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Frontier Town The Wanderin' Zera

Seems like a good kid.

Nova watched him go, then brought his empty glass back to the bar. He left the necessary payment for the drink, then headed out, ready for an afternoon of training with Mewtwo.

Ch04 - Shadow Talk
Ridley had been making nothing but bad decisions recently, and deciding to seek Wes out was probably another one. Wes had made it pretty clear after the whole shadow charmeleon fiasco that he had a low opinion of Ridley and his actions, and Ridley hadn't exactly done anything to raise that opinion. He'd been diligently doing the exact opposite of that, actually.

But Wes knew what it was like to be a shadow pokemon and Ridley needed that information. If he avoided asking about it just because the only guy who could tell him about it looked down on him for being an idiot, and then ended up hurting someone with his ignorant blundering...

Well. Ridley very much doubted that Wes would want to talk about his experience of being a shadow pokemon, and doubted more that he'd want to talk about it with Ridley specifically. It was likely that all he'd get from the attempt would be an invitation to fuck off and leave Wes alone. But he had no excuse not to try.

And so Ridley pushed open the creaky doors to the Wandering Zera, and tried to figure out how he was going to start this incredibly uncomfortable conversation.
For once, Wes hadn’t come to the Zera for a drink, but to simply sit with his thoughts. It had been a few days now since the fight with Seth, and so many things had happened since then—so many difficult conversations that he needed to sort through in his head. The Zera was as good a place as any on this slow and dusty afternoon to mull things over. He made sure to keep an eye out if Gerome’s utterly bizarre family made a reappearance, though. He really had no idea what to make of them, but he wasn’t eager for the kid to put a maybe-fake-maybe-not gun to his head again.

He quietly nursed his simple ice water when he saw Ridley enter the saloon from the corner of his eye. Huh, well, good to know he wasn’t dead or something after whatever stunt he’d pulled in their dream. But then, unexpectedly, the little not-Cleffa ambled right up to him, looking almost expectant. The hell? Didn’t this guy hate him? The last exchange they’d had was in the aftermath of the wagon fiasco, and that hadn’t exactly been pleasant. Wes tensed a little, but kept his expression cautiously neutral.

“Uh. Hey. Can I help you?”
"I need your help," Ridley said flatly. Honesty was probably the best policy here, right? "I did something which was... look, I assume you're aware of what I did during our conversation with Powehi, it was stupid as fuck, I'm aware of that, I super don't need extra judgement about it right now this minute okay."

Possibly too much honesty? Ridley could not actually tell at this point. Regardless, he powered through. "Look, I get that I fucked up. But Powehi did something to me, and now I'm using shadow energy even when I don't intend to, and I'm scared that I'm going to end up hurting people. And you're the only person I know who's experienced being a shadow pokemon."

He said, "Look, I get that you don't like me, but if you care about literally anyone who isn't me then I'd appreciate advice on... what it felt like. What I can expect. Anything I can do to minimise the damage I'm going to cause."

Okay, yeah, fuck it, way too much honesty. At this point, though, who gave a fuck. If Wes was smart he would kill Ridley dead where he stood and solve the entire problem. It wasn't like Ridley wouldn't deserve it.
Well, that was a hell of a conversation starter. Wes blinked, his brain short-circuiting for a moment as Ridley spoke, and felt himself cycle through several emotions in rapid succession: exasperation, defensiveness, confusion, and then, ultimately, understanding. It was all a bit much for him to respond to all at once, though, so he gave the most eloquent reply he could muster.


He looked back at his ice water and wondered if maybe he should order a real drink, after all.

“Sure.” Ridley was…clearly not having a good time, but none of his frustration seemed to be directed at Wes. He wasn’t here to rub it in like Koa, or to spew insults at him. Wes gestured to the seat beside him, trying to figure out where to start.

