The sun shone a deep, eye-watering yellow and the the skies above Akala Island glowed orange and pink as dusk fell over Heahea City. The beach itself was mostly deserted at this time of day, except for the most devoted surfers, and the occasional gooey couple who especially desired to witness the sunset with their significant other.
Two Mantine, each bearing a Trainer, glided into the part of the beach that had been cordoned off for Mantine Surf users. The lifeguards in charge of the Mantine competed in a quick game of fire-water-grass to see who had to go and rub the Mantine down post-Surf. These particular Mantine wore saddles that indicated they had come all the way from Melemele Island, and they were very likely tired and hungry.
“Hi there, welcome to Melemele Island!” chirped the loser of the fire-water-grass tournament. “You must have set out really early to get here before the sunset, huh?”
“Thanks,” said one of the Trainers. He grinned at the lifeguard with a blinding smile. “Yeah, we got up pretty early. My Noibat woke me at a quarter to five.”
“Lucky,” muttered the other Trainer, rubbing her eyes. “Ari started peeping at four-twenty and wouldn't shut up. She woke up Puck and he joined in. Be so, so glad you don't have a pair of birds on your team.” The Pokéballs at her belt vibrated indignantly. “Guys, you know I didn't mean it like that. Hau, where are we headed?”
Hau Akiona, grandson of Melemele's kahuna and aspiring Trainer, stretched out his arms, yawning. “The professor said he and Lillie would meet us in the city. I don't remember where, though. You could call them?”
“Yeah, let's do that.”
“Though I am pretty hungry, Moon, we only packed the one meal and that was ages ago. You think maybe we could stop for m—”
“If you say malasadas right now I'm going to throttle you.” Marion Hawkins, better known to all and sundry except her own mother as “Moon,” glared at Hau. “I am running on about five hours of sleep and we spent the entire day on the ocean. I like Mantine-surfing, but my Mantine was disappointed in my complete lack of desire to do aerial tricks. I am starving, but I would like to find Lillie and I would like to eat something that has actual nutritional content.”
“Aww, the tricks are the best part!”
“I am afraid of heights, you absolute walnut—”
The two young Trainers continued to bicker as they plodded across the beach. The lifeguard, grinning, shook his head and returned to his work.
Moon pulled out her Pokédex, pausing at a set of stone stairs that led up to the streets of Heahea City. It blinked innocently at her.
“You've been awfully quiet today,” she said to the Rotom that lived inside the Pokédex.
“I figured you were nervous enough as it was, bzzt. I thought you would appreciate it if I stayed quiet, instead of telling you every time you came across a new Pokémon. All of the information has been recorded for your later perusal, bzzt.”
“I do appreciate that, actually. Thank you. Could you call Professor Kukui?”
“Sure thing. Video or audio, bzzt?”
“Um, video's fine.”
“Calling Maleko Kukui, bzzt.” Rotom's screen filled with a loading circle, which was then replaced by Professor Kukui's squinting, beaming face.
“Ah, Hau and Moon! It looks like you finally got to Heahea City, yeah?”
“Yep!” said Hau cheerfully, resting his head on Moon's shoulder. “We just got here and we're exhausted and starving. Moon is grumpy. Where should we meet you guys?”
“We only sailed into the harbor a couple of hours ago, and we thought we would stick around the docks and wait for you guys— we have your backpacks and camping equipment on the boat, yeah?”
“Oh, right. Thanks, Professor.”
A small, pale face, shaded by a floppy white hat, appeared in the corner of the screen. “Are the two of you planning on staying at the Pokémon Center?”
“Yep!” Hau beamed. “Did you like sailing, Lillie?”
The professor's assistant smiled back. “Oh, yes, it was a lot of fun! Though the professor's sailboat has certainly seen better days.”
“She's still seaworthy, and that's what counts, yeah!” Professor Kukui did not appear to be at all offended by Lillie's observation. “Hurry on over. I'll treat you all to dinner— there's a grand all-you-can-eat buffet place just a block or so from the dock. And Lillie's got a surp—”
“Professor, you weren't supposed to say anything!” squeaked Lillie, cutting him off. “We'll see you very soon, bye!”
The video call ended.
Hau whistled softly. “So Lillie has a surprise for us, huh? What do you think it could be?”
“Well, the last time she said she had a surprise, she told us she was getting a Trainer's license and she caught Lapin.” Moon tucked the Pokédex back into her pocket— a difficult task, for a person wearing a wet-suit— and began ascending the staircase to the streets. “The faster we find them, the faster we can find out.”
Hau bolted past her, taking the steps three at a time. “Last one there's a stale malasada!”
“You're a dirty cheater, Hau Akiona!” shrieked Moon, but she picked up her exhausted feet and followed him at a sprint.
The race was cut rather short as Hau skidded to a stop on Main Street, frowning. “Wait, I don't actually know which way the docks are.”
“I repeat: Hau Akiona, you absolute walnut.” But Moon grinned and pulled out her Pokédex again. “Rotom, would you mind mapping us a route to the docks?”
