The morning Alolan sun glistened in the sky, and white-capped waves bounced off the ferry as it sped towards Manalo Stadium. The low thrum of the ferry's engines, combined with the rocking motion from the waves, tried to lull Serena to sleep. Her body screamed that it was time for bed, and nothing about the island atmosphere could keep her going.
Her flight had left Hoenn in the early evening, but she hadn't slept well on the ten-hour journey to Alola. She had dozed off a few times after dinner service had finished, but the cramped and uncomfortable seats and some turbulence kept her from getting any real rest.
She tried to use the time to reflect on the last year as she toured and competed in the Hoenn contest circuit. She had her own adventures as she built her skills, and confidence, traveling across the region. Lilycove City, with its great shopping, and Slateport City, with its open-air market and wide beaches, had been two of her favorite contest venues. And she had left behind some new friends, including a small group of first-time trainers that she had mentored after meeting them outside of Rustboro City.
It hadn't exactly gone as she had planned, though. Contests were a lot different than Showcases. They were about the Pokemon, and her skills as a Pokemon trainer and choreographer were pushed to their limits.
The performance battle round was the part that she had struggled with the most. Pokémon battles were something she hadn't been great at. She didn't give up, though, and she had improved enough over her journey to win the five ribbons needed to qualify for the Hoenn Grand Festival.
But it hadn't been enough. Despite her Pokemon putting everything into the appeals round routine, they had come up short and did not move onto the battle round. Serena had no regrets, though, because she had given it her all and left everything in the contest hall. She didn't know which region's contest circuit she would be joining next, but she was already preparing for the next season.
She pulled out a small notebook and flipped through to a set of dog-eared pages near the back. The flight had given her time to add another page and a half of notes on a routine she was trying to choreograph.
Serena used the notebook to keep track of her thoughts. She had lists and notes for all of the ideas she was working on. Her PokéVision video and choreography routine ideas took up most of the small notebook, and she tried to review her notes when she had downtime and brainstorm on how she could improve.
I still don't get why Palermo recommended joining the contest circuit in Hoenn, she thought as she set the notebook down in her lap. The bonds I share with Pokémon are stronger than ever. But I don't feel like a better performer.
Ash always tells me that nothing he and Pikachu did on their journey was a waste, she thought. He reminds me of that every week on our video calls. So I'm sure that this will bring me closer to my goal.
Her mind drifted to the boy from Kanto, who she considered her best friend, and the reason for her trip. They had both been pretty busy after they left the Kalos region, and they hadn't didn't talk for a few months. She was preoccupied with getting started with the contests in Hoenn, and he had moved to Alola and enrolled in the regional Pokémon school's advanced trainer program. They had kind of kept in touch through PokéBook, where Ash had invited the entire Kalos crew into a private group where most of his former traveling companions kept in touch.
Their packed schedules weren't the only reason they didn't talk, though. She got an awkward feeling in her stomach whenever she tried to call him. Her last moment with Ash was confessing her feelings and kissing him, and she didn't know what she would, or could, say.
Ash had reached out first when he called to wish her a happy birthday. That call had come at the right moment on a bad day. It turned her day around, and they started texting and talking more often after that. The awkwardness wore off quickly, and they started talking and texting more often.
Thinking of Ash, combined with the smell of the warm ocean air, caused her mind to drift off, stirring up memories of her journey through the Kalos region. Her mind took her to their week at Professor Sycamore's Pokemon summer camp and the adventures they had with their friends as they won the camp competition, and the day that Ash had first said that to her.
She lost her battle against sleep as she fondly remembered that night when the group had won the Pokevision contest.
The vibrating buzz of the Rotom Phone startled Serena awake. Her eyes were weighed down by sleep as she forced them open. She took a deep breath as she stretched. The smell of the warm, salty ocean air almost made her eyes snap shut again.
The Rotom phone buzzed again.
