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Thread: Love in the Time of Tropics (Amourshipping, PG-13)

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    Default Love in the Time of Tropics (Amourshipping, PG-13)

    Alola, everyone! And I mean that both as a greeting and as telling you all where we're going in this story…if it weren't obvious enough. That's right! I've returned with the Ancienverse on another adventure! I know, I know. I said that the last story was the finale…and it was…of what is now deemed The Kalos Trilogy. This, however, is the The Alola Trilogy. I'm sure you can guess what happens in it…maybe. Well, whatever, I've written this so even if you're new, you can enjoy it, even if some details will be lost. Anyway, enough with that, I'll tell you all more at the end of the chapter! But for now, please enjoy the first installment!

    Author: Epicocity

    Rating: PG-13 for violence (and perhaps innuendo)

    Pairings: Amourshipping, Laserbladeshipping, Maybe others

    Cover done by Captain Luky Greace! Much thanks for all her hard work! (You can see it on fanfiction.net or Twitter)

    DISCLAIMER: I do not own the Pokémon anime, or Sun and Moon. I own the story I'm presenting here, though.



    Love in the Time of Tropics

    Book One of the Ancienverse Alola Trilogy

    Chapter 1

    A Beginning

    "Stop her! Get her back here!"

    Her breath rose in pants as she dashed across the metal surface, her shoes truly not made for running. The air ripped at her lungs and her unbidden tears burned at her eyes. It shouldn't have come to this. Her arms wrapped tighter around her body, feeling the slumping form of the Pokémon in her hands, its strange substance stuck between wanting to remain protected, and wanting to escape.

    "Just…just hold on…" she whispered, though it did little good; they were right on her, chasing her down the hallway. "I'll get you out of here. I'll figure this out."

    She turned sharply, her skirt catching briefly on the side of a wall, tearing it just slightly. She knew she'd have to sew it up later, but for now she had to focus on running as fast as she possibly could. There was a television mounted on one of the walls leading to a pair of mechanical double doors. They were airing some live report on global news; a ceremony that was taking place far, far away, in a region unfamiliar to her.

    She paused for just a moment, looking at the screen with widened eyes at the names that were there. A boy with a Pikachu was on the screen, bowing to receive a fancy medal from an elegant woman who supposedly had the title of Champion. She recognized that name. Had heard it from…somewhere…her mother or one of her visitors perhaps.

    "She's down this way! Hurry!"

    "No," her voice said sharply and she began to run towards the double doors. She had lingered in front of the screen for far too long, placing herself and the one with her in too much danger. Freeing one of her hands, she reached into the front of her dress and picked out one of the keycards she had taken. Finally reaching the doors, she swiped the card and it opened without issue.

    The girl ran inside, tossing the card to the wayside; it was no longer going to help her in her flight. The Pokémon in her hands stirred a little, directing its gaze upward forlornly and with question. She smiled down at it, like it was a small child, wanting to assure it that everything would be okay. It nodded a little before she suddenly tripped, ramming into a railing with her side.

    Sunlight streamed into the giant room, surrounded with plants and beauty. Yet, for all of that, there were no sounds of gamboling Pokémon. It was as though they had been scared into submission by her presence. Massaging her bruised arm, the girl stood as her companion leapt away, towards a catwalk.

    "No, don't!" she cried, but it wasn't listening. Suddenly, the room became bathed in a red-orange glow, and for a second, she feared that the alarm had gone off, alerting everyone of what she was doing. But upon looking up, she could see that the sun was sinking on the horizon, day giving way to night. More footsteps. The girl moved forward, chasing after her protectorate. It was floating along the catwalk at a surprising speed, like it was determined to make it somewhere as quickly as it could. "Please…hold on…"

    "Pew?" it asked, turning towards her once it had stopped in the middle of an area. A loud chittering was heard in her ears, like the sound of many angry Bug types, ready to lash out and strike angrily, offended by the nearby presence. She was more worried by the footsteps steadily approaching.

    "What do you want…?"

    "Pew! Pew!" it cried, jumping up and down, like it was trying to indicate something.

    "The sun?" she asked, looking at the fading red light. It looked desperate. "The moon? I don't understand…"

    "PEW!" it said, wearing a smile on its face. She wasn't sure if she understood it, or simply confused it. Either way, it looked like it was calling out for something. She stepped forward to take it in her arms and noticed something odd in the sky: an odd blue light, leading to an endless space, another of the little one in her arms there and her own eyes behind it, perhaps. Once she blinked, it was gone…and she was surrounded.

    "Give it up. There's nowhere to run," one of the men chasing her said. She hugged her friend closer as it tried to struggle against her arms, wanting to break free, perhaps, and find whatever it was looking for. "Come on back now, and you might be spared punishment."

    "No! I won't!" she screamed, surprised at the defiance in her voice. The man that had spoken stepped forward, a nasty snarl on his face, and she shut her mouth, fearing retribution. The sound of the doors opening in the distance echoed and fear ran through her body. "I can't…I can't let you be hurt, okay?"

    "Pew?"

    "Take her into custody!" the man finally yelled. The remainder of the guards lunged for her, and the clopping of heeled steps entered her mind, making her freeze. Yet time froze, a bright light eclipsing her as her blonde hair blasted out all around her. She looked down at the little one in her arms, a concentrating look on its face.

    Her pursuers were blasted back by the light and she felt her own body compressing, like being squeezed through a tube, wind howling in her hair. She wanted to scream, but found she couldn't. Nor could she see anything.

    Yet it only lasted a moment.

    Soon, wind was replaced by the surf. Metal replaced with sand. There was no other sound but peace. Her body felt exhausted, unable to move, but she could still touch the little one in her arms. It was safe, and she was…well, she assumed she was very far away. Looking up, she realized it was now night, and the little one in her arms was asleep. Some way up the shore was a house, lights on and filtering through the boarded-up sides. She tried to raise her arms, but couldn't. She tried to raise her voice, but couldn't.

    Instead, her mind flashed back to that boy on the TV, the one whose name she'd heard. Perhaps he could help her. Perhaps someone would. Either way, before her head laid on the sand and her exhausted body passed out, she breathed his name in desperation.

    "Ash…"


    "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"

    Ash Ketchum stepped back in shock, Pikachu clinging with his own sense of surprise to his shoulder. Turning his head to his best buddy for a moment, the two shared a single blink between them before turning back towards the sudden, and rather large, crowd that was standing before them in the backyard of Professor Oak's lab. More than that, Ash noticed numerous streamers decorating the usually proud backyard of the lab and a giant banner overhead reading "Happy Birthday, Ash!" in giant red letters. Trampled all over it were numerous hoof marks and his assorted Pokémon's prints.

    "Pikachu…are we dreaming?" Ash whispered to his friend. Pikachu shook his head. Taking one step over the grass in front of them, Ash certainly felt that he was. In all his living memory, he could never remember having a party for his birthday of all things since he'd stepped out on his first journey. Not that he was complaining, considering all of those who had come to attend the party for him, but it still felt entirely surreal.

    Well, the last year has been surreal…Ash couldn't help but think to himself. He didn't share the point with anyone, but looking at everyone who managed to somehow cram themselves and all their Pokémon into the backyard of Oak's lab and still have room to mingle, he couldn't help but think that. It was no more evident than because of the girl next to him, hands behind her back as she smiled at him. Ash turned his head, looking at the honey blonde he was happy to call his girlfriend in her poufy pink sundress.

    "Serena, what's going on?" he asked instantly. Serena removed one hand from behind her back and touched it to her lips with a slight giggle. "I'm serious…this feels…weird…"

    "It's your birthday, Ash," Serena said, moving a little closer to him with a smile and slipping her arm between his. He liked it, but it hardly did anything to quell the confusion in his brain. "So, we all wanted to celebrate it!"

    "Yeah, but…I never celebrate my birthday," Ash told her. She giggled again, and though he wanted some answers about why they were celebrating this now, he actually found it too adorable to stop. Of course, thinking on this, Ash realized there were a lot of "nevers" that he had experienced in the last year alone, not the least of which was Serena.

    A year ago, he certainly would not have said that he would walk away from his latest journey with a girl utterly in love with him…and whose feelings he returned. It may have taken him a while to discover them, but that moment that he did during the assault on Ancien City all those months ago was seared into his mind. Of course, if he was asked now, he'd have no problem saying that he loved Serena almost as much as he loved Pokémon (and that was saying something in his book), but he never would have thought of that a year ago. He never would have thought he'd reach the League Finals, certainly not after his disastrous results in Unova. Never thought he'd battle on par with the Champion or be invited to fight the Elite Four. Never thought he'd be involved in such a mass-scale attack…and not only that: he'd survived four.

    Though that final one still left a bad taste in his mouth some days. Turning his eyes over to his mother, standing there with a beaming smile at her son, he decided to return the smile. Perhaps it was unusual to celebrate his birthday, but after everything, it was nice to have time to just relax…even if that and training with his Pokémon had been all that he, Serena, Clemont and Bonnie had been up to for the last six months. Sure, they all had dreams to pursue, but each of them had agreed to a small break to grow together without a gym battle or a threat looming over their heads. In any case, that was probably the reason why he could catch a glimpse of so many people having flown here from multiple regions to celebrate his…he thought it was his sixteenth birthday…or maybe his seventeenth…he really couldn't be sure. It could have been his eleventh for all he knew. Not that it mattered, at least not as much as the two on his arm did.

    "All right," he chuckled out, using a free hand to rub at his nose. "Thanks, Serena. You're the best."

    "It wasn't all me, you know," she told him, gripping him just a little closer, as if reassuring him that they were all there for them. It wasn't a dream. "Your mom, Brock, and all the others really helped put this together. And Clemont was no slouch in the whole IRCS department."

    "I…I didn't do all that much," Clemont's voice squeaked out from the crowd. Looking over, Ash could barely catch sight of the head of lemon blond hair lost in the crowd. Next to him was Bonnie, who had grown a few inches taller over the last few months and now measured up to Clemont's shoulder…almost. On the other side was Korrina, wearing her basic clothes as she tried to pull up Clemont in order to make him more prominent. It reminded Ash of what a good match they were…

    Just as he and Serena were a good match, he felt. There was no doubt that his mother thought so, too, considering that she had practically gushed over the two of them (which was incredibly awkward a couple months back). That, Ash found funny, since they hadn't originally told their parents to avoid the embarrassment and possible rejection, even if Ash had no idea why his mother would possibly reject Serena. She didn't, but the embarrassment was most certainly there.

    Feeling like he was being just a little rude, Ash smiled at everyone there, scanning the faces of the crowd, before uttering, "Thanks a lot, everyone! I appreciate it!"

    "Thank Serena the most!" Dawn called out next to a table of food where she was watching May with an amused expression. "She was the one who called all of us. I might have forgotten your birthday was coming up. I think May came for the food."

    "It's good stuff!" May shot back and Ash got a slight glimpse past her to the absolutely delicious-looking spread of food that his mother, Brock, Clemont, Cilan (to his surprise) and Serena had likely prepared. They were the best chefs he knew. "You have got to try some of this…what do you call it, er, Cilan?"

    "Foie gras! It is a delectable dish that I picked up in Kalos when I was journeying there quite recently. The taste is simmering with-"

    "It's really good! Clemont helped him perfect it!" Bonnie said, cutting the older man off. Cilan looked a little deflated at having his usual connoisseur tendencies cut off, but managed to keep the air pleasant with a simple smile. Even if the connoisseur wasn't the closest of all his traveling companions, he still appreciated seeing him there. Actually, hearing all of his friends getting along, Ash turned to Serena.

    "Well, thanks for this Serena," he said, reaching over and pulling her into a hug. She placed her hands on his chest and nodded on his shoulder. No other words were exchanged between them for that moment until they finally pulled back.

    "Well, come on, birthday boy. You have to mingle!" she laughed out, grabbing his hand forward and pulling him into the now occupied crowd. A few more well-wishes for his birthday were given to him as he passed by familiar faces like Tierno and Trevor, the former putting on a slight dancing show for some of the people nearby. Shauna offered Serena a wave but said nothing as she continued to watch the two boys. Soon after that, Ash and Serena ran right into his mother and Professor Oak. Gary appeared to have finished a conversation, offering a light salute before backing away to get some food.

    "Well, Ash, quite the turnout, I have to say," Professor Oak chuckled out, glancing around at the party with a drink in his hand.

    "I had nothing to do with it, though…" Ash admitted with a laugh, his gaze once more slipping back over to his girlfriend. She was waving lightly at someone that looked to be Mairin, but Ash was paying too much attention to his mother and the professor to confirm it. "Serena's apparently the one who really put all this together, so…"

    "Nonsense, Ash," Oak said, taking a sip from his cup. "If you hadn't done so much and met so many people, why, I don't think there'd be much of a party."

    "That's my son! Always making friends," Delia said proudly, pulling Ash in for a hug. Serena was dragged in with him and it turned into his mother hugging the both of them proudly, like a boasting and doting parent. "Well, Samuel, aren't they just the most perfect looking couple? Six months, and my boy still has a girlfriend."

    "Yes, it is rather nice," Professor Oak said with a slight twinkling in his eyes. Ash attempted to grin at him from underneath his mother's hold, but found his airflow slightly restricted. He knew the professor was thinking fondly of the fact that Ash was dating Serena; when they had come to Kanto just weeks after the Honor of Kalos Ceremony, he had recognized her on sight. That had come as a surprise to him. "That feeling of young love; so fresh, so pure."

    "Um…yeah…" Ash said, feeling rather embarrassed about the whole thing, especially when he saw Gary walking past with a smirk, the researcher looking rather smug.

    "If only my cousin could see the beauty in such love, but alas, he's a lifelong bachelor," Oak finished with a sigh. Delia finally let go of the two of them and Ash straightened up, looking at Professor Oak with a curious expression.

    "You have a cousin?" he asked, certainly not having expected that. Even after all these years, there were constantly new things he was learning about the professor. He wondered if that would also be the case with Serena. Looking at her just briefly, though, he dismissed the notion; they'd spent almost every day together for the last year and a half. He was pretty sure he knew everything about her.

    "Mm, yes, though we only speak on holidays. Too busy with our work I sup-ah, Rotom, what are you doing over there?" The conversation having come to a rather abrupt end, Ash watched the professor suddenly make his way over to set of speakers and stereos. The reason was obvious, considering the flying Ghost type that was buzzing around the speakers mischievously. Ash felt his mother's hand on his shoulder and he turned to her.

    "Why don't the two of you go mingle? Plenty of time for these things later, right, Ash?" she said to him. Ash just nodded before turning away. He still hadn't told her, but at the same time, with how happy his mother was regarding his relationship with Serena, he felt she didn't need to know about what had truly transpired outside Geosenge. That, and he really didn't know how to find the words to say it. He kept hoping he would, but it never happened. Taking a breath, he turned to his girlfriend.

    "Let's go?" Serena smiled and nodded, the two once more plunging back into the crowd. Ash had to admit that Serena had really outdone herself in gathering so many people there. Sure, Professor Oak might have said it was because he knew them all, but Ash knew it wouldn't have been possible without Serena and the way she could make even the hardest of hearts smile for just a second.

    "I know you might not have wanted a lot of people or something, so I made sure to not have too many presents. We all kind of pitched in to just…well, you'll see later," Serena jabbered on for a moment. Either she was still embarrassed about what had happened with his mother or she was incredibly excited. Either way, he chose to squeeze her hand to ensure her that he was happy with it anyway when they finally reached one end of the food table and Ash grabbed a plate.

    "It's awesome, Serena!" he said. Pikachu leapt from his shoulder and went to grab his own bowl of Pokémon food, smothering it with ketchup. He seemed to stop, though, as Buneary approached him. Leaving the two to their conversation, Ash turned to Serena, who was nodding.

    "Well, that's a relief."

    "I don't know why you're surprised," said a deeper voice, and both of the teens turned to see Alain there, himself also holding a glass. For a brief moment, he stared at Ash discerningly, but soon turned his lips upward in a smile, looking at Serena. "I'd call this party an unmitigated success by any measure. And as long as it comes from you…"

    "He's right, you know," Ash pointed out, taking a sandwich and stuffing it in his mouth. Serena pursed her lips and he swallowed quickly, grinning at her. "You understand me pretty good, Serena, so I doubt you could put together something I wouldn't like."

    "All right," his girlfriend said, relaxing her shoulders a little. Finally seeming happy about that, she turned to Alain with a light smile on her lips. "So, Alain, it's been a while. How are you and Mairin doing?"

    "Well enough," Alain answered, a soft and graceful on his face. Ash was happy to see that; for a boy who beat himself up so much, losing himself to the abyss of strength and rage, now that he had pulled back from it, he really looked happier. Though, it might have had to do with the girl a few feet away, talking with Bonnie animatedly. "We've found a vein of what looks to be Mega Stones just the other day near a volcano in Kalos. Charizard felt antsy around it, so we feel it might…"

    "I mean how are you and Mairin doing?" Serena pressed teasingly. Alain blinked, almost like he didn't understand the question, and for a second, even Ash was lost. Then he remembered how Serena had told him that Mairin held a crush on Alain when they had been on the flight home from Kalos. He didn't believe it then, but sort of wondered if Alain knew it as well.

    "Um…that's…Ash, how's your Greninja doing…?" Alain coughed out, changing the topic as quickly as he clearly could. Serena shook her head, but allowed Ash to answer, giving him a slight peck on the cheek before moving off to speak with Shauna. Ash just shrugged.

    "He's doing great! Fitting right in with the others…though I know he wants to battle. Truth be told, it's been a while for myself. I haven't stayed at home for this long in a while," Ash answered. Alain nodded, as though the answer was an obvious one.

    "I can understand that. Charizard and I haven't been doing much battling ourselves," he said, though he didn't sound the saddest to be saying it. Ash watched him and his eyes sliding over to Mairin. Grinning at his old rival, Ash reached over and slapped him on the back before continuing down the food table. In a way, Alain reminded him of himself back when he had no idea that he had fallen in love with Serena. Not that he'd claim to know everything or most of what love was about. He was still working out some of the basics. That much was obvious when he didn't even know he was supposed to celebrate a thing called Valentine's Day (indeed, he had no idea it existed outside of selling candies).

    Shaking his head and forgetting about it, Ash decided to finish loading up his plate. Looking up as he got his food, he was now able to see all of the people congregated there. It was a very wide and eclectic mix of old friends and new. In a corner, near the pond, Ash could see one of his oldest friends, Misty, talking with Iris as they chatted, her Gyarados leaping over their heads. Seeing him watching a moment, Misty turned and waved at him, slightly stoic in expression, quite deep into the conversation. Continuing to scan along there were various others like Korrina and Clemont who were excitedly speaking with the Champion of Kalos, herself, Diantha. He had to admit surprise at that one; he hadn't expected Diantha to attend his birthday party, especially when they hadn't spoken for six months.

    Finally finishing with his plate, Ash looked up one more time to see his old rival, Sawyer, talking with none other than the Kalos Queen, Aria. Miette was by his side, the bluenette leaning lazily on his rival's shoulder. Ash thought about approaching them, but soon caught sight of a more interesting group of old friends. Shoving and chewing some of the food in his mouth, he approached the group of four.

    "You've been pretty busy, then, it seems?" Brock's deep and resonant voice chortled out. "Though I'm hardly one to talk. Ever since I skipped out on my duties to help out at Geosenge, the Nurse Joys really like shuffling me around."

    "You're not actually complaining, though, are you?" May asked with a skeptical expression and a kabob sticking out of her mouth effortlessly. As Ash finished approaching the group of four, he noticed the all-too-familiar giddy expression stretch his best friend's face.

    "No, I am not! Since Geosenge, I've been stationed in Kalos, and let me tell you, the Kalos women are exotically beautiful! From Officer Jenny to Aria, I almost feel like the whole Kalos world is my oyster, and I'm gonna take it. Ash knows what I'm talking about!"

    "No…no, I don't think I do," Ash chuckled out, not entirely happy with being sucked into this kind of conversation again. "Serena's not exactly just some Kalos girl…"

    "That's right, she's Ash's soulmate," Dawn teased. Ash glared at her before using one hand to slap her on the shoulder. Dawn laughed at that. It still felt nice to be with old friends, though thinking about an absentee from the party made him huff a sigh for a moment. Once that was gone, he took another bite of food from his plate, watching his Charizard and Alain's arm wrestle for a moment while Hawlucha and Buizel did actual wrestling on the ground. "Teasing aside, it's nice to see her with you. She keeps you out of trouble."

    "I keep out of trouble just fine!"

    "Tell that to the four world-altering events in the last year," May joked. Each of them shared a laugh at the joke, though neither really found any sense of humor in it. Hoping for a change in the subject, Ash looked at his friends wildly searching for one. Dawn and May had been busy with their Contests, with Dawn having returned to Hoenn to try her luck there. Brock made his intentions plain. But then there was…

    "So, why are you going to be busy, Gary?" Ash asked his brunet friend.

    "Helping out Champion Steven," Gary said flippantly, like it was no big deal. "Not that I'll be alone; Sawyer also seems to be in his, uh, employ. But after the stuff I figured out during the battle at Geosenge he decided he…" Gary trailed off here, looking at Ash with an almost guilty expression. To that, Ash huffed.

    "Come on guys, it's been months. I'm fine." He didn't want to begin insisting that he was fine to begin with other than the lack of words to say to his mother. Dawn broke the tension by laughing lightly and slapping him back on the shoulder.

    "Right, no need to worry! Ash has Serena and Clemont and Bonnie, after all!" Dawn cheered out. "Speaking of, I wanted to ask Serena something." Offering a high five to Ash, he clapped his hand against hers and watched Dawn walk off to speak with his girlfriend. It made him grateful to have such loyal friends. May had insinuated more than once that had Serena and the others not returned to Kanto with him, she would have stopped in more often to make sure he was okay. Hearing that, knowing they were all on their journeys, though, made him feel better.

    Now, he just needed to figure out his next step. Actually, they all needed to figure out their next step. While Meyer had been holding down the fort in Lumiose City with a replacement for Clembot, Clemont had been here, studying all the different lab equipment that Professor Oak used…and occasionally having problems with Rotom, who appeared to have taken a liking to him. Serena, on the other hand, decided to learn how to make even better food from his mother, but there was no doubt in Ash's mind that she wanted to go traveling and performing again, but wasn't sure what to do to further her goal in becoming Kalos Queen. She had confessed there was no way she was ready to defeat Aria yet. Ash felt the same way about the Elite Four. He hadn't even won a League yet!

    "In the meantime, I'll go do another daily check on all the Pokémon here," Brock said, breaking Ash's thoughts. Gary and May only uttered words of farewell before turning back to the table for some food. Realizing the conversation with his fellow friends and Ancien Warriors was complete, Ash walked onward, straight for Clemont. His gaze whipped around a few times, hoping to catch sight of his other "Ancien Warrior" comrades, but caught no sight of Seamus and the rest of Team Nova. Thinking back to the changed blond, Ash could only realize that the boy, like usual, was probably incredibly busy with his school.

    "Ah, Ash, man of the hour. How have you been?" Diantha's voice said and Ash realized he had gotten close enough to initiate a conversation with the Champion. Ash only offered a nod, unsure of what to say…or, at least, he couldn't put his thoughts to words fast enough before she started speaking again. "Happy Birthday, by the way. Any plans for the upcoming year?"

    "Not right now," Ash chuckled out, before taking a little more food. "You must be busy, fighting challengers, right?"

    "More than that," Diantha said with a chuckle. "I think I'm busier with League politics these days than battling anyone. President Goodshow officially stepped down a month ago and we've been busier than ever. Then there's…"

    "The Champion was just telling me about a new project for the IRCS," Clemont said once Diantha had let her words trail off. Ash nodded, only somewhat understanding what Clemont meant. After all, the Inter-Regional Communications System had only been installed and working for six months, something Clemont had been busy with during his time off. "Since we've almost installed them in all the six major regions that are part of the Pokémon League at the time, we were discussing expanding the project."

    "Where to?" Ash asked, finally finishing his plate off and placing it down. He seemed to do so just in time for Pikachu to run back up to him and leap once more to his shoulder. Looking at his best buddy, Ash saw Serena leaving Shauna and Dawn to speak with Aria, while in the background, all of her Pokémon (and some of his, including Bulbasaur and Greninja) were dancing to the odd beat Rotom was putting out.

    "The Alola Region," Diantha answered. Ash folded his arms. It sounded familiar, though he couldn't quite place where he'd heard of it before.

    "Where's that?" he decided to ask, intrigued while he wracked his brain for the answer, but came up with nothing. Diantha smiled at him a moment, like she was considering something. Before she could tell him any more, Clemont was suddenly off on a tangent.

    "It's far to the south. A region filled with islands!" Clemont announced excitedly, digging suddenly into his jumpsuit and whipping out a magazine. Ash had to wonder just where it had come from, considering he'd never seen his inventor friend receive magazines before. The lemon blond quickly shoved it in his face and Ash stepped back to see it was an edition of "Science Monthly", a man with a blond goatee and large green goggles on the front cover. "It's incredible! They've built a floating island there! And this man, Faba, is the one responsible for the technology! What I'd give to meet him for it!"

    "But…don't all islands float?" Ash asked, genuinely confused.

    "Heh heh heh, au contraire, my friend!" Clemont announced. Ash was pretty sure he noticed a creeped out Conway slinking off somewhere at that while Korrina simultaneously rolled her eyes. "This island is entirely manmade! A paragon of manufactured product created by the one and only Aether Foundation! They've become a huge hit in the scientific world recently and I've been following Faba's research lowkey for some time now…or whenever I could get my hands on a magazine. I wonder his opinion on the IRCS."

    "It certainly sounds like it," Diantha said with her own chuckle. Ash could only shake his head and mutter "science is so amazing" under his breath before Diantha continued. "Which is why I was actually going to ask you to go to Alola and install the IRCS there, yourself, Clemont."

    "M-me?" Clemont asked, jerked out of his fantasies to blink dumbly at the Champion.

    "We've all discussed it as Champions, and I recently contacted your father and he liked the idea. Seemed to think you could season yourself up with a bit more traveling," Diantha explained to him with a wink. Ash saw Clemont's eyes light up happily and he slung an arm around his friend, proud of him. "You're certainly the one who knows the system best, and there's no rush to install it quite yet. Not to mention the League has been in contact with some other engineers in the area and-"

    "I'll do it!" Clemont burst out, his excitement permeating his entire body. He was practically shaking underneath Ash, who let go of him. "I'd be more than happy to do it! Going to Alola and meeting all the scientific geniuses there like Faba and Molayne would be such an honor. And to represent the League no less!"

    "Glad to hear it," Diantha said, still with that light and airy laugh on her lips. "I'll let the League know your decision when I return tonight."

    "That's awesome, Clemont," Ash said with a grin at him, Pikachu also smiling. "Though…it means you'll be leaving for a while…Me and Serena could take care of Bonnie."

    "Oh, yeah…" Clemont stated, like he hadn't thought of that. That made him look slightly crestfallen about the whole thing. At least, until Diantha clapped her hands.

    "Why not go with him, Ash?" This drew the raven-haired trainer's attention, his chocolate eyes looking up at Diantha. "You haven't decided on your next journey yet, right? Perhaps a new region would be just the thing…and I think you'd find it most interesting there."

    "I would…?"

    "Let's just say, there are some very strong trainers in Alola. Ones that even I've struggled with in the past on the very rare chances I've met them," Diantha admitted, adding a little wink at the end. Ash turned to Pikachu, who nodded a little. A minute ago, he may have been wondering what his next step would be, but hearing from Diantha, of all people, about a region that was full of strong trainers and all new Pokémon to discover instantly got his blood pumping like nothing else. It made him excited, especially knowing he could travel with Clemont through another region; excited enough to hop a plane right then and there.

    But then he saw Serena talking to Aria and stopped himself. Sure, Serena wasn't the type to get mad, but he doubted she'd be very happy if he took off to a region without telling her. I guess I could sleep on it…he thought to himself, though from the way Pikachu touched his face, his best buddy knew exactly what he was thinking.

    "That sounds really cool, Diantha," Ash decided to finally answer. "Maybe I'll give it a try. And when I'm even stronger from there, I'll come back and challenge you guys!"

    "I'll be looking forward to that battle," Diantha admitted, her eyes flashing challengingly. She then seemed to catch sight of something and stepped away. "If you'll excuse me, then. It would appear my time at your party has ended. Happy Birthday, again, Ash. I look forward to hearing about more of your adventures." Clasping his shoulder lightly, Diantha at last retreated from the area, heading to an official looking man in a crisp suit and sunglasses. Ash was surprised that Kathi Lee was nowhere to be seen. At the same time, Clemont was quickly moving away.

    "Sorry, Ash, but I've gotta tell Korrina and Bonnie! This is exciting for me!" Clemont said, his body jittering. "Korrina! The future is now thanks to…"

    His voice was drowned by Ash's chuckles and the raven-haired trainer instantly began making tracks over to Serena's group, watching the rest of his Pokémon frolicking about, except for one. Greninja had stopped dancing and was staring at him, arms folded, as though he had heard their conversation and was contemplating something. Feeling a slight twinge in his brain, Ash had a very distinct feeling as to what it was, and it brought into sharp relief what traveling to this Alola region could mean. He tried to push it away, however, in favor of joining his girlfriend, Sawyer, Miette and Aria in conversation. At his approach, he noticed Sawyer put some very small distance between himself and Miette, though their hands brushed. He could only raise an eyebrow at that, as did Serena while Aria continued to talk a moment longer.

    "Palermo's been thinking of adding things to Showcases in the next year, after this season concludes," Aria was telling the two Performers standing there with her. Serena was watching her raptly, not even noticing that Ash had come up to stand next to her side. "Of course, she has to run it past Monsieur Pierre and the rest of the Showcase Committee, but apparently she's been thinking about this for a while."

    "What sort of things?" Serena asked. Miette turned her gaze for a moment before putting her attention back on Aria, wanting the answer for herself.

    "A weighted system of some sort," Aria was answering her. Serena finally noticed her boyfriend by her side and offered him a smile. "Apparently, she did some thinking after the Master Class and watching everything that happened at Geosenge and decided that she didn't like seeing what she now calls 'a glorified popularity contest'. So, she spoke with the Committee and they're working on a tentative proposal. Seems they'll be looking into other regions for ideas to implement…"

    "Like the Alola region?" Ash piped in. The four standing there with him turned their heads to look at him. Ash locked eyes with Serena and noticed something shimmering behind her blue orbs for a second. "I was just talking about the region with Clemont and Diantha."

    "Hmm, I do think Palermo mentioned something to that effect," Aria admitted. On Ash's shoulder, Pikachu's ears perked up a little before he jumped away, no doubt to play with Piplup. "Not aware of the details, but they did say something about some sort of Ceremony in the Alola region. I've never been myself…of course, I barely had the time to even come to the party, but I managed to convince some less than stellar board executives to let me have some time to stretch my legs."

    "You must be keeping busy, then," Sawyer commented, taking his hand away from near Miette's and putting them in his pockets. It was odd for Ash to see him without his notebook, but the boy's sense of confidence was palpable. It inspired further confidence inside of himself.

    Alola, huh? Ash thought, unable to get the idea of traveling to a new region outside of his brain. Serena was looking at him with an indiscernible expression, almost like she could tell just what was going through his mind. Shaking his head a little, Ash affixed a grin to his lips and decided to try and stop the thought of another adventure from burgeoning forth. Taking Serena's hand seemed to do the trick, though the expression behind her eyes and her following question made him really wonder if she understood all along.

    "So, Miss Palermo is looking into the Alola region's Showcase equivalent?" she asked, squeezing Ash's hand lightly. Aria inclined her head with a light "mmm" but said no more on the subject. Ash had found it slightly weird, but paid little attention to it, especially when his mother seemed to suddenly call them all to attention.

    Looking back on it as Ash went through the rest of the party, he could admit that he felt it was all a bit of a blur. There were a lot more people he mingled with, including Tracey and Professor Oak once again once Rotom went to routinely bother Clemont, and on top of that, Ash made sure to get his hands on as much food as possible. Then there was the large cake that Serena and his mother had baked together, though the former admitted that Dawn helped them. Presents seemed to come soon after, and though Ash didn't expect it, he was surprised with the very practical gifts he had been given. From a new set of camping gear to an invention that Clemont had built which didn't explode and even down to a joint gift of some delicacies from Nova Town which had come from the town's eponymous team. The simplest gift he had received was a picture of himself and Serena, though he had no idea when it could have been taken. Serena admitted it wasn't the biggest gift, but he was happy, in the same way that his Pokémon were happy at Brock's big batch of Pokémon food.

    Though he couldn't blame them: they were just as antsy as he was. Just as he felt ready to travel instantly upon hearing about this Alola region, so, too, did his Pokémon seem to instantly know that he was about to leave again. Not that he had spoken it aloud to anyone yet, and indeed, by the time the lights had dimmed and Ash had shared one last, not-disastrous dance with Serena before everyone left, only Pikachu and Clemont seemed to know fully about any plans in his head.

    Heading back to the Ketchum household amidst the starlit canopy of sky after the party, his friends that were staying at the house all jabbering in between their exhausted mumbles, Ash held onto Serena's hand and felt his body shake with slight excitement. Six months. Six months of training and enjoying the peace and quiet. And all it took was a few words from Diantha to inspire him again; he was ready to move forward and fulfill his dream yet again. The only problem was finding the words to tell Serena what he wanted to do, so that she could understand, but as the both of them yawned upon stepping inside, he decided he'd broach the topic tomorrow and, with a passing yawn, he went up the stairs with Clemont and Brock to flop upon his bed. Brock was out instantly, though Clemont appeared to remain awake.

    "Hey, Clemont…" Ash muttered out from his place upon his bed. "You're gonna go to Alola, right…?"

    "I hope to," Clemont said, yawning just a little. "Working on the IRCS and meeting my idols would be like a dream. What about you? I know Diantha mentioned it, but…"

    "Yeah…I want to go," Ash admitted, the answer coming out in a whisper. "That way, I can get stronger, so me and Pikachu can battle Diantha and I can become a Pokémon Master." Pikachu murmured in agreement at the foot of his bed, curled up in a ball.

    "Then do it…I'll stick with you. It'd be fun to have another journey together," Clemont yawned out once more, though it seemed to be the end of his journey as the inventor slipped off to sleep. Ash didn't say anything a moment, merely staring up at the ceiling of his room.

    You've become a wonderful Pokémon Master.

    Ash's fist clenched, his father's final words coming to him. They no longer hurt the way they used to, but still…hearing them, remembering his promise at the end of the battle, it made Ash wonder if he was still making his late father proud by just sitting around. Shaking his head with a thought, Ash laid back against his pillow and breathed a couple more words before falling asleep.

    "Well, Pikachu, looks like it's time for our next adventure."


    *Chapter continued in next post.

  2. #2
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Ta-da!" Ash stopped at the foot of the stairs and proceeded to stare at Serena. He wasn't the only one doing so as some of his other friends that still remained (Dawn and May, really) also looked to her. He blinked.

    "Um…what's with the outfit change, Serena?" he asked, rubbing his eyes. Thinking that perhaps he was still asleep, or perhaps just tired from a night of letting his wanderlust affect him, he blinked again to make sure he was seeing right. When he looked again, though, he was absolutely sure that his eyes weren't deceiving him. Serena had almost completely changed her wardrobe. Gone was the pink dress and red fedora, replaced with a light blue skirt that traveled about three-quarters of the way down her thighs, her leggings soon after appearing. Her shirt, still that same light pink that matched nicely with her skirt, rested loosely on her shoulders, a white camisole peeking out from underneath the sleeveless piece of clothing. On top of her head was a simple straw hat, similar to the one he had met her in, a blue ribbon wrapped around it. Meanwhile, the blue ribbon was adorned on her wrist.

    "Serena, you look so cute in that outfit!" Bonnie cheered out from the kitchen as Clemont passed pancakes to her.

    "Thanks, Bonnie. Dawn and Mrs. Ketchum helped me design it!" Serena said and Ash turned to see the chipper bluenette throw a thumbs up.

    "Oh, I just helped with the sewing work, dear. And you certainly helped with that other set of clothes. I usually like making nice ones but that accent worked rather well," his mother called from her own spot in the kitchen. Ash, however, was still confused and scratched the side of his head. Even Pikachu blinked in confusion.

    "Okay, but…that doesn't answer the question," he pointed out. For a moment, he didn't receive his answer, since Serena had turned around to grab something else. When she faced him once more, Ash saw another pile of clothes resting in her hands, a red hat placed on top of it. They sort of looked like…

    "It's my Alola outfit, of course!" Serena said, winking at him.

    "Wait for it…" May said through a mouthful of pancakes. Bonnie seemed to be trying to emulate her, but Clemont reined his sister in as Korrina put her own pancakes in one at a time. That was hardly important given the gravity of Serena's words.

    Finally, everything seemed to connect together in his brain. Looking between the outfit in her hands and the outfit she was wearing, combined with her words, everything clicked. His mouth dropped.

    "Wha…? But…I…" Ash struggled to find the words to say, folding his arms briefly. Pikachu, in the meantime, picked his own jaw back up, looking between Ash and Serena. "I didn't even tell you. I mean, I was going to tell you, but I…how did you?"

    "Come on, Ash, we've been dating how long, now?" Serena said, stepping forward and placing the set of clothes gingerly into his arms. Then she leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "I could tell yesterday when you were talking about the Alola region…and then I told your mom and…"

    "I knew it meant you'd be leaving for another journey soon," Delia said, finally stepping out from the kitchen, a smile on her face. Ash looked at her, and judging from the looks on Dawn and May's faces, it seemed as though they had known about this, themselves. Delia continued stepping forward until she reached the couple, placing hands on both their shoulders. "You were never made to sit at home, Ash. Even if I have been happy about you being here, I know you've been thinking about your next move for some time."

    "Oh…" Ash was unsure of what to say. He had been considering the idea of a journey to the Alola region for less than twenty-four hours, but like always, his mother knew just what to say. He almost wondered if she knew without him telling about the other thing. Likewise, Serena knew just what to do. It made him feel incredibly loved, and when Pikachu nudged him with a soft "Pikapi", he knew exactly what to say. With a grin, he reached forward and took Serena and his mother into an unexpected hug. "You guys are the best! All of you!"

    "Hope that includes us, Ash!" Dawn said cheerily. "We might not be traveling with you, but you better not forget us!"

    "Of course not!" Ash insisted after pulling back, this time facing Serena with his grin ever-wider. "That means you're coming with me?"

    "Of course, Ash," she said, reaching out and cupping his face with one hand. "We agreed back in Lumiose City, remember? We'll all go together on our next adventure."

    "Yeah! Yeah! Adventure!" Bonnie cried out from the kitchen now. "Clemont, we're going with them, right?"

    "Y-yeah, of course. I just have to finish preparing and letting the League know, and-"

    "Leave the League to me, Clemont!" Korrina said, thumping her boyfriend on the back. Clemont immediately turned to Korrina and began to argue with her about how it was his responsibility before Brock seemed to interrupt them with more food, all while attempting to muscle Mimey out of the way. Ash laughed and turned to Serena once more.

    "You're sure?" he asked her. Serena reached up and removed the straw hat, it's blue ribbon fluttering, matching perfectly with her new skirt. She clutched it to her chest and stepped even closer, to the point that Ash could feel her body heat.

    "Of course I'm sure. Why do you think I asked Aria about an equivalent to Showcases in Alola?" she said, and Ash could see the fire burning inside her eyes; one that he knew would never be put out. "I still have my dream: to become Kalos Queen and bring smiles to everyone. That was my promise."

    Ash watched her a moment longer. He wasn't the only one still affected by the battle that day. It made him feel less alone. Ash thought of kissing her, but his mother already had her hands on them, pushing them towards the kitchen.

    "Well, if you're going to be going anywhere, the first thing you need to do is eat. I had Professor Oak get you some tickets this morning when he booked Gary and Sawyer's flights," his mother told him, but any other words were lost by the gigantic breakfast before them.

    In fact, no other details mattered but the food before them as they chatted away in friendly fashion. Of course, not all of his friends were there, with Misty having returned to the gym (driven by Tracy, as it were) and Iris and Cilan already going their separate ways. From his mother's words, he had guessed that Gary, Sawyer and Miette had departed that morning while he knew Alain and Mairin had left the night before with Tierno, Trevor and Shauna. Knowing they were all on their own journeys again simply made him fired up for his next one, and within minutes after breakfast, Ash was looking himself over in the mirror, his new backpack (provided by his mother from yesterday's gifts, naturally) strapped over his shoulders and stuffed with everything he needed for the journey ahead. It was moving quickly, but that was just the way he liked it.

    "Well, what do you think, Pikachu?" he asked of his best friend.

    "Pikapi! Pika pika chu chu Pipika!" Pikachu said happily, all while flexing his arms with excitement. Ash had to agree with him: Serena had very good taste. He might not have been into fashion and all that, but even he could tell when an outfit coordinated. Though he did have a feeling that both Serena and his mother had been influenced by the outfit that he'd worn through Kalos.

    Resting on him was a blue and white striped shirt with short sleeves. However, over that was a similarly colored (if not similarly patterned) zipper vest that was sleeveless and fit perfectly over the shirt, but without making things too warm. It felt comfortable and airy to Ash, who took the time to shove his hands inside the pockets of his brownish-gray shorts. Well, they weren't quite shorts, as they measured down to just a little past his knees, but they felt practical, and worked well with the ensemble that Serena had presented him. Adjusting the red cap on his head, Ash looked to Pikachu again.

    "Ready for our next adventure, buddy? I can't wait to see lots of new Pokémon," he told him, holding out his arm for Pikachu to leap onto. "Just gotta say our last few goodbyes."

    "Pika!" Pikachu agreed, and the duo left the room, bounding down the stairs. Only Serena, Clemont and Bonnie were there, the others having already left to apparently head to the airport. Grinning at his friends, Ash quickly took Serena's hand and pelted out the door, aiming right for Professor Oak's laboratory as rapidly as he could. A car was waiting outside, presumably the professor's, but Ash ignored it to burst into the backyard. Within seconds of his arrival, Serena and the others disengaged and stepped back while his Tauros came rumbling through. Once they had ceased, all of his Pokémon had gathered in the backyard before him.

    "All right, guys! I'm heading out on another adventure!" he said, tossing his fist forward. Charizard let off a big spurt of flame in joy while Ash laughed. Each one of his Pokémon gave their own sort of customary farewell. He was glad to see them happy; even knowing his tendencies and that they'd have to be apart, all of them wanted to see him off in style, from hugs given by Infernape and the stoic Sceptile, to being tackled by all his Unovan starters. Ash could feel the love from all of them. The only one he didn't see in the crowd was Greninja, the Ninja Pokémon having vanished since last evening when their minds seemed to have briefly connected. Ash paid it little mind upon extricating himself from his group of birds. He turned and faced them all as Pikachu finished his farewells with Hawlucha, who was trying to rein in his manly tears.

    "Well, when I return, we'll have more additions to the family, I promise!" he stated to all of them. "And… if there's any kind of League in Alola, I hope you'll all cheer me on together!"

    "Rawwr!" Charizard agreed instantly and happily. Quickly offering them a wave and making sure they'd all be okay, Ash wiped the small, forming tears from the corners of his eyes and returned to his friends to the car out front. Professor Oak and his mother were now seated in the front seat.

    "All set, then, Ash?" the professor asked. Ash just nodded, clutching to his backpack as he opened the door and let Serena slip in, followed by Bonnie and Dedenne. Once he and Clemont were in the car, they shot off for Viridian City. Ash watched Pallet Town flash by as they did so, lost in the reverie of departing from his friends. For a moment, he thought he saw a shadow flit by in the forest, but was soon distracted by a slight crackling from the dashboard of the car.

    "You know you'll see them when you get back, right?" Serena asked of him, her hand resting on his knee.

    "Of course, I will! But starting a new journey is always hard," he responded.

    "But this time, you have us!" Bonnie insisted. Dedenne simply snored in response, sleeping peacefully in her bag. Ash looked over at her and noticed Clemont nodding at something on a small screen. Ash could only figure it was instructions from the League.

    "Yeah! We're gonna travel Alola together, meet lots of strong trainers, and achieve our dreams!" Ash exclaimed, throwing his hand out. The other three all joined him, even Clemont, who had stopped his perusal of the contents before him. Clenching each other's hands tightly, they raised their hands into the air, clasped in fists.

    Soon after, their car arrived in Viridian City and to the airport that was there. To no one's surprise, May, Dawn, Korrina and Brock were waiting there, each looking at the boarding numbers for their flights in a few minutes. They still managed to catch sight of them coming, though, from the windows of the airport. Ash smiled and waved at all of them when a sudden cry burst out from behind him. Turning around, he saw Clemont in a frazzled state…with Rotom zipping around his head.

    "Ah! Rotom!" Clemont said in exasperation. "I had no idea you'd even snuck into the car!"

    "Nor did I…the lab was strangely quiet this morning," Oak said, heaving a slight sigh. Rotom didn't stop, the buzzing Ghost type zipping back and forth with a laugh on its lips. Eventually, Clemont seemed to decide that enough was enough and he grabbed Rotom, only to be shocked, his poofed hair smoking. Rotom just turned around to look at him and laugh. "Oh my…it seems that Rotom has certainly taken a liking to you, Clemont."

    "Really…?" Clemont coughed out, evidently disbelieving in his zapped state.

    "Roto-to-to-to!" Rotom laughed out, but it didn't move from Clemont's hands. Ash raised an eyebrow at the sight as Professor Oak seemed to move in and pat Rotom on the head.

    "You want to travel with Clemont and the others to Alola, then?" Oak asked of the Pokémon. Rotom, to Ash's surprise, merely nodded its head once more. "Well, then…guess I can't say no to that. Take good care of Rotom, Clemont. Make sure it returns safely with lots of stories about your adventures there! I'm sure it can learn a lot!"

    "Will do!" Clemont said, taking one hand away from Rotom to place it over his heart. Surprised over seeing that their group had expanded already, Ash turned towards the airport, only for a small explosion to stop him in his tracks. A sharp ping filled his mind and Ash folded his arms in time to see Greninja drop down.

    "Greninja…I was wondering where you were," Ash said with a huff. "I almost thought we wouldn't have a chance to say goodbye."

    "Ninja," Greninja replied. Ash narrowed his gaze, trying to figure out exactly what the Water type was trying to tell him. That's when he noticed the shiny red and white surface of a pokeball in Greninja's webbed hands. In seconds, his loyal Pokémon kneeled down and placed the ball on the ground, rolling it across to him. Sighing with a light smile, Ash bent down and picked it up. He didn't even need their connection to know what he was saying. It went against most of what he did in a new region, but approaching the Pokémon and holding the pokeball out, he knew he could never deny them their most fervent wishes.

