The sun is setting when Bonnibel first meets Kukui in the flesh, without that badly raised rockruff she'd seen during their video chat. "But," he says, "this sure is the perfect time for you to get your first look at Alola! You'd burn to a crisp if you try taking any long walks at noon, cousin!"
He and her mother both laugh. Alola may be brighter than Kanto, but her mother's skin is closer to Kukui's than Bonnibel's. "Bonnibel takes so much after her father," her mother says. "She doesn't tan at all - just gets pink! But I've got some gallons of sunscreen ready."
This is not hyperbole. While her mother assumes any place catering to tourists wanting to spend the day at the beach would have high-SPF sunscreen around, "Not all ratings are the same!" as her mother has discussed earnestly with other parents many times before. The brand Bonnibel's mother buys is certified, with a big shiny official stamp, to block A ultraviolet waves as well as B, scored well in multiple tests for consistency and other factors, and uses an alternate formula designed for sensitive skin to avoid concerns about chemical buildup from daily use, just to be on the safe side.
Her mom was happy to do the research, and happy to pay extra for one that's just right. Her daughter's always been pale. She has a photo album documenting Bonnibel's life from pale infant all the way through pale eleven year old. There's a picture of her in her father's arms, a pale hand supporting an equally pale bald head. Being so terribly pale may be an inconvenience, but it's part of the whole Bonnibel package.
And her mom, now, is happy to send her out with Kukui, and even more happy when she hears who he wants her to meet. Getting Bonnibel a pokemon was another thing on the post-move checklist - "Something we’ve been putting off for too long!" - and getting a special one as a gift is precisely the sort of thing her mother would want for her. Bonnibel is ushered back upstairs to collect her things and put on the red beanie her mom had bought for her just before they left.
Kukui chatters away as they walk. "Folks here in Alola get along by living together with pokemon and working together, too," he tells her, as if that's different from how it is in Kanto, in Johto, in Unova, in Kalos. She smiles and nods as he keeps running through all the standard platitudes. "You can go anywhere, yeah, as long as you got pokemon helping you out here!" and "Having pokemon gives you a whole new way to communicate with other people, see?" Like he's got to sell this, when it isn't like anyone ever says no. Perhaps he's unsettled by the fact she doesn't have a pokemon already. Perhaps he's concerned there just won't be enough enthusiasm on her part, which would, after all, be quite the disaster. He doesn't need to worry. She's smiling. She always is. She's a happy child, her mom says, and everyone's happy to get their first pokemon, so Bonnibel is happy.
When they reach the center of town, he also tells her about how people here worship some pokemon they say guards them. Well, he says worship, but it sounds closer to a mascot than a god. A little more old-fashioned than other places, it sounds, but still nothing really different. It's not surprising. People are more or less the same everywhere.
She doesn't think much of Lillie or Nebby at the time. The sound of a pokemon throwing a public tantrum attracts her eyes for a moment as she wonders if Alolan trainers are generally subpar, and then they catch on the set of worn, mossy stones on either side of the path while the pokemon and her carrier head out of sight. She thought they were leading to the main area, but it looks like they continue to somewhere else. And... It's not like she's never seen statues like that, but...there certainly aren't many left standing these days, and none she knows of that aren't rapidly being scoured down to nothing in empty deserts. Bonnibel...Bonnibel saw them...in a glossy picture in a book, at her school, during a lesson about Unova's desert. Bonnibel has only ever lived in Kanto before, and so the statues have no meaning to her, but Bonnibel is a curious child, her mom says. She touches the smooth stone on the right, still warm from the sun, and decides to head into the forest to find out if whatever they led to is still there.
Maybe it's a bit rude to wander off when she's supposed to be waiting for, or perhaps looking for, the kahuna, but it's be understandable. Bonnibel can be absent-minded, her mom says.
Up ahead, she finds the girl is in an argument with her pokemon, which is just sad. "I wanna I wanna I wanna!"
"You can't come out!"
"We'll get in trouble if anyone sees you!"
The girl really needs to learn how to handle pokemon properly, or at least about pokeballs so she won't be able to cause a public scene.
The bag jerks forward. The girl's pulled along for a few steps before losing control completely, which is exactly how she should expect things to go without a pokeball involved. The pokemon flies out and away. "Wheeee! Haha! Wheeeee! I'm - aaaaaah!"
The girl just stands there at the edge of the bridge as the pokemon screams. Bonnibel thinks she's trying to teach the pokemon a lesson - so many people who can't handle their pokemon through firm consistency seem to think grand punishments can make up the difference - but then she turns to Bonnibel and her face is scrunched like she's the one in pain.
