When Paulo had recommended visiting the volcano area for more badges, Rosa assumed it was just to get some distance between them. Now as they hiked under the ashy sky, she suspected Paulo had far more sinister motives. Clearly, his endgame was to melt them all before they could compete with him for the PML Champion title. A ruthless strategy that was working so far. The rising temperature from the uncomfortably-close lava left the air incredibly dry. But the lack of humidity was only a minor relief in the face of the intense heat. Servine had retreated inside in Rosa’s Poké Ball, and Brock was already planning a new wardrobe for the next time they came anywhere near here.
“I’m gonna go with a tank top,” he muttered, desperately trying to push up his long sleeves. “Tank tops are good for training, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” Barry said, walking along like it was merely a warm spring day and not a sweltering volcano tour. “They’re great for when the battle is–heh–heating up, am I right?”
Misty let out a long sigh. Brock heard Barry but chose to ignore him. “Maybe go barefoot, too…” he murmured.
With no energy for a better reply, Rosa simply nodded, and the group walked in silence for a good long while until Barry decided that peace and quiet were only for the weak-willed.
“How about that last badge?” he said with a loud chuckle. “I’d say getting it was a real breeze.”
Rosa wiped the sweat from her forehead and groaned. “I am begging you, Barry…as your friend and fellow human being, please lay off the puns.”
“Or what? I’ll pay a fine?” Barry asked. “Because that would be a harsh punish–arg! Fire!” A spray of flame hit the ground right where Barry was about to step. He leapt back while Rosa rushed protectively up to his side. Could Barry be irritatingly optimistic? Yes. Did that mean she was okay with him getting fried to a crisp? No. No, it did not.
“Whoa…you guys okay there?” a voice called. A young woman with bright red hair approached them, a Torkoal at her side. “You need to be careful. There’s a lot of people doing some dangerous training around here.” As if to prove her point, three other trainers walked up behind her. Rosa’s jaw slackened. So Paulo wasn’t making things up? There really were trainers who hung around this torture oven voluntarily?
“Hah! You think you can just walk off?” called a man’s scratchy voice. “This old timer’s not done yet!”
The group turned to see a bald man with volcano-appropriate sunglasses, wearing an impractical lab coat with bright purple dress pants. “Is what you did back there really the best you’ve got, Flannery?” he asked the red-haired woman.
“Of course not,” the woman (presumably, Flannery) replied. “But these trainers were standing right where we were about to attack. You want Torkoal and Ponyta to practice frying pedestrians?”
Barry’s hand shot into the air. “Hey, are you guys trainers?” he asked. “If you are, we have questions!”
“Uh…okay.” Flannery replied as her Torkoal huffed at them. “What’s up?”
“Two questions, actually. One, do you know where we can find more PML badges?”
“Hmm? Badges? Oh, sure. You need to ask Norman. He’s training down by–”
But Barry had already launched into next his sentence when he heard her first two words. “Perfect! Now join our team for the PML!”
“That was a demand, not a question,” Rosa muttered.
Flannery took an uneasy step back. “Erm, that’s very flattering, but we just met. Besides, I want to focus on getting through my training here. Hey, you two! Come on over!” She waved, and two other trainers–a girl in a red hat and sunglasses with a Braixen, and a guy in a gray top with an Arcanine–stepped out from around a hilltop and joined her. The Arcanine trainer had a massive grin on his face, like he’d just won a hard-fought battle…until his gaze fell to the group. Brock didn’t want to be paranoid, but the guy’s smile seemed to vanish the second their eyes met.
“No worries,” Koko was telling Flannery, probably in an attempt to assure her they weren’t a bunch of weirdos. “Barry asks anyone who has a clue where to get more badges to join us. So it’s not flattery. In fact, it’s got nothing to do with your skill level at all!”
Flannery looked a bit deflated at that remark, to which Koko cocked his head in confusion.
The girl with the Braixen stepped in, trying to comfort her friend. “Don’t get worked up, Flannery. Your skill level is great. I mean, not Zygarde great or anything but still pretty great!”
Instead of looking better, Flannery’s eyes looked red with oncoming tears.
Brock coughed loudly, desperate for a way to veer onto other topics. “Oh…hi there, Blaine!” he said, his brain finally clicking as to who the bald man in the lab coat was. Small wins for his questionable memory. “I see you’ve made your way here, too.”
“Indeed. Pleasure running into you, as well, Brock,” Blaine replied. “You’ve got yourself quite the, erm…” he glanced over their group, where Koko was asking what he did wrong, and Barry was trying to cheer Flannery up with his puns. “…eccentric team there.”
Brock had no immediate reply to that. What was there to reply when the man who dealt out trivia quizzes to teenagers beside a volcano called him eccentric? He supposed he might as well ask the same questions he’d been asking everyone else they’d met from home. Although considering his success so far, he wasn’t expecting much.
“Hey, Blaine? How are your memories of Kanto before you came here?” he asked.
The trainer with the Arcanine stiffened, but Blaine simply shrugged his shoulders. “A bit shaky but not too bad. What’s on your mind?”
