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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.

  14. #14
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    So, for part of this chapter, I wrote it using V (Volt) on repeat. I'm sure you can guess where when you get to it, and I suggest you use it as well! Now, time for Chapter 9!


    Chapter 9

    A Trial

    It was early morning when Ash awoke, hearing the sounds outside in the Berry Farm. Stretching wide from his position on the couch, Ash stood and carefully stepped over Clemont, trading out his underclothes for his traveling ones and stepping outside. The sun was just rising over the island, bathing it in a golden glow. Ash sucked in a breath, hearing the creaking of the door behind him as Pikachu and Rowlet slowly made their way out to him, the latter looking just as sleepy as ever.

    "Okay!" he said, his voice rising in volume. Rowlet snapped out of his stupor and to attention as Ash took Greninja and Pikipek's pokeballs, tossing them into the air. His other two Pokémon appeared alongside Pikachu and Rowlet, Greninja looking as stoic as ever while Pikipek looked sharp. "Today's the day of our first trial, guys, and I know we'll give it our all!"

    "Pika!" Pikachu cheered, leading the others to do so as well.

    "Pikipek, I know you're a little new, but I'm counting on you, too," Ash told his newest partner. Pikipek nodded from where she was flapping to remain airborne. "Let's go into this together and win!" His hands, and those (well, close enough) of his Pokémon touched one another and lifted high.

    "I see you're as fired up as ever, Ash." He turned, noting that Serena was there, still dressed in her pajamas, as though she'd heard him leave and followed.

    "Definitely. And I know I can win because you're rooting for me," Ash said, stepping closer to his girlfriend. He rarely took the time to appreciate how beautiful she looked in the sunrise. Serena nodded, indicating that he was right and Ash decided, based on his rumbling stomach, that it was time for breakfast. He stepped towards her, taking her hand as they headed back into the house.

    To his surprise, the smell of food was already filling the house, and he noticed Kumu in the kitchen, cooking up some seemingly delicious food. The man grinned at them as they entered. "Hey there, just cooking up some breakfast. After you eat, we'll be all ready to go. All right?"

    "Sounds good to me!" Ash insisted, taking his place at the table. Soon after, Kumu had put breakfast on the table and he and all his Pokémon were busy digging in. Clemont, Bonnie and Hua soon joined them, eating at a much more moderate pace. Regardless, the sun had finally risen by the time they were all finished eating and in the truck that Kumu used.

    "Take care of the farm until I get back!"

    "Will do," Hua said, waving at all of them. Rising into the air was the flock of Pikipek, sending farewells to Ash's new partner on his shoulder. "Good luck on your trial!"

    "Yeah!" Ash called, raising his fist to the air from the backseat. The others all looked back with him, each of them giving their farewells to Hua as the truck started up and she soon disappeared into the distance. Once she had and they were on the dirt road, Ash faced forward again, most of his team all sitting on his shoulder as they drove along.

    "Yay! This is a really quick way to travel!" Bonnie said, leaning outside the open air of the truck. Clemont appeared to panic, grabbing Bonnie by her shirt and pulling her back in. All she did in response was secure her hat and giggle.

    As the siblings fretted and giggled, Ash turned to his team members by placing his backpack (Rowlet included) on his lap. "We're gonna train when we get to the Pokémon Center, okay! An extra hour of training won't hurt, and you can show me even more of what you can do, Pikipek."

    "Pik!" Pikipek said proudly, putting one of her wings to her chest and bowing. Rowlet's feathers ruffled from it, almost like he was taking it as a challenge. Ash made sure to look at both of them sternly.

    "Just remember, we're on the same team together," he told them and they both looked at him with little nods. Certain they'd be able to work together, despite their differences, Ash focused on the road ahead, blasting by them at a quick pace.

    It seemed like comparatively little time had passed when Kumu was starting to slow down. Ash practically stood in the car, being brought back down only by Serena's hand. Though, seconds later, he found that she was staring at the sight as well. While the Pokémon Center was certainly nothing new, the natural structure that it was sitting next to was different entirely. At first glance, it appeared to be little more than a mountain of rocks, until Ash could see the bright green moss glittering in the sunlight, streaming into cracks in the surface. The closer they got, the more Ash could make out the mouth of a cave, with what appeared to be some brightly colored signs staked outside its entrance, glittering slightly. They looked to be the same color as his Challenge Amulet, though tinted with the green from the cave. No wonder it was called Verdant Cavern.

    "Well, here we are," Kumu said, rolling to a stop outside the Pokémon Center. There appeared to be another car already there. "You kids all set then?"

    "Yes," Serena answered for them collectively as they got out of the car. "Thank you very much for everything, Mr. Kumu. Alola."

    "Alola, indeed. Good luck!" Clemont finally exited the car, joining the other three at the front of the Pokémon Center, which appeared to finally be getting its full start on the day. Kumu nodded and then spun around in his car before heading back towards the farm. Ash watched him go a moment, glad that they were able to help the kind berry farmer. Clemont's invention, which had been left working there that morning, was surely going to help them greatly. Seeing the farmer disappear into the coastal line, Ash hitched his backpack on his shoulder.

    "Right. Let's go," he said, spinning on his heel and walking into the Center. Striding into the roadside Pokémon Center, Ash could see some trainers, younger and older alike, all exiting from the rooms that were there. Some of them looked almost dejected, while others were hopefully optimistic. Ash just set his face into a smile and approached Nurse Joy, a young boy with a Butterfree ahead of him.

    "Please, Nurse Joy! Please make Butterfree better again," the boy said, almost looking like he was about to cry. Ash stopped, waiting as Nurse Joy took the Pokémon.

    "I'll make sure of it," she told the boy, handing Butterfree off with care to a Chansey and Comfey with a gurney. The boy walked off, reining sobs in as Ash approached. "Ah, some new faces. Here to take Ilima's trial?"

    "Sure am," Ash answered, quickly returning Pikipek and Rowlet to their pokeballs and handing them over to the nurse. "Just want to get my Pokémon checked over before I head in."

    "A wise policy," Nurse Joy said, glancing back briefly at the injured Butterfree. "I hope you're prepared for quite the fight, though."

    "Is that why that boy was so upset?" Serena asked, coming to stand next to Ash. He, however, was focusing on Nurse Joy and her words, especially once she was nodding.

    "In fact, there are a lot of trainers who undertook Ilima's trial ever since he opened it again a few days back. Some were successful…others…well, you see the result," Nurse Joy indicated. Serena looked to Ash in slight worry, but he could already find the corners of his lips twitching into a grin, flushing with excitement. "That Totem Pokémon can be a beast."

    "Totem?" Clemont asked, but he didn't get a straight answer. Nor did Ash care to.

    "It doesn't matter! Whatever the challenge, we'll surpass it!" Ash said, throwing his fist to the air, while Pikachu emulated him. Some of the trainers looked around, like they seemed to think he was crazy, and even Nurse Joy seemed surprised by his attitude. Thankfully, she recovered quickly.

    "Well, I'll give your Pokémon a quick check-up," Joy said in a rushed, breathy tone. "Please wait here."

    "Okay. Thanks, Nurse Joy," Ash said to her as she bustled off with Pikachu and the others. Having nothing to do, the raven-haired trainer leaned his back against the counter, hands gripping at its wooden surface while the excitement trickled in.

    "I know that look," Serena said, leaning with him. "It's the 'I'm going to take on any challenge and win' look. You have it before every Gym battle, too."

    "You know me so well," Ash said, wrapping an arm around her. Bonnie appeared to blanch for a moment, and then she looked around at all of the gathered trainers that were there. After her observations, she frowned.

    "I wonder how tough this Totem Pokémon thingy is. Don't you, Dedenne?" she asked of her partner Pokémon. However, Dedenne was asleep in her bag, causing Bonnie to sigh. The sound of a door to the back of the Center reached Ash's ears, but he continued to wait for Nurse Joy before heading out for any training (though it wasn't like he could do much to begin with). "I mean, if this Pokémon is beating all of these trainers…"

    "Then that's even better!" Ash said, pumping his fist a little. "Nothing better than a strong opponent to get me real fired up!"

    "Great policy to take, cousin." Ash whipped around, as did Serena.

    "Professor Kukui!" Clemont said, bowing low in greeting at the man. Ash's face lit up in recognition; clearly the car outside the Center had been the professor's. "It's a pleasure to see you again."

    "Well, I did tell you that I'd be coming to watch Ash's trial," Kukui admitted. Around them, Ash noticed that some of the trainers were staring, and he began to feel just a little self-conscious. "It's not every day a trainer of your caliber takes on the trials, especially after having faced the great Kahuna himself. You all set?"

    "Just waiting for my Pokémon to come back," Ash informed him, peeking around the older man to see if Nurse Joy had returned. "Gonna do a little bit of training before heading out to start."

    "Good policy. How about a battle against me and Rockruff, then? She's certainly been eager to see you again. I left her playing around out back. She's been doing a little training herself, since I think she wants to impress you for some reason," Kukui said to them with his own little laugh. Ash had no other answer but to nod and acquiesce to it. "Besides, Ilima isn't back from his own preparations yet, so we've got some time to kill."

    "Sounds like a plan," Ash admitted. There was a dinging sound, and Ash turned to see that Nurse Joy was returning with all of his Pokémon. Kukui stepped aside to allow the pinkette to return them to Ash. As he did so, Ash noticed a glint off the man's finger, something which Serena seemed to see as well, but promptly ignored it in favor of Pikachu jumping on his shoulder.

    "Your Pokémon are all healthy and ready to go," Nurse Joy said, smiling at him. Ash thanked her and immediately looked towards the exit that Kukui had come through. The professor appeared to notice and he jerked his head toward the battlefield, letting them all follow along.

    "Been a while, so you'll have to forgive me if my battle skills are a little rusty, Ash. Especially since I've never battled with Rockruff before; not exactly my Pokémon, you know?" Kukui laughed out, rubbing the back of his head. Ash thought of responding, but Serena was already asking a question of her own.

    "Professor, can I ask…are you married?" she asked. Ash stopped short, causing Bonnie to run into him, alongside Rotom, who acted like it was rubbing its nose. Kukui also stopped and turned back to Serena with a grin.

    "You noticed, huh?" he said, holding up his finger and displaying the band around it. Ash gulped a little. It wasn't that he thought Serena had expected anything like that from him (no, they were way too young for that), but that she had noticed something like that when he hadn't…well, it said that it was somewhere on her mind. Serena appeared to notice his small sense of trepidation, because she reached over and put a hand on his bicep, as if to reassure him that wasn't why she was asking. He appreciated that.

    "Just now, so I was wondering."

    "Yeah, my wife's great. I'm sure you'll meet her someday," he laughed out, once more resuming their forward progression. "Just like my assistant. She said she was going to be here for the trial, but she has this tendency of wandering off and getting lost. If I didn't see her at the house every couple of days, I'd really worry for her…and yet, she's the responsible one of the two of us! Ah, here we are."

    "Ruff!" Rockruff barked the second they stepped out onto the dusty battlefield. Ash hardly had the time to turn before Rockruff had tackled him happily and began licking Ash's face.

    "Not again, Rockruff!" Ash laughed out, practically buckling under Rockruff's affections. Pikachu, too, was laughing, patting the canine on the back. Eventually, Kukui appeared to take pity on Ash and bent down to pick Rockruff up.

    "All right, Rockruff. Now's not the time for playing, okay?" Kukui told the little dog. Rockruff sunk a little, looking slightly sad. "We're gonna have a battle against Ash."

    "Rock!" Rockruff barked out, clearly happy once again, that glint of determination in her eyes. Ash stood and dusted himself off. Rockruff was definitely an odd one; she seemed so enthusiastic to both play and battle, even if just to impress him, and while Kukui seemed to act like her trainer despite the claims he wasn't, she'd also taken far too keen an interest in him for that to be the case. He thought of asking the professor about it later, figuring he was probably mistaken, and instead walked over to one end of the battlefield. Now was the time to focus on the trial ahead.

    "All right, Ash, we'll make this a quick one-on-one, huh?" Kukui said. Ash looked over to him, taking his place on the other end of the battlefield. Rockruff ran onto the field, hunkering down and ready to battle.

    "Sounds good to me! Pikipek, I choose you!" Ash called, throwing out Pikipek's pokeball. The small bird emerged from the capture device, spreading her wings, ready for battle. Kukui's hand moved to his chin and he stroked it with interest.

    "Ooh…you caught a Pikipek, I see. This should make things interesting," Kukui said. "All right, Rockruff, we're gonna have to be real sharp here. So, let's start with Bite!"

    "Rockruff!" Rockruff growled out and she began speeding down the battlefield, aiming right for Pikipek. Ash watched her draw closer, her mouth opening wider.

    "Dodge and use Feather Dance!" Ash commanded. Just as Rockruff lunged at Pikipek, the small bird flapped its wings to push itself upward. Rockruff missed, skidding back onto the dust. Ash turned his head a little as the subsequent flapping of Pikipek's wings led to a slew of feathers falling around Rockruff. "Now, Peck!"

    "Rock Throw!" Kukui said, getting into the battle now that it had begun. Rockruff howled, and the small spikes around her neck flew outward and detached, converging into a giant rock that was then hurled at Pikipek. She was too close to truly dodge effectively.

    "Use Echoed Voice!" Pikipek opened her beak and sent an array of soundwaves at the large rock, eroding some of it away, though not enough to completely stop it. The rock slammed into Pikipek, driving her slightly off course. "Use it again!"

    "Ah ah, not giving you the chance. Rock Polish!" Kukui said, showing his immense energy. Ash had to blink; not at Rockruff suddenly gleaming with blue sparks, but at the trainer he was facing. It was just for a second (and a brief one at that), but for a moment, Kukui wasn't just some professor. He was a professional battler. It was like his aura had changed, and Ash could see past some of the veil surrounding him. Pikipek was striking, her sound waves shooting for Rockruff again, only for Rockruff to move at surprising speed and dodge it.

    "If that won't do it, use Peck!"

    "Pikee!" Pikipek cried, her beak glowing white as she spun down at Rockruff. Once more, the canine dodged, but Pikipek wasn't giving up, swooping consistently. As she did, Ash noticed his companions all at the side, watching with interest, along with a few other trainers that had gathered to watch the battle. It may have been a simple skirmish, yet something in Ash's mind told him they were battling at a level above that. Turning back to Pikipek, he saw that she was making her swoops tighter, to the point that just as Rockruff dodged, she whipped right around and slammed into her backside with the attack.

    "Rock Throw!"

    "Feather Dance again!" Ash called. The array of feathers shot out as Rockruff created the large rock above her head again. Ash's eyes narrowed. "Don't use them to surround Rockruff and lower its attack. Use them like a shield!"

    "Pik!" Pikipek confirmed, flapping her wings once more. The feathers shot forward, creating what looked like a shield that blocked the rock, chunks of gravel and pieces of feather fluff scattering. A new sound joined their battle, too: the sound of clapping. All around them, Ash saw the different trainers spinning to face the newcomer, though he had a very distinct feeling he knew who it was.

    "Ah, Ilima, everything set then?" Kukui asked. Sure enough, Ash saw Ilima striding right towards them with a smile on his face. He nodded briefly at Kukui before stopping before Ash.

    "Pretty good battle, there. I hope you'll do just as well in the trial," the man said. The rocks and feathers on the field faded away, signaling an end to the battle. Ash gripped his pokeball and thanked Pikipek, returning her to her pokeball before answering.

    "Well, I'm definitely ready for it," he told the captain. Ilima tapped a clipboard in his hand, as if signaling that he should follow, and then whipped around, aiming to leave the Center. Ash wasted no time in running after the man, his friends following close behind him. Even Rockruff was running after him.

    Various trainers' eyes were following him as he trailed after the captain, making him feel just a little self-conscious. Was it because the captain himself was escorting him? Was it his battle with Kukui? It felt similar to when he was so enormously popular at the Kalos League and the Peace Tournament, and that wasn't always a feeling he liked. Still, looking back, he could see Serena smiling at him, alongside Clemont and Bonnie, while Rotom regaled Kukui with some tales. Gratefully, the stares didn't last too long as they were soon outside the Pokémon Center and making their way to the mouth of the cave they had passed earlier. Ilima strode right up to the signs there, taking out the pendant from his hair and pressing it to the signs.

    "Whoa…" Ash commented, Pikachu exhibiting the exact same reaction. Ilima had touched his pendant to the signs and suddenly there was a bright blue glow around the entrance to the cave. It flared brightly for a second, and then vanished.

    "As an honored part of Alola tradition, we have to make sure our trial sites are protected. Can't just let anyone or anything enter them. That's why only we Captains and Kahunas are able to open the path forward. I can't explain everything behind it, but there's something about the composition of these posts and our pendants that causes it to all work," Ilima explained. He then motioned to the inside of the cavern, as if telling Ash to move ahead of him. The raven-haired trainer looked to Pikachu on his arm and nodded; they were ready to begin. Clenching his fists, Ash ran forward into the gaping cave.

    His feet first pounded along rocky surfaces, the sound of his footsteps echoing off the cave walls. However, it soon became muffled, like he was standing on moss of some sort. This was proven true as he emerged into brightness, sunlight flooding into the cave. Stretching out before him was a large cavern that sloped upward, covered in grass and moss, sunlight glittering around. To Ash's side appeared to be a pathway that led upwards, unobstructed by the otherwise uneven field before him.

    "That's for your friends," Ilima said to him.

    "You mean we can't stay and watch?" Bonnie asked in disappointment. Ilima chuckled while Kukui placed a hand on her shoulder.

    "There're reasons for that," the professor told her, though it hardly improved her mood. Serena looked towards Ilima, as if expecting an explanation. The pinkette decided to give it.

    "The trial, my trial, requires the trainer to solve a task alone," he told them, first gazing at Serena before looking over to Ash and staying there. "So, that means you can only rely on your own ingenuity and Pokémon to solve the task I'm giving you. Once you've completed it, we'll have our battle."

    "So, it's two parts," Clemont noted, adjusting his glasses. Ash didn't look at his friend, but nodded at Ilima, indicating that he understood.

    "What do I have to do to battle you, then?" he finally asked. Ilima lowered his head a little, staring down slightly towards him.

    "Your task is to find all of the Yungoos and Rattata in the Verdant Cavern and defeat them," Ilima explained to him. "However, there's a catch. You only have two hours to do so, and you cannot receive any help from Rotom, there."

    Ash's face set itself into a serious expression, but he nodded. Ilima certainly wasn't making it easy for him to win at his first trial, and yet…"Got it. I'm ready."

    "Then I'll see you at the top," Ilima said simply. "Island Challenger, the Trial of Ilima begins here and now!"

    "Good luck, Ash!" Bonnie waved out, already trailing after Professor Kukui.

    "Go get 'em," Clemont assured him. Lastly, Serena stepped forward, offering him a very chaste kiss on the lips as her way of encouragement. Then she was skipping off after the others. Ilima brought up the rear, sealing the alternate way up the hill, also lined with the same markers. In mere seconds, it was practically silent in the Cavern, nothing but the sound of trickling water echoing around.

    "Pika…pikachu…" Pikachu said, as if expressing worry over the silence. Ash just turned to his best buddy.

    "No worries. I already have an idea," Ash said, looking right at him. Pikachu leapt off his shoulder as he gripped Greninja's pokeball, sending it outward.

    "No one finds things quickly better than Greninja," Ash told the both of his veteran Pokémon. Greninja nodded in agreement as he appeared while Pikachu's ears seemed to perk up in understanding. "And if we combine our powers, we can double the effect! Let's go, Greninja!"

    "Nin-ja!" Greninja said, and both raised their arms into the air. Closing his eyes, Ash could feel the water torrent surrounding Greninja and coalescing into the same old shuriken. When the transformation was complete, he opened his eyes and could see straight through Greninja's gaze. "Gren…ninja gren?"

    "I don't know where they'd be hiding," Ash said, folding his arms just as Greninja was doing. "But if we find them, then Pikachu can beat them all no problem!"

    "Chupika!" Pikachu agreed wholeheartedly.

    "Let's just sense for them and find them, okay. Then we'll hunt them down and beat them!" Greninja nodded with Ash and the two breathed evenly, slipping into a deeper state of synchronization (or so Ash felt). He could see and sense everything that Greninja was sensing, their gazes scanning the cavern quickly. Ash could feel within Greninja how odd this felt for the both of them; they were so used to battling, that solving their problems in a different way to reach their goal was entirely foreign. Unfortunately, it also meant they couldn't sense anything.

    Frowning, Ash stepped forward and closed his eyes again, just as Greninja did. Pikachu remained where he was, waiting for the both of them. Closing his eyes allowed Ash to begin making use of all his other senses, and Greninja's as well. He could feel the breath of the air across him, could taste the dew in the cavern. Most important, however, was that he could hear scurrying. The sounds of claws scrabbling against the moss, two different sets. His eyes snapped open, and now he could see them. Their sounds had already led to their locations. Eight in all, four different areas; small caves where the air was passing through unseen.

    "Greninja, use Water Shuriken, but be careful. And Pikachu, Electro Ball, rapid fire!"

    "Ninja!" Greninja cried, grabbing his giant shuriken from his back. He aimed towards one of the small culverts directly in front of them and threw it. Meanwhile, Pikachu had called forth his own Electro Ball and fired three of them off in the directions of the caves. The four attacks hit, sending some dust billowing out from the little inserts, despite them being so far away.

    "Did we get them?" Ash asked, though it wasn't like he was expecting an answer. Instead, he stopped and listened. After a few seconds, he heard the scrabbling once again, this time moving in a frenzy. Most disconcerting, however, was that there were still eight in all…and their position had changed.

    "Pikapi…" Pikachu said, concerned over having completely missed their target. Ash frowned. He could have sworn he had hit them dead on.

    "Well, then we'll just have to go to them," he said to both of his partners. Greninja nodded while Pikachu took the initiative and ran right for the small hole that Greninja had attacked before. "Great idea, buddy. Head inside and see what you can see!"

    "Pika!" the Electric type mouse agreed, dashing forward on all fours to enter the cave. Ash and Greninja drew closer, their bodies in a battle-ready stance in case one of the Yungoos or Rattata decided to pop their heads out. Pikachu's voice seemed to disappear down the tunnel and Greninja looked back at Ash, who shrugged. "Pikapi!"

    "Pikachu?" Ash asked, hearing his partner's voice from somewhere else in the cavern. Whipping around, he could see that Pikachu had appeared up and to the left, waving down at him. "How did you get up there?"

    "Pika pika, Pikachu…" Pikachu told him, and Ash got the gist of it. Clearly the small tunnels here were connected, allowing their targets to freely move from one end to the other with speed. Ash grinned at that; two hours or not, he had an idea of how to at least track down their targets.

    "All right, we'll have to tag team 'em," he said authoritatively, pulling out both Rowlet and Pikipek's pokeballs, tossing them into the air. His two fliers emerged with a cry, ready to act. "All five of us have to work together, okay? I'll stay here, and Pikachu, you go in there again. Pikipek, upper left, Rowlet, middle right and Greninja to the tunnel at my side. Once you're all there, we'll attack!"

    "Rrrroh!" Rowlet cried out, emboldening the others to follow his example. Both Rowlet and Pikipek swooped off for their respective tunnels as Greninja ran along, making Ash feel the springy moss beneath his feet. Ash put his fists up, waiting, in case he was attacked. It was time to put all of that physical training to good use, and, for once, not in a life or death situation. It made him feel…well, almost normal. A breath of fresh air that he and the others needed. Lifting his gaze upward, he saw that all of his Pokémon were stationed at four of the ten different tunnels he noted there were.

    "All right, all at once, attack!" Ash called, throwing his fist into the air. Pikipek stationed herself at the tunnel and let off an Echoed Voice while Rowlet kicked forward, throwing his Tackle into the tunnel. Pikachu summoned his electricity and sent it searing into the tunnel while Greninja threw his shuriken in. Ash readied himself as the attacks all struck, sending a slight tremor through the cavern.

    1…2…3…4…5…Ash breathed in, and then he heard a screech. Looking down, he kicked out right as a Yungoos suddenly emerged from the tunnel at his feet. The Yungoos avoided the strike and aimed a Bite right at his face. Ash fell back to dodge and Yungoos sailed over his head, landing on the ground and dashing off to the right for another tunnel. At the same time, he noticed that Pikipek was pursuing a rogue Rattata on her upper level.

    "Well…that didn't work," Ash thought to himself. He sat up, crossing his legs as he tried to think, all four of his Pokémon returning to his side. "Don't suppose you all have any ideas?"

    "Piki…" Pikipek stated sadly, and Ash simply patted her on the head. He folded his arms, thinking. Even trying to flush the Yungoos and Rattata out of the tunnels wasn't working out. They simply couldn't all attack at once and manage to take them all out within the time limit. It was frustrating! Had this been a gym battle, he would have already figured it out, but as it stood, the trial seemed confusing and almost pointless.

    "Wait…" he breathed, a memory bubbling up to the surface. His eyes narrowed, peering into the inky blackness of the tunnel before him as he recalled the events yesterday. Of those Team Skull people calling out a Rattata…and Yungoos attacking them. "Natural enemies…"

    "Kuroh?" Rowlet asked, tilting his head. Ash started to smile, looking up. Yungoos on the right; Rattata on the left. Both natural enemies of one another, keeping safely to their territories. It probably seemed a little mean, but Ash had to wonder what would happen if he made them cross territories.

    "I've got it, but we've gotta be quick, okay?" Ash said to his team. They all nodded. "Rowlet and Greninja, you guys are really quick, so I need you to move as fast as you can from tunnel to tunnel on the left and right. Drive the Rattata and Yungoos to the center, okay? Then, once they're there, we'll take action."

    "Nin!" Greninja agreed, and he instantly dashed off, practically disappearing. Rowlet watched him a moment before taking his example and zipping away to the left. Pikipek landed on Ash's shoulder while Pikachu remained alert. Ash kept his gaze forward, watching as Rowlet began flapping, summoning a Leafage that began to consume the entire left side of the cavern, filling all of the tunnels with leaves. At the same time, Ash sent commands to Greninja through their link as the frog used Double Team, consuming the right side with his copies before throwing all of their shuriken.

    "Come on…" Ash said, hoping that his plan had worked. His fist clenched, eyes flitting between both sides when a screech sounded. He snapped upwards and saw a band of Yungoos emerging from a tunnel on the upper level. They weren't alone, as the panicked Rattata were fleeing from the storm of leaves that Rowlet was creating…right on a collision course for the Yungoos. "Block them from escaping!"

    "Gren!" Greninja cried, his copies vanishing as he leapt over the rocks to keep the Yungoos and Rattata pinned in. Rowlet joined him, a fierce expression upon his face. Ash stepped forward, he and the other two moving to join them as the two groups saw one another. There was a brief second where both the Yungoos and Rattata stopped. Then, in the very next second, they seemed to abandon all reason and leapt at each other. One of the Rattata fell to the side while a Yungoos was picked up by a Rattata's teeth and tossed against a rock. It was brutal.

    "We'll have to stop them before they tear each other apart," Ash noted, finally catching up. "Pikipek, let's stop them with a little Feather Dance."

    "Pik," Pikipek confirmed, flapping up and beating her wings to send a cascade of feathers down. The two groups didn't stop fighting, but it certainly seemed less harmful than it was before. Still, Ash knew that wasn't the goal of the trial.

    "Now, Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!" Ash cried. Pikachu's body brimmed with electricity.

    "Pikachuuuuuuuu!" his partner cried, sending the searing Thunderbolt out. Neither group saw it coming, the attack impacting with exploding sparks and blasting them all back. When the dust cleared from the attack, it showed all eight of them dazed upon the ground, allowing Ash the chance to walk up to them. As he did so, they began to stir feebly, giving him the opportunity to stand in between them.

    "Sorry for chasing you all from your homes," Ash told them, crouching down to apologize personally. The Yungoos and Rattata all growled at one another, practically ignoring his words. Ash sighed. "Hey, no fighting! I know you're natural enemies and all, but try working together and you can make an even better home."

    "Yung?" one of the Yungoos asked, stopping its growling and tilting its head. Ash smiled at it, reaching out to pet it on the head.

    "That's right. By working together, you can enjoy more. Sure, you might fight, but I'm sure there's a way for your two groups to work it out," he told them. The Rattata and Yungoos still appeared wary, but Ash stood, giving all of them a stern expression. It was soon followed by a surreal experience, but Ash watched as one of the Rattata stepped forward and bumped heads with one of the Yungoos. Then the Rattata turned around and scampered back to their side of the cavern, the Yungoos following suit soon after. "Think that counts, guys?"

    "Pika…" Pikachu said, shrugging a little. A light from Ash's side showed Greninja coming out of his form as he stood there stoically. Deciding there was nothing else for it, Ash walked upwards, heading for the bright light at the top of the cavern. His Pokémon trailed behind him the closer they got. As he ran, thoughts entered Ash's head. Trials were definitely different: less a battle and more an interaction with nature. It made sense, given everything else he'd seen with Alola and their ties to nature, but it was still surreal.

    He dug his feet in more, pumping them up the hill until he finally reached the cavern's mouth. The same signs leading to the trial site were erected there, and for a moment, Ash feared he'd slam into them, but it proved to not be the case as he blasted through it, emerging into a wide open part grassy, part rocky meadow, the sun shining down on what looked like a stone dais that served as a battlefield.

    "Ash! You did it!" Serena's voice was the first thing he heard, turning to the side where he saw his friends all clustered with Kukui and Rockruff. His girlfriend ran forward and managed to nearly tackle him to the ground from happiness.

    "So I made it?" he asked.

    "You did," Ilima responded. Serena removed herself from Ash and the raven-haired trainer noticed that Ilima was standing at one end of the battlefield, his clipboard abandoned in favor of a pokeball he was tossing up and down gently. Ash saw Serena retreat to the side of the area with the others, all of them looking pleased that he had passed the first part of the trial. "And quite handily. Half of the trainers don't even figure out a way to clear the trial on their first attempt. Tell me, how did you do it?"

    "Well…I have Rotom to thank for it," Ash said, pointing towards the floating Pokédex.

    "Bzz, what did Rotom do?" Rotom said, looking slightly confused.

    "Yesterday, at the farm, you mentioned that Yungoos and Rattata are natural enemies. All I did was drive them against each other. Once they were distracted, I took 'em out," Ash explained. He kept his gaze on Ilima as he said all this, the man's expression never changing. When he finished, Ilima inclined his head a little.

    "And what did you learn?"

    Learn? Ash asked in his head. He supposed that there was something to learn from the trial, but he never thought he'd be asked about it. Or it could just be because Ilima is an ace student.

    "Well…I guess that sometimes there's a balance to things," Ash said, spouting off the first thing that came to his mind. "If the Yungoos were ever to become a problem, the Rattata would balance them out, and the same in the other direction. They both have their own purposes."

    "A good answer," Ilima said, now smiling. Ash smiled back, glad that he seemed to have passed that particular test. Purpose, huh? he thought to himself, stepping towards the battlefield. For a small nanosecond, Ash had to wonder if the trial was testing his own purpose, and if it was connected to his dream. Why do you want to be a Pokémon Master?

    "So, does that mean we battle now, or…?" Ash asked, shaking Hala's words from his mind.

    "It does. Two-on-two," Ilima said. Just as he said so, a man wearing an aqua blue shirt and hat stepped forward, said shirt bearing the emblem of the Island Trials. He was a portly man, but otherwise nondescript. Nevertheless, Ash had a feeling he was the referee for the fight.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  15. #15
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "This battle will be a two-on-two battle between the trial-goer, Ash, and the trial captain, Ilima. Only the trial-goer will be allowed to switch Pokémon and the battle is over when both of one side's Pokémon have fainted! This will include a battle against the Totem Pokémon!" the referee said, lowering his hand. "You may begin."

    "Guess we're getting right to it, huh?" Ash said, coming fully forward to stand in the trainer's box. He looked to his group of Pokémon, all of them obviously eager to battle. However, he knew who he wanted to help him win his first trial. "Pikachu, Greninja, you guys cheer for me with the others. I want my newest team members to help me to win this one."

    "Pi!" Pikachu agreed, running over to Serena and leaping onto her shoulders. Greninja returned more slowly, arms remaining folded.

    "Do your best, Ash!" Bonnie called over.

    "I'm sure you can win," Clemont said, though even then he heard a tinge of nervousness inside the boy's voice. Ash reached up to adjust his hat a little and nodded.

    "Definitely. Pikipek, I choose you!" Ash called, pointing forward. Pikipek flapped forward, brushing past his ear to go and flutter above the center of their side of the battlefield. Ilima smiled softly at this, and tossed his own pokeball upwards.

    "Time for the trial, Raticate," he called. The light burst from the pokeball as the Raticate emerged. Ash narrowed his eyes, noting that just like its pre-evolved counterpart, Raticate looked different. Its fur was black and its cheeks bulging, though it looked just as temperamental, and its teeth just as large, as its Kanto type. Ash grinned. It was always a challenge to face a new Pokémon. "I'll allow you the first move as challenger, Ash."

    "Great! Pikipek, start off with Peck!" Ash called, wasting no time in getting into the battle. Pikipek adopted a fierce expression and then dove straight for Raticate, her beak glowing a bright white. Raticate didn't move, its puffy cheeks bulging as it stared up at Pikipek. The Woodpecker Pokémon closed the distance quickly and slammed right into Raticate's chest. "Awesome job!"
    "Raticate, use Assurance," came Ilima's calm command. Ash flinched a little. He should have expected a counter move like that from the way Raticate hadn't even made a move to dodge. The Dark type reared back, absorbing Pikipek's blow before its front claw glowed purple and orange. It then punched forward, slamming into Pikipek and throwing her back.

    "Pikipek, are you all right?" Ash asked. Pikipek shook her head and then spread her wings with a cry, showing that she was more than okay. "Great, now use Echoed Voice!"

    "Pikeee!" Pikipek cried, opening her beak and shooting off the powerful soundwaves that she had used before. They battered upon Raticate, who seemed to twitch under the force of the attacks.

    "That was a great strategy!" Ash heard Clemont saying as Pikipek's assault continued. "If Ash can't get close because of Assurance, using Echoed Voice to keep the distance is a smart idea."

    "Yeah, but that battle's only beginning," Serena said, and he could see her folding her arms. "I'm sure Ilima has more tricks up his sleeve than Assurance."

    Ash grinned at that prospect; Serena had really come into her own, being able to observe battles the way she just had. She was absolutely right, of course, and Ash made sure to maintain his focus on Ilima, who seemed ready to counterattack. "Raticate, use Quick Attack."

    "Kora!" Raticate cried, body blazing with bright light. Despite the soundwaves being fired off, it blasted forward, moving at quick speed. It jumped as it approached Pikipek, no doubt planning to have an easy hit; one that Ash wouldn't allow.

    "Dodge, Pikipek, and then use Echoed Voice again!" Ash ordered. Pikipek flitted to the side and Raticate went past her, missing entirely and landing upon the stone surface. The bird quickly made an about face and then opened her beak to send the devastating soundwaves off again. They were bigger this time, and appeared to be causing Raticate more damage than before.

    "The wonderful side effect of Echoed Voice," Kukui commented, no doubt grinning at the execution of the move. Rockruff barked enthusiastically at his observation.

    "What is?" Bonnie asked.

    "Echoed Voice is a move that raises in power every time it's used in succession," Rotom answered quickly before anyone else could. Bonnie oohed at the thought of it, but Ash still kept himself focused, wondering just what Ilima would plan to do next. Raticate may have seemed pinned, but Ash knew that was far from the case.

    "Scary Face," the captain said. Ash grit his teeth as Raticate's face grew dark, its eyes gleaming. Pikipek's Echoed Voice faded away as she flinched from it. "Now, Hyper Fang."

    "Dodge it," Ash yelled. Raticate's fangs elongated, glowing brightly, and it leapt straight for Pikipek. The Woodpecker Pokémon attempted to dodge, but the Scary Face had clearly taken its toll, preventing her from moving out of the way in time. Raticate chomped down upon Pikipek and she cried out before the Mouse Pokémon flung her away. She spun through the air, but was eventually able to right herself, breathing heavily. "We'll need to decrease its attack. Use Feather Dance!"

    "Pekipek!" Pikipek consented, beating her wings furiously. Groupings of feathers completely surrounded the battlefield the more that Pikipek flapped, obscuring her from view as they touched upon Raticate's fur. It was just the thing they needed.

    "Now use Peck, and be quick!" Ash yelled, throwing his hand out. Pikipek didn't see the action, but she obeyed all the same, diving through the cover of her self-produced feathers, her beak glowing white. She slammed into Raticate, driving it back and then flapping back to avoid any retaliation from Assurance.

    "Hyper Fang!" Ilima said, his voice rising. Raticate's fangs once more glowed as it lunged out, catching ahold of Pikipek's tail feathers. She struggled against it, trying to break free. "Now, Quick Attack."

    "Use Echoed Voice!" Ash ordered. Pikipek turned around from where she was being held as Raticate's body blazed with white light once again. Her beak opened wider than before and sent the now bright blue soundwaves firing out, consuming Raticate's body. The white aura began to fade, and its jaws slackened, allowing Pikipek the chance to break free. Raticate tumbled backwards from it and Ash saw his perfect chance. "Now, finish it with Peck!"

    "Pikipeh!" Pikipek screamed as she made one final assault, slamming into Raticate's face with a powerful Peck attack. The Mouse Pokémon flew backwards, tumbling off the stone battlefield and landing on its stomach, unstirring.

    "Raticate is unable to battle. Pikipek is the winner!" the referee called.

    "Yay! Yay! Go, Pikipek!" Bonnie cheered, Dedenne joining in jubilantly.

    "A very nice and clean victory," Kukui commented.

    "Just one more to go and Ash will complete his first trial," Serena said and Ash took a brief look over to her to see her eyes shining, Pikachu cheering within her arms. He grinned at her as Pikipek returned.

    "Great job, Pikipek. You okay to keep going?" Ash said to his partner. She spread her wings with a cry, indicating she was ready for anything. Nodding at her, they both turned to look at Ilima, who had returned Raticate.

    "That was a good battle," the captain said with a smile as he tucked his pokeball away. However, he didn't make a move to pull out another one, something that Ash found odd. He even tilted his head at the sight, especially when Ilima's smile widened. "But now is when your true trial begins."

    "My true trial?" Ash asked. He didn't wait long for an answer.

    There was a sudden shuddering throughout the cave, vibrating his entire body. Flocks of other Pikipek and Spearow resting atop the cavern's top seemed to take off at the sound. His Pikipek looked around in confusion, tensing at the vibrations in the air. Meanwhile, his companions all bunched together, fearful of what was to come.

    Then, like a sudden burst of energy, rocks exploded from behind Ilima, revealing a column with a shining crystal. Only, that wasn't all it revealed. There was also a cave behind it, and coming from within that cave was a large Pokémon that towered over Ilima, himself. Ash swallowed a little.

    "Rotom…" he called out. The Pokédex floated a little forward.

    "Gumshoos, the Stakeout Pokémon and evolved form of Yungoos," Rotom began to speak. "It adores having Rattata and Raticate for dinner, but as it's diurnal, it never encounters them. This Pokémon boasts incredible patience. Though this one could likely fit even more than usual."

    "Then this is…?" Ash began, tightening his fist at the sight of the giant Gumshoos, a Pokémon with slicked back yellow fur and squinting eyes.

    "A Totem Pokémon," Ilima explained. "By all rights, it's just a Pokémon that lives in the wild, not belonging to any trainer. I doubt any trainer could handle it. But we've worked together to take on challengers. Gumshoos, here, is at the top of the heap in the Verdant Cavern, and he'll be your final test."

