Koko had no idea what to expect from getting badges. He knew what they were, of course, and he knew that the goal in most places was to get eight of them.
But he also knew that for each plucky teenager who blasted through the gym battles and stood poised to claim the championship, there was was always at least one crazy organization interrupting that journey. Usually causing a lot of injuries to townsfolk and massive destruction of property in the process. As a result, he, Skwovet, and Pikachu had stayed out of traditional gym battles for the most part.
Of course, Pasio had already revealed itself to have its own villainous organization in Team Break. But perhaps if there were only five badges and no Elite Four here, Koko could safely challenge them. While few evil groups showed great intelligence, Team Break seemed to show even less than average. So if they did stir up some trouble along the journey, they could (hopefully) be dealt with smoothly.
Or so Koko told himself through the next week and a half of training. He would have liked to practice more before heading out with his team to seek their first badge, but Barry refused to wait any longer. The fact that he’d waited beyond two days was something of a miracle.
“How do you think we get badges, anyway?” Rosa mused as the group left Centra City behind them and entered the wooded area proper. “It’s gotta be more than just a battle. You know those gym leaders and their weird gimmicks. I had to get shot out of a cannon at one gym in Unova. A cannon!”
“Well…” Brock said, fighting a sweatdrop at the thought of his very un-gimmicky gym. “I imagine we have to prove our worth in some way.” Everyone stared at him, waiting for an elaboration. Which he didn’t have. “Well, um…obviously not by standing around doing nothing,” he said, clearing his throat. “Let’s go.” They continued down the cobblestone path, which was soon grown in with moss and shadowed by towering trees.
While Brock usually associated forests with quiet, peaceful places, this one soon became quite busy. A lot of other trainers walked the path ahead of them, most of them dashing female rangers or fashion-forward beauties. Brock struggled to keep a calm face. So many beautiful women around. Was this part of the challenge? If it was, his nerves were successfully a wreck. What if he said something stupid and one of them laughed? Or what if he said something stupid really loudly and all of them laughed?
“You there!” one of the rangers pointed at Brock. She held up a Poké Ball and released a Toucanon that screeched and flapped its wings in Brock’s face. “Are you also here to challenge Lady Erika?”
“Wait, Erika?” Misty asked. “Again?”
“Have we seen her before?” Koko whispered.
Brock, unable to answer, waved his arms wildly in an attempt to fend off the annoyed bird Pokémon.
“Lady Erika…” the ranger corrected sharply. “…has been swarmed lately by unworthy trainers seeking the Tranquility Badge, and I for one see it as my duty to test your–”
Misty ordered Starmie to fire a Bubblebeam at Toucanon, forcing it back into its Poké Ball. The ranger groaned but walked away without argument, revealing a tributary path through the trees that lead into a grove. The group shrugged and followed it. Sure enough, when the leaves parted, there stood Erika, in front of a scenic pond fed by two cascading waterfalls. Her eyes were closed with her face leaned peacefully against her palm.
And she was snoring.
Brock sighed. “Koko, meet Erika.” He wasn’t quiet about it and didn’t mean to be.
Sure enough, Erika startled awake. “Oh, dear. Did I drift off?”
“What do you think?” Brock asked.
She blinked and tilted her head. “Brock? Is that you? What a pleasant surprise to run into you again.” She turned to Koko. “You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t quite recall your–”
“Koko,” he said, extending his hand. “And I’d like to compete for a badge, if that’s okay.”
Erika giggled as she pulled a Poké Ball from her kimono’s sleeve. “Well, isn’t that simply delightful? Of course, young man.”
“Hold up,” Misty said. “How have you been in charge of holiday tree decorating and giving out badges at the same time?”
Erika smiled. “Oh, you know me. I’m always around.”
“Yes, but how?” Misty insisted but got no reply. Apparently, among the things Erika always did, answering questions was not one of them.
