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Bluebells Are Forever

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[Chesnaught]

Today was meant to be simple, with just the group of knights headed out for combat practice. We marched out onto the Grass Fields Castle courtyard, where the equipment was set up and ready for us. My bulky green and white arm reached for a lance, but bumped into a furry beige arm. I glanced over at Typhlosion, who already had his paw clasped around the weapon.

"Whoops, sorry about that, Chesnaught," he apologized as he grasped the lance. "Unless you'd like to challenge me for this?" As he asked the last part, fire burst out from behind his neck.

"Ah, no thanks," I laughed. "I think you scorching me yesterday was painful enough."

He grinned. "Forgot about that. Sorry again!"

"No worries; that's what practice is for." Besides, I want to be able to handle myself against the types I'm weak to.

Instead of the lance, I picked up a sword and took some grass to make a Spiky Shield for myself. As I picked some out, I noticed a lovely looking blue flower that was just beginning to grow. Next to it was a full-grown aster, which I plucked out and tucked away for later.

Quietly, I watched Typhlosion practice with the lance. His footwork left a lot to be desired, but he made swift strikes with the pole weapon. Still, with only his bronze chest armor on, I'd imagine that he should take more care to mind his footing a bit. Then again, he's much faster than a number of us, so I suppose it's not a concern.

"Bah, he's a bully for grabbing that," snapped a voice. I looked over to see Escavalier as he readied his own red and white lance-like arms. "You wanted it, right?"

"It's fine," I murmured. "Besides, I'm great with a sword and shield. It's my specialty after all."

"Practice is to get better at weapons and fighting stances that you still need to practice," argued Escavalier. "You're lucky to have more options than someone like me. Anyway, I'm working against Scizor, but I think you should give that rat a good beating later." Before I could say another word, he flew off.

With a sigh, I knotted up my shield and held it up. The blades of grass on the ends of it could be sharper, but I wasn't looking to maim the others, at least not too much. As I stood up, I watched the other knights as they practiced, with Escavalier struggling to pull a lance from Scizor's claw and Typholosion running around the sluggish Armaldo. No wonder he's wearing so little armor.

Bisharp walked over in light silver armor and picked up a long-sword. "You looking for a sparring partner, Chesnaught? I hear Heracross is going up against Golurk today, so I'm guessing that you and I are the last ones around."

With a smirk, I nodded. "Sure, unless you want to hunt down a mage and challenge one of them."

"Right," he deadpanned, "because the two of us challenging the fire fox magician or the fairy sage herself sounds like a great idea."

"Hey, not every enemy will be to your type advantage," I reminded him.

"True," he admitted, "which is why I'm challenging you."

"If you insist."

We walked over to the far side of the courtyard and separated ourselves with a little distance. Bisharp was faster and hit harder than me, but couldn't take as many hits. He may have been suited up for those advantages, but I had a heavy suit of bronze armor on and wasn't looking for a quick match.

"Shall we begin?" he asked and lifted his long-sword.

"Ready when you are," I called as I readied the shield and sword.

He leapt forward and played right into his speed and power, as he quickly closed the distance and made a heavy overhead strike. My shield went up, took the blow, and stabbed Bisharp once he fell into it.

As a follow-up, I took a swing with my sword and hit him on the side, only hard enough to give him a bruise. He flinched and jumped back, but I pursued.

"You'll need to be more clever than that," I teased.

In retaliation, he kicked back off the ground and flipped his body about. He moved the sword though the motion and brought it down hard against my shield. I fumbled back, and shook my arm from the recoil.

"Shield only works if I get too close," he taunted as he got back up from the ground.

Keeping the distance, he swung again, and I took a hard blow to the side. The long-sword was too heavy for him to make another fast strike, but he put enough power into it to slow me down.

"Oh, that looked like it hurt a bit," mocked Bisharp.

"I'm still standing," I pointed out. "You can see that, right?"

"Not for much longer," Bisharp shouted and took another heavy swipe.

Again, I shielded his strike and shook from the recoil. However, I kept my balance and took some steps to close the space. While he pulled the blade back, I took a swing with my sword.

Quickly, Bisharp dodged my swipe. Still, I took another strike at him, to which he blocked with the long-sword.

"All right, take a breather, folks," called out a heavy voice. Bisharp and I broke apart and gazed back to the castle to see General Rhydon stroll outside. The knights stopped their practice and went to meet him in the center.

"General," saluted Typhlosion.

"Or is it viceroy now?" inquired Armaldo.

Rhydon glared at Armaldo, who slipped behind Typhlosion.

"You have a death wish," hissed Typhlosion.

"S-Sorry, sir, I m-meant no disrespect," stammered Armaldo to Rhydon.

"What's the interruption for, sir," questioned Bisharp, "if you don't mind my asking?"

"Well, we've got a couple of new members to join our top army squad," explained Rhydon. "Two ninjas, from Lotus Lake."

"Ah, home," murmured Escavalier. "It's been a while. My wife is also a ninja back there too."

Rhydon scratched his head. "Not sure if this is her, since the report states it's a short fellow traveling with a taller and thin lady," he clarified.

"Right, they wouldn't have sent her, knowing I'm here," Escavalier sadly muttered.

"Did they tell the king who they've sent?" asked Scizor.

"No, but he didn't ask," sighed Rhydon. "I'll remind him to, in the future. You know how he's been, ever since…" he trailed off and paused for a moment. "Well, you lot should know." We nodded.

"Will the ninjas be here soon?" I piped up to change the subject.

"They should be in a little while," began Rhydon as he tilted his head up toward the front gate. "Ah…unless my report was late and that's them now."

Everyone else pivoted around to watch as two figures approached from the gate. The pair wore dark blue robes, with hoods pulled over their heads. The shorter ninja's legs seemed to blend together as he slinked forward. Meanwhile, his taller counterpart wasn't much so compared to the rest of us, excluding Escavalier, who was a bit above the shorter one's height, and maybe Armaldo, who looked on par with her height. Her hips swayed a bit as she walked, alongside her long pink scarf, though she took a moment to pull down tightly on her oddly shaped hood.

"She's bit broad shouldered," observed Scizor. "Nothing wrong, just unexpected."

"Careful Chesnaught, you're staring," quietly teased Typhlosion and he elbowed my shoulder.

"Ah, she's not my type, I'm sure," I muttered back to him.

"Hey, what if she is? I'd ask her out," offered Armaldo, a bit louder than he realized.

"This isn't a contest to snatch her affections," hissed Rhydon. "We're knights, act as such. She's here to help us with—"

"With your war that's brewing," snapped a feminine voice. The two ninjas had finally made it over to us, quicker than we were expecting. However, her voice seemed to come from the shorter one of the two. "Besides that, I'm already taken."

Just to make sure I wasn't alone, I checked to see that the group shared confused expressions. Escavalier moved up a bit and squinted at the two.

"Wait a tick…that is my wife!" he exclaimed.

The shorter ninja tossed off her hood to reveal a pink helmet-like face. Though her eyes were barely visible, and the rest of us could hardly tell the difference, Escavalier flew right over to her.

"Accelgor, what are you doing here?" he asked.

"You tell me," she laughed. "The King sent for us."

"Huh. Apologies, miss," Rhydon started as he moved up. "We were expecting one female ninja, not two."

Accelgor tilted her head. "Two? I am the only one."

"Uh, I'm not," came a slightly deeper, but definitely more masculine voice from the taller ninja. He slowly pulled off the hood to reveal a brighter face of yellow and blue, along with two red, almost pink, eyes. As it turned out, his scarf was actually his tongue. "Um…hi. I'm Greninja of the Stream Shinobi."

Most of the other knights stood quietly, as they still processed the report's confusion on the duo. Escavalier was too absorbed in his wife's return to take notice.

Before I could move forward, Rhydon stepped up and shook Greninja's hand. "Name's Rhydon! I'm the General of this lot. Welcome to Grass Fields Kingdom, Greninja. You too, Accelgor."

I felt my mouth curve into a smile. They weren't anything too special, but I had a good feeling about the two. For some reason, I concentrated on Greninja. Something about him captivated my attention. We made eye contact, and I stared into his bright, oddly alluring eyes. He broke it after a minute and kept glancing around at the other knights.

Still, this was just the beginning. It got complicated not long after that.


[Greninja]

It doesn't really get more awkward than having a small army squad stare at you blankly after confusing you with your travel partner. Actually, it could, especially if I mentioned how attractive a few of them appeared to me, but I'd rather it not get any worse.

Accelgor's husband continued to coddle her, and excitedly chattered over her showing up here. The rest of General Rhydon's troops seemed too stupefied to move, save for the large green and white knight, whose back shell armor made him appear to be hedgehog.

"So, uh, I'm Typhlosion," spoke up one of the knights, the yellow and blue fellow. "And honestly, I'm wondering how good you two actually are."

"Is that a challenge?" asked an intrigued Accelgor, as she pushed her husband back. Rhydon shook his head and pulled his hands over his face.

"Sure, if either of you are interested," chuckled Typhlosion. "What do you say, Scizor?"

"I'd say you're trying to drag me into a fight I'd rather not participate in," deadpanned the red, clawed mantis.

"Fine, Armaldo, then," huffed Typhlosion.

"Wait, what? Me?" questioned Armaldo.

"I'm not going through our whole roster, so yes, you," insisted Typhlosion. "You can take on Accelgor, I'll go against Greninja, and if we each have a winner, they can have a final face-off."

"Sounds fair to me," agreed Accelgor. She looked over to me, and I hesitated a moment before I nodded.

The other knights backed away as Accelgor and Armaldo took to two sides in the center of the courtyard. Typhlosion, General Rhydon, Accelgor's husband, and I waited on one side, while the others lined up on the opposite end. My eyes locked with the hedgehog's dark eyes again, but I shifted them away after a few seconds, back to Accelgor and Armaldo.

"Would you like to make the first move," inquired Accelgor, "or should I?"

"Um, w-well," stuttered Armaldo. "Ladies first. It is chivalrous, after all."

"How kind of you! Unlike my husband," mocked Accelgor, and her husband shuddered. "Escavalier, when are you giving me back my helmet?"

"Are you still on about that?" Escavalier snapped.

"Always," she winked to him. "Ready, Armaldo?"

"Whenever you are, sure," Armaldo answered.

She rushed over to him, without giving him any more time to think or act. Accelgor delivered few quick punches in succession: first to his exposed gut, then the claws, back to the gut, and then a harsh uppercut against his jaw.

It might have been shock, but Armaldo fell backward, and hit the ground hard. Accelgor raised a fist and waited for him to get back up.

"Ouch," moaned Armaldo.

"Is that it?" wondered Accelgor.

Typhlosion let out a nervous and awkward laugh. "Ah, that might be my fault. I did a number on him a bit ago. Too rough with our sparring, I guess."

"Right, if you say so," relented Accelgor. She helped Armaldo up from the ground and marched him over to the side. Meanwhile, Typhlosion and I walked to the middle of the courtyard for our match.

"Greninja, right?" he checked and I nodded. "Right, well, your partner may have been a little too quick for Armaldo, but you'll have much more of a challenge with me."

I tilted my head and looked him over a bit. He wore light chest armor and carried a short sword, but nothing more. His footing seemed less graceful and careful compared to mine. Typhlosion had a pretty face, but was maybe a bit too arrogant.

"Would you like the first move then?" I called out as we took our positions.

"Ha, you don't need to pull that one on me," laughed Typhlosion. "But if you'd like to lose faster, that's fine too."

Right. He was more than a bit arrogant.

Still, I shrugged and waited a moment. He readied himself into a running position and darted over to me. As soon as he was close enough, he rose up and made an attempt to strike me with the short sword.

Quickly, I locked my left leg under his and twisted my back around his. Too bad he didn't light his neck like before; I slid my right hand filled with water over the collar.

Typhlosion cried out in pain as it glided across his back and went around. As my hand reached his front, I compressed a dose of water into an aquatic blade of my own and held it to his throat.

"If I'm not mistaken, I believe you're dead to rights," I explained, and kept my voice leveled to avoid offense. "You're welcome to prove me wrong."

"N-No thanks," Typhlosion gave in and winced.

In a fluid motion, I unwrapped myself from around him and brushed off some of the water drops on his back. Everyone else came back to the center, with the knights in awe over how quickly we handled their colleagues.

"Well, that was…an excellent demonstration," Rhydon spoke up, with a bit of hesitation still in his voice. "Ah, how about I take you two to meet with the King?"

"Certainly," cheerfully answered Accelgor.

"Right. The rest of you," he turned his attention to the knights, a sharp sternness in his eye, "back to training."

The knights nodded and went right back to sparring with one another. Accelgor and I followed General Rhydon inside the stone castle.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

To say the castle was an eye catch would be a severe understatement.

As we moved in, I observed the interior, which held hard, even marble tiling on the floor. The columns appeared to be verd antique, and were sturdier than they looked. Dark purple tapestries were hung neatly along the walls, with designs of kings and queens or wars from the past. Various brown desks and tables were pushed up along the sides, each with various types of flowers, such as violets and callas, resting in golden vases. Two staircases were further down the left and right sides of the room. A long and dark purple rug, with golden petal designs woven into it, paved the path to the throne room.

All around the halls, green banners were hung up. On each banner was a golden crest that featured a deer-like creature with curled horns that bowed low, a little hedgehog with a gracidea in front of it near the center, a similar creature with wing-like ears just above it, and a small pixie with a seed-shaped head above the others. Lines of trees surrounded the four on both sides.

Accelgor let out a low whistle. "My, this place is quite breathtaking."

"You could say something like that," chuckled a new voice.

"Earl Gallade, is that you?" called out Rhydon.

"Indeed," answered Gallade, who appeared from the left staircase. He wore a white uniform and a long green cape that billowed gently as he strolled over to us.

"If I may, I'd like to introduce the latest additions to the army," General Rhydon held his arm out to display us. "This is Accelgor, and this is Greninja," he indicated as he introduced us, and we bowed to him. "They come from the Stream Shinobi."

"Pleasure," Gallade smiled and bowed in return. We stood back up and Gallade returned his attention to Rhydon. "So, how are the knights performing?"

"Today's an off day," Rhydon sighed. "I'll need to whip them into shape, if war is truly coming."

"What, from the other three kingdoms?" questioned Gallade. "Doubtful. Those whispers of the ancient prophet have amounted to nothing."

The General shook his head. "Still, they've become rusty lately. They could use some stronger motivation."

"Well, I wouldn't know about motivating them," pondered Gallade, "but why not have that samurai help? Samurott, right?"

"Ah, I suppose that's a plausible idea," concurred Rhydon as he scratched his chin. "I should go find him."

"Leave that to me," insisted Gallade. "You haven't visited his Grace today, have you? I'm sure he'll look forward to seeing you."

Rhydon's face blushed a deep red color. "N-No, I haven't…I suppose—"

"Have you accepted the title of viceroy yet, General?" asked Gallade.

The General's face flushed a darker shade. "No," he snapped. "That's for royals that rule in place of another. Our King is very much present and with us."

"True, but he's not whom I was referring to," murmured Gallade.

"Yes, and I know very well who you are thinking of," growled Rhydon, "to which that term still doesn't apply."

Gallade closed his eyes and bowed. "My apologies, sire." He opened his eyes and rose again. "I'll see to Samurott aiding the other knights. Will that be all?"

"That's fine," grumbled Rhydon, and his face slowly drained the red away.

"Right. Well, if you'll excuse me, General. Shinobi," Gallade nodded and turned to leave, but paused. We pivoted around to see two mages in long and elegant purple robes make their way down from the right staircase. Gallade bowed and greeted the two, "My fairest Lady Gardevoir, hello. And to you too, Lady Delphox."

"Ah, Lord Gallade," laughed Gardevoir, and she curtseyed.

Delphox, however, folded her arms over. "Just who are you calling a 'lady,' sir?" asked a significantly more masculine voice.

"Oh! M-My apologies, Lord Delphox," Gallade stammered and bowed again. "I beg both of your pardons, but I must be going." And with that, we watched Gallade as he made his quick, yet mostly graceful, escape.

"That is the third time this week, Gardevoir," snapped Delphox as he grinded his teeth. "From Gallade alone! I can't even count everyone else's mistakes."

Gardevoir giggled. "It could be worse. Guys could have tried asking you out."

"They have," groaned Delphox. "I might as well start accepting at this point."

Rhydon cleared his throat and the two mages turned their attention to us.

"You rang, General?" teased Gardevoir.

"We have newcomers, milady," Rhydon gestured to the two of us. "I introduce to you Accelgor and Greninja of the Stream Shinobi."

"Welcome," Gardevoir took her robes and curtseyed as we bowed again.

Everyone waited a moment as Delphox tapped his fingers against his stick staff. "Oh fine," grumbled Delphox, as he curtseyed as well.

"Do forgive him," laughed Gardevoir as we rose up. "Societal standards are his bane."

"Oh, and you're 'princess perfection,'" sneered Delphox.

"No, just your spell casting superior," Gardevoir taunted with a wink.

"Do either of you have an appointment with the King?" interrupted Rhydon. "Or are you going to have another 'my spells are bigger' contest?"

Gardevoir grinned. "No, he's all yours. Unless Delphox would like to get outclassed once again."

"We ended in a draw, and you know it!" fumed Delphox.

"I definitely could have beaten you," snickered Gardevoir.

"This way," sighed Rhydon as he ushered us to the throne room, and we left the spell casters to continue their squabbles.

The throne room was quite spacious, with brighter marble patterns on the floor. A few portraits lined the walls, but I couldn't make them out from the distance. Royal banners were also hung in here, with a large one closer to the thrones. On one sat the King himself, wearing a large and dark green cape that could cover his royal uniform. The other, golden with dark purple cushions, was empty, save for a crown.

"Nidoking, Your Royal Grace," Rhydon announced and bowed after he closed the doors behind us. Accelgor and I followed suit.

"Rhydon, please don't bow," called Nidoking, with a hint of repetitive annoyance.

"It's customary, milord, for all subjects—"

"Well it's not for you!" barked Nidoking. He softened, and I could barely make out his whispered, "Not since…"

Rhydon sighed. "I do apologize, sire." He rose. "The two Shinobi have arrived."

"I can see that," deadpanned the King. Accelgor and I exchanged expressions as we slowly rose back up ourselves.

"Sire—"

"Must you use royal titles?"

"Yes, my King, I must," persisted Rhydon. "Will you not greet the two ninjas that you requested to be sent here?"

"Maybe if they actually stood closer to me, I could," mocked Nidoking. Rhydon grinded his teeth and guided us up closer. We stopped in the center of the throne room and bowed again. Up closer, I could see his figure fit nicely into his clothes and began to envy Rhydon's closeness with him.

Nidoking rose from his throne. "Thank you both for coming," he spoke with more sincerity to us than to Rhydon. "I appreciate your, and your clan master's, haste."

"It's an honor, Your Grace," we voiced simultaneously.

"Probably more of surprise, I'd say," observed the King. "You were called away from home to become part of my army, and for that I apologize."

"Beg pardon, Your Majesty," interrupted Accelgor. "I'm afraid that there must have been some type of mix-up. My husband is here and already serves in your army."

"Perfect," Nidoking lightly cheered. "Nothing like the onset of potential war to bring people back together."

"Sir, isn't that against—?"

"Oh, I'm certain it's against several regulations," finished Nidoking for her. "You are, however, one of the finest from your clan. So long as you and your husband fight to the fullest for us, I don't give a damn how many rules need to be broken."

Accelgor waited a moment before she nodded. "O-Of course, sir. It will be a great honor for me, for both of us."

"I'd imagine it would be more gratifying to be with one another again," corrected Nidoking. "You two should have the time to treasure together, even if it's work."

"Thank you, Your Grace," Accelgor bowed again.

"Now, how about this silent and handsome fellow?" asked Nidoking as he raised an eyebrow, with a tone of suggestiveness in his voice. Oh my.

"I-I'm," was all I could manage at first, as my face burned up. "My name is—"

"Greninja, correct?" checked Nidoking. "Another superbly high ranked ninja from the Stream Shinobi."

Superbly? "Y-You flatter m-me, sire," I mumbled.

"Nonsense, you've earned your reputation," insisted Nidoking. "You're both masterful assassins, from what I've learned." He paused and our eyes locked onto one another for a while. After a minute, he laughed. "Forgive me, Greninja, I believe I'm staring."

"Oh, it's f-fine," I tried to reassure him. "After all, I-I did the same."

Accelgor stifled her laughter as Rhydon roughly cleared his throat.

"Yes, well, the short version," Nidoking refocused himself. "You were both asked here to expand my ranks and to assist in the war that could start over the return of the prophet. It is just speculation, but his or her reemergence could be bring about great prosperity or catastrophic doom upon all. And that relies on how each kingdom will choose to use this mystic. Since the prophet, however, has not been found nor sighted, we're still in peacetime."

He sat back in his throne. "We're one of four large kingdoms and we'll need to be prepared for the possibility of war to claim this seer. The two of you are meant to be representatives for greater potential alliances amongst my kingdom and the lands that I oversee."

Again, Accelgor and I glanced to one another briefly, before we returned attention to the King.

"It's a tactical sort of strategy, to include new methods that your army hasn't previously utilized," continued Nidoking. "Hopefully, should you two mesh well with the rest of the soldiers, you can help us claim an advantage in whatever comes our way." He shook his head. "But for now, the two of you should make yourselves at home, enjoy your time here. Supposedly, I've arranged for the two of you to stay for two years, and with any luck, there will be no wars that break out within that time."

We sat in silence for a moment, before Rhydon abruptly questioned, "That's the short version?"

"Actually, yes," answered Nidoking. "Without going into specifics or telling all of the mythology around this seer, that shortens things down immensely."

Rhydon opened his mouth to say something else, but shut it and shook his head.

"Well, I believe that's enough for now," Nidoking sat up from his throne. "Rhydon, show these two to their rooms, and then meet me on the balcony."

"Sir, it's quite early still," noted Rhydon. "Besides that, I need to practice with the knights—"

"The anniversary is coming," softly murmured Nidoking, a sorrowful weight now in his voice. "She would…I'd rather not…"

"I'll be there," Rhydon filled in Nidoking's sentence. "But if you intend to keep me, you're helping with my knights."

"Absolutely," consented Nidoking and he smiled. "Thank you."

"It is my duty," muttered Rhydon. Nidoking's smile dropped to a frown, as Rhydon guided us back out the door, but he stopped for a moment. "You know, we can't keep this up forever. They're trying to call me 'viceroy.'"

Nidoking stood up. "Let them."

"But…" Rhydon meant to protest, but fell silent again. Instead, he guided us back out of the throne room. From the silence alone, it was clear that two mages had already left the room. As he closed the doors behind us again, Accelgor decided she couldn't keep quiet any longer.

"Beg pardon, General, but I'm curious to know—"

"Save it for another day," cut off Rhydon.

"But how did she—?"

"Another day."

Rhydon looked sharply into Accelgor's eyes, and she nodded softly. He began to guide us toward the left staircase. I gazed up and studied the banners again. Before I could open up my mouth for a new line of discussion, something hard hit me and I fell backwards.

"Greninja!" gasped Accelgor.

"Chesnaught, what are you doing in here?" snapped Rhydon.

"Sorry, General, sir, I had to take care of, uh…well, you know."

Slowly, I tried to push myself back up from the floor, but felt a bit dizzy. Two firm hands clasped around my shoulders. I blinked and looked up at Chesnaught.

"Easy," he soothed as he kneeled down. "You went down a bit hard." Slowly, the knight helped me from the floor, with one arm under mine and around my back, and the other in my hand. Chesnaught tilted my body into his and slowly picked me up. "There we go. Sorry about that," he nervously chuckled.

My face burned and I didn't want to imagine how red I was, nor how hard my heart pounded. "It's fine," I mumbled.

Neither of us let go right away and instead made eye contact. His eyes were a very dark brown, almost black. He had them opened wide, like he wanted to take in everything he could see. They lowered a bit as he continued to stare into mine.

Rhydon coughed and suddenly, Chesnaught's arms slipped away from me. He backed up and gave me a small smile.

"I, uh, I should go," he walked backwards and waved, though he was reluctant to take his eyes off of me. "I'll see you two around." Two? I glanced over to the nearby Accelgor and my heartbeat slowed back to normal. Of course, he wasn't just gazing at me; we both fascinated him.

Strong, chivalrous, and sweet; now all I needed to find out was that he was straight and I could hopelessly pine over him like most others. And my self-loathing only increased as I watched him slip back outside.

"Are you all right, Greninja?" asked Accelgor, with a tone that seemed eager to pry.

"Mostly, yes," I nodded, and turned back to Rhydon, who watched me with a newfound curiosity. "You were guiding us upstairs?"

He blinked as if I broke him from a deep thought. "Right, of course. This way."

The General continued across the room and guided us to the dark purple, carpet-covered staircase. On either side were golden railings, with banisters that shaped into gracideas. Accelgor followed, but I lingered and stared toward the front doors. No one else would walk through, and I knew that. My eyes squeezed shut and I opened them as I turned to follow the others. Quickly, I caught up to Accelgor, who was a bit away from Rhydon.

"Greninja, are you sure you're fine?" she whispered to me.

I repeated myself, "Mostly, yes."

We continued to ascend the stairs behind General Rhydon, with a quiet air that had settled in. This castle was to become our new home, though I couldn't quite keep that settled in my mind. Accelgor wasn't the only one that stifled a number of questions to ask, and I had a feeling that Rhydon would like to learn more about us as well.

