Hapu and Mudsdale are waiting for us at the entrance to the Vast Poni Canyon, beneath a tall dead tree.
“Did everything go well?” she asks Lillie.
“Yes, it did! Though Chris had to help me out of all sorts of trouble, like usual.”
“Nothing wrong with that. People cannot survive all on their own. They have got to help one another out.” Hapu suddenly notices B, and pauses. “You are one of those Pokémon thieves, Team Skull,” she says in a calm, level voice.
“We ain’t no thieves just ‘cause we got a few tricks up our sleeves!” B objects.
“It’s fine, Hapu; he’s with me,” I tell her. That gets me a cocked head and a hint of a smirk. “That is, with us,” I clarify irritably. Hapu squints at B suspiciously.
“Are you not the same member of Team Skull who tried to steal that Drifloon on Akala Island? And tagged the fourth storey of that pagoda in the Malie Gardens?”
“No, no, no, of course not,” I assure her, “he just- wait, pagoda?” I look at B. “You didn’t tell me about that.”
“Yo, you ain’t never told me to tell you nothin’ about stuff I did in Team Skull!”
“No, I just mean- the fourth storey, that’s actually kind of impressive; how did you even do that?” Hapu coughs loudly. “Ah… what I mean is… no, that was someone else. Someone else also in Team Skull.” She stares silently for a few seconds. “They, um… look similar because they all wear the same clothes.”
“Hmph. You big city types have some strange ideas about dealing with criminals, I can tell you that.”
“It’s… a different world, what can I say? Listen, Hapu, it’s good to see you, but we should get going-”
“Not so fast,” Hapu interrupts. “I would like to see this battling skill of yours, Chris, that makes Lillie smile so.” She unclips a Pokéball from her belt and brandishes it in challenge. “Just so! It is my grand trial!”
“Hapu, do we really have time for this?” I protest. “We have to reach the Altar of the Moone and conduct the ritual before… well… before what, I don’t know, but as soon as possible, anyway.” Hapu looks disappointed, but at this point B butts in.
“Yo, ain’t this your last grand trial, homie?”
“Well… well, yes, but-”
“Then you gotta fight, and do it with all your might! Don’choo know how many Alolans ain’t never had this chance? How many never even got to advance?” The indignant flash in his eyes makes me remember – Team Skull is mostly made up of trainers who failed the Island Challenge. I nod, and turn back to Hapu.
“Let’s do this.” Hapu grins.
“Then this is the first grand trial of Kahuna Hapu! I will battle you with everything that I have got!”
Hapu, true to her word, doesn’t hold back, coming at me with the full power of a newly-anointed Kahuna. As Mudsdale attests, her specialty is Ground-types, so I open with my Toucannon against her Dugtrio. It’s the long-haired Alolan Steel-type variant, of course, so Toucannon’s Brick Break makes short work of it, and Hapu’s next Pokémon, a Gastrodon, instantly withers under a Bullet Seed assault. My Toucannon even manages to give Hapu’s next Pokémon, a Flygon, a run for its money with her Beak Blast. The Flygon has the good sense not to attack her at close range, though, and finishes her from a distance with Dragonbreath. My Psychu is able to outrun the Flygon and finish it off with Psychic, as well as denting Hapu’s final Pokémon, Mudsdale, but predictably gets demolished when Hapu unleashes the powers given to her by Tapu Fini in the form of a new attack, Tectonic Rage, which damn near collapses the entrance to the canyon. It’s at this point that I remember Mudsdale’s ability, Stamina – every time it takes an attack, its physical defences grow stronger, and my Decidueye, who would otherwise be the obvious choice, relies entirely on physical attacks. I decide to try Salazzle instead, and manage to poison it with Sludge Bomb. That forces Hapu to spend time healing it and lets me weaken Mudsdale further, but ultimately Salazzle still drops to an Earthquake. Mudsdale, though, is now weak enough for my Golisopod to finish it off with the Bug-type Z-move, Savage Spin-Out. Hapu tends to her Musdale’s injuries and chuckles.