    "I get it. You want to keep growing stronger together, right?" Ash asked. Pikachu scampered down his arm and placed his paw on the pokeball. Greninja reached forward and tapped against the ball, along with Pikachu's fist. In the brief second before he was brought back into the pokeball, he nodded, and then disappeared inside. "All right. We'll go together."

    His pokeball moved inside his hand like a nod, but then Ash clipped the ball back to his side. Taking another look to Pikachu (who had scurried back up his shoulder), he led the group forward, into the airport. A chime was ringing in the distance, announcing boarding to Hoenn and Sinnoh.

    "Well, looks like it's us," Dawn said, Piplup sitting atop her beanie. "You guys all take care of yourselves. Serena, make sure that Ash doesn't throw himself off a cliff in Alola or do all that other stuff that nearly gets him killed."

    "You can count on me, Dawn," Serena said, stepping forward to hug the bluenette while May joined in. When the girls had separated, Dawn quickly turned back to Ash.

    "And you better win whatever challenges there are in Alola!"

    "You know I will!"

    "Pikaka, pika!" Touching their hands in a high five with one another, a new bell rang out and Dawn instantly turned, she and May barely having time to utter another goodbye before they had to run off to catch their plane. Brock came to stand next to him, watching them go for a second before looking to Ash again. He nudged him.

    "You take care of yourself, all right. I want to hear everything when we meet up again."

    "Definitely," Ash said, taking the older man into a hug while another chime rang out.

    "Passengers to Alola, please board the A-12 Toucannon flight departing from gate 7!" called the receptionist's voice. Ash sucked in a breath as he separated from Brock. Likewise, Korrina disengaged from a hug with Clemont and Bonnie, offering him a fist pump of confidence.

    "Well, this is us," Ash said.

    "We'll see you when we get back," Serena said. Bonnie jumped up and down in response while Ash turned to look at his mother and Professor Oak.

    "Mom, Professor…take care of the others. I'll try to keep in touch."

    "You just be safe out there, Ash, and have fun! You know I'll listen to anything an everything you have to tell me when you return. I'm always rooting for you, my Pokémon Master." Taking confidence from his mother's words and praise (which included the determination to find a way to tell her upon his return), he began to run for the gate their airplane was to depart from, Serena barely grabbing on to the back of his vest.

    And when the plane bound for Alola took off moments later, reducing his mother and friends to mere pinpricks down below, the feeling of a new adventure settled into Ash Ketchum's bones.


    "Jessie! James! Meowth!" the deep voice boomed across the dark room, snapping the three operatives who stood before it to rapt attention. The middle of the three attempted to peer through the darkness, trying to discern the imposing man that was their boss in his chair, but failed to do so. Instead, he continued pinning his arms to his side, awaiting his boss' orders.

    "Sir!" he sounded out with Jessie and Meowth at his side. With a snap of the man's fingers, a screen in the dimly lit room burst brightly with colors, slightly illuminating the man before him, petting the Persian in his lap. Next to him, Meowth was grumbling under his breath.

    "I was quite impressed with your work in Kalos this past year," Giovanni spoke, his voice resonating as though it belonged to one that wasn't even there. "However, the events that you depicted in Kalos leave me worried about the stability and foothold of our organization."

    "What would you have us do, sir?" Jessie asked. Giovanni stopped stroking Persian a moment and turned around in his chair to look at the brightly lit screens. Upon them, James could see various islands and what looked to be long surveillance shots of some of the Pokémon in the region. They looked unfamiliar to James.

    "I need the three of you, my best operatives, to head for the Alola Region," he instructed them. James would have raised an eyebrow, but given that Giovanni's assistant was nearby, he refrained from it. "I have heard rumors that this organization, ARC, is present upon the islands there. Your mission is to find them and eliminate them."

    "With pleasure, sir," Meowth responded darkly.

    "Excellent. While you're at it, be on the lookout for another group known as Team Skull. I have no worries about them in accordance with our organization, but Team Rocket has not survived this long by taking risks. You're free to take with you whatever Pokémon you feel necessary, but do not draw excess attention to yourselves. Simply complete your mission…for the glory of Team Rocket."

    "For the glory of Team Rocket!" James said proudly, the other two joining him in doing so. Then Giovanni waved his hand and the three quickly made an about face to leave the room. Almost like robots, they strode into the brightly lit hallway, and when they were finally a distance from the boss' room…

    "The boss said we're his best operatives!" Jessie said, pumping her fist into the air with a screech.

    "We're the top dogs!" James responded as well.

    "And I'm da top cat! Soon dat Persian will be knocked off its perch on da boss's lap," Meowth said, rubbing his claws together. James watched him for a moment, and tried to think of something else to say in praise of their praise, when he started mulling over the orders they had been given. Eliminate ARC. True, ARC was an enemy to world domination…yet…after having fought with them, some of the order left a bad taste in his mouth.

    "You all right, James? You keep your mouth open anymore and a Ledyba will fly in!" Jessie mocked him, poking at his cheeks with a smirk. James shook his head.

    "Just wondering how we'll fulfill the boss's orders," James answered. "Obviously, we'll need some new tech, and I could never part from my dear, sweet Inkay."

    "All details! We'll figure it out later!" Jessie waved off. "Let's just grab what we need and hop on a plane to this Aurora."

    "It's Alola, Jess," Meowth said, walking off with Jessie, who aimed a kick at him for talking back to her. James watched them go for a moment, still contemplating the orders they'd been given. Shrugging a little, however, James decided that dealing with ARC and whether to take them down or not would only come when they ran into them. Abandoning the thoughts for now, James picked up the pace to join Jessie and Meowth, ready for their latest mission. For now, going on the mission with these two is enough.




    Diantha's heeled steps echoed across the League Headquarters in Kalos. She'd been attending this location far too often for comfort in the last few months, but given her initiatives lately, she knew it was no surprise. In fact, nodding at some of the League officials bustling past her in the rather populated area, she realized that she was now here for the same exact reason that she had been meeting for months on end.

    It wasn't the most pleasant of reasons, she began to realize.

    Rounding a corner, the Kalos Champion made a beeline straight for the door at the end of the hall. Quickly checking the clipboard in her hands, she pursed her lips, briefly perusing the document on it before she could reach the door and open it. Said door swung open to a small room, decorated only with a round table, six chairs and a table for refreshments. Four of the six chairs were already filled, and closing the door with a snap, the occupants in them silenced their mouths. Diantha didn't say anything, either, simply crossing the room to take a seat in a chair opposite the door, next to one of her fellow Champions. When she finally placed her clipboard down on the table, she looked up. She wasn't the first one to say anything, though.

    "So…" began the red-haired and bulky Alder, "we're here again…Any particular reason why?"

    "Quite a few, actually," Diantha said curtly. Alder seemed to shut his mouth at that while Diantha looked at the other three Champions: Steven, Cynthia and Lance. "I've spoken with Clemont, just yesterday, in fact, and he agreed to install the Inter-Regional Communication System on Mount Hokulani in Alola. Our regions will continue to come together."

    "That can't be the only reason we've called a meeting, Diantha," Lance expressed, folding his hands as his cape draped over his shoulders. "That seems entirely like something you could handle on your own, even given our new League structure."

    "Of course," Diantha agreed, now leaning forward and lacing her fingers together. "I've been contacted by Professor Kukui in Alola."

    "Kukui?" Cynthia spoke out, arching an eyebrow at the mention of the man's name. "Now there's a name I've not heard for quite some time. I wonder how he and Burnet have been doing…" Diantha peered over at Cynthia, who chuckled lightly and cleared her throat. "Right…why did Kukui contact you, may I ask?"

    "Take a look for yourself," Diantha admitted with a smile, shoving the clipboard over to Cynthia. The blonde-haired Champion took hold of the clipboard and thumbed through it, her eyes widening when they reached the end of the document.

    "Oh?" she said, her lips parting slightly. Alder reached over and snatched the clipboard from her hands, though it tumbled out seconds later.

    "Well, that's certainly a surprise…" he breathed out. "So, Alola wants to form a League, does it?"

    "And they intend to hold the first annual one this year," Diantha noted. "Of course, they've asked for certain provisions to be made in comparison to other Leagues, such as no Gyms, and I'm willing to oblige them. Of course, given the reform lately, it will need the unanimous approval of all Champions."

    "Hmmm," Steven said, himself now looking through. "The Lanakila Conference…held once a year, the self-proclaimed Island Trials and thus Island Pilgrimage replacing standard gym battles…And an Elite Four to be determined by the first held League or Professor Kukui, himself? All seems like reasonable provisions to me. Seconded."

    "I approve as well," Lance said. After a moment of silence, broken only with minute nodding from Cynthia, the redhead's gaze shifted to Alder, who appeared to be deliberating before shrugging. Steven slid the clipboard back over. "So, then, looks like there'll be a lot of work in the next few months, huh?"

    "Well, to be honest, I have been in contact with Kukui for some time, and he's assured me that as Mount Lanakila already has a location perfectly ready for such an event, given its status in Island Trials, they can be ready to go at almost any time," Diantha informed them, signing off onto the clipboard once it slid back into her possession. When she did, she looked up and gave an apologetic smile. "That isn't the reason I'm expediting things, however."

    "Oh?" Alder asked, his eyes twinkling dangerously.

    "I received word this morning from Korrina, a Gym Leader in my region…it would appear that Ash Ketchum accepted my invitation to go to Alola." There was a general murmur that passed around the table of Champions. Diantha looked around, observing all of their faces carefully, though they all indicated the same thing. "Yes, I instantly thought the same thing. I have a feeling that the next tipping point may be close at hand…"

    "Yeah, but wasn't that DARC group behind all that. They're gone now," Alder pointed out. Cynthia shifted in her chair, crossing one leg over the other.

    "Perhaps so…but it won't stop the world from moving," the blonde told them. "DARC was proof of that. They may have been destroyed, but there are still those groups who would act without their influence. If fate is as immutable as is said, and the tipping point appears to naturally be approaching…"

    "Perhaps it's time to make our moves?" Steven suggested. Diantha smiled, glad that each of the Champions could see where she was coming from. She stood authoritatively, and all of their attention gravitated towards her.

    "My thoughts exactly. The world is on the move again, and this time, I believe we have the advantage. We've worked too long and hard the last many months to repair the tenuous relations and damage the League has caused. I will not have a single region be the spark that burned it all down again," Diantha announced to their group. "We make our move, to protect our region and ensure that this tipping point goes the right way, and hopefully unnoticed."

    "And we're certain that the tipping point is near?" Alder asked, looking the most serious since he had arrived there. To that, Diantha could only smile.

    "Of course," was the easy response, "after all, where Ash Ketchum goes, trouble always follows."



    Author's Note: So…welcome to the end of the first chapter. I'm going to admit, it was kind of funny, diving back into the Ancienverse like this, and I'm sorry (but not really) for laying such a massive chapter on you for the very first chapter, but if you couldn't tell…well, a lot happened. Like, a way lot. Of course, this was the setup chapter for everything to come, from Team Rocket going to Alola, Ash and company heading there (with Rotom no less), and the League meeting with what are likely well-founded concerns. I hope you enjoyed it!

    Regarding some of my obvious decisions here. Yes, Greninja is going with Ash, for reasons that I won't reveal…except for one: Orange Shuriken of Supposed Destruction. Prepared for salt. Rotom is obvious, as is the Kalos Gang, though I wanted to give them, you know, an actual reason to go. I set up a lot of plot points that may not even have their ultimate fruition until the final book! I hope you'll stick with me that far!

    That's all I have to say for now. I hope you'll all go on this wonderful adventure with me! So, please, Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  3. #3
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    Because I neglected to mention these things before, I'll do so now. For one, updates will come every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. For another, no, Ash will not be bringing reserves but Greninja along. I need to develop a whole new team, and I can't do that with a bunch of them there. Now, enough talk. Time for Chapter 2!

    Chapter 2

    An Island

    Serena stirred, feeling something heavy in her lap as she did so. The sound of loud droning and a muted mutter invaded her ears, still slightly ringing from all the time they had spent in the air. Opening her mouth a little to try and alleviate the slight ringing, her action turned into a yawn and she realized that she must have been sleeping for quite some time. In fact, blinking a little, she quickly noticed that her head was actually resting upon Ash's shoulder as he stared giddily out the window. Giving a slight groan that went unnoticed, she decided to wake up fully and pulled her head off of Ash's shoulder, realizing that the something heavy was her own bag sitting in her lap. Blinking the sleep away from her eyes, Serena ran a hand through her hair and smiled at the sight of Ash and Pikachu's faces pressed excitedly up against the window.

    "Look, Pikachu, those are some huge Pelipper!" Ash exclaimed to his best friend. Serena would have giggled at it, but opted for a small smile as she reached into her bag to pull out her tablet. Pulling up the home screen, a thought struck her: perhaps it wasn't going to work now that they were heading to a new region. Frowning a bit, Serena decided to look up the arrival time. Pressing a few buttons, she managed to pull up a screen that indicated there was less than a half hour until they landed at a place called Hau'oli City. Glad to have some kind of estimate, she closed the tablet and put it back in the bag.

    "Rotom, stop that!" Clemont's voice called out suddenly. Ash continued to stare out the window excitedly, but Serena turned to her friend, noticing the inventor was out of his seat. Bonnie and Dedenne, for all their excitement earlier, were fast asleep on their chair, slumping over into where Clemont must have been just moments before.

    Blinking her eyes once again, the honey blonde noticed that Clemont was hovering worriedly over a businessman that was staring at his own tablet in surprise. He almost seemed to drop it. "What's this now?"

    "I'm so terribly sorry, sir!" Clemont apologized, bowing profusely. The man, dressed in a nice pair of pants, but a very casual floral-patterned shirt, chuckled at the intrusion and seemed to pay no mind. "Rotom is extremely energetic and loves electrical devices. And I'm not its trainer, so…"

    "It's no bother young man," the business man chuckled out. He turned his tablet a little, and Serena could see Rotom's face peeking out of it with a laugh. "It's a rather excitable one. I'm sure it'll enjoy all of the great devices we have in Alola."

    "Roto-to-to-to!" Rotom laughed out, leaving Clemont exasperated. Serena watched a moment longer as the businessman seemed to tell Clemont not to worry and instead let Rotom stay with him until the plane landed. Clemont looked reluctant, but sighed in agreement. It seemed to Serena that Rotom had been consistently doing this through the plane ride (though given that no stewardess was near them, it meant that Rotom hadn't played with the controls of the plane).

    Serena turned back in her seat towards Ash. "Having fun, you two?"

    "It's awesome!" Ash exclaimed, turning back in his seat to face her. Pikachu also managed to remove his face from the window to look at her. She laughed lightly at that; no matter what age Ash might have just turned, seeing new Pokémon and experiencing new things with excitement never changed about him. She really loved that. "Not that we've seen anything new yet…"

    "Pika…" Pikachu said, nodding lightly, as though saddened by their current state of development.

    "Well, I'm sure you will soon," Serena stated. "We can't be far now."

    "Yay! A new region!" Bonnie suddenly shouted from her seat across the aisle. Clemont and Dedenne both looked startled by her outburst, jumping a little. She seemed to have woken up, full of energy and more than ready to start their new adventure. Clemont quickly scolded her just as the light overhead went on, and the captain's voice echoed in the cabin.

    "Passengers, please remain seated. We are now beginning our landing in Hau'oli City!" the captain called out. At this, Ash once more pressed his face against the window excitedly.

    "Serena, you've gotta see this!" he said. Deciding to oblige her boyfriend, Serena leaned over his body and looked out the window. It was certainly a sight to behold. The plane was descending, and drawing ever closer to the eye was an island. In fact, it soon turned out that Alola was a whole chain of islands to her knowledge. They, however, were heading for one of the smaller ones, decorated with forests and sandy beaches. She felt her heartbeat speed up with the thrill of excitement.

    "It looks amazing!" she cried out at the sight. The ocean waves, even from their distance, lapped against the shore as Wingull flew past their plane. Feeling the full brunt of their upcoming adventure, all the new Pokémon and people they'd meet, Serena brought herself back from Ash and prepared for their landing. Making sure everything in her bag was set, she held onto it. "Why don't you make sure you have everything ready, Ash?"

    "Good idea," he noted, quickly unzipping his bag. Pikachu peered in with him and they both agreed that everything was good to go. Her boyfriend's leg started to jitter, which only increased as the plane touched down upon the runway. In mere moments, it had pulled to a stop. Somehow, the two of them shared the same mind as both Ash and Serena stood, ready for the adventure ahead. Around them, the other passengers were a little more lethargic. Once more, the bell rang and the captain spoke once again.

    "Welcome, everyone, to the Alola Region! Enjoy your stay in Hau'oli City!"

    "Yes! Let's go, Pikachu! Serena!" Ash quickly took her hand and began bustling right out of the plane excitedly. Serena used her free hand to tamp her straw hat down as she turned to Bonnie and Clemont. Bonnie was already up and moving, gathering her bag and racing ahead of her brother.

    "Hurry up, Clemont! We've got lots of new and cute Pokémon to see!" she chided him. Ash was turning now, still attached to her hand as he did so.

    "I'm coming, Bonnie. Just hold on!" Clemont shouted, making sure to grab anything that could have been left behind. Then he was racing after his sister quickly as Serena was pulled out of the airplane and on to the stairs. A blast of sun impacted her eyes and she dipped her hat a bit to shield it from the bright Alola sun. The first thing she heard upon descending the airplane ramp was the sound of the surf lapping against the sands, and, looking up, she could see some palm trees whispering in the winds. The rest of the city wasn't visible, given their position in the airport, but it certainly didn't stop Ash's excitement from overflowing.

    "Hello, Alola!" Ash screamed proudly, letting go of her hand to stretch his arms high towards the sky. A breeze rustled past them, warming Serena's exposed skin. "Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town is finally here!"

    "Pika pika!" Pikachu called out alongside his trainer. Serena giggled again at his enthusiasm. Another warm breeze blew past all of them and Serena looked up to see a flock of bird Pokémon that she didn't recognize fly past.

    "Oh, they look so cute!" Bonnie cheered, stamping her feet up and down in joy. Dedenne chattered away on her head, sharing his caretaker's boundless excitement.

    "What kind of Pokémon are they?" Ash asked, and though his back was to Serena while they moved away, in order to let more passengers off the plane, she could tell his grin was as wide as it could get. She was actually glad that he had decided to go on another journey (and take her with, of course); it was just the thing he needed after the very emotional events in Kalos. No, it was something we all needed, she said to herself, her mind briefly remembering the moment of holding herself on the rain drenched field. She shook her head, and the memories with them. "Let's follow them, Pikachu! We'll explore the city!"

    "Ash, don't split from the group!" Serena chided him. He and Pikachu were caught mid-step, turning around to smile at her sheepishly. He rubbed the back of his head. Yet Serena could also see the pure inquisitiveness and curiosity that made Ash, himself, yearning to take over. She sighed a little. "Fine, have some fun, but make sure we meet at the Pokémon Center in an hour, okay? We don't want to be too separated on our first day in the region."

    "Got it! Love you! Let's go, Pikachu!" With little more than that, Ash and Pikachu were off tearing through the airport, apologizing to a lady they had closely avoided. Rolling her eyes with amusement, Serena turned back to Bonnie and Clemont, who were standing near the man with the tablet from earlier. Making sure her straps were tight on her backpack, she approached the group.

    "Thank you for letting Rotom hang around," Clemont was saying to the man with a slight chuckle. At his words, Rotom seemed to decide that its fun was over. It popped out of the man's tablet with some sparks and then circled around Clemont's head before seemingly embedding itself into his bag, where it laid dormant for the time being.

    "It's no problem at all," the man said, waving away the situation. "Like I said, we Alolans are in harmony with nature and Pokémon. A little Rotom like that is commonplace."

    "Oh, then you're returning home?" Serena asked. The man crinkled his eyes a bit and then smiled at her.

    "Back on a business trip from Saffron City," the man said. He reached into the pocket on his shirt and pulled out a card, handing it over to Serena. "You look like a fashion conscious girl. Why don't you stop by my clothing store? I recently received word that we're having a special guest there today."

    "Oh, thank you very much!" Serena noted, looking down at the business card to find it was for the owner of a shop named "Hau'oli Fashion" complete with a little map that led to its location. "Um…if you don't mind, do you also know where the Pokémon Center is?"

    "Ha ha, why don't you kids just come with me. I'll show you around the city," the man said. He reached into his bag and pulled out a pair of sunglasses that he put on. "Name's Haku, by the way."

    "I'm Serena," the honey-blonde offered as the four of them began to make their way towards the airport exit. For a brief moment, having not caught sight of Ash, she hoped he'd be able to make his way to the Pokémon Center without getting too lost, but Haku was pulling them along towards a receptionist before she could dwell on it.

    "My name's Bonnie, and this is Dedenne!" Bonnie introduced herself, Dedenne joining her before curling up into a ball on her head.

    "My name's Clemont. Pleasure to meet you officially, Mr. Haku." Haku laughed and continued on his way up to the receptionist before turning to Serena.

    "Miss Serena, you have a tablet I suppose? With a map function?" he asked and Serena could see his hazel eyes staring kindly at her. Choosing not to answer verbally, Serena dug in her bag and once more took her tablet out, handing it over to Haku as he rotated his body to face the receptionist. "Alola!"

    "Alola!" the receptionist replied. Serena blinked before realizing that the name of the region must have been used as a customary greeting between people. "How can I help you today, Mr. Haku?"

    "Just a map upgrade," Haku told her, handing over the tablet. He seemed to wink at the receptionist, who giggled a little. At that, Serena arched an eyebrow; she got the sudden feeling that Haku was a man who very much liked to flirt with the receptionist. Said receptionist took her tablet and appeared to plug it into something. After a few seconds, there was beeping and she took the tablet back out. Haku grabbed it and handed it back over to Serena. She instantly began pressing buttons on the screen and was surprised as she suddenly found all the information she could ever want about the Alola region fluttering around her screen. Bonnie jammed herself up against her and took a look at it.

    "Looks like the Pokémon Center is right down the road," the lemon blonde said happily. Clemont nodded, heaving his backpack on his shoulders a little and wiping his brow. He must have been sweating profusely, Serena thought, no doubt due to his heavy bag and jumpsuit.

    "Why don't I head there and let the League know that I've arrived safely? You told Ash to meet there in an hour, right?" Clemont asked. Serena opted for merely nodding to confirm just what he had said. Adjusting his glasses a bit, he smiled and began making his way for the exit from the airport. "Take care of Bonnie, Serena! Have fun!"

    "You too, big brother!" Bonnie shouted out, drawing a little attention from those around them. Clemont didn't pick up the pace, but vanished into the crowds at the airport before long. A chiming sound was heard, calling for a boarding to the Unova region, but Serena ignored it in favor of turning to Haku, who was still busy flirting with the receptionist a moment longer. He finished it up, however, and turned to the two females.

    "Well, ladies, shall we?" he asked with a wink. Clutching his tablet and briefcase in his hands (which, incidentally, it seemed that was all he was carrying) Haku began leading them out of the airport, his white hair shimmering under the lights until they broke out into the full view of Hau'oli City's sun-drenched sights.

    "Ah!" Bonnie cried with the giddiest expression imaginable, running forward towards a railing that appeared to separate the airport from the beach below. Serena quickly joined her, glad that she had a hat to block out the intense heat of the sun. Bonnie was squinting a little at the brightness, and Serena had a sudden idea for when they got to Haku's shop. For the moment, however, she watched with Bonnie as a few unfamiliar Pokémon leapt from the water in a coordinated pattern. It looked like a performance to Serena's eyes, but she was forced to avert her gaze as Haku was already leading them away.

    "Come on, Bonnie. We can look at all the Pokémon when we're all together, okay?" she said to the younger girl.

    "Okay," she said back and the two quickly trailed after Haku, who was strolling leisurely down the streets of the city, greeting some people with a hearty "Alola!" as he went along. Following after him, Serena could take in all the sights of the softly swaying palm trees with the almost-resort styled homes and shops in the area. It was really a thing of beauty to her. The people around them all seemed relaxed too, enjoying their time on a stroll with their Pokémon.

    "There's a lot that you'll find in Hau'oli City," Haku spoke out, drawing Serena's attention to the older man. "Hau'oli is the biggest city…well, really only city on Melemele Island."

    "What are the other islands like? Are there lots of cute Pokémon?" Bonnie asked energetically. Serena had to stop her from practically bouncing up and down in the street at the thought of it.

    "There are plenty of cute Pokémon," Haku assured her with a wink. Taking Bonnie's hand carefully, Serena continued them along the path after Haku, catching a glimpse of the large pokeball sign that signified a Pokémon Center. As the three of them passed by it, Serena definitely caught a glimpse of Clemont inside, though he couldn't see who was on the screen he was talking to. "But besides that, we've got plenty of fun attractions. I own the best clothing store on the island. There's a salon, a shopping mall if that's your thing. We even have a Pokémon school near the outskirts. Are you transfer students?"

    "Nope! We're going on an adventure!" Bonnie exclaimed.

    "Dedene!"

    "Ha ha, well, that sounds like quite a bit of fun," Haku said, his entire chest moving a little with his booming laugh. "Whereabouts are all of you from?"

    "Well, Ash is from Kanto, obviously," Serena informed the man with a smile, moving up to keep in stride with him as they rounded a corner. The three of them were passing by a café now with a number of people sitting outside it and chatting amicably. Some were in couples, or groups, while others were on their own. One of them was sitting quite comfortably by himself as he tossed what looked like some beans to a strange and unfamiliar Pokémon before brushing his blond hair out of his eyes. He paid little attention to anyone around him, but Serena figured that it just meant Alola was as diversified as the other regions.

    "You talk as though you're not."

    "No, the rest of us are from Kalos," Serena told him. "Ash met us all while we traveled there and it's been quite the adventure."

    "I see, I see…and you and Ash…?" Serena, despite having been dating for sixth months, couldn't help the blush as she nodded. Haku laughed again, even more jovially than before. He quickly changed topics after. "Kalos, huh? Our captain, Ilima studied there about a year or two ago. In Lumiose City."

    "That's where I'm from!" Bonnie chirped happily. Serena, however, had a much different question on her mind.

    "Captain?" Haku carried a twinkle in his eyes at the question, but didn't answer as they arrived outside the glass doors of what looked like a little boutique. Well, "little" was hardly the term she would use given how large the customer base seemed from just a glance. In lieu of responding, he pushed the doors open and strode right inside, acting like the owner of the place that he was.

    "I'm back, Launa!" the man called. Some of the store's patrons looked around wildly while others continued on with their shopping. Serena looked around instantly for who the man could be calling for and noticed a young woman wearing a rather loose-fitting top waving at him lazily from behind a counter. "Anything interesting happen while I was gone?"

    "Miss Akela arrived," Launa called over to him. Haku nodded, walking over to the counter and placing his briefcase upon it. "Everything go well in Saffron City, Mr. Haku?"

    "Well enough. Saffron Textiles has reduced their payment required," Haku chuckled out. Serena and Bonnie hung back, the latter glancing around the store in interest. It was certainly a colorful array of shirts, pants and dresses that could catch anyone's eyes. However, Serena's mind was more focused on the name that Launa had just dropped.

    Miss Akela…she mused in her brain. The name sounded incredibly familiar to her, but she just couldn't seem to place it. Hoping that the store could maybe help her obtain some kind of clue, she continued to look around the place. The name kept mulling over her brain, but she was unable to get any sort of clue as to where she'd heard it before. "Guests of yours, Mr. Haku?"

    "Oh," Haku said, turning back around with a grin as he took his sunglasses off. "Serena, Bonnie, it's been a pleasure meeting you. Feel free to browse the store, and anything you see that would be a nice fit, just tell Launa here. On the house. Oh, and welcome to Alola!"

    "Alola," Launa greeted the pair, obviously realizing that they were newcomers to the region. Serena turned to the amethyst-haired cashier with her own smile.

    "A-Alola," she responded. Haku gave them one more twinkling smile before opening the counter up and stepping behind it to head into the backroom. Serena watched them a moment, especially as Launa returned to looking rather bored.

    "Serena," Bonnie said, tugging on the hem of her shirt. Serena looked to her little-sister-figure inquisitively. "Can we go shopping? I want a big floppy hat."

    "Sure, but don't run off without me. You and Dedenne, both," Serena insisted. Bonnie nodded and ran off to a children's section of the store to look at some of the hats there. Serena, likewise, stepped over to a row of one piece dresses in solid and bright colors. The thought of where she'd heard the name "Akela" before kept interrupting in her mind and she placed a hand to her chin in contemplation.

    "That…is a really awesome pose!" called an excited voice. Serena blinked and turned, wondering just who the voice was talking to. "Hold that position for me, please?"

    "Um, excuse me?" Serena asked, finally turning to see a younger girl, probably no more than fourteen years old, gazing up at her with her fingers boxed like she was filming a movie. The girl looked extremely energetic, her black hair messily and lightly tied up in a ponytail, wisps of it falling in front of her eyes. She broke her box in order to tuck the strands of hair back. "W-were you talking to me?"

    "Yeah, are you some kind of model?" the girl asked, now hitching her bag on one of her shoulders. Serena almost laughed at that, but shook her head. "You should be. You'd look great on television or in a movie."

    "Uh, thank you for the compliment," Serena admitted, giggling just a little.

    "She's right, you know," Launa said lazily. Serena once more turned to now find the girl flicking through a magazine. "Your clothing is top notch. Probably up there with Miss Akela's brands. And she's the best designer in all of Alola, maybe even the world."

    "Oh!" Serena said, clapping her hands together in sudden realization. Finally, it clicked in her brain where she had heard of Miss Akela before. In fact, she wanted to kick herself for not recognizing it sooner. All those hours poring over fashion magazines with Dawn, it must have passed right by her. "You're talking about Miss Akela, of Akela Apparel?"

    "Who else would we be talking about?" Launa stated with a laugh. "She's only one of the most famous people in Alola…other than the captains and Kahunas, that is." The latter two words flew completely over Serena's head, but hearing that such a famous fashion designer was close by excited her quite a bit. The black-haired girl stepped forward, her green irises shining brightly.

    "I'm so looking forward to meeting her!" she shouted excitedly. "I always wanted to meet Miss Akela. When I become a self-director and producer of my very own film, I want to shine on the screen just like her!"

    "You've got a long way to go if you want to reach Miss Akela," Launa snarked out, almost snickering at the aspiring girl. Said girl stopped her eye shimmering and puffed her cheeks out in defiance. It only lasted a moment before a woman stepped out from the backroom.

    She needed no introduction. This had to be Miss Akela. It was all too obvious: the woman had practically porcelain skin, perfectly tanned. Her long, purple hair flowed down her back in beautiful tresses before being tied up at the end. On top of it, she was wearing a stunning, yet entirely practical white dress that flowed around the knees and was tied around the waist with a thin, but attractive, red belt. More than that, however, Serena realized that her blue eyes conveyed what Serena had only seen before in Aria: a sense of grace and nobility not usually seen. This woman was more than just some fashion designer, and Serena could instantly tell that.

    Unfortunately, she could also tell that she was very close to what would soon become the target for a rampaging stampede.

    "What's this you're talking about, Launa?" Miss Akela said, adjusting the sunglasses that were sitting just above her eyes. "Not putting people down for having dreams, are we? Don't forget that I started out working with my very own Fomantis in the back of a storage shed in Malie City before attending the school here on Melemele. I dreamed, and now I'm here, supporting an important industry without even a main corporate office."

    "Just keeping some realism, ma'am," Launa said, but seemed to have the thought to look ashamed. Akela frowned a bit at the woman, taking the sunglasses from her head and placing them inside the front of her dress, dipping into her cleavage. Her head turned to look at Serena and the girl next to her, a smile now resting on her lips, and she appeared to freeze for a fraction of a second. Serena didn't relent from the gaze, but instead smiled back. Miss Akela opened her mouth, but was unable to get the words out in time.

    "It's her!" squealed a girl from elsewhere in the store. Serena blinked, breaking whatever connection there was there and quickly backed up. It proved to be just in time, too, as a sudden flood of people, boys and girls alike, all swarmed towards Miss Akela. The girl that had been standing next to Serena remained there was well, pulling out a big pad of paper that looked to have some sort of weird framing shots on them.

    Not wanting to be caught in the crush of the crowd, Serena retreated over to the men's section of the store, located right on the border of the women's. Not looking precisely where she was going, Serena suddenly bumped into someone. "Oh, I'm so sorry!"

    "No, it's okay," responded a voice. Serena whipped around at it, to find that she had bumped into a girl, roughly her age, or perhaps a year younger, staring at the row of dresses absentmindedly. She couldn't understand why, though: the girl was fairly beautiful as she was now, and her own clothing was perfect. Her white dress made her seem very posh and rich, coming down to around the same area her own skirt did. Likewise, she was wearing stockings, though these were white, and situated on her head was a big, white hat, concealing her braided blonde locks. Smiling at the girl just briefly, she turned to look at the massive crowd.

    "She's very popular, isn't she?"

    "I guess…" The girl seemed very reticent in her answer, like she didn't want to speak with Serena. "I'm sorry, I have to go."

    "O…kay…" Serena commented, only able to watch as the girl dashed from the store, her large bag bouncing against her hip. The honey blonde chalked it up to simply another event in the Alola region.

    "Serena! I found my hat!" Bonnie suddenly called, skipping through the store (all while moving some other crowding customers aside) to reach her. Contained in Bonnie's hands was a hat similar to the one that Serena had just seen on the girl that departed. Only, instead of being plain, she could see a flower decoration tucked into the pink ribbon around the pale-colored hat. The younger girl put it on top of her head and grinned. "Doesn't it look great?"

    "It does! Though let's wait until the crowd clears to purchase it," Serena pointed out, looking for a place to sit as the customers in the store all worked to gather Miss Akela's autograph. To Serena's surprise, Bonnie didn't ask who the woman was, or even seemingly thought of asking her to keep Clemont. In some way, it reminded Serena of how quickly Bonnie had grown up in Kalos. They all had. Some days she didn't notice it but there were times, like now, when she had nothing to think about, that the reminder entered her brain.

    After fifteen minutes of waiting around, Serena looked at the clock in the store to see that it was almost time for them to be getting to the Pokémon Center. The crowds had barely thinned, but with little time left, the Performer stood and walked with Bonnie towards Launa. The crowd didn't seem to want them to pass, but after a few "excuse me"s and "pardon"s, the two girls were able to finally approach the older girl to check out.

    "Very stylish," she commented on Bonnie's headwear. "Let me just ring it up for our records. And sorry for all the commotion. Miss Akela is a busy, popular woman."

    "A fulfilling passion," Akela spoke out and Serena looked over to the violet haired woman. She finished signing a young boy's napkin and turned to face Serena with a rather discerning look. Now that they were so close, Serena could see how defined her features were; not haughty or condescending, but still very pointed, with a prominent cheekbone. It was like she was piercing her with her gaze. "What's your passion, my dear?"

    "Serena wants to be Kalos Queen!" Bonnie answered as Launa finished ringing up her hat. To this, Akela inclined her head.

    "Ambitious. I traveled Kalos, once, many years ago. A title of royalty is not one to achieve lightly," she noted. "Though, I must ask then…why are you here?"

    "I'm…" Serena paused a moment, wondering how to best phrase the answer. "I'm here to grow and fulfill my dream by bringing happiness to others." It was a vague answer at best, and certainly garnered a look of skepticism from Launa while Akela shifted to peer at her more closely.

    "An even more lofty goal…you've certainly set your path on a steep road," Akela commented. Serena had the distinct feeling that were Akela free from the constricting bindings of the counter, she would have been walking around her. "Yes…I think she'd do just fine."

    "For what?" Launa asked, but Akela didn't answer. She continued watching Serena, who just stared right back. Miss Akela's eyes were sharp, as if daring her to try something. To search for something.

    "My dear, what's your name?" Akela asked, a small smirk coming to her lips. Serena answered. Her smirk turned to a challenging smile. "Well, Serena, I'm intrigued."

    "By what?" Before she answered, Akela dug into her dress and pulled out a card. Only, when Serena caught it, she discovered that it wasn't a business card, but an invitation of sorts. "I want to see you walk the road of the Ali'i ka Leilani. See your dream at the end."

    "Excuse me?" Serena asked. Her mind was whirling, confused over what was going on. Her eyes were on the card in her hand, but she couldn't make sense of it in her current state. All she heard was Miss Akela's laugh. All she really saw was Launa's confused expression. And if she didn't understand the woman's words, there was no way Serena would. The older woman reached out and patted Serena on the shoulder.

    "Let me know what you discover, Miss Serena. I look forward to seeing you at the Leilani Ceremony!" Serena blinked as the violet-haired woman suddenly excused herself from the groans of disappointment and retreated away. The Leilani Ceremony…Aria mentioned something like that…Confusion slowly replaced itself with understanding, and Serena's hand shook with excitement that she couldn't stop. Miss Akela's words had been confusing, and all too blunt and abrupt, but holding the card in her hands, she felt she was about to step foot on another adventure. She wasn't just following after Ash again, but moving forward side by side. The details for what the Leilani Ceremony and the Ali'i ka Leilani were could come later.

    "Serena," Bonnie suddenly hissed, and Serena followed Bonnie's hand to see her pointing at the clock.

    "Oh! Thank you for everything, Launa. Tell Mr. Haku we appreciated his help, but we have to go!" Serena insisted, taking hold of Bonnie's hand as they began to leave the store. The black haired girl from earlier perked up as she passed by, but Serena was in too much of a hurry.

    "No problem! Alola!"

    "Alola!" Serena cried without thinking, and then she and Bonnie were back on the streets of Hau'oli.


    "Whoa, look at that, Pikachu!" Ash commented, running down the streets of Hau'oli City. Pikachu clung to his vest in excitement, likewise staring at everything they passed by. "That's a new Pokémon!"

    "Grub?" the Pokémon in question asked, turning to Ash. Ash stopped to observe it a moment, the little one's pincers clicking a little. After a moment, it seemed to decide that Ash was rather uninteresting and it burrowed quickly under the ground.

    "Wow! So awesome!" Ash said, gripping his fists with excitement. He looked up a little more and saw the same flying Pokémon he had seen in the airport go to rest in a palm tree with some berries. A little further down the road, Ash could see some other Pokémon nibbling at a loose berry on the ground. Breathing in the ocean air, Ash couldn't help the giddy smile from stretching his face. He simply felt so free.

    "Pikapi! Pika chu…" Pikachu suddenly said in what sounded like utter amazement. Ash lowered his gaze from the birds in the tree to the sight of a woman walking with…a Meowth? Only, it didn't quite look like a Meowth (and that was something he knew from experience). Drawing closer, he squinted at it, wondering if he was seeing things.

    "Meow?"

    "What's wrong Meowmeow?" asked the woman, clutching at her purse. She seemed to notice Ash staring at her Meowth and she clucked her tongue a little, drawing his attention. "Alola, young man."

    "Oh…uh, Alola?" Ash said, not completely sure if he was saying the right thing, but judging from the fact that the woman smiled at him, he figured he was okay. "Sorry…just, your Meowth looks so different."

    "You're not from Alola are you, dear?" the woman asked with a jovial laugh. Ash shook his head, but put his focus on the woman. "Well, then you must feel very confused. Our Meowth aren't like other regions'. Couldn't exactly tell you why but…"

    "That's awesome!" Ash said happily. Sure, he didn't have any explanation for why Meowth looked so different, its fur a gray color and its eyes even more sly looking than Team Rocket's, but he still found it to be fascinating. Though, there was one other question on his mind. "Oh, do you know where the Pokémon Center is? I'm supposed to meet my friends there."

    "Ah, yes, it's the big red building down that street near the airport. Can't miss it."

    "Thanks!" Ash said, and Pikachu likewise returned the thanks before they took off again. Ash turned his gaze in the direction of the Pokémon Center, now able to see it from where he was. He really wondered how he had missed it…though it wasn't like he was paying attention. Regardless, he took off at a run again. "I guess we probably shouldn't have left Serena behind, huh?"

    "Pikapi…" Pikachu scolded him, shaking his head. Ash laughed a little. Running down the street, seeing the new Pokémon, wanting to catch one of them, it was the only thing on his mind the second he had arrived in the city. It wasn't like he wanted to avoid time with Serena, but being in a new region, with new things…it simply got his blood pumping.

    "Ah, well, at least she understood, right? When we meet up, I bet we'll have lots of great stories to tell!" Ash told his partner. Pikachu nodded in agreement with that one as they rounded a corner. A café was sitting ahead and Ash could smell some delicious pastries in the air. He thought of getting one for his grumbling stomach, but chose to put it off; no doubt Serena would make something later, and he'd rather save himself for that. He was, however, forced to pull to a stop as a bright light shined at the waist of his belt. Skidding to a stop, Greninja emerged from his pokeball, looking alert.

    "Nin," he said simply. Ash blinked before staring at his trusted Water type.

    "What's wrong, Greninja?" Ash asked. There was a sudden and brief twinge in his mind, like they were connecting, but not. Greninja had sensed something; some sort of danger. "Right, show us the way."

    "Ninja!" Greninja agreed and he ran off, leading them towards another street. Ash ran right after him as fast as he could, nearly knocking into the blond boy that was sitting at a table outside. He apologized as the boy stared at him, before he pelted down the road after Greninja. Pikachu leapt from his shoulder to run alongside him and keep pace. Before long, Pikachu's ears appeared to twitch.

    "Pi!" he cried, and Ash could sense they were getting close. Well…it was more like he heard they were growing close. Rushing past a pair of men that were chatting on the street (or he thought they were…one of them looked a little feminine), Ash hopped a little and ran full throttle after Greninja, only stopping when his Pokémon did.

    "No! You're mean bullies! I won't let you have Pichu, meanies!" a little girl was yelling. Not that Ash could see her, as she was obscured by a trio of what looked like thugs, dressed in absolutely ridiculous black getup. In front of them were more Pokémon that Ash had never seen before.

    "Pichu!" Pichu cried.

    "Yo, you ain't the boss of us, little girl!" one of the thugs said and Ash couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. It reminded him of the two brothers they'd met outside the Battle Chateau.

    "Now hand over that Pichu, or we're gonna have to get serious, yo!" another said, this one a little more heavyset than the previous one.

    "No!" the girl refused, and through a gap in the thugs, Ash could see the girl taunting them by pulling at her eye and sticking her tongue out. "Pichu, Thunder Shock!"

    "Pichu!" Pichu cried out again, only this time, it was accompanied by a small spark that zapped the third of the thugs, sending him dropping to the floor. He twitched, and it was almost comical, if not for the situation.

    "Yo! You gonna pay for that!"

    "That's our bro, yo!"

    "Hey, cut it out!" Ash finally yelled. Pikachu and Greninja crouched a little, each ready to battle. The thugs turned around, and Ash finally got a glimpse of their faces…or at least as much as he could: they were covered on the lower half by bandannas. "Leave her alone."

    "Yo, this punk wants to pick a fight with us."

    "Let's show him how bad Team Skull can be, yo!" Ash narrowed his eyes at the guy's statement. Team Skull? he mused to himself, but realized it was no time to dwell on it. "Yungoos, use Bite!"

    "Yun!" the Pokémon, evidently a Yungoos, cried out as it ran right for Pikachu.

    "Dodge it and use Iron Tail!" Ash commanded, hardly missing a beat. Yungoos' jaw opened wide and he rushed forward, prepared to take a bite out of Pikachu, but he dodged at the last second. His tail glowed a bright white and he brought it swinging around to slam into the Yungoos. Said Pokémon flew back and impacted with the thug who had ordered it, sending him tumbling to the ground.

    "Not cool, man…you didn't say you were strong…" he wheezed out. His compatriot looked at him with wide eyes. "Bro…I totally can't go on."

    "Hang in there, bro! I'll get revenge! Zubat, use Leech Life!" Ash blinked as the last remaining thug ordered his attack. That would have been completely normal…except for the fact that thug kept making weird arm movements, almost like he was some kind Pokémon himself (though what kind of Pokémon, he was less sure on). Zubat chittered and flew right for them, its fangs glowing a blood-red.

    "Greninja, use Water Shuriken! And Pikachu, Thunderbolt!" Ash ordered, throwing his arm out. Greninja bounced high up, summoning his watery blades while Pikachu gathered electricity in his cheeks.

    "Yo, what's up with that? ! Since when can frogs jump so high? !" the thug called out right as Greninja tossed his shuriken. The first one slammed into Zubat, knocking it to his trainer's feet while the second one struck the trainer himself, causing him to double over a little. Seconds later, Pikachu's searing Thunderbolt made contact, electrocuting all three at the same time. "This ain't good! Come on, bros, let's pull back!"

    "Roger that!" said the one with the Yungoos, jumping right onto his feet. Both of the thugs grabbed on to their earlier fallen comrade and began to pull him away down the street with surprising speed. Before they left, he turned back. "Yo! Don't forget about us, 'cause we'll be back! We're Team Skull, and we never quit!"

    "O…kay…" Ash commented, tilting his head a little, only watching as they disappeared in a dust cloud. Seconds after they were gone, Pikachu hopped up onto his shoulder once more. "Thanks, you guys. Great job."

    "Pika!" Pikachu said. After celebrating a little, Pikachu greeted the little Pichu in the girl's arms as Ash kneeled down to her level.

    "You okay?" he asked. The girl nodded her head.

    "Usually, mommy can take care of those Team Skull guys like nothing, but Pichu isn't very strong yet…" the little girl answered. Ash smiled down at her and reached his hand out to ruffle Pichu's fur.

    "Aw, I'm sure he'll be strong in no time, just like Pikachu, here," he told her. The little girl beamed up at him and nodded. "Now, you make sure you get home safe."

    "Okay! Thanks!" the little girl cried, and she was soon running down the street. Ash watched her go with some sense of satisfaction, but that same satisfaction soon turned to a frown on his face. Team Skull…I guess there're Pokémon thieves everywhere…

    "Oh, well. Not too bad for our first battle in Alola…I guess," Ash laughed out. "Thanks for everything, Greninja."

    "Gren," responded the Ninja Pokémon, right before Ash recalled him. Rubbing the back of his head, Ash decided to head for the Pokémon Center. Regardless of how much time was left, he really didn't want to be late when he'd promised Serena he'd be there. Breathing in a little, he turned around and started in the direction he'd come from, only to stop short.

    "Not a bad battle."

    "Thanks?" Ash said. Before him was a boy; a rather familiar one. It took him a second, but he finally realized that the boy was the one he had seen at the café just a few moments ago. More importantly, though, was the Pokémon next to him. It was beyond unusual, with clawed feet, a gray body and what looked like a rusted face mask. If Ash were honest, he thought it was one of the coolest Pokémon he'd ever seen, even if it was eyeing him with what he assumed was an unpleasant expression. "Uh…you are?"

