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Eldritch

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No grand fanfare awaited her arrival. No omen stars plummeting from the heavens. No rapturous cries of the Tapu, elated at the playmate to have come from on far. Fate, perhaps, moved to greet her, but if it did it did so in its usual circuitous manner, as three months ago the second child of the Aether Foundation committed the same crime as the first. But none knew of that.

Not yet at least.


 

She observed the world with bright eyes and curious intent, Kukui, lead Pokemon Professor of the Alola Region, considered. Moon of the Kanto Region – dark-skinned, brown-eyed, a chicken-combed red hat she'd donned with unquestioned seriousness covering her black hair – followed in his foot-steps along the path to Iki Town, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Alola Region.

As far as Kukui was considered there could be no better introduction to the home that he loved. Yes, this could only be a good thing, for Moon and the Alola Region both. He grinned, feet walking the familiar path between his lab and the home of Melemele Island's Kahuna, and turned to face the girl.

“So!” His pleased exclamation drew her attention, but he could still see her eyes flicking from side to side, taking in the dense flower fields that bordered the path. A curious girl this one. “It's a little later than most your age, but you're finally receiving your first Pokemon, yeah! Excited?”

Traditionally, those who would be receiving their first Pokemon from their region's Professor did so as close to their eleventh birthday as possible. For Moon though, the timing of her and her mother's move to the Alola Region interfered, and it was decided it would be better for Moon to receive a Pokemon here than in her native Kanto. Thus the delay.

But tonight was the night and Kukui could not imagine anyone being more excited. Moon nodded, a quiet girl, her mother had told him, but very kind and caring. The report from her Pokemon School in Kanto had been similar – Moon spoke little but paid keen attention, and showed quick aptitude for studying her surroundings. She was cleared to receive her first Pokemon, and expected to do exceptionally well with it. Kukui smiled.

The evenings of Alola were vibrant things, red-gold light transforming the ocean's surface into a magmatic sea and filling the sky with that same bright fire. This was the ideal time to walk the route to Iki, in Kukui's most esteemed opinion, and he found himself more pleased than ever that it was young Moon's first introduction to the Region. Alola was truly rolling out all the stops for her. How excellent indeed.

Loud barks signalled a Pokemon's arrival, the tiny brown canine chasing a harried Yungoos out of the nearest patch of grass. Kukui laughed, his Rockruff responding to the noise by running up to him. He reached down to pet it. “The two of you will be friends for life!” He turned his attention back to Moon as he scratched just beneath the stones ringing the Pokemon's neck, earning a happy sound in response. “Just like me and Rockruff here!”

Of the litter his Lycanroc had given birth to, only this Rockruff had been kept – the rest of the puppies passed on to close friends or families Kukui knew would do well with them. Still, he hadn't been able to resist holding on to this little guy, and the two had already grown close. Raising Pokemon without a Trainer's Bond established could be a beautiful thing too.

But it still wasn't the same as the mantle Moon would soon be taking on. He was excited for her. He was excited for every trainer beginning their journey. It was no little thing.

No little thing at all.

“Oh Professor!”

“Can you teach my Pokemon a new move?”

“Can you oversee our battle?”

“Have you ever seen this Pokemon before!?”

Another essential part of Kukui's walks were greeting the young trainers that lived around Iki Town – those who'd inherited or grown up with Pokemon, and those rarer few who, by fate alone, had forged a Bond young. The rules by which Trainer's Bonds were established still weren't fully understood, but at the least it appeared a solid ninety percent of the populace could form one by the time they hit puberty.

That still didn't stop a scattering of those who could do so younger from cropping up though.

As much as he did love to lend his aid, today was special, in that he was taking a new trainer to receive their first Pokemon, and so Kukui couldn't invest the same time as he usually did. He'd give advice on good moves to learn next time. Another trainer offered to watch the battle for him. Yes he'd seen a Grubbin before but boy that was a big one!

Moon kept quiet and followed behind.

“Oh, are you that new trainer?”

Addressed directly, Moon stopped and stared, Kukui turning to keep things moving all the same. “Yup that's right!” He nodded to the inquisitive youth, “make sure to give her a big Alola Welcome, okay?” The child nodded, then moved their hands in a gesture Kukui knew well and Moon was soon to learn.

“Alola!”

Moon ducked her head in response and moved on.

The gates of Iki Town were framed by a wooden arch, symbols venerating the Tapu painted across it, their meaning completely passing over Moon's head. Even still, as she stepped foot past them, she stopped for a moment.

Then continued on and no-one noted the occurrence.

Iki Town was filled with bustling people, preparing the foliage-dense locale with decorations for the oncoming festival. Kukui smiled to see it all. “The people of Iki know how to throw a party, yeah!” He swept an arm out to show the town off as he looked back to Moon, her eyes ever moving to see all that she could. “Tomorrow night we're having a festival to honour the Tapu, you and your mom both need to be there!” Moon spent only a moment with her eyes meeting Kukui's, but she nodded when she did, before continuing to observe. A true bastion of curiosity that one, Kukui noted.

One of the best types to embark upon a Pokemon journey.

“Now then,” introduction to the town complete, Kukui considered, “where's old Hala gotten himself off to?” The Kahuna of Melemele was always making his presence known, but right now the people of Iki were just working hard and conversing amongst themselves. Things weren't bouncing. Kukui approached one of those at work. “Ho there! Have you seen the Kahuna abouts?”

An answer in the negative briefly brought about a frown – he'd definitely not forgotten to tell Hala about this, right? – before Kukui's regular smile returned. Any problem should be made into an opportunity! He turned to Moon.

“It seems the Kahuna isn't here right now, so how about we go look for him, yeah? I'll check outside the town again, if you could head up Mahalo Trail back there? You should introduce yourself to the Tapu by giving a prayer at its altar anyway!” It wasn't like Kukui had given a great many explanations on his own, Kahunas and Tapus being words that might fly right over Moon's head, but she seemed to understand perfectly, nodding and setting off. Seemed she'd read up on Alola's culture before moving here.

Kukui smiled as he set off back to the route beyond. So much the better.

Mahalo was quiet. Dense tree coverage blocked the evening's light, its filtered form giving sight but no warmth to those who walked the path. The way from Moon's home, at the edge of Hau'oli City overlooking the sea, to Iki Town had been busy, and loud. Iki Town too had that energy of people and Pokemon keeping it alive. But Mahalo was silent. It felt respectful to keep it that way.

So she did. Right up until a loud yell split the air.

Lillie had never once pretended her situation wasn't a struggle. Caring for Nebby was a difficult thing – the Pokemon was capricious in its childishness – and it was not like she had successfully established the Bonds which allowed Pokemon and trainers to think alike. She appealed to its best nature as best she could, but that never worked as well as she'd wish. The bag slung over her shoulder was presently, unfortunately, Pokemon-less.

The Pokemon in question out before her very eyes.

“Ah Nebby!”

Cosmog by species, Nebby by the name she'd given it. A small Pokemon indeed, alight with shimmering stars in its cloud-like blue and purple form. She'd been determined to protect it. To keep it safe. Yet right now she was unable to do either. Unable to do anything but call out to the Pokemon, surrounded by aggressive Spearow circling overhead. She didn't know what to do.

Footsteps were her salvation, spinning around to make eye-contact with the girl approaching. She was someone Lillie did not recognise, but at this point she would have called out to almost anyone who appeared. “Please!” She moved, just so, to show the plank and rope bridge Nebby had wandered across, before the Pokemon had drawn the ire of the territorial birds, “Save Nebby!”

That it was natural for those of Alola to help one another when in need was foreign to each of them. Lillie's isolation in her raising had kept her from the culture of those living together. Moon was from another Region entirely, where it was far more common to maintain a degree of distance out of polite respect to the business of one another. Yet in this moment, this first meeting where their eyes met, Lillie called out for aid and Moon moved to give it.

A new bond forged.

Lillie watched as this girl, with bravery that could not be questioned, rushed past her, across the bridge towards the mass of Pokemon. She heard the voice of her saviour, calling out an order for the Spearow to disperse, yet all that did was draw their attention instead. Hounded in turn, Moon moved to try and reach Nebby, pushed down to her knees by the birds flapping about her, clawed feet threatening to tear at her skin.

Lillie was panicking. She'd called out to this girl for help, but instead only succeeded in putting her at risk too. The thought of losing both the girl and Nebby due to her own failings consumed her, and she could only stare wordless as the Spearow prepared to dive.

And then there was the light she knew, the power of Cosmog, and for a brief moment she felt hope. Nebby had saved her once. It would save this girl too.

The bridge gave way.

The low, then high, of seeing the girl at threat and then Nebby's light appear, poised Lillie to feel a new level of despair, watching this girl plummeting down, the river and rocks far below promising the worst. She yelled out, screamed, and the noise of it in her ears drowned out the other cry that went up. The voice that accompanied the yellow surge diving from above.

The flash of electricity, the stream of bright light, it silenced Lillie's cries as a new Pokemon appeared before her. One she knew well, its body black with wild orange spiking hair and huge yellow shells upon its arms, despite never having seen before.

Tapu Koko, guardian deity of Melemele Island, placed Moon – holding Nebby tight to her chest – on the ground before Lillie. She stared. The deity stared back. So close that she could touch it. A living legend.

It moved. A hand reached out towards Lillie, who recoiled, then past her. Moon, sitting on the ground, staring at this Pokemon that felt like a thunder-crack in the dead of night, saw in its hand something that shone. Reached out to it, her other arm still holding onto the Pokemon she had saved. For a moment, the two made contact.

Then, as Moon's fingers curled around the warm stone she had been handed, the Pokemon floated back, cried out with a voice that shook the treetops, and disappeared into the darkening evening sky in a blur of electrical force. Silence left in its wake.

The two girls stared.

“Oh!” Lillie was the first to react, turning around and kneeling down before Moon, “Are you hurt? You almost- I'm so sorry you were just trying to help Nebby and- ohh Nebby you almost caused so much trouble!” Moon's grip on the Pokemon only relaxed as the long blonde haired girl's fingers brushed hers, reaching out to collect the tiny being.

Little cries from the Pokemon, shamed by the tone it was being addressed in, did not mollify it to Lillie's scolding. “Oh no you don't!” She fussed about it, one hand brushing its head even as she admonished it, “You're going back in the bag! Come on, in you go!” Still on the ground, Moon watched as the alabaster-skinned girl opened the large bag she carried and guided the tiny Pokemon into it. A muted “pew...” escaped as she zipped it shut.

“Oh...” Realising the girl before her was still on the ground, Lillie extended a hand, just slightly too late as the girl in question finally pulled herself to her own feet. Her hand awkwardly left there, each stared at it momentarily, unsure of just what to do.

“Umm,” Lillie faltered on the word, considering exactly what she should say in this moment, “Please, don't tell anyone about seeing Nebby tonight. It's important to keep it a secret. Okay?” Moon considered this for a moment, but nodded all the same. Lillie relaxed seeing it. “Thank you, thank you so much.”

Wind over the treetops did not reach them, the denseness of the woods blocking out the gale, but the rustling of branches still reminded each that many Pokemon lurked about. Lillie looked out to the ravine. “I think it's for the best we return to Iki Town I don't...” she gestured out past Moon, who turned to observe the now missing bridge sealing the path further into Mahalo Trail, “think there's anything else we can do here tonight. Would... um, would you be willing to come back with me, in case another wild Pokemon appears?”

It wasn't like this girl had anything she could do either, but Lillie still felt safer with her by her side. The nod the girl gave showed she was amenable. Lillie breathed a sigh of relief. “Let's go.”

In Iki Town Kahuna Hala had finally returned, celebration from the people at his presence a form of minor ceremony kept more in mind the closer one was to the Festival of the Tapu. Kukui greeted him, and the two looked over the trio of Pokemon that would be on offer to the two youths accepting them that night. They were well-trained, perfect starters for trainers of potential like the candidates who would be meeting them.

So neither Kukui nor Hala really thought that much about letting the three run around town, right up until each suddenly bolted in the direction of Mahalo Trail. Kukui, closer than Hala, set off after them at a run, pursuing the absconding Pokemon. What was with them? If he lost them he'd be in more trouble than ever. Racing up the path, he was unsure just what he would find.

But this still escaped his prediction.

Loud cries of Spearow echoed, determined to harass the intruders upon their territory – pride still injured by the one the Tapu had moved to save. But those lucky few to avoid Tapu Koko's interference had no salvation from the next three to arrive. A storm of cutting leaves. A stream of burning fire. A forceful jet of water. Shamed and beaten, the remnants of the flock escaped into the trees just as Kukui arrived on the scene.

Considered what was before him.

Moon and Lillie stood at the far edge of the trail, a trio of pleased Pokemon gathered before them. Lillie had a tense expression, though it relaxed as soon as she saw Kukui. “Oh, Professor!” Kukui blinked. Well this was something.

“Hey there, Lillie, everything alright?” She frowned at the question, which answered it well enough. Kukui moved up and knelt down before the starter trio. “Now just what did you three run off for, huh?”

Moon joined him, crouching before the three, and immediately they turned to face her. Kukui's raised eyebrow at the sight went uncaught by the girl before him, though Lillie a few steps back took note of it. The Professor wasn't surprised easily. Not genuinely, at least.

“Well now,” he smiled, watching Moon studying the Pokemon preening before her, “it seems these three have taken a liking to you already. Old Hala's going to get a little upset at me, but I think now's as good a time as any, yeah! Why don't you pick one of them as your first partner?”

Moon's head moved rapidly, snapping from watching the Pokemon to staring at Kukui. When he nodded her eyes drifted back to the three, watching as the red cat and blue seal began a play-fight, one rolling the other over, before the green owl hopped atop them only to be batted off by each. She considered.

It was a known tradition: the Pokemon specially raised as Starters provided to trainers of significant aptitude. It was something of an investment on the part of the Pokemon Professors and associates who managed the program, providing key trainers the motivation to travel and grow, and in return gain significant research data from those trainers' adventures. Three Pokemon – a Grass-type, a Fire-type, and a Water-type – of which new trainers would choose one, and then embark upon a journey.

In most regions, the tried-and-true Gym Leader system was then put to the test by these new trainers. In Alola, things were a little different. But not so much so that the Island Challenge wouldn't make sense to a Kanto Trainer. Kukui made introductions.

“So you've got the Grass Quill Pokemon Rowlet, the Fire Cat Pokemon Litten, and the Sea Lion Pokemon Popplio. Go ahead and choose one, cousin!”

Moon considered. She had known she would be required to make a choice. Back in Kanto, she'd spent so long considering which of their starters she would take on. She hadn't come to a conclusion then. And even now...

Kukui caught her words, her whispered apology to the trio that she could not take them all. That was something to smile at – Starter Pokemon were powerful, trainers who took them on usually spent a long while with that Pokemon alone simply because they could not support more than one. Forming a Bond with all three when never having raised a Pokemon before? That wasn't a possible thing.

So he believed.

The three did seem enamoured with Moon, but ultimately it was proactiveness on one of their parts that sealed her choice, as the Rowlet jumped directly into her arms. Moon laughed at that, a hug holding the Pokemon close, as the Litten and Popplio looked disappointed. Moon apologised to them again.

“Well,” Kukui smiled at the scene, “seems she made the choice for you. Shall we head back down then? The Kahuna's waiting, after all.”

Moon and Lillie both nodded, following in step behind the Professor. Each kept a Pokemon held tight – Lillie making sure her bag remained closed despite the shuffling within it, Moon holding onto the partner a Trainer's Bond was being forged with in that very moment. The Litten and Popplio, despite not being chosen, continued to walk beside Moon, and Kukui found it odd to look back at her.

Yes, the sight of Moon walking along with that Pokemon in her arms, two more at her side, was strange. It wasn't the sight specifically, but rather the feeling of it. It reminded him of something. But he couldn't place what. He shook his head and continued on.

Iki Town was bustling louder than ever as Kukui, Lillie, and Moon returned, a figure approaching them as soon as he caught sight. Kahuna Hala was old by years but young in stature and spirit, large body still well built from years of hard effort. He grinned at the sight of the Pokemon in Moon's arms.

“Couldn't wait could you?” His laugh made clear the admonishment was in jest only, “I was wondering what made those three up and run off like that – you're clearly a trainer with fine potential to catch their attention from so far away!”

Kukui, standing to the side, bobbed his head by way of apology. “Sorry for skipping any ceremony, Kahuna Hala.”

Hala's laugh showed his jovial nature. He shrugged. “Whether it's newly raised or one of the ancient Tapu, who can stop a Pokemon's decisions? Those three clearly wanted this new trainer to make her choice. I think that's as fine a ceremony as can be!”

The Rowlet in Moon's arms cooed softly, rhythmic strokes of its head given by the hand not cradling it. The Litten and Popplio, with Hala so close now, moved back towards him, though neither had a spring in their step.

“Well now what's with you two?” Hala's boisterous laugh mixed with his heavy hand rubbing each of their heads, the Litten giving an admonishing glare at having its fur messed up while the Popplio barked happily. Hala smiled at them. “You know there's someone else looking forward to meeting you tonight, don't you? You're not going to show him those sad faces are you?” This perked the two back up, and immediately they stood at attention, attempting the most show-offish poses they could. Smiles at that were abundant, Lillie giggling at the sight. Moon looked at her with a smile.

“So then,” Hala's attention turned now to the two girls, “just what were you two up to on Mahalo Trail there? I could have sworn I heard the thunder of our Tapu.”

“Oh yes!” Lillie nodded immediately, clutching her bag tighter, “Nebby got free and tried to cross the bridge at the trail, and then was attacked by Spearow! But then-” Lillie paused, turning back to look at Moon, suddenly sheepish. Moon looked at her in curiosity. “Umm, sorry, I... never actually asked your name. I'm so sorry, so many things happened all at once, but... I'm Lillie. It's nice to meet you.”

Rudeness wasn't a thing Lillie was ever meant to display, so to ignore the name of her saviour for so long had mortified her. The response though was simply a gentle smile and a name given. Lillie smiled to hear it. “Moon!” She announced, happy with its sound, “Moon arrived just in time, and tried to save Nebby. When the Spearow attacked her, Nebby tried to help, but ended up breaking the bridge. That's when Tapu Koko arrived and saved them!”

Once again the impression of seeing Kukui genuinely surprised by something struck Lillie. He whistled. “Wow! Now that's something you don't hear ever day, isn't that right, Kahuna?”

Hala nodded, face a little sterner. He seemed to be deep in thought. “Our Guardians, the Tapu, are fickle creatures, little Moon; for our Tapu Koko to save you, it must have seen something special indeed. I think you and Rowlet will do well together. I am happy to have witnessed your beginnings as a new Pokemon Trainer.”

Moon seemed considerate of this. Of course it had to be a lot, to hear that such a significant Pokemon had acted on her behalf. Hala would not be surprised if all the experiences had left the young girl quite shaken that night.

But he was the one to be shaken instead, as Moon shifted her hands to hold Rowlet with the other, and extend her right to show the stone Tapu Koko had given her. Kukui, for the third time, felt intense surprise.

Oh they'd really stolen one of Kanto's brightest stars from right under Professor Oak's nose, hadn't they?

“A Sparkling Stone...” Hala breathed the words, Lillie snapping to attention upon hearing them. Although she had never seen one herself, she'd read enough that it made total sense to hear that that was what it was. So Tapu Koko really had chosen Moon...

“That stone,” Hala held out a hand, Moon pausing a moment before placing it in his, “I will return it to you tomorrow night, at the Festival of the Tapu. Please honour us by attending.” Moon nodded. Hala smiled. Internally his thoughts whirled.

Just who was this young girl known as Moon? Someone special, no doubt at all in his mind. Kukui and he had spoken about the potential of having a Kanto Trainer perform the Island Challenge at this time. Even still, this was more than could be expected.

Who could say what would happen next?

“Heyyyy!”

Echoing over the treetops and through the town, a new voice sounded out. Hala turned to face it.

“Heyyyy!” Moon and Lillie looked up now, the loud and energetic cry continuing on as the youth it was emerging from finally dashed into sight, coming to a halt before them all. While the colour of his skin, eyes, and hair matched Moon's quite well, his enthusiastic smile and motion distinguished him from her so much so they looked nothing alike, bursting into movement after the moment of stillness and running over to the two.

“Hey hey Lillie! Is this the new trainer? Hey! You've got a Pokemon already! Tutu,” mid-speech the boy's head whipped around to stare at the Kahuna, “weren't we meant to get them at the same time?” Hala offered little explanation, but his energetic grandson didn't bother waiting for it anyway, turning back to Moon. “Okay well just hold on one second then!”

Still standing by Hala, the Litten and Popplio jumped in surprise as Hau suddenly crouched down before them with a smile. “Alright!” His eyes switching rapidly from one to the other, Hau considered then reached out, “I choose... you!” Human whirlwind that he was, the boy was already standing before Moon with a slightly confused but mostly happy Popplio held in his arms, a wide smile on his face. “Okay!” he bounced up and down, head nodding enthusiastically as he did so, “Let's have a Pokemon Battle!”

“Hau!” Only Hala, using the same tone on his grandson that Lillie had unsuccessfully attempted to use on Nebby before, brought the boy's pace to a stop. Almost gingerly Hau looked back at the Kahuna, Moon standing there blankly before him.

“Are you really going to challenge someone to battle without giving your name? Or receiving theirs? Come now, I know I taught you that much respect!”

Despite his words, Hala still smiled as he walked over to the group, Hau turning back to the others. “Sorry, sorry,” he ducked his head in apology, “I got really excited, I've been looking forward to this day forever!” When he looked back up again, he had that same wide smile. “Heya! I'm Hau, it's nice to meet you!”

The second Moon's name was past her lips, Hau's smile gained momentum as he jumped back. “Okay Moon! Let's have a Pokemon battle!”

Moon stared.

Behind the new arrival a small, cloud-like Pokemon of blue and purple played about.

“Ah! Nebby!”

Laughter from Kukui and Hala set the scene as Lillie rushed forward and gathered the Pokemon up, its complaining “pews” in no way deterring Lillie from returning it to the bag she kept it in. Hau laughed too. “Even Nebby wants to see our Pokemon Battle, isn't that right?” He turned back to Moon, smile clearly not going anywhere. “Let's go!”

“Alright, alright,” a heavy hand from Hala settled on Hau's shoulder, bringing the boy's energetic rampage to a halt, “hold your fire m'boy. If you're going to do this, we have a stage set up right here.” The gesture of Hala's hand drew the gathered attention of the group to the wooden platform constructed in the centre of Iki Town. “Might as well give it a testing before the festival tomorrow! What say you, young Moon, would you indulge my grandson his very first Pokemon battle? And your own, of course.”

Moon's nod came quick, the Rowlet in her arms fluttering out from them and perching on the stage herself, waiting for her trainer to come and join her. Hau fist-pumped and jumped for joy. “Yeah! We're going all out!”

Hala oversaw, taking point at the side of the stage while Hau and Moon stood opposite one another, Popplio and Rowlet before each. Hau had been raised around Pokemon all his life, watching his grandfather act as Kahuna, and showed not the slightest effect of the Trainer's Bond he and Popplio had just established. Moon seemed slightly more wavering on her feet, but she had experienced far more than just obtaining her first Pokemon. Hala was honestly surprised she'd agreed to this battle at all.

“Very well!” He raised his arms, “this will be the first battle of Moon and Rowlet, against Hau and Popplio. Each of you is a new trainer, feel your new bond with your Pokemon and stand tall for them! Are you ready?”

Moon nodded. Hau grinned.

“Ready to go, Tutu!”

Hala nodded and lowered his hands. “Begin!”

It was an awkward battle in truth, but then whose first was not? Moon and Hau both gave orders, but their responsiveness was slow. Raised together, the Rowlet and Popplio knew each other well enough to fight as they always had before, just harder, and took the show for themselves far more than their trainers.

But that was the way it always was for those new. Neither should be ashamed. Still, Hala and Kukui both took note.

Hau thought quickly, changing from one idea to the next rapidly, but overloaded his Popplio with commands. Moon committed to what she said, expecting it to be carried out before speaking again. It was a slow conflict, but ultimately the elemental match-up determined it, and Popplio barked defeat. Rowlet posed before it.

“The victory goes to Moon and Rowlet!” Hala's right hand raised, indicating the Kanto Trainer. “Well fought!”

Scooping Popplio up in his arms, Hau smiled at the Pokemon as it nudged his cheek, offering it kind words for its hard efforts. Then he approached Moon.

“Wa-ow, hey, that was awesome! Moon, right? You did great!” Hau's closeness, and excitability, was something different to the usual distance people maintained in Kanto, leading Moon to back up a little. Hau paid it no notice. “I know I lost this time, but tomorrow I'm going all out, alright? Make sure to hold nothing back!”

The specifics of tomorrow's festival, and her planned role in it, had yet to be explained to Moon and so she could only give a look of confusion. Kukui chuckled, and stepped up to the edge of the stage. “We can talk about tomorrow tomorrow, alright kids? Now, to celebrate your becoming Pokemon Trainers, I have a gift for each of you!”

A red device was held out to each of the children, one they would recognise with ease. A Pokedex was the other half of the gift a Professor gives to new trainers: a Pokemon they would travel with, and the electronic encyclopaedia which would record all of the Pokemon they encountered. A trainer's journey was often fraught with adventure, and from those adventures came new knowledge. Countless breakthroughs in the understanding of Pokemon and their mysteries resulted from such travels.

“With that,” Kukui beamed at the pair, “you're both fully fledged Pokemon Trainers. Congratulations!”

Hala echoed the sentiment. “Tomorrow, at the Festival of the Tapu, the two of you will begin your Island Challenge. Until that time, rest and prepare with your Pokemon. This is the start of your lives as Pokemon Trainers!”

There was weight to that announcement, the sound of ceremony behind it, the words Hala had given to hundreds of trainers before. Both Moon and Hau nodded. Kukui grinned.

“Alright then, I think it's about time I get you home, Moon. Lillie, you two should come with too, yeah. Best we don't lose you more than once today, after all!”

Lillie nodded, clutching her bag closer to her, before gasping and opening it as quickly as she could to find nothing inside. Moon, turning her head, watched the Pokemon play about nearby. Lillie, catching Moon's gaze, followed it as well.

“Oh Nebby!”


 

The way home was quiet, the cries of nocturnal Pokemon there but never too close. Moon was silent, Lillie focusing on keeping Nebby in her bag. At the door to Moon's house, on the outskirts of Hau'oli City, Kukui came to a halt.

“Well, here's your stop.” To Moon he held out a hand, a ball of half red, half white. “And Rowlet there's Pokeball. I'll come by tomorrow to see how things are going, alright?”

Moon's nod was met by a farewell from Lillie, which earned a smile from her. Then into her house she went. A busy day come to a close. Kukui smiled.

Time for everyone else to be off home. Tomorrow, too, would be another busy day.


 

It was only later that night, lying in bed and thinking of the day's occurrences, that Kukui realised just what it was he had felt when seeing Moon with her new Pokemon. It hadn't been the feeling he'd expected – of a new trainer, a child establishing the first of their Bonds. No, it was of something bigger, older, and far more powerful.

It was of a monster without equal, towering above him.

Chapter Text

A series of excerpts from A Study of the Psychosomatic Bonds between Humans and Pokemon, by Professor Oak, Professor Juniper, and Doctor Fennel. (unofficial annotations by Professors Kukui and Burnet)


 

A picture is printed on the inside cover of the book. It is of Professor Oak, Professor Juniper, and Doctor Fennel. Doctor Fennel is holding a Munna in her arms. All of them are smiling. The caption reads: 'Doctor Fennel's work on Pokemon Dreams proved essential to mapping the mental patterns of both Pokemon and Trainers'.

Professor Kukui has drawn himself and his wife, Professor Burnet, into the picture. Burnet is standing just behind Juniper and Fennel, her college friends, with an arm over each of their shoulders. Kukui is standing beside Professor Oak, holding a hand and two fingers up behind the distinguished Professor's head in the form of 'bunny-ears'.


 

Trainer's Bonds – Known but Never Understood

There is not a Pokemon Trainer alive who does not, in some manner, understand the bonds between them and their Pokemon. Even so, if asked to describe those bonds, most would struggle to express any more than the basic concept – that they share power with their trusted partners. In truth, the phenomenon known as 'Trainer's Bonds' are psychic links established between people and Pokemon which connect the two together – providing the partner Pokemon, in exchange for a toll of their Trainer's physical and mental energy, with a special awareness of the Trainer's thoughts, as well as a significantly enhanced growth rate.

But how have these links come to be? What is the catalyst for establishment? How does the transfer of power from human to Pokemon operate? What determines the number and power of these bonds an individual can support? These questions have never truly been answered before, and so this study began with a single question:

What creates a Trainer's Bond?


 

Trainer's Bonds in History

Awareness of Trainer's Bonds has existed since the beginning of documented history – countless references from all cultures and ages describing the powerful connections forged between human and Pokemon partners. Originally referred to by terms such as 'partnership', 'soul-bonding' and, directly translated, 'two-hearts-as-one', these bonds are as old as the relationships between people and Pokemon itself.

As old, but far less noted, are the limitations of these bonds – the point at which a Trainer can no longer support the number or power of the Pokemon with them. By lesson from elder to younger this information has perpetuated, age to age, generation to generation; the understanding that a new Trainer will be unable to support more than a single Pokemon, that only with age and experience will the ability to maintain more and stronger Trainer's Bonds develop. Yet in spite of this, few direct references exist throughout documented history.

Perhaps most famous of these references, wherein the author muses on the sharing of power between Pokemon and human partners, are a series of journals written during the Warring States Period, in which the author provided a clear, if somewhat hyperbolic, set of observations of those at the head of each faction, and the unnaturally powerful Pokemon that fought alongside them.

Consider the excerpt from one of the latter of these journals below, and how it describes the need of the Lord in question to surrender one of his Trainer's Bonds in order to maintain one with a far more powerful Pokemon (discussion of the likely veracity of this account and the Pokemon in question is best saved for another paper).

A moustachioed figure has been sketched between the end of this paragraph and the block of text from the journal mentioned, with a three-headed draconic Pokemon drawn next to him. Professor Kukui has written in the margins 'Iconic moustache! Do you think it'd look good on me?'

In response Professor Burnet has drawn a small depiction of her face and crossed arms, with the word 'no' emblazoned above it.

`And so upon the hill looking over the thousands upon thousands aligned against him, Lord Nobunaga claimed victory by terrible surrender. His loyalest partner, she of Brutal Fury, took flight, unbound and once more alone.

In return it descended, from the heavens the Black Then Gold Dragon, and the sky and earth and all upon it burned under its light. Our Lord maintained such power for a day and a night and when the sun rose again the battlefield itself was unmade.

Yet when the Lord collapsed and the Dragon returned to the skies above, his true partner did not return. It would be three moons before the Lord and she crossed paths once more.'

Professor Kukui has doodled a large, serpentine dragon Pokemon underneath this excerpt.


 

Brainwaves and Dreams – from Psychic Scans to Delving the Subconscious

It is well understood that a Pokemon Trainer of significant skill has the ability to identify other Trainers of note. For a long time this was believed to be an instinct honed by experience, the specific mechanical reasoning left unexplored. Today it is understood that what a Trainer senses is the powerful Bonds between another Trainer and their Pokemon, the number and power of those Bonds indicating the number and power of Pokemon that Trainer has with them. The degrees of sense an individual has varies by that individual – with distance, precision, and minimum amount of power detectable differing on a case by case basis. However it has been observed that Trainers with strong Bonds to Pokemon of the Psychic typing display far stronger sensory abilities than those without. (Like how that police officer in Hau'oli with the Oranguru can tell a Trainer's skills really well!)

Printed next is a picture of a number of people and Pokemon, Professor Oak amongst them, taken in front of a large building. The caption below it reads:

The initial stages of research into Trainer's Bonds were conducted in collaboration with the Saffron City Pokemon Gym in the Kanto Region, which has over the decades remained a pre-eminent destination for Psychic-type Trainers the world over.


 

In consultation with the Gym Leader of Saffron City, attention was moved quickly from Trainer's Bonds themselves to what she believed were their source – unique 'patterns' she claimed people and Pokemon alike to have. Bonds proved useful for identifying a Trainer's current potential but, she claimed, those patterns were the key to understanding them.

With efforts from her and her partner Alakazam, a number of these mental patterns were produced, drawn by the Pokemon while scanning the individual before it. The patterns render as jagged, monocolour geometrical messes, yet the Gym Leader insisted they were accurate portrayals. The first sketches are printed below.

A set of three drawings, labelled 'Bulbasaur', 'Charmander', and 'Squirtle', follow the paragraph above. Each appears to be a mess of straight and curving lines of black on white, with little to be understood of them. Professor Kukui has sketched each of Alola's Starter Pokemon above the patterns of their Kanto equivalents.

It was at this point, pursuing these 'mental patterns', that contact was established with the Dream Laboratory of the Unova Region. Doctor Fennel, introduced by Professor Juniper, displayed similar understanding of mental patterns to the Saffron City Gym Leader, and had been identifying ways to produce accurate scans of the patterns from her work with Pokemon dreams.

A back-and-forth communication between Kanto and Unova resulted in numerous trips from those involved, and with the assistance of the Saffron City Gym Leader and her partner Pokemon, the first Dream Scan was successfully performed.

A new set of three far more detailed patterns have been printed, labelled in order, 'Oak', 'Juniper', 'Fennel'. A piece of paper is folded in half between the pages at this point, with two more patterns printed on it, labelled 'Kukui' and 'Burnet'.

With the advent of the Dream Scan, which could produce digital representation of human and Pokemon mental patterns, a series of discoveries were made in rapid succession about the way these patterns relate to the bonds between people and Pokemon. While there is still more yet to identify, including the nature of how patterns are determined, this is still considered one of the greatest breakthroughs in understanding the relationship between humans and Pokemon to date.

At the bottom of this page Professor Burnet has sketched a small caricature of Doctor Fennel with abnormally large eyes filled with sparkles. Professor Kukui wrote 'A Dream Come True!' next to the figure, which Professor Burnet followed with a simple 'boo'.


 

Pokemon Typing Patterns and Trainer Biases

This section is headed by a set of three images, this time labelled 'Grass', 'Fire', and 'Water'. The images are a large volume of mental patterns superimposed over one another, yet they all bear enough similarity that an aggregate image results. Professor Kukui has helpfully labelled the diagram “so cool!”

Despite the shock of those who first observed the similarity between patterns of the same Pokemon type, the Saffron City Gym Leader remained frustratingly unsurprised by this. The concept that Pokemon of the same type have similar patterns did not seem out of the ordinary to her, and indeed she was quick to point out that her own mental pattern bore a similarity of its own to the aggregate for the Psychic type.

Typing Biases for Trainers have long been known of: many Trainers display a proclivity to raising Pokemon of specific types – are capable of maintaining bonds with more and stronger Pokemon of that type than others. It is now believed that these biases are created by similarity between a Trainer and the archetype of a Pokemon type's mental pattern. The result is that, for example, a Trainer with a mental pattern similar enough to the Fire-type of Pokemon would be better able to support Trainer's Bonds with Fire-type Pokemon. (The Fairy-bias being an actual real thing might explain Captain Mina's entire situation with the Tapu then)

Over the next series of pages, archetype patterns for every Pokemon type, consisting of a number of superimposed patterns, have been printed. At the end is a chart with the following statement:

A survey conducted at the Unova Pokemon League Tournament recorded the mental patterns of all willing Trainers, comparing them to Pokemon archetypes. Through this, we can see a rough estimate of the number of Trainers that match each type, and thus the likeliness of finding a Trainer with that specific bias. (is anyone at all surprised that Dragon is the rarest?)

A footnote, at the end of the chapter reads:

The ability for all Pokemon to establish psychic connections with their Trainers is a significant topic: indicating that on some level all Pokemon possess some form of psychic ability, another of the rare few commonalities across all species. (Psychic bonds, Toxic, ... what else?) (They dream the same) (Oh yeah!)


 

Ongoing Mysteries of Trainer's Bonds

While the study of mental patterns has led to greater understanding of Trainer's Bonds, the core limits of those Bonds remain poorly understood.

The limitations of an individual's Trainer's Bonds vary by that individual, with some people only able to maintain a single, low-power Pokemon, while others can support six high powered partners. Research indicates these limits exist on a bell-curve, with the majority of trainers able to support three or four well-trained Pokemon by adulthood.

However the reasons for these limitations are yet to be understood, no common thread in the mental patterns observed. Neither understood is the growth rate of a Trainer – while time and experience allows many to support more and more powerful Pokemon, the Trainer's mental patterns show no change to reflect this.

Similarly the reason for the six Pokemon limit remains unknown – no Trainer in recorded history ever having displayed the ability to consistently maintain more; those few who have attempted to do so quickly severing the seventh Bond due to described 'severe mental and physical strain'.

The Pokemon Storage System, which acts as a digital stasis for Pokemon stored within it, also prevents Bonds from being maintained, allowing Trainers who deposit Pokemon within to successful sever their Trainer's Bonds, often done so when a Pokemon's growth has exceeded the Trainer's ability to maintain that Bond. However the need to sever and re-establish Bonds when changing Pokemon, when combined with the automatic release program designed to prevent the inhumane and illegal act of placing a Pokemon in indefinite stasis, has led many Trainers to keep at most one or two extra Pokemon, while many more will simply eschew the system altogether.

Research into maintaining a muted version of Trainer's Bonds through the PSS, which do not take a demand to re-establish, is on-going.


 

A new paper rests next to the open study, sitting upon a desk in Professor Kukui's lab. It is presently blank, bar for the title written across it.

Observations of the Limitless Phenomenon, by Professor Kukui

Chapter Text

The best term one could use to describe Moon’s mother was ‘lighter’. In complexion and hair to begin with, but far more noticeably personality, she was a woman who expressed endless love and energy for the world around her.

Newest to discover this was Moon’s Rowlet who, as soon as Moon passed the threshold into her house, was swept up along with Moon herself in a powerful hug from the older woman. Every youth's first Pokemon was a reason to celebrate, and for Jewellery, mother of Moon, this was one of the proudest moments of her life. Her own daughter, a fully-fledged Pokemon Trainer! She couldn't be happier.

And though not tonight, late as it was, tomorrow would be a day for celebration. She would see to it.

Thus when tomorrow came, another beautiful day under the light of Alola's sun, Jewellery, Jewel to friends, scooped up her Meowth – third and final member of their family to make the pilgrimage from Kanto to Alola – instructed her daughter to ignore the numerous unpacked boxes still filling the house, and announced that today would be a day out on the town! A celebration, just for their little family, one bigger today than it had been the day before. Rowlet, already having been doted on by the woman since the morning began, preened itself to be the centre of such attention. Moon smiled at the sight.

Hau'oli City, largest of Alola, numbers first of three major cities – the population centre of Melemele Island just as the cities Heahea and Malie would be for the next two islands to come. The noise, the bustle, the constant movement of people and Pokemon, it was similar enough to the larger cities of Kanto to remind Moon of them, but different enough to make those memories little more than memories. The move to Alola had been, all things considered, a rapid thing, the separation paying for every step of the way. In quiet nights her mother had spoken to Moon with honesty to prepare her for what came next, but there was still something surreal to this city that wasn't quite like the ones she knew.

She stayed by her mother's side, Rowlet held tight in her arms.

“Ah a salon!”

The roads of Hau'oli City were interesting – lanes for vehicles kept separate from lanes for Pokemon: Tauros, Stoutland, and even the occasional Machamp being seen bearing human passengers along. Moon's mother had called a taxi to take the two from the outskirts of Hau'oli, their home with its view out over the sea, into the city centre to enjoy the day as they saw fit. Along the way she'd made mention of wanting to try out Ride Pokemon herself. She and Moon watched them from the windows of the car as it went.

The cluster of shops in the centre of Hau'oli had already captured Jewellery's delight but, as she stopped herself to remember, this day was a celebration of her daughter. With a smile she looked down to Moon, seeing her holding Rowlet close to her chest, and drew her attention.

“Would you like to go in? I'm sure they'd be willing to give your Rowlet a makeover too.”

Given the room to think, Moon nodded and Jewellery smiled. The older woman knew she'd have plenty of time to explore Hau'oli at her own pace, but also that Moon would soon be embarking upon her own journey. Perhaps, as much as this was a celebration of Moon's first Pokemon, this was also the last chance in a while for her mother to genuinely spend time with her. After all, no-one completes a Pokemon journey the same as they begin it.

That was an unquestionable truth of the world.

“Welcome welcome!”

Greeted by the staff of the salon, Moon and her mother, along with Rowlet and Meowth, were quickly fussed over, welcomed, and quizzed on being unknown faces. “From Kanto!” With delight the woman behind the counter smiled, “I have a cousin in Kanto, she lives in Celadon City did you live- no? But you went there often how wonderful!”

As Moon's mother energetically discussed Kanto and Alola, another member of the staff approached Moon. “Alola,” she gave a wave of her hands, a gesture Moon had seen before, paired with that same word as well. One hand still holding Rowlet, she moved the other to mimic it. The woman grinned at her. “That's a traditional greeting of the Alola Region! Use it with a smile!”

“Two beauty treatments and two Pokemon grooming sessions, thank you very much!” Moon's mother double-checked her daughter's reaction, but Moon seemed fine with it, and so she smiled and completed the payment. A good way to begin their city day.

The Pokemon were quickly fawned over. A Rowlet was rare enough, being one of the special starter Pokemon that only Trainers of note would have. Meowth, being a Kanto variant, received its own fair share of attention, and smugly enjoyed it after having its owner prioritise the new Rowlet ever since she came home. Unaware of the cat Pokemon's jealousy, Rowlet preened under the attention, each leaning into the brushing and care.

Moon and her mother both enjoyed the sight.

“Would you like something done with your hair? A new colour or style?”

“Oh!” Jewellery suddenly turned to Moon, eyes wide at the realisation, “yes!” Her nod earned a quizzical look from her daughter, but Jewellery was not to be dissuaded. Not until she'd made her case at least. “When taking a Pokemon journey, it's important to start with a change! Something new to keep in mind that everything is new! When I took my own, I'd tied my hair back in a ponytail, see?” To illustrate, Jewellery moved her hands to pull back her hair, showing the look off to her daughter. “Moon, would you like to as well?”

Moon ran a hand through her hair. Alola was far warmer than Kanto, she'd already felt the heat in her dark hair since arriving, and so the thought of doing something had come up. Still, this...

Her consideration lasted until she saw the look in her mother's eyes, excitement and hope in seeing her daughter follow some of her own footsteps. Moon nodded. Jewellery beamed. The hairstylist standing behind them smiled and set to work.

An interview played over the radio.

We're here with Hau'oli City Radio, speaking to Alola's very own Professor Kukui. Good morning Professor! How are you today?

Doing great, yeah! Today's another fine day in Alola for everyone, people and Pokemon alike!

That it is, Professor! A busy day too, especially for you. Over the last few months, you've been spearheading the development of a Pokemon League in Alola! Can you tell us how that's going?

Well thanks for asking, yeah! Progress is smooth up on Mount Lanakila, constructing a League where the light of Alola first falls! We've been working with the Kahuna to make sure our Guardian Deities approve, and they seem thrilled with it! I think they're as excited as I am to see the best of Alola's best go head to head, yeah!

Excitement about the upcoming League is rife amongst the population of Alola, with many people claiming it will be a new age for those who undertake the Island Challenge. But at the same time there is some resistance, especially from older generations of Alola, claiming this modernisation is stripping away the Island Challenge's soul. How do you respond to those claims, Professor?

The most important thing for me is not to change the spirit of the Island Challenge, which is why we've been working so hard with the Kahuna and Tapu to make a Pokemon League that keeps all of Alola's traditions alive. That's why we're building it on Mount Lanakila, and why the Kahuna will be acting as the Elite Four of Alola. This way we can keep all of the traditions of the Island Challenge, while still adapting to the Pokemon League format and producing a Champion who'll be acknowledged the world over!

Exciting times. Well, Professor, thank you for your time, and we wish you the best with your endeavours.

One last thing!

Yes?

To any Trainers out there starting or on their Island Challenges, don't forget to give it your all, and show off your best moves at the Alola Pokemon League! We're looking forward to seeing you there!

Songs and stories passed by on the radio as Moon and her mother were cared for by the salon stylists, while Meowth and Rowlet were lavished with attention and basked in it. Indeed, when the treatments were over and the pair of humans prepared to leave, it took some coaxing to get their Pokemon partners to come along.

Jewellery looked at her daughter, hair tied back, convincing her Rowlet to settle on her arm, and felt within her a powerful sting of emotion. Pride and joy, her daughter, a beautiful and incredible person who would be a Pokemon Trainer with great love in her heart. But also a little sadness. Pokemon journeys always ended in change. The Moon that would soon leave her house would not be the one to return. This was the way so many people changed, the beginning of leaving the purity of childhood behind.

She'd find her home far too lonely without her daughter in it.

Maybe it was time to get another Meowth.

Following a morning's relaxation and care within the salon, it was time for brunch, and Jewellery made sure to choose a place that would provide her daughter's favourites – fruit so fresh and juicy it could only be grown in Alola, the sweetness of honey tarts, and milk poured with creamy froth. To Rowlet Moon fed slices of the fruit as well, the Grass Quill Pokemon cooing happily as Moon looked on it with a smile and fondness Jewellery had rarely seen before. Oh her daughter had a love for Pokemon that was powerful indeed.

Such pride she felt. Such joy.

The slightest tinge of sadness.

Extending a hand she patted her daughter's, Moon looking at her quizzically. Jewellery nodded. “Your Rowlet's eating well, she's going to grow big and strong, just like you have! Make sure to look after her, alright?” Moon nodded, expression showing thought. She thought deeply, and spoke rarely. But Jewellery saw understanding.

She knew her daughter would do well. So proud.

Having eaten, it was time to shop! Moon would need a new bag for carrying all she collected on her journey, a proper Pokemon Trainer's satchel, as well as whatever she felt she needed to begin. No expense was too much, and Jewellery insisted her daughter choose whatsoever she desired.

The bag was cute, a watermelon design to it with a green undercarriage and red/black pattern on its side. For clothing, Moon found a new flower-print top, similar to her own, but with stronger red flowers upon it, and wore it happily once purchased. Similarly a pair of sandals caught her eye, and she seemed to enjoy the freedom of them over the sneakers she'd worn before. Her chicken-comb hat she insisted on keeping though, despite some slight coaxing on Jewellery's part that perhaps some of the other headwear on sale was worth consideration.

She should have known it was a fruitless attempt. Her daughter loved that hat.

Clothes for a journey collected, next up was supplies! There was a Pokemon Center close to the outskirts of Hau'oli they lived within, but with the two in the city centre they decided to visit the one nearby. It was bustling, both Trainers and those with family Pokemon interacting while their Pokemon were cared for. Moon kept close to Jewellery, who forded her way through the crowd to the PokeMart. She flashed the cashier a smile.

“Okay Moon,” she turned to look down at her daughter, “whatever you'd like to buy!”

“Is your daughter a new Trainer, ma'am?” The cashier extended a brochure, which Jewellery passed down to Moon to peruse, while extolling how her daughter had become a new Trainer just the night before, and even already had a Pokemon battle! Prompted by the cashier to continue, Moon tried to focus on studying just what was available for new trainers to buy while her mother sung great praises of her.

After a while she did make her choice, a basic collection of healing items acquired and stocked – ideal starting supplies for any new Trainer. Then the last of her choices caught the worker's attention.

“While we do offer Pokeballs to all Trainers, are you sure you want to purchase them now? Your daughter will not be able to maintain many Pokemon and will run the risk of overextending herself if she catches more.”

For a brief moment Jewellery considered. With only Meowth with her, a Pokemon she'd had for years, she'd forgotten how demanding a Trainer's first Bonds could be.

But then she looked at Moon and felt something, something deeply instinctive within her, that told her Moon was prepared for anything. It wasn't even a sense she was aware of. She simply felt confidence. Turned back to the cashier with a smile.

“My daughter will be fine, thank you.”

Moon left the Pokemon Center with five fresh Pokeballs stored in the bag she carried.

Hau'oli continued to be a city of energy, people and Pokemon all about. The lanes marked for Pokemon always had one in sight, though the air above remained clear – laws strict about using Pokemon safely for transport inside the city. Jewellery held the lead, but always kept an eye on her daughter's interest, and lured many expressions of curiosity and happiness at that curiosity's fulfilment from her. Only after a later lunch did the thought of returning home come to them, and only when the light of the day was beginning to take on orange tones, the afternoon mixing into the sun's rays, that they acted on that thought. Another taxi – Jewellery would try a Ride Pokemon another day – and the two were returned back to Hau'oli's outskirts. Back towards their home.

The outskirts were an expanding district, despite protests from the neighbouring Iki Town that Hau'oli City was encroaching upon them. The route from the outskirts to Iki had numerous houses along it, Trainers of families that could afford such residences populous in the grassy fields outside the old town. Jewellery had met a few of her neighbours so far, but there were always more to greet. She waved at another when she and Moon arrived at their house.

A new home to become part of. Leaving the past behind.

In quiet nights she prayed this was best for Moon as well.

The afternoon passed quietly, the two relaxing from the day's excitement in the city, before Moon stood, called Rowlet to her, and walked out the front door. It wasn't yet time for her journey to begin in earnest but still, Jewellery considered, her daughter was showing the first signs of her independence. She'd see her again at the festival in Iki that night, and for a moment wondered if she'd still see the same daughter she had that day.

Shaking her head, Jewellery turned her attention back to the boxes yet to be unpacked. Waiting around for things had never been her style. She'd keep herself busy until it was time to go.

Though maybe the more she left for later, the more she'd have to distract herself too.

Maybe so.


 

Bustling with more life and energy than ever, Iki Town and its festival were in full swing already, even with the official opening still awaiting the setting of the sun – why waste good partying time after all! Already having had their fair share of the festival food available, Hau and his Popplio sat by a bench close to the town entrance, awaiting the arrival of the other half of the Festival Battle.

Now where could she be...?

“I wonder how Moon has been since yesterday...” Lillie, having arrived in Iki with Kukui earlier that day – he had a lot to discuss with the Kahuna it seemed – had gravitated towards Hau as being the person she knew the most here, though keeping pace with him had proven difficult. He never really slowed down at all. “I hope she's feeling alright, after everything that happened...”

“She'll be fine I know it!” Hau smiled at Lillie, the Popplio sitting in his lap giving a reassuring bark. “When we fought her last night she was just thinking about Pokemon, I could tell! That's all she's been about today too, I'll bet!”

“I see...” somewhat unsure of Hau's proclamation, Lillie considered all she'd read about Trainers and Pokemon. She could somewhat understand how Hau might claim to understand Moon's thoughts, but even still...

“Oh hey! Moon!” With loudness and excitement both Hau rocketed to his feet, the dislodged Popplio recovering with a neat flip and pose upon landing. Lillie turned to the entrance too, green eyes settling upon the girl walking through its entrance, her brown eyes roaming over the entirety of the Festival of the Tapu. Hau ran up to greet her.

“Hey hey! How're you doing, how're you feeling? Been getting along well with Rowlet? Me and Popplio have been working hard all day so you'd better be prepared for us to go all out tonight, alright? It's going to be nothing like last night was, you'll see!”

Unsure of just how to handle Hau's absolute enthusiasm, Moon made eye contact with Lillie, who couldn't help but feel a moment's solidarity. That said...

“You've changed your hair?” Walking up beside Hau, Lillie made the observation, causing Hau to do a double-take to actually notice. Moon nodded at Lillie. She considered. “It's nice. Maybe... one day I...”

In the pause of Lillie's thoughts Hau began talking again. “Hey so Moon you are ready, right? I know Professor Kukui'll be here soon and then we do the festival opening when it's sundown and then we have the Festival Battle! You ready for that?”

It wasn't... particularly like anyone had explained the Festival of the Tapu to Moon. By the focus in her eyes she appeared to have pieced a good portion of it together, but Lillie still wondered just how little anyone had told the girl. She tried to fill in what she could.

“The Festival of the Tapu celebrates the Guardian Deities of Alola, the four Tapu who each live on one of Alola's four islands. It's to honour them, and so there's food and prayer taken and given in their name.” Moon nodded in response to Lillie's explanation, her eyes focused on the blonde-haired girl. Hau took over.

“And to top off the Festival, we have the Festival Battle!” He jumped, punctuating the motion further with a fist thrown to the heavens. “That'll be us, because we're starting our Island Challenge! We have a Pokemon Battle, which the Tapu love, and then celebrate some more!”

“That's the gist of it,” though the voice of Kahuna Hala had gravel to it, he spoke with warmth that reached the heart as he approached the group from the celebrating crowd, “although our festival has never been too large a thing. Just a little get-together we do here in Iki. Still, none of us fail to go all out, so you shouldn't either, alright you two?”

“Yeah!” Hau's energetic affirmation did not distract Hala from seeing the quiet determination in Moon's eyes. She was ready too, even if she said it in far fewer words. Good. He didn't quite have that one's measure yet, but she seemed to have the same intent the very best of Trainers did.

Very good indeed.

“Pokemon battling...” Lillie drew Moon's attention, her words far quieter, “I don't really like seeing them hurt, even though they love to battle all the same. I guess that's why I'll never be a Pokemon Trainer.” The shake of her bag, muffled cries of the Pokemon within, distracted Lillie from her thoughts, and she opened the zipper just so to try and shush Nebby. Moon watched her intently.

“Hey there you three!” Next to enter Iki Town, walking through its arch with his Rockruff and Moon's mother a step behind, Professor Kukui waved with a smile. “And Kahuna Hala too! I'd stopped by Moon's place to pick her up and maybe give a little intro to battling wild Pokemon, but her mother here told me she'd already gone out on her own! Well Moon, seems you've done well for yourself today, so good job! You're going to be a fine Pokemon Trainer, oh yeah!”

Jewellery swept in to ply Moon with questions about her afternoon, Lillie falling back from the far higher energy woman – she felt more like she should be Hau's mother than Moon's in Lillie's opinion – and watched as Moon attempted to keep pace with her mother's attention. For a moment the sight of Moon, somewhat overwhelmed but still clearly fine with her mother's presence, caused a darker feeling Lillie would never admit to having to rise within her. She looked away.

“Alright alright!” Hala's brusque voice once more sounded out, “the sun's starting to set, the light of Alola will soon be under the moon's care. It's time to start the Festival proper, so please come join everyone in the centre of town. The Festival Battle will be just a little later. I'll announce it when.”

Realising she only had a minute or two at best to survey the outer reaches of Iki Town, Moon's mother rushed off, leaving her daughter with Hau and Lillie. Kukui laughed at the sight, sending his Rockruff off to race after her – the Pokemon already endeared to the older woman who'd petted it most affectionately as soon as she'd laid eyes upon it.

“Okay you three, let's head up,” taking point, Kukui led the way, Moon, Hau, and Lillie falling behind. Hau continued to pepper Moon with questions about how ready she was for their battle. Moon avoided them, but sometimes a little smile showed a readiness Lillie began to question whether Hau himself was prepared for.

In the centre of town Hala led the official opening of festivities.

“We are gathered here today,” he stood atop the platform in the town centre, the platform Moon and Hau had experienced their first Pokemon Battle atop the night before, “to celebrate the Tapu, Guardians of Alola, our divine protectors. In tribute to them we laugh, love, and live, and express our thanks by the lives spent under Alola's light! Tonight, as that light is passed from sun to moon, eat and be merry, give thanks to the lives we may spend thanks to the Tapu's care, and think well of Alola. A battle as offering will soon be had between two of Alola's newest stars. Thank you all, and enjoy the night!”

Applause was voracious, the crowd thrilled as always to be part of the festival. Hau, having caught his second wind as far as festival food was considered, raced off to try more of what was on offer, a far more restrained Lillie sampling what caught her eye as well.

Moon, keeping more to the edges of the crowd, noticed Professor Kukui speaking on a phone. As soon as the call closed he, with a slight frown on his face, strode through the crowd towards Hala.

Moon followed after.

“– didn't think she'd be in so soon so I-”

“You have to go now? This is the opposite of what we'd arranged.”

“I know but it's not just picking her up, it's the entire city council meeting, the interviews – they were scheduled for as soon as she got here. I need to be there for them.”

“Hmph.”

Moon, slightly eavesdropping, slightly considering the food available in the radius of the conversation, circled the pair.

“Look, it's not all bad, Hala, you announcing the two of them might even be better! They're going to be representing the new Island Challenge, so if the Kahuna of Melemele in Iki, one of the more traditional of Alola's townships, announces them, that's legitimacy too, right?”

“I'm not taking over for you, Kukui: convincing Alola to move towards this League model is your affair.”

“I know, I know, I messed up, but I've gotta go into Hau'oli or it's going to be worse for us. Please? Pretty please, Kahuna, Cherubi on top?”

A long-suffering sigh, built out of decades of knowing the Professor, emanated from the Kahuna. Hala shook his head. “Alright, alright, I'll lead the Festival Battle, but any pushback you get from Iki for not taking part in their traditions is on your head.”

“Appreciated,” Kukui gave a rapid version of the Alolan greeting, turning to dash off, Pokeball already in hand, “I'll be back as soon as I cannnnnn.”

He didn't even wait to be out of the town's limits before releasing a huge bird from the ball, boarding its back and racing off into the sky. Moon, along with a few other of Iki's residents, watched him depart.

“Not even staying for the Festival,” a grumble from one of those nearest to her reached Moon's ears, “and he talks about keeping Alola's spirit in that League of his.”

“The Island Challenge is fine the way it is,” another of Iki's residents agreed, “we don't need his League.”

“We don't need any change!”

Moon slipped away from the conversation without notice.

It wasn't much longer before Kahuna Hala found her, instructing the young Trainer to head up to the platform for the Festival Battle. As she ascended the steps, fingers running over the Pokeballs in her bag, Moon watched Hau appear opposite her, his Popplio jumping up beside him. Moon's fingers curled around one of the balls and withdrew it.

Hala took centre-stage.

“I present to you, and to the Tapu, two of Alola's newest Trainers! They will battle tonight as offering to our Tapu, to Alola's Guardians, and Tapu Koko, Melemele's own.” A hand raised indicated Hau. “Before you stands Hau, grandson to the Kahuna, known to all of Iki.” A rush of laughter went through the crowd at this, well aware of just how thoroughly the Kahuna's grandson had made himself known over the past eleven years.

Hala raised his other hand.

“Before you stands Moon, come from lands on far to become part of Alola under its light! She is one who has met with Tapu Koko itself, been approved of by our Guardian Deity!”

This rush through the crowd wasn't laughter. It was murmuring, quick and fervent, individual voices hard to make out. But Moon heard her name, and Tapu Koko's, repeatedly. She kept her eyes focused on Hau before her.

“This battle!” Hala raised both hands, “will be a one versus one Pokemon battle, a meeting of each of these new Trainers' partners! And the true beginning of their Island Challenge! Nowww-”

Hala's drawn out word, preparing to announce the start, was cut off by a new and louder wave of murmuring, those of Iki, who lived with Pokemon every day of their lives, familiar enough with the nature of what binds Pokemon and Trainers to be stunned by what they saw.

For as Hala announced the conditions of the battle, that it would only afford one Pokemon to each challenger, Moon had returned the Pokeball she was holding to her bag and withdrawn another.

Few missed the connotations of what that meant.

Hala shook his head, and raised his hands higher. Then dropped them. “Begin!”

Hau's Popplio charged forward. Moon, with a flick of her wrist, unleashed Rowlet onto the stage. And each took command.

The difference, in comparison to the conflict of the night before, was heaven and earth. Each of the Trainers had found their stride with their Pokemon, and their training in the day had given new confidence to their commands. Hau understood his Popplio's movement, the way it bounced and jumped, never still much like himself. Already the Bond between them was strong, already Popplio moved as fast as Hau could command. Such was the kind of Trainer raised in an environment such as Hau, always surrounded by Pokemon, always around a Trainer of such skill as his grandfather. Truly, his potential was astounding.

Moon's smile gleamed like a knife.

Rowlet was a hunter, a Pokemon of swift and silent movement, scything through the air to approach its prey. The movement of Moon's own hands, far louder than the majority of her words, was met by Rowlet's own, following her directives and hunting the stage itself. Hau's commands were strong. He ordered Popplio well, pushed back Rowlet, kept a strong defense.

But the hunt was Moon and her partner's, their offence eternal, and by pressure, by teamwork, by unerring focus, victory came to their hands. A storm of leaves Popplio had not evaded lifted it into the air and Rowlet slammed down, claws pushing the sea lion Pokemon into the ground. Its bark of surrender sounded out in the night.

Hala raised a hand.

“The winner is: Moon!”

There was a moment, when Hau was picking Popplio up in his arms, the blue Pokemon nuzzling his cheek by way of apology for the battle lost, that he looked silent. But only that moment before he looked back up at Moon with a smile as wide as could be.

“Hooo-ah! Moon! That was awesome!”

And with that announcement the crowd burst into celebration, thrilled by the battle that had taken place, proof above all things that these two Trainers, these two who would be undertaking their Island Challenges, would bring pride to the name of Alola. How could they not, with skills such as these?

Yet even their cheers, loud as they were, could not compare to the cry that swept over the treetops, a crowing that was only heard perhaps once in a year by the luckiest. Hala raised his head and laughed at it, his own smile clearly showing the family resemblance he had to Hau.

“So Tapu Koko approves!” His announcement drew all eyes to him, “Hau! Moon! You have both done splendidly! Let this mark the beginning of your Island Challenge, your journey across the Alola Region! I have for you here,” withdrawn from his coat, Hala stepped to Hau, handing a charm to him, before turning to Moon, “an Island Challenge Amulet! This will signify you are on an Island Challenge, so that all will know you battle under Alola's light!”

There was weight to the amulet, Moon considered, as she felt it settle in her hand. Swinging her bag around, she affixed the amulet to a strap. Good. Rowlet, having settled before her, cooed.

Hala watched as Moon knelt down, ran a hand over the Pokemon's head, before withdrawing a Pokeball from her bag to allow it to rest. He hadn't misseen earlier, Moon had been holding a different Pokeball before he'd announced the battle. Did she truly already have two Pokemon? But she didn't show in the least any strain at all.

Actually, wasn't that strange regardless? Hau, raised around Hala's powerful Pokemon, and a natural font of energy, was of course doing fine, but Moon didn't have that same pedigree, Hala was sure. Then how was it that forging a Trainer's Bond with Rowlet – and a powerful one too by the way they battled already – hadn't affected her? How was it that she had, apparently, a second Pokemon already?

Kukui had made a poor choice by going off to his meetings and missing this battle. Hala would grill him for that later. For now though...

“Young Moon,” the girl looked up at Hala before her, “before you take your leave I have something to return to you. Come find me after the crowd has dispersed, I will be waiting.” She nodded, quiet as ever, and Hala nodded in return. Took his leave from the stage, Moon and Hau doing the same, the crowd surging around them. They'd done so well! Such great Trainers! And! And!

“Hey hey!” Voices accosted Moon, “Was that another Pokemon you had?” “Which one?” “Show us!” “How're you so good at battling?” “Where are you from?” “How did-” “Who are-” “What is-” “You-”

“Moon!”

Shoving her way through the crowd, her never-changing smile pushing back those who might complain, Jewellery arrived before her daughter, arms extended, “You did so well! I'm so proud!” There was a presence, those closest would insist, around Jewellery that said to give her and her daughter space. So they did. And the festival continued on.

Once free of the crowd, Jewellery let Moon go to face Hau and Lillie, who'd spotted her and moved on over. Look at those three, her daughter already having found friends. Jewellery smiled and kept to the background. Good.

This was good.

“That was...” Lillie struggled for the words, her dislike of violence marred by the sight of Moon in the battle, an aura of power around her, “you were incredible, Moon.” A slightly hurt noise quickly had Lillie turn around and wave apology. “You too, Hau! You both did so well! And so did your Pokemon. I... I don't think I could ever do that.”

“Don't sell yourself short, Lillie!” Hau shook his head, “If you love Pokemon you can do anything, that's what my gramps told me! Isn't that right, Moon?” Moon's eyes moved from Hau's to Lillie's, from the confident to the wavering. She nodded.

“Now let's go get food! Come on, you haven't had anything til you've had Iki Town Malasadas! Come on!” Practically dragging the two girls, Hau led them through the crowd.

So the night pressed on.

No-one noticed the specific moment Professor Kukui returned, just that at some point he was amongst the crowd again, talking up a storm. While more tradition focused factions of Iki disapproved of the Professor's plans, his charisma allowed him to charm most everyone he spoke to, and even now Kukui succeeded in selling people upon his League idea. But those were the easy sells.

The hard ones would not go as smoothly.

With constant talk of the Festival Battle around him, Kukui soon heard the accusation that Moon had a second Pokemon, his eyebrows threatening to achieve lift-off at the thought. Hala couldn't confirm it, and Moon was busy with Hau and Lillie for the night, the trio attempting to coax Nebby down from a tall tree, unsure how the tiny Pokemon had even made its way up there.

He'd follow up on it tomorrow. Tonight was a night to party. And party they did.

Only when the festival began to wind down, the crowd breaking apart, the children reaching that point of true tiredness, did Hala catch a moment with Moon. She was wavering, which he found more relaxing than he should. It was good to know she was capable of being tired.

“This belongs to you,” he held out the object he had forged since meeting Moon the night before. “It is a Z-Ring, made from the Sparkling Stone which Tapu Koko gave you. Z-Rings are the means to draw power from Z-Crystals, which you will obtain upon your Island Challenge. Professor Kukui will be sure to tell you more tomorrow.”

Moon took the white bracelet, considered it, then clipped it around her left wrist where it stayed tight. A few movements of her arm showed herself testing its weight, but she didn't complain when she lowered it. Hala nodded at the sight.

“Tapu Koko,” he began, well aware Moon's focus was fading, “made an important choice in giving you that Stone. We may not know its true intentions, but still we must all rise to meet its expectations. I wish you well, little Moon, in your Island Challenge. I have every faith you will rise to the occasion.”

Moon was quiet, but for a moment her eyes met Hala's and he remembered every Trainer to ever pass the Island Challenge, to overcome the four Kahuna atop the peak of Mount Lanakila. Bastions of incredible strength and power. For her to remind him of them all... he nodded with a smile. “I'm sure.”

And that was it for the festival, Jewellery and Kukui moving to collect Moon and Lillie, the latter having finally convinced Nebby to stay in her bag. Even in the dead of night there were Pokemon active, but Kukui's Rockruff kept them at bay with loud barks, leaving room for the others to walk safely. Lillie and Moon, each tired, stayed close by one another.

“One day,” the only time she spoke, Lillie said this, “I hope to meet Tapu Koko again. To thank it for saving Nebby, and you. I truly hope I can.”

To meet Tapu Koko again... to that, Moon agreed.

The four broke into pairs at Moon's house, she and her mother entering while Kukui and Lillie continued on to the lab by the beach. Inside Moon was quick to embrace her bed, exhausted by this longest of days. Jewellery would do the same soon after, though sleep would come to her a little slower. Too much energy at seeing her daughter shining upon the stage that night. Far too much.

For a moment Jewellery looked in on Moon as she slept, smiled at the sight of her in the dark, Rowlet held close. This was good.

Moon would do well indeed.

Perhaps it was because she was tired after the long day. Perhaps she hadn't given weighty consideration to the rumours of Moon's second Pokemon. Perhaps the dark and the blanket were just enough that it didn't stick out to Jewellery at all. But she went to sleep that night thinking of how cute Moon was, sleeping with her Rowlet held close.

She hadn't noticed at all the five other Pokemon curled up around her.

Chapter Text

With the excitement of the night before, Lillie could not help but wonder whether Moon or her mother would even be awake at this hour. For her there had been no real choice – the Pokemon of the beachside laboratory waking and roughhousing as soon as dawn's light reached their eyes. Having taken in the Litten remaining from the three Pokemon offered to Hau and Moon, Professor Kukui seemed completely unfazed by the constant conflict between it and his Rockruff. They were just play-fighting, he had told Lillie. That sure didn't stop them from tearing up half the lab each day, she replied.

Kukui laughed, patted the Pokemon's heads, and agreed.

By the time the two of them had fed both themselves and the Pokemon of the lab, the sun was still only just beginning to stretch up the sands to the paths beyond, the winding way into Hau'oli City's outskirts. Moon and her mother lived close to the sea, one of the closest homes to the Pokemon Laboratory on the beach below, but it was still a few minutes walk until Kukui was knocking on their door. In that time, Lillie remained convinced they would be waking Moon and her mother up.

That belief lasted precisely up until the moment Jewellery opened the front door.

“Oh Professor, good morn-AH!” Halfway through her greeting Jewellery lunged to the side, arms outstretched to catch the Pokemon buzzing by her head. The inwards swing of the door in that moment showed a scene, a trio of Pokemon eating as if their life depended on it from a set of bowls, a Meowth standing guard over them, Jewellery trying to coax the Ledyba down from the curtains, and Moon herself entering the room, Rowlet perched on her shoulder, a black and cream Rattata clutched in her arms.

Kukui and Lillie stared.

“Oh Moon, could you-”

Jewellery's request was answered quickly, the Ledyba – ignoring her – immediately responding to Moon's words and descending down to greet her. She guided it and the Rattata both to join the other three – a Pikipek, Yungoos, and Caterpie, Kukui quickly observed – before the Rowlet fluttered off her shoulders to eat too. Six hungry mouths to feed. It was quite a time.

Jewellery turned back to the entrance with a slightly harried smile. “Good morning Professor Kukui, Lillie!”

“G'morning Jewel, Moon!” Kukui took the reins of the conversation, Lillie still caught in somewhat of a thrall at seeing the mass of gathered Pokemon, “I see you've got a busy house to look after too, huh?”

Many people would describe Kukui as being reckless, or not thinking things through when acting, but he was not a fool. Those Pokemon, Moon was the one they looked to, Moon was the one they obeyed. This wasn't Jewellery having stocked her house with local Pokemon to care for when her daughter left on her journey.

Those were Moon's Pokemon.

A second? What a joke.

She had six.

Kukui stepped inside.

“Here I was thinking maybe it was a little early, but I see it's not just my lab that had a busy start today! This sure is a difference from yesterday, huh?”

“Oh yes,” Jewellery nodded, the sheer shock of discovering, roughly half an hour earlier, that her daughter had six Pokemon having already been suppressed by the raw power that was 'mom mode'. Hungry mouths in her house got fed! That was a Jewellery Rulery! She was the only one who ever laughed when she said that. “Luckily they all listen to Moon, isn't that right?”

Moon affirmed, even meeting Kukui and Lillie's eyes from where she stood, but she remained there, watching over her Pokemon. They were... energetic, and not quite liable to seek out their trainer when there were new and interesting things about. The ability to keep six at once calm and in control was... something to be worked on with time.

She'd had all but Rowlet for less than a day.

“Well glad to catch you,” Kukui continued to talk, hoping to find stable ground somewhere in this conversation. He'd need to have a talk, several long talks, with a number of people, but right now he was here for something specific. Best not get side-tracked. “Was hoping to have a little chat. Lillie, would you help Moon look after her Pokemon please?”

Though she had remained at the threshold of the house up to this point, once Jewellery waved her in Lillie nodded and quickly moved to Moon's side. The presence of food, despite already having been fed that morning thank you, caused a brief struggle that ended with Nebby escaping her bag and attempting to push its way in amongst the others to eat. Moon gave a few words and they made room for the Nebula Pokemon.

Lillie couldn't even imagine where to start.

The beginning, she supposed.

“Six Pokemon?”


 

The veranda of Jewellery's house caught the wind of Alola at all hours, whether it was the breeze over the sea bringing the smell of salt from the shore, or gusts from the forest and fields to the north carrying leaf and loam scent down from above. At any time Jewellery could stand here, feel the wind flowing around her, and feel at peace.

Alola had been a good decision for her. She prayed it was for her daughter too. Opening her eyes, she considered the Professor before her.

“You were a Trainer too, yeah?” His question had an obvious answer, but Jewellery gave her nod all the same. She'd had her own Pokemon journey. She understood. Kukui continued. “Is this- do you have any sort of history that would account for-”

“I don't.” Nothing. Not her. Not her parents. Not any story from her family. Nor Moon's father, that she knew of at least. “Professor-” “Kukui, please.” “...Kukui, I think I'm still in shock too. I don't know what this means. Do- do you?”

“Not a thing,” Kukui turned his head, looking at the closed door behind him, sure that between Lillie and six Pokemon Moon would have no time to hear a word of this. “Jewel there isn't a record of this anywhere. When this gets out I- who knows what will happen. You're probably going to have to field a lot of attention.”

Jewel smiled the sort of smile Kukui saw on Trainer's faces when they were about to claim crushing victory over their foes. “I know a thing or too about dancing with reporters, Professor, I'll be fine.” As quickly though that smile faded away. “Moon, though. I know we can't hide this but... she's so young.”

“If I thought delaying her Island Challenge would help I'd say so but...”

Kukui didn't even need to complete the thought. Jewellery knew. “She won't accept that.”

“I saw that the moment she and Rowlet met.”

The wind blew by, still chill in the early morning of Alola despite the tropical warmth of the region. Neither Kukui nor Jewel gave it thought.

“The Island Challenge,” Kukui began again after a moment, “much like any other Pokemon journey it usually lasts a couple of years. Some Trainers grow faster than others and surpass the Trials we give them quickly, while others give up altogether. Generally after about five years everyone on a Challenge has either completed it or decided they won't be able to. A few weeks to months of adventuring, then spending time at home, then repeat. The usual.”

Jewellery nodded. “Much like Kanto.” Kukui agreed.

“Moon though... I have to wonder if it'll even take one year. I didn't see her Pokemon Battle last night but-”

“She was strong.” Those three words from Jewellery said enough. Kukui breathed out a sigh.

“I'm picturing Moon in a year with six Pokemon that can pass the Island Challenge and I don't know what that means. Just that it spooks me something fierce, Jewel. I'll talk to the Kahuna, and Captains, and we'll figure something out. Just know you've got all of Alola looking out for you and her on this. That's what we do here, we help each other out, yeah?”

That was a difference to Kanto. In Kanto you minded your own business and those around you minded theirs and everyone was polite. Distant, but polite. It was quieter, in a way.

Jewellery much preferred it here.

“I heard your interview on the radio yesterday.”

Kukui seemed surprised by that, but gave a smile after a moment all the same. He seemed a little sheepish. “Yeah I had to do more last night – Hala told me off something fierce for missing the festival for them. He's going to give me even worse when I tell him about this, I can tell.”

The deflection didn't work. “You're hoping for Moon and Hau to be ambassadors for the new Island Challenge.” The words made him jump. Yeah, okay, the family resemblance between Moon and Jewel wasn't just surface level. Kukui smiled sheepishly. Read so clearly, huh?

You'd think he'd be far better at deceit.

“Alola needs this,” this was his honest belief, though plenty would tell him he was deciding on his own just what Alola needed, “the chance to have a Champion that can stand on the world stage. The entire world, every region, is linked together by Pokemon and the Pokemon League. Alola needs to be part of that too. That's what I believe. It needs this.”

Jewellery, from a distant land, considered how little she could judge this. She didn't know Alola's culture the way those who would fight against, or for, this League did. She couldn't hold an opinion. Not on Kukui's work. But on his methods...

“You'll be pushing those two onto that world stage,” she remained focused, and reminded Kukui once more of a fierce trainer hounding their foe. Jewellery might have said her family had no grand legends Moon had inherited, but he got the feeling he could see one right before him. He didn't mention it. “A Kahuna's grandson and a trainer from another region taking the Challenge together? And leading up to the opening of the League? Isn't that a bit much, Professor? They're still children.”

Kukui looked hurt that Jewellery hadn't referred to him by name. He got it though. He did. But all the same... “I'm not going to lie or pretend,” he spoke with honesty, to assuage the doubts of Moon's mother. He needed to. “But it won't be their journeys that are watched, not the way you think. When the Pokemon League opens, everyone there is going to be seen by the world. It's just that, those two, they'll represent that new age. And I'll tell them that, I will! I won't hide anything. But right now, their Island Challenges, they won't be any different to anyone else's. I promise, Jewel. Cross my heart. I promise.”

Hala had given Kukui far sterner words than the look Jewellery gave him. That had been a long conversation, Kukui almost convinced that he was getting in over his head as the Kahuna showed just what he thought of someone, anyone, having a plan for his grandson.

But then Hala sighed and, when Kukui had been sure his grand idea was set to fail, relented. Strongly made clear the understanding that any trouble Kukui brought on Hau would end up on his head alone, but also that as long as he was upfront, honest, and did right by the children, Hala would approve.

Even though Jewellery exuded far less of the danger Hala had, Kukui found himself feeling equally as nervous. Maybe he was just still rattled from the discovery of the limit, or lack thereof, of Moon's abilities. Maybe that.

Jewel sighed.

“With the world watching her either way, Moon's going to have to deal with the attention in one form or another. Honestly, you managing her Island Challenge for this might take some of the attention off of her.”

Kukui's grin was childish in its excitement. “So you mean-”

“I'm sure the Kahuna said the same,” Jewellery made sure to meet the Professor's eyes, “but do not do wrong by those kids.”

Oh. There was that same sense of danger.


 

Inside of the house Lillie was watching with rapt attention as Moon spoke to her Pokemon, discussing with them in a manner that felt like watching two people converse. Moon was talkative with them, far more than on her own, and made sure each understood they were working together. Some of the wording she used reminded Lillie of books she'd read – borrowed from the nearby Pokemon School – and gave the impression Moon was using her own studies here.

Kukui had made mention that the trainer from Kanto had maintained excellent grades.

“Are you... tired?” Her question was met with a shake of Moon's head, which somehow didn't seem surprising, despite the fact all of this was surprising. That these Pokemon were reacting to Moon's words, following her intent, that was a clear sign of a Trainer's Bond. Six Trainer's Bonds. The kind of thing only a small fraction of Trainers could maintain, although those who did would have Pokemon far more powerful than these.

But even still, the entire situation was... Moon was far beyond a statistical aberration, she was an impossibility. But for the fact Lillie could see with her own two eyes this girl, of similar age to her own, and the six Pokemon around her. It was a lot.

It was extremely a lot.

The door to the veranda opened and the two adults walked in.

“Okay then!” Kukui smiled brightly, clapping his hands, “Moon! Would you be willing to come down to the lab by the beach with Lillie and me? We've got someone for you to meet, and also I need to explain how the Island Challenge works! Your mom's given the go-ahead, so when you're ready we can get going, yeah!”

Jewellery joined Moon and Lillie – who shuffled back quickly from the older woman despite herself – and ran a hand over Rowlet's head, who cooed appreciatively at her. In comparison to the other five, Rowlet was a polite and accepting young girl. The rest, well, wild Pokemon were like that, after all.

“I'll see you when you get back?” Jewellery's request was met with a nod from her daughter. Most trainers starting their journey kept close to home, trained and grew together with their partners before striking out for further towns, further challenges. Moon though, Jewellery knew in her heart that her daughter would only be here for a few days more. She felt it keenly, watching her daughter join Lillie and Kukui to head down to the Professor's lab, even knowing Moon would soon enough be back. Her Meowth found its way into her arms as she sat in the quiet house, so stark a difference to the busy morning she had never expected.

Change came far too quickly, no matter what.

No matter how unprepared you were for it.


 

Moon had yet to travel down to the beachside beyond the outskirts of Hau'oli, and so had yet to see the laboratory of Professor Kukui. Much like anyone else, the boarded up holes, windows, and tarp-covered roof drew from her pause. Lillie shook her head to see it. Kukui grinned.

“That's my lab, yeah! Me and my Pokemon go all out every day, testing out moves and learning more about them! I don't think I've told you yet, Moon, but I'm a specialist in Pokemon Moves, yeah! That's why Alola, with its Z-Moves, is the best place for me!”

Z-Moves... the term provoked an immediate reaction from Moon, the raise of her left hand, the examination of the bangle around it. Kukui didn't miss the motion at all.

“So that Z-Ring you've got there, the way it works is you combine it with Z-Crystals that let you use super powerful Pokemon moves, like nothing you've ever seen before!” And that got her attention. Kukui smiled at the sight of her eyes locked upon him. “In Alola we don't have Gyms, we have Trials, special challenges on each Island overseen by strong trainers called Captains. You go from Trial to Trial, and as you overcome them, you'll collect Z-Crystals. After you complete all of an Island's Trials, you face its Kahuna in a Grand Trial, then move on to the next of our four islands. That's how it works, woo!”

Moon nodded. Kukui wasn't sure how much she'd read about Alola's Island Challenge, but it didn't hurt to lay it all out. She seemed very interested. Good.

That determination was necessary, after all.

In spite of how Kukui had left it – well, Lillie specifically – the front door of his lab was both unlocked and open. Kukui smiled at the sight of that too. Good. She was here.

“Heeeey!” He announced himself entering his own home, a slightly confused Lillie and unaware Moon following behind, “Good morning!”

The woman, standing in the middle of the lab, turned to face the trio. There was just enough of a moment of considering her, her long and pale blue hair which forked into the shape of wings, her cool blue eyes giving consideration to the group, and the thin metallic club she was leaning on the ground, before Lillie gasped and pushed right past Kukui with stars in his eyes.

He smiled at his assistant's surprise.

“You're Kahili!” Lillie's exclamation was met by a nod from the woman, curbing the young girl's enthusiasm by no degree at all. “Oh my goodness the famous Pokemon Trainer and golfer, I can't believe it!” Moon, with no awareness of the woman at all, looked from her, to Lillie, to Kukui with curiosity alone. Kukui gave the two women a berth so Lillie could be excited in peace. “My family we-” for a moment her voice caught, before she shook her head and kept her eyes on the legendary trainer, “we're all really big fans of yours.”

For the first time Kahili's expression changed to a smile, which Lillie immediately found relief in. The older woman nodded to her. “It's wonderful to meet a fan, Kukui told me he had an assistant who would be excited to meet me.” This caused a reaction, Lillie's cheeks reddening as she stared a dagger at Kukui, who'd given absolutely no mention of even knowing Kahili, let alone being about to receive her in his lab. Kukui disappeared down the staircase at the rear of the lab while his voice called back up to them.

“I invited Kahili to help me with the Pokemon League!” Moon's focus now lasered onto Kahili, who was observing her too. Kahili frowned. Something about this girl... “Since she's one of Alola's more famous trainers, she's helping with the marketing! If she approves then everyone'll get behind it, yeah!”

“I'm not that powerful,” Kahili didn't use the volume for her rebuff to reach Kukui, but Lillie and Moon both heard it, “but I do believe Alola needs a League. So I'm doing what I can for that. That's all any of us can do.”

“Oh!” Lillie clasped her hands, nodding emphatically, “yes, I'm sure with your help the Professor will have no problems convincing everyone to create the Alolan League! I hope it goes well!”

“Alright!” Kukui's voice came with him back up the stairs, a Pokeball now in hand, “Moon, I've got someone to introduce you to! Could I see your Pokedex for a moment?”

Confused but amenable, Moon extended the device, Kukui holding the Pokeball up to it. “I've arranged for a special Pokemon to be sent to me: it's called a Rotom. Rotom live in electronic devices, and use those devices to change their forms. That Pokedex is custom-built for a Rotom to inhabit: it'll help you out and gather even more information than usual from your Pokemon journey!”

Lillie and Kahili both stood aside, watching as Kukui clicked the Pokeball. A beam of red-light resolved into a shape, a small orange creature wreathed in electric blue, which spent a moment floating free before diving right into the Pokedex Moon held. There was recoil, the girl falling back before the device slipped out of her hand, and all present watched as the red electronic encyclopaedia shook in the air. Seconds passed, the device free-floating, before its screen came alight. A sequence of tones indicated boot-up.

And a voice emerged.

“Rotom-dex, at your service, zzt! Trainer ID set, registration: Moon!”

Moon stared. Kahili lightly applauded, club tucked under her arm, the constant development of Pokemon sciences always impressive. Kukui nodded with a smile at the sight. Lillie just thought about whether she'd be able to ask for Kahili's signature.

“Pokedex scanned, zzt!” The Rotom-dex began again after a moment, considering its new habitat, “Pokemon encountered: ten! Pokemon caught: six! Zzt!”

Kahili dropped her golf club.

“Excuse me?”

The Rotom-dex made a noise of surprise as Kahili's hands wrapped around it, fingers rapidly navigating the Pokedex's menu. Her eyes, roving over the screen, only widened second by second. Kukui coughed.

It took a moment for Kahili to release the device, which floated over to Moon who reached up to take hold of it. Kahili looked in confusion from Moon to Kukui. She seemed unsteady on her feet. “Six?”

Kukui nodded, his silence mostly to avoid making too big of a deal about this in front of Moon, though Kahili's reaction had probably already completely thrown out that attempt at subtlety. It wasn't like the girl, who'd graduated her Pokemon School course with high grades, shouldn't understand just how out of the ordinary she was. Attempting to pretend she wasn’t was probably insulting to her. Kukui shrugged.

“It was a surprise to me too, believe me.”

Kahili found a chair and sat down in it hard.

“A~lo~la! The salty breeze sang to me and brought me here to you!”

Immediately replacing the energy drained from the room by Kahili's shock, Hau appeared through the door, smile ever wide, waving to everyone gathered inside. “Hey Professor! Hey Lillie! Hey Moon!” Kahili, sitting down out of immediate sight of the doorway, went unnoticed as Hau's eyes took in the lab he was entering for the first time.

“Oh hey is that a loft? Awesome!”

Lillie was fast, Moon observed, watching her move to stop Hau before he could take another step. She shook her head rapidly. “No it's not! That's... where I'm staying while the Professor is taking care of me. It's private!”

Hau, cut off from that avenue of interest by Lillie's insistence, finally noticed the fourth occupant of the room. “Oh hey! Alola!” He waved to her, who looked at him with an expression that was still trying to come down from the concept of a new Trainer with six Pokemon. It wasn't easy. “I'm Hau, nice to meet you, Ms...”

“Hau!” Almost more offended by Hau's ignorance than his attempt to invade her room, Lillie put her hands on her hips, “That's Kahili, a famous Alolan Pokemon trainer and golfer!”

“Oh cool!” Hau focused in on the only part of that that interested him, “That means you've got a ton of really strong Pokemon, right, Ms. Kahili?” She did nod to that, which appeared to satisfy the boy enough to bounce on his feet and throw his fist to the air. “So cool!” His energy, leaking out across the room, brought smiles. Moon stood beside him as Kukui addressed them.

“Okay!” The Professor nodded, “The two of you are officially on your Island Challenges now, woo! The first Trial is run by Melemele's only Captain, Ilima, who you'll be meeting later today. He's stopping by the Pokemon School just inside Hau'oli City, so you're both going to introduce yourselves to him! And Moon,” Kukui turned his focus completely on her, “you need to visit the Pokemon School anyway, just to get your Kanto graduation finalised here in Alola. Shouldn't be a problem.” Moon nodded in return. Kukui smiled.

“Alright then you two, make sure to head to the Pokemon School this afternoon, I'll meet you there! Until then, the rest of the morning is yours! Lillie, would you like to go hang out with them?” Lillie jumped, slightly surprised at Kukui's question, before glancing over at the still recovering Kahili. A part of her had very strongly wanted to interview the famous trainer as best she could but... she looked at the other two and nodded.

“Yes, Professor Kukui!”

“Excellent!” The Professor clapped his hands, “I'll see you three out then. Have fun now!”

The breeze outside the lab rolled off the sea, blew back the hair of the group as they stepped into it. Out into the light under Alola's sun.

And suddenly darkness.

Lillie's cry and grab for someone ended as she found Moon's arm, holding onto it unaware. Hau yelled something about an eclipse, while Moon remained ever-quiet. Kukui wondered just what this might be.

Then it passed, it was bright again, and Lillie let go of Moon's arm with stuttered apologies. Agreeing with Hau that this must have been an eclipse, Kukui knew it was not. But just what it was... he wasn't sure.

Still, he saw the three off, and returned to his lab with a smile. Whatever strange things might be happening, seeing those three together was good. It was good.

Kahili, arms crossed, barred his entry. Ah, right, this conversation.

Six, Kukui?”

“Six.”


 

And, far in the sky above unseen by all, left by the passing of darkness across light, a small purple form floated lazily along.

The dark fled a little longer.

Chapter Text

This is Hau'oli City Radio, coming to you at all hours of the day! Tonight we have a special interview with Alola's very own Professor Kukui, as well as one of Alola's most famous trainers; returning from the Kalos Region: Ms. Kahili Hano herself!

“Happy to be here, woo!”

“Thank you for having us.”

Now Ms. Hano, could you tell us a little about what brought about this return? You took part in the Kalos Pokemon League recently, and in interviews after that claimed you would continue to hone your skills abroad. What brings you back to the Alola Region?

“It was by Professor Kukui's request, actually. He contacted me after the Kalos League ended and invited me to aid in helping start a Pokemon League here in Alola. You could say we share a vision.”

Is that so? Professor Kukui, construction of the Pokemon League has continued atop Ula'ula's Mount Lanakila unabated, despite some push-back from communities across Alola. Is Ms. Hano your attempt to resist those complaints?

“Now I wouldn't put it quite like that, not at all! It's true there's been some difficulty crafting a League that everyone approves of, but the fact we intend to do that hasn't changed one bit! Kahili here is a Trainer forged by Alola's traditions; it's not meant to be her saying 'do this' because she has the clout, it's to show that someone like her, who really embodies the Alolan spirit, sees that spirit being carried on in the League! It's the most important thing there is, to keep the Island Challenge tradition alive, even while embracing the Pokemon League system! That's why we're keeping Trials over constructing Gyms, and the Kahuna of Alola will serve as our Elite Four. Just like we've been in talks with the Kahuna, and by extension Tapu, Kahili's another voice helping make sure we don't sacrifice any of Alola's spirit with progress! That's it, yeah!”

Interesting, interesting. Ms. Hano, your thoughts?

“When I took part in the Kalos League, the very first thought I had was that I wanted to see the same happen back home. To see the Pokemon Trainers of Alola gather up, test themselves, and celebrate the strength honed by their Island Challenges. As Professor Kukui has said, the Island Challenge itself won't change, just that overcoming it will earn a place in the Pokemon League of Alola, the same way the Gym Challenge in other Regions would. And...”

And?

“-I want to see the very best of Alola stand on the world stage. With how many Regions are adopting the Pokemon League model, with how many Champions are now appearing, it's only a matter of time until the World League begins.”

Oh my!

“Hey now, Kahili, I think I stand for everyone when I say the thought of a World League is the most exciting thing possible, but that's still just something people are wishing for right now. Let's focus on the Alola League, and an Alolan Champion, for the sake of Alola, yeah?”

“I'm just looking ahead, Professor.”

Well now, with that shocking declaration, I'd say there'll be many people excited to hear about the plans for the Alolan Pokemon League. To all listeners, Professor Kukui and Ms. Hano will be in Hau'oli City for the next week, and there are Town Halls planned to discuss the League and any concerns with it. Professor, could you give us the times for those?

“Right, yes, of course. The first of four will be tomorrow night at six at the City Council hall, with another every second night after!”

Fantastic. Professor Kukui, Ms. Hano, thank you for joining us.

“Thanks for having us!”

“It has been a pleasure.”

With that, let's get back to the late-night tunes of Alola, keeping those evenings fresh and beats chill. Coming up later: he's the king of the ring and one of Alola's strongest trainers, but beyond that a man of mystery – just who is: The Masked Royal?


 

The morning passed into afternoon easily for Moon, Lillie, and Hau. Known almost as well throughout the outskirts of Hau'oli as he was in Iki Town itself, Hau insisted on taking Moon around and introducing her to all his friends and their families, Lillie following along in a constant state of flux between slight nervousness at talking to so many people and genuine awe that Hau had no trouble doing so himself.

Moon... was quiet, but she was almost always quiet. Lillie watched her, listened to her when she spoke, but far more often Moon spoke in gestures than words. When Hau brought out his Popplio to show off to some of the local kids Moon had her Rowlet join the Sea Lion Pokemon, but beyond that she kept her Pokeballs inside of the bag she carried. Lillie wished her own bag was as good at keeping Pokemon contained.

Number of times the trio had been required to chase a gallivanting Nebby down: three.

Doing her own greeting tour around the neighbourhood, Moon's mother had spotted Lillie at the base of the tree Hau and Moon were climbing and insisted the three allow her to feed them lunch when they were done playing, which Hau excitedly thanked her for with a voice that reached down from the canopy above. It was good, Jewellery decided, seeing those three together. Moon looked happy.

It was good.

The sheer act of keeping pace with Hau's enthusiasm had left Lillie hungry, which said something about the amount of energy the Kahuna's grandson had to have been running, jumping, climbing, playing, and yelling for the past few hours. Jewellery welcomed Moon's two friends into her house readily, serving some traditional Kanto cooking for the three. Hau'oli's markets were quite impressive – Jewellery hadn't had any trouble procuring all the ingredients she desired. This city would be good to her. She knew it. Moon too. For as long as she was here.

Hau let his Popplio out, and Moon her Rowlet, so they could feed as well, with Lillie – thanks to Moon's reassurance – allowing Nebby to join them. Moon kept her other Pokemon stored away, but as they hadn't been out of their Pokeballs since that morning, it wasn’t like they'd be hungry yet either.

Still, Lillie couldn't help but suspect that after Kahili's reaction to her team, Moon was keeping the number of Pokemon she possessed to herself. Lillie wondered how Hau would take that eventual reveal.

With lunch finished Jewellery saw her daughter and daughter's two new friends off, the trio now bound for the Pokemon School just inside the outer limits of Hau'oli City proper. There was a Pokemon Center along the way, though unnecessary given Popplio and Rowlet had eaten and rested just earlier, and so the three walked past it, then further on to the gates of the school. There were a few Trainer's Schools in Alola, all the islands besides Poni having at least one, but the Hau'oli City school was the largest and most famous. Several notable trainers of the Alola Region hailed from here.

They'd be meeting one such just a little later on.

Just inside the gates, standing on opposite ends of a training field, two Pokemon Trainers were in the midst of battle, and that was more than enough to draw Hau and Moon's attention, Lillie's attempts to imply they should wait for Professor Kukui ignored. She sighed and followed after, getting the feeling neither would ever choose sense over witnessing a battle.

That was one of the things about Pokemon Trainers she just couldn't understand. Another reason she wasn't cut out for this life. She watched alongside the other two until attention turned their way.

“Oh hey, Hau!” Children from Iki Town studied here too, the Kahuna's grandson well known to them. While the majority of students were below the age of eleven, some Trainers took extended courses at local schools, refining themselves for their Pokemon Journeys. It was two of those who were battling now, but that battle came to a stop when they followed the sound of the greeting to its target. And saw the one standing with him.

Moon watched as the two Trainers called back their Pokemon, moved rapidly to each other's side and began whispering together. One pulled out her phone and sent a quick text, less than a minute passing before two more Trainers of similar age emerged from the school. The tallest one approached Moon and Hau with arms crossed. Lillie had a bad feeling about it.

“Well well,” he gave such stereotypical arrogance that it was obviously copied from a morning cartoon, “if it isn't the two newest Trial-goers. We heard about your battle at the festival, very impressive, very impressive indeed.” The girl who had been part of the battle before nodded as she approached.

“That's the one,” she indicated Moon, whose brown eyes fixated upon her with a silent stare. “She has a second Pokemon.”

There were four in total, two boys, two girls, one of each having been battling a moment prior, the remaining two having emerged from the school after being contacted. The tallest continued to nod. “That's the rumour, isn't it?” Hau glanced at Moon. Lillie couldn't read his expression. “Thing is, that's kinda wild, isn't it?” The leader of the group uncrossed his hands, “I was thinking, I'd love to see if that's true. So hey, Trial-goer, how about a Pokemon battle? A Double Battle, specifically. Think you're up for facing two of the Hau'oli Pokemon School's Elite Four?”

In battle, Trainer's Bonds take more than at rest. Extended Pokemon Battles could be won by exhaustion of a Trainer before their Pokemon, unable to support the power of their team for that period of time. Double Battles were twice that – the challenge being to maintain and direct two Pokemon simultaneously. In official capacities, Double Battles were heavily monitored, run by institutions only for Trainers of significant skill – those nearing the end of their Pokemon Journeys, for example. For the vast majority, Double Battles were done with allies, two Trainers versus two, and served as a preview of the kind of tactical thinking and response time necessary for doing such alone.

Triple Battles existed outside official capacity, and were unregulated lawless things. Few accepted such risky challenges.

The fact Moon, after being challenged in this way, nodded and withdrew a pair of Pokeballs from her bag, immediately accelerated the pace of the rumour mill. The two Trainers who had been battling before took point at one end of the field, Moon standing across from them. The remaining two stood as overseers.

Lillie watched the speed of Hau's foot tapping against the ground reach critical speed before he rushed forward to join his friend.

