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Sojaveña Wilds Dusty Highway

Wes gratefully downed the berries and lay still as they worked their magic. The relief was immediate, and he felt strength ebbing back in with each breath. Damn, Pokémon healing abilities were incredible.

He still moved gingerly, though, as he got to his feet, slightly woozy from blood loss. His hind leg wasn’t too happy to support his weight either, and although he could now move it, it was insanely stiff and sore. That one would take a handful days to heal, no doubt.

He grimaced at the voice’s answer to Ridley’s question. “Yeah, that was some kind of Shadow pokemon, all right,” he grumbled loud enough for the others to hear. “Though if it’s the same as the ones I’m familiar with, it shouldn’t be contagious. And if it is…well, I guess we’re screwed, then. But I don’t think that’s the case.”

He scanned the area, relieved to see that all of his companions were accounted for and were well enough to get back on their feet. It was surreal, actually, to see everyone bouncing back so quickly after all of…that. As if they hadn’t all nearly been torn limb from limb. As if they hadn’t all been staring death in the eye not five minutes ago.

Wes suppressed a shiver.

Instead, he nodded gratefully to Sonora’s crew. “Don’t suppose you guys have an easier way out of here that isn’t trekking all the way back on foot?” he asked hopefully.

Then he took a moment to fix both Ridley and Koa with a burning, ferociously accusatory glare. “And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the shit you two pulled tonight. Next time you want to jumpstart your own funeral, at least have the decency to do it where it won’t drag others down with you!” He all but spat the last sentence at Ridley.
Good. Everyone made it. Except the Rattata. Hopefully they'd be back soon, back at the inn and in bed and he could try and sleep it off. Soon...

And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the shit you two pulled tonight. Next time you want to jumpstart your own funeral, at least have the decency to do it where it won’t drag others down with you!
His eyes shot open. What was his problem? They'd all nearly died but he wanted to give a lecture now? He glared back at Wes. His head hurt, his body ached and he wasn't in the mood to hear it. "Shut up and leave him alone," he snapped. "Nobody needs your enlightened analysis."

He shoved himself to his feet, turned his back on Wes and limped away.
Fury flared through Wes’s veins, elevating his pulse and making his head and half-healed injuries throb. He snarled at Koa’s retreating form. “Well, forgive me for trying to save your sorry ass, then! I’ll be sure to leave you and your stupid decisions in the dust the next time you wanna act like a damn hero!”
"I didn't ask for your help," he muttered under his breath, more than loud enough for Wes to hear. "Just run away next time if you want to so bad."

He kept walking until he was another few yards away, then laid down again. Instead, he watched Sonora, hoping she had a very quick method to get out of here. If he never saw Wes again, it would be too soon.
Just run away next time.

Run away.

Like you always do.

Like you probably did to end up here.

You left them behind.

Wes suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous, though whether it was from his injuries or something much deeper, he couldn’t be sure. He turned away from Koa with a loud scoff; no use arguing with this brainless brat. If Koa was so determined to play hero, to pretend like he had some kind of moral high ground, then he damn well could. Let him reap the consequences himself, then.

He limped over near Sonora, eager to put some distance between himself, the kid, and Ridley.
"Next time you want to jumpstart your own funeral, at least have the decency to do it where it won’t drag others down with you!” He all but spat the last sentence at Ridley.

Ridley had been about to ask Wes for more information on the "shadow pokemon", given that it was a concept he was apparently familiar with, but that comment put his back up. He was in too much pain to be mild-tempered about this.

"Seriously?" Ridley snapped back. "What part of 'everybody be prepared to run' sounded like me trying to drag others down with me? Everyone an adult here. We're all capable of making our own choices."

Admittedly Ridley really hadn't expected the speed and ferocity with which the Witching Beast - the shadow pokemon - had attacked, but he didn't think he could be blamed, really. Plenty of pokemon were dangerous to be around, but nothing Ridley had ever heard of acted like that: attacking with no apparent motive and going out of its way to take down their entire party, even chasing down the fleeing Andre once it had dealt with the other five. The shadow charmeleon hadn't been violent for the sake of fear or hunger or territory. It had been violent for violence's sake, acting purely to cause pain.

