A/N: Well, what do you know?! A new chapter from me! HOORAY! And a Happy New Year to everyone! Let's hope 2018 is a prosperous year for everyone! You know, I was planning to post this on either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, but then I got preoccupied by family celebrations and helping my mom pack up since she's briefly going back to her home country to visit relatives. Then I just got lazy and nearly forgot about this project, typical me. XP
Okay, enough with the explanations! On with the chapter. ENJOY!
"Good morning, citizens of Kalos! Today, we cover the top headline of the year: Kiloude City's Exhibition Showcase, which is scheduled to begin in three days!
"For those of you who do not know, an Exhibition Showcase is an informal Pokémon Showcase that is held at random times in many different cities located all across the region. Like a regular Showcase, there is a Theme Performance and a Freestyle Performance. However, unlike a regular Showcase, there is no Princess Key as a prize, no voting with a Glow Caster, no Master Class to win. It's all just show for the audience!
"And marking the end of the Exhibition Showcase will be a final, massive performance featuring all of the participants, plus our beloved Kalos Queen Aria! Afterwards, there will be an outdoor dance party scheduled for midnight, to be attended by the Performers and partners of their choice!
"Because of its informality and overall relaxed nature, Exhibition Showcases attract Pokémon Performers from every nook and cranny of the region for an opportunity to test the effectiveness of their performing abilities and relationships with their Pokémon! And this season's Performers deserve it, for this particular Exhibition Showcase is set at the end of said season.
"Of course, this particular Exhibition Showcase has already cemented itself as a defining moment in Pokémon Showcase history. After all, this is the first time in ten years the beautiful and exquisite Kiloude City has hosted a Showcase of any kind, following the tragic passing of revered idol Elle, a horrible event that put a huge dent in Pokémon Showcases for years. And let us just have a moment of silence in honor of her memory... Naturally, this has resulted in a very significant boost of tourism in Kiloude City! Dozens of local businesses are reporting record-breaking sales like no other!
"Indeed, this Exhibition Showcase is going to be a talked-about event in the weeks to come. We will continue to provide live coverage of the event as it happens, so stay tuned!
"Now, in other news, reports of strange loud noises in Kiloude Forest continue coming in..."
The Blue Suns Deluxe Hotel
Serena, Ash, and Bonnie approached the table Grace, Fletchling, Shauna, Tierno, Trevor, Calem, Layla, and Moose were seated at. Unfortunately for them, they didn't see Clemont sitting with them anywhere.
"Hey, do any of you know where Clemont is?" Ash asked.
"I thought he was with you guys," Shauna replied.
Bonnie sighed sadly and shrugged. "He's probably lost somewhere," she remarked. "He doesn't have a good sense of direction when he's all by himself."
"We should go find him!" exclaimed Ash. "He's gonna miss out on this awesome lunch!"
"Uhhh...thanks for the concern, Ash," a familiar voice said, "but that really won't be necessary..."
Everyone turned and saw Clemont approaching their table, accompanied by an unfamiliar-looking girl with blue hair and eyes, who was wearing mostly all-blue clothing and red, square glasses. Bonnie puffed her cheeks out in annoyance upon spotting her older brother.
"Clemont, where were you?!" she snapped childishly.
"I got lost looking for you!" the inventor replied defiantly.
"In the penthouse floor of the hotel...?" deadpanned Trevor, his eyebrow raised with curiosity.
"It's a very big penthouse floor, let me tell you!" Then, Clemont smiled and gestured to the girl beside him. "But I was lucky enough to come across her. She helped me find my way back here."
"Hi, my name's Nema!" the girl said cheerfully. "You all must be Clemont's family!"
"Oh no, not really," Ash replied. "We're all just good friends of his. Anyway, it's nice to meet you, Nema. My name is Ash, and this is my-" He gestured to his shoulder, only to suddenly remember that it was empty; Pikachu was still playing with the others on the playgrounds. "Oh, well...my partner Pikachu is over there playing..."
"My name's Serena," said Serena.
"And I'm Bonnie!" Bonnie exclaimed, her smile wide and innocent. "Clemont's my big brother!"
"I'm Shauna," Shauna said, smiling kindly.
"The name's Tierno," Tierno said, proudly jabbing a thumb at his own chest. "It's pretty awesome to meet you, Nema!"
"And I'm Trevor," said Trevor, waving lightly at Nema.
"It's so nice to meet you all!" replied Nema, smiling at everyone. "But as much as I'd like to stay and chat, I'm afraid I can't. I've gotta get back to my room! My dad's, uh, expecting me."
"Oh yeah, that's right!" Clemont exclaimed in surprise. "I'm sorry you had to waste a couple minutes of your time just so you could help me find my way back to the restaurant."
"Aw, no worries! I'm glad I could be of help!" The blue-haired girl then looked at Clemont. "So, how long are you gonna be staying here?"
"About, uhhhhh..." Realizing he didn't have a clue on that, the inventor looked at Serena, mentally begging her to answer for him. Fortunately, the honey-blonde Performer got the message.
"For four days," she said. "I'm actually a Pokémon Performer participating in the Exhibition Showcase here."
Nema blinked and tilted her head slightly in confusion, prompting Clemont to say for her, "She's not from around here, Serena."
"Oh. I see."
"Well, anyway," Nema said, refocusing her attention on Clemont, "if you ever get lost again, Clemont-" Clemont blushed with embarrassment at that remark. "-just give me a shout-out. I'm in Room 30052. Alright, see ya!"
The girl left with a friendly wave, leaving behind a red-faced Clemont. Bonnie smirked teasingly at her older brother's misfortune.
"Well, let's just hope you don't get lost on your way to that room," the little girl said.
Clemont, unable to handle the embarrassment and humiliation of his recently-resolved situation anymore, exclaimed in a voice loud enough to attract the attention of other patrons, "A-Al-Alright, l-let's-let's eat!"
He quickly sat down on an available seat at the table, and was promptly joined by Ash, Serena, and Bonnie. As the entire group started eating their food, Clemont noticed for the first time the sweets Bonnie ordered.
"BONNIE, I TOLD YOU NOT TO ORDER SWEETS! IT'S NOT HEALTHY, YOU KNOW!"
As the siblings started to argue about the need to consume sweets during lunchtime, and the others continued to enjoy their own food, Serena noticed a nearby television set. It was at the corner of the restaurant, though it was in clear view for all of the patrons to see. However, barely anyone else was interested at the moment.
"And here's a recap of my one-on-one interview with Kalos Queen Aria."
Serena immediately saw the redheaded, beautiful Kalos Queen, sitting on a chair and with a microphone close to her face. Her Delphox and Aromatisse were standing on either side of her, while her Meadow Pattern Vivillon was perched on the head of the chair.
"So, Aria," the reporter said, "how does it feel knowing you are returning to your hometown after so many years? I'm sure you must be feeling a whole lot of joy and nostalgia from this."
Aria smiled serenely as always, nodded, and replied cheerfully, "Of course! I made a promise to myself to return home once in a while, but I guess I've become more and more preoccupied in recent years. All the new challengers to battle, all the new events to go to, all the smiles to give, it's just been so extraordinarily busy for me! But with the season over and a huge clearing now in my schedule, it brings me great happiness to know I'm going back home to Kiloude City." She then directed her smile at the camera. "Kiloude City, whose citizens are always kind, sweet, exquisite, and keep on shining!"
