Owed Return

A Pangoro on the run from his people after bringing dishonour to their name. And the mysterious masked mons going after him.

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Location: Base Camp
Your WAAPT character: Silent
Pronouns: Él/Su

Owed Return

Post by VeniaSilente »

Hello readers. For SWC 2023 event I brought in a story, under the prompt "lost", it was bound to happen that could be quite open to interpretation. On my end of things, I wanted to write a story about how even if you yourself think you are lost, you might not be lost to others.

Scene Ⅰ

Eva put a crate down and looked at the valley in front of him, ignoring the myriad tools he had moved in the crate.

He had been at it for months, maybe a few full years already if the warm southern winds and the wooly-looking clouds in the sky were any indication. He had just grown into a Pangoro when it happened, and the memory of those dark days always eclipsed what should have been a cause of celebration.

He rested against the rocky wall on the side of the mountain for a moment, to give his arms a moment of rest. Three steps to his left, a team of two Toedscool and a Gardevoir dragged another crate up, rested it against the wall, crossed some checkboxes on its attached clay tablet, and the Gardevoir sent the Toedscool away for more.

The Gardevoir remained behind for a moment, looking at Eva up and down. If he was thinking something, he did not word out a thing.

After a moment of contentment, Eva stretched his arm and scowled. "What's that about, Legi?" he asked.

The Gardevoir strengthened his stare. "You are taking time off," he spat out. "We are not to take time off."

Eva stretched up a little more and went back the way he had come, down the mountain, to fetch another crate. He called back to the Gardevoir. "I don't see you picking up crates right now."

Legi followed up close, with calculated and elegant steps, his form almost flowing down the mountain like he was running water. "Boss said we're only four hundred crates left," he spoke as the two of them passed by some other teams of Pokémon carrying crates up. "That can be done by sunset without time off."

The Pangoro made some quick mental calculations, he huffed at the realization. "I can't believe they got this arranged so fast. It feels like it has been weeks."

"Twelve days," Legi corrected. "This many people weren't gonna lose the opportunity for some quick cash. And once all this is done..."

The two Pokémon reached the bottom of the mountain, and took a moment of their time to look back up at it and at the working force lining up crates and crates and more crates. Eight full columns of Pokémon of various kinds, setting up a line as long as the Pangoro's sight could reach.

The two Pokémon narrowed their eyes.

"Well," ventured Legi, "we get the last payments two moons from now and then it's the Horizontia's problem."

Eva remained in silence for a moment, his muscles tensing up at the idea of finding himself without a job again. Sure, he had plans to move to the north and see if he could land some quests with the migration aides, but... that was still weeks from today.

Legi seemed to read this future distraction in Eva's thoughts. It wasn't often that the larger, stronger Pokémon busied himself with planning beyond getting a meal for the day, Legi knew. So these opportunities were rare.

"So, you have better plans than to head off to the North this winter?"

Eva blinked a couple of times, now drawn back to reality.

"Uh... I mean, no?" Eva idly scratched his chin. "What other plans can there ever be?"

The Pangoro turned away and walked off to a large tent where most Pokémon were fetching crates from. Still, he couldn't escape the Gardevoir, who seemed to just float a hair's length off the ground with such weightlessness, so effortlessly reaching to the Pangoro's ear.

"The Migration Wheel is chaos, you know." Legi took a moment to look around for an easy crate, and once he had it he circled around Eva, then trailed off a bit. "You could easily land a job with the ridge rangers, or with the polar ferry, or as a bodyguard for that old coot Civrina."

Eva rubbed his hand against one crate. He looked at it from one angle and another, pondering two ideas at the same time.

"I'm not sweating my life off to babysit the spawn of a Génives noble." As soon as he spat that, he moved over to a different crate.

The Gardevoir went to a crate, measured it up, then summoned a ball of psychic energy.

The Pokémon whispered at the ball the numbering of the tent they were in, and then sent it off flying, surely to pass the message down to the Toedscool partners of the team. Legi crossed his arms and did not waste any time in trying to resume conversation with Eva.

