At last the Palentine’s Day festivities had begun. Lucian made plans to meet with Cynthia and the rest of the Sinnoh Elite Four at the party–a delightful outdoor brunch that would culminate in dessert served by two talented bakers and their assistant Pokemon. But when Lucian arrived at their reserved table, Cynthia was nowhere to be found. The only occupied seats were taken by Aaron and Ingo.
“And where do I begin with the Galar bug-type Pokémon?” Aaron was going on while Ingo listening with impressive attentiveness. “Butterfree–oh, hey, Lucian and Flint–can Gigantamax over there, did you know that? Oh, I wish I could see it in person!”
“I’m sure it’s breathtaking,” Ingo chuckled as Lucian and Flint took a seat across them. Lucian opened the book he already had in hand, as per his usual. If Aaron had entered his fact-spewing mode, he counted himself lucky they got a greeting at all.
“Feel free to tell Aaron you’ve had enough of his buggy stories,” Flint said. “I tell Lucian I’m sick of his book summaries all the time.”
“He truly does,” Lucian said, turning a page. “In fact, I suspect he is doing so right now, albeit in a passive aggressive manner.”
“I like listening to Aaron,” Ingo said. Everyone looked surprised by this, including Aaron himself. “Emmet was always the talker, and he always got so excited about whatever interested him,” Ingo went on. “I suppose…hearing someone so invested in their interests gets me invested in them, too.”
“Wait, so you want to train a bug-type?” Aaron asked excitedly. “I could totally trade you one! I mean, I know you’d take good care of them!”
“Maybe after Excadrill and I get a handle on this sync pair business first,” Ingo chuckled.
Flint laughed as well, a bit longer than necessary, though Lucian suspected that was to discourage Aaron from launching into more bug factoids.
“Oh, yeah,” Flint said, snapping his fingers once his laugher petered out. “You’ll never guess who I’ve seen at the Gadgeteering Club on my snack deliveries.”
“Enlighten me,” said Lucian.
“I guess dropping in from Sinnoh is getting popular around here. It’s Cyrus.”
“What?” Lucian slammed the book down on the table, which made Aaron and Ingo jump. A few other diners shifted awkwardly in their seats.
“Chill,” Flint said, making a ‘calm down’ motion with his hands. “Cynthia’s seen him, too. The guy’s just running a club.”
“You do recall the last time that madman ‘ran a club,’ he tried to destroy the world in an attempt to rebuild it from scratch.”
“Who is this you’re talking about?” Ingo asked.
Lucian dug through the satchel of books he carried until he found one labeled, Villainous Teams the World Over. He flipped about midway through and pushed the book over to Ingo.
Cyrus’s picture was displayed prominently under the chapter heading “Team Galactic.” Ingo studied it for a few minutes before his eyes widened and his face went scarlet. He slumped back in his seat.
What was that all about? Lucian wondered as he pulled the book back. But before he could ask Ingo, their conversation was interrupted by Cynthia hurrying up to the table.
“Ingo, get up!” she said, motioning for him to follow. A teenage boy with messy maroon hair came up beside her. She nudged him forward and introduced him to the group.
“This young man is Koko, and he was invited to sit at Lear’s table,” she said. “We’re going there right now.”
Koko smiled as he waved sheepishly at everyone. “Oh, hey!” he said when his eyes landed on Ingo. “I know you! You’re the guy who was following us to our battle with Skyla the other day!”
“You were what now?” Cynthia turned on Ingo and gave him her most disapproving stare. His face hadn’t quite returned to its normal color, and this latest turn of events didn’t help matters.
He lowered the brim of his hat. “I…didn’t think you saw me.”
“It’s okay,” Koko said with a shrug. “You weren’t attacking us, so I figured you had a good reason. None of the baddies around here are too subtle.”
Cynthia glanced between the two of them. “We can talk about this later,” she sighed. “Let’s just get to Lear before he decides to vanish from his own event.”
Koko shrugged and began to lead Cynthia and Ingo through the crowd. Lucian began reading the Team Galactic chapter of Villainous Teams the World Over. If no one else would be prepared, he’d make sure he was.