A few hours later
It was now in the middle of the night, and everyone was in their respective rooms. In Serena's room, everyone was sleeping except for her. Instead, she was standing out on the room's balcony, wearing her pink pajamas, watching the nighttime sky with her Braixen, Pancham, and Sylveon. Ahead of her were the rooftops of Kiloude City, illuminated beautifully by the golden lights of the streets and walkways. The honey-blonde lifted a lock of hair away from her face when it was blown into her eye by a soft, cool breeze.
"To think we've all come this far together..." she said softly. "Sometimes I still can't believe it..."
"Brai-brai," Braixen barked encouragingly.
"Pancham, pan-cham!" added Pancham, the Playful Pokémon smiling.
"Sylveon!" Sylveon chimed in.
Serena looked at all three of her Pokémon and smiled sweetly. "But it's not some dream," she said. "We're here, in this very moment, where we were so close to winning the Master Class Showcase, where we have the appreciation and blessing of my mom." She chuckled. "You know, I really thought she'd disapprove of me being a Pokémon Performer, that she'd try and forcibly drag me back home so I could continue practicing my Rhyhorn riding skills. I'm so glad that wasn't the case."
The honey-blonde Performer's smile widened as she looked at each of her Pokémon in turn. "And I'm so glad I have each and every one of you to share this dream with. It doesn't matter if we didn't win the Master Class; I'm still very proud of you all. And I thank you all for being yourselves. Don't forget that."
Braixen, Pancham, and Sylveon all cried out happily in response. As they did, Serena's gaze hardened, as she suddenly remembered Sara Lee's words back at the restaurant.
"Serena, the world of Pokémon Showcases requires uncompromising beauty, talent, and perfection in all aspects of life, no matter if you're on or off the stage. That's why Aria's been so flawless as Kalos Queen in the first place. If you cannot realize that, Serena, then I'm afraid that's all you'll ever be in comparison to Aria: second-best."
"She doesn't understand the true meaning of Pokémon Showcases," she said bitterly, catching the attention of her Pokémon again. "Sure, I wanted to win against Aria. I wanted to become Kalos Queen. I was hoping all of that could happen the moment I stepped into that Showcase Theater. But just because I didn't win doesn't mean I don't know what being a Performer meant. I know what being a Performer means, what a Kalos Queen is. Sara Lee's just so concerned with winning that she's become blinded from the true meaning of Pokémon Showcases. She has no right to tell me where and why I'm wrong."
"That's the spirit!" a voice said.
Serena yelped in surprise and turned around, but was relieved to see Ash standing at the doorway to the balcony.
"A-Ash!" she stuttered loudly.
"Oh, sorry!" the raven-haired Trainer replied. "I didn't mean to startle you, Serena."
"N-No, i-it's okay!" Serena blushed and looked away a little. "You heard what I said, didn't you...?"
"Every last word." Ash took a couple of steps onto the balcony, as Braixen, Pancham, and Sylveon stealthily sneaked back into the hotel room, hoping to give the two Trainers some well-deserved privacy. "I'm very glad you're looking at this whole thing positively. You know, the Pokémon Showcases."
"Well, it's just like what you said back at Gloire City! Even if I was destined to fail, I'd rather pursue my goal anyway so it wouldn't be a waste of time." Serena looked over the balcony and towards the golden rooftops of Kiloude; it was a really stunning sight. "And besides, this was everything I wanted, warts and all."
She then looked back at Ash, and was startled to realize he was now looking at her with intense fondness. Serena's eyes widened at the amount of emotion radiating from Ash's face. This just felt so unlike him!
"You know, Serena," the raven-haired Trainer said, "I'm glad you came from a nice place like Vaniville Town."
Serena's eyes widened even more. "You...You are?!" she replied, befuddled by such a confession.
"Yeah!" He gave her that optimistic, charming, toothy grin of his. "Who knows what you would've turned out to be like if you grew up in Lumiose City or Anistar City, for example? You'd be a whole different person!"
"Well..." The Performer bashfully looked away, while lifting her finger and using it to play with a lock of her hair. "Probably not all that different, Ash..."
"One little difference is still a difference, Serena!"
"But fortunately, you're not from Lumiose or Anistar or anywhere else. You're from Vaniville, a very humble place, and for that, I'm glad to say I wouldn't have it any other way."
"I guess that's why you wanted to see Vaniville so badly." Serena smiled a little in understanding. "You wanted to know the place I grew up in, so you could have an understanding on why I am who I am."
"Well..." Ash scratched his right cheek. "That's kinda what I've been saying all along, but I guess you could put it that way."
Serena's smile widened slightly. "Nevertheless, I'm really glad you wanted to know, Ash..." she whispered, more to herself than to her crush.
The two silently stood there for a few moments, as the soft, cool breeze continued to blow. Then, to Serena's surprise, Ash suddenly joined her side and looked over the balcony, observing the rooftops of Kiloude.
"Man, this is such a beautiful sight, isn't it?" the raven-haired Trainer said.
"I-It sure is..." Serena stuttered in response.
But she was not concerned about the dazzling sight below; she was more preoccupied with the fact that her crush was now alone and in close proximity to her, during what could be one of the most intimate moments they had ever since the start of her journey. Nevertheless, the honey-blonde Performer managed to calm herself down and join Ash in observing Kiloude's golden rooftops and snaking walkways. They could both see Laurier Maison about a mile away, especially.
"So that must be the Showcase Theater," Ash said.
"Yep," Serena replied softly, as she subtly scooted closer to the raven-haired boy. "It has to be."
"It looks awesome."
"It sure does." The girl started to smile, and she continued, "You know, I heard it's not only a Showcase Theater, but also a retreat used by many celebrities from all over Kalos. And it's not just Kalos Queens who use it; famous actors and actresses like Diantha have been known to go there on vacation too."
"Wow, Diantha?!" Ash looked at her, his auburn eyes started to shine with awe at the fact. "I never knew that!" He looked back at the Laurier Maison. "I wonder if she's gonna be there?!"
"Probably, if she's gonna spectate the Exhibition Showcase, that is. But who knows?" Serena's smile widened with optimism. "This Exhibition Showcase sure is getting a whole lot of attention. I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case."
"Well, if Diantha's gonna be there, then I'm gonna try and battle her and Gardevoir with Greninja!" Ash grinned with excitement and anticipation as he made a fist of determination. "I wanna see how much we've improved since the last time we battled!"
"Well then, I'm confident that you're gonna beat her for sure, Ash." Serena made her own fist of determination, aiming it at Ash's direction. "You two sure have gotten stronger, especially ever since your battle with Wulfric."
"Well, I have you to thank for that, Serena." Ash rubbed the back of his head again. "After all, if it weren't for your pep-talk, I wouldn't have reunited with Greninja in the Winding Woods, and we wouldn't have tried to perfect your power."
"Oh, stop it, Ash!" Serena exclaimed sheepishly, though she was smiling happily at her crush's praise and thanks towards her. "Y-You're making me blush!"
Ash's smile widened slightly as he watched the swooning Serena, and he said kindly and sincerely, "You're gonna do great in the Exhibition Showcase, Serena. I just know it."
The honey-blonde's embarrassment faded, and she blinked in surprise. "You think? I mean, there's no Glow Caster voting or Princess Key to give out as a prize. All the Exhibition Showcase is about is having fun."
"That's exactly my point, Serena! You know how to make others smile!"
Once again, Serena blinked rapidly. "R-Re-Really?"
