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Frontier Town Sun Stone Saloon

The Sun Stone was the kind of place where at least one person would frown and follow Tarahn around if he tried to come inside, but Archie had told him that there would be an interesting event there today. Lots of the pokemon he had seen on the very first day were here already, and he wanted to race them up the stairs on all fours, but remembered the rules just in time. He even held on to the railing like humans did, which they needed because they were off-balance on two legs and no tail. Humans were really funny when you thought about it.

In the upstairs room, he looked around at everyone who had arrived already and fought the urge to smell the floorboards for any other interesting details. Oh! That was his friend Laura!!! He scampered over to her spot at the edge of the crowd.

Laura sipped her drink – a mojito with an oran twist – and silently willed someone to come say hi. And maybe help her with the whole, deeply terrifying, 'talking to a large crowd' thing.

"Laura! I haven't seen you in a while!" Tarahn called, vibrating with willpower to not give her a friendly headbonk like he wanted to. He hoped she understood that he wasn't being rude.
Laura cast her eyes about the room as more attendees showed up and said hi. She waved back, and tried to smile, even as her wandering gaze caught Bellatrix, unfortunately punctual as expected. Better than her giving it a miss, though... She gave a little nod to Gladion – yes, so much had happened – and Kimiko – thanks for the drinks! – and gave a fully earnest smile to Tarahn as he arrived. Her ears and quivering tail spoke for her.

More critically, some teammates already had additional news for her on the Shadows. Fucking howls, this was already so weird and cryptic and ominous. It wasn't like she hadn't already suspected that the 'prison labour' victims were just candidates to become Shadows, but her gut twisted to hear it 'confirmed', all the same. She glanced at Jade and caught the recognition in her crestfallen face – she must have heard the 'hostile message' too. Yikes...

Alright, enough people were here and ready to start. C'mon, let's go.

"Uh, thanks–"

No, louder. With elevation. Laura climbed up on the arm of the nearest couch, cleared her throat, and snapped her digits. She'd gotten pretty good at doing that with cat's paws!

"Thank you everyone for making it! I'm sure this meeting is as past-due for many of you as it is for me, so while I don't normally do this sort of thing, I'd like to start by getting everyone up to speed on everything we've learnt recently. I'm sure there's plenty I don't know yet myself, so those of you with more information, please don't be too shy to raise a limb and speak up about what you know."

Deep breath. Off to an okay start. It wasn't so different to battling in front of a crowded stadium. She could do this.

"To begin with, there's the matter of Shadow pokémon."

She looked at teammates she knew and trusted, and spoke as if she was talking to them. It helped.

"For those of you who've not heard of them, Shadow pokémon, or 'Shadows', are empowered by some kind of corrupting energy that makes them extremely dangerous, and extremely violent. We first learned of their existence in Forlas when a group of us were attacked by one about a couple weeks ago, and we've discovered some active in Blaguarro more recently. Here's what we know so far..."

It was a lot to tell. She tried to be succinct and clear, as if she was infodumping to an impatient friend who'd drop the conversation if she got too rambly.

She explained what she knew already – which wasn't as much as she'd like – and finished by mentioning the info about doppelgangers and hostile dreams.

"If anyone's been receiving sinister messages in their dreams, don't worry – you're not losing it," she joked, dry as dust, "you really are being hailed by some sinister unknown entity. I have to ask, what kind of things have people been hearing? And, does anyone have any other information about Shadows to share?"
I have to ask, what kind of things have people been hearing?
Nova shrugged. "Oh, y'know. 'Your existence is full of suffering because that's your fate.' 'Nothing you do here matters.' Yadda yadda. The usual stuff I get back home."

A beat passed. "... Wait. Thiiiiiis is about people who've actually been in contact with shadows, isn't it?" He slowly slid onto his belly. "Never mind. Carry on." Nova rested his helmeted head on the floor.
It was hard to miss all the familiar faces coming in, even from the stage. Odette would use her breaths between runs to squint a little at each ‘mon who walked toward the conference room they’d had set aside. She supposed it was convenient it was scheduled during a set; it’d certainly be an interesting way to spend her break.

She was hasty with her exit, reciting her rehearsed “buy drinks” line before tip-toe running off the stage and slipping her way through the small crowd to make it to the conference room before it was too late.