And yet, the quiet climb up the stairs was maintained for the rest of the way.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

The new ninjas had been around for a full two days, but they still had not come by to practice with us. It seemed strange to me, but I tried not to get hung up over it. After all, they did have different training schedules, I'd imagine.

Until, of course, they chose today to walk outside while we were in the middle of exercises. The lance slowly slipped from my hands as I stared at the two walked around the archways of the courtyard.

My line of sight went directly to Greninja, who wasn't even doing anything extraordinary. Something about him caught my eye, whether it was because of the prowess he demonstrated upon his initial arrival here, or if I still felt guilty after I had knocked him over from my lavatory run.

It didn't take him long to suddenly feel my gaze. Or at least, that's how I had interpreted it, since he would glance over to me not long after, as if he felt that I was looking at him. Our eyes connected, but he would turn away after a minute, same as before.

An abrupt smack on my head took my attention away from him. A heavy voice snapped, "If your lance was actually in your hands, you might have been able to guard that."

As I rubbed my head, I looked back around to meet the glare of an annoyed Samurott and his golden shell sword.

Slowly, I took the lance back up. "S-Sorry about that," I murmured.

"Don't be sorry," he demanded. "Be diligent. Your enemies will not show you the mercy that I give you." And Samurott strolled onward to the next knight.

He was a samurai from another land, but no one seemed to know where exactly, nor did they dare to ask him. It was a subject that was just left alone. Samurott could walk on four legs, but had a large tendency to stand upright, and was very disciplined. Though he was supposedly a similar rank to us knights, he was held higher in regards, perhaps since he outranked each of us in combat.

With a strong jab, I rammed the lance into a practice target. I pulled it back out to see that I had missed the center marker by a few rings. Exasperated, I sighed and readied the lance for another strike.

"Put more speed into it," came Bisharp's voice, and I halted myself. He walked up as I turned around. "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt. I just noticed that you could move a little faster with your strike." He slid his left hand along his right arm's blade. "I know something about balancing speed and power."

"That makes sense," I nodded. "Still, speed isn't my strong suit. Maybe I should try a different weapon."

"Oh, don't do that," he hastily contended. "Samurott will slice you to ribbons for that."

"True," I shuddered and glanced over to Samurott. The sea lion had just bopped Typhlosion over the head as well, but actually yelled at him. I turned back to Bisharp and forced a nervous smile. "So…how do I hit faster?"

"Try not thinking so hard about it," he suggested.

Not thinking? I shook my head. "Then I'll miss completely."

"I meant about the force behind it," he corrected himself. "Keep your focus on the target, but don't put too much thought about how hard you're hitting or if you have every step in the stance correct. Those need to be automatic. Just try to let the lance flow through you."

"You sound like Samurott," I deadpanned.

"He does have good advice," admitted Bisharp. "Or do you zone out like Typhlosion does?"

"N-Not most of the time," I defended.

"Well then," Bisharp extended his arm toward the target and waited.

My nose twitched as I sucked in some air and exhaled through my mouth. Eyes locked onto the target, I shot my arms forward and stabbed the lance into it.

As I pried it away, I gazed past the lance to see that I still hadn't hit the target dead on, but was much closer than before.

"Told you," Bisharp lightly chuckled.

"Thanks," I laughed with him.

He lifted up his short swords. "Mind watching me a bit too?"

I gave him a quizzical look; Bisharp excelled with smaller blades, and was able to use his arms as additional extensions. He wouldn't need any help with his form.

Still, I nodded, and imagined that he wanted my company for something else.

We strode over to a different target, and I dug my lance down to watch Bisharp strike at the target. His blows were swift, yet precise, and repeatedly sliced through the central parts of the practice dummy.

"What do you think of those ninjas?" he asked in between blows.

"They're really intriguing, if a little too reclusive," I admitted.

"Reclusive?" he questioned. "Greninja, maybe, but you just haven't had a chance with Accelgor. She gets loud, especially around her husband."

Loud? A ninja? The two didn't seem connected, but I couldn't argue it.

"Speaking of that, think it's a good idea to have Escavalier and his wife together?"

My hand came up and I scratched my chin. "I don't see a problem with it," I decided. "They both keep their wits about them during practice, or at least, Escavalier does. I haven't seen Accelgor interrupt him from anything."

"Oh, she does," chuckled Bisharp. "Nothing important, like combat practice, but if she can bother him while he's free, she'll do it."

Quickly, I checked on Samurott, who was busy helping Armaldo with his posture. I then looked at Escavalier, who was focused on stabbing his lances through several targets. Bisharp stopped for a moment to catch his breath.

"You're right though," he relented. "They don't seem to mess with each other's sparring, so they're good on that end."

He lifted the swords again and swiped at the next target. This time, he incorporated the blades on his arms as well, and spun about while he attacked.

"How about Greninja?" I jumped and nearly knocked over my lance.

"W-What about him?"

Bisharp paused his attacks and turned to face me. "Don't tell me you haven't noticed him," he teased and I tensed up. "That guy had everyone's attention when he first arrived. And it doesn't look like he can take his eyes off of us, either."

It took some effort to suppress myself. "So?"

"So, it's a little queer. In more ways than one," he added the next part with a little more thought.

"You think he's—?"

"Maybe. Only a few ways to find out," he chuckled. "Though, I'm not interested in trying them." Bisharp thought for a moment, and then clanged his swords together. "Oh, but we could drag him around General Rhydon more often."

"Why the General?" I inquired.

"Come on, he's the viceroy," he insisted. "He's so involved with the King that it's probably our castle's worst kept secret. We've had Captain Samurott the Samurai for the past two days. And where's the General now?"

Honestly, I hadn't paid much attention to these matters. "It does seem possible."

"You should do some digging and find out," suggested Bisharp.

"W-What?" I nervously questioned. "Why me?"

"Because Greninja keeps staring at you and Typhlosion," explained Bisharp. "And the General, when he's around, but that's less obvious. Anyway, Typhlosion's too much of a big mouth and would probably piss Rhydon off. You, on the other hand, are nicer and would probably have a smoother conversation with him."

A little bit of sweat trickled down the back of my head. "I…I don't know. None of this is really our business." It also seemed pretty juvenile.

"Nope, but I'm nosey," laughed Bisharp. "And from the absent mindedness that you showed earlier, I'd say you're looking to learn more about him." He eyed me with more than a hint of curiosity. "Interested?"

My lips pressed together. "I really don't think it's a good idea."

"Even if it's not, getting on Rhydon's good side is definitely a plus," offered Bisharp. "So, if Rhydon doesn't know much about Greninja, you still benefit. If he does, you benefit and can learn more. You win from both scenarios."

"Are you just hoping that I'll mess up and get myself into trouble?" My eyes lowered as I questioned Bisharp.

"Chesnaught, I'm not Typhlosion," persisted Bisharp. "You don't want to do this, don't. But, I think you do," he winked at me.

"…Are you implying that I'm—?"

"Slacking off?" interrupted a loud voice. Bisharp and I winced as we turned to find Samurott standing behind us. "Because if you're not, I certainly am." He glared at my stationary lance.

"Uh, n-no, s-sir," I stuttered. "W-We were j-just…Bisharp was demonstrating—"

"I wanted his, um, opinion on my technique," Bisharp forced out. "Chesnaught has some really useful pointers."

"Is that so? Because I can see one very useless pointer on his part," thundered Samurott. "And four useless blades on yours, Bisharp."

"We were training, honest," I continued, and exaggerated the honesty in my tone.

Samurott gave me a long glower. "You better keep it up then," he warned. "Your life depends on it."

"Yes, sir, we understand," I nodded.

"Truly," added Bisharp.

"Well then," huffed Samurott. "Get back to it!"

Snatching my lance from the ground, I did just that.

Afterwards, I found myself upstairs and just outside of the General's chambers. My arm was outstretched to knock at the door, but I couldn't actually hit it.

How would this even go? Hi there, General Rhydon, sir. You don't happen to have a less than secret relationship with our King, do you? If so, would you happen to let me know if our new ninja recruit is also gay? Why? Well…

Well, what? Why did I even bother coming this far? What did I want out of this? Bisharp is the curious one. Yet, here I am, and I'll be the one asking questions about matters that don't even concern me.

…Do they?

"It's Sir Chesnaught, right?" asked a more dignified voice than the General's.

I pivoted to my right and found the Grass Fields King himself right beside me.

"L-L…My Grace! Y-Your Grace! Lord N-Nidoking! Sir!" I stammered out.

He laughed. "If you're waiting for me to tell you which of those is correct, I don't think even I know," he confessed.

My head shook and I stiffened my body at attention. "Apologies sire!" I saluted.

Nidoking frowned. "At ease, please." Unsure of whether that was an order or not, I slowly loosened my body. He sighed. "Honestly, you boys will have enough of this crap come up if the war starts. I'd rather you have some time to feel at home while you're here."

"Permission to—?"

"Yes, just speak freely," groaned Nidoking as he pulled his hands over his face. This was my first one-on-one meeting with the King, and yet here he was, very informal about it all.

"Um, sir, there isn't a war right now," I clarified. "There hasn't been news of the prophet in almost a year now."

"And hopefully, there will be nothing more of it," he murmured. Then, as he picked up his voice, "But come now, none of this foreboding nonsense. You're looking for your General as well, yes?" I nodded. "Thought so. He should have been back by now, just made an errand run to town for me."

"Shouldn't one of us do that, sire?" I interrupted, and wanted to slam my head into the wall for doing so.

In the minute that passed, Nidoking gave me a quizzical look, and then laughed. "I suppose so!" He paused and his face fell again. "It's just easy to ask Rhydon. He's usually very on top of…well he's quick to catch up on these matters. My matters."

"Why is that, if I may, sire?" The words just tumbled from my mouth.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not certain," admitted Nidoking. "He's quick to remind me that it's his duty, but sometimes, I like to imagine that he genuinely likes me."

"Oh, I'm certain he likes you, sire," I suggested. "He's at your call whenever you need him and I don't think it's just for duty. The General gets involved with everything he works on, and he's really passionate about his work here." Where the hell did that come from?

His eyes lit up with a sense of delight. "Really?" His tone wavered a bit, as though he wanted to believe me, but wasn't sure.

"Certainly," I continued, "he always pushes us to our fullest potential, but he also wants to make sure that we're still breathing by the end of the day. I don't know all of the ways the General shows it, but he cares about us. And if he works so hard over his knights, he probably kills himself over getting everything right for you, sire."

My lips tightened up. Who was I to tell all of this to the King? This was the General's business, not mine.

Yet, seeing the King's grin unexpectedly light up his face was…oddly satisfying.

"Thank you, Sir Chesnaught," he grasped my hand and shook it. "It's nice to hear such a kind and straightforward appraisal." Slowly, he released my hand. "Honestly, I thought that I all did was run the poor General ragged since…well, you've been around long enough, right?"

Since the Queen passed, yes, I nodded. "I'm sorry, milord," I bowed my head.

Even if it happened three years ago, even if they weren't married for more than five months, the King still ached over her relentlessly. The only one who could bring him out of that was the General, who had been with the King for…well, even longer.

"Oh, don't, it's fine," he patted my shoulder. "I can't mourn her forever." I looked up to find him still smiling somehow. "You're a pretty honest fellow, you know that?"

"A knight should be so sincere, virtuous," I recited.

"Yes, yes, orderly fuss," he waved off. "Come now, I'm sure you'd like to do other things than spend your days in a castle, waiting for wars that may never come."

"Well, sometimes I visit a friend in the town," I told him. "She's a collector. Flowers." And then that hit me. "Oh, and I found one that I wanted to take to her today, I forgot!"

"You'd better get to it," laughed the King. "A knight must never keep a lady waiting."

"Most certainly not," I stumbled past him and made my way for the stairs.

"Sir Chesnaught—?"

"Sire," I had to interrupt. "If you want us to speak plainly, don't bother with my title."

Nidoking nodded. "Chesnaught then," he corrected himself. "Now, before you take off, what did you want to ask Rhydon?" I stopped and stared back blankly. "Your General? Remember him?"

What could I say? "I…it was about those ninjas," I started.

"Oho, don't happen to have an eye for the lady, do you?" he teased.

"No, of course not!" If anyone wanted a swift and unceremonious death, they need only prod at Escavalier's relationship. "But, the other one…"

"Ah, the eye catching Greninja, huh?" he asked and his grin shone broadly now. "Strike your fancy, does he?"

"F-Fancy? N-No, he…well," I stuttered. What did I say here? I nearly had him gushing over Rhydon, and…wait, is my face getting warmer?

"Oh, don't worry," chuckled Nidoking. "I won't tell a soul. Well, maybe Rhydon, but he won't have much over you, since you seem to have him pegged." I what? "Go, go, to your lady. I'll speak with the General for you."

While I nodded and shuffled away, I wasn't entirely certain of what happened, nor of what I felt.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

Somehow, Accelgor dragged me out to town earlier today, through several brick and wooden buildings, and instead of her handling the bulk of our supply run, here I was, carrying bags of vials, potions, books, blades, powders, and ropes. My knees buckled as I heaved the load over my back.

"Thank you so very much, Greninja, dear!" Accelgor patted my side sweetly, but it nearly made me drop the whole set right on top of her. "Escavalier just finished with training a short while ago, so I'll be meeting him in a bit. Can you manage the rest on your own?"

"S-Sure, I've got it," I assured her, though failed to convince myself of anything.

"You're the best!" she thanked again, and happily wandered off into the town.

All she had to mention was that her husband wanted to take her out to dinner and I was an instant sucker for finishing the shopping trip. But then she had to pile it on, how they hadn't been together in years, how she's waited so long to see him again, if he remembered her favorite dish, that their anniversary was coming up, the king was holding a ball later this year, gush, gush, blah, romantics, swoon, blah, gush.

The bag slipped toward the right and I hobbled around to balance it back into place. My arms felt a huge weight and I didn't even want to estimate how much these bags ran for. It even rested heavily against my tongue and just behind my head!

Slowly, I tried to lift a foot up, but felt the whole load slide away again. Again, I bounced around and tried to keep it balanced, but it wouldn't stay put this time.

My eyes darted about, but it was late, and most townsfolk were either home or out to eat. I just happened to stop at the quietest part of this town.

With a shudder from my legs, I stumbled over to a wall and hoped that it could help me get everything up again. And then, abruptly, my back felt weightless as I crashed into the wall.

I felt around and realized that the sack of bags was pried right off from me. My eyes snapped open and I panicked as I scrambled up the wall. "All right, who—?!"

"Easy there," came a hearty laugh. I blinked and turned to find a dark blue sea lion with the sack in his hands, like it barely weighed a thing. "You seemed like you needed help."

"I…w-well, yes," I felt my face burn as my hand slid behind my head. "T-Thanks."

"My pleasure." Of course, it's fun to emasculate another guy…cool it, he's just being helpful. "You're from the castle, right?"

With a step forward, I straightened up and looked at him. "Yes, how did you know?"

"We just got two new ninjas there, and I take it you're one of them," he chuckled. "Name's Samurott."

"Ah…Greninja," I lifted my arm to shake hands with him, but then dropped it. He was still holding the bags as he shuffled forward a bit.

"Greninja the ninja, cute," he laughed. "You know, this feels like a lot for you to handle." Why he…! "You can't weigh more than one hundred pounds or forty kilos yourself."

"And what, you're well over that?" I snapped.

"Yes, actually," he spoke plainly, like it was matter of fact. "This isn't something you should kill yourself over. Why didn't you ask for help before you left the castle?"

"I had help, but…" Oh, what was I going to say? My partner abandoned me to go on a date with her husband? Have someone chastise the two later? "She was…tired and I, uh, offered to carry it on my own."

He stared blankly at me. "This is your fellow ninja with her husband around, right?"

"Um…yes…" I confessed. Was I that easy of a read? We'd be dead if this was a more hostile situation.

"No wonder," he laughed again. "She probably looked up and figured you could handle it based on size alone!"

"Not exactly…" Actually, she did just that.

"Bah, no need to lie to me," he insisted. "The two of you remind me of home."

That comment made me stop and I took another look at him. He had metal clad armor, with plates piled held together with fine strands of silk straps. Sheathed were a pair of swords along his arms. His helmet, a sturdy shell, reminded me of…

"Are you a samurai?" I asked.

"Took you long enough," he laughed.

"Sorry, I just…it's been a long day and I—"

"Don't worry about it!" he winked. "Just leave these to me, all right?"

"But I feel…well…"

"What? Like it's a burden? It's no trouble, honest," he persisted. "It's just a pleasure to be around a new face that those two mages."

"Delphox and Gardevoir?"

"Oh, so you've already meant the terrors," he murmured. "Well, better to get it out of the way sooner than later, I suppose."

Terrors? "I know they bicker, but doesn't that seem a little harsh?"

An explosion sounded from a shop around the corner and Samurott winced. "Sorry. You were so close to not dealing with them."

My head turned as I gave Samurott a puzzled look. From around the corner, both Gardevoir and Delphox appeared, with black ashes and soot over the former, and pink and glittering dust over the latter.

"Ha! Told you I'd win," laughed the ever-energetic Gardevoir.

"You didn't win a thing!" snapped the surly Delphox. "I had all eyes on me, and then you had to go big and dazzle—"

"Easy, Lady Delphox," soothed Samurott.

"WHO ARE YOU CALLING A LADY?!" thundered Delphox.

"A…Ah…s-sorry," Samurott's face went red and he backed up. "Might I say that you look quite, uh, ravishing, for a ma…mage?"

Delphox growled. "Right, that's exactly what you were thinking, I'm sure." He poked Samurott's stomach with his wand. "You louts make me sick with your lack of regard for differences in Pokemon's appearances. Not everything is black and white…or don't you know that?"

"L-Listen, I'm not—"

"Oh, Samurott," chimed in Gardevoir as she lifted a sack up. "You did rush off in quite the hurry from the store. I thought Earl Gallade requested you help us with our shopping. You know Delphox has a delicate figure, don't you?" Delphox snarled at the last bit, but held his tongue otherwise.

"Ah, o-of course," Samurott clawed at the back of his neck. "So sorry, I just—"

"Hey!" shouted a voice. "You two lady spell casters!"

"I'M NOT A LADY!" shrieked Delphox.

"Oh, it's Mr. Mime, our lovely shopkeeper," huffed Gardevoir as the Pokemon in question rounded the corner, alongside a red and blue oni pair in fighting robes. "Cute apron, by the way. I forgot to mention that earlier."

"You two didn't…" groaned Samurott.

"Did what?" I whispered to him, confused at the increasingly hostile shopkeeper.

"These two mages made a mess of my shop!" snapped Mr. Mime. "And they did so on purpose!"

A giggle sounded from Gardevoir. "Come now, that would mean the shop wasn't a black market pile of filth in the first place."

"Sawk! Throh!" Mr. Mime turned to his companions. "I believe these brats are in need of a lesson."

"Someone's in need of a lesson, that's certain," laughed Gardevoir. "Delphox, ready dear?"

Delphox let out a laugh. "This won't last long."

My leg slid forward as I readied myself into a fighting stance, but Samurott nudged me back.

"They can handle it," he murmured.

Their opponents rushed forward, with the Throh raising its arms to grab onto them and Sawk firing out two kicks.

Delphox and Gardevor leapt back, with Delphox murmuring an incantation over the wand.

"No need for Lucky Chants, Delphox," called Gardevoir as her eyes lit up.

Sawk jumped back, but a light blue aura encased Throh, who was hoisted into the air.

"Never send a fighter to mess with a Psychic mage," laughed Gardevoir as she punched a fist into the air.

In response, Throh soared through and went off into the distance. Sawk jumped forward again, to which Gardevoir spun around and away from him.

"Full moon tonight, Gardevoir," called Delphox.

Gardevoir giggled as her eyes began to glow again. A pink aura wrapped around her and she channeled a small ball of light in between her arms.

Quickly, Gardevoir launched a blast out at Sawk, who had tried to run, but was struck by the ball instead.

He rocketed off in the opposite direction of Throh and sailed off into the night as well. Gardevoir bowed to his departure.

"You miserable…!" was all that Mr. Mime let out as he lifted his hands. A mult-colored beam fired out from them and went flying toward Gardevoir.

Delphox intervened, and created a bright wall before himself to block the attack.

"Wonderful Light Screen, dear," complimented Gardevoir. "You ok?"

"That was nothing," chuckled Delphox as he shook his hands. "This, you'll enjoy."

He lifted his rod and a red and purple fireball swirled around the tip. The same colored flames burst from the ground and burned across Mr. Mime.

"YAAAH!" screamed the shopkeeper as he raced off across the streets and out of our sight.

"Bye now! Next time, use your rotten money to just fix the shop," Gardevoir called to him, and shared a laugh with Delphox right after.

Samurott shook his head. "If you two deal with illicit activity, you should report it to a town guard. Just because we work at the castle doesn't mean we can take the law into our hands."

"Oh please," huffed Delphox. "You should have seen the dark arts scrolls he had in that shop. And he left in the middle of a transaction to go around back and make a shifty deal."

"The funny part was him thinking that we wouldn't notice or care," added Gardevoir.

"We still have a place," insisted Samurott, "and it's not—"

"Oh, protecting the Pokemon of the town?" piped up Delphox. "Or, how about the whole kingdom? If they can't look to us to keep these places safe, who will?"

Samurott dug his left foot against the ground. "W-Well…"

"Forget it, Samurott," Gardevoir waved him off. "We're right and you know it." She then glided over to me and scooped up my hands. "And you, Greninja, darling! How very brave of you, noble even, to get ready to assist us!"

"Wait, you noticed that?" I questioned.

"There was a slight skid to your foot," explained Delphox. "The streets here are a little louder than you're used to, I'd imagine. We heard the movement perfectly." He brushed off his rod and looked to me with a smile. "You'll get used to it quickly."

Sheepishly, I nodded; nothing good can come from a ninja that isn't stealthy.

And yet, Gardevoir bounced around, still holding onto my arms. "See Samurott? The proper action is to assist a lady and her company when they're in trouble."

Samurott shrugged. "You had it handled."

Gardevoir dropped my arms and shook her hand at Samurott. "Tut-tut, and what would Earl Gallade think of such a comment?"

"That I'm allowing his lady to handle herself in a dangerous situation, rather than coddling her defensively and possibly appear possessive of her before the Earl?" challenged Samurott.

"Hmm," pondered Gardevoir. "Interesting take, but still lacking in the chivalrous department, sir."

"Forgive me, then, lady," bowed a sarcastic Samurott, almost tipping the bag of items out onto Gardevoir. "I was most assured that your…delicate Delphox had you covered."

"Ooh, don't you test me," grumbled Delphox.

"What say you?" Samurott contested. "My sword against your rod?"

Gardevoir burst out with laughter while I coughed to hide mine. Delphox rolled his eyes as Samurott shook his head.

"My, how crude of a lady," scorned Samurott.

"Oh hush," Gardevoir breathed in. "That was simply too perfect, and you know it."

"I think you need to get home to your Earl…" mumbled Delpox.

She folded her arms and turned her head. "You fools need to lighten up," Gardevoir chastised. "Wouldn't you agree, Greninja?"

"Oh, well, I…" I stammered out and turned my attention across the street. As if it were planned, there was Chesnaught, strolling past us. He was in such a hurry that he didn't notice us.

"Ah! One of the knights!" exclaimed Gardevoir. She rushed forward a bit and waved. "Hey! You there!" We walked over to where she stood, as Chesnaught disappeared around a corner. Gardevoir rested a hand on her hip and puffed out her cheek. "Ugh. He didn't even glance back. I swear chivalry is already dead."

"You just lack poise and grace to garner a male's attention," teased Delphox, to which Gardevoir snatched his stick and whacked him over the head with it.

"Where could he be off to?" I wondered aloud.

"Why don't we follow him?" suggested Gardevoir. "Ooh, yes! Let's do just that!"

Before I could get the argument out of my throat, she dragged me along through the streets, and we charged after Chesnaught. Delphox and Samurott ran behind us by a bit of a distance.

"So," Gardevoir whispered as we barreled through the streets, "you had your eyes locked nice and tight on that knight."

"H-Huh?" came my startled cry.

She slammed me against a wall and used a telekinetic hand wave to force the others to follow her lead.

"Not so loud," quietly cautioned Gardevoir, and she peered around the wall. "Ok, he's still a bit of distance ahead. Come!"

And she pulled our party back out into the streets and after Chesnaught. We followed him to the edge of town, where he slowed to a stop near a garden in front of a dimly lit green and brown house.

He lifted his head and slightly turned back, to which I grabbed Gardevoir and shoved her into the shadows of the nearest building. She telekinetically pulled Delphox and Samurott right along.

"Will you cut that out?!" hissed Delphox.

Chesnaught focused his attention to our direction, but merely shrugged and walked up the house's steps. He knocked on the door.

A plant-like creature with a large red flower on its head opened the door. "Chesnaught!" she cheered and wrapped her leafy hands around him. "I've missed you! Come on in, please!"

"Thank you, Lady Lilligant," he grinned, showed her a red flower to elicit another cheer, and followed her inside.

My heart sank and a pang hit my stomach. Of course he had a lady. Slowly, my hands slipped off of Gardevoir's and I slid down against the building.

"You all right, Greninja?" asked Samurott.