"Of course! You're a natural at that! And you're definitely gonna blow the audience away with all the fun you, Braixen, Pancham, and Sylveon will have! You're gonna outshine all the other Performers, for sure!"
"Well..." The girl's expression softened. "Maybe except Aria."
Once again, Serena was surprised by Ash when he suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders and stared deeply into her eyes again. The Performer wasn't sure what had gotten into her friend and crush, but she didn't dare to argue or protest when he started to speak again. After all, it wasn't as if his words were totally unwelcome.
"Hey, that's Sara Lee talking, not you," he said seriously, but also encouragingly. "Don't let her words affect you. As far as I'm concerned, Serena, you're the best Performer in the entire world, even better than Aria, in fact! I don't care if she beat you in the Master Class; I truly believe that you deserved the win. So believe me when I say you're gonna outshine all the other Performers, because I don't just believe it, I know it as fact."
"Wow, Ash..." she replied in awe. "Th-Thanks... I never knew you thought that strongly about my performing abilities-"
Ash smiled confidently at her. "Well, of course! I'm your friend, after all! And friends support each other, no matter what!"
Upon hearing that, Serena inwardly grimaced at being referred to as a friend by Ash once again. However, unlike most times, she immediately chastised herself in her mind for that reaction afterwards. After all, she couldn't reasonably expect Ash to suddenly blurt out any romantic feelings for her. It never worked that way before, it definitely wouldn't work now, no matter how intimately close the two of them were right now. So, Serena smiled at her good friend and crush.
"Thank you, Ash," she said. "You're right. I'm gonna do great in the Exhibition Showcase."
"Hey, that's the spirit!"
Serena chuckled, while Ash took his hands off her shoulders. "You know, Ash, we sure do support each other quite well, like...the best of friends."
"It's just like I said! Friends support each other, no matter what."
At that moment, in spite of her earlier effort to accept being called a friend by Ash, Serena remembered her previous worries about Ash... Especially her concern about that Sinnohan girl named Dawn... She wanted to ask him then and there about his relationship with that girl and what she meant to him...
But once again, she stomached those concerns and worries, and smiled.
"Of course! Like always, you're right, Ash."
"Well, not always, but I do mean what I say." Ash took one last look at Kiloude's rooftops before heading back into the hotel room. "Come on, we should go sleep. We've got a big day ahead of us!"
Serena watched her crush go for a brief moment, mulling over his words of encouragement and advice. Then, she followed him, a smile plastered on her face.
Unbeknownst to either her or Ash, Grace and Layla had been secretly observing their conversation from the neighboring balcony, which belonged to their own room. Both were wearing happy, knowing smiles.
On the other side of Kiloude City, Aria sat on her bed, silently staring at a framed photo. It was of her, Paris, and the latter's Buneary ten years ago; they were standing in the very lobby of the Laurier Maison with a young, beautiful woman and a healthy, well-groomed Altaria. This woman closely resembled Aria, all the way down to her bright, cheerful smile, though her hair and eyes were blue. Aria heaved out a sigh as her grip on the photo tightened.
"Well, Mom," she said, "I'm back home. It's been a while." She chuckled softly and smiled a tiny smile. "I'm still bringing smiles to lots of faces, just like how you always brought a smile to my face. I've been giving so much love, care, and compassion to Kalos, just like you once did. You'd be so proud of me..."
Then, her expression turned into a sad, somber one, and her grip on the photo tightened even more. Her gaze hardened at the sight of the blue-haired woman in the photo.
"But now," Aria continued, "for the first time in a very long time, I think...I think I don't know what to do with that life anymore... I feel stuck in the mud...and whenever I see someone who can pull me out, who can help me find a way to move forward, this opportunity just gets taken away from me...because of me."
At that moment, the redhead started to think about Serena and all of the potential she had in Pokémon Showcases. She truly, truly thought she had it in her to win the Master Class, triumph over her, and take the title of Kalos Queen away from her. She had been thinking of that possibility ever since she first met her in disguise. A little part of her mind even thought, with confidence, that her tenure as Kalos Queen was finally over, and that she could move on with her life. But now, that moment of apparent realization seemed like it was more of a distant dream.
"I have to defend my position, and I can't just retire from it. I can't imagine all of the disappointment and disapproval that would cause." With the latter sentence, Aria thought about Palermo especially; as much as she loved her teacher, she felt that the famed producer could also be overbearing when it came to Showcases. "I...I think I'm sinking, Mom. I'm sinking deep in the mud, and I'm not even making an effort to get myself out." Her vision suddenly became blurry, and she was forced to wipe her red eyes so she could clear them of the obstructive tears. "Oh, Mom. What would you do...?"
Suddenly, the redheaded Kalos Queen heard a sudden creak and looked up.
"F-Foster?" she asked.
"H-Hey, Ar..." the farmhand replied, embarrassed at seeing his friend. He stepped through the doorway and into Aria's room. "S-S-Sorry for intruding-"
"Oh no, it's okay." Aria smiled at him while burying all of the negative feelings she just expressed. "You know, this room is exactly like how I left it."
"Well..." Foster closely examined the room, smiling in reminiscence. "My family knew how special this room was to you, so we had it closed off from all other guests. Aside from dusting and cleaning, no one's ever touched anything here."
"Oh, you didn't have to do that, Foster. Everyone's entitled to this room, not just the current Kalos Queen."
"Yeah, well..." Foster blushed slightly, and his hands were trembling a little. "I wanted to make sure you had something to come back to, Ar..."
Aria blinked in surprise at Foster's words. Then, she widened her smile before placing the photo back on the nightstand and then standing up from her bed. She approached Foster and hugged him, much to his shock.
"Thank you, Foster," she said softly and sincerely. "As always, you're such a great friend...and I can't believe I've never shown you my appreciation, not even once..."
"W-We-Well," the farmhand stuttered, his hands shaking even more, "y-you don't have to, Ar. I-I think y-you've d-done enough... I-I mean-"
Aria giggled as she broke the hug. "You know, Foster, you're still pretty cute whenever you're embarrassed. I can't believe I forgot about that."
Foster's blush deepened even more. "W-W-We-We-Well, um, uh... A-Ar... Y-You r-re-really don't have to, uh, um..." He started struggling to find the right words to say to her, but it was proving to be difficult with the Kalos Queen smiling her lovely, optimistic smile at him. "Uh, uh, um..."
"See what I mean?"
"Wh-Wh-Why'd you have to bring that up, Ar?!"
"Because I'm pretty sure it makes you feel better inside."
"N-No, i-it doesn't!"
"Yes, I think it does, even if you don't know it."
"Wh-What do you think you are, a-an expert at making people feel better?!"
"Uhhhhh...excuse me, which one of us is the Kalos Queen?"
Foster frowned and looked away, still recovering from his embarrassment at Aria's earlier praise. "They just voted for you because you'd look the best on a body pillow..." he muttered to himself, though Aria still heard him.
"What's a body pillow?" she asked, her head tilted in confusion.
"Trust me, you don't want to know."
Aria blinked, still intrigued. "And you do? Tell me, how do you know what a body pillow is?"
Foster blushed even more. "I-It's... It's a little complicated..."
"Ahhhhh, I see." The redheaded girl snapped her fingers with realization. "It's a boy thing!"
The male farmhand held in a laugh. "I guess you could say that."
Then, much to Foster's fortune, Aria decided to change the subject. "By the way, how's Sylvia? I noticed her wing's better."
