"Well, that's the plan, then. Not like I expected us to be using lethal force anytime soon anyway..."
Darwin leaned in close to Seb. "But everyone's here today. Even the other group. Does that mean we're working together to catch these Bunnelby?"
"Basically, yes," Seb answered as the many Pokémon gathered around them dispersed from the meeting place, dividing up into their teams. Several moved directly into the fields, while others seemed to be planning to circle or watch and observe for a bit. Seb held her chin, thinking about the best possible approach for her and Darwin to deal with the interloping Bunnelby. "But considering how many pests are in the fields, we can't all gather around. We'll have to deal with them in small groups if we want to keep them from just hiding until we go away. As it is, they might do that anyway."
"Is it really fair to call them pests?" Darwin asked. "I mean, they're Pokémon, just like you and me, right?"
"Maybe so, but they're stealing food. And they sure don't look like they've been going hungry to me." She indicated a cluster of three Bunnelby as they scampered away from a pair of Roaring Iceberg members. The wild Pokémon easily outran their pursuers, tunneling into the earth at great speed. "I'm not willing to go hungry just because thieves wanted more than their share."
"I guess you're right." Now convinced that they were doing the right thing, Darwin sprang up, his usual cheerful attitude returning. "Okay! So, what do we do?"
Seb grunted. "We can't go in roaring for battle... like I said, they'll just hide or dig around underground, which would only make things worse for the crops. But..." she glanced at the groups of Pokémon perched in the dispersed high points around the fields, watching and waiting. "...we'd only be wasting time trying to watch them. I think our best bet is to sneak in and try to scare off as many of them as we can without letting them know we're there. They're normal-type pokemon, so it should be pretty easy to hit hard enough to scare them off... do you know any fighting moves?"
Darwin bounced in place. "These feet aren't just for show, y'know! I can get in some good kicks." He cocked his head. "What about you, though? These Bunnelbys can all dig. Isn't that dangerous for you?"
It was a fair point... although Seb had been hoping he wouldn't notice it. "I should be able to detect them underground if I need to. For anything else, we'll just back each other up. Now, if that's it, we should get moving."
"Right!" Darwin eagerly hopped down the rock face alongside Seb, and the two began carefully creeping through the growing stalks and vines of Rift City's farm.
A low growl rumbled from his partner's throat as Darwin pushed through a few stalks of oran berries. His ears involuntarily perked up from the noise, and he turned back to make sure she hadn't seen something. "Did you find one?" he asked.
"No, I haven't," Seb grumbled in annoyance. "I'm beginning to wonder if this problem is as bad as Helmstok said it was. Elders always get their fur in a bunch when something goes wrong in their job..."
"I don't think he was overreacting... I can hear a lot of digging under us," Darwin responded cautiously. He knew how bad things could get if he told Seb outright that she was wrong, but letting her get upset over something she couldn't see was bad, too.
"Really." Seb eyed the dirt under their feet with firm annoyance. In one swift action, she raised her paw over her head, which erupted into blue light, and swung down towards the ground. Darwin bristled from the unexpected movement, bracing himself for the ground to erupt underneath him.
But Seb froze with her paw a few inches up from the ground, and snorted. "On second thought, Helmstok did tell us to try not to mess up the fields any more than they already are," she muttered to herself, rising to an upright position again and cancelling what would have been a powerful Force Palm. "Darwin, could you give the ground a few good pounds for me? That should be enough to get them to come out."
"Yeah! No problem!" Darwin stopped fixing his fur and rocked back and forth on his feet, eager for the chance to help. Finally they were making some headway with this mission!
He scurried away a few feet, then bent down, getting ready for a sprint. "One..." he counted. "Two..." With a running start, he bounced into the air, then came back down. Once more... Twice... with each bounce he made it a little higher, until he was bounding over Seb's head. As he fell back to earth, he delivered two swift kicks to the ground beneath him. "Three!" he cried.
As the attack landed, pounding into the soft soil, the scurrying stopped, replaced with the sound of dirt being displaced very close by. Darwin turned back to find that two Bunnelby had emerged from the ground, one of which Seb had grabbed by the ears and was currently lobbing over her shoulder in an arc. It slammed into the ground with a plaintive squeak, while its partner dove at Seb and kicked her in the back. The young Riolu yelled in pain as she was sent sprawling into the dirt.
