Judgment's Fall @thecartoonfanatic01
Sword

A/N: Well, THAT was a pain-and-a-half to get out.

So, for those of you who haven't been following my profile updates, you now know that I've been having trouble with this chapter recently. As I mentioned before, my original intent was to update this fic three times a month, every ten days or so, but that was thrown off-track thanks to February having 28 or 29 days of the year as opposed to the usual 30 or 31. After posting the previous chapter, I was hoping to get back to the normal ten-day updating schedule, but I got unhappy with how some of the scenes for this chapter were panning out, so I had to rewrite from scratch. Plus, some IRL matters got in the way as well.

As a result of those complications, I had to postpone this chapter to today, the 15th, with the new intention of updating the following chapter on the 31st. Technically, it's still being updated three times a month, but it's not every ten days. I hope that I will take advantage of the extra time to work on more of this story's upcoming chapters in advance, so that this doesn't happen again in the near-future.

Alright, I'm done with this brief bout of rambling! On with the long-awaited chapter. ENJOY!

P.S.: Due to the ever-worsening situation regarding the coronavirus outbreak, I'm going to have to remind you all about the basic steps you should take if you want to stay healthy, courtesy of my university's reminder emails:

-Wash hands often with soap and water for 20-30 seconds at a time, and/or use hand sanitizer
-Avoid close contact with people who are sick
-Keep your hands away from nose, eyes, and mouth (I can't imagine how difficult this part is probably going to be)
-Eat well, get adequate rest, and exercise regularly
-Get a flu shot if you haven't already and are able to

And if you ARE sick (I hope you get better if you are), please be a good sport and save other folks the trouble of getting sick. You can do this by:

-Covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve, elbow, or a tissue whenever you sneeze or cough
-Not sharing food and drinks with others
-Avoiding touching your mouth, nose, and eyes (Again, I understand this is probably going to be difficult)
-Avoiding close contact with others
-Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects
-Staying at home if you're unwell (PRIORITY NUMBER ONE!)
-Staying calm and keeping yourself well-informed (My personal advice)

If you already know this, then great! If you didn't know any of this beforehand, please keep that information in mind as we all go through this trying time. It's a realm of unknowns at this point, and I wish myself and all of humanity well.


TEAM ROSTER

-Team 1 (Galar): Ash, Goh, Chloe, Bea, Sheena, Baraz, Raihan, Sonia, Nessa, Kabu, Milo

-Team 2 (Sinnoh): Serena, Dawn, Zoey, Kenny, Ursula, Paul, Trip, Reggie, Johanna

-Team 3 (Kanto): Lillie, Gladion, Lusamine, Brock, Misty, Tracey, Ritchie, Daisy, Violet, Lily, Agatha, Scott

-Team 4: TBA

-Team 5: TBA

-Team 6: TBA

-Team 7: TBA

-Team 8: TBA


UNKNOWN LOCATION

"Good morning, everyone. We bring you back to our live news coverage."

Giovanni took the steaming mug from the cup-holder beside him and sniffed the hot steam emanating from within it. His nostrils immediately rejoiced from the scent of coffee that was laced in the steam. Coffee, the only thing that would keep him awake and alert in these urgent and trying of times. He was going to need it for the days and weeks ahead.

But Giovanni didn't check the mug's contents to confirm their identity; instead, his eyes maintained their sharp, piercing focus on the medium-sized TV screen hanging in front of him from the ceiling. The screen displayed a live feed split down into multiple points-of-view, all of them depicting reporters in multiple locations. The executive could hear their nervous voices over the muted noise of mechanical chopping that was coming from outside.

"It's been over two hours since news broke of a major incident occurring in Motostoke, at the Galar region," one of the reporters, the anchorman, announced. "And now, the story is just...continuing to unfold in ways th-the whole world couldn't even begin to imagine. Here's what's happening at the top of the hour: four enormous aerial vehicles, all of the same strange, peculiar design, have been sighted in different parts of the globe.

"The first aerial vehicle was sighted above Galar's Motostoke Stadium, as I've mentioned before. It arrived in the middle of a World Coronation Series match between two Gym Leaders, Raihan and Kabu. The two and their Pokémon were able to fend the vehicle's passengers off until reinforcements came, in the form of more Galar Gym Leaders and their Pokémon."

Giovanni pursed his lips nastily at the revelation, and his mind wandered slightly as he took a sip of his coffee. Ever since he learned of Proton's failed mission at Motostoke, he went back to the drawing board when it came to the Galar region. Unlike the previous exploits of his most trusted unit of agents, Jessie, James, and Meowth, the trove of information that he received from them regarding Galar was more limited. They only visited the region sporadically in a period of months, and their only research of note were the Dynamax and Gigantamax phenomena, and the legend of the Warrior Pokémon, Zacian and Zamazenta, and the Darkest Day.

A legend that was already put to rest, thanks to the efforts of Ash Ketchum, the accursed teenage boy who slipped out of his grasp so easily.

"It seems that I've underestimated Galar..." Giovanni thought. "Perhaps I should've assigned Jessie, James, and Meowth to investigate its Gym Leaders and their skills further. But no matter." His lips curled into a sneer. "The Syndicate will not falter for any longer. I hope you are counting the time, Ash Ketchum, because it has now become a precious commodity to you, whether you know it or not..."

"Giovanni, sir!"

Giovanni was immediately pulled out of his thoughts and back into reality. He turned his head and stared at Matori, who had been sitting beside him in silence. An advanced tablet was in her hands, while the Alolan Meowth she had acquired within the past few months was lounging lazily in her lap. He was surprised to see the exhausted but excited expression on her face, but he kept his curiosity at bay and continued to act professionally.

"What is it, Matori?" he asked.

"I've just received a call from Petrel," replied Matori. "He has Jessie, James, Butch, and Cassidy with them."

The Team Rocket leader smiled. "Excellent. Patch them in, Matori."

Matori nodded before proceeding to tap her tablet repeatedly and animatedly. A few seconds later, the split-screen of the live news reports was replaced with the single image of a purple-haired, sleazy-looking man, though that sleaziness had already receded for the most part. Giovanni grunted in disgust at the sight of the man.

"Ahhhhh, Petrel..." he greeted, his voice so calm and yet so terrifying. "I am so pleased to finally lay my eyes upon your face, after the travesty that was the Motostoke mission."

Petrel's beady eyes widened as much as their anatomy could possibly demand from them. Though Giovanni couldn't see it, he knew his lieutenant's skin was crawling underneath his dark suit. He also knew Petrel had originally been expecting to see him in a joyful, ecstatic manner, since he had earlier instructed him, through Matori, to not lose hope from losing Ash Ketchum so easily, and to simply prepare for the backup operation, instead of admonishing him like he would usually do in such a situation.

Indeed, Giovanni was in a joyful, ecstatic manner, but that didn't mean that joy should affect his judgment in the face of his men's failure.

"B-Bo-Boss!" the purple-haired man sputtered, trying pathetically to save face. "Y-Yo-You have to understand, i-it was all th-the fault of-!"

"I don't want any more of your excuses, Petrel," Giovanni replied, his voice cold and harsh. "You've been told to prepare for the secondary initiative, and I hope that is what you're doing at this very moment."

"Y-Yes, Boss! W-W-We are m-mo-moving in for the n-ne-next assault a-as we speak!"

"Then what are you still doing here?"

Petrel blinked, both in terror and in perplexity. "Wh-What am I-?! I-I was p-patching you through t-to-"

"Get out of my sight. NOW. I wish to talk to Jessie, James, Butch, and Cassidy."

"Y-Yes, Boss!" Petrel bowed his head pitifully. "R-Right away, Boss!"

With one last look of dismay, the lieutenant ran out of the screen's periphery, sulking. A second later, Jessie, James, and Meowth stepped into Giovanni's view, followed quickly by Cassidy and Butch. Without wasting a second, the five took on firm, straight poses and saluted.

"Reporting for duty, Giovanni sir!" the two teams chorused.

"Jessie, James," Giovanni greeted, his stern expression fading away slightly. "Cassidy, Butch. In spite of what I informed Petrel, in spite of what he might have told you, know that I, and the rest of Team Rocket, are proud of what you heralded in earlier today. Once the sun sets and the day comes to a close, the world will have begun its transition phase into the new chapter that we've written for its story."

"Thank you so much, Boss!" Jessie replied breathlessly while she bowed her head.

"Everything that we do," Cassidy added with a sneer, "we do in the name of Team Rocket!"

"So, Boss," James said, "what are your orders?"

"It don't matter, eitha' way," Meowth replied. "We're ready ta serve!"

"Excellent," Giovanni replied with an approving nod. "First thing's first, Cassidy, Butch, you two have been reassigned."

Cassidy's and Butch's eyes widened at almost the same time.

"Wh-What?!" exclaimed Cassidy.

"But Boss, we-" Butch began.

"Rest assured," Giovanni interrupted, "you two did nothing that warranted this. I simply need you and your set of skills elsewhere now."