He said, "So, okay, it was a stupid decision. I knew that. I admitted as much at the time! And maybe if you'd allowed me to suffer the consequences of my stupid decision which I made of my own free will, then maybe some of the group would have managed to escape. Or do you really think there was any way an encounter with that thing might have gone which didn't end with us getting mauled? You're the one who knows about these things, right? Maybe there was an obvious solution I'm overlooking."

Maybe there was, but Ridley didn't think so. Wes had been one of the ones to insist they run, during those seconds they spent in the wagon with that thing staring them down. If there was actually a way to deal with shadow pokemon beyond running the fuck away, then that would've been the time to mention it.
It was a shadow pokémon. When a pokémon has its heart closed to others, it becomes... like that.

When I looked at it, I felt... sick.

I feared that touching it would somehow make me like it, too.
A 'shadow' pokémon? That sounded like something out of a fantasy book or a video game. But so did the mystery dungeons that were apparently commonplace. He had to keep an open mind. Just like what Ridley and him had talked about before...

Ridley. Hm. Andre could hear the conversation happening further away. It seems that rockruff, Wes, was chewing Ridley out on what he did. And Andre couldn't disagree. Even if you tell people you're fine with them leaving you for dead, that's not going to make them be fine with it.

But you left them for dead, didn't you?

Andre knotted his brow. The fuck was I supposed to do? Die myself? That thing was clearly too powerful to fight, and I was weak to its type, anyway.

Still, he couldn't shake the feeling of guilt. At least I have guilt, he thought. That means I care.

He heard steps approaching. He opened his eyes and craned his neck. Sonora was coming his way. Andre smiled, but with relief came a wave of fatigue. He lowered his head against the ground and shut his eyes. He'd at least still have the next few seconds to rest before they had to start the long and arduous journey back to Frontier Town.
Sonora bent down to check Andre's wounds and hold out a sitrus for him to eat.

"Could be worse," she muttered. "Nothin' permanent, looks like."

She glanced back over her shoulder at the bickering between the others.

"Don't make me come back there and make y'all wish I hadn't healed ya," she called, her voice full of exasperation tinged with fear.

Grafaiai Vago stood up from the body of Rattata. They'd done something – said a prayer, perhaps, or closed his eyes for him.

"Got escape orbs for you lot. Not safe to travel on foot... Or at all, now."
Wes inwardly groaned as Ridley started on him, too. Gods. This was what he got for caring about people, apparently. Lesson freaking learned, then. He considered laying down for a moment to ease his dizziness, then thought better of it; he may not be able to get back up again if he did.

“It’s not rocket science,” he snapped. “I didn’t realize right away that it was Shadow, but you don’t have to know that to realize that thing was dangerous. Or did you happen to miss that guy’s corpse over there?”

Saying the word shadow out loud gave him a bitter taste in his mouth. He bit out an angry curse. Of course this whole thing had to land him in just another damned desert with more damn Shadows. Except this time there was no snag machine, no Neo or Novo. And you were stupid enough to think coming here would get you away from all that bullshit? Coward. It’s the least you deserve for abandoning them.

Something about Ridley’s comment gave him pause, however. He fixed the Mimikyu with a flat stare. “Are you telling me it’s everyone else’s fault for giving a shit whether you lived or died? Do you really devalue your own life that much?” He barked out a bitter laugh. “Scorching hells, what did I get myself shredded to pieces for? It’s like you both wanted to get killed! Sorry I bothered to care, then!”

He turned away and limped another pace or two from Ridley. “Whatever. If you’re not going to accept responsibility, then save your breath. I don’t want to hear your excuses.”

That sneering voice in his head whispered again. You deserve this. When will you learn that you ruin everything you touch?
“Are you telling me it’s everyone else’s fault for giving a shit whether you lived or died? Do you really devalue your own life that much?”