The first thing she noticed as the fog cleared from her head was that the ferry had slowed down. The thrum of the engines was barely noticeable, and the ferry didn't rock so hard as it passed through the white-capped waves.
We must be getting close, she thought. She looked out her window, but she couldn't see anything besides the ocean and a small group of Wingulls circling overhead. Maybe it's on the other side of the boat. I should get up and walk around.
The Rotom phone buzzed and vibrated a third time.
Serena sighed as she picked up her phone and scrolled through the list of notifications. There were a few texts, some PokeBook conversations, and an email from Professor Kukui.
Serena went into her texts and went to the oldest unread message. Ash had replied to her congratulatory text with a big thumbs-up emoji. He had followed that with another message. "I wish you were here."
She typed "I'll be there soon. I can't wait." But she didn't send it. Professor Kukui wanted this to be a surprise. She deleted the unsent message and replied with "You will do great. I believe in you."
I can't wait to surprise him tonight, she thought. There was also a text from her mom, a reply back to the one she sent when her plane landed. That text was over an hour old. Was I really asleep that long?
The most recent messages - the ones that had woken her up - were from Clemont. Bonnie and I will meet you on the docks in about 15 minutes. Check your email. Professor Kukui sent you your tickets and hotel information.
She remembered seeing a notification about an email from the Professor. She would have to read that before she got off the boat.
"And Bonnie can't wait to introduce you to everyone," she said, reading the last text quietly to herself. She smiled brightly. But that smile only lasted for a second as her self-doubt crept in.
She instinctively reached for the blue ribbon that she wore around her neck. It was the ribbon that Ash had given her during the pledging tree festival in Coumarine City. I finally get to meet everyone, and we're all here to support Ash.
It took Serena a few minutes to stretch and gather her things after the ferry docked at Manalo Stadium. The crowds had thinned out by the time she stepped onto the pier.
"Serena! Serena!" she heard as she stepped off of the boat. "I missed you!"
Seconds later, a blonde-haired ball of energy slammed into her like a Volt Tackle and wrapped her tightly in a hug. She started to lose her balance and grabbed for the nearest railing to steady herself.
"I missed you too, Bonnie," she said. "It's so great to see you."
"Bonnie!" another familiar voice said as it came running up. "You shouldn't have run off like that."
"It's OK, Clemont," Serena said as she stepped towards her old traveling companion to give him a hug. "I missed both of you."
"Bonnie and I will take you to the hotel," Clemont said after the short embrace ended. "Professor Kukui has already made sure your room is ready. But before we do that, there is someone that really wants to meet you."
"Come on, come on, let's go!" Bonnie yelled excitedly, grabbing her hand and pulling her along. They came to a stop at the end of the pier in front of a set of stairs leading into the stadium complex.
"Hi Serena." It was a familiar voice, but Serena couldn't remember where she had heard it. "I'm Ash's mom. It's so great to finally meet you in person. Ash has told me so much about you and your adventures in Kalos."
Serena's cheeks burned red for a second. She hadn't been expecting to meet Mrs. Ketchum at that moment, but she quickly regained her composure. "It's so great to meet you, Mrs. Ketchum," she replied. "Ash has told me a lot about you too."
"You can just call me Delia," Ash's mom said. "I watched some of your contests, and I loved your Hoenn Pokevision videos. I want to hear all about your trip. But you just traveled a long way to get here. I'm sure you'd like to get a little rest."
"Thank you," Serena replied.
"I will see all of you in a few hours," Delia said. She turned and walked back towards the stadium.
Finding the hotel hadn't been hard. Bonnie had latched onto Serena's hand and dragged her there at full speed. Her room key was waiting for her at the front desk, and she was to her room in no time. Bonnie and Clemont had walked with her to door, and she was in her room with the tap of the key card.
"We should let you get some rest," Clemont said as he helped Serena bring her suitcase into the room. "I took a three-hour nap when we first arrived. Bonnie ended up going to Hau'oli City with some of Ash's friends, and she somehow came back with even more energy."
