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Frontier Town Frontier Town Outskirts

“It’s not Lucien I’m worried about,” Archie sighed, looking down at the ground. Still, Nova was right, they couldn’t just leave Seth out here to fend for himself. So, what then? Secret the Wolf into the mayoral palace and hope the doctor would do an early morning house call? Take him directly to the infirmary and hope for the best? How were they going to keep this secret from Cipher? It was all shaping up to be a real mess…

“Whatever we decide to do, everything that happened tonight - everything we've learned - it has to be kept secret from the general public. Tell only the people that need to know.” the Oshawott said. He frowned, sticking his paws in his coat pockets, not exactly fond of what he was about to suggest, but feeling it had to be said anyway, “Maybe even keep it from Laura. It can’t end up in the paper. Not like how she outed us all as off-worlders.”
Wes scoffed softly under his breath, but didn’t bother returning the glares he knew were burning in the back of his head. Steven and Koa already despised him; there was no point in trying to salvage things, but there wasn’t a need to make things worse, either.

So damn quick to trust anybody who claimed they had good intentions. Fine. If Lucien truly didn’t want the job like Nova had said, it was at least one less corrupted official Wes had to worry about.

“At any rate, I’m with Archie. However we choose to handle this, it has to be kept under wraps.” He stole another glance at the body in the pit, at the coat and the visor that were far too familiar for his comfort, and shuddered. “And we need to figure out what to do about…that.”
Odette returned Archie’s grin with a half-smile that bordered on a grimace. At least he’d seen her efforts, and that was good enough for her in the moment.

However, the fact everyone was so quick to trust Lucien had the best intentions had her frowning in an instant “Wha—“ she started to argue, but bit down on her tongue, despite Jawile’s incessant twitching. She didn’t know the guy from a fucking hole in the wall, but why was everyone so certain he wouldn’t turn around and do something that fucked them all? Maybe he wasn’t quite on the same level as Ignoramus but the it was always possible that the leppa never fell far from the bush. The fact that there didn’t seem to be more caution around that idea left her brain stalling.

At any rate, now wasn’t the time to drill people on their blind reasoning for trusting Lucien. She was on a roll with keeping herself in check, and she wasn’t about to break it over that.

“Also with Archie. Need to know basis. We’re better off playing it as safe as possible right now.”

As for the body, she approached the grave and eyed it closely, gears turning in her head…

“Well if we want to get rid of the the body here, there are two options, I think,” she said. “We bury it in a much deeper hole—8 feet or deeper—or we burn it. I don’t know how cremation works on these Pokemon bodies, but torching it completely might be a move. Though the smoke and potential flame might attract attention, so we’d need to watch it.”

She regarded the others with a flat look, as if she were asking them what they all wanted for dinner when they all got back. “Unless someone else has a better idea, or some way we can...hang onto it for evidence reasons.”
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“Ah, yes, try to get rid of the evidence we could use to claim Seth had a doppelgänger who’s really responsible for all the assaults,” Nova deadpanned. He shook his head. “And, for that matter, Betel’s hearing all of this. Laura will find out somehow.

“Maybe we just get a poké ball for you,” Nova said to Seth. He put his down in the dirt. “A luxury ball like this could help mitigate the shadows. And keep you hidden.”
"I don't think Laura would just tell everyone like that," he said in a quieter voice. Or at least, he hoped she wouldn't. After their conversation he didn't want to believe she would be so eager to put just anything in the paper.

"I know she wrote that one article but it's not like we were a secret after what happened with Ignatius. Or before that."

Koa eyed Nova's pokeball curiously. So he'd gotten a new one? For a moment Koa felt guilty that he hadn't done more to go out to train... The idea made sense, hiding Seth in a pokeball would be a good way to keep him safe.

He shook his head. "Anyways, maybe we should try to explain what happened. People will hear us out, so maybe we can show them... That. And tell them that he was the Wolf."
Steven listened as ideas flew around, what to do with the body, what to do with the Wolf, what to do with Lucien. They were all talking like Seth wasn't even there, watching like they were judge, jury, and executioner deciding his fate.

"What is it that you want to do?" he asked, swiveling his gaze to land on Seth. "Now that you know who we are, and we know who you are."

"We can't go back and pretend like none of this happened; too much has transpired for that. We keep talking circles about what Powhei wants, and what we want..."

"Tell us what Seth Lycas, pokemon trainer and Orre refugee wants."
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Seth blinked, and forced his attention away from Fein's body.

"Gods, fuck, right. I want... "

The Lycanroc put a paw to his face and dragged it down his muzzle.

"I want never to see that goddamn body again. And if Fein takes posthumous credit for being the Wolf, that's fuckin' fine by me. He did most of the shit on the wanted posters anyway. Even if Cipher already knows who I am, I'd rather keep a low profile all the same, so do what you like so long as you don't mention me."

He shot a look at Nova, his claws clenching in the dirt.

"And there's not a scorching chance in hell that I'm standing trial or seeing the inside of a jail."

