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Frontier Town Founder's Square

At this, Steven chuckled. "It's alright. Everyone has a different way of showing they care. Not to say that you've come across as harsh, though!" he hastily added, his smile becoming sheepish.

Then, as he regarded Bellatrix, something wistful came across his expression. "You remind me of a friend of mine from back home. She has the most intimidating stare, but once you get past the initial fright, deep down you can see that she cares."

"But don't let her catch you saying as much," he said in a conspiratorial whisper.
Bellatrix allowed herself the small laugh. "Then I believe I won't be too off-putting to you, or perhaps I am losing my edge," she said in a faux lament.

"Either way," she continued, "I couldn't help but notice your adeptness at speaking, you must have encountered many people to grant you that experience. It's what made me believe that you were going into this with at least some kind of contingency instead of foolishly pushing on ahead."
"I..." Steven paused with a short hum, like he was considering what to say next, or perhaps how to say it. "Where I'm from, I'm somewhat of a public figure. I'm used to having to choose my words carefully."

His eye drifted off to the side.

"My father works in business. I... try not to get involved, but perhaps his insistence has paid off," he admitted, doing his best to hide the bitterness that crept into his voice. "He told me once, 'Everybody wants something, but they won't tell you what it is. It's up to you to give it to them without giving them more than they asked for.'"

He gave a dry laugh. "I'm not sure why I'm telling you this, it's not like I can claim to be any good at this sort of thing. He's the professional deal maker, not me."
"Well, you seemed to have done a good enough job with Nolan," Bellatrix replied. "So you certainly have the makings of a professional within you." She gave Steven a curious look at the mention of his father. "It's... common for parents to want their children to follow in their footsteps," she said.

Curiosity shifted into confusion. "At least, I think? I don't remember much..."
"Ah, thank you," Steven said, sounding sincere enough, though perhaps his heart wasn't quite in it. "I believe it's common enough, but..."

He trailed off, and then the realization of what Bellatrix had said hit him. "You don't remember?" he echoed, suddenly flustered. "I'm sorry--" he was quick to apologize, fearing that he'd dredged up bad memories from her childhood, but she seemed more puzzled than saddened. "...Wait, what do you mean? Remember much of what?"
"Many things," she answered simply. "One day I awoke somewhere unfamiliar with no memories to call my own beyond my name." She looked up at the night sky, appearing wistful. "But some things have started to come back to me, small pieces. Fragments, making them more like echoes than any coherent memory." She paused for a moment before continuing, "I think what you said just resonated with one of those pieces, even if I cannot make out any of the specifics.

"That and my current... guardian ...wishes of me and her daughters to follow in her footsteps. She runs a guild, which isn't too far from what I have heard about these local Rangers - I came from a similar world, you see. Though I don't mind it much, it has allowed me to find my way through that more turbulent part of my life."
"No memories at all?" he chirped in dismay. "I'm sorry, that must be..." He trailed off, unsure how he was actually going to finish that statement. Frustrating? Terrifying? Heartbreaking? No matter how she felt at the time, Bellatrix seemed at peace with it now.

Steven gave her a sympathetic look. "It's a testament to your willpower that you were able to make a new life for yourself," he said instead. "I can see now why you were so bold in putting yourself out there after Nolan made his stance known. It takes a lot of courage to do something like that in the face of open hostility."

He thought for a moment, taking in what she'd said about her current family. He didn't know much about guilds or Rangers, but from what he could recall from the Sun's Wardens' description, they were protectors; seeking to do good. He smiled. "I think if they could see you now, they'd be proud."
"Harrowing at the time?" Bellatrix finished. "Yes, it was, but life spins on regardless." She sighed. "There are so many questions I had before I arrived to Forlas and while I doubt I'll find much here, who knows?"

Steven's next words caught her off guard. After a moment of stunned silence from her end, Bellatrix whispered a simple "Thank you."

"I hope they are too," she said after another moment.
"So it does," Steven murmured, his eye drifting up toward the rooftops Bellatrix had been scanning earlier. He wasn't sure what she was searching for, but he had a feeling it was something not so readily found.

"All we can do is keep looking," he said, turning his gaze back to Bellatrix.

They were almost at the Haus now. His hovering slowed as they got closer. "Sometimes you find what you need in the most unexpected places."
On the rooftops, Steven find nothing of interest, just the outline of a pair of murkrow in the midst of preening their feathers.

Bellatrix replied with a nod. "Yes," she said, "although right now, I am more focused on the tasks at hand. To me, any further developments regarding my memories here are more akin to a bonus than a goal."
"Ah, apologies," Steven began, "I guess I meant a little of both. Who knows what kind of information Nolan will turn up, or how far the investigation in Blaguarro will take us. But if we find ourselves stuck, maybe it'll be worth looking in a place we might not have considered before."

He shook his head with a slight chuckle. "What that place could be, though, I have no idea."
"I can't say I know for certain either," Bellatrix replied after a flash of momentary embarrassment that her usual composure quickly shoved down. "I suppose only time will tell."

By now, the two were only a few paces away from the Haus. "Whatever it may be, I do wish you the best of luck with your agreement moving forwards. I would also advise the utmost caution but something tells me that you will be able to handle yourself well enough," she said. "I hope to speak with you again soon."

Without another word, Bellatrix left Steven's side to enter the Haus. She could not help the lingering content feeling that Steven had left behind. Perhaps she had underestimated this group due to the foolish actions of a few.