He could've sworn he saw Cassidy and Butch shoot subtle smirks at the direction of Jessie, James, and Meowth, but the executive quickly ignored this and continued speaking.

"To be more specific, I need you to immediately take one of the Frigate's specialized pods and rendezvous with me and my team in Alola. I need as much manpower as possible for Operation: Eclipse."

Cassidy and Butch blinked once out of incredulity. Then, they both bowed their heads loyally.

"Understood, Boss," they replied in a singular voice.

"Good." Then, Giovanni noticed Cassidy and Butch were still standing there, and he frowned. "What part of 'immediately' bears repeating for you two?"

The duo of Team Rocket agents blushed furiously, eliciting quiet snickers from Jessie, James, and Meowth. Then, Cassidy and Butch rushed off just as quickly as Petrel, leaving the other three agents alone in the room.

"So, Boss," Jessie said gleefully, "I assume this means you entrust us with the responsibility of nabbing that twerp with the Pikachu on our lonesomes?"

"If so," added James, "we'll make sure he doesn't slip through our fingers this time! We'll put him in a corner and make him wish he never messed with us in the first place!"

"We'll put 'im on his knees and make 'im beg for his miserable life!" Meowth cried malevolently.

Giovanni grinned at his agents' enthusiasm. "That's exactly what I like to hear." He leaned his head in slightly. "Now, you three, I want you to listen very closely..."


Wyndon
GALAR REGION

Ash looked out of the helicopter window and watched as the familiar skyline of Wyndon came into view. The first location that stood out to him was Rose Tower, which towered over all the other buildings, its shadow looming over their rooftops and imposing the skyscraper's intimidating presence in the city. The Pallet Town native vaguely recalled that ownership of the tower was unofficially transferred to the World Coronation Series Monarch, Leon, until Rose could be found.

When he stayed the night at the tower and learned a lot about Rose during their meal together, Ash's first impression of the chairman was one of admiration. After all, Rose explained a lot regarding his rise from the ashes of nothingness, how he had made something out of himself, and his goals for the future of all of Galar, something that Ash hoped to emulate through his journey to become a Pokémon Master. Even after he learned all about his plans for Eternatus and the Galar Particles, Ash realized a part of him still held admiration for Rose, whose motives remained true to his beneficial vision of Galar, even if his tactics didn't match up to that philanthropy.

"Hmmm... I wonder what would've happened if there was another way to take control the Galar Particles," Ash thought, as his helicopter began making its descent towards a waiting helipad in Wyndon. "If there was a better way to seize the Galar Particles and draw their power for the betterment...and the protection of Galar and the world, would we do it? Just because Eternatus is evil, it doesn't mean we can't frown upon the power it boasts. We could use that power to fight off threats like Team Rocket-"

"Pikapi?"

Pikachu's voice pulled Ash out of his thoughts, and he looked down at his Mouse Pokémon. His ears twitched once as he remained seated on the raven-haired Trainer's lap. Ash's thoughts about Rose and Eternatus quickly faded, and he gave his first Pokémon a gentle smile.

"I'm fine, Pikachu," he said. "Don't worry about me."

"Pika?" Pikachu replied. "Pi-pi-kachu, pi-pika-pikachu."

"Look, don't worry about Team Rocket, Pikachu. We sent them running off, just like always. And if they come back, we'll give them everything we've got. We've beaten them before, even when they've got friends with them, and we'll beat 'em again. I'm sure of it."

A pang of doubt passed through his heart, and Ash was forced to ignore it. At the same time, he heard some shuffling by his side. He looked across his shoulder and saw Goh and Chloe sitting beside him, with Goh occupying the other end of the helicopter seat and Chloe awkwardly wedged between the two boys. Ash's heart immediately fell at the sight of his two friends.

When the battle at Motostoke Stadium came to a close, the three of them, along with Sheena, Baraz, and the others who aided them, were quickly taken into helicopters. They were all told that it was no longer safe to be in Motostoke and that World Coronation Series protocol demanded they be immediately transported to Wyndon, the center of its Galar branch. As a result, Goh was unable to seek medical treatment for Cinderace, whose foot remained badly injured from the battle. He had to recall it back into its Poké Ball while it was still grimacing from its bandaged wound.

And since then, Goh hadn't spoken directly to Ash, with Chloe ambivalently serving as their intermediary.

"Goh blames me for what happened to Cinderace," Ash thought grimly. "I'm definitely sure of it. He was wondering why Team Rocket had suddenly taken a strong interest in me, and how I knew a lot about a prophecy that he'd never heard of before. He thinks I should've seen that attack coming...and because of my failure to do so, Cinderace was hurt quite badly, and he couldn't get proper medical attention right away. It'd be a miracle if Cinderace could ever kick again..."

"So..." Chloe piped up, having sensed the palpable tension in the helicopter and seeking to dispel it, "uh, once we get to Wyndon, wh-what do we do then?"

"I'm gonna find the nearest Pokémon Center and have Cinderace treated," Goh replied. His voice was absentminded and yet so bitter, while his eyes remained glued to the helicopter window. Ash couldn't help but grimace slightly at the tone of his friend's voice.

"I see." Chloe cast a worried glance towards her lap. "I'm gonna go with you and call my parents. They've probably seen the news of what's happened in Motostoke by now. I need to tell them that I'm okay."

"I-I'll go with you guys too," Ash said, his voice shaky from his failed attempt at staying calm. "I-I need to call my mom. Hopefully she hasn't seen the news yet-"

Goh simply gave a bitter grunt in response. Ash narrowed his eyes slightly, but he decided not to speak any further. He didn't exactly blame Goh for his attitude, anyway. It had been a long time since the adventure at Shamouti Island, since he ever had to be worried about being the Chosen One as legend described it, so he was unprepared for Team Rocket's sudden interest in him when he should've been.

"Wh-What do you think is gonna happen now?" Chloe asked in another attempt to ease down the tension. "Team Rocket is not gonna be content with this loss. They're gonna come back and they're gonna come back harder than before."

"We're in Wyndon, aren't we?" replied Goh. "It's the most technologically advanced city in the Galar region. Plus, we've got all the Gym Leaders with us. They're strong. They can come to our defense once Team Rocket returns." Then, finally, Goh tore his gaze away from the window and subtly looked at Ash, even though the other boy noticed. "Not to mention Ash's new friends."

Ash pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes slightly in response. But before he could defend himself, another voice quickly penetrated the interior of the helicopter.

"We're about to make our landing. Brace yourselves, children."

In response to the pilot's advance warning, the trio of Trainers held on to their seats, while Pikachu scurried onto Ash's left shoulder. A few seconds later, the helicopter finally landed on its allocated helipad. Ash looked out of the window and saw a second helicopter landing on top of the neighboring helipad. Within a couple of minutes after the landing, one of the pilots started fiddling with the dashboard, while the other one got out and opened up the side-door.

"Alright, let's move, kids!" he instructed urgently. "We've got other choppers landin' after us!"

Ash, Goh, and Chloe obeyed and got out of the helicopter, with the pilot ushering them out. They then traveled down the steps leading off the helipad and were quickly greeted by the passengers of the other helicopter: Sheena, Baraz, Raihan, Sonia, Bea, and Nessa.

"Alright, come with us, kids," Raihan said. "We're taking you inside."

Raihan began to escort Ash, Goh, and Chloe off the rooftop and towards an open doorway that led to an access stairwell. Goh and Chloe followed Sonia and Bea down the stairwell, but Ash stopped and took a moment to look over his shoulder. In the skies, directly over the rooftop, he could see a couple of helicopters bearing news decals hovering in the air, their passengers recording the Wyndon rooftops live.

Then, a nudge of his shoulder brought Ash back to attention.

"Come on, Ash," Raihan advised. "We don't have a minute to waste."

The boy nodded silently and followed the Hammerlocke Gym Leader down the stairwell.


World Coronation Series Galar Division Headquarters Complex

The hunched elderly woman with the whitened face and turquoise-and-black hat turned away from the blaring but muted TV screen to face her colleagues. All of them stood in the middle of a conference room, surrounded on all sides by glass walls and doors. The lights were dimmed, with the only primary source being the TV screen.

"I understand that all of this is unexpected, my fellow High-Rankers," the woman announced. "It's been a long time since any of us were briefed on, or trained for, this exact scenario. However, we must remain calm and collected in the face of what we're witnessing right now. Not only are we High-Rankers, but we're also Galar's Gym Leaders."

Upon hearing that description, the other people in the conference room gave mixed responses. Some looked nervous and unenthusiastic about the responsibilities, others remained rapt in attention, and even more others nodded in approval.

"We are the first line of defense for both the World Coronation Series Galar Division and the entire Galar region," the old woman continued. "And, given the unfortunate absence of our Champion and Monarch, we're also the last line of defense for now. So, let's take a moment to gather our bearings, and once we do, we must assess the situation as we know it at this time. We're dealing with a monumental crisis of unforeseen proportions here."