"Yes," I forced out. "Just…glad we weren't caught right there."

"What were we following him for anyway?" demanded Delphox.

Gardevoir sank down beside me and watched me for a moment. "Well, I don't know about any of you, but I was curious," she huffed and folded her arms together.

"Surprise, surprise, a knight has a girlfriend," mocked Delphox. "I wonder if he'll actually keep her or move on to another one soon."

"Hey, we're not all that bad," chimed in Samurott.

"Right, there's the king and his…" Delphox trailed off for a moment and picked back up. "Well, besides them, the Earl is rather set on Gardevoir, that's no secret. And magically, Escavalier is still happily married." He paused again and studied Samurott a bit. "Come to think of it, I haven't seen you out hustling for a date."

"W-Well, I'm picky," insisted Samurott as he and Delpox began to walk off, back to the castle. Gardevoir pushed off from the ground and offered a hand.

I hesitated for a moment before I took it and she helped me up. "Thank you."

She nodded. "Sorry about…well, him." Gardevoir jabbed her thumb to the house. "You, um, seemed like—"

"It was nothing," I asserted. "He just piqued my curiosity."

We trudged off after the others, and judging by the glances she gave me, I felt that I hadn't convinced her of such.


[Chesnaught]

Lilligant potted the red geranium and set it aside with the other flowers of the same breed. She clapped her leafy hands together and admired the planets.

"Another set completed!" she cheered. "Thank you so much, Chesnaught! Did you know they symbolize friendship?"

"Yep, you've told me," I laughed, which slowly died into a sigh. Lilligant turned and gave me a worried look.

"Is everything all right?" she inquired.

"I…I don't know," I admitted. "There are these ninjas that joined the army at the castle, and, well…they've been on my mind a lot, lately."

"They," repeated Lilligant, and specifically isolated that word.

We held a long stare for a minute and I let out a heavier sigh.

"Ok, one of them," I realized. "He's…I don't know how to put it, really."

"Captivating?" suggested Lilligant and I jumped.

"Ah…I don't know about that…" I forced out.

She studied me a bit and shrugged. "If you insist. But if I were you, I'd try talking to him or something. Maybe you can be…friends."

"You're more bold than I am," I laughed.

Lilligant strolled about and tapped on a potted blue flowers, which looked like they had yet to bloom.

"Do you want to stay for a bit?" she asked. "I feel like something's coming up with your army and I don't want to have you disappear for a few months before we catch up again."

I nodded. "Sure, I think I can spend a little time here."

We walked over to a table and sat down as she chattered about town news and listened as I discussed what the knights had been up to.

Two hours later into the starry morning, I rushed out and scurried back to the castle as she bid me farewell from her porch.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

Accelgor and I walked out to the courtyard and watched the knights as they participated in their usual training routines. They were divided into pairs and fought one another in single combat. General Rhydon stood along the side to oversee each session.

My eyes darted over each pair as they fought: Typhlosion used his silver battle-axe was able to overpower a blue beetle named Heracross, who had a metal shield thrown away. Scizor and Bisharp were locked in a stalemate, each using their arms to block and hold a strike from one another's swords. Samurott flipped over a red and gray lance strike from Escavalier.

Nearest to us, Armaldo was able to knock a sturdy wooden staff straight from Chesnaught's arms and held his pincer to his opponent's throat.

"You lose," Armaldo laughed.

Chesnaught blinked and shook his head. "Good work," he mumbled.

Armaldo turned his head in confusion. "What's with you? Every movement you've had has been sluggish, and I'm not exactly our best knight."

"Maybe it's because he was out late last night," I heard my voice ring out, with a hint of a tease on it. The two knights gazed over at Accelgor and I.

"How did you know that?" questioned Chesnaught while I bit on my tongue and cheek. When I glanced away, Accelgor also gave me a look of curiosity.

"Because you walked right past us through town last night," came a response from behind me. We turned to watch Delphox and Gardevoir walk out to us, and Delphox patted his rod against his open hand. "Gardevoir cried out to you, but you didn't even so much as blink, let alone turn around."

The knight's face went a little pink. "Oh, r-really?" He bowed his head. "My apologies, Lady Gardevoir. And to you, Lord Delphox."

"It's…!" Delphox was ready to shout, but paused. Then, surprised, "Wait, you got it?"

Chesnaught gave him a puzzled expression. "Got what?"

"Ah…never…mind," Delphox slowly finished, and his brows lowered over his eyes. Armaldo and Chesnaught exchanged shrugs and resumed their session.

Gardevoir hummed to herself. "Interesting. He's alert enough to know that you're no lady, but too tired to hold that staff properly, and too distracted to have heard me call him last night," she quietly observed.

"Don't remind him, or he'll get it wrong later," murmured Delphox.

General Rhydon noticed the four of us and made his way over. Before he could open his mouth, a heavy crash sounded and it felt as though the earth beneath us shook.

"That would most likely be the Earl defeating Golurk, again," surveyed Rhydon. He gazed out for a moment, and then called out, "Samurott, take a break from Escavalier and head to the back to work with Golurk. Send Earl Gallade up here."

The blue sea lion nodded and bowed to Escavalier. He sheathed his blades and strolled around the courtyard. Samurott took a minute to glance at us and flashed a smile. If I didn't know any better, I'd feel like it was directed at me, but I was pretty sure he meant it for the mages as well. Last night was mostly enjoyable, if not a bit disheartening; it was nice to socialize with my new allies.

"Anyway," came Rhydon's voice again, and we turned back to him. "I'd like to thank you four for coming out for practice. I'm hoping to incorporate you into today's—"

"Can you give us winners from their face-offs?" asked Gardevoir at once. "Last time, Delphox and I…had a little too easy of a workout."

"What happened last time?" inquired Accelgor.

"Ah…I may or may not tormented poor Heracross with a good number of psychic and fairy spells," recalled Gardevoir sheepishly. "And…well, Delphox roasted Escavalier."

"You what?!" screeched Accelgor at the mage.

"Wow, thanks Gardevoir," deadpanned Delphox.

"H-He was fine not long after!" Gardevoir quickly added. "Heracross got the worst of it, honest."

Rhydon cleared his throat. "Well, if you're hoping to face off against stronger opponents, we'll see how the victors of their latest matches fair." He then turned out to the knights and called out again, "Typhlosion, face off against Delphox! Armaldo, you'll be against Gardevoir."

"Wait, I'm going against her?!" cried Armaldo. "My attacks won't do a thing to her!"

"They won't be as effective," corrected Rhydon. "It'll be a challenge for you to overcome." He thought for a moment and added, "You should be thankful that I'm not pitting you against Delphox."

Delphox smirked as Armaldo nervously nodded. He led Gardevoir to an empty corner of the courtyard while Delphox walked around to meet Typhlosion.

"Accelgor, you should go over there as well," Rhydon pointed for her to follow Delphox. "You can face off against Heracross now."

"Yes sir," she nodded and moved around the courtyard.

"And that will leave you with Chesnaught," Rhydon finished and turned to me.

"Understood," I nodded. Of course we would get paired up.

Before I could go over to him, however, Rhydon held up an arm to stop me. "I just need to talk to him about something for a minute or so," he clarified. "Then you two can have your match. Just don't let him mess with your head too much."

"Does he favor mind games?" I inquired, though I was certain that he didn't.

"Not usually, but for you in particular, he might," General Rhydon murmured thoughtfully, and, oddly, winked at me as he walked over to Chesnaught.


[Chesnaught]

General Rhydon stomped over to me, with a bit of a sour look on his face.

"Uh, what can I do for you, General?" I asked, a bit nervously. A yawn tried to rise from me, but I clamped my mouth shut and buried it.

His bright red eyes glared right into mine. "The King tells me that you had spoken to him yesterday," he snapped. Uh-oh. "As it turns out, I was one of the topics of discussion, correct?"

"Ah…y-yes sir," I mumbled. "We had both gone to see you, so…"

"So, naturally, I came up," the General finished for me. I bit my lip as I nodded. "Well then," he started bitterly. Then, his face softened and he smiled. Calmer, quieter, he continued, "Thank you for what you told him. He's always thinking that I don't…well, I can be a little off-putting, too absorbed in work, but I…what you shared with him was perfect."

He patted me a little roughly on the shoulder and I forced a smile. Meanwhile, I was still processing what happened and confirmed that I was alive.

"But enough on me," he chuckled, perhaps at my widened eyes. "You'll be having a special moment with your new…ah, interest." I blinked and looked at him with confusion. He nudged his head a bit and pointed with his eyes. I turned and stared at Greninja, who quickly averted his gaze to anywhere else besides us. Probably snooping on us.

My attention went back to the General. "Sir, I don't follow."

General Rhydon gave me a distasteful face and shook his head. "Right, I'm not as clear about these things," he murmured, somewhat bitterly. Still quietly, he continued, "Let's just say that today's match ups were…carefully planned."

Still lost, I whispered, "Sir, you plan all of our practice sessions."

With a heavy sigh, the General slid a hand over his face. "I made sure you'd have a chance to be with Greninja," he bluntly blurted out.

"You what?" My voice rang out a bit.

"Chesnaught…!" he hissed and quickly glanced around.

Only Greninja had really taken notice and he quickly turned his attention elsewhere once he caught the General's eyes…or mine, maybe?

Either way, General Rhydon let out another deep sigh and looked back to me with a laugh. "Subtly must not be your strong suit either, huh?"

"Not quite, sir, but—"

"Don't worry about it. I'm sure that got you a little excited, I know," he sympathized. Except that's not at all what I— "Hey, go easy on him, but try to get in close. You'll get more chances to…uh, well, I'll leave that to you." He stifled his laughter and shook my shoulder a bit. After that, the General walked back over to the side and chattered a bit to Greninja before he sent him over.

What just happened?

The blue frog stood across from me and waited. "Do you want to use that staff, or would you prefer something else?" he asked.

My eyes glanced down at the long rod, which I scooped up with my foot, kicked away, and returned to Greninja. For once, he actually didn't look away upon making eye contact. "Nope, this is fine."

"This?" He blinked and stared a bit. "You mean your fists?"

I nodded. "That, and whatever else you can work with. Water blades, for instance." A smirk slipped onto my face.

Greninja returned my nod. "Right, if you insist." He readied his stance, and crouched low to the ground. He placed one hand forward and held the other back. I raised my fists and hunched over a bit.

A minute passed, with a gust of wind, as we stared one another down.

"Um," Greninja started again. "Are you, going to come throw a punch, or do you want me to toss one, or…uh, something else?"

Momentarily, my arms dropped. "You know, I'm so used to someone else throwing the first punch or taking the first swipe, that I honestly don't know."

He took a minute to look around the courtyard. Back to me, he shook his head. "You can't be the slowest one here."

"No," I agreed, "but I'm pretty patient comparatively."

A light chuckle sounded from him and I smiled.

"Come on, you two," Rhydon called. "Start a work out or I'll have you two run a longer and more taxing assignment."

Quickly, we shifted ourselves back to our fighting stances.

"Go ahead," I insisted. "Come at me."

"That seems like what you want," Greninja noted. I shrugged, though he was right.

"Then learn how to counter a readied opponent," I advised and he nodded.

Abruptly, Greninja darted across the distance between us. He leapt into the air and sent a fist down on me. I raised an arm to block the blow, which was followed by several more strikes.

"Wow. You're fast!" I complimented him as he struck at me.

A few shots hit me, but nothing was rough enough to bother me. He threw a hard punch, which I blocked and shoved him away.

"And you're tough. Very durable," he returned to me.

Again, I smirked. This was more fun than I had been expecting.

Greninja put his hands together and I watched as water formed a bladed shape. A shuriken. Quickly, he threw it at me, and I managed to tilt away as it glided past me.

He laughed, probably at my flabbergasted face. "Sorry, but you did mention whatever else I could work with." Upon a closer look, I realized that he had two more Water Shuriken readied.

My expression calmed, eyes lowered, and I chuckled, "I did."

Deftly, the next shuriken glided out and spun straight for me. Once more, I stepped from its path as the weapon sailed past me.

I continued and turned my back on the next one that flew out, to have my shell take the blow. A splash sounded as it connected, but I didn't feel a thing.

As I pivoted back around, Greninja jumped up and came down on me with a water blade. My arms shot up and the green rim fanned out.

"What?!" cried Greninja as his blade connected with my Spiky Shield. His arm went too far forward he was impaled on the spiny grass that stood out. "Ack!"

Greninja backpedaled and held his grass-stained arm.

"Sorry," I called as I moved my arms apart and the shield folded away. "There are a few ways to make a Spiky Shield, but I prefer the one I wear."

A swirl of water formed in his good arm and he washed away as much grass as he could. "It's prickly and painful," he studied. "And you used my own attack pattern against me. Well played."

Though I could have attacked him again while he cleared his arm, I decided to wait and see what his next action would be instead.

Slowly, Greninja crept forward toward me. Quickly, I raised my arms in a defensive stance, but he kept a steady, unhurried pace.

All of a sudden, in a blink, he vanished.

I flinched and gazed around. Abruptly, I felt a sharp pain along my side and pivoted that way.

The ninja sliced a layer of water against me and moved to strike again. I swept my arms to grab him, but he slipped away.

Carefully, he went under me, locked his leg against mine. Greninja moved his arm around my shoulder, but paused.

He was trying to make the same attack he had on Typhlosion, but my back was too wide to twist around.

Gotcha.

Instead, Greninja made an attempt to distract me with a water pelt on the opposite side of my head. I felt him try to maneuver back to my front and ready a blade.

Before he could, I grabbed his back and tilted him away from me, toward the ground. The frog tried to attack with his free hand, but I clutched it with one of mine.

As I locked him away from me, I saw his face under the tongue glow red and his eyes lowered. Anger?

Hastily, he formed water in his hand and swiped it away from mine. And right after, he threw a splash of water right at my eyes as I barely turned my head away.

Greninja slid away from me and backed up a bit. This time, I went to grapple him again, and tried to put my arms around him.

He ducked under and threw a punch at me, but I grasped his arm into place. It was still soaked and he pulled it free.

Quickly, he straightened up and flipped over me. His leg shot out a kick at my head, but I turned and let my shell take the hit for me.

The ninja landed and held his arms out to balance himself. Again, I threw my arms out and moved to lock them beneath his, but he dodged and slid away again.

Somehow, I just couldn't keep a grip on him. Greninja kept his arms moist and slippery. His movements were so elegant. Yet, because of that, I wouldn't take my eyes off of him. Something about him woke me up.

Then, again, he disappeared in a blink. I shook my head around, to get a view of my surroundings and possibly above me. Coincidentally, my eyes glanced down and I noticed a shadow slide toward me.

"Not this time!" I cried out and faced the shadow. Greninja popped out from above it and sliced down at me, but grabbed at his shoulders and threw him to the ground.

Wasting no time, I kicked up some dust and tossed my body down to pin him. Still, I didn't want to hurt him too badly, and made sure that I didn't press all of my weight against him.

Greninja winced from the crash and opened his eyes to find my face near his own. He pulled to move his arms, but I had my hands on top of them, caked with dust. I watched his eyes widen as he shifted his legs, which I pinned under my knees.

The frog was trapped and he knew it.

"Now, you're mine," I taunted him quietly with a sharp smile.

His face went red once again, but he didn't lower his eyes. If I didn't know any better, I might even think he was scared.

My expression softened and I felt a wave of guilt hit me. "Hey, come on," I soothed. "This is just practice—"

"Get off!" He shouted and I felt a sharp pain connect between my legs.

As I doubled over, he kicked free and rolled away from me.

"Nice…tactic…" I groaned and picked myself up.

From that, I thought he had baited me into a false sense of security and waited for the right moment to strike. But as I glanced back over to him, his face was still red under his tongue and he looked far more nervous than before.

I lifted my arms again and felt grass grow along the needles.

Greninja shuddered and fired out a few more shuriken as I ran forward. They bounced off of me and I wildly swung my Needle Arm at him.

He rolled away and took many steps backward. I spun about and faced him again, but watched as he heavily panted.

And still, his face was a deep red color.

Guilt began to pressure me and I wasn't sure what to do any more.

The ninja whipped his pink tongue around and fired it at me. I could have easily grabbed it, but his more visible face distracted me and I focused on his yellow mouth and chin.

Instead, my arm rose up and knocked the tongue away from me.

It retracted back around Greninja's neck and he raised his arms to channel more water. He slammed them together and a Water Pulse soared out at me.

His attack came quickly, but I dove down and let it splash off of my shell.

Vines were expelled from my quills and I whipped them at Greninja, who was stunned and struck roughly by one.

With a blink, I watched him clutch his head and held it tightly. Greninja sank to his knees and winced from the pain, only able to keep one eye on me.

If I launched another attack, the match would be over for certain. But I gazed into the opened eye and felt a pang hit my stomach.

Hesitation like this would get me killed…

But I looked at him and I felt like I dished out more than physical pain.

"All right, good work so far," called General Rhydon's voice and my head shot up. Everyone turned to look at him along the sidelines. "Take a break or a walk, and rest a bit. Then come back here and let's get back to work!"

Another crash quaked across the ground and I fell over. The General let out a heavy sigh and turned back toward the castle.

"Golurk needs to do better than that," I heard him mutter.

As I picked myself up, I looked around to see the others. Gardevoir glided away from a quivering Armaldo. Accelgor rushed over to a downed Escavalier while Heracross brushed his horn off and beat his wings. Gallade helped her lift her husband back up. Bisharp and Scizor pat one another and walked off together, while Delphox and Typhlosion sneered at each other and stormed away from one another.

I turned back to Greninja and opened my mouth to apologize for the brutal Vine Whip, but he limped away without another word, still very red in the face.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

I sat along the side of the courtyard and watched a few pairs resume their training. Some, like the mages Delphox and Gardevoir, had not yet returned. To balance this, their leftover partners paired up to face one another.

Notably though, Greninja also hadn't come back. And that left me without a partner.

An image of his frightened face replayed itself in my mind and I felt heaviness in my stomach. Did I take the fight too far?

General Rhydon strolled over and stared at me for a bit.

"Can I help you, sir?" my hollow voice broke out.

"Chesnaught, what were you thinking?" He shook his head.

Lowly, I let out, "You did want us to fight, sir."

"Yes, enough that I could look the other way," he murmured. "Not to the point of breaking his spirit and shattering whatever chance you two had at a relationship."

"So that is where this was going," my voice rose and I gazed into the General's eyes.

His expression seemed somewhere between pitifully confused and holding scornful laughter. "Of course it is! Nidoking told me…I mean, he thought or mentioned that you were…wait." He shook his head and point blank asked, "Don't you like Greninja?"

"Honestly, sir, I hardly know him," I explained. "Something got out of hand while I was talking with the King and he thought I fancied the ninja."

The General frowned, but sighed it into a smile. "And here he led me to believe my knight was swooning over a new arrival," he chuckled. "My apologies on the King's behalf, Chesnaught."

Forcing a smile, I shook my head. "It's a fair misunderstanding."

"Not even close," he argued. "This was far too presumptuous of not only the King, but myself as well. And here we thought we could play matchmakers." He laughed. "After the trouble we've been through, anyone would think that we would have learned by now!"

"Sir?"

"Uh…that's, um, nothing important," coughed the General, though I noticed his cheeks brighten up with a reddish color. "Well, I'll apologize to Greninja once he returns. For all we know, he's not even interested in you!"

On that cue, the words tumbled out of my mouth, "Was he? Or, is he?"

"No clue," shrugged General Rhydon. "I followed the King's suggestion on that, but now I'll have to reassess these things for myself."

"But…what did you think, sir?" I persisted.

"Ah…w-well, I had imagined it myself," he contemplated. "Oh, b-but that's not my call to make! Who knows what he actually could be?"

My head lowered. "Angry or confused, by now," I muttered.

"Well, you certainly beat the stuffing right out of that ninja frog, that's for sure."

"You did what?!" an angered voice boomed from behind me. I turned to meet the glare of the angriest blue sea lion.

Samurott grabbed me by the collar and held me up in the air. Though I was taller, he weighed and could lift more.

"Ah, I, d-didn't mean," I stuttered and Samurott shook me.

"Why would you even think to do that?!" he roared. "We're allies!"

"At ease, Samurott!" cried the General as he locked down the samurai's arms. "They were practice partners!"

"O-Oh. I see," he murmured and dropped me to the ground. "My apologies, Sir Chesnaught," Samurott added with a cough.

Slowly, I patted myself off and stood back up. "It's…fine."

"Not quite," contended General Rhydon. "Samurott, where did that ferocity come from?"

"Ah, sorry, sir," he scratched at his head under his shell helmet. "I, uh, befriended the new recruit in town last night." Samurott turned back to look at me again. His face seemed a little red to me, but I might have been mistaken. "He's a nice fellow, if you get a chance to really know him," he explained.

"Maybe I'll get to," I pondered and Samurott nodded before he briskly walked away.


 

[Greninja]

I sat along a riverbank that I had discovered while I wandered around. The surrounding trees made it easy to slip away and I was certain that the others didn't follow me. To keep me calm, I watched the water quickly flow down the riverbed. It was a lovely blue color that mixed nicely with the greens and browns of the grass and trees that filled the area.

With a sigh, I brought my hand up to my face and rested a cool ball of water over the sore spot from Chesnaught's Vine Whip. He got a nice shot in on his last attack.

"Now, you're mine."

My face flared up as vivid images of his smirking face over me rushed to fill up my mind. Wildly, I swung my head around and forced my attention back to the river.

"Just stop thinking about him already," I muttered to myself.

"That wouldn't exactly solve your problem," came a low voice.

Hastily, I jumped up and whirled around to find the Grass Fields King himself in my presence.

"Lord Nidoking," I gasped.

"Just Nidoking is fine," he chuckled as I let out a relieved sigh. "You know, your friends Gardevoir and Delphox are searching for you."

"They are?" I asked. When Nidoking nodded, my head dropped and I felt a painful punch of guilt.

"Samurott also asked about you before I left," he casually added the next blow of guilt. All three of my…friends from my town visit were far more invested in me than I realized.

"They'll be fine once you return," he reassured as he assessed the remorse on my face as I picked it back up. "Tell me, what brings you out here?"

"Sir, I was going to ask you that."

"This is actually nicknamed 'King's Riverbank,'" he informed me. "Guess who visits here too often?"

"Oh…well, f-forgive me for intruding, sire."

"Please, this is a public place," he waved me off. "Besides, you seem to need a quiet locale more than I do, at least right now."

"N-Not at all," I nervously shook my head. "I was just…thinking of leaving."

His dark, contemplative eyes looked right into mine. "From the sound of it, I would assume that you're actually trying to get over a stinging sparring session."

My head shook a bit and I murmured, "You watched the match, sire?"

"Yes, and it was more than I anticipated," he sighed. "He gave you a lot more of a beating than I thought he would."

"Chesnaught does have the advantage," I admitted and rested against the nearest tree. "But next time, I'll work on getting a few better hits in on him."

Nidoking stared at me and raised an eyebrow. "Pardon me, Greninja, but you make it sound as though the fight…didn't bother you."

"It didn't," I confirmed. "Chesnaught was a strong opponent and I can learn a good number of strategies from him, as well as glaring weaknesses that I need to improve on."

The king blinked at my response. Then, he laughed. "And the General actually led me to believe that the fight messed with you!"

"M-Messed with me?" I accidently stammered out. Nidoking stopped his laughter and gazed at me again as my face heated up.

"Ah. So it did," inspected Nidoking as he narrowed his eyes. "Just…not in the way Rhydon assumed."

My face must have been glowing red by this point and I tried to turn away. "I…sir, I d-don't believe I un-under—"

"Greninja, you're welcome to lie to me, but I think it would be in your better interests to tell me what's bothering you," the king advised.

I stared back at Nidoking; his warm smile was inviting, but his eyes were able to pierce through me. The longer he studied me, the more he would learn anyway.

With a sigh, I whispered, "I…I have a crush, sir."

"What was that?" he asked. There was no way that his big ears wouldn't have caught that.

Still, I pushed away from the tree and clearly repeated myself, "I have a crush, sir."

"Ah, I see," he scratched at one of his ears. "Now, could you be just a bit more specific?"

How much would I have to spell this out? "I'm interested in the knights you have, sire."

"Knights?" he questioned with an amused tone. "Plural?"

My eyes lowered in frustration. "A knight," I corrected.

"Oh, just one then," he nodded, almost mockingly. "Well, I do have several, so which one—"

"Sire, it's Chesnaught that I want, and we both know this," I disrespectfully snapped. Quickly, I hit my head and tightened my tongue.

Nidoking, however, laughed and gently put an arm around me. "And now we're getting somewhere!"

"It's just an infatuation, sir," I blurted out.

"For now, certainly!" he noted. "But, if we continue to work on this, we can get you to tell him soon enough. After all, life's too short for secrets, don't you think?"

"Some things are best left unspoken, sire," I recalled that response to a similar question.

His smile faded from that as he dropped his arm. "Perhaps, but would you really want to keep Chesnaught from knowing?"

Without hesistation, I nodded, "Absolutely."

"You couldn't mean that. Are you sure?"

"Positive," I reaffirmed my stance.

The king's frown grew. "Why? I'm sure you two could get along if you just—"

"He's not interested in my type, sire," I interrupted and glanced back to the river.

"Oh. …Oh…I see," he processed. But he puzzled over it and doubled back, "Wait, how would you know?"

