A note from Lightningwarrior

Leo's Team:

Santiago – Slowking

Zuko – Quilava

Diana – Pupitar


Link – Bellossom

"Your first trial is to find the first trial," Hala said as he handed Leo a fancy new bracelet, complete with the stone he had been given embedded inside of it.

"Huh?" Leo asked, voicing his confusion.

"Not all trials are trials of combat," Hala said mysteriously. "And for you, I can think of no better test of skill than to force you to find the first trial yourself. And not the trial off of route three, the one which all trial-goers face – no, you must find the true first trial," he said. Leo digested that while slipping on the bracelet, suppressing his glee. Z-moves, here we come! Time to transform mundane moves into something far more dangerous! He just…needed to figure out how it all worked, first.

"And how will I know when I find the first trial?" he asked. "What am I even looking for?" Hala hesitated on answering, then shrugged and patted his belly with a laugh.

"You will know. The totem pokemon you will be facing for your trial is far larger and stronger than others of their species – though I will tell you that the first trial is always a trial of the normal type," he said. Leo frowned and racked his brain for anything he could recall about an oversized pokémon he'd seen, heard rumor of, or seen sign for.

Of course, he'd scoped out the site of the "official" island trial in his time exploring, but that was now nixed. Hala said he wouldn't be taking that trial. The oversized Alolan Raticate he'd seen there would have been quite the opponent, but that wasn't an option anymore. The only other thing he'd seen was a large track that had caught his eye explicitly because of its ridiculous size. Not only that, but it was a track Leo knew fairly well, thanks to Professor Oak sitting him down and telling him to stay away from this kind of pokémon. It was usually extremely dangerous – at least in Kanto. Alola was a bit different, but Snorlax were still a pokémon to be feared.

"Please tell me you're not sending me to fight a Snorlax," Leo deadpanned, and Hala just laughed and shook his head, waving him off and starting down the street, not answering his question. He frowned harder and looked down at the z-ring he now had on his wrist, the stone one of the key ingredients in using what he remembered as z-moves; essentially mega evolution for pokémon moves. And all pokémon could use z-moves, unlike mega evolution.

Well, he had to find z-crystals first, but the journey was started!

"Let's just hope it's not a Snorlax," he sighed, and started off, immediately heading directly into the jungle. Then he paused, and thought about it for a second. "On second thought, I think we should head to the city to try and get some more supplies. Pokeballs, some medicine…I might need to catch a few pokémon to sell for funds, but that shouldn't be a big problem. I've still got five pokeballs I can use," he muttered, listing off a few things on his fingers and taking a mental stock of his monetary funds. Which, unfortunately, were running pretty low.

He just didn't have to worry about money when he was literally living off the land, he and his pokémon together. But if he was going to head into a big old "boss fight" against a potentially super powerful pokémon, then he wanted to be extra prepared. Skilled at survival or not, arrogance and unpreparedness led to pain and possibly death. Even if the island trials, like the gym challenge, were meant to be safe enough for participants it was still good to practice at least a bit of caution.

But he did have a choice to make. Either use the remainder of his funds to catch a bus into the city, or hike there and try to catch a few pokémon to sell. The latter would take a good day or two, but the former would get him to a pokémon center, where he could see what kind of pokémon were selling and for what prices…give him an idea of what to look for to make the most out of his current stock of supplies rather than going in blind. He had an idea for what was selling, but not the best of ideas…

"Let's do a bit of both. Hike to the beach, then try to catch a bus into Hau'oli city. I need to get set up on the pokeride system, if that's even a thing here yet. Riding a flying type around these islands would be so much nicer than having to worry about transportation," he said with a sigh, shaking his head. Maybe he should catch a pokémon that could fly soon. Just for travelling purposes. But then he shook his head and refocused on the task at hand.

One thing at a time. "I should also stop by the pokémon school, say hello to Samson…actually, now that I think about it, there's a pokémon center attached to the school, isn't there? I may be able to take care of two things at once if I head there," he muttered, rubbing his chin. "Y'know, that's actually a great idea. I think the bus can take me there, and from the school I'll head to the city,"

Mind made up, Leo faced the direction Hala had disappeared in, bowed slightly, then turned right around and headed in the opposite direction. He had some preparations to make.

The bus ride to the Pokemon Academy run by Samson Oak was long, and the bus was relatively empty, so Leo let Santiago out during the ride. The Slowking was silent for the most part, staring out of the bus window curiously at the jungle speeding by and steadfastly ignoring the gazes of the few other passengers. Even in Alola a Slowking was a rare sight.