She scanned the entire room and its occupants. "And it would be an even more monumental disservice to the people of Galar if the only thing we do in response to it is let the chaos reign, even upon us. So, let's not trade barbs like some of us like to do in the heat of things. Understood?"

The woman was greeted with approving nods and low murmurs, but she was satisfied by the response.

"Good."

OPAL

"Thank you, my dear," a voice said.

A man stepped into the periphery of the TV screen's light. He was wearing a green shirt with a blue paw-print symbol on his right breast area, along with a yellow undershirt, a pair of grayish-white pants, charcoal-gray sneakers, and a black bowler hat with turquoise highlights. He also had extremely large, long, downward-facing eyebrows of gray hair. The rest of the room's occupants straightened up in attention, even the more jittery and nervous ones.

"Now," the man said, "speaking of Leon, it is due to his absence that I will be temporarily filling in for his position as the World Coronation Series Galar Division Head until his return. I believe that introductions aren't necessary, given my prior experience in this field."

MUSTARD

"Now, then..." With a furrowed brow, Mustard removed his jacket and his bowler hat, revealing gray hair wrapped into a ponytail with a red headband; his eyebrows also flipped upwards. "Let's get started. I need all your individual updates on the situation. Let's start with..."

The elderly man scanned the conference room for a brief moment, before finally pointing towards a young boy with pale skin, purple eyes, and unkempt black hair with a long, curved cowlick at the back. He was wearing a long-sleeved black shirt, shorts with white suspenders, and a white Corsola-like mask with large eye-holes and a mouth-hole. His outfit bore a number of flashy Galar League symbols, including the Ghost insignia.

"How about you, young whippersnapper?" Mustard asked.

"H-Hu-Huh?!" squeaked the boy. He then hesitantly pointed at himself. "M-M-Me?"

Mustard gave a hospitable chuckle. "Well, there's no one standing beside you, young one, so yes, you." He then scanned the boy from head to toe. "You must be new. I don't remember you at all, young man. Mind introducing yourself?"

The boy's legs buckled uncomfortably. "A-Al-Allist-t-t-ter, f-fr-from St-St-Stow-on-S-Si-Side..."

ALLISTER

"Very well then, Allister! What're the latest developments from Stow-on-Side? Don't waste a single detail." Then, Mustard gave the boy an assuaging smile. "No pressure there. Heh heh heh."

"W-We-Well, uh..." Allister began twiddling his fingers nervously. "I, uhhh... I..."

"Have you gotten in contact with your Gym assistants, young man?"

Even though Allister's face was obstructed by such a frightening-looking mask, everyone could tell it was turning as red as a Tamato Berry.

"N-N-No..." Allister replied.

"Then go contact your assistants! Go, go, go! We need to know of the situation, if any, at your place!"

The boy nodded meekly and rushed out of the room in a slight panic. The others watched him go with varying degrees of sympathy, before Mustard spoke up again.

"Alright, and how about you, dear? What's the situation at Circhester?"

This time, Mustard focused on a large, reasonably plump woman with fair skin, blue eyes, and hip-length, light-gray hair, that sported a single, grayish-blue streak and a lone lock of hair. She was wearing a white, thick turtleneck sweater with the Galar League symbols on it, including the Ice symbol; a puffy white scarf; white shorts with a couple of Galar League symbols on them; bluish-gray leggings with white patterns that resembled snow insignias; a large, white hat made out of wool; long white boots; and a white-and-black glove on her right hand.

MELONY

"O-Oh, yes, of course," the woman stammered before clearing her throat. "My eldest son Gordie just got back to me. He and the other assistants are overseeing the complete evacuation of Circhester, since that strange airship thingy is closing in there. They're headed further south, over to Hammerlocke."

"I can confirm Melony's statement," Raihan piped up. "The Hammerlocke mayor just called me, saying they're accepting any and all evacuees from there."

At that moment, Melony's eyes softened in concern. "Mustard, sir, p-please tell us these Team Rocket fellows aren't after random, wanton destruction. Circhester's never been evacuated in its entirety before. Men, women, and children are just being forced out of their homes, offices, and businesses without as much as an advance warning-"

"As far as we know," Nessa interrupted, "they're only after the children that came with me and Raihan. I don't think it is pure, plain terrorization of communities that they're after."

"But we mustn't jump to conclusions," warned Mustard.

"I agree."

The new speaker was a slim, perpetually exhausted-looking young man with pallid skin, droopy cyan eyes with gray eye-shadow surrounding them, and angular black eyebrows. He also had long, spiky, black-and-white hair covering one side of his face and tied into three long, bushy ponytails with alternating striped patterns. In addition, this man was wearing a black-and-magenta jumpsuit, a cropped white jacket with diagonal magenta stripes as well as spikes at the ends of the sleeves, a thumb-less black glove on his right hand, a white glove and metal wristband on his left hand, a peculiar gray collar, a belt with Poké Balls hanging from it, and gray spiky shoes.

"I've just received reports from my, ahem, assistants that this ship's occupants have been periodically exiting their ship to observe the people and Pokémon in the area for the past few hours," the man explained. "I don't know about you, but that sounds a hell lot like reconnaissance."

PIERS

"Reconnaissance?" Milo repeated hesitantly. "Reconnaissance for what?"

"For when they declare war on Galar," Kabu concluded, his brow furrowed and his lips pursed.

Milo's eyes became enlarged. "D-Declaring war?"

"All over a child?" Melony replied incredulously. "That...kinda sounds like an overreach, don't you think?"

"Eh, I don't know," Raihan remarked with a shake of his head. "Those other people that were trying to retrieve him, the priestess and that desert wanderer-looking guy, they certainly believe he's the key to something bigger."

"Something bigger, ehhh?" Mustard repeated with a raised eyebrow. The elderly man unusually calm despite the topic of the conversation. "Well, why don't we just ask 'em?"

Raihan rolled his eyes. "If only. Something tells me we don't have their complete trust just yet-"

Mustard shook his head. "I don't mean the priestess and that desert wanderer-looking guy. I mean the child that you've risked life and limb to protect, Raihan."

"Ash?"

"Bring the boy in, Raihan," Opal instructed. "Let us all hear what he has to say about his role in this debacle. I mean, we do need to send something to the Board." The elderly woman then cast a glance towards the TV screen, which remained muted but nevertheless continued to show live news reports of the attacks in Galar, Sinnoh, Kanto, and apparently Johto. "But we don't have another minute to waste. It's quite clear this Team Rocket organization wants something, and it will stop at nothing to get it."

She narrowed her eyes darkly. "Even if it means declaring war against an entire region."


"No way."

Ash, Goh, and Chloe watched as Baraz and Raihan stared each other down. Standing beside Baraz was Sheena, who was looking back and forth between both men with concern. Standing behind Raihan was Nessa, who was mirroring Sheena's movements. Sonia and Bea stood to the side of the waiting room they were in, situating themselves in different corners with neutral expressions. As for the trio of Trainers themselves, they were all seated on a sofa in the center of the room, literally caught between the two opposing groups.

"I'm very sorry about the interruption, you guys," Raihan said, "but it is extremely urgent that we take you to-"

"For the last time, Raihan," Baraz interrupted, shaking his head, "the only place we need to go to is a working phone."

"No, the only safe place is with the World Coronation Series. And why do you even need a working phone?"

"Look, we need to reach our friends in Sinnoh, Raihan," Sheena replied, simultaneously grabbing Baraz's arm in an effort to calm him down.

"Whatever happened to bringing your own phones?"

"Given how we arrived at Motostoke in the first place," Baraz growled in slight irritation, "we didn't think we'd need any phones in the first place. Obviously, we were mistaken."

Raihan blinked and deadpanned, "Obviously. And what exactly is the urgency behind calling your friends?"

"They have a means of quickly, immediately transporting us out of this area and away from Team Rocket's sight," Sheena replied.

Nessa quirked an eyebrow with intrigue. "Oh, really? And that would be?"

Sheena hesitated for a moment before finally replying, "Hoopa's rings."

"Hoopa?" Sonia asked incredulously, speaking from the corner of the room. "Y-You mean the Hoopa of Dahara City fame? The Djinn Pokémon?!"

"Uh, yes..." Baraz replied, looking somewhat concerned about the woman's scientific interest in his longtime friend. "The Hoopa..."

"We used one of Hoopa's rings to get from Sinnoh to Motostoke," Sheena explained, "but it got destroyed in the middle of our clash with Team Rocket. By now, Hoopa should've regenerated that ring, and we could use it to take Ash and both of his friends over to Sinnoh. But we need to contact our friends in Sinnoh so they know exactly where we are, and then Hoopa could materialize a ring at our current position."

"And that's if Meray and Kevin have returned from their own missions," added Baraz.

"Missions?" Ash asked, looking up at him. "What missions?"

"You're not the only ones we've been trying to retrieve, Ash," Sheena replied, her tone grave. "We have reason to believe your old friends Dawn and Brock might have key roles in certain developments that have occurred recently, so Meray and Kevin were sent to retrieve them."

