Penny tapped the icon to switch to speaker phone. “Hang on, Momo. I’m with Juliana’s friends, and I want to find a better place we can all listen.”
“Right. Gotcha, B.B.”
No one commented on their respective nicknames, for which Penny was grateful. She motioned the group out of the wind and over to an alcove in the mountainside. The last thing Giacomo needed was super-loud static whenever she spoke.
Everyone settled down in a circle. Well, everyone except Nemona, who couldn’t seem to get comfortable with Arven’s off-balance backpack. He had carried it on his own for part of the hike. But only because the group had stopped and waited for him to catch up half a dozen times. Nemona had since been reassigned to backpack-keeping duties.
Penny quickly spotted the source of Nemona’s problem. A large bulge–probably some unnecessary camping gear–protruded from the pack’s side. Every time Nemona leaned back, its highly asymmetrical shape would catch on something and tilt over. She gave up, took the bag off, and sat it in front of her instead.
“All right, we’re settled,” Penny told Giacomo. “Start talking. I’ve got you on speaker, so make it detailed enough for everyone to understand.”
Static buzzed on Giacomo’s end, but then his voice came through loud and clear. He sounded out of breath for some reason. Probably his panic from earlier. “Erm, right. Okay. Well, first off, I shifted around some of my team members. See, I’ve got this Glalie I trained back before Team Star got off the ground. I was still worried about using dark types back then, but Glalie is one of those Pokémon that at least looks like a Dark-type, so–”
“Maybe not that level of detail, Momo,” Ortega cut in.
“Sorry,” Giacomo said. “Anyway, I remembered Freeze Dry would be really good against the titan, so I brought it up to the crew. Eri and Mela were back by then. They dealt with their titan real fast.”
“Ooo…kay,” Penny said slowly. Wouldn’t any ice move be good against the Quaking Earth titan? Why Freeze Dry, specifically?
“And we decided we should all go for it together, y’know? Anyway, we got out to the lake…”
For that matter, what about that Cacturne Momo’s been training? Wouldn’t it be even better?
“…and there was the titan, swimming around…”
Penny’s brain clicked back into the present, and she re-processed Giacomo’s words. “Wait. Lake? What lake? And how was a giant, ancient-looking Donphan swimming?”
“Donphan?” Giacomo asked. “Oh! You’re thinking of the Earth-quaking guy. Wanna hear that story first? I mean, it did happen first. See, we got to the desert. Then Atticus threw a few Acid Sprays ahead of us–”
“One does not simply walk up to the Quaking Earth titan,” Atticus noted.
“–and Cacturne took it out with an Energy Ball in one shot. We were waiting for you and Ortie to check in about the False Dragon, but we got nothing. So we decided to be provocative.”
“Proactive!” Atticus cut in. “Mercy, but thine vocabulary suffers without regular grammar instruction.”
Penny shook her head. “Hold on. So you beat the Quaking Earth titan, then you went after the False Dragon titan with Mela and Eri? And you ‘literally’ killed it?”
“Um…well, I’d argue the titan’s more of a fish kinda thing than a dragon. And we’re not sure it’s dead, it just…maybe it’s better if I explain.”
“Please do,” Penny sighed. Then she removed her shiny Eevee backpack, sat it down in the circle’s center, and rested her phone on top of it. From the way Giacomo was talking, she’d be setting herself up for a nasty arm cramp if she tried to hold the phone the entire time.
Giacomo didn’t like to brag, but he was quite the Cyclizar rider. When the rest of the team parked the two remaining Starmobiles as close to Casseroya Lake as they could, he rode up to the water’s edge and surveyed the scene. It was a big responsibility being in charge when B.B. was out. He’d held the group together for a year and a half so far. But somehow he felt the extra weight of the job with B.B.’s return.
Penny, he reminded himself. It seemed right to use her name now that he actually knew it.
His Cyclizar yawned as he made his analysis. It was chilly outside, and the sky was overcast, but the winds appeared calm. The lake water was calm and gentle, the smoothness broken only by the occasional head fins of a Dratini or the splosh of a Slowpoke’s tail. To the untrained eye, the crew would need a boat to cross. Or at least a spare Lapras. But Giacomo could spot patches of land among the surfacing Pokémon. Some were quite small–nothing more than an exposed rock barely big enough for a Cyclizar to land on. But if they took it carefully and his aim was steady, they’d be across with no problem.
Besides, if the worst happened and someone fell overboard, they could surely manage to scramble back out of the water, right?
“Okay, gang,” he said as he raised his hand for attention. “It’s tricky, but follow my lead here. Five jumps to that tiny island halfway between here and the big one. Then four more jumps to–“
Mela crossed her arms. “You do know Cyclizar can swim, right? Ow!”
Eri elbowed her. Mela rubbed her shoulder and flushed.
Giacomo stood there, still pointing at the landmarks he’d so carefully planned around, feeling like an idiot. “O-of course they can. I just didn’t want to get our cool outfits soaked after Atticus worked so hard on ’em.”
“Ah,” said Atticus, nodding. “My greatest thanks to you, then.”