"Horizontian, then. You can as well serve two ma—"

"Are you flipping insane?"

Eva swung the crate away and got up close to Legi's breath fast. The psychic Pokémon did not have the time, nor the safe place, to fall back, and instead found himself within the clutching distance of a Dark type that could carry – and break – four times the weight he could.

Yet Legi simply tilted his head and looked the Pangoro up. There was no intent to clutch or kill; rather, there was that sudden discomfort, that brief laboured breath, that evasive looking to the sides, that always came up whenever conversations around the camp shifted towards the subject of the one faction in the continent Legi had left for last.

He unfolded his arms and made motion to walk past Eva.

"The Dunsunan clans, then. Though I've always thought you are not here for their riches." He added a wave of hands and a chuckle for emphasis.

The Pangoro moved aside and went back to the crate he was about to pick originally. He stood there for a moment, and shook his head.

"Does it matter, anyway? Money is money."

Legi narrowed his eyes. He had considered the notion that the Pangoro, certainly one of the sturdiest workers the current reclamation effort had available, would be willing to work himself out for one of the Dunsunian clans. He was about to speak of the potential reasons to do so and why he thought Eva would be better served elsewhere; but he had to let the idea go when he sensed more surprise.

Eva, not an empath, simply picked up his crate for a test, shifted his weight cautiously, and put it back down with a smile.

The Gardevoir's eyes narrowed. He stiffened his posture without realizing, busy as he suddenly found himself reading one feeling of surprise within the vicinity. There was another one nearby, too. The Gardevoir raised his arm to focus his senses and found another one, and another one, and further ahead a row of surprised feelings.

Something new or strange was going on, and he and Eva were missing out on the ne—


A jolt struck Legi's arm and then his back, and the Pokémon jumped over in surprise, almost landing on his face.

Before Eva could turn about and see what was going on, he was struck in the butt and then in the right hand by a jolt of lightning.

"Ow my a—aaayayayaow! What the...?"

The two Pokémon looked about without seeing anything, then they seemed to remember what they were working for, or rather who. The two of them looked down to see a very small yellow critter on the ground of the tent, looking them up.

"B-boss Teteli!" Eva yelped, raising his left hand from rubbing his right hand. "B-boss we were checking some crates and..."

"Don't come to me with that!" the Joltik boss answered. He gave the two Pokémon a glare, starting with Legi.

"Legi Tal fifth Reofahn, don't come to me with 'boss', no." The critter then turned to the Pangoro. "Eva Zor, don't come to me with 'checking crates', no. I can put off both your coins for ten more moons, you know?"

The two Pokémon let out a gulp and they lowered their heads. Eva tried to issue an apology. "S-sorry boss, we truly we were not–"

An arc of electricity flew right past the Pangoro's left hand and hit one of the crates without any ill effects. Eva fell silent right away, as the Joltik crawled over a few steps to get closer to Legi.

"We are not Slugma slugs here. You two taking time off, hear? What do we not ever do here?"

Legi, head still down, now bowed to the Joltik. "We... we do not take time off, Boss Teteli." Eva was quick to mimic the gesture.

The Joltik and the two Pokémon heard some rumbling, and the Joltik then jumped up to one of the crates and from there addressed the two workers. Just then, the tent opened and the two Toedscool partners of Legi crawled in. They saw the Joltik boss and immediately went to form by the side of Legi, with the Gardevoir resuming a straight posture.

The Joltik buzzed. "Right right. This mountain is important. You are not to take time off. Except now."

Eva and Legi blinked and looked at each other. "Boss?" they asked in unison.

"Time off for everyone! This is important!" the Joltik explained as he hopped about excitedly. "One of the Dunsunan courts is here for... Inspection time!"

"...Inspection time? So close to the goal?"

Legi's questioning immediately got stuck in Eva's mind, repeating endlessly. They were here? Not here, not now. Not so close to pay day.

«Inspection». That was Dunsunan for a visit from inspectors.