    "A Totem, huh…" Ash said. He grinned once more and punched his fist into his hand. "That gets me way fired up."

    "Good. Gumshoos, you'll battle with me again, won't you?" Ilima asked, patting the giant Pokémon on its back.

    "Gum," it grunted out, turning to face Pikipek with an almost sinister expression.

    "Excellent, then. We'll make the first move. Leer!"

    "Get in there quick with Peck!" Ash ordered. He already had a sense that Gumshoos was a big enough threat without the Leer, and didn't want to give it the chance to be any stronger. Pikipek's beak glowed white and she dove at Gumshoos.

    Suddenly, a bright orange aura flared to life around Gumshoos, just as Pikipek made contact. The Totem didn't even budge, grinning down at Pikipek with the Leer. Pikipek backed off, almost like she was scared of the giant beast before her. That was before his claw came flying out, whipping up copious amounts of sand that obscured Pikipek from sight. Ilima hadn't ordered it, and Ash narrowed his eyes. It was no wonder that this Totem Pokémon was so dangerous: a special aura that seemed to boost defense along with acting effectively without a trainer's orders while working alongside one. He knew they'd have to be careful.

    "Don't worry too much about the sand," Ash said. "It's a big target, so flap your wings to clear the sand right in front of you and use Peck!"

    "Piki!" Pikipek acknowledged within the swirl. Ash peered into the dust cloud and saw puffs of it going upward, indicating his Pokémon's presence. A loud thud indicated that Pikipek had struck home…unfortunately.

    "Revenge," Ilima said. Gumshoos raised a giant arm, glowing a bright white with some steam coming off of it, before slamming it back down onto Pikipek. The sand cleared from the sudden blast of the force as Pikipek skidded along the ground. She weakly struggled, attempting to move, but unable to get up very fast as Gumshoos stalked forward.

    "Its strength is immense…" Clemont commentated. It was certainly something he had realized himself.

    "Then let's reduce that strength. Feather Dance!" Ash called. Pikipek barely managed to raise her head and flap her wings a few times, the glistening white feathers surrounding and touching down upon Gumshoos before the mighty Pokémon came crashing down on her with large and glowing white fangs. Ash flinched, already knowing the outcome. Sure enough, Pikipek was left prone on the field.

    "Pikipek is unable to battle. The Totem Pokémon, Gumshoos, is the winner." Ash grimaced, but stepped forward onto the field as Gumshoos stepped back. He quickly picked up the tiny Pikipek and cradled her in his arms.

    "Are you all right, Pikipek?" he asked. She stirred in his arms and then reached up to peck him on his forehead. He laughed a little. "Thanks for a great battle. You've definitely made it possible for us to win."

    Pikipek chirped just a little bit before Ash returned her to her pokeball and came to stand back in his trainer's box. He looked over to Ilima, standing calmly behind the Totem. Gumshoos eyed him with a grin, just for a moment, before howling. The howl filled the cavern, but Ash didn't budge an inch. He didn't even react when two Yungoos suddenly scampered down the walls to join their evolved form. Ilima was grinning. "I see you realize what battling a Totem means, now."

    "Enhanced abilities, able to act on its own, and it can even call on its friends," Ash answered the captain. "Don't worry, I've got it all covered. My other Pokémon will bring it home. Rowlet, I choose you!"

    "Kurrroh!" Rowlet chirped, flying forward. Ash had the feeling that he had been sleeping during Pikipek's battle, but that was all for the better; it meant he'd be able to win now. Over with his friends, Pikachu was cheering loudly from Serena's arms, and Ash could even feel that Greninja was nodding, urging him forward.

    "All right, Rowlet, let's win this one! It's a tough opponent, but I know we can do it," he said to the Grass type. Rowlet nodded, hovering in the air. Ash looked to Ilima, who nodded as well, granting him the first move of the battle. "Use Leafage and create as many leaves as you can!"

    "Roh!" Rowlet cried, flapping his wings just like Pikipek. Instead of feathers, this time it was a cornucopia of leaves that sailed out, completely covering the battlefield in the foliage. Rowlet soon disappeared within, and Ash knew it was time to act immediately.

    "Use Tackle!" he cried. He heard Rowlet's call from within the leaves as they battered Gumshoos body. Next, he saw the shadow of his Pokémon move close, talon aiming out in a kick. The force hit Gumshoos, who actually appeared to flinch, taking both attacks at the same time. Rowlet backed off as soon as the force hit.

    "Revenge, once more," Ilima said. Gumshoos arm once more glowed with the steam and it struck forward. For a second, Ash thought that Rowlet was out of range, but Gumshoos reach was far wider than he'd expected and it slammed onto Rowlet, sending it cascading to the ground. The two Yungoos on the field then struck forward, pelting Rowlet with their Bite attacks to push him backwards. The leaves vanished and Ash saw that Gumshoos looked a little roughed up, its companions more so.

    "We need to make this quick. Use Pluck on all of them!" Ash called. Rowlet flapped his wings to shoot straight upward before his beak glowed blue. Then he swooped downward, slamming into both of the Yungoos with force and sending them into the rock wall, where they fell. He then whipped right around and rotated while approaching Gumshoos, finally hitting the Stakeout Pokémon.

    Apparently, Gumshoos didn't like that, because its fangs elongated once more and glowed, aiming to take a piece out of the owl. Ash's eyes narrowed once more, calling for a Leafage. Rowlet acted instantly, flapping his wings to both avoid the strike and create the leaves that battered Gumshoos mercilessly. It was a close call, but Rowlet was safe.

    "I have to admit, Ash," Ilima said, drawing his attention to the captain, "you've done very well. Most trainers fall to Totem Gumshoos or find a way around him within the first few moves, but you and your team have held on quite a while. Makes me want to show you the true power we've worked on together."

    "Bring it on," Ash said, throwing his fist up, his Z-Ring jingling a little. Rowlet hooted in agreement, himself obviously fired up for battle as well. "We'll take anything you throw at us."

    "Glad to hear it," Ilima said. He was grinning even wider now, and Ash felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end from the usually expressionless young man showing so much emotion. "Then it's time, Gumshoos."

    "Shuuu…" Gumshoos said, almost as if it were laughing. Ash watched as Ilima's hands crossed and then uncrossed, soon falling to his side. That's when he saw the Z-Ring, glinting with a bright white light. Ilima crossed his hands in front of himself, now, and then brought them both to his right side. Right after, his left arm flew out and upward before covering his face while his right covered his midsection. At the same time, Gumshoos mimicked the movements. Power radiated from the Z-Ring, encompassing Gumshoos' figure. It was a mesmerizing sight; one that Ash committed to memory.

    "We usually never have to use this, so consider it an honor, Ash! Breakneck Blitz!" Ilima shouted. Ash grit his teeth, feeling the power that was emanating outwards.

    "Rowlet, you need to dodge!" Rowlet hooted and floated upwards, only Gumshoos was on the move. Its body blazed with powerful white light as it got onto all fours and charged forward, kicking up the dust and stones in its wake. Rowlet attempted to escape, but Gumshoos was barreling down on him too fast, reaching him in seconds and powerfully impacting with Rowlet. The force sent the Grass Quill Pokémon spiraling, slamming into the stone wall, where he slid down to the grass. The blast of wind from the strike nearly blew his hat off and Ash stepped forward. Gumshoos stopped, the power fading away. "Rowlet…?"

    "Kuuu…" came the muted hoot. He sounded beyond exhausted, likely ready to pass out if he hadn't already.

    "Come on, Rowlet, you gotta get up!" Bonnie cried out.

    "Ash's first trial can't just end like this…" Serena spoke, shaking her head. Ash gripped his fist. Was that really it? Was a single Z-Move to be the end of his first trial? No…

    "Rowlet, I know you can do this," Ash said. "You've been looking for a trainer that can accept you as you for a long time, and I promised we'd work together. I know how strong you can be, so let's win this together."

    Rowlet said nothing, but after a second, his feathers began to ruffle and he raised himself up. He looked tired, but the glint in his black eyes told Ash that he wasn't giving up. As he flapped back into the air and cried out, it was like a statement that neither of them would go down without a fight.

    "KURRRRRROH!" Rowlet cried and Ash grinned, pumping his fist.

    "We're not done yet! Leafage!" Ash cried, throwing his hand out. Rowlet flapped his wings sending a gust of wind across the battlefield, carrying the leaves with it. They pelted Gumshoos powerfully, driving the Totem backwards. "Now use Tackle! Follow it with Pluck!"

    "Roh!" Rowlet shouted, making quick circles in midair before lunging forward with his talons. The attack's force slammed into Gumshoos, making it flinch a moment, enough for Rowlet to dive in with his blue beak. The attack made contact this time, forcing Gumshoos head upward.

    "Use Leer!" Ilima ordered, obviously taking a more vested interest in the battle. Gumshoos snapped back, eyes alighting.

    "Rowlet, shut your eyes and rely on my voice!" Ash called. Rowlet did as ordered. "Dodge to the side!"

    "Super Fang!" Ilima yelled at the same time. Just as predicted, Rowlet rolled through the air, not catching sight of Gumshoos' Leer and managing to avoid the lunging fangs at the same time. Ash brought his fist down as the cries of Serena and Clemont filled the air.

    "Use Pluck! Drive it up!" Ash called. Rowlet dove down, aiming right for the stone battlefield before snapping his wings out. He glided along the ground before shooting upwards with the blue beak. This time, Rowlet's combined preceding force and the actual contact managed to lift Gumshoos off the battlefield and into the air. "Now, Tackle!"

    "Sand Attack!" Ilima shouted. He actually appeared to be experiencing some emotions, even if he wasn't moving his body much. Despite being in the air, Gumshoos tail slammed down, stirring up tremendous amounts of sand that obscured all of their visions. It was almost as if Sandstorm had been used, but Ash knew they wouldn't give up.

    "Hit it now, make contact!" Ash told his partner. Rowlet's cry sounded out from within the sand and he seemed to spin through it all, no doubt keeping his eyes closed. "Straight ahead!"

    "Get ready with Revenge!" Ilima called. Rowlet's talon then made contact, aided by Ash's expert directions. Gumshoos' giant fist glowed white and Ash saw the very small window in which to strike.

    "Leafage!" he yelled, peering at Rowlet through the sand. The Grass Quill Pokémon's wings snapped out and he beat them furiously. The bright, neon green leaves shot out, cutting through the sand and clearing the entire battlefield of the swirling sand before Rowlet twisted. The winds from his wings carried him back and all the leaves battered Gumshoos mercilessly, interrupting its Revenge attack, the white glow fading. "Finish it with Tackle!"

    "Rrrrrrrroh!" Rowlet screamed, aiming his talon once more for the Totem. He didn't stop for the original force, slamming right into Gumshoos' chest and driving it upward, right into the stone ceiling. The entire area shuddered as Rowlet came back down, landing on the stone dais, panting. Then Gumshoos fell, its form moving quickly as it slammed into the same stone and sent chunks of gravel flying. Dust covered the entire battlefield and Ash waited, waited to see whether Gumshoos would stand again.

    "Did they win…?" Bonnie was asking, but Clemont could only seem to shake his head in the face of the unknown. Before long, the dust finally cleared.

    "The Totem Gumshoos is unable to battle. Rowlet is the winner, and so the trial-goer, Ash, clears the Trial of Ilima!"

    "Yeah!" Ash cried before he could stop himself. Looking at the form of the fainted Gumshoos, he couldn't help but feel pride in his Pokémon, especially Rowlet, who was flapping over to him wearily. "You were awesome, Rowlet. I know you could do it!"

    "Kuuu…" Rowlet expressed, clearly about to fall asleep from the intense battle. Ash just laughed as he saw Pikachu suddenly leap from Serena's arms and over to him.

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu cheered, leaping up onto his opposite shoulder. Ash quickly scratched his best buddy behind his ears.

    "That's right! We won, and we did it all together! I never would have gotten through the trial without all of you," he told his best friend. Pikachu cooed at the thought as the rest finished approaching him.

    "Congratulations, Ash," Serena said, walking over and kissing him lightly on the cheek before returning his bag to him.

    "Thanks," he said, returning the kiss due to his euphoria. Serena blushed slightly from the overt contact, but the moment lasted no longer than a second.

    "Hoo, those were some hot battles, cousin," Kukui said, rubbing the back of his head. "I haven't seen someone battle that fiercely in a long time. What do you think, Ilima?"

    "Most definitely," Ilima said. Ash and the others all turned to see Ilima approaching them, a glowing case held in his hand. Behind him, Gumshoos appeared to be returning back to his cave with less vibrations than before, and the glow from the column seemed to have disappeared, though Ash had a guess that it was now in the case. "I haven't been forced to pull out Breakneck Blitz in some time, and to have Rowlet actually pull through, you've got one strong Pokémon on your hands."

    "Thanks," Ash said, reaching his hand out. Ilima smiled softly once more and took it, all the emotions he had seemed to be showing during battle once more repressed. "Is Gumshoos all right?"

    "Of course. He's taken worse beatings," Ilima indicated. "Besides, he's the leader of the Pokémon in this area, so I always make sure he's in top shape. More importantly, though, is this."

    "Ah! Rotom sees a crystal! A crystal!" Rotom said, suddenly taking a picture of the box in Ilima's hand. The former ace student opened up the box, revealing two objects now sitting inside: a small piece of white-colored metal, and the very thing Rotom had observed, a crystal.

    "This wedge is to be placed on your Trial Amulet, and the crystal," Ilima said, his gaze flitting to his Z-Ring, "is the Normalium-Z. Any Normal type move can turn into the devastating Z-Move, Breakneck Blitz, assuming you make the right movements that I displayed earlier. They're both yours."

    "Thanks…" Ash said, reaching forward to grab both of the aforementioned items. Feeling the grin come to his face, Ash held them both up and then outwards to his friends. "All right! I got the Normalium-Z!"

    "Pipikachu!"

    "Ninja!"

    "Kurrr!"

    "Piki!" All of his Pokémon joined in the celebration, while Serena and Bonnie clapped happily. Still grinning, Ash reached for his Trial Amulet and quickly placed the wedge right in the first slot, the white glinting in the sunlight. He then took the Normalium-Z and, as if by instinct, placed it onto his Z-Ring. It shined brightly for a moment, and then suddenly disappeared, like it was absorbed.

    "So, you've cleared Ilima's trial," Kukui said, walking around to clasp Ash's shoulder from behind. "You know what that means, don't you?"

    "I do?" Ash asked with a laugh. He had to admit, he felt pretty exhausted from the first trial alone, yet at Kukui's words, the fire kept burning within him. Kukui laughed, patting his back forcefully.

    "Of course! Your Grand Trial with Kahuna Hala is up next," the professor said. Ash's eyes lit up; how could he have forgotten? ! However, as he looked over to Serena, he reined that fire in before answering Kukui.

    "Actually, Serena's Ceremony is up next," Ash answered the man. Ilima appeared to have excused himself from the conversation at this point, going to speak with the trial guide that had overseen their battle. "I can't battle Hala in Iki Town again until we've gone to Kala'e Bay to take part in the next Ceremony."

    "Naturally, though you'll want to head through Melemele Meadow, then. Nice shortcut to the bay," Kukui agreed, staring across at Serena. Ash noticed her eyes shining with happiness, like she was glad that he would put off his next battle with Hala for her. Of course, in his mind, it really came off as a no-brainer. Hala would be waiting, but the next Ceremony wouldn't. "Well, then, why don't we all go get some food to celebrate Ash's big trial victory?"

    "I like that idea!" Bonnie said, leading the way forward to the path that lead down the cavern. Ash grinned, feeling that usual euphoria settling into him as he took Serena's hand. Clemont proceeded to let a breath out, talking about how Ash continued to impress him, but all the raven-haired trainer could really focus on was the crystal now sitting in the ring that was on his wrist.

    That, and the question that kept surfacing in his mind. One that he would have to confront soon. One that he still didn't have the answer for, even after the trial.

    Why do you want to be a Pokémon Master?


    Author's Note: And so the first trial is complete! Yeah, it was a long one (sue me) but I think it turned out well. I know that it's completely different from what the anime seems to be doing for trials, but I really wanted to both pay homage to the games, make it my own and have something gym leader-esque. I hope that both portions sufficed for you with the trial portion being different and the battle being exciting. Next chapter should be even better.

    Until next time, Review and Dare to Be Silly.
    Last edited by Epicocity; 28th March 2017 at 2:50 PM.

  16. #16
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    For the record, there is a little bit of geography I've changed around here and there to suit the story better, but it's not like the anime hasn't done it before, so just roll with it. And roll on to Chapter 10!

    Chapter 10

    A Girl

    "Congratulations!" Glasses clinked against one another and Ash watched as Kukui tipped back to large mug and downed it all in what seemed to be seconds. The sun was setting outside the Pokémon Center, much to his surprise, and all around them, trainers were enjoying laid back dinners, if it wasn't for their rather noisy group. Over in a corner, all of the Pokémon were chowing down on their meals, with Pikipek and Rowlet having particularly large bowls (though Pikipek happened to share some with Chespin, to Rowlet's dismay).

    "A battle against the Kahuna," Ilima commented, tapping his chin. "Not unusual for anyone who completes the trial, of course, but I wonder what kind of battle Hala will put up against you. He always scales for his opponents…or so it seems. When was the last time you saw him battle at top strength, Professor?"

    "Oh…I have no idea," Kukui said. "I mean, he battled you at quite the level for being captain, and myself…but maybe…hmm…" The man appeared lost in a memory before he laughed it all off. "Doesn't matter. We'll all be there."

    "You're certainly taking an interest in Ash's battles here, professor," Clemont commented. His eyes briefly looked over to his Pokémon snacking, Rockruff sharing a bowl with Pikachu.

    "What can I say? I enjoy a heated battle! And I'm sure that with your first Z-Crystal, you'll get even more heated in battle," Kukui told them, winking at Ash a little. Finishing the dinner on his plate, Ash nodded. The man had said it so flippantly, yet something inside of Ash told him that there was a certain reverence to be held for the Z-Ring clasped on his wrist. It was likely something not to be used lightly. Knowing that, he stood.

    "Just going to get some fresh air," he told everyone at the table. The others all seemed to watch him go silently before returning to their conversations. Ash continued to the outside, ignoring the looks of admiration that seemed to pass around the trainers there after the news of his victory. When he finally reached the empty battlefield, he kept walking until he was in the center of it, taking in a deep breath.

    "Pikapi?" called Pikachu's voice and he turned around to see his faithful partner, along with Rockruff, standing there on the ground. The latter was wagging her tail excitedly. Ash bent down with a smile, scratching them both behind the ears.

    "I'm all right. Just thinking."

    "About the Z-Ring?" Ash looked up at the sound of Clemont's voice. The inventor was standing there, hands in his pockets and looking nervous. "You seemed to be pensive about it at dinner."

    "Mm," was all that Ash could vocalize. He really didn't want to admit that he was unsure of how he would face Hala or answer his questions. Ash usually wasn't one to doubt himself, but the weight of the ring and crystal on his wrist made him think otherwise, for however brief a time. Clemont seemed to understand, sighing a little and walking up to him.

    "You know, we've been traveling together for a while," the blond told him. Ash nodded, not quite seeing where Clemont was going with this. "Yet, no matter how much I see you battle, you always impress me. Always taking strides forward; you and Serena both, no matter how much you might doubt yourself in individual moments."

    "So do you, Clemont," Ash insisted. His friend chuckled a little, wearing a smile on his face.

    "I wonder…" he replied. Ash tilted his head a little, but Clemont responded by placing a hand on his shoulder. "Doesn't matter. What I'm saying is that you'll figure whatever is on your mind out. I truly believe that. Serena does, too, but you know her better than I do."

    "Right," Ash said, answering both points. "Thanks, Clemont."

    "Not a problem." Clemont raised his hand and yawned a little bit. Despite the evening still being young, they had exhausted quite the amount of energy today. "Well, guess I'll head back with Bonnie before she falls asleep." That was all he said before heading back to the Center's interior. Ash breathed in and raised his Z-Ring up towards the setting sun, Pikachu hopping onto his shoulder while Rockruff was near his legs.

    "Pikachu, we're going to master this together…somehow," he said, watching the light glinting off the white surface. "We'll master Z-Moves and get stronger together. I promise." All Pikachu could do was agree to that and before long they were headed back inside for a good night's rest.
    *Chapter to be continued in next post...

  17. #17
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    Serena woke the next morning to find Ash already awake and out on the battlefield. Not that it (or the fact he had already eaten breakfast) was all that surprising. In fact, it felt so normal; something she appreciated. Serena, therefore, leaned against the wall of the Pokémon Center, just watching him calmly as he and Pikachu were on the battlefield, stretching their bodies.

    "Okay, Pikachu, let's try it again!" Ash said, bringing his arms into a crossed position and then to the side. Pikachu copied his trainer's movements as they repeated the same steps that Ilima had used yesterday during the battle. However, even as Ash brought his arms into the square position to close it off, nothing seemed to happen. "Ugh…nothing. What about you, Pikachu?"

    "Pika…" Pikachu answered with a shrug.

    "I guess I felt…something…" Ash commented to his partner before sighing. "Ilima and Hala made it look so easy, but it's gonna take some work. We'll figure it out, though, right?"

    "Pi," was the earnest response. Serena smiled at their determination, accidentally letting out a light giggle. Ash appeared to hear and he turned.

    "Sorry, I just couldn't help myself," she told him. "Having a hard time?"

    "Yeah…" Ash admitted, chuckling a little as he and Pikachu made their way over to her. "I think we have the right moves, but there's just something blocking us. I'll ask Hala about it when we battle."

    "Sounds like you have a plan," Serena said as the couple turned, entering back into the Center. Taking the opportunity to look around this time, she noticed that Kukui and Rockruff were nowhere in sight. Ash caught her looking.

    "Professor Kukui already headed back to his lab. Something about hoping he runs into his assistant there. He left a note with Nurse Joy," Ash pointed out. That explanation was good enough for Serena and she pushed all the issues from her mind in order to focus on eating breakfast and preparing for departure.

    Clemont and Bonnie soon joined them, and by the time the Center was beginning to fill up with other trial challengers, the quartet was dressed, fed and on the road. Bonnie seemed to be leading the group, happily traipsing along as they entered into a hilly area that seemed more akin to a mountainous road than anything. Checking her map, however, she could see it was the quickest way to the Melemele Meadow.

    "If we keep on this path, we'll reach the meadow by tomorrow," Serena pointed out to her male companions, each of them nodding. Ash picked up the pace, but said nothing. This made Serena frown, but she brushed it off, thinking that he was still focusing on how to perfect Z-Moves. This very fact proved to be true at lunch when he and Pikachu got to practicing again…yet still with little success.

    "This is getting boring…" Bonnie commented after his fifth attempt over lunch.

    "Hmm…I wonder why they can't get it," Clemont noted. Serena crossed her legs as she thought about it. Ash mentioned that he felt like something was blocking them, but Serena could only guess at what it would be. The only explanation she felt would be the question that Hala had posed after his first battle, but she'd never known Ash to let stuff like that to get to him. Eventually, however, Ash stopped.

    "I know we can get it…" Ash said, frowning down at Pikachu, who shared his sympathies. "Maybe we just don't click for it? Like, because Pikachu isn't a Normal type?"

    "Pika…?" Pikachu asked, clearly unsure, himself.

    "Ah, I don't know!" Ash finally replied, eating some more food with a grin. "It's not that important. When we need it, we'll be able to use it, and that's what matters."

    "Kachu!" Pikachu concurred and that seemed to be the end of that. At least, it was as far as Ash was concerned. Serena, as it were, turned out to be more concerned than her boyfriend was. She had complete faith he'd figure it out when he needed it most, but in some sense, she wondered if their "block" was a result of not having that desperation.

    It's probably nothing, she thought to herself, and continued to convince herself of that even through the rest of their journey into the night. It didn't stop her from lying awake that night as Bonnie snored with Dedenne on her chest. Mostly, she became worried about something she never would have thought possible: that perhaps Ash wasn't truly used to the normalcy of training again. After so many life or death battles, so much pain and hurt, that maybe a part of him resisted the use of the kind of destructive power that Z-Moves held. Is that it…Is he scared to use that kind of power after seeing what it could potentially do?

    It was such a silly thought, but one that occupied her mind even into the morning. Ash happened to finally notice her state of trepidation as they walked.

    "You all right?" he asked, nudging her a little. Serena jumped slightly, but passed it off with a giggle, adjusting the straw hat on her head. Best to not say anything. I don't want to assume, and he always works his problems out.

    "I'm just fine. Come on, the Meadow is up ahead!" she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him forward. Ash nodded with a little grin and Pikachu clung to his shoulder as they ran. Small flower petals began to fill the air, along with puffs of pollen, and the closer that they got, the more Serena could see various, circling Pokémon. Some distance past the meadow was a long twisting patch of mountain, no doubt the long way to Kala'e Bay and Iki Town. Someone did seem to be running up that area, a Pokémon next to him, but Serena was far more interested in the sight they were soon to be approaching.

    "Ah!" Bonnie's gasp came when she and her brother caught up. "It's so pretty!"

    "Dede!" Dedenne agreed, the two having their eyes shining.

    "What a beautiful sight…" Clemont observed. Serena felt Ash's hand grip hers a little tighter, squeezing it as if to say that he agreed with the notion.

    There was no possible way for Serena to disagree. Stretching wide before them was a meadow consumed with yellow flowers. Cutiefly flitted back and forth across the entire area and a small dirt path wound its way through the patch of gold. Lifting her hat a little, Serena could see just how far the expansive meadow went, sloping down a hill gently to a large body of water that looked small from their distance: a clear shortcut to Kala'e Bay. It would probably take them most of the day to get there, but to walk through such a beautiful place, it was worth it.

    "The guidebook wasn't lying," Serena said, turning to her boyfriend with a brilliant smile. "This really does look like the perfect place for a date."

    "Rotom agrees," Rotom said, floating forward a little into the meadow. "The meadow is a beautiful place filled with many Bug types, marauding Spearow and Cutiefly that release pollen to make people sneeze."

    "What is wrong with you?" Bonnie questioned, glaring at Rotom. It just smirked at her, proving that it was playing with her head.

    "Well, I'm all for it," Ash admitted. "We can have an awesome picnic lunch!"

    "I'd rather not be there for that," Clemont coughed out, looking slightly embarrassed to be in the middle of the couple's activities. "I think I'll just tinker on my inventions…"

    Serena smiled, ready to apologize to Clemont for making him feel so awkward around them, and so suddenly. However, there was a sudden crunch of footsteps on gravel, no doubt the traveler that Serena had seen ascending earlier. Said footsteps stopped with a very audible noise and all three turned to face the newcomer as Bonnie had already run off after Rotom and thrown herself into the flowers.

    "Ash?" Serena blinked at the boy before them, taking in his ripped clothes and blond hair. Next to him was a strange looking Pokémon. All of that seemed like nothing compared to what he had just said, though. Appearances aside, the fact that the first word out of the boy's mouth was her boyfriend's name was beyond mind-boggling. Or, it was, until she looked at Ash and saw the recognition in his eyes.

    "Ah, Gladion, right?" he asked, disentangling their hands and waving at the boy. Serena turned back to him, making sure to memorize his features and those of his very odd looking Pokémon. Said boy, Gladion, folded his arms with a stern expression.

    "So, you remember me," he commented. His hand reached up and he flicked his hair a little, drawing attention to his green eyes. "I'm surprised, considering we've only met, what, twice?"

    "I make it a point of remembering friends," Ash said, throwing his hands behind his head with a smile. Gladion stared at him while both Serena and Clemont looked between the two very different boys.

    "Since when are we friends?" Gladion asked, his arms remaining folded, defensive. Ash's smile dropped a little, like he wasn't sure how to answer the boy without coming off the wrong way. It appeared to be a tense situation, so Serena affixed a smile to her face and stepped forward.

    "I-I'm Serena," she said, drawing Gladion's attention onto her. "I'm Ash's girlfriend."

    "And my name's Clemont," the inventor spoke. He then jerked his head back towards the flowers. "The one playing over there is my little sister, Bonnie."

    "Little sister, huh? You must be close," Gladion stated. However, his arms were still folded, showing that he didn't want to come out of his defensive shell. Clemont nodded and while Serena looked into Gladion's eyes she saw a rather foreign emotion; one she couldn't quite understand. "Must be nice…but…what are you doing here, Ash?"

    "Ah, I'm on my Island Pilgrimage," Ash told him, lowering his hands as Pikachu dropped to the ground. He ran over to Gladion's odd Pokémon, but the Pokémon looked away, as if spurning him. "Just completed Ilima's trial the other day."

    "Sounds…fun," Gladion said, almost puzzled in the way he spoke. The puzzlement was soon replaced with a slight smirk. "So, does that mean you've gotten stronger since we last met?"

    "Of course!" Ash insisted, pumping his fist a little. He walked forward, right up to Gladion. "Why don't we battle, so you can find out? Unless you're too busy this time."

    Gladion looked at the hand that Ash was offering to him, observing it just a little. Then his smirk widened and, at last, he released his folded arms to grab Ash's hand. Serena's smile widened just a little. The defensiveness was gone, replaced with a willingness for a begrudging friendship. At least, that was how she saw it. "I've got a bit of time. I came here on my search, but I never thought I would find you. Now we can have that battle."

    "Yeah. Three-on-three sound good?" Ash asked. Gladion nodded, causing the two to shake on it. The two males turned to look into the meadow and to a spot where there appeared to be a dirt patch that the flowers didn't touch. Gladion jerked his head in that direction, indicating that was where they should head. "Come on, Pikachu."

    "Pi," Pikachu responded, backing up from Gladion's Pokémon and leaping back on to Ash's shoulder.

    "I'll referee," Clemont told them. The two boys nodded and began walking into the meadow proper, right for the patch of dirt. Serena and Clemont both trailed after them. "Bonnie! Ash is going to have a battle!"

    "Ooh! A battle! Let's watch, Rotom," Bonnie said, flipping back up without a problem before grabbing Rotom from the air. The Pokédex squirmed, but was unable to break free from her grip as she reached Serena. "Who's the guy?"

    "Apparently a friend of Ash's," Serena answered the little girl. "His name's Gladion. I guess Ash must have met him before."

    "He has a weird Pokémon," Bonnie commented. Rotom finally used its hand to slap Bonnie's arm, breaking free to go and scan it. It hovered there for quite a bit longer than usual before giving a response.

    "Error! Error! Rotom cannot identify!" Rotom said, looking like its circuits were about to fry. Bonnie rolled her eyes and pulled it back from the battlefield while Clemont walked forward.

    "Okay, this will be a three-on-three battle between Ash and Gladion. Winner is decided based on who takes the most wins," Clemont informed them both. The two eager combatants nodded their heads, almost grinning at each other (Ash more than Gladion). This was clearly a battle both had looked forward to, despite what seemed to be a rather brief introduction. "Begin!"

    "Pikachu, I choose you!" Ash called, Pikachu jumping onto the battlefield.

    "Null, it's your turn," Gladion called. Serena looked to the Pokémon at his side as it clopped onto the field, its claws ripping up the flowers around it. In fact, Serena noticed that the flowers behind it were all torn up, like it destroyed everything it touched. Null…a Pokémon that can't be identified even by Rotom. I wonder what it is… "I've been waiting for this battle, Ash. Ever since I saw you in action in Hau'oli City. You better give me a good one, or this trip up here will have been wasted."

    "Don't worry. Me and my Pokémon will be giving it our all," Ash said, gripping his fist. "Pikachu, use Quick Attack!"

    "Pi-ka!" Pikachu called out, rearing back a second on his legs before blazing forward. The white light surrounded his body and he beat up the dirt in his path to aim for Null. In just a few moments, Pikachu slammed into the beast's body. It moved slightly back on the dirt, but looked basically undamaged.

    "If that won't work, use Iron Tail!" Ash called out. Serena looked away from him, paying attention to Gladion. The boy's arms weren't folded, which showed he wasn't guarded against Ash, but he certainly wasn't betraying his emotions in battle the way that Ash did. Pikachu sprang back before using his momentum to get into the air, spinning around. His tail glowed white and he brought it crashing straight down onto the helmeted head of Null.

    "Huu!" it screamed out, the sound like an echo, as it recoiled from the attack.

    "That hurt it," Bonnie said. Serena had to agree, especially when she saw Gladion's eyes widen a little. He certainly hadn't expected so much force from Pikachu. His foot shifted, and Serena could feel his entire attitude about the battle change.

    "Crush Claw," Gladion said sternly. Null nodded and ran at Pikachu, its claw glowing a blood red. For just a moment, Serena felt a thrill of danger for Pikachu, even with Ash calling for him to dodge. Pikachu wasn't quick enough, and the attack ripped across him, sending him tumbling across the dirt.

    "Pi…ka…" Pikachu breathed out, already looking roughed up from the single attack.

    "You all right?" Ash asked. Pikachu nodded, pulling himself back onto all fours with a triumphant cry. "Great, now use Thunderbolt!"

    "Pi…ka…chuuuuuuuu!" Pikachu roared, his electric sacs pulsing with electricity before sending it straight out at Null. The attack hit dead on, causing it to almost drop to one knee as the shock pulsed around it. For all the strange destructive power that this Pokémon had, Pikachu was doing an ample job of keeping up with it.

    "Let's lower its defenses to make this quicker. Metal Sound!" Gladion raised his hand to his face, cracking his knuckles as he did so. Null hunkered down, and its mask began to quiver, sending out soundwaves that rippled the flowers in the area. Pikachu ceased his attack, pulling his ears down to escape the noise.

    "Don't worry about the sound, Pikachu," Ash said, keeping calm. Pikachu turned, nodding. "Use Quick Attack and stay on the move around the field."

    "That won't help. Iron Head," Gladion said, grinning a little. Serena shook her head. Not ten minutes ago, Gladion had seemed so aloof, uncaring about anything, and defensive. Yet within minutes of battling Ash, he had suddenly become invested in the battle, especially with Pikachu proving to be more than he expected. Just like Alain…how does Ash seem to draw these people in?

    She had little time to contemplate it as Pikachu was using Quick Attack to jump around the battlefield. Gladion's eyes were flitting back and forth, as if trying to track Pikachu's movements. Null was doing the same, looking for any pattern. They must have found it, because Null finally pounced at the snap of Gladion's fingers. Its entire helmet shined with silver and it rammed forward, slamming into Pikachu.

    "Picha!" Pikachu cried out in pain, being thrown out of the ring and into the flowers. Serena gasped, hoping that Pikachu was okay. Her gaze traveled from the grinning Gladion to Ash…who didn't look worried at all.

    "Electro Ball!"

    "Pika pika pika pika chu pi!" Pikachu cried and the crackling Electro Ball cut through the flowers, obliterating a line of them as it slammed into Null's body.

    "What?" Gladion asked, almost surprised. Null was shaking its head as well, looking just a little tired.

    "Pikachu and I trust each other, so I know when he's doing okay," Ash told Gladion. "And I know we can beat the two of you. Isn't that right, buddy?"

    "Pikachu!" Pikachu said, coming through the scorched row of flowers and back to the dirt. Serena couldn't help but smile; that indelible bond between Ash and all of his Pokémon was manifesting itself again. Gladion, however, looked less pleased, almost gritting his teeth. It was almost like the boy didn't know how to have any fun.

    "Null, use Rage!"

    "Hoooo!" Null echoed out, body flaring to life with a red aura as it charged for Pikachu once again.

    "Quick Attack, get around its back!" Ash commanded simply. Pikachu slid to the side, bursting with white light as he bounded around the battlefield once more. Then he raced forward, slamming Null in the side. Compared to the first hit from Quick Attack, this one was much more effective, slamming Null to the side. Gladion was continually gritting his teeth. Pikachu now dashed to the other side, just out of Null's view, and tackled into his opposite side, driving him back into the ring. To Serena's eyes, it seemed that Pikachu had become a veritable blur, blitzing around the area to strike Null, whose red aura appeared to be pulsing angrily.

    "Strike now!" Gladion said. "Give it your all! We have to win this to grow stronger!"

    Grow stronger? Serena turned, only this time looking to Clemont, whose eyes were wide. They'd both heard those kinds of words before, but from someone else. Someone who nearly drowned in his path. She had to wonder if Gladion was on that same path.

    Null struck, its red aura reaching its zenith as it charged for Pikachu and practically impaled him on its mask, tossing him across the battlefield. Part of the dirt split, almost like the ground was cracking. Pikachu tumbled across from the force of the built-up attack, struggling once more to his feet. Null hadn't ceased its charge, though.

    "Use Iron Tail, on the ground!" Ash called, grinning. He looked like he was having fun, a stark contrast to Gladion. Pikachu barely stood, hardening his tail and slamming it onto the ground. Clods of dirt flew up in a dust cloud and Null charged straight into it. Serena almost expected to hear the sounds of a brutalized Pikachu, but no such sounds came. She quickly saw why, as Pikachu emerged from the dust cloud, looking exhausted. "Let's finish this with Thunderbolt!"

    "Crush Claw!" Null whipped around, claw glowing its blood red color again as it aimed for Pikachu. The Electric mouse summoned all the electricity he could and sent it in a raging arc out toward Null, whose procession didn't stop until he brought the Crush Claw down on Pikachu. The Thunderbolt exploded, covering the two opponents in dust. Serena stepped forward, as did Clemont. The two trainers remained where they were as the dust cleared to show that Null had backed off. It looked woozy on its feet, just as Pikachu did. Then it nodded in some form of acknowledgement and began to fall…as did Pikachu. Both hit the ground with a loud slam.

    "Pikachu!"

    "Null!" Gladion cried, rushing to his Pokémon's aid. Whatever anger or frustration he'd felt in the battle was now all but gone, replaced with concern for his partner. Both trainers reached their Pokémon at the same time and Serena saw Clemont digging into his bag for some potions. Ash quickly cradled Pikachu, who stirred in his arms while Gladion seemed to push Null up swiftly. "You all right?"

    "Huu…" Null sounded, almost like it was disappointed. Gladion breathed in relief, and then looked up at Ash. He, himself, was taking the potion from Clemont and spraying it on Pikachu's wounds.

    "Pikapi…" Pikachu said a little weakly. Ash smiled and hugged him close.

    "I'm glad you're okay," he said. "We had a fun battle, huh?"

    "Chu."

    "Fun?" Gladion asked suddenly, standing as Null managed to get to its feet. Serena looked back at him and his perplexed expression. "How did you have fun? We tied that one and that can only mean you weren't giving it your all."

    "Nah," Ash said, chuckling a little as Pikachu clambered on his shoulders, "just because we tied doesn't mean we didn't grow. Don't you feel a little closer to Null?"

    "Huh?" Gladion took a step back, almost like he was surprised. He looked over to his partner, who appeared to nod. Then he smiled, even if it came off more like a smirk. "I guess so, though I don't like tying. Leaves a bad taste in the mouth."

    "Then let's settle the score, huh?" Ash said, picking out another pokeball from his pocket. Gladion nodded, and moved his hand back to his own set of pokeballs, resting on his side pouch, when a ringing suddenly emanated from said pouch. The boy scowled, digging in and pulling out a small pager-device, holding it to his ear while a finger indicated that they should wait.

    "What?" he said testily. The others watched the boy as he listened to the person on the other end of the phone. "You've got to be kidding me. Now? Why Akala?"

    "Wonder what's going on," Bonnie said, kicking at one of the flowers idly. Gladion issued a large sigh.

    "Fine, tell the boss I'll be on the next ferry to Akala, but you remind him that I don't like it. I was on my own time here in Melemele!" With those harsh tones, Gladion pressed a button on the phone-like device and buried it once more in his pouch, turning with a scowl to Ash. He quickly ran his hand through his hair. They all just stared at him curiously. "Sorry, Ash, but it looks like the remainder of our battle will have to be postponed. I got called in to work."