"Last night in town, my friends and I noticed Chesnaught with a lady," I explained. "And he was out quite late, to the point where he was dreadfully groggy earlier today."

Nidoking nodded. "Yes, he did tell me about a lady friend that he was off to visit," he remembered, "but I didn't think that he'd meant…that type of a friend." He sighed. "It seems as though I misinterpreted the situation entirely. My apologies."

"What for? You're not the one who…" I paused as it clicked. "You had the General set us up together?"

"No, that was a scheme of his own design," Nidoking clarified. Though, with a smile, he added, "A very clever one, I must admit. However, it was I who gave him the implication that Chesnaught harbored similar feelings for you." He scratched at the back of his neck. "Come to think of it, the General heartily agreed to the notion and thought that he caught you spying on Chesnaught several times."

"Well…the General was right," I sighed. "He's, uh, Chesnaught's…nice to look at."

"Nice," repeated Nidoking, again amused. "Wouldn't you rather say, something like, captivating? Or engaging? Perhaps stunning?"

"I'd rather not be interested in him at all anymore," I quietly confessed.

"That's…understandable," came the king's more solemn agreement.

A sigh escaped me. "I just don't understand. He's not the only attractive one around here. Usually, I learn if someone is straight and I just get him out of my mind. But he's different; in spite of knowing that, I just want him the more I see him."

Nidoking scratched his chin and thoughtfully gazed at me. "Do you think it's not the more you see of him, but rather, the more you spend time with him?"

I gave him a quizzical expression. "What do you mean?"

"You give the impression that you're physically attracted to him," observed Nidoking. "And you make it clear that you can find multiple…interests. However, the amount of time you spend with Chesnaught has only increased since you arrived here. Perhaps, you're getting to know him better than you thought, and perhaps it's for that reason that your budding attraction continues to grow."

It took me just a moment to process what he insinuated. "Are you implying that I'm falling in love with him because I'm getting to know him?"

He laughed. "Imply nothing, I'm stating it."

"That's doesn't…well, it makes sense," I relented. "B-But, we've only…I haven't been here that long, and…I couldn't possibly have had enough time to—"

"Find some of his mannerisms charming and feel a compelling desire to get better acquainted with him?"

"You're putting it so plainly."

"And you're trying to overcomplicate it," countered Nidoking. He shook his head and went on, "Sometimes, people take years, decades even, to understand the feelings they have for another person. But there are other times that people can meet, develop just a tiny spark, and kindle it to something more, in just a small matter of time." He softly patted my back. "Love doesn't work in simple ways; otherwise, it wouldn't really hold as much value."

My head nodded, but my hand tapped on my tongue. "I suppose that's true, but that doesn't really solve my problem."

"It can," insisted the king. "Just tell him how you feel."

"But he's not gay!" I protested.

Nidoking rested his head on his right hand, which he supported with the left, and thought for a moment. Then, he decided, "Technically, neither am I."

Throwing my hands in the air, I amended, "Ok, he's not interested in the same-sex."

"And you know this…how?" questioned Nidoking.

For a moment, I was caught off-guard. Still, I countered, "Well, wouldn't it be obvious?"

"Not at all," he shook his head. "Some people are masterful at burying their feelings." A little more condescendingly, he added, "But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

Again, I pulled tightly on my tongue. The king excelled with these conversations, and at reading me.

"Give it a shot," he suggested. "After all, who knows?"

"Maybe, but…" I trembled. "I've been wrong about feelings before. And it didn't turn out well."

"You can't let that hold you back," he murmured. "Trust me, that never ends in your favor."

"No," I agreed. "I suppose not."

There was a pause between us, and Nidoking waited for my next argument. But I turned my head back to the river and watched the water as it drifted over a few stones and kept flowing on a steady pace, undeterred.

Slowly, the king put his arm back around me. "Anything that drives your head and your heart wild is worth chancing."

"Yes," I nodded. "In time, I think I could agree."

He patted the other side of me and gazed at me with a smile. Even with my tongue in the way, I returned it.

"This thing makes me look like a fool," I muttered and batted at my tongue, to which the king heartily laughed.

"At best, your perceived imperfections are innocent quirks that attract attention to you," he consoled. "At worst, you have something to make a person smile and laugh, which you can use to promote the same for yourself."

Looking at him, I shook my head. "How did you get so…wise?"

"You live a while, the world beats you up some, you learn more, and apply it as you go," he explained. "And as painful as some things can be, you just have to take a deep breath and keep moving. Focus on the good, even if it is hard or scarce." I nodded and spun away from him. "Hey, where are you going?"

"Two mages are probably still looking for me," I replied, more upbeat. "I think I've wallowed over my own problems long enough, don't you, sire?"

I glanced back to see him smile and nod. Then, I wandered back toward the castle. Around a number of trees that were still growing leaves and various blue flowers growing beneath them, Delphox and Gardevoir meandered around. For a minute, I waited, realized they hadn't noticed me, and then snuck behind a tree.

"If he wasn't a Dark type, or part I guess, we'd have found him ages ago," complained Delphox. "Can't I just burn away a few trees and flowers to speed this up?"

"Tell you what," Gardevoir bounced over to him. "You burn through the plants out here, and then I'll burn your bedroom in the middle of the night! Sound fair?"

"No," deadpanned Delphox. "And I got your point. No need to be so…chipper about it."

"Look, I want to find Greninja too, Delphox," sympathized Gardevoir. "He was really nice when we were with him last night. And he was brave, with how he would have joined our fight against those scum sellers, no questions asked, just because we were against them."

"Yeah, he's much better company than those oafish knights," Delphox folded his arms. "At least he doesn't give us weird out looks or call us names or whisper—"

Gardevoir wrapped her arms around Delphox. "Hush, hush! They're not all that bad. And there's no need to get yourself all worked up over it anyway."

"Easy for you," huffed Delphox. "You had one that cowered from you. I had that snippy, quip crazy Typhlosion. We may be allies, but you sure wouldn't it know it on his account."

"Just pour a bucket of water over his head," my voice chuckled as I stepped forward. "That'll shut him up quick."

"Greninja!" cheered Gardevoir and she flew over to hug me.

"Bucket of water…I'll keep that in mind, thanks," Delphox smirked. "So, where have you been?"

"Exploring," I tried an easy response, but the two mages gave me skeptical looks.

"Are you going to be honest with us, or do we need to create a truth serum?" asked Delphox.

Somehow, I laughed. "No, although that does sound interesting." I sighed. "All right, I took off because I couldn't stand being near Chesnaught."

"Why?" questioned Delphox. Suddenly, he became defensive of me, and asked, "Did he mess with you too much during your match? Just let me know and I'll mess him up on so many levels—"

"No, no," I stopped him. "He's…well, he gets in my head, but not intentionally."

"That's confusing," Delphox shook his head. "And I should know confusing. I'm with Gardevoir too often."

In response, Gardevoir shoved Delphox and telekinetically slammed him into the nearest tree.

"We're best friends, we really are," insisted an unconvincing Gardevoir. "So, what do you mean about Chesnaught?"

"You probably have a good idea of it," I told her, to which she shrugged.

"Try me," she suggested as Delphox lumbered back over to us.

"Ok, I…uh…I l-like Chesnaught," I barely managed.

Gardevoir squealed and grabbed me for another hug. I could barely make out Delphox as he rubbed his snout.

"She likes being right," he muttered.

"Hush, this is exciting," she chastised Delphox. "Oh, we can share secrets now! Ok, there was this one time that I zapped Earl Gallade with a spell, but I—"

"Do you have to make this about you?" snapped Delphox. "And Greninja, you need to get over that. Chesnaught's as straight as an arrow, unless you forgot about last night."

"I didn't," I sighed. "And I've tried to get past what I feel, but I thought about it and, well, the longer I'm with him, the more interested I get."

"Don't crush people's dreams!" Gardevoir growled and telekinetically shoved Delphox to the ground. While she held him there, her expression relaxed and she smiled at me. "Greninja, dear, we don't have hard evidence about Chesnaught for, um, anything, really. You very much still have a chance with him."

"Yeah," agreed a muffled Delphox. "It's the most remote thing I can think of right now, but you definitely have a chance." Gardevoir began to use her powers to further bury Delphox's head into the ground, and he flailed his arms and kicked his legs. His muffled screams were barely clear enough to make out, "Stop, I'm agreeing, I want to see them get together too!"

"But this was so much fun," moaned Gardevoir as she pulled Delphox's head back out.

After he gasped for breath, Delphox snarled, "You are the sickest individual in the kingdom!"

"Aw, thanks, I love you too," giggled Gardevoir.

"Um…sh-should we head back now?" I broke in.

"Yes, absolutely!" cheered Gardevoir and grabbed my hands. "Come, you can fight with Chesnaught some more and slowly get to know him better!"

Before anyone else could argue with her, Gardevoir pulled me along with one hand, and dragged Delphox across the ground with another.

"H-Hey! Quit that!" wailed Delphox. "Gardevoir! Stop!"

Between Gardevoir rushing and Delphox whining, I could barely process the passing green flashes of the scenery around us. Within minutes, we were back in the courtyard. Though it was getting late in the day, a good number of couples were still battling with one another.

"We're back!" announced Gardevoir to no one in particular. And, unsurprisingly, no one seemed to take notice, aside from Accelgor taking a quick glance between throwing a punch. "Whatever. Delphox, fight me!"

He whipped out his rod and lit it on fire. Delphox shouted, "Just remember you asked for this!"

Quickly, I dashed around the courtyard, and dodged a whizzing fireball. Soon, I made my way back over to Rhydon, who gave me a puzzled glance, and to Chesnaught, who sat quietly on the ground. Gently, I tapped him on the shoulder, and he slowly looked up at me.

My heart jumped as he pushed himself up and smiled. "Greninja! Hey!"

"Hey," I returned. "So…do we have enough time for one more round?"

"I…I don't know if I want to," Chesnaught murmured and frowned. "Before, you left and seemed really…upset."

"Yeah, that was all me," I lied. "Nothing to do with you, honest. So come on," I waved him over and readied my stance. "Once more."

Chesnaught bit his lip and seemed unsure, but he walked over and raised his fists. Even though I could already feel my face burn up, I took a deep breath in and exhaled.

It's worth a shot.

Chapter Text

[Greninja]

The sun began to set over the courtyard, and I quietly watched the red and orange glows mix with the blues and purple of the cloud crammed skyline. It mixed well with the trees below, giving a healthy pallet of colors to the scenery.

Water trickled down my arms as I washed away the grass needles from my arm. They weren't deep enough to draw blood, but certainly still painful. When I washed enough of it away, I slipped down the column and sighed.

"Hey, you ok?" I glanced back up to see Chesnaught pop up from the other side of the column. He was dripping from his chest down, with just a few dents in his armor.

Forcing a smile, I nodded. "I'm fine, really. Thank you."

"All right, just checking." He picked at the column a bit and we watched one another. Chesnaught still looked worried, but I kept the smile up. Slowly, he sighed and relaxed his shoulders. "Well, ah, I should get going."

"Wait!" I cried as he turned away from the column.

"Yes?" Chesnaught leaned back against it and stared at me again.

My hands trembled and I fidgeting them around. "I…I wanted to…you're ok too, right?" I stammered.

The knight nodded and smiled. "Yep, I'm good. You can hit harder next time." He winked at the last part and I laughed nervously, my face burning again. "Are you sure you're ok? Your face is pretty red again."

"Y-Yeah," I tried to reassure him. "Just…had a thought about…sunsets."

"They're gorgeous, right?" He looked over the trees and out to the sky. "It's fun to take in all of the colors and shapes, huh?"

"Absolutely," I agreed.

We waited again, quietly, as he watched the sky and I shifted my gaze back and forth between the sky and the knight.

"Sorry. I should really get going," piped up Chesnaught.

"Ok," I murmured as he disappeared behind the column. "Bye."

A heavy sigh escaped me as I knocked my head back against the column.

"Three words," I hissed at myself. "Just three—"

"What's up, Greninja?"

Whirling around, I would have fallen over if I hadn't grabbed the column. Delphox leaned around the other side and gave me a quizzical look.

"Um…h-hi, Delphox," I breathed out.

"I thought I saw Chesnaught walking away," he mentioned and checked behind the column. "Did…you tell him yet?"

"N-No," I grumbled. "It's not something I want to just blurt out to him."

"Why not?" He glanced back down at me and raised an eyebrow.

"W-Well…I'm still getting to know him," I confessed; I really didn't want to rush into anything, tempting as it might be. "I haven't even been here a full week yet."

"You keep your thoughts in too long and he'll run off to marry that town girl," spat Delphox.

"Oh…I didn't think of that," I mumbled and dropped my head. A few seconds passed before I heard some dirt skid beside me.

Delphox placed his hand on my shoulder. "Come on, it's fine. And you're right; people don't exactly fall in love overnight." He paused, and then added, "Well, not without a little assistance." I picked my head back up and watched him as he scratched his chin. "You know, I'm normally one to scold Gardevoir for an idea like this, but I could try to brew a little love potion and—"

"Force him to like me?" I questioned. "I'd rather just confess to him."

"Mm, probably for the best," he agreed. "Love potions always have those sour endings from induced romances." He scratched at the back of his ear. "Well, maybe not always, I'm sure there's a happy love potion story somewhere."

"I'm still not using it."

"Ok, fine, got it the first time."

A knock sounded from above us and we glanced back up the column. Gardevoir and Samurott stood over us.

"Knock, knock, hello down there," laughed Gardevoir. "What are you two up to?"

"We were just talking…" Delphox started, but trailed off after making eye contact with Samurott.

"Talking about…?" Samurott picked up.

Delphox scratched at his stick. "Ah…sunsets?"

"Right. What kind of a fool do you take me for?" questioned Samurott.

"One that wants to waste time over our idle chit chat," huffed Delphox. "Gardevoir would coming searching for us, but why are you here?"

"Samurott tells me that the king has requested us for a task," explained Gardevoir.

"That doesn't explain why he's here," persisted Delphox.

"He also requested to see me," informed Samurott and folded his arms. "So, you can hiss at me some more or actually come with me to see our king."

The mage opened his mouth to argue more, but Gardevoir grabbed his arm and dragged him back toward the castle. I followed them along, with Samurott walking right alongside me.

"Did the king happen to mention what he wanted us for?" I asked him.

"Nope, he told me that he'd explain more when I collected everyone," clarified Samurott.

We strolled into the main hall and I scratched the side of my head. "Huh."

"So," Samurott whispered, "what were you and Delphox chattering about when we showed up?"

"Uh, nothing in particular," I lied, unsure about telling Samurott the truth. He was the only one of my friends who didn't know, but he was also the only one that socialized with the knights on a more frequent basis.

"Aw, come on," he quietly groaned. "Do you guys think I can't keep a secret?"

"Well, I…don't want things to get…weird between us," I admitted.

"Weird? Why would it—?"

"Oh, quit harassing him, Samurott," snapped Delphox as Gardevoir stretched her hand out and onto one of the throne room's doors. "We could hear you perfectly the whole time. And you wonder why we wouldn't tell you?"

Samurott frowned and turned his head away. Guilty, I placed my hand on his shoulder and sighed. "Look, I'll tell you about it after we speak with Nidoking. But, just…keep an open mind, ok?" He glanced back down to me with a smile and nodded.

"And you definitely need to do a much better job at keeping your mouth shut about it," added Delphox, to which Samurott glared at him.

"Are we going to spend another ten minutes arguing, or can I open the door?" asked Gardevoir. Then, delighted, she pulled her hand away and clapped, "Ooh, wait, let's actually get into a big fight! I have some new spells I can try and you guys should last longer than Armaldo did!"

"Just open the door," deadpanned Delphox.

Gardevoir stuck her tongue out at him, but opened the door as requested. We moved inside to the throne room, where Nidoking stood up from his throne and walked to the room's center. Samurott bowed, which I mimicked myself; this was the first time I was having an official audience with the king. Delphox and Gardevoir curtseyed.

"Ah, thank you, Samurott, and welcome back," Nidoking greeted. "And hello again to the rest of you as well!"

"Hello, your grace," returned Gardevoir. "What can we do for you?"

"Actually, I'm also waiting on a few knights that Rhydon should be sending over," the king scratched his chin.

"Knights besides me, sire?" questioned Samurott and Nidoking nodded.

Behind us, the doors opened again, with Gallade leading in Bisharp, Typhlosion, and, of course, Chesnaught. I pulled on my tongue as they approached us and bowed to their king.

"Earl Gallade, this is a pleasant surprise," laughed Nidoking. "I was only informed of the knights being sent here."

"Pardon the intrusion, milord," Gallade picked himself up. "I had heard that you sent the general on another task and wished to make my services available."

"Polite way of saying he heard Gardevoir would be here," I heard Delphox mutter.

"Very well, that's most appreciated," thanked Nidoking.

"Sire," Bisharp stood and stepped forward, "exactly why are we here?"

"Yes, right to it," nodded Nidoking. "Normally, I'd send Rhydon, but since he's away on another, ah, errand, I'll need the…eight of you to go to the Eventide Forest."

"Now? Later in the day, when we're more prone to attack?" questioned Delphox.

"It's the only time to enter because of the seals we put up," explained Nidoking.

"Magical seals?" inquired Gardevoir excitedly.

"Of course!" Nidoking beamed and matched her enthusiasm.

Typhlosion coughed to interrupt. "That doesn't explain why all of us need to go."

"Or what we're going after," added Delphox. He blinked and his face was full of distaste, perhaps because he agreed with Typhlosion.

"Ah, yes, there are two things that I desire," clarified Nidoking. "The first is just some berries for wine, Micle, Ganlon, and Apicot. I hid a stash secretly growing on one end of the woods."

"Um…why would you do that?" questioned Chesnaught.

Nidoking laughed, "They grow better out there!"

"But why do you need them now?" asked Typhlosion.

"Oh, I don't," shrugged Nidoking. "But it's better to knockout two birds with one stone."

Everyone besides the king exchanged expressions that varied between distaste and confusion.

"What's the other…thing?" I inquired. My input attracted the attention of others and they looked at me for a moment; I was quite tempted to pull my tongue up further.

"Ah, yes," Nidoking continued. "Someone else will need to unseal the enchantments around the hokora in the forest. There's a golden and gray stone inside, a type of…crown jewel." His tone slowed just a bit over the last words, but I seemed to be the only one to pick up on it. "It's quite valuable and until recently, I left it to be used as a tribute to the forest guardians."

Samurott scratched the back of his head. "You mean the legendary—"

"Yes, yes, myths and nonsense, I know," Nidoking waved him off. "At any rate, it's come to my attention that I'll need it back close by, so I'd like you to bring it back here."

"So, you need Delphox and I to unseal both of these," noted Gardevoir. "But why do we need three guards each?"

The king's face grew dark as he murmured, "Bandits. They tend to wait until later hours to strike and usually target individuals. A report buzzed around recently that there was a group that had a mage in their midst." He sighed. "Though they wouldn't know the incantations to unlock either location, they'll most certainly attempt to steal anything valuable that you take."

"Ok, so the more of us that go, the less likely it is that we run into them?" checked Bisharp.

Nidoking shook his head. "No, there's a pretty fair chance that you'll run into them regardless. The more of you that go, the more opponents you can fight off."

"Just how important is that crown jewel?" requested Delphox. "Does it really need to come back here now?"

"Sooner is better," noted Nidoking. "I'm going to have need of it in the coming months and would prefer it nearby rather than in the forest." When no one answered after that, he added, "Should I make it an official order, or can I trust you eight to handle this quietly and quickly?"

"It'll be an honor, sire," bowed Samurott.

"Certainly," agreed Gallade.

"Gardevoir and I don't really have a choice, do we?" sighed Delphox.

"Sounds fun anyway!" cheered Gardevoir.

"We won't let you down, sir," I added. If all of my friends were going, I might as well make sure I'm with them.

"That's right," Chesnaught chimed in. "You can count on us!"

"Got nothing better to do," shrugged Typhlosion.

"Consider it done the minute we leave," nodded Bisharp.

"Excellent, glad to hear it," laughed Nidoking. "Take a few weapons from the armory and try not to draw suspicion as you travel to and through the forest. And for the mages, I have the incantations…here." He took out two small papers and gave one each to Gardevoir and Delphox.

Gardevoir studied the paper. "Ooh, new magic words…"

"What language is this?" Delphox read the page and shook his head.

"A fairly old one, but you should be able to work with it. Guard those with your lives. Do the same for each other." Our group nodded and turned to walk out. "Good luck," the king called as we left.

"The armory is this way," motioned Bisharp to a door past the right stairwell. Typhlosion and Chesnaught followed him right through, while Gallade whispered something to Gardevoir to make her giggle before he went after them.

"Guess what you were going to tell me will have to wait, huh?" asked Samurott as he followed the group.

"Well, if we're going with them, then yes," I mumbled.

Samurott frowned, but nodded and held the door for me as I walked past him. Gardevoir and Delphox continued to read over their incantations as we left them.

Carefully, we ventured down a bluish gray stone walled staircase; something I would have expected based on the exterior of the castle. In fact, I had expected more interior walls like this. Only a few infrequent torches lit the way before we reached another door, dark brown and wooden. Bisharp opened it and strolled through, with the rest of us following him in.

We traveled through the hallway, with brown stones used here. Several doors were lined against the walls, but I couldn't tell the differences between them, nor guess at what lied beyond them. The knights reached a door about three quarters of the way down and went inside. Samurott nudged me forward when I didn't follow right away, as I still glanced around the hall before entering.

Silently, I gazed at the assortment of weaponry that lined the room. Various wooden chests were filled with armor plates, swords, hatchets, and daggers. Knives were lined up on a desk at the far end of the room. Along the walls were lances, battle-axes, shields, bows, arrows, quivers, long swords, staffs, spears, and clubs.

Each of the knights began fingering through the weapons, debating over what they wanted to take. Samurott took my hand and guided me behind a wall around the right side of the room.

"These are some that I brought," he presented a cabinet that cased a smaller section of the army supplies. Katana and tachi swords were lined on the right door, while naginata and bo staffs were on the left. Samurai armor was on the back of the cabinet, with shelves that contained smaller weapons, including shuriken, ono, and kama. He opened a drawer and took out two bladed scallops.

"I used to practice with these when I was younger," Samurott reminisced fondly and added them to his belt. His usual swords were sheathed on his arms, and I wondered if he ever took them off. "So, do you have any supplies yet?"

"Uh, in my room, but I didn't know we had an armory," I muttered. "Well, I imagined, but I never searched for it."

The samurai laughed. "It's fine, take some of my supplies! I need to restock soon anyway."

My hands went straight for his shuriken set, with a preference for the four-sided blades. I clipped them to my belt and let my hands drop to my sides.

"You can take more than just those, you know," he advised. I grabbed a tachi blade and slipped the strap over my back. "…You're being too modest."

"No, I just travel lightly," I corrected him, though he wasn't completely wrong. "Besides, I've got my own attacks to help out with these."

"True," Samurott relented as he slipped an ono into his belt. "But you should still have alternative methods of fighting prepared."

"That's what you supplied me with," I pointed out. "Plus, you're used to using a lot of weapons; that's not how I work, normally."

"Right, you rely on speed and flashy tricks," noted Samurott, though the latter sounded a bit condescending. "Sorry," he must have seen my frown, "they're useful, just different from what I'm used to." The sea lion patted his stomach. "Big and steady like a rock," he laughed. "Better for me to concentrate on fighting in one place."

"But…you don't seem that slow," I scratched my head.

"Oh, no, not really," he agreed. "Compared to the group we're going with, though, I'm probably only faster than Chesnaught."

At his name, I nodded and turned back to the cabinet.

"Someone mention my name?" Chesnaught called and I glanced behind my shoulder to see him peer around the wall at us.

"Just hoping you won't fall behind tonight," teased Samurott.

"Ha-ha. I can manage," assured Chesnaught.

Samurott laughed, "You better! If they pick you off first, that means I'm next!"

I tapped on the weapons in the cabinet and listened for Chesnaught's footsteps moving away. Instead, I heard them get closer.

"Do you mind if I take something small, Samurott?" he asked.

"Uh…sure, if you need to," mumbled Samurott. "Didn't think you were one for tossing blades, though."

"Not really, but Greninja got me interested in them," he explained as he slid up next to me. "You know, after you pelted me with all of those Water Shuriken attacks."

Nervously, I laughed and shut my eyes as I turned my head to face him. "Yeah, sorry about that." Too curious, I opened an eye to look at him. If I started to drool, I'd consider dragging the entire cabinet down on me.

"Don't be, that's what practice is for," he beamed. I watched as he reached in, but knocked a few weapons out of place. "Oops," he grinded his teeth together. "Uh…"

"Relax, I've got it," I murmured as I sorted them back. Yet, I was somehow not taking my own advice and saw my hands shake a little. Exhaling, I steadied my hands and fit the blades back into their proper places.

Fitting the last one in, my hand brushed against Chesnaught's arm and I bit my tongue. He didn't flinch and I glanced at his face, but he just smiled at me. Quickly, I picked up several six-sided shuriken and held them out.

"Thanks," he grinned as he added them to his belt. He also had a dirk tucked away, a stiletto, and two hatchets around the other side. A broadsword poked out from behind his back, well above his tail. "Um…did you need something from me?"

"W-What?"

