Misty and her companions approached the shore just as a high wave collided with the rocky cliffside. It made an impressive crash that echoed across the sand and drowned all of Misty’s other thoughts. In that brief moment, she heard only the surf.
Then she gasped.
Although her feet were planted firmly on the beach, she had the sudden sensation of being swept away, pulled deep under the water’s surface, floating freely with no ocean floor in sight. And since she’d never known herself to be a precog, it was probably safe to assume this was an old memory coming back to her.
But…a memory of what? Misty waited for the scene to change. Dim shafts of sunlight danced in the currents. The warm water was rife with activity, but all the water Pokémon were distant shadows. Misty waited. If this was a memory, maybe it would work the same way as a dream, and she’d just know what to do. Could she swim out to the Pokémon in the distance? Surely she had to come up for breath sometime. Instead she remained suspended in the ocean’s depths, sinking deeper as the light above grew dimmer. Misty’s throat tightened. She placed a shaking hand on her chest, but it didn’t rise or fall. Her heartbeat was strong, but…she wasn’t breathing. Why wasn’t she breathing? She flailed in the water, trying to kick her way to the surface, but her legs didn’t quite move the way she wanted. The light had almost faded now. Was she drowning? It couldn’t be.
“No!” she cried.
“Misty? Hey, Misty!” Brock’s voice rang out, pulling her from the brain fog. In an instant, her vision of being underwater vanished. She refocused her senses on the land-based elements around her…the smell of a delicious barbecue somewhere down the shoreline, the sound of music and laughter that came from it. The feel of sand coating her feet as she stepped farther the water and the wet muck.
“You okay?” Brock asked her. She held her forehead and took several drawn-out, deliberate breaths. “I…think so,” she said slowly. “Sorry…it’s just…I feel like I was remembering something.”
“Oh,” Brock said, expectant. When she didn’t elaborate, he pressed her further: “Remembering stuff is good, isn’t it?”
She shook her head slowly. It wasn’t like she thought every blurry moment would be a straight-up party, but she had to admit, she didn’t expect it to be this frightening, either. “I don’t know,” she finally said and gave Brock no more details than that. Up until now, she wanted to know everything she could about what happened before they arrived. She didn’t know how to reconcile that excitement with this new feeling of dread.
Well, that was Tomorrow Misty’s problem. Right now she was on a beach helping her new friend Koko. To do what, exactly, she wasn’t entirely sure. She’d run out of cue cards, but it seemed rude to simply walk off. She really should have checked with Lear to see how long this “taking a new trainer under her wing” was supposed to last. Maybe she should simply be happy they had a place to stay while she and Brock were investigating.
“Hey, is that Lt. Surge?” Brock asked, shielding his eyes from the sun as he pointed down the shoreline.
And speaking of investigating…Misty thought, trying to follow his line of sight. Lt. Surge was never a subtle person, and sure enough, she recognized his muscular frame, camo green army attire, and spiky blond hair. But either he didn’t notice them in return or he didn’t care. His posture leaned downward as he inspected the ground, occasionally kicking it with his boot as he stroked his chin.
When he got close enough, Misty could hear him loudly mutter to himself, “Nah, this ain’t a good spot. Too much sand.” He walked along farther and adjusted his sunglasses. “Gotta settle on something. Can’t be out here all day. Then again, not doing anything else, so maybe I can…”
Misty stepped forward. “Lt. Surge?” She braced herself for him to jump up and yell at her, but instead he glanced up calmly.
“Who’s asking?” He looked her over, confused at first, then a wide grin broke out across his face. “Oh, hey! Fellow Gym Leader Misty! It’s been a while.” He straightened and glanced at Brock. “Hey, Fellow Gym Leader Brock’s here, too! What brings you both out of Kanto?”
That was an excellent question Misty herself still wanted answers to, but before she could say as much, Surge yanked off his sunglasses, and turned sharply. His eyes narrowed at a nearby rock.
“Um…Surge?” Brock asked cautiously.