"D-Dawn and Brock?" The raven-haired boy blinked in total confusion. "But...they've got nothing to do with the Shamouti Prophecy! I...I think...?"

"Actually, it has more to do with new observations of the Time-Space Axis, but I'll elaborate when we return to Sinnoh."

"The Time-Space Axis?" Ash asked in surprise.

"The...Time-Space Axis?" Goh repeated in complete confusion.

Meanwhile, Sheena turned back to Raihan and Sonia. "Look, you two, I appreciate all that you have done to protect Ash. But I can assure you of our trustworthiness and the degree of compassion we hold towards him."

"W-Wait, you guys don't trust Sheena and Baraz?" asked Ash. "Raihan, Sonia, you can trust them! I've met them before in my journey. They're good people, I swear on it!"

"Pika!" Pikachu squeaked.

"As you can see, Ash can attest to that," Baraz added as an afterthought, pointing towards the boy.

But Raihan's teal eyes were narrowed. "Thank you, Ash, for your input. But it's less about their trustworthiness and more about us being able to carry out the World Coronation Series system."

Ash blinked, puzzled. "System? W-What system?"

"The World Coronation Series has a special system that it initiates whenever there is a major security breach," explained Bea, her eyes closed and her voice stoic and collected as usual. "A breach like the attack that we've experienced earlier today. As a tournament that's held all around the world every year, any sort of disruption to any sanctioned event in any part of the world is a disruption to the system at large."

"When this system is initiated in the wake of a security emergency," continued Raihan, "it demands that all participants who are ranked 500 and above to flee to cities that have a Regional Division Headquarters, or the location where World Coronation Series officials conduct all sorts of business in a given region. It's kind of like an embassy of sorts. Wyndon is the host to Galar's designated Regional Division Headquarters."

"And you're Rank 415, Ash," Nessa said. "So therefore, you'd be permitted to seek shelter in this Regional Division HQ."

"Wait, just the top 500?" Ash asked, confused. "What about the rest of the participants?"

"They're told to return home," replied Raihan.

"Or otherwise find shelter at the nearest convenient location," Nessa added.

"W-Well, that doesn't exactly sound fair," Goh remarked, his mind still trying to process the explanation.

"What exactly is so special about these Regional Division Headquarters t-that would motivate the top 500 participants to take shelter in them?" Chloe piped up.

"The luxury of special defenses, for one," Raihan replied, and his voice sounded extremely, uncharacteristically jaundiced this time. "Like I said, a Regional Division HQ is like an embassy. You seek shelter inside, the person after you is going to have a hard time fighting to get to you. And as the center and technological hub of Galar, Wyndon has advanced security measures, matched by no other place in the region, which this Regional Division HQ has access to, and then some. These measures are more than enough to keep all of us fortified against a second attack by Team Rocket."

"What?!" Ash exclaimed in horror. "So... So the top 500 participants get to hide out here, behind a great shield that is all but guaranteed to hold up, while all the others are pretty much being left to...to die?!"

"Pika?!" Pikachu squeaked in outrage. "Pika-CHU!"

"No one's saying we're leaving anyone for dead, Ash," Raihan said. "After all, the only thing Team Rocket wants is you-"

"And who's to say Team Rocket won't try to harm innocent people and Pokémon just to lure me out?!" Ash snapped. "Are you saying they don't matter to the World Coronation Series, just because they have a rank lower than 500?!"

"Look, Ash, I don't like it as much as you do, but I'm not the one who writes the rules-"

"Who does, then?! I wanna meet that person! What...What the heck kind of rule is that, anyway, letting only the top 500 participants into a Regional Divisional wh-whatever this place is called!"

"Those rules were written a long time ago, Ash, way before you were born."

"Then change them, for Arceus's sake!"

"Pika!" Pikachu added.

Ash clenched his fists as he continued shouting. "Call whoever's in charge a-and get them to change the rules! Everyone should have a right to equal access to the same kind of security!"

"I-It's not like this place is the only place in Wyndon that's heavily fortified, Ash-"

"But you're saying this is the best place to be in a situation like this, am I right, Raihan?" With tightly gritted teeth, Ash angrily crossed his arms. "Right?!"

"R-Right, b-but hear me out, Ash! It's very hard to call for a rule change like this! The World Coronation Series is run by a very, very large Institute."

Ash quirked an eyebrow. "Institute?"

"It's just like the Pokémon League, but since it's a collaborative effort between many regions and organizations, it's sort of become its own government." Raihan briefly paused to sigh and shake his head, as if he was becoming overwhelmed by his own explanation. "I-It's super-bureaucratic and super, super-complicated to explain, Ash. The main point is that it will take many months, if not years for any sort of rule changes to be made."

"With all due respect, Raihan," Sheena said, her blue eyes narrowing, "the World Coronation Series' rules may be the law of the land for all we care, but there's one word that's greater than theirs, and that's the word of Arceus."

Raihan turned to Sheena. "I-I understand completely, b-but I-"

"And as a disciple of Arceus and His teachings," she interrupted, "it is my sworn duty to adhere to His word and ensure Ash's safety and protection for the duration of this crisis. You are free to adhere to your laws, but I will adhere to mine. And right now, they demand that Ash and his friends return to Sinnoh with me and Baraz and-"

"Wait, hold on, Sheena," Ash growled, his fists still clenched. "Now that I know the World Coronation Series is locking a whole lot of people out for its own safety, I can't follow you back to Sinnoh. Not with all that I know."

"I understand your concern, Ash," Baraz replied, "and I do appreciate your compassion. But you can't make all of these uninvolved people your concern."

"But if I go with you to Sinnoh, then I'll be running away from all these people that need the help they deserve! And I'll be just as big of a coward as this so-called Institute!" Ash looked down at the floor and shook his head. "No, I cannot do that. Until I can ensure the safety and protection of all the other participants, I won't go with you back to Sinnoh. I...I'm sorry, but I have to do this first."

"Pika!" Pikachu squeaked in agreement.

Raihan blushed in shame and embarrassment, and he replied, "W-Well...I-I appreciate your cooperation on this, Ash..."

Sheena and Baraz glanced at Ash with incredulous expressions, but they didn't speak up any further, for they knew that Ash had made up his mind. As for Chloe, Sonia, Bea, and Nessa, they all stared at the raven-haired boy and his Pikachu, impressed by their determination to set aside their original main goal for the sake of hundreds, if not thousands of total strangers.

Finally, Goh continued to stare at Ash in silence. As he listened to his friend's powerful speech, he couldn't help but flash back to Cinderace and its foot injury, which still had yet to be attended, even after all this time.

"Sooooo, it looks like the famous Ash Ketchum has finally decided to fight back."

"Glad to see you're no longer running away like a coward, Ash."

"Is this the great evil you guys were talking about?"

Goh clenched his fists and turned away from Ash, an action that was unnoticed by all except...

"Now you've begun to show concern and compassion...?" he thought angrily. "Now you feel the need to step up and take responsibility for what's happening right now?! Where was that responsibility when Cinderace got hurt?! Where was that responsibility, Ash?! Huh?!"


"Now, are you sure you want to do this, Ash?"

Ash pursed his lips as he looked at Sheena. "Yes, I'm sure, Sheena. I'll stay here until Wyndon and the World Coronation Series guarantees the safety of as many people as possible."

"Well, I gotta warn ya, Ash," Raihan advised, "what you're asking the Institute to do is a, uh...pretty tall order, to say the least. I-I think it can be done quickly, b-but I need to brush off my World Coronation Series rulebook-"

"If it can be done quickly, Raihan, then we don't have another minute left to lose." Ash raised a clenched fist. "All of this is happening because of me, and I have to see to it that something good comes out of my actions."

"Okay..."

By this point, Ash and the others approached the doorway to the conference room. Everyone could see the rest of Galar's Gym Leaders through the glass walls, but for once, neither Ash nor Goh were enthused by their collective presence. They simply remained composed while Sheena, Baraz, Raihan, Sonia, and Nessa approached the doors by themselves.

"Well, then," Raihan said, "I'll, uh...I'll inform Mustard- T-That's our Division Head. I'll inform him that you want to make a request to the Institute t-to suspend the top 500 rule before you wish to cooperate any further."

"I'll go with you," Sheena replied, her eyes narrowed slightly. "I'll help you explain the situation to them."

"And hopefully they'll get us in touch with our contacts in Sinnoh," added Baraz.

Ash nodded in approval, and Raihan nodded back at him with some hesitancy. Then, he opened the glass doors, allowing the five adults to step into the conference room. Ash, Goh, Chloe, and Bea watched them go, and once the doors closed on them, muffling the voices of all those inside, Ash began pacing around the hallway.

"I can't believe it," he muttered angrily. Then, with clenched fists, he snapped out loud, "I just can't believe it! How could anyone think it'd be okay to lock out a lot of people while giving only a select few exclusive access to areas with a great amount of security?!"

"It's because of the limited resources," Bea replied, her voice still calm and stoic.

"Limited resources?" Chloe repeated, her head tilted.