"Should be just a few more minutes," Leo said, idly picking at the guitar that lay in his lap. As he had expected, he was terrible at the guitar. He had no concept on how to play it besides picking the strings, and though he appreciated Gary's gift he worried that it was a bit of a waste – that was, until he came up with an idea for it. Though that was an idea for later, not now.

"Slow," Santiago responded, eyes fixed on the jungle.

"I wonder what Samson's going to say? Honestly, I feel kinda bad now for ditching him like I did. I was just so excited to finally get here that I slipped out the back door and never looked back. I mean, I did call every once in a while to let him know I was alive, but those calls were never really comprehensive," Leo said, recalling what he knew about Samson Oak. The younger cousin of Professor Samuel Oak, Samson Oak struck Leo as a stricter man than Samuel, but somehow at the same time more easy-going. Like, he wanted people to follow the rules, but accepted when people proved themselves already capable outside of his pre-determined rules than Professor Oak would.

If that made sense. Leo wasn't sure it did.

"It'll probably be fine. I am certainly ready to be going on the Island Challenge – I'm getting that itch again," he continued, resting his chin in the palm of his hand as he looked out the window. A large brick wall kept the jungle at bay – marking the beginning of the school grounds. It was a large school, if he remembered right. A true academy, with miles of untamed jungle for wilderness survival exercises…or at least that was the pitch Samson Oak had given him.

Pity Leo didn't want to just perform exercises on wilderness survival. He could probably teach that class.

"Slow," Santiago said, drawing Leo's attention. He was still looking out the window, but his brow was furrowed and muzzle contorted into a frown. The psychic gem in the center of his crown flashed weakly as he used a small amount of his psychic power.

"What's wrong, bud?" Leo asked. Santiago slowly turned his head to face Leo, seemed to consider the question, then mimed his head exploding. Leo furrowed his brows. "Your head hurts?" Santiago shook his head.

"Too…" he muttered, furrowing his brows and closing his eyes. But he didn't find the next word, and pressed both of his paw-hands to the side of his head, then pushed outward as if to say his head was growing bigger.

Leo frowned. Actually, that was probably exactly what he was talking about.

"Too big?" Leo asked, and Santiago nodded. "There's too much going on up here, isn't there?" he said, pointing to his own head, and Santiago nodded again.

"Yes," he said. Leo hummed, having known that Santiago would run into this from Merri, Oak's Alakazam. However, he hadn't asked Leo for help or advice yet, so he hadn't said anything.

"That's actually pretty funny, in a way. Your problem is the opposite of most humans and psychics," Leo said, laughing. Santiago frowned. "The mind is a tricky thing, bud. And I do mean that literally, it is tricky. People have to go their whole lives silencing their mind because it makes them overthink, it creates emotions and warps memories to the point that they are unrecognizable to the actual events; and while logic has been attributed to the mind, it is far too effected by emotion to be reliable for the most part. The conscious mind, anyway. I firmly believe the subconscious knows what is logical, what a rational course of action is, but people are too wrapped up in themselves to notice it,"

"You, on the other hand, grew up as a Slowpoke. Your mind was already quiet for the most part – and now you're learning what happens when you let it run free. Not the other way around, where you have to learn what being quiet means. You're going to have to let your mind be as loud and full of…junk as it is right now," Leo said bluntly, holding up a hand at Santiago's scandalized look. He wasn't finished. "The key is to let it all go. See what you're thinking about, recognize it, then let it fly away. Silence is never true silence, there will always be noise up there. But thoughts can come and go, almost like the wind. Let's see…imagine your mind like a small child at a birthday party. It's excited. You've never felt like this before, this is so fun! There's all these things going on, you can't stay still. Eventually you'll calm down, but you're still riding your evolution high. Let yourself calm down, it'll just take time,"

Santiago frowned and huffed, crossing his arms.

"No," he grumbled, and Leo laughed.

"No, it's not very fun. But everything takes time. There are no shortcuts for what is worthwhile," he said sagely. Hey, that wasn't a bad line. Leo thought, raising an eyebrow at himself. Then he shook that away, and turned back to Santiago. "But I do have an idea to help you along. Let's give you something to focus on, eh? Something to learn so you're not continuously overwhelmed by everything. Something to ground yourself with. Take this," he said, and pull the guitar at his feet up to hand to his starter. Funny that he'd just said his idea to use the guitar as training was for later, and here he was giving it to Santiago now.