People looking for things out of place.

Legi and the two Toedscool hushed for a moment on the new development. The Gardevoir had momentarily lost track of Eva and his feelings, and had not realized that the Pangoro was now frozen in his place, his left arm twitching ever so slightly.

"So, everyone takes time off and do what the court says," continued the Joltik, not noticing the discomfort on his subordinate either. "And then, no more time off, ever! We finish this thing! Let's go!"

The Joltik in now a very good mood jumped down and promptly disappeared out of the tent. After some excited hushing over, the two Toadscool went out as well, to greet the inspectors. Legi gave a sigh of relief and turned over to Eva, who managed to crack a smile.

"Well, about time they wanted to see this thing ready," said Legi with marked contentment in his voice. "Let's go, Eva. Who knows, this might be your day to shine!"

Oh this surely could be a day for Eva.

He imagined himself being captured by the faceless inspectors, tossed into a cage carriage as was usually done to Dunsunan miscreants, and then be sent off to the place he had been avoiding for so long. No, no... Legi was here, Eva had to make the effort to rid of that imagination soon.

He had to stop imagining incoming interactions implying ill-timed incursions into his illegal status, far less than ideal.

Legi tidied his natural gown, while Eva tried to do the same with his own mind.

No incursions... No ill-fated times. Just him, and the open lands before him. Before Legi noticed anything.


A slightly more relaxed breath.

Inner peace.


No more thoughts. Only the sheer reality of a day come.

Legi repeated the invitation and Eva forced himself to nod, to wave a half-assed apology of numbness and tiredness (and to be fair, his butt felt still numb from the jolt) and to explain he would catch up with the inspectors in juuuuuust a moment.

"You... go ahead? Save me a spot on the column as usual" offered the Pangoro in a valiant effort to be left alone.

And off the Gardevoir went. It took a few seconds for the Pangoro to realize he had been finally left alone and his time was short.

Eva exited the tent and promptly went the other way. He made sure to avoid the lights and to move from the back of one tent to the next for a few minutes, until he got to one of the storage tents. He quickly produced his one bag, that he always had ready for emergencies like this yet had not seen use in a few years.

The mere grabbing the bag felt like a reality slap to the face, and Eva was suddenly made aware of the noise and the voices coming from the meeting. Not very far from there, and fortunately not very close to the mountain.

The time to go who knows where, was now; but first the Pangoro swallowed his fear and decided to try and perform one final check. To confirm that his fears were real.

He went down to all fours - a gait he was no longer used to, but was now more needed than ever. Quietly he moved from one tent to the next, staying out of sight of the few Pokémon still leaving some tents to head to the inspection, and approaching the meeting group from the side of the mountain; until he found himself at a good position to take a look at the visiting committee. The inspectors, here to inspect for things... or people, out of place.

From behind a table, Eva raised his head and took a look at the visiting group. He quickly identified two Swanna, two Pangoro, a Timburr and a Bellibolt among other Pokémon visitors. All wearing the customary blue-brown drapes with the pattern of the Hidden Sun, the hand-crafted leafy earrings and the metal crests that identified them as agents to one of the various clans of the Dunsun Province. Which one, Eva could not say from this far.

Eva scouted left and right, to see if any of the inspectors had already separated from the group, and after that lowered his head to retreat. It was at that precise moment, just about to get up and scurry away, he realized his body frozen but tense, his fur on end. A voice in his head told them, time to choose, to fight or flee: they were here.

Eva gripped his bag — had he really seen them, and somehow missed it?

The Pangoro bit his lip and raised his head just a bit from behind the table. One look back at the inspectors, just the one.

He knew it was them as soon as he saw them. Two Pokémon, in plainer, desaturated drapes. One looked like a bird, and Eva could make up it had four claws on each feet, arranged in an X-like pattern. The other seemed to be some sort of elephant-like Pokémon. No earrings he could see on either of them.

Not past the bony masks that covered the two Pokémon's faces and that left all but the eyes to the imagination. The eyes that would shine upon the soul of whoever they were seeking.