“Yeah, just…give me a minute to—can I buy you a drink?” He changed course suddenly, not entirely sure why. It just seemed like the appropriate way to begin.
That wasn't the reaction Ridley had been expecting. He'd been so braced for Wes to snap at him - or even to physically attack him - that Wes's actual response left him feeling wrong-footed and slightly guilty.

"I'm sorry, I know it's a lot," Ridley admitted. "You don't actually have to tell me anything. I get that it's probably the last topic in the world you want to talk about." If it was anything like what Ridley had experienced stepping into the ocean... yeah, no, there was no way Ridley would ever want to talk to anyone about that.

A couple of days ago it wouldn't have occurred to him to care. He'd have asked his prying questions and expected answers, and when he saw that his interrogation was upsetting whoever he was talking to he'd feel bad about it, but not, like, bad enough to not ask those questions in the first place. As long as his curiosity got satisfied, that was all that mattered.

...Ridley might be a bad person. That was an unsettling thing to realise.

He climbed up onto the barstool Wes had indicated. "I could do with a drink. I should probably be buying you one, though, I'm the one asking for the favour."
The gesture seemed to ease Ridley’s agitation, which allowed Wes to relax a little. He couldn’t blame the guy for feeling on edge, especially if he was currently Shadowed—hell, he was already keeping it together better than Seth ever did.

He shrugged. “Don’t mind buying. I kind of owe you an apology anyway, for…well…losing my head that night.” And speaking of that night…he sighed and called Gerome over to order their drinks. “What’ll you have?”

He downed the rest of his water and continued after Ridley placed his order. “I dunno how much it helps, but at the time, I didn’t really know what was happening to me. All I knew was that I was angrier than I’ve ever been, and I kept reacting to that and feeding into it without really meaning to. Or realizing what I was doing.” Wes glanced at the squat little mon beside him, so much smaller to him now after his evolution. “You already know you’re Shadow—that you’re vulnerable—so I’d say that puts you ahead of the curve compared to me.

“The best I can say is…well, pay attention to your emotions. The more I fed into my anger and frustration and—and all the other shit I was feeling, the worse it got. It was like there was no limit, like I’d just keep feeling worse and worse until I’d just explode.” He grimaced at the memory. “I sort of kept channeling my emotions into my fighting, if that makes sense—I think I was wielding Shadow with my moves whenever I did that. And that made everything ten times worse each time I did. So, uh, probably best to avoid that, if you can.” Gods, was anything he was saying making any sense? He felt so useless here. As if “don’t get mad” wasn’t already obvious advice.

He paused, considering something. “What exactly do you…feel like?” he asked. “I mean then, when Powehi did something to you, and now? Are there any distinct sensations?”
"That makes sense," Ridley said. He sipped gloomily at his drink. "Fighting's going to be difficult. Powehi said that if I wanted to fix this I'd have to fight a lot to realign my aura or something, so I can't just avoid it, but I used a shadow move by accident during a friendly training match. Trying to keep a handle on it in a fight with actual stakes is..." He shrugged.

He hadn't really noticed the emotional effects until Wes brought them up, but now it was obvious. "It feels like all the normal filters are gone. Everything seems to escalate faster than it usually does, and it's harder to keep my head level. I keep dwelling on issues which wouldn't bother me usually. And I feel... wrong, physically speaking. Like my skin doesn't fit right. Was it like that for you?"

Well, Wes had evolved when he became a shadow pokemon, so it presumably would have been a weird time for him physically regardless. "What does evolution feel like?" Ridley asked, suddenly curious. He was mostly content to be a mimikyu - it was nice to still have dextrous hands, even if most of the quadrupedal Wayfarers seemed to be getting along okay with their weird paw telekinesis - but it was disappointing to realise he'd never experience what evolution felt like.
Wes nodded to Ridley’s first question. “A bit, yeah. But slightly different, like my body just wasn’t big enough to contain everything I was feeling.” He wondered if that was possibly a combination of being on the cusp of evolving, too…he’d never really know. Wasn’t like he had past evolutions or future ones to compare it to.