“Oho… you sure showed me. That was enjoyable. Looks like I cannot beat you even when I am not holding back. Take your Ground-type Z-Crystal, then – this Groundium-Z is yours!” I take the crystal and bow my head in thanks. “Well, I must applaud you, Lillie. You sure found a prodigious trainer to befriend. And you…” she turns to B. “I suppose it is possible I have misjudged you and your… comrades. Be sure to follow this one’s example.” B nods. “Then go on with you three! It will be a tough road – but if you end up in any real trouble, Mudsdale and I will hasten to you.” With that, she hops onto Mudsdale’s back and the two of them plod off homeward.
The Vast Poni Canyon is a truly scenic area, criss-crossed by paths along the canyon walls, bridges across its width, and tunnels through the sides. The walls of the canyon are rippled with different coloured sediments, the fingerprint of millions of years of stratification. There’s a straight path along the canyon floor, but it’s blocked by fallen boulders, and even a Machamp can only clear the way from the far side. Clearly this is one part of Alola that the tourism board hasn’t managed to touch yet. That’s not to say there’s no one here – at least a dozen powerful Pokémon trainers have staked out spots within the canyon for their own personal advanced training regimes, giving the whole place an almost Victory Road-like feel. They knew what they were getting themselves into, and relish the rugged, difficult environment. Lillie… does not.
“Phew… this canyon truly is a difficult path to walk,” she says as we drag ourselves up a steep cliffside path. “And you make even the Vast Poni Canyon seem like nothing at all, B!”
“Yo, it ain’t no thing. In Team Skull we’re all so boneheaded there ain’t anything what’ll slow us down!”
“Well, it does help to have Pokémon to help you defend yourself,” I point out, then turn to Lillie. “I still don’t understand why we didn’t get you a starter Pokémon from Professor Kukui before we came to Poni Island. It’d be about as much use here as a damp sponge at the Battle of the Somme, but you have to start somewhere.”
“Oh… I don’t know if I’m ready for that responsibility yet…”
“Responsibility?” B laughs bitterly. “There ain’t no kid in Alola what was ready for that responsibility when they got their start. Didn’t stop no-one before.”
“You think it should have?” I ask. B pauses awkwardly and sighs.
“I don’t think nothin’, I’m just a numskull, ‘member? But if kids knew a thing or three before we got our first Pokémon, maybe there wouldn’t be so many of us what couldn’t find no home except in Team Skull. You give kids Pokémon and tell ‘em to get strong, ‘fore you ever tell ‘em what’s right and wrong, you really think it’s gonna take long, for them to find somewhere dangerous to belong?” I stop walking – we’ve come to a bridge across the canyon.
“How exactly do you fail the island challenge?” I ask. B doesn’t answer. Lillie, apparently sensing the awkwardness, jumps in front of us.
“Well! Well… you know what? I’ve overcome my fears enough to… uh… cross even a high bridge like this one!” She waves in the general direction of the bridge. “I’m not going to be afraid of heights anymore. Next time I should be able to tackle even that bridge on Mahalo Trail!” This bridge is of a similar construction to that one, wooden and fairly solid, but some underpaid part-time architect saw fit not to equip it with handrails. One good strong gust of wind, and a person of Lillie’s waifish constitution could easily be blown halfway down the canyon. Lillie’s face is sending desperate signals for help, and seems to be trying to tell us that her mouth and legs have been taken over by an insane terrorist cell, but she keeps talking. “Watch this! This is my trial!” Lillie spins around and marches purposefully towards the bridge. B gives me a quizzical glance.
“…what she talkin’ about?”
“There was a… traumatic experience involving a bridge and some evil birds; the story’s not nearly as interesting as it sounds. This is probably going to be, like, a really big character development thing for her. Just play along.” At first, Lillie inches onto the bridge, but then she gets a sudden burst of determination and dashes out to the middle.
“Uh… go Lillie! This bridge ain’t got nothin’ on you!” B tries.
“Yeah… uh… you can totally do it… I guess…” I add half-heartedly. As Lillie reaches the halfway point, three Murkrow fly out of nowhere, flap around her head briefly, and then land on the bridge, two in front of her and one behind. Lillie twists her head around, trying to get a fix on where they are and what they want with her, and appears inches from total panic.
“…should, uh… should we be doin’ somethin’, homie?”
“I think this is one of those… ‘she needs to do this herself’ situations.” We watch the standoff in silence for a minute. “Just say the word if you want us to smoke ‘em,” I offer.
“I-I-I’m fine!” Lillie calls back, before inching one of her feet forward. The Murkrow all caw in unison, and one of the ones in front lunges forward, making her jump back.