“I'll do you one better, bzzt— I can use GPS to track the Professor's phone.” A map appeared on Rotom's lower screen, showing that the docks were only a few blocks away.
Hau spared Rotom only a passing glance before taking off again. “Stale malasada, Moon! Maybe I should start calling you Moon-asada!”
They turned the corner that led them onto the pier. Moon, squinting against the full effect of the setting sun, spotted Professor Kukui's sailboat and two familiar figures in front of it. With as much effort as she could force into her tired legs she put on a sudden burst of speed and arrived at their destination first. “Look who's a stale malasada now!”
“Fair enough. Hey, Professor! Hi, Lillie!”
Professor Kukui waved enthusiastically as Moon and Hau skidded to a halt. “Hey there, Trainers! Listen, do you want to change clothes on the boat and shower later, or do you want to drop your stuff off at the Pokémon Center and shower before we eat?”
“I would really like to shower, but I am also starving and happy to do whatever.”
“I just want to eat,” agreed Hau. “The restaurant isn't something too fancy, right? They won't care that we look like drowned Rattata and smell like salt and Mantine pee?”
Moon wrinkled her nose at him. “Gross, dude.”
“We do, though! What, do you think the Mantine waited all day when it had to go? No, it probably just went in the ocean. I know I did.”
“That's disgusting,” said Lillie, but she was giggling. “So, I have a surprise.”
“Yeah, we kind of figured before you cut the Professor off. What's your surprise, Lillie?”
Lillie opened her bag. A small, nebulous cloud zoomed out, whirling around her head. “Nebby, that was not permission to leave the bag— come on, get back in. I was just getting Lapin.”
“You should get a Trainer's belt,” suggested Hau. “You can carry Lapin without having to get into your bag every time.”
“I'll think about it.” Lillie nodded and withdrew not one, but two Pokéballs. “You know Lapin already, of course— and this is Umber.”
Twin flashes of light revealed the familiar Buneary, blinking shyly up at them; but there was also a small black-and-red fox, tilting its head to stare up at Hau and Moon with a curious expression on its face.
“Oh, you caught a Zorua!” squealed Moon, crouching to look at the baby fox. “Can I pet it?”
“Yes, go ahead. He's very affectionate,” said Lillie with a smile. She bent down herself, watching as Moon offered her hand for Umber to sniff. “I wasn't totally sure I wanted a Zorua— they are Dark-types, and sometimes Dark-types can be malicious. But I recently talked with my br— with a friend, who told me about the experience he's having raising his own Zorua. They're tricksters, but they make very loyal companions.”
“You can use that to your advantage in protecting Nebby,” pointed out Hau. “Nobody's going to look at you and think you use a Dark-type Pokémon, Lillie. They'll think you like Fairy-types, or Psychic types— cute, cuddly Pokémon.”
Umber let out a soft purr, blinking up at Lillie with large blue eyes.
“Well, I do like Fairy-types,” admitted Lillie, scratching behind Umber's ears. “But we've all studied Pokémon for years. There are merits and drawbacks to every typing and every Pokémon. And Zorua is cute and cuddly, so anyone making that assumption wouldn't be wrong.”
She recalled both Lapin and Umber to their Pokéballs, tucking them back in the bag. “Anyway, you should both get changed.”
“Fire-water-grass to see who gets changed first,” said Hau, sticking out his fist immediately.
“Yeah, shoot. Fire, water, grass!”
They both threw grass and tried again; on the second round Moon won, with water to Hau's fire. She climbed onto the sailboat with a grin and ducked into the tiny cabin. “Be right out!”
There were two rooms in the cabin: a parlor-type room with couches, and a tiny bathroom with a toilet, a sink, and a mirror. Moon picked up her backpack from where she'd stowed it early that morning and began peeling her wet-suit off.
There wasn't a shower, but she could and did get a washcloth out of one of the cupboards and wet it, wiping as much of the salty sea residue and sand from her body as she could manage. She put on clean clothes and her Trainer belt and stuck her head in the sink, trying her best to rinse out her dark hair. It was beginning to get a little longer than she liked— she usually kept it quite short, but now it fell two inches or so past her chin. Moon brushed her wet hair and did her best to towel it dry— a futile effort in humid Alola, but no one could say she hadn't tried.
Feeling slightly more presentable, if not fully herself, Moon put on shoes and socks and a light jacket, since the sun had gone down. She put on her backpack and equipment and went back outside. The sun was close to fully setting— the sky was somewhere between scarlet and magenta and the streetlights had turned on. Professor Kukui and Lillie were sitting on the stone pavement, talking quietly; Hau was on the boat, waiting for her to finish.
“That was quick,” he said, surprised.
“If there was a shower, I would have rinsed. I did use a washcloth and wipe myself off, though. Cupboard below the sink,” Moon informed him, before he could ask.
“Stop trying to make that happen,” said Moon, but she honestly didn't mind the nickname that much. Her name was already a nickname— and it sure beat the time Blue had decided to watch a bunch of old Unovan musicals and had called her Marion the Librarian for an entire month.