With his dignity intact, Giacomo directed his Cyclizar to make the first leap. It landed perfectly, swinging out its trail for balance. They jumped again, and the group followed behind on their own Cyclizar each time.
The land marked on the map was nothing special. A nice view of the lake and lots of Tatsugiri flopping around. They all looked kind of pathetic. But this was the island in question, and they were the only Pokémon here. So logic said one of them was the mighty titan they were after. The only question was, which one?
The group split the island into quadrants, and each member set off to inspect a separate area. But even with only a fourth of the space to cover, checking every last Tatsugiri got old fast.
“Sure would be nice if one of these guys shouted ‘I’m the titan!'” Eri sighed.
“Tiiitan!” called an adorable little voice behind her.
“Precisely thus, Mela,” said Atticus. “Thou art quite the ventriloquist.”
“Dude, that wasn’t me!”
Everyone froze. Eri bolted first towards the adorable voice that wasn’t Mela’s, and the rest of the group soon followed. The sound had come from a larger Tsuguri, separated from the others on the island’s edge. Giacomo tilted his head. Maybe in the right circumstances, he could imagine it as a strong opponent, but flopping hopelessly on the grass like this, the little guy was–
A huge Dondozo surfaced and swallowed the Tsuguri in one gulp.
Well, the little guy was lunch.
“Hey, check it out!” Mela chuckled as she pointed. “It’s the food chain in action!”
“Would have rather fought the sushi with eyeballs,” Giacomo muttered. But their battle had started nonetheless.
Giacomo led with his Cacturne. Eri backed him up with her Thunder-Punching Annihilape. The two put up an impressive fight, but this titan was much hardier than the quaking earth one. Their usual strike-fast-and-hard strategies wouldn’t work here. The bulky fish weathered their attacks and hit back twice as hard. They wouldn’t last long enough for Atticus’s poison to wear the enemy down. And Mela’s fire types were as good as fainted before she sent them out.
Luckily, Giacomo had Glaile up his sleeve.
Or on his belt. Same thing.
The previous damage the team had done soon became clear. Dondozo struggled to fend off Glaile’s water-piercing ice attacks. Each reaction was slower, each move weaker. And in the final strike, Glaile was even able to freeze its opponent. Ice crystals covered the massive fish’s scales. Its body went rigid as the frozen effect took hold.
“We did it, guys!” Giacomo stood back beamed with pride. With the titan defeated, all they had to do was wait for the Pokémon to reveal its Herba Mystica stash. It had to thaw first, of course. Once a battle ended, that usually happened within…what? Twenty seconds? A minute, at most.
Except it didn’t thaw. The creature remained stiff as a board as it sunk to the bottom of the lake.
The four Team Star bosses gathered at the water’s edge, staring down at it. They all waited with bated breath for some air bubbles, or water sloshes, or something to indicate there was life under the surface.
Nothing. The water remained as clear and still as a windowpane.
“Oh,” Giacomo muttered. “Crap.”
At this point in the story, Arven had gone pale. Juliana was rubbing his back, asking if he felt sick.
Penny was channeling all her willpower not to throw her phone at the icy rock face. “It sounds to me like you had a dead fish there, Momo.”
“Well, Atticus thinks it could still be alive,” Giacomo replied. “We didn’t find its body after the lake disappeared, so maybe it snuck off–”
“What happened to the lake?” This time it was Nemona who’d spoken up. The group as a whole had been listening quietly up until now, but they apparently they drew the line at vanishing lakes.
“I told you to lead with that!” Mela snapped.
Arven bent over. Oh, shoot. He is going to be sick! Penny inched away while Juliana pulled her friend’s massive backpack closer.
“Don’t you have, I dunno, any stomach-soothing herbs in here?” she asked.
“No, and I’ll be fine,” Arven said. “Don’t go through my stuff.”
But Juliana had already undone the latch on the main section of the pack. The top flopped open. Whatever was causing the large bulge stuck out with a golden glimmer.
Ortega’s eyes lit up. “Hey, you found my staff!”
“Heh. Yeah. Meant to show you once we got through the mountain,” Arven said. He sat up wearily and rubbed the back of his head. Then he reached past Juliana, pulled the staff all the way out, and tossed it to his friend. Ortega caught it before it scraped the ground and gave it a twirl. Penny was half-surprised he didn’t give it a hug as well.
“So that’s why you were so slow before,” Nemona said to Arven. Her tone balanced precariously between touched and disappointed. “You were going back to look for it.”
“You didn’t need to,” Ortega added. “But…thank you.”
“Eh, you don’t look obnoxious enough without it,” Arven said.
Penny couldn’t believe she was witnessing those two get along. When they landed in Glaesedo, she feared Leafeon might need to conjure up a Grass Whistle just to keep the two boys from strangling each other. Now they were looking out for each other, exchanging unheard of phrases like “thank you.”
The whole scene could have been a very sweet and sentimental moment.
Except, of course, for the fact that no one on Team Star had explained what happened to Paldea’s largest inland water body.
The phone buzzed with static. “You still there, B.B?” Giacomo asked.
