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Frontier Town Nina's Place

Subconsciously, the tension left her body. Of course she didn't expect him to understand--she knew it all and was still pretty certain she wasn't making much sense--but acknowledgement was the next best thing. And she really was grateful for it.

"Yeah, it's...a lot. Too much, given what we're already fucking with as it is," she sighed. Shadow 'mon and cults were enough, so she certainly didn't need to bog anyone down with stories of blood types and other cults on top of it. "Maybe once we make some more progress on whatever the hell it is we've got ourselves into right now, I'll let you in on the specifics."

Of course, that was implying that they were friendly enough to even do that. She was getting ahead of herself.

She cleared her throat.

"I appreciate it, though. Really." She then narrowed her eyes. "And this might be leaf juice, but ale is just old barley water," she added playfully. She gulped down a large sip of her tea for good measure.

"You know, I really want to return the compliment, but..." She couldn't help but laugh as she recalled how he'd lashed out at Nolan. In the moment she'd wanted to muzzle him, but thinking back on it now, it was more funny than anything. As long as it hadn't affected her personal standing, she supposed she couldn't dwell on it. "You let that fucker have it. That was bold. I'm not exactly certain it was the best course of action--and please don't take that the wrong way--but being I felt like I might go postal myself, I have to say that I respect it."

She indulged in another large sip, nearly finishing the cup. Something more contemplative crossed her face, and she gnawed on the inside of her cheek for a moment.

"Trust me, that's on my radar. Top of the world-hopping bucket list," she said quietly; earnestly. "But there is very obviously a truckload of shit he wasn't telling us. And I am very eager to find out what that shit is first."
 
Wes snorted bitterly. “I just don’t have patience for bastards who think they’re so clever for being coy, that’s all.”

Could he have been more cooperative? Sure, but in the end it didn’t matter anyway. They’d made the deal, and now they’d have to navigate it. “Can’t say I’m too thrilled at the idea of another infiltration attempt, either, after how the last one went.” He scowled at his glass as if it were personally responsible for the half-baked plan that nearly got him and several others killed. “I’m still ready to give whoever was responsible for that a piece of my mind.”

Flashes of that night intruded his head, and he gave it a shake before taking another sip.

“Listen, if you plan to do any sneaking around, just…be careful. These people might not be behind the Shadows, but I can tell they’re dangerous, all the same. Don’t blindly follow any sloppy plans like I did or anything like that. Probably best to not attempt anything solo, either.” He suddenly remembered Ridley and Koa’s anger and clenched his jaw in frustration. Gods, why did he even bother? It seemed everybody around here was dead set on doing things their way, the rest be damned.

In an effort to avoid Odette’s ire, he coughed and added, “Not that I doubt your abilities or anything. I’m just not eager to see anybody get themselves killed, is all. We don’t know what we’re dealing with.” There. Hopefully she wouldn’t take issue with that.
 
Odette watched him for a while, letting him stew in whatever was causing his scrunch his face up the way he was. She wanted to try an attempt at comforting, being a voice of reason, or some fine mix of the two, but the words weren’t coming to her.

She’d been so pissed when she found out a group went on that stupid trip, and had every intention to let them know that, but there was no reason to keep rubbing salt in that wound. They knew; everyone knew. And it was clear to her it had messed with some of them quite badly. That said, comforting them felt awkward as well. “Sorry you went with a half-baked plan and almost died.” That was a one way ticket to another fight.

But, maybe now would be a good time to ask about…?

This didn’t feel like a conversation they should be having from two seats away. She pushed her cup and journal over to the seat next to Wes’s and shuffled into it. “Sorry, keep going, I think we’re gonna be talking for a bit, so I just—“ she muttered while he spoke and she moved. When she settled down again, she started drumming her fingers on the table.

“No, you’re not wrong,” she said reassuringly. “Nothing happening here is anything any single one of us can handle alone, that’s for sure.”

She flipped through some pages of her journal, eyeing her shitty handwriting and the various ideas she’d had. When she spoke again, she was borderline whispering. “The thing at the forefront of my mind right now is infiltration. Finessing our way into this Covenant thing, because I think it’s necessary if we want more answers here. And I have done the undercover thing before. I did it with a group. But even when we thought we had our duckletts in a row, shit still eventually hit the fan when we weren’t ready for it to,” she explained, like she was simply stating a fact.