    "Oh…" Ash commented, looking just a little disappointed. He quickly sloughed it off after looking at Pikachu. "Well, that works for me, but we'll be winning the next time."

    "We'll see about that," Gladion assured him, holding his hand out. Ash grinned and took it. "Then we'll promise to battle on Akala. How's that sound, friend?" The final word almost sounded foreign on the blond's tongue.

    "Sounds like a plan!" Pikachu agreed with his trainer, pumping a fist in Null's direction. It was hard to tell the other Pokémon's expression, but it almost looked like it was regarding Pikachu with immense respect. The two trainers separated their hands and Gladion began walking backwards, towards the exit from the meadow, waving at them with a smirk before beginning to run. Serena and the others turned to watch him and Null go, and before long, he had disappeared the exact way he came.

    "Rotom found that battle most interesting! That Pokémon was unknown to Rotom!" Rotom said excitedly, practically bouncing up and down. "Rotom will record data!"

    "Recording data sounds good and all, but can we find a place to stop and have that picnic?" Ash said. Serena looked towards him with amusement and smile. Both he and Pikachu were clutching at their stomachs, clearly hungry from the battle they'd just fought, already putting the abrupt encounter behind them. Clemont let off a soft chuckle.

    "That doesn't sound like a bad plan," the inventor assured them all before pointing to a spot somewhat down the hill that looked like a clearing of grass amidst the flowers; a perfect place for a picnic. Ash threw his fist into the air, clearly overjoyed at being able to eat lunch, and he took the lead in running for the spot, with Bonnie just behind him. Serena adjusted her hat and set off right after them, Clemont puffing along behind her. The dash through the flowers didn't take long, nor did setting up everything for lunch.

    "All right, everyone, come on out!" Ash called, sending all of his Pokémon out of their pokeballs once they'd set things up. Serena and Clemont followed suit, with Grubbin diving right for Clemont as always; the inventor was growing quite adept at dodging him. "So, what's for lunch?"

    "Sandwiches," Serena said, pulling out a box of delicious looking sandwiches for her and Ash to share. Clemont pulled out a similar set, already half-eaten through. The two culprits were easily seen in the flat expanse of flowers, Rowlet and Chespin struggling with one between them. Neither Pancham or Pikipek seemed amused, moving to berate the two.

    "Cut it out, Rowlet," Ash said with a sigh, shaking his head. Rowlet, unlike Chespin, had the decency to look ashamed and let go of the sandwich. Bonnie appeared to take pity on the owl, taking a sandwich from Clemont's tray and walking over to Rowlet.

    "Here you go. Now, everyone needs to play nice," she said sweetly. Serena smiled, placing her bag down as she walked over to Ash with the sandwiches and took his hand. She knew he was more focused on the food she was holding, but appreciated that he was returning the affection all the same until they were seated neatly upon the blanket that he had laid across the grass. Clemont and Bonnie, meanwhile, took a seat at a table near the Pokémon.

    "This is nice. It's been a while since we could just have something kind of like a date," Serena admitted. Ash had already taken two sandwiches, stuffing them in his mouth, chewing at a rapid pace and swallowing them.

    "Yeah, we've been real busy since we got to Alola," he laughed out. Feeling content from the two sandwiches, Ash breathed outward, laying flat on the blanket. He dragged Serena down with him and she found herself up against his side, surrounded by his body heat. On instinct, she snuggled into him a bit, not even embarrassed that their friends were but a few feet away. "Makes things feel normal."

    "Yeah…we need normal, don't we?" Serena said. Her worry from this morning briefly resurfaced from those words, but she forced them from her mind at the feeling of Ash's rhythmic breathing in tune with her heartbeat. It felt peaceful, content, and like everything was right with the world.

    For about a minute, until a loud and girlish scream pierced the air.

    Serena and Ash shot upwards on instinct, their reflexes honed from all the intense battles they had fought in. The two of them were on their feet before Clemont and Bonnie could even leave their chairs. Both of their gazes were drawn in the same direction, trying to locate the source of the sudden scream. Neither of them looked for long, seeing a girl in a white dress and hat fleeing from the cover of a copse of trees that rimmed the area with a large drum bag flopping about at her side as streams of Spearow pelted after her…and something else unfamiliar.

    "Braixen!" Serena called, dashing off of the blanket and for the girl. Braixen was already moving at her words, Greninja right alongside her. Both of their Pokémon quickly caught up to Ash and Serena while the two Lumiose siblings remained behind them. Flowers were kicked up as they ran, only Greninja not disturbing the plants as they drew closer to the girl. One of the Spearow broke off and aimed for the…well, it looked like a Pokémon, that was preceding the girl. Said girl appeared to notice this.

    "No! Nebby!" she cried. Despite her footwear slipping off, she dove for the purple Pokémon, shielding it with her body as the Spearow all dove at her. "You won't hurt him!"

    "Greninja, Water Shuriken!"

    "Braixen, Flamethrower!" Serena yelled. Both Greninja and Braixen struck at the exact moment, the fire joining with the watery shuriken. Surprisingly, they didn't put each other out and instead steamed as they slammed into the Spearow like a Scald attack. The Spearow turned, as if wanting to fight them, but quickly noticed their Pokémon's fierce stance. Thinking better of it, one of the Spearow called out and they all took to the air, disappearing into the trees once again. "Are you okay?"

    "Huh?" the girl said, not looking up from where she was huddling over the Pokémon. Serena approached her carefully, picking up the girl's shoes as she reached her and held a hand out.

    "It's okay, we won't hurt you," Serena assured her. It was slow, tentative, but the girl finally raised her head, her green eyes wide and fearful. Ash came closer, kneeling down alongside Serena. The girl's eyes moved between them, still wide, but the fear diminishing, replaced with…recognition. "We chased off the Spearow. You're all right now."

    "Oh…thank you," the girl said before looking down at what her body was covering. "N-Nebby, are you okay?"

    "Pew!" came a sound from under the girl. Ash fell backward at the sound, his butt hitting the flowers. Serena could only watch, staring, as the girl sat back up to reveal the Pokémon beneath her. It looked like a purple and blue puff cloud, two little clouds extending from its happily smiling face. For such a little thing that had just been attacked, it looked beyond cheerful. "Pew!"

    "Nebby, don't just act like nothing happened!" the girl scolded it, or rather, Nebby. She turned her head, bowing low, allowing her hat to touch the flowers on the ground. "Thank you for saving me and Nebby, Ash and Serena."

    "Um, what?" Serena squeaked out. How had this girl known their names? Ash was blinking, too, though he seemed to be on the verge of recognizing the girl for whatever reason. Serena almost thought that maybe this was another friend from Ash's past that she hadn't known about, but the girl debunked the theory.

    "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, straightening and placing a hand to her lips in apology. "Is that too familiar? It's just, I saw your names on the television and I thought…I apologize for presuming too much."

    "No, it's okay," Serena said, hoping to console the girl who looked so upset by her presumptions.

    "That's how you knew my name!" Ash said, clapping his fist on his palm. Serena looked at him. "I ran into her the same night that I ran into Tapu Koko, and she knew me. Now I know why! You saw the Honor of Kalos Ceremony on the TV, right? I didn't even know they aired that here."

    "Y-yes, it was a very big event," the girl answered, smiling. She looked very pretty, her blond locks in braids down the sides of her face while the rest were in flowing tresses behind her, her smiling only serving to highlight her features. "I saw it while I was…protecting Nebby, once."

    "So, his name is Nebby?" Serena asked. She reached out to poke the little guy, her finger pressing into its surface like it was a cloud. It smiled at her.

    "Pew!"

    "Well, technically it's called Cosmog…I think," the girl laughed out. She seemed to relax a little now, sitting on her knees as she wiped her brow. "But I think Nebby is much cuter."

    "Pew pew pew!" Nebby responded cheerfully. The little one didn't seem to have any other attitude.

    "I didn't think you'd actually come to Alola, though." Confusion once more settled onto Serena's brow at the girl's words. Said girl blinked and once more bowed in apology, realizing she'd clearly left out some important information in their discussion. "I'm sorry, I must sound so cryptic, talking about Nebby and knowing your names, I just…I'm overwhelmed."

    "Well, why don't you start from the beginning?" Ash offered from his place on the ground. Tramping footsteps were heard behind them, and the girl, along with the two of them, looked up to see that Clemont, Bonnie and the group of Pokémon were all approaching, having clearly packed up from their spot for lunch.

    "What a cute Pokémon!" Bonnie exclaimed immediately upon seeing Nebby. She dove in between them, reaching for Nebby, who dodged out of the way and into the new girl's arms.

    "Sorry…Nebby usually doesn't like being touched by anyone but me…or at all. Not that he stays in the bag like he should," she apologized once more, though adding a tone of sternness at the end. Like before, recognition passed through her eyes.

    "Nebby is such a cute name!" Bonnie said, reeling herself back in and sitting cross-legged upon the flowers. "He reminds me of…Squishy…"

    "Bonnie," Clemont said, though it wasn't scolding. Rather, he sounded sympathetic. Bonnie shook her head though, indicating that she was fine, if obviously thinking about where Squishy, who had disappeared so many months ago, could be these days. "Anyway, who's this?"

    "Don't know," Serena answered. "I think she was about to tell us before you showed up."

    "Interesting," Rotom spoke out, cutting across Serena as it went to take pictures of Nebby. "Rotom does not have data on this one either! Why? ! Why has Rotom been incomplete twice in one day? ! Rotom has failed!"

    "Calm down, Rotom!" Ash insisted, grabbing the Ghost type and pulling it down to his lap. The Pokédex struggled a bit, but eventually calmed down as the attention from all of them (Pokémon included) looked to the girl. She flushed a little bit at being put on the spot.

    "Um, all right…" she began, gripping tightly to Nebby. "Well, my…my name is Lillie, and this is Nebby."

    "You're Professor Kukui's assistant?" Clemont asked. Serena folded her hands; of course, the name had sounded familiar, and now the face did too. She had met this girl, Lillie, in the store at Hau'oli City before she'd run away. Pleased with recognizing her, Serena smiled.

    "Oh, you're familiar with Professor Kukui?" she said, clapping her hands together in relief. "That makes this so much easier! I mean, not that I thought any of you were bad people. To receive an award like the Honor of Kalos, you have to be kind, right? But this just makes me feel even better."

    "Lillie, you're rambling," Ash said, laughing a bit. Lillie raised her hand to her mouth again, once more embarrassed. Serena raised an eyebrow, wondering if this girl had had much social experiences, if any at all. Especially once she started apologizing once more.

    "My apologies, I just…I feel so relieved!" the blonde said, wiping some tears from her eyes. "I remember seeing you on the television and feeling like you were all people that could be counted on."

    "That's nice," Ash said, putting his hands on the ground while Pikachu jumped on top of his head, pulling on his hat a little. "But, why?"

    "Oh, well…" Lillie looked a little distressed, like she wasn't sure how to say what she wanted, or if she really should. At Ash's question, she finally stood, and Serena took that as the prompting to stand with her, some of them coming to their feet. Nebby remained clasped in her arms as she turned to look out towards the bay in the distance. "I…sort of stole Nebby."

    "You what? !" all of them asked at the same time, even some of their Pokémon joining in. Only Rotom didn't seem to care.

    "I mean, it's not like it was a bad thing, I think!" Lillie said, a slight drop of sweat running down her cheek. "They were being really mean to him, and I just couldn't bear it, so I took him and I've been running ever since. At the time, I saw you on the TV and felt like you could help me, ha ha…I must have seemed rather delusional then."

    Serena folded her arms, but smiled a little. Lillie was a little scant on the details, but from her words alone, Serena could tell she was a good person; not some random Pokémon thief like Team Rocket. Obviously, she had acted impulsively in taking Nebby away from the bad people, however. "Lillie, do you have any Pokémon to protect you, then?"

    "Oh…no," Lillie answered. "It was very spur of the moment. I'm not a trainer, after all, but I wanted to help. Some of the details from back then are a little hazy so I don't remember much from the moment, but no…just Professor Kukui helping me out."

    "Hmm…" Ash hummed out, looking at Lillie with discerning eyes. It was no surprise, really, to Serena at least. Ever since six months ago, ever since Michael, everyone's words had to be taken with a grain of salt. Lillie seemed like a trustworthy girl at first glance, and Serena wanted to trust that instinct, but her actions were almost suspect. "That was pretty dangerous of you. Sure, not everyone has a Pokémon to protect them, but doing something like that…"

    "I know!" Lillie said, looking beyond mortified. Serena gave a start; she looked like such a small child in that moment, being scolded by a father. "I just…I really wanted to get him away from the bad people, so I wasn't thinking…"

    "So, you don't remember who these bad people are?" Serena asked suddenly, hoping to dig a little into the truth. There was something about the way she had said "bad people" that indicated it was all a little more personal than she was letting on, though she also could have been reading much more into what were likely petty thieves. Lillie tensed up, shifting her gaze over to Serena, almost pleading in nature.

    "I…I remember what they looked like and where they were six months ago or so, though not exactly who they were…but…I just want to keep Nebby far away from them. That's why I keep him in the bag…though he never stays put. It was that kind of stuff in the forest that led to the Spearow attacking us," Lillie said, once more adopting a tone of consternation. Nebby smiled up at her.

    "Pew!" he cried happily before hopping out of Lillie's arms and heading inside her large round bag. Serena watched it a moment longer before exhaling with relief, realizing they weren't in a state of alert or needing to fight. Then she smiled. Nebby seemed truly happy to be by Lillie's side, proving that the act of "thievery" was just as she said it was. As for the "bad people" it was obvious that Lillie had gone to great lengths to protect the little one now inside her bag and to keep herself anonymous from whoever the likely thieves were. That gave Serena some comfort, knowing they wouldn't have to deal with that; the girl was smarter than she let on, traipsing about without a Pokémon.

    "I'm sorry. I don't mean to unburden my problems onto you," Lillie said, sighing a little and hanging her head. Serena shook her own head, stepping forward. She could feel the frustration that Lillie was feeling, and so, she reached her hands out and took the blonde's. Lillie's head snapped up, looking at her in surprise.

    "It's okay," she said. "It must have taken a lot of bravery to do what you did, and to hide like you have."

    "Well, Professor Kukui has helped me a lot. Him and Kahuna Hala," Lillie admitted, laughing a little. "Thanks to them, I know the bad guys have no idea where I am, or Nebby. I'm pretty sure I can keep it that way. I don't think they even know who took him, and it has been over six months since then and they've probably forgotten about it or just don't care, so…"

    "Works for me," Ash admitted with a laugh, springing to his feet. Lillie still wore a shocked expression at his statement, causing Serena and Bonnie to stifle giggles.

    "You…you mean it?" Lillie asked.

    "Of course! We run into people with problems all the time!" Ash explained, throwing his hands behind his head. "You seem like a really nice girl, too, Lillie, helping out Nebby like that. Listening to whatever's troubling you is no problem at all. Helps us to keep your secret!"

    "Th-thank you!" Lillie said, tears welling in her eyes as she bowed low. Serena smiled, looking at the genuine drops falling from her eyes. Having now taken her hands, and despite letting go of them, Serena realized that there wasn't a single dishonest bone in the girl's body. Perhaps a frightened and scared one, but she was earnest and honest through and through. Like Bonnie, when she had taken in Squishy and saved him from Team Flare, Lillie just wanted to protect the precious little one that was close to her.

    Serena looked to the others, each of them watching the girl shedding such pure tears. Eventually, though, she stepped forward, taking her hands once again to calm her down. Lillie looked up at Serena, blinking the tears from her eyelashes. "You okay, then?"

    "Yes, thank you," Lillie said, bringing a light smile to her face. "I just feel so honored to meet all of you. The professor mentioned you, too, but…"

    "If you're honored to meet us, then we're just glad to meet you," Clemont said. "I'm Clemont."

    "Yes, I know," Lillie said with a little laugh. "And you must be Bonnie."

    "That's right!" Bonnie chirped out happily. Behind them all, their Pokémon gave a loud cheer, making their own introductions to the girl. Serena let go of her hands and stepped away, folding them behind her back.

    "It's wonderful to meet all of you!" Lillie said, brightly smiling. Her bag suddenly shook, as if Nebby was saying the exact same sentiments. "Though…why are you all here? N-not to sound rude, but like I said earlier, I didn't expect you all to come to Alola when you're such heroes in the Kalos region."

    "Oh, well, I'm taking part in the Island Trials," Ash said, pointing to himself. Pikachu nodded his head in agreement. "Clemont's here to install something for the Pokémon League, and Serena is aiming to become the Ali'i ka Leilani by participating in the Leilani Ceremonies."

    "We're actually heading there right now, to one in Kala'e Bay," Serena told her. Lillie blinked at her a moment, and then her eyes lit up with great enthusiasm, sparkling so brightly that Serena almost thought they were made of glitter. She stepped forward and this time initiated the hand holding.

    "The Leilani Ceremony? I've always wanted to see one!" Lillie exclaimed, her voice going up an octave. "I never had the chance to as a child. You must be an extraordinary trainer to be aiming for the Ali'i ka Leilani!"

    "Er…I guess," Serena laughed out modestly. She had never really thought about it, only focusing on training with her Pokémon rather than how good she was. Seeing Lillie so enthused about the prospect, though, the honey blonde knew there was only one real course of action to take, regardless of its suddenness. "Would you want to come and see one? I'm sure we'd be happy to have you along, and then we could protect you from those 'bad guys'."

    Lillie's face flushed with excitement, and before she could stop herself, it seemed, she was jumping up and down, practically squealing. "I'd love to! I'm sure Nebby would love to see you perform, too."

    "Pew!" Nebby's voice called out from the bag.

    "Great! That's like two Pidgey with one stone," Ash said. "Welcome aboard, Lillie."

    "Thank you!" Lillie said, the happiness practically seeping out of her pores. She stopped her jumping and Serena finally realized that the girl's shoes were sitting amongst the flowers where she'd dropped them during the conversation; they were not the kind of shoes made for traveling. She bent down to pick them up and hand them over to her. The blonde gratefully slipped them on, still wearing the smile of jubilation. It struck a chord in Serena. It's like another step to bring back those smiles.

    "Yay! We have a new member to the little family!" Bonnie cheered. This prompted a confused look from Lillie, who titled her head and placed a finger on her chin.

    "Family?"

    "Of course! Clemont's like the uncle, and Ash and Serena are the mom and dad!" Ash suddenly coughed at Bonnie's statement, and Serena felt a blush creep up her neck. They certainly weren't ready to be parents! "You can be like the big sister, for however long you want to be with us."

    "A big sister…?" Lillie asked, still confused. She seemed to quickly be warming up to the idea, though, as her eyes shined again. "Going on an adventure…it sounds so fun…and free…I just wanted to explore Melemele before Nebby caused problems in the forest there, but now…"

    "Now you get to adventure with some friends," Ash said, changing the subject away from the topic of family all too mercifully and swiftly. Lillie nodded at his assertion. "All right, then. Welcome to the group, Lillie, and to our adventure!"

    Placing his hand in, Serena quickly joined her own. They were soon mobbed by Clemont, Bonnie, Rotom and all of their Pokémon, leaving only Lillie. The girl watched them a moment before smiling brightly, like she'd never been offered such true kindness before. Then she slapped her hand into the center happily.

    "Yes! I'm glad to be on this adventure to Kala'e Bay!"

    "All for one and one for all!" Bonnie cried and they raised their hands to the air. With their pact complete, and their feet setting off again for Kala'e Bay (once they'd packed up their abandoned lunch, of course), Serena looked towards the happily humming Lillie, their new companion, and smiled.

    Yes, this is what being a Kalos Queen, keeping that promise, feels like. And so, she wrapped her hands around Lillie's arm and dragged her forward towards the sea where her next Ceremony would take place; the Ceremony she now promised she would win not only for herself, but for her Pokémon, her family, and for the girl whose face had lit up at the mere mention of seeing one.


    Author's Note: Lillie has joined the group! As anyone who knows me can attest, I adored Lillie in the Sun and Moon games, and thus it's that character which I'm replicating here, albeit differently. Now, quite a lot happened in this chapter, and I need to address all of it. 1) Ash's problem with Z-Moves. Is it Serena's theory that he's afraid of using moves that are too powerful? Or is it something else? This'll be explained in due time, but right now he's certainly having problems. 2) Ash vs. Gladion. Ah, the start of a sweet, sweet rivalry. Hope you enjoyed that battle because it was definitely there for a point. And also, the tie…well, for those who know the games, just realize what Null is.

    And 3) Lillie. This was pretty much an exposition dump scene, which are always hard to get just right, especially with the kind of information I gave with her. Why are they not going after the "bad guys"? Why is Lillie not telling them? Why are they not pressing her? All probably questions that are entering your mind, and one that I've answered (I think) subtly. The simple answer: normalcy. I'll leave you to ponder that. Well, that and Lillie herself. In due time, it should be understood, but our heroes have their work cut out for them. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed and it all flowed correctly, because it was tough to work out.

    So, until the next chapter, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  18. #18
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    I suppose Lillie is ultimately really liked, ha ha. Well, hopefully you all continue to like her even into this chapter. Time for Chapter 11!


    Chapter 11

    A Dancer

    "So, Lillie, tell us about yourself," Ash said to the girl as their group of six made their way through the remainder of the meadow. They had already been making good progress for the day, hindered only by the introductions of their Pokémon (which inevitably led to a hyperactive Chespin scaring Nebby and being reined in by Pikipek). So, really, it came as a surprise that Ash had finally chosen to ask this now, as they completed the final descent to the bay, the sun lowering ever so slowly on the horizon.

    "Not too much to tell," Lillie answered, twiddling her fingers together. "I guess…I've been living with Professor Kukui in the Hau'oli Outskirts for the last six months. The people there are all really nice and have taken care of me."

    "Hmm," Ash said, nodding a bit. Pikachu almost looked at him in concern for being so lost in thought. "Does that mean you know Hau?"

    "H-Hau?" Lillie stammered in surprise. Serena turned to see the faintest of blushes settle into her cheeks. "Yes, I know Hau. He's a very energetic and nice person. We would spend time together, occasionally."

    "Do you like him then?" Bonnie asked innocently. Serena's eyes slid backwards at the same time as her boyfriend's, the both of them no doubt suspecting Bonnie's intentions. Sure enough, her own eyes were glittering mischievously while Clemont sighed.

    "I think Hau is very fun to hang around," Lillie answered, clutching her bag strap tighter. "He'd sometimes help me when Professor Kukui would get carried away with research. There was one time the Professor allowed himself to be hit by one of Hala's Tauros and he had to be taken to the Pokémon Center. Hau helped me out then and we went for malasadas afterwards. I never knew someone could eat so much!"

    "Then you've never seen Ash eat," Serena laughed out. Ash turned and glared at her a little, though she swatted his arm to indicate it was all in good fun. "He can put food away like no one else. And Pikachu and Rowlet are the same."

    "Good food leads to good sleep which leads to good training," Ash instructed Lillie and Pikachu nodded, sharing agreement with his trainer.

    "Sadly, I think Chespin has them all beat in that regard," Clemont said, shaking his head. "But at least we all eat well, and it's always nice to have friends that know other friends."

    "Or maybe more than friends," Bonnie teased with a grin. Serena frowned at the girl, though she hardly seemed deterred by it. Part of that may have been because of the confused Rotom muttering "human interactions are foreign to Rotom". Lillie, on the other hand, seemed to have ignored Bonnie's little taunts entirely, her legs carrying her ahead of the group to a small outcropping before a dirt and wood path that sloped down. Serena looked back towards the girl, her white dress and hat swaying in the breeze and she made to join her on the outcropping.

    "Oh, it's beautiful," Serena said. Next to her, Lillie nodded. Nebby popped his head out of the bag to look at the sight stretched before them. A bright and sparkling sea, contained by an arching beach lay below the outcropping at the foot of the wooden steps. That beach also seemed to stretch in multiple directions, one back on the path to Iki Town and the other to the mountain Gladion had ascended earlier. Sitting on the piece of ocean that there was, seemed to be the Ceremony Hall, looking far more advanced than the one in Pua Town, glowing with the soon to be setting sun.

    "We're almost there!" Ash announced and Serena looked to see that he had already put a foot on the stairs downward. "Just down these steps."

    "Coming," Serena called to him. Lillie continued to stare at the bay with shining eyes, and the honey-blonde was forced to tug at her arm to divert her attention.

    "Oh, sorry," Lillie said, tucking a strand of hair back under her hat. "It's just so mesmerizing. I can't believe I'll actually get to see you take part in the Ceremony tomorrow."

    "You're certainly excited about this," Serena laughed out, following after Ash, Clemont, and Bonnie, who had begun their slow progression (well, for Clemont) down the stairs. Lillie clapped her hands together, prompting an energetic smile from Nebby.

    "I've always wanted to see one, but was always too busy or told not to. 'Ladies don't prance around on a stage'!" she said, almost like she was scolding herself. A small downcast expression was on her face, but she soon replaced it with a scowl. "That makes this almost like a dream come true…and…actually, do you think you'd mind showing me your performance early?"

    "You want to see?" Serena asked. Lillie nodded fervently, her blonde braids flying back and forth. She took a step forward, nearly tripping on the first step until Serena grabbed her elbow and decided to help her down. "Well, I guess we can always use a little more practice, so why not? When we reach the beach, I'll give you and the others a private performance."

    "Yes!" Lillie cheered, throwing her fist into the air a little. She quickly retracted it, looking mortified at her action, and just a little sheepish. Serena just laughed and continued to help her down the stairs. Those shoes were clearly not conducive to covering all different kinds of terrains. It was a wonder this girl had managed to explore parts of Melemele on her own.

    After a few minutes of traversing down the steep set of steps, careful to not fall, the group of six, with Rotom floating above, arrived down at the beach. Serena stretched her arms wide, sucking in the sea breeze as she noticed people traipsing calmly along the coastline. Some of them were couples, hand in hand, while there were also kids playing with various little Pokémon from the sea. Further down the coast, before the entrance to the twisting mountain, were settlements, from a Pokémon Center to homes to even an inn where some could stay for the night. All of it blended seamlessly into the crystalline sea and the Ceremony Hall located there. If Serena looked closer, she knew she could see what looked to be water slides or something similar; no doubt they were for the Course portion.

    "Look at all the cute Pokémon!" Bonnie cheered, running forward with her arms waving wildly.

    "Denenene!" Dedenne also chattered out on top of her. The two flung themselves towards the water, not even caring for Clemont's concerned cry as they hit it, drenching their clothes and fur. Bonnie laughed happily as a Chinchou seemed to swim up to her.

    "A Chinchou!" she exclaimed, reaching out to poke the Pokémon. Rotom came forward, a little smirk on its screen.

    "Careful, Bonnie, or Chinchou will electrocute you. It doesn't like clingy humans," Rotom taunted the girl, earning a tongue sticking out for its troubles, along with Ash's light scolding. Serena padded forward on the sand, approaching a different area where the sea met the sand and taking in the sea breeze. Lillie was soon at her side.

    "I always find the ocean so calming," the blonde said, her hands behind her back. "Someday, I want to go on an adventure and see all there is to see…but…"

    "But what?" Serena asked, not looking towards her. There was a trepidation in her voice; the same heard when she was talking about being unable to watch Ceremonies. Lillie shook her head and clasped tightly to her bag, prompting Serena to look at it.

    "No, Nebby, there are too many people around."

    "Pew…" Nebby said disappointingly. Serena smiled a little and turned back to the sea, her face suddenly meeting with a large bubble that popped and splashed water all over her face. She blinked.

    "Oh my goodness," Lillie said with a gasp as she covered her mouth, "are you all right, Serena?"

    "Yeah, I'm…" Serena let her words die in her throat as she stared at the source of the bubble. Resting there on the cusp of beach and sea was a Pokémon, a bubble forming at its large pinkish nose. It sent the bubble upwards and then spun, clapping its blue flippers together as it did so, its tail providing it balance for the cascade of bubbles to pop in quick succession.

    "Pahpahpah!" it barked out while slapping its flippers together. Once it had finished, it looked up to Serena with a smile. She wasn't sure what to make of this new Pokémon, though Lillie clapped her hands together.

    "Oh, it's a Popplio!" she said joyously. "They're one of the Pokémon given out to beginners. I've seen Kahuna Hala hold a choosing ceremony so many times, but it's rare to see one in the wild, from what I understand."

    "Well, it's certainly…energetic…" Serena remarked, watching as Popplio flipped back into the sea and danced upon it like a ballerina, shooting bubbles everywhere. She watched it awhile, noting how wonderful its performance technique was, almost like it'd been practicing to show off to whoever came to the bay. It seemed to finish by shooting a Water Gun up in the air, letting it rain down, though it turned out to just be a stream of concentrated bubbles. A nice finish for a great performance. Serena and Lillie found themselves clapping, drawing the attention of the others and reminding Serena of the promise she had made. "Right, I guess that means I should show you my performance."

    "Oh, yes, please!" Lillie agreed, clasping her hands together and backing up. Ash and the others all joined her as Serena turned to face them. Looking at Lillie's beaming face, she knew she had to truly perform at her peak, even if it was just a little practice.

    "Okay, Braixen, time to perform!" Serena called, tossing her pokeball up into the air. Braixen emerged from the brightness, stick alight and ready to perform. "Let's make this short and sweet. Use Fire Blast!"

    "Brai!" Braixen called, pointing her wand to the sky and firing off the brilliant red and orange wheel of flame. The way it shot out appeared to be like a phoenix, the spindles folding in towards the center. Serena begin to spin around on the sand, her back moving up against Braixen's as the embers from the Fire Blast began to fall.

    "Now, use Hidden Power on the embers," Serena said calmly. Braixen twirled her wand and held it out, brimming with a silver glow. Serena reached out for her trusted Pokémon's hand, taking it as they spun together amidst the glow of the embers. People nearby stopped to watch as Serena let go of Braixen's hand, raising her own skyward. The Fox Pokémon's wand raised towards the sky and fired off copious silver particles. Each of them flew for the falling embers, one of the orbs streaking for the center of the flames.

    As they all struck their specific targets, they burst out with popping fireworks of red and silver, allowing Serena and Braixen to strike a pose together, their arms outward. Lillie instantly began clapping furiously, along with Bonnie. She wasn't the only one, either. Numerous other spectators were clapping at the very short performance, none more louder than the Popplio still resting in the sea. Serena turned her head a little bit back to see it doing flips over the water, overjoyed at the performance.

    "Amazing! What a performance!" cried another voice from the crowd that had stopped to watch. The sound of kicked sand met Serena's ears and she turned in the direction of the voice. "No! No! Please don't move! I want to mark this down and capture i…Ah, you! The model!"

    "Model?" Ash asked and Serena saw his confused smile. "When did that happen, Serena?"

    "I have no idea…" she chuckled out, but she finally got a good look at the girl asking her to stay still. The other spectators appeared less than interested and began moving off, but Serena very quickly recognized the girl as another that she had met in the clothing store. Her loose black ponytail, traveling down her neck as she boxed her fingers a moment and began to quickly sketch the image of Serena's performance. In mere seconds, she seemed to finish and shoved the sketch pad messily inside of her bag.

    "Thanks for the help!" the girl said, skipping over to her. At her approach, Ash and the others all walked forward as well. Serena heard a splashing behind her and noticed the Popplio swimming back into the bay, now that it wasn't receiving any more attention. "Name's Maka, Leilani Participant and Film Maker Extraordinaire!"

    "Oh, you're here to participate in the Leilani Ceremony?" Serena asked, finally moving out of the position she had subconsciously been holding.

    "Sure am! Me and my film crew are gonna make the Ali'i ka Leilani, so we can make the best movie of all time that everyone will love watching," Maka said, tucking some loose wisps of her black hair behind her ear. They seemed to slip right back so the girl rolled her eyes and dug into her bag. She was still digging as Clemont spoke.

    "Film crew?" the inventor asked, sounding a cross between intrigued and confused. He wasn't alone, given that both Ash and Bonnie were looking around for said film crew. Maka heard him, but appeared to be extremely preoccupied, which lasted until she pulled out a red ribbon and tied it around her hair to hold the strands back confidently, the ponytail tighter than before.

    "Much better!" she said before then taking four pokeballs out and tossing them. "Meet my film crew!"

    "Oricorio!" cried chirping voices and Serena's eyes widened. Four identical Pokémon had appeared before them all, looking like dancing birds with yellow feathers and pompoms.

    "They're my Oricorio film crew," Maka told them all proudly. Rotom instantly began rambling off a description of what the Pokémon were, but all Serena could focus on was the fact they were all identical. "I call them Mele, Aki, Ula, and Ponpon! By the time our journey to become the Ali'i ka Leilani is over, they'll all be different!"

    "Orrrri!" the Oricorio said, saluting their trainer. Serena looked to Rotom now, along with all the others, who appeared stunned speechless.

    "It is true! Oricorio is a Pokémon that changes form depending on the nectar it consumes," Rotom informed them. "There is a different nectar on each island of Alola."

    "And I plan to find them all, even if I have to pay for them!" Maka said energetically before pointing at Serena, a wild grin on her face as her yellow shirt fluttered outward, showing her stomach a little. "All I have to do is beat you to reach my dream!"

    "Not just me," Serena assured her, but Maka shook her head fervently.

    "Of course, just you. All I needed was five seconds to tell that you're, like, the top one here. My goal to beat."

    "You could tell that all from five seconds?" Ash said in amusement, folding his arms a little after scratching Pikachu behind the ears. His best friend leapt off his shoulders to join Bonnie and Dedenne, who appeared to be bored and were now running around the beach. Lillie watched them a moment before her attention went back to Maka. Said girl placed her hands on her hips and puffed her chest out proudly.

    "Of course," she insisted. "Any filmmaker worth their salt should be able to spot a moneymaking shot right away, and that was it. Honestly, if I wasn't a novice at this stuff, I'd want to sign a contract with you right away. Er…if I knew your name."

    "I'm Serena," she answered quickly. Maka nodded, calling her Oricorio back. She seemed to be back to observing Serena, as if taking in all of her proportions. Occasionally she'd bring her fingers together, observing her as if she were a star. Just when she seemed to finish doing that, she moved on to looking at Lillie, Clemont and Ash in turn before finally nodding again.

    "Rest of you have names, too?" she finally asked, like she was looking to sign them on with some talent agency. It was almost amusing, but Serena felt the girl seemed nice enough, and definitely appeared to admire them a little.

    "I'm Ash, and the one playing over there is my partner, Pikachu. I'm Serena's boyfriend."

    "And I'm Clemont. The other two are my little sister Bonnie and Dedenne."

    "My name is Lillie" the blonde answered. Her bag moved a little, like Nebby wanted to say hi, but she restrained it.

    "Ash, Pikachu, Clemont, Bonnie, Serena, Lillie…got it!" Maka said, jumping up with her hands up high. "Perfect idea for a film! The lovely maiden Serena and her knight in shining armor, Ash, as they dance across the seas of Alola to face the great evil scientist Clemont in order to rescue their fair daughter, Lillie and her sister Bonnie! Might require some effects, but I can make it work, especially with a dance number or two thrown in there. Can you dance, Ash?"

    "Why do I have to be the evil scientist?" Clemont questioned, but Maka ignored him, staring imploringly at Ash.

    "Um…kinda…maybe," Ash said, looking embarrassed. A few feet away, Pikachu was rolling on the ground, laughing heartily. Maka quickly waved it off.

    "We can get you lessons, as long as you look good right next to Serena!" Maka proclaimed, spinning around to face Serena with her hand outstretched. "What do you say?"

    "Um…" was all Serena could get out, ultimately emulating her boyfriend, just as speechless. Maka looked so earnest in this desire that she was thrown off, not knowing what to say. "Well…uh…maybe we should just start by doing the Leilani Ceremony?"

    "Good point," Maka said, slapping her cheeks. "Ugh, come back to reality, Maka! Sorry to bother you all. I didn't mean to interrupt your training. Can't wait until we compete tomorrow. Let's talk after that, huh?"

    "Sure…thing…" Serena said, but Maka was already dashing off towards the Pokémon Center and the setting sun. Ash walked up next to Serena, the two of them watching the girl that was tearing away, having not even issued the customary farewell. "She was interesting."

    "And probably someone to watch out for," Ash stated. Serena wasn't sure what to make of that, but she didn't have to, as Ash explained himself. "She reminds me a little of a female version of Sawyer, if a little zanier."

    "Good point," she laughed out in response. Suddenly, her stomach let out a small gurgle. "Well, she was right on one point, though: we should get to the Pokémon Center."

    "Sounds good to me. Come on, Pikachu and Dedenne," Bonnie said, running off towards the building before Clemont could even call her name. Ash ran his hand down Serena's arm as he and Lillie went off after the siblings and she shivered a little. Her head was still reeling a little, but she cleared it all away with a smile. The honey-blonde performer took a quick look back out to the ocean in time to see what looked like Popplio diving back beneath the surface. Then she ran to catch up with her friends and focus on the Ceremony that was to come the next morning.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  19. #19
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Alola one, Alola all! It's that time once again for the presentation of beauty in nature, the Leilani Ceremony!" yelled the voice, echoing through the Hall. The entire crowd stood and bowed, giving their own chant of "Alola" to the participants who would be stepping onto the stage. They exhibited a moment of silence, bowing to their guardian deities, despite not saying it aloud, but soon straightened up for the procession of activities to continue. "I am your presenter and Master of Ceremony, Maika Olelo, here to officiate the Kala'e Ceremony. Judging the participants are our panel of local judges including the esteemed Nurse Joy and the mayor of Kala'e Bay!"

    "Ooh, looks pretty packed out there," whispered Maka's voice from right next to Serena's head. Dressed in her performance outfit, the honey-blonde turned to her new friend, who was fidgeting a little with her own dress: a strappy yellow one, adorned with flowers that traveled all the way down to her knees. It made her look younger, especially with the way her red ribbon was adorned in her hair, holding it up in a bun. "Give it your best, huh, Serena?"

    "You, too, Maka," she said, reaching out to shake the girl's hand. Maka grinned and clasped it with both of hers. As she did so, Serena looked at the other six contestants there, not recognizing a single one; Jessilie clearly hadn't had the chance to attend. Either way, they had taken the time to prepare that morning and now the Ceremony was about to begin.

    "Now, let's introduce our participants!" Maika's voice yelled out next. Maka let go of her hands and Serena faced forward, face setting itself into a smile. It was time to win. Seeing as none of the other participants were making moves towards the stage, Serena steeled herself and stepped forward, leading their whole entire group on to the stage. As she reached the center, the crowd in the hall cheered loudly, welcoming her presence there and she took a light bow.

    Maka did the same next to her, a very gracious look on her face. It was a contrast to the hyperactive way she seemed to consider herself outside of the Ceremony. Ash's words from the night before floated back to her as she came to a standstill next to the black-haired girl. Someone to watch out for. Seeing her here now, Serena could believe it. This was a girl genuinely determined to win and become the Ali'i ka Leilani.

    Well, she'll have to beat me first, Serena assured herself and her eyes became steely as Maika began to explain the process of the Kala'e Ceremony. Up in the crowd, Serena caught sight of all her friends, watching in anticipation.

    "As you in the audience all know, the Leilani Ceremony consists of three parts!" Maika told everyone in the crowd. Comfey rose up from around Nurse Joy, floating over to Maika, containing the object of all of their desires: the Lei. "The Course, the Performance, and the Battle. The one who makes it to the end of this wins the esteemed prize of the Ceremony: the Kala'e Lei!"

    "Yes," Maka whispered, clenching her fist and pulling it towards her body.