She sat down on the pavement with Lillie and the professor. “Do you guys mind if I let Puck and Ariel out? They're getting cabin fever from being cooped up all day.”
“Go right ahead,” encouraged Professor Kukui.
Moon took out Puck and Ariel, already vibrating madly in their Pokéballs, and released them. Ariel, a lithe Trumbeak, immediately took off with a shriek. She shot high into the sky to properly stretch her wings. Meanwhile Puck, a stout Dartrix and Moon's starter Pokémon, stretched his own wings wide and flicked a curtain of soft green feathers out of his eyes.
“Hoo hoo hurr,” he rumbled, with a slight frown at Moon.
“Yeah, buddy, I know. Sorry I had to keep you in all day, but I didn't think the Mantine would like carrying you out of your ball. I probably could have let Ariel out, because she's a flyer.” Moon paused, turning to the Professor. “Hey, I've been thinking about Dartrix's evolution—”
“Already?” teased Kukui, a grin on his face.
“I just mean in general. I finally got around to reading up on the final evolution stages for Puck and Ariel, and I was wondering why Puck loses Flying-type and gains Ghost-type, of all things.”
“Did you see pictures?”
“Yeah.” She liked the look of Decidueye— something about it reminded her of herself. Rowlet looked like a plump, roly-poly toddler, and Dartrix looked like an angsty teenager— but Decidueye, with the round markings of glasses and a feathery hood that fit tightly over his face, reminded her of a tired college student, walking to classes in pajamas. Moon had put off her acceptance to l'Academie Lumiose, but Decidueye's aesthetic was still utterly relatable.
“What about videos?”
“Nah, I haven't seen much.”
“Well, you should look some battle videos up sometime, yeah? Decidueye uses its wings and feathers a lot in attacking. They slim down a lot as they evolve up from Rowlet, but they're still pretty bulky as Decidueye— the average is a bit taller than you, I think. The point is, they're too heavy to fly quickly or effectively— though they're still very fast on the ground, yeah.”
“Ariel's faster right now,” pointed out Moon, just as the Trumbeak herself came in for a landing, settling firmly on Moon's thigh. “Ow, talons. Watch it, girlfriend.”
“And Toucannon will be pretty fast too, once you get her to that point,” agreed Professor Kukui. “Though the way your Ariel eats, she might end up more bulky, as Toucannon go. I can't wait to see what direction you take with your Training, yeah!”
Moon smiled. She already had some plans regarding strategy, though they weren't at all finalized and would have to wait until she could see Decidueye and Toucannon in action.
“Are you planning on catching more Pokémon soon?” Lillie asked.
Both Puck and Ariel let out indignant squawks.
“Yes,” said Moon pointedly. “They're just being difficult, because they're spoiled rotten. Sometime in the next few days, I'm going to be sitting down with them and having a long chat about this very subject.”
Ariel, at least, looked slightly cowed by this. Puck rolled his eyes, grumbling softly.
Lillie carefully hid her smile. “Do you have any plans for your team?”
“I only have one really solid idea— I'd like an evolution of Eevee. I haven't decided on which one yet— though I'm pretty sure Leafeon is out, as I don't really need two Grass-types on my team. And since Puck's gaining Ghost-type, it's probably not strictly necessary for me to have a Dark-type on my team, so that rules out Umbreon as well. I still have six options, though.”
“An Eeveelution is always a solid choice, yeah,” said Professor Kukui with a nod. “And Akala Island's the place to catch 'em, too. You could get one pretty soon, actually— they run wild around the nursery at Paniola Town, and that's your first stop after Heahea City.”
“Really?” Moon perked up, pleased. “Huh. I'll have to talk with my team sooner rather than later.”
“Talk with them about what?” asked Hau, emerging from the boat.
“The temper tantrum they both throw every time I mention a new teammate. I'd like an Eeveelution, and I'd like them to stop whining about it.”
Professor Kukui got to his feet, and Lillie followed suit. Moon recalled Puck and Ariel to their Pokéballs, tucking them away before standing. “They'll learn eventually, yeah. Birds are pretty territorial, so maybe they're just jealous about sharing you?”
“That's probably it, but they got used to sharing me with each other. They can get used to sharing with an Eevee— and three more members, because I plan on having a full team.”
“I think I want an Eeveelution, too,” said Hau, with a nod. “I'll pick up a Fire Stone, and then you'll really have to watch out, Moon.”
“Oh, you wish,” teased Moon. “Maybe I'll pick up a Thunder Stone, then.”
“You've already got type advantage over Poppy with Puck, you don't need a Jolteon. That would be overkill.” Hau paused, frowning. “Hey, Professor. Where would we pick up evolution stones, anyway?”
It wasn't the professor's voice than answered, but a woman, striding toward them with a bright smile on her face. Moon's jaw actually dropped slightly because the woman was beautiful. She had never actually seen a human being this good-looking in her entire life, outside of the clearly photo-shopped models in advertisements and movies. She wore pink shorts and a strappy pastel top that criss-crossed over her dark skin; and her hair was cut in a cute pixie-style cut.