Luckily, it looked like nothing was under way. Perfect. She muttered a quiet hello as she hugged the wall of the room and cautiously moved up to the front. She gave a wary look toward Kimiko, but decided to not acknowledge her. It looked like she was handling drinks, which was fine. She was on the clock, but not for waiting on the whole group. This was her break.

She pulled up a seat and settled into it, just in time for the question. She waited a second before raising her hand.

“Guess it’s not a secret, so I’ll bite. Had a dream right after I got struck by a shadow skorupi. Was the only one in my group who got hit. A lovely, oh-so-eerie voice said ‘This is beyond you.’”

She paused to allow it to sink in, before continuing. “Should also mention what struck me was Pin Missile. Normally I’d resist it, but as you can see, I’m still healing,” she said, gesturing to the scabbed cut on her cheek. “So Shadow moves are definitely of a different…breed.”
So far people seemed to be in the process of settling in and getting comfortable before getting into the details. Wes observed several mon greet another warmly, a clear sign of already-blooming friendships, and tried to stifle the odd sense of envy bubbling within him. He glanced around and tried his best to nod at any friendly familiar faces—Odette, Archie, and Dave among them—and was careful to ignore those who were likely less than thrilled to see him. This wasn’t the time to hash out differences of opinion, anyway.

"Alright. I guess we're doing this. Anything much happened outside the Bedaurejo meeting?"

Wes smiled a little, grateful for Gladion’s willingness to cut straight to the chase. He was growing more and more fond of the guy every time he heard him speak. “Yes, actually. A group of us went to Blaguarro and learned that mon are going missing in broad daylight, then supposedly re-emerging as Shadows.” He proceeded to share what he’d learned in the Cellar with Dave.

“We also met with a particular…individual named Nolan, and learned some interesting things there.” He swallowed and fidgeted nervously, suddenly aware of just how many pairs of eyes (or in Steven’s case, just one eye, he supposed,) were on him. “I, uh, will let someone else elaborate on that,” he said stiffly.
Bellatrix lifted her head, though she seemed to comfortable to move much. "Terminal Two," she began. "We found it or, at least, an underground tunnel that leads to it." From her mane, she procured the blindfold she had collected and kept from the abandoned slaughterhouse.

"Context clues imply that the wagons don't make it all the way there and the prisoners are forced to blindly march towards the site..."

She continued, filling everyone in not only the implications of the perpetrators likely being human given the powerful auras they emitted but also what the other groups from the investigation found.

"...I also have my reasons to believe that the charmeleon that attacked that wagon was sent," she finished. "Word travels fast by wing, especially when said wings can mimic any sound they hear. Tell me, have you noticed the abundance of murkrow in the area?" she then asked.
Espurr hadn't wanted a part of Yet Another Large Conspiracy, and so had ducked out of things after that awful mess at the party. As a result, she'd not heard anything about what happened after since. Instead, she'd taken up a busy job elsewhere, which left little time for supernatural hijinx. And kept her mind off it all. But doppelgangers, sinister dreams - and oh boy, she wasn't a stranger to those - ... maybe she ought to listen in some more...

She raised her paw. "How many have had dreams or seen these things? The shadow 'mon, I mean." When she'd encountered those things back on... her old new world, they were sneaky. If loads here were having or seeing them at once, it meant whatever was causing them most likely wasn't all that concerned with hiding.
"About the shadow charmeleon," Steven chimed in, "I did some digging in the town records, but there hasn't been any member of the species living in Frontier Town at any point. I don't know if the charmeleon line is native to the wilds of these parts, but if the records are accurate, this shadow pokemon isn't one of the wagon prisoners."

His eye winked into an uneasy half-moon. "I'm not entirely sure what that means, but thought it would maybe be helpful to share."
Today’s drink was an Iapapa berry blend. A heavy sour kick in the teeth with every swig of his flask. Somehow, Archie felt like he was going to need it. Oh well, not much he could do about that now. So, making his way up to the meeting floor, the Oshawott found an out of the way seeming table to lean against, and surveyed the gathered crowd. To be honest, he felt somewhat isolated. He barely knew most of these people, and most of the ones he did were fighting each other one way or another, it seemed. Corey was still nowhere to be found, and the Oshawott was seriously starting to worry.

Still, he gave both Koa and Wes separate friendly waves, tipped his hat to Laura – still annoyed at her, but that had to be set aside for now. Bellatrix got a wave as well, though he still wasn’t sure exactly where the two of them stood. Once Tarahn showed up, Archie weaved through the crowd to meet up with him.