Bonnibel smiles at her. "What's wrong?"
The girl doesn't even answer the question, jumping straight to a demand that Bonnibel "Save Nebby!"
The girl babbles something about being scared, like she needs to apologize for not fighting off wild pokemon for the sake of her pet.
Bonnibel could point out that she hasn't got a pokemon on her.
But they're only spearow. Bonnibel, as her mother says, is adventurous and brave.
The bridge is poorly made and even more poorly maintained, with broken yawning gaps in some of the planks, but she's surefooted enough she could as easily be hopping across the rocks below. Not that she would do that, of course, not that Bonnibel's ever done that, her mother would be horrified to see her with wet clothes. She weaves around the holes, bounces off creaking wood, and pivots her weight when the a plank splinters underfoot, all without missing a beat.
She hasn't got a pokemon, so it's not like she's going to get into a fight here. She gets in the way of them instead, crouching over the sobbing baby. The spearow don't take the hint and go find some other prey. They wave their talons like they expect her to be cowed by a couple scratches.
The pokemon below her stutters, "I-I-I-".
And then the wood planks and rope under Bonnibel is gone and she's falling.
She's going to get wet. She's going to get soaked. And with the sun down, how long will it take for her to dry off? She can't stay out that long or her mom will worry anyway, but her mom will be so terribly upset if she finds out Bonnibel fell into a river.
Something smashes into her from the side and she can feel her insides lurch and twist from the sudden change in direction. She ends up back on dry land without a drop on her.
Her apparent rescuer spins through the air and lands a short distance away.
Bonnibel's mom says nothing about how she feels regarding pokemon of legend and myth. So Bonnibel stares, smile forgotten and mouth half open, a breath away from a shout, fists clenching tighter and tighter.
The pokemon lets out a screech and then she shoots straight up to vanish into the night sky.
The girl comes out of her daze first, throwing herself down next to the pokemon Bonnibel is still holding. "Oh thank goodness, thank goodness," she says to her pet. "You tried to use your power again, didn't you? Oh Nebby... You know what happened last time you used it, You couldn't move for ages after that. I don't want to see you like that again! No... I shouldn't say that. I'm sorry, Nebby. I know you were trying to save me that time. And I couldn't even help you in return..."
She's actually crying.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I..."
She looks up to see Bonnibel. "O-oh! Thank you. I...I wanted to, but the bridge, it's so high up and the ground..."
"You shouldn't be going near flocks of spearow either," Bonnibel points out. "It's dangerous for a person. You need to train your pokemon better, or get a better one."
The little pokemon squacks, "No!" like she expects anyone to care what she has to say.
"Oh - n-no, no, I'm not a pokemon trainer." She looks away from Bonnibel. There's a moment of silence, interrupted by the pokemon puffing at something in the dirt. "Oh?" she says, and picks something sparkling off the ground. "Oh." She holds it out, looking back toward Bonnibel but not quite making eye contact. "Please, forgive me... I am so grateful to you for helping us out of that dangerous spot. I think this stone should belong to you. Please..." She raises her eyes again, looking at Bonnibel imploringly. "Don't tell anybody about this... About seeing Nebby... It's... it's a secret, okay?"
Bonnibel nods, smiling wide. "Sure. Please don't tell anybody about me almost falling into the river, either. It would upset my mother terribly."
The girl smiles. "Right! Our secret. Secrets." She breaks eye contact with relief and holds out her dufflebag, which Bonnibel notes now has a pokeball design on either end. "Come on. Into the bag Nebby."
"Fi-ine," Nebby squeaks.
"A real pokeball would work better," Bonnibel tells her.
"Yeah..." She's quiet for a few breaths. "Um..." the girl says, still staring at the ground. "I'm afraid we might get attacked by wild pokemon or... or something. I know it's too much to ask it, but... Do you think you could see us back to town?"
Bonnibel glances at the fallen bridge. Whatever's on the other end will have to wait, and she finds she's not too interested anyway, with what's just happened. "Sure. I'm heading back down myself. I'm supposed to get my first pokemon tonight, from the kahuna." She starts to walk back down, the girl trailing after.
"Oh! Are you...? Oh, I'm sorry, I don't remember your name."
"I'm Bonnibel," Bonnibel says, because she's Bonnibel.
"I'm, um, Lillie," the girl replies. "Kukui was talking about you, how you were moving here from Kanto! You're not a trainer yet...oh, of course not, because you'd have used a pokemon..."
"That's what they're for," Bonnibel says.