Eva felt his body spasm, and readied to retreat. His eyes lingered on the two mysterious Pokémon for just a bit longer, as they seemed to talk to other Pokémon and move out of the way, as if trying to avoid to make contact even with their own committee.

The two inspectors continued to talk for just a moment, and then they turned their heads in exactly the direction Eva was hiding. The Pangoro had already pressed himself against the ground and was slowly dragging himself away. He did not need to see the eyes; he knew.

The two inspectors moved over to the table, leaving no footsteps in their wake, not even the elephant-like one. The two looked and sniffed around for a while, shoved away a few wooden logs and loose bags, and then calmly moved over to where the tent with the crates was.

The bird-like Pokémon opened it and inspected it, finding no one inside.

After that, the two Pokémon circled about the tent, met again at its front, and looked in various directions, finding nothing of their concern. They then turned to and narrowed their eyes at each other. They seemed to converse in silence, as if to convince themselves they had certainly known their target was to be found nearby.

But no.

Eva was already practised at it. Days lost into a routine, a new normal only broken by the dark promise of his old life creeping up to him, in the form of eerie courts of the Dunsun, dressed like death.

He would pack his things and leave, to drag his lonely life to a new place.

Always starting anew, for some months already, maybe years.

Scene Ⅱ

The life of Eva Zor went on like that for a long time. Fron hamlet to hamlet, or just living out in the wilderness, taking advantage of everything he could to stretch his days all around the borders of the Dunsunan clans.

At some point he joined some nomads. A strange bunch of Pokémon like Mankey, Treecko and Sewaddle, apparently removed from their homeland, who spent the year following the stars and made pretty good company when they were not looking up to them. He would help provide the group with food, or defend the group from attackers. He would certainly entertain himself teaching the younglings how to fight.

Until one rainy season, by the time the third batch of mentored younglings had become adults, the group was ambushed by a well-known Cyclizar gang. They were small and fast, knew to attack right after sundown, they pelted the caravan with hit-and-run attacks, but ultimately they were nothing the now trained caravan couldn't handle. The dragons glared and roared back at the defenders, and disappeared into the night; they didn't stay around enough for Eva to learn much more about them.

No, what most of everyone knew was that what the road officers who came to inspect told them. The gang called themselves "Hell's Anoles" and seemed to attack caravans at random. As far as anyone knew, they had no particular goal, and they would steal different items – or kidnap different people – every time.

Or that was what Eva heard from the lead Magnezone officer, anyway.

The Pangoro did not waste any time staying for the report once the road officers led the caravan to the nearest village. Not when he saw among the welcome officers two Pokémon, one appearing like a giant bipedal insect, the other a sort of serpent Eva had never seen the likes of before. Both draped in heavy wool robes and covering their faces with bony masks, and keen on asking one too many questions.

That night the Pangoro friend of the caravan disappeared past the town's gates.

Only by the end of the next season, did Eva reach a port town, somewhere in the North.

It was around the time the town was to send their boats to join the Migration Wheel, and so the Pangoro had hoped to find a job in the ferry rounds; but the fleet and hiring for it were both delayed, and Eva was forced to stay in the town doing beat-up and cough-up jobs for a local Wartortle lord.

Every once in a while Eva would take a walk around the town's back alleys, joining in random groups of Pokémon, wandering around the markets, even joining the local Star of the Green Eye festivities. But his focus was always checking for any Pokémon wearing bony masks, any Pokémon wearing the Dunsunan crests.

Crests he saw a lot, but bony masks and darkness-piercing eyes he never met, or rather, they never seemed to find him.

By the end of summer, the time for hiring finally came, and Eva found himself before a brick wall. Rather than joining the Migration Wheel, the fleet would be joining the Génives nobles in an attack against the Dunsunan towns to the south.

The Pangoro would rather not join in an attack against his old clans, the people he had been born into and lived with for most of his life, even in his self-imposed exile. Come the night, he stole some food from the barracks, packed his things, and headed off to the west, following the coast.