From the sound of Seth's voice, he meant that.
"No intention of doing that," Nova said. "Do you want the luxury ball option, then? It may be... tough for you to keep a low profile going forward. Lotta stuff happening in the background."
Seth eyed the ball, taking it in properly for the first time.

"Suicune's slit. How the fuck did you get your talons on that fucking thing."

The Lycanroc grunted, swore, and slapped himself in the face.

"Fuck. It's gettin' hard again. Look, I mean— Only Cipher has those. How the hell do you have one?"
The Oshawott froze in place. Only Cipher had Pokeballs? Then, did that mean that the mysterious owners of the mid-desert quest board were Cipher affiliated? Because if so, that meant…

Archie’s eyes shot first to Leaf, then to Koa, and finally to Nova. Each of them had been to see them. Each had accepted a Pokeball from them. And if the ultimate source of those balls had been Cipher, all three of them were in extreme danger, and they hadn’t even known it. Dammit all, he’d had a bad feeling from the first second he’d seen Nova playing with his own ball, why hadn’t he objected stronger to it!?

“Have you seen the notice board that appeared in the desert some weeks back? With that whole tent city set up around it?” Archie asked Seth, “Apparently, whoever set it up has access to Pokeballs like those.”
"These are made from apricorns." Nova rolled his around under a talon. "Not all that sturdy. And they have a self-release mechanism." Which he demonstrated by returning himself, then releasing himself. He was completely unfazed by it.

"I doubt the guy I got it from is Cipher. He's trying to study the literal power of friendship. Like the polar opposite of shadows."
Koa tensed unconsciously. Surely Mewtwo and Mew wouldn't be working with Cipher? He eyed Seth warily. "That can't be true," he insisted. "The guy we got this from... I think he figured out how to make them. Like Nova said I don't believe someone like him is working with Cipher." He hoped. He really hoped. His own ball was still tucked safely away.

Seth wasn't looking good. Taking him back to town felt so risky, but so did leaving him out here to fend for himself or succumb to shadows. How were they supposed to help him without a way to counter the shadows? Unless... "Seth, have you by any chance heard of the Escarpa?" He studied Seth to see his reaction. Vaguely, he recalled rumors about the 'Wolf' and the Escarpa but he was quickly realizing fact and fiction in this world weren't so easy to distinguish.
Wes did a double take when Nova pulled out—a damn Pokeball, of all the things. Where in the hell did that come from? And wasn’t that, like…horrendously taboo in a world of Poké-people? Or something? It had to be, he was almost sure of it. Wes couldn’t imagine it was kosher in this world to walk around with an item that could suck any rando from the street into a convenient little sphere.

Seth’s response only made Wes tense up more, his fur standing on end. “Yeah, I’m with him. Where in the scorching hells did you get that thing? And why?”

Koa spoke up and gave the most vague answer of all time about it, which didn’t do much to settle Wes’s nerves. When in the world was anybody going to fill him in on this development?

Bizarreness aside, Seth didn’t look like he was going to agree to such an arrangement anytime soon. Wes looked back to him. “I—look, I know there’s a lot going on right now. But either way, I think it’s best if you come with us. We can craft a story to make the—the Fein guy take the fall, pass him off as the Wolf, and that should buy you a little extra cover on top of things.”

Where could they hide him was the real question. Wes loathed the idea of going to Lucien, but it was sounding more and more like the most feasible option…
"Only Cipher has those. How the hell do you have one?"

Well, shit. Ridley was suddenly very grateful that he hadn't insisted on meeting Nova's mysterious board owner. Nova seemed pretty dismissive of the idea the guy might be working with Cipher, but Ridley didn't know Nova well enough to be sure how good a judge of character he was.

On the other hand, anyone could craft apricorn balls if they had the skill and resources. In Ridley's world they were mostly only made by specialist craftspeople these days, but in a multiverse maybe there were worlds out there were apricorn balls were still commonplace.

Think, Ridley. There was no reason to assume Cipher's portal worked the same way as whatever Betel had done to teleport them here. The dead zoroark had apparently been dressed like Seth's human self, which meant either some way of transporting physical materials through the portal or a lot of money and effort spent on getting someone in this world to tailor clothing specifically for the purpose of upsetting Seth. Orre had no native wild pokemon, which probably also meant no tradition of crafting apricorn balls, although Ridley supposed they might have found a specialist to do the work for them.

Okay, there was a question here.

He said, "Hey, that portal from your world - how does that work? Can it transport physical stuff over? Is that how Cipher are getting their pokeballs?"
Thankfully, yes definitely "thankfully" that was 100% the right word for it yep, the mention of burning the body managed to break through the fog still tumbling around Leaf's head. With the threat of a mental image she really didn't want anything to do with, sure, but hey, actively needing to stomp that down before it really hit was distraction enough to remind her that people were still talking. In circles, mostly. God this whole thing was messed up. She just wanted to go back to the Haus and sleep. Definitely sleep. Attempt to sleep. One of those.

