Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 57

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

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

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

    Alola! One more time! The time has finally arrived, the one you've (hopefully) been waiting for: that's right, Love in the Time of Tenacity is finally here! As promised, this is the final book of the Alola Trilogy, and one of my final humongous entries into the Ancienverse considering the scope of the trilogy. Ah, why am I talking about this here? We should get into it! When last we left the heroes in Trials they were pretty beaten and split off for a month to do their own things before the Day of Stars was to fall. How will all this conclude? It's finally time to dive into it and find out!

    Author: Epicocity

    Rating: PG-13 for violence and innuendo

    Pairings: Amourshipping (for sure), some Laserblade, maybe Snowlilyshipping?

    DISCLAIMER: For the last time, I do not own Pokémon. But please, enjoy the story.

    Love in the Time of Tenacity

    Book Three of the Ancienverse Alola Trilogy

    Chapter 1

    A Reverie

    Six Years Ago…

    "Ladies and gentlemen," boomed the elderly voice of President Goodshow to the crowd at the reception, "it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you your newest Kalos Champion, Miss Diantha!"

    Cameras flashed and popped loudly, the crowd rising in a cheer. Diantha raised her hand, waving at the crowd that had gathered for her rather illustrious ceremony. A smile was on her face, her nerves not budged in the slightest. This was certainly a bigger and grander event than something like a movie premiere, but she was more than used to the occasionally fanatical crowds at those red-carpet events to the point that this was fairly simple. Behind her, as she walked forward to the vacated podium, were the members of the Elite Four that were under her, challenges in their eyes, especially from the one called Wikstrom. Also, there were various other Champions, including the Sinnoh Champion, Cynthia, and Hoenn Champion, Wallace.

    "It gives me great pleasure to accept this lofty station," Diantha finally spoke, the moment she reached the podium. The various members of the press before her quieted down, though there were still a few camera flashes. "As both an actress and a Pokémon trainer, I have always sought to impart that kind of good nature that inspires others to follow in my footsteps, as I believe that is what a true Champion should be able to do at any time.

    "To that end, I promise to serve you as your new Champion. To constantly hone my skills, to face my fellow Elite Four members in battle should they call for it, to oversee the Kalos League, and to welcome those winners who reach the stage of competing for the Champion's League. Furthermore, I will endeavor to keep the Kalos region safe from all threats that I can, either by myself, or by working with fellow trainers, such as the other Champions, to do so. That is my promise as your new Champion!"

    Diantha's words were met with roaring approval. Of course, it was all simple rhetoric, really. Words that likely any other Champion had spoken at a press conference upon their own inauguration. Being prepared for any role in acting had led her to that very conclusion, studying the various conferences and summits that were available (not that there was very much, if she was honest with herself). Nevertheless, it seemed to have done the trick, and her own elevation to the status of Champion had been readily accepted. To that, she bowed and backed away to join the lofty group which she had now just become a part of.

    "Nice speech," Wallace commented. Diantha nodded, but didn't feel like she had much to say. She was the newbie, the baby of this little group, though it didn't seem the Champions were all that close to one another in any case. From those regions that she knew were a part of the League, only two of the remaining four had actually bothered to attend. She'd been told Champion Lance was on business dealing with some special forces group, or perhaps surveilling a rising organization known as Team Blaster…or Blast Off…Something like that. Champion Alder simply hadn't shown.

    "You certainly have an eye for politics," Cynthia chuckled to Diantha. The woman accepted the compliment graciously. "I could do without them, honestly."

    "Wouldn't that be due to your fascination with ruins?" Wallace chortled, himself. "You and Steven are very similar; though he'd rather not even accept the responsibility of Champion at the present time. I don't look forward to the day he comes to battle me again."

    "Steven Stone, you say?" Diantha asked. She was rather intrigued, having never met the man before, but heard many great things about him. Wallace nodded, and she was about to ask more when she felt her arm hooked by Goodshow.

    "Come on, Champion Diantha, can't go through your inauguration ceremony without a little mingling," the president nudged her. Diantha smiled, agreeing, and she bid farewell to the Champions that were near to her. They said their own and returned to whatever conversation that they had been having, something about a wealthy businessman named Cyrus.

    Diantha was truly surprised by how many important people there were to meet. Certainly, she had to meet with fans that attended her premieres, but those were usually alongside her fellow cast members. In this case, there was a whole slew of people here just for her. She spoke with the man who had commentated her battle with the previous Champion, said commentator's name being Kalas, she believed. Then there was a new up and coming professor that seemed to flirt with her alongside his rather bemused assistant, a young boy with black hair and a Charmander. On top of that, there were just various other people to the point things almost got exhausting.

    She held herself well, however, until she and the president began making their way over to an open food table where two men were speaking amicably with one another. Goodshow started to talk to her as they made their way there. "I must admit, the turnout was better than expected. It's rare for a Champion to be crowned so close to another League Conference."

    "The Indigo Conference, correct?" Diantha asked. To this, Goodshow nodded, confirming her thoughts. "I suppose Lance is rather busy with all that, then?"

    "Not as busy as he is, but I suppose so," Goodshow laughed a little. He seemed to be sharing a little secret with himself, though it was only for a moment. "Truth be told, he almost lost his position a few months back. We had a strong trainer from another region challenge the Elite Four recently, but he only tied out against Agatha…I think…my memory isn't what it once was, ha ha."

    "Don't say that, President Goodshow! We need you sharp as a tack for the future!" called one of the men near the table. Diantha finally turned her gaze to him and the other, much taller man. He was particularly striking in his white coat with a mane of orange hair that made him look like he was on fire. However, the man that had spoken was far more normal, honey blond hair upon his hair with a goatee and a pair of glasses sitting upon his nose.

    "You flatter me, Michael, but I'm sure the League would continue on without me," Goodshow laughed out as they pulled themselves to a stop near the men. "By this point I just carry the ceremonial torch and attend events like this. You've been the one pulling the weight since you were appointed Vice President."

    "Oh, so you're the Michael I've heard so much of?" Diantha asked. The man turned, surveying her for a moment before smiling.

    "I must be," he answered with a laugh, rubbing the back of his head. "Vice President Michael, though just Michael is fine, Champion."

    "Pleasure to meet you, then," Diantha said, bowing and taking the man's hand. It was a very firm grip, perhaps a little too firm, but she felt she could get a slight sense of the man's devotion to his passions.

    "Likewise; glad I had the opportunity to, given my hectic schedule. Ah, Lysandre, have you met…?"

    "Not as yet," the man, Lysandre, spoke. Hearing the name sparked recognition in Diantha's brain and she smiled, shifting her hand over to the other man with kind eyes. "I'm Lysandre."

    "Yes, head of Lysandre Labs, correct? Your work on developing the Holo Caster has been most fascinating. How is that project coming along?" Diantha asked. Lysandre seemed to grumble a little, looking not quite so happy as he ought to have regarding his pet project.

    "We're still in a prototype phase, I'll admit," the man said, reaching up to stroke his beard. "Though I'm rather apprehensive about making it public, if I'm honest. Some people want it all and refuse to give back…"

    "Ah, you'll find your answer. There are many ways to achieve true beauty in a world, am I right?" Michael said with an encouraging smirk, patting the large man on the back. Lysandre nodded, seemingly finding the words emboldening. After another pat, the two men seemed to consider their conversation finished, prompting Lysandre to give a bow to Diantha and walk away, practically running into the young boy that was Sycamore's assistant. He appeared to take a moment to apologize to him, though Diantha didn't linger on that interaction for long.

    "So, you're rather busy planning the Indigo League?" Diantha chose to ask of the vice president. Goodshow was suddenly called away, uttering a very hasty goodbye as he departed, and it left the two alone for a moment while the young woman began to gather a plate of food. Michael watched her a moment, almost calculating, before he answered.

    "Nah, that work is done. I just have to make sure it all goes smoothly. For some reason, some Kanto League officials got it in their head to make a rule this year where a sleeping Pokémon is considered unable to battle. Baffling," Michael remarked with a roll of his eyes. He raised his wrist at this moment and checked his watch, like he absolutely needed to know the time. Diantha tilted her head, observing the man. "Sorry, I just have a flight to be catching after all this."

    "Oh? To where?" Diantha asked, taking some speared ham and chewing on it as she asked.

    "Alola," was the answer. Diantha felt she'd heard of the region when it came to movie deals, but she never paid much attention to those sorts of things when it really came down to it. "Yeah, I have some business there. Mostly League related; Goodshow's been trying to get the Kahunas down there to cave into forming a League for years, but they're rather stubborn about their traditions."

    "Can't hurt to try, though, I suppose," Diantha pointed out. Michael smiled a little, regarding her through his glasses before chortling a little under his breath.

    "Yes, you're right. Who knows? Maybe there'll be some new Kahunas that could make different decisions." Diantha had nothing to say to that and continued eating for a brief moment as those in the reception mingled further. Michael seemed far off, contemplative, but soon righted himself with a light, humorous scoff. "Other than that, it's really just a case of visiting prominent figures for future League backing. The Aether Foundation, for one. They're small, but growing, and I hear they've had a shakeup in management recently that might be more benevolent towards our goals."

    "Certainly, sounds like you have it all figured out," Diantha examined, finishing her food and placing her plate back on the table. "Quite the long game you have planned for the League, hm? You must have some time for breaks."

    "Mm, I do," Michael answered, though Diantha wasn't entirely sure which of the two statements he was responding to. "I'm going to be returning home soon, actually. Someone I want to see…By now he must be…"

    Michael trailed off here, and Diantha watched him. He seemed to be lost in thought, the corners of his lips turning upwards into a light little smirk. She figured that it must have been a pleasant memory for him, whoever he was thinking of at that time. Eventually, though, he seemed to move on from the thought, adjusting his glasses but slightly as they reflected in the light of the reception hall. "Everything all right?"

    "Yes, just fine, just fine," Michael said, running some fingers through his hair. "Well, good to meet you Champion. I'm sure your services will be most inviting in the near future. Take care!" With that, he walked off with a wave, likely to catch his plane to Alola. Diantha wondered if, perhaps, the honey blond would make it that a new Champion from a whole new region would join their ranks, and she pondered on just how much work he seemed to do to the point that he rarely returned home. Passing it off with a miniscule shrug, Diantha moved once more towards the now unoccupied president, pushing Michael from her mind.

    If only she had known then.


    Present Day

    "Diantha! Diantha!" The Kalos Champion stirred at the sound of the voice, calling through to her in the darkness of her closed eyelids. She turned over, her knee knocking against something at the voice, not wanting to awaken herself to its tones. Something pressed on her, and she felt her body moving. "Diantha! Wake up!"

    "Mmm…" Diantha groaned, finally opening her eyes and looking up. Standing above her was Kathi Lee, her lips pursed as she looked down at her. The Kalos Champion stretched a little, realizing that she had fallen asleep in a wooden chair at a rather ornate desk. She barely even remembered coming in to her office the night before, that was how exhausted she was. "What time is it?"

    "Early enough," Kathi commented tersely. Diantha sat up straight, noticing that she had slumped over sometime during her sleep, and her gaze traveled to the window. Sure enough, it seemed like the sun was beginning to rise on the horizon, creating a beautiful rainbow over the waterfalls. "Are you all right? You were tossing and turning."

    "Oh, it was nothing…" she commented, still staring out the window. Once she'd had her fill, her eyes shifted to the stack of papers on her desk. Some of them were based in the logistics of the upcoming Alola League, given she was the only Champion left to do administrative work, while others dealt with other reports and research communiques. Of course, there were also other things, such as construction invoices and other supply orders. Nevertheless, Diantha muttered, "Just a dream. A memory, rather."

    "Hmm, well…get your head out of the clouds, Diantha," the woman said, her voice snapping at the Champion. Diantha nodded, fully sitting up now with a light groan and collecting the papers that were strewn across the desk, putting them into neat little piles. "The Alola League is coming up, and it's a big event, especially with the Champions as the acting presidents of the League. Plus, you have a rather busy schedule to-"

    "I'm well aware…" Diantha said, finally gathering the last of the papers. Right there on the top was the research that had sent a flurry of activity over the last few days, signed by Steven, Gary and Clemont of all people. Those three names were enough to make orders with certainty. It reminded her of why they were all here.

    Michael…It was really no wonder she had dreamed of her first memory with the man that had gone on to betray the League. No, rather, he had always betrayed the League from the moment he had entered in to their organization with the purpose of toppling them or their way of life. Knowing now that his cold, cruel hand had extended beyond death and still held them…well, she could only imagine how Ash and Serena were feeling if she, herself, felt immense rage.

    It made her think on the pair, or rather quartet, of vital trainers that had gone to Alola some time ago. While Clemont had seemed to be in contact with the League, he, himself, had only heard snippets of news about Serena and never mentioned Ash once over the past month. Never in her life had she thought their family would split up, especially with such a tragedy looming on the horizon, and certainly not for so long a time. She supposed it made sense, in the end, though: they were all hard at work to make sure that the tipping point went the way it was supposed to, so Michael couldn't have his posthumous victory.

    She did wonder how they were doing, though.

    "The, erm, 'delegates' from Alola have also arrived, Diantha," Kathi informed her a little more kindly than before. She figured that her own current state likely informed Kathi's own attitude. She nodded, knowing to just whom the woman was referring. Either way, it was completely fine by her.

    "Thank you," the Champion spoke, tousling her hair a little. Looking towards the mirror that happened to sit in the room, she looked herself over and deemed herself well-looking enough to attend her meeting. "Kathi, could you check on…?"

    "I'll take care of it and drop you a confirmation," the woman said proudly, puffing her chest out a bit. Diantha smiled and nodded before finally turning away. She skirted around the desk, taking just a few of the papers with her, and she opened the door to stride into the open hallway.

    Some janitors in the hallway greeted her, which she returned, while others kept about their works. Diantha rubbed at her eyes, trying to get them wide open as she approached a flight of stairs and clopped down them loudly before turning into the hallway that led to the conference room. She paused a moment, catching glimpse of a door. As she breathed in, she remembered seeing the man that was now the object of her ire exiting from there, talking jovially with some exhaustion. At the time, she commiserated with him, but now…knowing what followed just a couple weeks later, she felt nothing but disdain.

    The scourge that kept on giving.

    Scoffing through her lips, Diantha continued along for the conference room and pushed open the double doors. It was mostly empty, allowing the sound of the crashing waterfall to be the most prominent in the room. Her eyes flicked over to the stained-glass window, remembering how it had once shattered, before her attention turned to the two scraping chairs and the figures standing up from them. She affixed a smile to her face.

    "Kukui, Miss Akela, it's a pleasure," the Champion said, letting the door close behind her. She walked forward, extending her hand outwards. The tanned professor approached first and clasped her hand, shaking it cheerily.

    "It feels like it's been a while," Kukui laughed out with a grin. Diantha couldn't return the laugh, a wry smile stretching her lips.

    "Or it's just that much has happened," the woman responded. "I mean, that is the reason we've come to meet, is it not? To discuss the Hope Leilani, Lanakila Conference and the Day of Stars, no?"

    "The 'Day of Stars'," Akela scoffed out. She reached forward to shake Diantha's hand, but otherwise sat right back down. "Hard to believe six years ago wasn't the end of it."

    "Hard to believe six months ago wasn't the end of it, if I'm honest," Diantha said, sharing the violet-haired woman's sentiments. Akela didn't seem to want to be there, discussing this, either. Rather, she seemed angry about the thought of this "Day of Stars" that had been tracked and watched like a hawk. According to reports from Chi and the scientists at the Hokulani Observatory, nothing had changed in regards to the timing for the last month.

    "It's deplorable," Akela spat, her gaze drawn to a random point on the wall. "As if the lives of those that were lost six years ago in the darkness that shrouded Alola weren't enough for it…"

    "Now, now, ladies," Kukui said, looking a little mortified about being stuck in the situation, "aren't we here to make sure that nothing horrible happens this time around?"

    "Right. Sorry, Kukui," Akela stated, and her eyes sharpened to show she was back in the present, rather than stuck in some point of the past. "So, we are all set for the timing of the Hope Leilani, are we? And our special surprise?"

    "We've approved it," Diantha noted, tapping her papers absentmindedly. "Though I do have to wonder why you ask for it now. Nothing like this has ever been done before."

    "Aw, come on, Champion Diantha!" Kukui said with a grin, seating himself and folding his hands behind his head as he leaned back. The man looked far too relaxed given the current situation. "It's the first Alola League! And held alongside the Hope Leilani, no less! No better opportunity to make it a celebration!" The Champion's eyebrow quirked upwards in amusement towards the man who eventually chortled under his breath.

    "And it will keep Lusamine's eye exactly where we want it to be."

    "Easier said than done. We'll need to really keep those making their moves silent to buy as much time as possible without incident," Akela stated. To this, Kukui nodded, his eyes sharp, showcasing the fact that while his attitude was lax, he, himself, was sharper than ever. "Even now, there's no guarantee the initial preemptive strike will do much. Lusamine may not be able to extend her foolish grasp from beyond the Ultra Space, but there's still Team Skull to worry about. They vanished after the battle at Aether a month ago, correct?"

    "So the reports have said," Diantha stated. Her eyes flicked over to her stack of papers there, contemplating them carefully, along with the information on their pages. It made sense why Kukui and Akela would ask for what they had, and she supposed it was a rather smart idea. "Tell me, Miss Akela, how aware is the public of what went on at Aether. I understand you were involved in calming the panic that emerged from the Ultra Beasts in Alola."

    "For now, they're ignorant, but I doubt that will hold on the Day of Stars," Akela noted, tapping her foot on the leg of the chair. "Using my station, I helped Miss Wicke and the young Gladion to craft a message that it was an experiment with the Aether Turbo gone horribly wrong for what happened at the Foundation. As for the beasts themselves…well, the Tapus dealt with that threat."

    "We've been pushing the impending celebrations to distract them. Since nothing seems to have happened since that day, most of the public has quieted down," Kukui said easily. Diantha nodded; at least the League wasn't going to be forced to endure yet another scandal. Lysandre Labs had been a bad enough set of activities that they couldn't very well hush it all up with the public at the time. Aether could have been just as bad of an event, but that seemed to have had a good enough transition for the present. "I'm more worried right now about whether or not the preemptive strike we planned will actually succeed."

    "Yes, I'm well aware," Diantha said, offering a light sigh. "As I understand it, the League's researchers on the ground have taken strides to get you all close to the 'Altar of the Sunne'?"

    "Yes," was the simplistic answer. Diantha nodded; now it made sense, she felt, though there were still some things to deal with. She leaned forward.

    "Professor Kukui, your wife has spent a great deal of time studying the Ultra Space, particularly in this last month, while our researchers have dealt with what is going on surrounding the altar there. There's obviously a connection between the two, but is Burnet aware of any other possible threat that could come from the Ultra Space?" Kukui regarded her a moment, dropping his lazy attitude as his hat slipped down his face just a little, darkening it.

    "So far, I'm sure Burnet's research is solid: on the Day of Stars, when the stars all align as they nearly did six years ago, the unstable space holding things closed will break open, ushering in the Ultra Beasts as it did a month ago, only in greater numbers. The only way to stop it would be to go inside and stabilize the space with either the legendary Pokémon, or some other means, like sealing it or something," Kukui explained. Diantha pursed her lips; she already knew all of this information, so she'd no idea why Kukui was sharing this with her now, given it was all a part of their plan. "However, given what occurred in Heahea we have a far greater issue."

    "Nihilego," Akela stated. Diantha looked to the papers; if she remembered right, Nihilego was the one that had emerged in Heahea and then again with Lusamine, seeming to have some connection to the crazed woman. "Heahea showcased its true deadly powers: a toxin that lowers inhibitions. The Pokémon that would normally be so peaceful were driven into a frenzy, and I don't mean the normal kind of stampeding frenzy…"

    "It was far more organized," was the conclusion. Diantha's hand shifted, tapping her chin lightly; this was certainly an issue, though already a plan had been put in motion to counteract it, and she smiled beneath her hand. "The fear is that there may be more than this singular Nihilego. Already, the Ultra Beasts have shown remarkable capabilities on the level of legendary Pokémon: cutting buildings, pulverizing things, immense speed, absorbing electricity, burning things with a touch…it's frightening. And should Nihilego's toxins get into the head of our fighters, they may start beating upon themselves. Burnet theorizes that the only place it could possibly be negated is the Ultra Space itself, and that's only because it's a blend of realities to begin with, which brings its own set of problems to the table."

    "It would seem, then, that Nihilego would become top priority, should they emerge from the portals," Diantha stated, removing her hand and showing her smile to the other two in the room. She chuckled just a little. "It gives us something of a plan for what to strike first. Reports I received from a month ago indicate that they're best combated by those with Mega Evolution or these Z-Moves, so we'll want to prepare for battle using that."

    "Mega Evolution is not exactly commonplace in Alola," Akela stated, her eyes whipping over to Kukui. The man chuckled, rubbing at his wrist, slightly less tanned than the rest of his body in this light, she noticed.

    "Oh, I have no fears of that," was the easy answer. She looked away a little while Akela regarded her with a quirked eyebrow. "Don't think I've been sitting here doing administrative work for the last month. The events throughout the world made my own course of action quite plain, indeed."

    "Then I guess we'll be set," Kukui said, the easygoing grin back on his face once more. "Ash and the others are set to return from their tasks in the next day or two; if everything goes well, we'll be ready to make a strike on the Altar of the Sunne! Hopefully this can be resolved then."

    "Either way, it doesn't change my course of action," the Kalos Champion said, bringing herself, once more, to a standing position. The two native Alolans regarded her carefully as she began to walk towards the stained-glass windows, hands behind her back as she considered it all. The doors to the room opened a little and Diantha caught sight of Kathi Lee, who nodded without a word. The Champion nodded back in confirmation. She breathed in. "The first League Conference in Alola is something to be highly celebrated. So, myself and the other Champions have made an important decision.

    "All five of us will be in attendance at the Lanakila Conference."

    If Kukui or Akela were surprised whatsoever, they didn't show any reaction. She supposed that was for the best, as it meant that they were accepting the League's decision. Indeed, if Mega Evolving, or those with Pokémon on a comparable level would be best equipped to deal with the threat at hand, then having that bevy of Champions in the place where all was about to go down was for the best. Plus, she figured it would truly keep Lusamine's watchful eye from the Ultra Space fixed on the League.

    So, at last we've come to it, Diantha couldn't help but think, watching the waves of the waterfall crashing down outside. She breathed in. The world was on the move again. Their time of waiting and watching was over. The next great battle for peace in our time has begun.


    *Chapter to be continued in next post...

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    Alain had only been near one Pokémon League stadium in his entire life, and to this day it served as a constant reminder of his failings. He could never walk past that part of Lumiose City without thinking of all that his actions had wrought. Sure, everything turned out fine in the end, but it was a source of something constantly weighing in on his heart. Only a few people had been able to put a salve on that part of him, reminding him of how everything had been resolved. To that end, he was able to move forward.

    It made seeing the second League stadium hurt less.

    "Wow, there's like a dome and everything!" Mairin exclaimed, pressing her face close to the window of the helicopter that was descending towards the large buildings, village and stadium that occupied the top of Mount Lanakila. They weren't the only ones arriving, either, various other transports with either the League logo or one from a local organization were all heading for that same exact spot from the air.

    "It is a rather amazing sight," Sycamore commented from his own spot in the helicopter as it streaked downward. Alain took a glance, noting the very elaborate structure that rested there upon the peak. It was snowing atop Mount Lanakila, that snow melting off the large dome which seemed to encapsulate the impressive looking stadium.

    Now that it was all complete, and they were closer to it, the boy could see its intricacies. It seemed to be built on an old stadium, likely used for ancient traditions back in the day. Now, however, it was modernized with electronic screens and stands large enough to fit even twice the audience from what there had been in the Kalos League! Though Alain admitted that he'd be surprised if it got even a quarter as full considering its location. At the very least, the nearly transparent dome prevented the snow from getting inside and ultimately affecting battles. Beyond that were other buildings for lodging, looking like a snow topped village that probably had wonderful fires raging indoors to warm the visitors. Though it wasn't their own particular destination for the moment. Alain felt Mairin tugging at his sleeve.

    "Maybe you should take part again, huh?" she said with a little grin before elbowing him. The girl had gotten far too used to teasing him since she'd become friends with Bonnie.

    "I'll pass," Alain stated simply. Sycamore appeared to find that amusing as their helicopter slowed for the landing.

    "I don't think they'd want to see you take part, Alain," the professor said, reaching over to pat him on the back. "From what I know, the Alolans are very steeped in their traditions. While a foreign trainer might be no problem, bringing in a whole slew of foreign Pokémon for an event like this would be tantamount to sacrilege."

    "That means he probably wouldn't use Greninja, then, unless the situation absolutely called for it," Alain expressed, just slightly disappointed. It had been some time since he'd seen Ash go all out. The helicopter finally stopped and all three of its passengers unclipped their seatbelts to make their way out on to the snowy landing once it had stabilized enough for them to do so. The black-haired boy turned towards the large building that was their ultimate destination, the location looking almost castle-like. Some people were lingering outside, but most were going in.

    "That's right, Ash and Serena are here, right?" Mairin stated with a grin. Chespie, who had been sleeping on her lap, awoke and dove inside her shirt at the cold. Alain just laughed a little and walked forward. There was a familiarly striking woman approaching them with a wave, looking more dressed for the beach than the snow, though he could remark that he wasn't even cold, himself, despite his own basic attire.

    "Glad you all could make it," the woman said. Sycamore seemed to wink at her. "It looks like you're the third helicopter from Kalos to arrive. I'm surprised Mr. Meyer isn't with you, from what Diantha has said."

    "Taking care of things at the gym, Madam Champion," Sycamore said to the woman with another wink. The Champion, Cynthia (Alain had only just realized her name), didn't look fazed at all, simply returning the response with a smile and motioning towards the building.

    "A number of trainers have arrived and we'll begin briefing and distribution soon," the woman said to them. Alain offered a curt nod, grabbing on to Mairin's hand and beginning to pull her away while Sycamore stayed behind to chat. He kept going towards the interior, passing by a man who was staring up at the sky with a bored expression as he leaned against the exterior. He seemed to be acting like he didn't care, for whatever reason, and Alain ultimately ignored him to make his way inside the main hall of the castle fortress atop the mountain.

    True to Cynthia's words, it was positively buzzing with people, and plenty of familiar faces. By one of the windowed walls was a large table of food that some were gathered around, chatting via either introducing themselves or reuniting. There was another guy there, too, strumming on a guitar like he was in a concert, though many ignored him, except for what looked like tittering fangirls of some sort. Alain just remained where he was while Mairin and Chespie ran for the food gleefully.

    "Hey, stop looking so sour!" Alain jerked forward at the thump on his back and he turned around to see a rather familiar face from their multiple encounters.

    "Astrid," he noted with a nod. The young woman grinned at him before placing an arm on his shoulder while she adjusted her shoes. "I had a feeling you'd be here. Who did you come with?"

    "The Shalour Gym Leader," she stated. "Since Geosenge and my loss in the League to Ash, I chose to up my Mega Evolution game, so I went to study at the Tower of Mastery. When the summons came, well, there was no way I was turning that down. Especially since I heard Ash and Serena were in the region. It's been a while."

    "It certainly has," Alain agreed. He laughed a little, glad to see one of his comrades in arms doing well. In fact, judging by those that were currently approaching, it was more than one of them that was doing well, even if he couldn't name them all by just seeing their faces. Astrid raised her hand in greeting to the group of four currently approaching.

    "Yo, Astrid!" one of them called, and Alain could swear he saw tinge of pink on the boy's face. It made his eyes slide over to Mairin for a second before snapping right back. "You're looking fine…well. You're looking well."

    "So are you, Rocky," Astrid said. She seemed to have finally finished with her shoe and detached herself from Alain. "Keeping busy, I'm sure. Though I'm surprised you have the time away from your school."

    "My mother's serving as a substitute teacher with Nurse Joy…and Merry is…well, she decided to help out, for what that's worth," the blond boy in the lead answered. Alain remembered him as Seamus, but other than a shared nod, couldn't remember much else. The couple behind him looked vaguely disinterested in their current particular conversation, the girl looking around while the boy rolled his eyes at Rocky's rather obvious affections. "Pretty crazy, huh?"

    "Hm?" Alain questioned, realizing that Seamus was speaking to him directly. The boy had his hands shoved in his pockets as he stared out of the windows towards the stadium that was outside.

    "All this. I mean, you'd have thought that big battle months ago would have been the end of it, right?" Seamus asked. To this, Alain nodded, acknowledging that aspect of their meeting here. One would have thought that stopping the mastermind behind people like Lysandre would have put an end to meeting for yet another big battle about to take place, but it turned out they were wrong…or maybe that they hadn't even stopped the mastermind in the first place. "Ah well, free trip to Alola, right? And around the time of the League, too."

    "I'm sure it'll be fun to watch," Alain agreed. Seamus' eyes were lighting up, as though he was thinking it would be more than fun. It allowed Alain to divert his attention for a moment, staring out at that vaunted stadium. True enough, the more that he thought about it, the more he realized just what would be taking place there.

    That stadium was the end result of countless trainers' journeys; something that he now realized he had walked all over in the course of his desire to battle Ash. It was another thing he felt he had to make up for, and perhaps by cheering them all on, he'd be able to do so. In particular, though, he wanted to watch Ash battle again. Sure, part of him wanted to take part in the battle, himself, but the other, much larger part, genuinely just wanted to see Ash rise to the top like he'd done in Kalos.

    "Astrid! It's been a long time!" yelled another familiar voice. Alain jerked out of his own beratement to face the girl that was approaching, her dark blue hair flying out as some others traveled with her. Astrid faced away from Rocky, grinning as she reached forward to take Dawn's hands. "You weren't at Ash's birthday party, so I'm surprised to see you here!"

    "I was busy…"

    "Grandpa was putting her through the paces!" shouted Korrina, skating over with a big grin. "She wanted to come, but grandpa wouldn't let her at the time. Didn't think to bring it up since I had her gift with me."

    "Just a small token," Astrid laughed out heartily. "But who knew we'd all be gathering like this again."

    "Well, you know Ash," Brock said stoically behind everyone, "wherever he goes…"

    "Trouble always follows," the group agreed as one. It was such a plain and easy truth that they descended into laughter following it, only straightening up when they couldn't laugh anymore. By that point, the humor was gone, replaced with all manner of seriousness.

    "But really, it looks like we're about to have a big battle again," May pointed out. "The Pokémon League seems to be keeping it quiet except to those of us that have fought before or are strong enough to fight now, but there's no doubt people are becoming aware that something's about to happen here."

    "And Ash is in the center of it all, as usual," Dawn sighed out. Alain thought he heard a statement about the raven-haired boy's involvement in such dangerous and reckless situations making him such a kid, but the voice was drowned out by the loud crush of the crowd. For some reason, Alain was pleased with that. "Serena, too, I guess…but has anyone heard from them in months?"

    "Serena called the lab a few weeks ago, actually," Alain noted. Eyes went back to him and he found himself slightly uncomfortable. Give him a battle and he excelled, but put him with a big group of people and he just preferred to be alone. Though, he did feel Mairin's eyes on him as she made her way back from the table, pushing him to be more social in the moment. "She was asking the professor questions about…her father, I think…"

    "Michael, huh?" Brock said, his tone far more serious than before. "Not that it's the same Michael, but even so…Wonder why she's looking for him."

    "I have no idea, but it seemed like she was trying to get a track on his movements over the years. Haven't heard from her since, so maybe she found him," Alain told them. It was about the best hint they had towards wherever she would be.

    "Clemont's barely called, too," Korrina said, flicking a little bit of her hair as she spoke to them. "I think he called once, a month ago, and said he was on some big research project and was taking part at the Battle Tree, but otherwise there was radio silence, though I'm sure he's okay! The weird part was that Bonnie wasn't with him…"

    "That was the weird part?" asked the remaining boy that had arrived with Seamus.

    "Weird? I'd say all of this is just another Tuesday," Dawn laughed out with a shrug. May paused a moment to gobble down some grapes before raising an eyebrow.

    "It's not a Tuesday…" Dawn quickly moved to shush her by making a statement about some boy named Drew that got the two into a near fight with each other, replete with teasing, blushes and glares from both sides.

    Alain just drew back from it. Ash and his group had seemed to have gone off the radar for the last month, no doubt to prepare for the situation that was the reason they were all gathered now. It was completely like him to do everything he could to protect everyone, though going dark for a whole month seemed rather unlike him, when he thought about it. Either way, Alain knew the boy would no doubt come to Mount Lanakila sooner or later for the League, and they could reunite then. He looked forward to seeing how strong Ash had become in Alola.

    "Ah, Aria, it's been too long!" Brock suddenly yelled, making Alain face the Pokémon doctor. True to his statement, the Kalos Queen, herself, was now approaching. She wasn't dressed in her regal outfits as usual, but rather in very casual dress. Perhaps it was because here she didn't need to worry about being known as a position (well, outside of those gathered with them), but rather just as a person. Either way, she still looked stunning, at least enough for the enamored Brock.

    "It certainly has," the pinkette giggled out, curtseying a little as Brock reached his hand out. For whatever reason, she actually reached forward and took it. The young man looked ready to positively explode. "You've been well, Brock?"

    "Better now that you're-"

    "Croagunk!" Brock's body went rigid and he collapsed, his hand sliding out of Aria's. Croagunk was standing behind him, an evil little grin on his face as his fist glowed purple from jabbing his master in the behind. Aria surveyed the whole scene with amusement. Dawn and a ginger haired girl near her laughed, while Croagunk grabbed hold of his trainer's feet and began to drag him off.

    "That's a shame. I was hoping to speak with him more," Aria said. If Alain didn't know better, he'd have thought that she actually wanted to be with Brock…or maybe he didn't know better and she was genuinely pouting about not being able to spend time with the overly-zealous and flirtatious man. Considering Professor Sycamore's suaveness, he had to suppose that maybe it was the case. Dawn appeared to pick up on this, along with May.

    "You're joking, right?" the brunette asked, while Dawn's mouth simply fell open. Alain took that as indication that the conversation would leave the mutual topics they were aware of, and he instead turned towards the table of food. As noticed, Mairin had already left it, looking up at the big, burly man with a Garchomp next to him. He looked rather smug, and Alain could now accurately identify him as Remo; no doubt the man liked having some praises lavished upon him.

    Shaking his head, Alain decided to get a small snack while they waited, grabbing a tiny plate. Across the table was the, again, familiar green-haired visage of Ash's rival, Sawyer. The boy looked even more mature than when they'd met at Ash's birthday party as he fastened his ascot. His gaze, however, seemed to be bouncing all over the place. At times, it would linger on him with a nod, others it would focus on the blue-haired girl he had likely arrived with. Then there were the longer, and slightly more apprehensive, stares towards the purple-haired boy that was leaning lazily against a table as he sipped on some orange juice. Alain quickly recognized why.

    "It's kind of weird, meeting their real selves, huh?" Sawyer said with a chuckle. Alain nodded, unsure of what to really say. Most of those who had been a part of DARC were all those he had met at the Peace Tournament, except for Gary, or those who clearly had never been met before in either world. But the one that short distance away was most certainly their own world's version of the one that Ash called Paul. "He doesn't look as nasty, but it still makes you wonder."

    "It does," Alain confirmed. Their conversation seemed to attract the attention of said boy, regardless. He stared at them, almost imperceptibly blinking before he finished his juice and placed it down. Alain found himself straightening, while Sawyer made to walk away. The surly boy stopped before him, not quite matching up in height as he looked up at him.

    "You're Alain, right?" His tone was brusque (really, that was to be expected, when he thought about it). The black-haired boy nodded. Paul seemed to stop himself from scoffing. "You battled him, didn't you?"

    "If by 'him' you mean Ash, then yes. I guess that would be something we have in common. So…yes, I'm Alain," the boy offered, holding a hand out awkwardly. Paul looked down at it before smirking a little. He reached forward and clasped it, neither breaking their challenging gazes towards one another.

    "We do," Paul finally stated. His gaze slid off towards the window, the same one that led to the sight of the stadium. "He battled you in the finals, right?"

    "He did. It was the toughest…er, second toughest battle I've ever fought. Took quite a bit out of myself and Charizard," Alain informed him. Despite the rather disinterested look on his face, he could tell that Paul was actually intrigued by the status of Ash and his strength. There was a fire in there, like a desire to watch him battle, or battle him again. It was a shared commonality. "I didn't see you fighting at Geosenge."

    "No, I was still in Sinnoh," the boy answered, taking his hand back and folding his arms. The boy didn't share much more about that particular event, however. "When those things attacked, though…well, I figured it would be a good challenge for my Pokémon and I."

    "That all you kids think about these days?" Alain stopped himself from jumping, turning along with Paul towards the man that had joined them. He looked like the one that had been leaning so lazily outside without a care in the world. "Alola's in danger, and you care about growing stronger for yourself?"

    "I'm here, aren't I?" Paul asked roughly. The older man considered him a moment and then scoffed, throwing his hands up in the air. "I don't want the world to end any more than anyone else. That'd be pointless. Anybody thinking it would do them any good is either pathetic or stupid."

    Alain just watched in amusement as he listened to the boy. He could certainly hear the vernacular that identified him as this world's version of the Paul that he had met, but at the same time there wasn't the roiling rage underneath. He was calmer, more respectful towards people who deserved it. Meeting Ash really seemed to bring out the best in a lot of people. Knowing that, he shifted his focus to the shrugging man.

    "Well, whatever, you do what you want," he said with a chuckle. "I'm only here for the battle, myself. Not for that 'growing stronger' crap, though. Beyond that…heh…that'll take years…"

    "What will?" Alain asked, blurting out his intrigue before he could really stop to think about it. The man smirked at him, before he finally turned away.

    "Nothing. If you kids want to know about Ash Ketchum, I wouldn't worry," the man said, waving his hand rather dismissively. "He's a strong kid. Might be a little confused from things, but I'm sure he'll figure it out in time for that spectacle. I'm looking forward to it…"

    Somehow, that got Alain's blood racing, and his spirit fired up. He shared a look with the reticent boy next to him, both clearly experiencing the kind of rush that could only happen when thinking about battling Ash. Hearing that he'd clearly gotten even stronger simply made it even better. The sound of running footsteps drew them away as a man in a trench coat with black hair approached the other man they had been speaking with.

    "Mr. Nanu! Mr. Nanu!" the man cried stoically, but with a sense of great urgency. Nanu lifted his eyebrow, as though indicating that the man should hurry up. Alain saw a familiar badge from the International Police (one he was especially familiar with after the interrogation following the Kalos Crisis) as he stopped and leaned to whisper into Nanu's ear. It was still loud enough for Alain to hear it quite clearly. "We have it confirmed. They've been sighted on the move again. I've already informed Champion Cynthia."

    "Finally…" Nanu grinned out, looking like a bloodthirsty beast, ready for the fight. "It's about damn time. Looks like Plumeria played her cards too early…"

    The sound of loud, sharp claps split the air and Alain turned to face the entrance. He wasn't the only one in the room doing so; pretty much everyone there was turning to face the source of the noise. To no one's surprise, the one who was calling them to attention was Champion Cynthia. A movement at his side indicated to Alain that Mairin had returned and they were now all paying attention. He was just glad to not have to speak in much of a social capacity anymore; he had a feeling that the purple-haired boy next to him was similar in that regard, as well.

    "Well, it would appear that just about everyone has gathered, then," Cynthia called out, making sure that everyone was riveted on her. "As you all know, we have called you here because of the crisis that will be facing Alola and the entire world. This is the source of it! Here and now! If we do not hold the line, then the Ultra Beasts you all have no doubt heard about will destroy our world as they bleed into other regions the way they did a month ago.

    "To that end, we have planned a preemptive strike to take place soon, and we may require the strength of everyone here." There were some mutterings, followed by a loud clacking that showed some people, dressed in white, rolling in what seemed to be carts of various colored jewels…or maybe they were crystals? Alain couldn't tell from his distance. "Should that fail, we will have one more chance, following the Lanakila Conference to be held at this location. In order to complete it, therefore, we must arm you!"

    "Excuse me, but when do we plan on making this preemptive strike, and how are we going about it?" Aria asked, no doubt the only one of them to actually have the guts and position to. Cynthia smiled at her and nodded.

    "Soon. As of right now, the details beyond 'in the next couple of days' are unclear. Our comrades that have been working to prepare for the strike have yet to convene, themselves. As soon as they have, we'll have a better idea of what needs to be done and how and when," Cynthia clarified. Alain was pretty sure about whom she was talking. The Champion breathed in and out once more. "Now, before we talk any further, each one of you should approach here and take a Z-Crystal. Not to use, but to hold. No exceptions. No arguments. Our research has proven this will be vital to our assault."

    She gave no other reason for it. Leastways, she didn't until all of the confused muttering truly reached its peak. When she finally did, it all made sense and Alain was feeling a little excited. Their next big battle was here, the chance to fight alongside Ash again to protect their world. It may have been unnatural for someone to think that way, but he was ready.

    The board was set.

    The pieces were on the move once again.

    After a month of waiting, things were finally about to burst. Cynthia spoke.

    "Without them in your possession, you can't even hope to reach Team Skull and put an end to these nefarious schemes once and for all. Now, take one, and we can begin the battle for our world once more!"


    Author's Note: Yes, this was a different chapter. Like in Tribulations, I wanted to give that feel of "hello, this is the final story!". I hope it all worked out the way that I wanted it to. The first part, in particular, was something that I really enjoyed overall. I haven't shown a lot of Michael, so this was the chance to show that first meeting before he did all his dirty work in Alola. Really, though, the chapter was setting up the final conflict that is coming. As for our heroes…what have they been up to? Where are they? What has occurred in this last month? Well, next chapter will help to answer some of those questions!

    All that said, we're really embarking on the final chapter of this trilogy, and I hope you'll ride it out with me to the very end. I know I'll work on bringing you the best product I can! So, until next time, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    I'll be the first to admit the opening here isn't super action-packed…yet. But it will be. Also, some chapters will post a little earlier (hour-wise) than others. Whatever, Chapter 2 time!


    Chapter 2

    A Gathering

    The waves sloshed and swished as the boat cut through the waters, aiming for its major destination; one where it had not been in a month. One to which it was returning at long last. The sun was rising over the water, turning the sea sparkling with its golden rays. Wingull flapped around, as though the events of a month ago had done little to stop nature from continuing onward just as it always had. That was likely for the best as, around the boat, the day was coming to life.

    Serena breathed in, placing a hand behind her head as her blonde locks flowed out behind her. They had grown a little, with no time to do maintenance on her hair over the last month, now almost touching her shoulders, though she was perfectly fine with it. Her skin had grown a little more tanned, as well, and on her wrist still sat the glittering Z-Ring. It had been a long month; one of searching, physically and emotionally.

    "Lillie, are you almost set?" Serena called down into the cabin of the ferry once she'd finished exhaling. She got no response and stepped around to look down into the space that was occupied by all of her companions, as eccentric and zany as they were. Her eyes flitted up to their driver, a man who'd said little over the last month, except for when they had arrived at a village on Poni Island and he'd visited his family. The man remained stoic even now, offering but a small shrug. "Lillie? Jessie? James?"

    "Present and accounted for, twerpette. Stop shouting!" Jessie's voice snapped within the cabin. Serena stepped back as the magenta-haired woman finally emerged with a rather light scowl on her face. She was not an early riser, Serena had discovered, much to her amusement. Not that Serena had much room to complain, considering there had been some days she'd slept in as well.

    "Maybe our bodies are here, but I'm pretty sure my brain is back dere…" Meowth lamented.

    "You'll be fine," Serena remarked. Meowth, and Wobbuffet who trailed behind him, gave no comment. She rolled her eyes. They had spent a month together…well, roughly. There were a number of times that Team Rocket seemed to like running off, doing their own thing. One time it was a Ceremony for Jessie to earn her final Lei on Poni Island (no longer keeping her secret identity hidden from her rival), and another time they were trying to take a strange souvenir from some cave. The trio had been trapped inside there for days while Lillie and she looked for clues on the mountain pass. They were tired and silent for the next few days after that.

    All in all, the month had done her relationship with Team Rocket some good…not that much had changed. They still vowed to capture Pikachu daily, and sometimes Meowth would try to swipe some of her pokeballs, only for Komala to slam the feline on the head. Really, it became a push and pull between them that essentially made their relationship exactly what it was when they'd left the Aether Foundation a month ago. The only difference, Serena noted as James lethargically joined his companions (complete with Crabrawler clamping on his head), was that Jessie was a little nicer to her. If one defined "nicer" as training with her and liberally insulting her technique in a condescending manner.

    Serena could admit, however, that she had learned quite a bit from the older woman, promising to meet her in the finals of the Hope Leilani. Though, at times it felt like more than that. Training with Jessie, seeing her technique had made herself smile, reinforcing the view she'd come to accept. More than that, she had started to develop a new view of accomplishing her dream; though, with them constantly on the move, it was hard to prove, let alone accept.

    "You'd think after a month that they wouldn't be this way in the morning," called Lillie's voice brightly. She emerged from the cabin, her pink backpack slung over her shoulders as she smiled. A month had done Lillie the most good of all. Refusing to let what her mother had done get to her, Lillie had truly grown in leaps and bounds, evidenced by Komala resting comfortably on her head. She raised a hand upwards and Serena caught sight of the glittering Z-Ring on her wrist. The honey blonde grinned at it.

    "You'd think, but I'm not sure Team Rocket can ever change," Serena giggled out. Lillie was finally fully out on the deck, staring across the water as she stretched her hands upward. She turned back to her bag.

    "We're almost home, Nebby," she spoke fondly. No response came, but Lillie didn't let her smile drop. Instead, it transferred into a look of determination. She hadn't expected one, Serena knew, but it was the exact reason they could now see the floating island on the horizon. "It'll be good to see everyone."

    "Yes! We can finally snag…I mean, see Pikachu again," Meowth said, rubbing his paws together. Serena rolled her eyes at his rather obvious slip.

    Serena said nothing to all of their joyful expressions at reuniting with the others. She, too, felt ready to see them all again. A month apart made her long for her family not tied by blood more than usual. While she had spoken with Clemont once or twice when he seemed to have information that she was looking for through his research, Bonnie was pretty much off the radar. Only snippets of her, Lionel and Greninja were ever heard of. Nor had Serena heard from Ash, but somehow, she expected that and wasn't worried. Serena was all too happy and ready to see him again.

    "Land ahoy!" James finally said, shaking his lethargy away in the sea breeze. Serena stood next to Lillie and looked up to the Foundation that was now approaching quickly. It really had been too long. Looking towards the manmade island, Serena could still see the wrecked places where Latias had obliterated the cannons. They were nicely covered up, but to those who knew, it was very obvious what had happened.

    At the very least, this time they weren't attempting to assault them so violently.

    "Look, Komala, we're nearly at the Foundation," Lillie pointed out, reaching up to pat her Pokémon on the head. Komala yawned, but still didn't wake up, though Lillie accepted it as acknowledgement. The boat began to slow, drawing into the harbor. Serena walked forward, up to the railing and looked out. Someone was standing there, clearly waiting for them and their arrival in the midst of all the activity there. "Ah! Miss Wicke! We're back!"

    "Welcome back, Mistress Lillie!" Wicke's voice called out. Serena also raised her hand and waved to the portly woman that was smiling up at them all kindly. "And you, as well, Miss Serena. I trust you've been well the last month."

    "What are we, chopped liver?" Jessie demanded. No one acknowledged her, though James patted her kindly on the back. At long last, the boat slowed itself to a stop and the ramp instantly expanded, touching down upon the harbor. Looking around, Serena noticed that theirs was the only boat that was in the harbor at the moment. Lillie was ahead of her now, running down the ramp with enthusiasm. Serena shook her head and followed after. Seeing Lillie smile gave her hope.

    "Are we the first ones back, Miss Wicke?" she asked. The woman was currently caught up in a hug from Lillie, but once the blonde had separated and taken Komala into her arms, the older woman finally answered.

    "So, it would seem; though I don't believe Clemont's group will be arriving. He called Master Gladion earlier," Wicke informed them. Serena nodded, accepting this piece of information. On the other hand, Lillie was pouting just a bit and Serena had more than a fair idea as to why she was, but decided to not act like Bonnie and tease her mercilessly about it. "Speaking of, the young master is waiting for you all on the upper level."

    "Well, we should get going, then," Lillie said cheerily. Team Rocket was quickly scrambling off the ship by this point, making to follow after them. Wicke smiled at the trio briefly and turned around, nodding her head to two employees with obvious instructions to wait for the other boats. That done, the older woman began to lead them straight to the elevator. "Are the League people and ARC still here?"

    "Champion Lance left about a week ago, on orders to help with a shipment. Goodness knows we didn't have that much Psychium-Z to distribute, since Faba used so much of it in his experiments, trying to replicate the energy," Wicke said, shaking her head like it was deplorable. Of course, it was deplorable, but that seemed to be beside the point. "Of course, he succeeded with that infernal totem-aura device, though I'm not privy to whether it's the same thing or if he just dumped them for energy consumption."

    "Looks like you guys have had to do a lot," Serena commented as their large group stepped on to the elevator. Wicke pushed a button and the machine closed around them before moving upwards.

    "It's been a process," Wicke said with a slightly tired sigh in their direction. "Master Gladion has been handling it well enough, and those employees which weren't involved in the heinous tasks that Lusamine had set have been very supportive of his moves. Thankfully, we've had ARC aiding us."

    "I saw his announcement on Serena's tablet," Lillie said calmly. Serena shifted her blue eyes to the girl as her hands gripped to her backpack straps. "He really came off as the head of the company, even if it was a lie."

    "Well, of course it would be a bad thing to tell everyone the head of this organization was bonkers and did stuff to Pokémon," Jessie said, folding her arms like it was the most obvious thing in the entire world. Both Serena and Lillie raised their eyebrows. "Well, I mean, come on…"

    "Sort of like a member of a bunch of Pokémon thieves telling her rival that she's been competing in Ceremonies this whole time?" Serena asked slyly. Jessie's teeth suddenly gritted while James put a hand on her and held her back. The woman was thankfully prevented from retaliating due to the elevator coming to a slow, already bringing them to their destination, faster than Serena could remember.

    "In any case," Wicke continued, like the conversation hadn't even been interrupted in the slightest, "Aether has undergone massive changes under Master Gladion, and I couldn't be happier. Having the support of the public in the president's 'sickness' does help, I'll admit."

    "Tell me, Miss Wicke, when we bring mother back, does he intend to stay on as president?" Lillie asked. The question seemed to make Wicke stop, and Serena didn't blame her. It had been one of Lillie's closely guarded secrets; that she hadn't given up on her mother, determined to bring her back to her senses. Perhaps it was a lingering hold that Lusamine still had over her, or maybe it was just Lillie wanting to bring her back so they could try to be a real family again. Serena wasn't sure. However, Serena knew the girl was resigned for whatever outcome could occur (perhaps Lusamine was beyond saving, or perhaps she was…) but to hear her voice aloud that she wanted to bring Lusamine back was a surprise for anyone that hadn't heard it. Wicke turned back.

    "I don't believe the young master has thought of any such plans," she said sharply. It answered everything. Once more, Wicke faced forward and began to lead them through the restored garden, to the manor in the distance. There were some workers and Pokémon about, a far cry from what it was a month ago when they fought Team Skull. As they did so, Wicke attempted to rapidly fill them in on what had occurred within the Aether Foundation, even though Serena knew they'd share all of their information once they were gathered.

    "Since Madam Lusamine's departure, Master Gladion has worked in healing the rifts caused by her and Faba's illicit activities," she was telling them. "The secret lab in the manor has been shut down, as has the entire science division. I do believe that work is being done alongside Aidan to promote a much cleaner science program, but until such a time as that program's details have been worked out, we can't restart projects.

    "Likewise, we've been working in concert with the League. Our weaponry has stood down and some money has been given in reparation towards the League. The Aether Turbo was dismantled, replaced with the system of helicopters we had before to ferry citizens and employees alike. Just as well, we've used our efforts to clean up Po Town in Team Skull's absence. Thanks to the same construction company that built Blush Mountain's facilities, we've had an easier time of it. Plenty of volunteers. It's looking more beautiful by the day."

    "So, those bozos really did vanish," James commented, stroking his chin.

    "Dat's what da powa of Team Rocket can manage!" Meowth stated triumphantly. Serena continued to ignore them, as did Wicke, it seemed.

    "Of course, there are still issues. Keeping the alliance with Team Skull along with other sordid details a secret has been a task. We do intend to go public eventually, but with the Day of Stars looming, now is obviously not the right time. Beyond that, Clemont and Champion Steven's theory has been proven correct: we found Kahuna Olivia's missing shipment of Bugium-Z…or what was left of it, at least. They must have taken the crystals to have on hand. He should be able to explain more."

    "Sounds like a plan," Serena said confidently, nodding towards Lillie. They were close to the manor, now, and the two men standing outside. Both were easily recognizable. "It's good to see you again, Mr. Aidan, Tau."

    "Miss Serena, it's been a while," Tau stated with a smile. Serena had a feeling that Aidan had called him in to aid with the restoration of the Aether Foundation. "I'm glad to see you're well."

    "Me, too," Serena laughed out. Aidan didn't waste his time with words and promptly whipped around to lead the group into the manor proper. Tau wore a bemused expression, but offered his hand for Serena to shake. If she was honest, it felt rather weird, yet right at the same time. "What have you and ARC been up to?"

    "Mostly cleaning up the little things," Tau answered, following after the man that was essentially his boss. "I know you've met with Chi at Mount Hokulani, and Theta is busy with the restoration of Po Town. Already has a plan for revitalizing the area, too. I'm just here lending my business expertise."

    "Oh, yes! You were some radio manager guy, weren't you?" James said, plopping his hand to his fist like he'd discovered the mystery of a lifetime. Jessie looked instantly enamored.

    "Then perhaps I could have a big radio debut!" she said excitedly. Meowth and Wobbuffet regarded her with skepticism while Tau laughed, running a hand through his slicked back hair.

    "That was another lifetime." He certainly meant it, and he'd also said all that he needed to say as they were reaching the conference room where the decision to separate for a month had been reached by all of them. Aidan opened the doors, and Serena and Lillie instantly caught sight of the one they had both been considering for a month (one more than the other).

    "Lillie. Serena," Gladion said upon sight of them, having been facing the door at the moment they had both been opened. Lillie ran forward, and suddenly threw her arms around her brother. Maybe it was because they had separated so soon after connecting once more, or maybe it was just the relief that Gladion hadn't sunk into the abyss, but Lillie was certainly more emotional than Serena thought she'd be. She was definitely more emotional than Serena, who was instead staring at the creature beside Gladion, sniffing papers on the conference table.

    It looked like a wild, yet tamed, and different version of Null. The bottom of its body had grown jet black, but for the tail, which seemed to shift in colors every time it was in the sunlight. As her gaze traveled upwards, she could see its body was made of white fur, fangs bared and taller than Null was, as though no longer constrained. She opened her mouth and shut it, especially when she heard Team Rocket talking about what a rare Pokémon it would be to steal.

    "You look well, brother," Lillie said, drawing back. Gladion blinked and nodded, looking away just as quickly. He seemed to still be holding guilt over what he'd done to his sister, despite Lillie's obvious forgiveness (though it had hardly been easy, no matter the words she'd parted with).

    "So do you…Is that…?" Gladion questioned, pointing down to her wrist. Lillie lifted it, grinning, and the whole entire room was watching it.

    "Gotten from Tapu Fini itself!" Lillie said positively.

    "But that's a story for another time," Serena interjected quickly. No one said anything to that, but decided to abandon the course of the conversation for a time. The slight shutting of the doors indicated that Wicke had departed once more for the docks to pick up the next arrivals. "Gladion, is that Null?"

    "Srrrr!" the creature growled, as though it disliked the name. She took a step back while Gladion patted the creature on the head.

    "Silvally," Gladion said. The Pokémon, Silvally, seemed to enjoy the affection, nuzzling Gladion's hand that contained the Z-Ring, the object giving off a soft glow. "We were doing some of the trials, battling Nanu, when Null's mask broke and his full power was unleashed. We've been mastering it ever since then."

    "It looks very impressive," Lillie stated. Gladion seemed to scoff a bit at that statement, though Silvally looked proud at its strengths being praised.

    "What's more impressive is that you managed to get a Z-Ring from Tapu Fini of all the guardian deities. From what I've heard, it hasn't chosen one in fifty years!" Gladion remarked, praising his sister. She took it with a flush of embarrassment, hand running through her hair with a light laugh.

    "Either way, it means that things are about to move again," Aidan, at last, spoke to the group. He was walking over to a screen on the wall, swiping a hand across it to turn it on. "The Tapus have all chosen their champions; they've all sung their songs…the world is on the move again."

    "Let's not forget what Nanu delivered to us: Team Skull is also on the move once more, amassing near the Altar of the Sunne," Tau instructed, as though it was all quite elementary.

    "So, our hypothesis was right!" Lillie said cheerfully, bringing her fists close to her chest in victory. Serena smiled; finally, something was really going right for them. Aidan finally nodded as various squares and bubbles appeared on the screen. The bespectacled blond clicked on one, and it began to connect.

    "I believe more than just our hypotheses were correct. You haven't known these last few weeks, but there have been many theories that we've been testing, and it's prepared us for the battle that is to come. Once we have the Sun Flute and its counterpart, the Moon Flute, we should be prepared," Aidan said quite confidently. A smirk began to stretch his face and he turned to the screen. "I'll let someone who really knows tell you more, but for now, we can't wait for the others. Pass information along as we go: Team Skull's movement necessitates immediate action."

    His statement was followed by the screen suddenly bursting with light, and some very familiar faces at last appearing on it. Serena couldn't help the absolutely unadulterated grin from stretching across her lips at the sight. They weren't quite aware that they had been connected to yet, so Serena chose to expedite that. "Clemont!"

    "Ah!" the inventor spoke, fumbling with a screwdriver that was caught by Charjabug before it could cause any damage. "Thanks, Charjabug. Serena, it's great to hear your voice again!"

    "And don't forget about me!" Hau said jubilantly. Both boys on the screen had turned around, Hau throwing his arm around Clemont cheerfully. They both looked to be in good spirits, if a little tired from their likely constant work. They were about to begin speaking again when another face suddenly intruded on it.

    "Rotom is happy to see Serena and Lillie again…though Rotom could care less about Team Rocket or Gladion…" Rotom said excitedly. Gladion predictably scoffed while Team Rocket, or at least Jessie, predictably got absolutely infuriated.

    "Hey, you stupid bag of bolts! You want to talk smack about Team Rocket and I'll show you my boot!" Jessie snapped angrily towards Rotom. The Pokédex whistled an innocent tune of boredom.

    "Jessie, let's not cause problems, or everything we've done will be moot," James pointed out. Meowth sighed and shrugged liberally.

    "Wouldn't dat be a total hoot."

    "Wobba wobb…"

    "Yes, Rotom, it's good to see you, as well," Serena laughed out, shaking her head at everyone's antics. Rotom looked particularly smug, only to be suddenly pulled back by Clemont and placed down next to Charjabug and Bunnelby, the latter holding it down. "And you two, Clemont, Hau, you both look seasoned."

    "So do you," Clemont felt the need to point out. "I see Lillie has a Z-Ring."

    "I sure do," Lillie said, holding the glittering ring upwards once again for the inventor to take a look. The blond nodded, partially because he was proud, likely, but also because it seemed to please him for the battle that was ahead. Serena watched his eyes for just a second, noticing them clear themselves and focus on what was to come.

    She didn't even need to be with him to know that he had grown over the last month. His insecurity was gone, it seemed. It was likely his time battling alongside Hau, or maybe just putting his own particular brand of expertise to use in the situation. Before he could explain anything, Hau jumped right into the conversation, pretty much as expected. "That's totally awesome, Lillie! Maybe one day we can have a Z-Move battle!"

    "Maybe later, Hau," Lillie giggled out, hiding the faint blush on her cheeks from his compliment. "Right now, we have very important work to do!"

    "You're totally right! We've got that big battle ahead of us, and then the League, too! I've cleared all my trials, see?" Hau suddenly reached down and came back up with his amulet. It was completely filled in, Serena noticed, glittering with the orbs and wedges to signify that he had earned his access to the first ever Alola League. It made her wonder how Ash was doing in that regard, if he had moved forward with it at all. "But the Battle Tree is totally tough!"

    "He's right," Clemont confirmed, his eyes steely. "I've only fought such difficult battles with Ash, and only League battles have been close to comparable to the level here. Not that they're all on that exact level, of course. Then again, maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't running research on my off days and evenings, but I think I've grown a lot from taking part in these."

    "And Rotom has recorded much data!" Rotom said, though it was still locked in place by Bunnelby's rather strong ears, making its voice sound muffled. "Rotom has seen many Pokémon, strategies, trainers, and even updated some of Rotom's functions while Rotom was here! All the better to tea-"

    "So, Clemont," Aidan spoke clearly, cutting across the raving Pokédex. The blond looked to him, clearly understanding what Aidan was about to ask of him in any regard. "You've shared a good chunk of your research with us here at Aether, but I think it's time to do so for the rest."

    "Sure thing, but what about Ash and Bonnie? I don't see them there," Clemont remarked. Aidan waved it off, like the whole issue was actually completely unimportant in the long run. The boy sighed, but soon straightened himself. "Right, so I've been spending time creating analysis machines to aid Gary and Champion Steven in researching the Resolution Cave, and we've found some most interesting stuff."

    "What kind of stuff?" Lillie asked, tilting her head to the side. Komala nearly slipped off, but remained fastened. Serena found it a little cute, the way she was sort of emulating Ash in that regard, her ponytail shaking to the side.

    "In general, we've come to two conclusions. One is based on the cave itself, and the other revolves around all of the different things we've been looking for," Clemont explained to them, holding up two fingers. Hau already looked bored, as though he'd already heard all this before, or simply didn't care to listen to it at all. "The first is this: much of the cave seems to be made of the material that makes up the Z-Rings. It's the same principle employed in the barriers around the trials, or the Tapus' shrines. The Z-Ring emits a certain energy that, in large quantities and tied in with the connection to the Ultra Space, can prevent entry to a location where it amasses."

    "The Altar of the Sunne," Serena noted, nodding her head to show she understood Clemont's comment. The boy nodded to her before reaching down and picking up a crystal; more particularly, a Z-Crystal.

    "Yes," was the simple answer. "Gary's immense knowledge on the rifts formed and Steven's knowledge on stones has led to our analysis and theory being proven true. The Altar of the Sunne, and the Lake of the Moone, are directly tied to the Ultra Space, as though they are anchoring points, which in concert with the sparkling stones creates a barrier that can only be passed through with a Z-Crystal; the same exact principle used in making Z-Moves happen. The effect is stronger by the Altar, it would appear, though."

    "In other words, as long as we have a Z-Crystal, we can pass through the barrier," Gladion concluded for him. It was an easy enough explanation, and certainly not a problem for any of them. It also explained why Team Skull had misappropriated the Bugium-Z and Aether had gone searching for Z-Crystals. A lot was really making sense now.

    "The only issue, of course, is that the sky surrounding the Altar seems to be watched. Steven contacted some members of the International Police, but from what I know…" Clemont didn't need to finish his statement for them to all understand that one: Team Skull was back in the open again, watching the skies around the Altar of the Sunne. It only further proved their very points. "Either way, unless we can get Team Skull occupied, the only way to the altar is through a narrow canyon, perfect for an ambush. If we want that preemptive strike, we'll need to push through it. That's why I'm staying on Poni Island."

    "Then I guess we'll be joining you there as soon as we have possession of the Sun Flute," Lillie said emphatically. Clemont nodded, but Serena had a little more on her brain than their battle formations.

    "What was the second thing you discovered?" Clemont's eyes brightened at that, but before he got a chance to answer, the doors were opened once again, allowing light into the room. That same light blinded Serena for a moment, and she knew that couldn't see much. She could feel, though, judging from the pressure that suddenly exerted itself on her waist. When said pressure pulled back, Serena looked down to see Bonnie grinning at her. Atop her head was Dedenne, while Squishy and Bluey were traveling in style within her bag. Beyond her was Lionel, grinning as he stepped into the room alongside a laconic Greninja. Said Ninja Pokémon looked elsewhere, probably thinking about Ash, but had enough presence of mind to nod stoically at Serena.

    "Clemont! Big brother, how are you? !" Bonnie shouted excitedly the second she saw Clemont on the screen. He laughed nervously and waved to his sister.

    "I'm doing just fine. You look taller, Bonnie," he noted. Bonnie grinned proudly, placing her hands on her hips. He hadn't been lying; Serena could see how different Bonnie looked from her month away from all of them. Her skin was tanner, and she was taller, even if it wasn't by much. More importantly, she carried herself with a presence of her assured self, like she was already a Pokémon trainer, in spirit if not in name.

    "Of course! I grew an inch! We measured me against Greninja yesterday," she spoke confidently. Lionel strode forward now, clasping a hand to the little girl's shoulder with a toothy grin. He didn't look much different, though Aidan might have thought so from his rolling eyes.

    "Bonnie's become very capable," he said, his eyes flashing just a little with amusement. "We've braved many adventures together, high and low, Greninja and Squishy leading us on good trails and false trails until we finally reached that covetous prize!"

    "Stop drawing out the drama, Lionel," Aidan commented, garnering a chuckle from Tau. Bonnie seemed to pout at the moment of their big triumphant return seemingly being ruined. She just looked at the screen, noticing Rotom there. The two seemed to glare at each other, but had no words of reunion to share.

    "We're all glad you're doing well, Bonnie," Serena assured the lemon blonde. Bonnie grinned once more and nodded. "So, you found it then?"

    "As promised," Bonnie stated. Squishy and Bluey dove into the bag and pulled out the object that had evidently been the source of their search. Serena, Lillie and Gladion all leaned in closer, while Team Rocket simply tried to find a way around them to take their own look. It was a small flute, yellow and orange in color, with the bright crest of a sun on its wooden surface. It looked majestic in its own way. "The Sun Flute!"

    "It looks marvelous…" Lillie commented. "With this, we can restore Nebby!"

    "And Nebby's been…?" Lionel asked. Lillie didn't answer verbally, and Serena pursed her lips while the blonde dug into her bag to pull out the poor eye-shaped creature. "I see…"

    "Nothing's changed, for better or worse," Lillie stated. She looked a little sad saying it, but there was still a source of hope that was in her voice. "Nebby's been completely silent since that day. I think he just needs energy, and maybe the flutes can give it to him."

    "I still think it's a long shot, especially if we're connecting it to the Ultra Space," Aidan commented tersely. Lillie didn't look the happiest at that, clutching Nebby closer to her, not a sound being heard. Bonnie reached up to place a hand on the little one with her.

    "Regardless of whether it is, we need to give it a shot," Gladion spoke up. "Lusamine and Guzma are inside there, and they likely have an idea of what we've been planning. We need to ensure our efforts aren't wasted. Even a long shot is still a shot I'm willing to take."

    "I don't believe it's as long as you might think it is, Mr. Aidan," Clemont commented, clearing his throat in the process. Serena's eyes went back over to her friend, eager to hear what was likely the second conclusion that he and the others had come to. In the background, Hau looked to be packing their bags. "Inside Resolution Cave seemed to be a small pocket of space, completely unstable…but it's been growing more so, almost enough to see inside it, though we haven't risked touching it. There is no doubt in my mind that this is connected to the Ultra Space, possibly a result of the first opening of it centuries ago, and due to its proximity, the Altar and Lake are connected as well."

    "But what does any of that have to do with the flutes?" Aidan pointed out. To this, Clemont began to laugh.

    "Heh heh heh…because I am certain that the flutes have the ability to draw out the dormant power within, safely!" Clemont answered. "I would need to examine them, but I am sure similar properties to the Z-Crystals rest inside, and as we know, Z-Crystals, Totem Pokémon and the Ultra Space are all connected. However, unlike Faba's barbaric methods, I believe the flute could act like a crystal to swathe Nebby in power and restore its form, and just as well, open a gate to the Ultra Space. Without him, I would think we might need an open rift, but if we play with the two flutes at the Altar, then we could…"

    "For that, we'll need Kahili," Lionel concluded. Now that Serena recalled it, Kahili had mentioned that the Moon Flute would be easy enough to find, indicating that she either had an idea or knew exactly where it was.

    "Well, that's simple enough. She should be returning with Ash, right?" Serena said. Lillie nodded, finding the answer clear, but some of the others in the room were all silent at the statement. It made a little bit of worry flood into her veins. "What?"

    "Well…it's just…" Clemont started, taking his glasses off to clean them absentmindedly, "has anyone even heard from Ash in the last month?"

    "I haven't," Bonnie said, throwing her hands behind her head, nearly knocking Dedenne off in the process. Squishy seemed bored with the conversation and dug further into her bag. Bluey remained alert however.

    "You don't count mini-twerpette," Jessie said lazily, waving her hand back and forth a few times. "No one's heard from you either."

    "I matter more than you," Bonnie said, glaring at Jessie vehemently. The two females of vastly disparate ages leaned in, glaring at one another like they were about to throw down in some epic brawl for all time. Rotom seemed to find it amusing from the other side of the screen.

    "Yes! Death Match: Jessie vs. Bonnie!" Rotom cried. It managed to break free from Bunnelby while Serena resisted the urge to facepalm from its actions. "Who will win? Betting pools start now, and Rotom will record every single as-"

    "Bunby!" Bunnelby's ears suddenly slammed back down onto Rotom once again, crushing it against the table. Clemont reached over and patted his steadfast partner on the head.

    "Thank you, Bunnelby," he told the Digging Pokémon. "I should have never let Rotom watch those battles…In any case, seriously, has anyone heard from Ash?"

    "Unimportant whether we have or haven't," Gladion said sharply. "We all have our own things to do. We may need Kahili, but right now it's just as important to secure the Altar of the Sunne for the ritual, isn't it?"

    "By the way, where did you guys find the Sun Flute, anyway?" Lillie asked, turning to face Bonnie. Said girl stuck her tongue out and winked at her. That caused another pout to rise to the blond's cheeks while Hau laughed on the other end of the line at both of their expressions.

    "It's secret," she said, making herself, Dedenne and Lionel share in the chuckle. It was clear they wouldn't give it up to any of them. "Let's just say we climbed mountains, plundered caves, swam in oceans and even saw an underwater temple."

    "Bonnie has clearly expanded her vocabulary, too…" Rotom said with a muffled voice, still held fast against the table. Bonnie adopted a sly look on her face, prompting Serena to sigh; this was clearly going to take longer than any of them planned thanks to the ever belligerent duo lobbing insults at one another.

    "Bonnie saw lots of cute Pokémon, too!" she insisted, forcing Rotom to grumble. Lionel laughed at his companion's statements. Clearly the two had managed to bond over the last month. Aidan groaned loudly.

    "Can we please stop with all this? The League is gathering its forces as we speak," the blond remarked snappishly. "We don't have time to sit around on our behinds, twiddling our fingers. The time for the preemptive strike we all decided on is here, now. We must secure the Altar of the Sunne, obtain the Moon Flute and play the Champion's Song to restore Nebby to its glory and open our way into the Ultra Space before the Day of Stars."

    "Easier said, than done," Tau pointed out. It was a sobering statement to all of them. Despite all of their successes in the last month, there still remained the obstacle before them of Team Skull and finding the final item needed. Serena's eyes drifted to the inert form that was Nebby and she sighed. They still had a long battle ahead of them, and that was before they could even consider the Hope Leilani and League.

    Ash…she couldn't help but think. It had been too long since she'd seen him, touched him, held him, kissed him. She missed him quite a bit, even if the month apart was a breath of fresh air. Really, it just made her wish to see him all the more, and she'd found herself counting down the days in the last week until they'd reunite. At least no one thought of suggesting Ash had…er…wandered. He was probably too busy training to even think about anything else (even her, she imagined).

    "Serena." Gladion's loud voice drew her back and she blinked at Lillie's brother. His mouth was in a thin line as he spoke. "Now that we know what Clemont wanted to share with us, you and Lillie still haven't told us what your group discovered."

    "Right," Serena said with a nod, realizing that they had been receiving all of the information, but had yet to truly share a piece of their own. Not that their own quest had really been all that important in the scheme of things when it came down to their preemptive strike…mostly because they weren't nearly as successful in all of their goals as the other groups seemed to have been. She looked over to Lillie and the blonde walked forward, placing Nebby and then Komala upon the table. The latter cuddled up against the former.

    "So, first things first, we went to Poni Island," Lillie said with confidence. She held her wrist out to show off the Z-Ring that she had gotten from Tapu Fini. To this day, Serena could remember the sight of it. Maybe it was because she had her own Z-Ring from Tapu Lele, but she had seen the whole event happen. Team Rocket hadn't…mostly because Tapu Fini was as fickle as Kahili suggested and sent them blasting off quickly. "It's a bit hard to describe how it all happened, but if we meet at the Ruins of Hope on Poni Island, I can show you."

    "That sounds like a good idea," Serena agreed. "It's possible we can reunite with you there, like a rendezvous point, Clemont. That way we can show you before we enter the canyon. Beyond the Champion's Song being played, that place was…different."

    "Creepy."

    "Totally weird."

    "Bonkers."

    "Wobba." Team Rocket's well-timed quips would have been enough to make Serena sigh, but she didn't. Instead, she was too busy suspecting that Lillie potentially had ulterior motives for wanting to show them Tapu Fini's shrine. It was certainly the most different one she'd ever been to, but it made all sorts of sense with what Kiawe and Hapu had spoken of so long ago, regarding the waters. Plus, there was still the possibility that the Tapus weren't done for them quite yet.

    "Then I guess we'll have our meeting spot, and you have me intrigued," Clemont agreed. This prompted Bonnie to give a silent nod on their side of the screen. "I mean, things are weird here, too, but I'd certainly like to see what it's like there."

    "Is it possible that the Tapus could give aid to us in regards to the Ultra Space and our preemptive strike?" Lionel asked, his rather facetious attitude having been completely dropped at this point. Serena and Lillie instantly and simultaneously shook their heads.

    "The Tapus are preparing for war, though they didn't tell us anything," Lillie explained. "I think they're amassing their power, like they're creating another Z-Crystal, or just gathering their power."

    "They're pretty, er, well…fickle, like Kahili said," Serena explained, rubbing the back of her head with a slight chuckle. "I'm surprised Tapu Fini chose to give Lillie a Z-Ring, but I know there was a reason behind it. The only question is really what that reason was."

