Chapter 8: Challenges Ahead
The cawing of the Wingulls filled the air as Plumeria sat down on the bench outside of the Malasada shop. There was a Big Malasada in her hand and another one in the bag on the bench next to her. That one was for Guzma when he got there, being the least she could do since he agreed to meet her there for a face-to-face talk after he got back from Akala Island.
Plumeria was still fixed on what Nanu and Molayne had asked of her. She had a chance to do something for the others and herself, but it wouldn’t feel right to go for it without asking Guzma first. He was their leader and she did respect him more than just about anyone else—other than her granny. So, she felt that she needed to talk to him in person about it.
She was in the middle of taking a bite of her snack when a meowing sound reached her ears. Her eyes drifted down to the ground where, right next to her leg, there was a strange feline Pokémon there. It wasn’t a native Meowth like they normally spotted, rather its fur was mostly a purple color, with the markings above its eyes being a lighter shade of violet.
Plumeria uncrossed her legs and leaned forward, looking down at it. “And what exactly are you?”
“Rroaw,” meowed the feline as it sat down in front of her.
“Hmm…” She held her hand with the malasada in it above her head and began moving it, watching as its eyes followed it. “So that’s what you’re after, huh?”
Its tail swished as it gave her a pleading look, emerald eyes seemingly glimmering.
“Yeah, yeah. No need to be cute with me.” She broke off a piece of it and held it low to the ground in her opened palm. “Here then.”
It purred happily, smiling and about to take a bite—
—when it was abruptly snatched up by the scruff of its neck by Guzma.
Plumeria sat upright and took in his appearance. He was panting, chest rising and falling. He was also soaking wet, his clothing clinging to him. She crossed her arms and asked, “What happened to you this time?”
“This scheming little furball ditched me in the Garden after tripping me into the pond!” he said, glaring at the feline. It hissed at him before taking a swing with its claw, nicking his arm and causing him to drop it. But before it could get far, he raised his other hand with a Poké Ball in it and returned it before setting the ball into an inactive state.
Guzma then sucked in a sharp breath as he sat down on the bench and looked at the blood seeping from scratch that it had made. “Damn cat.”
“Okay, what’s the story here?” Plumeria asked as she reached for her cup on the ground and then pulled off the lid.
“I told you about Hala having me training under that girl, right?” He didn’t resist as she grabbed his wrist and held it out. Nor when she poured the cold water and ice over it slowly, washing away some of the blood onto the asphalt while the cold caused the bleeding to slow. “The one who’s part of the Elite Four?”
“Yeah, the Golf Princess whose daddy runs the resort.” She then had him press a napkin against it while she pulled off her bandana to wrap around it tight. It would do for now. “What about that leads up to the cat?”
“It’s apparently a stowaway Purrloin that somehow got on one of those cruise ships that run to the resort from some far-off region and got stuck,” he said. “It started stealing crap and causing trouble around the place, so she caught it and told me to see if I could reform it as part of training—expanding my horizons and crap like that.”
Plumeria could barely stop herself from rolling her eyes at the thought as she passed the bag along to him. “So her plan is basically to make a former trouble-maker reform one?”
“It’s a devious little pain in my ass is what it is.” Guzma took a big bite out of his malasada. “Mn… It… It acts all cutesy…mmm… before running off. At least we were… mmm… straight-up about…mn… everything.”
“Finish chewing before you speak,” she told him.
He rolled his eyes and then chewed a few more times before swallowing it. A sigh followed and then he leaned back and asked, “So, what’d you call me out here for?”
“The Kahuna came to Granny’s trailer with some guy called Molayne. Said you and him went around with Kukui when you were younger.”
“That was a long time ago,” Guzma said. “Haven’t seen that scrawny guy since he made Trial Captain, though he’d been too old for the job now. What’d they want?”
She hesitated to tell him, not sure about what his reaction would be. Guzma, for all his bluster, took bad news pretty harshly on himself. Especially when he felt that he was the one to blame for everything.
Him getting back from Ultra Space should have been a celebration. But when he’d gotten back, he’d been different. Not just because of what those Ultra Beast did to him, but because he had basically been played like a fiddle by the President—she played them all, really.
As bad as their little group had been, they’d mostly been looking out for themselves. Their Grunts and their Pokémon had to eat, so they did what they had to in order to get by. It was only when she got involved that they started doing things that they wouldn’t normally do, making themselves look worse for the benefits she offered.
Plumeria hadn’t been a fan of it, but went along with it because her family came first. Yes, they were thieves. They got their hands dirty and stained their own reputation in mud, turning from outcasts to petty criminals to get by, knowing that she or Guzma would just turn the Pokémon they managed to get over to the Aether Foundation to be treated and cared for. It was a necessary evil so that she kept the place where she belonged.