"We'll... we'll talk to the board owner and see what they have to say about poké balls later," she muttered, turning away from the hole in the ground but mostly just kind of staring out into the cane stalks beyond. What would they have to say? Probably not much, honestly. No way in hell Mew was with Cipher. Mewtwo... maybe, maybe not. Hopefully probably not. (Something in the back of her mind suggested maybe not putting it past him.)

What to do with the Wolf, then? Did he really have to come back with them? Wasn't like Lucien had sent them out with "arrest him right now or I'm kicking you out of Frontier Town". And he hadn't danced around the fact he wouldn't cooperate without some kind of proof he'd be safe, anyway. Couldn't they work this out later?

"If you don't want to—" she had to stop herself from saying "come with us" or she'd've been liable to choke on it "—go back to town, you still can't stay here. Don't you have somewhere else you can hide while... we sort this out? I dunno, maybe just inside Silver Ravine?"
"The Escarpa? I know about the clanners, sure – not sure I've ever met 'em, though. And uh – yeah, they can bring 'inorganic material' through, yeah. Like that fuckin' coat my faker's still wearing."

Seth pressed the knuckles of one paw into his eyes socket, and groaned. There was too much back-and-forth and not enough confidence, with no firm assurances of his safety. It would probably have taken a lot for Seth to agree to anything anyway, especially after that 'leniency' line.

"Look, you guys are going in circles. And I'm sure your fancy ball is fine and all but I'm not about to be carried around in a capsule until I find myself in some bullshit shenanigans. Nah. I can feel the Shadow coming back now I'm back on my feet, and I can tell... I'm gonna freak out the second something goes wrong in town. Nah. I'm making myself scarce."

He swallowed, and shot a glance at Leaf.

"Maybe I'll be in the dungeon, maybe I won't. You'll find me if I want you to find me."

With his decision made, some of the mad confidence returned, and an unsteady grin returned to Seth's face.

"Good luck taking on Cipher, I guess. Don't say I didn't warn you when you lose your shit from Shadow and get thrown in the slammer."
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So, in the end, the answer was just a big, fat nothingburger. Whatever these artificial shadows were they would need to find a definitive cure and fast. Nova instead settled on the doom and gloom warning instead, "Like I said, I've been shadowed back home for ages. I'll make do." He shook himself out. His mask rattled against his head.
Mixed frustration and something that could have been sympathy rose in Koa. Too many factors, and Seth was stubborn, and there was the body and Cipher and everything else. What if they got Seth?

"Well... If things get bad you should look for the Escarpa. They're warriors, and they're trying to fight the shadows too, whatever it takes. I think if you're honest with them they'll hear your side. They're... Not strangers to living different," he said finally. Or at least, from what little he felt he understood of them he wanted to believe that. It was better than trying to drag Seth into town. "Maybe you can help them with what you know. And I think they might know a way to counter shadows."

He suppressed and sigh and stared for a long moment into the night.

"Before we go is there anything else we need to know? To try to keep your team safe? Other than not mentioning your name?"
Unease prickled at the back of Wes’s neck. He didn’t like the idea of just leaving Seth to his own devices, not when it was clear that Cipher was closing in…but they didn’t have many options for now.

He’s made it this far on his own. He should be able to hold out for a while longer until we have a plan. Gods, he hoped so.

Wes cleared his throat, holding back a wince at how sore and raw it felt. “Probably goes without saying, but…wherever you go, stay far away from here. Don’t come back to this spot no matter what you do.”

He paused, an idea forming in his head as Seth mentioned a dungeon… “Actually, the Silver Ravine Dungeon might be a good place. From what I understand, there’s a sort of…anchor there that allows us to communicate with our guide. I don’t really know what this Powehi’s deal is, but our guide—Betel—their abilities seem to get disrupted by Shadow, and I think Powehi might have something to do with that.”

He paused, not sure if his train of thought made any sense, but he pushed on. “Anyway, if that’s true, then maybe Betel can have a similar effect in areas where their link is strongest. Maybe…Powehi won’t be able to get inside your head so much if you find Betel’s anchor in that dungeon.” He flicked an ear. “It’s uh, maybe a stretch, I guess…but it’s worth a shot. Then we can come find you once we have a plan.”
Seth took a moment to stare down Wes, considering this. Then he shrugged, the wild grin back on his face.

"Sure, whatever. I'll hang about there, or at least keep an eye on it."

He glanced at Koa and shot finger guns at him with his paws.

"And sure, I'll check out the clanners, see if they've got more brain cells to rub together than you losers."

Was this Seth's idea of friendly banter? He did say he'd worked alone ever since he left the gang he'd been forced to join. He might not have a normal idea of what friendly ribbing sounded like.

His face turned serious.

"And... If you go up against Cipher, and they send out an espeon and umbreon? Those are my boys. Don't hurt 'em. That's all."

And then he turned to leave, with a lazy two-digit salute over his shoulder as he vanished into the night.

Seth Lycas was gone.
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