Santiago took the wooden acoustic guitar gingerly, furrowing his brows as his massive paws gripped the instrument. There was no way he was playing that with his hands – he lacked the digits and the motor control. But that wasn't the idea, either.

"I want you to play that with your psychic powers. Be careful not to break it, but learning to play an instrument with nothing but your psychic ability should prove both challenging and entertaining. Not to mention it'll train your finesse – I know you can lift boulders with nothing but your mind, but just like when you were a Slowpoke, we need to work on your fine control. I planned on holding off on this training idea until you were more used to your expanded psychic abilities, but I do believe you're good enough for now. Heck, I don't even know if this is possible," Leo tried to explain, waving a hand at the guitar. Santiago cocked his head to the side, processed Leo's words, then looked down at the instrument again.

Maybe Leo would have to find him a book to read about playing the guitar…if Santiago could read yet. Shoot, that was another thing to consider, wasn't it? Another thing to add to the to-do list, see if Santiago could or wanted to learn to read.

The bus slowed to a stop and Leo stood, exiting the bus with his backpack slung over one shoulder, guitar case held in one hand, and Santiago carefully extracting his bulk from the narrow bus doorway, still holding the guitar and frowning at it. Hopefully that would help. It always helped Leo whenever he got too mentally wound up to focus on something he enjoyed – like how writing used to be, and how playing with his pokémon, dancing, and practicing martial arts was for him now.

I should break out my journal again. I haven't written anything in ages, he thought to himself, whistling as he approached the wrought-iron gates of the school. A bored-looking man in a security guard's uniform sat in a small booth just outside the gates, while two Alolan Exeggutor sunned themselves on either side of said gates – their massive necks swaying like tree trunks in the light breeze.

It only took Leo a few minutes to get past the security guard – apparently his information was already in the system as a student, which both amused and irked Leo at the same time – as the man had to look him up, contact someone in the school itself, then waved him through. Santiago lagged behind, eyes fixated on the guitar as he experimentally plucked the strings, listening to the sounds.

It was probably horribly out of tune. Leo really had no idea what he was doing with that thing.

The dirt road crunched under his worn boots as he walked the mile up to the school proper, the circular, multi-story building surrounded by natural and man-made ponds, with students milling about in the courtyard and pokémon frolicking in the fields. There were all kinds of pokémon too; Rockruff yipped as they danced about, chasing after their trainers or Cutiefly that buzzed through the air, the former sometimes playing fetch with the lovable rock hounds instead. Yungoos, small tan weasel-like pokémon, scampered about, while a lone Alolan Meowth sunned itself by one of the pools, next to its trainer.

The building itself was pretty neat, with many elements of traditional Alolan architecture worked into the modern structure. Entire balconies were made of bamboo, with patio roofing made of palm fronds.

Leo watched everyone as much as he could as he approached the school doors, large sliding glass things, more out of curiosity than caution. At least the kids weren't cooped up inside all day for class. In a place as beautiful as Alola, such a thing should be illegal.

"Leo Angelico, to the headmaster's office, Leo Angelico, to the headmaster's office," a voice crackled over the intercom, making Leo jump slightly just as the doors slid open.

Santiago chuckled, and Leo shot him a look over his shoulder.

"Don't you laugh at me, that was surprising and you know it," Leo said, earning himself another chuckle from his Slowking. "Yeah, well…shut it," he said eloquently, and entered the school.

And promptly took ten minutes wandering in search of the headmaster's office, who was in fact Samson Oak, before finally breaking down and asking for directions. From there it only took a minute for him to make his way there.

The headmaster's office was located at the very top of the building, a long spiraling staircase leading to a dark wood door that, when opened, revealed a spacious office with an entire wall of windows overlooking the academy grounds. Leo gawked at the sight when he pushed the door open, eyes flicking over all the decorations on the walls – ancient Alolan weapons and paintings, depictions and diagrams of pokémon, various artworks…it was an impressive office, for sure. One Leo wouldn't mind having, himself. But quick enough his attention was drawn to the three people within the room, and his blood chilled.

A tall blonde woman lounged in a comfortable-looking armchair, her obscenely long blonde hair falling in waves over the back of the chair, and a glasses-wearing purple-haired woman standing behind her. Samson Oak sat behind his desk, pausing mid-sentence to look at Leo, raising one eye. Seeing him again reminded Leo just how uncannily similar Samson looked to Samuel Oak – in fact, the only real difference between the two was the god-awful Alolan shirt Samson wore, the deep tan from years of living beneath the sun, and long, bleach-blonde hair swept back over his head to reach his shoulders. But other than that, the man's face looked exactly the same as Professor Oak's, and by proxy, so was his disappointed gaze.