“Tarahn! I’m really glad to see you,” he said, rumblings about Shadow Pokemon temporarily forgotten. It wasn’t like he had a whole lot to contribute on the topic anyway, all of his knowledge was second hand. “Have you seen Corey? I haven’t since we all left the Archives.”
"How many have had dreams or seen these things? The shadow 'mon, I mean."

"Eight of us have seen them, and six or seven of us have had the dreams, I think," Ridley said. From Jade's response he could guess that she had, and - well, he still wasn't certain whether Andre had heard anything or not, but maybe he'd dismissed it as a regular dream the way Dave had. Given all the potential prying ears, Ridley hadn't exactly gone into much detail about the situation.

"As far as I know," Ridley said, "we've only encountered shadow pokemon twice. I was there for both encounters, which is why I suspect that the dream messages only occur for those who directly interact with them, or who are hit by their moves, or something similar. I heard a message the first time, when it -" hurt me, terrified me, left both those emotions burnt into my bones at the mere mention of it "- when I encountered it. But during our second encounter only Odette was hit by an attack, and only she heard a creepy dream message afterwards."

He nodded in Odette's direction, hoping she'd be able to corroborate.
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Odette pointed to Bellatrix as she brought up the murkrow. “Yes. According to a lot locals I’ve spoken to, they’ve said that the rise in the murkrow population has been relatively recent. Where I’m from, they’re seen, superstitiously, as a bad omen, and that rings similarly too…and they have some big mouths to boot.”

She shook her head. “We heard them in Blaguarro. Spouting shit about Ignautius being a ‘fraud.’ Then something about ‘needing more blindfolds.’ Of which were found by some of the scouts that went hunting for Terminal Two.” A sigh. “So I’m sure they’re yapping. And that this crisis is related to their arrival.”

As Ridley nodded to her, she gestured back. “And yes. Again, had an oh-so-eerie voice tell me ‘This is beyond me.’”
Andre glanced around nervously as the topic of dreams came up. He still didn't know if those dreams were about him. If they were... this meeting might end up with all of them figuring out that Andre had something fishy about him. And Gods knew what would happen then.

Although... Odette mentioned having a dream, too, after being attacked by a shadow pokémon. That would speak in favor of the 'it's some shadow-voice talking to us via our infection' theory. And now Ridley agreed, yes... though it's not like that confirmed it wasn't also still about him. The voice could just have been trying to undermine their team by exposing one member's past and creating chaos and distrust.

But even if it wasn't about him, there was a problem. If they asked everyone who'd been attacked by a shadow pokémon what they'd heard, they'd eventually get to Andre. He would still have to stick to his lie of not remembering, or else he'd have to admit that he lied earlier. And they'd ask him why he lied. He wouldn't be able to answer, which would be even more suspicious. Maybe they'd assume he was working for the enemy. So he definitely shouldn't admit to lying, even if it would lead to misinformation in a case where every clue counted.

He sighed. Blurting out his human origin in Little Scriven, and now this. He was a terrible teammate.
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Laura was happy to see him!!! Tarahn listened politely while she talked to everyone about different things that had been happening. He didn't really understand a lot of it, just that there had been "Shadow Pokemon" around that were powerful and dangerous, which sounded like ronin from back home. And there weren't proper pokemon rangers around here to neutralize them, so that must mean it was up to the group here.

Nova shrugged. "Oh, y'know. 'Your existence is full of suffering because that's your fate.' 'Nothing you do here matters.' Yadda yadda. The usual stuff I get back home."

Tarahn patted the big pokemon's paw since he sounded sad. "Who's been saying that mean stuff to you? They better stop, I'll help you fight them if they won't."

“Tarahn! I’m really glad to see you,” he said, rumblings about Shadow Pokemon temporarily forgotten. It wasn’t like he had a whole lot to contribute on the topic anyway, all of his knowledge was second hand. “Have you seen Corey? I haven’t since we all left the Archives.”

"Archie! I came to the meeting like you said." Tarahn frowned. "...I haven't seen Corey for a while. Everyone's talking about bad stuff happening. Do you think something happened to him?"
Ting ting ting.

Mhynt held up a glass, though her expression looked grave.

"...You mentioned that the first attack was a Charmeleon. A Shadow Charmeleon who seemed to be able to block what you were trying against him." Mhynt took a slow breath, then opened her eyes again.