    "I'm not telling…yet," Lillie said with her own little wink. It soon faded to a genuine smile that reminded Serena of how much Lillie had grown. She was no longer the same meek and scared little girl that she had been before. "Either way, I'm pretty sure the Tapus won't be helping us, and I'd be surprised if they did. I'll tell you more once you've seen Tapu Fini's shrine."

    "That works out," Clemont said. Hau seemed to agree, slamming both of their bags on the table. He was grinning, just like always.

    "We're all ready to go on our end. How about you guys?" he said cheerily. Clemont frowned at him, though he didn't say anything. Rather, he was cut across by Aidan moving to ask his own question in his usual brusque manner.

    "Serena, what of your other search? For your father? This world's Michael?" he asked. There was silence at that statement, and even Lillie hung her head. She had finally been told the exact nature of the events in Kalos during their separation, and certainly understood the meaning behind Michael's interference in Alola. Serena sucked in a breath, thinking of how best to broach the subject that Aidan had now put before them.

    "It's a little complicated…" she said honestly. Her hands knitted together, twisting her fingers just a little as she considered all of her words carefully. "We did a lot of searching."

    "Yeah, my feet are killer," Jessie complained. As if to emphasize the point, she collapsed in one of the chairs that was there. Most of them completely ignored her and her complaints. James and Meowth joined her, though, while Wobbuffet just tripped and fell flat on his face.

    "I mean, the first place we started was the Seafolk Village, and I know it was random, but they traffic in a lot of information there."

    "Poni Island practically thrives on obtaining and bartering information from the outside world," Lillie explained to those who were unfamiliar with the way the place worked. Serena let her do so, thinking back to their time spent there, gathering information. It had been such a happy place, and she felt they'd helped to make it just a little happier. "The Seafolk Village, especially, has a lot of information, if you're willing to help them out with things."

    "It took three days to get the smell of fish out of our uniforms," James said handily. Again, they were ignored.

    "Point is, I think my theory was right: my father is in Alola," Serena said simply. Aidan and Lionel looked to each other, harsh lines being drawn on to their faces from hearing it. She didn't blame them; after their long war with the other Michael, hearing about this version must have instilled some trepidation inside of them. Serena, however, still held to hope that they would ultimately have nothing to worry about in the long run. "The information we got there indicated that someone who looked like me, honey blonde hair and blue eyes, had visited the village about two months prior, looking for Resolution Cave to study its properties and ancient traditions."

    "So that's why you called…" Clemont expressed, obviously putting the pieces together. Serena nodded. "Your father must have been the one that Gary encountered."

    "That's what I guess. Knowing he was in Alola was proof enough for me," Serena said, folding her arms across her chest. "I had to figure he wouldn't be on Poni Island anymore, not with what he'd told Gary. So, our group decided to go elsewhere, particularly to the different ruins that we could. If he's anything like the Michael we all know, he continued studying ruins. I have no idea what drew him to Alola, but at this point, I focused in on a key observation."

    "We're pretty sure we discovered where he's staying and observing at this moment," Lillie finished up for her. Aidan gazed at them both expectantly, but Serena held her tongue. Right now, there was no time left to worry about her father or anything he was planning or thinking or researching. It was the reason she felt she'd failed in that respect.

    "Either way, I'm not ready to 'reunite' with him quite yet," Serena said sternly, imparting her desire to not share the information. "We have a very good idea of where he is, where all of this started in Alola six years ago from the various reports, the ruins, the Tapus and the people at the Seafolk Village, but he can't help when it comes to what we've planned."

    "She has a point," Lionel sighed out, agreeing with her decision to not share the information. Serena sighed in relief at that, breathing out just a little bit.

    There was actually another reason that she didn't want to see him quite yet, but she wasn't sure that Lionel or Aidan would understand. Nor did she want them to. In fact, she didn't want them there at all when she met her father. That could only go poorly in the grand scheme of things. There was one person she absolutely wanted there at that time, though: Ash. Both of them had had their lives affected by Michael, the other Michael, far more than either of them cared for. If they were going to see the one who could be similar or completely different, but with the same face, they would need to do it together.

    "Well, anyway," Lillie said, her eyes sliding to Serena and smiling, "it looks like we have a lot of work ahead of us. You said Team Skull has shown up again, right?"

    "That's right," Aidan indicated. Everyone straightened up, firming in their resolve. Serena's heart swelled a little, especially with Lillie's eyes shining brightly with determination. Now was never the moment to give up. They were ready to take their next step. "The battle begins anew from this very moment, only this time, we don't have to win the initial skirmish; we just have to achieve our task."

    "Yes," Serena indicated. She gazed around the room at all of her friends (and frenemies, she felt she could consider Team Rocket to be). It made her happy to see them all there, gazing with determination, smiling with the happiness of reunion. A month of beating herself up, searching and wondering certain things was by the wayside now. Her own happiness was returning. The final battle. Then the Hope Leilani. Serena grinned internally at the promise she had Professor Kukui deliver to Miss Akela; this reunion made her figure it out…almost. Now there was just one thing left. One person left for her to try and understand.

    I'm almost there, I promise…she thought. Lillie looked to her and nodded, the corners of her lips twitching upwards. It was like a chain, she felt; almost similar to what she'd experienced in the Seafolk Village. The doors opened again, and Wicke stepped back inside, looking positively frazzled. No one was with her.

    "Miss Wicke, what's wrong?" Gladion asked, placing his hands upon the table. The woman pursed her lips and then placed both of her hands on her hips.

    "I've just gotten word from our boat at Hau'oli City," the woman said sternly. "Ash and Kahili never showed up, and it seems that no one has seen them for the last month."


    Author's Note: This was a very heavy information chapter with a lot of stuff going on. Obviously, with a month having passed, things have happened. Some of them don't require details beyond what I've given. Others do. For example, there's not much to know about Clemont and Hau's time at the Battle Tree. But Lillie getting her Z-Ring and the Seafolk Village will be shown later, but that's all I can say. I hope it all transferred over well and that my progression of Serena finding her own answer soon is getting there. She obviously came to one realization about being unable to achieve it on her own at the end of Trials. So, what's the second part?

    Of course, the big question is: where are Ash and Kahili? Has something happened to them? I really wanted to create something different in the sense that Ash hasn't appeared for two chapters now, which is odd when it's his story. I hope you're all enjoying it, though.

    I hope this one meets your expectations. So, until next time, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    We're continuing with the pace here, so sit tight and please enjoy. Onwards, for Chapter 3!


    Chapter 3

    A Day

    "Ash didn't show up?" Bonnie asked before Serena could even get a word out. She was in a slight state of shock from hearing that. Not that Ash couldn't take care of himself; that much was very obvious at the least. She was simply worried about other things and thoughts regarding him that she hadn't divulged to anyone, not even Lillie. They'd nevertheless been on her mind for some time, on those nights that she was staring at the stars, watching them slowly move towards their convergence.

    "Apparently not," Wicke stated, puffing her hair a little in agitation. That was pretty much the same feeling that was pervading every single one of them in the room at her announcement. Serena's hands clenched, trying to calm herself. There was no need to worry about Ash. None at all…though it didn't stop her heart from doing so. "We know for a fact that they arrived in Hau'oli City a month ago and left from there, with the boat returning to the Foundation."

    "Is that where it ends, then?" Gladion asked, looking just as confused. On the screen behind them, Clemont and Hau were both leaning in, listening intensely.

    "The driver of the boat arrived in the city and waited there since last night, the agreed upon date, but they didn't show. He went to ask around the city and it seems that no one has seen them around the island for the whole month. Like they just vanished," Wicke informed them. It was all very disconcerting at best. Silence settled over them all.

    Serena stepped back, trying to think of just where Ash and Kahili could have gone. Surely nothing had happened to them: Kahili was an enormously strong trainer and Ash was no slouch, either, especially with Pikachu by his side. There seemed to really be no area to go on the whole of Melemele that would have been a challenge for them, other than each other. Though it wasn't like she knew every inch of that small island, of course. Either way, no one had heard from them, so it likely had to be someplace secluded. They had to have planned for it if no one had seen them since their arrival, or at the very least not divulged their location.

    "Ugh, this boy…" Aidan groaned out with exasperation. Tau once more offered a chuckle, but hardly any words of a helpful nature. Serena wasn't really sure what anyone could say to help them at this point. "He's the one who suggests that we all meet back up here in a month and then he doesn't even show…"

    "I'm sure the twerp has his reasons…" James said, yawning lightly. All of Team Rocket was doing the same, clearly bored with the majority of the proceedings currently taking place.

    "Reasons or no, we didn't schedule for a tea party!" the blond snapped angrily. Team Rocket suddenly jumped as Aidan slammed his hand upon the table. Lionel folded his arms, looking down to a fretting Bonnie. Serena, too, was examining the room, as if trying to decide what to say or do in that singular moment. Greninja hardly looked concerned, and given the close bond between he and Ash, it indicated that things were clearly mostly okay. It just left the question of where rather than what?

    "No, we didn't, but Ash is the least of our concerns," Lionel finally spoke, reaching up to stroke his chin. Lillie and Bonnie both looked to the man with surprise on their features, but Serena didn't let her expression change. She didn't want to show she was worried, and she also felt like Lionel very much would say something like that. "I don't mean to belittle him. Far from it. His level of strength and expertise, along with Kahili's would be a great boon for what we're about to attempt, but at the end of the day, it's not nearly important as the information and capabilities we've gathered."

    "But the Moon Flute…" Lillie pointed out before stopping herself. She seemed to slip into a state of thought about the whole thing, reaching up to tap her chin a little. "Maybe we don't need Miss Kahili for that…Hm…I guess we could always ask Miss Hapu."

    "Or da Seafolk Village people, assuming we can't find dem," Meowth suggested, shrugging like he really didn't care either way. Naturally, it was an act, considering even Team Rocket didn't think the end of the world was a good idea.

    "It's an option, but not one we have very much time for," Aidan sighed out. Lionel finally closed his distance across the rest of the room to clap his comrade on the shoulder.

    "Come on, Aidan, you'll make us look bad upholding Jack's legacy," the darker-skinned man said to his friend. Aidan regarded him with a skeptical frown. "Ash and Kahili are likely okay, but they're late, and we don't have the time to wait. We need to strike as soon as possible. The Hope Leilani starts in, what, five days? A week? After that we have no time. We need to move now."

    "Hau and I will get moving towards the Ruins of Hope, then," Clemont informed them over the screen. Rotom was now freed from Bunnelby's large ears, twisting back and forth like it was stretching. "We'll meet you all there. And remember, hold on to your Z-Crystals. We'll need them if we have any hope of getting through."

    "We're on it, Clemont!" Bonnie cried, throwing her hand into the air, still clasping tightly to the Sun Flute.

    "I'll join you as well in going there. I think it's important for everyone to see Tapu Fini's shrine," Lillie said, one of her hands playing with the drawstrings on her outfit. "Once we have, we can make our way through the Poni Canyon to the Altar of the Sunne! I think we should do it by dusk tonight or dawn tomorrow, since that was always when Nebby seemed to be the most affected. No matter what, we'll bring you back soon, Nebby!"

    "Yay! Yay!" Bonnie cheered loudly. Serena's brow knitted together in contemplation. Her free hand went to the wrist with the blue ribbon upon it, fondling it for a single moment as she thought about the road yet ahead of them.

    "I'm going to find Ash," she spoke to the room. No one was surprised, given their reactions. Serena looked over to Greninja, his arms folded as he regarded her. She could tell that he wanted to go along with her, but from his body language, stepping closer to Bonnie, she could also tell that he was willing to fulfill his duty before a personal obligation.

    "I think that's for the best," Lionel agreed. He separated and turned towards all of them, his own fingers playing with his charm bracelet. "Right now, we're the only ones standing to make a strike on the altar preemptively."

    "Well, Steven and Gary plan to be prepared for an aerial assault for backup, and there's the League forces," Clemont corrected. Lionel easily handwaved the entire issue.

    "Regardless, if we want this to succeed, we need to move now, before Lusamine's eye from within the Ultra Space can fix back on us, you understand? Not to mention there's the timing that Lillie's mentioned, and I agree with it. So, if we want Ash and Kahili's help, we'll need to find them while the rest of us make our move, got it?"

    "Perfectly," Gladion grunted out. Next to him, Silvally growled a little. "I'll head to Melemele with Serena. If we're going to split, none of us should go alone."

    "Then I'll remain behind to coordinate efforts between each other and the League using the IRCS," Aidan stated with a sigh, pushing his glasses up just a little. "Tau, you can call Chi and Theta back here if you'd so like. We may want all the forces we can get."

    "Understood, sir," Tau said, offering a light bow and a clap on Serena's shoulder before he began to make his way out of the room. Serena looked across to Gladion, searching his face for a reason that he would want to go with her. They were hardly close as individuals, after all. Though, that might have explained it. Ash and Gladion had both seemed close, and maybe now Gladion wanted to try and reclaim what was lost between them in the battle against Skull and Aether.

    "Well, if the twerpette is going, we might as well go, too," Jessie sighed out, like it was something to be resigned to.

    "All da better to nab Pika-mmph!" James had quickly slapped a hand on Meowth's flapping lips, chuckling nervously underneath it. Serena looked to Bonnie and Lillie, rolling their eyes together at the trio's familiar antics. Lionel stepped forward, placing a hand upon the table with confidence.

    "Our course is set, then! Lillie, Bonnie and myself, along with Squishy and them, will head for the rendezvous on Poni Island to meet with Clemont and Hau at the Ruins of Hope. Once we're together, we'll make for the Altar of the Sunne to secure it as best we can by sunrise the latest," he informed them all without a shred of a smile. This was the time be serious; the time for games was long past now. "Meanwhile, Serena, Gladion and Team Rocket will attempt to find Ash. We'll give you until the end of the day before you need to get to Poni Island and find the Moon Flute. That's the only way we'll meet that deadline. Aidan will stay behind to coordinate efforts.

    "From this moment forward, our moment of preemptive striking begins!"

    "Yes, sir!" They all called, some of them (namely Lillie, Bonnie and an on-screen Hau) snapping themselves into a salute. It wasn't quite the same as the large army they possessed before the battle at Geosenge, but that hardly seemed to matter. What they lacked in numbers, they made up for in determination. Well, that and actual preparation for the battle ahead, despite a time limit being imposed upon them from this moment.

    "All right, everyone. Let's do this thing!" Hau said, jumping up and down next to Clemont before racing to grab their bags. Lillie shook her head with a giggle at his overexuberance.

    "We'll see you on Poni, Bonnie, Lillie. Find Ash, Serena!" That was all Clemont had time to tell them before Rotom terminated the connection, leaving the screen blank. Gladion was already walking out of the room, Wicke walking alongside him as Silvally followed after haughtily. Knowing that the blond would meet them down by the boats this time, Serena looked to Lionel.

    "I promise I'll find Ash and we'll be on Poni by sundown," she said confidently. "It shouldn't take too long."

    "It almost sounds like you're underestimating Ash," Lillie admitted and Bonnie nodded. Dedenne snored on top of her head, having fallen asleep long ago. Nevertheless, Serena kept her gaze firmly on Lionel as he smiled a little, though it transitioned to a smirk.

    "I have no doubt of that. Should everything go well, we'll move into the canyon tonight and have the altar secured by sunrise. Like we keep saying, given its name, I'm pretty sure it'd be best to be there during the daytime and it's transition to that time, so as long as we have the Moon Flute by then."

    "Leave it to me," Serena insisted, thumping her chest. A clattering of footsteps said that Team Rocket was standing at attention and nodding furiously. Having Lionel's blessing to get moving, Serena looked to Lillie and Bonnie. The reunion with the short lemon blonde had been all too brief, though Bonnie seemed to be taking it in stride. She wasn't the same girl from the start of their journey. Not that Bonnie had ever been timid, but she seemed here like she was fine with the parting, knowing that they'd reunite in the end. Even Squishy seemed to be nodding at her. "We'll join up for the fight soon."

    "I'll look after Bonnie," Lillie said, grinning a little to the younger girl as they slapped their hands together. "Bonnie will look after me, too."

    "You bet!" That said, Serena surged forward and took them into a very brief and momentary hug. Lillie hugged back instantly while Bonnie gripped to Serena's arm until they separated. Lionel was already striding out of the room, leaving the girls and their Pokémon as pretty much the only remaining ones, barring Aidan.

    "Nin!" Greninja croaked out. "Ninja gren gren!"

    "Don't worry about a thing, Greninja," Serena assured him, her hand splayed on her chest. "I'll bring him back just fine. You just stay with them and make sure they get to the altar on time. You, too, Squishy."

    "Blrbl?" Squishy said, choosing to not opt for actually speaking. The honey blonde reached forward and patted the little blob on the head and faced away to Team Rocket, who looked at her with their own sharp nods. Then those three left the room. With their departure, Bonnie and Lillie turned as well, taking hands with each other. Serena ran her hand upwards, brushing aside some of her bangs as she offered a nod to Aidan and then left the room at a slower pace.

    She hadn't noticed before, but in terms of the mansion, nothing had really changed. Maybe a few portraits on the wall had, or just Gladion removing any traces of his mother from the halls, but otherwise, it was largely untouched. Especially the courtyard hadn't really changed at all. In some way, it was a sign that though some things changed, a lot remained the same, as well. Serena breathed in, reflecting back on their month of growth. She hoped Ash had done so as well, because she felt like she was about to clasp on to the answer that she promised Miss Akela she'd find. There were just a few things in her mind to confirm what was building in her heart.

    "Are you ready?" Gladion's sudden question made her jerk to a stop. He was standing there at the intersection of the two corridors. Serena blinked, realizing he had changed his clothing from the khaki pants and black-colored collared shirt. Once more he was dressed in the clothes she was used to seeing him in, only they looked repaired, the rips and tears sewn up. He looked far more comfortable now.

    "Yes," she confirmed and the two began their lazily slow walk towards the exit from the manor. The boy said nothing, shoving his hands in his pockets. It was a little chilly between them, even with Silvally trotting alongside them with a growl (or perhaps because of that). "So, if none of us have spoken with Ash, does that mean…?"

    "We haven't either," Gladion said, his voice low. It was all the answer she needed: they had left each other the exact same way they had been since Po Town. Their connection was broken once more. It made Serena a little sad, but at the same time, Gladion hoping to go with her said something about him wanting to at least try and fix that. "Nor have I had the time to…I've been so focused on completing the trials and rebuilding Aether, it's a wonder I've had time for sleep, much less anything else."

    "Guess we've all been busy in our own way," Serena admitted. To that, Gladion just nodded. She had nothing much left to say, her eyes sliding over to the very reticent Silvally, its white plume of hair sticking out and making it look impressive. "So, it's sort of like Null evolved, huh?"

    "In a way, I guess," Gladion noted, seeing her take an interest. He reached over and patted Silvally on the head. "We were battling Nanu on Ula'ula and he was getting a little too into the battle, like he was testing me, when his Persian smashed Null's mask. For a moment, I thought everything was going to go to hell, but he changed, and now he's this. The Z-Ring helped things, too. My father had theorized on the change, considering it was Null's unconstrained form, but calling him Full would have been weird. So, I went with Silvally…he is my ally after all."

    "I think it's nice," Serena giggled out, placing a hand to her lips as the duo finally exited from the manor and began walking down the sun-dappled path. Up above, Serena noticed that the glass had all been fixed from the battle a month ago. Thinking on that brought a downturn to her lips. "If I'm honest…I'm a little worried about Ash."

    "I'm sure he's okay," Gladion said, puffing out. Either he didn't want to talk about him, or maybe he was just apprehensive about running into Ash again. The last time they had directly met, he had socked him across the face. It seemed to now be a good thing that Team Rocket would be coming along to ease the tensions. "Ash isn't going to let some wild Pokémon chomp down on him."

    "That's not what I'm worried about," Serena sighed out. This time, she managed to get Gladion to look at her. "You were there: both of you lost to Guzma in the same way I lost to Lusamine."

    "Yeah…still leaves a bad taste in my mouth," Gladion spat out. It pretty much proved her theory. Not that Ash was someone who held on to those sorts of losses and grudges for a long time, but there was more to it than all that, she felt. "I guess I can understand, but that's what he's training with Kahili for, isn't it?"

    "I think it's more than that," Serena expressed. The two had managed to reach the elevator now as it finished returning to the top for them, after having taken the others down. They stepped on and Gladion used a keycard to make the device move downward once more. "I feel like Ash has been lost lately. Confused. I mean, I'm not there all the time, but just some of the things he's said, or the way he's reacted…all the little things. Hala made him question his own dream, I feel, and it's been weighing on his mind, especially when Nanu asked him the same sort of thing."

    "Then Guzma came along," Gladion breathed out, clearly understanding, at this point, what she was getting at. "Yeah…I know the two of us losing was a real blow to me, and it made me wonder what I had done everything for; if I was strong enough. If Ash was already questioning himself…"

    "I'm just worried that he might sink to a point he can't get out of," Serena admitted. It was truly her biggest fear. Ash wasn't the kind of person to let it happen, but she still thought that if he met an object that was immoveable enough, no amount of pushing forward was going to help him.

    "I wouldn't worry too much," Gladion expressed to her after a moment of silence. "He seems to have a way of figuring things out."

    "Mm," Serena said, obviously believing that Gladion considered the entire conversation finished. He was right, of course, but Serena still couldn't help that sense of trepidation as the elevator slowed and deposited them at the harbor. Ash was confused, and she simply didn't want him to shut down over not knowing who he was or what everything meant to him; or worse, keep going until he destroyed himself. It was something they were all struggling with, but Ash was no doubt the most stubborn of them all. "You're right. I'm sure it'll be okay."

    "Exactly. For now, let's focus on finding him. It isn't quite midday yet, so we have plenty of time, so long as we work out a plan."

    "Right," Serena agreed as the two walked away from the elevator and towards the boat that they would be taking to Melemele. She threw aside her worries, choosing to face them when they reunited rather than now, and soon boarded the boat, facing out towards the sea. I'm coming for you, Ash. Please be okay.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    True to Gladion's words, the boat cut across the waters in relatively record time. The one to Poni had left ahead of their group with not even a goodbye (not that Serena minded, since they'd be meeting up sooner or later in the first place), but their own trip was fraught with a sense of worry. Even Team Rocket, for all their blustering and pretending, seemed a little worried. Or, that was her interpretation when the Hau'oli harbor was fast approaching a little less than an hour later and the three (or four, counting Wobbuffet…more if she counted their Pokémon) were huddled together.

    "I mean sure, the twerp can be all hyperactive and running off, but come on!" Jessie said in a harsh whisper. "Pikachu, at least, is smart enough to hold the twerp from doing something stupid."

    "I'm sure the twerp is fine," James also insisted, his face drawn into one of worry. "We just have to find him, right? Do we have any contacts?"

    "Maybe I have a sizeable fanbase that I could mobilize!"

    "Dream on, Jess," Meowth said. "Remember, ya never won on Melemele." Jessie smacked her companion over the top of the head.

    "Don't talk about that, Meowth," she snapped back at him. Meowth cradled the top of his head and grumbled at her before the magenta-haired woman threw her head back with a rather obvious groan. "Ugh, even when he's not blasting us off, the twerp is causing problems."

    "Yeah, but without him, we'd be out of a job…or, well, we'd lose our drive, right?"

    "Jimmy is right," Meowth said, nodding sagely. The Pokémon also seemed to nod…except for Crabrawler and Inkay, who were sharing a berry covered croissant (where they'd gotten it from, Serena had no idea). "If it weren't for da twoip and Pikachu all dese years, we'd probably be sittin' back at base gettin' fat!"

    Serena finally shook her head, peeling away from their rather inane conversation that did little more than prove how much the two seemed to care about Ash and Pikachu. Breathing in, she approached the edge of the boat with Gladion, the boy in sharpened silence as the docks of Hau'oli City began to approach on the horizon. No one was waiting for them there, but Serena had no problem with that; there were still a few areas that they could check for aid. Melemele wasn't that large of an island, after all, and with the right equipment, they could travel it in no time.

    "All right, guys, I'll be staying here," the driver called as soon as he turned the engine off, leaving them right in a prime position to debark. Silvally was the first, leaping high over the railing to get on to the docks. Some little kids nearby pointed and stared, but Gladion and his Pokémon ignored them while they made their way off.

    "Hopefully we'll be back soon!" Serena said, mostly to ensure the man that they had all understood, before disembarking on to Hau'oli City once again.

    It was a strange feeling, setting foot on to that peacefully small island. For all of her searching for her father, this was the only island that they had not come back to, having had no need. Just like the last time they'd been there it was thriving with bustling people and Pokémon as they walked forward, still as calming as ever. At the same time, she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck tingling. It could have been some kind of 'soulmate' connection, or something else entirely, but she definitely knew that Ash was here. She'd be seeing him very soon.

    "Any idea where to start, then?" Gladion asked. Serena walked a little forward, glancing upwards and into the distance, where Iki Town sat. She sucked in a breath and exhaled it, turning to her rather assorted gaggle of companions.

    "I have a thought, at least," she said with a smile. Gladion seemed to consider that good enough, sticking his hands into his pockets and indicating for her to take the lead. "And Team Rocket, behave yourselves, okay?"

    "Hey, we've been very good the last month!" James protested loudly.

    "We just want to see the twerp, all right! We can't help it if the people here don't like us very much," Jessie chose to insist, though her nervous twitching indicated that she very much cared. Meowth just sighed and chose to not refute anything. Instead, he prompted Wobbuffet to walk forward with him.

    "Right, come on!" Serena said cheerily and she began to run off through the streets, gripping tightly to her bag straps. Despite some groans of physical exertion from Team Rocket, they all followed after her, winding her way through the rather familiar metropolis (or as close to one that Alola could get). Some people greeted her as genially as possible, and Serena returned the waves and greetings of "alola" as she ran, turning past the Pokémon Center and racing for the edge of town. All too soon, the paved roads began to turn to dirt as the familiar sight of the Pokémon School rapidly came into view.

    She hadn't expected this particular sight, but as they came closer, she noticed Ilima was outside there, reading a book as the children played outside.

    "Ilima!" she called out. Some of the kids were distracted, staring at her in interest, but none of them could beat the pink-haired man, who looked up and right at her. A soft smile graced his features and he closed his book quietly, moving to stand. She finished running right up to him. "It's good to see you again!"

    "Yes, and certainly unexpected for me," the man said. He offered no gesture of greeting, unless one counted a nod of acknowledgement to Gladion. "Last I had heard from Kahuna Hala, you were gathering at the Aether Foundation."

    "So, you know about all that, too," Gladion commented, folding his arms as he stared at the captain. Ilima nodded, prompting the blond to sigh just a little bit. "Guess I shouldn't be surprised. We did involve the Kahunas, so it's no great shock that the captains would be planning to get involved."

    "Indeed," was Ilima's rather curt response. "We're already more than involved, considering our own plans for the Day of Stars, should the initial strike fail. Unfortunately, we can't seem to be involved before then…"

    Serena's lips thinned a little, thinking and wondering. She knew that the Tapus weren't planning on intervening with the preemptive strike, but would on the Day of Stars…it made her wonder if, perhaps, nature was conspiring against them in that case, or if it was all simply moving to its own schedule, regardless of human machinations. Either way, she considered it a blessing that the captains were still considering helping out alongside the Kahunas.

    "It's unimportant. Hopefully we'll succeed regardless," Gladion said, glancing back in the direction they had come from. Ilima once more nodded and looked to Serena carefully.

    "So, if you're all preparing…why are you on Melemele instead of Poni Island?"

    "Oh…right," Serena sighed out, laced with little chuckles as she did so. "Ash never showed up at our meeting. We know he came to Melemele, but beyond that, no one truly seems to know where he is, along with Kahili. So, I was planning on taking us to Iki Town and asking Hala, since he seems to know everything about whatever is going on with the island."

    "Hala is always well-informed, even if he doesn't share all the information with us that would be entirely pertinent," Ilima agreed. One of his hands flew to his hair, playing with the pendant there, glittering in the sun. "But Hala left Iki Town late last night and has yet to return."

    "Oh…" Serena said, feeling slightly deflated. She soon felt a hand on her shoulder and saw Gladion's stern expression. In the absence of Ash, it was like a reminder to never give up. She smiled. If Hala had left the town, but not the island, then it was possible… "Do you know where he went?"

    "I personally don't," Ilima insisted to her, but he didn't stop there, "however, I'm sure he told Kukui, who came back in last night and crashed at his lab. They've all been working tirelessly for the Day of Stars and the League."

    "I'd imagine. Thanks, Ilima," Serena said, offering him a smile and turning towards the forest. She instantly started forward, leading the others with her in the direction of where the path split from Iki Town.

    "Down by the beach, Serena!" Ilima called calmly. "That's where you'll find the lab, all right?"

    "Got it!" With those words of thanks and farewell, their group of five set off once more. She threw a look back to Ilima, who was folding his arms with a concerned expression, gazing back towards the school, but neither shared any further words. Serena just plunged into the forest, dappled with sunlight as they ran through the area in record time to emerge outside of it. Naturally, it seemed much shorter than it had all the other times she traveled through, though that could have been the speed at which they were tracking.

    Before long, Serena found their group at the crossroads. Usually, she would have taken the road directly to her left, leading up the hill to where Iki Town rested. This time, however, she turned right and began walking that particular, and unfamiliar, dirt path. Surprisingly, Team Rocket was keeping pace with her (not without grumbles, of course), though the surprise mostly stemmed from the fact that they would usually use the Meowth Balloon more than once to get to difficult places.

    Their feet soon and suddenly touched down upon the encroaching beach before them, stretching forward a good ways unto the ocean that glistened in the midday sun. Far to her right was a large mountain, small holes for sunlight breaking it up, like it wasn't quite a mountain, but more of an encapsulated hill. Most importantly was the house, boarded-up and slightly uneven on the sands, sitting in the middle of the beach. Serena could only guess that this was Kukui's lab. She straightened her back and ran forward towards it.

    A sudden rumbling trembled through the area, and though Serena's feet didn't stop, her progress slowed a little as she looked in the direction of the gigantic hill. The sounds and rumbles were most definitely coming from there, yet most of the Pokémon weren't even reacting, as though all of this was natural. It was either disturbing or amusing, but Serena couldn't decide which. She pressed on, making her way towards the lab. As she neared the front, she noticed that someone, or two someones, were on the porch, lounging rather comfortably. It was easy to tell, the closer they got, that it was Kukui and his Gallade.

    They were barely even reacting to the tremors. From the sight of that, she didn't quite want to wake them from their sunbathing nap, but knowing they'd get nowhere if she didn't, the honey-blonde stepped on to the porch with clomping footsteps. Gallade cracked an eye open.

    "Gall Gallade," the Blade Pokémon said, raising his elongated arms to nudge his trainer. Kukui stirred, but only managed to push his hat down over his eyes, like he didn't want to be woken. "Lade lade gall!"

    "Oh, just a couple minutes more, Gallade…we have to get moving soon thanks to Master Hala's request, so let me-"

    "Just wake up already, lazy professor!" Jessie snapped. Patience was still not one of her strong suits, no matter what the situation was. Kukui finally cracked an eye open at this point and lifted his hat up to see just who was there. He seemed to not even notice Team Rocket there, but his gaze widened upon the sight of Gladion. The blond nodded at the professor, and it caused the man to sit up straight and then look over to where Serena was standing.

    "Hi, Professor Kukui. Sorry to wake you," she insisted, touching her palms together with an apologetic smile. Kukui yawned widely, taking off his hat to run his hand through his hair while he smiled.

    "Nah, it's nothing," the man replied. He stood, Gallade going with him as he did so. His hands lowered themselves into his lab coat now while his expression changed to one of puzzlement. "Wait…Serena? Gladion? Team Rocker?"

    "It's Rocket!" the three of them corrected him instantly. He ignored them, like usual. Serena decided to avoid the inevitable question and answered directly from the very beginning.

    "Ash and Kahili never showed up at the rendezvous," she said simply. Gladion clearly decided to chime in, himself.

    "Neither did you," he noted. To that, Kukui laughed, like it was no big deal. It really wasn't one, since they had still been able to procure everything they needed, and there had never seemed to be an agreement that the professor would meet up with them in the first place. Kukui seemed to realize this, because he didn't adopt an apologetic expression even once. "Anyway, Ash never showed up and no one knows where he is except for being on Melemele, so we came here to find him and Kahili. For the Moon Flute."

    "Knew I was forgetting to do something," Kukui said just before yawning loudly again. He looked pretty exhausted, though Serena figured it had something to do with jetlag more than the current situation they were all finding themselves in. "I was supposed to tell the boat driver that he'd be delayed, but I was so exhausted from my trip to Kalos that I fell asleep…Akela did warn me about not sleeping on the plane."

    "So, you know where he is?" Serena asked simply. At first, Kukui only grinned, but he soon followed it up with a more verbal answer.

    "Ah, yeah…though I was only told by Master Hala last night. That man loves to keep his secrets close when he's asked to," the professor admitted. It made sense to Serena: the only person who could have actually effectively answered was also the one who had happened to fall asleep from his trip. It wasn't the most ideal, but…

    "Wait, you were supposed to say he'd be coming late?" she asked. Kukui dispensed with the grin and finished stretching himself in order to leap over his railing and onto the sand (which happened to puff up into Team Rocket's faces).

    "That's a thing for later," the professor said, beckoning them all forward. Before Serena could get another word in edgewise, the man was walking across the beach, towards the hill in the distance, and the mouth of a cave there that led inward. "Right now, you want to see Ash, don't you? Come on."

    "Honestly," Gladion scoffed, shaking his head. Serena shared in the sentiments as the two followed after the somewhat flighty professor, Silvally padding alongside them, almost looking eager. She understood that he was busy with all the preparations for what was about to occur, but forgetting a detail as important as Ash arriving to the rendezvous late was something that she felt shouldn't have escaped him (though, exhaustion wasn't the worst excuse). Nevertheless, they followed after him.

    More tremors shook the area, startling her once more, while Gladion laughed at it. He didn't offer any explanation for the strange event, but continued onward as they approached the cave at the base of the hill. The mountainous form soon loomed above them in an almost ominous fashion, but none of that deterred Kukui. He did, however, look back for a second. "Serena, you'll want Braixen. It gets a little dark until we reach the flower field."

    "Okay," Serena noted, quickly calling out her all too faithful Pokémon. Braixen's stick was lit aflame with a smile, while behind her, Gourgeist brightened up like a nightlight as their entire group entered into the mouth of the cave. The wall was splashed with light, allowing them to have a guide of where to go, even if Kukui appeared to know the way forward rather well. "So…he's here…?"

    "So I was told," Kukui admitted, showing that he wasn't quite as knowledgeable as she'd thought. Either way, he was pretty confident. "Did everything go smoothly at the Foundation for the attack? I wanted to be there, but the League called for me and Akela…"

    "Everything's fine," Gladion answered simply. "By tomorrow morning, we should hopefully be pulling everything off. Or that's Lionel's assumption, at the very least. The only things in our way are Ash and Kahili's absence and…"

    "Dose bozos from Team Skull," Meowth elaborated. Instead of looking like it was obvious, Kukui's face tightened, and Serena wondered if it had to do with his reasons for stating Ash would be late. She also had to think about Kukui's mention of Miss Akela.

    "Mmm, well, I'm sure everything should go fine," Kukui expressed. "After I'm done here, I need to be getting to Mount Lanakila, but you guys and ARC seem to be well-prepared. I'm sure after the last month here, Ash should be pretty well prepared. From what Master Hala tells me, their training battles have almost been nothing short of titanic."

    "That's Ash, going in one hundred percent on pretty much everything," Serena expressed with a laugh. Next to her, Braixen was nodding in agreement. Kukui happened to grin at that, his eyes searching her for some kind of statement. The only thing she could think of was that it was in regards to the declaration she'd asked him to deliver to Akela. The one she was close to answering. Kukui seemed to understand this state of her mind, because he didn't look for long.

    "I would think he'd need to. You know, this used to actually be a trial site a long time ago," Kukui pointed out. Serena's eyebrows flew upward. The tremors were growing louder now. More than that, a few shouts seemed to be peppered throughout at this point, but they sounded like mere gibberish. "It's no surprise a Flying type trainer like Kahili would choose here, either, since it's the only place Flynium-Z can be found. It's like a different kind of trial for Ash, I guess, but hardly official. Plus, it's the one place on Melemele where things can just get savage."

    "Let's just get to the twerp…" James sighed out. To that, Serena was in agreement and she picked up her pace, walking past even Kukui at the sight of the beckoning light that was up ahead. Unable to stop herself, her feet flew across the rock, getting a whiff of the flower field that lay beyond. The shouts were clearer now, and much more distinct as being those belonging to her boyfriend and his teacher.

    "Sky Uppercut, let's go!" Serena felt a smile blossoming all over her face. It was Ash! He was actually here! And what was more, he was battling! So typical…

    "Steel Wing, block it!" Kahili's voice was just as sharp and commanding as ever, and Serena finally ran out into the light. The rock turned to grass beneath her feet and she didn't stop until she saw the sight of the two combatants in the middle of the large hilltop. Her eyes widened, especially when Gladion stopped right next to her, blinking rapidly.

    It was definitely Ash, but he looked different. His hat was discarded, having fallen atop Pikachu's head, and his hair was fluttering in the wind. It was still as unruly as ever, but no longer than before, if less tamed than it had been prior to the month apart. Then, there were the bruises on his body, some covered up with bandages while others were not. Near to him were most of the members of his team, looking thoroughly exhausted, themselves; even Pikachu, who rested against Toucannon, despite his cheers. In front of Ash, however, was a Pokémon that Serena had never seen. It was large and scaly, like a majestic, bipedal dragon.

    "A Kommo-o," Kukui noted, coming up behind Serena and Gladion. Ash didn't hear or see them, too into the match he was having to even register another's presence. "Looks like Ash's Hakamo-o has evolved in the last month. They must have been training real hard."

    "I would hope so," grumbled a voice to the side. Serena leaned forward and looked to see Hala sitting cross-legged on a rock as he watched the battle. At this moment, she also noticed how much of the area was ringed with various Pokémon, particularly some Lycanroc and Rockruff that were watching the match enthusiastically. "After having me direct them here, help to prevent either of them from leaving and then keep it all a secret, anything less would be disappointing. Although, they've already been battling for nearly twenty-four hours on this single six-on-six match alone."

    "That long? !" Jessie and James yelled.

    "Wobba wobb wobba!"

    "Dey're not human…"

    "I'm sure they've taken a break for some food and rest…" Gladion stated with a roll of his eyes. He took a moment before muttering under his breath, "I hope…"

    Serena could only stare in awe at the sight of the two trainers before them. It was obvious that Hala had come to watch the battle to its fruition, and it must have been intense prior to their arrival, given his piercing and focused gaze on the action. Kahili was leaning on one of her golf clubs, numerous bruises all over her body, as well. They had to have beaten each other up immensely. Casting her gaze around, Serena noticed numerous other golf clubs, bent or broken, along with a multitude of branches. Then there were the resting Pokémon: four on each side. Their battle wasn't even finished yet…

    "Let's finish this, Kommo-o! X-Scissor!" Serena turned to look at her boyfriend and felt a blush rise into her cheeks without prompting. He looked quite rugged and handsome this way, other than the bruises, but she knew those would heal.

    "Komohhhhh!" the large dragon cried out, crossing his fists in front of himself and running for Skarmory. There was a purple glow flying from his arms as he ran, while Skarmory remained fixed there.

    "Hit it with Steel Wing," Kahili said, straightening herself and planting her golf club into the ground. Skarmory floated back for just a moment before spinning and sending itself careening for Kommo-o, its wing a blinding white. The two clashed, the attacks straining against one another. A large gust of wind blasted outward, causing Serena to tamp down her skirt. Around them, the Pokémon, including both Ash's team and those ringing the area, were all cheering loudly. There was no wonder as to how the mountain had been shaking and trembling at this point. It was a battle of titanic proportions.

    "Clanging Scales!" Ash called, punching forward. Kommo-o seemed to grin, at least from what Serena saw, and its scales quivered. A loud sound was made like a banging on pots and pans, but more eclectic and even louder than before. Suddenly, some of the scales on Kommo-o's figure flew outward, blasting against Skarmory with explosive force. Those scales seemed to instantly grow back upon Kommo-o's body while Skarmory was pushed back. "Now, Sky Uppercut!"

    "Koh!" Kommo-o roared, one of its fists slamming upward with a glow that nailed Skarmory's midsection and sent it spiraling into the sky, twirling through it. Kahili didn't look all too worried; of course, neither did Ash. That they must have grown to learn each other's strategies on an intricate level over the last month was Serena's quick and obvious conclusion.

    "Air Cutter!" the sky blue-haired woman commanded. Skarmory put its spiraling to good use, spinning around and sending the sharp and rotating blades of pure wind out towards Kommo-o. Said dragon shifted his foot back a bit, his gaze upon Ash. Serena's boyfriend nodded.

    "Block it with Poison Jab!" he said, a small grin on his face. Kommo-o went to work, both of his fists glowing purple as he struck forward. They flew forward at an immense speed, knocking into the blades that made up the Air Cutter. Next to her, Gladion was actually grinning at the sight of the battle, almost like he was imagining battling Ash, himself. Serena wasn't sure what to think, other than how much Ash must have improved in the last month, though she supposed that they all had in their own way. Skarmory was diving down, a silvery light forming in its mouth before it fired and nailed Kommo-o. "Clanging Scales, again!"

    "Not this time, Ash," Kahili said, her lips twitching upwards into a smirk. She brought her arms up, and Serena noticed the Z-Ring around her wrist, a blue glow upon it. Like with every Z-Move (as she was most familiar with), Kahili then uncrossed her arms and crossed them again. From there, her movement changed, as did Skarmory's. Her arms became like wings, flapping themselves before she fell and sprung right up, her fist in the air. "Supersonic Skystrike!"

    "Finally!" Ash gasped out. Skarmory suddenly brimmed with the light of a Z-Move before shooting upward, causing part of the ground to ripple. It spun through the air, twisting with powerful speed before changing direction and aiming right for Kommo-o. "I've been trying to get you to use that move all battle! Get ready Kommo-o, just like we've practiced with Passimian!"

    "Passi!" Passimian agreed, cheering his compatriot on as he stamped the ground with his berry. Kommo-o prepared himself and Skarmory dove forward at a near sonic speed that ripped up the dirt of the field. Then, just as the metal bird was about to make impact, Kommo-o struck forward with a Sky Uppercut. Both attacks made their marks, colliding with one another at high impact and causing the ground to go blasting apart around the two Pokémon. Team Rocket screamed, though it was hardly heard over the sound of the explosion. Serena only had widened eyes, and they got wider when she saw the result: both Skarmory and Kommo-o were down.

    "Well, then…didn't see that coming," Kahili spat out, but she seemed to be grinning with it. Hala shifted on his placement, feet coming down to place themselves on the ground.

    "This next battle should be short, then," he mumbled. Serena wasn't sure what to make of that, so she just continued to watch. Ash and Kahili had both approached their Pokémon, helping them off to the side to join the rest of their teams. Pikachu and Passimian were the first to greet Kommo-o, who nodded wearily while Ash tossed him a Sitrus Berry. Neither trainer had noticed their party guests yet, too involved in the battle.

    "Well, then, let's settle this, huh?" Kahili called out, tossing her final pokeball out. Ash did too, and Serena watched as Kahili's Toucannon and Ash's Decidueye emerged. Both already looked exhausted, like they had taken part in the battle before. Hala's words made complete sense.

    "His team's gotten a lot stronger, huh, Silvally?" Gladion asked of his partner Pokémon. Silvally growled, pawing at the ground with anticipation. Even Kukui was chuckling, all of their gazes riveted on the battlefield.

    "Decidueye, use Spirit Shackle!" Serena's eyes narrowed; Ash was up to something, considering Toucannon's typing and his use of a Ghost type move. Kahili must have thought the same, because she looked skeptical. Decidueye changed his position a little, drawing back on his wing like an archer. A ghostly arrow was formed and then shot outwards for Toucannon, who didn't even move to avoid it…at least, not at first.

    "Get moving," Kahili ordered. Toucannon took to the air, flying around at a rapid speed. Decidueye didn't stop firing, continually shooting arrow after arrow on Ash's orders, even as Toucannon turned towards him. "Now, Bullet Seed!"

    "Blast it away!" Ash called. Serena had to laugh. It made sense now. Toucannon reared back and began firing the array of seeds towards Decidueye in a spraying motion. Decidueye didn't stop, his arrows' aim true. They impacted with the Grass type attack, causing them to explode in midair. He had only been using it to pick up the speed and accuracy of the move! "Now, let's do it, Decidueye! We've been working on this move forever, and I think we can make it work right now!"

    "Deroo!" Decidueye hooted out, and though Serena couldn't see his face, she could tell how determined he was. Ash plunged his hand down, a grin upon his face while Decidueye moved to do the same thing.

    "Frenzy Plant!"

    "The twerp has a super-powered move like that? !" Jessie and James yelled at the same time. Decidueye's wing swept along the ground and gnarly, thick vines suddenly burst from the ground, dirt flying everywhere. Toucannon managed to avoid the first of them, only for the second to smack into him. More than that, Serena noticed that Decidueye had managed to vanish.

    "And here I was hoping it wouldn't work," Kahili scoffed out. She reached up to remove her golfing cap, letting her long, periwinkle blue hair flow out behind her. She gripped her golf club, and Ash tensed. Then…she started running at him!

    "Leaf Blade!" Ash cried, just before Kahili could reach him. It was almost insane to watch. Kahili swung the golf club at him, but he managed to pull himself back, avoiding the swing. At the same time, Decidueye appeared, hanging from one of the lingering branches of the writhing Frenzy Plant. He tossed his blades and they impacted with Toucannon, sending it careening. "Now, Acrobatics!"

    "Beak Blast!" Ash grimaced, but reached his arm out to catch the golf club and pull it closer, knocking his head against his mentor. She barely flinched. The bruises made sense now.

    "Pull back the second the force hits," Ash cried. Decidueye was zipping forward with his blue glow. The attack's force rippled through the vines, cutting those around them away as it slammed into Toucannon's beak. The red-hot beak glowed brightly and Decidueye altered his course, leaping behind one of the vines as he slid down. Then Toucannon's beak exploded. Decidueye was caught in the blast, flying forwards towards Ash and Kahili. The plants all flew upwards and away, Decidueye's hiding place now completely removed.

    "Bullet Seed, one more time!" Kahili yelled. She seemed pretty confident, but Ash wasn't losing his telltale grin from battle. Serena watched him a moment, trying to discern his actions a little better. He had definitely grown stronger, and his battle strategy was as impeccable as ever…but there seemed to be something missing. It made whatever she had worried about earlier, grow.

    "Defend yourself with Leaf Blade!" Ash yelled. Decidueye made no noise, and not even his wings did as he drew his glowing green blades and began to slash them back and forth with incredible speed, knocking the seeds away. Kahili yelled a command, but Serena had been focusing too much on her boyfriend to hear it. The move became rather obvious, however, when Toucannon's body blazed blue and shot for Decidueye once more. "Block it now!"

    "Kooroo!" The blades crossed themselves as Toucannon made impact, sending the grass rippling around them. Decidueye looked to be struggling, though both of the battling Pokémon were more than exhausted. Then, Ash screamed a command and Decidueye's talon flew upwards with a blue glow, slamming into Toucannon and breaking it off.

    "Now, Frenzy Plant and Leaf Blade, one more time!" Ash cried, finally ripping the golf club away from Kahili and sending it flying off to the side where it smashed against a rock. Decidueye's wing swept the ground and the writhing roots emerged, slamming into Toucannon before encapsulating it and trapping it there. The Arrow Quill Pokémon leapt upwards, drawing both green blades and then throwing them straight at his opponent before drawing another pair and slicing right through him. The exploding and collapsing plants spelled the end of the battle, debris from the roots floating up into the air.

    Toucannon fell with the roots, slamming into the ground with an utterly dazed expression, and a gasp of, "Toucah…"

    "Well…damn…" Kahili said, done trying to hit Ash by this point, her faculties more focused on watching her fallen Pokémon. She broke away and ran to its side while Decidueye dropped next to Ash. Her boyfriend looked unsteady a moment, and then he fell to his knees. "I thought we had you when I got Pikachu to use Gigavolt Havoc…"

    "We won…?" Ash asked, completely oblivious to Kahili's statements. He suddenly started to laugh, flinging his fists into the air from his position. His other Pokémon all joined in on the action, making a beeline for him. Lycanroc reached there first, almost tackling him. "We won!"

    "Pipikachu!" Pikachu cried and Ash began to laugh. Serena stepped forward, but found her eyes looking at Hala. The Kahuna was nodding, though there was no smile on his lips. It felt a bit like a confirmation of what she'd seen earlier. Ash was stronger, there was no doubt…but it almost seemed like beyond his purpose of wanting to protect everyone, he didn't know what the strength was even for. Although, his improved ability to remain unfettered in the moment of someone attacking him or whatnot was certainly admirable.

    "A whole month…we finally beat her after a whole month…" Ash breathed out. Kahili was approaching him now, a small crystal in her hand that she flicked upward in an arc. Ash's hand reached up and snatched it.

    "Nice job. You've completed training, I guess," she said. Ash just continued to exhale in complete relief, laughing a little. It definitely rang hollow in Serena's ears. She didn't like the sound of it, so she decided to change it, especially as she approached and could see his filthy visage from a whole day's worth of battling. He didn't quite notice her as she approached, though Kahili did, blinking and looking away to everyone else. Her face adopted a sheepish expression and she backed away.

    Then, Serena stopped and dug into her bag, pulling out a handkerchief, holding it out towards him; it wasn't the one that had brought them together, but the memory was more than enough. His Pokémon turned and saw her, but didn't say anything right away.

    "Oh, than…" Ash stopped, gazing at the handkerchief and then looking up until he saw her. She smiled down at him, and he made no movement or expression for a moment. Pikachu was the first.

    "Pipika!" he cried, jumping towards her. Her hand dropped the handkerchief, Ash catching it as she caught the little mouse. Ash just flapped his mouth a bit, and finally, his eyes smiled.

    "Serena!" he said, his lips finally twitching upwards. She freed one of her hands then and held it outwards. He gazed at it a moment and then reached forward, clasping it, along with the handkerchief.

    "Welcome back, Ash." And his smile was everything to her in that moment; it was the only one that mattered. Finally, that was enough.


    Author's Note: I feel like not much happened in this chapter, yet it was still important to actually have it happen. If it didn't, I feel that things would have been way too jumpy. However, there were a lot of things going on, really. The captains and the Tapus seem to be preparing, and apparently, Ash was always going to be late. Of course, I'll dive more into him next chapter. But here, at least, you get to see part of the reason I struck on a month timeskip: it allowed the chance to evolve Hakamo-o (considering what's to come) and finalize the movesets that I wanted them all to have. Likewise, when it comes to Clanging Scales, I changed it a bit, mostly because I find it weird that Kommo-o, a physical oriented Pokémon, has a signature move that's special-oriented. I turned it into sort of both.

    Hope all of that works for you. Either way, next chapter will be pretty important…well, okay, they're all going to be important from here on out.

    I hope you're enjoying this final installment so far and will keep going with me to the end. Until that next chapter, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Almost done with all the setup here, I promise! But nevertheless, this chapter's a pretty important one. So, that said, time for Chapter 4!


    Chapter 4

    A Past

    Ash genuinely couldn't believe it. For a moment, he thought he was standing in a dream, if it weren't for the warmth of her hand in his. It felt like so long since he'd seen her, maybe even an eternity. That's why, even as she pulled him up, he still couldn't dare to believe it was little more than a figment of his imagination. He blinked a little, removing his hand from inside hers, and then he moved to wipe his face with the handkerchief.

    In hindsight, he supposed, that should have been the first clue that she was actually real. Nevertheless, he persisted in using the handkerchief to wipe all the grime off that he had accumulated thanks to the sweat and work for the day. His bruises still stung a little, but there weren't that many left from all of his battles against Kahili; his body had grown much stronger in that regard. When he finally ceased his actions, Ash looked over and saw that she was still standing there, holding on to Pikachu. Since Pikachu had not learned how to float in midair (sure, they had learned a lot of things over the last month, but that wasn't one of those things), he had to come to the easy conclusion that she was real.

    "Serena…" he finally breathed. Before he could stop himself, he'd closed the distance between them and managed to surprise her by moving right in for a kiss. She nearly dropped Pikachu, his best buddy squeezed into her chest as he gasped for air. For that moment, Ash didn't care. Serena was real, and she was here, and he'd missed her, and all he wanted to do was… "Wait a sec…why are you here?"

    "Today was the rendezvous date," Serena said, gasping for breath as their lips disconnected from one another. Ash offered another blink, staring down at Pikachu (refusing to look anywhere around that area except for his friend's eyes, no matter the sudden difficulty).

    "That was today?" he asked. Pikachu just shrugged. "Oh…it was today! Man, I totally forgot!"

    "That's so like you," Serena laughed out, affording Ash the chance to step away and look to his Pokémon in trepidation. Now that he was back in firm reality, Ash finally realized how much he smelled…and that a large amount of his clothing, or at least his vest and shorts, were discarded near his backpack.

    "Stop freaking out," Kahili called out. Ash looked to her, the woman that had been training him for a whole month, and saw that she looked just as liable to keel over as he was. Battling straight for twenty-four hours could do that to a person, and he suddenly realized his exhaustion factor. "Go wash yourself off in the spring before anything else. I probably should, too."

    "You guys bathe in springs…?" Serena asked of him. Ash turned and grinned to her. As he did so, Pikachu wriggled free of her arms and returned to the rest of his Pokémon, all leading their own way towards the small cave that contained the springs in the back.

    "Well, there's no other way to take a bath," Ash laughed out and he jerked his head in its direction. He just barely turned his back, when suddenly, he felt something pressing down upon it.

    "Twerp!" Whipping his head at the name being used, Ash's eyes widened before he felt himself flattened underneath the combined group that was Team Rocket. "We were almost worried when you and Pikachu didn't show up!"

    "I thought you mighta died!" Meowth practically bawled out. Ash struggled to get out from under them, but found he couldn't. Thankfully, Passimian and Kommo-o approached with their second wind, and both used a single arm to take the crying trio off of him.

    "Thanks, you guys," Ash said, sitting up and turning to see the four members of Team Rocket with tears streaming down their faces. "Good to see you guys, as well."

    "Pika!"

    "Aw, Pikachu, do ya mean it?" Meowth asked, extending his paw, with tears from his eyes, to the little mouse. Ash wore a bemused expression, especially when, seconds later, Pikachu shocked the feline. "Dat's da stuff…"

    "Sorry we're late, I guess," Ash spoke. He wiped his face one more time and grimaced at how filthy the handkerchief was. Choosing to not hand it back to Serena in its current state, he stood again and walked over to his bag to tuck it in, making sure to grab some fresh underclothes before walking over to the small cave. Serena followed after, and he noticed that Kahili was lagging behind, as well, taking the time to straighten her hair out as she carried her own clothing.

    "I see Hakamo-o evolved," Serena said, holding her hands behind her back now, as she walked. Ash grinned at it, his trusty Dragon type drawing near enough for him to pat him on the head.

    "Sure did. Just a couple days ago, too," Ash pointed out. He could finally feel the soreness all over his body, though he wasn't exactly exhausted either. They finally reached the back end of the caves and the springs that were there, two sides separated by a mountainous wall of rocks. Kahili quickly brushed past them, making for the other side that was completely obscured from view. The sound of water a minute later indicated that she was cleansing herself. "We've worked really hard the past month and learned lots of new moves and strategies. Kahili is one heck of a trainer."

    "I could tell from your battle with each other. You really understand the way she works now, huh?" Serena said. Her voice sounded different, like she was looking away. Ash took that as the opportunity to strip and slip himself into the spring with his Pokémon. His lower body now obscured, Serena faced forward again and sat herself upon a rock.

    Ash leaned back. He did understand Kahili…better than he understood most people other than his rivals and friends. They had spent a lot of time together: training, eating, beating each other up (she beat him much more often than the opposite). They didn't bathe together, though, and Ash was grateful for that. After a month of intensive training and battered bodies, they had all grown stronger, prepared for every challenge ahead.

    At least, physically they were ready for every challenge.

    Mentally, Ash felt, was a whole other battle. Sure, he had steeled himself to deal with anything that could fly at a person in the heat of battle: Kahili attacking you in your sleep to start a training battle would train anyone to keep their composure under pressure. Yet at the same time, he was no closer to finding that answer. Why do you want to be a Pokémon Master? What is a Pokémon Master? Kahili hadn't bothered to ask the questions, too focused on actively training him, but it had been at the back of his mind the whole time.

    And for the first time, he was beginning to feel like it was all pointless, this kind of training. No doubt it would be useful in the upcoming battle, of course, but he still felt…lost. Feeling that, he looked up and over to Serena.

    "You look like you've been well. How are the others?" Ash asked of Serena, reaching over to take a towel from his bag and begin washing himself off.

    "They're good. Lillie and Bonnie went with Greninja and Lionel to meet Clemont on Poni Island," she told him. He nodded, making sure to clean every area that he could. The spring's waters felt rejuvenating, restoring some of his and his team's lost energy as he scrubbed himself. His Pokémon were likewise relaxing after a hard-won battle (he still couldn't believe that they'd actually managed to win). "It's looking like we're all set. You and Kahili were the only pieces missing."

    "Yeah, sorry again," Ash chuckled out, picking up some water and splashing it over his head. He paused and looked over to his girlfriend. She was smiling, and looked older, once more. Mature. He swallowed a bit as he took in her figure and stopped near her eyes. They seemed to have a resolve inside of them. Or maybe it was just an inkling or notion. The month had done her good.

    "Ash, did you…did you find your answer?" she asked. He paused, but then resumed scrubbing the rest of his body and rinsing it off before he gave a single word in reply: no. He made to move out of the spring while she turned away and he dressed, feeling fully refreshed and in fighting mode again. Once his underwear was on, he decided to answer in full and she turned back, though not without a blush.

    "Somedays I think I do, but then I realize that I don't," he answered honestly, if with confusion. The concept was confusing enough for himself, so vocalizing it was even more difficult. Serena shifted off of the rock, coming to stand and walk closer to him. He turned away, towards his Pokémon that were emerging and shaking themselves off. "It's just…"

    "I understand," Serena whispered. He felt her arms snake around him from behind, her forearms against his skin as she placed her head on his shoulders. "I know you'll figure it out, though."

    "Yeah," he breathed, enjoying having her there. The sound of splashing water drew him back to his senses, telling him that Kahili had emerged on the other side.

    He was still searching for his answer, he knew, but maybe now he could find one. Back in Heahea, he thought he had found it: that purpose to protect everyone he cared about, or just everyone in general. Purpose was not the same as a dream, though. That was the only thing he had to figure out. How did all of this battling, Z-Moves, trials…the League…how did any of it move him closer to being a Pokémon Master? That was what he knew he had to figure out. That was the only reason he felt he'd made progress in the last month, simply because he'd come to accept that it was a fact he needed to discover, and soon. How he would, though…

    Ash sighed out loud and Serena removed herself from him so he could finish getting dressed. As he threw his vest on, he could still recall Guzma's sharp words from their last battle. It was those insults that had helped drive him to become stronger, but the man had been right about one thing he wanted to deny: he didn't really know who he was. If he couldn't answer a simple question about his lifelong dream, how could he? Then I just have to figure it out.

    "Hey, thanks for coming to get me, Serena," Ash said, turning to grin at his girlfriend. She smiled back, looking as angelic as ever, though it could have just been because he hadn't seen her in so long. That overwhelming urge to kiss her again took him over and he stepped forward, placing his hand on her back and doing so. She melted into it and his hand moved upwards, feeling the skin of her back as her shirt rode up a bit. Soon, something which felt like a towel smacked into his back.

    "Break it up, lover boy. No more dawdling," Kahili's voice snapped. Ash broke the embrace and glared at her playfully. She, like always, didn't care very much and laughed.

    "Well, guess we should get going, huh? Everyone, ready to move on?" Ash called to his team. They all cheered, Toucannon atop Decidueye while Lycanroc howled, and the pair of Passimian and Kommo-o bumped fists with one another. Ash grinned at them and took his pokeballs out to return them. Then he grabbed hold of Serena's hand and followed after his teacher, with Pikachu on his shoulder.

    In mere seconds, they had arrived back in the field of flowers, and Ash noticed that the audience of Pokémon (some of which he had trained against when Kahili wasn't trying to kill him with her golf club) had all disappeared now. It was a shame, given that he wanted to thank them for all their help, but he passed it off for the sight of the rest of the group before him…including Gladion. He slowed.

    "Gladion," he said, offering a nod in the boy's direction. The blond looked like he was working really hard to think of something to say, but ended up opting for a nod. Ash sighed inside, guessing that now wasn't the time for the two of them to work out where they'd left it. It would have to come later.

    "Good, we're all here, then," Hala grumbled out, nodding his head to Ash and Kahili. The raven-haired trainer had all but forgotten that the Kahuna had been watching their battle since last night. Although, it was difficult to know if he'd actually fallen asleep at any point, given that his eyes seemed closed usually. "Quite the battle you two had. It's best to have Nurse Joy look over your Pokémon in Hau'oli City before you depart for Poni Island."

    "Right…the Moon Flute," Kahili said, stretching a bit. She was fully dressed now, hat replaced and everything, slinging a bag over her shoulders. "Well, firstly, no worries about the Pokémon Center; you know these springs are restorative, otherwise I wouldn't have chosen this place. As for the Moon Flute, I've heard my rumors and have a vague idea of where it could be, though I only hold part of the knowledge. Poni is weird that way. Myself, Hapu and Mina together could figure it out, maybe with help from the chief of the Seafolk Village. Or maybe on our own. I don't know how much the other two were told. It could be the complete knowledge, or there could still be some missing fragments of what we were told. Either way, won't take long. You guys found the Sun Flute, right?"

    "On its way to Poni Island right now," Gladion noted, folding his arms across himself. Ash separated his hand from Serena's, looking at Team Rocket scurrying up behind them.

    "The board is set, then!" Hala proclaimed. "Now that Ash and Kahili have completed their training with one another, we can finally make good on that preemptive strike. The smaller the party for now, the better."

    "Uh-huh…what's the real reason you're here, Kahuna Hala? I expressly forbade Ash from taking any Grand Trial against you, and it's not like you'll be leaving Melemele with us, so why?" Kahili questioned, arching an eyebrow as she took one of her remaining golf clubs and drilled it into the ground. Ash moved his gaze along, staring straight at the questioned man. Hala said nothing, but soon gave a knowing grin.

    "The battle ahead is against people we know quite well, isn't it?" Hala said. Gladion fidgeted a little, no doubt thinking about his mother. It drew Ash's own mind back to Guzma, and his lips pursed, particularly when Hala looked right at him. That was the reason he was here, though Ash decided to not question it. "To that end…Ash, Kahili, I've no doubt the both of you have learned much of each other through battle in the last month…yet how can you expect to face an opponent you know almost nothing about?"

    "Are you talking about Team Skull?" Kahili asked, almost like she was challenging the man. Hala grunted, and then he turned to walk away, as though leaving the Hill entirely.

    "It won't take long," the Kahuna spoke with authority, "however, there is something that you very much need to see. I'll prepare a Tauros carriage and we'll meet at the Pokémon School." He must have intended that to be his definitive stance on the matter, because he walked off without putting another word in. Ash watched him depart, glancing first to an equally confused Pikachu before looking towards Kukui, who appeared to be frowning.

    "The school…" he murmured, looking just a little uncomfortable with the whole notion as he, too, began to walk off after Hala. Ash now looked to Kahili and then Serena, both of the females looking remarkably confused, leastways, until Kahili sighed.

    "Might as well see what he wants," she stated with a shrug. Ash didn't say anything, mostly because he couldn't even figure out what to say in the situation. Gladion and Team Rocket (surprisingly) were silent as well, only making any kind of noise with their feet as they stepped forward to lead the way out. Pikachu cast his gaze forward to the thieving trio, like he was watching them and their movements carefully. Eventually, just Ash, Serena and Kahili were taking up the rear though, the formidable and unknown Pokémon at Gladion's side growling at the thieves to hurry up.

    "You certainly look to have grown over the last month, Serena," Kahili noted as they strode back through the darkened caves. Ash hadn't been this way since the start of his training, with Kahili literally trying to kill him if he even tried (he was pretty sure he nearly broke a leg that day), yet nothing remarkable had changed, really.

    "I'm sure that we all have, really," Serena laughed out in response. Ash just looked to her, noting that she really had grown. She was maybe slightly taller (or he was fooling himself about that) with some other aspects of her figure a little more slender. More than that, though, were her eyes, sharp and clear, as though she had figured something out which eluded her before. That gave him a spark of hope.

    "How's Lillie been doing?" Ash asked, his eyes traveling to Gladion's back. The boy didn't partake in the conversation, though he could tell that the blond was tensing.

    "Really well, all things considered," Serena informed him with her usual beaming smile. They were already reaching the exit from the cave now, stepping out onto the sun-bleached sands. Kukui was far ahead of them, striding across the beach towards Hau'oli City. His Gallade was joining him from the house across the way and Ash breathed in.

    "It's nice to be out in the fresher air again, huh, buddy?"

    "Pika pikachuuu…" Pikachu cooed, taking in just as much of the fresh air. Kahili laughed, slapping him on the back once more. It was like a reminder for them to keep walking forward. Shrugging to himself, Ash took Serena's hand once again and their group moved to catch up with Gladion and Team Rocket.

    They finally managed to do so just outside the forest to Hau'oli City, where Kukui was already heading inside, that same expression still upon his face in a worrisome way. Ash tried not to let it bother him, simply enjoying the time with his girlfriend and mentor. The coolness and pure nature of the forest was nice, but Ash was happy to see civilization on the horizon. He certainly enjoyed nature, but being stuck in it for a whole month with little to no human contact outside of Kahili or Hala was enough to drive anyone almost insane. That was what made his face light up with joy at the sight of the Pokémon School, that first sign of civilization again, despite the fact that Gladion and Team Rocket were stopping right outside it. Kukui had already disappeared inside.

    "So, does the old geezer want us to wait out here or…?" Jessie said with her usual snappish tone. James and Meowth both made to facepalm themselves while Gladion outright ignored them. Ash finally stopped near them and looked around, noticing that he couldn't see any other familiar faces, and since Serena was doing the same, he had to imagine she'd seen Ilima earlier.

    "Knowing Hala, him telling us to meet him here is no coincidence," Kahili said, her features sharp. Ash knew that expression quite well: the mix between skepticism, curiosity and annoyance. He also took it as the sign to heed her words, despite Team Rocket's obvious reluctance.

    "If I wanted to go back to school, I'd become a teenager just to ditch it," Jessie snapped angrily, clearly not liking the idea of their simply being here.

    "Jess, if you were in da school, I'm pretty sure ya'd flunk out," Meowth said with a snicker. Jessie kicked out at him while James yawned, showing his own boredom at the thought of entering into a school building. Of course, Ash figured that the blue-haired man had never actually gone to school in his life, likely having private tutors instead.

    "You can always go and wait on the boat, you know? We don't need you along," Gladion told them. The thieving trio stopped, looking at the boy. Ash shook his head with a laugh, reaching up to pet Pikachu as they watched Kahili make her way towards the school doors. Deliberating for all of a second, Ash chose to follow swiftly, leaving their zany trio behind.

    "Hey, if that's the case, then we'll go and wait," James said cheerfully,

    "That's a topic we don't need to debate."

    "Loungin' in da sun is our total fate!"

    "Wobb wobba wobb!"

    "Just don't make off with the boat," Serena said, throwing her voice back to the scrupulous trio. Ash looked back and saw that Jessie just smirked in Serena's direction, but didn't make a scathing remark, to his immense surprise.

    "Please, we have no means of taking Team Skull on without you, even if we'll take all the credit for beating them."

    "Not like we stand a chance without the twerps, anyway," James appeared to mumble, followed by a rather loud slap. Ash decided to not let it disturb him as he faced towards the school again, especially at the sound of Team Rocket scurrying off through the city while they finally made their way inside.

    Striding forward, Ash could see that none of the children were playing outside at this moment, and from movement inside the school, mostly on the upper floors, they had all returned to their classes. Ash quickly focused on the approaching doors, which Kahili flung open with little ceremony, fully allowing them inside. It was just as quiet there as it was out front, except for the presence of Kukui and Principal Asuka in the entrance hall. They seemed to be having some manner of conversation, but Ash couldn't figure out what it was about. Instead, he took in all of his surroundings.

    It was a quaint building, lined with little artifacts and fossils. Some things were in display cases within the wooden-floored hallway, and Ash walked towards one of them, he and Pikachu leaning forward. It was certainly a place for learning, not that Ash was all too aware of what that was like. There was a sudden tug on the back of his vest and Ash turned to Serena, her hand raised and her finger pointing towards something hanging on the wall. He quickly followed the finger, noticing that Gladion was staring at the exact same object: a picture, somewhat hidden behind a large skeleton that obscured it.

    Ash stepped closer now, peering at the picture on the wall as he moved the skeleton aside. There were three kids there, a little younger than himself. In the center looked like a teenaged Kukui, a Kirlia dancing in front of him. He was pulling a girl with purple hair and a Fomantis to him, just as she looked at him with annoyance. On the other side was another boy with shockingly white hair, a small bug Pokémon in his arms as he bumped fists with Kukui. Ash's eyes widened.

    "Is that…?"

    "The Triumphant Trio they liked to call themselves," Asuka spoke, walking away from her conversation with Kukui. The professor hung back, nervously scratching his head. Kahili just watched them all from a slight distance, leaning against the wall. "They could have been the three best students ever produced by the school. Emphasis on 'could have'."

    "It's Professor Kukui, Miss Akela and…Guzma, right?" Serena asked. Ash reached forward and gingerly took the portrait down from the wall. It definitely looked like Guzma, despite the boy lacking most of his later Skull regalia. Asuka reached over, taking the picture from his hands fondly, yet wistfully.

    "It was so long ago…"

    "Professor, you knew Guzma?" Ash asked of the man. The professor chuckled under his breath, shaking his head before he made to walk over. Once he reached them, he looked down at the picture.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    "I knew Guzma before all this," Kukui finally answered. He shook his head again, and for the first time outside of a dangerous situation, Ash saw him drop the part of the genial professor. "I wouldn't call the man 'Guzma' now. He's nothing like the way he was."

    "Guzma was always a reckless one, Kukui. That hasn't changed," Asuka told him, like it was a reminder of sorts. Ash wasn't sure what to make of that. The boy in the picture lacked the scowl or taunting smirk that Guzma usually wore these days. In fact, he seemed…happy.

    "Oh, you don't have to remind me of that…He'd always pull me in on some harebrained scheme and I'd go along with it for whatever reason, and then Akela would catch us and chew us both out before joining in, herself. The scoldings you gave us, principal…" Kukui laughed out. The principal joined him in that laughter. "Believe it or not, we were the best of friends for those few years together, before we took our pilgrimages."

    "Wouldn't know it now," Gladion spat. He, himself, was wearing a scowl at the thought of it. "The Guzma I knew didn't seem the type to be friends."

    "I don't know about that," Ash breathed out. Gladion looked at him with an eyebrow raised, but Ash didn't elaborate further. Guzma may not have had friends, but he had certainly chosen his family. The only difference was that he chose to potentially abandon both for himself…or so Ash felt.

    "Guzma…he was always an odd one," Kukui said, almost like he was lamenting a part of the past. "I tried to distance myself once he went off the rails, and maybe that just made things worse. I considered myself a friend, but I couldn't respect what he turned into: a man hungering for power and respect, when all he would do was burn the world if it suited him."

    "Then the real question is what turned him into that," Kahili spoke out, harsh lines across her face. Ash let that sink into him. What had caused Guzma to become the man he was? Why did he decide to help Lusamine in her insanity? Clearly no one here had the answers, because they were all shaking their heads.

    "I've no idea, and I honestly don't care," the professor spoke, walking away without another glance at the picture. "I can't be friends with someone who would willingly hurt people and Pokémon for anything."

    With those words, he strode out of the school, slamming the doors behind him. It was the most negative emotion that Ash had ever seen from him. He could only suppose that Guzma had a singular way of getting underneath people's skin. Ash glanced outside of the window nearby to see Kukui shove his hands in his pockets and walk away towards the forest, clearly not wanting to think of the issue any longer. Asuka suddenly reached up and placed the picture back on the wall, no longer obscured by the skeleton.

    "He was never the brightest student, Guzma, but what he lacked in intelligence, he made up for in determination, and I always adored that. It made him a good student, I felt…until he broke," the principal sighed out, touching her hand to the picture once more. "Maybe it was seeing the rest of them succeed where he failed: Kukui the Island Champion, Akela the Ali'i ka Leilani…"

    Ash had to wonder that as well, especially hearing the principal's description of the man. It felt like hearing about himself in some fashion, and he looked down to his Z-Ring. What had happened to the man?

    Yer nothin'! Guzma's proclamation seemed to say a lot about his character in some way, but Ash was given no more time to contemplate it by Asuka jerking her head, indicating that their ride had finally pulled up. Ash looked out the window to see Hala driving a Tauros-drawn carriage with plenty of room. Ash exhaled, looking to Pikachu; they now had a good idea of just where Hala was taking them, or at least what for.

    "Come on. Thanks, principal," Ash said, nodding to the woman. She returned it before turning back to the wall once they'd moved away. Before Ash left the school, he turned, seeing the woman putting one last hand on the photo and smiling sadly. It certainly gave him something to think about, and he turned out.

    Hala was silent as they approached, looking at a point down the road where Kukui had likely disappeared to while Kahili settled herself in the back seat of the four-seater carriage. Ash was barely even thinking about it as he pulled himself on to the back of the carriage next to Serena in the front. Hala continued staring a moment before whipping the reins and beginning to speed out of Hau'oli City.

    Ash wasn't really thinking or paying attention to whatever was going on around him. And judging from the relatively general silence that was surrounding them, none of the others were doing much else other than thinking as well. Buildings faded to trees, and concrete to grass, but Ash found himself picturing that photograph in his mind's eye. It was hard to imagine Guzma as a child, considering what he had become, and even less that he was friends with people who were generally so kind. But something had happened, and he wanted to know what before it all fell apart on him.

    Because staring into the eyes of that boy in the photo, he thought he saw a glimmer of himself, as well.