Bonnie bounded up and down the hallway with Dedenne. "I wish I had her energy right now," Serena said.
"Me too," Clemont said. "We should get going. The finals are in about three hours, but everyone is planning to meet a half hour before by the main stadium entrance. We can meet you in the lobby so you can walk over with us. It's really easy to get lost around here."
Serena looked down at her phone and quickly set two alarms to wake her up. "Sounds good, Clemont. I will see you soon." Clemont shut the door as he left, leaving Serena alone in the hotel room.
She opened her backpack and took out four Poke Balls. "Come out, everyone," she said. Four Pokemon emerged from their Pokeballs in a flash of white light. She pulled out a container of Poké Puffs and set it on the floor. "I made all of your favorites. Eat up."
Each Pokémon grabbed a Poké Puff and made themselves comfortable on the bed. "I'm going to take a nap, Braixen. Please don't let me sleep through my alarm."
She set her hat and Rotom Phone on the nightstand and climbed into bed.
She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
"Good luck today, Ash," Professor Sycamore said, extending his hand. "Alain and Mairin send their regards. They're rooting for you too."
Ash took his hand and shook it hard. "Thank you, Professor. I really appreciate that you flew all the way here to cheer me on."
"I've always wanted to come down to Alola," he said. "I hope I get a chance to compare Mega Evolution to these Z-Moves that Professor Kukui has been talking about."
"Yeah," Ash said with a smirk. "We got to experience that first-hand when our class took a trip to visit Kanto. It didn't work out so well for Misty."
Ash turned towards the corner of the trainer's locker room, where Brock, Misty and Kiawe sat on a pair of couches. Pikachu had curled up in Misty's lap, and Lycanroc sat near Ash's seat, patiently waiting for him to return.
Misty scowled. "You just got lucky," she said. "And you had a type advantage anyway. Don't let it go to your head, Mr. Manalo Conference finalist."
Ash started laughing, and Misty and Brock both joined in a second later. "You never change, Misty," he said.
"Well, I really need to get going," Professor Sycamore said. "I'm supposed to meet Professor Oak and Professor Kukui for lunch." He started to walk out of the trainer's locker room and then paused when he was halfway out the door. "Oh! Before I forget, I have a pair of surprises for you."
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of Poké Balls. "It took Korrina and Bonnie a month to track these guys down."
Ash beamed as he took the Poké Balls from Professor Sycamore. "Awesome. Thank you, Professor." He turned to Pikachu and said, "I think we're going to be reunited with two old friends, Pikachu. Bringing them to today's match wouldn't be fair to Gladion though."
"What's in the Poké Balls, Ash?" Kiawe asked.
"Two of the Pokémon I used last year in Kalos," he said. "But my goal today is to win using just the Pokémon I caught and trained here in the Alola region."
"Piiiikkkkaaaa!" Pikachu growled.
"And you too, buddy," Ash replied. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you."
"But you still haven't told us what Pokémon are in there," Brock replied.
Ash pushed the buttons on each Poké Ball, inflating them to normal size. He pointed the one in his right hand towards the center of the room. "Come on out, Goodra." A second later, a large, slug-like pink dragon Pokémon stood in the center of the room, slime dripping off of its flipper-like hands.
"AAASSSSHHHH!" Misty shrieked, pointing. "WHAT IS THAT THING? YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I DON'T LIKE BUG-TYPES!"
"Goodra is not a bug-type, Misty," Ash replied. "He's a dragon-type. He's really gentle and nice." Ash could see a slimy tear start to well up in the corner of Goodra's eye. "And look, you hurt his feelings."
"That doesn't make me feel any better, ASH!"
"It's OK, Goodra," Ash said. "Misty doesn't mean it. She's had a fear of bug types for as long as I've known her. She really is nice. I'd tell you to give her a hug, but she'd probably throw something at me."
"You're right I would," she replied loudly.