Koko felt happy he could help the Champion Cynthia out. He didn’t know what exactly she needed from Lear, but it must have been urgent. The second she’d seen Lear’s spiky lavender hair and signature red shades at the start of the party, she’d come sprinting up, panting as she pointed and called, “You! Don’t go anywhere!”
“What? How dare you demand I not do something! Who do you think you–”
That was when Rachel had leaned over whispered in Lear’s ear. Whatever she’d said, it changed his whole demeanor in an instant.
“Ah, Miss Champion. Of course. I can wait a minute or two. But only because I planned to sit here for those minutes anyway.”
Cynthia had looked very pleased at this reply and left to get “someone for Lear to talk to.” Koko had helped himself to a cucumber sandwich and followed Cynthia to see if he could help her out.
And now, here they all were.
As Koko ran ahead to the table, he saw the Palentine’s bakers starting to distribute treats…although he had to think for a second to remember their names.
Dawn and Serena! That’s it!
He smiled with pride, jumped up to his seat between Brock and Misty. Dawn wore an adorable collared red dress and a poofy apron that resembled layers of pink and white frosting. Her baker’s cap was even accented with felt strawberries. Serena stood beside her in a more subtle chocolate brown dress with long sleeves and ruby red diamonds down the edges.
“First we’ve got some sweet Lava Cookies from Sinnoh,” Dawn began, serving Lear a light and crispy treat that sparkled with sugar crystals.
“And we’ve got some…” Serena yawned as she added a cherry-topped cake. “…chocolate Poke Puffs from Kalos, with…oh, excuse me…brosting and ferries. I mean, frosting and berries.”
Dawn glanced at her with concern but tried to cover up with a bubbly tone. “Anyway, please enjoy! We made all today’s sweets from scratch.”
“Yeeep,” Serena muttered. “And we were still making them at 2am in Bellis’s lab. We battled every shop owner for the ingredients, too.”
“Why would you do that?” Koko asked.
“I genuinely have no idea. This was all before the oven exploded.”
“I made a special deal with the shops,” Lear said, ignoring the bit about bursting kitchen appliances. “So sweet-makers could get ingredients with battles instead of money. It was a very festive and creative idea, and I won’t hear any arguments against it!”
He began wolfing down sweets right as Cynthia approached the table. Her friend, the one who’d been following Koko’s team, sort of slunk behind her. “Um, excuse me?” she said, but Lear remained obliviously in chocolate-consuming mode.
“I’d suggest waiting until he’s done,” said Dawn.
Cynthia scowled but nodded while Dawn and Serena served the rest of the table.
“Sorry you two went through so much work,” Koko said, mouth watering at the chocolatey scent.
Serena smiled and shrugged. “It’s not that I mind sharing the joy of Poke Puffs. I’d just rather be practicing for the PML. I guess Palentine’s Day isn’t quite my thing, you know?”
“Lear did sort of rope us into it,” Dawn admitted. “But for me, it’s completely different. Making sweets with Alcremie at my side felt like a breeze.” Her Alcremie, perched on the top of her baker’s cap, gave a little squeal of delight. “Maybe it’s because I had a minor Alcremie merger back home?” she added thoughtfully.
“Would make sense,” said Serena.
Koko straightened at the merger comment and watched Brock and Misty for their reaction. He noticed they brought up this topic a lot with anyone from their home region of Kanto. He figured it had something to do with when they first arrived here, and if it was important, they’d share it with him. It seemed rude to pry, if nothing else.
Misty and Brock waited until Serena and Dawn had moved onto the next table. Once they were out of earshot, however, they quickly began whispering to each other.
“Interesting,” Misty said. “This is a big lead for us.”
“I guess,” Brock asked. “But I probably should mention…I talked to this guy at the volcano the other day who seemed to know us…and told me to stop asking questions.”
“What?” Misty gasped. “Brock, why didn’t you tell me? And what else did he say?”
“I–” Brock began.