    "Ash, are you all right?" Serena questioned quietly, though it may as well have been fireworks going off considering the silence of everyone else around them. He turned to smile at her, noticing that Pikachu had decided to sit upon her lap.

    "Totally," he said before leaning back against the seat and staring up into the sky. Clouds were beginning to move in, though it didn't appear that it was threatening to rain, which was at least one positive, though it did make the whole world seem just a little bit darker. "Just hard to imagine Guzma as a kid…"

    "Because he's a demon," Gladion snapped from the front seat. Ash looked to the boy, staring at his back as the blond's shoulders tensed from where they were. A frown settled on to the raven-haired trainer's lips with a light sigh. "The Guzma that I knew…he was just as bad as my mother…only he didn't hide who he was."

    "Yes, Guzma always wore himself on his sleeve," Hala grumbled out from the driver's seat. It was the first words he'd spoken since Ten Carat Hill. Ash waited to see if, perhaps, he would end up saying more, but nothing more came. In the same vein, Gladion fell silent. Having nothing else to talk about, Ash turned towards Serena, feeling his heart lighten.

    The last month had been one wrought with intensity and confusion from beginning to end, when he really stopped to think about it. If he wasn't teaching his Pokémon new strategies and moves, he was battling Kahili in hand to hand combat, or doing something with the local wildlife. If they finally had a moment to rest with some food, Ash would find his mind drifting to so many topics. Usually, they tended to fall in the order of more training, Serena, his dream, his Pokémon, Serena, even more training, needing sleep, the others and his dream yet again to cap them all off.

    The thinking really hurt his brain, though, and it didn't have him figuring out what his dream, or what he hoped to get out of it, was. That sometimes demotivated him, but a sharp rap from one of Kahili's golf clubs usually brought him out of it. Now, he felt even better. Despite the lack of answers, he was confident in his strength, at the very least, and there was no need to worry about Serena. His girlfriend looked even stronger than ever, in more ways than one.

    The carriage suddenly began to slow down, forcing Ash to take his gaze away from her. Before he did so, he finally noticed that her hair was a little longer, draping somewhat towards her shoulders. He liked it, if he was honest, mostly because he felt like it was this combo between her original hair and her usual length. Facing forward to the route they had seemed to rush across, Ash thought about his own hair. He had done a little bit of work on it, but it felt more unruly than before, and he was okay with that.

    The carriage came to a near complete stop, sending some of them jerking forward from the loss of such speed, but otherwise remaining okay. Ash stood in the carriage and realized that they seemed to be parked in the middle of nowhere. If he squinted for the distance, he felt he could see the berry farms that he and the others had visited at the start of their trip to Alola; those Tauros had once more proven themselves as ridiculously fast. Chuckling to himself, Ash realized that those berry farms were from a time before they had truly met Lillie, and she had joined them. Part of him wanted to come back with her and the others to see how Kumu and Hua were doing now.

    But we can't…because it isn't the same, is it? he realized. Adopting a solemn expression, Ash tore his eyes away from that sight and dream, raking along the lone berry trees where he'd first met Toucannon. She seemed to notice it, too, from the jiggling of her pokeball. There was proof enough of how much things had changed. Toucannon was not a Pikipek anymore, after all.

    "Looks like we had to grow up again," Ash breathed out. Only Serena had heard him, and he saw the almost imperceptible nodding of her head. With her agreement, Ash stopped thinking of their past part of the journey, choosing to focus on the present and future. He looked around their immediate surroundings now, and realized they had stopped outside of a broken-down house. Boards were covering up the windows and shingles were broken off of the roof. In some places, wood was splintered, and the door leading inward…looked almost new.

    "Pika?" Pikachu asked, tilting his head as he leapt out of Serena's lap and looked up at the house. He wasn't alone in doing so; the strange Pokémon that had come with Gladion joined him, growling a little at the house.

    "Cool it, Silvally. We're not here to battle," Gladion said, exiting from the carriage, himself, and shoving his hands into his pockets. His face was still scowling. Ash looked to the one Gladion called Silvally and finally recognized it for what it was, especially from the way it was glaring Pikachu down. Pikachu seemed alarmed at first, but soon also recognized it as some kind of evolved form of Null.

    "Chupi?"

    "Hrrrrr…" Silvally growled out, reaching a claw forward to touch to Pikachu's paw. It was bizarre to do it here, but Ash felt a little proud that he had been able to figure it out. The whole carriage seemed to shake before Ash and Serena could disembark, indicating that Hala had left the driver's seat. Ash took that as his own cue to leave and he exited quickly.

    Without thinking, his footsteps began to take him in the direction of the house, stepping on to the porch. He thought, for a moment, that the whole thing would give in under his weight from the molded wood, but it held him surprisingly well, all things considered. He moved closer to the door, and Pikachu ran away from Silvally to join him as they reached that entranceway to the house.

    It was definitely new, in sharp contrast to the rest of the house, as if it had been changed some time in the last few months. The paint was fresh, gleaming in comparison with the rest of the house, even without the sun shining on it. The hinges looked new. Regardless of the state of the rest of the house, someone had taken to making this one part look respectable; perhaps as some reminder of leaving or coming back, Ash tried to figure. At the thought, Ash looked back to Hala, and the Kahuna's arms folded as he nodded, signaling him to head inside. Ash turned and pushed on the front of the door, proving the lock was busted as it swung inwards, permitting them entrance to the house.

    He stepped inside, and that was when the front door meant nothing. While that particular part of the house was taken care of, as though trying to pretend the place was inviting but not committing all the way, the rest of it was in complete disarray. Some light came into the house, streaming through those boarded windows, but the rest of it was completely abandoned and dusty. Behind him, Serena was stepping in, sneezing cutely from the dust in the air. To allow her more space, Ash walked forward, filtering through the dusty air and atmosphere. Kahili seemed to stay outside, leaning against the rotted porch. Gladion joined in, though.

    "This place is abandoned…who lived here?" he asked, rubbing at his nose to prevent his own sneeze. Ash had an inkling, but didn't give a response to the blond. He walked over to what looked like a kitchen. There was no electricity in the entire building, so the refrigerator that sat there was completely inoperable, but there was no smell coming from it, either, indicating that there was nothing inside it.

    There was still a table and some chairs, though. Three chairs, though two of them were broken. Only one, a far smaller chair, was still intact. As Ash placed his hand on to the table, leaving a dusty imprint behind, Serena and Gladion walked to separate areas of the house, opening doors and sending more dust around the area. Ash sighed to himself and turned away from the kitchen, moving towards one of the boarded-up windows.

    "This place feels really lonely, Pikachu," he said, almost feeling sad inside. Pikachu nodded with a whimper of agreement. Ash's foot suddenly knocked against something, making a clattering sound and Ash looked down. At his feet were a number of bent golf clubs, like they'd been used to hit something…or more scarily, someone. Swallowing with the frightening thought, Ash swept his eyes along the floor until he noticed something: a broken Trial Amulet, its wedges and orbs scattered all around it. He stepped forward and bent down, pressing his hand down on to it. The item was extremely old, by at least a decade, it seemed, if not more.

    "There's nothing here," Serena spoke, coming back into the room with a concerned look. Ash frowned and straightened himself, just in time for Gladion to join them, as well.

    "All I saw back there were some ripped up floorboards. I get the feeling someone was very angry," the boy said, jerking his finger back to where he'd explored. Ash wasn't sure how to share his own information, especially if his guess was accurate enough. Shuddering footsteps filled the room and all three of the teenagers looked as the light from the doorway was obscured. Sure enough, Hala was standing in the portal to the house before walking forward, his breaths like heaving snorts.

    The old Kahuna stopped nearest to Ash, looking down at the amulet on the ground. For all of a second, he adopted a softer expression on his face, bending down to pick it up. He seemed like a concerned grandfather for that moment, almost something Ash would have expected him to look at Hau with. Then he saw something he never expected: tears.

    "This house," he said, his voice warbling with the tears that rested on his eyes. Ash was already looking at him while both Serena and Gladion turned their heads and did the same. "Once, long ago, there was a family that lived here. It was a small, simple life, but peaceful…

    "Then there came a small sickness, and the mother passed away, unable to get the care that was needed. It was a difficult life for the father and the boy that remained, but they made a go of it. The boy resolved to gain strength, so that he would never have to endure that weakness ever again: the weakness of being helpless. He got into all sorts of trouble, and his father would scold him. No one knew what happened behind the closed doors of this house, but many days, the boy would emerge with bruises. Were they from his adventures? Were they from something else? No one ever knew, and it hardly mattered.

    "That boy soon managed to get accepted to the Pokémon School on his battling merit alone," Hala continued to explain. With every word that he was speaking, Serena's face seemed to be drawing into one of complete revulsion. The implications of what the Kahuna was speaking about were certainly enough for that. "And there, he flourished, though inside him he wanted more. To this day, I'm unsure exactly what he was searching for or why; unsure of what he wanted, though it led to this obsession with power.

    "Was he trying to avoid his weakness?"

    "The boy…?" Ash wanted to ask, wanted to confirm his theory, but Hala was in no state to answer. He was too lost in his old thoughts before his body began to shake. His fists clenched against the amulet held in his hand, appearing to start crushing it into powder.

    "He left, eventually, searching for more and more strength. He didn't care about anyone or anything. Though during his tenure in school, I tried to instill within him a love and compassion. I don't believe I ever broke through, because he wanted the strength that only mattered to him. Everyone else was an obstacle in his way that he needed to destroy. They were nothing. Only, he finally hit a roadblock…"

    "Then what happened to the boy?" Gladion asked. Ash wasn't sure if he hadn't quite picked up yet, or if he was just going along with Hala's version of the narrative in order to let the story flow naturally. Hala stopped, his hand relaxing and allowing the amulet to tumble to the ground, clattering into little pieces, like a symbol of what it meant.

    "He challenged me. And he lost." The parallel didn't escape Ash. He had yet to defeat Hala. And if the boy hadn't, then it was certain that he never completed his trials, either, just like all the other "losers" of Alola. Ash felt his own fist tightening. "From there, he broke, I believe. Though, whether I was the cause of it, I still could not say, if I'm honest. He drove his father from this home, from what I heard, the man disappearing entirely. Maybe he left for another region, or perhaps he felt some sense of shame over his son and decided to atone in anonymity and utter silence. I wouldn't know."

    "That's…such a sad story," Serena confessed. Hala breathed tightly, reaching his hand up to brush away the tears and turning to face their entire group. Outside, Ash noticed Kahili's head facing inward, listening to the conversation. Their eyes met for a moment; it wasn't lost on her either, and Ash felt his heart clenching with his fists.

    "To this day, I consider that boy my greatest failure," Hala spoke, his voice rumbling, an almost imperceptible fury lacing it. "That's the reason I made sure to raise Hau to be kind and gentle…loving…caring…the battles not mattering, because I knew that boy. I knew him, and I failed him. I…I blame myself for the state Alola is in."

    "Don't bother," Gladion said. It was harsh, but something that Ash could agree with. "This was no one's fault but my mother's."

    "But Michael's," Serena insisted. "I have no idea whether Michael was the one to twist this 'boy', but he's the one who poisoned so many people's lives, including Lusamine's. And even if he hadn't, they made their choices, just as we've made our own. We made our choice to step towards the light, instead of away from it!"

    "She's right," Ash said, though it wasn't filled with his usual enthusiasm, something which Pikachu appeared to pick up on in all of an instant. His mind was whirling, not only with the strange similarities, down to a missing parent and everything, but also because he was thinking about Nanu's words a month ago. Standing against a hatred of the system…was it possible that Hala's failure was simply a failure of the trial system itself? Had it been that which led to the situation they were all in?

    "Thank you, but kindness does not change facts," Hala rumbled out. "I'm not telling you this to earn your pity. I'm telling you this because I know this boy, swallowed in a vacuum of his own strength and hatred. If you don't understand this about that boy, then you'll never be able to defeat him, no matter how much you try. He believed that the more he fought, the more he made his opponents less than him, the better it would make him. That was his goal in battle.

    "So, I need to ask now, before you head for what may be your ultimate confrontation with the boy, with Guzma, what do you hope to gain out of battling? All of you?" He may have asked that to all of them, but Ash knew the question was truly directed right at himself.

    "I'm going to make people smile."

    "I'm going to rebuild things, and learn to work with others." Their answers made Ash smile, yet when Hala looked to receive his own answer, all he could do was look to Pikachu. He waited a moment.

    "I don't know."

    Silence followed that statement, except for Kahili's part bark, part chuckle that followed the statement. Hala stared at him, propping open a single eye as he watched him. Ash just stared right back at him, wondering how he'd answer. Pikachu touched a paw to his face kindly, like a sense of encouragement. Ash just grinned a little.

    "I don't know what being a Pokémon Master is, or what it means, or why I want to be it," he said. His fists clenched a little tighter and he pulled them up to his chest, holding his ground against the Kahuna that had unsettled him just a little. "I know it's something that I've been after since I was a little kid, and it is my ultimate dream. That won't change.

    "But after all this time, I can accept that I have no idea what it even is. Maybe I can't define it, but that's okay, somehow." Here, Ash stopped, trying to consider the next words to say to Hala. There were so many options; so many feelings roiling around inside of him that it could have crushed him, but he wouldn't let it. "To me, I just need to figure out who I am with or without that dream. I know my reason for battling exists, and I need to find it. My purpose is to protect everyone, which leads to battling, and me and all my Pokémon need to find out what those battles mean to me…I think."

    "So, your answer is that you don't have an answer?" Gladion asked. It wasn't mocking him, though. It was more humorous than Ash would have expected, and he allowed himself a chance to grin. No matter his own confusion and questions and doubts inside of him, he was resolved to find the answers, regardless.

    "Maybe, but I will find it," he proclaimed. His eyes moved over to Serena, taking in her beautiful features and smiling face as she placed her hands behind her. That gave him hope, love…so many things that drove him forward. So, too, did his best friend on his shoulder, grinning up at the old Kahuna. Eventually, he faced Hala directly. "When I do, Hala, I'm going to battle you again. That time, we'll win and complete our Island Pilgrimage together."

    Hala said nothing, closing his eyes slightly as he watched Ash. Then his body seemed to shake, but it wasn't with the same kind of trembling that came when he was furious at all. No, he was shaking in an almost jovial manner. "Ha hah hahahahaha! What an answer!"

    "It's not really an answer," Gladion repeated, but Hala didn't appear to care. Ash didn't care much at all, either. He found himself smiling, especially when Serena stepped over to him. Almost without thinking, Ash punched his fist out, holding it for the Kahuna.

    "I won't become like Guzma. Maybe he found his answer, or maybe he was like me and didn't, but I know I can't become like him. We all have our chances to, but that's why we surround ourselves with people who stop us, like Serena," Ash said. Hala smirked at the comment, liking his answer all the more, enough for him to reach forward and place his fist directly against Ash's with a grin that was growing larger by the second.

    "I believe that, and I'll look forward to our battle when you have that answer. Hopefully sooner than later, especially with the League coming up," the man responded. Ash just stared into his eyes firmly.

    "I'm not gonna rush it," he responded with a shrug. That answer appeared to be a good one to Hala. The sound of footsteps on wood now drew Ash's attention away from the Kahuna and to Kahili entering in the house, brushing her hair back.

    "Well, rushing or no, I think we're practically out of time, don't you?" the blue-haired woman said with a little wink in their direction. "The Moon Flute is still waiting, and all of our friends will be starting their strike sooner than later. Not to mention…"

    "What?" Ash asked, before he could let her trail off for long periods of time. For a woman so extraordinarily blunt, she also liked to tease things out from time to time, he had noticed over the month, though only to people she was comfortable with.

    "Well, since Hapu and Mina are needed to help out and everything…I think you might as well take on your final trial," she stated simply. Ash wanted to stop his mouth from falling open at such a proclamation. They were at such a crucial juncture, and she was suggesting something like that? ! "Ash, you're a strong trainer, and one of the toughest opponents I've fought, but you're about to face the same guy that kicked your *** a month ago and made you question everything. Trust me when I say you need this final trial. If everything goes well with it, I'd argue that we'll succeed at the preemptive strike.

    "In the meantime, have faith in your friends to pull it off."

    That kind of statement was really all that Ash needed to know that Kahili was right. In fact, it was more of the way that she had put it. It wasn't about completing the trials for his pilgrimage, or even for himself. It was about being there for his friends. He'd be completing this trial to aid them in their own tasks…and it would help him to need to rely on them as well. Plus, it helped that they needed to head for the location of said trial in the first place.

    "All right, we'll do it. Right, Pikachu?" Pikachu nodded, pumping his tiny fist a little. Ash faced back to his mentor. "We'll clear it the best way we know how, get information on the Moon Flute, and do whatever we need to win this battle!"

    "Pika!"

    "Hrrrr!" Silvally growled out, all while Gladion and Serena chuckled a bit. They were all set in their task, though Ash got a strange feeling from the toothy grin that Kahili was sporting; it usually didn't mean anything good.

    "Trust me, this trial will be interesting, and I think you'll get it when you do it, and why I want you to do it now," she told him with a wink. That was about all he got out of her when she whipped around. Ash watched her go, his companions following afterwards. Somehow, he got the feeling that Kahili's idea of interesting would have to do with his questions, his pilgrimage and their upcoming fight all at once. She was that way even during training, making every task some sort of multi-faceted adventure in the expansive Hill. That was enough for him to trust even further. Shaking his head, Ash followed after to load back on to the cart.

    Hala quickly emerged, too, closing the door behind them and driving them all the way back to Hau'oli City. It was late afternoon by the time they'd finally pulled back in at near breakneck speed, almost running people over until they stopped outside the marina. Kahili and Serena wasted no time in running forward, while Gladion was a little slower, same as Ash. Before they abandoned Hala on the street, though, Ash turned back.

    "Hala, about that boy…do you think there's any hope for him, even now?"

    Hala's answer didn't seem to come for a long while, but when it did, Ash could tell he'd put all of his thoughts into answering that very question.

    "There might be, Ash," he said sternly, "but if there is…I don't think he can obtain it if he doesn't think for himself first."

    Those puzzling words rattling in his brain, Ash nodded and set off for the boat. The time of their battle, of his final trial on Poni Island, had arrived at long last. It was time to find his answers and face Guzma one last time.


    Author's Note: This chapter was ridiculously filled with information despite there not being a battle or action or even leaving Melemele again. For one, we're back with Ash after all this time and he's finally stopped running from the truth he'd been avoiding. He doesn't know what he wants, or what it is and all that jazz. This is important because now he can actually work for an answer. More importantly, is all that information about Guzma. Now, there's still some stuff left out in the open, of course, but here they finally get a glimpse into the man that's been causing nothing but pain. And, of course, that final line from Hala is key.

    However, next chapter, the action finally shifts to Poni Island, the only one I have yet to truly depict. Things will start moving now, and one of my favorite segments is coming up with that impending battle as well. Hopefully you enjoyed all this buildup and will enjoy that as well.

    This journey is now trucking along for its impending finale, so I hope that you'll enjoy it and join with me until the very end. Until that next day comes, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    We finally touch down on Poni this chapter. I hope you all enjoy it very much. Time for Chapter 5!


    Chapter 5

    A Pool

    "Can't believe we've been on the island pretty much the whole entire time and we never even saw this!" Hau exclaimed brightly. He practically leapt from the ship, on to the coast, with the utmost of enthusiasm. Pipi followed after him, floating around on her tail for fun. Clemont sighed, watching the two of them in their moment of amusement. They were soon joined by Rotom.

    "Oh, my! Rotom is very intrigued by this location!" the Pokédex said. Despite the dearth of Pokémon around, it began snapping all sorts of pictures before zipping over to the edge of a pool. "Oh, this Feebas is most interesting!"

    "Don't split up, guys. We need to be ready for the others when they get here," Clemont sighed liberally. He shook his head, Charjabug and Bunnelby traveling with him on his shoulders. Naturally, the two hyperactive companions of his pretty much ignored him and moved to examine the coast before them. It was clearly unfamiliar, even to Hau, who had managed to complete his trials thanks to Hapu and the captain on Poni Island visiting a few weeks back at the Battle Tree (or so Clemont had heard; he was away on a research trip with Gary). "What do I do with them? Sometimes Hau is like an older, male version of Bonnie…"

    "Bunbun," Bunnelby assured him, patting his cheek kindly. Charjabug would have responded, too, but he seemed just as interested in Clemont's bag again. That afforded the inventor a small chuckle as he stepped down from the boat and on to the Poni Breaker Coast.

    Watching Hau and Rotom excitedly examine the area, Clemont chose to do so as well, taking in all of its sights. It was unlike any area of Poni he had seen previously, and seemed closer in nature and structure to the Tapu Village on Ula'ula, if he was honest. Most of Poni Island seemed to be completely wild and untamed in its nature, teeming with Pokémon and plant life, undisturbed by the ravages of civilization. While that could be said for all of Alola, Clemont felt it fit in particular here, considering the only effect of modernization seemed to be the Battle Tree on the other side of the island, and possibly the Seafolk Village that Serena had mentioned to them. However, here on the Poni Breaker Coast, nature had more than taken its course.

    A loud sound suddenly erupted and Clemont flinched, turning to see a great geyser of water erupting from some distance away. It had been completely unexpected, and Clemont finally had a good look at just what had happened to the coast over time. Nature had taken the coast in its own way. Not with vines and grass and trees, but with erosion. Geysers spouted forth, wearing away at the rock and sands, reducing it to barren land where few people or Water type Pokémon roamed. It was beautiful, in a haunting way. Clemont reached up to remove his hat, running his hands through his hair as he walked towards Hau, who had stopped running around crazily. The inventor was grateful for that.

    "You think that's the place?" the energetic boy asked, his hands behind his head as he looked forward, towards a specific location. Clemont drew even with him and looked forward to what he was staring at. Like a ripple of water passing down his neck, dripping with a cold ferocity, Clemont saw the colored gateway that he had only seen twice before: the entrance to one of the Tapu's shrines. The inventor breathed in.

    "The Ruins of Hope…" he said when he was ready to exhale. Hau dropped the smile, looking almost serious for a moment, contemplative in a sense. "Lillie said to meet here."

    "I wonder why," Hau muttered. Pipi floated away from him, clearly bored by just staring at the entrance without doing anything. The two boys continued to stare, and, after a moment, Hau made to move forward to it, only for Clemont to grab him. He shook his head, making Hau shrug and look away without approaching.

    However, Clemont remained staring at the entrance to the ruins. It was the first time he was close to one of these ruins again since the night he'd ran in search of one in the desert. Ash. Serena. Gladion. Lillie. Each of them had obtained Z-Rings from one of the guardian deities. Part of Clemont was grateful that they had all chosen those close to one another, but the smaller, yet still prominent, part of his mind wondered why he couldn't be chosen. Hapu had stated that the Tapus were fickle; this seemed to be generally agreed upon in Alola, but Clemont had to wonder what their reason was for choosing who they did.

    If so, what did he lack?

    It was a question he had wanted to answer so badly. That was why he had been all for the idea when Ash suggested they separate for the month. Their group had been together too long, making up for each other's deficiencies, that he needed to learn where he stood on his own. While he wasn't sure what he lacked when being chosen by one of the guardian deities, or why he didn't deserve a Z-Ring in that vein, he had at least discovered something he was useful for…and that maybe, while he was skilled at battling, it wasn't his own particular purpose. It was all something he had accepted, but something he still questioned and very much wanted an answer to.

    "Rairairai!" Pipi's voice suddenly called from the edge of the coast, and Clemont turned. It sounded like she had seen something, prompting all three to run over to her at that edge (or float, as the case was for Rotom). Pressing his glasses further inward, Clemont could definitely see something approaching the coast at a high speed.

    "Ah! Land ahoy!" Hau yelled, the grin back on his face again as he began to wave manically. Clemont looked at him with amusement, but also raised his hand as the boat that was approaching them began to slow, making its rather obvious occupants more noticeable.

    "Isn't it kind of pointless to say that when you're already on land, Hau?" the familiar voice of Lillie called, waving energetically. Clemont looked her over, now that they were actually in person instead of over the phone. She looked very well, and from the way Hau's grin widened a little more, probably cute. The boat rolled up to the shore, and much to the inventor's surprise, Lillie was the first to leap off of it. Whether it was her intention or not, he couldn't be sure, but Hau caught her and the two of them fell to the ground laughing.

    Clemont flushed slightly from the embarrassment, his mind slipping to Korrina. While he didn't think about her too often, what with all the things he'd been doing, he did wonder where she was and if she was okay. Not that he worried about the latter. He was more worried for himself in that regard…well, himself and the person that was now jumping into his arms.

    "Clemont!" The bespectacled boy turned at the very last second, only to be bowled into by Bonnie. He waved his arms wildly as her own enclosed themselves around his neck. Dedenne, too, joined in. Though, the little dormouse did give a rather ill-timed Nuzzle that sent them all collapsing to the ground from the electricity. The little mouse had definitely grown stronger, and Clemont had to wonder if his sleeping habits had changed at all, either. Bonnie finally pressed on Clemont's chest and sat up with a smug expression. "We're here!"

    "I can see that, Bonnie," Clemont laughed a little, adjusting his askew glasses. His little sister suddenly leaned in and offered him a little kiss on the cheek. He just accepted it, though it was remarkably unlike her. "You're looking almost like a proper Pokémon trainer now."

    "You think? Dedenne and me trained with Greninja and Squishy every day!" Bonnie said, pumping her fists. Clemont looked to the bag around her shoulders, seeing Squishy popping out with a slightly amused expression. Bluey was there, too, if less amused than his friend.

    "Yes, Bonnie was quite the battler on some of our adventures," Lionel suddenly spoke, reaching down to grab hold of Bonnie under her arms and pulling her off of Clemont. The Gym Leader was grateful for that, mostly because it returned blood circulation to the lower half of his body and allowed him to stand. As he did so, he gave a look to the leader of ARC, completely unchanged from their parting a month ago.

    "I'd love to hear about them. It sounds like you all went on some wild ones," Clemont said, adopting a smile on to his face. Him being stuck in one or two places for that month meant a dearth as far as adventures went, but the data and conclusions they had uncovered were more exciting to him in the first place.

    "It sure was!" Bonnie cheered, digging into her bag and pulling out the object that had sent them all off in their different directions that month ago, in the first place. Clemont almost wanted to marvel at the glittering Sun Flute, but Bonnie had set off again with her words, jabbering excitedly. "We went to lots and lots of places, right, Dedenne?"

    "Dede!" Dedenne said cheerily, throwing his stubby little arms up as he climbed to the top of Bonnie's head.

    "Like, there was one time we went to this underwater temple off the coast of Ula'ula Island," Bonnie was telling him with sparkling eyes. For a second, Clemont looked to Lionel and could tell that the man actually seemed rather entertained from her words, like it was a story and memory he enjoyed hearing from Bonnie every time. "We bought scuba gear and went underwater and there were all these booby traps near the center of the temple."

    "Nin…ja…" Greninja said, walking forward with a shudder. Clemont had hardly even noticed he was there, but it was clear to the inventor, that for Ash's steadfast partner, the memory was a little less than pleasant.

    "Yeah, Greninja found them all, and in the center was this!" she said exuberantly, holding the Sun Flute forward with her unending grin.

    "Its power was concealed by the layers of the temple, and if it wasn't for Greninja, I'm not so certain we would have ever found it," Lionel indicated, patting the amphibian on the back. "That, or we'd be dead from one of the booby traps going off inadvertently."

    "Likely because Bonnie triggered them," Rotom suddenly mocked. Clemont stopped himself from sighing or facepalming. Not even a few minutes into their actual, physical reunion and it already seemed like the two were going to be at each other's throats again.

    Sure enough, Bonnie responded with a very vehement, "I did not!"

    "Rotom wants pictures or there's no proof," Rotom snarked at her. His sister stepped towards the sentient Pokédex, hands on her hips, ready for a quarrel.

    "Yeah? Well, what have you been up to, Rotom?" she snapped at it. "Because I'm the one with the flute and you seem to be as dumb and annoying as ever."

    "Rotom has upgraded features, of course! Rotom can also hack into cameras now, thanks to Nanu's device," Rotom said proudly, though Clemont wasn't sure that was something it should have necessarily been proud of. "For example, Rotom can play videos of different victories like this!"

    "Ah, Rotom!" Clemont said in an attempt to stop it, but to no avail. Suddenly, on its screen, was a shot of one of his battles at the Battle Tree, featuring Chespin against a Walrein. Bonnie actually watched on in fascination. She wasn't the only one. Just about everyone clustered themselves around Rotom to watch Chespin leaping high into the air with a Vine Whip before sending a Pin Missile down upon the Walrein. It soon howled up a Blizzard, until…

    "Chespin used Rollout, which even while frozen, provided enough momentum for him to knock Walrein out!"

    "It was totally awesome," Hau said as Clemont blushed with embarrassment. He usually wasn't so praised for his battling skills, and that one had been a particularly long day, as far as he remembered. "See, the Battle Tree is like this gauntlet where you constantly battle with the same Pokémon. You choose a bunch to go in with, but when all of them are knocked out, you're done for the day."

    "Sounds intense," Lillie said, her ponytail swaying slightly.

    "It is! Me and Clemont fought really hard, though, right, Pipi?" His Raichu responded in the affirmative while Bonnie looked with a glowing expression to Clemont. She gave a less favorable one to the Pokédex that was displaying the video, though. "In the end, out of about fifty different rounds, he made it to about, what, forty-three? I made forty-five, but we totally crushed it at the doubles."

    "Turns out that Hau and myself make a rather good team, even if other trainers could consistently outclass us in the singles. Might be competition or training for the League," Clemont remarked, nodding to his erstwhile partner. The Battle Tree had been a very engaging and important experience for all of them, he felt, and his team had grown, too, particularly in the realm of learning new moves and strategies. Having to make it through with his team intact had been one of the most difficult challenges he'd been a part of.

    "Well, I'm sure you must be very proud of yourselves," Lillie asserted, hands going behind her back as she beamed at them. Bonnie looked proud, too, even as she addressed Rotom.

    "That's more something to be proud of than what Rotom did. I mean, really? You can record videos now, Rotom?"

    "Hey! Video recording is vital, bzzt! Just imagine the types of strategies Bonnie could learn with it. And Bonnie still hasn't shown Rotom proof!" the Pokédex challenged insistently. The two leaned in towards each other, glaring angrily, yet playfully. "Well, at least Bonnie is alive."

    "Yeah, you too, stupid Pokédex," Bonnie further asserted. That particularly prickly reunion out of the way, Clemont finally stepped back, huffing out a sigh.

    "Well, looks like we're almost all together again, then," he said. That seemed to be the signal to get down to business, because everyone looked at him like their fun and laughter was over for the time being. "Serena's finding Ash, and I guess that leaves us to secure the Altar of the Sunne."

    "So it does," Lionel agreed. His jovial manner was gone for that moment as he walked along the barren, rock coast, glancing around. He seemed to be searching forward, though not knowing exactly where to look. Clemont walked up to join him; he may not have ever been on this part of the island, but he figured he could still be able to help. Lillie managed to beat him to the punch, however.

    "The canyon is that way," she intimated to them. Everyone shifted their gazes over in the direction she was pointing and Clemont was finally offered a better view, especially with the geyser that had been blowing that way finally coming to a rather relaxed state and no longer obscuring things.

    There appeared to be houses that way, humble abodes made of stone and clay, having withstood the test of time. Or, at least, some of them had. Others had crumbled into disarray, taken over by the pervading nature that Clemont constantly remarked upon in his head. Lionel stepped forward, as if wanting to move straight to the canyon. Overhead, the sun seemed to be moving towards evening, making things that were already different in color, become a reddish-orange, like it was all on fire. Finally, beyond those houses was what looked like a thin path made of high walls, hanging roots and a howling wind.

    "The Vast Poni Canyon…" Clemont spoke aloud, though it was more for his benefit than for anyone else there. "That's, as far as I can tell, the only path that leads to the Altar of the Sunne. At least, it's the only one we can access right now. There might be another ground path, but rumor at the Battle Tree is that that kind of knowledge is only passed down within a very small circle of the Captain and Kahuna of the island. Otherwise, aerial assault is currently impossible, making that the only feasible path."

    "Then there's Team Skull to contend with," Lionel remarked. The blond nodded. Speaking about it caused Lionel to stroke his chin in thought, like he was thinking up a battle strategy for the road that was ahead of them. "It may be a more arduous road than we realize, and even if we make it to the Altar, we'll need the Moon Flute and we'll have to take out their anti-air squad."

    "Aw, don't worry about stuff like that," Hau insisted, grinning madly at the older man. Lionel surveyed him with an arched eyebrow, but Clemont, for all of his analytical nature, was far more on Hau's side than he was on Lionel's. "Ash and the others will do whatever they need to and help us out!"

    "I have no doubt of that," Lionel said, though he didn't stop his forward progression. "However, they can't do everything, and nor can we rely on them for everything either. What they cannot do, must be left up to us."

    "That's what working in a team is, after all," Clemont agreed. To this, Lionel nodded, still seeming thoughtful regarding their method of approach. Eventually, the hand stroking his chin reached up and ran itself through his darkened locks.

    "We'll just have to be mindful of our approach. They certainly seem to have pinned us into a corner on a path like that," Lionel finally concluded. It was a conclusion that Clemont had come to the moment he saw how relatively narrow the path was. "Doesn't help that we'd like to be at the altar by sunrise, if at all possible."

    "There's nothing to worry about with that," Lillie spoke up. Lionel looked at her, though he didn't turn his body to do so. Clemont did, however, and what he saw on her face was unlike anything from the Lillie he remembered. She was steely, her gaze focused, sharp, determined. This was a girl who was unwavering in her beliefs and convictions. "I think Tapu Fini will guide the way for us."

    "You do?" was the obvious question. Clemont felt that Lillie must have had an obvious answer, but whether she did or not, it soon proved to be nonverbal in her response. She hitched her bag on her shoulders, facing in the direction of the ruins and began walking forward towards it, her newfound expression not once leaving her face.

    Clemont finally realized: Lillie was no longer wearing the face of the victim. She had grown. No…they all had grown.

    "Yes. I'm certain. I can hear it calling," Lillie said, continuing her own progression towards the Ruins of Hope. There was no wavering motion in her steps, and it inspired Clemont to follow her without asking any more. To do so would have been pointless. She clearly had something that she wished to show them. Only Lionel lingered behind, his mind more focused on the canyon they would be striking into that evening.

    "So, this is where you got your Z-Ring from Tapu Fini, then?" Clemont at last asked, as he and Lillie passed through the intimidating archway to the ruins. There was a small shudder, still like that sense of trickling water, as they passed through it, and Lillie finally answered.

    "It was," she said firmly.

    "Congratulations, then," Clemont muttered. He genuinely felt happy that she'd been chosen, but it kept his mind going back to the wondering of why he hadn't been chosen by any of the deities. Tapu Bulu, perhaps, made sense, as it had already chosen Gladion, but still…

    "It's hard to say, I think, why Tapu Fini chose me, but I think that my actions are just as much of a reason as its own decision is," Lillie pointed out, even if Clemont hadn't spoken his thoughts aloud. It proved how much the question was on all their minds. The area darkened as she said this, continually moving forward. Yet, at the same time, it also seemed to lighten up with a near otherworldly glow.

    The answer for why that was happening was fairly obvious. The cave that they had emerged into, similar to the other shrines where the Tapus rested, was brightly lit with luminescent pools of water, glittering and glowing in the dark. Beyond a stretch of them, rippling and pulsating, was another entranceway from which a smell of incense was wafting out. He knew exactly what was beyond there, but his attention and focus was more attracted to the pools that were near to them. They looked similar to ones he had seen before, perhaps near the Battle Tree, or the other Tapu's shrines. Quietly, he approached one.

    "Glowing pools!" Bonnie and Hau exclaimed, having obviously just come up behind them. Lillie had stopped, peering into the pools nearest to her, alongside Clemont. As he looked down, he could tell that the glowing was not coming from the water itself, but rather a luminescent plant beneath the water. Instead, the water was sharply clear, seeming almost like a mirror on its surface. Clemont looked into it.

    He blinked, entranced by the image before him. It was…him. Only he was younger. In fact, he remembered the exact moment that seemed to be splayed on the surface of the water. The day he'd left Luxio behind for an award. His fist tightened. That was such a biting memory, even now that he was past it; it was the day he felt like little more than a doormat, unable to simply say "no" for the sake of his beloved friend.

    "You see it, too, don't you?" Lillie whispered, and Clemont managed to drag his gaze away, his heart hurting with pain. He looked over to the girl, her green eyes shimmering with the rippling water that was reflected. "You saw a memory."

    "I did," Clemont answered, offering only a nod. There was a small scream behind him, and Bonnie fell backwards, caught by Hau. She looked to be shaking, pointing forward with a trembling hand. Clemont moved towards her before she started to speak.

    "That…that was…when we got…" Bonnie shook her head furiously, and stopped herself from shaking, bringing herself to a standing position. She wasn't speaking any more about it, even with Squishy and Dedenne's concerned looks, but Clemont had a very good idea of just what his little sister had seen: when she had been kidnapped by DARC. His nails began to dig into his hand. Even disappeared from this world, their effect, like Michael's, continued to linger.

    "What is this water made of?" Hau questioned. He stepped forward and ran his own hand through it, pausing halfway to scooping it out. He was staring straight ahead a moment before taking his hand out. "Huh…weird. It was like watching a movie of when I was told my mom and dad had died six years ago…"

    "That's what Tapu Fini's water does," Lillie said, her voice nearly in a whisper as she told them all of this. "It shows things, memories. I don't know why, exactly, but I think it forces whoever looks into the water to relive their most crushing past. I can't say why, though."

    "Of course…" Clemont said. He looked back towards the water, now playing an image of Clembot exploding all around him; the moment of both his strength and weakness. "Tapu Koko's water gives strength; that was what Kiawe said. Tapu Lele gave a sense of life and nourishment. Tapu Bulu gave aberrations in nature. So, it only makes sense that Tapu Fini's would do something, as well."

    "I guess," Lillie expressed, though it seemed like she wasn't entirely sure how to describe it all. Clemont leaned back over the water, and now scooped his own hand through it. Like Hau said, it felt like being jerked into a movie, a replaying of his past that he was suddenly privy to.

    You told me…that we should grow together. I was happy. Thank you.

    Clemont gasped, watching the room explode all around him. The tears flinging from his eyes as he pressed the button, and that horrible screaming. It was a sight he would never forget; one that would have stopped him from moving if he didn't have more to do in that exact moment. For a second, he felt like drowning in the memory, but instead, he seemed to take solace. It was a painful memory, but still one that was a part of him.

    Suddenly, that memory twisted and faded, and he was standing once more in the same chamber…yet no one else was there. Instead, there was an older man, looking just like Hapu in some way, even if Clemont could only see the side of his face.

    "Please, Tapu Fini, if there is anything this old life can offer, take it from me to protect this region. To protect Hapu, so that she may inherit my will and the will of the islands. To be as herself," the man said. Clemont breathed in and out, fascinated by this window to the past. There was a Pokémon before the man, looking so similar to the other guardian deities he'd seen, but covered in a purple shell. "A storm is in Alola, and I fear it will take the lives of many more before it is stopped. Already, some have fallen. So, let mine be the last…."

    "Clemont!" The inventor was pulled back, his hand flinging out droplets of water as he hit the floor, his butt slamming on to the rock. He looked around, almost heaving. In front of him were Bonnie and Hau, both looking equally disturbed. What had happened? He looked up to see Lillie there, her hand hovering above the water.

    "Tapu Fini is a being of hope…or so I've read," she was speaking clearly and concisely. "Yet, I can't understand why it would show these things to us. Memories of the past here, memories of our pasts, steeped in despair…When I came here with Serena, I looked in the waters."

    "What did you see…?" Clemont asked. He would have asked what Serena had seen, but knowing his friend as well as he did, he was fairly certain of what she had seen inside the depths of that pool, given his newfound knowledge of it. It could have been anything from her first Showcase, to the moment she'd snapped at Ash…or, more likely, Reeree's death.

    "I saw myself," she said. The hand hovering over the pool drew upwards, placing itself on her drawstrings carefully. "I saw a little girl, cowering."

    "Lillie…" Hau breathed out. At his words, Clemont stood once more, walking over to Lillie and the pool of water she was standing in front of. He reached out, and placed a hand on her shoulder. She wasn't shaking, but he could tell that she was reliving the moment.

    "That's because…that was what I was…" she spoke. Without warning, the blonde plunged her hand back into the drink and Clemont felt himself jerked away. It was surreal, suddenly finding himself standing on the white floors of the Aether Foundation after having just been surrounded by pure rock. There were three people there; three familiar people in the form of Lusamine, Gladion and Lillie. Yet they were younger. Lillie was but a little girl, almost younger than Bonnie.

    "Mama, isn't daddy coming back?" she asked, squeezing her mother's hand. Clemont looked to his side, noticing that the older Lillie was standing right there next to him, watching the scene of her own memory. Lusamine gave no answer, as if she was completely dead to the world, and by the time Clemont looked back, they were in Lillie's room. It was so void of personality; nothing but pure white walls, dressers and sheets.

    "Lillie, it's time for your studies," Lusamine's voice called, the mother stepping into the room with her hands on her hips. Lillie pouted on her bed, a little older now.

    "I'm not going to," she said, folding her arms across her chest. "I've already studied enough. I want to see a Ceremony? Can I, please?"

    "Oh, don't be foolish, dear," the mother said, almost coyly. She placed herself upon the bed, snaking her hands around her daughter like the slithering tentacles of Nihilego. The young Lillie shuddered, but made no move to resist her mother. "Ceremonies are not things for prim and proper ladies to do. They'll only taint you, my beautiful Lillie. My beautiful flower…"

    "Mother…" Lillie spoke, but her mother dragged her upwards, pulling her to her feet before she had the chance to say no. Lusamine held her there, smiling down at her with the very thin veneer of affection. Her hand raised upward and caressed her daughter's face.

    "You're so beautiful, Lillie. If only your brother would take after your example instead of spending all his time doing foolish things," the woman said. The young Lillie hung her head, unable to resist anymore. Clemont watched, beginning to understand. "Now, come, I have a beautiful dress I'd like you to wear."

    "Yes, mother…" Clemont's hand raised on its own, and the ghostly image of Lusamine phased through them, seemingly finding them at a white dinner table. Lillie was even older now, perhaps eleven or twelve at best. She wasn't alone at the table; Lusamine still sat there. Yet, for her older figure, Lillie still seemed a child. "Mother, there's the Hope Leilani being held soon and-"

    "I told you to drop that foolishness, Lillie," Lusamine said with an angry tone. Something had happened. "Young ladies shouldn't wither their flowers so easily."

    "I just want to leave the Paradise, mother. Just for a day," Lillie said, her spoon moving uselessly around her bowl of soup. There was the sound of a scraping chair, and Lusamine stood, her expression fraught with warning. "I have no one else to talk to, not since brother-"

    "Quiet, Lillie!" She hadn't slapped her daughter, but she had roughly grabbed her face, pulling her close. Little Lillie's eyes filled with tears. "That boy is not your sibling. He's an ugly piece of trash. The outside world deserves him with its filth. But you're not yet tainted. Stay here, with me. We're still family. So long as you do the things I've taught you, we can be happy. We can be beautiful."

    "Yes, mother…"

    "Yes, mother…"

    "Yes, mother…" It was an echo that continued on and on and on. Every image he saw. Every memory. Lillie said the same thing. Over and over. Even in Po Town, back under her mother's grasp again, it proved to be the only thing she would ever say.

    "Until I was nothing but a husk," Lillie spoke, and her hand withdrew. The memories faded, placing them back in the ruins. Clemont felt a little winded, having seen into Lillie's past. He had to imagine that Serena had seen almost the exact same thing when they had traveled here earlier. Hau and Bonnie ran forward, staring into the pool but seeing nothing. Bonnie pouted, but didn't say anything.

    "I understand," Clemont finally spoke moments later, regaining his breath and removing his hand from Lillie's shoulder. She nodded, adopting a smile on her face. It was encouraging to him. Despite her pain and hardships, she had managed to overcome that kind of despair and look to the future.

    Thinking about it, it was all too easy to see just how the blonde before him had been so heavily influenced by Ash and Serena. Their never give up attitude, combined with their insistence to not let despair cripple them, had easily rubbed off on her in the best of ways. It made him feel a little foolish for allowing despair to chain him down for even a moment. Lillie turned away, glancing to the interior of the ruins, towards where Tapu Fini rested. Her hands had moved once more behind her back as she stared in, not looking towards any of them even once. Clemont waited, wondering if she was going to have something to say. The others did as well.

    "That little girl was me," Lillie said, almost sighing out the words. Only, he knew she didn't mean it in the literal sense. "Seeing her there, in my memories, I realized that all my traveling with you hadn't changed a thing. I was still the same little girl, scared of disobeying her mother. Even now, I'm scared of having to see her again."

    "Well, sure, can't be easy for ya," Hau agreed, placing his hands behind his head as he looked at her. She didn't see him, but the sentiment was more than clearly felt. Lillie's smile could even be felt from where she was standing, drawing more and more attention to her in the glowing cave. The sound of falling gravel broke Clemont's attention away and he looked up to see Lionel and Greninja at the top, staring down at them. Rotom was also there, looking somewhat bored and confused.

    "But I promised myself that I would overcome everything, right then and there!" Lillie proclaimed. She tossed her fist into the air, displaying her sparkling Z-Ring proudly for all of them to see. What made it truly noticeable, however, was the way she was holding herself: the gesture was the one they had all used during the Kalos Team Tournament as a sign of victory. "I wasn't going to let my mother control me! I was going to be me!"

    "Yeah! Go, Lillie!" Bonnie cheered loudly, her voice echoing around the space. Lillie lowered her hand, clasping it closely to her chest.

    "When I realized that, letting go of my fear of her, I resolved to save her from her own madness," Lillie continued, her confidence eking out with every syllable. "I don't know if it's possible to do that, but I chose to turn the despair of my past into hope for our future. If I could look at her, with her own sanity, and hear her tell me the truth, love or hate, I knew it would be good enough. Maybe that's why I chose Tapu Fini, and maybe that's why Tapu Fini chose me."

    "Well, whatever it is, you deserve it, Lillie," Hau said with encouragement. She finally turned, smiling at him kindly. "And we'll all be there right until the end. Right?"

    "You bet!" Bonnie said, slapping her hand against Hau's, while Dedenne cheered by jumping up and down.

    Clemont said nothing, still processing Lillie's words.

    She was far stronger than him, he had to remark. She had turned despair into hope. Pain into resolve. Her life had been miserable, but instead of buckling and continuing to live in the shadow of her mother, she had chosen to be her own person, irrespective of that. Clemont's eyes fell downward, almost wanting to laugh over how ludicrous it all was. Perhaps the guardian deities of Alola really were fickle beings that made choices on a whim, but Clemont knew that wasn't the case. There was a balance and a reason for everything.

    With a conflict on the horizon, they had to choose those who were the best for the job in every single way.

    Ash was chosen by Tapu Koko for his sense of recklessness and battling spirit. More than just the zeal to win, but a fight for justice that inhabited him when any wrong was done.

    Serena was chosen by Tapu Lele for her beauty and ability to bring out the best in people; their very life, itself. She embodied love, pure and simple, whether her romance with Ash, or that general sense of selflessness.

    Gladion was chosen by Tapu Bulu because of his strength, almost like a counter to Ash. While he had fallen into a trap of doing things on his own, he had done it out of a sense of care, and then he had grown from his mistakes. More than that, he had acknowledged them and used them to bring out his true potential.

    Now, Lillie was chosen by Tapu Fini for turning despair into hope. The horror and darkness of her past turned to light.

    They all embodied the very deities which had chosen them. Clemont, however, knew he didn't embody those at all. He would never have the same strength as Ash, the amount of love as Serena, the amount of potential for growing as Gladion, and that ability to hope that Lillie had created. He had almost given in to his own insecurities! It was no wonder the Tapus wouldn't choose him!

    Yet now, hearing Lillie's story, understanding the reason she was chosen to obtain the Z-Ring over any other person in Alola after Hapu's grandfather, he was okay with it. He was at peace with it.

    Because I don't need to be Ash or Serena. That's what the last month was about, he realized. Bonnie was looking at him curiously now as he reasoned all of this, and it was beginning to make the others do so as well. He could only imagine, given the smile that was stretching his face at the realization. Not pained or filled with despair, but one that made peace with everything. I just need to be there for them. On my own, I'm fine, and with them, we're all even greater.

    "Lillie, thank you for sharing," he finally said, bowing to the girl that had become a cherished friend of his. She was taken aback, but appeared pleased with it at the same time. "Now, we came to visit Tapu Fini for a reason, didn't we?"

    "Right!" Lillie said, pumping her fists with a little jump. On her arm, Komala yawned loudly, clearly agreeing with Lillie's enthusiasm despite his state. With a little spin to her feet, Lillie walked forward, leading the group just as Ash would. Hau stared at her with a grin, her ponytail bouncing as she disappeared into the darker portion of the shrine. Clemont beamed down at Bonnie and the siblings followed swiftly after.

    Entering into the darkened room, Clemont could feel the pressure that was exuded by the guardian deity, forcing him to remain sharp and alert. That cold trickle of water felt even fiercer now, but he didn't stop, not until he saw Lillie there, kneeling and bowing before Tapu Fini, the same as the one he'd seen Hapu's grandfather pray to in the memory. That only further helped him; not even Hapu had inherited her grandfather's position, so he hadn't been the only one passed over. Nevertheless, Clemont brought himself into a kneeling position, taking Bonnie and Hau down with him as they stared at the deity.

    Lillie began to speak, though it sounded less like her own words, and more like Tapu Fini putting words in her head, like a mouthpiece. "Set…the stage…Will show the safe path…My waters…"

    "So, what, it's gonna guide us using water through the canyon so we don't run into Team Skull? That's pretty cool," Hau said. Bonnie instantly shushed him.

    "Hope. Despair. Pain. Resolve. Peace," Lillie finished. Her Z-Ring was glowing, Clemont noticed, pulsing with a blue light from the sea stones that made its surface. Tapu Fini looked up, scanning each and every one of them. Then, it veiled itself in water and appeared to fade away into the walls of the shrine, as though it had never been there. "The time is coming. Very soon…our Champions' wills be fulfilled, to repair what was once broken…and to…stop the one in black…"

    Clemont's eyes narrowed. The one in black…In his mind, that could only have been Michael, a shadow that had plagued Alola for years without anyone knowing, but he wasn't able to ask any more, given that Tapu Fini had disappeared. The glow around Lillie's Z-Ring vanished as well and she fell forward, her hands hitting the ground. Clemont straightened and stood.

    "Are you all right?" he asked of the girl. She nodded.

    "For some reason, hearing Tapu Fini in my head takes a lot out of me. Must have been the same for Ash and the others…Those visions…" she noted. At this moment, she pushed herself upwards, and then into a standing position. "That's the second time it showed me those visions and said those words. Visions of my own past, of the former Kahuna Koa, and of the great battle fought so long ago…I wonder if it has something to do with Nebby or the Ultra Space."

    "Could just be about the battle ahead," Clemont stated, trying to think on the strange things which Lillie had spoken under Tapu Fini's influence. There was something the Tapus were attempting, but he didn't know what. The one thing he did understand, however, was that their battle was looming, and it was time to get moving.

    "Time to save the world again!" Bonnie declared, throwing her own fist into the air now. Clemont and Lillie followed suit, with Hau throwing his own hand upward for the heck of it. "And having Tapu Fini with us is pretty awesome, right Squishy?"

    "Brlbl!" Squishy agreed, smiling with his eyes. Clemont reached up, pushing his glasses back into place.

    "Then it's time! Tapu Fini will lead us to the Altar of the Sunne in record time, and Ash and the others will meet up with us on the way!" Clemont declared, throwing his hand out. Each of his companions joined in, and they tossed their hands high. No other words being exchanged, Clemont whipped around and ran out of the shrine, back towards the pool where Lionel and Greninja were waiting. Rotom was there, too, though it seemed to have followed them for a picture of the guardian deity.

    "Are we all set to go? I heard what's going on," Lionel asked of them. All of them nodded, leading the way back up and out of the ruins, on to the coast. The sun was definitely starting to set with its brilliant red and gold, and in the distance, Clemont thought he could hear and see the sounds of the Seafolk Village. Part of him wondered if the others had gotten here yet. Lionel soon surged past him, fingers cradling a pokeball of his with a fierce expression. "Our battle for Alola is about to begin. Are you ready?"

    "Yes," was Lillie's affirmative response, clasping her Z-Ring. "Just hold on, Nebby. You'll be better soon."

    "Let's go!" Hau and Bonnie shouted. Even Rotom appeared fired up, a flaming face on its screen to show how ready it was to battle. Clemont opted for a nod, casting his gaze over to the distant Seafolk Village for but a brief moment, believing he could see a boat docked there, though perhaps it was just wishful thinking. Nevertheless, he walked forward to stand side-by-side with Lionel. At their feet, there was a trickling sound, water running over the ground like some sort of guiding light that was racing towards the canyon.

    The time for doubt and waiting was over. They had Tapu Fini with them. They had the Sun Flute with them. And they had each other. It was time to fight, and Clemont planned to give it all he had, no matter what.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    The boat to Poni Island moved much faster than Ash could have ever expected, bouncing across the waves. Team Rocket clearly hadn't expected them to be moving at that kind of speed, either, given the position they were currently in, but Kahili had a certain way of making people, like the boat driver, act the way she wanted them to. In the end, it made Team Rocket go from lounging to at attention to suddenly being hunched over the sides of the ship, hurling their guts out.

    "Next time, warn us before you make us hurl, older twerp!"

    "Yeah, I'm not a twerp, and suck it up," Kahili refuted their entire group, folding her arms as she stood next to the boat's driver. "You're going to have worse things than an upset stomach incoming, trust me."

    Considering that Kahili was the most brutally honest person Ash knew, he pegged her words as exactly right. Team Rocket was a little more reluctant to believe it, but they seemed to come around for the most part and stop themselves from barfing over the sides.

    As for the rest of them, Ash ended up getting what was essentially a crash course over what had happened in the last month. It came to the point that he and Pikachu were just sitting there, staring at Serena as she finished rattling off the checklist. Really, he had zoned out after finding out that Lillie had obtained a Z-Ring from Tapu Fini, Clemont had come up with a plan, and Bonnie had pulled through with the Sun Flute, leaving only the Moon Flute to be gotten. He relayed all of this to Serena as swiftly as he thought possible.

    "Is that about right?" he asked, taking some dried food from his backpack and tossing it in his mouth. It had been a long time since he'd had actual cooked food, but it looked like that was going to have to wait just a little longer, especially when Serena hadn't brought anything.

    "It's good enough," she giggled out, shaking her head. She crossed her legs, looking out towards the setting sun over the ocean. Ash turned, too, noticing that the island of their destination was now approaching. He stood, walking close to the edge in order to get a better look at it. Soon, he was joined by Gladion, though neither said any words. They just looked, seeing the rising canyon and the nature-riddled coast. The closer they got, Ash thought he could see two boats docked on a far-off coast, but their own boat didn't look to be heading in that direction.

    "So, this is your final trial, except for Hala?" Gladion asked. It was the first words he'd truly spoken to him as himself, and not trying to mask some other intention. Ash wasn't sure how to respond, only remembering the way that the two of them had left things. Still, he knew it would be rude to not respond.

    "I guess so," Ash breathed out. He closed his eyes, letting the ocean breeze blow through himself and Pikachu before they turned to the blond boy. "I guess you've already done your trials, then?"

    "Yeah, I did," he answered, reaching into his sweatshirt and pulling out the completed Trial Amulet. Ash nodded at it; he felt no pressure from seeing that, but it did turn his mind towards the trial. It had to have been vital, if Kahili felt it was better for him to do this than go straight for the others or the Moon Flute. "Look, Ash, about last month-"

    "There's nothing to say about it," Ash said, cutting across him. Gladion, and what the two of them had put each other through, was something he really didn't want to deal with at the moment. There were more than enough things on his mind to occupy it without that particular mess. "Whatever happened is what happened, right? For now, we can't think about it, and just have to move forward to prevent any more disasters."

    "Yeah, but…" Ash frowned at Gladion while Pikachu gazed thoughtfully at a lounging Silvally on the boat deck. This wasn't the time for it.

    "We'll battle at the League, I promise. For now, we have to focus on the battle here." Gladion's mouth opened, like he wanted to say something pertinent, but he eventually closed it, deciding to simply nod instead. After what had happened, repairing their relationship wasn't going to be as easy as an apology or some words exchanged. Ash turned away, noticing they were just about at the village that Serena had described, a very familiar figure waiting upon the docks with a wave.

    "Ahoy and alola, Kahili! You look well!" Hapu called cheerily, her brown clothing looking almost more muddied in the setting sun. Kahili smirked at her old friend, leaning back for a second.

    "So do you! I would imagine that Kahuna Hala sent along a message?" she asked. Hapu nodded. The boat seemed to finally slow, allowing them their chance to disembark upon the town.

    Before he leapt off, Ash took the entirety of the Seafolk Village in. It was a peaceful place that seemed to live a fisher's life, just as its name would suggest. Of course, Ash knew they spent more time bartering, per Serena's words, but it was still a fascinatingly different culture than what he'd seen elsewhere in Alola. Some people were out and milling around to get clear end-of-day tasks done as quickly as they could. Having taken in everything he could, Ash grabbed the railing of the boat and flung himself on to the wooden docks below.

    "Ash, Serena, it's good to see you, as well. I'm sorry we missed each other when you visited a month ago," Hapu said to them, a smile reaching her eyes. She stopped before them, ignoring Kahili, who was thanking the driver. By the time she had, Gladion had pushed Team Rocket on to the docks while Hapu continued to size Ash and Serena up. He had a very distinct feeling of what was about to be said. "The looks in your eyes have changed. Serena's are clearer, decisive, and Ash, yours are more confused, but still determined."

    "Thanks, I guess," Serena noted, glancing over to Ash. It was obvious they both had their share of problems, but being reminded of them didn't help matters. Kahili seemed to believe so, as well.

    "Yeah, okay, Hapu, enough with the philosophical stuff. Where's Mina?" she asked, cutting straight to the heart of the matter. Ash always did appreciate that about her, even if it hurt upon initially being subjected to that kind of manner. The shorter woman looked at her friend before sighing.

    "I have no idea," she finally admitted with a shrug. Kahili slumped, but Ash just looked to Serena for an answer, getting none in return; she was just as clueless as he was. "I was with her this morning, stepped out to do something near the canyon with Mudsdale, and when I came back, she was gone. Somewhere in or near the village, I'm sure, but I didn't have the time to quest for her, not with Kahuna Hala's communication."

    "Damn it, that flighty girl…" Kahili groaned, slapping a hand to her forehead. "We do not have time for this. The others must be here already."

    "I would say they definitely are," Gladion insisted. Ash looked to him, the boy staring (more like glaring) at the two women. "Either way, you're right, we don't have the time for all of this. Ash has his trial, we need to find the Moon Flute and the others might be making their way into the canyon as we speak."

    It was easy to see what Gladion was suggesting. What was surprising was the fact that James was the first to actually speak it aloud.

    "You're suggesting we split up again, aren't you, chap?" he prompted. Gladion jerked his head in a nod. To that, James sighed, staring around at his long-time companions. "All right, guess we'll go with the surly twerp two-point-oh."

    "James, what are ya sayin?" Meowth asked in surprise. "You know we're not cut out for da battle!"

    "No, James is right," Jessie said altogether dismissively. "We're here to take down Team Skull, not play archeologist. Bring it, surly twerp."

    "Yeah, okay. That good with you, Kahili?" Gladion asked. The woman surveyed their group with pursed lips, only briefly perusing Hapu for any nonverbal advice. Eventually, she sighed.

    "Yeah, that's the best we can do, depending on how long it takes to find Mina. Without our shared information, it would take us forever, with no guarantee, to locate the Moon Flute," she sighed out. Then she stepped forward, clapping a hand on Gladion's shoulder. "Do what you can. You three, behave yourselves."

    "Yes, ma'am!" They saluted her while Gladion offered Ash and Serena a nod before tearing off with Silvally. Team Rocket scrambled off after the pair, almost yelling at him to slow down. Once they were on their way, Ash turned to face Hapu.

    "So, we need to find Mina, right? The trial captain?" he asked, placing his arms across his chest in thought. "Any idea how?"

    "One crosses my mind," Hapu admitted. Yet again, Ash noticed her eyes and Kahili's meet, before the both of them grinned. It made Ash's body tense up, preparing itself for what was about to begin. Then, Hapu laid down the law. "In fact, why don't we consider it the start of Mina's trial and my Grand Trial, both? Find the captain with the help of the citizens of the Seafolk Village in an hour or less. Then, we'll have the joint trial battle for your real trial."


    Author's Note: So, this chapter had quite a bit, didn't it? I'd like to think it did. For all we've shown of Lillie, I wanted the chance to really see who she was before all this: an extreme doormat for her mother; someone who was trodden upon for so long, she was a shell of herself until meeting the others and breaking free. It's also a ridiculously important plot point for the upcoming chapters, but I'll leave you to ponder how. As for other things, the battle is about to begin and the action will come roaring in next chapter with something great, all while Gladion moves to team up with the rest. Will they make it? Will they succeed? Will Ash find his answer? Just hold on to find out!

    These have been some of the hardest chapters to write, so I truly hope you're enjoying it. Until that very next chapter, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    It would seem I unintentionally confused people about the joint Trial-Grand Trial. However, this should clear things up immensely, so I won't bother explaining myself. That said, on to Chapter 6, my friends!


    Chapter 6

    A Gift

    "Find the captain, huh? Should be easy enough, right, Pikachu?" Ash asked of his companion on his shoulder. Pikachu seemed distracted a moment, staring off at where Gladion and Silvally had vanished. Of course, Ash hoped that they'd all be okay with the battle that was looming on the horizon, too, but now wasn't the time for the focus to be on that. "Pikachu, if we want to help the others, we have to focus on this right now, okay?"

    "Pi…Pika!" Pikachu agreed, fastening himself into a stern expression in preparation for the trial ahead. Ash grinned at him and faced forward, looking in to the Seafolk Village. Hapu had stepped aside, as if to speak with Kahili at length.

    Now that his trial had supposedly begun, Ash took the time to look more properly at the village that rested before him. In the setting sun, it made everything look almost amber in color, and made it doubly more peaceful, as well. Since some of the village's work on the water seemed to be winding down for the day, most people were making their way back inside the various buildings around the area, each one having its own distinct shape as they floated on pontoons. A large group was heading for a very large building that, judging from the smells inside, was a restaurant. Others were going to their rather unique homes or the Pokémon Center (which at a second glance, looked just as different as the rest of the village). The only building that looked to actually be completely shutting down was something that looked like a Ceremony Hall, though like the rest of the village, it was completely different from any other he'd seen before. In fact, he was so interested in that unique feel from the building that he turned to Serena.

    "Is that a Ceremony Hall? 'Cause, I didn't think they had Ceremonies here," he said. His girlfriend stepped forward, placing a hand on his shoulder while she seemed to adjust her shoe.

    "It is. This is the only Ceremony held on the island, though," Serena told him, now placing her foot down. "Jessie won her third Lei here, actually. But Poni being having such a small population is the reason only three Leis are needed instead of four."

    "Oh. That's interesting," Ash said. He actually didn't find it all that captivating, and Serena seemed to know that, because she laughed before sliding her hand down his arm to take his hand in hers. Then, she smiled a little.

    "Come on. I know someone who can help, I think," she said. It felt nice, her hand in his again. The touch of her fingers on his skin was electrifying, much more than it had been a month ago. Then again, he'd grown immensely, and some of that part that grew was the one that yearned for his girlfriend, even if he never vocalized it to the somewhat aloof Kahili. Had he not been in the middle of his trial, he'd have actually liked to go to somewhere else and just spend time with her.

    But now wasn't the time for that.

    "Uh…well, only if…" Ash looked over to Kahili and Hapu, trying to make sure whether it was in the rules for him to be allowed help from Serena. His eyes caught on to the shorter woman's own gaze and she nodded with a smile, her bushy black hair flying about. Taking that as a yes, he squeezed Serena's hand a little, as if indicating for her to lead the way.

    She did just that, pulling him along with confidence as he and Pikachu just went along for the ride. He was surprised by how strong Serena had grown in the physical sense, even though he wasn't exactly resisting her pull. A while ago, he never would have imagined that spending a month apart would make them all grow immensely, but seeing Serena's extra confidence, conviction and strength, he knew it was for the best. Even for himself, who had yet to find his answers, he had grown. Now, Ash couldn't wait to see Clemont, Bonnie and Lillie again.

    "So, who is it that you think can help, Serena?" Ash asked of his girlfriend. She turned her head, winking at him a little, but providing no actual answer. She just continued to drag him along the wooden planks (sturdy as they were) that made up the Seafolk Village. As they were pulled along, Ash and Pikachu both took the chance to look a little further and in more detail at the village, more closely examining the odd designs of some of the houses. It made them all seem extremely nomadic, thanks to the eclectic nature of the homes. Even with their own odd designs, it still made the Pokémon Center and Ceremony Hall stand out all the more. Said weirdness could have made it either easier or harder to locate the trial captain at the same time, Ash knew.

    "Ta-da! Here we are!" Serena announced emphatically, throwing her hands up as they stood outside what looked like the floating restaurant. People were chattering inside, though it was still relatively quiet, only holding to the ambient sound of voices.

    "Sure, I'm hungry, but how does that help with the trial?" Ash asked, pointing to the open door of the restaurant. He could tell light was coming out of it, given the darkening horizon, but he still couldn't fathom how this place would help.

    "Oh, Ash, it's the person inside that can help," she told him, shaking her head with amusement. It felt nice to find a little humor amidst all the heavy stuff. Serena let go of his hand and walked around to stand behind him, placing her hands on his back and beginning to push him inside. "Alola!"

    "Alola!" cried the crowd at large at their entrance and greeting cry, the loudest coming from a man sitting at the counter, in particular. He appeared to be a man of authority with a bright blue vest and relaxed clothing, stroking his bearded chin as his longer black hair stuck out amidst all the revelers there from a hard day's work. "Aye, it's Miss Serena! Have ya been hale and hearty?"

    "Miss Serena! The flower of Kalos!"

    "Hic, she's a beaut, she is!" hiccupped another man, making Ash look back to his girlfriend, who was waving in turn to the one that had said it. "But where's that Jessilie! Now, that was a woman!"

    "Only because she reminds you of your wife! Get your head back to reality, Floyd!" Another man rapped that man over the head and laughter sounded around the restaurant, though it felt more like some kind of olden day tavern, if Ash was honest. Serena walked forward towards the authoritative man that was also laughing.

    "I'm well, Alaka," Serena said to him, smiling brightly as always. The man tipped his head back and laughed heartily. Ash watched the exchange, feeling slightly baffled alongside Pikachu. Clearly Serena knew this man, and many of the others in the restaurant, if the way she was speaking with them was anything to go by. Ash just shoved his hands into his pockets and watched them with a smile. "How have you all been?"

    "Hard day's work, hard day's food. Can't ask for much more," the man, Alaka, laughed out; it was dawning on Ash how so many people's names sounded the same in Alola, too, making him wonder if Mina's name was distinct enough to find. He did have to agree with the chuckling man, though. "You and Miss Lillie find what you were looking for?"

    "Almost. I think I have an idea, at least. You haven't heard anything different, have you?" the honey blonde asked, leaning in towards the man with a rather knowing grin on her face. It was strange, Ash felt, for Serena to be introducing him to someone, rather than the other way around. Not that she had introduced him quite yet.

    "Can't say anyone has heard anything of note, but come now, you know information here isn't free!" Alaka said, wagging a finger at her with a tiny grin on his lips. "That said, any idea what's going on with the island? Two ships at Poni Breaker Coast, some scuff up by the Battle Tree and rumor has it that there's been lots of movement in the canyon."

    "Can't give information for free," Serena answered him with a wink. Ash was really and truly lost, now. Sure, he knew that Serena had spent some time here, searching for her father (the only subject she didn't broach with him as of yet) but it was still weird how familiar she seemed to be with these older men.

    "Ha ha!" Alaka laughed, patting at his portly stomach with enthusiasm. "Well played, Miss Serena! Well played! You've really learned the customs! Fitting for an Ali'i ka Leilani."

    "I'll try my best," Serena said, displaying her usual sense of modesty. Alaka seemed to like that, because he reached forward and patted her on the head. Then his eyes swiveled over to Ash, who stared right back at him. Introductions weren't coming right away, but he figured that there was nothing else for it, and he stepped forward.

    "Well, how about answering where the captain is," he said confidently, hoping that same sense of confidence could garner him an answer. The older man continued to watch him a moment, considering his figure discerningly, though not in the same way that Hapu, Kahili and Hala liked to. It was more a man deciding how much to divulge.

    "This is the boyfriend I mentioned, Ash," Serena interjected, quick to head off any complications. "He's here to take the final trial. Ash, this is Chief Alaka, head of the Seafolk Village."

    "Nice to meet ya," Alaka said, raising a hand in greeting. He still looked to be considering things, once more stroking his beard with his other hand. Ash waited for an answer, but didn't seem to be getting one from the man whatsoever. Someone else did choose to answer, though.

    "You talking about Mina?" said one of the older crowd. Ash turned to look at who had said it, getting a decent view of the nicely furnished restaurant. It seemed like it was part tavern, part family space, especially with the old jukebox in a corner, though it looked inoperable. "She was in here earlier, aye?"

    "Yeah, she was lookin' for tomatoes for her artwork…weird girl…" the man behind the counter said with a shake of his head. It certainly sounded weird enough, though Ash wasn't sure how that applied to him finding the captain. Another man in the crowd of people there snorted.

    "Weird? Call it normal for the Successful Sisters," the snorting man said with intense amusement. "Kahili goes hitting golf balls off the pier, Mina uses all sorts of random things for artwork and Hapu…well, Hapu's normal, at least."

    "That's because her grandfather was as disciplined as could be…Arceus, I miss Koa…" an older man sighed out, leaning back against a chair. Ash found it all rather fascinating, but it wasn't like it helped him get closer to actually finding Mina. With that in mind, he turned to the chieftain and looked him straight in the eyes.

    "I need to find her, anyway," he spoke sternly, imparting the urgency that the situation was calling for. This wasn't about just completing his trials, but about joining with his friends for the battle up ahead. "Do you know where she went? It's important."

    "We might…she could have said something," Alaka chuckled out. In fact, they were all chuckling with amusement. It wasn't that they were making fun of him, either. Ash could tell they weren't, but rather it was that they were holding back on something. Either way, it all seemed funny to them, but a little tiresome to Serena, who sighed. Ash looked at Pikachu, his best friend shrugging a little.

    "So, wait…do you or don't you know?" The chuckles increased and Alaka swung his legs around, planting his feet powerfully on the ground.

    "We might know, and we might be able to tell you what she mumbled out," the chief said, clapping his hands together a few times. "That is, if you give us a little something in return."

    "Okay, what?" If the man was surprised by Ash's sheer willingness to jump right in, he didn't show it. In fact, he seemed to be all business, like this was really just the daily grind and nothing more to it. The men sitting around the restaurant all followed the now walking chief, some with grins, others with questioning looks. Eventually, Alaka stopped next to the jukebox.

    "This thing has been broken a long while," he explained with a sly little grin as he leaned against the musical device. "It's a shame, too, because this place should be so much more lively if it worked, but it's not, because it doesn't. I want you to fix it. If you do, we'll tell you where Mina's current little art hideaway is."

    "Uh…" Ash vocalized, unsure what to say. He was certainly no good at doing these kinds of things like Clemont was, so he had no idea how he could even do it in any reasonable amount of time. And Clemont thinks he's the useless one…

    "We'll take care of it," Serena insisted, pumping her fist just a little. Alaka patted the top of the jukebox and stepped away, looking satisfied with the answer. Ash looked to his girlfriend, wondering just what was going through her mind as she took him and pulled him over to the jukebox. The men in the restaurant went back to whatever they were doing, almost completely ignoring them as they approached the broken piece of machinery. Ash sighed liberally.

    "Serena…I'm not Clemont," he told her. At this, she turned to him, taking out two of her pokeballs.

    "I know," she said with a nod. Then she smiled at him. "But I know you can do this; you always do the things you have to, and nothing we do is a waste of time." Ash just blinked. She was right. He grinned in response, turning to Pikachu with a smile.

    "Well, then, let's do this, Pikachu!" he cheered and Pikachu joined with him. Looking back for a moment, Ash noticed that while the others weren't even paying attention, guzzling down drinks or gobbling up food, the chieftain of their little village was watching him almost carefully (though he tried to pretend that he wasn't). A bright light from next to Serena showed the forms of Pancham and Sandshrew emerging.

    "Pika!" Pikachu cried, leaping from Ash's shoulders to greet the two members of Serena's team. Sandshrew looked the most energetic about seeing Pikachu again, running forward to hug him. By Ash's estimation, the icy little mouse looked more mature than before; clearly, Serena had put in quite the bit of effort over the last month. He couldn't wait to see him in action.

    Tearing his thoughts away from that, Ash focused in on the jukebox in front of him, completely inoperable. He didn't have much experience with machines, but after watching Clemont all this time, he had at least a vague idea of where to start. Grabbing ahold of it, Ash heaved it forward, moving the jukebox so that the back was facing him. Sure enough, there was a rusted panel there that likely led to the interior, and Ash grabbed at it. He began to pull, but found that the panel was holding fast.

    "I've got an idea. Sandshrew, can you use Metal Claw to pull the panel back? But do it carefully!" Serena asked of her Pokémon.

    "Shrewshrew!" Sandshrew said happily, running forward. Ash watched as his tiny little claw glowed a bright silver, larger than it was before, and he dug it into the back panel. Then he pulled slowly until, at last, the panel swung open, revealing the complicated contents of the interior. Pancham was now walking forward, staring into the abyss of machinery. Ash was staring, too, but there were so many parts that he simply wasn't all that sure of what there was to do next, and it baffled him.

    "One step at a time," he said, and he looked down to the Playful Pokémon that was considering the contents inside. "Pancham, can I ask a favor?"

    "Champan?" Pancham asked, turning his stare up to him.