Kukui is waiting for them when they reach the bottom. "Hey, Bonnibel! Looks like you missed the kahuna, yeah? But you found my assistant, oh yeah! Looks like you already met, but just in case, this is my assistant! Introduce yourself, Assistant!"
"Oh...um...yes! You can call me Lillie!" Lillie says awkwardly.
"And, Lillie, this here is Bonnibel. She just moved here to Alola!"
Lillie stammers out something about it being nice to meet her while Bonnibel looks about for anyone leaving. If she's only just missed this kahuna, maybe he's still nearby and she can run after him. Her mom will be disappointed if-
Those thoughts, and the unneeded introduction Kukui's overseeing, are interrupted when someone shouts the kahuna's back.
"That's Hala, the chosen one of the island's guardian," Kukui says to her quietly, or as quietly as he's capable of, as the man approaches. "And one of the strongest pokemon users in all Alola, yeah."
"Have I missed something?" Hala asks. His tone is jovial, but there's a faint edge that hints he's fishing for a particular answer.
"Naw, but where'd you go off to, Kahuna? I thought we were meeting here."
"I had to look into a problem," he says. "For some reason, I thought I saw Tapu Koko flying about..."
At her side, the girl startles. "Oh, um... Yes, Kahuna Hala... Nebby was being attacked by spearow on the bridge when this girl came to help, and-"
Bonnibel jumps in with, "I really wasn't able to do much! It was all I could do to carry Nebby back off the bridge. Then this strange pokemon appeared and drove the spearow away. Right, Lillie?"
"Um, r-right. It was Tapu Koko! It swooped in to save them!"
"And then flew away," Bonnibel finishes.
"Woo! That's something you don't hear every day!"
Hala laughs, and says, like an adult talking fondly of a child, "Although it is said to protect us, our Tapu Koko is a rather fickle creature. ...And yet, our guardian was moved to save you."
She wonders if Tapu Koko expects Bonnibel to say anything in her defense. Bonnibel shrugs modestly. "Perhaps Tapu Koko was just passing by. I'm sure it wouldn't take much to move a fickle creature." If Bonnibel's meant to be grateful - no, try somebody else for that, someone who hasn't heard the whole song before. She's not a fan of things that can fly down at their leisure.
"B-but also, it left a sparkling stone behind," Lillie interrupts. "For Bonnibel! You should show him, Bonnibel."
She pulls it from her pocket and hands it over.
"So it even deigned to give you a stone..." Bonnibel is not sure what to make of his expression. "Perhaps you are here in Alola, Bonnibel, because this is where you are meant to be. I think we have cause to celebrate! It seems I should entrust this brave and kind young girl with a pokemon of her own." Bonnibel's smile doesn't falter, but she switches her gaze to Kukui. It seems he may have overstated things when he promised her mother the kahuna would give Bonnibel a pokemon. There's really nothing worse than getting people's hopes up with promises that may not be delivered. But then, perhaps the man always meant to give it, and he's just trying to make it sound more impressive by presenting it as a special gift after what happened. "We'll make a fine young trainer out of her," the man concludes.
Hala steps closer and introduces himself formally as the kahuna of Melemele. He turns to the wooden platform in the center of the clearing, which looks far newer and better kept up than the bridge earlier, and throws three pokeballs onto it.
Bonnibel's not familiar with any of the pokemon, but then, she's never been to Alola before. Hala introduces each in turn: a rowlet, who chirps "Hey!" and turns herself awkwardly in a circle; a litten, who jumps a little and meows "Hello..." with hopeful restraint; and a popplio, who flips his back fins up to clap in excitement, barking "Cool, right?"
"Popplio," she says. Perky and happy so long as he's getting some sort of attention, he'll probably give her the least difficulty.
"Only when you have both chosen each other can you truly call each other partners," Hala tells her. "So let us see if little Popplio there also decides to choose you!"
It's a joke, but Bonnibel is a polite and respectful child, as her mother always says, so she keeps a friendly smile on her face. She climbs onto the platform, holds out her hands to the one she decided on and lifts the popplio into the air when he hops into her arms without hesitation, barking happily, "Of course I love you!"
For some reason, while the others smile, Lillie looks upset. Maybe this is the one she was hoping for. She did claim not to be a trainer yet.
"Ho! So little Popplio has accepted you as well, Bonnibel!"
"Having accepted one another, you'll surely be friends for life! Going to give it a nickname?" asks Kukui.
Bonnibel shakes her head. "Popplio will be fine."
"Nice to meet you, Popplio!" says Lillie.
"Yeah! Nice to meet you, Popplio!"