“Hey now!” His voice was loud, reaching across the field, “I'm here too! If it's a Double Battle, let's do it fair, two against two, okay?”

If the look the two preparing to battle Moon gave each other was disappointment, neither Hau nor Moon could tell. Hau raised a hand with a Pokeball in it, Moon fussing with her bag before doing the same to mirror him. A cheering crowd of students surrounded the field, excited by the new battle taking place, as the leader of the Hau'oli Pokemon School's 'Elite Four' dictated the rules of this two versus two Pokemon Double Battle.

The release of their Pokemon was simultaneous, Moon's Rowlet and Hau's Popplio against their opponents' Spinarak and Meowth. The sight of the Alolan variant of the Scratch Cat Pokemon caught Moon's attention, and she queried her Rotom-dex, which happily searched up the data it had on hand.

The sight of Moon directing the floating and talking Pokedex quickly mixed into the building rumours about her.

Then the battle began and it was a greater struggle than either Moon or Hau had predicted. It shouldn't be a surprise – these young Trainers might have spoken with confidence, but they also had far more experience than the two new Trial-goers. Their commands were more precise, their understanding of their Pokemon's limitations more defined. It allowed a level of prediction, and direction, that proved far more effective than Moon or Hau's.

Which is why they took their eventual defeat so much the harder.

It wasn't a clean win, but that was a sign of a well-fought battle on all sides. Rowlet and Popplio, having been raised together, knew well how to fight as one, and allowed Moon and Hau room to direct the pair. Given that, it was a battle won more by the Pokemon than their Trainers, but the partnerships between Pokemon – especially in double battles – were just as important as those between allied Trainers.

That said, when the battle did come to an end with Moon and Hau announced victors, both of their Pokemon were thoroughly exhausted. Hau picked Popplio up with a smile and a kind word for his partner. Moon did the same.

The 'Elite Four' quickly huddled for another meeting.

“Well then,” the tallest one, their leader, took position with the other fresh Trainer, “you've successfully beaten two of our Elite Four. But you should know, when a battle with the Elite Four begins, there's no leaving until you've beaten all of them or lost. It's time for the next fight, you two!”

“Hey!” Hau gave a look of surprise, “We gotta stop here, my Popplio's too tired to keep going! Aren't you being too pushy anyway? Take it easy alread-”

Moon's action cut Hau's words off, but even if he'd kept speaking no-one would have heard him over the uproar that followed. For as the young girl took a step forward she swept out a hand, released two Pokeballs even while holding Rowlet with the other, and brought her Pikipek and Yungoos to the field.

The rumour mill quickly caught ablaze, rumour smoke visible from miles away. Hoo boy.

The rough confidence of the Trainers opposing Moon quickly changed into outright shock, the sight of two more Pokemon from the rumoured Trainer completely changing the tone of this hazing session. They'd intended to tease, to pose as villains and mess with the brand new Trainer who was rumoured to somehow have two Pokemon. That was a funny thought. There was no way she did.

Now she had three. And was staring the two down like she was completely ready to battle despite the extended and, what should have been, exhausting battle she'd just taken part in. Wide eyes stared at the pair of Pokemon as whispers raced about, Lillie in the crowd already hearing people saying Moon's name, unsure of where they'd heard it. Other members of the crowd from when Moon had battled Hau the night before, she supposed.

Then there was a new voice, reaching over the crowd, and a woman waded her way through the children. Quickly they stood at attention.

“Alright, alright, that's enough of that for today.” The teacher came to a stop before Moon, but turned her attention upon the Trainers across the field first. Addressed them directly. “It's important for Trainers to battle but that doesn't mean you get to be rude. Come here and apologise.”

As the 'Elite Four' gathered and gave words of penitence for challenging Moon so roughly, Lillie looked around and caught sight of Professor Kukui standing behind the group. Luckily it wasn't difficult for her to make her way over to him. He nodded at her with a smile.

“Hey there, Lillie, I should have guessed those two wouldn't be able to avoid getting in a fight or two with some of the Trainers here. This school's Trainers are a strong bunch though, huh?”

She couldn't really evaluate. For as much as she'd read – and she had read a lot – Lillie lacked the raw understanding of Pokemon and Trainer strength that only came through being a Trainer. She glanced past Kukui and saw no-one. Frowned.

“Is Kahili not here?”

“She's catching up with her family on Akala,” Kukui kept his eyes on Moon as the teacher spoke to her, “she'll be back tomorrow for more meetings around Hau'oli. You'll get the chance to talk to her then, since you're my assistant and all. Sounds good, yeah?”

The slight teasing from Kukui at Lillie's interest in getting to talk to the famous trainer went ignored, his young assistant turning her attention back to the mass of people just in time to see Moon following the teacher into the school. She frowned.

“Will Moon be alright?”

Kukui didn't enjoy admitting he didn't know.


 

“There's a parable we use in this school,” Emily, the raven-haired teacher, spoke as she led Moon through the school, the office where they'd complete the transfer of Moon's Kanto School graduation to its Alolan sister on the second floor. “It's about two Pokemon Trainers – one who keeps six Magikarp, and the other a single Gyarados. Have you heard of it?”

Moon had, the tale used in Kanto too. The teacher nodded at her response. “Many Trainers with experience could keep six Pokemon, but those six would be the type found around this city, and with just a little growth would become too much to maintain. A Trainer that did such a thing would never beat a Trainer with a single partner they had grown alongside and given all the power they could.”

At the door to her office Emily stopped and considered Moon. Wondered. “I'm not sure that's even possible to apply to you right now. But keep it in mind.” Moon's nod showed she would. Emily couldn't ask for more than that. Well, one thing more.

The completion of the application was done quickly – confirmation that Moon was present and registered as a Trainer and Trial-goer in the Alola region taken and used to sign off on her graduation. She was now an official Pokemon Trainer of Alola, with all the benefits and requirements that would come with that. Good.

But there was one more thing, and teacher and Trainer took a different path after leaving the office. Went up, instead of down. Out on the school-grounds, fields had been drawn for Trainers to have their Pokemon battles. But others could be found about as well.

The one on the roof was for more private conflicts. Rarely needed but... well, how could she resist?

“Moon,” the teacher took position, Moon doing the same without even questioning this was happening, “this is a test to make sure you're handling those Pokemon you've caught. I would be a most irresponsible teacher to let a graduate of this school go overloaded by her Bonds, would I not?”

With Moon's Rowlet still recovering, Emily expected to see the two Pokemon Moon had brought out before. Check that after battling with them Moon was still doing well. Her Meowth was significantly stronger than those of her students, there were no means by which Moon would best her. So she let the grey-coated Pokemon free of its Pokeball and instructed Moon to give it her all.

Even she hadn't predicted what would come next.

Moon opened with her Yungoos, directed it against the Meowth, and frowned when the difference in power became apparent. Changed her strategy, focused instead on attrition, dodging, and little hits. It showed flexible thinking, which was proof enough Moon would be an incredible trainer, but it still wasn't enough. When the Meowth pinned Yungoos down, it had nothing left to do. Moon called it back and accepted its defeat.

Next came Caterpie.

Immediately a number inside Emily's head incremented from three to four. Her mouth hung a little. What?

Moon's strategy with her Caterpie was instantly recognisable, and Emily smiled to see it despite herself. The use of environmental traps, sticky patches of silk, it mirrored the winning Trainer of last year's Kanto Pokemon League, showing Moon had not only watched the tournament but studied it. That sort of attitude, it was scary.

It was the second scariest thing about her.

Environmental control helped, but Emily's Meowth still took victory, pinning the bug Pokemon as well. Moon called it back. Brought her Pikipek out. Good, Emily breathed a sigh of relief, four was where it ended.

When the Pikipek was knocked to the ground and Moon simply raised another Pokeball to continue on, the teacher felt as if the world was dropping out beneath her.

It was a Ledyba, another local to the area. Besides the Rowlet – which was Moon's starter Pokemon, all of the others were locals. Moon had been given the Rowlet two nights ago, Emily knew that. In that span of time she'd caught four more Pokemon? That was ridiculous.

So to know that number was five instead, when Meowth – tired now after this long battle against far more numbers than Emily had expected – knocked the Ledyba down and received a Rattata tackle to the gut, was a truly shocking realisation indeed. Even knowing her shock affected her Pokemon, had weakened her Meowth as the battle continued, Emily still couldn't believe it when the Scratch Cat Pokemon was knocked over and didn't get back up. Moon called out praise to the black furred Rattata that had won her battle. Emily shook her head.

Unbelievable.

Returned her Meowth and released a Magnemite to continue.

She never said she'd only use one.

That was the end of the battle though: Moon spent only a moment seeing the second Pokemon from the teacher before calling her Rattata back – a sign of surrender. But that was the wisest possible decision in this situation and Emily found that shocking too.

An eleven year old girl, a Pokemon Trainer for not even three days in total, with six Pokemon, strong and healthy Bonds between them – Moon didn't seem tired at all – who copied strategies from League Tournaments and knew when to call a battle complete. That wasn't just out of the ordinary. That wasn't just a shock.

That was impossible. Or it should be.

Emily shook her head.

The sound of clapping echoed over the rooftop.

“Bravo, bravo,” the soft voice of their observer carried to the ears of both, his steps light and easy. Moon studied the man approaching, swept pink hair and dark skin, but did not recognise him. By contrast, Emily...

“Oh, Captain Ilima!”

“And here I was looking forward to testing the two new Trainers on their Island Challenges,” Ilima was smiling, continuing to walk to stand between the two, “I'll have to wait for a later chance to battle young Moon here: she should rest after that, after all.”

Hearing Ilima's name Moon approached him, who turned to her with a smile. “The Professor and your friends told me about the battle you had earlier – I got the feeling Ms. Emily here wouldn't be able to resist challenging you. I would say my prediction earns full marks, wouldn't you?”

Well aware that being called a battle nut by Ilima was the height of hypocrisy, Emily smiled through it. “I had to make sure my graduating student was well equipped to go forward, after all. I'd be a terrible teacher if I left her untested, would I not, Captain Ilima?”

Ilima smiled at her, well aware she'd indulged for her own curiosity. He didn't blame her though.

If she hadn't he would have.

“Well then, why don't we head back down, I need to properly greet the two Trial-goers. Ms. Emily, Moon, if you would?”

Kukui was showing off to the children of the school, his Rockruff and Litten in a Double Battle with the remaining two members of the 'Elite Four'. It was essentially one-sided, the Professor actively playing with the pair who, while doing their best, couldn't stand up to him. When he saw Ilima approaching with Moon in tow, he gave a quick order and the two Pokemon he was facing were knocked out then and there. Battle won.

He still made sure to congratulate the two Trainers on their strong Pokemon though, and advise them on ways to improve. His goal was to fill Alola with incredible Trainers, after all.

“Hello hello,” once Moon and Hau were standing side-by-side, Ilima took point before them, “Captain Ilima here. I'm often found around Hau'oli City, but when a Trial-goer is ready, they can meet me at Verdant Cavern, north of the City, to take on my challenge. The two of you are both bright young stars, so I'm looking forward to seeing how you do. Make sure to train hard in the City, and prepare as best you can for my Trial. The Trial of Captain Ilima.”

As one of the more famous and recent Trainers to graduate this school, Ilima was soon enough swarmed by students, the School's 'Elite Four' proclaiming him their Champion and insisting he get revenge on Kukui. Ilima laughed that off, remarking that if he and Kukui had a Pokemon Battle they'd need a much larger field, so they wouldn't risk destroying the school.

Everyone but Kukui and Emily, who knew that wasn't a joke, laughed loudly.

“Professor,” when Ilima did greet Kukui, he did so with the look in his eyes that showed he was ready for a battle, “please continue doing your best with the Pokemon League. I intend to take part, after all.”

“Right!” Kukui nodded, “I wouldn't expect any less! But until then, make sure to look after all the Trial-goers taking their Island Challenges. We want a full crowd for the opening!”

Ilima looked, Kukui turning with him, to see Moon and Hau surrounded by a crowd of school-children. Lillie, who was keeping outside of the crowd as best she could, watched over them.

“You weren't wrong. Six Pokemon.”

“Yeah, six Pokemon.”

Neither had any idea what to make of that. But they'd both keep doing what they could, as Captain and Professor each. That was all they could do.

And when the time came for Ilima to depart, Kukui gathered up Moon, Lillie, and Hau to leave as well, the School's 'Elite Four' suddenly sad to see their new rivals leave. But they'd be back another day, Kukui told them, and that seemed to win the group over. Kukui wondered if they realised the next time Moon returned, their battle would end far further in her favour. He could already tell.

She was going to go further than anyone believed.

“Young Trial-goers,” just prior to taking his leave, Ilima addressed Moon and Hau one more time, “I sincerely look forward to your challenge. Until we meet again, continue to grow with your Pokemon. I will wish you the best.”

With that, the Captain was gone, the tint of afternoon light working its way over the treetops and buildings of the city and surroundings. Kukui stood by as the three young ones spoke.

“Hey Moon!” Hau, having recovered enough from the intense battle earlier, was once more as bouncy as ever, “Let's go exploring Hau'oli City tomorrow! I'll show you all my favourite places! Okay?”

Moon's nod was enough for Hau, who turned to Lillie next. “You too, Lillie. You've gotta come with us too, alright?”

Though she hadn't expected this, when Professor Kukui nodded his approval, Lillie smiled and agreed as well. Tomorrow morning the three would meet here and continue on into the city.

The next steps of their Pokemon Journeys taken.

And the eyes of the world continuing to turn their way.

Chapter Text

Despite being the one who planned the meeting between the three, Hau was the last to arrive, running up to Moon and Lillie at full speed before coming to a stop, panting heavily. Moon and Lillie both considered the sight.

“Are you alright?” Lillie's concern was met with a grin from Hau, though he was still breathing hard. He waved 'Alola' to greet the pair, which Moon responded to, Lillie following a moment after. Hau shook his head.

“All good!” His volume was the same as ever, pushing back any concerns at the sight of him with sweat beaded across his forehead. “Sorry for being late, I lost track of time. Are we good to go?”

Moon and Lillie's nod only enhanced Hau's smile, who quickly moved to take the lead. He pointed forward with all the drama he could muster. Moon smiled at the sight. “Okay! Hau'oli City exploration team, embark!”

With smiles Lillie and Moon followed after as Hau rushed on ahead.

When Moon visited Hau'oli City with her mother, two days and what felt like forever ago, she had ridden a taxi into the city centre, skipping the middle circle entirely. The day before she'd entered its very beginning, where the Pokemon School took on children from both Hau'oli's centre, outskirts, and even Iki Town beyond. But today was the day to get the entirety of the city under her feet, and with keen interest she observed all she could see.

Took it all in.

Streets lined with houses, smaller shopping blocks, and the constant sound of Pokemon and vehicles upon the road occupied her attention, walking with Hau and Lillie along the roadside, listening as Hau described all the best places to get food in the city, as Lillie mentioned aspects of its history she'd read in books. The smell of the sea and sound of the waves layered over everything else, increasing as the three made their way down the streets, until a row of houses passed them by and a view over the vast expanse of blue came to their eyes, light glinting over the water, Wingull soaring above its surface, their keen eyes searching for prey. No matter how many times he saw it, Hau loved the sight of the sea every time. Lillie, with admiration in her heart, felt herself relax before it.

Moon stared, silent, taking it all in.

Seconds in silence ticked on by.

“Woohoo!” Hau's sudden yell broke the moment of reverie, Moon and Lillie's eyes turning to him even as he rushed on forward, “Beach time!”

And with an exclamation like that, who could help but follow?

Stairs led down from the roadside to Hau'oli Beach, a huge number of people occupying the sandy shores of the city's largest. Lifeguards set up in towers and on patrol kept an eye over those who dove into the sea, while plenty more people were content to sunbathe in the morning's light, sharing the moment with friends, family, and their Pokemon, who could often be considered both. Hau's energetic movement drew eyes to him, but only for a moment before those nearby returned to their own business.

One more child excited to be on the beach wasn't anything more than another part of what it meant to live here.

No-one would complain.

Moon rarely saw the sea back in Kanto – she'd lived far in-land from the coast, and even in occasional visits to Vermilion City had rarely enjoyed it's far less lively beach-front. The feeling of the sand beneath her feet, shifting under her sandals, was notable to her, and she found herself stepping more slowly, minding her balance as the clean white sand gave way. Lillie watched the girl measuring her steps and smiled at the sight, but before she could join she felt her bag jolt, Nebby intent on investigating the sound and presence of all the people about. Moon turned around just in time to see Lillie ascending the beach staircase, whispering furiously into the bag she carried. But didn't have the chance to follow after.

“Hey Moon!” Hau had found his way back to her, bouncing on the sand with such ease it amazed. Despite how often his feet left the ground, when he landed Hau had no trouble recovering, keeping his balance without concern. It spoke of years upon years of his life spent by the sea, feet upon the sands of Alola's shores. Moon couldn't begin to keep up. “Come on!” Hau took easy steps, stopping and waiting for Moon to follow every few paces, “There are people swimming with their Pokemon!”

There were, many Water-type Pokemon to be seen out amongst the waves. Hau quickly sent out his Popplio to join them, telling the inquiring Pokemon he'd swim with it later but it should still swim for now. Moon considered her Pokemon, but understood none were suitable to swimming. She kept her Pokeballs in her bag.

“Slow~”

The cry of a Slowpoke, a Pokemon as native to Kanto as it was to Alola, drew Moon's attention, who turned to find the Pokemon having waddled up to her. Crouching down she ran a hand around its head, which it leaned happily into at the attention, Hau watching over Moon's shoulder with a smile. He reached down to pet the Pokemon too.

“You're popular with them, huh?” His question was rhetorical, but Moon responded with a nod all the same. She'd always liked Pokemon. And they'd always seemed to like her.

It had never been a question she'd become a Trainer. Never a doubt in her mind.

Refreshed by having dived into the waves off the shore, Hau's Popplio returned just in time to muscle in on the petting action, almost pushing aside the poor Slowpoke to get at Hau's hand. He laughed and jokingly scolded the Pokemon, who knew it well enough to do little more than preen when its trainer gave it the proper attention. Moon continued to pet the Slowpoke until a woman emerged from the crowd, thanked Moon and Hau for looking after her Pokemon – a Slowpoke shouldn't be able to get that far away no matter how long she'd been sunbathing! – and picked up the pink and happily lazy Pokemon. Moon waved it off. Hau returned Popplio to its ball.

And the two stood back up.

“So hey, where's Lillie?” Hau's question was answered by Moon's point back to the stairs leading up from the beach-front, the two making their way over the sand – Hau again so much the faster – until they were ascending its stone steps. At the top could be found Lillie, sitting upon a bench with her bag over her knees, a hand caressing its side just so. She smiled as Hau and Moon approached.

“Nebby was intent on getting out to see all the going-ons,” she explained, “I had to get it away from everyone to help calm it down.” Moon nodded at this, while Hau shrugged. His grandfather had explained that Nebby was an important Pokemon Lillie had to keep safe, but Hau still didn't get why she couldn't just let it out now and again. Oh well. He pointed west, further into the city.

“Let's keep going!”

So they did.

Just down from the stairways to the beach, a Ride Pokemon Rental was set-up, perfect for helping people go to and from the beach-front. The three watched as Ride Pokemon, Tauros mostly, veered from the lanes specifically made for them and into the station, others with riders on their backs emerging and following those same lanes back into the city. A phenomenon that didn't exist in Kanto, Ride Pokemon entranced Moon, who took the lead to lead the others into the station. Hau and Lillie followed after.

“Welcome, welcome, can I help yo- oh!” The attendant who'd approached the three stopped as soon as he saw the Island Challenge Amulets affixed to Moon's bag and Hau's waist, “Ah, young Trial-goers, how wonderful. Are you here to take a Ride Pokemon?”

“Oh yeah!” Hau turned to Moon, who had been looking at the attendant with curiosity at the question, “So when you're on your Island Challenge, you can rent Ride Pokemon for free!” Wide eyes turned to him, which he smiled at the sight of. Moon was always like this with Pokemon. It was good. “Yeah yeah! So if you ever need one, you can get one! Just like that!”

“Almost 'just like that',” the attendant smiled at the energy of the children, always pleased to tell those on their Island Challenge about Ride Pokemon, “there's still a safety course you need to complete before you can take Ride Pokemon out alone. But I'm sure you young Pokemon Trainers will have no trouble with that.”

“Aww man,” having forgotten that stipulation, Hau let his energy lower just a moment, before perking back up, “Then Moon, how about we both do the course later, okay?” When Moon nodded, Hau beamed. That would be great. He turned around. “Do you want to too, Lillie?”

“I'm-” Lillie stepped away from a Tauros passing her by, the larger Pokemon just a little intimidating to the young girl, “I'm fine, thank you Hau. I'm not on an Island Challenge, after all.”

“Well if you ever change your mind, little miss,” the attendant made their pitch all the same, “This is the best place to do it, so close to the sea! But if you can't make it here, there are Ride Pokemon Stations all over Hau'oli City, so you can pick up and drop off the transport Pokemon no matter where you are!”

“R-right!” Lillie nodded response, Hau and Moon busy watching some of the Tauros in stalls being cleaned by other staff. Hau was talking excitedly to Moon.

“So every city in Alola has Ride Pokemon, and then there are some that you can take outside of the cities to explore the full Island. I hear you can get personal Ride Pokemon too but that's expensive so only a few people can afford that. We'll probably just be using these rentals to get around!”

Moon reached out and petted a Tauros, who'd wandered up to the stall she and Hau were looking into. Hau noted once again how easily Pokemon came to Moon.

She really was something else.

Once back on the road, having made plans to come back another day to take their Ride Pokemon Safety Course, Moon and Hau with Lillie in tow continued on, the roads curving gently upwards as they went. A bus station up ahead awaited them, the route it followed well able to take the three further into the city. They set up there and waited, the next bus only a few minutes away.

The entire city, alive and thrumming with people, Pokemon, and movement, filled Moon with an energy Kanto never had.

It was good here.

It was very good.

“The Island Challenge...” sitting at the bus station with her bag over her legs once more, Lillie considered the Ride Pokemon offer, “it's really important to Alola, isn't it?”

“Yeah!” Hau nodded with enthusiasm, standing outside the awning of the station under the Alolan sun. “You can do loads of things on the Island Challenge – like rent Ride Pokemon for free, or use any public transport, stay in Pokemon Centers overnight, and enter special preserves all over the place! Verdant Cavern, y'know the place Captain Ilima told us the Trial's at, it's a special Pokemon preserve! Only the Captain and people on their Island Challenges can enter it!”

“I've read about that!” Happy enough with a topic she was familiar with, Lillie chimed in to discuss. “When Rattata were first introduced to Alola they threatened to overrun Hau'oli City, until a deal was made between the Kahuna and a pack of Yungoos and Gumshoos to clear them out. The Kahuna in payment gave the Pokemon Verdant Cavern as a home, and made sure that it was safe from people from then on, right?”

“Something like that,” Hau, who hadn't studied the actual history of Alola nearly as well as Lillie had, waved wildly to catch the attention of the approaching bus. “Aside from the Captain, Kahuna, and people on their Island Challenge, Tapu Koko likes to hang out there too! I think it fights the Pokemon to keep them strong!”

Hau and Moon had no issue boarding the bus, their Island Challenge Amulets enough to secure passage. Lillie did present money – no bus card on hand – and was seated shortly after. Hau promised her he'd cover lunch, which she attempted to insist he didn't have to, but failed to convince him otherwise. Moon oversaw the two with a smile at the sight.

The bus rolled on into the city, passing by cars and Pokemon alike. Moon watched as Ride Pokemon continued in their lanes, riders carried back and forth across the city. She liked that.

Couldn't wait to try it herself.

“Okay!” Once back on their feet, disembarked and ready to explore Hau'oli's central shopping district, Hau immediately took off. “I've gotta visit the Pokemon Center and do some shopping, I'll catch you two later! We'll go for food when I get back okay?” Having agreed, Moon and Lillie watched as Hau raced off, never slowing for even a moment. Lillie laughed seeing Moon watching him go.

“Hau... never slows down, does he?” When Moon turned her attention back to Lillie she shook her head, but her smile was there too. Hau's energy was both friendly and infectious, the type that made a person the best to be around. She was enjoying herself today.

This was really very good.

“Do...”, Lillie wavered for a moment, but Moon's gaze upon her helped her power through her thoughts, “do you pick your own clothes, Moon?” Moon did, her mother encouraging her to pursue her own interests from a young age. The answer seemed to make Lillie sigh. Moon looked at her in curiosity. She shook her head. “I was thinking about visiting a clothing shop, would you like to come with me? Oh, if that's okay, I don't know if you've already been...”

Moon had, with her mother, changing her outfit just so. Sneakers exchanged for sandals. The new watermelon coloured bag she had slung over her shoulder. Today an orange shirt with red flowers and white shorts. The warmth of Alola was something new and comforting, but still enough for Moon that she kept her arms and legs bare to remain cool. Her black hair remained tied back in a pony-tail, as her mother had suggested, and her red, chicken-combed hat continued to sit squarely on her head. It was the only thing she had not changed.

Lillie had found herself looking at the hat often, as... striking... as it was, but had yet to find the confidence to ask about it. She pushed the wide brim of her own hat up just a little, keeping the sun off of her face. Moon nodded to her. Okay then.

“Thank you.”

Moon had free reign to explore the shop, Lillie immediately celebrated as a milestone customer the moment she walked in. She kept an eye out for the girl, who was attempting to diffuse the attention on her, but mostly inspected the shop. Not much different to the last time. She returned to Lillie's side just as the white-clad girl escaped the slightly overbearing attendant. Moon gave Lillie a grin.

“I don't see why they have to make such a big deal out of it,” Lillie shook her head, well aware of the teasing expression directed her way, “I just wished to look at the clothes.” In Lillie's hand was clutched a box, which she held out to Moon while avoiding her eyes. Moon took it in curiosity. “They gave me this kit but I already have one, if you'd like it...” Opening the kit, inspecting its contents, Moon nodded, closing it and placing it in her bag. Lillie smiled at her thanks. “Now we both have one,” she tilted her head, looking around, “so we can match. A little.”

It was difficult to describe Moon and Lillie as matching in much at all – Lillie was slightly taller, with pale skin in contrast to Moon's dark, bright green eyes compared to deep brown, and a pure white dress against the vibrant colours Moon wore. There was little similarity at all to be found.

But in a secret way, in having these cases each, they matched, and Lillie found herself enjoying that thought. Let it distract her and make the point of entering this store, to see if she wanted to buy any of these clothes, difficult to focus on. In the end nothing called out to her, and Lillie left without buying a thing. Sighed as Moon followed behind.

“Hey! Lillie! Moon!”

Having finished his own business, Hau found the two once more, racing back to them, smile as wide as ever, “I bet you two are hungry, huh? Let's go get some food! The Malasada Shop nearby, close to the Marina, has the best Malasada around! We've gotta go! Come on let's go let's go let's go!”

As overwhelming as ever, Hau nonetheless provided enough direction for Lillie to focus on, and she nodded in response. It would be good to get food. Moon nodded too. Pointing to set the direction, Hau set off, the two girls following behind. Onwards to good food shared with good friends.

Onwards to fill hungry stomachs.

Onwards, past the loud sounds of people and partying.

...Oh?

Hau came to a stop, staring at the wide metal gate opened before him, framed by a hedge equally as tall as the gate towering over their heads. Down a path from the open gate was a huge mansion, with fountains and gardens lining the way. And people just all over the place.

Without another thought Hau walked in through the gate.

“Oh Hau!” Following after, Lillie, then Moon, entered as well, quickly surrounded by the crowd of people making up the party. Lillie's attempt to keep Hau from intruding failed as she lost track of him, turning around to find Moon had disappeared from sight as well, leaving her alone. She clutched her bag tight and attempted to find her friends amongst the crowd. Where were they...

Moon had held back when overhearing a discussion, a woman telling others standing in a circle about the rumour her child was spreading. Apparently there had been a trainer, just a young girl, at the Pokemon School with three Pokemon. Such a thing! Hohohoho, those children must be mistaken, that sort of thing, that wasn't possible, right?

Another made mention that there was a rumour from Iki Town that a new Trainer had shown two Pokemon. Moon, who most definitely had only shown one, kept an ear open, listening in as the group discussed. A younger man piped up his thoughts.

“Well if there's some great new Trainer around, I hope she helps throw Team Skull out of Hau'oli! Did you hear that even more of their type have been seen down by the Marina?”

“Ugh, terrible,” the woman speaking first shook her head, “Those no-good thugs could stand to learn a lesson from my daughter, who's working so hard as a Pokemon Trainer. All they do is harass people and try to steal Pokemon, they're the worst!”

Mutters of agreement circled the group as Moon broke away, casting her eyes out for Hau or Lillie, realising she'd lost each. Surrounded by adults, Moon stepped carefully, barely paid attention to by their conversations. She didn't know where the others were. There were too many people. She turned to make her way to the edge of the crowd, to gain some solace from the numbers, but couldn't pick a direction. Stood stock still as the party moved around her.

Frozen in time.

“Oh? Hello there.” The soft voice of Ilima, Captain of Melemele Island, instantly brought relief as Moon turned to the one person she knew, even slightly, as he emerged from the crowd. A light smile on his face, a Yungoos curled over his shoulders and giving the evil eye to anything and everything that moved, the pink-haired man addressed Moon. “While this house party is open to the public, I must admit to being surprised to see you here, Moon. What brings you to my home today?”

It didn't take long for Ilima, after Moon's explanation, to disappear into the crowd and return with Hau and Lillie, somehow easily able to locate them amongst the masses, and group the three together again. Lillie looked as relieved as Moon felt to be back with the others. Hau had a pastry in his hand and the remains of another around his mouth.

“Well now,” Ilima looked around, before giving the three a conspiratorial smile, “since some young Trial-goers have come to see the Captain, I should make time to speak with you. Why don't we head off? The Marina is delightful at this time of day as the breeze comes in off the water.”

Ilima's retreat from the party was stopped at the gate, an older man approaching him. Moon didn't miss the sigh that came from the Captain when called out to.

“Ilima!” The man approached him with a frown, “Where are you off to, my boy? This is a party for your recent accomplishments! It would do no good to have the very guest of honour leave in the middle!”

“I'm sorry, father,” Ilima bowed his head, “However I must fulfil my duties as Captain, and lend my aid to all Trainers and Trial-goers who come to me. I will return as soon as I can.”

The older man frowned, looking past Ilima at the trio. “Can't you come back later?” He huffed, “It's very important for my son to be part of-”

“I will return,” Ilima stressed the word, stepping back into his father's gaze, “as soon as I can, father. Please excuse us.” Wasting not a second more, Ilima quickly turned and ushered Moon and the others out the gates of the house, following after them with measured pace. His father, watching his son depart his very own party, turned and entered the crowd again to keep the socialisers and rung-climbers at bay.

He was probably the only one likely to miss his son after all.

He didn't like that one bit.

“Apologies,” Ilima, as soon as he was outside the party's grips, wore a much happier smile, “such large dos barely suit me. I prefer to be out in the city, working with its people and Pokemon. Forgive me for using you to make my escape.”

“Uhm,” Lillie took on speaking duties, Hau occupying himself with the other pastry he'd been holding, “It's fine, thank you for helping us. We got caught up in the crowd before...” for a moment, Lillie shot Hau a very pointed look which he did his best to avoid catching – and failed – “before we had a chance.”

“Such social gatherings are like that,” Ilima agreed, “I find those large crowds stifling. A few people, and a few more Pokemon, is far more my speed. So, young Trial-goers, how are you this day?”

“Good!” Hau managed around the remains of the pastry, Ilima giving no mention to it in the young boy's hand and mouth. “We've been checking out the city, showing it off to Moon!”

“Ah yes,” Ilima nodded, turning his gaze to Moon, “You are new to the Alola Region, correct?” Moon nodded, Ilima smiling. “I spent a few years away in the Kalos Region, however I find my heart will always be at home here. I am honoured to be one of Alola's Captains.”

“Oh!” Hau, having finished the pastry, turned to Ilima with a smile, “We were heading for the Malasada Shop by the Marina! Did you want to join us, Captain?”

“Well now,” Ilima smiled at the extended offer from the youth, “Perhaps I will take you up on that. I have always said that shop made the best Malasada in Alola.”

“Yeah!” Hau's excited agreement brought smiles to the faces of the group as they continued on, down the roads to the water's edge. Ilima pointed out buildings of note, the City Hall – Professor Kukui and Ms. Kahili had a meeting about the Pokemon League there the night before, and would have another tomorrow – as well as the Police Station, which the Captain and Kahuna worked with to help keep Melemele safe.

Soon enough the group reached the district by the Marina, the Malasada Shop within already having a line out the door. Hau and Lillie dutifully joined the queue. Ilima looked thoughtful.

“Pardon me,” he addressed the pair, a wave of his hand indicating Moon, “but if I could borrow young miss Moon from you for a spell, I would appreciate it. We will return soon enough to join you, have no fear.”

“Oh, okay!” Hau nodded, “We'll keep a place in line for you!” Lillie waved to Moon, who waved back, before turning to follow Ilima further into the Marina district.

The sight of her walking side-by-side with the Captain struck Lillie strongly. She shook her head to try and regain her focus. Looked up to see Hau smiling at her. Frowned at him. He laughed.

“She's really something, isn't she?” Hau folded his hands behind his head, his pose suggesting he was leaning backwards against the air. “I gotta work extra extra hard to keep up with her!”

“She's...” Lillie found herself lost for the word. Incredible wasn't right. Overwhelming was only true for those Moon stood against, not those she stood by. Absorbing? Eye-catching? Reassuring? She didn't know. Just let the word hang.

“Still hard to believe,” Hau kept talking, saving Lillie from the pause she'd created, “Six Pokemon though, how cool is that, right?”

Lillie frowned. Hang on. “H-how do you know she has six?” Moon had been rumoured to have two the night of the Festival. She'd displayed three on the grounds of the Pokemon School. But Hau had neither visited Moon's house when she had her six Pokemon out, nor been in Professor Kukui's lab when Moon's Rotom-dex announced it. He shouldn't know. Hau grinned.

“I can tell,” he gave a wink to Lillie, barely answering the question at all, “she just feels like she has six Pokemon, y'know?”

She didn't.

“Anyway I'm gonna go all out to not fall behind!” Hau reassured himself by saying it, pausing before giving Lillie another of his newly patented winks. “Me and my two Pokemon, yeah?”

Lillie's stare of shock was exactly the reaction Hau had wanted. It had been so worth it spending all that time this morning making that catch.

Gosh he was tired.


 

The smell of saltwater was thick by the Marina, but it was different to that of Hau'oli's beach. There it had been sand and people and Pokemon, warmth of the sun reflecting off the waves and flavouring the taste in the air. Here it was cooler, the numerous buildings overshadowing the area. The breeze that rolled off the water and up the streets was brisk, and washed over Moon and Ilima's faces as they walked.

Different, but good as well. Moon enjoyed it.

She enjoyed this city very much indeed.

“I must admit,” Ilima spoke as he walked, enough space between the pair and others that his words reached Moon alone, “Even having seen it I find it difficult to believe. Three nights ago you forged your first Trainer's Bond and here you stand beside me, six established and healthy. It would seem there is still far more to this world, and Pokemon, that I have to learn. That we all do.”

Moon said nothing of it. She had her schooling. She understood. She was aware of the difference between her and what was expected. That... was as far as it went.

“What I would like to say,” as the pair stepped off of the roadside, stood on the pier overlooking the boats gathered in Hau'oli's harbour, “is that I would like you to be able to come to me when in need, Moon. I understand you may be experiencing great stress, or concern, and I wish to help you in any way that I can. Please do not hesitate to ask for me, night or day. I will always be there for the Trainers of Alola. Do not forget this.”

Moon's consideration of those words, the response she was preparing to give, went unvoiced as a new sound echoed over the pier and across the water. It was harsh, blasting music, the staticky sounds coming from the boombox carried by one of the approaching figures drowning out most of the actual tune. Ilima sighed at the sight of the group. They set up before him, identical black shirts, silver pendants glinting in the sunlight, and took a pose. One in particular took the lead. Pointed a hand.

And announced.

“Yo yo yo, if it ain't the big C himself, Ilima in da house!” The announcement was met with a fist pump from the group to the air, who continued to move their hands after in their own rhythmic pattern. Moon stared at them.

“Ya busy, Cap, chatting up all the Trainers, being too dang cooooooool for us, huh, that it?” The leader of the group turned around to the others. “Hey Ilima thinks he's too cool for Team Skull, how you taking that ya boneheads?”

A loud cry in the negative echoed from the group, continuing their movements. Ilima shook his head.

“Well C it's like this,” once more the pack leader turned back to Ilima, “You've been giving us some real black eyes lately, and we're not gonna take it no more! It's time for Team Skull to take over, and our first step's gonna be putting you in the trash! So get ready cause we're coming at'cha!”

The entire group, a rough dozen by the looks of it, revealed Pokeballs in hand, preparing to crush the upstart Captain. Moon, still staring at them, raised her hands, attempting to mimic the movements they were performing. Ilima reached out and stilled one of her arms.

“Moon,” there was steel in his tone now, his other hand rubbing the neck of the Yungoos around his shoulders, who unfurled itself and hopped down to face the group, “if you intend on copying the movements of another, may I recommend my own over these ruffians? Please observe.”

A wave of Pokemon, released by Team Skull, stood off against the singular Yungoos. Ilima raised his hand, the Z-Ring around his wrist catching the sun. The crystal placed within it shining bright.

“Now then,” as Ilima stretched out a leg, ran his foot over the ground before him as he set up the beginning of his pose, Moon felt it. Felt power that shook her. Her eyes focused on Ilima, saw only him as he moved, brought his arms around into a pose that caused the power around him to quake even further. To shake the world.

Then it flowed, into the Yungoos as its foes bore down upon it, and it shone brightly, so brightly as to rival the stars. Ilima voiced the command. Moon didn't hear it, lost in the light as she was.

So this was the power of Z.

The force of the Z-Move was so much that Moon barely saw the attack itself, the wind-pressure pushing her back, forcing her to raise a hand to hold her hat to her head and cover her face. Only after, lowering her arm again, did she see the remains of the battle – the bested Pokemon scattered around the area, the crater in the ground before Ilima and his Yungoos, and the scattered members of Team Skull who'd not been prepared in the least.

The boombox shorted out and left silence in its wake.

“I, well, uh,” the leader of the group was the first to return his Pokemon – a brightly coloured Grimer – to its Pokeball, “I hope you... learned a lesson, Ilima. Team Skull ain't nothin' to mess with, so don't step to us, aight?” The rest of the grunts by this point had also retrieved their Pokemon. Each in the process of stepping back. “So, uh, I'ma let you off with a warning this time, but you keep to your own fancy house yeah? Okay, well,” the majority were booking it into the backstreets of the Marina's industrial complex, “See you around! Or we won't! Yeah! Bye!”

Moon watched as the group disappeared before her eyes. That had happened. Ilima dropped to a knee.

“Hah,” his breathing was heavy, reaching out a hand to the Yungoos who staggered back to him, “even after so long, Z-Moves continue to require a toll. Consider this an advanced lesson,” turning his head, Ilima smiled up at Moon, “about how best to use these Moves. You and your Pokemon both will feel their cost. Remember that.”

Moon nodded.

She was never going to forget this.

Never ever ever.

The sound of sirens came with the arrival of police, the scuffle between Ilima and the Team Skull gang reported quickly enough. Overwhelmed by having to report on the events that took place, Ilima was forced to send Moon on her way, back to her friends, the original intent of his borrowing her lost.

He really had been looking forward to properly testing her skills. He'd find the chance to battle her later. For sure.

One of the officers standing guard at the scene waved Moon to head off, as Ilima had insisted she was fine to go on. Then paused, as the large simian Pokemon with him reached up a hand, pointing at her with insistence.

“Hey, hang on...” this wasn't right, his senses were usually sharp to how Pokemon Trainers added up. But he had to be wrong right now.

Didn't he?

Moon kept walking and he didn't stop her. He'd convince himself by the end of the day it had just been a bad read in the aftermath of Ilima's Z-Move.

And realise the truth only later on.


 

By miraculous timing, Moon returned to Hau and Lillie just as they were being waved into the Malasada Restaurant, explaining that Ilima would be unable to join them. Together the three ate, discussed the events with Ilima as Moon recounted them, and considered what was next to come. Hau'oli City had much to offer still for new Trainers just beginning their Pokemon Journeys. It would be good to stay here for a while and grow.

So they would.

Lillie, whose journey was of a different form, spoke of Professor Kukui and Kahili's tour around the Alola Region, working to smooth out concerns about the new Pokemon League. She'd be travelling with Kukui as his assistant, but as Kukui would be following the path of the Island Challenge, she felt confident saying she'd see Hau and Moon many times along the way. Each approved to hear that.

It would be good for the three of them to stay together as best they could.

Each agreed to that.

The day continued on. Hau showed more of the city to Moon and Lillie, and when the evening came they caught a bus back to its eastern side, Hau actually falling asleep on the trip. Moon watched the orange light of Alola take over the city, tinting the waves and colouring the air, and found it beautiful. Thought of the light Ilima had called up when unleashing his Z-Move, beautiful as well.

That night she spoke of the day to her mother with more enthusiasm and energy than Jewellery had heard from her daughter in months, perhaps years. And Jewellery smiled and knew her daughter's Journey would be the best thing possible for her. Wished her well from the depths of her heart.

Knew soon she would be gone.

To return on the other side.

Darkness fell. The three slept. And night gave way to another day of their lives.


 

A collection of observations made around Hau'oli City in the week following the Marina Incident.

Young Trainers battling wild Pokemon found in gardens and parks kept across the city. A Trainer throwing a Pokeball, celebrating the successful capture by embracing a Rowlet. She's young for a second, but it's possible, people suppose. She must be talented. Would do well. They continued on.

A blonde girl seen with Professor Kukui and Kahili Hano, assisting them as they continued their meetings and discussions across the city. Once seen alone, set up in the Hau'oli Library surrounded by books, narrating to her closed bag. Talking likely helped her focus. That was what observers believed.

The grandson of Melemele Island's Kahuna setting a new record in a Malasada eating competition hosted by the Marina Shop. He attributed his victory to the hunger he worked up training with his Pokemon. Kahuna Hala was unsurprised to hear this result.

An increase in the presence of Team Skull throughout Hau'oli City, clashing almost every day with both Captain Ilima and the police.

A young Trainer visiting a Pokemon Center, making use of the Storage PC available to all. Oh, onlookers realised, she must be trying to juggle single Pokemon. It's a shame no-one convinced her that the effort of breaking and re-establishing Bonds was too exhausting to keep up for long. It's a shame she'd soon learn and have to release the Pokemon she couldn't maintain. A shame.

The Kahuna's grandson and another Trainer completing the Ride Pokemon Safety Course without trouble, the Pokemon going above and beyond to follow their directives. They're both Trainers with incredible potential, people said. They could be seen travelling along the Pokemon lanes of Hau'oli in the days following, clad in riding gear. A good sight of the youth of Alola following its traditions. A good sight indeed.

A fresh Pokemon Trainer visiting the Pokemon School to battle with their students. The rumours going around the city, of a new Trainer with multiple Pokemon, surged as the suggested number increased yet again. Was it strange, that she had a Metapod? Bug Pokemon evolved quickly. But that quickly? The school's 'Elite Four' found their defeat far more unnerving than humiliating.

A fight, between a blonde teenager and the majority of Team Skull, ending with the boy's crushing victory. Direct witnesses claimed he gave orders to Team Skull in the battle's wake. Reduced presence of Team Skull throughout Hau'oli in the days to follow.

A Trainer people were sure they saw yesterday, but today she had a different Pokemon with her. So it had to be a different Trainer, right? Of course. She had to be.

The newest arrival to the Alola Region, Jewellery from Kanto, getting to know the neighbourhood she lived in. Her daughter was spending nights away now, staying at a Pokemon Center in Hau'oli, intent on getting used to being away from home. Many parents who had seen their own children off on Pokemon Journeys nodded in understanding.

A strange purple Pokemon floating above the city streets, spinning on traffic lights, and lifting food from stalls in the markets. All attempts to corner or catch have failed.

The continuing rumour of the Trainer who had begun her Island Challenge only days ago, yet had six Pokemon with her already. Reporters who asked of that rumour to Professor Kukui, Kahili Hano, Kahuna Hala, or Captain Ilima being redirected to focus on discussing the upcoming Pokemon League.

An upsurge in reminders, by radio, by television, and by word of mouth, that it is a moral obligation to both respect and care for the children of Alola, and that those on their Island Challenges should be assisted by all who see them in need.

Three children spending time together, now and again

And on the seventh day since her arrival, with six Pokemon by her side – though few were aware that was truth – the Trainer Moon was seen leaving Hau'oli City by its northwest gate. Destination: Verdant Cavern.

Chapter Text

The north-west gate of Hau'oli City marked the official end of the city in that direction, just as its eastern gate – situated beyond the Trainer's School, marked another. The technicality of the city's end on its eastern side was hotly debated, as the Hau'oli Outskirts, filled with houses stretching along the path to Iki Town, was considered the city by Iki's residents themselves.

A constant concern amongst Iki was that the largest city of Alola was attempting to swallow up their small and storied township, the Kahuna's presence one of the few things holding it back. The truth of that matter was difficult to ascertain – without a singular villain to blame, instead a result of natural human expansion. Still, the residents of Iki vocally did not like it.

Moon had escaped a simmering pot of tension centred on the area her mother had moved to by beginning her Pokemon Journey.

The west side of Melemele Island was a completely different story. A designated national park, the huge tract of land wound its way from the coast up through the hills, alongside the mountain-range that cut all the way to the island's north. Rich with Pokemon, travelled by people respecting nature's claim to the land, this region proved to be Melemele's most popular ecosystem – with tourists and residents alike taking the time to walk its paths.

To continue her Island Challenge, Moon was tasked to make her pilgrimage to Verdant Cavern, a restricted zone within the park. There, Captain Ilima would greet her, and instruct her in the method to take his Trial.

With the number of people always visiting and travelling the park, this Trial made an ideal first for any new Trial-goer, young children seen on the trails understood to be making their own Journeys. Moon found many people along the way bid her 'alola', and returned the greeting in turn. Sometimes this turned into a Pokemon battle, other young Trainers keen to test themselves, some elders willing to offer experience and advice.

Restraint was a thing few in Alola were happy to see children learn – it was a sign of feeling restricted, constrained by the world around them. If a child bound themselves to better fit their environment, it was considered a failing of that environment, and so the youths were encouraged to be true to themselves. It was the Alolan way.

But no-one even noticed Moon's restraint, for to believe she was restraining herself was an impossible thing. Two Pokemon, consistently. They were different Pokemon, yes, but no-one knew that. Each battle ended with two Pokemon, whether it was Moon's victory or defeat. She measured herself. She kept a pace.

And slowed down some of the rumours she'd begun hearing swirling about her.

No-one noticed. How could they? There was no way she had more Pokemon, after all.

Not far beyond Hau'oli's exit the road forked, the right path leading to a cemetery built in the shadows of mountains towering above. It was important for places of rest to be bathed in darkness, for the light of Alola was life and life did not belong shining on graves. The construction of the cemetery was well-planned, the direct light of the sun never upon it. People visited with respectful peace in their hearts, and the spirits at rest remained. Drawn to that environment, ghost Pokemon made their constant presence known, but they failed to rile up the sleeping ancients. After all, it was as natural for ghost Pokemon to ruckus among graves as it was for those graves to remain at peace. They were accepted. Part of the world as much as anything else. And so they lived in their own peace too. The north-western stretch was a quiet place, you see?

But today there was noise that was unnatural. A new visitor to the cemetery of Melemele lacking any understanding of the decorum all people and Pokemon felt. Even in shadow the light of Alola was still everywhere to its eyes, and so it played in that light it had long felt the absence of, its purple form zipping from grave to grave, aggravating people and Pokemon both. Something had to be done. That was the word that spread that morning.

That was the word that reached Moon's ears.

She stopped her walk and turned, pointing east. She'd investigate.

Moon was a naturally quiet person, so her footsteps as she entered the cemetery were all that announced her. Some people saw her and acknowledged there was another here, but none approached, too busy in conversations about the rambunctious Pokemon that no-one could catch or stop. Moon overheard just enough to keep moving forward.

It didn't take long, walking amongst row after row of graves, to see it, its purple form with vibrant pink highlights circling overhead. A high-pitched voice, a sound like giggling, reached her ears as Moon attempted to follow it with her eyes, its speed fast enough to lose her before appearing again elsewhere. It had yet to notice her specifically.

“Zzt!” The Rotom-dex made its presence known at Moon's request, attempting to scan the Pokemon. However its constant movements prevented the scan, leaving a frown upon Moon's face. She raised a Pokeball.

And gave a command.

Witnesses to the battle described it as short but sharp. The Rowlet of the young Trainer who had appeared was fast – perhaps abnormally fast even for the naturally quick Grass Quill Pokemon. Quickly it gained the attention of the purple Pokemon, lured it down to ground level where the Trainer commanded attacks.

It was upon being attacked that the strange Pokemon retaliated, unleashing a wave of poison that overwhelming the leaf surge from the Rowlet before bathing it in the toxic liquid. That was the end of the conflict, the Pokemon zipping upwards higher and higher until out of sight, apparently satisfied enough with the battle to leave.

Other Trainers around offered the young girl healing items for her singular Pokemon, missing the second Pokeball she'd had in hand preparing to continue the battle. In the wake of the fight, only a few heard the strange floating Pokedex the girl kept with her announce that there was no recorded data of the Pokemon encountered.

A week and change later this event came back to the minds of those witness and mixed into a greater understanding. And built the legend of Moon further. But none knew that now. None knew her now.

Not yet.

The path to Verdant Cavern continued. A Ride Pokemon station had been set up at the exit to Hau'oli that rented Pokemon for travelling through the park, but Moon had chosen to go on foot, to spend more time with her Pokemon in training. There was a weakness in her incredible ability, and that was that to maintain many Pokemon at once required many times more the work. And yet not once did she slow. Never did she stop.

No tiredness did she show.

Lillie had told Moon the day before that she would be further west of the park, with Professor Kukui and Kahili in the small towns by the coast. Built just beyond the boundaries of the reserve, they were disconnected by roads from Hau'oli, relying instead on travel by sea. Those towns, much like Iki, were keepers of Alola's traditions, and had expressed concern at the changes to the Island Challenge Kukui's Pokemon League would bring.

So following (roughly) the path of the Island Challenge, Kukui went from place to place to explain himself and prove that Alola's spirit would remain strong. That was his intent.

Moon stopped at the rise of a hill in the path, looking down over the trees and the sea beyond, seeing a cluster of buildings and boats by its shore. Perhaps Lillie was down there. Perhaps Moon was looking at her right now, simply unable to see because of the distance between them.

Perhaps Lillie was looking back at her.

Moon let herself smile and continued on.

Further along the path, further along the day, Moon came to a new crossroads, a Pokemon awaiting her. For anyone who would help, by its logic, but this girl, yes, her. Her! The red and white bird rushed up to her, Moon's Rotom-dex naming it 'Delibird' just in time for Moon to greet it before it had hold of her bag, tugging as hard as it could, pulling her in a new direction. Moon told it she would follow. It let go of the bag and led the way.

Berry Trees are a virulent strain in Alola, the rich soils, clean air, and life-giving light causing them to grow with wild abandon. Where in other regions they must be cultivated, here they grow freely wherever they find purchase, often spread by Flying and Bug-type Pokemon across the land.

Yet even so some try to control them and, with special dispensation, the Berry Plantation of Alola was established here, inside the National Park of Melemele Island. The flock of Delibird trained by its owner flew across the Alola Region, collecting Berries from trees, and distributed them to collection bins, assisting with funding as the owner of the Plantation experimented with strains that would overgrow existing crops while spreading far less intensely.

The attempt to control the spreading trees before they overran native Alolan foliage was in full effect.

No-one in Team Skull understood this even a little, and even if they did they wouldn't care. What mattered right now was a) lots of Pokemon up for grabs and b) lots of berries equally ready for the picking. That was the logic of the two Grunts who had broken away from the marching orders given to them by the Enforcer to go raid the plantation instead. Might as well make some buck, yo! And maybe get in the boss's good books? Maybe get that Enforcer off their back? Yeah that'd be cool too. Right on.

Moon walked into the plantation, guided by the Delibird seeking aid, to find two of Team Skull's members, Pokemon out, harassing the owner of the grove. One had a Drowzee, the other a Zubat, and the local Delibird population had already suffered a beating, the Pokemon not suited for battling.

Unaware of the approaching Trainer, the two continued to move their arms, the signature dance of Team Skull on show at all times. The one with the Drowzee took charge of speaking.

“So hey bro, ain't it about time you give up the goods, yo? Your Pokemon got whacked and smacked all over the place so shouldn't you just get outta our face? Berry me dude, we got places to be, so make with the fruits and you'll be rid of me, got it?” The other Grunt nodded with approval at his brother-in-arm's sick rhymes. The plantation owner rolled his eyes.

“As if I need give in to the demands of you whelps,” he crossed his arms, clearly unimpressed. “Begone from here, you have upset my Pokemon and my day's work.”

“Yo you hear that?” Wide-eyed, the first Grunt turned to the second, “Pops here thinks he can just give us lip and keep going? We ain't about that life, yo, we're Team Skull and we take what we want. So last chance before we do the taking no questions asked, how bout giving us those berries, huh?”

Seeing Moon approaching, the man shook his head to discourage her from interfering. He would deal with these punks himself. Yet the gaze of his eyes directed the attention of the pair, who turned to see Moon standing before them. They frowned but it was hard to tell beneath the bandannas covering their mouths.

“Hey yo,” the talkative one pointed, “ain't you that Trainer that was with the Cap? Come to laugh at us, huh? Y'think you're all that, walking around with those big name Trainers? Well he ain't here now so you ain't nothing. Walk on, kid.”

The other nodded, and pointed with both hands. “Take your dumb hat and leave.”

Moon's eyes flashed as she stepped forward, Pokeball already in hand.

In the wake of the battle, watching the Team Skull Grunts fleeing his plantation at full speed, followed by Moon's focused steps as she made sure they stayed gone, the owner felt as if he'd just witnessed something no-one ever should.

Don't insult the hat.

Travel, battle, and new Pokemon acquisition between the notable visits to the cemetery and plantation, left evening rolling in as Moon found herself at the Melemele Park Motel, a midway point for many travellers taking a relaxed pace exploring the National Park. Unlike Pokemon Centers, the Motel did not provide free coverage to Trainers on their Island Challenge, but Moon's battle with other Trainers that day had shored her funds up enough to afford the night, especially with the reduced cost for children on offer.

It wasn't an odd thing for children to stay at the Motel, after all. It wasn't odd for them to wander much of Alola. That was the way things were. It was natural here.

Moon slept well that night.

The next morning both Moon and her team, rested and recovered, having eaten and prepared, set out once more. Another Ride Station eschewed, Moon continued on foot, feeling the need to train far more than make it to Verdant Cavern in a hurry. It was by midday that she arrived in the vicinity of the first Trial of the Island Challenge, her presence greeted by an excited yell.

Hau raced up to see her.

“Hey Moon!” He waved as he ran forward, Moon waving back, a clap of their open palms celebrating reunion. Hau swung around her. “I didn't think I'd get here before you, didn't you ride?”

The shake of her head drew a whistle, the young boy clearly impressed. “Well it's a great walk so I think that was good anyway, so hey, here we are, huh? I haven’t seen the Captain yet, so how about we grab lunch? Get our Pokemon healed up,” pointing, Hau showed the Pokemon Center constructed nearby, “and maybe if we get time have a battle to see how we're doing? It's been a while since the last, after all.”

Moon nodded to that and the two progressed, entered the Pokemon Center – far emptier than any other they'd been in before. Its construction was based upon proximity to Verdant Cavern, and the need of Trainers on their Island Challenges to be brought to full health before facing it. Only a few other people were inside, travelling Trainers mostly, those who did not take the easier routes that avoided this restricted site. The healing of Hau's Pokemon went unnoticed by Moon, who was adjusting her team at the PC provided. She didn't even hear Hau address her Pokedex.

“Hey Rotom!” Hau's request drew the Pokemon-inhabited device's notice, who floated up with a 'zzt' of attention. “How's Moon's collection going?”

“Pokemon encountered: thirty! Pokemon caught: twelve! Zzt!”

The echoing electronic voice drew eyes from all around, Hau ignoring them to nudge Moon with his shoulder, who jolted out of her thoughts from observing the Pokemon Storage System. “You doing okay with that number?” His question was one of honest concern, though he smiled at Moon's nod. “The auto-release timer is two weeks, right? They're really strict about it, so most people don't even have one stored away. Twelve must be hard.”

It was the twelfth day since Moon had obtained her Rowlet. Whether or not she'd be affected by the number of Pokemon she kept, there hadn't yet been the time to reveal it. But she seemed confident and expressed that to Hau. He smiled to hear it. She really was incredible.

“Okay well get your team healed up and let's have something to eat!”

The nurse at the Pokemon Center gave Moon a long look as the young girl – she had to be just starting her Pokemon Journey – offered up a set of six Pokeballs for healing. The few other Trainers in the Center had approached, keeping a distance yet watching all the same. Yeah, seems like this kid really did have six Pokemon. That was wild, right? They agreed that amongst themselves as Hau and Moon visited the cafe, organising food for themselves and their Pokemon. And ate together with their team.

There was a moment, as each was releasing their Pokemon to feed, that Hau paused, before giving Moon a sheepish smile. She looked at him in curiosity. He held up a second Pokeball, his Popplio already playing about with Rowlet.

“I was hoping to surprise you with this one,” with a click and a beam of red light, a Pokemon of yellow and black appeared with the rest. Moon's wide smile, thrilled at the sight of the Tiny Mouse Pokemon Pichu, was worth it in the end, Hau decided. Not everything needed to be a surprise in battle. He considered the other Pokemon around him as Moon picked up and petted the electric rodent.

Rowlet, of course. A Metapod that was shaking enough to tell anyone familiar with Bug Pokemon it was near to its next evolution. A grey-furred Meowth, the Pokemon one Moon had made sure to introduce to her mother's as soon as she caught it. Pikipek still, beak constantly fetching new food from the bowl provided. An Abra – a rare catch Hau had not managed to make himself, despite trying his best. And what at first appeared to be a second Pikipek, but when pushed aside by the first revealed itself as a small, black and red fox Pokemon. Hau had heard of Zorua but never managed to see one up close. He whistled and petted the Pokemon's surprisingly soft fur. It allowed it.

“That's one craaaazy team,” Hau's relaxed tone, even in the presence of Moon's team, earned a different kind of smile from her, one of relief. To have a peer mattered far more than she showed.

This was good.

“H-hey-” the voice of one of the few Trainers in the Pokemon Center, who had continued to hover around Moon and Hau's periphery, came to an immediate stop as a hand settled strongly on his shoulder. Turning his head, he found the smile of Captain Ilima something that did not relieve in the least. The Trainer beat a hasty retreat.

“Greetings, Captain Ilima here,” Ilima's introduction drew Moon and Hau's attention, who both looked up to him, “and I see two young Trial-goers ready to take on my Trial. Unfortunately a Trial can only be attempted by a single person at a time, and based on progress may become unavailable for a period of time after. Are you two able to come to a decision upon who will make the first attempt?”

Even before Moon turned to look back at Hau he was making a series of movements with his raised hand, switching between an open palm, closed fist, and two outstretched fingers. The glint in his eye was playful, but determined. Moon smiled at it and raised her own hand.

Paper to Hau's scissors. He let out a whoop and jumped to his feet as Ilima politely applauded, Moon staring at her open palm and wondering just how she'd lost.

“Well then,” Ilima's voice, soft as ever to those he guided, “young Hau, if you are ready?”

“Yeah!” Hau returned Popplio and Pichu to their Pokeballs, before setting after the Captain. “Moon!” He turned to her even as he walked backwards, “I'll see you after I beat my Trial! Wish me luck!”

She did. He smiled. And Hau exited the building. Ilima, pausing by a Trainer, leaned in to them and whispered something in their ear. Whatever it was, when they glanced from Ilima to Moon then back, their face was very pale as they nodded agreement with the command.

No-one was about to mess with the Trainer under Captain Ilima's guard.

So the day continued. Hau spent two hours in Verdant Cavern as Moon trained around the area before emerging victorious, Z-Crystal held above his head catching the afternoon sun. Moon arrived just in time to hear Ilima explaining that the Kahuna would be the one to give Hau a Z-Ring, wrapping her own hand around the one she had already.

Another sign of difference.

“Hey Moon!” Hau once more turned to her with a smile on his face, delight twinkling in his eyes, “I did it!” He had. She congratulated him. He glowed under her words. “Okay!” Still riding his high, Hau pointed at the Pokemon Center, “Me and my team are gonna get healed up again and then get going! I can make it to Wai'oli Town before nightfall for sure!”

“There's no need to rush,” Ilima's attempt to calm Hau failed to stop his spirits, the boy retorting that he wanted to make it back to Iki as soon as he could. That enthusiasm, Ilima couldn't help but approve. “Then just be sure to follow the paths. The road to Wai'oli is far harder than the one you've travelled so far, even if it is far shorter too.”

Moon's query drew both Captain and compatriot's attention. Hau's smile was only slightly baleful. “My apologies,” Ilima bowed his head, “but after its defeat the Totem Pokemon of my Trial must rest. You will need to wait until tomorrow morning to face it.”

Hau raised his hands to the sky. “I kicked its butt!” Ilima coughed.

“Yes, well, as such it requires rest. Take the afternoon to enjoy the paths around the area, train with your Pokemon, and prepare. Tomorrow you will face my Trial and the Totem Pokemon. Ready yourself.”

Not knowing precisely what a Totem Pokemon was, Moon nodded all the same. Saw Hau off once he hit the road, promising she'd catch up. He'd hold her to that, he said. He'd better.

Ilima watched over Moon's training as the afternoon continued on. Besides her Rowlet, none of her Pokemon were comparable to Hau's pair, who he'd focused on training as best he could. But her logic, her thought processes, those were immaculate, and the way she managed the powers she did command showed potential that was, well, if she weren't in possession of six Pokemon without showing any signs of weariness, that potential would knock Ilima speechless. As it was it was simply the cherry on top of a most delightful cake.

He wanted to battle her so much.

But Moon's Trial was the next morning and it would not do to put his full force against her, not even with a Pokemon Center right behind them. So Ilima once again showed restraint. It wasn't the right time yet. Not yet.

But soon. He promised himself that.

He deserved such a reward for the patience he'd shown so far, right?

Afternoon passed to evening then night. They ate in the Pokemon Center. Ilima's dagger stare ensuring that curious Trainers about did not have the chance to approach Moon. And each slept.

For Moon there was excitement, something keeping her awake far past the time she'd slipped into bed. Tomorrow's Trial, at its end she'd gain a Z-Crystal. She'd be able to use a Z-Move, just like the one Ilima had.

The power she'd felt, the light she'd seen, she felt such a powerful drive towards it. Like it was calling to her.

She couldn't wait.

Then sleep came and dawn followed it. The morning began and Moon and her team ate, the Pokemon coursing with the energy their Trainer was exuding. A Trainer's mental state was as important as their Pokemon's physical to be the best; the Bonds between them and their Pokemon strengthened by their condition. Moon was at her best that morning, and Ilima could almost swear she was glowing as she bounded up to him with a smile. Was it time to begin? Was the Trial ready? He'd just entered the Pokemon Center, had he been checking on the Totem, whatever that was?

It was, it was, he had been. Ilima smiled and directed Moon, who almost raced out the door, stopping only to collect her Pokemon.

He was looking forward to how this went.

“Now then,” stopping Moon just before the entrance to Verdant Cavern, Ilima adopted his full Captain's persona. Time to be his best. “Verdant Cavern is a sacred place in Alola, cared for by the Totem Pokemon. That is the reason only the Kahuna, Captain, and Trainers on their Island Challenges are permitted entry. Please show this land respect in taking its Trial.”

That reached Moon, who stilled just a little. Was still pent up with energy, just controlling it a little better. Ilima smiled. “Within Verdant Cavern, there is an extremely powerful Pokemon known as a Totem Pokemon. You will encounter a Totem Pokemon in each of Alola's seven Trials, and each you must overcome. By besting it you will be able to take a Z-Crystal from the den it guards, so be sure to give it your all. Young Trainer Moon, be aware, once you begin this challenge, you must either complete it or retreat from it entirely. Are you prepared?”

She was. Ilima hadn't even needed to ask.

“Then let the Trial of Captain Ilima... begin!”

It was a courtesy to let Trainers be within their Trials unless requested otherwise. Hau had asked Ilima to oversee him, to tell him how he was doing with raising his Pokemon. Having been trained by the Kahuna, Ilima had the unique ability to compare others to him, and Hau needed to know. Ilima was honest in that Hau was doing well, but the Kahuna was still an incomparable power.

It hadn't surprised the young boy to hear that at all.

Moon didn't ask for attention. As soon as she could she raced into the Cavern, her Pokemon already at her side. Guarding the way to the Totem would be a number of its subordinates, younger but still powerful Pokemon in their own right. Ilima watched as Moon disappeared into the leafy twists and turns of the Cavern, giving her the space to enjoy herself.

He'd have the chance to measure the fullness of her power later. Maybe even experience the first of her Z-Moves. That would be worth it. He contented himself in thinking that.

Blinked in surprise as two Team Skull Grunts – who most definitely were not meant to be here – ran past him yelling fearfully about 'what was she doing here?'. Ilima found that quite an enjoyable sight.

The earth-shaking roar of the Totem Pokemon, the Gumshoos that was boss of this Verdant Cavern, set Ilima's feet moving. If he paced himself he'd arrive just as the battle was heating up. Oh he couldn't resist, how could he? He had to see Moon battle.

He couldn't miss it for the world.

Then there was the boom of thunder. Then there was the loud cry that bounced from wall to wall and filled the cavern. Ilima's wide eyes, shock coursing through his system, lasted only a moment before he broke into a sprint at full speed.

No. Way.

Captain Ilima of Melemele Island had received a rare blessing in witnessing the Island Deity, Tapu Koko, thrice before this date. The first time had been in his training under Hala, the Pokemon arriving to battle the Kahuna for its own amusement. Hala had nominated Ilima to be tested, and laughed at the boy's crushing defeat. An important thing to learn, he'd clapped Ilima on the shoulder. Ilima wondered if he'd ever be able to fight that Pokemon again.

The second had been at the Festival of the Tapu the year before this. He and Hala had performed a demonstrative battle, and as they'd concluded Tapu Koko had circled the stage at a speed that whipped up a whirlwind before disappearing with a full table's worth of fruit.

The third had been three months ago. Ilima had seen a great flash of lightning over the sea despite the cloudless night, and raced out of his house to see it. Tapu Koko was down by Hau'oli's beach, Professors Kukui and Burnet standing before it. There was a girl with them, who Ilima learned the name of – Lillie – later on. But nothing more.

Moon from the Kanto Region had moved to the Alolan Region two weeks ago. Shortly after her arrival, she had not only met Tapu Koko, but had been saved by it, gifted a shiny stone by it, touched by it. Kukui had told Ilima this, when explaining Moon to him. He'd been stunned.

In quieter hours past this day and its events, considering all that he had seen, Ilima would allow himself one moment's jealousy at Moon, at the incredible person that she was. Two weeks and already she had experienced things unimaginable. Things he would give anything for.

He shook his head and let it go.

Now... now there were no words. The sight of the Guardian Deity in the den of the Totem Pokemon – the Gumshoos chased away by its power – floating before Moon, its electricity crackling over every surface. The Z-Aura surrounding Moon's Rowlet, who was slamming into the Deity's extended claw, giving everything it could.

The sensation of looking at Moon, mimicking the Z-Pose he had shown her, and how she looked like... something else. Ilima couldn't understand it. This was all beyond understanding.

His experience, and great reaction time, was what saved the day.

For Tapu Koko with a powerful swing of its arm bested the sixth and final Pokemon of Moon's team, threw Rowlet out of its Z-Move at full force. Moon dived, intercepted the Pokemon to catch it, only to find the force in Tapu Koko's throw carrying her too. She flew backwards, Pokemon grasped tight in her arms.

Ilima jumped in her path and caught her.

There was a brief moment, the time it took Tapu Koko to emit a piercing cry and disappear through the Cavern's roof in a blaze of electric thunder, where Ilima lost himself, before coming to, lying on his back with Moon clutched against his chest. Despite the hammering of his heart he could feel hers beating even harder, the repeated gasping breaths she was making the first time he'd ever seen such from her.

He wondered, if he had been in her position, if he'd even still be conscious.

The retreat from the Cavern was a blur. A strong coffee, strong coffee, was the point at which Ilima felt himself again, sitting in the Pokemon Center, watching Moon awaiting her Pokemon's healing. She had the Z-Crystal, but by her own words Tapu Koko had chased off the Totem Pokemon before she'd even had a chance to fight it, forced the Crystal into her hands and challenged her to battle.

Had she completed the Trial? Ilima didn't know. Tapu Koko seemed to think so, to have given her the Crystal. Did that mean he should approve her? Probably. Who was he to go against the Tapu?

For a brief moment Ilima felt very small indeed.

When her Pokemon were healed, when Moon stood to collect them, Ilima considered that. She was standing. She'd used a Z-Move, her first Z-Move, in a battle against Tapu Koko, in a field of electrical force, and was presently thanking the Pokemon Center's nurse without a single sign of breathlessness.

There would be much to talk about with Kukui and the Kahuna.

But for now, as Ilima felt the coffee bringing him back from the state of shock he'd been driven to before, planning out the wording on his speech informing Moon she had completed her Trial, all eyes turned to the entrance of the Pokemon Center.

To the man who had just burst through it, white coat flaring over bared chest.

Professor Kukui, spotting Moon and Ilima, rushed to them.

“Lillie's missing.”

Chapter Text

The Totem Gumshoos was huge, a Pokemon of size far beyond the norm. Its power, its Z-Aura, flowed around it, giving the same sensation as that which had wrapped Ilima as he performed his Z-Move on the docks of Hau'oli City what felt to Moon like so many days ago.

Steps behind it, under its guard, was a pedestal with a single white crystal resting atop it. Even with this Pokemon before her, Moon couldn't help her eyes being drawn to it.

Soon.

Then the Totem roared and no-one heard it, for its cry was silenced by the crack of thunder and call of a voice with far more power than it would ever have. Electricity flowed down the walls of Verdant Cavern, sparking and jumping across the floor, as Tapu Koko descended from on high. Part-fear, part-command, the Gumshoos turned and raced into the depths of the tunnels, bounding on all fours as fast as it could move.

Leaving only two behind.

Moon stared, the sight of Tapu Koko still so much. If the Z-Aura Ilima and the Totem used was something alluring, the raw intensity of a Tapu was blinding. It was different, and far more powerful. Moon held her ground solely because the dancing sparks, the shivering air, kept her from moving. She stared.

The Guardian of Alola stared back.

Then raised its hand.

It was faster than could be seen, the way Tapu Koko moved. The pedestal was a few steps behind it, but to Moon's eyes the Pokemon did not shift from where it floated at all. Yet in one swipe it had taken the Z-Crystal from the pedestal's top, and in another thrown it directly at Moon's face. Her raised hand, a reaction prompted by the incoming object, caught the crystal, her fingers curling around it. A jolt of electricity sparked through her hand.

She stretched out her palm and considered the gem.

Once again Tapu Koko's cry shook the Cavern, shook Moon, but this time she heard its intent. The last time was a command for the Gumshoos: begone from this battle. Now it was for her. Fight. Fingers pushed the Z-Crystal against her Z-Ring, finding it fit perfectly into the indentation made for it. Her wrist shook, something powerful now wrapped around it. Tapu Koko was raising a hand. Electricity was building.

She'd been commanded.

There was nothing else she could do.

One by one Moon unleashed each of her Pokemon, one by one the Tapu of Melemele brushed them aside. Each command, each search for an angle, was meaningless, mere waves of the Deity's hands enough to focus the electricity that surrounded it and drain the consciousness from her team. In a matter of seconds Moon had been reduced from six Pokemon to one. Rowlet fluttered before her. The Tapu's intent focused upon her. She knew what it desired.

What else could she do?

Moon moved. She'd memorised the pose as soon as she'd seen it, practised it in quiet moments after, when alone in the rooms she was given at Pokemon Centers to spend the night. The Z-Move, she knew it. And as she moved she felt it.

The Z-Aura surging around her.

Cold wind blowing on Moon's face forced open her eyes, dispelling the dreamlike memories as she looked down and saw Alola unfurling out beneath her, seated atop the back of a giant bird Pokemon. Seated behind her was Kukui, guiding the Braviary, flying the two out over the mountains of Melemele's north. Moon shivered in the air and moved to rub her arms, drawing Kukui's notice that the young girl was awake.

Hmm.

Kukui had been quick with his explanation at the Pokemon Center set just across from the Trial Site Verdant Cavern. He, Kahili, and Lillie had been staying in Wai'oli Town to the north-east, only to find that morning that Lillie had disappeared from the town entirely. A quick search with Kahili had proved fruitless, and so each had struck further abroad, Kahili heading east, Kukui west. The more time passed, the more Kukui had felt panic at Lillie's disappearance. The Pokemon with her, if it had truly brought her into danger again...

It wasn’t until he’d seen the Pokemon Center that Kukui had realised he’d gone far further west than Lillie possibly could. Began to turn his Braviary back until he paused, wondering if, just maybe, the timing was right.

Ilima knew the mountain ranges as well as anyone could: if Lillie were lost within them, he would be one of the best people to send out in search. Finding him at the Center, with Moon in tow, was a stroke of luck, yet somehow unsurprising. Kukui shook his head as he moved to their sides.

There were plenty of surprises still to be had.

Moon had wanted to leave immediately. To do everything she could to find Lillie. But before Kukui could leave Ilima had hauled him aside. And told him everything.

Kukui still felt himself shiver imagining it now.

Yet Moon was seated before him, holding on tight to the Valiant Pokemon as it carried them over the mountains, and Kukui could do nothing but acknowledge that. The first time he'd ever used a Z-Move he'd been out cold within an hour and slept until the next morning. Moon, she'd slept perhaps an hour, if you could even call that sleep, hanging onto his Braviary as it carried them through the sky. And still she seemed as alert as ever. That wasn't normal.

Nothing about this was normal.

Travel for Kukui and Kahili was an easy thing – Kukui with his Braviary and Kahili with her Toucannon. Hau'oli City, which like all major cities of Alola had ordinance against using one's own Pokemon to travel outside of designated lanes, had kept the two grounded, but once outside of it there proved no issue in setting off atop their Pokemon, touring Melemele Island's numerous townships.

With their successes upon the western coast in assuaging the concerns of those who felt the Pokemon League might sap the spirit of Alola, the two, with Lillie alongside them, had travelled to the northern town of Wai'oli, second largest of Melemele's settlements. Despite that title it was a pale shadow of Hau'oli's size, far more reminiscent of Iki than the City itself. Built into the northern coast of the island, it stretched down from the mountains to the shore, a sprawling collection of buildings and roads along the slopes. The higher paths, cut into the mountains above, were the proving grounds of the Island, playing host to Pokemon and Trainers both.

And, right now, one lost girl needing to be found.

They had a hint. Having asked everyone they saw, Kukui and Kahili had been told a girl resembling Lillie's description had been seen upon the northern paths earlier that morning. But no-one had followed her and no-one had seen the direction she'd gone. Leaving them with only the belief she was somewhere in the area.

Left them with only that to set out upon.

On the back of his flying Pokemon, even with another passenger beside himself, Kukui had no trouble crossing from coast to coast of Melemele within an hour's stretch. His Pokemon had eyesight that could pick up a Caterpie from a mile above, and so he'd been relying upon it to spot any sign of Lillie below.

The complete lack of anything to this point had been what drove him to seek Ilima's help. He didn't know where Lillie could have gone, but the panic was starting to set in. Even now, flying back, Kukui felt the tension in his back. Where could she be...

Another flying Pokemon appeared before them, another passenger on its back. The Braviary and Toucannon circled one another, a mid-air dance, close enough for the two Trainers to call out to each other.

Kahili shook her head.

“I haven't seen her,” her voice, carried by the wind, drew Moon's eyes, whose gaze Kahili caught in return. Kukui had found one girl, but not the one they were searching for. Kahili looked back at him. “I've been asking, but no-one has seen anything.”

“Let's switch sides!” Kukui called back, “I'll take the east of Wai'oli if you can check the west? Maybe head further down the hills towards the coast?”

Kahili nodded, her Pokemon pulling away from Kukui's as it dived to build up momentum. Kukui would guide his Braviary in an easier motion, slower and far less intense.

Not just for Moon's sake, Kukui himself couldn't keep up with the way Kahili Hano flew.

The mountain range along Melemele's eastern side did not rise as high as that on its west, but stretched far further, held far greater reach. The paths specially cut through it, which would take those from Wai'oli all the way to Iki Town, were the most populous, with people travelling along with Pokemon each and every day. This, given Kukui and Kahili had already stopped and quizzed countless people on those paths to no luck, only made things more stressful. In this huge stretch of land, where the majority of people were concentrated together, for Lillie to not have been seen must mean she was somewhere people would not normally go.

And far too much of that land was dangerous for a child like her. Kukui's frown, kept internal so at least Moon wouldn't see it, was one of deep concern.

He wasn't ready to admit they might not find her.

Moon leaned out over the side of the Braviary and pointed.

“Huh- WOAH!” Braviary flapped and leaned to the left, pulling Moon back who had begun slipping off as she'd stretched out. Kukui's arm, wrapped around her waist, pulled her back onto the bird Pokemon, his heart jackhammering through his chest. “Moon! You gotta be careful up here! That's dangerous you could have fallen!” Moon's own heartbeat, which Kukui could feel, was enough to tell him she understood. He needed to bring her down.

It took a lot of experience flying with one's Pokemon to be truly comfortable in the skies above.

“Sorry, sorry,” he apologised as the Pokemon slowly made its way down to the ground below, “I didn't mean to yell you just scared me.” By the time Braviary had settled onto the ground, folding its wings up and running its beak through them to sort out misaligned feathers, Kukui had felt his heart calm enough to breath. That had been terrifying.

He... probably wasn't going to take anyone back up into the air in a hurry after that.

“Look, Moon” the girl had disembarked from the flying Pokemon as soon as it landed, shaking herself as if to dislodge the feeling of flight, “I'm going to head back out to search this area, but how about you take a look around too? Ask if anyone's seen Lillie. Maybe you'll have more luck than we had. Okay?”

She nodded at Kukui's words, turning and heading off down a path. Having her wandering around on her own, especially given they'd already lost one young girl, felt bad to Kukui, but having her up in the sky again like that felt worse. He had to keep searching for Lillie.

He'd just have to trust Moon would be okay.

Braviary, with a grumble and demand for a bit of attention from Kukui first, allowed him to mount it again and took off back into the skies. Time to continue their hunt.

Moon's footfalls were in a singular direction, a single location having caught her eye. Even from high above, the field ringed by mountains and filled with bright yellow colour had drawn her attention. Called to her. And so she walked in the direction she expected it to be, Rotom helping with the map installed inside of its Pokedex habitat.

To Melemele Meadow, Moon made her way.

A prime tourist attraction in seasons where the dense flower fields were at rest, in times of heat such as the present the Meadow of Melemele was too thick with pollen for all but the most determined of visitors. Clouds of yellow hung heavy in the air, disturbed and harvested by the Pokemon that made their lives here, creating a shimmering haze that hid the movement of all within. Moon, passing through an arch of stone to enter the Meadow proper, had only a moment to consider how empty of people such a beautiful location was before her eyes watered and her nose ran profusely.

Struggling with her bag, Moon released a Pokemon and then another, a pair of flying creatures – one the purple Butterfree, the other the boisterous Pikipek. The first, who thrived in such environments, whipped up a breeze, reducing the pollen's density enough for the second to join the efforts. The two to spun around Moon, creating a whirlwind that pushed back the yellow haze. Free now to move, she continued on her way.

It was hard to say her motivation. Rotom-dex questioned it, whether she expected to find Lillie here, but the answer was that she did not know. Only that she felt a call. Something in the air. Only that.

Pokemon in the Meadow, surprised by the human walking through it in a time when there should be none, proved territorial but lacking in strength compared to her. Rotom approved the new captures, though wondered how Moon would handle even more Pokemon to care for. She didn't answer. Pushed further in. And found the wall.

To make one's way through Melemele Meadow in flowering season was not an impossible thing, but for a young trainer it was respectable. Moon stood against the wall at the far side of the Meadow, across from the entrance she had appeared from, as two of her Pokemon maintained the wall of wind shielding her from the air itself. She stepped along the wall, ran a hand along it, and wondered. She was almost sure she could hear something.

But what?

The earth beneath her gave way.


 

Water runs from the peaks of Melemele’s eastern and western ranges, rivulets forming streams, streams merging into torrents. They flow along the curvature of the land, splitting and mixing, coming together in a grand pool near to the island’s centre. The pool spins, momentum gifted by the water converging from every direction, a constant tidal swirl drilling ever downwards. Carving through the earth.

The immense underground river, combination of the island’s mountainous runoff, flows down to the sea, spilling out from ruptures forced through cliffsides by the sheer pressure of its volume. For as much as these impromptu waterfalls siphon the grand total, the vast majority of the water still finds its way down to one place.

To Kala’e Bay.

Seen most often from cruises around the island, Kala’e Bay is famous for its pristine waters, that which has flowed down from Melemele’s peaks. Life thrives in it, and close to the shores are considered protected regions, forbidden from approach by sea.

Yet there is another way to these shores, these sandy stretches formed aside the grand outpouring of Alola’s greatest and most secretive river. Alongside the underground river are caves, dug out by the water and Pokemon following its route alike. Over the relentless years those caves have expanded, filling out the mountain ranges of Melemele, and become a habitat supporting countless subterranean species.

Dutifully marked out by rangers, secured with warnings about the dangers they pose, these caves still snare the unaware as more entrances open with the passage of time. The flow of water, the movements of Pokemon, create more ways to enter the network that runs, as all things do, down to the sea.

This was the environment into which Moon fell.


 

Stars... alight... a sight...

The sound, so distant that perhaps she only imagined it, brought Moon back, her eyes snapping open in the darkness. A beam of faint light fell across her, all that could find its way down from the Meadow whose air was still thick with pollen. Then the concerned cries of those who had been with her.

Her Pokemon, her Butterfree and Pikipek, found her and fluttered about her in concern, voicing worry at the fall their Trainer had taken. Rotom arrived after, specifically asking if Moon was okay.

She was, she thought. The fall had been only slight, the earth giving way to a slope she had rolled down to the base. Her skin and clothing were both dirtied, even with the faint light available she could tell that, and the feeling of stinging scratches across her arms and legs caused her to frown. But she stood and reassured the trio who were with her. She was okay.

“Scanning environment, zzt!”

The Rotom-dex set off to explore, the light of its screen just enough for Moon to see its blue glow in the darkness. As it did she continued to reassure her Pokemon, eventually calming them enough to return to their Pokeballs.

She looked up.

The hole that had opened above was at the top of a slope: if she were determined Moon was sure she could make it back to the Meadow. Certainly these caves were not welcoming – they were dark, the air was thick with dampness, and the mixed sounds of flowing water and subterranean Pokemon were all she could hear. Pushing forward, into the earth, would be a terrible idea. There was nothing for her here.

Nothing except...

Oh... sky...

Except the sound of something. Something so distant, so muted by the water and the cries of Pokemon that it would be so easy to believe it was nothing. But she was sure she heard it. A voice? Distant, but rhythmic. Deep in the darkness beyond her.

When the Rotom-dex returned, informed Moon there was a tunnel ahead, it made a noise of surprise when she strode toward it, withdrawing another Pokeball from her bag. The little light the Rotom released would be enough, her Meowth able to use it to guide her. She should turn back. She shouldn't wander into these depths where Pokemon of the deep would lurk. She shouldn't go forward.

But yet...

The clouds... apart...

Confidence she should not have drove her onwards, step after step leading Moon away from the light. Even with the glow from Rotom-dex, even with her Meowth leading the way, still the darkness settled heavy around her, still claustrophobia bore down upon her shoulders. Still she pushed on.

For something was calling to her.

To see... light...

There were times her Meowth gave a warning to still. Others it hissed and chased after Pokemon in the dark, their fleeing cries all Moon would ever know of them. And times still the Scratch Cat Pokemon bounded forward with such speed Moon had to race to keep up with it. But still she followed it, followed the sound, and descended into the earth.

Deeper into the dark.

Moon... wave...

When the tunnel came to an end, expanded into a cavern of such size that the air sapped the warmth from her skin as soon as she stepped into it, Moon paused, the sensation almost overwhelming. Yet the sound, the distant voice, continued, echoing from a distance so far away, barely rising above the sounds of the water and the Pokemon that filled this cavernous network.

Moon rubbed at her arms, breathed a breath that misted unseen in the cold darkness, and kept walking. Further down into the depths.

Time slipped from her perception, Moon's thoughts repeating as she kept moving, step by step, from cavern to tunnel, led by the song deeper still. Rotom attempted to provide light, but even its glow couldn't do more than let her see a foot ahead. The sound of her Meowth gave confidence, but only a little. A part of her still felt she had made a mistake.

But then the song came to her once more.

Oh stars oh night, oh shining sight...

Word for word she heard it, followed shortly after by the crashing sound of waves. Her nose picked up the scent of salt water, and maybe, just maybe, things were a little brighter than before. Maybe there was light.

Moon pushed forward, footsteps faster, still so cold but so driven to continue. Then there was true light, beautiful and searing, pouring in from an exit in the rock ahead. Moon raced to it, the thickness of the water in the air now so much it felt like she was swimming as much as walking. But she pushed onwards to the light. Stumbled for it, as blinding as it was, and burst out into Alola's sun once more.

The great descent complete.

“M-Moon!”

Lillie's voice raised Moon's eyes, though the brightness of the sun meant her vision still swam. Still, she could see a form before her, garbed in white, and held out a hand to it. Felt hands clutch hers. Moon smiled.

Lillie's smile resolved into sight.

“How did you find me?”

As her eyes focused Moon saw Lillie properly, her dress stained with dirt, her face surprisingly clean. The cloth Lillie kept in her bag had seen solid use once she left the tunnels, ensuring there were no signs left of the panic she had been in. Moon's own clothing was dirtied too, her arms and legs similar alongside the scratches. Lillie, seeing them, immediately fussed over her. Moon did her best to assure the girl she was okay.

The sound of music, fingers strumming the strings of a guitar, drew her gaze, Moon spying another seated near the shore. This small beach at the base of the cave she'd exited was mostly sand, yet three were found upon it. Her, Lillie, and this other figure. He turned his head to observe the newcomer, but his hands remained occupied with playing the guitar he held.

Nebby floated above him, cheerfully bobbing in the music's embrace.

“O-oh, uh,” Lillie, spotting Moon's gaze, stepped to the side to indicate the man. “Nebby- I... this morning, before anyone had woken up, I wanted to take it for a walk, because I have to keep it cooped up so much. But then! Then Nebby... ran away from me, and when I chased it we got lost in these caves. I, I thought-”

Lillie's pause, the moment of remembering being lost in the darkness with no idea which way to go, said it all. Moon reached out to her.

“But luckily Mr. Ryuki was singing!” Lillie raised her head again, missing Moon's outstretched hand. “And I found my way down to where he was. Nebby... found him too.”

Moon looked over again at the Nebula Pokemon happily circling the man Lillie had called Ryuki. Catching her gaze, he stood up and stretched. Skin bronzed by the sun, dressed in an outfit of the most vibrant red, decorated with black and gold, Ryuki cut a distinctive figure. His hair formed a wild mane, the spiked-up section red and the overgrown fringe white. Lowering his guitar, he gave a wave to the pair. Lillie waved back.

“Yo there,” there was confidence in his walk, approaching the two, Nebby floating after him and pouting that there was no more music to enjoy, “name's Ryuki Oda, a shining star come to Alola. You little miss Lillie's friend then?”

“Yes!” Lillie nodded with a smile, “This is Moon!”

“Moon, huh,” the man studied her as Moon spent a moment thanking her Meowth for its aid, before returning it to its Pokeball, “you a new Trainer?” Moon nodded, which the man nodded back at her in reply to. Then turned and pointed. “In that case, come check this out.”

Though the beach the three stood upon was small, it was not the only one in sight – another visible just across the way from where a great river flowed out of a cave into the sea. Ryuki indicated that shore, before raising his arm, drawing Moon's eyes upwards, higher and higher, to where the cliff-face ended in a peak.

A dark shape fell from it.

Its plummet was long enough to allow shock to wash over Moon, the height so much as to be dizzying, but when the small creature hit the ground – resulting in a plume of sand being thrown up – all Ryuki did was chuckle. When the sand cleared Moon watched the small creature pull itself out of the beach and turn, trundling off without a care into the grassy fields beyond. She looked up at Ryuki with surprise clear on her face. The man laughed again.

“See Salamence nest in the cliffs up there,” Ryuki pointed upwards again, “and those eggs hatch into little bitty baby Bagon. But Bagon, bless them, they want to fly even with no wings, so they jump off the highest places they can find to try. You see the field down there, there's a whole colony of Bagon living in it. They've gotta recover from the fall before making their way back up to try again.”

Moon stared, fascinated. The wild environments of Alola, where Pokemon lived disconnected from people, entranced her. They were beautiful.

“So then,” Ryuki drew her attention one more time, offering a grin, “What'd'ya say? Think you can tame a Dragon, little lady?”

Moon's nod came so fast the Dragon Tamer couldn't help but bark a laugh, but he acknowledged it all the same. Well, if that was the case... “Hey Serena! Come lend a hand!” His order carried out over the water, soon answered as the sea split and a shape rose up before the pair. The blue serpentine dragon Pokemon, its head crested by small wings, leaned in to Ryuki, who raised and ran a hand over its snout, earning a snort of appreciation. He turned back to Moon.

“Serena here'll carry you over to the other side, then back again when you're ready. Dragon Pokemon are something else, little'un, so make sure you don't underestimate them, okay?” Moon nodded again. Ryuki patted the Dragonair's head.

And saw the girl out over the water.

“Uhm...” in Moon's absence, Lillie stepped up to where she had just been, as Ryuki once more sat down and plucked at his guitar's strings, Nebby expressing delight at the sound finally continuing, “Mr. Ryuki, is that... okay?”

Even as he played, Ryuki spoke. Kept his eyes forward across the water as Moon made landfall opposite. As she moved into the grass.

“There's a saying,” his tune was light-hearted, energetic and upbeat, “that strong Trainers can recognise one another. It's true, of course, we can tell. So it's something else, seeing a kid like that, and feeling like she's as tough as they come.” Fingers danced over strings, frets and chords. “Hey little miss Lillie,” Ryuki turned his gaze upwards, “Just who is that girl?”

Lillie paused. That question, it was direct, but she didn't have an answer to it. She didn't know, really. The only answer she had wasn't the answer Ryuki was looking for. But it was the only one she could give.

“She's my friend.”

Even if it wasn't the answer he was looking for, it seemed to please Ryuki enough for the smile he gave. He played a faster tune, Nebby floating around him enthralled by it.

“Came to Alola for this League they're making,” the man continued after a moment, “I can feel it calling to me, pulling on my blood. Alola's where I'll shine brightest, that's what it's telling me. That girl...” he grinned, “I'll see her on the final stage too, I can tell.”

There was very little Lillie could say in response to that. She reached up and wrapped her hands around Nebby, drawing the Pokemon close to her chest and sitting down as well. Waiting for Moon to return.

Song surrounded them for a little longer.

Then stopped.

“So that Pokemon,” Ryuki's eyes on Lillie showed interest, which Lillie immediately feared. Having Nebby being seen... what had she been thinking going on that walk this morning? Wanting to look after it, did she even know how? She didn't! She couldn't be someone who could care for Pokemon like a trainer could. She just couldn't. “It's yours, right?”

“Oh, n-no,” Lillie shook her head, “I'm caring for it but... I'm not a Pokemon Trainer. I can't... I can't look after it the way I should.”

A moment passed. Ryuki huffed out a breath and stood up.

“Y'know,” he began, “how long ago they started making Pokeballs?”

“Oh yes!” Lillie nodded, her reading having covered such. “Aside from the usage of Apricorns originating in the Johto regions, modern Pokeballs came into public use roughly-”

“Alright, alright,” Ryuki interrupted her, raising a hand, “good enough. But tell me, you know how long people and Pokemon have been working together?”

Lillie paused. Forever. Right?

“So the thing is,” Ryuki pointed at Nebby, held in her hands, “having a Pokeball's just a formality. If you're looking after a Pokemon, if that Pokemon's looking after you, you're a team. You can't pretend you're not.” His stare was focused. Behind him, in the sea of Melemele, his Dragonair was returning with a pleased looking Moon clinging to its neck. “So just think about that, okay? Sound good?”

Lillie's nod was one that came out slowly. She wasn't able to look after Nebby. She wasn't its partner. She knew that.

Didn't she?

“Well then!” Spinning around, Ryuki held out his arms, allowing his Dragonair to bury her face into his chest as Moon dismounted, “looks like you're pleased with yourself!” Moon nodded as Ryuki wrapped his arms around the serpentine Pokemon's head, one hand rubbing it earnestly. “So you've caught your first Dragon, congratulations, I knew you had it in you.” Moon looked in interest at Ryuki for the confidence this stranger had given her. He winked. “I could tell. So look after it, raise it well, and you'll have an incredibly powerful partner. Sound good?”

Moon nodded at that.

It sure did.

“In that case,” slinging his guitar over his shoulder, Ryuki withdrew an ornate looking Pokeball and returned his Dragonair to it, trading it for another, “How about I get you kids back up top? I can drop you at Wai'oli if you like?”

“Oh!” Lillie nodded enthusiastically, “Yes please, Mr. Ryuki. That would be wonderful!”

“Alright then,” opening the Pokeball up, Ryuki released another serpentine Dragon, this one of aqua-green scales and fluffy white fur, “hop on!”

Clutching Nebby still, Lillie accepted Moon's help to board the Pokemon before Moon herself clambered onto it. Ryuki stepped onto its head as it bowed to him, lifting him up to stand with arms crossed atop it. “Dazzle!” He gave the command, “Move out!”

And the Pokemon lifted into the skies above.

The sight of a Drampa, soaring through the sky, was notable and visible enough at a distance that as soon as Kukui and Kahili saw it they moved to approach – even if it was their Pokemon to first spot the object of their search atop it. Each flew in, intent on asking whoever the Trainer of the Dragon Pokemon was for aid, before getting close enough to see Moon, with Lillie clutching her waist, sitting on its back.

It was their experience in having flown so many times upon their partners before that prevented either from slipping off at the shock.

So the flight went, the giant Dragon making its way through the sky, flanked by a Braviary and Toucannon both. The sight of the trio of Pokemon arriving in Wai'oli drew immediate attention, seeing Professor Kukui and the famous Kahili Hano descend from the skies above. The third Trainer, a man dressed in red, was an unknown, but the presence of the Drampa at his side, before he returned it to the Luxury Ball he kept it in, said enough. This man was a significant power indeed.

“Lillie! Moon!” Kukui raced over to the pair, who'd dismounted just before Ryuki returned his Pokemon to its ball, “Lillie where did you get off to, you disappeared and we couldn't find you I was freaking out are you okay? Is everything fine are you-”

“I'm fine!” Lillie was holding her bag to her chest, Nebby returned to it, ensuring the Pokemon would be making no more escapes. “Nebby... got away from me this morning, and I was caught up trying to find it. Thankfully Mr. Ryuki helped me out, and then Moon found us after!”

Kukui leaned back from Lillie, at least somewhat convinced now she was fine, though the amount of dirt on both her and Moon would lead to questions later. He turned his eyes on this 'Mr. Ryuki'. A Dragon specialist? Felt like it. Felt strong, if nothing else. Kukui extended a hand.

“Thank you very much for looking after Lillie. We were all worried about her so it's good to know she was in safe hands.”

“That's no problem, Prof,” Ryuki, able to recognise Kukui, accepted the shake of his hand. “If you wanna thank me, keep working hard on that Pokemon League of yours. After all, a bright star needs a good height to shine from, y'know?”

Kukui blinked. Huh?

“So I'm heading off,” Ryuki turned and waved, pointing north to the road leading down to the coast, “plenty more dragons around Alola to go see. Hey little miss Moon,” pausing for a moment, Ryuki looked back at her, “take good care of that one, I wanna see it nice and strong at the League, okay?”

Moon nodded as Kukui and Kahili both looked between her and the Dragon Tamer. Ryuki just waved and kept on walking.