    "I want you to go in there and see if there's anything disconnected or something like that. I mean, that would be the first thing Clemont would look for, right?" Pancham nodded in agreement and he practically jumped inside the jukebox. Pikachu tilted his head as he watched the progress of movement inside, while Sandshrew seemed to cheer his fellow Pokémon on. Ash wasn't particularly sure if he'd find anything he could use or even help to figure it out, but he knew to try his best. Eventually, Pancham returned, pulling out two loose wires, one of them with a small box hanging from it. "What is it…?"

    "It looks like some kind of electrical device?" Serena asked, though it was obvious that she was even less savvy than he was when it came to this sort of thing. Ash thanked Pancham, who finished exiting from the interior, and took the wire with the box, holding it upwards. It did seem to be electrical in nature, like it could store electricity and send it through the wire it was hanging from to power the jukebox.

    "Well, nothing to do but try it! Pikachu, charge it up!" Ash said, holding the box out to his perennial partner. Pikachu nodded, touching his cheek up against it.

    "Chuuuuuuuuu!" he cried. Electricity sparked and pulsed along his little red sacs. It flowed into the box and Ash saw said box lighting up. His fingers tingled a little, but he was so used to Pikachu's brand of electricity that it didn't bother him. All of a sudden, the jukebox lit up and began blasting out some brand of rock music, much to his surprise.

    "Hey, we got it to-!" Ash's voice died down, mostly because the jukebox did as well, as though it only took a small fraction of the electricity. He frowned at that, staring at the once more dead box in his hand. Then his hand looked over to the other frayed wire. Then back to the box. The idea struck in his brain: he needed to connect them! "But this wire is too frayed…"

    "Don't have a problem with that," one of the men at the tables said, standing up and scooting his chair out. He took off his cap and ran his hand through his hair. "I got some tools back at home. Don't think it violates an agreement to bring a supply, does it, chief?"

    "Not at all. Make sure you bring the family, too. Once Ash gets this jukebox running, we can make this place a more proper family establishment, too," the chief responded with a rumbling laughter. The man seemed to agree with this, because he was out the door in seconds. Ash watched the spot he left and then turned back to his task. Connecting the wire would probably help, but even with that, he had to wonder how it would remain powered. Frowning, he stuck his face closer to the jukebox and its contents.

    "You know, science is amazing and all, but sometimes it doesn't make sense…" Ash noted. Serena laughed at that as Ash glared at the confusing contents of the jukebox. In the end, he couldn't figure it out all that well, and just figured that what he was going to do would be good enough. He thankfully didn't have to wait for too long before the man appeared, tossing over what looked like a pair of wire trimmers and some connective material. Behind him was a woman with two kids (kids that lit up with happiness and wanted to play with Pancham and Sandshrew).

    "That should be everything you need," the man said, leaning against the wall to let the trainer work. Ash nodded and quickly tried to remember all the things that Clemont would do to get these kinds of things running. He took the trimmers and pared down the wire so it looked proper, and then attached it to the box before connecting it all securely, including the other side. Nothing happened, yet, though.

    "Well, we'll give it one more go! Pikachu, charge it up!" Pikachu looked, if anything, even more confident than before. He strode up to it, once more putting his cheek to it as the others all backed away. "Let's go and give it everything we've got!"

    "Piiiiiiikaaaaaachuuuuuuuu!" Pikachu roared out and the electricity blasted out from his body. Ash grinned at him as the jukebox lit up like crazy, the electricity circling around and playing that rock music once again. It almost sounded like something he wished he would hear during a gym battle or something. Ash leaned forward, bumping fists with Pikachu, feeling a bit of that spark, himself. His Z-Ring felt hot, glowing bright yellow, but he ignored it until, at last, Pikachu felt he was done.

    The jukebox was playing…and it kept playing. In fact, now that Ash looked, he could see the electricity keeping itself on a constant circuit that powered the device, at least as long as it was plugged in.

    "Yay! Music!"

    "Let's dance, honey!"

    "What a wonderful sound!" Ash stepped away, closing the panel and moving the jukebox back into position, while those around them began to dance. It must have been quite the show, because there was movement outside in the sunset, indicating that all manner of people were arriving to take part in the music. Even Kahili was popping her head in while Ash and Serena returned towards the chieftain.

    "Nice!" she said before looking over and winking to the chief. "Been a while!"

    "Sometimes I think not long enough. Haven't hit any fishermen with golf balls lately, have you?" the chief asked. Instead of denying it, or seeming to claim that it was just one time, Kahili laughed. That provided enough ample distraction for the chief to turn back to Ash. He grinned back at the man, reveling in the sound of music and those dancing around them. Serena was watching them all, too, as though she'd suddenly struck upon something in her brain. It seemed to grow with every person that left to grab their families. Whatever it was, she didn't share it with him.

    "So, how about where the captain is?" Ash asked, trying to not sound impatient. To this, the chief laughed heartily.

    "Fair enough. Miss Serena, you know the Magikarp house over into the wilds a little, right?" To this question, Serena nodded. "That's where you'll find Mina. She had said something about painting the sunrise on the ocean, and that's the best spot."

    "Got it!" Serena said positively, once more taking Ash's hand.

    "Good to see you again, chief," Kahili said one more time, adding in a wink. The chief rolled his eyes, but that was the extent of it as they all left the now bustling restaurant. Serena took the lead once more, dragging Ash along the docks again. Weird as it was to admit, he liked this very confident version of Serena. Walking next to them was Kahili, who was soon joined by a rather laconic Hapu.

    Their little quartet continued along silently as they neared the Pokémon Center. Ash felt his stomach rumble a bit, but Pikachu just dove in his bag to grab some leftover food, which they both gobbled down as they remained in transit. It wasn't long after that, when they were stepping off the wooden portions of the Seafolk Village and onto the dirt and grass plains of the wild. In the sunset, it looked beautiful, though there wasn't much time to revel in the natural beauty of Poni Island; not with Serena turning him back towards the coast. That trip felt incredibly short, in the end.

    "Ta-da! The Magikarp house!" Serena said, stopping short outside the very obviously, fish designed house. Ash let go of her hand and stepped forward, Hapu coming to his side. He opened his mouth to call out, but…

    "Mina! Mina!" Hapu barked out sharply. There was no response, at least at first. Then, for just a second, a woman popped her head out. From the portion that was exposed, she looked to have blonde hair, splattered with paint. She almost seemed dazed and out of it, too.

    "Ugh…you flighty girl, get your butt out here," Kahili snapped, brushing past all of them brusquely to grab ahold of this "Mina" and pull her out of the house. Ash craned his neck, looking inside and realizing that it looked like an absolute mess of paint and easels and all other manner of art supplies. Heck, Mina, herself, looked like a walking art repository to begin with! Her shirt and pants were all splattered with paint and she looked almost tired…or maybe just completely disconnected from the world.

    "Oh, Kahili…you're here?" Mina asked, her dazed expression turning into a smile.

    "Yes, I'm here, or did you conveniently forget everything Hapu told you…?" the woman said. To no one's surprise except Serena's, Kahili rapped the woman on the head. "We're in crisis mode here and you're painting the ocean?"

    "I felt inspired," Mina answered, folding her arms. She was no longer acting apathetic, her tone becoming sharper. "Though I still feel something's lacking…"

    "Maybe a strong battle is what you need," Hapu suggested. Ash watched the three women seemingly reuniting, and it appeared to him just how close the three of them were despite their vastly differing personalities. It was a positive sight to see, if he was honest, and it was something fulfilling; it was like each filled in for where the other lacked, which seemed a bit like himself with Serena and Clemont. Yet, at the edge of his mind, Ash felt that something said he didn't quite understand them…not yet, at least.

    "That might do it…the last time I was inspired was when we visited the Battle Tree. Do you have anything in mind?" Mina asked, tapping a finger to her lips and smearing some paint across it. Kahili chuckled, shaking her head a little.

    "Boy, do we ever! We'll save the information sharing for later, I guess. Not much we cab do about it while you're in one of your 'uninspired' modes." Ash quirked an eyebrow, watching as Hapu and Kahili then both turned to him. This kind of movement actually seemed to attract Mina's attention, because she looked up at him and then just stared. Her eyes briefly flicked over to Serena, but beyond that she remained focused on Ash.

    "Trial-goer?" Mina finally asked.

    "I am," Ash replied, putting a step forward as Pikachu's cheeks sparked with challenge. Mina now nodded her head as Kahili placed a hand on the captain's shoulder.

    "He's the trial-goer. For the big one. You know, the one you never use but are in charge of sealing?" Mina's eyebrows flew upwards and even Ash had to consider Kahili carefully. Clearly this one trial was bigger than she was letting on. His eyes shifted along, seeing Mina's eyes now narrow as Hapu gripped at a pokeball. It was like there was already this willingness to fight. For all of Alola's laidback nature, Ash had finally realized that its inhabitants liked getting their battles underway.

    "You sure he can hack it? Last guy that came took one look and declined, even though I gave him the crystal from some natural deposits after he agreed to help me paint something. Hapu remembers," Mina stated, following her question. Her distracted voice was gone, replaced with someone sharp, like there were different modes between her artist persona and her captain persona. Not quite the same as Lana, as she seemed to shift them more gradually, but still easily similar. "Even you nearly…"

    "I can take anything!" Ash proclaimed, throwing a fist up powerfully. Hapu chuckled a bit.

    "He's a lively one," the Kahuna explained to her captain. "But I do believe he could, you know? He's certainly not like that dragon trainer who only wanted the crystal. He needs and wants this. And if we stand any chance of winning in the battle for Alola ahead, we believe it's necessary for him to take the final trial. Understand?"

    Mina didn't answer right away. She continued staring, her eyes occasionally going backwards to her art. The sun continued to sink lower, making Ash feel they were running out of time, but he tried to not let it bother him. Eventually, the captain sighed. "Well, if the two of you say so. You're much wiser than I am."

    "Good, you know your place," Kahili smirked out, though Ash could tell it was all in good fun. Mina brushed her off and stepped forward, Kahili's hand falling away. Ash's foot shifted, already gearing up for a battle that was most certain to come. He could tell from Mina's very movement that this was her intention.

    "Very well, then. If you want the final trial, you'll need to earn your access by beating me. I usually don't like battling all that much, but if Kahili says so, maybe you can inspire me."

    "And I'll be taking part as well," Hapu said calmly. Mina took that in stride, not arguing against it or for it in any way whatsoever. "Considering what time we have left, we'll do trial and Grand Trial both. Does that work for you, Ash?"

    "Like you need to ask!" Ash said, quickly slinging his backpack off from his shoulders. The two women he would be facing were walking away, out towards a stretch of the wilds that would be used for the battlefield. It was odd to see the three of them all interact together, this almost silent nature of knowing what was needed and when on full display. Some of it called in a reflection on his own relationships, while the rest of it contrasted them with the broken friendship of Kukui, Akela and Guzma. "Serena, can you watch over my bag for me? And Pikachu, you mind joining her, just for this?"

    "Chu…" Pikachu agreed, although rather reluctantly. Serena also accepted his request, taking his bag and walking over to a tree to watch. Ash walked forward, himself, in order to stand across from both Hapu and Mina, with Kahili in the middle like a referee.

    "All right, I'll referee for you," she said quickly, confirming the thoughts. "This is a trial and Grand Trial battle between the captain, Mina, and Kahuna, Hapu, against the trial-goer, Ash. It will be a double battle, with each side being allowed only two Pokémon and no substitutions allowed. Should the trial-goer win, he'll clear his Grand Trial and be allowed access to the final trial on Poni Island. Are these terms agreeable?"

    "Isn't that what he came here for?" Mina asked, like it was obvious. Ash studied her. Hapu was a little easier to figure out, being the type of wise mediator that could read a situation, and he knew Kahili far too well as the brash yet level-headed instigator of action, but he wasn't sure what Mina was. He knew he was about to find out, though, and it excited him. He nodded with Hapu, accepting the terms of the battle.

    "Then let the battle begin!"
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Mudsdale, please help!" Hapu called, tossing her pokeball forth to call the large Pokémon. Ash wasn't surprised in the least at the sight of the large Mudsdale that appeared, stamping at the ground and whinnying. He knew it was coming; now he just had to figure out a way around it.

    "Ribombee, let's paint this picture of battle," Mina said, more relaxed than even Hapu was. She was sharper than before, but apparently, it didn't change her disposition completely. Appearing from her pokeball was a Pokémon that Ash had never seen before, though it looked like a different kind of Cutiefly, with a brown body and fluttering wings; that told Ash a little about what he was up against, even if it couldn't be termed as much. Ash reached for both of his pokeballs.

    "Toucannon, Kommo-o, I choose you!" Ash called out, tossing both of his pokeballs outward. They exploded with light and his brave flier and noble dragon both emerged with cries of their own, eyeing and ready to battle the foes before them. Ash's body crouched into a battle stance, and neither Hapu nor Mina made a move. They were waiting for him. "Let's kick it off with Flame Charge and Clanging Scales!"

    "Toucah!" Toucannon cried sharply. She flapped backwards a little, and then her body erupted with flames, shooting right towards Mudsdale. Kommo-o, likewise, rattled the loud sounds of the scales that made up his body. He looked back to Ash and nodded. Then the scales fired out, each emitting a powerful soundwave. They didn't just aim for Mudsdale, though, but for Ribombee, as well. He wanted to test his theory.

    "Kohm!" Kommo-o cried as his scales went flying out sharply. Toucannon had already reached Mudsdale and slammed into its side, pushing it a slight distance back from the hurtling scales. As a result, the scales reached Ribombee first…but did nothing, impacting but not moving it in the slightest.

    "I knew it…it's a Fairy type," Ash said under his breath. Hapu and Mina were on the move now, Ash snapping to attention, especially when he saw Mudsdale glowing red.

    "Double Kick! Block those scales!" Hapu called. The power behind her statement helped Ash to realize he was battling a Kahuna.

    "Quiver Dance," Mina said to her Ribombee. Both Pokémon moved simultaneously, one acting to ultimately help the other. They seemed so mismatched, Ash noticed, yet they were a perfect and seamless blend. Ribombee began to move quickly, glowing red, itself, as it zipped all around in an omnidirectional fashion. Meanwhile, Mudsdale whipped right around and kicked out its back legs to smash the scales apart, even as they regrew on Kommo-o's body. Ash shook his head. This was no time to get psyched out. It was time for the battle; time to find an answer through battle. He had to focus.

    "Focus our attacks on Mudsdale, right now. Use Sky Uppercut!" Ash commanded, sweeping his arm out. Kommo-o acted instantly, rushing forward. For his bulk, he always proved to be faster than one would expect, and in seconds, his glowing fist jabbed upward, slamming into Mudsdale's underbelly. It drove the horse upwards, right in Toucannon's range. "Now, Hyper Voice!"

    "TOUCAAAAAAAAAN!" Toucannon cried. The soundwaves that came off were red in color, almost blending in with the sunset that was shining across the wilds. Ash's ears perked, noticing that some Pokémon had come to watch the battle being held. The waves battered Mudsdale, who was glowing red once more. Ash grit his teeth. That's right…its ability is Stamina…so I have to avoid physical attacks.

    Mudsdale was blasted back, slamming on to the ground, winded from Toucannon's strike, but getting back up once again. "Ribombee, Draining Kiss!"

    "Beebee!" Ribombee squeaked out, and it flew forward, glittering with a pink glow. Ash turned, calling for Kommo-o to dodge as Ribombee struck. He didn't move fast enough as Ribombee made contact, kissing against the dragon's side. Kommo-o was blasted back from the contact, he, too, now glowing red. A yellow orb shot out from his body and into Ribombee.

    "Heavy Slam!" Hapu called out. Mudsdale was on the move, barreling right for Kommo-o. Ash acted on instinct.

    "Slow it down with Feather Dance!" Toucannon shot forward, flapping her wings furiously. The feathers shot forward, blanketing the distance in front of Kommo-o as Mudsdale charge forward. The attack still made contact, despite a slight slowing as Mudsdale charged through the feathers, once more firing Kommo-o across the battlefield once it made contact. It didn't stop there, either, Mudsdale's legs trampling over the Dragon type with its slamming while it continued on. "Now, Poison Jab!"

    "You're only making the battle take longer, Ash," Hapu said, almost like she was disappointed. Ash just narrowed his gaze; he may not have known what he wanted out of battle, but he still knew how to read a battle. "Iron Defense!"

    "Muuuuud!" Mudsdale whinnied out. Its body now glowed a bright and gleaming silver, right on top of Kommo-o. Ash's loyal Pokémon struck out, arms glowing purple as he pummeled forward. It drove Mudsdale off of him, though the Draft Horse Pokémon hardly looked damaged in the slightest. It was more like a light breeze that blew across it than a full-force attack.

    "Pollen Puff," Mina called out. Ash clenched his fist. This battle was proving more complicated than he had hoped for. Ribombee's wings fluttered rapidly and little white spores floated outward. Kommo-o brought itself to a standing position while Toucannon hung back, waiting for orders. Ash acted.

    "Flame Charge on Ribombee!" he called. Toucannon surged forward, body alighting with flame. She blasted into the pollen, burning some of it away. It wasn't enough for all of it, though, and suddenly the pollen exploded. The attack battered Toucannon and Kommo-o with the green powder of the explosive force. The latter crossed his arms to defend, while Toucannon kept going, propelling forward with the force of her flaming speed, and slammed into Ribombee, knocking it aside. Ash looked to Mudsdale, seeing it glowing green…like it was healing. "Well, great…"

    "Quiver Dance!" Mina cried now, clearly sounding more energetic since Ribombee had actually taken damage for the first time in the fight. Ribombee glowed again and zipped around, getting faster. Toucannon had gotten faster, herself, but it seemed to have nothing on the Bee Fly Pokémon. "Stun Spore!"

    "Get out of the way! Kommo-o, use Poison Jab on Ribombee!" Ash called. Kommo-o moved forward, both arms glowing bright purple. He moved his arms back for a second, giving Toucannon the momentum and chance to pull away. A dust of what looked like yellow pollen particles burst out from Ribombee's wings. It barely touched upon Toucannon's wing, though she convulsed, while the majority hit Kommo-o. Thankfully, his punching purple fist snapped forward and jabbed into Ribombee, sending it flying away, outside of the range of attack.

    Mudsdale, however, was very much in the range of attack.

    "Use High Horsepower!" Hapu commanded. Mudsdale once more whipped around, slamming a powerful hindleg into Kommo-o.

    "Block it!" Ash called. Kommo-o crossed his arms just in time for the attack to slam into him. He dug his feet it, clenching under the pain of the attack and paralysis, but still holding his ground. "Push forward with X-Scissor!"

    "That won't be enough," Hapu said. Ribombee was slowly returning to the battlefield. Ash flitted his eyes all around the space, giving careful attention to everything he could. Kommo-o's crossed arms glowed a bright and powerful purple before snapping forth, slamming into Mudsdale. The horse didn't look affected at all, just as Hapu said, but that wasn't his aim.

    "Now, rapid fire Poison Jab!" Ash yelled, swinging his fist upward. Kommo-o roared, both arms yet again glowing a bright, yet sickly, purple. He stepped forward, pummeling the fists on to every inch that he could of Mudsdale's body. Ash's fist tightened, and his teeth clenched. Then he saw it. Mudsdale leg slipped, a purple hue on its face despite the pulsing red aura around its body. "Yes! Toucannon, Beak Blast!"

    "Draining Kiss!" Mina called. Ribombee was back in the battle, but instead of the Pokémon, Ash looked at the trainer. Mina was calm, like she genuinely didn't care about the result of the battle, but rather the content of it. Hapu seemed the same way. Perhaps that was what made them work together so well. At last, Ash was understanding their pattern and their friendship: they worked well because they were so mismatched otherwise.

    "Riboooo…" Ribombee cheered out, glowing pink again. Meanwhile, Toucannon's beak was charging, beginning to burn red hot. Ribombee soared straight for Kommo-o while Mudsdale suffered under the affliction of poison.

    "Intercept it!" Ash called. Toucannon, beak still charging, surged forward, right in between Ribombee and the slow moving Kommo-o, shaking off the slight paralysis that was in her wing. Instead of the Draining Kiss hitting Kommo-o for the potential maximum damage, it struck on the beak that got in the way. A blaze of fire traveled along the Fairy type, and Toucannon's attack exploded outward, flinging Ribombee away. "Now, Sky Uppercut! Blast it away!"

    "Pollen Puff!" Ribombee was flying through the air, but its wings were quivering, preparing to send out that deadly blaze of pollen from before. Kommo-o was moving, if a little slower, but he got there in time to jab a fist up to Ribombee, sending it spiraling into the air.

    "All right, Hyper Voice! Blow it away!" Ash kept an eye on the trainers, now, wondering how they would counter the advantage that he was pressing. Both Mina's and Hapu's Pokémon were suffering under status effects, and while Kommo-o and Toucannon were as well, at least they weren't having their health and stamina taken away. Toucannon was striking, sending out the red-orange soundwaves that was blowing the pollen into the sky from the force, away from all parties involved.

    Though there was still the other issue that Ash knew could happen to turn the tide of battle.

    "Kommo-o, move in with Sky Uppercut! Toucannon, time for a special!" Ash said, bringing his arms forward and crossing them in front of his face. He watched the women, noticing Hapu sliding her eyes over to Mina. Said artist agreed and crossed her own. Ash grinned; he had hoped to force it on at least one of them. Kommo-o struck, blasting Ribombee away once more with the same attack as before, even if it did little damage. Ash's arms then began to move, placing themselves into the correct position as his Z-Ring glowed white. "Breakneck Blitz!"

    "Ribombee, let's intercept," Mina called, uncrossing her arms and then placing them forward. Soon, her hands formed a heart and she began to flutter, much like her Ribombee's wings did. "Twinkle Tackle!"

    "Mudsdale, charge in!" Hapu ordered. Her horse shook its head, clearly still under the effects of the poison that was slowly draining away it's strength, but charged in nonetheless. Kommo-o turned, ready to meet it head on.

    "Block it with X-Scissor!" Ash called. Kommo-o crossed his arms, glowing bright purple as Mudsdale turned and attempted a Double Kick that was blocked by the attack, though both strained against one another. At the same time, Toucannon and Ribombee were charging at one another. While Toucannon was aiming for a more direct attack, dust billowing out from her fast-shooting speed, there seemed to be a stream of sparkles coming from the Bee Fly Pokémon that preceded its own quick advance. Toucannon impacted with that, and her body shuddered, but she pushed through until both Pokémon met head on.

    "Pikapi...!" Pikachu cried out, and it was no surprise why. Wind blasted from the collision, even driving Mudsdale and Kommo-o apart. Toucannon and Ribombee fell away from each other, both looking tired from their exertion and collision of Z-Moves, but willing to move on. Ash swept his eyes along the battlefield; Kahili was wearing an impressed smirk, while Mina's eyes were wide, seeing the glittering stars left behind from her Z-Move, falling on to the field as it mixed with the dust from the Breakneck Blitz. Her eyes lit up with inspiration.

    I understand you now…he couldn't help but think to himself. He could see their movements, their patterns, their friendship and what they wanted to get out of the battle. It thrilled him, feeling that much closer to them.

    It also meant that he could beat them.

    "Toucannon, pick up Kommo-o, and let's go!" Ash cried out. Toucannon, recovering from the collision of Z-Moves, blasted forward, talons extended to pick up Kommo-o. If Ash's suspicions about Hapu's own Z-Moves were correct, then staying in the air would definitely be for the better.

    "Heavy Slam!" Hapu ordered. Mudsdale started charging forward again, but Ash had already shifted to other plans.

    "Get more altitude and use Flame Charge! Kommo-o, Poison Jab!" he roared out, bringing his fist slamming down. Toucannon spluttered to life with flame and blasted for the still recovering Ribombee. They were faster than Mudsdale, who was wincing with the poinson in its system, managing to move out of the way of the charging Draft Horse Pokémon as they struck their target with their dual attack. Ribombee's body shuddered with flames right as Kommo-o made a hook across it to strike with Poison Jab. Ribombee was sent careening for the ground; Ash didn't check to see if it was down. "Now, drop Kommo-o on Mudsdale!"

    "What? !" Hapu asked in genuine surprise. Kahili laughed, and he wasn't surprised as to why; he was used to showing this kind of random strategy. Toucannon circled quickly and let go, just as Kommo-o landed on Mudsdale's back. "Shake it loose, quick!"

    "Charge up with Beak Blast while they're distracted!" Ash ordered. He looked over to Serena. His girlfriend hadn't said anything the entire battle, watching with rapt fascination, but at that moment, she turned and grinned at him. He had it ready to win. Maybe there was not yet meaning in winning it, but at least he'd stepped a little closer, and he'd understood his opponents.

    "High Horsepower!" Hapu commanded. Ribombee was still struggling to get up. Not that Mudsdale was doing much better, the poison making its movements sluggish. Still, it gave a tremendous kick backwards that jolted its body so much, Kommo-o began to fly off and upwards, unable to resist the action from its momentary fit of paralysis.

    "Slam it with X-Scissor!" Ash called out. Kommo-o twisted in midair, soaring downward with crossed arms and a streaking purple light to slam into Mudsdale's back. It neighed in pain, shaking its head furiously. Toucannon's bright beak had reached its zenith now. "Let's finish this! Move in with Hyper Voice!"

    "Counter with Heavy Slam!" Hapu called out. Mudsdale was sluggish, looking exhausted from the poison, but it still moved, charging forth to meet Toucannon head on. She soared right for it, her glowing red beak opening wide.

    "CAAAAAANAAAAAH!" came the cry and the waves of sound fired outward. Usually, red-orange in color, they were now blazing with the heat from her beak that battered Mudsdale relentlessly, even as Toucannon slammed right into its head, exploding with more fury than usual. The Heavy Slam also hit Toucannon, flinging her backwards where she rolled across the ground and struggled to get up.

    "Now, Kommo-o, Clanging Scales!" Ash yelled, grinning with enthusiasm. Hapu's eyes narrowed, but she seemed to realize the problem. Her raised defenses wouldn't do anything against his next move.

    "Kom kom!" Kommo-o called, skirting along the ground. He flinched a bit, shocks spreading through his body, but his scales nevertheless began to quiver violently. The sharp screeching sound they produced made Mudsdale buckle, and then they fired out, battering the horse with little remorse. Then a final one struck it on its head and exploded, pushing Mudsdale to where Ribombee was. The rest of the scales that were being fired all converged, piling upon in a great assault that only ended when a blast of fire from Ribombee's burn erupted, consuming the pair with a bright blaze before fading away. Kommo-o's attack ended, and he slumped. Kahili stepped forward to look at the battlefield.

    "Mudsdale and Ribombee are unable to battle! The battle goes to the trial-goer, Ash!" she called, looking rather proud. Ash exhaled loudly; if he was honest, it hadn't felt like much of a Grand Trial battle, but he'd still had fun. More than that, he felt closer to his Pokémon and his opponents.

    "Thanks, you guys," Ash said, running forward on to the battlefield.

    "Kommo!" Kommo-o called, running forward. His tired state caused him to trip and bowled over right as Ash reached Toucannon. He collided with the both of them and they fell on to the ground, resulting in a tiny plume of dust. Ash had to laugh.

    "Yeah, I know! You guys were both awesome, too!" Ash agreed, patting Toucannon on the back. Suddenly, he felt a bunch of berries dropped into his lap, and he looked up. Hapu was standing there, having taken the berries from her bag and depositing them onto him. "Ah, thanks."

    "A fine battle. Most enjoyable I've had," Hapu stated gratefully as Kommo-o and Toucannon began to take part in the food that was there. Ash smiled up her, especially as she stretched her hand outward and dropped something. Ash reached for it and caught it, the small crystalline orb that signified clearing the Grand Trial. "I figured you didn't have much need of the crystal. But tell me, did you…?"

    "Still don't know," Ash laughed out, though it wasn't like he found humor in it. "But…I think I figured something out…maybe? I don't know. Honestly, I just enjoyed the battle. It didn't mean anything, I think, but I…" Ash cut himself off. The battle hadn't meant anything. Did that mean it did nothing for his dream? Or was it that his dream meant nothing? He sunk into a question of himself.

    "Well, I think it had some worthy inspiration. The collision of Breakneck Blitz against Twinkle Tackle is a sight I won't forget," Mina stated fondly, her gaze wandering off once again. Kahili appeared to realize this, because she smacked her on the back of the head without warning. At this point, Pikachu had rejoined him, with Serena smiling down with glimmering eyes. Ash reached forward, patting Kommo-o and Toucannon on the head.

    "All right, guys! I cleared another Grand Trial!" he called out, holding the orb upwards. Pikachu led the others in cheering wildly while Serena clapped. Once their applause had finished, Ash looked to Mina, her eyes wavering between sharp and distracted. "So, that means I'll be taking this final trial of yours. It has the Totem Pokémon, right? Since you didn't use that and all…"

    "More or less," Mina answered noncommittally. Ash would have dropped his mouth open, but decided to merely shrug and take whatever came, drawing himself to his feet. The artist's eyes seemed to trail off in the direction of the sheer canyon in the distance, making Ash guess that, perhaps, that was where the trial was to be held. Hapu picked up the thread from there.

    "It does," she answered Ash, putting the attention back on her. "But it's more than that, and we can only hope that you manage to clear it."

    "It's really a sink or swim as far as trials go," Kahili assured him, walking around to put her arms around both Mina and Hapu with a grin. "Not every trial-goer takes it. Usually they need to permission of the captain and Kahuna, and even then, a lot turn tail, just like Mina told you. But trust me…I think you need it, especially if you still can't answer old Hala's question."

    "Sink or swim?" Serena asked, her voice sounding worried. Here, Kahili's face grew stern and serious. That made Ash just a little concerned, but no more than the words she spoke.

    "If Ash doesn't complete the trial…he could very well die." It was such a serious statement that if it had come from anyone but Kahili, Ash would have considered it a joke. But she was the one who had said it, which meant it was to be taken at complete face value, and Ash knew deep down that no matter the danger, he would complete it. He needed to complete it. "Same for us, though. If we don't get the Moon Flute, we could lose all we hold dear. Now, Mina, cough up what you know. When we made our own positions all I was told to safeguard the secret was 'the moving palms'."

    "I was told the 'ground surrounded by water'," Hapu stated, adding her own information to the mix. Ash was still thinking about the upcoming trial and the battle ahead, barely catching the snippets of what they were saying. His hand was shaking a little bit, thinking about Hala, Kahili, Hapu and all their questions and statements. He thought of Guzma, too. For a second, Ash closed his eyes until Serena reached forward and took his hand, just in time for him to catch the last phrase.

    "All I remember being told was 'from the sands they could see the moon, above from where they could see the sun'," Mina said, though she didn't look all that interested; it really seemed more like an obligation to her than anything else. Kahili, on the other hand, slapped her forehead.

    "Of course! Exeggutor Island," she said. "Makes sense. No one really goes there so it's overrun with Exeggutor that probably protect the Moon Flute. Hmm…without the lay of the land we'll need to go fully by boat and walking…"

    "That doesn't matter! That's where we have to go, and quickly!" Serena assured the woman. Kahili nodded, as though it was all pretty obvious. So obvious, that she whipped around and began walking back towards the village again, only to freeze. It was a moment before she began speaking again without making any other body movement.

    "Ash. I believe you can complete this trial," she said with full confidence. "You're a great trainer, and were a great student. I…I want to hear your answer to Hala's question. I want to see your dream be fulfilled for what it means to you. I want to see who you decide you are."

    "Who I decide I am…?" Ash asked, not quite getting what she meant. She refused to elaborate, however. Ash shook his head. "Thanks, Kahili, for everything. I'll definitely do it!"

    "Mm. Serena, I'll give you a moment. I think it's best we tackle Exeggutor Island together, especially since no one is allowed in the trial site with Ash to begin with," Kahili informed her. Ash could feel Serena nodding, letting go of his hand. At the same time, Hapu appeared to be behind Mina, pushing her in what seemed to be the direction of the trial. With all that exchanged, Kahili began to walk off, giving off a rather striking presence. All of it led to Ash looking at Serena while Pikachu congratulated Kommo-o and Toucannon on their victory.

    No words were said, but Serena reached forward, taking his face in her hands, now, and pressing her forehead to his. In the fading sunlight, she looked beautiful, and he held that image in his mind, wanting to not let go of it. Then she leaned forward, kissing his cheek. "I know you'll find your answer, just like Kahili does. Just remember: no giving into despair."

    "I know. You, too," he whispered to her. They pulled away, and Ash could see an answer for herself in her eyes. She had realized something. That gave him confidence. The two began to separate, hands ghosting away from each other yet again. And when they separated, they held on to each other's warmth despite the opposite directions. She went to join Kahili, and he and his Pokémon continued onward.

    "Let's do this. Let's make our dreams reality." Whatever they might be. Ash and his Pokémon walked forward unto their final trial.


    Author's Note: So, we're getting very close now to the crux of the issue. Very, very close, though the answer is there for those who want to see it. Ash is finding no meaning in battling as it pertains to his dream. Not even the victory is beginning to mean anything! Serena seems to be having her own revelation and the battle is ready to burst with the Moon Flute's location discovered. Next up begins Ash's final trial (barring Hala, of course) and it is the very moment in the story I've been building towards…I hope it doesn't disappoint.

    Now that we're reaching a pivotal moment in the trilogy, I ask that you all continue along with me until the end. So, until the next chapter, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    A reminder: I do change a little bit of geography for the story, but it's all to make it more dramatic! That said, time for Chapter 7!

    Chapter 7

    A Fog

    "So, hold on…let me get this straight, sulking twerp." James tapped his chin as their rather large quintet walked along at a rushed pace. They weren't running, mostly because Jessie would likely complain if they were to do that. What they were doing was following rapidly after the one they called the sulking twerp, Gladion or whatnot. Jessie was also talking. "You want to offer us a job?"

    "If it gets you to shut up, sure," Gladion sighed out, clearly not wanting to deal with Jessie's antics any longer. If James were honest, he didn't want to deal with Jessie any longer today, either…it had been such a long day, so far. Gladion's Pokémon seemed to agree, moving on with naught but a growl.

    "Well sorry, sulking twerp, but I have high aspirations!" Jessie proclaimed, taking the moment to pause and point out towards the sea. As if blessing her statement, the sea splashed water up and over the rocks, dousing them. That, she wasn't as happy about, especially when Wobbuffet hadn't anticipated the stop in movement and crashed into her.

    "Dat's da highest her vocabulary has gone, too," Meowth said out of the corners of his mouth. Jessie didn't hear him, too busy shaking her head and now dripping hair. James wasn't sure what to make of all of it. In fact, he wasn't sure why the sulking twerp was truly offering them a job in the first place. It really felt like it was coming out of left field.

    "Look, you people are clearly well versed in the criminal enterprises, and I'd rather not repeat the mistakes of my mother," Gladion snapped angrily, shoving his hands deep in his pockets as he continued to trek forward at a brisk pace. "Truth be told, though, knowing when bad things were about to happen wouldn't be a bad idea. Not if I want to rebuild Aether to what it used to be when my father was alive…"

    "That's all well and good, sulking twerp, but what does that have to do with us?" James asked. Gladion stopped, like he was thinking about something, but wasn't about to exactly share what that was. However, his Pokémon moved on towards their ultimate destination of the canyon entrance as he heaved a sigh.

    "Look, you either tell us, or whatever deal we'd make would be a bust," Meowth said, folding his arms. By this point, Jessie seemed to have recovered from her shrieking session.

    "So, hurry up before we rust." James wanted to tell Jessie she'd made a good joke, considering she'd been doused by water. Of course, he also valued his life and managed to handily keep his mouth shut. Gladion breathed in one more time before turning to face all of them.

    "I want to make the Aether Foundation into something great, which probably sounds silly," Gladion told them all, and for the first time, Jessie had managed to stay silent. "But there's a genuine darkness in Alola, caused by Team Skull…no, by the trial system, itself. That system is what allowed my mother to control all those people, is still allowing her to control them. It's the exact same kind of trap I fell into."

    "And what kinda trap is dat?" Meowth asked, tapping his foot rather impatiently. James could understand, in some way, however; they didn't like being goody two-shoes like the twerps, but they didn't want to delay in taking down Team Skull, in order to stop them from letting the world be destroyed. That would be completely counter-productive to their own organization's plans…even if said organization's own ideas were getting a little tiring to James, himself.

    "I let myself be controlled because I wanted to run away from the expectations that were forced on me, but it made me become just another tool, especially when I refused to work with anyone," Gladion's fists were now clenching tightly, James noticed. He was really in not that happy of a mood. "Honestly, I don't want to see anybody else go that way. So, I want to make the Aether Foundation different. I don't want them to feel like tools or worthless individuals, because I know what it feels like."

    James watched the blond. Maybe it was because, in some sense, he understood being raised by a controlling family, that he could see the earnestness in Gladion's voice and plea. While James himself would never leave Team Rocket without Jessie and Meowth by his side, he also recognized when someone was doing a wonderful thing. Sure, his debt to Team Rocket was large, but at the same time, hearing Gladion's offer gave him this bizarre hope for a different life.

    Or maybe it had been a growing hope ever since he'd been told to fight against former allies. Certainly, they were all moving on a different path. Not playing the role of perennial thieves actually allowed James to sleep at night, and Jessie seemed to have taken strides in her performance skills (if her performance in the Seafolk Ceremony was anything to go by). James couldn't lie and say that the thought of abandoning work for Team Rocket wasn't appealing in the slightest; it truly was, so long as they all had a sense of direction. Nevertheless, it wasn't something he'd commit to, either.

    "I just want to make things better than they were," Gladion was saying. He was facing back in the direction of the sunset-lit canyon now. "Bringing criminals in and turning them honest…that would count, wouldn't it?"

    "Why are you asking us?" Jessie asked dismissively. James sighed loudly; it was so like Jessie to throw those kinds of ideals back in someone's face. Gladion looked to survey her with a near offended expression, but didn't seem to say anything, either. The blue-haired man couldn't read what the boy was thinking. "Look, sulking twerp, we don't care about 'going honest'. Maybe those Skull bozos do, but we're not them! We're Team Rocket, and I'm going to be the Ali'i ka Leilani."

    "If ya beat da twoipette," Meowth pointed out. Jessie just kicked at him, knocking him straight into Wobbuffet, who caught the feline without a problem.

    "Point is, we're not someone that wants to hear your sob story, so if you want someone to turn legit, you'll have to try better than that!" At that particular proclamation, the magenta haired woman stuck her nose into the air and began stalking off, leading their own little quartet right past Gladion and straight for the entrance to the canyon (they even ignored the rather proud Silvally). James quickly scrambled in order to keep up with her, putting a hand to his pokeballs to make sure they were secure. He wanted Inkay and Crabrawler to be rested up for the fight ahead (and his head, as well, but that was beside the point). Meowth and Wobbuffet quickly took the rear as well. They quickly caught up to Jessie, and fell in stride with her.

    "I'm surprised, Jess. Dat was almost kind of you," Meowth said with a little smirk. To that, Jessie scoffed loudly. James watched her a moment and then looked to Meowth with a smile. Their poisonous little flower seemed to have finally lost some thorns, though she was still painful enough.

    "I don't have a problem with him making people go legit, but we still have a mission. I don't have time to think about what life will be like after this whole mess and the Hope Leilani," she said in a muttered breath. It was about the best to expect out of Jessie, James knew; she never was quite sunshine and rainbows except for under rare circumstances.

    "And how! We'll focus on this for now!" he agreed, giving a thumbs up to his female companion. She obviously accepted his sentiments about supporting her in her quest to become the Ali'i ka Leilani, even blushing just a little, but she inevitably turned away in order to seem entirely unaffected. A sudden grumble sounded out as Meowth nearly pitched forward. Wobbuffet picked him up and placed him atop his head.

    "If only we had some chow…" Meowth muttered. Suddenly, he found something being tossed to him that looked like a berry. Gladion had caught up from where they'd left him standing, having given over a Sitrus Berry upon his arrival. Meowth and Wobbuffet ate theirs with relative ease while Gladion simply brushed past the group, once more. James had to admit that he was a little hungry, as well, but he tried to ignore that fact.

    "Hurry it up!" the blond snapped backwards. That seemed to be more like it in general for their group, because Jessie adopted a scowl on her face and went storming after him, leaving the other three males to play a very quick game of catch-up.

    In no time at all, they seemed to have reached the entrance to the canyon, looking immensely dark in the near nighttime. Jessie stopped outside it, almost gulping with some sense of either anticipation or fear (James wasn't sure which and didn't want to presume). Gladion, on the other hand, chose to have no fear, and plunged right into the darkening walls of the canyon. All of Team Rocket looked around at one another.

    "So…uh…guess we're going in?" Jessie said with a nervous chuckle, confirming the emotion she was experiencing.

    "More dan dat, we're gonna win!" Meowth said, leaping off of Wobbuffet and standing between Jessie and James. "We're Team Rocket, and we got our mission ta do!"

    "Then we can report to the boss when all this is over and move on!" James cheered. Jessie and Meowth actually seemed to like this idea, for the both of them cheered wildly, pitching their hands into the air. "Team Rocket forever!"

    Their small pact made, they plunged into the darkness after Gladion. Just before the sun vanished from the high walls of the canyon entirely, James turned back and noticed one side of the walls glittering, like it was wet from the pools that sat near them. It reminded him of their visit to the ruins a little less than a month ago, but he passed it off to follow after the others. Despite the darkness, they could still see well enough inside of the canyon, navigating their way through its narrow passages carefully. Low hanging roots nearly brushed them aside and small crannies were approachable.

    There were also two separate paths, they soon found out. One that seemed to go straight ahead, towards what was their likely destination, and another that traveled upwards and around, though it appeared to take longer. Their group stopped there and Jessie tossed out Gourgeist's pokeball. James did the same for Inkay. While his own wasn't able to cast nearly as much light on the area as Jessie and Gourgeist, it was still something for them to see the surrounding canyon walls. Not that it helped to inform them of their decision.

    "So, which way do we go?" Jessie asked, like the question was really obvious.

    "If there were berries, I could have Crabrawler find a good way, but…" James folded his arms in consideration. As he did so, Gladion was walking to one of the walls and he placed his hand upon it.

    "Damp…" Gladion said carefully, running his hand along the stony surface. "I feel like there was water passing along this rock."

    "So? What does dat mean?" Meowth asked. Like usual, Gladion refused to answer, continuing along with his hand until he started stepping up the path that led around the canyon in a longer fashion. James was still confused, and probably the only one of his group that cared for why the wall had been wet, given Jessie's rather bored expression.

    "We go this way!" Gladion announced sharply and, despite grumblings, they obeyed. The quintet quickly made their way up the large slope, to the path that seemed to cross over safely and wrap around the lower canyon path. Gladion kept his hand on the wall, feeling for their path. Around the time their initial path seemed to vanish, he began to explain his reasoning, placing his free hand upon Silvally's head. "I don't know why water would be traveling horizontally along the wall, but I'd have to imagine it has something to do with our comrades. It can't have been too long ago, either, if the wall is only damp, but I'd imagine it dries quickly if it's from the Tapu."

    "Creepy water," Jessie said, giving another shudder as she did so. James agreed, but said nothing more. They just continued on, Gourgeist and Inkay continuing to light the area. Soon, the path began to slope downward once more, though James felt as if they'd certainly been traveling for a very long time; likely hours, but without a watch he had no true idea.

    "Hrrrr…" Silvally growled as their feet once more touched level to the original path. It was looking back, growling angrily, and the air seemed to draw closer. For whatever reason, James thought he could sense danger down that pathway. It really just encouraged him to move on all the more.

    "Prepare for trouble, it's chilly in here…" Jessie remarked, putting her arms around herself and rubbing them. James continued, more out of compulsion than any real desire to.

    "And make it double, it's scary with fear…" he agreed. Gladion appeared to roll his eyes, but they continued on with the motto, even as their feet continued moving forward, mostly because it gave them a true sense of comfort.

    "To protect the world from that icky Team Skull."

    "To unite all people, the brave and the dull."

    "To denounce the evils of working with twerps."

    "To extend our abilities and lock up the perps!"

    "Jessie!" Jessie cried, not stopping to pause but removing her hands from her arms with confidence.

    "And James!" he agreed. They had picked up their pace now, in both motto and footsteps, past a nearly exasperated Gladion.

    "Team Rocket blast off at the speed of light!"

    "Surrender now, we're putting up a very good fight!"

    "Dat's right!" Meowth chimed in, with Wobbuffet following soon after. They felt a little wind blow through the area, as if telling them that their entire exchange right then had gone completely unnoticed by anyone. Though, that didn't prove to quite be the case.

    "Your stupid mottos are as dumb as ever," said a chiding voice. James dropped his mouth as Gladion and Silvally bustled past. Gourgeist did the same as their surly companion, shining light upon the area. In seconds, Jessie screamed and fell back against Wobbuffet. James was more controlled, though he was still surprised to see a whole gaggle of twerps right in front of him. Sure enough, it was the mini-twerpette that had said something.

    "I don't know. Their lyrical rhyming was pretty cool," Hau stated, throwing his hands behind his head. James grinned at that, but the grin dropped off when he saw the other man, Lionel, staring at them with a frown, before sighing.

    "They were also as loud as could be. If Team Skull didn't know we were coming before, they know now," the man said. Jessie looked about to argue back, stepping forward and everything, but James grabbed ahold of her. Gladion took the lead for their group.

    "I wouldn't be surprised if they knew we were coming before we even set foot in the canyon," he said before glancing over to Lillie. Said blonde nodded at him, though the sibling pair didn't exchange words. Instead, the science twerp stepped forward.

    "Did you find him, then?" the boy asked. However, there was something off. He seemed more solemn and serious, like he was genuinely worried about something. Gladion now took his turn to nod.

    "Serena and Kahili are with him…somewhere. He plans on taking the final trial, though Kahili has assured me that it shouldn't interfere with our assault, so don't worry," Gladion said. It was obvious that was more for the benefit of Lionel than anyone else, because the man frowned and turned away, towards the source of their destination. Though, even if he was doing that, James was more concerned for what lay behind them, and that feeling of foreboding. He almost wondered if it contributed to the science twerp's expression. "They're probably getting the Moon Flute."

    "Then we can reunite soon!" Bonnie cheered happily. "That'll be good, right, Clemont? Clemont?"

    "Mm, yeah," Clemont said, though he sounded distracted; a tone that accompanied his look. He walked a little forward, or rather, back in the direction they had all come. Each of those present looked at him, finding his attitude strange. It soon proved far less strange when the twerp's Greninja was by his side, staring into the abyss of darkness that was the route they had avoided.

    "Ninja," it said with a nod. Before the two could do anything, Lionel's voice echoed out.

    "Come on, no more time to waste! They'll get here when we need them!" Clemont frowned but turned away, very slowly. Jessie, Meowth and Gladion were already moving to catch up with the front of the line, but Clemont and Greninja stayed behind with James. Like on instinct, knowing the smart twerp had felt the same thing he did, he pressed his pokeball, calling out Crabrawler, who latched on his head.

    "You too, huh?" Clemont muttered, like it offered confirmation. James wasn't sure what to say, especially when Clemont stopped his forward movement. "James…go with the others and…I know it'll sound weird but, make sure they're all safe."

    "What're you-?" James began to question, but he couldn't finish in time. Instead, without any further warning, he watched Clemont whip around and disappear back into the darkness, Greninja running at his side. Then, James shook his head and moved onward to the site of their upcoming battle as Crabrawler clicked his claws menacingly. They were ready to fulfill their mission.


    Sunset continued to encroach upon the shores of Poni Island, making the canyon look almost reddish-brown now that it was nearly below the horizon. Stars could be seen poking out from under the hood of night, their little glimmering lights casting a celestial and ethereal glow upon the wilderness. Ash stopped a moment, staring up at them. He hadn't told anyone, but over the last month, he had been watching the movements of the night sky whenever he and Kahili had a break.

    The Day of Stars was most definitely drawing closer at this point.

    It impressed upon him a definite need to complete this trial and return to his friends for their battle. In the sky, the stars were drawing together, starting to overlap with one another. In just a few days they'd all be together, and the celestial energy would come forth to open the portals to the Ultra Space, unless they stopped it first. Or something like that. Ash knew he wasn't the most knowledgeable when it came down to all the details in the first place. Usually, that was just fine with him.

    "Come, it's this way," Hapu's voice echoed across the wilderness, still dragging Mina with her. The blonde woman still looked slightly spaced out, but nevertheless held enough sharpness to attempt slapping at her friend's hand. It was usually in vain. Ash just followed after the pair, Toucannon and Kommo-o at his side, and Pikachu on his shoulder.

    "Poni Island is pretty small, huh, guys?" he asked with a laugh. They seemed to have cleared most of it in so short a time already, even if they'd been power walking as opposed to lazily strolling. Pikachu agreed with a little nod before giving a yawn. Now that he thought of it, he'd been going about forty-eight hours at this point without little more than a small nap and some berries for sustenance. He almost wanted to join his best friend in yawning loudly, but prevented himself from doing so.

    "Poni seems like the smallest of the four major islands, even if it's not. Lots of nature so there's nothing to circumvent or anything, like a city," Mina explained, though it seemed like she mostly did so because she didn't have anything better to do, rather than out of a desire to inform. "That's why we barely have any visitors unless it's for the pilgrimage or something like that. Gives me lots of time for art, and I've already thought of my next piece."

    "Think about it on your own time, yes?" Hapu asked of her, gloved hands gripping tighter around the paint-splotched shirt. Clearly, Mina was a force to be reckoned with when it came to her artwork, and it was almost a wonder that the three were friends at all.

    Then again, me, Serena and Clemont probably look pretty mismatched, too, Ash thought to himself, and it offered him a rather light chuckle that he then shrugged off. They were pretty close to the canyon wall now, though Ash couldn't see exactly why they'd come here, so far away from where the actual canyon was enterable; where Gladion and Team Rocket had headed towards. Finally, though, they managed to bring themselves to a stop right in front of the expansive wall, and Hapu let go of Mina. The woman dropped to the ground and blinked.

    "Oh, we're here?" she asked, showing just how relatively out of it she was. "Sorry, I was just watching the ocean. I'd love to get that color just right, but it's proving difficult even on the best of days…oh…and it looks like there's some rain out at sea."

    "She's not always with it, is she?" Ash laughed out, rubbing the back of his head. Hapu shrugged in reply, shaking her head. She bent down, hoisting Mina by the shirt and making sure she wasn't going to fall down again after not paying attention yet another time. She didn't, thankfully. "So…uh…how exactly do we get in, then? Because I only see a wall."

    "Ah, right…I have it sealed," Mina said. The woman reached into her relatively ragged pants (a fact that Ash had only just noticed) and took out the familiar looking pendants that belonged to all of the trial captains. It glowed in the faint light, showing the composition of the Z-Crystals inside. She walked up to the canyon wall and felt along it, like she was looking for where exactly the area was sealed. "This trial is so important that I have to keep it safe, big-time."

    "Why is it so important? I mean, Kahili has constantly called it the 'last trial' but if Mina is the trial captain, why isn't it always held here?" Ash asked. On his shoulder, Pikachu was nodding with a little "Pi" at every statement. Hapu breathed in and turned to Ash, looking at him with the most serious expression he was certain that he'd ever seen her adorn.

    "It is called the 'last trial' because of how vastly different it is, and how rarely we open it to challengers," Hapu instructed. Mina was still feeling along the wall, like she'd lost its placement long ago. "It is such an ancient path, presumably the first trial created centuries ago, maybe even millennia, that we are forced to not open it but for those who are deemed worthy. It is the reason I gave you your Grand Trial first, as I do all challengers of this trial…though very few choose to take it. In any case, like the location of the Moon Flute as an ancient relic, its knowledge is only passed down amongst Kahunas, and from a Kahuna to captain. Rarely is it shared with anyone else, but Kahili, as an Island Champion, was a different case."

    "So, it's not Mina's trial, then?" Ash asked, trying to make sure that he got all the facts straight and understood them perfectly. Mina was the one to answer that particular inquiry.

    "Not at all," she answered, taking her hand off the wall and pouting. It might have just been thinking, though, Ash realized. "For my trial, I typically just battle the trial-goer and I'm done with it. That way the Pilgrimage isn't seen as too dangerous. Not to mention, Hapu hasn't been around for some time."

    "Or you would just like to focus on your compositions," Hapu pointed out. Mina nodded, conceding the point, apparently. Ash found it somewhat amusing, but didn't really think now was the time to discuss Mina's art. Hapu didn't think so, either, it seemed. "You need the permission of both the Kahuna and the captain to enter this trial and its most hallowed ground. It's an area of the canyon that none can tread without that permission, it is so connected with our great Tapu's sanctity."

    "I see," Ash commented. Like most Alolans, they all held a remarkably great reverence for their guardian deities and the hallowed lands that they set. Ash breathed in. He had to be ready for this. "Okay, so, what's the goal?"

    "Ah, stay your hand, Ash," Hapu stated, sounding suddenly formal as she held her own hand up. At last, Mina seemed to snap her fingers, like she remembered just where she'd left the entrance to the site. She continued along the canyon's outer wall. "As Kahili said, this trial is not for the faint of heart, and nor is it for those who will give up along the way, or lose themselves."

    Lose myself…Ash closed his eyes. He could remember Guzma's words as the man had pinned both himself and Gladion against the bookshelves. He heard the man's voice mocking him in his head. Ya don't even know yerselves, so how could ya ever know another person?

    "If you enter, you will not leave until you succeed…or die." It sounded remarkably dangerous for someone to put a child through, no matter what, though when Ash realized it was the Kahunas that chose for the trial-goers to enter, it made sense that they would only pick those they knew could make it out alive. Ash looked to his Pokémon, grinning at them with confidence. That they were allowing him to do this at all meant they held great confidence in him and his abilities.

    "Not a problem! Me and my team don't know the meaning of giving up!" Ash stated, pumping his fist powerfully to prove his point. Hapu chuckled, nodding her head, though the laughter soon faded from her lips as she stared at him calmly.

    "This will be unlike any trial you've faced thus far, I warn you. There is a maze of branches and stone that you will find yourself in. When you've completed your task, you may leave, of course, but not until then. Thankfully, there is a connected path to the Altar of the Sunne, so you can head to that point as soon as you've finished it…though, I don't know if I can guarantee…"

    "We'll do it!"

    "Pika pika!" Pikachu agreed. He wasn't the only one. Both Toucannon and Kommo-o were adamant about completing it all, as well. At the very least, it made more sense why they felt it was important to do this now: there would be a path for him to get to everyone as quickly as possible.

    "Found it!" Mina called out, quite a few feet away. She stepped forward and placed her captain's pendant to the sheer rock wall. Ash ran over, Hapu traveling at a more leisurely pace behind him. His eyes widened as, all of a sudden, that huge chunk of rock suddenly disappeared into thin air, as though it were never there. Seconds later, the blue layer of barrier underneath also faded. Ash could now draw close enough to look inside. It was dark, likely thanks to the sinking sun…and it looked obscured, like there was a deep mist inside the cavern. "Well, you ready, then?"

    "For sure! What's the task?" Ash asked, looking between both Hapu and Mina. The two women looked at each other and then chose to answer with what he had been waiting for the whole time.

    "Find and defeat the Totem Pokémon, if you can. Otherwise, just obtain the Z-Crystal that's within," was Mina's answer, shrugging, like the concept itself wasn't hard to understand. He had to agree with that. Alongside his friends and team members, there was nothing they couldn't do.

    "You'll need your entire team out, too," Hapu informed him, eyes crinkling a little. Ash nodded in understanding. "After all, this is as much about them as it is you. We'll see you at the Altar when you're done; I plan to drag Mina to meet up with Kahili and Serena upon their return so we can get through the canyon the normal way."

    "Got it! Pikachu, Toucannon, Kommo-o, let's get going," he said with a grin. He faced his body inward, towards the ever-swirling mist inside the darkening canyon walls. He took a step forward, but once more, Hapu's voice called him back with a final warning.

    "Ash, don't lose yourself in the canyon. Find yourself," she insisted. "And…whatever you do, don't let yourself give in. Despair exists for many, but hope can exist for all. Be sure to remember that."

    Unsure of what she meant or was saying, Ash just offered a nod, striding forward to the depths of the canyon. As he did so, he opened his remaining three pokeballs, with Decidueye, Lycanroc and Passimian appearing by his side. All seemed to understand the situation with fierce expressions on their faces. He swallowed once more and proceeded into the canyon, his foot making an echoing sound on the rock that was there. The second it did so, Ash turned and saw the wall behind him suddenly seal itself up. The only thing he caught a glimpse of was Hapu grabbing Mina again and dragging her off before it was all cloaked in darkness.

    There was no sound. No light. They could still see, the shining light of the moon and stars illuminating the twisting labyrinthine maze that was the Vast Poni Canyon. However, they were completely cut off from the outside world. The only sound that was returned to him was that of his own breathing, and that of his Pokémon next to him. They were alone.

    "Let's go," he said quietly. He didn't know exactly where to go to find the Totem Pokémon or the Z-Crystal, but he did have some idea as he continued into the mist. Pikachu stuck to his shoulder while Decidueye moved ahead, turning this way and that. A slight rumbling filled the air, though it appeared to be more from his faithful Grass type's stomach. Ash had to smile at the shared feeling. "No worries. We'll finish this and get some good food, yeah?"

    "Deci…" Decidueye hissed out from the hunger, but agreed. Ash reached up and patted him on the back.

    "Why don't you scout ahead and see what you can discover? Toucannon, can you fly above the canyon, maybe? That way we can at least get our bearings," Ash pointed out. Both of his previous fliers agreed wholeheartedly. Decidueye rushed off into the mist while Toucannon flapped upward. Ash watched them go, remaining in his spot as he began thinking of Hapu's words. How would finding a Totem Pokémon or a Z-Crystal help him with his answers, if it was what he had already been doing during his time in Alola? What would even finding himself do? It made no sense, but he figured it was best to wait until he was finally able to find the thing in the first place before pondering those questions.

    He waited, breathing in. Next to him, Lycanroc's fur bristled as she barked a little, not liking the air of the place. Kommo-o seemed remarkably on edge as well, as though sensing a power far greater than himself inside the canyon. Ash turned, but still heard nothing.

    "Pikapi…chupika…" Pikachu said worriedly. Ash was starting to worry, too. Neither of his Pokémon had returned, like they had been gobbled by the mist that was surrounding them fully.

    "Decidueye! Toucannon!" he called out. There was no answer in response, and Ash had to force himself to breathe. There was no good in panicking now. He walked forward in the direction that Decidueye had gone, but still heard nothing and saw nothing, the heavy mist clinging to his skin and clothes. "Lycanroc, can you sniff them out?"

    "Lyc!" Lycanroc barked and she sniffed at the air before running forward. Ash followed her, plunging deeper into the dark of the canyon. Lycanroc kept barking, leading them along, yet with each successive one, it quietened until there was nothing left.

    "Lycanroc…?" Ash asked, his voice cracking with worry for just a moment.

    "Pikapi! Chuchu!" Pikachu cried. Ash looked to his steadfast partner and saw him pointing behind him. Ash turned around. Kommo-o seemed to be gone as well. What was going on? Had the mist claimed them? Or was it the Totem Pokémon?

    Don't lose yourself…Was this what she meant? Was he to lose all of his Pokémon to the swirling mist? It had sounded so metaphorical, not literal, but now Ash was rethinking that. "Passimian, do you know where he went?"

    "Passi…" Passimian indicated his ignorance with a shake of his head. Ash felt his heart clench with worry, wondering where a good two-thirds of his team had gone. He knew he could find them, though. He had to find them.

    "Come on," he breathed out, stepping back in to the mist. He could barely see anything around him, especially when Passimian came closer to him, moving in front. The mist grew thicker, enveloping them and threatening to consume them. Ash felt sweaty and sticky, his mouth growing thirsty thanks to the air. Suddenly, a canyon wall appeared right before him and he slammed into it without knowing. "Gah!"

    "Chupi…" Pikachu said, shaking his head. Ash wanted to glare at him, tell him it wasn't his fault, but stopped when he could no longer see Passimian, either. He closed his eyes, gritting his teeth. This couldn't be happening. Not now. He almost felt a sense of panic coming on, but he kept it down.

    "Guess it's just us, for now…" Ash said. Pikachu nodded, and the two continued on. Ash cupped his hands around his mouth after walking for a minute or two without any sign of his other Pokémon. "Decidueye! Kommo-o! Passimian! Lycanroc! Toucannon!"

    "Pika pika!" Pikachu also called out. There was no response. Nothing but their own voices echoing back at them. Ash's arms slumped with a sigh, but he continued onward. Overhead, the stars would occasionally be veiled by the mist, or otherwise obscured by some kind of large branch that covered up the top of the canyon. Ash turned back and forth, unable to find which way to go, especially with the maddening mist.

    He stopped a moment to regain his breath and looked up. There seemed to be a brighter spot where there was no mist up ahead. Maybe that was where the others were! He ran forward, though thanks to the mist, he didn't see the root that caught on his foot and caused him to trip. He pitched forward, tumbling along the ground and slamming into another canyon wall. Rubbing his head from the collision, Ash looked up. There was no more mist.

    "Guys?" he asked, whipping around, hoping to see the rest of his team there. But they weren't. Looking to his shoulder, Ash suddenly noticed that even Pikachu was gone, having vanished entirely. He swallowed. "Everyone!"

    His voice seemed to vanish into nothingness. No Pikachu. No Decidueye. No Lycanroc. No Toucannon. No Passimian. No Kommo-o. He was completely and utterly alone. It was getting cold, too. Glancing to the side, he saw a straight path leading forward, almost like it was guiding him somewhere, maybe. He breathed in. "I'll find you."

    Then he walked on, alone, into the depths of the canyon.


    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    "That the place, Miss Kahili?" the driver of the boat called. Serena looked up. Even under the night sky, it was easy to see the island they were now swiftly approaching at top speeds across the water. Like Kahili's clue had said, the area was populated by tall and thriving palm trees, swaying in the wind. Actually, they were some extremely tall palm trees, the size of which she had never seen before.

    "That's the one," Kahili confirmed loudly, speaking over the sound of the churning waves down below. Serena turned to look at her; for being the woman that had been training Ash the last month, Serena knew surprisingly little about her, now that she really thought about it. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing, but certainly something strange. Seeing her now, though, Serena felt she could understand just why Ash had chosen this particular woman to train with. She cut a rather striking figure, and from that brief battle at Ten Carat Hill, Serena knew just how powerful she truly was. The match against Hapu and Mina had proven that Ash had grown tremendously under her tutelage. "Serena, are you ready?"

    "Huh?" Serena said, the words tumbling from her mouth in surprise. She'd been so lost in her own thoughts that she hadn't realized the golfer was looking to her with a rather expectant expression upon her face. "Oh. Yes, yes."

    "Right…we shouldn't be too long, so just hold for us," Kahili said to the driver. He nodded in turn, throwing a brief glance back towards Poni Island. Serena couldn't help but do so, too, thinking of everyone that was gathering on that small location. She wondered how Lillie and Clemont were doing, and if Gladion and Team Rocket had joined up with them yet. Hopefully that group could remain safe until they could get there and the battle would begin, Serena couldn't help but think. More than that, she hoped that Ash would be okay during whatever his trial would be. "Hey, get with it."

    "Sorry, just thinking," Serena apologized quickly. She finally looked up at Kahili, who was observing her with a light frown, but didn't say much more. Deciding to not let anything but their upcoming goal distract her, Serena turned her attention toward the island they were now slowing their approach to. Now closer than they were before, Serena could see how quaint the island looked with its tall, rustling palms. There appeared to be some rocks around the edges, and it seemed that parts of the island were far too high to reach from the shore. Glancing along it, Serena noticed some small nooks that could be used to shelter from the rain, particularly when she could smell some rain moving in on the ocean air. At the very top of the small island, though, surrounded by the rocks and tiny mountains, was a bright, celestial glow. It was almost like the moon's light was gravitating towards that one spot…sort of.

    "All right, here we are! You gals be safe," the driver said, stalling the engine. Kahili nodded her gratitude and walked over to the most level piece of ground she could find before pitching herself over the side of the boat. Serena followed, using her usual performing skills to quickly fling herself over to Kahili's side. Both of them turned in the direction of the glow, through the writhing maze of palm trees.

    "Hey, I know we haven't really worked together before, and we certainly don't know each other very well," Kahili began, prompting Serena to put her attention there, "but we're sharing a unified purpose, right? So…"

    "I have no problem working with you," Serena insisted, offering her a smile. "You trained Ash and are good friends with him by now, almost like a big sister type, so I have something to be grateful for. We're on the same side!"

    "Good to hear it. Just don't want anything to slow us down very much, you know?" Kahili laughed out, looking a little flattered. Serena nodded her head, completely understanding where the woman was coming from. Finally, Kahili punched a fist into her open palm. It reminded her so much of Ash, and Serena wondered if, perhaps, Kahili had taken away just as much as she'd given. Serena closed her eyes, that sparkling revelation resting behind them for a moment; now wasn't quite the time for it.

    "All right," Serena said, and she and Kahili took a step forward in tandem with one another. Under the night sky, everything seemed so peaceful on the island, nothing but the sound of palms as they stepped to the side and walked forward. Kahili took the lead and seemed to find a straight-shooting path that would lead to their ultimate destination. Her head jerked towards Serena, as though telling her that this was the way they needed to move. The Performer nodded and kept close, walking through. Only…it was no longer a straight shot. Their path was blocked.

    "Well, that's wei…ah, crap," Kahili cursed under her breath. Serena now walked up to her side, looking at the woman and the look of realization on her face. "That was so stupid of me…Exeggutor Island."

    "Yeah, but aren't Exeggutor really fat palm trees?" Serena said. Not that she meant to insult them by calling them fat, but they always seemed to have a rather large girth. They were certainly much larger around the middle than these skinny trees were. She looked up at them while Kahili began to shake her head. The palm trees were all remarkably tall, stretching well into the sky. Yet, the longer that she stared, the more she thought she heard something other than the swaying leaves.

    "Tor…tor…TOR!" Serena's eyes snapped wide, and in a second, she'd leapt to the side. Kahili had jumped with her. Just after they did, a large green hammer slammed into that spot, and when it emerged, Serena could swear she saw a tail with a face on the end.

    "In Alola, they're skinny…and super tall…and Dragon types," Kahili said, practically berating herself for forgetting such a simple fact. Serena wasn't angry at it either way, gripping at her pokeballs. It was clear that the Exeggutor were moving to prevent them from reaching their ultimate goal, and saying "please" nicely wasn't going to let them through, no matter how much easier and nicer it would have been.

    "Braixen! Primarina!" Serena cried out, tossing both of her pokeballs into the air. They appeared in flashes of light while Kahili called her Toucannon out, like usual. "Flamethrower and Disarming Voice!"

    "Primaaaaaaa!" Primarina began. From her loud voice, the heart shaped soundwaves flew out. As they did so, they grew larger and larger, soon encompassing the entire area. The palm trees shook…and then they stamped. From the ground, suddenly emerged legs and tails. From above came the tops of the palms, each with the egg faces that rested on them.

    "Bullet Seed, hit them in the face," Kahili said testily. Toucannon cried out and began to spit the seeds out like a practical gatling gun. They slammed right into the Exeggutor's faces, causing them to rear back. Their tails came flying out with the intent to slam and Braixen was moving. Her Flamethrower fired out, and the force of the flames pushed the tails back, enough for Serena to get a glimpse of the path beyond them. It looked like a narrow path, certainly not enough for the Exeggutor to follow them on.

    "I should have realized the obviousness of why someone would place the Moon Flute in such an easy-to-figure-out place…" Kahili said, still beating herself up over the mistake.

    "It's fine! We just need to get past them and I think we'll be okay. If we make it to that ledge!" Serena yelled out to her. Kahili whipped around and raised her eyebrows, seeing the path. Then she grinned.

    "Seems perfect to me. Mind obscuring their vision? Toucannon can guide us there," Kahili said. Toucannon broke off his attack and soared upwards, clearly to get a better glimpse of the shifting maze that the Exeggutor were making. Serena threw her hand out, ready to command her brave Pokémon.

    "Primarina, Sparkling Aria, and Braixen, hit it with Fire Blast," she called out. Primarina reared back, forming the globes of water that she then shot forward. Braixen followed suit, sending out the star of flame that joined with the water. It exploded, covering their group and the Exeggutor in thick stream.

    "Canah!" Toucannon cried in a gruff voice and Kahili and Serena joined hands so as to not lose track of one another. They followed the sound of Toucannon, who would occasionally dip low to show them where he was. The Exeggutor were in a near confused frenzy, unable to find the intruders to their island. That was perfectly fine with Serena, who stuck close to Kahili until they reached that narrow path that led upwards. One of the Exeggutor was in pursuit, flinging its glowing green tail at them.

    "Psyshock," Serena called back. Braixen sent the rippling streams of purple out at Exeggutor just as Toucannon also nailed it from above with Brave Bird. The palm-looking Pokémon stumbled back, allowing the island's visitors to continue on. Serena kept running, though she slowed down and turned to Primarina as Toucannon floated back down. "Primarina, could you…?"

    Her loyal Pokémon nodded, raising her flippers and forming an orb of water that she sent high. It broke up into a soft rain with the separation of Primarina's flippers, and Toucannon flapped his wings, glowing green as he looked more chipper. Kahili blinked and commented on it as she returned her partner. "Huh, never seen a Sparkling Aria used like that before."

    "It's something we worked on over the last month," Serena commented, also returning her Pokémon. "It would usually only heal burns, but would also hurt the target, so we worked on finding a way to negate that. What we came up with instead gives back a little endurance to the target, enough to feel like wounds are healed, but it's only temporary. It's not like Primarina can use it on herself, either."

    "Either way, seems handy," Kahili noted. Serena nodded a bit. "Makes sense, too, given that burns reduce endurance. Using a secondary property is nice…you really are his girlfriend, aren't you?"

    "Thanks," Serena chuckled out with a slight dusting of pink on her cheeks. She didn't say any more, though, both of them turning their attentions to what was ahead. The path sloped upward in a near spiraling fashion to their ultimate goal, but Kahili stopped at the sudden feel of rain falling on their skin. Her gaze snapped to the clouds.

    "Shouldn't last long…" the Island Champion muttered out before dragging Serena up and over to one of the small caves. Just as they got inside, the rain began to come down swiftly and in sheets. "I know we have no time to delay, but getting sick from the rain would be a bad idea. Trade winds make it all pass through pretty quickly around here, anyway. Just a few minutes."

    "Right…" Serena remarked, unsure what else to say to that. She certainly didn't want to burden herself by soaking in the rain. Silence fell between the two of them, with Kahili tapping her foot a little. The honey blonde snuck a look at her, seeing her as pensive, staring out at the rain. She wondered if the woman was thinking about Ash, and whether he would end up succeeding. Before she could really think of asking, though, Kahili took her moment to speak.

    "How do you persevere?" she asked. Serena was taken aback by the question, mostly because it came out of nowhere, and she wasn't entirely sure what kind of answer Kahili was looking for in asking it. Thankfully, the woman elaborated. "Life can't have been easy. Ash told me what you've been through, all of you. Yet every day you all make this decision to move forward."

    "Because we have to, right?" Serena said. She placed her hands behind her back and continued to stare out into the rain. "There's really no option about it. We have our dreams, and if we give up on them now, then all those people who sacrificed for us, and even all those who couldn't obtain their dreams…it would be meaningless. That's why we have to move forward. At least, it's what I believe. What about you, though? Hapu mentioned that you had taken this same trial as Ash, so…"

    "I did," Kahili commented. She leaned back, placing her head against the wall of the small cave as she stared out. "Hard to believe now, of course…but I was at a pretty low point. I was strong with Toucannon, no doubt about it…but I was arrogant. I breezed through the trials like they were nothing, never losing once. I practically demanded to do that final trial…such an idiot, stepping all over tradition like that."

    "So, what happened?" Serena asked, interested in Kahili's story now. The woman sighed.

    "I lost my Pokémon in the mist and soon found out…I was nothing without them. I praised myself as such a skilled trainer, but being there, without a single Pokémon by my side, I broke down and began to cry. It's still as vivid as the day I did it," she elaborated. "In the end, I accepted that I was just a small piece of something much bigger, and my skills were really nothing significant. That's how I was able to complete the trial."

    "Sounds very philosophical," Serena chuckled out. Kahili didn't give a response to that at first, allowing Serena a moment to continue onward. "I feel like a lot of the Alolans are, with all of the questions you ask. You, Hapu, Hala…"

    "I suppose…it's because of our strong ties to nature and working with Pokémon in that way. I was oblivious to it in my youth, so focused on the game and winning and all that, but since then, I've come to understand the beauty of it," Kahili said. She stopped leaning and stood up, reaching a hand out to feel the rain splashing upon it, though it had lessened. "And that's the point of the trials: to become one with nature, in a sense. Those who truly complete the trials don't just complete a series of tasks to enter some vaunted hall. They enter them to become attuned to nature, others and oneself. If you cannot manage that, how can you ever be a true Pokémon trainer."

    "But Ash…" Serena wasn't sure exactly what she wanted to say in reference to her boyfriend. That he was one with nature? Sure, he was. Ash loved Pokémon, understood how they worked and wanted them to get along better. Being in tune with others was something he had definitely come far in, as well. He knew, usually, when she was feeling low, or about his Pokémon or Clemont. But then…with himself…

    "Ash is someone strong, yet he holds humility. He's a far cry from what I was at his age, but he's still dealing with his own problems." Serena couldn't disagree with all of that, but she had no words to spare on the subject. "Like me, he's won the trials handily, as far as I understand, but it's clear that he hasn't seen the point in them anymore…how do they push him? Or maybe…what does it all mean? Ash has striven for his dream for so long that now, he no longer knows what that dream is. How does he define it? No amount of training with me could answer that question, because it's something for himself, and himself, alone."

    "Defining your dream, huh…?" Serena breathed out. She took a moment, and then continued. "At first, I never knew if I had a dream, but eventually I decided on one: making people happy. I knew what I wanted, which is different from Ash, who can't define what it is he wants. But…going through Alola, losing the Ceremonies, seeing people laugh and smile without me…I became so focused on it that I think I lost sight of it all."

    "That's the thing about focusing: you can pick up the smallest of details, yet miss the most obvious ones along the way."

    "Right," Serena said in agreement. Because she finally understood. She wanted so badly to keep that promise and bring back those smiles that she took the whole world on her shoulders. Yet like Kahili had said, the trials, and indeed the entire Pilgrimage, was not about doing things on one's own but by realizing you were a part of something bigger. And she was.

