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This is such a quaint little town, Professor Marina Arbutus thought as she walked through the main street. I wonder what the Champion of a region would want from such a quiet place.

Her hair, blue as a calm ocean, ruffled in the breeze along with her snowy white lab coat. Running her hands through it, she searched for the right house. She had to squint at some of the house numbers, which surprised her. Too much time spent in dim lighting writing observations in endless notepads, she supposed.

“I might need glasses sooner rather than later,” Marina sighed to herself.

She wasn’t particularly tall, but her Meganium stood towering behind her, a scowl on its face creating the impression it was deep in thought. It gave Marina a composed presence mere height couldn’t achieve.

Houses dotted the streets like well-knotted buttons. Gardens scattered colors across the spectrum, bringing a vibrant touch to the little town. Sunlight bounced off windows, dancing through the air. Trees, greens and shrubbery surrounded Nyasa Town, with only a small path through the forest that granted entry to the south of the region. Another small clearing at the north end of town held the temple. Marina had heard vague mentions of it but made a mental note to ask Aria about it in more detail.

After five months of travel, she had finally arrived at Nyasa. The first few days on dry land, docking at the Kivu Port, were an absolute godsend. Not that Marina got seasick, that had never bothered her. But as a scientist and explorer she valued her freedom and on ships she felt so trapped. There was nowhere to go! Plus, it was nigh impossible to let her Meganium out of her ball while sailing at high speeds. And it had been a long trip.

Harder than the trip was saying goodbye to Johto. It meant leaving behind her hometown, family, familiarity, and routine. She was excited to discover what Vesryn had in store for her, but she was nervous. Could she find her purpose here? Was she even searching in the right place? Her passion had always been cultures, legends, and myths – and how the Pokémon world fit into it all. Why and how did certain regions create their cultural differences? Which was correct? Or could they all be, somehow?

In the months that followed she had travelled and studied every city from Kivu to Nyasa. Marina was stunned by what she discovered. She’d heard Vesryn was a cultural goldmine but it was far and beyond anything she could have expected. Every single city and town, she discovered, was built around the myth or existence of a different legendary Pokémon. Architecture, traditions, holidays and seasonal celebrations were different everywhere.

Just arriving at the port in Kivu was an experience and a half. A heavy lightning-storm had made it impossible to get close to the dock, but a Hoopa appeared just in time to teleport everyone to safety using its wormholes. Marina was shocked, but everyone in the city seemed to take it for granted – Hoopa was a regular fixture in Kivu and often played harmless pranks with the tourists who came to visit the local haunted house.

This was the first reason it took Marina so long to reach Nyasa – she was fascinated by each location and wanted to study more of every area’s rich history. Hoopa’s connection to Kivu City was just the beginning. Each city was like an entirely new world to explore, and through it all they managed to string themselves together as a whole, a region living in peace. What was their secret to such a serene region?

Surely Vesryn’s Champion would be the one to speak to, but she was proving elusive to find. She was seldom in the Elite Four headquarters; apparently it was a rare occurrence that anyone could defeat the four members who guarded the Champion’s room. When she wasn’t called upon to take care of urgent regional matters, she was at home. Tracking down that location, however, was proving to be difficult – the second reason it took her this long to reach Nyasa.

Now, as Marina stood in front of the Champion’s front door, her Meganium looming beside her, she felt a different sort of apprehension. Interactions with her friends and family in Johto had been few and far since she’d left, and although she had been busying herself with meticulous study, observation, and research, it was a deflection of sorts. The loneliness had crept up on her, silent, unassuming. She had never spent so long on her own. Slowly, it whispered doubts in her ear during those final moments before sleep when her guard was lowest, and in the early afternoon hours when one’s soul begins searching aimlessly for meaning.

Hearing the voice was inevitable, but listening to it…she knew the onus of that was on her. She was friendly by nature, but making friends had never been something she particularly excelled at. Could she make it work, here? Or would she somehow find herself an outcast, an outsider?

Marina pushed the thoughts away. She was determined to make a new life in Vesryn, new friends, new experiences and mistakes and discoveries. It was daunting and exciting and even though she was scared, she chose to push forward. Her determination had gotten her this far, and she wouldn’t let herself down.