"Leo," he said, voice monotone. Leo waved at him, eyes flicking to the blonde woman dressed in pure white clothes, with a green gem hung around a necklace on her chest. Movement behind her chair caught his eye, a Clefable poking its head out to look at Leo curiously. That could only be Lusamine, the Big Bad Evil Girl in the Alolan games. There was only one question – was this the kind anime Lusamine, or the psycho games Lusamine? Leo bet it was some nightmarish combination of the two, but he definitely had to watch out for her.

He had come through an Ultra Wormhole, and if she, who was obsessed with ultra beasts found that out? That would be nothing but trouble.

"Hello," Leo said, waving with forced cheer at Samson. Santiago grunted as he squeezed himself through the doorway, making unhappy noises at all the stairs he had to climb.

"Is that all you have to say for yourself?" Samson asked, and by his tone Leo guessed he was none too happy with him. Probably because he disappeared for two months, with minimal contact. An understandable reaction, coming from Samson. Leo paused, scratched his chin, and said the only real thing that came to mind.

"Ok, I get why you could be mad at me, but in my defense I fail to see how what I did was surprising," he said, shrugging unapologetically. Samson should have heard a lot about him from Victoria and the good Professor. He should have expected something similar.

"Samson, who is this child?" Lusamine asked, her voice smooth and elegant sounding. Her green eyes bored into Leo almost aggressively, as if trying to peer into his very soul.

Leo had stood before Legendary pokémon. He'd talked with Celebi and greeted Articuno. He'd even sat in on a meeting with the biggest figures in the Indigo League, and talked to Giovanni without losing his nerve. But Lusamine? She unnerved him. Just her eyes…and suddenly something clicked in Leo's head. That look was not one of someone meeting someone else for the first time. She knew him.

Or, more accurately, his gut told him that she knew what he was. He wouldn't have to worry about protecting his origin from her, because somehow she already knew. Leo cursed in his head, the creativity of said curses sure to put even sailors to shame.

"This is Leo Angelico, my cousin's newest trainer project," Samson said, breaking off Leo's mental tirade.

"Ah yes, the boy found in the Silver Mountains. Dreadful stuff, to have been abandoned there – it must have been so hard," Lusamine cooed, shaking her head sadly. Leo nodded stiffly, not sure how to react until Santiago put a hand on his shoulder. Just that action had Leo settling, feeling his friend's presence even as Spiritomb whispered so only he could hear.

"It was actually kind of fun, thinking back on it," Leo replied, forcing his tone to be light and cheerful. "I met Santiago there, along with a colorful cast of characters," he said, thinking about Longinus, Tyrus, and even that one Hitmontop that he'd gotten in a fight with. Man, that seemed so long ago.

"It is good that you have found happiness beyond that terrible fate handed to you," Lusamine said, sounding genuinely glad for Leo. He smiled and bowed his head to her as she stood. "If there is anything you require aid with in your stay in this wonderful region, do not hesitate to ask. The Aether Foundation is here to help, and I, personally, will gladly aid someone who has lost so, so much," she walked towards Leo, bending down to his level to smile at him. There was true sympathy and pity in her voice as she spoke to him, and Leo found himself smiling back.

The problem was, he could almost taste the manipulation. She was sympathetic to his origins, yes, but at the same time she wanted something from him. She wanted him on her side. Or something like that, Leo couldn't pretend to know what her goals were, only that she was trying to manipulate him.

"Thank you," Leo said, deciding to accept her graciousness even if he didn't plan on accepting her aid. It wouldn't do to snub her, but he did want to be cautious.

"Miss Lusamine, I am trying to scold him," Samson said with a sigh, no real heat to his voice.

"I apologize. You really should listen to your elders, though. Adults have experience and wisdom to give you, children should listen to them," she said, standing and raising one eyebrow, a classic 'disappointed parent' look on her face.

"I have a history of being a rebel," Leo said, shrugging and patting Santiago's paw, prompting him to step back. "I'm a free spirit, I go where the wind takes me,"

"Still, you should have come to at least visit the school. We have a myriad of courses here that would not only build upon your base of skills, but prepare you for the island challenge. Even the Kahunas respect this establishment; taking some time to attend classes here is the best way to ensure your acceptance into the island challenge. After all, not all foreigners are accepted," Samson said in a clearly prepared speech. Leo coughed and made a show of stretching, flashing his shiny new bracelet to the Oak. And Lusamine.