But, for Guzma, he liked the praise the President gave him. The validation that came from having a rich and powerful woman telling him everything he’d wanted to hear. So he’d been devastated to be used like that, every bit of confidence he’d gained for providing for their little family and working as her left-hand man crumbling under him.
Now here Plumeria was, offered a chance to do the sort of thing he would have wanted after that.
“…Promise not to flip out?” she asked, reaching into her pocket for what laid hidden there. “None of that beating yourself up or anything, otherwise I’ll be pissed.”
His brows folded inwards at the request, but he nodded.
“They wanted me to compete in the Pokémon League,” Plumeria told him, showing him the Island Challenge Amulet. Then she told him everything else that they’d talked about. That the other adults had been working to change the traditions behind their backs and without them even realizing it. That the Kahunas were in on it too.
By the time she was done, Guzma was no longer looking at her. He was instead looking down at the ground, his hands clenched into fists so tightly they were shaking. Unable to keep it contained, but not willing to break his promise, he slammed the bottom of his fist against the bench hard enough that it shook. “DAMN IT ALL!”
“Yeah,” Plumeria said softly, ignoring the looks they were getting. She knew exactly what he was feeling, because she felt the same.
“If that goddamn Kukui had said anything about his grand plan, I wouldn’t have gone along with the woman’s schemes!” He slammed his fist into the bench again. “I wouldn’t have gone with her and ended up going through… that…”
“Yeah,” she said again, just as soft as before. “This whole mess could have been avoided if they’d said something. But the kids we watched after could have had it worse if we weren’t there and did what we had to do, so it wasn’t worthless.”
Guzma just shook his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his fingers before turning back to her. “…Anyway, you should go for it.”
“You sure?” she asked.
“Not going to lie to you, Plume. I wish that I was in your place,” he said, rising to his feet. “But my own screw-ups put the nails in that coffin. Even if Hala’s giving me a second chance, ain’t no way everyone else would be fine with me going for the title with my rep now. So it’s up to you to go and show everyone what you’re made of.”
“Then I guess I’ll see about starting on my Trials soon,” Plumeria said as she rose up as well, wiping her hands on a napkin. She’d also have to apologize to the girl running the trial over in the abandoned supermarket for that mess at the Aether House. “You heading back home?”
“Nah, not tonight,” he said. “I’m going to crash in Po Town for the rest of the day and see about putting this cat in its place.”
“Then come say hi to Granny first and help me carry some stuff from the store,” Plumeria said, turning towards the direction of the store. “If you’re going to be running that way, you can give the three still in that Pokémon Center something to tide them by for a few days as well.”
“Yeah, sure.” He rubbed the back of his head and followed after her.
[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]
Elio sat on the shores of Melemele Island by Kukui’s home as he watched his Starter Pokémon, a female Primarina named Silky, sit on a stone protruding from the salty water. She sung a sweet song with balloons of water hovering in the air, light gleaming off of them in a dazzling display and were kept afloat by the vibrations in the song—at least that was what Rotom explained. A lot of the local Pokémon had gathered to attend the morning concert, acting as her audience as they stuck their heads out of the water to watch her performance.
Ever since he’d arrived on the island and accepted her as his partner, Silky loved to come here and sing. Sometimes he wondered if she would be happier singing than battling, but he wouldn’t have been able to make it this far if not for her. It was only because she had been by his side since he arrived that he managed to do as much as he did, and became the Champion.
As the song came to an end, the water balloons popped into a rain of that caught the light of the morning sun and formed a rainbow. The various Pokémon lingering in the water applauded the performance as she bowed and then dispersed, going back to their normal habits. Silky then dove into the water and swam back to the shore, where she waded up towards him.
“A beautiful performance as always,” Elio told her as he brushed his fingers against her head. She leaned into it for a bit, happy at the compliment, before jumping forward and embracing him with her fins. He was left on the ground, his clothes wet as she nuzzled her head against him in return. “Hey, come on. You know Mom’s going to make me wash my clothes again if they get all wet.”
“Hahaha… she’s playful as ever, huh?” They turned to the source of the voice and found Hau standing there, a cheerful smile plastered on his face as always.
“Yeah, you know how she is,” Elio said as he sat up, returning the smile with one of his own. “I thought you’d be out training with Ilima around now?”
“I just so happened to have finished this morning,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to tell you this personally.”