So, it was difficult to keep a handle on things even when aware of the Shadows. That wasn’t surprising, really—at least that much was consistent with the Shadows Wes knew in his world. “Battling probably does help. I rehabilitated Shadow mon back in my world—or, well, I tried to. Battling is risky because it puts them on edge and can send them into a fit, but it also gives them an outlet. Over time, they seemed to be more…themselves, as we worked with them. More in control. So continuing to battle is probably the right call for you.”

The word call stirred up something else in his memory. “When I was, uh, in the thick of things, a few people called out to me. If you remember. I don’t really know how and I can’t explain it, but it…helped. Kept me tethered to reality, at least a little. Made it easier to fight back against my own head.” For all the good that it did, he thought bitterly.

Ridley’s next question caught him a little off guard, and he shrugged. “Hard to know how much I felt in the moment was from the Shadows or from evolving. It’s all a bit jumbled together. But uh, since then? It’s all right. Nice in some ways—I mean, I’m not a squeaky little puppy anymore, so that’s nice, but I’m still not human, which is kind of my preferred choice.” He let out a dry laugh at that. “And I keep smacking into things and tripping over myself all the damn time. But I definitely feel…stronger.” He looked down at a forepaw and eyed it warily. “Haven’t really trained in this new form yet. I don’t really…I mean, not since…the first night. I guess part of me is scared I still won’t be able to control myself, even though I know the Shadows are gone, for now.” He suddenly realized he’d been blabbing a lot, so he covered it with another dry scoff at himself. “Stupid, I know.”
"That's good to know," Ridley said. "I'll have to tell people about my situation if I'm going to fight with them, but if they know there's a way they can alleviate the effects, that might. Help." Honestly, Ridley doubted that anyone would want him around in a fight considering the state he was in, but he didn't want to keep feeling this way. He'd do anything he could to make it stop, and according to both Powehi and Wes, that meant battle. "Is there anything other than battling which helps with rehabilitation?"

Even if he wouldn't be able to avoid fighting entirely, he could at least see if there was anything else he could do to make himself less of a liability for his teammates.

It probably wasn't Ridley's place here to offer advice or reassurance, but... after a hesitation long enough to be awkward, he added, "That's not stupid. But if you're worried, you don't have to try sparring against people right away. Take a friend who can help tether you if you do end up slipping and, I don't know, go punch rocks or something until you've got a better handle on your body. That's terrible advice, I'm sorry, I don't know anything about battling."
Wes shook his head. “I…don’t know. I’m sorry. I wasn’t Shadow for all that long. Once the fight ended, it was gone. Which makes me think that whatever Powehi did to you is…different, somehow. A different kind of Shadow, maybe?” Was that a thing? He had no idea. “Uh, well, I guess in my world, just spending time with people who cared about you seemed to help, too. I don’t know if that applies here, though. This stuff here doesn’t seem to work exactly the same way.”

He sighed. “As for training…I don’t know. I’ll have to, eventually. Don’t want to get thrown in a fight and end up being a burden.” Like last time. “But I hate the idea of bringing someone with me, too. I don’t…want to hurt anybody else.”

He took a drink and looked Ridley up and down for a moment. He definitely wasn’t the same laid back, carefree mon he usually was. He looked tired and worn, too. Wes felt for him, truly, but…he couldn’t ignore the question that had been eating at his mind ever since that night.

“Why’d you do it?” he blurted. There was no judgement or accusation in his tone; rather, it was spoken as if he were beholding some alien creature that he didn’t know where to even begin to understand.
Looked like it was going to have to be fighting for Ridley then. Ugh.

"That's why I suggested the rock," Ridley said. "As far as I can see, shadow seems to ramp up over time rather than hitting all at once. So you bring a friend with you, and have them stand at a safe distance, and then they're there to calm you down if things do start getting shadow-y. Especially if you did it somewhere where Betel was around and could help keep track, or contact other Wayfarers to help if everything gets really out of hand." He said, "I'm probably overstepping here, I'm sorry. I don't actually know what would be helpful for you. But if you're concerned about potential risks while training, then there are ways to minimise those."