"Oh!" she cries, and starts to argue with the pokemon about why she shouldn't be out. It's apparently just talking to herself as, her disobedient pokemon still floating for anyone to see, Lillie sighs, then looks to Bonnibel. "I think you chose a wonderful pokemon. Please take very good care of it."
Kukui jumps in for a more standard congratulations, focused on the fact Bonnibel is now officially a pokemon trainer. Then, for some reason, he's pressing a pokedex into her hands. "Most people here aren't too interested in this, yeah," he tells her. "But you're from Kanto, where it's practically tradition, yeah."
"Yeah," Bonnibel agrees. The metal is cold in her hands. Her mother will be excited.
"Here in Alola, we've got all sorts of great pokemon who learn all sorts of great moves. See what you can find!" Hala 'ahems' behind him. "Now, why don't you introduce your new friend to your mom, Bonnibel?"
She nods. "I'm sure she'll be happy to meet him."
But she before she can a boy runs up and asks, like someone fumbling his lines on a school stage, for a battle.
To her right, Lillie says, "Um... I don't really like to see pokemon battles where pokemon can get hurt...but I'll watch for you."
"You shouldn't mind," Bonnibel tells her. "Pokemon have fun battling. Isn't that right, Popplio? You're happy to fight for me. We couldn't be partners if you weren't."
Her popplio barks, "I will! I'll do a great job, you'll be so proud!"
The boy turns out to have a litten, presumably because he's the kahuna's grandson. It certainly isn't because he impressed anyone with his potential as a trainer. His litten hesitates at the sight of Bonnibel's popplio, turning to look over his shoulder anxiously at his trainer and getting hit square on with a burst of water. It's a good start for her as a trainer; her mother will be happy.
The boy gushes about how awesome her popplio was, and Hala tells her to show up at the festival tomorrow night, for another battle, before she officially starts off on her journey, and Kukui encourages her to get another pokemon or two before then. "Battles are more fun with lots of pokemon and lots of moves, yeah!"
Her mother is all smiles when she returns home. "The two of you look great together... I feel happier just looking at the pair of you!"
"You okay?" her mother's pokemon meows.
"Huh?" barks her popplio.
"Aw, and the pokemon are friends too," her mother says. "How adorable. Did you battle with it yet?"
Her mother's pokemon keeps meowing, "You're all scratched up."
"I fought the kahuna's grandson after I got my pokemon, and after I won the kahuna asked me to stay until tomorrow. There's a big festival happening that night that ends with a pokemon battle and he wants us both to take part."
"I'm fine! I could fight a million more pokemon, no problem at all!"
"Oh, how exciting!" There's relief, so faint that perhaps she herself isn't aware of it, that she'll have another day with her daughter. "And winning your first battle, that's said to be very good luck. Was it hard?"
Her mother's pokemon murrs softly, "Have you got a name?"
"Name?" barks her popplio. "I'm a popplio, silly! Are you a shiny meowth? Do they call you Shiny Meowth?"
Bonnibel shakes her head. "And Kukui gave me a pokedex." She holds it out for her mother to take.
"I'm ordinary looking where we used to live. But I meant your own name. Mine is Aurelia. Was there no one to give you it?" she meows sadly.
"A nickname? No, my trainer says I'm Popplio! It's because she's really happy I'm a popplio. I clapped my fins and she picked me!"
"Oh, he mentioned that he was hoping you could help! Kukui's been trying to get a proper survey of the islands for some time now," she explains. "But there's restrictions on getting pokemon here to keep tourists from catching the islands bare, and the Alolan kids...well, Kukui says they just don't have enough drive. Most trainers here only raise a single pokemon, and even what they consider serious trainers often only have a couple. Kukui was considered quite weird for getting a team of six early on, the way everyone else does it. It's rather old fashioned, but don't you think it's cute of them, too?"
"Everything here has been nice," Bonnibel says, and her mother's smile is so wide it mirrors her own.
It's not as dark when Kukui shows up again, just sunset, and this time he's got his assistant in tow. She can't tell if he's excited or anxious, perhaps both. Whatever the reason, he's impatient to go.
"Just head on out without me," calls her mom from the upper floor. "I'll be there soon."
"Hurry it up, cousin! Pretend you're a pokemon and use your agility!" he shouts, taking off.
Bonnibel smiles politely and proceeds to walk along the path to the festival. The view is lovely and well worth a leisurely examination. The angle of the light's turned the ocean to burning gold. She thinks it'll be nice to travel around here, at least for a while.