Elio took notice the way his smile dropped slightly and his tone got a bit more serious, both of which were rare given how laid back Hau normally was. He gently pushed Silky aside, who also took notice of the shift in his demeanor, and rose to his feet. “What’s up?”
“I’m going to challenge the Elite Four and your Championship the day after tomorrow,” he declared. “I’ve already submitted the paperwork, so you should receive the notice later today. But I wanted to tell you in person that I’m going for your Title.”
A tense silence hung in the air for a pause. It was a declaration of war against the newly crowned Champion of Alola. He hadn’t even had the Title for a month now and it was on the verge of being taken from him.
“Whew.” The tension broke like a Hammer Arm had been taken to it as Elio let out a sigh and rubbed the back of his head. “For a second I thought it was something bad. Sure, I accept your challenge. Come at me anytime.”
Hau seemed a bit unsure of that reaction.
Seeing that, Elio just shook his head. “If there’s anything you’ve taught me, Hau, it’s that you don’t need to be overly dramatic in order to be serious. We’ve been through a lot together, and I remember what you told me the day after Lillie left, so I’d been expecting you to issue the challenge for some time now.”
After Lillie had left, Hau came by his home. It was there he told him about the Battle Tree and his intention to take the Championship, and that they’d have the best battle ever. There had been a fire kindled in his eyes unlike before—so it was impossible not to take it seriously.
“When you say it like that, you make it sound like I’ve been dragging my feet.” Hau sighed, letting his shoulders sag before he got serious again. “I’m going to come at you with everything I’ve got. You and Grandpa. So I wanted to tell you to give it everything you’ve got when we face each other—no going easy just cause we’re friends.”
“I had planned to from the start.” He reached over and patted Silky’s head. “After all, Silky and the others fought hard for me to have the chance to claim the Title in the first place. If I didn’t give it my all to defend it, it’d be doing them wrong too.”
Hau’s smile returned. That was the response he wanted to hear. “All right! No regrets, no matter what!”
[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]
Looker couldn’t help but grunt as he looked out to the island that was steadily growing closer, hand on his chin while deep in thought. It had been roughly a decade since he had been back to Alola, incidentally for the same reasons as before. More Ultra Beasts—UBs—had entered into their world after ten years, and they were tasked with eliminating or capturing them for study.
“Is there something on your mind, Mister Looker?” asked Anabel, his superior despite her relative younger age. Ten years ago, he and his superior of the time, Nanu, had found her washed up on shore and taken her back to their headquarters. It was around that time that they’d found out she was bathed in the same energy that came from the Ultra Wormholes, indicating that she’d fallen through one.
“I was wondering if the restaurants have added anything new to their menus since the last time we were here,” he lied—well, partially anyway. He was looking forward to expanding his palate with the local delicacies, and maybe catch up with his former superior who had retired after their last attempt at trying to capture an UB.
But he was more concerned over the fact that, once again, the events of ten years ago was playing out. They’d been deployed to track down an Ultra Beast with a Faller, a person who had gone through an Ultra Wormhole, and tasked with capturing it. But their Poké Balls weren’t capable of properly registering it, so they’d been forced to harm it with their Pokémon drastically in order to have a chance.
It had been excessively cruel. He couldn’t help but pity it. And that moment of pity cost the Faller their life, as she had been untrained. It was only afterwards that both he and Nanu became aware that she had been glorified bait for the purpose of drawing the UB out into the open in the first place.
Anabel merely gave him a small frown at the lie. “I’m certain you’ll have a chance to sample the cuisine after we’ve completed the mission. The Aether Foundation has set up a network to monitor for any signs of the UBs. But it would be best that we try to locate them as quickly as possible before they harm civilians. I don’t wish to eliminate them for lashing out and being confused.”
“I agree completely, Chief.” It was possible now to do so without resorting to the methods used before, since they had access to Beast Balls. For whatever madness had overtaken Miss Lusamine to sink millions into each one, there was confirmation that they worked according to the report given by her daughter to Madam Wicke before their departure. “Even so, the number of UBs is greater than before. We may need to enlist the help of another trainer to assist us in the task.”
“As tempting as that prospect is, our mission is to be classified, Mister Looker,” she said. “We do not wish for that information to fall into the wrong hands. I would hate to think of what would happen if Team Dominance learned of their existence.”
Looker’s frown deepened. Team Dominance would be the absolute worst possible people to be informed of the situation. To have even one of the UBs turned into a Shadow Pokémon would be a nightmare, both for the threat they’d present as well as the inhuman process that entailed.
However, allowing Anabel to handle it alone would be tantamount to killing her. She had bouts of weakness and fatigue, perhaps as a result of the time she spent in one of the wormholes that she could no longer recall. He refused to allow that incident from ten years prior to happen again because they were using her as bait, but he had no Pokémon of his own after the death of his Crogunk.