“The idea of getting in with the nefarious org sounds reckless on paper, but I don’t intend the approach to be. At least I have a baseline on what not to do. We need a group that can sell the act, a plan A through Z, and as many failsafes as we can come up with, and then some once we have more information. No acting without a plan, no solo shit for the foreseeable future, all that.”

She started shaking her head. “I don’t want anyone to die just as much as I don’t want to die myself, but in that same vein, we’re not going to get anywhere just sitting around and waiting for the things to uncover themselves. We can be proactive, so as long as our approaches are as calculated and logical as possible.”
 
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“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I agree with you there.” Wes rubbed at his eyes. Sands, he was tired. “Something definitely needs to be done. It should just be done carefully, is all I’m saying. Sounds like you’re well aware of that, though, and even have experience with stuff like that.” Which sure did raise some questions in his mind about what kind of background she came from, but he figured he should store that away for another day with the other dozen questions he had.

At least I have a baseline on what not to do.

He couldn’t help but let out a bitter laugh at that. “Damn right. Not sure how much you know about the wagon mission, but let’s just say you shouldn’t take any notes from the geniuses behind it.”

He shook his head again in angry disbelief, then met her eyes. “Anyway…whatever you do find out, I hope you’ll keep me posted. We ought to try and communicate with the whole group to form some kind of plan, I think. Though it’s hard to be on the same page with so many of us and no convenient method of communication. Unless…” he paused thoughtfully. “Maybe the Voice could do something about that? It seems to be aware of all of us and can even relay messages outside of battle, like back in Blag—”

He slammed on the brakes a second too late. Dammit. Dammit! The last thing he needed Odette to know what that he’d heard her call for help and freaking ignored it. He scrambled for a way to backpedal.

“I—I mean—I’ve heard it before, outside of battle, is all.”

Awesome. Great. Super convincing. Idiot.
 
She nodded along with him. "I'll definitely keep you in the know. I know there's a lot of us here, but the chances of all thirty-something of us being on the same page at any given moment is next to fucking none. So, I'm trying to build up an inner circle of people--or 'mon," she corrected herself, "I know I can trust and think I can work well with. I know we've only just let bygones be bygones, but you seem sharp." Aside from the fact that he got on that wagon. But he very much knew that wasn't wise, and she would accept that. "So...yeah."

Thinking about communication made her scoff, and her looming dread over lacking electronics shrouded her brain yet again. "When I go back home, I'll tell you I'll never take my cell phone for granted again," she muttered, pinching the bridge of her beak between her thumb and index finger.

She did perk up, however, at the mention of the Voice. "True, though. I did--"

She didn't finish the thought, because she noticed that Wes had suddenly become distraught. Not outwardly, but she could tell by the look in his eyes and the way he stammered that he was about to say something he didn't want to. But it was hard to brush off what "Blag--" might have been referring to.

Wait. Was he upset about that?

She blinked at him before her face settled into something a little more thoughtful. "Yeah. I had the Voice relay a message back to you guys from the watchtower. Because we were fucking stupid enough to go up there without any sort of signal," she said disdainfully. "But now that I'm thinking with a clearer head, raising an alarm like that wasn't smart. These cuts I have were from fucking graze wounds; imagine if it had hit me full on? Or rather, anyone who came running to the rescue?" She shook her head. "Stupid me. I wasn't thinking. My cuts hurt, Kimiko really pissed me off, and...we heard something rumble."

Now she looked disturbingly pensive. "It was only for a few seconds, but I can't imagine anything rumbling beneath the sand like that was small. I didn't know what else to do at that point, so I just..." Another shake of her head as she trailed off. She rolled her eyes before looking back at Wes.

"We're talking about being logical here, and I'll be the first to admit that that wasn't logical. If any of you had come running, I don't even want to know what would have happened."
 