    "So, without further ado, let's begin with the Course!" Maika yelled, sending the crowd into a cheer as she whipped around. Serena turned as well, seeing the usual white veil fall away to show exactly what she had expected from yesterday evening. There seemed to be a water-based obstacle course stretching out in front of them, various platforms floating along the surface as they sat with rings attached to buoys. Most notable were, like the previous time, the stations with attendants sitting at them, only this time they had waterproofed screens behind them instead of objects on a desk. Serena listened closely to Maika's instructions.

    "The objective of the Water Course is simple! Each participant will choose one Pokémon to clear the course, with any type allowed. Each Pokémon will be required to do two things during this course: one, to pass through every ring on the course, and two, to approach all three stations and answer the questions correctly. Of course, the trainer is allowed to help, but one would hope that the connection between them and their Pokémon will help them to answer. However, do be wary!" Maika's note drew the attention of the crowd, who leaned in. Even Serena's mind was given to the warning that the announcer was providing. "We don't want to interfere with the wildlife of the Pokémon in Kala'e Bay, meaning that they might just interfere on the course…oh, and if you get a question wrong, you're out! The first four to make it to the end proceed onward!"

    "Tricky, tricky," Maka said, now extending her hands, locking her fingers and cracking her knuckles. "But me and my film crew are ready for anything!"

    "So are we," Serena said to the girl, sharing a look of challenge with her.

    "Participants, if you'll stand up to the line and call forth your Pokémon!"

    Serena followed instructions, keeping herself next to Maka in the lineup, the both of their bodies tensing, ready for action. There were one or two other participants that looked just as tense, but some of them were relaxed, obviously in it just to have fun. That was fine with her; having fun was just as important, but she was determined to win, calling out Sylveon.

    "Are you ready?" Serena asked of her beloved Fairy type. Sylveon wrapped her feelers around Serena's wrist and mewled while one of Maka's Oricorio appeared next to her, shaking its pompoms. There was a splash along the obstacle course, and it served to confirm what Maika had said about Pokémon that would potentially be in their path. Sylveon disengaged and bounded forward, ready to begin.

    "And…Begin!"

    "Sylveon, aim Fairy Wind right behind you!" Serena ordered to begin. One of her fellow participants had already ordered a Quick Attack, blazing forward on the first platform that floated. Sylveon was too busy executing her order to notice, whipping her feelers back. The ribbons produced gusts of pink wind behind her and gave Sylveon an extra boost in speed. She began to gallop forward, landing nimbly on the platform. "Use your feelers to grab onto the ring and swing through! Keep going like that!"

    "All right, let's show Serena what we can do, Mele!"

    "Orico!" Mele said, wearing a very fierce expression. As if it were an order, Mele ran forward, flipping nimbly onto the platform and continuing at a run. Serena's eyebrows arched, surprised at just how fast the little one was moving. In just seconds, Mele had caught up with Sylveon and used its powerful legs to kick upward, sailing through the ring with a spin. Sylveon didn't let herself get deterred, however, latching on with her feelers and flinging upwards, rolling onto the next platform, neck and neck with Mele.

    "Use Double Team," Serena said, an idea forming in her mind. Sylveon seemed to understand, because she crouched and numerous copies of herself spread across the platform, creating a gridlock that stretched all the way to the end.

    "Ooh…Air Cutter!" Maka called from next to her. She wasn't the only one who had the idea to attack Sylveon's doubles. Serena didn't focus on the blades of air or any other attacks, though. She needed to time this perfectly to make sure that Sylveon didn't get hurt. A Finneon leapt over them, blowing bubbles at a Bagon that had seemed to misfire with a Dragon Rage.

    "Now!" Serena commanded, throwing her hand to the air. One of the seeming copies shot their feelers out, followed by every other one that was left, towards the ring. Maka seemed to get a grasp on her strategy and told Mele to ignore the copies, instead aiming for the goal. Sylveon reached it first, bursting through the ring and landing on the quiz platform.

    The attendant there pressed a button and the question appeared on the screen, not even needing the man to say anything. Which of these evolves Pikachu? Displayed there were three options, but Sylveon didn't even need to wait to answer, slapping her feeler onto the picture of the Thunder Stone. The screen dinged loudly, allowing Sylveon to jump away and onto the next platform with a cheerful cry. Although, the next platform was more of an inclined slope leading to a water slide, but with rings on the side of the slope. Mele managed to make it there as well, but Serena didn't pay attention to Maka's obviously correct answer. It was soon followed by a slew of correct answers, and it seemed that all eight participants had managed to make it on to the next row of challenges.

    "It's heating up here, with all eight participants still in the race!" Maika's voice said. Serena's eyes narrowed, observing how to clear the rings there as quickly as they could. Maka appeared to already have an idea as Mele was speeding forward, flipping through one ring and using its side to bound over to the next, easily climbing the hill before them. Serena then snapped her fingers, coming up with an idea.

    "This'll be tricky, Sylveon," Serena cried. "First use Double Team, even in the air!"

    "Sylvie!" Sylveon confirmed, crying out. Her doubles once more appeared, although this time, instead of congesting the platform, many of them appeared to be hanging in the air. Serena knew it would last for only a moment, however, and her commands sprang into action.

    "Now, use Protect with those on the side and bounce off them to get through the rings!"

    "Serena looks to be taking quite the interesting approach to completing this very tricky portion of the course," Maika announced to the crowd. Ash could be heard, cheering loudly from the stands, leading a lot of the crowd to cheer in interest. Serena only held her breath, watching as Sylveon leapt through one of the rings, bounding off the Protect and speeding towards the next ring. It took a few bounces, but she finally reached the top of the slope after passing through all the rings, and the copies disappeared as one of the Pokémon fell into the water, floundering around.

    "Sylveon, use your feelers to pull it back up," Serena said, not wanting to see the poor Makuhita flounder in the water. Sylveon nodded and extended her feelers to pull the Pokémon back up before leaping to the top of the slide and riding it down to the bottom. Mele was ahead of them, already reaching the second station and answering the question. Sylveon landed there soon after.

    The site of Melemele's Island trial is…? Serena blinked, not expecting that kind of question. Obviously it wasn't hard given the display of Hau'oli City, some random cavern labeled as Ten Carat Hill and the Verdant Cavern, but it still wasn't something she thought would be asked. Like before, Sylveon had no problem answering the question and she leapt to what looked to be the longest platform, the rings easily stretching down and around it at an even level. It simply seemed too easy to get to that final station.

    "Go quickly, but cautiously," Serena called to her partner just as the screen for the second station buzzed loudly. Someone had answered their question wrong.

    "Our participants are now entering the final and most dangerous part of the course, where wild Pokémon lurk deep, ready to attack any who disturb their habitats," Maika told the crowd, though it seemed to be just as much for the participants' own benefit. "This will require them to make peace with those around them."

    "We can do this, Mele!" Maka cheered as Mele dashed along the platform. Its movements appeared to disturb some of the water at the sides of the floating stage. Sylveon was far more moderate, running forward, but not enough to actually move the platforms. It still seemed easy going, though…

    And that was when Serena noticed it: the pink spikes sticking out near the end of the platform, no doubt belonging to a Corsola. Sylveon appeared to sense her hesitation and slowed, but Mele continued on without stopping. "Hold it back!"

    "Syl!" Sylveon cried. Her ribbons lashed out and snapped on to Mele. Maka looked at Serena in hurtful surprise, but just as Sylveon managed to pull Mele away, the Corsola suddenly launched an attack of Water Gun and Spikes combined, littering the platform in the spiky little things. Thankfully, Mele was safe, even if the Corsola weren't stopping their assault. Serena grit her teeth, trying to think of a way out of it without hurting the Corsola.

    A shadow passed under the water, one that looked vaguely familiar to Serena. She tracked it for a moment as another buzzing was sounded. Then the shape leapt out of the water, spinning through the air and tossing bubbles at the Corsola. They impacted, driving them backwards, and in the gleaming sun, Serena could see the form of Popplio arching through the air. It turned to face Serena and clapped its hands together happily, as if to tell her that it was helping out. Serena couldn't help but chuckle.

    "Let's finish off, Sylveon!"

    "You, too, Mele!" Maka yelled. Sylveon let go of Mele and began dashing forward once more, followed closely by Mele. They passed through ring after ring, drawing ever nearer to that final station. Just as they were about to reach it, Mele burst forward, flipping through the air and landing on the station ahead of Sylveon. The question came up, and there was no delay in Mele answering, offering a beep that said it was correct. Sylveon then approached.

    What is the most major clothing store in Hau'oli City? That was an entirely random question, and yet, Serena was grateful that she knew the answer to it. Sylveon turned to look at her, and she jerked her head towards the third and final option that read "Hau'oli Fashion". The screen dinged and Serena let out a breath of relief. She had passed the Course segment.

    "All right! You were great, Mele!" Maka called, as Mele finished her approach, leaping into the younger girl's arms. Sylveon approached as well and Serena leaned down to stroke her fur kindly. "And thank you Serena."

    "For what?" Serena asked of Maka as their next participant approached the station, but seemed to answer the question wrong.

    "For saving Mele," Maka admitted with a laugh. "I totally didn't see those Corsola there, so thanks."

    "It's no problem," Serena assured her, winking a little. The two girls reached forward and gave one another a high five before watching the remainder of the Course to see who their next two competitors would be. As they did so, Serena caught sight of the Popplio from last evening and during the course, floating in the sea, watching her. Occasionally it would toss some bubbles out, flipping up and down a little. She watched it until the final ding, indicating that the Course segment was complete.

    "And there's the bell!" Maika called. "We have our four Performers: Maka, Serena, Leko and Ipu! A round of applause for all our participants, even those who lost!"

    Serena found herself clapping alongside the audience for all of her opponents, breathing in, steadying herself. She was right back here again. The Performance stage. Lifting her gaze, Serena saw Ash pumping his fists into the air with Pikachu and Bonnie jumping up and down next to Chespin. However, what drew her attention the most was Lillie, sitting next to Ash, clutching at her bag and looking like she was having the time of her life. It was the smile that lit a flame inside Serena as she returned Sylveon and gripped Pancham's pokeball. The screen, just as in Pua Town, suddenly erected itself and the judges all sat up in their seats to evaluate the coming performances. On the screen, the four pictures of them appeared, wasting no time moving on, just as last time. They shuffled around, the two boys and two girls, until finally arranging themselves in some semblance of order.

    "Up first is the lovely Serena! And to all our participants, just remember that you are allowed the use of one Pokémon to create a routine together as you see fit! The theme this time is flowing water!" Maika called to the crowd, all of them cheering wonderfully, even if it was just out of basic respect.

    "Right…" Serena said, holding Lillie's smile, and Maka's thanks, close to her heart as her fellow Performers cleared the stage, allowing Serena to walk into the center. Flowing water…okay…I think I have it. Pancham is versatile enough to make it work…

    Serena walked to the center of the stage, scanning her eyes along the crowd. Pancham popped out of his pokeball to stand alongside her until she faced front. Lillie's gleaming eyes shined out to her from the crowd, and Serena smiled, letting the same feeling that had filled her yesterday bubble up to the surface. Water. Flowing water. An image of one of Ash's training sessions at Oak's lab came to her mind, and she was ready to begin.

    "Pancham, on your back and spin using Dark Pulse!" Serena called, spinning around and placing her hand to the ground. Pancham flipped a little, falling onto his back and rotating around. The inky, dark swirling energy formed between his hands and then he let it off, much like Ash's Counter Shield. The Dark Pulse waved around, looking like small rivulets despite their actual contents. They twisted and twirled, intersecting with one another as they did so. At the same time, Serena twirled around, dancing to the side and through the vapors left behind, making it seem like she was passing through a waterfall. "Now flip back to me!"

    "Pan!" Pancham called, flipping back. The trails of his Dark Pulse came off like wisps, water running out as he landed by her. He looked up at his trainer for just a moment, and Serena nodded. Pancham turned his momentum into a series of flips, allowing him to bound forward and do multiple movements at the same time. Every time his paw touched the stage, a stone emerged from it, encasing them somewhat within the construct.

    Yet despite the solidly hard objects they were working with, Serena had no trepidation; she danced to the side, slipping and flowing between a pair of rocks. On the other side of the enclosure, Pancham was doing so as well. "Arm Thrust!"

    "Cham!" Pancham acquiesced, his fist glowing bright white, slamming into the Stone Edge and breaking it into pieces that seemed to hover in the air. Serena picked up her pace alongside her Pokémon, the two of them twirling remarkably quickly, intersecting with one another as they passed between the stones. Every time they did, Pancham would break the stones apart, and Serena could only figure that they looked like stones themselves, flowing along with a river until their demolition was complete.

    "Now, to me, Pancham!" Serena called, continuing to wear her smile. As they once more drew close, Pancham flipped upwards, landing on her shoulder. "And Dark Pulse!"

    "Pan Pancham!" Pancham called, clambering over her outstretched arms as he shot his Dark Pulse out. It morphed slightly, no longer just a straight shot of black, swirling energy, but more like a wave that went through the area, consuming the broken stones, turning them into dark purple glitters. Then they floated off, carried along on the breeze as Pancham finished his attack and landed right in front of Serena.

    "Finish!" she called to the crowd, and then bowed low. They seemed to cheer loudly, but Serena knew that was no indication, and she refused to look at the judges and what their faces could convey. Instead, she looked towards Lillie, the girl furiously clapping her hands together next to Ash, looking like that performance had been the greatest thing in the world. When she could no longer stay on the stage, Serena shifted her gaze to Maka, who was framing her once more with her hands in excitement. However, she seemed to rein it in as one of the male performers walked past her with their Bagon.

    "Lilili!" barked a sound from the water behind the stage, causing Serena to turn in that direction when she reached the safety of the side of the stage. Somehow, she wasn't surprised to see the Popplio from earlier clapping happily, having enjoyed her Performance. In fact, as the next two Performers gave their own routines (including a somewhat poor attempt at turning Dragon Rage into a water form), Serena found her attention split between them and the Popplio that appeared to be doing its own routine. It was certainly a Pokémon to be admired, wanting attention but seemingly not getting it. In fact, it appeared to realize this by the time Maka was making her way to center stage with one of her Oricorio (she was pretty sure it wasn't Mele this time around, but it was so hard to tell). Once it had, the Popplio hung its head sadly and splashed into the water. It made Serena's heart hurt a little, while giving her an idea at the same time.

    Smiling to herself, Serena turned back to watch Maka perform, and she had to admit…the girl was very good. Perhaps not as good as someone like Jessilie or even (she shuddered at the thought) Keoni, but she was someone who very obviously knew what they wanted in advance. The only possibly detrimental thing that she noticed was any lack of improvisation. Every move, like Oricorio's fast feet leaping off Maka's head, removing the ribbon and then tossing it upward, seemed rehearsed and planned, which made sense given Maka's obsession with film. As the ribbon floated through the air, Oricorio spun, moving in undulating waves and sending an Air Cutter upward that sent a breeze around the ribbon, but never broke it. Instead, it looked like a constantly floating river until the rotors of wind broke apart into falling shimmers.

    "And that's a wrap!" Maka called, winking at the crowd. She caught her ribbon while Oricorio shook its pompoms proudly. The crowd, like before, cheered loudly at Maka's performance and she skipped her way back over to Serena and the other two while Maika took the stage yet again, microphone in hand.

    "We will now allow our judges a moment to convene and determine the winners of the Performance Round!" she spoke, and the crowd quieted down, turning to speak amongst themselves. As they did, Maka chose to strike up a conversation with Serena.

    "You were super awesome out there, Serena," the girl said, tying her hair back up with her red ribbon. Serena had to admit that it suited her. "I'm honestly a little jealous."

    "Really? I thought your performance was very captivating," Serena assured her with a smile. "Very befitting of someone who wants to be a future director."

    "Well, every performance is like a script and storyboard. When you've worked it all out in your head and gotten it down onto paper, you can do everything you need to make it look great. That's how me and the others do things!" she said, pointing at her chest emphatically with her thumb. The other two participants threw her slightly annoyed looks, but continued to ignore them both, nevertheless.

    "That's one way to do things!" Serena admitted gaily. Maka laughed with her, both of the girls sharing a nice moment before Serena noticed that the judges had finished convening. Maika was clearly calling all of them over to the stage. Lifting a hand to once more high five her new friend and potential rival, Serena led Maka and all the others over to the center of the stage as the screen burst with light and showed their four faces with empty spaces next to it for where their ranking would go.

    "The results are in! After a judging process between our esteemed hosts, the two trainers that will be moving on to the Battle Round where they will compete for the Kala'e Lei are…" Maika said, spinning around a few times before pointing to the screen for dramatic effect. Serena clenched the large bow on her dress, hoping, praying for the favorable result. "…Maka and Serena!"

    "All right!" Maka expressed, jumping up in jubilation. Serena was less animated, instead letting her breath of tension out, causing her dress to flutter a little. The others looked disappointed, but as Maika began to speak, sound returned to Serena, allowing her to listen to what the woman was saying while noticing the two that hadn't proceeded slinking off the stage.

    "And so, we've reached the final round of the Kala'e Ceremony!" Maika announced, making the crowd grow even more excited. Serena hadn't noticed it before, since she had lost in Pua Town, but now that she was moving on, she could really tell how much this portion excited them out of anything. In fact, it excited more than the crowd, but also her friends, boyfriend, Maka and, to the best of her knowledge, that wild Popplio, which seemed to have resurfaced. "You all know what that means: Battle Portion!

    "Before we begin, we'll briefly go over the rules for the Battle Portion to make sure our participants understand," the announcer continued, briefly adjusting her dress as she swayed forward on the stage. "Unlike the previous two rounds there is no special 'theme' to contend with. However, what is to be considered is how in sync and beautiful one looks with their Pokémon. If the trainer is deemed as one or both of these things, they will earn a flower on the screen…if not…well, they'll lose a flower. These flowers are given out based on the judges' joint perceptions. Each participant is only allowed the use of one Pokémon, and the round will come to an end when one of the participants has earned seven flowers!"

    "Seven…" Serena noted, nodding to herself. In some part, she didn't like the number seven anymore, for whatever reason, but determined it was negligible. If seven would help her proceed, she'd take it.

    "If our participants will take the stage, we can, at long last, begin the Battle Portion!" Maika appeared to shimmy off the stage while Maka walking boldly to the other end, opposite Serena. The two faced one another and the crowd quieted down for them to begin. In that moment, it seemed to hit her just how much reverence the locals held for the Ceremony, even the judges who were bowing their heads. Serena seemed to take it as a sign and she bowed towards Maka, who had already initiated her own.

    There was a light beeping from the screen, and as Serena raised her head, she could see her and Maka's pictures on the screen with transparent shapes of flowers spinning on it. Then the screen dinged once more, indicating for the battle to begin.

    "Mele, it's action time and use Captivate!"

    "Braixen, you're up!" Serena called. Braixen emerged from her pokeball, looking wary as the duo awaited the attack that Maka had already ordered. Mele emerged from its pokeball, landing with a spin. Then Maka began to move her hands up and down, like she was rehearsed in dancing. Mele also shook its pompoms, and hearts began to emerge in a shower that wafted over to Braixen.

    "B-Brai?" Braixen questioned before nearly dropping to her knee. Serena's gaze narrowed in worry at Braixen's loss of strength, though it was obvious that it was the result of Captivate. A dinging sound indicated that Maka had earned a flower.

    "Remember, no time to panic," Serena told Braixen confidently. The Fox Pokémon nodded as Serena pointed forward. "Flamethrower, through the hearts!"

    "Sen!" Braixen confirmed, sending her wand arching out from her tail, flipping into her hand before firing off a stream of fire. The flames exploded upon the hearts, causing them to disappear into a fine glitter that looked more like fireworks before the fire hit Mele, causing it to shriek. Another ding indicated that Serena had earned a flower.

    "Use Air Cutter!" Maka ordered. She and Mele both spun as the Oricorio used his powerful legs to bound into the air, spinning and shaking its pompoms wildly. The rotors of air soared out, their edges clearly as sharp as ever. Serena opened her mouth, prepared to order a Fire Blast, but hesitated for just a second. Too much fire…

    "Hidden Power to block!" Serena commanded, sweeping her hand out and then raising it to the air. Braixen's flames ended as she brought her wand back, the silver glow at its tip. Then she thrust forward and sent the silver orbs out in wide and curving arcs. The Air Cutter made no move to avoid it and Braixen's attack struck, exploding in white and silver powders.

    "What a move from Serena!" Maika called to the crowd's oohing. Serena's eyes briefly flicked over to the screen, wondering why she had mentioned that to see that Maka's score had dropped while her own had raised.

    "It really is just like the KTT…" Serena breathed out before chuckling. "Then let's press our advantage! Fire Spin columns, get to Mele quickly!"

    "Brai brai!" Braixen concurred. She began to twirl forward, her wand spinning along with her, tapping the floor as she crossed the stage. Large columns of rotating fire burst up from the stage like bright stage lights and Serena could see Maka's face light up, as if envisioning a new scene of her film. She didn't let it distract her, however, even as Serena appeared to earn another flower on the scoreboard.

    "Use Revelation Dance!" Maka ordered. Serena watched the younger girl, noting how she seemed to move along with her Pokémon, even in a battle. She couldn't believe she hadn't had the idea to try so earlier, especially when Mele's swift pompon shaking generated electricity that burst out and tore the fiery column away. All it left behind was a discharge of electricity, hanging in the air. Only Mele wasn't stopping. His talons were flipping over, supported by his pompoms as he flipped with the bursting electricity.

    "Block him, now!" Serena called. Braixen raised her stick just as Mele's dance brought him upward in the air and then crashing down with an electrified and pulsing talon onto the wand. The two strained against each other, the sparks created from their collision mixing with the heat from Braixen's fur. It made a shimmering haze appear between the two and a simultaneous ding revealed that both girls had earned themselves a flower. Serena at four, Maka at two. The girl was slowly catching up.

    "Use your other talon for an Air Cutter, straight up!"

    "Rrrico!" Oricorio cried and seemed to do a kick up. Braixen's guard faltered, forcing her to raise her wand. The Revelation Dance had ended, but Mele's next attack had already begun, flinging the rotors of compressed air upwards.

    "Counter with Flamethrower for distance!" Serena told Braixen, flipping backwards as if to give a command to her partner. Braixen seemed to perfectly understand, because she, too, flipped backwards, firing her Flamethrower out as she made a wall between her and Mele. The Air Cutter impacted with the stage, but vanished in the licking flames. Another ding sounded, granting Serena another point. Two to go…

    "Combo time!" Maka proclaimed proudly now, framing the stage with her hands once again. "Time to use Captivate!"

    "Oriori!" Oricorio chirped out, once more shaking his pompoms. The hearts flew out, but Serena knew that Maka had something up her sleeve as she began dancing, too, her dress fluttering out. Oricorio did the same, moving back and forth on his portion of the stage. Then Maka finished her routine by pointing towards Braixen. Oricorio, like Braixen had for Serena, took his trainer's actions as commands and used his talons to blast forward. He soared through the hearts at tremendous speed, electrifying them as they burst. Those sparks ignited with the fire wall, creating a perfect backdrop for Oricorio to burst through and impact with Braixen in the chest.

    "Braixen!" Serena called, to make sure that she was okay. Braixen nodded lightly and grinned. At the same time, Maka's score had gone up two whole points while Serena's had dropped. Two perfectly beautiful attacks, two points. They were tied, but Serena turned to the stage and Braixen, having already thought of a way to bring the battle home. "Time to finish this. Sorry, Maka, but I'm going to win."

    "Yeah, sure, we'll see," Maka said, grinning. She loosened her ribbon, clutching it in her hand as her long black hair floated out.

    "Remember rehearsal last night?" Serena asked the girl with a grin. Braixen got the message immediately and she ran on the stage, flipping through the air before landing in a crouch. "Fire Spin!"

    "Braixen!" Braixen called out, aiming her wand to the sky. Three rotating turrets of fire blasted out into the sky, traveling in an arc that seemed it would eventually impact with Mele. Maka's eyes widened, seeming to understand Serena's words. So did Braixen, springing out of her crouch to send a five-pronged Fire Blast into the sky. It undulated and changed into various shapes, especially as it merged and disconnected with the Fire Spins, creating embers that brushed onto Mele. The Oricorio shook himself to remove the flames, but it was too late.

    "Hidden Power!" Serena said. Something told her it was best to finish the battle without a Fire type move. Braixen twirled her wand like a baton and then aimed the silver cascade upwards. They jettisoned out, joining with the embers and raining upon the stage like a flow of molten silver, all too similar to water. The crowd cheered wildly, though Serena just focused in on Maka's face, her eyes wide with awe.

    Ding! Ding! Ding! came the noise from the screen, prompting Serena to turn and look. She was glad she had, for her face was flashing on the screen, all seven flowers blooming and blinking wildly.

    "That's it! The winner is decided!" Maika's voice called to the crowd, who erupted in further cheers. The embers continued to fade away, leaving a disappointed Mele behind as the commentator stepped up onto the stage. "And what a conclusion! Serena defeats Maka in the Battle Portion by earning three points all at once! A brilliant combination showcasing the true trust between trainer and Pokémon!"

    "Yeah! Serena!" Ash's voice could be heard loudly. Serena turned in its direction and beamed, seeing all of her friends giving a standing ovation to her. It would have been a little embarrassing, had she not been filled with such joy. That indescribable joy was only heightened by the look of adulation upon Lillie's face. Serena raised her hand and began to wave furiously, earning a positive reception from the crowd.

    "Thank you, Braixen," Serena said to her trusted Pokémon. Braixen nodded, and both looked over to Maka, returning Mele. The dark-haired girl looked like she wanted to say something, but as Maika began to cross the stage, she thought better about it. She offered a smile and then returned to behind the curtain where Serena was certain she heard the sounds of the Popplio from earlier clapping and cheering.

    "With that, the Kala'e Ceremony comes to an end," Maika was telling the still seated audience. "And so, we present to Serena, the coveted prize of our honorable Ceremony: the Kala'e Lei. May you wear it with the blessings of the Tapus."

    "Thank you," Serena said, bowing low, just as she had at the start of battle. When she straightened, Maika was holding a hand out. Resting on her palm was the Kala'e Lei, looking like a loose collection of blue flowers that appeared more like bubbles in their state. With a near shaking hand, Serena reached forward and clasped it. Despite it being cold, Serena felt nothing but warmth from it.

    She had grown.

    "Ta-da!" Serena cried out, holding the Kala'e Lei for everyone, especially her friends, to see. "I got my first Lei!"

    "Yeah! You did it!" cried Bonnie's voice, and Serena could swear she heard Chespin cheering as well. The crowd drowned them out though. Serena then lowered it, clasping it in her palm and to her chest. Another step…one step closer…Reeree…

    Holding her promise in her heart, Serena began to cry a single tear of joy in her place of victory.


    "Well, that didn't go so great!" Maka's voice groaned out as the two performers exited from the Ceremony Hall. The younger girl had already changed by the time Serena had returned to the preparation room, packing her things up with great enthusiasm while Serena changed. Once she had, Maka quickly grinned at her and latched onto her, pulling her from the hall. Serena went along with it, not seeing her friends at all and discerning that they'd be outside. Once they had gotten there, Maka had expressed her sentiment. "I was really hoping to win my first Lei, but it seems like I'll have to wait a little longer…"

    "You're really skilled, though," Serena told her. Maka threw her hands behind her head, grinning positively. "I'm sure you'll win it sooner than later."

    "I plan to!" Maka assured her. She whipped her bag off, going through its clearly messy contents once more. "There's another Ceremony in Hau'oli City in a week, and from there I'll take a boat to Akala and get the nectar for Aki before finding another one to take part in! And one day, I'll even beat you, Serena!"

    "M-me?" Serena asked, though she really wasn't all that surprised. Maka skipped forward, her green skirt fluttering a little as she took Serena's hands.

    "You were totally awesome out there! I realized when I was battling you that you're the one I just have to try and beat. That way, it'll have more meaning when you become my lead star!" Maka told her, adding on a little wink at the end. Serena laughed, flattered by the girl's high opinion of her as she separated.

    "Serena!" called Ash's voice across the waves crashing at shore. The honey-blonde turned and raised her hand to wave at the approach of the others. They seemed to be coming from the Ceremony Hall, looking like they had struggled to break through the crowd that was there. Funnily enough, Bonnie was the first to reach Serena.

    "Congratulations, Serena!" she said, hugging Serena suddenly with a grin. Rotom appeared to be asleep in her arms. "You won!"

    "I did. And thanks to you, Clemont," Serena pointed out to her blond friend. Clemont blinked and pointed at himself, like he didn't realize she was actually talking to him. "You mentioned about fire techniques and my overuse of them, so I thought about them consciously during the Ceremony."

    "Oh…you're welcome, then," Clemont said with a rather embarrassed flush. Lillie stepped forward, her hands behind her back as she did so.

    "You were very lovely up there, Serena. Thank you so much for letting me watch!" the girl stated, bowing low with a smile. In turn, the Performer smiled back and thought of saying something, but Ash precluded that notion.

    "You both did really well," he said, coming close to her. Serena swallowed, especially once he put his hands on her shoulders. "And I'm really happy that you won your first Lei."

    "Thanks, Ash," Serena sighed out. She stared up into his eyes, and in that moment, forgot that they weren't alone. She leaned forward and kissed him, euphoric over her win and his support. He kissed back, feeling no obvious trepidation. It wasn't until they heard Maka's feet on the sand that they stopped, turning towards her. Once more her fingers were in a letterbox.

    "That is a perfect ending scene for a film right there," she said, grinning madly. At those words, she lowered her hands and slung her backpack around her shoulders once more. "This clinches it. The perfect cast, the perfect shot. Just you wait, Serena! I'm gonna catch up to you and make you promise to be my lead actress one day! Wait for it!"

    "I'll look forward to it," Serena giggled out, drawing back from Ash. Maka heaved a breath.

    "Well, if I'm gonna do that, I need to train a lot harder. Come on film crew, time to hit the road! See ya later!" Maka screamed before tearing off across the sand as the sun once more began to set for the day, bathing the bay in red and orange. Serena waved after the girl, even if she didn't see it. Once she had vanished along the beach's edge, though, Serena looked to Ash.

    "Then next up is Iki Town."

    "Iki Town?" Lillie questioned. Clemont nodded from next to her.

    "Yes," he responded. "Ash is going to battle Kahuna Hala in a Grand Trial."

    "Oh…" Lillie commented. Her gaze seemed to shift down to her bag, where Nebby was presumably still contained. Then she looked up at all of them. "Then, would you all mind if I joined you for a little longer?"

    "Not at all!" Ash assured her. He officially separated from Serena and walked over to Lillie. The raven haired trainer reached out tentatively to touch her shoulder, but Lillie didn't jump or pull away. "We'd be happy to have you along. Right?"

    "Of course," Serena assured her. As Lillie nodded, Serena turned her gaze out to sea once more, noticing some bubbles floating in the air near the shoreline. Her earlier determination flared up yet again.

    "See? Now let's get going! Time for my Grand Trial!"

    "Just a second, Ash," the honey-blonde suddenly interrupted. Her boyfriend blinked, as did the others, their eyes confused while she smiled at them. "There's something I need to do before we go."

    "Uh…what?" Ash asked, tilting his head. She had to admit that he looked adorable, but it wasn't enough to give her pause in what she was doing. Not answering him, Serena turned on her heel and walked towards the water's edge with everyone looking after her. When she reached it, she cupped her hands around her mouth and screamed.

    "Popplio! I know you're out there!" Her voice echoed around the bay, hoping to draw out the rather elusive performer. It didn't work, so Serena continued on. "You were watching us all through the Ceremony today, and you helped us during the Course! Well…I think your routine is lovely, and more people should see it! If you're willing…

    "Will you go on an adventure with me? !"

    "Serena…" Bonnie's voice said, as though surprised at the volume to which Serena's shouts had raised. The honey blonde ignored her, focusing on the ocean, hoping to see sight of that beautiful blue Pokémon. She listened to the waves ebbing and flowing, but with no response. Eventually she sighed, and began to turn away. "Ah, look!"

    "Eeoh!" barked a loud sound, causing Serena to snap her gaze back. Popplio was gliding through the air, clapping her flippers together happily, as if completely enthralled by Serena's request. She finished arching across the sea and landed on the beach, just in front of her. "Pahpahpah!"

    "You…you want to, then?" Serena asked, reaching for a pokeball. It may have seemed like such a selfish request, she figured; but at the same time, like Ash felt with so many of his Pokémon, Popplio, too, was also one that she felt she needed to have by her side. That way they could learn and grow together. Popplio, overjoyed in that moment, formed a bubble that grew larger and larger before eventually popping, soaking them both in water. Yet Serena laughed, and without any further words, she held out her pokeball. Popplio jumped up and slapped a flipper on it, being absorbed inside. It took less than a second for the ball to stop shaking and shoot stars out. Serena gripped the ball tightly for a second, hands almost trembling a little.

    "Ta-da!" she whispered with enthusiasm. Then she whipped right around and displayed Popplio's new pokeball for all of her friends to see. "I caught a Popplio!"

    "That's awesome, Serena!" Ash said, and all of them moved forward to congratulate her on her new capture. Gripping Popplio's pokeball tightly, she felt the same sense of warmth she'd gathered from the Lei. Burning with the passion that she shared with her new partner, Serena turned her gaze upward.

    Next stop: Iki Town, and Ash's battle with Hala. With that destination in mind, she took Ash's hand, and began leading them once more on their adventure.



    Author's Note: Like always…a lot happened in this chapter. So, let's break it down! Okay, first, the Ceremony. I hope you're finding them to not be too rushed. The principle behind these on Melemele is that the island is small, so would be the population taking part, which is why the final round is always two people. Either way, I try to make them all different. Hope you enjoyed it; especially with Serena getting a win! Then we have Popplio, which was really obvious. I think most people when Popplio was revealed hoped Serena would be along to get it. Here, she is. And I wanted to develop the whole, "hey, this is why". I rather liked it, personally, and I hope you do too.

    Lastly, Maka. Oh, dear Lord, Maka. I loved writing this girl way too much. Yes, she was the same one that appeared early on in Chapter 2 at Hau'oli Fashions. Originally, she was like Serena's version of Sawyer, and she still kind of is, but I fleshed her out more. Now she's a total film addict with a team of Oricorio! (okay, that last part was always there) I hope you enjoyed her as much as I did. In terms of looks, me and my totally brilliant artistic mind (not) imagine her to be a little like Moon and for those of you who know me and my current obsession, the red ribbon design style was taken from the character Mitsuha in the movie, Kimi no Na wa. That said, next up is the battle against Hala. Get hype!

    I've enjoyed writing the story, as difficult as it is, and I'm glad you have enjoyed reading it. Hopefully you all continue to Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  20. #20
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    Happy belated 20th anniversary Pokeani day! Yeah, I'm a day late, but not totally my fault. Point is, here's a new chapter for you: Chapter 12! Please enjoy.


    Chapter 12

    A Kahuna

    The travel time back to Iki Town was shorter than Ash thought, he had to admit. Although from Serena's map, it was still to take them about a day or two to reach the site of his first Grand Trial, depending on how quickly they were able to move. Of course, their group had slowed down with Lillie's inclusion, as the girl, her dress and her shoes were hardly suitable for crossing many different types of terrain. This was something she repeatedly apologized for, especially so when they'd taken a break sometime after lunch.

    "Sorry, I'm not used to walking very far," she laughed out, taking her hat off and placing it on the rock she was seated upon. Ash's eyes widened just a little bit; despite having traveled along with her a couple days, he'd yet to see her hair from underneath her hat. "I'm surprised I could make it through to Melemele Meadow…How Professor Kukui expected me to get to Verdant Cavern, I don't know."

    "It's all right," Clemont assured her with a smile. "We're used to taking breaks. And it's not like the Grand Trial is going anywhere."

    "He's right," Ash assured Lillie. The blonde smiled at him, breathing in relief. "And it just means more time to train."

    "Train?" she asked. Ash stood still and stared at her, his mouth dropping open just a little at what she had asked. In fact, he wasn't even sure how to respond to begin with. Serena appeared to have the answer while Bonnie sat by, carefully watching Rotom as she ate a snack.

    "It's what we do to make ourselves closer with our Pokémon, in a way," Serena told Lillie. Ash found himself nodding with his girlfriend's explanation. "They grow stronger and we become closer, so when we try to achieve our dreams, we're even better than before."

    "That sounds lovely," Lillie admitted with a laugh. When her laugh faded, she sat forward, slipping her feet back into her shoes and laced her fingers. She looked rather contemplative for a moment, thinking and considering. "To be honest, I'm not a fan of battling or fighting or any of that. I don't like to watch Pokémon get hurt."

    "But you watched Serena's Ceremony battle," Bonnie pointed out, having finished her snack and shared it with Dedenne. Ash frowned, thinking the young girl had a point as he looked at Lillie. The blonde fidgeted a little and Ash watched Serena step forward to place her hand on Lillie's, the slight contrast of their skin tones more evident now.

    "That was different. They weren't battling to hurt one another but make everything look…beautiful…" Lillie said the last word like it left a bad taste in her mouth, yet she swallowed it down nonetheless. "I just…with Nebby and all of that, I don't want to see other Pokémon get hurt."

    "We're not trying to hurt them, Lillie," Ash assured her. She looked up at him now, her green eyes shimmering with questions. "All of us are just working together. We feel a little pain maybe, but that drives us to work harder and get stronger. Right, Pikachu?"

    "Pikapika," Pikachu agreed, nodding his head.

    "Ash is right," Serena insisted. As she said so, she took her four pokeballs from her bag and tossed them into the air. Braixen, Pancham, Sylveon and Popplio all emerged happily, the three from Kalos turning to their new teammate. "All of us train and battle to step a little closer to our dream. We come from different places, and have different styles, I've noticed, but we still have that single bond. Right, Popplio?"

    "Eeo!" Popplio expressed happily, slapping her flippers together. Serena walked over, looking down at her team.

    "Everyone, this is our newest friend, Popplio. Together, we're going to achieve our dream!" Serena insisted to all of her partners. They all soaked in her words and cheered loudly. Ash smiled at the heartwarming scene of all of Serena's partners accepting the energetic Popplio so easily. Sylveon, in particular, seemed to greet the Sea Lion Pokémon with much affection, like they were automatic sisters.

    Then Ash's smile dropped off.

    Dreams…
    he couldn't help but think. Ash turned away, looking towards the coastline and putting his hands in his pockets. Much as he tried, he couldn't shake Hala's question from his mind, one he still had yet to find the answer to. Why do I want to be a Pokémon Master…? Isn't it because I always have, and because I promised him I would. Isn't that a good answer?

    "Pikapi?" Pikachu questioned, though Ash only reached up to pat his partner on the head, not answering him. Somehow, even if the reason he had given was sound, Ash felt it wasn't quite right. He took a step forward, away from the group and down the hill they were traversing. No one went after him, allowing he and Pikachu to stand side by side as they watched the ocean waves and listened to the trees rustle in the wind.

    "Pikachu, do you think we're ready to face Hala?" Ash asked. Pikachu tilted his head, almost like he was surprised that his partner was experiencing even a smidgen of self-doubt. "It's just…I don't think I can answer his question, you know? Like, before, when all these really great trainers would ask me questions, I could figure it out pretty quickly, but…"

    "Pikapi, chu chu pika…" Pikachu stated, empathizing with him. Ash sucked in a breath and nodded.

    "I know, buddy. I know we'll do it together," he said positively, affixing the smile back on his face. "Only…Hala's real strong, and we haven't managed Z-Moves yet. Is it because I can't answer his question…or is it something else?"

    "Chu…" Pikachu stated, his ears drooping slightly. However, he quickly perked back up, touching a paw to Ash's face. "Pika pika chu chu!" Ash turned his head, looking straight at his longest partner and started to smile, nodding.