"You were staring at my belt, so I figured—"

"N-No, I was just, uh," I stammered. "L-Lost in thought. Sorry."

"That's ok," he soothed. "But, ah, your face is turning red again."

"It is?" Of course it was, I felt it flare up. "W-Weird."

"Maybe you should get that checked out sometime?" he wondered aloud. "Samurott, would you know anything about faces turning red involuntarily?"

"Embarrassment, for starters," deadpanned Samurott.

"Oh, did you think about something embarrassing, Greninja?" Chesnaught's innocent tone was enough to drive me insane.

"Why don't you keep getting yourself ready?" suggested Samurott as he pushed Chesnaught back around the wall. "I'll help him out."

"Uh, all right?"

Samurott walked back around and folded his arms as he studied at me.

"Stupid, right?" I whispered to him.

"Well, maybe if I knew what made you blush like that," he muttered. I only blushed harder from that, but gave him a quizzical look as well.

"Wait, don't you get it?"

"No, what?" I watched his eyes, but he stared right back at me. Clueless. Good, I needed him to be for now.

"Ah, it's about that thing I was going to explain…never mind, I'll tell you about this later too," I mumbled.

The samurai glanced around the wall and back to me. Still quietly, he started, "Is it important that no one else—?"

"Yes," I asserted, a little louder. "Delphox wasn't kidding earlier."

"Kidding about what?" Ugh. Typhlosion peered around the wall.

"How often he wants to blast fire at nosy knights like you," Samurott barked and shoved him back behind the wall.

"He does have a fiery temper," I listened to Gallade add.

"Do you get jealous that he's always with your lady?" teased Bisharp.

"N-No." Gallade paused. "Wait, she's not my lady!"

Typhlosion and Bisharp laughed as Samurott patted me on the back. I smiled and mouthed my thanks, which he managed to see in spite of my tongue.

We stepped back around the wall and walked out to the hall. As we passed, I noticed Typhlosion cling to a halberd while Bisharp favored short swords. Gallade checked the extended blades on his elbows and Chesnaught bent over a chest…

Abruptly, I turned forward and shuffled past Samurott out the door.


 

[Chesnaught]

The door slammed and I jumped up from the chest of weapons I dug through. I turned around to face the door and the other knights. "Did someone slam the—?"

"Yeah, Samurott and his pet frog ninja," Typhlosion spat. "Why's he keep so close to that new guy, anyway?"

"They seem pretty similar," noted Bisharp. "Water, blue, ninjas and samurai go hand in hand, don't they?"

"Actually, I think samurai are more upper class with more structured code of honor, while ninjas are usually just assassins for hire and more open with their combat tactics," explained Gallade. "Though, Escavalier tells me that's not the exact case with his wife's clan." He paused and looked at me. "Chesnaught, you've fought Greninja. What do you think?"

"Um…he seems to have a practiced style, I think," I scratched at the back of my head. "He hits and runs quickly, and he knows how to find weak points. Is that what you mean, or…?"

"Who cares?" Typhlosion interrupted. "Either way, they get into a fight, they're going to need to make sure they survive."

"That's one way to look at it," observed Gallade. "Tell me, Typhlosion, how well have you studied chivalry and your honor codes of conduct?"

Typhlosion blinked. "Uh—"

"You do realize that those are essential for a knight, right?" continued Gallade.

"Well, yeah, of course!" Typhlosion's uneasily responded. "It's just…um…d-don't we need to get going?"

Gallade smirked. "Yes, of course." He glanced over all three of us before he walked out. Typhlosion sighed and picked at the floor with his halberd.

"You're just itching to get into trouble, you know that?" Bisharp mocked him.

"Clearly," shrugged Typhlosion. "Well, I'm all set. I'll see you two upstairs."

He lifted the weapon and walked out. Bisharp waited a few minutes before he tapped on my shoulder.

"So, did you ever find out about Greninja?"

"Find out what?" I asked.

"You know, the thing we talked about?" Bisharp quickly crept to the doorway, looked around, and then walked back to me. "If he's gay?"

Something about his tone rubbed me the wrong way. "I didn't find out, but why do you care, anyway?"

Bisharp shrugged. "I'm nosy."

"You told me that before," I nodded, "But that doesn't seem like a good enough reason for me to snoop into his personal life."

"Didn't you want to find out more about him?" he pestered.

"Yeah, as an ally and friend," I specified. "I don't need to know anything else."

Bisharp raised an eyebrow at me. "Well…I guess, but—"

"No, there shouldn't be a 'but.' What else do you need to know?"

He shrugged. "Nothing, I guess. You raised a good point."

Still, there was a look in his eye that I didn't like. "That's not enough for you, is it?"

"Doesn't matter," Bisharp shook his head. "Look, we should get going. Everyone's going to be waiting on us."

"I'll be there in a few," I nodded. "Just have a few more things that I need."

"All right, see you up there."

Bisharp walked out the door and I listened to him leave the hallway. Quickly, I rushed back around the wall and looked inside of the cabinet Samurott and Greninja had used before. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and I slowly closed it.

"Embarrassment, for starters."

So Greninja was embarrassed, but nothing in here would suggest that. Samurott was talking to him casually and I didn't pick up on the conversation until my name came up. And then, he went red, like when we were fighting earlier. Bisharp was most likely right, in that case; Greninja was gay.

"And he might have feelings for me…" I murmured to myself.

Wildly, I shook my head. Bisharp's words were messing with my thoughts. Nothing confirmed that about Greninja and he might just be upset over our practice sessions. Even though he insisted that it wasn't my fault, what if something I did actually triggered a bad memory for him?

As I closed the armory door behind me, I bit my lip and wondered what the truth was. And with that came another question to gnaw at my mind:

How did I feel about Greninja?

After I climbed the stairs, I thought that I could bury the notion. But as I walked back into the hall, I spied Greninja talking to his friends. He looked over at me, but then quickly averted his gaze. Suddenly, a new pair of thoughts occurred to me:

What if he actually didn't like me at all? Is it possible that I revolt him?

No particular reasons stood out for that, but I had knocked him around pretty hard when we sparred. And the first time I actually interacted with him was knocking him to the ground. Maybe he developed a secret distaste toward me?

"Well, if we're all here," announced Gallade. "Shall we?"

Everyone left the castle and we traveled through the left arches of the courtyard, for the path that would lead to Eventide Forest. True to the name, the sun was already down before we even arrived.

"So…what do you think of that Greninja ninja?" quietly asked Typhlosion, as we trailed behind the group.

I watched ahead as Gardevoir made Greninja and Samurott laugh at Delphox's expense. "He seems nice," I muttered to Typhlosion. "He's also pretty tough."

"Is that all?" Typhlosion pressed.

"That's all you need to know," I affirmed.

"Just wondering if you liked him," snickered Typhlosion. "Or trusted him."

Still cackling, he sped up away from me to bother Bisharp. I sighed and gazed ahead as Delphox whispered to Greninja. The two looked back at me, and I shifted my eyes to the left, and watched as we passed some trees and stumps. When I returned my attention to them, Delphox was laughing while Greninja had turned away.

Gallade fell back and whispered, "I couldn't quite make it out, but I do believe they mentioned you at some point."

"Yeah, I got that impression," I mumbled.

He waited a minute before he continued, "So, you've gotten to know Greninja pretty well, right?"

"You are the third one to ask me about us," I grumbled and slid a hand over my face.

"Sorry," he scratched his head. "I, uh…well, to put it candidly, I'm looking for ways to get closer to Lady Gardevoir." I turned my head and noticed that his cheeks were rosy.

"Isn't she already aware of your interest in her?" I asked.

"S-Sort of," he chuckled nervously. "And we've gone out on a few dates already." Gallade sighed. "But I'm nowhere near as close to her as I'd like to be. We talk, but it's only idle chatter when we pass one another in the castle halls. And aside from asking her out, she's almost always with Lady Delphox."

"Uh…I think you mean Lord Delphox."

"See?! This is exactly what I'm talking about!" Gallade shouted, and then froze as the rest of the group stopped and blankly stared at us.

"We still have work to do," I reminded them, and everyone started moving again.

"Thank you," he sheepishly grinned. "Anyway, that's my problem. I don't spend much time with Gardevoir, to the point that I can't even remember her best friend's gender." He paused. "Come to think of it, are they romantically involved? An on-again, off-again type of relationship?"

"Honestly, sir, you interact with them more than I do," I admitted.

With another sigh, Gallade nodded. "I know, but I was hoping that maybe you had befriended Greninja enough to listen to what he learned about her." He let out a light laugh. "I suppose that was reaching for the stars."

"Well, if you'd like, I could try asking him later about it," I offered. Wait, what?!

"Oh, would you really? Thank you so much, Sir Chesnaught!" he beamed and enthusiastically shook my hand.

I nodded as Gallade suddenly sped up and walked ahead, but kept a bit of distance between himself and Gardevoir.

When did I become a sucker for match making? I wondered.

A few more minutes passed and we finally reached Eventide Forest. Moonlight pierced through the trees, and decorated the paths below with spotted lights.

We wandered a little further in, and our surroundings grew darker, save for the bits of light that shone through. Eventually, we came to the fork in the road.

"All right, uh…which path leads which way?" asked Samurott.

"I believe the berries are along the right path," Gardevoir pointed to the path where more moonlight broke through the trees, and appeared a bit romantic, if not simply pleasant. "And that means the hokora is down the left path," she pointed to the other side, which was darker, with trees that had more twisted branches.

"Why are there always two ways: one nice road, and one terrifying trail?" Delphox voiced my thoughts.

"Beats me, but guess who got the berry incantation?" Gardevoir teased and waved her small paper around. "Mine has less words than yours, and I double checked with Nidoking before we left."

"W-Wait, really? That's not fair!" whined Delphox.

"Too bad!" cheered Gardevoir. "All right, let's pick guards."

"Dibs on Greninja, Samurott, and…Chesnaught," Delphox pointed each of us out with his stick.

"What?! You can't do that!" cried Gardevoir. "We're supposed to alternate after each pick! And I wanted Greninja and Samurott."

"Too bad," reiterated Delphox mockingly. "If I'm going down the fear inducing path, I might as well have good company."

"We're standing right here, you know," murmured Bisharp, to which Typhlosion nodded.

"Whatever," Delphox waved them off. "At least I left your Earl for you, Gardevoir."

She looked over at Gallade, who smiled brightly for her. Gardevoir giggled, "Well, thank you at least for that, my delicate Delphox." She burst out laughing as Delphox glared at her.

"Ok, we've taken far too long already," complained Samurott. "Let's go and be done with this quickly."

"All right," Gardevoir interlocked her arm with Gallade's. "Race you back to the entrance!"

"Oh, come on!" Delphox yelled as Gardevoir sped off, dragging Gallade along with her and forcing Bisharp and Typhlosion to chase them. The fire fox sighed. "They're going to be quicker than us; she has less words to spew out."

"They might take longer; they are collecting berries," Greninja pointed out.

"Maybe, but we're going down this abomination," Delphox glanced down our trail with distaste.

"Use that to motivate you along the way quicker," advised Samurott. "Come on."

The samurai led the way, with Greninja following him and Delphox grumbled as he went after them. I took a final look at Gardevoir's group in the distance on their trail before I rushed after my company.

"Uh…don't take this the wrong way," I tapped Delphox's shoulder, "but why did you pick me?"

"Out of every knight, you're the only one that ever remembered not to call me a 'lady,'" Delphox answered quickly. "There was no chance that I was taking Gallade away from Gardevoir, Typhlosion's a pest, and I don't know Bisharp well, besides that one time I burnt him to a crisp. So, that left you." He paused and deadpanned, "Congratulations."

"Um…thanks. I think," I murmured.

Abruptly, Delphox offered, "Would you like to talk to Greninja?"

"W-What? Why?"

"Because I want to bother Samurott about a few things, that's why," Delphox insisted. "Talk to Greninja about something nice. Or about sparring again, I guess; whatever you two like."

"B-But…" My pleas fell on dead ears, as Delphox rushed forward, walked next to Samurott, and tapped Greninja to go back by me. Judging by the alarm on the ninja's face, I don't think he wanted to talk with me either. Samurott nodded at something Delphox complained about, and then Greninja nodded and waited as I caught up to him. Greninja's face was red as soon as I strolled up.

"H-Hey," he waved and matched my walking speed.

"You don't have to wait for me," I tried to let him off easy. "I know you're much quicker and could outrun all of us."

"I guess, but that won't do me any good without Delphox's incantation," noted Greninja. "So, uh, you're…good company anyway."

"Thanks."

He nodded quietly and we walked for a bit in silence. Doing so, however, only made the journey creepier, and if it weren't for the whispers from Delphox and Samurott, we would have nothing to listen to, save an occasional howl of wind.

"So, Greninja," I started up. "How…uh, close are you to Gardevoir?"

"Oh, um, w-we're becoming good friends," he informed me. "I don't know much yet, but she loves to compete with Delphox, she's super nice, strong, and…I think she's in a relationship with Gallade, but I'm not completely sure."

"That's it?"

"W-Well, I…I guess," he murmured. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it," I shrugged and debated on telling him the truth. I did: "Gallade wanted me to grill you and see if you knew how to become better friends with Gardevoir; he wants to get closer to her."

"Ah, that's nice," Greninja shakily nodded. "She and I just…became fast friends, really." He scratched his head, and then added, "Actually, I became fast friends with all three of them. Um, Gardevoir, Delphox, and Samurott, that is."

"Got it," I nodded.

Greninja waited a moment before he asked, "Is that too weird?"

"I don't think so," I shook my head. "If you really click well with someone, there's no reason that you shouldn't be friends."

"W-Would you consider us friends, then?" he questioned.

Quickly, I nodded, "Sure, definitely!" Wait, what? I don't know him that well, we just sparred a couple of times. "We should hang out more often," I added. What am I doing?

He seemed to smile though. "Ok, w-we really should," Greninja managed and I watched him fiddle around with his hands.

"Are you nervous?" I asked.

"H-Huh?" Greninja squeaked and looked alarmed at me. "How did you know?"

"Well, I'm nervous," I admitted. "This road is creepy." While that was true, that was not the right reason…for either of us, I imagined.

"The road? Right, the road!" he capitalized on my suggestion. "It's…uh…really spooky. And it's late too."

Laughter escaped me. "You sound petrified," I teased.

"No, no, it's definitely scary," he insisted.

"But you've been in darker places, I'd imagine?"

"Uh…well…yes," he caved. "T-That doesn't make this any easier though."

"Not even just a little bit?" I nudged him softly.

"…Maybe a bit," he agreed.

We continued along quietly, and I noticed that Delphox and Samurott had stopped talking. The mage's ears twitched; he planned this, I knew it.

After a few more minutes, we reached a wide clearing. The hokora waited in the center, lit by the only moonlight that broke through the trees.

"Gee," Samurott chuckled. "And you guys thought I was terrible at keeping secrets."

"And that hasn't changed," muttered Delphox.

"Well, well," cackled a new voice. "Hear that, boys? Sounds like we found ourselves a secret shrine."

On the opposite end of the clearing, we saw four bandits waiting for us, weapons already drawn. They wore torn black clothes, in a futile attempt to disguise themselves.

"This group has wanted posters in town," I quickly informed the others. "The leader with the short battle-axe is Scrafty. His two henchmen are Toxicroak and Primeape. Their mage is new."

"Hear that, Hypno?" snorted the shortest one, Primeape, as he waved his club around. "Looks like we need to build up your infamy."

"Idiot!" The tallest, Hypno, bashed a magic staff over Primeape's head. "Now they know who all four of us are."

"According to the fat one, they knew that anyway," scoffed Scrafty as he threw off his hood. …Fat?!

"Actually, boss, I think that's just his shell," corrected the last one, Toxicroak, as he spun his daggers in his hands.

"Thanks, wise guy," snapped Scrafty. "How about you clowns make yourselves useful and clobber those royal snobs!"

"Snobs?" Delphox huffed with revulsion. "Anyone else want to teach these scum a lesson?"

"You're proving their point," deadpanned Samurott.

"Oh, shut up," spat Delphox.

Greninja and Delphox ran forward at Primeape and Toxicroak.

The ninja was the first one to reach the hokora, past it, and then threw two shuriken at the enemies. Primeape had gone forward too quickly and was sliced, but Toxicroak managed to dodge.

Delphox slid his wand out, raised it, and shot out a stream of fire at the two, but they both managed to evade the attack.

Samurott had gone around the other side and brought his heavy swords down on Scrafty, who managed to guard the attack with his axe. The two clashed and swung wildly at one another.

"Enjoying the show?" mocked a voice from behind me. Hypno.

"Just waiting on you," I countered.

Their mage flicked the pendulum that hung from the center of his robes. He raised his staff and fired out a vibrant colored beam. I rolled away as it blasted across the ground, tearing up the grass and dirt where I had stood.

Quickly, I slid out a shuriken and threw it out at Hypno. He deflected it easily, before it even reached him, and fired another beam at me. I leapt away and had a hand on my broadsword.

"Use your wrist more," whispered Greninja. I spun my head to find him speed past me, as he pulled out three more shuriken and tossed them at Primeape.

Mimicking his motion, I slid out another shuriken and used my wrist to throw it at Hypno. The shuriken spun much faster, and though Hypno still deflected it, he wasn't as quick about it.

I ran closer and swiftly swiped at him with my dirk dagger. Hypno cried out as I cut through his sleeve and sliced the arm that held his staff.

"Damn you!" He snapped and whipped out the pendulum with his free hand. Though I tried to look away, something made me focus on it, as the small, circular blade swung back and forth, slowly, back…forth…

"Chesnaught!" I blinked and watched a stream of red and purple fire blaze across the air at Hypno. He rolled across the dirt to put out the flames that caught on his clothing.

"Nice shot, Delphox, thanks," I complimented as the fox mage ran to my side.

"You're welcome," he smirked. "Now, what's say you to switching opponents?"

"He's all yours," I waved off as Delphox rushed at the downed Hypno.

Toxicroak tried to hold his head as I approached; Delphox's attacks must have done a particularly effective number on him.

"Watch yourself, Greninja!" I heard Samurott shout. The frog had just kicked Primeape into a tree as Scrafty broke away from the samurai and cleaved his axe at the ninja.

Without hesitating, I tossed my stiletto blade out and threw it at Scrafty's arm. He cried out as Greninja moved in and sliced at his chest.

"Eyes front, big guy," cackled Toxicroak. I whirled around as he leapt at me with his daggers.

I unsheathed my broadsword, countered the swipes, and knocked the blades away from him.

"Yield," I darkly commanded and concentrated my blade.

The bandit glared at me, and slowly raised his hands.

A loud screech filled the air and I winced my eyes too tightly. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain rise up in my side. My eyes snapped open to find the Toxicroak had dug his claw tightly into me.

"Should've taken your own orders," he spat and grinned wickedly. "Hope you enjoy the toxins."

I struggled to knock his arm away and coughed. My vision blurred, and things started to go black. I watched Greninja turn and give me a horrified look.


 

[Greninja]

Toxicroak had just stabbed Chesnaught.

That was about all I processed from our eyes meeting before I sprinted across the clearing under the howl of the wind. He wouldn't hear me. But I want him to know.

"Like pain?" I barked.

The bandit didn't even have time to turn around. My tachi blade was whipped out and streaked straight down his back. Red, blood, spattered out from his back and I kicked him away.

"Enjoy your scar," I hissed.

Like lightning, I crashed down by Chesnaught as he collapsed to the ground.

"Gren…"

"Hush, just breathe for me."

His breathing was hoarse, strained. A ball of water formed in my hand and I washed the blood and purple toxins away as quickly and carefully as I could.

After a minute, I heard Primeape come charging and threw a shuriken at his eye. It connected and he went down as his hand flew up to clutch it.

Chesnaught tried to speak again, "Gre…gren…"

"Shut up," I softly, but firmly ordered. "Just focus on breathing. I'm right here."

I kept the ball of water over his side until I couldn't see any more purple liquids spewing out of him. With the nearby dagger, I sliced off my hood and sleeves. I tied the three pieces together and readied to tie the makeshift tourniquet for his wound.

"What happened?!" Samurott cried out. His blades clattered against Scrafty's axe, but I heard him flip the weapon away.

"Stabbed, poison," was my answer.

A blast of fire and a scream of anguish were all I heard from Delphox's fight.

Steadily, I wrapped my bandage around Chesnaught and tightly tied it.

"Delphox, hurry up and open the seal!" shouted Samurott.

"Right," came his uneven response. "Uh…let's see…x…o…zo…xoho…idi…toe…idtoh cu, uh…zo…meed…meedcaw—"

"What are you doing?!" yelled Samurott. He growled again after that and I heard a gasp and a thud. Scrafty went down.

In spite of that, I kept my attention focused on Chesnaught's wound and kept cleaning around it, double-checking on the tightened tourniquet.

"Spells aren't that easy to recite, ok?!" snapped Delphox.

"Well, focus and read it over!" ordered Samurott. I heard the bandits near me start to get up from the grass.

"I'm going to need more time to read the whole thing!" he shouted back.

"You got it, start the spell!" affirmed Samurott.

Delphox started the incantation, which I barely understood: "Xoho idtoh kxo meedcawxk, A succ ke rhoub kxo…udsaodk jouc. Nxuk nuj…edso covk ad…kxaj vehojk aj dootot edso meho…"

"What's…that…?" Chesnaught whispered again.

"Spell. Unsealing the—"

"Gren…!"

My head jerked up and I glanced back to see Toxicroak and Primeape leap at me. A large, pale yellow blade slammed into both of them and sent them flying across the clearing, into the trees and out of sight.

"Thanks, Samurott."

"Don't mention it," he rested his hand on my shoulder and I heard him sheathe his blades. "We'll get him back as soon as we can."

We both checked on Chesnaught, who kept up his now steadied breathing. Then, we watched Delphox. "…cok kxo…jfahakj ev kxo…cowodtj ceeb uvkoh ij," he finished and stared at the hokora.

The shrine lit up under the moonlight and clicked. Delphox carefully opened the doors and took out the sparkling crown jewel.

"Uh, I guess this is it?" Delphox lifted it and presented it to us. "That's all I see in here." To make sure, he lit his stick and held it up. "Yes, that's all."

"Then we're done here," Samurott announced and helped me lift Chesnaught. "Let's get him back to the castle, now."

Delphox hesitated as we walked past him. "Do you want me to make sure that all of the bandits are—?"

"Not priority," insisted Samurott. "Move."

I heard Delphox run up alongside me and helped me balance Chesnaught. We lumbered our way back along the path, back to the forest entrance.

Gardevoir and the others carried baskets of berries as they met us outside. She gasped and quickly asked, "What happened? Is he ok? Do you want me to carry him?"

"Stabbed and poisoned, he should be, and yes please," Samurott answered.

Gardevoir's eyes lit up as she raised her arms and lifted Chesnaught slightly above the ground. I noticed her arms shake; she wouldn't be able to hold him up very long.

"We're…good…let's go!" she managed and forced herself along.

Everyone was silent as we traveled back to the castle, as fast as we could move.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

My eyes snapped open and I jolted upright. A stinging pain forced me back down and I winced as I collapsed back down.

Pillows were behind me, and I felt a sheet from my waist down. I opened my eyes again and noticed the white ceiling and walls. Before I even checked the walls and desks for the first aid equipment, I already knew I was in the medical room.

Lightly, I moved my hand down to my side. Gently, I brushed my hand over where I had been stabbed and felt the bandage there. With a sigh, I let my arm drop and pressed my lips together.

The door opened and General Rhydon walked in.

"Ah, so you're awake," he observed as his frown curved into a smile.

"Yes, sir," I nodded. "When do you need me up and running by?"

"Need?" he blinked. "I want you up as soon as possible, but I need you to get up when you're ready, and not a minute before."

For a moment, I was at a loss for words. "Sir, I…you need me," I insisted.

"Are you really going to argue over it?" he challenged. "You are recovering from both a stab wound and poisons. It hasn't been a full day yet. And you want to just go charging back out to practice, and hope that you don't bleed out when someone hits your marked weakness?"

Quietly, he watched me as I scratched my sheets.

"There's no war right now," the General asserted. "I need to you to get better in time, and not do something stupid."

"Already took care of that, sir," I bemoaned.

"From what I was told, that Primeape screeched at you to lower your guard," he explained. "He did that while Greninja was beating the fur off of him, so don't think it's because of a lack of effort on his part or a misstep on yours. They were just sneaky and clever."

"We need to be able to get around enemies like that," I argued. "This was an easy fight. We shouldn't have had any problems. Worse situations will be waiting for us."

General Rhydon studied me for a moment. "You have a point," he relented. "And we will keep working to minimalism these kinds of situations. But war is war, and only one side can win." He sighed and continued, "Folks are going to die on both sides. We can't eliminate that completely. And I'll keep training the lot of you every day that I can. But we can't predict every situation, nor every outcome." He then patted my shoulder. "You're not invincible, and I can't make you that way. So don't beat yourself up over this, especially when you stopped them and probably saved lives."

"Saved?"

"You got two bandits on the run and the other two aren't going to be thieving anyone else any time soon," the General went on. "Most importantly, you didn't die over this. I'd say that's a win, and I'd bet that the two that got away won't be jumping back into the fray any time soon."

It wasn't exactly the most comforting news, but a small smile came to my face. "That's good." I paused and tried to recall the rest, but couldn't. So, I asked, "What else happened after I went down? Did anyone tell you?"

