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Frontier Town Nina's Place

Lyle stared blankly. How Sonora was this completely unconcerned about walking into a likely trap?

"Sonora, Ignatius is already expecting you to come. And he wants you and your gang dead," Lyle said. "Why does this mean so much to you? What makes you so sure that you will really make a difference?"
Sonora's grin widened, like she was the only one in on an excellent joke.

"Oh, I know. I've been workin' my tail off makin' sure he's awake of nights anticipatin' me fouling up his precious party."

She winked.

"Don't act like I'm showin' you my whole hand, huh? I've not survived this long without knowin' how to pull a fast one."
"Used to work an honest job, livin' paycheck to paycheck to get by, since a young Sprigatito without much in the way of education can't exactly earn a king's wages as an errand girl. My old boss weren't terrible to me or nothin' by way of personal exchanges, but whatever his reasons, one day, he felt it fine to stiff me a week's earnings."

The smile still played on Sonora's mouth, but it had left her eyes.

"No problem. Shit happens, don't it? So I made do fer a week, made my savings last as I could make 'em, even begged fer a few chores from the lady I was lodgin' with so she'd lay off about my rent. But then the boss stiffs me a second week. Rent's due. Gal's gotta eat."

Sonora caught Rodion's eye, and at once she looked very young, and not young at all.

"Found ten days' pay in loose coin in the fella's office. Five dollars, twenty-five cents. Bought myself a real meal – I was stupid enough to ask for a grilled fish meant for a 'mon twice my size – stuffed myself 'til I could hardly walk. Went home. Paid for the roof over my head. Wondered if I'd get away with it – it felt good, y'know? Not bein' hungry, not bein' worried, gettin' one over on the miserly prick. I was always good at slippin' past folks, even as a kitten."

She shrugged, and laughed.

"Not that good, though. Boss was waitin' fer me the next workin' mornin' with a town deputy, some questions, and a wonder orb. I made a run for it, and got lucky – he fumbled the orb. One day and night later of frettin' about whether I can even go home was all it took to realise... there weren't no goin' back."

The hat went back on. It was hard to catch the cat's eyes, but her ears were tilted back in apprehension.

Rodion fell silent as he listened to Sonora, giving the Floragato a sympathetic look all the while.

"I'm sorry to hear you had to go through all of that. Sounds like that former boss of yours was the real thief, just a cowardly one who hides behind a position of power and the sheriff. Was it Ignatius who stiffed you out of your pay?"

Sonora's grin widened, like she was the only one in on an excellent joke.

"Oh, I know. I've been workin' my tail off makin' sure he's awake of nights anticipatin' me fouling up his precious party."

She winked.

"Don't act like I'm showin' you my whole hand, huh? I've not survived this long without knowin' how to pull a fast one."

Rodion traded looks between Sonora and Lyle for a brief moment, before shrugging his shoulders.

"Well, not my place to judge your plans," he said. "Just be sure to keep an eye out, since some of our teammates have taken Ignatius up on his offer and will be actively trying to stop you. The Pokémon who spread the word about the offer at the Traveller's Haus was a white Zorua, so there's a decent chance she's one of them. Best to be mindful of illusions when you're doing your thing."
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She winked.

"Don't act like I'm showin' you my whole hand, huh? I've not survived this long without knowin' how to pull a fast one."

“…Hmph. Sounds like someone wanna try it all with the rest of her seven lives,” Silver said with a joking tone, even if his narrowed eyes and twitching ears gave hints of uncertainty and worry.

If the mayor wanted Sonora and her crew dead, it definitely meant that they had been a thorn on his side for far too long. So why not remove the problem at the root by using an irresistible beacon, and then proceed with whatever machiavellic plan once the issue was out of the equation?