Hala meets her as soon as she walks up the stairs, Kukui fidgeting next to him, and Bonnibel wonders if Kukui's urging to hurry was because he'd gotten her later than he should've. But everyone else is milling about normally, and Hala just starts talking to her about what the festival is: "...held to express our thanks to these great pokemon guardian deities for always remaining by our sides." He tells her to have fun, because the point is to show Tapu Koko how happy it's made them.
Hau trots up. "Ho! Hozit, Bonnibel, Lillie? I thought you'd never make it! Me and Litten've been waiting for ages!"
"Yeah..." his pokemon growls.
"Am I late, then?" she asks, eyeing the crowd, who continue to mill about without any sign of interest.
"Well, you missed seeing the dance, but not for the big finale. But we wanted to show you around!"
"Big finale?" At his side, Lillie turns to him, anxious.
"Hold on... Didn't anyone explain to you about tonight?!"
"We're battling our pokemon," Bonnibel chides. "That's what people do."
Lillie's bag twitches. "I'd rather than being stuck in here..."
Kukui laughs and claps Lillie on the shoulder. Bonnibel wonders when she'll take the hint. Kukui is particularly unsubtle. "A full-powered festival for pokemon battling! We battle in the name of Tapu Koko, pitting our best moves against one another in friendly competition to please our guardian."
"I don't like seeing pokemon fight one another, since they so often end up getting hurt..." Lillie says quietly. "But it seems like this is an important event, so I'll be sure to watch you both."
"It's only a friendly competition," Bonnibel repeats. "There's no point in worrying about anyone getting badly hurt."
"...I don't mean you'd hurt them badly," Lillie says, but her voice is barely audible amid the noise of the rest of the festival. If the others heard, they seem content to ignore it, so Bonnibel does the same.
"I'll leave you kids to have fun," Kukui says boisterously. A gaggle of preschoolers are shouting sing-song in the distance: "Then all the litten came running!" and Kukui ups his volume further. "Just remember not to wear your pokemon out early!"
There's a half breath worth of silence, so Hau starts talking again. "So guys've gotta have some mukuyaki! It's just good luck! Auntie Iolana made them this year again. You'll love it!" He grabs them both by the hand and starts to pull them along the dirt path.
"And dug the litten..." screech the preschoolers, their voices fading into incoherence.
Mukuyaki turns out to be a black, hard cookie shaped into a tube, with large pink sugar crystals embedded in it. Lillie contemplates the one in her hands as Bonnibel bites down on her own. Vanilla custard spills out into her mouth, mixing with the chocolatey taste of the cookie itself.
"It's a pyukumuku, isn't it?" Lillie says.
"Yeah, they're so cute, aren't they? They're sorta like all of Alola's mascot. People used to eat the real ones for luck on days like these, but the cookie versions taste a lot better. Plus, pyukumuku are just too adorable to want to eat."
Lillie tries to take a small bite but the brittle shell cracks from end to end. Custard wells up in the breaches.
"Oh no, eat it up quick!" shouts Hau, and Lillie, startled, crams it all into her mouth. Her cheeks puff out like a dedenne.
"Whew... Nothing spilled, so you're sure to have good luck now!"
Litten meows, "You should've told them that first..." Then the litten's ears flick and start to tilt back.
"...for the eyes of litten to come!" howl the preschoolers, starting toward them from the distance in a dead run.
Hau doesn't seem to have noticed yet. He eats his own in two gleeful bites, and Bonnibel swallows the rest of hers while watching Lillie struggle to chew without choking or spitting it out. Finally, she gulps the whole thing down and takes a relieved breath.
"Isn't it great you got here just in time for this festival?" Hau asks. "I was waiting to start after this one, because Tutu says it's best to start after getting Tapu Koko's favor, and now we'll both be starting our island challenge together now!" At his side, Lillie's eyes fall from waist height down to the ground by her feet. "And my gramp's been working to get a z-ring ready for you, which is really special! That's what-"
The children shriek next to him, running in a tight circle around the group. "A litten came into the kitchen!"
Litten hisses, "Go away..."
"And stole a crust of bread! Then cook took up a ladle! And beat him till he was dead!"
"Shoo!" shouts a nearby woman, while behind the cookie table, Iolana does a poor job of covering her smile with one hand. "Don't tease the poor thing! If Tapu Koko sees, it'll shoot you full of lightning!"
They laugh uproariously and race away again, shouting, "Then all the littens came running! And dug the litten a tomb! And wrote upon the tombstone! For the eyes of litten to come! A litten came into the kitchen! And stole..."
"Creepy..." Lillie says.
Hau laughs awkwardly. "It's, it's an old kid's song around here. I guess other places have more interesting stuff to do these days."
"I've heard it before," Bonnibel says. "It was about a shinx last time, though, not a litten."
