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Frontier Town Nina's Place

That certainly made sense. Joltik to Galvantula, Tyrunt to Tyrantrum, and Spheal to Sealeo, were all quite drastic as far as evolutions went. By comparison, Oshawott to Dewott and Electrike to Manectric were much more understated. Though, Dewott to Samurott would be another story. Archie hoped that he would have enough control over himself to prevent a repeat of his Dewott evolution. He wasn't sure he could go through it again!

"It can be easy to assume that Pokemon are a monolith. They can't speak to us, and even many trainers go through their careers never really fully understanding the way their teammates communicate with them," Archie said, "Or at least, that's what they taught me in Ranger school. I don't know, I think there might be some kind of institutional bias, there..."

He shook his head, realizing he was getting off track again. "But, the point is, Pokemon communicate with us in lots of ways, they each have their own individual thoughts and preferences and desires. It sounds like you've done a lot of learning on the fly. I'm glad your Pokemon have a Trainer who makes the effort to learn and grow, even when things go against your preconceived notions."

Koa was a good kid. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and he had a tendency to put his foot in his mouth. He was stubborn and sometimes argumentative. Sometimes, it seemed like he had a hard time admitting fault, and he had a frustrating tendency to double down once he'd felt slighted rather than try to mend fences. Normal teenager behavior, really. But, fundamentally, his heart was in the right place.

"And... You're right. The important thing is that we're here, trying to make things better," Archie said, "That's all we can do, keep trying to improve, ourselves and the world around us."
Koa nodded in agreement as Archie spoke. "We can't change the past," he mused quietly.

"Yeah it was definitely surprising at first. So many pokemon I know enjoy getting stronger. I do too, so I didn't expect my Joltik of all pokemon to not want it. I wouldn't have it any other way though," he said with a grin.

He got why Hazard enjoyed being small and didn't want to change. So much of the way he liked to battle relied on his small size and speed. Still, Hazard had purposely held himself back from evolving. So why hadn't anything happened yet for him? He pushed the thought down.

"What were Rangers like, in your world?" he asked curiously, though he couldn't help but feel a little awkward. He didn't want to pry too much. "Did you have... a pokemon team you worked with too?"
"As an organization, Rangers generally do not capture and train Pokemon the same way a Trainer would," Archie explained, "We were taught to have as little impact on the ecosystems we were supposed to protect as possible. A lot of them were very fragile, I know mine was. No Pokeballs, no capturing Pokemon, a lot of Rangers won't even touch Potions and the like because the empty containers are a litter risk. They'll learn natural remedies and nurse injured Pokemon back to health the old fashioned way."

The Dewott lifted a paw and made a looping gesture, "We did use this device, called a Capture Styler, which would let us transmit our feelings of comradery to wild Pokemon, to try and convince them to work with us temporarily to complete some task or other. It wasn't fool proof, but usually when a Pokemon understands you're trying to help them, they're more willing to help you in turn. Some Rangers form a more lasting bond with a Partner Pokemon, to the point where they don't even need the Capture Styler to bridge the gap between them. Mostly it's just one or two Pokemon, but the exceptionally talented Rangers might fill out a huge roster over their careers."

"I... Don't remember having one. So I probably didn't. A Partner Pokemon is such a huge part of a Ranger's life, I figure I'd've remembered something about them, by now," Archie dropped his paw back to the table again, before shaking his head and looking back at Koa. "Broadly similar to Rangers in your world?"
Koa nodded, interest flickering in his eyes. "That sounds pretty similar, yeah. There's a couple branches I think in my world? But the idea sounds the same. They focus on helping wild Pokemon and protecting environments." It was nice to think that such an organization existed in Archie's human world as well. It meant that humans there wanted to help make the world better.

He nibbled on some more of his meal. "It's hard to imagine only working with one or two Pokemon, or none at all..." But he supposed Rangers probably found the idea of having a whole team strange. Perhaps it was for the best that Archie hadn't had a partner to leave behind...

"A good group either way though." Which mean't Archie couldn't be that bad if he'd been one of them, right?
"I think most regions had a branch, in my world?" Archie said, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms in thought. At least, he was pretty sure there were students from pretty much everywhere when he was in Ranger School? Presumably not all of them returned to their home region like he did, but surely a fair number of them did! But, they were a good group, made up of people who cared about the natural world around them. And he'd been proud to count himself among their numbers.

... But, he was getting distracted. Reminiscing about his past wasn't why he'd originally sought Koa out!

