"Clanging scales," Moon shouted. She slipped on her headphones in time to drown out the ensuing metallic furor, focusing on the battlefield. Their opponent, a hulking electrivire, winced and stepped back, holding its hands fruitlessly over its ears. "Now finish it with close combat."
She couldn't hear the roar of delight Hera made at the command, but she could see that delight written all over her face as Hera came in close, dispatching the electrivire with a series of quick blows.
It was over.
Moon kept on her headphones to block out the cheering of the tourney crowd. She walked over to her opponent and held out her hand so they could shake. His mouth moved—she pushed her headphones off, hit by the sudden return of noise. The crowd was yelling and stamping. "Sorry?" she said, "I didn't catch that."
He smiled. "Nothing important. Just, thanks for a good match."
"Thanks," Moon said awkwardly. She hesitated, then added, "Your electrivire is strong, but you rely too much on close attacks. If those are disabled, you're left vulnerable."
The trainer nodded slowly, considering her words. "I think I see what you mean. Thank you, for pointing that out, I'll work on it." He tapped her shoulder as she began to move away. "Mind if we take a selfie together?"
"Uh, sure. Let me call over Hera. She loves photos."
When the selfie had been taken, Moon made a beeline for the sidelines. Lillie, waiting for her there, greeted her with a kiss to the cheek.
"Another fan?" Lillie asked.
"They're not fans, Lillie, they're fellow trainers."
"Sure." Lillie's smile was mischievous. "Fellow trainers who just happen to be your fans."
At Moon's side, Hera cackled. Moon gave her a hard jab.
"Excellent job, you two, as always," Lillie said. "The headphones are working okay, Moon?"
"They work perfectly. It's the best idea you've had—and you have a lot of good ideas." She was pleased to see Lillie blush at the compliment, but not refute it. "Let me get cleaned up from the battle, and then we can grab dinner."
"I don't really mind when you're sweaty, Moon," Lillie said. When Moon raised an eyebrow, Lillie blinked innocently.
"Well, I mind," Moon said firmly, taking Lillie's hand.
Back at their hotel room, Moon found two video messages awaiting her. As she towelled down, she clicked play, and Gladion's face appeared on the screen.
"Hey Moon, Lillie. Guess who is the boss of the corporate PR game, plus a business prodigy? It's me. I caught someone grumbling about Moon getting special treatment, so you know what? The Aether Foundation's going to create a standing scholarship for promising trainers in difficult financial circumstances—the Moon Scholarship. Reach for the moon, or some other bullshit tag. Board is all over it, I'm officially brilliant, and Moon, don't even try to argue the name. In fact, we'll have the argument right now. You say, 'but I'm not worthy, bla bla bla,' and I say, 'you're an inspiration, suck it up.' Lillie agrees with me."
Moon turned to see Lillie nodding her agreement. "Traitor," she mumbled.
"Well, it's true, Moon. In the last month you've broken into the tournament's top three position. Everyone who's heard what you faced to get here can't help being inspired. I think this scholarship is a wonderful idea. Gladion doesn't have many of those, but he certainly has had a few."
"It's not the scholarship I'm arguing with," Moon mumbled. "That part's cool."
Lillie looked at her sympathetically. "I know. Look, just ignore it. The name's really not important, is it? But maybe in a few months you'll be facing someone on the battlefield who got there because of you. That would be important."
Moon shook her head, smiling. "You always know what to say."
She deleted Gladion's message, and the next message popped onto the screen. It was from her mom. She was recording from the hospital bed.
"Moon. I saw your battle this morning. You were brilliant, honey. I'm so proud of where you've gotten to, and the wonderful friends who helped you. I'm just calling to let you know I've scheduled my debulking surgery. I was able to pay for it, thanks to your reward money. The process is very safe, and if it succeeds, things should be better for me, for a while, at least. I'll call again after the surgery's been completed. Happy battling!"
The message cut off.
Moon instantly dialed her mom's hospital room number. "Hi, yeah, this is Moon. Can I speak to Laqueta Massani, room 506?" She waited a moment, tapping her foot. "Mom? Mom, why did you tell us about your surgery like I'm not going to be there?"
"Don't you have battles, honey?"
Moon snorted. "There are always battles, but there aren't any battles I can't miss to spend your surgery by your side."
Lillie took the phone, and interjected, "Ma'am? I want to assure you I have Moon's schedule under control. We can easily accommodate a week off while you have your surgery and recover. And Ma'am . . . if I can be so bold to say—I know from personal experience not to argue with Moon when she's made up her mind."
Laqueta laughed. "Thank you, Lillie. I'm glad you're there to look after Moon for me."
"We look after each other Ma'am," Lillie said, beaming.
"So tell me the details, Mom, and we'll see you soon." Moon listened attentively, and then said, "Love you, Mom. See you. Bye bye."
She turned to Lillie as if struck by a sudden thought. "You don't have to come, of course. Maybe you'll want to go see Gladion while I'm with Mom?"
Lillie rolled her eyes, a gesture that Moon always found incredibly out of place for her, but also incredibly endearing. "I'm coming with you, Moon." She held up a hand, freshly polished. "No arguments, please."
"Okay," Moon said, taking her hand.
And it was just as easy as that.