"You make a valid point, true, but what if I'm already on the Island Challenge?" Leo asked, smirking at Samson's surprised expression.

"Where did you get that?" he demanded.

"Kahuna Hala made it for me, after I, uh, found a stone," Leo said, grinning. Lusamine raised one eyebrow at him, examining his bracelet curiously but saying nothing.

"That is…" Samson said, then sighed. "Of course you did. My daughter warned me about you, but I didn't listen. You are very much like her," he said.

"Your – you mean Victoria? I honestly forgot she was your kid, there's not much resemblance," Leo admitted, narrowing his eyes slightly. Actually, now that he looked, Victoria and Samson had the same eyes.

"She takes after her mother," he said, shaking his head fondly. "But there goes almost my entire argument for getting you to actually attend school. Like my cousin warned me, you exceed expectations,"

"I have a history of doing that," Leo said, tone light and joking. "And technically I am a year older than your average Alolan child when they start their island challenge. You only have to be twelve, compared to Kanto's fourteen, right?"

"He does make a valid point. We cannot stop him from doing the island challenge," Lusamine allowed, though from her tone she clearly disagreed with it.

"Right. So, if you're already on the island challenge and you're not going to attend school, then why did you come back here?" Samson asked with a sigh of defeat, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"You have a pokémon center. I wanted to get my team checked out as well as check the market price on certain pokémon, so I can start building up my finances. I get the feeling the trials will be exceptionally hard, and wanted to get some good gear and stock up on medicine before I went off in search of the trials," Leo explained.

"That's right! I forgot about that! You technically have a Youngster's license, right? Now that you're in Alola I can get that transitioned to be a true training license. It would take a few days, but then you'd have full access to all of the pokémon center's facilities, including the job board and global trade system," Samson said happily. That gave Leo pause. "After all, you are old enough to be training fully in Alola – Indigo's laws have no hold here,"

"That would actually be fantastic," Leo said. "What do I have to do for that?"

"Take a test, let some people examine your team, sign some papers. Getting it processed from Kanto is what will take the longest, but it's not too hard," Samson explained. "But again, it would take a few days. So why don't you stick around for a while, audit some classes, do some things like that?" he asked.

"There is also the option of him coming to the Aether Foundation. I would be happy to give him a tour of our facilities," Lusamine said.

"That is an excellent idea," Samson said. "You will love the Foundation, Leo. It is a haven for all manner of pokémon, be they anything as common as a Caterpie or as rare as a Bagon,"

Leo was silent for a moment, mentally scowling. He was sure that the Foundation was going to be wonderful – he didn't remember the games and anime all that clearly anymore, but he did recall that, on the surface, the Aether Foundation was a conservationist society/company that specialized in healing pokémon. Or something. All the research he'd done on it prior to coming to Alola said something similar – to the point where he had discovered that they invented many modern pokémon medicines, including potions and antidotes. Not only that, but they'd made these remedies readily available and easily accessible, catapulting the pokémon world into a new age of advancement for humans and pokémon alike.

The money they earned off of that funded their conservation pursuits – which, while it began in Alola, was slowly spreading to the other regions. It was as close to a truly altruistic company as could be by appearances.

That said, he knew about the games. And that Lusamine, at some point, went crazy and was completely obsessed with ultra beasts. And while he also seemed to recal that she wasn't completely irredeemable, he was tired of playing these mind games with people. He was from another world, passed through an Ultra Wormhole. Of course she was interested in him.

"Why don't you just tell me why you really want me to go there," Leo said icily, expression turning stony. Samson jerked at Leo's sudden change, Lusamine cocking her head to the side while the purple-haired lady behind her stiffened.

"Clef?" Lusamine's Clefable said, poking its head out from behind the chair.

"What do you mean?" Lusamine asked a little too sweetly.

"If I were you, I would not treat me like a child. It will save us all a lot of time and headaches to just assume I am smarter and know more than you think I should. The Aether Foundation researches ultra wormholes, right? It's not hard to put two and two together," Leo said.

"…how do you know that?" Samson asked warily.

"An offhand comment from your cousin," Leo lied smoothly, meeting Lusamine's eyes and daring her to deny it. She held his gaze for a second, glanced up at Santiago who was looming over Leo's shoulder, then back down to him.