And. Ugh. He really didn't want to talk about this. But he'd asked Wes to tell him about his own shitty experience, so. Fine, whatever. Fair was fair. Ridley swirled his drink in his glass, staring at it so he wouldn't have to look at Wes.

"I don't know why I did it," Ridley admitted. Fuck it; he downed the rest of his drink and place the empty glass back on the bar. "I mean, I suppose I had a reason. At the time it probably even seemed like a good reason. In retrospect all I can say is I was curious and wanted to see what would happen. I didn't think anything would happen. I thought it was all... dreams and metaphors, you know? I thought the worst which would happen was Powehi would get irritated with me for not taking the situation seriously. Hey, do you want another drink?"

He started to gesture the bartending tyranitar over and then stopped abruptly. "No, wait, terrible idea. Really shouldn't be lowering my inhibitions when I've got this whole shadow situation going on." See, Ridley didn't make bad decisions all the time. "I've always had shitty impulse control. I didn't... I forgot for a moment that this is a world where making mistakes like that can get people killed." He laughed without humour. "I guess your world was very different to mine in that respect."
Wes barked out a dry laugh. “You could say that.”

It was a hell of an understatement. He couldn’t begin to fathom what it would be like, to live a life doing things and making reckless decisions just because, not needing to worry or even think about the consequences. He wasn’t sure if he envied Ridley for the cozy life he must come from, or if he resented it.

So much of it smacked of Koa and his sneering, careless hero complex…but at least Ridley had the decency to be apologetic about it. At least Ridley was showing the capacity to care about other people, even if it took a while for that to come to the surface.

He shook his head again. “Look, we’ve all got different backgrounds and assumptions we brought with us. Frankly, this world is hardly more dangerous that the one I came from—so far, anyway.” Gods, he sure hoped it wouldn’t actually turn out to be worse, but he wasn’t going to get his hopes up. Then again, apparently his own world was far worse than he’d ever realized…

“I guess…there’s nothing wrong with being a curious person. Wanting answers and whatnot. It’s not something I understand, but I know a few people kinda like you.” Rui. Neo, even. Hell, Rui had managed to get herself kidnapped and almost killed—maybe she and Ridley would have become fast friends, what with them both being such godsdamned idiots. The thought made him smile a little. “Just…even if your curiosity doesn’t affect other people, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still protect yourself, you know? You matter to other people, too. I mean…I can’t say we know each other all that well, but that doesn’t mean I’m eager to see you burst into flames, or whatever.” He shot Ridley a sideways glance. “Just remember that, yeah? We’re a team now, so we should be looking after ourselves as well as each other.”

That’s pretty rich, coming from you, he told himself. And…yeah. It was. He was starting to realize that maybe it was about time he began taking his own advice, and decided to say as much. “Granted, I’m still working on that, myself. But, well…doesn’t make it any less true.”

He straightened and rolled his shoulders a little. “Thanks for the drink offer, but I’m good. If I want to get some training done today, I should stay sharp. Thanks for the advice, by the way, you’re probably right that that’s the best way to go about it. And…if you need a training partner to help out with this Shadow stuff, I can lend a hand sometime. Once I get the hang of being in my own skin.”
"I'll try to get better at not throwing myself into stupid situations," Ridley agreed. It was probably too much to hope that he'd ever stop entirely, but he could at least get better at thinking first. "I haven't been much of a team player so far, have I? I'm not used to needing to consider how my actions affect other people. I'll try to get better at that, too."

Wes was right, he realised. Ridley wasn't particularly close to any of the other Wayfarers, but he'd still be upset to see any of them get hurt or killed. It shouldn't come as a surprise to him that it also worked in reverse.

"Good luck with your training," he said. "And thanks for your advice, too. Both about being a shadow pokemon, and for... what you said just now. Thank you."
Wes grinned and raised his empty glass. “Not a problem. Take care of yourself, all right?”

