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Frontier Town The Wanderin' Zera

Dave frowned. "...Huh. So is the voice in your dreams the entity that summoned you here? Or did you just get a dream-voice afterwards?" He paused. "...After getting attacked by a weird Pokémon, by any chance?"
"Afterward, I heard the voice. When I was already here," Gerome replied. "Somethin' tells me I came here on accident. Never got attacked by anyone weird like that, naw. This was... what... decades ago." His tail swished again. "'m pretty old, even if I don't look it. Got a pretty youthful body."
Dave raised an eyebrow. He'd definitely taken Gerome for middle-aged at least. Older than him, at any rate.

"We've got one voice who's been talking to us who's the one who summoned us. Bright-eyed innocent little guy, just fucking loves beetles and believes in everyone. But then, after getting attacked by these Shadow Pokémon, we're getting dreams with a different voice. Sounds kind of urgent and blunt and says stuff like 'you don't belong here'. Either of them sound familiar? Anything you know about how these voices work or what could be happening?"
Gerome grunted and shrugged. "Been too long. Can't say I'm sure either way, but mine didn't sound all that unfriendly," he said. "So maybe it was that one... Can't say I know a thing about this Shadow deal, though. Like I said... I wanted to keep outta this. I just wanted a peaceful life."
Dave sighed. Figured he wouldn't get too much out of that line of inquiry. He doubted Betel was Gerome's voice if it'd been decades.

"Well, I sure hope we don't wind up fucking that up for you," he said, standing up. "Guess I'll head back and see if I can manage a fucking nap. Thanks for the cactus whiskey." He threw Grace a brief salute. "See you around."
Grace bowed towards Gerome. "Thank you again, I hope you don’t mind if I become a repeat customer!" she chirped, then hopped off the counter to waddle after Dave.

"I can help with the dreams, maybe! But, um, d'you mind if I hitch a ride? I'm still awful tired after being mauled like a chew toy— I'll be quiet company, I promise! It'll be like I'm not even here if you want!"
Dave squinted at her. "Hitch... a ride?" His first thought, in a world where he wasn't exactly driving, was she wanted to ride him like a fucking horse. She had to just mean tagging along, right? He wasn't even that much taller than her, for Christ's sake. "I guess. You heading to the Traveller's Haus? Sure, I'll take you there. 'Help with the dreams'?"
Gerome harrumphed one last time as the pair ran off, cleaning the cups left behind. His mind seemed elsewhere. Some part of the conversation had brought up old, old memories, and for the rest of the day, an echo of that pensive frown remained...

Ch03: In the Shadow of Doubt [Koa & Odette]
Koa hurried through Frontier Town, scanning the streets for any glimpse of metallic blue or a pair of chained up jaws. Or even a glimpse of pale gray fur. His insides were twisted in a thousands knots at the prospect of having to actually explain to anyone what happened, but he needed to. This wasn't about him, it concerned Forlas and all the other Wayfarers. But he wanted to try and talk to someone who would at least... hear him out. And who had good judgement. He wished Hazard or Echo or any of his team were here. Or Kitto. But he had to pick someone.

You messed up. You messed up bad. He could practically hear Wes's voice in his head. Except he hadn't meant to play hero. He'd wanted to help and he'd thought... he'd thought Betel could help and he'd had Archie and when Archie suggested the Ravine it seemed fine at the time. In hindsight it felt like a thousand idiotic decisions in a row. Careless. Naive. Trusting.

Growling under his breath, he glanced towards the Wandering Zera. He'd passed by the Sun Stone, but maybe.... He nosed his way inside and glanced around.

A fraction of relief eased the tension in his chest as he spotted the familiar pink body and chained jaws. Odette had taken him seriously before. He only hoped she wouldn't think even less of him after he told her what happened... Without giving himself time to think further and talk himself out of it, he beelined towards her.

"Odette," he panted for a second, catching his breath. "Do you have a second to talk?"
Odette was taking a moment to contemplate her notes over another spot of tea at the bar. The drapion, what she'd heard about Seth, her pending move, how she was going to approach getting into the Coven, and everything in between. However, as she scribbled through another thought, the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps had her perking up. She set down her tea cup and turned her head in time to see a streak of blue running up to her. She was about to jump back into defense but realized rather quickly it was just Koa. And he looked positively rattled.

"Hey," she said, pushing herself off the stool to meet him, concern lining both her gaze and tone. "Easy, easy. Catch your breath. Are you okay?" she said, raising her hands as if to pat him but quickly recoiling once she realized he might not want to be touched right now. She settled for kneeling down a little.

"Yeah, I'm free. Should we take this somewhere more private?"
"I'm good," he mumbled quickly. Koa glanced around the bar, then nodded towards a table in the far corner, away from the others. Between what he'd heard of Gerome and Sonora working here, it seemed like a decent compromise between safety and being caught alone again.

"But yeah its probably better if we're not overheard." He led the way over to the table, scrambling into the chair. Now that he was sitting in front of Odette he felt even less confident and good about telling her anything. Too late to back out now.