“Oh, Miss Olivia, hi!” said Hau cheerfully.
“Hello, Hau! Wow, time really does fly— I didn't realize you were old enough to start your island challenge!”
“Is this Kahuna Hala's grandson?” asked another woman, appearing from behind the first. Moon had to do a double-take because this woman had green hair, braided into two long tails.
“That's right,” said Olivia, with a nod. “Let's see— I know Maleko, of course; and Hau. And I've met Lillie too. But this other young lady isn't a familiar face. Professor, would you mind introducing us?”
“Sure thing!” said Professor Kukui cheerfully. “This is Moon Hawkins— Hala's great-niece. She's just moved here from Kanto about a month and a half ago, yeah, and she's on her island challenge with Hau. Moon— this is Olivia, the kahuna of Akala Island. And also Mallow, one of the trial captains.”
“How many trials are on Akala island?” asked Moon, filing this information away as well.
“Three, plus the Grand Trial,” replied Olivia.
“That's right!” chirped Mallow. “My trial is a Grass-type trial. There's also a Water-type trial and a Fire-type trial.”
Moon decided she liked Mallow. Mallow was generous with information.
“As the kahuna, I'm pleased to welcome to you all to Akala Island,” said Olivia warmly. “Have you all just come from Melemele?”
“Moon and I surfed over on Mantine, but the Professor and Lillie took the boat.”
“Ah, that's right. Trainers who aren't on their island challenge aren't really supposed to use the Ride Pagers or Mantine Surf.” Olivia nodded knowingly. “But Maleko, I'm surprised at you. You're escorting two young ladies around— you really ought to be wearing a shirt.”
Moon choked on air. Lillie, next to her, muffled a giggle.
“Hey, it's not my fault I don't have many good shirts,” protested Professor Kukui. “I get to playin' with my Pokémon and they just tear everything I own right up! It's easier not to bother with more clothes than I have to, yeah.”
“It's a double standard,” said Olivia severely. “If you're allowed to walk around without a shirt all the time, then I should be allowed to do the same thing, shouldn't I?”
“I'll look into getting more shirts,” mumbled the Professor, buttoning his coat and staring down at the ground. It was the first time that Moon had ever seen him looking chastened.
“Now, to answer Hau's question— you can buy evolution stones at my store in Konikoni City. It's a little ways away, and you can't get there until after you've completed all of the trials; but we sell Fire, Water, Thunder, and Leaf Stones.”
“Awesome! So once I've trained up an Eevee, I'll have to come and buy a Fire Stone from you?”
“That's right. I'll look forward to seeing you in my shop.” Olivia smiled. “Now, I also had a question for Miss Lillie, here— I had an email from Kahuna Hala about wanting to visit the Tapu dens? Could you tell me what you mean by that?”
“Oh, yes.” Lillie cleared her throat. “As you might remember, I'm, um, I'm protecting a Pokémon called Cosmog. I'm trying to help her get home, but there are some people looking for her. I don't know why, but she seems to want to visit the Tapus. She tried to take me on her own to see Tapu Koko, and we got into some trouble on the bridge leading to his den and accidentally, um, destroyed it.”
“As one does,” laughed Mallow, but there was no reprimand in her tone. Olivia smiled.
Lillie flushed, clearing her throat again. “A-anyway, I think it will help Nebby— Cosmog, I mean— to visit with the Tapus. I think she knows more about what she needs than I do.”
“Pew,” said Nebby cheerfully, poking her head out from behind Lillie's ankle.
“When did you get out of the bag—”
“You do leave it open most of the time,” pointed out Moon.
“Is she not captured in a Pokéball?” asked Olivia.
Lillie shook her head. “She has a special ability to warp away when she's in danger,” she explained. “We're not really sure how a Pokéball would affect that, so we've decided to leave her uncaptured for now. She stays with me by choice. Um— would you be willing to escort me to Tapu Lele's den, at some point?”
“Of course,” said Olivia, with a nod. “I'm sure Tapu Lele will be happy to help your— Cosmog, was it?— with whatever she needs.” Moon, watching the kahuna, was unsurprised as something... not fully human... flashed in the woman's eyes. She'd seen it on a few occasions when Hala had spoken about Tapu Koko. There was some kind of bond that the kahunas had with the guardian deities, some bond that transcended Trainer and Pokémon— especially because the guardians were not confined to Pokéballs.
“Anyway, that was all I wanted to ask you about,” Olivia said to Lillie. “Thank you for clarifying for me. Mallow and I are headed to Konikoni City— we're glad we caught you. Lillie, Moon— it was very nice to meet you. Moon and Hau, please work hard at your island challenge. I look forward to meeting you in battle at your Grand Trial.”
“Bye!” called Mallow, waving as she followed Olivia away. “Have fun, you guys!”