"I see. Yes, that is true. We provided much of the equipment Professor Oak used to examine you when you first arrived in his care, and helped him to examine the data, alongside Samson. I will admit that part of the reason I wished to bring you to the Aether Paradise, our headquarters, was to scan you with some of our more powerful equipment. I am interested to see if the ultra wormhole energy that clung to you has degraded at all. However, that is not the only reason," she explained, setting her hands on her hips not unlike a stern parent. Leo just raised an eyebrow and waited for her to continue.

"We wish to offer you a position in our company," the purple haired woman said, speaking up for the first time. She smiled kindly at him.

"I will admit to have been keeping up with your training life – and what I have seen has impressed me. You show remarkable ability to get along with pokémon, especially grass types. That little singing routine you do is beautiful. We were going to give you a tour, show you what we at Aether are all about, and offer you a position as a field operative," Lusamine explained. "Originally, we intended to offer a part-time position, so you could attend school as well. However, if you will not be attending school, that can be altered,"

"Field operative?" Leo asked, glancing at Santiago who remained stoic.

"Yes. It's a position that would send you to the various islands in search of injured pokémon – maybe a trainer released a pokémon in a habitat not its own, and now we have to go capture it again. Maybe a storm blew through and caused a mudslide – that sort of thing. We'd be asking you to essentially be a rescue operative; as a thirteen year old boy we wouldn't be asking too much of you, but it would allow us to keep an eye on you while also giving you plenty of freedom to go on your Island Challenge," the purple haired woman said, picking up where Lusamine left off. "It is not unlike being a Ranger, but without the political ties,"

"In addition to that, we pay," Lusamine added. "I understand you don't have much in the way of actual funds,"

"That…is true," Leo said, mulling it over. He wasn't sure what to think about it yet; part of him recoiled at the idea of getting involved with Lusamine any more than he had to, but another part was…interested. "I'll have to think about it. I appreciate the offer, I do, but this is something I need to think about,"

"Of course. There is no need to rush your decision, it is an open invitation," Lusamine said smoothly, drawing a raised eyebrow from Samson. She didn't notice, but Leo did. An open invitation is unusual then, he noted.

Santiago grunted and nudged Leo with the guitar he was still holding.

"Is there anything else?" he asked.

"No, that is about it. Lusamine, when do you want to do the tour?" Samson asked.

"Tomorrow. I will send Wicke to pick you up around ten. For now, I believe I have a meeting approaching and must leave," Lusamine said, glancing at the purple-haired woman, Wicke.

"You have a video call with Mr. Stone in fifteen minutes," she said.

"Ten it is," Samson said. Santiago pushed him again and Leo sighed.

"Sorry, Santiago's getting pushy. Best get on my way then. Where's the pokémon center here?" he asked.

"Bottom floor, right next to the front entrance. You can't miss it," Samson said, waving him off. Leo nodded, murmured his thanks, and promptly turned and left the room, his mind abuzz with thoughts while Santiago followed.

The two walked in silence for a while, Santiago occasionally plucking at a guitar string experimentally, and only rarely passing by a student that wasn't in class. They varied in age, from a teen to maybe six or seven.

"What do you think, bud?" he asked rhetorically, not expecting Santiago to answer. The rational part of his brain screamed at him to run away from Lusamine as fast and as far as he could. That it was too dangerous and risky to be so close to her due to her obsession with ultra beasts. But at the same time he hesitated. He wasn't sure why yet, but his gut was telling him not to write it all off and go gallivanting off into the wilds once more. He would certainly enjoy it, but…something was holding him back, keeping him from running. Leo just wasn't sure what it was yet.

"I trust you," Santiago said, pulling Leo up short. As in, he stopped mid step, and slowly pivoted so he was facing his starter.

"Did you just say 'I trust you?'" he asked. The Slowking shrugged, a smug look on his muzzle as he clammed up, gem flashing as he used his psychic powers to gently try and pluck one of the guitar strings. It was too weak to actually create any sound, probably because he was afraid of breaking the instrument. "You suck. You've been improving your language skills without telling me," Leo pouted, though the statement held no heat. "Though I don't know if I should be trusted. I have a history of making poorly thought out decisions," he said, laughing ruefully.

Santiago just shrugged again and returned his attention to the guitar, earning himself a shake of the head from Leo.

He had a lot to think about, though he'd be lying if he wasn't a little mollified by Santiago's vote of confidence. He just hoped he could live up to it.

