"Daddy, do you know any spooky stories?" Vega asked, sitting on her father's lap. The family was gathered around a small campfire tucked into the woods. They had just finished taking a swim in Ebony Creek, and now, as the summer sun was setting, they dried off by the fire that was kindly made by Brad's houndour.
Her brother had come back for just a week to visit while passing through Flaming. Now twelve, he had a year's experience out in the field, and Vega, just eight, had been asking him questions all day about his journeys.
The Garcia family had decided to do something fun together, and they had settled on camping. If there was one thing the family of farmers all enjoyed, it was being outside in the wild. Even their mother, who was more reserved and homey, still enjoyed being out in nature. She sat now on a mossy rock, being the only one who didn't take a dip in the creek, save for her feet. She smiled at her husband as Vega prodded him.
"Come on, dear. I know you know a few good ones," she said with a wink.
He chuckled, and stroked his thin beard comically. "Well... I might know a few..."
"Please please, Daddy!" little Vega pleaded, hanging around his neck. Jake nodded his head too, excited.
"Alright, alright!" he laughed, gently removing her arms from his neck. "But you can't be doing that while I talk, I'll get a headache!"
She quickly glued her hands to her sides, sheepish. "Sorry daddy," she mumbled.
"It's okay, honey. Now, let's see..." he thought.
"Tell us about the Shades again, Dad," Brad suggested. Jake's head nodded up and down violently, a broad smile plastered on his face.
"Yeah!" he and Vega exclaimed in unison. Their father grimaced.
"Again? But I've told you about them a million times..."
"Please, Daddy! It's our favorite!" Jake whined in chorus with Vega.
"Yeah Daddy, please!"
"Okay, okay," he finally gave in. "Well, as you know... the Shades are a very mysterious group of people. They work in the shadows... doing their work quickly and expertly."
"But they aren't bad guys!" Vega announced, chiming in. Her father nodded.
"That's right. The Shades aren't bad. In fact, they worked for Our Lady in her secret council. They were respected and honored, but feared at the same time."
"Especially by bad guys!" commented Jake, pitching in.
"Especially bad guys, right," their father said. "Now, the Shades were the most elite of the Queen's Guard, protecting her from her enemies , and doing it perfectly every time. No one ever saw them coming!
They were quite the scary group. They would wear all black. Black boots... black pants... but their most famous trademark was..."
"Their cloak!" all three kids said, and giggled.
"Right again!" said their father. "The cloak was important, because no one ever saw the face of a Shade. Most importantly, no one ever saw their eyes. It was said that looking into the eyes of a Shade could turn you to stone! Or maybe... turn you into their slave! Or even... end your life!" Each time he said one of the side effects of making eye contact, he would lunge towards a different kid, tickling them in their sides.
"Well, the people of Rudan soon became so afraid of the Shade's power, that the petitioned that our Queen be rid of them for good! So they couldn't cause the people any harm. The Queen tried to insist that the Shades were only good, that there were no bad ones, and that they would never hurt anyone that was good. But, the people wouldn't listen..."
"So she sended them away?" Vega sighed, knowing the story already.
"Sent them, honey, and yes, she did," their father confirmed. "They say that the Queen sent the Shades to a place that only she knows, but that she still has contact with them, and still even uses them sometimes. Legend says, that if Rudan is ever in danger, the Shades will return to put balance back. They were all Normalcy after all. They were the strongest pokemon trainers ever, some say, using all different types of pokemon. They were unbeatable."
Vega's mouth hung open, just like it did every time he finished the story. "Do you think they're watching us right now?"
"Who knows," he said mysteriously. "Shades can sometimes be seen in big cities even today, but no one knows why they are there or where they come from, but they are mainly peacekeepers. They are treated with a fearful respect, and are seen as heroes and even supernatural beings, though probably that last part because of the rumors about their special powers, like turning people to stone. They were even said to be able to bless people... or sometimes curse them. Sometimes there were the ridiculous rumors that they could conjure fire or water, like a pokemon!" He tried his best to explain things in ways that his children could understand, and to keep the story captivating.
And he tried also not to scare them too badly. He didn't mention that Shades were highly trained in hand to hand combat, and could kill nearly anyone they came in contact in a split second. Or that they were nearly invisible in the darkness, and could be anywhere around them at night time. Or that he personally believed that the supernatural rumors weren't just rumors.
He shook his head, clearing his thoughts, and smiled once again. "Now, who's turn next to tell a story?"
Vega finally stopped running several rooftops later, breathing heavily. She gripped her egg tight and glanced around, trying to get her bearings. It was simply too dark for her to tell where she was, and so she sat down, exhausted.
She rested for only a few moments, and tried to decide her next course of action. She needed to find the healing house; every major city had a few. They were usually in the center of town... She glanced around, this time looking at the horizon. She could see simply blackness to her left, but to her right, the blackness ended and turned into stars... that was the hill from which she had come, heading towards Aero. So... She turned back towards her left. That was the center of town.