    "Of course," he said, understanding just what his partner was getting at. "No time to think about it. We'll just have to give it our all! The more we train and battle, the closer we'll come to understanding all of it!"

    "Pikachu!" Pikachu cried triumphantly. Both trainer and Pokémon raised their fists to the air, clasping them as though they were reaching for the sun. It wasn't exactly an answer, but Ash felt it was good enough. The answers would come the more they stepped forward; life had proven that time and again. For now, he would give his all against Hala.

    "Time for some training!" Ash yelled, grabbing his pokeballs and tossing them upwards. Greninja, Rowlet and Pikipek all appeared with a cry. "Okay, guys, we're going up against Hala, so we need to be extra careful."

    "Ninja!" Greninja responded emphatically. Clearly, his memory from the last fight was still very strong in his mind. Over by where he'd left them (which really wasn't all that far to begin with), his friends turned their heads to watch him train.

    "Great, we'll need to work on our speed and teamwork to overcome this challenge. If we beat Hala, it definitely means we've grown, so…Rowlet and Pikipek, show me your aerial maneuvers!"

    "Kurrroh!"

    "Pikee!" The two birds shot off, bending and weaving around one another. Meanwhile, Pikachu and Greninja appeared to have taken their own initiative with Greninja creating multiple copies of himself for Pikachu to ram through with a very speedy Quick Attack. For a moment, Ash considered a Z-Move, trying to bring out the power of Breakneck Blitz, but soon decided against it. He was going to try and beat Hala using his tried and true training methods of great strategies. All he had to figure out was a way around Hala's own Z-Move and Crabominable.

    "Ah! No, Pipi! Catch it!"

    "Pikapikapika!" cried a panicked voice. Ash watched Pikachu, thinking, for a very brief moment, that his partner was freaking out, but it quickly proved to not be the case. Pikachu appeared just as surprised by the sound, though he didn't stop, changing his direction to hit Greninja in the stomach before spinning around with an Iron Tail that was blocked with Cut. Pikachu leapt off and ran at Greninja before Ash saw something enter their training field.

    "Pi...cha!" Pikachu cried as a malasada seemed to hit him straight in the face, causing him to fall over. Seconds later, something else appeared to impact with him, only this time it was familiar.

    "Pipi chu?"

    "Pika!" Ash stepped forward, indisputably recognizing the heart shaped tail of the Pikachu that was hugging Pikachu joyfully. Pikachu patted her kindly as the owner of the voice from earlier crashed from outside of the forest. Ash now turned to that and his face split into a grin, emulating the boy who had emerged.

    "Did you get it, Pipi?" Hau asked, his lips upturned, but his eyes wide with question. He didn't see Ash immediately, but he noticed the two Pikachu, tilting his head, wondering. Pipi turned around, clutching the slightly dirty malasada. That's when Hau seemed to finally recognize the other Pikachu before him. "Hey, that's…"

    "Alola, Hau," Ash said with grin and chuckle.

    "Alola!" Hau responded in kind, waving his hands with carefree abandon. One of his wrists glittered in the sunlight and Ash focused in on it, noticing the very distinct shape of a Z-Ring now around the boy's arm. He didn't catch him looking, however, and had no time to as he was suddenly tackled by Bonnie.

    "Yay! Hau, it's been a long time," the girl said energetically. Rotom was blearily floating along behind her. Trailing at a slower pace were Serena, Clemont and Lillie. Serena's Pokémon were right along with her.

    "Not too long, I hope!" Hau said with a grin, leaning down and giving Bonnie a high five. The two continued to grin at each other, which quickly became rather infectious. "You guys have been doing well, apparently."

    "We have," Serena greeted upon her approach. "How about yourself?"

    "Me? I've been absolutely great. Isn't that right, Pipi?" Hau asked of his Pikachu, who had dusted off the malasada and was busy eating it, sharing some of the clean part with Pikachu. She turned and gave a salute with a full mouth. "Yep, me and Pipi and the others are all doing awesome. Just caught the newest addition to our little family, too!"

    "Oh! Can I see?" Bonnie asked excitedly. Hau, reached down to his waist and pulled his pokeball, opening it. From the burst of light, Ash watched as a Munchlax appeared, still asleep after he emerged. Bonnie instantly ran for it and hugged it without thinking. Munchlax didn't wake up.

    "That Munchlax seems to sleep more than the average species of Munchlax," Rotom noted. Hau didn't really seem to care, laughing a little.

    "Yeah, but he's a real battler," the boy noted. "He was sleeping when I tried to capture him but then he nearly ate all of our malasadas and beat Pipi into a corner."

    "Pi…" Pipi said sadly. Ash folded his arms and nodded, admittedly more intrigued by his Z-Ring than by anything else. However, he was willing to wait however long was needed, which quickly became longer a second later.

    "Oh, hey, Lillie. Long time, no see!" Hau said energetically. Lillie gave a small wave back, prompting Bonnie to suddenly wear a mischievous little smile on her face. Ash and Serena shared looks from that; they knew all too well what it would start to mean when Bonnie looked like that. "You and Nebby been doing well?"

    "We have!" Lillie insisted. Nebby popped out of his bag, giving a small "Pew" as greeting before disappearing to avoid Lillie's scolding. "I recently met Serena and the others and traveled with them. I got to see a Leilani Ceremony!"

    "Aw, sweet!" Hau cheered, pumping both of his arms with a little jump. "That must've been real exciting, Lillie! I know you always wanted to see one. Was it lots of fun?"

    "Definitely," Lillie assured him with a nod, her braids flying back and forth with a smile. Hau crossed his feet and put his hands behind his head, obviously pleased that Lillie was having some fun. Ash's eyes turned into a squint and he recalled Hau's words to him about a girl he really seemed to like. For a second, he thought that maybe Hau was talking about Lillie, but he quickly discounted it. All thoughts of it officially went out the window at Clemont speaking.

    "It's always nice to meet people who know each other, huh?" Clemont said, chuckling just a little. "A bit surprised we've run into you."

    "Yeah, I've been training and trying to catch a new member to the ohana," Hau told them, never losing his smile. Ash opened his mouth the ask about the Z-Ring on his wrist when he pushed it forward. "That and me, Pipi and the gang have been training real hard for Z-Moves since we beat my tutu just the other day."

    "You already beat Hala?" Ash asked in surprise. For a sharp second, he felt the momentary pang of disappointment that he'd yet to have his battle with the Kahuna, but passed it off in favor of a smile. Hau grabbed his backpack and pulled out his own Trial Amulet. All of them leaned forward to see it shining in the sunlight. The first thing Ash noticed was the white wedge from Ilima's trial, but near the center, in one of the four circular spots was a marble-shaped jewel, amber in color. It was clearly a symbol that Hau had defeated his grandfather in battle.

    "Wow! Congratulations, Hau!" Lillie said, clapping happily. Her happiness bled over onto the others around her and Ash found himself feeling very pleased and happy for their friend. "You mentioned wanting to surpass your grandfather. It must have been amazing for the both of you."

    "It sure was," Hau insisted, taking his things back and packing them away. "After I won, tutu fashioned me this Z-Ring and we've been practicing real hard. Still haven't quite gotten it yet, but we're getting there. And tutu made it look so easy in our battle against him."

    "Yeah, his Crabominable was real tough when we fought him the first time," Ash noted, his own mind pulling to his impending battle with the Kahuna. Hau seemed to have been able to beat him, so he figured he would be able to, the two of them being as even as they were. Nevertheless, even with the tension of facing Hala again, excitement flushed through his veins.

    "We didn't get the chance to face Crabominable," Hau explained, though he didn't seem all that disappointed about it. "But what about you guys? Leilani Ceremonies and stuff? Those all go well?"

    "It did," Serena insisted. "I won the Kala'e Lei."

    "She was amazing!" Lillie blurted out, stepping just a little closer to Hau. The younger boy stopped his grinning, acting like he was going to reach out to catch the clumsy girl, but Lillie didn't fall over. Instead, her eyes were shimmering as she looked to her friend. "I've never seen a performance so beautiful!"

    "Glad to hear it," Hau agreed. He finally seemed to reach out and pat her on her shoulder. She appeared to jump a little at it, but didn't lose her smile. Ash leaned back, happy to see the two friends smiling next to each other. Not that it stopped Bonnie from her mischievous grinning. The youngest girl moved around, as if she was going to push Lillie into Hau, but Clemont and Serena both seemed to catch her and pull her back before she could, allowing their small moment to go uninterrupted.

    "So, er, Hau, what are your plans, then, since you defeated Hala and cleared your Grand Trial?" Clemont vocalized, finally breaking Hau and Lillie from their weird smiling session. Ash looked at his inventor friend, catching sight of Serena, who looked almost amused by it all.

    "Planning on going to Akala next, of course!" Hau told them all energetically (as usual). Ash folded his arms in thought, briefly watching Hau's sleeping Munchlax and their two playing Pikachu before Rowlet and Pikipek landed on his shoulders. Hearing the name of the next island automatically got Ash thinking.

    Akala is where Gladion went. Still, he shook his head to clear any thoughts not related to his battle against Hala from his brain. "Guess we'll meet there sooner or later, then."

    "You're not heading there yet?" the sunny boy asked of Ash, finally turning away from Lillie to look at him. Ash shook his head.

    "Nah, I've still gotta beat your grandfather," he told him. "We're heading back to Iki Town right now, actually."

    "You are?" Hau asked. He turned around rapidly, looking at each of them in quick succession, as if to see if any one of them would say anything different than what Ash had just proclaimed. When no one contradicted him, Hau started to shake, closing his eyes. Ash genuinely thought the boy had gone mad as Pikachu and Pipi stopped gamboling along on the ground. "I have got to see this! A battle between my tutu and Ash? That's like the battle of the century!"

    "I don't know about that…" Ash admitted, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment. Hau just shook his head, trying to correct him.

    "Akala can wait, you gotta let me watch your battle!" Hau said enthusiastically. As he did so, he took his pokeball and called back Munchlax. Ash stared at him, knowing he couldn't possibly refuse such an earnest request, though still being utterly surprised by it nonetheless. Whether he wanted to or not, however, his acceptance of Hau joining their ever-expanding group were cut across by Lillie.

    "I would like to see the battle as well."

    "Lillie?" Serena and Hau's voices piped up at the same time. Ash had to figure that Hau knew about the girl's aversion to fighting to have such a reaction. Lillie stepped away from Hau (briefly allowing Ash to remark in his brain about how they appeared to be the same age) and clasped her hands in front of her.

    "I'm not a fan of battling or fighting, but since I supported Serena in her Ceremony, I'd like to support you as well," Lillie admitted, tacking a smile on at the end. Ash turned his head, meeting both Rowlet and Pikipek's gazes. Then he smiled. "Thank you. I'm sure I'll learn a lot from this."

    "Then maybe we should all stop standing around and talking about and maybe actually start walking back towards Iki Town," Bonnie suggested with a bored little sigh. They all stopped at the youngest girl's words, realizing just how long they had been talking. Even Rotom was busy twisting in midair, like it was trying to come up with a retort to Bonnie. Ash gave a little chuckle, scratching at his nose.

    "Right, we should get going if I want to get to that Grand Trial by tomorrow!" Ash insisted, turning his scratching finger into a fist that he threw into the air. All of his Pokémon joined him in this action while Pipi returned to Hau. The boy kicked his feet up into the air with excitement.

    "Awesome! This is gonna be one awesome battle!" With Hau officially joining their group (at least for the trip to Iki Town), and their break over, the group continued onward towards the forest that Hau had come from. Ash quickly slipped his hand into Serena's as Hau turned to Lillie, regaling the girl with tales of his own adventure.

    "You'll be fine, Ash," Serena suddenly whispered to him as they stepped onto the forest path. Clemont nodded fervently from his other side; Bonnie was too busy merrily skipping ahead to Rotom's disgruntlement. "You always figure out a way to make it through."

    Ash leaned over, feeling the need to kiss her on the cheek as thanks for speaking the truth he needed to hear. It put his mind at ease. However, as he stepped and helped Serena over a fallen log, he couldn't help but develop a sense of unease, like they were being watched. Greninja must have felt the same, considering their link sharing that feeling. Even Pikachu seemed wary, but as neither got defensive, Ash passed it off as nothing and continued onward, mind driving towards Hala.
    *Chapter to be continued in next post...

  21. #21
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    The trip to Iki Town, as projected, took a further day of hiking through the forests and hills of Melemele as well as sleeping under the stars; something that Lillie seemed averse to at first but quickly warmed up to when Serena offered hers and Bonnie's tent. Granting, that was when Ash and Clemont learned something about Hau.

    "I don't need a tent," the boy stated confidently, laying a sleeping bag out with he and Pipi flopping upon it. "I like to sleep under the moon and stars, and wake up to the sun."

    "It would help to get an early start on training, I suppose," Clemont admitted, though he didn't seem to want to join him outside, retreating into the cover of his tent. Ash, on the other hand, had absolutely no problem with it, himself and Pikachu deciding to camp out alongside the boy. Rowlet and Pikipek were there as well, the former in his backpack and the latter resting on the tent quietly. Greninja had stalked to an edge of the campsite, watching both Ash and Serena's tent carefully. Ash wasn't sure why, but he had this strange feeling that part of it had to do with Braixen and Serena's other Pokémon all being there.

    "You can be full of surprises, Hau," Ash admitted, staring up at the stars alongside his rival. Hau chuckled at that. "I kinda like that. Makes life exciting."

    "Yeah, it does," Hau said before yawning. "Hey, Ash, what do you say we make things a little interesting? How about, sometime on Akala, you and me compete. Whatever it is. Tournament, catching, battling, Trials. What do you say?"

    "I think it sounds great," Ash agreed, reaching over to clasp the boy's hand in a promise.

    "Sweet! To celebrate that rivalry, let's share a malasada." Hau sat up rapidly, grabbing his bag and pulling out the sweet treat for Ash to eat. He split it into four, popping the piece into his mouth whole. Ash did the same, him and Pikachu chewing furiously alongside their rival before falling back in content. "You know, it's real nice, having people to share malasadas with. I never had many friends in Iki Town before now…well, really before Lillie. I think they all found me annoying, but that didn't matter. Lillie was nice enough to like me for me!"

    "I kinda get that…" Ash said, thinking back to his days in Pallet Town where his greatest friend was Gary before everything had gone sour. Now, though, he hardly thought about those days, not when he was surrounded and supported by such great friends and his girlfriend. "But don't worry, I'm your friend, and you'll make lots more."

    "Totally! I can't wait to meet, befriend and battle more people and Pokémon on my Island Pilgrimage!" Hau shouted out, punching his hands to the stars. Ash laughed out beside him, especially so when he heard Hau snoring away peacefully mere seconds later. Deciding he, too, should get some sleep, Ash drifted off into an easy slumber, awakening when the first rays of sun beamed across the horizon at them.

    The breakfast that followed was a very quick affair once everyone had managed to get up (here meaning Bonnie), and they were back on the short road to Iki Town. In fact, it was so short that only a few hours later, Ash could see the very familiar sight of the wooden buildings that made up one of his first visits in Alola approaching. Some people were loitering around outside the town, picking berries with their Pokémon, or otherwise enjoying nature as they came close. Ash noticed that it was a very different feel from the first time they had arrived in Iki Town.

    "Alola!" Hau shouted exuberantly to two women standing outside the town gate. The two were chatting almost conspiratorially and seemed to have not heard Hau. He didn't mind and, with a grin, took Lillie's hand to bring her up the stairs into town. Clemont, Bonnie and Rotom trailed right after. Ash hung back a bit with Serena; not that he wasn't excited to get to his inevitable battle, but he felt…distracted.

    After a second of looking around, he figured out why. Greninja was staring off towards the roof of a house they had passed. Ash followed his gaze and seemed to notice a glint on the rooftop. Greninja rotated his head, locking gazes with Ash. The raven-haired trainer frowned and shook his head. Now wasn't the time to be distracted by something that was likely nothing. Greninja seemed to agree and went running off towards the town quickly.

    "Ash, are we going?" Serena asked. Ash hummed lightly to show that he was and aimed straight for the stairs. Looking back, he saw that the glint was gone, but now the occupant of his mind was replaced with some snippets of the conversation between the two women.

    "…ull thugs are really getting restless lately," one of the women said, picking a berry absentmindedly off the tree.

    "Why can't those troublemakers just mind their own business and head back to Po Town or wherever they're staying these days?" the other replied. Ash slowed his pace, confusing Serena, who stayed alongside him.

    "They don't realize what losers they are. 'Biggest, baddest thugs around'? Give me a break."

    "They're little more than thieves with too much time on their hands," the woman concluded definitively. "Well, I'll tell you, when my son grows of age, there's no way I'm not making sure he completes his Island Pilgrimage. I can't have him living the life of a thug."

    "I hear that, sister. If that big group comes here, I'll whack them with my frying pan!"

    "Guess Team Skull really aren't very liked here," Serena noted. The two of them finally began to proceed forward again, ignoring the laughter and still disparaging comments of the women they were leaving behind. "They are Pokémon thieves, I suppose."

    "Hmm…" Ash noted. Truthfully, he found it odd to see Pokémon thieves so laughed at, considering he never tried to really laugh at Team Rocket. Sure, they were nuisances, but nothing to really be laughed at…well, these days. Yet there was something about their words that struck him. They don't realize what losers they are. Like it was a label saved for Team Skull and Team Skull alone in Alola. People who didn't amount to anything. It simply seemed…odd. "Well, whatever it is, time for my battle with the Kahuna!"

    "A battle I've been looking for!" boomed an all too familiar voice across the town square. Ash was finally able to peel his mind's attention away from the women's conversation and over to all his other friends. Somehow, he wasn't surprised to see Hala there, a smile on his face. Nor was he surprised to see Ilima and Professor Kukui on the old man's porch. And if Kukui was there…

    "Ruff! Ruff!" barked an enthused voice. Ash looked to see Rockruff running over to him. Serena detached herself as Rockruff bowled him and the others over happily, licking at all their faces in response.

    "Guess it really has been a while, Rockruff. Good to see you again," Ash said, petting at the puppy's fur. Rockruff appeared to enjoy it based on her expression. The others all laughed a moment before turning to face Hala. Ash just put his attention to Kukui, sipping on a glass, as the practically shirtless man approached.

    "Rockruff has been missing you, it would seem," the professor said. Ash sat up, scratching Rockruff behind the ears a moment before standing. "You ready for your Grand Trial?"

    "You bet!" Ash assured him. He walked forward, approaching Hala, and all of his friends made way for him to do so. As he walked towards the Kahuna, he could swear he heard Kukui mentioning to Serena that they had managed to meet his assistant. Lillie gave no reaction at that, but stood next to Hau in utmost anticipation, clutching at her bag. "I'd like to battle you right away for my Grand Trial!"

    "Ho ha!" Hala laughed out, his belly jiggling slightly. "I accept your challenge, Ash Ketchum! Ilima, would you mind refereeing?"

    "My pleasure," called the polite man from the porch. Ash watched as he stood, stretching a little before making his way over to the town square. "I've been looking forward to this battle since your trial at the Verdant Cavern."

    "Yes, you and Kukui can't seem to stop talking about it. Makes my blood race…" Hala added, a grin stretching his face with determination. Ash returned the look, breathing in. "These old bones have been aching for a true challenge."

    "Hey, tutu, what about me?" Hau demanded. Hala opened an eye to look at his grandson.

    "Yes, you're a fine battler, Hau, though perhaps still a little wet behind the ears," Hala boomed out with a chuckle. Hau's mouth dropped a little at the admission, causing Lillie to laugh and lift his jaw back up for him. Then he took what his grandfather had said in stride and simply placed his hands behind his head, uncaring. "I only have myself to blame for that, likely coddling you…so, how about we both see what a seasoned trainer like Ash can do?"

    "That's the whole reason I came along, tutu," Hau insisted.

    "Good. Good. Well, Ash, shall we get this Grand Trial started then?" Hala asked. Ash raised a fist and nodded. That was the prompting for Hala to move to the stage in the center of town, clomping up its wooden steps and moving to stand in the exact spot he had when they'd first arrived there. Ash took in a deep breath. He was back again; back for another battle against the imposing Kahuna.

    "Serena, can you watch after Pikipek for me?"

    "Not a problem," Serena said. Seconds later, the Woodpecker Pokémon had joined her on her shoulders. In fact, she seemed inspired by her presence as she called out Popplio from its own pokeball. Popplio turned, gazing at her from the ground. "Let's watch Ash's battle together, Popplio. We might not be able to pick up too many techniques, but we can try."

    "Pahpah!" Popplio agreed. Kukui stroked his chin as he saw the sight of the Water type, but didn't comment on it.

    "Do your best, Ash!" Clemont called out to him. Ash extended a fist into the air, indicating his intention to have a victory to the inventor. Bonnie, surprisingly, was more subdued, holding onto Rotom once again, who looked to be disappointed that Ash hadn't called him to the battlefield alongside the others. Lillie and Hau also gave smiles, thumbs up and a pumping of their fists to indicate they were rooting for him.

    "Go, Ash," Serena said. It was so simple, but meant the world to him. Nodding, Ash sucked in a breath once more and walked towards the stage. As he did so, he noticed that his friends were no longer the only ones watching the entire affair. Townspeople appeared to be gathering, as though a battle against the Kahuna was a festival in and of itself. It made the whole entire affair feel special.

    Ash finished approaching the wooden stage and walked up its steps to the top, standing inside the challenger's box. Pikachu stood alongside him while Greninja hung back. The townsfolk were almost completely gathered now, practically forming a circle of spectators around the stage. Hala looked at ease, proving that this was an entirely common occurrence for his Grand Trial. Ash scanned along the crowd towards his friends' cheering faces, including an exuberant Rockruff, who looked ready to emulate every move made. As he slowly brought his gaze back on Hala, he saw a near identical glint to the one before on a rooftop slightly down the hill, but passed it too quickly to identify it.

    Then he felt it, a shock running through his veins. His and Pikachu's gazes snapped right over to the forest, and he could swear that two blue eyes were watching him through the brush. It was a feeling confirmed by Hala's booming laugh silencing the crowd as he wore a smirk. The aura was undeniable and the feeling palpable: Tapu Koko had come to watch. In the crowd below, none of the others seemed to feel it, though Lillie seemed to struggle to keep a hold on the energetic Nebby. Finally, Ash looked to Hala and nodded.

    "Let the Melemele Grand Trial begin!" Ilima cried. However, instead of cheers rising through the crowd, an event similar to the Leilani Ceremony took place. All around them, the people of the town faced towards the road to Tapu Koko's shrine and bowed, their hands clasped in prayer. Hala was doing the same, and Ash quickly got the idea that he should as well.

    "Tapu Koko, we ask your blessing on a good battle. May our cries of distant battles be pleasing to your ears," Hala said. Then he clapped his hands twice and straightened, grabbing a pokeball as he did. Considering the prayer over, Ash unclasped his hands and faced Hala. Ilima came as close to the stage as he deemed safe.

    "The Grand Trial will be a three-on-three battle between Ash, the trial-goer, and Kahuna Hala," Ilima said to the restlessly silent crowd. "The trial will be over when all three Pokémon of either side are knocked out, and only the trial-goer is allowed substitutions. You may begin."

    "Machamp!" Hala cried out, tossing the pokeball to the air. It emerged with its usual bright light, revealing the large and intimidating Machamp before him, flexing its muscles. Rotom escaped from Bonnie's arms to take pictures, but didn't come closer to the stage. "I have been looking forward to this since our first battle. I hope you can make these old bones give everything they have to give."

    "We definitely will," Ash said, adjusting his hat before looking down at his best buddy at his feet. "You ready to kick this off?"

    "Pi-kaaa!" Pikachu stated emphatically. Ash grinned and pointed forward.

    "All right, then Pikachu, I choose you!" Pikachu stopped his posturing and leapt forward onto the battlefield, cheeks sparking. He wasn't intimidated by the foe before him, simply ready to begin the battle. "We'll take the first move! Quick Attack!"

    "Pi!" Pikachu shouted before blasting right across the stage, leaving a bright trail of light behind him. Machamp stood there, merely shifting his foot while Hala did the same. Ash's eyes narrowed, wondering just what the Kahuna was planning to do. Then Pikachu hit, striking Machamp right in his chest, driving him back slightly across the stage.

    "Vital Throw!" Hala boomed out. Machamp roared out, swinging his arm across in a clothesline fashion. Pikachu had yet to recover from the impact of his own attack and was caught by the arm before being slammed down onto the stage. The crowd appeared to wince at the sight of it, Pikachu skidding back. Ash noticed that none of his friends had reacted, other than clenching their fists a little tighter.

    "Thunderbolt!" Ash ordered, attempting to not move from his spot. Behind him, Greninja continued watching his friend and partner get to his feet. Pikachu looked roughed up, but still more than ready to battle. His body swelled with electricity that he then sent soaring out into Machamp, consuming its entire body.

    "Cross Chop," Hala grunted out. Machamp grinned, stalking forward, practically absorbing the Thunderbolt that was sent his way. Two of his arms glowed and he swung them both down.

    "Block it with Iron Tail!" Pikachu ceased his electric attacks and stiffened his tail, the appendage glowing white before flipping up. The Cross Chop and Iron Tail met in midair, the white glow shining off of them with sparks. Pikachu struggled to maintain his hold. That's when Ash saw Machamp's other two arms glowing. "Ah, Electro Ball!"

    "Now!" Hala cried at the exact same time, bringing his foot up and stamping it down.

    "Macha!" Machamp cried and both of his open palms came down upon Pikachu like a pincer. Just before they struck, Ash managed to see Pikachu form his crackling orb of pulsing electricity and fire it straight into Machamp's face. The Superpower Pokémon's head snapped back a moment, but his other two glowing palms came striking down, slamming into Pikachu and knocking him back down onto the stage. Pikachu bounced across it from the force, and Ash could feel it actually tremble beneath his feet.

    "Pikachu, are you okay?" Ash asked of his partner. Pikachu groaned and grimaced, but began to rise to his feet.

    "Machamp is on a whole other level," Clemont seemed to say. Ash inclined his head a bit, watching Pikachu get up slowly. Hala wasn't wasting time, either. Machamp remained standing, but there was a faint, red aura around him. Ash easily recognized the move: Focus Energy. "I've seen Pikachu take down Pokémon like Metagross and go even with Mega Latios yet he's almost struggling with Machamp."

    "I told you before, Hala isn't an ordinary trainer," Kukui chuckled out. Ash caught sight of the professor wearing a smirk and Ilima even seemed the same. "He's a Kahuna. We in Alola take great pride and joy in our traditions and in our trainers. You'll not find a region stronger or more brimming with life than here."

    "That's so true," Hau agreed. "My tutu has been training me for ages, and Machamp is one of his best. Took everything I had to beat him as his last Pokémon."

    "Then Ash will be able to do the same," Serena said confidently. Ash chuckled under his breath, moving his hat a little. He could always count on her to give him an encouraging word no matter the situation. Pikachu seemed emboldened by her words as well.

    "Pikaaaa!" Pikachu said, rising up and glaring towards Machamp.

    "Good as new!" Ash said, clenching his fist and holding it up. "Time for another Quick Attack!"

    "Counter with Cross Chop," Hala said with his usual confidence. Pikachu bounded off in seconds, his feet moving all too quickly across the wooden surface, aiming right for Machamp, all four of his arms glowing once again. At the last second, Pikachu rammed upward, colliding with the arms. Machamp stumbled back on his feet, but Pikachu was blown away by the impact between the two attacks.

    Ash grit his teeth. Pikachu could barely land a successful strong hit on Machamp without taking damage in return. What he needed was a way to get Machamp off balance in order to strike back…which meant hitting him with force from afar. "Pikachu, come on back, buddy."

    "Pi." Pikachu returned to Ash's side as he took a breath. The others off the stage were all watching him curiously, though none of them could match the skeptical, one eye open, expression that was on Hala's face.

    "Okay, time for a different strategy. Rowlet, I choose you!" Ash called, pointing to the center of the field. From inside his backpack near his feet, Rowlet shot out, practically spinning in midair as he came to a flutter in the middle of the stage. Popplio clapped at the side of the stage, apparently enjoying Rowlet's theatrics. "We've gotta be careful, Rowlet. This isn't like the Gumshoos we faced before, okay? Hala's way stronger, probably one of the strongest I've ever faced."

    "Kuu!" Rowlet agreed, wearing a stern expression as he faced Machamp. Two of Machamp's arms were raised, flexing his fingers as if to indicate for Rowlet to come and get him.

    "Then Rowlet, use Pluck!" Rowlet snapped his wings to his side, beak glowing a bright blue and he instantly made to divebomb at Machamp.

    "Prepare yourself," Hala said. Machamp's foot shifted position a little and his arms came to a certain resting point. Ash grinned; Hala was actually reacting just the way he'd hoped. Rowlet streaked forward.

    "Spin into the attack," Ash ordered calmly, continually watching Machamp for any changes in movement. Rowlet began to whirl, blue streaks coming off of his beak as he drew closer. Then he noticed it, the change in wind that came with Long Reach. Machamp started to buckle and Hala raised an eyebrow. Then Pluck struck with its force ahead of Rowlet, drilling into Machamp's midsection. "Break off!"

    "Vital Throw!" Machamp's arms lunged forward, hoping to hit Rowlet in the same way that Pikachu had been struck earlier. It wasn't the case, however, as Rowlet did as Ash commanded, breaking off from the attack to flit just above Machamp's reach.

    "Now, use Tackle!" Rowlet's talon extended, kicking straight down on Machamp with force. Part of the wooden stage splintered a little, causing Ash's eyes to momentarily focus on the area just beneath Machamp's feet. That small moment was enough for Hala to give his next command. Two of Machamp's arms shot out, catching Rowlet by the wings and holding him in place for the third, glowing palm to come slamming in, knocking Rowlet to the ground.

    "Rroh…" Rowlet gasped out, but seemed to roll himself to a standing position. From that singular Cross Chop, Rowlet was already looking exhausted.

    "Ash's strategy is good, but he'll need more than that to beat Hala," Kukui's voice came to him. Bonnie appeared to turn right towards the professor with puffed cheeks.

    "Ash always figures out a way to take them down! He'll win against Machamp, you'll see," she insisted to the older man. Rockruff barked out her agreement, causing Kukui to hold his hands up in defense. The man was right, though: simply pelting the enemy with attacks from afar wasn't going to net him the win, certainly not with Rowlet's seemingly low endurance.

    "Then we find another way," Ash said, grinning. Already, the idea was in his mind. "Rowlet, use Leafage!"

    "Kurrr!" Rowlet chirped out, flapping back up into the air. A whirlwind of leaves appeared as he flapped upward, soon becoming a cyclone that encapsulated Machamp. Neither Hala nor his Pokémon were fazed however, simply waiting to see what Ash would do. Ash didn't need to say anything, though, not for a combination that he and Rowlet had used and practiced. Like a phantom, Rowlet vanished, diving into the leaves. Machamp turned his head now, looking for the little owl, lost amongst the foliage.

    "Now, get 'im!" Ash commanded, bringing his closed fist down. Machamp turned once more before finally being hit back, slammed by the invisible force from the invisible Tackle. He turned yet again, only to be hit from a different side, and then another. Rowlet was making a veritable barrage of attacks, and with the Leafage obscuring him nicely from view, he was safe from harm.

    "Cross Chop, but wait for it…" Hala said. Machamp brought all four of his arms into an attack-ready stance, each one of them glowing. Rowlet flitted past, almost like a shadow, but Ash had briefly caught sight of him. That meant Hala likely had as well. "Now!"

    "Champ!" Machamp cried, swinging all four in Rowlet's direction.

    "Blow yourself upwards with Leafage!" Ash quickly ordered as a counter command. Rowlet gave a tremendous flap of his wings, pushing himself into the air above Machamp, while at the same time causing the leaves to cut all around Machamp's body, the Cross Chop missing entirely. "Now, use Pluck from right above!"

    "Roh!" Rowlet quickly agreed before streaking downward. His blue beak instantly made contact with Machamp's head and Ash's eyes flitted down. The stage had splintered further. His plan was very good…

    …but not good enough.

    "Ice Punch!" Hala commanded. One of Machamp's arms flew upward toward the unsuspecting Rowlet with tremendous speed, brimming with an absolutely frigid aura. Then it hit Rowlet. Ash flinched. Rowlet flew high into the air, spinning aimlessly before falling to the stage, clearly fainted.

    "Rowlet is unable to battle! Machamp is the winner!" Ilima called, his hand indicating that Hala had just won that particular round. Ash quickly ran further onto the stage, bending down to grab his brave Pokémon.

    "You did a great job, Rowlet," Ash said, patting him on the head. "We'll get him next time. For now, why don't you take a rest?"

    "Koooo…" Rowlet expressed dozily. Ash returned to his backpack and placed Rowlet against it. Pikipek quickly flew up to them, a Sitrus Berry in her mouth, which she dropped at Rowlet's side, briefly pecking him to show that she thought he'd done an admirable job. Rowlet hooted in thanks.

    "All right, Pikachu, I've got a plan that'll turn this battle in our favor," Ash told his most trusted partner. Pikachu grinned, having regained some energy from his opening skirmish with Machamp and dashing onto the field. "Use Quick Attack to dash around the stage."

    "Pika pika!" Pikachu called and he, like usual, sped off. Instead of aiming for Machamp, he instead emulated his performance against Gladion, turning at the last second to shoot off in a different direction, confusing Machamp.

    "Now, use Electro Balls to batter Machamp!"

    "Chu pi!" Pikachu confirmed. He raised his tail as he ran, the orb of electricity being summoned before flinging off. The stationary Machamp was hit by it, but Pikachu wasn't done. He had summoned another one, and then another. With every change in direction, Pikachu was flinging off another Electro Ball.

    "Focus Energy!" Hala cried. Machamp's body once more glowed red. Adjusting his hat, Ash sighed in relief. He had made Hala fall into the trap. His friends looked worried, especially Lillie and Serena, who were clasping their hands together, but Ash knew he had a shot at pulling through.

    "Use Iron Tail around the stage," Ash said. Pikachu stopped his assault of Electro Balls to make his tail glow white. Machamp was too busy getting pumped up with Focus Energy that he didn't make a move. As he did so, Pikachu continued his dash around the stage, now periodically hitting it with Iron Tail, causing more and more splinters to appear around it. They were just about ready to make this battle theirs.

    "Ice Punch!" Hala called. It wasn't quite the move that Ash had been expecting, but one he would make use of nonetheless.

    "Dodge it!" Pikachu ceased his Quick Attack and jumped back, just as Machamp's freezing fist slammed into the stage. Ice covered the field from the strike, making the splinters all the more evident and turning the wood brittle. "Now jump up and use Iron Tail from above!"

    "Chu….pika!" Still trailing off the speed from his Quick Attack, Pikachu managed to spring upward with his tail, flipping above Machamp as his Iron Tail activated once more. He spun, and brought it crashing down on Machamp.

    Crack! came the sound Ash was waiting for. All around Machamp's feet, the wood broke and splintered, causing the stage to cave in on itself. Machamp fell, but Pikachu, who had clearly expected it, kept his balance. Ash nodded to his partner with a grin and electricity shot out from Pikachu's cheeks in a consuming Thunderbolt that radiated through the entire area. Wind blew, trees rustled, and the tingling sensation of electricity could be felt. Ash wondered if Tapu Koko could feel it, too. Then, just as it had started, it ceased.

    "Machamp is unable to battle. Pikachu is the winner!" Ilima announced calmly.

    "Yes!" Lillie said, loudly enough to be heard, though she looked embarrassed to have said so. Hau laughed at her expression and she lightly slapped him on the shoulder. It reminded Ash a lot of how Serena would sometimes act towards him, at least a little.

    "Now they're even," Bonnie cheered, bending down to pick up Rockruff, who was barking very enthusiastically. Serena lowered her hands from their clasped position; however, Clemont continued to look concerned.

    "The battle's not over yet. Pikachu's still taken damage, and Hala has two Pokémon left…" the inventor said. Ash looked towards him. He could see the admiration in Clemont's eyes, mixed in with the warning. He was absolutely right, of course. Hala was ahead, and he'd yet to call for Crabominable or use his Z-Move. Ash was definitely on the backfoot for this fight.

    So…this is what fighting an Elite Four level trainer feels like…he couldn't help but think. Pikachu turned his head back, pumping his fist a little to show he was still in the game. Hala, meanwhile, called back Machamp and reached for yet another pokeball. Ash sucked in yet another breath and faced forward. The real fight was truly beginning now.

    "Hariyama, it's time."

    "Yama!" Hariyama bellowed loudly, slamming its large orange hands together. Pikachu didn't waver from the gust of air that resulted, merely crouching further to prepare for the fight. Hala made the first move.

    "Arm Thrust!" Hariyama stepped forward, his fists glowing an even brighter orange color as he punched forward. The single gust of air that resulted made a piece of wood fly forward and pound into Pikachu, who flew backwards and up into the air. Hariyama readied its next round of the Arm Thrust.

    "Pikachu, Thunderbolt!" Pikachu seemed to tumble through the air, but righted himself in order to send a searing bolt hurling right at Hariyama amongst the wrecked remains of the stage. It impacted powerfully, creating an explosion that blew through the area. Only, Ash didn't feel the gust of wind just hit his front, but his side as well, something he found strange. Pikachu landed at the same time and turned in that direction.

    Actually, everyone was turning in that direction, because Ash hadn't been the only one to feel that. It wasn't hard to see why. Shingles of a roof were flying off as four individuals suddenly landed in a smoking heap in Iki Town's square. Ash and his friends recognized them immediately.

    "Team Rocket!" Serena called to the four that were there, and Ash could certainly note the very colorful appearance before them. James was faceplanted into the ground while Meowth and Wobbuffet struggled to get up from under Jessie's weight, the magenta haired woman rubbing her bottom. "What are you doing here?"

    "Getting blasted off into Twerpdom, apparently," Jessie said viciously. James managed to raise his head, looking dazed. Ash stepped slightly off the stage, angry about his battle with Hala interrupted. The Kahuna, himself, didn't look too happy about it either.

    "We were just minding our own business, waiting for the twerp to tire out his Pokémon," James insisted. Ash scowled; as always, Team Rocket couldn't go without trying to steal Pikachu. Even after all they had been through together, the perennial trio (or quartet…he wasn't sure) always caused problems, persistently following after him. "But then we got attacked by…"

    "Well, well, Master Hala," a new and booming voice cut across James' explanation. It was most certainly one that Ash had never heard before, deep and almost gravelly, but with just a touch of childish impetuousness underneath it all. Ash couldn't quite see the man to whom it belonged, covered up by the crush of the crowd. "Looks like you got some trash problems. Thought I'd clean it up real good, ya know?"

    "Guzma…" At Hala's insidious voice, the crowds appeared to part, and Ash got a look at the man that he seemed to call Guzma. He was a taller man, though seemed short from the way that he was holding his body. It fit him, weirdly enough, thanks to his baggy pants and open jacket, all of it being black on white. In fact, black on white was the easiest way to describe the man named Guzma, including his hair, which looked like an eternal case of bedhead. The only thing not black or white about him were his sunglasses, rimmed with gold, along with the necklace (also gold) shaped in the style of a very familiar emblem. "Why are you here? You're interrupting a Grand Trial!"

    "So I heard…" Guzma said, walking forward slowly. He approached the still recovering forms of Team Rocket and stood over them, looking down with disdain. "Heard there was some real hotshot takin' part in the Island Trial. Well, you know me, your boy Guzma had to see it for himself, 'specially when some of my boys came cryin' back to me."