Leo couldn't sleep that night. The soft bed of the dorm room was nothing but uncomfortable, the familiar weight of Zuko curled up at his feet restricting, and the moon that streamed in through the window onto his face was nothing but distracting. He'd tried everything at this point – counting sheep, meditating…he'd even tried to combine Spiritomb's spirits for a while. That had been an exercise in frustration and futility. The spirits refused to budge for the most part, and when he finally did get one of the fragmented spirits to merge with the much more whole warrior spirit, it completely drained him mentally. Not only because he saw and lived what that spirit could remember, but because it was just exhausting to do.

But still he didn't sleep. He was exhausted, but could not sleep. It was infuriating, and the worst part was that he knew why this was happening. Lusamine's offer, and why he wasn't just running away from her.

Leo let his thoughts whir for a little bit longer before clenching his fist and standing, carefully extracting his feet from beneath Zuko so as to not disturb the sleeping fire-type, putting on some clothes, and silently leaving the small dorm room he was "renting" from the school. He only took one pokeball with him; Diana's. She rarely slept anymore, and the rest of his team was undoubtedly asleep at this ungodly hour, so she was the only one he felt comfortable bugging.

Not that he was going to let her out right away.

Instead, as Leo exited the building in nothing but a plain white t-shirt and shorts, he wandered until he found a training field, and proceeded to punch the ever-living crap out of a wooden pole set up as a target. Each strike was purposeful and full of intent, Leo's calloused hands from years of working hard, practicing martial arts, and just being outside smacking loudly against the wood. When his hands became sore and bloody he switched to other strikes, using his elbows, legs, knees, shoulders, and the palms of his hands as he circled around the pole, each strike letting some of his frustration out.

Yet he never made a sound. No grunts of pain, no shouts of anger. Just a silent, seething mess that quietly left him, until he stood, panting and drenched in sweat, in front of the wooden pole. Relaxed, and thinking clearly once again.

He'd been "running" ever since he'd left the Silver Mountains with Diana, trying to avoid problems. In a way, he'd been running ever since he first arrived in this world. From winter in the Silver Mountains, from being forced to live life as a child, from the League itself, and from politics. Then he'd arrived here to train and become strong enough that he didn't have to worry about such things, hoping to be free from the worst of it, only to be shown that he was not. He was still under scrutiny. And while he could run off into the wilds of Alola and disappear, he knew himself better than that. He was stubborn, and dammit if he was tired of running from things. His team would never be strong enough to avoid everything.

He had to go ahead and throw himself and them into the fire. They were ready to start that path, and if they didn't start now, things could only get worse.

Someone else might ask if it was even their right to try and interfere with Alola's future, to try and fix any problems that Lusamine and Team Skull may cause before they actually become a problem. They might think it dangerous and foolhardy, considering what might lay before him. Ultra beasts, legendary pokémon, maniacal people…especially considering his team had just been thrashed by Tapu Koko.

Leo didn't really care. If the past few days had taught him anything, it was that these things would not just leave him alone. They saw a child. They saw someone weak. He was not. His team was strong, but they were not the ones in question. Leo was. It always came back to that same question; could he be trusted?

Leo let out a breath and rolled his neck, determination steeling in his gut. He had nothing to prove to anyone, but they were getting on his nerves and he was tired of playing their games, tired of sitting back. They poked him, and it was time to see what it was they just woke up. It was time to let the warrior out.

So, he'd go see what Lusamine had to offer, go see what it was all about. Whether or not he accepted his offer depended on what he learned. His future steps depended on it, actually. But he wasn't going to roll over and run away, like he had in Kanto. There he felt helpless. Here in Alola? Not so much. Even without a whole bunch of foreknowledge on what was coming, of who everyone was and what they were like, he could make a difference.

And he would. Simple as that. Of course he wouldn't give up on the Island Challenge, that was another path to strength, but…well. There were other things he could do in the meantime. Just training was not always as valuable as experience in difficult situations.

Leo let out a breath and smiled, glad that that was over.

"Kinda dramatic. Why'd you have to go and beat up a poor, defenseless pole, Leo? What did it ever do to you? Jeez, that's so rude of you," he muttered, making fun of himself and pulling Diana's pokeball out of his pocket. He was exhausted both physically and mentally now, but refused to go to sleep still frustrated. His solution was Diana; working with her never failed to put a smile on her face.