Had her letter arrived in time? Would Aria know to expect her today? She knocked on the door with an assurance she didn’t quite believe. What was the expression? ‘Fake it til you make it’?

Well…I’m gonna make it.

“Hi, you must be Professor Arbutus! I’m Aria, but I suppose you already know that.”

A woman about her own age stood at the open door, her smile warm as the day outside. She wore loose sweatpants and a light, sleeveless top, her long crimson hair falling across her bare shoulders. Violent vermillion veins in her hair vied for attention, honey colored streaks intermingling to create a stormy sunset surrounding her face. Matching red and yellow bracelets on her wrist clicked against each other as she pushed a strand of hair out of the way.

Marina stood there, not entirely sure how to react. She hadn’t expected Aria to be dressed so casually, although in hindsight that was a bit silly. Didn’t everyone wear comfortable clothes on their days off at home?

“H-hi,” she stammered before catching herself and stretching out her hand. “Please, call me Marina.”

They shook hands and Aria motioned her inside. “You must have had a long journey. Can I get you some tea or coffee?”

“Tea would be a blessing, jasmine if you’ve got.”

Marina’s eyes lit up with the prospect of a properly brewed cup of tea. Turning back to the front door for a moment, she whispered, “Megaree, I won’t be too long, will you stay out here? Stretch your legs out a bit?”

Her Pokémon replied with a dignified wink.

Closing the door, Marina took in the quaint little cottage. A small wooden table rested near the open kitchen, fitting about four. A TV and a couch rounded the living room, a small bookshelf on the side leading to the two bedrooms. Pictures of a boy and girl, ranging from newborn to toddler, hung on the walls. She took a seat at the table, letting the tension that had been building over months ease out.

“Do you take sugar?” Aria asked as the kettle hissed loudly behind her like an angry Seviper.

“Yes, please! And a drop of MooMoo Milk, if it’s not too much trouble.”

A minute later Aria sat down opposite her with two steaming mugs of tea.

“I’m not really sure where to even start…” Marina said, but before she could say anything else, a little boy burst out of a bedroom, sobbing. A mop of unruly black hair bounced on his head.

“M-m-mom!” he cried, running over to Aria, sniffling between words, “An-Annabeth won’t l-let me pu-play with the c-c-cards!”

Aria placed her son on her lap, hugging him. “She’s not sharing your toys again?”

He nodded, wiping tears away with his fist.

“I’ll go talk to her. Will you keep our guest company? You can do that, right?”

He nodded again.

As Aria walked away and into the bedroom, Marina pulled something out of her pocket. A coin, painted gold on one side, silver on the other. She spun it on its side a few times, noticing how the boy’s eyes immediately jumped to it.

“My name is Marina,” she said, waving. “What’s yours?”

“I’m Austin,” he replied, looking at her for just a minute before bringing his gaze back to the spinning coin on the desk.

“Is Annabeth your sister?”

“Mhm,” he said, wiping his nose on his sleeve.

“I never had any brothers or sisters,” Marina said, still playing with the coin. She let it rotate as she took another sip of tea. Austin’s eyes only left the coin for a second to look at her. “I used to have all these toys, and no one to play with. I wish I had someone like your sister, even if sometimes they don’t share toys.”

He didn’t look convinced, still visibly upset.

“I’ll tell you what, Austin,” she said, and stop the spinning coin with two fingers. She held it out to him. “I’ll give you this coin, as our little secret. You don’t have to share it with anyone, okay?”

Austin’s blue eyes opened wide, a shadow of a smile spreading from his lips. “R-really?”

“Really.”

He took the coin, and jumped out of the chair in excitement. He went to the couch, then stopped. He walked back to Marina and stared at her feet for a moment before mumbling a thank you. She smiled at him as he looked up, and he reflected it back to her, running back to the couch.

As Aria came back, she called out to Austin. “I spoke to your sister, she’s ready to share your cards now.”

“It’s okay, mom,” he said. “Can I just stay here for now? I don’t really wanna play with the cards anymore.”