"Actually, Koa, I was hoping to ask you. Is Steven... Okay?" The Dewott asked. "I've been worried about him since we left Sybil's, but the last time I tried to have a private conversation with him, I... Well, I blew it pretty bad. I saw the two of you hanging back when the rest of us were all leaving, so I was hoping you could fill me in?"
The change of subject caught Koa somewhat off guard. Steven? That made sense he guessed, he remembered that they knew each other. But Steven hadn't mentioned what happened between him and Archie.

"He's doing better," Koa said after a moment. "He wanted to talk to me about some stuff that happened training..." He trailed off as he considered. Steven had seemed like he'd wanted privacy when they'd spoken. And Koa himself knew how much he valued his own secrets and privacy. What Steven had told him about the Relic stone didn't feel like his business to tell.

"But I think he'd want to speak to you himself though. Whatever happened I'm sure you can work it out. Steven is a good person."
Well, of course Steven was a good person, that was never in question! Still, it was good to hear that the Metang was doing alright. Maybe it would be best not to push the man. They'd worked together just fine during the Timeless Oasis expedition, so clearly there was no lasting bad feelings. He'd just have to... Let the man approach him on Steven's own terms. That would probably be best

"Would you believe I'm actually not very good at approaching people?" Archie chuckled, a little self-deprecatingly. "Well, it's good to hear he's doing better."

The Dewott wondered just what would've happened if he'd been more insistent back on Silver River. Maybe followed the then-Beldum on to Silver Ravine. Would he have been there when a friend needed him? Or would he have just pushed Steven away worse by not giving the man the space he asked for? He... Probably made the right decision, letting Steven go. Whatever trials the man had gone through that lead to his evolution had probably been important, and deeply personal. Still, part of him couldn't help but wonder if he'd tried a little bit harder, if he could've gotten the man to open up to him.

"I... Guess I'll wait for him to approach me, when he wants to talk," he said, more to himself than to Koa.
Koa chuckled. "I can believe it," he said, more lightheartedly than anything else. He felt like Steven might approach Archie on his own time, if his conversation with the Metang the other day was anything to go by. Still...

"If it really bothers you then maybe you should just try and talk to him," he said. "Don't wait." He'd felt better after talking to both Bellatrix and Steven. And how many times had he gotten into an argument with Blake? "I mean... If he'll hear you out. And I think he would. When I've figured stuff out with friends it was better to get it over with sooner than later." He'd been surprised by how decent things had gone with Bellatrix when all was said and done.
The Dewott frowned to himself. Did it bother him? Enough to want to approach Steven about it? Maybe not, they had seemed fine in Timeless Oasis, after all. Steven had been the one to carry his prone form out of the dungeon, even. He was probably just... Overthinking things again. He'd let the man come to him if he wanted to talk. It seemed silly to bother him with it otherwise.

"I think I'm probably just... Making something out of nothing," he said with a shrug. "But, thanks. I'm glad I talked to you about it, at least. Helped me get my thoughts in order."

Thinking back, that was something Spencer helped him with a lot. Just another reason not having the Treecko here had been difficult for the Dewott. Were he here, Spencer would probably make a joke about being happy Archie had found someone else to help him with his brain problems for once.
It didn't sound like it was really nothing but he didn't want to press Archie any more. It would have to be up to him and Steven to figure it out. At least Archie looked a less bothered now.

"Glad I could help," he mumbled, a little awkwardly. He chuckled. "My team used to do the same for me." He was glad he could do the same for someone else. It reminded him a little of Kitto too, who'd always listened to him even when the issue seemed pointless. Not having his training companion had been weird.

A few moments of silence fell, and his thoughts drifted. Loneliness had never been a problem back home. Or at least, he had ways to overcome it... What was it like for the others, accustomed to not being a trainer he wondered? After another few moments, he finally spoke.

"Getting used to not having my team around was definitely hard so... I don't mind if you ever want to talk in the future."
"Yeah, of course!" Archie said, with a nod. "It's the same for me, you know? If there's ever anything bothering you, I'm always happy to lend an ear."

He maybe wasn't the most helpful person in the world, from an advice standpoint, but he was always ready to lend a sympathetic eat. He could listen, at least. For a minute, he allowed things to remain silent, just enjoying the Ekectrike's company. Eventually, though, a question bubbled its way to the surface that had been bothering him for some time.