Carried away by the breeze just like his song.

To follow the sound of the Dragons, awaiting his claim.

To follow the voice, still calling his name.

Chapter Text

Hau had arrived in Wai'oli Town the night before, tired to the max. He'd barely greeted the Professor, Kahili, and Lillie, before eating a huge heaping of food and then collapsing into bed. Travelling to Verdant Cavern on Tauros-back, defeating the Totem Pokemon to complete his Trial, and then pushing on to the town in the north had run the boy dry, and he slept so soundly that night he completely missed all the excitement of the following morning.

Instead Hau had taken it easy, training with his Pokemon as he awaited Moon's arrival. She'd have completed her Trial by now, Hau was sure of it, and he couldn't wait to share stories of their Totem battles. Then have their first Pokemon Battle since the night of the festival. Though he might not have his Z-Ring yet, Hau was still ready to go all-out no matter what. He was positive Moon would feel the same.

He was really looking forward to it.

Instead to his surprise that afternoon, waiting by the western entrance of Wai'oli, Hau did not see Moon approach from the west but from above, she and Lillie both flown into town atop the back of a huge dragon Pokemon. The shock lasted only a few moments before Hau raced off, arriving at the landing place of the pair, along with Kukui and Kahili on their own flying Pokemon, just after the Dragon Tamer Ryuki took his leave.

Hau immediately raced into the middle of the group.

“Hey! Hey! Moon! Lillie! What was with the big dragon? Where were you? Moon how'd your Trial go? Wait how come you're both so dirty, what happened?” The rapid-fire questions, in his usual Hau volume, only slowed down when Hau noticed how Moon was standing close enough for Lillie to lean upon her. His tone found concern. “Are you okay?”

“I'd like to know that myself,” Kukui shook his head, “but first how about we get you two somewhere you can clean up. And Moon, we should check those scratches, since you've got dirt on them as well.”

Moon nodded to this, Hau's peppering of questions answered by her and Lillie as Kukui led them all to the inn they would be staying at. Listening in as they escorted the three children – although Kukui spent a moment sending Ilima a message that Lillie had been found and all was well – Kukui and Kahili quickly picked up on the basics: that Cosmog had disappeared into the caves and Lillie had chased after it, which Kukui would have to do his extreme best to stress how dangerous a decision that had been; and how Moon had fallen into a hole in Melemele Meadow and gone into those caves as well.

The fissures leading into the cave systems of Melemele's north were usually off the beaten path – having one appear inside Melemele Meadow was extremely concerning to Kukui. He'd have to contact the Pokemon Rangers' Association to notify them of that before the day was out.

From there the girls' stories were the same: they'd wandered the tunnels and heard a song echoing through it, following it all the way to Kala'e Bay itself. Hau made noises about how lucky it was they'd found their way, while Kukui and Kahili, who understood the dangers of the underground far better, struggled to keep their hearts beating against the possibilities. Those girls would run them ragged.

The afternoon continued on quietly. Once Moon and Lillie were able to clean themselves up and change into clothing that wasn't dirt-covered, Kukui ordered quite sternly no more adventures for the day. Yes, Hau, that included Pokemon Battles, Moon needs to rest. She wasn't the type to show it, but Moon not complaining about the command said it more than clearly enough. They were all to take it easy. Professor's orders. So the three sat together and talked and let their Pokemon run about and that was enough. Kukui didn't miss the new members of Moon's team.

Ilima arrived in town shortly after.

Overseeing the trio of children kept Kukui, Kahili, and the Captain busy enough, spending what time they could discussing the dangers of the underground now that it was breaching in more travelled locations. As Captain of Melemele Ilima felt a measure of responsibility to this, though Kukui and Kahili both insisted managing such a thing wasn't possible for anyone. Still, it was difficult for his mood to lift as the three of them remained all too keenly aware how close today had come to disaster.

Had it not been for Dragon Tamer Ryuki, well... none of them felt like saying it.

Evening came and Moon and Lillie went to bed early. Hau stayed up longer with his Pokemon, but didn't need the supervision. Left room for Ilima, Kahili, and Kukui to settle in a room outside of earshot. To set up a screen and dial the Kahuna into the conversation.

To go over the events of the day.

“Tapu Koko challenged Moon.”

Ilima, saying it in plain words, brought silence immediately following the first round of greetings. Kahili, staring with wide eyes, and Hala, face visible through the screen he was on, both looked from Ilima to Kukui. Kukui shrugged.

“I wasn't there, but Captain Ilima and Moon both confirmed it. Tapu Koko chased off the Totem Pokemon and gave Moon the Normalium-Z so it could fight her.”

“Wait-” Kahili, fast of thought, immediately realised what was wrong here. “Are you saying that Moon used a Z-Move during her Trial?”

“Yes,” Ilima's nod drove the chill in the air deeper, “I witnessed it myself. She copied the pose I used when showing her a Z-Move in Hau'oli City, and performed a fully-powered attack against Tapu Koko. It was brushed aside easily, but nonetheless it was her first Z-Move. This morning. Before everything else.”

Kahili shook her head. Then shook it again. Held a hand to her forehead and scrunched her eyes shut. Even when Kukui had explained to her Moon had six Pokemon, insisted it was real, still the trainer had difficulty parsing it. That was one of the troubles of being at the peak, surrounded by the best of the best. You came to believe in the normal operation of limits.

The impossibilities at the edges always blindsided you.

“So you're. Telling me.” Kahili was slow to say it, but the others gave her the room to speak, to work through her thoughts. “That this girl, this Moon, has six Pokemon, has been directly approached by Tapu Koko twice, performed her first Z-Move this morning in a battle against Tapu Koko, and then went on to spend the rest of the day wandering tunnels and catching a Dragon, a Dragon-type Pokemon, Kukui, and still stayed awake until night fell. That's what you're saying? That's what we're looking at?”

When she looked up at the group she really seemed like she wanted someone to tell her everything she'd seen that day had been her imagination. Kukui sighed and shook his head.

“That's the truth, Kahili.”

Defeated she sunk into her seat.

Silence held a little longer.

“You had a Dragon young too, didn't you, Kukui?” Hala's voice, coming from the screen set up for him to join the conversation, drew a nod from the Professor.

“Yeah,” Kukui smiled at the memory, “I had a Jangmo-o in the middle of my teens. Rowdy girl. When she evolved I couldn't keep up with her anymore, had to pass her on to one of the Dragon Tamers on Ula'ula.”

“How does having a Bagon at eleven compare?” Ilima had the least experience of the four in the conversation, having never caught a Dragon-type Pokemon himself. He knew they were considered legendarily difficult to raise, but without experiencing it himself couldn't truly understand the demand Moon should feel. Kukui turned to him.

“I mean, she's been a trainer for two weeks,” Kukui shrugged, “at this point is it even a surprise?”

“Yes!” Kahili, recovered enough, returned herself to the conversation. “Yes it is! You can't just say 'well this is happening' to all of this, this is so out of the ordinary that we have to question all of it! Why is she able to maintain six Bonds? Why is she able to keep a Dragon, who take significant power all on their own? Why can she perform a Z-Move and keep going like it was nothing? None of that is natural, Kukui, we can't hand-wave that away by grouping it all together and saying 'oh well that's just Moon'. We can't!”

Her outburst did push Kukui back, who seemed embarrassed at being scolded so. Hala shook his head.

“It is our responsibility to care for the Trainers of Alola, Moon included. It may be that we do not truly understand how to properly care for her, given her... situation... but nonetheless we must try. We should not treat her in a fearful manner, but neither should we ignore her clear abilities. Either extreme would be irresponsible of us.”

Hala calling Kukui irresponsible for just accepting Moon as she was, combined with Kahili's words prior, kept him quiet, but Kahili herself felt momentary shame. Hala had described treating Moon in a fearful manner. Was that what she had been doing? Probably. It was scary. Kahili shook her head. She'd be better.

She'd returned to Alola to make things better for its Trainers, after all.

“The Grand Trial is next,” Hala spoke again after a moment of silence, contemplation rife among the group as to the best way to move forward. “Both my grandson Hau and young Moon will be determined to battle me and move on to Akala's Trials, no doubt as soon as possible. I've spoken to Akala's Kahuna already, but I suppose a follow-up call given this new information is required. Ahh, these young children, keeping me ever busy. I'll never grow old as long as I live like this, isn't that right Kukui?”

Hala's boisterous laugh at the statement did bring smiles back to the group, who all agreed that even if Hala did grow old he'd never be old. He scolded the younglings for talking to him like that.

All smiles.

The night passed on to another day.

“Alright!” After an eventful breakfast – not only Moon and Hau's Pokemon eating along with Nebby, but also Ilima, Kukui and Kahili's – Hau announced himself, stood up and stretched. “Moon!” Immediately Moon looked at Hau ready, knowing what was on his mind. The same was on hers. “Let's have a Pokemon Battle!”

So the group found themselves outside, claiming a battling field in Wai'oli. Kukui took referee, while Kahili and Ilima oversaw, the second slightly disappointed it was not him battling Moon. He'd still not had the opportunity.

But soon, right?

“Alright!” Kukui raised his arms, Hau and Moon standing in position, “Are there any requests for rules for this match?”

“None!” Hau spoke quickly, cutting off anything Moon might have been about to say. “All-out free-for-all last-one-standing-wins!” Kukui looked at Hau with a smile at that, well enthused by his declaration, and repeated as such. There would be no limits on Pokemon used in this battle.

“And... begin!”

Moon led with her Meowth, facing off against Hau's Pichu. Ilima whispered to Kahili about its quick growth.

Baby Pokemon were like that – drawing more energy through their Bonds than usual for a Pokemon of their strength. In return, however, they evolved quickly, provided they were properly cared for. The stronger form would then draw less energy, making such Pokemon ideal firsts for new Trainers, providing they could take the initial demand.

Hau had kept the Pichu for ten days so far, which of course was still a small amount of time – at least two months the average for a baby Pokemon's evolution under the care of a Trainer. But it was obvious the energy he put out was far above that average, and those watching wondered if it would even be a month before the Pokemon evolved. Moon may be impossible, but Hau was something else too. They were both incredible young Trainers.

Moon's Meowth was headstrong when it came to following orders, but powerful all on its own. Moon directed it well, though still had to correct for times when the Pokemon did not follow her command. But against Hau those little moments added up, and the electricity in his Tiny Mouse Pokemon continued to sap away at the Scratch Cat.

In the end it was Meowth to fall first, the constant electrical bursts whittling down its stamina. Hau shouted encouragement to his Pokemon, which perked up at the sound, as Moon prepared her second. In a burst of red energy Rowlet manifested, fluttering above the field. The second battle.

It did not last long. Exhausted by its previous battle, Pichu proved unable to match Rowlet's significant speed, an advantage Moon's Pokemon had maintained in almost every battle so far. A jolt of electricity did hit the Grass Quill Pokemon, seeming to stun it for a moment, but it wasn't enough to stop Rowlet bowling over the electric mouse with a single direct hit. Hau grinned at Moon, retrieving one Pokemon and unleashing the next.

Popplio barked with enthusiasm as the two starters clashed again.

To different results.

Rowlet's strongest advantage was its speed, a factor Hau and Popplio had trained to overcome. Combined with the lingering effects of the electricity it had been touched by before, the jets of water Popplio used to manoeuvre proved too fast for the Grass Quill Pokemon to match. It was a battle of attrition, Popplio evading and weakening Rowlet through constant tackles thanks to its new speed. Moon varied her tactics in an attempt to recover, found an advantage through Rowlet's flight, however the elemental match-up failed to outweigh the now superior speed of the Sea Lion Pokemon.

One final strong hit laid Rowlet on the ground, unable to rise again.

This defeat marked for Moon a very clear sign she had a world of improvement to go. Hau had outpaced her, and she smiled at him, raising a hand to Kukui. A good match. Hau interrupted.

“Hey Moon!” She looked at him in surprise, his tone clearly displeased. “We're not done!”

They should be. In a match of two Pokemon – and Moon knew Hau had only two – he had won. The battle should be over.

Lillie, watching the match, the conflict stressful but her determination to oversee Hau and Moon more powerful, felt herself shocked. She'd never seen Hau look mad before.

“It's an all-out free-for-all last-one-standing-wins battle!” Seeing Hau's expression, Moon felt pained. She didn't like seeing him upset. “That means we keep battling with our Pokemon until one of us has none left! That's the rules!”

But Hau had won in a fair fight, he beat her two with his, it shouldn't be more than-

“Fair is going all out!” His yell actually made Moon take a step back, seeing Hau staring her down. “If you're going to hold back then there's no point in us battling! Come on, Moon! If you don't do your best then... doesn't that mean you don't respect me?”

Kukui had heard these arguments before. Trainers who grew up as friends, who found different limits, clashing about how to interpret those limits and compare themselves. Sometimes friendships even fell apart due to the limitations some people discovered. He knew that as well as any other. He said nothing.

Moon stared. She'd fought so many battles on the road to Verdant Cavern with two Pokemon alone. Accepted victories and defeats alike. Because that, she believed, was fair.

But was it? Was it fair to them? Was it fair to her?

If being fair was not holding back then...

Hau grinned, seeing Moon raising her next Pokeball. Good. That conversation last night – the sound of his grandfather's voice in the distance drawing him to overhear – had left Hau with far more to think about than he liked. His head was still heavy with rocks to figure out. But this, this was good.

Going all out was good.

Moon's third Pokemon was a Pikipek – a Pokemon Kahili could tell was approaching its evolution already. She was a Flying-type expert, and knew how to read those Pokemon well, so with absolute confidence she noted that down. That was not the norm. Of course it wasn't.

She really needed to think over how she was going to approach this.

Moon moved her arms. Ilima, responsible for teaching her the pose, held back his breath, watching as the Z-Aura burst into life around her. It was always beautiful to see, that power, but somehow around Moon it was different. Like for a moment what he saw within the light wasn't Moon. Wasn't anything he could understand. A gaze into something else.

Something other.

Then the aura flowed and the Pikipek shone brilliantly, a phoenix wreathed in power far more than the bird it had been before. Hau ordered Popplio to maintain its speed, to dodge the attack, but a Z-Move, especially for young Trainers, was often how battles came to an end. So it was true for this fight – despite Popplio's speed it did not dodge the blow, the full-force tackle from Pikipek ramming into it and sending it flying.

Hau jumped, intercepted the Pokemon, and landed on his feet, the power behind it far less than what Tapu Koko had used to throw Rowlet back the day before.

Moon lowered her arms as Hau returned his Popplio to its ball. Kukui raised a hand.

“The winner is: Moon!”

For as much as they were friends, and it was quite clear they were, Moon and Hau's argument wasn't settled by that at all.

It was strange, to hear Trainers so young go over the discussion usually reserved for one's late teens, or even beyond. Moon continued to insist, not wavering for a second, that Hau besting two of her Pokemon – including her strongest – with his two made him the better Trainer. Hau retorted that Moon beating him meant she was. Neither seemed willing to budge, and Lillie proved unable to convince either to give ground, unsure herself on what position she would take.

Kahili shook her head. “If they grow that fast they really will make it to the opening of the League.”

“That's the plan,” Kukui smiled, earning a beleaguered stare from the Trainer. “What? Do you really think they won't?”

“I don't know how I feel about the potential of battling them there.”

“Maybe they'll beat you.”

Kahili paused in silence after Kukui's jape. Maybe they would...

“I imagine Moon would put up a notable battle to even my less beginner-friendly Pokemon,” Ilima chimed in, still with the group. He'd return with them via Iki Town, and make sure he heard the Kahuna's plans for the Grand Trials to come. He absolutely had to watch over those, after all. “Alas every time I've caught her she's been preoccupied. I've yet to get the chance to battle her myself.”

Kukui laughed at that, Ilima's intense desire to battle every strong Trainer he could well known. “Maybe you'll be stuck waiting until the Pokemon League,” he grinned. Ilima looked at him with an almost pained expression.

“Please do not joke about such things.”

Lunch eaten, in the time after the battle, gave Kahili room to study. Moon's Pikipek was close to its evolution, but her other Flying-types were to be noted as well. Rowlet was far closer than it should be. Despite Hau's starter proving stronger, Moon's was the one already showing the initial signs of evolution – fluffed feathers, a more vigorous appetite, and slightly deeper coos. Evolution was a natural feature of Pokemon, accelerated by Trainer's Bonds providing those Pokemon with an extra source of energy. It seemed Moon was able to make a significant – even for an adult – amount of energy available for her Pokemon.

That wasn't right.

That wasn't even the only part of this that was shocking. Moon had a Butterfree – and Kahili had confirmed with the Rotom-dex Moon carried that it was evolved from a Caterpie. Bug Pokemon evolved quickly, making them another favoured starter for new Trainers, but this was still far too fast. It wasn't even the question of how Moon had given it enough experience – it was of how she had given it enough power. Trainer's Bonds were demanding. Kahili knew that as well as anyone possibly could.

And then there was the Bagon. Kahili had raised Dragon-types before, though found that maintaining them significantly lowered the number of Pokemon she could keep. They were a type that took an almost obscene amount of power, even for the smallest. Of course those demands scaled by their evolution, but a newly forged Trainer shouldn't be able to tolerate even a young dragon.

Forget struggling, Moon should be catatonic.

Yet she sat there with the others, talking about her journey, scolding the stubborn dragon for pushing others out of the way of their food, without any sign of tiredness. She'd used a Z-Move too. For a moment Kahili had almost forgotten that.

Did... did she truly have no limits?

“Well!” When lunch completed Kukui took the lead once more, drawing the attention of all present. “I think it's time we moved on to Iki Town. Kahili and I have done well with Wai'oli, and I'd like to oversee your Grand Trials as much as anyone.” Moon and Hau stood together, their argument mostly over, though neither had agreed to the other's position. “How about we rent some Ride Pokemon and follow the eastern trail? It'll take a little longer, but be easier for us all than using our flying Pokemon, yeah!”

Mostly Kukui just really didn't want to go back in the air with anyone else after Moon had almost fallen the day before. He could feel his heartbeat accelerating just remembering that.

Luckily everyone was agreeable, and a collection of Tauros were available to take upon the trail. Lillie rode with Kahili, Kukui and Ilima on their own, with Moon and Hau leading ahead, mostly racing one another. Those two were competitive, always pushing the other further, Kukui observed. That was good. They'd do one another good.

Given Moon, given Hau, they were probably the only two in the world best suited to helping one another grow. It was truly good.

So the afternoon wore on, the ride from Wai'oli Town to Iki proving as beautiful as ever, the orange light of Alola stretching over the mountains and ocean below. There was peace in this moment, travelling together, and each of those upon the trip savoured it. Kept the memory in their hearts.

A Ride-Pokemon Station near to the end of the trail from Wai'oli to Iki accepted the five Tauros, thanked the group for their patronage and wished them well – if they ever wanted to ride around Melemele again, be sure to seek them out! From there it was only a short walk further, mostly down-hill, before the gates of Iki Town were in view once more.

Hau raced towards them.

“Ho there!” The voice of Kahuna Hala reached the group before the sight of him did, the man as ever robed in his yellow coat. With a cheerful stride he emerged from the gates, swinging an arm around to collect Hau and hold him tight as greeting. Hau struggled, but it was playful, used to the interaction. Hala chuckled as the others approached.

“Welcome back to Iki Town, young Moon,” he addressed Moon specifically, before letting his grandson go. Hau bounded back to stand by Moon. “And my congratulations to the both of you for passing your first Trial. At this point, prior to my Grand Trial, I would present each challenger with a Z-Ring, and advise them to prepare a Z-Move to display in battle. However, given you already have one...”

The wave of Hala's arm turned Hau's attention, along with everyone else's, to Moon just long enough for the Kahuna to fetch a white ring from his sleeve, “I need only give one to my grandson!”

Hau jumped in surprise, caught off-guard by the theatrics, before his face widened into a classic Hau grin. Hala smiled as he pushed the ring into his grandson's hands, watching as Hau quickly fastened it to his wrist.

This was a sight that would make the boy's parents proud, for sure.

“Now then,” Hala continued on, his voice ever the mix of joviality and gravel, “the Grand Trial of Melemele Island is a battle against me, Kahuna Hala, to ensure you two Trainers are ready to continue on. I will not go easy on either of you, so I advise the two of you to train yourselves and prepare. You may battle me when you are ready, but I will not accept a challenge for at least three days. I hope you understand.”

Moon and Hau nodded, before the second turned to the first with a grin.

“So Moon,” he held up a hand, fist closed, “want to figure out which of us gets to go first?”

Having lost the last match Moon very much did, and raised her hand again. She was sure this time she'd get him. After all, he'd never see it coming.

So did her paper fall to Hau's scissors once again, Moon continuing to be shocked by the boy's talent for the art. Hala laughed at the pair, the others gathered behind them smiling too.

“In that case,” Ilima waved goodbye, “I will return to Hau'oli and be here in three days time to see your Grand Trial. Hau, if you wish to train, you need only seek me out. I will always be ready to help the Trainers of Alola improve.”

“Got it!” Hau nodded, “I'll do my best!”

With that the Captain departed, leaving six behind. Hau turned to Moon.

“Hey Moon, let's hang out more tomorrow to train! I'm gonna head back home now though, have a good night!”

Hala turned, just so, as Hau walked to his side. The young boy had only been out on his Pokemon Journey for a short while, but already he seemed a little matured. Hah, this old man was getting emotional. He looked back to Moon. “Your Grand Trial may begin any day after Hau's, please notify me when you are ready.” Moon nodded. Good. That was good. Bidding the group goodnight, Hala followed after Hau into Iki.

He'd need to prepare his darnedest to give these two the best Grand Trial he could.

“Looks like we're heading back,” Kukui grinned at Moon, who nodded up at him. She and Lillie walked together along the way back, Kukui and Kahili discussing flying across Melemele over the next few days to cover any last questions from the townships before the Grand Trials. They'd be moving to Akala along with Hau and Moon, Kukui insisted. Kahili nodded to that.

“Moon, I-” Moon turned to Lillie when she spoke, the two side-by-side behind the adults. Much like the last time they had walked home from Iki together. It already felt so long ago. “Thank you. For everything. These two weeks have been... happy. Thank you.”

Moon smiled at Lillie. She smiled back.

“When you complete your Grand Trial, when you go to the next Island, I'll go too. Not just to help Professor Kukui and Ms. Kahili, but also... for Nebby.” Moon's eyes lowered to the bag Lillie always carried. It shook slightly. “Nebby... comes from far away... and I want to help it get home. It saved me, once. I want to save it too.”

Moon nodded. Placed a hand against the bag and felt the form in it lean into her touch. Lillie saw that too. Perhaps Moon would be a far better carer for Nebby. Moon could do anything. She could support Nebby in ways Lillie never could. Maybe.

But something deep inside of her fought back against the thought at letting Nebby go to anyone. Even to Moon. The intensity of that emotion surprised Lillie. She found herself shocked by it.

She and Moon would be walking similar paths. They would be by one another's side. Maybe that was enough.

Maybe it would be.

The group ended at Moon's house – Moon heading up to her door with a wave to them all, Kahili returning to Hau'oli for the night, and Kukui leading Lillie back down to the lab. Moon's return – unannounced how could you! – thrilled Jewellery, who swept up her daughter in a hug that lifted Moon from the ground. She'd only been away for so little a time, but Jewellery had felt it intensely, knowing soon Moon would leave for far longer. These reunions, they were cause enough to celebrate.

Seeing her mother's happiness, Moon promised to stay close to home until her Grand Trial was done.

Oh how wonderful indeed.

Her Pokemon – new, old, and evolved! – were greeted with love by Jewellery and curiosity by her Meowth, the night passing on. The next day would begin Moon's training, as she prepared herself for what needed to be done.

Despite the numbers she possessed, still she felt like she had fallen behind Hau, bested as she had been in their battle before. She needed to be better.

To go any less than all-out would be rude, after all.

Chapter Text

The next morning it rained.

For Jewellery this proved advantageous, allowed her to convince her daughter to take a day easy, to spend the time at home. Of course Moon would need to train, to prepare her team for the Grand Trial ahead – battling the Kahuna, how exciting! – but it was also important to relax now and again. Even if it seemed like she didn't need it.

Jewellery loved her daughter with her whole heart, and would never ever turn her back on her, this was true. But she was not ignorant to the oddity that Moon was, the impossibility of her ability to maintain so many Pokemon without a single sign of strain.

Most of Moon’s team had calmed quickly – the lawless wildness which freshly caught Pokemon had left only in the hard-headed Bagon. That wasn't a Pokemon Jewellery had known off the top of her head, but thankfully the delightful Rotom-dex had been more than willing to elucidate.

Oh, ha-ha, of course her daughter had caught a Dragon.

...Huh?

Moon told stories of her adventure so far and when it came to the tunnels she'd fallen into, the dark caverns she'd traversed following a song in the distance, Jewellery had been forced to excuse herself for a moment to make a quick call to the Professor.

Kukui, please tell me the situation Moon described isn't quite as horrifying as it sound- oh no? It was far worse and my daughter almost disappeared into a labyrinth beneath the earth? That's fine. No, I'm fine. Fine. Would you and Lillie perhaps like to stop by for dinner tonight? No I simply insist.

We all have a lot to talk about.

Back to the Dragon-type. Jewellery had not raised one herself, no specific bias to her abilities as a Trainer flavouring her team. She'd done well, some might argue very well, and completed her Pokemon Journey close to the end of her teens. The next Pokemon League Tournament in Kanto came just after her twentieth birthday and she entered, eliminated in the first round, and found herself satisfied with that. Cared for her Pokemon but they, raised to be fighters, proved too restless for the more grounded life she chose after.

A picture on her mantle, she and the four Pokemon she'd raised, often drew wistful looks. She hoped each was doing well with the Trainers they’d gone on to.

Meowth settled in her lap.

Moon! Right.

In spite of the past two weeks of adventure, capturing new Pokemon, battling Trainers, being lost in a subterranean cave system that perhaps might have never let her free – okay calm down Jewellery, calm down – in spite of all of those things Moon seemed fine. Chipper even! Like she was as happy as she'd ever been.

As much as a part of her celebrated that bringing Moon here to Alola seemed to have done her well, Jewellery also couldn't help but feel a twinge seeing the joy her daughter had found beyond their home. When Moon completed her Grand Trial she'd be heading to Akala Island, the next over from Melemele.

For most Trainers, their Pokemon Journeys would go far slower. They'd spend time exploring their region before heading back home, working on building their Bonds and teamwork with their Pokemon, improving their ability to sustain their partners before heading out and pushing further, finding new challenges to overcome. A back and forth that lasted until they were done.

But Moon would not do the same, Jewellery could see it just looking at her. There would be no steps backwards for Moon, no retreat from her constant forward march. She would push onwards constantly, meeting goal after goal. Her Pokemon Journey would last far shorter than most.

But she would be away for all of it and Jewellery found herself saddened by that all the same.

Such bitter-sweet feelings parenthood brings, watching the growth of one's child.

She'd just need to do her best to make what memories she could now!

The two spent the next day together as well. Although the rain had settled over the city, lightly misting its buildings as the day wore on, still Jewellery and Moon enjoyed its paths and its attractions. A chance encounter with Hau, in training with the Island's Captain Ilima, saw the group enjoying lunch together, the process of Ilima's invitation for Moon to join he and Hau for training interrupted by a shake of Jewellery's head. One more day, please.

The Captain wisely chose not to argue.

On the third day Jewellery taught her daughter everything she knew. She'd spent her years raising Pokemon to battle, bested Trainers who held numbers and power that surpassed her own, and stood on the stage of the League for a moment. Moon knew this, but had never before seen her mother truly battle. So the experience, of Jewellery directing her Meowth and proceeding to best Moon's team, stunned her. How had she never realised?

Jewellery critiqued fairly. Advised Moon on the weaknesses she presented, the ways she could improve her strategy and team. The words she gave, each of them felt like seeing an aspect of her mother Moon had never before known, and Jewellery enjoyed the expressions of surprise she had gained from her daughter. Oh if only Moon could see her commanding her old team, laying waste to her opponents, she would be shocked. Moon nodded, believing her. Jewellery smiled and embraced her daughter warmly.

Moon, you will be amazing. I love you so very much indeed.

Moon hugged her back.


 

The clouds broke overnight, the sun rising to a clear sky the following morning and, come midday when the light of Alola was at its zenith, Hau, grandson of the Kahuna, undertook his Grand Trial.

The stage in the centre of Iki Town remained, seeing use by the Trainers of the town. That was the way it always was – worn down over the year before being rebuilt for the next Festival of the Tapu. Hala, Kahuna of Melemele, yellow flower-print coat worn over his clothing as ever, stood before Hau.

Hau gave an honest expression, nervous but excited, the fingers of one hand tapping the Z-Ring around the wrist of his other. Moon stood close to the stage, Lillie beside her, each looking up to Hau. Ilima was nearby, while Kahili and Jewellery remained further out in the crowd. Kukui stood on the stage, acting as referee for the battle. Much of the town had gathered here, excited to witness this Grand Trial. To see how Hau, known to all of Iki, had grown.

Excited to watch over the children of Alola's growth.

“Hau!” Hala's voice carried, even in normal speech. The crowd hushed as the leader of the Town and Island both spoke up. “Today you will face your final Trial of Melemele Island, a Pokemon Battle against its Kahuna! A Grand Trial!”

Moon watched Hau. He shifted his stance a little, as if uncomfortable standing still. Lillie, looking over at Hala as he spoke, gasped and tugged at Moon's arm. Moon turned just in time to see the three Pokeballs fly up.

Three Pokemon resolved before Hala, three Moon knew. Machop and Mankey were Kanto natives, Moon had grown up knowing of them, while Makuhita she'd encountered on the path to Verdant Cavern. Fighting-types. Moon internalised that.

“You will be facing these three Pokemon!” Hala's announcement drew murmurs, voices in the crowd acknowledging the Kahuna was not at all going easy on his grandson. “Prepare yourself as best you can!”

Kukui raised his arms.

“This Grand Trial will have no limits in the number of Pokemon used! Upon defeat of all of a Trainer's Pokemon the battle will end! Kahuna Hala, are you ready?” Hala's assertion was loud. The crowd felt in it intent. The Kahuna was going to go all out. “Trainer Hau, are you ready?”

Hau's gulp went unseen by the majority. Those who knew him, those who understood the nerves he felt in facing his grandfather, a man of such intensity it could overwhelm, wished him luck under their breaths and in their hearts. Hau nodded.

“I'm ready!”

Kukui held his hands raised for one moment more.

Then dropped them.

“Then begin!”

Hau led with his Pichu, a Pokemon that immediately drew notice. It was not unusual, or even unexpected for a Trainer undertaking their first Grand Trial to have a second – or even a third – Pokemon, but what mattered here was the timing. Hau had been given his first Pokemon two and a half weeks ago. He had a second already? The fact that he'd beaten his Trial and made it here alone was impressive, but that, he truly was the Kahuna's grandson. What a skilled Trainer of Alola.

He made them proud.

Hau made a substitution quickly.

To Moon it was obvious what was occurring, Hau mirroring the strategy that had allowed him to best her Rowlet in their battle before. Pichu had dodged the attacks of the Machop Hala led with, inflicted an electrical blast, then been called back to allow Popplio to take over the fight. Switching Pokemon was not only a valid, but also essential tactic to best use one's full abilities, and Hau made full use of it here, the electrical aftershocks upon the Machop easily allowing his Popplio to run circles around it. Or water-jet circles, as it were.

When the Sea Lion Pokemon connected its fifth successive strike the Superpower Pokemon collapsed and did not rise again, called back by Hala as the crowd erupted into cheers. Hau was doing so well! As Hala directed his Mankey to step up, Hau swapped Pichu back in. The same strategy again, just like they'd practised.

Hala raised his arms, the red-orange crystal set into his Z-Ring glinting in the sun.

The gasp of the crowd never even made it to Moon's ears, the intensity of the Z-Aura that flared up around the Kahuna drowning out everything else. When Ilima had shown her his Z-Move it had been alluring. When she'd seen the Totem Pokemon it had been beautiful. But Hala's Z-Aura had such raw force, flicking and flaring like fire itself, that it almost stung to look upon. He felt far closer to the Tapu than to Ilima or the Totem.

Moon watched the motions. The thrusts of Hala's arms that built up more and more of the Z-Aura, swelled it up around him, before transferring it into the Pig Monkey Pokemon. It truly was incredible.

She was amazed.

Hau ordered a command. Hoped to inflict something, anything, before the Z-Move reached his Pichu. He'd seen it before. He knew there was no dodging such a thing. And if he used his Z-Move to counter it, the exhaustion would be... Ilima had made sure in their training not to let Hau try his Z-Move until he was ready to rest. The Captain had known Hau wouldn't last long after using it.

If the electricity hit, it could not be seen through the overwhelming wave of force that crashed down upon the Pichu, that left it unconscious in the aftermath of the attack. Hau called back the Pokemon, his smile nervous but remaining. The crowd cheered for him. Shouted encouragements, Moon and Lillie's voices amongst them, as Hau released his Popplio to continue the battle.

Not done yet.

Perhaps by the after-effects of Pichu's electricity, or the exhaustion from the Z-Move – as demanding upon the Pokemon as it was the Trainer – but the battle between the Popplio and Mankey was significantly one-sided. Hala gave directions but Hau matched them, the speed he'd taught Popplio to use – necessary to keep pace with Moon – giving him the edge he needed. Unable to stand the watery assault the Mankey collapsed soon after. Hala called it back with a smile.

The crowd erupted into cheers as the Kahuna ordered the third and final of his Pokemon forward. The final round.

Z-Moves took a demand. They extracted as much power from a Trainer as they could provide to a Pokemon and allowed it to use an attack that took nearly everything it had. Such things could be dangerous, to Trainers and Pokemon both, which was part of why the process of obtaining them was built into the Island Challenge. It was important to teach these Trainers the necessary respect and care to use those abilities. If they didn't understand them then... too much harm could be done.

Kahuna Hala stood tall. He was a man of experience, and one Z-Move was not going to leave him sleeping the rest of the day away. But that did not mean he didn't feel its effects, that there wasn't a slight tug upon him now, insisting that he slow. Being able to overcome that after-effect was a core tenant of one's experience. It allowed them to go on.

Hau had not a shred of that experience. His Z-Move, yet unused, would be the finale. Ilima had taught him that, stressed that a Z-Move was a trump card to be used with a great cost, terrible exhaustion for both Trainer and Pokemon. One cannot use such a thing foolishly, for it will leave yourself open to all manner of reprisal. Use your Z-Move when you know it will count. That was what the Captain had drilled into this young Trainer.

Hau kept his eyes open for that moment even as he gave his orders, direction after direction, to match his grandfather's commands.

Popplio and Makuhita met in combat. The jets of water allowed the Sea Lion Pokemon to slam into its Gutsy opponent, but the sheer bulk of the Fighting-type made it difficult to unsteady, and each time it was struck it counter-attacked with a palm or chop that felt far weightier than the blows Popplio inflicted.

Hau adapted his strategy. Employed distance, bubbles and sprays of water that avoided the close-range threat the Makuhita was. Its arm-thrusts could project, a little way at least, but at a far enough distance – maintained by the water jets Popplio used to move at great speed – Hau's Pokemon remained safe.

Yet tiredness after the battle so far was rampant, and it was all too clear that in direct conflict Popplio would wear out before the Makuhita. Hau watched closely. Moon clenched her fists, sharing the intensity of the battle. The crowd was almost silent.

Makuhita tried to chase after Popplio, the Sea Lion Pokemon coming particularly close after an attack, only to slip on a streak of water left behind.

“Now!”

Hau shone. Bright light, the white crystal in the white ring around his wrist allowing its release, flared around him, mirroring the midday sun. It flowed from Hau, forward into his Popplio, as Hala's grin showed teeth, joy at his grandson's growth all too clear on his face. He gave a directive, for Makuhita to prepare to take the blow, knowing the slower Pokemon would never dodge it. It all came down to the force Hau could maintain, the power his Popplio could bring. The timing that he'd worked so hard to meet.

Popplio surged forward. Struck the Makuhita. And for a brief moment the entire town held its breath.

Then Makuhita lifted, off of the ground, and the full force of the blow threw it across the stage. Crashed it down upon the wood, the Pokemon struggling to rise again. It made it to a knee. To its feet.

Then fell flat upon its face and moved no more. Kukui raised a hand.

“The winner is: Hau!”

And the crowd erupted into cheers that shook the treetops across Iki and beyond.

Hala's words to Hau, as he held his bleary grandson against his chest, were for Hau alone, but Moon saw the smile on the boy's face as he stepped back, shaky on his feet, the adrenaline of victory keeping him against the exhaustion of the energy he'd surrendered to claim it.

The afternoon beyond was a blur. Hala gave a speech to the town, proclaimed Hau's victory, before allowing his grandson to retire to rest. Moon greeted the Kahuna, was instructed to inform him when she was ready, and nodded. The afternoon flowed on and, when evening came, Kukui had Moon join him and Lillie in returning to Iki, greeting a once-more awake and ravenously hungry Hau. The three children sat together and the elders watching over them smiled at the way they spoke – at how Hau seemed to blush under their praise, only to be teased a moment later.

Hau and Moon were both trainers of incredible potential, but they were children too, and no-one failed to appreciate seeing them this way. It was good. This was right.

And each slept well that night indeed.


 

A long-extinct volcano framed the skyline of the south-eastern corner of Hau'oli City, an industrial sector built around it allowing mining efforts to continue in the mountain's husk. On the east-side of this volcano those efforts went unseen, a pristine and untouched slope leading down from the mountain's peak to the fields of greenery that grew on land rich with volcanic nutrients.

It was beyond those fields that the beach upon which the Alolan Pokemon Laboratory, if the ramshackle shack could be called that, was situated. Kahili breathed in the fresh air of the fields as she walked a path that curved around the mountain, wound its way through the fields. It was good to be outside the city like this. She appreciated it.

Today she intended on meeting with Professor Kukui, discussing the plan for how the two of them would approach Akala. They'd be moving on to that island soon enough, and taking their tour of promotion for the Pokemon League with them. It had been... strenuous, attempting to help those opposed understand that the League was being specifically designed to harm none of Alola's traditions. Kahili had found herself needing breaks after some discussions, she and Kukui taking turns negotiating with the more recalcitrant of those intending to inform the two just what a mess they were making with their plans.

She truly hoped Akala Island would be an easier journey. For them, at least. The two little trainers they were following would only find more challenges. As they should.

As was right.

A voice, and the calls of Pokemon responding to it, drew Kahili's eyes from the path she walked and she stopped, catching sight of a trainer in the distance. The vibrant red of her chicken-combed hat was more than enough to tell Kahili exactly who that was. Moon herself, training for her own Grand Trial. Hmm.

Kahili changed her course and approached the girl.

Captain Ilima, to his own despair, had been required to travel back to Verdant Cavern this day, missing once again his chance to monopolise Moon's attention. He'd been sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that now was his time to battle her, to test her and train her for the Grand Trial ahead. Instead he'd been called away for another's Trial. But he'd be back tomorrow for sure, he insisted. They'd have their chance then.

He was sure of it.

Moon's focus was strong, teaching the new members of her team how to work with her. Having seen Hala's preference in Pokemon the day before she'd adjusted her team for it, the Dark-types Meowth and Zorua unfortunately unwise to bring to the battle. Catches from Melemele Meadow, before Moon had fallen into the caves, proved ideal new team members, but working them into pace with the others of her team was proving difficult.

She was beginning to feel like she might need to go far further afield to properly bring her team into shape.

“You're working hard,” Kahili's voice turned Moon's head just in time to see another giant bird Pokemon sweep by, the Mandibuzz – as Rotom-dex was happy to report the name of – coursing along the flat stone wall of the extinct volcano before landing on a fallen boulder at its base. Kahili tilted her head to the Bone Vulture. “But I can't imagine such an easy-going location is suitable to you.”

Moon nodded, understanding that a Trainer of prestige like Kahili would be able to tell. Kahili pointed with the golf club she carried, turning Moon's attention back to the giant bird. “Perhaps I could help with that.”

It only took a slight clenching of the Pokemon's claws, its grip-strength incredible, to cause the boulder to explode into shards of rock, remnants thrown across the ground as the Pokemon took off once more into the sky. In the wreckage of its action, dust from the shattering clearing away, the shape of a hole resolved. A way into the mountain. Kahili stepped up beside the young girl.

This was the right decision, of that she was sure. “Let's move on... to Ten Carat Hill.”

A Pokemon of far smaller size, the red bird Oricorio danced before Kahili and Moon as they walked, maintaining a flickering orb of flame overhead. With its light the two made their way into the tunnels of Ten Carat Hill, the pathways within far wider and more open than those of the northern underground. Subterranean Pokemon could be seen racing by, jumping off ledges to descend deeper into open caverns the tunnel passed through. A few stopped to investigate the passage of the two humans, pushed back by Moon's Pokemon under Kahili's request.

But this was still just a formality to what lay ahead.

“Ten Carat Hill is an extinct volcano,” Kahili spoke as she walked, Moon listening as she observed the environment they were passing through, “as well as the source of Z-Crystals and Rings.” That got Moon's attention, Kahili turning just so to see the rapt stare locked onto her face. She chuckled. That was a good reaction indeed. “There are a few sites across Alola where Z-Crystals are found in the earth, and the Sparkling Stones that can be made into Z-Rings are mined, but this is the largest. It's likely Tapu Koko pulled the Stone your Ring is made of from here.” Moon placed a hand upon the Z-Ring. Ran her fingers over the slot waiting for a Z-Crystal to be placed within.

“The west-side of the mountain is for mining, while the east is kept preserved. This path leads up to the inner hollow, one of Melemele's most intense proving grounds. Many wild Pokemon come here to test themselves. You'll find yourself well-challenged indeed.”

As the uphill path they walked within the mountain evened out, the light of day emerged from a hole in the tunnel ahead. It would lead out into the inner hollow of Ten Carat Hill, a location Kahili had spent months testing herself against in her youth. It was her favourite location in Melemele, and bringing a new trainer to it felt surprisingly good. Passing on something she had done to another... felt good.

Surrounded by fields of greenery grown within the mountain's hollow, curious Pokemon eyeing off the intruders at a distance, Kahili faced Moon. Time for a lesson. She pointed with the golf-club she carried.

“I've noticed a preference for Flying-types in your team.” Moon had three that Kahili knew of: Rowlet, Pikipek, and Butterfree. “With your Grand Trial approaching, I imagine they'll be the backbone of your battle with Hala.” Moon nodded. That was her intent. “Then I'll lend you a hand. I'm a specialist in Flying-type Pokemon, so I'm more than happy to encourage others to work with them as well. That's why I brought you here, where you'll find some of the harshest challenges Melemele's Pokemon can afford. I imagine that suits you?”

Moon nodded quickly. This was what she'd needed. Kahili smiled as she swung her club into an open hand. “Then go to it. I will observe. Do your best.”

Moon didn't need one word more. She began to train.

Kahili watched as Moon gave it her all. And noted every last one of her presumptions correct. The girl had a sharp mind, excitedly speaking about Pokemon Tournaments she had watched in the past. Half her team were solidly honed – the flying trio having been with her the longest – while the Bagon, as well as the two new members from Melemele Meadow, proved slightly more stubborn. Still, Moon worked hard with them, and began to bring them into line.

One of the most important skills for a Pokemon Trainer was being able to reach the hearts of Pokemon. Kahili watched as Moon did so with ease. She really had everything, didn't she? Sometimes it almost stung to consider. But Kahili was more than mature enough to suppress that initial thought. Moon had a long path ahead of her. Kahili would not begrudge the girl that. No, instead...

Moon turned to watch as Kahili gave an order, as the light inside of Ten Carat Hill faded with the afternoon sun passing overhead. Kahili's Mandibuzz had been released once more, flying up to a fissure in the rock-face above. Kahili turned back to Moon.

“When I trained here,” she raised a hand, a sky-blue crystal held between her fingers, Moon's eyes locked upon it, “I found a Z-Crystal all of my own. Sometimes, though, I think that maybe it found me instead. After all, I am a specialist of the Flying-type.” A shadow cast overhead was her Pokemon descending, quarry clutched in its claws. Kahili widened her stance.

“Look closely, Moon, and remember. This is the pose necessary to use the Flyinium-Z and its Z-Move. This is my Z-Pose!”


 

Kahuna Hala was notified the next morning that Moon was ready for her Grand Trial. Slightly sooner than he'd expected, but he accepted all the same, and set a time for that evening. The Kahuna had commitments to see to throughout the day, after all.

Ilima's return from Verdant Cavern was to discover, to his great dismay, that Moon was preparing herself for her Grand Trial. Kahili apologised to him for claiming the girl's training, though quite frustratingly refused to even hint at how it had gone. Hau, hearing of the challenge, spent the day bouncing around with his Pokemon, excited to see how Moon would do. Lillie, with Professor Kukui, worked on preparing the boat he kept for travel. They'd be taking off soon, after all.

Jewellery and her daughter ate a light dinner before heading off to Iki Town, the elder so incredibly proud of the younger. So proud indeed.

Moon wore a shirt and dress of flower patterns, orange and white standing out against her dark skin. Her hair remained tied back, a ponytail mirroring the one her mother had once worn on her own journey, and as ever her chicken-combed hat remained squarely upon her head. Moon's love for that hat was unquestionable. She'd never relinquish it without a choice. Jewellery smiled at it as they walked on.

It was time.

There was energy in Iki Town as the moon rose overhead, as the sun’s reflected light settled across the town. It was bright, the moon almost full, and none of the bustle of the day had faded. There was to be another Grand Trial, with the other trainer who had begun at the same time Hau had. Those who'd overseen that battle at the Festival remembered the implication of Moon's second Pokemon. Those with their ears to the ground in terms of rumours, or who had chanced to see her over the past two weeks, suspected more. But those voices didn't stand out amongst the crowd. None knew. Not truly. Not yet.

Moon took the stage. Once more Jewellery, Kahili, and Ilima stood amongst the crowd. This time it was Hau beside Lillie just beyond the wooden platform, cheering for Moon as she stood opposite the Kahuna, Kukui overseeing again.

“Moon!” Once more Hala's voice brought silence, addressing the Trainer before him. “This is your Grand Trial, the means by which your Island Challenge will continue on! By overcoming me, Kahuna Hala, you will advance onwards on your journey! This will be no easy challenge, but face it with head held high as a Trainer of Alola!”

The energetic speech brought raised voices from the crowd just in time to be silenced by the Pokemon Hala released. Huh? Was he for real?

The smaller one Moon had encountered before, lurking in berry piles throughout the roads she'd walked. A Crabrawler. That was fine, she'd beaten wild ones, she was ready to face one stronger.

But the other Pokemon, that one shook her. Even Kukui looked at Hala with a gaze that read clearly 'are you serious?'. Hala smiled. No holding back.

“Hariyama!” Rotom-dex announced the Pokemon's name in the silence that followed, “Arm Thrust Pokemon, evolved form of Makuhita!” Lillie, below the stage, looked at Hau to see the surprise clear on his face. Oh. This was. Oh.

Hala folded his arms. When testing Trainers through a Grand Trial, a Kahuna was tasked not to beat them but to ensure those Trainers were able to surpass their own selves. Hau, his grandson, had struggled with numbers. Faced difficulty rationing his Pokemon's actions to handle a wave of opponents. So Hala had given him three to battle and tasked his grandson to determine how best to overcome them. And he did.

Moon would never be challenged by numbers. No, her struggle was one of power. While Hau raised two Pokemon alone with everything he had, Moon had been swapping between Pokemon, never focusing for too long upon one. Her challenge would be singular pillars of power. So Hala placed those before her.

Now, young Moon, overcome.

Kukui raised his arms.

“Th-this Grand Trial will be an all-out battle between Moon and Kahuna Hala, with no restrictions upon Pokemon used. Upon defeat of all of a Trainer's Pokemon, the battle will end! Kahuna Hala, are you ready?”

Hala stomped a foot down, strengthening his stance. “I am ready!”

“Trainer Moon, are you ready?”

Moon raised a Pokeball. She was ready.

A moment ticked by. Then another. Kukui's eyes lingered on the Hariyama. Hala met his gaze. He looked away. In that case... “Begin!”

Opposing the Crawbrawler, first of Hala's two Pokemon, Moon unleashed one of her own. It had been the first she had ever caught, second-longest of her partners next to the Rowlet she had been gifted, and had grown well. Kahili's assertion had been correct. It had grown well indeed.

The voices of the crowd surged at the Trumbeak, evolved form of Pikipek, now flapping in the air. The first question was whether Moon had caught the Pokemon as is, but the season was still that of hatching, and Trumbeak would be far too hard to find around Melemele at this time. To have such a Pokemon, it would have to be evolved, correct?

How had she gained that? Had it been the second she'd been preparing, those almost three weeks ago? If it had been a Pikipek then, freshly caught as she'd been given her first Pokemon the day before, then...

Then...

...what did it mean?

The Grand Trial began.

Trumbeak's speed was similar to Pikipek's – its increased weight balanced out by the power it had gained through evolution. Moon ordered an attack, had the Pokemon curve around the Crabrawler, but directed it back each time as the Boxing Pokemon turned to face it. She was measuring its speed, gauging its reaction, and cautious about the power it would express. Wise strategy. Whereas Hau had understood Hala's Pokemon enough to choose his attacks instinctively, Moon was required to observe.

And using a close-combat fighter like Trumbeak, despite its type advantage, still posed risk. Fighting Pokemon were dangerous up close. Everyone knew that.

An order. A gust of wind blown up to push its opponent back, before Trumbeak arched overhead, turned in a tight loop to slam into the Crabrawler's back. A strong strategy. Hala smiled as he gave his own direction. Moon had come at him with everything she had.

A rushed “oooh” raced through the crowd at the impact, the heavy claw of the Crabrawler pinning the Trumbeak to the ground. The pincer glowed in the aftermath of the attack, the energy it had struck with significant indeed. Moon stared, stunned, as her Pokemon tried and failed to take back to the sky. It looked weary.

“As a Fighting-type specialist,” Hala's voice carried to her ears, “I have to be prepared for others to attempt to take advantage of my weaknesses. Flying-types are common, young Moon, so my Pokemon were all taught how to smack them down. Do not assume you have the advantage you think you do. Such thoughts are dangerous things indeed.”

Moon gave a new direction. Ordered the Trumbeak to maintain distance, to blow back winds. But rooted to the ground by the powerful attack it had been struck by, weakened by the hit, the Bugle Beak Pokemon failed to keep its distance. Crabrawler powered through and one more strike from a glowing claw brought the Pokemon down again.

It did not rise a second time.

The surge of voices in the crowd was intense, amazed that the Kahuna had already bested one of the challenger's Pokemon. She wasn't ready, some noted, while others wondered if maybe the Kahuna was going harder than he should. Moon called the Pokemon back.

Released another.

Fresh from Melemele Meadow, still slightly surprised it had been caught amongst the heavy storm of pollen at the time, the green Bulb Pokemon Petilil manifested from the light. Hau shook Lillie's shoulder, exclamations at the new Pokemon, while she stared at it, knowing its line, its evolution specifically, well. It took some more shaking for her to break from that fugue. Right. The battle.

A slow-mover, used to counter-attacking others, Hala's Crabrawler found difficulty in approaching the Grass-type Pokemon, its spores and draining attacks sapping at it. Confident in her opponent's slow movement, Moon directed the Petilil to fall back, maintaining its assault. Opening an avenue of attack.

Pokemon that approached a Crabrawler were targets, but equally so were those who fell back. A quick pursuit, faster than expected, brought it within the Petilil's range. All too quickly the battle was decided – a pincer seizing around the leaves growing from the Pokemon's head and allowing the Crabrawler to savage it, slamming it from side to side against the wooden stage until Moon was forced to call her Pokemon back. Two down. The crowd's intense discussion on how brutal Hala was being continued on.

Moon raised a third Pokeball. Was this to be her starter? Could it best the Crabrawler and then overcome the Hariyama? Unlikely, too unlikely. This battle was already over.

That line of thought ended the moment Moon clicked open the Pokeball and its contents emerged. Butterfree ready to fight.

A Butterfree? Of course it was a Bug Pokemon, those were one of the easiest types to raise and they evolved naturally quick, but even still! How had she raised a Caterpie to evolve in that time? Wait let's not forget the Trumbeak, another evolved Pokemon. This was her third too. Where was her starter? Not with her? How did she have three Pokemon like this in such a short amount of time? How was she okay? Shouldn't she be exhausted? Should she even be standing?

What...

...what was this?

Butterfree combined the best of both Pokemon prior – the flying advantage of Trumbeak, and the ranged abilities of Petilil. Maintaining height over the Crabrawler it showered spores upon it, gusts of wind pushing back the Pokemon's attacks. Hala grinned into the challenge, noting Moon's adapting strategy pushing him down. Good. She was doing well. But not yet enough.

Not nearly enough.

It wasn't just Moon who could change her strategies, Hala adapted as well. Crabrawler raised its claws, blew out bubbles, and began to disperse the spores raining down from above. In the opening provided, the Butterfree unable to harass it, it tightened up, amplifying the strength flowing through its body. Seeing this, Moon grew hasty, aware that a Pokemon allowed the freedom to bulk itself up in such a manner would be intensely dangerous. Gave an order for Butterfree to close the distance and hit with a much more direct attack. After all, the Crabrawler had been hit by many blows so far. It couldn't take much more.

Of that she was sure.

But for the combination of the best attacks and strategies of her previous two team-members her Butterfree had a severe weakness, one far more exposed to the rock-based attack of Crabrawler than even her Trumbeak had possessed. Butterfree flew in, beat its wings to unleash a gust of wind upon the Boxing Pokemon, but failed to push back its tense form the way it had expected.

Failed to create the distance it required to remain out of range.

A heavy claw swung around and struck true. Once more a Flying-type Pokemon denied the air. But unlike the Trumbeak, Butterfree did not rise after even the first. Three down.

The wildness of the crowd, their questioning of the fairness of this battle beginning to fade out in favour of how intense it was, exploded when Moon brought forth her fourth. The Crabrawler had to be tired, it had to be, but Moon was not about to give it any more leeway to take another. Three for the first of Hala's Pokemon, three for the second. If she lost that pace... she wasn't going to. Moon gave her order.

Commanded the Bagon to attack.

A dragon? The discussion of Hala's tactics was completely gone now. Three Pokemon, even with the evolved members, had some member of rational acceptance. They supposed it was possible. Some edge-case Trainer with a supreme gift. Sure.

But a dragon? No no no. Dragon Pokemon were legends. Raising one alone made you a name. And they took so much, were so demanding. How did she have a dragon? What...

...what was she?

Hala raised his arms and light flared around him.

“Well Moon!” His voice came from within the surge of power, almost blinding but for the fact she stared into it grimly. “What will you do in this scenario? Show me!”

He was performing a Z-Move. Bagon was strong, and sturdy, but Moon knew without question a Z-Move would best it. The Crabrawler would be an easy-target after this, but in this moment it was about to take out a fourth of her Pokemon. She couldn't allow that. She couldn't accept it.

There really was only one thing to do.

Moon raised her arms.

The crowd's voices were at a fever-pitch, a battle of unbelievable intensity taking place. Z-Move versus Z-Move, a fighting-infused attack from Hala and Crabrawler against the normal-infused blow from Moon and Bagon. In the crowd Ilima clenched his fists so tight he left marks in the skin of his palms, eyes locked onto the battle. This was everything.

It was unbelievable.

Hala struck a fist forward. Moon gave her command. The two Pokemon raced to one another, as much power behind each as could be managed. Two blows at full-force meeting. Only one possible result.

Finally, when the light faded, the Crabrawler of Kahuna Hala was bested, crumpled in a pile from the beating it had taken. But the advantage of those two attacks, it had still pushed against its opponent, and Lillie stared up at the field with horror seeing Moon's Bagon unmoving as well. Moon's face unreadable as she called the dragon back.

Four down.

Hala gave a command, sending Hariyama forward, as Moon unleashed her fifth. At this point the crowd were beyond incredulity, simply accepting that the Cutiefly Moon unleashed was here. Kahili, standing near Jewellery who was swept up in the battle, stunned by its heights, frowned. Moon had been forced to use her Z-Move. Of course that was understandable, it was a good choice to make in that situation. But she'd sacrificed the advantage Kahili had taught her. A shame.

The difference in size between the Hariyama, bigger than Hala himself, and the Cutiefly, small enough to fit in one's hand, immediately favoured Moon. The tiny bug zoomed around the stage, evading the arm thrusts of Hala's signature Pokemon, leaving puffs of powder constantly in its wake. But there the size lent favour back to the Fighting-type, who ignored such tiny dosages with ease. The battle was one of waiting for that single perfect strike, the Hariyama's movements forcing Cutiefly's route as the Bee Fly Pokemon continued to do its best to leave any mark it could.

Maybe it did. Maybe it added up. But when that one single attack hit, a powerful downwards chop, that was the end for it. The typing helped it resist, for a moment, but once stunned the tiny Pokemon, far weaker than the giant, could not resist the following blows. Moon called it back from the assault.

Five.

The voices of the crowd built. Five Pokemon. Five Pokemon she had sent out and five Pokemon the Kahuna had bested. This wasn't an ordinary Grand Trial. How could it be? But was she really... did she have a sixth? She was raising a hand, there was a Pokeball in it, she did! It had to be her starter, right? Yes! Her strongest Pokemon! Her best against the Kahuna's! She had a Rowlet, that was known, it was a Flying-type. Did she still have a chance?

Did she still have a chance?

Moon clicked the Pokeball. A jet of red-light emerged into the sky, resolved into shape. Oh she had a Rowlet.

Past. Tense.

Blade Quill Pokemon Dartrix, evolution of Grass Quill Pokemon Rowlet. Starter Pokemon were powerful, demanding, and given only to Trainers believed able to handle them. Those Trainers would often go months, perhaps even a year, with that Pokemon alone, that singular Pokemon strong enough with their partnership to overcome many challenges. Evolved they were even stronger. That year, with full attention and constant hard work, could end with evolution. The best of the best walked that path.

Moon, gifted Rowlet twenty nights ago, had done the same. The yells, the shock, it washed as a wave of sound across the town and into the night. What. Was. This.

Hau stared. Lillie stared. Kukui and Jewellery and Ilima stared. Hala stared but the smile on his face said he was as happy as could be.

Kahili, who had witnessed the evolution of Moon's Pokemon herself, shook her head. Even still, without a Z-Move, would it be enough?

She would see.

Moon ordered attack. Hau had trained Popplio to match Rowlet's speed, but that would never compare to that of its evolved form. The Hariyama stepped forward in shock, a claw sinking into its back, before swinging a hand around, slapping aside thin air. Dartrix danced a pattern of strikes upon the back of its head, disappearing once more as the crowd's voices surged into something incredible. Was she actually going to do it?

Hala grinned. Gave command and watched the thrust of his Hariyama's arm glow red. This was good. He was being pushed back. Good good good! Keep it up! The intensity, the drive, Hala's control slipped a little, the after-effects of his Z-Move felt. But that did not cause weakness, did not expose a point to attack. Instead it made him forget, just briefly, that this was a test, not a battle to crush. More power, more intent, flowed from him into his Hariyama than expected.

It sped up.

When the palm thrust hit Dartrix the bird gave a cry that said the attack had strength. It was a Flying-type, it could resist, but its power still did not compare to that of the Kahuna's. The bird flew back, landed before Moon, and gave her a moment to consider. Hala stared her down. The Hariyama was still so strong. The voices of the crowd faded out as Moon's focus locked forward.

As she withdrew the sky-blue crystal from her bag.

“Huh?”

Kahili's eyes widened as Moon's hand swept over her Z-Ring, exchanged one crystal for the other. No...

Moon took a stance. The noise of the crowd faded to whispers. What was she doing? Was she... no. No, right?

Moon raised a hand. Kukui called out to her. She didn't hear him. Hala opened his mouth.

Z-Aura flared around her.

Refugee from darkness, a world without light, a small and purple Pokemon watched from the tree-line. There was light, light so beautiful, so safe, it called to it. Light that was a new home. Light that would welcome it and keep it from harm.

Good. This was good.

It raged like a bonfire, the Z-Aura Moon commanded, swirled by the pose she took as she raised her arm to the sky. From her it flowed, down through a Trainer's Bond of immeasurable strength. Dartrix glowed now, shone with such brightness its form disappeared, before ascending into the sky, a pillar of light, seen from even as far as Hau'oli itself.

Then it dived.

Hala gave no order. The sight had struck him dumb, the entire town in silence. The burning light, the flying Z-Move Supersonic Skystrike, fell fully upon his Hariyama. Hala felt it, his Pokemon being beaten, and watched as the light faded to reveal the Dartrix, Pokemon of Moon, perched atop the unconscious form of his own.

Grand Trial complete.

“Th-the winner is: Moon!”

It was impossible to hear Hala's words to Moon, as the Kahuna passed a red-orange crystal over to the victor. Kukui's posturing to the pair said something of his shock, but the sheer volume of the crowd, the battle having driven them to a state of pure adrenaline, drowned it all out. That had been... everything! And then a new voice louder than even their own cracked overhead, the loud cry of Tapu Koko showing its appreciation for the show.

It bought silence once more, a silence taken advantage of by the Kahuna. Ilima and Kahili, figures of notability and respect, made space for Moon to be escorted, led through the crowd to her mother, Hala's commanding voice directing the crowd to show decorum. Lillie glanced at Hau, who was staring at Moon, but he showed nothing but amazement. Amazement she felt too.

That had been... so much.

It took time for Iki Town to calm after that, even with the victorious Trainer absent. Hala handled their attention, attempted to de-escalate those losing their minds at the display shown by the young girl that night. But it was obvious now her legend would spread. Even Hala hadn't expected what he'd seen.

Akala Island wouldn't be an easy time for the girl, but not for the reasons expected. They'd all need to talk about this.

Alola's eyes would be upon her indeed.


 

Z-Moves were an Alolan speciality. Because of this, battles in Alola drew notice. Trials were private things, held in sacred locations across Alola, but Grand Trials could be different, depended on the Kahuna. And Kahuna loved to display their Z-Moves in battle.

There was decorum in the Festival of the Tapu. That fight was for the Tapu, and should be offered to them alone. But the Grand Trials were not the same. The consequence of that skipped those participant by.

Over the years those battles had become common sights online. Far more intense conflicts, waged by Alolan Trainers gone to other Leagues, drew real attention. But still, a Grand Trial video was nice to see, a new Trainer doing their best. The recording of Hau's would have attracted a few dozen views on its own, were it not for the one to follow. For Moon's.

The video spread like wildfire.

The immediate reaction was shock. Then denial. This had to be faked, there was no way some kid... there was no way! But the need to prove it wrong only drew more attention, the video shared and reshared, hosted and rehosted so fast that there proved no way to stop its course. Across the globe this battle flowed and through it all eyes turned.

Turned to Alola. And to the victor announced.

“The winner is: Moon!”


 

>>>Welcome to the Pokemon Mail Storage System. Please enter your Login Details.
>kukui@pokelab.alo
>**************
>>>Welcome, Professor Kukui.
>>>You have (4) unread mail items.
>>>
>>>-------------------------------------------
from: samuel.oak@kanto-labs.kan
to: kukui@pokelab.alo
cc: samson.oak@kanto-labs.kan
subject: Meeting Arrangement!

Greetings there, Professor Kukui!

My cousin, Samson, has been in the Alola Region for the past few months, performing research on Alolan Variants. I'd love to organise a meeting between the two of you to discuss recent events, please let me know how we can make this work!

Kind Regards,
Professor Samuel Oak,
Kanto Research Labs

>>>
>>>-------------------------------------------
from: sycamore@pokemon-laboratory.kal
to: kukui@pokelab.alo
cc: number1dex@kalomail.kal, sinalong@kalomail.kal
subject: Your Newest Find

Bonjour, Professor Kukui,

You may remember me from the Pokemon Professors Meeting in Sinnoh three years back – we discussed the possible interplay and relationships between Mega Evolution and Z-Moves?

Two of my assistants, Dexio and Sina, are en route to Alola with a set of Mega Stones; it would be most wonderful to have them meet up with you and yours. I am most excited to hear back from you!

My Thanks,
Professor Sycamore
Kalos Pokemon Laboratory

>>>
>>>-------------------------------------------
from: alolaculturecouncil@maliesys.alo
to: kukui@pokelab.alo
subject: Meeting Invitation

Professor Kukui,

Please find attached details approving your presentation at the next Alola Culture Council, to be hosted in Malie City in a month's time.

Your attendance to discuss the planned Pokemon League is expected.

Please confirm at your earliest convenience,
Alola Culture Council
Malie City
Ula'ula Island, Alola

>>>
>>>-------------------------------------------
from: juniper@unovalabs.uno
to: kukui@pokelab.alo
cc: fennel@unovalabs.uno, burnet@pokelab.alo
subject: Oh my Gosh??

Kukui,

Whaaaaaat? Oh my goodness how have you been holding out on us for this long? Who is she? Have you done any measurements? We need a report! Oh my gosh!

Now listen, Kukui, you know I am above such things as threats, I am a respectable Professor after all. But there is an annual shipment of Unovan Treats we take care of that I know dearest Burnet lives for and putting together a report on this super-Trainer you found might just delay it.

Putting our heads together will make everything run on-time though. Without a problem.

Kukui. Her Mental Pattern. This could be IT, Kukui! This could be the key that solves the entire puzzle! We NEED it. Get me that pattern asap or by Arceus's divine hooves I will visit such vengeance upon you as to have never been known before.

Oh my gosh!!!

Much love to you and Burnet,
Juniper, Professor of Unova
Nuvema Town, Unova

>>>
>>>-------------------------------------------
>>>All messages read.
>>>Please enter a command:
>sigh
>>>Unrecognised command.

Chapter Text

Entry into the Alolan Pokemon League was predicated upon completion of one's Island Challenge, the besting of the four Kahuna atop Mount Lanakila itself. To this end not one aspect of the Island Challenge would change. Trainers would embark upon their Pokemon Journeys, and those who completed them would secure their entry. It was the same as everywhere else. It was the same as it had always been here.

The Elite Four, the Kahuna of Alola, would be gateway to the League. Those who overcame their trials would be eligible for entry. And, at the end of each cycle, a Pokemon League Tournament would be held. That was how it would be.

Though the Pokemon League's tournament structure differed from region to region, cycle to cycle, one thing remained true: all eyes were drawn to it. From that arose conflicts, different Leagues in different regions struggling to avoid their tournament being distracted from by another. As more and more regions embraced the League model the challenge of scheduling magnified, until the point came where a cross-regional council was required.

The Pokemon League World Association is formed of representatives from every League-holding region, their sole intent to avoid clashes in scheduling that would draw attention from one League to another. For now that is the only role this association plays, but it is believed they will serve as the eventual foundation of the World League itself. That time, however, has not yet come.

For now their only responsibility was in ensuring no region's League imposes upon another's, and that was what Professor Kukui had approached them to do.

Before that time he had met with the Kahuna. Through them proposed the idea to the Tapu, who would tear down anything they did not approve of. With approval construction began upon the League, to be held at the peak of Mount Lanakila, and Kukui had gone to the World Association to plot out a time.

This was the conclusion they had reached.

The next best time given was within a year. That was unacceptable. If construction focused entirely upon a stage perhaps they could make that, maybe even stands, but the full League itself would never be finished.

The next time given was in three.

In three years Kukui knew the momentum behind the new League would not hold. The cultural swing towards it needed to strike while the iron was hot. It was impossible to hold a full League in one. And too late to hold one in three. A creative solution needed.

One he came to.

At the end of this year a Tournament would be held.

It was to be an Exhibition Tournament, a competition with reduced numbers composed of Trainers by invite. The Captains and Kahuna of Alola, of course. Legendary Trainers who had overcome their Island Challenges and gone on to do great things. A few Trainers from other regions, their entry secured by writ of passage from their Leagues. And those Trainers who had bested their Island Challenges in that time. That was the design he had settled on.

This tournament would capture the hearts of the people and ready them for the full Pokemon League Tournament in three year's time. For the crowning of Alola's Champion.

Knowing that, when giving Moon and Hau their Pokemon, Kukui had been sure they would lead the Tournament to come. He sensed in each great potential, was sure that even with such a demanding timeframe the two had a strong chance to complete their Island Challenges within it. The Exhibition Tournament at year's end would inspire them too. And, at the head of the youth of Alola, they'd lead the way into the Pokemon League and ensure it within the region's culture forever.

Now he knew different.

Where once he saw potential, now he saw impossible ability. Moon of course but Hau, he didn't realise it, but his own pace was beyond exceptional too. The two of them, they might very well make it by the end of the year.

Might stand on the stage with everyone else.

Less than a year remained.


 

“Hey Moon!”

Crisp dawn air, the light of the sun barely cresting over the horizon and none of its warmth reaching those gathered upon the Hau'oli Marina, cracked under the voice calling out. Reactions were quick – from Professor Kukui immediately and panickingly shushing Hau – to Kahili's eyes scanning the area for anyone to have reacted to the call – the morning thankfully as quiet as planned – to Lillie staring at the figure approaching.

Wait, really?

It was hard to tell anything about the one who approached.

In opposition to the usual bright colours Moon wore this outfit was muted. The long pants were a dark mono-colour, if not black close enough to look so from a distance. The shirt had a double layer, white trim under sea-blue fabric, mostly hidden by a darker blue jacket worn over it. It had taken just over three weeks for Moon to adapt to wearing light clothing that matched the Alolan weather, and now being up before the heat of the day forced her to dress far warmer.

The larger bag she carried, necessary supplies for her Akala journey stored within, would have to contain lighter wear for when the heat was out.

It was the hat that stood out most, wide-brimmed to match Lillie's own and covering Moon's face, a single orange flower accessory attached to it. When Moon did step aboard the boat the others had gathered upon, preparing to sneak off in the dawn before any attention could be drawn, Lillie gasped at what she saw.

“Oh Moon your hair!”

Moon's hair had changed. No longer tied in the ponytail her mother had once worn as well, now it was split into braids hanging behind her shoulders. Far more notably though, stunning to Lillie at the sight, was its new colour – as much an inversion from its previous black as Moon's outfit from her preferred vibrant colours. Moon raised her head just so to meet Lillie's eyes, a hand brushing strands of the caramel blonde away from her forehead. Lillie looked away, realising her staring had been rude.

Moon looked down, hat covering her face once more, as she moved on past.

“Okay we're casting off!” Kukui's call was for the group to be ready, the boat he owned now prepared to take the five aboard across the sea to Akala's shore. They'd be docking at Heahea City, meeting the Kahuna there, and continuing on their journeys. Kukui looked at Moon, who had gone to stand near to the stern. He sighed.

That just wasn't right.

The boat's engine hummed to life.

Three days. Three days of the world figuratively exploding around them. Kukui hadn't slept the night of the Grand Trial. He'd been musing on the day, caring for the Pokemon at his lab, and thinking perhaps about turning in when the call from his wife came in. Told him to check the news without delay.

And there it was, clear as day, Moon's name out there with all eyes upon it. Moon of the Alola Region, an eleven-year old girl with six Pokemon – some evolved, one a dragon, who could use two Z-Moves in a battle without showing a single sign of strain. Then the calls started. The emails. The knock on his door at one am in the morning.

It was bedlam.

Kahili lent a hand immediately, forewent her own sleep to fly Moon out of the area, to get her to the other side of Hau'oli where people were far less likely to look. Ilima took Moon in without question, his mansion house easily accommodating her, and proceeded to lie with a straight face to every reporter who'd asked if he'd seen her. Moon? No, not since the night of her Grand Trial. You're being a little bit aggressive though, aren’t you? She's only eleven. Have some decorum, please.

It didn't help.

Eleven years old and the entire world wanted to see her. Wanted her to stand on a pedestal so they could ooh and aah at the mysterious Trainer who seemed to possess no limits. Kukui attempted de-escalation. Ilima attempted de-escalation. Kahili and Jewellery gave not a single kind word to those plying them for knowledge and Hala, oh, the Kahuna rampaged his way into the central news network of Alola to decry the treatment of this girl. Show some sensitivity!

But it wouldn't last. Moon was too much, too exciting, for any amount of pleading for sanity to work. There really was only one way she'd be able to face Akala. To continue on her Trials. The Moon the world knew would have to disappear.

Kukui turned and looked back at the girl again, as the waves of Alola's sea lapped at the boat coursing over them. Jewellery had agreed immediately: Moon needed to continue her journey. Because if she didn't, if she were forced to hide in one place because of who she was, it would do damage that couldn't be measured. And Jewellery would never allow that to pass, tear down anyone who tried to hurt her daughter, no matter what. Words couldn't describe how relieved Kukui was to be on the same side.

Still, there was a cost. To travel in any location filled with people Moon must be unrecognisable. Even Kukui hadn't realised it was her until she boarded, amazed by Hau's perception. He leaned forward, hearing that discussion playing out now. Lillie had approached the young man. Their voices carried back by the wind.

“How did you know that was Moon, Hau? I couldn't recognise her at all.”

“Really? I could tell right away!”

“How?”

“Dunno, I just could.”

Well that sounded about right for someone with instincts as sharp as Hau's. Kukui shook his head. Kahili, seated within the cabin, caught the motion.

“When you invited me to help prepare Alola for the League, I didn't expect this.”

“Who did?” Kukui's exclamation came with slightly more exasperation than he'd intended. He'd been fielding a lot of people over the last few days. “Moon though, I hope she's alright.” Kahili watched as Hau walked past the windows of the cabin, heading from bow to stern. Considered.

“I think things will work out.”

“Hey Moon!” Moon started from her thoughts, leaning against the back of the boat and watching Melemele Island in the distance behind them, looking to Hau as he addressed her. “Come check out the front!”

No real resistance to having her arm tugged at, Moon allowed Hau to lead her up to the bow, the distant Akala Island growing closer with each passing second. Wind rushed past her face, blowing her hair back and threatening to dislodge her hat, if she didn't raise a hand to keep it in place. Looking to Lillie as she passed her by, Moon noticed she was looking back.

Tentatively, Lillie smiled at her.

“Come on, leave your hat with Lillie and come to the front!” Hau's badgering pushed Moon to remove the covering, Lillie accepting it and motioning for Moon to go forward. For as much as Hau enjoyed the wind racing over him, she preferred being just a little bit back from the water thank you very much.

At the front of the boat the wind was at its fullest, cold air blasting over Moon's face, her eyes widening as it washed over her. Hau grinned, taking another step forward to the very peak of the boat. Moon mirrored him.

“It's the best!” His voice, whipped by the wind, reached Moon and she looked to him, his wide smile at the air and the water and the light of the sun falling around him as untroubled as ever. It was a relaxing sight. “I can't wait til we get to Akala, to see all the new Pokemon and all the new places! That's a super-important part of the Island Challenge, y'know! Seeing all of Alola yourself!”

Moon considered that. She'd seen so much on Melemele already. Quiet winding paths through forest. Bustling city filled with people and Pokemon. Lush rolling grasslands, mossy caverns, mountaintops and tunnels leading down to the most beautiful water she'd ever seen. Totems and Tapu. The people and Pokemon she'd met.

It had been good. It had all been good.

“You excited?” Hau drew her eyes back to him, grinning at her, “Ready to do your next Trials?”

She was. She nodded back. Smiled and looked forward.

She was ready to go on.


 

It was mid-morning by the time the boat of Professor Kukui made landfall at the docks of Heahea City, capital of Akala Island. With his usual excitement Hau jumped from the boat, declaration of “land ahoy!” hilariously mistimed. Kukui chuckled at it as he and Kahili followed after.

“Oh Nebby!” Lillie failed to stop the Cosmog's escape from her bag, noises of complaint about being cooped up when so much fresh air had been flowing by being made. She stepped off of the boat, attempting to coax the Pokemon floating above her head to settle down.

Moon, oversized hat secured upon her head once more, followed last.

Land ahoy indeed.

“Yet to find a shirt that suits you, huh Kukui?”

The voice greeting the group prompted Lillie's panic, a much sharper whisper for Nebby to calm down and get back in her bag given off. Kukui rested a hand upon her shoulder. “Don't worry Lillie, she's in the know.” Lillie looked up at Kukui with a glance of concern.

The woman approached with a smile.

She wore pink, the colour of Akala, darker in her short-cut pants and lighter in the halter-top over brown skin similar to Moon's own. Decorations adorned her neck, ankles and one wrist, the other clasped by a Z-Ring. Her dark hair and eyes bore similarity to Moon's own as well – before the disguise Moon had employed at least. Lillie stared at her in silence.

“Good to see you,” she descended the stairs to the dock one step at a time, careful paces as her eyes swept over the group assembled. “I am Olivia, Kahuna of Akala Island. I'd like to welcome you to its shores.”

“And I'm Mallow!” The second voice came from a younger girl, racing down the stairs far faster to dash past Olivia and up to the group. A pink flower set amongst long green hair, she brushed a hand through it, a smile wide on her face. As with most residents of Alola she had arms and legs uncovered in these hotter months, a faint teal pair of shorts and overalls worn over a pink shirt. “One of Akala Island's Captains!”

“So hey!” Bounding forward into the group, Mallow's eyes settled on the quiet Trainer at the back. Up close she could tell. “You're Moon, right?”

“Easy there Mallow.” Kahuna Olivia's voice contained the slightest hint of command, enough for the Captain to leap back with an apology. Olivia shook her head. “We're very pleased to meet you both.” She looked from Hau to Moon, the latter finally looking up to meet her eyes. She'd heard enough from Hala about the last few days. He'd been downright kind in the degree he'd held back upon those interested in Moon.

She would have been far more... enthusiastic... in letting those intruding know just how unwanted they were.

“Yeah!” Mallow nodded excitedly, “I can't wait for you to do my Trial! Both of you! It's going to be awesome!” The energy of the older teen girl enthused Hau, who immediately started attempting to question her about it, though Mallow quickly became quite dodgy about the specifics. No spoilers!

Lillie, a little overwhelmed by the energy of Mallow and the... presence... of Olivia, held Nebby close to her. Olivia studied the Nebula Pokemon. Interesting. Then turned her eyes to Moon, who'd kept quiet so far. The girl was always quiet, she'd been told, but there was a difference between quiet and withdrawn. She was fearful of standing out.

It really set Olivia's nerves aflame.

“Okay!” Clapping her hands shifted some energy, helped her refocus on what mattered. “The two of you little Trial-goers, Moon and Hau, are now tasked to overcome the three Trials of Akala Island. These Trials are elementally themed: Water, Fire, and Grass. The order you can do them in is up to you, but since the two of you have starter Pokemon...”

“I'll do the Fire Trial!” Hau's hand shot up a bare instant before he announced himself, bouncing on his feet, ready to go. Olivia smiled at his energy. Good. She liked that.

“And you?”

Moon was quieter in expressing interest in the Water Trial, her starter Pokemon best suited to it. A Dartrix, an evolved Rowlet, Olivia knew. Beyond ahead of schedule. Perhaps impossibly so. But it would find challenges too.

The Captain at Brooklet Hill wasn't the type to let anyone have it easy.

“Aww,” Mallow kicked at the ground, “that's no fair that no-one wants to do my Trial first.” Olivia smiled at that too. Mallow had been filled with intense excitement about the upcoming Trainers ever since the video went out. She wanted to do her absolute very best for them both. A good Captain. A good person too.

“Well,” Olivia found Mallow staring at her with starry eyes as soon as she began, “Hau and Moon will need introductions to Captain Kiawe and Captain Lana. Why don't you take them to Paniola Town, and then Moon on to Brooklet Hill?”

“Oh yes!” Mallow bounced, nodding rapidly, her pace exhausting. She whirled on the others. “Happy to be working with you,” a quick salute, “I'll show you all the best of the best on the way to Paniola and beyond! The farms there produce some of the tastiest ingredients in Alola! I can make you something amazing!”

Kukui smiled, happy with the arrangement as Hau immediately started cheering at the prospect of good food. That'd help those two get back into their pace.

“Okay then you two,” drawing their attention back, Kukui flashed them a grin. “How about you spend today checking out Heahea City, and then tomorrow you can head off with Captain Mallow? Sound good?” He needed to get the pair, Moon specifically, to his wife's lab before the day ended anyway. Three more emails since the first contact from Juniper had grown more playfully threatening each time.

He wasn't ready for the playfulness to drop.

“One moment, Kukui.” Olivia stepped forward, voice dropping just a little. Serious time. Kukui looked at her in surprise. Mallow and Kahili moved up to complete the square. A different topic entirely.

“Okay Moon!” Outside the discussion, Hau found his energy peaking. Now that a plan was in mind, he needed to get out and run! He pointed out into the city proper. “Let's go exploring! We can check out all of Heahea if we go now! Let's move!” He didn't even wait for her to respond before dashing off, setting a pace that had to be followed.

Moon spent a moment, looking back at the group, and caught Lillie's eyes. She was hovering closer to the others, intending to go with Kukui to visit Professor Burnet. But she also waved to Moon.

“Go ahead,” she called as those behind her spoke, “we'll catch up!”

Moon spent a moment more before turning and dashing after Hau. Out into the city.

Back to the other conversation.

“I received word from Captain Mina,” Olivia spoke with a voice so grave Kukui felt his heart sink. Oh. He knew what that must mean. “Kahuna Koa's health has turned. His family and Tapu Fini are on vigil. They're saying he doesn't have long left.”

“I see.” Kukui spoke with a tone few rarely heard, lost of all his natural enthusiasm. Though Kahuna Koa's health had been in decline for some few years now, he'd been as jovial as ever in talks, and given the impression of still going fine even when Kukui had last spoken to him. He'd known the Kahuna for as long as he could remember. Looked up to him. He breathed out a sigh.

“That's part of why I came to meet you,” Olivia shook her head, “I want to borrow your boat. We should head to Poni Island and see him. Kahuna Hala and Nanu are heading there too.”

“Right,” Kukui nodded, agreeing without question, “yeah, we'll head off. Kahili, can you-” and only now did Kukui see that beyond the group of four was only Lillie, whispering thanks and reassurances to Nebby in her bag that she'd let them out again as soon as she could. A muffled 'pew' answered back.

“Uh, where are Hau and Moon?”

“They went to explore,” Lillie answered simply, Kukui's slight frown dislodged from his face with a shake of his head. He nodded again.

“Okay then, Kahili, can you take Lillie to the Dimensional Research Lab to see my wife? I'll be back as soon as I can.”

“Of course,” Kahili moved over to Lillie, “Please give Kahuna Koa my regards. And...” for a moment Kahili stumbled on the words. Faced away from the others so that she could say it. “My farewell.”

“...right.”

The sight of the boat departing the docks once more drew from Kahili a sigh. Lillie looked up to her.

“I wonder,” Lillie's words were paced, deep with thought as she spoke, “how Kahuna Koa's family are doing. Losing a family member can be...” a long pause, “damaging.”

Kahili looked at Lillie. Heard enough to make a well educated guess. It wasn't like she knew but... some things were obvious just hearing them. She shook her head. “In Alola we all work together to hold one another up. Share joy and suffering both. No matter how hard it is, we will always have others who are there for us. That's what it means to be a part of Alola. They will make it through.”

Lillie looked back to the boat in the distance. Being a part of Alola, huh.


 

Three groups went in three separate directions from the docks of Heahea.

Upon his boat Professor Kukui headed west, Kahuna Olivia with him on their way to Poni Island. Their discussion wavered, from the situation with Kahuna Koa, to the work Kukui had done so far with the League, to the two young Trainers that had alighted upon the shores of Akala that morning. So many things to be aware of and to face. Olivia commiserated Kukui's exhaustion. He really was giving it everything he had. He appreciated her understanding just how much it was to handle.

It really was almost too much for any one man.

Heading east across Heahea City, Kahili led Lillie, Captain Mallow walking with them and plying the older legendary trainer with questions. Yet word of trouble within the city, the presence of Team Skull more active today than those few past, drew Mallow away, requiring her to see to her duty and chase the local boneheads out. Left to their lonesome, Kahili and Lillie continued on to the Dimensional Research Lab and the awaiting Professor Burnet. It would be good to see her once more.

Dashing through the city every which way to hear every rumour, sample every food, see every store and person and Pokemon, Hau led Moon on a whirlwind tour. His laughs brought smiles. His indication of things of interest turned Moon's eyes to them. His energy kept her focused. And the two raced on.

An hour passed by before they slowed, dropping their wandering to get food instead. Hau's natural instinct for wherever malasada could be found came in handy, the two each acquiring some. Enjoying it. Slight whispers, identification of Hau at least, lurked about the periphery, but the two children found themselves unapproached for the moment. Other whispers in the town coming to ear instead.

“Did you hear Team Skull has been seen in the north of the town?”

“Ugh, yes. They've been skulking around Heahea City for too long as it is, but now to be so brazen?”

“I was hoping the Kahuna would chase them out but I haven't seen her today.”

“Captain Mallow has been helping but there's simple so many of the thugs!”

“Is there really no-one else who can help?”

“No-one at all?”

Hau, finishing his malasada, gave Moon a grin.

“Hey Moon,” she looked at him with curiosity, following the slight tilt of his head to the roads leading north, “Why don't we go check that out? If we find Team Skull we can show 'em who's boss, ya?”

Moon considered for a moment. The words 'dumb hat' floated through her head alongside the remembrance that her most visible trademark was not on her person, as flashy and obvious as the Rotom-dex sequestered within her bag. She nodded at Hau with a look most intent.

It would be good to bust some skulls.

Heahea City was different from Hau'oli, built not nearly as tall, nor as wide. But the roads stretched long, and the population along them was dense. Racing ahead Hau briefly lost Moon, who wandered at a slightly slower pace. It was good to see who was about. Ride Pokemon on the roads. Stalls selling all manner of product. People in discussion. And no-one looking at her at all.

She continued on.

“Oh, excuse me! Please consider helping development of a new region in the Alola Islands? Please excuse me! Could I talk to you about the Poke Pelago? Can I- nevermind.”

A voice calling for attention drew Moon's eyes to a stall, a hastily assembled structure of wooden boards with 'Poke Pelago Island Development' written across it. Standing behind the stall was a man in a white shirt and wide straw hat, heavily built body toned from field work. The hair peeking out from beneath his hat was light blonde, and reminded Moon of Lillie. She approached him.

“Oh, hello young lady.” His voice was despondent, tired after hours of being ignored by all passing him by. “I don't suppose you'd like to hear about the Poke Pelago?”

Moon's nod restored life to his eyes in an instant. He straightened up and launched into his pitch.

“The Poke Pelago is a series of small islands to the north-east of Akala,” he gestured as he spoke, enthusiasm in his voice, “and a future haven for Pokemon! I'm working to develop it into the ultimate place of rest for Pokemon, and am seeking people willing to lend their Pokemon to the effort! Just one Pokemon would make a world of difference and, well,” his speech teetered off, the man slumping back down upon his stand, “I guess asking you wouldn't really help, would it? I mean, you'd only have one Pokemon.”

Moon shook her head. The man looked at her and was surprised by the intensity she looked back with. Really?

“Uhm, do you mean that? You'd be willing to let me borrow a Pokemon to help develop the islands? Should I... speak to your parents? I, uhm, oh forgive my manners I didn't even introduce myself. My name is Mohn, it's a pleasure to meet you!”

Moon considered a moment before giving her name. Made sure no-one was listening in. She watched the eyes of the man widen for a second. Then focus.

“I see.”

There was a moment of silence between the pair, Moon waiting for his reaction, Mohn considering. Then he shuffled with a pocket and withdrew an item. It might just be worth a shot.

“This is a Ride Pager,” he held it out to Moon, who took and examined the small machine in curiosity. It was white, with a golden symbol embossed upon it – a stylised trident by appearance. Moon considered it. Mohn explained. “It's used to summon a Ride Pokemon – a Charizard, specifically. Unlike regular Ride Pokemon, that Charizard will only fly you between your current location and the Poke Pelago, but it will always take you back as well. You can use it to come and go whenever you want.”

A personal Ride Pokemon? Moon looked at Mohn to make sure he was sure. He nodded.

“I owe you this much for believing in me. I can find my own way back to the Poke Pelago by boat, come by in a few hours and I'll show you the place – you can decide if you want to help me then!” Moon nodded. Placed the Ride Pager within her bag. Mohn smiled. “I'm really dedicated to this, to creating a place Pokemon can be free and safe. I can't wait for you to see it! And to make my dream come true!”

She would. Taking her leave, Moon considered. Maybe. Just maybe...

“Oh Moon!” A voice she knew drew Moon's attention, Lillie appearing behind her. She smiled to her and Lillie smiled back. The interaction relieved each. Without thinking Moon ran a hand through her now blonde-brown hair. Lillie didn't miss seeing it. “I'm sorry.” Moon's attempts to refute her apology failing, Lillie insisted upon giving it. “You've... been through a lot, haven't you?” Another moment of seeing in Moon's body language something the girl never said with words. Lillie shook her head and indicated the way. “Shall we?”

Making her own way forward, Lillie took the lead, Moon following after. She turned, just once, to see the stall Mohn had been in empty now, the man having taken off for the docks as fast as he could. She'd follow up on that later.

It might just be everything.

“I was...” Lillie spoke as they walked, looking down the road at the building towering in the distance, “heading to the Tide Song Hotel. There's someone I wanted to meet there... someone very important to me.” When Moon looked at her in interest, Lillie shook her head. Refocused. “But I wanted to tell you!” She looked back at Moon, “about Tapu Lele.”

A distant crack of thunder in Moon's memories surfaced. She tilted her head.

“Tapu Lele is the guardian deity of Akala Island, just like Tapu Koko is of Melemele,” Lillie continued, running a hand over the bag she carried to calm Nebby within. “It's said to live in the Ruins of Life, to the south of the island. I can't go there on my own but... I hope to visit when Professor Kukui and Ms. Kahili make their way down there. To help Nebby get home I need to learn more about those Ruins. That's what Nebby told me.”

Moon smiled at that. Lillie didn't realise why.

“And if... if you happen to make it there as well,” Lillie glanced away, fidgeting with the strap of her bag, “I'd like it if you could come with me too. Please.”

Moon waited for Lillie to look back at her before nodding with a smile. She would. Lillie smiled back.

The two continued on.

Ahead at the Tide Song Hotel they broke apart, Moon hearing rumours about a battle with Team Skull reminding her she'd lost Hau, Lillie seeming uneasy at the mention of the group. She insisted she'd be fine to meet up with the person she was waiting for here, then come find Moon and Hau after. Moon nodded to her and headed off.

To the edge of Heahea City where a Pokemon battle was just concluding.

“Hmph,” the victor closed his Pokeball, the one green eye visible beneath his crop of blonde hair narrowed at Hau, “and here I thought you might actually give me a fight.”

“Seriously!” Hau remained jovial, “You're super-strong! Why're you with Team Skull? You should be doing your Island Challenge like us!”

“Don't act like you understand me,” the voice of the boy was derisive, as cutting as the red slash stitched into his jacket.“I don't intend on taking advice from Trainers who aren't even trying to win. What were you even doing?”

“Just having a good time?” Hau shrugged, “When you're battling you've gotta enjoy yourself! Otherwise what's the point?”

“That's pointless,” the blonde shook his head, “all that matters is growing strong. Wasting your time not even trying... I have no interest in it.”

Moon's approaching footsteps drew attention. The blonde boy looked up at her, eye-contact between them filling Moon with a third wave of deja-vu. She wondered why. Then Hau turned to see her.

“Oh hey Moon!” He waved without a care, “Come check this Trainer out! I saw him ordering Team Skull around and then we had a battle – he's seriously strong! Like seriously!”

The boy's eye narrowed further.

“Moon...” he said her name just so to show he clearly knew what it meant, “so you're the one.” Coming to a stop, Moon stared him down, posture cold. He smiled and there was no warmth in it either. “My name is Gladion. Battle me and my partner. You, at least, should help us grow.”

Hau jumped back. “Get 'em Moon!” She nodded.

Withdrew a Pokeball as Gladion raised his own.

At the edge of Heahea City, especially with the rumour of Team Skull's presence, the number of people was significantly reduced. Still some did lurk at the edges, and perked up seeing a second Pokemon battle begin. The last one had been exciting. This one would be too.

Moon chose her Meowth, back with her after her Grand Trial's conclusion. Pokemon that she hadn't used in her Grand Trial were best now, making it harder still to identify her. Dartrix and Bagon remained with her but she'd avoid using them as best she could.

She desired no attention at all.

“I hope you're ready.” Gladion clutched his wrist, steadying his shakiness before unleashing the Pokeball. It opened to release the Pokemon within.

It stood taller than Gladion, taller than Moon, honestly taller than most anyone she'd seen. It was strange, a fin-tail but four clawed feet, a mane and crest of grey locked down by bronze metal. Silver eyes stared out from slits in the construct wrapping its head. Gladion gave the order, tightening the muscles in his leg to keep the shaking from growing. It was time to fight.

“Null, go forward!”

Moon gave an order, a command for her Meowth to dodge, moments before the Pokemon Null with speed far more than its size implied slammed into and sent the Scratch Cat flying. Its landing was hard, the Pokemon slowly returning to its feet, before Null rammed it again. It didn't stand a second time. Moon called it back.

“Really?” Gladion huffed the word, chest heaving. “That's the best you've got? You? What are you doing?”

Moon stayed silent and unleashed her second choice.

“Null go!”

A heavy thud was the helmeted Pokemon's head meeting that of a Pokemon smaller but no less determined – Furfrou, the poodle Pokemon, pushing back against its attacker. Gladion smiled at this, a muscle in his face twinging when he did. Ugh. Still not enough.

Moon gave sharp orders, Hau watching the battle and considering how different she sounded within it. The Furfrou's natural resilience let it fight, and it beat back Null, before the larger Pokemon pushed it down again. The difference in strength was still far too much.

Moon pushed the Normalium-Z into her Z-Ring and performed its pose.

“Null! Crush it!”

As the Z-Aura transferred from Moon to the Furfrou, the Pokemon's fur shining blindingly white, Null tensed and flexed, its forepaws expanding in size as power flowed through it. Breakneck Blitz, a tackle filled with Z-Power, surged towards Null and struck it head on, the Pokemon making no move to dodge.

Every move to counter.

When the Z-Aura faded away, light disappearing into nothingness, Moon stared, her Pokemon pinned under the claw of the one opposing. Null roared, the noise muted within its sealing helmet, the metal rattling as it shook its head from side to side. Gladion was breathing heavily.

“Z-Moves,” he pushed out the word with scorn, “can't compare to Null. Don't think using one means you've won anything. Now why don't you really show me what you're worth.”

Moon called back Furfrou. Unleashed her third.

Gladion's preparation to attack the Inkay, which wouldn't be able to dodge Null's speed, came to naught as it did just that, stunning him just long enough for the illusion-clad Zorua to score a dark-infused blow to Null's side. The immediate reaction of the far-stronger Pokemon, flexing its muscular frame and blowing Zorua back, dispelled the illusion and allowed Gladion to understand. So that was it.

“If you're just going to play tricks,” ignoring Hau's 'hey are you okay' through gritted teeth, Gladion swept an arm through the air, “you won't do a thing.” Null lunged again, this time prepared for superior speed. Zorua dodged, was pursued, and a heavy head slammed down upon it. Moon quickly called it back. Gladion showed teeth. “You're not doing nearly well enough.”

Dartrix emerged from a jet of red light.

Hau, watching the battle, heard the voices around them now identify the Pokemon. Glanced at Moon in concern. She wasn't paying attention. Was focused only on the fight. Gladion was swaying, knee momentarily bowing before he shook his head and straightened back up, giving another order to Null. But the gaps between his response time were growing wider, and Moon's orders to her Pokemon remained as sharp as ever. The speed of Dartrix wasn't something the larger Pokemon could keep pace with. Time and time again it failed to land attacks and each time Moon made sure Dartrix landed its.

Gladion, vision wavering, clamped his eyes and grit his teeth as he raised the Pokeball he held. So this was as far as he could go.

The end of the battle was anticlimactic. With Null called back Gladion forfeited, breathing heavily and staring through narrowed eyes. Moon stared him down.

“I may...” he panted, exhaustion at maintaining the incredibly powerful Pokemon clear, “have lost here, but that's only because... I wasn't strong enough. We'll fight again. And I'll beat you.” When he took a step back he nearly tripped and fell. Hau raced to him.

“Hey, come on,” the picture of concern, Hau held out a hand, “do you need help? Let us-”

“I don't-” Gladion wrenched his arm away from Hau, nearly falling again as he stumbled to the edge of the city, “need help from you. Someone who doesn't even bother trying to use their full power, who just takes it easy and accepts being weak. Who doesn't even care. You're pathetic. Compared to her.”

Hau fell silent. Gladion struggled on.

“Hmph. And here I was... supposed to meet someone... ha... she'll be upset at me... for this...”

Left alone Gladion made his way to the city's edge, disappearing into the tree-lined path beyond. Hau watched him go.