"She's fine," Foster replied. "Amara and I have been training her in flying. Her progress is actually pretty good." He prepared to say something else, but seemed to reconsider at the last second and instead said, "Yeah, it's pretty good."
"Yeah, me too." Foster put his hands in his pockets and started fidgeting with his foot. "She did miss you a lot, though."
"Oh yeah, I noticed."
"I mean, I don't think I ever seen her so happy ever since..." His voice trailed off, and an awkward silence permeated the bedroom, hanging over the two teenagers like a dark cloud. Finally, after considering all of the available options before him, the farmhand said seriously, "Aria."
"Yes?" Aria replied, but her voice sounded reluctant, hesitant.
"Why didn't you ever come back?"
"Wh-What are you talking about? I did come back."
"Yeah, after ten years. During that time, you never came back, not even once. You never sent us a letter, or called us, or anything like that. You never even talked about us on TV. Every time you talked to us, it always had to be through your sister. You never said anything to us in person...anything to me in person..."
"I was busy with Pokémon Showcases-"
"Just tell me the truth, Aria. Do you... Do you blame me for what happened?"
Aria's red eyes widened in surprise. "NO! I don't blame you at all!"
"Well, maybe you should." Foster looked down at the floor with shame, and clenched his fists tightly. "I should never have investigated that-"
"Please don't blame yourself, Foster," interrupted Aria. Her red eyes were now shimmering with tears. "Please... Please don't."
"But you know as well as I do that I deserve all the blame!"
"No, I don't! If there's anyone who should be blamed for what happened back then, it's..." She cast a gloomy glance at the floor. "It's me..."
"No, I was at fault back then!"
"No, it was me!"
Foster frowned angrily, unwilling to let Aria beat herself up like that. "Well, if that's what you really believe, Ar, then why avoid all contact with me, my family, and all of Kiloude City for ten years?! Clearly there's something, or rather someone here that you were trying to avoid!"
"Yes, there was something, and it was the MEMORIES!"
The silence briefly filled the room again.
"M-Memories..." repeated Foster.
"Yes, the memories!" Aria's eyes were now totally wet with tears. "Do you have any idea how much it hurts to be back here, the place where I grew up?!"
Foster's anger had now subsided and was replaced by bewilderment. "I don't understand, Ar... You seemed fine when you first got here-"
"Well, that's 'cause there were cameras on me! I couldn't afford to let them see me break down!" The dam suddenly broke, and Aria abruptly burst into tears. "Break down...li-like this!"
The redheaded girl collapsed back onto the bed, and a startled Foster merely stood there, unsure of what to do next.
"I returned here hoping I could focus more on the present, Foster," she continued between sobs. "But...But you had to bring up that...that memory!"
Foster's jaw dropped open as he realized what he had done. "I'm-I'm sorry, Aria!" he exclaimed. "I-I thought it was all because of me, nothing else-"
"Just leave me alone, Foster!"
Foster tried to protest, but he ultimately couldn't bring himself to do it upon seeing his sobbing mess of a friend. He mentally cursed himself for being so selfish and blindly confronting her on a sensitive topic, thinking he was the reason behind her mental anguish. And just when he thought the conversation was going so well too...
The farmhand sighed and left the bedroom, leaving Aria by herself again. Even after he was gone, she continued to cry for many, many minutes, all the while trying to fight off the terrible memories of explosions and roars and screeches and feathers. As she sobbed, a little part of Aria couldn't help but feel immensely relieved that there weren't any cameras around to record her misery.
Eventually, the redheaded Kalos Queen managed to stop crying, though she was still intensely overwhelmed by grief and unbearable pressure. She instinctively reached for the framed photo again and stared longingly into it.
"Remember this, Aria: a Pokémon Performer always has to wear a wonderfully radiant smile. That's the way you make everyone in your audience happy."
Aria sniffled and wiped her eyes. Reflecting on her mother's words, the redhead couldn't believe how useless that advice was right now. And they call her Kalos Queen...
In a clearing located near a hiking trail, the same cool, soft breeze blew. The blades of grass, plus the leaves on the nearby trees, swayed with the blowing air, looking as if they were waving to someone, anyone passing by. It was unusually quiet in this part of the forest, and no Pokémon were in sight, not even a single Caterpie. A soft but sharp bang sounded in the distance, indicating yet another strange explosion.
Suddenly, a light started to flicker and grow in the clearing, just a couple of feet above the ground. It shone brighter and brighter, until it was finally illuminating the grass and trees in a white, blinding light. Eventually, after a few minutes, the light quickly subsided, revealing an unconscious form holding a bundle.
The breeze continued to blow with a soft, tranquil whistle...
The next day
Bonnie laughed with excitement as she skipped down the cobblestone sidewalk, followed closely by the others. Serena and Shauna were giggling with anticipation; Ash, Pikachu, Calem, Tierno, Grace, Layla, and Moose were looking around to examine the bustling street they were at; Trevor was taking multiple photos of his surroundings; and Clemont was once again at the rear of the group, panting and struggling to keep up with them. The sidewalk was full of dozens of other pedestrians, all of whom the group had to maneuver their way around while trying to keep track of each other.
"Wow, Kiloude City sure is busy this time of the day!" Ash exclaimed as he nearly bumped into a teenage girl with shoulder-length, bluish-green hair who had a Dandy Trim Furfrou walking beside her.
"Pika!" added Pikachu.
"It sure is!" replied Tierno. "So, what're we gonna do first?"
"I'll tell you what we're gonna do first!" cried an excited Shauna. She looked at Serena, and both Performers had a certain glint in their eyes.
"And that is...?" Calem asked, the back of his head resting against his raised arms.
Serena and Shauna suddenly looked at Ash, Calem, Tierno, and Trevor, their eyes still glinting strangely. For a moment, the boys didn't know what these expressions were. But then, something in Ash's memory clicked into place, and his eyes widened with terror. He should've recognized that kind of look from anywhere!
"No..." he said.
"Oh, yes..." replied Serena, her normally dazzling sapphire-blue eyes now resembling those of a psychotic schoolgirl.
The rest of the boys caught on to the girls' intentions soon after. "Nooooo..." they moaned simultaneously.
Serena and Shauna merely giggled, while the boys' faces paled.
"Why?" Clemont asked, just as the exhausted inventor finally caught up to the others. "What're we doing?"
Mall of Kiloude
Several minutes later
"NOOOOO!" Ash screamed in frustration as Serena handed him his tenth bag to carry. "I wanted to go looking for Trainers to battle!"
"Well, too bad, Ash," Serena replied, winking as she twirled a boater and a felt hat with her hands. "As the guys of the group, it's your shared duty to be the gentlemen and help the ladies out."
"You say that, but we're the only ones busting our backs here!" snapped Trevor, as he too carried way too many bags for comfort. The other boys were struggling with their own workloads, feeling as if their arms would rip off from their bodies.
"Oh, come on, Trevor," replied Shauna, as she was comparing two different pairs of fancy shoes. "The ladies are doing a whole bunch of work too. You know, it takes a lot of knowledge and precision to pick the best clothes and accessories for Showcase outfits!"
"I call shenanigans on that logic!"
Ash suddenly heard Moose laughing a couple of feet away from him. "Wow," the man said. "I feel bad for you guys. I wish I could help you, but I'm afraid I've got a few gift cards and I intend to use them all today."