"Oh, kids in Kanto sing it too? Cool! Oh, uh, anyway - right! The stone you found! The z-ring's made of that stone Tapu Koko gave you. I mean, yours will be. I don't know if everyone's is from our guardian. But Tapu Koko, he does like seeing cool moves, like Kukui says, and that's what it's great for! You can get different z-crystals, put them in your z-ring, and activate them in battle to use powered-up super z-moves!"
"Is that part of the festival battle?"
"Nah." He thinks for a second. "Uh, maybe it used to. If there were more kids, they'd probably say the two ones who did the best on the island challenge already would get to do it. But there's not enough kids to be picky. If you hadn't shown up we couldn't do the battle at all, since it'd be just me. Half the time my gramps does a sumo fight there instead. Oh! Kukui, back when he was our age, his battle used z-moves, I remember he told me! But that was ages ago, before I was even born..." There's another half breath of silence and then Hau's babbling again to fill it. "Did you catch any other pokemon yet, Bonnibel?" She shakes her head. "Tutu told me I had to get another so I spent all day looking, but... Kukui talks about how people in other places catch pokemon faster, but probably nobody anywhere'd be catching their second the very next day after getting their first. Maybe..."
"I don't mind. It's only a friendly battle, after all, and you should show off your new pokemon."
"Right!" The wide smile on his face could be mistaken for a mirror of her own, but there's too much relief in it. He skips forward. "The festival meal's roasting now, for after the battle. Which...I guess we should get over there! Sooner we finish the sooner we can sit down and eat."
He hesitates by the platform, blurts out, "So my new pokemon's a pichu, so uh, watch out for electric moves, yeah?"
Bonnibel considers and goes with, "I'll be sure to." Off to the side of the platform, the kahuna is still smiling benevolently and she suspects he missed that exchange. Did he tell Hau which pokemon to get as well? Well. It's not Bonnibel's problem how people want to disappoint themselves.
She walks to her place next to the wooden steps leading onto the platform. If she hadn't been told it was for battles, she'd never have guessed. The platform doesn't look unused, but what wear it has is minor scuffing. It's probably used at other times in the year, but whatever other battles take place here, they must be similar to what Hau's described.
The crowd gathers, her mother among them, her grin white and shining like the moon. Hala begins to speak. "For all life on our islands...and for those who undertake the island challenge with joy in their hearts...we pray for your protection... for them and all Melemele. May this pokemon battle be an offering to our island's guardian deity—Tapu Koko!"
The diplomatic way of describing Hau's expression would be 'anticipation'.
"Before you stands Hau—grandson to the kahuna. Before him stands Bonnibel—one who has met with Tapu Koko."
The crowd titters. "What a curious little thing Tapu Koko is..." says a man near Bonnibel. "Hah, that's just typical of it!"
Perhaps the kahuna hoped this would count in some way, making Hau's victory amount to a bit more, or his loss a little less.
It isn't Bonnibel's problem how people choose to be disappointed.
"Bonnibel! Hau! Bring forth the power of your Pokémon!"
Bonnibel wraps her hands around the pokeball. Four fingers and a thumb, the right length to hold it. For a moment, she imagines a cylinder against her palm instead, of fingers holding tightly. She has to imagine, because she's holding a pokeball, because she is here because she is holding a pokeball, because there is never a situation where she has five fingers and they wrap around a shaft of polished wood.
There are many where she holds a pokeball. And what is is what matters. It was never a choice she made. She throws. He throws.
"Popplio!" her mother cheers. "Take care of my little Bonnibel!"
"As long as we both have a good time, then I think we can call it a great battle, eh?" says Hau hopefully.
Bonnibel locks eyes with the pichu before her, her face still split in a wide grin. "Yeah. As long as the two of us have fun, that's all that matters!"
"Alright! Show off your charm, Pichu!"
It's important that Bonnibel's mother be pleased with all of this. That she be satisfied with how things go for Bonnibel. That she can look at Bonnibel now and see an unfolding chain of success and happiness before her, picture a life full of everything she wants for her child.
Bonnibel waits for the pichu to process the command, then, just as he's about to actually do it, she shouts, "Quick, Popplio, blast him in the face with your water gun now!" letting the sound of her voice startle her popplio and pull his attention away from from the pichu's attempt. The resulting attack is imperfect, but it works, which is more than the pichu or Hau can say.
There's a trick to these things. Times you want focus and times you want distraction, adjusting with how long it takes each pokemon to react to a command, knowing just when your voice should cut in and how much you should say.
Bonnibel's mother will say that of course Bonnibel is a talented trainer. She did so well in school, her mother says. She'll be a champion.