    Jessie was just as skilled a Performer that people loved to watch, despite her vanity. Maka would no doubt one day make a film that would captivate people, even if she wasn't to star in it. Even Keoni, for all his lechery, was someone who knew how to make the crowd enjoy themselves. She wasn't in it alone. Sure, more people would notice her, the better she did, but she didn't need everyone to notice her. Ash had proven that: by fixing a jukebox for a small group of people, that group grew and grew until a whole village was no doubt smiling.

    She wanted to laugh at how obvious the answer had been, and kick herself for not hitting upon it that much sooner.

    "Ah, looks like the rain is finally stopping, no?" Kahili finally said, pulling Serena away from her revelation. She couldn't help but smile now, like a weight that had been pushing down on her, that burden, had been completely lifted. Kahili turned to her. "I have complete faith, just as you do, that Ash will complete this trial and will come out all the better for it. I really look forward to seeing the answer he comes to, especially since I think the answer has been there all along."

    "Isn't it always?" Serena muttered out from under her breath. Kahili did seem to hear it, judging from her nod, and she began to step back out. Her feet squelched slightly on the grass, but other than that, the area was finally drying as the rain moved back out to sea. "Kahili. Thank you."

    "For what now?" Kahili asked, beginning her climb up the hill. Serena followed shortly after.

    "For helping him. I wish I could have, if I'm honest, but I realize that there are things that Ash goes through that I can't help him with, just like there are things for me that he won't always be able to help with. That you were there when he needed someone who understood means a lot to me," Serena told the older woman. Said woman appeared to laugh at that, though not as if making fun of her.

    "It was my pleasure. I feel I've grown as well, mentoring him. He's quite charismatic, you know?" Kahili added with a wink as they continued to climb. Serena definitely laughed at that, because she completely agreed. "And here we are it seems."

    Serena stood to her side as they pulled to a stop and looked up, across to the glowing stand where the object of their pursuit sat. It was definitely glowing, though the glow seemed weak, like something was very wrong. She walked forward, Kahili in step next to her as they approached the pedestal that rested there. Their features were all illuminated upon their approach and their pace picked up until, at last, they were standing before their goal.

    "No…" was the sound escaped from Serena's mouth. Kahili made a rather vehement "tch" sound at the sight of what was resting before them. It was certainly the Moon Flute, a pale blue in color with the symbol off a bat-shaped moon upon it. This was most obvious thanks to the glow coming off from it.

    The only problem was that it was broken.

    "All this way for that…" Kahili scoffed out. Serena still walked forward to reach out and clasp her hand around the broken flute, one end hanging from the other. She pulled it back, and the glow almost completely vanished. "So, all this time, it's been broken."

    "I'm sure there's some way to fix it. Clemont could probably find it," Serena remarked, holding the very tenuous flute together. There was no way it could work in its current state, but being such an ancient artifact and mystical object, there had to be some way to piece it back together again.

    "Probably…but we just don't have time for this," Kahili sighed out. Serena nodded; once more, the bluenette was absolutely right. Their friends were about to go into battle, and even with a broken Moon Flute, they still needed to do their utmost to aid them. "And besides, a broken Moon Flute is better than no Moon Flute at all. We've done all we can here."

    "R-right," Serena agreed, turning back to the edge of the island. Kahili was already moving, calling Toucannon again to take to the air. Serena called suit, only calling Primarina into the water and jumping upon her. It was time for them to get back. Knowing that, Serena stowed the broken Moon Flute gingerly in her bag and glanced out towards Poni Island, praying for everyone to be safe and do what needed to be done.


    Author's Note: So, there was still a lot going on this chapter. Gladion and TRio have reunited with the main group, but Greninja and Clemont are more than concerned. Ash has begun his final trial and is now separated from all his Pokémon. Then we have the broken Moon Flute and everything with Serena and Kahili, which was my favorite scene this chapter. At this point, if you haven't realized, two of the three have figured out their problems. Bonnie, of course, is not included, since her whole thing is becoming stronger so she won't be a victim like she was in Tribulations. I'd say commanding Squishy, and Dedenne becoming a badass qualifies. (Characters like she and Hau were always meant to be a little more static).

    I have a hope that next chapter will be even better! So, until we meet then, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Shorter chapters, but hugely important chapters! From the title alone you'll understand (and be able to guess the next title). That said, my lag in responses will still be in effect today, and should hopefully ease up soon. Now, on to Chapter 8!


    Chapter 8

    A Despair

    "Pikachu! Decidueye! Lycanroc! Guys…?" Ash's voice echoed back at him with no returning words from the others. He sighed loudly, hoping that maybe they would even hear that, but it proved to be relatively pointless. There were no other sounds in the canyon, and if it hadn't been for the powerful seal laid over the place, Ash would have wondered if this even was a trial site in the first place. For whatever looking he was doing, there was no sign of the Totem Pokémon or any other Pokémon anywhere.

    "Guess I gotta do it on my own…" he sighed out once more. Realizing he was on top of a small outcropping of rock to make yet another call for his teammates, he leapt down, his feet kicking up dust on the canyon floor. Up above, the stars were drawn close, and the moon provided scant illumination for his journey through the maze of stone. Ash shivered a bit, reaching up to rub at his arms. "Cold…"

    If he was honest, he had no idea how long it had been since he'd started the trial. It seemed like such a short time, but the position of the moon spoke differently and indicated that he had been here and separated from his Pokémon for at least an hour or so. Removing his hands, he shoved them in his pockets and decided to continue walking along the very cold canyon floor. There was no real distinction for any landmarks or where to go as he walked along, so he felt like he was just on some random, aimless journey.

    Maybe I've always been on one, he couldn't help but think rather savagely to himself. Ash shook his head, banishing those kinds of demeaning thoughts. His foot suddenly tripped on a stone and he pitched against a wall. The rock felt cold on his skin and he began sliding down it rapidly, feeling a keen sense of exhaustion now settling itself into his bones. His stomach was grumbling, crying out for food; something he decided to satisfy by pulling out a small collection of remaining Oran Berries. It wasn't much, but he knew he'd have to ration it, as much as he wanted to gobble it down. He took one and threw it into his mouth, chewing slowly.

    "Still hungry, though…" he grumbled out upon finishing it. Now, he felt rather thirsty, too. Of course, he'd been feeling very thirsty ever since he'd been in that weird mist, like it was some sort of energy sapper or something. Part of Ash wondered if it was produced by a Pokémon to make others thirsty, or that maybe it was just some weird natural phenomenon which came as part and parcel of the trial. Either way, Ash was certain that he'd want Clemont to examine it, or himself, later (just in case there were adverse effects, of course). Then there was the part that didn't care and just wanted to find his Pokémon and complete the trial. That was the part of him that pushed him to get up once more and walk forward through the night-laced canyon.

    His gaze consistently swiveled around, looking for any forks in the canyon path that could lead him somewhere different, but he wasn't able to see much of anything. For a second, he stopped and stared up at the sheer cliff face that was before him. He had to wonder if, maybe, he could climb up the walls to the top and survey the entire area. Shrugging to himself, he figured that it couldn't hurt; he wasn't the human Aipom for nothing.

    Setting a foot sturdily on the wall, Ash's hands dug for purchase in the rocks and began to lift himself upwards. His other hand reached forward, too, grabbing another edge and continuing to pull up. The issue came at the step upward. As if the canyon wall had a mind of its own, the rock for his foot to hold upon suddenly broke off and sent him tumbling. Naturally, the good thing was that he wasn't too high up, and only his butt managed to absorb the blow from the fall. It still stung, but Ash figured that it was absolutely better than his head or something. Grimacing a little, he reasoned that climbing up was a definite no-go.

    "Fine, canyon, you win. I'll stay on the ground," he snapped, realizing he was talking to himself, but not really caring. It wasn't like anyone else was around to hear him in the first place. Rubbing behind his head, Ash hitched his backpack straps on his shoulders and continued on. As he did so, he started thinking of all different ways to find his quarry. There was the option of calling Latias, he supposed, but that seemed like simply cheating, especially when her strength would possibly be needed for the upcoming battle. Shaking off that idea, he kept going, the grimace turning into a scowl.

    For some reason, he suddenly felt his locket banging against his chest and he stopped, reaching for it and pulling it off. It was such a little object, and one that he so often paid such little attention to, like it was pretty much just a part of him that he took for granted. He popped the locket open, its gold chain rattling, and he looked inside. Sitting right there were two pictures: one of his mother and father in happier times, and one of himself and Serena. He smiled at it, giving him a slight hope. Clasping the locket and closing it tighter in his hand, he continued to walk along. Then, he felt something on his skin.

    "A draft?" he asked, definitely recognizing the tickling on his skin as that of a breeze which was softly swaying through the area. He narrowed his eyes, looking for just where it was coming from. His tongue stuck out, like it would help him to identify the source of the breeze (well, at least it was worth a try, he thought to himself). Naturally, that did nothing, but his eyes definitely managed to see something different than just rock. He saw vines sitting at the base of the canyon.

    Ash's feet carried him forward, almost right up against the wall and he dropped to his knees, almost planting his face into the brush. The vines were certainly gnarly and looked painful to the touch, but Ash couldn't help but feel that the draft was most certainly coming from this exact spot in the wall. Licking his lips and the roof of his dry mouth, Ash reached forward and pulled the vines apart. His hands were nicked and he felt a few droplets of blood spill out as he did so, but after just a moment, all of the vines were pulled away and Ash could scoot back to admire his own handiwork. Sitting right there, where the vines had been, was a passageway, big enough for him to fit through, but perhaps not all that much else, which made him start to wonder if it was such a good idea to enter.

    "Well, I'm not going to get anywhere if I just keep thinking like that," Ash said, rolling his shoulders in order to loosen his muscles. Once he felt he was loosened enough, he dove down and entered into the small hole on his hands and knees. It was a tight squeeze, of course, but Ash at least felt he had enough room that he wouldn't become claustrophobic. The real issue was how dark it was. It was just a little frightening, because the only sight of light that he had was the moon dancing on the canyon floor on the opposite side, but that just seemed so far away. "No giving up…"

    That was what he kept telling himself, for all the good it did. Push after push, one arm in front of the other, he kept moving along, and when he nearly reached that final location, a new sound finally entered his mind. It was like trickling water. That pushed him all the harder, and despite some strain to fit through the exit, Ash managed to pull himself out on the other side with a gasp. He took a moment to catch his breath, coming to stand by placing his hands on his knees as he did so. The trickling water didn't go away.

    When he finally recovered, Ash looked and saw what he had already suspected: there were large pools of water dotting this area of the canyon. In fact, this area looked almost completely different to the path he'd been on just a few moments earlier, like he had broken into a completely new area. There were sloping ridges now, and vines that hung over the area. What looked like an enormous tree root seemed to crisscross all over the area, connected to some of the upper levels, while the canyon floor continued to stretch onward. Lining that canyon floor were the same pools as right in front of him, each of them connected like a stream that was running from the ocean or something, even though the source of it all was really quite invisible or just too far out of range.

    "Maybe it connects to where the Totem Pokémon lives," Ash started reasoning to himself. After all, Pokémon still needed food and water, didn't they? Thinking of that, Ash realized that he needed some water as well, and he started for a pool that sat underneath a patch of moonlight, the parched feeling in his throat growing all the stronger at the sight of what it wanted finally sitting right before it. He slid to the ground, cupping his hands to take a drink, when he stopped. It wasn't because of any warning or something like that, but more because of what he saw in the water. Rather, it was what he didn't see.

    Staring into the water, he felt positively frozen. Looking right up at him was his own reflection…but nothing else. No stars or moon, and none of the canyon walls were reflected in that water's surface. It was just him, staring back up at him. Occasionally, the image would flicker, leaving an empty surface, but Ash felt himself mesmerized by this image. Now, Hapu's words were coming back to him clearly; the ones in the Haina Desert, telling them to not drink the water. He clenched, wanting to so badly, the thirst almost consuming him, but he didn't.

    "It's Tapu Fini's water," he finally realized, sitting back and just staring at the trickling pools. As if in some vain hope, he reached into his backpack and pulled out his water jug, but it was already empty from his unquenchable thirst. His gaze went back to the water but he kept shaking his head, telling himself not to drink from it at all. It wouldn't be good for him or anyone else if he were to do that. If only Pikachu and the others were here…

    Not able to think about what else to do, Ash leaned back over the water, wondering if, perhaps, he'd see anything different. He didn't. At least, not at first. His chocolate eyes stared back at him in the reflection, and he could hear his own breathing until, at last, he noticed the remarkably striking difference: he wasn't wearing the same clothes. Where he knew he was wearing his vest and shirt that Serena and his mother had made, instead he saw his old clothes, from the day he started his journey. He fell backwards once again.

    What is going on here? Ash had to wonder. Sure, he knew that every one of the Tapu's springs seemed to carry a different property, but this was just…odd. It wasn't even close to the Ruins of Hope! Shaking a little at seeing himself six years ago, Ash forced himself to stand and looked around for a way out, finally catching sight of the path that led upwards, on the border of the canyon walls. It wasn't much of an option, but it was much better than staying near these beyond creepy pools. Yet at the same time, he felt so drawn to the pools, like it was calling for him to drink and peer into it. The foreboding in Ash's heart spoke against it, though, reminding him what a bad idea that would be.

    "So thirsty, though…" Ash rasped out, still feeling how dry his mouth and throat were. He puffed his cheeks in and out, creating a mess of saliva that he then swallowed. It didn't do much, but it was enough to help him turn away and hitch his bag once more. "No looking. Don't look. Don't look."

    He wished that he had someone to slap him and tell him not to, or just a presence that would distract him from those enchanting pools. It made him wish Serena was here to distract him. Or Pikachu and the others. Worry overtook his senses now, which actually made him grateful. He wanted his Pokémon by his side, and even though they were all very capable, he still worried about what had happened to them in the mist at the mouth of the canyon. It gave him an objective beyond just completing the trial. His Pokémon were more important to him than anything in this world, unless one counted Serena and his friends and family.

    Why are they so important? his mind seemed to suddenly torment him. It was like the question about being a Pokémon Master all over again. Of course, for the kind of question relating to his own Pokémon, he already knew the answer: being with them helped to drive him forward. What it was driving him to, though, was ultimately the deeper question that he needed to have answered. It was the question that was infesting his mind, making him worry about things he never had before, and though he wanted to ignore it or focus on his other objectives, being alone with his thoughts now made it a complete impossibility.

    Ash shook his head and jogged forward for the slope leading upwards, some jutting rocks resting in his path as he did so. He skirted those, trying to keep pushing forward up the slope. It was fairly steep, he realized, and it made it difficult to traverse. With every step, his brain started asking himself about the image in the pool, almost yearning to return to it. With every passing rock, it told him to go back, but he refused. His breath was beginning to come in sharp heaves and he had to stop halfway up, clutching at his chest. It wasn't a shortness of breath that Clemont usually had from being unfit, though.

    He felt burdened, his body wracking itself with a sudden thrill of fear. His head turned back towards the pools he had left behind. Why was it sitting on his mind? It was like it was pushing him to confront something and…he was scared. He didn't want to see what rested in that water, because something told him it could break him inside. His mouth opened, breath coming out in a fog, and he gripped at one of the rocks to keep himself moving forward as much as he could. His chest burned.

    "Hah…hah…" he breathed out, every step away from the pool becoming like a strain, until, at last, it lessened. Ash nearly fell to his knees once he reached the top, only propping himself by falling against the wall and purposefully holding himself up with every bit of energy he had. He turned, placing his back against the stone's cool surface. This was no ordinary canyon, and like they had said, it was certainly no ordinary trial.

    Ash took the moment to pause, looking at the locket in his hands, running his finger over the picture of him and Serena. It felt weird to think about her right now, yet all he could see was her smile, both the one in the picture and the one in his mind. Alongside it, he almost felt like he could hear Pikachu, but knew it was merely in his head, unlike the picture and smile in front of him. Those thoughts allowed him to regain his breath, snapping the locket shut again. He'd be back to her soon; he'd promised that. In fact, he couldn't wait to see all of them again, seeing how they'd all grown over the last month away. How was Clemont? Had he finally realized his strength? Had Bonnie grown as a potential trainer? He hoped Greninja was doing okay, too.

    And Lillie. He certainly couldn't forget about her. From everything Serena appeared to have said, the blonde had grown in leaps and bounds. She and Komala were a real team, and she had a Z-Ring now. The past no longer shackled her. It put an extra fire in his legs to push forward. Though, naturally, his mind decided to parrot the question back: What about your past? Ash ignored that, facing forward to the ledge on the other side of the canyon, the two outcroppings joined together only by the thick roots of the tree that spanned the canyon.

    Ash stepped forward, pressing his foot on the root and testing its weight. It seemed good, and he walked forward, passing along the roots carefully. While they certainly held his weight, there was still a sense of trepidation to be had. There was no railing to protect him, so Ash had to take it slowly, in order to ensure that he didn't fall at any point. It was slow going, though it wasn't like he was crawling as Serena would. That made him snort. She could beat the toughest of foes without batting an eye, but in these situations, she was practically crippled.

    He suddenly stopped, looking out over the vastness of the canyon. From where he was, it was amazing just how much of the canyon was visible: its winding roads and passages, the little nooks in the cave. Over in the distance, Ash could swear that he saw a large stone structure that appeared to be the Altar of the Sunne, but he couldn't be sure. Turning a little more, he saw that there was also another path; one that his friends were most likely upon, but he couldn't tell much else unless one counted all the roots and rocks that dotted the area. Ash made a mental note of where he supposed the Altar was, thinking that heading there was the best option.

    He turned again to continue onward, and his foot suddenly slipped. He gasped involuntarily, waving his arms madly as he hoped to catch on to something. It really felt like this whole canyon was out to get him at this point. His backpack slipped from around his shoulders, tumbling down below, faster than his own body did, feeling like his own form was slipping in slow motion. The bag hit the ground with an audible thud and Ash's hand opened, the locket slipping from his grasp. He scrabbled to reach it, wanting to grab ahold of it but finding he couldn't.

    "Pikachu!" he called, knowing his best friend was nowhere near enough to there in order to see him or hear him. Ash continued struggling for all of a second more, clasping the locket just barely before he finished his descent. With a loud splash, he plunged into the waters below.


    The boat pulled into port faster than Serena expected it to. They had been able to circumvent the Exeggutor easily enough on the way back down by using the lack of need to climb the island, in order to get back to the ship, but she still hadn't expected them to arrive back in the Seafolk Village quite as quickly. The party at the restaurant was still going strong, with the jukebox playing a much more melodic tune that strangely made her think of Dawn. Yet they had no time for that, not with the impending battle. Kahili made that obvious by leaping off the boat before it even had a chance to stop.

    "Contact Aidan at the Aether Foundation," she spoke sharply to the boatman. "Tell him we got the Moon Flute, but uh…let's not share the broken part. We might still be okay."

    "You got it, Miss Kahili," the driver said, saluting her, like it was his general duty. Well, Serena figured that it really had to be, in the end, otherwise none of them would have been able to do their job of constantly driving a lot of them all over the region in the last month. Either way, the man offered a thumbs up, while Kahili nodded and turned back in. Serena smiled at the driver, but didn't do much more, feeling the pressure of needing to join the others.

    "Let's roll," Kahili said, jerking her head back towards the wilds. Serena didn't think she needed to be told that, but wasn't about to protest it, either way. She ran forward, keeping pace with the older woman, who was actually drawing a golf club out, like she was planning to whack a few people whenever she would have the chance to. Serena rolled her eyes at that. They really were suited as teacher and student; both were ready to beat anything that got in their way at a moment's notice. "Hapu and Mina should be meeting us near the entrance to the canyon. I just hope the major fight hasn't started yet."

    "Clemont's got a sharp head on his shoulders, and I'm sure Lillie is pretty calm if she knows what needs to be done. Same with Gladion and Lionel. I don't think they'd strike Team Skull without all of us gathering together," Serena explained, her breath short as she continued to run along. Kahili's lips were pursed, and she nodded. That brief moment of silence allowed for Serena to look over at the looming canyon that was pretty much in their face by this point. Was Ash still deep inside there now? She had to wonder how he was faring.

    No, Serena! This isn't the time to think about that! she chided herself. Thinking about her boyfriend wasn't the worst thing, but with such a major battle and a need for haste, allowing herself to get distracted was not the best of things, to be sure. As a result, she sent one final well wish his way and cast him from her mind. Please, make it, Ash. Make it out alive.

    The female duo broke out of the Seafolk Village, dashing into the forested plains of the Poni Wildlands. Now that they weren't thinking about Ash's battle or keeping close to the coast, Serena had the chance to breathe in the night air of the wilds that she had gotten somewhat used to on their journey to Poni Island nearly a month before. Their footsteps as they ran were muffled against the grass, but the canyon was looming ever closer, as were the homes that were situated near its entrance. All of these things were sights all too familiar to Serena, but nothing she was planning on stopping for, just to reexamine; there was no time for it in their rush to get to the canyon path.

    The one thing she did slow for was the sight of the Poni Breaker Coast and the practically glowing ruins beyond it. Kahili kept going, but Serena couldn't help but to slow. What were the Tapus up to? From the news a month ago of them fighting off the Ultra Beasts, they had to have been aware of just what was about to happen. Yet, as far as she knew, they had no plans to take part in their preliminary strike. Were they mustering all of their power for the Day of Stars? Or did they need Nebby to awaken in order to think of even doing anything? Maybe they just didn't care about whatever they humans had decided, only moving in accordance with nature? She wasn't sure, but it didn't sit right with her.

    Serena breathed in and out calmly, remembering her time in Tapu Fini's microcosm of a world, located in the Ruins of Hope. The water there was so strange, showing her so many frightful moments: failing in the Ceremony, having to speak up to her mother…Reeree's death in her arms. They were so filled with despair, and it hurt Serena inside. She had to wonder if Kahili had somehow undergone some of the same things in her time as Island Champion. Not that she felt comfortable enough asking that sort of thing of the woman. They simply didn't know each other well enough.

    "Serena!" Kahili called back with some urgency in her voice. Chiding herself for delaying so long, Serena wrenched her gaze away from the gate to the ruins. Her feet turned and she dashed after Kahili as quickly as she could. The houses were now passing by her, some lights on inside a couple of the settlements there, making it seem lively for at least a second or two. Smoke curdled out of one of the houses, but as Serena turned her head, she remembered how broken down the area was, with only an outer wall remaining of an old home, overgrown by weeds.

    "Sorry about that," Serena huffed out as she finally managed to catch up to the older woman. Kahili simply offered a sharp nod to show that it didn't bother her too much. The canyon entrance was quickly approaching, though there was as of yet no sign of Hapu or Mina. Serena sucked on her own tongue a little bit before broaching a rather touchy subject. "Kahili, do you think we'll succeed?"

    "We have to, don't we?" was Kahili's rather blunt response, though Serena took no real comfort from it. Mostly, it was because she could see the woman's body language and how tense it was; how tense it had been since they'd discovered that the Moon Flute was broken and knowing that they seemed to have no current knowledge of how to fix it. She only hoped they wouldn't need it, or that perhaps there was a book in Lillie's collection that could explain how to do so, anyway. "Even if we can't, we have to do the best we can to lay the ground work. The second that the Day of Stars hits, it's game over…or at least our last chance before that. No matter what though, thanks but no thanks on that chance: I'd prefer to stop those monsters here and now."

    "Right," Serena said, her eyes narrowing. It had really been a rather stupid question straight from the very beginning, and she hated herself for eating up time for it. The canyon was nearly on top of them, and from the speed that Kahili was going, it seemed clear that she was far more used to the place than Serena was, likely from past excursions. Serena's own grup hadn't had time to explore the place a month ago, not with the threat of Team Skull that was there and their own tasks to complete in such a time limit.

    "Come on, Hapu, how long does it take to drop someone off at the trial?" Kahili snapped almost angrily under her breath as they continued to run along. The walls were drawing close, the moon reflecting on their surface, and Kahili finally skidded to a stop just outside the entrance to the canyon. Serena almost tripped over her feet at the sudden stop, turning to face Kahili, who removed her golf cap for a moment to run a hand through her hair before cocking her hips to the side in annoyance. She wasn't sure what to do or say, so instead she listened. Before long, Serena heard the clopping of hooves.

    "Sorry we're late," Hapu called out, and Serena could barely see the form of the woman, herself, and Mina riding atop Mudsdale. "We forgot to heal up following our battle and then Mina got distracted in the woods."

    "I didn't," Mina said with a slight yawn, like she felt she should be sleeping instead of about to fight a battle. Serena wasn't sure what reaction she should have to that. "I merely stumbled upon a scene for a beautiful picture."

    "Anyway, that's how we seemed to end up behind you," Hapu laughed out, but it didn't carry any real mirth. Unlike the seemingly flighty Mina, she knew how to consistently remain serious whenever the situation seemed to call for it, like that moment. Kahili didn't care.

    "At least you're here now. Everything go well with Ash?" Kahili asked promptly, receiving a nod in turn. To that, the older woman sighed and turned to face into the canyon. Hapu approached to join her friend in doing so, the question about their own previous excursion on her eyes and lips, though neither seemed ready to give the response about what had occurred with the Moon Flute. Now wasn't the time for it, either; it was the time for battle. Clemont and the others were ahead; Ash was on his final trial and would join them; the rest of this was down to them for the moment.

    "Can we ride Mudsdale to the end?" Mina asked, putting some of the attention on to her. Kahili, however, just rolled her eyes and walked to the girl, pulling her from it testily and glaring at her. "What? I'm only slightly informed about what's going on."

    "If you didn't spend so much time focusing on your art, maybe you'd be more aware. We've only been planning all of this for a month!" Kahili said, even more testily than usual, as evidenced by her slapping the girl on the back of her head. Mina rubbed it, but did nothing in retaliation. She struck Serena as someone who really liked to go with the flow of things, or just support her friends with whatever they needed supporting on. A perfect trio of headstrong, lazy and mediator. Serena laughed a little.

    "Sorry, Mina, but this battle will be important, and Mudsdale, for all his strength, cannot carry us as burdens before then," Hapu explained, returning her trustworthy steed to his pokeball. All of that said, the quartet looked forward into the near consuming void that was the Vast Poni Canyon before them. "It'll be a straight shot to the Altar, if we want a chance of catching up with them."

    "No more talking, then," Kahili snapped harshly, walking forward and clanking her golf club loudly on the ground. Serena gripped at Braixen's pokeball, ready for the battle, and swept along after her. The remaining two women soon joined them and they plunged into the night-filled canyon. Instantly, the air grew colder, an effect cleanly felt upon her thighs from her skirt. She ignored it, keeping close to the others in the darkness. Eventually, it was truly too dark to see, considering Mina slammed into a wall.

    "Braixen, I need your help," Serena said quietly, careful to not let her voice echo too loudly in the space. The Fox Pokémon emerged, her branch flipping into her hands and lighting on fire. It provided a nice, ambient light for them to walk by. Kahili kept moving forward.

    A wind howled through the canyon, making the hairs on the back of Serena's neck prick upwards from the chill. The entire place was completely silent, showing that Gladion and Team Rocket must have really traveled through this area some time ago. A fork was approaching, but none of the three women paid it any mind, indicating that the straightest path was no doubt the quickest in order to catch up with their friends. Serena paused a moment, feeling a sudden sense of foreboding that even Braixen shared in. There was that little voice telling her not to go down this way whatsoever, and to instead take the longer path around. Unfortunately, the louder voice that was Kahili's forward progression and the insistence that time was of the essence won out.

    They continued along, down the straight path, and Serena noticed it was beginning to widen a little. There were also jutting cliffs and hanging vines that made up the area, barely lit up by the fire at the end of Braixen's wand. Serena sucked in her breaths, the cold air hurting her lungs a bit and causing goosebumps to ripple up and down her arms. Suddenly, in one of the widest areas, Kahili stopped. So did Hapu. Mina seemed to do so, as well, but considering her distracted expression in staring at the color composition of the rocks, Serena roughly passed it off as unimportant for the captain. No one made or move or said a thing for a bit. All Serena heard was the trickling of a pebble falling.

    "It's too quiet. Not even any Pokémon sounds, and they're more than abundant in this part of the canyon," Kahili said. Hapu was nodding, as well. Serena drew closer, all four of them pressing their backs up against one another. She grimaced, knowing her earlier feeling had been correct. "So, planning to show yourself, or do we have to be the ones that strike first, Team Skull?"

    Silence passed, and Serena had a thrill of hope, for just a moment, that their observations had been proven incorrect. Then the chuckling came, and the shuffling movement. Braixen raised her wand high, painting the walls with firelight and showing off the multitude of Skull grunts that were now lining the canyon walls and cliffs. Out amongst them were their Pokémon, attempting to look menacing. It certainly wasn't their full force, either. The notable thing, however, was that Plumeria was there, her Salazzle at her side, wearing an indiscernible look; she could have been anything from angry to bored to frustrated, and Serena wouldn't know the difference.

    "Have I told you that I hate how observant you are?" the big sister of Team Skull spoke, bouncing her leg up and down, slowly. Out of all of them, she was the only one actually sitting, one leg crossed over the other. "And I hate complications. Why couldn't you just be ambushed like we wanted?"

    "So, you scoundrels were planning an ambush!" Hapu pointed out. All of them were clasping their pokeballs tightly now, ready for whatever battle was about to burst amongst the forces colliding there. Some of the Skull grunts were dropping from the cliff, and while some faceplanted, others took up positions like a barricade that prevented them from moving forward.

    "Duh," Plumeria mocked sardonically, rolling her eyes liberally. "You really think we've camped out here the last month just to let you waltz in."

    "You…what did you do with the others? !" Serena demanded angrily, Braixen joining her. Plumeria practically ignored her, eyes focusing on Kahili. Both women were sneering at each other. Eventually, Plumeria waved her hand, like the whole thing was inconsequential.

    "I have no idea what happened with your friends," she answered. Salazzle hissed menacingly. "Truth be told, it doesn't matter. They'll just run into the rest of the gang at the altar and be dealt with there. I just decided to stop anyone stupid enough to come down this path, and look what happened. Have to wonder what you people missed that they didn't."

    "Yes, indeed," Kahili said with a smirk, though the tone of her response indicated she wasn't referring to Plumeria's final statement, having clearly ignored it. Without warning, she threw two pokeballs into the air, her Toucannon and Skarmory emerging. The golfer didn't even have to give commands. Toucannon shot off for the sky while Skarmory hung back; clearly the former was going to scout out the area ahead for the battle. Plumeria scoffed in annoyance. "I've been looking forward to another square off since we scuffled at the Paradise, 'Flower of Skull'."

    "I haven't," Plumeria admitted, a slight scowl flashing across her face at the nickname. The Skull grunts moved closer, and both Mudsdale and Ribombee appeared for battle. The air was fraught with tension, threatening to spill over at the slightest push. Serena breathed, steadying herself. "Now that I know who you are, I'm not about to be stupid and fight you one-on-one. Just stand down or move aside."

    "No, you move aside," Serena demanded of the older woman, finally earning a disparaging look from her. No one made any other move until Plumeria started laughing loudly, sounding almost manic. Serena pushed her moment forward. "This is our world on the line. I don't care what kind of fanatical devotion you have, that's no excuse for-"

    "Shut up, prissy little princess," Plumeria snapped angrily, her face filled with rage. "I really don't give a damn about your dream or your world. We only care about Guzma, because he offered us a home when everyone else turned their backs on us. He gave us a life when we had none. And if he asks this one thing of us, then we'll do it. He saved us, so we'll save him from people like you who take and take, leaving no dreams behind for anybody like us."

    "Grow up," Kahili shouted up at the woman. Plumeria didn't seem affected by the comment, though. She just raised her fingers and snapped them powerfully. The Skull grunts chuckled and thrust their fists forward. All at once, the forces moved in to converge, with Gumshoos and Raticate jumping through the air and Golbat all convening quickly. The quartet of females turned to face in different directions, ready to call for a command the second their opponents got close.

    As it turned out, there was no need.

    "Chespin, use Rollout! Charjabug, Charge Beam!" Serena turned her head at the all too welcome voice, a grin on her face as she did so.

    "Yo, you can't ambush the ambushers! That ain't coo-" Whatever the grunt was trying to say, Clemont had cut him off. Or rather, Greninja did, slamming into them with a Water Shuriken as he flipped through the air and landed in the center with the others, all four women glancing at him a moment. The Team Skull members backed off somewhat, except for Plumeria above, who looked extremely annoyed by this point.

    "Sorry I'm a little late! Took longer than I thought to backtrack!" Clemont called out, and Serena could finally see her friend approaching. She grinned at him, which he returned as Braixen greeted Greninja happily. "I know you guys could handle it, but we don't have much time for that, do we? We'll need our best fighters at the altar before sunrise, which could happen before you know it."

    "Way to put yourself down," Kahili said, but Clemont didn't look to be paying attention. Serena watched him instead stride forward, whipping his hat off and standing in front of Kahili while he faced Plumeria.

    "I'm not at all," he said, adjusting his glasses. Then he smirked up at Plumeria while Chespin and Charjabug came to his side. The Skull grunts were starting to regroup from the sudden, earlier attack to their flank. "I just know you shouldn't waste your time or strength here when I can handle it. I'm going to settle things once and for all with her."

    Plumeria blinked, looking slightly nonplussed. Then she laughed and came out of her sitting position, standing and looking down upon the inventor with a smirk. "I wasn't aware we even had a tally going, but if you want to get your *** kicked one more time, I'm more than happy to oblige. You're not taking the boss away. We won't let you. Let's go boys and girls, one last Team Skull rumble!"

    "You got it Big Sis!" Before Serena could say any more, their enemies leapt forward once again, and the battle they had long been waiting to start had finally begun.


    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    He was drowning, endlessly falling downward. There was no light, and no escape. Just the darkness and the water that was threatening to consume him entirely. And yet, even as he felt he was drowning, he could breathe. The only thing making him panic was the weight that felt it was pressing itself upon his chest, keeping him submerged. He had to get out, had to get back home.

    Pikachu…Serena…

    Ash's eyes snapped open, floating in that endless space, but he soon discovered that it seemed he was not trapped within water. Instead, it was something else; some bizarre twisting of elements, like a film reel that was being played out before his eyes. Then he noticed, clasped around his finger, was a golden chain, tying itself to one of the panels of those "film reels". He pulled on it and, all of a sudden, it began dragging on him like a mysterious gravitational force. He was jerked forward, and all of those unspooling film reels moved inward, like writhing vines, seeking to ensnare him.

    No! I don't want to! his mind screamed what his mouth could not. They tangled around him and Ash felt his head flying back…or perhaps he had just imagined it. Either way, visions suddenly touched his brain. There was a flash of lightning, and he saw two figures on the ground…no, one was standing, and then both.

    "My name is Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town! I am destined to be the world's number one Pokémon Master. I can't be defeated by the likes of you!" Ash eyes widened. It was…him. His heart caught in his chest at the sight, remembering the day with almost perfect clarity. Why? Why was he seeing this?

    Pokémon Master…Ash couldn't help but think. It had always been his claim, constantly. Standing there, though, had he really been so naďve? He had nearly gotten himself and Pikachu killed. How could he have ever said he would be a Pokémon Master in such a stupid moment? Lightning flashed, and Ash found himself spiraling away, far away, until he was standing above a gym battle between a Pikachu and a Raichu. The sight was clear as to what it was: the day Pikachu was defeated by Lt. Surge's Raichu. No! Pikachu!

    He was yanked away, still bound by that gold chain, still falling into the abyss of memory. So many were flashing through his mind, it was starting to hurt. He was held in thrall by these constant memories that were assailing him and berating him with no end. His eyes snapped shut, yet even without them open, he could still hear everything that was going on.

    "Ash, you won't be able to win the Pokémon League if you don't train!"

    "I'm gonna train! Just watch me!" He had been so stupid, thinking he would become a Pokémon Master without any sense of training at all. And even so…what was a Pokémon Master? Ash wanted to grip his head from the pain he felt, almost wondering if, perhaps, he'd suffered a concussion in his fall.

    "Pikachu is unable to battle!"

    "Charizard is unable to battle!"

    No, stop it! Ash was demanding. Loss wasn't supposed to hurt like this, was it? He'd gotten over that kind of pain. Loss only allowed one to grow. Winning and losing were all part of the same coin, so why did hearing all this cause him pain? He opened his eyes again, seeing Charizard fainted before the form of Blaziken, and Pikachu defeated by Eevee, and then Meowth. He had failed. Failed so many times in winning a League conference.

    But I got closer, didn't I? he asked of himself. Until Unova, I was always getting better. Moving up! I even got in the finals! More memories flashed before him, tied to that golden chain that was inexorably dragging him along. Suddenly, looming before him was Paul, like a gigantic mountain he had once had to overcome. The rival that had pushed him, made him think…broke him.

    "Monferno is unable to battle!" Ash flinched. He had let them down that day. He had let himself down that day. He had thought that maybe, just maybe, he had grown a little bit, that it all actually meant something with the wins and losses, until Paul shoved it all right back in his face and proved that he was nothing compared to him. Months of struggling, training, convincing himself that his path was right, and Paul had crushed it to tiny pieces. Whether he'd intended to or not, Ash never knew, but that one battle on the shores of Lake Acuity changed him, even if the raven-haired trainer didn't notice it.

    Is it right? My path…? The question almost hurt to ask, yet he had to wonder. He wanted to be a Pokémon Master so badly that he could taste it in his very veins, and he was moving forward, he always thought. He was on the right path: win the League, defeat the Champion. To do that he needed to train and win and battle more and be with his Pokémon. But why? Why are you battling? For what purpose? How does that make you a Pokémon Master? What does being that even mean to you?

    "Pikachu is unable to battle!" Ash could only breathe out a silent sigh that he wasn't even aware he had been holding the entire time. Pikachu was before him as lightning flashed. Underneath that lightning, there seemed to be a smile, one he yearned for that, one that the gold chain, flashing with flecks of blue, was connected to. Regardless, Pikachu was slumped against Latios. Even after his greatest victory, it was always there to remind him how someone was better.

    But I had grown! The insistence was starting to feel hollow as he saw Pikachu fall again, heard the mocking resentments already directed straight towards his face. He was such a kid. He wasn't even basic. He was from the boonies. Loser. Loser. Loser. Gary was here, Ash is a loser. Pathetic. Nothing.

    "Greninja is unable to battle!" Ash's chest hurt again. Yes, he had been so close…so close that he could have reached out and grabbed it, yet he fell short. Like always, he had fallen short again and again. Why? Why couldn't I win? Why couldn't I…

    Then the scarier question suddenly surfaced in his mind like a menacing specter: what would it have meant if I did win?

    Ash's eyes grew wide at that thought. He had never questioned it. He just moved forward with unrelenting and willful optimism that kept him making great strides. Another flash of lightning and he saw Keoni's infuriating smirk calling him a loser again. Calling him pathetic again. He had never accomplished anything. He had never amounted to anything. Tears pricked at Ash's eyes; ones that he didn't want to shed, yet they would not stop from being there.

    "Yer nothin'!"

    "Yer just a kid who doesn't even know what he is!"

    "Pathetic. Why must you always keep disappointing me?"

    Flashes of light were assailing him, all his failures and successes. With them were the questions that seemed so random and out of place, yet tied back to that one inescapable point they were trying to make. Still, he was forced to watch those memories. Pikachu defeating Dragonite, netting him that trophy. Finally defeating Gary in that heated battle that allowed them to settle their differences once and for all. Then he lost again and again. The Battle Frontier…he had overcome so many challenges and now, it felt like he had only done them because he was strong, nothing else. And then, they seemed to exist only to be torn down by Paul soon after. Why did he do it all? Why did he face such pain? Such exultation?

    None of it meant a thing!

    No, that's not true! It can't be true! I'm me! I'm Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town! I'm going to be…a…Pokémon Master…Ash's silent cries went unheard to the swirling chaos all around him. He was yanked forward by the golden chain, still feeling like he was drowning in the abyss of memories before him. Every moment brought him joy and pain, great victory and bitter defeat. Yet he didn't know why. How could he? He had claimed what he wanted to be, yet suddenly, it was like he didn't know what it truly was at all. Why did he take this path? Why didn't he just leave it?

    Brock had changed, after all, going to become a doctor instead of a breeder. Gary had turned to researching. When the dreams they'd had weren't working out, or when perhaps they realized that their passions had lay elsewhere, they changed, moved on. Yet he'd kept going, believing he was getting somewhere. Moving forward on the path he believed in, even if he couldn't define that very path. It seemed so simple to him, until now. Until now, when he felt like he should have been at the cusp of becoming a Pokémon Master, he suddenly realized.

    "I was nowhere near close to begin with, was I?" his voice finally spoke. All of a sudden, the memories before him broke with that next flash of lightning, and he saw the face of the one thing he had truly been connected to all this time. Serena. Only, it wasn't the Serena that he knew and loved. It was the other one. The one that was so cold in his dreams, beginning to walk away. He wanted to give chase but found himself completely mired in place. His breath was catching and his throat was constricting. He wanted to gasp, and rage, and scream towards her, wanting her to come back to him. When everything seemed lost, his hand reaching out for her yet again, she turned, still wearing that sad little smile, mixed with a disdainful expression.

    "And what does that make you? Who are you, Ash?"

    The golden chain broke, crumbling into pieces, and Ash suddenly felt himself gasping for air, sitting up as his body ached all over. He was no longer submerged in the water. His body was bruised, battered and soaking, not to mention cold in the nighttime canyon air. He started to shiver, and he took off his vest as rapidly as he could, then his shirt, before grabbing something fresh to keep him warm from his backpack. His mind was reeling, shattering into tiny pieces. Hapu's warning about losing himself came back to him, as did all of the memories.

    Ash closed his eyes, keenly feeling the sting of each and every one of them on his heart. The losses hurt because they were losses, ones that never really helped him move forward. The wins hurt because he had no idea what they did for him any longer, what they ever really meant. He had completely lost any meaning to the path he had been walking. Yet, amidst all that, his Pokémon stuck by his side. Pikachu was there through all of it, striving for a dream that he didn't even know what it was…or why he wanted it.

    "No…" Ash breathed out with his shuddering gasps. He gripped on to his backpack, snatching it from the ground, and nearly stumbled backwards, but caught himself on the edge of the pool. His face looked in, still seeing that same face: younger, inexperienced, staring back at him. "I have…to find them…"

    Ash pulled himself away from the pool, wrenching himself upward with all the effort that it could take to do so. His heart was hurting, but he needed to do this. He needed his Pokémon by his side. They had stuck with him through every victory, defeat and fun times in between. Surely, they must have known that they were on some aimless journey. If they did…why did they do it? He needed to know.

    There was a loud, guttural growling noise, and Ash clenched at his stomach as he continued to walk along, feeling so numb, inside and out. His legs felt like giving out all of a sudden and he stumbled into the canyon wall. He still pushed upward. He had to do this. No giving up! That was their maxim! He'd never be able to face Serena again if he…

    Who are you? The question was sharp and biting, and now it made Ash stop. If anyone asked before, he would have proclaimed the same thing as always: Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town, future Pokémon Master. Now, though…he didn't know. Who was he? What did saying any of that even mean?

    You've become a wonderful Pokémon Master. His legs finally gave out, and Ash collapsed to the ground, his knees hitting the stone surface painfully. Those words that his father had spoken, his final moments…they cut deep inside him. Before, it had been such a source of pride, knowing that his father considered him the one thing that he always wanted to be. He could have never imagined thinking anything different. Nor could he have imagined that he had no reason for being a Pokémon Master, or that he couldn't define what it was.

    And if he could no longer define that, it simply meant that he had arrived right back at zero. He had never left. He was that same boy that departed from Pallet Town. The same one no one expected anything from. They had probably thought his proclamation of being a Pokémon Master was silly, too, because he was the kid with no special skills. Just egotistical boasting and pride. Not a prestigious family. Not a genius-level intellect. Not even the common sense to wake up on time.

    And in the end, Guzma, the man's leering grin surfacing in Ash's mind, was right. In the end, knowing he had never moved past being the kid from that first day, it was clear. He was…

    "Nothing…" Ash breathed out, falling back and having his butt hit the ground. His knees drew in, and though no tears came, his body was wracked with despair all around him. He could never be a Pokémon Master, because he didn't even know what it was. Would never obtain it because he didn't know why he wanted to. And he'd never be more than nothing, just like Guzma said, because for all his training and hard work…he was still just Ash, and he truly hadn't understood a thing. So, he drew his knees even further in and shook with that settling realization of how empty he was at long last. And his next words encapsulated everything he was feeling from that horrific truth: "It hurts…"


    Author's Note: I'll freely admit how philosophical this chapter was. Next to no action and almost no dialogue during the Ash portions. Naturally, hard to have a dialogue chain when you're alone, but I'd like to think it makes sense. Hopefully you enjoyed it for how different it was. Of course, the hardest part was breaking Ash but he's still Ash. That was very much the entire point of this chapter in every way (well, other than setting up what was the inevitable Clemont vs. Plumeria showdown). Of course, realizing that you could never reach your dream because you didn't know what it was would break anyone. This is the moment I have been building to, and the next chapter should bring it home.

    What is a Pokémon Master to Ash? Why does he want it? Who is he? Because right now, he's nothing…and maybe that's the answer. Who knows? All I can say is that I hope the next chapter is the best chapter you've ever read from me…we'll see.

    The crux of it all is next chapter, so I hope you'll continue to stick around. Until then, please do Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Before we enter this chapter, I want to note that, of course, this is my own interpretation as I've built towards it. Hopefully you'll accept it. On a different note, towards the end, at the time of writing I was highly obsessed (still am) with the film Your Name. To that end, the song "Mitsuha's Theme" was used heavily when writing a particular moment of the chapter. Hopefully, you'll see where and can use it too! That said, time for Chapter 9!


    Chapter 9

    A Hope

    Clemont ducked as a Charge Beam swept over his head. Charjabug was spinning, causing the charged electricity to fly all over the place. Some of the Skull grunts were smart enough to pull themselves back, while others on the canyon walls only took a few steps away. For those that didn't have the clarity of mind to avoid, however, the beam struck them and sent them scattering into a few others as though they were bowling pins, tumbling backwards. Charjabug finished his rotations and Clemont looked up sharply, seeing the deep gouges now in the canyon wall from the powerful attack of his Pokémon.

    "Serena, get moving!" Clemont commanded powerfully. His gaze never once traveled to his friend, keeping his sights locked on Plumeria and those Skull thugs that were surrounding her like some sort of protectorate. She just considered him with the utmost disdain, like something to sweep away rather than actually pay attention to.

    "Clemont," Serena said, and he could hear her desire to stay around and fight rather than going off to the battle that needed to be fought elsewhere. Charjabug dropped down, landing on one side of Clemont's feet while Chespin padded forward on the other.

    "There's no time to argue this!" Clemont shouted, insisting that he get his point across. At this point, he decided he could afford the slight distraction, especially as Chespin sent a rocketing Pin Missile into the collected group of grunts. While it didn't do much to break their ranks, it at least kept them from ultimately interfering with the conversation going on. The inventor looked to Serena, who was staring at him with insistent eyes. "I'm sure there are a lot more of these guys at the altar, and we need to be ready in time for the coming dawn!"

    "Greninja," Greninja agreed loudly, nodding his head. From where Clemont stood, it looked like Greninja was distracted mightily by something, possibly something to do with Ash. However, he still retained the presence of mind to be aware of the actual threat around them.

    "I'll handle Plumeria, which will leave you guys with enough time to fight the rest of Team Skull," Clemont continued to explain to her, trying to send the message with his eyes. She seemed hesitant, no doubt wanting to stick with him. So, Clemont decided to put an end to the debate that appeared to be roiling in her mind, once and for all. "Team Skull is likely worthless without Guzma or Plumeria to guide them, so as long as I hold her here long enough for all of you to make your way, then we'll be good. There are too many of them right now to waste our time and energy in bringing her down."

    "And what about you?" Hapu asked of Clemont. To that, he chuckled and adjusted his glasses. That was about all the answer he felt the need to give; he already had a plan for making sure he could deal with Plumeria entirely uninterrupted. Serena still looked apprehensive when Kahili sharply turned.

    "Guess we won't be having our rematch after all," she snarked out to the opposite woman, smirking down at her. The disdain was so evident between the both of them that Clemont wasn't quite sure there was even anything else to say to either of the women. Maybe it was them being on opposite sides, or that they just held a grudge, Clemont couldn't really say definitively. However, looking between the two, it seemed to just be something shallow towards one another. "Toucannon, to me!"

    "Toucaaaaaah!" The cry of Kahili's trusted Pokémon split the air, diving downward towards her. Clemont snapped his gaze towards it as a blue light burst all around it in a glorious hue. It suddenly snapped to the ground, leveling itself before flying off. It left a sudden burst of air behind that made Serena's skirt flutter and Clemont attempt to keep his balance by flinging his arms around wildly. Luxray emerged from his pokeball just to prop him up carefully. In that single moment, Toucannon's blast of wind from utilizing Brave Bird had sent the Skull grunts on the path forward diving to the side and tumbling in all directions.

    "Let's get moving, yeah?" Kahili asked of the rest of her female companions. Skarmory's wings ruffled at her side, glowing a bright white as it took to the air threateningly. Some of the grunts were gathering, but Clemont was glad to see that most of his allies there had finally understood the need to move on. In particular, Hapu grabbed on to the other blonde woman that was there.

    "Very well. Mudsdale, Heavy Slam!" Hapu roared. She dragged on the other one who appeared to be calling for her Pokémon, a Ribombee, to use Pollen Puff. Clemont didn't need to look in order to know the effects of that attack. He'd seen it more than enough times in the Battle Tree. Mudsdale charged forward powerfully, ramming into the mustering Skull grunts. At the same time, Skarmory gave a sharp cry and sliced through them. The path was clearing, but there were still more than enough to fill the canyon path.

    "Go, Serena! I've got this!" Clemont screamed out. She clenched her fist, but eventually seemed to agree, looking to Braixen and beginning to run. Greninja was right at her side, nodding to Clemont, as if insisting that he'd leave the battle to him. Serena brushed past, and though she said nothing, he knew. They were here to win.

    "You're not going anywhere!" Plumeria shrieked angrily. Clemont snapped his attention right back to her within seconds, pointing his fingers forward as his body leaned a little over.

    "Chespin, use Pin Missile!" he roared. Chespin bounded forward, his spines glowing white. He remained rooted in place as the attack then streaked out, the white-hot projectiles streaking with a powerful green glow for the top of the cliff. Plumeria and her Salazzle stepped back a bit, but others weren't as lucky. The projectiles struck the edge of the cliff, causing parts of it to crumble and send the Skull grunts tumbling. Clemont tossed his final pokeball out for Bunnelby to emerge. "Bunnelby, Luxray, get into the battle with Wild Charge on those surrounding us!"

    "Salazzle, use Dragon Pulse!" Plumeria ordered. Salazzle bounded forward, not leaving the cliff. At her mouth formed the purple beam that fired off, looking like a raging dragon. Clemont quickly looked to see the others on the move, still within the thicket of their foes, making their way towards the altar. Realizing the attack was aiming for him, Clemont dodged the side, stomach hitting the stone floor, but his mind was whirling into action. Perhaps he wouldn't be able to defeat her, but all that mattered was holding her off as long as he could.

    "Chespin, use Vine Whip to get up there!"

    "Pin ches!" Chespin agreed. His vines snapped outward, latching themselves onto a low hanging branch before he pulled upwards. Clemont looked to Charjabug, who also angled his body and fired off a String Shot to the other side. Chespin had finally drawn level with Plumeria.

    "Flamethrower! Burn it off!" she commanded. Salazzle whipped around with immense speed, opening her maw. The flames rocketed out for Chespin's vines, which were keeping him suspended in the air.

    "Retract them, and into Rollout!" Clemont yelled. He pushed at the ground, bringing himself back to a standing position. Bunnelby and Luxray had met their targets, zapping through either side and launching the grunts into the air with a shower of electricity. Likewise, Chespin's vines snapped back in, barely avoiding the Flamethrower. He began to spin in midair, rolling up into a ball before shooting right for Salazzle. The Toxic Lizard Pokémon ceased her gushing flames right as Chespin nailed into her side with his attack. "And Spark!"

    "Sala?" Salazzle gasped out, not having the time to avoid Charjabug coming at her other side. The bug whipped right around with his string, buzzing with all manner of electricity before he slammed into Salazzle powerfully.

    "Dragon Pulse on that Chespin!" Plumeria ordered. Chespin had broken off, skirting along the cliff. Clemont moved his foot, looking to see if the others had even gotten close to clearing the area as of yet. They hadn't. On top of it, Salazzle was unhindered in firing off the purple draconic beam once more, this one looking like it was ready to consume the usually gluttonous Chespin. Then there were the clifftop grunts moving in.

    "Vine Whip, and charge in with Body Slam!" Chespin wore a fierce expression as his vines snaked out and began whipping around in a frenzy, much like how Ash's Counter Shield would work. However, he didn't remain stationary, his body charging forward with a bright glow. The dragon continued to bear down on him, but he wasn't stopping. His vines snapped into the Skull grunts, driving some of them from the cliff while others were beaten back into the wall. Then he dove into the draconic beam, slowing down with almost every step, but finally making it to the Poison type. Chespin slammed into her and Salazzle was forced back towards her trainer.

    "Like that's enough…you're not getting out of here alive! Flamethrower!"

    "Charge Beam! Bunnelby, I need you to use Dig on the canyon wall, now!" Clemont cried. His loyal Pokémon bounced away as Luxray sent a collusion of exploding stars into the clustered group of enemies before them. Bunnelby reached the wall and began spinning, his powerful ears diving straight into the bedrock without concern. "We're not backing down, Plumeria. We will stop Guzma and Lusamine, and the Ultra Beasts with them!"

    "Shut it," Plumeria snapped. The exploding electricity from Charjabug's blast met with the Flamethrower head on. Yellow and red mixed in with one another, an orb of energy forming that threatened to burst from the two colliding with one another. Plumeria stepped forward, the hatred beyond evident on her face. Clemont watched her for just a second, tracking the progress of Bunnelby while their Pokémon grappled. He couldn't figure out just what kind of hatred it was. "Push harder!"

    "Ssssaaaaaa," Salazzle agreed, and the volume of flames expanded. Charjabug's attacks were no longer enough. The Flamethrower broke through, consuming Charjabug. Clemont grimaced, quickly checking to the side as Greninja flipped through the air to knock away some opponents. The other group was nearly there.

    "Now, Chespin, lock it down with Pin Missile!" Clemont called. Luxray was keeping the other members of Team Skull away from him with an impressively sparking Thunder Fang, while Charjabug recovered above. Chespin fired the projectiles off in an almost endless stream, keeping Salazzle from moving while the ground underneath her feet was caving. He grinned. "Now, Bunnelby, come on out and use Wild Charge!"

    "Bunnnnnel!" Bunnelby's cry split the air and he rocketed out from within the ground, body blazing with all manner of electricity as he surged forward, slamming right into Salazzle's midsection. She flew back, spinning through the air before landing on all fours with a hiss. Clemont flicked his eyes over as a Psyshock seemed to clear the path for his friends. They were home free, the rest of the grunts in their path falling away.

    "Get it together, use Smog!" Salazzle hissed once more and this time a purple smoke began to puff out. It wasn't aiming for his Pokémon up above, however, but for him.

    "I don't think so! Luxray, use Electric Terrain!" Clemont commanded, even throwing his fist into the air like Ash always did.

    "Lux lux raaaaay!" Luxray howled. His body sparked viciously. Those sparks traveled outward, consuming the ground around him. The smog began to reach Clemont's level but burned off harmlessly from the sudden electricity that was covering the area. Even better, the shocks traveled along the ground powerfully, sending the Skull grunts into convulsions. Only Plumeria had a sense to leap up and grab a branch so as to not get shocked.

    "You annoying brat…" she snickered out. It made him unsure if she was enjoying the battle or hating it. "Look what you've done. You've hurt my brothers and sisters."

    "Only because you're all standing in our way," Clemont said, gazing at her as she dropped down to the now steaming ground. Some of the sparks were there, attracting to her shoes, but she was ultimately fine. "We wouldn't be doing this if you weren't trying to stop us from saving the world."

    "Yeah? So it's all about you guys, huh? And what about our dream? Our boss's dream? Don't we matter?" Plumeria snapped out at him. Clemont pursed his lips, sighing just a little as he came to understand Plumeria's ultimate intentions.

    "Of course, you do…but…that doesn't give you the right to hurt people!" Clemont shouted at her angrily. He felt full of rage, now, at the selfishness that Team Skull exuded on a daily basis. "If you really want to have your dreams succeed then stop trying to take them from others!"

    "Oh, what would you know? You're clearly the lowest on the totem pole," Plumeria waved off angrily as she patted Salazzle on the head, her Z-Ring glinting in the moonlight. Clemont had to chuckle.

    "You're right, I am," he answered after a moment of silence. "I can't compare with Ash or Serena. They're going places that maybe I could never reach…but, then again, I don't need to! Because I'm the Gym Leader of Lumiose City, Clemont! My role is to support those trainers, challenge them, test them. I don't need to be better them! I need to be there for them! That's what I learned on my own instead of being what everyone else told me to be!

    "So, come on, Plumeria! Let's decide the future right now! Put everything we have on the line for what we can do. You want to save Guzma, and I want to save my world. Let's find out whose convictions are stronger."

    "You're a stubborn idiot," Plumeria mocked at him, raising her wrist up and tapping on her Z-Ring, the device glowing purple in the receding moonlight. "You haven't been able to do a thing to me before, always the scared little boy. And don't forget that I have this."

    "Oh, I won't forget," Clemont said, almost smirking at the woman with confidence. It was the first time in so long that he had no trepidation in facing Plumeria. Salazzle's claw had been removed from his stomach and he could breathe again. He knew who he was, and what he could do. All of that was for supporting those around him. Clemont believed in them just as he believed in himself and what he could do. That was what he knew he had over Plumeria: he wasn't just what someone else told him he was, but what he had discovered for himself. "I don't need a Mega Stone, or a Z-Ring. I'll beat you with just me and my Pokémon!"

    "Chaja!" Charjabug seemed to agree emphatically from up top. Bunnelby and Chespin had moved to join the bug as it suddenly glowed a bright blue in the moonlight. Clemont had to grin; he'd read about the phenomenon of the magnetic field in Poni Canyon, yet he had never connected it with Charjabug. Now that he had, though, he watched as Charjabug grew much bigger, his blocky shape no longer there, instead replaced with two large mandibles, wings and little legs. The blue light burst but moments later, revealing the form of Vikavolt. "Vik! Vika!"

    "Damn…" Plumeria said, not sounding too happy about the occurrence. "Salazzle, take it out with Sludge Wave!"

    "Sazaa!" Salazzle cried again, plunging her hand on to the stone. A large orb of what looked like dark purple material surrounded Salazzle, undulating in and out. Then it broke like a dam and began to surge along the top of the canyon cliff. Clemont instantly snapped to attention.

    "Bunnelby, Chespin, return to me down here! Vikavolt, dodge it and use Charge Beam!"

    "Vikva!" Vikavolt cried. Bunnelby and Chespin grabbed ahold of each other and leapt off the cliff, even as Chespin panicked a little. The wave crashed into the wall on the other side, completely missing all three of its intended targets. Vikavolt was moving too, the orb of electricity forming between its mandibles powerfully, before firing out in a wide beam that struck Salazzle. She was slammed back, nailing her into the wall with amazing strength. Vikavolt's newfound strength, combined with the Electric Terrain, had changed the flow of battle.

    "Now, Bunnelby, fire Mud Shot!" Clemont commanded, throwing his finger forward. Bunnelby touched to the ground, depositing Chespin there before twirling. The globules of mud all formed on his ears, and then fired upwards as Salazzle angled her head to send a roaring Flamethrower at Vikavolt. He dodged, flitting through the air like a mighty bullet that avoided the blow. The Mud Shot slammed into the flames, causing them to explode in the night air. Vikavolt was now flying over the canyon path with his speed. Clemont watched him, nodded at him as he realized what needed to be commanded. "Vikavolt, use Bug Buzz!"

    "Vivivivivivi!" Vikavolt hummed out. He disappeared, suddenly reappearing right next to Plumeria and Salazzle. Red waves abruptly burst out from the Stag Beetle Pokémon. The trainer dropped to her knees, clasping at her ears, while Salazzle also seemed unable to move. Taking advantage of the situation, Clemont called for a Spark. Vikavolt's whole body blazed with electricity and then shot forward with the speed of a bullet, ramming into Salazzle and driving her against the wall before breaking off.

    "Dragon Pulse!"

    "Charge Beam!" The two Pokémon attacked at the same time, but their clash this time was much different than the last. The dragon soared outward from Salazzle's jaw, ready to gobble up whatever was coming its way. Vikavolt maintained some distance, firing the powerful Charge Beam out that collided with it. They met, but didn't hold. Instead, their matched powers ripped outward with a powerful explosion immediately upon collision. Salazzle was driven back to the wall yet again and Vikavolt almost flew back across the canyon. Plumeria, on the other hand, seemed to have underestimated the strength of that force, for she was suddenly pitched off of the canyon walls. "Use String Shot to catch her!"

    "No way! Flamethrower!" Plumeria shouted. Vikavolt moved a little faster, zipping across the canyon at tremendous speed, almost like a blur, as he made a hammock of strings between the canyon walls that Plumeria fell on to, becoming swiftly wrapped up within it. Salazzle acted seconds later. She had reached the edge of the cliff and sent the flames roaring into it without remorse. One of the edges of the strings snapped from the heat and Plumeria dropped, landing with a rather feral expression on her face, some strings hanging from her hair. She quickly tore them away with a scowl. Salazzle dropped seconds later as Vikavolt and all the others returned to Clemont's side. "Honestly…this is the reason I hate complications. You never know which way they can go. I'm done playing with you. Sludge Wave!"

    "Bunnelby, make a trench! Vikavolt, counter it with Charge Beam!" If Plumeria was surprised that he wasn't panicking in the least, she wasn't showing it, but for a minute twitch of her lips. Salazzle was once more surrounded in the dark purple that then fired out. Bunnelby was on the move, digging through the stone that gave way under Clemont's feet, allowing him and the other landlocked individuals to drop down. Vikavolt was, meanwhile, spinning down from above as he fired a Charge Beam right on to Salazzle's head. It exploded, sending shocks along the ground.

    "Nail that thing with Dragon Pulse, come on, Salazzle," Plumeria ordered, sounding tired and thoroughly annoyed. Salazzle tracked Vikavolt's fast movements, turning this way and that. She opened her maw and another of the purple draconic beams formed before spluttering out into the open air. It was soon followed by another and another, until it looked like a giant three headed dragon, barreling right for Vikavolt.

    "Bug Buzz!" Clemont called out. Vikavolt stopped, and the red waves and loud buzzing, that would have been painful to any other, sounded out. Plumeria held her ground this time; in fact, she was looking to end it, judging from the way she was crossing her fists. Clemont's eyes narrowed, pulling himself out of the trench. She was using a Z-Move…but he wouldn't let her. "We're not going to let her use that move! Bunnelby, Luxray, use Wild Charge! Chespin, Rollout! Vikavolt, Spark!"

    "You can't stop this! We're going to the future that our boss has chosen! One where we're not just the losers of this world!" Plumeria shouted out angrily. Her arms were being brought to her sides. Clemont wouldn't take it, though. His Pokémon surged forward, rolling or brimming with electricity while they converged on Salazzle, who was beginning to glow with the power of a Z-Move.

    "You can change that here and now, though!" Clemont cried out. Plumeria's body was moving in accordance with the Poison type Z-Move, and Clemont still wasn't quite there. The light was bursting, reaching its deadly zenith…and then his Pokémon all slammed into Salazzle. "You can't change anything by going to another world! You're still you! You have to believe in what you can do! Maybe it's not the same as others, and maybe it's just a small piece of something bigger, but it's still something!"

    "Shut! Up!" Plumeria said as the bright light exploded outward. Clemont reached her, and without hesitation, drove his fist right into her face. She flew backwards, her back slamming on to the canyon floor with a groan. The blast of electricity from all of his Pokémon's combined attacks upon the Toxic Lizard Pokémon also shuddered out, exploding upwards into the air. Salazzle spun through the air, smoking with a foam at her mouth. She slammed with finality upon the ground.

    "Believe in yourself, not what others tell you to believe in," Clemont declared, slamming down on the ground with his foot as Plumeria struggled to stand. She looked surprised at Salazzle's defeat, hand shaking as she recalled her to her pokeball. "If you want to have a better future, and to save Guzma, then you need to do it yourself. This other world won't help you. It'll only hurt."

    There was a long standoff between them, fraught with silence as Plumeria began to stand shakily. She stowed her pokeball away, gripping another as she stared at Clemont with wide eyes. It was like seeing something that wasn't there before; a strength and confidence that Clemont, himself, never thought he would possess. Yet here he stood. Finally, after a long moment, Plumeria tossed her other pokeball high, revealing a Crobat. "No. We will save our boss and his future. We…we have to…"

    "Plumeria!" Clemont cried out, but the woman wasn't listening. Crobat flapped down, grabbing ahold of Plumeria's back and beginning to speed off towards the site of the battle that was taking place at the altar. Clemont groaned, returning Bunnelby and Chespin. "We have to hurry! If she interferes with the others, we might not succeed!"

    "Luxray!" Luxray barked out, hunkering down for Clemont to quickly mount him. He did so, and without another moment's hesitation, they were speeding off through the canyon once again, Vikavolt blitzing alongside him with a miniscule buzzing. He wasn't sure if he'd broken through to Plumeria whatsoever, the woman and the rest of Team Skull seemingly so determined for their better world to not listen to reason, but he wasn't going to let her interfere in doing what needed to be done.

    "Faster!" Clemont cried out. Over in the sky, it almost seemed to be lightening, showing that they had been battling for quite the length of time, and yet they hadn't realized it even once. Sunrise would no doubt be approaching soon.

    Flitting through the canyon's caves and passages, Clemont attempted to keep Plumeria in his sights, hoping to catch up with her before she could manage to turn the tide of battle that was happening up ahead. At the very least, he definitely knew that it was happening from the loud and discordant sounds that were filling the air sharply. He could swear that he heard Silvally roaring and Crabrawler punching through things. It was growing brighter, too, like they were approaching an area that could gather more light. Clemont patted Luxray's side, urging him onward as they were approaching the mouth of the cave that would finally lead them to the altar they had been searching for.

    "Braixen, Hidden Power!" Serena's voice was yelling, long before they even caught a sight of her. Clemont looked up towards Vikavolt and all of a sudden, felt something shudder through him. Luxray skidded to a stop and Clemont dismounted. He looked back and realized that they had passed through the barrier that had encompassed the altar. In fact, he and all of his surrounding Pokémon were glowing with the benevolent light that came off of the Z-Crystal in his pocket. He smiled. His theory had proven to be true, and he really couldn't be happier about it.

    "Silvally, Multi-Attack!" Silvally let out a roar that appeared to precede a rather powerful attack, if the exaggerated screaming from some Team Skull grunts meant anything.

    "Yo! This ain't cool! They're like, totally super strong, yo!" one of the grunts cried out, not yet in view.

    "That's okay, bro! We got, like, numbers and stuff!"

    "Yeah! Big Boss is waitin' on the other side! Ain't that right, Big Sis?" asked another one. It was proof that Plumeria had arrived at the site of the battle and was already busy entering into things. What did surprise him were the grunt's next confused words. "Big Sis? What're ya doin'?"

    "Dedenne, Nuzzle," Bonnie said, almost callously. Clemont shook his head as quite a few grunts gave off shrieks, including the one that had just finished speaking. He turned the corner and emerged outwards. Right before him was the location of their pursuit at long last. A grand staircase, crumbled slightly with the ages stood before them, leading to what seemed to be a mighty construct, like a temple, at the very top. Rather, it was an altar, and Plumeria was running for it, though she seemed to have been slowed down. Crobat was gone and she had nearly collapsed at the foot of the stairs that led to the altar, looking panicked.

    Though, Clemont wasn't sure who should have been more panicked. Sure, they were about to reach the altar, yet before them was an entire swirling sea of Skull grunts. They didn't look terribly coordinated, and their admin appeared to not even care much for them at the moment, but just seeing her also seemed to embolden them. One of them was even moving in on Bonnie, who whipped around and ordered for Squishy to take them down. In seconds, Squishy had emerged from the bag, coalescing green lights flowing into him before he turned to his dog-like form and sent the grunt flying with a high-speed strike.

    "Nice one, Bonnie! Incineroar, finish 'em!" Hau exclaimed cheerily, though the sharpness of his eyes belied how serious he was taking this. Clemont could see his Incineroar diving forward, right alongside Pipi as they crashed into the mess of Skull grunts. Seconds later, Lillie ordered for a Yawn and Komala created the large bubble that put a substantial number of the enemy to sleep. She darted for Bonnie, grabbing the girl carefully, and the two blondes nodded, beginning to run for the altar.

    "About time you got here, Clemont!" Lionel's voice called back to him. Clemont nodded, but kept facing forward. The trio that was comprised of Lillie, Bonnie and Hau were already cutting a swathe through the Skull members before them, aiming straight for the altar, where Plumeria was. Yet, outside of their path, it seemed like the uncoordinated, but heavily numerous, enemy was continuing to swell and grow.

    "I had something to take care of," Clemont shouted over the din of battle. He looked down to Luxray and nodded. The Gleam Eyes Pokémon nodded and went charging straight into the mess of grunts before him with a Wild Charge. Vikavolt joined right in with Spark, sending a wave of electricity down the line that practically split the groupings of their foes in half.

    "Well, glad you're finally here, for all the good it might do. This keeps up and we'll have to be sending Lillie into the Ultra Space alone!" Lionel snapped, punching and hitting a female grunt that was aiming for him. She collapsed, while some of her compatriots suddenly flew into the air from Bewear whirling around wildly with a cackling Jessie. Lionel sighed and dug into his pocket, taking out what looked to be a flare. "I was waiting for us all to gather, but…I don't think we can delay."

    Clemont didn't really pay attention to him, already trying to dash down the split sea of grunts. Behind him, though, he heard the noise of the flare being fired like a signal. Clemont wasn't even sure if it would work, considering he'd only loosely been involved in any sort of planning process the last month. Regardless, he pushed on, ignoring his usual shortness of breath to approach the altar as quickly as he could. Soon, he came even with the other trio, though his sights were set on Plumeria, a quarter of the way up the stairs.

    "Whoa! He looks so cool, Clemont!" Bonnie cheered out. Rotom suddenly zipped around her head.

    "Rotom is surprised that Bonnie did not call it cute."

    "Yeah, it's that, too," Bonnie said with a grin, though it seemed more to annoy Rotom than anything else. Lillie let off a nervous chuckle, but Clemont wasn't yet ready to oblige his sister with any comments about his Vikavolt. He just put a foot on the stairs and charged upwards. Plumeria heard them, turning around again.

    "Vikavolt, stop her with String Shot!" Clemont ordered. Vikavolt was certainly the fastest, moving like a blur as the string shot forward on to Plumeria's leg. She tripped and tumbled face-first on to the stairs. His loyal Bug type reeled her in as Clemont stepped close and suddenly grabbed her by the arm. "Stop it, right now!"

    "Let go," Plumeria said darkly, almost like there was a touch of threat behind it. However, Clemont wasn't going to budge, holding her there. They stared at each other, one struggling against the other, and Clemont could see desperation in her eyes. She wanted to reach the Ultra Space, to see Guzma again, because of how much she believed in him. It couldn't change the fact, though, that she was fighting a fruitless battle. "You can't win. We can't let you."

    "Well, we can't let you win," Lillie said with determination. Plumeria looked over to her, as if utterly surprised to see her standing there so confidently. That seemed to make some of her own confidence erode away and they all remained locked in a standoff for a second, unsure of what to really say, even if the sounds of battle around them ensured there was no lack of noise.

    They didn't need to say anything, in the end, because anything they would have said was replaced by an amalgamation of roars. Clemont snapped his gaze upward, right alongside his sister, seeing the domed shield that wrapped around the altar glitter in the lightening sky. There wasn't just the shield though, because people and Pokémon were streaming inward. So many things happened at once, Clemont realized, as they were stopped upon the steps of the altar. Plumeria yelled for Team Skull to converge on the altar; Lillie turned to proceed the rest of the way, and from above came a black Charizard, and a Salamence, and a bevy of helicopters with the League emblem emblazoned on the side. Reinforcements had arrived.
    *Chapter to be continued in next post...

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    Ash wasn't entirely sure how long he had been sitting there, his knees close to his chest as he began to shiver almost uncontrollably. He felt almost empty inside, like there was truly nothing left. Never before had he thought it would hurt so much, and at the thought of it, his nails dug into his lower legs, driving into them with trepidation. He knew he had to get up, move forward, but while his body was willing, his mind was staying rooted in place.

    He fell back, though, laying right in the middle of the canyon's pass, his arms breaking away from his knees and spreading out. It reminded him of his time in the Winding Woods, feeling broken after his efforts there. Only this time, he knew Serena wouldn't be there to snap him out of his funk. There were no snowballs to throw. No one was going to come and find him. He was alone, and he was nothing. A sigh spiraled from his lips, frosting in the air as it traveled upwards. The stars were growing dimmer as night seemed to be drawing to its close.

    Never give up until the very end! Nothing we do is a waste! Those words echoed in his brain, and forced him to sit up, grabbing at his backpack once again. They sounded so simple to say, and he supposed he should listen to them. That's what he was doing, right? Even with questions, he continued to move forward, knowing it would bring him somewhere. Now, though, he had to wonder: did it even mean anything, anymore? That didn't hurt as much as his earlier realization, though, and it was more an afterthought tacked onto everything else surrounding it.

    Ash finally forced himself to stand, slinging the bag back over his shoulders. He took a step forward, and found that he was able to move, after all. It started off as sluggish movements, almost like baby steps, but soon turned into a slow walk. He didn't want to run fast or anything; rushing ahead never got him anywhere. At least he'd learned that, hadn't he? His experiences had seemed to teach him something. The only problem was that those "somethings" seemed to do nothing for his ultimate goal in any way shape or form.