Maybe he’d been a bit hasty to judge this odd little Mimi-whatsit guy. Or maybe they’d both been right about each other at first, and they were just…learning. Adjusting. Whatever it was, Wes would take it. He nodded and wished Ridley well as the guy headed out the door, then ordered another glass of water from Gerome, feeling a little less overwhelmed than before.

[Ch04] ~ A Lantern, Carried
You could find any number of solitary strangers, hunched over a glass of something strong, in just about any saloon bar in the frontier.

It was less common to see a Zeraora, her fur a striking silver-white, clothed in a simple cloak and duster, nursing a whiskey.

The other patrons, not that there were many, didn't bother her. Gerome had the clout to keep curious drinkers away from a guest who wanted some peace to herself, and Sonora had eyes in the back of her head by now where troublesome drinkers were concerned. The Wandering Light had some time to herself to enjoy a hard drink, but her shoulders were hunched over, and her ears low.

Her eyes didn't seem to be attentive to the space around her, but rather on something only she could see.
Old Town had been his first guess. Maybe because it made sense, right? Or because he was afraid, afraid to actually find what he was looking for.

But she couldn't be anywhere else, could she?

Koa entered the bar and stopped across the table from her. "Hello," he said solenmly, dipping his head. He desperately wanted to be respectful, acknowledge her properly, as was deserved. "Luz, the Wandering Light, it is an honor." His voice wavered more than he wanted.

He tried to meet her gaze, and speak calmly. If only the situation wasn't urgent, but she was their only hope of using Radiance, and their attack on Cipher was swift approaching. Confidence. "We need your help." That much he could say without his voice shaking, at least. That much he was sure of.
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Gerome offered a glare on reflex toward Koa, but a second later he recognized who he was. "Mm." He closed his eyes, thoughtful, and then nodded at Zera, as if implying that for once, he would make an exception and not ward off a 'fan.'

He poured Koa a drink. No alcohol, of course.
It was only a hunch. Mainly other Wayfarers musing about how discrete Gerome seemed to be.

But Nova decided to follow that hunch. And when he was outside of the Zera, the focusing he'd done on his shadows left him a smidge nauseous. Which had to mean something, right?

After a few deep breaths to let the sensations fade, Nova headed inside. There was, certainly, a patron sticking out in the bar. Nova wasn't aware of any big, white-furred cats in town.

... Not that he knew everyone in Frontier Town. But that cloak reminded him a bit of the one he had back home.

Better to play it cool, though. Nova was a strange sight. Maybe if he just made his presence known without disturbing the cat, he'd catch her attention.

... Oooooooooooooor Koa could just barge in and go riiiiiiiiiiiiight up to her. No introduction. No pleasantries. Might as well have belted out a "Help me Wandering Light Luzobi, you're my only hope."

He noticed Sonora in the bar, wondering if she'd shoo Koa off. Nova hastily put some coins down on the bar, asked Gerome for a rum and coke, and made his way over toward the table.

"Forgive my friend, here, miss. It's been a long week in a longer month and I think nerves have gotten the better of him." Nova nodded slowly. "Name's Nova. This is Koa."
It rang strange to her that a saint would spend time in a bar—and by strange, she meant funny. Bars were a cesspool of sin, and yet. Then again she supposed Luz may not be that kind of saint…

A cynic. We’ll get along.

Odette walked into the bar, eyes scanning the crowd. It was hard to miss her—somehow she looked exactly how Odette pictured her despite not actually expecting anything. Almost stuck out.

What also stuck out was the electrike just walking right the fuck up to her.

She brought a clenched fist to her lips and exhaled sharply to herself. Goddammit. That was likely not the best way to approach her, based on what Akela had said. And fucking yet…

Then the other fucking Null showed up trying to salvage the situation at hand. The not-Gladion one. Jesus fucking…

Fuck,” she said under her breath as she edged closer.
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