"Goodra doesn't seem like a dragon-type," Kiawe said. "Is it a strong battler?"
"He is," Ash replied. "We should have a battle with Turtonator and Goodra after the tournament. But I think we've scared Misty enough. I missed you, Goodra, but I need you to return to your Poké Ball for now. We'll catch up later. Return!"
Goodra frowned as his reunion with his trainer was cut short. The Poké Ball emitted a red beam of light, and moments later, the spot where Goodra had been standing was empty.
"There is a funny story behind how I captured Goodra. We were traveling to Courmarine City for my fourth Kalos Gym Badge and Serena's first Pokémon Performance. We were just outside of the city when a Swanna flew overhead. A Goomy fell off and landed right on my head. He helped Pikachu escape from Team Rocket and then let me capture him."
As he remembered that day, his mind turned to Serena. She wasn't the only former traveling companion that hadn't shown up in Alola over the last few days, but she was the one he missed the most. I wish she was here right now.
He saw Pikachu tilt his head, as if the Pokémon could sense his thoughts. I know she believes in me, and that is enough. He smiled and continued. "That Goomy later evolved into Goodra. He stayed in Kalos to protect the wetlands he lived in and all of the Pokémon there."
Misty laughed. "Ash Ketchum is the only person I know who could have a dragon-type Pokémon land on their head."
"Does that other Poké Ball contain what I think it does?" Brock asked.
"Let's find out," Ash replied. He closed his eyes for a second. He could feel the familiar presence inside the Poké Ball. "Come out, Greninja!"
With another flash of light, a five-foot tall blue frog-like Pokémon stood in the center of the room. Before the Pokémon could react, Ash and Pikachu were both giving him a hug.
"Serena! Serena!" Bonnie shouted as Serena walked into the hotel lobby. "We're all over here."
Serena turned towards where Bonnie's voice was coming from. Professor Sycamore and Korrina were talking with Bonnie and Clemont, sitting on a pair of couches near the entrance to the hotel restaurant.
"Hi, everyone," she said, walking up to the group. "Sorry I'm late. I didn't know you were in Alola, Korrina!"
"I wouldn't miss this for the world," Korrina said. "Ash has been kicking butt all week. I didn't know you were going to be here."
"Yeah…" Serena said, smiling nervously. "It's supposed to be a surprise for Ash. I was hoping to get here earlier, but I had to film my last Pokévision video in Rustboro City."
"Well," Clemont interjected, "we should probably head towards the stadium. Brock wanted us to all meet up at the stadium's main entrance in a few minutes."
Bonnie hopped off the couch and ran towards the hotel entrance, and Korrina followed closely behind. "Serena, will you race Korrina and I?"
"Maybe next time," Serena replied. "I need to catch up with Clemont."
"Your loss," Bonnie snarked. "Alright, Korrina. You can't use your rollerblades today. That's cheating." Bonnie rushed to the hotel door, beating Korrina by a half second. "Ready! Go!" She took off in a sprint, Korrina following closely behind.
"When did they get so close?" Serena asked as they started to walk towards the hotel's main entrance.
"I sent them on a mission," Professor Sycamore replied. "They were out in the field for just over a month."
"Oh?" Serena asked. "What were they retrieving?"
"That's a surprise," the professor replied. "And speaking of surprises, when are you going to be back in Lumiose City? I have a gift for you at the lab."
"I'm thinking of coming back to Kalos for the Coumarine City Festival," she replied. "I thought it would be nice to bring my mom to the Pledging Tree. I'm not sure if I'll be able to do that this year. I haven't decided on what contest circuit I'll be entering."
They walked through the hotel entrance, and Serena was instantly in awe as they walked into a large plaza, ringed by palm trees, that had been converted into an open-air market. The sweet smell of malasadas was carried by the light afternoon breeze, mixing with the salty smell of the ocean air. The sun hung brightly in a sky filled with puffy white clouds.
"I'll see you all at the stadium," Professor Sycamore said. "I have a few things I need to finish up before the match." He turned around and went back into the hotel.