She appeared in a flash of red light, the Pupitar blinking at him and wiggling happily in her shell. Leo laid a hand on her and smiled, stroking the spot between her eyes. All this wasn't to say that he wouldn't still enjoy life, and go exploring and such. That was as much a part of who he was as anything else, and he wasn't going to give that up.

"Taaaar," Diana cooed, breaking Leo out of his thoughts as she vibrated and pushed her massive rocky form harder into Leo's hand, as if desperate for his touch. He chuckled and rubbed harder, earning himself a hum. He had no idea whether or not she could feel it or not, but it didn't really matter as she seemed to enjoy it.

"Hey, girl. I can't sleep, so how about we try me riding you again?" he asked with a grin. Diana's eyes squinted in joy and she wiggled, rocking back and forth as the pressurized air in her shell blasted out in one short burst, sending dust from the field below flying everywhere. Leo coughed and shook his head. "I'll take that as a yes. Hold on, let me slip around behind you. I'll let you know when I've got a good hold," he said.

Grabbing ahold of Diana was easy enough, he just slipped around behind her, grabbed ahold of her spines and placed his feet on her back while she held herself upright, and then said the word.

"Alright, I'm ready. Go slow," he said, and Diana immediately picked up speed. She wobbled at first as she slowly drug herself along the training ground, her "jet engines" set to a low hum that still managed to move her massive bulk, Leo clinging to her back. They'd tried this before to varied success, but she was getting better. "Ok, pick up a bit of speed," Leo said, swallowing his nervousness. Diana vibrated in excitement, her air jets whining louder as she picked up speed, zooming about the training ground at a decent pace.

Leo laughed, Diana hummed happily, and the two continued to ride around. In the end, Leo didn't go back up to the dorm.

Instead, the rising sun found him sprawled out on Diana as she lay flat on her back, snoring, while Zuko and Link – having left the dorm and somehow released himself from his pokeball, respectively – lay atop him as well. Zuko curled up awkwardly across Leo's chest, and Link nestled between two of Diana's spines. He didn't wake until the students began to move about, making a ruckus, and greeted the sun with a smile.

Whatever came next, he was ready for it.


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netkius ago

Edit suggestions:

Like, he wanted people to follow the rules, but accepted when people proved themselves already capable outside of his pre-determined rules, more so than Professor Oak would at least.

There were all kinds of pokémon too; Rockruff yipped as they danced about, chasing after their trainers or Cutiefly that buzzed through the air, the formerlatter sometimes playing fetch with the lovable rock hounds instead.

Samson Oak sat behind his desk, pausing mid-sentence to look at Leo, raising one eyeeyebrow.

She wobbled at first as she slowly drugdragged herself along the training ground, her "jet engines" set to a low hum that still managed to move her massive bulk, Leo clinging to her back.

Meadbeard91 ago

Edit suggestions:

Whether or not he accepted hiser offer depended on what he learned.

MarshallPear ago

And while he also seemed to recall that she wasn't completely

Darch ago

I wonder how old Lillie is right now... And where the heck mohn is

Noizce ago

"Hey, girl. I can't sleep, so how about we try me riding you again?" he asked with a grin.

I was scrolling through the chapter and this line caught me off guard, the internet has ruined my mind.

bellrunner ago

Edit suggestions:

Samson Oak sat behind his desk, pausing mid-sentence to look at Leo, raising one eyebrow.

He had no idea whether or not she could feel it or not, but it didn't really matter as she seemed to enjoy it.

Newbage ago

There are no shortcuts for what is worthwhile

Patently false. A good custom workbench that is suited to your specific needs is worthwhile for any DIY'er. But I'll gladly build it with power tools over hand tools. Heck, the education system is literally a shortcut to knowledge. Do you have any idea how much more effort it is to discover everything you learned in school for yourself instead of having someone just hand the info to you in lecture, video, and book form?

Life is all about finding shortcuts. Work smart, not just harder. The trick is to not cheat yourself out of gains by taking false "shortcuts" that don't actually lead to what you want.

For Santiago's issue of having too many distracting thoughts, the "shortcut" should be focusing exercises, meditation. Not "let yourself calm down, it'll just take time". When has telling someone to calm down actually helped them calm down? It usually has the opposite effect. That's pretty bad advice. At least he gave him a guitar to use his psychic powers on. But he should probably have language exercises to focus on instead. Being able to talk is way the hell more useful than music, because speech is the basis of structured, complex intelligent thought. Language itself helps you focus and work through your thoughts, which is a big part of why some people find keeping a journal or diary helpful. 

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