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Old November 25th, 2012, 04:24 AM
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Ray Maverick
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Chapter 3: The Shadow




Brutalinax and his squad continued travelling towards the mountains, using Sunny's compass necklace to navigate. There was a certain path between the mountains that wasn't dangerous, according to the Seekers that were sent to prepare the grounds for the main reconnaissance mission that would come here. The Seekers did not follow the path to the end, though - that was not their mission, after all.

"No Hesperian has ever gone beyond these mountains," Swifty informed the group. "Not because we couldn't, but because we shouldn't. You see, locals believe the Contested Lands are cursed with the spirit of death and they're afraid to even set food there."

"And what's with the King sending a reconnaissance mission there?" wondered the Furret. Frederick Cena proved to be the curious type; he had managed to fish up some interesting information about Brutalinax's favourite food (the macaroons, apparently, made of wheat and meat) and Swifty bribed him with those to reveal some information about the lands they were headed into, as it was kept as confidential information up until now. From what the rest of the Verdict's elite members heard, these lands sounded cursed for sure - the Fire Clan must've corrupted them.

"I suspect an imperial march onto these lands," said Shango in a serious tone. "That's why the Empire needs maps."

Brutalinax jerked his head. "Shush, you rodents! Blabbing about the King's intentions isn't our mission!"

Shango put his arms behind his head and smiled peacefully. "I'm merely questioning his motives. We are risking our lives, anyway. Should we not be aware of the reason?"

The Garchomp said nothing in return, mainly because the Zangoose had a point. He would very much want to know why they were sent so far away from their homes, too.

"I see the passage, guys," shouted Sunny. The Bayleef half-shut her eyes, staring at somewhere between the mountains; they were about two hours away from there. Everyone was relieved they would reach the mountains before evening - that would mean they would've crossed the passage by midnight. The villagers had warned them not to spend the night there, and Brutalinax chose to trust them.

Tahan, the Bronzong Keeper, was strangely quiet. He was levitating backwards on the back of the group, keeping rearguard; Shango slowed down to walk besides him.

"Everything alright?" Shango asked the Bronzong. It was extremely difficult to tell what this kind of Pokemon were thinking, as they were expressionless, but Shango had a hunch. Tahan replied without looking at him.

"Not quite."

"Oh?" Shango looked down at the rocky path, awaiting for an explanation. He took out the shiny evolution stone he kept in the inner pocket of his cloak and started fiddling with it.

"I fear there is somebody who desires to... meet with us." Tahan threw him a side look, and Shango noticed with the edge of his sight; he could now tell his comrade was worried about something, other than their mysterious follower.

"How do you know?" Shango questioned him, ignoring the look of the Bronzong.

"They expulse a strange kind of power... a dark one, I would say," another side look. He finally decided to speak directly. "The same one as you do."

Shango felt surprised that Tahan was able to tell, but he chose not to believe him; if he was ever found out to be a voidborn, his future would collapse, not to mention he would probably end up being hunted, dead, or worse. The Bronzong had no way of knowing, anyway... unless he himself was a voidborn. Shango's eyes flashed devilishly as he looked at Tahan.

"You are a voidborn," he stated in a whisper. The psychic voice of the Bronzong produced a sound as if he was exhaling, sighing to be precise.

"I would not know," he said, then jerked his head towards their back, Hesperian plains only to be seen. "They're getting closer," he gasped.

"How many are they?" Shango asked curiously, trying to look over his yonder. He saw absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Why is it that only Tahan can feel them, but not me?

"I cannot tell."

"Perhaps we should inform the others."

"Good thinking, friend."

Tahan turned around and floated above everyone, headed towards the Garchomp. As Brutalinax raised his head, Shango perked up his ears and subtly approached them to listen to their private conversation.

"We are being followed," stated Tahan in a cold, robotic manner.

"Are you sure?"

"Is this a rhethorical question?" asked the Bronzong irritably. "Of course I am sure," he added after a moment. Shango thought that Tahan had gone through the Seeker's job. Brutalinax turned to look at the Zangoose, ignoring the fact that he was probably close enough to listen to them.

"Come over here, Maverick," he ordered and Shango approached even closer. His eye caught Sunny winking at him; she was eavesdropping as well.

"What did you say you saw back in the village?" inquired the Garchomp with a frown.

"Somebody was up in a roof and two red eyes were watching the inn where we stayed."

Brutalinax took a moment to think, then turned to the floating Bronzong.

"What did they look like?"

"I don't see them. I feel them..." said Tahan in a mysterious manner.

"What do you feel, then?" asked Brutalinax and rolled his eyes. He clearly wasn't a believer of spiritual powers. But then again, he was a dragon; they had other things to believe into, like their own sacred powers.

"I cannot define this type of... energy."

"It's good to know it's approaching," said Shango, glancing behind him.