Hau's the worst combination of reckless and flinching, ordering attacks as fast as he can and then telling his pokemon to dodge instead, far too late to react properly. If Bonnibel cared about challenging battles, he'd be a terrible disappointment. For convincing her mother not to worry about her trainer career, he's very nearly perfect.
"What? It's already over?!" He's back to the school-play tone. Do they have those here, in this tiny place? A shame for Hau if they don't. It's the only thing she's seen from him that he's any good at.
The crowd begins to murmur approvingly as Bonnibel recalls her pokemon. They were pleased by it, or were pleased by how they assume their guardian would be pleased. And like before Hau begins gushing about how great it was, how great a trainer she is, how much fun he had.
Hala cuts in to say more loudly and definitively what the crowd has, about it being good, about it pleasing the guardian.
High above, Tapu Koko screams, "It does!"
Hala looks ever so slightly startled, but he recovers well. "Ho! You heard it yourself! Tapu Koko's song of approval."
It's now he makes a show of handing her some charm. She examines it while Hau takes one as well. It's an oddly shaped piece of metal decorated with an inlay of bunch of different colored triangles. A beaded leather cord is attached and Bonnibel wonders if there's meant to be anything special about which pokemon the skin comes from. "With this island amulet, your challenge officially begins!" She holds it up, all smiles. "Sounds great, right? I can't wait to have a real adventure together!" Hau says. "Come by tomorrow and I should have your z-ring ready as well. Although until you collect z-crystals during your island challenge, you will not be able to draw out the z-power of your pokemon," Hala booms, then adds a bit more quietly, "And yet you have already received that sparkling stone... It seems Tapu Koko took quite a liking to you...or perhaps it has a mission for you."
Bonnibel offers another modest shrug. "I wouldn't know. Maybe the pokemon just happened to drop it. But this island challenge... Is that very different from Kanto?" she asks, all earnest excitement. "Will I need badges for the crystals?"
"Not at all!" Hala says proudly. "We don't have gyms like Kanto or the other large regions. You'll be fighting totem pokemon - but the trial captain can explain that in good time."
"But it is still about battling," Kukui interjects, oblivious or ignoring the way Hala glances toward him. "The island challenge is about aiming to be the strongest trainer – the island challenge champion. Woo! And you'll be going to all four islands in the process, yeah. Getting to see the whole of Alola! And all its special rare pokemon, and all their moves. You seem like you're really bonded with Popplio already. I can't wait to see how you do with your next captures, yeah."
Her mother bends down and hugs her tight, then pulls back a bit. "Ooh, I was just captivated to see my own girl fighting in such perfect sync with her pokemon!" she gushes, starry-eyed. "This is a dream come true! Oh, Bonnibel... But oh, you should be with your new friends now! There's a big meal at the end, and all the kids get to eat first, you know, it's traditional."
Hau is already in the middle of the small pack. Lillie is still near the platform, looking at the group uncertainly. Bonnibel heads over.
Lillie smiles, a bit nervous. "Tapu Koko is amazing, isn't it? I hope I can meet it again some day and thank it for saving Nebby..."
"You know, Bonnibel... it did save your life, too. And it even gifted you that sparkling stone even though you're a stranger to this place."
"Sure. But some spearow aren't anything to be afraid of."
"But...o-oh, right." She throws a glance toward Bonnibel's mother, now chatting with the other adults. "You...have a very nice mother, don’t you? She doesn't seem like she'd get mad about dirty clothes..."
"She'd worry over it," Bonnibel says, firm. "She'd be scared to death of anything happening to me. I almost died when I was little, you see. It's why she moved here. People never really forgot, and she wanted to start over."
"Oh. Oh, I'm sorry."
Bonnibel is a very well-adjusted child, her mother always says, so Bonnibel says, "It's okay. I don't really remember or anything."
"Guys, come on over! It's time to eat!" calls Hau, hopping up and down.
"What...what are we eating?!" Lillie's eyes are wide and shimmering and so absurdly honest about it all. She really needs to learn to take a hint.
Hau holds out the steaming meat in its leaf wrapping and says, "It's stoutland, of course!" with a shrug toward the carcass. "Don't you recognize it, Lillie? You know loads of pokemon!" He shoves it closer. Lillie barely recoils, which would be something if it wasn't because she's frozen to the spot rather than any willpower on her part. "It's delicious! It's a lot of trouble so you can't get it that often, but it's supposed to mean the stoutland will protect us for the rest of the year."
"N-no th-thanks, thank you," Lillie babbles, voice rising in pitch by the syllable. "I'm - But I-I-I'm just not- I don't - not hungry-" The final word is just a squeak.