"No, I'm saying that I'm a mimikyu and if it went after me there were good odds it would only have shredded my costume," Ridley argued. He hadn't actually been thinking about that when he'd climbed out of the wagon - hadn't been thinking much of anything at all, really, other than that he desperately wanted a closer look at the thing - but he wasn't above inventing retroactive justification for his shitty choices. "And if you weren't willing to let me take a hit when I volunteered for it, then what other way could this possibly have ended? If we'd all tried to run instead, would you really have just kept going and left that thing maul whichever one of us happened to be the slowest runner? Because let's be real, that's probably me as well."
Sonora stood back up from applying a quick field dressing for Andre's leg – oran-rawst paste, under a tight bandage. She walked towards the still-bickering Ridley and Wes with a thistley expression.

"If you two are goin' to yap at each other, you can at least save it fer when y'ain't out here, where that fuckin' thing could come back. I don't wanna hear another goddamn word outta neither of you." She pointed at Vago. "Get these two outta here first, if'n you please, kid."

"Sure, boss."

The Grafaiai shuffled over to first Wes, then Ridley, handing them each a small blue sphere. Then they struck the spheres, vanishing both 'mon in a flash of light.

"Let's get gone," muttered Sonora, as much to herself as any of the rest.

Well, the thing bit me if you hadn't noticed, so if it's actually some kind of werewolf thing that's pretty fucking relevant. Is this 'fear' just some vague conjecture that flew into your head or something that actually happens?

The voice took a minute to reply, but eventually Dave heard it once again.

I have examined your aura, and... there is some taint. However, it is already fading. Your aura is naturally rejecting the corrupted energy. Until it is clear, you may feel... heightened negative emotions, aggression, and isolation from others.

It seems that it will go away faster if you remain mentally focused and in control of your emotions.
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No, the Rattata absolutely was quite dead. Dave exhaled through his nose, looking away. Wes and Koa and Ridley were sniping back and forth at each other like a bunch of fucking children. The cloud's voice wasn't responding either, which was not exactly encouraging.

The voice took a minute to reply, but eventually Dave heard it once again.

I have examined your aura, and... there is some taint. However, it is already fading. Your aura is naturally rejecting the corrupted energy. Until it is clear, you may feel... heightened negative emotions, aggression, and isolation from others.

It seems that it will go away faster if you remain mentally focused and in control of your emotions.
..."Some taint"?

A cold shiver went through him. Literally some werewolf bullshit? What in God's name was going on in this universe. And since when was "isolation from others" an emotion, anyway?

At least the cloud seemed pretty fucking convinced it was just... going away. It'd better.

He growled in irritation. "Yeah, getting out of here sounds good," he said to Sonora. Hopefully he could just see the doctor, make sure nothing was permanently damaged, and then head to the Zera for a drink. He could definitely use one.

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Ch02: Dusty Orchard Cleanup
Sand. Sand as far as the eye could see. Sure, everyone had been expecting sand, given that the nature of the job was "hey, can you help investigate that sandstorm over the orchard" but this sure was a lot of sand. Those territorial ferals must've been kicking up a real huge fuss...

As the party trekked south from the highway, they'd just be able to make out the orchard in the distance. A great cloud of sand covered not just the trees, but the rocky hills even further south. A winged figure swooped down from overhead--Gligar Xoco, back from having gone scouting into the sandstorm alone.

"Glad to see you could make it!" she called out, landing on a wooden fence post and brushing the sand from her bag. "Normally I can handle this patrol on my own, but there's just so many of 'em..." She rubbed the back of her head with a claw.

"Anyway, here's the situation--looks like we've got a bunch of rowdy Dragon-type ferals fighting over this here territory--only problem is that it's smack dab in the middle of the orchard that's responsible for half the berry stock in town. Dragonfire's mighty bad for the soil--takes ages to get it fertile again, even with Grass-types givin' it their all. So let's get on in there and send 'em packin.'"

Xoco adjusted the ribbon around her neck and then glanced back at the party. "Y'all sure you'll be able to brave that sandstorm? That stuff really gets everywhere."