Wes managed a small smile at Odette’s compliment. “Well, I don’t know about ‘sharp’, since I still agreed to go on that stupid wagon in the first place. In my defense, I didn’t know what the whole plan was until I’d already signed up. And I guess…regardless of how idiotic the plan was, the Shadow mon attacking wasn’t part of it at all.” He frowned a little at remembering Archie’s suggestion that maybe that Charmeleon had been sent, somehow…but that was a discussion for another time. “But point taken. Definitely a good idea to find others who are a little more…cautious. And subtle.” Which meant the likes of Dave and Koa were immediately ruled out, that was for damn sure.

He tensed when he saw that Odette had caught his blunder—how could she not?—and braced himself for the worst. But instead, she…was quite understanding.

At first, Wes felt a rush of relief. She doesn’t hate me for that. But guilt quickly intruded, creating a strange swirl of conflicting feelings in his chest. That doesn’t change the fact that you reacted like a pathetic coward, one side of him hissed savagely. You might have been able to do something if you’d only tried.

“You have a point there,” Wes said, forcing the voice away with an internal snarl. “But what do you mean by the rumbling? I thought you’d only encountered a, uh…Skor…something?” Gods-dammit. “Sorry, can’t say I’m familiar with a lot of the species around here. Wasn’t exactly a world traveler in my dimension, or whatever.”
 
Odette shifted uncomfortably in her seat and began to tap her fingers against the bar top. She did, however, manage a grin as he stumbled over the name for “skorupi.”

“Skorupi,” he finished for him. “Don’t worry, I was majorly unfamiliar with bug types myself until about a year ago. Evolves into something called a d…drapeeeeeeeon…drap-ee-on. If I’m pronouncing that correctly. No idea what you’re going to do with that info; just figured I’d humor you.”

Her face became grim again, and she started gnawing on the inside of her cheek. “As for the other thing, it’s exactly as I said. Something rumbled. Out in the night. I’m sure it was coming from the ground but I’ll eat my fucking hand if it was airborne.”

She forced a bitter laugh as she began to rub her forehead. “It wasn’t anything major. Like, it didn’t rock the tower at all, you know? But there was a blatant vibration. Maybe it was a Pokemon, maybe it was the movement of tectonic plates, maybe it was nothing. It faded pretty much as soon as I sounded the alarm. But dammit, if it was something, I’m just glad none of you came running in time to find out what it was.”
 
Wes chuckled at Odette’s joke. “Nice to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t know these things. Speaking of, do you know what the hell a Greninja looks like? Because I asked Nolan about one, but honest to gods I have no clue what that species is. Don’t know what Nolan’s species is, either, though I could say that for a lot of folks around here. Hell, I didn’t even know what I was until Gladion filled me in.” He smirked. “Should have just asked Nolan himself, though. Would’ve pissed him off even more, considering he’s deluded himself into believing he’s human.”

He blinked, suddenly realizing he’d rambled a little bit. Huh. Either he’d consumed more ale than he’d realized, or he was somehow more comfortable around Odette than he’d expected to be. Or maybe a mix of both.

He perked up as Odette elaborated on the rumbling. “You know…actually, when I was at the Dragon’s Cellar in Blaguarro, Mav mentioned something about a Shadow Onix to us. Hard to know for certain since that’s all you have to go off of, but…that makes you wonder if that’s what it was.”
 
She had a hard time hiding her distaste when the name “Gladion” was mentioned, indicated by the way she wrinkled her beak. She got a grip on herself relatively quickly, as she surely didn’t want that to be a source of contention here. Though, it did kind of unnerve her to think that strange Gladion would be able to give Wes the lo-down on rockruff being that her Gladion also trained one back home…

“I do, actually. Every competitive trainer and their mothers are fucking partnered with one where I’m from,” she explained. “They basically just look like big frogs. Typically, they’re blue, and might have yellow spots here and there. I think the weirdest thing about them, however, is the fact that they wear their tongues around their fucking necks like scarves. Really gross if you ask me, but that’s usually the telltale sign you’re talking to one. As for Nolan, he’s a drizzile.”

She furrowed her brow. “Wait…no. Not a drizzile. The evolution that comes after drizzile,” she corrected herself. “Sobble, drizzile…inteleon. He’s an inteleon. More lizard, less frog. Well.” She rolled her eyes and tapped her journal. “More hUmAn than any of those, actually,” she said sarcastically.