“Try giving them something sparkly,” I suggest. “Do you have any precious family heirlooms on you? Aside from the flute?” Lillie ignores me and puts her hands together in prayer.
“…I cheated,” B says out of nowhere, another minute into Lillie’s crossing.
“I mean… I dunno what my numskull brothers and sisters did to flunk out of their island challenges… but I cheated in a trial.” He looks down at the floor of the canyon.
“It was about a year back, just after that wack Sophocles kid got made the new Captain up on Mount Hokulani. That was the first trial I tried. The Cap was busy with one of his ridonk inventions up at the observatory, so he just sent me down to the trial grounds alone.”
“Yeeeeah that sounds like him… When I did the Hokulani trial, he’d built some… godawful MacGyver’d space transmitter out of spare parts and duct tape to summon the totem Pokémon so we didn’t have to go down to the trial grounds.”
“Hmph. Figures,” B grunts.
“So what happened next?”
“What do you think happened, homie? My Zubat ‘gainst that Totem Vikavolt? We didn’t last one turn.”
“So you tried to cheat your way through it somehow?”
“Not at first! We went off and trained some more… came back and lost again. Didn’t last one turn. Same again, three more times.”
“That’s determination,” I comment.
“What, you think I only turned into a bonehead after I joined Team Skull?” He grins for a moment. “Didn’t help one bit though.”
“Aren’t Totem Pokémon supposed to hold back against new trainers? Like in gym battles?”
“Gym battles?” B asks, puzzled.
“…it’s a Kanto thing; don’t worry about it. You’ll probably have them in Alola before long if Kukui gets his way.” He shrugs.
“Anyway… you’re right. Totem Pokémon ain’t supposed to go all out until you got more experience. But that chump Sophocles didn’t know how to control it, and he didn’t care neither! So me and Zubat snuck into the trial grounds one night and rigged us up a trap what’d catch Vikavolt in a mudslide and wriggity-wreck its shiz.”
“Did it work?”
“Course it worked, homie! You should’a seen the look on that ugly bug’s ugly mug!” He laughs at the memory. “Sophocles didn’t like that one bit though…”
“Well… I mean, that’s bad, don’t get me wrong, but… honestly I knew a guy back in Kanto who pulled some $#!t just as bad in his first gym battle, and no one ever barred him from competing.” I think about that for a moment. “Maybe should have, mind you, but for a new trainer in a desperate situation, you’ve got to figure a few second chances…”
“Stuff like that’s supposed to go all the way to the Kahuna, but Ula’ula’s Kahuna don’t give no f&%£s; he ain’t given a f&%£ in years. The number of f&%£s that homie don’t give is friggin’ bananas. So Sophocles called the old Captain… Moe or whatever his name is.”
“Molayne,” I tell him. “The Steel-type specialist. I met him too.”
“Yeah, well, he weren’t there when this went down; he was… I dunno, at a science convention or something. Homie never even spoke to me. Sophocles talked to him on the phone for, like, ten minutes, then took my trial amulet… and that was that.”
“Yeah. It is.” B looks back out over the canyon. I follow his gaze.
“D’you think… if Professor Kukui’s new Pokémon League gets off the ground, and he can establish an Elite Four with a Champion… d’you think a Champion would have the authority to overrule that ban?” B frowns.
“I dunno… Alola ain’t never had no Champion before. Guess it’d be a new start for a lot of us…” We both remain silent for a while.
“Try throwing your shoe!” I call out to Lillie.
Eventually, after getting my Decidueye to quietly snipe the Murkrow with his spirit arrows, we manage to get Lillie to the other side of the bridge. I congratulate her as effusively as I can bear to, and try to subtly offer to cross any future bridges together. As it turns out, there are a couple more bridges on our path through the Vast Poni Canyon, which we cross three abreast with Lillie in the middle to avoid any further evil bird attacks. The next bridge, though, is not guarded by evil birds – instead, standing in the middle is a teenaged girl, blonde with pink streaks in her hair, wearing a baggy white tee-shirt covered in splotches of paint. When I first see her, she’s staring out over the canyon scribbling in a sketchbook, but seconds later she notices us, and immediately puts the book away and holds up her hands in front of her face to “frame” me, Lillie and B between her fingers. I notice, to my surprise, that she’s wearing a wooden ring with an Alolan Captain’s insignia. A couple of Seafolk mentioned that Poni Island had a Captain, and Ilima told me that there were seven in total, but the previous three Kahunas all waited for me to be approved by their subordinates before the grand trial. I’d assumed that Poni Island’s captaincy was vacant and Hapu would need to find someone to fill it. While I’m sizing her up, the Captain apparently finishes her own inspection of us.
