Lear hummed a bit to himself as he walked down the road towards the champion Cynthia’s house. He had heard several citizens (her included) mention they found him difficult to locate when they needed him. This seemed like a bit of an exaggeration, but since he didn’t track his own schedule, it was tricky to say for sure. In either case, he decided to personally deliver Ingo’s costume for the tea party. Then no one could accuse him of being surreptitious this time. He’d gotten within half a mile of his destination when who should appear on the paved path but Ingo himself? What delightful timing.
“There you are!” Lear said, then paused. Why was the man walking away from Cynthia’s with bags in hand? Moving out, perhaps? “Wait. I thought you were staying with Cynthia.”
Ingo looked up. “Hmm? Oh. No, not anymore. I’ve got an apartment in downtown Centra City.” He sounded rather upset. Looked upset, too–slouched posture, reddened eyes, the works. It didn’t make sense. Who got upset about moving? A new home meant new space to put new stuff in. Lear loved switching up his abodes. Of which he had quite a few.
No, more likely Ingo was moping about how his past existence might have been erased from the fabric of this reality. Lear felt bad, but he didn’t have a lot of experience with cheering people up. Or any experience, really. He’d snapped at a crying preschooler once to pull herself together, and it had ended quite badly.
Lear cleared his throat, hoping to at least keep the awkwardness from worsening. “Yes. Well, seeing as how you’re right here, I wanted to make sure you got these.” He shoved the plastic-wrapped bundle into Ingo’s hands. “It’s your costume for the Tea Party. Or costumes, I should say–a red one and a black one. Couldn’t decide which looked better, so I’ll let you pick. Maybe whichever one matches the Pokémon you’ll be using?”
“I…assumed I was using my Excadrill.” Ingo tilted his head in confusion.
Lear tried to maintain his composure. After all, the man was relatively new to Pasio. And it would not be good publicity for the island if its king went off on a tirade at every person who didn’t fully get the routine yet. Even so…
“Ugh! Of course you can’t use your Excadrill!” Lear threw his hands into the air, startling Ingo, who took a wide-eyed step back. “If you’re wearing a different outfit, you use a different Pokémon. Now, what else have you got?”
“I, um…I’ve got a Tangela,” Ingo offered.
“Hmph. Is it shiny?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Then it’s no good. Erika already has one, and you’re not famous enough to have the same non-shiny Pokémon as someone else.”
“I’m afraid those are all the Pokémon I have.”
“Well, then, find a new one somewhere.”
Ingo looked quite annoyed with him at this point. Perhaps he had come to make demands at a bad time. Lear had the sudden fear that if he’d angered Ingo enough, the man might quit on the event altogether. Finding a replacement at the last moment could range from inconvenient to impossible. Lear had to smooth things over somehow. Usually in cases like this, he resorted to gifts and flattery.
“I, erm…apologize for not being more clear about the expectations ahead of time,” Lear said. “If you are able to get a Pokémon besides Tangela, it would be most appreciated. Perhaps a friend could trade with you?” When Ingo didn’t immediately object, Lear continued, “And to, uh…show my thanks, there’ll be a bonus to your pay, and you can keep the costumes for free!”
Ingo looked at the wrapped package in his hands, tilting it slightly before his gaze returned to Lear. “Do you solve all your disagreements with bribery?” he asked.
“Well,” Lear crossed his arms. “It hasn’t steered me wrong yet.”
Ingo kept his signature frown.
Lear wondered if he’d been a bit too blunt. Rachel and Sawyer had told him once that people appreciated honesty. He had never thought of himself as a dishonest person, but learning the subtlety of it proved a challenge. There was more to sincerity than simply telling people when their manners were tacky. Or when their hats were shoddy.
“My Tangela is important to me,” Ingo finally said, tucking the costumes under his arm. “I wouldn’t trust her to just anyone, even on a temporary basis. But I do know one person I could ask. If he agrees, I believe I can bring something new to the event.”
“Your cooperation is much appreciated by your king,” Lear said.
Ingo nodded, tipped his non-shoddy hat, and continued on his way down the walking path. Lear wasn’t surprised. No one ever responded to the king proclamation much. He was debating if he should still visit Cynthia, perhaps to find out if she needed any more PML merchandise sent her way, when something sparkled at the corner of his vision.
A flash in the sky. And he’d just had this entire conversation without Hoopa in sight. A telltale sign of a new arrival on the island. Rachel and Sawyer would probably deal with it, but after clearly cheering Ingo up, Lear was feeling extra generous. He’d save the visit to Cynthia for another time, then. He made a sharp right towards the road. Then he pulled out his phone and pinged his assistants for some sort of vehicle to pick him up. Preferably something small that could handle driving down the beach.
Walking from Centra City to the nearby houses was one thing. He would not be trudging through sand in these fine shoes. A king had to have standards.
As he waited, foot tapping, another flash of light appeared in the sky not far from the first one. Lear groaned. Hoopa was certainly having itself an active afternoon. He really needed to get that Pokémon under control.