"So... Archie and I were trying to talk to the Drapion," he said carefully. He remembered how badly she'd reacted to it initially, but shrugged it off. That was her problem. "Wasn't really responding though." Was that even relevant? Should he skip ahead? He resisted the urge to study Odette and see if she was already judging him.

Instead he studied the table intently as he gathered his thoughts. "While we were there we met a Zweilous named Alex. He waltzed in and just did something to make Drapion calm down. Then he mentioned knowing about shadows and how to deal with them, and that he was working for a group and we figured that... I thought... I figured he might be able to help us. Or we could at least learn something to help the team."

Saying it out loud made it so much worse.
Odette followed Koa to a table, quickly scanning the area to make sure nobody in particular seemed to be intent on listening in. She wasn’t sure what Koa had to say, but judging by how shaken he looked, it couldn’t have been anything particularly good.

Sitting down, she tucked her hand under her chin and studied him intently. She watched the confidence drain from his face, likely whatever adrenaline he was hopped up on coming down. Still, she softened her gaze on him, hoping that would urge him to go on. It seemed to work.

He mentioned he went to see the drapion, and she didn’t react. She’d somehow known that that was going to happen eventually, and while she was still by no means on board with “taming” the thing, she wasn’t going to be the one to tell him that. Was he put on edge by something that happened there? She decided not to prod and just let him keep talking. “Okay…”

Her neutrality didn’t last long after that. The name “Alex” caused a sneer to curl her upper lip. What the fuck was he doing with the drapion? He fucking tamed it? He knew how to deal with shadows?

“Did this zweilous have his second head chained up like mine? Spoke like a fucking cryptic message personified?” she pressed in a borderline growl. She took a breath, realizing what Koa had said next. He thought the zweilous could help them.

She suddenly became a little uneasy. “What did he do?”
If he had been human, he was sure he would have gone pale at Odette's words. His hackles rose. Odette knew him?

The pit in his stomach grew. He swallowed before continuing, forcing himself to keep his voice steady.

"Betel didn't notice anything weird about him and I figured if we were somewhere Betel could hear us easier it would be better. Archie mentioned Silver Ravine so we went out there so that we wouldn't be spied on. And I thought if anything happened we could hide in the dungeon."

Koa recounted the rest of the encounter, forcing himself to stick to the details and not think about how frustrated and scared he'd felt. He told her how something had shut out Betel's voice.

About Alex's threat and him using shadows. About how he had told them he worked for some sort of organic shadows. How he was trying to stop artifical ones apparently. And his offer to show them how to wield shadows.

He didn't look up at Odette until after he finished. "I... We didn't mean for it to go like that." Failure.
Odette was careful in how much she let show on her face as Koa spoke. She kept her arms crossed over her chest, keeping her eyes and undivided attention trained on him, despite the fact he seemed to refuse to look at her.

On one hand, the cold, calculated detective in her was at least somewhat impressed they’d managed to get information out of that fucker, and a lot of it by the sounds of it. Every other part, however, wanted to scream outright.

She’d know that guy was weird, if not totally bad news. Whatever organization he was working for, and whatever his real occupation was, he was a terrible fucking liar and even worse at trying to make himself seem any less than suspicious. But to hear he knew how to wield shadows, and had gone as far as to not only threaten them, but then offer to teach them the same?

Taking a breath, she uncrossed her arms and laid them across the table. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s pause and look at the facts here. Nothing else, just cold hard facts.”

She took another breath. “I met that guy out in the industrial area. I’d heard about someone else with a chained up head and wanted to chat but all I got was a discussion about the weather and then the most suspicious, disjointed lie I’ve heard to date. He mentioned he work for another organization, but refused to say what, or why.”

Now, she was tapping her finger against the table. “However, in your meeting, you’ve managed to uncover that this guy is working for organic shadows, which suggests the idea that these other ‘mon we’re working with are unnatural. You learned the concept of organic shadows, and perhaps, organic light. You’ve learned that there are other forces at work bringing offworlders here, which I suppose we learned from this Seth guy too. But this is just another sample.

“You’ve also learned that whatever has employed Alex, this alleged user of organic shadows, apparently doesn’t like that we’re here. You’ve learned that our summoner, Betel, might be among the…lesser experienced summoners, it seems,” she listed. “The rest we can file away as potentially important, but things to assume as hypothetical until we know for sure this Alex fucker is speaking the whole truth.”

Exhaling deeply through her nose, she settled back into her her seat, resting her head against the back of it. “I could tell you from the beginning that this guy was not someone you wanted to walk off alone with. But I also don’t trust anyone as far as I can throw them most of the time. And being that he tamed the drapion so simply, I don’t blame you for perhaps wanting some answers out of him. Which in the end, you got.”

She should be mad. Furious, even. She felt the urge to be; that was certain. But getting into a fight with an eager child was not on her radar. If she knew how kids worked correctly, they’d use it as fuel to keep getting into more bullshit trouble. And in the end, Koa really had meant well. He just needed to be taught better. Given better tools. There was capability in his body, it just needed to be molded. Chances were he was going to keep sticking his nose in shit, so it was better he be suited for it rather than left to fumble because he was so young.