    "How about your next opponent?" the boy said, bringing his hand up to his face. Now that he had the chance, Ash could see the boy's features, from his strikingly green eyes to his blond hair that was styled so a large fringe of it dangled over one side of his face. He was tossing a pokeball up and down in the air, while his partner hunkered down, as if ready to battle. It brought into sharp relief the state of his clothes: entirely black clothing that was ripped and torn in places, with only a red pack at his waist appearing to be undamaged. "Your Greninja and Pikachu look strong. So, what do you say?"

    "Sounds like a deal to me! How do we want to do this?" Ash said, putting his fist up in acceptance of the challenge. Pikachu leapt forward, landing on the ground and looking up fiercely into the eyes of the new Pokémon.

    "How's three-on-three sound? That way, we can really test each other," the boy said, a slight smirk on his face as his free hand moved up, clenching his fingers and brushing some of his bangs aside. Ash stopped, and then his shoulders sagged. The boy looked at him curiously.

    "Uh…I don't have three Pokémon on me," he chuckled out. "Sorry…I just got here, so…"

    The boy stopped tossing his pokeball, watching Ash for just a second longer. He looked disappointed, a fact which seeped into his following sigh. "Of course…you finally find a trainer who's strong and he just happens to only have two Pokémon."

    "We could still go one-on-one. Pikachu against your…uh…" Ash wasn't sure what to call it, and he looked to the boy for answers. The boy didn't give him one right away. Pikachu looked back at Ash curiously, like he did want to battle, but didn't know what to make of the situation.

    "Don't bother," the boy finally sighed out, jerking his head down the way he came. "Let's go, Null. There's bound to be someone on this island we can battle with our full strength."

    "Hey, we can still battle!" Ash called out to the boy, who was now suddenly turning his back to him. Said boy stopped a moment and then turned back with a disappointed look on his face.

    "Maybe another time. I don't want to waste my time if all my Pokémon can't get stronger battling," the boy answered, and before Ash could get another word in edgewise, he was walking off. Ash thought about yelling after him, watching the boy disappear behind the two men from earlier that were now walking in his own direction, but thought better of it. Folding his arms a little, Ash thought about the brief encounter.

    "That was weird, huh, Pikachu?" Ash asked. Pikachu returned to his shoulder, looking just as put out as his trainer, in order to nod. "I mean, he just showed up and left…whoever he was."

    "Pika…" Pikachu agreed, nodding sagely. Ash continued to frown with his folded arms. Soon, the strangeness turned to keen disappointment. He had actually wanted to battle the guy! Still, the guy had a point.

    "Oh well, if we run into him again, we'll just make sure to have another partner, right?"

    "Chu!" Pikachu agreed. Setting his mind on catching his first Pokémon in Alola before they met with the trainer, or indeed, any other trainer, Ash pumped his legs forward, determined to return to the Pokémon Center. He hoped Serena hadn't beaten him there yet; he didn't want her to worry that he was lost or something (which, he realized with some sweat, was very possible in a new locale).

    "All right, let's get going!"

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu cried out and they picked up their speed, running right towards the still slowly walking men from earlier. One of them raised his hand, as if in greeting. Ash raised his own hand to greet the man back as he ran on.

    "Alola, cousin!" Ash suddenly stopped, tripping over his feet, only to be caught by the same man's hand. "Whoa, there, sorry to startle you!"

    "C-cousin?" Ash blurted out, the surprise over the all too odd statement catching him off guard. Righting himself, Ash looked at the man who had said it, and in just a few seconds, had decided this man was most definitely not his cousin. "Um…do I know you?"

    "Not at all!" the man said, grinning at him. Ash breathed in relief; at least he wasn't crazy. Feeling a little better about his sanity and relations, Ash looked at the two men that had now stopped. The one that had caught him was a younger man, probably the age of his mother or younger, wearing a hat and green shades. More odd than that was the open lab coat that exposed his upper chest. The man next to him was far more conservative in his state of dress, though his pink hair happened to throw Ash off a little bit.

    "Oh…okay, then," Ash finally chuckled out after his initial assessment of the two of them. "Thanks for catching me, but I gotta get going!"

    "Whoa, whoa, no rush, cousin!" the lab coat man said. Ash frowned a little; he really didn't want to keep the others waiting. "We just wanted to talk."

    "Oh…well, then, why don't you come with me? I gotta get to the Pokémon Center and meet my friends!" Ash suggested. Pikachu also seemed to agree with this notion. Lab Coat Man looked to his companion, clearly a soft-spoken man, who simply shrugged.

    "Sure thing, Ash. We've got lots to talk about, after all!" Lab Coat Man said with a grin. Ash, who had been prepared to step off, halted his movements and turned to the man, feeling both suspicious and slightly creeped out.

    "Okay…are you sure I don't know you? 'Cause the last time someone I didn't know, knew me by name…" He trailed off, his thoughts and memories flashing back to his father in the stadium hallways. Lab Coat Man laughed before extending his hand out, his eyes sparkling effervescently.

    "Right, sorry. Name's Kukui, cousin. Professor Oak and Champion Diantha gave me a call, said a strong trainer with a Greninja and a Pikachu would be showing up, and then you came along," the man, Kukui, said. Ash looked at his hand a moment, now feeling a little better about the man knowing his name; if it had come from two people he knew, then the man had to be a good person. Smiling, he reached forward and clasped his hand in greeting. "Been looking for you, Ash Ketchum, so I'm glad we could meet this quickly, even if it was a totally wild chance!"

    "Same here, I think," Ash laughed out. For a moment, he completely forgot about getting to the Pokémon Center. And when Kukui leaned in and asked his next question, all thoughts of it flew out the window, replaced by his insatiable sense of curiosity.

    "Then how would you like to take part in the Island Trials?"



    Author's Note: A lot happened in this chapter…again. But it set up a lot! Our heroes have arrived in Alola, Ash has had a (hilarious) encounter with Team Skull, and met a mysterious boy with a mysterious Pokémon as well as Kukui. Meanwhile, Serena met Miss Akela and two other girls. What's Clemont up to? More on that next chapter. Now, you're probably wondering just why I had the gang split up right upon arrival. Two reasons: 1) Ash is super curious and energetic and would totally run off on his own and 2) it would have seemed weird for everyone to be there for everything. I only hope it all flowed naturally. I tried to make it so.

    Regardless, I hope you all enjoyed this first taste of Alola, because next chapter I really start to ramp it up in terms of the plot!

    I'm so glad to have all of you following me on this journey. Until next time, I'd love to see you all Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  4. #4
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    It's kind of nice to be back on my usual schedule, though at the same time incredibly stressful, ha ha. Oh well, hoping this chapter is enjoyable for you: Chapter 3!


    Chapter 3

    An Owl

    "Island Trials?" The words tumbled from Ash's lips in a mess of total confusion. All thought of making it to the Pokémon Center was suddenly pushed to the back burner in light of this development. The excitement automatically imbued his body with energy. Even if he had no idea what Kukui was talking about, or who the man next to him was, it didn't mean a thing. "What're those?"

    "You interested?" Kukui asked, a grin on his face. This one was particularly infectious, and Ash found his own stretching his face. He looked to Pikachu, who also seemed to be intrigued, judging by the way his fur stood up on end.

    "You bet!" Ash said in response. "Trying new things is always exciting. Does it involve battles?"

    "It does," answered the man next to Kukui. He was more soft-spoken than his companion, a thing made obvious from the way he was dressed in slacks and a sweater vest. At least Ash was glad he had managed to discern that he was a guy correctly (judging from his voice); the last time he'd done that had been too embarrassing in hindsight. "I'm Ilima, captain of the trial on Melemele Island."

    "Captain of the trail on…huh…?" Ash sounded out, getting slightly confused by the terms being hurled at him. He'd been in Alola for all of an hour and already he was getting bombarded with information. Kukui appeared to catch notice of this and began to laugh heartily, but Ash could tell that the man wasn't making fun of him. Looking at him, his face was too full of pure mirth to be condescending. Kukui raised his hand to briefly remove his white cap and Ash noticed the ring on his finger, but wrote it off.

    "Must sound pretty confusing to someone who's not from Alola," the professor said. He placed his cap back on his head, but continued to grin. "How about we discuss it over some lunch?"

    "That sounds great!" Ash commented. He was starting to feel rather peckish.

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu suddenly said to him in warning. Hearing his best buddy snap at him reminded Ash of where he was supposed to be, and who he was supposed to be with.

    "Ah, no! I forgot!" Ash said, turning to face the two men. "Um, I'd really like to know more about these trials, but I have to go meet up with my friends! They're waiting for me, and I promised."

    "Not a problem, cousin," Kukui said, waving his hand nonchalantly. The man was so at ease that it put Ash, himself, at ease. For a second, he had to wonder if the guy was actually a professor, or if he was just pulling his leg. Remembering the fact that he knew both Professor Oak and Diantha, however, he chose to accept it as fact. "Heck, how's this sound: I gotta run to the lab, so you and your friends have lunch with Ilima here and we'll talk after. Champion Diantha had a lot of great things to say about you, cousin."

    "Um…okay…yeah, sure," Ash agreed, still feeling like he was just a little pressured and on edge to get back to his friends. He looked to Pikachu, who seemed to agree with the notion. Before Ash could stop him, Kukui reached forward and clasped Ash on the shoulder with a grin once more.

    "We'll meet up soon, then!" the tanned man said, removing his hand and waving it while he walked down the road. "Get him caught up on everything, Ilima!"

    "Of course," Ilima replied, his relaxed facial expression not changing in the least. Ash blinked, watching Kukui disappearing down the streets before rubbing the back of his head. It was one encounter after another in Alola. "Shall we?"

    "Oh…sure," Ash said, continuing to rub the back of his head in embarrassment at the prompting. Ilima just smiled softly at him, and moved his hand to indicate for Ash to lead the way. Knowing he wasn't as familiar with the streets of Hau'oli City as the man, Ash still decided to take the lead, though perhaps slower than he had before. "So…what are these Island Trials? I mean, I just got here in Alola, and now I'm real curious."

    "That's a topic best saved for lunchtime," Ilima said. Ash pouted a little, but decided to not put up a fuss; Ilima was clearly the type who only spoke when he needed to.

    "Oh, all right. Probably for the best," Ash admitted, tossing his hands behind his head as he walked, turning the corner to once more pass by the café from earlier. Ilima was now standing at his side and Ash took a glance at him. He seemed to walk with a certain self-assured poise that belied strength. He didn't need to see the man's Pokémon, or even watch him in a battle. For some reason, Ash already knew that he was a strong trainer, likely befitting of the title of "captain", whatever that was. It sounded like something akin to a Gym Leader, but until Ilima would fill him in, he had no idea. He did know how excited it made him. Beyond that, though, it was curiosity taking hold of him, especially when Ilima's hand suddenly glinted in the sunlight, offering Ash a glimpse of a large bracelet or ring of some sort around his wrist.

    He thought to ask what it was, but the duo had arrived outside the Pokémon Center and subsequently stepped inside. Pikachu instantly leapt off his shoulder and ran for the three sitting in a corner of the place.

    "There you are, Ash!" The raven-haired trainer stopped and chuckled at the sound of his girlfriend's kind, but chastising, voice. "We were supposed to meet here fifteen minutes ago, you know?"

    "Sorry, Serena, I got held up," Ash chuckled out, only to stop short at the sight of Serena with her hands on her hips. He swallowed. Usually, Serena wasn't one for scolding, so to see her doing so instantly frightened him. "I was just a little late…"

    "I know, Ash, but I don't want us to be unable to find each other on our first day in a new region," she told him. Ash had to admit that she had a point. At this moment, Serena also seemed to look past him, no doubt noticing Ilima. A smile found its way back on to her face. "Who's this?"

    "Ilima," the man answered for himself, stepping forward and offering a light, yet courteous, bow. Clemont and Bonnie stood from where they were sitting, and Ash stepped forward to join them, now facing the pinkette before him. "I'm a trial captain."

    "Ooh, what's that?" Bonnie asked excitedly. Ash noticed she was wearing a hat now, and found it and the flower upon it suited her nicely. Ilima righted himself, still measuring his words, as he turned and motioned towards the exit from the Pokémon Center.

    "If you'll permit to join me for lunch at the Pokémon School, I'll be more than happy to fill you in on some of the details. Though…well, I'll explain that later." Ash turned to look at Serena, almost like she'd give him permission to go, and noticed the very thoughtful expression on her face. It was almost like she was trying to put some pieces together. Ash's stomach grumbled loudly.

    "That sounds like a lovely idea," Serena finally said, hiding her giggle behind her hand. Ash felt rather embarrassed, but laughed it off. Ilima once more bowed graciously and began to walk away from them. Bonnie and Clemont immediately went after him while Ash held out his hand for Serena to take, the two of them trailing right behind.

    "A Pokémon School, huh?" Clemont was asking of the pinkette before them. "Are you a teacher there, Mr. Ilima?"

    "Just Ilima is fine; some of you are not all that much younger from myself," Ilima answered politely. Ash found that fact surprising, but continued to listen to the conversation between the inventor and their new acquaintance. For a second, he looked to Serena, who appeared to have something she wanted to say to him, but held off in favor of all the other things happening. "And no, I'm not. Just a very popular graduate."

    "Fascinating," Clemont nodded. Bonnie rolled her eyes. "I, myself, attended an institution at a younger age and it was quite an enriching experience. Though, I'll admit that I've learned more by traveling with Ash than I did in a school."

    "Yes, a journey can be a wealth of experiences," Ilima noted. Ash had hardly noticed that they were covering distance quickly, already heading down the street that appeared to lead out of the city. "In a Pokémon School, there are many basics that one could learn: types, attacks, statuses. But there's something about being on the road that changes you and defines you like nothing else. It's the reason we have the Island Pilgrimage."

    "Is the Island Pilgrimage the same thing as those Island Trials that Professor Kukui mentioned?" Ash blurted out, unable to stop himself. Ilima turned his head and smiled as their group of four managed to cross onto a far more worn road that looked to taper off into dirt. Set just beyond the concrete road, Ash could see a large building with a thatched roof. Outside it appeared to be a playground with numerous Pokémon gamboling around happily with younger kids.

    "Somewhat," Ilima answered him before stopping. The entire group came to its halt, staring up at the impressive building before them. Just behind them, Ash could hear the sound of waves as they lapped against the coast and Serena tightened her hand. Somehow, he could feel her own excitement infusing him. "Welcome to the Pokémon School."

    "Wow…it's so big! Is that a slide? What kind of Pokémon is that?" Bonnie cheered out excitedly, herself and Dedenne already tearing off for the playground.

    "Ah! Bonnie, don't just run off like that!" Clemont yelled after his sister. He'd barely taken a step when Rotom shot out of his bag and went zipping after Bonnie with enthusiasm. "Not you, too, Rotom!"

    "Roto-to-to-to!" Rotom laughed, suddenly infusing itself in a light over the playground. Some kids watched it play around with the brightness, laughing and clapping happily. Clemont sighed in exasperation and went to get his two wards under control. Ilima chuckled.

    "You're quite the energetic group," he noted. Ash's stomach rumbled again, right alongside Pikachu's.

    "And hungry!" Serena laughed gaily. "Guess we haven't had anything since breakfast, huh? And that was airline food."

    "I'll go get something from the cafeteria," Ilima said. "There's some tables over there, if you'd like to wait for me"

    "Thanks, Ilima," Ash said. The young man nodded and walked off with a brisk pace to the interior of the school. As he did so, Ash led Serena over to the tables that he had indicated, pulling out a chair for her on instinct. Serena took it gratefully and sat upon it, facing the direction of the playground, where it looked like Clemont was attempting to get control of Bonnie, only to be showcasing his inventions. The boys at the playground looked excited at that.

    "So…I ran into someone in the city," Serena said suddenly. Ash turned his head, letting Pikachu off his shoulder and onto the table. "She invited me to something called the Leilani Ceremony."

    "What's that?" Ash asked. He looked up briefly while Serena was contemplating her answer to see a pair of Wingull circling around. There was also another bird Pokémon that he didn't recognize circling the school, but he passed it off. Serena shook her head, putting her bag down on the ground and pulling out her tablet.

    "I'm not sure. You know Miss Akela, of Akela Apparels?"

    "No," was the rather straightforward answer. Serena nodded her head, like she should have expected that kind of response.

    "I guess she…er…scouts?" Serena seemed to bite her tongue, thinking of the best way to explain to him what she knew. Ash found it looked rather adorable, but didn't say anything. "She scouts to find trainers to partake in this Leilani Ceremony…I think, at least. I don't know all the details quite yet, but the thought alone interested me."

    "Go for it, then!" Ash said. Serena nodded once more and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. The sound of a door opening caught Ash's attention and he turned to look at Ilima emerging from the school building with a tray of food for the five of them. He wasn't alone; others had come out to obviously serve lunch to the kids. Overhead, a bell rang, no doubt signaling lunchtime. Serena had diverted her attention, staring almost wistfully at the kids that were now clustering. In the confusion, Clemont had managed to grab Bonnie while Rotom shot back into his backpack.

    Despite his aching stomach, Ash decided to look at his girlfriend's wistful face. They had spent only a short time in Alola thus far, yet she already looked elsewhere. Maybe it had to do with that Leilani Ceremony, or perhaps she was just staring off into space at the gathering children. Either way, he wanted to quickly assure her that he was there, so he put a hand on her shoulder.

    "Everything okay?" he asked. Serena almost jolted, gripping to her tablet.

    "I'm fine, just thinking about things," she answered. As if to insist that she was fine, Serena opened her tablet and Ash craned over her shoulder to take a look. Displayed on the screen was a map of Melemele Island, zoomed out (or so it looked to Ash, he was never very good with maps). Serena touched her fingers to the screen and zoomed in, the screen now hovering over the school they were currently sitting at. "Looks like there's a town through the forest and hills over that way."

    By "that way", Ash presumed she meant past the school ground and the city outskirts. This was proven true when Serena scrolled along to display the town on the map with the name "Iki Town". Having gotten a good look at it, she began scrolling elsewhere, landing on a location named Pua Town. She seemed to click on it and get absorbed in reading the information there when Ilima placed the tray on their table. At the same time, Clemont and Bonnie approached once more, the latter giggling. Seeing that Serena was still distracted, Ash put an arm around her.

    "Don't worry, Serena," he told her. "No matter what you choose to do, I know you'll be great at it. That's why you came with me, right?"

    "R-right! Ilima, do you know about the Leilani Ceremony?" she asked. The graduate looked up, his eyes crinkling with kindness.

    "I have. It's simply another version of the Island Pilgrimage," he told her, seating himself down and crossing his legs. Ash finally caught sight of the plate of fruit resting on the table for them and he quickly swiped a melon piece for himself. "The Island Pilgrimage originally started as just the Island Trials, but…well, that was in a far different time. A far more violent time. Naturally, as the need for battle skills became less, and some trainers displayed inferior combat-oriented skills than others, the Kahunas at the time discussed changing the Island Pilgrimage."

    "Kahunas?" Clemont asked, now seating himself down comfortably.

    "They're like the island leaders…kind of. Some of them are just chosen people who could really care less about the governing aspect of things and just let the town mayors and people like Kukui handle the big business."

    "So, Professor Kukui's not a…Ka…huna?" Ash asked, making sure to swallow before asking his question. Pikachu also grabbed a slice of pineapple and began gnawing away pleasantly.

    "Not at all. He's respected very much, though," Ilima assured him. Ash could understand that; anyone in contact with Professor Oak and Diantha had to have some kind of clout with the important figures in life. "Anyway, since we didn't want people to feel that they had to master battling, in order to create more closeness with Pokémon, the Leilani Ceremony was formed. Why do you ask?"

    "Oh, I was…invited to take part in one," Serena answered the young man. Ilima looked her up and down. He then gave a little chuckle.

    "By Miss Akela, no doubt," he muttered. Serena looked surprised, and given her earlier musings, Ash had to figure he had hit it spot on. "Yes, she seems to look for people who would be a good fit for that path of the Island Pilgrimage. Especially since the Ali'i ka Leilani typically helps to celebrate those who pass the Island Trials…though, Kukui and Miss Akela have been working on something different for this year."

    "So, does that mean the Island Trials have lots of battles?" Ash asked. It was only logical, in his mind, that if the path of the Leilani Ceremony was something more in line with Serena's skills, then the trials had to be more battle-oriented.

    "Both technically have battles," Ilima elaborated, "but the trials are most assuredly designed to test a battler more than a non-combatant. I completed the trials myself when I was younger. All us captains did."

    "So…a captain is someone who completed the trials?" Serena asked, now reaching for a piece of pineapple, herself. Ilima nodded. "Then, what about the…Ali'i ka Leilani? Are there captains for that?"

    "Not really," he noted. Ash grabbed another piece of melon, continuing to watch Ilima and absorb his words. It was all rather fascinating, despite him not typically being one for listening. "I don't know all the specifics of the Leilani Ceremony. That's a question best put to the people who officiate it. I do know that, like the trials, it is meant to be a journey of self-discovery alongside one's Pokémon."

    "Well, it sounds exciting enough, and like the kind of thing I'd want to do."

    "I bet you could pick up a lot of great techniques to use in your Showcases," Clemont pointed out positively. Ash nodded, his mouth full, to indicate that he agreed with the inventor. Serena smiled, obviously grateful for their support. To that, Ash smiled, and decided to ask about his own interests.

    "So, how are these trials done? How many are there? Is there a competition?" Ash's questions came off rapid-fire and Serena laughed next to him. Ash grinned at her before waiting for Ilima to answer. The young man bounced his leg a little, as if contemplating how to best answer the question.

    "The trials, as I said, is a test of mind, body, and spirit," Ilima explained, "designed to test and push trainers to their limits. There are seven. Seven trials, all different, complete with a battle. Each is designed by its own captain. When you've completed an island's Trials, you're allowed to face the Grand Trial: a battle against the Kahuna of the island. In order to officially clear the Island Pilgrimage through the trials, you need to defeat the four Kahunas."

    "That definitely sounds like something Ash would like to do," Clemont observed. At his words, Ash stood up confidently. Clemont saw this and decided to clearly get his words out before Ash's energy could take over. "And I'll definitely come along!"

    "Yeah! With you guys on my side, Pikachu and I can take on anything! Right, buddy?" Ash exclaimed, putting his hand on the table. Serena rolled her eyes at him and tugged on his vest to seat him once again. Thanking her for helping him rein in his excitement, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. Ilima raised an eyebrow at that.

    "Pika!" Pikachu agreed, his cry echoing around the verdant school grounds. That cry of approval seemed to have been heard quite keenly by the children getting their lunch, because Ash suddenly saw one of them bound up.

    "Look! It's a Pikachu!" she yelled happily. All the other kids around her seemed to look at where she was pointing. None of them made a move to rush them, but from the slightly pleading expressions, Ash could tell they wanted to play. He smiled and nudged Pikachu a little.

    "Why don't you go play with them, buddy?" he said. Pikachu nuzzled his hand a little and then dashed away from the table. The children all looked beyond excited at Pikachu approaching them and they gathered around him. Serena turned to Ash and bumped against him with her shoulder, before sliding down and clasping her hand in his. "So…if you're a captain, could we have a trial right here and now?"

    "Afraid not," Ilima answered him. Ash instantly deflated from that, causing Serena to reach across and pat him on the back consolingly. He didn't say it aloud, but it made him feel better. "The Island Trial must always start with getting the trial amulet from the Kahuna on the island you're starting at. In this case, that'd be Hala over in Iki Town."

    "Hala…" Ash breathed out. Naturally, he didn't like the prospect of not being able to start right away, but at the same time understood that the people in Alola clearly liked to observe traditions. That was just fine with him. "So, I need to see this Hala to get started on the trial?"

    "More or less," was Ilima's response. He then looked down at his wrist, and Ash once more noticed the large, sparkling wristband and what seemed to be a glittering white powder on its top. Next to it was a watch that Ilima was checking. "We'll go see Hala tonight after the 'festival'. He's giving a new trainer their first Pokémon, and I'm sure he'll be more than willing to grant you permission. Iki Town isn't that far, so we can leave at sundown."

    "Sounds awesome, then," Ash laughed out, reaching for another piece of fruit, only to find that the platter had been emptied. He frowned, knowing that he was still hungry. He turned to his girlfriend with saddened eyes. "Serena, do you have any macarons?"

    "Chespin?" cried out a voice before Serena could even answer. Ash turned his head to see that Clemont's Chespin had come out of his pokeball, mouth watering at the thought of having Serena's macarons. Ash almost glared at the Spiny Nut Pokémon, wanting him to back off, but now Serena was able to get her words out.

    "Don't worry. I made enough for everyone until I can get to an oven," Serena admitted, digging into her bag and pulling out the basket of the sweet pastry. Chespin began to rub his hands together. As soon as Serena had placed the basket on the table, Chespin made a beeline for it. Not wanting to get in his way, Ash sat back a little, watching the kids (now joined by Bonnie and Dedenne) playing with Pikachu, who was being rather accommodating. He wasn't alone, however. There was another Pokémon with them: the one that Ash had seen circling the school earlier. Now that it was on the ground, he could see more features of the little round bird, who was turning its head in curiosity. Ash's eyes widened as he watched it turn at a ninety-degree angle before it hooted a little.

    Ash turned his own head, looking at it, and the little bird appeared to catch him staring. It's big eyes, inquisitive and innocent, looked at him with interest. It turned its head around as a kid tried to come up to pet it, almost turning its body or head completely around. The little bird was such a fascinating Pokémon, especially when it turned back and continued to look at him. Ash found his free hand twitching, as though wanting to reach for a pokeball.

    "Pin pin!" Chespin finally cried out, slumping upon the table after having eaten his share of macarons. Clemont sighed liberally.

    "Chespin, we really need to get you on a diet while we're in Alola," Clemont told his Pokémon. Chespin didn't seem to care. He also didn't seem to care that he'd left behind only three lone macarons for everyone else. Frowning over the lack of sweets, Ash reached forward to take one.

    "Kuuuuu!" cried a sudden voice. Ash looked up just in time to see the bird from earlier come soaring over. The blast from its tiny wings knocked Clemont back, only for the boy to be caught by Serena. In mere seconds, the owl had latched onto the macaron basket.

    "Hey! Those are ours!" Ash said to the feisty creature. The owl turned its head in curiosity; it was almost unsettling, though Ash had to admit that it was a little adorable.

    "Kuroh?" it hooted out. Ash narrowed his eyes, wondering what move the little owl was going to make. Would it let go of the macarons or…?

    "If you wanted some, all you had to do was ask." The owl continued to look at Ash a moment longer before he saw it slowly let go of the macaron basket. Then its head snapped back upright as quick as could be.

    "Roh!" it shouted fiercely. Before Ash had a chance to stop it, the owl twisted in midair, talons aimed right for his face with surprising speed. It slammed into him, knocking him over and to the ground. Ash barely rolled off his chair in time to see that the owl had reappeared on top of the macaron case with lightning speed, nabbing ahold of it and flapping its wings.

    "Ches?" Chespin cried out, nearly being bowled over by the force of the wing flaps. He managed to stay holding on as the bird flapped up into the air and tried to shoot off for the forest that seemed to lead to Iki Town. Ash rolled onto the ground, prepared to spring back up as he saw Chespin's vines shoot out and hold the owl in place. "Pin…pinpin ches!"

    "Kuh?" the owl hooted out before spinning in midair and shooting down, its beak glowing brightly as it slammed into Chespin, subsequently hitting him into Clemont. The vines let go and the owl shot back off for the forest once again. Ash watched it go, the bird turning its head back to look at him only once. He grinned.

    "Pikachu, let's go!" Ash called out. Serena stared at him wildly.

    "Go where?" she asked, standing up quickly as well. She bent down, making sure to pick Clemont and Chespin up from their place on the ground, glasses askew. Ash slung his backpack over his shoulder as he heard the groans of the kids that were sad to see Pikachu go. Bonnie was right behind his best friend, holding on to her hat.

    "I'm gonna catch it," Ash answered her with a grin. "Sorry, Ilima, but I'll be back as soon as I have." Ilima stared at him in amusement before waving his left hand nonchalantly.

    "Good luck," he stated. Ash tossed him a thumbs up and turned to run after the speeding bird. He only made it a few steps before Ilima's voice called him back one more time. "I'll tell Kukui where you've gone, in case he gets back. Oh…and it's called a Rowlet."

    "Rowlet…" Ash mouthed, feeling the name of the Pokémon on his tongue. Then he grinned again. "Thanks, Ilima! Let's catch that Rowlet!"

    "Pipikachu!" Pikachu cried and Ash tore off into the forest. He could hear Serena breathing behind him, meaning that despite his hasty departure, she was keeping pace with him. A quick glance back told him it wasn't quite the same for Clemont, who Bonnie and Dedenne were pushing forward with all their might. Apologizing in his mind towards his friend, Ash pushed on after the Rowlet, who was leaving behind a trail of leaves in its wake. Not that it was easy to tell; had they been a few seconds later, he wouldn't have found them.

    "Ash…is there a reason…you want to catch this…Rowlet?" Serena breathed out as she managed to catch up to him and run at his side. He was surprised at her immense fortitude, and it seemed that even Clemont was catching up.

    "Did you see how fast it moved? It was super cool!" Ash informed her. She seemed to accept this as a legitimate reason for wanting it, because she nodded. At this point, a bright light was shining, and Ash could see that they were reaching the edge of the forest. He lowered his head and proceeded to charge straight ahead with gusto, breaking out of the woods. Now outside of them, Ash pulled to a stop on the dirt path. "Pikachu, do you see it anywhere?"

    "Pi…ka…" Pikachu said, his head swiveling back and forth as he looked for the rogue Rowlet. Ash, too, peered through the shining sun, hoping to spot the little bird with the macaron basket. Clemont finally caught up, less short of breath than usual, but still huffing and puffing. As he and Bonnie did so, Serena tapped Ash on the shoulder.

    "There," she stated. Ash followed her hand and noticed the small shape that was fluttering down towards a town at the top of the hill. In thanks, Ash grasped the moment and kissed her before running after the owl. He turned slightly with the dirt road, all of it leading him towards the area he was trying to reach. Wooden slats and steps were now occupying the road as it started to slope upward, guiding their way towards the town. As Ash ran up the path, he noticed various stone statues, carved and engraved. A rush of energy flowed over him, and Ash felt like he were entering some kind of holy ground.

    Glancing down the hill, he noticed Serena and Bonnie helping Clemont up it. When Serena looked up at him, she sent him a wink that told him to keep going no matter what. He smiled and nodded, now jumping up the wooden steps. Finally reaching the top of the hill, Ash noticed that there was a large wooden arch hanging over head, words emblazoned upon it: "Iki Town". More excitement entered him. This was where Ilima had said the man, Hala, was…and now Rowlet was inside.

    Grinning towards Pikachu, the duo entered the town. The first thing Ash caught note of were the wooden homes, built sturdy and strong. It was almost like entering a field of log cabins. Numerous people were outside, sweeping their porches or otherwise carrying things to and fro. Rotating as he walked through the town, Ash cast his gaze around, looking for the little Rowlet that had taken his macaron case. As he did so, Ash caught sight of a large wooden platform, intricate details painted onto its surface, standing in the middle of the town. A heavyset man was to the side of the platform, his bright yellow shirt standing out in the crowd around the platform. On the platform, itself, was a tanned boy, and two Pokémon that Ash didn't recognize.

    Ash slowed his pace, still looking for the little Rowlet, but soon had his attention broken by what was taking place on the stage. Almost running into a citizen of the town, Ash stopped to watch. The young boy tentatively approached the two Pokémon on the stage with him. It seemed tentative, like a starting point, reminding Ash of when he and Pikachu had met. That made him smile. Of telling Pikachu his dream, and after the ups and downs (and near death) agreeing to pursue it together. Seeing that new beginning was a fulfilling experience, especially as what looked like a Water type slowly inched along the stage until the boy grabbed it, holding it up with a smile. Suddenly, the crowd cheered and applauded, like it was this huge thing. The cat on the stage looked a little despondent, but nevertheless slunk off to a large home on the side of this square. Ash just blinked; clearly choosing one's first Pokémon in Alola was a huge endeavor.

    Adults in the square converged on the boy, ruffling his hair and congratulating him. Ash just stepped forward in a daze. That was when he noticed Rowlet fluttering down, straight towards the heavyset man who turned his head as the little owl landed on his arm, gripping tight. In profile, Ash could see the man's tanned complexion (something he was starting to realize was rather commonplace in the region) contrasting with his white hair and bushy mustache.

    "There you are, Rowlet," the man rumbled out, his voice gruff but kind. Ash slowly approached the man as the path to him cleared. "Let me guess, out collecting food? You'll never find a trainer if you keep causing trouble for people like that."

    "Koo?" Rowlet turned its head at its right angle before bringing it back. Then it hopped a little on the man's shoulder and turned its head to the other side, staring at Ash. The raven-haired trainer stopped in his tracks, looking right back at Rowlet. Pikachu did the same, and Ash knew that he could feel exactly what Ash was thinking. That Rowlet was special. Maybe not in the same way Greninja had turned out to be, but Ash had the distinct feeling that he was meant to meet Rowlet. Slowly, he reached out a hand, drawing closer with every step. The man turned. Ash stopped.

    "Oh…?" the man said. Ash looked up at him, but didn't retract his hand. He simply watched the man's face, and his closed, serene eyes. After a moment, the man opened one of his eyes to peer down at him. The gaze from that eye slowly shifted over to Pikachu. Then he looked to Rowlet. "I see."

    "Uh…see what?" Ash asked. Rowlet continued turning its head back and forth, looking like it was taking in all of its surroundings, just in case it could sense danger.

    "Rowlet…you've met this trainer?" the man asked, ignoring Ash's question for a second. Rowlet's wings opened up, revealing its green-tipped plumage.

    "Roh! Kuroh!" Rowlet hooted out, and Ash could hear…happiness. It was like it had wanted him to be here. Like it had lured him here. The man suddenly smiled, and then gave a booming laugh, his belly shaking with absolute mirth. As he did so, the sleeve of his yellow shirt slid up, revealing the same ring that had been present on Ilima's wrist.

    "Um, what's going on here?" Ash asked, utterly surprised by the man's reaction. When he finally stopped laughing, he turned to face Ash fully. Rowlet took to the air, flapping around at a quick speed before zipping downward. Ash whipped around, wondering where it had gone until he felt a sudden movement in his backpack.

    "Pika!" Pikachu cried out, and Ash noticed him looking downward in shock. Ash quickly slipped his backpack off, and to his surprise, there was Rowlet, resting comfortably in the confines of it. It appeared to be sleeping, judging by its closed eyes and resting state. For a moment, Ash considered waking it, but that was soon disregarded by the man speaking to him. Ash turned back to him, catching a glimpse of his friends finally finishing their ascent up the hill, though their group looked bigger than before.

    "Looks like our little Rowlet enjoys your company," the man laughed out. "All that time searching for a trainer for this little one, and he picks someone who hasn't even come to choose a Pokémon from ol' Hala. At least, I'd assume you haven't. You don't look like some new sprout, just beginning to walk in the world. There's seasoning behind your eyes."

    "Oh, thanks, I guess," Ash said, taking another peek at the Rowlet resting comfortably in the bag. "How could you tell?"

    "Your eyes, young man! Your eyes!" the older man said, and then he extended his hand outward. "I'm Hala, Kahuna of Melemele Island."

    Ash's mouth stretched to a grin and his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm as he reached forward and clasped Hala's hand, shaking it eagerly. "My name's Ash Ketchum, and this is my partner, Pikachu."

    "Pikachu!" Pikachu greeted the Kahuna. Said man smiled down at the two of them, his eyes crinkling with gentleness. He let go of Ash's hand and reached over to pet Pikachu's fur. "Chaaa…"

    "Your Pikachu looks quite well taken care of," Hala chuckled out. "Reminds me of my grandson's, though his is perhaps not quite so experienced." Ash tilted his head, much like Rowlet had. His mouth opened to ask a question of the Kahuna, but Hala's booming voice cut out that opportunity. "Kukui, you didn't tell me the boy would be arriving so early!"

    "He wasn't supposed to, cousin!" Ash turned, now seeing that his earlier observation wasn't incorrect. His friends hadn't been alone, as Kukui seemed to have traveled up to Iki Town with them. Kukui quickly looked at Ash and winked at him. "Guess you just couldn't help yourself, huh, Ash?"

    "Sorry, I just-"

    "Did you catch up to it, Ash?" Bonnie suddenly interjected, jumping forward. Ash nearly dropped his backpack, but Rowlet kept on sleeping inside. "That cute Rowlet?"

    "Uh…yeah," Ash nodded before holding his backpack out. Serena leaned over, catching sight of the sleeping owl. She giggled.

    "So…it's just like you, then: eat, sleep, train?" his girlfriend noted with a laugh. Now that Ash thought about it, he realized that she was right. Or…hoped she was right. While the first two were easily confirmable, there had not yet been a sign that Rowlet trained as hard as he tended to with his team.

    "Anyway, sorry for running on ahead. I didn't mean to interrupt at all," Ash told them all, gripping his backpack a little closer to his chest. The crowds surrounding the young boy had begun to disperse and said boy was walking away from the platform with two people Ash assumed were his parents. "I didn't expect Rowlet to come here."

    "Nah, it's all right, cousin," Kukui laughed out. Hala seemed to join him in the action. "Just a good thing I ran into your friends. I can get a little turned around whenever my assistant isn't here, and I haven't seen her sine this morning, ha ha."

    "Super good thing!" Bonnie said. Clemont was the only one not speaking, clearly suffering from his loss of stamina in climbing up the hill. Ash turned to look at Bonnie, who bent down to pick up a Pokémon that was at the professor's side. "Look at this cutie! Her name is Rockruff!"

    "Ruff!" Ash looked down to the small Pokémon now in Bonnie's arms. It looked like a little puppy, only with small stones adorned around its collar. Bonnie nuzzled against it happily and Rockruff appeared to return the affection. Kukui stepped forward, and Ash noticed he was holding something in his hands: a large, red device that looked similar to the Pokédex.

    "Well, it seems you've met old man Hala," he commented. Hala appeared to huff, but let the vague insult roll off him. Ash nodded. In response to that, Kukui placed the device under his armpit and clapped his hands together. "Great! Then I guess we can get this all started earlier than we thought!"

    "Get what…started?" Clemont finally wheezed out, seeming to recover. Kukui turned to him with the grin that Ash was certain was almost perpetually on most Alolan's faces.

    "The Island Trials, of course."

    "You're so impatient, Kukui," Hala suddenly chastised the younger man. "I know you like setting trainers on their paths quickly, but sometimes we need to take the time and sit. Like Rowlet. He's sleeping without a care in the world. He'll wake when it's time. All of nature moves according to its own schedule. That sort of patience is something you should take from your assistant, bless her soul."

    "Ah, come on, Master Hala, it's not like he can start the trials here," Kukui laughed out. Hala appeared to frown at Kukui's words and, for a brief moment, Ash thought that he could sense some tension between the professor and the Kahuna. Serena drew closer while their little stalemate occurred, and reached over to Ash's bag, petting Rowlet on the head. The tiny owl stirred and looked up at both Ash and Serena. He made no reaction for a moment before hooting happily and shooting out of the bag once again. "See, even Rowlet is excited to start the trials."

    "Rowlet is not yet one of this young man's Pokémon," Hala reminded him. It even reminded Ash; Rowlet had seemed so comfortable inside his bag, it was almost like he was his. Though, more than that, it sparked the wondering in Ash's brain.

    "Um, if you don't mind me asking," Ash started, breaking the stare-off, "you mentioned that Rowlet wasn't able to find a trainer? Why? I mean, I know of it and all. My Greninja had a hard time finding a trainer until I came along, but…it's not common, right?"

    "Hmmm…" Hala mused. He appeared to be surveying Ash a moment before grunting. Hala jerked his head in the direction of the large house, most particularly towards the table and chairs that sat on the porch. All of them quickly got the message. Once more bringing his backpack on his shoulders as he watched Rowlet fly around, their group of five walked forward to join Hala at the table presented.

    It felt a little different from their chairs at the Pokémon School, but in an exciting way. From where they sat now, Ash could see into what he presumed was Hala's house, the furnishings very simple and orderly. There were some stacks of papers sitting around on a desk, and on a ledge above the desk were those same odd rings he had seen on both Hala and Ilima. When they were all seated, Clemont most thankfully, Hala began to speak.

    "Rowlet has been with me since he was but an egg," the old man explained, stroking at his mustache a little. Kukui sat next to him, propping his legs up on the table and placing his device down. Ash gave a brief look before returning his gaze to Hala. "Upon hatching, that little bird ate up almost my entire fridge. I thought, at the time, that it was merely the hunger of a newly hatched baby…but Rowlet never stopped. He ate, and ate, and ate…Eventually, little Rowlet became known as quite the little glutton around the island. A fine trait…except for when you're given to inexperienced trainers. It didn't help that as Rowlet grew and grew, he became stronger and stronger. Those talons aren't just for show."

    "Yeah, I noticed…" Ash said breathlessly. He turned around in his seat to look at the little owl, now fluttering down to the porch to take yet another rest. "They were really strong. I'm surprised no other trainer would choose him."

    "Perhaps it's not accurate to say no trainer would choose him so much as it is I wouldn't let any trainer choose him," Hala mused out, continually stroking his mustache. "Rowlet is a fine Pokémon, don't get me wrong, but between his gluttony and narcoleptic fits, he's simply too much to handle for a new trainer. Most of the other Rowlet I've raised to give to new trainers at our mini 'festivals' were never as much of a handful."

    "So, you're the one who gives out Pokémon to new trainers?" Serena asked from her place next to Ash. "What kind are there? Other than Rowlet, I mean?"

    "Hmmm…" Hala once more said, opening his eyes a crack to peer at her. He soon laughed a little and looked towards Kukui, who took his legs off the table to suddenly slide the red device over to Ash.

    "Hala does give Pokémon to the new trainers just starting their adventures or Island Pilgrimage," Kukui noted, removing his glasses from his face. He then leaned across the table and tapped the device. "And if you want to know more, I suggest you give this a try."

    "It's a Pokédex, right?" Ash asked. Kukui nodded, confirming his earlier suspicions. Interested by the design, Ash picked the device up and touched what appeared to be a blank screen. Serena, Bonnie and Clemont all leaned in, interested to see the device's functions…only nothing happened. "I think it's broken."

    "Ho ho!" Hala boomed out, clearly finding the situation somewhat amusing. "Not at all!"

    "Clemont," Kukui spoke, and it was obvious to Ash that he had personally introduced himself to all his friends earlier, "I believe Professor Oak said that a Rotom was traveling with you. If you'd like to come out cousin, I think this is one device you'll really like."

    The entire group looked up in shock at that one. It seemed almost impossible, like a fantasy or something. Had Kukui truly just said he'd developed a Pokédex for Rotom to live in? Backing away from the Pokédex as Rotom shot out of Clemont's pack with its usual laugh, the quartet stared at the device on the table. Bonnie gripped Rockruff, who was almost growling a little (though Ash wasn't sure if it was just trying to hide its fear). Rotom continued to zap around for a few seconds, startling Rowlet out of its sleep, before slamming into the Pokédex.
    *Chapter to be continued in next post...

  5. #5
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    A brief second passed with nothing happening.

    Then the Pokédex began to twitch. From the sides, arms sprouted. From the bottom were stubby little legs. Then it rose up into the air as a mischievous little face, one all too familiar from the times Rotom had possessed something, splayed itself across the surface of the screen.

    "Wow…" Serena said, almost like she forgot to breathe. Ash looked across the table to Clemont, the most-wide eyed expression on his face. He soon cast his gaze over to Ash and they both grinned wildly, speaking at the same exact time.

    "Science is so amazing!" they both screamed. Kukui laughed.

    "Boys, say hello to the Rotomdex, the first fully autonomous Pokédex!" Kukui chuckled out, and even Hala seemed to find the amusement in all of it. "How does it feel in there Rotom?"

    "Roto-to?" Rotom asked, turning around to face Kukui before once more swiveling to face Ash, who could do nothing but stare at it. "Rotom feels great! Like a new Rotom!"

    "Rotom also seems to speak in third-person…" commented Bonnie, sounding a little underwhelmed.

    "So have you sometimes," Clemont corrected her. He, on the other hand, continued to stare adoringly up at Rotom. "Look at you, Rotom! A Pokédex and a Pokémon in one! And it doesn't cause harm to either?"

    "Not in the slightest," Kukui told the inventor. "Though, why don't you have Rotom itself tell you that."

    "Okay," Ash said, nodding. Pikachu and Dedenne had now come onto the table, both lifting their tails up to greet Rotom in its new form. Sharing their electricity between each other, Pikachu and Dedenne's cheeks sparked a little in happiness. "So…you can talk to us in human language and…examine Pokémon?"

    "Yes!" Rotom said proudly, touching its arm to its screen. "Rotom can do all that and more!"

    "Ooh! Ooh, can you read Pikachu, then?" Bonnie asked excitedly. Rotom spun around rapidly, almost like it was doing a little dance before settling on Pikachu, taking a picture of him with his head cocked to the side. As soon as the picture popped up, so too did a catalog of the Pikachu evolutionary line.

    "Pikachu, Mouse Pokémon. It's in its nature to store electricity. It feels stressed now and then if it's unable to fully discharge the electricity," Rotom spoke. Ash stood from his chair, brimming with utmost excitement.

    "What else can you do now, Rotom?"

    "Rotom can catalogue all existing species of Pokémon in picture form as well as compile data on them, with a convenient, if not detailed, map," Rotom said. Clemont now stood while Serena rolled her eyes between them. Ash ignored her; she may have been his girlfriend, but it was obvious how little she understood when it came to how amazing science was. "For example, Rotom's data says that the three Pokémon given to beginner trainers in the region are Litten, a Fire type Pokémon, Popplio, a Water type Pokémon, and Rowlet, a Grass type Pokémon."

    "And there you have it, cousin," Kukui said, almost sounding rather pleased with himself. Ash turned looking towards the now awake Rowlet, his head turning curiously as he stared at their group.

    "What does your data say on Rowlet?" Ash asked eagerly. Rotom now floated down, looking at Rowlet, who surveyed it curiously. It took a picture and then came back up to Ash. In the flash of a second before Rotom answered, Ash could swear that it saw Rotom's telltale smirk.

    "Rowlet, Grass Quill Pokémon. Silently it glides, drawing near its targets. Before they even notice it, it begins to pelt them with vicious kicks," Rotom spoke. Ash stared at it blankly.

