Ingo really thought he would feel more satisfied leaving Cynthia’s house. He’d confirmed the relationship between himself and Cyrus about a week before. Mostly with Aaron’s help. The kid had feigned a sudden interest in Hisuian family records and recruited Lucian to pull resources from the Centra City library. (Until Lucian, Ingo didn’t even know the island had a library.) He’d wanted to know only for himself at the time. His plan was to keep it from Cynthia, sure that she would judge him for it. But when push came to shove, he wanted all of it out there. She could decide how much they associated afterwards. He wished the answer had been different, but there was no taking anything back now.
He did still owe Aaron a thanks for the help. Or maybe he wanted to talk to someone who wasn’t Cynthia. Either way, he soon found himself at Aaron’s doorstep.
The bug-type specialist showed him into a living room that was similar to Cynthia’s in its layout and blue-white color scheme. It was the polar opposite in its cleanliness. Aaron kept his space in line with every stereotype of his age group: empty ramen cups, a pizza box with a single cold slice left in it, and dishes stacked everywhere except in the sink.
“You seem upset,” Aaron said as Ingo found a clear space of couch and sat down.
He meant well, of course, but Ingo didn’t have the mental energy for explaining that yes, he did smile when he was having fun, he simply wasn’t having fun at this moment, and furthermore, he was quite proud of how expressive he was when he spoke.
“Yes, I’ve been told I frown a lot,” Ingo said.
“You have?” Aaron thought for a moment. “I dunno; I just always thought you looked focused on what I was saying. That’s why I liked chatting with you so much. But–ugh, no! I mean you look upset upset. Is this about that weird machine Cyrus came up with? Because it sounds like bad news, if you ask me.”
“No, it’s nothing about that.”
“Oh.” Aaron looked disappointed he couldn’t guess right the first time, but he tried again. “Did something else happen?”
Ingo folded his hands. “It’s complicated,” he finally said. “But my brother is on the island, only I can’t talk to him. And Cynthia doesn’t want to talk to me, either.”
“Oh,” Aaron said. He moved the pizza box to make room for himself on the couch. “Anything I can do?”
“Well,” Ingo said jokingly, “You can pretend I’m your butler for an indefinite amount of time.”
Aaron did not react with nearly as much surprise as Ingo anticipated. In fact, he rubbed his chin like he’d taken the suggestion at complete face value. “Not sure how that’s helpful, but sure, okay.”
Ingo startled. “I-I didn’t actually mean–” Then he looked around the place. “–then again, you do look like you could use some help here.” And it would save on rent, given that Lear’s not likely to hire me again anytime soon.
“Great, so it’s settled,” Aaron said then leaned back on the couch. “Lucian’s gonna be so mad when he finds out I’ve got a butler, and he doesn’t.”
“That’s a good thing?” Ingo asked.
Aaron flashed a grin. “Trust me. You haven’t seen good entertainment until you’ve seen Lucian angry.”
Ingo shrugged and took his new client’s word on the matter.
It was late in the afternoon, and for once, Lear was actually in his own room in his own home. Well, his own home on Pasio, at least. It felt both strange and sad that this abode now felt more familiar to him than the one he’d grown up in.
He sat on his bed staring out a wide bay window at an absolutely pristine view of Pasio’s shoreline. His door was open, meaning Sawyer and Rachel were free to come in if they pleased. Which they did after Lear went a full half hour without issuing any orders.
“Heeeey,” Rachel said, standing beside the bed as Sawyer stood by the window. “Watcha lookin’ at for so long?”
“Not looking,” Lear said. “Just…thinking, is all.”
Sawyer and Rachel exchanged concerned looks. Given how the tea party had been a bit of a disaster, he could understand their skepticism against any new brainstorming. They could have feigned some excitement, though. Wasn’t their whole job to have his back?
“Not about any new events,” he assured them. “We’ve already got the Festival of Champions coming up, and Lance told me he and the other participants are meeting tomorrow to work out the details. I’m leaving it all in his hands.”
“Ah,” said Rachel, not hiding the relief in her voice. “That sounds good, then. Way to delegate, Master Lear! Good job!”
Sawyer cleared his throat. “So, then, what is on your mind, sir?”