"We'll just have to be ready," said Brutalinax. He didn't even try informing the group - he knew everyone would know soon, nobody could keep a secret in this team with so many Seekers. He started to miss the iron hard discipline of the Needlers.

They continued their way towards the mountains; a cold breeze ran through the Zangoose's fur, making his cape and cloak shiver. He glanced behind him again, only to see empty fields and plains.


***


The mountains were now towering above them like massive spikes. They would be normal if they weren't so steep - and lucky for the Verdict, Sunny knew exactly the way through them. The passage was a maze-like, steep path and navigating was extremely hard as the rocks were deceiving the eye. But the Bayleef knew the path so well, it seemed like she had been there at least ten times. Shango told her that he admired her and that he aspired to be as a skilled Seeker as she was. She only told him that he should've expected she was skilled just because she was Kingfisher's daughter.

The Verdict crossed the waterfalls, steep rocks and bottomless craters of these dangerous mountains, while fighting off the wild Pokemon. Shango's acrobatic skills proved to be most useful in this passage and everyone wondered where he had learned these and, most importantly, how. He simply explained it was part of his job with a tricky smile.

The red, sun burnt wastelands of the Scortching Steppes opened in front of them. None of them had seen such a sight. The sun was setting down, painting the whole sky orange to fit with the ground; no wild Pokemon lived there. And if they did, they would live underground. The group settled on a small cave on the foot of the mountains they just crossed. Everyone was exhausted from the walking, but they still left someone awake to guard all of them, just in case; they didn't seem to worry much about whatever was approaching. Shango fell in a sleep, and he had a strange dream... a Pokemon in a cloak and hood identical to his, was standing in front of him. He was a little taller than Shango; he was talking with the wisdom of centuries, words and phrases that Shango thought they were from another world, but he still could not understand a single phrase. It seemed as if the figure started hymning, but the vision got blurry and vanished as the Zangoose opened his eyes. He noticed it was still night; the moonlight fell on the dead, burnt trees in front of the mountains. It was a horrifying sight, but Shango focused all of his attention elsewhere.

A shadowy figure was standing on a rock behind Swifty. The Manectric was chosen to guard them during this time of the night, apparently. Shango opened his eyes wide, expecting the silhouette to disappear after he blinked, but it seemed as if it was moving. Towards them. Swifty noticed him getting up and looking somewhere behind him, and he turned to look too. Now the moonlight fell directly on the figure that was approaching them with swift jumps from rock to rock. It was an Accelgor.

"Hey, you!" shouted Swifty, baring his fangs and charging his fur. He was ready to attack, but Shango had a strange feeling they wouldn't need to fight. Accelgors were hive minds and clever species - if they had evil intentions, they wouldn't go out in the open like that. Whoever it was, they wanted to get noticed...

The bug Pokemon raised his head and stared at them with his black, piercing eyes. Half of his face was hidden in shadows, but Shango thought he saw a small ironic grin which quickly vanished as he spoke.

"I'm surprised you guys got so far already."

He was at a safe distance away from the Verdict. Shango walked over to stand next to Swifty to observe the Pokemon that was right there, thirty feet away. The Manectric reacted to the Accelgor's attitude by letting some threatening sparks out and growling.

"Who are you? Do we know you?"

The bug type Pokemon folded his arms and observed them with a serious expression for a single moment. "No," he said, "you don't know me. But you can call me Shadow."

Swifty seemed shocked for a moment, but he quickly got over it. "You're an Hashashin," stated the Manectric. Shango looked at the Shadow, overwhelmed by surprise; indeed, the insignia of the Hashashin was fastened on the Accelgor's chest membrane. He wondered what reason could the Hashashin be doing, following them... he thought that the Accelgor could be a voidborn like Tahan had said.

"Why are we still alive, then?" Swifty asked in a sarcastic tone. Neither of them knew about the Shadow; not his power, not his speed, not his skills. The Accelgor grinned in response. His whisper was heard all around the valley like the Dark Cult's hymn of death.

"Because I didn't want to kill you."

Swifty didn't lose self-control, and if he was quite worried, he didn't show it. They could now both tell that he was an extremely powerful Pokemon. Shango slowly awoke the others as the Keeper continued speaking.

"Why are you here, then?"

Brutalinax rose like a predator and stared at what seemed to be a hostile Pokemon. The Shadow simply grinned as he watched all of the members of the Verdict wake up and rise from the ground to look at him.

"I know where your reconnaissance team ended up," he stated hurriedly. Whispers from the other side. Swifty made way for the Garchomp to step forward and face the Hashashin.

"You're an Hashashin, why should we trust you?"

"I've got something interesting to show you," the Accelgor said. He reached under one of his sides and pulled the membrane up, grabbing something that was hidden under it. He raised his hand in front of them for the Verdict to see. Everyone held their breath: it was Kastor's Verdict emblem. Kastor was well-known all around Hesperia because he was the only member of the Verdict to join the R.O.F.L.S. missions, sent exclusively by the King. Brutalinax immediately responded in a burst of rage.