Surge shushed him. The group of them stood awkwardly for a solid minute, Surge poised like he was ready to fight, every muscle tensed. At last he relaxed, which made Misty breath a sigh of relief. “Thought I heard something,” Surge explained. “Don’t wanna sound paranoid or nothing, but there’s been a weird kid following me all day.”
“A kid?” Misty asked.
“Well, about your age, I guess. Blond guy. Big scarf. Says he doesn’t like the company I keep here on Pasio.”
“Why does he care?” Misty asked.
Lt. Surge shrugged. “That’s what I said, then he told me I have to pay a fine if I argue. I walked away and said nothing. Let him try to fine me now.” He chuckled like he’d done something especially clever and slipped his sunglasses back on. “Well, gotta get back to looking. Catch you two later.” He returned to searching the shoreline for something.
“Um, mister?” Koko asked as Surge moved past him. “What are you look–”
Surge gave Koko a loud, “Shhh!” and said nothing else. Koko shrugged and went to stand beside Misty. Rosa was suspiciously silent. Misty looked around and realized there was a good reason for that…Rosa had wandered off. Where she had been standing was a set of footprints leading up the beach. The three of them followed it, with Koko spotting Rosa in the distance with a small group of trainers. One of the trainers stood out amongst the crowd–tall with long, blonde hair, wearing a black dress that fell to her ankles and looked horribly uncomfortable to be walking along a beach in. The woman turned, revealing that she was actually wearing a black pants suit with a long, flowing black coat.
Misty gasped. Was that…the Champion of Sinnoh? Had she somehow appeared on this island, too? What was the Sinnoh Elite Four doing with their leader gone? Maybe they put Bertha in charge, Misty mused.
The other trainers with the Sinnoh champion looked like a group of teenagers, all sporting weird black and white masks. They stood in a semicircle, not blocking the champion per se, but certainly making a smooth exit difficult.
“Come ooon,” a teen with the pink hair and sharp teeth whined. “You’re the Cynthia of the Sinnoh region! Shouldn’t you be used to lots of matches in a row?”
Cynthia frowned. “That may be true,” she said. “But even a Champion’s Pokémon need rest after so many battles.”
“They can handle one more, can’t they?” the teen insisted. “I never even got half the badges at home! When am I ever gonna have another chance to battle a Champion like you?”
“I…” Cynthia’s hand fell to her Pokéball, like she was considering the request and argument.
“Pleaaase,” the teen whined, but before Cynthia could give an answer, a scream erupted from where’d they’d chatted with Surge before. Misty whirled around to see someone with a long scarf leap out from behind the exact rock that the former lieutenant had been so suspicious about.
The teenagers all stepped back. “Oh, no. Not that kid again,” the pink-haired one said, and the group of them scattered, running away from the beach and back towards town.
“Hey!” Rosa yelled, starting after them. “Where do the group of you think you’re going?”
None of them answered her, so she groaned and continued chasing them up the hillside, leaving Brock, Misty, and Koko standing with Cynthia as the scarf-sporting kid sprinted into their faces.
“You!” he yelled, pointing an accusing finger at everyone except Cynthia. “You’re with those Team Break guys, aren’t you?”
“Uh…” Koko said, taking up a defensive posture. Misty didn’t blame him. The scarf kid had his fists raised, and his eyes blazed with a manic energy. Misty glanced at the hill’s crest. Rosa had stopped running for the moment, and Brock waved frantically for her to come back.
“Hey, no signaling for back-up, Team Break scum!” Scarf Kid yelled.
“Team what?” Brock began. “I’m not–”
“Oh, I can see it in your eyes,” Barry went on. “Don’t deny your guilt! Denials lead to big fines!”
Brock dropped his arms. Thankfully, Rosa’s Servine had already spotted him, and the two of them were rushing down the hill once again. Rosa almost tripped twice, saved from tumbling to the beach by Servine’s Vine Whip.
“Barry!” she yelled, her voice raspy with exhaustion when she reached them. She leaned over, gasping for breath.
Cynthia held up her hands in an attempt to calm everyone down, but no one seemed to take notice. Koko tried to reach into his pack for his water bottle, only for Scarf Kid (Barry, apparently) to ready a Poke Ball. “You, there! Grunt! Quit moving!”