"Hey, don't you dare bail on us, Uncle!" Calem protested. He tried to raise a fist in warning, but his arm was weighed down by the dozen or so shopping bags slung around it.
Moose didn't seem to hear, for he started to walk out of the boutique the group was in. "I'll meet you guys at the food court!" he called.
"Oh, no you don't!" Layla suddenly exclaimed as she grabbed her husband and forcibly dragged him back to the others. "You promised to help me with my bags!"
"I-I did?" Moose blinked in bewilderment. "S-Since when?!"
"Since now. I'm pregnant with our children, remember? Now, be a darling and carry these for me." The Sinnoh native shoved three shopping bags into each of her husband's helpless hands before smiling sweetly at him. "Thank you very much!"
"Th-This is madness, honey! Y-Y-You're not even participating in that Showcase!"
"Oh, I know. But since we're here and Dawson's paying for pretty much everything, I thought I might as well get some clothes and other souvenirs for Nana and the others back home!"
"Hey, Moose," Grace interjected, causing the poor man's skin to take on a deathly pale hue, "do you think you can take my shopping bags as well?"
"S-S-Sorry, Grace, m-m-my hands are f-full!" Moose cried as he started to feel the combined weight of Layla's bags.
"Why, thank you! I knew you'd be a dependable brother-in-law!" And with that, the former jockey slung two particularly large bags around his neck; they immediately started half-choking him due to their weight.
"Ack! ACK! Wh-What's...in these?!"
"Materials for a new house for Rhyhorn-"
"-two bags of Rhyhorn food-"
"-a new saddle for Rhyhorn-"
"Th-This b-boutique sells R-R-Rhyhorn saddles t-t-too?!"
"-and a collection of china plates."
"For Nana, of course. You know her obsession with that china collection of hers. So please, do be careful with those bags! Some of those contents are very fragile."
Moose looked at Ash and the other boys, tears cascading down his cheeks. "Please..." he whimpered in a wheezing voice. "Help...Help me..."
"Sorry, Moose," Ash replied sadly. "Our hands are a little full at the moment..." Then, he shot a scathing look at Pikachu, who was sitting on his shoulder struggling not to laugh his tail off. "What're you laughing at? You know the girls are gonna make you the next pack Ponyta when we all run out of space for their stuff."
("They won't. I'm a Pokémon, and a small one at that. There's nothing they've got that they'll make me carry.") Pikachu said confidently, though of course it was in Pikachu-speak and no one could barely understand him. ("And if they do try, I'll just use my cute face! Girls love the cute face.")
"Oh, Pikachu!" Bonnie called out, her young voice drawn out. The Mouse Pokémon looked at the little girl and was immediately dismayed when she raised a Pikachu-sized belle cosplay outfit. "You've got to try this on! It'd look CUTE on you!"
"Dedenne!" Dedenne chirped in agreement; it was already wearing a cosplay outfit of its own, and surprisingly happily so. Squishy too was wearing a cosplay outfit, though it definitely wasn't as satisfied as Dedenne.
"I agree!" Serena exclaimed, her eyes gleaming with absolute delight. "Let's have Pikachu try it on!"
"Yes, let's, let's!" Shauna cried in agreement.
Pikachu's eyes widened with terror. Trying on clothes for the girls was WAY worse than having to carry their bags for them. Then, without hesitation, he cleared his throat and put on the most adorable begging expression he could muster.
"Pikaaaaa..." he said, beckoning them not to go through with that plan.
"Awwwww, how cute!" Bonnie gushed out. "You should use that face after I put this on you!"
"Yeah, that way it'd be double the Pika-cuteness!" replied Shauna.
"That's exactly what I was thinking!"
Realizing that his ploy at manipulation had fallen flat on its face, Pikachu went as white as a sheet.
About an hour later
The entire group was seated at a large table situated in the middle of the mall's food court, where dozens of people were eating and chatting like there was no tomorrow. Their shopping bags encircled the table like some sort of protective barrier; the girls were enjoying their food and purchases, while the boys were trembling, having had their energy unfairly expended by their respective workloads. And as for Pikachu, he was wearing an expression of dissatisfaction as he sat in the middle of the table, wearing the belle cosplay outfit that Bonnie bought for him.
One could ask the group how their day has been so far, and their responses would definitely be split into two distinct groups.
"You just HAD to ask what we were doing first..." Calem growled in irritation.
"I'm sorry for jinxing it..." moaned Tierno in response.
"So, what're we doing next?" Serena suddenly piped up, the honey-blonde clapping her hands together in excitement and anticipation.
"Oh, oh, I know!" Shauna exclaimed.
But before the tan-skinned Performer could continue, Ash, Clemont, Calem, Tierno, Trevor, and even Moose perked their heads up and hollered out desperately, "NO MORE SHOPPING!"
The six males then quickly settled down when they noticed everyone else in the food court was now giving them startled and even irritated looks. As for Shauna, she had a deadpan look on her face.
"Wow, chill out, guys," she said. "I was gonna recommend the Laurier Maison."
"The Laurier Maison?!" Ash cried, his eyes now alight with newfound energy. "I'd love to see it up-close and personal!"
"Pika-pika...pikachu..." Pikachu added in exhaustion, and without any enthusiasm whatsoever.
"Sounds like a great plan," Grace replied. She then scanned the others. "Well? Does anyone else have any other ideas?"
"As long as it doesn't involve shopping," Clemont moaned, "then I'm all in for absolutely anything."
"Same here," Trevor added.
"Ditto..." Tierno sighed out.
"Alright, then!" Serena shot up from her chair and adjusted her cycling cap. "Let's get going!"
"Already?" moaned Calem. "But cos, we're still resting up-"
Serena wagged her index finger at him. "Not buts about it, Calem! I wanna check out the Showcase Theater I'm gonna be performing in! I need to get a feel of it for the upcoming Exhibition Showcase!"
"And I want to see if it's everything Serena said it'd be!" Ash added, standing up from his chair as well.
"Everything Serena said it'd be...?" repeated Calem.
"I'll explain later," Serena replied. "Come on, guys, let's go see it!"
"Yeah, me too, me too!" added Bonnie.
"Nenene!" Dedenne squeaked.
"My, my, isn't someone excited today?" a new voice said.
Everyone looked to their left and saw a teenage girl approaching their table. She had blue hair styled in a tomboyish hairstyle, reddish-brown eyes that glinted with mischief, an equally mischievous smile, and an overall appearance that evoked both elegance and humility at once. She also wore a teal shirt with long, light-blue sleeves; cyan shorts; a simple orange tie; and a light-blue quilt headband. In her hands were half a dozen shopping bags, which she held with ease, and trotting by her side was a Slurpuff. Serena's eyes instinctively narrowed at the sight of the girl.
"Miette..." she said.
"Well, hello to you too," the girl replied. Then, she started scanning Serena from head to toe. "Well, well, well, you changed your clothes again. Huh..." She briefly eyed Ash, who greeted her with a friendly smile. "Did something happen between you and-"
"NOTHING HAPPENED, MIETTE!" Serena screeched. She then cleared her throat and said calmly, "My clothes just got drenched, that's all."
Miette raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Oh, really...?"
"Yeah," the honey-blonde snarled in annoyance, "and they're being dry-cleaned at the hotel right now, as a matter of fact. So you can just drop whatever assumptions you have, Miette, because this is only going to be temporary."
The blue-haired Performer shrugged dismissively. "Whatever you say, Serena, whatever you say."