Non Rock-, Ground-, or Steel-types will take 5% damage each checkup!
Laura took a deep breath, and tried to wrap her new, sleek, black scarf around her muzzle, to keep the sand out of her nose. It was something.

"We'll manage," she answered, wondering how she'd gotten into this.

Well, she'd wanted to join a mission and get some combat experience, hadn't she? Get a real, up-close understanding of this stuff before writing any articles about it for the Gazette. And here she was. Brilliant.

"I've been practicing," she told her squadmates, feeling self-conscious. "Met up with that Bisharp bloke, picked up a new technique. I'll do my best in melée, but my real strength is tactics and coordination. I'll call out to you if I see any openings you ought to take, that kind of thing."

The more she talked tactics, the more confident she felt. Yeah, she was good at this shit. Alright. Alright.

"Let's do this."
Deserts and sand were still pretty new to Koa, and he was beginning to decide he wasn't overly fond of them (he much preferred a good cave or mountain hike. Or beach sand) but it wasn't going to stop him from helping out.

He made a mental note to check the shops to see if they had anything that could protect against weather. Couldn't hurt to have it. Glancing around at the others that had come, he noted that Silver and Archie, both who he recalled were more physical fighters. That was good.

Nodding along with Laura, he added, "I know how to bolster everyone's attacks with Howl." And he could finally test out everything he'd learned with Mach Punch now.
Even from this distance, Archie could tell that this was probably the worst Sandstorm he’d seen since his first visit to the Northern Desert back home. The Oshawott was seriously regretting not trying to invest in a pair of goggles. This was going to suck. But, well, at least he had his scarf, which he pulled up over his muzzle to at least shield him from breathing in the worst of the stuff. It would have to do, hopefully they could finish this quickly.

As for his companions, the Alolan Meowth and the strange Sneasel he was not particularly familiar with, though he was fairly certain the Meowth was the one he’d seen transform in the Nexus. The blue Electrike he’d met before, but they hadn’t spoken much. He did remember that there seemed to be some kind of beef between this blue dog and the other blue dog Archie knew, Wes. Hopefully, that hostility wouldn’t spill over to Archie himself. This probably wasn’t going to be a fun fight for the Electric Type to begin with. Xoco, Archie had worked with before, and he hoped to continue to prove himself reliable to the Ranger.

Apparently, the Meowth was more of a tactician than an all out brawler, but, that was fine. Every group needed one, and the Oshawott was capable of admitting that that was an area he wasn’t particularly well versed in, himself. She did seem tense though. That was something maybe he could help with. So, he gave the group a pleasant wave.

“I’m Archie. My skills involve getting up in the enemy’s face and hitting them as hard as possible as often as possible. And, uh, that’s about it,” he said, injecting a little self-deprecating humor into his statement. “So, direct me as needed!”

He glanced over in the direction of the storm again, and pulled his hat down so the brim covered his eyes. Hit hard and hit fast, he reminded himself. Finish this as quick as possible.
Xoco held a claw aloft in a motion not unlike a thumbs up. "Sounds like you'll do fine."

She took up a stance, ready to enter the sandstorm. Growls and snarls could be heard from within.

You can freely walk into any zone that has a Mobility Cost, or MC, less than or equal to your Mobility score. The default Mobility for units is 1--looks like the orchard won't be hard to traverse! But Xoco suspects some hidden danger--don't use any dashing this turn!
You have no Bag Items on your person, for now.

"There could be some nasty surprises waiting for us in that sand, but we can't very well just wait out here. Let's move in, but take it easy with the dashing around until we know more. Follow my lead!" she called, spreading her membranous wings and diving into the fray.

Gligar flew to Orchard West.
Pointed stones dug into Gligar! -10 HP
Gligar's Knock off dealt a grazing 5 dmg to Gible!
Gligar's U-turn dealt 9 dmg to Gible!
Gligar retreated to Orchard Path.

She landed on a fence post near the party, her tail lashing. "Shoot, looks like these guys have Sand Veil. They'll be harder to hit while they're in that sand."