    "That's creepy…" Bonnie drawled.

    "Rotom is only giving pertinent information," it spoke to her. Bonnie glared at the device. "This makes Rotom very excited! Rotom has wanted to travel and see new Pokémon! Rotom has really wanted to play tr…er…play with Pokémon, roto."

    "Play with them…sure…" Serena said skeptically. Ash didn't blame her. In the six months since they had been resting in Pallet Town, Serena, Bonnie and Clemont had a better than good idea of just how much a trickster Rotom could be. It seemed from its rather dry and dark humor that its personality inside the Pokédex hadn't changed. Not that Ash minded. Rotom was along for the ride either way, and he was happy to have it on his side. Looking past him to the ever-curious Rowlet, Ash remembered what Hala had said about the unfortunate bird.

    There was only one thing left for it.

    Ash pushed his chair aside and walked to the edge of Hala's porch, where Rowlet was still staring at him curiously. He wasn't alone, as Pikachu soon joined him, and he kneeled down to be level with the little bird.

    "Roh?" Rowlet asked. Ash reached out and ruffled his feathers, feeling their softness beneath his fingers.

    "So, you haven't been able to find a trainer, huh?" Ash asked. Rowlet didn't respond, preferring to stare up at him. Ash smiled. "Then, how would you like to come with me and Pikachu? I think you're a really awesome Pokémon that's fast and strong. And eating's no problem! Serena's an awesome cook, and so is Clemont. They keep me fed all the time!"

    "Kuroh…"

    "I know it must be tough, not finding the trainer that's right for you, but I'd definitely like to travel with you," he continued on, making sure to keep his gaze locked on to the little Pokémon's own eyes. "I think you and I could really grow together as an awesome team."

    "Pika!" Pikachu agreed, offering a paw to Rowlet. He turned his head in the other direction, contemplating the offer before him. Ash took his hand back and reached for a pokeball, holding it out to the Grass Quill Pokémon.

    "So, what do you say, Rowlet? Do you want to become my first Pokémon in Alola?" The offer on the table, Ash continued holding his pokeball aloft. He couldn't see the expressions of anyone behind him, but somehow, he could at least tell that Serena was smiling fondly at him. It took a moment of pure staring, but finally, Rowlet moved.

    "Kuroh! Kuroh!" Rowlet chirped happily, flapping his wings up and down, creating a slight gust that rustled up some leaves with it. Ash and Pikachu couldn't help it. They grinned widely as Rowlet touched one of its wings to the pokeball. For a Pokémon that had started his introduction by hitting him in the face, Ash was surprised to see how energetic and kind Rowlet was. The bright light shone and Rowlet was sucked inside the pokeball. It shook a little until finally bright stars came off the capsule.

    "Pikachu…" Ash said, turning to face his best buddy, who nodded. "We did it! We caught a Rowlet!"

    "Pipikachu!" Pikachu cried as the both of them turned around to face their friends once more, holding out the ball that contained their first Pokémon from Alola. Serena clapped lightly while Bonnie looked excited and Clemont just smiled softly. Rotom couldn't seem to care less, resting itself on the table. Keeping the smile on his face, Ash pressed the button on the pokeball, calling Rowlet out. The Grass Quill Pokémon emerged and turned to face his new trainer.

    "Let's have lots of great adventures together, and work towards our dream of becoming a Pokémon Master, Rowlet!" Ash told his new partner. Rowlet's eyes smiled and he extended a wing out, offering Ash a high five. Then, just like before, he zipped backwards and straight into Ash's backpack, where he once more fell asleep.

    "Hm, how interesting," Hala commented. Ash noticed him shifting his body weight, as though getting ready to stand. "Long years of Rowlet searching for that one trainer who could accept him as he is, and then, within a day of your arrival, he chooses you. Watching you, I could see that shared feeling, and chose to not interrupt; I'm glad I didn't. Some Pokémon choose trainers…some trainers choose their Pokémon…yet I think that between the two of you, it may be something different: a mutual choice. So fitting for a Pokémon from Alola."

    "Isn't it?" Kukui asked, his feet once more on the table. Hala looked to him as Kukui tipped his hat just a little bit. They seemed to share some kind of silent conversation; one that Ash felt was no doubt about him. "Come on, Master Hala, I know you can tell, just like me and Ilima."

    "Yes…perhaps so," Hala agreed gruffly. He now officially stood, his weight slightly shaking the porch as he looked to Ash. "Ash, I feel that perhaps, in some way, you were always meant to come to Alola. Just as, perhaps, you were always meant to befriend Rowlet. I know that you two can become great partners, just as all the residents of Alola have with their Pokémon. Perhaps you really can walk the road of becoming an Island Champion."

    "Of course, Ash can," Serena said confidently. Ash was grateful to her for her words, but he never stopped looking at Hala. The older man was now approaching him, a rather serious look on his face.

    "Yes…" he said under his breath. "You mentioned your dream, yes? You believe the Island Trials will help you on that path?"

    "Of course!" Ash answered confidently. "Nothing we do is a waste of time."

    Hala appeared to consider his words carefully, as though debating something in his mind. Once he had decided, however, he grinned, his bright teeth gleaming. "Well, then, I guess I have no choice but to tell you about them!

    "But first, let's have a battle at our full strength. One on one. I want to see the conviction of your dream."


    Author's Note: So, Rowlet has officially been met and joined Ash's team! Of course, I naturally gave him the same personality (kinda) as in the anime. He's too adorable to not. Now, there was a lot in this chapter between character introductions, the capture, setting up for the Trials to begin. I hope it all kind of flowed naturally and didn't feel too bogged down at any point. These opening chapters, I'll admit, are very difficult for me, especially with how different the story is. Nevertheless, next chapter is where we really kick off the plot…especially with a 1 on 1 battle against Hala!

    I know starting this new trilogy is still sort of rough, but I'm really grateful for all the kind words and help. So, until next time, Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  6. #6
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    A simple reminder to everyone: this is not the anime. I say this now because from roughly here out things will probably feel like they move fast, at least if you look at it from an anime perspective. So just remember it's the Ancienverse. But more importantly, it's Chapter 4!


    Chapter 4

    A Ring

    Serena had to admit her surprise. Sure, she had no doubt that one of the first things Ash would do upon arrival in Alola was battling someone. What she didn't expect, however, was that his first battle would actually not start with him offering it. Instead, it was the imposing Kahuna before them, his eyes smiling, yet his stance fierce. Serena took her hat off and ran her fingers through her hair. Ash's obvious and impending answer was all that was left to Hala's offer of battle, but Serena wasn't waiting for it. She was too busy watching the Kahuna himself.

    He continued to smile at Ash while Serena watched him, wondering. Bonnie was less concerned with the issue, though from a brief glance to her side, Serena could tell that Clemont was wondering the same thing. If the Kahuna was the end part of a trial…then why was Hala asking to battle Ash now? The old Kahuna's eyes weren't telling, and Ash wasn't picking up on their intention whatsoever, but Serena narrowed her own, hoping to discover the reason he had asked Ash for a battle.

    Did it have to do with the Rowlet that had just joined their little family?

    Or was it Ash himself?

    Serena wasn't sure, but she felt there was no time to think of more explanations.

    "All right," Ash said, putting his fist up confidently. "Let's battle!"

    "Ha ha! That's the spirit!" Hala boomed out. Flicking his bright yellow shirt behind him, the elderly Kahuna started walking off the porch, towards the platform in the middle of the square. As he passed by Ash, he placed a hand roughly on his shoulder, like an invitation, or perhaps a reassurance. "We'll battle in the square."

    "Great!" Ash responded, before slipping his backpack off and looking down towards his new Rowlet. He reached a hand out and briefly ruffled his feathers, the little owl waking up. "Rowlet, you wanna watch me battle? It'll be a great learning experience for both of us!"

    "Ku!" Rowlet agreed, zipping out suddenly from the backpack and fluttering around a bit before promptly landing on Serena's lap. Serena blinked at it in surprise as it hopped a bit and stared up at her. It only took a moment for him to begin nuzzling her softly. "Rrrrrroh…"

    "I guess Rowlet wants to sit with you," Ash laughed out. Serena smiled at the affectionate bird in her lap before he turned back to Ash and hooted, letting him know that he was at attention (despite it clearly being naptime). Gripping the bird up in her arms, she stood, feeling the softness of his feathers. The way Rowlet relaxed into her arms made her feel, momentarily, like she was holding on to a small child.

    "Aw! No fair, Serena!" Bonnie pouted, standing up alongside her. A scraping of the chairs behind her told Serena that both Clemont and Kukui were standing, while the buzzing sound next to her ear said that Rotom was once more active. "I want to hug Rowlet, too…"

    "I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to hug Rowlet," Serena assured Bonnie, though her tongue was almost clucking, as if scolding.

    "Serena's right," Ash said, tossing his bag to the ground and rolling his shoulder back and forth, stretching his muscles. Serena watched him, and only when she felt a slight pressure from Rowlet's talons did she realize she was unashamedly watching her boyfriend flex with no thought to anything else. That brought some slight redness to her face that no one else seemed to notice. "How about for now, you watch Pikachu, Bonnie?"

    "Pika? !" Pikachu gasped out, almost sounding just a little jealous at what Ash was saying. Ash reached up and scratched his best friend behind the ears.

    "We'll have lots of battles together in the Alola region, buddy," Ash assured his companion, "but right now, I bet Hala's really strong, so I want to use Greninja to test something."

    "Test something?" Clemont asked from behind Serena.

    "You'll see," Ash said, grinning at them. Serena arched an eyebrow at Ash's mysterious response. Pikachu sighed from his shoulder and then hopped off to go and join Bonnie and Dedenne; Rockruff had dropped to the floor next to the girl, barking after Ash. With that done, Ash whipped right around and ran straight after Hala at a breakneck pace, the older man having already reached the platform. A sudden hand clasped on Serena's shoulder and she turned to see Kukui standing there, his hands having taken ahold of both hers and Clemont's shoulders.

    "Well, no reason to stand around," he told them with a grin. "Might as well watch the battle and cheer Ash on, huh? Hala's pretty strong, so I'm sure he'd appreciate all the cheering he could get."

    "Of course," Serena laughed out. Clutching tighter to Rowlet, who appeared to be zoning out in her arms, the honey blonde instantly followed in Ash's footsteps towards where he was clambering on to the platform. The path, obviously, wasn't too long, so by the time they had reached the side of it, neither Ash nor Hala had called out their Pokémon. Kukui, however, stepped forward.

    "Woo!" he cried out, slightly startling Serena. "All right, cousins, this is a one on one battle between Ash and Kahuna Hala! So, you're both only allowed one Pokémon, and when that one faints, the battle is over!"

    "Yeah! Greninja, I choose you!" Ash called, tossing his pokeball high into the air. A bright light blasted from the capsule and Greninja emerged, standing comfortably, his arms folded. Rowlet stirred in Serena's arms, and seemed to be deciding to watch the battle with interest. Pikachu was doing the same from Bonnie's own hold.

    "Hohoh," Hala commented, opening one of his eyes again to peer at Greninja. "This is quite the seasoned one, just like his trainer."

    "Yeah, Greninja and I have been through a lot together," Ash told the Kahuna. Greninja turned his head back and nodded. "Both me and my Pokémon grow stronger together."

    Hala reached up and once more stroked his mustache, and Serena caught the sight of something in the sun: a ring clasped around Hala's wrist, glittering a brownish-amber. Ash seemed to notice it as well, though his eyes appeared at least a little familiar with the sight of it. Judging from Hala's sudden pause in stroking, he had certainly seen Ash's spark of attention. "I like the sound of that. It means I can go all out, for sure. Crabominable, time to battle!"

    "Wow!" Bonnie suddenly exclaimed, squeezing Pikachu just tight enough that he sent a little shock through her. "What a cutie!"

    "Crabominable is not a 'cutie'," Rotom quickly corrected Bonnie, causing the lemon-blonde to glare at him. "Crabominable is an Ice and Fighting type named the Woolly Crab Pokémon. It just throws punches indiscriminately. In times of desperation, it can lop off its own pincers and fire them like rockets."

    "Don't be such a killjoy."

    "Dene!" Dedenne concurred. Serena ignored the feuding girl and machine to watch Ash. He and Greninja both seemed to be observing Crabominable. It certainly lived up to its description, though to Serena it looked no different than a giant Kingler with fur all over it. Ash certainly didn't seem to look at it that way. His body language was completely different; she could tell from all the times she'd seen him battle. It was closer to how he looked facing Seamus in the Kalos Team Tournament than it did while they'd fought during the Peace Tournament.

    "You've noticed, too, Serena?" Clemont asked of her. She turned to the inventor as he adjusted his glasses. "Hala's Pokémon is quite strong just from the aura around it."

    "No worries! Greninja and I are gonna win!" Ash called out, almost like he had heard Clemont's muttered response. "And then you'll tell me about that ring I keep seeing on everybody's wrists."

    "So, you did notice," Hala chuckled out. "Good to know you're observant outside of battle as well. You'll need it for the trials ahead. After all, that's the only way you'll be able to effectively use one of these: a Z-Ring."

    "Z-Ring?" Ash asked. His stance didn't change, but Serena could see the curiosity on his face.

    "That is only something we can talk about once you've cleared your Grand Trial," the older man responded. "Let's just say the Z-Ring is an heirloom for all island dwellers. As you complete your trials, obtain their signets and crystals, then you will amass the power of an Island Champion inside the Z-Ring bequeathed to you by a Kahuna. You'll need to beat Ilima and myself first, though."

    "Not a problem!"

    "Good. I'm glad to hear it, Ash. Now, less bantering. Time to battle."

    "We'll make the first move!" Ash cried out, sweeping his hand outward. Serena found her face heating up for some odd reason. It had been so long since she'd seen Ash battle in something she presumed he felt was serious. It reminded her of just how impressive he was, and how much she loved seeing him like this: a trainer lost in a moment of nothing but what was right in front of him. The barking of Rockruff at their feet seemed to indicate her own enjoyment of the same. "Greninja, use Cut!"

    "Ninja!" Greninja affirmed, unfolding his arms and running right at Crabominable. The shining blades formed in Greninja's hands like a sword. Rowlet squirmed in Serena's hands, obviously excited to study the battle and Greninja's quick movements. He wasn't the only one, as the barking near Kukui's feet grew louder, telling her that Rockruff was getting into the sight of the battle.

    "Block it!" Hala called, placing his hand forward like an open-palmed punch. Greninja spun and brought the sword down on Crabominable. One of its pincers opened, and just as Greninja was about to make contact with it, the Ice type caught it, holding the blade in place. Serena's eyes widened at the sight. It wasn't often that something could stop Greninja's blade cold like that. The feeling she'd had earlier wasn't mistaken.

    "Break free with Aerial Ace!" Ash commanded. Greninja's leg glowed white and he kicked upward, slamming into the large target. Crabominable managed to let go now as Greninja swung around with his other leg to hit it backwards. Ash pumped his fist a little, but it hardly seemed to have mattered against the foe before them.

    "Brick Break!" Hala said sturdily, as though he wasn't shaken one bit by the super-effective attack that Ash had just landed on his partner. Serena stepped forward, a bad feeling about the battle pooling in the pit of her stomach. Crabominable rose its claw up and then brought it slamming straight down onto the exposed Greninja. The Ninja Pokémon plummeted, crashing down from the force of the attack that splintered a bit of the platform.

    "What power…" Clemont commented. Serena wasn't in a place to disagree. She looked over to her boyfriend, but Ash seemed to be taking the battle seriously.

    "We don't give up that easily! Double Team!" Ash cried. Greninja picked himself up from the ground and got into a crouching position. Then multiple copies of himself appeared around the platform. "Now, use Cut!"

    "Rock Slide."

    "Crabah-bah-bah!" Crabominable creaked out, both of its pincers raising into the air, glowing golden. All of the Greninja were now rushing at the Woolly Crab Pokémon with their glowing swords. Serena wasn't sure which direction to look in: towards Ash, who was focused on the fight, or Hala, who seemed completely relaxed despite the impending clash. Large, glowing rocks appeared in midair and then began to fall, each one of them crashing into a copy of Greninja.

    "Now!" Ash ordered, thrusting his fist forward. The real Greninja suddenly shot out from between the falling rocks and brought his glowing sword slamming atop Crabominable's head. His opponent cried out, but still didn't budge, even as Greninja jumped back.

    "Ohh…he's fast," Kukui commented, bringing his fingers up to his chin in interest. Serena had to agree: training with all of Ash's old Pokémon the last six months had made Greninja even faster than before, yet at the same time, he seemed to be doing relatively little to the foe before him. It sent a warning off in Serena's brain. Like there was something she or the others were missing.

    "Use Ice Hammer," Hala ordered. He seemed perfectly calm, serene, as though the result of the battle or the attacks didn't matter to him. Crabominable's pincer was wreathed in ice like a gigantic hammer as it scuttled along the ground for Greninja.

    "Stop its movements with Water Shuriken! Rapid fire!"

    "Ninja ja ja!" Greninja cried, throwing his watery stars one after another. They impacted no problem, but Crabominable didn't slow down even once. It simply swung its Ice Hammer out, nailing Greninja in the stomach and tossing him back.

    "Not done yet, jump up and use Aerial Ace!" Ash called effortlessly. Clemont suddenly shook his head.

    "It's not going to be enough," Clemont commented. Rowlet turned his head in Serena's arms, prompting Serena to do the same, looking at her bespectacled friend with worry. "He keeps attacking it, but Crabominable is too strong, in more ways than one. Hala's not an ordinary trainer."

    "Of course he's not, cousin," Kukui commented, bending down to pet Rockruff's fur while he watched the battle excitedly. "He's a Kahuna. Hala's putting all his conviction and purpose into the battle."

    "And just what is his purpose?" Serena asked of the professor as Greninja managed to leap upwards, high above Crabominable. Kukui turned to her and grinned.

    "He wants to see if Ash is on the right path for the Island Pilgrimage. That's the role of a Kahuna, after all." Serena wasn't quite sure she understood, but one thing was very clear from the moment that Greninja's glowing fist went to strike his opponent: Hala was the strongest trainer that Ash had likely ever fought seriously. That had to have been what Ash wanted to test.

    Bother were thoughts proven correct in mere seconds as Crabominable caught hold of Greninja with its pincers before the fist could impact. Hala appeared to grin, like he had Ash and Greninja right where he wanted them. "Close Combat."

    "Crabah!" Crabominable cried, its other pincer soaring out and slamming Greninja in the chest before its head slammed forward to knock him back, finishing it off with the other claw. Greninja tumbled across the platform, struggling to get back up.

    "Greninja, are you okay?" Ash called as Greninja continued to struggle to his feet. He barely got onto his knees before he looked back at Ash. "Guess we'll have to go that far, huh?"

    "Ninja!" Greninja cried. Ash shifted his feet and in the background, Serena could hear Bonnie and Pikachu cheering. There was also another sound, like rustling in the trees beyond thsat made her hair stand on end, but she focused on her boyfriend. He raised his hand to the air, just the same as Greninja did. It was like a last-ditch effort to keep up with the Kahuna before him. Serena didn't want to see the result. She already knew what it was, even though she believed Ash could pull out a victory. But it was Kukui's words that pulled her back from being certain he would win: Hala's putting all his conviction and purpose into the battle.

    But his purpose isn't to win, Serena realized. Unlike Ash, who no doubt wanted to win alongside Greninja, she had to wonder how strong Hala truly was, fighting with a purpose that wasn't even about winning. Still, she kept her eyes on the battle as water surrounded Greninja, blasting outward like it usually did. Kukui straightened up, and Hala opened one of his eyes. Various cries in the town said that the event had drawn some kind of attention, and there was even a shrill cry from the forest. A shadow flitted upwards from the trees past Iki Town, but it was soon veiled by the rush of water coming from Greninja. In seconds, the torrent coalesced and formed into the shuriken on Greninja's back.

    "Now that is fascinating…" Kukui breathed out. Catching a glimpse of his face, Serena could tell he looked beyond excited. Hala, on the other hand, looked to be frowning, contemplative.

    "Greninja, let's try to win this so we can get started on that Island Trial!" Ash cried out, he and Greninja moving in perfect sync with one another. "Use Water Shuriken!"

    "Gren!" Greninja cried, grabbing the giant water shuriken from his back and throwing it right at Crabominable.

    "Block it with Ice Hammer," Hala said, still sounding completely calm in the face of what was before him. Serena shifted her eyes to Clemont, who locked gazes with her. They both shared the same premonition: Hala was still very much in charge of the battle. Looking back to her boyfriend, Serena could tell that Ash knew it just as well. He wasn't panicking or despairing, but there was a sense of simply trying the best he could. Crabominable's fierce claws shot out, once more glittering with the icy hammer. It seemed to grow larger as it slammed into the Water Shuriken, breaking it to pieces before it hit Greninja powerfully in the chest. Ash recoiled, gripping at his stomach.

    "Looks like simple attacks won't do it," he breathed out, loud enough for Serena to hear. Greninja turned his head back and once more nodded. The two raised their hands into the air, Greninja's shuriken hovering overhead. Serena's eyes widened, watching it spin and begin to scorch the air like a blazing disc, though it seemed to glitch in and out for some reason. At this, Hala actually seemed to react.

    "Crabominable!" he shouted, and his partner Pokémon crossed its pincers as Hala crossed his wrists over one another before bringing them to his sides and crossing them again. His ring appeared to glow brightly, the crystal on the surface shining. He punched forward, and so did Crabominable. Then again, and again. It was too fast for Serena to get a good glimpse of as Hala's punches came quickly and fiercely. At the same moment, Crabominable's own pincers were punching forward at an unspeakable pace. Ghostly fists flew from him, amber in color as they aimed right for Greninja. The attacks pummeled him in the chest and both trainer and Pokémon lost control of their shuriken. "All-Out Pummeling!"

    "Bomina!" Crabominable roared as its body was imbued with the same amber aura as the fists were, and it charged forward, right for the prone Greninja who only barely managed to stand in time to be slammed into. Greninja flew back as Ash dropped to the ground, almost falling off the stage. With a bright flash of light, Serena knew that Greninja had reverted, and the battle was over. Clemont's mouth was hanging open.

    "What…? What was that?" Clemont exclaimed, equal parts horrified and fascinated. Kukui laughed at the boy's awe, though he wasn't the one to answer. Hala was, striding across the stage to a stirring Ash.

    "That was a Z-Move," Hala explained. He held out his pokeball and recalled Crabominable, thanking it for a good battle just as he came to stand before Ash and Greninja. Pikachu leapt out of Bonnie's arms, dashing across to his trainer, and when Serena felt Rowlet squiggling, she let go of him so he could join their group. "A move that is used when a trainer and Pokémon's thoughts, convictions, dreams, meanings and purpose are as one. One that moves in accordance with nature itself, as does all life on Alola."

    "It was really strong," Ash commented groggily, staring up at the Kahuna before him. "I could feel every blow…but it's too bad we couldn't win."

    "You should have never expected to." Ash snapped his gaze up at that, and even Serena was surprised by the words that were so seemingly callous. Yet Hala held no frigid expression or one of discontent. "You have not yet found your purpose or meaning, for either yourself or in relation to the wide world. Therefore, you could not expect to defeat me. Not as you are."

    "That's not true," Ash protested, coming to stand to his feet once more. Greninja did as well, while Pikachu and Rowlet fluttered to each of his shoulders. "I know my purpose. I'm going to become a Pokémon Master. And I'm gonna do it together, with these guys."

    "Hmm…you certainly do not lack ambition, or strength, or conviction," Hala stated, once more stroking his mustache. "Tell me, Ash, why do you want to be a Pokémon Master? Why did you want to win? Why does it frustrate you to lose?"

    "Because…" Ash stopped here, as though realizing he didn't have any answer to Hala's question. Serena thought to ask Kukui about why the Kahuna was asking these questions, but the professor seemed far too lost in thought to answer. "Winning against strong trainers would bring me closer to being a Pokémon Master."

    "I see…and yet, you could not defeat me," Hala said. Ash frowned, obviously not liking, or perhaps understanding, exactly what Hala was trying to say. The older man, however, didn't look concerned, for he reached forward and placed a hand on Ash's shoulder, a chuckle on his lips. "Ah, don't worry; you're a strong, young man, much like myself in my youth. I didn't expect you to have an answer to those questions."

    "Old Man Hala likes asking those philosophical questions from trainers," Kukui confirmed. "Thinks it makes them stronger inside. He even asked me when I took the Island Trials. I don't even know if I can answer him today!"

    "That's because you never cared, Kukui," Hala grumbled out at him. Kukui responded with a laugh, but Hala was no longer paying attention to him. "Nevertheless, I think you're more than qualified to take part in the Island Trials."

    "Really?" Ash asked, his eyes lighting up. Hala grinned, holding a small amulet dangling in front of Ash's face. There were four empty circles surrounded by seven wedges.

    "Of course. You've shown me your conviction. I'll contact Ilima in the morning to tell him to head for Verdant Cavern," Hala laughed out. "For now, why don't you all stay at my place. It's getting late, and I'm sure you're all hungry."

    "Yeah!" Ash agreed, taking the amulet from the older man. Hala once more patted him on the back and went walking off towards his home yet again. Bonnie was the first to follow after, Clemont trailing behind. Serena took it a little more slower, walking closer to Ash until she was right near him.

    "You all right?" she asked. Ash grinned at her with a thumbs up.

    "Of course, I am!" he answered right back, hopping off the platform and giving her a hug. "Hala's a strong trainer, for sure, and if I ever want to be a Pokémon Master, I know I need to beat him. So, the three of us are gonna get way stronger together, so we can do that, one step at a time, right?"

    "Kuroh!"

    "Pikapika!"

    "Nin!" Serena smiled at the sight of all three of his Pokémon agreeing with him. Just like always, Ash bounced back from any loss (though there was no doubt it helped that he'd lost to such a skilled trainer). Feeling invigorated by his ethic, Serena turned her thoughts towards her own dream ahead, and what she could use to move forward in accomplishing it.

    Yet as she turned back towards Hala's house, she saw his smile slip for just a second…but it was gone just as soon, and Serena was left wondering if she'd ever seen it drop at all.


    The clock inside Hala's house ticked on in the silent hours of the night, and Ash could hear every single one of those ticks going off. He simply couldn't sleep, his head too full with the excitement of the day. It wasn't even because of the bright tablet screen right next to him, or the loud sounds of Bonnie, Dedenne and Hala snoring in another room. No, his mind was still on the battle he'd had with Hala, and the strange questions the Kahuna had asked of him shortly afterward.

    He knew he'd be lying if he said that the questions hadn't weighed on him a little. They certainly weren't at the forefront of his mind through dinner, especially when Kukui had asked him about Greninja's transformation and Bonnie had launched into a loud and complicated explanation that didn't make all that much sense. Rockruff seemed to enjoy the conversation, though, rubbing up against Ash's leg and receiving a petting in turn. Other than that, the evening had been dedicated to relaxing, even if Ash felt his mind simply couldn't relax.

    Choosing to instead occupy his mind with something, Ash turned his head to Serena, who was lying next to him. Her face was illuminated by the tablet in her hands as she scrolled through some things with interest. Ash smiled softly as Pikachu rested comfortably on his chest. Before he knew it, he'd wrapped an arm around her, and she leaned into him.

    "What are you looking at?" Ash asked quietly. He didn't want to wake Clemont on the bed next to him, the inventor grabbing hold of a resting Rotom. Serena turned her head.

    "Just stuff about the Leilani Ceremony that looks to be online," she told him. "Seems like it consists of three parts: a course, a performance and a battle. The winner of all three gets what they call a Lei: a tiny flower. Once you've collected three, you can participate in the Final Ceremony, known as the Hope Leilani, where you can become the Ali'i ka Leilani."

    "Sounds a lot like Showcases, then," he responded. Serena nodded, before finally closing the tablet and placing it down. She turned her body, her chest now flat on the bed as she stared at him. Ash only smiled back, unable to tell what was on her mind. He didn't mind it either. There were often times, lately, that Serena had taken to sleeping by his side, and most of the time, she would do this: just watch him for a little bit before they'd fall asleep. "You'd be great at it."

    "Just like you'll dominate your trials," Serena reminded him. Ash grunted a little with a nod, but wasn't sure how else to respond. He just stared ahead at Rowlet resting in his backpack, thinking on Hala's still-strange question. "Ash…what are you thinking about?"

    "Hmm, well…" Ash's face screwed up into one of thought. His mind was a jumbled mess, even though it should have been getting ready for sleep. Why do you want to be a Pokémon Master? Perhaps it was this question, most of all, that was besetting him with the utmost confusion. It was something he'd never thought of before; it was just something he wanted to do. Though maybe that wasn't true. "Just wondering if I can really be as good a Pokémon Master as dad thought I was."

    "I know you can be," Serena told him, once more shifting herself so that she was now in a decent position to reach over and kiss him softly. "I've always believed in that."

    "Yeah," Ash replied, feeling a little better. Flicking his eyes back up to the ceiling, a new thought penetrated Ash's brain. Hala's questions, what Ilima had mentioned the trials did for a trainer; they were about more than growing stronger like one did through Gym Battles. They were about just growing as a trainer, something that would in turn, lead to strength. Clenching his fist in excitement, Ash spoke aloud about his own realization. "I think I know why Diantha suggested this region. She really wants to fight me at full power, and what better way than learning more about my Pokémon with the trials."

    "Makes sense to me," Serena concurred. Ash nodded, pleased with the result he'd come to. Feeling his conviction flood him yet again, knowing that he'd be able to answer Hala's questions by the journey's end, he put his arm around Serena and pulled her close, prepared to sleep.

    Kauuuuu!

    Ash shot up before he could fully lay down, bringing Serena right with him. Pikachu tumbled forward, rolling to his feet with a groan. Breaths came to him in short heaves as he glanced around the room, finding nothing but a very disgruntled Pikachu and a perplexed Serena.

    "Ash, what's wrong?" she asked him. Clemont hadn't woken quite yet, mumbling softly as he seemed to weirdly cuddle up against Rotom. "Ash?"

    "Didn't…you hear that?" he asked. Serena shook her head. Ash frowned as a result; it had been so loud, how could she have not? Was it just in his head? Attempting to steady his breath, Ash planned to lay down once more when he suddenly saw Pikachu's ears twitch, and Rowlet wake up from his position. He definitely wasn't crazy.

    Kokokokoko! The new sound was almost tribal, sweeping over the house in a wave, and yet, Serena still seemed like she didn't hear it at all. Letting go of her, Ash got out of the bed, feet touching the cold wooden floor. The voice had sounded close, though not exactly where he was. Yet it felt like a call more than anything else. He padded forward, Pikachu alongside him as Rowlet fluttered near his ear. The sound, like a chuckling or chattering, grew closer as he walked towards the room that Hala was sleeping in.

    A sudden blast of breeze washed over him, like a window or door was open. It wasn't a cold breeze, but there was simply something different about it, his hair standing up on end from the feeling of it. Pikachu and Rowlet both shivered as Ash took his first tentative step into the room.

    That was where he saw it.

    Hovering just above Hala's desk, the man sleeping lazily in a hammock next to it, was a Pokémon that Ash had never seen before. That typically wasn't anything new in the foreign region, but Ash could tell this was different. Its small, blue eyes were peering at him through the darkness of Hala's room, the orange crest atop its head quivering in the breeze. It seemed to feel like electricity was brimming through its black body, covered only by an intricate, yellow mask that appeared as shells. It continued staring at him, as though beckoning him forth. Ash's eyes shifted down to its crested bottom half and saw its black hands clasping to something, like a strange stone of sorts. Squinting through the darkness, Ash could swear it looked just like the components for a Z-Ring.

    Kuuuuuu! It appeared to cry and then it zipped away, taking off with the stone. Ash's body began to move of its own accord, slowly, one foot in front of the other. Then the voice spoke in his head. Come.

    "Hey, come back here!" Ash found himself yelling. His cry reverberated through the entire house, stirring the old Kahuna next to him. Hala tumbled off of the hammock, but Ash was already moving forward, grabbing onto the edge of the window that the creature had sailed through and catapulting himself out of it.

    "Ash! Where are you going? !" Serena yelled in obvious concern, but he didn't answer her back. The voice had told him to follow, and something compelled him to listen.

    "Pikapi…" Pikachu asked, keeping pace alongside him while Rowlet cut through the night air silently. Ash nodded, his black hair bouncing as he ran.

    "You heard it, too. Right, Pikachu?"

    "Pi," Pikachu concurred while Rowlet hooted, indicating that he had heard the voice, as well. Glad to know that he wasn't hearing things; that the strange Pokémon before him had actually spoken to him, Ash picked up the pace, diving right into the thicket of the forest.

    The yellow blur that came from the Pokémon made it easy to track for Ash, even if he had to frighten a few Spinarak away. A tree root quickly approached and Ash leapt over it, looking around to make sure he hadn't lost sight of his quarry. He thought he could spy someone else in the forest with him, a Pokémon by their side as they searched through the brush, but he ignored it in favor of continuing to run after the thief.

    The forest began to clear, statues that served as waymarks popping up, almost like directions to an area. His pace began to slow as the trees all but disappeared. The sound of flowing water entered Ash's ears, combined with what appeared to be the crashing of a waterfall. His feet finally crunched on dry dirt and he slowed. He was definitely out of the forest now, approaching a ravine with a bridge stretching over it. True to his earlier observations, Ash noticed a waterfall feeding into a river that ran through the ravine below, following its steep drop.

    The only problem was that he could no longer see the Pokémon he was looking for. No matter how much he glanced around, the flash of orange and yellow didn't appear. However, as he looked to the bridge that stretched over the ravine, he did catch sight of something else: a girl was there, gripping onto a large tubular drum bag carefully. She seemed to glow in the moonlight, her white dress looking pearlescent in the light. The only thing that really stood out about her was her large hat on her head; if it had been daytime, he'd have thought nothing, but at night, it came off as an odd fashion choice. Still, he wanted some answers, and so approached the girl.

    "No, you can't come out," the girl was whispering, causing Ash's brow to furrow as he approached her. "I know you want to, but you won't tell me why!"

    "Pew!" a voice appeared to cry out from the bag the girl was holding. It caused Ash to come up to a sudden stop, his feet scraping against the dirt. The girl practically jumped and she whipped around to face him, zipping her bag up tightly. Her big, green eyes were wide as her blonde braids flapped around. She seemed to be in shock and Ash stepped forward once more, illuminating himself with moonlight.

    "Um…sorry to startle you," Ash told her, raising his hand. The girl backed up a bit as he approached. "Oh, right. Alola!"

    "A…Alola…" the girl greeted back before her eyes widened even more. Ash hadn't thought that possible, but it almost looked like she recognized him. He didn't know how that was possible…at least until he remembered that he hadn't exactly had the best memory of Serena, either. "Wh-what are you doing out here so late at night?"

    "I was…chasing something," Ash admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. Of course, he could have asked her the same thing, but didn't. "It looked like a bird with a big yellow mask."

    "Tapu Koko? !" the girl exclaimed, almost like she was surprised. Ash wasn't sure how to answer. Was that its name? "No, you're the only one I've seen out here tonight."

    "Oh," Ash said, just the slightest bit disappointed. Laughing it off, Ash smiled at her before extending a hand out. "Anyway, I'm Ash Ketchum. Yourself?"

    "I…I know," the girl said. It pretty much confirmed what Ash thought, and he looked at her, hoping she'd elaborate further. "You…you actually came here…"

    "Um…excuse me?" Ash asked. Pikachu inched forward to the girl, standing just a couple feet from her as he looked up and smiled; Rowlet came to fell asleep on Ash's shoulder. The girl swallowed and Ash saw her bag suddenly twitch. A loud sound echoed from the forest behind him, but it wasn't the cry he had heard earlier. "Do I know you?"

    "N-no," the girl answered. Once more, the sound echoed from behind him, like someone crashing through the woods to come to that spot. Pikachu inched closer. Ash also took a step forward, hoping she'd explain the contradiction in her words. "I'm sorry. I need to go."

    "Hey, wai-" Ash couldn't even finish the second syllable before the girl had dashed into a part of the forest opposite of where he'd heard the sound. Feeling more lost than ever, Ash crossed his arms and faced back towards the area he had come from. "That was weird…"

    "Kuroh…" Rowlet seemed to agree, awakening on Ash's shoulder and nuzzling up against him. Ash laughed and reached up to pet him, only to stop. The source of the crashing noise was finally revealed as a boy emerged from the forest, looking disheveled. Ash would have thought that the rips on his clothes were from his battling of the forest…had he not recognized him right away.

    "Oh! You! You're the guy I met earlier today in Hau'oli City!" Ash exclaimed, his voice echoing over the ravine. The blond boy stopped at Ash's voice, looking right at him. The raven-haired trainer took a moment to look at the odd Pokémon at his side, wishing Rotom were here to explain it to him. The boy continued a looking a moment longer before nodding his head.

    "The one with the Greninja and Pikachu," he spoke, stepping forward like he felt comfortable doing so. Now that he had discerned Ash's identity, his gaze was going every which way, like he was searching for something. Coming closer in the moonlight, Ash noticed the Z-Ring he hadn't seen before, during his brief meeting with the boy, though said short look made it seem different from the others he'd seen. "I see you got a third Pokémon."

    "Yeah, this is Rowlet. And I'm Ash! You've met Pikachu," Ash told him. The boy looked at him curiously, as though debating something. While he did, Ash's own eyes flit around the area, still trying to catch sight of the mysterious Pokémon, Tapu Koko, from earlier.

    "I'm Gladion. This is Null," the boy finally answered, as though resigned to having to answer. Ash grinned once more, nodding at Gladion. For a second, he debated asking the boy for a battle, just as he'd suggested back in Hau'oli City. It was proven irrelevant by Gladion's next statement as he scowled a little and folded his arms. "We keep running into each other, I guess…but I can't battle right now, much as I'd want to."

    "Oh…" Now Ash really did feel disappointed. Just looking the boy up and down, Ash could tell that Gladion had been through some rough things and was likely a strong trainer. Judging from the way Rowlet gripped at his shoulder, it seemed that the bird agreed Gladion would be a tough opponent to face. Pikachu walked over to Null.

    "Pikachu!" he greeted. Null leaned down and gazed at Pikachu through its weird mask, like it was sizing him up. After that moment of observation, Null turned away with what sounded like a scoff.

    "Null isn't very good with others," Gladion admitted, his own posture never coming out of a defensive one. It doesn't look like you are, either, Ash noted in his brain. The boy appeared cold and distant, like his mind was completely on some other thing. It didn't matter much to Ash, in the end. "Not that it's important. I'm looking for someone. A girl. Her name's Lillie. Have you seen her?"

    "Lillie?" Ash asked. He wondered for a moment if that was the girl he had spoken with just moments ago. He opened his mouth to answer Gladion. Don't! Keeping his mouth hanging open at the sudden warning, Ash resisted the urge to look around. Gladion cocked his head a little, his serious expression like interrogative daggers plunging into his skin. "No, I haven't seen anyone. Just…something else."

    "Oh," Gladion replied, his surly expression giving way to an almost angry one. He turned to Null and patted it on the head. Ash noticed his expression softening for just a moment. "Guess we're back to square one, Null."

    "Huuuu…" sounded out the hollow voice from inside the mask. Gladion turned back to Ash and smirked. Then he stepped forward, holding out his hand.

    "Ash, right? I'll remember the name, so that the next time we meet, we can make room for a battle," Gladion spoke. Ash didn't hesitate in taking Gladion's hand, shaking it and staring into his green eyes, noting how full of determination they were. So were Ash's. Pikachu also held a paw out to Null, but Null didn't reciprocate. Then, Gladion retracted his hand. "Let's go!"

    "Hu!" Null echoed out. Gladion instantly turned back, and within seconds had once more disappeared into the brush of the forest. Pikachu turned and looked up at Ash, who shrugged. It was one event after another, and he still hadn't managed to find Tapu Koko.

    "Oh, well. Guess we better head back," Ash told his partners. Both seemed to agree, and Ash turned around to leave the site.

    Kokokoko!

    "Ah!" Ash screamed, falling backwards. Rowlet flew from his shoulder while Pikachu dodged him. Floating right in front of him was the hovering form of Tapu Koko, the strange stone from earlier still held in its hands. Breathing in, Ash slowly stood while Tapu Koko surveyed him. He stepped forward, hand reaching out tentatively. Tapu Koko didn't flinch or move. It just waited as he placed his hand upon the stone. Something told him that was what the creature wanted him to do.

    Sparks flew off the stone's surface, brilliant blue and yellow electricity shining about the area. Ash stared with awe at the Pokémon before him before retracting his hands. The electricity summoned by Tapu Koko lit up the area like a festival and Ash began to see the stone change before his eyes, as if being molded in a crucible. It warped, twisted, spinning round and round under the dazzling light show until, finally, it stopped, and floating before him was a shining Z-Ring.

    Take it, the voice once more spoke in his head. Ash looked straight up into Tapu Koko's eyes and it nodded. His hand shaking just a little, Ash finally reached for the ring and it slid itself perfectly onto his wrist. He felt the surprising coolness of it for a mere second before something flashed in his brain.

    Conflict. Men fighting men appeared to Ash in his mind's eye before Pokémon clashed in a brutal and visceral battle. War. Kings and armies stood, clashing with each other. Battles. There were Pokémon in an arena, battling against each other to a bloody finish. Ash fell to his knees, the visions practically consuming his mind. Death. Ash began to shake as he saw the countless bodies strewn across a bloody battlefield…familiar faces littered its wastes before he saw the one sight all too familiar to him. His father's body lay there before being suddenly consumed by a great gaping darkness that enveloped all. And then the notes came, three soft and clear musical notes before the final word. Peace…

    "What?" Ash asked. More crashing was heard in the distance as Ash sucked in a breath. There was a loud whooshing noise, and as Ash looked up, Tapu Koko was gone. The visions, those odd visions that haunted a corner of his brain, were gone with it. Only the Z-Ring remained, touching against his skin. Ash reached over to clasp it, realizing it actually was real. He had seen Tapu Koko, had those awful visions, had received a Z-Ring.

    "Pikapi?" Pikachu asked, running up to him and shaking his leg gently. Rowlet also looked concerned, and even though he wasn't out of his pokeball, Ash could tell Greninja was worried as well.

    "I'm all right. Thanks, buddy," Ash said with a smile. This time he managed to pet both Pikachu and Rowlet before the crashing ceased.

    "Ash!" Serena's worried voice called. Dusting off his shorts, Ash stood to look at his girlfriend, still dressed in her pajamas. Bonnie was there, too, still asleep in Clemont's arms alongside Rotom. The three of them weren't alone, as both Hala and Kukui were trekking up behind them, Rockruff barking along. "Are you all right? You ran off so suddenly!"

    "Yeah, everything's fine," Ash said once more. Hala now walked forward, Kukui and Rockruff right behind him. The older Kahuna observed him a moment, his eyes coming to rest at the ring upon Ash's wrist. His head turned a bit and cracked an eye open at Kukui, who raised his eyebrows.

    "You heard a voice, did you not?" Hala asked. Ash gave a start, looking straight up at Hala. There was a stern expression on his face. Ash nodded. "And that Z-Ring…"

    "A Z-Ring? !" Clemont exclaimed, though not loud enough to wake either Bonnie or Rotom. Ash held up his arm, his new Z-Ring glittering in the moonlight. Serena looked shocked at the sight. Ash wasn't surprised; it had all happened so fast.

    "How did you come by it?"

    "I was given it, from that stone that Tapu Koko stole from your house," Ash answered to the best of his knowledge. Kukui and Hala once more shared a look between themselves, and the older of the two began to stroke his mustache liberally.

    "Tapu Koko, eh…?" Hala noted. He kept staring at Ash, as though reaching a certain decision. "So…it happens again…that cheeky Tapu…"

    "What happens again?" Clemont asked, but the Kahuna didn't answer him. He simply leaned forward and placed his hands on Ash's shoulder while the professor answered for him.

    "Tapu Koko has chosen a trainer," he answered. The way Kukui had said it was filled with such respect and reverence, that it almost made Ash feel unworthy of the ring around his wrist. "That hasn't happened in quite some time…The last time the guardian deity of Melemele chose a trainer was…I'm not even sure."

    "What does it mean, then?" Serena asked.

    "It means," Hala began to say, "that Tapu Koko, our great guardian deity has chosen Ash to inherit his will and power. The power of a battling deity. A god of war, if you will."

    "A god of war? !" Ash exclaimed. He certainly didn't want to be that. Hala, however, began to laugh, as if reassuring him.

    "No fear; it simply means that Tapu Koko must see you as someone special, I would think," the Kahuna answered, his belly jiggling just a little. "As I told you, we Kahunas typically fashion Z-Rings ourselves and give them to trainers who complete the Grand Trials. But for the guardian deity to bequeath you one…

    "Ash, it means that from this moment on, your Island Pilgrimage begins."

    Ash started to smile despite himself. True, there was much exhaustion in his veins, but hearing Hala's words that he could finally begin on his journey for real, he had no choice but to share that enthusiasm. Clapping Ash's shoulders once more, Hala turned back and began to usher everyone along towards Iki Town. Ash just kept his determined grin and looked at his Z-Ring once more with his Pokémon. Determining for the umpteenth time that it was real, Ash walked forward and took Serena's hand. As they entered back into the forest, Ash looked back at the softly swaying bridge. Tapu Koko's voice once more entered his head, speaking words that he would end up forgetting by morning.

    Go and show me your fury. For danger is soon to come to Alola…and the world!



    Author's Note: With this chapter, the actual plot for the trilogy can begin. Between Ash getting his Z-Ring and the mysterious visions with it, the official introductions of Gladion and Lillie and the beginning of what I'm hoping to do with Ash's character, it all made for a very exciting chapter. I hope you thought so, too. Yes, it was a lot, but I hope it handled it all well.

    A quick note, however, on the battle with Hala. Ash got trashed, true, but I hope it came through that Hala was on a level far above Ash and adjusts his abilities according to the trainer he's facing. He sees Ash as an Elite Four caliber trainer, so that's what he's using. Hope it makes sense.

    I almost lost my mojo writing this chapter, so I'm glad all your words could embolden me now. Oh well, can always hope for more this time! Until next time, Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  7. #7
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    To correct things, after receiving so many well-wishes last chapter: I wrote these chapters about 2 months ago, ha ha. So when I say I lost my moxie, I've long since gotten it back. But thank you for everyone's kind words! Now, time for Chapter 5!