    "You never were one to care much for traditions," Hala snapped at him. Ash didn't look at the man, yet could hear the inflection in his voice. Hala was…angry. Guzma, from what Ash could see, didn't seem all that different.

    "Traditions like prayin' to crusty ol' Totems and men? Count me out," Guzma said, shoving his hands in his pockets. "You can keep yer traditions, Master Hala. I just came to see what the kid who made all the fuss was about. Don't look like much."

    "Always blustering, Guzma," Kukui's voice said. The rest of the crowd had gone silent, allowing him to be heard, and Ash could see that each of his friends had stepped back from the professor, looking tense. Lillie, in particular, seemed to have shrunk behind Hau, who held his hand out. He wondered if this Guzma was one of the "bad guys" she had mentioned, but as he didn't appear to recognize her, Ash guessed it wasn't the case. He did notice some movement further into the town and on the rooftops, however. His gaze, though, was stuck on Guzma, who turned to Kukui with a scowl.

    "Kukui, didn't notice ya there," Guzma said, stalking forward, his hands in his pockets. "How's the research? Still beating yerself senseless like an idiot?"

    "Oh, I couldn't possibly match the level of idiocy you get up to, Guzma," Kukui laughed out. That seemed to do it for the white-haired man, who drew up to what seemed to be his full height, matching the professor eye for eye. "Tell me, what have your thugs in Team Skull been doing lately?"

    "You talkin' down to me, Kukui?" Guzma said, getting up into the man's face with his scowl. Kukui didn't flinch at all. "Let me remind you that you're no captain, either."

    "True, but it's not like I didn't have a choice. I didn't quit my-"

    "Shut yer mouth!" Guzma snapped, and Ash had to admit that for some of his more comical way of speaking…he could certainly appear frightening. This was best exemplified by Clemont grabbing Bonnie while he held to two of his pokeballs. Serena, meanwhile, was fingering one of her own pokeballs while Popplio looked between her and the man. "Look at you and Master Hala, thinkin' yer all high and mighty. Let's add Akela to that list, too. Just because you were the favored children. You think yer betta than me?"

    "Hey!" Ash finally yelled. Guzma looked up, away from Professor Kukui. "Who are you and why are you interrupting my battle?"

    "So…" Guzma said, the scowl dropping off, replaced with a smirk. He shoved Kukui aside, the other man doing nothing but watching as he approached the stage. Pikachu and Greninja closed ranks, as if in defense of Ash, despite knowing he could handle himself. "This is the guy? Yer just a baby…"

    "I'm Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town," Ash said defiantly, as if correcting him. "I'm here for my Grand Trial, which you're interrupting."

    "Grand Trial, huh? Island Pilgrimage, yeah?" Guzma said, allowing himself a small chuckle as he placed his hands on his hips. "Tryin' to make somethin' of yerself, right? Trust me, ya little brat, you ain't nothin'."

    "What does that mean?" Ash challenged the man. Guzma smirked again and turned right around, waving his hands flippantly, dismissively. He walked back to where Team Rocket was and Ash noticed a Pokémon there, one he'd certainly never seen before. Had the situation not been seemingly fraught with tension, he would have asked Rotom to scan it, but even Rotom was quivering behind Clemont.

    "I wanted to see what this real strong trainer with the Greninja looked like!" Guzma shouted out. More noises were heard in the town and the surrounding area, and Ash could finally see people moving about. No, not just people…members of Team Skull. "But instead I get a little twerp struggling with Master Hala? Talk about a disappointment for your boy Guzma."

    "Hey, no one is allowed to call the twerp a twerp but us!" Jessie snapped at Guzma. Guzma just looked down at her, and without a moment's hesitation, brought his hand down on her leg, pinning her there. He leaned forward.

    "Losers don't get to talk," he said, his voice now taking on a menacing quality. "And you're the losers…not me, ya hear? I ain't got time to play with a little boy, but I don't mind deliverin' some punishment for hurtin' my boys."

    "You'll do no such thing!" Hala yelled out at Guzma. The man ignored him, turning around with a little grin on his lips. Ash readied himself for a battle, as behind him, Rowlet appeared to have recovered from his earlier bout. "This is sacred land, Guzma, and you'll not dishonor Tapu Koko in such a way."

    "But I thought Tapu Koko loved a good fight," Guzma said. Ash blinked, remembering the words he had heard that night; the ones Tapu Koko seemed to have spoken into his head. He shook it, focusing back on Guzma. "Hey, I got an idea, how about I be the twerp's Grand Trial, show him who's really below a totem."

    "I'll pass," Ash said coldly. He didn't like the way this man was talking down to him, mocking him, making him look like he was a loser in front of everyone…in front of Serena. Not that she thought so, judging by her body language, but he didn't appreciate the treatment. Guzma's grin widened.

    "That so? Shame, kid…" he chuckled out before his eyes lit up. "Ya know what, your boy Guzma's got a great idea. Iki Town would make a great base on Melemele Island. Whaddya say, boys?"

    "All right, Big Boss Guzma's got a plan!"

    "The boss always knows what he's doing!" It was like they were sudden weeds that sprung up out of nowhere: in the town, on the roofs, climbing up the hills. In a matter of seconds, the entirety of Iki Town seemed to be crawling with the thugs from Team Skull. Ash was pretty sure he even recognized the two from the Berry Farm. The cries of townspeople suddenly surrounded them.

    "Team Skull? How did they get in here?"

    "Guzma…" Hala boomed out angrily. "What do you plan to do here?"

    "Nothin' much, Master Hala. Just teachin' a few lessons," Guzma said, cracking his knuckles. The unfamiliar Pokémon near him stepped forward, breathing in an all too creepy fashion. "Besides, I kinda think Iki Town would be an awesome base for Team Skull on the island, don't you? Only problem is that it's a little too beautiful to me. Needs to have a little more edge and Team Skull flair…"

    "So, ya wanna see what destruction looks like, kid? 'Cause it's right here in human form, and I'm gonna show it to ya when I make this town mine. After all, I'm your boy Guzma!"


    Author's Note: What? Ash's battle with Hala is interrupted? ! How many saw that coming? No, seriously. How many of you? Of course, having it be interrupted was something important because…well, it's your boy Guzma. And yes, Guzma is obviously important. None of this waiting until the final arc kicks off to make the main villain important that the anime likes to pull (despite my eternal love for Flare). Guzma is here, and he's important beyond belief. You probably got a glimpse of it already right here.

    As for the other aspects of the chapter, yes, Ash is struggling to find meaning for some things and he's definitely having a difficult time against an Elite Four caliber trainer. Also, surreptitious shipping for this story in general here. Next chapter will be very exciting. I hope you'll enjoy it.

    This journey has gotten off to a pretty great start, so please travel it with me. In the meantime, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  22. #22
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    I need to (again) clear up a misconception: yes, Ash has faced Elite Four members before, however, this is the first time he's had to face one at that level not in a skirmish or test battle but as something serious to move forward…kind of. Wanted to make that clear for you guys. But enough of that! Time for Chapter 13!


    Chapter 13

    A Lesson

    Guzma. In just a few short minutes, the man, with his Team Skull regalia and baggy clothes, and his name had seared themselves into Ash's mind. He couldn't explain exactly what it was that made it so, though he had to guess that a large part of it had to do with the man outright interrupting his Grand Trial. More than that, however, was that he wasn't alone.

    Team Skull was there. A whole lot of them.

    "Pikachu, Greninja, get ready for anything," Ash muttered to his partners. Rowlet and Pikipek seemed to hear him as well, tensing up near his shoulders. Down past the stage, Popplio had hopped out of Serena's arms with a fierce expression. For a Pokémon that had just joined her team, it was remarkably ready for action. Certainly a good fit. The others around him also seemed to be on high alert, including the townsfolk. While they seemed surprised by the sudden occupation from Team Skull on their roofs and hills, a number of them already had Pokémon by their side. So, too, did the bad guys in front of them.

    "Guzma, you impetuous fool!" Hala roared, his voice echoing over the hills and mountains. Ash almost wondered if they would have heard him over in Hau'oli City. He was certain they would probably feel the tremors from the Kahuna stepping off the stage and slamming his foot down powerfully. Guzma didn't flinch and continued to smirk in the older man's direction. "You never learn, do you?"

    "I was never a very good student," Guzma chuckled out, flexing his fingers a little.

    "That's the truth," Kukui said. At his feet was Rockruff, growling at the leader of Team Skull menacingly. Guzma ignored him, still keeping his gaze between both Hala and Ash. It made Ash tense up, and Greninja even more so, given the vibes he was getting from him.

    "No, you never were…" Hala sighed out. "Always running off instead of doing what was expected. You never took training or education seriously."

    "Enough of this talk, Master Hala," Guzma snapped, wearing the rather unattractive scowl on his face once more. "I didn't come here to battle you or talk 'bout old times. I came for this kid."

    "Why?" Serena snapped defiantly. Ash was surprised to hear her speak up for just a moment before realizing that it all made sense. She'd had enough of people targeting them, and she was no longer afraid to say so. Guzma didn't look to her as he answered her query.

    "'Cause I want to see what Island Challengers are like these days," Guzma answered, the scowl transforming to a smirk. Ash clenched his fist, looking the older man right in the eye.

    "There are plenty of those," Serena shot back. "Go bother someone else."

    "Nah, I like this one," the man chuckled out. Ash narrowed his eyes, incapable of comprehending just why Guzma would be so interested in him. So he stared at the man, trying to discern his true intention behind things as Hala stepped forward with Hariyama, every single one becoming like a shuddering earthquake of fury. "And I like the town. Ain't that right, boys?"

    "Yeah!" the Team Skull members all called out to their boss, each of them sending more and more Pokémon out. It was like an occupying army, practically, all setting their eyes on taking the town or razing it to the ground.

    "No…" Hala said with as much authority as Ash thought he would ever hear. This time, Guzma appeared to take his attention away from Ash and onto Hala. When he did, Ash thought, for just the briefest of seconds, that he felt a longing coming from the man. "You will do no such thing. This is not your town. This is not your island."

    "It ain't no one's island, Master Hala, but I'm sure as hell gonna make it mine, and damn if yer gonna stop me."

    "You little brat!" Hala now roared and even Kukui took a step back, as though afraid of the older man's current disposition. Ash could admit that it was frightening, something that even Clemont and Serena appeared to share in the moment. Hau also looked scared while Lillie continued to step back, fading into the crush of the crowd in fear. And if Hau was scared of his own grandfather's demeanor, Ash knew it was something to take seriously. "You disrespect the Pilgrimage. You disrespect our customs, our deities and our very people and Pokémon. You will not disrespect this town that raised you and your miserable self, Guzma!

    "I will not let Iki become another Po Town to the likes of you and your ilk!"

    "Whatcha gonna do about it, Master Hala?" Guzma asked confidently. Ash found himself riveted between the two men, each in a standoff that was sending incalculable waves over the crowd. It was full of tension, like waiting for a hammer to fall. In the few seconds before it did, Ash's eyes moved at rapid speed, locking gazes with each of his Pokémon before placing them back on Guzma. There was something between these two standing there before him, something both of them had clearly chosen to never speak of. Hala's foot moved, Guzma's arm shifted and Ash's Pokémon closed ranks.

    "Team Skull…get 'em."

    "That's the way, yo! Tear Iki Town apart!" yelled one of the grunts from atop the roof Team Rocket had clearly been on before. He followed it with a whooping sound that echoed across all of the town. There was a rustling in the trees leading to the Mahalo Trail and a shrill, yet familiar, cry.

    "Braixen, come and help out! Popplio, fight with me?" Serena asked, tossing her pokeball to the air. Clemont did the same as both Luxray and Grubbin emerged. Pipi leapt from Hau's shoulder, looking very enraged as he tossed out a pokeball that contained a familiar, yet not quite the same, Litten. It seemed to have a sack of fire on its chin and pawed at the ground with a ferocious roar. Ilima appeared to have broken his rather calm demeanor, too, calling out a Smeargle.

    "Pop!" Popplio agreed, just as chaos began to erupt around Iki Town. Zubat appeared overhead, sending Supersonic waves raining down, while various Rattata and other Pokémon that Ash didn't recognize populated the town at large. The Rattata appeared to aim right for the vegetation while a different species sent flames roaring at a nearby house.

    Finally, Ash stepped forward.

    "Pikachu, Thunderbolt! And Greninja, Water Shuriken!" Ash ordered, anger filling him. Pikachu leapt off the stage and aimed a powerful Thunderbolt right for a clustered group of Zubat. It struck, exploding in midair. Meanwhile, Greninja tossed his liquid throwing stars at a group of marauding Yungoos that seemed to be surrounding Team Rocket.

    "Thanks, twerp," Jessie seemed to say. "Now we can fight back. Gourgeist!"

    "You, too, Crabrawler!" James called. The two of them calling their Pokémon out seemed to have done the trick instantly. Just as Team Skull's Pokémon had begun attacking the town, Team Rocket's cry to fight back spurred the people of Iki Town to move.

    "Butterfree, Silver Wind!" one of them called. A Butterfree flew forward, though it wasn't alone, a whole troupe of them hitting the Rattata off of their foods. They were quickly replaced, especially as some of the Team Skull thugs on the roofs jumped down to ground level.

    "Popplio, use Bubblebeam!" Serena called. Popplio reared back and from her nose fired a large stream of bubbles. Unlike the Bubblebeam that Ash was used to from Dawn's Piplup, these seemed to be more solid, consuming and enveloping a couple Yungoos before popping and leaving them scattered on the ground. The two were definitely a good fit, with Serena calling for a Flamethrower.

    "Grubbin, wrap them up with String Shot, and Luxray, Wild Charge!" Clemont called. It was like there was a sudden "on" switch for all of them. Mere minutes ago would have seen them simply enjoying the journey, if still fighting a fierce battle. Now, however, it felt like those traits that had lain dormant in them for months were back to the surface without even a second thought to give. It was time for them to fight a battle. "Bonnie, stay behind me so you won't get hurt. Dedenne, protect her."

    "Dene," Dedenne said seriously, sounding (surprisingly) alert instead of asleep.

    Realizing that they could all handle themselves, Ash jumped off the stage, coming to stand by Hala's side as Guzma stared them down. Off to the side, Kukui was commanding Rockruff alongside Ilima and his Smeargle, though he seemed to be fingering a different pokeball. Guzma raised his hand, bending his finger as if to tell Ash to come at him.

    "Ash needs to be careful," whispered a voice at his side. Ash turned to see that Rotom was floating near his backpack, having escaped to it somehow. "Rotom identifies that Pokémon as Golisopod, a Bug and Water type. It is powerful."

    "Damn straight," Guzma said. Rotom zipped around and went straight into Ash's backpack. There was no guess why; Guzma was giving off an all too intimidating and threatening aura. Ash wasn't one to back down, especially with the man outright challenging him. Hala took it as an invitation.

    "Arm Thrust!" Hala roared angrily. He and Hariyama ran forward at the same moment, both punching forward. Golisopod gave off a scratchy shuddering before leaping back. It was surprisingly nimble for being so large. Guzma, on the other hand, took Hala's punch to his stomach head on, barely even moving.

    "Come on, Master Hala, ya seem to have gotten weaker in old age," Guzma chuckled out as Hala retracted his open palm back. "It takes more than that to defeat your boy Guzma!" With his taunts, Guzma made his own move, his fist coming up from under him.

    Ash acted on instinct, his and Greninja's bodies moving without thinking. Pikachu hung back, wincing from the damage caused through the battle with Hala. As Greninja summoned a Cut, blasting away some more Yungoos, Ash intercepted Guzma's punch with his own hand before instinctively punching upwards and nailing the older man in the stomach. He stumbled back. Around them, the Pokémon and other trainers appeared to have disappeared, having taken their battle to other quadrants of the square.

    "Brat's got some fight in 'im, after all," Guzma chuckled out. He righted himself, cracking his knuckles with a grin as he stared down Ash. Hala reached forward, placing a hand on Ash's shoulder. The raven-haired trainer didn't look up at the man, preferring to keep his eyes on the leader of Team Skull. Beyond him, Clemont seemed to have gone back to back with James, something which was different but not all too surprising. The blue-haired man's Crabrawler was rapidly clicking his claws.

    "This is not your fight, Ash," the Kahuna spoke, his voice rumbling. "We of Iki Town will deal with this childish upstart."

    "You're wrong," Ash said. He didn't want to outright refute the man, but he wasn't going to let these kinds of actions just go. Pikachu came up near his feet, growling menacingly at Guzma. "This is our fight. You helped us out and were kind, but he wants to get in the way of all that. So, let us help."

    "Kid's got some sense of justice. Interestin'," Guzma laughed out. His Golisopod stalked forward, still making its creepy breathing sound. Greninja leapt back from his battle against the Yungoos, staring Golisopod down. "So, you really wanna tangle with your boy Guzma, the hated boss that beats you down and beats you down and never lets up?"

    "If anyone's getting beaten, it's you," Ash challenged the man, putting both of his fists up. Guzma threw his whole body back to laugh.

    "You're all piss and vinegar, ain't ya, kid?" Guzma said before finally snapping back with a feral grin. His eyes were shining, threatening, as he stared straight at Ash. Once more, the Kanto native felt a certain, strange connection with the man; something that sat in his eyes. It was eerie and unsettling, and certainly not something that Ash liked to see. "What's yer game, huh? Why you wanna help this town?"

    "I already told Hala," Ash insisted. Guzma nodded a bit before folding his arms. Around them, the residents of Iki Town were fighting back against Team Skull. Some trees had toppled over and other houses were burning or had their roofs destroyed. It was a sight of carnage, if not nearly close to the level of what had once happened in Ancien City.

    "Yeah, yeah, 'they're my friends I wanna help 'em' sounds great, but what about you, kid?" Ash blinked, unsure of what the older man was asking. Not that it mattered much. There was a sharp cry before Ash could give any sort of answer. Guzma didn't look away from Ash, but said boy turned his head to the side a little. Lillie was visible, on her own, with two members from Team Skull bearing down at her. Ash wanted to open his mouth and call out to her, but Serena was already on the move, it seemed.

    "Popplio, use Disarming Voice!" Ash was surprised at how well she already knew her Pokémon's strength, considering the way that Popplio fired the bright hearts from a distance, the loud noise distracting Team Skull and bowling them over. Lillie was freed from their grasp, almost dropping to her knees, but not. In fact, she looked more panicked than ever when she checked over her bag. Ash's eyes widened.

    "Look, ya gonna stand there all day like some dumb Magikarp, or what?" Guzma asked. Ash shook his head, attempting to return to who was in front of him. "Enough of this. Golisopod, First Impression."

    "Greninja, use Aerial Ace!" Ash ordered, trying to no longer be distracted. Golisopod was on the move, all of its appendages and jaw glowing a sickly green as Greninja approached with his bright white limbs. "Pikachu, Thunderbolt!"

    "Chuuuuuu!" Pikachu cried automatically, sending a Thunderbolt at Golisopod. The Pokémon staggered, enough for its attack to miss Greninja, who flipped upward and slammed his limbs onto its head. Golisopod shook its head, but otherwise looked completely fine, if annoyed that it's attack hadn't landed.

    "Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about!" Guzma said, once more cracking his knuckles. "Come on, brat, show me what an Island Challenger is all about. Show me what ya can do."

    "Fine, Greninja, use Cut!" Ash ordered, throwing his hand out. Guzma didn't move from his spot, something which unnerved Ash. Greninja raced forward, his white blades summoned to his hands as he ran for Golisopod.

    "X-Scissor," Guzma said and he took off. Golisopod crossed its claws and raced forward. Both trainer and Pokémon moved together, and as Golisopod's X-Scissor met with Greninja's Cut, so, too, did Guzma make contact with Ash. He blocked, but the force of Guzma's punch forced him backwards, into Hala. "Come on, put up a fight! Or are ya that weak? I don't got time to waste with someone who don't realize what he's even doin'."

    "I'm just fine!" Ash retaliated, not liking the way Guzma continually talked down to him. Even beyond that, he didn't like the way this man was questioning him; like he was trying to be as sagely as Hala, but lacked the grace. Pikachu jumped into the space between Ash and Guzma, ready to fight the man before him. Ash turned his head once more, noticing Lillie running off into the woods towards the Mahalo Trail. Serena appeared to be going after her and other Team Skull thugs, a rather large amount, were giving pursuit. With so much going on, Ash's head swam for a moment before he looked back. "I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm protecting this town."

    "But ya still haven't told me why?" Guzma asked with a leer. Ash's eyes flashed angrily. He didn't need a reason to help people who had been kind to him. "Why are ya doin' any of it?"

    "Because I can. Rowlet, Pikipek, go help out Serena," Ash said without missing a beat. Then he raised his hand to the air, summoning the water around Greninja. They were united in what he believed was their purpose: to defeat the enemy before them and to save Iki Town. Yet for a single moment, resting in Guzma's grin there was that continually unanswered set of questions: why are you doing what you're doing? Why do you want to win? The thought unsettled Ash, but didn't remove his perceived purpose or the road he was walking together with Greninja and his other Pokémon. The transformation completed and both trainer and Pokémon raised their fists in challenge.

    "Let's see if that's good enough to take down your boy Guzma, then."


    "Lillie!" Serena's voice ripped at her throat as she ran. Popplio was having a hard time moving alongside her, so she quickly bent down to pick her up before chasing after the girl into the brush. Loud and inelegant crashing sounded out behind her, indicating that Team Skull was very much giving chase. "Braixen, fire a Hidden Power behind us!"

    "Brai!" Braixen confirmed, whipping around and aiming her wand backwards. The silver light coalesced and fired off before splitting off. The loud noise of impact, combined with an "oof" told Serena that they'd hit their mark, and Serena continued to chase after Lillie. Team Skull was remarkably persistent when their boss was calling the shots, it seemed. All she had to hope was that Ash would be okay. A large root approached, and Serena jumped over it, her feet once more slamming onto the dirt path. Lillie was growing ever closer before her form appeared to stop moving, tumbling over.

    "Lillie," Serena called, finally closing the distance and drawing to the girl. She had definitely fallen, rubbing at her leg, the bottom hem of her dress now caked with dirt. "Are you all right?"

    "Fine…just tripped," the blonde said, trying to pull herself to her feet. She most definitely was not fine. Not from the way she was moving. Her ankle was red and puffy, likely sprained from the fall. Lillie's shoes were definitely not conducive to running, she remarked in her head yet again. Serena bent, grabbing the girl's arm and helping her up. "Ah ah…"

    "It seems like a sprain," Serena said cautiously. Braixen moved around to hold on to Lillie's other side. "You shouldn't go running off on your own."

    "I'm sorry, but I…Nebby…" Lillie said. Serena wanted to ask exactly what the girl meant by that, but she tried to start moving again before she had the chance. Lillie detached from Serena and Braixen, only for her sprained ankle to once more give out. This time, Serena put Popplio down and caught her handily. That's when she noticed that the girl's bag was open…and empty.

    "He really likes getting into trouble, doesn't he?" Serena sighed out. No wonder Lillie had run off so quickly. It was dangerous and foolhardy, for sure, but all for a good cause. "Where did he go?"

    "I think…he went towards the ruins," Lillie gasped out in pain, her ankle obviously aching terribly. "Nebby tried to go there once before, but I don't think the path is safe. I worry about him every time he tries to leave the bag."

    "Reminds me of Squishy for sure…" Serena mumbled out, remembering how the little green form of the legendary Zygarde had often disappeared from Bonnie's bag to bask in the sun, or one time had run away entirely. More importantly, however… "Then we need to go after him. Come here and hold on to me."

    "Okay, sorry…" Lillie expressed. More crashing sounds were heard in the forest behind her, along with a faint whooshing sound overhead. Serena looked up to see a gaggle of Zubat floating overhead dangerously.

    "Popplio, Bubblebeam!" Serena cried. She couldn't very well risk Braixen using fire moves in such close quarters as this forest. Popplio jumped onto her fin at the back and fired the substantial bubbles upward. They consumed the Zubat and popped, depositing them onto the forest floor. "Let's move, before they can catch up with us."

    "Right," Lillie said positively. She still seemed to be in slight pain, but supported by both Serena and Braixen, the group moved forward. Popplio followed at a slower pace, but one that Serena kept track of to make sure her newest Pokémon wasn't falling behind at all. She kept her gaze skyward as well, trying to see if they would be attacked from there, too. At one point, she could swear that she saw some more Zubat flying overhead, aiming for the Mahalo Trail, and she picked up the pace.

    The area began to grow brighter as they reached the edge of the forest, and the crashing was growing louder. Along with it, some chittering from up ahead could be heard, no doubt the Zubat that had flown in front of them. Popplio turned back and, without needing a command, fired a loud Disarming Voice through the forest. Some branches broke off from the pink attack, but Popplio didn't stop to care about it, bounding after them. Finally, they had broken out of the trees and stood before the ravine that lead to the Mahalo Trail.

    "Pew! Pew!" Nebby's cries reached Serena's ears. However, they seemed to have reached Lillie's first, because the girl shrugged off Serena and Braixen's help to run forward. It was obvious she was in pain, but the girl was more than determined, running for the rickety bridge that spanned over the ravine. Nebby was atop it, turning back and forth, trying to find a way to escape from the Zubat that now surrounded him.

    "Nebby!" Lillie cried, almost falling over as she reached the bridge. She clasped onto the wooden post that was there, heaving in a sharp breath. Serena turned back to the forest.

    "Popplio, Bubblebeam into the forest, and Braixen, Flamethrower on the Zubat, but don't hit the bridge!" Both Pokémon gave a cry and sprang into action. Popplio opened her mouth, but instead of firing the bubbles from there in the same fashion she usually did, she sent them cascading powerfully outward into the brush. Meanwhile, Braixen aimed carefully with her wand and sent the fire roaring across all of the Zubat. They smoked, and then they fell towards the ravine, bouncing off the bridge ropes.

    Lillie forced herself upward on the bridge support and gripped the rope that stretched along the bridge, slowly shuffling towards Nebby, who was starting to turn back to the Mahalo Trail. He flinched, however, stopping his movement. Serena had to wonder if Nebby had been hurt just as Lillie had been. Keeping her gaze towards the forest, Serena backed onto the bridge, picking Popplio up as she went. Braixen faced forward until they managed to reach Lillie, though Serena tried to ignore the fact of where she was, her knees close to giving out in trepidation.

    "Nebby, you can't run off like that, especially in situations like this," Lillie scolded the little puff. Nebby appeared to have his attention split, turning back and forth between Lillie and the ruins that clearly lay ahead. That distraction afforded Lillie the opportunity to reach him and hold him tightly. Serena backed up as their pursuers seemed to break through the trees, panting loudly.

    "Yo! What's the big idea?" one of them yelled, and Serena thought he looked familiar. "First you attack us at the Berry Farm and now you gotta make us go runnin'? That ain't nice."

    "Neither are you," Serena said sternly. Popplio leapt from her arms, acting as a vanguard to her while Braixen and she closed ranks around Lillie and Nebby, neither of them moving. "Leave Iki Town alone."

    "Nah, sista, we ain't leavin' the town alone when the boss told us not to," said a thinner member next to the two familiar ones. More Zubat floated overhead, though they weren't alone; a rather large Golbat was flapping by with them, looking intimidating. Popplio shrunk in, but didn't back down. Serena's mouth set itself into a thin line.

    "Think for yourself," she snapped. Most of the grunts recoiled, but the thin one simply laughed nastily. He stalked forward, a Raticate in front of him as he stepped onto the rickety bridge. Lillie lunged for the ropes to hold onto as it shook. Even Serena gulped, her usual fear starting to return tenfold. She stared down…the drop to the ravine looked very long. Her feet began to shake. Of all the things she was stuck on, it had to be a rickety rope bridge. Her one weakness. Well, maybe not only, but certainly close enough.

    "We are thinkin' for ourselves, yo, and I'm thinkin' you got some rare lookin' Pokémon there," the guy said. Behind them, the Zubat and lone Golbat had closed ranks, preventing any escape to the other side of the bridge. "And they gotta be, otherwise, you wouldn't be runnin'…"

    "Serena…" Lillie whispered fearfully, clutching Nebby even tighter. Serena swallowed, shutting her eyes so as to not remind herself of the very large drop to down below.

    "Now, how's this sound? You give us your rare Pokémon and we'll leave ya alone," the man snickered. Behind him, the other two members had appeared, moving their hands around as they walked in a weird fashion. "Can't say the same for the town, though."

    "Popplio, Disarming Voice," Serena snapped angrily. The Skull thug put his hands up in shock, like he actually hadn't expected her to fight back that way. She wouldn't stand for it though; hurting people needlessly and for no reason whatsoever. Popplio opened her mouth, giving a sharp cry.

    "Paaaaaaaaah!" came the loud sound, the heart shaped soundwaves firing from her mouth and slamming into Raticate. The Mouse Pokémon tumbled backwards, landing at the guy's feet.

    "Hey, you can't do that! Zubat, show 'em we mean business!"

    "Braixen, Hidden Power!" Braixen swiped her wand, sending the silver orbs towards the Zubat that were now converging upon them. Some of the Zubat dodged, but others were hit, tumbling towards the ravine. Predictably, the Golbat showed more finesse, completely avoiding the attacks and flapping its wings. An Air Cutter soared out. Some impacted on the bridge, others dug slightly into the ropes. Serena swallowed once more, some more fear setting in. The other Skull members moved forward as Raticate rolled to its feet, its large cheeks bulging further.

    Her fist tightened. There wasn't too much she could do at the moment. Popplio simply couldn't keep up with the large amount of attacks that would be aimed at her in such a close quarter and Braixen's plethora of fire moves could only serve to harm the wooden bridge, leaving Hidden Power as her only option. Taking the time to call another Pokémon wasn't a very savvy choice, either. Clemont was right…Braixen uses too much fire. Maybe we should try something new…

    "Time to say yo prayas little missy!" the thin leader of the Skull trio said. "Raticate, use Crunch!"

    "Popplio, use Bubblebeam!" Serena ordered. Popplio sent the bubbles cascading out almost immediately. It wasn't the best strategy, and soon proved to not work when Raticate bit down on the bubbles, breaking them. Then it lunged.

    "Rrrrroh!" A force slammed into Raticate suddenly, driving it into the bridge ropes. The bridge shook and Serena clasped onto the rope while Lillie grabbed onto her skirt. Raticate appeared dazed as Rowlet appeared overhead. At the same time, the two Rattata from the other grunts were both hit on the sides of their heads by Pikipek. "Koo?"

    "Good to see you, Rowlet," Serena said, giving the little one a thumbs up. Rowlet chirped happily until Pikipek appeared to call out to him, forcing him to look serious once more. "Now, Braixen, Hidden Power on those guys!"

    "Brai brai!" Braixen said, glad to finally take orders. Lillie continued to hold onto Nebby as the Zubat resumed their assault right behind them. Pikipek and Rowlet immediately flew into it, swooping with Peck and Pluck to effortlessly cut their way through the enemy. They may have only been some of Ash's newest partners, but already they were proving how well Ash had trained them. The silver orbs hit the Rattata once more, and this time managed to hit the grunts as well, making them fly back. As expected, the thin one was the first to his feet.

    "This ain't cool! I won't be able to look my brothers and sisters in the eye if we lose out on such a rare Pokémon!" he snapped. Raticate appeared to have recovered, clicking its jaw angrily. Serena looked up and noticed that Pikipek had opened her mouth. She grinned.

    "Popplio, use Disarming Voice at full power!" Serena commanded, raising her fist and bringing it down. Popplio opened her mouth and in tandem with Pikipek, the two made loud cries, radiating soundwaves across the area in a crushing blow. The Skull grunts fell back once more and Raticate flew the farthest, slamming into the thin man while Zubat dropped like flies around them. When the assault finally ended, the Pokémon weren't getting back up…unless one counted the Golbat that had managed to stay out of range and was now engaging Rowlet. Serena flicked her gaze up to see Rowlet zipping back and forth, avoiding the Air Cutter that Golbat was sending out.

    "Koo!" Rowlet shouted, barely avoiding one of the attacks. That lone Air Cutter sliced into one of the ropes on the bridge, snapping it. Serena felt the entire bridge shake and she fell to her knees. Popplio looked at her, putting her fins on Serena's knees.

    "I'm okay," she assured her, briefly looking back on Lillie to see that she was all right, as well. The bridge shook again and Serena's fears doubled, seeing that one rope fraying. "Rowlet, we have to be more careful. Try not to use Leafage and stick to other moves like Pluck."

    "Roh!" Rowlet responded, flapping around and aiming a talon right at Golbat. The force preceding it struck the bat, driving it back and its fangs glowed a powerful purple. Then it flew right for him.

    "Use Pluck, now!" Serena called, hoping that Rowlet would listen to her. He nodded, a fierce expression on his tiny face. His beak glowed blue and he aimed right for a collision course at Golbat. Golbat's mouth opened, if possible, even wider than before. The flecks of poison collided quickly, before Pluck could hit, and Rowlet strained against Golbat's force. Another snapping noise; that last Air Cutter had done far more damage than Serena had truly realized in the breadth of the moment. Pikipek fluttered down to Serena's shoulder, keeping her gaze sharp as Rowlet strained against Golbat with a sense of fatigue.

    "Pikipiki!" she called up to Rowlet, like reminding him that he wasn't alone in the fight. That looked to be all the encouragement he needed. He pushed forward, bright blue light exploding from his beak before suddenly transferring to his entire body. Bright sparks flew from his body, enveloping him in the beautiful light. Serena's eyes widened. "Peh?"

    "Is Rowlet…?" Lillie's voice asked in a sense of awe. Even the Team Skull members on the bridge were looking up, though they seemed more frightened than anything.

    Rowlet's body began to change shape, no longer round. His body became elongated, his wings were bigger, and parts of his brown fur became darker while others became white. His green bowtie appeared to remain, though, while part of that green leafy substance drooped in front of his eyes like a cowlick. As the light finally faded, Rowlet…or whatever he had evolved into, drove forward, even stronger than before. That force pushed Golbat back, slamming it into the cliffs of the ravine. "Darrroh!"

    "He's evolved into a Dartrix…" Lillie said. Serena shook her head, but with a smile. Ash would be absolutely enthusiastic to see that the Rowlet who had worked so hard after not being wanted by a trainer had evolved.

    Snap! Serena blinked. That hadn't sounded very good at all. She turned and noticed that the other side of the bridge's rope had now snapped. The bridge began to tilt, threatening to dump them off the side. The Skull grunts scrambled, looking to run away from the now breaking bridge. One of the three managed to get to the other side and onto firm ground, but that was about it. All of a sudden, the rope tied to the support, weakened from one of the earlier attacks, also broke.

    The rope bridge fell.

    "Aaaaaah!" Lillie screamed. Serena lunged for her hand, quickly grabbing both Popplio and Braixen's pokeballs to return them. Once she had, she gripped tightly to Lillie's hand. Pikipek attempted to hold on, but wasn't nearly strong enough. Dartrix flapped down, now even faster than before ,with nimble control to grip Serena's shirt without tearing it. However, the combined weight of both girls was proving more than even he could handle, wildly flapping his wings.

    "Pew! Pew!" Nebby cried, as if trying to reach someone or something. It was hardly the time to do so, but Lillie still held the little one close.

    "We'll be okay, Nebby. We'll be okay…"

    "Peeeeeeeeeeeew!" Nebby's cry came like a screech, calling out loudly. Serena closed her eyes and sucked in a breath, only to suddenly find that her breath had halted in her place. She could see everything around them, yet it all appeared to pass in slow motion, as though the laws of reality had been rewritten for a single moment, preventing them from falling. The impossibility hit her mind in stasis. She wanted to turn her head, but couldn't. All she could do was stare upward, towards a strange ripple in the sky, like a pulsing portal that was trying to open, but wouldn't, either from being blocked or not being strong enough to. Then she heard a cry.

    Kauuuuuuuuu!

    Serena swallowed, wondering just what would happen now, and whether she could move again. Then, suddenly, her breath returned to normal, she could turn her head to look at an exhausted Nebby, and her swallowing function was fine. Most importantly, though, was that she was no longer falling through the air. She was surrounded by buzzing electricity, and suddenly her feet were touching the ground safely. Her knees buckled and she practically collapsed.

    "Pikee?" Pikipek asked, floating down to the ground alongside Dartrix. She looked up at the now larger bird before turning back to stare at Serena. Said girl felt like throwing up, the whole experience entirely surreal to her and her breaths came in heaves. Her heart was racing, but as it started to calm, she picked herself up. Lillie was just feet away from her, nearly collapsed and passed out as well. The only one that wasn't was Nebby, who was talking to a strange Pokémon near the collapsed bridge.

    "Tapu…Koko…?" Serena whispered out. The guardian deity of Melemele seemed to be exchanging some sense of telepathy with Nebby. Serena shakily rose to her feet, drawing closer when she felt snippets of their words enter her mind, like something out of a dream.

    Threat…aid…years ago…freedom from prison…

    The one veiled in black. Serena stopped, clutching at her head from the words these two were speaking. She didn't understand, and it became quickly apparent that she wouldn't have the chance to do so, either. Tapu Koko turned, its electric blue eyes focusing on her for just a second, and then it disappeared like a flash of lightning. Nebby watched it go for a second, and then he fell over, all energy expended. Lillie stirred.

    "Mmm…" she groaned out, pushing herself and her now filthy white dress up from off the ground. "Is…Is Nebby okay?"

    "Pew…" Nebby called out, as if assuring her that he was. Lillie sighed in relief while Serena continued to look at Nebby. Just what was he? As Nebby collapsed, however, she decided that perhaps that was not as important as his exhaustion and the town they had left behind. Serena shuffled over and grabbed the little one, turning back to Dartrix and Pikipek. Lillie's ankle still looked swollen, so she bent down by her and offered to help.

    "Thank goodness you're okay, Nebby."

    "Good thing we all are," Serena corrected her, still feeling nauseated from their near drop. Then she sucked in a breath and turned towards the forest. "Come on, let's get back to town."

    With only a single look at the now un-crossable ravine and the Tapu that lay beyond, Serena began to drag them all back into the forest, one step at a time.


    *Chapter continued in next post...

  23. #23
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Man, these guys just keeping coming up like weeds," Hau said with a slight frown on his lips. It was the least happy that Clemont had ever seen the boy since they had first met. Not that he had the time to think on it, considering the forces converging upon them. "Torracat, use Fire Fang!"

    "Grrow," Torracat snarled out. His fangs brimmed with flames as he pounced into a group of Yungoos. An explosion resulted from the hit. Clemont watched it just a moment and Hau smiled as the cat returned to his side.

    "Torracat's gotten real strong, huh?" Hau asked of Clemont. The inventor wasn't particularly sure how to answer, instead commanding for Grubbin to use Spark on a Team Skull grunt that had the lack of brains to jump right at them. Grubbin did so, just as Luxray sent a cascade of Swift stars at some other clustered Team Skull members. "Yeah, he evolved from Litten against Tutu and has gotten totally awesome."

    "Stop blathering on and actually do some fighting!" Jessie snapped, and Clemont realized that somehow they had joined up with Team Rocket. More than that, they were practically surrounded by Team Skull, all of them backed into a corner. With Serena having run off somewhere with Lillie, and Ash otherwise occupied (as he could see) they were really out of options.

    "Oh, good point. Who are you, by the way?" Hau asked, bringing a smile back to his face. Jessie looked enraged by this, but Meowth quickly snapped before she could.

    "It don't matter, smiling twoip," he said. His claws extended, shining in the sunlight. Elsewhere in the square, Rockruff charged through a group of fiery Pokémon that were attempting, and failing, to burn down Hala's house. "Right now, dese bozos offered us insult."