Moon turned her head to see the crowd of people gathered nearby.

“'scuse me! 'scuse me! Make way make way!”

“Beautiful lady coming through!”

The crowd, beginning to approach what they were sure now was the mysterious Trainer Moon, were quickly broken apart as two voices and their owners shoved their way through, two figures stumbling out in front. Immediately they swung back on the group. Hands to hips.

“Hi there, you know it's rude to stare, right?”

“Yep!” The black-haired woman agreed with the man, raising a hand to lower the sunglasses over her face just a little. “If you want to meet a Pokemon Trainer, we'll be happy to give you all a battle.”

“I'm all ready to go now that I'm off that plane!” The man raised an ultra-ball, giving it a little shake. “Who wants some?”

Quickly breaking apart, the crowd scattered away from the rowdy trainers. Moon watched as each extended a fist to the other and tapped them together. Before they rounded on her.

“Ah ha ha!” The man lifted a sun-hat to reveal a crop of brown hair, flipping off his sunglasses and slotting them into his yellow Alolan Exeggutor-print shirt. “We didn't meant to surprise you so sorry about that. The name's Dexio!”

“And I'm Sina! A beautiful name for a beautiful lady!” The woman wore a shirt similar to Moon's, though it was white over black compared to her blue over white. Moon blinked, staring at their wrists. Z-Rings? No...

“And we are-”

“We are-”

Each struck a pose.

“On vacation!”

Silence reigned. Hau walked up beside Moon to stare as well. The two held their pose just a little bit longer.

Then straightened back up.

“Ahem,” Dexio coughed, “actually we're Pokemon researchers! We work with Professor Sycamore in the Kalos Region.”

“We're here in Alola learning about its culture and Z-Moves,” Sina nodded, “and it'd be great to talk to some trainers doing their Island Challenge.”

“Honestly I'd love to battle you,” Dexio spun the ultra-ball he'd shown before on a finger, “but after the fight you just had I think you'd probably rather get some rest.”

“You saw that?” Hau's question was met with a nod. Sina smiled at him.

“You did well!” She clapped her hands together, “Way better than I would have at your age.”

“You're both skilled young Trainers!” Dexio nodded, “I can tell. You know how strong Trainers can recognise each other? I can definitely see you're both full of potential! You should be proud.”

The double-punch of compliments helped Hau perk back up a bit. He smiled. “You hear that Moon?” He nudged her with an arm, “We're really cool!”

“Moon,” when Dexio said her name, Moon's eyes shot to him, hearing recognition in the tone. She took a step backwards.

“Ah wait wait wait!” Sina held up her hands, taking steps forward at the same pace Moon took them backwards, “We're not weird or anything! But we did want to talk to you! It's important, please hear us out!”

Hau stepped back to stand by Moon, who stopped once he was by her. Sina lowered her hands. Dexio stepped forward.

“See in the Kalos Region,” Dexio held up his arm, showing the ring around his wrist to the pair. There was a small jewel affixed within it, “we have this thing called Mega Evolution. Have you heard of it?”

Moon nodded and Hau shook his head. Dexio grinned.

“So Mega Evolution is kind of like a Z-Move, but instead of your Pokemon doing a powerful attack instead it turns into a muuuu-,” spreading his arms out as he held the word, Dexio smiled as Sina joined him, holding out her arms as well, “-uuuuch stronger Pokemon! For a little while, at least.”

Hau's eyes lit up with excitement. “That's so cool! How does it work?”

“Well,” Sina held out her arm, allowing Hau and Moon to inspect the ring up close, “You have to have a Key Stone to help Pokemon Mega Evolve, and then your Pokemon has to hold the right Mega Stone too.”

Hau tilted his head. “Mega Stone?”

“That's right!” Dexio nodded, “You need the right Mega Stone to make the right Pokemon Mega Evolve. Not every Pokemon has a Mega Evolution, but more Mega Stones are being found all the time, so maybe one you have now will be able to Mega Evolve one day!”

Hau nodded with excitement. That was so cool.

“So we've been studying Mega Evolution, and how it interplays with Z-Moves!” Sina's words drew both Moon and Hau's eyes to her, each's interest now well and truly piqued. She smiled at the sight. Such curious children. How wonderful.

“And that includes working with Ms. Kahili Hano herself!” Dexio grinned, the two young ones' heads swinging back to look at him instead. They were enthralled now. Good. “She helped us test Mega Evolution and Z-Moves, and it helped us understand a lot more about them. She really did us a huge favour by lending a hand.”

Curiosity now driving him, Hau had to know. “What happened?”

“So here's the thing!” Sina announced the results, performing a Z-Pose neither Moon nor Hau recognised. “When you do a Z-Move, it puts as much power into your Pokemon as it can, leaving you all tired out and bleary, bleh.”

“And the same with Mega Evolution,” Dexio continued, the two pinging from one to the other. “It takes a huge amount of power from the Trainer, and so you can't do it twice without rest. It's just too exhausting to keep up beyond that.”

“The best Trainers can reduce the amount of time between their Z-Moves and their Mega Evolutions, but there's still a limit that we know of.” Sina. “Which is part of why a Z-Move performed by a Mega Evolved Pokemon has never been seen! Even Ms. Kahili wasn't able to – she raised a Pidgeot in the Kalos Region, and learned to Mega Evolve it, but couldn't perform a Z-Move while it was in that state. It's the same as when you try to do two Z-Moves, or two Mega Evolutions, you just fizzle out! Poof!” She waved her hands indicating the cloud of exhaustion that came off of Trainers run dry by the powers they could provide.

“But we still got to test a lot with her, about the energy Mega Evolution and Z-Moves create. They're different, but similar, and maybe incompatible? But we just don't know. Cause trying to do them together is the same as trying to do either of them twice.”

Dexio's pointed look at Moon after saying that did not go unseen. Hau caught it as well, glancing at the girl by his side. “Uhh...”

“A gift!” Fumbling with his bag, Dexio failed to find what he was looking for before Sina stuck her hand into it and pulled out a pendant with a small rainbow orb affixed within it. Offered it to Moon instead.

“This is a Key Stone!” Holding it out to Moon, Sina jiggled the chain a little until the young Trainer warily reached up and took hold of it. Dexio held out a larger stone.

“And this is a Salamencite, a Mega Stone for Salamence!” Hau was looking from Dexio to Moon, unsure as to the gifts being given so freely. Moon stared at the orb. There was a feeling to it, like it was sparking. Kind of but not quite like a Z-Crystal. She held out a hand. The orb felt heavy within it. Her fingers closed around it.

“Alright!” Dexio clapped, “now you're a Trainer who can Mega Evolve! Once you have a Salamence, just give it that Salamencite and wish with all your heart through your Key Stone. You and your Pokemon working together, wishing together, that's how you'll become even stronger!”

“And Hau!” Sina didn't make any mention of how she already knew Hau's name, “if you get a Pokemon that can Mega Evolve, we'll give you a Stone too. We're going to be here for the Pokemon League, so you've got plenty of time. Hey you might even battle us there!”

“Oh cool!” Distracted from his thoughts Hau nodded, excited at the thought of his own Mega Evolution. “Okay I'll let you know! Uh, if I find a Pokemon that can Mega Evolve? How do I know that?”

“Just check in with us next time you see us, we'll be around.” Dexio gave a pose ending in an elaborate thumbs up. Sina positioned herself to fit into it and put up her own next to his.

“Okay then,” Dexio nodded, “it was nice meeting the two of you. Good luck on your Island Challenges!” Hau nodded and waved. Moon gave one less enthusiastic, still kind of thrown out by the two Trainers who had approached her and given such gifts unprompted. Dexio and Sina took off. Contact made.

But even still.

“Hey,” Dexio shifted an arm, nudged his elbow against Sina as they walked, “pretty crazy huh?”

“Yeah,” Sina nodded back, rubbing the arm for show more than Dexio having done anything. “Just looking at her feels like running into a brick wall. Anyone practised enough to have the sense is gonna know who she is the moment they see her.”

Dexio chuckled, continuing to roll the ultra-ball between his hands. “And you say that without having a single Psychic-type on you. Because apparently biases are for chumps.”

“I like Ice-types,” Sina stuck her tongue out at her partner. “And you are a chump.”

“Guilty as charged.”


 

Technically, she hadn't lost three children in Heahea City's limits. That was what Kahili Hano reminded herself of as she entered the Pokemon Center on the north side of the city, hoping to find even one of the trio. She'd accepted Hau and Moon had gone exploring. She'd had Lillie with her when visiting Professo Burnet and both Kahili and Burnet had agreed it was fine for Lillie to head to the Tide Song Hotel.

The fact Kahili had enacted no follow-up plans whatsoever to find the three didn't mean she'd lost them, per se.

She just felt like she had.

“Oh hey! Ms. Kahili!” The voice of Hau served as relief, Kahili spotting him and then Lillie with him a moment later. If the two hadn't met up by coincidence exploring the city, likely one had stopped in at this Pokemon Center to find the other already there. She approached them hoping to see one more lurking nearby.

No such luck.

“How have you two been today? And have you seen...” she paused for a second, considering the busyness of the Pokemon Center. Some eyes were on her now. She was notable, after all. “Your third?”

“She went out,” Hau shrugged, “I think she wanted to find somewhere a little quieter.”

Hmm. Moon wasn't the type who'd be in any danger wandering on her own, especially not with the Pokemon she had, but Kahili still couldn't help but entertain some doubts. Hopefully it wouldn't be long before she returned.

“So hey!” Hau's voice broke through her thoughts, drawing Kahili's eyes back to him. Lillie, sitting at the same table, had her bag across her lap and was running a hand over it. Hau grinned. “Can you tell us about your Mega Pidgeot?”

A moment of surprise before Kahili felt herself smile. Well... she pulled out a chair and sat down.

“You've done your research,” memories of her time in Kalos, the path that led her to take part in its League, floated up from within her head. It had been good. “She's not with me now though I'm afraid.” A moment of concern on Hau's face and horror on Lillie's made Kahili realise just how poorly she'd phrased that. She quickly waved her hands. “No no, not like that-” the two calmed, “just that I left her with a friend I made in Kalos. Something of a promise to the both of them, that I'd come back no matter what.”

Lillie's look of intense focus upon the legendary Trainer she'd grown up following the exploits of showed she simply had to hear more. Kahili smiled.

“I guess I'll tell you about her.”


 

Wind whipped across Moon's face as the Charizard she rode atop the back of flew through the orange afternoon skies of Alola. As soon as she was beyond the city's limits, wishing to avoid attention in the act she was undertaking, she'd used the Ride Pager, released the Flame Pokemon in much the same way she would from a Pokeball. Once boarded, it took off into the sky.

Soaring out over Akala, winding her way past the massive volcano towering up from its centre, Moon made her way to the north-east, across the land and then out over the ocean. It took time, the Charizard following a straight line to its destination, but soon enough a small set of islands nestled amongst the waves resolved into shape.

Until the Poke Pelago came into view.

Mohn, having arrived back by boat slightly earlier, jumped in surprise at the roar of the Charizard. Was she really... yes she was! He waved enthusiastically to Moon as the Ride Pokemon came in for a landing, the young girl almost tumbling off of it. Mohn smiled at her. She seemed slightly harried. But she was here! How wonderful!

“Welcome to the Poke Pelago!” Mohn spread his arms wide, indicating for Moon to look around. She considered it. Flat land for the most part. Dense growing vegetables. A giant tree-like vine growing out overhead. The place was rather... “It's a bit rough, I'll admit.”

Mohn, despite lost memories he wasn't worrying about, had retained quite a significant degree of his abilities. The solar panel and network array he'd set up allowed the PC he'd found to function, connecting him to the Pokemon Storage System, but the real crowning jewel of the setup was the hack he'd installed upon it.

By tradition, once keyed to a Pokemon Trainer's registration, the Pokemon Storage System automatically stored Pokemon beyond a Trainer's sixth. It was for safety reasons, as having more than six Pokemon caused any Trainer to quickly lose control of them, their Trainer's Bonds decaying under the stress of managing that number. It still wasn't understood why six was the hard limit. But it was. And the system had been built to handle that.

Mohn had disabled that check entirely.

“So in the Poke Pelago,” he instructed Moon, showing her the computer, “you can leave Pokemon you've caught to help out. Once you're far enough away the Trainer's Bonds between people and Pokemon fade, so if you leave one Pokemon here you can go back to Alola proper and then withdraw another from your account!”

Mohn smiled, pleased with the setup he'd created. “This way, many people can contribute to the development of the Poke Pelago, each of them leaving a Pokemon or two while not affecting their team. I know it seems like a huge task, especially with not many people having shown interest yet, but I'm sure that with time I'll be able to get plenty of Trainers' attention! Then with everyone's Pokemon working together, the Poke Pelago will become-”

Mohn's spiel fell on deaf ears, Moon's attention focused on the PC. One by one she had selected each Pokemon she had caught, activating their retrieval. One by one each Pokeball opened, the Pokemon within free to stretch and stand before their Trainer. It took only a few minutes to empty her account entirely. To be surrounded by Pokemon caught by her.

Pokemon bound to her.

Mohn had not a shred of the necessary experience, at least not remembered, to be able to sense a Trainer's Bonds. Looking at Moon, she looked like just an ordinary girl to him. But the sight of her surrounded by some dozen-odd Pokemon, each of them looking at her like she was the world and she showing only happiness in their presence, that sight still reached him.

Well... maybe he wouldn’t need to ask anyone else for help with the Poke Pelago after all.

Moon spent the remainder of the day here. Night falling in Heahea did not see her return, and unaware of the stress she was creating Moon continued happily on. Helped her Pokemon work with Mohn, get used to following his directions, and begin development of the island. Though Mohn offered her his house, the shack he'd constructed as a place one could sleep the night, she didn't need it. Her Pokemon all curled around her when it was time and Moon slept soundly amongst them. Safe and at peace.

The auto-release timer, forcing her to juggle her Pokemon, weighed no more. They had a place. And while it was fully believed all Trainer's Bonds would decay with distance, no understanding or belief applied to her. She'd leave that morning and they'd remain bound to her.

Every Pokemon left here would.

So yes, this was perfect indeed.

There was nothing left to hold her back.

Chapter Text

Alola in Mourning: Kahuna Koa Passes On Amongst Family And Friends

Surrounded by loved ones, Kahuna Koa of Poni Island was confirmed to have experienced a peaceful departure late in the previous evening, leaving behind a legacy of almost ten decades as one of Alola's longest-serving Kahuna.

Alongside his family were Alola's other Kahuna, as well as Tapu Fini, Guardian Deity of Poni, with whom Koa had shared duty of care for the Wild Garden of Alola. Though solemn in seeing the eldest Kahuna of Alola off, each of those spoken to spoke clearly of Kahuna Koa's well-lived life, and the many lives he has touched over the years. Tapu Fini departed shortly after the Kahuna's passing.

Kahuna Koa's near-century of service has overseen countless changes in the Alola Region, and he has remained at the forefront of all of those he was witness to, assisting the Region in all things. Considered a parental figure by generations of Trainers who he had taught in the Poni Wilds, a friend and mentor by the other Kahuna, and a reliable figure by all of Alola, his passing will touch the hearts of the entire Region.

A staunch advocate for the growth of people and Pokemon together, Kahuna Koa's efforts in maintaining vast stretches of nature are considered fundamental to the current shape of the Region, and as such his effects can be seen across Alola, ensuring such key locations as – (continued on page 2)

To Follow In His Footsteps

Although Kahuna Koa's health has been in decline over the past few years, with other Kahuna lending frequent hands in managing Poni Island, as well as the Island Challenge upon it, Kahuna Koa had remained active and engaged as best he could, with his rapid decline in recent days coming as a total surprise.

His passing comes at a critical time for Alola, with the planned Pokemon League's structure still heavily under debate. Kahuna Koa had insisted upon enacting changes to the Island Challenge to better make available Alola to all Trainers, which had clashed with other factions of the Region arguing for the preservation of the current system.

The Kahuna to follow is expected to be a key voice in this debate, which is reaching a breaking point as the construction of the League itself continues.

The primary candidate for the next Kahuna, who will be approached and chosen by Tapu Fini, is Poni Island's Captain Mina, whose unique relationship with the Tapu – (continued on page 6)

Trainers Gather in Alola

Construction of the Alolan Pokemon League has continued to draw world-wide attention, interest in Alolan Trainers maintained by travelling representatives of the Region.

Kahili Hano, recently returned from placing in the Kalos Pokemon League semifinals, has been an active participant of the League Structure debate, insisting alongside Alola's Professor Kukui that the Pokemon League, and a system of entry for it, should be available on a global level.

While this debate continues, more and more notable Trainers from other Regions have been seen, many previous League competitors. The initial Pokemon League, to be held as an Exhibition Tournament prior to the planned completion date of construction, is expected to play host to a number of these visiting Trainers, with the remainder made of Alola's Captains, Kahuna, and key Trainers including Ms. Kahili Hano herself.

Among sightings of these visiting trainers, reports of the rumoured Pokemon Trainer Moon – (continued on page 9)

 


The early morning light of Alola embraced Moon, its warmth upon her shoulders as the Charizard she rode circled over the north of Akala Island's Heahea City. She had woken with the dawn, the sun's first rays cast across the ocean and over the Poke Pelago, and smiled. Been surrounded by Pokemon she still felt a connection to. Good. This was good.

No holding back.

With a promise to return as soon as she could, advice for each Pokemon left behind to do their best to help Mohn's work, Moon took her leave, the Ride Pokemon stored in the Pager she had been given returning her to the Island she had left behind. Just as Mohn had said the Charizard aimed for precisely where Moon had left, a clearing just beyond Heahea's north-east exit, and soon enough Moon's feet were upon Akala's soil once more.

Back to it.

The plan was to leave the city with Hau, Captain Mallow escorting them to the sites of their next Trials. Unsure as to where either Hau or the Captain could be, Moon made her way to the northern-most Pokemon Center of Heahea. When someone was lost, the fastest way to find them was to go to the nearest Pokemon Center. That was a lesson taught across every region in the world.

Moon entered the Center's doors and it took all of Kahili's strength not to yell her name loud enough to shake the building. Instead she clutched the table she, Hau, Lillie, and Captain Mallow were sitting at, grip so tight the skin of her hands turned ghostly pale. Hau waved to Moon, while Lillie looked crossed between horrified and relieved. Captain Mallow frowned.

Moon joined them. Other Trainers in the Center who recognised Kahili, Mallow, and a smaller number Hau, considered putting two and two together before an intense gaze from Kahili, attempting to calm her emotions by venting eye-daggers at anyone who looked at her funny, turned them away.

Best leave sleeping Spearow lie.

“We missed you.” Kahili's words were iron beaten into shape by sheer terror at Moon's disappearance morphing into frustration at her blasé return. “A warning about your leaving last night would have been appreciated.”

“Hey where'd you go?” Hau's relaxed tone was the only one at the table, Kahili still attempting to recover from planning out the sweep of Heahea and beyond she'd have to execute to find Moon now that the sun was up. “You kinda disappeared in the afternoon.”

Realisation that her actions had caused great stress for the others surprised Moon, remembering only now she had told no-one of her departure the day before. A part of her rationalised that her intended plan, to take a Ride Pokemon given to her by a stranger to an island in the middle of the ocean on a chance whim that it might have been the key to solving her Pokemon overload issue, would have been met with disapproval, while the truth that she'd simply forgotten to tell anyone simmered beneath the surface.

She wasn't used to this. Kahili frowned. “Are you well?”

To that Moon nodded, but the older Trainer's frown deepened. Something was wrong. In silence Kahili stared and Moon paused under the look. Still Kahili looked. Something was off. Something wasn't right. What was it? She couldn't... quite... place it...

“Hey is that a Key Stone?” Mallow's question, asked in the silence of Kahili's interrogation, immediately widened the older woman's eyes. She almost grabbed at the cord around Moon's neck, the pendant hanging from it, before pulling back her hand. Now leaning halfway over the table, Kahili stared at the gem. What?

“Where- where did you get that?”

“Oh right!” Hau looked sheepish now, realising that after quizzing Kahili about her Pidgeot and Mega Evolution all yesterday afternoon, he'd never mentioned why he'd known that. “Moon and I met some people yesterday, and they gave her it! They were, uh, Pokemon Researchers? From Kalos! Right?”

Moon nodded. Kahili was staring. Reaching into her bag, Moon withdrew the other half of the gift they'd given her. Set it on the table so all could see.

Kahili's nostrils flared.

“Dexio.”

Further out in the city, getting a nice holiday breakfast with his partner in crime, Dexio sneezed and shivered. Sina the same a moment after.

“A Salamencite.” Kahili wasn't up for more than a few words at a time now, each sentence she made needing a moment to handle before she continued. “They gave you. A Salamencite.” With the air of danger emerging from the woman, no-one else chose to speak. Moon returned the Mega Stone to her bag. Kahili's eyes followed it with razor focus.

“Uhh,” unsure as to the best method to defuse the current tension, Mallow went for the easy way out. The literal way out. “Anyway, Hau, Moon, shall we get going? Paniola Town isn't too far away, but it gets pretty up-hill at times. If we go now we can be there for lunch!”

The mention of lunch hit Moon with remembrance that she had yet to eat breakfast, and she paused a moment to quickly grab something from the cafe. While she was waiting Lillie found her way to her side.

“I,” Lillie held her bag close, Nebby within it. Moon ran a hand along its side again, feeling the Nebula Pokemon within lean into her touch. “I won't be heading north, with you. Professor Kukui told me we'd be spending a while in Heahea City. But we'll be here when you and Hau make it back! So... good luck, Moon, on your Trials. I'll see you when you return.” Moon smiled at Lillie just before her food was served.

Lillie smiled back at the sight of the young girl tearing through her meal. She must have been hungry.

A part of her was already looking forward to seeing the two when they returned.

“Okay!” Mallow took the lead as soon as Moon was done, Hau falling in beside her, “Time to head off!” The Captain turned back to Kahili and waved, breaking the older Trainer out of her rage fugue. She stood up and approached.

“Do your best,” speaking to Hau and Moon both, her eyes lingered on the pendant Moon wore, the Key Stone set within it, “and we'll see you when you return. I look forward to hearing about your Trials.”

“Yeah!” Hau gave a jump and a cheer. Moon nodded. Mallow smiled and guided the two out.

“Now...” when Kahili blinked her eyes lit with flames dancing behind them, “Lillie, will you be fine on your own until Kukui and the Kahuna return?”

“I...” Lillie stepped away from Kahili, whose radiating presence was far too much to approach, “yes. What will you-”

“I.” Kahili took a single determined step. The path to the exit of the Pokemon Center cleared in an instant. “Have some Trainers to find.”

A few blocks away, visiting a shop of knick-knacks for tourists, Sina held an Exeggutor mask over her face. “Hey Dexio!” The man turned back to the woman's call. “I'm in disguise!”


 

The road from Heahea City to Paniola Town started in lush forest, heavy greenery bordering the north-east of the city. The path was easy, and Mallow skipped along it with a whistle and a smile. Being surrounded by dense foliage was her element, after all. Hau and Moon followed after.

“Okay!” Spinning around to face the pair, even as she continued to walk backwards, Mallow held her arms outstretched. “We'll be heading through this forest for about an hour before we get to the hills, so make sure to enjoy it while it's easy! The Island Challenge is all about working together with your Pokemon to overcome your opponents, and that means the hard parts of travelling Alola too! If you want to do things early, you're going to have to work extra hard for it, okay?”

Hau nodded. That was something he'd been taught from a young age, instructed to both respect and face the challenges the Islands would give him. Moon followed his lead, but didn't fully understand just what the Captain was referring to. Mallow smiled at them.

“Good! Let's go!”


 

With intense strides Kahili Hano walked the streets of Heahea City, eyes roving from side to side, building to building, person to person. She was hunting, and the intensity that surrounded her pushed back those who recognised the famous Trainer and at first intended to approach. P-probably best not to right now.

A pair of seated people she walked past lowered the newspapers they had been reading once she was beyond them, the news of Kahuna Koa's passing printed upon the pages. Dexio and Sina let their eyes meet.

“She seems mad.”


 

“Oh!” The trio of Trainers, one Captain and two Island Challengers, came to a halt as a small brown Pokemon dashed past them, disappearing into the greenery on the other side of the path. Moon immediately raced off in pursuit.

Mallow's laughter at the sight of the Trainer disappearing into the tree-line followed after her but went unacknowledged. Moon wasn't stopping for anything. Not with that target ahead. Mallow glanced at Hau with a smile. “She's quick to chase what she wants.” Hau nodded back. Yeah, she sure was.

“So hey,” leaning against a tree, waiting for Moon to return with the prize she'd set her eyes on, Mallow considered Hau. Grandson to Kahuna Hala, who she'd only met a few times. She'd watched the recording of his Grand Trial too – he'd done really well! – and he seemed to be going perfectly fine even now. Two Pokemon at eleven. She'd done similar but it had still taken her longer than him. He really was something too. She smiled. “How're you feeling?”

“Me?” Almost surprised to be asked, Hau glanced around. No-one else. Looked back to Mallow. She tilted her head and nodded. Hau frowned. “I'm fine. Nothing wrong here!”

Was that so. Mallow pushed back off the tree and turned her head, looking in the direction Moon had gone. She'd be back soon enough, new Pokemon in hand. Mallow could already tell.

That girl just felt like she could do anything at all.

“She's something else,” her words drew Hau a little closer, crossing the path to watch in the same direction. “Hard to believe, really.”

“Yeah,” Hau had no trouble agreeing, watching the bushes beyond the path sway. “I gotta work extra hard to keep up.”

Mallow's pause went unnoticed. She spoke again a moment after. “Do you?”

“Yeah!” Hau nodded more enthusiastically at this, “She's got all these Pokemon, so I need to do my best not to fall behind! We're training hard every day! And...” The immediate drying up of Hau's speech drew Mallow's eyes back to him. He was looking away. Shuffling from one foot to the other. She waited another moment.

“Yes?”

“I just-” the words came out fast enough for Hau to then hold back on them, bouncing between wanting to talk and wanting to say nothing. Mallow waited. After a moment he continued. “I battled someone yesterday. He told me I... I wasn't trying. That I was path- that I wasn't as good as Moon.” Mallow held her words. If she knew who had said that, she'd have something to say to them. “And I mean I'm not!” Hau's admission didn't help Mallow's consideration. “She's incredible and... I'm trying. But maybe it's not enough. All I was thinking was, I want to grow with my Pokemon, and that if we did our best and stayed happy we'd make it but... maybe I'm not trying hard enough. I just... I don't know how to keep up...”

In the silence that followed there was another rustling of bushes, another Pokemon dashing out from them across the path. The same as the last, but one far more confident and curious. It stopped and inspected the pair of humans before it. Mallow held back.

“Hey Hau,” he looked up at her voice, before following her attention to see the Pokemon. Quickly stepped up to it and opened a Pokeball. He had to try, right? Mallow's question continued, “You're raising your Pokemon with love, right? You care for them?”

The red light from the Pokeball gave way to a yellow shape, electricity crackling from red cheeks. The Pokemon, one that could only be raised with the care of a true Pokemon Trainer, answered the question as loudly as Hau did.

“Of course!”

Mallow watched the battle. Watched as Hau's Pokemon cornered its opponent, who fell under its electrical bolts soon enough. The difference between wild Pokemon in this region and the young boy was already so much. Rustling in her bag, Mallow caught Hau's attention and held out a Pokeball, light pink in colour. She smiled as he put it to use.

If he was raising his Pokemon with love and care, then Hau... “You're going exactly as fast as you need to.”

Moon returned with a victorious grin that only widened to see Hau clutching his own new Pokemon. Treating the one she had bested with potions she kept, Moon and Hau allowed theirs to run about and play with each other as they oversaw their new partners.

As Rotom-dex gave a detailed explanation of the Evolution Pokemon Eevee.

“So then!” Mallow watched the two children playing with their Pokemon, forming the Bonds that would see them on to greater heights. Moon at this point came as no surprise that she could catch whatever Pokemon she set her eyes upon, but Hau claiming a third and – Mallow noted – still doing fine was a shock. Ten minutes ago she'd been comparing Hau to her own growth. Now he was far beyond her. These kids... “Any future plans for those two?”

“Zzt!” Launching into a spiel about the varying evolutionary possibilities for Eevee, Rotom-dex continued to float above the group. Mallow waited for it to finish before making her opinion known.

“Well I think you should both evolve them to Leafeon!” The two looked at her while Mallow smiled back, watching the two Eevee at play. “After all, the Grass-type is the best!” Perhaps she could be accused of leaning too heavily upon her type-bias, but that was the point! It was there to support you and help you grow. For those who followed theirs, at least. “There's even a place in my Trial Site where they'll evolve!”

Hau spent a moment considering, but Mallow could already see Moon's attention turn back to the Pokemon before her. She already had a powerful Grass-type after all.

“Otherwise Kahuna Olivia has a whole bunch of Evolution Stones you can use, you just need to ask her later!” That got both Moon and Hau to nod. Mallow smiled.

“Zzt!” Accessing another article, Rotom-dex sounded off again. “Presenting data from current public research efforts attempting to identify further Eevee evolutions! Unova Region Project: investigation into the seasonal cyc-”

“Okay okay let's go,” Mallow waved for Moon and Hau to stand up as the Rotom-dex continued to report on the global search for further evolutions of the mysterious Pokemon, “the hills are just ahead, it's time for the hard part!”

The path they'd been following opened up, forest clearing away to the beginnings of an upward trek. Paniola Town, and the farming land around it, lay further still ahead.

It was time to climb.


 

Purposeful intent guided Kahili Hano across Heahea City, questioning everyone she saw for clues. She paused for a moment, breathed out frustration, and continued on. No stopping. Not until they were found.

They weren't getting away.

Behind the glass of the shopfront Kahili had stopped before, Sina licked absently at the ice-cream she held, Dexio continuing to deliberate his order behind her.


 

In comparison to the active forest they'd travelled through, Moon and Hau saw little wild Pokemon on the path beyond. Stretches of farmland contained herds of Pokemon – Miltank, Tauros, Mudbray, and Mareep – however they kept mostly to themselves beyond the fencing along the road. Once in a while a vehicle could be seen in the distance, running along the wider roads flowing from town to city, but this track itself was walked by these three alone.

Quickly the climb began to wear on them.

“Keep going you're doing great!” Mallow had walked this path enough to be pretty good at it, but she'd still want to take a load off and get some food by the end. The Pokemon with her were more than capable of carrying the two kids if needed, but she'd only do that when they weren't able to go any further themselves. It was important to push yourself as part of your Trial. That was part of Alola's tradition too.

Goodness, she watched as Moon and Hau continued their climb, speaking to one another as they went, each pleased with the Pokemon they had caught.

They really were so young.


 

A steel bird circled over Heahea City. It was no omen, nothing particularly of note, but a threatening pall continued to build upon the shoulders of the two who didn't notice it. Not until it was too late.

Sina stopped Dexio and pointed, identifying the Skarmory cresting just overheard, only moments before a heavy hand settled on each of their shoulders. A steel voice greeted them.

“Dexio. Sina.” Neither turned around to look Kahili in the eye. Too much raw danger emanated from her. Dexio gulped and focused on the taste of the ice-cream he'd had before. Ah. That had been nice.

“Let's. Talk.”


 

“What were you thinking?”

Attention flickered to the loud voice in the Heahea City Park, but wisely those who got close enough chose to back off again. Firstly because there appeared to be a furious oni there and secondly because that furious oni was Kahili Hano and so the two she was dressing down probably deserved it.

Kahili dropped her voice to keep the specifics quiet. The last, the absolute last thing she needed right now was this getting out.

“A Salamencite? Are you insane?” Dexio and Sina at least had the decency to look shamed by Kahili, but that wasn't nearly good enough. She ground a foot against the grass. Unbelievable. Of all the irresponsible- “What is wrong with you two? She's eleven!”

“Y'know,” Dexio held back a flinch when the furious Kahili turned on him, maintaining his ground thanks to his own experiences, “it's really not that different from what you all do here.” The ice of the moment extended as Kahili stared him down. He shook his head and continued. “I mean, the whole Island Challenge gives a bunch of eleven-year olds those Z-Crystals, right? Using Z-Moves is as draining as a Mega Evolution.”

“Firstly.” Kahili's dagger stare went undeflected as she launched her rebuttal, “Z-Crystals are presented to Trainers when they complete their Trials. The number of Trainers to complete a Trial at that age is... small.” Dexio made a noise like that kind of distinction didn't matter. Kahili raised her volume a touch. “Secondly.” Silence. “Using a Z-Move exhausts. Mega Evolved Pokemon are wildly powerful and not fully in control – presenting threats to their Trainers especially when new. And Mega Salamence is one of, if not the, most vicious and uncontrollable of them all. Do you have any concept of how dangerous it is to hand that to someone? A child, Dexio. Sina.”

“A child with a Bagon!” Sina countered this time, “Not a Salamence. No Mega Salamence yet.”

“Yet.” Kahili said the word with all the speed of a bullet. It shut the pair up. “Who even- who even knows how long it will take her. She's impossible. It could be less than a year.”

“We are here to help y'know.” Dexio's words earned a note of scorn from Kahili. Sina shook her head.

“We are! It's not like any of us know what's going to happen, but we're definitely able to help no matter what! You know we're good for it.”

It was frustrating for Kahili to admit that. The two possessed a gift for bringing out a Trainer's latent abilities. Pairing them with Moon would be...

“She's eleven.”

“She needs people who can help her find her limits safely.”

“The Mega Stone won't hurt. We'll know when her Bagon evolves long before it evolves again. We can intercede then. Safely.”

The argument of the two upon Kahili, who was so very tired from the previous night of trying to find the absent Moon and then the morning of hunting for the pair in her frustration, wore her down. Her shoulders sagged.

“I'm still mad at you two.”

“Let us buy you lunch to make up for it?”

“... fine.”


 

By the time the midday sun hung heavy in the sky overhead, absent of clouds, its blue reflected in the sea seen far below, Hau, Moon, and Mallow entered Paniola Town. Centre of the farming region on the north-side of Akala Island, built into the western slopes of Wela Volcano, it served as central hub for the area, the population of every farm around making their way to the town according to their need.

The energy here was different to Heahea or Hau'oli, to Iki or Wai'oli. The cities were busy, modern, people and Pokemon all going about their way. The towns had been quiet, slumbering, tradition a cloak worn upon old shoulders.

But here in Paniola Town was the movement of a people alive and united. Everyone knew one another, everyone worked hard, and everyone cheered together. People greeted each other as they went, not so close as to repeat the motion every day, but not so far as to never truly know the other. Mallow smiled as she walked through its gates and quickly those who saw her said hello. Greeted the young Trial-goers without anything but warmth and welcoming.

Moon relaxed as soon as she realised she had nothing to hide.

“Okay!” Mallow pointed with full determination, eyeing off the Pokemon Center ahead, “We are sitting down and getting food!” To that Moon and Hau agreed immediately. They'd made it past the climb, the upwards path following the slope of the mountainous expanse that conquered Akala's north, but it had still been tiring. Adding to that Hau now supported a third Pokemon, which Mallow reminded herself of as she arranged food for the three to share. A third Pokemon and he'd kept going. Kept pace and made it to the top.

Moon was something else, an impossible power, but Hau, Hau was someone incredible too. Comparing himself to Moon the way he did, he'd never really know it. There was something sad about that, Mallow thought.

She might send Kahuna Hala a word later. Just to let him know.

Once fed, once rested, Mallow took charge once more and led the two across Paniola Town. She'd sent word to Captain Kiawe the day before, and so to see him standing in the centre of town, arms crossed, waiting patiently, brought a smile. Mallow waved on approach.

“Heeeey! Kiawe!”

Captain Kiawe gave the impression of someone who walked the path Hau and Moon had climbed every single day. He wore red, the colour in his shorts, his sandals, and the highlights amongst his black and wavy hair which resembled a flame itself. That was the end of what he wore, his upper body shirtless, the tattoos upon his shoulders on full display alongside his muscular build.

Both Hau, who had never met the Captain, and Moon, stared at the dark-skinned figure as he waved back to Mallow and approached. There was a lot going on here.

“Greetings!” Kiawe spoke with a naturally loud voice, coming to a stop before the group, “And welcome to Paniola Town! I am Captain Kiawe of Akala Island, head of the Fire Trial at Wela Volcano. I believe one of you intends on taking this Trial as their first of Akala?”

“Oh yes!” Hau jumped, waving a hand, “That's me!” Kiawe nodded, arms still crossed. Mallow, standing behind Moon and Hau now, poked her tongue out at his stoic appearance. He didn't react to it.

“Very good,” Kiawe addressed Hau, “I look forward to seeing your challenge. If your goal is to take on my Trial, I will depart Paniola Town tomorrow, if you are prepared?”

“Yep!” Hau nodded again, “I'm ready!”

A moment. A pause. Kiawe let his eyes pass over the two Trainers. He'd heard everything too. Every Captain had. Still...

“Are you?” The question actually stopped Hau's jumping. Kiawe considered. “It is a Captain's prerogative to say when a Trainer is ready for their Trial. Perhaps you would be willing to undergo a test?”

Hau nodded immediately, completely ready for anything. Kiawe turned his eyes on Moon. “The both of you, in fact.” She looked directly at him and for a moment he felt like the world paused. There was something about her he couldn't place. Something unnatural. She was a Pokemon Trainer who had six Bonds, powerful ones too, Kiawe knew that. But even still she wasn't anything like the few he'd seen.

Maybe it was just because she was so young.

“In that case!” Hau spun to face Moon, who turned to face him as well. She knew. Nodded even before he said it. Hau grinned. “Let's have a Pokemon Battle, Moon!”

Paniola Town didn't have battling grounds the way other places did, and so Kiawe led Moon and Hau beyond the town's borders into a field where they would have the freedom to go all out. Taking position as judge, Kiawe waited for Mallow to step up beside him. His request that she 'keep an eye open' was met with a dry 'of course'. She wasn't about to ignore what they'd see in this.

“Does either Trainer have a request for the rules of this battle?” Kiawe's announcement drew both Hau and Moon's attention, but one response outsped the other, and Hau's answer of 'go all out' faltered under Moon's specifications. “Very well!” Kiawe raised his arms, “This will be a two versus two Pokemon Battle! Prepare yourselves!”

“Hey Moon!” In the time before the battle began, Hau's voice stretched across the field, “Why aren't you going all out? We're meant to give it everything we've got, right?” He didn't want to fall behind. He didn't want to be nothing. If she didn't give him everything she had then he'd never keep up with her. That wasn't fair.

But Moon's answer was different. This demand wasn't to make things easier for Hau, or harder for her. It was to think in a different way, battle in another manner she'd have to learn. And against Hau she'd be pushed to give it everything she had.

He was silent after that declaration.

“Hey Kiawe quick!” Kiawe looked away from the field just in time for Mallow to take the picture on her phone, capturing the two of them with Hau and Moon in the background. “Awesome!” Sending the snap along with a message of 'Fight time, wish you were here =)', she turned her attention back to the battlefield as Kiawe sighed and did the same.

A little later Captain Ilima responded to the picture with a single “:(”.

“The battle!” Kiawe's naturally loud voice brought Moon and Hau back to attention. Moon raised a Pokeball. Still somewhat questioning Moon's intent, Hau did the same. Two versus two. Let's go. “Will begin! Trainers... go!”

Two Pokeballs opened and two Pokemon appeared. Moon, leading with Bagon, enjoyed the cry of the Rock Head Pokemon, glad to be out once again. Holding back to keep attention off of her had been... way too frustrating.

Finally she could cut loose.

The Pokemon opposing her however came as a surprise. Moon was used to her battles with Hau ending with starter against starter, but today Hau had led with Popplio. Unsure as to his plan, Moon directed her Pokemon forward. Popplio was fast, but Bagon was sturdy. She had confidence.

Hau directed his Pokemon to do the same.

The grass of the field was not thick, did not provide real cover, yet somehow with its water-jet speed Popplio made use of it all the same, moving quick enough to momentarily dart out of view. Bagon's speed did not match its opponents' when the Sea Lion Pokemon used its water to move, but each time it struck there was a moment where the Dragon was free to counter-attack. Water was ineffective against a Dragon-type Pokemon, allowing Bagon to weather the attacks freely. Slowly the battle tipped in Moon's direction.

“Does he...” Mallow considered, watching the battle play out. She wasn't an expert at Water-types or anything, but after a solid year as a Captain she knew a thing or two about the Alolan Starters, “not know?”

“Perhaps,” Kiawe remained impartial. “Many Trainers continue unaware of their Pokemon's full abilities. If he does not understand the strength he possesses then-”

“Hey Hau!” Ignoring Kiawe's reply Mallow had bounded across the field, yelling out to the Trainer, “Don't you have any other moves?”

It was a prompt in the right direction, not outright advice, but perhaps she would still be scolded for it. Still, when Mallow looked back at Moon, the girl didn't seem upset in the least. If anything thrilled when Hau tried something different. First bubbles, obscuring her Bagon's view and allowing Popplio to get closer. A tackle without water, though still not enough to overcome the strength of the dragon, who smacked its opponent back.

Then Popplio gave a cry that glowed, the sound becoming power in the air. It was a technique it had never been directed to use before, one neither it nor Hau had been aware of. But in battle a Trainer can often reveal a Pokemon's abilities by their own will to win. In Hau's command to search for something else, his Popplio found the answer.

A new attack, and one the Bagon was not only unprepared for but weak to. It fell and did not rise. Hau cheered. Moon smiled.

Popplio glowed.

“Hey hey hey!” Mallow's cry of shock accompanied the sound of pictures taken on her phone, snap after snap of the glowing Pokemon as energy coursed through it and its shape morphed into something else. “Really? Is that really-”

Kiawe watched Hau. He faltered for a moment, then shook his head and raised it again, eyes bright. Moon had evolved her starter Pokemon within three weeks of obtaining it. Hau was not even a week behind.

It really was stunning to see.

“Zzt!” Free to observe the battle, the Rotom-dex joyfully announced the new observation. “Brionne, evolution of Popplio, the Pop Star Pokemon!”

Moon cheered loudly. Hau just smiled, still somewhat stunned by it. Knelt down to the Pokemon as it returned to him and coursed a hand over its head, across its sleek blue fur. He was catching back up. He grinned at the Pokemon as it barked back at him. No time to stop now.

“Moon let's keep going!”

As Moon called back her Bagon and unleashed her Dartrix Hau sent Brionne forward, intent on allowing the two starter Pokemon, raised together, now evolved, to meet in battle once more. So they did, jets of water once more carrying the Pokemon at speed necessary to chase Moon's own, while Dartrix unleashed leaves that swirled through the grass and left stalks falling in their wake.

Tired from the battle before, even with its evolution, Brionne did not fight for long, yet still managed to strike some blows against the Blade Quill Pokemon. Using the powerful voice attack that had bested Bagon worked, and Hau smiled to see Brionne doing its best. He was keeping up.

Then Dartrix slammed it to the ground and Hau called his Pokemon back, thankful for all its hard efforts. Sent out his second, to match Moon's. The pace was in his favour, even if he felt that Moon's restriction favoured him to begin with. Still, he'd see the battle through, as she'd wished. He wouldn't fall short again.

Not him and not Pikachu too.

“A Pikachu,” Kiawe observed the Pokemon as Moon and Hau gave commands, the Mouse Pokemon hammering Dartrix with electricity, “He evolved that too then.”

“Yep,” Mallow joined Kiawe, the eyes of each on Hau, “Not sure when, after his Grand Trial but before today. So that's two evolved Pokemon, one from a baby, one from his starter, and he caught an Eevee this morning too.”

“Amazing.” There was little else else Kiawe could say. A Trainer like that only came once in a generation. Hau was truly incredible. But then...

The shining bright light wrapping around Moon was the Z-Move she was preparing, passing its power on to Dartrix. Pikachu's energy going into this battle made it dangerous, forcing her to go for a decisive finisher. It was the best way.

Yet Hau learned too. He had watched her Grand Trial. And the timing was right for him. A Z-Move would answer a Z-Move. His own Normalium-Z shone.

In the light of two Z-Moves colliding, the intense force and focus blinding and deafening the Trainers to anything else, only Mallow heard Kiawe yell in excitement at the grand battle before catching himself, attempting to pretend like he hadn't been swept up in it. She laughed at him. He pretended not to hear.

The light cleared. The result the same as before. Z-Move against Z-Move. This was how it ended.

Moon called back her Dartrix as Hau did the same for his Pikachu, Kiawe raising both hands and announcing the battle as a draw. Each Trainer had committed two Pokemon and all four of those Pokemon had been knocked out. The battle was over.

Hau fell to a knee, vision blurring, breathing heavily. He'd really gone all out huh? Step by step Moon approached, her pace even, her breathing the same as ever. She extended a hand and Hau took it, grinning at her as he stood back up, shaky all the same.

If only for a little bit... he'd kept pace. He told her that and she smiled. Good. That was... good...

Mallow took the collapsed Hau off of Moon, the young girl flustered by his sudden fall. It wasn't a surprise though, the Captain considered. Maintaining three Pokemon, two of them evolved, one having just evolved, and then using a Z-Move? She'd have been done for the day after that at thirteen. It made sense. What didn't was...

“You did well.” Kiawe spoke to Moon, Mallow helping Hau stand as he muttered apologies for his exhaustion. She'd have none of that though, and brightly helped him back to the Pokemon Center in Paniola to rest. The two moved off. Kiawe led Moon after.

“You feel fine?” Kiawe's question was answered by a nod. Six Pokemon, one an evolved Starter, one a Dragon, the remaining four who knew what. And a Z-Move. And she was fine. They had a theory, something they'd discussed in calls about this impossible Trainer. Seeing this battle, Kiawe began to believe it. It was not that the Trainer Moon had some incredible ability to resist the demands of her Bonds, that she powered through their drain with head held high.

It was that Moon did not feel the demand at all. As though providing this power meant nothing to her. That it was the barest drop from a well with perhaps no bottom. Looking at her as she walked, making her way back to the town, Kiawe became convinced that must be true. The feeling around her, it was of something endless. Something big, much bigger than anything he'd ever seen before.

A Trainer with more fire than perhaps Wela Volcano itself.

He was looking forward to seeing how she approached his Trial.


 

By the time Hau was rested enough to be back on his feet night had fallen, Kiawe leaving the town to make his way to a distant job. Still the Captain had promised he'd be there the next morning, ready to lead Hau further upon his Island Challenge. Mallow would do the same for Moon.

Left to her own devices, Mallow seized control of Kiawe's house, his family ceding the kitchen to the industrious cook of a Captain. Her style when it came to food was something unique, but she experienced more successes than failures, especially with the slightest guiding hand.

For the young Trainers their son would be aiding, Kiawe's parents happily joined them in a meal. Mallow grinned as everyone, people and Pokemon alike dug in.

It had been a busy day today. Likely just as busy tomorrow. Good. She liked it that way.

She really couldn't wait to see what these young Trainers did next.


 

A boat docked in Heahea City late that night. From it two figures emerged, exhausted from the day. They hadn't slept the night before, and fielding questions from all angles as they lent a hand to the family of Kahuna Koa, splitting attention upon them, had worn them both ragged.

Kahuna Olivia waved Kukui along. At least a drink that night before they crashed out. She owed him that much for the amount of attention from curious reporters he'd absorbed. Kukui couldn't say no to that.

Kahili caught them shortly after and joined them.

“She has a what?”

Kukui's incredulous cry, half begging to be told he'd heard incorrectly, found no mercy from Kahili. She nodded and repeated herself. “Moon has a Key Stone and Salamencite.”

Kukui wasted only a moment more of staring blankly before finishing his drink.


 

And so the next morning came. Hau and Moon stretched in the morning's light, emerged from the house of Captain Kiawe – the offer to spend the night from his family very appreciated – and prepared to move forward. Mallow and Kiawe spent a final few minutes discussing how best to guide the pair.

Then approached.

“Alright!” Mallow pointed, “Moon, we're heading further through the farmlands, and then around Wela Volcano's west side and on to Brooklet Hill!”

“As for us,” Kiawe gave a different direction, “You and I, Hau, will be travelling down to Royal Avenue, at the centre of Akala, and then up Wela Volcano's east side to my Trial Site.”

Moon and Hau each nodded. Turned to one another.

“Hey Moon,” Hau extended a closed fist, “I'll be at the Battle Royal when I finish my Trial, meet me there?”

Moon met the fist with her own. And nodded. Time to go on.

Parting ways, each smiled and kept heads held high.

Their next Trials lay ahead.

Chapter Text

Mallow dressed herself that morning enjoying the sun's light shining in through the upper windows of Kiawe's family house. It was to be a busy day for her, leading the trainer Moon past the farmlands north of Paniola Town, and then through the forest beyond. Most trainers would follow the western roads, heading through the coastal townships until they reached Brooklet Hill, but that would not be the direction they went. Oh no.

Far too many eyes along that way.

It was an unpleasant thing, the thought that this girl Moon had no safety on her own. Travelling together with your Pokemon, it was meant to be the symbol of freedom. Anyone could do it if they tried. But Moon's meteoric rise to fame had staunched that. Too many people wanted to see her, talk to her, find out why she was the way she was. Alone she would be hounded, unable to find peace. It was awful.

Knuckles rapped against wood. “Hey Moon, may I come in?” An affirmative in response. Mallow entered the room the girl was in.

Most trainers who travelled did so alone or with friends. Wandered from place to place around Alola, grew and matured, taking on the Trials as they went. Those who proved adept for raising Pokemon, for maintaining and growing their power, overcame those Trials, the rate different for everyone. Eleven years of age was when it started, but only an exceptionally small and skilled subset of those who took the Island Challenge completed it in less than three. That was simply the way that it was.

“I've got some clothes that might suit you, would you like to take a look?” Interest answered Mallow's question. She smiled and offered her own stored here. Something Moon might enjoy. Something to help her be herself again. That was what Mallow offered.

To be a Captain of Alola had two requirements. First, you must be under the age of twenty. This ensured constant change amongst the Captains, their time of service averaging three to six years. A Captain was tasked with maintaining a Trial Site, raising and keeping the Totem Pokemon within, and overseeing the Trials taken by trainers across Alola. Through this system many of Alola's strongest Trainers came to share the responsibility of caring for its sacred sites and nurturing their sense of responsibility to the people, Pokemon, and land around them.

The second requirement was to have completed their own Island Challenge.

Kahuna Olivia had told Mallow once that a Kahuna does not battle in their Grand Trial to claim victory, but instead to impart a lesson. For every Trial-goer a different lesson was needed to direct them, to help them grow further with their Pokemon, and a Kahuna must be able to determine what that lesson should be. It was one of the most important aspects of their role.

Mallow wondered what she would battle Moon to teach, if she were the Kahuna overseeing Moon's next Grand Trial. Moon's battle yesterday with Hau had been a draw, each expending two Pokemon equally, but that had been a result of Moon's own choice. She'd specified the limits, which favoured Hau. And she'd measured herself as well, all the same.

Moon could use two Z-Moves. Even thinking about that Mallow shook her head. In a single day she could use three, spaced roughly four hours apart, and by the third she'd be out within a half hour. Moon had used two in the span of five minutes. She'd used a Z-Move for the first time ever a week before, Ilima had reported. The numbers were all wrong. They were all so wrong.

“Oh how about some green? Would that look good?” Moon considered the shirt Mallow was holding up, forest-green with a ribbon tied around the waist. Held out her hands to try it on. Mallow smiled and handed it over.

The Captains of Alola were family, their age ranging from fourteen to twenty, from the average youngest one would complete their Island Challenge to the age of retirement from the role. They relied on one another, those younger seeking advice to stave off self-doubt from those older. And no matter what they were always there for one another and always willing to lend their aid.

To this end, both Mallow and the third Captain of Akala Island, Lana, had a stash of clothing kept at Kiawe's house in Paniola Town. Kiawe was the only one of the three to live on the northern half of the Island, which proved difficult as all three of Akala's Trials were to be found there as well. Because of this Mallow and Lana both spent a large amount of time away from home, staying close to their Trial Sites or lending aid across Akala before returning home for a few days more. Staying at Kiawe's house helped, and he enjoyed the presence of his fellow Captains as much as they did his.

In Alola, the only way to overcome adversity was together, after all.

The sum total of this was simply that it proved no issue at all for Mallow to dig up clothing she hadn't worn in a while that would loosely fit Moon, who was only slightly shorter than she was. And having something new to try out, to try and find herself in, would help. Mallow got that impression immediately.

Moon's hair was caramel-blonde, hanging loosely around her shoulders. She sat quietly and accepted Mallow's help to tie it into braids, making mention it had to make her look different. Different to the Moon Mallow had seen in the video, dark hair tied back in a ponytail, smiling wildly without a single care.

Even in the battle against Hau the day before Mallow hadn't seen that free-spirited smile. Not once on Moon's face. She didn't like that one bit.

Moon with six Pokemon. Moon with the ability to perform multiple Z-Moves in a row. Moon who the entire world had discovered and was so intent to find. Moon who'd had to be disappeared from their sight. Moon who Mallow was escorting personally through the dense forest of Akala because it would keep her away from where those interested might gather along the traditional path of an Island Challenge.

Moon who didn't smile. Not like she should.

Hau had been caught up in this too, that was why he was being similarly escorted. Young trainers should be free to roam, but Moon and Hau both would be stopped and quizzed if caught alone. Moon for who she was, Hau for his proximity to her. Given the young boy's struggle to assert himself while being measured against Moon, that would do nothing for him either. It was a mess.

It was all such a mess.

Mallow breathed out, stood up, and smiled. “You look good!”

Olivia had told Mallow that the Kahuna battle to teach. In her Final Trial, facing the four Kahuna atop Mount Lanakila, Mallow had been taught to stand against adversity. To mind her Pokemon's limits. To listen to their voices. And to not be cowed by those standing against her. Be confident. Have confidence. She remembered that still.

She didn't know what Moon would experience when facing the four Kahuna at the end of her Island Challenge. She didn't know what Moon would experience when facing Olivia for her Grand Trial at the end of her time here in Akala.

But she knew what she'd want to teach Moon, if she were the one Tapu Lele chose next.

She'd want to teach Moon to smile.


 

Dressed in a blouse of forest green over white shorts suited to Alola's warmth, Moon brushed a stray blonde hair from her forehead and adjusted her wide-brimmed hat. Aside from her dark-skin there was little that could compare her to the Moon the masses knew. Mallow led the way with the girl following behind, beyond the reaches of Paniola Town after their parting with Kiawe and Hau, and thought.

There was a lot to think about.

“It's quiet.” Her observation was agreed to by Moon – Paniola Town was the type to have hustle and bustle from the moment the sun rose, but this morning it was silent. Ideal for leaving without attention but... Mallow shook her head. “Everyone's still feeling Kahuna Koa's loss.”

Moon didn't know Kahuna Koa.

“Kahuna Koa was the leader of Poni Island,” Mallow told the story as the two started to walk, making their way out to the farmlands beyond Paniola. With plans for the area Mallow wanted to go on foot, which Moon seemed fine with. She seemed to enjoy the walk, seeing nature at an easy pace. That was the right attitude to have for a Trial-goer without question. “He was kind of like... the nice grandpa of Alola? Everyone knew him like that, even Kahuna Hala! He was really kind and really strong and always said that what he wanted most was to help teach more people to love Alola, its land, people, and Pokemon. Everyone admired him.”

He sounded impressive.

“He's had trouble for a while, days where he wasn't able to get up and leave the house, but he always made sure to be ready for a Trainer when they were on their Island Challenge. There's been...” Mallow counted against her fingers, measuring the two year span since completing her Final Trial, “Fif...teen... people after me who did their Final Trials? No wait I'm getting something wrong.” She resumed counting again. “It's... about eight to ten per year, right?” Moon looked at Mallow like she was asking her. Mallow shook her head. “I'm forgetting something but it's only been a couple. He really did seem fine two years ago.”

Silence. The topic wasn't exactly the type to help someone smile. Mallow caught that only as she was giving her final thought.

“I hope his family is okay.”

Loud braying broke the silence to follow, a herd of Mudbray storming up to the fence along the road Mallow and Moon were walking. Smiling and laughing Mallow reached out to the Pokemon, who in their excitement to see her pushed up against the fence. A voice called out over the herd's noise.

“Hey Mallow, don't let them break out again y'hear?”

“Kay!” Mallow rubbed her hands over the noses of each of the Pokemon, pushing them back at the same time, encouraging the herd to back up a little. Another Pokemon pushed through them.

“They're always like this with you,” the woman was seated on the back of a Tauros, looking over the Captain and young one with her. Island Challenger? “You spoil them too much whenever you visit.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Mallow apologised in a tone that said she felt in no way apologetic at all. “I can't help it! They're all so cute!”

“Honestly,” the woman rolled her eyes, before making eye contact with Moon. Young one. Rare to see a trainer on a Trial in Akala that young looking. Must be skilled. Hmm. “Captain Mallow's meant to help keep the peace in Akala, but every time she comes through these farmlands she just riles everyone up.”

Mallow pouted but it was clearly a play expression. The woman cast her eyes back over to the girl. “Adrien's been looking for you by the way,” her words drew Mallow's attention back, joking stance giving way to interest, “think he wants you to help with a Herdier that won't play nice.”

“Honestly,” Mallow put her hands to her hips, mimicking the woman's word and shaking her head, “how many is that now? How does one person successfully raise that many unruly Pokemon?”

“Darned if I know,” the woman was directing her Tauros to move, the crowd of Mudbray following with it, “but it'd help us all to have it far better behaved. See what you can do.” As the farmer woman rode the Wild Bull Pokemon away Mallow waved. Moon waved too. Mallow turned back to her.

“I tend to spend a lot of time in the farmlands,” she explained, “my family has a restaurant in Konikoni City: I can't work there a lot so instead I help out with managing ingredient deals. The farms here produce a lot of good stuff.” Moon nodded, interested in that. Mallow smiled. “Well when you come to Konikoni City, I'll meet you there and make you a meal. Just don't blame me if nowhere else will do after you've tasted the Aina's Kitchen best!”

Moon smiled a little and the two moved on.

Built into the nutrient-rich slopes of Wela Volcano, the farmland beyond Paniola Town produced much of the Alola Region's foodstuff. Herd Pokemon were kept in farms across the Akala Plateau, a stretch of relatively flat land that encircled the south-western half of Wela Volcano before plunging down to the shoreline below.

Along the paths and roads between the farms criss-crossing the land Mallow led Moon, checking in upon each she passed. Moon watched as the Captain navigated with ease, joyfully conversing with each farmer she stopped along the way, and fawning over the Pokemon that came up to see her. It was almost intimidating, the way she could handle so much around her without missing a beat. Crowds weren't Moon's thing. Lots of people talking, especially people she didn't know, was overwhelming. But Mallow didn't get overwhelmed. Mallow didn't need to get away.

Mallow shone.

Moon didn't say that but maybe Mallow could tell she was thinking it all the same. She smiled as they left the latest farm they'd stopped in at, Mallow helping the farmhand with a recalcitrant Herdier, lecturing the young man about letting the Pokemon he raised run him ragged. You need to give them plenty of exercise to keep them content: if you're not able to keep up then you'll just make things worse for the both of you! She'd given that speech before. He'd better listen this time. Or else.

Moon hadn't thought the Captain was the type to look threatening, with her constant smiles and joyful expressions, but the farmhand had backed up with an expression that said he understood. Moon hadn't caught it on Mallow's face before the Captain looked back at her with a grin.

“Alright then, shall we move on?”

Not every field was farmland owned. For as many herds of Pokemon were kept in farm environments, others were left to wander free. A greater responsibility shared across the farming community of Paniola ensured the herds never caused too much harm, but it was good to allow Pokemon to roam as they would across the land. Alola was their home too.

“Would you like to catch some?”

If it were any other Trainer, any other at all, Mallow wouldn't suggest this. But Moon could do it. And Mallow wanted to observe that. Even now Moon had her Eevee with her, the small brown Pokemon running about, though staying closer to its Trainer than most. It had a bit of a nervous disposition.

Mallow smiled listening to Moon speak to it, reassure it, teaching it about her and ensuring they were ready to work together. She sounded like the best of the best, the purest of Pokemon Trainers, those who could speak to their Pokemon and communicate every last bit of their intent. It wasn't just Moon's incredible ability to sustain six Trainer's Bonds, she was also an exceptional Trainer – in both raising Pokemon and battling with them. She was someone incredible and impossible already, but with growth she'd surpass every prediction.

Mallow was sure she was watching a legend in the making.

Still, there was something weird. There was something weird about watching Moon directing her Eevee, battling against a wild Mareep along the way. There was something weird about her when she commanded her Dartrix, the Blade Quill Pokemon evolved far sooner than most. There was something weird about the way the light caught the Key Stone in the pendant she wore, something she should not have.

There was something weird about Moon, something that felt off in a way Mallow couldn't place, and she continued to be unable to place it as Moon continued throughout the day. Caught a Pokemon and then another. Sent them off to storage. Mallow walked up beside her.

“So hey, what's the plan for those new Pokemon?” Her question prompted a look from Moon that seemed confused. Which was also weird. “If you're not going to use them, they'll just get released after a little while. You're not... the type of person who just takes out and puts them back all the time to keep a collection, are you?” There were systems to detect that, but it took a little while. Then prompted an investigation. Those were never fun.

Moon shook her head emphatically. The expression on her face was nothing but distaste for the concept. Good, phew, good. Mallow had been sure Moon was the type who loved Pokemon with her whole heart. She wouldn't be that kind of person.

But then what...

“So what will you do?”

Moon looked away. Hmm? “Moon?” She wasn't giving an answer. Strange. Strange. Very strange. “Hey Rotom-dex.”

“Zzt!” Always eager to be called on, the Rotom-inhabited Pokedex in Moon's bag emerged. Moon made a noise at its forceful exit, the fact it would respond to anyone who asked an annoyance, but didn't grab for it as Mallow queried. Well, she was allowed to ask.

“How many Pokemon does Moon have?”

“Pokemon encountered: sixty! Pokemon caught: twenty-three! Zzt!”

Mallow whistled. Moon didn't make eye-contact.

“You know some people,” commenting idly, Mallow kept walking, Moon following after with Rotom-dex floating behind, “make deals with Pokemon Research Labs, go on big journeys to catch all the Pokemon they can for the Pokedex. So when they catch a Pokemon it gets sent to the lab instead of the Storage System, and then when examination's done they release the Pokemon again. There's a few Trainers who've done that in Alola, though that's more working with the Aether Foundation. Professor Kukui doesn't really have the space for that sort of thing.”

Moon did look up in interest, but Mallow didn't turn back to her. Just kept on walking. “Course that's a deal they only make with accomplished Trainers, since they don't want just anyone catching Pokemon from the wild. That depletes the environment after all!”

Moon had heard a little of the Aether Foundation. They were a Pokemon conservation group, who cared for injured Pokemon before returning them to the wild. It was good, what they did. She approved.

“So you don't have anything like that, do you?” When Mallow did turn back it was to catch an expression on Moon's face that said clearly she did not. Mallow turned forward once more. Hm hm.

Moon wasn't the type to volunteer information. She was guarded. Understandable, in a way, but even still she was sitting on some sort of secret. Some reason she caught the way she did. But if Mallow asked would Moon tell her? She seemed resistant to it. Hmm.

Maybe she'd ask the others.

“Oh the Daycare Ranch!” The last stop before they veered off of the beaten path was the Alola Pokemon Daycare, a special ranch built equally in the fields and forest of the Paniola Farmlands. A special site where Trainers could leave Pokemon for a while, it was used by those who were struggling with a new or evolved Bond, unsure of the time it would take to adapt to, or those who could not keep Pokemon with them for a while – whether due to sickness or some other situation.

Mallow lent a hand often to the location, all three of Akala's Captains keeping an eye on it. Those who cared for the Pokemon there were skilled at what they did, but keeping so many Pokemon in one place could still lead to struggles. Sometimes it helped to have an extra pair of hands.

The meaning of Alola was to look out for one another and lend a hand, after all.

“Let's go in!”

“Greetings, welcome to the Alola Pokemon Daycare! Oh! Captain Mallow, good to see you!” The woman behind the main desk inside the building Mallow had entered waved, Mallow waving back in return. Moon followed behind, but kept quiet and to herself. The clerk looked past the Captain at her. “May I help you, miss?”

“What do you think?” Mallow turned her attention on Moon too, who focused on her alone. “Would you like to leave a Pokemon here? Do you need to?” Moon shook her head quickly enough in answer that Mallow couldn't help but smile. Didn't need the help at all.

Mysterious.

“Then I'm just checking in!” Mallow turned back to the clerk, who immediately joined the Captain in an animated discussion about the going-ons of the ranch. As usual the warmer weather had drawn out many people who'd started journeying and battling once more, and the result of that was Pokemon evolutions some weren't prepared for. Aside from caring for Pokemon the Daycare also offered courses to help Trainers work with their Pokemon to push the limits of their Bonds, to try and help them maintain their new and stronger Pokemon. Those courses always had mixed results, the ability to develop Bonds still lacking understanding despite the millennia humans had shared together with Pokemon.

In the end the most reliable way to push one's Bonds came with time and growth shared together. Little more.

“Are you with that young Trainer then?”

“Yep, helping Moon on the way to her next Trial!”

Mallow's carefree use of Moon's name drew an immediate shocked glare from the girl, however the clerk didn't react to it at all, simply laughing lightly before smiling at Moon. “How wonderful,” her words showed no understanding at all, Moon's expression changing to confusion, “you must be quite the skilled Trainer.”

Moon glanced at Mallow who smiled and nodded at her. What did that even mean? But Moon at least approached now, feeling the slightest hint more confident. If she didn't have to avoid making herself known here then...

“Honestly,” the woman sighed just as Moon closed in, causing her to stop still in her walk, “normally I'd love to offer a Pokemon Egg, those we are left with by Trainers unprepared to take them. But would you believe it, I gave our last one away just the other day!”

“Aww,” Mallow pouted again, “I was hoping you'd have something suuu~per awesome to share!”

“Well now you know we can't promise that,” the woman laughed a light-hearted laugh. Moon relaxed once more. “And that young boy seemed to need something he could care for. He was very stressed.”

Moon looked up and asked.

“Oh? No, I didn't get his name. He was a polite young man, blonde-haired, though possibly overworked. Honestly I was unsure if a Pokemon Egg would help, but he seemed pleased to take it. I hope caring for a young-one helps him find peace.”

Moon considered that. Filed it away for later. Mallow didn't know what any of that meant at all. She shrugged.

“Oh well,” turning to leave, she indicated for Moon to follow, “Guess we'll head out then! I'll come back later this week to see how things are, do your best!”

“Of course!” The woman waved goodbye as Mallow did the same, “Stay safe out there, little Moon!”

Moon didn't look back but Mallow smiled when she caught the expression on her face all the same. That was better.

Despite the early morning start for the Captain and Trial-goer, Mallow's visitations upon the many farms across the Akala Plateau had already set the time past midday. Stopping at the border of forest and plains, the road they were following ending at the ranch left behind, Mallow sat down and opened her bag.

Time for lunch!

Food was shared with Moon, Mallow's Pokemon expert foragers who brought back berries and plants that could be enjoyed by her and Moon's Pokemon both, and the pair of humans and their Pokemon relaxed under the shade of the leaves. Even at this slow pace it had still been a good walk to the forest's edge.

And now for their journey's next leg.

“We'll be meeting Captain Lana in the forest,” once done cleaning the remains of their lunch, Mallow retrieved something else from her bag. It was a device Moon recognised, but in a colour scheme unknown to her. This Ride Pager was pale green, branded with a Pokeball on the back, while hers was white with a golden symbol she didn't know.

Actually, now that she thought about it, that symbol did seem familiar. But to what? Moon shook her head.

“Here we go!” Activating the Pager, Mallow unleashed a Stoutland, who promptly began to nuzzle for affection. She rubbed its face with a smile. “Tauros are faster, but they can't navigate the woods as well as a Stoutland. Hop on board!”

The riding gear set up on the Big-Hearted Pokemon was for two people, a variant Captains kept for helping others get around. It was the responsibility of a Captain to care for the people across Alola, and having Ride Pokemon that could carry many was valuable. Because of that Mallow, like every other Captain, had a Ride Pager of her very own. One of few.

The culture of Ride Pokemon was an Alolan tradition – Pokemon raised to carry people across the land. They were not Pokemon held by a Trainer's Bond, but instead those who formed a partnership with Alola itself. Lent their aid in exchange for care. A different kind of bond. One with far fewer demands.

For most people Ride Pokemon would be experienced through rental stations, the system offering ways to borrow those Pokemon and travel within set locations. Wider-ranging Pokemon could be booked for tours of less inhabited locations, but they would need to be cared for by those heading out, a degree of skill in caring for Pokemon required before the rental would be approved.

Ride Pagers were new. While Ride Pokemon were a time-honoured tradition, the keeping of them had been done through ranches, barns, and other places those Pokemon could stay. The limitations of storage slowly being tested by the increasing population of Alola. A breaking point nearby.

Development of a solution started with the Aether Foundation. A project of theirs ended with – or rather produced as a side-effect, the original goal never mentioned – a new development, a way of transferring a Pokemon through the trade-system to a storage device bound to no Trainer at all. A device that could hold Pokemon without any Bond required.

The initial prototype from the Aether Foundation allowed for only a single Pokemon to be stored within. It was the work of Captain Ilima, contacted by a friend who worked with the Foundation, that led to the development of its current model, a version that could store a multitude of Pokemon. A device that could change the world.

Ilima, working with the Aether Foundation, ensured safeguards. The original device stored a Pokemon within it. The new version linked to the Storage System, ensured the same auto-release timer was used. Wisely did the Captain cover the tracks of the first version of the device – missing in an accident, its blueprints all that was left behind. A method to store a Pokemon without any guarantee of release, without any requirement for a Trainer to feel a Bond, it was dangerous, far far too dangerous.

Honestly, Ilima was thankful that the original device had disappeared, though the specifics of its loss were kept from him. However it may be, the longer that discovery of the original design could be kept back, the better.

Such a devilish item was better off lost.

Today personal Ride Pagers were in short supply. The Captains, Kahuna, and a few key Trainers across the Region had them as a means to support Alola best. Then those who could afford them. Gating by price, the slow release of the devices to the world, had been agreed to between Ilima and the Aether Foundation, accepting that its use would allow for the betterment of the world, though the danger hidden behind it would need to always be measured. For now, a drip-feed to see the effects. To allow them to put a stop to anything that went too far. To test and ensure.

It was still early days.

Moon didn't know this and Mallow didn't think on what little she did. Instead the Captain guided the Stoutland she sat upon the back of, weaving between trees at a pace that had her hair streaming behind her, smiling as she made every nudge and motion to keep the speed. She enjoyed this.

She really did.

Moon wasn't quite as adept at speed. Her first exposure to riding Pokemon properly had been the Tauros in Hau'oli City, and those followed clear lanes. After that was riding on the back of Professor Kukui's Braviary and Moon's almost fall from that still affected her. Heights were not a thing she enjoyed.

The ride to Iki Town atop Tauros-back was with company she knew and trusted. Moon was safe amongst them, and Hau's challenge to her had occupied her thoughts. The crossing of the sea from Melemele to Akala, when Moon had stood at the forefront of Kukui's boat, had again been at Hau's encouragement.

But this was different still. This was having no control, Mallow the one directing, as the Pokemon the two rode upon dashed through the forest, weaving its way between trees that, if hit, would end poorly for all three of them. It was an intense experience and not one Moon was prepared for – Captain Mallow getting far too into the groove of riding to notice the discomfort of her passenger.

Not until she slowed down to a stop.

“Okay, I- Moon?”

On unsteady feet Moon attempted to disembark the Pokemon, one hand over her stomach. A foot missed a stirrup.

“Woah!”

At least she was quick on her feet, Mallow rushing over to catch Moon before she fell. “Are you alright?” The queasy look on Moon's face quickly told Mallow she wasn't, and she relaxed her grip so Moon could dash off into the bushes.

Ah whoops.

When Moon returned, a haggard expression worn, Mallow clapped her hands and held them over her bowed head, resting upon her knees still. An apology must be more than words. “I'm sorry!” A loud splash of water nearby drew Moon's attention away. “Seriously!” Mallow stood up, missing the sound over her own distress, “I wasn't thinking I'm sorry! I really mean it! I do!” Moon's attempt to not focus on the experience struggled under Mallow insistence on acknowledging it. She continued towards the sound.

Mallow, still unaware there was anything drawing Moon, sure it was only her pushing the girl away, felt stricken. She'd messed up so bad oh no oh no. What was she going to do? “Moon,” following after Moon, who'd passed a few trees and had her back to her, Mallow approached, “I'm really really sor-”

“Hup!”

“-ack!”

It was the work of an instant. Moon had followed the sound of splashing to find a stream running through the forest, a girl sitting before it with fishing rod dangling out over the water. Just as Mallow had begun speaking the fishing girl had pulled with all her might, hauled a bright red Pokemon from the water, and sent it flying right into Mallow's face.

Picture perfect aim, really.

“Mallow?”

A face full of Magikarp, Mallow flailed, leaning backwards after the impact before straightening up and letting the fish fall to the ground, bouncing unhappily on the grass. Moon reached down and picked it up.

“Lana!” Mallow's tone was immediately accusatory, “You did that on purpose!”

“Not at all,” the one known as Lana, a girl shorter than Moon with a short cut of sea-blue hair, approached the pair shaking her head. “The Magikarp slipped off of my line. I think they're cleverer than most here.”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Mallow placed her palms against the sides of Lana's head, staring her down. Lana smiled serenely. “The master fisher let a Magikarp off her line, sure Lana, sure.”

Moon, now having reached the stream, set the Magikarp back into it. It splashed her happily before swimming away. Turning back to the pair, Moon watched as Mallow rubbed the knuckles of one hand against Lana's head, the smaller girl sticking a tongue out in jest.

“Admit you threw that Magikarp at me Lana.”

“It jumped right at you, maybe it wanted to eat the flower you keep?”

“Grrrr!”

There was something to it, the way the two were clearly as comfortable as could be with one another, that made Moon miss Lillie and Hau. When the three were together, when they relaxed and simply were in the same place, that was good. It was a special kind of good better than any other. The only thing like it was the time spent with her Pokemon.

Time spent with those you cared about, huh.

“Hello,” the voice, far less energised than Mallow's, greeted Moon, the girl standing before her. Up close it looked like she was wearing her shirt and pants over a swimsuit. Moon greeted her in return. The girl smiled.

“I'm Lana, Captain of Brooklet Hill. It's nice to meet you, Moon.”

There was a third requirement to be a Captain of Alola. Having completed your Island Challenge, being the right age to spend a few years as a Captain, of course. But thirdly came the right nature. A Captain must care for Alola. Must be ready to raise people and Pokemon. Must help polish the Island Challenge to shine and through it the Trainers that faced it. To do that took understanding and skill that stood above the rest.

The truth was that while Captains were required to surrender the position at twenty, many took the role before the age of sixteen. It was those with the pure ability and drive to overcome their Island Challenge in so short a span of time that were truly Captain material.

Captain Lana of Akala Island, who had completed her Island Challenge the fastest of the current Captains of Alola, was a fearsome force who communicated little of that in her greeting to Moon. Smiled gently. Had recently flung a fish – or at least was being accused of doing so – at Captain Mallow. Looked at Moon with interest.

“How are you feeling?”

The truth of that was that Moon was still a little uneasy after the ride through the forest and, after expressing that, Lana gave Mallow a look that instantly brought the girl back down to her knees. “I didn't mean tooooo!”

Both residents of Konikoni City, Mallow and Lana had grown up together, becoming fast friends. In each they had something they admired in the other – for Lana it was Mallow's ability to befriend and ally with everyone around her, while for Mallow it was Lana's unflinching drive that let her overcome any challenge placed before her. The two shared their Island Challenge, though the difference in age meant Mallow had started hers a full year and a half before Lana.

For as many friendships struggled under the difference between two Trainers, others only became stronger, each matching the other's pace. Lana caught up to Mallow magnificently, only for Mallow to grow even further in competition. For someone who, when completing her Akala Grand Trial had admitted to Kahuna Olivia that she was not sure she'd be able to continue on, Mallow reached her Final Trial at a proud fifteen, Lana only a half year behind.

Lana knew that it was her drive chasing Mallow that had helped her do as she had done.

Now they were Captains and where usually it was the older Captains helping the younger ones find their confidence, here it had been Lana once more pushing Mallow forward. Inspiring her to embrace her nature of befriending everyone she met to overcome her lack of faith in leading as a Captain would. A year ago Mallow had been filled with nervousness every day, unsure as to anything she was doing. Today she never looked back.

Lana strung an excellent joke off of that to poke fun at Mallow not noticing Moon's troubles, only upsetting her further. But Lana's teasing never had edge and it helped Mallow relax even as she complained about her own mistake.

Moon, watching this complex dance between the two play out, found herself surprised by how natural it felt. The way they interacted and motivated each other, it was good.

She liked it.

When Mallow saw Moon's smile her own face cracked with one far wider, Moon realising she'd been smiling involuntarily only a moment after. She raised a hand to her cheek.

“Well then,” dusting off her pant legs from where she'd been sitting at the stream's edge, Lana clicked a button on the fishing rod she'd left lying on the ground, the device telescoping down to almost nothing, “shall we move on?”

“Okay then!” Standing up as well, Mallow nodded before turning to Moon. “Moon, Captain Lana will be looking after you now. When you complete your Water Trial, you're heading to the Royal Avenue, right?”

Moon nodded. That was where she and Hau would meet.

“You'll probably find Captain Kiawe there, so you can go on to your Fire Trial. After that is your Grass Trial, so do your best so I can see you soon! Okay?” Another nod. She would.

She couldn't wait.

“Alrighty!” Waving, Mallow stepped away, once more using her Ride Pager to unleash the Stoutland, who continued to snuffle around looking for food amongst the forest bed. “I'm heading off! Good luck with your Trial! Make sure to look after her, okay Lana?”

“Yes yes,” Lana waved languidly, responding to the gesture Mallow made indicating her eyes then Lana. Then the green-haired girl was off, once more riding at speed, leaving Lana and Moon behind. Lana turned to Moon. Looked her over.

Wow.

She really felt incredible.

It took a long time, a decade of Pokemon battling at least, for a real sense for Trainers to develop. Those with two or three, those who'd never stopped, they could tell a strong Trainer at a glance. Sense the Bonds a Trainer had with their Pokemon and the raw power those Bonds amounted to.

The best of the best could tell the results of most battles by simply looking at two opposing Trainers. Most. There was always room for surprises.

But even with only a rough four years of experience, Captain Lana felt something looking at Moon. This mysterious Trainer who showed no limits, she felt that way. Endless. That was the best word for it. Endless.

Lana withdrew a Ride Pager and released a Pokemon of her own.

“Moon,” stepping towards the bustling stream, Lana indicated the Transport Pokemon gently bobbing in the water's flow, “Lapras will take us further on.” A moment more to notice Moon hadn't heard a word, simply staring at the floating Pokemon. She was the type to be transfixed by a new sight then.

Lana didn't mind that at all.

“You needn't worry,” when she spoke again she finally caught Moon's attention, drawing the girl's eyes back to her, “this Lapras is a far gentler ride. Although, if you would believe it, it can outswim a Kyogre when it needs to.” Moon's nodding at Lana's words came to a sudden and immediate halt. She stared blankly. Lana chuckled and gestured to the Pokemon. “The stream will take us far through the forest towards Brooklet Hill. When you are ready...”

Still kind of looking at Lana weirdly after that sudden claim, Moon stepped out to the Pokemon, who crooned a note of song to greet her. Oh, Lana smiled, she liked her. That Lapras usually kept her opinions quiet.

Moon really was something else.

Lana boarded and the pair set out.

The Akala Plateau made up the south-western side of Wela Volcano. Far enough north plains gave way to forest, and far enough through that forest the slope changed as one entered the north-west. Bubbling brooks and coursing streams flowed down from the mountain and ran further north, coalescing from the wide catchment and ending at one place alone.

At Brooklet Hill.

Through this, Lana was the perfect Captain for the location. Her talent for raising water Pokemon, her natural understanding of that aspect of Alola, it allowed her to travel the countless tributaries across Akala's north with ease. She and Mallow had picked a meeting place in the forest, beyond the sight of the rest of the world, and exchanged Moon at it without issue. Now it was Lana's turn, charting the flowing waters and taking Moon through the forest, through this backwards path, towards the site of her next challenge.

To where all the water flowed.

Lana fished. The Lapras she kept as a Ride Pokemon was more than capable of travelling on its own, following the stream as it wound its way through the thick Akalan forest, and so Lana had the time to relax. To sit at the Pokemon's back and let her line dangle in the water left behind.

Moon watched with curiosity.

“With the speed we're travelling at,” Lana spoke as they went, Lapras's consistent and unwavering speed shaking the pair in no way at all, “it's difficult to catch things.” She flicked the rod. A Magikarp splashed in the water before Lana pulled the line back and cast again. Moon watched as not a minute later the Captain brought up a Goldeen instead. If this was when it was difficult for her...

Time passed. Lana spoke lightly, asked questions of Moon's experience before making grandiose claims that absolutely definitely weren't true at all. Right?

True or false, Captain Lana wasn't telling.

It grew dark. Mallow and Lana had met past midday, and the river's flow through the forest involved little of the sun making it to Moon or Lana's eyes. By the time it was late afternoon the flora-rich environment was already dark. Moon huddled closer to the Lapras, wrapping her jacket around her – retrieved from the bag she carried – and waited. Lana gave a countdown, announcing how long it was to their destination.

Just half an hour left.

Just ten more minutes.

Five more.

There minutes.

Two.

One.

“We're here.”

In the time they had travelled the stream had merged with more than Moon could count, growing wide into a river that flowed with powerful intent. Yet the Lapras had never changed its steady pace, never been unbalanced, the perfect wayfaring Pokemon of the sea. It was almost stunning how smooth the ride had been.

“Careful now, don't slip.” Lana bounded to the shore with ease, before reaching out a hand to help Moon down. Only when the girl was also on solid land did Lana call back the Lapras, returning it to the Ride Pager she held once more.

Then turned to face the light of the building before them.

It wasn't a Pokemon Center. And this deep in the forest, no sighting of roads about, the structure was clearly no hotel. Moon didn't know what it was. Lana answered her unvoiced question clearly.

“This is a Pokemon Rangers' Station, where those who help keep Alola's environment safe stay. We'll be resting here tonight.”

Oh. That made sense. Was that fine?

“The Rangers know me, we'll have space.” Lana led the way, up the wooden staircase to the second-storey entrance. Navigated easily through the building, greeting those along the way. If they made any notice of Moon, Moon didn't see it. She was tired.

“Take it easy.”

With that command Moon relaxed. Shared food with the Captain and her Pokemon, eased into the room she had been given, and slept the night away. These days of travel, seeing Alola, they were good. But still there was the pressure behind them, the knowledge that the way she was moving was because of the world's eyes upon her.

Because she was the way she was.

Moon slept fitfully, dreaming of an Alola where the sun didn't rise and the sky was alight with eyes watching her every move.

That night it rained.

Chapter Text

Clouds hung heavy in the morning sky, muting the light with their rain-swollen forms. Moon awoke to a knock on the door of the room she was resting in, Lana's voice telling her they'd be eating soon. Dressing herself, looking out the window, Moon saw trees alone, lit by dull grey. Little else.

The hours last night had been quiet, the few other figures in this building, this Pokemon Rangers' Station, giving them space. Moon had been free to, with Lana's encouragement, allow her entire team out to eat. For all of them to be at rest.

Places like that in Alola weren't as common as they should be for her. That was why Lana had brought her here. To a place she could be free.

Moon walked the halls of the building, leading away from the room she had been given. Beneath the carpet wooden floorboards creaked, the building old yet sturdy. A timeless classic, some amongst the Pokemon Rangers' Association would describe it. Some.

She'd eaten in a dining hall of no small size, down the staircase on the first level of the building they'd entered on the second. At the time, besides she and Lana, there had only been one or two other people who'd kept quiet and to themselves.

Thus the juxtaposition hit Moon especially hard as she opened the door.

“So I was thinking about patrolling up-stream this coming-”

“-rain means we'll see extra pressure at the chokepoints-”

“-see the Aether presentation? Some really cool-”

“Please trade shifts with me! I gotta get to Heahea tomorrow night for the show!”

“Saw some Team Skull punks around Brooklet Hill, they've really been getting brazen.”

“Did you hear the Trumbeak this morning?”

“Oh pass the honey!”

“What do you think?”

“How about we-”

“-agreed let's-”

“Sure wish we had some more.”

Voices from every direction fell upon Moon's ears, some two, three dozen odd people seated at the long tables arranged throughout the hall all in animated discussion over breakfast. Moon stared at the numbers, so active, so energetic that she wasn't sure what at all to do. Hearing the door open a few turned, spotted her, and made mention to others. She watched nudges and whispers course along the tables as people looked her way before returning to their food.

Eventually the notice reached Lana herself.

“Oh Moon, good morning.”

To Lana Moon went, all too aware that while everyone around her was engaged in their own business, they were still sparing her glances. She tried not to look their way.

“Over here you two,” the voice at the table Lana had come from beckoned her back with Moon in tow, the man sitting there continuing to work his way through a sizable breakfast. Lana sat herself comfortably where she had been before, Moon slower to take the empty seat at her right. She looked in curiosity at the man eating his fill.

Every last person in this hall, besides Lana and Moon herself, wore jackets of similar design: bright red in colour, emblems Moon didn't quite recognise of yellow, pink, red, and purple sewn across them. This man though, strongly chiselled, dark skinned with a clean shaven face and buzzed black hair, his jacket was a little different. More ornate, highlights along the seams. In any group it would scream 'this is what the leader wears'. Lana caught Moon's stare.

“This is Captain Jackson,” her introduction was acknowledged by a nod of the man's head, taking a sip of his coffee to start the morning right. “He's the head of the Pokemon Rangers' Association in Alola.”

Moon nodded her own acknowledgement moments before the loud sound of Jackson putting his mug back on the table drew eyes to him. He looked directly at her.

“Don't hesitate to eat,” his first words pushed Moon's attention to the spread on the table before her, and with a gesture of reassurance from the man she began preparing a plate. Something warm for a dreary morning like this. Jackson seemed pleased at the appetite Moon showed. Kids should be eating well, after all.

Between focusing on her food Moon observed. Many of the people, these Pokemon Rangers, were in discussion with one another between bites. Some stood and moved around, joining other conversations. One or two played with Pokeballs, balancing them on fingers or idly passing them from hand to hand. Every last one had at least one on them.

And almost constantly one had something to ask their Captain, whether advice on the current state of the environment, thoughts on how to approach a specific problem, or even for suggestions on how better to work with their Pokemon partners. Moon heard enough in just that small span of time to understand that Jackson was not only a figure respected deeply by his subordinates, but also a man both experienced and skilled.

The kind of person who impresses others just by the way they were.

“It's,” his plate cleaned, Jackson spoke again, turning to look at Moon. She'd been doing her best not to take notice of anyone looking at her that morning, and so it took a moment to realise Jackson had spoken. She looked up at him as he continued. “It's not really my place to say this, honestly, but I am sorry. You don't deserve what you have to go through. It's wrong.”

Moon's focus on her food fell away.

“Curiosity is a valuable thing, it drives so many of us in life. But it must always be tempered by respect. Those who let their interest overwhelm their sense have done you wrong. I wish it were not so.” Moon said little. Looked at Jackson but didn't really see much. Being prompted to think about it, all of this, quickly overwhelmed. Jackson shook his head. It frustrated him. Deeply it did.

“I was in Melemele recently, checking out the tunnels in the north.” That day, flying from Verdant Cavern, searching for Lillie, wandering through the earth, it remained vivid in Moon's memories. Jackson continued. “We're going to have to work extra hard to make sure no-one else ends up in those caves. It was lucky that things ended the way they did.”

Moon had heard that sentiment more than once already. She'd had enough of it. Perhaps sensing that, Jackson changed tack.

“Captain Lana,” the way he said it, the way Lana preened under it, showed an established rapport between the two, “has told me you'll be preparing for your Trial at Brooklet Hill. For as long as you are in the area, please consider this station somewhere you can stay in peace. And if any single one of my Rangers troubles you,” there was just the slightest tinge of volume in the way Jackson's voice rose, not enough to be any different from speaking normally, yet the entire room seemed to quiet just a little. Like everyone heard him when he spoke with command. “Well. They won't.”

A Jackson promise wasn't something to turn your nose up at, that was for sure.

“The Pokemon Rangers,” now that Lana was done eating she began to speak with a far more energetic expression than Moon had seen on her before, “are Alola's protectors of nature. Captains care for sites sacred to the Tapu, but Pokemon Rangers work all over Alola, keeping places safe from people but also for people. They're the best. I'm going to be one when I'm older.”

Jackson laughed but it was a warm and good-natured sound. Lana's smile didn't change.

“Captain Lana's been working with us since she was made such, she'll be a Ranger as good as they come when the time comes.”

“Captain Jackson,” the term Captain meant something different applied to Jackson than it did to Lana, but each still referred to the other with it in full respect, “used to be an Alolan Captain too. He was in charge of Brooklet Hill long ago.”

“Not that long!” Jackson's tone this time was recrimination for Lana, marred by the fact other people around had begun listening in and all took great amusement at the young Captain's subtle dig at the age of the older's. Their noises of entertainment drowned out Jackson's complaint. He shook his head. Lana didn't miss the gesture of Moon holding a hand to her mouth, quietly laughing behind it. Oh that was nice to see.

As long as Moon could laugh there was still hope to see her through this.

“Moon,” Lana spoke with slightly more intent now, focusing entirely upon the Trial-goer beside her. Moon looked to her. “Before you undertake my Trial, you must pass a test. When you are ready, come outside. I will be waiting.”

“Eat well then.” Jackson's voice directed Moon's attention back to her plate, not yet cleared, as Lana took her leave. The Captain stopped and spoke to a few of the Rangers, already a member in all but title, but moved on quickly enough. Left the building to breathe the air still thick with moisture from the last night's rain.

Moon ate. Jackson continued to field questions from his subordinates. Just listening in, Moon understood he was on management duty today, but only for as long as he had to be before he could get back out into the field. The type of person who wasn't interested in sitting still with paperwork, who had to be out there in the depths of nature – that was exactly what she expected someone who led a group like the Pokemon Rangers to be.

Jackson saw her out when she was ready.

“Be careful while you're here,” he spoke with knowledge, leading Moon up the staircase to the exit from the building. “When the seasons change the activity of local Pokemon changes with it. Right now is a time of great conflict between Pokemon establishing new territories. Be cautious. You picked a fine time to test yourself against Alola.” It had only been three and a half weeks since Moon had begun her journey. It should have been another month, maybe two, before even the best of Trainers made it to Brooklet Hill. And there they would stay for far longer, pushed back by the Trials of Akala and forced to train and grow with their partners. That wasn't how the one known as Moon operated though. Her rate of growth, it was faster than she travelled.

Truly ridiculous.

Jackson opened the door for her, wooden steps leading down to the forest floor below. “And remember, you may return here whenever you wish.” Moon nodded and thanked him. Heard the door close behind her as she descended the steps, spying Lana standing by the river that ran by the Rangers' Station.

The Captain turned to face her once Moon's descent was complete. Raised her hands, two different Pokeballs in each. One Net one Dive. She nodded.

“Let's begin.”

“Zzt!” Responding to the presence of Pokemon, Rotom-dex emerged from Moon's bag and hovered overhead, announcing what it saw. Moon selected two Pokeballs of her own in that time. “Pokemon identified! Octillery, Water-type, evolved form of Remoraid! Cloyster, Water and Ice-type, evolved form of Shellder! Zzt!”

Moon raised her hands with a pair of Pokeballs in response. Lana nodded.

“I will be testing you.” She didn't bat an eyelid at the Pokemon to appear, the Dartrix and Meowth. A part of her had wondered if Moon would bring her dragon to battle, but with her own Cloyster here Moon had wisely chosen not to. Her Dartrix was already at significant risk from it. Lana could see Moon's attention focused upon the Bivalve Pokemon. She really did have good instincts.

But it wouldn't be enough.

“This will be a Double Battle, are you ready?”

Moon had yet to take part in a Double Battle alone. She had planned to at the Pokemon School in Melemele, but that clash had been interrupted. And no-one along her travels so far had extended that challenge.

Double Battles were tests that went beyond a simple two against two, fought one at a time. Splitting one's focus, and the energy they provided, between two Pokemon exhausted readily. Even Trainers of skill could be wary about engaging in such a fight, aware that an extended conflict might leave them exhausted. Moon had yet to experience it, and Lana knew that. But she needed to.

Otherwise she'd never match up to what lay ahead.

Moon's nod said she was ready. Lana's smile took a wilder edge, surprising the girl before her. It was rare she got to cut loose this way.

She was really going to enjoy this.

“Then begin!”

It wasn't fair. It wasn't meant to be fair either. The difference between Lana and Moon may only be a few years in the grand total, a gap that as they grew older would mean less and less, but right now it was the world. Moon had finished one Trial and one Grand Trial. Lana had completed her Island Challenge, and served a year of Captainship after that.

She crushed her.

For Moon it was stunning, an experience unlike any other. Against Tapu Koko she'd been aware of its power, struggled to assert herself against it, been allowed to act if only for a moment. But Lana didn't even give her that. The moment the battle began Moon was on the defensive, Lana's commands equally split between her Pokemon, the two covering one another perfectly. Moon didn't have a strategy in mind, her usual battle tactics refined in the fight itself. And she didn't get to have a strategy. It was the matter of moments, two perfect blows equally against her partners, Moon's attention unable to focus on either to give commands.

She stood there, silent and staring, as Lana called back her Pokemon. As Moon's two, her Dartrix, her Meowth, lay bested before her.

She hadn't been able to do a thing.

“You're not ready.” Lana's words were a weight Moon hadn't felt before, slamming down upon her shoulders. Her head hung as she fumbled with her Pokeballs, calling back the two partners she'd failed. She couldn't say a thing. The Captain approached her and held out a hand.

“You must train,” there was her quieter voice now, the intensity Lana had shown in battle gone in the flip of a switch. “The forest around Brooklet Hill, explore it, walk the paths, meet with the Pokemon, and better yourself. Your power, your abilities, are unrefined. You cannot go further relying on an unpolished gift. We won't let you.”

Moon nodded, eyes still lowered. Lana moved her hand forward into view. A small metal rod lay in it.

“Take this,” Lana lifted her hand, encouraging Moon to accept the gift. “The rivers around here are perfect for fishing. Take the time to familiarise yourself with Water-type Pokemon. If you follow the path,” Lana indicated and Moon followed her gesture, seeing now through the trees a dirt-lined track, “you'll find your way to the Brooklet Hill entrance. There is a Pokemon Center there as well. Do not enter Brooklet Hill yet, but train in the area. Better yourself. Do you understand?”

There was a long way to go. A million things she could do to improve. Here Moon stopped.

For now.

Lana held back a vicious smile at the intensity in Moon's eyes when she raised her head. Good. Good. This was a Trainer who wouldn't be cowed. This was a Trainer who wouldn't be stopped. She'd get stronger. Much stronger. Perfect.

She was going to be amazing.

Moon trained.

She walked the path from the Rangers' Station and found busier roads, dirt and grass tracks that saw clear daily use. The bite of chill in the air, left from the previous night's rain, combined with the moisture to keep most people away. Gave her the freedom to move. To seek out Pokemon in grass and in water. To battle.

To catch.

She visited the Pokemon Center, now and then. Made exchanges. If anyone in there, a small few travelling the area, paid attention to her, she didn't make note of them. Walked with head held high and eyes full of purpose.

She had to train.

Captain Lana of Brooklet Hill observed.

When it came to this area, only the most experienced Rangers knew it better than her. The backwards paths, the open ways between dense foliage, the places to watch the thoroughfare beyond, Lana knew them all. And so she observed the Trainer Moon, come from Kanto, now a resident of Alola.

And this is what she saw.

She saw Moon unleash a Pokemon and command it against the wild ones she crossed. Try tactics. Play defensive at times to observe and think. To last longer in battle while keeping her team safe. The thing she had been unable to do against Lana before. Even when multiple Pokemon were drawn to her ruckus, even when Moon brought out a second to fight, she kept her defense. Wild Pokemon were far less able to threaten than Lana had been, but still Moon was doing exceptionally. Her rate of growth as ridiculous as every other part of her.

It was something else.

Lana saw Moon catching Pokemon. And adding them to her team. Her composition changed over the course of the day, more Grass-types appearing within it. Preparing to counter the Water Trial. Amazing.

Trainers settled into teams they knew. Lent upon what typing biases they might have to help support just a little more. Grew to understand the weaknesses of their team and trained to counter them. To be prepared for any angle.

