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Frontier Town Frontier Town Outskirts

"The privilege to... rest every once in a while," Astrid confessed after a long moment of thought. "Less people starving. More community and sharing, less killing and war. It took forever to break the mold and even start making progress. There was still a lot of work to do, it wasn't perfect, but it wasn't anarchy anymore. I could actually sleep at night." She swallowed. "I'm just really tired of losing people, is all. It never gets easier."

She huffed and broke rhythm again, striking harder, faster, before catching herself. "--Oop. My bad."

Astrid relaxed and let her feet wander as her mind did, sometimes in a dance, and sometimes standing stiff and bracing for impact. She aimed to build callouses here and work on her footwork there, though Bellatrix's speed sometimes contributed to the former regardless of Astrid's attempts to dodge. Mere minutes in and they'd worked on many aspects of combat each, Astrid noted; she oughta invite the Zoroark out here more often to shoot the breeze and each other.

"But maybe you're right, um. Maybe there's a conversation waiting to happen there, with others." Or maybe that would be a mistake. She wasn't exactly gaining much from dwelling on it, was she? "But uh. It'd help to know why you're so unphased. There other versions of you out there somewhere you've had to come to terms with splitting from?"
"I find it fascinating how quickly the little things pile up," Bellatrix replied as she slightly reeled from a solid blow to the leg. "Even if the progress is minimal, if you choose to keep fighting for it -" she leapt to the side, now realising that running on four legs was much faster than two "- perhaps you may incite difference.

"As for me, I do not believe so." Bellatrix threw out another attack. "Although, not seeing my presence here as a split from my 'main self' prevents me from fretting about the grander existentialism of the matter. As I said, this would not be the first time I lost my memories but my sense of self remains intact. I need to remain firm in my convictions if I wish to accomplish anything, wherever I may be."
"Hmmh." As their circling hit a brief lull and a distance had formed, Astrid took the opportunity to rest for a moment and really think. "Sense of self. Yeah, guess that hasn't changed. I mean, it was just like waking up from a dream--I still feel like me when I first opened these eyes. I still am me. It's... it's her that's different now, back home. She'll just never know."

A cool breeze tickled the back of her neck. Her recuperation nap earlier had eaten much of the afternoon and now evening had fallen. Shadows crept ever-further across the terrain as the sun finally kissed the horizon, painting the sky behind it with a brilliant magenta-orange. Astrid just stared. How... benevolent it all was. Yeah. It wasn't so bad here. That was the problem.

"...I want to find a way to stay," she finally admitted with a heavy huff, "because that's the only way I don't die in my twenties. Some--some bargain with Betel, or Arceus or whatever. An act of mercy for saving this place. That's still problem A since we're definitely dead if we fail to complete our job, but, you know. Still. All of us deserve the choice to persist."

Astrid blew a strand of her out of her face and studied Bellatrix. "Do you hope for the same?"
Bellatrix shrugged. Planting the end of her stick in the dirt to lean on it. "There are still many answers I seek back in my world, I doubt I will find them here if I stay," she answered. But what if I do? Already I feel the seals weakening— "What I wonder is what will happen to your original self back on your home world if you choose to stay here. Didn't Betel say that it was only our spirits that were pulled with a body constructed by them to accommodate? What will become of those you made connections to back on your home world if there is no Astrid there anymore?"
"Nothing. That’s the thing." Astrid shook her head and sigh-laughed. "It just doesn’t make-- mm. I dunno how it works, I just… don’t believe that the original me would drop dead or materialize these memories or anything else out of the ordinary. The only thing that makes sense is that she simply keeps on going. That’s gotta be why time is frozen for us. Maybe if I’d been yanked through a portal like Seth had it’d be different, but…

"It’s a mystery I’m not willing to be patient and test. I’m done waiting for life to catch up to me."

Astrid bit her lip. She didn’t even care if that was projection. The stakes were somehow higher this time and weren’t getting any smaller. But one thought did linger, briefly: what if she did affect her original self in some way? What if she killed her without realizing? Did she care about that?

She folded her tails around her back and, with a grateful nod, sat down next to Bellatrix. "But um. This has helped. Actually talking about it. Realizing there are parts of me that are still-- parts that didn’t get left behind. And I’m actually glad it isn’t bothering people like you nearly as much. Keeps things grounded when shit goes south."
"You'd be surprised at how much truth lies in the nonsensical," Bellatrix said, closing her eyes and tapping the gems on her arms. There was a small huff to her tone that indicated a degree of annoyance at that fact. She hummed in thought at Astrid's next comment. "After a point, you learn to accept the impossible and focus more on how you wish to move forwards. That's how you remain grounded and not swept up in the insanity of the situation you find yourself in."