"Look at the building we're in, Ash. It's a nine-story building with about 650 employees inside on any given day."

"So it's a big building, Bea," Ash replied, his frown becoming pronounced. "Surely it can fit thousands of people!"

"Perhaps, but not every Regional Division HQ is like this. I've been to the Regional Division HQ in Hoenn several months back. It's a building that used to be an old apartment complex. Three stories with fewer rooms. And in the time since the World Coronation Series became public, the Institute is strapped for proper funding for Regional Division HQs."

Ash blinked. "Become public? What do you mean by that?"

Bea narrowed her cool gray eyes slightly. "The World Coronation Series used to be a tournament that had very stringent requirements for someone to enter as a participant. That old iteration was a lot like the Gym Challenge in Galar, where you needed an endorsement from someone to enter, but in the case of the World Coronation Series, you needed at least ten endorsements from people hailing from at least three different regions."

"Ten endorsements?" asked Goh.

"From people from three regions?" Chloe added incredulously.

"Pika?!" Pikachu squeaked.

"At least," Bea clarified. "Obviously, the field of contestants back then tended to be pretty narrow. That, plus a whole lot of other rules that have since been made outdated, made the World Coronation Series an extremely difficult challenge to take on back then. And as such, the Institute prioritized prestige above all else, hence the top 500 rule. It used to be the top 50 in the old days, actually." A comical poker-face quickly filled Bea's face. "I presume they added an extra zero out of laziness when the tournament did away with all those other rules and went public."

"So they believed that the top 50 Trainers were worthy of saving," Goh concluded gravely, "because their ranks were an indicator of their power and skill."

"And therefore, they deserved nothing less than special protection."

"Th-That doesn't even make SENSE!" Ash snapped. "If those top-ranked Trainers are very powerful, then they should be able to defend themselves from a threat easily! Why should they be the only ones afforded special protection?!"

"Pi-KA!" Pikachu snapped in equaled outrage.

Bea blinked, her lips slightly pursed in disappointment. "One word, Ash. Elitism."

Goh's eyelid suddenly twitched, and before he could help himself, he blurted out, "Well, I guess elitism is something you knows all too well, huh Ash?"

A terrible, awkward silence suddenly fell over the quartet of young Trainers. Chloe's eyes widened, and she looked back and forth between Ash and Goh with mounting apprehension. As for Bea, she simply blinked dumbly, totally locked out of the conversation's context.

"And what's that supposed to mean, Goh?" Ash asked ominously.

"Pika!" Pikachu squeaked. He hopped off his Trainer's shoulder and stood between the two boys with outstretched arms. "Pikapi, pi-pika, pikachu-pi pika! Pika-pikachu!"

But Ash and Goh ignored him and just continued staring each other down.

"You know what I mean!" spat Goh. "Ever since Sheena and Baraz showed up, you've been at the center of so freaking many conversations and so much freaking attention, and you suddenly seemed to know a lot of stuff that I don't know! Everything that's happened for the past few hours, I don't have a single clue about!"

"What, are you jealous?!" Ash cried, stunned by his friend's explanation. "For Arceus's sake, Goh, you don't have to know everything in the world, so don't go acting like a crybaby when you find yourself in the dark about something-"

"Oh, so you think I'm jealous?!"

"G-Gu-Guys, c-ca-calm down-" Chloe stammered.

"Well, why else are you acting like such a prick right now?!" Ash spat, cutting the girl off.

"I'm not JEALOUS, Ash! I never claimed I knew everything in the world-"

Ash crossed his arms. "But you always act like you do."

"Pikapi!" Pikachu squeaked, still desperately trying to act as a peacemaker. "Pika-pika-PI!"

"Well, an absence of knowledge is an absence of effectiveness on the battlefield!" Goh cried. "And guess what? Cinderace is hurt, all because I've been in the dark about what's been happening!"

Ash prepared to retort, only to remember Cinderace's foot injury. As the horror dawned on him, Goh accusingly pointed a finger at him and continued with his rant.

"So yeah, I do act like I know everything in the world, even if I really don't, because at least it gives me the courage and motivation to guide my Pokémon through the toughest of battles! So when I lose in the most spectacular fashion and my best friend gets hurt in such a horrible way, what does that say about me and my knowledge?! Well, I can't afford to let that happen again! If we're gonna get through this in one piece, I can't afford to let my Pokémon down again! So tell me, Ash, what exactly do you know about this whole thing?! What haven't you told me about yourself since we first met?!"

But Ash didn't respond to Goh's question. Instead, the Pallet Town native absentmindedly gazed at the floor, the guilt of Cinderace's injury catching up with him and eating away at his own resolve and motivation. This absence of a response stoked further anger and exasperation within Goh's heart, and his pointed finger began to tremble.

"TELL ME, ASH!" he yelled. "TELL- AGH?!"

Chloe had joined Pikachu in stepping between the two boys, though she faced Goh's direction. Her green eyes were shut, and they were barely holding back her tears.

"Stop it, Goh!" she screamed. "Stop yelling! Cinderace's injury was no one's fault but Team Rocket's! So please, Goh! You need to CALM DOWN!"

Goh looked at his childhood friend, then at Ash. At first, the Vermilion City native was about to glower at him, but at that moment, all feelings of anger and blame dissipated when he noticed something amiss: Ash was staring off emptily into the distance, his face etched in some sort of unreadable terror. He could barely hear the low, feeble whimpering from the boy's mouth.

Bea noticed it as well, for she stepped forward and asked, "Ash? Are you alright? You look pale."

But Ash did not respond, nor did he budge an inch. It was as if paralysis had totally taken over his body like a virus, and he was now a stone statue. Goh's and Chloe's faces twisted into expressions of concern, with the latter approaching him and gently taking his shoulders.

"Ash?" Chloe asked. When the boy didn't respond, she put more force into her voice. "Hey, Ash! What's wrong? Wh-What just happened to you? C-Can you hear me?!"

"Pikapi!" Pikachu squealed.

But not even the Mouse Pokémon's voice could reach his Trainer. With reluctance, Chloe's grip tightened slightly around Ash's shoulders and experimentally shook him.

"Ash?!" she called worriedly. "Ash!"

"Hey, this isn't a game, Ash!" Goh spat, though his voice was trembling in concern. "Th-This is totally not cool!"

Then, Ash's voice grew slightly louder, and Goh, Pikachu, Chloe, and Bea were able to decipher some words through the murky fog of his chaotic rambling.

"Help me... Help me..."

"Oh, my Arceus!" Chloe squealed, tearing herself away from Ash.

"I-I'll get help..." Bea said as calmly as she could, before rushing into the conference room.

"Oh, crud!" Goh cried. "P-Pikachu, use Thunderbolt on Ash!"

"Pika!" Pikachu squeaked in agreement. Then, he began charging up his inner electricity, drawing from his reserves, and his body quickly crackled. "Piiikaaaaa-CHUUUUU!"

The yellow bolt of electricity struck Ash's body, drawing out a pained scream from the raven-haired boy. After a couple of seconds, Pikachu's Thunderbolt subsided, revealing Ash's charred, almost fried body. However, to the immense relief of both Goh and Chloe, Ash was groaning comically and blinking, indicating his return to reality.

"Thanks, Pikachu..." the Pallet Town native slurred. "Good Thunderbolt... Uuuuuggggghhhhh..."

At around the same time, Bea burst back out of the conference room, quickly followed by Sheena, Baraz, Raihan, Sonia, and Nessa.

"Ash!" Sheena cried, running forward and grabbing the boy before he could lose his balance.

"Goh, Chloe, what happened?!" Raihan demanded. "What was that all about?!"

"I-I don't know!" cried Goh. "Ash just...s-sort of froze, a-and he was out of it!"

"Out of it?" Sheena repeated.

"He was muttering 'help me'," Bea explained, the stoic nature of her voice almost breaking.

With a gasp, the priestess glanced back at Ash and shook him slightly, stirring him back to attention. "Ash?! Ash, do you hear me?!"

"H-Huh, what...?" Ash looked around aimlessly for a moment, before his eyes settled on Sheena. "Sheena...?" Then, his auburn eyes widened. "Sh-Sheena! Did you hear that?!"

"Hear what, Ash?" Chloe asked.

Ash straightened up in the priestess's arms. "That noise!"

"Noise?" Raihan questioned.

The boy blinked in shock. "You...You didn't hear that?! You didn't hear that noise?! Th-That voice?!"

"Voice?" Sheena repeated slowly. Then, suspicion started well up inside her. "Wait... Did..." She briefly paused, unsure if her quickly developing theory would actually be true. "Did you establish contact with Azelf?"

"Azelf?" Goh repeated in disbelief.

"Whaddaya mean 'establish contact'?" asked a confused Nessa.

But Sheena ignored them and stared into Ash's eyes. "Ash. Did you establish contact with Azelf?"

"Azelf...?" Ash's mind swam with memories of the Willpower Pokémon that he befriended so long ago. "I...I don't know... All I know is that I heard someone screaming... They were screaming for me... Pleading for help..." He looked around, as if he was trying to seek out the source of the unknown noise he had heard. "It sounded like the voice came from above."