"Ah, the rest," General Rhydon nodded. "Delphox burnt their mage to bits and recovered the…jewel. Samurott stopped Scrafty and slammed the other two off to who knows where in the woods. Greninja gave them nice souvenirs though."

"Greninja…?" I remembered him turn to look at me, and he was near me at one point when someone tried to hit him.

"Yes, the frog ninja that fended off two of the bandits while keeping you alive," laughed the General. "Carved a nice hole in the Toxicroak's back and nailed the Primeape in the eye."

"That's pretty harsh," I murmured.

"They're the two that could have killed you," Rhydon reminded me. "And in between that, he washed out as much poison from your system as he could. Plus," he held up a dark and bloodied rag that was tied together in a few places, "he ripped up his own clothes to help suppress the bleeding."

"He did that?" I studied the makeshift tourniquet again; aside from the blood, they did look like the ninja's robes.

"Yep, he did." He thought for a moment. "Come to think of it, I was told that, since Greninja did that, you're a lot better off and should be feeling better a lot sooner than if he hadn't." He laughed again. "You owe him a big 'thank you,' plus interest."

"Definitely," I agreed. A cough escaped me and I felt a pang flare up again.

The General scoffed, "And you wanted to go back out today."

"Maybe not today, but I figured soon," I groaned.

General Rhydon shook his head. "Soon, as in a week, maybe." I let out another groan and he laughed.

I heard the door open again and watched King Nidoking walk in.

"Ah, good, he's awake," he smiled. The King looked at my pained face, and then glared at the General's grin. "Why would you be laughing? Look at him!"

"Bah, he was fine a minute ago," huffed Rhydon. "Chesnaught was insisting that he could go right back out, and then a cough did him in."

"Oh, so agonizing coughs are funny now?" snapped Nidoking. His glare only grew darker.

Rhydon's face dropped and began to lose color. "N-No," he protested. "Nido…you know I would never, not about her, I didn't mean…I wasn't trying to—"

"Sire, he was trying to talk sense into me," I defended. "He laughed because I only proved his point."

The King's expression softened a bit and he nodded. General Rhydon was still quite pale, but shot me a grateful look.

To break the silence, I asked, "Is there anything I can do for you, milord?"

"Relax," Nidoking insisted and sighed. "The last thing I need is to lose one of my best knights over precautionary tasks."

My head tilted and I gave him a quizzical glance. "Precautionary, sir?"

"Ah, yes," the King waved off. "Just making sure that no new thieves with mages will be able to snatch it up. With the new spells that are discovered and learned, it's only a matter of time before someone figures out how to break enchanted seals."

Though I wasn't aware of anything of the sort, I nodded. Even with the diversion of topics, he King still seemed out of sorts while the General hadn't regained the color to his face.

Naturally, my next words were…carefully chosen: "So, sire, how did you like the gift that General got you?"

General Rhydon's eyes widened while Nidoking's expression became more confused. "What gift?"

"Oh, you mean you didn't give it to him yet, sir?" I asked as I exaggerated my surprise. "By the way you talked about it, I thought that you had already…"

Nidoking then eyed Rhydon with renewed interest. "When did you get a gift?"

"Um…uh…" was all that came from the poor General, losing color once again. He shot me a panicked expression, but I couldn't acknowledge it, for his own sake.

"You're not going to tell him now, are you?" I piped in. "The way you spoke about it, I could have sworn it was a surprise."

"A surprise gift?" questioned Nidoking. "Rhydon, what…why?"

"Don't worry, your majesty," I lowered my eyes and winked. "He'll give it to you soon, I'm sure. Then you'll understand it perfectly."

The King shifted his gaze back and forth between Rhydon and I. "Well…this certainly piqued my curiosity," he chuckled.

"Of course, sire," I laughed. "You'll love it, I'm certain."

Then, a soft red glow lit up Nidoking's face and he smiled at Rhydon, who returned with a contorted grin.

"So, ah, Chesnaught," the King returned his attention to me, "Would you mind if I told anyone you were up?"

"I don't see why not," I nodded.

"Good, then we'll let others know that they can visit you," grinned Nidoking. "Greninja had asked about seeing you earlier."

"He did?"

"Of course," laughed Nidoking. He stopped with a cough and continued, "He stayed with you until we had you put in here, and then had to be dragged off to bed. The poor fellow was worried sick over you."

At that, my heartbeat picked up. Anyone else might have done the same; Greninja actually went through on all fronts.

"Well, I'll remember to tell him to stop by as soon as I find him," Nidoking smirked as he grasped my shoulder. "You, feel better." Then he turned to Rhydon. "And you, sir, well…I'll be waiting." And with that, he reached up, planted a smooch on the General's cheek, and walked out of the room.

Poorly, I tried to stifle my laughter at the General's face, which shot from pale gray to scarlet in seconds.

"There are other beds, if you need one, sir," I joked.

The General nodded and blinked. Then, relaxing himself, he turned to me again. "So…I bought our King a surprise gift that he'll love for certain?"

"You're welcome."

"Yes," he deadpanned, "thank you for putting me back in his good graces by digging me into a brand new hole entirely. Perfect save."

"Hey, it was either that or have him scowl at you for the next week and a half," I argued. "You two are better off when you're together and happy. Last time you were angry with him, our drills became intense on disproportionate levels. And the last time he was angry with you…well, you remember how he ran everyone ragged, right?"

General Rhydon winced at the memory. "Don't remind me."

"Then, I'm doing our Kingdom a favor," I finished. "Just remember to get him a thoughtful gift."

"Right. Thoughtful," he mumbled. Rhydon cleared his throat. "Are you sure you don't have any feelings for Greninja? You seemed a little more tense each time someone brought him up."

"I didn't say I didn't have any feelings for him," I blurted out. "Just…I'm not sure they're the feelings that you two think they are."

"You know, the other day," recalled Rhydon, "Nidoking raised a good point: have you considered the notion of getting together with Greninja?"

"Sir, we don't really—"

"Know each other, perhaps not. But," he pressed on, "the more time you two spend together, the more you will get to know each other. Take a minute to drop the reservations you have about starting a relationship and just think of what would keep you from Greninja. What are they?"

"Uh…he might be…too vengeful?" I pondered aloud. "Maybe that would be overprotective of me. Um…I guess he's kind of impulsive…a little too shy…I'd need more time to think this through."

"Ok, but what do you like about him? Even as just a friend."

"Well, I do like that he's protective," I admitted. "He's also pretty smart, tough, and knows different strategies for fighting. He seems determined. Good looking. Kind, so long as you're his ally. Friendly, once you get to know him better. Um…should I go on?"

The General now had a goofy grin plastered onto his face. "That's what you had off the top of your head?"

Confused, all that came out was, "…Yes?"

"And yet," he challenged, "you don't like him beyond friendship?"

For a minute or two, nothing came out of my mouth. Then, "I…uh…hadn't thought of it like that?"

General Rhydon laughed. Then, more seriously, he continued, "Look, even if it is too fast, I think you should at least consider him as a valid option. Greninja had risked his life to keep you safe. That's worth some points, wouldn't you agree?"

It was.

"And, more importantly," he went on, "is there anyone else that you're interested in? Anyone that you'd rather date right now, instead of Greninja?"

"…No."

"Then? What's the hold up for?" he contested. "You don't have to marry him tomorrow, but why not give him a chance?" Rhydon scratched his chin. "I wasn't sure earlier, but he definitely has to at least like you. Ask him out, even if it's just for one night." He paused, and then added, "When you're better, of course."

My cheeks began to burn a little. "I…I guess I could."

"You guess?" The General laughed again. "Don't do this because I'm telling you to! Do it because you actually want to!"

Did I want to? I wasn't entirely certain of it myself. Still, as General Rhydon stretched and turned to leave, I did entertain the possibility. "Thank you, sir, I…I'll consider it."

"You do that," he murmured. "And if not him, just let me know whoever else you end up falling for. I owe you big for the, ah, romance department." He gently and fondly rubbed his cheek, and then walked out of the door.

With a yawn, I rolled back over and drifted off…to sleep…


 

[Greninja]

Today was a bit of an odd day, at least for me. Samurott had taken most of the knights to see if he could track down the other two bandits; they left while I was still waiting on Chesnaught. Gardevoir and Delphox were busy practicing spells and brewing new potions; they offered to let me watch them, but after several vials exploded, I decided to excuse myself.

Instead, I found myself behind the castle, and sat on the edge of a marble-encased fountain. At the top, there was a four-legged beast with a hexagonal crest on its head that streamed water from its maw. This legendary creature, if I recalled the myths from home, was believed to purify polluted waters.

My hand circled in its basin and studied my reflection. I hadn't changed from yesterday, still wearing my torn robes. Though I felt exposed, something about seeing my bare arms during normal hours of the day was strangely comforting. No longer having a hood was a little less relaxing, but I tried not to focus on it.

For a minute, I glanced up and observed the yard around me. Bushes coated the castle's perimeter, with small flowers that grew within them. The white and brown stone walkways were neatly laid out and paved, with even the grass around it well attended to.

Further out was where others practiced against the golem knight, Golurk, who was…missing? I blinked and wondered where he could have gone.

"Looking for the biggest lug of the bunch?" asked a voice from behind me. I turned to find Escavalier coming over from the castle. "He loves to play hide and seek. Practically a champion at it."

"Is that so?" I questioned with interest. "I'll have to challenge him sometime."

Escavalier laughed, but slowly stopped. I tilted my head.

"Did you need something, Escavalier?"

"Ah…yes, actually," he nodded. "You see, uh, it's for the wife. Anniversary."

"Right."

"Well…" he stared at me, as if waiting for me to read his mind. "I figured that you might, um, know Accelgor well enough…to help me think of a great gift."

Confused, I asked, "This is something you need my help for?"

"Surprisingly, yes," he admitted. "Accelgor and I haven't exactly…well, we weren't always on top of anniversaries every single year, even when we were just dating. And…it's been a while since we really celebrated, well, us."

"What did you two do for the years you were apart?" I asked before I could stop myself.

"We just…sent gifts and letters whenever we had the time to," clarified Escavalier. "But I want this year to be different. We're together and I know it's coming up soon, so I just wanted to do something extra special for her." He sighed. "Problem is, I already took her around the castle grounds and all over town. I spoiled her so much already that I've run out of ideas on what else I can give her."

"Wouldn't just being together be enough?" I tried.

"Don't give me that simple and easy way out," snapped Escavalier. "Even if it is true, I can do better! …I just need ideas…"

"Um, I hate to break it to you, but I'm probably no better to ask than anyone else," I confessed. "Accelgor and I don't socialize all that much. I really respect her and I think she sees potential in me, and we enjoy working together, but we're not all that close, when it really comes down to it. Plus, I'm single and haven't had a date in a while." I tapped my hands together and bit my tongue for telling him such, but it was the truth; better to let him down here than later.

Still, Escavalier shook his head. "You don't get it. No one else here knows her outside of us two. You're literally my only option to work with. Even if it's just work related or if you can even recall a color she might like, I need that."

Oh no. Guilt. He employed the same tactics as his wife. And, somehow, they worked!

"Ok, ok, fine, I'll help," I conceded. "So…what are you looking for?"

"Well, there are different gifts that are traditional to get your spouse," he explained. "Or, uh, themes, at least." He thought for a moment, and continued, "This will be our fourth year married so…this year's gifts should be flowers and fruits."

"That's it? Sounds easy."

"No it isn't," he argued. "We eat both fruits and flowers. I'll need something doubly delicious and then something else for the lasting appeal."

"Or, you could just eat the fruit and save the flowers," I suggested.

"But that's no fun."

"Look, you either keep the flowers or break your shell over other gifts," I cautioned. "You can get her multiple gifts, but I think these two have to count the most, no?"

"Fine, flowers for lasting appeal," he relented. "You do realize that there's going to be courting for a ball soon and that ruins the gift, right?"

"Ball?"

"What, no one told you?" Escavalier questioned. "There's going to be a ball in a couple of months that people get dates for in a few weeks. My wife must have mentioned it by now."

"…Oh, right, she did," I recalled.

"So, do I need to get her another kind of flower now?"

"Not at all," I shook my head. "That can be the first part of your anniversary gift to her. Later, you can give her a fruit basket of her favorites." I thought for a moment, and then added, "You should probably get her some extra equipment; she does take work seriously, doesn't she?"

"Ah, equipment! Of course," cheered Escavalier. "See? This is exactly what I needed you for."

"Oh, I don't know about that," I scratched the back of my head.

"Sure I did! Now," he continued, "what kind of flowers do I get for the fourth anniversary?"

"If I remember correctly, it should be hydrangea," I informed him.

Escavalier blankly stared at me. "Hydra what?"

"It's a bunch of blue flowers that clump together…you had to have seen them somewhere before," I contested.

"Nope."

"Really?"

"Yep," he nodded. "Come to think of it, how and why do you know about it?"

"Uh…I…like flowers?"

He narrowed his eyes and studied me with contempt. "How about you answer me honestly on that one, huh?"

I might as well; Accelgor could have figured it out and told him already. "Well, I have a crush on this Grass type—"

"Aha! There it is," he laughed. "Don't worry, lad, I'm sure you'll impress her some day." …I take it back; he's clueless.

"Hopefully, yeah," I chuckled in agreement.

"All right, what's say you to running around town and checking for these flowers?"

"Wait, what?"

Before I could argue, Escavalier wrapped his arm under mine and dragged me off. Barely, I saw Nidoking step outside.

"Greninja? I was just looking for you," he called.

"Um, I guess I'll be back later?" I shouted back as Escavalier flew off from the castle.

The lance-armed knight finally stopped once we were across the town and outside of a florist's shop. If my head weren't spinning, I might have had the chance to admire the decorated bushes and vast variety just outside of the shop alone.

"Oh, come on, I'm the slowest in the army," grunted Escavalier.

"It…doesn't help when you…drag me…across the ground…" I managed, rubbing the bruises that formed along my arms.

"You act like exercise isn't good for you," he huffed.

"Somehow, I'm under the impression you might be trying to kill me," I muttered.

"Ha, come off it and let's go in," he nudged me to move inside.

Once we went in to the quaint little shop, however, I was ready to turn right back around and walk outside. Right inside was my apparent rival for a knight's affection.

"Excuse me? Miss?" Escavalier called for her attention.

"Hello there," greeted Lilligant as she turned around. "Did you need something?"

"Yes, ah, I was looking into purchasing some…ah…" he froze before he whirled around to me. "Hydra whatever they are?"

"Hydrangea," I spat. "Fourth anniversary."

"Oh! Congratulations, you two," she cheered.

"Ah, no, not us," corrected Escavalier. "It's for my wife, actually. This is just a friend of mine who tagged along." Is that what he called dragging me here against my will?

"My apologies," she bowed her head. "Anyway, I remember browsing at them over…here."

She pulled Escavalier over to the right side of the store and identified the blue bouquet to him. Hesitantly, I followed them over.

"These are the special ones they sell for anniversaries. It's good that you're buying it for a celebration; sometimes, they're classified as a vain or boastful gift, but for anniversaries, they can also be meant for heartfelt feelings, sincerity. Otherwise, they could also be used to show an appreciation for understanding."

"Um…sure," Escavalier nervously nodded.

"'They sell?'" I repeated. "You don't work here?"

"No, I'm just a collector," she explained. "Usually, they don't have anything new here for me. I do love visiting the shop though."

"How nice," my voice deadpanned, though elicited no reaction.

"Would you like any helping picking some out?" Lilligant offered. "I'm pretty good at spotting the best of the bunch, if I do say so myself."

"If you'll be here in the coming weeks, certainly," laughed Escavalier. "I'd like to present her fresh flowers, and if I buy anything now, it'll be dead before the time comes to give it to her!"

"Right, so you're just checking up on what you need to buy her," observed Lilligant. "That's a good idea! Smart to stay on top of things. Oh! Actually," she glided over to another wall and came back before we could move. "Here," she handed Escavalier a small green book, "these have information on the plants they sell here. They're pretty helpful, free, and even go over the symbolism for the different varieties."

"Ah, thank you," Escavalier put the book under his arm. "That'll be hilarious to struggle with later!"

"Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean—"

"Please, milady, nothing to worry about," he insisted. "If I didn't know how to work with books in spite of having lances for hands, well…I probably wouldn't be where I am today!"

"A knight, of course," smiled Lilligant. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open and she set her attention directly on me. "And you're a ninja," she studied. "From the same castle, I take it?"

"Yes," I curtly responded.

"Then, you must know of Sir Chesnaught," she clapped her leafy hands together.

"Correct," I nodded. "Did you need to give him a message or something?"

"Um, no, I…" Lilligant trailed off and closed her eyes for a moment. They opened again and she asked, "Are you friends with him?"

"I…suppose so, yes."

"You are," she reaffirmed. "That's good. It sounds like he's coming out of his shell."

"He's pretty social," I contested, but Lilligant shook her head.

"Chesnaught's nice and talks a lot, but he doesn't have strong ties with anyone," she enlightened me. "I wouldn't know who he calls a friend, but if someone else were to call him one, I'd imagine that he'd begin thinking the same of that one, in time."

It didn't seem like the case to me, but I imagined that if anyone knew Chesnaught well, it would probably be his crush. My eye twitched and I bit my tongue, annoyed that Lilligant did have that edge over me.

"Greninja, we need to get going," prodded Escavalier. "I've got more shopping to do, but the king will want you back at the castle soon, I'd imagine."

"Nidoking can wait," I assured him. "We should finish shopping for your wife while we're out."

"Ah…about that," nervously chuckled Escavalier. "Our anniversary isn't for another two months."

My head drooped and I stared blankly at him. "Then why were we out today?"

"Uh, I just wanted to get a head start," admitted Escavalier. "It seemed like a good idea, wouldn't you agree?" A powerful urge to start attacking him was difficult to suppress, but I somehow managed it.

We turned to walk out, but Lilligant stopped me. She handed me the same book she had given Escavalier. For it, I gave her a puzzled look.

"Sir Chesnaught is pretty knowledgeable of flowers," she clarified. "I imagine that you could read up on them sometime and have more to talk about with him." She paused before she added: "We usually do that at my house."

Among other things, I'd wager, but I nodded quietly and accepted the book. And then it hit me that I failed to mention what happened to Chesnaught last night.

"Let's go, Greninja!" Escavalier called.

"One moment," I told him. To Lilligant, I sighed. "Last night, um, Chesnaught was attacked by a bandit. Poisoned. He should be all right soon, but I just figured that I should let you know."

"Ah, so that's why the other knights came through town to hunt those bandits," realized Lilligant. "Thank you, that clears things up. And please send Chesnaught my best."

Without hesitation, I promised, "I will. Is there anything else you want to tell him?"

"Not at the moment," she shook her head. "But please, do watch out for him. I get the feeling that you'd be the best one for the job."

Considering that he was attacked while I was with him, I wasn't so certain of that. Still, I nodded to her and hurried out of the shop with Escavalier.

"Now, I don't mean to pry," murmured Escavalier, "but was that lass the Grass type that you fancy—?"

"No," I cut in before he insinuated anything else. "Now how about I drag you back to the castle?"

We managed to return to the castle around the same time as the mages finished their brewing. To my surprise, Accelgor walked out with Gardevoir.

"Could you run this by me again?" Accelgor asked. "You have your inherent arsenal of attacks, like most of us do, but you can also create different spells on top of those abilities as well?"

"Yep," nodded Gardevoir. "And we can mix various potions to utilize as well. Spells make up for whatever we can't normally do, sometimes outside of our type range, and other times completely outside types altogether."

"Give me an example," my fellow ninja insisted.

"Well, for non-Psychic types, they could move and manipulate objects without telekinesis," explained Gardevoir. "For myself, I'm not able to use Dark type abilities, so with dark arts, I might be able to tap into that. Though, I'd rather not, since it can be pretty pricey."

"That's fascinating stuff," exclaimed Accelgor.

"Please stop, she'll ask you to teach her how to use them against me," Escavalier finally broke in.

"Hush, or I will," teased Accelgor and pulled her husband away.

I watched them disappear around a corner and turned back to Gardevoir. "Where's Delphox?"

"Back inside, cleaning," noted Gardevoir. "Ooh, and I probably should go help him. Last time I didn't, he took it out on Gallade."

"Yikes."

"Yeah, so I'll get to that," she giggled. "If I'm not mistaken, our brave hunters might be getting back home soon, if they're not already. Why don't you go check?"

"Sure, I'll check the courtyard," I nodded and we parted ways.

Back outside, Gardevoir was right, and the knights had dispersed back from their search. Scizor, Heracross, and Armaldo went off to the back, while Typhlosion was following Bisharp around, poking him and laughing. Samurott sighed and sheathed one of his blades before he noticed me and strolled over.

"Search party went well?" I asked.

Samurott shook his head. "No, turned out to be a bust," he muttered. "We'll catch those creeps one day, though, I guarantee it."

"Let me know if you ever need any help," I offered and he laughed.

"Absolutely. They're probably still licking their wounds that you gave them," he smirked. I nodded, but didn't share his enthusiasm over it. "Anyway, how's Chesnaught?"

"Hmm, I…I'm not sure," I glumly murmured. "Escavalier dragged me out today, so I wasn't able to find out yet. And no one told me anything since I've been back, so…"

His hand rested on my shoulder. "Don't worry about it, Greninja, I'm sure he'll be fine," assured Samurott. He scratched his chin and then decided, "How about I take you up there to see how he is?"

"Would you?"

"Of course, but it'll cost you," he chuckled. "I take you up there and get you in, to which afterwards, you tell me that secret that I'm out of the loop on."

With a deep sigh, I realized that I hadn't told him already. Worse still, he was right: of my friends, only Samurott didn't know.

"Why don't I just tell you now?" I offered.

"Now? You don't drive a bargain if you're showing me your hand already," advised Samurott. "Are you sure?"

"If I tell you now or later, would you really not take me up there, either way?" I questioned.

He smiled and shrugged. "Fair point."

"Then, let me just get this over with," I mumbled as my face fired up.

We waited in silence for a minute and I tapped my hands against my tongue.

"Um…you want to tell me now, or…?"

"Yes, now is better," I forced out.

"Ok, if you insist," Samurott scratched his head and looked around. No spectators.

"All right, uh…so…I have a crush on Chesnaught," I confessed.

Samurott stared at me, but then frowned. "Oh. So you do love him." His voice was so plain, so…nonchalant.

"You…you knew?"

"I had my suspicions," he clarified. "It's nice to actually have them confirmed."

"Uh, right," I nodded.

Again, we fell silent. My heart raced and I pulled on my tongue.

"Look, I'm sorry," I blurted out. "I didn't tell you because I didn't want to make you feel, I don't know, awkward around me, and now I feel like I did just that."

"…How did you—?"

"Come on," I interrupted. "You don't have to pretend that it's not…that you're not bothered by knowing. About my…uh…interests."

"What, that you're gay?" Samurott asked.

"W-Well…yes," I sighed.

"See, I get why you kept it a secret, but I don't mind that at all," explained Samurott. "If he's the one you like, then…well, he's the one you like. Nothing else to it."

"That…doesn't bother you?"

"Not because you're both male, no," he shook his head. "I'm not sure about you being interested in Chesnaught, mostly because I feel like he can slack off sometimes, but I believe you're entitled to whoever you like." He smiled, a little too broadly, perhaps. "Are you going to ask him out soon?"

"W-What? No," I admitted.

"Why not?"

"Because…well…I don't know," I relented.

"This may be a plain way of looking it over," murmured Samurott, "but you should do what you did with me and get it over with." He paused and lowered his gaze as he added, "If you really do like him, that is."

"So…what should I do?" I asked, my head spinning a bit.

"Tell him," Samurott told me as he walked off. "If you keep it in any longer, you'll wake up one day and find him with someone else. Tell him as soon as you get the next available chance."

"But…how do I know when that is?" I questioned as I followed him.

"You don't know when," he clarified. "You choose when."

"And what…what if he doesn't…?" I tried to go on, but rejection was a sore subject.

"Greninja, you're good looking and have a great personality," Samurott flatly answered. "If Chesnaught's not interested, someone else will be."

My eyes met his and we watched one another for a bit. His were a darker red than my own, perhaps thanks to his helmet, but…for a moment, I thought I saw…a bit of melancholy behind them.

"Samurott…?"

"Come on," he smiled again. "Let's get you up there already."

He turned back to the castle and we stepped inside to find Nidoking and Rhydon waiting for us.

"S…Sirs?" Samurott greeted with confusion.

"Welcome back, Samurott," Nidoking returned. "And Greninja, there you are! I tried to tell you before you took off, but you were gone before I had the chance."

"Dragged off," I corrected. "What do you need, sire?"

"He doesn't need anything," piped up Rhydon. "Chesnaught's awake, been up for a while now. You wanted to see him, right?"

"I…yes," I nodded quickly.

"We were just on our way to see him now," added Samurott.

"Perfect, no one's stopped by yet," Nidoking informed us. "Well, besides Rhydon and myself, but I'm sure he's looking forward to better company. So, go! He'll be happy to see you two, I'm sure."

Samurott started to walk up the stairs, but turned back when I didn't follow immediately. "Well? You heard them," he laughed. "I thought you wanted to go see him, already."

"Right," I shook my head. "Let's go."