“Well, that's that,” said Professor Kukui cheerfully. “Olivia always comes to greet Trainers on their island challenge as they arrive. She says it's to make up for the lack of welcome they get on Ula'ula— old Nanu's a bit of a hermit, yeah. Are you all ready to go and eat now?”
They debated the merits and demerits of various Eeveelutions as the four of them walked along the streets of Heahea City. Lillie listened with a smile, occasionally throwing in a good word for Glaceon and Sylveon— her favorites, she admitted. Moon's favorite Eeveelution was also Glaceon, but according to Professor Kukui, the only part of Alola cold enough to induce evolution conditions was on Mount Lanakila— a place that Trainers on their island challenge were not permitted to go until they had completed all eight trials and four Grand Trials. It would be very impractical to train up an Eevee without letting it evolve for the entirety of her island challenge. Hau's favorite Eeveelutions were Flareon and Jolteon, and Moon could easily see why— Fire- and Electric-types both tended to be loud and cheerful and bright, things they had in common with Hau himself. Professor Kukui proclaimed his love for all of the Eeveelutions, but admitted to having a soft spot for Espeon.
“It learns lots of cool moves,” he said warmly, as they walked into the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant he had told them about. “You can have it learn Dazzling Gleam to cover for those Dark-types, yeah— and even Shadow Ball for other Psychic-types.”
“Hmm, maybe I'll get an Espeon, then,” said Moon thoughtfully.
They enjoyed dinner, talking and laughing and playfully arguing about potential teammates and type advantages. It was more fun to talk it out, Moon decided. The conversation was giving her plenty of ideas. She'd more or less decided that she would need to pick up a Ground-type at some point, though she had no idea when that point would be; and she wanted a Water-type as well. She was not ashamed to admit that she was very much building her team around Puck, as the first Pokémon she'd received. Moon had been pleased to learn that Puck gained Ghost-type when he evolved into Decidueye. Grass- and Ghost-types were two of her four favorite types. She'd never been able to pick just one favorite, between Grass, Ghost, Ice, and Fairy.
When Moon was stuffed, and the seemingly endless pit that was Hau's stomach was at least partially satisfied, Professor Kukui yawned and nodded. “I'm going to head down to my wife's apartment, yeah? Rotom can show you how to get the Pokémon Center.”
“Sure,” said Moon, slightly confused. “Er— your wife? I didn't realize you were married.”
“Heck yeah, I'm married!” Professor Kukui burst out laughing as he set a tip of a few hundred Poké on the table. “Ellie runs a research lab here on Akala, and most nights she's too busy to come home so she has a little apartment here. She usually makes it to Melemele on the weekends, yeah. I'm surprised you haven't met her yet, actually.”
“Professor Burnet is very kind,” said Lillie, with a nod.
“Oh, I've heard you mention her before! I guess I just didn't realize she was Professor Kukui's wife.”
“I'd invite you all to stay at the apartment, but there's just the bed and the couch, and we don't have sleeping bags or air mattresses. Plus Lillie's a Trainer now, so she can stay at the Pokémon Center at Trainer rates.”
“I'm pooped." Hau held the door open as they walked out onto the well-lit street— the sun had fully set while they were in the restaurant, but it wasn't dark outside. “And I really, really want a shower now that I've gotten something in my belly.”
“Same,” said Moon, with a great deal of feeling.
“Mmm,” said Lillie, a touch absently. “I actually have an errand to run, so why don't the two of you go on to the Pokémon Center without me?”
“An errand? Where?”
“I'm meeting up with— um, a friend.” Lillie flushed, glancing at Professor Kukui as though pleading for help. “He sent directions to my phone, so I should be able to pull it up on PokéMaps. And I have Lapin and Umber to protect Nebby and me, too.”
Professor Kukui smiled. “That's true,” he said gently, “but it's also pretty dark out. Are you sure you'll be okay?”
“I think so. You should go on home, Professor.” Lillie nodded, clearly determined. “I should be able to make it just fine.”
“Be sure and call any of us if you need help.” Professor Kukui began walking away, waving as he went. “You've got all our numbers, yeah! And I'll get you Olivia's number, too. See you tomorrow!”
Lillie was already opening her phone, tapping PokéMaps. A slight frown appeared on her face.
“It would seem I spoke too soon,” she said, with a sigh. “I ought to have downloaded the map last night— I don't have Wi-Fi right now and it isn't loading properly.”
“I'll walk you,” suggested Moon, pulling out Rotom. “What's the address?”
“Oh, no, that's fine—”
“I'd feel better if one of us walked you anyway,” cut in Hau, folding his arms. “Lapin is still a baby, and you only just caught Umber. I know you'll work hard to train them and you'll be able to protect yourself soon, but until then, we'd like to help you as much as we can.”
“O-oh.” Lillie flushed. “I guess you make a good point. Um, which one of you will go with me?”
“Fire, water, grass,” suggested Moon, holding up one fist. “Loser takes all the bags to the Pokémon Center and pays for rooms for the night.”
“You're on. Fire, water, grass!”
