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Sojaveña Wilds Dusty Highway

Mhynt seemed agitated, but not at Ollin. "...That might help," she said. "He's surely weaker here. He's a Zweilous, I hope. He might be blind. Which means if he's underground, that's of little disadvantage to him." She shook her head. "But he does not know how to tunnel underground. He was a Hydreigon. They fly and levitate. But if it is him...

"Avoid his strikes at all costs. He can infect you with a grazing blow."
Seth lightly thumped Wes on the shoulder. "Who's the day-wolf?" he asked, in a loud whisper. "Friend of yours?"
Wes flicked an ear. “Who?”

He glanced over his shoulder and spotted the “day-wolf” Seth had mentioned, trudging along at the rear, eyes downcast. Something about this mon struck him, but he couldn’t quite say what. He shook his head and glanced at Seth. “No idea. What makes you think I would know?”

He matched Seth’s volume of not-quite-a-whisper, though he was a little too tired to care if their new wolf friend overheard and was bothered by it, particularly with mentions of Alexander keeping him on edge. Wes could worry about manners later—all he wanted at the moment was for this journey to be over as fast as possible.
“No idea. What makes you think I would know?”

"Eh?" Seth looked askance for a second. "She's not a ranger, but she's not Cipher, and she keeps givin' us looks. And, uh. The Shadow voice?"

He turned round to look at her.

She looked back, with a strange expression on her muzzle.

"Hmph. Maybe this ain't the best time for it," muttered Seth.

"Avoid his strikes at all costs. He can infect you with a grazing blow."

Ollin nodded. "Okay, keep our distance. Infect, huh? Y'mean like with the plague, or somethin' else?"

"Shadow," answered Seth, bluntly. "Apparently this motherfucker wields Shadow."
On the opposite side of the cart, Lovrina perked up. She hadn’t exactly been silent for the trip, she’d just kept her complaints under her breath after realizing that no one was paying attention to her.

“So like, what’s the deal, exactly?” she asked loudly. “This many of you and you guys are worried? Lmao.”
Koa gritted his teeth at the commentary from the admins. Talk about peanut gallery commentary. It's called being cautious, a skill you all apparently lack, given how we ousted you in one night." He shook his head. There was no point indulging them.

"At least this time we have radiance," he murmured. For a moment he wondered if he should point out to the admins that Alex might try to control them.

His unease still hadn't faded. "He did break Drapion out of prison, and an Empoleon. We should be on guard for that..." Thinking about Drapion still brought a pang of frustration to Koa. And what of Owen? Hadn't Aige seen a Charmeleon with Alex? "A Charmeleon as well," he added. "But his little group aren't all willing allies."
It was apparently wholly impossible to ferry prisoners via Betel's fast-travel abilities, so they were stuck trudging alongside a prison wagon with these fucking Cipher people, accompanied by some Rangers, Anite and Tala, and this third Lycanroc that, off the whispers he was hearing, was another fucking alternate version of Wes? What on God's green Earth.

The journey was uneventful for a while, but then a series of insistent tremors started and sent Dave's hackles up.

He looked around warily at the first couple, then put his nose to the ground. Concentrate. Was there anybody hidden here? Anything to find? Finally, maybe, a use for the sensitivity of the Poochyena nose that wasn't finding other people's breakfasts fucking unbearable from several tables away.

Dave used Odor Sleuth!
Dave had trouble finding a specific scent amid everyone else here. But the tremors... that meant it was something underground. And, unfortunately, the scent did not rise very well from beneath the dirt, if that was truly the case.

But then the tremors got stronger.

With everyone already on edge, and with Dave quickly shouting an alert at a new scent he'd suddenly caught, the Wayfarers and Rangers were immediately on alert. And even that could not prepare them for what came next.

Two great pillars of darkness erupted from the ground ahead of them, each one a good fifteen feet tall and three feet wide. Their emergence created a concussive shockwave that knocked a few of the group off their feet. At the end of each pillar was a blackened, ethereal head that resembled a Hydreigon's smaller heads.

Each one wordlessly roared. Then, the left head opened its mouth, pooling dark energy within, about to fire. The other one lunged at Ein, who had been knocked over, and smothered him in darkness before anyone could react. Nobody could see him, but the downward force applied... That surely would have crushed him outright.
Ein let out a howl reverberating with Shadow, quickly silenced by the suffocating grasp of the hydra tendril.

"O-ho! So this is the strength of the one you spoke of," boomed Dakim, wrestling with his restraints. "Uncuff me, and Mighty Dakim will join the battle!"