He never noticed the Venomoth perched atop the local plaza, wearing a small eye mask made of bone, her wings letting off a strange, silvery dust as the Pokémon turned and looked around, scouting for its prey.

The next sunrise the Venomoth would glide down towards the plaza and meet a quadrupedal Pokémon with big antlers and wearing also the customary bone mask. The two headed off to a tavern and spent some time there, crossing out numbers in their books.

Their mark was long gone.

Scene Ⅲ

The Pangoro found himself today at the entrance of a town. He was now wearing an uniform, and it made him happy. It was a traditional Dunsunan uniform with a coat, a wide wickerwork hat and wickerwork greaves, all bearing the insignia of one of the Dunsunan clans; even if that wasn't his own clan, at least the association with his home made him feel proud.

Eva had spent several weeks wandering about in the wilderness, or doing odd jobs here or there. Only in mid-winter he got to the town and landed that job, and he felt he could stay.

"Eva the other big guard", he was referred to by some of the townsfolk. Not a hard job for someone strong and sturdy like him who could not only maneuver the levers and wheels for the gates almost effortlessly, but also who looked imposing with his size when he joined the tariff station, in full garb. And when his job included tasks such as fishing out someone trying to smuggle Lansat syrup into the town, or scaring off foreign raiders, he could be on full display of his capabilities.

Today however, his job along with the other guards was to observe as a skirmish took place outside. Spies brought in with a treaty with neighbour towns had managed to detect a Génives team that had helped a known renegade escape the town, and local enforcers were currently in pursuit of the group to prevent them from getting away with the escaped outlaw. The gate guards, Eva included, had been instructed to wait inside, their lances in hand.

"I can't believe it," spoke a Duraludon by Eva's side. That was the other, "non-other" guard people spoke about. "It seems Coffee Gregus still has some friends around."

Eva raised an eyebrow, put his lance aside. "'Coffee'?"

The Duraludon let out an odd rumble, Eva could only interpret it as a laugh. "Ah yes, it was before your time. Back when I was only one storey tall, he was an enforcer to a Génives noblewoman. And he was known for some really weird ghostly powers that a Gengar would be jealous of."

"...Powers? I'm born Dark, I don't like the sound of that."

The Duraludon shifted its weight. "No one would. Books say he learnt the technique from a spider Pokémon... he could summon black goops to do his bidding, they were made of a strange substance... some say, they were made of pain given form."

The dragon added some crude waves of hand as an imitation to ghostly power before continuing.

"And if those goops touched you, they would cause a sordid pulsing inside your head that would last for days, and you wouldn't be able to sleep. Hence, 'coffee'."

Eva could not help but make a face. The Duraludon looked at him and let out that weird rumble again. Surely he had to find Eva's face fun to look at.

"...And this was back when you were small?" Eva asked.

"M-hm... Good times. Used to fit inside the charity tent back then."

Eva nodded and looked the Duraludon up for a moment. Then the two Pokémon returned their attention to the world past the gate, where the callings and yelps of some Pokémon could be heard and some flashes of lights from attacks could be seen going about, right by the forestline several hundred meters away. The skirmish was still going on.

Eva could not help but give one final comment on the subject. "Our ancestors sucked at names."

To his surprise, the Duraludon responded. "They named one of their countries 'Horizontia', what would you expect?"

The two Pokémon continued their watch for a few minutes, as the struggle outside slowly seemed to subside.

Suddenly the Duraludon turned to Eva.

"So, speaking of coffee, I plan to go to The Nitely Dose later. Care to join?"

Eva stood up tall in surprise. "What? You're not coming to Bar Bok's?"

The Duraludon shook his entire body and made motion to turn away. "Nah, that place is going to be all talk about fight stories tonight. I want to be at the Dose for their coffee... and to see if the visiting inspectors are hiring."

Eva froze at the words. He would have dropped his lance if he had not left it to rest against the wall before.

Everything had been going fine, he had not seen weird people in a while... but he had forgotten people lived and worked at other towns too, and they would come here, too, for tasks such as inspection.