“For all it’s worth, Mr. Birdbrain isn’t gonna know anything from me, and I’m sure my teammates have a similar stance.” He gestured to Rodion and Lyle. “But as they’ve said, that moron’s confident enough to know you’ll show up to pull off whatever mischief you’re planning.” His tone darkened. “So, don’t let overconfidence get to your head. You’d better have some foolproof contingency plans and escape routes to cover any potential setbacks. Just because you’ve gotten away in the past, it doesn’t mean that things will always be as smooth.”
Sonora gave Rodion an odd look, then opened her mouth to say something before cutting the thought off.

"Don't reckon it matters much who he was," she drawled, looking away. "And, uh. Thanks for the tip. I kinda figured the zorua gal would be a complication, but it's good to know for sure."

She grinned at Silver. "You're not wrong, partner! But I'm prepared for it to go wrong. Got a plan fer that, too."

Sonora skewed her mouth, and considered the three 'mon at the table. "Y'all are alright by me. Thanks for... For hearing me out. I've not got a lot longer to shoot the breeze here, much as I'd have liked to learn a li'l bit more about you folks, so I'll be plain with ya – the plan ain't gonna be easy, and there's a lot that can go wrong, especially with some of your lot in the mix. I won't take it personal, it's jus' facts. Anyhow, I can't tell you just what the plan is, 'case it changes on the fly, or plain gets leaked somehow. Even by accident. But if you wanna help out, whatever yer motivations, I got a few Gala invites left. We only need one 'mon to give my crew an entryway, but the more allies we have on the inside, the better our odds of success."

The rogueish cat gave a confident smirk. "Me? I got my own ticket to the starlit stage."
Feeling reassured by Sonora’s words (at least she was cautious, which was a big plus), Silver’s worries quieted down and his posture relaxed visibly. He sipped some of his sarsaparilla, pondering the Floragato’s words, before his lips stretched into a mischievous smirk.

“Sure, I can accept an invite, why not? I’m intrigued, and I don’t wanna miss Birdbrain’s expression when everything collapses and slips outta his dandy claws!” He chuckled, already foretasting the glorious spectacle. Besides, it would have been easier to attempt something, like damage control, if he had free access to the Gala. “Count me in.”
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Lyle remained quiet as words formed on the tip of his tongue only him to bite it. On the one hand, it was hard to say that Sonora and her motivations didn't seem sympathetic, but on the other... this was a world where Pokémon would get killed over stealing a couple weeks' wages. At least back in Varhyde, there was a chance a 'mon would come back alive from being sentenced to hard labor or conscripted into the army.

He wasn't sure what to make of that look Sonora gave Rodion, or how quickly Silver just joined up. The Sneasel must've been an idealistic type from the way that he just jumped into things, but Lyle... always considered himself a bit more of a realist. And he hadn't heard enough to make him decide to join Sonora just yet.

"Changing things up or not, I'm gonna need to know a bit more about your plan than that before accepting your invitation," he said. "What sort of opening do you need us to make to get you in? And what will happen to us if something goes wrong and one of us gets caught?"

The Quilava stared the Floragato down across the table, before shaking his head.

"I really feel for you and I want you to succeed, Sonora. But I need you to be level with us on this. Especially since in this world, it's apparently considered normal to kill a 'mon over relatively small sums of money," the Cyndaquil said. "I've already lost enough in life from getting into jobs without a complete understanding of what to expect, and I want to know exactly what I'm getting into before accepting one of your invitations."
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Sonora nodded. "That's entirely fair enough, fella. Like I said, there's much I can't say... But if'n you need more details, I'll tell you this much. Most of us have our own way in already, but there're gonna be a couple of us that need to get in via the middle or upper floors, or even the rooftop. They ain't so well guarded. An open window, or unbolting the rooftop doorway fer us would do. If you're worried 'bout gettin' caught, you can bail after that much. If you do get caught, well, I can give you my word I'd try and free ya, but my advice is just to say you were threatened and scared fer your life and drop me in the shit. I can take the heat, and the local judges love to make plea deals."

She scoffed, which turned into a chuckle.