Moon won again, with fire against grass; and a disgruntled Hau took Moon's camping equipment and hiking backpack, carrying everything down the street to where the Pokémon Center shone brightly in the evening.
“So, what was that address?” Moon asked Lillie again.
“Um, it's the Tide Song Hotel.”
“Rotom, pull it up for us?”
“Sure thing, bzzt!” After a second or two, a map popped up on Rotom's screen. “It looks like it's about a twenty-minute walk from here, bzzt.”
“Wow, now I'm really glad I'm going with you. A twenty-minute walk at night in an unfamiliar city is no joke.” Moon nudged Lillie companionably. “Let's get going, huh?”
The walk was rather pleasant, but Moon noticed things around the streets that further solidified her decision to go with Lillie: there were a few kids in the rag-tag black and white of Team Skull, chatting and hanging around— they didn't seem to be doing anything illegal, so Moon didn't challenge them. And there were, of course the usual kinds of people that tended to hang around on city streets in the evenings— strangers that leaned on the bricky walls of alleyways, cigarettes dangling from their fingers and smoke curling from their mouths; tipsy groups of people walking to or from bars, stumbling with their arms over each other's shoulders for support; and pairs or trios congregated in alleyways, heads bowed as they spoke quietly, directing furtive glances over their shoulders. Moon knew it was unlikely that any of these people posed a threat to Lillie— they were probably just people out smoking and going to bars and meeting up with friends; but she didn't want to take the risk that Lillie, with her round eyes and pastel wardrobe and hunched-over posture would be viewed as an easy target for any kind of harassment. Moon herself didn't look that much older, but she was a couple of inches taller than Lillie and she tended to carry herself with confidence and bravado— a side effect, she supposed, of growing up down the street from Blue Oak.
“What friend are you meeting?” she asked Lillie.
Lillie paused before answering. “Um— a friend from home,” she said softly. “The one who told me about raising a Zorua. He's very kind, though he doesn't always show it.”
Clearly, Lillie didn't want to tell Moon this friend's name, or anything identifying about him. Moon could respect that. “Cool. I'm sure he'll be excited to see Umber, then.”
“Oh, I think so, too. I'm not sure he'll be as excited about the Buneary, but then again he's not much for cuddly or cute, generally speaking.” Lillie cleared her throat. “And I can have him walk me back, so you can just go back to the Pokémon Center. No need to wait up for me.”
“Are you sure?” said Moon. “If he's not there, I could wait with you until he gets there.”
“I should be perfectly safe inside the hotel lobby. That's where we agreed to meet up,” explained Lillie. “There will be plenty of hotel employees to make sure nobody bothers me.”
They rounded a corner and saw the hotel. Moon realized it was right on the beachfront— she could see the Mantine Surf zone, closed for the night, from the street they walked on. “Looks like a nice place,” she commented.
“He said it was,” agreed Lillie.
Moon could not resist walking Lillie inside the hotel itself, peering around for a possible glimpse of Lillie's mysterious friend. She could rule out all the women— Lillie had used male pronouns. And she didn't think Lillie was very likely to be friends with an older man, so it was probably someone around their age. She couldn't see any teenagers or young men in the lobby, though; so she withdrew, disappointed, and headed back down the road toward the Pokémon Center.
Someone shoved roughly past her, knocking her to one side. “Watch it, dummy!” called Moon, annoyed. She glared at the retreating figure, who didn't respond as he stomped in the general direction of the Tide Song Hotel. She hoped it wasn't Lillie's friend. For a moment she considered sneaking back and trying to catch a glimpse of whoever it was.
“Ah, you there!”
Moon was distracted from her thoughts by a pair of Trainers walking toward her— a man and a woman. They both smiled and waved as she looked at them. They spoke Kantonian, as most people did; but their accent was... Kalosian? yeah, definitely Kalosian, thought Moon, thinking of Captain Ilima on Melemele Island. He wasn't Kalosian, but he had lived in Kalos for a long time and spoke with a similar accent.
“Hi,” she said cautiously. “What can I do for you?”
“You are on your island challenge, yes?” the woman smiled, pointing at the amulet hanging from Moon's bag. “I'm Sina, and this is Dexio. We're visiting Alola— we work for Professor Sycamore, of the Kalos region.”
“Yeah, I'm on my island challenge. I'm Moon.” She shook their offered hands.
“Would you be willing to favor me with a battle?” asked Sina. Dexio was already pulling out a tablet and a Pokédex. “We're researching Z-Moves here. Augustine— excuse me, the Professor wants to make a formal comparison between Z-Moves and Mega Evolution. The concepts are similar, but they don't seem to be related.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess I can do that.” She'd brought Puck and Ariel with her, of course. “I don't have any healing items, though. Could you patch me up afterward?”
“Of course, of course!” said Dexio. “It's the least we could do. Thank you very much for your help. And you don't actually have to use a Z-Move— we aren't yet at that stage in the research. Oftentimes a Pokémon simply holding a Mega Stone derives power from it, and we wish to see if Z-Crystals function in the same way.”