    Chapter 5

    An Arrival

    The plane touched down on the dew-laden asphalt that made up the landing strip. It squealed a bit as it slowed itself to a halt, the steam created in the crisp morning air puffing from its engines. The ramp lowered and those few passengers that had caught the red-eye flight to Alola stepped out, yawning and rubbing their eyes.

    James and Meowth were no exception.

    "Da sun is too bright…" Meowth commented, adjusting the sunglasses on his face. He was bedecked in a floral-patterned shirt with shorts, a topless visor on his head. "Remind me why we traveled here overnight?"

    "Because the booooooos," James yawned out, bringing the brim of his cap down to hide his eyes from the sun, "asked us to. And we couldn't exactly say no! Not when Inkay was approved to come along with me this time!"

    "Inkay!" Inkay called out, clearly happy to be soaking in the sun rays. James smiled at his companion and reached over to cuddle it tightly. Suddenly, James felt something bump up against his back and he instantly pitched forward, wanting to move out of the way of the surprisingly well-rested diva that he knew was approaching from behind him.

    "Ah, now this is my kind of region!" Jessie sang out, Gourgeist floating around her happily. James rolled his eyes in exasperation. Just a few seconds into the new region, and already Jessie was acting like this was her new home where she'd be beloved by all. Sighing a little, James took out a small bracelet from his pocket and attached it to his hand, touching some invisible buttons on the surface. "An island beauty such as myself could only belong to the Alola Region and its crystal shores! I can already picture it!"

    "Picture yaself workin' Jess. We ain't on vacation here," Meowth reminded her. James rolled his eyes again as a map of the city they were in, Hau'oli City, popped up.

    "Wobbuffet!" Wobbuffet concurred with his feline companion. Jessie, as expected, did not.

    "What are you trying to say, Meowth?" she snapped. Gourgeist sounded off angrily as well, the two leaning in towards Meowth while Jessie lowered her sunglasses to glare. Meowth didn't back down.

    "I'm tryin' to say dat da boss wouldn't be happy if he found out we were doin' nothing but sittin' around tannin' on da beach," Meowth shot back. James backed off a bit, worried that Jessie was really going to completely lose it and continued to scroll on his own through the data coming through his bracelet, including a map of the region, dossiers on their target, and information on various Pokémon native to the region.

    "You're just jealous, Meowth, because I almost made Kalos Queen last year and could do it all over again in Alola!" Jessie proclaimed, sticking her nose up in the air. The expression suited her well, but James wasn't about to tell her that.

    "Yeah…that's it…"

    "Wobba!"

    "Why don't we stop talking about this and find a suitable spot to contact the boss and let him know we're in Alola?" James pointed out. "I'm sure he's waiting to give us better instructions for our mission of taking down Team Skull and ARC." Jessie and Meowth appeared to stop their bickering a moment, blinking at him like he'd grown a second head. He worried over their possible impending outburst before both looked thoughtful.

    "James is right," Jessie pointed out, folding her arms across her tanktop. Smirking a little, she tapped her sunglasses back down over her eyes. "Well, let's go then."

    "Perfect," James said, clicking on his bracelet professionally. "There's a café we can head for. Perhaps they sell the Alolan equivalent of croissants there. You'd like that, wouldn't you, Inkay?"

    "Kay inkay!" Inkay cheered happily as James began walking forward to lead them out of the airport. He wasn't surprised when Jessie took lead, however, despite the fact she had no clue where they were going. After she'd turned a few corners in the wrong direction, eliciting some sighs from Meowth, she finally resorted to stomping her foot angrily.

    "I'm surprised it took her three times," Meowth mumbled to James.

    "Somehow, so am I," James muttered back.

    "James, just hurry up and give me directions!" Jessie snapped back, stomping over to them. Her actions garnered some attention from the residents of Hau'oli City, but James chuckled nervously, hoping to ward them off. The blue-haired Rocket operative looked to glance at the map again, only to realize that he hadn't felt something crawl up him and begin clawing at the bracelet. Well…it was more like gnawing at it.

    "Hey, get off!" James yelled at the Pokémon. It turned to look at him and seemed to smile a moment, like it was happy to be feasting on the bracelet. "That's a piece of Team Rocket's new technology! You can't go and eat it!"

    "Gruh?" James shook his wrist powerfully, finally shaking the Pokémon loose and onto the ground. Within seconds, he'd looked it up in his database.

    "A Grubbin, is it? Strange," James remarked, though he seemed to be the only one that cared what it was. "I wonder why it wants my bracelet so much."

    "Maybe it's fashion-oriented," Meowth snickered out, like he found the whole situation funny. James supposed it could be, considering that the Grubbin was making a move right for him yet again. Or, it did until Jessie snapped.

    "Whatever it is, it's gross. Get out of here, ugly!" she cried, kicking at the bug and sending it flying. There was a sudden and palpable change in the air and James began to sweat. Looking around, he noticed that the citizens of the city were all staring at them incredulously.

    "Uh…Jess…I don't tink ya shoulda done dat…" Meowth said nervously, sticking his paws up to his mouth. Wobbuffet was turning his head back and forth rapidly in worry. Jessie turned to look at James, the scowl still on her face, but the stares didn't disappear. James cleared his throat, chuckled a little and then grabbed Jessie. Before she could protest, he had the help of Meowth and Wobbuffet to race away from the scene of what they'd just done. Their group didn't stop until they'd left the stares behind and had stopped next to a large bulletin board, presumably out in front of a town hall.

    "What was that all about? !" the magenta-haired woman snapped.

    "They were staring at you like you'd grown a second head," James told her.

    "Another second dere and we coulda been dead," Meowth concurred. Jessie huffed angrily, raising her hands as though she were about to hit the both of them for interrupting her venting of rage. James looked to Meowth and both prepared to intercept the blow when Jessie stopped. They waited a few seconds for the blow that never came before lowering their arms to see Jessie staring at the bulletin board they had stopped in front of, their compatriot scrutinizing a very specific flyer on the board. "Uh…whatcha lookin' at, Jess?"

    "Ah ha," Jessie laughed out, and James could see the usual haughty smile combined with smirk begin to stretch her face. "Ahahahahahahaha!"

    "Okay, Jess is cracked."

    "She certainly seems to have gone out of whack."

    "I have not!" Jessie proclaimed loudly and proudly, ripping the flyer from the board and shoving it in their faces defiantly. James took it and looked over its contents. It was an advertisement of some sort for an event to take place in a town called Pua Town to the north. According to the flyer, it was called the Leilani Ceremony, a place for trainers to prove their worth by using their Pokémon in unique ways to claim the title of Ali'i ka Leilani. It sounded quite the prestigious award to James. "This is it! My chance to fame!"

    "It is?" Meowth asked, now jumping up and nabbing the flyer from James. "Looks like Showcases and Contests to me."

    "Of course it is! Which is why I'll make my mark on the world and become the Ali'i ka Leilani for all of Alola to worship and praise! Gourgeist will help me of course!"

    "Geist!" Gourgeist agreed, spinning in midair like a dancer. Meowth sighed, looking to James and shrugging his shoulders. There appeared to be nothing for it; whenever Jessie set her mind to anything, there was no stopping her.

    "Like you could ever win," called a deeper, condescending voice from a few feet away. James flinched, knowing just what those words could to Jessie's ego. "A hag like you obtaining the Ali'i ka Leilani. Makes me sick. You don't have a single ounce of grace in you."

    "What did you say? !" Jessie demanded angrily, whipping around to face her antagonizer. It was a boy, probably a head shorter than her, with a necklace around his neck that was adorned with flower charms. In James' estimation, he looked like he was from a posh family judging from the finery of his clothes that were all too bright. It looked a little garish, particularly with the white ascot sticking out of his blue trimmed, collared shirt. On top of it, his light clothes truly offset his tremendously dark skin, no doubt from days tanning, which was also visible on his legs below.

    "I said there's no way a hag like you could ever become the Ali'i ka Leilani," the boy said, turning to look at Jessie with a sneer. "You just don't have the grace or flair, and your companions don't look like they'd help you in that regard."

    "Why you little punk!" Instantly noticing Jessie's fit of rage, James, Meowth and Wobbuffet catapulted forward to grab her and hold her back.

    "Now's not the time, Jessie!" he warned her harshly. The boy laughed at her, wiping away tears from his eyes like he found the whole thing hilarious.

    "Man, you should see your face," the boy said before turning around and walking away. "I'd be surprised if you ever won a single Ceremony like that! Ha ha!"

    Jessie continued to struggle against their hold as the nasty boy walked away. When he finally faded from their sight into the city, Jessie finally slackened in their grip. Feeling it was okay to let go, the three males did so, but watched her with concern. For a while, she didn't say anything, and James started to worry that she'd actually taken the rude boy's words to heart.

    "That little rude twerp…" she grumbled out. "I'll show him…I'll become the Ali'i ka Leilani and kick his sorry butt. And in order to do so, I'll just have to steal the twerp's Pikachu and become the best competitor that Alola has ever seen!"

    "Da twoip? Really?" Meowth asked. This nearly earned him Jessie's ire, or at least her glare. "How can we go after da twoip if we don't even know if he's in the same region!"

    "Well…" James said, eyes sliding over to Meowth. He hadn't wanted to say it aloud, but Jessie clearly had no problem doing so.

    "Because, it's like we told him before: we're always connected. Wherever we are, he's sure to be there," Jessie pointed out, the smirk back up and running on her face. "So, here's how we'll get Pikachu."
    *Chapter to be continued in next post...

  8. #8
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    The morning dawned crisp and clear in Iki Town, Ash found, invigorating him with a full sense of life. Maybe it was the ocean breeze, or maybe it was something else. For all he knew, it could have been the Z-Ring on his wrist, glittering in the sun while they ate breakfast on Hala's porch. The man himself appeared to be absent from their morning activity, something which all of them wondered at until Kukui explained that he had likely gone to the Mahalo Trail.

    "Where's that?" Ash asked the professor while he petted Rockruff.

    "The place you met Tapu Koko at last night," Kukui explained. Ash nodded, understanding. He still felt like the previous night had been some sort of dream. Heck, he was starting to feel like the whole day that they had been in Alola was like a dream and he'd wake up in a school somewhere with Serena saying she was off in another region. He was glad that it wasn't. "So, Ash, excited about finally taking part in the trials?"

    "You bet I am!" Ash exclaimed, nearly knocking over a glass of orange juice. Serena stopped it from spilling. "I'll have lots of battles and meet lots of new Pokémon!"

    "Well, you're real fired up then! I'll have to see you off from Hau'oli City."

    "You won't be coming with us?" Clemont asked, moving his glasses up a little.

    "Nah, got work to do!" Kukui admitted, winking at them. "That and I've gotta find Lillie, my assistant. She has a bad habit of wandering off sometimes…though I don't blame her. My research can get a little…rough. I'll drop in from time to time, though. Have plans to see your first trial and maybe the upcoming Leilani Ceremony."

    "Rock!" Rockruff barked out, almost like she was laughing at the professor. Ash laughed along with her, petting her fur absentmindedly. His mind briefly traveled back to the previous evening. Gladion had been looking for someone called Lillie. He still felt he'd made the right choice in not telling him about her, for whatever reason that was.

    Shaking his head, Ash ignored those lingering thoughts and instead turned them all to the adventure ahead of him. Grinning, he downed his breakfast and the quartet quickly packed, ready to set back off for Hau'oli City again. By the time they were ready to depart Iki Town, Hala had returned from his little venture, mumbling something about "giving and taking those darn stones". Ash ignored that, as did the Kahuna himself.

    "So, your Island Pilgrimage begins…" he almost chuckled out, folding his arms across his chest. "I look forward to a true battle against you when you return here."

    "So do I," Ash told him, pumping his fist. "And we're gonna win that time!"

    "Pika!" Pikachu agreed. The others all laughed around him at his positivity and Hala appeared to agree. After a brief moment of seeming deliberation, the Kahuna held his hand out. Ash reached over and shook it.

    "Then, until we meet again, Ash." The raven-haired trainer nodded and thanked Hala. Then, sucking in a deep breath, he turned around and began to lead his friends and Professor Kukui down the slope back to Hau'oli City.

    It wasn't long before Hala was a mere speck, waving at them from a distance. Hitching his bag on his shoulders, with Rowlet resting all too comfortably inside, Ash turned his gaze back to the forest they were now entering. Bonnie was surprisingly quiet, carrying Rockruff as they walked through the forest and Dedenne slept in her bag. It appeared that she wasn't all too happy about not being awake for the exciting events last night. Clemont, too, was silent…well, as silent as he could be. Rotom appeared to do all the talking for him.

    "I just want to see the specific components that make you work!"

    "Rotom is not a plaything! Rotom is a higher being of intelligence!" Clemont had Rotom proceed to whack him on the head for that, which then caused the inventor to slam into a branch. The Ghost type appeared to laugh at that.

    "So, Professor, what does Ash need to do for his first trial?" Bonnie asked, looking up at Kukui as he walked alongside them. The professor removed his glasses a moment as he grinned down at Bonnie.

    "Couldn't tell you," he answered.

    "Aw, come on!" Bonnie whined. Kukui had a laugh at that, patting Bonnie on top of her hat.

    "I actually couldn't tell you. Ilima is the trial captain and the one who will be setting the trial for Ash. I wouldn't know what he's got planned for him. All I can say is that it'll be held in Verdant Cavern, to the north."

    "Verdant Cavern…" Serena mused, flipping open her tablet and clicking on the map. After a few seconds, she seemed to find just what she was looking for, well before a distracted Rotom who couldn't seem to be bothered with its map function. "Ah! It looks like it's a couple days' journey from here. We'll be passing by Pua Town before then."

    "Well, looks like your first Ceremony will be up before my trial then!" Ash told her excitedly. "You'll win your first Lei and then I'll complete my first trial! It works out better that way, too. I don't want to know about the trial before I do it."

    "That's the spirit! Speaking of your trial…" Ash looked up at Kukui's words, noticing that they were now exiting the forest (with Clemont nursing the bruise on his head). Before them was the Pokémon School, only, a woman appeared to be outside it, like she was waiting for them to appear. "Yo, Principal Asuka!"

    "Professor," the woman said. Approaching the school, Ash noticed that the woman was dressed professionally in a pantsuit, her features hard and fierce. It was certainly befitting (somewhat) for a woman who ran an entire school. "I'm surprised you got here as fast as you did. I wasn't expecting you for another hour or two, given the way you always used to act during class."

    "Well, Ash doesn't seem to like to wait. Kinda reminds you of someone, huh?" Kukui laughed out. The woman, Asuka, turned her head to observe Ash for a moment. He wanted to almost recoil under the gaze, but eventually she smiled and stepped forward towards him.

    "Ilima only left recently," she began to explain. Ash's eyes shifted over to Kukui, who appeared to nod, like this information was the important thing. "He wanted me to pass a message along: meet him at Verdant Cavern. He'll be there for your trial."

    "All right," Ash stated. The principal nodded, her message having been delivered.

    "Any of you care to come in for a drink before you depart, then?" Asuka offered. Ash gripped the straps of his backpack tighter, and he could see the others around him all move close, as though agreeing with his notion of wanting to move forward with their journey through Alola.

    "Looks like the answer is a 'no' to that one, principal. Though I can join you once I've seen them off," Kukui told the woman. She nodded once more, accepting his answer and turned heel, doing a power walk straight back into the school. They watched her go for just a moment. "Hm, well, guess it's time you get going, huh?"

    "Ruuuu…" whined Rockruff from Bonnie's arms. She suddenly leapt from her arms and seemed to circle around all of their legs, rubbing up against Ash affectionately. The raven-haired trainer bent down, petting her fur and scratching her behind the ears.

    "Hey, it's all right, Rockruff. We'll see each other real soon," Ash told her.

    "Ruff!" she barked back excitedly and proceeded to lick Ash's face a little before going around to all of the others. Ash straightened and looked to the Professor.

    "I'll see you off," the older man told them.

    "Wait!" Bonnie said in between giggles from Rockruff licking her. "We should call daddy!"

    "Oh! You're right!" Clemont said, his own voice exhibiting surprise and shame all at once. "In all the excitement yesterday, we didn't let any of our parents know we had arrived safely. Which also reminds me, Professor Kukui, where is Mount Hokulani? I'm due to install the Inter-Regional Communications System there."

    "Then you're a long way off from that, cousin. Hokulani is on Ula'ula Island," the professor instructed Clemont. The inventor nodded, sighing a bit.

    "Guess I'll have to tell the League they'll need to wait a while…oh well…"

    "Rotom would feel bad for Clemont, but Clemont tried to take Rotom apart," Rotom snapped at him. Bonnie rolled her eyes while Ash decided to walk forward, taking steps back into the main part of Hau'oli City.

    "Well, no use sitting around! Let's contact our parents and get moving, huh?"

    "Right! I can't wait to get to Pua Town!" Serena cheered. Ash couldn't see it, but he had a feeling that all three of her Pokémon were excited as well about the adventure ahead. He did wonder if she'd had a chance to tell them all yet, though. Shaking his head from the details, Ash grabbed onto Serena's hand and ran forward, leading their group en masse back into Hau'oli City.

    Their trip didn't last very long.

    A mechanical hand suddenly shot out of the sky, and before Ash knew it, Pikachu was grabbed, being hoisted into the air and towards a giant, and unfortunately familiar, balloon in the sky. Just to confirm his theory, however, Ash decided to ask, with a grimace on his face, "Hey! Who's taking my Pikachu? !"

    "Prepare for trouble, it's an Alolan Bash!"

    "And make it double, you're about to get smashed!"

    "Oh no…" Bonnie groaned out, rolling her eyes. Next to them, Kukui appeared rather bemused by what was unfolding before them. "Not them again…"

    "They're persistent," Clemont said. Ash just folded his arms; he had hoped that their clear and ever-present stalking of him would have been an issue resolved back in Kalos. Clearly, it wasn't the case.

    "To protect the world from devastation!"

    "To unite all people within our nation!"

    "To denounce the evils of truth and love!"

    "To extend our reach to the stars above!"

    "They're gonna keep going, aren't they?" Serena asked, and she almost sounded amused as she fingered her pokeball. Kukui continued looking clueless while Ash turned his head back, ignoring Jessie and James before him.

    "Rowlet, buddy, I'm gonna need your help," he said to the dozing bird. Said owl's eyes popped open and he shot out of the backpack without a moment's hesitation.

    "Jessie!"

    "And James…"

    "Team Rocket blast off with Alolan sunlight!"

    "Surrender now or prepare for a sandy fight!"

    "Meowth, dat's right!"

    "Wobbuffet!" Ash looked back up at them, glaring as he saw Pikachu now encased in one of their electronically produced boxes, trying to send out a Thunderbolt to break it, but failing. He stepped forward, growling up at them.

    "Team Rocket!" he snarled out at them. "So you guys are in Alola, too? Here I thought I'd gotten rid of you when you didn't even try to crash my birthday party…Give me back Pikachu!"

    "Waah waah, finders keeper, losers weepers," Jessie taunted.

    "And boy did we find ourselves a keeper!" James snickered in return. Bonnie suddenly pouted angrily, mumbling something about them stealing her line. As she did so, Ash scanned the area. He really didn't want to deal with Team Rocket interrupting their quest, and tried to search for a way to stop them as quickly as possible.

    "Wait, wait! What's this about the twerp's birthday and us not being invited?"

    "I think we'd have made great party guests," James concurred. His words only seemed to draw the line of confusion in further for the professor standing with them.

    "Uh…who's Team Rocket?" Kukui asked. Clemont was the one to step forward and answer.

    "They're a bunch of Pokémon thieves that are always following us," Clemont told him. "I never expected that we'd have to deal with them when we came to Alola."

    "We're like a bad penny smart twerp! We always show up! And our plan is perfect!" Jessie remarked, tacking on a laugh at the end.

    "You mean your plan to use Pikachu and catapult to da top of da Ceremony world?" Meowth asked, and Ash felt that his tone sounded rather disbelieving. "Or da plan to wait until we saw da twoip and den use a hand to nab Pikachu. 'Cause it wasn't much of a plan, Jessie."

    "So wait…these guys are like Team Skull, then?" Kukui asked. A loud clattering was heard up above in the Meowth balloon as James suddenly leaned forward.

    "What do you know about Team Skull, shirtless man? !" he demanded furiously.

    "What do you want to know?" Kukui chuckled out. "They're a bunch of low-down crooks who do nothing but try to take people's Pokémon. Just a bunch of guys who failed their own Island Pilgrimages and decided to be thieves instead of making something of their lives. General nuisances that no one takes seriously."

    "Hey, don't compare us with those losers!" Jessie snapped back.

    "Stop trying to take other people's Pokémon, then!" Serena yelled back, finally tossing her pokeball upwards. Braixen emerged in a flash of light, her stick already on fire and ready for the action.

    "Right, Rowlet, I choose you!" Rowlet gave a loud chirp and flew forward, flapping in the air above Braixen before landing calmly on her head. The Fox Pokémon looked up, confused.

    "Kurrr!" Rowlet greeted her. Braixen continued staring up for a while before smiling. In fact, everyone seemed to be staring at Rowlet's rather odd position. Even Team Rocket continued to stare, prompting Jessie to turn to her blue-haired partner-in-crime.

    "James, what's the twerp's new Pokémon?"

    "Hmm…" James answered and he lifted his wrist, as though hoping to actually look it up. He stopped before he could though, as if frozen in time. So were Jessie and Meowth, now that Ash thought about it. Wobbuffet, meanwhile, had placed his big blue hands by his mouth. As if horrified, James lifted his wrist and Ash saw something attached to it, gnawing at his bracelet, some string now visible from the back of the bulbous Meowth balloon.

    "Not this thing again!" Jessie screeched. Ash squinted, lifting his hat up just a little and now saw the thing for what it was: a Pokémon. And it was one he'd seen earlier, no less.

    "Rotom, what is that thing?" Ash asked of his new Pokédex, pointing up. Rotom, with no fear of Team Rocket or the Pokémon that seemed to be attached to their bracelet, flew up and decided to snap a picture. Ash's eyes widened, as did Clemont's, impressed by Rotom's ability to take pictures in its new form.

    "Grubbin, Larva Pokémon," Rotom spoke, causing Team Rocket to divert their attention from the Grubbin on James' arm. "They often gather near places frequented by electric Pokémon in order to avoid being attacked by bird Pokémon."

    "I get it…" Clemont commented. "This Grubbin must be attracted to the electrical wizardry of James' bracelet device! It must be a rather impressive piece of technology!"

    "This isn't the time to be admiring Team Rocket!" Bonnie scolded her older brother, but when Ash looked to Clemont, it seemed he didn't care. If anything, he was fascinated by the proceedings before them.

    "And it's time for this annoying pest to take a hike!" Jessie snapped. She instantly grabbed on to Grubbin and began trying to pull it off James' arm, though to no avail. "Stop interfering with our plan of stealing Pikachu!"

    "Hold on, Pikachu, we'll get you out of there!" Ash told his best friend. Pikachu sent his affirmative from within his box. Rotom floated back down.

    "Rotom reads that Rowlet knows Tackle, Peck, and Leafage!" it answered positively. Ash had no clear idea of what Leafage was, but that was fine by him.

    "Rowlet, use Leafage!"

    "Braixen, Hidden Power!" Rowlet flew upward and numerous leaves, glowing green, surrounded his figure, almost like a Leaf Storm. Then they flew out and, like a cyclone, began to circle the balloon. At the same time, the streaking silver orbs of Hidden Power darted through a gap in the leaves to rock the balloon.

    "Not fair! Gourgeist, Shadow Ball!" Jessie commanded. Gourgeist, as familiar as ever, floated forward, a Shadow Ball forming.

    "Now, use Peck!" Ash commanded. Rowlet zipped forward, just as fast as he had yesterday, his beak shining brightly, almost consuming his entire little body. The Shadow Ball fired. "Dodge it!"

    "Kuroh!" Rowlet cried, rolling to the side and then plunging into the leaves, straight through the balloon's surface. He then came flapping back around and grabbed ahold of the box Pikachu was in before making a beeline for their group.

    "Hey, give that back!" James yelled at them, only for Ash to notice that Grubbin was no longer on his wrist. It was now on the box, gnawing furiously away at the little device that was keeping Pikachu contained. Rowlet fluttered down to them, unaware of his extra passenger, just as the power to the device cut out.

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu cried out happily, dropping safely to the ground.

    "Great job, Rowlet!" Ash called to his new Pokémon. Rowlet seemed to blush, pleased with the praise, before diving once more into Ash's backpack. Turning, Ash looked to his girlfriend, who nodded back. "Now, Pikachu, Thunderbolt!"

    "Oh, come on!" Jessie yelled, but it was too little, too late. Pikachu had already stored up his electricity and sent it flying right alongside Braixen's Flamethrower. "We're barely a couple hours into Alola and this is happening? We're better than this."

    "Dis is your fault, Jessie," Meowth said, folding his arms right before the attack could hit. "You're da one dat wanted to nab Pikachu."

    "I wanted to get started on our job, but it doesn't really matter…" James sighed out. Then the combination landed, exploding the balloon to pieces and sending Team Rocket flying off into the air.

    "Cause we're blasting off again!"

    "Wobbuffet!"

    Just like that, Team Rocket seemed to disappear like a twinkle in the sky. Pikachu returned to Ash's shoulder happily and he scratched his best buddy behind the ears. Serena returned Braixen for the moment with a thanks, and they turned to Clemont and the others.

    "Uh…Clemont…" Serena commented upon catching sight of the same exact thing that Ash did. Clemont was fidgeting back and forth while Bonnie had fallen onto her back, laughing. The Grubbin from earlier was no long attached to Team Rocket's side, but was instead crawling all over Clemont, examining and gnawing at every inch of the inventor's backpack while he tried to brush it off. Of course, Bonnie wasn't the only one laughing. Rotom looked to be enjoying itself a little too much.

    "Now Clemont knows how Rotom feels!" Rotom laughed out, zipping around the area with its facial expression on its screen showing one of pure mirth.

    "I just can't get it off!" Clemont exclaimed in exasperation. Grubbin continued to paw at his pack and Ash could see parts of it sparking. His Aipom arm suddenly shot out randomly, with Kukui barely avoiding its grip as it flopped around. "Hey! Stop that!"

    "Grub grub…" Grubbin replied, almost sounding…happy? It was like he'd found an experience that he didn't want to let go of.

    "No, you'll short-circuit it!" Clemont yelled at the Larva Pokémon before suddenly having the brilliant, and very hasty, idea of ripping his backpack from his shoulders and tossing it a few feet away. Grubbin remained with it, happily covering every inch of the backpack. Ash watched it go alongside Pikachu, the little one roaming over every single nook and cranny it could find while the Aipom Arm continued to whip around wildly. "If this thing keeps going, I'll have to build a new pack."

    "Ha ha, look Clemont, your inventions explode even if you don't do anything with them!" Bonnie laughed out, continually kicking her legs up and down with glee. Ash wasn't sure it was the best policy for the little girl to take. Clemont ignored his sister and her somewhat scathing comments.

    "All right, I can't let you ruin my pack anymore! Bunnelby, let's go!" Clemont cried. Bunnelby emerged from his pokeball, ready for a battle. "Use Double Slap!"

    "Bunby!" Bunnelby cried, bounding forward towards Grubbin. The Bug type didn't even see the attack coming as Bunnelby's arms slapped against it, making it fly off the pack. Grubbin wasn't done with his fun, however, and as he tumbled through midair, he spat out a String Shot that bound Bunnelby's ears together.

    "If we can't use your ears, then use Wild Charge!" Clemont called out. Serena flinched next to Ash, and even he could agree that the move seemed like overkill. Grubbin clearly thought not as his own body sparked with electricity and met Bunnelby head on, the colliding Electric attacks showering onto the surface of Clemont's pack. "Interesting…it knows Spark."

    "Grubba grub!" Grubbin cried out, landing once more on Clemont's pack, pinching its pincers together, almost like a challenge. It was strange…almost like Grubbin wanted to battle Clemont. Maybe it was for control of his backpack, or maybe…

    "I think Grubbin wants to see if you can catch it," Kukui commented before Ash had the chance to finish his thought. "At the very least, it likes your backpack."

    "Really…?" Clemont asked in genuine surprise. Bonnie finally ceased her laughing and managed to stand up, herself. Dedenne emerged from her bag and climbed to the top of her hat while Rockruff started barking loudly. Ash looked to Grubbin, who was staring down Bunnelby as he clicked his pincers.

    "Go for it, big brother! Catch that Grubbin!" Bonnie cheered loudly, Dedenne instantly agreeing with her. Clemont seemed to blink, as though unable to believe it, but when he looked to Ash and Serena, the both of them nodded. It took a brief second, replete with Grubbin and Bunnelby in their stare-off, before Clemont adjusted his glasses.

    "Guess we'll have to do our best, then! Bunnelby, use Dig!" Clemont ordered. Bunnelby hopped upwards, spinning before diving under the ground, clots of dirt flying upwards. Ash turned his own attention to the battlefield as Grubbin continually watched and waited, furiously defending its current conquest that was Clemont's backpack. "Now, Wild Charge!"

    "Bunnnnnel!" Bunnelby cried. The ground blazed with a bright yellow light and slammed right on the side of the backpack. Bunnelby emerged from the ground, showering Grubbin with sparks. The bug seemed unaffected, but that only lasted a second before it once more blazed with blue electricity, as though it were warding off the attack. Bunnelby arced over the backpack, slamming into Grubbin powerfully. He was pushed back, but seemed just fine, scuttling for the backpack yet again.

    "Now, Mud Shot!" the bespectacled inventor ordered without missing a beat. Ash nodded his head. It had been a long time since he'd truly seen Clemont battle so fiercely when the battle didn't involve himself as well. He could really appreciate the Gym Leader's skill at moments like this. Bunnelby, like his trainer, didn't stop for a second, bounding over the backpack and summoning the globules of dirt to his now free ears, flinging them powerfully. All of the orbs struck Grubbin, sending it onto its back. "All right, go, pokeball!"

    "Yeah, go for it, Clemont!" Ash cheered. Next to him, Serena had her hands balled into fists, clutching at her shirt, almost like she was praying. Bonnie was jumping up and down as the pokeball hit Grubbin, turning him into a swirl of red light before going into the pokeball. It dropped to the ground and shook…and shook. Ash and Pikachu leaned in, peering carefully at the ball as it continued shaking before, finally, it stopped. Sparks and stars shot out from the pokeball as it stopped shaking: the sign of a successful capture.

    "You did it, Clemont!" Serena cheered happily, clapping her hands together. Clemont appeared to heave in relief before he walked forward, Bonnie right behind him. Finally, the siblings reached the now inert pokeball and Clemont picked it up. As he turned back around, Ash could see the unadulterated grin on his face.

    "It's a great success that makes science shine! I caught a Grubbin!"

    "And we'll keep it!" Bonnie cried, jumping up into the air alongside her brother happily. The sounds of applause rang out as Kukui walked forward, clapping his hands together in congratulations.

    "Very nice, cousin," Kukui said. "I'm sure you and Grubbin will be great partners, Clemont. After all, Grubbin does evolve into an Electric type, and I could tell just how into that type you are."

    "Really?" Clemont asked, now even more firmly excited than before. He quickly looked down to the pokeball in his hands as Bunnelby hopped over to him, looking up at joy for the new member of their family. "Grubbin, please bear with me, okay?" The pokeball nodded, and Ash looked to Pikachu.

    "Pika!" he said, agreeing with the look they had shared. Despite the odd and random encounter, there was no doubt that Clemont and Grubbin would be the absolute best of friends. Pumping his fist enthusiastically, Ash grabbed ahold of Serena's hand as he looked up at Kukui.

    "Well, we should get going to the Pokémon Center and say hi to our parents. I bet mom would love to meet Rowlet," he told the professor.

    "Our dad would probably like to see Grubbin as well," Clemont noted. He took out his pokeball. "Thanks for the battle Bunnelby."

    "Bun!" Bunnelby said, allowing Clemont to return him to his pokeball. Tucking both pokeballs safely away, Clemont bent down to grab his still sparking backpack and hitched it on his shoulders. Grinning at the group over his success, Clemont turned around, as if prepared to lead the group to the Pokémon Center himself.

    "Um…Clemont? Is that normal?" Serena asked, gripping Ash's hand tighter. At her words, he looked closer to what she could be speaking about, but it wasn't very hard to miss. Clemont's backpack looked almost haywire now, countless little sparks from Grubbin's activities and the subsequent battle shooting off in every which way.

    Then came the smoke, pouring out of the port the Aipom Arm was hanging loosely out of. Ash stepped back, and then Clemont's backpack exploded, covering the two siblings in acrid soot. Kukui was the first one to react. "Whoa, now, what was that about?"

    "Another day with Clemont's inventions," Bonnie coughed out, emerging from the smoke cloud. She was dirty, but otherwise no worse for the wear. Kukui looked torn between wanting to laugh and looking concerned at what had happened. Ash worried for Clemont a moment until the smoke cleared away to show him standing there, hair frizzed…in nothing but his underclothes, his jumpsuit having fizzled away from the explosion.

    "Clemont!" Serena shouted, taking her hand away from Ash's and covering her eyes. The blond inventor looked down and eeped, completely embarrassed from being so exposed in public. Ash had to wonder why; his inventions had always blown up before, but they had never left him without clothing. Though, most of all, he didn't understand why Serena was freaking out about it. "I think you need some new clothes."

    "Yeah, but why are you covering your eyes, Serena?" Ash asked her bluntly. The question seemed to have piqued Bonnie's interest. "I mean, you see me in my un-"

    "That's a totally different thing, Ash! You're my boyfriend!" Serena screeched in the highest pitched voice he'd ever heard from her, one usually saved for Miette. At the same time, she slapped her hand over his mouth and turned to look at him so she didn't have to see Clemont looking so awkward.

    "Oh…what's this about seeing Ash in his-"

    "Bonnie…" Serena said in a dangerously low voice, to the point even he got shivers. The whole conversation being wrought with tension, it was suddenly broken by Kukui laughing gaily.

    "Ah, come on, no worries, cousins. We'll just find Clemont some new clothes. Not a problem," Kukui told them, placing a hand on Bonnie and steering her towards her brother. "Ash, Serena, why don't you all head on over to the Pokémon Center. We'll catch up when we've found some good clothes for Clemont."

    "It's really not necessary…I'm sure I can repair my jumpsuit, or just fabricate a new one," Clemont said. He didn't have any choice in the matter as Bonnie had gripped his hand to pull him along while Kukui ushered him forth.

    "No way, Clemont! I'm choosing your clothes this time, and you're going to look super handsome for when Korrina sees you again!"

    "But Bonnie…" Clemont's complaints became lost in the distance as the trio moved away towards what Ash presumed was a clothing store. When Clemont had faded from sight, Serena finally removed her hands and slipped them back into Ash's. The raven-haired trainer instantly took that as a sign that it was time to go to the Pokémon Center. Shaking his head at the eventful first two days in Alola, he gripped her tighter and began taking her through the streets of Hau'oli City.

    "You coming, Rotom?" Ash asked of the floating Pokédex behind him. Rotom seemed to splutter a bit with static before floating after them.

    "Rotom is excited to see Professor Oak again!" Rotom told the two of them as they proceeded into the now bustling streets of Hau'oli City. "Rotom asked Muk to take good care of him!"

    "I'm sure you did, Rotom," Serena giggled out. It was no surprise to Ash; somehow, he felt like those two enjoyed playing around with the poor professor more than was healthy. Professor Oak would likely relax far more with Rotom on their journey with them; though he couldn't say the same for themselves.

    "You know, I'm surprised you didn't go with them to help get clothes for Clemont," Ash said to Serena as they saw the Pokémon Center approaching. "You always have an eye for fashion."

    "True, but Bonnie knows what she's doing," Serena told him. "And besides, I want our moms to know how we're doing. We're about to set off on our next adventure, after all!"

    "Good point!" A minute after this, the two, Pikachu and Rotom were striding into the already busy Pokémon Center. Ash hadn't had a chance to look at it the last time he'd been here, but he now noticed how different Alola Pokémon Centers looked, compared to some of the others he'd been in. Sure, through the window, it seemed that there was a battlefield outside, but the inside was what seemed so different. It was positively bustling with trainers and other people, no doubt due to the tiny little refreshments area that was set up in a corner of the Center, serving numerous people as they woke up for the morning.

    "Looks like the phones are free," Serena pointed out to Ash. He nodded and they made their way over. Ash gingerly placed his backpack down, making sure that Rowlet (who seemed to love to sleep a lot) didn't waken. Leaning forward, he punched in the Kantonian area codes and his house phone number. It rang for a couple seconds before the image on the screen lit up to reveal his mother, a bandanna on her head as it seemed she and Mimey had been cleaning.

    "Oh, Ash! Serena!" Delia said, quickly taking her bandanna off and seating herself upon the couch. "It seems you've both arrived in Alola."

    "Sure have, mom," Ash told her with a grin. "Sorry I didn't call sooner. Yesterday was pretty packed. I even got my first Pokémon in the region already. Say hi to Rowlet!"

    "Kurrrrrrr…" Rowlet snored out once Ash had lifted him out of the bag.

    "He looks adorable, Ash. How about you, Serena?" Delia asked kindly. Serena seemed to tuck some hair behind her ear as she leaned in to answer.

    "I don't have any new Pokémon yet," she admitted, "but I do have a plan for my travels through Alola."

    "Oh? Hold on a moment," his mother said to them, holding up her finger. Ash took the moment to place Rowlet back in his bag while Serena seemed to call Braixen, Pancham and Sylveon out of their pokeballs. They all greeted her happily while Ash watched the screen change. It was no longer just his mother's face on the screen, but that of Serena's as well.

    "Mom!" Serena called as Grace smiled up at her. "Ah, sorry I didn't call to tell you I was leaving. It was so short notice."

    "It's fine, Serena," Grace admitted waving it off. "You've become a fine and independent young woman. No need to tell me everything about your actions." Serena's face lit up, a light dusting of pink settling on her cheeks. Ash grinned at that, slinging an arm around her shoulders comfortably. "It's okay to check in once in a while, though."

    "Of course!" Serena assured her mother. "But…it'll be a while before I come home. Ash has decided to take part in the Island Trials, so we'll be exploring Alola together…with Clemont and Bonnie, of course."

    "And Rotom!" Rotom insisted, flying straight between Ash and Serena to practically smash himself against the screen.

    "Oh my, Rotom, you look so different," Delia gasped out with shock.

    "Tell Professor Oak that Rotom will come back when Rotom is done with Alola! Rotom will have many more pra…presents."

    "Rotom, come on," Ash said, grabbing the floating Pokédex and yanking him back. "So, yeah, I'm gonna do the Island Pilgrimage and become the Island Champion. I'll let you know how I'm doing, though!"

    "Pika Pikachu!" Pikachu chirped out happily, raising his paw.

    "And what about you, Serena, dear?" his mother asked. Serena brought her hands behind her back before turning to her Pokémon, while still facing both of their mothers.

    "Well…I want to take part in the Leilani Ceremony to become the Ali'i ka Leilani," she said, and Ash had a feeling it was directed towards her Pokémon as well. "I know that by doing this, I'll grow as a person and a trainer. With those skills, more people will see me perform, and I can bring more smiles to more people, and when I return home, I'll become the Kalos Queen. With all of your blessings, of course."

    "Braixen!"

    "Sylveon!" the Fairy type agreed. Pancham just opted for nodding instead, folding his arms with a grin. Having gotten her Pokémon's agreements and blessings to work together towards Serena's dream, she turned to her mother. Grace appeared to smile softly and chuckled under her breath.

    "The both of you just be safe, then," she said. "Ash, you better take good care of my daughter…in more ways than one."

    "Of course!" Ash assured her, thumping his chest proudly. "Besides, we both look after each other. We'll both return together and be the best couple of all time."

    "Or we can try," Serena laughed out. She looked a little embarrassed at Ash's proclamation, especially since some were staring at them. "I'll call you when the Hope Leilani happens, okay, mom?"

    "Sounds like a plan." After those promises and a few goodbyes, their mothers went offline, allowing the couple to retreat to a pair of benches near the front of the Center while they waited for Clemont and Bonnie to return. Serena's Pokémon all seemed excited to be taking part in something new that Serena was excited about (and he had to admit, he was excited to see her perform again), though their excitement couldn't match Rotom's. The Pokédex was flying about the Center, taking pictures of any Pokémon it could, along with their trainers. It was only when a muscly man with a Munchlax that tried to eat Rotom snapped at him, that it stopped and returned to their side.

    Thankfully, the wait wasn't too long and Bonnie came traipsing through the Center's entrance. Clemont was far slower to follow. In fact, he hadn't even entered the Center by the time Bonnie had reached them.

    "No Professor Kukui?" Serena asked. The little girl stopped, adjusting her hat as Dedenne hung on to its edge.

    "He and Rockruff are gonna meet us at the edge of town. Something about noticing his assistant, Lillie, in town and wanting to speak with her," Bonnie said with a shrug, like the issue didn't matter. At this moment, she noticed that Clemont had yet to come into the Center, and she turned towards it with a huff. "Clemont, get in here!"

    "This is beyond embarrassing…" Clemont said nervously before he finally stepped in. Ash had to blink in total surprise. He was so used to seeing Clemont completely covered up, that looking at him walking in with completely new clothes was a surprise. Serena clapped her hands together, but Ash could only soak in his attire. Clemont had traded out his blues for yellows. His polo shirt was a slightly muted yellow, with the design of a palm tree near the lapel, trimmed with blue. On top of that, he was wearing beige shorts that came down to his knees, exposing his stark white skin. Topping off the attire was a fedora with a black band that concealed his hair but accented the clothing and brought it together.

    "You look great, Clemont!" Ash insisted.

    "I bet Korrina would like it…" Serena teased the inventor. Clemont rubbed the back of his neck as Bonnie ran up to him and seemed to decide it was best to drag him over to the phones.

    "Speaking of that, we've got people to call." Clemont wanted to protest, clearly, but Bonnie was too much, and Ash saw them soon calling up their father, who remarked on Clemont's appearance and his relationship with Korrina within seconds of picking up. Ash chuckled under his breath and turned to look at Serena, who was flicking through her map.

    "Anything interesting?" he asked, leaning back on his hands. Serena seemed to finish and she closed her map, slipping it into her bag.

    "Just looking for some date spots," she responded. "Just because we're on a journey doesn't mean we can't go on dates." Ash couldn't argue with that kind of logic, and he nodded to his girlfriend with a grin. "So, I was looking, and there's a really nice spot called the Melemele Meadow that seems like a great place for a picnic. Granting, it's on the other side of the island, so we'd have to wait until my first Ceremony and your trial."

    "That's all right," Ash told her, still grinning. "It just means we'll use it to celebrate our first victories."

    "Right," Serena said, holding out her fist. Ash bumped against it before leaning forward and giving her a small kiss. When they separated, it seemed like Clemont and Bonnie were just finishing up their call.

    "…call the League and tell them it'll be a while before the IRCS is installed?" Clemont was saying. "It's just a long way off, and I want to support Ash."

    "No problem, Clemont. Just look after your sister," Meyer was saying on the other end.

    "We'll be totally fine, daddy!" Bonnie said. "Me and Dedenne will keep out of trouble and come back, ready to be an awesome Pokémon trainer!" That appeared to be the end of their conversation, because after a final goodbye, Clemont and Bonnie had backed away from the phone. Ash noticed that Clemont's backpack seemed to be fixed again, no longer sparking or exploding. Nabbing his bag from the floor, Ash stood with Serena to join their other companions.

    "We ready to go?" he asked the group. Bonnie grinned, but responded like the others by nodding. Tamping his hat down on his head, Ash spun around towards the Center's exit and ran full forward. Serena was right behind him, telling him to go straight down the street. Clemont, to Ash's surprise, was having an easier time keeping up with the group in his new attire, racing for the exit to town. There, Ash saw the figure of Professor Kukui, speaking with someone for a second. It looked to be a girl, familiar to Ash's eyes, but before they could reach him and Rockruff, the girl had bowed, waved, and taken off down the street. "Professor!"

    "Alola, cousin!" Kukui called out, waving at them. "You all ready to go?"

    "You bet!" Ash said, pumping a fist in the air. Pikachu cheered happily with him, emulating his trainer in enthusiasm.

    "It's another adventure!" Bonnie cried, jumping into the air.

    "Nothing quite like it," Clemont admitted, slightly adjusting his fedora so that his blond hair peeked out. "I can't wait to start again."

    "Definitely," Serena said, grinning from ear to ear. She stepped forward and took Ash's hand. He smiled back and reached out for Clemont's. Bonnie then grabbed onto Serena's other hand, still jumping up and down.

    "Well, Ash, Serena, Clemont, Bonnie," Kukui said as he picked up the barking Rockruff, "your Island Pilgrimages begin now. As professor, I look forward to seeing how you grow from the path before you. And always remember: you're never alone. Just as the sea needs the sky, people need each other and Pokémon to know who they are. That's the way of things in Alola!"

    "Of course!" Ash said, nodding at the professor while smiling at the puppy that barked at his impending departure. She calmed down before Kukui's last words to them.

    "Then go on! All of Alola is waiting!" he cried.

    And with all their grins together, the four kept their hands joined as they officially took their first step out of Hau'oli City and towards their next adventure.


    Author's Note: And so the adventure finally begins! There was a lot in this chapter, but I'd like to think I found a great way to make it all work. From Clemont's capture of Grubbin to Team Rocket's arrival, and the introduction of a particular recurring character for later. This was the finish of all the setup. I know that at the moment, it doesn't seem like a whole lot is going on, but considering that when compared to my other stories, this is the beginning of a connective trilogy rather than three tied-together stories, you can excuse it…hopefully. Still, now the adventure begins, and you can be sure that there is more action to come!

    Embarking on this long journey is difficult, but having all of you by my side really keeps me going strong. So, until we next meet, Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  9. #9
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    The adventure has now truly begun! I hope you all enjoy this time we'll have together on Chapter 6! Let's go!



    Chapter 6

    A Son
    "Pikachu, use Electro Ball! Rowlet, use Leafage to defend!"

    Ash's commands were enacted in short order. Keeping one eye on his Pokémon during their training, his other kept close watch on Serena and the others setting up a table for lunch. They'd already been traveling through the western route of Melemele Island for over a day, making good time as they trekked along. Serena seemed to be slightly apprehensive, if he could read his girlfriend accurately enough, but kept a smile on her face as she prepared lunch. That was no surprise; the first Leilani Ceremony in Pua Town would be the next day.

    "…chu pi!" Pikachu cried, flinging the crackling ball of electricity at Rowlet.

    "Kurrrrroh!" Rowlet called out, flapping his wings as a small cyclone of leaves formed around him. Just as Ash had planned, the whirring leaves acted as a momentary barrier. The Electro Ball slammed into the Leafage attack, burning up the leaves and sending them scattering.