"Seb!" Darwin cried out in fear for his friend and rushed forward, ramming into the offending Bunnelby with a quick attack to draw its attention. He caught it off-guard with the attack, landing enough force to make it skid toward Seb. The second rabbit Pokémon wasn't distracted, though, and made to repeat its companion's attack on Seb, leaping forward with its feet ready to strike.
By this point, Seb was back on her feet and dusting herself off, her back turned to Darwin and the Bunnelby. Before Darwin could warn her or the Bunnelby could land its attack, though, Seb glanced over her shoulder, a bright crimson light glowing in her visible eye. She raised her forearm to resist as much of the damage as she could, then at the last second, she was able to nab both her attacker and its dizzy comrade, grasping each by the ears in one paw. As she held them to her eye level, she fixed them with the meanest snarl Darwin had ever seen.
"BEAT IT!" she snarled in their faces. Both Pokémon squawked and scurried in the air, and as soon as Seb released them, they took off in a frenzy.
Darwin himself paid them no mind as he circled around Seb, checking her for serious injuries. "Seb, are you okay? I mean, that was awesome, you made them leave, but that one hit you really hard..."
"I'm fine," Seb grunted, more annoyed with herself than with Darwin's concern. "Forgot that Bunnelby could use a double kick attack..."
"You sure you don't need anything? Maybe a sling?" Darwin eyed Seb's arm where she had braced herself for the Bunnelby's Double Kick - she was rubbing it gently. He reached a paw down toward his waist and held up a long, yellow cloth. "Here, put your arm up a little bit."
"I'm fine, Darwin," Seb repeated, waving a paw at him. "I'm just a little bruised; it'll pass. It's not..." she paused and stared at the ribbon. "When did you get that?"
"Oh, right." Darwin glanced down at the ribbon in his paws and shrugged. "I got it off of the other Bunnelby. I'm guessing he stole it from somebody, so I figured, you know. Might as well take it back."
Seb frowned. The cloth looked almost completely pristine, were it not for little patches of dirt that had gotten on it from the Bunnelby digging around. It definitely didn't belong to one of them originally. "We can't keep that," she said. "It's not ours."
"Well, it's not theirs, either," Darwin answered with a giggle. "Besides, they're long gone. I think it's in better hands with us. Plus, if we find the old owner we can always return it, right?"
"I guess..." Seb was still skeptical about keeping something that they hadn't earned, but Darwin had a point. It was a lot safer with them than it was with those Bunnelby, and they could always return it if they ever learned who its owner was.
"'Course I am!" Darwin bounced away further into the fields. "Now come on, Seb, our job's not done yet!"
"Darwin!" Seb was startled by the sudden departure of her friend, tripping over her words as she tried to catch up. "Don't just - I'd - Slow down!"
They were busy dealing with wild Bunnelby for the next two hours, before Jay and Nuri called for a regroup in an open space in the field, announcing that the Diggersby leader had been sighted. When Seb and Darwin made it to the meeting point, they were met with an astounding sight.
The Diggersby was a towering figure, probably at least a head higher than Nuri, though it was difficult for Darwin to tell, since the giant was moving around pretty quickly for its size, dodging bullet seeds from one direction, a gust of icy wind from another, digging underground to avoid a mach punch... the list went on.
And on that note, there was an astounding number of Pokémon from both Roaring Icebergs and Ardent Cinders dotting the field. There was at least one uniform from both sides wherever Darwin looked. They were trying to surround the Diggersby and pelt it with attacks until it was weak enough to handle, but even the strongest Pokémon were having a hard time hitting it - from close range, Nuri seemed to be struggling just to land a good Night Slash, and Jay, running circles around the beast himself, was regularly missing with his Aurora Beam.
That wasn't to say that Diggersby was impossible to hit, though - it looked plenty beat-up, and mad enough to account for it, too, just not enough for it to give up fighting yet. Even as Darwin was thinking, the enormous rabbit turned its gaze toward them and burrowed into the ground, pummeling the teams behind it with the dirt from its wake.
"Whoah! He really is fast!" Darwin commented, scratching his head. "Wonder how we're gonna fight that..."