Moon nodded, taking a few steps back to face Sina. Her opponent withdrew a Pokéball from her own belt and tossed it to reveal a Smoochum. Moon did her best to keep a straight face but she was wincing. Both Puck and Ariel were weak to Ice-types... but then, Smoochum was also a Psychic-type, and Puck knew Astonish, a Ghost-type move. She sent out Puck.
“Ah, a Dartrix!” said Sina eagerly, taking a small step forward. “You must be a very skilled trainer, yes? Only those who achieve well in school are able to use elemental starters!”
“I did okay, yeah.” She hadn't made valedictorian, but she'd graduated summa cum laude and it had to count for something. “Are you ready?”
“Naturally. Let us begin! Besa, confuse him with Sweet Kiss!”
“Puck, avoid it and use Astonish!”
The little Smoochum tried its best, but it was still a baby and Dartrix was faster and more confident. It fainted quickly. Sina nodded, face impassively pleasant, and tossed out a Glaceon.
“Oh, wow!” said Moon, excited. “I was just talking about Eeveelutions with my friends. Glaceon is my favorite!”
“Mine, too,” said Sina with a smile. “Dexio favors an Espeon, and Psychic-types in general. Glitter, use Ice Shard!”
“Puck, another Astonish!”
She knew the instant the Glaceon moved that she had made a mistake. The Glaceon was much quicker than Puck— and, she remembered just in time, was at quadruple strength against Puck. Grass- and Flying-types were both weak to Ice. Puck struggled for a little while longer, but eventually fainted. Moon recalled him, patting his Pokéball in consolation, and threw out Ariel.
The Trumbeak was also weak to Ice-types, but she had the advantage of knowing Brick Break. Moon had picked up the TM during her first trial, and it had proven itself valuable in the trial itself and the weeks that followed.
“Glitter, another Ice Shard!”
“Ariel, use Brick Break!”
Sina's pleasant expression twitched with sudden worry. Ariel blitzed through the air and smashed into the Glaceon, knocking it out instantly.
“Wow!” said Dexio, furiously tapping on the tablet. “Your Trumbeak is so strong!”
“Great battle,” agreed Sina, recalling her Glaceon. “Let's patch everyone up— a Revive for your Dartrix, and for Besa and Glitter. And here are a couple of Potions to get everyone back to fighting strength.”
“Thanks.” Moon accepted the medicines and got to work reviving her team. “This was fun.”
“And your prize money,” added Sina blandly, passing Moon a clip of money.
Moon gaped at the wad of cash. “That is a lot of prize money, are you sure—”
“We have a very large research fund, and your battle will be very helpful,” explained Dexio. “You're clearly a skilled trainer, and it was interesting to see you battle. Could you answer a few questions for us? You will be listed in any published material as... let me see... Alolan Trainer number thirteen, and your team will be noted as Dartrix and Trumbeak— no names.”
“When did you start your island challenge?” inquired Sina.
“About a month ago.”
“And you started on Melemele Island?”
“What Z-Crystals have you obtained so far?”
“Uh— Normalium, Fightinium, and Flyinium.”
Dexio cleared his throat. “And finally, would you care to explain how Z-Power has, so far, benefitted you and your team?”
“Well, I don't typically use Z-Power very much,” admitted Moon. “That's mostly because I've just started my challenge. Ariel— my Trumbeak— is holding Flyinium Z. I've only had it for like, two days, so I haven't had much opportunity to train with it. Once I get a Grassium Z, I'll give that to my Dartrix. I'm looking forward to using more Z-Moves and learning how to use them with my team.”
“Great, thank you.” He tapped a few more times on his tablet. “This will be very helpful for our research. Thank you for your time, Moon. Good luck on your island challenge!”
“Thanks. Good luck with your research.”
As Moon walked back to the Pokémon Center, hands shoved into her pockets, she decided she was definitely going to use Z-Moves more often. She could give Puck the Normalium— he only had Tackle, but even Tackle could be transformed into the powerful Breakneck Blitz move with the aid of the Z-Ring.
Hau was waiting for her in the café of the Pokémon Center, a sleepy expression on his face. “You've been gone for like an hour,” he said, handing Moon a pair of room keys. “One for you, one for Lillie.”
“Thanks.” Moon accepted the keys. “It was a twenty-minute walk to the hotel both ways, and I also met a couple of Kalosian researchers who asked me to battle with them for science.”
“Nice. Did you win?”
“Of course I did, what do you take me for?” Moon grinned. “The girl I battled uses Ice-types, so it was pretty difficult— but we won out in the end.”
Hau's face suddenly became pensive. “Ice-types, huh?” he said thoughtfully. “Huh, maybe I should pick up a Glaceon.”
“You'd have to wait ages,” pointed out Moon. “It's only cold enough to evolve them at Mount Lanakila, right? I think she must have brought hers from Kalos.”
“Fair enough. I've got Uila for your birds anyway— and I'll get a Flareon for your owl.” Hau grinned.
“Don't form your team around beating me, that's silly.”