Moon was different. Moon didn't need to adjust the abilities of her team when she could simply change her team entirely. Mallow had called Lana that last night, making sure they had arrived safely before speaking about Moon. Noting the way Moon caught Pokemon, and how odd it was that she did. Wondering if Lana could figure it out.

She couldn't. By all accounts, it made no sense. No-one could juggle so many Pokemon the way Moon did. There had to be a trick. But Lana couldn't find it. Not, at least, until Moon wandered off the path.

Lana followed, her footsteps quiet, her presence unseen. Moon was wandering through the woods, her Dartrix scouting ahead. When it reported finding something, whatever it was looking for, Moon thanked it and returned it to its ball. Continued on.

Into the clearing that lay ahead.

Captain Lana of Brooklet Hill watched. Watched as Moon stood in the centre of the clearing, looked up to the cloudy sky overhead, and withdrew an item from her bag. Something Lana couldn't tell at this distance. Something white. Moon pressed a button upon it.

Wait, was that a-

A beam of light resolved into the shape of a Pokemon Lana had never seen up close before. A Charizard.

What.

She held back. Watched as Moon boarded the Ride Pokemon – Ride Charizard – then took off. Into the sky. Lana watched the direction. North-east. Moon disappeared from view.

And left much to think about in her wake.

For Moon it was important to return. The Bonds between her and her Pokemon, they drew her back to them. They were waiting for her. She focused on them, held herself against the height she travelled at, arms tight upon the flying gear the Charizard was equipped with, and continued on.

Beyond Akala's north-east to where the Poke Pelago lay.


 

Development had been quick.

A natural hard-worker, with the Pokemon Moon provided Mohn had easily settled into a routine. Work alongside the Pokemon. Help direct them to clear and till the land, to shift the earth, to tend the crops. Break time for food, food Mohn provided, harvested from the plantlife growing across the islands. Then repeat.

Moon had only been here three days ago. Left the morning after her arrival. But now she was back and she found herself surprised by the changes Mohn and her Pokemon had wrought. She suddenly felt like she believed in the Poke Pelago just a little bit more.

Her arrival came as no surprise. All of her Pokemon knew it, all turned to the sky long before the Charizard she rode was within range for its roar to be heard. Mohn waved as the Pokemon came in for a landing, his smile as wide as could be.

He'd never fail to smile for the one who'd agreed to help make his dream come true.

“Welcome back!” The greeting was responded to hazily, Moon uneasy after the flight. It was enough of a distance on the Ride Charizard to be off-putting, especially for someone so young. He sympathised. “Your Pokemon have been doing well!”

Mohn offered a tour. The fields were clearer than before, better able to support plants tended to by the Pokemon lending their aid. A bridge to the next island was at work, a way to allow the Pokemon to develop the others around. The thick and fast-growing trees on this island allowed for such construction. A fine start.

Moon settled with her Pokemon and spoke. Her words for them alone, Mohn left her in peace, continuing his own work. When not developing the islands he was continuing to toy with the Pokemon Storage System. A request system, where Moon could specify Pokemon for him to return to the PC for retrieval, had been completed only recently. He'd been surprised to see a message from her already.

She was quick to adapt.

As quick to grow as the Pokemon she kept.

Moon observed their growth. Working hard, supporting this island, it kept them healthy. But more than that. They were strong. Not as much as those who'd spent a length of time at her side, but far more than those living wild. They still drew strength. Still grew from her. Good. That was what she'd hoped.

Through this, she really could go all out. No need to hold back. Just like she'd promised.

She spent a number of hours more.

Mohn taught her about the islands. Showed her the work he and her Pokemon had done. Discussed future plans, and was reassured by her that more Pokemon would be caught. She believed in the Poke Pelago too. He smiled widely to hear that.

Moon changed her team, introduced the members with her to their fellows, and then took her leave. A part of her would love to stay, to spend the night with them surrounding her once more, but she knew now was not the time. Kahili's panic at her absence had avoided explanation by lucky distraction, the Key Stone she had been gifted inciting the woman's ire. But if Moon did not appear that night Captain Lana would no doubt search for her. And Moon did not want that.

She felt that if she told anyone, if she revealed the Poke Pelago and the way she used it, it would make nothing better. Only draw attention she did not want. Keep this to herself. This way of being herself.

That was better.

Captain Lana saw the Charizard pass overhead. She had given the topic rest within her mind, focused on observing how the seasonal changes in Brooklet Hill were measuring out, and determined how much longer. Two more nights, tonight and tomorrow. She was sure of that.

Then it would be time.

Moon and Lana returned to the Pokemon Ranger's Station separately. Greeted each other upon arrival. Lana did not mention observing Moon's actions, nor her mysterious departure. Moon did not mention the changes she had made. Simply noted she had trained. The Captain accepted that.

And after the bustle of the evening, the local Rangers sharing their meal, their presence increased in this location while Jackson remained in the area, after all of that Moon slept. Low rumbles echoed from the clouds, their payload once more washing the forest night. A storm was building but each time it tried to manifest it lost hold of the moisture it had built up.

Night turned to day and Captain Lana instructed Moon to battle her once again.

Moon opened the Double Battle with a Z-Move, an action few would ever do. Yet it was far too soon, Lana prepared for anything, and so she intercepted it, had her Cloyster act in defense. The blow hit, but its power was stripped by the protection her Pokemon raised against it. A surprise tactic like that, it wouldn't work at all.

Moon was already performing the motions for a second.

“Then I!” Lana moved. Raised her arms, the Z-Ring around her left wrist set with a blue crystal, and performed her own pose. Waves, like the rolling ocean. Power flowed from her into her Octillery while Cloyster defended once again.

And a surge of water washed out with overwhelming force, lashed up the two Pokemon Moon had used – a Mareep in partnership to the Dartrix this time – and held them fast within its spiralling torrent. Another battle brought to a close.

Lana hefted a sigh and walked without any sway at all. In this moment she could not show any of her Z-Move's effects upon her. Not with Moon before her. Not like this.

“You shouldn't do it like that.” Moon was once more stunned by the crushing defeat she had suffered at the hands of the Captain. Lana shook her head. “Z-Moves aren't meant to be used like that. Your Pokemon were beaten because they were exhausted by their use. You didn't think beyond believing they would work, did you?” The girl refused to look up again. Lana sighed. “Moon, think about your Z-Moves and what they mean. They're the bonds between you and your Pokemon. A sign of your trust in each other. When you use them, you're trusting one another that the time is right. Please. Keep that in mind.”

It took a moment for Moon to nod. To work past her disappointment at her defeat. Lana smiled.

“But honestly, two Z-Moves, you really are something.” Moon looked up. Lana indicated the path. “Let's move on... to Brooklet Hill.”

The flooded terraced steps of Brooklet Hill were richer with life than most of Alola, aquatic Pokemon of all types able to be found within their waters. The flow of brooks, streams and rivers across the northern stretch of Akala, all culminating at this singular point, helped gather these Pokemon together, and ensure a location vibrant and alive. Lana loved it. She truly did.

“Look.” Beyond the entrance to Brooklet Hill Lana turned Moon's attention, pointed out a clash upon the water. A Surskit was skating over the surface of a pool, a Goldeen repeatedly jumping out of the water and attempting to slam it with its horn. As they walked another Pokemon dashed past them, diving into the pool and joining the skirmish. The sound of splashing followed after the pair of humans walking through. Lana smiled.

“This is the time Brooklet Hill is most alive. The Pokemon claiming territory, fighting amongst themselves to settle their disputes. Becoming part of this will be your Trial. When you are ready.” Moon nodded and didn't at all realise Lana's ploy. Readiness was never going to be a factor.

Whether or not she was ready, tomorrow would be the night. Of that Lana was sure.

For now she taught. She showed Moon the paths of Brooklet Hill, the pools water flowed into and from, cascading waterfalls all the way to the bottom. The bottom where the Totem waited. Not yet. Not yet, little Moon.

She taught her to fish. Moon had experimented with the rod Lana had given her, but catching was slow, and so she'd focused on the landbound Pokemon instead. Lana gave pointers, and watched as Moon adapted to it. Caught a little faster. Battled what she fished up – whether Magikarp, Goldeen, or even the occasional Wishiwashi – as well as what was attracted by her fishing. Opportunistic Wingull, aggressive Surskit and Dewpider, even the occasional curious Poliwag. A banquet of experiences to be had.

Moon indulged in them deeply.

Onwards the two went, Lana slowly driving Moon deeper into Brooklet Hill's grasp. They'd stop short of the gates indicating the Totem's lair, but up to it Moon must prove herself. Stand against these Pokemon at the height of their territorial conflict. Only with that experience, as she battled Pokemon, as others became curious and entered the fight as well, converting it from a one on one to a grand royale, would she be ready. Lana enjoyed watching her grow.

Soon oh so soon indeed.

The tower of water, a pillar into the sky reaching heights comparable to Brooklet Hill's entrance though it came from its lowest point, alerted Lana to great trouble. The water hung in the air for a second, raised by incredible force, before breaking into a rain of droplets, washing down across the site. Immediately Moon and Lana were soaked through. For Lana, wearing a wetsuit beneath her clothing, this was no issue. For Moon it was far more frustrating. Lana felt that frustration too.

Something was messing with the Totem.

“Let's go let's go move move move!”

The voice reached their ears before the sight of its owner did, a young man soaked to the bone dashing around the path ahead to pull up short at the sight of the Captain staring him down. Lana took a menacing step to the black-clad figure wearing the insignia of Team Skull. That was a mistake they were not about to repeat.

“Hey what's the hold-up-” a second voice, a girl's, followed after as another of Team Skull's members appeared behind the first. Lana felt her battle aura rise. This would be dealt with.

“Doesn't matter go!” Ignoring the threat ahead the girl pushed the back of the boy's shoulders and ordered him forward, continuing to move up the path to where Lana and Moon stood. Lana worked her knuckles against a palm. The girl continued to ignore them. “Go!”

“Alright!” Having enough of being pushed the boy stepped forward and accelerated. The girl held up a Pokeball, but didn't act with it, just kept following after. Lana raised a hand.

“Sure you want that Cap?” Again the girl spoke, this time drawing Lana's attention to her. Though a grin couldn't be seen behind the bandanna she wore over her mouth, the Team Skull member's tone implied it well enough. “You're gonna need to go calm that big one down aren't ya?” As if on cue another pillar of water towered into the sky. Broke apart into another rain that fell upon the area. The girl shook herself as it washed over her as well. But kept moving. “Time's a wastin'.”

Lana bit back an extreme desire to respond. If Team Skull had riled up the Totem Pokemon to that degree it would be dangerous for the environment. She'd need to calm it. Somehow they'd known that.

She'd never given them the credit to be that smart.

Lana walked forward. The girl turned her head, wiping soaked pink hair out of her eyes, and flipped a pair of her fingers toward the Captain. “Gotcha.” Then kept running.

Lana turned and almost went after her. That sort of attitude, it was getting to her in the worst way. The girl, as if sensing that, stopped and turned back. Pointed with both hands this time. “And y'know!” To make absolutely sure she got the last word, she jutted out her hip to show the Pokeball hanging at it, “I got what I came for! So take that! Team Skull wins losers!”

“Yo Riley!” The voice of the other Team Skull member echoed from up the path, “Let's go!” She spent only a moment more in her pose before turning and racing up the hill. Moon too waterlogged to intercede. Lana growled frustration.

But let them go.

There were far more pressing matters to see too.

“Here.” Lana knew the waterways of Akala without peer. Unleashing her Ride Lapras, the Pokemon settled into a heavy flowing stream. She directed Moon to it. “This Lapras will take you back to the Pokemon Rangers' Station. You'll be safe to dry off there. Is that okay?” It wasn't as if Alola were a particularly cold place, but the weather of late had lent enough of a bite to the water that being soaked in it when you weren't ready wasn't a good thing. It'd be best for Moon to change as soon as she could.

Moon nodded and boarded the Pokemon without complaint. Seemed to shiver a little. Lana felt her ire towards the Team Skull pair grow. If she ever caught them again...

“I have to go and calm the Totem.” There were no more of the pillars of water, but Lana had to observe the situation. The worst possibility would be that the two had succeeded in ruining Moon's Trial. It was up to Lana to ensure that was not the case. “Will you be alright?”

Moon nodded again. The Lapras began to fight against the current, its natural ability to cruise over troubled waters allowing it to make quick progress. Lana spent only a moment more before heading off to the base of Brooklet Hill.

Let no damage have come to pass. Please.

The remainder of the day was a lost cause. Moon succeeded in returning back to the Rangers' Station, changing back into dry clothing, but stayed there after that. She still felt cold. Jackson, once informed of what had happened, made sure Moon remained close to a heater. Brought a mug of hot soup as well. Cut off any potential concern, that was how Pokemon Rangers prevented danger from spreading.

The truth of Brooklet Hill was that one must always accept the possibility of being soaked should you enter, but even still this was a bit much. That Team Skull, he'd see to them. If he found them.

It sounded like they'd achieved whatever their goal had been though...

Lana returned an hour later. To Jackson she reported, relieved that ultimately all that had passed with the Totem Pokemon was it being incited into a bad mood. It shouldn't affect tomorrow night's Trial. Was everything else ready? Jackson confirmed it was so. The timing was right, just as Lana had predicted.

He hoped she knew what she was doing.

The day passed. Night held sway and the Pokemon Rangers once again ate together and were merry. Their energy, their camaraderie, Moon appreciated it even if it was a little too bombastic for her taste. Lana spoke to her about her own experiences with Team Skull, troublemakers for years. Moon confirmed with her own stories. Each swapped a tale of chasing off Team Skull members who bit off far more than they could chew. Laughed.

They'd get them sooner or later.

“You'd make a good Captain.”

Jackson's casual observation surprised Moon, Lana agreeing to it quickly. The two determined it was almost a guarantee Moon would receive the offer. Discussed where she might take post were she interested. Mina, Ilima, and Kiawe were the three closest to their retirement. Poni, Melemele, or Akala then. Their talk segued soon enough into discussing the Captains overall.

Moon would have learned much of the Captains were her thoughts not wrapped in the idea of being one herself.

Would she want to be a Captain? To care for a sacred site of Alola, to help Trainers face its challenge over the years? Was she even allowed to, given she was from Kanto? Unsure. Moon didn't know how she felt about that. It seemed so distant and overwhelming.

She shook her head and let the thought go. Not something to focus on for now.

She had a Trial coming up.

The next morning was the same as the last. Clouds hung heavy overhead. The Pokemon Rangers ate a fine breakfast together, before spreading out to their work. Some had already deployed to further locations in Alola, while others had returned from their posts. Jackson observed he still had a week at least of paperwork to go.

Maybe if he did his paperwork more often instead of letting it pile up, a subordinate hinted before being scheduled for cleaning duty of the Station. Their friends laughed at them for that. It's what you get for mouthing off at the Captain.

Moon and Lana smiled through that until the time for the third test came. One more Double Battle to be fought.

Lana gave Moon room. Directed her Pokemon, her Octillery and Cloyster well, but not with the same savagery as before. Left openings where the young girl could think, devise, and act. And succeed.

It was not as if she were just letting Moon win. Lana kept a powerful offensive, and pressured Moon well. But never so intensely that Moon lost her focus and slipped. Never so constantly that Moon couldn't respond. She still had no grand strategy, nothing more than frankly incredible reactions for her age. Something that would carry her far but never all the way. But it was enough for now. Enough to pit her against this Trial.

So when the battle ended, when Moon lowered her arms from the Z-Pose, her Dartrix the only Pokemon of the four still standing, Moon grinned widely. She'd done it. She'd done it! Lana smiled and congratulated her. It was time.

“Tonight will be your Trial,” Lana spoke in her Captain's voice, the kind where you have to put on a proper show for the Trainers you were overseeing. “Spend the rest of your day resting, think about this battle and the battle to come, and prepare. I will return when it is dark.”

That was the end of their training. Lana spent the day hunting, searching for clues as to Team Skull's actions, while Moon spoke with her team. Her new members she needed to rely on, and so she focused upon them and ensured they held the same will. Victory. Local Rangers observed the young girl and the intense bonds she forged with her allies. There really was something incredible to her, huh?

The day turned. Moon analysed the battle with Lana again and again. She knew it had been different, the Captain approaching it in a different way that let Moon act. She hadn't even used her Z-Move. But she'd been pleased with Moon's efforts. Why? Was the initial battle just to show how far there was to go to the top? And those that came after tests appropriate to this level? She didn't know. Didn't understand.

Simply let the day fall to night as the Captain of Brooklet Hill returned.

“Moon.” After ponderous deliberation over the past few days the skies had opened in full, rain falling heavy across the region. Lana's voice held out only just over the pounding of water upon the station. “Are you ready?”

Moon nodded. The Captain smiled. And held out a gift.

“Here,” Lana watched as Moon opened the box, a black wetsuit of her own nestled within. “You'll need this to keep your body-heat. No-one is staying dry tonight.”

Jackson, taking a break from paperwork, looked over to Lana. Gave a final expression of 'are you sure?' Lana nodded back. This was what needed to be done. Moon took the new article and changed. Wore clothing over it just as Lana did, but was now ready for the chill. Good. Lana led her out of the building.

“It is time for your Trial.”

Thunder rumbled overhead as Moon and Lana disembarked from the Lapras, the Ride Pokemon having taken them back down into Brooklet Hill's depths. Water fell heavily upon them, but Lana did not mind it and Moon's wide-brimmed hat was good enough to keep her head dry. For now. It was dark, a pair of lanterns Lana had brought and the flashes of lightning through the clouds all the light there was to see by.

In truth Lana would have preferred a kinder time. A better weather. A million things to be easier. But now was the precise time she had been waiting for. A Trial suited to the one known as Moon. It could only be now.

Lana led the way. Down the path cut through the rock, past the giant pools of water collected from across the island's north. All the way to where the waterfalls poured, to where the sea crashed over rock walls and washed into the lake, to where the Trial Gates stood awaiting the next challenger to pass their boundary.

To the bottom of Brooklet Hill where the Totem awaited.

“Come.” Once more the Lapras manifested in the water, once more Lana and Moon boarded its back. In the centre of the lake an island lay, the place of Trials. How many Trainers already had Lana ferried across the water to be tested? How many returned victorious, how many felt the sting of defeat?

None to be as memorable as this. She knew that in her heart.

A burst of water surged ahead, an explosion of force from beneath the waves whipped by the wind and the rain. No pillars like before, but a clear sign of readiness. As Lana guided the Lapras through the blasts, the activity beneath the surface of the lake unknown to her passenger, she kept her eyes forward. Navigated the crashing waters with ease.

Upon the island they now stood, Lana directing Moon forward. She could go no further. It was Moon's Trial to face. The island was a crescent and, as Moon approached its inner curve where the water surged upon its shore, the bursts across the greatest lake of Brooklet Hill took notice.

And approached.

Moon stood on guard, lantern raised to the dark. Held in her hand a Pokeball, ready for the battle to come. The Totem of Brooklet Hill. Her second Trial. Another burst of water, droplets scattering across the lake, lost amongst the pounding rain. A crack of lightning and thunder overhead. Roiling clouds illuminated for but a moment.

Then peace. Silence so intense it drowned out the noise. This presence, this intensity, it hid everything else. There was only this one moment of calm.

Calm before the storm.

The surface of the water exploded. With a lunge into the sky high above Moon's head the Pokemon emerged, light glittering amongst manifold scales. Each flash of lightning caught illumination in its grasp, strung between the water binding it together. Binding its countless parts as one.

Moon had been taught of Wishiwashi by Lana. Watched as large Pokemon jumped from step to step of Brooklet Hill, a predator capable of claiming any territory yet formed of individual prey that would flee from any foe. They were powerful, and to be respected for their strategy, Lana had told her. Moon had nodded.

This Wishiwashi was bigger, far bigger, than any of those she'd seen before. Floating in the air, held by the water under its own command, it stared her down, light focusing in its eyes, bright beacons in the darkness illuminating her before it. The aura that wrapped around it was beautiful, and powerful. Moon felt its power. This would be no easy battle. She prepared herself.

It was tim-

The head of the Pokemon exploded, a cutting beam of frost carving through it. The individual components, tiny Wishiwashi, fell and scattered as the Totem thrashed, as the Pokemon it had suppressed within its grasp broke free. Giant legs extended out of the mass of fish Pokemon, each settling uneasily on the shore of the island as the Araquanid hauled itself out of its captor's hold.

Aura hung over it too, light that was hard to ignore. Moon stared at it, the Pokemon freed, as it shook itself loose of the lingering grasp of the Wishiwashi that had faced it. Their battle not yet done.

More lightning. More thunder. The waves rolled and with a crash a surge of Pokemon erupted from them, rejoining the mass they had been cut from. The Totem Wishiwashi rebuilt itself, menacing over its foe. The Totem Araquanid stared back, mandibles clicking, the sound lost in the wind. Moon stared.

And each. Turned. To her.

Lana held her ground. This was the time of conflict for all Pokemon in Brooklet Hill, even those she had raised as Totems. One would take this territory from the other, the dance repeated as the year turned. The time of their final, decisive, battle, she had measured it. And Moon's proximity to it had been far too much to resist.

If she were a Trainer with ability beyond measure, with potential that exceeded all, the one who may stand at the top of the world, then she must be tested as such. Lana watched as the two Totem Pokemon stared Moon down.

Let the Trial begin.

Dartrix manifested in an instant, Petilil a moment behind. The second Pokemon, another Grass-type, had taken part in Moon's Melemele Grand Trial and was the second longest serving of her party-members on her. She trusted in it. A Double Battle against two Totems, so that was what this was?

No holding back.

The two Totems attacked. Each breathed streams of water, the air growing so thick with liquid in the storm that it became as if the lake had risen up around them. Moon gave her orders, took steps back as the mass of water threatened to pull her in, and kept her focus. Don't be thrown out of pace the way Lana had done to her. Measure what you are doing. React accordingly. Follow the plan.

Dartrix's bladed quills scythed the water, cut it clear and opened ways for Petilil to strike. The Bulb Pokemon was an absorption type, and needed clear direction to land its blows. The Wishiwashi was a pure Water-type, while the Araquanid Water and Bug, giving it advantage against two Grass opponents. Paired with that, Moon understood that a Wishiwashi school damaged enough would break apart. She knew who to target first.

Still it proved difficult. Both Totems seemed frustrated by Moon's interference in their fight, and both focused on her over the other. Directing them to clash, and harm one another in their effort to fight her, would be tricky yet needed. Their raw power eclipsed her own. Making use of that was essential.

Moon maintained the strategy.

Dartrix covered. Drew attention, flew quick. The Araquanid had an attack of sparkling frost, a threat as great or even greater than Lana's Cloyster had posed. Moon kept the command, had the Blade Quill Pokemon evade and lure, all the while allowing her Petilil to sap its foes, to loose powder through opened gaps and begin to weaken those it faced. The first step.

The Totem Wishiwashi turned its attention upon the slower of the Grass-types and snapped it up in its watery maw.

Z-Move. Flyinium-Z. Supersonic Skystrike. A flash of lightning illuminated the bolt of energy that was her Dartrix as it sought its target, as it burst through the heavy liquid air.

As it struck the Araquanid distracted by its opponent's success.

The blow was strong and the Water Bubble Pokemon staggered. In that moment of opportunity for the other Totem, aware now its rival was reeling, Dartrix struck again in reverse. More bladed leaves. A hole for Petilil, draining energy to keep itself strong within the storming torrent of the Wishiwashi school's mouth, to escape. It dropped, Dartrix grabbed it, and the two flew back to Moon. Each exhausted.

She returned each and raised two more Pokeballs to continue on.

Mareep, caught in the farmland beyond Paniola. Fomantis, caught in the forest before Brooklet Hill. Each so recent. Each so new to her. But each with a Trainer's Bond connecting them to her and each ready to fight under her command. The battle not yet done.

Moon gave direction. Electric jolts, cutting leaves, they reached the two staggered Totems and drew their attention once again. Never loose your pressure. Never give them room to think. Captain Lana had taught Moon that. No holding back.

The Araquanid staggered forward, more incensed than its opponent Totem at the strikes it had suffered under Moon's command. Moon pulled back further, giving her distance from her Pokemon as the two continued to hammer the charging Totem, doing little to halt its speed. But little added up and Moon observed the twitch of a leg buckling before straightening. A weakness exposed. She directed her Pokemon to it.

Keep fighting.

The Wishiwashi attacked as Moon's two Pokemon held their ground against the Araquanid. Once more the two Totems, in close proximity to one another, became distracted by each other. Their need to fight for dominance clashing with their desire to chase away this intruder brought pause, pause Moon exploited with electricity and bladed leaves once more. Open the way. Target the weakened leg. Strike the gathering in the school's head where the Araquanid had burst from before. Sap at them. Evade and deflect their attacks. Keep one between her Pokemon and the other. Let them clash.

Fomantis was struck by a frost-laced beam. Return. Eevee. A cautious personality but one with the willingness to battle as well. Move quickly, allow no rest. No peace. Mareep's electrical attacks still key. Attention turned to it as it did the most damage of them all.

Moon held up her arms, fitting the Normalium-Z into the Z-Ring she wore.

Time for the next.

Light. Surging Z-Aura. Mareep glowed. Provided power, a glut of energy flowing through the Trainer's Bond between Moon and the Pokemon, the Pokemon that had already lived years amongst its herd, chased off intruders, grown on its own. Years more to go further alone. But with Moon at its side, with Moon giving her energy, how easy it was to grow.

How easy to become strong.

The strike landed and the Araquanid, struck once again upon its head, fell backwards, the pair of Z-Moves more than it had been prepared to take. The Wishiwashi fell upon it, consumed by the opportunity presented, and Moon blinked to see the pink Wool Pokemon before her. In receiving power, in taking part in combat, it had grown to this stage already. The Flaaffy cried its evolution call and unleashed a surge of electrical energy upon the Wishiwashi submerging the Araquanid. Electrified them both.

Lana watched, breath held. So this was Moon. She thought she'd been ready for what she would do.

She hadn't.

Moon performed the motion again. Eevee, strike. While Flaaffy continued its electrical assault the Evolution Pokemon struck with a full-force blow, the attack scattering the Totem Wishiwashi apart. A tiny fish, now only faintly glowing with Z-Aura, dropped into the water and disappeared. School broken. Pride shattered.

Its battle over.

No slowing down. No giving them room to think. Eevee return, you are tired after this Z-Move. The Araquanid staggered in confusion, having taken the Z blows, having been savaged by its Totem foe. The sixth Pokemon. Bagon. A beam of ice from the Totem would be the end of it, but that beam would not come. Moon did the motion again. Lana felt her heart seize.

Z-Aura flared around her a fourth and final time.

In the attack's wake, the Araquanid limping back into the water away from the force it could not overcome, the flash of lightning illuminated Moon as she turned. As the glow of her Pokemon returning to her lit her red. Perhaps the Aura she had commanded stayed with her too. For to Lana's eyes she did not see a girl, no eleven-year old taking her Trials.

She saw something in the rain immense and unknowable, so intense it made her look away.

How could anyone be ready for this?

The rumble of the storm faded and the rain came to a close. The second Trial complete.

It was a quiet return. Moon said nothing and Lana did the same. Lapras took the pair once more up through Brooklet Hill, along the river back to the place where they would stay. A staircase climbed. Clothing wrung under awning. The door to the Rangers' Station opened.

The loud sound of a party popper being pulled.

“Congratulations!”

It was difficult for Lana to determine how the Pokemon Rangers had known. The party they had prepared showed they'd expected it. As soon as she and Moon were dried and changed they were invited to celebrate, and the energy of that night allowed each to relax.

To find peace for the moment.

When the hours faded, when Moon sought sleep and Lana lay in the bed she was given reviewing everything, every last thing she had seen, her phone lit up, message recently sent responded to. Good.

Moon's impossible ability would be a topic to discuss every day for the rest of her life, but the other thing, that was far more pressing. Lana's eyes focused on the screen.

This would have to be dealt with.

Lana posted a message in ~Captain's Chat: Mina please sleep edition~

Lana: Moon completed her Trial
Mallow: Yay! ヽ(゜∇゜)ノ
Ilima: As impressively fast as expected.
Ilima: It is the season of change for your Totems, is it not? Which did Moon face?
Lana: both
Mallow: Nope!
Ilima: Pardon me?
Mallow: Nope!
Mallow: Nuh-uh! Not tonight! Not at this hour! Not dealing with that!
Mallow: Ilima, no more typing
Mallow: Lana, stop typing
Mallow: Lana stop
Mallow: Lana I see you typing no. Do not say another word
Mallow: Lana I know you're just holding down one key to freak me out
Lana: sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss
Lana: :p
Mallow: >:[
Ilima: ...
Ilima: Message me after this please.
Lana: I will
Lana: but that wasn't why I sent this message
Lana: while Moon was training for her Trial I noticed she had something she should not
Mallow: Oh her Key Stone?
Ilima: h
Ilima: her what
Mallow: Yeah! While she was in Heahea City some Kalos researchers found her and gave her a Key Stone! It was really weird, Kahili got seriously mad about it
Ilima: Just a Key Stone?
Mallow: Nope! A Mega Stone too!
Ilima: which one
Mallow: uhhhh
Mallow: not sure? ┐('~`;)┌
Mallow: Kahili seemed freaked out about it though
Ilima: ...
Ilima: hold on
Ilima: please tell me it wasn't this one

Ilima attached file salamencite.png

Mallow: Oh yep! That's the one!
Ilima: and who were these researchers again
Mallow: I think Kahili already killed them :/
Ilima: GOOD
Lana: we've gotten off track
Lana: it's not Moon's Key Stone
Lana: she has a Ride Pager
Mallow: She does???
Ilima: How???
Ilima: I don't see how that's possible.
Ilima: are you sure?
Lana: I saw it with my own eyes. She has a Ride Charizard in there.
Ilima: ...
Ilima: We don't have Ride Charizard? They're not Alolan natives.
Lana: well neither was her Ride Pager
Ilima: what
Lana: It was white.
Mallow: when I banned talking about Moon's Trial so we don't hear anything too wild at this hour I did not mean tell us all something way worse
Ilima: white.
Lana: yep.
Ilima: ...
Ilima: we should talk.

Ilima has started a call

Chapter Text

“Watch closely. This is the Z-Pose to use the Waterium-Z!”

Light danced across Moon's face, filtered through the canopy above, reflected from the water below. As the Lapras, Ride-Pokemon of Captain Lana, carried the two south from Brooklet Hill, Moon smiled. Stared at the blue crystal she held up to the sky, enjoying its colour in the morning sun. It was good.

It was hers.

“Although,” Lana had frowned, considering Moon as the two stood outside the Pokemon Rangers' Station, the Trial-goer bid farewell and wished full well by Jackson and his crew, “you don't have a Pokemon that can use it.”

The requirement changed with one's growth. For those just beginning, it could take many weeks to properly establish a bond with their partners that allowed for Z-Moves to function. For those experienced, those like Lana, all she'd need do is spend a few hours with a newly caught Pokemon for it to trust in her enough to receive her Z-Power.

Moon's growth was, in this as in all things, aberrantly fast. She'd successfully performed a Z-Move with four Pokemon the night before – two of which she'd caught within the last week, one of which had evolved in that moment. Plenty of Mareep in the wild herds around Paniola evolved to Flaaffy, it was completely possible Moon had caught one on the cusp, but Lana got the feeling it was more than that.

That thing she saw in the darkness, when the Totems were fleeing and Moon had turned to face her, she couldn't stop thinking about it.

Wondering if the girl she could see standing before her was really what she appeared to be.

However it may be, the truth of the moment was that Moon did not have a Water-type Pokemon capable of performing the Z-Move Hydro Vortex. As Moon remarked the same was true for the Fightinium-Z Kahuna Hala had given her, Lana had perused Moon's Pokedex, the Rotom inhabiting it happy to answer any and all questions about its contents.

“You don't need to use them all, most people choose only one or two Z-Moves to remember. Have you ever seen someone perform the wrong Z-Pose for a Move? It's hilarious.” Lana's fingers stopped scrolling the Pokedex. Hang on. “Now when did you catch this?” Moon observed the Pokemon Lana had stopped on and recalled. Just the day before, while Lana was out. Moon had taken a walk into Brooklet Hill and fished to relax. She'd found it then. Lana smiled.

“Well,” letting the Rotom-dex go, Lana looked at Moon, “pay close attention to that one. It's not easy to raise, but an incredible Pokemon if you can. I'd like to see you do it.” Moon nodded, staring at the Pokemon shown.

Interesting.

“Either way, consider preparing a Water-type if you can. After all, it's Kiawe's Fire Trial next. Your Dartrix won't help you there. Not the way it did for mine.” Those words from Lana earned a hurried nod from Moon. She would have issues with the Trial ahead if she didn't prepare. She'd need to think.

From then to now Lana and Moon had boarded the Lapras once more, setting off upon the waterways of Akala's north. Following a different path, leaning far closer to Wela Volcano's slope, Lana would bring Moon as far south as she could. As close to Kiawe's next Trial as could be done.

To the road that would take Moon to Royal Avenue and the Battle Royal.

In that time, as Moon sat upon the back of the Lapras, admiring the Waterium-Z and considering what was next to come, Lana guided the Ride Pokemon and thought her own thoughts. About Moon.

The conversation with Ilima last night, Mallow reluctantly joining the call, had been stressful. The concept of Moon possessing the original Ride Pager, a model with none of the safeguards the present version had, was one of great concern. Ilima had strongly suggested Lana make an attempt to retrieve it.

Mallow had sternly told them both that they should not.

With the countless unknowns swirling about Moon, pressuring any part of her could result in disaster. Why did she have a Ride Pager? Where was she going? Those were questions that absolutely should be answered. And they'd make sure they were. But taking the Ride Pager from her? Mallow didn't trust what change would come of that.

Moon was so young, so impossible, and so pressured. They couldn't be part of that pressure.

Mallow was sure it wouldn't end well.

Lana couldn't tell. They didn't even know for sure if this mysterious Ride Pager that Moon possessed was the original Aether model, the version Ilima feared for its potential misuse. Where every existing system of storing Pokemon had safeguards baked so deeply into their foundation that it was impossible to imprison a Pokemon within them – whether Pokeballs allowing the Pokemon within to exit as they pleased or the Storage System's automatic release timer – the original Ride Pager did not. Ilima had obfuscated that in producing the current model, hopefully enough to never be reverse-engineered, though time would tell on that, but the original, that in the hands of the wrong person could end in disaster.

They had to find out if that was what Moon had, and had to get it away from her if she did. That was Ilima's belief.

In the end, Mallow argued him down to this: they would prepare a new Ride Pager, ascertain whether Moon's was the original without causing Moon to fear they were acting upon it, and determine just what she was using it for. Based on those factors, they would openly approach her with the intention to exchange her Ride Pager for a new one. It would not be immediate action, but it would be action they could take. When Kiawe woke the next morning he'd agreed to watch Moon carefully for uses of the Ride Pager and see what he could determine.

That was the solution they settled upon. For now.

The route from Brooklet Hill, or at least the Rangers' Station closest to it, to Royal Avenue by water was fairly intense. Following a curving river, Lapras ascended small steps in the water with shocking ease, but larger climbs required Moon and Lana to dismount, ascend a staircase cut into rock or steep hill, then board the Ride Pokemon once again. In total, from their early morning departure, it was late in the morning by the time Lana directed the Lapras to a halt. They'd travelled through thick forest, caves full of hanging greenery, and a stone valley caused by the upheaval of the earth so many years ago. A journey that had entranced Moon along the way. Seeing her smile in witnessing Alola's beauty, Lana found relief in that.

That was the kind of person she could trust, no matter what.

“From here,” Lana walked with Moon, steps away from the water along a tree-lined path, “is the road to Royal Avenue. It's completely straight, impossible to get lost on. Just keep going and you'll find it.”

Moon paused. Looked at Lana. Was she not coming? Lana shook her head.

“Team Skull has me worried. They were smart the other day, that's not like them. I want to stay close to Brooklet Hill for a little while.” Oh. Moon nodded. That made sense. Lana gave a smile. “You've done well, and completed my Trial. Good luck with your next, Moon. I'll be cheering for you.” Moon smiled back. She would.

And there they parted ways.

The road was as Lana had said, unerringly straight to an almost boring degree. Following it, Moon distracted herself by investigating noises of interest, patches of forest, or fields of grass appearing along the way. Other Pokemon Trainers greeted her, some inviting battle, the area a popular one being so close to both Royal Avenue, where Trainers gathered, and also the main road from Heahea City itself.

In battle Moon was relentless. Her defeats at Lana's hands had hammered home how powerful the act of keeping your opponent unbalanced was, and so Moon sought to emulate what the Captain had shown her. Think and act fast, so fast your opponent couldn't keep up. It was difficult, and Moon's commands weren't as sharp, her Pokemon not as prepared, as Lana's had been. But it was effective, and many of the Trainers she fought ended the battle admitting they didn't stand a chance. Complimenting the young girl on her strength. She must have given her all to the single partner she showed each time.

Moon never revealed more than that. Without someone to help, revealing who she was would only result in her being swarmed. She'd been taught that. So she kept herself hidden as best she could.

Some still got the impression that maybe this young girl who crushed them in battle was the mysterious Trainer with that impossible ability all the same.

Thus Moon continued down the main road of Akala, battling Trainers and wild Pokemon both, closing in upon the fork that led to Royal Avenue. And the occupants who had taken it over.

The first thing she heard was the sound, the boombox producing something at a low enough quality that it could only barely be described as music. There was a nostalgia to the noise that reminded Moon of another time, another place, the docks of Hau'oli City almost four weeks ago. She moved faster, determined paces, closing in upon the sound.

She knew exactly what that meant.

The fork that led to Royal Avenue was occupied, one branch barricaded. Seated atop the barricade, next to the loudly playing boombox, was a Team Skull member, the same black clothing, silver pendant, and skull beanie worn. A second member stood before the blockade, moving back and forth to the beat. Then a few steps back, just where the path forked, a small girl and a huge Pokemon stared them down. Moon approached just in time to hear their conversation repeat.

“An' I'm tellin' ya,” the Team Skull member that was dancing continued to do so, rarely actually stopping or looking at the girl, “Ain't no-one gettin' through. There's like, a mudslide or somethin', we're doin' our part keepin' Alola safe. Practically Captains ain't we man?”

The second member atop the barricade gave a thumbs up to his fellow below. The one on the ground folded his arms, doing a backwards slide across the path. “So that's that! Get lost!”

“I can assure you,” the small girl's foot was tapping against the ground, not to the music but to her own annoyance, “Mudsdale and I can cross any environment no matter how rough. You are getting in the way. We will be fine.”

“Nope no way,” the one she was arguing with held his arms up as a cross, “rules are rules are rules, y'know. We hear 'no-one gets through' we make sure no-one gets through, ain't that right dude?”

The second member nodded and turned the boombox up, not so much raising the music as the amount of static overlaying it. Moon cringed at the noise as she approached. The Team Skull member saw her and sighed.

“Listen!” Looking over the other girl he pointed at her, “Road's closed yo. That's that. No goin' through. Got it? Get it? Get lost!” Moon frowned. The girl turned to her.

She was small, even smaller than Lana was. Tan skin, very long and bushy black hair hanging past her hips in two tied tails, wearing a tan and purple outfit that reminded Moon somewhat of the clothing the farmers of Paniola wore. A little bit different though.

“Hello Trainer,” she nodded to Moon, who nodded back, before turning to face the blockade before them. “Team Skull appear to be blocking the path, claiming it is protecting travellers from danger. I find it difficult believing they are doing anything out of the goodness of their heart however.” Moon agreed to that quickly. The Team Skull member before them shook his head. Wow.

“Hey that cuts deep, right to the bone yo. You sayin' we ain't got no hearts? Here we are doin' the right thing and y'all get up in our grills about it. Don't they ever teach you not to judge a book by its cover? You even read, yo?”

There was a weird aura to the two girls staring him down, each clearly unimpressed by his clear display of public service. The Team Skull Grunt felt himself take a step back. “Uhh, yo bro, hop down yeah? I think we gotta help these two walk on.” With a groan the other Grunt clambered down the stack of crates, boards, and drums. Took a stand beside his bro ready to turn aside all comers. Feeling a little more backed up now, the first Grunt pointed at the pair. “Alright you kids just get movin' and no-one has to get hurt. Road stays closed.”

The girl pointed in return, the giant Draft Horse Pokemon looming behind her taking a step forward. Moon raised a Pokeball of her own.

“You will be moving.”

And with the small girl's proclamation, she and Moon entered battle.

It ended quickly.

On Moon's end, the Team Skull member's Drowzee attempted to pacify her Bagon who, in response, headbutted it, flipped it into the air, juggled it with multiple jumping headbutts, and then slammed it into the ground with one more. Rock Head Pokemon indeed.

The other girl was even more effective. Moon didn't even see what Pokemon the Team Skull Grunt set against her, just watched as the giant horse, the Mudsdale, calmly barged through the pile of junk that was the barricade erected across the road, leaving it collapsing in its wake. Hands on her hips, the girl blew out a breath. There. That was better.

The Team Skull members stepped back.

“Uh hey, come on, we're just tryin' to help y'know.” The first one's attempted de-escalation came to a halt as his partner rapidly elbowed him in the side. “Sup bro what's wrong? Y'look like you saw a ghost, yo.” The pointing continued. He turned his eyes to the Pokemon indicated. Huh, that's a weird one. Looks kinda dragony don't it? No kid has a Dragon tho. Besides... he raised his eyes, making eye contact with the dark-skinned girl. Black hair? No. Stupid red hat? Nope. But, uh. But... kinda... looked... like...

“Yo hey that's that monster girl ain't it!”

The other girl looked in interest between the Team Skull Grunts and her new ally. Monster girl? Moon took a step forward.

“Well,” taking her own step forward to stand beside Moon, the girl gestured for her Mudsdale to join them, “I was thinking about holding back, but if you're willing to help with cleanup how about you, me, and Mudsdale stomp these scoundrels flat?” Moon nodded. Raised a hand.

That was as far as she needed to go.

“Hey book it!”

Moon's fiery stare didn't abate as the two Team Skull Grunts fled her presence for the third time. Once bitten thrice shy it seemed. Her expression changed into a smile as they left her sight.

She'd enjoyed that.

“Well now,” the small girl beside her held up a hand, Moon turning around to see it and extend her own, “You've certainly lent me a hand, Trainer. I am Hapu, a pleasure to meet you.” Moon spent a single moment considering, before giving her name in return. Hapu didn't feel like the type of person who'd run her down just to know her. Hapu smiled. So she was right. “Moon, you certainly put the fear into those two. I can tell they've crossed you before.”

They'd gotten off easy as far as Moon was concerned.

“Ahaha,” Hapu laughed, amused at Moon's response. Very good. “Well then, it seems the way to Royal Avenue is opened. Were you planning on taking part in a Battle Royal?” The huge Pokemon looming over the pair, far bigger than even Null had been, gave a deep braying noise. Hapu's smile widened. “Mudsdale seems to think you should. She approves of your battling prowess.”

Moon thought. She'd only planned to meet with Hau here, but taking part? Maybe. Hapu continued.

“You are on your Island Challenge, yes?” Moon confirmed. Hapu nodded back. “I would say I am on a kind of my own. Mudsdale and I are on an important journey that much is certain.” Looking at the Draft Horse Pokemon, Moon considered. It seemed incredibly strong. Could someone on an Island Challenge have a Pokemon like that? She didn't know. “Actually,” thinking for a moment, Hapu came to an idea, “would you happen to have met with Captain Lana of Brooklet Hill recently?”

Moon's nod immediately brought a smile to Hapu's face. She reached up and petted the Mudsdale's shoulder. That was as high as she could reach. “You see, I have been hoping to meet with Captain Lana. Did you know she completed her Island Challenge at one of the youngest ages in Alolan history? I wished to ask her for advice on achieving such a feat.”

Then Hapu wanted to do the same? Complete her Island Challenge as soon as possible? It felt like there was more than that though. Moon didn't voice that thought however. Just let Hapu know Lana remained around Brooklet Hill.

“Very good,” Hapu nodded, “I was going to check in at Royal Avenue to see if anyone had seen her recently, but confirmation she remains at her Trial Site is enough reason to continue there myself. Thank you, Moon.”

Hapu turned to the Mudsdale, reached a hand up to the saddle over its shoulders and began to pull herself up. Moon's curiosity peaked.

“Oh?” Hapu looked back down at the question. “This Mudsdale? It belonged to my grandfather. He... passed it on to me. Now we are travelling together.” There was far more to that than Moon could parse. She simply nodded. Hapu smiled. “Good luck with your Island Challenge, Moon. I am sure we will see each other again.”

With heavy footfalls the Draft Horse Pokemon departed, leaving Moon watching it and Hapu go. She was sure that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Mudsdale was a Pokemon of incredible power. She still had a long way to go.

Turning, Moon pointed east, facing the now cleared way. Onwards, to Royal Avenue.

And the Battle Royal.


 

Once long ago the four Tapu, Island Guardians of Alola, took part in grand battle against one another. The result of this battle was destruction, widespread ruin across Alola with no clear victor in sight. Recognising the damage they had wrought the four withdrew themselves, becoming rarely seen enigmas instead of ever-present deities.

Yet their competitiveness remained to a degree, and every now and then the four will compete. It is a battle far too measured and controlled to ever reveal a true victor, but it assuages their desire for competition all the same.

From those conflicts, from witnesses of the four Tapu in battle with one another, the Battle Royal was born.

Today the Battle Royal Dome, where these grand free-for-alls take place, exists at the centre of Royal Avenue, a festival of Alola's Trainers held in the middle of Akala Island, built before the southern slope of Wela Volcano.

Festival was the correct word to use – Moon found herself immediately overwhelmed once she was through the gates of the locale; the sheer mass of excited people, Pokemon, stalls, and festivities more than enough to allow most anyone to become just part of the crowd.

A part of it was relaxing, having no-one show her any interest at all, but all too quickly it grew to be too much. Focusing on the reason she was here, Moon made her way through the masses to the Royal Avenue Pokemon Center.

If you were looking for someone, the closest Pokemon Center was the place to go after all.

“Hey!” As soon as Moon was through its threshold the welcoming voice greeted her, the youth it came from rushing to pull her through the crowd. Smiling Moon allowed the tug on her arm, being drawn to a table where another was sitting. She sat down as well.

“Moon, how are you?” Hau's wide smile said how well he was, and if it didn't then the red crystal set into his Z-Ring said it for him. He'd done it. Moon showed her own blue. Hau raised a palm and she met it with her own.

Their first Akalan Trials complete.

“You've both done well.” The third at the table, Captain Kiawe of Wela Volcano, let his eyes roam over the heads of the children. The Pokemon Center was as busy as one could be, and he was a notable enough Trainer that people glanced at him more than enough. Of those people, a good portion could place the Melemele Kahuna's grandson as well. Hau had become a known figure too, mostly by his proximity to Moon. An awkward situation indeed.

And of that subset, those who recognised Kiawe, then Hau, when their eyes drew to the third occupant of the table, a young girl of similar age to the other youth, an obvious conclusion formed.

Kiawe's glare sparked like fire every time anyone's look lingered too long. Try it. They soon looked away.

“So hey,” Hau's energy never faded, uplifting those around him by his presence alone. Moon's travel since Paniola Town had been a joyous experience, but somewhat lonely even with Mallow and Lana's company. Having Hau around was better. If Lillie were here too it would be perfect. She wanted the three to be together again. “Since we're here, we need to have a Battle Royal, Moon!”

Moon didn't precisely understand what a Battle Royal was. She understood it was a competition involving multiple Trainers battling together, but beyond that... Kiawe took over.

“Allow me to explain,” the Captain placed thumbs and index fingers on the table, forming a square. “Four Trainers stand opposite one another, each with a Pokemon before them.” He brought his fingers in slightly to indicate the Pokemon. “Those Pokemon will battle, targeting one of their three opponents, or even all of them should they wish. When a Pokemon is knocked out, the Trainer of the one to do so is awarded points, with less given to those who simply made it through. When a single Trainer has no more Pokemon, that is the end of the Battle Royal. As simple as that.”

Hau took over. “There's teams of one, two, or three Pokemon allowed! So people can battle in any of those groups. Since we both have three Pokemon, we could both join the biggest battle! We totally should!”

Moon nodded. Then thought. What would be the best combination to choose? Hau laughed at her for that. Having to choose.

Wait. Moon frowned. She was meant to keep out of attention. Her disguise had only proved partially useful so far. Going on stage like that, it'd throw it out entirely. She shouldn't do that. Hau frowned too. Awwww.

“That,” Kiawe's voice drew both children's eyes back to him. He fumbled a bit with his words, “I may be able to help.” They were staring at him. It was slightly embarrassing now. “It is just... please excuse me. I will return in a few hours.” Kiawe stood, doing his best to avoid the curious eyes focused on him. He knew what needed doing it was just... digging into old boxes of the past could be embarrassing.

But he was a Captain and it was his duty to help all the Trainers of Alola. Mild embarrassment was an easy trade for helping Moon out. Kiawe shook his head. “Please show patience and await my return.”

Barely was Kiawe out the door to the Pokemon Center before Hau stood back up. “Okay!” He stepped away from the table, Moon standing and following after, “Let's go explore!” And so the two children went, curious figures in the Pokemon Center a few steps too late to ask them their names.

To wonder if the one known as Moon had come to join the Battle Royal.

The hours passed easily for the two. It had been just past the height of midday when Moon entered Royal Avenue, and so Hau's proposal that the two find food was immediately agreed upon. Naturally that meant he led her to, with unerring accuracy, the nearest Malasada shop. He had a gift, Moon told him. He smiled at that.

From there they wandered. Stalls drew Moon's attention and she made purchases – new Pokeballs acquired while ignoring the curious look of the clerk wondering why such a young child needed so many. It was odd.

But life in Royal Avenue was far too busy to dwell.

Onwards they went. Watched people and Pokemon all about, the entire festival city in constant motion, before finding themselves drawn into the Battle Royal Dome itself. After all, they should see what a Battle Royal looks like, right?

Moon, as soon as she was in the crowd and able to watch the arena below, was enraptured.

Moon and Hau, both full of such incredible potential, both with Pokemon far more advanced than their ages would lead most to guess, were still just beginners. Their immense abilities allowed them to push against the Trials of Alola, but in comparison to the best of the best, they were barely different from any other youth.

And that was oh so clear in the Battle Royal Dome.

Oh there were Trainers they felt they could beat. Entire battles they were sure they could stand within. But then there were others who were just so far beyond them. Like the way Lana had crushed her, Moon felt. The Battle Royal Dome held no distinctions. All Trainers may take part.

Moon couldn't help but feel her excitement rise watching the battles play out. She did want to take part in that. But not the way she'd had to battle before. Not measuring herself.

She wanted to go all out.

“Hey isn't that Gladion?”

Moon's thoughts ground to a halt, Hau's observation cutting through her musing. He pointed and she followed, seeing down below in the current matchup a young man with hair of blonde, a huge quadruped Pokemon at his command. That was Null. And that was Gladion too. Yeah.

“Woah, he really is strong!”

Moon couldn't help but agree. Gladion kept his intensity, kept his commands, and the Pokemon known as Null crushed its opponents. His power really was incredible. Moon remembered how their last battle ended.

Unsatisfactory for them both.

“Hey Moon? Where are you- hey wait up!” Hau caught Moon's leaving of the stands quick enough to chase after her, the two making their way down to the ground floor of the Battle Royal Dome lobby.

She waited. Waited for Gladion to emerge from the floor so she might challenge him again. So they could both put to rest how the last time had gone. Surrounded by fans a nearby figure observed the young pair of Trainers standing in the centre of the lobby. Oh and here he'd just taken the day off to relax and burn some stress, what a thrilling coincidence. The one known as the Masked Royal kept watch for the two to enter the fight.

“What do you think?” Hau was standing by Moon, watching the entrance to the stadium as she was, “Are we going to challenge him?” She nodded to that, determination now alight in her eyes. It was a look Hau had begun to recognise, that intense focus that said she was going all out. The thing he always wanted to see when battling against her. Gladion was lucky indeed.

Though with his sourpuss attitude he wouldn't acknowledge that at all!

“Oh there you are,” Captain Kiawe's voice caused the two to turn, the fiery figure striding through the crowd, ignoring the looks given to his shirtless form. It wasn't the rarest of things for people to eschew upper clothing in Alola, especially during these warmer seasons. The ultimate hero of the Battle Royal did the same anyway. Most people who couldn't recognise Kiawe would just assume he was copying the Royal's look. He held out a hand to Moon.

“It took me a little while to dig this up.” Moon looked at the black mass in Kiawe's hand. Reached out to it. It was soft. Made of fibres. Was this a...? “It's,” Kiawe turned his head, “when I was younger I was into a show, it's from that time. I thought it might help you keep your disguise.”

Moon took it. Turned the wig in her hands. Hair of black, similar to how her own had been. With it, with what was buried at the bottom of the travelling bag she carried, then she could... Moon turned and dashed off, away from the group, leaving Kiawe and Hau behind.

She needed to change.

“We're going to battle someone we know!” Hau chimed in to distract Kiawe from his concern at Moon's reaction, sure she was fine. “Do you want to be our fourth, Captain Kiawe?”

“Well,” Kiawe nodded with a smile, “I'd enjoy that very much indee-”

“If I may!”

A loud voice broke through the bustling of the lobby, a figure striding through the crowd, his head cresting above them. Kiawe immediately stood rigid at the sight. That was... that was!

“Hey!” Other voices in the crowd sounded out now, “Hey Masked Royal!” “You're awesome!” “Who are you battling next?” “Will you sign this?” “Go gettem!”

“Pardon my intrusion, yeah,” the man known as the Masked Royal came to a stop before Hau and Kiawe, arms folded over muscular bare chest. A wrestling mask of blue with a face of red flames and a yellow thunderbolt down its middle covered his head, only mouth and closely trimmed beard visible beneath. He smiled. “But I couldn't help but notice you planning to take part in the Battle Royal, young Hau. I would be happy to introduce you to it if you would have me.”

A brief wonder at how the Masked Royal knew his name floated through Hau's head, but it quickly drowned under his excitement at the figure himself. The Masked Royal! Dude!

“Yeah!” Hau jumped, “Okay when Moon gets back let's battle!” Catching himself, Hau turned to Kiawe, who was already stepping back and waving him off. He'd cede this fight to the Masked Royal. How could he not? It would be a good experience for Hau and Moon both.

“Oh hey! Gladion! Over here!”

The way the blonde teen jerked in surprise at hearing his name made it clear how unwelcome it was, a heavy scowl turning to Hau as he waved repeatedly. Gladion made no motion to approach. Hau did so instead.

“Hey when Moon gets back battle with us! We saw you before you were doing great! The Masked Royal is gonna fight with us so you gotta, okay?”

A biting “I don't 'gotta' do anything” died on Gladion's lips as he turned and looked at the shirtless figure standing nearby, the crowd hovering around him but none too close. Real power. A real way to test Null. He turned his head to look back at the entrance to the arena.

“Whatever.”

“Good enough!”

The voices in the lobby surged. Catching them, Hau quickly moved towards the source, the Masked Royal steps faster. Ordering the crowd to break apart. To let the one coming through pass.

To let her be free.

Each sandalled step made noise amongst the quietened muttering of the room. Her eyes, as intensely brown as always, looked ever forward. Black hair fell around her neck, slightly longer than what she'd had before, but able to be tied back into a rough approximation of the ponytail she'd worn. A shirt of bright flowers, the colours she preferred.

And a red, chicken-combed hat fastened securely on her head.

The Trainer Moon, legendary child with six Pokemon, impossible person who could perform Z-Moves without tiring, strode with head held high through the crowd. She didn't err, didn't misstep, and didn't look at anyone else besides those that mattered. At Hau. At Gladion beyond him. And at the third who'd appeared. She tilted her head, looking at him.

What was Professor Kukui doing here dressed like that?

“Greetings Moon!” The voice of the Royal echoed, the room almost silent now. This was about to be everything. “I take it you've come to take part in the Battle Royal?” She nodded. He smiled. “Then allow me, the Masked Royal, to welcome you! It would appear we have gathered four Trainers, yeah, so let us take part, woo! In the grand battle passed down for generations! In the Battle Royal! Woo!”

The crowd parted. The way cleared. Moon walked clearly into the entrance to the arena, Hau following behind. A scoff and Gladion followed them. And the Masked Royal went last. Three youths of such potential.

He'd give them all a fine lesson indeed.

Stage lights blared. The voice of the crowd roared, lurching through the stands surrounding the ring the four Trainers stood at the corners of. Each held a Pokeball, each held intent. For Moon she wanted to go all out. For Hau he wanted to feel excitement in battle. For Gladion he wanted to face strength. And the Royal, the Royal wanted all these children to see what they really needed to. To feel the power of their partners and how best to fight alongside them.

A lesson often taught by providing a wall that wouldn't break alone.

“Presenting!” The voice came from the speakers above, an announcer surveying the battle, “A Battle Royal to shake the heart! The Masked Royal has returned to battle, to teach three of Alola's brightest new stars what heights they aspire to! Against him stands Gladion and Type: Null, regulars of the Battle Royal, a fierce power that stands alone!” Cheers from those who'd watched Gladion's strength. He was standoffish but genuinely talented. And that mysterious Pokemon, it was a sight. He had his fans.

“Against them stands Hau, grandson of Kahuna Hala, a Trainer on his Island Challenge!” More cheers. Hau waved. People waved back. He grinned widely.

“Against them stands Moon!” Immediately a wave of noise. Moon ignored it and kept her eyes forward. “The mysterious Trainer who's said to have no limits! But how will she fare in a Battle Royal? This match will have one Pokemon per Trainer, so we'll see how well she's trained her best!” She raised the hand holding her Pokeball. The other three did the same.

“When a Pokemon is defeated, this Battle Royal will end! Trainers, on your marks... begin!”

Four Pokeballs flew. From Gladion came Null, a Pokemon of power so great it made the young boy's muscles shake as soon as it emerged. But he stomped a foot down and quelled his weakness with force of will alone. He wouldn't accept the same result as before. He wasn't going to be bested by this power.

He was going to win.

From Moon came Dartrix, her partner from the beginning. The voices of the crowd, seeing the evolution of a starter Pokemon, were full of excitement. She really had raised something that strong that fast. Incredible.

From Hau came Brionne. The Masked Royal, smiling so far, felt surprise shape his face instead. Oh, he hadn't heard about that at all! Neither had the crowd, neither had the announcer, who quickly launched into a spiel lauding Hau for raising his starter Pokemon to its second stage. Proof he was an incredible young Trainer indeed. Hau blushed. Gladion stared.

The fourth Pokemon became manifest.

From the Masked Royal came a Litten, Fire Cat Pokemon, third of Alola's three starters. He'd kept it with him since its fellows went to two new Trainers, and begun raising the Pokemon when he wasn't busy with work. It had already proven its name in the Battle Royal, young and far weaker than Pokemon with years behind them, but intense under the Royal's commands. It had grown quick.

The Litten's eyes locked onto two of its three opponents. They'd grown. The three had always been raised to keep pace with one another, to always rough-house and tumble. Sparks danced across its fur, will dragging as much power from its Trainer as it could. Falling behind? Absolutely not.

The Royal felt the tug, the sudden hunger as the Bond between him and the Fire Cat surged. It was assumed theory, difficult to test, but he considered this fine evidence. The competitiveness between Pokemon raised together could help them grow. Could fuel their power.

Could drive them to evolution.

The crowd went wild, the announcer's words coming a mile a minute. Moon, Hau, and Gladion all stared as the light faded and the larger Fire Cat, the Torracat, evolution of Litten, stretched and yowled. Dartrix and Brionne both made celebratory noises.

A bell rung.

“Null go!”

“Get em Brionne!”

“Let's go wild, Torracat, yeah!”

Moon spoke the same intent. The battle began.

Dartrix's flying kick, propelled by its speedy flight, landed squarely upon the helmet of Null, who barely acknowledged the blow. But its counter-attack, the upwards swing of its helmet and the horn emerging from it, missed completely as Dartrix flew upwards, dodging a jet of water shot from Brionne. Burning fangs bit down just below where the helmet of Null ended, the Torracat having raced in and jumped upon the much larger Pokemon, yet it could do little damage, the larger creature thrashing and sending the Fire Cat flying across the stage with ease.

All four changed target.

Dartrix rained down leaves where Brionne was, the Pop Star Pokemon disappearing in a surge of water, using the speedy technique to evade yet again. Breaking out of the jet it fired bubbles that impacted with Null, yet the powerful Pokemon ignored them and continued its charge, catching Torracat as it recovered from the fireball it had shot at the flying Dartrix above, the Blade Quill Pokemon blowing out the flames with a gust of black wind.

The crowd cheered wildly. This was exactly what they'd wished for. Hearing their voices, the Masked Royal grinned. Let the show continue!

Torracat intercepted Dartrix when it swept down on Null, its heavy charge knocking the Grass-type to the ground. Brionne followed that advantage, yet was intercepted by a far more powerful tackle from Null, being sent flying into Dartrix as a projectile rather than an attacker. Moon and Hau both gave the same order, their two Pokemon targeting the ground and sending up a storm of bubbles and leaves, before each burst out in the opposite direction, Brionne slamming Torracat and Dartrix slipping by Null and slashing along its side. Aware of its weakness compared to Brionne the Royal ordered his Pokemon to get closer to Null, while Gladion directed Null to not let Dartrix slip by it again. He clutched his wrist, steadying the shake, and forced his focus.

This was everything he'd wanted. To be forced to be strong. He wasn't backing down.

Torracat slid under Null's great height, Brionne following after as Dartrix circled overhead. The two grounded starters launched fire and water up at the third, both attacks hitting and being ignored by Null as it jumped too, a raised claw catching Dartrix and closing tight, pulling the Blade Quill Pokemon down to the ground. Pinning Moon's Pokemon in its grip, Null stood poised for victory, Hau and the Royal both aware of that. Both changing to that one target alone.

Fire washed over Null, the burst enough to let Torracat get close and jump on its back, clawing and kicking repeatedly. Brionne sung a song laced with power, its sonorous waves washing over the three Pokemon grouped together. Dartrix struggled, razor sharp leaves raised to encourage Null to release it. Moon had her Flyinium-Z held, waiting for an opportunity.

As soon as she saw it she'd take it and win. No holding back.

Hau kept his command. If even one of the three clumped together were knocked out by Brionne it was his win. Null though, it still seemed fine, despite taking the most beating of them all. What an incredible Pokemon.

Gladion, opposite him, was clutching his shoulder hard. Hau watched as the blonde Trainer shook his head. Was he okay?

The Royal took his shot.

“Torracat, win it, yeah!”

The announcement created the window he expected. Gladion ordered Null to be careful, fearing a secret technique from the hero of the Battle Royal, and so the Pokemon was distracted from Dartrix. Moon caught that moment and ordered her partner to break free, the Blade Quill Pokemon finally escaping Null's grasp and fluttering up. It had taken the second-most damage after Null, and possessed far less resilience than that Pokemon did.

The Royal smiled widely just in time for Moon and Gladion to realise their mistakes. His victory.

“Fire Fang!”

Decided by elemental matchup, as so many battles were. Null had proved too powerful for the three starters, even in their evolved forms, and so the Royal had chosen to take victory in one clean strike. Dartrix was stronger than Torracat, had experienced more than that Pokemon, but the power of its fiery bite, especially with the damage the Grass-type had accumulated, was enough. The Fire Cat pinned the Blade Quil Pokemon to the ground and yowled victory.

Battle Royal complete.

“The Battle Royal is over!” The voice of the announcer drew a frustrated noise from Gladion, displeased at the battle ending before he was done. But a moment later a leg gave out and he sunk to a knee, the adrenaline fading and so his body no longer able to support Null. He called the Pokemon back as Hau approached.

“Hey are you okay?”

“I'm fine.” Gladion refused to look at the boy. “I don't need your help.” Forcing himself to stand, Gladion wavered but walked. Left the arena in silence. Hau watched him go. Unsure what he could say or do. Just feeling bad about it.

He wished he could help.

Moon called back Dartrix and acknowledged Professor Kukui's victory. He suddenly looked extremely awkward hearing her address him. “It's the Masked Royal, young Moon,” he refused to meet her eyes, “Thank you for battling with me. It was a fine experience and a fine show. Good luck with your next Trial.”

Moon continued to give Kukui an odd look, but nonetheless turned and moved for the exit as well, Hau joining her as the crowd kept up its roar.

The Masked Royal remained behind.

Before Moon and Hau could leave his voice echoed across the Battle Royal Dome, a microphone brought into the ring for him to use. To speak to the populace watching, whether now in person, or through recordings later of this grand battle fought. To give his message.

“That was a fine battle, yeah, proving the children of Alola are shining stars and bright futures for the region!” Hau grinned at Moon. She smiled back. “But what's important about stars is not blocking them out!” Moon's smile fell and she turned to look back, back to the ring behind them as the Royal continued. “So I have something to say!” The voices of the crowd were confused now. What was on the Masked Royal's mind?

“I've been watching for this last week as everyone in the world has decided they want to know about Alola's new stars! Pursuing them! Overwhelming them! Giving them no freedom or peace!” Moon's cheeks warmed. Was he really? “Do you believe that's fair? That it's right? That your curiosity and interest justifies harassing these children so?” Voices in the crowd began to mutter. Some agreeing. Some shamed. The message spread.

“It's wrong!” The Masked Royal's declaration echoed. “The way they are treated is wrong! And I want each and every last one of you to know that! To think about it the next time you decide it's worth chasing these young stars down! The next time you see someone else choosing to hassle them! In the Alola Region we live supporting one another! We help the children of this region take on their Trials and grow! So there'll be no holding them back! No holding them down! Let them be free! That is my decree!”

His was a voice of charisma. In his speech there was a command and that command settled in the hearts of those who heard it, now and later. What had they been doing? Harassing children so? Letting their interest consume their sense?

It had been wrong.

Moon had already left, Hau following alongside her. He could see the tinge to her cheeks, having such a speech made in her name. But...

“He's pretty cool, isn't he?”

She paused. Looked back at the Battle Royal Dome behind them. And considered.

Yeah, he really was.

Chapter Text

“You both did well!”

Captain Kiawe of Wela Volcano stood before the entrance to the Battle Royal Dome, waiting for the two youths he was watching over to emerge. Hau who had completed his Trial two days prior, and Moon who was to make her first attempt at it tomorrow. A young boy who pushed the limits of sense, whose growth hinted he would be one of Alola's strongest Trainers without fail.

And a young girl who defied sense entirely. Moon who had been acknowledged directly by a Tapu. Moon who kept six Pokemon with her without ever once showing their demands. Moon who had fought against two Totem Pokemon and won, bested them with four Z-Moves in a row. Kiawe wondered how she would fare with his Trial.

After all, its challenge was based on none of the factors that had carried her thus far.

“For now, let us heal your Pokemon.”

Hau was excited to discuss the Battle Royal as the three returned to the Pokemon Center of Royal Avenue, thrilled at having battled the legendary Masked Royal. Kiawe lamented his missed opportunity, having yet to face the strongest Trainer of the Battle Royal himself. But even just watching, studying the way that man commanded his Pokemon, the freshly evolved Torracat, was astounding. That Pokemon should have been the weakest of the four to fight, yet the Royal's directions were more than sharp enough for it to keep pace with its opponents. He was truly worthy of Kiawe's respect.

Moon's focus was more on Gladion, his Pokemon specifically. Type: Null, that was the name the announcer had said. Rotom-dex didn't recognise it, couldn't give any more information than it had observed. No weaknesses shown or noted. Just incredible power, resilience, and ferocity behind it. A mystery.

“It's a worry,” Kiawe shook his head, standing near the two children as they had their Pokemon healed from the battle, “that Gladion, he was showing clear signs of Bond Strain. That Pokemon is far too much for him. It won't end well.”

Moon and Hau both looked at Kiawe when he said that. Both thought. Bond Strain, Moon understood the concept. It was when a Trainer pushed their limits too far, supported Pokemon who took more from them than they could provide. A Trainer would grow lethargic, requiring more food and sleep each day, until even that wasn't enough and their health would begin to deteriorate. Only at that point would the Bonds between them and their Pokemon decay, but the damage by then would still be done. Gladion already looked unwell.

Moon wondered if he’d be okay.

Hau, who specifically had and continued to feel a demand upon him that he powered through with lively energy alone, really wished he'd gotten the chance to talk to the blonde-haired boy. He hoped he was alright.

“So hey, Captain Kiawe,” when Hau changed the topic he did so with a happier tone, the smile on his face one he always wore, “what's the deal with that wig you got for Moon anyway? Where'd you get it?” Caught in the headlights of the question, Kiawe blinked. Moon thanked the Pokemon Center nurse for healing her Dartrix before turning to him with a questioning look too. As soon as he parsed his own silence the Captain jolted back to life.

“Oh, it's...” he took a step away from the counter as other Trainers approached, Moon and Hau following after him, “it's from a show that I... liked when I was younger. I collected lots of its memorabilia and... dressed as my favourite characters at times.” Thinking back on it Kiawe found the thought embarrassing, how wildly obsessed he had been at the time. The indulgence of his parents had been appreciated then, but now... he shook his head. “I remembered it when we were talking about needing to hide Moon's appearance. Believed it would help her look the way that she's known.”

It had, and Moon appreciated that. Hau continued to press the point. “What show?”

“Just-” it had ended a few years before his own Pokemon journey, Kiawe was sure neither Hau nor Moon would know it, “it was a cartoon, a fictional retelling of the Warring States Period. Very overblown but... a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. The wig was from a Dragon-type using character. That's all.”

Dragon-type Pokemon were considered the most mysterious of all – their incredible power and scarcity combining with thousands of years of myth to create a concept that captured the heart. No other type of Pokemon demanded as much from their Trainers, drew such an obscene amount of power through their Bonds. Without a specific bias to the type, any Trainer with a Dragon likely only had the one – raised with them over many years.

And even then it was an unlikely Trainer with the raw potential to do so.

Of the seven current Captains of Alola, Kiawe understood the demands of the Dragon-type best. He'd caught one such during his Island Challenge, confident his Fire-type bias would allow him to handle the dual-typed Pokemon's demands, only to discover that he absolutely could not. Even with his other Pokemon stored it still took too much, his own stubbornness the only thing keeping him going some days. Eventually it had taken the intervention of his friends to convince him to seek help.

To seek the Dragon Tamers of Ula'ula Island.

Today Kiawe could handle the Pokemon. Could withdraw it from the Storage System and command it in battle. But the demand was significant enough he had to pace himself all the same. It wasn't a Pokemon he could keep with him all the time. There was still far more growth for him to reach the level he needed to be.

To be a worthy partner to a Dragon.

But then there was Moon. Kiawe caught himself staring absently at her as he mentioned the Dragon-type user, recalling the Pokemon she had. A Bagon. Eleven years old and she had a Dragon-type without issue. Of course it seemed it was impossible for her to feel any of her Bonds' strain at all, that she had an unending reserve of energy she could supply to her Pokemon. But even still it struck him.

She really was so much.

“For now!” Shaking himself past those preoccupying thoughts Kiawe spoke up, moving the topic along, “I am afraid tonight I have work here in Royal Avenue, I will not be able to continue on with you. It is up to you whether you stay the night at the Pokemon Center here or...”

“Or!” Hau shot up a hand, startling Moon with the movement, “Moon!” He turned to her, “I can take you to the Wela Volcano lodge! You'll be staying there while you're doing your Trial anyway!” The barest moment of consideration, really just the length of time it took her to understand what was said, passed before Moon nodded with a smile. That sounded good. Hau grinned back. Awesome.

“Very well,” Kiawe nodded as well, “it is not a long ride from Royal Avenue – you will have no issue making it there before nightfall.”

“Yeah!” Hau threw up both hands now, “Moon we can get some Ride Tauros! It's been way too long since we raced!”

Swept up in the prospect, Moon and Hau quickly worked themselves into determination to get going right away. Kiawe smiled at that. Hau always wore a happy smile, but he seemed more energetic around Moon. Honestly, with the way the young boy was going through his Trials, Kiawe had worried he might be pushing himself too hard. But here he seemed fine. Maybe it was nothing.

He'd still advise Mallow and Lana to keep their eyes open though. He wasn't so irresponsible as to doubt his initial instincts after all.

Moon took a moment. Disappeared and returned a few minutes later dressed as she had been before. Caramel-blonde hair tied in two tails, her clothing darker colours with less vibrant designs, red hat no longer in sight. She held out a hand, offering the black wig back to Kiawe. Hau frowned. Kiawe did too.

“Are you sure?”

Moon continued to offer the wig to be taken. It had helped for the moment but... outside of the battle she was too aware of it. And even still... Moon only had to turn her head to watch people in the Pokemon Center catch her gaze and look away. The Masked Royal's words may have helped but...

Kiawe accepted the wig and gave a much harsher stare out over the crowd. For a child to think and act in such a way... it infuriated him.

Something would have to be done.

For the moment that was where it ended. Kiawe had his job, changing into a far meeker outfit – constantly bared chest now covered by a shirt bearing the logo of the Thrifty Megamart – and Moon and Hau took their leave. Claimed Tauros at the edge of Royal Avenue – the Ride Pokemon stall one of a number curving around the eastern coast of Akala – and took off.

Set themselves upon the road to Wela Volcano Park.

“Man,” once slowing from their initial race, a dead heat sprint between the two, to enjoy the ride, Hau voiced his thoughts, “that Masked Royal was so strong though! I wanna go back and battle him all out one day! When we complete our Island Challenges let's go back and make sure we win!”

Moon's moment of agreeing came to a halt as she realised Hau was speaking about the Masked Royal as a stranger. Did he really not know him?

“I mean,” Hau shrugged, “he's on tv all the time, so everyone kind of knows him but...” Moon's stare didn't communicate her disbelief, “it's so much cooler seeing him up close!”

She really didn't know what to say about that.

“Okay, so,” regularly responsible for keeping conversations going, Hau found a new topic, “how'd your Trial go, Moon? Tell me about it!” Moon spent a moment before giving a small smile and the question in return. How did his Trial go? Hau grinned wide. A momentary stare. Then they laughed. Revealing anything of their Trials would spoil the surprise! They couldn't do that! In her thoughts, Moon considered it was unlikely Hau would experience the same Trial she had anyway. She didn't tell him that though.

Kept it to herself.

“The next one...” Hau spoke again after a while, “I'm a little worried though, since it's a Grass-type Trial. Brionne and Pikachu won't do well with it.” Moon nodded agreement. Her Dartrix stood no chance against the Fire-type Trial either. Still, Hau had shown off the Firium-Z. If he was able to-

“We thought about evolving my Eevee to a Flareon, me and Captain Kiawe.” Moon made a noise of interest at Hau's words. She'd still come to no conclusion on an evolution for her own. “But if it evolves we're both pretty sure I won't be able to keep it with me. Still gotta get stronger y'know?” The way he said it was so relaxed. So unbothered by it. Moon missed any undercurrent and simply nodded. She understood the theory.

“I caught a Fletchling.” Moon immediately looked up when Hau said that. He did? “Captain Kiawe helped, he picked out one just ready to evolve. So I was training it after completing my Trial. I have to swap out some of the others to keep it with me, but we both think it’ll help with Captain Mallow’s Trial.” Another concept Moon understood. Trainers who could not support all of their Pokemon swapping between them through the Pokemon Storage System. It was the core use of it.

“Anyway,” Hau smiled at Moon with that same unworried expression, “even if that’ll help, I might still ask Captain Mallow if I can do Captain Lana's Trial first. Since I know Pikachu will do really well with it, and Brionne will be fine too! Then with Fletchinder and the others we can do the Grass Trial! I'll just have to figure out who I can keep with me. We'll get it though! Swapping Pokemon is normal, right?”

It was, something many Trainers did. Even Moon, though her reasoning was due to the six Pokemon limit more than any personal limitations. For Hau it was different, having to balance the allocation of energy he could supply to his Pokemon through their Bonds. Still, Moon was confident it would work out. And at least Hau wasn't going to be catching so many the auto-release timer would get him.

He laughed at Moon's suggestion of that. Then gave her a curious look. Immediately she realised what was coming. “So how're you doing with that?” The question was direct, Hau interested to hear, “Since you've caught so many Pokemon and all. Have you been releasing them?”

She hadn't, and found herself unwilling to lie to Hau and say she had. Yet further questions would risk revealing the Poke Pelago, and that was something Moon was not prepared to do. Hau was the type who'd want to see it as soon as he heard about it. And if he did, if he saw the Pokemon there, he'd know they were still connected to her. Know the way she differed from everyone else yet again. She didn't want him to know that. She didn't want him to see her any differently than he already did. She didn't want that.

So Moon deflected. Gave little in the way of answer until the topic faded. She didn't regret catching those Pokemon, she didn't regret forming Bonds with them. She just... didn't want people to realise the extent of how she was different.

What she'd shown so far had already done too much.

Hau rambled and Moon nodded absently as they rode on, heading ever north and east.

On to Wela Volcano Park.

The curving road beyond Royal Avenue led past light forest and plains until the green paths gave way to rock, a location of hardened volcanic residue from an eruption centuries ago. This marked a divide, the way beyond continuing on to the entrance of the Wela Volcano Park, and then further still to the northern coast of Akala Island itself. A long journey for Hau to find his way to the Trial Sites beyond. Scenic though, he announced. Moon described the environments she had seen in her travels, something Hau was thrilled to hear. It was easy to discuss how beautiful Alola was and how much they enjoyed travelling it. That didn't require either to think of the things they'd rather not.

“Wela Volcano Park is really cool too!” Hau paused for a moment before sticking a tongue out and bonking a fist to his head. “Okay it's not 'cool' cool but it's super awesome! You'll really like it!”

As the sun set in the west the eastern side of Akala cooled quickly, the rock-face the two were travelling over losing heat moment by moment. By the time the two did pass the gates of the national park it was dark enough to feel like night already, the volcanic peak that towered above them hiding the sun away. Hau pointed out the Ride Pokemon station they were heading for. There they dismounted.

And continued on to the awaiting lodge.

Much like the Pokemon Centers outside Verdant Cavern and Brooklet Hill the lodge was quiet. A few travellers, those visiting the park to explore, and the two young Island Challengers. A Pokemon nurse could be seen behind a recovery machine – confusing Moon as to how this lodge was anything but a Pokemon Center in all but name – and rooms were available for free to Island Challengers. Hau helped her by showing off everything of note in the building. He'd been here for a few days already after all.

As the night wore on the two rested from their day. Ate a good meal, Hau teased by the lodge cook for continuing to empty the kitchen’s stocks with his hunger. And relaxed. Discussed the prospect of Mallow's Trial, which would be difficult for Hau, and how he could best face it. The opportunity of Lana's for him to train. The Trial Moon had ahead, and how she would fare with her Pokemon. She had a few catches from Brooklet Hill with her for it. She felt confident.

Hau yawned, tired sooner than she was. He wore out faster, after all.

“Presenting!” The sound of the television blaring jolted Hau from his sleepy state, he and Moon turning to it as one of the other guests of the lodge turned up the replay from today's Battle Royal. “A Battle Royal to shake the heart!” Watching themselves on the television, seeing them taking part, both Moon and Hau felt weird at that. The video of their Trials online had been one thing, but seeing themselves on television was another entirely. Hau blinked when he met eyes with one of the patrons of the lodge, whose own widened as they flicked from him to Moon. He sat back down facing away from the television. Moon did too.

“Maybe I need a cool disguise too,” Hau gave Moon a grin, “we can both go incognito.” Moon shook her head quickly in response. Don't hide yourself to escape from others.

It hurts more than it helps.

So the night came to a close. Moon and Hau slept, the first fitful, the second deep from his exhaustion. The moon and stars turned overhead. And the sun rose once more in the east, illuminating Wela Volcano with its light.

Captain Kiawe was there by the time Moon and Hau awoke, jovially greeting the pair, a clear morning person. As the two children shared breakfast Kiawe helped Hau plot his course, Mallow's Trial Site close enough to Lana's that Hau wouldn't have trouble going between them. Most people preferred to do those two Trials together, as they were so close by.

Or attempt to, at least. Captain Lana and Captain Mallow both took the need to test the Trainers taking their Trials very seriously. Not that Captain Kiawe didn't but... he paused, before nodding at Hau who winked back. Moon, with no idea of what that meant at all, huffed at them. Hau laughed at her for that.

It wasn't long beyond that until Hau set out. Moon and Kiawe saw him off, wished him well, and the two young Trial-goers discussed how next they'd meet up. If they didn't find one another themselves the Captains would know where they were. That was enough. Good luck, from one to the other. Still two Trials ahead for each. No holding back, right? No slowing down.

They were going all the way.

And so the two separated once more, the same journey but momentarily divergent paths. Kiawe had enjoyed company for a strong portion of his own Island Challenge, appreciated it greatly, and saw in Moon and Hau similar. The intense challenges one faces in their Trials, having another to share the experience with helped recover from them. He suspected the ridiculous progress of the pair was driven because they were a pair. Neither would have made it this far this fast alone.

Well... Kiawe paused on the thought, attempting to be fair while also being honest. He couldn't evaluate for sure. In one direction that was definitely true though. Without a doubt. As for the other...

“Well then Moon,” when he turned to her she looked at him with an expression of determination. She was ready. He nodded in response. “Let us climb the Path of Trials.”

Wela Volcano Park held a beauty different to anywhere else in Alola. In place of vibrant and lush landscapes sheer rock and hardy grasses filled the area, vents in the earth releasing heat and steam into the sky overhead. For most visitors the lower levels would be explored, before a gondola lift was used to travel to the peaks to enjoy the views out over Akala.

But for Trial-goers there was an important journey to take. To follow the Path of Trials, a way cut through the rock that scaled the massive volcano that towered over Akala Island, and to reach the peak by their own merit alone. Even just beginning it, Moon quickly understood why Kiawe was the way he was. Travelling this path even more than once would result in such an appearance.

Kiawe followed Moon on her climb. Watched as she crossed paths with the wild Pokemon of Wela Volcano, battled against them and claimed her victory. Her team was different still, new members obviously caught around Brooklet Hill. Those Pokemon, so freshly caught.

So responsive to her commands.

Pokemon gained strength through a Trainer's Bond. Over time they would grow faster than their wild contemporaries, evolving far sooner than they would alone. Those Bonds, they evolved too, becoming stronger as Pokemon and Trainer grew to trust in one another. The stronger the Bond, the more power would flow through it, and the greater the demand there would be upon the Trainer. The greater strength a Pokemon could draw from them.

Here too Moon was ridiculous. These Pokemon barely knew her, yet they followed her orders without question and shone under the power they drew. Was that part of her impossible ability? Or did Moon share another paired with her limitless reserve, a gift for raising Pokemon that exceeded belief? It was difficult to see the two apart.

Even still, Kiawe watched closely to see if he could. If he could learn just what it was that let Moon raise Pokemon the way she did – whether it was the power that she gave, or the way that she approached them. In the end he couldn't tell where one aspect ended and the other began. Just acknowledged Moon's ability and followed her along the path.

Rest-stops Moon made use of. Her reserve for her Pokemon was limitless, but as a human was exactly what Kiawe expected. She tired as anyone else did when active. Honestly, she wore out sooner than Hau in this way. It was relieving. Kiawe found himself surprised by just how much it was so.

Hours turned. The sun followed overhead. Moon walked the path climbing the volcano, the heat at its peak building, the girl relieved she'd followed Kiawe's advice to dress as light as she could for the day. With shorts and tee baring most of her arms and legs, she savoured when the wind blew against the mountain's side. The warmth coming from the rock, combined with the heat built by the climb, had her breathing heavy. This wasn't easy. Not at all.

Kiawe reassured her. There was water at each rest point, and he kept the bottles they carried filled. Watched Moon's condition while motivating her climb. Overcoming Alola's Trials was something both Trainer and Pokemon needed to do together. She would not learn this land without experiencing it in such a manner.

Moon was sure she'd appreciate that thought more when not mid-climb.

The day went on. Moon climbed, youthful energy converting to raw determination as she continued upon the path, Kiawe always a step behind. She was sure that the Pokemon Journey of Kanto wouldn't have nearly the same mountain-climbing demands but... she didn't specifically dislike it. Turned and looked, high enough now to see out over Akala. In the distance Heahea City sparkled in the light of the day. She liked that sight.

Turned back to the path and continued on.

The Trial Site of Wela Volcano was small, a raised stone platform at the peak of the path set just beyond the Trial Gates. As Moon passed through them, sat down heavily upon the rock and drained the last of the bottle she carried, greedily accepting the second Kiawe passed to her, she recovered. Rested enough to look around. There wasn't much here. Just the ring of stone surrounding them. What sort of Trial was there to have here? She looked to Kiawe. What was next?

“You have climbed the Path of Trials,” Kiawe congratulated Moon for overcoming this challenge of Alola, “future returns to this Trial Site may be done via the gondola lift, you have proven yourself thus far.” That... was more relieving than she'd expected it to be. Moon nodded. And? “Now,” Kiawe stepped onto the platform, walking across it to stand opposite Moon. And raised his voice.

“Come, Marowak!”

Captain Kiawe's voice boomed in a way no other's did, echoed over the rocky ring surrounding the Trial Site and down the slopes of Wela. In return the cries of Pokemon answered, their jumping movements swift as they bounced from outcropping to outcropping, travelling from their resting places to join the Captain who called them. In moments from his announcement Kiawe stood before Moon with three Pokemon before him, Pokemon with ash black hides, white skull masks streaked with the same colour, and long bones grasped in their hands burning with green fire. Moon stared. Marowak? He called those Marowak?

She hadn't heard about this at all.

Rotom-dex was quick to make its announcements. To describe the Alolan Marowak, Ghost and Fire-type, as being just that. Special Alolan Variants. Moon nodded. She hadn't expected this, but didn't mind it all the same. Ghost and Fire? She could face that.

She was ready for her Trial.

“Now then!” Kiawe held out a hand, the one Marowak carrying two bones handing one to him, “watch closely, Moon!” Raising the bone Kiawe spun it, the bone travelling from hand to hand, around his body as he continued to move. It was an elegant dance, one Moon hadn't expected from him. One the Marowak mirrored.

Spin the bone. Fire dances. Trails and flows. Flame entrances.

Moon watched. The dance continued, beautiful but beautiful alone. She applauded when Kiawe came to a stop. He and the Marowak bowed. Then waited. A moment of silence.

Where was the Trial?

“And that,” Kiawe stepped forward, the Marowak falling back as he did so, “was the Trial you must take.” Moon stared. What? Kiawe explained. “The connection between people and Pokemon, between you and the land, there is a rhythm to it. A pulse you can feel in the shifting of the earth, the flow of the air, and,” raising a hand the Captain tossed the bone he carried, the item spinning in the air until he caught it again, “the dance I have show you. Here in Wela Volcano it is loudest, and that is the reason here is where this Trial takes place. Only when you can hear this rhythm, Moon, only when you and your Pokemon can follow it, will the Totem Pokemon appear. And that is the challenge of my Trial.”

Moon didn't understand.

“Call forth your closest Pokemon.” Kiawe's instruction was direct. Moon's hand went to the Pokeball of her Dartrix, a Pokemon she could not bring herself to leave at the Poke Pelago no matter how poorly it would fare here. She unleashed it without a second thought. “Now watch,” Kiawe took a stance again, raising the bone, “and listen. Whether in the movement of the dance, the feeling of the earth beneath your feet, or the secret song Alola sings, you must find the rhythm and direct your Pokemon to follow it. Are you ready?”

She wasn't but she nodded anyway. She didn't understand, but that didn't mean she couldn't figure it out. She'd made it this far, right? She wasn't going to stop here. Kiawe nodded and began his dance.

Moon watched.

Listened.

And felt nothing.

“Let us return to the lodge.” Kiawe's words shocked Moon from her silence, her whirring thoughts seeking the answer to this question she didn't understand. Return? Wasn't she here to do her Trial? She had to take it. Let her take it! Kiawe shook his head. “You cannot take my Trial until you are able to hear the rhythm of Alola. You should rest for today.”

She complained. It was a most eleven-year old reaction, a stark difference to the usual quiet manner with which she acted. But not unsurprising. As Captain of Wela Volcano, Kiawe had weathered the complaints of many Trial-goers confused by the challenge he gave them. Insisting all they had to do was defeat the Totem to move on. Completely missing the point.

Moon was strong. Beyond strong, thanks to her gift. With the ability to use Z-Moves without restriction, Kiawe was sure that in a calm state of mind she would best his Totem without trouble at all. But first she must obtain that calm state of mind. Must not focus on battling and seeing the Trials of Alola as opponents. They were experiences for the children of Alola to contemplate, to understand this world they were part of. Ilima and Lana were gifted Trainers but each too battle-focused. Kiawe firmly believed that a Trial focused more on a Trainer's heart than power was essential to determine who could continue on their Island Challenge.

Moon asked for the dance again. She'd hear it this time, she was sure. But Kiawe saw in her only the intention to win. To overcome a challenge. No thought beyond the desire to fight. She was so young, a few more months, if not a year, should have passed before she'd be tasked to understand. New Pokemon Trainers, they understood battling and that was it. Not the world they were part of.

As long as she could only think of defeating this Trial she never would.

“We will return.” Kiawe's firm statement broke Moon's insistence down. She stared, shocked, realisation coming to her that she would not pass her Trial this day. A defeat. A failure. She didn't understand. Followed in silence. Posture tense.

Kiawe watched her closely as the gondola lift carried them back down to the base of Wela Volcano. Since Moon's journey began her only true defeats had come at the hands of Tapu Koko and Captain Lana, both opponents of such power it was the expected result. Failing to overcome a task due to her own inability however, that was a new experience for her. She was still a girl of eleven. Defeat wasn't an easy thing to accept.

“Moon.” She looked at him when he spoke to her and her expression was cool. No smiles. No relaxation or appreciation for the world around her. The exact wrong state to hear Alola's song. “Hearing the rhythm is not about battling Pokemon. It is about listening to the world around you. The more you try to force it, the harder it will be to grasp. Rest. It will come to you in time.”

A significant amount of the day had been taken by this journey, Kiawe left with only a short while to rest before leaving for his job. In that time he watched over Moon, who ate at the lodge and then wandered out into the fields around Wela Volcano's base, nodding absently at his advice not to push herself. Unfortunately that was as long as he could spend, his own work demanding attention now. As Kiawe took his leave, riding a Tauros back to Royal Avenue and occupied with his thoughts, he did not look back.

Missed the Charizard coursing through the air, heading north-east with unerring focus.

Returning to the Poke Pelago.

Mohn welcomed Moon back, excitedly showing her the developments – the bridge to the next island now completed, its rich fields promising even greater harvests than those of the first – before catching on to just what her mood was. She was upset. But resistant to explaining why. Still, just watching her, she seemed to struggle with remaining in a poor mood when surrounded by her Pokemon. So Mohn let her go and prepared food for the evening.

Moon stayed the night surrounded by her Pokemon and left when she awoke the next day. Captain Kiawe, a natural early-riser, watched as the Flame Pokemon soared overhead, coming from the north-east. The same direction Lana had reported before.

Moon returned to the lodge to find Kiawe awaiting her. Made an excuse of taking a morning walk. Appreciated that he accepted it immediately. Didn't think further of it.

The gondola lift brought the two back to the Trial Site far faster than the climb of the day before. It was still early in the morning, the full day still ahead. Kiawe took position once more upon the stage, Moon watching intently. She would hear it. She wouldn't be beaten. The competitive nature within her flared.

Deafened her.

“Come, my fine Hikers!”

Loud calls, a repeated “hup hup hup hup”, followed the trio of figures emerging from the rocks, quickly taking place on the stage without delay. Stunned by this sudden appearance, Moon stared blankly, momentarily forgetting herself. What just happened?

“Now watch our dance and look for the rhythm of Alola's song!”

Step and turn. Watch closely. Our fine dance, done joyously.

Moon watched. The three dancing figures, all similar in appearance, weathered men who'd clearly spent years wandering such environments, ended the show in a pose. It was exceptionally strange, made all the more so as the three departed without a word in the wake of their dance. It was just Moon and Kiawe again now.

Immediately she began to question if anything she'd just seen had actually happened.

Kiawe looked her over. She was still staring blankly. The strangeness of this moment hadn't unlocked her intense focus. Unfortunate. “Moon,” he gave a new option, “call forth your Dartrix again. The two of you, listen for the steps to follow. Give commands as you hear them.” She nodded and released the Blade Quill Pokemon once more, the Dartrix stretching in the warmth of morning, the hour far earlier today than it had been the day before. Kiawe stepped aside and left the stage to Moon and her Pokemon.

And waited.

Moon struggled. Closed her eyes, listened, and heard nothing of note. No rhythm in the wind. No feeling in the earth beneath her feet. Just silence. A minute passed and then another, her Pokemon waiting for her command, swaying on its own from side to side. It could already hear, Kiawe observed. Simply needed its Trainer to as well. She'd raised it well, another sign of her exceptional ability. The only thing holding her back now was the way she saw the Trial she faced. It wouldn't be too long though, now he was sure.

“My advice,” when Kiawe spoke Moon opened her eyes, frustration clear that no progress had been made, “is to spend the day around Wela Volcano in peace. The Island Challenge requires Trainers to become a part of Alola. Forget battling and listen to the land, then you will hear it. I have full confidence in you.”

Confidence or not, Moon had now failed to meet this challenge twice. It weighed heavy upon her. Kiawe watched her leave disheartened. Wondered what advice he could give. Some Trainers never heard the song. Insisted Kiawe was pretending, that he was specifically keeping them from going forward. Became consumed by their frustration. Moon was in that state now, unable to parse her own inability. But she was also gifted. And held a love for Alola that Kiawe had both heard of and seen. Her moments of appreciation during their climb the day before, he'd been sure of it then. She understood.

Not as fast as Hau, who had grasped the song immediately, needed a second attempt only to defeat the Totem Pokemon, but Moon would not be held here for long. He was sure.

Moon spent the day in battle. The Captain's advice to pace herself lasted only a short while, the frustration at her inability driving Moon to accept the challenges of any Trainer or wild Pokemon to cross her path. Her Pokemon, especially those she had caught recently to help her face the Totem of Wela Volcano, needed more strength, wouldn't be able to overcome the opponent they would face. So she trained them and they grew under her orders and as Kiawe observed this aspect of her, he knew it was incredible. She was incredible.

But she couldn't hear the song.

The day continued the same as the last. Moon left Wela Volcano and returned to the Poke Pelago, Kiawe seeing her go this time. Mohn could see her frustrations remained, slackened only by the presence of the Pokemon around her. Night turned to day. Moon returned from the north-east. Kiawe greeted her. And led her back to the site.

It was the Marowak again, the surprise of the Hikers one that couldn't be relied upon twice. Moon watched them with laser-focus, the exact wrong state of mind to hear the song. Kiawe sighed, unable to advise her to relax. Telling someone they were not calm was the fastest way to make things worse.

Still, he tried. Repeated the dance, allowed Moon's Pokemon to join it, watched as the Dartrix fluttered about to the same rhythm he could feel. With Moon's will it would follow it perfectly, call the Totem without fail. But Moon couldn't guide it. Couldn't even tell that her Pokemon could already hear. Simply grew more and more despondent as she realised today would be no different to the last.

She asked what she could do but there was little Kiawe could tell her. He had found the rhythm in his dance. Others in simply remaining at peace. Some in battle, though the number Moon had taken part in hinted she would not. Hau had looked out from Wela Volcano as he climbed it and heard it then. Understood what he was climbing to do.

Hearing that affected Moon. Hau had heard it immediately? How long then had it taken him to complete his Trial? Faster... than this? Kiawe felt warning in the question, yet found himself unwilling to tell a falsehood. Told Moon that Hau had heard the song immediately, called up the Totem, been bested by it and then overcame it the day to follow.

It hit harder than she expected. Being unable to overcome this Trial, this challenge, was affecting her but the thought she was falling behind Hau, that he was leaving her behind, that was so much worse. She had to hear the song. She had to pass the Trial. She couldn't stop here.

She had to keep up.

Kiawe saw a fire in Moon but it was a fire that burned its host. Her struggle to overcome was wearing upon her. She'd grown more sullen, more tense, as the days passed by. Her perceived failures were stacking heavy upon her shoulders. Advice to pace herself, to relax and take things easily, would not be well received. He was unsure what to tell her.

Just that he should say something.

“Come with me.”

The Trial Site was set high up Wela Volcano's peak, but not at the peak itself. It was a further walk to reach that height, and Kiawe led Moon on it while distracting her from her thoughts. “My dance, I found it when I did my Trial here, the Captain before me teaching me to hear the rhythm of this place. She did so by taking me to the peak, and telling me to meditate on the sight of Alola before me. It... didn't work.”