Lear looked back out the window over the ocean. “I guess I was thinking about the day we arrived. Why did my father send us here? And when have I done enough that he’ll invite me back home?”
He didn’t watch for Rachel and Sawyer’s reactions this time and kept his gaze forward. Although the sun was out of view, its bright rays sparkled off the waves, so Lear had a perfect excuse to keep his sunglasses on.
“I’m not sure it’s a matter of being upset with you,” Sawyer said gently. “Rather, I suspect it’s an issue of safety.”
“Safety?” Lear questioned. Now he did turn around. “What do you mean? Did my father say something to you?”
“N-no, not at all, sir!” Sawyer said. “It was more my own anecdotal observations. The arrivals here seem to all come from the same places, yet their histories are different. And I’m hearing reports that some are able to tap into memories of other selves or realities.”
“Yeaaaah, this place is weird,” Rachel summarized.
Lear gave a “hmph” in reply. They weren’t wrong. He’d theorized that the isle of Pasio changed people in some way when they arrived. But perhaps Hoopa simply didn’t care to pull people and Pokémon all from a single timeline. The Pokémon’s motivations were always a mystery, even to Lear.
Sawyer shot Rachel a glare but continued, “This is only a theory of mine, granted, but given the likelihood of paradoxes when certain powerful Pokémon are involved, perhaps this place was intended as a safe haven. A place for those who could no longer stay in their own realities.”
“It’s…certainly a theory,” Lear said. “But if it’s true, what does that mean for us? Are we here because the island needs someone to look after it? Or did we run into some sort of paradox ourselves?” He struggled to imagine what that would mean. Maybe Hoopa’s antics weren’t so random after all. Did it bring people here from other realities to protect them? Is it trying to protect me? The questions alone were enough to make Lear’s head spin.
Sawyer seemed at a loss, but Rachel swung her long sleeves back and forth with a smile. “Maybe instead of thinkin’ about all that stuff, you should try to do the do-able stuff, y’know?”
“You made a goal, Master Lear. Of turning Pasio into a place where people make super-strong bonds with a single Pokémon partner. Stronger bonds than they could anywhere else.”
Lear smiled. How was it Rachel could be so clueless in some ways, and yet she always had the right thing to say when everyone else’s words failed?
“You’re right,” he said, smiling. “I did make a goal. And I plan to see it through.” For whatever reason Pasio existed and whatever reason he was here, he had a job to upkeep and care for it. He turned back to his view of the island, this time with a deep sense of pride.
Lance changed the location of the Champion meeting three times. Thankfully, he’d at least kept the meeting time the same.
Everyone was seated and ready. Well, almost everyone. Cynthia noted that Leon had yet to arrive. But everyone they expected to arrive on time had done so. She motioned for Lance to begin the meeting.
“Thank you all for coming,” he said. “I’m proposing two things today. As you all know, the Festival of Champions is coming soon, and Lear has charged us with organizing it.”
Blue looked confused, and he whispered briefly to Iris. Well, if they weren’t informed, they are now, Cynthia thought.
Lance continued, “I think this an excellent opportunity to show we the champions have everything under control, in spite of the…” He paused to mull over his next words. “…tension that seems to have arisen from Cyrus’s announcement at the recent tea party event.”
Everyone at the table nodded. Cynthia looked down at her notes. She had taken the opportunity to speak with Lt. Surge. Everything was exactly as Cyrus said it would be. Surge had used the device to taper the difficult emotions surrounding his past. He still had those feelings, he’d emphasized, but they had become manageable. He felt, in his own words, ‘happy-happy’ instead of ‘fake-happy.’ He was enjoying life here on Pasio. And he was grateful.
That was really all she needed to know to make her decision.
Steven raised his hand. “Control is fine, but I would argue that a theme of unity is more important. Pasio celebrates its anniversary next month. It would be the perfect opportunity for a full-on extravaganza. Perhaps a few of us could don some special outfits, make some unifying speeches, that sort of thing?”
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Iris said. “I’d be happy to–”
“If I may offer,” Steven cut in. “This is a delicate situation, and leadership experience is key. Perhaps the previous champion of Unova would be better suited to the task?”
“You mean Alder?”
“Is that his name?” Diantha asked. “The green-haired fellow?”