Koko ignored him and tossed Rosa the water bottle anyway. She held up a finger to signal everyone should wait for her while she took several generous gulps. Water dribbled from her chin, making dark spots on the sand.
“Barry…” she repeated, wiping her mouth and finally catching her breath. “These guys aren’t from Team Break. And drop the stupid fine thing, already!”
Barry huffed and crossed his arms. It seemed even Rosa’s endorsement couldn’t sway him. “It’s nice you’re so trusting,” he said. “But I was watching these three from behind my secret rock. They greeted Surge like they were all old buddies, and he definitely hangs out with villains. So they’ve gotta be villains, too.”
“They just arrived here yesterday,” Rosa insisted, returning Koko’s now-empty water bottle. “And Surge is a gym leader from their region. They have no clue who he hangs out with.”
“New arrivals, huh?” Barry stroked his chin and narrowed his eyes at each of his suspects. “Okay,” he finally said. “If Rosa is vouching for you, I’ll back off. For now.” She glanced aside, looking the Champion of Sinnoh up and down. “Oh, Champion Cynthia! How long have you been standing there?”
Rosa sighed and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “Everyone, this is Barry,” she said, with a tone that suggested the mere mention of his name could drain one’s energy. “He can be a little impulsive…”
“A little?” Koko asked.
“…but he’s pretty dependable. And a strong trainer to boot.” Her eyes lit up with an idea. “Hey, Barry, you want to join our little expedition team?”
“I’d rather he not,” Koko said.
Barry crossed his arms and tapped his foot. Rather quickly. A small cloud of sand puffed up around his shoe. “Hmm…Normally, I’d have a tough time deciding whether to hang out with you or go after Team Break, Rosa. But since you’ve got Team Break spies with you, I guess I can do both!”
“They’re not spies!” Rosa snapped.
“Ah, good idea. Don’t let them know we’re onto them.”
Before Rosa could get into another argument, Cynthia stepped between them, putting herself in the center of the group and drawing everyone’s focus. A classic Champion move, Misty thought.
“Thank you for your support,” Cynthia said, turning to Barry first, then Rosa. “I admit, it’s difficult for me to turn down a battle from young trainers. Especially ones that haven’t had many battle opportunities at home.” She massaged her temples as a slow exhale escaped her lips.
“Are you okay, Miss Cynthia?” Koko asked, leaning in towards her. His tone was polite, even if his idea of a personal bubble seemed nonexistent.
She took a step back. “I’m fine,” she said, giving him a tired smile. “A little guilt for not measuring up to expectations is nothing new for me.”
“Everyone’s got their limits,” Misty said. “You’ve got nothing to feel guilty about.”
Cynthia’s smile faded. “If unneeded feelings could be willed away somehow, believe me, I would be first in line to learn the method.”
Well, no one had any reply to that. Silent awkwardness hung in the air like a Chandelure searching for its next victim. Misty wondered if Cynthia was always this upfront about her feelings with relative strangers. Or perhaps she and Rosa knew each other better than Misty thought?
“I’m surprised that bothering a champion is all those Team Break jerks were doing today,” Rosa sighed. “Most times I’ve seen them, they’re running around trying to steal Pokémon.”
So that’s why she was chasing them even after they left Cynthia alone, Misty realized. She should have been upset hearing about these Pokémon thieves, but instead she felt annoyed at how predictable the problem was. Evil teams and their same old routines. Really, couldn’t she travel some place where an evil mastermind planned to commit mass identity fraud or pollute Saturn or anything creative like that?
Barry was already releasing his Pokémon, a Prinplup, from the looks of it, and giving it a talk about how they had to keep an eye on these suspicious newcomers. Misty sighed. Maybe, like Cynthia, she just had to accept that some troubles would never truly go away.
Whatever suspicions Barry had about them, however, he stopped accusing them of being Team Break spies for the moment. The sky was growing dark with clouds. Cynthia excused herself, withdrawing a small umbrella from inside her coat and walking back towards town. Always prepared. Just like a champion.
Meanwhile, Misty, Koko, and the others hurried to find their own shelter before the clouds lost their patience.