    "That was awesome, Rowlet! Now, let's use Tackle!" Ash called out. Rowlet flapped around in midair, circling a bit before diving right at Pikachu, talon outstretched. At the side, Greninja was sitting next to Braixen as they watched their training session. Rowlet streaked at Pikachu powerfully. "Wait until he gets close, then dodge, Pikachu!"

    "Pika!" Pikachu called out, agreeing with Ash. He watched as Rowlet approached. Ash flicked his eyes between his two Pokémon, waiting for the potential impact. As he squinted, however, he noticed that something was different about this attack. The air was rippling ahead of itself, almost as if the Tackle was preceding Rowlet.

    "Pikachu, dodge now!" Ash cried out, hoping his order had come in time. Pikachu leapt to the side as a large force impacted with the ground in the shape of a talon. Rowlet stopped short, skimming along the ground without touching, hooting happily. "Man, that was beyond weird…Rotom, do you know what it was?"

    "Rotom is checking data files…" Rotom said aloud, circling around the table. Bonnie glared at it, annoyed with this tendency of it, as she sat at the table. Serena dodged one of Rotom's circling motions and placed a box of pokepuffs on the table. "Rotom has it! Rowlet has the ability Long Reach!"

    "Long Reach?" Clemont asked in surprise. Serena cast him an interested gaze as she sat next to Bonnie and crossed her legs. Ash caught sight of her leggings and upper legs gleaming momentarily in the sunlight before he put all his attention back on Clemont. "Long Reach is an ability that allows a Pokémon to attack with a physical-based move without even making contact if it wants to."

    "Really?" Ash said, contemplating the situation. Rowlet was flapping around in midair, happily cooing while Pikachu watched him. "That's pretty awesome! There's a lot we can do with that! Rowlet, let's go for another round and then we can eat and you can take a nap!"

    "Roh! Roh!" Rowlet hooted with joy, fluttering down to face off against Pikachu once again. Ash clenched his fist and grinned.

    "All right, use Leafage!" Rowlet flapped his wings once more, flapping them furiously as a mess of leaves emerged and blew out towards Pikachu, faster than even Ash had anticipated. Whether it was from a will to impress him or simply his own happiness at having something "special" about him, Ash was unsure, but he had to admit that he liked how fast Rowlet was moving. "Now dodge, Pikachu!"

    "Chu!" Pikachu affirmed, dodging to the side right before the Leafage made contact. Of course, Ash completely underestimated how powerful the impact of the Leafage could be. The cyclone of leaves struck where Pikachu had been, sending a powerful blast of wind outward. Clemont, busy cleaning his Aipom Arm, fell back as Grubbin popped out of his pokeball to spring for him, causing the bag to have a slightly tame explosion. Serena tamped down her skirt as the table wobbled a bit, making Bonnie cling to it. Most importantly, however, was that the box of desserts on the table were blown off, flying away down to the edge of the hill.

    "Ash, be more careful!" Serena scolded him quickly.

    "Sorry, sorry!" Ash said, smiling at her to try to smooth things over. Clemont sat back up, picking Grubbin off his machine while at the same time, another one of his pokeballs exploded with light, Chespin emerging and running for the case of desserts. He was about to reach them when he suddenly tripped over a rock, knocking into them. Their precarious position on the hill now compromised, the case tumbled and began rolling down the hill.

    "Ah! The pokepuffs!" Serena cried. Ash quickly rolled up his sleeves into his vest, subconsciously flexing his muscles.

    "I'm on it! Rowlet, after them!" Rowlet hooted and flew straight for the rolling box of pokepuffs. Ash and Pikachu were right behind him as Greninja chose to stay behind. Sliding down the hill, Ash was surprised by how far the case could travel, rolling along until it hit a stone slab inside of a fence-enclosed area. Rowlet was the first to reach it, floating down to grab it with his talons. "Thanks!"

    "Koo!" Rowlet hooted before proceeding to hit the ground and fall asleep, clearly tuckered out from training. Ash shook his head with a chuckle before bending down to scoop Rowlet up in the same arms that were holding the basket. Pikachu leapt back up on his shoulder as he straightened, finally getting a good look of the area the pokepuffs had rolled into.

    "A cemetery?" he said quietly, as if on instinct. Padding forward, Ash saw that his original observation was correct. There were rows of graves, some adorned with flowers, others with little weeds, as though they hadn't been visited in quite some time. Out of reverence for the spot, Ash hung his head, especially when he saw an older couple out in front of one of the graves.

    "Pikapi…" Pikachu commented dolefully. Ash turned his head and smiled at his partner, assuring him that he was all right. Taking further steps in, he could understand why Pikachu was concerned; it had been some time since he had been to a place with graves, and seeing them could have triggered that remembrance. Ash just smiled at it. He could now feel a connection to this place. He understood the pain that people had when they came here.

    Gripping Rowlet a little tighter, Ash continued inward, catching sight of a few others at the graveyard. He had to admit he was surprised that there were so many people here, considering that it wasn't all too close to Hau'oli City or any other town, but it seemed to prove just how close to one another the Alolans were. That was something to be admired.

    Suddenly, he heard a voice speaking, louder than the others but still quiet, and he turned. There was a boy at a pair of gravestones. He had very tanned skin, and if Ash looked closer, from the way his black hair was tied up, he looked a lot like Hala. Even his bright clothes (well, at least his orange shorts) seemed to show the same kind of colorful affinity, though it was offset by his black shirt. The boy was kneeling before the two stones, the palms of his hands pressed together as two Pokémon were at his side. One looked to be a Pokémon that he had seen in Iki Town, a Litten, he believed it was. The other was a Pikachu, though it was clearly female, judging by the shape of its tail.

    "All right, makua, makuahine, I'm about to set off," the boy was saying in a very tender tone, with an undercurrent of excitement bubbling beneath it. Ash could recognize it all too well, feeling the same kinds of emotions in himself before. "Tutu is finally letting me set off on the Island Pilgrimage after all those years of training, and Litten, Pipi and I are totally gonna become the Island Champion. Don't worry, though! We'll bring you lots of malasadas! That's a promise!"

    "Merow!"

    "Pipi!" Ash smiled at the boy's exuberant declaration. Rowlet began to snore away inside Ash's arms as he watched the boy clap his hands together a couple times before he sprung onto his feet happily. As he did, Ash could see a box of what looked almost like doughnuts sitting in between the graves with some flowers.

    "Hey, it's another Pikachu, Pipi!" the boy suddenly exclaimed. Ash looked away from the box to face the boy who was now standing before him. The Litten at his feet was circling through his legs, looking up at Rowlet with a tilted head. Meanwhile, the female Pikachu (Ash supposed her name was Pipi) was on the boy's head, looking at Pikachu with interest. "Alola!"

    "Alola," Ash greeted in response, smiling at the boy. "Sorry. I didn't mean to intrude."

    "Nah, no apology necessary! The ohana would love to have guests from time to time, even if it's strangers," he laughed out, crossing his legs and placing his hands behind his head. Pipi appeared to jump off his head and to the ground while Ash felt Pikachu also clamber down.

    "Pika?" Pikachu greeted, holding his tail out. Pipi responded by pressing her tail to his.

    "Pika!"

    "Aw, see! Our Pikachu are already good buddies!" the boy said, grinning. Ash watched him a moment. Even in a place like a cemetery, this boy seemed to exude positivity. In some way, it helped remind Ash of how important it was to put a smile on one's face and move forward. "I'm Hau, by the way!"

    "Ash," the raven-haired trainer responded. He held out his hand to shake Hau's but the boy gripped him and pulled him into a hug without warning.

    "Nice to meet you, Ash," Hau said brightly before pulling back. "Ooh…is that Rowlet? Did you get him from tutu? Are you a new trainer?"

    "I'm not exactly new, but…'tutu'?" Ash asked, a confused little grin on his face. Hau's face dropped a little, but not in sadness. It was more a look of complete and utter shock, soon replaced with a little skepticism.

    "You're not from around here, are you?" Ash shook his head. "Ah, well, my tutu is awesome! He's the best trainer on the whole island. Trained me ever since the ohana passed."

    "Wait…is tutu…you mean to say…"

    "Yep! My tutu, er, grandfather? Yeah, my grandpa is Kahuna Hala. You meet him?" Ash looked down to Pikachu and Pipi now rubbing their cheeks against each other, sharing electricity in greeting. Pikachu seemed to look happy at having a new friend, even when Pipi disconnected and ran circles around Pikachu excitedly. She was just like her trainer: excitable and fast.

    "Yeah, I battled him so he could grant me permission for the Island Pilgrimage," Ash answered the boy. Once more, Hau's face dropped.

    "You battled him? ! No way! He never battles anyone who hasn't beaten the Melemele trial," Hau exclaimed in surprise. An old man over on another row shushed him loudly and Hau just grinned in embarrassment. He lowered his voice. "That's pretty cool, though. You must be an awesome trainer, Ash. Tutu is finally letting me take part in the Island Trials this year, so I hope to battle him soon, myself."

    "Oh, so you're doing the trials?" Ash asked, continuing to grin. He felt something brush against his legs and looked down to see Litten purring as it continued to stare up at Rowlet.

    "Sure am!" Hau answered, once more, excitedly. "Too bad the ohana couldn't see me off, but once tutu gives me the challenge amulet, I'm good to go. Then I'll beat tutu and get my Z-Ring and become Island Champion." Ash shifted his eyes over to the graves there and his own smile dipped a little. There was no doubt in his mind that Hau's parents rested there. He almost wondered how they died, but felt that perhaps the detail was a little too personal. He certainly still wasn't ready to talk about how his father had died to anyone who hadn't actually been there. Suddenly, a loud grumbling noise was heard.

    "Oh…" Ash said in embarrassment, his stomach churning hungrily. Only, it seemed to be joined by another and he looked up to see Hau scratching the back of his head with the same expression. "Guess we're pretty hungry."

    "Totally…I would die for some malasadas right now…" Hau groaned out, now clutching at his stomach. Ash wasn't entirely sure what a "malasada" was, but figured he could still fix the hunger problem. "Too bad those are for the ohana, huh, Pipi and Litten?"

    "Merow," Litten responded to him, slinking back over to his side. Pipi also jumped back up, resting on Hau's shoulder as Pikachu returned to Ash's.

    "Well, why don't you join us for lunch?" Ash asked, readjusting Rowlet and the pokepuff basket in his arms. "My friend, Clemont, is an awesome cook, and my girlfriend made these awesome desserts. I don't know exactly what a malasada is, but hopefully these'll be a nice replacement."

    "Really? !" Hau asked, his eyes shining and his mouth drooling. "That sounds totally awesome…"

    "Pikachu…" Pipi said, her own mouth drooling as well. Ash just laughed and jerked his head back towards the direction he had come from. Hau grinned (again) and put his hands behind his head as they walked back towards the site for lunch.

    "I was originally gonna run as fast as I could to the Malasada Shop in Hau'oli City, but with lunch, I can take my time," Hau admitted. "See, I'm on my way back home to Iki Town to start the Pilgrimage. I mean, I started it a little differently than most since I got Litten awhile back and we've been together since then, but Pipi was my friend since I was a little kid. So, I really wanted to start the journey together with them after paying respect to my Makua before setting off. That's my parents by the way, since you're not from Alola and all."

    "I figured that part out," Ash laughed out and Hau joined in with him. He had to admit, the boy next to him was filled with such an exuberant and lively energy that it made his spirits lift and soar. "So, I guess in some way, we could be like rivals."

    "Ooh, that'd be awesome! I've never had a rival…unless you count tutu, but I don't think that really counts, do you?" Hau asked. Ash wanted to come up with an answer for him, but Hau seemed to be in the mood to pump out as much information about himself in as short a period of time. Well…either that or asking questions. "But that'd be totally cool. We can battle and compete against each other, you know, once I actually start. Does that mean you're already on your way to your first trial?"

    "Sure am," Ash answered him. He would have thumped his chest proudly, but Rowlet was still in his arms as they began the trek up the hill once more. "Other than a stop-off in Pua Town for my girlfriend, Serena, to take part in the Leilani Ceremony, we're heading straight for Verdant Cavern."

    "Girlfriend, huh?" Hau asked. It was the first time his expression was something other than grinning or general happiness. Not that he sounded sad or depressed. It was more thoughtful. "Your parents must be pretty cool to let you travel with your girlfriend. I don't have one myself, but…hmm…"

    "What?" Ash asked, stopping his procession forward for just a moment. Hau looked like he was thinking for just a moment.

    "Well, I haven't really thought about dating or anything, since I'm really into my Island Pilgrimage, but there has been this one girl. She's totally super awesome! A little weird, but I've gotten to know her pretty well over the past few months…once she stopped avoiding me, ha ha!" Ash watched Hau's face and noticed how his eyes were lighting up as he spoke about this girl. In some part, he wondered if he looked the same exact way when he thought about Serena. Still, glancing up to see where his friends were, he heard Hau continue on for a moment. "I don't think she could see me the same way, though. She's too into helping Professor Kukui."

    "Oh…well, maybe you'll get there," Ash told him. Truthfully, he wasn't really sure of what to tell the boy. Now that he thought on in, he realized that for he and Serena, things had really happened quite quickly (well, maybe to him at least) and had been jampacked ever since then. Casting around for a slight change in topic, Ash just randomly started saying, "But yeah, my mom's pretty cool about letting Serena and I travel together."

    "I'm sorry, man," Hau said in response. This prompted a look of confusion from Ash as Hau took another step forward up the hill. "Well, you didn't say anything about your dad, so…"

    "Yeah…" Ash said. He walked forward with Hau, but his mind had traveled back again. "My dad died a few months back. It was rough."

    "I get you," Hau told him. "Pretty rough for me when my makua died, but then I realized that I couldn't be sad when I had tutu and all my Pokémon supporting me, right Pipi?"

    "Kachu!" Pipi agreed. That made Ash feel a little better. More than that, though, he felt a connection with Hau that he hadn't really felt before. They had both experienced the pain of loss and grief, yet both had decided to move forward. Hau was all smiles even when he had no reason to be, and it encouraged him. Finally, the duo and their Pokémon had approached the top of the hill.

    "Serena, guys, we're back!" Ash called out. His three companions turned, and all of them had raised eyebrows at the sight of Ash's accompanying, well, he supposed Hau could be considered a friend already. "This is Hau! He's a trainer undertaking the Island Trials like me."

    "Alola!" Hau greeted. The others all greeted him with the phrase in turn. "Wow! What is that Pokémon? !"

    "Oh, that's Greninja," Ash introduced him. Greninja backed away from Hau's inquisitive nature, and appeared to blush just a little from embarrassment while Braixen laughed next to him. Bonnie suddenly jumped forward.

    "I'm Bonnie, and this is Dedenne!" Bonnie told Hau. Hau now whipped around and peered down at Dedenne with a grin. Dedenne also looked up, before deciding that Hau was uninteresting and fell asleep on Bonnie's head.

    "Pleasure to meet you, Hau, I'm Clemont," Clemont greeted the boy with a wave of his hand.

    "And Rotom is Rotom!" Rotom greeted enthusiastically. Before Hau could really greet it, the Pokédex had floated down and begun snapping pictures of Litten, who swiped out at it testily. Serena finally stepped forward as Ash moved to his backpack, placing the resting Rowlet inside and then the pokepuffs on the table.

    "Serena. Are you hungry, Hau?" his girlfriend asked, tucking some strands of her honey blonde hair behind her ear. Ash, for the oddest reason imaginable, swallowed at the sight of it. Shaking his head a little, he cleared his head from the thought. He'd been noticing how he was more captivated by Serena than usual lately. Maybe it was from their six months in Pallet Town, or it could have been other reasons, but in the back of his mind, he did wonder why it was so.

    "Am I ever! Ash says you guys are awesome at making food! Ever made malasadas?" Hau asked energetically. Serena shook her head and Ash decided to look away, not wanting to focus on her hair even more than he had been.

    "Can't say I have. Do you have any recipes?" she asked.

    "Oh, I might have one in my backpack," Hau told her, holding a finger up. He slung his backpack off and began digging through it. It sounded like a veritable mess inside the bag, though Ash had to admit that his wasn't much better (other than always knowing where his Pokémon were). Finally, after a minute of searching, he pulled out a notecard and a pokeball with it. "Here's an awesome recipe that the girl at the malasada shop gave me…she wrote some numbers on there, too, but don't pay attention to those; I don't even know what they mean. Before I forget, though, Ash, wanna have a battle? I've never battled anyone other than tutu, so it'd be great practice for the trial."

    "Yeah! Let's do some battling!" Ash agreed, pumping his fist energetically. Pikachu bounded off his shoulder to the ground. "How does a three on three sound?"

    "I wanna referee!" Bonnie called, hopping up and down on her feet.

    "No, you won't," Serena's scolding voice suddenly called. Hau turned around to face her, titling his head in slight confusion. Ash, on the other hand, pulled his shoulders up in embarrassment. He knew where this was going; it happened all too many times at the lab. "No battling until we've had lunch. You can't battle on an empty stomach, after all, and you've been training since we set up the table, Ash."

    "Yeah, I know," Ash laughed out. Pikachu deflated a bit, but perked up at the sight of Clemont bringing out some Pokémon food. Hau leaned down to both Pipi and Litten.

    "Pipi, Litten, why don't you join them for some food, all right?" Litten meowed out happily while Pipi joined with Pikachu to go and eat the feast that Clemont was presenting before them, making sure to give Chespin his own fully loaded bowl. With the Pokémon occupied with their meals, Ash and the others all took their seat at the table after pulling a fifth chair out.

    "So, Hau, tell us about yourself," Clemont asked of the energetic boy.

    And Hau had a lot to tell. Most of it was information he had already heard from the boy at the cemetery. How he was the grandson (or mo'opuna, as he called it) of Kahuna Hala. How he had been set to go on his Island Pilgrimage almost six years ago when his parents had died in a fishing accident off the coast of Melemele. He then launched into his tale about being raised by his grandfather, battling the old Kahuna from time to time, getting stronger alongside Pipi and Litten. Ash enjoyed listening to Hau's animated tales; it continually reminded him how even in the face of loss, there was something to be gained. Bonnie appeared to enjoy Hau's stories the most while Rotom slept through the entire thing muttering things like, "Hau talks too much…"

    "So, yeah," Hau said, throwing his hands behind his head and leaning back. He had finished eating at the same time Ash had, and the two boys were sitting back while everyone else finished their meals. "Now I'm just headin' over to Iki Town to start the Pilgrimage officially. How about you guys? Ash mentioned you're taking place in the Leilani Ceremony, Serena."

    "Oh, yeah, I am," Serena commented, popping a piece of food in her mouth. "I'm looking forward to the first one tomorrow. I know it's really short notice and all, but it's been a while since my Pokémon and I have done something so exciting."

    "Brai!" Braixen affirmed from her spot next to Greninja.

    "Sounds super awesome…you know, I even heard that sometimes malasadas are involved…mmm…Tutu once watched the Hope Leilani and I was drooling at the screen…" Hau admitted, patting his tummy. "I'm pretty full now, though. You guys are great cooks!"

    "Thanks," Clemont admitted, seeming a little embarrassed.

    "No probs, man," Hau laughed out. "So, what are you two on the road for, then? Being from the Kalos Region and all?"

    "My big brother is gonna install the Inter-Regional Communications System on Mount Hokulani!" Bonnie cheered out, throwing her hands into the air. Hau's face dropped a little, mouth slackening. "The League asked him to do it and he's real important!"

    "Not that important. Really, I want to support Ash and Serena while en route to my own destination," Clemont answered Hau, whose facial expression had yet to change. "They're both amazing trainers, and I want to give them all the support I can give."

    Hau continued staring at Clemont before grinning once again. "I have no idea what that all is, but it sounds pretty awesome!"

    "You're very excitable, aren't you, Hau?" Serena giggled out, placing a napkin at her lips. Ash grinned himself, taking a look at the boy next to him. Hau once more stood, pumping both of his fists into the air.

    "Yeah!" he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I get to go on an adventure with my Pokémon and meet new friends! What's there not to be excited about?"

    "I agree!" Ash said, now standing as well. "And nothing fires me up more than a good battle. What do you say, Hau?"

    "I'm up for that!" Hau said and the two trainers reached forward. Only, instead of shaking hands, they happened to give each other a high five (even if it was down below). Bonnie, too, jumped up excitedly while Clemont reined her in.

    "Just hold on a minute while we pack up from lunch, okay?" Serena asked, finishing off her meal. Ash nodded and moved in to collapse the table. Both Bonnie and Hau were practically bouncing up and down at this point, even though Clemont was trying to instruct Bonnie on something.

    "Just remember, Bonnie. You can't play favorites in calling a result," he told his little sister. Dedenne had scrambled back on top of Bonnie's shoulder while Clemont entertained Grubbin on his own. "This'll be important for when you become a trainer soon, all right."

    "Yeah, I got it, big brother," Bonnie said as everything from dinner was put away, clearing the field. Serena did so with Braixen at her side, standing next to Clemont while Ash and Hau took opposite sides of the field. Bonnie stood in the middle, ready to referee. "All right! Three on three, with the winner being whoever has a Pokémon left standing!"

    "Yeah! Eevee, let's go!"

    "Rowlet, I choose you!" Hau tossed his pokeball into the air, catching it in his hand with a grin before releasing it once more to the air. The capture device burst with light while Ash's owl flapped upward from his bag, rejuvenated from his nap. When the blue light receded, Ash saw the familiar form of an Eevee, pawing at the ground. Serena clapped her hands together, as if thrilled to see another Eevee. "This is our first big battle together, Rowlet! Let's give it our all!"

    "You, too, Eevee!" Hau said happily.

    "Evui!" Eevee cried happily, crouching down to face off against its opponent. Ash shifted his foot a little as Bonnie lowered her hand to begin.

    "Use Tackle!" both Ash and Hau happened to cry at the same time. Rowlet flapped around in the air and then shot for Eevee, his talon extended. Eevee was charging, too, on a collision course for Eevee. Ash could hear Serena and Clemont conversing as the battle took place.

    "Wait…if Rowlet is like before, then…" Serena commented while Clemont nodded. Ash grinned. It was just what he had planned on. Rowlet and Eevee were drawing closer now, but Eevee didn't stand a chance against Rowlet's Long Reach ability.

    "Kuroh!" Rowlet cried as the force from his talon struck into Eevee and sent it tumbling back, rolling along the ground. The Evolution Pokémon skidded to a stop. Rowlet stopped his further attack, looking just a little pleased with himself.

    "Okay, Eevee, fire back with Shadow Ball!" Eevee once more crouched on all fours, an inky and pulsating orb of shadow forming at its mouth. Then it whipped its head, sending the orb flying at Rowlet. "Rapid fire!"

    "Dodge them, Rowlet!" Ash called. Rowlet hooted and dove forth into the now incoming barrage of Shadow Balls. With a flap of his wings he skirted to the right before using the air currents to increase his movement. Eevee was forming them at an extremely quick pace now. Ash could tell that Hau and Eevee had no doubt practiced this move for a while; he was certainly no novice. Rowlet rolled underneath one of the Shadow Balls being fired. "Now, get in there with Peck!"

    "Eevee, let's stop 'em!" Hau said. Even in his movements during battle, Hau appeared as animated as possible, jumping up and down while pumping his fists. Ash felt he could match that, clutching his hand into a fist as he raised it up. Rowlet streaked downward, body blazing with light that came from his beak. "Baby Doll Eyes!"

    "Evui!" Eevee cried, standing back up. Its eyes suddenly seemed to change, shimmering in the light. It almost looked sad, drawing out a slight tear. Ash wouldn't let that stop him, no matter how vulnerable Eevee looked. It wasn't quite the same for Rowlet, whose Peck seemed to decrease in glow. The attack struck Eevee from a distance, but it hardly looked even scratched from the attack as Rowlet kept drilling forward.

    "We got 'em now! Shadow Ball!" Eevee opened its mouth as Rowlet made direct impact. Ash's eyes widened. Given that the attack hadn't had nearly the amount of usual force, it was no surprise that Rowlet had continued on, setting him up for the perfect hit. The orb of shadow formed and fired right off, slamming into Rowlet and flinging him through the air. "Now, Tackle!"

    "Eev!" Eeevee cried and it blasted off through the air. Rowlet was on a slow, teetering descent downward from the Shadow Ball hit, and was unable to recover in time to dodge the attack. Eevee slammed into Rowlet, sending him spiraling and spinning through the air. Just then, Hau ordered yet another Shadow Ball.

    "Come on, Rowlet! I know you can do this!" Ash called, watching his partner fly through the air. Suddenly, Rowlet's squinted eyes snapped open and Ash grinned. "All right, just like before, use Leafage!"

    "Kuuuuu!" Rowlet screeched, finally flapping his wings to get himself upright. With the flap of those wings came a storm of leaves, surrounding the Grass Quill Pokémon in a barrier. The Shadow Ball impacted with the defense, dispersing into nothing. Rowlet once more flapped his wings and sent the sharp leaves hurtling right for Eevee, who had been surprised by its attack being blocked. The leaves slammed into Eevee, driving it right up into the air.

    "And use Peck!" Ash called, throwing his fist up and sweeping it out. As the remnants of the Leafage faded away, Rowlet once more began soaring down, his beak growing. Eevee was in no place to move, however, and before Hau could call out for any command, the force of Rowlet's Peck was hitting Eevee, before being slammed physically by the attack itself. Eevee tumbled to the ground and didn't stir.

    "Eevee can't battle, so Rowlet wins!" Bonnie cried joyfully, obviously glad to have seen Ash won. Rowlet also appeared proud of himself, hooting as he flapped around the field. Ash just smiled and looked over to Hau, who was returning Eevee with a grin.

    "That was a pretty great battle for both our Pokémon, huh?" Hau asked. Ash nodded; Eevee had been quite the capable battler against Rowlet, and even though his Grass type Pokémon looked energetic, he knew that Rowlet had taken more than his fair share of good hits. "Now I want to try and even the score! Litten, it's time, buddy!"

    "Merow!" Litten called out, bounding out from Ash's side of the field. It looked up, watching Rowlet flap around with interest. Rowlet didn't take much notice, but he did stop, as if waiting for Ash's command.

    "Let's go two for two! Rowlet, use Tackle!" Ash called. Rowlet once more aimed down, talon first, for the Fire Cat Pokémon.

    "Dodge now, Litten!" Hau called. Ash's eyes narrowed in suspicion as Litten pounced to the side. The force of the talon struck into the ground. He had figured out the timing. As useful as Long Reach was, it was obvious that any prolonged battle with it could be tricky. "Now, Bite on its wings!"

    "Row!" Litten roared out, once more bouncing forward, its fangs sharp and its maw wide. Rowlet didn't have the chance to dodge before Litten caught hold of him and sunk his teeth in. Rowlet cried out in pain as Litten began whipping the little owl back and forth before slamming him to the ground.

    "Don't give up, Rowlet! Leafage! Blow it into the air!" Ash cried, throwing his hand upward, as if indicating just what his Pokémon should do. On the sides of the field, Ash could see Clemont nodding his head and telling Serena that the move would grant Rowlet some extra leeway, given it would put them both in the air. That was just what Ash was going for.

    "Rrrrrroh!" Rowlet cried out. Both his wings were touching the ground, but his cry seemed to generate the cyclone of wind around the both of them. Leaves swirled around, practically enveloping the pair, obscuring them from view. Hau didn't look concerned, digging his hands into his pockets lazily while Ash peered through the brush. It didn't take long for either to move. Wind and leaves blasted upward, carrying Litten with it, becoming visible near the top of the leafy tornado.

    "Now, go get it!" Ash cried, punching forward. Litten was scrambling around in the air as Rowlet finally pushed himself up and shot up into the sky after the feline.

    "Litten, curl up into a ball and drop!" Hau ordered. Litten meowed and quickly did as Hau asked of it. Just like that, it seemed to gain control of its limbs and began a descent on Rowlet. "Now, Scratch!"

    "Rrow!" Litten cried, springing out of its curled up position as it dove into the Cyclone. Rowlet was heading straight for it with no room to dodge. Litten's claws extended and swiped across Rowlet, sending him straight to the ground. The leaves broke as Rowlet hit and bounced along, feebly stirring from the attack.

    "Let's finish it with Fire Fang!" Litten touched nimbly to the ground and jumped forward, its fangs wreathed with all manner of flames before it bit down once more and the flames exploded around Rowlet. Ash didn't need to see the result to know what had happened. As the smoke cleared, Rowlet was passed out.

    "Rowlet's unable to battle, so Litten won!"

    "Makes sense after Litten broke out of the Leafage attack," Serena commented as Ash took his pokeball out and decided to return Rowlet, thanking him for the good battle. Down on the field, Litten appeared to be laughing. "I'm not surprised either…by rolling into a ball, it could control its movements and find the perfect time to strike."

    "That was a pretty good move, Hau," Ash called across the field to his opponent. Hau crossed his legs with a smile, his hands behind his head.

    "Thanks! Rowlet was pretty great, too," he admitted. He looked down at his own Pokémon, who still appeared to be laughing in between meowing. "Hey, we don't make fun of our opponent for losing, Litten."

    "Mrow…" Litten said, not happy about the chastisement. Ash watched the cat slink a bit before turning to Pikachu down at his feet.

    "You ready, buddy?" he asked. Pikachu nodded and bounded onto the field. Hau didn't waste any time in commanding the first strike.

    "Litten, use Scratch!"

    "Dodge it, Pikachu!" Ash called. Litten pounced, like a cat chasing after a mouse, yet Pikachu was unafraid. Litten swiped, but Pikachu jumped back. "Now use Iron Tail!"

    "Chu pika!" Pikachu called, spinning around from his position. His tail glowed bright white and slapped out, striking Litten across the face and flinging it away.

    "Now use Fire Fang," Hau said. Ash noticed that he didn't look concerned at all; whether he was going to win or lose the battle, he seemed to just be having fun. Ash liked seeing that attitude, but at the same time knew he still wanted to try and win the battle as best as he could. Litten skidded back, but planted itself on the ground before the flames erupted in its maw once more. It ran right at Pikachu.

    "Counter with a Quick Attack!" Ash yelled out. Pikachu leaned back a moment before springing forward, his blazing white light sending him on course for Litten. Litten jumped at the last second, aiming for Pikachu's tail. However, as it started to sail overhead, Pikachu rammed upward, the Fire Fang only grazing his tail. Litten flew up, scrambling in the air. "Use Electro Ball!"

    "Pika pika pika pika chu pi!" Pikachu called, his crackling orb of electricity summoned at his tail before flinging it off at Litten. The attack collided in a shower of sparks as Pikachu remained on all fours. When the dust cleared, Litten was still standing, but looking woozy on its feet.

    "Guess that wasn't enough to beat 'em. Litten's pretty hearty! But we'll take the win. Pikachu, use Iron Tail!" Ash called. Pikachu leapt forward, into the air as he spun around with his tail glowing white once more. Hau called out a command for a Bite as Litten crouched wearily on its feet, waiting for Pikachu's strike. Soon, the strike came as Litten's maw opened and clamped down on Pikachu's tail, holding him in place.

    "Yeah! We got him! Now let's use-"

    "I think you're forgetting something!" Ash said, grinning at Hau. The boy took on an expression of confusion before his eyes widened. At the same moment, Clemont gave a gasp, as did Serena; they clearly saw just what he was aiming for. "Electro Ball!"

    "Ah, man! Should've seen that coming!" Hau cried as Pikachu had a grin on his face. The Electro Ball formed at the tip of his tail, still clamped by Litten. Then it exploded outward and in place. Ash watched as Pikachu flipped back from the dust cloud, landing perfectly. From within the dust cloud, however, there was a loud thump. Hau frowned a little, both trainers knowing the result of the clash.

    "Litten's unable to battle! Pikachu wins!" Bonnie cried, jumping up and down. Even though she was clearly rooting for Ash, it wasn't hard to see that Litten was, indeed, down. Rotom floated around Bonnie's head, almost like it was bored with the battle.

    "Well, we put up a good fight there. Looks like it's all up to Pipi," Hau said, calling Litten back. At the same exact moment, his own Pikachu bounded onto the field. Despite their early, easy friendship, both of the Pikachu glared at each other, ready for what was undoubtedly the deciding match. Ash knew he didn't have to ask Pikachu if he was ready to continue. It was clear that he was.

    "Go, Ash! You can do it!" Serena called, showing full faith in him. Ash just breathed in; he was having a lot of fun battling this boy who seemed to do nothing but smile. Then he gave her a quick thumbs up, ready to battle again.

    "Pikachu, use Quick Attack!" Ash called, clenching his fist.

    "Pipi, confuse 'em with Double Team," Hau said, bouncing up and down on his heels this time. Ash had to admit surprise at the command. Multiple copies of Pipi appeared all over the field, and Pikachu seemed both confused and shocked, enough to not begin his attack.

    "Don't worry about all of them, Pikachu," Ash told his oldest partner. "Use Quick Attack and charge right through them until you find the real one!"

    "Pi!" Pikachu cried out and he once more took off like a shot. His body blazing with white light, Pikachu slammed into one of the clones and then the next, rapidly changing direction. Clemont and Serena looked to be watching on, waiting to make any comments as the battle progressed. Pikachu skidded along the grass and then charged forward once again, making way for another clone.

    "Now's the time, Pipi!" Hau called, punching both hands into the air energetically. Ash scanned the battlefield, looking for where Pipi would strike from, only for one of the clones to suddenly move and ram right into Pikachu. Pikachu flew across the field, skidding along on all fours.

    "Counter with Thunderbolt!" Ash yelled. Pikachu's body bristled with electricity and as he pulled to a stop, he let it loose, flying towards Pipi.

    "Use Discharge!" Hau called, really getting into the battle now. Their passions seemed to have caught up with one another. Pipi's body also brimmed with electricity, and that electricity shot out in an aura, making dots of sparks in the sky. The Thunderbolt impacted with it and the two attacks canceled each other out, almost glittering down on the battlefield. Turning his head, Ash saw how excited Serena looked from the display. "Keep it going, Pipi!"

    "Use Iron Tail to block it!" Ash yelled in return. As Pikachu's Thunderbolt finished, Pipi's Discharge continued, flying out towards Pikachu. He reacted quickly, however, leaping back and slamming his glowing tail on the ground. The dirt flew up and interrupted the attack, the clods of dirt sparking slightly.

    "Don't give 'em time, Pipi. Use Brick Break!"

    "That Pikachu knows Brick Break? !" Clemont asked loudly in surprise. Ash could admit that he was a little surprised, too, but it would do neither him nor Pikachu any good to panic in the situation. Pipi moved fast, her paws glowing white as she dashed through the dirt and brought her glowing fist down on Pikachu's head, slamming him into the ground before gaining distance between them. Hau punched his knuckles into his palm, cracking them with a grin.

    "My tutu is the best Fighting Pokémon trainer around!" he told them all with his grin. "Of course he was gonna help Pipi learn a fighting move."

    "Pretty good, I gotta admit," Ash said with a chuckle, rubbing at his nose slightly. "But we have our own tricks up our sleeves, you know? Quick Attack!"

    "Pi-ka!" Pikachu cried and he blasted forth, once more aiming for Pipi. Ash grinned across at Hau, who grinned right back as he ordered his own Quick Attack. Pipi was surrounded by her own white aura, diving at Pikachu. The two Pokémon collided, blowing each other back before clashing once more.

    "They're so fast," Serena noted, watching as Pikachu and Pipi collided time and time again. To anyone else, they could have been seen as white lines zipping around the battlefield, intersecting from time to time. Judging from Clemont's concerned sigh, though, Ash could tell that he and they knew what to look for. Hau was a little faster, though.

    "Brick Break! Knock it up!" Hau ordered. Pipi moved fast, coming out of her Quick Attack with a shining fist. Pikachu ran straight for it as Pipi came upward, slamming her fist into Pikachu and knocking him into the air. "Now's our chance to strike, Pipi! He won't be able to counter us effectively in the air."

    "You sure about that? Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!" Ash called, sweeping his hand out. Hau's mouth dropped a little as Pikachu spun in midair and sent a searing bolt of electricity flying outward to impact with Pipi. The female Pikachu buckled under the attack, dropping to a knee as Pikachu began to fall. Ash squinted; Pikachu was starting to look pretty tired. "Pikachu's gotten really good at firing Thunderbolts from midair…and really great at raising his speed. Quick Attack!"

    "Pikapika!" Pikachu cried out, using his falling momentum to speed up his attack. Like before, he quickly became a blur of white lines. However, despite his growing exhaustion, Ash could also see Pikachu speeding up, far too quick for Pipi to keep up with. Pipi turned every which way, confused by the appearing and disappearing Pikachu. Hau, however, kept his clear head.

    "Don't worry, Pipi. Use Double Team, 'kay?" he said. Pipi took confidence from her trainer and the numerous clones began to appear around the field again, somewhat unmoving as they waited to see where Pikachu would strike from. Ash had different plans.

    "All right, Pikachu! Let's finish this! Use Electro Ball and make it real big!"

    "Of course!" Clemont cried out, clapping his fist onto an open palm. "Electro Ball gets even bigger the faster Pikachu gets."

    "So that means…."

    "Pika pika pika pika pika pika pika pika…CHU PI!" Pikachu cried. Ash could see yellow now mixed in with the white, and soon, Pikachu had leapt overhead, like a shadow that consumed the Pipi doubles. At the end of his tail was an entirely massive Electro Ball, crackling and pulsing before he flung it down. It slammed into the field, and when the small residue of smoke that resulted from the attack had lifted, all they saw was a singular Pipi, wobbling on her feet. Pikachu landed, and then Pipi slumped to the ground.

    There was silence for but a second.

    "Pipi is unable to battle!" Bonnie said with the greatest amount of enthusiasm. "That means Pikachu and Ash win!"

    "Dene!" Dedenne cheered with exuberance. Pikachu slumped a little following the declaration of victory. Ash laughed and walked forward.

    "You all right, buddy?" he asked. Pikachu nodded, though even Ash could tell how exhausted his partner was. Turning his head a bit, he saw Serena approaching him, tossing over an Oran Berry. Thanking his girlfriend, Ash fed it to his brave Pokémon. At the same time, he noticed Greninja standing idly by with his arms folded. "Sorry, Greninja. Guess you'll have to battle another day."

    "Nin…" Greninja commented, nodding his head. Glad that was sorted out, Ash turned to Hau, who was picking up Pipi and cradling her. He was still smiling, like he wasn't upset at all that he'd lost.

    "You were totally awesome, Pipi," he said to his Pikachu. "They were just faster than us…Your Pikachu is something else, Ash."

    "Maybe," Ash admitted. Pikachu seemed slightly recovered now and hopped onto his shoulder. "We've just been together a long time. I trust him like no one else."

    "Well, it shows! That was a great battle!" Hau said, walking forward. Ash stood as the boy held his hand out, his face perpetually grinning. He nodded and reached forward, gripping it tight, almost like a promise to battle again. "Shame we lost, but we had fun. That's what matters in a battle, right?"

    "Definitely," Ash said. The two rivals moved in towards one another, their eyes gazing towards each other. It was a silent promise, but a promise nonetheless: they'd each go their own way and grow, becoming stronger and stronger before facing one another again, just like rivals would. "I bet you'll be even more of a challenge next time. After all, we're rivals now, right?"
    "Totally are," Hau said. Pipi leapt back on top of his head proudly while Hau put his hands behind his head. "But we're friends, too, right?"

    "Of course we are!" Bonnie cried, leaping up and down. She looked over to the drooping Rotom, who seemed to have the tendency to fall asleep at Hau's voice, and got a sly expression on her face. "Even Rotom would consider you a friend."

    "What? Friends? Rotom does not compute!" the Pokédex called, and even Ash could tell it was lying. Still, he faced Hau once more as their whole group gathered around.

    "So, you're heading back to Iki Town from here?" Ash asked. Hau's eyes shot wide and he looked around frantically before dashing for his backpack. Ash walked close to Serena and watched him with confusion as he scrambled around like a madman, gathering his backpack and pulling out a map, like he was checking the time.

    "Aw man! I got so involved in the battle I forgot that I had to get to Hau'oli City before the evening! There's a three-for-one malasada special and I promised tutu I'd pick some up for him!" Hau was crying frantically. Pipi shook her head atop the trainer as he searched through his backpack and made sure he had everything he needed. "Sorry, guys, but I gotta get moving. Good luck with your first trial, Ash. I hope we meet again in time for me to watch you battle tutu. After battling you here, that's something I need to see!"

    "Well, maybe Hala will send you a message," Ash said, once more clasping his new rival's hand. Hau grinned again.

    "I'll ask him, too! See ya around, Bonnie, Rotom, Clemont, Serena! Alola!"

    "Alola!" they all called out, but Hau was already racing his way back down the hill, waving to the group of them as his trail of dust billowed out behind him.

    "He was certainly an interesting person," Clemont chuckled out.

    "Rotom has other words…" Rotom stated while Bonnie pouted at the machine.

    "You don't have a sense of humor, Rotom!"

    "Of course Rotom does! Why did the Torchic cross the road?" Ash drowned them out, continually staring at the boy disappearing into the distance. Serena was doing the same, and when Ash turned to look at her, he once more found himself mesmerized by her flowing golden locks.

    "Guess you're next, Serena," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. She turned to him with a light smile. "Let's get to Pua Town and have you win that first Ceremony."

    "Right," Serena stated. Pumping her fists a little, Serena stretched her arms to the sky, her shirt riding up just a little bit. Once more, Ash had to stop his swallowing, replacing it with some chuckles. "Let's get moving!"

    "Yeah!" Bonnie called. Ash agreed with the notion, and the trio returned their Pokémon before packing up. Ash cast one last look back, noticing that Hau had now entirely disappeared. Smiling to himself, he realized that it didn't matter. Hau had left a piece of his sunshine behind, and Ash knew he couldn't wait until the day they would meet and battle again. With that happy resolve, he and his friends once more set off on the road for Pua City.



    Author's Note: Sunshine boy is here! I absolutely adored Hau in the games and, honestly, always knew he had to be in this fic. Naturally, he's one of Ash's main rivals, and quite the formidable one at that. Considering that the Ancienverse Ash stems from XY, it would mean that his opponents would also need to be formidable, so I explained that Hau trained with Hala from a very early age, making him a pretty great trainer despite just starting on his journey. However, obviously, Ash is still a cut above him, taking him out 3-1.

    There was quite the bit of exposition for this chapter since I had to introduce another character, but I hope I did it well. I wanted this connection for Hau and Ash through losing a parent and also, just, the two of them being similar to one another. I mean, Hau is just a zanier version of Ash who loves to smile, really. But regardless, I hope you enjoyed the battle as well; it was the first 3v3 battle I had to write, so I hope it turned out nice. Next up is the first Leilani Ceremony!

    All of you embolden me forward. Until next we meet, please do Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  10. #10
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    I want to take this moment to remind everybody that this entire trilogy was conceived, planned (and a huge chunk written) before much of the Sun and Moon anime aired. Therefore, things are very different. What does this mean? I'm politely asking you to stop asking about Mimikyu, Bewear and Mareanie…because they're not going to show. Now, that out of the way, time for Chapter 7!


    Chapter 7

    A Ceremony

    Serena couldn't sleep. It wasn't that she didn't want to, or that she was nervous. It was just little things, taking up her brain as she tossed and turned next to Bonnie in their tent, the blonde girl oblivious to the goings on around her. Sitting up, Serena breathed in, steadying herself and hoping it would help her get to sleep.

    She sighed, though, knowing that it would be impossible. Too much had happened in the three days since they'd arrived in Alola, and tomorrow was only going to get busier with the first Leilani Ceremony. Emitting one more sigh, Serena unpeeled her sleeping bag from herself and unzipped the tent, stepping out of the tent quietly so as to not disturb Bonnie or Dedenne. The soft sound of the ocean, which could be heard practically anywhere on Melemele, reached her ears and she walked forward, leaving the tent open a little.

    Padding forward across the soft grass, Serena came to stand at a point that overlooked the waves lapping against the rocks below. Looking further to the north, Serena could see bright lights in the distance: close enough to be obviously visible, but far enough away that reaching there would have required most of the night. Pua City…she thought to herself. The sight of the first Leilani Ceremony. The true start to her adventure in Alola.

    I want to see you walk the road of the Ali'i ka Leilani. See your dream at the end. Miss Akela's words entered Serena's head and she clasped her hands together, as if praying. She couldn't understand what the violet-haired woman had meant by "see her dream at the end". It sounded a lot like what Hala had spoken to Ash, and it left her just as confused. She breathed in.

    "I know my dream," she spoke aloud to the surf and starlight. "I'm going to become Kalos Queen and return all the smiles to those who lost them. Just like Reeree."

    "And the Ceremony will help you do that, right?" said a soft voice from next to her. Suddenly, she felt someone hugging her from behind, and though she tensed for a moment, she knew only one person would actually be so daring enough to do that (well…two people, but the other wasn't here, thankfully). Knowing that, she relaxed into the hug and nodded.

    "That's the plan. Though what's with you, Ash?" Serena asked, reaching over to clasp his hands. They felt warm, and made her own skin feel even warmer through her pajama shirt. "You're not usually this…affectionate."

    "I can't hug my girlfriend?" Serena smiled at his answer, but decided to step away from his hold, turning to face him. "I just couldn't sleep. That battle with Hau was really exciting, and knowing he's Hala's grandson got me really fired up. Then I saw you out here and figured you wouldn't mind some company. That okay?"

    "Yeah, I really appreciate it," she told him. Nodding, Ash gripped her hand and the two of them sat down on the grass, watching the waves still going back and forth. Pursing her lips together a little, Serena thought of asking a rather daring question; one she never would have asked in any other person's presence. "Ash, have you ever considered where we're going from here?"

    "Uh…to Pua Town?" Ash asked, chuckling. She shook her head as she giggled a little.

    "No," she insisted. "I mean, you know, the two of us. I love traveling with you, and being with you, but there's gotta be something more to move forward to. Like…a family or something?"

    "Whatever you want," Ash told her. She was surprised by that, looking at him as he suddenly wrapped an arm around her. Serena was always surprised by how much more comfortable he had gotten with the physicality of their relationship in the last few weeks. "It's a journey I'm willing to walk with you. But for now, we've got your Ceremony. I know you'll do great!"

    Serena didn't say anything in response to that. She just leaned over, cupping Ash's face and kissing him. He returned the kiss, the two falling onto the grass. They only kissed a moment longer, but only so their bodies could finally claim them in sleep, resting upon the field. Neither returned to the tent that night, sleeping next to each other in contentment.