She settled down to dissect what he’d said about the Shadow Onix, nodding slowly to herself. “That would make a lot of sense. Those things dig around all over, don’t they? Maybe it popped on by for a visit.”

Truthfully, she was glad that was all it did. A skorupi was one thing, but a skorupi and something as big as an she figured an onix could be sounded like a recipe for certain death. The onix might have been wary of light too, but it could still dig away from it. She shuddered at the thought and reached up to paw at the bandage on her neck.

Since they were on the topic, she might as well go for it. At risk of sounding psychotic.

“Slightly related, and let me preface this with an apology for bringing it up again, and please don’t feel the need to fully elaborate on your answer to what I'm going to ask you,” she began. "But when you went on the wagon trip, I assume you got hit by that charmeleon, right?”

She waited for his response before continuing. “When you went to bed that night, did you happen to have any…weird dreams, by any chance?”
 
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“More hUmAn that any of those, actually,” she said sarcastically.
Wes laughed out loud at that, nearly startling himself in the process. Sands, it felt good to laugh—really laugh, not just a dry chuckle or another bitter variation. “You know, I don’t know why I bothered to ask. Odds are good I’ll forget everything you told me. Gotta at least try to remember until we meet that prick again, though, so I can see his face when I greet him as Inteleon Nolan.” He snorted again at the thought, grinning like some stupid teenager discovering a new juvenile joke.

He’d noticed a brief sour look cross her face at the mention of Gladion and vividly recalled their first…interaction. Well, it seems he wasn’t the only one around here who carried the burden of an atrocious first impression with someone else. He wasn’t about to at anything, though—that was Odette’s business, and Wes had no place to comment on it. They’d probably get alone great if they overcame that, though. Got a similar snarky sense of humor. Though maybe that’s why they’d clashed so viciously in the first place.

His amusement quickly fizzled out once Odette suddenly changed gears and asked about the Shadow Charmeleon, of all things. Wes frowned, not sure where she was leading with this, until she mentioned…dreams.

He tensed for a moment. What…what did she mean by that? How did she know? Was this some sort of set-up, somehow? How does she know??

He let out a terse breath and took a swig of his ale before answering. “Dunno what your exact definition of ‘weird’ is,” he said guardedly, “but…yeah, I had something like that. Less of a dream and more of a message, really, but I figured it had just been because of…well, because of the whole night in general. Wasn’t exactly a fun adventure.”

He eyed her curiously. “Why?”
 
She tried not to cringe at the way Wes abruptly went from laughing to tersely eyeing her. The wagon trip had to be a sore spot, yeah, but the mention of the dream is what apparently took him by the most surprise. But whether it was because he knew what she was talking about, or because he suddenly thought she was insane, it was hard to tell.

"Sorry, I should have specified. I meant, like, eerie. Ominous. Cryptic." But, he more or less confirmed that he had had one. Good. That was the only hook she needed.

"Well...I'm asking because after I got struck by the skorupi, I had an ominously cryptic dream. Or, rather, like you said, a message. 'These matters are beyond you,' it said."

She kept her eyes on him, trying to gauge a reaction. "I was on the tower with Ridley and Kimiko, and I asked them if they had had gotten the same dream, and they didn't. But Ridley told me he'd gotten something like it after your wagon escapade, and he'd also been hit by the charmeleon, if I understood him correctly. So we started hypothesizing a little, and came to the conclusion that the dreams might be tied to getting struck by a Shadow move. Since I was the only one who got struck, I was the only one who had my brain infiltrated by a creepy voice. Ridley mentioned being hit by the charmeleon and also having a similar experience as well."

Odette paused again. hoping to give him more time to digest what she'd just said. "So, I don't mean to intrude on what's going on inside your head, but I guess I just wanted to confirm if you also had something like that happen. That might help me--us--figure out what and where it's coming from."
 
Wes slowly relaxed as Odette went on—not completely, not when they were discussing such an unsettling topic, but it was a relief to know he wasn’t being interrogated. Above all…he wasn’t the only one. Not just Odette, but Ridley, too—they’d all had dreams after brushing with a Shadow attack. Wes felt as though a buried part inside of him could breathe again.