"I do so hope you all get what's coming to you,"
crooned Venus, her voice dripping with disdain and sick desire. "I'm already undone either way – at least I have front-row seats for your demise!"

Seth cracked his knuckles, his eyes flashing both red and gold. "C'mon, it's time to fight! Don't lose your nerve!"

The midnight Lycanroc – and the rangers in the convoy – launched attacks with less coordinated precision than the Wayfarers were capable of, but they did what they could.

Leona, meanwhile, was shaking like a leaf, hackles on end and her jaws brimming with Shadow.

...it's him.

...please... Wayfarers, be brave...

...I can't see...!
Bellatrix bore her fangs and unsheathed her blade at the display. So he couldn't reach Terminal Two after all and was forced to slink around to wait for an ambush. "Ignore them! Do not let him take anyone else," she called to the others, her tone matter-of-fact. She seemed to be largely focused on Leona and her safety. "Anything less is simply unacceptable."

She eyed the tendrils of darkness, pulling out one of her makeshift daggers, holding it tightly to infuse it with light. If direct contact was off the table, she would have to scope out their capabilities...

Bellatrix RADIANT Focused...

She found her aim after a moment and threw the blade its way, her eyes narrowing as she tried to see what would happen.

Bellatrix threw a RADIANT Iron Thorn!
No no no- Koa's heart leapt into his throat as he rolled from the blast and scrambled to his paws. For a split second his body froze and his paws were rooted to the ground. Sick dread pooled in his stomach as the visage of the heads rose from the pillars. In the space of a second, Ein was gone. No... Not like this, not if it meant Alex taking him. A voice in the back of his mind screamed for him to run. Anger quickly superceded it. He couldn't sit back and do nothing.

"Stay back!" he cried out to Leona. "He can try to control you!" Losing the admins was one thing but the Lycanroc they'd just rescued was innocent. What if Alex tried to do the same thing with her like he had Owen or Drapion? Or Odette or the rest of the team?

Seizing his own desperation, Koa called on the sensation of light. On the burning desire to fight. To stop evil. He wanted to rip the pillars apart, destroy Alex, stop him- Somewhere in the recesses of his battle adrenaline he found himself thinking of Odette, then Kitto. His anger wavered. No. A close up attack could be a fools errand. Offense and defense. If his allies were attacking, then he needed to help the team. Stop Alex from taking anyone else. He had to protect them.

Koa Radiant Focused.. Koa used Radiant Light Screen!
God fucking damn it. Dave watched the shadowy tendril swallow the cocky Manectric whole, the Shadow energy heavy in the air. The blank eyes of the Charmeleon were vivid in his brain, the Shadow flame. Was the fucker hoping to make more full-on zombie beasts to tear apart more people?

Coldness wavered in his chest and was overtaken by a bloom of Radiant anger. They would not fucking let him. He snarled, fueling the buzz of energy into his teeth, and lunged for the pillar that had swallowed Ein.

Dave used RADIANT Bite!
The shadow tendril crashed violently into the cart, sending Lovrina and Naps flopping unceremonionsly out onto the dusty ground.

“Whoa whoa whoa, SO not cool!” Lovrina sputtered, coughing with her face in the dirt. “What the ACTUAL heck is that freak show??”

Naps fluttered his wings wildly by some instinct from his Murkrow body, but it was no use—the heavy weight cuffed to his talons made flight impossible. Without his trademark visor, it was possible to see his face—he looked genuinely disturbed.

“Is that what Shadow power can do in this place…?” he muttered.
Radiant strikes landed on both tendrils at once, and in response both tendrils let out a bellowing, screeching hiss that deafened anyone too close. Shadows lashed out at Dave up close, but it didn't seem like anything had attached to him this time -- and many of the Wayfarers were keen on sensing this kind of thing after what had happened before.

The tendril kicked up dust and burrowed underground again, leaving nothing but piles of sand and dirt in its place.

The one that was charging a blast flinched to the Radiant Iron Thorn. The attack was effective. Anything Radiant was. No surprise there. At least, no matter how strong, these wraith pillars followed the same rules as any other Shadow.

But it still fired--dampened by Koa's Light Screen, and then deflected by Mhynt's Radiant Leaf Blade a moment later, parried into the sand ten feet away.

She was shaking. Her heart pounded in her head. He was here. He was real. Learning of him, speaking of him, that was one thing. But there was terror in her eyes even as her body moved on instinct to defend.

It was different to feel his presence.