    He could practically hear Serena chastising him in his head. All their promises to one another about how they would never give up after everything they had suffered seemed so baseless, now. Ash closed his eyes, another growl piercing through the air. He held no pain in his stomach, though; it was only embedded deep within his heart. "I'm sorry…"

    He didn't stumble this time, starting to mumble those words over and over again. No one could hear them, but his apologies couldn't stop falling. He was sorry to Serena that he was filled with this despair and brokenness. That he wasn't the person she always looked at him as. Maybe she never expected it of him, loving him for him, but he didn't even know who he was, so that she loved him was baffling and almost encouraging. Yet it also brought tears to him. That Serena could love someone so flawed, lost and broken…His tears dropped, not even close to audible as they hit the stone, proving almost how empty they and he were.

    He was sorry to his friends, the ones that had stuck by him in each region, only to see him fail. Yet they never forsook him, always wanting the very best for him. Knowing that he had that support despite never living up to the wishes they had for him drove the pain deeper into his heart.

    He was sorry to his parents. His mother had supported him so much over the years, wanting him to chase after his dream. She'd never questioned it, and always cheered him on, and here, he was really starting to feel he wasn't worth it. His dream was worthless. Then there was his father, for such a short time that he had gotten to know him, believing he was a Pokémon Master. That stung deep inside him. His father had thought so highly of him, believed he had long obtained his dream, yet he hadn't. He wasn't even close.

    He was sorry, most of all, however, to his Pokémon. They had truly been through his side for everything: loss, victory, hope, despair and everything in between. They had seen the best of him and the worst of him, yet none had abandoned him for even a second…well, unless one counted some of the unruliness that Charizard had had back in the day. Still, once he'd earned that loyalty, it was undying. Yet, he had led them all so aimlessly.

    He wanted to find them.

    His feet continued along the path, the rippling pools of water trickling alongside him. The content of the air felt to have changed, as though it were less stale or damp. Maybe it was just planning to open up into a wider space. Ash didn't know, but he was starting to not care. Why was he still doing this trial? What would it matter if he completed it? Yes, nothing they did was a waste of time, but if, in the end, you walked away with nothing, and remained as nothing, then the very thing you had done was pointless. Ash gritted his teeth and slammed a hand against the wall of the canyon, causing some of the rocks to shudder and his hand to bleed from the jagged edges.

    "This isn't me…is it…?" he asked to no one, walking forward, slowly, again. Of course, asking something like that just reminded him he barely had a "me" to begin with. Guzma's taunting words rested in his head. How can I take anythin' from someone who's nothin'? Ya don't even know yerself. Ash's hand clenched into a fist and he suddenly stopped walking, his footsteps loud as they entered in to what felt like such a brightly lit area, regardless of all the arches draped over the surroundings. He breathed in, steadying himself from everything that was sending him reeling.

    Promise me you won't give in to despair. Ash's body locked up, Zinnia's words coming back to him from a life that seemed ever so long ago. He had promised, hadn't he? And after everything, he thought he had succeeded in overcoming it. He didn't let his despair rule him the way it had Zinnia, Dalton, and even Michael. Even now, it was controlling those like Guzma and Lusamine. But he wasn't them! He couldn't give in! He'd made a promise!

    His head turned, noticing the lone, large pool that was situated in the midst of the larger area. He walked towards it, his feet moving with a mind of their own as the growling returned in an almost sinister fashion. Stopping at the edge of it, he looked down. Still the same reflection, but it felt more substantiated, not like it was going to fade in and out with every passing ripple. Ash closed his eyes again, unable to figure out why he was seeing this. Was it that this was him? Had he never changed? Or…

    A sudden glow to the side caught his eye and Ash looked over, noticing a pale blue light over in the distance. He straightened himself, looking straight at it, and soon noticed the familiar and intricate carvings on the podium there. They were just like so many of those seen at the trial sites, ones that held the various Z-Crystals. Ash stepped towards it, his backpack dropping from his shoulders. It was almost funny, he thought, as he took a step towards the glowing podium. Here he had questioned why he was doing all of this. Questioning what he even was, when all of a sudden, the objective of his search had appeared. His hand reached out, hesitatingly, wondering if he was worth taking it, but he didn't make it. His legs gave out all of a sudden, and Ash fell to his knees for a single moment.

    "I…can't do it…" he breathed out. No one was there to listen, but he continued to speak. "I can't reach my dream with this. I…I want to be a Pokémon Master, but I don't know why! I don't know what it is! I don't know how completing this trial can help me! Why am I even here? ! What am I doing? ! But…there has to be an answer, right? I have to have done something the right way, right?"

    The cold canyon walls offered no response to his questions that were searching deep inside of himself, causing him to despair. No, he couldn't let it! Ash stood shakily, putting one foot in front of the other, determined to grab the crystal, reunite with his Pokémon, and then his friends. The growling sounded once more, closer than ever before. A pause entered into Ash's steps; how could his growling stomach move closer? Unless…

    Ash's head snapped upward, and just in time. He jumped back as something slammed into the space between himself and the pedestal that was there. Dust was stirred all around it and chunks of stone flew off into the walls. The whole area trembled and shook, ruffling Ash's hair and sending his hat flying into his backpack. His body tensed as he waited, watching until the dust cleared at last.

    "Kommohhhhh…" the Totem Pokémon growled out, for it was obvious that that was what it was. Larger in stature than his own Kommo-o, the Totem Pokémon towered over him like an ominous force that was standing in his way, barring all access, it's orange pulsing aura feeling all too palpable in the air around them. Ash could hear its shuddering breath, and could feel his own body shaking. It was a mountain; a source of strength so huge that it barred the path in more ways than one. The Totem Pokémon raised its hand silently, beckoning him to step forth and fight.

    Ash wasn't sure what to do. He had nothing to fight with. No Pokémon were by his side, after all. Yet, staring the creature deep into its eyes, he could see that he had absolutely no choice. The Totem Pokémon would not take no for an answer. It was here to test him, or crush him…he wasn't sure which. Knowing this, Ash raised his fists up, prepared to fight as best as he could. "Let's do this…"

    "Kom," the Totem Pokémon growled. Ash sprinted forward as the creature's arms glowed white hot. It punched at Ash, but he ducked and jabbed for its side, remembering the training he had received from Kahili about both himself and Kommo-o. The fist impacted with the creature's scales and sent pain rippling through his entire arm as he screamed. The Pokémon's fist came screaming out, punching Ash in his stomach. He could have sworn he felt a rib break as he was tossed into the air forcefully.

    "N-no…" Ash gasped out as he hit the ground, rolling along it painfully. Something was definitely broken, but he couldn't be sure what. He pushed up on the ground as the Totem stalked forward, silently and slowly. Ash kicked his leg out, hoping to unbalance the enemy before him. It did nothing, though, merely getting trapped against his opponent's leg. The Totem refused to budge. Its tail swung out now, glowing green as it slammed across his entire figure and threw him back right before another glowing fist punched him clear across the area. Ash gagged. He couldn't fight this. Not without them. It was too strong. His vision was fading.

    Why did it want to fight him? Why was he feeling such pain? What was it all for? His vision sparked and he looked at the Totem, its eyes blank. Of course…you're testing me…you're…

    Ash hit the water once more, spiraling through, something connecting to his finger yet again. Yet when his eyes snapped open, it wasn't gold…but blue. A blue ribbon…

    "Pikapi!" Ash heard Pikachu's voice, and he twisted around. There was no flash of lightning this time. He didn't see any of that. Just two figures, cloaked in sunlight as a rainbow passed overhead. They just stared at each other, accepting one another. Understanding one another. Ash's eyes widened. Had that been it, all along? He raised his hand out, and bubbles appeared to form in front of him, each containing a memory inside.

    He battled Gary, and they put the pill that had turned their friendship bitter to rest. He'd battled alongside Charizard and had come to earn his respect. He had battled Paul, finally settled the divide between them. Clemont, Sawyer, Seamus, Alain…All of them were those he battled. Those he'd come to understand. How Sawyer had looked up to him. How different Paul was, yet how similar. How Alain strode after strength to protect the ones that mattered.

    And then, there was Jangmo-o, the thought of the Totem he had just been facing bubbling up. That single memory became so sharp. How he had fought Jangmo-o, and came to understand him. His fears. His strength. His foibles. His pain. Just from battling, he could understand that other Pokémon, and then, in time, help him pull out his highest potential. It wasn't even about being there every day, but from the battle alone…understanding and bringing out that greatest strength. It was finally all so obvious to him, just because of that one day; the day it all began.

    "Pikachu!" Ash cried, tears falling from his eyes without thinking. He began to run forward, feet treading against the endless water as he tried to reach him. It had all begun that very day. He understood Pikachu because he had fought and argued with him, and then alongside him. From that moment, they moved together. It wasn't about winning or losing or anything else, but about the journey before him. He wanted to understand. He wanted to help them grow. "Pikachu!"

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu cried out in the vision and Ash could see clearer. Someone was holding on to him, wearing a smile on her face. It was one that was encouraging, and not the cold disdain it had held before. Serena! Around her were so many others. All the people he had met on his journey. Those he had influenced and had been influenced by in turn. Professor Oak's words from his birthday party came back to him: "if you hadn't done so much and met so many people, why, I don't think there'd be much of a party".

    It all made sense! He was himself! He didn't need to be anything different! Maybe he was nothing; maybe he was still that very same boy that had left Pallet Town so long ago, but that didn't matter in the slightest; it was himself that had drawn so many others to him, had allowed him to understand and change so many lives. Nothing anyone else said mattered at all, because, in that moment, he knew that was his very dream. The answer had always been there! I'm battling because I want to get to know people and Pokémon…I want to have fun with them, know their pain, their happiness…everything! I want to help them all grow, until they've filled me so much that I burst into their lives!

    All too suddenly, that very same meaning flooded him elsewhere. The trials all made sense. How he had come to understand a natural order of things. The power of teamwork. The difference in opposing sides. How even if battle was a way to understand Pokémon, it wasn't the only way. Even how places long since abandoned could be a place for Pokémon of all kind! The trials had led him there! They had led him to understanding the Pokémon that were there, and understanding the captains that knew this! The trials, with this one realization, finally had meaning.

    Ash gasped loudly, now reaching his hand forward for Pikachu and Serena, tied to them by that blue ribbon. All of the others, the forms of his other friends, companions and Pokémon alike, moved in towards him, but instead of feeling like he was suffocating, he was enveloped in their warmth and their light. They were all laying a hand on him, especially those that mattered the most. Finally, he could achieve solace from all of them, their expectations and what they made of him being an encouragement rather than a chain, because he knew who he was, all on his own. He embraced them, taking them and their essence into him like little orbs of light.

    That was what it meant to be a Pokémon Master.

    It wasn't about winning every battle, or even winning a League and becoming a Champion. That was just a stepping stone to battle others higher above, one he would complete regardless, just to understand more about them in every single way. Grow closer to them and their Pokémon. Protect all of them. Bring out the very best in them. Move towards the future. He could feel it and know. In some way, he already was a Pokémon Master, but couldn't have been until he understood that very point. Now, he did. That was his dream. And finally, at long last, he knew what it was, how to obtain it, because he could with every single step forward from here on.

    He understood himself most of all.

    Another gasp exuded from his lips as Ash suddenly flung himself out of the water. His body was still aching, broken in places, but he nevertheless trudged out, sopping wet yet feeling warmth instead of a chill. He was breathing heavily, but wearing a smile on his face. He looked up to the Totem Pokémon, still standing there like a giant mountain, and continued to smile as it breathed down upon him. Then, without warning, Ash dropped to his knees, but not out of despair.

    "He's right," Ash said aloud, hoping that the Totem could hear him clearly and understand. "I am nothing; nothing more than me, just like I've always been."

    "Kommo…" the Totem growled out, observing him just a moment longer as Ash finally brought himself to stand shakily before the creature.

    "I am me," he said confidently, raising a fist as he did so. "I'm Ash. And Ash is…Ash. Nothing more, and nothing less. And that's okay."

    "Moh…" it growled again, and it finally seemed to raise its fist, like it was prepared to land the killing blow. Ash just stood there, not even looking up at it, but retaining his smile. Finally, he threw his head up and shouted.

    "My name is Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town! I am a Pokémon Master!" he screamed. The Totem hesitated, allowing Ash to say the only thing he needed to say. "I'm a Pokémon Master, because I understand who I am! And…because I can understand…you

    "So, come at me! I'll understand everything about you and never lose my way! That's my dream and my source of strength! Let's go!"

    "Kommo!"

    "Chuuuuuuuuuu!" The Thunderbolt ripped through the air, searing forth and impacting with the creature that was about to hit him. Its body convulsed, stepping back with mighty shudders. Ash turned in the direction of the lightning, tears flinging away from his eyes with a smile. He didn't need to look to know, yet seeing them there lightened his heart and confirmed everything he had realized in his mind. They wouldn't have been there otherwise.

    "Everyone!" Ash cried out at the sight of his Pokémon all standing there, looking ready for a round of battle.

    "Kooroo!" Decidueye called, already forming his ghostly arrow, ready for the battle ahead. Toucannon was atop his head, spreading her wings wide.

    "Lycrrr!" Lycanroc growled, pawing at the ground with ferocity. Next to her were Passimian and Kommo-o, both showing no fear, acknowledging each other with nods. Landing in front of them was Pikachu, wearing a grin on his face as the Totem Pokémon recovered.

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu cried out, running forward to meet him. Ash caught him in his arms as all of his other Pokémon returned to his side, nearly jumping upon him in a whole group. He laughed, gripping them all with him. Pikachu, in particular, nuzzled against him.

    "I'm sorry, you guys. You must have been worried," he said calmly, quietly. None of them responded with any trepidation, though they did get off of him in order to face the Totem, who was quickly gaining its second wind. Its scales were falling away, though, like it was some ancient creature that would break at a touch. "I lost myself, you guys, and it must have worried you, but there's nothing to worry about now!"

    "Pichu!" Pikachu agreed, pumping his fist. Ash felt a heat around his Z-Ring, watching it shine with a bright golden glow, like his feelings had started manifesting themselves into that very spot. Ash grinned. His Pokémon had stuck by his side because he understood them, and because they understood him…and they'd move forward together to understand others. That was his strength and his self and his dream and everything that mattered.

    "Then, will you all fight with me, one more time?" He didn't need to hear their exuberant cries to know their answers. Ash stepped back a moment, noticing his hat upon the ground, but Pikachu got there first, picking it up with his head where it fit snugly. He laughed.

    "KOMMO!" the Totem Pokémon roared out, its body glowing red as it prepared to strike them all down. Wind blasted through the area, but Ash grinned. He knew its purpose there and what it was fighting for, and he wouldn't back down. He swung his arm out, the glowing Z-Ring with it.

    "Let's go! Decidueye, lock it in place with Spirit Shackle!" Ash called out, clasping a fist. Decidueye was on the move, vanishing into the shadows as it fired out an arrow from within. The object circled around the Totem and ghostly chains appeared, like it was locking in place. "Kommo-o, Passimian, hit it with Close Combat and Poison Jab!"

    "Passi!" Passimian cried, rushing forward at the same speed as Kommo-o for the two to reach their target. Their fists flew out in a blinding flurry, striking at the Totem's exposed midsection and pummeling it mercilessly. The creature's arms glowed brightly and came swinging downward.

    "Block it! Toucannon, Feather Dance and Beak Blast! Lycanroc, get close with Accelerock and then use Thunder Fang!" His other two Pokémon quickly joined the fray. Both Passimian and Kommo-o crossed their arms to block the burdening blow from the Totem. Feathers fell around the creature and its knees seemed to sink lower. Lycanroc was dashing forward with incredible speed, straight around to its back, where she slammed into it. Then her maw opened wide, charging up with electricity that chomped on to its jangling tail. Toucannon struck, slamming into the Totem's head and causing an explosion. "Now, Pikachu! Iron Tail!"

    "Chuuuu pika!" Pikachu cried, leaping forward, with his hat still upon his head. He spun around and swiped upward with his glowing tail towards the creature's jaw, causing the Totem to snap back. Lycanroc's own sparks joined in, sending a sensation of paralysis up its spine as it began to whip the creature around. Soon, the others all joined in, Passimian and Kommo-o using their arms while Decidueye and Toucannon grabbed the tail by the talons and began to swing it around mercilessly while it cried out. His Z-Ring was white hot now as Pikachu skidded to his side.

    "Pikachu," Ash said to his most trusted partner, looking back at him, "thanks for sticking by my side all these years. We're a great team, you know? And no matter what, we're going to battle lots more trainers and Pokémon, so that we can get to know all of them and see everything there is to life and share just a little bit of us with them, the same way you've shared with me!"

    "Pika pika!" Pikachu agreed. The light from Ash's Z-Ring burst now and he saw the Electrium-Z on the surface suddenly begin to mutate and change form. It felt like it was whispering to him, and Ash brought his wrists up, crossing them.

    "Because we're the best partners, and we've been Pokémon Masters from the day we met each other! We just couldn't have truly been that until we figured it all out like now. Let's win more battles, so that we know more! Together!" Ash proclaimed. The burden and question on his soul had lifted as he brought his fists out. Pikachu leapt upward and they slammed their fists against one another before Pikachu slapped his tail around on his palm. His best friend landed and they punched forward. The light from the Z-Ring encapsulated Pikachu with even more power than before. His other Pokémon finally heaved the Totem, sending it flying into the air as Pikachu leapt upward, supported by the Z-Power. "TEN MILLION VOLT THUNDERBOLT!"

    Pikachu was surrounded by electricity, more stunning than any before. It encapsulated his body, made the air rumble with thunder and lightning despite no storms overhead. Pikachu was in direct command of this space, all of the sparks in the air now belonged to him. "Pi-ka-ka-ka…Pika pika!"

    It was a brilliant light. The voltage from Pikachu blasted outward in numerous streams and lightning bolts. They were all different colors, but all of them were hurtling for the exact same target: the Totem. They streaked through the air like a rainbow, almost like the one made from Ho-oh that Ash and he had seen on their very first day together. It made so much sense, especially as the orbs and bolts impacted with their opponent. For a second, all was silent, and then the lightning ripped through the air, shaking the very canyon itself and eroding a piece of wall that was there. It stretched to the sky in a brilliant rainbow color that seemed to almost split the heavens, the surge rather palpable in the air, itself.

    Then it ended, and Pikachu fell back down, caught in Ash's arms. He took his hat from his beloved Pokémon and placed it on his head while the Totem fell down. In seconds, it slammed upon the ground, though the shuddering wasn't nearly as much as what Pikachu had just caused. Ash looked to his Z-Ring, noticing how different the crystal looked now before it disappeared inside.

    "Lyca!" Lycanroc barked out suddenly, padding forward to grab Ash's attention. He looked towards his gathered Pokémon, but then followed their gazes to the sight of the Totem, collapsed on the ground. Its very body was fading away into dust, almost like it was nothing more than an ancient incarnation. Once the dust faded, all it left behind was a blue glow that was its Z-Crystal, seemingly removed from its pedestal, and a scale that was shaped like a wedge for the Trial Amulet. Ash stepped forward, and in seconds was bending down to get it as light broke over the top of the canyon walls.

    Then he smiled, peace settling in his mind and heart, at last.

    The sun had risen. A new day had begun.


    Author's Note: So, this chapter…this is everything I've been building towards for Ash's character for 60 chapters. Personally, I feel it's my best work if we're looking chapter-wise, and I hope that you'll all see it the same way. In case it doesn't make sense, though I think it does: Ash finally recognized that he was, in some way, nothing. His accomplishments didn't matter in the end, because he was still the same person that set off from Pallet Town. If you take away everyone else's expectations, and how they changed, that's who he was. From there, he also realized that he never changed in what he wanted: to be friends with Pokémon and battle lots of trainers. This is the core of his dream, by my estimation. Winning a League facilitates him to get to know others better, but what he really wants to do is battle and understand those he battles, and by doing that, it makes him a Pokémon Master, because he can give and receive in equal measure to all those who come in contact with him. However, he truly couldn't be a Pokémon Master so long as he didn't understand this about himself. The whole idea, of course, was that the answer was there the whole time; Ash just had to find it. I hope it all works for you, despite it simply being my interpretation, because this was building for me the whole time…

    Otherwise, we had a big moment with Clemont here, in his confrontation with Plumeria. I rather liked writing that as well, particularly after what Clemont has been struggling with. I don't know, it just felt great to write, especially with what happened to Ash. In other words: this was the culmination. Every one of the heroes has changed and realized their issues, moving past them officially. They've found who they are. I hope you all loved and enjoyed it.

    We're soon to enter some of the final phases of the journey, but there're still quite a few things left to go through, including the battle at the Altar of the Sunne! So, until next time, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    No, I will not talk about the recent news…mostly because my opinion is quite plain over Twitter. Instead, let's focus on the realization that the last 9 chapters all took place in 24 hours. On to Chapter 10!


    Chapter 10

    A Recovery

    A guttural scream tore from Plumeria's throat, and Clemont was barely able to lean back, away from her fierce uppercut. Unfortunately, the strike made him lose his balance and he began to fall down the stairs, caught by Bonnie and Squishy holding him up (with Rotom attempting to for all of a second, but failing). He grinned at them with some exertion as his sister tried to push him up carefully. Hau bounded forward, throwing his hand out to grab ahold of Clemont's hands. He then pulled him further upwards, but the clear distraction from the chaos that was going on around them was enough for Plumeria.

    "Crobat, Air Cutter!" she snapped, flipping her legs straight up into the air. This woman just doesn't give up, does she? Clemont found himself thinking. Blades of air came cutting through the surroundings, revealing that Crobat had been flapping high up above and now descended. Those blades cut straight through the string binding the Skull admin, freeing Plumeria's legs. Lillie stood on the steps, mind clearly wavering between helping with Plumeria or continuing on a mad dash to the top of the altar. She decided fairly quickly.

    "Komala, use Wood Hammer," she commanded. Like always, Komala detached from Lillie's arm, swinging his green glowing chunk of wood around to slam Plumeria in the back and send her tumbling back down the stairs. "Sorry, but I can't let you stop us."

    "You go, Lillie!" Hau cheered, pumping his fist, though his eyes were shifting downward, showing where his mind was truly focusing. Clemont finally regained his balance in time for Plumeria to tumble down at his feet. Behind him, Bonnie had dug into her bag, taking out the Sun Flute. Clemont felt like they were encapsulated in that little space for a moment, despite everything going on around them. He briefly looked back to see Serena flipping to the side, her skirt flaring out while Braixen whacked a grunt on the head with her wand and Greninja dashed through with his white blades. Gladion also seemed to be involved, gripping his Z-Ring, which was changing colors alongside Silvally. It was something the inventor cataloged for later.

    "Lillie, go!" Bonnie screamed. Clemont barely stepped out of the way, in time for his sister to take the object in her hands and toss it right for Lillie. He had to admit that she had a pretty great amount of arm strength. Plumeria groaned and pushed up, making a lunge for the twirling Sun Flute. She also had an insurance policy.

    "Crobat, grab it!" she shouted as she dove for the object. Clemont grit his teeth and moved forward, patting Luxray. It was going to hurt, he knew, but Plumeria was being beyond persistent. The Gleam Eyes Pokémon sparked all over his body and blasted forward, knocking into Plumeria and sending the Team Skull admin off the side of the stairs where she was forced to grip the edge with both hands, slowly pulling herself back up.

    "Vikavolt, go! Take Crobat down!" Clemont yelled out. Like a sudden shot that appeared to be little more than a flash of shadow, Vikavolt was in front of Crobat, tangling with the poisonous flyer. They grappled in midair. The Sun Flute finished spiraling and Lillie reached out for it, clasping with her hands and pulling it tight.

    "On it! Komala," Lillie cried, beginning to dash up the stairs carefully. Plumeria finally pulled herself up, flipping with more alacrity than Clemont had expected. She dove for Lillie, but her hands barely managed to rake through the blonde's hair, pulling at the tie on her ponytail. Clemont dove now, locking himself around Plumeria's ankles.

    "You need to stop this, right now!" Clemont roared at her. She didn't listen, tossing a punch at him, but that was caught by Hau, who sent all three of them rolling to the sides and nearly falling off the stairs again. "Bonnie, go with Lillie! We have no idea how long she'll need to be unprotected, so protect her!"

    "I'm on it, big brother!" Bonnie said, quickly placing herself on top of Squishy, who gave a single bark and bounded up the stairs in great leaps. Rotom immediately zipped after her with a light "Aye, aye, Captain Clemont!".

    "Why do you little brats have to keep getting in our way? !" Plumeria snapped angrily. Her free hand snapped out, battering both Clemont and Hau's cheeks, forcing them off of her. Yet again, she flipped up, and Clemont had to wonder whether or not she had been someone that once aspired to the position of the Ali'i ka Leilani. She certainly showcased the movements. It was only a brief moment of consideration, though. His mind first returned to the battle.

    "Because you're being selfish. I already told you, Plumeria," Clemont said, shifting his body to the side in order to prevent Plumeria's advance up the stairs. He'd throw them all off if that was what it took to settle this fight once and for all. "You're not going to find your perfect world on the other side."

    "Yeah," Hau agreed emphatically. "Your boss might like you, but I don't think Lusamine does. She just cares about herself, from the way she's treated someone as nice as Lillie."

    "Like you-"

    "Grow up!" Clemont yelled. He was done with this. For her being older than him, she was certainly more childish than even Bonnie could be, believing in her selfish ideal without considering the consequences or who she was really doing it for. His fist snapped out, nailing Plumeria on the side of the face. She fell backwards, hitting the stairs away from the edge and beginning to roll downwards, towards the bottom. Clemont looked to Hau and the two began to give chase. There was no doubt she'd get back up if they gave her the chance to. Sure enough, before they'd even reached the bottom, Plumeria had used her hand to stop herself from rolling and was getting back on her feet once again.

    That was when Clemont finally broke out of the insular world that the stairs had put them into. Plumeria's order had not gone unheeded. The Skull grunts were all rapidly closing in on the stairs, some of them stepping on to its base, only to be yanked back by Lionel's Banette with an eerie grin on its face. The only positive about the sea of grunts, was that all of Clemont's friends were there, too. Kahili had cut an entire swath around her, while Hapu and the other woman from earlier stood back to back as Mudsdale kicked powerfully into the mess, ending with an explosion of pollen all around. Even Team Rocket was destroying the competition, with Crabrawler riding a spinning Bewear as he fired off Bubblebeams and Paybacks in turn.

    Clemont's quarry, however, was Plumeria, who was making another bid for the side of the stairway without a shred of remorse. He looked to Hau, who was busy staring off into the crowd at the site of Pipi and his Incineroar cutting through other large groups of enemies together. The boy quickly noticed him looking and grinned, clapping his hands together.

    "Incineroar, Pipi! I need you guys up here!" he yelled out jubilantly, despite the intense battle going on around them. Though, Clemont did note the slight edge to his voice. In any case, the sun was almost up now, leaving their window horribly short at that moment. However, Clemont decided to ignore it for the time being to focus in on Plumeria. A sudden Flamethrower made of powerful blue flames slammed into the crowd of Skull grunts, making sure to avoid any friendly individuals. Clemont took that as a chance to strike.

    "Luxray, block her with Swift!" Clemont called, His Pokémon whipped around, sending the golden stars colliding right with Plumeria's path. It allowed Clemont just enough time to reach her and tackle her. She punched up in seconds, but he turned his head, allowing her to only slam into his cheek. He grabbed downward, suddenly grappling with her hands as they began to roll. The loud roar of two separate Charizard pierced the air, and Clemont felt a little embarrassed; it was possible Korrina would see him in this state, if what he guessed was true. Either way, he and Plumeria were on a rolling collision course, yet again, for the bottom of the stairs.

    They had barely hit the bottom, the dust pluming around them and surrounded by the mess of Skull grunts, when the entire canyon felt as though it were shaking. Clemont sat up, practically straddling the admin as the whole entire place was sent off kilter.

    "Yo! What's this, bro?" asked one of the Skull thugs, indicating that they had no idea what was going on either.

    "Maybe it has to do with that black Charizard, yo. Totally unfair bringin' somethin' like this to a street fight," said another one. Clemont shook his head, especially when the grunts in question were suddenly knocked aside unceremoniously by Silvally, flying halfway across the open space. The creature took a moment to breath, seeming strained, but Clemont took that and the shaking of the canyon to his advantage.

    "Now, Hau!"

    "Incineroar, knock her out!" the bright boy ordered of his Pokémon. Plumeria's eyes grew wide, and Clemont stood, stumbling backwards amidst the trembling. He was caught by Gladion, who nodded wordlessly, as Incineroar ignored the shaky ground and simply punched Plumeria across the face. It wasn't nice, but it got the job done as she fell and collapsed on the ground. "Well, there's one thing done! Rest should be easy!"

    "How…optimistic of you," Gladion said with a sense of almost disdain (or so Clemont felt it would be if they weren't all on the same side together). Either way, Clemont was shaking his head, wondering what all the trembling was from. In the time it took him to clear that, Serena, Team Rocket and Lionel had approached, while Kahili and the others seemed relatively pinned down by the glut of foes that were encroaching on them.

    "Optimistic or not, we need to get to that altar," Lionel snapped. "Serena, you have the Moon Flute, right?"

    "Yeah…we have a problem with that," Serena chuckled out, but she didn't have the time to explain what it was. One of the grunts suddenly leapt forward, a Yungoos snapping its teeth angrily on her shoulder.

    "Yo! Don't turn yo back on someone when yer battlin' them!"

    "Frenzy Plant!" A sudden plant erupted from the ground, slamming into the enemy and knocking them and plenty of those surrounding the group away. Clemont looked around for the source of the voice and saw Sawyer landing carefully from off the back of his Salamence. Landing right next to him was Alain. In fact, lots of people were dropping into the battlefield in the first place. Clemont could see Champion Steven and Gary; even Cynthia was fast approaching, with her Garchomp flying alongside the flirting Professor Sycamore. Everyone was really here. "Sorry we're all a little late, but the League just got the signal from the Aether Foundation."

    "You still got here fast…whoever you are," Gladion said, passing his eyes along all of their old friends. It was really remarkable the extent to which the League had managed to get people here. Their chance for a preemptive strike was truly possible, after all.

    "Serena!" called the voice of Mairin, who ran over to join the person she was calling to, slipping her arms in a hug around her. There were still the sounds of battle all around, but it appeared that the arrival of reinforcements had dulled the battle, at least for the time being. Clemont flicked his eyes upward, his eyebrows raising. Bonnie and Lillie seemed to almost be at the top of the altar (which, with a gulp, he realized was a very long way up, now that he thought about it), while all around, more reinforcements were falling from the sky.

    "Mairin, you're looking well! A little taller, too, it seems!" Serena exclaimed happily, taking the girl's hands and briefly separating themselves from one another. Clemont continued to watch the sky as more and more familiar faces fell from ropes that draped down the helicopters. In particular, he noticed Dawn and Piplup along with Brock and May sliding right on down. Then there was the quartet floating in midair with a blue glow as an even brighter one consumed the Alakazam controlling them.

    "Catch up later, twerpette! Don't we have somewhere to be if we want to stop these idiots from destroying the world and that whole thingamajig?" Jessie asked, pointing with her thumb, up towards the altar. Clemont had to admit that Jessie had a very strong point, especially as Luxray nuzzled against his side.

    "He's right. We'll all talk later, when this is over. Give the others our regards!" Serena yelled out, throwing a hand up, just as Braixen cried out. That cry was the signal for them to get moving, mostly because the enemies around them were closing in again.

    "Gourgeist, Leech Seed!" Jessie yelled, flicking her hair a little. Gourgeist reared back and spat the seeds out, trapping those new, jumping Skull members in the gnarled plants. Naturally, Jessie cackled maniacally.

    "Yo, we totally got beat by a giant pumpkin…"

    "Not…cool…bro…" Clemont shook his head and decided to walk forward, not letting any fatigue from the day slow him down in the slightest. They had a task to do, and right now it meant reaching Lillie and Bonnie.

    "Everyone, let's go!" he called, waving them over. Lionel nodded, though he didn't move from his spot, as though that meant he planned on staying behind in order to hold back the tide of their enemy. Clemont accepted that just fine, his gaze swiveling over to Sawyer and Alain, both of whom nodded. For a brief second, he was surprised at how roughly similar Sawyer and Hau looked next to each other, but since neither gave the appearance of knowing each other, he laughed it off.

    "We'll provide backup," Alain said, placing a hand on his Charizard, who roared loudly. Its call was responded to by another Charizard, which Clemont took to mean that Kiawe and some of the captains had probably arrived, as well, but he couldn't be entirely sure. All he had to do was accept that they were all here to help, and they had their ultimate job to do. "Mairin, are you ready?"

    "Ready as ever, Alain!" Mairin cheered. Chespie also seemed ready for action, flexing almost unnecessarily. Clemont looked back to Serena, who nodded. Greninja rushed forward, almost like he was imbued with extra energy to move forward. Some of the grunts were standing in his path, but then they weren't, blasted apart by the toss of his liquid shuriken.

    "Well, let's get moving, old chums!" James cried out. Jessie was already ahead of him, placing her feet on the stairs as she ran forward like usual, as the leader. James, Meowth and Wobbuffet were right behind her, while Clemont, Hau, Serena, and Gladion took up the rear, making note of any of their enemies that would try approaching them. All of their Pokémon were at their side, preparing for any more of the fight that was ahead. Clemont glanced up, hoping to catch a sight of Vikavolt, but seeing only specks as he dueled with Crobat and fired a Charge Beam somewhere in the distance.

    That alone made it obvious that there would be more of a fight, especially because Team Skull was now going airborne, it seemed. Quite the amount that had yet to have been defeated were rising now, aiming for the altar with all speed, carried by Golbat. Worse than that…they sounded like they were rapping about it, which drew Clemont's face into one of utmost revulsion.

    "Yo, we're Team Skull, we're the baddest around, and now we ain't even limited to the ground!" they were calling out. Clemont's face now started to twitch from the sound of it. If Team Skull could kill someone with sound alone, this would be the way for them to do it. "We got Golbat, Zubat and Rattata, too! You mess wit' us, we make you some foos!"

    "Please make dem stop…I taut nails on chalkboard was bad!" Meowth complained loudly.

    "Wobba…Wobbuffet!" Wobbuffet clearly agreed. Clemont was forced to agree as well, simply from how utterly wrenching the sound of them rapping was. Team Skull may have had some modicum of skills…somewhere…but a career in the music industry was not one of them. Clemont shook his head yet again, attempting to shake the horrible rapping from his ears as he and the others continued to run forward, avoiding crumbled areas of the stairs.

    Light burst over the horizon, illuminating the very tip of the construct at the top in brilliant hues of red and gold. It really made it seem the ancient and majestic structure that the Altar of the Sunne truly was. To Clemont, it was also a sign of their very impending deadline. They had to hurry. Knowing that, Clemont pushed his body, forcing himself to not give into poor cardiovascular fitness and push onward, right up the stairs with Serena and Gladion next to him.

    "Yo! Golbat, use yo Air Cutter!" A gaggle of the Skull grunts at the side were pointing forward, making their weird hand gestures, even in midair. The Golbat that were holding them beat their wings mercilessly, sending out the opaque blades of air for the proceeding group.

    "Braixen, Psyshock!" Serena shouted, almost placing her hands on the steps. Braixen swiped her claws out as she backed up against Greninja. Both attacked at the same time, one sending out purple streaks of light that slammed into the Golbat, while the other tossed the liquid blades forward. Like that, the Pokémon holding up some of Team Skull lost their strength and let go of the trainers. Clemont would have grimaced at the group of them falling, but chose to not worry about it. Even if they were screaming in a high-pitched manner, he was certain they would be fine thanks to all their comrades below. Right now, he had to deal with the comrades above.

    "Yo! You can't be hurtin' our bros and Big Sis that way! Ariados, use Poison Sting!" one of the grunts yelled. The large spider emerged from a pokeball, dropping right in between Team Rocket, Hau and themselves.

    "Keep going, idiots," Gladion snapped at the trio of bumbling thieves. They shared a look, and soon saluted randomly. Hau just shrugged with a little grin and ran on, clearly eager to reunite with Lillie and Bonnie at the top. Clemont continued facing forward with Luxray at his side as the Ariados that had dropped seemed to have surrounded all of them. "Silvally, Multi-Attack!"

    "Huurrrrah!" Silvally roared. Its claws glowed a multitude of colors, constantly shifting until it decided on the color that matched its current red body and the glow from Gladion's Z-Ring. Then, it ran forward and began swiping aside with them, flames seeming to appear. The Pokémon's strength was more than aptly demonstrated from the attack, large swaths of Ariados being pushed aside as though they were nothing. Clemont looked to Serena, who also seemed to be acknowledging the strength of Ash's rival. They weren't going to stand around and do nothing, though.

    "Luxray, Thunder Fang!" Clemont commanded, throwing his hand forward. Luxray charged forward into the same mess as Silvally, fangs charged up with lightning before it sunk down onto a group of Ariados. Braixen and Greninja, meanwhile, were cutting into the group behind them. At the same time, the Golbat holding their opponents airborne were also moving into action. The Air Cutter sliced through the air, aiming right for the trainers and their exposed bodies.

    "No, you don't!" Clemont snapped his gaze upwards in time to see a slew of Aura Spheres come flying through the air, knocking into the Golbat and driving them wildly off course. He didn't need to see in order to know just who had managed to do that, though it became remarkably obvious when he saw a rope descending from one of the helicopters. Seconds later, a Lucario dropped, clearly in a Mega Evolved form.

    "Korrina, I didn't expect you to come to Alola," Clemont remarked, hiding the slight lie with his little grin, before his girlfriend could actually appear. Serena flashed a smile, though Gladion appeared to not really care, ordering a Crush Claw from Silvally. Clemont turned his head to Luxray's electricity transferring from his fangs to his whole body as he began charging through the Ariados to cut a small path. They were really stuck in the thick of it, though. Especially since Clemont noticed some of the Ariados climbing up the sides of the stairs. When he turned back, he suddenly found his girlfriend's arms around him giddily.

    "Like I'd miss the chance to see you!" she said. He couldn't see her face fully, but that was fine with him as he quickly hugged her back. She got the message and pulled back, offering him a wink. Lucario's fist burned a bright orange and then slammed into some of the Ariados behind them, sending them flying. They were quickly replaced.

    "Th-that's nice, but doesn't the Shalour Gym need to be run?" Clemont asked in order to get himself out of any embarrassment at his girlfriend's actions. Serena waved to Korrina, who was momentarily distracted by it, but she soon turned her attention back to her boyfriend, hands on his shoulders.

    "They wanted a representative from the Kalos Gyms that wasn't you," Korrina pointed out. Clemont frowned; he'd never heard of anything like that before…Still, he shrugged regarding it, figuring that there was no point in complaining about her presence there. He had expected her to show up in the first place, anyway.

    "Well, either way, it's good to see you. We just don't have time right now," Clemont admitted to her. She took her hands off his shoulders and pumped her fists with enthusiasm.

    "Don't worry about a thing, Clemont!" she called out, pulling away and coming to stand close to Lucario with her usually giddy grin. "The League is here to support, and as a Gym Leader, that's exactly what I'm here to do! Lucario, Bone Rush!"

    Clemont had to shake his head at Korrina's unending energy. Sometimes he had to wonder if one day he'd be unable to keep up with her…but at the same time, he liked it that way. As if possessed by something, bolstered by confidence, he closed the distance, taking her into a hug and then briefly hesitating before putting his lips on hers. When he pulled away, he was blushing like crazy, as was she. Serena laughed at that, while Gladion was kicking at an Ariados that ensnared his leg. Lucario came in and beat the Pokémon away in order to free him. Then Clemont adjusted his glasses and faced forward. The Ariados that had been scuttling up the sides had now gathered to block their progression. He cracked his knuckles as Serena and Gladion joined to his side.

    "One more push to the top," he breathed. They nodded. Korrina was slapping her cheeks, recovering from his move with a grin. Lucario changed direction to launch behind into that mess of clustering enemies while Braixen and Greninja flanked them at their sides. "Let's do this!"

    "Silvally, Tri-Attack!" Gladion cried, placing a hand to his face. Silvally hunkered down, three rotating colors appearing, blue, red, and yellow. They fired out into the Ariados while Clemont and Serena commanded their own attacks. They struck home, blasting a small and narrow path aside for them to traverse. Needing no words, the three and their Pokémon dashed forward, though they soon found themselves being hemmed in by the forces around them.

    "Stone Edge, let's go!" It sounded like both a familiar and unfamiliar voice, but Clemont wasn't about to take the obvious support for granted. Stones flew forward, jagged in their edges, as they struck upon the Ariados. Some chunks of the ancient stairs also crumbled inward, but their own trio managed to skirt them. Clemont threw his gaze back, as did Serena, who happened to hesitate at the sight of the familiar purple-haired boy, standing atop a Torterra that had landed in the middle of the Ariados below.

    "P-Paul…" Serena gasped out. However, she was obviously able to realize it wasn't the same Paul that they had known from their battle with DARC, but the one that had battled with Ash what could have been a lifetime ago. This was only evident from the small spark of respect in his eyes.

    "Just go," he said brusquely. The three watched him a moment longer, and then seemed to decide to heed his advice. They dashed up the stairs once more, growing ever closer to the altar at the top. Up above, Clemont caught sight of Vikavolt once more, still tussling with Crobat before sending another Charge Beam at it. That happened to clip its wing, forcing Crobat to spiral downward without stopping. Vikavolt, as a result, whipped around to join back up with him.

    "I guess Ash really does influence a whole lot of people," Serena noted. Clemont could hear a slight sense of exhaustion in her voice, and it was starting to settle into him just how long they had all been going, as well. The sun was rising quicker now, leaving their window closing all the more. There was another soft glow, and Clemont noticed Serena's Z-Ring glowing, as was Gladion's. The closer they got to the top, the brighter it was. "I mean, there was a really clear difference with that Paul. I can't have ever imagined the other one helping anybody out with something like this for no clear personal gain."

    "Well, Ash is just that kind of person," Clemont laughed out, still keeping his eyes fixated on the rings. Gladion seemed to snort loudly at his statement.

    "He is…" was the breathed-out answer. "Speaking of, where is he anyway? We could really use his help right about now."

    "He'll be here. I'm sure of it," Serena said with conviction. It was clear she believed it and had faith in him with all her heart. Clemont decided to share in that faith as their feet made the final push for the top of the altar. In seconds, they had stepped upon it, each of their Pokémon racing for the sides, as if to protect it carefully. Clemont almost slumped, now really feeling the exhaustion as his hands fell to his knees from the strain. Once he'd taken a few breaths to get himself going again, he turned and looked out over the battle against Team Skull.

    With their reinforcements, things had most definitely turned in their favor, even if some of their enemies were attempting to still reach them. It was an encouraging sight. Now they just had the ultimate battle to take on. It was time to open the Ultra Space. Heaving in one more breath, Clemont stood and ran to where Serena and Gladion were approaching. Naturally, they weren't alone on top of the large structure. There appeared to be an ancient dais, emblazoned with the same symbol as that on the Sun Flute. Standing there were Team Rocket, Hau, Lillie and Bonnie (as well as Rotom, too). They had taken Nebby out, still in its inert form and placed it in between that dais and another, emblazoned with a moon-like sigil. Clemont stopped.

    "Your Z-Rings…they're glowing like crazy now," he observed. His scientific mind was already whirring with the possibilities.

    "Uh…mine isn't," Hau pointed out, lifting his wrist as well. Sure enough, his was the same as it always was. Team Rocket was blinking rapidly, looking swiftly between the three glowing rings that were clasped about Serena, Gladion and Lillie's hands. Clemont's hand flew to his chin, practically stroking it with interest and contemplation.

    "Do we really have time for this?" Bonnie asked, folding her arms impatiently. "I mean, the sun's almost in the sky completely, which means we'll lose our chance to open the Ultra Space, right?"

    "Bonnie's right," Lillie said, trying to pass off the issue. She gripped the Sun Flute tighter and held it out. "All we need to do is perform the ritual, I think, to restore Nebby's power with the flutes. You got the Moon Flute, right, Serena?"

    "About that," Serena noted, swinging her bag off and digging into it. As her bag dropped to the ground, she had pulled out an object that looked extraordinarily similar to the other flute, only blue, and snapped almost cleanly in half. Clemont practically lunged forward to take the object from Serena's hands. It felt warm to the touch, like a nighttime breeze during summer, and Clemont could almost swear it was glowing…almost the same glow as they were all currently seeing from the Z-Rings. Suddenly, he had to wonder if they were connected. "We found it like that on Exeggutor Island. Maybe it just broke naturally."

    "Or maybe it has to do with this 'other Cosmog' that Lillie saw," Gladion spat out. "Either way, this is a real issue. If we can't restore Cosmog's power, then we cannot enter the Ultra Space safely, and take down Guzma and Lusamine before the Day of Stars."

    "Well, there must be some way to fix it," James said, holding a finger up in the air. Clemont wanted to agree with him, but he had no knowledge of such a thing. He looked up towards Lillie, wondering if all her research could have led her there, but from the way she was biting her lip in worry, it was all too obvious that she had no idea. Nor did Bonnie or Squishy, and they had spent a month alongside Lionel.

    "If there is, we can't figure it out before dawn," Clemont stated, holding the flute gingerly in his hands. All of them deflated, looking disappointed, even Hau (although, he looked more contemplative than disappointed). Clemont's lips twisted a little, trying to figure out if there might be any way for him to help fix the problem at hand before their time was up. He looked around, seeing if there was some sort of clue about the area.

    Then he saw Nebby, lying there in its unresponsive state, glowing. In fact, now that he looked closer, Nebby was glowing with the same kind of light that eclipsed the Z-Rings, and seemed to be doing so for the flute in his and Lillie's hands. At this, he walked forward, looking right at Lillie before he reached his hands out and clasped hers. Lillie looked surprised, but let him take the Sun Flute, feeling its familiar warmth. His other hand touched to the Z-Ring and could likewise feel the same kind of energy. Releasing Lillie's hands, he bent down, touching them to Nebby. It was a slightly different energy, either because it was waning or because it was a receiver instead of a giver.

    "I think…we might have a shot," he finally said aloud, willing to put his hypothesis to the test. All eyes turned to him, desperate for that hope. He lifted the broken Moon Flute up a little. "I know it's all very unscientific of me, but I really do think that the flutes and the Z-Rings share the same power with Nebby. I can't really explain it or why; they're different, but the same. I think, too, that all of your Z-Rings are glowing because you received them from the Tapus."

    "That makes…kind of sense…" Gladion said, folding his arms as he seemed to be trying to figure things out. Team Rocket, especially Jessie, already looked lost.

    "Rotom cannot say for certain, but Rotom does detect an eighty percent chance that Clemont is correct," Rotom said in support of Clemont's theory. It also acted like it was nodding its head.

    Gladion thought a moment, and then produced his own query regarding the hypothesis. "But then, why haven't they glowed like this before? And what would it have to do with Cosmog?"

    "Nebby comes from the Ultra Space, right?" Lillie suggested, glancing down to their unresponsive friend. "Maybe it's possible, since the Ultra Space seems to absorb things, that it and the power of the Z-Rings and the Tapus are connected!"

    "That's my thinking exactly! This place obviously has a close connection with both Nebby and the Ultra Space; that's the reason for the barrier, and must explain why it's glowing within such close proximity. So, if we can combine the power of the four Tapus through all of your Z-Rings, then it's possible that we can do something to open the Ultra Space or restore Nebby. I can't be sure of how well it'll work though. We did decide that we needed the flutes for a reason."

    "I say try it, whether it works or not," Hau told them. He was tapping his own ring with a slightly bemused smile. "I mean, mine's not glowing, so Clemont's probably right. Nothing bad can really happen, right? If it fails, we're right back to where we started, and if it works, then heck yeah!"

    "Heck yeah!" Lillie said, though it sounded beyond strange coming from her lips. She and Hau met in a high five while Serena nodded positively.

    "Let's give it a shot, then! We'll join our Z-Rings together over Nebby and hopefully that all can do the trick," she said, holding her own brightly glowing ring out. Gladion was the only one that looked displeased with the notion. Rather, he looked more apprehensive. Thankfully, he decided to share his thought rather than keeping it to himself.

    "We need Ash, then." Clemont would have grimaced at the thought of where his best friend could possibly be in such a crisis, but his mind was prevented from doing so by the sharp outcry of Braixen. All of them turned around, their Pokémon bristling with the ferocity of battle. Hau ran forward, too, Pipi and Incineroar with him as a huge group of enemies arrived, flapping on the air. Clearly, some members of Team Skull were more than persistent in getting past their protectors. Especially Plumeria.

    "Aw man, don't you ever just stay down?" Hau asked, sounding just a little annoyed. Plumeria wasn't looking too good, nor did Crobat as it held her up. Either way, the forces that had reached the top of the altar didn't look ready to back down, which left their assault group with nowhere to run atop the space.

    "I would…ask the…same…" Plumeria gasped out. It was the clear sign of a woman who had been defeated, but in her madness and desperation to be with her boss, to "save" their family, was pushing herself beyond her limits. It would have been commendable, if it wasn't insane. "We can't…let you…have our…future reality…"

    "When will you learn, Plumeria?" Clemont shouted up at her, but she was done paying attention to him. Gladion stepped forth with a snarl upon his face.

    "Just stand down, already, Plumeria!" he snapped up at her. "There's no need for us to do this. Team Skull lost the moment reinforcements arrived. If you don't want to be caught in the-"

    "Attack them now! We can't let them get to the boss!" Plumeria yelled. She was beyond gone, twisted with a sense of loyalty to the man that had saved her without realizing how lost that man was, himself. They were all just being what everyone told them they were. Clemont turned to Vikavolt, ready to battle one last time despite the creeping exhaustion. Gladion likewise was gripping towards his Z-Ring.
    Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Yeah? Well, we'll get there! Because we have to! Greninja, full power, now!" Clemont turned to where Greninja was standing, and his eyes widened as water blasted forth in a towering torrent. It was a beacon for everyone there to see as that torrent moved inward, forming a giant shuriken. Serena's eyes shined with happiness, and Bonnie jumped up and down.

    "It's Ash-Greninja! Ash-Greninja!"

    "Denenene!"

    "Rotom is most pleased to see, Ash!"

    "Greninja, let's go! Use Water Shuriken!" They couldn't see him yet, but wherever he was, Greninja could feel him, grabbing ahold of his giant shuriken and tossing it forward. It traveled in a wide arc, one the Skull grunts didn't see coming. It slammed into them, knocking them from their flying steeds. "Go, Toucannon! Catch them before they drop!"

    "Toucah!" Toucannon cried out. That's when they saw him, blazing forth from above, Toucannon letting him go. Ash dropped, Pikachu on his shoulder and Decidueye on his side as he landed nimbly on the ground of the altar, some small distance away. He rolled forward into a crouch. Pikachu leapt off his shoulder, cheeks sparking dangerously.

    "Ash!" Lillie said with a blossoming smile. Clemont could practically feel the elation all around them, especially when he looked to see his best friend's Z-Ring glowing brightly. Then he looked to Plumeria, who looked a mixture between shocked, angry and altogether fearful. It wasn't hard to see why: Ash looked different. He still held the same confidence as always, but there was a clarity there, and a purpose that kept him driving forward.

    "Long time, no see, man!" Hau cheered, throwing his fists in the air. Even Team Rocket appeared to be crying from it, hugging each other with cheers of their own. Ash smiled at it, drawing back up to his full height. Decidueye landed next to Pikachu and Greninja, ready to take on the remaining forces around them. Serena, Clemont noticed, was staring at him with tears of happiness blooming in her eyes.

    "Sorry I'm late, everyone. Hope it didn't cause too many problems," he laughed out, rubbing the back of his head. Then his eyes grew stern as he stared at Plumeria a moment, facing her down. Her upper lip was twitching angrily from it. Once Ash seemed to have delivered his silent declaration, he looked to Clemont. "I could hear your idea on the way over, Clemont! Let's try it! Though…guess we should get rid of these guys first, huh?"

    "You won't get rid of us so easily!" Plumeria shrieked. Crobat began to dive, carrying her forward on a sudden attack. Ash snapped his head back to their opponents while Hau muttered something of being well aware they couldn't get rid of her so easily.

    "Decidueye, Spirit Shackle. Pikachu, Thunderbolt! Greninja, Water Shuriken!" Ash cried out. He reached behind his back as Greninja did so, and the two of them heaved the giant shuriken together, letting it fly furiously. Decidueye was on the move faster, flinging arrow after arrow at the now fleeing Skull grunts. Ash's arrival had turned the tide of battle once more in their favor.

    "Chuuuuuu!" Pikachu called out, sending a massive Thunderbolt into the air that sparked and caused some of the remaining Skull members to drop. Those that were left behind either couldn't move, or clustered around Plumeria fearfully.

    "Big Sis, what do we do? This guy's like major strong!"

    "I…We…" Plumeria had genuinely lost it now, the battle having turned far away from her favor. She was almost snarling. "Finish them! Finish them before they-!"

    "Sorry, but there's no way that's happening!" Ash called and his fists came up, the brightly glowing Z-Ring crossing over his other wrist. It was now tinged with a ghostly green as Decidueye began to glow powerfully. Then Ash made new hand movements that Clemont had never seen before, though Serena seemed to recognize them as he lifted up like a ghost. "Sinister Arrow Raid!"

    "Kooroo!" Decidueye called powerfully. He shot up into the air, circling around as the air around them grew dark, almost like a dark and spooky night. Plumeria's eyes widened even more, and the rest of her subordinates all looked appropriately freaked out. Decidueye spread his wings wide, and a large multitude of arrows appeared in the air. They circled around, floating of their own accord, and then they fired forward with a sweeping of Decidueye's wing, practically homing in on every single remaining grunt. Then Decidueye shot forward, right at Plumeria and ripped through Crobat.

    An explosion followed, causing Clemont's shirt to ripple and Serena to tamp down her skirt. There were some screams, though they were cut off by the sight of Toucannon swooping over to catch them and place them on the ground far below. Plumeria, however, flew forward, bouncing along the ground and then rolling until she'd landed at Ash's feet. Seconds later, Decidueye had returned like a vanishing specter, right at Ash's side. They instantly slapped wing to hand with a grin. Likewise, Greninja's form faded, no longer being needed for battle. Once all that happened, everyone looked down at the battered Plumeria. She was gripping at the ground, like she wanted to crawl forward, but lacked the strength to do so.

    She was crying as well, as though seeing some long sought after dream vanishing before her very eyes.

    "Ash," Serena said, being the first to step forward towards her boyfriend. Clemont wanted to have a proper reunion with him, too, but in the midst of everything, he knew that would have to wait for a little later. They were, however, able to lock eyes and nod at one another, both glad at their small reunion after a month of being away. "You look like you found it."

    "I did," Ash said, grinning at her. Clemont wasn't quite sure what they were talking about, but he had a fairly decent idea; Ash's eyes gave away everything that needed to be said. The raven-haired trainer looked down at Plumeria, the woman's usual aloof veneer completely broken. He seemed to want to say something, but decided against it for the moment. "Decidueye, watch her."

    "Koorai!" Decidueye said, lifting a wing in salute. His job became even easier with Toucannon returning to his side. Ash stepped away, over towards Nebby and Lillie. He wasn't alone, as all of them did the same, even those without Z-Rings on their wrists. Ash then took in a deep breath.

    "It's been a long time, huh?" he laughed out, as though they were catching up over tea, even if that wasn't the case. He dropped his arms, looking at all of them with his usual ecstatic grin. "We've all grown a lot. I can tell. So…let's complete the journey. Let's save Nebby as best as we can!"

    "Yeah! Yeah!" Bonnie cheered, herself almost looking like she had been crying her own tears of joy. Clemont didn't bring it up, choosing to save his sister's sense of stubborn pride. So, Ash stepped forward, throwing his ring out over the unconscious form of Nebby. Clemont continued to grip at the Moon Flute as he watched Lillie, Serena and Gladion also move forward.

    Their rings were even brighter than before, like having all four of those chosen by the Tapus, their "champions", made them suddenly more powerful. With a slight jolt, Clemont realized that it had to have been the first time in a very long time that the Tapus' Champions were all together in one place, sharing their power with one another. Each stuck their fists out, like they were going to fist bump or do something similar to that. They didn't, instead crossing their wrists right over one another on top of Nebby. From Lillie's hands, the Sun Flute dropped, caught by Bonnie.

    The light began to pulse powerfully around them, but nothing was happening quite yet, and Clemont had to wonder why. Surely his theory was strong enough for at least something to happen. The flute in his hands felt warm, and it was pulsing as well. Clemont nodded; it made complete sense. Perhaps they couldn't actually complete the ritual, but it was possible to at least do something to get it all started. He looked across to his sister on the other side.

    "Bonnie, play the Sun Flute," he said. She held no hesitation in doing so, and Clemont attempted to hold the Moon Flute together as he raised it to his lips. He blew into it, but no sound came out, utterly broken beyond belief. Yet when Bonnie blew into hers, it was a beautiful sound, a single, crisp, clear note that resounded around the entire altar. Squishy burbled, transforming back into his usual, small form and returning to Bonnie's bag, along with Rotom, who appeared to scream that it was blinded. Team Rocket held on to one another, and the light from the Z-Rings burst out.

    Clemont almost fell back, while Hau ended up doing exactly that, caught within his growling Incineroar's arms. Plumeria looked up from the ground as Decidueye loomed over her threateningly. It was no surprise that everyone was reacting. There was a large bubble suddenly forming around the stage, swirling with celestial and cosmic energy. Things like stars and galaxies appeared in the air, cutting those on the altar off from all other manner of reality. Clemont swallowed, and then he looked to Nebby, who was pulsing. Strangely, he seemed to be flickering between that inert, corporeal form and a larger, more ethereal form that looked like a lion.

    He also seemed to speak in a booming, loud voice that took every single one of them off guard.

    Lillie…Thank you…he spoke kindly. Lillie's eyes seemed to begin watering, while Ash and Serena stared in absolute awe at the aura of this majestic beast. I do not have much strength…not from this, but I do have enough to speak.

    "Nebby…is that really you…?" Lillie gasped out. The ethereal lion nodded its head, fading in and out. It was clear to Clemont that they had both succeeded and failed at the same time. His idea of the Z-Rings and the flutes sharing a common property had been correct, but there was no way they were making it into the Ultra Space. Not today, at least.

    It is, Nebby spoke kindly. I want to thank you, Ash and Serena for trying to help me. I love you very much! But…as I am now, I can't help you. I can't save you.

    "That's okay, Nebby," Ash spoke clearly. The lion briefly turned its head. "We're not asking you to save us. We wanted to help you."

    Yes, I'm aware. Yet with the threat from beyond, from the Dread Sovereign, I could not stand by. But my power is too little, half of it was stolen and locked away, Nebby told them. Clemont found it fascinating. Perhaps the little one (if the lion could even be deemed as little) didn't know every scrap of detail, particularly regarding the rings and the flute, but he seemed to know something. My counterpart is waiting. Only together can we offer safe passage. Lusamine, she took a most dangerous route, and I can only imagine the state of her mind now.

    "So, what you're saying is that we're on the right path, correct?" Serena asked simply. Nebby returned with a simple nod in return. They all breathed in some relief at that. "That's a start."

    I am sorry…I don't have much time now. My power, until my majesty is returned, I cannot hold it for long, Nebby said, sounding sad and crying over his lamentable state. Lillie looked like she wanted to reach forward and hug it, but couldn't, due to holding her position. Please, free me. Free me and our combined power, that of equal and opposite sides, will open the way for you.

    On the Day…free…her…

    Free…from the…one in black…


    Then just like that, the energy provided by the Z-Rings vanished. The cosmic swirling completely disappeared, leaving them all there, staring at the once more inert Nebby. The glow still remained on the Z-Rings, obviously still affected by the altar they were standing on. However, the form of the lion had completely vanished now, leaving behind nothing but air. As the sunlight returned to graze upon their skin, the sobering truth settled in: they had failed.

    Gladion kicked at the ground. "So, all this was for nothing."

    "Not nothing," Hau said, keeping up his cheerful attitude, as usual. Incineroar was doing the same, if sneaking glances at Decidueye, like he was measuring his rival. "Nebby told us, right: we gotta find a way to fix the flutes and save the other one. Then we can come back and win, then."

    "On the Day of Stars, maybe, but how much will that put others at risk?" Gladion demanded. Clemont stepped between them, putting a hand onto Gladion's shoulder with comfort.

    "If we all work together, we can prevent casualties, all of them. Nebby gave us a clue, something to work with. We just need a little more information about everything that's going on. Our preemptive strike may have failed, but we still have another chance."

    "Information…" Serena breathed out. Clemont slid his eyes over to her and realized she was thinking about something intently. He was almost certain that it regarded around her father, and with Clemont allowing his mind a chance to breathe, he could imagine how that would actually benefit them in the long run. Though, that kind of thought or discussion was best tabled until they were somewhere safe, like the Foundation. Or at least until they could hear their minds actually think over Plumeria's sudden sobbing.

    "The Ultra Space…isn't safe? Does that mean…? Is Guzma…?" Plumeria was sobbing out, almost choking upon her words as she did so. "Does that mean our world…our reality…is Guzma's mind going to leave him entirely?"

    No one could answer her, being so unaware of what Nebby's words meant. All Clemont knew was what the Ultra Space seemed to comprise of, from Burnet's research; in the end, he figured it was plausible that one could be driven mad from that, even if he couldn't say with certainty. Regardless of it all, Ash split away from their group, walking right up to Plumeria and grabbing her by the straps of her tanktop. "None of us know. But what we do know is that this world is in danger because of it. Now, you can either keep fighting us and cause this world to fall apart, or you could help us and find a way to save both it and Guzma, too. Those are the only options."

    "Only…?" Plumeria sounded so lost. Then again, Clemont figured that was what she was: someone who was lost and abandoned a long time ago, and was clinging on to that last shred of hope and light, even if it was all tangled up in the darkness until now. Finally, she looked up at Ash. "Can you save him? Can you save that dumba** boss of ours?"

    Ash drew back a moment, and then he grinned, placing a hand across his heart. "I will."

    There was a brief moment in which the sounds of battle below were heard and Plumeria hung her head. Then she raised it, and her voice along with it. "Stand down, Team Skull! The fight is over!"

    Her voice echoed around the space of the canyon, and Clemont believed it would be entirely ineffectual. However, when he rotated his body to look out over the space from their high perch, he instead saw red lights, and the Skull grunts pulling away into a squat, like they were done fighting entirely and just wanted to sit and wait. Ash let go of Plumeria and held a hand out, which she clasped. It was a promise in that moment to work together, all to save the ones they loved.

    The sun finally covered them entirely, and a loud breath was exhaled from all of their lungs simultaneously. The preemptive strike had failed, but, for the moment, their long war with Team Skull was over, and they could begin to prepare once again.


    Author's Note: So, every time I seem to say it will be short it turns out this length…oh well. A rather action packed chapter with a lot of little things happening. I really wanted Ash's return to the battle to feel triumphant, and I hope that came off well! Other than that, the battle with Team Skull is finally over, and how that will go, you'll just have to see. But there was some stuff about what our heroes need to do. Naturally, the preemptive strike failed, but at least they know when to strike next!

    We're in for a little bit of quiet now, so please stick around and enjoy. Until next time, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    With that battle over, we're calming the story down for a couple chapters, but hold on to your hats, because it won't last long! Chapter 11 time, yeah!


    Chapter 11

    A Settling

    "Hey! That hurts!" Ash recoiled from the antiseptic being placed on his chest wound, but Serena was having none of it. She snapped her arm out with speed and snatched Ash's body, pulling him closer to her so he wouldn't move away. Then she pressed the cloth to his chest gently, just as Brock had instructed her to, before he'd left the room to tend to some Pokémon.

    "Stop squirming around so much, and it wouldn't," Serena told him quietly, but with a biting edge that told him not to mess with her. He frowned, but allowed her to do as needed, even if Serena was having a slightly hard time thinking clearly with her boyfriend's bare chest mere inches from her face. Still, she was able to push that from her head in order to treat him as effectively as she could. "You have a broken bone; it's a wonder that Bébé's Aromatherapy and Chansey have brought you as far as they have."

    "I'd attribute it to Ash's incredible healing powers," Clemont laughed out from a corner of the room. Ash grinned at that, but soon grimaced from the slight pain. Serena drew back, considering her work done for the moment, until their doctor friend could return. Ash seemed grateful for that, not enjoying the stinging sensation, and he proceeded to lean back with a sigh as Pikachu patted his arm kindly.

    Feeling done with all that, Serena threw her cloth to the side and seated herself upon the bed that Ash was in during his patch-up. It was hard to believe that it had only been a few hours since their battle at the Altar of the Sunne. Really, it was hard to believe it had been little over twenty-four hours since they'd first come to the Aether Paradise after a month apart…or, she had come to the Aether Paradise. Either way, it felt nice to be gathered with all of her friends and boyfriend again, especially the latter.

    "So…it's been a month for all of us," Clemont finally laughed out, scooting forward in his chair to approach the edge of the bed. Pikachu, seemingly tired from the day's events, curled himself up into a ball and fell asleep for a second.

    "It sure has. Sorry we didn't have the time to catch up earlier and all," Ash apologized, reaching up to rub his hand through his hair. Serena yawned a little. She had caught a small snooze on the way back from the altar, as short as it had been, and was feeling more rested than when she'd almost passed out on the altar itself. As a result, there'd been almost no time to catch up with pretty much anyone that had dropped into the battle. Most of that came down to logistics, it seemed, given that Team Skull stopped the fight on Plumeria's orders, and from there it became a mess of orders and commands that led to further confusion in all of the moving and dealings. She had tried to excuse herself from it all, especially upon finding out that, like usual, Ash had been pushing himself with his bruises and a broken rib that was only healing thanks to Brock's expertise.

    However, she couldn't be too mad at him. Ash had returned safely, and that meant more to her than much else, really. More than that, he seemed refreshed and renewed. It was different than back in Kalos, with Snowbelle City; he seemed matured now, rather than simply bouncing back, like he was striding forward with great purpose in every step. She couldn't help but suddenly lean over, placing her head on his shoulder with relief, thinking, My Pokémon Master…

    "You look like you've gotten way stronger, Clemont!" Ash remarked, making Serena smile a little. To that, Clemont looked almost a little embarrassed at the praise. "Serena mentioned that you were super important when it came to planning the attack."

    "Shame it didn't work," Clemont lamented a little, but from the expression on his face, he wasn't beating himself up about it. Serena breathed in. Despite failing in their initial objective, the room felt so light to her, as though all the darkness they'd held on to for the last few months was gone. Ash held clarity, Clemont held confidence, and she held this newfound belief in her direction. Now, all they had to do was focus on the impending battle ahead.

    The door to the room at the Aether Paradise finally opened. Serena's head shot up, Ash winced, and their combined movements almost sent Ash tumbling from the chair.

    "Ash!" Bonnie cried with all enthusiasm. She practically dived on the bed, causing Serena to jump away as the blonde girl smothered Ash with a hug. Dedenne did the same to Pikachu, waking the latter and knocking the two off the bed completely.

    "Gah! Bonnie! Hurts!" Ash was screaming. Clemont stood rapidly, nabbing his backpack and pressing a button that sent his Aipom Arm out to grab Bonnie and pull her off. Ash's next words came in a wheeze. "Good to see you, too…"

    "Pikapika…" Pikachu was giggling out as Dedenne touched his cheek to Pikachu's. At the same moment, Squishy seemed to hop out of Bonnie's bag and on to the bed, peering up at Ash. Serena's raven-haired boyfriend looked down at the little one, and then reached forward to pat him on the head. The door creaked once more and Ash looked up. They all turned in that direction to see two more standing there: Hau and Lillie. Ash breathed in, and then he smiled such a brilliant smile, Serena almost felt it would put her own to shame.

    "I'm glad you're okay, Ash," Lillie spoke, her hands behind her back. Her hair was out of its ponytail, falling in tresses around her face as she was dressed in simple clothing that consisted of a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. They seemed to be more casual clothing than the one she would wear for traveling, but still looked very nice on her.

    "And it's great to see the both of you, Lillie, Hau. How have you both been?" Ash asked, throwing his feet over the side of the bed, like he felt it was okay for him to begin to stand. That quickly proved to be only a moderately okay idea, considering he winced, but held just fine. Hau was the first, as predicted, to move forward.

    "Super awesome! How about you?" Hau said. He quickly slapped Ash on the back, before realizing it was something he probably shouldn't have done. Ash just laughed (a wheezing one, but still a laugh) in response. "I'm totally impressed, though, man. You made a super cool entrance back at the altar. Think we could pull something like that off, Pipi?"

    "Rairai!" Pipi agreed, flipping on her floating tail. Though, she was also easily distracted, joining the gamboling ring that was now herself, Pikachu and Dedenne. Hau shrugged it off, like the issue really didn't matter. Ash continued his chuckles, clutching at his ribs as he walked forward. He stumbled, and Serena made to catch him, but Lillie was actually there before her, pushing him back up with a grin. No words were said, and suddenly, Lillie's arms shot outward, wrapping around Ash, and even Serena. They were pulled in.

    "Thank you, both of you," she whispered in their ears. Serena could once more hear the extra confidence in her voice, though she had to wonder what the blonde was thanking them for. She figured it out a moment later, when Lillie gripped tighter: she was thanking them for all of them reuniting once again, like a proper family. Serena hugged back.

    "Okay, guys, no extra strain on Ash's injuries," called the familiar voice of the very competent doctor entering the room. Ash's grin increased, as it always did with one of his friends returning. Lillie let go, bowing low in apology.

    "My apologies, doctor. I didn't mean to make him worse. So, please make him better," Lillie said politely. That caused a lot of giggles and chuckles to filter through the room. Lillie looked a little confused, but Hau just slung an arm around her to cheer her up.

    "Just Brock is fine," Brock answered with a light laugh, patting the girl on the shoulder before he moved towards Ash. "As for you, Ash, I see you haven't curbed your recklessness in Alola whatsoever. I need to bandage you."

    "Hey, blame Kahili! She sent me into that trial! That Totem Pokémon almost killed me a couple times over, right, Pikachu?" Ash asked for defense from his loyal Pokémon. Pikachu was too busy playing with the others in order to defend him, causing Ash to sigh before hissing through his teeth as Brock began wrapping the bandages around his midsection tightly.

    "Yeah, because that explains the bandages I met you with," Serena said to him, almost rolling her eyes. Ash's mouth dropped open, and he flapped his jaw uselessly, causing more laughter to go through the room until he yelped as Brock finished his bandage, keeping it tight.

    "There, you're all good to go. Just take it a little easy," he scolded his patient. Ash smiled a bit, whipping around to grab his shirt and throw it over himself, before doing the same with his vest.

    "No promises there, Brock. Too much is going to be happening real soon." To this statement of Ash's, Pikachu broke away from his play circle to leap on to the bed, and then to Ash's shoulder. Ash nodded at his oldest partner, and then looked out the window that let sunlight stream into the room. "The Day of Stars will be soon."

    "There's going to be quite a bit more before then," Clemont reminded them all. Serena nodded, feeling all of the anticipation in the room ratchet up with that statement. Ash and Hau locked eyes, almost like they were challenging one another. Serena's eyebrows flew upwards. She only just realized that by completing that final trial on Poni Island, despite having not defeated Hala, Ash had likely just gained his entrance into the vaunted competition he had so been looking forward to. Yet at the same time, his mind also seemed far away from there, focusing on the people around him rather than the next big battle he would be facing.

    "Well, let's go meet with everyone," Ash said, finishing the slipping of his vest over his shoulders with a grin. He began to leave from the room, and Serena followed right after. Lillie was scrambling, too, like she wanted to give very quick instructions to them. It did make sense, since they hadn't been there to hear about whatever Gladion had been up to since all of their arrivals.

    "They're all in…the banquet hall," she gasped out as she tried to keep up with them. "Well, the big group is there; to everyone's exasperation, they seem to be eating through the kitchen's stock."

    "Good to know. Where are Komala and Nebby?" Ash asked, pressing his hand on the door and stepping into the hallway of the manor at the Aether Paradise. His eyes went back to Lillie for just a few seconds before she answered.

    "Resting in my room. Figured Komala deserved it after all the help he gave."

    "And the rest of the Pokémon are totally chilling in the courtyard, though I doubt Incineroar and Decidueye are actually relaxing," Hau admitted with a nervous chuckle. Serena could easily agree with that prediction. Though they didn't show it, anytime those two even got within range of one another while not under their trainers' commands, they seemed to like going at it. That was a far cry from Pikachu and Silvally's respectful, but taut, rivalry. Of course, Serena also suspected that it wouldn't be the only rivalry in that courtyard.

    "Great, then let's get some food!" Ash said, running a hand through his hair once more, before placing his hat on it. Serena placed a hand to her stomach, realizing just how hungry she was, herself. It was a good thing that Gladion seemed to have ordered Wicke to prepare a banquet for the large group they had brought in. A rushing sound behind them indicated that Brock was catching up, having left his doctor's coat behind and smoothing his hair, like he was going to meet a girl (which, Serena realized, was the norm for him).

    That quickly turned out to be the case, as well.

    "Ash! Serena!" the familiar voice of Dawn called out. Their group pulled into a stop outside the reception area that led to the banquet hall of the manor. There were quite a few people waiting outside. Serena ran forward, right past Ash, and up to Dawn and May, both of whom greeted her by way of a mutual hug. It had felt like years since she'd last seen them at Ash's birthday party, despite having been just a few months. Ash, too, closed the gap and slapped his hand against Dawn's. "It's like a party all over again."

    "With a wonderful dash of seasoning that says the world is-"

    "Oh, you're here," Bonnie drawled out, effectively cutting across Cilan's words. Serena stifled some giggles underneath her hand while Clemont nudged his sister along, like he was ushering her towards the banquet hall. Cilan, looking a little confused at the interruption, chose to follow after them, instantly describing the smells from the room.

    "Looks like Ashy-boy has grown a little more," Gary's voice echoed out. Serena turned her head, realizing that the old childhood friend of Ash's was a little down the hall, saluting at them. He wasn't alone in his position, staring at a television screen in the hall. There were a few others there, including Alain and Mairin and…Paul. Ash seemed to notice that, the purple-haired boy staring at him for a moment. Then he smirked, jerked his head, and began to walk off. Ash just blinked at the departure of his rival into the banquet hall. A sudden squeal sounded from inside said hall that sounded like, as Clemont put it, "Hurricane Korrina" going off.

    "I feel like I have," Ash said with a smile and an almost conspiring laugh with Pikachu. Serena enjoyed it more than she could admit out loud. Not only did he look a little cute with all his smiles, but he seemed so unburdened. That trial really had changed him.