In Eva's world, «inspection» was Dunsunan for «inspectors», which was, in turn, Dunsunan for trouble brewing in the form of strange Pokémon wearing bony masks. What if they were among the visiting inspectors? What could Eva do?

"Dunsun to Eva! You coming then?"

The Pangoro caught his breath and blinked a few times. He found himself tense, stuck to the ground, and had to make an effort to relax his posture. He turned to the Duraludon.

"I'll, uh, I'll try, but I already have business scheduled at Bar Bok's."

The Duraludon guard gave a nod of sorts, then turned away to go talk to the head guard. On his end of things, Eva remained in his place, listening to the last exchanges going on in the skirmish outside the town.

He had not lied to his colleague, he did have important stuff to do at the bar, even more now. Namely, to fish about for a way to smuggle himself out of town.

Scene Ⅳ

Later that night at Bar Bok's, the resident Arbok and her staff were tending to the tables and trying to keep the volume of the various discussions down, and pretending that the coin exchanges going on under the tables were all perfectly legal.

Eva the other big guard, on the other hand, had spent most of his stay going from conversation to conversation trying to see if anything in particular piqued his interest. Be it ways to get out of town readily and without being tracker (by his own coworkers, no less), be it information on the visiting security forces that had assisted in the re-capture of Gregus and most of his associates.

But the various conversations had landed him on a pointer, or rather on an interruption, when he was talking to a Persian about the neighbour towns and their guards, the two Pokémon drinking some herbal juices as they talked things out. They were discussing the kinds of jobs the visiting fighters and guards would do, when suddenly someone interjected from a nearby table.

"If you are so sure they're the kind of people to leave you alone, go on I guess."

Eva gulped down the herbal juice and turned to the source of the voice. The Pokémon who spoke seemed to be made of living gold, and sat at a table alone fiddling with some papers.

"E-excuse me," answered Eva, flinching at the sight of a kind of Pokémon he had never seen before. "Who– what are you?"

"I'm living proof, if you will."

Unseen to the Pangoro, the Persian rolled his eyes and returned to his drink.

"Living proof of what?"

"Of the bullies and outlaws that disguise in the ranks of the inspectors. Hiding behind the veneer of authority and death."

"Listen, uh," Eva felt a bit angry, and waved his hand in a defensive gesture. "The Dunsunan guards are a known force of good. They are, um.... pretty responsible people. They don't look like death."

The Pangoro certainly had to force a smile while saying that.

"When you don't owe to them, that is. I've seen the bone mask ones, ya know? I know full well what they are capable of."

Eva's interest was piqued. "'Owe'? What did you owe?"

"Whatever. I owed them. They came to collect. The way they must."

The Gholdengo turned around in its seat, so that Eva and the other customers could its legs.

Or rather, its leg.

Cut off at around where would have marked the "knee" of other Pokémon, the creature's left leg ended in a rough stub with various small triangular indentations as if something had bit it off, and a flatter inner side that looked like it had been sanded off with some makeshift tools. Eva felt his face twitch at the sight: not a job that any certified Aggron would have ever approved of.

"Yo, you have to do that?" heard Eva from one of the patrons nearby. "That's just gross."

Persian chuckled. "It's time for that story again..."

"Again?" blurted out the Pangoro, looking back and forth between the golden Pokémon and the Persian.

Eva felt his drink wanting to roll its way back out of his gut. He stared at the Pokémon made of gold for a moment, then shook his head and returned his own focus to the bar. He could see his own hand shaking right by the glass, but he could not feel it shaking.

"N-nah they wouldn't do that," he insisted. "They... no. No." He shook his head.

"Kid, we're all beholden to something. You or I maybe wanted our glory... others, want their pay. If you want some advice for free, it's simple: keep your head down."

The Pangoro clenched his fists. He knew he would have to find out if the bony mask inspectors were around tonight, before he could take any further step. Were he to stay or to flee, if the golden creature said was true, they would never stop hunting him down. They would somehow always be a part of his life.