She opened her eyes, looking out towards the horizon with a sigh. "And now, with so many summoned, I must apply that concept tenfold." Bellatrix looked back at Astrid. "So what will you do about that mystery? How will you move forwards?" she asked.
"Make the most of all this," Astrid eventually settled on, whirling around into a brief circular pace. "Just try and forget about what I've lost all over again, I guess. In a way, it's... easier now, knowing this is likely my last stop. Knowing that there's still a chance to save this place." She frowned at the dirt. "Can't waste it."

She cracked her back, her forepaws, shoulders... even her tails. If she stayed still too long, she'd start to get stiff.

"Ready to go again? Little faster this time?"
Bellatrix simply nodded thoughtfully at Astrid's answer and stood up, once again brandishing her stick like a sword.

"When you're ready."

Ch04: Into the Tall Grass (Koa & Laura)
Wind ruffled Koa's fur and danced through the scrub as he trotted down the road leaving Frontier Town. The bag on his back was packed tight, trainer style, with plenty of supplies. A few basic orbs like protect and teleport in case of danger. An ever present reviver seed he never went anywhere without. And a variety of berries and jerky. Everything he needed for nice wilderness excursion. Including the Meowth at his side.

He'd run into her while shopping for supplies and mentioned his plan of seeing what the local feral pokemon were like, and he was pleased that she'd been interested in coming. With the journey to the Ranger HQ approaching, it seemed like a pleasant way to take his mind off things while learning more about this world. She'd been good company last time they spoke, and as an experienced trainer he hoped she might have valuable insight.

"So how long were you a trainer for back home?" As he spoke, he kept an eyed peeled for any signs of wild mon. Maybe he could even find a Shinx or another familiar mon...
Local feral 'mon, huh? As if she were a trainer, and as if that meant anything in this world. Still, she was curious, and she'd never get less lonely by turning down invitations.

Laura's ears flicked, repeatedly and involuntarily, at the wind. She might never get used to that. Ears that moved. Ears with a mind of their own. They swivelled towards Koa as he spoke.

"Uh, depending on whether you count my first 'mon or my first time actually on the circuit... Well, I've been properly a trainer for a few months. But it has to count for something that I spent, like, nearly a decade looking after a 'mon, doing practice battles, studying up in my own time."

It didn't sound all that impressive.

"Most people ask about my badges. I've got four so far."

Neither did that. Turned out her ears could pin back from cringing with embarrassment, too.
Four? Laura sounded older than him... Maybe she'd started late. Or maybe her world didn't let trainers start young?

"I think that counts for something," he said. "I got six," he added, a light note of friendly ribbing in his voice. A moment after he said it he hoped it didn't come off the wrong way. Maybe trainer banter wasn't the norm where she was from... "But it sounds like you've probably been practicing and training way longer than me. Four in a few months is good."

He paused to sniff at a bush before looking at her. "Were you training with your starter?"
Laura winced at first at the kid's easy I got six, and fought to stifle the feeling of humiliation. Sure, she was getting shown up by a younger boy, but who was to say he hadn't been on the road longer than her? Anyone could be a great trainer at any age. And she was focused on the Salem/Perihelion stuff, anyway. It didn't matter. It was stupid to even feel bad about it. She was being stupid.

...And... he was only bantering, anyway, wasn't he?

"Right, uh. Salem wasn't really my starter. Domestic companion, actually. But we both wanted to do the circuit together, so I guess she was gonna be my first pokémon. But I didn't get my starter until recently. Sleet was my sixth regular on the team roster. An inteleon."
Great, he'd probably upset her... But if he brought it up maybe that would make it weirder. "In my world, the first pokemon you catch or receive after becoming a trainer is usually called your starter. Some kids get one from volunteer programs or professors. I was going to get one from a professor but..." he chuckled at the memory of his naivete. "I ended up catching a Zubat on accident." Thinking about Echo made his heart ache.

He hummed in thought for a moment as they walked. Her starter was her sixth team member? It also was hard not to notice she'd said Salem 'was' going to be her first. Something must have happened, but he didn't want to make her talk about it. "If an Inteleon was your last pokemon, you must have had an interesting team. What were the rest of them like?"
A zubat, huh? Hell of an oddball first 'mon. Now, were they a crobat by now? That was the question.

"Well, uh, let's see..."

Should she just... talk about them? It had been a while since she'd talked to another trainer about something this normal, and she wasn't used to trying to make her team sound interesting. They were, to her at least, but... it felt kindof self-important, somehow.

"Caesar's my first on the road – he's an old herdier, loads of battle experience. He's starting to need pain meds to keep up, but he volunteered for the journey. He sometimes acts like he's the one really in charge."

So did all her pokémon, actually.

"Kindof a running theme with my pokémon if I'm honest."