Moon focused on that. Someone else experiencing the same difficulty she faced.

“It was the Marowak who taught me – they dance with their bones, and I joined them on a whim. Only then did I hear it. Only then did I understand.” Should Moon dance then? She asked him that. Kiawe shook his head. “I can't answer that. Only Alola can.” An enigmatic answer for an enigmatic Trial. Moon frowned.

“From there,” Kiawe continued to climb the path, Moon following behind, “I fell in love with the art of dance. I've practised it every day since. And am working hard to study abroad when my Captainship ends.” He turned and smiled back at Moon. She was still feeling down, but listening intently all the same. “By the time that happens, you'll probably be ready to become a Captain yourself. What do you say, would you like to take on the task of teaching this rhythm to the Trial-goers of the future?”

Moon stopped walking. She still struggled to imagine herself as a Captain. But here, teaching this thing she couldn't understand, that was far too much. Just trying to picture it resulted in her head being filled with blank noise. Kiawe stopped as well, seeing Moon deep in thought. Almost. Almost...

She shook her head and moved on. She'd think about that after her Island Challenge. For now she had to reach the peak, hear the song, and beat the Totem. Kiawe's face fell as she moved past him. She still didn't understand.

The opponent holding her back was her own drive to fight and win.

The peak of Wela Volcano, a grand view out over Akala Island's south, even the far distant hills containing the Ruins of Life, did nothing for Moon. She stared and waited for the flash of inspiration, of understanding, and got nothing. Turned and left without a word.

The next day was different, Moon watching as her Dartrix fluttered about the dancing Marowak, bouncing to the tune. The Pokemon was acting independently, caught in the dance all on its own. Moon didn't even acknowledge that, didn't pay attention to how her Pokemon was moving. Just waited for that moment of realisation that wasn't coming.

Didn't notice until it was far too late the giant Pokemon that had crawled over the rocks and risen over the dancing group.

“Salazzle!” Rotom-dex announced as it rose up in reaction to the new Pokemon, “Toxic Lizard Pokemon, evolution of Salandit.” Moon had encountered Salandit over the past few days here, the territorial lizards quick to battle, and quicker still to be bested by the Pokemon she had brought to take this Trial. An evolution of them, that made sense.

All she had to do now was win.

The Z-Aura of a Totem flowed around the black lizard as the Marowak scattered, as Kiawe stepped back, as Dartrix fluttered before the Pokemon highlighted by lines of pink. Moon didn't fully understand how this battle had begun, but knew at least she was prepared to win it. Dartrix return.

Dartrix didn't return.

Kiawe observed. The dancing of Moon's Pokemon had lured his Totem Salazzle, but caught in the rhythm that Moon could not hear the Dartrix was unable to obey her commands. Simply fluttered about until the Totem turned and left again.

Moon stared. It had been there. The opponent she needed to beat. And she'd done nothing. Been unable to direct her Dartrix back and... why hadn't she called out another Pokemon? Why hadn't she done anything? She didn't understand. She didn't understan-

“You heard it.” Kiawe's voice cut through Moon's thoughts. She stared at him. “Or rather, you heard the absence of it. The space where the rhythm should be, the song that will let you face the Totem. You are close. Your Pokemon has already found it. You will complete your Trial soon. Have faith.”

Moon didn't understand. She hadn't heard anything. She couldn't picture at all what she was looking for. Didn't get it. It didn't make sense! She called back her Dartrix with a sharp order, breaking through its dance and causing it to look at her with surprise at her tone. Moon didn't note her own frustration. Turned and left.

She couldn't handle this.

Kiawe caught her on the slopes of Wela, embroiled in battle with local Pokemon. She was venting, and continuing to miss what it was she had to find. But his advice, his suggestion she stop battling for the day, went ignored once more. She wasn't ready to listen. To him or the song. So competitive, so driven, she reminded Kiawe of Gladion. Of how the young man pushed himself to win until it hurt.

He watched over her as best he could, but when he turned his back she was gone, a Charizard soaring through the sky above. He watched it go. Had reported the details enough to be confident of where it was heading, cross-referenced with others along the way. Lana had told him she'd take care of it. He didn't know what that meant, but left it to her all the same. She was sharp.

She'd do what was best.

Moon didn't expect it. When the Charizard circled over the Poke Pelago, she didn't notice the way her Pokemon were grouped around Mohn's residence, his little shack by the sea, to be any different. Didn't feel their curiosity. Was too deep in her thoughts to grasp even that.

The Charizard landed. Roared its arrival as Moon dismounted before taking off to settle upon the great vine trees of the island until it was needed again. Moon's Pokemon turned to her. Mohn emerged from the house to greet her.

Lana followed behind.

“Well,” Lana's casual look, her glance at the Pokemon surrounding Moon, confirmed everything she had been sure of when she'd arrived and seen the Pokemon here. All those someone who'd completed the Melemele and Brooklet Hill legs of an Island Challenge would find. “I'd say this explains a lot.”

Moon had an impossible ability, able to sustain Pokemon without any sign of strain. At this point the Captains observing her were sure: she simply had no limit to the power she could provide her Pokemon. They'd accepted that conclusion. But still missed the second impossible step that came with it.

With nothing able to drain her, with no limits to what she could maintain, why should Moon follow the limitation of six Bonds? Because that was the raw limit for humans, or at least it was believed to be so, Lana supposed. No-one had ever maintained seven. It wasn't even understood why, seemingly arbitrary. But that was the truth.

Except for Moon.

Twenty easily, thirty? Lana began counting before focusing back on the girl standing stock-still before her. She'd frozen up. The Captain sighed and approached.

Raised a hand to poke Moon's forehead.

“Moon,” the girl jolted from the combination of touch and name, “it's fine.”

Moon unloaded. It wasn't fine! Not the way everyone treated her. Not the way it would be worse now that Lana knew. And not the way she couldn't hear the song! The small smile that formed on the Captain's face broke through Moon's rant. She stared at it. Lana shook her head. Beckoned for Moon to follow her as she walked to the water's edge. Moon did so.

“I couldn't stand that Trial.” When Lana said it Moon stopped. Really? “It took me months to hear it, I was so sure every time but it just wouldn't come to me. I actually left Wela Volcano and stayed at Brooklet Hill after the first week. Visited every now and again but couldn't get it any time.”

Months? Moon shuddered at the thought. Hau would be long gone from Akala in that time. And Lillie would follow the Professor on his path. Moon couldn’t be left behind by them. She couldn't!

“You know when I heard it?” Lana asked this and Moon shook her head. She wanted to know. If anything could help her... “It was at Brooklet Hill. I wasn't even thinking about it, just fishing, watching Pokemon. Counting ripples. I made a tune out of their number. I still remember it. One two three, sea ripples. Splish and splash! Catch Tentacools.” Moon stared. Lana grinned and stuck out her tongue.

“Wela Volcano is terrible.” She said it with such a deadpan that Moon laughed. She couldn't even help it. “Honestly, it's so hot and dry and the air has that acrid taste it's awful!” Lana put her hands on her hips, having delivered similar speeches to Kiawe more than once. “Hearing the song is best done where you're happiest, not where it's loudest. Where are you happy, Moon?”

Moon stopped and thought. With her Pokemon. With Hau and Lillie. No place. Just those around her. Lana smiled at that. It was a good answer.

“How about staying here then? Spending time with your Pokemon? Try to focus on them, not on your thoughts. Then you might hear it. That's my advice.”

Kiawe's focus was always on teaching calm, peace, and acceptance of the world around you to hear its song. But Moon was like Lana, the type who always needed to be moving forward. She couldn't take it easy and enter a trance like Kiawe could with his dance wherever he was. She needed the right place.

Maybe the Poke Pelago was it.

“Moon.” Lana spoke again. Moon looked to her. “I'm going to tell the other Captains about this.” Moon's expression fell. “And that's it. Not the Kahuna. Not the Professor. Just them. Will you trust us?” The role of the Captains was to help guide and test Trainers. But there was another important aspect to them. Their youth. They remembered so clearly being young Island Challengers themselves. They could understand better than most. And as a team they had their own secrets only they knew.

Moon didn't understand.

“This place helps you, doesn't it?”

It did.

“Then you should have it safe. There's just one thing.”

What was it?

“When we have it, we'd like to trade a Ride Pager for your own. We can transfer the Charizard to it, it's just the device we'd like to swap.” Now Moon stared, confused once more. Retrieved her Ride Pager and looked at it. What did the Captain want it for? Lana shook her head. “I'll let you know when we have your new one.”

There was little more to Lana's visit. She spoke more to Mohn, instructing him that the maintainer of the Pokemon Storage System in Alola was going to be notified about this system intrusion and that he'd be in touch. Mohn accepted that he was probably getting off lightly. Beyond that, Lana took her leave. She'd have to tell the others everything, and they'd figure out where to go forward from there. Ilima would know best, he was the one to work with the Aether Foundation in creating the Ride Pager anyway.

He might know who Mohn was and why he had the original with him, before he'd given it to Moon at least.

As for Moon, Lana watched her with her Pokemon, all bound to her, and understood why she saw something far more than any other Trainer in the girl. That many Bonds, it made the strange sensation Moon gave so obvious now.

And it was only going to grow more intense with time.

Moon watched Lana leave, the Captain's Lapras happily surfing over the waves. That had been more than she'd been prepared for, the secret she was keeping discovered, and she found herself exhausted by it. An emotional toll had been taken. She needed to rest.

So Moon rested, the day turning, morning passing to afternoon. She was tired. Watched her Pokemon, some at work, some at play. It had been too much: the Totem appearing, her failure in facing it, her continued failures to hear the song, and then Lana's appearance. In the warmth of the sun Moon nodded off surrounded by her Pokemon. And dreamed.

Their sounds shaped her subconscious thoughts. Pokemon dancing about her, a whole world of them she was a part of. How long had she wanted this as a child, how long had she been looking forward to the day she would receive her first Pokemon and go out on her journey? And now here she was. Beyond her wildest dreams. And now...

In her dreams, a rhythm. Wake and feel, this momentum.

Moon was on her feet in moments.

The setting sun cast orange across the Poke Pelago, night beginning its approach. Some would be tired at this time, a full day spent however it may be. But Moon was not tired. Moon was not prepared to stop. Her Pokemon, at work, play, and rest, looked to her and the way they moved continued what she heard.

The rhythm of Alola's song.

Mohn didn't have the chance to catch her before she was gone, the time between Moon's awakening and calling the Ride Charizard to return her to Wela Volcano less than a minute. She'd called back the Pokemon she would need. Those who could follow the tune.

She had to go. Now. Before she lost it.

She had a Trial to take.


 

Captain Kiawe of Wela Volcano entered the lodge at the mountain's base with a glum expression. Hard work, determination to succeed, didn't always end up going his way. He'd been sure that working at the Thrifty Megamart, while managing his role as Captain and his practise of dance, would be the way to go. That he'd make the savings necessary to follow his dreams.

But those dreams were a little further off now. He didn't know what he'd do next. Find somewhere else that would take him, that would accept he had a duty to serve Alola and its youth whenever they called? That wasn't so easy a thing.

He sighed.

Moon called out his name.

He didn't need to ask. It was obvious. The way she swayed from side to side. The way her foot tapped at the ground when she came to a stop. The brightness in her eyes and the smile on her face. He shelved his own concerns in an instant. This was far too important to feel down. Moon had heard the song. Kiawe nodded in response.

“Then it's time.”

Upon the stage of stone set within the Trial Site of Wela Volcano two figures stood. The first was Captain Kiawe, tasked with overseeing this Trial. One who guided Trainers to hear Alola in their hearts, to understand that the Island Challenge was not solely about raising strong Pokemon who could fight.

It was about growing into the kind of person who could feel and care for the world around them.

Before him stood Moon. She moved a hand, her Dartrix appearing before her, swaying in the same manner she did. To hear the song was to be in sync with one's Pokemon. As long as Moon remembered this, she would be a greater Trainer than ever before. Completing this Trial first, Hau had a strong advantage going to face his next. The flames of Wela Volcano forged Trainers stronger than they arrived to this place.

“Come, my fine dancers!”

Just one of the Hikers this time, three Marowak joining him. Kiawe called them to dance.

To begin Moon's next Trial.

In the earth, a movement. Flames rise up, in announcement. Rhythms pulse, partners dance, summon forth, opponents. Marowak spin and dance and sway, Dartrix flies, hunts, and preys. With Aura flowing in command Moon's given order scattered foes, clearing way, calling to, Totem Trial, Salazzle.

Pokemon dance, change place on stage, battle start, new song made. Poison and fire, to water bows, flow and pulse, overpowers. Poliwag new, fierce and brave, feels Aura shine and forms a wave. Z-Aura. Z-Power. Hydro Vortex, mountain drenched, Totem wrenched from feet, poison arcing overhead, Moon's calm heart complete. No shaking but for dance. No quaking but for trance. In rhythm caught in Alola's hold her spoken words, heard as told. Partners change and water rains from Z-Move's wake and sustains the fish, Pokemon caught in Brooklet Hill, Small Fry calling up allies. Schooling Wishiwashi towers over Totem foe, eyes glowering, bold intimidation answered back, each unleashing their attack there's steam. Fire water mix, clouds now hanging thick. Poison seeps and saps away at Moon's choice as she says the words, calls a change of tack, their next act.

Distance taken intent unshaken, from water drawn, shield and sword, attacks blocked, power stocked, a single strike that splits the night. Steam parts, light cuts, shines on the dance under the dark. Totem strength resisting blows, weathering strikes from countless foes but her light, shining brighter through the water takes its toll, visage fearful to them all. Another wave, Kiawe looks to see the one who does this, whose endless self lets her use abilities that make her news. His Totem staggers, a prideful dancer, no time for laughter, Moon's attack continuing. Third choice Eevee with confidence astounding. Aura so bright that his heart is pounding.

In the rhythm she found the flow that gave her even more control and now she speaks commands that rend sky and earth, light spreading forth, Breakneck Blitz third of three no dance can stop, Salazzle toppling and falling, caught and dragged through the song swirling, one true blow through the attacks that had held back so many foes but not this one. Not this one.

Light shone bright, around them. Silence spoke, astounding. Kiawe's stare, Moon's unshaken.

And she bowed with victory taken.

Chapter Text

Darkness gave way to light as the Tauros Moon rode emerged from the Dividing Peak Tunnel, the passage defining a border between the north and east sides of Akala. Under the sun once more she looked down to her left wrist, the red crystal set within the Z-Ring she wore glittering brightly. She smiled.

The victory of the night before had been a freeing thing, releasing Moon from the struggle that had consumed her in seeking the song of Alola, allowing her to hear it clearly at last. Even in the breaking of the dawn the next day, the sound of birdsong from Fletchling that nested across the Wela Volcano Park echoing, she could hear it. Even in the stomping of the Tauros carrying her onwards to the north, she could hear it.

Even in the movements of Kiawe's dance as he taught her the pose to unleash the power of the Firium-Z, she could hear it.

Next was the third of Akala’s three Trials: the Grass Trial of Captain Mallow, held in Lush Jungle to the north. With the Firium-Z in hand, the dance to perform the Z-Move Inferno Overdrive in mind, and a Ride Tauros to carry her the way, Moon continued on, bound for Akala’s northern coast and distant Wahiola Town beyond – the gateway to Lush Jungle.

Having promised to meet Moon before her Third Trial was complete, Kiawe had gone west, first to return to Paniola Town, and from there continue north around the western coast of Akala, eventually reaching the Trial Site of Captain Mallow from the opposite direction. Left on her own for the moment Moon travelled along the road, cars and other Ride Pokemon passing her by in either direction as the stone landscape surrounding Wela Volcano led on to the Dividing Peak Tunnel. And then through to its other side.

The difference was as night and day, made all the moreso by the brightness of the sun after the long ride through the dark and lengthy tunnel. Here light glittered off the ocean, waves crashing against the shore, roadside thick with grass and trees. Wingull soared overhead, flocks of Trumbeak and Pikipek wheeled closer to the mountain slopes to the south, and the water frequently broke as sea-faring Pokemon jumped about in play. The air was thick with the smell of nature and completely clear of any of the fumes and heated rock that coated Wela Volcano. Moon found herself stunned by the difference.

It was beautiful.

So beautiful, in fact, that Moon immediately made a decision. Guided the Tauros she rode to a station up ahead, a Ride Pokemon outlet, and made a return. “Ohhh,” the attendant gave Moon a grin, “going on foot to Wahiola? It's a wonderful day for it!” Moon nodded, turning as she did to look at all the Ride Pokemon at rest. Some looked impatient. She queried it. “I was just thinking the same!” The woman she was speaking to nodded, “I'll have my second take over when they get here and take these Tauros out for a roam in the fields!” Moon smiled at that and patted one that had approached her on the snout. It was good that it would have the chance to get out and about.

No-one should be inside today.

From there Moon set out on foot, the rhythm of Alola rich in her ears; the sound of the waves a beat, the punctuation of Pokemon calls notes above it. Even her own footsteps, whether in steady pace or sudden burst of movement, played into it all. Without a second thought Moon brought out a Pokemon, her Eevee, who immediately raced circles around her before clambering up onto her shoulders. It was a timid one on its own, but even it had difficulty worrying in such a pleasing warmth as this. Moon raised a hand and ran it through the fur around her Pokemon's neck. It leaned into her touch happily. The finest of days.

“You there!”

A loud voice entered the song and ground it to a close, a screeching stop to Moon's pace as she came to an immediate halt. The call repeated, her head turning to see a man across the road waving enthusiastically. Lessons about showing politeness to others warred with Moon's desire to return to her warm morning walk, ultimately winning out as she crossed the road to see the one who had called out to her. The Alolan way was to hear one another out, and Moon had found her love for Alola far greater than she had ever thought of Kanto. So she would listen.

To a point.

The man had the look of a scientist, grey coat worn over black clothing, what looked like computer panels built into his sleeves. His glasses were alight with changing symbols, results of the constant typing he was performing with one gloved hand atop the panel on the other arm. Moon found herself transfixed by the strange sight. She'd never seen anyone like this before. The neatly brushed blonde hair of the man should be the least notable part of him, but the large blue crest curving out from it and then around his head made even that strange. He was a figure of most confusing design. She didn't know quite what to make of him.

“Greetings, greetings, oh please excuse me,” he bobbed his head to Moon, who had to look up at him to make eye contact. He was tall. “I am a scientist, my name is Colress.” He spoke fast enough that Moon didn't feel obligated to pause and introduce herself. It was easier that way. “I am here in Alola studying the means by which the full potential of Pokemon can be brought out. Have you ever considered the topic before?” Moon shook her head, Colress reacting to that with a smile. “Of course, of course,” he nodded readily, “most Trainers move forward on pure instinct – some lessons from their youth inherited from previous generations but most of their experience gained by just that: experience! But I am a man of science and it is my drive to fully understand how Pokemon gain power from people, and just how that power grows!”

Reaching forward a hand, Colress extended it to the Eevee at Moon's shoulder, who pulled back from the stranger immediately. Colress stopped his movement before leaning back up.

“Pokemon gain power from a Trainer's Bond, of course, but there is so much more to it than that! Have you ever considered how a Trainer's Bond grows, how it becomes able to give more power to a Pokemon so that Pokemon might grow stronger still?” At this point Moon noted Colress wasn’t even looking at her, caught in his own speech. But it was interesting. She stayed put. “It is my belief,” Colress pointed at Moon's left wrist, indicating the Z-Ring she wore, “that the Z-Ring is key! Through it and Z-Crystals, Trainers can provide even more power to their Pokemon! With each successive Z-Move, your Pokemon gains more from you! Have you felt that? Detected that growth that helps them become strong far faster than they would without? That pace here in Alola that is one of the fastest in the world?”

Z-Moves... Moon thought. From her first with Rowlet against Tapu Koko, to her latest with Eevee against the Totem Salazzle. Was each helping her Pokemon grow more? Was that the key? She looked back up at Colress and he saw the interest sparkle in her eyes. He smiled.

“Yes, perhaps even more than the Mega Ring, it is the Z-Ring that may lead to the discovery of a Pokemon's ultimate potential! And now, because I have told you this, I wish to ask you something.” The look in Colress's eyes was intent enough that Moon felt her interest momentarily pause. What... did he want with her? “I ask you, Trainer, to continue using Z-Moves with your Pokemon!” With that declaration Colress spread his arms wide. “By continuing to transfer power to them, more and more, the Bonds between you will grow and they will become stronger! As the Pokemon League forms here in Alola, the greatest of Alolan Trainers will appear, and I wish to see the power they have forged with their Bonds! So, young Trainer, continue to grow and make it to that stage, and show the world the potential you and your Pokemon have found! That is what I ask!”

Moon nodded and agreed, but stepped back in the same moment. The intensity in Colress now was starting to overwhelm her interest in his topic. He was looking at her like she was the solution to all his troubles and the thought of people putting such upon her weighed heavy. She didn't need such expectations. Excusing herself, bid farewell by the scientist, Moon turned. Began to make her way past a nearby building, a white cuboid structure on stilts, intent on moving on. Of returning to the song.

A loud crash and yell from inside the building stopped her cold. Then another and a cry that sounded like a Pokemon's. Once again, the belief that in Alola you should never turn your back on another surfaced. Moon turned and took steps back to the building's entrance, climbing the few stairs to its front door. And opened it wide.

“Nuiiiiiii!”

“Block it!”

Within the building was a lab-like interior, white decor branding with golden symbols that Moon would place as soon as she focused on them, and similarly white clad people running about. The reason being due to the thrashing Pokemon that had already broken through a table, and was continuing to flail about as the pair of individuals inside tried and failed to calm it. Rotom-dex quickly emerged from Moon's bag to identify the pink, black, and white tiny bear-like Pokemon tearing the place apart.

“Stufful, zzt, Flailing Pokemon! Normal and Fighting-type, a Pokemon that hates physical contact from anyone but those it trusts! Zzt!”

The heads of the two people in the building, both women wearing white outfits branded with the same gold symbols, turned at the voice. The one closest to Moon held out an arm. “Be careful!” She took a step forward to guide Moon back, “It's not safe while it's rampaging!” Moon looked past her at the Pokemon thoroughly trashing the area around it. She felt bad looking at it, like it wasn't well. With a quiet word to her Eevee the Evolution Pokemon jumped down to the ground and approached.

Stufful paused at the sight of the Pokemon, who was calling lightly to it, keeping space as even with Moon behind it there were nerves. Yet as Moon knelt down beside her Eevee, holding out a closed fist to the Pokemon, the Stufful reacted. Took careful steps forward, head tilting to make sure no-one else was approaching, before bonking its skull against Moon's outstretched fist. Then standing still.

“Oh, amazing!” Both women in the room applauded, Moon keeping her focus on the Flailing Pokemon. It still looked unwell. One of the two women knelt down beside her.

“We have to give this Stufful a shot to treat its illness, but it refused to be held for it. We didn't know what to do – thank you so much!” Moon thought on that, aware now that the way the Stufful moved, swaying slightly before catching itself, ran against the song. It was out of pace due to its sickness. She changed her hand, from fist to palm, and held it out to the wary Pokemon's side, Eevee chirping from beside her to help keep the Pokemon calm.

Pacified for the moment it consented as the other woman in the room knelt down as well, raising a syringe to its back leg. The Flailing Pokemon jerked slightly at the injection, but Moon's touch to its side and whispered praise kept its stance steady. After a moment the woman leaned back and withdrew the needle, the Pokemon stepping away to bury itself in the rubble it had created. Moon, along with the two women, stood back up. They breathed out a sigh.

“Thank you, seriously,” the one next to Moon held out a hand, waiting for Moon's so she could shake it. “Our best Pokemon handler went back to the Paradise yesterday, and we're not so good with the really wild ones yet. You seriously saved us.” Moon found the shake continuing for quite longer than normal as the woman thanked her, needing to pull a little to get her hand back. It was then that her eyes settled on the golden symbols throughout the room. Wait.

“We're with the Aether Foundation,” the second woman was watching over the Stufful, but turned to face Moon after observing the Pokemon start to sleep. “Pokemon Conservationists, have you heard of us?” Moon had, was aware of the Aether Foundation that operated around Alola, working to help protect Pokemon in the wild. She liked what she'd heard. But right now, looking at the symbols around her, knowing the exact same was emblazoned on the Ride Pager she kept, she felt strange.

Like she'd suddenly discovered enough pieces of a puzzle to realise there was a puzzle at all.

“People like Team Skull,” the woman was continuing as Moon fixated on the Aether symbol, “cause harm wherever they go! But as long as there are good people in Alola, there'll still be places for Pokemon to be safe! That's what we're working towards. Would you... be willing to help us out until we find our feet?”

Moon paused, broken now from her thoughts. What did they want? The other woman, who'd been staring at the young girl with the Eevee, had a sudden realisation. Pulled the first aside. Moon stared at them, a whispered conversation not low enough to avoid hearing her own name. She took a step back. Both Aether members turned to her.

“Sorry, sorry,” the one to have made the invitation bowed her head, “you're on an Island Challenge, of course you're too busy for that. But please, if you get the chance, lend a hand to those of us you find along the way? Oh! And visit the Aether Paradise some time! I'd love for you to see what we do there!”

Moon nodded. Waved. Appreciated that knowing her name was apparently where it stopped for those two. Seriously appreciated. She was tired of being known. Stepping back out, planning to return to the path, Moon heard Colress's loud voice in the air, looking to see him talking enthusiastically to what looked like another Trainer passing by.

“Well then Trainer, I believe it is you, yes you, who is the key to unlocking Pokemon potential! So then, what I must ask is for you to-”

Moon shook her head and moved on with a smile. It was good to not be recognised after all.

Travel was easy from there, returning to the warmth of the sun and the sound of the waves and the rhythm that pulsed in the back of her head. The northern coast of Akala was active, as such a beautiful place should be, and Moon enjoyed meetings with wild Pokemon and wandering Trainers both. Her Eevee took the lead today, doing well in battles, many Trainers either asking Moon what plans she had for the Evolution Pokemon, or giving their own advice on what form they believed was best. Moon still didn't know. Maybe she'd stumble upon an unknown evolution just by doing nothing.

Probably not though. Everyone was trying to find the next of Eevee's evolutions already. Reaching that... wasn't about to happen without reason.

That was how the day continued, wandering the path, meeting people and Pokemon, breaking for lunch at a small place along the way. Small settlements could be found along this northern coast, some higher up in the mountains, some lower down by the water. The largest would be Wahiola, but even it was tiny compared to the number of people who lived in the towns along the west, and that a meagre total when facing Heahea City itself. Yes, the north coast, despite being vibrant with life, was quiet too. Moon found herself very taken with it.

As far as rewards for completing the Fire Trial could go, this was as good as she could imagine it got.

Wahiola Town greeted her as only it could, with a calming energy that embraced Moon, welcoming her to a place of rest. Set overlooking the shore and northern sea, it reminded her of a smaller version of Wai'oli, perhaps crossed with Iki Town itself. Like Iki Town in spirit, a small and old place, but Wai'oli in design, spread out over a large area from mountain to sea. The thought of coming back here, after her Island Challenge was done, immediately settled in Moon's mind. She liked it here. She liked it very much indeed.

“Oh hey! Moon!”

The voice of Hau came from up the road, the young Trainer racing down it to greet his friend. Moon waved back as Hau approached, the red Z-Crystal set into the Z-Ring around her wrist as obvious as the blue one in his. The sound of their palms meeting one another, both greeting and victory cry, was loud. Each immediately had to shake their hands after that – it had stung!

“Nice!” Hau was as bouncy and energetic as ever, but now Moon could see more to it. The way he moved was in tune to the song, and she was quick to realise it always had been. Even before being told of the song Hau had been part of it. No wonder he'd been able to understand right away. He really was incredible. “Come on, come on!” Wasting no time Hau gestured for Moon to follow him, “the Pokemon Center is up this way so we can stay there! Captain Mallow told me you'd be getting here today, and that she'd come get us tomorrow morning for our Trial!”

Moon followed, questioning. Our Trial? Was it possible for she and Hau to do a Trial at the same time? Hau shrugged. “I dunno, that's just what she said! She and Captain Lana have been talking since they got here, I think they're planning something big.” Now that Moon thought about it, Captain Kiawe had mentioned he'd be here too. Hau reacted to her saying that with a whistle. “I think we're in for the long haul, Moon. Hope you're ready.” Only a moment's pause before she grinned widely at him and he returned it. If they were being challenged together then...

It was definitely the three Captains who weren't ready for what came next.

“Okay okay okay,” as they neared the Pokemon Center Hau walked past it, Moon following after. He set to stand in an open lot before a row of buildings, a motel for travellers staying in the area unable to use the Pokemon Center itself. Being a popular destination for visiting, it saw frequent use. “You gotta tell me how it went, Moon! You did the Fire Trial! You heard the song, yeah?”

Moon nodded. It hadn't been easy, it had taken her a long time actually. But she'd heard it. Called up the Totem then defeated it in battle. Hau whistled again. “Daaaaang,” he held onto the word, “I was able to call up the Totem quick but when I fought it she kicked my butt! All that fire and poison is crazy – even Brionne couldn't keep up! I had to train super-hard to figure out what to do about it!”

To beat it the very next day, Moon pointed out. Hau smiled and rubbed the back of his head. “Well, yeah, but that's nothing compared to beating it right away! I bet it didn't even give you any trouble either, you just went for it! Hearing the song, Moon, you must be suuuuuper strong right now! I bet you could beat anyone!” High praise, and Moon found herself doubting it. Lana, at least, would still crush her – as the Captain too could hear the song, and no doubt had used it to coordinate their double battle before. Maybe the way she let Moon win while still not appearing to have thrown the battle outright had simply been slowing down her pace within the rhythm. Moon shook her head. There was still a long way to go.

Anyway, change of topic, how had Hau's Water Trial gone? Hau grinned and held up his arm again, showing the Waterium-Z off. A Z-Move his Brionne would excel with. Moon was excited to obtain the Grass-based Z-Crystal for her Dartrix. “It was really really hard!” Hau's exclamation sat right with Moon, Lana was the type to put a heavy challenge on people. “The Totem was so strong, it took me three tries before I won! Captain Lana still said I was a really strong Trainer though, so I bet it beats everyone at least once! How did you do with it?”

Moon paused, having baited out the topic without preparation. She didn't want to tell a lie, she didn't want to make something up, but neither did she want to describe the battle she had fought, the struggle with two Totems that she won with the power of four Z-Moves combined. Hau hadn't even said the Totem's name. She didn't even know which of the two he'd faced.

Salvation came in the form of the click of a door, the entrance to one of the motel rooms opening so its occupant could step outside. Hau and Moon both turned to the noise, more reacting to the presence of sound than out of any interest, then stopped and stared. The figure to emerge stared back.

Slowly Gladion stepped back inside the room and closed the door.

“Hey!” It didn't take more than a moment for Hau to cross the open lot before the motel rooms, bound up to the door Gladion was behind, and begin hammering a fist upon it. “Hey Gladion! Gladion hey!” Moon followed behind, her own interest piqued. She and Hau, for different reasons, had business with Gladion still. She stood behind Hau as he knocked. It quickly grew unbearable.

“Go away.” Gladion's command came from a crack in the doorway, Hau's push against the door finding a chain keeping it from opening any further. Not discouraged, the cheery boy leaned to the side to get a better look in. A fierce green eye stared back at him.

“Hey let us in!”

“Absolutely not.”

“We're just gonna keep making noise at your door!” Hau's continued banging against the wooden door persisted even after it shut again. Moon looked from side to side, wondering if anyone would come and yell at them for this, but none of the other rooms were opening. Perhaps at this hour everyone in the area was still out and about. A minute passed. Hau didn't slow down his barrage.

The door opened.

“Fine,” Gladion stepped away from the opened door, retreating further into the room. Hau immediately entered, Moon excusing her entry a moment after. The room was simple, a bed at the back, an occupied pet bed next to it. Definitely not fitting into the small foam and fabric construct, Type: Null lay across the sea-green mat. Moon crossed the room and knelt down before it. It observed her but did not rise.

“Hey Gladion!” Hau's volume didn't change, even now that he was inside, “Are you doing okay? I didn't get to ask you at the Royal Dome before! You did great though, for a minute I really thought you were gonna win! Did you? The Masked Royal sure was tough though huh? Was that your first time fighting him? Are you going back? Are you sure you're okay? Hey what are you doing up in Wahiola anyway? Hey Gladion? Is- is that a Pokemon egg?”

Barely listening to the barrage of questions, having extended a hand to Type: Null's mask, the Pokemon moving in no way to avoid Moon's touch, Moon stopped when she heard Hau's last. Pokemon egg? She stood up and swept her eyes over the room, settling on a round object swaddled in a blanket next to the pillow on the bed. So it was...

That lady at the Pokemon Daycare had mentioned she'd given the egg to a young blonde man.

“It's nothing,” Gladion looked away, “don't be so loud.”

“Are you sure?” Hau now had a worried expression. “Isn't Null there wearing you out already? You can't hatch a Pokemon and care for it too, you're gonna get hurt!”

“I don't need your advice!” Gladion's snap pushed Hau a step back, but only a step, the boy finding resolution to stand firm. Narrowed eyes glared at him for that. Of all the times to find a mote of strength. Moon knelt back down to Type: Null, touching a hand to its helmet, before lowering it to where there was fur protruding. A deep rumbling sound came from the great beast as she ran her hand along it. It was enjoying her care.

“Tch,” turning his eyes upon the sound, Gladion stared at Moon fiercely, who looked up to see his displeased gaze. “I shouldn't be surprised that Null likes you, there isn't a Pokemon that doesn't, is there?” Moon stared back now, a frown on her face. Gladion didn't budge. “You have everything don't you, all that power, nothing holding you back. You wouldn't feel it at all if Null was your partner, would you?” His voice had disgust. Hau frowned.

“Hey-”

“No matter how hard I'm trying, looking at you, who could do this without even feeling it, it really annoys me. Get out. I don't have words for someone like you who has everything without a care.”

“Hey!” Hau's yell now was angry, a tone Moon had rarely heard from him and one Gladion never had. The blonde boy turned to stare at Hau. Hau stepped up to him. “Moon doesn't have it easy either you know!” Moon stopped still. Hau shook his head. “Sure she's able to form Bonds that don't tire her, but look at what that got her! Everyone keeps pressuring her, seeking her out, look at her! She had to change everything about how she looks just so she can do her Island Challenge! You call that having everything? Do you?”

Moon's beating heart did not slow as Gladion stepped back from Hau, turning to look at her again. He didn't have that scornful look now. He looked away.

“Sorry.” His voice lacked all the edge now, intensity broken by Hau's admonishment, “I spoke without thinking.” Moon shook her head. She didn't particularly know why she was attempting to reject the apology, just that she felt like she had to. Hau saying that for her had rattled her. Null pushed its head against her back for more attention. Gladion sighed. “He's right.” Hau smiled at him when he said that. “You have your own troubles too. We all do. Nothing comes in this world without a price, whether it's Null or your abilities. We all have to suffer for the things we have.”

“That's not true either!” Hau's voice again, this time back to its chipper usual, drew Moon's and Gladion's eyes to him. He smiled. “There's something that comes without any price! And it makes everything else easier too! It's the best thing in the world and it doesn't cost anything at all!”

Gladion stared, trying to figure out what Hau could possibly mean. Eventually he had to ask. “What?” Hau grinned widely.

“Friendship!”

Moon laughed. She laughed a laugh at the purity of just how Hau that statement was, of how much it summed up everything about him. She laughed and Type: Null rumbled as she held a hand against its chest to keep herself steady. That was so good. So so good.

Gladion just stared, unable to even say a thing. What even could he?

In that moment, Moon's laughter, Hau's triumphant grin, Gladion's silent stare, a new noise sounded. A small crack, audible only from its sharpness, as the swaddled egg on the motel bed began to shake.

Immediately Gladion had climbed onto the bed, moved the egg from where it lay by the pillow and begun unwrapping the blankets around it. Moon stood and moved back to where Hau was, the two watching over Gladion as he changed to sitting, settling the egg into his lap. Moment by moment outer parts of its shell cracked and fell away, movement being seen behind the translucent inner layer. Gladion kept his hands to the egg's side, waiting as the Pokemon within struggled and broke more away, eventually forming a crack around the entire egg itself.

Then with a final push the Pokemon shoved upwards and threw the egg casing away, blinking under the motel room light, nestled in Gladion's lap. Hau and Moon both smiled at the sight of it. Gladion lowered a hand to run it over the top of the Pokemon's head.

Across the brown fur of the newborn Eevee.

“Hey,” Hau nudged Moon, lifting a Heal Ball to get her attention. She nodded back in response, retrieving her own Eevee's Pokeball. Quietly each opened them, releasing the two older Evolution Pokemon into the room. Gladion's attention moved to watch as they bounded up onto the bed, each making soft noises at the young child before them. Curious, the newborn Eevee crawled out of Gladion's lap to talk to the others. A first meeting for the three.

“Hey Gladion?” His expression was so much softer now, looking over the newborn Pokemon, that Hau felt no concern in asking the question again. “Are you okay?”

Green eyes lifted to stare at Hau, their owner sighing. Reaching out a hand to the Eevee he had hatched, the Pokemon preening into his touch with a delighted and high-pitched trill. Gladion closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the contact between them. Then opened them and looked up to Hau and Moon.

“Type: Null is a special Pokemon, it's designed to take as much as it can from its partner as they can sustain. With Eevee now, there'll be less it can take from me, and so it won't gain strength the same way as before. But it will ease the strain.”

Special. Designed. The words fell heavy in Moon's head as she looked to Null, who had stood to poke its great masked head closer to the young Eevee, who squeaked and fell back, Moon and Hau's own making noises of encouragement for the younger’s confidence. Mostly Hau's, actually. Moon's was eyeing off Null with concern too.

“Will you be okay?” Hau asked it again and Gladion sighed. Looked away. Then back to him. And nodded.

“I will.”

“Good!” Satisfied by that Hau grinned, stepping forward to now put a hand against Null's helmet, who reacted to the push by giving a little push back that was more than enough to knock Hau over. He laughed at the giant Pokemon. “I'd be worried if a friend of mine was hurting the way you were before.” The word 'friend' landed heavily enough to make Gladion pause and blink. Hau grinned up at him from the floor. “We're friends now!”

“I'm tired.” Returning to his feet, Gladion reached down and hauled Hau back up to his. “I'm going to rest, keeping Null going still takes a lot. Goodnight.”

“Okay, okay,” Hau held out an arm, his Eevee jumping up to it, Moon stepping forward to pick up her own. Both made noises of farewell to the young Eevee who ventured to leap down from the bed for the first time, staying close by to Gladion's legs. Hau stepped back. “But let's hang out again, okay?” Gladion didn't give a response, but he didn't give a rejection either. Hau would take it. He and Moon stepped out and Gladion locked the door again.

Turned back to Null and the young Eevee chirping up at it.

Friendship, huh.


 

The afternoon passed easily into night, Hau and Moon wandering Wahiola for a while before settling at the Pokemon Center, eating with their Pokemon, and relaxing until bed. Discussing tactics for the Grass Trial ahead, its challenge unknown, figuring out the best Pokemon for it. Hau would be able to bring out Fletchinder, but it would take storing two of his Pokemon to do so. Moon had a few catches from Wela herself, but none of them were yet trained to the level she'd want to fight a Totem. She and Hau might need to pace each other. Train together until they were both ready.

It was so much easier to manage their intent to win when together. Keeping going at the same speed. It helped.

And so the night passed too, dawn rose over Akala, and the third and final of their Trials here began.

Chapter Text

“Good morning!” With bright and cheery energy Captain Mallow of Lush Jungle greeted the Pokemon Center of Wahiola Town, drawing all eyes to her as she entered the building. Despite its small size in the grand scheme of things, Wahiola Town was still the central gathering hub of the northern coast of Akala, and so the Pokemon Center within was quite filled – in stark opposition to those of Verdant Cavern and Brooklet Hill. Mallow's bright energy didn't flicker in the least as she walked through the room, up to where Moon and Hau were sitting, the two just finishing their own breakfast. It was still fairly early. The fully dressed and fully awake Captain beamed at them. “Are you two ready?”

It took roughly two more minutes for the pair to get through the last of their food before nodding, standing up prepared to go. In response to that Mallow smiled and set off, expecting the two young Trial-goers to follow behind. Today was going to be a busy one! And the days after it too! These little ones, they'd finally reached a level where it was time for a real Trial of Alola to be put to them.

It was time for the Captains to take the kiddy gloves off.

The path from Wahiola to Lush Jungle was scenic, yet demanding. It was uphill, reminiscent of the road to Paniola Town which Mallow had led Moon and Hau upon just eleven days ago. It felt far longer to the pair. Still, they enjoyed it, the tree-line growing thicker with each minute passed, the sounds of Pokemon calls changing to the species dwelling in the jungle, the humidity rising just as fast as the heat did. Lush Jungle was a cooking environment, one Mallow knew well how to read. Time to throw these fresh ingredients in and make something incredible.

Her cooking metaphors often put others off as being a little morbid. She just grinned further.

“Good morning, Hau and Moon!”

“Good – ahhhh – morning.”

Two more voices greeted the trio climbing the road, two more figures standing by the gateposts that marked the official entrance to Lush Jungle, largest nature reserve of Akala. Moon and Hau both waved to greet them, Kiawe and Lana waving back. Kiawe had energy to his motions, as much a morning person as ever, while Lana stifled a yawn. Moon wondered where the two had come from – not having seen any of the three Captains at the Pokemon Center last night or this morning. Mallow came to a stop between her fellow Captains, standing by the gateposts, before spinning around to face the two Trial Challengers. Hands on her hips, chest puffed out, she made a big show of this being important. Because it was!

“So, Hau, Moon,” though Mallow took the lead, Kiawe and Lana both moved to stand properly by her, all three Captains looking over the two. Moon considered the sight. “The two of you really did it, huh? Blitzed through two of your Trials here without a problem!” That wasn't entirely true from the perspective of either, but for the Captains it was all too much. A normal Trainer didn't complete two Trials within the span of a week, especially not within two weeks of arriving on a new island! Even the best would be hard-pressed by that. “So the three of us, me, Lana, and Kiawe here, have come up with something special for you. A real Trial to make sure you're really ready for what comes next! Kahuna Olivia won't go easy on you and Ula'ula Island won't either, but to make it to either you've gotta pass our last challenge first! It's not gonna be easy, in fact it's gonna be crazy hard! But the two of you are ready for that, right?” The pair nodded, excitement in their eyes, Mallow grinning back. Such cute little saplings.

Time to put them through the works.

“So then!” Stepping aside, Mallow waved an arm to indicate the now clear entrance to Lush Jungle, Lana and Kiawe moving with her out of the way, “your first challenge: go catch a new Pokemon!” The silent pause, the stare from the two as they parsed just what Mallow had said, made her smile. Good. Gotta keep them on their toes. “Though that's not gonna be easy either.”

“It's not a normal catch.” Lana spoke next, continuing to outline the Trial the three Captains had devised. For the sake of Hau and Moon, who had talent and abilities that defied all expectations, they'd come up with something truly special. Something that would help these two incredible Trainers truly understand the Alola they were becoming part of. Something to really test them. “You can't use your Pokemon for it.”

As Lana's words drew the stares of the two, trying to understand what she meant, Mallow took back over. “You've gotta befriend them!” Their attention back to her, she clapped her hands. “That's the only way! Find a Pokemon to be your new partner, ask it to come with you, and when it does you'll have passed the first stage of this Trial! You'll have the Pokemon you'll be fighting the Totem with!”

Again the two stopped, the wave of details flowing over them. Moon asked it. What did Mallow mean by 'the Pokemon you'll be fighting the Totem with'? Mallow grinned. Kiawe spoke next. “The two of you,” even when just speaking his voice had that boom, that volume that really reached you, “will be fighting the Totem Pokemon together with the two Pokemon you catch in Lush Jungle.” Understanding settled. Moon nodded as Kiawe completed his statement. “And only those two.”

Silence. Moon and Hau stared. Mallow stepped out from the three Captains.

“That's the gist of it,” she spoke with such a light and airy tone, as if the weight of the requirements she'd just put upon the two meant nothing to her. “The two of you are going to catch two new Pokemon, and then have a Double Battle against the Totem with them. Make sense?”

The silence continued, Hau and Moon looking to each other. Hau voiced his concern. “Isn't that... kind of unfair?” They'd raised such strong Pokemon so far. Partners they trusted. Being told not to use them was... wasn't that wrong? Mallow shook her head.

“If we just let the two of you at the Totem, it wouldn't be a Trial, just a fight.” Mallow wagged a finger, as if admonishing a student. “The Lush Jungle Trial is about being able to reach out to others! You need to reach out to the Pokemon of the Jungle! You need to reach out to each other! And you need to learn to work alongside all of Alola, even those you've just met! Turning new encounters into strong friendships, working together to overcome an impossible task, that's the Alolan spirit! Just going along with the Pokemon you already have, not reaching any further than you already have, that's not how we do things! So that's the challenge! Reach out! Make a new friend! And share power that will let you do something none of you can do alone! That's the Trial of Lush Jungle's Captain Mallow!”

Moon and Hau stared at her. The words made sense, they could understand the logic just... it was a lot. The thought of catching just one Pokemon, the amount of work it would take them to reach the level to fight a Totem, even together, was daunting. Moon realised in a flash that with only one Pokemon she'd only be afforded a single Z-Move. The playing field evened. She passed her eyes over the three Captains, wondering if that had been part of their intent. None of them focused on her. Hmm.

Kiawe and Lana stepped forward.

“The two of us,” Kiawe indicated Lana, who waved simply, “will follow after you and observe. Ensure that the catches you make are by word and action alone. You will only be catching one Pokemon, so make sure it is the one you wish to ally yourself with. It is an important choice.”

“Take as long as you need!” Mallow chirped as the two Captains moved to the gates framing the Lush Jungle entrance, “It doesn't have to be today, just keep looking until you feel the call! Since you can hear the song, you'll hear the Pokemon who harmonises with your own! Maybe that's a little complex though...” It was for Moon, who hadn't even considered her own unique place in the song. Hau didn't seem to think too hard about it. “Okay then!” Satisfied she'd said all she needed to, Mallow waved with a hand, “it's time for the two of you to begin your Trial! Get going and meet your new partner! Good luck!”

And that was that. Mallow stepped back and hummed a tune under her breath, watching the two young Trial-goers consider. Then begin to move. She smiled. Good. This would be a good Trial. Maybe the best one yet.

She couldn't wait to see what they'd do next.

Stretching from the slopes of Wela Volcano to the northern sea, barring a small coastal strip of roads and homes, the nature preserve Lush Jungle was the largest forest of Akala and indeed Alola itself, its only competition in the form of its sister site, the Melemele National Park. But where the Melemele National Park was a well spaced region, wide paths, trees and other foliage spread apart, in Lush Jungle was a thickness – of environment, flora, and even the air itself – that couldn't be beat. Even just beginning upon the path leading into it, the widest and most well kept of all the trails within the park, Moon and Hau could feel it. Could feel the weight of this place bearing down upon them.

Brooklet Hill, Wela Volcano, and Lush Jungle were, in the end, all the same. Places that made you feel them and know they were alive and around you. You could not help but feel small within them. Hau turned to Moon with a grin. “So what's the plan?”

Moon thought on that. The knowledge she'd only have a single Pokemon, a single Z-Move, had thrown her – given that her strategy over the past two Totem battles had been to land Z-Moves in openings as soon as she saw them. Even if she landed a direct Z-Move, the hit wasn't something she could rely on this time. Her usual strategies needed refinement to go further here.

Lana and Kiawe, following behind the pair but leaving the discussion entirely to them, shared a look to hear Moon admit that. Good. Despite having the power to unleash a Z-Move from each of her partners, Moon had still yet to begin truly considering those partners in the act of unleashing said Z-Moves. This lesson would go a long way to better her teamwork with them. And also develop her already terrifying skillset further, but at this point the seven Captains of Alola had decided to go all in. If Moon was going to be a power without compare then... they'd help her get there. And see how the world changed around her.

“Yeah,” Hau nodded at Moon's thoughts, “even if we both land a Z-Move, I don't think it'd take the Totem out. And once we use a Z-Move that's kinda it for our Pokemon too – they won't be up for keeping going after doing one, y'know?” Moon agreed. There was no way their partners would be able to recover from performing a Z-Move quickly enough to keep fighting against the Totem. When they used their Z-Moves, that was their admitting they were leaving the fight. They'd need as good a strategy as they could get.

Ideally, Moon mused, she'd find a partner that could use the Firium-Z or Flyinium-Z, given those would be the most effective moves against whatever the Grass Totem might be. Providing it wouldn't be resistant to either, as was the risk. Hau, who'd also begun thinking about the best type of Pokemon to seek out, laughed at that. Fire and Flying huh? “Man,” he turned and looked back at Kiawe, who seemed surprised to gain the attention, “raising that Fletchinder really didn't help, huh? I feel kind of bad for it, since it won't be fighting here and I can't keep it with me if I want to have both Brionne and Pikachu too.”

“Ah,” Kiawe glanced down, “that's...”

“Not his fault,” Lana shrugged, “we only locked down the plan last night. Preparing a Fletchinder was the right idea – and if you'd done Mallow's Trial second instead of choosing to come to mine, you would've used it then.” Seeing Kiawe's discomfort at the unintentional implication the Captain had misled him, Hau attempted to apologise. Lana made eye-contact with Moon. “I'm glad though,” the Captain moved up as Hau convinced Kiawe he wasn't blaming him, “having the two of you together for your third Trial, it let us be really mean.” The Captain of Brooklet Hill skipped the usual expression she gave when revealing she was telling a joke. Just smiled a dangerous smile. “But that's just because we believe you can do it.” Then she kept on walking. Kiawe noticed her go.

“Ah Lana! We're meant to follow them, not lead the way!”

Hau and Moon watched as Lana came to a stop, Kiawe moving up to remind her of their tasking. Hau glanced at Moon. “What about a Bug-type?” His question drew Moon's eyes back to him. “They're usually quick and easy to raise, and strong against Grass-types too! Plus I bet there's a ton of Bug Pokemon in here. Maybe even some really rare ones! Hey Rotom-dex!” As Moon was nodding in agreement to Hau's thoughts her bag shifted at his call, the Rotom-inhabited Pokedex hauling itself out to float in the air with a 'zzzt!'. “What kind of Bug Pokemon live in the Lush Jungle?”

“Zzt!” With a salute the screen of the floating Pokedex flashed. “Scanning records for Lush Jungle Pokemon, subcategory: Bug-type Pokemon!” Moon and Hau both watched, Lana and Kiawe a few steps away doing the same, as the Rotom-dex listed out what could be found within the Lush Jungle's environs. “Scan complete! Lush Jungle Pokemon Records indicate large numbers of Butterfree, as well as previous evolutions Caterpie and Metapod. Large numbers of Parasect, previous evolution Paras. Medium numbers of Ledian and Ariados, previous evolutions Ledyba and Spinarak. Small numbers of Masquerain and Surskit, Araquanid and Dewpider, to the far west bordering Brooklet Hill. Seasonal emergence of Grubbin and Charjabug presently occurring during night cycles. Rarer species including-”

Halfway through the Rotom-dex's spiel, Hau's attention had already left it. He shrugged at Moon. “Maybe we should just go look?” He was the type to do things, not make plans. Moon nodded and agreed. The two set off.

“Zzt wait for me!”

Movement proved challenging. The dense pressure in the air, heat and humidity swirling, caused Moon and Hau to need a break after a while, settling on a fallen tree trunk while the Captains stood nearby. Lana, who practically lived in liquid environments, and Kiawe, who climbed Wela Volcano on the regular and thrived in its heat, were both doing far better. Mostly focused on watching over these two young ones. And seeing what they'd do next.

The two of them, along with Mallow, had placed bets that morning. Mallow, who knew Lush Jungle far better than the both of them combined, had bet on Moon crossing paths with and befriending a Scyther, which would result in Hau, who always tried to keep pace with her, acquiring a Pinsir. Lana had made the prediction that Moon, following Hau's lead, would find a flock of Fletchling and Fletchinder nesting on the north side of Wela, and befriend their boss. Hau, who'd done well around Brooklet Hill, would make his way to its border against the jungle and choose a Surskit.

Kiawe, whose primary choices had already been claimed by the other two, decided to take a long shot and gamble. One of them would find a Pokemon none of them knew was in Lush Jungle at all. Despite the outlandish statement, it had still taken a moment of solid thought from the other two before Mallow laughed Kiawe off. To be honest that was as good of a win as he could imagine. Just knowing these two young Trial-goers were so ridiculous that the thought of something so impossible was still possible.

He wondered what they would find.

The morning wore on into day. Following the paths of Lush Jungle, not entering the untamed forest proper, kept Moon and Hau's experiences thin – hearing Pokemon along the way, sometimes seeing some running about, but never feeling the tug upon their hearts that would lead them to their new partner. The two were holding themselves back from just running ahead, looking for what felt right. Showing the sort of sense and care that some Trainers even twice their age would not. They were doing well just going along with the song. Kiawe was proud of them for that. They'd done so well indeed.

“Oh hey check it out!” Hau's point broke Kiawe from his thoughts, stepping up to see what the young boy was pointing out to Moon. Lana pointed it out too. A small stream, flowing over rocks, cascading down-hill. Hau grinned at the others. “That looks nice!” That was all he needed to say before taking off, breaking from the path and racing to the stream's edge. Removing his shoes, Hau sunk his feet into the water, letting out a delighted “ahhhhh” at the feeling. He smiled. “That's good stuff.”

“Alright,” removing her own shoes to sit at the water's edge, Lana stretched out, “break time.” Watching Hau stepping through the stream, bending down to pick up a smoothed rock from the waters, Lana looked up at Kiawe and Moon, the pair standing nearby. Tilted her head. “The two of you?”

Moon shook her head. This task, this search, she couldn't imagine standing still right now. Needed to keep moving. She was exactly that type, Lana nodded. “Then the two of you go ahead while I watch over Hau.”

“Hey Moon!” Hau's voice from where he was standing in the stream, water flowing over his feet, drew her eyes. He smiled at her. “Make sure to find something super cool, okay? We're working together after all!” Moon smiled back and nodded. Same to Hau. She'd be relying on him just like he would her. He really smiled at that.

The two parted ways, a Captain watching over each. Further into the jungle they went, each now beyond the path, moving on instinct alone. Moon pushed past trees and bushes, eyeing off the Pokemon around her, whether identified by sight or sound, and continued on. Hau walked down the stream, down the slopes Lush Jungle spanned over, Lana following behind. Wondering just what he'd find.

They were still too far from the Brooklet Hill territory to likely find a Surskit or Dewpider, but there was a chance. She'd see. They'd all see soon enough.

Kiawe followed Moon. She was not talkative, said nothing to him, simply pushed through the path only she could see. Curved out further east, back towards where the road to Wahiola was, but they were a good hour from it still. Then north as well, down the slopes. Searching without knowing what she was looking for. Simply moving. Lost in the flow of the rhythm that pulsed throughout Alola. The song that would carry her to the destination she sought. Kiawe believed in her fully. She'd find something incredible. Of that he was sure.

“Woah check it out!” Hau's excited yell at the pool the stream ended in filled the clearing it created. Though the canopy was still dense overhead there was far more space at ground-level, thanks to the water-filled hollow he'd discovered. Lana, keeping a step behind, looked over the environment. It was nice. Hau's eyes caught movement entering the water. “Hey look!”

Moon felt the vine she'd wrapped her hand around give way. Caught herself on another against the rock wall, keeping from falling, before it tore too. Kiawe reached her in time to keep her from tumbling, the slope they were on steep enough she'd have difficulty catching herself, though littered with enough foliage she'd have hit something before going too far all the same. Still, best not to. Moon stared over his shoulder, back at the rock wall formed by the jutting out of earth from the slope. And at the hole she could now see behind the layer of greenery. A cave in the jungle. She moved to it, following the song.

“That's...” Lana paused, watching Hau step around the water's edge, eyes locked on to the Pokemon keeping its distance from him under the water. They were a sort that preferred to be closer to the sea; this one had gone pretty far out of its normal territory to end up here. But it was quiet here. And they were the type of Pokemon to prefer the quiet. “Hau, come back here.”

“Huh?” Hau questioned but obeyed all the same, stepping back to where Lana was. The concerned Pokemon in the water eyed the two humans, keeping a distance away at all times. “What's up?”

“That's...” Lana considered how best to phrase this. It wasn't exactly fair no matter what she came up with. “That's not a common Pokemon, finding one, here especially, is unexpected. I'm surprised.” Hau's face lit up immediately, thrilled to hear he'd stumbled upon a rare Pokemon. “But... Hau, it's not an easy path. They're incredibly strong when evolved but until then... very weak. And you won't be able to evolve it before facing the Totem. I won't tell you not to but... think about it. That's my advice.” In truth she shouldn't even be giving that advice, but Lana understood well how intent Mallow was on making Hau and Moon give everything they had. Hau would be taking a hard road choosing this one.

As hard a path as choosing to keep pace with someone like Moon would be. Hau turned back to the water, and crouched down at its edge.

“Hey,” his voice called out through the clearing formed by the pool, “what do you think?” Knowing he was not asking her, Lana stepped back. This was in Hau's hands now. Hau's, and the Pokemon he'd found's. “What I think...” for a moment Hau paused on it, before shaking his head and continuing, “is that I'm gonna do my best. No matter what, no matter how hard it is, I'm still gonna try. I've got someone super strong to beat one day too. And someone super strong to challenge all the way until I get there. Already the two of us have come so far. And all my team too. We're giving it our best every day out there. No holding back.”

A shift in the waters. Lana watched, silence held, as the small Pokemon began to crawl up to where Hau sat. Hau smiled at it. “So if you wanna, let's go together. And we're gonna fight people way way stronger than us, and we're gonna do our best every day no matter what. What do you think? That sound fun?”

It broke the water, tiny legs carrying its scuttling form forward, up to where Hau was crouched. Little legs grabbing onto his own, the Pokemon crawled up his side, over his arm, and onto his shoulder to sit there of its own accord. Slowly Hau raised to a stand. A small bubbling noise came from the purple and silver-plated bug. Hau grinned.

“Then let's go together.”

With a happy clicking sound the Wimpod agreed.


 

Light filtered in from the entrance of the tunnel, more and more as Kiawe cleared the vines to let Moon go safely forward. Part of a Pokemon Journey was exploring small hidden places across the world, learning secrets only you would know. They were experiences to be tempered by care – Kiawe had already heard the story of Moon being lost in the caverns of Melemele – but experiences to be had all the same. He hadn't known about this cave. Lana hadn't known about that pool. Those places had just been found, likely only possible by Moon and Hau's own intent. Little secrets waiting just for them.

Moon frowned. Something was wrong. Her request to Kiawe, to cover the entrance again, came as a surprise. He double-checked if she was sure. She was. He pulled the vines over again as best he could, muting the light. Plunging the cave into darkness.

Except not.

Moon stared at the light, the faint glow further ahead, just around the corner. Moving to it she felt no fear, no concern, simply a curiosity driving her. Even the thought of why she was here, following Mallow's tasking to catch a Pokemon, faded away. Her own natural wonder and interest brought her to this point. To round that corner and see the light.

It wasn't a small Pokemon, as large as a Butterfree, more than half her own height. Latched onto the inside of the cave wall, a faint red glow emitting from its body as it rose and fell in its sleep, the Bug Pokemon – she was sure it was a Bug-type – simply remained there. A voice called out in the darkness.

“Is everything alright, Moon?”

Kiawe's voice did it, woke the Bug which immediately glowed brighter, a warning to threats to back away. Moon did so but only a step, calling out to it at the same time. Her voice, it gave the Pokemon a moment's pause, before it scuttled further up the rock walls of the cave. Turned around only when it reached the ceiling to look down at the figure which had intruded upon its sleep. To stare at her with bright blue eyes.

Kiawe, moving into the darkness to find out what was the source of the glow he too now saw, stopped as he heard Moon's voice. As he heard her speaking. He couldn't see the Pokemon, couldn't know what Moon had found, but listened all the same. She was telling it about the world she'd seen in Alola. The great battles she'd fought. The friends she'd made. And how there was still so much further to go. How she wanted to give this Pokemon – whatever it was – the chance to come with her. Kiawe waited there, in the darkness lit only by that faint glow from around the corner, in silence. Then a new glow, a Pokeball's light, and darkness truly fell. Footsteps, and Moon's voice calling for light. Kiawe shifted the vines and once more allowed sunlight to enter the cave, illuminating the smile on Moon's face. So she'd found her partner, he asked. She nodded.

She was ready for what came next.


 

With a fine lunch prepared Mallow waited, her own Pokemon bustling about the entrance to Lush Jungle. Knowing the environment well they were easily able to hear the return of the others, to let Mallow know in advance, and so when Hau and Lana emerged from the path she greeted them with thrill. The look on Hau's face, he'd found a partner he could rely on! Hau grinned. Lana nodded, though looked more contemplative. Ohhh? Well Mallow couldn't know until Moon got back too! That would ruin the fun.

Oh but what could it be?

Moon and Kiawe followed barely half an hour later. First a Talonflame swept overhead, cried out its sighting of the entrance, before flying back into the jungle. Shortly after Moon and Kiawe emerged, Moon's smile just the same as Hau's. Immediately she and Hau celebrated, their partners for the Trial chosen. Mallow shook her head. In only a few hours. These kids refused to take anything slow.

She didn't dislike that at all.

“Okay!” Holding out a plate of food, Mallow addressed Moon, “Get something to eat, then the two of you can show off your catches! I can't wait to see them!” Moon took to the food with great intent, the exercise of the day, combined with the heat and humidity of the jungle, having driven her hunger to a great height. Hau found a second wind and Mallow offered him another plate too. Always good to have people enjoying her cooking! Some people said her style was a little too eclectic, that she cooked best when working with someone else, but she said bah to that! She was just forging her own path! And look, Moon and Hau were enjoying it!

Moon and Hau, who'd both had a grand adventure in jungle exploration, the second of whom was now shouldering the weight of a new Bond – though at least from a non-demanding Pokemon – would have eaten most anything put before them at this point, truth be told.

“Okay!” When the plates were clear, when the two were satiated, Mallow pulled back Kiawe and Lana, set her hands on her hips, and cast her eyes over the pair of Island Challengers. Good good good! “Let's see what you've got!”

Sparing only a moment to glance at each other and nod, Moon and Hau each retrieved a Pokeball. Specifically, for Moon it was a Premier Ball – a white dominated Pokeball given as part of bulk purchases, something she was one of only few likely to do – and for Hau a Friend Ball, green coloured and ideal for helping calm stressed Pokemon. Oh what could it be, what could it be? Mallow barely resisted rubbing her hands together as she waited for the two to reveal what they had caught. The seconds were straining at her patience. Come on come on come on!

Then they revealed their successes. Two Pokemon materialised side-by-side, each sounding a cry, before each noting the other beside them. Their Trainer behind. An unknown Trainer at their side. Yet there was something, a degree of comfortableness between Moon and Hau, that allowed the two Pokemon to find similar.

To help the Wimpod of Hau and Larvesta of Moon acknowledge one another as allies from this day forward. To go together as far as they could go.

Kiawe, who hadn't seen the catch Moon had found, been unable to extract it from her or figure out what was glowing in that cave, struggled not to yell his shock. Lana stared too. Mallow's eyes were wide. No. Way.

“Are you serious?” Her delighted yelp caused Hau and Moon to both jump, Mallow almost slamming down onto her knees before the two Pokemon, reaching a hand out to each. Both Pokemon that preferred their own space, the Wimpod wishing to retreat, the Larvesta to scare off intruders to its territory, the two may have complained in some way were it not for the obvious joy the figure before them was radiating. It was hard to feel concerned in such a powerful presence. Mallow immediately began to coo.

“A Wimpod? I didn't even know you could find them in Lush Jungle! It must've come up all the way from the coast! Lucky lucky Hau!” Hau grinned, rubbing the back of his head, looking over to Moon. She smiled back as she fished Rotom-dex out of her bag, requesting information on the two Pokemon caught. It was quick to provide. Mallow spoke over it.

“A Larvesta, Moon, you need to stop blowing our minds like this you know? That's one of the rarest of all Pokemon in Lush Jungle where did you find it?” Moon's mentions of a cave went mostly unfocused on as Mallow, without a second thought, picked up the Torch Pokemon and buried her face in its white fur, making delighted noises all the while, the Torch Pokemon itself unsure what to make of this. It was all very strange.

Moon, who had tried and failed to pick up the Pokemon after it agreed to go with her, noted Mallow didn't seem to have any trouble holding it. That was notable to her. The Captain set the Pokemon back down and beamed at the two Trial-goers. Un. Be. Lievable.

“Alright,” Mallow nodded, then nodded again, “alright alright alright. The two of you have found your partners for the Totem Battle. The next stage is getting used to each other and learning to work together! I'm not gonna tell you anything more today, just the four of you, go out and get in some Pokemon battles. Try working together! Test your Pokemon against each other and beside each other! Get started on thinking about how the four of you are going to be one team! Okay?” Moon and Hau nodded back. Hau reached down to pick up the Wimpod, which clambered up his arm onto a shoulder and then his head, while Moon ran a hand over the white fur of the Larvesta before returning it to the Premier Ball. Then they turned to each other, nodded one more time, and turned again to face Lush Jungle before them.

Back to it.

And as Mallow watched the two walk off with a big smile and a floaty feeling causing her to bounce back to her feet, a cough from nearby drew her eyes. Kiawe gave a grin of his own, tilting his head to express his victory.

“'A Pokemon none of us knew was in Lush Jungle',” he repeated his words from earlier that day. Mallow blinked. Lana started laughing immediately. Mallow realised.

And raised her hands to her face. “Oh nooooo!”


 

By the time Moon and Hau returned to Wahiola Town each was so tired as to be ready to sit down and not stand up again for the rest of the day. Evening light was beginning to form, the sun approaching the horizon, the day ready to come to a close. Mallow, Lana, and Kiawe followed behind discussing what they'd seen so far, and what was next to come. Moon and Hau's relentless march of progress, it had infected them with impatience too. They couldn't wait to see what those two would do next. How could they?

Hau took a moment, a break from the group to walk from the entrance of the Pokemon Center to the motel built just next to it. Moon watched as he knocked on the door Gladion had been behind, time passing and no response even after Hau's call. It was late enough in the day this time that, after making enough noise, Hau was answered by another door opening, the resident behind it speaking with him before Hau returned to the group. He shrugged to Moon. “Apparently Gladion checked out?” He frowned a little, “Guess we'll run into him later on.” Moon nodded. They would. She was sure of it. Hau smiled at her confidence. Yeah. They'd see him again. Until then they'd just have to get stronger. No holding back, right? That was the promise between the two of them, after all. Moon nodded again. No holding back.

“A friend?” Mallow asked this, curious as to who Hau had been looking for. He confirmed it – another Trainer, the one he and Moon had battled at the Battle Royal actually. Kiawe seemed surprised.

“Is he alright?” When he asked that Lana and Mallow looked at him in confusion. Kiawe focused on Hau. “I was sure that Type: Null Pokemon was pushing him too far.”

“Type: Null?” Mallow, who'd never once heard the name before, asked. Kiawe shook his head. He didn't know what it was either. Hau shrugged.

“He's fine,” he reassured with just those two words, “it's okay.” Kiawe showed surprise. Was it really?

“So he's your friend then?” Lana glanced from Hau to Moon. Hau nodded enthusiastically. Moon paused. Friend? Hau and Lillie were her friends. Gladion was... if she had to come up with a word... probably she'd call him a rival. Someone she wanted to fight. Someone she wanted to beat all out in a fair battle. That was what he was. Not a friend but a rival. Lana nodded at the expression. She got that. She got that really well.

“Someone can be both,” Hau was quick to point that out. “It's cool to have someone who's a friend and a rival!” Moon agreed with that. That was true. The Pokemon Center doors opened for them. Mallow didn't miss the expression on Hau's face.

The evening passed, the Captains staying this time at the Pokemon Center. They'd camped at Lush Jungle the previous night, something they'd done plenty of times before, to surprise the two young ones that morning, but with the surprise over they'd enjoy some relative luxury for tonight. There was room for them. Time to take it easy.

From there night fell, all slept, dawn broke, and the day began again. Mallow and Kiawe woke early, greeting Moon and Hau when they arose, and then hassled Lana to join them once the two Trial-goers were ready to continue. Time for the next step. Back up the steep road to Lush Jungle's entrance. And for today...

“Today you're hunting for ingredients!” Hands once more on her hips Mallow made the declaration, Moon and Hau standing before her awaiting further context. Mallow let just long enough pass for the two to show slight impatience before continuing with a smile. Gotta keep them on their toes. “To summon the Totem Pokemon from the depths of Lush Jungle, we need the Mallow Special! Once it's made the Totem will come running, so to complete my Trial, the two of you are going to have to go collect all the ingredients to make it! Are you ready?” She didn't even need to ask. They were already nodding. Good good good. “Okay then! First of all we need Mago Berries! Fomantis living in Lush Jungle love them, so if you follow a Fomantis you'll find them! So get to it, I'll follow behind! Go go go!”

She didn't need to give a single word more, Hau and Moon took off with intent. They'd be testing their new partners against the aggressive defenders of Mago Berries, and upon overcoming them have the first of the ingredients they'd need to gather. From there, well, the next challenge would be when they were ready. For now Mallow observed, Kiawe and Lana along for the ride but leaving the lead to her. It was her Trial, after all. Mallow smiled at them as they went.

This was as good as it got.

Overhead, the sky blocked by the heavy canopy of Lush Jungle, clouds drifted in from the sea.


 

The day passed with all the success Mallow had come to expect of the two. After a while of exploring Lush Jungle they'd stumbled upon a Fomantis, tracked it across the Jungle into the depths of the Sickle Grass Pokemon's territory, and been forced to defend themselves against the territorial Grass-type Pokemon protecting their favourite food. A bush of Mago Berries claimed by their Bug Pokemon partners, the Wimpod and Larvesta proudly feasting on a Mago Berry each, Moon and Hau plucked as many more as Mallow requested. The first ingredient down. How wonderful indeed.

From there, more training! Mallow knew that these two knew they weren't strong enough yet, so keep at it! She watched this time, giving what pointers she could, though Lana and Kiawe proved better able to advise for the training of the Water and Fire-typed Pokemon respectively. That was how the day went, and once more the five returned to Wahiola Town after long hours in Lush Jungle's embrace.

Another day well spent.

In the depths of that night the mounting clouds reached breaking point and the heavens opened, rain falling so heavily upon Wahiola that the sound woke Moon from her sleep. In darkness she listened to the beat upon the rooftop of the Pokemon Center, even in this the rhythm clear. Sleep found her again and she dreamed a pattern of colour in darkness, searching for light. Remembered nothing of it when she woke the next day. The next day of their Trial.

The rain did not let up.

“Well,” Mallow put a finger to her lip, frowning as Moon and Hau greeted her the next morning, “no Trial today, sorry.” Both were shocked by that. Mallow shrugged. “With how heavy this rain is, it's no good going into Lush Jungle. Let's take it easy. Part of a Trial is being able to pace yourself, to face things at the right time. Patience is important too you know!”

A raincoat over her swimsuit, Lana strode past the group, fishing rod over her shoulder. She nodded. “I'm heading out.” Mallow stuck out her tongue as Lana undermined her point about letting the rain be. Lana did the same in response.

Kiawe, who rose far later without the sun to greet him, joined the three by mid-morning, Moon and Hau already growing bored. The Pokemon Center was at about half-capacity today, and there wasn't much of anything going on. They'd need something to occupy themselves. Mallow fixated on a recreation corner. “Hey what games do you think they have?” And immediately wandered over while the others followed behind.

“Oh hey!” Having yet to examine the games on offer in the Pokemon Center's recreation corner – a proper living environment for all Trainers stopping by – Mallow lifted one up to show Kiawe. “Check it out, Kiawe – it's Conquest of the Warring States!” With enthusiasm Kiawe accepted the game pack, immediately raving about the game to Moon and Hau, his excitement enough to motivate them to set it up and play. Hau took the lead while Moon gave opinions on direction. The two Captains oversaw. Enjoyed.

And discussed other topics on the side.

“So Mina's out in... a year, right?” Mallow's question piqued Moon's attention, who began to focus less on the game Hau was playing and more on the conversation of the two Captains. “Honestly I thought Tapu Fini was going to make her Kahuna by now.”

“She hasn't mentioned anything,” Kiawe, sitting by Mallow, frowned. “About preparing a successor or about what Tapu Fini is doing. It is strange though. I wonder what is going on.”

“She always keeps to herself about that stuff,” Mallow pouted, leaning back into her chair, “she never says she dislikes it but I think she does.” Kiawe didn't reply to that. Mina's relationship to the Tapu was such an overwhelming thing to consider – the thought that one might drop in to visit her at any time. He'd seen Tapu Lele properly only once before, and it had only been present to seek out the Kahuna. It was sometimes too much to think about.

Moon couldn't help it. She had to know. Mallow and Kiawe turned to her question.

“Mina's the Captain of Poni Island,” Mallow was the one to explain. “She's only going to be Captain for a year more though, so you're going to have to work hard to meet her. You'll probably be able to though. She's cool. You'll like her.” Moon nodded at that. But what about the Tapu?

“Captain Mina has a unique relationship with the Tapu of Alola,” Kiawe explained that. “They seek her out for... honestly we're not sure. She's never explained it. They just seem to like her attention.” Moon sympathised. Saying that out loud caused Kiawe and Mallow to both laugh loudly. Mallow got out her phone.

“Hang on,” she held up a hand, “I have to tell Mina you said that, that's amazing.” Moon didn't quite know if it was, but Mallow and Kiawe seemed happy. Kiawe shook his head.

“Maybe she'll ask you to be her successor as Captain and fellow interest of the Tapu.” Moon didn't know about that either. She still didn't like thinking about the thought of being a Captain. She didn't say that though. Mallow put her phone away and smiled. That had been good. She liked that.

“Next after Mina is...” turning to Kiawe, Mallow pointed then shook her head. “No, Ilima first, then you, right?” Kiawe nodded. Mallow smiled at that.

“I can't say I know what Ilima is planning either,” Kiawe shook his head, “I feel bad for him however – spending so much less time as a Captain than any of us.” This very much got Moon's attention – Hau's too, though he was still focusing on the game. Moon asked what Kiawe meant. He nodded. “Ilima actually completed the seven Trials and four Grand Trials of Alola the fastest of us all, even faster than Lana did.” That drew noises of appreciation from the two. Mallow nodded, having felt similar when first hearing of it. Lana, who couldn't help but feel a little bit of pride at finishing her Island Challenge fastest of the Captains, never enjoyed being reminded of that. Lucky she was out fishing today. Kiawe continued. “However before taking his Final Trial, Ilima left for Kalos, spending a number of years overseas. When he returned he completed his Island Challenge and immediately became a Captain. Had it not been for his leaving, he would have been the longest tenured Captain of us all.”

Moon asked. Why had he left? Mallow shrugged, not knowing the answer. Kiawe paused. “I knew of Ilima, but not Ilima himself, when he was doing his Trials.” Weighing how much he should say, the Captain considered. “I do not think I should speak of it.”

Missing any implications, Mallow shrugged. “Maybe his friend with the Aether Foundation would know? He and Ilima both did their Trials at the same time, kind of like how you two are, but then stopped. Ilima went overseas and he... what's his name? joined up with the Aether Foundation. When Ilima came back they worked together on the Ride Pager, they're both super smart! Kiawe what's his name again?”

“Jace,” Kiawe gave the name of the rival and best friend of Captain Ilima, “he's the one we've been expecting to deliver the new Pager.” Mallow nodded, remembering now. Moon focused on the mention of a new Ride Pager. Both Captains caught her focus and nodded as well. But didn't say anything aloud.

Noises from the television showed Hau making game progress, the three focusing back on that. Hau was coming up upon the Dragon Lord's territory. Go go go!


 

The heavy rains broke overnight, beginning the next day as only a light drizzle, not nearly enough to keep anyone with a shred of determination inside. Once more the three Captains and two Trial-goers returned to Lush Jungle, but today was different again. Mallow made sure they knew.

“Lush Jungle changes with the weather – it's completely different after rain, so today's about seeing that! No ingredients just explore and meet with new Pokemon and get a feeling for the place! It'll help you better understand it for ingredient hunting tomorrow, alright?”

At least with room to get out and explore, Moon and Hau were happy even without the promise of progress. Their new Pokemon, Larvesta and Wimpod, needed to stretch – being stuck inside yesterday as frustrating for them as their Trainers. Even spending the day with all their Trainer's other Pokemon, greeted by Moon's five and Hau's three, still by the end they'd all begun to get stir-crazy. So yeah, getting out was good.

Mallow, taking the lead, speaking about how Lush Jungle changed in rain, how Pokemon presence varied, how some plants soaked up water and swelled, changing the paths, and brooklets and streams overflowed. With heavy enough rain the earth would soften and shift, and the entire Jungle could remodel itself if it came to it. In her time as a Captain, Mallow had watched this place change as if a single living entity. It was always amazing to see. She loved it. Gave the tour with pride in this place.

Until the sound of music made her pause.

“Seas and stars and shining paths, to walk and seek a distant peak, the journey made upon the waves, the shore that calls our feet to fall-”

Moon took off from the group at a run.

Pushing through the dense foliage of Lush Jungle, the air thick with water dripping from the canopy above, Moon followed the sound, chasing it all the way to where its creator sat. Following after, calling for her to stop, Mallow remained a step behind, the best of the five at navigating Lush Jungle's shape yet still unable to catch up. Moon raced ahead without pause, following instincts as good as they came.

When she came to the source of the song she stopped, witnessing the figure atop the fallen tree, fingers strumming over guitar strings and surrounded by waving small and round purple Pokemon. Mallow couldn't help but stare at that. She knew they came out in the rain but even still... she'd never seen that many Goomy gathered together at once. The figure, bronzed skin clothed in a fearsome red outfit lined with spikes protruding from it, hair styled to spike upwards in red and downwards in white, looked up at the sound of someone bursting through the undergrowth. Then smiled wide.

“Yo there, Moon!” Standing he lowered the guitar he played, the Dragon Pokemon surrounding him complaining about the end of the song. The man stepped through them as Hau, Kiawe, and Lana pulled themselves through the jungle after Moon and Mallow. All five stared at him. Hau remembered.

“Hey Moon isn't that-”

Moon stepped forward and greeted Ryuki with a smile.

“Alrighty then,” taking a step back, Ryuki looked over the girl. She'd come so far already, felt like a shining star to his eyes. She really was everything he'd been sure of when he'd first seen her. Someone who could reach the peak of the world. Awesome. “How's that little-bitty Bagon of yours doing? Growing up big and strong?”

Moon fussed with a Pokeball, quickly releasing the Rock Head Pokemon for the Dragon Tamer's evaluation. He crouched down, lifting his free hand to pet the Dragon, who made a loud chirp at the touch. Ryuki grinned.

“He's getting tougher, I can see that. Still a long way to go til he evolves though – Dragons don't evolve easy. Keep working at it! I know you can get there! Sound good?” Moon immediately nodded. It did. Ryuki stood back up. “Alrighty then, and you've got more friends today! No little miss Lillie?” Moon shook her head. Quickly explained she and Hau were doing a Trial. Ryuki smiled to hear that. “Right on. Right on.”

“E-Excuse me!” Working through her shock at the number of Goomy still in the clearing, as well as the familiarity with which Ryuki was acting with Moon, Mallow pushed her way forward. “Hi! I'm Captain Mallow of Lush Jungle!” Held out her hand.

“Ryuki Oda,” the Dragon Tamer extended his own, “a shining star come to Alola! Nice to meet you, Captain, I hear you're all as tough as they come.” Raising his eyes, Ryuki considered Lana and Kiawe, a few steps back, as well. “Sure would love to test that.”

Kiawe paused for a moment, missing the challenge, caught in something else. Then shook his head. No way.

Lana and Mallow didn't miss what was said.

“You're strong then?” Lana stepped up, eyeing off the older man. She didn't exactly have the best sense for another's Bonds yet – that was something that took more years of exposure to powerful Trainers than she or the other Captains had so far had – but his disposition said it all the same. To have that sort of confidence... Ryuki nodded.

“Here for the League,” he announced himself without a missed beat, “here to fight the best of the best. But I'm not against a pre-show, so why don't we have a test of what we can do right here and now? A little showing for these two little ones of what it means to be strong. Sound good?” Lana's eyes lit with her competitive nature. Ryuki smiled the same as her. She nodded. Ryuki stepped back and raised an ornate Pokeball, Goomy clearing away from the man's spirited presence. “Awesome, then let's do this, a Triple Battle, a Pokemon from each of you against three of mine. Let's rock.”

Silence, but for the patter of raindrops dripping from the canopy above.

Equal from the trio came the squawk of surprise from Mallow, the bark of laughter from Lana, and a sound of offence from Kiawe. Each of the three stepped closer together.

“That's rude,” Lana spoke for them, admonishing the smiling man before her, “saying something like that. We may be younger than you but we've all been through a lot too. Talking like you can fight three of us at once, that's too ill-mannered. I don't like it.”

“Forgive me forgive me,” Ryuki raised his hands, one holding the Luxury Ball, the other clutching the neck of his guitar, “I meant no offence. Simply that this was the way to have the most intense battle possible, a challenge that would drive me wild. Such odds, how could I resist that, fighting three of Alola's strongest? Being put on the ropes, having no hope of victory, that's the sort of environment a star needs to shine. I'm not asking the three of you to fight me because I think you're weak, far from it, you're probably way stronger than most people I've fought. I want to fight you like that because you're strong. That sort of desperate battle, that's what I'm here for. I assure you, it'll be an experience. You won't regret it. I don't put on a set I can't rock to. That's not the Ryuki way.”

The three Captains stared the intensely over-confident figure down. Each had their pride rankled now, the insinuation that any one Trainer could face them in a three against one battle insulting. Sure, there were likely some Trainers in this world with the raw ability to do such, but the number could not be large. They were Captains for a reason. Had overcome the Island Challenge of Alola for a reason. Someone challenging three of them was...

Lana stepped forward and raised a Dive Ball in hand. Stared the red-clad man down. “Don't regret this.” Mallow and Kiawe, a step behind, each raised a Pokeball as well – Mallow's Heal and Kiawe's Quick. Ryuki grinned wild.

“Back up folks, let's rock the house.”

Moon and Hau did so, moving away as Ryuki unleashed his three competitors. With each Hau and Moon's amazement rose, the Captains' determination hardened. Maybe the Dragon Tamer's confidence wasn't misplaced.

Maybe this fight would be more than anyone bargained for.

“Serena, let's show off!” The blue-scaled serpentine Dragonair emerged from a Luxury Ball, coiling itself around a tree. “Dazzle, let's dance!” A second Luxury Ball unleashed the similarly huge Drampa, the soggy ground shifting under the Pokemon's weight. “Trixie, it's time to play!” The third Pokemon, this time from an Ultra Ball, thudded upon release, feet actually beginning to sink into the ground until it dropped to all fours, pulling itself out from the soft earth. Kiawe stared at the Pokemon he knew well, the one he'd caught in the past himself. The one he still struggled to bear the weight of and the one this Ryuki seemed to have no trouble with at all.

Manifesting a Dragonair, Drampa, and Turtonator at the same time, Ryuki showed not a single care. Pulled his guitar up and set a hand upon its strings.

“Let's shine.”

From Lana a Cloyster, who Moon had crossed with in her Trial. The Water and Ice-type Pokemon held a key advantage against the Dragons of Ryuki, and would be a core component of the strategy the three Captains forged. From Kiawe a Marowak, Alolan Variant, Fire and Ghost-type. Under his command the dancer would far exceed those Moon had fought upon Wela's stage. From Mallow a Pokemon Moon didn't know, one Rotom-dex was quick to describe. The Fruit Pokemon Tsareena was pure Grass-type, endowed with incredible leg strength and incredible attack. A trio of three powerful Pokemon indeed. Ryuki's grin widened as he started the next song.

“Go!” “Attack!” “Let's go!” Three Captains gave three orders and Ryuki played a tune that shook the treetops. The only way to keep pace.

A song of battle in Alola.

A beam of ice froze the air, raindrops falling through the thick branches overhead causing it to spike in strange directions. A surge of fire, emitted from the snout of the Turtonator pushing itself up from the ground, caught the attack of the Cloyster, the two beams eliminating one another, creating a haze of mist electrical bolts crackled through, lashing out from the Dragonair towards the Water and Ice Pokemon.

A swinging kick intercepted, the bolt wrapping around the red leg of Tsareena before it stomped into the earth, grinding the attack against the mud until it dispersed. Over it loomed the shadow of Drampa, the Placid Pokemon shucking the title under its Trainer's song. A mouth full of fire dripped liquid flame, steam wreathing its face, glowing eyes ominous within. Mallow called her Pokemon back, Kiawe his forward.

Bone spinning Marowak intercepted the flames, dispersing them as Dragonair surrounded it, the Dragon kicked aside by Tsareena, Turtonator breathing out a new stream of flame blocked by the closed shell of Cloyster. Spikes of ice scattered about the field, a threat to the land-based Pokemon, as Marowak and Tsareena jumped into the branches, light enough on their feet to move amongst them while the heavier set Turtonator could not. Blessed with flight Drampa and Dragonair ignored the threat, leaving it to Turtonator alone. The fight broke above the treetops.

A kick from Tsareena landed upon Dragonair's head once more, pushing it down, Marowak striking it with a bone from below. A beam of light, raw power from Drampa firing from its mouth, surrounded the two, Dragonair dodging it by a moment before lashing around to slam its head into the first, then the second, sending each flying aside. On the ground below Turtonator spun, fire propelling it, clearing the surroundings of the icy trap laid by the Cloyster, dodging the blasts of water and ice Lana was directing. Dragonair plunged down from above, wrapping around the Bivalve Pokemon, spinning it in its grip, and releasing it in perfect time to another burst of fire from Turtonator. Above Drampa dodged the equal strikes of Tsareena and Marowak. Ryuki played on.

“That's...” Kiawe's shock, realisation of what he was hearing, made him realise just what an opponent the three Captains had found, “that's the song!” Saying it was enough, Lana and Mallow understanding as soon as they were told. Ryuki was playing the song of Alola, weaving a tune from it into a form his Pokemon could follow, the three following it to battle without needing a single word from their Trainer. He was giving words far faster through his music than he could speak. And commanding the rhythm leading the Captains' own Pokemon to follow it. To stumble into the pace of their opponents.

That showed experience, and ability, as a Trainer that could not be beat. The Dragon Tamer Ryuki Oda's confidence was not misplaced. With renewed intensity the three Captains doubled down. They weren't losing here.

Convergence. Tsareena and Marowak dove beneath the tree-line, losing the open field that gave advantage to the Dragons, jumping from branch to branch and circling the three. Turtonator was the slowest but most resilient, able to shrug off attacks and keep going regardless of how many fell upon it. Dragonair was likely weakest not being fully-evolved, but thanks to its speed proved difficult to catch. The Drampa occupied the middle ground, great manoeuvrability in its flight, but slow speed in the dense jungle environment and softer in body than the Turtonator. All three Captains turned their attention upon it.

Then away again as Ryuki's song ordered his three to protect the obvious target.

A powerful kick hit the back of Turtonator, Kiawe's command to Tsareena directing it to avoid the dangerous counter-attack he knew the species to possess. Cloyster closed its shell, cutting off attack, as Mallow observed Dragonair preparing another electric crack, the attack unable to harm the Bivalve Pokemon when closed. Lana commanded Marowak to hit the ground, to create as powerful a boom of mud from the soft earth as it could.

Ryuki, seeing the three Captains working so closely together they could direct one another's Pokemon as well as their own, smiled even wider, pace of the song he played increasing. Let's step it up.

Fire swirled, thunder cracked, light poured from the mouth of Drampa mixing in with the blast of Turtonator and Dragonair. A storm of power that punched through trees, shifting the terrain in the distance where it fell. Marowak ducked below it, Tsareena leaped above, Cloyster diving to the side. Counter-attack. A charging swing with a bone wreathed in darkness. A redirection from a higher branch, jumping off of it, for a falling kick glowing with power. And a body wreathed in ice surging in to the opening the two would create to strike through.

Turtonator intercepted, taking the blow from Marowak. Dragonair let loose a storm of power that whipped up mud and leaves, cutting off Tsareena's strike. Drampa's eyes glowed and a wave of force, a roar with enough strength to push back the charging Cloyster, slowed it down to a stop. Caught in the middle of the three Dragons, it drifted as Turtonator and Dragonair turned to it.

Mallow and Kiawe's commands came fierce, each of their Pokemon leaping into the circle in turn. A pink mist surrounded the three. A glint of light from within it drew the three Dragons to a single point. All three attacks collided as Cloyster dropped from below the obscuring fog and charged once more.

This time made impact.

“Go!”

Drampa reeled back, the ice-infused charge striking true. Tsareena's kick pulled short, the tail of Dragonair wrapping around it. Marowak's bone strike swung overhead, the Pokemon pushed upwards by the pulse of draconic energy Turtonator unleashed. Ryuki played a faster tune.

Cloyster disappeared into the trees, leaving mist in its wake, chilling the air. Tsareena followed after, similarly disappearing, as Marowak lit with bright fire, leading the three as it pulled back and the two others circled them. Each time Marowak struck the ground, unleashed a wave of mud, the Dragons pushed through it, their attacks too strong to be drowned out. But a fine dancer on its own, exceptional with Kiawe's backing, the Bone Keeper Pokemon continued to dodge. To pull them back.

A flipping kick from the treetops with all its power behind it, Tsareena pushed Drampa down. Cloyster struck it again. Dragonair caught the Bivalve Pokemon, held it tight despite its ice, while Turtonator turned on it, Marowak striking its back with accuracy forged from knowledge, Kiawe's understanding of a Turtonator's explosive shell allowing him to direct safe strikes against it. Crushing pressure from Dragonair. Turtonator and Drampa preparing fire and light to strike. Ryuki's tune spiked.

Outrage Outrage Outrage. Three explosions of draconic force blew a hole through the treetops above, pushed the trio of opposing Pokemon in each direction. A triangle formed with three glowing Dragons within it. Unwilling to fall. The battle continued.

A blue crystal glinted as Lana's hands moved. A red crystal shone as Kiawe's reached forward. A green crystal glowed as Mallow's raised to the sky.

“Hydro Vortex!”

“Inferno Overdrive!”

“Bloom Doom!”

Ryuki voiced orders at last.

Three Z-Moves collided, the position right, the moment come. Moon and Hau, stunned by this battle they'd never seen the likes of before, the sight of Pokemon able to redefine the land around them meeting in battle, felt their skin prick in the presence of this power. Goosebumps forming watching three Z-Moves from three Captains unleashed. This was the height they aspired to? This power? It struck them. Told them how much further there was to go.

They were still so very small.

In storming light Drampa roared first. Barriers crumbled under raw power, its body blocking a Z-Move it should resist, yet still feeling the raw force of all the same. Z-Moves, especially those from powerful Pokemon and Trainers, could defy sense with ease. This combination attack of the three Captains was far more than its components alone. Turtonator, whose voice was far quieter, grimly bore the weight of the attacks pushing it. Pushing it. Pushing it. Losing its grip.

Light shone. In the midst, pushing out what power it could, reinforcing those around it who were bowing under the wave, the Dragonair gave it all she had. Her name was Serena. She had been named by Ryuki, a shining star, a figure who called to her. Who gave her his wish and will and all the power he could. How far they had come together.

How far they still had to go.

A crack. The air splitting, clouds overhead swirling, surge of power forced up. Three blasts meeting one another, none backing down, each grinding and colliding until their angle changed. In the wake of their strike their three creators slumped, Cloyster, Marowak, and Tsareena tired. In the wake of their strike two Dragons fell. Each had resisted and each had covered and each had borne so much but Z-Moves were simply that. So much.

And in the wake of their strike the three Captains watched as the light cleared, the light mixed of their Z-Moves and another. Another light, of different form. Of power manifesting and transforming. Of a Pokemon driven by competition, by intense pressure, and strength given through song and spirit. Ryuki played its arrival. Welcome, Serena.

Welcome, Dragonite.

“Outrage!”

Evolution gave energy but not all of one's energy, it did not restore a Pokemon to full. As exhausted as the rest by the intensity of the battle, the orange Dragonite moved only by the power still coursing through it. It was tired.

But more tired were the three to face it. Z-Moves, even for Captains, were dangerous things. They took much, and in this battle, this height of their power, it had been their intent to finish it. To bring the battle to a close. Well. Now it was.

A furious tackle, shoulder first, wreathed in power. Marowak flew back from the Dragonite's strike, hit a tree, and the ground a moment after. Did not rise. A wave of frost fell over the Dragon's back but it was weakened, the time between the Z-Move and its next attack too little for the Cloyster to manifest strength. Dragonite turned and charged it next. It broke through a tree and moved no more.

“Tsareena!”

Two Pokemon, each tired, each holding themselves up by force of will alone, stared one another down. Tsareena stepped forward. The exhausted Dragonite stood and watched it approach. A full metre of height difference between them, the Fruit Pokemon looked up at the Dragon. Swung back a leg and gave it all the force it could muster. As much as it could bring. And swung it round.

It hit. The Dragonite shook. Faltered. Song played behind it. It began to lurch. Then stomped down hard. Held itself a moment.

And raised a glowing hand before bringing it down.

The song complete.

Silence in its wake, no music left to play. Five Pokemon unconscious, one barely holding on. Perhaps only by its surprising evolution had it managed to find this victory. But Ryuki had chosen to be pushed to this edge. Had known only on the border of defeat was true victory found. Serena, who had been with him for so long, had reached a new peak to shine from. Thanks only to these Captains before him.

As mortified as they were by their defeat, as stunned as they were by Ryuki's power, he felt no pride in his victory nor scorn for their loss. Only thankfulness for their strength. The strength that had pushed him and his further still. He bowed.

“When we meet again,” they were still quiet, in shock, as Ryuki spoke, “once again we'll give it everything we have. I will be at the League, and await your challenge. We're looking forward to it. To the battle at the peak of the world.” One by one he returned each of his Pokemon. Hung his guitar over his shoulder once more.

And with measured pace took his leave.

To follow the song driving him forward.

To shine upon the peak of the world.

Chapter Text

In the wake of the battle with Ryuki it took all of the Captains to hold each other back. Mallow, determined to command her Pokemon to begin repair of their battleground, to patch the environment torn apart by the clash with the Dragon Tamer, had to be forced to admit she was tired by Kiawe and Lana. Had to accept that she needed rest, that she was too shaken to properly lead her other Pokemon in cleaning the wounds of the jungle.

Lana, who intended to train the moment they returned to Wahiola Town, the clouds overhead now free of their liquid burden and lightening by the minute as the sun pushed its way through, was forced to stop by Mallow and Kiawe. Called to stay with them, to do nothing more. Their battle had been intense, and each had used a Z-Move. And they'd lost. They were in the wrong state of mind to train. Just... stop for now.

Kiawe, as the three sat together in the Pokemon Center licking their wounded prides, only stopped going over the battle, trying to see how they could have done better, when Lana and Mallow sternly commanded him to do so. Told him they were going to stop obsessing over it for today.

Only then, after each had stopped the other, did the three breathe out and loose some of the tension from their shoulders. Feel some of the intensity of the battle – intensity they hadn't tasted since their Final Trials – fade away. Allowing them to think again without their heads hurting. Allowing them to move without the tightness in their muscles grinding. Allowing them to talk without the bitter taste in their mouths flavouring their speech.

Each felt a loss more wounding than they'd ever experienced before. A realisation that though they were strong, and they knew they were strong, they still did not amount to the true peaks of the world. Wherever Ryuki factored into the grand scheme, whether he truly stood at the peak of the world or simply dwelled close to it, it didn't matter. What mattered was that he was stronger than them. They still had so much further to go.

Moon and Hau trained. Seeing the three Captains still shaken, still exhausted from their battle, the two took their own time, let Larvesta and Wimpod manifest, and continued to practise combinations and movements that would allow them to best combine their powers. To form ways they might stand against the Totem Pokemon of Lush Jungle. They had a mountain to climb too. Just not the largest one they'd seen that day.

Ryuki Oda, huh?

Of course Moon had assumed Ryuki was strong – when she'd met him he'd had that relaxed nature, that pure calm, that only the very strongest could have. The complete lack of fear and stress that meant nothing could truly reach him. Those were signs of his ability. But seeing signs and seeing reality were two different things entirely. Moon, who had been crushed by Lana during her Trial, knew full well the Captain had held nothing back against Ryuki. Given her commands as fast as she could, and worked perfectly with her fellows – to a degree Moon and Hau could only dream of emulating, discussing whether they could also give directions to the other's Bug Pokemon in battle. Yes, Lana had given everything, just as Kiawe and Mallow had. Three Captains expressing power far beyond Moon and Hau's level. Far beyond their measure. The sort of strength that would crush them in an instant. The sort of strength they dreamed of having for themselves.