"Thieves and robbers don't tend to swing when they get sentenced," she said, quietly. "'Specially not these days, not since that ranger smashed up the damn gallows in front of a crowd. Heh. But the mayor... He has it out for me specifically. He'd let my whole crew go if he could get me done in, I guarantee it."
Lyle still wasn't sure whether or not he liked this idea or not, but 'mons like Ignatius weren't exactly rare in his world—like that bastard Nils. All too many times the commonfolk would just have to grin and bear things while 'mons like him did as they pleased. How many times had he wished for a chance to get one over them? He'd only gotten so many chances to pay them back, and the last time was cut short by having to run for it.

... It was just opening a window or a door, right? There were all sorts of excuses he could make for himself even before turning on Sonora, especially when he was a stranger in this land who'd barely been here for a week.

Maybe he was tempting fate again, but how was he supposed to deal with whatever the Voice had brought them here to do if he couldn't swallow his fears enough to open a damn window?

"... Give me one of those invitations," he said. "Though no promises that I'll actually go back into the mansion with you."
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Rodion studied Sonora closely from his end of the table. Even if she'd been more open about than she probably intended, he got the distinct feeling that Sonora was hiding things from them, especially about her old boss and whatever was going on between her and Ignatius that was clearly personal between them.

Even so, she'd made a simple ask: get into the gala, give her a way in, and if they felt like it, get out before things started getting crazy. He was the first mate of a pirate crew. Opening a door or window was child's play compared to some of the gambles he'd taken to sail off with loot with his crew.

Rodion shot aside glances at Silver and Lyle as a small grin came over his face. He supposed he really was in good company in this world, and it made his decision all the easier:

"Eh, why not? I'm in," he said, taking one of the invites. "Not like I got much better to do on that day, anyway."
Sonora tipped her hat to the Buizel with a cocky smile.

"Well, sounds like we got ourselves an opportunity!" she crowed. "My fellas'll be to the east of the building, looking for their entryway. Go for windows on that side of the building, if y'can – and give us a signal somehow. Smoke's real good – Lyle Fleetfoot – 'specially if you unbolt the rooftop for us."

She downed the rest of her drink and stood from the table.

"I'd best get ready. See y'all at the shindig."

Then, with another wink, she was gone.

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Ch02: Bottoms-up Dust-up
Drinking was a funny game on Forlas. While Prim was not so prodigious a drinker as Lauchs, she was known back home to put back a drink or two. In this world, though, the drinks were more fire than they were water, and this puny body couldn't hold as much as she was used to.

Prim, of course, discovered this entirely too late. By the time she was approaching the barkeep to trade her "strong stuff" for a tall glass of water—a fine beverage for a growing plant—her vision was swimming, and the shouting of the weathered old fucks playing cards at the table in the corner seemed to fill her whole world.

Well, lesson learned. There were a lot of lessons to learn on Forlas, and that—in Prim's estimation—was part of the thrill of being young. Again.

How very lucky she was for the chance to miss her glass and dribble water all down her chin.
Being a Petillil meant not getting noticed so much as a larger 'mon, naturally. It came with being so diminutive. Even so, any pokémon of any size could conceivably throw a decent attack, so folks tended to mind their step.

Prim would not have been anticipating that a cold steel fist would close around her shoulders and physically remove her from her barstool. The 'mon who'd seized her then placed her on the counter, and unceremoniously shoved her glass towards her.

Taking the stool she'd been using was a tall, sallow-eyed Bisharp, with darkly-tattooed pauldrons.

"Barkeep," rasped the Bisharp's metal voice, "a saké, and many to follow."
A pair of cool metal hands wrapped themselves around Prim's shoulders. She'd met this sort once or twice in her time—her instinct was to elbow him quick in the stomach, but before she had the chance she was hefted into the air and plopped unceremoniously on the countertop like a dawdling tyke.

"Barkeep," rasped the Bisharp's metal voice, "a saké, and many to follow."