    "Good on you, then," Gary said, slapping his friend on the back and then turning to follow after Paul. Serena had a slightly better glance inside the banquet hall at this point, and she noticed, from her distance, that the hall itself seemed to connect to the courtyard, and there was a swirling mess of people inside, dressed in black. It was also there that she caught sight of Ash's friends, Misty and Iris, along with other familiar faces like Sawyer, though there weren't too many beyond that. Dawn appeared to catch sight of this noticing.

    "Some people were left at Mount Lanakila, just in case," the bluenette answered. "I think your friend Miette is there, too, though I'm sure that quite a few of us will be heading back there sooner or later, right?"

    "Something like that. There've been sketchy details," May said, but she seemed somewhat distracted by the smell of food emanating from the banquet hall. Serena wasn't particularly sure how to react in light of that. Lillie stepped close to them, now.

    "We'll probably be heading to Mount Lanakila soon, too, don't you think?" Lillie asked of them both, and Ash and Serena gave a start, looking to stare at each other. In light of all the events of the last forty-eight hours, it was like they had completely forgotten about the upcoming events that were huge for the Alola region. Ironically enough, that sort of news was what came to emanate from the television screen. Ash and Serena both turned in that direction just as Lillie started to introduce herself to May and Dawn. At the sound of that report, the couple drew closer to see what was happening on the screen.

    "Preparations are underway!" a newscaster was crying out from the screen, with jubilation on his lips. On that screen looked to be a stadium, a dome covering the top of it as it was flecked with snow. Shots soon went towards the interior, looking at the massive number of seats within the stadium and the large, retractable field down below that reminded Serena immensely of the stage during the Peace Tournament. "The stadium's construction has finished for this year's Hope Leilani, sure to be one to remember! On top of that, the first ever Alola League will be taking part with the Lanakila Conference immediately after! It's an event that has the whole region abuzz with activity and anticipation. To talk about it here with me are our two proprietors, Miss Akela of notable fame as a former Ali'i ka Leilani, and this region's great professor, Kukui!"

    "Alola, everyone!" Kukui's face called from the screen. It looked like a live report to Serena, which meant that the professor wouldn't be here to discuss their next plan of action, himself. She wondered how that would work out; the Day of Stars was going to happen as soon as the League finished, far as she was aware. His not being here just struck her as odd, at least a little. "Boy, are we in for an exciting time in Alola or what, cousins! Bet you're all using Anticipation!"

    "Tell us, Miss Akela, Professor Kukui, this is quite the event to take place, crowning not only the next Ali'i ka Leilani, but also the first ever Champion of the Alola League. However did you manage it, and how is this all to play out? What are the requirements?"

    "Managing it was quite simple," Akela said, a smile on her lips she crossed her legs. "We wanted an event for everyone in Alola to celebrate, no matter the hardships they may be going through. Naturally, the Hope Leilani will remain the same, but as it is one side of the Island Pilgrimage to the trials, we figured it would be best to hold the events together, and crown them together at a special awards ceremony to commemorate this vaunted championship, regardless of the decision to hold on to the crown, as it were."

    "Woo! Indeed!" Kukui said, that infectious grin still stretching widely across his face as he did so. "We Alolans place a great amount of pride on our bonds with Pokémon and nature, so in order to participate in the League, you'll need to have completed your trials, though those who have completed their Grand Trials will have no need to take part in the preliminary screening rounds and will automatically be seeded into the main tournament. This is an effort to show that strong bond with the region and its Pokémon! I look forward to all the hot battles we'll be witnessing following the Hope Leilani! It's going to be an event to look forward to, cousins, I can promise you that!"

    Serena was absolutely sure that wasn't a lie: Kukui certainly meant that it would be a huge event, in more ways than one. Not only was it the first ever Alolan League, but with the Day of Stars falling right afterwards, things were sure to be "exciting", in a sense. There was no doubt that Lusamine would have her eye fixed on the League from within the Ultra Space, too. The two on the screen discussed a little more regarding the flow of events, like the fact that there would be some "fresh and exciting" things to liven up the competitions before Serena returned her full focus to listening.

    "People are already pouring in on their own kind of pilgrimage to get tickets for watching the event, and it's sure to be one heck of a blowout!" the announcer on the screen said excitedly. "Even now, the Champions of the Kanto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, Unova and Kalos Regions are making their way to Mount Lanakila, sight of this vaunted and hallowed event! Also with them will be the Kahunas and Captains alike, some of which, as Professor Kukui has informed us, will be serving a special role in the awards ceremony for the winners, if not crowning those taking those positions! You won't want to miss this!"

    "We definitely won't," Ash said, gripping his hand into a fist. Serena nodded, breathing in relief, as well. From the way the announcer spoke, it seemed that even if someone won the competition, it didn't mean being chained to the position. There was no doubt that was a good thing for both her and Ash's dreams, even if she wondered how Akela and Kukui would be working that out. Either way, she shrugged, figuring they would work it out and announce it later, allowing Serena to aim her mind towards that goal of victory once again.

    "Neither will I!" Hau cheered in agreement with his rival. Both boys turned to look at each other, sending challenging glares to one another. Alain was watching them from his location and smiling, as though he was looking forward to seeing Ash battle again. Serena felt that was a nice thing to see.

    "Looks like we'll get to be there this time, then," Brock boomed out, hooking his arm around both Ash and Serena. The honey blonde looked to Dawn, who grinned at her, throwing a thumbs up as Piplup waddled out from the banquet hall. Pikachu leapt from Ash's shoulder to join his own friend. They were all ready for that major event they had been working towards: the Hope Leilani, the Lanakila Conference…and the Day of Stars."

    "My hubby's certainly telegenic, isn't he?" asked a new voice to their little gathering. It was a well-known one, and Serena turned to see Burnet there, holding on to her file folder, like she had a month ago. It made sense, now, that Kukui was able to be live from Lanakila, considering that his wife was now here for the upcoming plan in his stead. She quickly noticed them looking at her and she smiled. "There's lots to discuss, now, isn't there? And I have a little more information to share with everyone so that we're ready. I think it's important."

    "Good, we have plenty of things that need to be talked about, for sure, and plans to make," Gladion called from the entrance to the banquet hall. Turning to look at him, Serena saw that he was still dressed in his traveling clothes, with Silvally at his side. He and Ash seemed to share a look, especially after Gladion's eyes flicked over to the screen. However, the look was soon gone, replaced with Gladion turning back towards the hall. "Let's hurry it up. There are only a couple days before the Hope Leilani begins, and after that, we won't have the chance!"

    "Guess we should get going, then," Ash chuckled out towards Pikachu, on the ground with Piplup. The raven-haired trainer reached out, taking hold of Serena's hand and pulling her in towards the banquet. Serena just let herself be dragged, not really feeling like resisting the pull. In moments, their entire group had joined all of the others in the banquet hall as the volume raised dramatically. The first thing to hold her attention was Brock dashing off for the familiar form of Aria, who was speaking with Sawyer and Korrina. Clemont and Bonnie were also there, but Serena couldn't make heads or tails of what any of them were even saying. All she knew was that Aria looked up at her and smiled before Brock's arrival.

    And that was when she noticed those who had taken up the majority of the hall, pigging out at the table in a way that would put Ash to shame.

    "Yo! Sittin' in that canyon for a whole month made me hella hungry!" one of the female grunts from Team Skull was shouting out as she shoved some fruit in her mouth.

    "Tell me about it, sis! Pass those chips, bro!"

    "Nah, man, these chips are mine!"

    "Share the chips, idiots," Plumeria's dull tones snapped at her "siblings". Serena looked over at the sound of her voice, eyes scanning the room and all the other familiar faces that were in it, such as Seamus and the rest of Team Nova. Then she saw Plumeria, sitting on a chair with her legs crossed. She looked beyond uncomfortable in the slightly stuffy setting, in complete contrast to her compatriots that were greedily stuffing their faces. Ash, apparently, saw fit to comment on the phenomenon going on around them.

    "I guess even Pokémon thieves like to eat, huh?" he asked almost sagely. Serena noticed that he was patting his stomach, his mouth drooling almost as much as May's. Although, neither of them had anything on Team Rocket, who were forcing themselves between some of their rival criminal syndicate members to pile plates high.

    "Hey, even we get hungry, too!" Jessie snapped angrily, grabbing some grapes and lowering the vine, whole, into her mouth. That was simply before they backed out of the crowd, showing even more stacked plates, with Meowth already patting his stomach in content.

    "Dat food was delicious…"

    "Mobba mobba," Wobbuffet agreed, large loaves of bread sticking out from his mouth. Dawn sighed loudly near Serena, smacking her forehead with exasperation.

    "Can't believe they're still following you…" she said with a groan. All it did was make Ash laugh and James to almost grow indignant. He was shoveling in what looked like potatoes before he decided to address the issue, flinging said potatoes onto the floor as he pointed his spoon forward.

    "Of course, we will!" he declared proudly. Jessie and Meowth moved to his side, looking like they were taking up some sort of positions. "The twerp and us are always tied together! Where he goes, we will always go, even to the Ultra Space!"

    "And da League of course!" Meowth said emphatically, only to be whacked on the head by Jessie. The three devolved, as usual, into an argument that revolved around them chaotically trying to hit one another while yelling at Meowth to "not let slip their intentions". Serena giggled under her hand before realizing that Ash was no longer paying attention, aiming right for the food table. So had Hau, though he was making a beeline for the malasada section, as predicted.

    "How many bottomless pits for stomachs do we have in our group?" Dawn called out. Lillie seemed to find it funny while Serena just smiled softly. The smile slowly slipped off as she saw the giant screens that were in the hall, as if they would be holding a conference in that very space. It reminded her that they weren't here to party; it was just to refuel their stomachs after the grueling battle, and prepare for the one ahead. That made Serena's mind drift off for a second, not towards the Hope Leilani, but towards the information that rested inside her. She'd put off this need for too long now. "So, Serena, you're going to be in this Hope Leilani thing, then?"

    "Oh, yeah," Serena answered. Lillie clasped her hands together.

    "She's been training really hard for the past month and I know she'll be a total expert! Keoni and Maka and Jessilie don't stand a chance!" Lillie said, pumping her fist into the air excitedly. Serena laughed out, grateful for the support.

    "I'm sure there's no need to worry, huh?" Dawn said with her own little grin. Serena returned the grin to her. "We're all around here until that big battle day, so might as well have some fun and watch. Cheer you on from the crowd! It's the first time we've actually just been allowed to be spectators instead of potential opponents."

    "Well, I appreciate it a lot," Serena admitted to her. She and Dawn raised their hands and clasped them together in that sort of promise, while Ash and Pikachu returned with a whole entire tray of food. At the same time, the doors to the courtyard opened up and some of the Pokémon that were there came in, including a racing Decidueye and Incineroar, with Rotom following after them and recording the results of their race. In the midst of their comedic tussle, Serena noticed Gladion was with Burnet at the other end of the hall, speaking to Lionel, Aidan and what looked like the entirety of Alpha Squad. Lionel was nodding, pointing up towards one of the screens.

    "Sherena'sh gonna be totally awshum," Ash said with a full mouth. He swallowed before allowing himself to continue on. "I'm sure that she'll be able to beat them all, even Keoni. Wonder how he's doing…?"

    "I wasn't aware you cared much for Keoni," Lillie said, almost skeptical in nature.

    "I don't," Ash admitted, though he was smiling. "Keoni's a jerk, but…I don't know. I think he just wants to prove something? Nah…I'll know it when I see him again."

    "That's a…very mature response of you," Serena noted, but Ash shrugged it off, returning to his food. She was actually a little happy to see that; his self-doubt had vanished regarding Keoni, moving instead towards an understanding. The trial had truly changed him for the better, though not the most important part of him, of course.

    Serena thought of getting some food herself, but the thought was all but chased from her mind at the sound of loud clapping that filled the hall, calling everyone there to attention. Serena looked away, and everyone did the same, turning towards the source of the clapping that was all too clearly Lionel. The Skull grunts didn't stop eating and chattering until Plumeria snapped her fingers loudly, bringing an end to that. The screens that were erected in the banquet hall had lit up with numerous faces now, including those of Champion's and even that of someone identified as Molayne. There were also a few other faces at what seemed to Mount Lanakila. The planning had already begun for their next great battle.

    "Everyone settled? Good," Lionel spoke, his voice booming across the expanse of the room. If they hadn't silenced themselves before, they most certainly had by now. Clemont and Bonnie had broken away from their own little group with Korrina, in order to rejoin with Ash and Serena as they all stepped forward slightly. Most on the screens, to Serena's surprise, weren't taking charge at all, leaving it all up to Lionel, the man who had been there through all of it, so far. He cleared his throat, staring at all of them, lingering for longer on their own group. "We failed. And before we start, there's no tossing blame around on this one. We all played our parts to perfection…there was just an…unexpected consequence that none of us could have perceived."

    "Yeah, the Moon Flute was broken," Serena muttered with a bitter taste in her mouth. Ash, who had finished his food (in record time, Serena noted), placed a hand on her back to reassure her, but she was fine.

    "Thankfully, unlike past events," Lionel said sharply, a shudder passing through them. They all knew to what failure of a past battle he was referring to. "Well, this time we have a second chance, on the Day of Stars."

    "And to that end, a plan has been devised," Aidan now spoke, adjusting his glasses. His own eyes seemed to swivel around the room, no doubt looking at his son. Seamus was staring away, clearly not caring in the slightest that his father was a few feet away, commanding them all. "We originally devised it as a contingency plan, should the preemptive strike fail as it did. Now that it's become necessary, we've made a few revisions. Namely to incorporate Team Skull."

    "Yo, whatchu talkin' 'bout?" asked one of the thugs. His question seemed to spark an almost peculiar rebellion, with all of the Skull grunts now questioning the motives of those before them, and why they were even there in the first place. None of them questioned the food, however. The action drew a number of dirty looks from some Aether employees, some sighs from Lionel and Aidan, rather ungraceful facepalms from the Champions that were on the screen, and groans from everyone else.

    "Shut up, idiots!" Plumeria finally roared. She stood as she did so, causing her chair to clatter to the floor. The members of Team Skull all shut their mouths at that. "Look, I love you guys, but don't be idiots. We're here to form an alliance with these people."

    "But Big Sis…their food is great, but I don' get why we gotta," said another, female, member of Team Skull. "Aren't we, like, totally Team Skull? We don' take orders from nobody unless it's Big Boss Guzma."

    "Well, Guzma isn't here right now," Plumeria snapped out. She ran her hand upwards, right through her hair, as her skull hairclips were removed, allowing her long hair to flow out. To Serena's surprise, that simple move made the woman look beautiful, like a graceful (if still poisonous) flower queen. "And if we don't team up with these guys against the threat to come, the boss might never come back…Plus there's the chance that if he does, he won't be the same."

    "Big Sis! You can't mean it!"

    "I do mean it!" Plumeria said. She sounded like she was reining in heavy emotion, but managed to hold it together for all of those she cared for. "Now, sit down, shut up and listen. There's a battle for our boss and everyone else coming. Drop the notion of a fresh start, because it won't happen. Right now…we just have to trust in our alliance. We can hold you to that, right?"

    "Of course," Gladion was the first to say. Lionel and Aidan stole glances at one another, but allowed the blond leader of the Aether Foundation to continue. "We can't allow ourselves to hold hatred and grudges against each other. Not anymore. That's the whole reason the Hope Leilani and Alola League are happening together: unity. Broken apart, we can't stand a chance. That's something I learned the hard way."

    Serena breathed in and out. Gladion seemed to have changed, no longer resigned to forging his own way forward without a care for anybody else. That he could speak those words to Plumeria, spoke volumes. Lionel now stepped forward to address them all once more. "So, that said, we have Team Skull's assistance in the upcoming battle. Thus, I ask each and every person here to be prepared for what is ahead. Mr. Molayne, if you could fill us in on the events of the stars?"

    "Er, yes," Molayne said, adjusting his glasses with an embarrassed chuckle, clearly unfamiliar with facing a rather large crowd. "The stars have almost converged. In a little over a week's time, they will overlap, and if what we suspect proves true, the energy that is joined with the Ultra Space will cause rifts, un-closeable rifts, to open."

    "That's correct," Burnet spoke. Heads shifted to look at her, but unlike Molayne, she wasn't even close to embarrassed at that moment. "The overlapping of stars, like worlds overlapping together is what will trigger the opening of the portals, allowing the Ultra Beasts through. They are creatures of immense power, requiring the skills of Mega Evolution or Z-Moves to combat effectively if you don't have an obscene amount of trainers in numbers. However, there is more to them that we should be aware of, particularly one creature in particular."

    "Nihilego," Serena heard Lillie whispering at the same moment as the professor.

    "I wasn't aware of it for some time, considering that Nihilego appeared to have no special properties compared to those other beasts that emerged a month ago. It couldn't cut buildings, pulverize dense objects or move so fast it was impossible to see," Burnet said, and her tone was so serious, that it was clear she had been quite busy the last month. Serena focused sharply, while Ash tensed next to her, he and Pikachu both obviously wanting to hear about the creature they had once fought. "However, after my research, I found the answer. Its effects aren't noticeable because they're rather insidious. Nihilego releases a toxin into the air, or perhaps into its victim's bloodstream for more potency. This lowers inhibitions heavily. Pokémon that are normally docile would become violent; people who would force themselves to work together would start fighting against each other."

    "It could become massacre in the streets, then?" spoke a male voice on the screen, causing Serena to turn her gaze. She could see Steven there, Lance and Cynthia huddled around him, as if they were all in the same location. Things had really been moving apace since their reunion the day prior.

    "It very well could. Nihilego, any of its type of species that come through the wormholes, and no doubt they will, must be the first to be dealt with," Burnet instructed them carefully. "Further, exhibit a large amount of caution. For every one of your Pokémon these Beasts seem to defeat, their power grows, much like their own little world."

    "Yeah, Nihilego got stronger with every one of my Pokémon it took down in Heahea," Ash noted. Pikachu was nodding, both clearly remembering the day. Burnet was still speaking, however, like she was laying down the objective and the rule for what was to come.

    "No matter what it stands as," she said sternly, leaving even the confused Team Skull members riveted, "we absolutely have to close the Ultra Space and its dangerous properties. Cut off its tie to our world by defeating that which must be keeping it steady at this point: Lusamine. No doubt she'll know we're coming and will pull everything she has against us."

    "Then we'll stop it!" Ash called out. Like a magnet, everyone was drawn to him as usual. He stepped forward. "We've faced threats from other worlds before, and we've always won! This time is no different! Zinnia, Michael, and now Lusamine and the Ultra Beasts! We'll do what we've always done for the people we love. Lusamine may not want to understand that, nor will the Ultra Beasts, but we do; the same way we understand them."

    "Do you?" Plumeria asked, scoffing a little. Ash looked to her, but didn't waver in his gaze for even a second. "Do you really think you understand what they're trying to do? Guzma doesn't give a damn about making this world nothing if it means getting to be something on the other side. I may not have been privy to everything, but Lusamine…that woman is nuttier than a fruit cake. She'll genuinely let the Ultra Space gorge on this world just for her own perfect vision. She's holding all the cards; has for years."

    "Then tell us what those cards are," Serena now spoke. Most of the eyes were still riveted upon them as they asked their questions. "This involves Michael, who we know all too well. Please, Plumeria, tell us what you know about Guzma, Lusamine, and how to stop them!"

    Plumeria watched them, that uncomfortable expression still on her face, but she eventually scowled and folded her arms. "I can't tell you a whole lot. Told you I wasn't privy to everything. Just to hold things up at the Altar of the Sunne to prevent anyone from getting into the Ultra Space. Pretty much screams at you that there's a way to keep it closed for good, and a way to get in. If there wasn't, Lusamine would have had no need to go in there to keep an eye on things, herself. Woman's as controlling as they come."

    "I'm not surprised," Gladion spat. Serena tracked his gaze, following it to his sister, who was pursing her lips in thought. There was still heavy unfinished business with her mother.

    "All I know is this, and this is just one of the many stories that made up Team Skull," Plumeria sighed out. She walked over to the table, seating herself upon it now and crossing her legs. Her arms remained folded. "When I was a young girl, I wanted nothing more than to be the Ali'i ka Leilani. At the time I was doing my thing, Akela was the current reigning one, and I looked up to her. Couldn't get my Leis, though. I managed one, but after that, it just became impossible. So, I tried to look into trials, taking on Akala's Kahuna at the time and earning my Z-Ring. Even that didn't help me.

    "So, I was kicked to the curb, considered trash by so many people because all I had were my battling skills, but apparently wasn't putting them towards anything 'worthy'. I wasn't the only one. Then…Guzma found us. We were all dysfunctional, and he was just idiotic…but we loved each other. Until the day he came up with the harebrained scheme of attacking Aether. I have no idea what happened behind closed doors. All I know is that Guzma emerged from that room with a man and Lusamine. Shortly after, things changed for us." Here, Plumeria sighed once more and ran her fingers distractingly through her long tresses. She really did look much prettier with it down, making Serena surprised she had failed in her quest to try and become the Ali'i ka Leilani.

    "We were still the same family at our core, but our actions were more…violent, abrasive. We sacked Po Town with Aether's help. We started delivering Pokémon to the Aether Foundation. Eventually became a part of daily life for us…"

    "This man," Serena asked, stepping forward. Plumeria looked to her, though it wasn't like most people had ever stopped doing so. "What did he look like? Did you know his name?"

    "Never caught the name but…huh…he looked kind of like you, only with glasses and a goatee. Only saw him once, though, so that's about all I got."

    "Michael," Aidan growled out. Serena looked to Ash, both nodding in recognition. They both knew it had to be him, but hearing so merely confirmed in Serena what her next course of action had to be. It was also one that needed to be completed before the Hope Leilani began, meaning that she hoped her information was good. Only that man could potentially answer the questions they needed answered.

    "Forget him for the moment," Diantha's voice suddenly echoed from the television. Serena almost jumped, not expecting the Kalos Champion to actually give her input on the matter. "Right now, all points are converging on Alola, are they not?"

    "They are," Cynthia spoke calmly, as well. The entire crowd was listening, riveted on what was being said as plans were inching forward on being made. "People are truly flocking to the stadium, so at least we'll have an easy place to protect them, especially with the Kahunas and captains gathering, as well…along with us, of course."

    "And that's the plan," Lionel spoke. Heads turned like they were watching a rather intense tennis match, this time fixating on Lionel as he spoke. He seemed to click something, and some of the screens with random trainers were replaced with maps of Alola. "This is the plan for the Day of Stars. As the League finishes, or so I'm informed, we'll move trainers into position. Our Mega Evolution specialists will make the front line at the altar, Z-Move users behind them."

    "Yes, the Altar of the Sunne would be the smartest place," Burnet commented. She seemed to be looking at the rather unresponsive (or just uncaring) Plumeria at this point. Serena could tell why: that Team Skull was told to remain at the altar had just as much to do with stopping their assault as it had to do with, perhaps, making sure the first of the portals could open on that Day. "It's the strongest anchor to the Ultra Space, I would presume. Perhaps the Lake of the Moone was as well, once upon a time, but monitoring it showed no further signs, this last month, of any otherworldly presence. Granting, on that day, it will not be limited to just the altar. I'd imagine that many portals will open throughout Alola and the world."

    "That's why we're relying on Team Skull," Lionel explained. "What they lack in sheer power, they more than make up for in numbers. You all are our defense, should the Ultra Beasts strike at the very heart of Alola. We already have contingency plans in place for the other regions, should anything break through."

    "Then what's like, the main plan, yo?" asked one of the mentioned Skull members. That sent a surprised murmur through all of them, and even Plumeria arched an eyebrow in surprise. "Well, I mean, like, why we doin' this? I don't wanna be monster chow, yo."

    "Me, neither, bro! We gotta stick together!"

    "The goal is simple: get Ash and the others to the top of the altar and into the Ultra Space. Then hold their ground outside until they can do what needs to be done on the inside," was Lionel's simple instruction. Serena felt a little self-conscious at that. She knew that, as the Tapu's Champions, they'd serve a more than large enough role in taking care of things, but now that it was bearing down upon them…

    "We'll take care of things, no problem!" Ash proclaimed loudly, throwing his fist up.

    "The only problem is the broken Moon Flute. From what Nebby said, I don't think we'll be able to safely enter the Ultra Space without using it and the Sun Flute together," Clemont pointed out. He seemed to take out the object that was glowing softly, and Serena looked at it. Her nose wrinkled a little at the sight.

    "That is a slight problem, but it would seem from research done over the last twenty four hours that there is a way to repair it. What that is, however, we don't know. Mundane efforts seem to have no effect, after all," Lionel said, looking once more to his companion. Aidan huffed, placing his hands behind his back as he stepped forward.

    "The tomes we've looked at only contain knowledge stating that the flutes were forged and reforged many times over the last era or two, but the details on how were only transcribed in ruins around Alola; ones we have not had the chance to examine, nor the time now," Aidan detailed. Serena exhaled loudly, and decided to go all in on what she knew needed to get done.

    "But my father might," she said calmly. Lionel and Aidan blinked, and Ash looked to her. "I told you, I'm pretty sure he's at the Lake of the Moone, probably observing the area and monitoring things for himself. Now might be the best time to contact him. If anyone is as cunningly smart as Michael from the other side, it's him. He might know of something, especially if he's the same man that Clemont and Gary suggest offered the plan to use Z-Crystals to get through the barrier."

    "It's…" Lionel hesitated, clearly unsure of just what to say exactly, but he eventually sighed. "It's a plan."

    "Excellent," Lance called from the screen, putting eyes back on there. "We all have our battle plan set. The G-Men and International Police, along with the Battle Corps of ARC will monitor the League surreptitiously, some as spectators. Everyone else should take the chance to simply enjoy it until the Day of Stars is here. Best to come with the crowd, too."

    "Yes, though perhaps Team Skull should take their assigned positions around Alola now, so as to not cause too much alarm on the Day," Lionel suggested. Plumeria shrugged, agreeing with the notion, but obviously feeling no strong reason to say anything more. "Remember, this is the great battle of our time! Under no circumstances should anyone fight alone. Everyone must do so in pairs, or as a commander. Myself, Plumeria and the Champions will lead the charge of protection. Aidan and Alpha Squad will remain behind to coordinate attacks. Meanwhile, Ash, Serena, Clemont, Bonnie, Lillie and Gladion will be escorted by Team Rocket and Hau to the heart of the Ultra Space, as they volunteered."

    Serena was surprised to hear that, but Team Rocket looked relatively smug that they had seemed to volunteer. Jessie seemed the most prideful of all, her eyes even glinting with the challenge that they would be sharing all too soon on Mount Lanakila. "We can't let you twerps take credit when we report back to the boss! This way we can claim we took down the Ultra Beasts all on our own."

    "Yes, do whatever you want. It's not like Team Rocket is of any interest to us," Lionel said dismissively. However, his eyes grew sharper. "Everyone, this is not to be taken lightly. You have your orders as trainers that have joined us. Serena and her group will locate this world's Michael, but the others should all prepare for battle, because once the Hope Leilani begins, the time for rest will be over."
    *Chapter to be continued in next post...

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    Despite the meeting ending soon after Lionel's announcement, devolving into a dance party that Team Skull randomly decided to put on, it still took some time for Serena and the others to depart. Many of their friends remained behind instead of seeing them off (well, they did see them off, but it had more to do with a simple wave than anything else), but it did offer Serena the chance to see a few other old friends once they'd broken to the halls beyond, like Astrid, and even reunite with newer friends, such as Kahili, who happened to be waiting near the elevator to the docks. She wasn't alone in the garden after Serena had packed her bags and begun to leave the paradise, Ash, Clemont, Bonnie and Lillie (redressed in her traveling clothes) near her. Rotom was there, too, resting atop Greninja's stoic head after "exhausting Rotom from taking so many pictures of different Pokémon" (they had managed to retrieve their Pokémon before they left, as well).

    "So, everything went well, then, Ash?" Kahili asked, pressing the button for the elevator to come up. In the distance of the garden, those who didn't care for the party taking place were gamboling around in the now setting sun. Among them was Ash's old rival, Paul, leaning against his Torterra with a glass of orange juice. Serena could tell he was watching Ash, though. "You found your answer."

    "Yeah," Serena's boyfriend said, calmly and clearly. He certainly sounded in a better place. "I know who I am, and what I want. So, after I win the League, we'll battle again, Kahili. Start tipping it in my favor."

    "That's a fight I'd most look forward to," Kahili offered, reaching her hand out. This seemed to intrigue Paul in the corner of Serena's eyes, because he was standing, shoving his hands in his pockets. Ash clasped Kahili's hand, master and apprentice making a deal with one another. "When we do, I'll learn your answer. I won't pull any punches, either."

    "Definitely! In the meantime, I'll see you at the Alola League, and you can watch me win. Right, Pikachu?" Pikachu's cheeks sparked, throwing a fist up. The elevator finished sliding up, just as Paul also seemed to finish his own approach. Serena just looked at Ash and the others, all ready for the small trip ahead. Promises had already been made to meet all of the others at Mount Lanakila, ready for the event of a lifetime.

    "Battle me, instead, then," Paul said brusquely, intruding in the conversation. Ash looked at him, the two rivals joining eyes. Paul smirked a little, and Ash grinned back in challenge. "My next League challenge isn't for a while, and I could use the practice before the battle. You look strong enough, if you managed to defeat Ash."

    "Sure, I guess, but don't cry when you lose. I don't like going easy," Kahili answered with a crooked grin.

    "Trust me, she doesn't," Ash said, rubbing his shoulder like it still smarted from one of the bruises she'd given him. To that, Paul's grin grew wider, ever reminding Serena that this wasn't the one she had known from DARC, all thanks to his eyes. Feeling that the conversation had run its course, Serena gripped Ash's hand and began to pull him off to the elevator with the others.

    "I'll be watching in the League, Ash," Paul yelled out as they walked away. Clemont and Bonnie, both, were silent, while Lillie looked completely confused by it all. The blonde had likely only considered that he was one of Ash's old acquaintances. "Don't disappoint."

    "Not a chance, Paul! Then we'll battle, too!" Ash called out with his own grin. Then they stepped on to the elevator, Clemont pressing the button, and the two in the gardens vanished from view. Ash seemed to be in a good mood, like it didn't matter to him whether he won or lost, even if he preferred the former. "I think it'd be great to battle everyone we can again. No better way to see how well they're all doing!"

    "Pika pika!"

    "Just keep the fighting instinct in for now," Serena told him, squeezing his hand kindly. "I know we're going to find my father, but let's not, you know, attack him."

    "Speak for yourself," Bonnie said, punching forward with a fierce expression. "Dedenne, Squishy, Bluey and I are ready for anything! Right, guys?"

    "Dene!"

    "Brlbl!"

    "You must be very nervous," Lillie pointed out, retying her hair a couple different times. "Meeting your father after never having seen him before."

    "Bit more complicated than that," Clemont muttered out. Greninja nodded as well. He had decided to stick with Ash once more, now that plans for the future were set, though it was difficult to put him in a pokeball with Ash's party otherwise occupied. Either way, Clemont had a point, one that really mollified them all when the elevator touched down. Serena kept herself facing forward, walking for the boat that Gladion had called for to Ula'ula. None of them spoke again until the boat was on its way to said island, with all of them aboard.

    "Thanks for coming with me, everyone. I really do appreciate it," Serena said, gripping Ash's hand tighter than probably ought to have been allowed. "I know it won't be easy seeing that face again, but this is really something I need to know for myself."

    "We all need to know it," Ash assured her. The double meaning of the things they needed to know was all too present in Ash's voice, but she accepted the comfort. That same comfort was enhanced by Pikachu putting a paw on to her cheek warmly. She allowed that calm silence between them all, truly together for the first time in a month, to settle in, and let them all just enjoy the boat cutting through the waters. Before night had fallen, the boat had pulled up on the shores next to Oricorio Town.

    The second they stepped on the shores, Ash and Serena both looked up towards Mount Lanakila, looking lively, even from that distance. The summit of their hopes and aspirations was there. Being so close to Oricorio Town, Serena had to wonder if Maka was already there, waiting for her. She had no doubt that Keoni was, and while she didn't look forward to seeing the boy, she still wanted to prove herself against him, at least somewhat. Silently firming up her convictions, Serena turned to the town she'd won her final Lei in and proceeded inward.

    The town already seemed to be in its sleepy state for the night, and even Rotom didn't look interested as they walked through the town, on the familiar path that would soon lead to the Lake of the Moone. At this point, however, Rotom decided to comment. "Rotom is bored…the group has already been to this town before."

    "Stop complaining," Bonnie snapped at the Pokédex. "We're not here to stroke your ego."

    "Bonnie is just jealous." Serena wasn't sure of what the younger girl could possibly be jealous of, but chose to favorably ignore it in the end. They continued on, the signs of the ruins ahead quickly appearing before them.

    "Serena, Lillie, how did you manage to find your dad?" Ash asked. Clemont had taken over mediation purposes between his sister and Rotom, leaving Serena free to answer the question.

    "A lot of bartering in the Seafolk Village and some other rumors. Gary and Clemont helped, too," Serena admitted. She looked to Lillie, both of them sharing some of their experiences between them, silently. They were now well into the ruins, Serena noticed, but it felt different. The darkness from before didn't feel to be there, or perhaps didn't hold as much of a malevolence to it. Serena paused for a moment, wondering if, perhaps, it had to do with Nebby's current, unresponsive state. She quickly shook her head and continued on towards the steps that led upwards. Ash still looked more than curious.

    "Feels different this time, huh?" Lillie asked. Serena nodded, noticing Ash watching her hair move. It made her blush a little to know that he seemed to like the slightly longer look. She didn't reflect on it long though, as they approached the top, stepping on to it. "It's almost entirely gone…"

    "You've been here before?" Clemont asked. Serena nodded once more, stepping forward. The dark portal from before had only been shrunk to the size of a small disc, no larger than a frisbee. It wasn't even moving, completely silent and still, like it didn't care, or it was locked down, waiting for the proper day. Serena swallowed. Things felt like they were moving fast, and she wasn't sure what to think.

    Ash reached forward, placing a hand of comfort on her shoulder. "Hey, everything's okay."

    "R-right," Serena said, trying to turn away from the portal to face her boyfriend's smiling eyes. They made her feel more at peace, now. She really felt the want to answer everything he asked, and that was what her brain was telling her to do. The rest of her just wanted to vanish in that space with Ash, have a moment alone with him to just share between them, even if thinking about it made her blush. She shook her head, though, figuring they could have their moment before the Hope Leilani. So, her brain won out, and she opened her mouth.

    "Serena?" The voice was a sharp dousing of cold water. Each of them but Lillie, who had whirled around, stiffened from the sound. Ash had gone rigid, holding her tightly as his face scowled a little. Serena remained facing him, trying to steady herself at the familiar voice. "I couldn't believe the showings of the Leilani Ceremony I'd seen, but…"

    Finally, Serena turned, facing the man that she was familiar with from another world. She wasn't looking for that second of turning, his features burned into her eyes and senses from the past alone. Then, she spoke perfunctorily before opening her eyes, addressing the man she'd never met but knew she had to. "Hello, father."

    And when she opened her eyes, there was the very familiar visage of Michael, a beard on his chin and longer hair cascading down to mat his surprised expression. But the one thing that didn't change were the electric blue eyes that confirmed beyond a doubt that the man before them, by what seemed like mere chance, was Serena's father, and he had appeared at long last.


    Author's Note: I swore this was going to be a shorter chapter, yet it wasn't…huh. Anyway, transitional to move us towards the big events that are to come. Now that the battle with Team Skull is over, I felt it was important to start filling in the gaps and prepare us for the big battle about to burst. First we have other important things to do, but I liked this chance to relax. But now we have the real Michael…er…Serena's father. What information will he give? How did Serena decide he'd be here? And how will he factor in compared to the original Michael, who proves to be a pest to this day? All that and more next time!

    We're about to enter into the second phase of this three-act finale and I hope it's living up to expectations. Please stick around! So, until we next meet, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Probably the last of my heavy exposition chapters ahead and then it's full-force excitement, but this one is still pretty important. That said, it is time for Chapter 12.


    Chapter 12

    An Other

    "How…how did you find me?" Serena had to take a moment. She thought she had prepared herself for this; for seeing the face and hearing the voice of the man that had twisted her life and, more importantly, Ash's life. Of course, they likely weren't the same person, but she couldn't trust that quite yet, not while she was looking at that face and listening to his asked question. She couldn't answer at first, and Ash gripped her tighter. At the same time, Bonnie drew closer to Clemont while Greninja went on the defensive. Lillie and Rotom, both, still looked highly confused.

    "I…" Serena tried to speak, but found that she couldn't. Her hands were shaking, memories flashing before her, just as they had in the Ruins of Hope. Only these weren't forced, merely being instinctive. Her fingers curled inward, forming a fist that no one failed to notice. Especially, there was Ash, who reached his hand over to grip her own hand and calm her. Before them, her father also noticed, eyes flicking downward.

    "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound demanding," Michael, or her father…or whoever he was, spoke. "I'm just…surprised."

    "So are we," Clemont said. He and Bonnie were moving closer to Ash and Serena now, like they were closing ranks against the face of the one that was their enemy. The man's brow furrowed in interest and confusion, like he could understand why they were regarding him with disdain. Rather, that kind of expression lasted only for a moment.

    "I suppose I could imagine," he spoke, reaching up to run his hand through his longer hair, or at least longer than the other Michael's. There was no source of amusement on his features, but he did seem a little pensive with the way his eyes were flicking over occasionally. "This is…unexpected."

    "And very awkward. Pleasure to meet you, Rotom is Rotom!" Rotom interrupted, clearly not realizing just what was occurring before them. Her father blinked a little and leaned in towards the floating Pokédex, examining it with scrunched eyes as he scratched at his beard.

    "Fascinating…I wasn't aware that technology had come to such an age that a Pokémon could inhabit a Pokédex," he said. His hand tentatively reached forward, like he was going to grab hold of Rotom. Serena's body tensed, and he suddenly stopped, watching her. It took a moment, but he sighed. "Right, sorry. Years in the wilderness, only stepping into cities to send letters on occasion can leave one a little ignorant to the state of technology…and other things…like family."

    "Family," Serena breathed. What was she supposed to say? She could only think of Ash's rather awkward reunion with his own father, only it was the reverse in this case. She had been the one to seek him out. Ash squeezed her hand again, and now she felt Bonnie grabbing the other side, squeezing that hand. Lillie also turned back, giving her an encouraging smile. Even Greninja seemed to nod his head, the biggest amount of encouragement she'd get from the stoic frog. That was enough for Serena; she wasn't going to squander a chance she'd created when Lillie had all but lost her parents. "I…needed to see you."

    "Oh?" he responded, quirking an eyebrow. Whatever surprise he did hold, though, he quickly wiped away for a stern expression to replace it. Serena felt that maybe he knew this wasn't some social call, or a search for a happy reunion. In fact, from the way their body languages were, they may as well have been pretending to not be family at all. "Well, there must be a reason, then. In the same way, there must be a reason you're all so on edge with me. I don't bite. Promise."

    "Forgive us if we can't take you at your word," Clemont admitted, still holding fast to a defiant Bonnie. Michael, her father, surveyed the inventor closely with a slightly disturbed reaction adorning his face. "We've met you before."

    "Well, a different you," Serena said, finding some courage and confidence in her voice, now. She wasn't going to run away from this. "And that's sort of why I came looking for you. I…Sorry, but I'm not looking for some family reunion."

    "I wouldn't have dreamed of it," the man said, putting his hands in his pockets. The more Serena looked, the less she saw of Michael; there was too much of a warmth to him that the other one simply didn't have, even in his moments of playing pretend. Even in the darkness of night that surrounded the Lake of the Moone, she could also see something that the other Michael lacked entirely: love. Years apart, never having even met the man, yet her father was staring at her with a sense of pride and care. It was the same way she supposed Jack Ketchum had felt for his child. "It is nice to see my daughter grown, though. I hadn't even known you were on an adventure until recently."

    "It's a recent thing," Serena answered. Their conversation felt rather stilted and awkward, but Serena supposed that was the only way for it to truly come off in the first place. Any other way would have been strange, after everything. "Um…so…anyway…"

    "Right, you sought me out for something. Is it to do with the Day of Stars?" Serena blinked, just as Ash let go of her. She knew they weren't the only ones surprised by the man's statements. Lillie, however, was the first to say something.

    "You know about that?" she asked. Michael turned his head to her and nodded, taking his hands and putting them behind his head with a small sigh.

    "I've been preparing for it for months," he answered. Serena swallowed; she supposed that no matter what version it was, both Michaels were incredibly cunning, overall. He noticed this and sighed again. "Look, Serena, I can tell you're uncomfortable around me."

    "You…could say that," Serena said. She still didn't know how to broach the topic that was all too clearly on their minds. Part of her thought that she might have needed more ample time to prepare than shortly before all of this. Ash once more placed a hand on her shoulder in comfort. "But, it's not because you're my dad or anything. Trust me. I was the one that searched for you, so…"

    "Understood, but seeing your deadbeat dad probably can't be pleasant," the man answered. He looked off to the side, like he was considering his words. "Not that I meant to be away but…guess I have problems. Would offer an apology, but it seems too little, too late, now."

    "I don't think Serena would hold it against you," Ash spoke up in the absence of her own voice. It helped to ease just a little bit of the awkwardness surrounding them. "Not like she's the only one in this group who didn't have their dad around."

    "Mm," her father replied, accepting Ash's response while looking him over. For some reason, Serena actually felt a little nervous, as though it was like every other girl, with her father checking over her boyfriend before potentially delivering a chastising warning. Of course, she wasn't just like every other girl, and nor was her relationship with Ash or her father. "Then, why are you all looking at me like I'm going to try and kill you?"

    "Because you're-"

    "Bonnie!" Clemont scolded his sister, placing a hand over her mouth. Ash let go of Serena and stepped forward towards the man. She realized it must have been difficult: her own father had the same exact face as the one who had ultimately ended his father's life. He could have hated the man for that, yet Ash seemed to stare him in the eyes without any hint of rage.

    "You really don't know?" he asked. Her father tilted his head and then shook it. At this, Ash shook his own head and looked at Pikachu, both seeming to draw strength from one another. "The you from another world killed my dad."

    "Another…me?" he said, looking almost confused. However, after a moment, his eyes seemed to lighten up as realization hit. "Tell me everything…Ah, but not here."

    "Why?" Lillie asked, hitching her bag. She was clearly ready to listen, despite her own questioning. Michael (Serena really wished she had something else to call him by) looked at Lillie, and then pointed at the small black portal.

    "Away from prying eyes. I came to check on it for the evening, since it's been acting restless as the Day draws near," he explained. Serena was surprised a little, but at the same time, there was elation. Elation that finding her father was seeming to have been a very good idea, after all. Ash and Clemont seemed to share the sentiment. "I'm going to guess that's what you came to see me about, though I'd no idea you were working with it in mind."

    "Something like that," Serena laughed out, easing more of that gripping tension inside her. He nodded.

    "Well, I'd love to hear, and tell, just not here. It's too close, too much to be overheard by it," the man responded, turning around and aiming for a set of stairs that was perpendicular to the one they had walked up. Serena's eyes narrowed. It? The man stopped. "Oh, and if it's too uncomfortable for you to look at me as 'Michael', just call me Y. It's a pseudonym I've been using for many years now to hide my identity. Just don't ask the reason: more of a childish fantasy than anything, ha ha."

    At least that made things easier on Serena, and she began to follow after her father, down the set of stairs. Clemont and Bonnie were still clearly tensed by the sight of the man, but Dedenne undoubtedly gave Bonnie courage, because she stopped her body shaking and made sure to come and stand next to Serena as they walked after Y. Greninja remained on high alert until they seemed to finally be out of the zone of the small portal. No one talked a moment, veiled in the darkness of night, and Serena took the chance to examine the space they were traversing. These stairs looked all too similar to the other side they had walked up, if perhaps replete with more vines than expected. It also looked to lead to a more natural road. Y (which Serena decided she would call her father, for ease and separation) turned sharply down a path, and Serena looked to see that there was a fire ahead, as if at campsite. It reminded her of when she felt she'd been watched here a month ago.

    "So…this other me," Y began, sounding all too serious, "tell me more about what happened. I've been so busy in my explorations that I've been out of much contact for years. I'll still send letters to Grace, but even that's become less frequent as of late."

    "You correspond with mom?" Serena asked, not having expected that. Y didn't answer right away, almost looking embarrassed, wearing a similar blush as herself when Ash said something romantic.

    "Ah, yeah. I can be a hopeless romantic sometimes," the man admitted. It hurt inside Serena's heart a little. Perhaps it was his smile, but she felt more that even if she didn't know her father all that well, he was a version that Michael could have been…if he hadn't become an omnicidal maniac who cared about nothing and no one, even his own daughter. "I know it's easier to pick up a phone and call but…I tend to get lost in things. I don't even collect letters from Grace anymore, so I, uh, wasn't aware you'd left home until I saw you performing in the Heahea Ceremony."

    "Yeah, that one," Serena almost laughed out. Y stopped here, and he looked back at her. He gazed over her figure, smiling a little.

    "I'll admit, I was a little worried, though I tried to convince myself that it couldn't be you. Same for when I could have sworn I saw you here a little over a month ago," he told her, scratching the top of his head a bit. "Though, I can see you clearly now, and it sets my mind at ease. Years ago, Grace used to talk about how fragile you were, almost, until you met a boy in Kanto. Should I take the guess that that was you, Ash Ketchum?"

    "Uh…you know me?" Ash asked, pointing to himself with surprise.

    "I've been in the wilderness, not living under a rock," Y laughed out. He glanced between the two of them now, once more in that scrutinizing mode. "Though I think you're more than a boy from Kanto to my daughter, now. Am I to be expecting grandchildren soon?"

    "Say wha-?"

    "Just a little joke!" he exclaimed at the bright red looks on their faces. Bonnie seemed to find it all more amusing than anyone else there. Even Rotom appreciated it, calling it a great prank. However, Y easily restored the sense of tension with a sigh. "All that said, you're not a fragile flower…you fought in Heahea, didn't you?"

    "I did," Serena said, reaching a hand up to her chest. Looking at her father, even in the dark night, she could see a couple emotions in his eyes as they reflected the lake in their irises: pride, worry, happiness, sadness and just a tinge of regret. "And that incident has led to now."

    "I see…I would guess, then, that my 'other self' was behind it…or is?" Y asked. He was starting to move again, like it was now imperative that they were to continue along the path to what was likely his campsite. Serena's gaze flew out to the lake that surrounded the ruins they were leaving. It was certainly a beautiful sight, reflecting the full glory of the celestial heavens that were above them. She pursed her lips as Ash began to answer.

    "Yes," he said simply. "He was…I don't even know how to explain it. Do you know, Pikachu?" Pikachu just shrugged, himself also unable to come up with the words, and in turn looked to Greninja, who seemed disappointed to also not have an answer.

    "Michael was…he was a very cold man," Serena answered her father.

    "A real meanie! He kidnapped me and Dedenne and…and…" Bonnie couldn't seem to get the words out, twisting at her hands almost angrily. Y slowed, watching her desperation with concern. Serena actually felt like crying at that; perhaps it was an act, but she had the feeling it was real. Knowing that so much could have been avoided if he had been like this, that Reeree wouldn't have had to die, maybe even her Ash…it drove a stake through her heart. "Well, we've gotten stronger! We won't let anyone kidnap us again!"

    "Michael was a vile man," Clemont spoke sharply, and perhaps a little too harshly, given that Y brought a complete halt to his steps. They still hadn't completed the journey around the lake to the campsite, but that didn't matter in the face of the truth coming out. Maybe it was a little harsh, but Serena knew they had to share it if they were going to impress how urgent and out of necessity their visit was. "He didn't care about anyone or anything. He used people, twisted their pain, all for himself and what he wanted."

    "And what did he want?"

    "For everyone on this world to die," was Ash's cold answer. Y offered no reaction at that, or if he did, he was masking it better than most. "He believed that if this world died, his would be safe."

    "A ludicrous notion…" the man stated, making Serena's eyebrows fly upwards into her hair. "Though, I would imagine he had some sort of reasoning behind it…we always do."

    "Some ancient documents he found," Clemont instructed him. Y nodded, like that would about do it, and his feet began to pick up again. He seemed to be thinking, scratching at the beard on his chin.

    "If I would take a guess…happened shortly after Serena was born?" Serena nodded with Ash at the question, and she noticed the spark of recognition in her father's eyes. "Yeah, I could see it. At the time, I was looking for some ancient ruins to prove a theory on multiple universes or some such thing…lost on me now, it's been so long. Anyway, something must have happened because there was a cave in. I barely got out alive and never saw what was beyond. Disappointed, I moved onward. You guys have seen Reflection Cave?"

    "What's Reflection Cave?" Lillie asked, almost like she was feeling a little left out of the conversation at this point. Her puffed out cheeks seemed to indicate as much to Serena, at least.

    "Ooh, we know! That's where the mirror version of us was, right?"

    "Exactly, young lady!" Y pointed out with a little wink. "I looked into little stuff like that, and then, one day, I stumbled on Alola. Thought it was chance, though now it might have been fate. This was…roughly five years ago now, and boy was there a lot to explore and examine; enough to cut me off from most of civilization for years. Maybe that's why I didn't hear about my counterpart…I'd imagine you've all been hurt terribly by him."

    "We have," was Serena's terse response. He looked back at her, and their similar-looking eyes met. There was a protectiveness, mixed in with the resignation, there. "But…we've moved on. We've pushed past the pain, all of us. It still hurts sometimes, but we wouldn't be us without it."

    "When did my daughter become such a grown-up?" Y laughed out. Serena couldn't laugh with him, especially at seeing Lillie's concerned face. She had to have been thinking about her own mother, and the events that had happened to change so much of their lives in the end. Y eventually realized this and frowned. "Anyway, I know saying it won't convince you, but I am not that Michael. Perhaps, if I had been pushed in his direction, I may have given myself to his methods, but…instead, I played the long game. Though, it sounds like he's been doing much the same in Alola, as well."

    "From beyond the grave, too," Ash sighed out. Y offered a nod to accept that as finally the campsite arrived before them. Stepping in, it was like stepping into a whole different world. There was a single tent, yet along with it were numerous makeshift desks and other canopies overhead. Some papers were strewn about the area, like it was in a constant state of dishevelment whenever Y was around. There was also a large box that was gleaming with a silver glow.

    "Are those…Z-Crystals? !" Clemont exclaimed, running into the camp and up to the box. Without waiting for Y's response, he pulled out one of the shining items, revealing what looked like a Steelium-Z. "It was you! You were the one to…"

    "Yes, I was," the man responded, though he looked a little distracted. Finally, he seemed to see what he wanted. "There you are, Hydreigon. Everything good here?"

    "Drei…" the Brutal Pokémon growled out, floating into view. It was another confirmation that he was simply a different Michael. Y nodded, and then proceeded further into his camp to pull out some large buckets, turning them over so they could seem to act as seats for them all.

    "You'll have to forgive the impromptu seats. I'm not used to visitors, obviously," he said, pulling up a chair for himself. The others all sat upon the buckets provided while Rotom floated to take a picture of Hydreigon and Greninja remained on standby, scanning the area. The three-headed dragon looked amused, but did nothing to stop the Pokédex. "To answer your question, Clemont, was it? Yes, a few months ago, I was researching connections for the growing darkness between the Altar of the Sunne and here, the Lake of the Moone, where I discovered about Z-Crystals, the items for Z-Rings and their connection with the power from the Ultra Space. Left a little clue behind, though your reaction tells me you figured it all out."

    "But I don't get it," Ash said, leaning forward. "If you've been researching all of this, why not step forward earlier? You could have been real helpful in the battle against DARC."

    "DARC?" Y asked, looking nonplussed. None of them decided to answer, considering the point was relatively moot. "Well, truth be told, I just don't like being in the spotlight. Difference between us, huh?"

    "If you want to look at it that way," Serena said, chuckling nervously. She was feeling more at ease with him now, even if there was still some awkwardness there from the suddenness of the meeting. Y breathed in and then exhaled loudly.

    "Anyway, I've spent a lot of time here, mostly, monitoring the space at the abandoned temple for the last five years. Sometimes I'll travel off to other areas, like the ruins of the guardian deities, or into cities to send a letter, watch news reports, but I genuinely am not very aware of the goings on in the world. Only knew about you because of letters from Grace back in the day and a report on your Top Four placement in the Sinnoh League, Ash. I might have heard about something in Kalos some months ago, too, but I was already too entrenched here by then," Y was certainly throwing a lot of information at them, but Ash seemed fine with it. Serena was keeping up as well, even if Bonnie was bored and poking at Hydreigon, who seemed to like the attention.

    "But, if you were studying the Ultra Space, why not team up with the researchers in Heahea?" Lillie asked, holding a finger in the air in thought. "Or even the observers at Mount Hokulani?"

    "Because I wasn't examining that in particular," Y told them, crossing his legs. "Though…I won't say I didn't have my effects. You said my counterpart was cunning and manipulative, yes? Well, I can't say I lack all of those traits. I could tell from what happened here at the Lake of the Moone six years ago that a great conflict was being cultivated in Alola, though I wasn't aware of all its contents. I set my own plan in motion, though. I…er…may have mentioned some things to that observatory about the portals beyond, and the moving celestial patterns, at least when I drew the connections between them. Can't say I was much successful, and I did it in a way that those involved would never know I was involved. But like I said, I was looking into other worlds and things and the Ultra Space topped the list after the disaster six years ago."

    "Six years…that's when my mother started to change…" Lillie said, now clasping her hands and pursing her lips. Y glanced at her, but his own eyes mostly remained between Ash and Serena. He sniffled a bit and moved his jaw before speaking once again.

    "So, can we ask the honest question here, before getting to the heart of the matter?" Y asked, making everyone look at him seriously. The air felt heavier now, any more motions of reunion off the table in light of what was soon approaching Alola. "You tracked me down because you need information and no other reason. Can't imagine why you would think of me, so those are the questions: why, and how?"

    "Well, the how and the why are easy enough," Serena breathed out, putting herself into a calming state so she could continue to converse effectively. "After we learned that Michael was the one behind Lusamine's actions concerning the Ultra Space, I thought…well, I thought that maybe the two of you went down similar paths, and that…maybe you could help. It seemed silly at first, but the more Lillie and I searched, the more obvious it became that we were right."

    "The people of Seafolk Village had heard of someone looking into the altar," Lillie explained. Y watched her carefully as she did so. "So, we got some information on the person, which we figured was you, because they said he looked a lot like Serena."

    "You eventually drew the connection between the altar and the lake, then?"

    "Eventually," Serena admitted. "Not at first, and even when we did, there was never a guarantee you'd be there. So, we started searching near trial sites, just to be safe, including other abandoned places. We even got some help from Samson Oak and spent time at the library in Malie City when the rumors reached us of a fire by the Lake of the Moone, which I recalled from our visit here a month ago. In the end, I waited to see you, though, because…well, I wanted Ash with me."

    "Oh," Ash said. Pikachu was nodding on his shoulder, though Ash remained tense as Y looked over him one more time, clearly approving of him. Eventually, though, her father stood and began pacing, like he wasn't sure what to say to her. It couldn't have been easy.

    "Hmm…where do I start, then?" he questioned, stroking his beard, occasionally tucking his rather lengthy honey blond hair behind his ear. It reminded Serena of something she would do; something she'd actually picked up from her mother during Rhyhorn Racing. Serena looked up at him, blinking a little. "Well, you clearly came here to get some answers as to what this other Michael may have done, yes? I think I might have some from my own special research. Maybe counterparts are drawn together like magnets if they've been to the same spaces or something."

    "I could certainly believe that, opposites attracting and all," Clemont commented. Serena nodded with his agreement; they had met their own counterparts that had come to their world and invariably interacted with them, after all. Perhaps that had even been part of the reason Paul had come to take part in the battle on their side, now. Y stopped stroking his beard.

    "Then let's kick it off with six years ago. You say this is when your mother, Lusamine, began changing?" Lillie nodded, but didn't say any more. "Yes, that makes sense. No doubt you've heard by now of the crisis that Alola faced six years ago. A great portal of darkness erupted from this very spot, actually. It sent the whole region into a tizzy. The seas were disturbed, and there were avalanches, sandstorms, all manner of disaster. At the time, I'd yet to come to Alola, but researching what I was researching, I eventually found that it was directly linked to a portal to the Ultra Space that was opened at the ruins here, so closely tied to the celestial beings that are Alola's legendary Pokémon."

    "Natural disasters, huh?" Ash asked, though his mind was already looking to be rather confused, judging by his face. Serena just patted him on the shoulder to tell him not to worry too much about the finer details. She doubted they would matter much anyway. "Hau said his parents died six years ago in a fishing accident…could they be connected?"

    "Likely," was Y's response. "From what I understand, it left devastation in its wake. Many people lost their lives, though I don't believe the people ever knew what had truly caused it, mostly thanks to the Kahunas that were chosen by the guardian deities at the time making their stands here at this very spot, fighting the darkness."

    "But how did the darkness open up?" Rotom asked, clearly intrigued by the conversation now. Serena wondered if it was really just interested in more about the Ultra Space. Y regarded the machine a moment before answering.

    "My guess, and it's an educated one given my studies," Y continued on. He seemed to grow tired of pacing, for he sat back down and clasped his hands together. "You've heard of the Sun and Moon Flutes?"

    "Boy, have we ever!" Bonnie said, jumping back into the circle. The young girl seemed to have now improved her mood around Y. At her words, Serena reached into her own bag and pulled out both flutes, including the broken Moon Flute. Y regarded them with his eyes, but didn't offer to take them at all. He just used it to continue on with his guesses.

    "Okay, the flutes share…special properties with the Z-Rings, especially those in particular that are given through the guardian deities, and only those. It seems confusing, but what happened in the distant past, I'd imagine, was that the Ultra Space was formed from the remnants of broken worlds. How the beasts came into existence, I believe, is unimportant, so much as what they live off now: destruction. I believe that in order to protect the worlds, with their champions, the guardian deities sealed off the Ultra Space by creating and using the flutes. That was in ancient times."

    "That would explain why they resonate with the power of those particular Z-Rings," Clemont pointed out. Ash's face was scrunched up, but he still seemed to be following.

    "So, you've witnessed the phenomenon, then…" Y commented. Serena watched her father, feeling more elation with every word that he was speaking. "You guys are making this way easier to explain then, ha ha…"

    "Well, it was a lot of trial and error," Ash admitted. Pikachu seemed slightly bored with the exchange, slipping into Ash's lap while Dedenne snored away in Bonnie's pouch next to a lethargic Squishy and attentive Bluey. Greninja appeared to still be keeping watch.

    "That's what all of this is. I'm sure that's exactly what this other Michael did, as well," Serena's father followed up with. At his words, he pointed forward to the flutes in Serena's hands. "I believe, given the name of this place, he took the Moon Flute to these ruins and played it with the intention of opening a portal to the Ultra Space. I can't say he succeeded, but given the state of the stars that day, almost converging, he made something happen."

    "This darkness?" Lillie questioned. To this, Y nodded and he sighed before shifting his finger to point solely at the Moon Flute.

    "Thing is, those flutes were meant to be used together, and it was for that reason that it likely broke." Serena had to stop herself from frowning vehemently; Michael had a singular way of ruining everything in their life, whether he had planned it that way from the beginning or not. Clemont looked pensive, obviously trying to figure it out the quickest, out of all of them. "Regardless, it made the darkness escape, one that was only beaten back by the Kahunas of the time. That otherworldliness was a borderline, though, that when crossed, it signaled the eroding of lines between our world and the Ultra Space, which the Tapus had kept so heavily sealed and entrusted to the Champions over the eras."

    "In the end," Clemont mused, "Gary and Burnet's research was right. The Ultra Space must be comprised of so many other worlds that have been destroyed, and now that the other portals were sealed, it weakened any overlapping seals on the Ultra Space within, which is what will make it wrench open now."

    "You have a solid grasp of it, Clemont," Y spoke. Clemont appeared taken aback, but his lips went into a thin line, still trying to think one or two steps ahead. Serena just felt elated that finding her father hadn't simply been an exercise in futility. She also thought at rapid speed about the Moon Flute, how it had broken from undue strain. The Sun Flute had likely been spared at the altar thanks to their Z-Power, and Michael had likely returned the Moon Flute to where he'd found it because he knew it would be useless. Perhaps he hadn't planned it, but he'd made things a lot more complicated to stop.

    "Okay, but what about this whole darkness thing? I mean, just 'cause Michael went and opened these things didn't mean anything at the time, right?" Ash asked. Y looked at him before shifting his gaze around to take them all in. His fingers began to tap on his knee.

    "Honestly, I think that darkness is everything," Y explained to them. "Whatever it was, it hasn't appeared in any of the other portals that have opened. Not at Resolution Cave, and not in Heahea. That it came forth here and at all, it must be at the core of everything, but lacks the energy to be substantiated…at least, in our world. Perhaps, in time, it could accrue enough energy to do so, and that may be what Lusamine is trying to do. If she can make the chasm split wide open, the Ultra Beasts may gorge on this world until the Ultra Space is full."

    "But…what's this dark thing?" Bonnie asked, her eyes glaring ahead. Above her, Rotom was trying to calculate what was being mentioned, making rapid fire guesses on its screen.

    "No idea, just that it's the crux of the Ultra Space without the Celestial Beasts to maintain it," was the answer. Serena suddenly slid her gaze over to Lillie, the familiar phrase of the Celestial Beast echoing in her head. Memory of the great lion atop the Altar of the Sunne engaged within her mind. Things were making much more sense. "If you want me to guess, I'd imagine that is the void of space from stars, reflecting their light…like a husk of the legendary Pokémon that Alola once revered."

    "You mean Nebby," Lillie spoke. Before Y could ask just what Nebby was, Lillie had slung her bag around and pulled out the still inert form of the creature that was like family to them. "He was once a little Cosmog until my mother drained him of power to open the Ultra Space."

    "Fascinating…so this must be a cocoon-like form?"

    "You've seen Nebby before?" Ash asked. Y looked up, clearly thinking on how best to answer the question.

    "I've seen a Cosmog, through the portal at the ruins here," was his response. Lillie's gaze snapped up, as well, like she recognized the words spoken. They all did (unless one counted a still confused Bonnie and Rotom). Nebby had told them all about freeing its counterpart, and now those words and understanding were being made plain. "I believe it's held prisoner by the darkness, and the only way to get it out…"

    "…is with the flutes," Clemont finished, huffing a sigh out. "Of course. We use both the flutes here to open a portal inside, just as we would at the altar, pull the other Cosmog out, take it to the altar and then their power will return enough to escort us inside the Ultra Space to take out Lusamine and Guzma."

    "It's a great plan, Clemont!" Ash said jubilantly, though he then rubbed the back of his head. "Uh…but…the problem is the flutes."

    "More than that, the second you open a portal here, the darkness will try to take Cosmog back. We could hold it off, but you'd need to get as far away as fast as you could," Y assured them. Serena now stood, as did Ash. To no one's surprise, Lillie did the same, looking positively fierce.

    "That doesn't matter!" Serena snapped loudly. "Now isn't the time for us to worry about ourselves when the whole world is at stake. Michael obviously set things in motion to destroy everything that we love in this world. He awoke the darkness that tried to take Nebby for its own power; he manipulated Lusamine, who controlled Guzma, and then he even prevented our efforts from succeeding on the preemptive strike. No more! I'm not standing by and letting him ruin any more lives! We will save everyone, including Nebby."

    "The only question is how," Lillie said emphatically. "That's the real reason we came to you. How do we save Nebby and get to my mother?"

    Y looked up from his place on his chair, staring at all of them and their looks of utmost determination. Behind her, Serena heard Clemont stand, as well, while Bonnie drew closer to her brother, looking just as fierce as the rest of them. Rotom floated into the ring of firelight, but didn't say anything, given the gravity of the situation, all while Greninja faced forward towards their group in support. As Y continued to watch them, like he was searching all of their intentions, his Hydreigon floated back towards him, one of the heads picking at a loose berry on the ground. There was silence, except for the wind over the water and the crackling of the fire. Eventually, he started laughing.

    "You kids are too much," he said, every syllable laced with chuckles. "Sorry, I guess I can't really call you children. Not when you came to me. If only my generation was as proactive as yours. Maybe things would be different, yeah?"

    "Well, in the end you guys are still the ones finding all the answers," Clemont admitted. "We just seem to be doing the leg work." Serena couldn't really disagree with that, but she knew that Clemont's research project with Gary was what had made the original attempt at a preemptive strike possible in the first place. Her father seemed to share these sentiments.

    "Nah, you all are the ones to look up to. Sure, we find some info, but you guys put it together and do the necessary work to save everyone. Meanwhile, I've been parked by a lake, secluded from all the goings on in the world," Y admitted with what looked like a sense of shame. He sighed. "Well, guess the time has come for me to step away from the moon and into the sun. Or is that too cheesy?"

    "And I thought Rotom's attempts at practical jokes were bad…" Bonnie commented as she slapped a hand to her forehead.

    "Bzzt! What is Bonnie saying? ! Rotom's pranks are things of legend! Legend! Rotom has even recorded some now, for posterity, and added them to Rotom's backup data drive to live ever on!"

    "I'm still trying to find its whipped cream prank that it played on Hau and me, so I can delete it," Clemont sighed out. That caused an elated chuckle to travel through the group, no more so than Y, who seemed to be enjoying human contact after so long. That made Serena happy, even if she didn't say it out loud. She knew Ash could tell, though: she was glad her own father wasn't as cold and unfeeling as Reeree's had been.

    "So, the Day of Stars is almost upon us, huh?" Y finally spoke, coming to stand now. He approached Lillie and Nebby, sending a questioning look to the blonde. She nodded, allowing him to extend a hand and touch it. He frowned for a second, but continued to examine Nebby's motionless form. He started to nod at a point and then turned away, towards one of his tables. Serena's eyes watched him carefully as he began flicking through papers, like he wanted to find a specific one.

    "How much do you all know about the connection between Cosmog, er…Nebby and the flutes? Just those two," came his question as he settled on a particular stack papers. Shortly after, he began leafing through it.

    "Well," Lillie chose to answer for them, tapping her chin in thought. As she did so, she was balancing Nebby with her other arm, which Serena found to be impressive. "We know they're connected, because with the Z-Rings from the Tapus and the Sun Flute, we were able to talk with him."

    "Yes, yes," Y said, agreeing with their statement. Or maybe he wasn't even paying attention. Serena didn't know. "Aha! Here we are!"

    He whipped around, having taken out a small length of parchment, old and yellowed from years and use. It looked to be taken from a book, thanks to its ripped edges, but he was unfurling it before them, allowing them all to lean in and look at it. Serena peered closely, noticing there were all different sorts of illustrations on the parchment. They appeared to mostly be things that looked vague, if one wasn't aware of the true meaning behind them all. Pictures of the flutes, and a cloud, then followed up with a lion, a bat and what looked like a separated dark splotch. More importantly were pictures of what was probably the Lake of the Moone in its heyday. There also were other symbols around it, and swirls, that vaguely reminded Serena of the Tapus.

    "Okay, so I told you that the flutes were made to seal off the Ultra Space in ancient times using the power of the Tapus," Y explained, pointing to one of the diagrams. Ash and Pikachu looked a little clueless regarding it, but kept listening anyway, nodding their heads. Rotom was recording everything. "Your Z-Rings, from your explanation, are made with the same properties and power, and considering they resonate with Nebby's power, I'd imagine they can do two things: restore it to its full power as the legendary Pokémon of Alola from ancient times, and open a way into the Ultra Space.

    "The second of those two things, though, should be done here first. You'll want to grab the other Cosmog, then get to the altar. Should work there. This area is too broken and watched by the darkness to make that remotely successful here."

    "What about the Moon Flute, then?" Serena asked of him. To that, he slid his finger further down until it was showing a picture of the two altars, surrounded by the swirls that represented the Tapus.

    "The flutes seem to have been made using the Tapu's power, so it stands to reason they can be restored using that same power converging on a single spot." Here, Y tapped the parchment even quicker. Clemont was nodding rapidly while Bonnie and Ash's heads were tilted in confusion. "In other words, to restore the Moon Flute that was made here, we must have it here and pour the power of the guardian deities into this very spot. Play both the flutes, open the portal, pull Cosmog out…"

    "And we know the rest," Clemont confirmed. He seemed pensive in his statement however, breathing in and nodding. "We'll have to be ready, and I'd imagine the only way the Tapus could know what to do and where to act, is if their champions beseech them, or something like that."

    "That makes things tight," Ash now said, folding his arms and sighing. "Getting attacked, splitting up and needing to make it back to the altar before the Ultra Beasts could do too much damage…"

    "We can do it!" Bonnie piped in. Dedenne and Squishy joined her in praising that sense of initiative. "Clemont and I can handle things here while you guys see to the Tapus!"

    "I suppose I could aid in that as well. I've been monitoring the portal here to make sure it wouldn't burst too wide, so I'm well aware of the damage that could be caused, especially on the Day of Stars," Y said. Serena looked up at him, eyes wide at his statement. He grinned at her. "Well, I'd be a pretty poor excuse for a father if my own daughter asked for help and I didn't give it. So…you can count on me. Oh, but best to do all that preliminary stuff before the portals rupture."

    "Th…thanks," Serena uttered. She felt a heat on her face, or maybe it was warmth at knowing her father wasn't a wicked man. Ash placed an arm around her, as if to comfort her or reassure her decision. They heard a clattering and saw that Y had placed a bag on the table, beginning to stuff it full. "Uh…what are you doing?"

    "Packing up?" he stated with light confusion. They all stared at him, and he looked a little embarrassed. "Er…no? Aren't we going to battle?"

    "Someone's eager to fight," Bonnie said slyly. Serena could only giggle underneath her hand, which caused her father to smile. In turn, that smile made all of the others do so, as well, making her heart soar.

    "Well, you all seemed to talk like you were preparing for some big final battle, and you'd be meeting up…wherever you're meeting up."

    "We are, but not right away," Ash said, stepping forward and away from Serena. He held a hand out, like he was fully connecting the bridge between them and accepting the assistance that her father could give. He seemed to like that, reaching out and taking her boyfriend's hand. "We're definitely meeting at Mount Lanakila, but not for the battle."

    "It'll be time for the Hope Leilani and the first ever Alola League!" Lillie cried out excitedly. Serena could feel the waves of enthusiasm coming from her. Ash and her father separated hands while her boyfriend threw his behind his head.

    "Totally…though there's a promise I have to keep, so I won't be heading there right away," Ash stated. Serena looked at him, the only one of their group not staring in surprise. She had a very distinct feeling that she knew which promise he wanted to keep, and it was certain to be an exciting one. Greninja appeared to sense and know what it was, as well, as he and Pikachu shared a determined look between each other. "Once I've done that, though, we'll be heading there so Serena can become the Ali'i ka Leilani and I can win the League."

    "Sounds exciting," Y laughed out with great mirth. "Then…if you don't mind, I'd love to watch you in the Hope Leilani. Only if you don't mind, of course."

    "Oh, no, it's fine," Serena said, waving her hands in front of her face with a smile. "I…I'll look forward to having you there."

    "You might want to avoid Lionel and Aidan, though," Clemont chuckled out. Ash, Serena and Bonnie both nodded while Pikachu and Dedenne emulated their trainers. Lillie looked to Rotom and both gave up on trying to understand all the nuances of these particular reunions and relationships. "I don't think they'd want to see Michael's face, even if you're trying to help us. Leave relaying the information to us."

    "Just to make sure…" Bonnie said, sidling up with a suspicious expression under lidded eyes, "why are you helping us?"

    "Because I love this world," was Y's immediate answer, heartfelt in every word. He shifted his gaze over to Serena and smiled. "It's the world my daughter and wife live in, after all. Don't need a better reason than that. Plus…if my other self was as bad as you all say, I guess I should try to 'atone' and clean up some of his mess, no?"

    "Well, whatever it is, glad to have you on our side instead of against us," Ash admitted, now rubbing the back of his head. Pikachu laughed a little and snuggled right in on his shoulder. Y nodded, hitching his now full bag on his shoulders.

    "Well, then, I can leave you with all that information to be shared for the battle ahead," he said with a sharp jerk of his head. "The Day of Stars is almost here…my years of research can pay off. I'll go on ahead to Mount Lanakila, then. I'll be watching you there. You should take care of yourselves in the meantime, understood?"

    "Not a problem," Lillie said with a brilliant smile.

    "We always look after each other," Serena said, a soft smile playing gracefully on her features. "That's what family does, right?" Y didn't seem taken aback, but he returned the smile.

    "Right. Guess I'll see you there, then, Serena," he said. With those words, he turned around. Hydreigon quickly floated to his side as the duo began to walk away, leaving their little family behind in his campsite. Serena wasn't sure she was ready to think of him as a father yet, but her hesitancy caused her to step forward, just enough to hear his words of pride. "Grace, you raised one heck of a girl…I can't wait to see her perform, and I hope you're watching, too. Maybe I'll even send you a letter…"

    That made Serena grin. She didn't need or want her father's validation, but getting it was the final proof: he may have had Michael's face and voice, but he was not, and never would be, Michael himself. Ash approached, putting an arm around her again. "Well, everything okay?"

    "Yeah. Just have to get in touch with the others now that we can finally do what we need to," Serena said. She turned around, touching a hand to his chest and leaned in to kiss him softly. The others (except for Bonnie) turned away from it. Then she told him what she felt so deeply that it was ready to burst. "I'm happy again."


    Author's Note: A shorter chapter this time around, but considering the amount of detail that was filled in here, I think that's okay. Any longer would have glutted the story, in my opinion. So, as it stands now, I've pretty much filled you in on all of the lore there is to fill except for a few things. Next up, however, is something that's been brewing a long time, and I'm sure that you can guess just what it is…I hope. Other than that, I hope I portrayed everything well, given the past events and current events and what is to come. Please let me know if I did!

    We're almost to some of the big stuff of this finale, so please continue on! Until then, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    This is a moment that's been building, and you know what it means when I say XY&Z gets another use this chapter. So, without further ado, onwards to Chapter 13!


    Chapter 13

    An Elite

    Following Y's departure from the campsite, Ash and the others all quickly made sure to take stock of their own things before choosing to return to the boat. Serena hung back a moment longer, examining the space that her father must have inhabited for years. While Lillie led the others on, Ash stayed there with her, just standing there in silence as she ran her hand over the various papers and other objects. She even kneeled next to the box of Z-Crystals collected there.