Seb's eyes flashed, and she wordlessly grabbed Darwin's paw and leaped forward toward the gathering. She was not a moment too soon, as the ground shifted where they had just been standing, and the Diggersby leaped out, its landing shaking the earth.
"We watch carefully, and counterattack," Seb answered firmly. The Diggersby had already begun barreling toward the gathered groups again. All Pokémon were keeping a fair distance, though some managed to hit it directly before needed to stand back and avoid getting bowled over.
"Sounds good to me!" Darwin announced, readying himself to spring as the Diggersby drew near. Seb kept her grip on his paw, though. Curious, he turned to look at her.
Seb sighed. "I'm... a little beat-up. Those Bunnelby hit me a few too many times. I'm gonna need you to watch my back, okay?"
Darwin's eyebrows went up in surprise - Seb normally prided herself on her combat skills, so for her to ask him to help protect her... Well, he really hadn't noticed getting hit too many times while they were clearing out the Bunnelby. Suddenly, he realized that was because Seb had put herself between him and the enemy most of the time, taking the hits herself.
He knew she wouldn't want him feeling this way, but suddenly Darwin was filled with guilt. He hadn't been pulling his weight after all, the whole day - Seb had been doing the heavy lifting - or rather, the fighting - while he had only been listening and pointing out where the Bunnelby were underground, plus a few attacks here and there.
Seb was watching him expectantly. Darwin sputtered for a bit, then gave her a big hug. "I will, Seb, I promise. If you promise that we get to talk about this when we get home. Okay?"
Caught in a moment of surprise yet again, Seb was silent for a moment before answering. "Okay. I promise."
"Hey, lovebirds!" a wingull squawked as it flew by. "You two can cuddle later! We got a job to do out here first!" the bird Pokémon huffed as it continued its low flight towards the battle. "Amateurs..."
"What was that?!" Seb yelled after her. "You want to come back here and repeat yourself?"
Darwin smiled at Seb's return of energy, and surveyed the field. For now, the Diggersby wasn't focused in their direction, instead taking out its aggression on a gathering of the blue team gathered opposite to them. It plowed into a Cacturne and began... ripping it apart...? He almost felt sick before he realized that the "Cacturne" he had seen was only a bundle of cloth, a disguise that had been worn by a Misdreavus wearing a blue feather. Though, it didn't take long for the Diggersby to realize the trick and wheel back, tackling the Misdreavus with its whole body as it burrowed into the ground again. A Pikachu began chastizing the Misdreavus as he recovered.
"Hey, aren't those our neighbors?" he asked, tapping Seb on the shoulder and pointing to the two Pokémon. "Should we go help them?"
"Oh." Seb regarded the Iceberg team and shook her head. "Not exactly. Those two are better off using long-range attacks. But if we can distract him from close-up, he'll waste so much time trying to hit us that everyone else will bring him down..."
"Hey, that's a great idea! So the two of us get in close and just dodge a lot, right?"
"That's the basic idea." Seb took a deep breath and balanced herself. "You ready?"
"Ready and willing!" Darwin cried. "Let's do it!"
"Right. Okay... go!"
Darwin sprang forward and charged toward the Diggersby. Seb broke off from her straight path, running off to the left. Darwin took her cue and moved right. He stopped behind the giant Pokémon's leg and waved his arms. "Hey! Over here, buddy!"
Diggersby didn't respond, instead stomping his foot to shake off a few Ardent Cinders members that were attacking from that point. Darwin stuck his paws in his mouth and whistled shrilly. The high-pitched noise hurt even his own ears a bit, and it showed to have worked as the Diggersby turned and scowled down at him.
"Ah..." Darwin grinned awkwardly. "Hi! I don't suppose you'd consider leaving these fields alone, huh?"
The Diggersby raised an enormous paw over its head and swung down hard. Darwin gasped and stumbled backwards, but tripped over something in the dirt. The powerful Hammer Arm barely missed, striking the earth hard enough to bounce him a foot into the air.
At this point, Darwin suddenly went blind. His headband had slipped over his eyes, and he frantically fumbled to adjust it. Now his bangs were in the way! He struggled to get to his feet and maybe slip away from the fight, but he only managed to trip over himself and fall down again. Through his bangs he was able to make out a flash of blue in front of him, then the Diggersby roared and the ground shook again. He heard Seb groaning as if she'd been hit again, too...!