Prim scooted around furiously to face the bisharp. "Who exactly do you think—" She stopped when she realized she had to look up to meet the bisharp's eyes, even from the countertop. She pulled herself to her feet and then continued, "What the fuck do you think this is, big guy?"

Her eyes meandered to the bisharp's clenched shining fist, and then up to their shoulder armor. Wait a minute—she'd seen that before, hadn't she? She'd definitely fought a tattooed bisharp at the gala. Did she recognize any of these designs? It would be awfully awkward if raised an accusation and it turned out all bisharp were tattooed here.

Well, only one way to find out. She had to ask.

"Aren't you that disgraced chicken's lackey whose ass I beat in public the other day?"

If not, she didn't say, so sorry about the confusion. Your eyes are looking quite lovely today.
The Bisharp gave Prim a sour look. She hadn't gotten a close look at the security chief the previous night, it was hard to tell if this one was the same one. The accent was the same, that much was certain. Maybe this was just how haggard Rin looked after a night of sleepless drinking...?

"I would recall losing a fight to an uncouth sapling," came the steel-scraping reply, with unconcealed disdain.

Their eyes narrowed, and a metal gauntlet clunked against the wood of the bar counter.

"Is this how you Luctemar barbarians challenge each other to duels?" they growled.
Prim squinted at the bisharp. The voice was certainly the same. But what if all bisharp sounded like this? She could practically hear Ferry's throaty protests from here—You see the same species twice and assume it's the same guy? What the fuck, Prim?—but fuck that old grouch. Whether it was the same guy or not, they'd grabbed her like a baby and thrown her on the counter. That was enough for a little indignance.

"Is this how you Luctemar barbarians challenge each other to duels?" they growled.
"I don't know," she choked out, "is throwing people around like a jackass how your kind greet each other hello in the wild? Just so I can return the favor if so. Wouldn't want to be impolite."
The Bisharp laughed harshly, making a sound like dropped cutlery.

"Please do try!" they guffawed. "Show me your best Luctemarene welcome."

The saké they'd ordered arrived with a cautioning glare from Girafarig Nina, and Bisharp took it while still staring down Prim. Drank it, too, then thumped down the glass.

Bisharp ??? wants you to try it.
Prim was not an impatient or unreasonable person, generally speaking.

That said, maybe it was the alcohol talking, but every sloppy brush-stroke that comprised the bisharp's demeanor—the smugness, the bravado, the surety—was converging in Prim's mind to a masterwork portrait of incandescent fury. It was the kind of rage that makes you feel like you only have half control over your own body; movement is a tremulous labor, a duel against the undirected impulse to thrash and break.

Yes, she'd met this sort before. There was only one thing to do when someone bared to you their teeth.

"Goodfuckingafternoonthen," came her voice of its own volition, slurred almost incomprehensibly by drink and wrath.

Prim pools her ultra-effective fighting-type energy and gives Bisharp ??? the old one-two.
This has to work, right?
Prim's energy pulsed from her body in the form of a blast of disrupted air – a sort of prototypical Vacuum Wave.

Prim's Caster Strike dealt 10 dmg to Bisharp Kotetsu! It's ultra-effective!

The Bisharp budged maybe half an inch, and grunted as if mildly inconvenienced.

"I, Kotetsu, accept this challenge," rasped his voice, and suddenly he didn't sound that much like Rin at all.

He shifted from his barstool to his feet, cracked his neck with a metallic scrape, and neatly headbutted Prim full in the face. He sent her flying.

Kotetsu's Iron Head dealt 43 dmg to Prim! KO!!

"This is how it is done in Tsainan," he declared, reaching for another saké. He found Nina's stern glare instead.

"No fighting in my bar," she told him, gesturing with a tip of the head to a sign.

"There is no fighting," countered the Bisharp, evenly. "I am just here to drink. If the sapling will get up and shake my hand, all will be well and you will receive more of my gold. How does this please you, Madam?"

The Girafarig stared him down for a moment, then glanced at Prim. It seemed how she reacted would determine the bartender's response.
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