“Then what about enlisting one of the trainers that Madam Wicke mentioned having fallen through the wormhole? To have survived their time in Ultra Space they must be capable trainers, and the longer we operate on our own, the greater the risk of a sighting and information leak we can’t trace back or contain.”
“…You may be right.” Anabel closed her eyes and considered it for a moment. “Of the two individuals who would be aware, I cannot agree with asking the one who led a gang of hoodlums for his aid with his reputation.”
“Then we should ask the current reigning Champion of the Pokémon League for his assistance instead,” Looker insisted. “He’ll likely have the experience and battle power needed to make capturing them for their own safety easier.”
“…Very well,” she decided after a moment, crossing her arms. “Time is of the essence and if he could reasonably be of help, it would be foolish not to ask him. But I still have some reservations, so I will test the young Champion myself before we begin the operation. Should he be able to best me, I will concede in asking for his assistance. Is that acceptable to you?”
He nodded. It was better that way. The UBs would be drawn to him one way or another, given he was also a Faller. If they left him alone without informing him, he’d likely be stumbled upon by one and attacked without expecting it.
The former leader of Team Skull followed enough of a pattern that he could be observed should one be drawn to him as well. So, barring extreme circumstances he would be left out of the loop. After all, informing him may prove disastrous as he would be the sort that Team Dominance would enlist should they come to the island.
[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]
In the air between Alola and Kanto
“So, you lost to the Vermillion Gym Leader, huh?” Ann said into her Pokégear as the ocean passed beneath the plane she was on, heading towards Alola. Since the operations to capture Bill and secure the Moltres native to the Sevii Islands were delayed, due to the fact that their organization was likely suspect after the interference of the trainer who was accompanying Bill, Ann had been sent towards the islands with two other agents. Their mission was relatively simple—find out what the Aether Foundation was hiding, and if it could be used for blackmail purposes.
They needed to capture Bill because he was the creator of the Pokémon Storage system, and bringing him under their control would essentially give them access to every single Pokémon stored in the PCs. However, with a trainer of that caliber and her daughter staying with him, it would be a hassle to do things in a way that allowed them to go unnoticed. And going unnoticed was essential since the last thing they needed was the International Police trying to gut their organization… again.
Ann had been with the organization since back when they were centered around Kanto and Johto. A few years before they were disbanded and reduced, forcing them to merge with the group from Orre they had been in business with—supplying them stolen Pokémon since the region was barren of them. Having been working in the shady side of things for as long as she could remember, Ann knew just what to look for when searching for signs of illicit dealings.
And there were some pretty big signs when she looked at the sudden change in employment done by the woman’s son almost overnight. A sudden shift in the status quo that left people unemployed would undoubtedly serve as the seedbed for animosity. And that could be exploited.
“Yeah, but we still managed to knock out his first Pokémon,” Astra said on the other end. “It was a Mareep.”
“That’s actually impressive, given you’ve only had your Sableye for a month and Drowzee for less than a day,” Ann praised her. “Those two species can be quite difficult to handle for a new trainer.”
“Jet’s just lazy most times and Blysen is shy, but they’re both good—” A slight pause followed as Astra yawned. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s getting late on your end, so you must be tired.”
“Yeah, and Grandpa is telling me I should get some rest now. Can you call me when you get there? I want to know more about Alola since Lille came from there.”
“Sure thing. Sleep tight.”
What are the chances? Ann couldn’t help but think as she stared down at the Pokégear before sighing. Astra was the granddaughter of Ravin and daughter of her best friend, a sweet girl who was all they had left of her mother. Since they found her, Astra was so… innocent, caring only about fun, traveling, and Pokémon without any ulterior motives.
It was refreshing, admittedly. She wouldn’t have been that way if her parents hadn’t run away when they did to keep her from going through the same things as them. Her mother had been born into the role of being a member whether she wanted to or not, what with Ravin having been a member already, and Ann had joined early on.
They had been the best of friends, or at least Ann had thought so. Yet, she ran away from her without telling her anything. By the time Ann and Ravin managed to find them, both she and her boyfriend—or husband at that point—were dead.
Now all that was left behind was Astra, who would undoubtedly be hurt depending on how things went in regard to her new friend. Or learning just what it was both she and her grandfather were involved in. Ann sighed again at the thought of her looking at them with betrayed eyes and then leaned back on her chair, looking out the window while deep in thought.
Well, if things go smoothly she won’t ever learn. We owe her mother that much, right?