Mhynt trained her blade as the burrowing tendril rose again, looking weaker. They swapped strategies. Now, the charging tendril went for a lunge, aiming... for Leona.

The formerly lunging tendril charged another beam. This one seemed telegraphed for a sweeping attack.

So far, the Wayfarers had deflected most of the incoming attacks. But the tendrils were still angry, albeit damaged.

Something dark stirred about ten feet behind them. A third head? Or...?
He quickly summoned a second Light Screen, then drew upon more energy to try and attack the heads. They had to stop him, they had to protect Leona.

Koa blinked as a thought clicked in his head. Certainty flooded him. Yes, he knew what he had to do to help. His body pivoted and his fur crackled with electricity. Mhynt stood yards away, entirely unaware and unprepared. His gaze locked on her.

In a blink, he fired a powerful bolt at her side, knowing she’d have no time to a dodge. The Thunder Wave struck, stunning her. A perfect strike.

As he saw her seize up, a cold chill washed across his entire body. His breath caught and the sounds of the fight drained away until all he heard was the beating of his heart in his ears, pounding incessantly. Blank horror washed away his thoughts and his mouth turned dry. What had he done?

It happened. Monster. Panic clouded his thoughts. Alex was in his head had he hadn’t even felt it and he hadn’t been able to even fight it. Run. He had to run, get away, do something before it happened again, before he hurt someone else, he had to stop- He backed away, frantically looking for a way out, his gaze darting around the area. Not now, not here why had he come-

“Bellatrix!” his voice cracked as he called out to her. He couldn't find the words he needed but he desperately hoped she understood.
Bellatrix had immediately run to protect Leona from the shadowy tendril, readying a more direct strike. "Now is our chance! Quickly, before it grabs her!" Blasts they could weather, direct strikes seemed to be more difficult to counter once they landed. Just where was Ein—

Koa's cry and the sight of paralysing electricity running across Mhynt's leaves halted Bellatrix in her tracks. She looked at the electrike with an unreadable expression before she replied with a firm nod of understanding. Strategy forced to pivot, Bellatrix hastily threw a second Radiance-laced dagger at the rushing tendril before taking a few steps forward, gems flashing as those dreaded red sparks flickered around her claws. "Per your request," she said to Koa. To the rest of the Wayfarers and Rangers, she pointed to the tendrils that were currently attacking them, closely eyeing where the charging head would strike to try and avoid the brunt of the blast while also pulling Koa away.

Bellatrix used Embargo!

The sparks solidified and the chains flew to pin the electrike. The manner in which Bellatrix did it was business like although a brief flash in her eyes made it clear that she took no joy in it. She turned back to focus on the fight, left to wonder if there anything Mhynt could do to stave off the paralysis.
Odette had felt a lot of things. Warmth at the realization that she had friends lingering near her (which did a lot to offset the annoyance she felt at Isidora’s presence), a sense of ‘I have to punch him in the fucking face’ at Ein’s derisive little smirk, and a gnawing apprehension at the occasional rumbles that vibrated up through the soles of her boots. Hearing Koa and Mhynt start to discuss that fuckhead Alex only got her garters in more of a twist, and for a moment, she didn’t know what to focus on. She settled for continuously scanning the horizon, not bothering to partake in the small talk, or acknowledge the prisoners.

All she could think about was that night at the tower, when that strange, unknown presence rumbled the ground. She recalled thinking it was an onix, but had that actually been proven? Betel had just vehemently warned them to stay in place. So whatever it was, it certainly hadn’t been friendly.

She’d barely launched into her silent hypotheticals, pillars of dark shot from the ground. The first thing she noticed was the unmistakeable silhouette of fucking hydreigon heads, but there was barely enough time to act. Attacks were flying, and tendrils were soaring at that other lycanrock they’d picked up—Leona or whatever—who was frozen in place. A thousand thoughts washed over Odette’s mind like a tidal wave—help Koa, Bellatrix, watch the prisoners, do anything—when she felt a bolt of unease travel up her spine.

Something was behind them. She didn’t know what, but they were blind to it.

She’d had the forethought to unlock Jawile’s chain in the haze of her apprehension, and she tugged the chains off as light pooled in her fingertips and behind the maroon of her irises.

Man, fuck you,” she hissed as she whipped around and laced her ancient energy with the rocks around them. They went airborne, and she aimed at the shrouded presence just behind them, trying to focus on in on what it was as she took aim at it and released the energy.