"Where did you find this?! What did you do to them?!"

"... I have no quarrel with you. You are just tools of the King."

The Garchomp was red with anger it seemed as if he would explode any second. Shango thought the 'tools of the King' insult was far too much for any member of the Verdict to handle, and it was far worse for their leaders; Brutalinax would've attacked the Hashashin if Lee wasn't holding his shoulder. Meanwhile, the Hashashin kept a straight face as if he hadn't noticed the impact of his words, and as if he was simply stating facts. A thought crossed Shango's mind: what if the Hashashin truly knew something more than they did?

"The ones you're looking for are being held in a camp by the Fire Clan," informed them the Shadow in a plain tone. "And this is the emblem of your beloved Kastor. I found a Bibarel's dead body just outside their camp, and what do you know. It had this emblem!" he shouted, raising his arms and chuckled as if he was a clown. Suddenly, the resemblance of the Shadow to a clown seemed extremely strong to Shango for some odd reason. His laugh echoed in the mountains and in their ears, confirming he was absolutely sincere. The Verdict took a moment of silence, mourning their fallen hero. Brutalinax was the first one to recover.

"And why are you telling us?" asked in a wild tone. The Hashashin suddenly got serious, losing his grin.

"It is within the Hashashin's interests for you to succeed in this mission."

Nobody knew how to react to this strange statement. Hashashin, supporting them? Shango thought that they only cared about the outcome of the mission, as if it'd somehow affect them... there was something fishy here.

"I can take you to their camp," continued the Accelgor, but Brutalinax rudely interrupted him.

"What do the Hashashin could possibly want from Hesperians?"

The Shadow didn't show any irritation - Shango thought he was especially chosen for this job for his diplomacy. Thought the laugh before wasn't diplomatic at all. Or was it? Maybe that's the way the Hashashin displayed their might.

"I've told you enough already. I take you to the camp and help you retrieve your friends, then we peacefully part ways. Or I walk away and leave you searching these blasted lands for the camp - and when you do find it, all of them will be dead."

Silence fell amongst the members of the Verdict. Brutalinax then ordered a minute for a personal conference with his team, to which the Shadow said nothing and nodded them to go on. The Garchomp gathered them around him and started speaking; some of the Pokemon glanced at the Accelgor who stood like a statue on that rock he had landed when Swifty spotted him.

"First off. How could you not 'feel' him coming, Tahan?" inquired Brutalinax, facing the Bronzong. Tahan spoke with his robotic voice in a strange whisper that made Shango's ears perk up like he had just found his wild meal.

"As I've told you before, I am unsure of what I felt, and it suddenly subsided at some point."

Shango grabbed his right elbow and his chin. He looked at the ground, thinking. "What this Hashashin says is suspicious. If the Hashashin truly wanted to help us, why didn't they send a dozen of them? As the lore says, only ten of those guys can break the whole Empire apart..." he said that with a hidden admiration in his voice. Ascendio had grown him up with various tales of the Hashashin, and he considered them living legends instead of an organization of assassins that worked for those who paid them the best.

"You've got a point, Seeker, but I doubt even half of what they say about the Hashashin is true. We don't really know any of them."

Shango shook his head and shrugged. Yesterday, he had witnessed an Hashashin on duty, and all of his fears - more like assumptions - were confirmed by the dragon-like beast. The power of the Hashashin was clear enough for Shango to see.

"We have no choice but to trust him," said Chan, obviously not willing to agree.

"Are you done back there?" shouted the Hashashin. "If we don't get moving, they'll all be executed when we arrive!"

They all turned to look at him. Shango thought the Shadow had an attitude like he knew their decision all along, and then questioned the validity of that - could the Hashashin have calculated everything?

"You," said Brutalinax, with his eyes glowing with anger, "are hiding something from us."

The Shadow threw a menacing grin at the Garchomp. "The world is filled with smoke and mirrors, mister Brutalinax. You can't know everything."

"How about you cut off that attitude, or we ain't going anywhere! And your organization won't exactly like it, will they?!" spit Brutalinax and Chan and Lee held him back.

"The King won't like it if you fail, either. And while I, as an Hashashin, am equal to any other Hashashin, you will be deemed as worthless tools and executed..." he whispered in the same manner, leaning forward. The eye that was visible from the moonlight was half shut. This was certainly not one of the pair of eyes Shango had seen before.

__________________

"I'm surrounded by capable Pokemon who don't need me in battle. If they get themselves bloodied, and I am clean by the end of the battle, how long before they start questioning my bravery?"
- Garland Fordring, leader of the Exathian Gold Tribe

*****


Last edited by Ray Maverick; November 29th, 2012 at 06:45 AM.