“Of course, sweetheart,” Aria said, shooting a curious glance towards Marina. She only shrugged, then turned and winked at Austin, who tried to wink back but couldn’t quite manage to close only one of his eyes. He took the coin from his pocket and started spinning it on the wooden floor, making light tapping noises every time it fell.

“You’re so good with kids!” Aria exclaimed, drinking from her now-cold mug and making a face.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Marina lowered her voice to a whisper. “Kids are so much easier to deal with than adults.”

“Right? You wouldn’t believe the people I’ve had to deal with as Champion!”

Just like that, all of Marina’s fears and apprehensions had broken. The two of them spoke for nearly an hour, their drinks half-forgotten. When Marina mentioned the history of Nyasa Town and its famed legend, Aria stopped her.

“I’d rather you see it yourself than hear me talk about it, if you’ve still got the time?”

Marina was speechless but her face said it all.

“Great!” Aria exclaimed, and turned to Austin. “Sweetheart, I’m going to take Marina to the Arceus Temple, but I shouldn’t be too long. If you or your sister need anything, Ms. Reed is next door, alright?”

Austin mumbled confirmation, busy now with the duality of the coin’s color. He turned it back and forth in his hands, fascinated with the gleam of the silver and gold.

He was still playing with it half an hour later, when they returned.

***

The exterior of the Temple was beautiful, ornate. But Marina had seen buildings of similar majesty in her travels. That wasn’t what impressed her. Inside, eighteen massive columns held the white marble ceiling in place. The statue of Arceus at the far end of the Temple was made of gold, marble, and a dark-hued mineral she couldn’t quite place at first glance. Obsidian? Onyx? Inlays of glowing emeralds dotted the frozen figure.

But what really took her breath away were the elaborate paintings on the walls. Every section depicted a different being. The two at the forefront of the Temple, one on each side of Arceus’ statue, she had seen before, although even they were quite obscure. Divaevus and Maladeux, the light and dark duo of creation’s yin and yang. She knew of the legend of the hound and fox, one who always caught his prey and the other who could never be caught. Forever stuck in perpetual motion, neither could overcome the other. Were these paintings inspired by the myth, or the myth inspired by the paintings? So much she didn’t understand yet.

The rest on the wall she had not even found a single mention of. Perhaps a more in-depth look in the Temple and other writings would reveal their secrets.

She stopped to study one that looked like an angel. A heart was imprinted on her chest, a pristine white flowing dress sweeping her body. Stars from another galaxy twinkled from beneath the dress, the darkness of space swallowing her feet. Hollow, delicate pink wings held her aloft, crystals made of rose quartz embedded within them. Her eyes followed Marina as she walked, like a spirit of the universe watching over her.

By contrast, next to the fairy was a portrait of a gargantuan arachnoid, its body fair as milk. Six legs ended in olive-green points that looked sharp enough to tear right through the painting and climb up the Temple walls. Two circular coral tourmaline pieces dotted each leg and both pincers, the largest piece resting on its head like a coronet.

Eighteen such paintings covered the walls, matching the pillars. Did that mean something? What did each one represent? It wasn’t lost on Marina that there were just as many Pokémon types…was it connected somehow? She felt like spending years in here, there was so much detail to study and figure out. According to Aria the Temple was thousands of years old. But how could such architectural brilliance have lasted this long and remained unspoiled?

There were answers here, buried deep.

***

Marina left the Temple and said goodbye to Aria, heading towards Meganium. She pulled a notebook out of her pocket and was scribbling with furious fervor as she walked.

Something flew past her face and then doubled back, landing at her feet. Looking down, she saw a Natu staring up at her, its green plumage the same color as the spidery creature’s feet in the Temple. Natu flapped its wings and rose to eye level.

“Nat! Tu!” it chirped, and circled her head. Marina held out her arm and it landed, gripping the cloth of her lab coat with great care. She smiled at it, and something stuck in her throat.

If there were any doubts remaining, they dissipated instantly. Not only had she made two new friends, but home, it seemed, wasn’t so far away after all.

Coming to Vesryn hadn’t been an easy decision. But the right decisions often aren’t.

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