    "You want one?" she asked jokingly, reaching in and holding one up. Pikachu was off to the side, rummaging around in the tent that Y had left behind, but backing out due to some rotted berries that appeared to be in there. Greninja just shook his head and continued to watch silently.

    "Nah, I've got more than enough Z-Crystals," Ash said jokingly. Pikachu returned to his shoulder now, almost sharing a slight laugh with him. Serena shrugged and dropped the crystal back inside. "Maybe you should take one, though. I mean, they are your dad's. I'm sure he wouldn't mind, and it could come in handy."

    "Mm, you have a point," Serena admitted. Ash watched her as she shrugged again and this time decided to grab and keep one of the Steelium-Z, placing it right on to her Z-Ring and watching it be absorbed. That settled, like she had a small piece of her father to keep with her, she spun around, her skirt flaring out. Ash watched her with a smile, happy to see her so light and airy again. It was the exact Serena he remembered, if a bit more matured. The battle may have been ahead, he figured, but they still had their joy where they could find it.

    Ash even wanted to hold her right then and there and just spend a moment between the two of them, but looking to the slightly lightening sky, he knew they had spent much of the night talking about the new plan for the Day of Stars, which left very little of it for anything else. Plus, he had a promise to keep; one that truly mattered to him more than anything. For that, he needed some time, and sleep. Ash's hand reached up and scratched Pikachu on the head while Serena once more approached, clearly ready to go. He reached out to take her own hand and the two began to walk away from the campsite. Greninja put out the fire with a shuriken and then escorted them back through the forest. For the first time, Ash noticed that there were no Pokémon sounds in the area; just a simple, wafting and calming breeze that flowed across the lake and through the trees.

    Maybe it was a sign of the devastation that had been wreaked in this place six years ago, yet Ash happened to find it peaceful, breathing in the cool air. The couple continued to walk on, soon approaching the steps to the ruins and walking up them. The rest of their group appeared to have gone on ahead, not wanting to linger much in that place of darkness, and for good reason. Even now, the portal seemed swirling and sinister before them, despite being silent, as well. The couple both tensed, even though they knew what would have to be done in the near future. Inside, Ash had to wonder just what this "darkness" was and what it could portend, but Pikachu's shuddering just drew him away from those thoughts, allowing him to refocus.

    At the edge of the ruins, closest to Oricorio Town, the rest of the group was waiting. Rotom and Bonnie were yawning loudly, almost falling asleep where they stood (or floated, in the former's case). Ash felt a little fatigue, himself, almost going three days without little more than a small nap. He even began to yawn as they set back off. Oricorio Town was still silent with that same sort of sleepy feeling that was starting to take over all of them. Now that the adrenaline of knowing what needed to be done was flushing out of their system, they were all feeling positively exhausted. Ash was surprised they were even able to make it back to the boat in their current state, finding the driver to also be asleep at the wheel. He didn't wake on their approach.

    "Let's…get some sleep," Clemont yawned out in suggestion. "We'll contact everyone and head to our next destination in the moooorning…"

    "Sounds good…sleepy sleepy time…" Bonnie muttered out, waving her arms around.

    "Yes…Rotom must dream up new pranks, now that Rotom is with Bonnie again…" Rotom mumbled out almost incoherently. Ash wasn't aware that the Ghost type could really even dream in the first place, but chose to not question it, really.

    "Like you even could," was her drowsy response. It didn't stop them from falling asleep on the deck, with Bonnie clasping to the Pokédex and her other partners, beginning to snore loudly. Clemont just shook his head and covered her with a blanket before going to sleep himself. With their group settled, Ash headed below deck with Serena and Lillie. The latter fell asleep the instant she was in a hammock. Meanwhile, Ash and Serena laid down upon the bed that was there, holding to each other. He felt comfort, and a sense of home, with her in his arms.

    "It's nice, being like this again," Serena admitted to him, pressing her back up against his chest calmly. "I feel like it's been forever."

    "Yeah," he breathed out, accidentally inhaling the scent of her hair. They both must have smelled to high heaven after everything. Still, he let it relax him. "Thanks for coming to get me, Serena."

    "I always will, just like you will for me," she said. Her body twisted around, hands snaking around his neck calmly and with a smile. She nuzzled closer, putting her nose to his. "And thanks for being here. It meant a lot."

    He didn't respond, but allowed himself to finally fall asleep with her in his arms in that state of comfort; she seemed to understand. He dreamed of nothing, far too exhausted to care. Yet still, he woke up to the first rays of light that streamed into the boat, and the tromping of footsteps from Bonnie above deck. His body, and that of Pikachu's, pumped themselves full of adrenaline the second he awoke and within a few minutes, they all made their way to the deck, where the driver appeared to be surprised they had returned. Clemont, however, was busy pulling out his communicator and pressing buttons. Bonnie leaned in as they all approached.

    "Let's hope there's still someone at the Aether Foundation," Clemont noted, stifling a yawn from himself. Ash reached over to him, clasping him on the shoulder and looking at the screen. In moments, it lit up with two very familiar, and somewhat argumentative, faces.

    "Heya, guys! You're just in time!" Hau said cheerily, waving at them. Lillie seemed to wave back as well. "We were just about to make our way to Mount Lanakila. The Hope Leilani starts tomorrow, right? Or something like that…"

    "Pretty sure it's in two days," Gladion snapped irritably. Hau shrugged, clearly not caring as he tossed two malasadas in the air, one for him and one for Pipi. Naturally, the two caught them with the expertise of jugglers into their mouths. "This idiot is right about one thing, though: we are heading out. A lot of people have already made their way there, including Aidan and the rest of them. He plans to come back after the Hope Leilani in order to run things effectively. You guys find anything out?"

    Ash didn't answer, preferring to let Clemont deal with the subject at hand. Really, he just didn't want to converse with Gladion. It wasn't a sense of distrust or anger towards the boy anymore; he'd let go of that long ago. No, it was more that he wanted them to settle everything in battle, the only true place they could come to understand one another. That was what mattered, and Ash promised he would hold to the promise that they'd made.

    "We found a way to repair the flute and get ourselves into the Ultra Space, but it was recommended that we wait until just before the Day of Stars begins, when the portal at the Lake of the Moone is most unstable, in order to make it happen," Clemont told the blond. He nodded, folding his arms and listening carefully. "We also need yourself, Ash, Serena and Lillie to go to each of the Tapu's shrines in order to make them combine powers on the lake."

    "All right…I guess," Gladion said, clearly thinking about the logistics of it all. "Guess we can make it work. You want me to inform Lionel about all of this, then?"

    "That would be best," Serena spoke. She didn't mention anything regarding her father, telling all of them on the boat that there was no reason to mention Y heading for Mount Lanakila. Ash could only hope he wouldn't run into the two members of ARC that would likely have a bone to pick with him. Hau once more popped on the screen, clearly annoying Gladion in the absolute worst of ways.

    "Awesome! Then we're all set to save the world!" Hau said, jumping up and down with enthusiasm. Gladion continued to look annoyed.

    "Will you cut it out? !" he finally snapped, but Hau just grinned at him, before throwing his arm around the surly boy. It was like they were the best of friends, Ash observed…if friends wanted to kill each other. "All right, I'll pass the message along after I take care of this idiot. It'll be a miracle if he even makes it past the first round of the League, the way he's going."

    "Hey, me and Pipi are planning to win it all with Incineroar and the others!" Pipi appeared to agreeing, zipping around in midair and doing a few flips on her tail. Gladion's lips were churning, looking ready to strangle the boy. "How about you guys? Headin' to Lanakila? I mean, you are on Ula'ula."

    "Nope," Ash said definitively. Hau's eyes widened, tilting his head in complete surprise. Ash leaned his head back, addressing the driver that was listening in a professional capacity. "We're heading to Melemele, so I can face your grandfather. Promises to keep. But no worries. After I win, we're heading straight for the League!"

    "Man, wish I could be there to see it…" Hau said disappointedly. "Lillie, Rotom, you better watch lots and record everything!"

    "Rotom is on it, Sir Hau!" Rotom reported with a salute. Lillie just looked a little bemused.

    "Why me?" she laughed out. Hau just responded with his own hearty laugh, which soon died away as Gladion pushed him off of the screen, looking even more surly towards him than when the conversation had first started. "You take care, brother. I'll look forward to watching you both battling at the League."

    "Naturally," Gladion said, adopting a smile on his face. It was strange for Ash to see, but the smile dropped off as he looked through the screen at Ash. "And I'm holding you to your promise to me."

    "Don't worry. We'll definitely battle at the League," Ash promised him. That seemed good for Gladion, and before Hau could interfere yet again, the blond terminated the connection. Ash breathed in and out before looking to the driver, who had already started the boat up, beginning to pull away from the coast in a straight shot for the island they were going to. The raven-haired boy stepped away from Clemont now, looking out to the sea.

    It was finally time.

    The others all joined him in looking out to the sea, until, after what felt like a remarkably short time (but must have been much of the morning), they could see Melemele on the horizon, including the beach that held Kukui's lab. That seemed to be where the boat was heading, prompting Ash to turn to both Pikachu and Greninja.

    "All right, guys, this is it! The last battle before the League and the Day of Stars," he said to his two staunch partners. Pikachu nodded fiercely, clearly prepared for the battle ahead. Greninja remained stoic, folding his arms with a quick "gren". "Let's defeat Hala, together!"

    With these words, Ash threw his hand out, letting Pikachu and Greninja throw their hands in as well. Inside their pokeballs, his other Pokémon all seemed riled up, as well. That gave him the confidence to stride onto the beach of Melemele, once the boat had docked there, with his head held high. It was time to fulfill their promise to the Kahuna, once and for all. Sucking in the sea breeze, he turned to his friends, who all looked more than prepared to cheer him on. Having that encouragement, Ash wordlessly looked up towards Iki Town, and then began to once more run in its direction. Every step he took filled him with more and more life.

    The others all kept a consistent and even pace with Ash, Pikachu and Greninja. As they reached the hill that officially led to Iki Town, Ash began to grip his pokeballs one by one, calling out a new member of his team with every few steps. It certainly caught quite the amount of attention as they were entering the town. Children and their parents began exiting the wooden structures to look, some recognizing him, others in awe. Ash, however, only offered them smiles and nods until he'd reached the top of the town and looked towards Hala's house, where the Kahuna was unintentionally waiting.

    "Ash…" the older man boomed out, standing from his seat at his porch. Ash stopped walking, lifting the brim of his hat a bit.

    "I'm here to fulfill our promise," he spoke, clearly and concisely. Behind him, the support of all of his friends and Pokémon were filling him. Hala refused to take his eyes off of him as the older man walked forward, every footstep showing his tremendous strength from its booming sound. Eventually, he stopped in front of Ash and peered at him. The townspeople had all gathered, watching the exchange.

    After a brief moment, Hala grinned. "Yes, I can see that. From you and your Pokémon, both."

    "Pika, pikachuu!" Pikachu said, pumping both his fists and flexing his muscles. Hala nodded, almost like he had been expecting their arrival, despite it being very unlikely he'd been told beforehand. Like a magnet, the two males turned and looked in the direction of the Mahalo Trail. Like they were called there as fellow champions of the Tapus. Hala looked back, and Ash met his gaze.

    "Then we can finally battle, and complete your Grand Trial," he stated with authority. His volume raised powerfully. "Prepare the stage for the Grand Trial!"

    "Yes, sir!" some of the people in the town cried out enthusiastically, setting about to work. Hala placed his hands on his hips while Ash smiled at him, ready for the battle that had been building since that day. Since the day that Hala had asked the question which Ash could now answer: why do you want to be a Pokémon Master?

    In mere moments, preparations were made to the stage, and anticipation was filling the town like Ash had never felt it before. To him, the town showed its resilience through all its recent disasters from that alone, offering their minds and bodies in preparing for the Grand Trial to Tapu Koko. Ash clapped his hands together, facing towards the Ruins of Conflict with his head bowed towards the guardian deity that had chosen him. Tapu Koko, you chose me for my willingness to battle. Now watch me as I battle your previous Champion. I'll prove your decision justified. Then, we'll fight together.

    "All set, Kahuna Hala!" cried one of the worker's voice as he stepped away from the stage. It seemed that little bits of debris or material upon it had needed to be cleared away for their battle, but Hala was satisfied with its now current state, striding forward, right for the same side he'd stood on during their first attempt at holding the Grand Trial. Ash smiled, and he looked towards his companions. Bonnie was gripping Rotom tight, the Pokédex looking more than ready to start recording. Lillie and Serena both had their fists close to their chests, as if wishing him luck just with that action. Clemont was the only different one.

    "Hala, since Ilima isn't here, would it…would it be all right if I refereed?" the lemon blond asked of the Kahuna. Hala grinned a bit, and then inclined his head with a nod, trusting the inventor with watching over that sacred tradition. That made Ash even more fired up to win, standing up to the stage.

    "Toucannon, Lycanroc, Kommo-o, Passimian, cheer us on. This is our final trial before the League, so we're going to all do it together," Ash said with full confidence, never taking his gaze from Hala. So many months ago, the man had seemed an insurmountable mountain. He was the strongest in Alola; the block to overcome. Now, however, Ash was standing there, ready to jump the hurdle. Hala opened his mouth, gripping a pokeball.

    "I have been waiting for you, Ash, more than you could ever imagine," Hala said. Around them, the townspeople were gathering, like it was all a proper celebration, as had been indicated by the Kahuna all that time ago. The air was rife with anticipation. "Before we begin…I want to ask you one thing."

    Ash looked down to Pikachu, his perennial partner, and shared a single grin. "Go for it."

    "Why do you want to be a Pokémon Master?" It was the one he'd been waiting for. Ash raised a fist into the air.

    "I don't," he answered simply, causing Hala to raise an eyebrow in response. "I am a Pokémon Master. Why? Because I know what I want, and who I am. I want to win, because winning means understanding the person and Pokémon in front of me more. Sure, I can get that from losing, and that's okay, but it's not the same. That's why me and my friends are going to defeat you right now. As long as I keep doing that, I'll always be a Pokémon Master."

    Hala looked shocked by the response, his mouth parted slightly. He soon closed it, however. Then he let out a booming and shuddering laugh, one that actually shook the entire stage. Ash held his ground. "Now I like hearing that! You pass, Ash Ketchum! You won it all! Now, take it! Take your dream, and show me the true extent of it."

    "We plan to! Pikachu, I choose you!" Ash cried out, pointing to the battlefield with a wide grin. He caught sight of Serena and Lillie staring, watching what was about to go down in awe; almost like he was an entirely new person. Ash didn't know about that, but he was certainly ready to give it his all, the same as all of his partners. Hala grinned yet again, throwing his own pokeball into the air.

    "Hariyama, it is time!" he cried. The capture device exploded with light as the bulky form of the Arm Thrust Pokémon appeared with a great cry, towering above Pikachu. It almost felt like a continuation of the last battle between them. Except this was nothing like the last battle. Clemont cleared his throat, raising his hand to the air as the town murmured with anticipation. Ash took encouragement from his friend refereeing.

    "This is a Grand Trial battle between the trial-goer, Ash, and the Kahuna, Hala," Clemont said, his own voice filled with excited authority. "It will be a three-on-three battle, with the battle being over when all of one side's Pokémon are defeated. Further, only the trial-goer will be allowed substitutions. You may begin!"

    Ash breathed in, just for second. They were ready.
    *Chapter to be continued in next post...

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Pikachu, let's start it off with Quick Attack!" Ash called, thrusting his fist forward. Of course, it was a predictable opener, but Ash wanted to see how Hala would react. Pikachu blasted forward on his legs, shining white as he raced forward, across the stage towards Hariyama. Hala didn't move, just like Ash expected. He was a mighty man, unafraid of anything, with no need to move.

    "Bulldoze!" Hala called out, already into the battle. They were two combatants that didn't need to hold anything back now. Hariyama raised a leg up in tandem with Hala, and then slammed it down. The stage instantly rippled, making Ash raise his eyebrows. Right from the beginning, the Kahuna was preventing his earlier strategy. The shockwave shuddered out rippling across the stage and breaking it to its wooden pieces within seconds, like it was a mere toothpick. Pikachu cried out, tumbling across the field from the attack and into the air as the ripple of ground struck him.

    "Pikachu, use Electro Ball!" Ash called, not letting himself be deterred at all. Pikachu flipped through the air, the crackling orb of electricity forming at the tip of his tail, pulsing in the air. The crowd actually gasped at the sight of Pikachu recovering, though Hala was unmoving, just like Ash continued to expect from the man.

    "…Chu pi!" Pikachu cried powerfully, flinging the orb off towards Hariyama.

    "Arm Thrust!" Hala roared, extending his palm outward as his mustache bristled. Hariyama stepped forward, but didn't change its position, its large palms glowing orange. Then its open palm slammed forward, striking the Electro Ball. Ash's eyes narrowed; it may have blocked the attack, but that didn't mean no damage was done. It also meant that they had an opening, making Ash grin.

    "Spin into a Quick Attack, Pikachu!" Ash cried. Pikachu grinned from where he was, his little feet kicking against the air as the bright white light surrounded him once more. He sped through the invisible air, aiming right for Hariyama as the large Pokémon retracted its gigantic hands. Pikachu was picking up speed and starting to spin rapidly. "Now, Thunderbolt Counter Shield!"

    "Pi-ka! Chuuuuuuuu!" Pikachu screamed. He began to spin faster and faster, looking like a drill. Behind Ash, his Pokémon were all cheering as Pikachu turned into the manifestation of a thunderbolt, himself. Hariyama's hands finally snapped backwards, just as Pikachu slammed into Hariyama's midsection with the force of a bullet. The Thunderbolt exploded upwards, finally driving Hariyama back amidst the debris of the stage that had been created by Bulldoze.

    "Reversal," Hala commanded, now slamming his hands together, almost like he was praying. Hariyama did the same thing, a powerful orange shockwave rippling along its body. Suddenly, its large hand swung around, knocking into Pikachu, who cried out with slight pain as he was pushed into the air. Ash watched carefully, but quickly adapted.

    "Iron Tail, Pikachu!" he called. Pikachu recovered, his tail glowing bright. He used the momentum of that previous attack to swing forward and slam straight down onto Hariyama. The Arm Thrust Pokémon shuddered, but didn't move. He hadn't noticed it before, during the first fight with the Kahuna, but seeing it now, Hala's typical strategy was easy to see, and it reflected him so well. Ash chose to turn that against him and make him move.

    "Arm Thrust!" came the next command. Hariyama acted instantly.

    "Yama!" it cried, his open palm glowing orange again as it punched forward. There was no way for Pikachu to avoid that strike while he dropped, and it slammed home, knocking him straight into the ground amidst the wooden splinters from the obliterated stage.

    "Pi…ka…" Pikachu groaned out, sitting up straight and shaking his head, likely a little dazed from the blow. However, Ash wasn't worried. He knew Pikachu was more than ready to take on the opponent before them. That was something they all understood together.

    "Electro Ball!" Ash cried out. Pikachu began charging the orb while Hariyama stayed in place, likely ready to block it, just as before. Ash's eyes flit around the battlefield before looking right into Hala's eyes, narrow as they were. His foot was going to twitch. "Fire, and then use Iron Tail on the ground!"

    "Use Bulldoze!" Hala roared once more. Sure enough, Hariyama raised its large leg and brought it slamming down on the ground. Several things happened in quick succession. The Electro Ball fired, slamming right into Hariyama's midsection as its leg came crashing down, unable to block the attack. Shockwaves of the ground came rippling outward, aiming right for Pikachu. He wasn't taking it lying down, though, and he slammed the fast-moving ground with his glowing tail, flinging himself right into the air above the stage.

    "Now, Thunderbolt!" Ash called out, sweeping his arm across the area with a grin. Pikachu was grinning right with him, the two of them in sync as his body sparked and jolted with the yellow electricity. The lightning fired in an arc, slamming into Hariyama with little remorse. Underneath Pikachu, the broken up Bulldoze met its match from the Iron Tail and came to an end.

    "So cool!" Bonnie cried out. "Pikachu got into the air and stopped the Bulldoze at the same time! Let's pay more attention, Dedenne and Squishy!"

    Honestly, humans can be so overenthusiastic…Ash heard Bluey say, yet could tell the little Zygarde form was watching intently. Rotom remained silent as it recorded. Hariyama now finished its convulsions as Pikachu hit upon the ground once more. Ash shifted his foot, knowing that Hala would retaliate in seconds.

    "Arm Thrust on the wood!"

    "Knock it back with Iron Tail!" Hariyama's glowing orange hands slammed forward as his foot slammed to the ground. There was no shockwave this time, but the wooden planks of the broken stage fired into the air, where Hariyama slammed into them at a rapid pace, hitting them all right towards Pikachu. Ash, however, knew his best friend wasn't one to give up. His tail was glowing once again and he flipped around, slamming into one plank and then another. It was like a match of volleying wood, with everyone watching in rapt fascination. Soon, Ash saw his opening. "Quick Attack, let's go!"

    "Pika!" Pikachu yelled out. He ducked low and sped off beneath the falling and flying wood, dodging every single one that was coming his way, courtesy of Hariyama. Ash threw his fist into the air, calling for a quick Iron Tail just as Pikachu reached the target. Dashing underneath Hariyama's legs, Pikachu sliced upwards. "Chu pika!"

    Hariyama stumbled a bit.

    "Oh my…Pikachu has certainly grown, which is almost surprising given all your time together," Hala bristled, grabbing on to the ties holding his clothing and pulling them tighter. Ash's friends were silent, watching the battle with anticipation. "Well, then. Belly Drum!"

    "Hari! Yama! Yama!" Hariyama began chanting. His large palms were beating against his big belly, small vibrations coming from them. They'd have to end this quick.

    "Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!" Ash cried out. Pikachu, from behind Hariyama, had most definitely heard him. Large shocks of lightning were flying out from his position and then arching through the air before slamming right into Hariyama. The large Arm Thrust Pokémon was turning around, however.

    "Bulldoze." The command was simple and effective, yet still, Hariyama had yet to move from its spot. It made Ash know just what to do before the powerful attack could hit.

    "Pikachu, stop with the Thunderbolt, and use Quick Attack to get to the edge of the stage!" Ash called out. Pikachu seemed to nod, canceling his attack in a mere second and then jumping to the side, using the extra burst in speed to get away. Hariyama slammed down. This time, the shockwave was even more powerful than the last, blasting any remnants of the stage near Hala into the air. Pikachu rolled to the side to avoid both the attack and the debris. Then, he changed direction and leapt through the air for Hariyama.

    "Reversal!"

    "Oh no!" Lillie seemed to gasp, just as the rest of the crowd did so, too. Ash could see why, knowing Pikachu would take the hit. He wasn't too worried, though, looking over at Passimian. His next, precise strike would lead to the end. "Hariyama is quite damaged, and with Belly Drum…"

    "Pikachu will be fine," Serena said. She did look a little worried, however. The orange shockwave pulsed out from the Arm Thrust Pokémon, and Hariyama swung into Pikachu, slamming him towards the ground. The floor sunk in a bit from the force of Pikachu impacting with it, leaving him heaving in the center of the small crater, but getting back up regardless of the heavy hit.

    "Now, Iron Tail!" Ash yelled. Hala also called for an Arm Thrust. Pikachu swung upwards with his glowing tail just as Hariyama slammed forward. The white and orange attacks met, sparking with one another as they strained. For all of Hariyama's strength and Pikachu's exhaustion, they were holding. Not for long. "Use Electro Ball!"

    "Pika pika pika pika pika chu pi!" The Electro Ball, trapped against Hariyama's palm, grew bigger and bigger, seemingly starting to scorch Hariyama's hand. Given its strategy of not moving away, Ash could already see the next attack coming with a grin.

    "Your other hand!" Hala roared out. The other palm came soaring out, but Ash had anticipated it.

    "Now, Pikachu, flip over with Quick Attack!" Ash yelled. Pikachu did just as asked. Using the Electro Ball for momentum, his body blazed with white and he fired the orb, driving himself back just enough to avoid the other palm and shoot over it with a Quick Attack, right into Hariyama's face. The Fighting type stumbled backwards. "End it with Thunderbolt!"

    "Piiiiikaaaachuuuuuuuuu!" Pikachu screamed out from midair. His electric sacs pulsed with the powerful electricity and soon fired out such a powerful volt that it consumed Hariyama's body, exploding the air and the stage around him, to everyone's gasps. Then, Pikachu landed, and the stage shuddered soon after, the larger Pokémon having fallen to the ground.

    "Hariyama is unable to battle! Pikachu is the winner!" Clemont called, already looking overjoyed, but remaining as impartial as possible.

    "Yeah! Nice job, Pikachu!" Ash called out. Pikachu smiled, slumping just a little. Ash chuckled a bit under his breath. "Why don't you come back and take a good rest?"

    "Pi…" Pikachu said, running back over to his side. Ash bent down and pet his partner on the head. Over to the side, the crowd clearly wasn't sure what to think, even with Bonnie jumping up and down while Serena and Lillie clapped their hands together. Rotom still remained silent, recording the entire match carefully. In the meantime, Hala recalled Hariyama, stroking his mustache.

    "Yes…you've grown, as well." Ash straightened, smiling at the Kahuna. "I can feel it, the conviction in your attacks, the way you've come to read me. Hm…guess I'll have to adapt."

    "That's just the way we like it! That's why, Decidueye, I choose you!"

    "Machamp, time for battle!" Decidueye leapt on to the field, his cloak billowing out behind him as he did so. From Hala's pokeball emerged the four-armed Pokémon that Ash had faced once before. Despite how well-seasoned Hala and all his Pokémon were, Ash could sense there was something different. With a smirk adorning his face, he knew he'd have to be careful. "I can't say I'm surprised to be facing Decidueye. Not only are you using the same team you attempted to face me with before we were interrupted, but that I should face the Rowlet I once did not give away because of how problematic he was…it seems all too poetic."

    "Wasn't thinking that far," Ash admitted with a chuckle, "but if that's how you want to think, then Decidueye and I will show you just how much we've grown together."

    "Kooroo!" Decidueye agreed wholeheartedly, spreading his wings. Murmurs cascaded around, allowing Ash to catch small snippets of them; about how much Rowlet seemed to have grown, wondering how he had come to be under a trainer that could understand him. Ash was prepared to show them just how in this battle alone.

    "Let's go, Decidueye! Leaf Blade!" Decidueye's wings shot out, the tips of them grabbing hold of shining green blades of energy. He began rushing across the ground, right for Machamp. This time, their battle would go differently. Like always, Machamp didn't move, his body beginning to glow red with the power of a Focus Energy. "Throw them, now!"

    "Sai!" Decidueye cried out, throwing both of the blades forward with deadly precision and accuracy. They aimed on a straight collision course for Machamp, making Ash wonder just how Hala would retaliate to it.

    "Ice Punch!" Hala roared, shifting his foot slightly. It was like he was conceding slight ground.

    "Move in with Acrobatics!" Ash cried out. As two of Machamp's fists were imbued with an icy glow, Decidueye rushed forward, glowing blue, himself. The Superpower Pokémon rapidly punched at the blades, hitting them and freezing them to pieces instantly. Decidueye was now in range, leaping into the air and kicking down with his powerful talons. Machamp hadn't seen it coming, forcing him to get slammed and pushed slightly back, head bowed low. That didn't stop the other arms from snapping out with surprising reach and slamming Decidueye in the stomach with their own frozen intensity.

    "Stand your ground, Machamp!" Hala called out, his body brimming with authority. Decidueye was thrown backwards, his chest glowing blue, but Ash watched him a moment. In seconds, he knew that his partner was okay. "Move forward with Ice Punch!"

    "Use Frenzy Plant!" Ash cried, crouching low and touching his hand to the stage's remnants. Decidueye did the same, but from where his wing swept the ground, giant plants erupted, whipping around the area. Machamp remained immobile, as if unsure of what to do while the roots kept him contained. "Now, get him with Leaf Blade!"

    "Desai!" Decidueye hissed out with his hoot. He zoomed forward, blending in with the plants like the Ghost type that he was. In seconds, he had reappeared right at their opponent and was slashing forward with his blades in a cross fashion that knocked Machamp backwards.

    "Dual Chop!" Ash's fist clenched. He knew that things had likely changed, but he had simply been unsure of how. This, however, was proof of it; Hala had been anticipating battling Decidueye at some point. Machamp's arms glowed a bright blue-purple and then slashed outward. Decidueye was right within range, slammed in the chest by one arm, before another battered upon his head. He cried out, clearly having taken heavy damage. Ash's eyes flitted around, hearing the gasps from the crowd.

    "Pull back, launch your Leaf Blades into the Frenzy Plant," Ash ordered. Some of the roots that had torn up from the ground remained, though not many. Those that did, at the very least, surrounded Machamp. Decidueye, leaping back, unsheathed his blades and tossed them, planting them at random spots amidst the roots. "Now, Spirit Shackle!"

    "Focus Energy!" Ash reached up to play with the brim of his hat. Hala was biding his time, just as always, amassing his strength for the ultimate battle ahead. That was fine by Ash; he was planning to have Decidueye strike with the utmost precision to end the battle, anyway. The Arrow Quill Pokémon drew back, pulling tight at the drawstring of his ghostly bow before firing. Machamp's body glowed red as the Ghost type attack struck, causing a small explosion at the base of Machamp's feet, locking it in place with snaking, shadowy tendrils.

    "Now, use Acrobatics by leaping from sword to sword," Ash called out. Decidueye nodded, looking over at Hala challengingly for a second. He then vanished, reappearing atop one of the swords and kicking out. The force of the hit landed, pummeling Machamp from afar. As soon as the force ended, Decidueye was atop another sword and kicking once again. It continued on, but Hala remained patient, even as Machamp took a beating.

    "Now, Ice Punch, rapidly!" Hala roared, clasping his fingers to his palms and punching forward. Machamp did the same. His foot moved forward, the smoky tendrils disappearing before he punched in a complete blur of limbs. The icy chill would no doubt be overwhelming the area, Ash figured, even as Decidueye dodged. The swords he was using for balance broke from the frost, as the rest of the Frenzy Plant shattered. Decidueye was hit soon after by one of the fists, flying back.

    "No room to delay! Frenzy Plant!" Ash called. This time he didn't sweep the ground, but Decidueye angled that way, flapping out across the ground. The large roots snaked out with great force, ripping at the ground and walloping into Machamp.

    "Catch it," Hala ordered calmly. Two of Machamp's arms shot out, grabbing ahold of one of the roots and stopping its attack entirely. Ash hadn't seen that coming, but taking an attack in a holding position made it make a lot of sense. "Slice them apart with Dual Chop!"

    "Champ!" Machamp grumbled out. His other two arms glowed that same purplish glow from before and then struck forward, slicing right through the Frenzy Plant. Decidueye looked back to Ash and he nodded. The archer rushed forward, disappearing into the swirl of plants still flailing around. Machamp was slicing through them, cutting them into ribbons. His body was on the move, cutting them and destroying them left and right. They began collapsing on to the ground, even as Decidueye landed atop one of them.

    "Now fire a Spirit Shackle!"

    "Oh, you're tricky…" Hala grumbled out, a smirk stretching his features. Decidueye was too fast for a command, though, having already marked his target with the deadly precision they had all been training. He nocked his ghostly arrow and fired it, nailing Machamp in the chest and locking his entire body into place with a ghostly explosion. The four arms were still moving, though. "Prepare for an Ice Punch and Dual Chop both!"

    "This isn't like last time, Hala! Decidueye has come a really long way now, you know!" Ash said, throwing his fist into the air. Decidueye caught the command, leaping high from the roots and beginning to spin rapidly. "We're great teammates who understand each other! He's not the same Rowlet you remember, just like I'm not the same Ash you remember! So, use Leaf Blade and pin two of the arms!"

    "Kooorai!" Decidueye hooted out fiercely. He was spinning fast, but found the time to eject two of his blades of foliage, shooting them right out for the freezing fists. They struck just below that frozen aura, causing the fists to fly back and become stuck to one of the remaining giant plants. Without even needing Ash's next command, knowing plainly what it was as his teammates cheered him on, Decidueye acted. He continued to spin, drawing out two more blades, but holding them closely as he spun right for his opponent, quickly entering striking range. Machamp swung inward with his Dual Chop. The attack slammed into Decidueye, but didn't deter him as he blitzed past the opponent and straightened up, making a great slice. "Sai!"

    "Chaaaaamp!" Machamp cried as a great green cross shape bloomed and exploded across his chest. Decidueye twirled his blades, and acted as if he was putting them away. Then Machamp fell, slamming into the ground. Hala raised an eyebrow while Ash looked to Clemont. The boy looked to almost be shaking, like he couldn't believe just what he was about to call.

    "M-Machamp is unable to battle! Decidueye is the winner!" That single judgment sent the whole crowd into a complete tizzy. In particular, Serena and Lillie clapped their hands together in joy once more, laughing out. The other Pokémon all cheered, too.

    "Unbelievable…"

    "He's taking Hala down without losing anything yet," said another member of the crowd. Ash wasn't going to let that get to him, knowing full well that the true challenge was yet to come, and he was going to have to use everything he had to make it all happen in his favor. Ash took his gaze over to Hala, the man not smiling or frowning. He was simply living for the battle, showing the strength to protect Alola with all he had as he returned Machamp.

    "Decidueye, we have to be on our guard still, okay?" Ash called. Decidueye nodded, his knees bowed out just a little. The battle with Machamp, while quick, had clearly not been entirely one-sided. He had taken damage, and the real threat was waiting for him. It was a silent threat, too, as Hala felt no need to engage Ash in conversation anymore. He had seen Decidueye's strength, and now he wanted to complete the prelude to the true battle of the Grand Trial.

    "Crabominable, it is time!" he called, sending his pokeball in a wide arc. It exploded with light, and the familiar form of Crabominable appeared, landing in the exact spot its teammates had battled in. Ash stared across at Hala and then looked to Decidueye. The first move was clearly his.

    "Frenzy Plant!" Ash called, hoping to create cover and inflict as much damage as possible before things could get out of hand against the likely strongest Pokémon in all of Alola. Decidueye ran forward, sweeping his wing as he did, sending the bevy of plants raining out towards Crabominable. Some hit, but the Woolly Crab Pokémon stood its ground.

    "Ice Hammer!" Hala called, punching a fist forward. Crabominable's large claw swung back and soon whipped around, freezing the plants and beating them back all too quickly, as though they were inconsequential. Ash looked to his Z-Ring, already thinking of a way to implement it in. "Rock Slide!"

    "Don't worry and use Acrobatics!" Ash called. There was some slight cause for worry, however, as the shining rocks appeared over Decidueye in seconds and began raining downward. He was zipping through the falling rocks, body glowing light blue. Some of them clipped him, slowing his speed, but he kept going. Decidueye leapt into the air and kicked forward, sending the almost glowing force ahead of him.

    "Grab it, and use Ice Hammer!" Hala called, clearly looking to put an end to Decidueye. His claw shot out quicker than even Decidueye could get away from his previous attack, having anticipated the movement. It grabbed on to his talon and held him there as the last of the rocks hit Decidueye before the great icy hammer came sailing out.

    "Decidueye, Supersonic Skystrike! Let's do it!" Ash called before it could hit. He quickly crossed his arms, beginning the movements for the Flying type Z-Move. Before the Ice Hammer hit, he succeeded in completing all the movements, and Decidueye brimmed with energy, soon blasting off from the ground and into the air. The two became like a blur that the entire crowd followed upwards, watching as Decidueye soared through the air and then turned around, aiming straight back down for the exact same spot with tremendous force. Just as they were about to hit the ground, the hammer fell. Then the force of the impact came and exploded outward, the two foes landing on the remnants of the stage. "Decidueye!"

    "Koo…" came the exhausted call as the dust cleared. Crabominable looked a little roughed up from the Z-Move, but otherwise okay as it kept in its original spot. Decidueye wasn't the same.

    "Decidueye is unable to battle! Crabominable is the winner!" Clemont called, throwing a hand out towards Hala. Ash ran forward, bending low and draping his stalwart Pokémon over him before dragging him over to the rest of his friends.

    "You were amazing, Decidueye. You've really grown," he said to his Pokémon. The archer nodded, seemingly even happier when Toucannon dropped a berry into his lap. "Leave it to me and Greninja. I know what to look for now."

    "Koo…" Decidueye agreed. Ash looked up and straight at Greninja. His Water type nodded and then flipped forward, landing on the battlefield as Ash faced Hala once more. Hala's fist was in his palm, cracking his knuckles. All around them, the town was reaching a feverish pitch, almost cheering a little, wondering just what was about to go down in the final round. Pikachu was still at his side, yelling a few "Pika"s to cheer his teammate on, but Ash was determined to finish it right now: he had the full measure of Hala.

    "This is the battle we should have had at the beginning, Greninja," Ash spoke. The amphibian turned towards him and nodded before facing back towards Crabominable, who was clicking its pincers. "Let's make this the best fight we've had together so far! Go all out right from the start! Full power!"

    "Greeeeeninja!" The water burst out, sending the citizens of Iki Town into oohs and ahs once again. However, it didn't take long before the changes happened to Greninja and Ash was staring through the eyes of his partner, with a giant shuriken there. It was time.

    "Let's kick it off with Aerial Ace!" Ash yelled, kicking forward. Greninja sped up as he shot forward, zipping forth in an almost zigzagging fashion to approach Crabominable at top speed.

    "Prepare for it with Brick Break!" Hala commanded powerfully. Crabominable's claw glowed bright white and came swinging out. Greninja's own fists glowed the same and met the attack in midair, a shockwave resulting. But Ash was already taking advantage of Crabominable's fixed position.

    "Flip over it!" he called. One of Greninja's arms snapped out, grabbing ahold of Crabominable's pincer and flipping over on command. As he did so, his leg snapped out, nailing the crab on the back.

    "Knock it around with Ice Hammer!" Hala cried. Crabominable raised its giant claw, brimming with a frigid fury, and began to whir it around. Greninja, unable to clear the distance, was slammed with the attack in his stomach. Ash recoiled, having almost forgotten the pain factor. Greninja went flying back from it.

    "Balance yourself with your shuriken!" Ash ordered, standing back up straight, with a grin that said he wasn't affected. Serena seemed to sigh with relief on the sidelines. Greninja and Ash reached for their backs, but only the frog grabbed his giant shuriken, digging it into the ground and balancing himself. He flipped safely on to the ground. "Now, toss it and then use Double Team!"

    "Ninja!" Greninja croaked out, throwing the attack swiftly. Crabominable was now turning in place with a scuttling noise as the shuriken impacted with it.

    "Rock Slide!" Hala roared out, an upturn of his lips underneath his mustache.

    "Crabababa!" Crabominable cried out, raising its pincers high. Around the battlefield, numerous copies of Greninja appeared, one right after the other. At the same time, glowing rocks appeared all around the battlefield and began to rain down. Some impacted with the copies, while others missed entirely. However, Greninja was on the run.

    "Use Cut to break through and strike!" Ash called, keeping the closest of eyes on Crabominable. The real Greninja sped forward, siphoning watery kunai from the shuriken on his back. A rock came close and he sliced, breaking it apart with that single strike as he aimed right for Crabominable. In seconds, he reached the target, and both he and Ash slashed downward.

    "Bomaaa!"

    "He did it! He hurt it!" Serena shouted, clearly unable to help herself. It was true; he'd been so in the battle that he didn't notice, but he had been able to hurt Crabominable with the attack. But it also meant the battle was nowhere near over.

    "Close Combat!" Hala was roaring out. Crabominable recovered and sent a pincer roaring out powerfully.

    "Counter with Aerial Ace!" was Ash's follow-up. Greninja acted instantly, limbs glowing white as they struck inward. The fists met and soon collided in a flurry of kicks and punches, moving at a rapid speed in the middle of the field. Their fists slammed into each other like before, a harsh shockwave rippling the pieces of wood on the ground.

    "Give it an uppercut with Ice Hammer," Hala's next order came. With Crabominable's other pincer, it glowed an icy gleam and swiped straight upward. The attack hit Greninja in the jaw and sent him flying off. Ash grimaced, but worked his jaw quickly.

    "Water Shuriken!" Greninja recovered, grabbing his shuriken and tossing it with force, straight downward. It struck Crabominable on the head, causing it to skitter in place. Ash grinned again. "Let's use Double Team and Cut!"

    "Gren!" Greninja confirmed. In seconds, the air and ground were multiplying with the clones of Greninja, obscuring Hala from the view of his Pokémon. They all began descending, kunai in all of their hands as they rushed at Crabominable.

    "Use Brick Break to knock them all away," Hala ordered, folding his arms with a smirk. It seemed to Ash like he was fully enjoying the battle, and Ash had a feeling that he knew what was coming next. All of the Greninja reached Crabominable and the shining pincer slammed up, down, and around to knock them all away before their attacks could connect. Then the real Greninja sped inwards. "There it is! Grab it!"

    "Crabah!" Crabominable cried. Its other pincer snapped out, grabbing ahold of Greninja. The Ninja Pokémon turned its head to look at Ash in its struggle, and he grinned. Just as they'd wanted.

    "Now, use Aerial Ace!"

    "Ice Hammer!" Hala roared. Both attacks struck at the same moment. Greninja kicked out with shining limbs, straight into the Woolly Crab's face, while the free pincer slammed atop Greninja and forced him into the ground. Ash grimaced from the strike, but could see Crabominable being forced backwards. It was starting to heave, though its unmoving form wasn't showing it to the audience that was raptly watching. "Keep it up!"

    "Block it with Water Shuriken!" Ash called. Greninja reached around for his back as the second Ice Hammer, now from the other pincer, came screaming out. Greninja swung like he was brandishing a sword and blocked the attack. Part of it froze, but Greninja kept going, the two clashing at a surprisingly rapid pace. "Now, thrust forward!"

    "Grenin!" Greninja cried, dodging the next hammer and stabbing forward. It impaled Crabominable between the eyes, causing it to roar in pain. Hala's eyes snapped open as Crabominable flailed around, feet tossing up the chunks of wood.

    "Crabominable!" he yelled in concern, but seemed to breathe in relief as Crabominable's tantrum calmed. "Very well. Let us end this, old friend!"

    "Finally…" Ash grinned out, slamming his hands together while Greninja did the same. He knew what was coming, and he was more than ready. Hala crossed his arms and uncrossed them before he began punching forward. Crabominable was beginning to do the same, the air filling with Z-Power. "Greninja, use Double Team, right now! We're putting an end to this!"

    "All-Out Pummeling!" Hala roared out. Ash turned his head to see Serena and Lillie clasping for one another while Bonnie and Rotom had drawn close to the stage in excitement. Crabominable's punching didn't stop, slamming forward with amber colored fists that there was no end to. They mercilessly battered the clones scattered about the area. That amber glow soon surrounded Crabominable and it began to charge forward, moving from its spot at last.

    "Sorry, Hala! But this is our battle! We got you to move!" Ash called out to the Kahuna. The ghostly hands were coming to an end now, and Hala almost looked surprised by Ash's statement. Not that he minded, even as Crabominable was beginning to charge. "I told you! We understand you! And that means you stand in one place and hold your ground in everything you do, so if we could get Crabominable to move on its own, we won! Greninja, flip over it and use an Aerial Cut upward!"

    "Crabominable!" Hala yelled out in clear concern. However, the charge of the Z-Move could not be stopped, even as it barreled for the last Greninja on the field, the real one. Ash grinned down at Pikachu and then kicked forward. Greninja did the same, springing into a spinning flip. Crabominable charged through the debris without stopping until it had reached the end of the field. The attack had been quick, but not as quick as Greninja. He came spinning in with glowing limbs and a watery kunai, right on the other side of Crabominable's body. Then he slashed upwards, straight on the underbelly of the crab. It was tossed into the air, almost floundering and helpless.

    "Now, Hala! Me and my team are putting it all on the line for you! Our strength, purpose, conviction and dream! Use Double Team!" Ash called out, smiling so brightly that the whole crowd leaned forward. Once more, and for the final time, copies appeared around the battlefield like wildfire. "Time to end this! Use Water Shuriken with everything we have and slice through it!"

    "Greeeeen…." Greninja cried out. The copies disappeared, fueling the liquid shuriken above Greninja's head. It grew thrice in size.

    "So remarkable!" Lillie and Serena cried out in tandem.

    "Go! Go! Go get 'em, Ash-Greninja!" Bonnie cried, Dedenne and Squishy cheering with her. Then Greninja leapt forward, brandishing his shuriken like a watery blade and slicing right through Crabominable. The sound of it was audible, piercing the air as water erupted from Crabominable in a powerful stream. Smoke appeared from the result of it, like an explosion, and Ash had to wait; wait and see whether it had been enough. He breathed in, feeling Greninja as his trusted Pokémon landed, feeling the exhaustion that he hadn't displayed given his nature, but had surely felt growing.

    Then there was the loud slam, and the sound of wooden planks tumbling away. Dust billowed and the crowd grew silent while everyone watched on in anticipation. It was a hushed moment, but soon the smoke cleared, revealing Crabominable below, utterly spent. Clemont appeared to be shaking so much, it took him a few seconds to make the call.

    "Crabominable is unable to battle! The winner is Greninja, and the battle goes to the trial-goer, Ash!" Those words seemed to have taken everything out of him, because Clemont sunk to his knees in what looked like exhilaration. The form faded from Greninja and Ash let out a heave of exhaustion. It had been much closer than they'd let on.

    "Amazing!" cried someone from the crowd, sending them into a frenzy of cheers at the spectacle they had just witnessed. "Hala's Crabominable was defeated!"

    "I haven't seen that in ages!"

    "Kooroo!" Decidueye suddenly cried out. Ash turned, and suddenly saw all of his Pokémon converging upon him and piling there, falling down to the ground. They shared laughter over their victory together, even Greninja breaking his stoic demeanor to join in. From a gap in his friends, Ash noticed the frothing Crabominable being called back, while the town erupted with glowing praise.

    "We've got to hold a party for this! Break out the food!"

    "Rotom will make play-by-plays!" Rotom said excitedly. Bonnie seemed to like that idea, for she grabbed the Pokédex and instantly began touching buttons on its screen. Ash noticed Clemont having gone up to Serena and Lillie, both looking elated and cheerful at Ash's victory over Hala. Of course, he knew that without all those surrounding him, it wouldn't have been possible: they were what had helped him find the meaning to his dream.

    "A splendid battle," Hala's voice rumbled suddenly from above him. Ash looked up and noticed the Kahuna offering a hand to him. With his Pokémon moving away from him, he took it and was pulled up. There were no words exchanged; the battle had seemed to do all the talking for them. "Come with me. Just you and your team."

    "All right," Ash said simply. Hala stepped away, walking towards the forest that led to the Mahalo Trail. The villagers all stopped in their party celebrations for a moment to watch him go, but returned to them all too quickly, with Serena, Lillie, Clemont and Bonnie swept up in the thick of it moments later. Pikachu, clearly still tired, returned to Ash's shoulder as they walked on after Hala in silence. Soon, the forest faded to the familiar ravine and waterfall, then the bridge. Yet they remained silent, traveling over the bridge, not even snapping the repaired structure once. "This is Tapu Koko's shrine, isn't it?"

    "Yes," was Hala's answer. "I have no doubt he was watching our battle from afar, and I have the feeling he was most pleased with you."

    "He was?" Ash asked. Hala didn't respond. Their steps soon moved off the bridge and back on to dirt. Small statues surrounded the area leading on the path to the Ruins of Conflict.

    "Yes…we owe much to our guardian deities, as you well know. Peace, security, strife, the ability to grow, to love, to despair, to hope…so much. That anyone would seek to destroy that, saddens me," Hala said, his feet carrying authority to them as they walked forward. Ash could see the ruined structures now sitting around them, looking to have been destroyed long ago. "The trials are a manifestation of that love. That we prove ourselves to them."

    "But Guzma couldn't," Ash answered. "Nor would Lusamine, I guess…"

    "No, I suppose not," was Hala's response. Finally, they stopped walking, and Ash realized they were before a small altar, no doubt to pray to Tapu Koko. Hala kneeled down, clasping his hands together. Ash understood and did the same, silence between them a moment. "But Ash, I have seen you grow into a fine young man. From one who was unaware, into one who carries all the conviction in the world. I can truly believe you are what you say you are. That has always been the point of the trials.

    "As one who was chosen by Tapu Koko, as well, I understand that hallowed responsibility to see his will through, and I pray that you can succeed where I could not." Ash easily understood the double meaning behind those words and he nodded. If he wanted to truly call himself a Pokémon Master, then he'd have to make sure to save the one person who'd lost himself along the way. "Thank you for a very good battle. Take it."

    Ash turned his head, barely catching on to the small orb and crystal that Hala had tossed to him. The crystal instantly sunk into the surface of his Z-Ring. As he did, a shrill cry sounded out, like Tapu Koko had certainly watched them. The two men stood, facing each other one more time as they held their hands out. Shaking on it, it confirmed everything in Ash's mind. Words were meaningless, especially as he turned away to leave.

    "Ash, good luck in the League. I'll support you and Hau both when I arrive there, so make sure you make a battle that neither of you will forget." Ash stopped and then grinned back at the older man, his Pokémon all splayed out with him.

    "We'll battle the very best we can, not only at the Hope Leilani and League, but for our world, itself," he answered. Then he returned to town ahead of Hala, and after a night of celebration for Ash's official entry into the main League competition, the next morning dawned with a growing anticipation.

    At last, the time had come to head for Mount Lanakila. The Hope Leilani was about to begin.


    Author's Note: So, the battle with Hala has come to its end. I hope it was a fitting battle that makes up for postponing it for over 50 chapters at this point, ha ha. I really wanted it to be this culmination for Ash's character in a way, overcoming the challenge that began it. There isn't that much else to say about it. Well, other than saying I didn't want to finish with Greninja's Z-Move…that would have cheapened it, I felt. Next time, the Hope Leilani finally begins, and I hope it all goes well, because there's no stopping from here to the end.

    Now we embark on that second to last phase, and I hope it's enjoyable! Until then, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    2,149

    Default

    Well, here we go. Final run up through to the end of the trilogy. I hope you'll all enjoy every chapter from here on out. Chapter 14 time!


    Chapter 14

    A Celebration

    "It's finally here! In less than twenty-four hours, the regional event of the millennium is set to begin!" the familiar voice echoed all around the air. Despite the loudness of the voice, no one in the area actually reacted to it, bustling around with the air of excitement that exuded from all of them. "We're here to bring you all of the great coverage surrounding these two events that won't be forgotten for a long time! Be sure to see some blistering hot battles, engaging performances, and an excitement that will last far longer than the events taking place!"

    "It looks so awesome!" Bonnie cheered out once the announcement had finished. Serena had to agree as to how impressive it all was. She breathed in, Ash at her side, as they stared at the area around them.

    "Mount Lanakila, finally. You ready for this, Pikachu?" Ash asked of his partner, his eyes scanning the entire location carefully. Pikachu perked up on his shoulder, indicating how ready they were for battle. Greninja was still to the side, silent in nature. Serena took the moment to look at the area all around them, herself. Even from just a cursory glance, it was evident the extent of care and detail to which the League and Alolan officials had poured in to constructing this entire place. Despite the cold snow falling, people were walking in between the little buildings that represented the trainer's village on Mount Lanakila. It could have easily been mistaken for a long-term village, if one looked at it.

    There was even an ancient building that looked something like a castle of some sort. Not only that, but as Serena's eyes finally settled upon the stadium, she could see that the exterior was still remarkably reminiscent of older times, even if all the shots of the inside (taken from screens outside) spoke to its modernity. Placing a hand over to her wrist and her blue ribbon, she drew encouragement, ready to make the final stride for the Hope Leilani. Ash was also speaking calmly, hands in his pockets, unaffected by the cold all around them.

    "The others should be here by now, huh?" he spoke, walking just a little forward and bending slightly. His eyes were clearly searching the diverse crowd to look for their group of friends. Serena did as well, but was ultimately unable to find sight of any of them, though she could swear she caught sight of what looked like Nanu and Looker amidst the crowd, rapidly conversing about something. Although, considering they vanished in seconds, she was sure it was just a trick on her eyes.

    "Guys, why don't you get to registering?" Lillie asked, walking forward. She was digging in her bag, pulling out a hat and jacket, for the cold, that she placed upon her head and body. "We don't want you all to miss out on the Alolan event of the millennium!"

    "Right, we should do that," Ash said, finally straightening up. Serena could tell from his tone just how much he wanted to train with his Pokémon in preparation for the upcoming League, but he didn't show his usual signs of antsy behavior. "Come on, Serena!"

    "Wha-Hold on, Ash!" Serena cried as Ash grabbed ahold of her wrist and began pulling her forward. She tried to catch up, but eventually just ran into the flow for the large building that was attached to the stadium. Some people, mostly young children, were pointing at them as they ran, as if recognizing Serena to their parents, but the honey blonde didn't have the chance to stop and wave. She did wonder if her other rivals were already here (she had no doubt Jessie was).

    "All right! This is so exciting! Isn't it, Clemont?" Bonnie was cheering as the other three trailed behind them, Greninja acting like a bodyguard for them.

    "Of course! I'm looking forward to watching the both of them," Clemont admitted, and Serena could hear how at peace he sounded. That made her smile as the doors to the reception area of the stadium opened up. There were even more people inside, no doubt to escape the cold. "Rotom, stop bothering people outside!"

    "Okay! Rotom will bother people inside!" Rotom cheered out. Bonnie just grabbed ahold of Squishy, apologizing to him and then tossing him straight at the Pokédex violently. Serena didn't see the end result, being dragged up to the registration desk as it happened, but the loud smacking sound essentially told her what had occurred.

    "Welcome to registration," a Nurse Joy that was sitting at the desk greeted them cheerily. Serena regained her bearings before the woman continued on, noting the different police guards and a couple Officer Jennys around the area. It really showed the amount of security they were heaping upon the event. She was even sure she saw some Aether Foundation employees; Gladion likely had a hand in making sure things were going off without a hitch. "For which event are you registering?"

    "The Alola League!" Ash said, swiping out his amulet and placing it upon the desk. Rotom finally seemed to recover from the issue of Squishy on its face and floated forward. Serena cleared the fog in her head and walked forward, as well, getting a good look at the completed amulet, all of its wedges filled in and different crystalline orbs placed. It inspired her and she grabbed for her three Leis.

    "And I'm here to register for the Hope Leilani," Serena stated, holding her box out, as well as her old Pokédex. Rotom, meanwhile, floated forward in order to help register with Ash. Nurse Joy took all of them and quickly began entering their information in the system. Serena took the brief moment that she was doing so and glanced around the area, noticing some phone booths that were relatively empty. On one of them appeared to be what looked like a punk rocker of sorts, but Serena didn't have the time to examine him well before a dinging sound was heard.

    "All registered, then!" Nurse Joy said, handing back their items to them, as well as what looked like room keys, the number seven emblazoned upon it. "Ash Ketchum is registered for the Lanakila Conference, which will begin the day following the Hope Leilani's conclusion. The details will be provided this evening at the banquet to be held for all participants, however you have officially been cleared from the preliminaries, along with six others.

    "Likewise, Serena, you've been registered for the Hope Leilani. The flow is pretty much the same as all the other Ceremonies: a course section, followed by a performance and battles. The only difference is that the event has slightly different rules, which will be given before each event is to take place. The Hope Leilani begins tomorrow morning, with the Course in the morning and the Performance through the afternoon and evening. The event itself will last three days. Those, in the meantime, are your room keys for the trainer's village. We also have our state of the art Pokémon Center, complete with an emergency team if needed."

    "Thank you, Nurse Joy," Serena said, bowing a little. It was almost time for it all to begin. Nurse Joy smiled at them and returned to her work, especially since it seemed that there was someone waiting to register for the League behind them. Serena grabbed hold of Ash and began to pull him off to the phones. "Let's call our moms."

    "Oh, right, that'd be good. I want to call all my Pokémon, too," Ash said with a laugh. Lillie seemed interested in this, clapping her hands together in interest and following them, Greninja right at her side. Rotom returned to Clemont and Bonnie, the former chastising the latter for her earlier action. Serena kept on that straight shot for the phones, finding an empty one and quickly dialing for her mother. Ash seemed to be grabbing all of his own pokeballs while also looking around for any other familiar faces. Serena figured she'd just see them all again at the banquet that evening.

    "Oh, Serena!" called the voice of her mother within seconds. Serena faced the screen with a wide smile. "Somehow, I'm not surprised you called. The Hope Leilani, right?"

    "Guess it must be broadcasted in other regions, huh?" Serena asked. Her mother nodded, and judging from the sounds on the other end, it sounded like she was doing dishes just below the phone's screen. That said pretty much one thing: she wasn't about to hop a plane and fly to Alola at any time.

    "They're making it a big deal back here in Kalos," Grace admitted with a little laugh. Serena's eyes narrowed, and she could swear that she saw a floral-pattered envelope sitting near the edge of the sink. She had to wonder if her father had already sent a letter that got there after their meeting, and if so, had he told her mother about said meeting. Grace's body language suggested otherwise, but Serena wasn't about to push it in any single way. "Sorry I can't fly over, but apparently they're already reporting a full stadium for these events."

    "That's all right, mom. Knowing that you're watching is more than enough for me, right now," Serena told her. She noticed that Ash and Lillie were there, hanging back. That prompted Serena to stand back and bring them all forward. "Most importantly, I have Ash and the others supporting me. Like Lillie!"

    "Hello," Lillie said with a little wave in Grace's direction. Grace nodded in her own greeting to the blonde before focusing her eyes on her daughter. Serena stood up a little straighter.

    "Serena, as your mother, I have only one request, then: win it all," she said. Serena's lips blossomed into a grin and she nodded. "I'll watch you every step of the way."

    "Thanks, mom." That was all that needed to be said between mother and daughter, the connection cutting off soon after. Ash extricated himself from Serena's hold, stretching a little as he then entered his own number for Professor Oak's lab. Now, Serena had to wonder whether Samson Oak would be here as well, though there was no indication or reason that he would be. The line began ringing and soon answered, making Serena surprised that not only was Professor Oak on the screen, but Ash's mother as well.

    "Heya, mom! Professor!" Ash called out. If he was hoping to surprise them, it didn't work at all. In fact, from what happened next, he turned out to be the one that was surprised. Both his mother and Professor Oak turned to the phone screen, but before they could greet Ash, the screen was suddenly mobbed by a whole group of Pokémon.

    "Osha! Oshaaaa!" Oshawott cried, attaching himself to the screen, only to be pulled off by a rather annoyed Snivy. It seemed that they had all been waiting for Ash to make a call; obviously, the event of the first Alola League was a huge thing, enough that even Ash's Pokémon were anticipating it all the way in Kanto.

    "Hey, you guys, it's great to see all of you! Have they all been doing well, Professor Oak?" Ash asked, craning his neck in an attempt to see the older professor and converse with him. Serena felt it best to not inform him that it would be impossible by nature of the screen.

    "They've all been very energetic, Ash. Especially with the announcement of the League coming up," Professor Oak chuckled out heartily. Ash grinned at that, looking at all of his old Pokémon that had pulled back from the camera to be seen in a large group. Greninja and Pikachu both drew closer to greet their comrades in arms, while Ash released his other Pokémon.

    "That's great to hear! Everyone, meet our new friends!" he said, throwing his hands out to his new team members, all of them raising a hand, paw or wing in greeting. They received a greeting in turn. His mother then stepped closer to the screen with a smile on her face. She almost looked a little surprised, but in a pleasant way.

    "Oh my, you've certainly grown up even more," Delia said. Ash just nodded while Serena smiled at her boyfriend. It really was obvious from the way Ash had been holding himself that he had changed in a positive way. "I wish I could be there in person for your battle, but…"

    "Yeah, we were told. It's pretty packed and crazy here," Ash laughed out. It was obvious that he wouldn't share any of the other details with her, not when it regarded putting himself in danger. Really, to Serena, it seemed that he didn't even want her there, because her life would be placed in far more danger at the epicenter of everything rather than away in Kanto; not that it was a problem with all of their friends, who were probably somewhere. "But as long as you and everyone cheer for me, I know that we can win it all."

    "Oh? You're not planning on calling on some of your older Pokémon?" Professor Oak asked. Ash shook his head and smiled at the older man.

    "I'd love to, but this is the Alola region. They really value nature and the bonds with your Pokémon upon everything else. I might not be from the region, but I can honor what they do by using all the Pokémon I caught here and battled with here. I hope you all understand." They certainly seemed to, their enthusiastic cries showcasing that they were happy to support from afar (except for Oshawott, who seemed to have gone white). Serena was pleased with it, while Lillie stepped a little forward.

    "You have so many Pokémon!" she said pleasingly, an act that caught the attention of the two humans on the other side. Meanwhile, Serena's attention was caught by the approach of two expected and unexpected hyper individuals.

    "Reena!" screamed one of them. Serena turned around just in time to find herself nearly tackled by the hyperactive girl shouting her nickname. She held her balance and looked down to see the diminutive form of Acerola hugging her. "It's been a real long time!"

    "Acerola, I forgot that all the captains would be here!" Serena cried out, taking the girl's hands. Acerola grinned up at her, looking just as healthy and pumped up as ever, though with a glint to her eyes. She'd been informed of the upcoming battle, no doubt. "Though I thought you'd all just come for the League, not the Hope Leilani, as well."

    "You're a friend, so I'd never pass on that opportunity! It'll be way fun to watch from the captains' box!" Acerola chirped out, clearly pleased to be there. Serena then looked up a little more and saw another familiar face standing just beyond the captain, one she'd not seen since their last battle.

    "And how have you been, Maka?" The aspiring filmmaker straightened up, waving her hand a little to Serena from a small distance away. Acerola pulled back, releasing her hands as Ash's call to home came to an end. The perky girl chose that moment to greet Lillie, showing sudden surprise over the blonde's new outfit. Ash just drew back, waving at Maka and walking over to Clemont and Bonnie.

    "I've been good. But the real question is how have you been?" Maka asked. She was wearing a playful grin, but her hands were on her hips in defiance. "Honestly, Serena! You went and totally vanished like a month ago! Not that I was looking to rope you into a contract or anything…I wouldn't do something like that at all!"

    "Sorry, I've been busy," Serena laughed out, tucking some of her hair behind her ear. She wasn't about to share the real reason she'd been busy. Maka watched her with narrowed eyes, but eventually decided it wasn't worth the effort and ended up shrugging.

    "Well, that's okay. You're here now for the Hope Leilani and we're gonna duke it out in grand style!" the black-haired girl said with a grin. She was still the same Maka as ever, a fact that Serena appreciated. It left only a few of her rivals remaining, and while she knew Jessie and her "fan club" were somewhere around the area, it still left the one she also hadn't heard from or seen of since their last meeting on Blush Mountain, so very long ago.

    "That's right. Only, I'll be the one becoming the Ali'i ka Leilani," Serena assured her. Maka just shot a challenging glare back. At that moment, the doors to the building opened loudly, making the two of them look up to the newcomer. Serena was surprised enough to raise an eyebrow.

    "Daddy? !" Bonnie cried out at the sight of an exuberant Meyer having entered the reception area. He looked as healthy as ever, though it made Serena wonder just why he hadn't been at the battle before. "What are you doing here?"

    "Oh, you know…" Meyer chuckled out, conveying his intended message to those who knew of what he was subtly referencing quite accurately. "I thought I'd drop by and see if you were all here yet. Want some lunch?"

    "But we have a banquet that's-"

    "Excellent! We have a lot to catch up on, kids! Korrina is waiting, too, since I invited her along." Ash turned back from where he was, silent in his complete stupor. Serena agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment, blinking as she watched Meyer drag both of his children off like some sort of kidnapper, with Rotom snagged in Clemont's grasp. He hadn't even greeted them, leaving anyone else there with naught but a shrug.

    "Ooh! That's a great idea! Leelee, let's go explore the village and have some fun!" Acerola said, dragging Lillie off without another word. It was all entirely random, and as quick as a flash, leaving only Serena, Maka and Ash behind within seconds. Ironically, they were the only three to whom the banquet mattered.

    "You guys settled in yet, or did you just get here?" Maka asked kindly, twirling around. Her red ribbon bounced a little as she walked slightly forward. Their silence seemed to be the answer that Maka was looking for. "Well, hey, why don't you all do your thing at your place and then we can head to the banquet together!"

    "Guess that works," Ash agreed. Serena had no reason to argue, so she took Ash's hand, quickly looking at a map of the area, before exiting the stadium area and continuing on towards the trainer's village. Maka was with them, though calmer than she usually was. It made sense, given that she was putting herself into a serious mode for the competition ahead of them.

    That made Serena also put her head on straight. This wasn't the time to think about anything but all the battles ahead, something even Ash and his Pokémon were outright focused on (though all but Pikachu and Greninja were returned to their pokeballs). It made them a little stilted in terms of any conversation that could be happening, but that seemed to suit them all just fine. Instead, the couple quickly dropped their things off in their room, which was really more of a cabin, furnished with six beds and all the amenities one would need for their stay there.

    Following that, the three took to exploring the village and all it seemed to have to offer on their way to the banquet. There were the nicely designed houses and various food stands lining the village streets. People chattered and flitted about, clearly excited about the event that would be happening tomorrow in the biggest of ways. Maka broke her serious veneer for a few moments, as well, snapping quick pictures with her fingers that she would then rapidly draw with glee. The girl hadn't changed much in the last month, and Serena felt that was a positive thing. Occasionally, Serena could see others that were attending, like James and Meowth clearly at a concession stand, or even Brock on the town with Aria of all people (Croagunk was lurking behind him the entire way).

    There were also some more embarrassing encounters like Miette with Sawyer, before they were interrupted by May, Dawn and Astrid, who appeared to have been on a binging spree when it came to food. Alain was also about the town with Mairin and Professor Sycamore, their own anticipation clearly growing. At some point, Serena could swear she noticed her father in the crowd, but that was the extent of that particular interaction (if one could call it that). They did happen to stop and talk a bit with Team Nova, particularly the excited Seamus, who kept saying "This is going to be the best Pokémon League ever!" like he was a little kid who had just watched Ash in the Orange Championship all over again.

    Eventually, though, the sun began to sink on Mount Lanakila, making the air even colder than before (though they didn't notice much, given their walking activities). That was a clear sign to head for the castle that served as the crux and center point between the stadium and the village. In no time, they had arrived there with all those others that were set to participate in the events; it turned out to be quite the large number between both of them.

    "Alola, Ash!" Hau cried out the second he saw them, racing forward to bump fists with Ash. Serena giggled, especially when Gladion was at a table with a drink, rolling his eyes liberally. Scanning around, Serena noticed Maka running off for some food, before she saw Jessie, dressed in her guise of Jessilie and looking as haughty as ever. She nevertheless offered a nod in Serena's direction. "So…did you beat him?"

    "Totally. Pikachu and the rest pulled their weight!" Pikachu agreed, hopping off of his shoulder to join Pipi at a table stacked high with malasadas. Hau looked impressed with a grin, just as Gladion yanked him back.

    "We're not here for a social call," Gladion reminded him, but it didn't stop Hau from smiling. Serena was honestly surprised that they hadn't tried to kill each other yet. Knowing the three boys would be caught up in some manner of argument or conversation with one another, Serena decided to go and get some food, taking a more detailed look around the room. She noticed there were two screens, one with the League symbol and another with a flower. It really wasn't all that surprising to see those, and nor was it surprising to see Kahili there, alongside Olivia, as the two women discussed something with Miss Akela. The violet-haired woman turned her head and briefly smiled at Serena before returning to her conversation.

    "Serena, it's been a long time. You look well." Serena stiffened at the voice, swallowing a little before turning to face the newcomer.

    "Keoni. It has," was her measured response before she could fully see him. When Serena finally got the complete view of him, she noticed that he looked to have come in from some porch outside the hall, a scarf wrapped around his neck as he regarded her. Serena looked at him, not saying much more. His eyes seemed different. They weren't as sharp or condescending, somehow. It was like the month or so since she'd last seen him, he had spent soul searching…or something. She was probably just fooling herself, but she chose to offer him the benefit of the doubt. "How have you been?"

    "Busy," was his rather laconic answer. He shoved his hands in his pockets. "Preparing for tomorrow, of course. I'd imagine he's been preparing for the League?"

    "We've all been preparing for the last month," Serena answered, though Keoni failed to pick up on the double meaning. He simply nodded in acceptance of it. She felt it was way too weird: the boy that had constantly flirted with her was now acting like he held no sense of attraction towards her whatsoever.

    "Mm, good to hear it. Wouldn't be worth the win if you weren't your best," he said, reaching up to remove his muffler. Now that he had, Serena felt like she saw some scratch marks on his face, as though he hadn't spent that month in a prissy mansion. "Same with him. Wouldn't be worth watching him battle if he wasn't at his best. So…just tell him that for me. And for you and me, we'll meet on the Course, tomorrow."

    "Okay…" Serena said. Keoni just turned around and went to go get some food. At the same moment, Ash approached her, all while the frenetic attitude around the hall began to grow. Kukui seemed to be moving on to the stage, prompting Akela to stand with him.

    "Was that Keoni?" Ash asked of her. She nodded, sharing the same look of near disbelief with him. "He seemed…different. Wonder what happened to him…"

    "Who knows," Serena breathed out. The only guess she could make was that from having slapped him that time ago, the boy seemed to get his head on straight, or something like that. Suddenly, Kukui's claps were filling the room, and she and Ash turned, seeing two more people now on the stage with Kukui and Akela. Both of them looked familiar. "Isn't that Kalas? From the KTT?"

    "I think it is…" Ash responded. Their suspicions were proven correct almost mere seconds later as the man in question stepped forward.

    "Greetings, competitors!" he cried out, making everyone focus in on him with rapt anticipation. The screens began to lighten up, displaying various pictures. On the one screen, Serena saw her face, along with thirty-one others. On the other side of the screen were seven pictures, including Ash, Hau, and Gladion at the top, with numerous others below. "I am the host and commentator of the League, Harrison Kalas, working in conjunction with the beautiful and fair Maika Olelo!"

    "And it's a real pleasure for the both of us to be working together for these great events!" Maika announced, coming to Kalas' side. Both continued on without any seeming delay, especially with the competitors' attentions riveted on them. "We're excited to be facilitating these events with Professor Kukui and Miss Akela, and to inform each and every one of you of how the events will proceed, moving forward. To those participating in the Hope Leilani, you've already been informed of the general flow, though I wish to note that the winner will not be crowned until following the League and certain other events!"

    "Other events?" Serena questioned. She wasn't sure if Maika was referring to the upcoming battle on the Day of Stars, or something else entirely. Kalas didn't answer, either.

    "As for the Lanakila Conference, we will begin the day after the Hope Leilani finals!" he cried out, drawing their attention to the screen with the numerous participants. "Seven trainers have already been chosen to clear the preliminaries, which means the rest will battle it out to earn a top spot for the sixty-four that will battle it out in full!"

    Ash seemed to gaze over to Hau and Gladion, all three acknowledging each other, promising each other to do the very best they could. Kalas was continuing on. "The format has been decided upon, and the matchups for the first round, an intense Battle Royal that withers the competition to just sixteen trainers in one round, will be posted that evening before it begins. In the meantime, we'll hold the preliminaries starting tomorrow night, with the battles finishing just before those matchups are posted."

    "Sounds like it'll be tough," Serena told Ash. Kalas was finishing off his introductions, mostly telling everyone to enjoy the banquet that evening (as if they hadn't had enough recently). "I mean, you have to fight three other trainers just to even move past the first round."

    "Yeah, but once we do that, we only need to win three more battles."

    "Pika!" Pikachu agreed, running back up to Ash and sharing what looked like a cupcake with him. Serena was glad to see him so excited for the battle, and it made her get even more so for her own competition. She looked out at all of her rivals. Maka was talking with Jessie, surprisingly holding civil conversation, while Keoni just sat comfortably on a chair, chewing at a malasada (for what was left of the pastries). More importantly was the sight of Miss Akela, striding out towards the porch. Seeing that Ash would be fine without her, Serena took off after the violet-haired woman, eventually finding her leaning against a railing outside.

    "Miss Akela," she called out, drawing the woman's attention on the cold air. Snow was falling down, sprinkling into the woman's hair. "I saw you come outside, and I just wanted to thank you, for inviting me to do the Ceremonies all that time ago. It's really helped me figure some things out. After pushing myself so hard, it really helped me realize the truth of things."

    "I'm glad to hear that," Akela responded, smiling softly. She breathed out, her breath puffing upwards. "I look forward to seeing who will reach the Ali'i ka Leilani. If anyone could be worthy of it, I would say that it's you."

    "Thank you, but me and my Pokémon will only try our best, you know," Serena assured her. Akela liked that response, because she kept smiling. Hearing some of the jubilation inside, Serena walked forward, feet crunching on some of the gathered snow. "If I can ask, Miss Akela, you said that when you chose me, I reminded you of someone, and that I made you smile…"

    "Yes…you reminded me of myself, of course," Akela chuckled out. She turned, placing her chin on her hand. "The drive and passion to see it through. I saw myself in you, even the pain."

    "The pain?" She had certainly felt her own share of pain, but never had she truly felt that from Akela. Doubt, perhaps, in some of the choices she had made, but that was the only extent she'd perceived.

    "I lost my fiancée, six years ago, you see," Akela responded. Serena closed her eyes; once again, Michael's actions reared its ugly head. "At the time, I was the Ali'i ka Leilani, but when I got the news, I lost myself to the grief. I wanted to be someone that could bring joy to many, but my dancing and the ceremonies would no longer do it. That's how I came back as a fashion designer, originally a second passion of mine.

    "But when I saw you, and how you wanted to make people smile…I felt like it could fill this hole. That if this one girl, if you, could truly make me smile again…then the pain was worth it." Serena was surprised by how much she was sharing, and just what she was sharing. It made her feel a little unworthy, but hearing her words firmly solidified what she already believed in her heart. "And you did. Which is why I'm very much looking forward to this Hope Leilani…and whatever we choose for what lies beyond.

    "Show me your smile, Serena. Because I believe it can lead others back to their own, in the end." Her words spoken, Akela drew herself up again, and proceeded inside the hall again. Serena just remained in the snow, watching her. Knowing that the Hope Leilani would truly begin the second she stepped inside that hall, Serena graced her own lips with an upturn.

    One smile at a time. Then she walked back in.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •