Lillie clasped her hands together, watching them tremble on her lap. Her heart thrummed painfully against her chest and she could no longer count how many times she has been told to take deep breaths. How she managed to get a few hours of sleep last night was beyond her. She appreciates her friends’ effort to soothe her, but with every minute that ticked by, it felt like she was trudging back in the Ultra Deep Sea, approaching the hybrid monstrosity that was her mother. As its name suggests, it is supposed to be a sea, but the lack of water contradicts what knowledge she has on Earth’s seas. There is no water, but she felt like she was drowning….
“Hey there, girlfriend.” Lillie was jarred out of the memory and she looked up to see Hau smiling at her. The Champion sneaked out of the spectators’ area and into the participants’ lobby where Lillie was waiting for Sophocles and Mina’s match to end. She was grateful that her opponent was not in the same room as her, but it did not calm her nerves as she hoped. She insisted the others to go watch the first match, not wanting to make Sophocles and Mina feel bad, even though they were pretty much against it. In the end, they relented at her request and promised to cheer their best for her later.
Hau sat down beside her on the bench and took her hand. Lillie watched him placed the treat he loved so much on her open palm. “Here,” He said. “You should not go to battle hungry.”
Lillie blinked at the malasada and slowly, a small smile broke out of her face. She cradled the food with both hands. “Thanks, Hau.” She took a bite and let the sweet flavor of the malasada spread on her taste buds at the first bite. Slowly, the tension on her shoulders eased away and Hau joined her as he brought out the rest from the paper bag.
“You know?” Hau swallowed his food and wore the familiar grin that Lillie knows and loves of him. “I once brought Glads a bag of malasada. Did you know what he said?” He stood up and covered a part of his face with one hand in an effort to imitate the older Aether sibling. “’I don’t like malasadas’. That’s what he said! Can you believe it? He said that to me when I saw Moon bringing him some one time and he did not even share!”
“I’m pretty sure Big Brother has his reasons.”
“Reasons, yeah!” He placed his hands on his hips. “I’m sure he just acting out of favoritism. Like, you know, he likes somebody. Really, really likes somebody! I bet he never said no to Moon…well, maybe he did but that was before he realized his own feelings. Point is, he’s in denial! Like, really bad!”
Lillie giggled. “He is, isn’t?” There was the sparkle in Lillie’s eyes that Hau loves. “He often turns down desserts but if it was Moon’s work, he would share to no one.”
Hau nodded vigorously in agreement. “He should work out on being subtle about it.” They shared a knowing look and broke out into laughter. Positive that he has accomplished his mission, he engulfed her in a bear hug. “There’s my girl! See? Told you should not go to battle hungry. Or in fixing your brother’s terrible love life!”
Lillie laughed and returned his hug, albeit weaker. She rested her head on his shoulder and whispered. “Thank you, Hau.”
“Anything for my awesome girlfriend.”
They stayed like that for a few moments, relishing the warmth of each other, before the double doors creaked open and a familiar voice spoke up. “I just left you for ten minutes and this is what I see when I get back.”
The couple turned to see Gladion walking toward them with a scowl on his face. He was carrying three cans of Pinap juice he must have bought from a vending machine down the hallway. Hau greeted him with a cheerful, Hey, Glads!, which the older boy returned with a huff. Gladion handed one Pinap juice to Lillie who thanked him and tossed another to Hau. The Champion caught it with a loud WHOOP!.
“The first match is almost finished.” Gladion stated as he eyed Lillie with concern. “Are you sure you’re up to this? You can back out if you want. No one will-“
“I will fight.” Lillie’s hands clenched around the can and looked up to meet her brother’s gaze. “I will do it! Shiron and I…we will fight.”
She rose from her seat and stood straight in front of her brother. “I know I’m scared, but I don’t want you to do this alone, Big Brother. I want to protect Alola too! I want to protect our home and I want to protect it with everybody else. So, I will fight. I will do my best, even if I lose!”
Gladion studied her. The fire in her eyes burned the same intensity when she found the resolve to walk the path of a Pokémon Trainer years ago. She isn’t getting any younger…and neither I am. He reached out and placed his hand on the top of her head. A rare, fond smile gracing his features. “Lose or win, I will always be proud of you, Lillie.”
Lillie smiled and nodded enthusiastically. “I will do my best!”
“Heh.” Gladion could have let the moment linger a bit longer where it not for Hau grinning so wide that his face might split to half. He scowled at dark green-haired Champion. “Not a word, Hau. Not a word.”
Hau has the audacity to play innocent. “What? I’m just enjoying the moment. It’s not always you smile, Glads. Well, almost never.” He said matter-of-factly. “You should do it often.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Hau could have teased the blonde more if it were not for the doors opening and Lusamine and Wicke stepping in the lobby. Wicke carefully set Shiron down and the Alolan Vulpix jumped eagerly into Lillie’s awaiting arms. “The match just ended, Young Miss,” Wicke reported. “And Sophocles emerged victorious. We were told that your match against Sun will start in ten minutes.”
“Thank you, Wicke-san.”
“Lillie.” Said teenager turned at Lusamine. The façade of the Aether President falling from her face, revealing motherly concern. “Lillie, will you be alright?” Lusamine asked. “Your enemy will be Sun, and he seemed to be someone who will not hold back.”
“I’ll be fine, Mother.” Lillie assured her. “I’m not going to fight alone. I have Shiron. I have my Pokémon. We’ll do our best! Isn’t that right, Shiron?”
For a moment, Lusamine saw a young Lillie – a little girl with a kind heart, but fragile to pain. Their little girl who lived a happy, sheltered life before losing their father and watching her descend into uncontrollable obsession. Even after all she did, her children still forgave her, let her in their lives for the second time. She regrets all the pain she caused, wondered how stronger, how more beautiful they grew compared to her. Since then, she vowed to become the mother they deserve, even if she is not one and has never been. Mohn, if you could see them now….
Lusamine smiled softly. “You’ve really grown.” She said as she placed a hand on her shoulder. “If your father could see you now, he will be very proud of you.” She looked at Gladion who returned her smile. “Both of you.”
“Mother...” Lusamine almost stumbled backwards when Lillie leapt in her arms. “Thank you!”
Lusamine returned the embrace and pulled away just as a staff member rushed inside to tell Lillie that her match is about to start. Lusamine gave both her children a kiss on the forehead before she and Wicke climbed back the luxury box. Hau squeezed Lillie’s hand and kissed her on the cheek as a good luck charm, before running back to the spectators’ area. The Aether siblings shared one last look before Lillie let herself be escorted toward the battlefield.
Sun was waiting for her.
The moment she stepped out into the battlefield, Lillie locked eyes with the red-eyed Trainer. From that look alone, she could tell that he was aware of what she was doing last night. He knew that she was following him and purposely let her do what she wants before letting Gladion know. She has a lot of unanswered questions for him – why he wants Nebby and why did he tell Gladion that she was in danger. Did he…did he care for her? She is a complete stranger. Why bother to help someone who is family to a person who wanted him arrested? In fact, what is she in danger for? He is such a mysterious Trainer with unknown motives, yet he seemed to know a lot more than anyone of them. Gladion paints him as an enemy, but his actions seemed to both prove and contradict that assumption. Lillie wanted to know, wanted to make the decision by herself, but she cannot do it at this moment.
“Miss Lillie.” She flinched when he called her name that she almost broke eye contact. How did he know her name? As if reading her mind, he tilted his head to the screen where their names are displayed. “Or would you rather be called Miss Aether Princess? It seemed your head is in the clouds. Do you think you can battle in that state?”
Is he…is he asking her if she’s alright? Lillie struggled to maintain her gaze but for some reason, the conversation she is now having with the other trainer was confusing her thoughts. “I-I’m alright!” She squeaked, wincing at her voice coming out a note higher than usual. “I can fight!”
Sun studied her for a moment. A part of her wanted to hide from those scrutinizing eyes. Surprisingly, it was Sun who broke eye contact. He tipped his cap in a slight bow. “Take a deep breath, then. I want to battle you at your best.”
Lillie was surprised of that and wanted to ask when Hala stepped into the battlefield. The old Kahuna smiled reassuringly at Lillie before turning to the crowd. “The second match for the quarterfinals will begin now! Contestants, bring out your first Pokémon!”
Lillie pulled out a Pokéball from her pocket and called out her first Pokémon, Ribombee. Sun, in turn, chose Corviknight. Corviknight’s a Steel and Flying-type Pokémon. She thought as she remembered yesterday’s match. He knows what he’s doing. He’s not going to send out a Pokémon weak against Fairy-types like Dragapult.
“Contestants!” Hala raised his palm in the air and brought it down. “Let the match begin!”
Lillie looked at Sun, hoping to get hints on what he will do, but he seemed to have read her mind. Before she could blink, Corviknight’s wings glowed in white and it slashed against the Bee Fly Pokémon before returning back to its Trainer. Ribombee wobbled in air, his health bar down to a half.
“Don’t wait for your opponent to make the first move.” Sun called out as he brandished another Pokéball. “Otherwise, you will get overwhelmed before you know it. Come out, Dragapult.”
The Stealth Pokémon took the battlefield in a flash of blue. Lillie felt confused, whether it was because Sun was giving her battle pointers or the Trainer sent out what she thought he would not send out against a Fairy-type, she did not know. Sun seemed satisfied with her expression and gestured at his Pokémon. “Dragapult, Fire Blast.”
“Ribombee, Light Screen!” A light-green force field went up in front of Ribombee and blocked the Fire Blast. Shiron cried in alarm as she hid behind Lillie to avoid the heat wave that came with the attack. Taking a page out of Sun’s strategy, Lillie called out. “U-Turn!”
The Bee Fly Pokémon rushed toward Dragapult and slammed his head against it. He returned to Lillie in a flash of red before she called out her second Pokémon. “Go, Comfey!”
For a moment, Lillie saw a flash of appreciation in Sun’s eyes before he sent out an order to his Pokémon. “Fire Blast, once again.” Lillie shouted just in time for Comfey to avoid the incoming Fire-type attack and do a counterattack. Rainbow light flared around the Posy Picker Pokémon’s body and shot toward the Stealth Pokémon. Dragapult tried to weave away from the lights but was struck down by the super effective move in quick succession. The rest of its health bar emptied out as it skidded to the ground.
“Dragapult is unable to battle! Comfey wins!”
Lillie breathed out a sigh of relief. At the corner of her eye, she saw Gladion watching by one of the doorways in the spectators’ area. There was a small smile on his lips as he nodded his head in approval. That amped her confidence as she focused back to the battlefield just as Sun recalled his Pokémon. He did not seem bothered by it at all. He called out Corviknight once again; this time, however, not pulling any punches. Once the ‘go’ signal was given, Sun directed Corviknight to use Brave Bird and it flew upward in a burst of orange aura flaring in a shape of a bird. It dived down and struck Comfey, taking its full health in one attack.
Lillie was astounded; it happened so fast that she did not even managed to tell Comfey to dodge. Don’t wait for your opponent to make the first move, he told her, Otherwise, you will get overwhelmed before you know it. She now understands. Sun was not just giving her a tip – it was a warning. He knew he would let her guard down, even for a brief moment, and took complete advantage of it.
Lillie tucked Comfey back to his Pokéball and whispered a Thank you. She took a deep breath and called Ribombee back to the battlefield. She looked at Sun who strangely enough, seemed to be waiting for her. “Make the first move.” Lillie whispered to herself and called out to Ribombee. “Ribombee, Pollen Puff!”
A ball of pollen gathered in front of the Bee Fly Pokémon and shot toward Corviknight. The Raven Pokémon dodged and swooped toward its opponent. It grabbed him by its talons and slammed the poor Fairy and Bug-type Pokémon against the dusty ground. “Body Press.”
Corviknight pulled back to the air as its body flared in orange light and nosedived to its downed opponent. Lillie shielded her face with her arms as the impact sending a wave of dust over the battlefield. When the field cleared, Hala announced Corviknight’s victory and the crowd roared.
Lillie recalled Ribombee back to his Pokéball and pursed her trembling lips. She did not mean to look up but when she did, she met Sun’s eyes and a chill went up her spine. It finally dawned on Lillie why Plumeria was agitated and terrified at the same time after yesterday’s match, why the former Team Skull admin went out her way to speak with her earlier. That kid, Sun, is no ordinary Trainer, she warned her, He isn’t like your brother or the Champion. Don’t make an enemy out of him, kiddo. Just don’t.
Shiron noticed her reluctance and nudged her leg to assure her. Lillie turned to the Alolan Vulpix who cooed. Her light-blue eyes brimming with determination and for a moment, Lillie remembered when she received an egg from Moon a few months after the black-haired Trainer became the First Champion. She expressed the desire to start a journey of her own – to become a Pokémon Trainer – and when her twelfth birthday rolled around, Moon gifted her an egg she got from Paniola Ranch. The then Champion told her it would be a good warmup for her to raise the egg until it hatched and when it did, that was the day she met her first Pokémon as a Trainer. She remembered calling out her personal Ride Pokémon toward Moon’s house at six in the morning with the Alolan Vulpix in her arms. Moon was happy for her and Lillie spent breakfast in the Champion’s home, coming up with what to name the Alolan Vulpix. In the end, they agreed to the name Shiron.
Looking back to that memory and the years Lillie spent with Shiron by her side, she knew she could not have done it all by herself. Her brother protected her, Moon inspired her, and Hau supported her. She could see a part of Moon in Shiron – the stubborn, determined side of the previous Champion – and at the same time, saw her own reflection in those eyes. She was no longer the same Lillie that hid behind her friends; she can stand on her own feet and being on the League Championship proves it.