She laughed – genuinely, this time – and picked up the pace a little.

"Then I've got a frosmoth and a yamask, been trying to figure out how to evolve that little fucker. I traded for a gogoat with someone I knew from school – Tamarisk's her name, and she's savvy. Makes for a great bike substitute, too. Then there's Malachai."

Malachai. Howls, he'd be useful here. Flight, telepathy, experience, confidence. He'd have everyone marching to his fucking tune in no time.

"I think he's training me, more than I'm training him. He's old. He says he's over a hundred, but sometimes I wonder if he's way more than that. He's an Atlantic Bluewing noivern. Massive wingspan, coastal diver subspecies. Telepathic, opinionated, uncompromising... A real bastard of a dragon."

Gods, she missed him.

"I'd kill to have him here right now."
Koa listened with rapt fascination as she described her teammates. An odd bunch, unsurprisingly. Herdier, Frosmoth, Yamask, Gogoat and the Inteleon? Looking back he'd been foolish to assume he could have had some kind of perfect team.

As she mentioned Noivern however, his eyes widened. He'd never heard of another species, but the way she described him sounded incredible. "Sick," he exclaimed. "Malachai sounds awesome. I always wanted a dragon I could fly on," he murmured. Flying on that Flygon, even for just a short time, had been amazing. "My Tyrunt evolved recently back home and she's huge. A real rascal, thats where she got her name. I wanted a Garchomp before I started on my journey, but never ended up catching one."

He chuckled and shook his head. "Actually most of my team wasn't what I thought I would get. I'm kind of glad she's not here though, she can be a handful," he added with wry grin. Realizing he'd probably rambled a bit, he fell silent for a moment, enjoying the scenery.

"It's... it's really weird not having any of them around though." His tone turned a touch more thoughtful.

Maybe Laura would understand, if she was a trainer and close to her team. He was so used to doing everything with them around, not having them felt like he was missing a piece of himself, all the time.
"Yeah. I know what you mean."

The number of times she'd reached for a ball that wasn't there. Seen something out of the corner of her eye and thought it might've been Caesar. Made a mental note to stock up on snacks for Gibbous. Wanted to ask Mal what he thought of a situation... ...or Sleet to give some asshole a bad fucking day.

"I feel... incomplete. Homesick, almost – not that I ever felt actually sick for home, personally. And I'm..."

She never got to finish her thought. There was movement, and a crackle of electricity in the tall grass.

"...You hear that, Koa?"
If Hazard was here, or Anubis, maybe they'd have advice. Or at least they'd understand. Even sleeping was hard without their constant presence. It was nice to have Laura to talk to though. His curiosity pricked slightly at her mention of home, and he nodded in understanding. "Yeah it's-"

His voice trailed off and his ears twitched. "Yeah, I saw something," he whispered softly. There was a kind of buzz in the air, and he wondered if perhaps it was another electric type. If it were back home he probably would have asked Echo to check it out, or challenged whatever it was to a battle, but he needed to be more cautious here.

After considering for a moment, he gave a soft bark to announce himself and reached into his pocket to pull out a berry. If it was a wild - feral, he corrected himself - food was a safe bet to try and be nonthreatening.
Laura's ears pricked and eyes dilated, focusing in on the rustling, her feline brain intent on maximising her attention, not letting a hair escape her. ...It was actually pretty neat to be able to do.

"...Who's there?" she asked, when she remembered how to speak.

The rustling stopped a moment. Then the grass quivered again, and a Shinx leaped from their hiding place – or rather, they tumbled, with the clumsiness of a cub.

The Shinx looked up at Koa and Laura, and their mouth opened in a 'fearsome' hiss.
Koa's gaze lit up at the sight of the Shinx. He still loved species, and thought they were cool, and seeing one again in person brought a sense of nostalgia.

It looked young, and probably feral. Maybe it thought they were intruders and wanted to drive them off? He didn't want to scare it.

He moved a half step back to make sure he didn't come off as intruding. "Hey there! We're not trying to tresspass," he called gently. "Just visiting. I have some food, if you want." Placing the berry on the ground, he tried to gauge its reaction. Hopefully his tone would come across even though the Shinx might not understand.
The Shinx looked down at the berry. Then back up at Koa. Their eyes narrowed.

"I don't need any of your damn charity," he said.

So. Not a feral, then.

"...Are you Escarpa?" asked Laura, stifling a laugh.

"What's it to you?" demanded the Shinx cub, mean-mugging Laura in turn. "Identify yourself!"

"Uh. My name's Laura. And this is Koa. You got a name?"

Another Shinx crashed out of the tall grass and bapped the first on his head to shut him up.

"Don't tell him your name, Bosque!" she chirped. "They could be spies."
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