Sand Veil: Grants +1 innate Eva in a sandstorm and immunity to sand damage.
When creating your turn, be sure to put +1 Eva in the TARGET EVA field when targeting Gible!
The Zone ORCHARD WEST has STEALTH ROCKS. Units entering the zone will be damaged for 1/8 of their max HP. This damage is affected by Type Effectiveness. Gligar Xoco is neutrally affected by the Rock type.
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With his poncho wrapped tightly around his head to protect his face from the gusts, Silver could be easily mistaken for some desert nomad. Only his head feather poked from out of an opening, waving rhythmically with the sandy wind. He peered through his improvised protection and studied his surroundings.

Man, it was going to be so much fun to get that annoying, sneaky sand out of his exposed body, no doubt about that!

After pulling his poncho slightly to uncover his mouth, he addressed the Gligar, “Hmph. Yeah, that’s just some sand. I’m sure we can handle it, no prob.”

He glanced at his teammates, listening intently to what they had to say about their skillsets. Hm. That sounded like a balanced setup, he had to admit.

“Well, if you fancy some close quarters combat,” he flashed a smirk, “then count me in! Breaking into opposing defenses it’s my specialty! So, if you need me to soften ‘em for y’all, I’m up for the task!”

A quick nod and he tightened his Black Belt, before glaring defiantly at the sandstorm. “Let’s do it!”
Hard to think in this howling sand. Had to treat it like a weather match back in Galar. Except that she was right there in the thick of it...

"Koa, Silver, the sand's distracting most of them! Catch the Gible in a pincer, Archie'll take the centre line!"

As she gave the command – if it counted as that – she felt a jolt, as if she'd exerted herself, the same kind of energy as when she'd practiced Metal Claw...

Then Archie stormed towards the Gible, ready to strike. He'd finish it! Yes—!

Without even thinking about it, she reflexively clapped her palms together, as if punctuating a command mid-battle – there was a jolt, the same jolt she got when coordinating the team, and Archie seemed to strike even harder than expected. What was that? Was that goddamn move...?

"Hey, Laura, there's one over here!"


Time to head into the melée herself.

Laura (73 STM, 5 TMP, +0 SPD, +0 ACC)
- Bonus Action: Focus (+5 TMP)
- Coaching @ Koa & Silver (-18 STM, -8 TMP, +2 TMP)
- Helping Hand @ Archie (-8 STM, +2 TMP)
- Power Spot triggers for Koa/Silver/Archie
- Walk to West Orchard
- Receive Call (+3 TMP)
Net change: -26 STM, +1 TMP
Net totals: 47 STM (65 after regen), 6 TMP
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Looked like, at the very least, he could trust the Sneasel to be right there in the fray alongside him. That was good, if nothing else, additional targets meant it was less likely any one of them would be ganged up on by the enemy. These were wild Pokemon, after all, master of tactics they were not. Weren’t Sneasel normally Ice Types as well? That could give them a distinct advantage in this fight! Which was good, because as it was, Archie was kind of worried about his long term utility against Dragons. Maybe he should look into learning some kind of Ice attack of his own…

But, that was a problem Future Archie would have to deal with! For now, he would have to go with what he had. He drew his Scalchop, and clamped down on his hat with his other paw, before wading into the storm. This was something he immediately regretted, quickly learning that it wasn’t just sand that he was going to have to contend with scratching and nicking him. Still, he powered through until the roughly ovoid shape of a Gible emerged from the storm. He gave the Pokemon a good hard swipe from his Scalchop, then followed up by jabbing his elbow forward to try and smack the Gible again!

"Hey, Laura, there's one over here!" he yelled over the noise of the storm towards the Meowth.

Archie (55 STM, 5 TMP, +0 SPD, +0 ACC)
- Walk to West Orchard
- STRONG Razor Shell @ Gible (-24 STM, +5 TMP)
- Assurance @ Gible (-15 STM, +3 TMP)
- **Bonus Action:** Call @ Laura
Net change: -39 STM, +8 TMP
Net totals: 16 STM (29 after regen), 13 TMP
  1. Laura
  2. Silver
  3. Koa
  4. Archie
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