“I'm not, don't worry. Realistically, it's pretty sensible to have a complete type loop of some kind on your team. I've got Water and Electric, so it would be cool to have a Fire-type.”
“That's just a chain, not a loop.”
Hau smirked. “Yeah, but nobody uses Grass-types—”
“I beg your pardon,” said Moon, raising one eyebrow as Puck, inside his Pokéball, vibrated furiously.
“Ha ha! Just kidding, Puck.” Hau laughed. “Grass types have a lot of weaknesses, but Electric just has the one. I'm happy with Uila, thanks.”
“So did you meet Lillie's friend?”
“No. She talked about him a bit, but she didn't say much. I think it's going to be one of those things where we don't ask and if she feels like telling us, she will.”
“Right.” Hau sighed, rubbing at his temples. “You ever feel like she doesn't trust us?”
Moon didn't answer immediately, because she had felt like that sometimes. But it wasn't accurate to say as much, either.
“I think she doesn't trust herself, maybe,” she said finally. “Being honest with people can be kind of hard.”
“But there's nothing to it. You just... I don't know, you just don't ever lie.”
“That's how you are,” said Moon, waving one hand at him. “You're the most honest person I know. But not everyone is like that. Sometimes it feels safer to hide how you feel, or things that have happened to you.”
Understanding dawned in his eyes. “And Lillie's definitely had some bad stuff happen to her— not that she's said much, mind you, but what she has said has been pretty telling.”
“And it's not just that. She gets nervous about all kinds of things, but she doesn't really like asking for help. She only does it when she thinks she has to, but even then she just looks miserable the whole time.”
“Yeah, I've noticed.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Moon tried to think of ways she could help Lillie, but she was doing pretty much everything she could already.
“She said her friend would walk her back to the Pokémon Center, and if I'm honest I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of him,” she said finally.
Hau's frown deepened. “I hope whoever it is, is worthy of her trust. A stranger walking her back to the Pokémon Center at night in a strange city— I really don't like that.”
“Whoever it is, she's known him longer than she's known us, so she probably does trust him,” decided Moon. “I hope she'll introduce us. I'd like to know all of Lillie's friends. I wonder if she's going to tell him about Nebby.”
“Or if he already knows about Nebby.”
“That too. So we're waiting up for her?”
“Yeah. I'd have to wait up anyway, to give her the room key. You're just keeping me company, like a good friend.”
“Sure, of course,” said Hau mockingly. “It's not like we're trying to nose into our friend's business at all. No, of course not.”
Lillie did not return for nearly an hour, during which time Hau had resorted to napping on the floor of the café with Poppy on his stomach, Uila on his chest, and Sonar clinging to his hair. Puck had taken Hau's seat, sitting up straight in a dignified fashion as he stared fixedly at a Caterpie that was slowly crawling up the window on the outside of the Pokémon Center. Ariel sat in Moon's lap, preening as Moon absently petted her. But finally the door did jingle, and Lillie walked in. She spotted Moon and Hau immediately and turned around in the doorway, speaking softly. Moon could see whoever was holding the door nod slightly. They wore a dark hood, so she couldn't see more than part of their face— thin nose, sharp jawline— before they turned and began walking away from the Pokémon Center.
“Was that your friend?” Moon asked, as Lillie approached.
“Mm-hmm.” Lillie raised one eyebrow at her. “You should have gone to bed.”
“Had to give you your room key, and Hau said he would keep me company.” Moon nudged Hau with her foot. “Wake up, sleepy. Go sleep in a bed.”
“ 'M tired,” complained Hau, not moving.
“Yeah, that's why you should sleep in a bed. Your back is going to be completely borked tomorrow if you don't get up.”
“A'ight, a'ight, I'm up,” he sighed, sitting up. Uila startled awake, sliding down his chest and tumbling onto Poppy— accidenly shocking her in his surprise. Poppy naturally woke up at this, shrieking in annoyance and pain. Uila began growling back grumpily, and the volume steadily rose until Sonar opened his mouth and let out a piercing shriek that rang through the entire Pokémon Center, attracting everyone's attention. Poppy and Uila fell silent.
“Thanks, Sonar.” Hau patted him on the head. “Sorry, guys, didn't mean to knock you into each other. Let's go to bed now, 'kay?” He recalled all three of his teammates to their Pokéballs. “Did we see Lillie's friend?”
“Nah, she saw us and probably told him to go,” answered Moon, laughing.
“He values his privacy,” said Lillie. There was only a very mild rebuke in her voice. “He and I are on similar... missions, if you will. I'm protecting Cosmog, and he has something he's protecting too.”
“We won't pry,” promised Moon, feeling guilty. “We were just curious, and we worry about you.”
Lillie seemed mollified by this. “I appreciate it. He was worried about me, too— until I explained that you walked me here. He sends his thanks.”
“I accept the thanks, but I'd like them more if I know who they came from,” laughed Moon. “I said I wouldn't pry, but I didn't say I wouldn't tease. Hau's got the right idea— let's go to bed.”