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Frontier Town Frontier Town Outskirts

"Yeah, yeah, loud and clear," The Aipom waved his tail dismissively, but the beads of sweat on his forehead were more than apparent.

"So we were cruisin' while the boss was snoozin'," the Rattata said as he stood up on his hind legs and held his arms up.

"When suddenly these guys leapt from the cliffs," Zubat turned to face the very cliffs they presently sat under, "And they started asking for directions in a really weird way."

"Yeah, 'way finder'? What a crazy way to ask for a guide!"

The Aipom crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. "All the noise woke me up, and I told 'em to scram. We didn't have any directions for 'em." His eyes widened to dinner plates. "But then one of their guys got all purple just busted us up real good! And then they started saying things like 'let the bait slow them down enough to track them' and 'they'll regret messing with scythe-fur'. Just crazy stuff! Who even is 'they', anyways?!"

The Rattata balled his little paws into fists and made a mock punching gesture. "Those orange scarf wearin' fellas snagged our supplies, smashed our wheel, and gave us a good brusin'!"

"We didn't wanna look like no punks though, so we tossed out whatever was left of the wheel."

"But we're still stranded," Zubat lamented with a squeak of dissapointment, "It takes two of us to pull the cart with the wheel, and we don't got the muscle to drag it across the ground."
Well, the threat of some time behind bars certainly got the trio’s attention, and loosened their lips as well. At least he was correct when he surmised this really was a group of bandits. That would’ve been very awkward if he’d just threatened some innocent Pokemon. Gladion was big and reasonably intimidating, so the Oshawott let him do most of the talking, content to loosely hold onto his Razor Shell and keep an eye on the, what were they calling themselves, the Purple Pirates? Really? Well, hopefully the Scalchop in his paw would convince them not to try anything funny…

There was that term again, though, Scythe-Fur? Did they mean Scyther, the Bug Type Pokemon with swords for arms? Archie hadn’t ever crossed blades with one, they seemed like they could be quite the dangerous opponent. And asking about Way Finders? The trio didn’t seem like they were lying, but somehow Archie felt like they weren’t getting the exact truth out of them either… Wait, Scythe-Fur? Way-Finder? Could it be?

“Is Cipher on our tail already?” He muttered to himself. Surely he was just being paranoid after the Seth fight? Surely information couldn’t have moved that fast already? On the other hand, a Pokemon that turned purple when it attacked certainly sounded like it could be a description of shadow corruption. He scanned the horizon again, worry creeping into his expression.
Andre eyed the so-called Purple Pirates with suspicion. A group of bandits had every reason to lie about being honorable when caught, but the fact that they were stupid enough to let it slip they were bandits in the first place made Andre wonder if they even had the smarts to feign being trustworthy.

“Is Cipher on our tail already?” He muttered to himself.

Andre's eyes widened in realization. "Ohh, Cipher? I didn't put that together." The Pirates' story made way more sense with that context.

He brought a vine to his chin. "So there were forces working to make our trip more difficult. Though it does strike me as odd that they knew where just a small group of us were going and when."

Maybe one of us is working for Cipher.

Andre shook his head. No, don't think that. This world-saving thing is never gonna work if we don't trust each other.

"What should we do?" he asked the others. "It's not gonna be good if Cipher catches us."
Gladion furrowed his brow. “Frankly, I’m not sure what all this effort is even for. It’s not a particularly wild guess to figure we’d take some interest in something that’s at least in some sense related to us. I don’t know why they’d want to tail us if they know where we’re going, but if they want this to slow us down to tail is, then we should go straight there without wasting time on any more distractions. You understand?”

(Please understand. We shouldn’t leave an anchor for Betel if we’re being tailed at the time. We have to lose them first.)
He scanned the horizon again, worry creeping into his expression.
There didn't seem to be any sort of noise around. One could surmise that all the ruckus these three cause on a regular basis scared off any locals. Even in the moments of quiet, the only breathing that could be heard was from one another. Perhaps, if anyone were trailing, they were only vaguely aware that you were heading this way from Frontier Town, but didn't have a read on your exact location. At the very least, it didn't seem like anyone was observing this spot in particular.