“That’s N,” Iris said. “And he did defeat Alder, but he was never officially named Champion. See, Team Plasma built this castle, and it rose up out of the ground right as–”
“I think he’ll fit he role perfectly,” Steven said. “Now, I do notice we don’t have anyone in our group representing Alola. We should look into that.”
“I feel like you’re not listening to me at all…” Iris muttered. Cynthia shot her a look of sympathy, but she didn’t interrupt Steven right away either. She had her own agenda, and defending Iris–however much she might have liked to–would pull her too far from the course.
“More importantly,” she said, once Steven had listed three different Alolan candidates, all of whom had less claim to “champion” status than N did. “We must decide our official stance on Cyrus’s new machine.”
Lance perked up. “I’m so glad you mentioned the topic. The way I see it, we have two options. We shut this whole operation down immediately, make clear we won’t tolerate this sort of thing. Or we bide our time and wait to see if interest fizzles out on its own.”
“That’s a rather slanted view,” Cynthia said. “Or option three, interest does not fizzle out and we likewise do not interfere.”
Everyone stared at her like she’d grown more heads than Iris’s Hydreigon. “I’m intrigued,” Diantha said. “Continue.”
Cynthia took a deep breath. She’d rehearsed this over and over, debating if it truly was the stance she wanted to take. But she’d already ruined one friendship with her refusal to hear a different point of view. The stakes were much larger here. She could not afford the same mistake again. “My objections to Cyrus’s activities have always been straightforward. His view of the world is his own, and he is welcome to his philosophy. What he was not welcome to was forcing others to conform to that philosophy, to take a world they loved and shape it to what he preferred.” She folded her hands and stared down at the table, with all its dings and imperfections. “But my investigation into his current project has revealed nothing of the sort. His invention is designed for himself and his followers first. He allows no one to use it who hasn’t volunteered to do so. If he continues to operate this way, I don’t see what basis we have to interfere.”
“I–” Lance was cut off as the door swung open.
Leon stepped in, his signature cape billowing behind him in the windy entranceway. “Hey, everyone! Sorry I’m–”
“Late?” Lance finished, more than a little annoyed.
“Whoa, now,” Leon said with just a hint of a smirk. He turned and closed the door behind him before approaching the table. “You all know me well enough. If you’re going to change our meeting place at the last second to a place I’ve never been to, you can see what’s gonna happen.”
Everyone nodded, since it was a valid point and turned their attention to Lance instead.
“Why’s everyone looking at me?” Lance demanded.
“You did pick the location,” Diantha said.
“Ugh! And any one of us could have checked in with Leon to make sure he was okay,” Iris said. “Can we get back on topic, please? And…” She watched as Leon took his seat and folded his hands, glancing around as he tried to gauge the room’s mood. “…and can someone please fill the Galar champion in on what we discussed so far?”
Two hours later, Cynthia stepped out of the stuffy meeting room and into the open air. Relief filled her mind for the first time in months. She’d expected to get shot down. Or riled up. Or for a fierce argument to break out. Goodness knew she’d already heard plenty of Pasio citizens in heated debate over Cyrus’s invention.
But she’d decided at the start of the meeting, she wasn’t going to let anyone get to her. She would state her case, but she would not reiterate the same points over and over. Nor would she engage in pointless arguments to change someone’s mind.
In the end, that was all she had needed. After Leon had been briefed on the situation, only he, Lance, and Iris voted to make a statement against Cyrus and his club. Everyone else took Cynthia’s side to wait and see. The rest of the meeting went back to talk of this new Unity Gala, who would be in it (Steven graciously volunteered), and how the battles would be laid out.
A set of marble steps led from the tall business building out into the shopping district. Ingo stood at the top, still in his butler outfit for some odd reason. Aaron leaned against the railing, waving for Cynthia’s attention as she passed. Or rather, she assumed he was waving at her, so she returned the gesture and walked over.
Then Iris rushed past her. “Hey, Aaron! Sorry it took so long!”
“No problem!” Aaron said, grinning. “Oh, hey, Cynthia! Did you hear? I have a butler now!” He indicated Ingo, who tipped his hat to her.
Are they serious? Cynthia said, deciding she didn’t care to comment. To each their own and all.
“So? How did the vote go?” Aaron asked Iris.