Eva called in for one of the waiters, a Ludicolo, and asked for his drinks and those of Persian to be added to his tab. At a nod from the Grass-type, the Pangoro was quick to get up and head out, in the general direction he knew Duraludon and the Dose to be.

The Ludicolo meanwhile brought up a large towel and wiped the table clean. Me made an inquiring gesture to Persian, who continued to lap at his drink.

"Well, he's paying. Pour me another one," Persian answered.

The Ludicolo wrote it down, then crossed his arms and turned to the Gholdengo patron.

"You always have to scare off new customers off like that?" he asked.

"Sod off, and get me some more smoliv oil for the leg," the creature complained, waving the waiter off. "Had to come up with some other of my stories, ya know."

The Ludicolo shook his head and went off to the bar to get back to work on some other requests. All the while, the Gholdengo only bothered to look around at the other patrons, none any interested in him, and tap his half-leg on the wood.

"Kids nowadays," the Pokémon mouthed off. "'Dis servant always warns you all of the three-eyed demon prowling out in the red nights. But no one ever listens. So I warn you of something else."

The Gholdengo spat a shiny on the ground and raised an imaginary flask, to have a toast with an also imaginary friend.

Or perhaps not so imaginary. Perhaps with the only person who in his eyes had listened, and valued his advice enough to run.

Scene Ⅴ

A Lanturn with dim teal hide and an Oricorio covered in gray plumage ended in creamy blue borders, both wearing robes and bony masks, walked out of The Nitely Dose and headed up the town towards an inn. They spoke no words during the trip, and their only interaction was to have the Oricorio return the Lanturn's bag to him once they were close enough to their destination.

They stopped a couple houses short of it, and their eyes shone as they turned to an alley to their left.

At the end of the alley, only dimly hit by the moonlight, a large Pangoro wearing a murky green cape and a wickerwork hat, stood momentarily transfixed. It took a moment for Eva to relax, to then build up strength in his muscles again, in case he needed it.

Eva picked up his spear from a nearby wall. "Should have known you'd sense me. You always do."

The Oricorio merely chuckled at the gesture of veiled aggression. "And you must be Eva Zor, then."

Eva clenched his fist and walked towards the two Pokémon. He got out of the shadows, to where they were, but they had not moved an inch, they had left him barely some room to move into the street.

They just stood there, as if they did not care that the Pangoro would face them, as if they could just take all the time in the world, as if they could take it from Eva himself.

His grip on the spear only strengthened. One part of him wanted to strike first, to try and see what could result of this. But most of him, wanted answers.

And the two Pokémon looked like they would not be against offering them.

Eva knelled and dropped the spear on the ground. The Oricorio looked down to him, surrendered, her eyes shone through the bone mask. She tilted her head and took one step closer.

"Do we grant you one question, then?"

"Who the hell are you?" he roared, trying to get up.

Lanturn and Oricorio both stepped back to give the Pangoro some room.

The Lanturn pointed to the crest on his robe. "You see, when it comes to the Dunsunan clans, you can think of us as agents."

Eva lifted himself back up, letting go a sardonic laugh while at it.

"Like an agent in my death, is what you are," he spat at them.

"We would be not this dramatic," chirped the Oricorio, as she started looking for something under her robe.

The Pangoro got himself fully back up. He took a long breath, and looked at the two Pokémon down. Down. He thought for a moment that despite their robes or their masks, he still was the larger one, the stronger one, probably even the fastest one...

Yet he had never bothered to try and fight them... nor them to fight him.

The Oricorio agent picked a parchment from a bag in her robes, and as she presented it to Eva she nonchalantly removed her mask. By Eva's side, the Lanturn shook his mask off, too.

"...What the...?"

Eva picked the parchment, he examined it for a moment, to find the same seal and crest that had haunted him for so long. The seal of the Three Lords of Dunsun that he had been born into. And a quick skimming into the written parchment could not find the words "hunt" or "apprehend", much to the Pangoro's surprise.