Serena could barely suppress a growl of irritation, for she could tell her rival wasn't entirely convinced. Meanwhile, Miette looked at the rest of the group.
"Hey, everyone," she greeted.
"Hey, Miette," Ash replied politely.
"I see you've all gone on a shopping spree here."
"We didn't," Calem deadpanned. "The girls did."
"Really? Why, that's great! Would you hold these for me, please? My hands need a break!"
Before Calem could protest, Miette promptly placed all of her bags on his lap. The Trainer gagged at their shared weight, which bore down on his lap like a ton of bricks. He was surprised that this mere Performer was able to carry that much weight without any visible problems.
Meanwhile, Grace asked, "So, who is this young lady, Serena?"
"Miette, another Showcase rival of mine," Serena replied, the irritated tone not completely gone from her voice.
"It's so nice to meet you all," Miette said, bowing her head politely at Grace, Layla, and Moose. "I assume you're Serena's family?"
"Uh-huh," Grace replied. "I'm her mom, and that's her aunt and uncle."
"Awesome! It's such an honor to be in your presence! Serena and I are, like, the best of pals. We're always motivating one another in our Showcases."
The former Rhyhorn Racer raised an eyebrow, impressed. "Really?"
"Yeah, pretty much..." Serena replied irritably, just as Miette looked towards her and Shauna.
"So, you said you were gonna go see the Laurier Maison?" she asked. When Shauna nodded in affirmation, the blue-haired Performer's eyes started twinkling with awe. "Mind if I tag along? I haven't seen the Laurier Maison either and it's definitely on my to-do list!"
"Sure!" Shauna replied, smiling widely. "We'd love to have you along for the ride!"
"A-Ab-Absolutely not!" Serena exclaimed, her voice cracking in the process.
"Excellent!" Miette cried excitedly, completely ignoring Serena's objection. "I needed some extra hands with my bags, anyway."
"Obviously," Calem spat.
"Alright!" Ash said, standing up from his chair. "Let's get going!"
"Please don't tell me we have to carry the bags again..." moaned Tierno.
Outside the Mall of Kiloude
"Will you stop jinxing us?!" Calem snapped.
"Sorry..." Tierno replied glumly, his head hanging low in shame.
As expected of the women and girls, they made the guys carry ALL of the bags for them. They let out a collective moan of pain and misery, whilst their shoulders trembled severely, looking as if they would tear off at a moment's notice. As for the gals, they were just conversing and laughing heartily. Ash could've sworn he heard Miette mention something about Nini, another rival of Serena's, but he was too distracted by his workload to listen in.
Fortunately for the guys, the whole group had just walked out of the mall when they heard a sharp, loud bang, something breaking just as loudly, and several people screaming.
"Whoa, what was that noise?!" Ash cried, quickly seizing the opportunity to drop the bags to the ground.
"It sounded like it came from over there!" Miette shouted, pointing towards their right.
The first thing the group saw was a cloud of smoke further down the street. Pedestrians were running away from it as fast as they could. On instinct, Ash determinedly ran down that direction, with Serena, Clemont, Bonnie, Shauna, Tierno, Trevor, and Miette following right behind him, the boys dropping their own shopping bags in the process.
As for Calem and Moose, they looked at Grace and Layla, who seemed to be preoccupied with the unknown, unfolding disaster. Taking advantage of the distraction, the two guys immediately dropped their bags so they could catch their breaths.
Unfortunately, there was a nasty crashing noise inside Moose's bags, triggered as soon as they hit the concrete.
"Honey?" Layla asked, glaring at her husband and nephew with a disturbingly serene expression. "What was that noise?"
Moose had only two words to say in response to his newest dilemma.
Ash and the others had just reached the location of the billowing smoke when it started to clear up, revealing a scene of chaos and destruction. The walls of several buildings were knocked down, injured people and Pokémon were strewn all around the walkways, and there was a crater in the middle of the street.
"What happened here?!" Serena exclaimed to a man who was about to run past her.
"I don't know!" the man cried frantically. "Something just exploded!"
"Exploded?" Clemont asked curiously. He immediately went over to the crater to inspect it, followed by Bonnie.
"What're you looking for, Clemont?" Bonnie asked worriedly.
The inventor's glasses started to shine with the sunlight; the gears of his scientifically-inclined brain were whirring. "Clues..."
Meanwhile, the others sent out their Pokémon and went over to the walkways to tend to the injured. Shauna and Tierno assisted a mother, her two children, and their Teddiursa; Serena and Miette helped a fellow Performer and her Plusle and Minun; and Trevor stood at the side, taking multiple photos of the entire scene just in case. As for Ash and Pikachu, they noticed a teenage girl with hazel eyes and black hair styled into twin pigtails, who was wearing a reddish-orange dress with a gray-and-white skirt; she almost reminded Ash of a Fletchling.
"FLETCHLING!" the girl was screaming. "FLETCHLING, WHERE ARE YOU?!"
"Hey, what's wrong?!" Ash cried as he ran up to her.
"Pika!" added Pikachu with concern.
"My Fletchling!" The girl looked at him with teary, bloodshot eyes, and at that exact moment, Ash recognized her as a Pokémon Performer, though he forgot her name. "M-M-My Fletchling, she-she's gone! Missing! I-I don't know wh-where sh-she is!"
"Missing? Don't worry, we'll find Fletchling for you." Ash then looked up at the sky. "Talonflame!"
The Scorching Pokémon squawked as it swooped in and started flying over Ash and the Performer's heads.
"Alright, what does your Fletchling look like?" Ash asked.
"Wh-What?!" the girl exclaimed. "L-Like any other Fletchling, wh-what'd you expect?!"
Ash and Pikachu both sweat-dropped at this blunder before the former clarified, "I mean, does she have anything that'll set her apart from other Fletchling?"
The girl now looked immensely relieved. "Her hat! She's wearing a tiny strap-on hat! You...You can't miss it..."
She sniffled, prompting Ash to look up again and yell at Talonflame, "Did you hear that, Talonflame?! Go find Fletchling!"
Talonflame squawked again before flying further up into the air and circling around the area, using its extremely keen sight in order to keep a lookout on the hat-wearing Fletchling. Meanwhile, Pikachu looked back at the girl and noticed a cut in her left arm.
"Pikapi!" Pikachu cried.
"Huh?" Ash looked at the Mouse Pokémon. "What is it, Pikachu?"
"Pika-pika, pikachu!" Pikachu pointed at the girl's cut, after which Ash noticed it as well.
"Your arm!" the raven-haired Trainer cried, pointing at it in shock.
"W-Wha...?" The girl looked down and noticed the cut for the first time; her hazel eyes went wide. "EEK!" She collapsed to the ground as her arm began to tremble. "My arm! Oh, oh, my goodness, my arm!"
"Don't worry, don't worry!" Ash knelt down and set his backpack down. "I'll take care of it!"
Unzipping his backpack, Ash reached into it and pulled out the handkerchief Serena had returned to him a while back. Without a second thought, he wrapped the piece of cloth around the girl's injury and tied it so it could be secured. The girl winced a little, but otherwise accepted Ash's assistance.
"There you go!" Ash exclaimed, smiling positively as soon as he was done. "This should be enough until you see Nurse Joy!"
"Th-Thank you..." the girl replied, blushing a little at her savior's optimism. "Uh...I'm, uh... I'm Cl-Cl-Clarice..."