And the three Captains lost. Ryuki, without even words, communicating his intent through music alone, directed three Dragon Pokemon to match the three Captains. Commanded fast enough to meet the directions of three others alone. It was almost obscene. Moon knew she wouldn't forget today's sights ever. Hau agreed the same.

They still had so far to go.

The day passed. It had been only morning when the Captains led Moon and Hau to Lush Jungle, the battle with Ryuki concluding still in the early hours of the clouded day. By midday the three Captains ate with the others. By afternoon they were back in sorts, once more giving guidance to the two Trial-goers, helping them refine their abilities. Water and Fire-type specialists, Lana and Kiawe were able to give extra advice to Hau and Moon regarding their Wimpod and Larvesta respectively, hastening the development of those Pokemon's abilities. Mallow simply guided overall. And thought.

They all thought.

Hau admired the Captains' resilience. When telling them that, when being looked at in confusion in return, he reminded them they'd each used a Z-Move after a long and draining battle. They'd just taken it easy after that though! Made it to the night and were still awake. If he'd used a Z-Move he'd have had started fading immediately; those things were exhausting! His praise helped, each of the three remembering how far they'd come from their first days as Trainers, when they were the same age as Hau. Yeah, it was okay.

They knew there was still plenty of time on the road ahead. It was okay. They were okay. Kiawe smiled. “You're doing well yourself.”

“Yeah!” Mallow nodded enthusiastically, beaming with a bright smile, “Wimpod aren't demanding Pokemon, but you're still holding onto it and three others! Four Pokemon in forty days is some crazy stuff you know!” It was, and the three Captains knew it. Hau's abilities, his raw potential, it was a once in a generation occurrence. Stories of other legendary Trainers, masters of Leagues with their only equals one another, existed across the world, and many claimed those Trainers had hit the ground running as fast as Hau himself had. The young boy was on pace to be a champion without compare. It was the sort of start that should have no equal, that would fill such a person with unrestrained confidence and pride. Yet for Hau...

“Well,” Hau smiled at their praise, though seemed unprepared for it as well, “I'm just trying to keep up with Moon. She's the incredible one.” And there it was. Each of the Captains gave a glance to the other. That was what they'd expected. What they'd come to conclude. Remembering Kiawe's words the night before the Trial began.

“They're racing each other.” As the three Captains had stood around the campfire Mallow was tending, cooking the dinner they'd share, Kiawe had outlined his observations from the Fire Trial, and the words Moon and Hau had given him. “Each is trying to keep pace with the other, and from that each pushes the other forward. Neither would have come so far so fast alone. Only because they're driving each other forward.”

“It's more about each other than the Island Challenge,” Lana had added in, well aware that Moon and Hau's eyes were only forward on the road they were sure the other was walking ahead on. “They're so strong and so determined not to slow down and lose to the other. It's out of control.”

“We'll see how my Trial goes!” Mallow chimed from the fire, watching over the food she was preparing. “They're going to have to slow down for that! We can measure how they're feeling then.” Well. They had.

Even tasked to catch two new Pokemon Moon and Hau had exceeded belief. Moon had caught a Larvesta, an incredibly rare Pokemon that was one of the most demanding of its Type, and had immediately taken to its care. The Torch Pokemon was already showing the results of the Bond between it and its Trainer, expressing power and thought at a rate it should take many Trainers weeks or even months to achieve. Her unique nature, it allowed Moon to form Bonds of incredible strength with incredible speed. Even being reset to a new and single Pokemon she'd already made it this far. There really was no way to slow her pace. She'd never stop.

Hau had caught a Wimpod, an act that the Captains were sure could only be fate, the Pokemon's appearance in Lush Jungle a startling surprise. One of the least demanding of the Bug-type and indeed overall, it had allowed the young boy to swell the number of Pokemon he maintained from three to four and still keep going – the Bond Strain he did show only manifesting in the lesser effects many Trainers struggled with until adapting. And his natural talent for raising Pokemon, for establishing friendships and trust, had allowed Hau and the Wimpod to quickly grow to work together based on faith more than Bond. In comparison to Moon he was the more talented Trainer without question. Weaker by far than the Larvesta, the Wimpod kept up by clever tactics and natural ability from its Trainer. Hau's pace mirroring Moon's own. As the two insisted upon.

Except...

“Hau.” Lana's voice was the quietest of the three Captains, but somehow the strongest too. Hau, who'd been light-heartedly speaking with the Captains, Moon enjoying the night air outside with her Pokemon after the clouds had finally cleared, stilled. The three Captains looked at him, each dour, knowing that this moment with him alone was the one for the conversation they'd been needing to have. Lana took command of leading it. “You need to slow down.”

A pause. Hau blinked. “Huh?”

“You've gone so fast,” Mallow shook her head, aware of the harshness of what they needed to say, “so fast it's like you're a Trainer two years older than you are now. One who's caught some Pokemon, worked hard with them, and begun pushing against the next major level they'll reach. The one where they have to stop.” Hau looked at her in confusion. Kiawe continued speaking.

“Your Pokemon are all growing incredibly well,” he'd seen it, observed Hau's trio in his Trial. “But that is the problem. You're pushing at the limits of what you can do every day. Doing absolutely everything you can. That's respectable. But it's about to become unsustainable. You won't be able to do the same on Ula'ula Island. That's the truth.”

“They're going to outpace you.” Lana said it bluntly, the harshest of the three Captains, as well as the most honest. “When you start trying to face Ula'ula's Trials, and they are hard Trials, Hau, your Pokemon are going to need more power than you can give. You won't be able to keep up with them at the speed you've been going so far. You'll need to stop. Spend time, more than just a day or a week, working with them to be okay. You started out so fast, incredibly fast, but you're still a Trainer like the rest of us. You're going to hit the same walls we did. It's not a bad thing. You're not a bad Trainer because of it. Just human. Just like the rest of us.”

It had hurt Mallow to see Hau's face falling as they spoke. He shook his head. She attempted to mitigate the blow. “Hau,” saying his name, calling for him to look to her, she smiled for him. He didn't smile back. “Hau you're doing so well. It's really incredible, you're going to complete the Island Challenge faster than any of us did. Even Lana. Even faster than Ilima would have.” Lana gave Mallow a slight glare for needing to point out Ilima had outsped her for the majority of his Challenge. “Please, we're not trying to convince you to stop just... you're going to need to slow down. Because your Pokemon are going to get stronger and stronger and Trainers always have to try and keep up with them. Just don't push yourself further than you can go. Please... look after yourself.”

Hau mumbled something. None of the Captains heard it. Kiawe asked for it again. Hau bit his lip before continuing. “But... to keep up with Moon-”

“You're not Moon.” Lana's immediate and blunt statement caused Mallow and Kiawe to look at her in shock. She was staring at Hau, who wasn't looking up to meet her eyes. “You're you. You need to go at your pace, not at Moon's. You may finish this Trial together, and you may even complete your Grand Trial side-by-side, but Ula'ula Island is different. You can't complete it trying to be someone else. Only by being you.”

“Lana...” Mallow's slight whine of her friend's name didn't get Lana to relent. She kept her eyes locked on Hau. Hau stood.

And left without a word.

Only when he was gone did Lana lean back into the lounge, breathing out a sigh of pent-up stress. Having to talk like that sucked. Even if she'd needed to. Even if the Captains had needed to tell Hau he was about to run face first into a wall, to at least warn him so the impact would hurt less. It had still sucked to see him so down. She didn't like it at all. Mallow and Kiawe shook their heads and breathed out as well.

That really had sucked.

“Driving each other to go further,” Kiawe made the observation, thinking on the stories he'd heard of his fellow Akalan Captains, “they remind me of you two.” Lana and Mallow looked at Kiawe when he said that. Then at each other. Lana's inexhaustible pace motivating Mallow to push through the challenges she felt she could not alone. How it was only wanting to keep up with her friend that allowed Mallow to overcome her own wall. She smiled at Lana. Lana smiled back.

“Then...”

“They'll be okay.”


 

Hau released his Fletchinder the next day. Discussing it with Kiawe, the young boy acknowledged he wouldn't be able to care for it while managing his other Pokemon, and that he didn't feel comfortable keeping it in storage for the odd possibility he would need it. Better to travel through the forest of Lush Jungle to the slopes of Wela, where other Fletchling and Fletchinder nest, some boss Talonflame amongst them, and allow the one he had caught and evolved to go free. The Pokemon had only spent a short while with him, and they'd achieved no great heights together, but still Hau felt a sting.

A reminder of a way he fell short, and those he let down by doing so.

On the jungled slopes of northern Wela he and Moon completed the next leg of their Trial. Searched for trees with exposed roots, harvesting those Mallow pointed out for the recipe that would summon the Totem Pokemon. Larvesta did well at holding off Pokemon equally interested in the tuberous growths, Wimpod quickly collecting and returning what it found to its Trainer. All the while Hau remained uncharacteristically quiet, usually only speaking up when prompted. Never leading conversation. Moon observed this, and asked once, but received no answer as to his mood. Accepted that it was something he wished to keep to himself. And kept on moving.

She was always moving forward. Hau watched her back as she walked.


 

The docks of Wahiola Town saw frequent use – between those local to the city heading out to fish, or around the coast to visit other townships, to those visiting from afar by the sea. A new boat was docked at it by the time the three Captains and two Trial-goers returned from Lush Jungle, and the three occupants of that boat had already disembarked and wandered into town. The youngest of them waved when she saw Moon and Hau with a smile.

“Oh Moon! Hau!”

And in return Moon and Hau broke into a run from the Captains to join the voice that called to them. To reunite with their third. To meet with Lillie once more.

“Hey Lillie!” Hau spoke with the energy and excitement Moon was used to hearing from him, and the first of it he'd shown that day. Lillie, with no idea of the boy's mood prior to this moment, just smiled to see he was the same as ever. Greeted him, before turning to Moon. Moon smiled at her. All smiles.

“Well hey there, woo!” Now the voice of Professor Kukui echoed, the man walking calmly up to the group, as usual wearing his lab coat over bare chest. Kiawe, standing with the Captains up the path, nodded at the sight. The best way to experience Alola was with the sun on your skin, after all. Kukui came to a halt before the young three. “So Hau, Moon, how're you going? Working hard on your Trials, yeah?”

“Yeah!” Hau nodded, pleased to quickly hold up the Firium-Z and Waterium-Z he'd gained. Moon did the same a moment after. Kukui nodded and smiled and wondered whether he was surprised or not that the two of them had completed two Trials already. He honestly couldn't tell at this point.

“Nice work then you two!” With a grin Kukui flicked his eyes up to the pack of three Captains. He'd want to have a talk to them later today as well. “Here I was coming around here with Kahili and Lillie to finish our tour of the northern Akalan settlements, and we run into you as well! Talk about a coincidence, huh?” It was kind of hard to believe in such a coincidence, but Moon nodded all the same. It was good to have Lillie here. Lillie caught her look and smiled at it, before suddenly having to fuss with her bag, noises of complaint coming from within. With Moon and Hau about, Nebby was suddenly very interested in coming out to play. Lillie did her best to talk the Nebula Pokemon down. Moon wasn't sure how long the request for quiet would last.

“Alright then!” As the three Captains drew closer, Kukui addressed them as well, “we've got some meetings to have this afternoon, but let's all meet for dinner later tonight, yeah?” No-one disagreed with that idea. The plan in motion.

Moon, Hau, and Lillie stayed together for the rest of the day.


 

In the wake of dinner and discussion with the Captains, Kukui decided they'd stay in Wahiola for a few days more. It sounded like Moon and Hau were approaching the end of their Grass Trial – a double battle with two freshly caught Pokemon wild enough of a concept, but a Larvesta and Wimpod? Not to mention Moon and Hau had each caught an Eevee, they really weren't holding back at all – so Kukui had claimed he'd take Moon and Hau back to Heahea City when their Trial was done. That way they'd be able to head south from Heahea to Konikoni, territory of Kahuna Olivia. And continue on to their Grand Trial.

Kahili and Kukui inspected the Pokemon of Moon and Hau, noting their growth, evaluating their conditions. They discussed the progress of their tour around Akala, the three Captains delighted to hear that the people of Akala Island were all, as a general rule, excited about the Pokemon League. They were too. Couldn't wait to take part. Paused.

Then told the two about Ryuki.

Just hearing the story was enough to shock. Kahili was strong, she knew she was strong, but even she wouldn't try for a Triple Battle against three Captains. Just what was Dragon Tamer Ryuki? She couldn't imagine. Kukui just hoped he'd get the chance to see the Dragon Tamer's moves for himself. The night passed on.

And the dawn of the final ingredient came.

Heavy honey deposits in Lush Jungle were the richest sources of the ingredient, which Mallow insisted had special properties here. That was fine in theory, but in practise the volume of Pokemon attempting to establish territorial dominance around the ingredient was ridiculous. But that was Moon and Hau's final challenge before the Totem Battle. Take dominance in the eternal struggle for the grand honey reserves of Lush Jungle.

So they did. They fought flocks of Butterfree. Chased away curious Comfey and Bounsweet. Fought off Trumbeak and Fletchinder attracted to the buffet of Bug Pokemon gathered. And met with a Pinsir a full size and a half above the average, boss of the area for the moment. Mallow made note of it as a potential Totem candidate. Unlike Lana and Kiawe, she only had one dwelling in Lush Jungle so far. Couldn't hurt to prepare another. She kept it in mind.

As the three Captains watched and discussed.

“So no word from Jace?” Lana's question prompted a shake of Kiawe's head, a shrug of his shoulders.

“I asked Ilima,” the Fire Captain replied, “but he's heard nothing either. The last he heard from Jace was that he would prepare a new Ride Pager for Moon, then deliver it to her. He should know she is here.”

“I thought he was with the Aether Popup out east?” Mallow tilted her head. “I'm sure he was one of the Aether folks set up there.”

“He got called back I think.” Kiawe again. “Maybe something happened, neither I nor Ilima know.” All three Captains blew out a sigh at that. The Ride Pager Moon carried had them nervous – if it truly was the original model that stored Pokemon without any fail-safe at all, it was something none of them felt comfortable with existing. Lana hadn't gained anything useful from Mohn – he'd claimed amnesia and a desire to stay at the Poke Pelago no matter what. She'd just told Ilima, who'd told Jace, and that was where it had ended for the Captains of Alola. Still...

“I hope things end well.” Not one of them disagreed with that sentiment.

With joyous cry, Moon and Hau returned with bottles of Lush Jungle Honey filled. The final ingredient gained. Well, that was that then. One more night to train. To do their best to prepare for what came next. They nodded and agreed. The hours passed. Lillie spent time with them upon their return. The night came and went. Dawn filled the sky once more.

And Moon and Hau climbed the path to Lush Jungle's entrance to take their third and final Trial of Akala.

“Alright!” The path from the entrance to the battleground was one Mallow hadn't taken Moon or Hau on before, and so after the walk they considered the sight of the battlefield, an area thick with trees ringing it yet open enough for a proper fight to take place within. In comparison to the location the Captains had battled Ryuki, it seemed far more prepared to handle intense conflict, which Moon supposed was for the best. Mallow had spent a long time putting to right as best she could the damage that battle had done. The Grass Captain struck a pose. “It's time for your Totem Battle! Moon, Hau, are you ready?” Each of the Challengers stepped up and nodded, Kiawe and Lana standing behind them, ready to witness. Despite the best efforts of the Captains, posing a challenge to these two young ones that would slow them down to a crawl, they'd still overcome in the mere span of a week. Now all that was left was the battle. A formality, in truth.

The real lessons of a Trial were gained in making it to the Totem fight, the fight itself the final test of the Trial to ensure the lessons were learned. Even if Hau and Moon failed today, and not one of the Captains would bet on that result, it would still only be a matter of days before reaching the level to succeed. They'd formed and strengthened a Bond, and partnership, in no time at all. They truly had gifts that let them reach out to Alola for strength.

They were ready to move on.

Mallow set to cooking, the iron cauldron in the middle of the field lined with wood already. Mago Berries, Big Roots, special Lush Jungle Honey, not to mention other ingredients gathered by her and the other Captains. All mixed together, precisely prepared, to create the Mallow Special, her work of art. A powerful, intensely powerful, scent began to waft throughout the clearing. Through the trees. From here, where wind flowed between branches, it would be caught and spread. Reach the senses of the Totem.

And soon enough be answered.

It moved with speed that left a stream of leaves torn from the undergrowth it burst from washing over the field, the towering pink Pokemon, glowing with Totem energy; standing well over the height of Moon and Hau, even of the three Captains; bipedal, long seeming-blades along its arms. It looked like a bug, and for a moment Moon wondered if the Totem Pokemon was even a Grass-type at all. Rotom-dex was quick to answer.

“Lurantis, zzt, Bloom Sickle Pokemon!” The Bloom Sickle Pokemon paced around the cauldron simmering with the mixture Mallow had prepared. Stepping up to it, Mallow ran a ladle through the mixture and poured it into a bowl, holding it up to the Totem. It leaned down, mouth splitting open to consume the offering. Rotom-dex continued. “Grass-type Pokemon – it disguises itself as a Bug-type Pokemon for its own protection, zzt!”

Moon and Hau took up positions, calling forth their competitors. Larvesta and Wimpod. Mallow quickly put down a bowl of her cooking for each as well, a quick “Just a taste!” given as command. The two Bug Pokemon stepped up, sampled the Mallow Special, and then moved forward. Heat flowed through their bodies lighting determination, the cooking intensifying their readiness for battle. Similarly the Totem moved to oppose them. A moment of silence. Mallow raised a hand. Totem and Trainers looked to her. One more moment. And then...

She dropped it. “Begin!”

Larvesta shone, alight with fire, a burning beacon that drew all eyes to it. Seeing this opponent the Lurantis stepped forward, a menacing sickle raised, as Wimpod disappeared into the undergrowth. A fast moving Pokemon, the Turn Tail Wimpod made use of that property, combined with the distraction provided by its ally, to escape detection. That had been the first of the strategies Moon and Hau had devised.

Lurantis tested its foe. Stepped forward, slashing, pulling its claw back from the bursting flames reaching out to it. Larvesta, despite being a large enough Pokemon on its own, was still small to the Totem. But a Totem does not maintain that title by surrendering caution. It observed the danger of the glowing fiery bug before it. Nodded with its decision. And raised a claw to point to the sky.

Light shone, not just the light of a Totem, but a power from the Totem itself. Energy was gathering, building, concentrating. Moon, who had watched Pokemon Leagues before, thrilled with the incredible fights on show, felt herself reminded of Solar Beam. But maybe not the same. The energy from the Mallow Special still coursing within it, the Lurantis glowed brighter still. A Power Herb in the mix was just what it needed. The beam spiked and pierced the tree-line above.

Hau's Wimpod, amongst the branches of the canopy covering overhead, jumped as the beam shot up just by it. But with belief in its Trainer it continued to gnaw away at the wood, weakening and tearing the branches. Just... a little... more...

Moon gave a command to Larvesta, launch your fire forward. In response the Lurantis swung its arm, the Solar Blade preparing to cut through any attack and crush the attacker too. Few resisted such attacks, even those with the type inclination to do so. It was confident. Its blade swung.

A tree branch dislodged from above fell faster, crashing down upon the Lurantis, jolting it, throwing its swing to the side, the fire from Larvesta washing over it. Mallow, Kiawe, and Lana watched as the blade of energy cut into the border of the clearing, taking further paces back from the battlefield. Moon and Hau's strategy, which they'd made sure to avoid learning so as to be surprised, had started perfectly. But things would only get rougher from here.

Both Kiawe and Lana knew the Totem Lurantis of Lush Jungle was far more aggressive and resistant to the thought of defeat than any of the Totems they'd raised.

Shaking off the loose flames that clung to it, the Lurantis launched upwards, knowing the attack had come from above. In a single mighty leap it cleared the treetops, in an elegant single-footed landing it perched on the branches a moment later. Wimpod, spotted, rapidly scuttled away, flipping around the branch it was on to crawl underneath it. A swing of Lurantis's arm cut the branch at the trunk of the tree it connected to, the wooden limb falling with Wimpod still holding on. Moon's command, another burst of fire, incinerated part of the branch and spun it around, allowing Wimpod to fall without being crushed. Lurantis landed after, the ground shaking, the difference in how heavy it moved up to its own devices. An elegant dancer like the Salazzle. A force of pure power like the Wishiwashi. And a clever tactician like the Araquanid. Spiced up with the Mallow Special, it was without question the strongest Totem of Akala. Moon and Hau stared it down. They weren't done yet. Lurantis charged.

Larvesta's flaring of fire, honed by training with Kiawe, continued to help it distract, the puffs of flame it sent out catching the Totem's attention once more. But this time the Wimpod's attempt to flee the scene proved unsuccessful, the Totem moving with speed that had to be unnatural, disappearing from sight before cutting off the Turn Tail Pokemon's escape. Moon gave an order but the Lurantis was already performing an attack, a sweeping strike that would collect the tiny bug and send it flying. Larvesta couldn't cover in time. Hau called out.

“Get it!”

On their own Wimpod remained weak. It was the rarest of the rare that found their way to evolution, the form usually only granted by the assistance of a skilled Trainer. But even just beginning to train, to form a Bond and grow from it, there was potential there. It took outside forces to teach it, to present actions it could learn from, but Hau, with Lana's assistance, had taught the Wimpod a few tricks more. In response to the incoming strike it answered back in a manner no partner-less Wimpod would. Jumped forward onto the Lurantis's leg and bit down hard.

Despite the difference between them, the typing of each allowed the bite to affect the Totem, to make it feel pain from the strike. Being distracted by this, shaking a leg to dislodge its attacker, allowed Moon to command Larvesta to perform its own actions once again. It launched in a stream of fire, slamming into the Totem's chest, before latching on to the midsection, mirroring the bite of the Wimpod. Each held on tight, so close to the Totem it could apply no true power to remove them, and bit hard. Moon and Hau's cheers in their ears, felt in their Bonds. More strength. Don't let go. Win. Win!

The Lurantis leaped. With speed that Moon could not believe it launched above the treetops once again, spinning as it did so, faster and faster, until the force was enough to tear its attackers away. Each disappeared in a different direction, thrown into the woods out of the sight of their Trainers. The Totem landed with another thud.

Then turned and charged into the underbrush.

Neither Moon or Hau knew what to do. They couldn't see where the Lurantis had vanished to, nor which of their Pokemon it was pursuing. Each called out, tried to bring their partners back to them, but received no answer. No idea what to do. Hau took a step towards the direction the Lurantis had gone, to try and catch up. Moon's hand on his shoulder held him back.

She closed her eyes.

Between a Trainer and their Pokemon there is a Bond. Pokemon take from that Bond, receive strength that allows them to grow beyond what they would achieve alone. With that strength came thoughts, receiving the will of their Trainers, which further heightened those Pokemon in battle. Moon kept silent, even with the background noise of the Totem in the jungle beyond, and focused on the feeling of that Bond alone. That connection to her partner. If you need strength take it. If you need thought here it is. Lure it back. Don't lose. Please!

Hau closed his eyes too. Called out to his Pokemon. But the intensity of the connection between him and Wimpod was so much less than that of Moon and Larvesta. Moon could give so much. Hau only a little. He'd made up for it by working hard with his new partner, forming friendship and trust, but it wasn't the same. He couldn't keep up like this. If it were Wimpod instead of Larvesta that the Totem was fighting... it would be over. He shook his head.

Then Moon's exclamation opened his eyes.

Bursting from the underbrush in a swirl of fire came Larvesta, skidding along the ground and burning the soft soil in its wake. After surged the Totem, glowing with energy, its sickle bladed arms alight with that same power as it swung them around into the fire blown against it, cutting through and hitting the Torch Pokemon behind, pushing it back. Moon called to it and its fur rustled, resisting the blow, still willing to fight. Not yet to fall. The Totem bore down upon it.

Where was Wimpod? Hau looked this way and that, unsure as to where his partner could be. He wasn't even in the fight right now. Was it in the trees again? Preparing another branch? Or still yet to return? Or even choosing not to return, unwilling to fight? He questioned it. Looked away as Moon directed her Pokemon, the white-furred bug using bursts of flame from its five horns to jet around the field, dodging the hunting slashes of the Totem. Frustrated, the Lurantis raised a claw once more, glowing with that same bright energy. But it took longer this time. Moon directed Larvesta in, to latch onto the Totem at the shoulder, a place it could not strike with its most powerful attack. In frustration the Lurantis refocused the glow of energy, from its arm to spread throughout its body, shining with brightness that eclipsed the red glow of Larvesta itself. Moon saw the Totem's stance straightening as it glowed. It was restoring itself. She quickly raised her Firium-Z. She had to stop it here.

“Wait!” Hau's hand on her wrist stopped her. He shook his head when she looked to him. “Not before we know it'll end it.” Moon looked back to the two. The Lurantis was healing through her Larvesta's attacks. They couldn't let it continue. Hau looked up. “We won't.”

Lurantis's wild slashing at Larvesta had damaged the environment. Left deep cuts in the trees around them. Looking at them, Hau had finally seen what he was looking for – the silver-plated carapace of his partner, the Wimpod fighting alongside him in this Trial. Returned from where it had been thrown, it had followed what it had been taught. Looked for weak places to turn the environment against the Totem. Here was a tree ready to fall. Tear this much more from it. Leave only this fragment remaining. Then...

Hau timed it. Moon trusted in his direction. When he said it, when he exclaimed “get back!” she gave that order too. With a burst of fire Larvesta pushed itself off of the Totem, who immediately raised a claw to glow with power so it might strike the Torch Pokemon down. The sound of crackling fire muffled the noise of creaking wood, the Lurantis only noticing when it was already falling. The three Captains stared, the ground they stood on shaking under the impact, as the tree crashed down upon the Totem. That... that had to hurt.

With a slice that projected to the treetops, cut a hole that rained down leaves and branches from above, left sunlight shining upon the forest floor, the Totem Lurantis pushed aside the tree, cut through a moment before it had been crushed. But even cut apart the two halves of the trunk had still slammed against it, and the damage it had taken and recovered from had now returned. Light though, now light was shining on it. It glowed brighter faster. Raised both claws, one for each of its foes. Then brought them down.

Hau had already performed a Z-Pose in that moment and given what power he could, strengthened the move he and Mallow had taught the Turn Tail Pokemon from a surge of Normal-aligned power to a Z-Move itself. A surging tackle that hit the instant before the Totem could bring its claws down. Pushed it back.

But still it remained on its feet.

Moon glowed too, Z-Aura flowing from her into her Larvesta. She and Hau knew that a Z-Move was the only thing strong enough to create an opening for another, and had settled that Hau's would allow her to perform Inferno Overdrive, the Z-Move granted by the Firium-Z. But despite its damage from the fallen tree, and despite the strike of Breakneck Blitz from the attacking Wimpod, now lying at its feet exhausted, the Lurantis still stood. And its arms were still glowing. Into the oncoming fireball it swung its blades down.

Hau's blink was slow, despite himself. He'd used plenty of Z-Moves since learning how to, but every time it was the same. The aftermath where he barely felt awake. Eyes closed. A moment of darkness. Open again. Wimpod twitching, as tired as he was. Lurantis looming over it, black patches on its body showing the Totem had been reached by the flames, yet remaining on its feet all the same. Darkness. Eyes open. Moon staring grimly. Larvesta barely moving as well. Eyes closed. No thoughts. One thought. Oh, we've lost. Eyes open. Lurantis stepped forward, closer to the Torch Pokemon that had harmed it so many times. Eyes closed. Eyes open. The Totem had its back to Wimpod. Wimpod struggling. The Bond between them was a small thing, but still Hau could feel it in the wake of the Z-Move. For a moment the action had enlarged it.

So then... if we want to win... Hau forced his eyes open and stomped down hard. “Go!”

Lurantis staggered, hit in the back, unaware the threat had remained. It swung around, claws raking off the carapace of the Turn Tail Pokemon biting into it, and for a moment its attention was away. Hau couldn't keep his eyes open. Moon's were wide. Then...

Larvesta shone, bright flames flickering, Moon's intent will mirrored in its form rising back to its feet. They'd agreed to go together. To go forward and never stop. So no stopping, not ever. The flames concentrated. And in a fiery surge Larvesta flew forward, head first, burying into the middle of the Totem once more. It stepped back. Lost balance. Fell. The Pokemon on its back just bit harder, and when the Totem's back hit the ground it only drove the Wimpod's bite deeper. Eyes wide the Totem gasped and reached up, light still pouring from the hole it had cut through the canopy above. A burning bug pushed down heavy on its chest. A small one bit hard into its back. The Totem's claw, in the light from above, began to glow.

Glowed brightly.

Then fell and rose no more.

Hau sat down hard, closed his eyes, and immediately drifted off. Just... a little rest. Wimpod, struggling to get free of the Totem's weight, made it out just in time to curl up as well. It was done. Larvesta, still pressing upon the Lurantis's chest, lifted its head. Gave a loud victory cry.

And announced the third Trial of Akala, the fourth of Alola for Moon and Hau, complete. Their victory.

Their win.

“Congratulations!” And with only a single moment of silence after to process, Moon was surrounded by the three Captains, Kiawe reaching down to lift Hau up before thinking twice and letting the young boy take his moment's rest. Mallow pressed a green crystal into Moon's hands, a second kept for Hau when he was ready. Moon immediately fit the Z-Crystal into her Z-Ring. She'd been waiting for this. Taking steps back, she called out Dartrix, the Blade Quill Pokemon circling the clearing in flight, perching atop the fallen Totem besides its fellow partner of Moon. The Larvesta, tired, clicked at it. Dartrix gave a noise of approval, running a beak over the white ruffled fur of the Torch Pokemon. Moon smiled at the sight. Then called her Larvesta back to her.

Just once, just one time, but she wanted to use the Grassium-Z now. To feel it. To let her partner feel it. Mallow glanced at the other Captains. In the wake of a full and intense Totem battle in which she'd used a Z-Move, Moon wanted to use another. Not for any purpose either. Just to feel it. She really was like nothing else. Lana shrugged. Good enough. Mallow turned back to Moon.

“Then this... is the pose for the Z-Move Bloom Doom, performed with the Grassium-Z!”

She hadn't needed to tell Moon, Moon had already memorised it when seeing the Captains facing Ryuki. But she nodded and called Dartrix to circle away from the unconscious Totem, into the sky above, as Moon performed the pose. As she sent the energy and lit the connection between her and her first partner with power.

As, for a brief moment, a second shining sun hung over the Lush Jungle of Akala.

In the wake of that moment Moon called her Dartrix back, the Pokemon's feathers still glowing in the after-effects of the move. Using a Z-Move was tiring for any Pokemon, but it was fresh and so consented to remain by Moon's side, cooing for attention as she ran her hands over its shining quills. The Totem staggered to its feet as Mallow picked up the Wimpod by it, acknowledging the Captain's presence before wandering back into the Jungle. It would need a long rest to recover from that. Neither Moon nor Hau had held back an inch. Good. That had been what it had taken to win, after all. Returning to Hau, Mallow set the Wimpod down in his lap. It clicked and curled up within it.

“Oh hey,” kind of wandering around now that the battle was over, Mallow noted the pot she'd been cooking in, “there's still food left, so would you guys like to try it? It's good stuff!”

In curiosity Kiawe and Lana approached. “I've never tried the Mallow Special,” Kiawe tilted his head, “how is it?”

“Really good!” Mallow nodded quickly, preparing a bowl for each of her fellow Captains. With interest, each accepted and took a sip.

“This...” Kiawe paused, considering. “It's so powerful. I feel the flavour shaking me. I- am- am I shaking?”

Lana, with wide eyes, the bowl clutched tight in her hands, was staring at him. Her face was very pink. Kiawe felt sweat dripping from his brow. “That's...”

“It's...”

“SPICY!!!”

Mallow frowned, watching the Captains dash off to find the nearest source of water. Honestly. She took a sip. It wasn't that bad! “Hey Moon, do you want-” turning to check on the Trial-goer, Mallow paused. Moon had booked it half a minute ago.

Chapter Text

“Go, Nebby! Use... use Splash!”

The voice of Lillie reached Moon's ears just as she was nearing the exit of Lush Jungle, her quick escape from the threat of the Mallow Special having slowed down to a leisurely stroll once far enough away. By tone and intonation Lillie was imitating Moon herself, and hearing that Moon couldn't help the giggle that escaped her as she came within sight of the gates. Lillie, who had been facing away from the exit, immediately jumped and spun around, catching sight of the approaching Moon. Her cheeks quickly turned pink.

“O-oh, Moon! W-welcome back! How did it go?” Moon's smile spoke clearly of her victory, but the look she was giving Lillie made it hard for Lillie to celebrate it. She could still feel her face flush at having been caught playing Trainer with Nebby. Though Lillie had never truly forgotten what Ryuki had told her, one month ago on the shores of Kala'e Bay, hearing he had been here just the other day had returned that conversation to the forefront of her mind. His words that as long as she was caring for Nebby, as long as Nebby was caring for her, then that made them partners, no matter what – she still didn't know if she believed it. Didn't know if without the power of a Trainer's Bond connecting them – its absent presence a sign of either late development on her part or a destiny to never be a Pokemon Trainer – she and Nebby could ever truly be considered a team. She didn't know.

But...

Sometimes it was nice to think about.

In the past she'd never desired such a thing, disliked the battles that only led Pokemon to harm. But seeing Moon, seeing Hau, the two of them marching forward with heads held high, their Pokemon beside them, it had awoken something within her. A desire to be the same. To walk the way they did. To walk alongside them too. If she could do that, if she could join them, then... she...

Crouching down, Moon called out to Nebby, the Nebula Pokemon happy to float into her outstretched hands. Standing back up with the blue and purple cloud-like being in her arms, Moon ran a hand over it, receiving contented 'pews' in response. She smiled at Lillie. Lillie reached forward and lifted Nebby from Moon's grip.

It hadn't even been intentional on her part. She'd just seen Nebby, held in Moon's arms, and moved without thinking. Only as Moon cocked her head, a slight frown of concern at Lillie's silent action on her face, did Lillie realise just what she had done. Feel, as Nebby nestled into her arms instead, the remnants of the emotion that had driven her to act in that moment. She was... upset? It surprised Lillie herself to realise: the sight of Moon holding Nebby had distressed her. It should not have, she should not feel such but Lillie... a tiny part of her brain whispered that caring for Nebby was her role. Not that of anyone else. Even Moon.

...especially Moon.

Confusing emotions mixing together, Lillie was too caught in them to hear Moon's repeated question of whether she was okay until the touch of Moon's hand upon her shoulder caused her to jump. She stared at Moon blankly, her own thoughts in too many pieces to work together into anything coherent. Moon had a worried expression.

Lillie looked away.

“Is,” she turned her head to face the path Moon had come from, the entrance to Lush Jungle, “is Hau coming as well? The two of you did your Trial together, didn't you?” The change in topic stuck out to Moon, but nonetheless she nodded, before realising Lillie wouldn't see while looking away. Voiced, instead, that after using a Z-Move Hau was taking a rest, would return with the Captains later. Lillie considered that. “A Z-Move...” her words came slowly, forming the question as she thought, “did you use one too?” Moon paused on that. Spent a moment feeling the difference between her, standing here awake and alert, and Hau, who'd collapsed as soon as the tension of battle was done. Then confirmed. She had. Lillie considered that too.

A long moment of awkward silence hung between them, each unsure of what to say to the other. Lillie turned her head to look back down the steep path she had climbed from Wahiola to greet Moon and Hau after their Trial. “When Professor Kukui takes us back to Heahea City,” she spoke looking out over the sea, glittering under the sun's light in the distance beyond, “you'll be meeting Professor Burnet, his wife.” Moon made a noise of interest hearing the name of Professor Burnet for the first time. Lillie turned her eyes upwards to the blue sky overhead. “When I... when Nebby and I met Professor Burnet, she agreed to help me learn more about Nebby... I mean, about the Pokemon Cosmog. She even arranged for Professor Kukui to give me a place to stay, and to help me as well. She's a wonderful person. Like a... a real mother to me.”

Moon nodded at Lillie's words. It had been just under three weeks since leaving Melemele Island, and while Moon had made sure to call home now and again, she'd often been so caught up in her journey it had slipped her mind as well. Still, she knew her mother would be there for her, no matter what, and knowing that helped her go on. Lillie remained silent as Moon mentioned that.

Then started down the path.

“Let's head back.”


 

The three Captains, Lana, Kiawe, and Mallow, arrived a rough hour after Moon and Lillie's return to Wahiola, a bleary but awake Hau with them. He joined Moon and Lillie with a smile, excited to go over the grand battle he had fought with Moon against the Totem, though often took breaks to rest as well. As the Captains pointed out to Kukui, who was watching over the two on their Island Challenge, Hau's intent to push the very limit of what he could maintain meant every Z-Move would exhaust him. They'd told him he was reaching a wall. That his Pokemon's growth would soon make the number he kept untenable until he himself had grown further. Kukui nodded at that and thanked them for it. For all his incredible talent, Hau would still experience what the rest did. Kukui still remembered his Jangmo-o's evolution, and the slow realisation that there would be no way to keep the majority of his team with him with the drain she was upon his body and mind. An experience every Trainer eventually learns.

Every Trainer, except...

“Four.” Lana said it as the three Captains discussed with Kukui and Kahili, the three young ones keeping each other occupied for the moment. Mostly in sticking close to Hau as he alternated between excitement and weariness. “I watched her perform four Z-Moves in short order.”

“The same,” Kiawe nodded in solidarity, “she used one to clear out the precursor to my Totem and then three against the Totem itself. Two were with Pokemon she clearly caught in Brooklet Hill.”

“It's not even close to rational,” Mallow shook her head. “It's not just her endless limit for connecting to Pokemon, but the speed and intensity with which she does so. The rate at which she can catch a Pokemon, establish a Trainer's Bond, then raise it to the level of power and trust needed to use a Z-Move is...”

“Hau did the same with his Wimpod.” Lana noted this, aware that in this instance Moon was not beyond the measure of anyone else. Kiawe disagreed.

“We all know Wimpod have naturally small demands. Hau's an exceptional Trainer, and that allowed him to forge the trust to use a Z-Move, but it's not the same as being able to build that same relationship with a far stronger Pokemon.” The three Captains frowned. Kahili looked to Kukui.

“What's next then?” They'd discussed this, knew that the two of them, likely with Lillie as well, would soon be heading for Ula'ula Island. The Alola Culture Council was just over a week away, and Kukui needed to be there for that. That was unquestionable.

Yet the children, Kukui and Kahili had been unsure. Moon and Hau had maintained an exceptional pace to travel to Akala Island at the same time they had, but to do the same to make it to Ula'ula within a month's time? That was something else. Beyond that though, what came next was...

“For now we should leave it in their hands,” Kukui answered simply, not so much out of any specific belief in how things would go as simply confidence that everything would work out. “We'll return to Heahea, meet them in Konikoni, then take them on to Ula'ula should they complete their Grand Trial before the due date. We don't need to worry about anything else.” Each of the Captains and Kahili herself gave Kukui a long look for saying that. There was a lot to be worried about at all times. Kukui shook his head. “Things will work out. Have faith in them. They've made it this far, after all.”

“Alright,” standing up, Mallow raised her hands, an admission of surrender, “we'll leave it with you. You're taking them back to Heahea by boat?” Kukui's nod of answer was followed by Mallow turning her head to see the three sitting nearby in the Pokemon Center, still speaking amongst themselves. She looked back to the group before her. “Well I'm going to make you all some food before you go – Moon and Hau need to eat after that Trial.” The momentary glance between Kiawe and Lana did not go missed by the Captain of Lush Jungle. She pouted at them. “Good food.” Not that her Mallow Special should be anything to complain about, but apparently it had been a little too much for some.

She really should have asked Hau if he'd wanted some, instead of letting Lana and Kiawe return in time to shuffle him off back to town.

The kitchen of the Pokemon Center in Wahiola was used to Mallow's intrusions, and so she set to work without concern, whistling a tune and soon setting a meal cooking that the smell wafting from had everyone in the Pokemon Center raising their heads to. It was an early lunch, not quite yet midday, but no-one was about to complain. With a smile to see everyone excited to try her craft, Mallow happily served everyone in the Pokemon Center, making sure an extra-sized plateful went to Hau and Moon. The two Island Challengers dug in. Good.

A small stretch of time spent beyond that meal, letting everyone's stomachs settle, and then the group moved to head out. Lana had occupied Kahili's attention, discussing training methods to improve, a fire lit within her after her defeat at Ryuki's hands. Kiawe had questioned Kukui about the possible need for a lab assistant, regretfully replied to that Lillie was taking care of all Kukui could need one for at the moment. Mallow watched the three young ones, Moon, Hau, and Lillie, and noted that with the other two Moon was louder. More talkative. Smiled more often. Yes, her Grass Trial, bringing Moon and Hau together for it, had been the right idea after all.

She'd finally seen the smile she was looking for.

“Moon.” On the docks of Wahiola, Kukui, Kahili, Lillie, and Hau already on board the boat that would take them south, Mallow bought the young girl's attention for one last moment. There was so much Mallow wanted to say, wishing Moon well, giving her advice as to how to grow on Ula'ula Island, perhaps a forewarning that the Trials there were far harder than what came before. An endless amount Mallow wanted to express. In the end all she could give her was a smile. A smile and... “Do your best, and... don't forget to smile. The Island Challenge is about growing together with your Pokemon and Alola both. It's a happy thing to share. Okay?” Moon nodded. Smiled at Mallow. That was all she could ask for.

She, Kiawe, and Lana waved as the boat pulled away from Wahiola, preparing to circle west around Akala to the awaiting Heahea City. That was the end of their involvement in the Island Challenge of Moon and Hau – direct involvement, at least. They, like Ilima, would take keen interest in assisting however they could the remaining three Captains of the remaining three Trials. How could they not?

As one they breathed out. As one they looked to each other. Lana raised a Dive Ball.

“Shall we train?”

In order to be ready for the League at year's end? Yes. Absolutely.


 

The boat ride back to Heahea was quiet. With food in his belly and the effects of the day still upon him, Hau lay down in the back of the cabin of Professor Kukui's boat and took a nap. With Kukui helming the ship, and Kahili seated nearby going over the notes they'd prepared for discussing the League in Konikoni City, that left only Moon and Lillie to entertain one another. Each wandered, Moon heading to the front of the boat for a minute before realising it was far less interesting without Hau alongside, before sitting down together as well. With the air rushing over the boat Lillie was resistant to letting Nebby float free, instead keeping the Nebula Pokemon in her bag, and that bag over her lap, strokes of her hand along it helping keep the Cosmog within calm. Moon watched, but kept her hand back from doing the same. She still hadn't understood Lillie's reaction earlier. But it concerned her.

Silently, each sat.

The boat continued on.


 

Three awaited the arrival of Professor Kukui's boat on the docks of Heahea City, and as the boat's occupants began to disembark two of those waiting were quick to announce themselves. One of each of their hands clutching one of two poles supporting a banner reading 'Congratulations on your Akala Trial completion', the two posed and declared the same as Moon and Hau came within sight.

Kahuna Olivia, standing a few steps behind, resisted rolling her eyes at Sina and Dexio's shenanigans.

“Must you?” Kahili was far less reserved in scolding the two, having spent a solid portion of her time in the Kalos Region interacting with them. Sina and Dexio, lab assistants to Professor Sycamore, were infuriating in being the exact perfect mix of incredibly talented and incredibly annoying. They seemed to live for entertaining themselves and one another through loudness, posturing, and light-hearted troublemaking, but also possessed what could only be described as a mythical talent for helping Trainers grow. Kahili had watched with her own two eyes as their coaching helped young Trainers of Kalos improve in a frankly improbable amount of time. They were far too skilled for their own good.

And for everyone else's too.

“We gotta~” Sina leaned to the side, pulling on the pole she was carrying and forcing Dexio to step quickly with the one he was holding to keep the banner from tearing. “Moon and Hau completed three whole Trials! That's like three Gyms, right? Right?” Glancing from Kahili to Kukui, Sina repeated herself. Kukui looked awkward.

“I'm not really about to compare Gyms to Trials one-to-one, they're a little too different for that.” Kukui had spent a good while now specifically convincing people that the Trials of Alola weren’t going to be treated like Gyms, free for anyone to wander into and rough-house with whenever they wanted. The sacred sites of Alola would continue to be treated as such, even with the developing focus on making a League available to all of Alola's Trainers and beyond. Having visitors from afar loudly calling Trials the same as Gyms would do his cause no good.

“Kukui,” stepping past the two Kalosian Pokemon Researchers, Kahuna Olivia addressed Professor Kukui directly. “Burnet told me to tell you something when you got here. She wants you to come help at her lab. Something capital-S significant apparently.” Kukui, who'd straightened up the moment he'd been told his wife was calling for him, nodded and quickly stepped forward. Olivia raised a hand to catch him just before he could depart. “Come to the Hoku-Hoku Barbecue after – I've arranged a booking for us all tonight. I'll keep an eye on everyone until then.” With a nod and his thanks, Kukui dashed off. He'd, once again, been hoping to finally introduce Moon to his wife, but if what she was calling him for was what he thought it was, then that would have to wait.

Dimensional windows didn't just patiently wait their turn, after all.

Left in charge, Olivia cast her eyes back over the group. Dexio and Sina, who'd caught wind of the group's return and set up shop at the docks with her; Kahili, attempting to wrangle their intense desire to check up on the young Trial-goers; and then the young Trial-goers themselves. Hau and Moon, the grandson of Kahuna Hala and the enigma whom no-one had ever imagined. They were hanging back still, a third child with them. In her time spent in Heahea over the past three weeks, Lillie had only rarely interacted with Olivia, mostly staying with Professor Burnet, or heading to townships around Akala with Kukui. Still, Olivia had made sure to mind her too, her and the mysterious Pokemon with her. For not being a Trainer, Lillie had all the potential to be as much of a surprise as Moon and Hau were. Those three children.

Really it wasn't a matter of if but when they would do something impossible again.

“It's been a while,” ignoring the nearby discussion based mostly around Dexio and Sina aggravating Kahili, Olivia stepped past them to stand before Moon, Hau, and Lillie. “So let me reintroduce myself. I am Olivia, Kahuna of Akala Island. Now that the two of you, Moon and Hau, have completed the three Trials of Akala, I will be orchestrating your Grand Trial. To that end, you will next have to travel south from Heahea City to Konikoni, where I will greet you again. I imagine you will want to do such immediately.”

The words from the Captains had been that Moon and Hau launched themselves into their challenges with fervent abandon. For a moment Olivia had considered stopping them still, before reminding herself that wasn't what she was setting out to do. A Kahuna didn't battle in their Grand Trial to win, they battled to teach. As soon as she knew what lessons Hau and Moon needed, that would be that. She'd pose those challenges and when they overcame they'd be free to head on to Ula'ula. She already had a few ideas. But... “First though, would the two of you be willing to show me your progress? I would like to invite you to a battling field to see your Pokemon.”

Somehow despite being constantly talking, Dexio and Sina had no problem overhearing Olivia, and quickly agreed that yes, absolutely, the young Trainers should do this, they were excited to see their Pokemon too. Olivia and Kahili, both unprepared for the ridiculous antics of the two researchers, nonetheless only sighed. The two may be inserting themselves into everything to do with Moon and Hau they could, but they were still valuable opinions and observers to be had. For the roughly one percent of the time they chose to be serious, at least. Moon and Hau glanced at each other before nodding, agreeing to follow the Kahuna. Olivia smiled at them.

For as much as she was trying to play the calm and collected Kahuna, she was honestly a little excited too. They were so young and going so fast. She'd been looking forward to experiencing them since the videos from Hala's Grand Trial had gone live. Finally, it was her time to step up. The good Kahuna led the group to a nearby battling field within Heahea and instructed them to show their Pokemon off. And this is what she saw.

Moon and Hau had each been given a starter Pokemon at the beginning of their Island Challenge: a Rowlet for Moon and a Popplio for Hau. Each had then raised that Pokemon to the point of evolution – a Dartrix from Moon within three weeks and a Brionne from Hau within four. Well aware the amount of energy and growth it should take to do such was demanding indeed, Olivia observed that Moon and Hau were still doing fine. Hau was redlining his ability to maintain his Pokemon, but still balancing himself on that razor's edge enough that no-one could scold him for acting unhealthily. His instincts were truly superb. Moon, as the Captains and Kahuna had come to accept, simply showed no effects regardless of the drain upon her. Had a seemingly infinite well her Pokemon could draw from, the only limitation on growth that of her Pokemon themselves.

In that, both Dartrix and Brionne were far more similar than their Trainers might expect.

Dexio and Sina lacked the experience with those specific Pokemon to tell, but both Olivia and Kahili could: those two were still nowhere near their next evolution. This was understandable of course; expert Trainers may be able to raise a third stage Pokemon of such strength in the span of months, but children simply could not. At their current pace, it would still be the majority of this year at least before the appearance of a Decidueye or Primarina was possible. That was, in all honesty, a relief to Olivia. Something resembling sane pace within these children's unreasonable march forward. For now at least.

The secondary partners of Moon and Hau were a Bagon and Pikachu respectively. Each more wilful and proud than the starters to come before, they postured grandly, showing off to those observing. These Pokemon the Kalos Researchers were far better able to assess, noting they seemed quite strong already. Still, evolution wasn't on their cards either. Dragons took an immense amount of power to grow, and it simply wasn't physically possible for a Bagon to draw what it needed from Moon in this amount of time. Not in the environment of the Island Challenge thus far at least. As for the Pikachu, its requirement to evolve was an outside decision. Olivia would offer Hau a Thunderstone when he came to Konikoni, but also make sure he understood it was not to be used until he was ready. Raichu were bigger demands than one who'd raised a Pichu to Pikachu would expect. That jump hit hard. Hau would need to be prepared for it. He'd need to be prepared for a lot.

Next came a pair of Eevee, one for each of these Trainers, the immediate difference in their personalities nervousness for Moon's and confidence from Hau's. Lillie, who was observing as well, smiled at the sight of the Pokemon, a favourite of children around the world, while Dexio and Sina debated evolutionary possibilities. Olivia would make available her collection of Evolutionary Stones to Moon and Hau for their Eevees as well, but only should they desire such. There was a whole world of options ahead. And, of course, if anyone was going to stumble upon a new form...

Three Pokemon from each so far seen. Dexio raised a hand to mutter to Sina alone. “Hey so Hau's kind of like, super-crazy, right?”

“Yeah!” Sina's reply came as a hiss with still enough volume for Olivia, Kahili, and Lillie to overhear. “He's like, top one percent of Trainer potential without a doubt. How many eleven-year olds can do that? We've met like... one before similar, huh?”

As Moon and Hau each displayed the fourth of their Pokemon – Hau's last at present – Dexio answered back with a statement that Olivia and Kahili understood, and Lillie found herself considering deeply. “It's really unfair he's gotta compare to Moon.”

Fourth were the young Trial-goers' catches from Lush Jungle, the exact design of the Trial from Captain Mallow one that had impressed Olivia with the girl's creativeness. Mallow had expressed, on more than one occasion, the desire to be as capable as the Kahuna one day, though Olivia had been forced to remind her that she was still young herself. By the time Tapu Lele was done with Olivia's service, whether that was for the entirety of Olivia's age or simply until she was no longer able to keep up, Mallow would be in her later years too. The next Kahuna of Akala would, providing no disasters occurred, be from a much younger generation.

Olivia had never specifically said it, but she also knew that desiring the role of Kahuna was often better done without ever being required to take that mantle on. There were requirements to such that bound the Kahuna harshly. But she didn't speak of that.

Nanu took care of it for the four – well, three at present – Kahuna in spades.

The Lush Jungle catches earned immediate note from Dexio and Sina who, only barely knowing of Wimpod, focused entirely on Moon's Larvesta. One of the world's rarer Bug Pokemon, with an evolutionary requirement of an obscene amount of time and energy, Larvesta was absolutely the most incredible among her number to their eyes – and that included the fact she had a Dragon in Bagon. Moon, who generally enjoyed the energy and excitability of Hau, found herself overwhelmed by the two adults. Kahili dragged them back.

“That's me.” Hau stepped forward to Olivia, his Wimpod climbing up his back to settle on his head. He looked up slightly and smiled, unable to see it but enjoying its presence all the same. “Just those four.” Just, the word hung heavy in Olivia's head. Hau and his four Pokemon in so short a span of time was an incredible once-in-a-generation achievement. And he described himself as 'just', measuring against Moon as he did. Dexio hadn't exactly been wrong. Olivia smiled at Hau. He grinned back.

“Then think hard about how you will face my Grand Trial,” already preparing concepts, Olivia was getting a good idea of just how she would test Hau. And what she would teach him. “The journey isn't as intense as any of those to the previous Trial Sites, but it does require you to temper yourself. To prepare everything you've learned so far. I'm looking forward to facing you.”

“Yeah!” Pleased with the Kahuna's words Hau nodded, rapid clicking coming from his Wimpod as it held on to avoid being thrown off his head, Hau wincing a little as its claws gripped tight, apologising a moment after. He stepped aside for Moon.

She still had two more Pokemon to show.

The Flaaffy, Moon told Olivia, had evolved during Lana's Trial. Lana had reported the Trial to Olivia, stunned her with the words that the Captain of Brooklet Hill had arranged for Moon to be caught in a territorial crossfire between the location's two Totems. A veteran of such an intense Trial was a good idea. Olivia made no mention of the Trial's specifics, keeping such from those who may be affected by hearing of it, and nodded.

The sixth Pokemon interested far more for being the weakest of Moon's team by far. A far from common catch in Brooklet Hill's environment, luck had played a clear part in Moon's obtaining of the Feebas. They were difficult Pokemon to raise, Olivia mentioned to Moon, who replied that Lana had told her the same, but also that they were incredible when evolved. Dexio and Sina, who Kahili was holding back from rushing Moon and her Pokemon, were discussing the natural challenge in evolving Feebas amongst themselves. Lillie, hearing the name of the Fish Pokemon's evolved form in their discussion, took steps away and hugged the bag containing Nebby closer to her chest.

A part of her hoped Moon didn't go through the effort to evolve that one.

So that was Moon's six. Olivia found herself stumped by those numbers, by what the best Grand Trial to help Moon go forward could be. Still, there was time to think. She'd do so. She doubted she'd have a thoughtless moment until Moon's Grand Trial was done. Alola was responsible for this incredible Trainer, and overwhelmed child, and Olivia would not do her wrong.

The Island Challenge, which fostered in Trainers a love for the Alola Region, would not betray Moon. This, Olivia swore.

Examination of Pokemon, discussion on raising tactics – Dexio and Sina insisting on giving their advice, which, admittedly, was impressively intelligent – and just generally managing everyone here quickly wore the day on from the early afternoon arrival of Kukui's boat, the deeper oranges of dusk now settling across the sky. Hau, who'd used a Z-Move in his Trial that morning, was fading but kept going by a combination of Mallow's cooking, the nap he'd taken earlier, and a general reserve of energy that was hard to beat. Still, he looked relieved when Olivia suggested they all head to the restaurant Hoku-Hoku Barbecue. An early meal for the group. Dexio and Sina, who simply invited themselves along with whatever caught their interest, followed after. Given they had, actually, helped today Olivia chose not to drive them off. Kahili still suggested it under her breath.

Olivia had booked out this restaurant for their group alone, allowing them to not only eat but have their Pokemon join the meal as well – the place ready to cater for both. Moon and Hau let their full teams feed, while the adults each contributed only one or two Pokemon to the mix. Firstly because their Pokemon were far larger and would cause no amount of trouble in bulk, and secondly to guard their full teams from one another. After all, Olivia, Kahili, Dexio, and Sina would all be taking part in the initial Pokemon League of Alola. They couldn't go showing their full hands to one another this far in advance, right?

Shortly after setting up, Professors Kukui and Burnet arrived. The two immediately headed for Moon and Hau.

“Alola!” Professor Burnet was a woman of white hair that curled upwards, the length of it tied into a ponytail while more hung in spirals by her cheeks. Her skin deeply tanned by Alola's light, she grinned with a wide smile, a rough head's height shorter than Kukui, a half head taller than Moon and Hau. Moon and Hau greeted her in return. “I've been looking forward to meeting you, Moon. And you again after so long, Hau, you look well!” With a happy expression she nudged Kukui with an elbow, who mock staggered at the impact. “Kukui's been hoarding you for far too long.”

“I outright lost them after they got to Akala!” Protesting, Kukui missed how terrible his statement was until his wife laughed at him. Moon, Hau, and Lillie all chuckled amongst themselves.

“Okay!” Rolling her shoulders, free of the labcoat she'd been wearing at work, now garbed in a grey tanktop and some simple black pants to relax in, Professor Burnet pulled out a chair and sat herself down halfway along the table, splitting the groups of Olivia, Kahili, Dexio, and Sina, from Moon, Lillie, and Hau. Kukui took opposite. “My husband's promised you'll be visiting my lab tomorrow, so make sure you do! There's some really exciting stuff happening at the moment that I'm looking forward to telling you about!” Thrilled by the prospect of 'really exciting stuff', Hau and Moon quickly agreed. Burnet tilted her head and gave Kukui a grin. He smiled back.

“Food!” Now satisfied everyone was here, Dexio and Sina got fully into the mood required for Alolan Barbecue, switching back into full tourist mode. With food served, the entire nine-strong group, plus their Pokemon partners, set into eating. Only after a solid while of that did conversation begin to emerge again. Olivia took the lead, looking Kukui's way.

“So how's recruitment for the Exhibition League going?” All eyes turned first to Olivia, then to the target of her question, as the topic hit exactly what everyone was interested in. The decision to host an Exhibition Tournament at the site of the Pokemon League, a showcasing of Alola's best Trainers meant to drum up interest in a full Pokemon League Tournament to be held in three year's time, was already capturing hearts and minds. Knowledge that the Captains and Kahuna of Alola would be taking part, as well as the legendary Kahili, already had everyone's interest. But as for the rest of the roster, still kept relatively secret...

“Well...” Kukui drew the word out, obviously putting on a show of debating how much he would tell, “I think it's going well. We've had a lot of external applications already.”

“Like us!” Sina raised a hand, taking a moment to swallow the meat she had been savouring. “Dexio and I got writ from the Kalos League! We're in!”

Kahili made a scoffing noise, drawing eyes. “Somehow.” Dexio and Sina both baulked at her dry barb.

“Hey!” Almost offended, able to recognise Kahili's style of humour only by having known her for the length of her time in Kalos, Dexio frowned. “We're both League Trainers you know! You remember us battling there don't you?”

“I remember eliminating you in the first round,” Kahili responded smoothly. Sina snorted hard, choking on her drink and requiring Dexio to pat her back. He looked a little put out.

“Besides them so far,” Kukui continued, saving Dexio from his roasting by the Flying-type expert, “Grimsley, from the Unova League, received invitation. He's been living on Ula'ula for a while anyway, and is popular with the locals there. He's a welcomed guest. And then last of the writ Trainers so far is...” pausing, Kukui noted Moon, Hau, and Lillie were watching him intently, interested as well. Kukui smiled to them. “Ryuki Oda.”

“Ryuki,” Olivia said the name, having heard from the Captains of their battle with him. She still found it hard to believe. More than a Dragon Tamer, a Dragon Master. He would be scary to fight.

She was very interested in doing so indeed.

“I looked him up,” Kukui continued, Kahili now also interested. “His writ is from the Hoenn League, he took part there, and was eliminated in the first round.” Noises of surprise were overridden by Kukui's continuation. “But it was by the one who became League Champion. And they said Ryuki was one of the hardest fights they had. So we don't actually know his full measure. A mystery man.”

“A mystery man with at least three incredibly strong Dragon Pokemon.” Kahili saying this helped fill Dexio and Sina, who didn't know Ryuki by name, in on just what this challenge would be. Each shared a look. A League-level Dragon Tamer was going to make things hard. The Alolan Exhibition League would draw all eyes from around the world. How could it not? Kahili continued. “And who even knows what else. I wouldn't be surprised if what he hasn't shown is far scarier than what he has. None of the three we know of can Mega Evolve, after all.”

“Mega Evolved Dragons?” A topic they were versed in, Dexio and Sina chimed in. “Bets? Does he have a Dragon that Mega Evolves, or a Pokemon that gains the Dragon-typing when it does?”

“Maybe a counter to his weakness?” Sina followed after Dexio. “Dragons have serious Fairy troubles, so maybe a strong Poison or Steel type?”

“That wouldn't be the Mega Evolution Pokemon though,” Dexio countered back, “it'd be something he can swap in and out reliably. Whatever he has that might Mega Evolve, it has to be a big-line hitter. It'll be his strongest Dragon. I'd bet on it. Maybe a Salamence? Or a Garchomp? Something like that.”

“Aside from Ryuki,” Kukui continued, taking control back over the conversation as Dexio and Sina discussed Mega Evolution strategy – which Moon had been listening to with absolute fascination – “while we've still got some open slots for other nominated Trainers, we haven't accepted any more yet. From within Alola, besides the Challenge completion bracket, it's Kahuna, Captains, and some major representatives like Kahili.”

“And yourself,” Kahili replied to Kukui, noting he'd been avoiding his inclusion in the list so far. “We both know you're a monster Trainer too.” Kukui gave a look like being described as such was a little unfair. Burnet voiced a 'she's right' shutting down his complaint.

“The other major representatives?” Still interested, Olivia asked. Kukui, who hadn't been planning on detailing the current lineup quite yet, found himself unable to sit on it any longer.

“The heads of the Pokemon Schooling System, Pokemon Rangers, and Dragon Tamers all agreed to take part,” he seemed genuinely pleased to announce that. Burnet whistled.

“Asuka, Jackson, and Pitaya are all competing? That's going to be rough. I feel bad for the Challenge Completers.”

“That's up to us!” Olivia knew this one, taking charge to show off a little. “The Kahuna of Alola will be nominating a number of Trainers who have recently completed their Island Challenges to take part.” Catching Moon and Hau looking at her, Olivia gave them a wink. “Maybe you two?” Each of them expressed interest in that. Although, even if they took part, they'd still be up against practically unbreakable walls. Better they make it to the proper League to follow. Even then, lighting the fire would at least drive their motivation. That, at least, Olivia could do.

“Man,” Dexio leaned back in his chair, impressed at the line-up presented, even if he didn't know the majority of it. It felt significant, y'know? “This's going to be rough. Almost scary, don't you think?”

“Pfft,” Sina, equally impressed by the amount of talent the Exhibition League would have on show, took refuge in mockery of her partner, “you can worry all you want, I'm going to win it!” Dexio laughed at that genuinely enough for Sina to get mad at him. The two bounced playful insults off of each other. Burnet waved at Kukui.

“Looking for major representatives,” she gave him a smile, “why haven't you gone to the Battle Royal? It'll be a disappointment for all his fans if the Masked Royal doesn't go on stage, don't you think?”

“Well...” Kukui drew out the word, not quite meeting his wife's eyes, “the Masked Royal is all about the Battle Royal format. The League is one-on-one battling, yeah?”

“Oh that's a shame,” Burnet's words dripped with mocking amusement, “I was looking forward to seeing my favourite Pokemon Trainer on the grand stage.” Kukui made a noise of offence at his wife's clear appreciation for the mystery Trainer of the Battle Royal. Olivia glanced between them, trying to figure out whether any part of the conversation they'd just had was genuine. They were smiling at one another quite unsubtly. She gave a sigh.

“It's our poor luck,” she caught Kahili's attention, quieter words for the other woman alone, “the only two single adults here.”

Kahili, who'd looked to Olivia in curiosity when addressed, paused for a moment. Held back her words. Then committed. “Well, not me exactly...”

Dexio, who had far better hearing than someone as constantly loud as he was should, immediately leaped to his feet and pointed in accusation. “I knew it!” His voice rung out across the restaurant, Kahili cringing at the attention, “I knew that the two of you were-” halfway through his words Dexio was pulled roughly back down into his chair by Sina, one of her hands over his mouth muffling whatever he'd been prepared to say. Olivia, now aware she was in fact the only single here, tried not to sulk.

“The League's going to be crazy!” Hau, who'd been consumed by thoughts of the Pokemon League and little else, ignored whatever outburst was coming from the adults as he, Moon, and Lillie spoke amongst themselves. “Moon, we've gotta get there! We've gotta see those Trainers first-hand!”

Moon agreed with a nod, intent on making it. The Exhibition League was in eight and a half months. In one and a half they'd completed four of the seven Trials of Alola, but they didn't just have to finish their Trials, they had to get strong enough to take part. It wasn't going to be easy. But she wanted to try. And Hau did too. Lillie, aware the two were planning on achieving something that should be impossible, nonetheless chose to believe in and support them. If they were going to try, she was going to cheer for them.

“And you'll cheer for us when we're there too, right?” Hau asked it with lights shining in his eyes, grinning wide to hear Lillie confirm. “And both of us if we're fighting each other too, okay?” Lillie paused, looking from Hau to Moon, who nodded. She nodded back.

“Then I'll cheer for you both.”

“Okay you are absolutely lying to my face right now.” Sina's loud voice broke their discussion, her attention focused directly on Olivia, who was trying her best to avoid it after voicing her complaint. Sina shook her head. “There is no way you're single without trying. No way at all.”

“It's true,” Olivia protested, “I've just never found someone interested-”

“And I'm telling you you're lying,” Sina cut off Olivia, refusing to buy it for a word. “You are a super-strong Trainer, big-name Kahuna community leader, and drop-dead gorgeous to boot. There isn't a person alive who wouldn't be lucky to get the time of day from you. If I weren't spoken for I would ask you out right here and now. You can't tell me you can't find someone. You can't!”

Olivia, very embarrassed by Sina's words, retreated a little. Dexio nudged Sina. “You should go for it anyway,” he gave his partner a grin, “she's a catch.” Sina wasted no time raising a hand to flick Dexio in the forehead. He swiped a hand at hers. She swiped back. In the space of five seconds they escalated to a mock slap-fight that Kahili, with a long-suffering sigh, stepped in to break up. You couldn't leave those two unattended for even a minute.

Otherwise they ran off and gave children Mega Stones. Right. She was still mad at them for that.

Olivia, hoping to avoid their attention for the rest of the night, found refuge in Professor Burnet starting a conversation about how the role of Kahuna was treating her. Olivia enjoyed that discussion far more.

More conversations flowed. The evening wore on. And, well feasted, the group broke and each moved to where they'd spend the night. For the darkness to pass and the sun to rise once again.

For the next day to dawn.


 

The Dimensional Research Laboratory was the home territory of Professor Burnet, who had, over the past few months, spent more nights there than at home with her husband and Lillie. With the focus of her research currently encroaching upon the world, Burnet had spent long days and nights mapping the flow of space across Alola, preparing every bit of information she could in collaboration with the Aether Foundation's significant resources. Still, the lab was hers. Her work was still hers.

She was very excited to share it.

A three-storey affair, the first floor of the lab held a reception area that greeted Hau and Moon as they were signed in by Kukui – who'd come to collect them from the Pokemon Center that morning. The lift within it Kukui took command over, skipping the second floor to bring the two to the third, where his wife was working. The lift doors opening, noise quickly filled Moon and Hau's ears, a large number of scientists working hard at the terminals throughout the room. Kukui smiled at the sight, knowing his wife was the one behind it all.

He was genuinely so very proud of everything she'd done.

“Good morning!” Professor Burnet, with Lillie nearby, waved to Moon and Hau, who quickly moved to join the young blonde girl. Burnet smiled at the sight of the three standing together, Nebby floating in circles around their feet. That was good. Though four months ago now she'd first met Lillie and Nebby, called to collect the unconscious girl and exhausted Pokemon from the shores of Hau'oli City by the loud cry of Tapu Koko, it was only seeing her with Moon and Hau that Burnet could truly see Lillie happy. Like they were easing the burden she carried. Yes, she agreed with her husband. It was vital the three be allowed to stay together.

For each's sake the other two were just so incredibly important indeed.

“It's super busy!” Looking around, Hau observed the many people at work behind the computers, the giant screens on the walls displaying data he just couldn't parse. Burnet laughed.

“Yes it is!” She agreed. “That's part of what I wanted to tell you about today! For you see,” stepping back, Burnet gestured for the others to follow her, away from the main thoroughfare of her lab, “in Alola, there is a mysterious phenomenon known as the Ultra Wormhole!”

Lillie, having heard Burnet's outline of her work before, focused more on Moon and Hau's reactions. They both seemed very interested indeed.

“The Ultra Wormhole,” continuing, Burnet indicated a screen on the other side of a divider, her office separated from the rest of the lab, “is a dimensional rift connecting Alola to another world entirely. It surfaces at seeming random over the years, rarely being seen or interacted with. But, when it does, there is the chance for something to emerge. Something incredible!”

She was putting on a show for the two children, and Kukui smiled to watch Burnet emoting for them. He loved her so very very much.

“From the Ultra Wormhole come mysterious creatures stronger than any normal Pokemon!” Burnet held up her hands, posing as a scary monster to a child, “we call them Ultra Beasts, and we still know so little about them! Legends say the Guardian Deities of Alola fight the Ultra Beasts wherever they appear, but we've never seen such occur. Now though, with the developments here in my lab, we've begun tracking the Ultra Wormhole itself! And when it next opens, we'll catch it and see what happens! It's very very exciting for us.”

“That's so cool!” Hau, who only half got the concepts Burnet was explaining, locked on to the existence of Ultra Beasts. “I want to meet an Ultra Beast!”

“Well be careful if you do,” Burnet laughed lightly, “they're meant to be incredibly strong! So strong that they're difficult for even the Tapu to fight! So keep that in mind!” Hau nodded, now somewhat awed at the thought of creatures that could compete with the Tapu. Burnet smiled at the fascination Moon and Hau were showing. She held up a finger. “We believe the Ultra Wormhole will appear soon, that's part of what my husband and I were working on yesterday. When it does, I'm sure it will be news all of Alola hears about! Please look forward to it!” Hau and Moon both nodded, smiling as well. That was so exciting! Kukui stepped forward.

“Alright,” clapping his hands together, he moved on to the other half of the reason he'd brought these two here, “now there's something else special to do here in this lab – which could be very useful for you both! Tell me, have either of you ever heard of Mental Patterns?”

At Kukui's question, Moon and Hau both shook their heads. Burnet smiled. It was probably time to satisfy Juniper's interest and stop the escalatingly playful yet threatening emails and calls she'd been sending.

“Mental Patterns are a recent study to do with Trainer's Bonds,” Kukui's opening description immediately had Moon and Hau at attention, each absolutely willing to hear every word he had. He grinned. “It's a special image which indicates how well you can form Bonds with certain Types of Pokemon,” Kukui summarised the complex study, skipping over the long backlog of brain mapping involved as part of it. “Everyone's Mental Pattern is unique, a seemingly random mix of lines drawn together, but here's the really cool part: Pokemon have Mental Patterns too, and all Pokemon of the same Type have similar Mental Patterns!” That was a meaty topic to consider, a little too much for Moon and Hau to grasp besides acknowledging it as being very cool indeed. Kukui and Burnet had spent an entire week in Unova with Professor Juniper and Doctor Fennel, Burnet's college friends, just talking about this after the study conducted by them with Professor Oak of Kanto had been published. Kukui's head still spun when thinking about it. It was a lot.

“So the thing is,” Kukui continued, leading back to what would really entice the two, “have you ever noticed some Trainers have certain Types of Pokemon they favour? Keep teams of mostly that Type?” The two children nodded. “That's not a random thing, it's actually to do with their Mental Patterns! You see, the closer a Trainer's Pattern is to that of a Pokemon's, the easier it is for a Trainer to build and support a Bond with that Pokemon! So because of that, Trainers similar to a certain Type have an easier time raising Pokemon of that Type! It helps Trainers find a way to go further, since they can support more strong Pokemon of that Type than any other! That's how it works!”

Hau was riveted. A Type specialisation, that might be just what he needed to keep up! He had to know. “Professor Kukui! How do we get our Mental Patterns!?”

Kukui grinned. “We can do that here!” His announcement had Hau cheer. “Professor Burnet has a Mental Pattern Scanner installed in the building. Moon, Hau, would you like to find out what your Mental Patterns are?”

Moon was silent, Lillie looking at her. Each knew, in the forefront of their mind, that Moon was different to every norm there was. What would her Pattern be? She almost didn't want to know. Hau turned to her with a grin. “Moon! Let's find out our Mental Patterns!”

Moon smiled back, nodded, and agreed.

The Mental Pattern Scanner was on the second floor of the lab, which Burnet led her husband and the three children down to. “It's a one at a time deal,” she spoke as she got behind the computer that managed it, “and it can take a few minutes too.” Immediately as she said that, Hau turned to Moon with a fist held out. Moon understood in an instant and raised her own.

This time she very definitely absolutely had to – Hau played rock and immediately beat her. Moon stared at her hand blankly while her fellow Trial-goer whooped and stepped forward, helped by Kukui to sit down as a visor was placed over his face. Lillie patted Moon on the shoulder.

Minutes passed idly, Hau talking about nothing while looking into the visor that showed nothing to his eyes. Burnet's own watched the screen she was at, seeing the data coming in from the device around Hau's head. Moon and Lillie kept him company, talking about the upcoming journey Moon and Hau would make to Konikoni City, and how Lillie would meet them there with Professor Kukui and Kahili, travelling around Akala by boat once more.

Then the scan was done and Kukui lifted the visor from Hau's face. He bounded back to his feet. Burnet spun around a monitor, showing two Patterns, side-by-side. Then hit a key and showed an overlay of the pair – a fairly close alignment. Kukui nodded.

“Looks like you've got a bias to the Psychic-type of Pokemon, Hau!” Hau cheered, unsure of specifically what that meant beyond he needed to get some Psychic-type Pokemon asap. Kukui considered. Thinking about it, that was what he would have guessed anyway. Hau had a natural talent for reading others, and had recognised Moon that one time without a missed beat. It may be that, much like many Psychic-biased Trainers, he had an ability all of his own.

He really was going to be one of Alola's greatest Trainers, no doubts about it. Kukui turned his eyes to Moon. She looked back. He nodded. “Are you ready?”

Moon didn't answer that verbally, only by sitting down in the chair and consenting for the visor to be placed over her head to begin the scan. Conversation of Hau interrogating Rotom-dex about Psychic-type Pokemon in Alola filled the room, Moon staying silent during that time. Burnet, watching the screen, saw data coming in. They were definitely going to get a Pattern from this. Juniper would be so pleased. Very good.

It took longer, five minutes to Hau's three, for Moon's Pattern to complete. Burnet, waiting eagerly to see it, immediately frowned upon its loading. Hang on. “Kukui.” Her husband walked around, saw the screen, and frowned too, Hau and Lillie both catching their expressions. Moon was still sitting in the chair, yet to be told she could take the visor off and stand back up. Muttering from the two Professors considering the data-set followed, before deciding on modifying some of the scan settings. Kukui looked back up with a rueful expression.

“Sorry Moon.” She frowned now too, turning her head to look in the direction of his voice, unable to see with the visor on her face. “Could you sit for a second scan? It looks like this one didn't work right.” Immediately the thought there was something strange about her Mental Pattern weighed on Moon. But she didn't say anything and didn't move. Kukui nodded to Burnet. She started the scan again.

Taking longer this time, Hau reached a breaking point, Rotom-dex exhausted for topics to discuss. He stepped over to Moon. “Hey Moon,” she raised her head, aware he was before her, “I'm going to go ahead, okay? I'll meet you on the path to Konikoni, yeah? I know you'll catch up, right?” Moon nodded, Kukui stepping over quickly to make sure the visor stayed put. Hau grinned, waved, then set out. Lillie stayed behind.

And after a few more minutes, the scan concluded, and the same result occurred. Burnet shook her head. “I think the calibration is wrong,” she stood up, gesturing for Kukui to lift the visor from Moon's head, “sorry Moon, I was looking forward to showing you your Pattern, but it's a delicate process. We can try again another time, I don't want to keep you any longer.”

Moon stood up, stretching after sitting for a while, before giving Kukui and Burnet a long and intent look. Neither showed anything. Kukui stepped over to Lillie. “Hey Lillie, are you okay to see Moon out?”

“Oh,” Lillie paused, then nodded, “yes of course. Moon?” And holding out her hand, Lillie felt Moon take it and consent to be led to the lift. Looked back one last time to the husband and wife Professors. They waved to her, showing nothing at all. Then the lift doors closed behind her.

Kukui immediately sat down at the computer.

“This data...” he was scrolling it, eyes flicking over the values, “this is all definitely accurate.”

“It is,” his wife confirmed, “that Pattern is what it is. One-hundred percent.”

The two paused. Kukui looked up at Burnet. She turned.

“I'll call Juniper.”


 

A small purple Pokemon floated over the rooftops of Heahea City. It had been so long now, so many fallings of the bright light and risings of the soft one since it had seen the light that called to it. The one that was strong, warm, and safe. It had lost that light and was searching for it, but could not find it, not in the town in the trees or the city of metal. It had spent so long searching, every nook and cranny, that it had ended up on a boat, a ferry between islands, carried from Melemele to Akala.

Unaware of the difference in location, it had continued its search unabated. Searching for the one with the light.

And, today, it found her.

Success! Victory! With great joy the purple Pokemon rushed from the sky, down towards the one it had been looking for. At last. At last! At last it had finally- the world went dark.

In the absolute darkness, all light gone, Lillie and Moon emerging from the Dimensional Research Lab only to experience the same thing they had almost six weeks ago when stepping out from Professor Kukui's own lab, a piercing screech of absolute fear sounded out. Unable to see a thing, no light at all, the sun disappeared from the sky, Lillie screamed in response, clutching onto Moon's arm, the purple Pokemon fleeing in a singular direction from the hungry dark. Escape. Escape!

The light lost again.

Moon stared up into the darkness.

There was something there, not light, but colour, roaming through the sky. She didn't know what it was, the jagged triangles of every different colour moving together. But she felt when it stopped. She felt when it turned. And she was sure, without a doubt in her mind, that it was looking directly at her.

She stared back.

The darkness vanished, and the sun stared Moon down.

She flinched and cried out, raising an arm to cover her eyes, Lillie immediately letting go of her arm after the darkness faded, natural light returned to the world again. Hearing Moon's cry she guided her out of the light, into the shade under a nearby awning, without any idea of what had just occurred. What that unnatural darkness or the scream within it had been. Something scary though. Something wrong.

She was sure of that.

And in the Dimensional Research Lab behind them the third floor was alight with yelling, the scientists within blindsided by the sudden appearance of the Ultra Wormhole just overhead, gone again before they could do a thing. And in the floor below, the only two within it, Kukui stared at the monitor as Burnet spoke on the phone she carried.

“Yes,” Kukui didn't hear the voice on the other side, but knew it was Professor Juniper all the same. His wife continued to speak. “I know. Yes. No. Yes.”

She was pacing around the room, building up to it. Still struggling with what it could mean. So was he.

“We have it, yes.” Moving back towards her husband, Burnet moved to explain. “But no, there's no point sending it to you.”

This time Kukui heard Juniper's voice from the phone, extremely indignant in response to Burnet's words, demanding an explanation, a possible reason to not send her the Mental Pattern of Moon. Burnet breathed out a sigh. “Well,” stepping over a bundle of cables, she took position behind her husband, joining him in staring at the screen of pitch.

“...it's black.”

Chapter Text

The southern region of Akala exists almost disparate to the rest of the island proper, connected by a small bridge of land and three paths from Heahea City alone. The first of these paths is by water, the docks of Heahea and Konikoni, southern city of Akala, frequently travelled between by residents of the island. The second is by road, a curving stretch that loops around the south-eastern coast of the island, kept below the cliffs upon which Memorial Hill and the Ruins of Life are built.

The third, and most direct, is also the slowest – travelled on foot alone. First follow alongside the road going south from Heahea City, and when it forks left continue upon the walking path further still. From there you will come to an opening into the mountainous terrain of Akala's southernmost tip: the beginnings of the Diglett's Tunnel. A passageway dug out by the Mole Pokemon over the course of Alola's history, today the Diglett's Tunnel is a space shared thrice-over. First by the Pokemon that live within the cavernous system dug through the southern mountains of Akala. Second by the workers expanding mines, carefully done so to avoid disturbing any life within the region.

Third by those taking the path – whether they be Island Challengers tasked to walk Alola and experience the fullness of its measure; hikers who enjoy the vast trails of the region; or simply those who felt like putting themselves to the test. It is this path that, roughly ten minutes ago, Hau entered on his Island Challenge. And it is this path now that Moon joins him on.

In comparison to the Dividing Peak Tunnel it was a far more natural affair – a rock and stone path, no asphalt in sight. Apparently other entrances further along the southern road allowed mining vehicles entry and exit, but those paths were dug to have the minimal possible impact. Even in mining the earth those of Alola took great care to reduce any damage they might do. Such was the spirit of this land. Yet in comparison again to the tunnels Moon had stumbled into in the north of Melemele – still sometimes thoughts haunting her mind of wandering the darkness only hoping the sound she was following would show her the way – this passage was made to be walked. It reminded Moon somewhat of Ten Carat Hill, all the way down to the mining set-up as part of it, but somehow even more welcoming. This was also a part of the Island Challenge, she supposed. The Kahuna and Captains must make sure it was well maintained.

She wondered if Z-Rings and Z-Crystals were mined here too.

Beyond the Diglett's Tunnel was a short walk to the entrance of Konikoni City, southern point of Akala Island, home territory of Kahuna Olivia. Olivia had told Hau and Moon the night before that this would be the next part of their Island Challenge: to make their way through these tunnels to the awaiting southern city. It was a long walk, and would take a good portion of their day, but give them a new vision of Alola compared to all the paths that had come before. Alola was beautiful under the sun and moon's light, but even in the darkened underground there could be found the spirit of this place too. Olivia had wondered whether they would. She was looking forward to seeing them on the other side.

Moon thought about this as she walked, following the well-defined path. Sometimes it led through tunnels with lights built into their side. Sometimes out over ravines, high fencing erected alongside paths to ensure safety as best could be. Moon looked off into the distance and saw mining machinery at rest, no workers out today. The Diglett's Tunnel was quiet. Some Zubat, flying overhead. Some Diglett themselves, their cries heard in the distance, though not yet encountered on the path proper. Moon considered whether she would catch one, but decided not to go out of her way to do so. If one crossed her path perhaps. Only then.

Thinking about catching Pokemon led Moon to pause her thoughts, though her onwards march never slowed. Walking with her was her Eevee – one Pokemon kept out whenever on her own now – though while the Evolution Pokemon seemed to enjoy stretching its legs, it still stayed close to her. She smiled at it whenever it chirped at her. But spent the rest of her time in thought.

Z-Moves, of which she could perform many. Trainer's Bonds, of which she could support any. The connections which did not fade at a distance like they should, the Bonds between her and those at the Poke Pelago still able to be felt. It had been a while since Moon had returned there, not since encountering Lana during the Wela Volcano Trial. She wanted to go back. To see the Pokemon she'd caught. Those she felt bound to. Connections that should be impossible.

Her initial motivation had been such a simple thing: to catch because she could. To see a Pokemon and desire to travel with it – to know it was not a difficult thing to do – she'd reached out so greedily at first. Only when realising the rate it slowed their growth, so little time able to be given to each, did Moon feel the pinch. The Poke Pelago had resolved that, and now Moon felt free to catch with abandon, except for that was a strange thing that apparently only she could do.

Had Professor Kukui and his wife lied to her? Was there something strange, something wrong with her Mental Pattern? With her? Moon tugged at the sleeve of her clothing, the green blouse Mallow had given her. She raised a hand and patted at her caramel blonde hair, forcefully enough to wince at the impact. She still didn't see herself in mirrors. It had been the best way to avoid the attention of people fascinated by her, to do her Island Challenge in peace, but even still she hated it. And it had only amounted to so very little indeed. She'd still needed to be bundled about by the Captains, escorted off of the familiar paths. Still been given strange looks by Trainers she met in battle – this young child seemingly too strong. A disguise so she could do her Island Challenge? Had it even worked?

The good in her journey, in that she could bond with any Pokemon, in that she was strong enough to keep up with Hau on his Island Challenge – Hau who was so skilled and kept going no matter what – was balanced precariously against what she had to do to remain this way. To shoulder the weight of her own gift forced upon her by whatever factors had led to it. Destiny or fate, or just coincidence, she didn't know.

She still didn't know if she'd rather have this or not.

Warm fur brushed against her face, the weight of her Eevee upon her shoulder, the Pokemon giving soft calls to its Trainer, feeling her heavy swirling thoughts. Moon pushed her face against it and whispered quiet words of thanks. No matter what, as long as she had her Pokemon beside her... then it would be okay. Things would be okay. Believing that, she kept moving forward.

Walking the path ahead.

“Oh, young miss!” A voice called out from before her, Moon coming to a stop as a white-clad figure barring the way came into view. The woman was wearing the symbol of the Aether Foundation, the same symbol as the one upon Moon's Ride Pager, another mystery she still didn't understand. Lana had asked Moon if she'd be willing to trade the pager for another, but that time of offer had never come, leaving Moon unsure what to make of it. She'd chosen not to ask any further. Ideally, she'd want nothing to change. For the Poke Pelago to continue as it was – a little place she could rest and be apart from it all. That was her wish. The Aether Foundation worker approached with hands raised.

“It's dangerous to go ahead,” the woman turned, waving an arm to indicate the way forward, “Team Skull have been sighted in the tunnels causing a ruckus – apparently they've riled up the local Pokemon.” Moon frowned, displeased to hear the name. The woman nodded in agreement.

“You're right,” she read Moon's expression with ease, “they're terrible – no good pointless thugs who just cause trouble for their own amusement. But it is dangerous for people right now, especially young Trainers. I see you have a Pokemon, but it's still better not to-”

Moon gave her name and watched the woman's expression change. This was the first time she'd done such, used who she was as a weapon. She wasn't some random young Trainer, she was Moon who had six Pokemon and could use Z-Moves without limit. The Aether member looked at her blankly. Moon began to continue on her way.

“Ah, wait!” The woman sounded shaken, surprised to discover the young girl before her was the mysterious Trainer Moon, talk of the entire world. She shook her head. “Even with strong Pokemon, should the wild Pokemon ahead damage any of the tunnels, there is the real possibility of a cave-in or collapse. It really would be better if you waited here until we're notified that-” Moon asked of Hau, cutting through the words of the one before her. Hau had gone ahead of Moon, and she had yet to catch up with him. Had he been let through? The woman sighed, shoulders sagging. Spoke in a weaker voice. “Of course I told him the same, but I needed to stay stationed here to warn any travellers and he just- please wait!” Moon, who'd begun walking again, looked back, annoyed. She was falling behind. She would not fall behind.

“Look,” the woman took a step forward only to receive a hissing warning from the Eevee upon Moon's shoulder, the Pokemon picking up the feelings of Moon's stress at being held in place. She stopped. “There is danger ahead, please at least be careful. There are other Aether members on the other side of the disturbance, I'll let them know you're coming through so if you don't we'll come looking for you. Just, please be careful, okay?” She looked almost on the verge of tears, unable to stop either of the two headstrong young children who'd brushed by her. Moon at least reassured her she'd be careful.

But she was still going.

And further into the darkness she went.

Further ahead the wild Pokemon of this Diglett's Tunnel did indeed grow more aggressive. Contrary to before wild Diglett now approached Moon directly, looking for a clash. But her Pokemon were all stronger and Moon pushed back each challenger with ease. Scratches and gouges in the path along walls and floor, some purple liquid still spread about – the appearance of poison-based attacks – told Moon the tale. Team Skull had walked this path with their own Pokemon, attacked the area wildly, and kept moving. A level of wanton destruction that only annoyed her further. From the second time she'd ever met Team Skull she'd held a grudge against them. And not once in future meetings had they eased that. Not when crossing her in Verdant Cavern. Not when messing with the Totem in Brooklet Hill. Not when blocking the path to Royal Avenue. As far as Moon was concerned, any encounter with Team Skull was one they needed to be sent packing from as soon as someone could.

Should she cross them she fully intended to be the one to do so.

Yet the rate of progress was the same. As Moon walked forward, through the tunnels, over the canyons, rarely out through light-dappled valleys between the southern mountains, the overhead midday sun beaming down upon her, all she encountered were wild Pokemon incensed. Hau, who'd gone ahead of her, and Team Skull, causing trouble, were nowhere to be found. It was just Pokemon. Some Moon battled. Some she caught. But mostly just silence. One who enjoyed peace and quiet often, Moon found this environment terrible for it. She hoped for something, anything, ahead.

Kahuna Olivia had tasked her and Hau to find beauty in this underground region of Alola, but Moon, her head full of thoughts, was having difficulty in doing so. She didn't enjoy the underground at all, she decided. Would rather just be out on the other side.

Kept on walking ahead.

“Ugh.” The sound of frustration reaching her ears drove Moon's footsteps to increase, approaching the one who'd made the noise. As soon as he came within range Moon slowed, her expression changing to stare coldly at the Team Skull Grunt lying against the tunnel wall. He looked up at the sound of her footfalls, began to stand up, then just gave up and sat back down. Waved her on. “I already got beat,” he looked the other way, not meeting eyes with the young girl who felt so intimidating. “Get going. We were just having some fun I don't see why people gotta take it so seriously.”

Moon walked past, not slowing her pace or looking down at the man. Eevee, on her shoulder, watched him as Moon walked on. Made sure he didn't rise again. He didn't.

It was now that Moon began to witness others. Three more members of Team Skull, each unwilling to fight, each claiming to have been beaten by a young Trainer going on ahead. Feeling no doubt at all that it was Hau who had done such, Moon moved faster still, doing her best to catch up. If Hau was battling people he'd be slowing down. She might be able to catch up to him. And she did. Just in time.

“A two against one?” The voice of the Team Skull member, a girl this time, set Moon racing up slopes and stairs, moving to join the group at the top of the rise she'd come to. “Cocky, ain'tcha?”

“It's been going well so far!” Hau's chipper voice made Moon smile, hearing him talking down to Team Skull as he was, “I think I'll be fine!”

“Yeah well,” as Moon reached the top of the rise she saw the group before her, two Team Skull members staring Hau down, his back to her. The girl, who'd been raising a Pokeball, paused seeing the new Trainer approaching from behind. She huffed. “Are you serious, does anyone else want to get in our way? Anyone?” Hau turned around at the exclamation. A wide grin crossed his face.

“Aue! Moon!” He clapped, Moon smiling at him as she made her way to his side, “I knew you'd catch up!” Moon nodded and instructed her Eevee to jump down from her shoulder, Hau grabbing a Pokeball of his own. Each turned to face the two Team Skull Grunts before them. The girl was staring at Moon.

“Hang on,” she was dressed the same as any of Team Skull's pack, a skull-motif beanie, bandanna over her mouth, silver pendant around neck and black and white clothing besides. Her hair, vibrant pink, made Moon pause. Was that... “hey I know you! You're the one from Brooklet Hill!”

Moon nodded. She knew this Team Skull member too. She and another – not the one she was with now, his body shape was different – had caused trouble for the Totem and soaked the entire place, her included, with water. The girl laughed. “Yep,” throwing the Pokeball she was holding up and then catching it again, she held it forward, “that was great. Alright! I'm into this! Let's go!”

With a delightful whoop she released the Pokemon within the ball, the red light containing it resolving into a small shape on the ground before her. The Pokemon clicked aggressively at the pair in front of it. The other Team Skull member slapped a palm against his face.

“Riley come on!” She turned to his exclamation with an annoyed look, staring him down as he stared her back. “Are you serious? Come on!”

“You got a problem?” She snapped back loudly, Hau tapping Moon on the shoulder and raising his own Pokeball with a nod, one she answered with her own. “You gonna complain? Gonna go tell the boss about how you think my super cool Bug Pokemon sucks and I shouldn't be using it? You think he's gonna like hearing that outta you? Huh? She needs training, yo, this is a good chance! They're just kids!”

A flash of red light from the green coloured Friend Ball Hau used released his Wimpod to face down its opponent, clicking sounds coming from each of the Bug Pokemon now escalating. Riley turned back from her argument to stare at the pair of Wimpod now before her. Looked up at Hau with wide eyes.

“That some kinda joke?” She took a step forward, menace in her tone, “making fun of me? Think you've got what it takes to beat me with the exact same Pokemon? I had to go out of my way and nearly get blown out into the ocean to catch that girl, she's not gonna lose to your jerk no way no how!”

“I had to work hard too y'know!” Hau's tone was still relaxed and friendly, “And he needs to get stronger too! So let's see who's done better so far!”

“Tch,” with a jerk of her head Riley settled into a battle-ready state. “Alright then Wimpod! Go get em!”

“Right back at ya! Don't back down Wimpod!”

The two Bug Pokemon wasted no more time, following their Trainers' orders and rapidly scuttling towards each other. The grand pile-up of the two butting heads, beginning to scramble up one another as their legs grabbed purchase, and then falling over and starting to roll around as they sought dominance over the struggle, was made all the more thrilling by Hau and Riley's non-stop commands and encouragements. The two bug pile was truly the ultimate battle. Incredible.

The other Team Skull member rolled his eyes.

“Alright,” stepping away from Riley's Super-Hype Bug Battle (tm), he waved for Moon's attention, “let's have an actual Pokemon Battle that means something while those idiots do their thing.” Moon frowned deeply, displeased to hear Hau called such. The Team Skull member didn't care. “He called you Moon, yeah?” She paused, steps now still. He caught her stopping. “Yeah, you're that super broken Trainer then, whatever.” A Pokeball in hand, he opened it to reveal a Salandit, Moon commanding her Eevee to go forward. The man, a teen only a few years older than Moon, really, sighed and shrugged. “Just cause you've got some crazy superpower don't go looking down on us, aight? Team Skull ain't pushovers! Go and act all high and mighty but try and stop us and you'll see what-” cutting through his speech, Moon completed the Z-Pose for the Normalium-Z. A blur of movement that was her Eevee streaked across the tunnel and slammed into the Toxic Lizard Pokemon. Thrown by the incredible force it hit a wall and slumped down it. Moon lowered her arms.

In the silence, Riley and Hau's encouragement for their respective Wimpods echoed out. The Team Skull Grunt made a noise best described as choked. Moon stared him down.

“Hey...” he raised a hand, before letting it fall limply again, “that was a bit much, wasn't it?” Moon turned away from him and walked back over to watch Hau.

The two Wimpod were continuing to roll over one another, a battle which the intensity of was only matched by the ridiculously low stakes. Really it was difficult to tell there was even a fight at all, it was just the two Wimpod refusing to let one another go. For how tame the fight appeared, Hau and Riley were continuing to be as psyched up about it as they could be, cheering and supporting their Pokemon with unending passion. Moon got the feeling the real battle was between the two Trainers instead of their Pokemon.

But eventually it came to an end, the two Bug Pokemon breaking apart and one slinking off while the other clicked victoriously. Riley, with a dagger stare at Hau, bent down and picked her Turn Tail Pokemon up. “Don't think this is over!” She pointed at Hau with a determined expression, “There'll be a rematch! You'll get yours! Don't forget! Riley from Team Skull's gonna getcha! I'm gonna!”

“Okay!” Hau waved as Riley grabbed the very dejected other Team Skull member and dragged him off down the path Moon and Hau had climbed, “I'm looking forward to it! See you then!” Moon smiled at Hau as he lowered his arm again, the two Team Skull members gone. That had been enjoyable. Gotten some of the stress out. Hau grinned back at her. Palm met palm and then each shook their hand from the impact again, the pain of the intense high-five as much a part of the ritual as the high-five itself. But they laughed and were happy with it. Hau pointed forward.

“Okay Moon!” She nodded as he took the lead, “To Konikoni City!”

Not ten minutes beyond the battle-site with the Team Skull Grunts, two members of the Aether Foundation jumped to see Moon and Hau approaching. Quickly ran up to them to make sure everything was okay, relieved as could be to hear Team Skull had all been beaten and were slinking off again. One of the two looked at Moon.

“I was told the two of you were coming through,” she tilted her head, a curious expression one Moon didn't find herself enjoying. “Team Skull aren't nearly as tough as they pretend to be, but being able to battle them is still really admirable. The two of you, you really are all that, huh?” Moon gave no answer, Hau intercepting to say that as long as people and Pokemon work together, Team Skull couldn't do a thing. The Aether members chuckled at his declaration, then waved the two on. They'd head through the tunnels now to make sure everything was okay.

As Moon and Hau walked away, the echoing voices of the two adults carried Moon's name to their ears time and time again.