Holding on that resolution, Lillie nodded to Shiron. “That’s right. I will protect everyone. Just like Moon did. So, please. Lend me your strength, Shiron!”
Shiron nodded and leapt to her position on the battlefield. The crowd cheered and Lillie could hear her friends the loudest among them. “Contestant Lillie chose Shiron the Vulpix as her final Pokémon!” The announcer declared. “This will now be the deciding part of this match. Will they be able to turn the tides in their favor or will Sun claim victory and advance to the semifinals?”
“We’re not going to give up! Let’s go, Shiron!”
“Hail!” Shiron let out a gust from her body, sending a blast of frigid air into the battlefield. Dark, heavy clouds formed above and large clumps of ice began falling down. Corviknight let out a screech as the hail buffeted the Raven Pokémon, slowly dragging down its health bar that was reduced from the recoil damage earlier. Sun ordered it to fly but Lillie called out to Shiron.
“We’re not going to let you! Shiron, Powder Snow!” Shiron unleashed a powerful blast of cold air, freezing a part of Corviknight’s wings. Its opponent stumbled to the ground, unable to flap its wings properly.
Shiron used Powder Snow again but Corviknight raised up Iron Defense to block most of the attack. Lillie tried again but this time, Sun switched out Corviknight before Shiron could land an attack. The red-eyed Trainer called out a different Pokémon – a blue, pink, and white Pokémon with a humanoid figure. Its gradient, layered hair wrapped around its body like a cloak and a pointed hat that resembled a witch’s hat sat atop on its head.
“Look at that! Sun called out another Pokémon to the field!” The announcer said. “From what I found out, that Pokémon is known as Hatterene. Its dual typing is Psychic and Fairy and is native to the Galar region. Is it just me or am I seeing a pattern in Sun’s team?”
Sun regarded Lillie with a look of respect. “I admire your tenacity, Miss Lillie, but this is where the battle ends.” He snapped his fingers. “Trick Room.”
Hatterene’s eyes glowed and the battlefield began to distort. The stadium and the spectators disappeared and were replaced with walls pulsing like a kaleidoscope, leaving only the four of them in a small, empty room. What to do? Should we use a Z-move? Before Lillie could react, Hatterene teleported before Shiron and flung the Alolan Vulpix using its hand-like extension. Shiron hit the wall of the Trick Room and fell sprawled on the ground. Lillie shouted for Shiron to use Aurora Veil but Hatterene moved faster than the Alolan Vulpix. Hatterene’s eyes glowed blue and Shiron was lifted off the ground. Lillie tried calling out to Shiron but the Alolan Vulpix was rendered immobile.
“Mystical Fire.” At the command of its Trainer, the Silent Pokémon hurled its opponent and waved its hand-like extension in hypnotic circles. Rings of fire swirled toward Shiron and hit her point-blank mid-air. There was a shriek as fire and smoke exploded and the Trick Room disappeared. When everything cleared out, Shiron was lying unconscious on the ground.
Hala walked up to the battlefield and raised a palm. “Shiron is unable to battle and Lillie has no Pokémon left for battle!” He gestured to Sun. “Sun wins this match!”
The crowd’s roar was deafening but running to Shiron was all Lillie could think of. Blood pounded in her ears as she knelt on the dusty ground and cradled the Alolan Vulpix. Shiron shifted – pain clear in her eyes – and gave a weak Kyu. Lillie blinked the tears on the corners of her eyes and smiled. “You did great, Shiron. Thank you.”
Shiron nuzzled against her and closed her eyes to rest. Lillie pulled her in an embrace, unable to hide the tremble in her shoulders. She knew that she will lose and has accepted that fact, but even so, it still hurts. She lost before, so many times, but it never pained her. Why now? Maybe because there is something at stake right now. Maybe because she wanted to win for her. She could ask what went wrong but the answer terrify her.
“That was a good match.” Lillie looked up to see Sun standing beside her. She did not hear him approach nor expected him to stay longer on the field. He didn’t after his match with Plumeria yesterday which ticked Olivia who refereed the match. She wondered if he does now just to mock her, but his expression remained passive. He held out a hand and felt the air get sucked out of her lungs. She stared at his gloved hand as he waited patiently.
In the end, she accepted reluctantly and he helped her up on her feet. She kept her head down to avoid his gaze. “You fought well. You and your partners.” He said. “You make a great Trainer.”
“Oh…” Lillie looked up and felt herself blush. Then, she realized that he was still holding her hand. She promptly let go and almost missed the amused glint in his red eyes.
“I hope we’ll get to battle again soon.” He stepped back and bowed down before turning away. Lillie wanted to call out to him but she faltered at the last second. She watched his back retreat, leaving more questions than answers in his wake like the night before.