    Dawn came sooner than expected, and though Serena didn't want to, she found herself waking up in Ash's arms from the rays of the sun. Lightly waking him from his snores on the grass, the two returned to their tents before Clemont and Bonnie could awaken, quickly getting dressed. In fact, by the time that the two siblings had awoken for the day, Serena had already made breakfast and gotten to training on her routines with her Pokémon.

    "Looks yummy!" Bonnie had exclaimed, herself and Dedenne shoveling their food in. Rotom watched her like she was some beast in the wild and it was recording a documentary. Clemont ate more deliberately, watching Serena carefully. She wondered, in some part, if he knew that she and Ash had slept outside for the night or whether he was worried for her upcoming Ceremony. However, he said nothing, and before long, he and Ash were breaking down the tents, and on the road to Pua Town.

    Every step brought the small town on the horizon ever closer, and by the point that it wasn't even mid-morning, Serena no longer needed the map to get to the town. In fact, they were practically on its doorstep, Bonnie running ahead excitedly.

    "Look at all the pretty flower fields!" Bonnie jabbered on excitedly. Serena ran forward, aiming to join up with the young blonde girl. The flowers surrounding them really were pretty or just downright beautiful. From hibiscus to rafflesia, it was a complete cornucopia of flowers that seemed to ring Pua Town. It put a nice accent to the small town on the western shores of Melemele Island.

    "Rotom…what are all of those Pokémon?" Clemont asked, and Serena turned her head. There were little yellow and white Pokémon fluttering over all the flowers, and as they walked onto the small cobblestone path towards the row of wooden houses, Serena could see the various town residents holding up baskets for the Pokémon.

    "Cutiefly, Bee Fly Pokémon," Rotom said, snapping a shot of them from their distance. "It feeds on the nectar and pollen of flowers. Because it's able to sense auras, it can identify which flowers are about to bloom."

    "So they're like flower Pokémon in a way…" Ash commented. Pikachu jumped off his shoulder, aiming for the flowers. One of the Cutiefly descended.

    "Cutie!" it cried charmingly, whizzing over Pikachu's head in circles. Pikachu pawed at Cutiefly, but it eventually settled on floating to an impatiens and resting there. Pikachu sighed and returned to Ash's side, running alongside him on the ground. Some of the locals raised their hands and waved with a hearty "Alola!" as the quartet proceeded into the center of town.

    The closer they got, Serena could now see what looked like a big, open-air building where the Ceremony was no doubt to be held. People, well, townsfolk that weren't working, seemed to be heading there to watch it. Serena picked up the pace, tamping her straw hat down, its ribbon flying out slightly. The cobblestone path split off into paths of sand and dirt. It was such a different place from Hau'oli City. All of the city's streets had been paved, but in this town, just the main street seemed to be. Not that it mattered as the whole place was practically exploding with color. Flowers hung from every place and door while Cutiefly buzzed around and other Pokémon all ran across the roads, doing tasks for the day. It was fitting of a place holding the Leilani Ceremony.

    "All right! Let's do this!" Serena said, throwing her fist into the air powerfully. "Time to win the first Lei!"

    "Yeah, with your skills and all of your Pokémon, you'll definitely win!" Ash proclaimed, putting a comforting and encouraging hand on her shoulder as they walked into a wider area. It was sort of like a square, but more akin to an assembly spot for the building that would house the Leilani Ceremony (also made of wood, like the rest of the town).

    "Plus, Serena's always really pretty on stage, right Ash?" Bonnie asked, slowly sidling back to elbow the raven-haired trainer in the side. Ash looked down at her and grinned.

    "Of course she is, but I don't see how it applies to the Ceremony. She has to win it with her Pokémon, right?" he asked. Bonnie sighed, yet also looked content. Serena just giggled, not even bothering to blush from the comment. Ash removed his hand as Serena gave a look to the large wooden building. It was hard to tell from where she was, but if she peered just enough, she thought she could see chairs and a stage, along with something beyond the open stage. Before she could step closer to look at it, a voice interrupted her gaze.

    "She won't win like that," the voice said. Serena found herself and her companions stopping, each of them turning to the source of the voice. It was a boy, dressed in fine clothes with dark skin. He was seated on a nearby wooden bench, a Pokémon in his lap that he was stroking. Ash stepped forward.

    "Whoa…that looks like a Vulpix but different!" Ash said excitedly. Bonnie's eyes lit up and she came forward with Ash to look at the strange Vulpix that the boy was brushing almost obsessively. Rotom zipped forward, information on the tip of its tongue.

    "Vulpix is a different type in Alola!" Rotom said happily. "In Alola, owing to some effects of Mount Lanakila, the Vulpix in Alola are known to be Ice type rather than Fire type. This has been observed in one other species! Rotom will take a picture!"

    "It looks so cute!" Bonnie cheered. Both the young girl and machine moved forward, only for the boy to stick his leg out and kick Rotom back into Bonnie. Serena's eyes widened in surprise while Ash moved to catch the two of them before they could fall to the ground.

    "No touching Vulpix!" he said nastily. "She doesn't need to have your filthy hands all over her fur. Isn't that right, Vulpix?"

    "Vuuul!" Vulpix yawned out, as if completely bored with the proceedings. Serena narrowed her eyes while Ash glared at the boy.

    "Hey, that was rude," he said. "All you had to do was say no. You didn't have to kick Rotom." The boy turned his head to Ash, surveying him a moment before sliding his eyes over to Serena and then back again. He shrugged and took out a pokeball, returning Vulpix to it. Then he stood. For a second, Serena thought he was going to go talk to Ash and sneer at him. Only he walked by, completely disregarding him.

    "I don't want ugly things near me or my Pokémon…but you, my dear…" the boy said. The sneer on his face had transformed into a smirk by now as he sidled up to Serena and put a hand around her midsection, drooping dangerously low. "You could have the potential of winning the Ceremony for sure…if you separated yourself from such ugly people."

    "Wh-what?" Serena choked out.

    "Hey!" Ash shot back, himself and Pikachu having let go of Bonnie and stepping forward defensively. He wasn't the only one. Neither Bonnie or Rotom looked happy at being called "ugly". Clemont seemed to remain indifferent, but he was glaring a little. The boy ignored them all.

    "I mean, you've certainly got it: beauty, grace…have someone like me by your side and you and I could be one hell of a pair. I'd even let you be the Ali'i ka Leilani if that's your heart's desire."

    "Sorry, but Serena's capable of doing that on her own!" Ash said defiantly. Serena snapped back to reality a little, realizing just where the boy had his hand and she stepped away. "She doesn't need you to become the Ali'i ka Leilani. And besides…she has me!"

    "Ash…" Serena said, drawing closer to him. He looked unhappy; it was a strange expression on his face to be sure. For the first time, Serena thought that Ash was actually acting…jealous. "You're right! I can become the Ali'i ka Leilani. But it's rude of you to say such mean things and not even give us your name!"

    "Of course…how inconsiderate of me, Serena," the boy said, bowing just a little. Serena didn't like the way her name was spoken by the boy, like something to be possessed. Ash put his arm around Serena and seemed to pull her close. She didn't mind, but it was odd to see him so possessive for a moment (though she understood how he felt with Miette trying to make a move every five seconds she used to be around Ash). "It's Keoni, a fellow participant in the Leilani Ceremony."

    "Keoni…I'll remember that," Serena said. Keoni appeared to take it the wrong way, bringing a smile to his face. She didn't like the way it looked so leering, as though he felt he had made some sort of advances. Ash's body shifted defensively.

    "Glad to know I'll be on your mind then, beautiful," he said before winking at her. "Guess we'll be meeting in the Ceremony then. Alola."

    "A-Alola…" Serena muttered in response. Keoni turned around, and with another disdainful look at Ash, stalked off towards the Ceremony Hall. Serena could feel her boyfriend continually tensing next to her, clearly not liking the way Keoni had spoken to either of them. Bonnie stepped forward, grabbing on to Rotom, who was still recovering.

    "I don't get it…does he want to be your rival or your boyfriend?" she asked. That made Ash pinch her arm accidentally. He seemed to realize what he was doing and finally let go, wearing an apologetic look. Serena noticed he was glaring, too, and hoped to put his mind at ease by touching his shoulder. It appeared to work; not like she would ever go for someone who mistreated her friends, especially when the one she loved was right next to her. "Well, whatever. He's a jerk. You have to beat him Serena."

    "Maybe Serena should get registered first," Clemont suggested. Serena blinked; in the midst of the encounter with Keoni, she'd completely forgotten about it. Shaking her head, she stepped forward, mouthing word of thanks at her inventor friend for allowing them to move past the situation.

    "Good point, Clemont! Let's go!" Serena said positively, walking forward and taking Ash's hand. They'd only made it halfway across the area when a great bird call interrupted. People in the area looked upward and noticed a Pelipper descending. Something was inside the bird's giant beak, barking out at them. "Is that…?"

    "Alola, cousins!" Kukui's voice yelled at them. Ash let go of Serena's hand to raise both of his to the sky, waving at the descending professor. It seemed like such a short time ago that they had parted ways in Hau'oli City (which, incidentally, she realized was the day before yesterday). "Told you I'd be coming to the Ceremony!"

    "And well that you should, professor," said yet another familiar voice to Serena's ears. She turned to see the violet-haired and striking figure of Miss Akela walking with purpose towards Kukui from the Ceremony Hall. This time, she was wearing a floral patterned dress, her perfectly manicured hands resting on her hips. "We have much to discuss. You know that, right?"

    "I know, Akela!" Kukui chuckled out. Rockruff bounded out from the Pelipper to tackle Ash, licking his face. Ash joined in by laughing, claiming he was glad to see Rockruff while Serena looked to the far more interesting interaction of Kukui and Akela. "Just because you were an fellow classmate back in the day doesn't mean anything now."

    "Of course not," Akela sighed. "But given the state of things, don't you think it's high time we finish preparations?"

    "Yeah, yeah," Kukui laughed out, clearly not caring. Akela frowned at him before turning to Serena. As she did so, the Performer could have sworn that she saw a very familiar magenta-haired woman entering the Ceremony Hall. Serena looked back up at Akela, noticing the corners of her lips turn upwards.

    "So, you decided to participate after all?" she asked. Serena wasn't sure if she should say anything, so she nodded. Offering a smile, she turned away. "Well, I look forward to your upcoming Ceremony. I'll be in attendance, as will my younger classmate."

    "By one month!" Kukui said as Akela seemed to suddenly grab onto his ear and begin dragging him off to the Ceremony Hall. Serena shared a look of nervousness between her friends; Kukui could be quite the odd professor when the situation called for it. "Ah, Rockruff, you seem to want to stay with them while I'm away! Take care!"

    "Will do!" Ash said, sitting up to take Rockruff in his arms as she barked once in agreement. She looked happy, barking yet again and licking his face. Ash finally stood and looked to Serena. "Weird, huh?"

    "Not too weird," she commented. She thought of explaining her meeting with the woman earlier, but simply watched them as the woman pestered Kukui for news about a person called "Burnet". "Anyway, let's get going."

    "Oh, right…" Ash said, scratching the side of his face. Serena giggled and once more stepped forward, hoping to make it to the Ceremony Hall, this time, without interruptions. Thankfully, that became the case, with Ash and Clemont running out to look at the stage once they were inside (though for entirely different reasons). Bonnie tugged on her shirt once the two boys had left them, with Rotom floating around, snapping pictures of every Pokémon it could find.

    "There, Serena," Bonnie pointed to a receptionist.

    Serena smiled at Bonnie and walked forward. There were plenty of others at the registration desk, from young boys to older women alike, all seemingly trying to sign up. At the front of the line was Keoni, who looked entirely disdainful of even the receptionist. When he caught sight of her, though, he winked. Serena shivered and got into line behind the magenta-haired woman from earlier. She turned her head and noticed two others off to the side, lounging on a couch, and the pieces put themselves together in her mind.

    "Jessilie?" she asked tentatively, hoping to not be mistaken. The magenta-haired woman whipped around, looking almost freaked out.

    "Twerpe….er, Serena, right? What do you want?" she said, just as haughtily as ever. It was a trait she was used to seeing on Jessilie, and made her feel almost right at home. Even if all her other rivals wouldn't be here in Alola with her, she still had one that was familiar. In some way, it almost made her a friend.

    "I'm so glad to see you here!" Serena said excitedly as the line moved up, taking the woman's hands. Jessilie blinked at her, like she had no idea what was going on. "I thought you'd be in Kalos, aiming for the title of Kalos Queen again."

    "Pfft, as if the world could contain my beauty!" Jessilie said, flinging her arm back like some kind of diva. Serena was forced to let go of her hands and watch her. "No, I'm here in Alola to obtain the title of Ali'i ka Leilani! I won't let anyone stand in my way!"

    "Neither will I. Maybe this time, we'll meet in the finals, instead!" Serena said, retracting her hands but holding one out. Jessilie appeared taken aback by such an offer, but eventually smirked and grabbed hold of it, drawing her in. The two rivals nodded and then separated as Jessilie was called forward to register.

    Serena breathed in. She was really here, at the foot of another adventure for herself. Ash and Clemont, Pikachu and Rockruff between them, were looking and pointing out towards the stage while Bonnie ran after Rotom like a mother hen with Dedenne's help. After a moment of exhaling, Serena stepped forward. Jessilie shot her another challenging smirk as she departed. The receptionist smiled at her and Serena grabbed her old Pokédex for identification along with the card Miss Akela had given her.

    "Registered. Serena from Vaniville Town in Kalos. Current Leis, zero. Accepted for Melemele's Pua Leilani Ceremony," the receptionist said, handing over a very small box to Serena with three separate indentations in it. "This is the box where you will keep your Leis if you've won any. Do note, you can only win one Lei on an island. So, if you win today's Ceremony, you'll no longer be able to participate in another Ceremony on Melemele."

    "Understood," Serena said. She didn't need to ask how many Leis were needed to enter the Hope Leilani, so she chose to ask a separate question instead. "I just want to make sure, what's the flow of the Ceremony?"

    "Oh," the receptionist said, looking surprised. Still, she smiled and pulled down a small screen behind her desk, as if to educate her. Serena had the distinct feeling that she got this question often from new participants, making her feel a little better. For all her research, she hadn't been able to find how everything worked beyond the names of segments. "So, the Ceremony is split up into three portions: Course, Performance, Battle.

    "In the Course, the trainer demonstrates their bond with their Pokémon by proceeding through an obstacle course of some nature, sometimes to collect items, other to just be one of the first ones to reach the end. The tasks vary depending on the Ceremony, but only four to eight trainers proceed to the Performance round. In that round, the trainer demonstrates their wisdom of the ancient arts of dancing with their Pokémon, judged by a panel. Should their score pass, they will move into the battle round…which is really quite self-explanatory, however, we have a twist: the trainer and Pokémon will be rated by flowers! For every move the judges find beautiful, you'll receive a flower. For every move not, dodging, blocking, or any attack, you'll lose a flower. The goal is to earn enough flowers before your opponent to win the battle.

    "Make sense?"

    It was certainly a lot to take in, but Serena found herself nodding. The Course section was no problem, she hoped, given she'd done something similar to it before (and all her physical training through the recent crises would certainly help). Performance was right up her alley, even if it was determined by judges. It still didn't sound quite like the Contests that Dawn would talk about, though, and that slightly relieved her. Battles would be the only tricky part, with all the rules, but when she remembered how the final day of the Kalos Team Tournament was judged, she felt better. Breathing a little, she nodded her head at the receptionist. "Yes. Thank you very much."

    "Roll call starts in half an hour! Better get ready!" she called. Serena nodded to herself and began walking back over to Ash and Clemont, taking note of where Jessilie was heading to: the prep room. Bonnie and Rotom were once more crossing back to meet up with them.

    "All set?" Clemont asked. Serena nodded.

    "Yeah! Go, Serena! You'll win! You'll win!" Bonnie cheered happily.

    "Considering Serena is one of eight contestants, Rotom predicts she has a twelve-point-five percent chance of winning," Rotom said smugly. Bonnie immediately punched it on its backside. Serena, however, turned to look at Ash who was looking at her with a serious expression. He held his fist out, and Serena got the message. It was not time for a couple's affection. It was time to win. She returned the fistbump.

    "We'll be cheering for you from the stands, non-stop!" Ash told her.

    "I'll be listening," she responded. Taking Bonnie into an impromptu hug and offering a nod to Clemont, Serena turned and headed for the changing room. She had been able to look up the dress code for the Ceremony, which really seemed to be an anything goes situation. Knowing that, she chose to stick with her performance dress. Entering into the prep room, Serena could see Jessilie with her Wobbuffet and Gourgeist, her legs propped up on the prep table. Thankfully, Keoni was nowhere to be seen. One thing Serena did notice, however, was how empty the place was. It was nothing like a Showcase, though that was probably due to the smaller town.

    Either way, she went behind a partition and quickly changed, breathing in with anticipation. Then she grabbed all three of her pokeballs, calling out Braixen, Pancham and Sylveon.

    "This is it, you three," she said to them. Braixen popped her stick out, and Serena grabbed it, just as they had before the Master Class. Sylveon extended her feelers while the other three all touched the branch. "This is the next step towards our dream. We'll work together and bring more smiles to everyone, especially the people in Alola. It all starts now."

    "Brai!"

    "Sylvie!"

    "Cham!" With that, Serena lifted the stick into the air, signifying their resolve. Taking yet one more breath, the four left the area behind the partition and came to stand with the other contestants. Unfortunately, she noticed Keoni there, looking like he was about to move over with his Vulpix when Serena's Pokémon moved in like a protective force.

    There was suddenly a loud static over the radio. "Will all contestants please make their way to the stage? The Pua Leilani Ceremony is about begin!"

    Serena didn't recognize the voice, but figured it was some kind of announcer for the Ceremonies just as Monsieur Pierre was in Kalos for the Showcases. Gripping at the ribbon on her dress, she looked over to Jessilie as the two of them left the room. To her surprise, Jessilie was very decked out in a free-flowing dress with a slit up the side. The floral patterned dress left little to the imagination below, but it suited the older woman just fine. Sharing a single gaze with her, the two rivals smirked and smiled at each other, respectively, before entering the door that would lead to the stage.

    It felt surreal, like it all moved so fast, but looking to the blue ribbon on her wrist, Serena drew strength and stepped out from the side with her seven fellow participants onto the stage. To her surprise, cheers met her ears and she looked up to see the stands filled with people, not only from Pua Town, but it seemed that many others were here as well. There was a panel of three judges sitting in front of the stage as she walked across it, though two of them looked like locals while one was Nurse Joy. Behind them were Professor Kukui and Miss Akela, both talking under their breaths. Serena shifted her gaze up a little and saw Ash and the others in the crowd. Her gaze lit up.

    Breathing in relief, Serena strode across the stage, looking to the white backdrop against them as her feet clacked against the wooden surface. It was likely that the obstacle course was there, behind the backdrop, but it was currently not visible. Either way, Serena proceeded to her place and stopped. The crowd cheered.

    "Alola, one and all, to the Pua Town Leilani Ceremony!" called the voice that Serena had heard over the loudspeakers. She shifted her eyes to see the woman, dressed in a blue dress with a ring of flowers around her black hair, flowing down her back. He bronzed skin served as a contrast to the white backdrop. "It's another bright and shiny day on Melemele Island, and we've got an interesting array of participants before us: some veterans, some rookies, but all are eager to earn this prestigious prize, the Pua Lei!"

    "Coooomfey!" called a Pokémon that Serena had never seen before. It seemed to come from around Nurse Joy's neck and looked like a chain of flowers. Most important, however, was that it offered a single, large flower bloom that wasn't quite artificial, but certainly not living. The woman announcing the Ceremony grabbed hold of the Lei and held it up for the participants and spectators to see.

    "I'm your host, Maika Olelo, here to officiate today's Ceremony! With me are our judges, picked from the local pool and Pua Town's very own Nurse Joy! Everyone give a hearty Alola welcome that gives praise to our guardian deities!"

    Serena had to admit surprise, as did Jessilie next to her, when the entire crowd stood and bowed, chanting out a hearty, "Alola!" What followed seemed to be a moment of silence, broken by the woman, Maika.

    "And with that out of the way, let's begin…with the Course Portion!" Serena turned at the loud ripping sound, seeing the white backdrop tear away and fall to the ground, revealing a simple racetrack with little slides and ramps placed around the area. It was twisting and labyrinthine, but with little waystations here and there, baskets of flowers upon them. "As is usual for the Pua Ceremony, our participants will be working with flowers! So, what, you may ask, is the goal of the Course? Each participant will choose one Pokémon, and no fliers for this one, and they will guide that Pokémon through the course to gather up a basket of flowers at each station. Naturally, the goal is to arrange the prettiest basket in the least amount of time, so you'll want to hurry! The judges will then decide on the four participants making it to the next round. All this is to show our participants' connection with nature and their Pokémon, able to work together to overcome any and all obstacles!

    "Without further ado, participants, please make your way to the starting point!" Maika said, fanning her microphone-less hand over to the white boxes at the edge of the track. Serena's face adopted a stern expression, though she still smiled, and stepped forward with her fellow participants. One by one each stood there and called out their Pokémon. Serena considered her options and quickly called out Pancham. Next to her, Jessilie had called out Wobbuffet while down the line, Keoni had called out…a Meowth? She wasn't sure, as its gray fur looked so different from the Meowth she was used to.

    "All right, Pancham, just listen to my voice no matter what, okay?" Serena said, crouching down to speak more personally with the Playful Pokémon. Pancham thumped his chest.

    "Cham pan!" Pancham agreed and he adjusted his sunglasses, stepping forward to the edge of the white boxes. Maika rose her hand.

    "Well, then, are our participants ready?" she asked, stepping to the front of the line with a green flag. Then, with a great wave and little anticipation, she yelled, "GO!"

    Every Pokémon took off alongside one another at the same exact time, none of them needing directions from their trainers to race forward. Serena quickly glanced at all of the other Pokémon, noticing a wide array from a Spinirak to a Sudowoodo, and even a Slowpoke! Pancham was clearly in the frontrunners alongside Keoni's strange Meowth and Jessilie's Wobbuffet (which was a surprise in and of itself) as they approached the first obstacle of three: a pit of ropes and mud.

    "Wobba wob!" Wobbuffet was saying, flailing his arms.

    "Oh, just figure something out Wobbuffet!" Jessilie snapped. Serena quickly observed the obstacle before them and saw Keoni's Meowth walking up nonchalantly.

    "Get up above, Lord Meowth. No use getting you dirty," he said with a flick of his black hair. Serena watched Lord Meowth (inwardly blanching at the name), hoping to see a potential solution. Lord Meowth crouched low and then sprung up high, towards the wooden beams that were holding the ropes in place. Serena's eyes lit up with an idea.

    "Pancham, start spinning!" she told him. Pancham didn't bother nodding, dropping to his back and spinning, gradually picking up momentum with every rotation. Serena watched his rotations as the Spinirak managed to make it to the course, its trainer ordering a String Shot. That's when Serena saw the perfect opportunity. "Jump up towards the first rope now!"

    "Cham!" Pancham cried, coming out of his spin and shooting upward with an Arm Thrust to help. Serena beamed at her Pokémon, spinning through the air to grab hold of the rope. It was like they needed no further communication. Pancham seemed to understand that he was to ride the momentum forward, swinging from rope to rope with relative ease. Wobbuffet, meanwhile, had decided to wade through the mud, taking it much slower than his competitors, but still far ahead of the Slowpoke that hadn't even reached the course yet.

    "Great job, Pancham!" Serena cheered as Pancham swung from the final rope and landed in a roll that carried him forward just as Lord Meowth touched down. The two instantly ran right for the table. Pancham looked back, like he was asking Serena which flowers to choose from. Serena's eyes flitted over to them and instantly chose a batch of white lilies. Pancham got the message and jumped up, pressing down on them. Lord Meowth was right next to him, choosing some bluebells. There was an attendant at the table, Serena realized, who instantly reserved them.

    "Get ahead of it," Keoni said lazily. He looked a little bored as Serena looked over to him, wondering why he wasn't taking it more seriously. He caught her looking and winked at her. Pancham and Lord Meowth raced forward, even if the Meowth had the advantage. Spinirak was soon behind them while Wobbuffet emerged from the mud pit with a cry.

    "You can do this, Pancham! Tuck yourself in and somersault forward!" Serena told him. Pancham jumped a little, curling into a ball and beginning to somersault forward, gradually picking up speed as they approached a group of slides and ladders. "Use Dark Pulse to launch yourself up the ladder!"

    "Pan!" Pancham called out, summoning the dark nexus of energy in his hands and shooting it at the ground. Lord Meowth had simply jumped up once more, traveling half the ladder in the single leap. Spinirak was quickly approaching as well, once more preparing its past strategy on his trainer's orders. Pancham, meanwhile, was blasting upward from the force of the Dark Pulse, jettisoning all the way to the top of the ladder.

    "Now, back into a ball!" Serena said. Pancham understood, spinning in the air as he angled for the slide. It didn't take long to see the result as Pancham hit it and began to roll, much like a ball at one of Clemont's Ingenuity Festivals. Only, Pancham was quicker, picking up speed as he spiraled down the slide. Lord Meowth had reached the top and lazily threw itself onto the slide with a smug expression, much like its trainer. Pancham was very far ahead of it, and they were both far ahead of Wobbuffet, who was struggling to climb up the ladder. It was a miracle that he was still in the top four of participants. In some way, Serena had to wonder if those in Pua Town took part in the Ceremony for fun, rather than actually wanting to advance to the Hope Leilani.

    "Pancham cham!" Pancham announced as he finished his descent, coming back into a ball, dashing right for the next station with as much speed as his stubby legs could pick up. Serena now glanced over at the flowers, seeing a group of impatiens, like earlier. She raised her hand and pointed towards it. Pancham took the opportunity immediately. They were easily ahead of the pack now, and in some part, Serena felt she could hear Ash, Bonnie and Rotom yelling for her to win, just like they had during Ash's course in the Kalos Team Tournament. It wasn't hard to see why: there was only one more obstacle before them, a large expanse of uneven terrain, too difficult to run through. Breathing in, Serena knew she had to figure out a way for Pancham to get across quickly, especially when she saw the final station and the collection of orange hibiscus that would perfectly complement what she wanted to create.

    "Pancham, use Stone Edge to make even footing for yourself!"

    "You know what to do, Lord Meowth," Keoni said. In the background, Wobbuffet was screaming as he tumbled down the slides. The Slowpoke was busy treading through the mud on the first obstacle.

    Pancham flipped forward, slamming his hand down. Glittering stones popped up from the ground, these particular stones erecting themselves as flat surfaces, perfect for Pancham to jump between as necessary. Pancham once more twirled through the air, landing on the surface of the stones and beginning to run across them, making little leaps as he did so. Lord Meowth wasn't far behind, extending itself onto all fours and leaping across the uneven ground with flexibility, slowly gaining ground on Pancham.

    "You can do it, Pancham!" Bonnie's voice yelled out from the crowd, most of the members of it watching with rapt fascination. Serena clenched her hands, as if praying for Pancham to make it to those hibiscus before Lord Meowth could. Pancham reached the last stone at the end of the course at the same time and both of the Pokémon dashed off for the station. Lord Meowth, however, was just a hair's breadth ahead.

    "Go for the Crown Flower," Keoni said. Serena blinked, looking over at the boy, once more winking at her. Nevertheless, Pancham and Lord Meowth chose both of their flower sets, and quickly ran the final distance to their trainers again. Pancham, looking slightly tired from running the race, leapt into Serena's arms happily. She laughed at him gaily as their attendants approached them with their collected flowers. As Serena grabbed hers, she caught a rather humorous sight of Wobbuffet bouncing along the uneven ground.

    Then she looked to Pancham, and both she and her Pokémon began putting together their flower arrangement. It certainly hadn't been an expected test before the Ceremony had begun, but now that she was here, putting it together, she could admit she was having a lot of fun. It didn't take too long, but with some care and precision, Serena had made, what she felt was, a beautiful composition. In the center were the lilies, blooming upward, ringed with the blue and purple impatiens and then topped off with the orange hibiscus at intervals alongside it.

    Keoni had also seemed to make a surprisingly beautiful collection, looking more like a golden crown in a box with flecks of blues from the bluebells. Eventually, Jessilie had also made hers, though it wasn't remotely fantastic or anything. Perhaps the strangest thing was that, despite having an element of speed to the competition, they had to wait for even the Slowpoke to finish the course. Not that Serena minded, but it was a little nerve-wracking to wait for the results. Eventually, however, the Slowpoke trainer finished their composition and the flower arrangements were presented to the judges.

    All that was left was the result for the Course section, and Serena felt apprehensive. But when she looked up and saw Ash smiling at her, she took solace and comfort, and chose to not worry. It was simply up to the judges, and she was fine with that.


    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  11. #11
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    Ash scooted forward in his seat, waiting on tenterhooks to see the result of the Course portion of the Ceremony. He had to admit, despite the whole idea being similar to Contests and Showcases, the execution of it felt very different and showed a side of Serena that he hadn't managed to appreciate. The way she commanded Pancham so effortlessly to overcome any obstacle was a sight to see. Not that he expected any less; not after everything. But seeing it again, knowing she hadn't lost her touch, it made him happy.

    Keoni made him less so.

    He really didn't like the boy who looked more like some prissy rich boy from some prissy rich family. Not that he had anything against people like that…at all. But the boy had hardly been kind to him or Bonnie or Rotom. But most of all…he couldn't stand the way he treated Serena, acting like she would only win with his help or something equally ridiculous. It just rubbed him the wrong way, and he wanted Serena to beat him more than anything. That was the only reason he was so nervous, waiting for the result on her flower creation.

    "You seem surprisingly nervous, Ash," Clemont commented. He turned to his inventor friend with a light chuckle.

    "Guess so," he answered. "I know Serena can win, but this is a totally new thing…and since I'm not participating, it just means that I have to do the worrying for her."

    "That's not like you," the blond chuckled out. Ash didn't respond; he was right. Typically, he wouldn't worry about Serena doing well in this. Maybe it was because it was all happening so fast, or because it was something so new. Or it could be because of Keoni, his mind told him. He scowled at the implication just as Bonnie jumped up.

    "They're announcing!" she hissed. Ash turned his attention to the stage where Maika was standing. In place of the white backdrop from before was now a screen, something that made Ash raise his eyes a little. Were they actually broadcasting the Ceremony? Or was it that they simply didn't use the electronic board until it was necessary? Either way, he was waiting.

    "The results are in!" Maika said to the crowd, waving a hand into the air. Ash saw Serena clasping at her chest as all of the participants turned to the screen. She must have been incredibly apprehensive, judging from the way her foot was jiggling just a little. It was almost hard for him to imagine that he had picked up on all of these things since they'd begun dating. "And the participants moving on to the Performance Round are…

    "Jessilie! Keoni! Malia! And Serena!"

    "Yes!" Ash cheered, pumping his fist a little proudly. Bonnie threw her hands into the air while Clemont slumped back; perhaps he'd been nervous, himself, after all. Rotom just looked between all of them in confusion. Rockruff barked happily in Ash's lap and Ash scratched her behind the ears.

    "Now, we're moving straight into the Performance Round! The goal of this round is for the participants to create a dazzling display together with their Pokémon based on a specific theme! And as expected, the theme this time will be…flowers! So, will all clear the stage for what is sure to be Jessilie's captivating performance!" The crowd applauded politely and Ash and his friends all joined in. Pikachu slid down to sit in his lap with Rockruff while Chespin popped out of Clemont's pokeball to watch.

    "Only two get to move on from these four, right?" Clemont asked. "The competition will be pretty steep. Serena will have to be at the top of her game."

    "Of course Serena's gonna win. You can't doubt that, Clemont," Bonnie chided her older brother. Ash had to agree, staring towards the stage as the familiar Jessilie began her routine.

    He had to admit that he wasn't as enthralled with the performance, probably because it wasn't Serena's. Of course, Jessilie was one of Serena's, strangely enough, favorite rivals from Kalos. She had once intimated to him that she admired the way she could make the stage her own, something Serena felt she was unable to do. Ash had to admit that she had a point. Dancing with her Gourgeist on the stage and sending out a Leech Seed that made towering vines which met in the middle, it was very obvious that Jessilie had not lost her usual vanity. Regardless of his boredom, Ash still watched as Jessilie commanded another Leech Seed. The vines carried her upward from underneath her feet, like a giant podium.

    "Seed Bomb!" Jessilie commanded coolly. Gourgeist spun around, firing Seed Bomb off in a constant interval as it exploded with the various vines, creating fireworks in the shape of flowers. Jessilie continued to rise, coming out through the now collapsing vines as they formed the shape of a flower around her, with the Performer as the centerpiece. "Now Shadow Ball and Dark Pulse!"

    "Gourgeist!" Gourgeist called out, forming five Shadow Balls and sending them outward. Right after they fired so, too, did Gourgeist's twisting and swirling Dark Pulse, meeting in the center of the orbs and exploding out into an inky flower. Yet, it was still obvious that that was what it was, especially as Jessilie once more emerged from the center and flipped through the air before Gourgeist grabbed hold of her and they descended together.

    "And finished!"

    The crowd clapped and cheered at the woman's performance, herself soaking in all the cheers and admiration. Ash had to admit it was particularly good; Jessilie hadn't slowed down from her time in Kalos, and he was glad to see that Serena would have such a formidable rival returning. It reminded him of the boy they'd met just yesterday, Hau, and Ash found himself grinning at the thought of battling the boy again someday.

    However, his grin soon dropped off as Keoni approached the stage with his Vulpix. To that one, Ash just wanted to avert his eyes, not really caring about the rude boy's performance. Although, even with trying to exclusively look down at Rockruff and Pikachu, he did find himself catching snippets of the overall Performance.

    Unfortunately, he had to admit that it was…good. Keoni was graceful. He only used hand movements when necessary, drew equal attention to himself and to Vulpix, and was able to do exactly what the crowd seemed to like, all while looking smug during it. Vulpix would use a Powder Snow, sending the stage glittering with icy particles before charging up with light. Then it would fire off a Moonblast in quick succession, before using Extrasensory to turn each collection of swirling snow around the pink, pearlescent orbs into rotating flowers that fell slowly and softly to the ground before bursting with the icy chill once more.

    "Fine…the meanie's good," Bonnie pouted, making Clemont laugh from next to her. "But Serena will beat him!"

    "No doubt!" Ash agreed. In fact, their words were about to be put to the test as Serena stepped forward with Sylveon by her side.

    "Let's go!" she called to the crowd, extending her hands outwards. Ash found himself smiling. "Use Swift!"

    "Syl!" Sylveon called, flicking her feelers and sending an array of golden stars into the air. Ash found himself scrutinizing all of their movements as they swirled around, forming into a flower shape. Already, it seemed like she was off to a good start. Serena most certainly wasn't done, though.

    "Fairy Wind!" Serena called, flinging her hand high and clasping it into a fist. Sylveon pranced around the stage and sent little puffs of the glittering wind up towards the rotating flowers created from the stars. They slammed into each other, tinging the stars with pink. Then the celestial bodies began to fall like cherry blossom petals. "Now, Double Team!"

    "Veooon!" Sylveon said, smiling brightly as she created multiple copies under each cluster of falling petals. Ash looked up a little, watching the giddy smile on Serena's face. She was certainly having a good time, and it made him feel the same. As soon as Sylveon's doubles had appeared, Serena called for her next move: another Swift. Each of the copies once more whipped their feelers out, sending out stars that clustered together, each becoming like a nucleus that the "petals" could surround. The flowers fell softly.

    "And once more, Fairy Wind!" Serena cried powerfully, once more gripping her fist. She danced forward, as if spinning through the petals. Sylveon had joined her, each of the remaining copies prancing around like a circle that formed their own little flower on the stage. Ash found himself clapping and laughing at his girlfriend's joyous performance. As they danced, one after another, the copies launched a Fairy Wind upwards. Once again, the petals scattered, all of the nuclei turning into the pinkish flowers alongside the petals as they softly fell to the ground.

    Then, with another blast that blew them all towards the audience, and a smile on her face, Serena came to stand still. The "petals" continued outward and Bonnie reached forward giddily to grab a handful. One of them floated right over to Ash and he caught it with a grin, reaching his hand into the air to show that he had it, the symbol of all her love and passion and smiles, before it could disappear. "Finish!"

    The crowd applauded and cheered, just as they had with every other contestant. Ash finally sat back; Serena had done a great job. In fact, Clemont appeared to be commenting on that very issue.

    "That was a rather perfect Performance," he said, his hand on his chin as he nodded. Ash had to agree. Serena had embodied the theme and essence of performing so well. Keoni and Jessilie might have been good, but Serena was perfect to him. However, he knew he still had to pay respect to the final girl that was participating, and so he watched her Performance to the end. At that point, Ash realized that the crowd, unlike in Kalos, wasn't a very good indicator for how well a participant did, since they seemed to clap at every single performance. Of course, so did he.

    "And there are our Performances!" Maika said, dancing back onto the stage like a Performer herself. Ash kept the smile on his face and looked down to see Kukui glancing at the stage with some enthusiasm. However, the woman next to him, Miss Akela, appeared less enthused. "Now you'll have to give us a moment while our judges rank the performances by their points before we move onto the Battle Round!"

    "Oh, just say Serena won," Bonnie said.

    "Serena has a twenty-five percent chance of-mmph!" Bonnie quickly grabbed the Pokédex and shoved it onto her lap in an attempt to shut it up. Ash looked over to Clemont, who was stroking his chin.

    "Hey, no worries," Ash told him. "She made it as runner-up of the Master Class, no problem. Serena's got this!"

    "I know…but even if she wins…" Clemont said, sighing. "Well, she'll have to face Keoni, and maybe he'll get under her skin. He certainly seemed to have an effect on this group."

    "Serena can overcome anything, Clemont. You know that."

    "Yeah, but…" Clemont didn't seem to want to voice his concerns about the situation, opting for sitting back with a frown on his face. Ash thought that maybe he understood the gist of it all: Serena would have to battle Keoni, likely. And though she was a skilled battler, battling while performing like a coordinator probably wasn't the easiest to pull off. Still, Ash had faith in her. And he held to that faith as Maika returned prancing up the stage to announce the participants moving on.

    "All right, everyone! Time for our finalists, moving on to the Battle Round!" she called out, twirling around a little and indicating the screen. "The two who will be battling it out for the Pua Lei in the Battle Round are…Keoni and Jessilie!"

    "What?" Bonnie said flatly as the pictures of the two trainers appeared on the screen.

    Ash just stared dumbly ahead. It wasn't the case. He'd heard wrong. He must have. Because there was no way that Serena hadn't moved on. There was no way that she wasn't, at least, making it to the final stage. It simply couldn't be possible. Yet the pictures on the screen there, and the two trainers making their way to the stage, proved otherwise. Ash turned his head and saw Serena and the other girl walking away, like neither could really bother to watch the battle. He stood.

    "Where are you going?" Clemont asked. Ash didn't bother to answer. He simply continued to hold Rockruff while Pikachu scrambled up and the three made their way down the stairs, all the way out to the hall they had entered into.

    "Ruff!" Rockruff barked out, extending her paw towards the light streaming from the door. Ash picked up his pace, walking forward, knowing that Serena would be in there. As he approached it, he saw the girl from the Performance round exiting with a downcast expression. Ash held the door for her, and then proceeded inside.

    Sounds were coming from somewhere, and Ash looked up to see a television in the room, portraying the battle between Keoni and Jessilie. Somehow, he wasn't surprised that Keoni was in the lead, having three flowers to her one. Tearing away from the commentating on the screen, he saw Serena sitting there, watching it, Sylveon's feelers having wrapped around her wrist.

    "Serena…" Ash called softly. His girlfriend turned her head, and he was relieved to see that she hadn't been crying. "You all right?"

    "Yeah…" she said, clasping her hands together on her lap. He walked closer, letting Rockruff leap out of his arms to trot over to her and Sylveon. The two Pokémon appeared to have a discussion with one another as Ash finished reaching Serena. "I lost. It…happens."

    "True…" Ash commented. For all his talkative nature, he wasn't sure what to say to her. "You looked great out there, by the way."

    "Thanks," Serena told him, but her eyes weren't smiling. He kneeled down. Her lips were certainly upturned, but her eyes had momentarily lost their beautiful spark. "Guess I just wasn't good enough."

    "That's not-"

    "Ash, it's all right," she told him, unclasping her hands to caress his cheek. "I knew this road would be hard, making everyone smile, but I'm still committed to it. It's just one loss, right?"

    "Right!" Ash said, reaching up to grab her hand, his finger running across it. Pikachu also leapt to her shoulder and raised his paw in encouragement. "You'll definitely win next time."

    "Of course," she said, and Ash found himself feeling better for her. The spark returned to her eyes and she leaned forward, placing her lips on his. Ash leaned into it, ready to reciprocate when he heard someone at the door clear their throat, and he jumped back.

    "I hope I'm not interrupting," said a female voice, and Ash turned to look at the same moment Serena did.

    "Miss Akela," she said in surprise. The violet-haired woman stepped in with a wry smile on her face.

    "Disappointing, I bet," the woman said, picking up a chair and sitting upon it. Her gaze flicked up to the television, where the battle was still going, Vulpix dodging a Shadow Ball. "I could tell you gave it your all, but still weren't chosen."

    "Keoni and Jessilie were just better than me."

    "And there's no shame in it…as long as you don't break from it," Miss Akela said with a stern expression. Serena turned to face her, and Ash, despite wanting to intervene, chose not to.

    "I won't break," she told her sharply. Miss Akela smiled and then let off a tinkling laughter.

    "Good to know. I wouldn't want you to." The woman now stood, pulling sunglasses from her dress to place them on her face. "I want to see you keep moving forward."

    "I will…but…" Serena stood, trying to draw even with the woman but coming up slightly shorter than her. "Why do you care so much? You chose me for some reason, and I don't even know who you are."

    "Oh…you simply remind me of someone," Akela answered with a giggle. Ash resisted the urge to scratch his head. "And I simply think there's something different about you. Different in your dream. Unlike that boy…all potential, but lacking the fineries."

    Ash turned to the screen to see that it was declaring Keoni as the winner. It made him grimace. There'd be no living with the boy after this, he was sure of (even after knowing him for all of a couple hours). He wasn't looking forward to that near future encounter, but he was driven from his thoughts by Akela clearing her throat. "Huh?"

    "Sorry," Akela said, seeing she had finally gathered Ash's attention. "You two are close, yes? Pursuing dreams together?"

    "Ash is my…boyfriend," Serena admitted, drawing close to him to take his hand. Akela raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment on it. Instead, she said something Ash found strange.

    "It's a beautiful thing to pursue a road as one, but keep in mind that dreams can be shared, yet they are still our own. So, if you ever find yourself confused, sometimes distance is key. It's amazing how much you can grow from a different perspective," Akela said, now flicking her sunglasses down. "In the meantime, you'll want to head for Kala'e Bay. I won't be attending that one, but that's where the next Leilani Ceremony is being held on the island. I hope to see you soon, Serena. And your boyfriend."

    "Oh, yes. Alola." Serena bowed as the woman repeated the phrase, and Akela soon left the room just as Jessilie came storming in. Ash grabbed Serena and pulled back as the woman stormed around.

    "Of course, prissy little pretty boy has to take the win. What does he have that I don't? !" Jessilie said, grabbing her things. She happened to catch sight of Serena. "And here I was hoping to battle the twe…you for an easy win. Well, next time that little brat won't be winning!"

    "Of course not. We'll battle in the finals, right?" Serena said, offering a smile. Jessilie looked taken aback, but finally broke out of her rage and smirked.

    "Naturally," she said, as if acknowledging her opponent. Ash had to admit surprise from the woman's generally vain attitude breaking for a moment. "In the meantime I'm putting Meowth through hellish training…" She stalked out, a manic grin on her face. Ash looked to Serena, and the two chuckled nervously. He opened his mouth to say something, but soon caught sight of the swaggering Keoni entering the room. His smile dropped considerably fast.

    "Serena, you're still here?" Keoni asked, his lips turning up into a rather leering smirk. He looked up and down almost lecherously. "You watched my battle then. It was rather magnificent, wasn't it?"

    "I…guess…" Serena said. Of course, Ash knew that she'd missed a huge part of it, but chose not to say anything. "Congratulations on your win."

    "Of course," Keoni said as he walked forward. He looked to Ash and placed a hand on him, before lightly shoving him aside. He then whipped out a cloth and wiped his hand. "Though, I'm afraid I did warn you."

    "Warn me of what?" Serena asked, and at the very least she sounded offended in Ash's place. Keoni cast another sneer at Ash.

    "I warned you that associating with someone so much lower than you would only ensure you lost at the Ceremony," he said, like it was simple fact of life. "But, beautiful Serena, if you were to come with-"

    "Not interested." The tone was sharp and clipped, surprising both males in the room. Keoni straightened up from his leaning position against her. He blinked a little, like he was confused, but soon smirked again.

    "Well, we'll see," he said, that infuriating smirk still on his face. "For now, I'll be heading to Akala. I pray the next time we meet, you think more favorably of me. We'll make the Ali'i ka Leilani yet, my dear."

    Ash wanted to say something, anything, but all he could feel was pain in his palms, driving in so distinctly from his nails as the boy packed up. Before he left, he turned back to Ash with that little smirk and jerked his head, dangling the small flowers on his finger, like a taunt, before he left the room. Ash bit at his tongue, trying to calm down. He glanced at Serena, who was breathing in before walking away, behind a partition. He continued watching her until he noticed her dropping her dress and he turned away to allow her privacy.

    "I'll be outside, okay?" he said. Serena hummed in response. "Come on, Pikachu, Rockruff."

    "Pika…" Pikachu said sadly, as though he understood whatever was going on. Probably more than me, Ash thought as Rockruff also barked and bounded after him. Ash sighed, removing his hat and running his hand through his hair. Stepping outside, he wasn't surprised to find Clemont, Bonnie, and even Kukui there to greet him.

    "Is Serena okay…?" Bonnie asked, gripping her bag with Dedenne inside.

    "Just fine!" Ash answered, pumping his fist. He looked over to Kukui who appeared to have a contemplative look on his face. Ash continued watching him a moment before he rubbed the back of his head and laughed.

    "Tough breaks, huh?" he said, bending down shortly after to pet Rockruff. The dog looked up at Ash a moment, almost sadly, like she didn't want to leave. "But you're strong kids, I think. I mean, I don't think ol' Tapu Koko would have bothered with you otherwise. Speaking of…"

    "Next up is Ash's trial," called Serena's voice. She stepped out of the room behind Ash, once more dressed in her traveling clothes.