    "And Team Rocket always pays back any insult a hundred times!" James stated emphatically. Hau smiled and appeared to accept that as an answer, ordering for Pipi to use Brick Break on one of the Yungoos surrounding them. Clemont reached up and adjusted his glasses. He felt a slight pressure on his shirt, realizing that Bonnie was there, holding onto him as Dedenne's cheeks sparked a little.

    "Isn't that sublime? Gourgeist, Dark Pulse!"

    "Gourguh-guh-guh-guh-geist!" Gourgeist called, floating backwards before unleashing a powerful Dark Pulse, the beam of black and purple energy moving erratically across Team Skull's forces.

    "Crabrawler, Power-Up Punch!" James seemed to take great glee in ordering the attack, almost like he enjoyed fighting against Team Skull…or maybe it was more of an enjoying the fact that he was fighting side by side with them. Clemont frowned. Team Rocket was definitely an odd one. Had they not been through so much in Kalos, he would have simply thought of them as those no-good Pokémon thieves. As they were now, though, he had to wonder if that was the case all the time.

    "Luxray," Clemont said to his most powerful Pokémon, "let's use Electric Terrain and even the odds a little!"

    "Ray!" Luxray howled out. His body sparked, steam surrounding the area before electricity coursed across the ground, forming a disc in the area. Grubbin immediately took to the electricity, gobbling it up before ramming into a cluster of Rattata with Spark. The powered up Spark caused a blowback that knocked the Team Skull members onto their butts, creating a path to Ash.

    "Our turn, too! Thunder Shock!" Bonnie commanded of Dedenne. Dedenne ran forward on his stubby legs, absorbing some of the electricity from the field to power his attacks. Then he let it loose, falling upon the Yungoos. They convulsed and then dropped, smoking. He had to admit, Bonnie had grown a lot stronger; she and Dedenne both. It almost made him wonder if even she would surpass him as a trainer before long.

    "This thing is real annoyin', yo!" one of the Skull members yelled. Clemont turned his head just in time to see them stride up to where Dedenne had been battling and kicking the Antenna Pokémon. Or he tried to. Dedenne held on fiercely.

    "Shock him! Shock him!" Bonnie commanded, partially with authority and partially with a sense of fear, it seemed. Dedenne tried to, but the Skull grunt appeared to not actually care, picking the little one up with two fingers and holding him by his tail.

    "Annoyin' little rat!" he spat before throwing Dedenne right at Bonnie. She ran forward, catching him, passed out already from the treatment. Suddenly, an orange fist came flying out of nowhere to slam into the guy, causing Clemont to turn and see James standing there.

    "Hey! No one hurts the mini-twerpette or touches her Pokémon but us!" he said sternly. Clemont found himself nodding; he wasn't sure if that was exactly what James meant or rather he really just didn't like seeing them hurt, but Clemont was grateful for it nonetheless. Certain of that, he adjusted his glasses once more and decided to end the battle.

    "Luxray, use Wild Charge on all of them!" He wasn't the only one giving orders for ending their current encirclement. As Luxray blazed with electricity, Pipi also did while Gourgeist fired seeds and Crabrawler sent an array of bubbles that exploded around them. Luxray charged forth like a rampaging Tauros, knocking aside any and all Pokémon and Team Skull members in his path. As all of the attacks connected, the Skull grunts were sent sprawling backwards while the Electric Terrain faded, allowing Clemont a chance to breathe. He hadn't even realized that he was holding his breath so evenly. It hadn't sped up or raced through him with a thrill. His pulse, oddly enough, simply felt normal.

    Yet he also felt disappointed as the dust cleared. In some way, he felt it should have ended sooner, especially when he saw how hurt Dedenne had gotten from a single instance of not paying attention. A cry behind him revealed that Crabrawler had, for whatever reason, clamped onto James' head happily with a claw, ending only when the blue-haired man offered him a berry. Hau appeared to laugh at the sight as Jessie rolled her eyes, but Clemont just clenched his fists and looked to where Ash was, near the center of the stage, fighting against the man called Guzma.

    "Pikachu, use Iron Tail!" the raven-haired trainer ordered. Pikachu skirted around Golisopod's side before slicing upward. Golisopod appeared to be waiting for him, just as Guzma anticipated the punch from Ash, catching it with his hand and tossing the boy to the side. Hala stepped forward angrily, ready to step in when a flurry of Golbat descended upon him and Hariyama.

    "Razor Shell," Guzma said confidently. From the scales on Golisopod's arm emerged a practical blade of water that it whirled backwards to block Pikachu's timed attack. Pikachu looked to have a hard time holding it, still exhausted from his earlier battle with Machamp.

    "Aerial Ace!" Ash commanded, jumping to his feet and running up to Guzma as Greninja did so with Golisopod. Both punched upward, but while Guzma managed to step back and avoid Ash's punch, Golisopod got its head slammed back. "Now, use Cut!"

    "Brick Break," Guzma chuckled out. If Clemont didn't know any better, he'd have said that Guzma was genuinely enjoying the fight…or maybe he just enjoyed senselessly beating the stuffing out of another trainer, since that was what seemed to be exactly happening. As Greninja pulled his water kunai out from his sides, drawing from the shuriken on his back, Golisopod brought a shining claw down upon his head. Ash gagged, feeling the power and weight behind the attack, no doubt. For a Pokémon that wasn't even a Mega level opponent, Golisopod brought the full threat of one behind itself. Guzma caught on to Ash sharing the pain with Greninja and punched him in the stomach. "Did ya think some fancy form would help ya win?"

    "Pi-Pikachu, Thunderbolt," Ash coughed out. Clemont winced, as though he felt Ash's pain. Around them, the battle against Team Skull for Iki Town continued, almost looking like a battle of attrition in some sense: the townspeople would drive the forces away, only for them to soon be replaced. Pikachu called forth as much electricity as he could and then zapped it towards Golisopod, consuming the Pokémon. Golisopod actually appeared to suffer a little under the attack, but Clemont had a feeling it wouldn't last long.

    "Use Razor Shell!" Once more, the watery blade appeared. Golisopod moved fast, faster than Clemont would have thought, in order to slice across Pikachu. Then it moved on its own, like it knew just what Guzma wanted from it. Crossing its arms, Golisopod ran at Pikachu with an X-Scissor and sliced into him.

    "Pika!"

    "Double Team, Greninja," Ash coughed out, but stood, punching up to just miss Guzma's neck. Hala and his own Pokémon were still currently occupied, the Golbat showing a surprising amount of strategy. It almost made the inventor wonder…

    "Ninja!" Greninja cried, creating all of the copies of himself. One of them was close to Pikachu, quickly catching him before dashing over to Ash's bag to place the exhausted Pikachu there. Rotom seemed to pop out, placing a hand on Pikachu's forehead. Trainer and Pokémon continued to move as one, wordlessly. Greninja grabbed his giant shuriken from his back and sliced around to Golisopod's backside while Ash made a haymaker that nailed Guzma's side. The older man stumbled, gritting his teeth a moment before grinning.

    "Yer not bad kid," he chuckled out. "I'm really enjoyin' this now! You've got a fire in ya, for sure…and I'm gonna take it!"

    "There's no way you're taking anything from me, or the people of Iki Town!" Ash challenged back. He and Guzma punched at each other, both of their fists meeting in the center. Guzma opened his palm and pulled Ash forward.

    "How can I take anythin' from a kid who's nothin'?" he chuckled out, his gravelly voice low and menacing, sending a shiver up Clemont's spine. Greninja and Golisopod were both rushing at each other, no longer needing their trainers' orders as they lashed out with Brick Break and Aerial Ace. Ash moved in tandem with Greninja, kicking and punching outwards. He was much more fluid in his movements than he had been back in Kalos; months of training physically with Greninja were certainly paying off. Yet Golisopod and Guzma were matching their team strike for strike.

    "Now, Greninja! Cut!" Using his immense leg strength, Greninja jettisoned up into the air before spinning, drawing forth his liquid kunai. Golisopod looked up, calling out his own blade of water. The two met in midair, clashing with mist spritzing out around them. At the same time, Ash and Guzma's forearms met and they practically headbutted each other. By Clemont's observation, they both looked lost in the moment, as if they were competing on a plane higher than Clemont could ever imagine. Definitely one above his reach, that nothing could break them out of.

    But something did break him out of it.

    "Crobat, Air Slash," said a very cold and callous voice. A feminine one, to be sure, but one that otherwise seemed rather unfeeling. Clemont turned and acted without thinking. He grabbed the distressed Bonnie and Grubbin, tossing the both of them to the ground. Hau seemed to react as well, or rather, Torracat did it for him, pulling him by his shirt to the dirt floor they were on. Only Team Rocket didn't react in time as the thin blades of air struck hard upon where they were standing, James in midmotion of feeding a smiling Crabrawler his berry.

    There was just a brief second where they registered shock before the Air Slash hit, causing the ground to explode around them. They went flying, distinctly yelling their catchphrase as they did so, yet Clemont couldn't care. He was sitting up to look at what had caught them so unawares, only to find a black claw pressing down upon him and Bonnie. He swallowed thickly as he saw a Pokémon above him, its black body consumed with red markings that seemed akin to flame. Next to it was a girl, or rather, a woman only a few years older than him at best. She had pink hair with yellow highlights and a cold expression, dressed in a tight fitting tanktop. The woman still looked better than most of the Team Skull members around her, but judging by the hair adornments that held it into four tails, she was no doubt one of them.

    "Don't move, and I promise this will all go much more smoothly," the woman said. Clemont saw Bonnie open her mouth, as if to say something back, but he instantly covered it. The way she had spoken, this woman was most certainly not playing around. Seeing that he wasn't going to do anything, she smirked a little. "Good. None of us want to see our little siblings hurt, would we?"

    "Big sis…" croaked one of the defeated Skull thugs on the ground. The woman turned her head.

    "You adorable idiots…what did he get you into this time?" she sighed out before shoving her hands into her pockets and watching forward. The Pokémon towering over them didn't move at all, but Clemont was still able to watch the girl, noticing the Z-Ring clasped around her wrist. It was a different style from the one Ash had, looking to be made somewhat of red gemstones, almost like blood in crystal form. "Yo, Guzma! Knock it off!"

    Clemont watched as Guzma pulled back from Ash, who seemed even more defensive at the sight of the girl. "Plumeria? 'Bout time you showed up!"

    "It really is," Plumeria, or so Clemont assumed she was called, said coldly. If this woman was really part of Team Skull, it was a surprise she didn't speak to Guzma with more respect. "This is why I tell you to wait before you do something stupid, dumba*s."

    "Hey! I am your leader!" Guzma said angrily, but he didn't make a move on Plumeria, who was scowling.

    "And leaders make good decisions, not go raiding towns. We have our base town. That's enough," Plumeria snapped. Guzma blinked, but actually looked ashamed at her scolding. "You said you were coming to observe and report, remember? Now, stop being ridiculous and pull the boys out. They're getting a beating, you know?"

    "Huh?" Guzma questioned, as if finally pulled back to reality. He seemed to glance around, getting the scope of what had happened in Iki Town. Clemont also took the opportunity. For the most part, Team Skull members were lying in heaps around the town, though it wasn't as if it hadn't taken any damage from the attacks. Only Hala's house and a couple others truly looked undamaged. "Damn…What is wrong with you, Guzma? !"

    "Oh, good, out of your 'I'm the big boss Guzma, destruction in human form' mode?" Plumeria mocked sardonically. Guzma shot her a scowl, but didn't say anything against her. "Come on, boss, let's head back home. I'm sure they'll be wanting to hear your report, even if you went excessively over the top as usual."

    "Honestly, Plumeria, ya take the fun out of everything," Guzma said, folding his arms, but deciding to acquiesce. It was obvious, given that he grabbed his pokeball and used it to recall Golisopod from the battle. Greninja dropped, dismissing the knives from his hands. The leader of Team Skull heaved a sigh, but then smirked, turning back to Ash. "Ya ain't half bad, kid, but next time, put a little conviction behind yer attacks. Show me that what ya say actually means somethin'."

    "What?" Ash asked flatly. Guzma didn't answer back, placing his fingers to his lips and whistling sharply. The sounds of attacking slowly died down as it echoed around the town.

    "All right, ya loveable misfits! We're done here. I don't want this crummy town," he said, waving his hands. Plumeria nodded, obviously pleased with Guzma doing as she asked. The boss of Team Skull began walking off, clearly sulking a little for being interrupted, but he didn't stop. Nor did the Team Skull members who called back their own Pokémon and followed him out of the town. It was a particularly strange and shocking sight that prevented most from doing anything more. In the end, Plumeria was the last to do so, stopping near Clemont and telling her Pokémon to raise its claw before a Crobat floated by her side.

    "Sorry for the trouble he caused, Kahuna Hala," Plumeria stated to the older man. Clemont watched as the Golbat lifted away from the older man; his suspicions were proved right. Plumeria had clearly made sure to hold the older man in place before she arrived. "He's always prone to getting riled up when he hears someone's strong. Won't happen again."

    Plumeria then had the decency of bowing a little, showing a surprising amount of respect, before Crobat took hold of her and her Pokémon, lifting them up and away through the air over Melemele. Clemont lay there, shaking, Bonnie, in his arms, was doing the same. Useless…I was useless…

    "Pikachu, are you okay?" Ash's voice suddenly cut through the silence that now filled Iki Town. At his call, mutterings began to break it up, allowing Clemont a chance to sit up with Bonnie. Both of the siblings shared a look of despondence before facing away from one another. Hau was the first to truly get to his feet, running towards the nearest house. Torracat kicked dirt up in its direction, putting some of the flames out.

    "Everyone, please use whatever Water Pokémon you have on hand," Hala ordered, his own voice seeming to rally the townspeople together. He called out his Crabominable and began to walk towards his grandson. This provided Clemont and Bonnie the chance to stand and approach Ash.

    "Is Pikachu okay…?" Bonnie asked sadly. Ash turned around, Rotom simultaneously popping back out of his bag.

    "He'll be fine. Just needs a little rest," Ash assured them with a little smile. There was clearly something on his mind though, especially given the way his eyes looked to his Z-Ring. "I hope Serena and Lillie are okay, though. They ran off a while ago."

    "We're fine!" came the response. All three of them looked up towards the forest to see Serena and Lillie approaching from its confines, the former supporting the latter. Clemont instantly pulled his backpack off, noting Grubbin having attached himself there, but doing little more than resting. The inventor dug into his bag and instantly took out some first aid equipment. "Just had a little bit of trouble."

    "Good to see you're okay, though," Ash said. Clemont could hear in his voice how worried he'd been, but didn't say anything in order to wade through the remnants of the broken stage to get to Lillie. Serena let the girl go, seating her down for Clemont to work on her ankle. He was glad to have taken some lessons from Brock. Pikipek flapped off of Serena's shoulder to land by Ash. "You, too, Pikipek. But where's Rowlet?"

    "About that…" Serena chuckled out. As she mentioned it, Clemont turned his head in time to see a medium sized shape suddenly flit down towards Ash's bag…only to get stuck inside. "Well, while we were battling…"

    "Rowlet evolved!" Rotom exclaimed excitedly and suddenly. Ash seemed to blink, confused as he turned to the shape trying to fit itself inside his bag. It looked to work, though when the Pokémon poked his head out, Clemont could see the strange one looked very uncomfortable.

    "Wait…this is…Rowlet?" Ash asked in confusion.

    "Drrroh!" the Pokémon hooted happily. Pikipek turned on Ash's shoulder to chirp, as if in confirmation. At this, Ash's face lit up with extreme happiness.

    "Rowlet is now Dartrix, the Blade Quill Pokémon," Rotom explained sagely. "It throws sharp feathers called blade quills at enemies or prey. It seldom misses."

    Ash seemed to hardly care at all about the description. He just lunged forward, allowing whatever confusion or lingering thoughts from the interrupted battles with Guzma and Hala to leave his mind. Instead, he took Dartrix into a hug, one that an awakening Pikachu happened to be caught between. "Dartrix! This is awesome! You're awesome!"

    "Dar!" Dartrix agreed, preening the top of his head a little. Clemont smiled and finished wrapping Lillie's leg as everyone around him laughed at Dartrix's enthusiasm. It wasn't the most favorable conclusion to the battle in Iki Town, but at the very least, it was a positive one. Knowing that, Clemont finished his work and joined in on the laugh, letting every other thought fade away with the breeze in the air.


    Author's Note: I'd like to think this was a wham chapter, but I'm probably just kidding myself. In all honesty, there was quite a bit to propel the plot forward this chapter. All of the character arcs have been set in major motion with this and hopefully you can see somewhat where I'm going with them. I'll tell you that part of it for all of them has to do with the way they reacted to the situation. But other than that, there was simply a lot. Between Plumeria making her stunning appearance to some major plot things with Nebby and Tapu Koko, it was chock full of stuff. Oh, and Rowlet evolved. I'm sure you didn't see it coming…well…you probably did. But maybe not here. Anyway, I loved writing this one, so I hope you loved reading it.

    So, until next we meet, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  24. #24
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    Huh, this is one of my shortest chapters in a while…still vital to have happen, though. I hope you'll all enjoy Chapter 14!

    Chapter 14

    A Departure

    "Hey, bring that pile of timber over here!"

    "We're on it!" Clemont looked up at the call, seeing Ash and Hau approaching him from near one of the houses. Both of them were busy practically flexing their muscles at one another, as though testing each other. Their Pokémon were, at the very least, competing with one another. Pikachu and Pipi were running around digging new gardens with their tails for the townsfolk while Dartrix and Hau's Torracat were racing to see who could sprinkle the gardens with water the fastest.

    "Hey, Clemont, we're ready!" Ash called out, waving his hand. Clemont smiled, pushing his glasses up on his face with a chuckle. "The townsfolk need the lumber up the hill."

    "Fear not, Ash. The future is now thanks to science! Clemontic Gear on!" Clemont announced, whipping a white sheet off his latest creation, stationed at the bottom of the slope that was the road through Iki Town. "With my newest machine, the Lumber Lifter, I can hand you large amounts of timber for you to carry up the slope in no time."

    "Awesome!" Hau exclaimed, his eyes wide and his mouth drooling a little bit. Clemont had to admit that it was nice to see someone so interested in his creations, but he was almost certain that Hau was really just hungry for some malasadas. The boy hadn't eaten all morning, and he and Ash had been working quite a bit. They all had been doing so in the wake of the damage done to Iki Town. It wasn't too substantial, but enough that Hala had said they should all wait until the following morning to even think about fixing it up.

    "And here we go," Clemont demonstrated, pushing a button on his remote control. The machine started up, reaching over with a mechanical hand that shot twine around a stack of lumber and planks before using the hand to lift it upwards, just high enough for Ash and Hau to get underneath either end of it and lift it up easily. Seeing it happen, other townsfolk began making their way over to help out, and soon, the blond inventor saw his Lumber Lifter working at maximum speed. Best of all: it wasn't even blowing up.

    "We've got snacks!" Serena's voice called from up the hill after Ash and Hau had taken their third load of lumber up to specific spots. That clearly designated a break time for everyone in the town. Most returned to their homes, but Clemont chose to make the long and exhausting trek up the hill to Hala's house, Luxray somewhat supporting him.

    Ash and Hau were quick to make their way inside the Kahuna's house, but Clemont dawdled a little longer. Part of it was due to his usual poor stamina, but the other part had to do with the feelings gnawing away at his chest…feelings no doubt shared by Luxray and Grubbin, somehow. The former was a little harder to tell; only their long time together and the bristling of his fur indicated that Luxray's pride had been hurt. Grubbin was more obvious, as the little bug hadn't gnawed on any of Clemont's machines for almost twenty-four hours. Clemont heaved a sigh, patting his sweaty hands on his shorts and pushing the issue away, replacing it with a smile as he entered into the house.

    "Wow, these malasadas are amazing, Serena!" Hau's voice was heard before being followed by a snarfing noise as the boy consumed them.

    "Didn't I tell you Hau! Sherena ish shomeshing elshe!" Ash responded, his own mouth full.

    "Ash…" Serena called in her scolding tone; one that even Clemont shuddered from. He continued walking forward in time for Serena to change back over to her usual sweet tone. As he did, he saw Ash swallowing apologetically. "I'm not the only one who made them. Lillie helped me out quite a bit."

    "I don't know about that," Lillie admitted. She was sitting on a couch, her leg resting nicely. The swelling from her ankle had certainly gone down and she was ready to start walking again, but Clemont wanted to make sure she didn't overstress it. "I just did little odds and ends. I don't exactly feel very helpful…"

    "Hey, don't talk that way, Lillie," Hau encouraged her, flashing his smile across to the girl. "If you made them, then I'm sure you helped no matter what. And they're delicious! I could eat these all day…"

    "So could I, but then it'd take away from training, right Pikachu?"

    "Pika!" Pikachu said, some slight jelly smeared across his face. Pipi was no different, the two sharing a laugh at the look on the other's face. Hau flopped back on the couch, sighing in content. Clemont smiled softly at the scene, his mind starting to become content in all of their presences. Even if Bonnie slid through the room like a madwoman.

    "Dartrix, Torracat, stop it!" she scolded the owl and cat, who were busy tugging at a malasada between them. Rotom was floating around them gleefully.

    "In one corner, Rotom sees Dartrix, the Blade Quill Pokémon and master of projectiles," it was saying enthusiastically, having regained much of its spark from before the Team Skull assault. "In the other, Torracat, the evolved form of Litten. Which will win this-mmph!"

    "You are not helping," Bonnie said, scolding the talking Pokédex. In the midst of her distraction, Dartrix's wing snapped out, lightly tapping Torracat and allowing him to consume the malasada. Torracat growled at him, but the Grass type simply preened at his hair smugly. "Oh, Clemont, you're here."

    "Yeah, sorry. It always takes me a while," Clemont laughed out. He noticed a single malasada left on the table, but didn't bank on it. Seeing as Chespin popped out a moment later to take it, he was glad he hadn't. Serena just sighed and shook her head, moving to sit on the armrest of the chair that Ash was occupying. Clemont took the only remaining seat, sitting back and enjoying the comfort of sitting again.

    "Ah, good to see you're all here," boomed Hala's voice across his living room. Hau waved lazily, not being bothered to move, while Ash turned in the Kahuna's direction. In fact, most of them watched him approach. "Not that I thought you wouldn't be…"

    "What's up, tutu?" Hau asked, grinning his way through the conversation. Hala opened his eye a crack to look at his grandson while Clemont remained focused on the man, himself. He had been somewhat prickly since the attack on the town, and while that was no major surprise overall, it was still a little unsettling. Neither he nor Kukui had decided to speak about how they knew Guzma, the leader of Team Skull no less, but each of them had gleaned enough information from the people in town.

    About how Guzma, Kukui and the woman Serena had referred to as Miss Akela were three students at the Pokémon School back in their days until going their separate ways and walking different paths. Kukui to be a professor, as far as they knew, Akela became the Ali'i ka Leilani, and Guzma seemed to fade away until emerging as the "Big Bad Boss" of Team Skull. It all sounded like a rather torrid affair to Clemont, and one he wanted no further part of, especially when any other details were scant beyond the three of them looking up to Hala as "master". The only other thing Clemont had found out was that before Guzma had faded, he was given a Z-Ring by Hala, but whether he had earned it or was given it out of pity remained unclear. In fact, much of that past was shrouded in mystery, with those directly involved refusing to share details.

    "Ash, my apologies for our interrupted battle yesterday," Hala said, bowing low in apology. Ash just laughed and seemed to pass it off as nothing.

    "It wasn't your fault!" Ash insisted. "Besides, it just means we'll have to have a rematch."

    "About that," Hala grunted out. Ash tilted his head, and all of his Pokémon appeared to share in the reaction, except for Greninja, who looked to be keeping watch outside the home. "I'm afraid our battle will have to be postponed indefinitely."

    "What? Why? !" Ash asked, bolting out of his chair. Serena barely stood from the armrest at his sudden movement. Hala sighed deeply, rubbing the back of his neck.

    "Simply put, Iki Town suffered quite the damage," the Kahuna explained, looking out the window. Clemont could tell that he was overlooking the town. "Kukui and Ilima have already had to request help from Hau'oli City to get things patched up and while the damage isn't ridiculously extensive, it will take time to fix up. As Kahuna, I have to put all of my efforts towards that."

    "Then we can stay here and help to fix up everything," Ash insisted. Next to him, Serena nodded, though the slight frown on her face said that she was also worried about things other than Iki Town. Hala shook his head at that.

    "No, this is for Iki Town to fix. You've been a great help, Ash, but it will take a little time before we can hold another Grand Trial," Hala assured him carefully. "The Grand Trial is meant to be as a celebration, and I don't think the people are in a very celebratory mood."

    "Oh…" Ash said. It seemed he finally understood just what the older man was talking about. Hala chuckled under his breath as he reached forward and put a hand on Ash's shoulder.

    "Don't worry. There's no need to be concerned about your Grand Trial here on Melemele. We'll battle again when the time is right, and I'll be looking forward to it."

    "Okay…yeah…" Ash expressed. Pikachu left Pipi's side to go up to Ash, as if reminding him that he was there. "What should I do in the meantime, then?"

    "I'd recommend going to Akala Island, the both of you." Hau sat up on the couch at his grandfather addressing him, trying to look like he'd been paying attention the whole time. "That is typically the next stop on the Island Pilgrimage, though I'll admit that some prefer to try their hands at other islands."

    "Akala sounds good to me!" Ash said, quickly switching his demeanor back around to excited. Serena seemed to breathe out easily as well, happy with the decision that her boyfriend had made. "There's bound to be lots of great battles there between the Trials and new Pokémon, and Gladion said he'd be there as well, right?"

    "Right," Serena said. Clemont smiled at their enthusiasm, though with a bit of sadness for himself. He didn't want to seem selfish, but knowing that he'd have to put his own task off for another island felt rather disconcerting. However, he didn't let it show. Not that he was the only one putting on a brave face; Lillie also appeared to look thoughtful. "I'm sure there'll be plenty of opportunity for me to do some Leilani Ceremonies there, too."

    "Oh, there definitely will," Hala said, winking. He wouldn't elaborate though. Neither Ash nor Serena seemed to let that deter them, though, both growing excited in the state of their current goals. Ash, in particular, decided to ask a rather pointed question.

    "What's the Kahuna on Akala like?"

    "Akala's Kahuna…?" Hala mused. Hau stood from his seat on the couch, looking just as excited. "Oh, I think it's best I not tell you until you meet her…she's really something else."

    "She?" Hau questioned, but Hala still refused to answer. It seemed like even the Kahuna of Melemele didn't tell his grandson about all of these things. Instead, the Kahuna gave yet another booming laugh and began to walk out of the living room of his house.

    "I'll call Kukui and let him know to get you all tickets! Then we'll see you off in grand Melemele style tomorrow!" he boomed out before disappearing into what was likely his office. Ash suddenly pumped his fist excitedly, Pikachu emulating him proudly.

    "We'll finally be moving on to a new island!" Serena shouted out, clearly just as excited as her boyfriend. It reminded Clemont of what a good fit they were for each other. Made him think of Korrina, and how she was back in Kalos. Perhaps he'd call her when he had the chance…though at the same time, he sort of wanted to do it using his first call from the IRCS in order to make it something special. "Lillie, what do you plan to do? Stay on with the Professor?"

    "I'm…not sure," the blonde answered. Nebby appeared to be resting in a corner of the couch, sleeping as he snuggled against the girl. "I've enjoyed traveling with all of you immensely. Like a dream come true, really; something I'd only imagined out of books, but…"

    "We'd be happy to have you along, if you want to come," Ash told her. Lillie gave a slight start at that, looking over at the smiling couple before seeing Hau, whose grin seemed to encourage her. Then she looked down and smiled.

    "Let me think about it just a bit, okay? I'll let you know tomorrow in Hau'oli City." Ash nodded, accepting the answer. Their declarative statements regarding Akala Island having been made, they also seemed to suddenly get Bonnie fired up as well.

    "Yay! A new island. I hope it's filled with lots of cute Pokémon," she said before skipping over to Clemont, tugging at his sleeve. "Aren't you excited, Clemont?"

    "Most definitely," Clemont assured her with a smile. She didn't seem to be fooled, however, puffing her cheeks out slightly. He just patted her on the head lightly, allowing his mind to go back to his work for the afternoon.

    To his surprise, his Lumber Lifter managed to make it through the day, allowing more efficient work to be done. As they did so, Clemont came to finally understand Hala's words regarding the state of the town. The damage hadn't seemed very extensive, and wasn't grievous, but would take time to repair nonetheless, and to hold a celebration like a Grand Trial would have just seemed insensitive. Still, it kept his mind active for the rest of the day through dinner until at last they were all prepared to sleep. Ash and Hau appeared to fall asleep immediately, both of them tired from a day at work, but the inventor found himself unable to, and he stepped outside onto Kukui's porch.

    Iki Town seemed so peaceful at night, filled only with the humming of some nighttime Pokémon and the lamps that were strung throughout town. The moonlight shined down on the town, illuminating portions of the porch and Clemont sighed.

    "Everything okay, Clemont?" Serena's voice called to him. The inventor turned to see his friend approaching, tucking some hair behind her ear.

    "Yeah, it's fine," he answered. Serena joined him at the edge of the porch, looking out over the town. As they stood there, Clemont had this feeling that something was tickling Serena's mind, likely due to what had happened the day before. Even knowing that, though, he decided to indulge himself in a moment of selfishness. "Do you think I've grown…?"

    "What?" Serena asked, as though genuinely surprised by the question. It made Clemont curb his tongue. If she had to ask, perhaps his own fears were unfounded. "Clemont, what's on your mind?"

    "It's…it's nothing," he said, shaking his head. It really was nothing. In the face of installing the IRCS, Ash's trials and Serena's Ceremony, feeling like a drop in the bucket of his group's respective strength was meaningless. "So, excited about the new island?"

    "Of course," Serena laughed out. The two friends eased into a moment of just standing there before the girl turned to him. "Thank you, Clemont."

    "For what exactly?"

    "You gave me some great advice," she told him. "You helped me figure out how…monotonous my routine is. So, I spoke it over with Braixen, and we both agreed that we're going to try and learn a new move. I'm thinking something like Psybeam or Psyshock. What do you think?"

    "It sounds like a great idea. I'll help you, if I can."

    "Sure thing. Just…no inventions." Clemont had to afford a laugh at her request before slipping into an amicable silence that lasted on through a portion of the night until they fell asleep. He felt lighter.


    Like every morning before a new beginning, Ash found he and his friends quite busily getting ready for their departure. Hala had made them an extremely quick breakfast of melons, which Dartrix and Chespin both attempted to eat through before the smaller Pikipek stopped them and split it down the middle. Perhaps the biggest delay in their departure was finding Nebby, who seemed to have surreptitiously hidden somewhere in Hala's couch.

    "Nebby…" Lillie breathed out, finding the little cloud underneath one of the couches. Nebby gleefully jumped into her arms, allowing the girl to stow him away in the bag. When that was finally all set, their group of six (eleven, if Pikachu, Pipi, Dedenne, Rotom and Nebby were included) exited the Kahuna's house to meet him in the still damaged square. He wasn't alone, however; several townspeople were standing with him.

    "You all seem ready to go then?" the man said. All at once, they nodded, assuring him that they were prepared. "Good. Well, then, I'll walk with you all to Hau'oli City. But before then…"

    Just as they had nodded, Hala and the townspeople all bowed lowed in a show of gratitude that surprised even Ash. "Thank you for all your help."

    "And may the blessings of our guardian deity, Tapu Koko, be upon you," Hala finished for all of them. The show of gratitude was certainly a surprise to Ash. He felt like they hadn't really done much in terms of helping the town. He hadn't defeated Guzma, or driven Team Skull off. All he'd done was lift some wood; a task completable by just about anyone. It made him a little embarrassed to admit how useless he felt.

    It did feel nice to get such a pleasant sendoff, however.

    So, with a wave goodbye, all of the travelers at last turned their backs on Iki Town and began to make their way back towards the city they had first arrived in. Hala, who was going along with them on their short journey, took the lead of the group with his grandson, who was walking forward calmly with Pipi, his hands resting behind his head. Ash took the space behind them as they headed into the forest, his hands entwined with Serena's. Taking up their rear was the rest of their small group.

    Casting his gaze backwards, Ash watched Lillie for a moment. She was smiling and laughing at some joke or funny story that Bonnie was telling her. He wondered what her decision had been, now that she'd slept on it. She certainly didn't seem upset or confused, but he couldn't tell whether she had made a decision or not. He certainly wanted her to come with. They had only been together a few short days since meeting in Melemele Meadow, yet Ash couldn't help but feel she was already inexplicably a part of their little family. Even looking at her now, she and Bonnie appeared to have the same kind of hat.

    "Are you excited for going to Akala?" Serena asked from next to him. Ash jerked a little, forcing Pikachu to hold on to him. Her asking the question seemed to remind him of just how silent they'd been.

    "Definitely," Ash said. Somehow, he couldn't say more than that. He was always excited to move on to a new location, but it still left a slightly bad taste in his mouth that he couldn't complete his Grand Trial against Hala. Looking at the large man's broad back, it made him feel incomplete in a sense. At the same time, however, his mind drifted towards the flute in his backpack, one he hadn't even though of using in the six months since he'd received it. He supposed he could always use it to get back to Melemele in a flash when the time was right. Shaking his head a bit, he pushed the thought away to talk to his girlfriend. "What about you?"

    "For sure," Serena admitted. Ash gave a wry smile and squeezed her hand. He wasn't entirely sure, but she looked a little sad as she said it. Not that Serena would ever say anything; she'd grown rather reticent on certain topics over the last six months. He was even pretty sure he'd heard her speak of Reeree a total of maybe three times since then, preferring to deal with whatever promises and issues she'd had personally. It honestly broke him a little, since he just wanted to help her no matter what, but had no idea of how…

    Or maybe he did…

    "You wanna go on a date?" he asked. Serena blinked, as if surprised the question had come from him. No prompting. No reminding. Ash was even surprising himself.

    "That would be lovely," she finally responded with a smile, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. "But maybe we should do that when we get to Akala."

    "Sounds good to me," Ash confirmed, and they continued their easy walk.

    The forest was growing less and less dense and Ash and Serena both picked up the pace, drawing closer to Hau and Hala who appeared to be having some manner of farewell discussion, at least from where they entered in hearing.

    "Make sure to take care of yourself. Akala is not Melemele, after all," Hala was rumbling out to his grandson. Hau just laughed a little, showing his usual disposition through and through.

    "Come on, tutu, it's not like I'll be alone!" Hau insisted with his grin. "Pipi will take care of me!"

    "Picha!" Pipi agreed, munching hungrily on a berry. Hala shook his head at that.

    "Just make sure you check in from time to time," the Kahuna told him sternly. "You have the tendency to just run off and do whatever without regard for others. This old man would like a call once in a while."

    "No probs, tutu. Pipi, remember to call after we've completed our first trial on Akala," Hau insisted. Pipi looked abashed at her trainer suddenly turning to her when she had a berry half stuffed in her mouth, but nodded nonetheless. "Man, I can't want to taste all the malasadas there! I wonder if Akala's taste any different…"

    "We'll find out soon enough, right?" Ash asked, drawing his rival's attention. Hau nodded, not turning around, given his hands were behind his head. Hearing about more malasadas was only serving to make him hungry, but hearing about checking in made Ash think of something he knew he should do upon arrival in Hau'oli City.

    Incidentally, they arrived on the outskirts near the school mere moments after he thought that. The children were playing outside, supervised by one of the teachers there. Hala offered the teachers a wave, but the children didn't even seem to notice that their group was walking by. Striking further back into the city, Ash looked around, noticing how it looked just the same as those couple weeks back when they first entered the region. Lost in his thoughts, Ash finally pulled to a stop when Hala did.

    "The ferry to Akala departs around noon," the Kahuna explained, "which gives you a little over an hour to do whatever you need to in Hau'oli. Please make sure you're there on time…Hau…"

    "Aw, come on, tutu," Hau said sheepishly. "I'm always on time! And I can always catch the next ferry anyway."

    "Hau, you really should make sure you're there on time," Lillie spoke up, clutching at her bag strap. Said boy grinned at her sheepishly. Bonnie appeared to look between the two teens before placing Dedenne back inside her bag and walking to Clemont's side. Ash and Serena both had to sigh, because as she walked past, Lillie just so happened to stumble forward a little, allowing Hau to catch her arm.

    "Up to some of her usual tricks…" Serena sighed out next to Ash, though only he could hear her. "Someday, I'm going to have to find her a keeper."

    "Good luck with that…" Ash chuckled out. He wasn't sure there was a keeper anywhere for someone like Bonnie.

    "Well, if we want to make sure we're there on time, how about we all have a malasada farewell to Melemele! I know just the place," Hau exclaimed. Without even thinking, his hand remaining on Lillie's wrist, he began to drag the poor girl off into town. Hala shook his head before indicating that they should all follow.

    "Remember! Noon at the ferry dock!"

    "Thank you!" Serena cried out, with Clemont offering a slight bow before they ran. Hau and Lillie weren't that far ahead of them, likely due to Lillie's own pace, but they soon turned a corner. Ironically enough, Ash found that the boy with the sunny disposition was leading them closer and closer to the docks, though not quite there. In fact, he went straight past the docks and to a shop that was brimming with color and life. Without a moment's hesitation, Hau flung open the double doors with one hand and stepped in. Ash quickly made to catch the door before it could accidentally hit Lillie before proceeding inside with Serena.

    "Alola!" Hau's cheery voice called out. "Malasada buffet, please!"

    "Hau, what a surprise. It's been a while…for you at least," giggled the girl that was standing there and taking orders from a customer. Said customer appeared to recognize Hau and chuckled while shaking his head.

    "Yeah, I've been real busy in Iki Town saying goodbye to tutu and all that."

    "Oh? Are you going somewhere?" the girl asked and Ash noticed that her cheeks were tinged pink. Serena giggled next to him while Lillie appeared to puff her cheeks out a little.

    "I'm off to Akala with my friends here," Hau answered, taking out some money and putting it on the counter to pay for their joint meal. The girl shook her head and shoved it back over to him.

    "I'm sorry I won't be seeing you again," she said sadly, taking one of her fingers and twirling her hair a little. "Guess I'll have to make sure you go out in style, yeah? Wait right here."

    "Awesome," Hau responded. As soon as the girl turned to go into the kitchen, Hau was looking for a place to sit, quickly finding a booth for all of them to fit comfortably into. He slid into there and placed his legs on the table. When Lillie got in, she swatted at his legs, causing him to move them. Ash watched the pair for a moment; for a girl that was typically shy and demure in every way, Lillie appeared to be quite comfortable with scolding Hau. It was really a testament to how close the two of them must have been.

    "So, Lillie…" Serena started when they were settled in, breaking the silence of their group, "I don't mean to pry, but, have you decided what you want to do?"

    "I have," Lillie answered confidently. She nodded as she did so, her braids swinging forward. Placing her hands on the bag in her lap (presumably to both do something with her hands and stop Nebby from escaping), she looked directly at Serena before shifting her gaze along. "If it's not too much trouble, I'd like to travel with all of you."

    "No problem," Ash said confidently. Lillie jerked back, her green eyes going wide. "You've already been with us for a few days now."

    "We'd love to have you keep on with us," Serena confirmed.

    "And Rotom can have the time to examine Nebby and add all sorts of data to Rotom's database," Rotom said, floating down like it was trying to do some sort of X-Ray scan on Lillie's bag. Bonnie scowled and reached over for it, Dedenne jumping out to weigh the Pokédex down.

    "I'd like you to come along, too. That way, I can help you to take care of Nebby!" she insisted. Clemont only nodded with a smile, as if saying anything more would simply be reiterating what was already said. Lillie beamed, like sunlight shining on the sea, and tears came to her eyes. Hau nudged her.