Gladion furrowed his brow. “Frankly, I’m not sure what all this effort is even for. It’s not a particularly wild guess to figure we’d take some interest in something that’s at least in some sense related to us. I don’t know why they’d want to tail us if they know where we’re going, but if they want this to slow us down to tail is, then we should go straight there without wasting time on any more distractions. You understand?”

(Please understand. We shouldn’t leave an anchor for Betel if we’re being tailed at the time. We have to lose them first.)
"So should we do somethin' 'bout these fellas then?" Ghaspius asked with a hum. "Or are ya sayin' we leave 'em be and get straight to where we need to go, stat?"
Archie frowned. It didn’t feel right to just leave admitted bandits be, incompetent or otherwise. Plus, they really did seem stranded. On the other hand, Gladion had a point that they couldn’t afford to dally if Cipher was trying to track them down. And, well, the chimera was easily the largest and physically strongest of them. It was highly unlikely that they’d manage to move the three wheeled cart much of anywhere without his assistance. Maybe they could tie the Purple Pirates up in the cloth and drag them to Little Scriven kicking and screaming, but, again, that would slow them down, and almost certainly result in a fight. And while Archie didn’t foresee it being a fight they’d be at risk of losing, it was still more time wasted…

“Well… I guess let this be a lesson to you that crime doesn’t pay,” he sighed, and dispelled the blade of his Razor Shell, returning the scalchop to its place on his belly. “Gladion’s right, we’d better get a move on if we don’t want Cipher to zero in on us.”
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"Or are ya sayin' we leave 'em be and get straight to where we need to go, stat?"
“Don’t really care if we leave them, but it sounds like they wouldn’t be leaving much behind if they just walked. My main point is we should get straight to the festival as soon as possible. No more diversions.”
"Not leavin' much behind? This cart is our livelihood! Ya can't just—"

Ghaspius had already idly started floating away, eager to get to town.

"Heyyyy! What about us?! We want our cart there! Take us with youuuuuuuuuu...!"

Surprisingly, or perhaps thanks to their haste, the rest of their journey to town was fairly quiet.

And soon, they arrived into town.

Ch04: The Theory of Shadow
A zoroark of a ghostly nature stood in the outskirts of town leaning on a straight stick she'd picked up with her dexterous claws. Her gems - crimson and hexagonal in shape (incredibly similar to the chains summoned by Embargo) glinted in the rising sun as Bellatrix's gaze was fixated on the skies in thought. Wondering where to start in seeking out the Wandering Light and trying to get used to her new form. She tapped her stick a couple times. She was quite rusty, it had been a while since she ever wielded any weapon and she certainly couldn't be in poor form when they did find her given the Escarpa ties.

Her train of thought was broken however when she heard the sound of someone approaching, her ear flicking in response. "Hm? What brings you out here?" She asked, looking towards the new company. She sounded no older than Koa and judging by the look in her eyes, it was clear that she hadn't slept for a couple days though, knowing the fox it was more of a lifestyle choice than anything sinister. "Come to train?"
Idiot. Idiot. You’re an idiot. Did you forget what happened the last time you were here without proper backup? The last time you were here even with proper backup?!

But even as he berated himself, Wes walked on, eyes narrowed as he scanned the sands and sagebrush for any sign of Seth—or Cipher. Not that he knew how to identify a Cipher agent by sight alone, exactly, but he figured he would recognize shady activity if he saw it…

He saw them before they turned and called out or him, casual as can be, and Wes felt his hair stand up. Tall and gangly and…ghostly looking.

Wes had never before been familiar with the Zoroark species, but he wasn’t going to forget the corpse he’d seen last night in a hurry. This undeniably looked like a Zoroark…a ghost one. Fein’s ghost?!

He immediately dropped into a defensive crouch and bared his fangs. “Who are you?” he snapped. “What are you doing here?”
Admittedly, hostility was not the first reaction Bellatrix had expected. A frown crossed her features the second she saw who it was. So the short-tempered rockruff had evolved, had he?