    "That's right," Kukui said with a little wink. "Verdant Cavern, where Ilima's waiting. I'll be there, too. In fact, I'm heading there straightaway so I can get there before you."

    "But, professor, why didn't you just go there straight away? Just to watch Serena perform?" Clemont asked. Ash hadn't considered it before, but now that Clemont had mentioned it, it did seem weird for the professor to randomly come and watch Serena perform. Kukui stood up and laughed.

    "You saw: I had business with Akela. Though I did want to see you perform. Not very often that those from outside of Alola take part, after all."

    "Hmm…" Serena commented before smiling brightly. "Well, thank you for coming to watch!" Kukui winked at her in response. Serena seemed to take that as positivity, because she reached down to grab Ash's hand and pull him forward. Kukui stared after them in surprise as the distance increased. Bonnie and Clemont quickly began running after them, too.

    "Ah, see you at the Cavern, Ash!"

    "You bet!" Ash proclaimed, throwing his free fist into the air as Serena took them out of the Ceremony Hall, into the setting sun. Rockruff ran alongside them, growling like she wanted to do some sort of training with him, but stopped her growling and movement just outside, turning to soft whimpers. "We'll see each other soon, Rockruff! Promise!"

    "Rockruff!" she barked out happily while Pikachu waved back to her. Ash grinned, then clenched tighter around Serena's hand, glad she was there, and the group left, watching the form of Rockruff and Kukui disappearing as they continued their journey from Pua Town on the road to Verdant Cavern.


    Author's Note: So, this was long…and a first look at the Leilani Ceremony as I developed it. Clearly these were going to be longer than I originally thought, but that's okay, ha ha. I hope you enjoyed it, despite Serena losing. Though, of course, I think it was obvious she would. Meanwhile, we're introduced, officially, to Keoni, the same boy from the opening of Chapter 5 who is…well, he's a character, all right. Otherwise, not too much to say other than Kukui and Akela's mysterious meeting business. I hope you all like Akela at least a little bit, ha ha.

    So, until next time, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  12. #12
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    So glad I can make people hate an OC last chapter for the right reasons, though I wouldn't jump on calling him a "villain" quite yet. Ah well, that's behind us, and now it's time for Chapter 8!


    Chapter 8

    A Thief

    "Again, Meowth!"

    "We've been at dis since last night, Jess. Wobbuffet and I are pooped," Meowth said, slumping against the big, blue lug. James turned his head as he placed the small, holographic box down. They had holed up in an empty house for the time being while planning their next move after Jessie's loss in the Leilani Ceremony. As usual, he noticed, she wasn't taking it well.

    "And we'll go at it again!" Jessie screeched. "We can't stop until I've become the Ali'i ka Leilani!"

    "But Jess, dere's plenty more opportunities…"

    "Wobba…" James cringed. Jessie had been in far too foul of a mood since the day prior. The only solace she'd had was that she had managed to beat the twerpette, though she seemed disappointed in even that. Sighing at the thought, James finished placing his device down and took a look around the house they were squatting in.

    It really looked like it hadn't been used in a very long time, which, of course, suited all of their purposes just fine. Dust covered broken tables and there were bent golf clubs sitting in a corner of the house. James' eyes narrowed as he peered around the small living room they were in, drawing closer to the boarded up window. Looking through the dust-ridden cracks, he could see what looked to be a row of palm trees, berries hanging from their branches. If he squinted a little more, he was certain that he could see what looked to be a berry farm in the very far distance. Part of him wondered if the twerps would be heading there, but the thought was banished from his mind when his hand touched something that wasn't the desk he was leaning against.

    "Hmm?" he mused, grabbing the thing that was underneath his hand. It appeared to be circular in nature, with different colored wedges and crystalline orbs in it. However, it also seemed incomplete to James' eyes. There were a couple wedges and orbs missing. As he finished lifting it up, it seemed to snap underneath his hand, like it was old and ready to break, tumbling to the floor and scattering the colored wedges. James moved to pick them up when a beep sounded from his device. He made to turn around, briefly catching a glimpse of a Pokémon climbing up a tree to grab some of the berries in what looked like giant claws. Nevertheless, he ignored it and went back to the box. Jessie, Meowth and Wobbuffet all ceased their own actions and gathered with him while he pressed the button.

    "Jessie, James, Meowth, report," spoke the harsh tones of Giovanni the second that his picture appeared. James lifted his hand and saluted. Knowing Jessie usually began the report, he looked to her.

    "We've arrived in Alola, sir, and have begun scouting out the land!" she said crisply. Giovanni gave no reaction, as if waiting for more information. Meowth picked up the slack as Giovanni started moving his hand, no doubt petting Persian in his lap.

    "We've yet to obtain any Pokémon or encounter ARC, sir, but we have done a bit of research," Meowth said, keeping his own salute up. "It seems da Pokémon on Alola can look different. Even Meowth's such as myself have dark fur."

    "Interesting…" Giovanni stated, still stroking his Persian's fur. "I didn't expect you to run into ARC without some looking. They've remained hidden for many months now, and our intel had only just picked up on them. Your presence in Alola should hopefully draw them out as it has these other rival organizations. What of Team Skull?"

    "We've learned that Team Skull are simply a bunch of Pokémon thieves, sir," James finally spoke, diverting his boss' attention onto him. "They don't appear to be any threat at the moment."

    "Excellent to know. Continue with your operations. Report in when you have important information to share. I am giving you full autonomy in the region."

    "Sir!" they all spoke as the line finally cut off, Giovanni's face disappearing. James let out a breath of air as he turned to his compatriots. Jessie looked over the moon about it, something which made James laugh nervously. He still felt a little trepidation over going against ARC (and it certainly wasn't because they were probably stronger than them) but he pushed it down in favor of the assignment.

    "The boss praised us again! I don't think I can get enough of it!" she said cheerfully. "So, the next step is to-"

    "Not more Ceremony stuff! No more today!" Meowth contested. "Let's actually get down ta woik."

    "I agree!" James said, handily. "First things first, let's find that Team Skull and take them down, all while getting new and rare Pokémon from Alola! Oh, and a lunch of berries sounds good, too!"

    "That was my idea!" Jessie snapped, folding her arms. James looked to Meowth, neither of them believing it, but allowing Jessie to hold her delusions. "All right, team! Time to do what we came here to do! For the boss!"

    "For the boss!"
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  13. #13
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    Ash shifted his foot, staring across the plain of grass they were stopping at for lunch. Behind him stretched a row of berry trees and he could see Rowlet's head constantly turning back all the way to look at them. Only when Ash looked down at him with a look that said "After" did he snap back and hoot. Across from him stood Serena, with Braixen at her front. Bonnie stood in the center like a referee while Clemont was busy setting lunch.

    We've made good progress, Ash thought to himself, Pikachu looking up at him. But both of us can't just keep walking without stopping to train.

    "Pikapi."

    "Yeah, I know," Ash said, grinning. He directed that grin over to his girlfriend. "Give it your best, Serena! I wanna see some super cool performances from you so you can win that next Ceremony for sure!"

    "You bet! Mind if I take the first move?" Serena asked, the warm breeze blowing across all of them. Ash nodded his head and Bonnie lowered her hand. "Braixen, Hidden Power!"

    "Brai brai!" Braixen cried out, twirling her wand and summoning the five orbs that circled around it. Then she fired.

    "Into the air, Rowlet!" Ash commanded. Rowlet hooted loudly and shot up with incredible speed. Resting against a rock, Ash could feel Greninja opening an eye to observe the speed. "Great, now use Tackle!"

    "Kuuuuuurrrr!" Rowlet hooted out, diving for Braixen with an outstretched talon. He quickly dodged the Hidden Power, causing Serena to frown.

    "Block it!" she called. Braixen whipped her want out just as the force preceding the kick struck into the brunt of said stick, pushing her backwards. "Not good enough…Braixen, I think we can't approach this like regular battles in the past. Don't you?"

    "Sen," Braixen agreed. She faced back to Rowlet, who was happily floating along in the air. A loud sound showed Clemont placing the plates for lunch down and he walked over as he wiped his hands off.

    "Since you two are sparring against each other, maybe you should pull out everything you have," he suggested. "I'm not a performance expert, but maybe I could notice something."

    "Great idea, Clemont!" Serena said happily. Ash nodded, agreeing, and he looked up at Rowlet.

    "Hear that, Rowlet? Let's show 'em what we can do!"

    "Rrrroh!" Rowlet said, flapping in the air a little more. He'd been resting quite well for the last two days since the battle against Hau, so Ash knew he'd be up for the training.

    "Great, then use Leafage!" Ash said, spinning a little and pointing forward. He noticed Serena shaking her head a moment before focusing back on their battle. Rowlet flapped his wings and the green leaves whipped outward with a blast of air before aiming in a straight line for Braixen.

    "Okay, use Fire Blast to block it!" Serena commanded. Braixen danced forward and pointed her wand. The five-pronged shape of fire burst outward and slammed into the Leafage. Little pieces of the leaves fluttered downward, turning golden with their fire. Ash had to admit, when it came to making moves look beautiful, Serena was second to none. In some way, it made him want to see a battle between her and Dawn someday. "Now, Fire Spin to create columns!"

    "Braixen!" Braixen cried, slamming her wand to the ground. Ash looked over to Rowlet and nodded. The Grass Quill Pokémon appeared to understand and instantly changed his course of direction as he dived down, avoiding the now spurting jets of flame. Through the roaring fire, Ash heard Serena call for a Hidden Power. Once more, the silver orbs of light went racing outward, the streaks left behind turning into golden-orange blazes as they aimed for Rowlet.

    "Use Peck, Rowlet!" Ash ordered. Next to him, Pikachu cheered. Rowlet finally had a clear path and he dove, his beak glowing a bright blue. Only, it looked different now as his little beak elongated and opened. Braixen moved back a little on one foot before Rowlet struck. The force before the attack slammed into the Fox Pokémon, knocking her off balance as Rowlet quickly snatched her wand away from her.

    "Amazing! Rowlet learns many things, Rotom sees!" Rotom said, buzzing up from its place on the table at the sight of the proud Rowlet zooming away with Braixen's wand. "Rowlet has learned the move Pluck!"

    "That's awesome, Row…let…" Ash said, almost slapping himself. Rowlet had gone gliding right past Braixen, not looking where he was going, and suddenly slammed into one of the trees. Braixen's stick tumbled back towards Serena, who reached down to pick it up. Rowlet, on the other hand, didn't stir for a moment. That doubled when, all of a sudden, a rain of berries began falling from the trees. Only, the berries weren't the only thing. "Rowlet, move now!"

    "Kurr…?" Rowlet questioned. Ash stepped forward as his Pokémon began to blink. First, he looked overjoyed, nabbing some of the berries that had fallen on top of him. At least, until he, like Ash, realized that something was attached to those berries.

    "Crabrawler, Boxing Pokémon, and the pre-evolved form of Crabominable," Rotom said without provocation. Ash could see where it got its name from. It looked like a crab with a purple shell and what seemed to be blue boxing gloves. Rotom continued on, however. "While guarding its weak points with its pincers, it looks for an opening and unleashes punches. When it loses, it foams at the mouth and faints."

    "Craba!" the Crabrawler cried, suddenly lunging for Rowlet as they were attached to the same berry with its open fist.

    "Rowlet, use Pluck and get away from there!" Ash called, finally drawing even with Serena. Rowlet's eyes snapped open fully and his beak glowed blue again before he lunged forward and jabbed Crabrawler right between the eyes. His beak then made its way around to grab the berry and take to the sky once more. Crabrawler wasn't happy, though, as its fist glowed orange with the strength of a Power-Up Punch. Rowlet lifted upward, but the weight of the berry it was desperately holding on to held him back.

    "Kuuurrr!" Rowlet cried in distress. Crabrawler launched its fist forward, only for the attack to be almost completely stopped by a sudden falling of feathers from up above in the tree. Crabrawler ceased its attack as more feathers fell around it and it looked up. So, too, did Ash. As his foe was distracted, Rowlet quickly snagged his berry and flew right back over to Ash, landing on his shoulder and munching away.

    Ash, however, was more drawn to what he saw above in the tree. It was the Pokémon he'd first seen upon arriving to Alola, staring down at Crabrawler in challenge. The crab didn't look all too happy about the interruption, raising both its fists in challenge. The small bird atop the tree stared down at it discerningly, like it was thinking about its next move. Ash stepped forward and saw the white, red, and black bird turn its head from side to side. Then it opened its mouth.

    "Peeeeeeeeeeeek!" The sound was loud, bouncing off all of their eardrums and the different trees in the area. Most affected by it, however, was Crabrawler, who clamped the side of its head and seemed to snap at the Pokémon before taking off quickly for another set of trees further down the road, towards a house they had passed by just that morning.

    "Wow, it's really loud for such a cutie!" Bonnie said, her own ears still covered. Serena too, was covering her own and Ash was quite tempted, but Rowlet quickly decided that he had other ideas.

    "Roh!" he chirped out as he finished off his berries and once more headed for the pile of them at the foot of the tree. Ash could only shake his head at his partner's enthusiasm, and Pikachu joined him in that act. Rowlet dove into the berries and grabbed a few, snarfing them down at high speed. He was about to eat another without any thought to the noise above him when he was suddenly hit by the small bird from above. "Koo! Koo!"

    "Pikipiki!" the small bird snapped at Rowlet, and Ash noticed that while they were distracted from the loud noise, it had descended. Rowlet turned his head around, looking curiously. Then the other bird struck once again, its beak glowing a bright white before it suddenly hammered itself upon Rowlet's head. Ash blinked, watching it attack in very quick succession. Rowlet, tired from the activities, fell backwards, away from the berry pile. The other bird then nabbed as many of the remaining berries as it could before using its little wings to flap off into the sky, leaving but a small feather behind. Ash walked forward.

    "You okay, Rowlet?" he asked of the little bird. Rowlet attempted to stand, but only managed to teeter back and forth. To that, Ash chuckled and saw Serena approaching with his backpack. "All right, time for you to rest."

    "Pikapika," Pikachu said, patting his compatriot on the back as Rowlet returned to the snug contents of the bag. Once that was set, Ash stood back up, turning towards the sight of the little bird flapping off with the copious amounts of berries hanging from it. Some part of him wanted to follow it, but his stomach suddenly growled. "Pikapi…"

    "Guess battling made me pretty hungry," Ash admitted, running over to the table quickly and putting his bag, with Rowlet inside, onto the ground. "Well, time for lunch!"

    "Sounds great!" Clemont admitted, rubbing the back of his head. It almost seemed like he was just going to brush what had just happened away from them in order to eat. "Chespin! Bunnelby! Luxray! Grubbin! Come on out!"

    "You, too, Sylveon, Pancham!" Serena called. In just moments, all of their Pokémon were out. Grubbin made an immediate leap for Clemont's bag, but the inventor, having grown used to it, moved it aside, skittering Grubbin along the ground. He decided to abandon his pursuit in favor of the food Bonnie was placing before all of them. As the Pokémon dug in, so did their trainers, fading into a simple banter between one another about their training session.

    "You know, Serena, I noticed something," Clemont told her, earning her attention. "You're a great performer, but…maybe you're a little singly-focused."

    "What do you mean, Clemont?" she asked, crossing her legs. The bottom of her leg accidentally brushed up against Ash and she flashed a smile, as if to apologize, but he didn't mind.

    "Well…Braixen knows an awful lot of Fire type attacks. Sylveon and Pancham both have a wide array of moves but Braixen…I mean, there's only so much you can do with them in a performance, right?" Serena tapped her chin, nodding lightly.

    "You might have a point…" she admitted, looking over to Braixen munching happily away between Pikachu and Greninja. "Thanks for the thought, Clemont."

    "No problem," the inventor said with a smile. He then turned to look at Ash, who blinked at him, unaware what he was trying to say with his eyes. "Pretty interesting lunchtime, huh?"

    "I guess," Ash chuckled out, munching into a piece of bread. Now that he thought about it with his stomach a little full, it had been quite eventful. Especially with the greedy little bird from earlier. "Hey, Rotom, what was that Pokémon we saw earlier? The one that stole the berries from Rowlet?"

    "Rotom will look," Rotom said, floating upward from where it was lazily resting against Ash's bag. "The Pokémon is a Pikipek, the Woodpecker Pokémon; this Pokémon feeds on berries, whose leftover seeds become the ammunition for the attacks it fires off from its mouth."

    "A Pikipek…explains why it loves the berries so much," Ash said, finally finishing off his bread and leaning back. "Wonder where it went."

    "Who knows?" Clemont said, waving his hand. "For all we know, it could have left the island. Though, we know where we're going."

    "But maybe Rotom could tell us," Bonnie suggested, a sly leer angled up at the floating Pokémon. "It always seems like such a know-it-all."

    "Rotom can only say what data it has, but Rotom can search for migration patterns," Rotom suggested. Ash just shook his head and stood.

    "Nah, we should just get moving. I wanna get to that first trial, after all!" he said. From by the food, Pikachu and Greninja both pumped their fists, and even Rowlet seemed to snore out his own agreement from within the bag. Serena wiped her mouth and stood alongside him.

    "Then let's get going!" she said to them all. That appeared to be the official order, as they all quickly finished their lunches and packed up, setting back onto the road again. Once they were going along at a nice pace, Serena pulled out her map and both Ash and Bonnie leaned in to check out the data on it. "If we keep following this path, we could arrive at the Verdant Cavern as early as tomorrow. Once we're past the nearby Berry Farm, it'll just be an afternoon trip and early morning to get to the Pokémon Center."

    "Awesome!"

    "Yeah! Ash gets to do his first trial!" Bonnie said happily. Dedenne bounced up and down with her. Clemont, meanwhile, adjusted his glasses to look ahead and peer at something.

    "You mean that Berry Farm?" he asked, pointing straight forward. The trio looked up from the map and noticed a large fence approaching, enclosing a rather large plot of land where trees upon trees of berries were growing. In fact, there was even someone there: a young, plain looking woman who was watering one of the trees. She looked up at the sound of their footsteps crunching on the ground.

    "Alola, travelers!"

    "Alola!" Ash called out, alongside the voices of Serena and Clemont. The only one missing was Bonnie's. It quickly made sense as the girl was skipping ahead, twirling around and kneeling.

    "Oh, pretty lady, won't you please look-" She couldn't even complete the words before Clemont stood still, glared, and sent his Aipom Arm shooting after her. Ash noticed he was still blushing in embarrassment, though, as he pulled her back.

    "Bonnie, I've told you a million times," he said, scolding her. "I have a girlfriend now! You can't go proposing to every random girl!"

    "I know that," Bonnie admitted. "But I have to make sure you don't break Korrina's heart!"

    "Bonnie!"

    "Sorry about them," Serena said with a laugh. The woman raised her eyebrows a little but also laughed in response. "We were just passing by on our way to Verdant Cavern."

    "Trial-goer?" the woman asked, placing the pail down as she wiped her hands on her apron. Ash nodded, coming closer to Serena's side. "I'm Hua, a farmer here. My father, Kumu, runs the place. You're more than welcome to stop in for refreshments."

    "That's okay," Ash said with a chuckle. "We just had lunch, and we wanted to get to Verdant Cavern by tomorrow."

    "Well, you're certainly an eager one!" Hua said, laughing a little as she played with her brunette ponytail. Ash just grinned. Truth be told, he knew Clemont probably wouldn't mind a little break, along with Serena (who'd been on her feet even before he woke up that morning to train), but the lure of his first trial was all too strong. Hua raised her hand in farewell, when the sound of flapping wings met his ears and Rowlet popped his head out of the bag. "Oh, hello there, little one. Brought back more food for the others, I see?"

    "Pek!" the "little one" cried, and Ash turned. Landing on Hua's shoulder was the same little Pikipek from before. Of course, the only reason Ash knew this was because Pikipek turned to them and suddenly screeched. "Pek! Pek! Pek!"

    "What's wrong with you, Pikipek?" Hua asked as the little bird dropped the berries into Hua's hands and flew up to Ash and Rowlet, who was peeking his head over Ash's shoulder. "Do you know these travelers?"

    "I…think my Rowlet got on the wrong foot with that Pikipek. Though he was only trying to eat some berries. Is it yours?" Ash asked, pulling back a bit so that Pikipek's speedy Peck wouldn't jab a hole in his face.

    "No, she and her flock simply rest on the farm grounds," Hua mentioned before whistling a little. Pikipek turned and then fluttered back over to her, resting on her finger. "She's a great berry hunter, but doesn't like it when people steal berries that aren't theirs. How did you seem to get on her bad side?"

    "Uh…Rowlet was hungry," Ash admitted. Suddenly, he found himself separated from Serena by Bonnie poking her head through, Clemont behind her and still attached to her.

    "So, you mean, there's more of those cuties?"

    "Nedene?"

    "Of course," laughed out Hua. She jerked her head towards the interior of the farm. "You want to see?"

    "Yeah! Can we, Ash?" she asked, eyes shining up at him. For a moment, Ash had to admit that he wanted to refuse, but the idea of touring the place and seeing more of the Pikipek quickly became very enticing.

    "All right," Ash said. Hua nodded, pleased, and she turned back in to the farm proper. Ash made sure to look over to Rowlet, still peeking out. "And don't try to eat all the berries, Rowlet. We don't want Pikipek on our bad side."

    "Koo!" Rowlet hooted before popping back into the backpack. Grinning a little, Ash followed Hua at Serena's side as they stepped into the farm proper. Clemont was right behind him, looking around in interest at all of the Pokémon scurrying over the trees.

    "We get lots of Pokémon looking to either have some berries or wanting to help out," the young woman explained. "Pikipek is one of those helpers. It's slow going, but we eventually pick enough berries to sell off in Hau'oli City. Dad usually drives down about once a month to sell the berries."

    "Your output ratio must not be extraordinarily high, then," Clemont commented. Ash turned and saw the sparking look on his face. The inventor most certainly had an idea, and Ash had to admit that it made him rather excited.

    "It's enough to get by. Ah, here, we are! Dad, visitors!"

    "Hm…ah, alola!" The group all greeted the older, tanned man, dressed in nothing but a simple pair of overalls over a floral patterned shirt, his gray hair tucked back behind his ears. "What brings young travelers such as yourselves to our humble little farm?"

    "They're on the Island Pilgrimage," Hua answered. Pikipek flapped away from her hand and Ash watched it fly, taking steps in its direction. She fluttered over to a smaller tree on the farm, barren but for its leaves. He continued taking in the conversation as he walked over to the tree.

    "A wonderful thing for children to take," Kumu said with a laugh. "I myself didn't handle one, too busy inheriting the farm from my own father, and Hua's set to inherit from me!"

    "Eighth generation of farm owners! We're tough!" Hua said, flexing her muscles. "Wish we could hire some extra help, though. Times can get tight."

    "We manage," Kumu said, thumping his daughter on the back. Ash smiled at the sight of such friendly family interactions. Clemont appeared to step forward as Ash finally reached the tree.

    "I could help with that if you let me," he said eagerly, but then Ash cut off the conversation in his mind and peered up into the small tree.

    "Wow, look at that, Pikachu," Ash noted as he caught sight of Pikipek fluttering around, dropping all the berries that she could in the direction of other, smaller Pikipek. "You really are the mothering type, huh?"

    "Piki?" she said, having clearly heard his voice from down below. Ash continued smiling up at her as the Pikipek flapped down, beating her wings quickly. "Pikipik!"

    "Whoa, whoa, don't be upset!" Ash said, raising his hands to the air. Pikachu leaned forward a bit.

    "Pikapika, chu pika Pikachu!" he said cheerily. Pikipek turned her head, as if now eying him warily, but not making a move. "Pika!"

    "Pikipek," Pikipek finally said, nodding her head a little. She backed off, allowing Ash to draw a little closer to the tree. Now that he was close enough, he could see a couple other Pikipek making the rest of the rounds with the berries, feeding the rest of the nest that was there in the tree. Pikipek continued to stay airborne close to his head and Ash turned.

    "You're a pretty hard worker, you know?" he said to her. Pikipek turned her head, as if interested in what he was saying. "The way you gather berries for everyone and fight off other Pokémon like that Crabrawler. I'm impressed. And sorry we got off on the wrong foot earlier. Rowlet's sorry, too."

    "Kooooo…" Rowlet hooted from inside the backpack, though he didn't bother to pop out. Pikipek continued to observe him for a time while Ash just smiled. Eventually, Pikipek fluttered close to Ash's face and then pecked forward, tapping him lightly between his eyes.

    "Looks like you two are getting along now," said Serena's voice and Ash, Pikachu and Pikipek turned to see her coming closer.

    "Yeah, it was just a misunderstanding," Ash told her, looking to Pikipek for confirmation. She nodded and then flew back up to the tree to continue helping with the distribution of berries. "So, what's Clemont up to?"

    "I think he's building a machine to help with picking the berries," Serena told him. Ash's eyes lit up with excitement, eliciting a giggle from his girlfriend. Without even thinking, Ash ran away from the tree and back to where the farming family and his two friends were. It appeared he was just on time, seeing as Clemont had finished his invention.

    "Uh…what is it?" Hua asked, scratching the side of her head. Clemont began to chuckle under his breath.

    "The future is now, thanks to science! Clemontic Gear on!" he declared loudly, and Ash could feel the excitement filtering into his veins. "I took the opportunity to build what I call the Berry Picker and Cultivator!"

    "Yeah, real imaginative…" Bonnie sighed out, but she was still wearing a little smile. Ash's eyes now officially lit up, along with Kumu's, as both of the males leaned in.

    "Science is so amazing!" Ash said with enthusiasm.

    "That it is!" Kumu followed up with. Ash turned to the older man and offered him a high five, which he returned. "So, young man, how does it work?"

    "Observe!" Clemont said, bending down and pressing a button. The machine spluttered to life, and with some of his initial excitement now ebbing, Ash could see the details on the invention. It seemed simplistic in design: circular like a cylinder but with wheels to help it move along easily. Sprouting out from it were two arms, one with a clipper and the other with what looked like a rake. Extending from it was a bucket, while a faucet appeared down below. Once it finished spluttering to life, the Berry Picker and Cultivator moved forward towards one of the ripe trees, dinging loudly. "You see, it finds which trees have the ripest of berries and then…"

    The entire group watched as the machine moved right up against the first ripe tree and extended both of its arms upward. With the rake, it ran along, removing the easy to remove berries and placing them in the bucket. For those that seemed a little harder, the machine clipped them off with the scissors. It took little more than a quarter of an hour (during which, Ash and Kumu were entirely enthralled by the process) and soon, all the ripe berries were cleared off the tree. The invention then watered the tree and began to move along.

    "That was pretty fantastic!" Kumu admitted, turning towards his daughter. "Don't you think, Hua?"

    "It was something…" Hua laughed out. "It could certainly help with productivity. And it won't hurt the Pokémon?"

    "Of course not!" Clemont claimed, tapping the palm logo on his chest. "On my pride as an inventor." Hua smiled at that, and the farming family stepped forward to give Clemont their thanks while Ash, Serena and Bonnie stepped backwards.

    "Well…I'm surprised it didn't explode," Bonnie admitted, folding her arms a little. Ash and Serena both looked at her before she smiled. "It's nice to see him helping people."

    "Then maybe you should have a little more faith in him," Serena suggested, poking Bonnie on the cheeks. Bonnie waved her hands, as if to break free, while Ash watched Clemont conversing with the family. The sound of fluttering wings once more hit his ears and he suddenly saw Pikipek hovering on his shoulder, opposite Pikachu.

    "Pik!" Pikipek called as it fluttered down a little more and dropped a berry in Ash's hand.

    "Is this for me?" he asked. Pikipek nodded with a smile in her eyes. Ash smiled and broke the berry in two, handing some off to Pikachu. "You're really kind, Pikipek. Hey, how would you-"

    Boom! The sudden sound of an explosion met all of their ears. Bonnie rolled her eyes, as if she knew this was coming sooner or later. Ash would have thought the same thing with a disappointed sigh…at least, until Greninja emerged from his pokeball. This is becoming a repeating thing, isn't it? Ash ran forward, right after Greninja as he dashed to the source of the explosion. Clemont was right beside him, Grubbin also popping out unexpectedly. The others weren't far behind them as they skidded to a stop.

    "Bro, what is this thing?" called a voice. "It's a total piece of junk!"

    "That's 'cause ya kicked it, bro!" said another voice. They sounded familiar, but Ash couldn't place where he'd heard them before. The only thing he knew, as the smoke started clearing from the wreck of Clemont's invention, was that his invention hadn't blown up on its own. Finally, the smoke billowed away and Ash caught sight of the people there.

    "Team Skull…" Hua lamented with a tired sigh. "Those thieves are always causing problems."

    "Yo, what'chu sayin' about us!" said one of the earlier voices. Finally things had cleared and Ash had a good sight of the two standing there. Yep, definitely familiar.

    "You're the guys from Hau'oli City!" Ash called out, pointing at them as Pikachu leapt to the grass, cheeks sparking angrily. Behind him, he could see Serena gripping her pokeball while pushing Bonnie behind her. Rotom just floated around, looking confused. The two thugs blinked at Ash before pointing at him with wide eyes.

    "Bwah! It's you! The brat with the super strong Greninja and Pikachu!" the first voice said. Truth be told, Ash simply couldn't tell which was which from before, they looked too much alike.

    "Yo, that was totally unfair earlier!"

    "Ash, do you know these thugs?" Clemont asked, clenching his fists. In front of him, Grubbin was clicking his pincers almost angrily, like he didn't appreciate seeing Clemont's invention so ruined.

    "I…ran into them in Hau'oli trying to steal a girl's Pichu."

    "That's what Team Skull does," Kumu explained. "Bunch of lowlifes that try to steal other people's Pokémon and things. But no one really takes them seriously."

    "Sounds familiar," Bonnie drawled. Ash could definitely agree on that point as he moved his foot forward a little, preparing for battle.

    "Yo, don't be talkin' smack about Team Skull! We're the biggest, baddest thugs out there!"

    "So you admit that you're lowlifes. That's pretty sad," Hua said. The two thugs in front of them blinked a moment before leaning back in absolute shock, as if they hadn't realized what they'd said.

    "That's a lowdown dirty trick, yo! You'll pay for that! Let's go, Zubat!"

    "Pikachu, Greninja, time to bat-" Before Ash could finish his commands he suddenly felt something yanked off his shoulder and he tumbled down. Pikipek launched upward into the air, rapidly turning her head. Ash landed on his butt and looked up to see that Pikachu was dangling in midair. Well, "dangling" wasn't the correct word. It would be more accurate to say he was held there. "Pikachu!"

    "Pikapi!"

    "Ahahahahahaha!" laughed three voices in the air. Three annoyingly familiar voices.

    "Again? !" Bonnie screeched. "Don't you three ever quit?"

    "Yo, who are these people in that rockin' balloon, bro?"

    "No idea, bro! But they're takin' Pokémon! That's our schtick!"

    "Give Pikachu back," Ash roared, standing firmly on his feet and shaking his fist at the indomitable (or at least persistent) Team Rocket, floating before them in their Meowth-shaped hot air balloon.

    "Ha! Prepare for trouble, it's a very berry dream!"

    "And make it double, you can't beat our team!"

    "Greninja, use Water Shuriken and break Pikachu free!" Ash ordered, pointing right towards Team Rocket. Greninja leapt upward, summoning the watery blades to his hands and flinging them forward. Unfortunately, they missed as Pikachu was retracted and placed into a cage. Jessie suddenly popped her head out angrily.

    "What is wrong with you, twerp?" she screeched angrily. "You're supposed to let us finish our motto!"

    "Yo, you have a motto?" said one of the Team Skull members, suddenly putting all attention on them. "Maybe we should get a motto. Ya know, somethin' like 'Team Skull is the biggest and baddest around. Mess with us and we'll make ya frown'."

    "Bro, that's wicked! We gotta tell Big Sis and the Boss when we get the chance."

    "Excuse me, stop interrupting our thieving!" James snapped out. "You Team Skull people will be next on our list after we take the rest of the twerps' Pokémon."

    "We're not going to let that happen!" Serena called, throwing her pokeball up to call out Braixen. Bonnie also joined her, Dedenne bouncing onto the field, looking surprisingly ready to battle.

    "Cry me a river," Jessie said. "Meowth, now!"

    "Roger dat!" Meowth said and Ash watched him press a button. Suddenly, from the bottom of the balloon, a large vacuum came out and was activated. The large gale entered through the area, sucking up all of the berries on the trees and into a glass container that was hanging from the balloon. The berries weren't the only things disturbed as Ash saw some Yungoos and Bug types scattering from the attack. Greninja landed on the ground, crossing his arms and digging his feet in. "Ha, now all da berries will be ours!"

    "Yo, they're totally stealing our stuff!"

    "You thieves! Zubat, Supersonic!" Zubat made scratching noises as it flew out towards Team Rocket. Jessie seemed rather dismissive, especially since the poor bat could barely maintain balance under the vacuum.

    "Oh, please. Gourgeist, use Shadow Ball," she said, flicking her finger a little. Gourgeist came out of her pokeball and floated forward, calling a black orb to her mouth before firing it at Zubat. It nailed the poor Pokémon, sending it tumbling backwards. "Aha! Looks like Team Skull doesn't stand a chance against the mighty Team Rocket!"

    "Well, we do! Grubbin, use String Shot!" Clemont called. Team Rocket collectively looked down to see Grubbin angling himself upward. The sticky substance shot out quickly, right for Meowth. The feline screamed, their earlier fear from the encounter with Grubbin surfacing. In the panic, Grubbin managed to grab ahold of the remote and pulled it back, right into Clemont's hand. He dropped it and stamped hard, shutting the vacuum down.

    "Yo, now we got a fighting chance!" one of the Team Skull members said. Ash split his vision between the two villainous groups, trying to figure out how best to tackle them, especially when Team Rocket was still holding Pikachu and the berries hostage.

    "Serena, Clemont, you guys handle Team Skull! I'll handle Team Rocket," Ash told them.

    "Got it, Grubbin, use Spark!" Clemont said without missing a beat. Grubbin whipped right around as his body blazed with electricity and he shot forward, nailing the Zubat trainer right in the stomach before he could call another Pokémon out. Serena joined in, ordering a Flamethrower that sent the second off balance. Ash, meanwhile, turned back towards Team Rocket.

    "Jessie, he's got dat look in his eye again," Meowth said fearfully. Jessie just angrily brushed it off. However, it was James who was chuckling.

    "Then it's time they get a taste of the new and improved Team Rocket," he said, the menacing chuckle still going. Bonnie stepped forward.

    "Since when are you guys 'new and improved'?" she asked. "We already beat you once here in Alola, you know that."

    "That was before we obtained our new ace in the hole! Crabrawler!" James tossed a new pokeball into the air and from the burst of light emerged an all too familiar Pokémon, clicking its claws rapidly. Ash peered at it, suspicions sparking in his brain. It was only confirmed by a separate action.

    "Pikee!" Pikipek suddenly screeched, fluttering forth angrily as she faced the Crabrawler resting atop the balloon.

    "That's the same Crabrawler from earlier!" Rotom proclaimed, pointing at their new foe. Ash nodded. Somehow, James had managed to catch Crabrawler after it had fled from its battle with Pikipek. The crustacean was clicking angrily now, staring down Pikipek, no doubt holding a grudge from earlier. Behind Ash, Serena and Clemont had seemed to have restrained the Team Skull members.

    "I caught Crabrawler when it tried to take away our delicious dessert of berries and ice cream, just coming out of nowhere. Capturing it was the only option, and now he's part of the Team Rocket family!" James explained. "He wasn't too happy beforehand, and it seems he wants some revenge."

    "And Team Rocket is all about revenge!" Jessie said, smirking lazily. Pikipek, however, was having none of their talk as suddenly, she opened her mouth and let out that same raucous noise, traveling in sound waves to impact with Crabrawler. Only, James wasn't playing the part of a fool.

    "Bubblebeam!" he said giddily.

    "Baraw!" Crabrawler cried, opening his claws and firing out a stream of bubbles right for the immobile Pikipek. Ash opened his mouth, telling Pikipek to dodge, but the call came too late. The bubbles moved at enormous speed, slamming into the Woodpecker Pokémon. As the steam from the attack cleared, she suddenly emerged, beak glowing white and she streaked right after Crabrawler angrily.

    "Of course…" Ash breathed out. Pikipek didn't like Crabrawler. Whether it was in general, or this one in particular, he didn't know, but it was obvious that the motherly collector didn't like the selfish thief.

    "Power-Up Punch," James said, cracking his knuckles. One of Crabrawler's claws flung back, brimming with a bright orange energy as Pikipek headed on a straight collision course for the crab.

    "Pikipek, pull back!" Ash yelled, but Pikipek was already past the point of stopping. She raced in as Crabrawler's fist slammed down on the bird, sending it crashing and spiraling downward. Ash ran forward and dove for the little bird, barely managing to catch hold of her. "You okay?"

    "Pik!" she said, ruffling her feathers to assure him that she was. Ash stood and faced Pikipek seriously.

    "Look, Pikipek, you can't just rush in. You'll only get hurt, okay?" Pikipek turned her head a little, listening to him. "Let me help you, okay. Follow my commands and we'll get all the berries back! Rowlet will help, too."

    "Kurooo!" Rowlet quickly agreed, shooting out from the bag to hover by Pikipek's side. Pikipek still viewed him suspiciously but quickly flapped a little forward to tap him on the head, indicating that she was in this together.

    "Great. Greninja, get ready when I give the signal. For now, you two need to combine your attacks. Rowlet, use Leafage and Pikipek, Feather Dance!" Rowlet shot off first, keeping his distance from the balloon as he flapped his wings. The leaves once more swirled out, but at the same time, Pikipek flapped her own wings sending out a gust of feathers that joined with the leaves. In a matter of seconds, they had surrounded Team Rocket and their balloon.

    "Use Bubblebeam!"

    "And Dark Pulse!" Both Crabrawler and Gourgeist opened fire against the now feathery and leafy combination. Rowlet turned his head back.

    "Time to go, Rowlet! Use Pluck! Pikipek, get close with Peck and then Echoed Voice to give Rowlet an opening," Ash said, punching his fist forward powerfully. Rowlet practically disappeared from his high speed while Pikipek's beak glowed white and she shot forward like a bullet, right for Crabrawler. James' next order came and Crabrawler's claws glowed orange. Only this time, Pikipek stopped right outside of Crabrawler's range, opening her beak to let out an even louder sound, one that caused Crabrawler to topple over into the balloon's basket.

    "Kuroh!" Rowlet hooted, now zipping inside the leaves and slamming into Jessie and Gourgeist. His claws latched onto the cage holding Pikachu and he took off with it. As he circled around to rejoin Ash, his talons dug in and broke the confines holding Pikachu in.

    "Now, Greninja! Use Cut!"

    "Ninja!" Greninja complied, speeding forward with his bright blade. He jumped at the last second, slicing through the glass container holding the berries. It cracked a little for a moment before shattering completely, the berries all tumbling out.

    "The berries!" Hua called in distress, but Ash turned his head with a grin.

    "We're on it! Grubbin, Chespin, gather as many as you can with String Shot and Vine Whip!"

    "You, too, Sylveon," Serena called out. Even Dedenne ran forward in an attempt to gather as many berries as possible. The ones doing the most work, however, were Rowlet and Pikipek, each zooming through to grab as many as they could and depositing them safely into the basket. Even Greninja was using Double Team to do so.

    "All right, Pikachu! Thunderbolt!"

    "Oh, great," Meowth said. "Next time, I'm runnin' the operation!"

    "Like you could!" Jessie yelled at her compatriot. Pikachu charged up his Thunderbolt and then let it loose in a searing arc that struck the balloon and its occupants, causing it to explode. Team Rocket went flying through the sky.

    "How are the twerps so strong this early into a region? !" James yelled.

    "Does it matter?" Meowth sighed out. "We're blastin' off again!"

    "Wobbuffet!"

    "Nice job, Pikachu," Ash said as Pikachu landed on the ground and bounded over to him, receiving a scratch behind his ears. When he turned back, he saw that most of the berries had been cleared away, placed into baskets. The only ones that weren't seemed to be the ones that both Rowlet and Chespin and nabbed for themselves. "Rowlet…"

    "Kurr?" Rowlet hooted, turning his head at a right angle. He then turned it around to see Pikipek looking at him. Blushing a little in embarrassment, Rowlet turned and offered his share of berries to the motherly one. Pikipek floated down and took two of the three, depositing them into the basket and leaving one for Rowlet. Chespin, seeing this, instantly consumed the rest of his own berries.

    "Chespin!" Clemont scolded his Pokémon. Chespin just turned with a full mouth, grinning sheepishly. Ash laughed at that as Rowlet returned to his shoulder, alongside Pikipek.

    "Yo! You don't just forget about Team Skull!" Ash and the others turned, staring at the free Skull members. He had honestly forgotten that they were even there, having put up even less of a fight than Team Rocket.

    "Let's show 'em our totally wicked Pokémon, yo! Rattata!" Both of the Skull members tossed their pokeballs upward and from them emerged a pair of Rattata…only they once more looked different.

    "Rotom, is this another one of those Alola Forms?" Ash asked, pointing at the black Rattata that looked to have little mustaches. Rotom bobbed forward.

    "Indeed! Rattata are typically nocturnal in Alola and have thus gained a Dark type," Rotom explained.

    "Yeah, well, we'll put your lights out!" one of the thugs before them said. Ash raised an eyebrow, knowing that he wasn't alone in doing so. The other eyebrow raised a second later at the new sight.

    "And did Rotom mention that their natural enemy are Yungoos? They like to tear each other limb from limb," Rotom said, practically winking at the two opponents. Bonnie blanched at the description while the Skull members looked around and then at each other. Then they looked down at their feet, where some of the Yungoos that hung around the Berry Farm were lurking closer.

    "Bro! No one told us about this!" one of them cried as the Yungoos leapt forward, biting down on a Rattata's tail. The Rattata yelped and began running around. So did its partner, the rest of the Yungoos starting to chase after them viciously. "This ain't cool! These trainers are nothin' to mess with!"

    "We better just report to Big Sis!" the other one agreed, both taking their pokeballs out and calling their Rattata back.

    "Nah, let's take it straight to the Boss!" The two ran forward, trying to run from the farm, even with the Yungoos still chasing after them. They skidded to a stop. "We'll be back, you! Count on it!"

    Then they were gone, the army of Yungoos chasing after them in a frenzy. Ash could only laugh, rubbing the back of his head. The others all joined in, especially Kumu, with his big, booming laugh. "Well, this has been quite the eventful afternoon! Machines, thieves and visitors all at once. A nice and exciting way to spice up the day."

    "Ah, I apologize for any trouble my machine may have caused you," Clemont said, as if remembering the fact that his machine was trashed. It didn't look too bad, if Grubbin crawling all over it was any indication. Kumu stepped forward and slapped the blond inventor on his back.

    "It's not a problem, not a problem. In fact, you think you could fix it up? And then, maybe you can all stay for dinner?" Ash, for once, wasn't sure about staying for dinner, wanting to get back on the road to his trial. However, his stomach grumbled almost immediately after. "I know there's one taker."

    "Guess so," Ash said, laughing again. "Guess I'll also have to put my trial off another day, ha ha."

    "Aw, don't worry about that," Hua said, playing with her ponytail just a little. "We own a truck and can get you there first thing tomorrow morning, so how about you all stay the night? We've got plenty of room."

    "It does sound appealing," Serena noted. Ash looked to her and she shrugged, indicating the decision was up to him. However, he knew what the best decision for the group was, so he smiled.

    "All right, sounds good to me!" he said happily.

    "Great! I'll go get started on dinner and preparing the rooms while dad…fawns over the machinery," she said with an eyeroll and a wave, beginning to walk off. She stopped for a brief moment, however. "Oh, and Pikipek, if there's something you want to say, just say it."

    "What?" Ash asked, tilting his head. What did she tell Pikipek that for?

    He got his answer the second he turned around and saw Pikipek hovering in front of him, clasping a pokeball in her little claws. Ash watched it bob up and down for a moment, wondering a little where she'd gotten it from, but the message became very clear. Whether it was from the way he'd commanded her in battle, or perhaps that connection from their first encounter, Pikipek had chosen to go with him. "Pikipik!"

    "You want to travel with me?" he asked. Pikipek nodded, and to Ash, he felt like he could understand her perfectly: she wanted to travel with him, because there was a connection. She had trusted in him and believed in him and, despite their completely opposite personalities, she had bonded with Rowlet. "You know you'll be leaving your family, right? I wouldn't want to take that away from you. I know what it's like to lose family."

    "Piki!" Pikipek insisted, crying loudly. Another cry followed, this time from the tree where her family nested. Ash turned in its direction to see all the Pikipek suddenly burst out of the tree in a flock, as if giving her some kind of farewell. It was like they were saying they'd be okay without her. Breathing in, Ash nodded.

    "Okay, then," he said, finally turning back and accepting the pokeball that Pikipek dropped into his hand. Pikipek chirped again and then knocked her beak against the pokeball. The capture device instantly sucked her inside, the ball beginning to rock and shake a bit before dinging with bright stars. Ash heaved in another breath before raising the pokeball out for everyone to see. "All right! I caught a Pikipek!"

    "Pipikachu!" Pikachu cheered while Serena and Bonnie clapped around him. Clemont also gave a quick congratulations but went back to work on his invention, Grubbin pointing out an area that was sparking. Happy with his new partner, Ash threw Pikipek's pokeball to the air, the Woodpecker Pokémon emerging happily. She flew around a bit and then came close to Ash's face, tapping him lightly between the eyes.

    "All right, Pikipek! Let's do the Island Pilgrimage together, then!"

    "Piki!" Pikipek cried, fluttering down to Ash's shoulder and landing on it. She was facing Rowlet, who hooted softly at her, the two birds at a place of peace. Ash rose his fist into the air alongside all four of his Pokémon.

    "Let's go make some dinner!" And with his expanded team, Ash and the others made their way to the house to help Hua make dinner, dreaming of nothing but the first trial and the excitement that came as a result of it.


    Author's Note: Pikipek joins the team! How many didn't see that coming? "But Ash has two Flying types now!" Yeah, like that hasn't happened before. All things considered, I did go through heavy revisions to make sure Ash's team worked for what I liked and the story. However, I really liked the idea of a motherly Pikipek to contrast the gluttonous Rowlet. They'll be great friends, I'm sure.

    On another note, this chapter actually was kind of fun because it was a little fluffy but also set things up for the future, mainly with Team Skull. And James has a Crabrawler. I know, I didn't show him capturing it, but I felt that would have been a waste; I had hinted at him seeing Crabrawler earlier in the chapter and their groups being in the same place, so it was natural. I hope you enjoyed it.

    So, until the next chapter, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

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