“Y-yeah, we’re here,” Penny said. “Sorry. You were saying about Casseroya Lake?”
“Uh-huh.” There was a bit of shuffling on the other end, but it settled after a moment, and Giacomo continued his story.
While losing the titan dealt a serious blow to Giacomo’s ego, what happened next dealt a blow to his sanity. The word “crap” had barely left his lips when the lake’s water level plummeted. Not sucked into a whirlpool down some mystical vortex. Not pulled away with an unheard of level of telekinetic power.
The water simply got lower and lower at a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed.
In seconds, the frozen titan had vanished. Along with the lake itself.
Team Star stared unblinkingly at a raised island of land, now centered in a small crater of…more land.
Mela was the first to speak. “Uh, guys, there was water here a minute ago, right?”
Everyone nodded while still staring at the space where the liquid used to be. Dense sand and a layer of scattered rocks stretched before them. The exposed lake floor looked damp with a few puddles but nothing more. The small pieces of land they’d hopped off on the way here jutted out like miniature hills. The remaining lake Pokémon seemed unperturbed by the whole event. Psyduck and Golduck floated about with their telekinetic powers, their arm movements identical to when they’d been swimming through water. Dratini and Dragonair snaked along, elegant as always. Magikarp flopped about to no avail, the same as everyone had seen them do on land before.
Giacomo had even seen one flopping itself down a walking path once, which really made him wonder why the fish bothered with water at all.
A few snow flurries fell from the overhead clouds, but otherwise, the air remained still.
“What do we do now?” Eri asked.
Mela cracked her knuckles. “Well, we’ve still gotta get that herbal whatever. The giant Orthworm smacked open a cave where it stashed the stuff.”
“Our foe behaved likewise,” Atticus said.
“Yeah,” said Eri. “So it makes sense the false dragon would have a secret cave, too.” She scanned the area. Unlike the other places the titans had made their homes, mountains were sparse on the island. In fact, there was only one place it made sense for the cave to be. “All right, maybe the location isn’t secret,” Eri said, pointing to the rocky peak in the island’s center. “But the place is still closed off.”
“Yeah, but we’re Team Star.” Mela landed a solid punch on her open palm. “We got fire power on our side.”
“Enough to break through a wall of rock?” Giacomo asked.
“Sure,” Mela said. “I should know. I was the one who evolved all those Charcadet for Ortie, remember?”
At the retelling of Mela’s words, Ortega looked faint. “Hold on. You’re saying you drove the Starmobiles over the floor of a lake?”
“A dried lake,” Giacomo said.
“And you rammed them into a mountain?”
“Only Atticus and Eri’s,” Giacomo said. “We couldn’t find the key to yours, and mine and Mela’s were already busted by Juliana.”
Penny expected Ortega to burst into a full-on tantrum at this news. He could be sensitive about his creations, after all. Instead he slumped onto the ground, buried his face in his arms, and sobbed. Nemona knelt down and rubbed his back.
“So did you get the Herba Mystica or didn’t you?” Arven asked.
There was a long pause. No disconnect; she could still hear static from the occasional burst of wind against the speaker. And it sounded like the group was moving, too. “Answer the question, please, Momo.”
“Sorry. Yeah, we got it all right, but, um…we might have also have left a…let’s say less than positive impression on the cops that showed up to investigate the vanished lake. See, turns out some villain group in Sinnoh was in the lake-vanishing business a few years back, and when we all showed up in the middle of the thing with the Team Star logo all over our outfits and vehicles–”
“–they want to arrest us!” Mela snapped.
Ortega stopped sobbing. He lifted his head, looking horrified.
Penny couldn’t even bring herself to reply.
“I facilitated our covert escape,” Atticus said, sounding quite pleased with himself. “The neerdowells shant discover our location for at least a sennight.”
“You ran from the police?” Penny finally got out.
“Covertly,” Atticus reminded her. “We are en route to the rendezvous point. We shall reconvene there.” And with that, the call ended.
“What’s the…” Arven bit his lip, working extra hard not to reinterpret the unknown word as yet another food item. “Round-a-view point?”
Ortega’s eyebrows rose with surprise and approval. “It’s the Poco Path Lighthouse. With any luck, Vanessa will be there with the key. We should hurry over.” He stood up and dusted himself off. Penny slipped on her bag. Ortega volunteered to call them some flying taxis so they didn’t have to ride the whole way. Juliana agreed as long as he and Arven rode separately.
The group began to check their supplies while Arven stood there in the snow. “Hold on,” he said to Ortega. “Why does your sister have a key to my place?”
Ortega took out his phone, which buzzed twice. “Because our dad’s paranoid, that’s wh–” His words cut off as he woke up the screen. There was some sort of text alert, but Arven couldn’t make out the details. “Boss?” Ortega said shakily. He showed the phone to Penny, then finally to the group as a whole.
Arven recoiled at the image. A group of faceless Maushold had their heads thrown back, red blotches on their cheeks as if in the midst of a full-blown scream.
Each of them had the number 49 glowing across their chests.