Odette used RADIANT Ancient Power!
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Wait, she was Shadow? Wes hadn’t been paying attention. He shot the stranger another glance over his shoulder and briefly met her eyes, feeling yet another strange chill—and not just because of the haunted, undoubtedly Shadowed look in that gaze. He was just about to ask her who she was when suddenly Dave cried out, and all hell broke loose.

Everything happened so fast. Pillars of darkness erupted out of nowhere. Venus and Dakim thrashed in their restraints while Ein was utterly swallowed—crushed? Killed?—by the forces of Shadow. Then, in the corner of his eye, Wes saw Koa whip around and tear at a petrified-looking Mhynt, and he felt a surge of fury mingle with his panic. Self-righteous, cocky, traitorous little bastard

No. Wes clenched his jaw and spun to face the horrifying black miasma. He couldn’t let Shadows affect him, not here, not against this threat. Much as he hated it, Radiance was his best shot right now. Thankfully, Bellatrix intervened before Wes needed to, so he turned his attention to the Shadow pillars.

He bared his fangs and rocketed forward, spires of stone shooting out of the earth and stabbing at the nearest pillar with each step he took.

“I’m getting real sick of everybody’s shit today, dammit!”

Wes used RADIANT Stone-Edge!
There was no time to be horrified by everything going on. Ein getting crushed; shadowy power unlike anything she had seen before; Koamaru suddenly turning on Mhynt- There was no time for that. Isidora needed to act.

She couldn't afford to get close to the shadow tendrils: her body was too tired to fight effectively in close quarters, and she wasn't sure it was safe to make contact. She'd have to attack at range, and she had just the move for that, one with a chance of interrupting an attack. Firepower it is.

The charging tendril was looking to disrupt their formation, and Mhynt was in no state to deflect an attack this time. It was also an easy target. So she drew radiant energy from her shoulder and directed its warmth to mingle with the colder air gathering in her mouth as she breathed deep. Then let her attack loose with a forceful exhale, sending a stream of glowing air racing to the space above the charging tendril where it coalesced into a rain of sharp, golden icicles that came crashing down.

Isidora used RADIANT Icicle Crash!

Radiance buzzed in her system and she took quick stock of the battlefield, her tiredness becoming secondary to preparing herself for retaliation. She noticed Odette attacking a target out of sight. Who...?
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When the tendrils drew back, Ein was no longer on the ground beside the cart where he'd been. There was a red stain on the ground – the sand too absorbant to let blood spread far from where it spilled – and a blue-furred piece of meat, the only extremity not taken by the Shadow's jaws.

"O-oh," quailed Venus, shrinking back at the sight. "Don't let that be me. How putrid!"

"Face your end with dignity, woman,"
rumbled Dakim, his face swimming in shimmers of hot air. If left to his own devices for long enough, eventually he could wear down the cuffs and melt his way through. It would take a while, at least.

The Wayfarers' Radiant attacks harried and wounded the charging hydra head, and as its lunge faltered, Leona made a lunging attack of her own – she struck viciously, relentless and wild. There was something familiar about how she fought...

As the rangers fired attacks of their own at the beam-generating head, Seth cracked his knuckles with a flicker of solar gold.

"Heads up," he called. "I'll show you how it's done."

As he rushed towards the closest hydra-mouth, the similarity in fighting style between Seth, Wes, and Leona became obvious. Aggressive, fast, striking out at critical points with claws and spit and anger. Sure, they were all Lycanroc, but even members of a species differed more than this.

"Where's the dragon?" asked Ollin, projecting his voice without any particular urgency or fear. "Can't win unless we hit the fella's face, yeah?"

"I cannot sight him," called Cascada, from overhead. "Don't overreach yourselves!"

More attacks could come at any time...
Red Chains. Digging into his fur, pinning him place, just like-

Koa forced the thought out of his mind, tried to focus on something else, anything else. On the battle, the team, on— The tendril drew back.

Ice flooded Koa’s veins as he stared at what was left of Ein. He couldn’t tear his gaze away from the spot where the Manectric was- had been. The distant memory of Rattata's body came back to him again. He stared at the spot.

Squeezing his eyes shut, he blocked out everything. The dark stain on the sand. The chains around him. What he deserved. He fought the tide of emotions tearing at him and desperately prayed to every saint he could think of that between the Rangers and the rest of the Wayfarers that they could drive off Alex.

Stupid. He’d thought that now with Radiance and the team he could have fought it if Alex even attacked but he hadn’t even felt anything. Just acted. Failure. Wes was right, someone like you could never be a hero. A single overwhelming thought clouded his mind. He never should have come here.
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