it...
I explain this to the group, and Kim sighs. “Fine... I guess we head back to the house until Chance really finds this thing, or at least thinks she does.”
With that, she storms off in the direction she came. The lot of us follow her back, eager to get back to the slightly-warmer house.
The lot of us wake up later than normal. We eventually congregate in the kitchen, and Kim produces a number of letters.
“Alright, so we’re a bit behind on answering these, given our wild Ducklett chase yesterday. Why don’t we take care of a bunch in one trip today? It’ll make up for missed cash, plus it will mean that these people aren’t disappointed.”
Julius reaches for the stack of letters, and grabs one out of the middle. “Hmmm... ‘My daughter vanished in Frosty Caverns. Reward of 1,000 Poké for her safe return. Sincerely, Sableye.’ Frosty Caverns sound good to anyone?”
Ampharos and I nod. Kim sorts through the stack, and pulls out three other job requests. “Alright, we’ve also got two item requests, and one escort mission.”
After Julius gives her a look, she sighs, and shuffles the escort mission back into the stack. “Two item requests, then. Total rewards are 2000 Poké. Is that acceptable?”
We all nod, and Kim heads over to the door. “Right. Follow me!”
Our group exits the village, and follow a series of signposts that lead to Frosty Caverns. As we file in, Julius shouts a warning back to me. “Heath, just remember to focus on where you are. We don’t want to lose you in there. Again. For the fifth straight mission in a row.”
I nod, and we enter the caves.
As is typical for a Mystery Dungeon, the temperature soon warms slightly- enough so that no snow flies in after us, but still cold enough that there’s a layer of frost on absolutely everything that hasn’t moved in the last few minutes.
Julius shouts back to the group. “Right, we’re looking for a Sitrus Berry, a Frustration TM, and a young Sableye. If you see any of those, don’t hesitate to let us know.”
The three of us nod, and begin looking around as the corridor widens into a room about 20 feet on a side. We spread out, Kim and I peering down the two other exits to the room. I hear Ampharos shout, and Kim breathes a Fireball at a Swinub that was attempting to sneak up from behind us.
I almost forgot that Mystery Dungeons don’t have a clearly defined entrance. One of us should have paid more attention. Julius steps over to me, and nods down the corridor I’m looking down. “Kim’s saying that her corridor looks like a dead end. We’re taking this one.”
I nod after a moment, and take the rear. As I move forward, keeping an eye out behind me, I feel Chance tug at the back of my mind. I sigh, and start the conversation.
After yesterday, this had better be good, Chance.
She sounds somewhat offended as she replies. Yesterday was a complete fluke. I’m usually very good at-
She breaks off, and her tone changes. There’s no time for that! Point is, I was wrong- the Shard was on that plain last night. It committed two more murders moving across it- almost as though it was deliberately leading me to itself. Now, just a moment ago, there was a killerless murder on Basement 5.
She takes a moment before clarifying what I thought she meant. It’s in there with you. It’s a fair distance away from you, but I think it knows you’re there.
I think for a moment. We don’t know that for sure. Perhaps we can get the drop on it?
Heath... Look, when dealing with these things, the only way to ensure that you’re not dead in two seconds is to assume that it’s lying in wait for you. And in this case... Well, Darkrai is and always was a schemer. Combine that with the fact that distortions can usually sense each other-
What? You never mentioned that! Why can’t I sense him?
Her reply is sheepish. Well... I kind of dampened that sense on you. While I have full faith in you, I didn’t want to risk you becoming addicted to the feeling that comes after devouring a distortion. If that happened, your body would eventually become unstable enough that you may end up neutronizing even as Palkia attempted to destroy you.
I sigh, and Kim seems to notice. “What’s wrong, Heath?”
I think back to Chance. Should I tell them?
What kind of a question is that? Of course you tell them!
I fill them in on this turn of events, and the lot of them appear indecisive. Julius approaches me. “Look, Heath... Is she sure? I mean, yesterday was a bust, and she didn’t say anything about it beforehand...”
I double over as Chance starts shouting in my head. Look, you- if you don’t take this seriously, you’re all dead! Not just you four- everyone! Be it from the shard that eats Heath destabilizing, or the endless cold that would follow soon after! So I suggest you stay on your guard!
She’s silent after that. Julius reaches down, and helps me to my feet. “I guess that means she’s quite sure, then?”
I pause before answering. “...Yeah...”
Ampharos leans down next to me. “Hey. Are you alright?”
“...I don’t know. During her outburst, she didn’t choose her words well at all, and now she’s dead silent. I’m not sure if she’s angry at you or feeling guilty.”
Kim sighs. “Let’s just hope that her eventual replacement takes their job a lot more seriously. Anyway, we’ve lost our best source of information, we’re trapped in a rearranging maze with a killer timespace glitch, and we still need to try and find what our clients sent us in for.”
We’re all silent for a moment, and then Julius raises the obvious question. “So, do we fight it? Or do we run?”
I shake my head. “Chance sent us here for me to fight this thing. I’d hardly be doing my job if I didn’t at least try to fight it.”
Kim raises an eyebrow. “Is there any harm in waiting until you’re a better fighter? As it is, you can barely fight off something you have a type advantage over.”
“The Shards are different. I’m still at less than full power, but I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I am against ordinary opponents. Just keep me uninjured until we get down to the fifth basement.”
Kim looks over at Julius and Ampharos. “What do the two of you think?”
Ampharos shrugs. “If it’s what you feel is best, Heath...”
Julius nods. “We might as well. I mean, eventually, you’re going to have to fight the one at Dubh Tower- you may as well take this one on now.”
Kim sighs, looking quite irritated. “I guess I’m outvoted. Again.”
The three of them cluster around me, and we begin to march further into the caves.