Fed up with his headband, Darwin pulled the strap of sloth up and halfway off his head so that he could actually see for a minute. Seb was standing in front of him with her arms up, shaking badly. The Diggersby pulled back its fist and lurched forward with a Take Down attack. Darwin leaped to his feet and grabbed Seb just in time to get them both out of the way. His Riolu friend was down on one knee and still trembling.
"Seb!" Darwin got his headband and hair straightened out at last and looked Seb over. "Seb, are you all right?" he asked, patting her down again and looking for broken bones.
"No, I'm not - oww! Careful, that arm hurts..." Seb flinched as Darwin touched her right arm. "I'm not all right. If I take one more hit I'm gonna get knocked out. We should stay back and let the others finish this up."
Darwin grumbled angrily. He remembered thinking when they first applied to the guild that he hoped they wouldn't have to do any jobs separate from each other, because he had too much fun talking with Seb to enjoy doing work on his own. Now he realized his heart had been completely in the wrong place. Today, Seb had put herself in danger to protect him so many times that she had almost gotten seriously hurt. It was time for him to learn when the right time was to have fun, and when to get serious. He carefully lifted her arm and pulled out the bright cloth he had picked up earlier, tying it up into a sling. "No, you need to stay back. I'm gonna go in there and do my job. You've worked hard enough; let me finish up."
Seb looked surprised. Maybe it was because he was talking a lot differently than he usually did. He definitely sounded that way, even to himself. But he didn't care. "Darwin, we should really stick together when we go on missions..." she began uncomfortably.
"Yeah. Yeah, we should. And today I wasn't doing that. Like I said, we'll talk later. Right now, you focus on dealing with the stragglers in the field. I'll keep distracting the big guy. Okay?"
Seb still looked concerned, but it looked like she decided not to argue. "Just be careful."
"I will." Darwin turned back and took in the scene they had left behind - by now the Diggersby had taken more damage, but was still not willing to give up the fight. In fact, it was getting even more reckless - if this kept up, it was going to end up charging right through the fields and crushing all of the crops that were still standing. Darwin squared his shoulders and hopped back into the fray. When he had gotten close enough, he whistled again and tapped the giant rabbit's heel. It pounded the teams around them with a Hammer Arm and then turned to look at him.
"Yeah, hi. I wasn't done, big guy. We're not gonna leave you alone until you leave our food alone."
The Diggersby growled and swung at him with both paws. Darwin was ready for that, though, and leaped between its legs, using a Quick Attack for an extra boost. He whistled again, drawing the Diggersby's attention again. This time the larger Pokémon bounced high into the air and nearly squashed him. It missed, but the follow-up Take Down clipped him pretty hard, stunning him for a moment.
Darwin was not easily discouraged from the fight, though. Not at this point. The battle wore on for a little while longer, with Darwin dodging blows and taking a good few himself, while the other teams gathered around pelted Diggersby with attacks of their own. Eventually Darwin also had to retire, taking a seat next to Seb back on the outcropping where they had first shown up to get their orders. Diggersby, meanwhile, had taken so much punishment that it began staggering away from the field. Darwin sighed and leaned back into the grass. "So that's it, then," he said. "We did it."
"Yeah, we did." Seb stood up and stretched, having already gotten a little of her strength back. "I guess Jay and Nuri are gonna take it from here." She started to lift her right paw to make sure her braids were still straight, but felt the sharp sting of a few too many bruises and decided to relax back into Darwin's custom-made sling instead. She got down on one knee and reached out with her good arm. "Come on, lean against me. We'll go home and clean up."
Darwin accepted the offered paw and leaned into her side. He had picked up a lot of dirt from all of the fighting, enough so that Seb might have commented how much like a Bunnelby he looked himself. "You first," he muttered. "We gotta check that arm a little more carefully when we get back."
"Oh? Since when are you a doctor?" Seb answered, smiling.
Darwin glanced up at her, returning a mischievous smile of his own. "Maybe the neighbors can help."
"Absolutely not!" Seb growled, her smile fading immediately. "I'm not inviting Icebergs into my house."
Darwin had to laugh at that. "Well, maybe we can talk about that when we get home. We already have a few things to discuss, after all!"
"Oh." Seb frowned. "Right."