"Nice to meet you, Clarice!" The raven-haired Trainer pointed at himself. "I'm Ash, and this is Pikachu!"
"Pikachu!" greeted the Mouse Pokémon.
Suddenly, the two Trainers heard a familiar squawk, and they looked up. To their relief, Ash's Talonflame was flying back towards them, accompanied by a smaller Pokémon.
"Fletchling!" Clarice cried happily. The Tiny Robin Pokémon flew into her owner's arms, trembling and chirping frantically. "Oh Fletchling, it's okay! Don't be scared, everything's alright now." She then took a look at the tiny hat Fletchling was wearing, and found that it was singed. "Oh, your hat! It's ruined!" However, she smiled and hugged Fletchling. "Oh, it's okay. It's just one little hat. As long as you're okay, then I'm happy."
At that moment, the street became illuminated by emergency lights. Ash and Clarice looked and saw several ambulances arriving at the scene. However, this did not seem necessary: several pedestrians had apparently taken Serena, Shauna, Miette, and Tierno's examples and started treating the wounded on their own as well. Clarice looked at Ash, Pikachu, and Talonflame, the latter of whom had just landed on the ground.
"Thank you all so much!" she said.
"Don't mention it!" Ash replied, his smile widening as he gave the Performer a thumbs-up. "Just get to an ambulance and have yourself and Fletchling checked at."
Clarice nodded, blushing again as she ran past him, towards the nearest ambulance. Once she was gone, Ash was rejoined by Serena and the others, who had all apparently finished whatever they were doing.
"It's a good thing no one was seriously hurt," Trevor said, sighing heavily with relief. "I mean, look at this place! It's totally leveled!"
"Yeah, that's a miracle," Shauna replied, the tan-skinned Performer wiping beads of sweat from her forehead.
"What do you think happened?" Miette asked. "Did a meteor hit this place?"
"No, it's definitely not a meteor," Clemont suddenly replied.
Everyone looked at him, surprised by this conclusion, and Bonnie asked, "How do you know that?"
"Nenene," Dedenne squeaked.
"Look at the crater." The inventor pointed towards it. "It's not that deep. If it were a meteor, it would've made a larger impact than that. Not to mention the fact that it's empty."
"Well, that crater didn't just create itself," replied Tierno, crossing his arms.
"Well, definitely not. These clues lead me to assume that the explosion that we heard happened in midair."
"It happened in midair?" repeated Serena. "Maybe there was a battle and someone used Explosion."
"We'll know for sure when the police explain everything on the news. But if that's true, then someone's definitely got a whole lot of explaining to do."
Ash averted his gaze from the group and refocused it on the scene of destruction before him. Even though Serena's explanation sounded plausible, something in the Trainer's gut told him this had nothing to do with any sort of battle. He had never seen an Explosion move resulting in this much destruction and injury anyway.
All of a sudden, he witnessed a jeep skidding to a stop right behind the row of ambulances. Out from it, the female driver quickly hopped out without even bothering to turn off the engine. She had orange hair and brown eyes, and she was wearing a uniform that looked awfully familiar to him...
After a few seconds of thinking, something in Ash's memory clicked into place.
"Look, guys!" he cried, pointing towards the jeep. "A Pokémon Ranger!"
"A Pokémon what?" Serena asked, looking flabbergasted by the term.
"A Pokémon Ranger!" Ash looked at the others. "Wait, you've never heard of them before?" When the others shook their heads, he explained, "Pokémon Rangers always investigate any kind of crisis whenever it's a serious threat to Pokémon and nature!"
"Ohhhhh," Clemont replied, though he still looked a little confused. "So...that means-"
"That means we might be able to get some answers from her. Come on!"
The raven-haired Trainer ran towards the jeep, and the others followed behind him after some brief consideration. As soon as Ash ran up to the Ranger, he found her talking on some sort of communication device, which was projecting the hologram of a bearded man who almost resembled Meyer, Clemont and Bonnie's father.
"I just arrived at the scene, Rand," the Ranger said. "There's a lot of damage. I'm hearing the number of injured people and Pokémon is in the excess of thirty, but fortunately no one seems to be badly hurt."
"That's relieving to hear, Summer," the hologram replied. "Do you think it's-"
"There's no need to think," interrupted the woman, Summer. "I know it's related to those explosions in the forest."
"Explosions in the forest?" repeated Ash.
"Pika?" Pikachu asked.
"What?" Summer twirled around, noticed Ash and Pikachu for the first time, and was startled. "Uh, Rand, I gotta go. I'll, uh, I'll report back to you later." She quickly deactivated her communication device and crossed her arms. "What in the world are you still doing here, kid? Get outta here; this is an active scene!" Then, the woman noticed Ash's friends, who had all just caught up to him. "Wh-Wha?! What is this?! Do kids listen nowadays?! A-All of you, you need to clear out of this area ASAP!"
"Not until we know what's going on here!" Ash replied defiantly. "I heard you mention other explosions in the forest! What other explosions are you talking about?"
"Pika!" Pikachu squeaked in agreement.
Cursing herself under her breath for her loud mouth, Summer then replied, "Well, there have been reports of loud noises coming from Kiloude Forest since last week. Some colleagues and I were dispatched here to investigate. We eventually determined that the source of the noises were these random explosions."
"Random explosions?" Serena repeated. "Do you know what's causing them?"
To everyone's surprise, the Ranger shook her head. "No idea, young lady. But I'll tell you this: I've seen those explosions for myself and I can say for sure they're not natural."
"Unnatural explosions happening at random?" Clemont summarized inquisitively. "You're sure you don't know the cause?"
Summer shook her head. "They just happen. There's no triggering factor, nothing."
"That's strange. I've never heard of anything like that in my life..."
"That is why it's important for you kids to get out of here. We don't know when and where the next explosion will strike-"
Suddenly, Squishy poked its head out of Bonnie's satchel and chirped loudly. Upon seeing it, Summer's eyes widened, as did those of Miette, who hadn't seen Squishy before then.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Who's that Pokémon?!" the Ranger exclaimed in both awe and confusion.
"Oh, this is Squishy," Bonnie replied. She took the minuscule green Pokémon out of her satchel and looked at it curiously as it started to fidget uncomfortably. "Are you okay, Squishy? You've been awfully quiet lately."
However, Squishy didn't respond. Instead, it was distantly looking off in a random direction. Everyone followed its gaze and realized that the green Pokémon was looking directly at the surrounding Kiloude Forest.
"Well then, it seems that your friend is sensing something in the forest," Summer replied, as she kept tilting her head so she could examine Squishy from multiple angles.
"Squishy senses a whole lot of things," Bonnie said. "Maybe it knows what's causing all of this."
"He...ello? Ca...yone hear...er."
"Wait a minute, who's speaking?" Serena asked, looking around curiously upon hearing the disjointed voice.
Summer looked at her communication device first, but was surprised to see it wasn't activated. "Huh," she said. "It must be the walkie-talkie Rand gave me as a last resort..."
The Ranger procured the aforementioned walkie-talkie; indeed, the voice was coming out of that device.
"Hello? Is any...ceiving thi...ssage? Ov..."
"Do you know who's calling?" Shauna asked.
"I don't know," Summer replied, her eyes narrowing with concern. "It must be someone out of range, someone who's injured." She pressed a button on the walkie-talkie and spoke into it. "Hello? Hello? If you can hear me, you've reached Pokémon Ranger Summer. I am in Kiloude City right now. You are a little out of range. Are you in desperate need of any assistance? Over."