"Memory issues?" she asked. "I suppose evolution could be traumatic for some - I should congratulate you for that before I continue - but you tell me as I asked first." She took a couple steps towards the lycanroc, her eyes glinting with an impassive curiosity. "How are you finding your new form. An improvement, I imagine?"
Wes blinked, then stared for a moment. Whoever this was, they…knew him? He wracked his brains, trying to place where he knew that calm, haughty voice…

“Bellatrix?” he said slowly. “You…evolved?”

He never had known what her former species would evolve into. Now he felt like the biggest blasted idiot of the century.

He straightened up, forcing his fur to lie flat, and coughed. “Um. Yes, it’s…nice to be evolved. S-sorry for not recognizing you, you just looked like—” the ghost of a corpse. Well, he sure as hell couldn’t say that.

“…Not you.” No shit, moron.

He then remembered her first question, and wondered how to respond. She…didn’t know yet about what had happened here, right? Should he tell her? “I was…wanting to inspect this place and see if there was anybody suspicious around. Dunno how much you might have heard, but…some folks that call themselves Cipher may be likely to be poking around here.”
A nod. "Pleasant seeing you too, Wes. Now as to what I was doing here -" she glanced at the stick she was leaning on "- simply getting to grips with the new form. Going from four to two legs is quite the leap and I would prefer not tripping over myself in public." And clearly, it's been a while since I last walked on two.

At the mention of 'Cipher', Bellatrix frowned in thought. "It's the first time I've heard of them, I'm afraid. I've been more caught up in investigating the Wandering Light to learn to wield Radiance which appears to be Shadow's polar opposite. I had a firsthand experience with the power during our discussion with the Escarpa chieftain, Sierra and given that I evolved not long after we left..."

She trailed off, her claws drumming against her stick before focusing back on Wes. "So what importance does this 'Cipher' hold and where might you have heard of them?"
Oh, gods, where did he even begin. He let out a bewildered laugh. “I…well. There’s a lot to fill you in on. But it sounds like you’ve got a lot to share with me too, because last I’d heard, the Escarpa weren’t exactly chomping at the bit to work with us.”

Wes sat down, indicating to Bellatrix that she had quite the explanation to listen to. “I’ll try to keep it short, but bear with me.”

He recounted the events of last night: their battle with Seth, everyone in the party wielding Shadows, what Seth finally shared about his origins and connections with Cipher and how it all came back to Shadow Pokemon. Wes paused here and there, unsure how much detail he wanted to provide on his role in the fight, and ultimately settled on, “It wasn’t a good time for any of us. I evolved while feeling those effects. Let’s just say it…wasn’t pleasant.”

He hoped that would be sufficient enough for Bellatrix.
Bellatrix listened to Wes, nodding along to his explanations. "Well, I admire the proactivity," she said once he'd finished.

"As for our end, we share a common goal with the Escarpa; stop whatever is happening in Blaguarro and preventing the shadows from escaping and it seemed that Sierra understood that but we won't fare well if we're not prepared, that is why it's so important we find the Wandering Light as swiftly as possible."

Bellatrix paused, thinking, once again eyeing Wes closely. "How did you neutralise those effects?" she then asked. "You don't appear physically or mentally impacted by Shadow if you experienced the full brunt of them - at least, I'm assuming granted it caused evolution."
Wandering Light…right, that was something or someone to do with Radiance, wasn’t it? He had to admit this update from Bellatrix was very welcome news. It meant someone else was worried about the Shadows, about Blaguarro, and wanted to do something about it. It meant the Wayfarers, for once, weren’t totally alone. They had allies—or at least, potential ones. It was a start.

He tensed at Bellatrix’s next question, though, and carefully scanned her face—her new, elongated face, far too similar to Fein’s for his liking. He wasn’t sure if it was the association with the dead Cipher agent or the shrewd gleam Bellatrix always had in her eye that made him hesitant to tell the truth.