“Ah, Champion Cynthia!” Lear said, standing up and spreading his arms wide. “When did you get here?”
Cynthia, who had been standing there for at least three minutes, crossed her arms and frowned.
Lear sweatdropped. Then he whirled on Brock and Misty, snapped his fingers, and pointed away from the table. “You two. Out.”
“Huh?” Misty said, her mouth half-full with chocolate cake. “But you were the one who invited to sit–”
“Yes, when I thought having your–admittedly promising–team as my dining guests was the best I could do on short notice. Now, out!”
Misty and Brock both picked up their desserts and left their seats. Koko stood and started to follow, figuring he must be kicked out, too.
“Wait!” Lear motioned to Koko. “You stay.”
Cynthia and her friend reluctantly took the seats that Misty and Koko had vacated, and Koko jumped into Brock’s seat next to them. Cynthia introduced her friend as Ingo–a resident of Unova. Who was also, apparently, a time-traveler from Sinnoh back when it was still called Hisui. And who had a twin. And who really wanted to go home to find said twin but wasn’t sure how to do that.
Koko listened with interest while slowly munching his Lava Cookie. He had no idea why he was here other than everyone in this place seemed determined to put him at the center of their stories.
“I see…” Lear said, rubbing his chin as Ingo finished explaining his situation. “So you want Hoopa to send you off Pasio, but leave you in Unova, rather than this Hisui place you came from?”
“I don’t think I can stress this enough,” Ingo said. “I came from Unova first. I don’t…well, my best guess is that Arceus brought me to Hisui.”
Arceus? Koko almost chocked on the cookie.
“Seems legit,” Lear said with a shrug. “Well, we always hate to see trainers leave, but we’re obviously not going to keep you here against your will. Hoopa?”
Hoopa, who had watched the conversation intently from the sides, floated up alongside Lear.
“Send this gentleman back to Nimbasa City in Unova, if you don’t mind,” Lear said with another dramatic snap of his fingers.
Hoopa frowned and shook its head.
“W-what?” Lear spluttered. “You can’t refuse! Otherwise, we’re just kidnapping people! How will that look to my parents?”
Hoopa seemed somewhat irritated itself and it let out a quick series of annoyed cries to elaborate.
Koko sat up. “He said he’s not refusing to let Ingo leave,” he translated. “But he can only return him to the place he came from.”
“No!” Ingo blurted out. Everyone turned to him, and he cleared his throat as he gathered himself. “Pardon the outburst, but I would…rather not go back there. What exactly is Hoopa’s objection?”
Another series of cries, and Koko nodded thoughtfully as he took in Hoopa’s words. Maybe this was why so many trainers wanted him around all the time. Having an on-hand Pokémon translator often proved helpful to them.
“He says that if Arceus moved him from Unova, he doesn’t want to argue. Arceus is way more powerful. And there’s a good chance that, um…” Koko twisted his fingers, debating if there was a way to put Hoopa’s concerns kindly.
There wasn’t. “…a chance that the past was altered. That as far as anyone knows, you never existed in Unova at all.”
Ingo said nothing but lowered his face, his hands balled into fists. Cynthia’s gaze darted between him and the group, seemingly locked in debate.
Koko hated to see people upset, especially after something he said. “I mean…Hoopa only said that’s a possibility…”
“I’m afraid it’s more than that,” Cynthia clarified. “We ran into someone from Unova not long ago, someone who should have recognized Ingo if he did, in fact, exist in the Unova she came from. But she didn’t. She clearly knew his brother, but…” Cynthia’s focus dropped to the ground along with Ingo’s. “…not him.”
There was a long painful silence before Lear broke it in the most awkward way possible. “Well, that sounds depressing,” he said. Then he reached over and patted Ingo’s shoulder. “I can see you need some cheering up. How’d you like a job?”
“Huh?” Ingo asked.
“Huh?” everyone else echoed.
Lear held up his hands like his meaning was obvious. “Look, it’s an established fact that non-royal people like yourself enjoy jobs. It gives them purpose and motivation and whatnot. With the success of this Palentine’s Day brunch, I’m planning a special spring event next. I could use a hand filling the roles.”