“I…yeah. Yes.” He took a breath. “Sorry for tending up, I just—don’t like talking about it. Any of it, but especially the dream. I hadn’t told anyone, so the fact that you asked…” He shook his head and waved a paw. “Anyway. Yeah, mine told me I don’t belong here. I kept trying to write it off as just a nightmare or whatever, but it felt way deeper than that. Weirdly personal, almost. Targeted. It sounded like the Voice, but not.”

He frowned down at his glass. “That means there’s definitely a pattern, then.” Did this mean Dave had the same dream, too? And the others that had been with him? The kid? Would they be receptive if he asked? Well, almost definitely not Koa, but maybe Odette could ask him and have better luck.

He looked back up at her. “Do you think this means there’s another one out there? Another Voice? One that’s…I dunno, evil somehow?”
 
Odette shook her head reassuringly. “No, don’t worry about it. I’ve been biting on whether or not to ask you this whole time, but I didn’t want you to think—“ She stopped herself to take a breath. “Didn’t want you to think I was nuts.”

But she wasn’t. Because Wes had almost the same exact thoughts she had. He hadn’t gotten the same message, but it was the same gist. A darker version of the Voice that had been helping them this whole time.

“I don’t know, honestly,” she replied. “I was trying to weigh the options. I thought maybe our Voice has an evil twin, or a less-than-pleasant alter ego. Then after speaking to Ridley, I figured there was a pattern and figured it might be tied to the creation of these Shadow Pokemon. Now my current running hypothesis is that getting struck with a Shadow move opened up I guess…a channel for perhaps the thing creating the Shadow ‘mon to communicate with us. Like, some hivemind shit they might all be under.”

She quickly realized she was rambling, and stopped herself by clamping her hand around her journal. “Of course, this is pure speculation. Right now, all that seems to be concrete is that, yes, there’s a pattern. And the fact that the only way to further test that out is to have more people get hit by deadly Shadow moves is just…really shitty.”
 
Wes nodded slowly. “You know…when I think about it, maybe ‘evil’ isn’t the right word for whatever this second Voice is. I dunno. Because the things it’s said to us…they’re cryptic and vaguely threatening, maybe, but they also feel like warnings.” He tilted his head thoughtfully. “Maybe…maybe whoever this is, they’re actually trying to keep us safe? Trying to discourage us from getting too close to the danger?”

It was a stretch, all right, but he had to wonder, all the same. After all, if that Voice did wish them harm, would it be trying to tell them to stay away? “You’re right about the Shadow connection, though, I think. There’s too much of a pattern there to be a coincidence. If we could…apprehend a Shadow somehow and observe it, or try to reason with it…I don’t know.” Maybe he was too optimistic from what he’d seen in his own world. There was no guarantee that the Shadows here operated exactly the same way, after all. But the similarities were too striking to overlook.

He drained the rest of of his glass, then signed. “Maybe others at this big meeting will have ideas. Who the hell knows. But as much as I hate that Nolan prick, it does sound like we share a goal in wanting to learn more about the Shadows.” Ugh, it felt wrong to say it out loud. “Nutcase about everything else though.”
 
"Yeah, I was dwelling on a similar idea," Odette said. "Both messages do carry an air of warning. Part of me wondered if it was the Shadow 'mon itself speaking to me. Like, as a last-ditch effort to stop me, or us, from getting closer."

But it was a stretch. One they couldn't figure out without more evidence.

At the mention of the meeting, she exhaled a sharp breath. "Yeah, I'm not looking forward to that. Thirty people in a room at my place of employment trying to come to an agreement on something? Fucking pass." But she had to go. If not to at least attempt to level everyone, then to keep them from wrecking the room. "Big social gatherings have a tendency to put me on the defensive, but I'll humor it until I start hearing stupid shit."

A sigh. "And I've only met a handful of people face-to-face who I've felt impressed with in terms of their ability to come up with decent plans. But right now, all I have is that we just need to work on bulking up, then go after one ourselves. As scummy as Nolan is, he did say something about us toughening up fast?" It came out as a question more than a statement. "I know it was coming from a place of 'why humans are built different,' but...if there's anything he said that is actually true, I hope that boon is it. Because I don't know how much idle training time we have. And in the state we're currently in, we'll get fucked again real fast if we try to face one."