Koko stepped forward and sent out Pikachu while Erika called forth Vileplume. A good thing type resistances don’t work here, Brock thought as the match began. He decided to sit this one out and let Rosa and Misty back Koko up instead. Somehow her Starmie seemed weak to Pikachu’s electric attack but had shrugged off Servine’s grass-type ones quite well. He did, however, bring out his Onix to watch the match with him. There was a lot more open space in this grassy grove than in the middle of Centra City’s streets.
The competitors took their places, and the match began.
Vileplume was not the quickest of Pokémon, and Starmie opened with a Bubblebeam that slowed it down even more. Rosa threw in some X Specials to boost her allies before Pikachu began slamming away at Vileplume with Thunderbolt after Thunderbolt. Once paralysis set in, the match turned clearly in their favor, but like the good sport she was, Erika played it out until the end.
Onix grumbled a bit at not being out in the battle itself, and Brock gave it a reassuring pat. Somehow he felt like he understood that desire to be on the field giving his full strength to a fight. A strange feeling, since he enjoyed bodybuilding but never got much into the competition scene. His fists tightened, almost unconsciously, and he visualized them throwing the perfect punch at his opponent’s weak spot. Then Onix’s tail would come in and sweep the opponent right off their feet for a perfect win.
Wait, why am I picturing myself fighting alongside Onix? he wondered. Yet the image was so crystal clear in his mind–he and his Pokémon so synced up that they were practically one in the same.
Brock barely noticed when Vileplume took a critical hit from a Mega Drain and finally gave up.
“And that’s the match,” Erika sighed as she pulled put a Hyper Potion. “I must say, it was a wonderful battle.” She knelt and sprayed down her partner. Its thick petals fluttered with renewed energy. “Your fighting style reminds me of a growing sapling with hardy roots. Spreading through the soil to connect your teammates…”
“But saplings don’t have deep roots yet,” Koko pointed out. “That’s part of what makes them saplings.”
Erika finished spraying the potion and stood up, ignoring him. “…and so it is with great pleasure that I present you with this badge.” She opened her hand, which had been closed during most of the battle to reveal a glittering green and brown badge identical to the one Paulo had shone them before. Koko’s eyes shimmered almost as much as the badge did. His first badge ever, Brock realized. Even though he had seen dozens of trainers receive their first badge from him back in Pewter City, it was an experience that warmed his heart every time he had it. So much hope for the future shone in those eyes. Like a sturdy rock at the base of a mountain that–
Dang. My analogies are as sappy as Erika’s, he realized.
Erika called Vileplume back into her Poké Ball. “One favor I’d like to ask you,” she said with a hint of a smile. “You’re all on the same team for the PML, yes? Would it be all right if I joined up with you?”
“Um…can you do that as PML leader?” Brock questioned.
“If I want to,” Erika said. “There are other PML leaders who can also issue the Tranquility Badge. I’m sure they won’t miss me too much.”
Brock doubted that, considering the line in the forest to get in there, but then again, Erika could prove a valuable teammate. “I guess…I don’t have any objection,” he said.
“Me neither,” Koko echoed.
“Wonderful!” Erika giggled as she started down the path out of the forest. “Now with that decided, I know just where we should go for our next badge tomorrow.” Rosa shrugged and followed, with Brock and Koko taking up the end of the line. Hopefully their team didn’t get too much bigger or traveling together places would start to get rather inconvenient.
“Still…” Brock mused aloud. “Now with Erika on our side, we’ve got…” He counted on his fingers, glanced at Rosa, and frowned. “Oh. Wait. Still only four Pokémon types covered. Drat.”
Ingo was not the type to give up easily. When one got shoved through time and space, one developed a certain level of tenacity. But even he had gotten his fill of this wild Swanna chase. There had to be better approaches. As Cynthia had pointed out, Palentine’s Day was coming up soon. With ten days of fruitless searching behind them, the festivities were due to begin quite soon. Since Lear was in charge of the events, logic said he would show up at them. So while Ingo was not throwing in the towel, he was being tactful. He and Cynthia would hold off and further searching until the Palentine’s event began. He just had to keep himself busy until then.