"Koa, back at Terminal Two..." he began, cautiously, "What happened, with you and Ein?"
Koa gave a stifled groan at Archie's question and looked away. Archie really knew how to needle. Still, it wasn't like the water type was trying to be mean. Quelling his irritation, Koa poked at the food on his plate instead. It'd be rude to brush Archie off. But the question made Koa's throat clench.Ein's voice, the cold way he spoke...

He sipped at his now lukewarm coffee, his thoughts swirling. How did he begin to explain? Keep it basic. He found himself taking another sip before he found the words.
"When we came here, Betel said we got bodies that fit our souls or whatever, right?" There had been a couple Sneasels he had seen. And some personalities that he guessed somehow fit, like Odette and her jaws. Bellatrix was connected to Hisui somehow, or Sinnoh maybe, which seemed to fit.

"Maybe when we first came it wouldn't have mattered but... Well, Seth became a Lycanroc. And Wes is Seth, somehow. He became a Lycanroc too when he got here. And look at Leona. Same species. If humans who come here become something that matches their souls," he trailed off, hesitating. How could he begin to explain? Archie would probably think it was ridiculous.

"Why are we... the same species? Obviously I'm not him but... do we somehow have something in common?" Putting voice to the fear didn't ease the knot in his chest this time. It made it worse. He stared intently at the table instead of Archie.
The Dewott leaned back in his chair, folding his arms again, a slight frown on his face. That Koa was worried that he and Ein were somehow alike wasn’t surprising in of itself. Archie probably could’ve guessed that that was at least part of the problem if he mulled over it long enough. Still, he didn’t want his response to come across as an empty platitude, so he did his best to give his answer some thought… Wait, did Koa just imply Leona was the same person as Wes and Seth? He’d missed that little reveal last they’d met! Just how many versions of Wes were running around in this world!?

“Well, I can’t say that there’s no way you and Ein are anything like,” the Dewott began, putting the growing Lycanpack aside for now. “We know very little about the man, and it’s not like he’s around to tell us about himself anymore. So, maybe there is something about the pair of you that made you especially suited to being Electrikes.”

He leaned forward again, “But, Koa, that doesn’t mean you’re the same. I mean, just look at Isidora and Silver, they’re practically night and day, but they’re both Sneasels.”

Actually, he had no idea if Isidora was human. Maybe that was a bad example?

“Or, well, do you think Bellatrix is capable of doing what Fein did? They’re both Zoroark.”

… They actually knew nothing about Fein aside from what Seth told them, didn’t they? Plus, he actually had no idea if Bellatrix was human, and, honestly? While he did think her moral compass was stronger than the dead Cipher agent’s, he had a chilling feeling she could be exactly that ruthless if she needed to be.

“Do you think Wes could kill someone?” Archie asked, starting to sound a little desperate. Actually, Koa probably did, he hated the man after all. Koa would probably believe it if he was told Wes had killed someone already. “O-or Leona?”

Comparing Leona and Seth, at least, seemed like a decent bet, out of all the rest of them. Though, again, he knew very little about the tan Lycanroc. He really hoped the Electrike would get where he was coming from here, all the same.

“My point is, there’s more to you than whatever similarities you might share with Ein! You’re your own person,” he said, “I don’t think you’re capable of the kinds of things Ein did.”
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Oh aren't you? He doesn't know who you are.

As Archie spoke, Koa only felt his unease grow, although he hid it well. He'd grown used to pushing that particular worry aside. His gaze shifted away from Archie and he nodded in agreement, though his thoughts were elsewhere. Zeraora's searing gaze, burning with fury, flashed through his mind.

"Well... I'm pretty sure Isidora isn't actually human," he murmured. Judging by her outburst he'd heard about from the Vanguard. She was a Sneasel because she already had been one. Silver was probably one because it fit him somehow. And he didn't want to point out that he didn't actually know that Leona couldn't kill someone. Or Wes. Not that he cared about that. Seth'd had his reasons.

None of that changed anything, did it? None of that changed the simple fact that in some way, it meant he was like Ein, at his core. His soul. Maybe not in action, but in some way. Why? Why this body? Electrike weren't even native to Sinnoh. What was wrong with him?

"But yeah, I guess you have a point." It had to be true.
Koa had an anger problem. And when he was angry, Koa could be cruel; vindictive, even. The Electrike was not the type to forgive and forget. He did not like to admit when he was wrong. He was slow to change his opinion on people, once a negative thought about them had set in. Whatever he’d said or done to Wes, it was bad enough the Lycanroc would rather die than even consider the idea of mending the rift between the pair. Even as he assured Koa that he was not Ein, and while he didn’t think it was possible for Koa to turn out exactly like Ein, the Dewott did have to admit to himself that Koa did, in fact, have the potential to be quite a bit like the man. Cruel, vicious, smugly superior, assured of his own greatness, and disdainful of anyone, and everyone, that didn’t measure up to his impossibly high standards.