Tina had gone the wrong way. She figured it out quickly enough, but when she turned around, her head swam, and the trees felt like they were closing in on her.
“S-so hungry…” she moaned before she collapsed to her knees in the dirt. Flareon rubbed its head against her arm, urging her to get up, but summoning the energy felt like trying to move a Snorlax. She became vaguely aware of someone approaching her.
“Are you okay?” a voice asked. Young, male. Way too much energy.
“Fine…was…just…food…getting…” She swayed sideways.
“Whoa!” Whoever had spoken caught her in his arms. He had very little muscle, however, and toppled to the ground with her. Once he sat up, he went rummaging through his backpack and shoved something into her hands.
“Eat this,” he said. “Oh, wait…” He leaned over and tore off some red and silver wrapper. “There you go. Now eat it.”
Tina did as he instructed and bit down into what tasted like a nutty protein bar. A bit risky taking food from a random stranger, but she was desperate. Plus, the guy had a bright red cap and a blue sleeveless jacket–no purples or pinks to be seen–so unlikely he was a fan of poison.
“Thank you. Where’d you come from, anyway?” she muttered as she chewed.
“From? Oh, I’m from Pallet Town,” the guy replied.
Pallet Town. Why does that sound familiar? “I mean, where were you in the woods? I thought I was alone out here.”
The guy laughed. “Me too. I just got here a little while ago, and thought it might be a good training place. Then I heard a thump and found you and figured I’d better help.”
“Th-thanks,” Tina said, still munching away at the bar. It was a bit misshapen–probably from sitting in the guy’s backpack–but it still tasted pretty good.
“I always carry a bunch of these around with me,” the guy said, opening his bag to reveal at least a dozen more. “I get so excited traveling to new places for battles that sometimes I forget to eat until I’m practically passed out.”
That’s probably not something to brag about, Tina thought as she slid the last piece of protein bar into her mouth. It was bigger than she thought, and she had to chew slowly and awkwardly so as not to choke on it.
Wait…he almost looks like… Her mind floated back to the blurry photo Paulo had shown her of that mysterious, super-powerful trainer. The one from Pallet Town. Who was said to train in the woods. No way.
She swallowed hard. “Uh, mister? If you don’t mind me asking, what Pokémon do you have?”
The trainer checked his belt, and a look of confusion crossed his face. “Um, looks like my Charizard, Snorlax, Snivy, and…Dracovish?” Weird. He sounded like he was asking her for confirmation or something. Then a Pikachu let out a happy cry as it climbed up his back and settled itself on top of his cap. “Oh, right,” the trainer laughed. “And Pikachu, of course.”
Tina blinked. “Wait. So, are you the Pallet Town guy Paulo’s looking for?”
“Um, maybe? It’s not a very big place. Actually, I don’t think I know anyone besides my mom and a few other people who live there.”
“Wow, so you’re the young, famous trainer everyone’s talking about? The one with the Snorlax and the Charizard and the Pikachu?”
“I do have all of those,” he admitted. “Famous might be a bit much, but…I’m the champion of the Alola region. And I’m gonna be in this competition called the Masters Eight Tournament.”
“Wow!” Tina said, getting starry-eyed now. “I’m so excited to meet an actual celebrity. I really wish I could remember your name, though. Ketchup? Tomato?” She squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to focus. “Or…Red? I’m pretty positive it was Red Something.”
“I’ve, uh, gone by many names,” he said, lowering the brim of his hat. A confident smirk crossed his face. “Mr. Ketchum. Tom Ato. I almost took up the mantle of Gligarman once. But my enemies just call me…” He rotated the hat slightly. “…the twerp.”
“Seems rude of them,” Tina said. “I’d rather call you by your real name if that’s okay, Mr. Red Ketchup.”
He blushed and nodded before pulling his hat back to its normal position. “Thanks, but it’s actually Ketch–”
A screech erupted from somewhere through the trees, interrupting whatever he’d been about to say next. Tina winced at the volume. It sounded exactly like a car coming to a sudden stop. But no one could get a car through the forest unless–
Unless the road is actually close by? Without thinking, she grabbed the famous Red Ketchup by the wrist and pulled him in the direction the tire screech had come from. She slapped leaves and branches out of her way until she finally caught sight of sunlight peeking through the blanket of green. When she lifted the final branch, she saw a limo with none other than Lear climbing out it.
What was the guy in charge of the whole island doing down here?
Lear had some argument with the limo driver about having to walk down the beach himself and how the sand would ruin his shoes. He must have gotten an unsatisfying answer, because his response was to remove said shoes and hand them off to someone inside.
Tina knew she shouldn’t be spying like this, but with the adrenaline pumping through her veins at finding Red so quickly, she couldn’t resist if she tried.
Lear quickly discovered he was not the only one making his way to the beach. As his escort service dropped him off where the initial flash in the sky had been spotted, he found Rosa running the to beach ahead of him and looking around. Lear didn’t recall asking her to assist any new arrivals except for that Koko kid a while ago. But maybe she had a knack for it. He should really look into making her some kind of official Pasio tour guide or something.
After they dealt with this.