Tapping her journal again, she settled back in the stool, looking thoughtful now. "This has actually been a very nice conversation, tense topics aside. I needed this today, so...thanks."
 
A Shadow mon, huh? “That’s a good point,” he said thoughtfully. “It would help narrow things down if we knew anything at all about our Voice, or what kinda Pokémon they are, or if they even are a Pokémon.” Thought he supposed he’d never asked…huh. Maybe he would.

He snorted in amusement at Odette’s grumble. “You’re telling me. Big groups are not my thing. At all. Ever. And I’m sure there’s a few people there who won’t be thrilled to see me.” But, well…at least he had people who did seem to enjoy his company. Archie, Gladion, Dave, and now Odette. He felt a little swell of warmth at that thought.

“Thank you, too,” he said with a small smile. “I think I needed this, too. More than I realized.”

He stood on his stool and stretched, trying to avoid looking too dog-like while doing so, the hopped down. “I’ll see you later, then, yeah?”
 
Returning his smile, she flashed him her hand in a small, friendly wave. “For sure. Try to stay out of trouble, alright?” she responded in jest. It felt safe to joke with him now. She could confidently say that they “made up.”

Thank gods. It felt nice to know she was capable of that.

<><><><><><><><>​
 
Ch04: Unearthing Truths [Rodion & Silver] New
As per usual, Nina’s Place was packed with ‘mons and customers of all kinds, engaged in lively chatters and conversations and taking their time to decompress and relax with some good company.

And truthfully, Silver could really use a nice break after working so hard to help with the organization of the expedition, especially with resources and training. It’s not like he has a problem with writing checklists and scheduling stuff, but not even a meticulous and constantly energized now-Sneasel like him was immune to burnout and tiredness. Hence, he didn’t object when Rodion suggested spending the afternoon together, so that they could simply chill and relax before their long journey away from town.

“So, tomorrow we’re gonna leave for that abbey, huh? Are you excited ‘bout that?” he asked to his friend, grinning as he did so. “I dunno why, but I’ve been itching to reach those mountains and climb ‘em! Maybe it’s because of my new Sneasel instincts and whatever, or maybe because there’s nothing more thrilling than embarking in a long journey into unknown and mysterious lands.”
 
"Well, it's the Pearl Confluence we're really visiting," Rodion reminded. "The abbey is just a stop along the way, even if it's probably gonna be just us and Lyle once we reach it."

The Buizel took a sip of beer from his tankard. While Nina's Place wasn't his preferred bar because of the ever lingering tobacco smell, they had to save up money for the expedition, which meant the expensive drinks of the Sun Stone Saloon were out of the question for now.

"But, I am," he said, a small grin forming on his face. "I've been wanting to get out of Frontier Town for a while and see more of Forlas, so I think this trip will be a great start of that."
 
"Well, it's the Pearl Confluence we're really visiting," Rodion reminded. "The abbey is just a stop along the way, even if it's probably gonna be just us and Lyle once we reach it."

Silver blinked once, then he realized his little slip up and his grin faltered a little. “…Oh. Indeed. Right.”

He huffed and shook his head, pulling his glass of sarsaparilla toward himself. “Yeah, I’ve got my wires crossed somehow and mixed a few things up. Too many thoughts have been running into my mind in recent times.” A sheepish chuckle resonated in his throat and he sipped some of his drink. “I guess that proves I really needed this break, huh?”

"But, I am," he said, a small grin forming on his face. "I've been wanting to get out of Frontier Town for a while and see more of Forlas, so I think this trip will be a great start of that."

“Ha! Glad to hear we’re on the same page!” remarked Silver, his own grin returning. “Guess we both are explorers in our hearts and this town has become a little tighter by now. Surely this experience will be useful for us and the rest of the team.”

The now-Sneasel glanced at his glass once more, debating drinking some more sarsaparilla, but decided against it at the last second to focus on Rodion. “By the way, I don’t think we’ve ever talked about our experiences in our worlds. Not extensively, at least.” He smirked. “Well! How ‘bout trading a few anecdotes?”
 
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