Today he was on his way to both sell more of his Poké Balls and pick up some groceries. The peach pie waffles had not been kind, and despite Cynthia issuing several invitations for another meal out, he’d been determined to cook for himself and slowly add more modern foods at his own pace.
It took about an hour of walking the trails in Pasio’s mountain environment to reach the cluster of shops outside the training area. The island did have grocery stores closer to town, but Ingo liked the lack of crowds out here. Not to mention, the mountainside gift shops all had a rustic vibe to them, which made them ideal for selling for his handcrafted wares. He had a load of Leaden Balls with him today, and he was anxious to hand them over.
The trail he took was one of several paths; others led past the shops and to the battle arenas, which were favored by rock and ground-type specialists. It was quire early, and the sun wasn’t fully up yet. So while Ingo was never one to be nosy, it was hard not to notice who came up the nearest parallel route. This morning, it was a woman in a kimono walking with brisk steps, much in contract to her sleepy expression. A teenage boy with disheveled maroon hair followed behind her, wringing his hands.
“Miss Erika,” he said quite loudly. “I’m not trying to argue, but Paulo told us to try the volcano area for more badges, not the mountains.”
“Understood. And we can certainly visit the volcanos afterwards,” the woman–Erika, apparently–said with a yawn. “But I know this next badge-giver from working with them before. Rosa might know them, too, actually, seeing as how they’re both from Unova.”
Ingo froze. Abandoning etiquette, he stared as more of the group followed behind the two speakers: five trainers in all, from the looks of things.
He did recognize Rosa–it was hard not to. She been all over the news back home when she and her Pokémon had stopped Ghetsis from freezing Unova solid. Moreover, she was a frequent rider of the Battle Subway, and one of the few trainers who made it far enough to battle him and Emmet on multiple occasions.
And this Erika lady was taking them to meet someone else from Unova? Ingo knew better than to get his hopes up, but he couldn’t ignore this lead, either. If there was even the smallest chance Emmet had arrived in Pasio, he had to follow it. The paths stayed parallel far off into distance, so surely it wouldn’t be that odd if he happened to match pace and keep the badge-seeking group in earshot for a while?
“I guess it’s not like the volcanoes are going anywhere,” the maroon-haired teen muttered, not sounding at all convinced as the group headed into the mountainous arena proper.
As the space came into better view and Ingo followed a good distance behind, the first hints of sunlight glistened off sharp edges of stone. He could see the appeal of battling here, even at such an early hour. The first hints of morning light glinted off sharp edges of stone. The arena was filled with people of all ages encouraging their Pokémon to stretch in the morning sun. Waist-high rocks fenced the area in, and most trainers worked along the perimeter, taking in the gorgeous view of the distant icy peaks. Only one person stood at the center of the arena, her back to the crowds.
“Congrats again on your badges, guys!” she called as a group of four trainers filed out through a gap in the fence. Her hair had a reddish flair, and its style was unmistakably familiar.
“Skyla?” It was Rosa who said her name first, while Ingo tried to hold in his disappointment. Of course. Hundreds of trainers lived in Unova. Why should Emmet be one of the people who showed up here? The bag holding the Leaden Balls suddenly felt much heavier on his shoulders. He relaxed his grip and lowered the bag to the ground for a moment. With this many trainers practicing, he could still stand back and watch the match without looking too out of place.
Up in the arena, the gym leader turned to face her visitors. Sure enough, it was Skyla. The group hurried over to greet her, Rosa in the lead.
“Told you I knew someone,” Erika said before she stepped back with a yawn. “You need to have more trust in me, Koko.”
“Uh-huh.” The teen named Koko glanced between Skyla and the snoozing Erika. “Do you two do everything around Pasio?”
“And when did you even get here?” Rosa added.
Skyla gave an awkward laugh in response to both questions. “A group of us kind of showed up at once,” Skyla said. “We didn’t know anybody else from Unova was here. But hey, we’re together now. Right, guys?” She called and motioned for the group who had started leaving to turn around. As they did so, Rosa’s face hit up with recognition.