“I was just wondering if you recalled anything about Team Rocket? Or, um…something about people merging with Pokémon?”
The Arcanine trainer coughed loudly. Brock ignored him. If the guy had something to say, he could say it directly.
“Doesn’t sound familiar,” said Blaine. “Though we don’t pay attention to much outside news on Cinnabar. I prefer to spend my time coming up with new quiz questions. Got a couple that’ll blow people’s minds when I get back!”
“Yeah, uh…good luck with that,” Brock said.
Blaine shrugged again and went to test out his questions on the rest of the group. Brock was about to join them when the Arcanine trainer stepped forward, blocking his path. Brock prepared to lecture him that cutting people off (and starring at them in general) was pretty rude.
His annoyance must have shown on his face, because the trainer stepped back without needing a word. But he didn’t fully move out of Brock’s way, either. “Hey, about what you said…the merging thing?”
So that was what caught this guy’s interest. And now he had Brock’s attention, too. They’d made almost no progress on the merging talk since their first conversation with Siebold. “You know something?” Brock asked hopefully.
“Yeah,” the trainer snapped. “I know you should quit asking about it.”
Brock’s face fell. “What? Why?” He couldn’t imagine why his question mattered to this guy. In fact, if there was one thing about Pasio he’d noticed, it was people generally didn’t care what you did. At all. Supposedly, even a few evil team leaders were wandering around, and no one paid them much mind. Some even chatted them up and socialized with them like they were normal, non-evil-team people.
“You asked Blaine about his memory,” Arcanine Guy said. “How’s yours?”
“I…” Brock stiffened, debating how honest to be. He didn’t want someone to take advantage of whatever info he didn’t know. Then again, it would be a hard thing to fake. “There’s a few months missing for me. Maybe more.”
“I see.” Arcanine Guy sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. “Look, I don’t mean to be weird or creepy–”
Too late, Brock thought but let him continue.
“–and I don’t have a lot of info myself, but from what I do know, you and Misty might both be happier if you just enjoyed Pasio for what it is. A fresh start, you know?” He turned and walked briskly away.
“Hold on,” Brock called and started to follow. Except Misty and his other teammates were already headed back down the path, getting farther and farther away. Rosa waved to him and yelled something about fighting a Norman guy for a Normal-type badge. Brock waved back and tried to explain himself, but at the same time, a blast of steam escaped a nearby vent in the rocks, hiding the direction Arcanine Guy had gone.
Brock sighed. This place seriously worked against him sometimes. He didn’t know if the Arcanine Guy would be willing to talk anymore, but it frustrated him not to try. He huffed as he followed the rest of the team, hoping the hike would calm him down.
It helped, to an effect, but it also made him reconsider what the strange trainer had said.
What does he know about Misty and I that he thinks we’d be happier not remembering?
The possibilities were endless, not to mention very un-fun to consider. Maybe it was just as well the Arcanine Guy was gone. It would give Brock some time to debate if he should take the advice to heart. With a little self-discipline, maybe he could push away the doubts and fears about what he’d left behind. Ignorance was Blissey and all. Brock never followed that philosophy much before now, but he couldn’t deny it had truth for plenty of people.
Like Surge. That guy sure seemed relaxed and happy.
Brock wondered what the world had come to for him to envy Lt. Surge.
Blue’s Arcanine was quite the sight, running along the beach, the wind ruffling its fur. Blue tried to soak in the scene and enjoy this new carefree lifestyle. But his encounter his Brock had shaken him up a bit.
Maybe he shouldn’t have engaged with the gym leader at all. Or maybe he should have talked his ear off with every detail from Kanto he could think of. Either way probably would have been better than acting all weird and cryptic.
Blue pushed back his spiky auburn hair and groaned. He never used to be this wishy-washy. Decisions came so quick to him that they backfired as often as they worked out. He was not a fan of the more cautious side of his personality this island seemed to bring out.
Arcanine paused to roll in the sand before bounding back up to his trainer. He shook himself, and it was about the equivalent of getting caught in a Sandstorm attack.
Blue laughed and shielded his face. “All right, all right, buddy. Relax. We’re almost there. Siebold said to meet–”
He looked up ahead. Away from the swimmers and families on the shoreline, a line of tall rocks formed a natural barrier that separated a small cove from the beach proper. Between the breaks in the rocks, Blue caught sight of three trainers. There was Siebold in his fancy chef’s attire chatting with an older man in a short-sleeved officer’s uniform. Standing a little ways away from them, in the water up to his ankles, was a man in a white and black kimono. He held his hands above the water, deep in focus, like he was trying to use telekinesis on a hidden Magikarp.
Blue had met all of them in passing, but since Siebold was the one who had invited him, Blue approached the chef first. “How’s it going?” he asked. “Any progress yet?”
Siebold turned and smiled. “Blue, good to see you!” He waved Blue over and waited until they stood beside each other before continuing in a softer voice, “Nothing yet. Grimsley says to keep our voices low.”