"Oh...Are you sure? It's really good, and just one bite would-"
"Yes! Sorry! I just - I'm sorry! I can't!"
Bonnibel chows down on her own portion as she watches the scene unfold. The smell of it is so strong she can taste it in the steam before her mouth quite reaches it. The meat falls apart into strands on her tongue and grease coats her mouth. Warm wetness drips down her chin. Bits of fat squish under her teeth. There's no spices, just the richness of once vibrant muscle breaking down mixed with the salty-iron taste of cooked-in blood. Slick red juice begins to ooze its way through the gaps in the leaves and run down her fingers.
Lillie looks like she can't decide if she'll flee or faint. She wobbles.
"You okay?" Hau asks, glistening streaks down his arms. He takes a messy bite.
Lillie eeps and finally flees.
"I hope she feels better..." Hau says.
Bonnibel is a friendly, considerate child, her mother says. They're friends now, and Lillie is obviously distressed, and so, "I'll go see that she's okay," she tells Hau.
Lillie sits on the ground a little way from the main crowd, trying to take deep breaths and succeeding half the time. Bonnibel settles down next to her, continuing to munch. The girl isn't crying, and Bonnibel feels infinitesimally more positive toward her. Bonnibel doesn't cry - a sob's as bad as a laugh.
Well, the girl isn't crying yet, at any rate.
"It's a shame you're feeling sick, this is really good," she tells Lillie around a wet mouthful of flesh. "Maybe they'll let you take some home for later instead."
There's a little half hiccup, but she doesn't actually retch.
"What do you suppose they do with the leftovers? Or the bits they don't want at all? There's a story I heard about killing pokemon once, how did it go... Right!" She licks her fingers, then her palm. "'Pick clean the bones of pokemon, caught at land or stream, thank them for the meal as you chew each bone clean. Then set them free, for once you do, they return to flesh and it begins anew.'"
"That...that isn't how pokemon work," Lillie manages. "People drive pokemon to extinction all the time." It's funny the way she says people, the way she says pokemon, with the emphasis the wrong way around. She should be more grateful for what she has.
"Nah," Bonnibel agrees. "But it's a nice story, right? The pokemon always come back to get eaten again, so there's always more delicious things to eat. Well, it's really just about not wasting food. I think everybody agrees about that moral. If you care at all about pokemon, then the only thing to do is to not waste any of their meat, right? Eat the first one all up before you kill the next one."
"The only thing to do...people haven't got to do it to start!" Lillie hisses, like she's suddenly remembered she's got a spine.
"Is that your problem?" Bonnibel says, her voice exactly like she's only just realized. "That's normal. Of course people eat pokemon. Always have, always will." She imagines the feeling of tapered wood in her palm, of it under her chin. "If the pokemon really minded, they'd leave, right?" She hooks her fingers around her pokeball, starts to spin it idly. "Anything that happens, you know pokemon could always just leave. They don't, so that means they're okay with it. It'd be like wondering if pokemon don't like it when we battle them."
"I..." Lillie says, and then stops herself from anything further. She drops her eyes back to the ground.
"Well. I hope you feel better," Bonnibel says, standing up. "If you don't want to have any, I guess you don't have to, but this whole thing is obviously a really important tradition here, so you should be respectful."
"...yeah..." Lillie whispers.
It's late as the clock tells it when Bonnibel returns home, but her mother only woke an hour before sunset. Her mother's not a believer in forcing yourself out of jet lag, insisting it's healthier to shift gradually over a week or two. And she'd rather Bonnibel sticks to the darker hours of the day until they're completely sure the sunscreen can hold up under a tropical sun.
She hugs Bonnibel once again. "When I was pregnant," she begins, blinking her eyes fast against the well of tears, "I would sit and imagine your life. Your first steps, your first word, your first day of school, your first pokemon. I loved my pokemon journey so much. I saw new places and met new people and experienced new things. I had so much fun. I came back a different person. And I just...I just wanted...I wanted my daughter to go out and see the world like I did. For you to do, to have that."
"I will," Bonnibel tells her. "I'm sure I'm going to do great, Mom. I'll collect crystals and pokemon and make lots of new friends, and I'll become a champion."
She sniffs, but she's smiling too. "Then I suppose this is good-bye..."
"Are you going away forever?" meows her mother's meowth curiously. She comes closer and Bonnibel scritches the top of her head. "Are you done being with us and Bonnibel? Are you going to be somebody else's kid now? I'll miss you!"
"Aw, Meowth's wishing you good luck too!" her mother says.