"Whatever you heard, Ash," Chloe replied, "I certainly didn't hear any screaming."

"Neither did I," added Bea. "You were just muttering, asking us to help you-"

"I was asking for help?" Ash asked in stunned disbelief. "But I...I wasn't talking-"

"You were, Ash. You were begging for help."

"But...I don't remember..."

Ash got out of Sheena's grasp and clutched his head, which now felt as if it was on the verge of exploding. He could not believe what was happening to him right now. First, he spotted a mysterious shadowy Pokémon at Motostoke Stadium, a Pokémon that was most certainly not an illusion. Then, Team Rocket attacked the stadium, and not just the usual trio of Jessie, James, and Meowth, which nearly put him and his friends in a bind. Next, his friendship with Goh was becoming strained due to Cinderace's foot injury. And now, he was freezing up and hearing things, apparently.

"I don't remember at all..." Ash whispered.

Sheena sighed and shook her head. "Ash... Judging by what you just told me, and my knowledge of your old adventures, it seems like you've indeed established a Mind-Link with Azelf."

"Mind-Link?" Raihan repeated.

"An ability used by the Aura Guardians of old," Baraz explained, his eyes narrowing. "In ancient times, Aura Guardians, as part of their mission to keep the peace and preserve the old natural order, were trained to read the minds of humans and Pokémon by psionically linking their Aura signatures with the recipients."

The Hammerlocke Gym Leader blinked, trying to keep up with the explanation. "So basically, it's mind-reading."

Baraz frowned at the simplification. "It's not mind-reading. It's a long, intricate process that requires extreme discipline and a knowledge of how to meld one's own consciousness with that of another, and utilizing this linkage to acquire any and all useful info-"

"So basically, it's mind-reading," Nessa interrupted.

Baraz's face turned pink from agitation and embarrassment. "It's not as simple as-"

"It sounds an awful lot like mind-reading," interrupted Sonia.

"That's 'cause it is mind-reading," Raihan replied.

"But it's not-!" Baraz sputtered.

"It's mind-reading," Bea concluded.

"Definitely mind-reading," Goh and Chloe commented at the same time.

"So mind-reading," Nessa remarked.

"Pika!" Pikachu squeaked in agreement.

Baraz didn't say anything any further. As for Ash, he clutched his forehead with a soft groan, prompting Sheena to press on out of concern.

"Ash, you said the voice was begging for help. Did you happen to hear anything else that it might've said?"

Ash lowered his hand and screwed his eyelids shut, straining to recall anything else that he overheard during his episode. Then, with a slight gasp, he opened his eyes again, and panic was evident in his auburn pupils.

"Dawn..." he whispered in a hoarse voice. "Brock... They're...They're in trouble!"

Sheena and Baraz looked at one another in horror.


Rocket Frigate, near Circhester

The man with wavy, unkempt black hair and graying temples moaned, and his eyelids fluttered open, revealing emerald-green pupils that shone with an energy that was eccentric and yet so strangely charming. He hummed softly and slowly looked around, observing his surroundings.

He quickly realized that he was in a conference room, not unlike the one he once occupied frequently back at his massive and successful business in Wyndon. After overcoming the brief pang of nostalgia, the man looked down at his wrists and found they were shackled to the armrests by bands made of thick metal.

"Ugh," he moaned, his voice in a slight slur. "Wh...What is this...?" He began to feebly struggle against his bonds. "Whe-Where am I...? O-Oleana...?"

ROSE

"Ch-Chairman...?" a voice asked distantly.

Rose's heart swelled with relief, and he struggled to turn his head across his shoulder. He was already halfway there by the time he recognized the familiar hair, once sandy-blonde but now dyed dark-brown and curled. Just like always, Rose could count on his assistant to be by his side, even in the most dire and unexpected of times.

"Whe-Where are we, Ch-Chairman...?" the woman asked softly.

OLEANA

"I have no idea, Oleana," Rose replied. As he spoke, he began to feel his grogginess fade away. "What...What is the last thing that you remember...?"

"The last thing...that I remember...?" Oleana strained to think of a satisfactory answer to the best of her ability. "I...I do remember...us headed for Circhester... I believe..." The corners of her lips tugged into a satisfied smile. "We were talking about...the next stage of your dream...for all of Galar..."

"My dream..."

Rose narrowed his eyes slightly. It had been a few months since his plan to emulate the Darkest Day and seize the power of the Galar Particles through Eternatus was thwarted. Thwarted, by the two boys that had caught the foremost attention of his prized pupil Leon. The two boys who managed to get Leon to rebel against him. The two damned boys who blindly, recklessly destroyed his dream before it could all come to fruition.

Ash and Goh.

At first, Rose felt nothing but fury and outrage towards them. After all, they were clearly deluded to the true magnitude of the situation, of their circumstances. They were evidently unable to come to terms with the simple, inescapable fact that the Galar region, and the rest of the world, were living on borrowed time. And now, because of their unwillingness to accept that fact, because of their blindness and their stubbornness, they cut him, and the world, off from a once-in-a-lifetime chance, their second chance, at an everlasting, infinitely-sustainable lifestyle.

But as the days passed and turned into weeks, Rose felt his rage towards Ash and Goh slip away. By then, he realized he had no right to be angry at them, not when they were literally raised by modern society to believe nothing was wrong at all, that things were perfect just the way they were. There was no fault on their part, just in that of society. And he knew that once he made his triumphant return, made another bid for eternal energy for all of Galar, Ash and Goh would finally turn away from the folly of their old teachings and see the light.

Unfortunately, it was thanks to Leon and his influence as the Galar Champion and the World Coronation Series Monarch that his and Oleana's reputations were tarnished, forcing them into hiding in the first place. That put a heavy damper in his plans for a second campaign for the Galar Particles. It was all because of his pupil's actions during and after his first campaign that he had to take a low profile, something he would never get used to.

And Leon's rebuke of his vision? It made the betrayal sting even more.

But Rose resolved to never give up. No matter how cruel things would get from his part or the part of his opponents, he would strive for a better, more sustainable future for the region he called home, and the whole world. He swore it on his father's grave.

Unfortunately, he found himself faced with another damper in his plans, namely his current situation of captivity.

"Do you think we've been captured by the authorities, Chairman...?" Oleana asked, her voice now more steady but also more evidently worried.

"The authorities...?" Rose scanned the conference room again, surprised by the formality shown in its presentation. "I...I doubt it, Oleana. They wouldn't go through all this trouble just to leave us in a room like this. No, someone else has got to be responsible."

"You've got that right!" a female voice cried, catching Rose's and Oleana's attention.

"Who said that?!" Oleana demanded, her posture firm and defensive.

"Who goes there?" Rose asked, his own voice tinged with curiosity.

At that moment, the conference room exploded in a shining, glittering flash of light, nearly blinding Rose and Oleana. A second later, steam began to fill the room, and the two could vaguely see the dark outlines of two people and a Pokémon rising into the front of the room, like a team of performers flashily making their entrance onstage.

"Prepare for trouble, because we are here!" the female voice proclaimed.

"And make it double, for we are everywhere!" a male voice declared.

"To protect the world from devastation!"

"To unite all people within our nation!"

"To denounce the evils of truth and love!"

"To extend our reach to the stars above!"

At that moment, the flashing lights dimmed out, revealing the trio of newcomers to be a magenta-haired woman, a blue-haired man, and a Meowth. The man and woman were wearing all-black uniforms bearing a bright-pink 'S' insignia.

"Jessie!" the woman cried.

"And James!" exclaimed the man.

"The Syndicate blasts off at the speed of light!"

"Surrender now, or prepare for a fight!"

"Meowth, dat's right!" Meowth shouted in a perfectly legible human voice.

"WOBBUFFET!" shouted the voice of a Wobbuffet as it popped out of its Poké Ball.

If Rose and Oleana didn't know any better, they would've sworn they saw a stylized 'S' materialize behind the quartet as they made a dramatic pose.

"The...The Syndicate?" Rose asked in confusion.

"Why, yes," the blue-haired man, James, said as his body relaxed from its pose. He approached the chairman, his black uniform almost gleaming from the lights on the ceiling. "The Syndicate is an organization that is about three months in the making."

"An organization whose membership consists of many organizations," Jessie clarified.

James's lips then curved into a small smile as he held his arms out and continued, "Chairman Rose."

Rose blinked in surprise upon hearing his own name, his eyes subconsciously moving themselves toward the stylized 'S' insignia boasted on James's uniform.

"A-An organization...whose membership consists of...many organizations?" Rose repeated, speaking slowly. "Well, well... Looks like I missed quite a lot. I still don't understand-"

"Ahhh, don't play coy wit us, Rosey pal!" Meowth exclaimed, jumping atop Rose's lap and startling Oleana in the process. "Everyone in dis room knows dat you've got followahs out dere! And it's all because of da twoips and their lil' Pikachu dat no one takes ya seriously anymore!"