You’re a team, he chided himself. You have to trust each other if you’re going to get anywhere. But wouldn’t it be better, then, not to tell her? So she wouldn’t have cause to distrust him the next time they encountered Shadows? But the clock was ticking, and he’d already taken too long to answer.

Another voice, this time in the form of a certain sneering, snarling Electrike, rang in his head. Are you just going to keep running away, like you always do?

Steeling himself with a nervous breath, Wes decided to tell the truth.

“I…didn’t neutralize them. We—I—lost control. Ended up attacking some of our teammates, even.” He broke eye contact with her and stared at his paws, too ashamed to see what her expression would morph into. “Ended up coming to my senses after they took me down. It sounds like we all gave in to the Shadows to some degree, but it all dissipated after we fought it out. And I…had the least control out of everyone.”

He set his jaw and braced himself for her response.
A curious tilt of the head. "I see, although how did such a thing happen? If Shadow and Radiance are supposed to be two sides of a coin, someone must have bestowed the power in some way shape or form. Do you imply that the Wolf, Seth, had that capability? And did that power linger?" It was difficult to read Bellatrix though she appeared more curious than judgmental perhaps seeing that understanding Shadow would allow her to similarly understand Radiance.
Wes blinked, then looked up. She was…remarkably unbothered by his confession, something he hadn’t been expecting in the least. Bellatrix had always seemed so…opinionated on things, particularly on people who couldn’t prove that they had a level head. He’d expected at least some heavy disdainful judgement, if not an outright lecture—he wasn’t sure what to make of this, instead. Relief, maybe?

“Radiance has to be bestowed?” Wes frowned, and suddenly he realized he didn’t know how Shadows had gotten to them so easily. “I…I have no idea. I wasn’t aware of any, uh, ‘bestowing’ happening or whatever. I’d assumed it happened because of the fight with Seth. Something about getting hit by Shadows and…getting infected, or something.”

But…was that not how it worked? Hadn’t Betel warned them before the fight for that exact reason? Wes’s head was now buzzing with questions he didn’t even know how to begin to answer. “What about Radiance? So someone from the Escarpa has to give it to us? Or this Wandering Light person?”
"According to Sierra, yes. She could demonstrate, channel Radiance through our bodies but could not bestow or teach the power to us," Bellatrix explained, folding her free arm behind her back. "I offered myself to be part of the demonstration and yet there is not a mote of Radiance that remains in me."

Her gaze hardened slightly. "And, if my assumption regarding the two powers are true that means that either Seth unwittingly bestowed it, or someone did something stupid and found someone who could without telling anyone else." Her gaze shifted to the horizon. "And I already have a few names in mind."
Wes frowned at this. “So looks like we gotta find whoever can bestow it on us. I assume that’s the Wandering Light.”

He considered her next words carefully, something ringing a bell in his memory. “Actually…I think Seth did do something like that. Transferred some of his Shadow to me. I’m not sure he even meant to, but there was definitely a moment…before everything went to hell.”

Wes clenched his jaw against the memory of Seth’s snarls in his ear, his claws in Wes’s head and face, the sand filling his mouth and making it difficult to breathe as Seth shoved him down, down, down—the still-healing gashes across his head throbbed in unison with his heartbeat as he called upon it, and suddenly Wes wanted to be anywhere but right here.

But he couldn’t just leave in the middle of their conversation—something told him Bellatrix would strongly dislike that. So instead, he got up and began to pace, staring down at his paws and trying not to look too hard at the spot over there where Seth had pinned him, or the other spot a ways away where Wes had knocked Odette to the ground, or—

Gods. Get a grip.

“Well, anyway, I don’t know what Seth did, and I doubt he knew, either,” Wes said. “And it faded after the fight, so whatever it was, it wasn’t permanent.” He threw Bellatrix another glance and tried to keep the strain of restless anxiety out of his voice. “You’ve got your suspicions? Who? Some shady new guy in town or something? Or—” He stopped short, the weight of her words finally sinking in. “Hang on, you think one of us has found something and is hiding it from everyone else?”
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