From mid-morning to mid-afternoon, the venture through the Diglett's Tunnel had taken the two youths the hottest hours of the day. Yet the caves they'd travelled through were cool enough that even emerging into the afternoon light they still immediately felt it. Hau wiped a brow. “Hooo-eee,” he loudly announced the heat, staring down the path from the tunnel's exit, the city of Konikoni arrayed below them, “it's a hot one, huh Moon?”

Moon, Kanto born and raised, was used to far less intense warmth and humidity than this. She wiped her brow far more genuinely than Hau had. He waved a hand to blow a cool breeze against her face. Moon leaned into it with eyes closed and a smile. “Stay strong, Moon, just a little further to go!” She nodded and followed after, every now and again the two taking a breeze break to wave hands at one another and create a little gust of wind. And down from the path, down from the high mountains of Akala's south they'd travelled through, the two Island Challengers entered the southern-most residence of Akala.

Konikoni, City of Sea Breezes.

Konikoni was a long city, curving around the south-western coast of Akala's southern stretch, claiming every inch of sea-level terrain it could. As soon as one was beyond the boundaries of the city the land began to rise, quickly spiralling up into hills and mountains that afforded so much less room to live. The coastal road that looped around this southern region, built against the cliffs and over the sea, served as one of two main lines of connection between Konikoni and the rest of Akala, the other being by sea. In comparison to the road journey, a quick boat ride between the northern docks of Konikoni and western docks of Heahea was by far the fastest way to get around. Because of that, in Konikoni it was far more likely for a resident to own a boat than a car, the signature main road running through the city instead densely populated with people, housing, and shops. A great red paifang built across the entrance of the city served as its gate and greeted Hau and Moon as they approached it.

Standing just beyond that entrance, Kahuna Olivia waited with a smile.

“Allow me to be the one to welcome you both to Konikoni City!” Olivia didn't miss for a second the state of Hau and Moon, each clearly burned down by their journey. While Hau was a natural font of energy, and Moon had never even once displayed effects from maintaining her many Pokemon, each of these two children still reached exhaustion points after a solid day's travel. Olivia waved them to follow her.

“The Pokemon Center is just ahead – you'll be able to clean up there, and the restaurant owned by Mallow's family is nearby – a great place to eat. Let's get the two of you some rest and relaxation, shall we?” Each of the children were immediately agreeable to that proposal. Olivia led them along.

“For as often as I'm required to travel all over Akala, and at times Alola as well, Konikoni City will always be where my heart remains. This city is a beautiful and welcoming place, and I hope that for the time you spend here, you're each able to appreciate it.” Looking back, Olivia saw the two following but only half-listening. They looked tired. She smiled. It was cute.

Being Island Challengers, Moon and Hau had no problem claiming rooms at the Pokemon Center of Konikoni, taking a while to relax and change clothes after their walk. While Hau's look remained mostly the same – the only real difference being that the shirt he was wearing now was Masked Royal branded, clearly purchased at the Battle Royal – Moon had switched from the green blouse she'd been wearing to the sea-blue shirt she'd had when first meeting Olivia on the docks of Heahea, a mere nineteen days before. That span of time, to complete Akala's three Trials within it... it was now thinking of it that Olivia was truly hit by the gifts Moon and Hau possessed. Their Pokemon had grown at exceptional speed, and the two young Trainers had maintained calm, focus, and ability to command those Pokemon in harsher and harsher battling environments. Their growth rates were, truly, absurd.

Once more Olivia reinforced her awareness that the tests she would level against them in their Grand Trials must be the best possible choices to help them continue on.

“Hungry?” Both children nodded quickly in response to Olivia's question, clearly in need of a good meal after their journey. With a smile Olivia led them on from the Pokemon Center, Aina's Kitchen awaiting. “I'm sure Captain Mallow would have wanted to cook for you in her home herself, but she's been busy. With the Pokemon League upcoming, many Trainers have been redoubling their efforts to pass the Island Challenge. All of the Captains have been busier and busier of late.” Moon and Hau nodded, following Olivia along the main road of Konikoni. “Still,” ever smiling, Olivia indicated the restaurant ahead, “she's not the only cook in her family – and they're all the type to love to share their work. Go ahead.” Waved on, the two youths moved to the door. Olivia smiled as she watched them go. Then followed a moment after.

“Hey there you two! Good work making it here, yeah! Come on, we've already ordered!”

The voice of Professor Kukui drew Moon and Hau's eyes as soon as they were in the restaurant, seeing him seated with Kahili and Lillie at a table within. Both immediately moved to join the others. Lillie happily greeted them both.

“I'm sure you're hungry,” she looked up to see a member of the staff approaching with the first plates of food, timed for the arrival of the two Island Challengers, “it's been a busy day.” The nod of answer from each only lasted as long as it took them to get started on their food, Lillie smiling to see the two digging in. They were so similar like this. Energetic, always moving forward. She enjoyed that so much. Just being around them, the world felt more alive to her. Like there were people in it that she could be happy with. It was times like this that she knew she'd made the right choices to have been brought to this point. She was sure of it.

Kukui smiled seeing Lillie's own, before turning his attention upon other thoughts. Curious eyes had remained on him and Kahili since their arrival in Konikoni earlier that day, both of them well-known individuals – Kukui being the region's head Pokemon Professor, and Kahili one of Alola's favourite Pokemon Trainers. Here, in this restaurant, those who'd kept a passive eye on them, interested in what they'd do, noted the two children to join them. Two dark-skinned youths, the boy with a crop of black hair stuck up at the back just so, the girl with two caramel blonde braids hanging to her shoulders. Appearance-wise, Moon only somewhat resembled the girl from the Grand Trial video, but the company she was keeping was more than enough to allow most to make a quick realisation. Ah. So that was Moon.

Spotting those looks being given to the group, nudging Kahili and pointing them out to her so the pair could stare back at those curious until they looked away, was the first thing to occur to Kukui, Moon and Hau too busy with their food to notice at all, but soon enough it faded to something else entirely. Looking back down at Moon happily eating, Kukui thought of what he'd seen just that very morning. He still didn't know what to make of it.

A black Mental Pattern. What did it mean? Neither he, his wife Burnet, nor professor Juniper could tell. Mental Patterns were black on white, a series of lines and shapes that meant nothing except in the context of other Mental Patterns, but even still it felt significant. It wasn't like you could point at a certain line in a Mental Pattern and say “ah this tells us this about this person”, nothing like that was the case for them. They truly had no real meaning beyond being compared to others. But even still. For the scan of Moon to be such – what did it mean? Was the way she thought so different? The inside of her mind alien to anyone else? Kukui didn't think so, she acted far too much like a normal child – though admittedly a particularly quiet child shouldering quite the weight. He regretted his knee-jerk reaction, trying to convince Moon the scan simply hadn't worked. He'd felt like knowing her Pattern would only further push upon her feelings of otherness, but just saying the scan didn't work on her would do enough of that on its own. It had been a bad choice. He'd apologise, but at this point telling her he was trying to help her feel less strange would only make that worse too. He didn't know.

He seriously felt in over his head.

When the two children finally took a break from eating, the first dishes provided cleared, Kukui looked up to Kahuna Olivia, who'd quietly joined them at the table, giving the young ones time to focus on their food. “So it's your Grand Trial next, yeah?” Moon and Hau both looked up at Kukui, then over to Olivia, seeing her sitting nearby. She nodded in response.

“I am prepared to perform the Grand Trial once they are ready – all they need do is travel to the Ruins of Life to meet me there. Although, if possible I'd rather not face both in the same day.”

“I get that!” Kukui laughed as he said it, “they're each always going full force, I think they'd wear anyone out! And you want to be at your best for each, right?” Olivia nodded at that too. She did. Hau turned to Moon.

“Hey Moon,” raising a hand with a smile, he waited for her to do the same, “want to see which of us is going first?”

Moon paused on that, looking at Hau's hand, thinking deep. The Pokemon with her, she always felt like she was a step behind Hau in their strength. He'd be giving everything he had to the Grand Trial. She needed to be ready to do so too. A little more time to train then. She shook her head. He could go first. She'd go second. Hau looked at her in confusion for a time after her saying that. Then back to the Kahuna and Professor. Olivia nodded once more.

“Then Hau, if you would like to do your Grand Trial tomorrow, let me know and I will travel to the Ruins of Life to meet you there.”

“Right,” Hau glanced back at Moon, who reassured him, “then tomorrow!”

More food served. More silence for a time. Then Lillie spoke, eyes upon the Kahuna. Olivia looked back in interest.

“Umm, Kahuna Olivia,” Moon spoke the least of the trio, but Lillie was the quietest in addressing others, Olivia noted, “I was hoping to visit the Ruins of Life myself. So that Ne... so that Nebby can see them. Is that okay?”

“Hmm,” Olivia considered, looking over Lillie, “it's fine as long as you stick close to me, but you shouldn't be wandering around the Ruins on your own. And I'll be in one place looking after Hau and Moon when they're there.”

“Oh...” Lillie looked down for a moment, before looking back to Kukui. “Professor, do you think you-”

“Sorry Lillie,” Kukui hated to turn her down, but was forced to all the same, “Kahili and I have some meetings over the next few days, before we head on to Ula'ula Island. If you'd like though,” seeing her face fall, Kukui thought fast, “I could ask my wife if she'd be able to come by and take you out there. Would that be fine?” He asked that to Olivia as much as to Lillie. Olivia nodded.

“I know Burnet can handle herself, so if she's looking after Lillie that will be fine.” Lillie, thrilled to hear this, nodded with a smile.

“I understand!” She seemed very pleased to know Professor Burnet would be guiding her. Kukui appreciated that. He didn't know a whole lot about Lillie, really, but he hadn't missed at all how closely she'd bonded to his wife. It was nice.

He appreciated it.

In the wake of their meal the group were free to do as they wished within Konikoni, Olivia heading back to her own home. She'd need to check out her Evolutionary Stone stocks, and set some aside for Hau and Moon. One for Hau's Pikachu, and three each for both children's Eevees, should they wish to evolve them that way. Kukui and Kahili, who were ready to put the finishing touches on their presentation for the Alola Culture Council, set up in the Pokemon Center to work on that. Thus left to their own devices, Moon, Hau, and Lillie set to wander.

Each had their own thoughts and challenges they struggled with – for Moon her ability which turned the eyes of the world upon her; for Hau the upcoming Ula'ula Island, and the warnings he'd been given that he'd be unable to maintain his pace; and for Lillie her attempts to care for Nebby, and help find the Cosmog's way home. But together, as a trio, it was so easy to forget those worries. To just enjoy the presence of one another and relax.

And so they did and the day turned to night and the sea breeze of Konikoni cooled the city under the moon's light. The night passed. The sun rose. And the seventh week of Moon and Hau's Island Challenge began.

Chapter Text

Sina and Dexio appeared a few hours after Moon and Hau's arrival in Konikoni, having found their own way to the City of Sea Breezes. In spite of their priority goal in being in Alola at the moment – observing absolutely every last record and sense-breaking thing the young girl known as Moon was up to – the person they sought out first was in fact Professor Kukui. Dexio took the lead.

“So hey,” he was playing with his sunglasses – bought at the first souvenir shop he'd found as soon as they'd landed in Alola – flipping the pair open and closed as he and Sina menaced over Kukui. Or tried to, at least – Kukui was taller than them both and built like he could pick each up and pitch them over the roof of the nearest building with ease. Seriously, dude looked like he wrestled Machamp for fun. Like he could crack walnuts with his pecs. Like... Sina elbowed Dexio hard to get him speaking again. He wasn't sure how long he'd been distracted. He coughed. “You checked their Mental Patterns, right?”

“Kahili was right about you two,” Kukui frowned, suspicious that the Kalosian researchers had waited for him to take a break from working with Kahili and step outside the Pokemon Center, rather than enter and catch her ire themselves. During the dinner last night he'd observed they tended to back down as soon as Kahili turned an eye upon them, and though Kukui had only seen the bare edges of the Flying-type Expert's frustration when attempting to mollify particularly ornery Alolan residents regarding the planned Pokemon League, just that alone told him she was a most fearful sight when enraged. It seemed like these two knew that well. “You really do hear everything around you.”

“It's part of the job,” Sina made a show of pretending to be flattered. Dexio didn't drop the point.

“So?”

Kukui shook his head.

“That's not my place to tell you.” The rejection did nothing to slow the pace of the two, who only seemed to grow more interested. “I know Professor Sycamore wanted you to help-” even saying help was Kukui doing the pair a kindness, 'investigate' and 'meddle' far better describing their actions, “but I'm not about to start gossiping about everything to do with them. They're still kids, yeah?”

“Being kids doesn't stop them from being completely beyond the norm,” Sina answered back quick, not about to drop the point. “Even discounting what's going on with Moon, Hau's Mental Pattern is important too, y'know! He's way way waaaaaay in the top bracket of Trainers for his age. Anyone guiding him should know if he has any biases. And you've gotta be guiding them, right? You can't just let those two be going on their own. Right? Right?”

Kukui glanced uncomfortably away from the pair inching closer and closer towards him. Spending the amount of time he had working on organising the upcoming Pokemon League, as well as assuaging the worries of Alola's more tradition-focused populace that the League would do no harm to the region's culture, meant he'd only been keeping an eye on Hau and Moon from a distance. The Captains and Kahuna were working to guide them along, but none of them were spending full time with the two. Most young Trainers would be fine in this way, but Moon and Hau were exceptional. Someone should be watching over them and helping them grow, making sure their abilities didn't bring them stress or worry. Which no-one was right now. Dexio and Sina seemed to sense that immediately.

Dexio whirled and sprinted away.

“Hey Hau!” The trio of children – Hau, Moon, and Lillie – were gathered near to the Pokemon Center of Konikoni, spending time together while still staying close to Kukui and Kahili. Each looked up and seemed concerned to see Dexio running at them at full speed, the brown-haired man pulling to a stop just moments before crashing into them. Hau looked at him with a questioning expression in response to being addressed. Dexio flicked his hand as a wave. “Do you know your Type Bias?”

The reaction of the three continued to be rather blank looks, the older man's approach and question both startlingly direct. Hau bounced back quick though, glancing from Moon to Dexio as Dexio nodded back to him. He answered. “It's Psychic-type!”

Little could have brought a wider smile to Dexio's face, the man immediately whirling around and cupping his hands over his mouth to yell out to his partner. “Sina!” Her voice, projected through her own cupped hands from the few dozen metres she was away from him, answered back in a similar yell.

“What?”

“He's got a Psychic-bias!”

“Heck yeah!”

Kukui, with control lost – or rather never had – over the pair, watched blankly as Sina raced over to join Dexio with the kids. Then, as the moment of realisation that he had to be the one to reel them in hit him, followed after as the two researchers excitedly addressed Hau.

“We've got Psychic-biases too!” Dexio pointed a thumb at himself, while Sina gave a thumbs up with one arm, the other leaning on her partner's shoulder. “It's a really powerful Pokemon-type, which a lot of people tend to forget compared to the flashier Dragon. But, but, did you know-” halfway through his exciting declaration Dexio found himself interrupted by Sina slapping a hand over his mouth so she could tell it instead.

“Psychic is the most common type amongst all known Legendary and Mythical Pokemon!”

And immediately Sina had made her catch. For the youth of the world, and indeed Trainers long past such young ages, stories of Legendary and Mythical Pokemon captured hearts and minds. Imaginations locked upon the possibility of becoming one of the historic figures to form a Bond with such – the once in a generation or rarer event when such a Pokemon made itself manifest. Just hearing the word 'Legendary' had Hau and Moon's attention on her. Lillie seemed interested too, but in a more detached manner. Well, she wasn't harbouring those dreams anyway. Sina focused on Hau.

“There's actually a lot of really cool research all over the world about the Psychic-type, and its relation to the Dragon-type – since they're both very powerful and common Legendary typings. Not to mention both are known to be significant regarding Trainers biased to them – since most people without a Dragon-bias can't support a single Dragon-type Pokemon, and most people with a Psychic-bias develop way better senses for Trainers than those without!”

Moon and Hau were both nodding rapidly, completely transfixed. Sina and Dexio were masters of spinning a story, and the two told just enough while leaving more on the hook to have the two young Trainers eager to hear their every word. Dexio, finally pulling Sina's hand off of his mouth – she waved it a little and stuck her tongue out at him – looked to Moon. “Speaking of,” Moon immediately knew what he was asking, and moved to cut him off before he could ask it, “would your bias be-” she didn't have one. Dexio and Sina went silent. Moon looked away.

They hadn't been able to determine her Mental Pattern.

Lillie and Hau, both still watching Dexio and Sina, saw them glance at one another with an expression that didn't mean much to them. Probably meant the world to each other though. Dexio and Sina looked back.

“Well that's not too bad,” attempting to walk back his interest, Dexio continued speaking. “Type-biases are mostly only cool because leaning into them lets you better handle a larger number of Pokemon, but since you don't have any limits anyway it wouldn't really matter what your bias was. Maybe you're just all-biased.” Moments after saying that the two went silent again, considering whether that might actually be true. Then realised they were having an internal conversation while the three youths before them were growing antsy. Both turned back to face Hau.

“So hey, Hau,” Sina took over in speaking to the young boy, “like Dexio said, he and I both have Psychic-type biases. So we know a lot about Psychic Pokemon, and can give you loads of advice about raising them! You've got an Eevee, right? If you evolve it to Espeon, that's one.”

“And a Pikachu!” Realising in a flash, Dexio smiled wide. “Pikachu evolve into Alolan Raichu in Alola, which are Electric and Psychic-type! Ahhh that's so cool, I need to catch a Pikachu. Sina, let's go find a Pikachu in Alola!”

“Alright, alright,” Sina nodded, as interested in the Alolan Raichu as her partner, but better able to reel herself in for the moment, “but hey, Hau, having Psychic-type Pokemon will make things easier, but don't feel like you only need to have them. I only have one and I'm doing fine!” With a grand motion Sina flexed an arm, showing absolutely no muscle behind it. Dexio bit back laughing at her because she had and would continue to elbow him for being rude. Instead he focused on another aspect he could tease.

“She says that but it's not like she's keeping a wide variety of types,” Sina looked at Dexio with annoyance when he spoke, but didn't move to stop him. “She just has a bunch of Ice-types because they're her favourites.”

“They are my favourites,” Sina pouted, Hau laughing slightly awkwardly at the exchange, Moon and Lillie staying silent. Kukui chose this as his moment to intervene.

“Alright,” in comparison to Dexio and Sina failing to menace him earlier, when Kukui stood behind them, the evening sun pushing his shadow over their shoulders, both of the Kalosian researchers went still. “Moon and Hau need to rest, since Moon's going to be training and Hau has his Grand Trial tomorrow. Let's give them some freedom for tonight, yeah?” The quick nods of Sina and Dexio's heads told Kukui he'd convinced them. He wasn't really good at being intimidating or forceful, but at the least he was able to appear so. Maybe. The two were backing off at least. He focused in on the kids.

“Don't forget to let me know if I can help,” he made sure to address Moon and Hau when saying this. Despite being a general presence in their Island Challenge, Kukui was only now realising he really hadn't done much for them at all. He should be more responsible. “There are people all over Alola who'll lend a hand to those in need, me included, okay?” The two youths nodded, and that was good enough. Kukui gave a final look to Dexio and Sina, who quickly agreed that they should go find some food for tonight and maybe somewhere to stay, before he returned to the Pokemon Center to continue preparing the Culture Council presentation. Just a scant week away. Oh he was nervous.

And the night passed for them all, just like that.


 

Hau and Moon awoke the next morning to a message from Kahuna Olivia left with the Pokemon Center nurse, informing Hau that Olivia would be waiting at the Ruins of Life beyond Memorial Hill, deep in the mountains that spanned the southern reaches of Akala. She was looking forward to his challenge. Hau looked nervous after hearing that. Moon reassured him.

She intended to go out that way too, to train in the fields beyond Konikoni City. The offer to go with Hau, for a little way at least, was appreciated but turned down. He needed to make it there all on his own. Moon got that. So she and Lillie saw him off and spent some time together before Moon herself moved out for the day.

A busy day's training ahead.

“Do you think a day will be enough?”

Lillie's question, asked as she and Moon sat together in the Pokemon Center, having just seen Hau leave, left Moon thinking. She'd changed her Pokemon a little – her interest in raising the Feebas she'd caught balanced by the knowledge it wasn't ready for a Grand Trial. The Wishiwashi, which had taken part in Kiawe's Fire Trial, would do far better. Moon felt strongly that her Dartrix, Bagon, and Eevee were all ready for the fight. Less so about her Flaaffy, Wishiwashi, and Larvesta. Though each had fought one of the three Totems of Akala, there was still a difference between the Totems and a Grand Trial. Her battle with Hala still stuck with Moon. She was sure Olivia would be equally if not more intense.

“She seems so nice,” Lillie considered that, “I wonder what she's like when she's battling... it's hard to imagine.” Was it? Moon looked at Lillie strangely. Lillie shook her head in response. “Trainers always seem so intense, almost intimidating, when battling.” Moon seemed shocked to hear that. Looked down, then back up at Lillie. Was she as well? Lillie thought.

She had only truly seen Moon battle all-out once, during Moon's Grand Trial on Melemele Island. In that time, watching as Moon commanded her Pokemon with absolute focus, watching her shine as she performed her Z-Moves, had Moon been intimidating? Yes, Lillie nodded. Moon looked distressed to hear that. Lillie shook her head.

“I think you have to be – that you can't battle without holding back without being a little scary too.” Moon still seemed upset. Lillie cast her thoughts looking for something else to say. Anything. “And even if it was scary... it was beautiful too.” It had been. The sight of Moon, standing firm, commanding her Pokemon with relentless will, it had been striking. Lillie still remembered it. Wondered if she could ever be the same. Maybe not. But it was nice to think about. Moon stood up and moved for the door.

“Oh, Moon-” she needed to train, to prepare for her Grand Trial tomorrow. Oh, Lillie understood. Nodded. Felt slightly awkward watching Moon leave so hastily. But did her best to smile all the same. “Well, good luck! I'll see you when you get back!” With her reassurances given, Lillie watched as Moon took her leave. Professor Burnet had replied that she'd be free tomorrow as well, and so Lillie would be able to take Nebby to the Ruins of Life then. Who knows, maybe she'd be able to see Moon's second Grand Trial too. She hugged the bag she carried closer, feeling the Nebula Pokemon within respond. Yes. She'd like that indeed.

And Moon, stepping out into the morning sun, walked on with light step and a smile, heading for Memorial Hill to train.

Beautiful...


 

In comparison to the cemetery built in the shadow of the mountains to the north-west of Melemele's Hau'oli City, Akala's Memorial Hill was a far larger affair. From Konikoni City's southern exit the walking path split, one way continuing along the road looping around the island's south-eastern cliffs, the other beginning to climb the hills and mountains that dominated Akala's south. Rough and uneven terrain, there was little human presence throughout it, mostly rolling fields of trees and grass capping each successive rise. Far in the north-east of this locale, this self-contained block of Akala, the Ruins of Life, home to Tapu Lele, awaited. A place Moon knew nothing of, beyond that the Tapu of this island could be found there. Tapu Lele had seemingly shown far less interest in Moon than Tapu Koko had, given she still had yet to meet the Island Deity. She found herself quite relieved by that.

The memories of Tapu Koko's appearance during her Trial in Verdant Cavern still raised the hairs on the back of Moon's neck. Those Pokemon were simply too much to be close to. That was what she decided.

And those were the thoughts she mulled over as she too climbed the path so many of Alola's Trainers had, the rising, winding way to the entrance of Memorial Hill.

An ancient burial site spread over the mountains of Akala's south, Memorial Hill was, as all burial places tended to be, a haven for Ghost-type Pokemon. Barely had Moon reached the gates that marked entrance to the site, stepped within and felt a slight chill in the air despite the exertion she'd given in the climb, before the Pokemon began to fall upon her. Pushing and prodding, teasing and cajoling, they took delight not only in frustrating but in being fought back after doing so. Moon rotated through her Pokemon, focusing on the three weaker – Flaaffy, Wishiwashi, and Larvesta – ensuring they could carry her will. Respond to her commands quickly enough that she felt confident imagining herself facing down the Kahuna.

In one day, if she were to keep up with Hau – Hau who she was convinced would pass his Grand Trial with flying colours – she must reach a level capable of defeating Olivia. It was a tall order, and Moon felt it heavy upon her shoulders as she set to wander, walking the sloping and rising paths from site to site across the stretching territory of Memorial Hill, poorly named for the number of peaks it spanned. In this stretch of time she had to encounter as many Pokemon, and people, as she could, and battle and best them all. This area was a challenging ground for Akala's Trainers, much as the northern span of Melemele had been, and those Moon met with were all amenable to battle.

She took to them with wild determination.

Quickly she was recognised. Though she did not use Z-Moves, aware that using them without care would only exhaust her Pokemon, not give her or her team the experience they needed, still Moon rotated Pokemon fast enough for people to go from impressed, to shocked, to understanding. So she was Moon. Training for her Grand Trial? How admirable. Many left it at that, the words of the Masked Royal having circulated Alola and brought many to realise their interest in this mysterious young Trainer was a harmful one indeed. But some Trainers did not. Insisted upon following her, peppering her with questions, determined to figure out just what she could do.

Moon's Pokemon answered her distress at being pursued every single time.

Pokemon and their Trainers are linked, connected by the Bonds between them. Those Bonds carry energy, given from Trainers to empower their Pokemon, but not just that energy alone. Thoughts, which enabled those Pokemon to follow their Trainer's commands far faster than could be believed. Feelings, bringing Trainer and Pokemon onto the same wavelength, helping them work together best. Intent, the will and sometimes hidden wants of a Trainer, expressed by Pokemon who far quicker obeyed such desires than their human partners would.

Each and every last time someone spent too long in her presence, Moon's equal frustration and fear at being followed and overwhelmed peaking, her Pokemon lashed out. Dartrix flew overhead and pecked at those too curious. Bagon growled and Eevee hissed at anyone coming too close. Flaaffy puffed up with electricity, Wishiwashi made a show of its great size – the two positioned between Moon and any source of her concern – and Larvesta simply stared with piercing blue eyes full of menace. Anyone, and everyone, who pushed Moon too far quickly received the instruction to step away.

The pressure upon her had allowed Moon's emotions to boil, and her Pokemon to share the heat that burned her. She was strong, everyone knew that. But those who'd pushed too far, received that warning to leave her be, they knew something else. She was dangerous.

Alas that their concerns were hidden by their shame at needing to be chased away, and not one ever carried those words to the ears of someone who could help, Captain, Kahuna, or Professor. Alas.

Moon continued on.

“What are you doing you fool?”

A voice Moon did not know, something sharp and nasally, reached her ears and drew her attention as she stepped out from the tree-line she'd been wandering through, having taken a break from the busier path. A group of figures were just beyond, two in white, two in black. Moon recognised each, Aether and Skull, in an instant. Quickly moved to interrupt the clash.

“I thought you had completed all of Alola's Trials? Can you not defeat a simple pair of thugs?”

“I told you I don't have those Pokemon any more, the ones with me are for rehabilitation! I keep telling you that!”

“Pardon me?”

“... I keep telling you that, Branch Chief.”

“That's better.”

The two Aether members were arguing, much to the entertainment of the pair of Team Skull Grunts before them. While one of the Aether members had an outfit like most of those Moon had encountered, a white suit covered in pouches, the other was wearing a more decorated coat, lime green wrappings around his wrists and upper arms, as well as creeping out around his neck. The pale skin of his face, light blonde hair covering head and chin, showed he'd spent little time under Alola's sun. A pair of excessively sized green-tinted glasses rested over his face. Moon glanced at them as she stepped between the pair of pairs.

“Oh?” The more decorated member of the Aether Foundation glanced at Moon, recognition she didn't see flashing in his eyes. “Well, here is an able-bodied Trainer, surely she will be more able to rout these thugs than you were, Jace.”

Recognition hit Moon immediately, the name one she had heard before. Jace, a figure of relatively tall build, tan skin, and sun-dappled cowlicked brown hair, saw her look at him. He knew who she was too. Prepared to greet her. “Hello, M-”

“Now now!” The loud voice of the other Aether Member, clapping his hands, cut off Jace's words, “we will have all the time for introductions later. Young Trainer, would you do we fine members of the Aether Foundation a kindness and dispose of these Team Skull thugs? Your assistance would not only be greatly appreciated but, ah! Yes! Rewarded! You will do it, will you not?”

Moon turned from Jace and looked back at the other man, who was rubbing his hands eagerly together with a wide grin. It wasn't a reassuring gesture, nor was he a reassuring figure, but it didn't take Moon much to turn her ire upon Team Skull. After having spent the past few minutes amongst a wooded grove to avoid people too interested in knowing who she was, she had some pent-up energy to burn. She nodded and turned to face them. One of the two snorted loudly.

“Yo yo yo,” moving his hands as he spoke, swaying from side to side, he glanced from the two Aether members to the young girl before him, “is this for real? All you think we're worth? Sending a kid at us and thinking that's good? We're hard as bone, yo, we don't crack under the pressure. We were just gonna give you some grief but if you're giving guff we're gonna get tough! Right bro?” Jerking his head, he looked at the compatriot standing behind him. The other Team Skull member whose eyes hadn't left Moon since she'd arrived. His face was pale. The Grunt in the lead paused. “Uh, bro? You okay? You don't look so good.”

“M-m-m-m-” a stammering sound that failed to form a full name stumbled out of his mouth, Moon's eyes now staring back at him. By the way Team Skull dressed it was difficult to tell them apart, but she was sure this was one of the ones she'd crossed more than once before. They still hadn't paid properly for insulting her. She clicked a Pokeball and manifested her Wishiwashi, the Pokemon's schooling form created not by the presence of other Small Fry Pokemon but instead by its own natural power. The towering gigantic fish menaced over the Team Skull pair, the one who didn't recognise Moon turning back from his friend as a shadow fell across him. Then looked up.

“Uhhh...”

“Now that,” the higher ranked Aether member raised a hand to cover his mouth, projecting his voice to Jace alone, “is a fine specimen.” Jace didn't say anything back.

“Yo,” scrambling to pull a Pokeball from his pocket, the Team Skull Grunt who wasn't paralytic was still staring wide-eyed at the giant Pokemon above him. The heck was that yo? This kid wasn't playing? Okay, well, he didn't play either. Except play hard! Bone hard! “Okay then, yeah, okay, go Raticate!” And from a jet of red light the Alolan Mouse Pokemon, with fur of black and brown in contrast to the variants Moon knew from Kanto, appeared. Looked up as well. Big opponent. But it didn't back down.

Leaped into the Wishiwashi with reckless abandon. Jace averted his eyes.

Wishiwashi, the once-Trainer now Aether Foundation member knew, were difficult to attack. The water binding their schooling form together needed to be disrupted, but just jumping into its grip was dangerous. The Team Skull Grunt had clearly known nothing of that. Cheered as his Raticate disappeared right into the Pokemon, believing it would burst through it. Moon raised her arms, a blue crystal set within the white ring she wore glittering. And performed the pose.

It was a compact Z-Move, contained within the form of the Wishiwashi she was partnered to. The water that made up the Pokemon constricted, then swirled faster and faster, power flowing through it, light glowing deep within the Small Fry school. Inside of its body rushing water raced this way and that, buffeting its prey, slamming it again and again from every direction. Not a drop fell from the Pokemon's body. No power outside of its shape was expressed. But when the water slowed, when it relaxed and grew again in size, just a little, the Raticate dropped out of it and hit the ground with a wet thud.

And didn't move again.

“Ah... uhm... h-hey...” only slightly less stammering than the Team Skull member Moon had encountered before, the one who'd sent out the Raticate quickly ran to it, checking it over and pushing its chest, expelling a cough of water from it, before returning it to his Pokeball. That had been violent, yo! Way too much! What was the deal with-

“Moon!” The voice of his friend, the other Team Skull Grunt, finally finished the name of the girl standing before them. The first Grunt looked up at her, standing before him. And realised just how out of his depth he was. He jumped to his feet and ran.

“Cheese it!”

And the other followed quickly after.

A moment of silence followed before loud clapping interrupted, the Aether Foundation member wearing the coat putting his gloved hands together again and again. “Bravo! Bravo!” He was smiling widely, before sweeping into a bow to Moon as she looked at him, “My endless thanks, young miss Trainer. Why, were it not for you those Team Skull ruffians may have caused us who knows what harm! Yes, I am thankful, quite thankful indeed.”

Jace, recovering from the sight of Moon's quite frankly vicious battling style, moved to approach her. “Hel-”

“Now then!” And immediately was interrupted by his superior, who continued to monopolise the girl's attention. “Introductions! I am Faba, Branch Chief of the Aether Foundation, a pleasure, I am sure.” He smiled with great relish at introducing himself. “Over there is my assistant Jace, both a Pokemon Conservationist as well as Researcher and Developer of Aether Foundation technologies. Say hello Jace.”

“Uh,” Jace blinked, “hello M-”

“Wonderful,” cut off again by Faba, Jace looked annoyed. Faba paid him no mind. “Well then! You, young miss, have done us quite the favour, and in return I must offer my own. As the Branch Chief of the Aether Foundation, I possess significant powers within the Foundation, and so I would like to extend to you, yes you, an invitation!”

Moon and Jace both looked at Faba when he said that. Faba looked only at Moon.

“So then, to wit, allow me to invite you to visit the Aether Paradise, our special sanctuary for Pokemon set within the sea south-west of here. Yes, I will arrange a full tour for you to see all of the Aether Paradise and all we do there, so you might feel appropriately relieved for your actions in assisting us. A fine reward, is it not Jace?”

Jace spent a moment too long being surprised by Faba asking him something, the Branch Chief turning back to Moon and continuing on without an answer.

“What do you say then, young miss, would you like to see the place where Pokemon are revitalised from their wounds before being reintroduced to the wild? The pinnacle of care in the Alola Region? The centre of technological development for the sake of conservation? I am sure, beyond reasonable doubt, you must be, yes! Shall we?”

Moon shook her head. Faba looked at her out of the corner of his eye. Oh?

She had to prepare for her Grand Trial, was to battle Kahuna Olivia tomorrow. Jace looked absolutely stunned by hearing that, his own ridiculous pace in his Island Challenge obliterated by the young girl's. Faba stroked his beard in thought.

“Of course, of course, one's Island Challenge is so important, is it not?” He turned to Jace. “Well then, allow me to propose a solution! My assistant Jace will remain on standby at the Hano Grand Resort, east of Heahea City. When your Grand Trial is complete, young miss, why not travel there after? He will escort you to the Aether Paradise for your tour, yes, that is perfect, is it not?”

Moon looked from Faba to Jace. Jace seemed like he had a million things he'd like to say, but couldn't focus on one without the rest driving him to silence. This wasn't meant to...

“Yes, perfect!” Faba clapped his hands, “Young miss Trainer, as thanks for your efforts, please seek out Jace at the Hano Grand Resort and come to see the Aether Paradise yourself. Bring a friend if you wish! I will be happy to show all who come with you the glorious work we do! I hope that is agreeable?”

It took a moment's thought, but soon enough Moon nodded. The Aether Foundation, she appreciated what they did. And the Aether Paradise... sounded interesting. A smile crept along her face. She was looking forward to it! Faba smiled back. Clapped his hands once more. How perfect indeed.

“Well then,” turning, he began to step away, “with that I must bid you adieu. The work of the Aether Foundation is never done, and I must get back to it. Come, Jace, you will need to work hard to complete your outstanding duties before being stationed at the Hano Resort. Let us be off!”

“I-” Jace looked from Faba to Moon, still having so much he wanted to say. But Faba's call of his name in just the exact tone that said work wasn't done pulled Jace along. He frowned and nodded to Moon. “We'll catch up.”

Moon nodded back. She had questions. But not for now. For now, as the two Aether Foundation members took their leave, she turned back to the path.

She still had to train.


 

As afternoon settled, the light of day turning from blue to red, Moon's training came to a stop. In truth she would have continued on her own, pushed her Pokemon further, but it was another who brought the day to a close. For as Moon trained amongst the fields of Memorial Hill, continuing her preparation for the day to follow, the largeness of a passing Pokemon, the heavy sounds of its footfalls on the path, drew her attention.

Moon quickly ran to the one walking beside it.

Kahuna Olivia smiled to see Moon appear from the fields, coming to a stop as the Pokemon behind her did too. Moon looked up at the massive red reptilian Pokemon, orange scales and spikes dotted across it, a ring of white fur over its shoulders and under its chin, and felt awe. This Pokemon, it was significant. Incredibly so. Olivia smiled at that too. Moon's keen interest in Pokemon was a fine thing. She approved.

“This Pokemon is one of my partners,” Olivia began to walk again, Moon keeping pace beside her, the large Pokemon following after with heavy sounding steps, “a Fossil Pokemon: Tyrantrum.”

Quick to emerge from Moon's bag and pontificate, Rotom-dex outlined the nature of Tyrantrum before continuing on to speak about Fossil Pokemon in general. Moon wasn't listening. Just the typing of the Pokemon was enough to stun her. She looked at Olivia in amazement. Olivia smiled back.

“Yes,” she nodded, “It is Dragon-typed. Certainly a great challenge to raise, but a fine partner too. He has been with me for a long time now.” Moon stared in awe at the giant Despot Pokemon, stomping along behind the Kahuna and Island Challenger, head held high. A Dragon Pokemon. So Olivia could keep one too. Thinking about that, so interested in it, it genuinely took this long for Moon's mind to remind her she was forgetting something important. She immediately came to a stop.

What about Hau?

“Look there,” Olivia pointed, turning Moon's eyes back to the Pokemon behind them. Now that she looked, there was someone lying on its back, carried by it as it walked. It took only a moment for Moon to realise that was Hau. Why was Hau-

“He's fine,” Olivia laughed, Moon's distressed expression turning back to her, “just exhausted. I'm bringing him back down to Konikoni – he's in no state to walk after the battle he went through.”

But... Moon looked between Hau and Olivia again, was he okay? Did he... did he pass? Olivia kept her smile. Pointed again. “Just look.” And when Moon stepped back, when she looked up at Hau, lying atop the back of the Tyrantrum, she saw on his restful face a grin that would not leave. Contentment.

Moon looked back at Olivia with the widest smile she could muster. The Kahuna grinned back. Those two, they really were so wonderful. She couldn't wait for the next Grand Trial either. Hau had impressed her, truly inspired. And Moon... Olivia was ready. She knew she was.

Tomorrow would be as fine a Grand Trial as could be. She swore it.

The two, with Pokemon carrying a third behind them, continued on. Silent for a time. Then Olivia spoke again.

“I've been reading a book about Fossil Pokemon lately,” she kept her eyes forward on the path, knowing Moon was alongside her, “I'm always interested in them.” Moon nodded, waiting to hear more. Olivia kept talking. “It's about the differences between old records of these Pokemon and the Pokemon themselves. In the past, before the Fossil Restoration System, we only knew about these Pokemon from the bones they left behind. People had to assume, make guesses based on what little they had, and often those guesses would be significantly wrong.”

Looking back, Olivia thought of the image extrapolated from the first retrieved Tyrantrum bones, a far longer and more crocodilian predator. Then looked forward again.

“The point of that is,” she continued, “records of the past are often incomplete. Even today much of what we believe as fact from the past is instead our best guesses, important context and information that went unpreserved lost. There's so much we don't know. So much that doesn’t survive. The records we have, they're best guesses made by what we know now, not the truth unfiltered. It's important to remember that. That what we believe is true about the past may not be so. Do you know why I'm saying this?” Moon didn't. Shook her head. Olivia answered her. “You and your ability are unique, one-of-a-kind, no-one in history having ever existed who can support Trainer's Bonds such as you.” Moon looked away. Olivia spoke again. “Or so we believe.”

Moon stopped. Olivia stopped too. Waited for the young girl to look up at her. Olivia knelt down.

“For as incredible as you are, Moon, there is just as much possibility someone like you has come before. That they lived a life and a good life too, that they shouldered their gift and continued on. In all of history, so much unknown, the chance that there has been another, I can believe it. Do you want to believe it too?”

Moon was silent, deep in thought. This loneliness. This disconnect. The eyes of the world on her because she was different. Even if she'd never meet another, to know there had been one, did it make it better? Did it bring relief? She didn't know but...

it was nice to think that maybe someone else had been this way too.

“If you want to, then let's both believe it.” Olivia stood back up. “That even though their name is lost to history, there's another who's come before. And there will be another who comes after. If you believe in that, then believe you are no different to them. Another part of this world. Does that make sense?”

A part of this world... Moon nodded. The feeling of Alola, welcoming her through the Island Challenge, teaching her to become part of it, it helped. She raised her head and watched the clouds pass by. Their shapes, she hummed the song they showed, the wind mixing into the tune. Olivia joined her, the two feeling the song of Alola within them. Just two people that were part of this world.

And with the song carrying them, the evening setting across Alola, they continued down the path, glittering Konikoni City awaiting far below.

Chapter Text

“The Aether Paradise?”

Having awoken soon after his return to Konikoni City, Hau, along with Kahuna Olivia and Moon, quickly joined Professor Kukui, Kahili, Lillie, and the recently arrived Professor Burnet for the night’s meal. The brief recovery period brought on by eating was keeping Hau alert for the moment, but it was still well understood he’d be out again before too long. Olivia had pushed him to his absolute limit, after all. As she’d fully intended to do.

“Huh,” Kukui looked interested, hearing Moon’s report of her encounter with the Aether Foundation members and their invitation to the floating man-made island in the south-west. “Well I'd say that's an excellent opportunity, yeah! The Aether Foundation do great work all over Alola, and getting to see their amazing tech up close is a real big chance! And he said you could invite a friend too?”

“I wanna go!” Hau shot a hand up even as Moon was nodding, his smile growing wider as Moon confirmed she had been about to ask him to come with her. From there both turned to Lillie, each with the question on her lips. Would she come too?

Lillie, a blank expression on her face, had to be directly nudged by Professor Burnet before realising she'd been addressed. She flushed and shook her head. The group at large looked her way.

“I...” Lillie looked to the side, not meeting the eyes of anyone despite all their eyes being upon her. She was thinking as fast as she could, but even then her words came slowly. “I'll stay with Professor Kukui and Ms. Kahili. Since we'll be moving on to Ula'ula Island as well, I want to help them setting up.”

“Hey that's fine, Lillie,” Kukui shook his head, “the two of us can pretty easily-” in a moment Kukui clamped his mouth shut, a clear signal shooting from the eyes of his wife into his own telling him to walk back what he was saying. He wasn't entirely sure of the reasoning, and in truth Burnet herself wasn't either, but all the same she was well able to tell Lillie's great stress in this moment. A silent and undeniable message of 'she doesn't want to go' communicated between her and her husband. Kukui shook his head again. “But I mean, an extra pair of hands wouldn't hurt either, and it'll help us be ready to greet Moon and Hau once they get there. So yeah,” Kukui turned his eyes back to Moon and Hau, gesturing to draw their attention, “you two head to the Aether Paradise, and then come tell us all about it when you get to Ula'ula Island, okay?”

“Okay!” Hau was loud to agree, a more silent Moon giving a long glance to Lillie, one Lillie did not answer back. Another piece of the secret puzzle the Aether Foundation was at the centre of. Moon stayed quiet. Kahili spoke next.

“And they said to meet at the Hano Grand Resort?” Upon confirmation, Kahili smiled. “That is my father's property, I can take you there when you are ready. My bird Pokemon can easily carry you both to the nor-” in surprise Kahili stopped talking as the reserved voice of Moon drifted across the table, asking if there was a way to the resort that didn't involve flying. Kukui looked uncomfortable.

“Sorry,” eyes settled on him as he spoke up, rubbing the back of his head, “she had a bad flying experience with me.” Razor stares from Kahili, Burnet, and Olivia did nothing to make things easier, even if Moon quietly tried to add in that it had been her own fault. Kahili leaned over to Burnet and whispered something only Lillie was close enough to hear. Lillie looked at Kukui with an expression of great pity indeed.

Moon felt guilty.

It wasn't as if flying was impossible for her – she'd used the Ride Charizard she had many times to travel to the Poke Pelago. But each time she did she felt queasy, a part of her still remembering the moment of slipping from the back of Kukui's Braviary before he'd caught her. So if there was a choice that didn't involve flying... she'd honestly rather that. Kahili sighed.

“How about this? Kukui can take us around to Heahea City the morning after tomorrow, and I'll take you to the Hano Grand Resort while he and Lillie head to Ula'ula. Then after I've seen you off, I'll fly there myself to meet up with him. Does that work?”

Moon nodded, relieved to avoid flight. Hau, fine with anything, shrugged but agreed. Kukui, spoken for, nonetheless accepted that was the best strategy. Mentioned to his wife that he'd take her back to Heahea too. Burnet nodded. A plan set.

With that the night rolled on. Hau was soon to fade again, collapsing into bed to sleep off the intensity the Kahuna had put him through. Olivia stayed up longer with Kukui, Burnet, and Kahili, while Moon and Lillie occupied themselves with their Pokemon, watching as Nebby played about with Moon's team. But each had other things on their minds – Moon the battle she had to face tomorrow, and Lillie the closeness of the Aether Foundation to her. There wasn't much to say between them. Each retired early as well. Slept somewhere between fitful and deep. Hours passed. Dawn broke.

And the morning of Moon's second Grand Trial began.


 

Olivia had left the same message with the Pokemon Center nurse for Moon: she was awaiting Moon's challenge at the Ruins of Life. While Moon had explored much of Memorial Hill the day before, she'd never gone so far as to approach the Ruins directly, giving Hau the space to take his Grand Trial on his own. The morning began with Hau motivating her, loading up the plate of food Moon had for breakfast, encouraging her to give it her all – that Kahuna Olivia was super cool and strong, but Moon would do great and Hau knew she'd win. It was a fair amount of pressure, but from Hau laced with such honesty Moon couldn't feel the burden of it. She nodded.

Yeah. She was going to win no matter what. Hau grinned back.

Lillie wasn't there to join them for breakfast – Moon aware that she and Professor Burnet would have left with Kahuna Olivia that morning. There was nothing else for Moon to do but head out, and so she prepared to do so with head held high, Hau cheering her own.

Moments after Moon was through the gates of Konikoni, heading off to her Grand Trial, Sina and Dexio appeared and wrangled Hau for a training session of their own. If he had a Psychic-bias, then they owed him the full crash course in Psychic-type Pokemon! Overwhelmed but nonetheless agreeable, Hau threw himself into their training as he waited the hours for Moon's return.

She'd be okay. He knew it.

He believed.


 

The path for Moon was much the same as the day before, winding up and down the hills and mountaintops of Akala's southern stretch, the region littered with marker stones for the deceased, encountering Pokemon of all inclinations – from courageous to cowardly – and a fair share of Trainers too. But this time Moon walked past them, eyes focused forward on the challenge ahead. She had a Grand Trial to take. Any Trainer who heard that... they stepped down. Yesterday she'd been someone others could approach, though some had still taken that too far, but today... today she was beyond their reach. Moon, never wavering, continued along the path to the Ruins of Life, mind locked on what she had to do to face the Kahuna. Olivia had mentioned Fossil Pokemon, and Moon had used that to study all of them in her Pokedex she could. A through-line of the Rock-type, which was what Moon now believed Olivia's speciality to be. It would make sense why she'd advised Moon and Hau to look for beauty in the underground of Alola. An answer Moon hadn't found at the time.

Still wasn't sure of even now.

It was in her focus upon her thoughts, preparing strategies, concepts, anything that might help, that Moon missed what was occurring before her until the distance was closed. Until the sound of a Pokeball's beeping raised her eyes to the one ahead, an attempted catch being made. The figure who'd been doing so, standing near to the entrance of the Ruins of Life themselves – a great stone archway in the mountainside ahead framing the path leading forwards – looked up with surprise as well. Neither had noticed the other. Her eyes narrowed.

The Pokeball opened in a burst of red light – catch failed.

Flashes of recognition came to Moon's eyes one after the other. First the woman standing before her, black pants and midriff-baring sleeveless top, lightly tanned skin and pink hair – though two of the four tails she'd styled her hair into were yellow instead – but most strikingly the silver pendant around her neck and the pink marking across her stomach. The symbol of Team Skull. Moon stared coldly at the lithe-formed woman staring back at her. Then her eyes wandered to the Pokemon floating between them.

Purple with vibrant pink highlights, a large head with wide blue eyes set atop a much smaller somewhat reptilian body. The Pokemon stared back at Moon, as equally surprised to see her as she was to see it. The last time Moon had seen this Pokemon, it had been in the cemetery north of Hau'oli City. The last time it had seen Moon had been just two days prior, before the darkness settling over the world had driven it to flee. It raced to hide behind her in an instant. Rotom-dex, detecting a new Pokemon, emerged from Moon's bag to scan it. Came to the same conclusion as before.

“Zzt! Unknown Pokemon! Not registered in the Pokedex!” The Pokemon in question clutched onto the back of Moon's shirt with its tiny hands. The woman across from her scoffed.

“So you really are all that.” She spoke with a low and husky voice, one tinged with annoyance as she took a step towards Moon, the Pokemon that had been with her – Moon hadn't spotted it before – moving up as well. It was a Salazzle, and though far smaller than the Totem of Wela had been, Moon couldn't help but feel caution in just the way it moved. It was strong. She could tell that just by looking at it. The woman's eyes drifted to the purple Pokemon hiding behind Moon, the one she'd failed to catch. Her stare narrowed.

“That's annoying.” The way she said it was so matter-of-fact, but so laced with something dangerous all the same. Moon's eyes went back to her. She met them. “And you know what people like us do about that, don't you?”

Moon couldn't help it. Like us?

“Isn't that what you've been doing?” She held out her arms in a shrug, as if this was nothing more than a casual conversation, “stomping on my cute and dumb little brothers and sisters whenever they've annoyed you? You got some power and set out to get rid of anyone who messes with you as violently as you could, right? I'm not much of a recruiter, but you really should consider joining Team Skull instead of fighting us. You're clearly suited for it.”

The cold stare Moon gave in return drew a thin smile from the woman, the answer as obvious as could be. She lowered her arms. “I guess people can be too alike. The two of you wouldn't get along.” Shook her head and introduced herself. “I'm Plumeria, the big sister of Team Skull. You've been causing some real trouble, scaring those lovable idiots every time they've gone out to play. You had to realise this would happen, right? Acting out like you did was always going to have consequences. Don't go getting upset about this. It's not a surprise to anyone.”

Moon took a step to the side, closer to the rock walls framing the entrance to the Ruins of Life. The purple Pokemon with her moved along, holding onto Moon's shirt while remaining floating in the air. She needed to get inside the Ruins. Find the Kahuna. The woman opposite her, Plumeria, was dangerous. For the small number of experiences Moon had so far had in meeting strong Trainers, she was sure of it. Plumeria took another step towards her.

“Your acting up annoyed me,” she waved a hand, her Salazzle quickly moving forward, “so now I'm going to crush you. But don't take it personally. That's just how things are done in Alola.”

What Pokemon... Moon reached for a Pokeball, thinking as hard as she could. She needed the room to get inside the Ruins. For that, she'd call up...

A blast of purple liquid shot past her, hitting the ground and bubbling before the Salazzle. Moon and Plumeria both looked at the one to fire it, the purple Pokemon moving to float before Moon. Moon called out to it. Was it sure? The sound she heard back, she was sure it was affirmation. It was going to fight for her. Well then...

There was only a split second for which Moon could see it. Could see the Pokemon that was defending her racing towards the Salazzle, a loud cry of readiness to fight given off, before it vanished. A split second of seeing the pink blur that had raced out of the Ruins of Life, sunk a black fist into the tiny Pokemon's gut, and then sent it flying with such immense force that it shot into the distance in an instant.

In a voice that shook the land around it, Tapu Lele announced its presence.

“Lelelelelelelelele!”

Taking a step back as she glared at the Pokemon before her, Plumeria swept her arms around – one activating her Salazzle's Pokeball, calling the Toxic Lizard back, while the other opened a Great Ball to unleash a different Pokemon entirely, a large and brightly coloured mass of moving sludge, the Alolan Muk a poisonous rainbow to consider. “Tch,” she clicked her tongue, “a Tapu huh?”

The air quivered, raw energy from the Guardian Deity of Akala Island infusing it, spreading out from the pink shelled body of Tapu Lele, a small and wispy black upper body within the casing belying the incredible strength it had sent the small purple Pokemon flying with a moment before. Vibrant pink hair curled from the smaller pink shall set atop its black head, waving absently as power continued to flow from its body, the very air turning pink in its presence. Moon, shaken, stood rooted to the ground as the feeling of the Pokemon washed over her. It was so much. Much too much. Plumeria snapped an order.

“Hit it! Poison Jab!”

The mass of living sludge rolled forward, making a throwing motion to unleash a ball of toxic ichor at the Tapu. From Plumeria's perspective she watched the purple gunk disappear as it approached the Tapu, vanished by its pure power alone. She clicked her tongue again. Of course it wasn't going to be that easy. Nonetheless...

With a wave of its hand Tapu Lele unleashed a surge of force, grass and dirt stripped from the earth and blown away, pure psychic energy washing over the Alolan Muk. To this Plumeria smiled, her Pokemon continuing to move forward. She called out. “Don't think I'm not prepared to fight you,” she took a step forward once more, her own confidence building, “I know what you're all like.”

Tapu Lele paused. Seemed to consider the Pokemon that had not shifted under its psychic powers. Then raised its fists, unfurled a finger from each, and pointed upwards. The flow of force changed, Moon feeling herself beginning to lift off the ground, having to reach down and grasp onto the grass around her to keep hold. Plumeria held her position, watching as her Pokemon continued on, unable to be moved. She smiled wider.

The earth around it cracked and began to rise.

Plumeria's face fell seeing her Pokemon lifted into the air – not lifted itself but the very ground it stood upon rising up. Higher and higher the block of earth rose, the Muk atop it carried upwards. At its peak Tapu Lele paused, then gestured with a finger. Flipped the earth around. The Muk fell.

The earth fell after it.

Moon's eyes snapped up at the sound of Plumeria's yell, just in time to see the rainbow coloured Sludge Pokemon disappear into the hole Tapu Lele had created by ripping the very earth into the air. Then the mass of earth following after slammed down upon it.

The psychic field faded.

Moon had little more chance to act, the Guardian Deity rounding on her and reaching out, picking up and tucking the small girl under its arm. As it floated off into the Ruins, carrying its prize, Moon watched backwards at the sight of Plumeria and her Salazzle digging desperately into the earth to get to the Muk in time, yelling out to it again and again. It was a striking sight.

Moon shut her eyes and kept them closed.


 

“Huh, well look who's here!”

The voice of Kahuna Olivia was what finally drew Moon to open her eyes, shortly before being set down upon the ground by the Guardian Deity Tapu Lele. Looking around, Moon saw not only the Kahuna but Lillie and Professor Burnet standing together, the area they were in grassy and open to the sky, ringed by rock remnants of structures long collapsed, creating a circular field. Lillie rushed to her, Olivia, Burnet, and a happily bobbing Nebby a step behind.

“Moon, are you alright?”

Moon turned and looked back, down the passageway she had been carried along, unable to see any sign of Plumeria beyond it. She didn't know. But looking back at Lillie, clearly concerned at the sight of her being carried by the Guardian Deity, Moon forced down those worries and smiled for her all the same. Relieved, Lillie smiled as well. Stepped back.

“Professor Burnet has been helping me explore the Ruins this morning – Nebby was very excited to see them, they've been more energetic than ever since getting here.” With a loud 'pew' Nebby floated up to Lillie and Moon, making noises for attention. Lillie reached down and picked it up, holding the Nebula Pokemon in her arms. It snuggled into her grip as she continued. “I still... don't understand how the Ruins are important to Nebby, but clearly they are. Maybe I'll need to take them to the Ruins of Abundance on Ula'ula Island as well...”

“Doing your own Island Challenge?” Olivia stepped up, caused Lillie to squeak and step further away from Moon, to not get between her and the Kahuna. Olivia gave Lillie a smile. “It's a rare Pokemon that feels comfortable in these Ruins – most won't go near the territory of our Island Deities. Though they are our guardians, the Tapu can also be rather violent. Most Pokemon tend to be fearful of that.” Moon looked at Tapu Lele, floating in the air nearby, and considered the violence she had just seen. She really didn't feel comfortable around it. Olivia gave the Guardian Deity a long look, wondering why it had left in such a hurry to collect Moon. Hala had reported Tapu Koko had taken a keen interest in the girl too. Something else to consider. She turned her attention back to Lillie.

“Well,” pausing for a moment, Lillie looked from Moon to Olivia, “I don't know if Nebby is a normal Pokemon. I'm trying to find out more about it, but... there's not much I've learned so far.”

“Hmm,” considerate of that, Olivia looked thoughtful. “Well since you're heading with Kukui to Ula'ula Island next, why not visit the Malie Library? There's plenty of rare and ancient texts stored there – you might just find a hint!”

“Oh!” Lillie nodded with a smile, “That is a wonderful idea! Thank you so much, umm, Ms. Kahuna?”

“Please!” Olivia laughed at the formal address, “you can just call me Olivia. That was far too formal, you'll make me feel old!”

“Alright, alright,” walking up to the group, Professor Burnet spent a long moment looking at Tapu Lele herself, the chance to be so close to an Island Deity a rare thing indeed. Unless you were a Kahuna. Or Moon, apparently. “Since Lillie and I have toured the Ruins, it's time for us to head back. We shouldn't be getting in the way of Moon's Grand Trial, after all.”

“O-oh...” Lillie looked down. Moon, Burnet, and Olivia all looked to her. She didn't look up. “I just... I was hoping that...” Moon turned to the Kahuna and asked if Lillie could watch her Grand Trial. Lillie's head snapped up to look at Moon in an instant. Olivia hummed a noise as she put a hand beneath her chin, as if in consideration.

Then grinned wide. “Alright then! If you two would like, feel free to stay for the show! But take a good step back, cause this is going to be a rough one. I'm not taking it easy.” Lillie and Moon smiled brightly, Burnet chuckling to herself as she guided her charge away from the group. Just at the edge of the circular battlefield, between some of the stone remnants of the Ruins, Burnet sat and gestured for Lillie to sit with her, the blonde-haired girl doing so and settling Nebby into her lap. She'd been hoping for this. Was thankful.

Had wanted to see Moon shine again.

“I take it you're watching too?” Olivia's casual address of Tapu Lele surprised all but the Kahuna and Deity, the second of which clapped and floated up above the field, spinning slightly, before choosing to move to where Lillie and Burnet were. Lillie squeaked a noise of surprise as the Deity settled beside her. Turned its head to look down at the girl.

Then reached over and plucked Nebby from her grip, holding the Nebula Pokemon with one hand while stroking it with the other. Nebby made a contended sound under its care. Lillie and Burnet both stared.

Olivia directed Moon to a small circle at one end of the field.

“Yesterday,” she raised her voice as she moved to the other end, another circle marking where she would stand for the battle, “I pushed Hau to his limit and held him there. Used one Pokemon for each of his and forced him to give it his all for as long as he could. Ula'ula Island, you've likely heard, isn't easy. You're meant to be pushed further and further by the challenges there, and it's up to me to make sure you won't just be crushed outright. This won't be easy. Last chance to back out and come back later.”

Of course Moon shook her head. Olivia would've been shocked beyond measure if she hadn't. Activating the pink-coloured Love Ball holding her partner for this battle, Olivia unleashed Moon's opponent. The manifested Wolf Pokemon took position before her. Rotom-dex, escaping Moon's bag to observe the battle, was quick to describe it.

“Lycanroc, zzt! Midnight Form, evolution of Rockruff!”

The bipedal Pokemon stretched its arms, red fur bristling as it moved, white undercoat shaking. A long spiked mane of the same white fur hung over its head, momentarily masking the red eyes it stared with. Mouth opening to yawn, pointed teeth seemed to glint. Moon stared at it, formulating strategy. Then paused.

Was that it? She had to ask. What about the Tyrantrum she'd seen the day before? Olivia laughed.

“If I let him out it wouldn't matter how much I intended to hold back, he'd destroy you without question. If you want to fight him, Moon, you're going to have to make it to your Final Trial, alright?”

Moon paused. Final Trial, she'd heard the Captains mention that a few times, but still didn't know what that was. Olivia shook her head. “Kukui didn't give you the full explanation? Then allow me to tell you. Upon completing all seven Trials and four Grand Trials of an Island Challenge, there is the Final Trial remaining. You will travel to Mount Lanakila on Ula'ula Island and battle the four Kahuna in a single day. Only upon beating them will your Island Challenge be complete.”

The four Kahuna in a single day... even imagining it Moon felt overwhelmed. How could she be ready for that? Olivia loudly called out.

“You can think about that afterwards, we have a Grand Trial to do here and now!” Moon nodded, back in the moment. Olivia continued. “Captain Lana told me, she battled you going all-out, didn't she?” Moon confirmed. Lana had crushed her. Olivia nodded.

“If I did the same with this one Pokemon, you'd lose without being able to do a thing.” Hearing that from the Kahuna, Moon frowned. It was true, she knew it was true, but hearing it still stung. Then what should she do? “Moon,” Olivia smiled, “I'll give you some space. A little room to think and breathe. But only just. This is going to be more intense than any battle you've had before; if you can't keep up, then you're not ready to go forward. Do you understand?”

Moon paused. Then nodded. She was ready. A hand rested upon a Pokeball. Olivia's smile widened.

“Then let your Grand Trial begin!”

First came Dartrix, Olivia's smile remaining at the sight of the Blade Quill Pokemon, the large owl of brown and white feathers accented by green leaf-like growths. Both a Pokemon with a weakness to and effectiveness against her own Rock-typed Lycanroc, it was also Moon's strongest partner. The initial battle in such an encounter – many against a singular power – required as powerful an opening as one could muster to claim as much momentum as possible. Olivia had felt sure it would be this Pokemon to face her first. Moon was ordering a command, for her Dartrix to keep distance and attack with propelled leaves. A wise choice.

But far far too naive.

“Bring it down!”

Though the slowest form of Lycanroc, the red-furred Midnight Form was possessed of more than enough experience and growth for that to matter little in a battle against such children before it. Moon reacted quickly, her orders for the Dartrix to back up, but the closing of distance was far too quick, and Olivia's Lycanroc had already chosen its next move. An instant burst of speed brought them together. A swinging clawed hand reached out. Olivia's smile never flickered. Moon thought faster than she spoke.

It was like a grenade of leaves exploding upon contact – the Lycanroc's attack successful in reaching the Dartrix, but responded to in an, if not equally powerful, equally fast and aggressive manner. In the moments after the counter-attack Lycanroc settled on the ground and Dartrix flew further into the air, Moon unsure what had just occurred. She hadn't said a word, hadn't given the order at all, but the truth was that she hadn't needed to. The intensity of her thoughts were already being conveyed to the longest tenured of her Pokemon. That was another trait of hers that really should take far longer to establish, Olivia noted, keeping her smile and providing the next tactics for her Pokemon, instructing the Lycanroc to rip a large section of the earth out of the ground and throw it at full force. One dodge. A second as the Wolf Pokemon continued to haul mounds of earth from the ground and hurl them into the air. A third. And... in position.

“Go!”

Olivia had not needed to say it, her orders already communicated to her Pokemon – the calibre of intent she could provide through her Trainer's Bond superior to Moon's by leaps and bounds. But if she did not speak a word then Moon would have little chance – Olivia already providing a challenge that tested the limits of what a Kahuna of Akala should give. But Moon could take it. Or rather, she needed to be able to. The ridiculous rate of her Pokemon's growth, not only in the power they gained from the Bonds between them, but equally in the speed at which Moon learned to communicate to them, told Olivia enough. She'd make Moon aware. Because if she didn't understand, if she wasn't truly conscious of the effects she was having upon her Pokemon...

Naturally, that would only end in disaster.

The three mounds of earth had pushed Dartrix into a position before a collapsed section of the ruins, one that served as an easy ramp for Lycanroc to race upwards and leap into the air. Moon, expecting an attack thanks to Olivia's vocalisation, having searched for it and spotted the angle, ordered a retaliatory attack to push the approaching Wolf Pokemon back down. But Moon still lacked understanding of the difference between the power of her Pokemon and Olivia's. This Lycanroc, if Olivia were going all out, it would easily be able to hold its own in the Final Trials. Moon needed to be far more able to handle this threat than just throwing what power she had at it. Olivia communicated that with the next attack, the curled fist of her Pokemon slamming into the Dartrix and sending it flying. It hit the outer stone walls of the ruins and slumped down it. Well then, was that Moon's first?

Olivia was holding back. Spacing the timing of her commands, not focusing with intent upon the Bond between her and her Pokemon, and even restraining some of the power that flowed between them – an ability that came with years of growth together with one's Pokemon. Balancing the amount you gave was something important to learn, but which could only be learned with experience. These young chicks, Hau and Moon, both gave one-hundred percent at all times. Well, Hau gave one-hundred percent.

Moon gave as much as her Pokemon could take.

Dartrix returned to its feet, weary but willing to continue. Moon called for it and it flew by her, momentary closeness, before facing Lycanroc once more. Moon's movements were obvious, setting a green crystal into her Z-Ring. With Dartrix so injured, she wished to perform a Z-Move before having to switch her Pokemon out, to deal as much damage as could be done. So blatant. Olivia directed her Lycanroc to perform an attack of thrown stones, generated with a swing of the Pokemon's arm and detonating all around the Blade Quill Pokemon it faced. It was a slow attack, and Dartrix slipped through it with ease, closing in upon the Pokemon still in the midst of its motion. Moon began her Z-Pose.

“Now!”

The speed at which Lycanroc changed, dropping from the weak attack it had fired to a crouching position before surging upwards with a claw faster than Moon, focused on her actions, could respond to, was too much. The power was too much. Contact and Dartrix flew up into the sky before falling again, landing heavily upon the grass. Moon stared. Olivia shook her head.

“Z-Moves are openings!” Her clear voice called out across the field to the silent Moon, instructions given in the heat of battle. “Your desperation to use one was obvious, and easily lured. Performing a Z-Move will always create a moment of weakness – you need to be aware of that and know when the right time is! You especially, who use them so freely. Each time you do, a strong opponent will punish you for being so hasty. Listen to me Moon, if you are not careful, each time you perform a Z-Move I will knock your Pokemon out first. Don't. Be. So. Hasty.”

Moon stared in silence, mind racing. She'd been lured, baited with ease. Because she'd been focused on performing a Z-Move, which had always solved her problems before. But a strong Trainer would crush her for that. And now... Dartrix was struggling, failing to stand, and gave in limply as Moon called the first of her six Pokemon back. She'd done so much less than she'd expected. Because Olivia was stronger. Because Olivia was more experienced. Because Moon had assumed she could do the same as she always did, just better, and be fine. Looking up as she unleashed her second Pokemon, Moon changed the Z-Crystal in her Z-Ring in the same moment. Fine. She'd find the opening for victory.

And not be baited again.

Flaaffy called loudly upon appearance, the white Normalium-Z, first of Moon's six Z-Crystals, glittering in the sunlight falling over the field as it crested the high rock walls of the ruins. Electrical bolts crackled and snapped around the Pokemon, its puffed up fur an intimidation tactic that meant nothing to the far more experienced and aged Pokemon that faced it. Moon gave the first order of the second leg of this fight.

Olivia snapped back an equal order, encouraging her Pokemon to break through the electrical field around the Wool Pokemon and strike it directly, only for the Lycanroc to pull back as it closed the distance. Moon's eyes flitted from the pair of Pokemon to Olivia, who gave no sign of any other order given yet neither confusion at her voiced order being ignored. Strong Trainers could command their Pokemon without a word, Moon knew this. Focused on the Flaaffy again. She needed to do the same.

Both Wool and Wolf Pokemon burst into movement at the same time.

Lycanroc dipped under the forward bolt of electricity that lashed at it, claw curling up again, before rolling as another bolt jumped out, the highly electrified Flaaffy dangerous to touch. Though the power it was expressing was not so great a threat, the after-effects of electrical attacks could often lead to defeat. Olivia knew that and so her Lycanroc knew it too, choosing to avoid contact until its opponent had run its course. The Wool Pokemon could not maintain this electrical guard around itself forever. Lycanroc circled around it, swaying and dodging seeking bolts, waiting for its moment to strike.

Olivia, focused forward, caught Moon's plan moments before it was enacted. Covered her eyes as the electricity around Flaaffy built brighter and brighter before bursting out, a wave of blinding light surging across the field. Burnet, eyes closed and a hand over Lillie's own, made a noise of approval at the strength of electricity the Flaaffy expressed. That was a pretty impressive Pokemon Moon had already raised.

The Lycanroc, already wary, had guarded as well but in the time it spent guarding, the time Olivia was looking away, Moon had completed her Z-Pose. The fading light did not fade completely, and the brief moment of Olivia wondering how long until the brightness dispersed was enough for Moon to order the attack. The Kahuna of Akala grinned wildly as she realised. A Z-Move in the light! Flaaffy, with full force behind it, charged into Lycanroc and the two slammed into the ruins ringing the field.

The Normalium-Z was all Moon had able to be used for Flaaffy, the Pokemon lacking the ability to make use of any of her other Z-Crystals. Lacking effectiveness against a Pokemon such as Lycanroc, it would only do a fraction of the damage needed, but for the positioning it was far better than anything else. Moon focused on the Bond between her and her Pokemon and watched as crackles of electricity flickered amongst the dust escaping the impact zone of her and Olivia's Pokemon with one of the fallen rock structures around them. She understood this tactic was risky, but believed in it all the same. Olivia gave her order as well.

A flash of electricity. Another. Then a loud cry and silence. Movement in the dust. And Lycanroc emerged, throwing the bested Flaaffy before it. A Pokemon that performs a Z-Move suffers exhaustion as well. Each time Moon used a Z-Move, if she were not careful, Olivia would knock her Pokemon out first. But each time she used a Z-Move regardless, Olivia would knock her Pokemon out after.

She couldn't rely on them so quickly, give up the length of a battle and the amount each of her Pokemon could do. That was a lesson to be learned. Olivia called back her Lycanroc to the field's centre to await Moon's third Pokemon. Lillie, staring at the battle, saw in Moon the same as she had before. A vision of intensity, and power, that made her breath hitch. Moon looked with such focus, such absolute desire to fight and win, that it overwhelmed her. She was silent and wide-eyed. Moon, taking a moment to choose her third Pokemon, caught Lillie's expression and paused.

...was she afraid?

She faltered.

Olivia caught it. Traced Moon's gaze across the field to Lillie. It was hard for her to know exactly what was between them for this reaction, but in this moment Olivia found herself wondering whether she should have allowed Lillie to stay. Called out to her opponent. “Eyes on me, Moon!” And watched as Moon's vision snapped back on to her. Lillie, aware of this, shrunk back, having seen Moon look at her. She didn't want to interfere. Burnet tried to reassure her. Moon chose her third Pokemon.

The battle continued.

Third was Eevee, another Pokemon that would make use of the Normalium-Z when the time came. But not nearly as soon. Flaaffy had, despite a quick defeat, still struck Olivia's Lycanroc with electricity multiple times. If it added up at all, it would allow a chance. Moon gave her orders. Set Eevee to maintain distance and dodge, measuring the Lycanroc's abilities in this moment. Olivia gave her own. Lycanroc dived in. Moon prepared to counter.

The flash of Lillie's face within Moon's mind, sure she feared the way Moon battled, came unbidden. The command she was giving through her connection to the Evolution Pokemon failed. Eevee's dodge came far too slow. The power behind Lycanroc's swing lifted the smaller Pokemon off the ground, threw it into a nearby rock, and left a mark of impact as Eevee slumped down it.

“Focus!” Olivia's snap command shocked Moon, the woman staring her down. “This is your Grand Trial! Didn't you say you were ready for this?” Moon shrank back, distressed at the Kahuna's tone. She wanted to win. She didn't want to scare Lillie. She had to give it her all. Her all was too much. She was an Island Challenger. She was something different from everyone else.

When she fought the day before, when she'd crushed those against her, she'd been so strong. She'd been so scary. Why had Plumeria said Moon would be suited for Team Skull? Because she was this way? Because she was scary? How could she be strong without being scary? What should she...

“Moon!” Olivia spoke again, a commanding voice that shook Moon from her thoughts. Lycanroc had moved to stand over Eevee, who was struggling to stand after the impact it had received, the reassuring strength it usually took from its Trainer not reaching it in this moment. Moon shook her head. Olivia stared without blinking. “What do you want?”

She... to win.

“What's holding you back?”

It's... she wasn't right.

“What is right?

What... what was right? Moon shook her head again. She didn't know. She didn't know what she was meant to be. What she was meant to do. Being the same as she had been so far, she was... she was...

She wasn't...

“Moon!” Eyes across the field turned to Lillie, who'd risen to her feet and stepped forward. For a moment Burnet was reaching up to hold her back, before stopping and letting the girl speak her mind. Lillie shook her head. “You can do it Moon!” Moon stared back at her, unsure. If she just- “Don't hold back! Isn't that what you and Hau promised? That you'd both go all out? Haven't you been trying so hard all this time to keep going? Isn't that right?”

Moon stopped. She had promised that. To go all out. To go all the way. If she stopped here, if she backed down, wasn't that breaking a promise? One of the most important promises she'd ever made? She shook her head, jumbled thoughts swept away. Looked up with clear eyes once more.

If she did only one thing, kept only one promise, that was going to be what it was. No matter what else, that was what she was going to do.

No holding back, right?

She gave her next command.

Olivia, going from concerned and frustrated with Moon's sudden meekness to pleased as could be at her recovery through Lillie's words, found herself surprised by the speed of what came next. Sure Eevee could be quick, but even then this one rushed to move faster than she'd expected. One moment it was lying before her Lycanroc, bruised from the impact taken, the next it had raced between its legs and disappeared between the stones ringing the battlefield. Moon's refocusing had returned the strength she lent her Pokemon and through it her Eevee, third longest partner with her, exceeded anything it could achieve alone. Olivia grinned and ordered her Lycanroc to hunt, to leap atop the stone structures the Eevee had disappeared amongst and find it. If Moon was going to go all out, Olivia owed it to her to give her a worthy challenge.

It was the only way to make sure she was ready for what came next.

Through the will Moon gave by the Bond connecting her to her Pokemon Eevee attacked as soon as the Lycanroc took a scouting position, jaws locking onto a leg, the impact infused by energy the Pokemon could manifest, before it disengaged and tumbled back down into the rocks, Lycanroc's response clipping its rear legs but failing to secure a full strike. Olivia ordered vigilance. A moment later Eevee struck into her Pokemon from behind. The Kahuna shook her head. What a poor position Moon had drawn her Lycanroc into. Fine then.

“Shatter it!”

The downwards swing of Lycanroc's hand into the stone immediately broke it into tiny pieces, the force of the impact exploding them outwards in a spray that collected Eevee in the midst of its next attack. Moon vocalised an order, a command to stay strong, even as the Lycanroc swept through the stone shrapnel and swung another clawed paw around. Lillie looked up in shock as a very quiet but clearly annoyed sound came out of Tapu Lele as it watched another part of the Ruins of Life be destroyed.

Eevee was taking damage. The more damage a Pokemon took, the less responsive it became and the easier it was to damage again. And with Lycanroc's power, all it took was a few good hits for one of Moon's Pokemon to be bested. It was approaching the time she should perform a Z-Move, if she was going to, and she and Olivia both knew that and knew that Moon knew Olivia knew that. An endlessly stacking mind-game as Moon commanded her Eevee to throw up a streak of dirt at the menacing Lycanroc, looking for an angle to perform her Z-Move, commanding her Pokemon to leap back as Olivia's simply broke through the attack and swung another paw down. Maintain distance, dodge its attacks, Moon gave those commands as Lycanroc continued to pressure Eevee by remaining close, refusing to be escaped, too quick to loose. Olivia grinned as Eevee's direction of retreat proved obvious, towards the holes in the ground her Lycanroc had created when attacking Dartrix earlier in the fight, clearly intending to trip her Pokemon in them and use that chance to perform a Z-Move. But Olivia fully intended to make Z-Moves as difficult to use as could be for Moon. A lesson in their use the young girl simply must understand.

It was the only way she'd be able to go forward from here.

Eevee broke away from Lycanroc and leaped over the holes, turning around and sweeping at the soft ground to throw another clump of dirt at Lycanroc as it leaped after. Rocks formed by each swing of the Wolf Pokemon's arms smashed through the dirt and rained down upon Eevee, the Pokemon bracing against the impacts. It was strong, Olivia noted, Moon had trained it well. Most Eevee wouldn't take such a strike head-on. Nor respond in attack by leaping directly into her Lycanroc, the power behind its charging strike enough to push it back.

Oh! Olivia smiled despite herself as Lycanroc fell backwards upon the holes it had dug and Moon performed her Z-Pose, the Wolf Pokemon's ability to return to its feet just a little too slow in the pockmarked environment. Very good indeed!

Eevee slammed into Lycanroc at full force and the Wolf Pokemon of Kahuna Olivia slammed a heavy paw down and smashed the Evolution Pokemon into the dirt. Shook itself slightly to dislodge the slight aftershocks from the impact of the Z-Move it had taken. Then moved to stand before Olivia once more as Moon called her Pokemon back. Three bested then, Olivia nodded. Moon was doing well, but only well. Not great. Not yet.

She needed to go further still.

Bagon was next, the Rock Head Dragon-type crying out its readiness to battle. Moon prepared a command. Lycanroc closed the distance between it and its opponent far too fast. Slammed a clawed paw on each side of the Bagon's head. It dropped.

“You need to be faster.” Olivia's direction barely made its way through Moon's blank stare, watching her Pokemon be bested in an instant after so long a battle already. The Lycanroc stared back at her with deep red eyes, intimidation powerful in its form. Olivia felt similar. Like there were two wolves staring Moon down. She looked up at the Kahuna. Olivia was still smiling. “You only start thinking about what to do when your Pokemon comes out. The gap between a Pokemon being beaten and your next one sent out, do you think that's free time? In a battle, a real battle, you need to be giving it your all every single second. That's what the best Trainers do. And only the best Trainers pass the Island Challenge, Moon. Now show me. Show me what you'll do!”

A red crystal set within Moon's Z-Ring, she threw the white Premier Ball containing her Larvesta. At this point the Pokemon with her were gaining experience fast enough to be truly different from those she kept at the Poke Pelago, and so even in poor matchups they proved better able. The Rock-type Lycanroc was a significant threat to the Torch Pokemon and so Moon had held it back this long. But now was the time and Olivia kept her guard up despite what should be an easy battle. Because it should be an easy battle and so Moon must be prepared to make it not.

Jets of fire shooting out in every direction around it, Larvesta set the field ablaze.

This time Burnet looked up at Tapu Lele, who while still holding Nebby had stopped giving the Nebula Pokemon its attention. At first the Professor was sure the Guardian Deity must be frustrated at the damage taking place within its home, but moments after realised that was not the case. Tapu Lele was transfixed. Burnet looked back to the battle. Well... so was she.

Moon commanded again.

Through the fire Lycanroc burst swinging, but the screen of the flames had allowed Larvesta to already move away. The fire licked at the Rock-type Wolf Pokemon, doing little, but having its effect all the same. Cinders and ash filled the air, the dry grass of the battlefield easy kindling, as Larvesta amongst the flames continued to spew more and heighten the firestorm it was creating. Olivia nodded, the strategy a fine one to give the disadvantaged Pokemon a chance. If she used her Z-Move now she would crush the Larvesta in an instant, but Moon had one more Pokemon and so Olivia held back for the time being. Instead ordered her Lycanroc to return to perching atop a fallen piece of stone and shoot rocks across the field to disperse the flames. The red-furred bipedal lupine did so with ease, squatting down upon the stone and waving a paw, sending a rock flying forth each time.

Moon, silent with arms held behind her back, orders given through Bond alone, kept her focus. Her intensity, her drive to win. Olivia had put so much power against her, an almost overwhelming amount, but she was still going to fight. Still had things she could do. And Larvesta...

A jet of sticky silk burst out of the flaming field, already burning as it wrapped around the Lycanroc's leg and pulled. Olivia's responsive thought, the best counter, communicated fast enough for Lycanroc to dive into the fire and swing down at the point of origin of the attack, striking nothing but the severed end of the silk strand – already disconnected from its creator. Larvesta, a pace to the side, latched onto Lycanroc's leg and bit down. Performed a draining attack upon its target. Though weak, the Torch Pokemon did have one Grass-type ability.

Moon, raising the hands she'd lowered and held behind her back, began to move as the rising flames made it just a moment too difficult for Olivia to tell she'd changed the red crystal in her Z-Ring for one green. Olivia's eyes widened a moment too late.

Grass-type Z-Move Bloom Doom.

The surge of light blew out across the field, washing the flames away, Olivia taking a step back as it rushed by her, Tapu Lele waving a hand and preventing any of it from reaching it or the two women with it. The move Larvesta had used was weak, and so when transfigured into a Z-Move would not carry the true strength of such an attack, but it was a Z-Move all the same and when the light cleared and the resolution of Lycanroc, pushing Larvesta into the ground, came to the eyes of all, it was still so obvious the Wolf Pokemon was panting heavily. Moon called back her fifth. One more.

Olivia shook her head at the girl's trickery, using it to account for the difference between them. Good. That sort of cleverness was what it took. She directed her Lycanroc to step back so Moon could unleash her sixth.

Moon did so.

Water surged out around the Wishiwashi as it manifested, lifting it into the air, taking the shape of a much larger school of the Small Fry Pokemon. For that to be the last, Olivia grinned with defiance: Moon had saved a powerful and dangerous Pokemon to face her in the final throes. She'd done well, used clever strategies, and faced overwhelming strength while remaining at full force the entire time. She was close to meeting Olivia's approval. But not yet enough. And if Moon was bringing her best for last...

“I'm speeding up!”

Lycanroc burst through the Wishiwashi, speed so fast it would not be caught by the water the way the Raticate had the day before. Though it reformed some of the water had fallen away, and the giant fish turned to find Lycanroc had already dropped back to the ground, circled around it, then leapt onto another piece of fallen stone and returned to strike again. This time Moon ordered a counter, a jet of water bursting out of the Pokemon – able to emerge from any point in the schooled mass – to shoot forward. Lycanroc swung a paw and threw a stone into the jet, scattering the attack as the Wolf Pokemon dropped back to the ground, its own leaping attack interrupted by the exchange. The large fish held height, a unique floating target, jets of water shooting out from it upon its opponent below. But Lycanroc moved fast, far too fast for the number of hits it had taken so far, and evaded between them with ease. Olivia counted seconds between strikes in silence, the grey crystal set within her Z-Ring awaiting its moment. She had a Z-Move too. Looked for her own right moment to use it. Just as Moon did.

Their two Pokemon continued to attack at one another, Lycanroc evading water used to both attack it and prevent its own. But this constant rain of water couldn't be sustained forever, the energy Moon was giving her Pokemon impressive but not pumped infinitely at such speeds the Wishiwashi would never tire. Moon took a moment, while Lycanroc was forced further back from the Wishiwashi than Olivia would like, to allow its water to shine and begin to refresh itself. Olivia's snap order had her Lycanroc leap from where it was with greater strength than it ever had before in this battle, easily coasting over the top of the schooling Small Fry Pokemon. Both Trainers moved as one, to both strike and counter the attack coming.

Moon let her arms flow, from side to side as Lana had taught her. Olivia tensed her arms and held them out, feeling Z-Power flow through her. Lillie, enraptured, couldn't help her eyes drawn to Olivia as the woman's arms resembled cut stone as she held them up. Incredible...

Water-type Z-Move Hydro Vortex. A massive torrent of water exploded from out of Wishiwashi's body, circling upwards into a twister surrounding the target above it.

Rock-type Z-Move Continental Crush. Stone raced into the sky, collected above Lycanroc's raised paw, and then began to fall. Felt the water push against it and gave, just a little. Then pushed back. A storm of water surged upwards. The staggering mass of stone pushed down. Moment by moment ticked by. Olivia clenched her fists.

And, as they were always wont to do, the pure power within each Z-Move mixed and detonated, all that was left as the meeting of each stripped the rest away. An explosion of light illuminated the Ruins of Life even brighter than Moon's Flaaffy had before. Moon covered her eyes. Olivia closed hers. Burnet once more turned away and held an arm out over Lillie.

Tapu Lele stared into the light without blinking.

Slowly the light faded. Slowly Moon looked up, the Kahuna across from her doing the same. Slowly Burnet lowered her arm and Lillie stood up to see what the result of the great clash was. Oh!

Oh.

Oh...

She stared. Moon stared. Olivia, with wide eyes, stared. At her Pokemon, her Lycanroc, lying on its back upon the ground below. And at the far smaller fish Pokemon lying atop it, similarly unmoving. So then. That was that.

“A tie.” She took a step forward. “I so often forget those are an option.” So Moon hadn't defeated her, not fully. They'd defeated each other. Olivia wracked her mind for what she was meant to do in this situation. Moon had shown fine effort, but without a complete victory, was it right to send her on? Perhaps she should ask the Tapu. It had been present for this battle after all. Moon called out to her.

Olivia looked and went from deep thought to blank face as Moon activated the Pokeball she held. As, despite swaying and barely standing, despite the heavy attacks it had taken earlier, nonetheless still conscious Moon's Dartrix emerged. It hadn't been completely knocked out when she'd called it back before. Olivia had missed that. The Kahuna stared. All stared.

Tapu Lele's loud sound of amusement was the only thing to eclipse Olivia's own.

“Well then!” Lowering her head from the great laughter that had overtaken her, Olivia beamed at Moon, “I cannot argue that! Moon! You've bested the Kahuna of Akala Island in her Grand Trial! Congratulations!”

“Moon!” Lillie wasted not a second more racing across the charred field to Moon's side, joy so great on her face. “You did it!” Looking at her, so thrilled, so happy, Moon felt only relief. At winning. And at Lillie's expression being only happiness. No fear. No concern. Moon hadn't scared her. Lillie smiled and Moon smiled back. Olivia grinned at the pair. Then removed the grey crystal from her Z-Ring.

“Here.” She held it out to the Trainer before her, “This is a Rockium-Z. You can use it to perform the Z-Move Continental Crush. Pay close attention as I show you the Z-Pose once more. The movement in the hips is crucial.” Moon and Lillie both watched as Olivia once again tightened her arms, stuck her hip out, and then turned it and her entire upper torso with it. Both nodded as the Kahuna straightened up and smiled at them. Very good. Burnet approached as well.

“Only under great pressure does coal become diamonds,” Olivia grinned at Moon, “but equally can diamonds be shattered by that pressure. I'm glad you made it through. Ula'ula Island isn't easy – you'll need to give your Pokemon more time and energy than you can believe to get through its Trials. But I believe you can. As long as you do too. No holding back, right?” Moon nodded emphatically. Lillie smiled at her. Burnet smiled at the pair. Very good.

“Well then,” the Professor set a hand each upon Moon and Lillie's shoulders, “should we head back?” Each agreed, Olivia turning and gesturing for Tapu Lele to return Nebby, who did so with a clear display of reluctance, placing the Nebula Pokemon back into Lillie's arms. Lillie stared up at the Island Deity in silence. All watched as it turned and left, heading deeper into the ruins, spending only one moment more to give Moon a deep look. Moon looked back. It seemed content with that.

Thus they returned. Thus celebrations were great. Thus the day came to an end, Moon slept deeply indeed, and the next day dawned.

The day Kukui would take Lillie with him to Ula'ula Island. The day Kahili would fly there on the back of her Pokemon. The day Hau and Moon would be taken there after their visitation to the Aether Paradise.

The day that the Island Challengers Hau and Moon would bid farewell to Akala Island, its three Trials and Grand Trial complete. The second of four islands on their Island Challenge done.

And still so much more left to go.

Chapter Text

She wasn't wrong, that was what Moon decided.

Lillie had called her scary. Lillie had called her beautiful. Those two thoughts had warred in Moon's mind as she trained the day before her Grand Trial, equally telling her that she had to change from the way she was and that she had to be even more of what she was. That confusion, mixing with the mounting tension Moon had felt as she'd prepared to face the Kahuna, as well as the stress from other Trainers along the way paying her too much mind, had driven Moon to a most precarious state indeed.

Then the encounter with Plumeria had nearly pushed her over the ledge she had come to.

She hadn't told anyone about it. Didn't say anything of the hole in the earth beyond the entrance of the Ruins of Life when leaving it with Olivia, Lillie, and Burnet. The Kahuna had asked Moon, who had come through this way before, if she knew, but Moon had lied and said she did not. Because she didn't want to talk about the Team Skull Trainer and the words she'd said: that Moon had just been crushing people with her power because she could. Because she didn't want to think about how bad it had felt seeing Tapu Lele do the same to Plumeria herself. Ever since the encounter with Tapu Koko in Verdant Cavern, Moon had felt a wariness to the Guardian Deities of Alola – aware that their strength was far too much for the seeming expectations they'd placed upon her. Seeing Tapu Lele and the way it fought, it solidified that wariness into almost fear. The Tapu... she didn't like being around them.

But she said nothing of that at all.

For a moment, before being drawn into the Grand Trial with Olivia that had taken so much of her focus she couldn't think of anything else, Moon had doubted herself. She'd doubted the way she used Z-Moves to brush away others – the sight of the Raticate falling from her Wishiwashi the day before still with her. She'd doubted the power and ferocity with which she'd battled – memories of her Pokemon chasing off others who stayed too long surfacing one after another. She'd doubted that the way she was, the way she thought and battled, was right. Believed that she needed to change. And that maybe that would mean she could no longer go on.

And when all of those doubts had come to a head, when she'd looked at Lillie and been sure she'd seen fear, Moon had for a single moment accepted it. Accepted she should stop here. Go no further. For a moment she'd been prepared to surrender.

Then Lillie had called out to her, reminded her of her promise to Hau. They were both going all the way, never holding back, and that meant Moon had to give it her all. It was in thinking of that that Moon found anew her confidence and determination. Resumed the Grand Trial with full intent. And was now sitting in Konikoni City later that day, surrounded by others – Hau and Lillie, Kukui and Burnet, Olivia, Kahili, even Sina and Dexio having found their way into the group again – all celebrating her victory. Her and Hau's victory. They were heading on to Ula'ula Island next. Their Island Challenges continuing. Oh everyone was so proud. Moon had kept quiet through it all. Until now.

She stood and smiled for she was not wrong. She'd thought about it, thought about it so much, but now she was sure. No holding back, right? That meant the only thing that was right was for her to give it her all every single day. That was what she believed.

That was her childlike conclusion.

Not one of the people who looked out over Moon had ever seen the darker side of her aggression – even Kiawe watching over her as she struggled with his Trial only assuming it was childlike frustration. No-one here had seen Moon coldly order a Z-Move, lacking the passion and excitement of true battles, to dispose of Team Skull in her way. No-one had noticed the way her Pokemon acted with more ferocious attitudes when their Trainer was accosted. For none of that had ever happened in their presence. No-one knew of the pressure Moon had told no-one of, and so no-one could judge that against her. If they could things would have been different. Moon wouldn't have been told it was right to go all out. Olivia, in truth, would have failed the girl her Grand Trial and instead taken on mentorship of Moon, to help her better centre herself and treat all her battles, even against those like Team Skull, with greater respect for the Pokemon within them. Moon would not have left Akala Island, and her pace with Hau would have been broken. Frustrating, driving her anger further, but even that would help those with her better understand her. And, breaking their race that way, might have been better.

But that was not what was happening and everyone celebrating did not know. Moon's wide smile, happy to have found her answer, showed none of just what that answer entailed. Thus the course of what came next was set.

Great conflict upon Ula'ula Island lay just ahead.

“Okay, so,” Dexio, always one of the louder voices in any gathering, was looking over a pair of Pokemon, two that shared a name and only barely an appearance. In comparison to the bipedal red and white-furred Midnight form of Lycanroc, the Midday Lycanroc of Professor Kukui remained on all four legs, its fur a light brown mixing with muzzle, mane, tail, and feet of white. The two Lycanroc of Olivia and Kukui seemed roughly comfortable around one another, but maintained a distance all the same. Their glances were more competitive than anything else. Dexio looked over them with keen interest, “which form is stronger?”

“They each have different strengths,” Kukui shook his head, “one isn't specifically better than the other.”

“Though if you're talking individuals, definitely my own,” Olivia smiled, moreso when Kukui looked up at her with a raised eyebrow.

“I wouldn't be so sure.”

“Should we test it?”

Dexio, wide-eyed and nodding, joined by Sina who was similarly interested – and similarly capable of hearing an interesting discussion from across any distance and honing in on it with ease – each blew out a huff as Olivia and Kukui laughed and shook their heads.

“We'd make a horrible mess if we went all out.” Kukui's words were quickly agreed to by Olivia's nod.

“We might be outside right now,” they were, gathered in a group at a park nearby to the Pokemon Center of southern Konikoni, “but even then it'd be too much damage. If we took it to a battling field maybe but...”

“Best save it for the League,” Kukui grinned. “That's where all the best battles are going to happen anyway!”

Moon, who'd approached the group with interest too, smiled at Olivia when she turned and smiled at her. The Kahuna found herself delighted by Moon's far happier mood. Bent down to whisper to her.

“I'd win, of course,” she made sure only Moon heard, “but it would be too much. One of the things about Pokemon Trainers is the more powerful you grow, the less you can give it your all. It'd just do too much damage to your surroundings. The more you grow, the more responsible you have to be, alright Moon?” Moon nodded in answer. She got it. Olivia smiled even wider. “I knew you'd understand.”

“I'm surprised you heard about that,” Kukui's voice drew Olivia and Moon's attention back, the Professor talking to the two Kalosian researchers, “it was about... Olivia, two years ago that a Dusk form was first observed?”

“That's right,” Olivia nodded in answer, “young Tristan and his Lycanroc. Come to think of it, we still haven't done his Final Trial.”

“Well,” Kukui frowned, “there's not a whole lot we can do about that until we have four Kahuna again. Tapu Fini still hasn't chosen Captain Mina?”

“Not that I've heard,” Olivia shook her head, “Mina hasn't said anything either. Just that Tapu Fini is waiting. We're not sure what for.”

The Professor and Kahuna made thoughtful noises at the mystery of Poni Island's unchosen Kahuna, while Sina approached Moon instead. Moon looked up at her as she addressed the young girl. “We're talking about new Pokemon mysteries!” Sina with a grin pumped an arm, Dexio wandering over to join her. “Just like a new form of Lycanroc was discovered only recently, there's so many other unknowns – both new Pokemon and forms – just all over the place.”

Moon nodded. Like Eevee. Both researchers nodded back.

“Yep!” Dexio took over, he and Sina passing off the same speech with ease borne of having known one another for a very long time indeed. “There's probably tons of evolutions of Eevee we still don't know about. Are you going to try for one?” Moon nodded again. Olivia had offered her and Hau the choice of an Evolutionary Stone from her collection, but each had turned her down. They'd evolve their Eevees differently. Hau had accepted a Thunderstone, but that wasn't for his Eevee. And wasn't yet to be used.

Not until he was ready.

“You and Hau both love your Pokemon a whooole lot,” Sina held the 'o' of 'whole' for a moment to display the amount Moon and Hau cared about their Pokemon, “and at your pace they've been growing strong too. You'll probably see an Espeon, Umbreon, or Sylveon soon if you don't find something else.” Moon considered that. But didn't seem perturbed. She was fine with what happened. Both researchers grinned to hear that.

They were too.

“But keep an eye out!” Returning to the point they were shooting for, Dexio spoke again. “There's still so many mysteries about Pokemon, both undiscovered and forgotten! You know how many old records there are that say something was one Pokemon but we interpreted it wrong and believed it was another? Way too many! It just means there's discoveries to be made all the time! If you do your best, I'm sure you'll find some! And be sure to tell us when you do, okay?”

Moon nodded. Dexio and Sina were high-energy enough to be overwhelming, but Moon couldn't help but share their excitement either. She wanted to discover new things too. She'd try her best!

Hau watched Moon promise that in silence.

Where the Captains and Kahuna Olivia had spoken in advice, Dexio and Sina had told him earlier that day in plain detail. He was approaching a wall. Soon enough the Pokemon he kept with him, the Pokemon he was giving his all to every day, would begin to grow beyond his measure. Would, to overcome the challenges ahead, require even more power than they took now. Their growth, the growth of their demands, would be so much faster than the amount Hau could give them. He'd stop cold, unable to continue until he took the time, however long that was, to rest and grow with them. Not to charge forward into new challenges but instead to focus on improving himself. It was something that happened to everyone, they told him. He'd get through it. But it was about to stop him and he wouldn't be able to continue. The writing was on the wall. His Island Challenge was about to come to a screeching halt.

Moon seemed so happy. So relaxed now, maybe moreso than Hau had ever seen her before. She'd chosen to believe there was nothing that could go wrong as long as she continued moving forward. He'd been forced to acknowledge ther