She walked across a few more roofs, and finally found an outdoor balcony, with a set of stairs that she took down to the streets. She kept her hood up, and her egg in her arms, and set off towards the central square.
She realized, as she walked, how well she blended in. The flickering lights of torches lining the streets casted flowing shadows on the walls, and helped her meld with them as she moved, appearing to be a shadow herself. No one stopped to talk to her, no guard even looked her direction. It was like she didn't exist.
She finally made it into the center of town and began to search. The healing houses were usually packed at all times, even in the twilight hours. It didn't take her long to find the structure with the most commotion in the windows. She didn't waste any time, and marched into the building.
The muttering around her soon faded and stopped all together as she made her way to the front desk. She ignored it, her hood down, stopping only when she reached the healers.
"How may I... oh!" was the greeting. A young woman with pink hair stared shocked at Vega. She could see up at the girl's face, but the latter was not able to see Vega's eyes that were cast in consuming shadow.
She didn't say one word, and reached under her cloak and unhooked Sue's crystal, handing it to the healer.
"You... want your pokemon healed?" she asked, timidly. Vega, stone faced, only nodded. The young woman took her crystal and nodded.
"The chansey will get right to work. It should only take around an hour, sir," she elaborated, stuttering slightly. Turning tail, she nearly tripped as she practically sprinted into another room, cradling Vega's crystal like a glass vase.
Vega resisted the urge to laugh, and, keeping with her facade, turned swiftly and sat in a chair in the corner of the waiting room. The silence around her soon turned to soft murmurs, nowhere near as loud as it had been. Vega sat with her egg on her lap, hood still over her eyes, running her fingertips over the shell. It was smooth, having lost the small bumps that were on it when she first got it. She wondered how close it was to hatching, trying to remember the little she knew about pokemon breeding, but failing. She hoped it would be soon, so she could forgo the egg and for a crystal, and have free use of her hands.
And daggers, she thought with a small smile. Once again, she raised her head, observing the room around her. She sat against a wall on a wooden chair, alone. No one else sat next to the wall with her, though she had chosen the solitary location on purpose. The other trainers in the building sat spread out around the room, in small groups surrounding wooden tables. Many were drinking coffee, and all of them were stealing glances in her direction.
While she waited, she decided to plan ahead, thinking about her goals. She had gotten lucky that the first challenge was in Aero, and she planned to complete it in just a few days time. While she waited, she decided that sleeping in the beginnings of the Grove just south of the city would be best, so she wouldn't get any more surprise visitors. The next challenge was in the Grove, deep in the forest, in the city of Flora. This would be interesting, because the Nature Sect would have to reveal the location of their temple, something that had never been done before. Vega suspected that the reason the Queen wanted all of the challenges to be in each Sect's respective temples would be to foster friendship and trust between them.
She wasn't sure if that would be the case.
"Sir?" said a shy voice at the counter. Vega looked, seeing the girl from earlier. "Your pokemon is ready. Her injuries were minor, and she just needed to be refreshed." She held out her crystal. Vega stood, and moved to the counter, taking the warm crystal from her hands.
"We never got your name... usually we like to have trainer's names for the records, and... eep!" she squinted her eyes shut as Vega turned to face her, her face still shrouded in shadow.
A name... Vega remembered from all the stories her dad had told about the adventures of Shades, that each one did in fact have a name that people remembered their feats by. She thought for a second, and smiled to herself.
"Veil," she said, lowering her voice, speaking for the first time as a man. And it was convincing. The girl's eyes widened, and she nodded, scribbling the name down on a piece of parchment.
"On... eightspring... at twilight," she muttered to herself as she finished writing. Then she looked up at Vega once more. "Thank you! Your pokemon was restored to full health. We hope you visit us again, sir Veil," she said bravely. Vega nodded her head, and without a word, turned tail and headed out, all eyes watching.
Once she was outside, she realized that to get her bearings again, she would have to be higher up. She looked around for a staircase to get her higher, but could find none. She realized that she would probably have to ask for directions. She grimaced, wishing once again for the egg to hatch so she could simply climb up the side of a house to the rooftops.
Egg in her arms, she appeared to float through the streets, searching for a guard. It didn't take her long to find one, leaning against a street sign, half asleep.
As she approached him, his head nodded in her direction, and his eyes suddenly widened. "A... a ghost!" he wailed, standing up suddenly and fumbling his sword. Vega suppressed a laugh. That reaction never got old. She held up her hand, and stopped walking, allowing him to get a better look. He stopped flailing and looked.
"You're... a Shade," he said in awe. Then he started shaking. "Please don't use your magic on me, sir, I didn't mean to insult you, or mistake you for anything that you aren't, or hurt your pride, or..."