“Yeah,” said the officer–Nanu, if memory served. His volume, Blue noted, was anything but low. “Our resident daredevil swears he’s on the verge of a breakthrough.” The man turned in Grimsley’s direction and gave a full-on shout. “Aren’t you?”
Grimsley dropped his arms and stomped over to the group. “You know, Nanu, it might help me out if we didn’t have an audience.” He glared up at Blue and Siebold. “No offense.”
Blue couldn’t really get offended. Well, he could, but it would make him a hypocrite. He’d been plenty harsh with other trainers back when he started his journey. Even if he had a much better attitude now, it hardly seemed right to complain when he had to take a little bit of what he’d dished out to others years ago.
“Excuses, excuses,” Nanu teased Grimsley before turning to Blue. “Everything all right, by the way? It’s not like you to be late.”
“Ran into someone I remember from Kanto,” Blue replied. “Seems like the gym leaders from Pewter and Cerulean City are both here.”
“Brock and Misty? You should have asked them to join us,” Siebold said. “I heard them mention in my restaurant that they were merged with Pokémon before they arrived. Perhaps they’d like to take part in this little experiment of ours as well.”
“Wait–what?” Blue stumbled back, almost tripping on a mound of sand at his heel. He caught himself, though, being careful not to lose his cool factor. “That doesn’t make sense. Brock said he didn’t remember the past few months.”
“What exactly did you hear?” Nanu asked Siebold.
Siebold rubbed the back of his neck. “I admit it wasn’t a detailed conversation. But when I was walking up to serve them my vegetarian special–which is delicious and amazing, by the way–Brock distinctly said something about spending the night in a Poké Ball.”
“So you heard one line out of context and made an assumption based on that,” Nanu said.
“Well, what else should I make assumptions on?”
The group let out a collective groan.
Grimsley’s groan was the loudest. ” I don’t know why you bothered showing up here, anyway,” he said. “What percentage of Pokémon DNA did you say you had back in Kalos?”
“Eight,” Siebold shot back defensively.
Grimsley huffed. “I had forty-five percent, and I can’t pull this transformation thing off. What makes you think you can?”
Siebold and Blue’s eyes both rose at the high number. Grimsley had never mentioned it before. Not that Siebold would take the bait, of course. “I admit it may not be possible for me, but I would still like to see what methods lead you to success.”
“Yeah?” said Grimsley. “Then learn the basics first. For one thing, humans can’t enter Poké Balls.”
“Now hold on,” Siebold objected. “You told me just yesterday you knew someone who–”
Blue crossed his arms. “He does know someone,” he said, his voice low and serious. “They’re just not human. At least, they weren’t back in Kanto.”
“I can’t tell if you’re making a joke by referring to Grimsley’s Liepard, or if you mean someone who used to be…” Siebold stroked his chin, taking in the full weight of Blue’s words. “Wait…what does happen when one’s percentage crosses fifty?”
“If Brock or Misty ever get their full memories back, you can ask them,” Grimsley replied. Siebold’s eyes widened, but Grimsley cut him off before he could ask any follow-up questions.
“Now quit yammering. I want to try again.” He stepped back into the ocean, the water rinsing off the sand that now clung to his bare feet. His sync stone was fastened to a small chain around his neck, and he gripped the little pendant in frustration. “The key is these stones. I can feel it.”
Nanu took a step closer. “But that sync stone links you to Liepard. Maybe you need a different partner. I hear Hoopa is brining new Pokémon to Pasio all the time. Then the poor staff has to scramble to pair them with somebody.”
“So what should I do?” Grimsley asked. “Just wait around for a flighty psychic-type mythical to make a Sharpedo appear? Sorry, Nanu. Not my style.”
Nanu nodded. “Fair enough. In that case, maybe you can try a different look?
“A different look?” Blue asked. “What do you mean?
Nanu turned to face him and Siebold like they were students getting a lecture. An old habit, it seemed. “Sygna suits are designed to mimic the look of specific Pokémon and strengthen the mental bond between partners.” He rubbed his chin and smirked. “But maybe there’s a chance they could help a trainer who’s been part Pokémon bond with that element of themselves.”
“Still need a new partner if I’m gonna ask for a sygna suit to be made,” Grimsley said, not turning around.
“True, true. Or you could just lie about it like you do everything else.”
Grimsley laughed at this. “And here I was thinking I’d get a fresh start on this island. Ah, well.” He stepped out of the water once again and slipped back into his slick black shoes this time. Then he shoved his hands in his sleeve pockets and walked past the group as he spoke. Like he needed to show off how much he didn’t care. “People change coming here. But no one has changed as much as those Kanto gym leaders. If anyone could pull off a transformation into a pure Pokémon form, it’d be them.” He pulled one hand from his pocket long enough to vaguely signal in Blue’s direction. “But I agree with the kid. Let them figure things out of their own.”
“Sounds fine to me,” Nanu said.
I’m not a kid, Blue thought as he and Siebold nodded their own agreement.
“Good,” said Grimsley. “Now with that settled, let’s get back to town. I’ve got some lies to fabricate.”