"Is this...?"

"A statement of conformity," explained the Lanturn, slithering up to the Oricorio's side.

Eva looked at his two interlocutors. "...A what on what?"

On her end of things, the Oricorio simply nodded. "The edit that has been passed by your clan is to have this statement issued, and communicated to you."

"So... you are not here to fight, to hunt me down?"

"Fight?" the Lanturn asked with a laugh. "I've been working on notices like these for twelve years. The last thing I want is a fight. Let alone with these."

Eva turned his sight to the Lanturn, who just gave a comically exaggerated wave of his fins in response. All that Eva could think in response was the sudden mental image of the Lanturn trying to... flop on the ground comically chasing after a Slugma.

"Wait, so... if I'm being notified... of what?"

"Of your payments pending."

The Pangoro winced, returned his attention to the parchment. An edict by his home clan, describing this and that deeds, starting with the battle he had lost upon evolution and that had cost his clan both lands and children. He frowned at the words written, and the Oricorio tapped him with her beak, motioning for him to continue reading.

Eva nodded, and gave a slow mental read of the document. All the while, the two messengers put their bone masks inside their bags, and removed their robes as well. They did not seem to pay much mind to the Pangoro while they were doing that.

"For... for services rendered..." Eva read, half incredulous. He raised his eyebrow as he got to a list of events. "Six months of assistance to the expansion effort into Fugue Mountain... Aided our neighbour citizens of Génives during the floods... Defended the bridges... Fought the Hell's Anoles..."

The Pangoro lowered the parchment and looked down at the two Pokémon for a moment, who now looked mostly like any traveller one would meed on the road. No masks, no threats.

"You've been tracking me down for long?"

The Lanturn circled about with some difficulty. "Your brother insisted to the clan leaders that they should. Avi, I think is his name?"

The Lanturn pointed the Pangoro to a note written at the bottom of the parchment. Eva absentmindedly followed it until he noticed the magical words he had for years never expected to read. He blinked, went over the line a few times just to make sure.

The Lanturn gave a brief laugh. "Your debt to the clans is paid."

A realization came to Eva's mind, of his years of running and the adventures now under his belt. And what it had cost him.

He ventured to ask. "My... debt?"

The Oricorio chirped a happy note, as if the Pangoro's situation was entertaining for her. "Young Zor, we are not bounty hunters, we are tax collectors. And your work to help people around you, counts."

"Even though," added the Lanturn with a curt tone, "technically we now find ourselves out of a job."

Only then Eva realized what the parchment was about. He had been for years on the run, thinking of the dishonour to his family, of the myriad ways the clan could exact from him the payments for the losses he had cost them.

All the times he had seen those Pokémon wearing masks... maybe it had always been the agents, maybe it was always about paying back. But certainly it meant the clan cared enough for him to keep tabs upon.

He thought for a moment of his return home, of what he could do; he found it difficult, after so many years gone, to even think of what a reception back home could even look like.

Eva had to shake the blurry thoughts from his head. He walked up to the Oricorio and handed the parchment back to her. The bird picked it up without a word, dusted her robe and put it back on.

Without the mask, without the chase, Eva thought, the robbed Oricorio did not look at all threatening.

"For a moment when I saw you I thought, that my life was forfeit."

"We are tax collectors, young Zor. And, fortunately for our retirement plans, we are only that."

The two Pokémon then picked their bags up, waved the Pangoro a goodbye, and turned away, heading to the docks.

It took Eva a few moments for him to give a growl of goodbye back at them and wave back. He thought of it for a moment and he added a comment.

"Well, you had me scared there for months," Eva noted with a hint of annoyance as he pointed to the Pokémon's bags. "Wanna work on your communication? Like, the thing with those masks?"

The Lanturn gave a laugh, accompanied by a minute shine of his head bulb, he stopped for a moment and gave the Pangoro a sly look back.

"That is part of the drama, young Zor," he stated plainly as he turned away to catch up with his partner. "Death and taxes."
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