But even though that could be Koa’s future, it wasn’t Koa now. And the best way to make sure it stayed that way was to encourage him to continue down a better path. That the Electrike seemed to feel so much shame over any potential connection to Ein was probably a good sign. They just had to work that towards more positive ends, instead of just letting him wallow in it. To that end, Archie gave Koa his best encouraging smile, before pressing onward.

“Listen, just the fact that you’re worried you could be like Ein, means you’re already doing better than him. I doubt that man had ever done an ounce of self-reflection in his life,” he said, “Just… Be mindful, of your words and actions, and don’t be afraid to question yourself – why you think certain things, or feel certain ways. Every single person has the capacity to do good, or evil, we’re not locked in to one or the other. It’s up to us, to choose the kind of person we want to be. Or, the kind of person we don’t want to be, in your instance!”
Right. Of course. Koa nodded, ignoring the knot in his chest, ignoring the paranoia creeping up on him. He sees who you really are too.

Archie was right. All he had to do was be good enough, do enough, and he would prove he wasn't like Ein. Or him. He'd come here to be a hero help Forlas, and he couldn't let doubt stop him. Just like catching a legendary back home.

"Yeah you're right," he said. "I will." He shot Archie a wry grin. "And that means the same applies to you too. You can't keep dwelling on the things you might have done in your past life either."
Well, at least Koa seemed to be in agreement. That was a good start, hopefully the Electrike would follow through on that promise. It was easy enough to say you’d be mindful of yourself, but the real test would be if, in the heat of the moment, Koa would be able to catch himself before he did or said something he’d later regret.

“And I’ll try my best, as well,” Archie nodded. Maybe if the Dewott did well himself, if he continued to model good behavior for Koa, his advice would sink in. After all, he couldn’t expect Koa to improve any, if Archie couldn’t show that he could improve, himself! “And… I’m sorry I wasn’t there, when Alex attacked you all. I should have come along on that escort. I’m glad you all came out of it okay.”

Well, aside from Ein, but...
Koa quickly shook his head. "No," he said emphatically. "Don't apologize for that. It's good you weren't, otherwise the team would have had two of us to deal with." And Archie would have hurt someone on the team. The thought of Archie having to deal with that was unbearable.

No. He refused to think about that incident anymore, or what had happened. The Relic Stone had healed them, and it was over. It didn't matter anymore.

He met Archie's gaze confidently. "Like you said, let's just both keep working on choosing who we want to be and not dwelling on things. And next time we encounter Alex, we'll be ready for him."
Logically, he knew Koa was right. Him being there at that point would’ve been more of a detriment than an aid. Still, part of him couldn’t help but feel like he’d let his friends down by not being there. That they’d ended up suffering in his place. But, he shook his head, and tried to dismiss those thoughts. They weren’t healthy.

“You’re right,” he said. Still, apologizing made him feel better, like the weight was lifted off his shoulders. So he was glad he did it. “Next time we encounter him, Alex won’t know what hit him.”

The Dewott pushed his chair out, stood, and stretched.

“I should probably get going. I really appreciate the talk, Koa,” Archie said with a smile, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to make it up to you!”

He reached out, and gave the Electirke a friendly pat on the shoulder. Then, with a wave, the Dewott departed the saloon.

[Ch05] Astrid & Nova ~ Well, that escalated quickly...
(Takes place before Nova/Sybil.)

Having left the Haus, Nova's growling stomach won out and kept him from returning to the abandoned cabin. With his shabby appearance, the Zera seemed more appropriate to visit, but that place was more for drinking than proper food. So, he trudged over to Nina's.

Naturally he got a lot of bewildered looks from the customers as he headed for the table. "Y'should see the other guys," he quipped, adding a strained chuckle for good measure.

Once seated, he didn't even open the menu. Instead asking for a suitable amount of beer for a 'mon his size. He slumped over, resting his beak on the table and watching the entrance.

What a day this had turned into. Between the Cipher raid, torching the Fiends' camp, and now this... it really was like Nova had picked the rebel life right back up where he'd left it. And he wasn't sure if that was a good thing, given how that ended back home...
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