"I'm surprised you let Bonnie go on an adventure without you, Clemont," Serena said.
"Dad thought that I could use a break," Clemont replied, "so she got to go on a short adventure with Korrina. It's good practice for next year when she can start her own journey."
"Has she stopped trying to find you a wife again?" she asked.
Clemont looked down at his feet. "No," he said with a sigh. "She started doing it again shortly after you all left Kalos. She tried to propose to three women on my behalf yesterday. But I have some good news on that front. Do you remember Lilia, who we met on the way to Snowbelle City?"
"Oh yeah," Serena replied. "She was the one who was looking for a partner to run her robotics company, right?"
"Her dad's robotics company," Clemont corrected. "Anyway, she stopped by the gym last month, and we've been talking a lot since then. She's going to be in Lumiose City next month, and we're planning a dinner date."
"That's great news," Serena cheered. "How did Bonnie take it?"
"Well…" Clemont stammered. "She was on her adventure with Korrina when that happened. I haven't told her yet because she didn't take the competition for my attention very well last time."
"Bonnie was just a little jealous," Serena said with a chuckle. "I'm very excited for you, Clemont. You'll have to let me know how it goes."
Serena could see Clement start to blush, and she decided to change the subject. "I wanted to thank you for sending me those new camera drones. They were very helpful in shooting my last two Pokévision videos. I didn't have any trouble with them."
"When are you releasing the videos on the Pokévision site?" Clemont asked. "The Pokémon League World Champions Cup is looking for some new camera drones for the next championship events. If I can include your footage, it might convince them to use my design."
"'The first one drops tomorrow, but I'll send you the raw footage," Serena replied. "That will probably be better than my edited videos. The flight over Meteor Falls looks amazing."
The conversation continued as they crossed the plaza, allowing Serena to catch up on the latest news from Kalos. Serena followed Clemont's lead as they navigated through the plaza. They ended up on a wide avenue lined with shops, and when they reached the end, turned towards the stadium entrance.
"We're here," Clemont said. "I think we're meeting everyone over by that group of palm trees." He pointed to a small stand of palm trees on the right, about fifty yards away. Serena could see a small group of people gathering near that spot.
As soon as Bonnie saw the group, she turned, waived, and then ran towards them at full speed.
"Hurry up, you guys!" Bonnie shouted as she ran up to the group. "They're waiting for us." As soon as she was close enough, she grabbed Serena's hand and started pulling her towards the group of people congregating by the palm trees. "Let's go. I have so many people to introduce you to."
She scanned the plaza, looking for familiar faces. Clemont was walking towards an orange-haired boy. Korrina was off to the side, talking to a tall girl with green hair.
"Bonnie!" Serena yelled as she was dragged along. She stumbled over a small gap in the concrete sidewalk but managed to keep her footing. "Slow down."
"Sorry, Serena," Bonnie said. "I'm just so excited to introduce you to everyone. They're all so nice." Bonnie slowed down, allowing Serena to get her footing and catch her breath, and walked towards three girls near the edge of the group.
She felt a bolt of excitement shoot through her as she recognized Dawn, a shorter girl wearing a short pink skirt and dark blue hair covered by a knit cap. She had been looking forward to meeting her as Dawn had provided her with several pointers on contests. The second girl was taller, with red hair in a ponytail that hung just behind her left ear, a yellow t-shirt and short jean shorts. She looked familiar, but she couldn't remember her name. She didn't recognize the third girl, who had shoulder-length blue hair. An Eevee, a Piplup, and a water-type Pokémon she didn't recognize played nicely around their feet.
"Hey, Bonnie!" one of the girls, a tall redhead in a yellow shirt said as they got closer.
"Hi everyone," Bonnie said. "I have someone else I'd like you to meet." The other girls turned to face them, and Dawn smiled at her.
Serena stepped forward and smiled back. "Hi. I'm Serena."