For a few moments, there was no response. Then, the voice on the other end replied, "My name's Yuu. I...in Kiloude Fores...ere's a little girl...king for...er mother... Ove..."
"Yuu, I still can't understand you. What's this about a little girl? Over."
The others' heads perked up in worry at the reference to the girl. Hopefully nothing bad happened to her...
"Little girl... In forest... Asking for...mother... Serena Ketchum...ver."
Serena blinked twice. Did she hear that right?
"Wait, hold on for a moment, Yuu," Summer said. "Is that girl hurt in any way? Over."
"No. She...st askin...or her moth...ain, her name...erena Ketchum. Ov..."
"Serena Ketchum, huh...?" Miette remarked, casting a sly glance at Ash and Serena.
"Hey, don't make any funny assumptions, Miette!" Serena snapped. "It's just the bad reception mincing the words, that's all!" Her voice choked a little at that assumption, but she knew there was no way this Yuu person was thinking of her as Serena Ketchum.
"Why?" Summer asked, looking at the Trainers with curiosity. "Is one of you Serena Ketchum?"
"She wishes," replied Miette, pointing at Serena teasingly while Shauna stifled a giggle.
"SHUT UP, MIETTE!" Serena shrieked, her voice cracking. Then, she cleared her throat and spoke to Summer. "My name is Serena, but my last name's Gabena." She pointed at Ash. "His last name is Ketchum."
"Yeah, I'm Ash Ketchum," Ash added.
"Okay..." Summer looked from Serena to Ash and back. "I'll check with this Yuu person." She spoke back into the walkie-talkie. "Yuu, if you can hear me, I don't know anything about a Serena Ketchum, if that is indeed what you were trying to say, but I do have a Serena Gabena and an Ash Ketchum with me right now. Are these the people you wanted? Over."
Once again, there was no response for a few moments. Then, Yuu replied, "Yes, that's them. Find my...aquil's Flamethrower... We will be the... Ove...d out."
"Well, whaddaya know?" Tierno said, crossing his arms.
"I guess you two are needed," Summer remarked, looking at Ash and Serena. "Okay, so this Yuu character's in Kiloude Forest from what I could gather."
"And Squishy's sensing something from Kiloody Forest!" Bonnie exclaimed.
"Yeah, that too. Perhaps this could be the key to solving this strange and disastrous phenomenon..." Summer started walking towards the jeep. "I need you two to come with me."
"Come with you?" Ash repeated, while Serena blinked with surprise.
"Yes, to Kiloude Forest." Summer got into the driver's seat. "Until today's incident, all of the unnatural explosions have been happening all around there. There's a pretty good reason this phenomenon has been mostly restricted to that area, and if a complete stranger's asking for you two to go there, it could very well be the answer we've all been seeking."
"Sounds reasonable," Clemont replied hesitantly.
"Well, if that's the case, then I'm all in for it!" Ash exclaimed as he hopped into the jeep. "Come on, Serena!"
"Right behind you, Ash!" Serena replied, the honey-blonde smiling as she followed her crush into the vehicle.
"I wanna go too, I wanna go too!" Bonnie chirped, as she and Clemont both climbed inside as well. "Squishy seems to know where to go, so we could use him as a guide!"
"Nenene!" Dedenne chirped in agreement.
"Very well, very well," Summer replied; the Ranger was apparently not in the mood to argue against that. She then looked at Shauna, Tierno, Trevor, and Miette, who were also moving towards the jeep. "Uh, uh, uh, don't even think about it, you four. This jeep can only hold so much people. You need to get out of here and find shelter. Who knows if there'll be any more explosions in the city?"
"Alright," the four Trainers replied simultaneously, their voices filled with disappointment.
"Good luck, you guys," Shauna added, her gaze particularly focused on Serena.
"Hey, don't worry about us, Shauna," Serena replied, smiling optimistically at her rival. "The four of us have faced worse than this. For all we know, this is probably gonna be nothing!"
Several minutes later
Serena had never, ever felt so wrong before.
A/N: Well, this is unanimously the story's longest chapter. But I guess it's understandable, given its subject matter.
Speaking of which, we're now back to where the first part of Chapter 1 left off! HOORAY! :D :D :D
Sorry if the drama's a little hokey. After rereading the AmourShippy scene and the conversation between Aria and Foster, I felt like there was a lot more room for improvement, but I wasn't all that sure on what else I could do with it. Well, I guess this is what happens when I haven't written in a while. Hopefully I'll improve as time goes along.
Also, I'm not sure if any of you caught on, but Clarice is yet another one of those background Pokémon Performers that I have chosen to put into the spotlight! She too will be having a supporting role like Sara Lee and Concetta, so this isn't the last you've seen of her!
I'd like to thank the following people for reviewing:
1) Not sure if you read my ending Author's Note, but I will remind you that I have rebooted Adam's character. He's not going to be the same character you saw in "Separation", but he does share some key characteristics. Also, he'll be more of a PG villain rather than a PG-13 villain, so don't expect to see any blatant psychopathy from him.
2) Yes, I also like the idea of the peanut gallery being in the limelight.
-Amourshiper35: Okay... Is there anything else you wish to comment on?
-Rajiv A. Rajaram: I'm glad you enjoyed Amelia, Sara Lee, and Concetta's appearances. And yes, there's going to be a lot of stuff our heroes will have to deal with pretty soon.
-Emily (guest reviewer):
1) Ha ha ha, I'm so glad you caught that "Lion King" reference! Hopefully it clues you into Adam's role for the story... ;)
2) I guess that's why Ash had to go back to school in SM, huh? XP
3) "When every life meets another life, something will be born."
-PikachuHunter (guest reviewer): Okay, I'm sorry, but that review was SO LONG and in only ONE PARAGRAPH that I won't respond to it. Again, sorry, but that wall of text was such an eyesore to me and I couldn't get past the first couple of sentences. Next time, if you plan on writing something so long, make sure to split your review into paragraphs so then I can follow along easier.
2) Well, it's definitely very big in the present day. But you're not going to meet every last relative; that topic would become a trilogy of its own! XP
1) You're welcome, I guess? XP In all seriousness, I just picked the best word combination and went with it. I didn't know it had anything to do with any kind of video game.
2) Well, if it makes you feel any better, "Separation" isn't in the same canon as this story, so you're not exactly missing out on anything.
3) There's actually a reason I'm making Serena's fellow Performers (some of them, at least) so antagonistic. But you'll find out as we go along.
4) Don't worry, I hope you'll be able to learn enough of the Ranger characters through my writings. The only thing you need to know is that they'll be as accurate to their game counterparts as possible.
-Arno wisp: She meets her future daughter now, as you just read. Don't worry, I had no intention of wasting any more of your time with these present-day shenanigans. The next chapter is where the time-travel aspect kicks off! :D
1) Oh, I'm definitely a fan of the SM games (even though I haven't played them), just not a fan of the anime.
2) Well, don't you worry; romance is just one of many subplots. I intend to prioritize family dynamics above all else.
3) Not sure what you meant by "directly based"; a fanfic is never directly based off of anything.
4) I TOTALLY enjoy writing Meowth's sentences! He's just got this dialect that's so easy yet entertaining to replicate! :D
Well, I hope you enjoyed this late chapter! TheCartoonFanatic01 is out. PEACE, AND A BELATED HAPPY NEW YEAR!