“Hilda!” she called out as a girl with a Pignite exited the path. “Nate! Hilbert! And Iris!” She waited to see if anyone else came behind them and frowned when no one emerged. “I guess…N didn’t come with you guys, then?”
“Who’s N?” Koko asked.
“A good friend of ours,” Rosa replied. Then, after a reflective pause, she added, “Actually, you two would probably get along. He can speak to Pokémon.”
“Really?” Koko perked up like a Watchog on alert. “Was he raised by some kind of mythical Unovan Pokémon, then? Maybe we can swap stories.”
“Sadly, we haven’t seen him,” Hilda said, shaking her head. “We’ve been looking everywhere. They just opened a new ice cream shop in town, and I’d love to visit with our full Unova crew.” She sighed at the mere mention of the frozen treats. “I would stand around all day for a Castelia Cone. Seriously. You could write a full-on story about me waiting for one.”
“They are great,” Skyla admitted with an awkward laugh. “And I miss N, too. But Rosa’s friend did come here for a badge, so–”
“Oh! Of course!” Hilda startled out of her dairy daydream and stepped back, allowing plenty of space for Koko and Skyla’s imminent battle. “Sorry about that. Gotta get my head in the game. It’s not as if pining for people from Unova will cause them to appear out of thin air.”
Watch what you wish for, Ingo thought as he picked his bag back up and turned to leave. Skyla and the others laughed loudly behind him, but their voices had a certain stiffness, too–as though everyone knew, if only self-consciously, that Hoopa adored ironic timing.
Perhaps it was inevitable that to coincide with Ingo’s disappointment, it would start drizzling on his way back. His bag was not much lighter than when he’d left, seeing as how he’d emptied it of Leaden Balls at the gift shop and filled it up with cartons of milk and baking supplies at the grocery store.
Less inevitable and expected was returning to find three people passed out in the middle of Cynthia’s backyard.
So Hoopa is dropping new arrivals right in town now? Ingo sat the bag of groceries he’d acquired in the grass and went to examine the unexpected visitors. One had a head of thick curly red hair and when Ingo shook him by the shoulder to see if he was okay, the man muttered something about being burned to cinders.
Right. Fire-type trainer, then, Ingo noted. Since the man seemed out of it but unharmed, he moved onto the next person–a teenager with short green hair sporting what looked like black and orange climbing gear. A rock-type enthusiast maybe?
Ingo nudged him, and the boy startled up. “I’m fine! Everything’s normal!” he blurted out. Then, rubbing his head and looking around with consideration, he added on, “No…that was wrong…pretty sure this is very not normal.”
The third arrival, a man with shoulder-length purple hair and glasses stood up on his own and rubbed his head. “Honestly…this is no way to treat an Elite Four member,” he moaned.
“Elite Four?” Ingo questioned. He was about to ask from which region but held himself back. He was a Subway Boss who had carried passengers from regions all over the world. Surely he could remember which Elite Four members he was speaking to. He looked the trio over once again as the droplets of rain eased up. None of these people sported any flowing capes or scarves…which eliminated an impressive number of Elite Four teams.
It’s either Sinnoh or Kalos, I think. Unless Alola has a Pokémon League now, too?
He bit his lip and took his best guess. “So…you’re from Sinnoh, then?” he guessed.
“Well, obviously,” said the purple-haired man.
Ingo sighed. “I assume Cynthia would know you better than I would.”
“Whoa!” said the fire-type trainer. “Cynthia’s here, too? Wicked!”
“If Cynthia’s around, I’m sure we’re fine!” The green-haired teenager clapped his hands in agreement with his friend before turning to Ingo. “So…where is here, exactly?”
As he asked the question, Cynthia walked up the pathway folding up the same little umbrella he’d seen her in the night he arrived on Pasio. She stared at the three new arrivals, the last of the raindrops trickling of the tip of her umbrella into a muddy puddle. For a while no one said anything until she broke the silence with a simple, exasperated, “Oh, dear.”