Swiftly, I hurried up the stairs after Samurott and we made our way through the halls to the medical room. I barely paid any attention to the green draped windows and desks, as I rushed forward and kept my eyes on the green carpeting.

"Easy, Greninja!" Samurott grabbed my shoulder to slow me down. "He'll still be there in a minute or two."

"No one's seen him all day," I contended. "He's probably bored out of his mind!"

"Oh no, how dreadful," deadpanned Samurott.

"Hush up," I snapped. "Besides, maybe I should just tell him now."

"While he's in a sour mood and confined to a bed?" Samurott questioned. "I thought you wanted him to like you."

"How much longer should I wait?" I demanded.

"It's your choice," repeated Samurott. "I'd just advise against the second you slam in there and rush to his side."

"You make it sound so dramatic," I huffed.

"Honestly, you're kind of reacting that way," noted Samurott. "And the door's right here, by the way."

I turned and stared at the white wooden door, which stood out from the usual browns and grays of the other doors.

"After you," Samurott teased as he held the door open. I glared at him, but walked into the full white room as Chesnaught yawned and sat up from his bed.

"Hey," I waved as I strolled over.

"Greninja, hey," he smiled and blinked his eyes open a few times.

"How do you feel? Any better?" I asked as Samurott closed the door.

"Better, I think," Chesnaught mumbled as he felt his side. "I was told it was thanks in part to you."

My face burned up immediately. "Oh, I didn't really—"

"Don't be modest," he yawned. "I owe you."

"Stop," I insisted. "You would have done the same."

"Well, it wasn't me, it was you," he persisted as well. "So, if you don't need any rescuing any time soon, then I owe you something else."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Drinks," he suggested. "Maybe…dinner too, if you'd like."

"Oho, are you asking him out?" snickered Samurott.

"Ah…not like that," chuckled Chesnaught. "…Unless you want—?"

"Drinks and dinner sounds good," I cut in. "So, uh…did you want to see anyone else? I could go send—"

"No," Chesnaught shook his head. "Just you two, for a little while. It's easier."

Samurott bumped me a little closer as he went to the other side of the room to get chairs. I caught myself on the edge of the bed and my hands brushed against Chesnaught's arm.

Mortified, I glanced up to apologize, only to find his cheeks just the slightest bit red as well. He grabbed one of my hands and held it for a minute.

"Thanks again," he murmured.

"That's what friends do," I mumbled back.

Even after Samurott joined us and I sat down, we didn't let go of each other's hands right away. Time slipped by, but I lost track of it as Chesnaught, Samurott, and I chattered the minutes, hours, away.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

A week passed before I fully recovered. While I thought the wait would be torture, it actually wasn't terrible, by having visitors drop by to pass the time. I'd give one guess on the most frequent visitor.

Honestly though, I found myself happier to have Greninja visit, more than anyone else. He doted on me more than the knights did, but not overbearingly so, which surprisingly came from Delphox.

"Are you sure you don't need anything else?" the fire fox mage inquired. "I've got a few different potions that could build up your stamina during the day, but you'll crash hard on your face by nightfall. Also, I could cast a remedy curse that would increase your blood flow if you're—"

"Delphox, I'm fine," I insisted. "Everyone has stopped by and taken care of me all week. I'm all set to get back out again."

"Gardevoir will kill me if I don't make sure you're all set to go out," clarified Delphox. "Are you sure that you're in top form? No spots in your eyes or signs of dizziness when you get up?"

"No."

"Sore throat?"

"Does it sound sore?"

"Congestion or numbness anywhere?"

"Nope."

"Ok, I'll need you to clench your fingers, make a fist, and bend—"

"Delphox!" I shouted. "Relax! I'm ok. Gardevoir doesn't need to worry, and you don't need to worry. I'm alive and doing fine, all right?"

"…Are you one hundred percent sure on that?" he persisted.

"I'm one thousand percent certain," I asserted. "And I'm leaving, whether you want me to or not."

The mage gave me a distasteful look, but then smiled and stepped away from the door. When I opened it, I saw Greninja walking down the hall and stop short as he approached.

"Oh, hi Chesnaught," he sheepishly waved. "You're up early."

"It's the late evening," I pointed to the setting sun outside the windows.

"Uh…I was expecting you up tomorrow," Greninja corrected himself. I watched him prop up a green book in his arm.

"What's that?" I pointed to it.

"Huh? Oh this," Greninja lifted it out from under his arm. "It's from the flower shop in town. I got one when I went with Escavalier."

"Neat," I smiled. "Lady Lilligant from town enjoys reading over her copy too. I'd have one myself if she didn't always go over everything with me."

His eyes lowered as he nodded. "Right. Lilligant," he deadpanned.

"Um…is there something wrong?" I asked.

"No, it's just…nothing important," he shrugged. "Anyway, I should get going—"

"Wait, where are you off to?" I questioned as he turned away.

"I've got practice with Accelgor," Greninja explained. "I just…wanted to stop by and check on you before I went." We stood quietly as he blushed and bounced on the balls of his feet. "Um…I-I should go now. N-Nice seeing you."

Greninja turned to walk away, but I snatched his hand on impulse. "W-Wait!"

He pivoted back around and stared at me as I felt my face burn up. "What is it? Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine, but…" I gazed into his bright red eyes and listened to my heart as it hammered against my chest. "Uh…do you want to do something later?"

"Like what?" he asked and stepped closer, interlocking his hand into mine.

"W-Well, I still owe you dinner and drinks," I offered.

"Sure, I'd like to," Greninja smiled, but then blinked and frowned. "But I'm going to be getting out later, probably, so I don't…you shouldn't wait up for me."

"After you spent an entire week checking on me every day while I was in the medical room, I think I can wait a few hours for food," I persisted.

"If you're sure, then I'm up for it," he nodded.

"Ok, great!" I cheered.

"Great," he echoed and we fell silent again. Greninja stared into my eyes and I gazed back into his. Red is pretty attention grabbing. "U-Um, sorry, I need to—"

"Oh, right, get going!" I shooed him off. He turned to walk away, but pulled back. We looked down to find our hands were still laced together. "Sorry, that's…sorry," I released his hand.

"No, that's my fault," Greninja insisted and flipped his hand around. "Sticky palms."

"Tight grip," I flexed my hand and we both laughed. He took me in one last time, then bounced up, and hurried back out of the hall. Smiling, I watched him until he slid out the door, and I gently caressed my hand.

"Oho, so you do like him," snickered Delphox and I whirled around to find him still standing by the medical room door.

"W…Why would you wait there the whole time?" I demanded.

"Curious, I suppose," he chuckled. "So, are you planning to tell him, later tonight?"

"Maybe. I mean, no! Wait, that's…not your concern!" I stammered out.

"He's my friend too, so it's definitely my business," laughed Delphox. "After all, I want to know who chases after him, just in case it's for the wrong reasons."

"Wrong reasons?" I repeated.

"Superficial interests only, manipulation and games, showing off, predators, things like that," clarified Delphox. "Though I'm not certain, you don't come off as any of those."

"Um…thanks?"

"Oh, don't mention it," the mage shook his head. "If you do something to break his heart, I might not be so forgiving. Granted, I've been around you longer, but in a little over a week, I've socialized more with that ninja frog than any of you knights." He frowned and lowered his eyes. "You're not the heartbreaker type, are you?"

"N-No!" I defended. "I haven't had a date in ages as it is."

"Good, then enjoy tonight."

"But it's not a date!" I asserted.

"Why isn't it?" challenged Delphox. "You like him, he likes you, close the gap between the distance and tell him how you feel."

"It's not that easy," I murmured. "Knights don't really…"

His eyes lit up and I felt a tingle inside of my head. Delphox nodded and blinked his eyes back to normal.

"That is difficult," he muttered. "I…well…no, I still think you should go over this with him."

"But I don't even know—"

"Well, there's one way to find out," explained Delphox. "And there's another way to torture yourself every day. Tonight, you have some decisions to make."

With a smirk, Delphox walked away while I slumped against a wall and tried to sort everything out.


 

[Greninja]

Accelgor and I race along the outskirts of the Eventide Forest, zipping around the trees and darting back for the castle. Unlike the deeper parts of the forest, the edge has trees that are spaced out, meaning fewer places to hide and less chances of bandit encounters.

Though my feet were lightly pressing off from the ground, I was still no match for Accelgor, who had sped away from me as soon as we left the woods.

Once I'm near the castle, I slow my pace, well aware that Accelgor has already made her way to the courtyard. Calmly, I look up to the starry night sky, which is a mix of dark blues, purples, and blacks, lit up by the white starlight. The warm air is quiet without my hustling movement and my heartbeat relaxes to the ambient sounds of the night.

My partner laughs as I walk back to the castle courtyard, and she sits against a column. "What happened?" Accelgor asks. "You were keeping up nicely until that final stretch."

Rubbing my feet, I shrug and admit, "You've always been faster than me at running straight paths." After a pause, I add, "Actually, you're faster than everyone here."

"This is true," she laughs again as she jumps up from the ground. "Anyway, I'm off to hunt down my husband. You told me you hadn't eaten yet either, so would you like to join us for a meal?"

"Oh, no thank you," I decline. "A friend of mine wanted to take me out for drinks and dinner, so—"

"Aw, how sweet," cooed Accelgor. "Enjoy your date!"

"Thank you!" I smile, but think about it for a minute. Aloud, I ponder, "…Wait. Date? I don't think it's a…" But I glance up to find Accelgor has already left me.

With a sigh, I shift my gaze around the courtyard and fail to find Chesnaught. Slowly, it dawns on me that we never chose where to meet before going to town.

"Ooh, why didn't I plan this through carefully?" I bemoan to myself.

At first, I shuffle to the castle's doors to walk back inside. However, I hesitate and decide to check around the back of the castle first, just in case he might be there.

As I make my way around, I hear faint whispering, and wonder who would be out this late. Stealthily, I lean up against the wall and peer my head around.

King Nidoking leans against the fountain while general Rhydon caresses him, rubbing his hands across the king's face, and, in turn, has his hands draped around Rhydon's waist. The distance between the two looks so tight and I can imagine the air around them is limited. Their faces were glowing red, quite visible even in the night, and my cheeks burned in response. Nidoking smiled while Rhydon appeared a little more serious, but certainly not deterred.

"…I was a fool to wait," Rhydon whispers. "So many years ago, I wish that I had just told you the truth, and I—"

"Hush," Nidoking softly chuckles. "We're here now, aren't we?"

"But I feel awful," quietly admits Rhydon. "Maybe, if I had told you sooner, she…"

"My queen held my heart dearly and I was happy to have had her," murmured Nidoking, rubbing Rhydon's back. "I don't regret the time I spent with her. But she's gone, and I'm equally happy to have you here, now, to be with."

"Sire…" The general lowers his face in, but Nidoking pulls back.

"Please, don't use that," Nidoking insists. He sighs before he continues, "We've been together for so long. Isn't it time that we stop hiding—?"

"Nidoking, we can't," argues Rhydon. "Even if most of the kingdom suspects us to be, we have too many risks that arise from us being known." His hand scoops the king's chin and raises it up. "The other royals would think you weak, our soldiers may not remain loyal, it's not—"

"What of certain young couple?" challenges Nidoking. "If they truly do share feelings for one another, am I supposed to just sit back and let the kingdom tear them apart? If they want to stand for who they love, for one another, why shouldn't we follow?"

"You're the leader, si…Nidoking," persists Rhydon. "There's no need for you to ever follow."

"It's not a need, it's a want," corrects Nidoking, leaving his right hand on Rhydon's waist while sliding his left back up to the general's head. "If they go public, or if anyone else ever wants to, they need support. And I want to be that reinforcement, to give them a strong backing, to let them know that what they want is ok, right, pure. They should have a fair chance at love; if it's anyone else's right, why not theirs as well?"

Rhydon sighs. "You make valid points. And I must admit, we're not alone and there has been strong signs of progress to accept the idea of…well, this," he pauses and gently kisses Nidoking on the lips. It's short and he pulls back, continuing, "But it's still not something a lot of folks are tolerant of. It may never be that way in our lifetime."

"All the more reason to follow my idea," chuckles Nidoking. "Even if we're a small step, we can help with the future."

"…I'm afraid to risk that," confesses Rhydon.

"So am I," admits Nidoking. "And I imagine that they're petrified as well, to the point of fearing to tell one another. But that shouldn't be. This late night excursion, out here, shouldn't be either. Love is love." He gazes longingly into the general's eyes. "Weren't you the one to tell me that?"

"Truthfully, I tell you a great deal of things that I probably shouldn't," huffs Rhydon.

"Are you going to tell me that you regret it?" asks Nidoking.

"Never," Rhydon replies immediately. "I'm not sure of what lies ahead for us, but I kept this in for too long. And I don't regret sharing it with you, not for a second."

Nidoking grins widely as Rhydon softly smiles. They close the gap and press their lips together, softly at first, then more firmly, passionately. My face fires up furiously as I continue to watch, unable to turn away, nervously smiling over the two. The king's right arm slides up the general's back. Rhydon's hands lock around the back of Nidoking's head. Their quiet union makes my heart leap and I want to cheer for them.

Abruptly, the sound of a door creaking open fills the air and I tense up, freezing. Rhydon and Nidoking quickly pull away from one another and Rhydon whirls his head around. His fear filled eyes relax a bit as soon as he registers the face he's looking at. Quickly, I duck behind the wall.

"G-General?" sounds Chesnaught's voice. "Lord Nidoking? Sire?"

"A-Ah, Chesnaught," laughs Nidoking. "Good to see you."

"…I'm interrupting, aren't I?" Chesnaught observes.

"N-No, not at all," Rhydon musters out.

"Oh, please forgive me, sir, your majesty," apologizes the knight.

"It's fine, quite all right," asserts Nidoking. "Better you than others, I'm certain, especially since you had an idea of…well, us."

"Yes, but—"

"Don't worry about it," affirms Nidoking. "Foolish of us to try having it out here, in the open. My idea, naturally." He laughs, though no one else joins in.

After the king stops, Rhydon inquires, "What are you doing out here, Chesnaught?"

"Me?" asks a startled Chesnaught. "Well, I was, uh…looking around for…"

"Chesnaught?" I call out. A pang of worry hits my stomach, as I'm not entirely certain that the knight was willing to admit he was searching for me.

Nevertheless, I force myself around the corner, and watch as all eyes drift to me.

"Greninja, there you are," exhales Chesnaught.

"Ha! Told you," gloats Nidoking to Rhydon.

"Sire?" I question as I give the king and his general a puzzled glance.

"It's nothing," insists Rhydon.

"Might I inquire as to what you two are doing out here?" asks Nidoking.

"W-Well, it's—" begins Chesnaught.

"On second thought, I now realize that I have, ah, business to attend to. Enjoy the night, you two," chuckles Nidoking. He laces his arm with the general's, with a soft, "Coming, general?" and guides the mortified Rhydon back inside. "Oh, and screw the other royals, anyway," I hear him tell the general as they close the door.

For a moment, Chesnaught and I watch the castle door in silence. Then, he turns to me and asks, "What did I miss? Besides the kiss."

"A lot," I chuckle. "They held a whole discussion with one another and I could barely understand it." I think it over and decide, "Something about how they got together after the queen, uh—"

"Died," Chesnaught sadly informs me.

"Oh, so that was it," I murmur and my heart droops. "Well, Nidoking seems happy to move on with Rhydon, and he seems pretty at peace over her as well."

"The general's the only one who ever could help him with that," nods Chesnaught. "We've never really been able to determine her death. Supposedly, she died from an illness, but it's odd, as it took her swiftly."

"There are terrible illnesses that do that," I remind him.

"Yes, you're right," agrees Chesnaught and he sighs. However, he perks himself back up and smiles at me. "But, enough of that! It's my first night back out and I don't want to ruin your mood with tragic stories and harsh reminders."

"Right, we're going out," I laugh. Realizing my words too late, I stop short and glance at Chesnaught, whose cheeks are now a bit red. "I-I mean, well, it's, uh…not exactly like a—"

"Like a date," Chesnaught finishes for me as my face burns harder than before.

"W-Well, it's sort of like one," I nervously chuckle. More seriously, I continue, "B-B-But, it's not really one, since it's the two of us and, uh, we're not really—"

"Yeah, I mean, no," agrees Chesnaught. "We're just…"

He trails off and we gaze at one another quietly.

"Ok, so it is a date," laughs Chesnaught. "But that doesn't really mean anything. Friends can have dates too, right?"

"Um, yeah!" I force out. "Definitely. Friends go out with each other all the time! Ha. Nothing wrong with that."

"Nope, not a thing," Chesnaught reaffirms, his own blush expanding.

My eyes dart around the area, scanning the balconies and windows of the castle, checking behind the fountain, and peering at the bushes. Chesnaught circled around, surveying each spot as well, before turning back to me with a small smile.

"Just us," he reassured my steadily quickening heart rate.

"Yep, thought so," I nod. Then, I ask, "Is there anything else you wanted to do around the town while we're there?"

"Besides dinner and drinks? Um, hang on," Chesnaught scratches his head. "Well, I can't recall what's open around or after midnight, but we could try to see if there are any shops open." He bats a fist into his palm. "Oh, I'm sure that we could visit Lady Lilligant too!" My hands curl into fists and I bite my tongue. "She's good company, and I'm sure she'll still be up. Would you mind if we tried to stop by?"

"Yes, I actually would," I blurt out. My head jerks up as I process what I just did.

"Wait, really?" questions Chesnaught, and I can hear a slight annoyance in his tone. "Why?"

"Oh, it-it's not visiting her," I try to reason as I feel sweat trickle down the back of my head and my hands tremble. "I-I mean, I'm perfectly fine with…I don't really mind if we…she's not, I'm not…um…"

"Do you have a problem with her?" accuses Chesnaught. "Did I miss something when you met her in town?"

"No!" I practically shout and slam my hands over my mouth. We both wait a minute and check our surroundings. When no one appears, I quickly add, "No, it's not about her, honest!"

"Then why can't we visit her?" Chesnaught asks. "What's wrong with that?"

"It's not that we can't," I shakily try to amend. But my heart races and I know that I'm too deep in to get out of this. "I just…don't want you to," I admit.

"You…don't want me to visit my friend?" Chesnaught gives me a quizzical look.

"That's not…ok, no, that's pretty much exactly what I'm saying," I realize.

The knight folds his arms and gives me a distasteful expression. "How does that make any sense?"

"Honestly, it doesn't," I relent. "She makes you happy, I'm sure, and I…I shouldn't keep you from her." I shiver and tighten my hands again. Am I really about to…?

"What do you mean?" questions Chesnaught.

"Look, I understand how you feel about her," I insist. "But it's…I feel that for you."

He stares quietly at me for a moment before he slowly lets out, "…Huh?"

"I like you," I explain. "A lot. And it's probably more than like." My heart continues to hammer on and I fear it might just burst from my chest.

"Uh, I don't think I follow," Chesnaught tilts his head a bit.

Inhaling a sharp breath, I squeeze my eyes shut and then exhale a heavy breath.

"Chesnaught, I think…no, I know."

"Know what?" I open my eyes and see him frowning at me, still puzzled over my behavior.

"I love you," I confess.

His eyes widen and his arms drop back to his sides. Slowly, I wince and try to shift my gaze to the ground, unable to look at him any longer.

"Really?" he asks, almost in a whisper.

"Look, I'm sorry!" I cry out as I squeeze my eyes shut again. Quickly, I ramble off, "I get that you're trying to be my friend and that this is probably really weird. I didn't mean to…I-I tried not to, but I just couldn't…you just…I…"

Hands gently tilt my head back up and the air is suddenly stifled around me. Lips gently connect with my top lip and the top of my tongue. I can almost hear a second heartbeat pounding alongside mine. My eyes fire open to a white and brown face in front of me, with a deep blush over…him.

Slowly, Chesnaught pulls away from me and gazes into my eyes.

"W…What…?" is all that comes from my mouth.

"Sorry, that was kind of, uh, impulsive of me," a flustered Chesnaught apologizes. "I guess I've just been, um…holding that in for a while."

"H-Holding…?" I repeat, still processing the fact that his lips were just against mine.

"Yeah, it's…well, I guess it built up the most while I was recovering, but I think I've wanted to do that for a while now," he admits. "It's just…I tried not to rush it, but the more we spent time together, and the more a few people suggested it…I just really felt like doing that at some point and settled on it as soon as I thought it might be right." He shrugs. "I hope now was ok."

"I-I thought you were…w-what about Lilligant?" I stammer out.

"She's been my friend for a while," Chesnaught explains and smiles. "But we're just friends, and we never really went beyond that."

"B-But…you…last week, you gave her a flower," I protest.

He chuckles softly. "She's a collector," he informs me. "If I manage to keep one safe and bring it back, I contribute to her supply. I didn't realize that you noticed. She houses a beautiful collection; if you're interested, you should ask her to look at it sometime."

My shoulders slump and my arms dangle in front of me. "S…So…"

"I love you too."

Chesnaught smiles after the words leave his lips. My eyes are so wide they might burst alongside my pulsating heart. The blush is still coating his white face and I can tell by the heat that my blush is also covering me.

"Um…since I kind of just jumped into it," he scratches his head, "would you want to kiss me too?"

Quickly, I lurch forward and practically dive for his face. His head jerks back a bit, but he moves it closer as I press my lips and tongue against his. I slip one arm around his back and the other over his shoulder. He does the same, placing one hand across my waist and his other around the back of my neck. We shift our heads and I feel his tongue slide across the length of mine before retreating back into his mouth.

Carefully, slowly, he pulls back and we both take a heavy breath. He grins as he taps on the large tongue wrapped around my neck.

"Pretty sticky," he laughs.

"Does it bother you?" I ask.

Chesnaught shakes his head. "Not at all. But, I was wondering if you could ever…"

He trails off as I pull back and whip my tongue around, unraveling it from my neck. It slips back into my mouth as my hands touch my cheeks and my bare chin. I watch as his mouth drops open.

"Um…sorry," I shrug. "I…guess I look weirder this way?"

"No, absolutely not!" Chesnaught cries out. "I just…didn't realize you'd look so great. Both ways, actually." He nods. "I wasn't sure, but I like how you look either way."

"Well, don't get too used to this," I giggle. "It's…not something I do a lot, so I don't show it off very often."

I'm not sure if I blush any harder every time he smiles at me, but I feel like I could if it was possible. "Either style looks perfect to me," he insists. "I mean it."

"O-Ok," I nod and move back into him. "Well…um…all yours."

His hands slide back around my face and my arms wrap behind his neck. Our mouths connect again and we push each other's open. Chesnaught's tongue glides along my bottom lip and I press against him, allowing his tongue to enter my mouth. Though mine is too long to explore his, he tilts his head and widens his lips as his tongue presses on mine and moves it closer to his mouth. Chesnaught slides one arm back down to my back and caresses my head with the other one. I massage his back and shoulders as I slip my hands underneath the opening of his shell.

After another minute, we gently break apart again, reluctant to move away from one another. He rubs his forehead against mine and I giggle again, sliding my arms out from his upper back and wrapping them around his sides. We stare at each other and I get lost in his dark eyes, as my lips curve into a broad smile to match his.

Slowly, Chesnaught presses his lips to mine again and I mimic the motion. We gently kiss once more, but he suddenly pulls back quickly. I blink and stare at him as he bites his lip and now appears to look…nervous? Afraid?

"W-Wait, no, what are we doing?!" he blurts out.

"Um…kissing," I remind him.

"N-No, we c-can't do this," Chesnaught shakes his head and pulls his arms away from me.

"We can't?" My heart drops and I take my arms back, hugging myself. "I thought that…you liked me."

"I do! I really like you!" he asserts and places his hands on my shoulders. "But…if anyone finds out, then I…who knows what they'll do?"

"Your king is gay, isn't he?" I ask. "Or, at least…we just saw him with the general."

"Yeah, but that's different," Chesnaught explains. "He had a wife before he started up with the general. More importantly, the knights serve and work under the two of them." His shoulders drop and he stares at the ground. Softer, he continues, "I'm…on their level. I don't think they'll be as welcome to the sudden change."

I recall their earlier conversation and connect that it was actually about us. And it dawns on me that only Chesnaught might be gay, whereas the others might not be.

"So…do you…not want to do this?" I offer him a way out.

"No. I mean, yes! Wait a minute, wait." He pinches the middle of his forehead and squeezes his eyes closed. Slowly, he releases it, taking in a breath and exhaling a heavy sigh. "Yes, I want to do this," Chesnaught declares. Less confidently, he continues, "No, I don't want anyone to know about it. So…I don't know what to do."

For a moment, I scratch the top of my head. Then, I decide, "I guess…we keep it a secret?"

"Can you do that?" Chesnaught asks. "Would you do that for me?"

"Sure," I nod. "I'll just tell my friends not to—"

"No, no, no. We can't tell anyone," he insists, "not even your closest friends."

"Oh," I let out a heavy breath. "It has to be that much of a secret?"

"Well…I…yes?" Chesnaught claws at the back of his head, his expression barely less calm than before.

A minute goes by while I tap my hands together. "…All right, I can give that a shot."

"Really?"

"Honestly, I'd rather we didn't, because I struggled with keeping my crush on you a secret," I clarify. "But, I know what it's like to have everyone look at you like a problem, so I understand that you don't want that." He grits his teeth and looks down shamefully, but I pick his head back up and smile at him. "I'll do my best to be as discreet as we possibly can be. Better, if possible."