"I'm...still not following..."

"Ohhhhh, Rose, Rose, Rose," James replied while shaking his head. "We at the Syndicate know all about your attempt at taking control of Eternatus and using its power for the good of Galar and all of its people."

Rose's eyelid twitched, and he responded as calmly as he could, "How'd you-?"

"We've done our research, good ole Rosey!" Meowth interrupted with a pointed claw. "And we know aaaall about yer dark and tragic past!"

Rose's eyes widened in alarm. "My-?!"

"Yep!" Jessie replied. "And we know how much you wanted a better future, a future in which all of the future Roses of the world would never cry and suffer. We know how strongly you strove to achieve that future..."

"Only for that to blow up in your face," James completed. "All because a couple of twerpy kids and their Pokémon."

"We know all 'bout da pain of bein' zapped and electrocuted twenty-four-seven!" Meowth cried. "Even though all we were doin' da right ting!"

"The right thing?" Rose blinked again. "I don't get it... Did you bring me and my assistant here just to commiserate?"

"Partially," replied James.

"But mostly, we brought you two here to offer you another chance," Jessie added, her evil smile widening.

Rose's eyes widened as much as they possibly could. His head was still sounding an alarm from his current situation and what his trio of captors were apparently trying to proposition...but the ambivalence was slowly, progressively receding, and his heart was swelling with hope.

"Another chance...?" he repeated.

"Giovanni has taken notice of your efforts to provide a better, more sustainable future for the Galar region."

"And when he takes notice, he also takes a great interest!" Meowth declared.

"Giovanni?" Oleana asked, her eyebrow quirked.

"Oh yes, my dear Oleana," Jessie replied.

"Giovanni is the leader of the Syndicate, and its founder," James explained. "He is the one who dispatched us to find and recover you two from your current dilemma of misery and defeat. It is because of him that you two have been granted a newfound opportunity to fulfill your goals and dreams."

"It is him that you must thank, not us," Meowth completed.

"A newfound opportunity to fulfill my goals and dreams," Rose repeated. Though his heart was literally leaping with joy, a small part of his head was advising him to seek clarification, and so he did. "And what exactly does this new opportunity entail?"

"An alliance between your business conglomerate and our revolutionary conglomerate," replied Jessie.

"An alliance?" Oleana asked, slightly stunned.

"Yes," James replied. "Just like you, Rose, our boss Giovanni is seeking for a better, more prosperous, more sustainable future that the world can embrace. It is exactly why he has taken an interest in you and your mission. He has seen how hard you have fought for your vision, only for the sorry state of current society, and its newest generation, to yank it all away from you at the last second."

"After all," Jessie added, "he's been in your shoes, Rose. He has seen how easily society can crush the hopes and dreams of those it doesn't like. And in recent months, he's realized that the only way to remedy this is to bring together all those who have been wronged by society, despite having great, undeniable visions for the world's future! Bring 'em all together and unite them against the powers that be!"

"And as da saying goes," Meowth completed, "two heads are bettah dan one!"

"And don't you worry about having to enlist your employees for this lil' shindig."

Rose blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"Our contacts have tracked down all of your loyalists within Macro Cosmos and freed them from their prisons," explained Jessie. "They are receiving the same information as you are. You'll all be reunited shortly after this meeting is over. That is, if you decide to accept our assistance, Chairman Rose."

Rose pursed his lips tightly and looked down at the carpeted floor, his eyes becoming glassy. He was so awkwardly silent that one would think his absence of an adequate response was a product of inner conflict. However, it was anything but. Inside, his heart was rejoicing more and more by the second over this unexpected but welcome new opportunity for him to finally ensure his dream became a reality. Any rational thought that he felt about the trio's proposition was fading...

Finally, the mounting tension between the former Macro Cosmos executive and the trio of Syndicate agents was broken when Oleana spoke up, her tone a curious one.

"How many organizations are part of your membership?"

"Six," replied Jessie. "Seven, if your boss, and therefore all of Macro Cosmos, generously takes up our offer."

"What are these organizations?"

"Teams Aqua, Magma, Galactic, Plasma, Flare, and, last but not least-"

"Rocket!" Meowth cried. "Dat's us."

Oleana's eyes narrowed slightly. "And what sort of stake do they have in being united against the powers that be?"

"It varies," Jessie replied. "Team Aqua strives to protect Pokémon from the dangers of humanity and its progress."

"Team Magma wants to ensure humanity's progress continues without obstruction," James added.

"Team Galactic wishes to suppress all human emotions and therefore end all conflicts in the world."

"Team Plasma wants to swerve the Unova region away from modernity and bring it back on the course of tradition."

"Team Flare desires to reset the natural world and serve as the forerunners of a brand-new human civilization."

"And Team Rocket just wants to quash modern society so all of these visions, and yours, can be realized."

Meowth's grin widened slightly. "Ya have absolutely no idea how many people want ta see their dreams come true, only ta be disappointed thanks ta da current woyld."

"And...how does the Syndicate suggest bringing about the changes that it desires?" Rose asked, an eyebrow raised.

"Wat else, but ta conquer da woyld?"

"Wait..." Both of Rose's eyebrows were raised now. "Conquer the world?"

"Yes, conquer the world," Jessie replied, a certain gleam passing through her eye.

"But..." The former businessman hesitated. "I-I don't see how-"

"Don't you realize why your original plan was stopped in the first place, Chairman?" asked James.

"Yes, and it was because of a couple of blind children-"

"Indeed, they are blind! But what do you think made them that way?"

"And don't give us white lies, Chairman!" Meowth added. "We know wat you're truly tinking!"

In that moment, Rose realized what the trio was pointing at. They seemed to have read his mind, for it settled back onto his earlier conclusion that Ash and Goh were the unfortunate products of an oppressive society, one that was stubbornly, persistently blind to the problems around it, its inner rot...

Jessie seemed to realize the conclusion he came to, for she smirked and said, "Yes, society's to blame for your problems, not those children, no matter how twerpish they could be."

"Now we realize that you may think that world conquest isn't exactly your cup of tea, Chairman," James added.

"But!" Meowth chirped, his glinting claw raised in the air while a snobbish expression filled his face. "Ya can't enact real change witout takin' out all da tings dat stand in yer way! Ya gotta step up ta da plate and take a stand against dose dat would constantly say 'no' ta all yer hopes and dreams!"

"You have to make sacrifices if you are gonna accomplish what's best for the world," Jessie concluded. "What you really want."

"Now, hold on!" Oleana snapped, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. "What makes you think we could-?!"

"I'll do it."

Rose's voice cut through the air of the conference room like a knife, its tone of finality stunning Oleana and pleasing the trio. The assistant glared at her employer and most trusted confidante, her expression one of ambivalence and doubt.

"B-But Chairman!" she protested.

"No, Oleana," Rose cut off. His face was slackened and full of serenity and acceptance. "We have to take their offer. This is our second chance at a sustainable future. We've already made sacrifices the first time, and we are still suffering from them. We no longer have the resources that we need to enact that future, and the world is now fully aware of what my intentions are for the Galar region. How can we achieve better days for our lands, our home without the assistance of the Syndicate?"

Oleana gawked at Rose in disbelief, but she ignored the bubbling pit of doubt and regret filling up in her gut and simply stayed silent. After all, there was no way she was going to act against the deepest wishes of her employer, the man who showed her so much acceptance and understanding when no one else would. She still had a lot to give Rose in return for his compassion towards her.

Meanwhile, the trio, satisfied with Rose's response, gave him wide grins of glee.

"Perfect!" Jessie exclaimed.

"Excellent!" cried James.

"Now dat's da spirit, Chairman!" Meowth proclaimed. "We knew ya had it in ya! Now den..." He pulled out a remote and twirled it around in his paw. "How 'bout we fill ya in on what da Syndicate's planning ta do ta change da woyld?!"

There was a pop, followed by a loud and triumphant "WOOOOOBBUFFET!"


World Coronation Series Galar Division Headquarters Complex

Several minutes, close to a half-hour, had passed since Ash and Goh's heated argument and the former's Mind-Link with the Willpower Pokémon, Azelf. Right now, he was inside the conference room, properly meeting up with Mustard and the rest of Galar's Gym Leaders. Meanwhile, Goh, Chloe, Bea, and Sonia remained outside. The females were watching them and their conversation through the glass walls, while Goh paced around impatiently in the hallway, his lips nastily pursed.

"I wonder what they're talking about..." Chloe whispered, just as Goh passed by her.

"It'd better be a way to get Cinderace some medical attention," Goh snarled. "We've been here for, what, about an hour now, and still, no way to get to Nurse Joy or a Pokémon Center and give Cinderace the treatment he needs?"

Chloe looked at her childhood friend with concern. "I'm sure Ash will mention that-"

The boy rolled his eyes. "Ohhh, I'm sure he will."

Chloe desperately wanted to retort and come to Ash's defense, even if she felt as if he was not indebted to it, since they were never really that close. But then, she immediately saw the agony flashing through Goh's face every so often, and it gave her pause. Soon, an everlasting concern for the only person she could confide in and call a friend prevailed over her other interests, and she remained silent, allowing the red-faced Goh to devolve into a heated tirade.