Lear put Rachel in charge of holding his shoes and even thanked her and Sawyer for the ride. Mostly to show them (and himself) that he could express gratitude when he desired. Sawyer asked if he also desired some more beach-friendly attire.
“I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Go patrol for Team Break or something,” Lear said as he shut the door. The limo pulled away, and he stepped onto the beach in his sock-covered feet.
It did not feel pleasant.
But then, neither would burning his soles or ruining his designer foot ware. A king put his citizens before himself. Sometimes that meant deep and personal sacrifices. Lear sucked in a breath and marched towards Rosa.
He reached her right as she spotted their visitor: a tall young man with thick light green hair down to his waist. Some sort of puzzle cube hung from his belt as he stared at the ocean in a very lost-and-confused kind of way.
“N!” Rosa exclaimed. “You’re the new arrival?”
The young man startled and turned but smiled when he met Rosa’s gaze.
“Rosa!” he said. His soft, calm tone sounded well-practiced. Like someone who’d learned to keep their guard up. “It’s good to see you. But, no, I wouldn’t say I’m a new arrival. I’ve been here about a week.”
“A week?” Rosa crossed her arms. “Darn. I can’t believe we’re just now meeting. Oh, this is Lear, by the way. Have you met him? He runs the whole island.”
The hair on the back of Lear’s neck stood up, and it took all his self-control not to berate Rosa for introducing him so casually.
N, at least, had the courtesy to give Lear a small, respectful bow. “I didn’t realize how many people were here. Where are you staying, Rosa?”
“Lear’s putting us up in this fancy hotel as long as we do stuff like greet new visitors and help them out,” Rosa replied.
Wait, we still have her on the payroll? Lear thought. Well, now she better take the tour guide job that I’m making up for her.
“So how about you?” Rosa went on. “Where are you staying while you’re here?”
“I got a place down near the beach,” N replied, making a general over-there gesture. “It’s pretty isolated and quiet. A strange person in a mask gifted it to me after calling me ‘Your Majesty’ a bunch of times.”
Lear knew he should have pressed for more details on the masked person, but the “Your Majesty” bit took precedence. “What? Why would he call you that?”
“N was the former king of Team Plasma,” Rosa explained, but Lear stared blankly, waiting for her to elaborate. “You do know who they are, right?”
Lear crossed his arms, tapping his foot. “Not really. I don’t know half the people Hoopa drags here.”
“That seems horribly irresponsible,” Rosa muttered, but Lear made no comment on it for the time being. They were losing focus. If N had been here for a week, he wasn’t the source of the strange flash. That meant someone new must be along this beach somewhere. Hoopa giggled and pointed down the coast, urging the three of them to get moving.
N tipped his hat to the Pokémon. “Hello, my friend,” he said pleasantly. “Are you the one who keeps bringing trainers here?”
Hoopa twirled around and made a series of high-pitched cries.
N’s eyebrows rose. “I see. Apologies, then. Hello, my…um, acquaintance?”
Hoopa nodded with satisfaction before going to float behind Lear. It pointed again before pushing him and the others forward. The awkward trio began making their way along the coast with Hoopa chirping and whistling the whole way.
“He says you’re the only one allowed to call him a friend,” N said to Lear.
“He said that, did he?” Lear asked. “Are you like that other kid who came here? The one who talks to Pokémon?”
N’s confused expression grew even more bewildered. “There’s…someone else here who talks to Pokémon?”
Rosa stepped in before Lear had a chance to say something snarky about N’s abilities. Which was probably for the better. “There’s a kid named Koko,” she informed him. “He’s about the same age as me and Hilbert. He can’t hear them telepathically like you can, but he speaks using Pokémon language.”
“Fascinating,” N said, brushing his chin with his fingertips. “I haven’t done that in so long. I imagine I’ve quite forgotten how.”
“Wait.” Lear held up a hand. “You’re telling me you used to be able to pika-pika-chu at a Pokémon and they’d follow your meaning?”
“I didn’t know you could ever do that,” Rosa said.
“Like I said, it’s been a long time, and I probably couldn’t now,” N said, his pace slowing until he was practically dragging his feet through the sand. “Ghetsis…strongly discouraged me speaking aloud to Pokémon after I came to the castle.”
“What castle?” One of Lear’s pointy shoes struck a half-buried rock, causing him to flail his arms for balance. Hoopa helped catch him.
Rosa kept her attention on N. “That sounds awful,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
“And who owned the castle?” Lear went on. “Was it this Ghetsis guy? Who is that?”
“Ugh! Someone you don’t want coming here, all right?” Rosa said, finally losing her patient tone.
N put up a finger as if to correct her on something, but before he could speak, Hoopa let out a loud squeal and pointed once again. It seemed they had found Pasio’s newest visitor–a man in a conductor’s hat with a distinct white and brown striped coat that seemed to defy gravity with the way it fanned out. He was looking around the beach, confused, perhaps, but still in good spirits–with a spring to his step and a wide smile on his face.
Rosa ran over. It seemed she knew a lot of people on the beach today.