“Roles?” Cynthia questioned.
“Get ready to be amazed by my brilliant ideas,” Lear said, then made a dramatic pose like he was showcasing an invisible piece of art. “A themed tea party, set to a classic novel! I need a hearty queen, some girl to be the main character, a marching rabbit, and an angry hatter.”
“Do you mean Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?” Ingo asked. “Because in that case, I think the characters are Alice, the Queen of Hearts, the March Hare, and the Mad Hat–”
“Don’t correct me!” Lear interrupted. “Anyway, the hatter will be a butler and lead visitors through a cave with some riddles and a maze and what have you.”
“I don’t think that’s what butlers do.”
“I said don’t cut me off! You want the job or not?”
Ingo sighed. Koko felt bad for him, but also had to admit, the tea party thing sounded like a good time. He wondered if Lear would let him be the hare.
“I suppose I do, since I don’t seem to be going anywhere else at the moment,” Ingo finally replied.
“Excellent! I’ll put you down, then,” Lear said. He then gleefully continued to expand on his vision for the party, while Cynthia quietly leaned in towards Ingo.
“Don’t give up,” she said. “Maybe your brother will arrive here just like Caitlin did.”
“Yes,” Ingo said. Then he added on so quietly that even Koko’s keen hearing barely picked it up, “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”
It took nearly an hour of Lear’s chatting before the group finally dispersed. Koko only heard about a third of it. After Lear announced that he had already secured a girl named May for the hare role and Lillie for the Alice role, Koko had more or less tuned out.
The brunch ended, and most of the group at Lear’s table dispersed on a pretty somber note. Even Lear’s retainers sensed the drop in mood, nodding along with him but giving little other feedback. When Koko found Brock and Misty among the exiting guests, they were still involved in their conversation about Dawn.
“…and anyway, I’m more interested in this guy you talked to at the volcanoes,” Misty was saying. “We should ask him more questions, not a random person we’ve never met.”
“I’m not sure what we should do,” Brock said. “If he tells us something we don’t like, we can’t exactly take that knowledge back.”
“So? Better to know and deal with it than stay ignorant!”
Koko walked past them and left the outdoor dining area. He spotted Cynthia and Ingo partway down the sidewalk. He could ignore them or he could run to catch up. It really depended on whether he took Brock or Misty’s view about information they might not like.
Because there was a detail to Hoopa’s explanation he’d sort of rushed over in his translation. But how to bring it up? He hadn’t scored many subtlety points so far.
Cynthia and Ingo were nearing a corner now, headed for the nearby intersection. Koko took a deep breath.
I have to say something, subtle or not.
“Hey, wait up a second,” he called out, running up and tugging on Ingo’s sleeve. The man turned and looked at him with kind eyes. Koko felt a little less nervous. “There’s just…one more thing I thought I should mention. Hoopa said to be careful about interacting with people from Unova. Remembering two different realities could…really mess with someone’s head, you know?”
“Ingo’s fine, and he remembers,” Cynthia pointed out.
“Of course,” Koko said. “No memories of the Unova where he doesn’t exist, right?”
Cynthia looked a tad insulted at the correction. “The boy has a point,” Ingo said with a chuckle.
“Look, it all sounds a bit complicated to me,” Koko went on. “But Hoopa was worried, so I thought I should pass it on.”
“Indeed,” Ingo said with a nod. Then he patted Koko on the head, which felt a bit childish, but so did a lot of things adults said to him. “I appreciate the translation you provided today. You have a remarkable talent, young man.”
“Of course I do,” Koko said.
“Ah. And I see you have confidence, too. Bravo, Koko. Safe travels!”
Koko tilted his head. “I hope so. I’m just walking down the sidewalk.”
“It’s just a phrase I like to use a lot,” Ingo assured him. “And since I now remember it, I may use it a bit extra. Thank you again for your help.” He tipped his hat, and with that, the two groups parted ways, leaving Koko to wonder if he had really helped at all.