The Unova champion crossed her arms. “Oh, great,” she said sarcastically. “We decided we’re going to hold a Unity Gala, next month, that Steven, N, and Lillie are going to star in it because reasons…oh, and that we have no official opinion on Cyrus’s emotion-squishing machine. At all.”
“Seriously?” Aaron looked to Cynthia, who nodded confirmation. “You have to say something about it,” he argued. “The island’s already in a buzz, and people are really divided. If you don’t take a firm stance, the next event isn’t going to be a Unity Gala. It’s going to be a full-out Poke War.”
“Sounds a little overdramatic,” Iris said, though with clear doubt in her voice.
“I agree,” Cynthia said. “But even if your concerns are founded, Arron, I’m done with worrying about others react to my decisions. I’ve made my choice, and that’s that. If you’ll excuse me.” She continued walking down the stairs and did lot look back. Iris sighed and also followed, holding her poofy pink dress carefully so she didn’t trip on the way down.
“You know,” Ingo said quietly once the Champions had left and the meeting hall lay empty. “I might not know Cynthia as well as you do, but she seems to have a confidence about her that wasn’t there before. It makes me feel…both worried and happy for her at the same time.” He rubbed the back of his head. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure that made terribly much sense.”
“Nah,” Aaron said. “I get what you mean. I get feeling she’d say the same about you. I just hope everything works out.”
Ingo smiled and nodded. That was one thing he could certainly agree on.
N received the invitation to battle in the Unity Gala within a few minutes of the Champions ending their meeting. He was a bit surprised they thought of him, but then again, it wasn’t the first time someone had mistaken him for Unova’s Champion. Team Plasma had muddled things a bit when they defeated Alder, shoved a giant castle into the Elite Four’s headquarters, and declared the Pokémon League itself null and void. It took a lot of logistical sorting out to get everything back in order once Ghetsis had been defeated. N probably didn’t help matters by jumping aboard Zekrom and flying off to explore the world with neither an apology or a good-bye. Add in Colress’s experiments, and Ghetsis returning? The fact that Unova once again had an official Pokémon League and a new Champion stood as quite a testament to the region’s fortitude.
Then there were the occasional former members of Team Plasma, who knew full well he wasn’t official Champion but treated him like he was anyway. In fact, it was three of them who brought him the gala invitation from Lance.
“I suppose there’s no reason not to accept,” he mused. “Perhaps it might give me a better platform to take a firmer stance against Cyrus.” He thought back to Ghetsis, who seemed to be improving once again, but who knew how long that would last with Darkrai running wild?
Of course, N’s concerns were bigger than Ghetsis. He’d done his research into Cyrus, and he’d become convinced that this club of his had to be a cover. His speech was a textbook example of how a dangerous group got started–with an idea that sounded reasonable, only to get people to dig their heels in on their views, converting them into mindless followers and painting anyone with a different view as enemies.
Did N have some past experiences that might be clouding his view of the situation? Most definitely. But he had to go with his instinct on this.
“You absolutely should do it!” said one of the former grunts, interrupting his train of thought.
“Hmm?” N said.
“The stance against Cyrus,” the grunt clarified. Then she blushed. “We thought it was wonderful…just amazing how you stood up to him at the party.”
“Subduing emotions would only lead to more people exploiting Pokémon for their own gain,” another added.
“Your great vision for humans and Pokémon to understand each other would be completely undermined if Cyrus has his way,” said a third.
“Now, hold on,” N said with a gentle laugh. “You’re making it sound like I’m trying to be your king again, and I’m not.”
The trio frowned and gave a collective moan of disappointment.
N adjusted his hat. “I don’t believe in Pokémon liberation anymore,” he said. “But if Cyrus tries to deteriorate the relationship with Pokémon and humans, I promise I will do everything in my power to stand against him.”
The former grunts’ frowns flipped in an instant, and the trio let out a series of cheers. N smiled and closed his eyes, soaking it in. He’d spent three long years looking for answers, learning about the outside world, trying to find his place in it. He knew what he wanted now. To build an ideal world of understanding between humans and Pokémon. Starting here on Pasio. Nothing and nobody could stand in his way.
N opened his eyes. The island’s busy streets sparkled with potential. For the first time in a long, long while, everything felt right.
End of Part 1
# # #