    "See, Lillie? It's awesome to have friends, isn't it?" he said. At the moment that she nodded happily, the girl from behind the counter approached them, a large plate of malasadas in her hand. She slid it across the table with a smile. Ash instantly reached for one at the same time as Hau. Bonnie and Pikachu did as well, the four of them all gratefully consuming their treats. Pipi was more reluctant, obviously still full from her berry meal earlier. After the boys had taken their third malasada, Lillie finally stopped her tears of joy and reached forward for one.

    "Thank you," she said. "I hope to see lots of fun things with all of you on this journey. Right, Nebby?"

    "Pew!" Nebby said in his muffled voice. Laughing lightly, Lillie daintily took her malasada, a piece of paper attached to it. On it looked to be a number with a smudge of what looked like lipstick. Ash turned his head in curiosity at it, but Lillie just pushed it across the table to Hau, who completely disregarded it.

    "Just make sure you all don't eat too much," Serena said, eating her own food with a more delicate touch. Lillie appeared to emulate her, though found a hard time with some of the cream oozing out. "You don't want to get seasick."

    "I'll be fine!" Ash assured her, continually snarfing down more until there was a single malasada left. Ash looked across the table at Hau and both lunged for it…only for it to be snuck away by one of Chespin's vines. Clemont sighed.

    "I think the need for cooking is going to go up exponentially on this trip," he told them, returning the Spiny Nut Pokémon to his pokeball. Ash laughed and looked up at the clock, realizing that it was time to go. The others appeared to notice the same thing, and before long they were up and walking out the door, Hau bidding a hasty farewell to the malasada girl. Bonnie took charge, dashing ahead with a hand on her hat as they ran down the docks to the pier.

    The entire area seemed bustling with people waiting to get to Akala via the ferry. From business men, to three vacationers that jumped when the doors to the ferry terminal opened, to a man that stood with a hat tipped over his face as he spoke to someone on a mobile phone. Seeing that, Ash quickly remembered his earlier idea and crossed the length of the terminal to reach the phones. Clemont hung back with Lillie and Hau to look for wherever Hala was, while Bonnie, Serena and Rotom approached the phones with him. Ash punched in the numbers and waited while the phone rang.

    "Oh, Ash? This is a surprise! Serena, Bonnie and Rotom, too, it seems…" his mother suddenly answered, looking rather shocked that he was calling.

    "Heya, mom, just calling to say hi before I depart to a new island in Alola," he said, waving his hand. Serena and Bonnie did so, too. "I've caught lots of cool Pokémon, too. So has Serena."

    "Yup, I caught myself this great performer the other day," Serena said, suddenly holding up Popplio who created a bubble that splashed the phone. Ash hadn't even heard her call the sea lion out.

    "And Rotom has collected much data to return to Professor Oak with!"

    "It sounds like you're all doing wonderful, then," Delia said with a laugh. "I'll be sure to let Samuel know you're doing all right as well. Make sure you stay safe on your travels."

    "I'll keep them all out of trouble!" Bonnie insisted. Dedenne nodded his head sagely in agreement. With a quick message of love, his mother signed off and the four turned around, Pikachu crossing from one of Ash's shoulders to another. The sound of the doors opening again filled the terminal, giving Ash a glimpse of who had just arrived.

    "Professor!" Ash called, catching sight of the shirtless man now in the terminal with Lillie. He ran a little forward, only to notice something. Or rather, something missing. "Where's Rockruff?"

    "Rockruff…?" Kukui asked, stroking his beard a bit. "Ash, I've been meaning to ask, what're your thoughts on Rockruff?"

    "My thoughts?" Ash asked, surprised by the question. Bonnie twirled past him, walking up to Hau and Lillie, who still hadn't seemed to have found Hala. However, Clemont appeared to be speaking with Ilima, the captain having likely arrived with Kukui. Ash put his hands behind his head. "I think Rockruff is an awesome Pokémon. She looks playful, but from that time we battled against each other and then in Iki Town, I could tell she was a strong Pokémon. A real hard-worker that's always looking to get better. Someone I'd love to have on my team for sure."

    "Something I'm sure she'd love," Kukui chuckled out. Suddenly, Ash saw the man reaching forward and clasping both of his shoulders, staring right into his eyes. It unnerved him a moment, but the kindness with which Kukui was focusing on him made him relax. "Ash, you are a kind and compassionate young man, and an excellent trainer. From the few moments I've seen you and your Pokémon in battle, I can tell. I mean, Rowlet already evolved under your care. I know that as a trainer, you have the possibility to bring out the full power of a Pokémon."

    "Thanks for the compliment," Ash chuckled out, reaching up to try and scratch his cheek, "but, where are you going with this?"

    Kukui removed his hands and quickly clapped them together. For a moment, Ash didn't know what to think, until he heard the scampering of claws across the floor. He didn't even need to see to know it; Ash could feel the energetic puppy approaching, wanting to burst forth and lick his face. Kukui began to shift his body. "I've never really been Rockruff's trainer. I think I told you before. I've really been more of a caretaker when she came to me, wounded on the beach where my lab is. I had to take care of her to make sure she recovered properly, but I never considered her my Pokémon, though she certainly enjoyed staying around…at least until she met you and started becoming restless. I don't think she ever considered me her trainer, you know?"

    "Professor," Serena started, "are you saying…?"

    "Ha ha, guess I am," Kukui laughed out. He finally stepped aside and Rockruff was there, visible, wagging her tail as she looked up at Ash. "Rockruff can't grow with me, but from the way she was sad every time you left, happy every time you arrived, and seemed to want to show off her strength in that battle against Pikipek, I know she could grow quite well under your training and care."

    "But, Professor…are you sure?" Ash asked. He looked towards the puppy and could feel warmth from her, even at that distance, as if radiating a sense of happiness. Like a trainer and Pokémon that were bound to be together.

    "Come on, cousin, do you know how many trainers Rockruff has seen since she's been in my care?" Kukui said with a grin. The doors to the ferry terminal opened and Ash saw the hulking form of Hala now striding in. "Yet when she met you and your friends, she was like a whole different pup. I know you can do what I and no other trainer could. Just looking at Pikachu and Greninja give me the confidence of that."

    Ash felt a well of joy in his stomach, yet it still felt so weird, just being given a Pokémon in a way, even if it wasn't quite the professor's. He knew he'd bonded with Rockruff over their many meetings, yet he still felt like just being told to take her with disregarded what she wanted, even if looking back on his battle with her, it was exactly how Kukui described. Feeling that way, Ash looked down to the puppy, while still taking a pokeball in his hands. "Rockruff…do you want to travel with me?"

    Rockruff surveyed him for a brief moment and then immediately tackled Ash with a bark. The rocks on her collar rubbed against Ash's neck and he laughed, the stones tickling. "Rock! Rockruff!"

    "Okay, okay, I get it!" Ash laughed out. Pikachu jumped to the ground as Rockruff leapt back. He reached his hand in greeting to the little dog who reached her paw up to slap it in greeting. Seeing the heartwarming sight of a new Pokémon interacting with his oldest, Ash leaned down. "Then let's grow together and have lots of great adventures."

    "Ruff!" Rockruff barked out happily. Overhead, a bell dinged, signaling that boarding time for the ferry was to begin. Pikachu leapt back onto Ash's shoulder as he straightened.

    "Leave it to me! Rockruff and I will be a great team!" Ash said, holding his fist out. Kukui smirked and met that fist with his own. "Next time we meet, we'll have grown lots together."

    "I've no doubt of that, cousin," Kukui chuckled out. Their fists detached and Ash looked down a moment before holding out the pokeball. Rockruff padded forward and pressed her paw against the capture device. She was sucked inside, the ball rocking back and forth a moment until closing with a ding! It only took a second before he opened the pokeball again, to share the moment with his new Pokémon. Before he said anything, hemade sure to grab Rockruff in his arms, stowing her pokeball away.

    "All right! I got a Rockruff!"

    "Pipikachu!"

    "Ruff! Ruff!" Rockruff barked happily. Bonnie appeared to jump for joy, asking to pet the little puppy, though Serena was ushering her along to the ferry gate. Realizing it was time to go, Ash held Rockruff in his arms and made a dash after Serena and Bonnie. Hau quickly waved goodbye to those behind as he, Lillie and Clemont ran also.

    "All right, Rockruff, welcome to the team. I'm sure we're all gonna work real hard and complete the Island Challenge together," Ash breathed out. Rockruff appeared to hear, licking his hand affectionately. Any doubts he had had in his mind were erased from that sole action and he grinned as he ran towards the ferry, bounding onto it along with his friends. Joining them were the three vacationers from earlier and the man with the brimmed hat. Some other stragglers were making their way to the boat as the chime sounded for departure. Walking to the edge, Ash and all of his current companions looked towards the dock while the boat pulled away. The farther they got, the more he could see the actual docks, with Kukui, Ilima and Hala standing on them, waving their farewells.

    Rockruff dropped to the floor, causing Pipi and Dedenne to skitter up to her. Meanwhile, Ash cupped his hands. "Alola, Professor, Hala, Ilima! We'll be back again real soon for that Grand Trial! And Rockruff will have lots of stories to tell!"

    "We'll count on it!" Kukui shouted. "I've no doubt we'll be seeing each other sooner or later, maybe even on Akala, itself!"

    "And Hau, make sure you keep yourself well," Hala insisted. Hau crossed his feet in his usual grinning pose. "Practice your Z-Moves."

    "No problem, tutu!"

    "Byyyyyyyye!" Bonnie called out, her legs dangling as she waved. The boat soon pulled away from the docks and Ash turned with Serena to look out over the ocean, towards the next island of Akala. Sucking in the sea breeze and hearing the cries of Pikachu and his newest friend, Ash smiled. It was time for the next phase of his adventure in Alola.




    "Well, there they go…" Kukui commented, lazily shoving his hands in his pockets as he watched the boat pull off onto the horizon. Hala grunted. Around them, all the others that had seen passengers off were dispersing, leaving the three men alone on the docks.

    "You sure about this, Kukui?" Ilima questioned, tapping his Z-Ring restlessly. "Letting Rockruff go off with him like that."

    "Oh, I'm very sure," Kukui insisted. "Couldn't you tell, Ilima? Rockruff wanted battles and adventures. I know Ash understood that from the few short minutes we battled before you interrupted. He's most certainly the trainer for her. I can't wait to see how the two of them grow."

    "I suppose…" Ilima commented with a sigh. "Your grandson's no slouch, either."

    "Not at all," Hala grumbled. He crossed his arms across his chest and Kukui saw him turning back towards Iki Town…no, towards Tapu Koko's shrine. The professor's eyes narrowed sharply. "Both Ash and Hau will have their own paths to walk on the Island Pilgrimage, each with their own lessons to learn. Learning Z-Moves will be the start of that, I'm sure."

    Kukui nodded; he'd already seen Ash struggle with the mastery of Z-Moves, and judging by his battle against the old Kahuna and…Guzma…the raven-haired trainer had likely not yet mastered it. Part of him had to wonder why, considering the skilled trainer that he was, but the other part had faith that he would. That made him grin and laugh, even if the old Kahuna didn't share the sentiments.

    "Ash and his friends are certainly notable," Ilima commented.

    "That they are," Hala said, his voice lower, deeper, and altogether more frightening. Kukui knew the man was being fully serious now. "I'll have to make a call to a fellow Kahuna…I'd heard she was on business in the city. But either way, things are moving on the islands once again…Team Skull…Tapu Koko…and Lillie's story about Nebby."

    "And that strange ripple that appeared during Team Skull's attack. None of the townsfolk noticed it, but I caught sight," the captain said. Kukui nodded, absorbing all of the evidence presented to form his own conclusion regarding the happenings on Melemele.

    "Makes you wonder if the other guardian deities plan to get involved, huh?" Kukui chuckled out humorlessly. Neither of the other two men responded, and Kukui moved his gaze in the direction Hala was looking. Tapu Koko had chosen Ash…just as he'd chosen Hala…just as he'd chosen a knight, or a champion, rather, so many centuries ago. The guardian deity of Melemele was an odd one for sure, but it made one thing very clear: something was happening on Alola. He didn't know what or when or why, but he did know one thing. "Well, let's just hope that whatever it is doesn't happen before the first Alola League, huh? I want to see both Ash and Hau make it there to battle in grand style."

    "Yes…" Hala once more grunted out. He began to walk forward, leading the entourage of men in the direction of Iki Town again. "But regardless…let us gird ourselves and prepare, for the islands and all the life we hold dear. We will not let Alola nearly fall to the darkness again."



    Author's Note: Again? What is this of which Hala speaks? Ominous times are brewing in Alola for sure, but should we expect anything different when Ash is there? Naturally, that last scene is meant to make you wonder just what is going on in this region (as if you don't know) but there are some surprises thrown in. However, beyond that, we had some fun stuff, I think. Yes, Ash will have to battle Hala later, but at least he now has Rockruff on his team! And all of this is kind of important, some of the statements said. Beyond that, we're getting a glimpse into Clemont and Serena's mind while Lillie has finally and officially joined the group! Next time, we head to Akala at long last!

    Thanks for all the lovely words as we head to the back half of this first book. Until we meet again, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  25. #25
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    And so, we're off to Akala! Think of it as sort of an early birthday present…just like how next chapter will be a belated birthday present. But enough about that: to my fellow Americans, I must request one thing…read this chapter, review it, and then find your nearest theater playing the film Your Name. and watch it! You must do this! Now! But first, Chapter 15!


    Chapter 15

    A Date

    "All right, Rockruff, let's see what you can do."

    "Rrruff!" Rockruff barked, leaping from her place in Ash's arms and onto the ferry's deck, her little tail wagging back and forth. In front of her stood Serena and her own two Pokémon: Braixen and Popplio. Ash watched as Clemont and Bonnie cleared the field to stand at the edges of the ferry, Lillie going right along with them. Hau, meanwhile, came to stand right next to Ash.

    "You, too, Munchlax!" To Ash's surprise, the Big Eater Pokémon was alert and seemed ready for battle as he emerged next to Rockruff. Ash looked to Hau and the two grinned.

    "All right, Serena, give us your best shot for this training," he yelled across to his girlfriend. She winked at him.

    "We definitely will. Braixen, we need to try working on learning that new move," she assured her most trusted Pokémon. Braixen nodded, twirling her alit wand around rapidly. Popplio slapped her flippers together, bouncing up and down on her tail in preparation. "We'll start off with a Fire Spin, but try to control every aspect of it…that might work."

    "Braixen," Braixen agreed. She held her wand forward and sent out the rotating ribbons of flame. Ash could see her straining, eyes and lips practically puckered. The ribbons wavered a bit, like they were trying to move and converge, but were unable to. It looked frustrating, but Ash knew that as this was a mock training battle, he couldn't just stand around and watch.

    "Rockruff, let's use Rock Polish," Ash called, remembering some of the commands that Kukui had given in their earlier battle. Rockruff hunkered down as blue sparks traveled around her body. "Now, use Bite!"

    "Ruff!" she cried, speeding forward. Popplio jumped back, and even Ash was surprised at the speed with which Rockruff moved, tossing up the dirt around her feet. She bounded over Popplio and aimed her biting attack at the Sea Lion Pokémon.

    "Twirl and use Bubblebeam," Serena called. Ash had to admit surprise, watching Popplio spin, avoiding the Bite attack and sending the bubbles around her in a glorious stream. It reminded him of his good old Counter Shield, and he had to wonder if that was Serena's intent. Meanwhile, Braixen's attempt at creating any sort of new move psychically seemed to have failed, considering Hau had called for Munchlax's Body Slam. "Flamethrower on the ground to get above and then flip over!"

    "Brai!" Braixen called. She aimed her wand downward and used it to propel herself upwards, over Munchlax's head. Once more, she created a Fire Spin, attempting to force the streams of fire to converge on a single point.

    "Rollout, Munchlax," Hau said. Munchlax rolled itself into a ball and began spinning around the battlefield without a care in the world. Rotom floated overhead, snapping a shot of the battle below. Ash looked back to Popplio and Rockruff, his own partner shaking her head from the water. Pikachu cheered from next to Ash, pumping his fists in the air.

    "Use Rock Throw!" Ash said positively. The rocks sprung from the stones around Rockruff's neck, coalescing into a single large stone that fell towards Popplio. Before Serena could issue the command, the rock struck, knocking Popplio back.

    "Rockruff's really fast," Clemont commented. Bonnie clutched at Dedenne (who was sleeping) with a smile on her face.

    "She's so strong and cute," she commented before looking down at Dedenne. Ash caught a frown on her face, as she seemed to think about something, but shook her head to watch the battle. Only Lillie seemed tense, like she was fearful of the scene before her. Ash shook his head.

    "There's no reason to be scared, Lillie," he said. The blonde looked up, tilting her head a little. "It's just a training battle. We'll make sure our friends don't get hurt, but we want them to all work together and grow stronger."

    "He's totally right, Lillie," Hau said, grinning as Braixen leapt above the rolling Munchlax, attempting her control of Fire Spin again. A few of the spirals seemed to come together, but all they managed to really do was stop Munchlax. Lillie slowly slackened her grip on the bag strap and nodded.

    "Right, sorry…" she said, breathing out with a slight shudder. "I guess I should get used to it. I just don't like the idea of conflict."

    "Yet sometimes conflict is necessary for bringing out true strength," a voice said from behind Ash. He and Hau turned around while the others looked to see the man with the trench coat and hat from earlier emerging from within the boat, the brim of his hat still dipped low. "Any conflict can breed strife, but from it can also be resolution, and peace. Isn't that right, Ash?"

    Ash tilted his own head now as the man suddenly took his hat off with a grin. The boy blinked in response for just a second, surveying the man's now revealed messy black hair and brown eyes. Then his eyes widened. "Mr. Looker?"

    "Indeed, it is I, Looker!" the man said, grinning at Ash as he adjusted his coat. Ash smiled, stepping forward to clasp the man's hand in greeting. "It's been a long time, Ash."

    "Since Unova," he noted, continuing to grin. The others all stared on in confusion at this chance meeting. Ash didn't blame them; it was certainly a reunion he had never expected. Having not seen hide nor hair of the man, or heard whispers of where he was since the situation with Team Plasma, Ash had been certain he would never see the enigmatic member of the International Police again. "How have you been, Mr. Looker?"

    "I've been well," Looker stated before retracting his hands and folding his arms. On an upper level of the ferry, Ash noticed the three tourists from earlier surreptitiously backing away from the railing overlooking them. Pikachu quickly scrambled up his side to say hello to the detective. "And you and Pikachu look very fine, especially after that Honor of Kalos Ceremony."

    "Oh, yeah, that…" Ash laughed out, rubbing the back of his head, face flushed just a little.

    "Honor of what, now?" Hau asked, drawing slight attention to himself. Looker glanced at the boy, and Ash quickly sought to change the subject. After months of being told he "put Pallet Town on the map" or "you're a totally awesome celebrity now" around the confines of Pallet Town and Kanto, he appreciated that only Lillie had seemed to recognize them from that ceremony. In some part, he wanted to keep it that way.

    "So, Mr. Looker, are you on vacation in Alola, then?" he asked, shutting down Hau's question before Looker could answer. Looker sighed in response.

    "Sadly, no, I'm here on business," the man told him. Ash folded his arms as Serena approached, Rockruff at her heels to join Ash in speaking to the man.

    "Ash? Um…who is this?" Serena asked, looking a little sheepish. Ash grimaced, realizing he had forgotten to introduce the man. He turned to do so, but Looker stepped forward.

    "I'm a member of the International Police, codename: Looker," he answered, taking out his badge and showing it to all of those surrounding them. Ash didn't feel the need to look, so he stepped back to allow all of the others to. Bonnie was the first to react.

    "That's so cool," she noted. "I'm Bonnie, and this is Dedenne."

    "And my name is Clemont," Clemont introduced himself. "Always nice to meet another acquaintance of Ash's; he always seems to have so many!"

    "Clemont? Ah, the leader of the Lumiose Gym, yes?" Looker said, nodding his head as he stroked his chin sagely. "I hear your gym has been quite the challenge in recent months. Something about the local hero and a robot taking on all challengers? Though it was no pushover in the years prior from the rumors around the water cooler."

    "Oh…thank you," Clemont said, his ears tinging pink a little. Wanting to save his friend from the embarrassment, Ash chose to ask another question.

    "So, what are you doing here, Mr. Looker?" Ash asked. Clemont glanced over to him, mouthing words of thanks as Looker turned his gaze towards him.

    "Ah, I'm here to investigate Team Skull," Looker informed him. Ash tensed a little, remembering the battle with the band of thugs in Iki Town. Serena must have noticed his tension, for she placed her hand on his shoulder. "Normally, I'd go undercover either as one of their members or a tourist, but since the Pokémon League is working in conjunction with the International Police on this case, they felt there wasn't a need for it due to agents out in the field."

    "Why would the League be involved with a matter like this?" Clemont asked, the flush of his embarrassment fading away. At the same time, Hau asked his own question.

    "What's the Pokémon League?" Ash wasn't sure which question should be answered first, though he, himself, was more interested in Clemont's. Thankfully, Looker seemed to have the same thought.

    "Because they want to make sure the first ever Alola League goes off without a hitch, is my understanding," Looker told them. Ash's pulse sped up with excitement, his fingers trembling. There was a League! Here! And the first one no less!

    "Where? When? How do you enter?" Ash demanded, almost sounding manic. Pikachu was right alongside him until Serena pulled them back before they could do something they'd regret. Looker raised an eyebrow.

    "Not entirely sure. It's just been the news through the grapevine at headquarters," the investigator said. Ash looked to Pikachu, both wearing grins on their faces. It felt like too long since they'd had the opportunity to take part in a League, even if it was only really about eight months ago or so. Just hearing about another opportunity to take part in that kind of competition; to take a step forward to their dream by winning it, it sent tingles down their spines.

    "Uh, again…what's the League?" Hau asked, though he didn't sound particularly worried.

    "The League is a formal organization," Lillie was the one to answer, surprising Ash. "They oversee the government between the regions to ensure peace, holding a tournament in each region yearly, known as the Regional League Conference, as a show of that peace, with the winner typically being able to challenge an Elite Four. Though if they're holding one in Alola, that makes it all rather untraditional."

    "You're quite well-informed, Lillie," Clemont said. Lillie flushed a little.

    "I…I just like reading!"

    "Well, whatever it is, it sounds awesome. Hope they can tell us more soon," Hau insisted with a grin on his face. "Until then, though, we've still got trials to complete."

    "Alola, passengers! Akala Island arrival soon!" called a voice over the ferry's loudspeaker. The entire group on the deck turned to face the direction of the island, each of them gasping at the sight.

    Looming before them was quite the large island, decorated with palm trees and just as many beaches as Melemele had been. More than that, however, was the giant volcano set right in the center of the island, belching out pure white smoke over the atmosphere. It didn't seem to be harmful whatsoever, but the sight was something spectacular. Off on what looked to be the northwest side of the island looked like some large pools of water, almost situated like a hill, but they disappeared behind the veil of rock that appeared to cover up and enclose the town they were making landfall at.

    "Ah, just on time, it would seem," Looker commented, checking at his watch. Ash looked to him for just a second before he and all of his friends ran to the railing to look at the dock that was now approaching. "Hope my contact is waiting at the meeting place when I get there."

    "Where are you heading, Mr. Looker?" Serena asked, leaning past Ash to look at the older man.

    "Ah, some hotel somewhere on the Island," he answered. Ash nodded, in some part glad that the investigator could trust them with this info. "Hmm…I'm pretty sure you know my contact, actually. ARC?"

    "ARC?" Ash and Serena cried out at the same moment. Looker opened his mouth, as if to question them further when a new voice entered into the fray as they began to pull into the harbor.

    "Alola! Alola!" Ash looked down to the dock, suddenly far more interested in who was calling for them. It wasn't like they knew anyone on Akala, and even Lillie and Hau appeared interested in who was below. Looker closed his mouth with a smile and then appeared to back up. When Ash next looked, he saw the older man was missing, leaving just the small question on his tongue. Deeming it as unimportant, Ash looked back to the girl waving at them with both hands while shouting greetings. "Are you Hau and Ash?"

    "That's totally us! Who are you?" Hau asked cheerily. Lillie appeared to puff her cheeks in Ash's side vision, a fact which Bonnie laughed at, apparently finding it amusing.

    "I'm Mallow, captain of the Lush Jungle trial!" the girl called back. As the ferry drew closer, Ash got a better look at the girl. She had long green hair, tied into twintails that stretched all the way down to her lower half, pinned by a flower in her hair. She was also dressed very plain, wearing little but gray coveralls, that only covered up to her mid-thigh, exposing her long legs in the bright sun. "Professor Kukui and Captain Ilima called to inform us of your arrival!"

    "Oh, that was nice of them," Hau said, grinning over at Ash. He nodded, catching sight of a burning fire in Hau's eyes. It was like a message passed between the two of them, telling each other that their trial quest was picking up again the second they set foot on Akala. Hau turned back, waving exuberantly. Lillie kept puffing her cheeks, oddly enough, while Serena patted her on the back consolingly. "Nice to meetcha, Mallow!"

    "Hee hee, you as well! We'll meet you here on the docks when you disembark in Heahea City!" Mallow said before turning right around and running down towards the ferry terminal just as said ferry began pulling in.

    "We?" Ash questioned, thinking the girl must have confused things. Serena shrugged, hitching her bag on her shoulders. Ash sighed a little and reached for his own, calling Rockruff into her pokeball. He wondered where Looker had gone, but knew full well that the man could take care of himself. His mind did think back a bit on his mention of ARC for a brief second until Ash remembered how many months ago, Lionel had told him they were questing towards the region. Adjusting his bag while the ferry rolled into port, Ash wondered if they'd meet again, but he dismissed the issue in favor of disembarking the ferry.

    There was a large stream of passengers exiting from the ship, making their group wait to leave. In the meantime, Serena pulled out her map, remarking that they had arrived (as Mallow said) in Heahea City on Akala Island.

    "Seems like it's a real tourist spot," she explained to all of them as they strolled down the deck. Lillie clutched to Serena to make sure she didn't fall off, her shoes sliding on the wooden plank. "The city was founded by trainers from Kanto and Johto apparently."

    "Certainly explains how things like the Honor of Kalos Ceremony could be aired here," Clemont observed. Bonnie nodded fervently at his side. Hau listened to them, but judging from the slightly glazed expression in his eyes, Ash was pretty sure that the boy wasn't really paying all that much attention. This proved true when his stomach grumbled.

    "Ah, city info is cool and all, but point me to the nearest malasada shop and I'm good to go," he laughed out. He was the first to reach the bottom of the ramp, jumping onto the solid ground. Ash felt his own stomach rumble a bit and realized that it had somehow been a few hours since they'd last eaten at the malasada shop in Hau'oli City. He wasn't sure he (or Pikachu from his expression) wanted to eat more of those today.

    "There's one down the road past the Pokémon Center actually," greeted the same chipper voice that Ash and the others had heard upon their approach to the docks. The group all looked up to see the girl, Mallow, standing there. Her hands were behind her back. Now that he was up close, Ash could tell she had a shirt on underneath her dirty coveralls, which happened to be covered in slight stains. "I actually know the owner there. Good friend of my dad's, and his daughter, the waitress, is a real peach. Isn't that right, Miss Olivia?"

    "Quite right. No better malasada than ones made on Akala." The voice that had spoken was cool, crisp, and succeeded by the clopping of sharp heels on the tiles that connected to the dock. Ash turned along with Serena to see the woman who was approaching. His eyebrows raised at her appearance: the woman was barely dressed! From very tight-fitting deep pink shorts (that barely covered her lower area) to a lighter pink top that appeared backless and exposed her midriff. She appeared to be compensating for this by numerous bangles and leg bracelets and necklaces adorning her bronzed skin and dark hair. "The only things better than that on Akala are stones."

    "A keeper!" Bonnie suddenly screamed. Before Clemont could stop her, Bonnie had leapt forward on the docks, attracting attention as she spun herself down to one knee. "Oh, miss, please look after my broth-"

    "Bonnie is a bother!" Rotom said, clasping both of its hands on the lemon blonde's ears and pulling her back sharply. The woman before them, Olivia, if Ash had to guess, moved her hips a little bit and winked at her.

    "What an adorably precocious girl, but do you think your brother could handle me?" she said. The very statement was said so sultrily that Ash found his face heating up without reason. Even Serena seemed to do the same, drawing closer to him and hooking her arm around his waist. It had nothing on Clemont, who looked like he was dying from heat.

    "Th-th-th-thank you, b-b-b-b-but I have a girlfriend," Clemont stammered out. Lillie and Hau looked between all of them, as if not understanding the reaction. The woman just threw her head back and laughed.

    "Relax, I'm a little too old for you, in my opinion," she said. Having seemingly diffused that tension, she stood forward and held her nailed hand out to both Ash and Hau. "Olivia, the Kahuna of Akala Island."

    "You're the Kahuna?" Ash asked. He didn't waste another second to take Olivia's hand and shake it. Hau did so, too, albeit more vigorously than Ash had. She laughed at that.

    "You two are just as Kukui and Hala described over the phone: energetic go-getters." Olivia released Hau's hand, cocking her hips to the side with a smirk. As she did so, Ash saw the Z-Ring clank on her wrist. In fact, he also noticed one on Mallow's wrist, both of them similar in style, made with what looked like volcanic, blood-red rocks as the base opposed to his and Hau's far simpler ones. "Once he mentioned the both of you, meeting you while I was in Heahea became a necessity."

    "So, if you're the Kahuna, that means you run the Grand Trial, right?" Ash asked. Pikachu nodded his head, agreeing with the question. Olivia began to walk away, her heels clopping on the surface before she turned her body, fingers against her lips.

    "Yes. I. Do," she said with another wink. "But no battling me until you've completed your trials on the island. We'll talk, then. Good luck, boys." And just as she arrived, Olivia rounded a corner and disappeared, prompting a laugh from Mallow.

    "Sorry about that, guys," she said with her giggle. "Olivia's nice when she wants to be, at least to us captains, but she can be…"

    "A bit of a flirt?" Serena questioned. Mallow nodded her head as she looked at Serena.

    "She just does it for fun. My friend and fellow captain, Kiawe, is usually the target…gets him as uncomfortable as you can imagine…and he walks around shirtless on a daily basis," Mallow said, laughing once more. Ash found that the shirtless fashion choice was increasingly popular in the region. Mallow began walking backwards, continually facing them as she led them out of the docks and towards the main roads of Heahea City. "Well, welcome to Akala Island, trial-goers!"

    "Glad to be here," Ash said, laughing out his own response. "So, you said you're the captain of the Lush Jungle trial?"

    "That's right," Mallow said, proudly. "I'm currently taking a little bit of time off to help my family at the Paniola Ranch, but had some time off, so I came to Heahea City to meet up with Olivia about something when we got the call, so here I am! It's really nice to meet some trial-goers before they come to my trial!"

    "Lush Jungle…" Serena muttered out, quickly tapping the location into her map in order to look it up. "It's way to the north of the island, past a location called Brooklet Hill. See?"

    Ash leaned in to look. Hau did the same, skirting around to the other side to stare in on the map. Neither seemed the most literate at reading maps, prompting Serena to point at the location on the screen before tracing it along to Brooklet Hill and then down to their location in Heahea City. It seemed like it would probably take some time to reach the trial location, something he chose to ask of the captain leading them through the streets.

    "So, you're all the way on the other end of the island?" Mallow nodded cheerfully.

    "It's a bit of a trek, I'll admit, which is why travelers and trial-goers usually go and take Lana's trial at Brooklet Hill or Kiawe's at the Wela Volcano," she admitted. Ash was trying to keep all the names and places straight in his head, though it did cause it to spin a little. Pikachu simply tapped him on the cheek to bring him back to reality.

    "Sounds a little…"

    "Confusing?" Mallow chuckled out, finally pulling to a stop. Ash looked around, realizing they were at a crossroad of sorts. All around them, people were milling about, some with shopping bags while others were simply strolling with their Pokémon. "Don't worry about it, you'll get used to it as you travel the island. After all, that's what the Pilgrimage is all about!"

    "Yeah!" Ash said, holding his fist up. Mallow smiled back at him, as if to let him know that she was grateful to have helped him out. He was, of course, having not expected such red-carpet service the second they'd arrived on the island.

    "Well, if that's the case, we gotta get started!" Hau said, jumping into the air, Pipi attached to his backpack. "I gotta clear the trials so I can beat Olivia."

    "Yeah, well so am I," Ash insisted, leaning across Serena towards his rival. Hau also leaned in causing Serena to back up a bit. She appeared to share a look with their new friend in Mallow, but Ash couldn't discern what it was from his position. "I'm gonna have the trials and Olivia cleared in a week."

    "Well, I'll try to have it all done in four days! One for each!"

    "Pika!" Pipi said, nodding with her trainer.

    "Kachu…" Pikachu responded instead, wagging his finger like he was scolding her.

    "Well, then I'll have it done by tonight!"

    "Don't be ridiculous…" Bonnie said. Ash turned his head to the girl, noticing that Clemont was shaking his head while Lillie looked between the two boys with concern, as if she thought they were fighting; in some way, she needed to lighten up.

    "All right, how about this, then," Hau suggested as the two boys stood back up to their full heights, Ash slightly taller than he was. "We compete to see who can get their Trials done on Akala the fastest. Whoever loses…has to plan a date for the winner!"

    "Deal!" Ash said, reaching out to clasp Hau's hand before he even had a chance to think of the implications of what he'd just said. At the same time, he was pretty sure even Hau hadn't thought of the implications. Serena only reacted by slapping a hand to her face, like she was embarrassed by the whole thing. Regardless, a deal was a deal, and a promise, a promise. When Hau retracted his hand, he threw it into the air.

    "All right, Pipi, let's get started! First up, malasada restock time for the road ahead!" Hau shouted before turning on his feet and dashing right down a street. Mallow gave a sudden shout, but she was overridden by the energetic boy. "Just you wait, Ash, you'll be planning that date for me soon enough!"

    "Not if he can't even find his way to the malasada shop," Mallow muttered out under his breath. "You're going the wrong…oh, for the love of…"

    "Hau is very energetic," Lillie giggled out a moment, though she was shaking her head as she did so. "It's an admirable quality, but quickly gets him into trouble."

    "I can tell," Mallow said. "He didn't even wait to listen. I was going to say that the Wela Volcano trial isn't open right now for…reasons. Kiawe was vague on the details…oh well."

    "Maybe we should tell him, then?" Lillie asked.

    "If everyone tells Hau, then Hau will have an equal advantage with Ash, which would not bode well for their challenge," Rotom pointed out. Ash just shook his head, reaching out to grab ahold of Serena and then putting his arm over Clemont's shoulders.

    "Nah, you should tell him, Lillie. I've got all the advantage I need with you guys right here," he pointed out with his usual grin. "With our group of six, we'll be unstoppable."

    "Pikachu!" Pikachu confirmed. Lillie nodded, her braids flying as she ran forward a little in the direction that Hau had seemed to dash off.

    "Very well, why don't we all meet at the Pokémon Center for dinner?" she asked.

    "Hey, that sounds like an idea," Mallow said with her own grin. Ash and Serena both looked to her. "Sorry, just been a while since I've eaten something I didn't cook on my own or wasn't for customers. Mind if I were to join you? I could even escort you as far as the Paniola Ranch."

    "That sounds like a lovely idea. Thank you, Mallow," Serena said kindly. Mallow beamed at her and then hooked her arm with Lillie's.

    "Come on, Lillie, is it? Let's find your boyfriend and guide him over to the malasada shop posthaste!" she stated positively, throwing a fist into the air. Lillie stammered ineffectively, like she was protesting one of Mallow's statements, but simply couldn't find the words. The point proved moot in seconds when Mallow began to drag her off. Lillie could only cry slight tears of embarrassment as she waved. "Though it seems like he could find a malasada a mile away. Let's see if we can beat him…"

    "And there she goes…" Serena said, still waving after the despondent Lillie. "Nice girl. It should help to have a travel guide around Akala, though, especially one who understands the trial system so well."

    "She did only offer to help us as far as Paniola Ranch, though," Clemont pointed out. Ash nodded his head, finding he had a point. As he thought about their new, temporary, travel companion, he realized it was a slight advantage he had over Hau, but one he'd accept nonetheless. Traveling in a group of four and needing to get to Serena's Ceremonies, wherever they would be, would be all the advantage Hau would need. He was still determined to win it, though.

    "That should be just fine," he finally said aloud, pumping his fist. A sudden movement caught his eye, and Ash turned to see Bonnie running some small distance away. He wasn't the only one to have seen it.

    "Bonnie, what's wrong?" Serena asked sweetly. Bonnie didn't answer for a moment, her hands digging into a bush momentarily. Ash started walking towards her, only to stop. He looked to the side, thinking he'd seen a flash of green, but quickly realized it was a palm tree swaying in the wind. Bonnie finally pulled back, looking a little upset.

    "I thought I saw Squishy," she said. "Or…it looked like Squishy." The group fell silent, glancing around at one another. Rotom floated forward, snapping a picture of the contents of the bush she had been looking into. The picture was empty but for the branches and leaves.

    "You must be tired, Bonnie," Clemont suggested. Bonnie's face wavered a second, looking upset, but she eventually nodded. "Maybe we should go to the Pokémon Center for now, and explore the town after dinner."

    "Okay…" Bonnie said, looking sadly down at Dedenne. "I could have sworn…"

    "Dene?" Dedenne asked, looking up at her worriedly. She reached out to stroke his fur absentmindedly.

    "I'm okay, Dedenne. Clemont's right; I'm just tired," she assured him. As her demeanor passed, she put a smile back on her face and reached out to grab Rotom suddenly.

    "Ah! Rotom does not like being manhandled!"

    "Come on, Rotom, let's go to the Pokémon Center!" she said cheerily, though it left Ash wondering just how much of it was forced. "You two have fun, Ash and Serena!"

    "Ah, I guess we'll see you at dinner," Clemont said, realizing that his sister was already running off far ahead of him to the building with the pokeball on it. He bowed a little and then took off, leaving the couple alone for the first time in what felt like forever. Ash had to admit that he appreciated it, especially with their last attempt at a date being interrupted. His stomach was rumbling, though.

    "Guess we should get some food before dinner, huh?" Serena suggested. Instead of taking his hand this time, Serena locked her arm in is, coming close to him before she pointed to what looked like a café and ice cream stand down the main street, towards a large hotel and past a giant bulletin board.

    "It's a date," Ash chuckled out. Serena appeared to like the mention of that, for she reached up to kiss him on the cheek as they walked on. Some people in the city took notice of that and appeared to smile at the sight. In fact, as they walked along, Ash noticed that many others were staring at them, as though they were recognizable. That was when Ash remembered what Serena had told him about the town; if it was such a tourist location and founded by people from Kanto, perhaps recognizing a "hero" from Kanto wasn't exactly a stretch. Wanting to keep his mind away from such a thing, Ash posed a question. "I wonder if we can find information on your next Ceremony…"

    "I hope so," Serena pointed out, though a grimace passed over her face moments later. "Though I'm not looking forward to running into him again."

    "Oh, right," Ash said. He'd completely forgotten about the boy from her first Ceremony, Keoni. He preferred it that way. Letting his eyes wander off, Ash directed them to the bulletin board, flyers upon it that were waving slightly in the wind. A brightly colored one stood out to him, and he somehow started dragging Serena over to it.

    "Pikapi…?" Pikachu asked, drawing Serena's attention to it as well.

    Come and Take Part In…

    THE BATTLE ROYAL!
    *Chapter continued in next post...

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