I begin walking down the steps. The road passes right by the house with the light, so I'll need to be quiet. The window points out onto the building next door, facing along the length of the road. It's set up high on the wall, so I don't think there's any particular risk of being seen.
Making it to the bottom of the steps, I begin creeping forwards. There isn't any sound coming from inside the house. Is there even a person inside, or did someone just leave the light on?
Now that I'm closer, I can see that the front door to the house is barricaded by a slab of stone leant against the structure from the outside. Is that the doing of a Pokemon? Maybe it's to stop wild Pokemon from wandering inside while they sleep?
I'm creeping along the side of the house next door when the sound of a sharp pop cuts through the night. At the same time, a dull flash of yellow light shines through the window of the shack. I press up against the wall, reducing my profile.
What was that?
I palm Gwen's Pokeball. It wasn't the sound of a Pokemon being released - it's something else. Someone inside the shack speaks. "You're here. What held you up?" The voice is older, male and has an accent I can't place.
He's not talking to me - what's happening in there? There's a pause. "Right, then. Damn Greenhorns. Anyway, whatever the Boss is after isn't here. There's just a whole lot of sand. Nothing remotely like any of the things he said to look out for."
Another pause. Is he talking on a phone? That doesn't make sense considering what he said at first, but whoever he's talking to isn't making noise.
"Alright. I'll just pack up and we'll be good to go. The brief said not to leave any traces." Another, shorter pause. There's another pop and a flash. This time, the thing responsible is definitely a Pokeball - unlike the first flash and pop. "We're packing up, Hypno. Put that slab back where you found it."
I scramble back, putting the second house between me and the house that the person is inside. Whatever Pokemon he released is about to come outside and is apparently strong enough to move a massive slab of stone.
I put my free hand on the hilt of my knife. I don't want to use it, but if things come down to it, I won't hesitate. There's a hum and the sound of shifting stone. Peeking around the corner is too risky - playing it safe and staying hidden is the best option here. A few seconds later, there's a dull thud.
The man speaks again, and I have to focus to make out his words. "Return, Hypno." There's another flash and the sound of a Pokemon being put back inside it's ball. A few beats pass in silence. The light cuts off, and the sound of the man shoving something inside of a bag comes from the shack. There's the sound of a zipper, then a few more beats pass in silence. "That's everything. Let's go."
There's another pop and a flash of yellow light - the same as the first time. Ten seconds pass in silence. Then thirty seconds. Then a minute. The tension slowly bleeds from me.
I peek around the corner. Nobody's there. It's obvious that he hadn't meant for me to overhear any of that. But what on Earth did I even hear?
He said something about Greenhorns and a 'Boss'. It's fairly obvious to me that he's a part of some sort of organization. Corporate? Criminal? Academic? Government? I don't know.
I move over to the house, looking inside the now unbarricaded doorway. Using the screen of my cross-transceiver to light up the room, I look about. There's nothing inside but sand.
It's fairly clear to me that the flash of yellow light and the pop is the result of a Mover Power - probably teleportation. That makes sense - whoever the man had been talking to didn't say anything verbally, but was obviously communicating somehow. Maybe a Pokemon that has the ability to do both telepathy and teleportation?
And what about the man's other Pokemon - Hypno? I don't know what it looks like, but it can move a fairly hefty slab of rock pretty quickly. I cast my eyes about. Wherever he dumped it is pretty close. Across the street is a collapsed house that looks much the same as the others. On the top of the pile is the same slab of stone.
I'm doubtful that it was physically lifted there - the position of the slab within the rubble doesn't really allow for it. Telekinesis, maybe? That would be the reason for the hum the Hypno had made, perhaps.
Regardless, I want to get some distance just in case they decide to come back. I start moving, making my way through the ruins. Within about a minute, I'm at the other side of the gully and another set of stairs. Unlike the road through the town, the stairs are modern - much like the roads outside of the gully.
I begin climbing the stairs. Why was the man here? He mentioned that whatever his Boss is looking for isn't here - he gave me the impression that he didn't know the specifics, though. What does that mean? Is he being kept in the dark about it, or does his Boss not know the specifics either?
If it's the first, that suggests a fairly tight level of information security. I'm not sure what to make of the second. Given that he was told not to leave any evidence that he was there, I'm inclined to suspect the former.
Making it to the top of the stairs, I let out a sigh. The entire situation stinks to high-heaven - an academic or corporate organization wouldn't need to cover it's tracks like that.
If it's some sort of Government organization, I absolutely do not want to bring attention to myself by letting on that I overheard something suspicious to somebody.
What if the man's a member of a criminal organization? I'm not sure what to think of the idea. What sort of gang goes digging through ruins looking for non-specific objects of some description? Some sort of modern-day Tomb Raiders? That can't be right - there surely isn't enough of a market for ancient artifacts to justify that. Besides, these ruins are on a road - any potentially valuable artifacts would have long been removed.
No - if it is a criminal organization, they'd be interested in the ruins for some reason other than an artifact hustle. If they wanted to do that, they'd just hit a museum - and even then, stolen art and artifacts are very inconvenient to liquidate without attracting the attention of the authorities. It just doesn't make any sense.
I push the thoughts from my mind, focusing on the hike. Things might start to fit together once I get some first-hand experience with the gangs in this world, but for now it'll remain a mystery.
By around eleven, the road begins curving back towards the east. It's chilly, but not quite as cold as I had been expecting. There's more than enough light from the moon and the stars to see where I'm going, too - if there wasn't, I'd be far more wary of continuing on.
As things are, the walk is rather enjoyable. I'm not pushing myself as hard as I had while I was doing endurance training during my time with the Wards, but I'm still maintaining a brisk walking pace.
I zone out, focusing on just putting one foot in front of the other. By one in the morning, the lights of the city shine above the horizon, drowning out the stars. Despite myself, a smile creeps onto my face. I'm nearly there.
I keep up my pace. By two, the road begins curving to the south and the tops of skyscrapers peek above the horizon. The terrain begins changing, too - the road is no longer covered by sand, and the surroundings go from a sandy desert to a rocky flatland.
It's around four that I begin to flag. The city is within reach, but I'm running out of energy - especially after having not slept. I stop, sitting down on a rock beside the road. Food and a break should keep me going for now.
Unwrapping a bar, I begin slowly eating it alongside gulps of water. I'm down to half of my last bottle by the time I'm done with my meal. I'll need to buy another bottle when the chance presents itself - this has been a little too close for comfort. If it can be avoided, I'd rather not travel through the desert again if I can help it, but being prepared just in case couldn't hurt.
The sounds of Pokemon off in the distance have mostly quietened. Is it because I'm close to the city? Or is it just normally quiet this early in the morning?
After a few more minutes of rest, it's time for me to get back on my way. All I want to do right now is to get to the city and then collapse in bed for twelve hours. Hopefully I've got enough money to pay for a room somewhere. If not, Gwen or Leo will have to look out for me while I have a shorter nap in a park.
It's a little before dawn when the gate to the city pokes into sight above the horizon. A wave of satisfaction flows through me. I've arrived earlier than I had expected.