"Thank you!" Chesnaught cheers and pulls me into a tight hug. I squirm and try to adjust myself a little better for it, which he loosens his grip for. "Thank you so much," he whispers as I wrap my arms back around him. "I…I won't make you wait forever over this. I just…need some time to…I don't know, think of something."

"Relax," I chuckle. "Don't try to figure out how to open up to everyone. I don't even tell people about my interests; they usually have to guess before I come clean." He pulls back from the hug, but keeps his arms around me. "It would be too selfish of me to force you into something that you wouldn't be comfortable with," I beam and slide one hand into his as I tighten my grip around him.

"One thing you're not is selfish," Chesnaught murmurs, still looking upset. "This isn't something that I should—"

"Chesnaught," I assert. "This is as much my choice as it is yours. If I wasn't comfortable about it, I'd say so."

"Greninja…" He gazes into my eyes again. I lean up and kiss him again, and then slide down to cuddle into his chest. Softly, he rubs his arm up and down my side, and tightens the grip on our interlaced hands.

"Oh, what are we doing?!" I bounce up and off of him, alarmed. "We've made out too many times in front of the castle! Someone might have seen us by now!"

He shakes his head. "No one really checks out the back this late, besides the night watch," Chesnaught explains. "But they don't really start their shift until…wait, is it midnight already?"

"Um…I actually lost track of time," I admit.

"Me too," he laughs. "Come on; I still owe you that dinner."

"And drinks," I tease.

"Of course," he agrees, with a mock exasperated tone.

We walk around the castle, and Chesnaught holds me in close to him. As we make our way to town, we exchange large smiles with one another and watch the stars as we travel under the moonlight.

Chapter Text

[Chesnaught]

Unbeknownst to anyone else, Greninja and I have been together for about a week.

It wasn't easy, but we managed to make it work. Tonight was proving to be another example, as I attempted to retreat from my comrades.

"Does anyone else feel like they've gotten the workout of their lives?" asked Armaldo as we finished putting away our equipment. "Or am I the only one that feels half dead?"

"I don't know about half dead," mused Scizor. "But, I will give you the heavy workout. General Rhydon's been drilling us a little harder lately." He paused and chuckled. "Excuse the pun."

"Training hasn't been that bad," I shrugged as I closed a chest of swords and daggers. "I think you guys might be overreacting."

"From the General's favorite, boys," teased Bisharp as he hung up a bow.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I questioned.

Bisharp laughed. "Come on, Chesnaught! He goes softer on you towards the end of training, but still manages to work with you more overall. You had to have noticed."

Still, I scratched my head. "Really?"

"If you haven't noticed that, you're daft," mocked Bisharp. I glanced at the others, who either nodded or shrugged.

"Daft it is," I relented as we walked out.

"But what exactly could have him on cloud nine?" inquired Armaldo. "He may be pummeling us, but he's been really happy lately too."

"He's probably got a nice date lined up for that ball the King's throwing," snickered Typhlosion. "Anyone else have an idea of who they're bringing?"

"Oh, crap, I forgot all about that!" whined Armaldo. "Now I have to run through a list of ladies that would actually consider going with me."

"Relax, you'll get someone," assured Scizor as we climbed the stairs. "Come on; let's go get Heracross and we'll help you out."

"Escavalier's the only guaranteed one out of us," murmured Typhlosion. "He was lucky enough to have his wife show up." He paused and considered, "Unless that's unlucky for him."

"Hush! He'll gut you for that!" scolded Bisharp. "He loves having Accelgor around."

"Ok, ok, just keeping the options opened," clarified Typhlosion. "Anyway, I still need to narrow it down between some of my own options."

"Poor unfortunate souls," mourned Bisharp. "I'll send the unlucky girl my regards."

Typhlosion growled as we entered the main hall. "Bet your date ends up more miserable than mine!"

"That's not a fair bet for you," laughed Bisharp.

"Whatever." Typhlosion folded his arms and watched as I failed to slip away. "Hey, Chesnaught, who are you planning on taking?"

"Me? Oh, uh…s-someone special," I forced out.

"Sounds clueless to me," teased Typhlosion.

"What would you know, anyway?" fired back Bisharp. "Chesnaught's probably got great options with the General's help." He looked me over and nodded. "I'm sure you'll get a great girl to go with," he winked.

"Right, I mean, hopefully," I chuckled. "Ah, I'm going to…head upstairs. Got, uh, something to take care of."

"Sure, catch you later," Bisharp waved as I hurried off.

As I wandered around through the upper level's halls, however, my mind buzzed over the ceremony tomorrow.

Who should I pick? I pondered.

Lilligant would probably be the safest choice. But I wasn't sure if anyone else might ask her first. More importantly, I wanted someone that I would be able to get away from and find Greninja.

A sigh escaped me and my hand rested on the door to the ninja's bedroom. I should be taking him. Instead, I fear what the others will do if they find out that we're together. And he's been ok with keeping us a secret so far, which makes it easier.

But I still want to take him, buzzed my mind.

Quietly, I glanced around the hall and slid into his room. He had a few supplies kept organized in different corners of the room, including a few weapons of his own, a few spare robes, and other tools like ropes and hooks. From the desk on the opposite end of the room, I grabbed the green book and sat down on his bed. Blue quilt, yellow sheets…the King loved matching colors when could.

"Greninja, wait up!" called a slightly muffled voice. My head jerked up and I hopped off the bed.

As I snuck closer to the door, I continued to listen. "What are you going to your room for? It's not even that late yet," noted Samurott.

"Yeah, come with us!" urged Gardevoir. "We're going on another town trip!" She giggled, "Delphox and I might find some more crooks to mess with."

"Well, make sure Samurott has your backs," advised Greninja.

The doorknob turned and I dove back to the bed, which was barely out of the doorway's line of vision.

"Oh, but we want you there too," persisted Gardevoir. "Won't you come, Greninja? Please?"

"Honestly, I'd really love to, but I've got training exercises to catch up on," he lied. "It's going to take a few hours, and I really want to get some rest before morning comes."

"Again with the exercises?" challenged Delphox.

"What do you mean again? It's only the second time," protested Greninja.

"And this is the fourth time you've told us you were busy," complained Delphox. "If I didn't know any better, I'd guess you were avoiding us."

"That's not it at all! I want to spend time with you guys," insisted Greninja. "It's just that I can't. Things have just been coming up inconveniently for me." He sighed. "I promise that I'll catch up with you guys tomorrow, honest. Accelgor will be too mushy over her husband after the ceremony, so I'll definitely have time."

There was a silent pause between them for a moment and I bit my lip.

"Sounds fair to me," Samurott finally spoke up.

"What?! You must be joking," Delphox blurted out.

"Delphox, come off it," asserted Samurott. "Greninja wouldn't lie to us about being busy. He definitely has work to do and probably good reasons for missing your last little outings."

"Don't act like you don't tag along," snapped Delphox. "Or that you're any less upset when Greninja isn't around. In fact, it bugs you more!"

"Of course it does," laughed Samurott. "He's more stable than you two."

"Careful Samurott," cautioned Gardevoir. "We won't be forgiving if you keep up silly comments like that. And the moon is supposed to be bright tonight, if you catch my drift!" There was a pause before she added, "I'll Moon Blast you."

"Oh. Sorry," apologized Samurott. "Anyway, we'll come bother you tomorrow, Greninja. Don't worry about missing tonight."

"Or the other three," quipped Delphox.

"Lady Delphox, please," Samurott scorned, which was followed by a snicker.

"Hey! No! You did that on purpose!" yelled Delphox as Greninja and Gardevoir joined in on Samurott's laughter. "Oh, you're all awful, you know that?"

"It's only because we love you!" assured Gardevoir. "Night, Greninja!"

After a minute, their footsteps disappeared down the hall and I opened the book. As Greninja opened the door, I flipped to the next page and pretended to be immersed in it.

"Hey Chesnaught," he greeted.

"Hey Greninja!" I returned and flashed him a bright smile. He glanced up and smiled at me, but dropped his head again.

"Sorry about that," he mumbled. "They were really persistent tonight."

"Who was?" I feigned ignorance and shifted uncomfortably on the bed.

Greninja picked his head up and lowered his eyes at me. "Don't bother, I can hear plenty through these walls, and I know you can too."

"Ok, fine," I gave in. "Why haven't you told me that you had missed going out with them so often? It's not like I expect to be with you every single night."

He shrugged. "I don't know. I don't like giving up the time I can spend with you, which is limited enough as it is."

"But you don't get a lot of time with them either," I pointed out. "I don't want to monopolize all of your free time."

"You're not, I like being with you," Greninja insisted.

"And you like being with your friends," I argued. "I've seen you with them. And I've been with you guys when you're together. They really love having your company. Don't shut them out for my sake."

"I'm not, honest," he contended. "You heard me make plans with them tomorrow, didn't you? And you'll be…busy, right?" A guilty pang hit my stomach and I slowly nodded. "Then, there you go. It evens out."

"About that," I started, but Greninja walked over and rested his hand on my shoulder.

"We've been over this. I'm fine," Greninja asserted. "You get a date and enjoy the ball with her." He sighed, and then winked at me. "But, you owe me at least one dance. If not there, then somewhere else afterwards."

My hands tapped at book and I shook my head. "This still sucks. And it's not fair to you."

"How is it not fair?"

"Not fair? Simple. Tell me, who are you going with again?" I asked him.

"Uh…I don't know yet," admitted Greninja. "But it's still over two months away."

"True, but you need to tell your date ahead of time," I informed him. "It's not like you can just drop that on someone last minute and expect everything to work out."

"Got it, I'll figure something out," he raised his arms in defense. "Again, I have time. Just because most of you choose tomorrow doesn't mean that I need to. Plus, Delphox has no clue who to take either." He paused and smiled. "Maybe we can go together. And a whole bunch of folks really do mistake him for a lady, so you can talk to me without any worries."

Still, I gazed down the bed and at my feet while Greninja climbed on, resting against me.

"Chesnaught, come on, we'll be fine," Greninja comforted as he snuggled in closer and put my arm around himself. "Don't worry about it."

"Wouldn't you want to go with me?" I inquired and looked at him.

"Of course I would," he nodded. "But I'd want to go anywhere with you. It doesn't have to be anywhere public."

"But you'd be happy if it were," I muttered.

"No, I'm happy to just be with you," Greninja insisted. "Stop trying to guilt yourself over this. It's one night. In two months."

"That's all everyone is going to talk about by tomorrow."

"Then let them talk," he huffed and folded his arms.

"Ok," I relented. "So…where were we?"

"Let me see," he moved in and flipped through the pages. "I think I folded down the edge of the last page." Greninja thumbed through and turned over another few pages. "Here, fennel."

"Fennel symbolize strength," I told him.

"Oh, so I could get you some," he laughed. Greninja studied the picture and shook his head. "Then again, it looks either too flimsy or more like something edible."

"It also symbolizes deceit for some people," I added.

Greninja looked at me again. "So, don't get these for you, ever. Got it." I laughed and he flipped to the next page.

"Freesia symbolize either spiritedness, innocence, or thoughtfulness," I explained.

"That sounds nice," Greninja murmured as he scooted closer to me.

"We can read the rest later," I hugged him into me, as if I could bring him into me.

"You need to get a flower for your date," he sleepily insisted. "Besides, I like learning about these."

"I already know which flower I'm using," I informed him.

"Wait, really?"

"Yes," I laughed again.

"Well, this was a waste then," he mumbled.

"No, no, I like going over these with you, too," I rubbed his shoulders. He yawned and I chuckled. "Then again, we could call it quits here."

"One more, then we rest for a bit," he whispered. "Then we wake up, you leave, and I go back to sleep."

"Or I could spend the night," I offered.

"Then you get caught by the other knights."

"We could lie, tell everyone you weren't feeling well."

"And they'll question why I wasn't taken to the medical room," he yawned again. "Or why you were the one with me. Or the only one or…whatever else."

"So no?"

"No."

"Ok," I chuckled again. "Next one is…Forget-me-not."

"Let me guess, it's to help someone remember things," he muttered.

"It means to remember always, or…well, never forget," I laughed. "People use it for true love sometimes."

"People use any flower for that," Greninja huffed. "Roses and carnations are the obvious ones."

"True, but I think they're meant to have different meanings too," I recalled. "Roses are for passionate love."

"Oh, passion instead of true," mocked Greninja. "Such a big difference."

"Hey, true love goes beyond just the hot and heavy feelings," I teased.

"If you think so," he yawned again. "I'd be happy with either."

"They're not the ones that I'm using."

"Well good, I'm not the one getting it, so you better not," he mockingly warned me.

I folded the next page and closed the book. "I'll get you a whole bouquet later, if you'd like," I offered.

"That's super cheesy," he teased.

"And you'd like it," I poked his belly and laughed.

"Yeah, I probably would," he mumbled and rubbed his stomach.

"Aw, someone's sensitive," I teased.

He grabbed a pillow from behind me and whacked me with it. "You're an idiot."

"Maybe, but I'm your idiot," I lowered my head down onto his.

"And don't you forget it," he joked. "I'll get you a forget-me-not just in case."

"Ha," I tickled him again and laughed as he squirmed.

"Quit that," he shoved me down.

"Fine," I relented and pulled him on top of me. He blushed heavily, and judging by my burning face, so did I.

Greninja put his hands around my face. "S-So…uh…"

"Yes, I would like to kiss you, thanks for asking," I filled in for him.

He laughed and I pulled him in. Gently, I pressed my lips against his top lip and over his tongue. He pressed his lips against me and slowly stroked my face as I rubbed his back. Too soon, we broke apart.

"Again?" Greninja smiled at me.

"S-Sure," I stifled a yawn, but he caught it and patted my head.

"That sounds more like you need to sleep for a bit," he teased.

"No I don't," I lied.

"Don't be a martyr," Greninja rolled his own droopy eyes.

"It's impossible to be one because of you," I flirted and kissed his cheek.

"I love you," he murmured and slowly collapsed on top of me.

"I love you too," I whispered and we drifted off to sleep.


 

[Greninja]

Next morning, I slowly picked my head up from the pillow and gazed at the sunlight as it shined through the window shades.

"It's still too early," I mumbled and let my head drop back down on the pillow.

Somehow, I managed to pick myself up, washed, and put on a fresh set of robes. Then, I went downstairs to find Lord Nidoking and General Rhydon talking with one another. Both turned once they noticed me reach the bottom of the stairs.

"Ah, Greninja, how have you been?" asked Nidoking.

"Tired, sire," I admitted with a bow that nearly proved it, as I felt the weight of my head practically anchor me down to the floor.

"Well, that's no good. You need to be ready for the ceremony later," advised Rhydon.

"What for? I'm not actually partaking in it," I informed them as I picked myself back up.

"What? But you…" Nidoking began and glanced around. "Won't you have someone, ah, choose you?"

"No, I don't believe so," I shook my head.

"None of my knights?" questioned the general.

"Have any of them expressed an interest in me?" I returned the question to him.

"Well, yes, and…isn't he asking you?" wondered Rhydon as Accelgor, Gardevoir, and Delphox wandered into the main hall.

"It's a safe bet that no one will be asking me," I murmured. The king and the general shared perplexed glances with one another, and then returned their attention to me. "I shouldn't even need to go, correct?"

"What?! No, you have to go!" cried Gardevoir and she flew over to grab my hands. "Please, your majesty, make him go!" She then looked to me with the saddest eyes she could whip up, forcing tears to appear behind them and pouting.

"Why should he have to go?" challenged Delphox. "Just so he can be another back drop for when Earl Gallade asks you to go?"

"Oh, please, I'm not that conceited," huffed Gardevoir. "I just want to enjoy the ceremony with all of my friends there."

"Greninja's welcome to come, if he would like to attend," shrugged Nidoking.

"Oh, no, I-I'm going," I corrected myself. "I was just…I'm not required to go, that's all I was checking on. I still want to."

"Hooray!" cheered Gardevoir and she squeezed me into a hug.

"You had the chance to escape," muttered Delphox.

"Oh, stop," Accelgor intervened. "The whole town will be there."

"Yep, all of Little Springton," chimed Gardevoir.

"It's on a bridge, right?" checked Accelgor.

"Sunset Bridge," sang Gardevoir. "The view is so beautiful there!"

"Oh, ok, I've been there," nodded Accelgor. "The sky does look stunning from that spot."

"Doesn't it?!" beamed Gardevoir.

"Greninja, run," hissed Delphox, and Gardevoir slapped the backside of his head.

Abruptly, we heard someone sprint and turned to watch Earl Gallade nearly tumble down the stairs. He stumbled and ran for the door, stopped, and hurried back.

"Your majesty," he bowed to Nidoking. "General." Quickly, he bowed to Rhydon as well. "Lady Gardevoir." He bowed once again and gently took her hand. "La…Lord Delphox," he corrected himself as he bowed to Delphox. "Greninja, Accelgor." He waved to us and ran out of the hall.

Everyone blankly stared and watched the door, as if Gallade would come back to explain himself.

"He seems so majestic when in public, but I love it when he's awkward around us," giggled Gardevoir after a minute.

"Oh, you're one to talk," muttered Delphox.

"Are you going to make today all about me beating you into submission?" inquired Gardevoir. "Because I am perfectly fine with that."

"That would mean you could actually do so," contested Delphox.

"All right, break it up," Nidoking walked between the two and held his arms to distance them. "Anyone outside of this castle might actually think you two hated each other."

"What would give them that impression, sire?" asked Delphox. "We're best friends."

He bumped into Gardevoir as he strode out, to which she ran after him and punched him over the head.

"Definitely best friends," Gardevoir smiled as she returned to us.

"Right," Rhydon nervously nodded. "So, I, uh…I'll go meet my knights, then."

The general squeezed Nidoking's shoulder as he strolled past him and then out the door. Accelgor shot me a quizzical glance as the king smiled, to which I shrugged.

"Ah, we should probably all get to the bridge," noted Nidoking as he nodded to the three of us and walked out from the castle.

Accelgor waited until the door closed behind him, then turned to me and asked, "Are the king and the general a couple?"

"How would I know?" I countered.

"Greninja, please, you've done a much better job at assimilating into this place," observed Accelgor. "You pretty much belong with these people."

"So do you," I tried, but she shook her head.

"No, I belong with my husband. If he were not here…well, I'd be doing a poor job at blending into this place," she folded her arms and looked to the ground.

"Aw, come on," soothed Gardevoir. "I like having you around."

"Yes, you and Delphox make for nice company," nodded Accelgor. "Those knights are fools to act so cowardly around you."

"Oh, they do have a point," hummed Gardevoir. "Delphox and I regularly deliver beatings to them during training."

"They're fools to not look beyond that, then," amended Accelgor. "At any rate, my husband is looking to either spoil or embarrass me, so I'd best be going."

She waved to us and shuffled out of the main hall.

"Guess we'd better go too," I turned back to Gardevoir. "Gallade will be heartbroken if he misses you."

"Ah, he could always ask me later," Gardevoir shrugged.

"It would kill him, though," I laughed.

"Are you sure you want to go?" she asked me. "I want you to be there, but I don't want you to be miserable." Gardevoir's shoulders slumped and she sighed. "I already feel awful about Delphox not having anyone to go with yet."

"Actually, I was wondering if he would want to go with me," I brought up. "We don't have to do much together, just so we don't feel awkward going alone."

"That does seem like a great idea!" clapped Gardevoir. She slowly stopped and sighed. "Still…"

"Yes, I'm upset over not having someone ask me," I let out. "But, it's not a big deal."

"I think it is," Gardevoir folded her arms. "It's stupid ceremony that just makes people who don't get asked out feel awful."

"Apparently, it's been a tradition for so long that Nidoking would encounter resistance over canceling it," I recalled Chesnaught telling me.

"And that just makes it worse," groaned Gardevoir.

"Aren't the gates open for everyone to attend?" I inquired.

"Somewhat," nodded Gardevoir. "We can't let every individual in, because then we'd be overrun with criminals."

"True, but a lot of people still have the chance to enjoy the night," I observed.

"Mm, I suppose," relented Gardevoir.

"Well then," I held out my arm. "Shall we?"

She grinned and locked her arm around mine as we marched out of the castle and traveled to the Sunset Bridge. As we traveled along with the soft morning wind, I gazed at the white clouds in the sky, and searched for familiar shapes. Gardevoir pulled me over to catch petals and leaves that blew away in a sudden gust. We laughed as they flew off and continued on our way around the town.

"Come to think of it," I pondered aloud. "Why is the ceremony held during the morning? If we're going to the bridge, shouldn't it be during the late afternoon?"

"Nidoking likes to leave that time open for anyone to ask their dates out," explained Gardevoir. "He tries to have this ceremony run quickly, but it never works out."

"Can't imagine why," I joked as we approached the platform at the end of the bridge and noticed all of the citizens that had gathered. They cheered and clapped as Nidoking climbed onto the platform and began to make the ceremony speeches.

"I can't even make anyone out," Gardevoir murmured as she pulled me onto the stage and we stood next to Delphox. I nodded in agreement, barely noticing Lilligant between everyone else, in spite of her being closer to the stage.

"And now, let's have our esteemed knights come forward," announced Nidoking. The king stepped back and moved over next to Rhydon and Accelgor, opposite to us.

Earl Gallade was the first one forward, as the highest ranking of the group. Though Samurott was also a higher rank, he would be last. I watched the earl step forward along the marked path to the bridge. Judging by the wildly excited cheers from the crowd as many female folks dove at the barricades, and by his exasperated face, I would imagine that he would be relieved over being the first one to hurry through.

Gallade strode right up on the stage and knelt down in front of Gardevoir, presenting her a gardenia. It was an excellent choice on his part, as it symbolizes secret or sweet love, as well as good luck. Gardevoir grinned as she took the flower from him, pulled him up, into an embrace, and kissed his cheek. The audience cheered in an uproar of delight.

Armaldo came out next, holding an azalea in between his pincers, and carefully tried to keep it locked between them as he walked forward. He stopped by the middle of the bridge and presented the flower to a large, pink and white…egg-shaped lady.

"For you, L-Lady Blissey," Armaldo nervously announced and lifted the flower to her. "It-It would be my honor if you—"

"YES, AAH, YES!" squealed Blissey. "OH, I'D LOVE TO GO WITH YOU AND SHARE MY EGGS WITH YOU!" There was a long pause and I watched her clasp her hands over her mouth. "Oopsie! Did I say that out loud?" I heard her gasp out and held back the laughter that sounded from the rest of the audience. Armaldo blushed as she took the azalea from him and snatched the knight into a hefty hug.

"Does…does he know that azaleas are meant for caretaking or fragility?" whispered Delphox. Gallade and I shrugged while Gardevoir hushed him.

Escavalier moved out third, and garnered a few cheers as he went by. He came up to the stage and presented Accelgor with a hydrangea bouquet that slid down the end of his lance.

"I can't tell if you're embarrassing me, flattering me, or both," she laughed and took the flowers.

"That will be the first part of our anniversary gift," he announced and a good number of folks cheered for them.

"Definitely both," Accelgor squeezed the bouquet close before she wrapped her arms around Escavalier's.

Typhlosion marched out after that and came close to the stage. He turned to the right side of the bridge and held up a dahlia to a thin, brown and white rabbit.

"Lady Lopunny—"

"This will do," she took the flower and studied it. Awkward claps sounded from around the two as Typhlosion scratched at his head.

"Poor choice on his part," snickered Delphox, to which Gardevoir punched his arm.

A chuckle slipped away from me and I turned my attention to the opposite end of the bridge. Chesnaught walked out next and held blue bell.

"Wait, aren't those to show disappointment?" asked Delphox.

"Those are ordinary bellflowers," I corrected him. The two mages and the earl blinked as they stared at me. "I've…read into a few flowers…lately," I murmured and looked back as Chesnaught strode forward.

Blue bells were an interesting choice to present to a date, with multiple meanings. The first, better known, is humility, or constancy, which reinforces devotion, apt for a knight to present to anyone.

"Does he know those are said to summon fairies?" whispered a nearby voice in the audience.

"Hush," chastised another.

I smiled from that and watched him cross the halfway point of the bridge. A blue bell's second meaning is for its appreciation and gratitude. Again, appropriate, but I couldn't recall who Chesnaught wanted to thank.

"Do you guys have a clue who he's going to pick?" inquired Gardevoir. Again, my friends looked to me as I shrugged.

To anyone else's surprise, he strolled right past Lilligant, who merely exchanged a wave as he passed. It surprised me for a moment, but I remembered that they were just friends. Walking directly in line, Chesnaught walked up the stage, over to me, bowed, and extended the blue bell forward.

Its third meaning would be…everlasting love.

"W-What are you doing?" I hissed so only he could hear. "Everyone is watching!"

"That's the point," he whispered. "No more hiding. I want everyone to understand: you're mine, and I'm yours."

"But…"

"This is as much my choice as it is yours," Chesnaught quietly echoed.

Blinking, I glanced up to see the audience, with various reactions of gaping mouths, widened eyes, and at least one small group hugging each other tightly and squealing as they watched. On the left, Delphox began to tear up as he tightly gripped his staff, and Gardevoir lightly clapped her hands together while Gallade nodded. To my right, across the stage, Accelgor nudged Escavalier and I could have sworn I saw Nidoking grab Rhydon's hand.

Looking back to Chesnaught, who smiled expectantly, I smiled back, reached out, and took his flower.