“Oh! Now, that’s a great composition,” she says. “I could paint a picture of you – the visitors to Poni!”
“…should we strike a pose?” I offer hesitantly. “Sort of stare pensively out over the canyon?” B idly flicks his hands through a few gang signs.
“Nah, that’s fine. Just act natural.” All of a sudden, her sketchbook is out again, and her pencil is flying back and forth across the page as she records the rough shapes of her composition. Lillie looks at me quizzically, and I shrug at her.
“Um… excuse me?” Lillie asks. The Captain glances up from her sketch.
“Oh, right. Guess I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Mina; I’m the Captain. I mean, I sort of am. I actually just wander around doing my art, so I don’t have an actual trial or anything…”
“No trial? That’s wack, homie; ain’t you got like a duty or something to put trainers through the island challenge?” B looks at me. “See? Alola ain’t fair and it don’t even care.”
“Island challenge? Oh… no one’s come about that in aaaaaaages. I actually thought they must’ve taken Poni Island off the route or something.” She laughs.
“Hang on,” I break in. “You can’t have been Captain since before Hapu’s grandfather died; you’re not old enough. And she was only just appointed by Tapu Fini to replace him as Kahuna a few days ago. Who appointed you? Were you chosen by your predecessor, like Sophocles was?”
“Hmm…? Appointed? You know, I’m not sure anyone did. People just started calling me the Captain, and I decided to go with the flow.”
“…you know what? That doesn’t even surprise me at this point.”
“Oh, yeah. Ohhhh, yeah,” Mina says, as if remembering something she was supposed to bring up at the start of the conversation. “Here. Take this as a token of our acquaintance.” She hands me a pink Z-crystal. “It’s the Fairium-Z! Get your Z on!”
“…no trial, just-? I just get the crystal?” B rolls his eyes, but says nothing.
“Weeeell, I’m the captain and all, so I’ve got to come up with a trial,” Mina replies. “Maybe it could involve painting pictures and picking flowers… Maybe a trial like that could be cool?” She gazes off into the distance.
“…are we still talking?” Mina’s eyes seem to be glazing over as she contemplates her trial plans. “…hello?” I look at B and Lillie, shrug, then quietly step around Mina and continue across the bridge.
Finally, after passing through a gauntlet of trainers, we reach the end of the canyon… which is marked by a pair of brightly coloured totem poles like the ones at the entrances to a the trial site. I exchange puzzled glances with Lillie and B. Just inside is a stone tablet bearing an inscription.
“Ahead lies a sacred ground of trials,” I read. “None who do not take part in its trials will be allowed to walk upon this earth. Those lacking the courage to defeat the totem guarding this land will be denied entry… blah blah blah.”
“Then this really is a trial?” Lillie asks. “But where’s the Captain?”
“I guess this is the trial that Mina chick is supposed to be running? I don’t know; it seems like she specialises in Fairy-types, and I haven’t seen any wild Fairy Pokémon around here… well, aside from a few Carbink in the caves…”
“So do we all gotta clear the trial before we can get through?” B asks. Lillie gets a worried look at that.
“But- but I can’t take a real Island Challenge trial; I still don’t have any Pokémon!”
“Hmm? What? Oh- oh, no, I doubt that will be a problem.”
“But it says right there that no homie who don’t take part in no trials gonna be allowed to walk on this here turf, yo!”
“Ah, that’s ridiculous; that doesn’t apply to us.”
“Yes, for shizzle; it’s just some ancient prohibition that no-one’s probably observed in years. This is the only way to the Altar of the Moone, right? The path can’t just be barred to anyone who’s not on the Island Challenge. Besides, I doubt the trial is even active.”
“Active?” Lillie asks, confused.