Her gaze softened for a moment, before hardening into something a little more stern. Like that of a concerned older sister staring down her little brother.

“Are you planning to meet him again?”
Koa was mentally bracing himself the entire time she spoke for the Blake-esque 'what were you thinking' speech. It didn't seem to come. Half of him wished it would, but more of him felt relieved mainly. He didn't feel like dwelling on how he'd walked into the wilderness with a dangerous stranger.

At Odette's question, he shook his head. "Not exactly. I don't trust him all obviously. And now I trust him even less. But before he left I told him to meet the team in three days at the Industrial Park. I thought at least this time we could get a bunch of us together, try to talk to him. See if we can get any more information. And we'll be safter in town I guess, somewhere semi-public." If only you did that in the first place.

"I thought if I tell the others at least we can decide together how to approach him. And... If he's telling the truth about shadows the team should hear it as well so they can decide what they want to do." Thinking about how it had felt to use the shadows still gave him chills.
She nodded. “Good. That was extremely smart of you,” she said. “This is one hundred percent a ‘consult the group’ scenario, so that was the right call.”

The thought of wielding shadows, however, intrigued her deeply. And the sudden thought scared her.

Huffing it off, she started rubbing the bridge of her beak. “I don’t need to lecture you on why walking off to the ravine with him was a bad idea. You seem very much aware of that, and yelling at you like you’re four is not productive for either of us,” she explained. “I know you’re smart. So we’re going to use this as a lesson in discretion, alright? It’s becoming more clear to me that we’re playing a game here, and I have no doubt there will be other players who come around and try to leverage things like an info need against you to put you in more shady situations, and you need to be cognizant. You got very lucky this time, and we’re going to learn from it. I can’t imagine there aren’t more like him, and they might not be as forgiving, I dare say.”

She rolled her eyes as she recalled her own meeting with Alex again. Her gut got her into trouble, but it was never wrong. And to think, she’d wanted to commiserate with him. By the sounds of it, if she wanted a crack at this shadow power, she still might have to.

Nope. No. Wrong.

Sighing, she looked Koa over again. He didn’t seem to be hurt physically. Mentally might have been another story.

“Are you okay? You…actually used the power, right? Do you need a drink?”
He stared at her quizzically for a second. "A drink?" Brief confusion washed over him. Did she think he was-? "Oh uh... I'm only fourteen," he mumbled. No one had ever stopped him from coming in here, but he supposed anyone who did would have assumed he was... his thoughts slowed for a moment, sidetracked, as he pondered the idea of drinking age in a pokemon body.

Realizing he'd zoned out for a moment, he blinked, focusing again. He wasn't very keen on explaining to Odette how unnerved he was or all the other thoughts swirling into a mire in his brain. Even if she had been kind enough not to chew him out, to his relief. "I'm alright," he said finally, shrugging. "I've had my share of tense encounters back home." Not like this.

He stared at his paws on the table. "It was weird using it. Like some kind of 'negative' type or something. At least it'll be good to know how to handle these shadows though."
Odette suddenly looked mortified. Teaching him the infiltration arts was one thing, but now it sounded like she was trying to offer him alcoholic beverages? Some fucking influence she was on children. “I-I…I know, I meant like…water or…tea, or…juice,” she said tentatively. “I definitely wasn’t…I know you’re not old enough to drink.”

Jesus motherfucking Christ, you are never having kids, Odette.

Fog had started taking form on her glasses and she quickly swiped them off to wipe them on her skirt. With a deep huff, she placed them back on her nose. “Sorry. I mean that I would buy you something non-alcoholic if you wanted it.”

She studied him for a little while, able to tell there was a lot on his mind just by the look on his face. But his response was more or less expected. She didn’t really think he was going to dump every last thought onto her, and frankly, she was glad. She usually could barely handle her own feelings, let alone that of a traumatized child. But at the very least, it felt right to offer to listen.

“Mm,” she hummed with a nod. “Well. My ears are open if you ever want to vent about it.”

Negative types, though. That was intriguing. What would that even entail? Perhaps tapping into something more internal than a standard move? Would it perhaps be like…charging a blood type?

“Interesting. I would be interested in learning more about it. You can count me in for this little meeting back in the industrial park.”
"Oh right yeah." Koa chuckled awkwardly, wondering if they sold any drinks from his world here. Or maybe they hadn't been invented yet... Still, something to drink sounded nice. For some reason he found himself longing for something warm. Familiar. "Maybe a leppa cider. Without the alchohol," he added, grinning. It was awkward, but at least feeling awkward felt better than the constant sense of dread that lingered over him ever since talking to Alex.

"I'm hoping most of the rest of the team can all go to meet Alex. If there's a lot of us, it'll be less dangerous maybe. And we can try to learn something..." He traced circles on the wooden table. The thought of Alex's final words to them still gnawed at him. "I think we're going to have to no matter what. Learn how to use shadows I mean." He didn't quite meet Odette's gaze, but he watched her anyway, wondering how she'd react to the idea that they had to use shadows.
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