[Ch03] Gladion and Isidora ~ Shared Concerns
The square wasn't necessarily the ideal place to sit and think. Isidora sat on a bench staring at the night sky, and every now and then she'd have to weather some 'mon's presence as they passed through, though luckily it seemed no one paid her any mind so far. That would have to be good enough: considering what had gone down at the Haus last time she was out, she was starting to wonder if she should try and find someplace else to sleep and hang around from now on. Not like I trusted whatever scheme the Maus are running in the first place.

The meeting had been on her mind all day too. And her inability to get through to the others. And her performance at the castle. And the shadow situation. And this 'Radiance' power. And the damn Poké Ball. There was too much going on all at once now, and she had a gut feeling there was no chance she'd get more time to breathe any time soon.

She sighed and leaned on the arm of the bench. Why'd I even...?
Gladion couldn't help but notice Isadora in the square. She seemed... out of it, and he couldn't really be surprised. It had probably been a rough time for her, given the circumstances. He could just shut his eyes to it and move on, but the group was starting to feel like a team, and that made it feel... more like his job to help? Laura'd been acting like it earlier than this and he couldn't deny it had helped him. So he decided to take a moment to check in. He set himself down nearby, and steeled himself for a conversation he already knew he was guaranteed to regret starting...

"Hey, Isadora. You holding up alright? I mean, given everything I wouldn't blame you if you weren't."
Isidora's ears twitched towards the sound of someone approaching, and she brought her head up as she recognized Gladion coming towards her. Anxiety prickled across her pelt as he sat there and asked what was wrong.

Who was this guy? After witnessing his spat with Odette back in Blaguarro all that time ago, Isidora had written him off as unhinged. Being human didn't help. Yet the past few days had painted him in a far different light, one she had trouble making sense of. Does he... get it?

Still, she didn't want to seem all vulnerable in front of him. So she met his eyes and waved it off. "I'm doin' fine," she lied. "Just thinkin' about where I should sleep from now on." She went back to leaning on the bench's arm, holding her head in her paw. "What brought you here?"
"Wait, I was gonna go back there to sleep, something happen? We all get evicted? I think the Sun Stone might be fine, though..."

Gladion tried not to seem too condescending or rude— he hadn't hit the point of regret yet, but he would if he wasn't careful what he said. "But I just thought to check in with you because... Well, been a heavy week for me, and I can't imagine your past has made it any easier."
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"Not since the attack, no. Just don't think I like it there anymore."

Isidora's eyes narrowed at his next comment. Never said anything about my past... She had no idea what kinds of assumptions he was making. I don't know what anyone's been assuming. Her thoughts went back to what she said at the castle. Did he actually feel bad for her about that? Was that why he had agreed with her at the meeting? But no, it couldn't have just been that.

She focused her attention on lightly scratching her left arm, feeling the wound hidden there. "...I don't think I get you."
"The... alright." I'll figure that part out later.

"I guess I was thinking of... The context of your world, more than your personal life. I feel like I've compartmentalized all that stuff into just being 'the past' now, as much as everything personal. Feels like a distant memory now."

He had officially reached the point of regret. But that would have to be fine, he knew it was coming, and he'd committed to checking in anyway. "The... human.. stuff..." He let out a pained sigh. "Which in retrospect, maybe I shouldn't be the one to ask, but I... I don't know what I'm saying anymore. Laura gave me an open ear when I needed it, thought I should so the same, but as it turns out I don't have the same talent for it. Not the best people-person."
Isidora continued irritating her wound. "Well I meant..." A sharp sigh. "Don't beat yourself up like that."

The sneasel straightened up just a bit. "When I said all that stuff back at the castle, I didn't think any of you would take it seriously like this. I said what I thought needed to be said, and I was prepared to be the bad guy for it because no one likes hearing about how they might be wrong." She held out an open paw. "I mean, I thought I was just describing your worlds back to you. And maybe I was making a buncha assumptions about whatever your world's status quo is, but no one refuted it. And no one's gotten my point either, except for you and- Laura, I guess."

Then she dropped her paw onto the bench and started absentmindedly running a claw against the wood. She spoke softer. "So unless the kinda world you're from isn't like mine at all, then I don't get why you'd take my side in the meeting like you did, or why you're asking me how I'm doing, and all that."
Gladion wanted to make some kind of gesture of reassurance, or something along those lines. But given how he was sitting (lying?) on his stomach, and the way his size and the helmet's weight would lend an oddly high gravity to any kind of movement like that, he found himself stuck. He was still, save for a sympathetic look in his eyes.

"I know your world can't quite be like mine from the fact you come from it, and nobody like you exists where I come from. But still... I can't claim surprise at what humans are capable of. I wouldn't want to, either. The history of my world is as much a tale of how humans destroyed those beneath them as yours is. We're... not exempt from each other's cruelty. So... Sure, things aren't the same where I'm from, but I can empathize about how we deal with power. I was raised around it, and... I've seen how it twists everything around it."

He took a deep breath. "Not everyone where I'm from has seen it in that close-up sort of way... But I think Laura has, too: That's something we have in common. If you haven't seen it up close like that, well, it's not pleasant to look at your own species that way. It's easier to think of that systemic corruption, the way our power structures twist people and select for those who are willing to misuse it to consolidate more power... and treat it as a personal moral failure on the part of the individual...

"Some people just want to believe that we're all fundamentally good. Nothing worse than optimism. They could never hold power, they'd lose it if they didn't compromise their morals to keep it... But at the same time, seeing the way power twists people as a moral failing by the person influenced can be dangerous if you think you're obviously immune to it because of that... and I'd be lying if nobody here worried me in that sense."
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