“Well, look around. I don’t see a Captain, or a Totem Pokémon.” Lillie and B both give me a sceptical look. “Come on, guys; this island hasn’t had a Kahuna in years, and the only Captain doesn’t even seem to know what her job is. It’s obvious this place isn’t exactly a well-oiled machine. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tapu Fini just forgot about this trial site.” That doesn’t seem to settle them.
“I don’t know…” Lillie says, clearly still worried.
“None who do not take part in its trials… will be allowed to walk upon this earth…” I repeat from the tablet slowly. “Ah! Just don’t touch the ground!”
“…what’choo smokin’, homie?”
“Your Haunter can levitate you, so you can pass through the last part of the canyon without ‘walking upon this earth.’ And Lillie… my Decidueye can carry you. I mean, probably, right? You weigh like 40 kilos soaking wet. It’s airtight! Even if there’s anyone watching the trial grounds, and even if someone actually cares about some weird decades-old ritual prohibitions.” Lillie and B stare at each other in trepidation. “Come on, let’s get moving!” They shrug resignedly, B calls out his Haunter, and I deploy Decidueye, then step forward to the stone tablet and stop.
“Yo, we ain’t got all day, so what’s the delay?” B asks.
“Just… thinking about the tablet…”
“I thought you said it didn’t apply to us?” Lillie asks nervously.
“Well, of course it doesn’t,” I reply, then step past the threshold and into the trial grounds. I wait a couple of beats, and nothing happens. “See? Told you.” A deafening roar with a strange brassy echo rings out from the depths of the canyon. “…coincidence.”
Suddenly, a little hard-headed dinosaur-like Pokémon, identified by the Rotomdex as a Jangmo-o, hops out from behind a rock and growls at us.
“See? Aww, look at you,” I coo at the tiny Dragon-type, reaching out to scratch it under the chin. “Did you make that big scary roar? Did you? You’re gonna grow up to be a ginormous monster some day, aren’t you, you little cutie-” As if on cue, the same clanging, brassy roar sounds out again, and a huge lizard-creature, covered in round metallic-looking armour scales, crawls out from behind a rock that seems like it couldn’t possibly have been large enough to hide it. It roars again, and a blazing totemic aura flares to life around it. “…uh oh.”
The Rotomdex claims that the giant lizard, Kommo-o, is a Dragon/Fighting Pokémon, so I try throwing Toucannon at it first – and learn first that Kommo-o’s ability is Bulletproof, and second that Toucannon’s Beak Blast is on the vaguely defined list of blast and bomb moves that Bulletproof negates. The Kommo-o summons a Hakamo-o, evidently the species’ middle stage, and they crush my poor Toucannon together. I decide to deploy my secret weapon, Zygarde. Its Aura Break ability must be effective against Totem Pokémon auras, otherwise why would it even be in this game?
…that doesn’t help one bit.
“What are you even for?” I yell at Zygarde. It snorts indignantly, knocking out the Hakamo-o and wounding the Kommo-o with a Thousand Arrows barrage, but then gets hit full in the face by Kommo-o’s own signature move, Clanging Scales, a cacophonous blast of sound that sends the World Shaker reeling. Kommo-o calls out again and a Scizor appears from nowhere, so I choose my Salazzle next. She, of course, is actually competent, and not only melts the Scizor’s armour to slag with Flamethrower, but finishes off the Kommo-o with her Dragon Pulse. B and his Haunter float out from behind a rock where they had been hiding, and my Decidueye, with Lillie’s shoulders still gripped tightly in his talons, descends from above. “See, what did I tell you?” I proclaim before either of them can say a word. “Doesn’t apply to us.”
Tane the Decidueye
Male, Timid nature, Overgrow ability
Steel Wing, Leaf Blade, Synthesis, Spirit Shackle
Rhea the Toucannon
Female, Lax nature, Keen Eye ability
Bullet Seed, Roost, Beak Blast, Brick Break
Ashley the Psychu
Female, Timid nature, Surge Surfer ability
Thunderbolt, Focus Blast, Nasty Plot, Psychic
Joanna the Salazzle
Female, Timid nature, Corrosion ability
Flamethrower, Nasty Plot, Sludge Bomb, Toxic
Sigourney the Golisopod
Female, Careful nature, Emergency Exit ability
Brick Break, Payback, First Impression, Leech Life
Genderless, Sassy nature, Aura Break ability
Safeguard, Stone Edge, Dragon Dance, Thousand Arrows