"Describe him in more detail. Please."
Jade nodded uncomfomfortably when Ridley mentioned how many had had the dreams. She’d tried brushing it off as just a dream the day after it happened, but there was no sense trying to deny it at this point.

"Why do you think the Charmeleon was sent?" Jade asked, giving Bellatrix an uneasy glance.
"Odette explained it well enough," Bellatrix answered. "Word of Ignatius being disposed of must have reached Blaguarro rather quickly due to the murkrow chatoting the Gala's aftermath. It's not a stretch the assume that whoever was behind it heard it from them. And, given the lengths these people are willing to go to in order to keep their operations secret -" she gestured to the blindfold "- it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility.

"Now, that doesn't mean that the murkrow are intrinsically tied to this operation," she then clarified, "just that they can very easily be taken advantage of when it comes to the matter of hearing gossip. Nor does that mean that it had to have been sent, I simply deem it an incredibly likely scenario based on the information I have."
Tarahn patted the big pokemon's paw since he sounded sad. "Who's been saying that mean stuff to you? They better stop, I'll help you fight them if they won't."
Nova tilted his head. What was with this sassy... lost child?

"I'm sorry, do I know you?" He hadn't exactly introduced himself to everyone on the team and, thus, couldn't keep everyone straight in his head.
Archie frowned, sinking into himself a little. Tarahn didn’t have any idea where Corey was either. He hoped that nothing happened. “Maybe we should ask around, see who saw him last?”

Though, something Bellatrix said caught his attention, his ears flicked in the direction of the conversation again, and he glanced towards the rest of the group soon after. “That’s something I was wondering as well. I talked to both Koa and Wes about what happened, and they both told me that the Shadow Charmeleon appeared and tore them all to shreds, but instead of killing anyone – aside from the driver – it ran before shortly Sonora showed up. The timing seems way too convenient to be coincidence, and doesn’t gel with what Wes and Corey told me about Shadow Pokemon being mindlessly aggressive killing machines.”

He folded his arms, before adding, “Koa and I were theorizing that maybe whatever process made them Shadow Pokemon was incomplete somehow, and the Pokemon’s original personality was still fighting underneath, and that the long term goal of whoever’s doing this might be trying to unlock the power of a Shadow Pokemon without suffering the mental drawbacks themselves.”
The Shadow Entity said:
You don't belong here.
This is beyond you.

Well, wasn't that just fucking delightful.

So, clearly being struck by Shadows exposed you to dream-contact by this entity, or at least it seemed that way. There was some murkrow gossip network that could be used to spy on events, and they'd seen the prisoners blindfolded. The prisoners who were being turned into Shadows, or close enough... but who could still be in there, resisting the corruption.

Laura took notes as best she could in her notepad she used for her Gazette work. And as she did—

Hey, cloud-voice? Are you getting all of this?

Yes, Laura. I am able to hear and remember what is said here.

It is rather a lot to concentrate on all at once, though.

Please give me a moment; I must convey some news.

“Have you seen Corey? I haven’t since we all left the Archives.”
"...I haven't seen Corey for a while. Everyone's talking about bad stuff happening. Do you think something happened to him?"

Hello, Archie and Tarahn. Do not worry; Corey is perfectly safe.

However, I must tell you that he has left Forlas and returned to his own universe. I am sorry that you had to worry about your friend.

It seems that while I can not return a heroic spirit home at will, their soul may untether from this universe – sending them back – should they ever become too out of sync with the spirit network I maintain, whether from external causes, or from conscious or unconscious loss of will to remain here. This is what I believe happened to Corey.

I regret that a better outcome did not come to pass, but at least I can assure you that his soul has returned to his true body, and he will be alright.

Laura finished taking down her shorthand summary of what the party had shared so far, swallowed, and took a steadying breath.

"Okay, everyone. Seems like our summoner entity is able to make contact now that there are enough of us in one place. They should be able to help keep track of all the information we're pooling."

Yes! Hello, heroic spirits. I am with you.

Good. Right... What next? There was still more to learn about the Shadows, right?

"Sounds like this 'Nolan' had something to say about Shadows, can anyone relay what he told you? And, uh..."

"...You mentioned that the first attack was a Charmeleon. A Shadow Charmeleon who seemed to be able to block what you were trying against him. Describe him in more detail. Please."

"Can anyone who encountered the Shadow charmeleon describe their appearance...? I think Mhynt had some suspicion about them?"
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