"I've lost my bearings, how can I get to the Grove," she said calmly, once again lowering her pitch of voice to sound like a man.
"Yes sir it's just south of here," he pointed down a street to his right. "Take Warnock all the way down and you'll see it, can't miss the treeline."
Vega nodded, watching the guard curiously. He was only just older than her, around the same age as Brad. His clothes were torn and raggedy, the armor cheap. And he looked more frightened and tired than anything. She felt bad.
Reaching behind her back, to one of the pockets in her bag, she fiddled around until she found her coin purse. She grabbed a silver piece and handed it out to him. "Thank you."
He stared at her hand, and then back at her face. "Are... are you sure..."
"Take it before I change my mind," she said for effect. He swallowed and took i from her hand.
"Thank you sir... thank you I won't forget this!" he said after her. She had already turned and was making her way down the road. She didn't look back.
Warnock was close to a mile long, and she made it out of Aero with the sun just beginning to rise. She groaned, hating having to sleep with the sun up. She gave a quick nod to the two guards manning the southern city gate, and left the streets of Aero. She continued to the trees, hoping maybe that the canopy would shield her from some of the sunlight.
The foliage in the Grove was very different from the woods near her house in Flaming. It was a rainforest; humid and loud. Pokemon hooted and screeched and buzzed at all hours of the day. But she liked the noise. The outdoors was home to her, and she would rather hear bird pokemon cawing than people shouting.
She headed deeper into the Grove, but not so deep that she couldn't find her way out. It was only early spring, and fairly cool outside, so she kept her cloak on, though removing her hood for the first time in hours. She squinted, it being brighter outside than she had thought, her eyes having been cast in shadow.
She finally found the formation she was looking for; a large tree root protruding from the earth, nearly as tall as she was. She lifted the back of her cloak and sat on part of the large root, leaning against it on her left. It was shaped almost like a booth at a restaurant. She swung her legs up in front of her so she could partially lay down.
The egg in her lap, she pulled her hood over her head once more, enjoying the darkness it brought, so she could get some shut eye. Taking a final note of where she had come from, so she could find her way out of the woods, she allowed herself to sleep.
"And that's how we got here," she concluded, having told the story to her pokemon, especially Sue who had been out of it nearly the entire time.
"Swa swablu!" she chirped, and grabbed a corner of the cloak in her beak.
"Yeah..." Vega began. Her hood was off, and she was enjoying time with her pokemon before heading back to Aero for the evening. It was well past noon, high into the daytime. They were sitting in a little triangle, just enjoying each other's company for the time being.
"I think I am going to continue with the Shade thing," she continued. "Only because it would help me mask my identity... and make this whole thing easier." And because I just like doing it, she thought to herself with a smile.
She sat cross legged on the ground, her cloak pulled out from under her butt so she didnt sit on it and get it dirty. It was made of a material that seemed to resist both staining and weather, and she was grateful.
The forest around her was busy. Occasionally, she could see wild archeops or chatot flitting through the trees. A group of bulbasaur were moseying their way through the trees off to her left, led by an ivysaur with a beautiful pink bulb that smelled heavenly.
Above her, on the tree trunk, were kakuna and metapod, sitting silently and watching the commotion around them. The forest was full of life, and for a while, the three simply sat and watched what was around them, enjoying the peace.
When the sky was once again beginning to turn orange, she decided to head back to the city and do some exploring, more importantly, in the circus. She took her cloak off and folded it, packing it in her bag. She returned her two pokemon and picked up her egg lovingly. She felt so much more exposed, her britches, though looser, were still tighter on her backside. Her shirt that she wore was looser on her now that her breasts were taped. She hoped she still looked just as masculine as she had in the tavern. Masculine enough, with her hair, to pass as a man.
She was never more thankful for being athletic. Thankful that she had muscular forearms thanks to the farm work. Thankful that she had thicker manlier thighs. Thankful that she was taller than average. She pondered all of these thoughts as she made her way back out of the forest.
As she left the tree line, she was awed by the impressive circus tents that were immediately so close to her, nearly kissing the forest. There was no entrance to the circus from the back side, the commoners having to go through the city to enter. So, she headed towards the southern gate that she had left through last night, back into the busy streets.
The Aero temple was actually the largest circus tent in the fairgrounds. They often put on shows that people came from miles and miles to see. It was one of the more publicly open temples, and Vega was sure that the shows that they were putting on in the next few days before the tournament opened would be phenomenal.
And she was right, the line to enter the fairgrounds extended past the gates and far down Warnock street. She moseyed her way down the line, noting the difference in the reactions she received. As a Shade, people were scared to even look at her, and as a female, often took double takes at her and, well, her behind. But as a male, she didn't receive a second thought. People didn't stop walking to let her pass politely. No "after you's" or "pardon me's," just rude shoving and coarse language.
She loved it.