"Have you ever noticed how Ash never spoke Cinderace's name ever since he got hurt at Motostoke?!" he asked angrily. "Huh?! What do you think that's all about?!"

"He feels guilty about what happened to Cinderace, that's what."

It wasn't Chloe who had spoken up, but Sonia. She was walking up to Goh, a look of concern filling her normally delicate, fair face.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Cinderace has been in Ash's thoughts since Motostoke, Goh," Sonia said.

Goh glared at the researcher. "Yeah? Well, he sure has a funny way of showing his concern. Not saying Cinderace's name out of guilt is one thing. But holding it back even when he could plead for help is a completely different thing!" The boy's fists clenched tightly, and Chloe could see them trembling. "It's been so freaking LONG since Cinderace got hurt, and no one's doing a thing about it! Not even Ash! I've been begging a-and pleading and-and groveling for help, since this place apparently wasn't prepared enough for a situation like this t-to have its own medical center or even a few medical kits to spare! And now, we're stuck in here, with no way out, because no one's allowing us to leave for the sake of some arcane rule!"

He pointed at the security guards and their Arcanine that were stationed near the entryway at the end of the hallway. All of them were standing tall, firm, and unflinching, even if they were well within earshot of Goh's shouts and criticism.

"Apparently the World Coronation Series never cared enough for its top 500 players that they could not even provide the most basic of necessities for them in here!" Goh continued. As he spoke, his tone became more grave and terrified. "And now, who knows if Cinderace will be able to walk again?!"

"Goh, please," begged Chloe, her voice barely a whimper. "I-I understand your concern, b-but-"

"But what, Chloe?!" Goh barked, eliciting a shocked yelp from her. "We don't have a moment to waste, and yet w-we're just sitting Ducklett in here, waiting for the right people to make the next move in a situation we barely have context for! And I, for one, am not gonna wait and see what sort of special role Ash has to play in this whole mess! I won't! All I care about is getting Cinderace the help he needs, a-and-"

"I know you're frustrated, Goh," Sonia interrupted. "I really do, but rules are rules. And you heard Ash! He wants to see to it that all those arcane rules are done away with. With the central role he's been playing in this situation, I don't think the World Coronation Series would be in a mood to take him and his concerns lightly. You just have to wait-"

"GAH!" Goh clutched his hair in distress. "Why aren't you guys listening?! I can't afford to wait any longer!"

"Goh-" Chloe began feebly.

"And you, Chloe!" The boy whipped his head at her direction, silencing her with his agonizing look. "I talk about Ash not saying Cinderace's name anymore, but you certainly haven't been helping matters."

"Come on, Goh-" began Sonia.

Goh ignored her and continued focusing on Chloe. "You sure seem to be putting all of your faith in him, even if you didn't know him as long as I have! Why...Why haven't you taken my side on this?! Huh?! D'you really buy into this whole thing about him being our chosen savior and what-have-you?! 'Cause for a guy who's said to be the key to solving everything, Ash sure hasn't been solving much of anything, if you haven't noticed!"

"I'm not taking his side, Goh..." Chloe whispered weakly in response.

"Then what is it, then?! Why all the silence and lack of support on your end?!"

Chloe's lip quivered, and she looked away from her longest friend in complete shame. Her mind was swimming with all of these conflicting thoughts and emotions, with one trying to prevail over the other. The deafening silence hung over both youth like a murky fog for several moments, until Goh sighed angrily and looked away as well.

"Well," he said, "even if you're not gonna tell me what's going on, Chloe, then I don't know how I can take your word for anything anymore. And I don't know how I can rely on you as a friend if I can't take your word for it anymore!"

Chloe tried to protest, but the motivation did not materialize, and no sounds came out of her mouth. Instead, she could feel her heart shattering into a million pieces from Goh's words. The boy, the one person who she found companionship and reliance in when she couldn't detect it in anyone else, who never judged her for her aloof attitude and even reveled with her in it... He was...angrily declaring an end to their friendship, a bond that she thought would last them both their lifetimes...

Chloe then watched helplessly as the fuming Goh stormed away, the stoic Bea having to casually step aside for him. The three females watched him go for a moment. Once he rounded a corner and went out of sight, Sonia sighed and patted Chloe's shoulder as the girl started to sniffle.

"It's alright, honey," she said consolingly. "I'll go have a lil' talk with him."


Sonia walked down the hallway, her shoes making small clacking noises upon making contact with the floor. She looked around and trained her ears to pick up even the smallest sounds that seemed out of place. Her mind briefly thanked her grandmother for teaching her on how to be aware of her surroundings, no matter how infinitesimal the moment may be.

Eventually, she made her way back to the waiting room from which she, Ash, and the others came. Upon opening up the door, Sonia heard the sounds of sniffling and muttering. Lo and behold, she found Goh crouched in a corner, holding onto his knees with his arms and burying his face in his thighs. Stepping inside the room and closing the door behind her, the Pokémon researcher approached the boy with a sympathetic look on her face; her aqua-colored eyes were glimmering.

"Hey, Goh," she greeted.

"I'm such an idiot," Goh simply replied, his voice slightly muffled and nasally. He sniffled noisily again and then continued speaking. "I shouldn't have yelled at her like that... I shouldn't have..."

Sonia shrugged before sitting beside the despondent Goh. "Yeah, you probably shouldn't have. You know Chloe was only trying to play devil's advocate. See both sides of the argument."

"That's what she does. She's a realist. She's pragmatic. Sh-She follows logic and doesn't let her emotions get the better of her." Goh lifted his face from his thighs. "She was just trying to be an anchor for me in that moment..."

Sonia stared off towards the opposite wall. "Well, she's certainly letting her emotions get the better of her, now that she just lost her closest friend."

Goh sniffled again. "Wh-What am I supposed to do?!"

"Apologize to her, Goh. There's nothing else to do but that."

"Bu-But how?!" Goh glared at the researcher beseechingly; his eyes were pink and wet, and his cheeks were stuffy. "I...I treated her like dirt! She's not gonna forgive me for that!"

Sonia looked at the boy and gave him an encouraging smile. "Ohhhh, I'm sure your friendship goes way too deep for her to just give up on it that easily. Just say to her, 'I'm sorry, I was a big jerk to you; it was uncalled for, and I'm so sorry.' Just say that, and all will be forgiven."

"R-Really?" Goh sniffled yet again. "I say those words...?"

"Or something along those lines. But the gist is that you're sorry that you treated her that way, and you are admitting to your mistake. As long as she knows that, and I'm confident she will, then this whole thing will be forgotten."

Goh then glanced at the opposite wall, his expression becoming dark. "No. This is not gonna be forgotten. Not by either of us."

"Sure it will! At worst, you two are gonna look back at this incident and laugh-"

"How can the two of us laugh knowing what the context of our argument was?!" Goh narrowed his eyes slightly. "I...I still blame Ash for what happened to Cinderace-"

Chloe's face hardened in concern. "Well, I don't know about you, Goh, but it certainly seems to me that Ash did not want any of this to happen, just as much as you did."

"Well, what do you know about Ash, Sonia?"

"What do I know about Ash?" Sonia tapped her chin with her finger twice. "Hmmmmm... Well, I know he's a Trainer from Pallet Town, Kanto. He's very close to his Pikachu. He likes everything Pokémon-related, Pokémon battles in particular. In a way, he's a lot like Leon..."

A brief memory of her childhood friend flashed through Sonia's mind. However, it was quickly dispelled when Goh spoke up again.

"Anything else?"

"What?" Sonia gave Goh a dry stare. "Are you trying to ask me to write his biography? 'Cause that's impossible."

"That's the point. It's impossible, Sonia..." Goh looked away from her. "I...I thought I knew Ash. I thought we were good enough friends that we wouldn't keep secrets from one another, but now... Now, with the arrivals of Sheena and Baraz, it seems like I never knew Ash at all... It's like he's a different person now, with all this talk about a prophecy and whatnot. It's...It's so...jarring..." He clenched his fists. "He should've been honest and forthcoming with this whole prophecy thing in the first place. If he had done so, then I would've been more prepared, and Cinderace... Cinderace..."

He subconsciously placed a hand over his pocket, where Sonia knew Cinderace's Poké Ball was being kept. She couldn't help but give Goh a kind, serene smile.

"You know, you remind me a little of him too, Goh," she said, catching his attention. "Leon, I mean."

"Leon?"

"Yeah. He valued honesty and integrity from his friends. No secret was to be kept from him, no matter how dark it might be. And do you know why he'd be willing to dirty his hands with the secrets of his friends?"

"To make sure those secrets wouldn't come and take him by surprise if they ever came back to bite him and his friends?" Goh replied hesitantly.

Sonia shook her head with a grin. "No. Because he cared for his friends, and therefore, he would never, ever judge them based on how deep and dark their secrets could be."

Goh cast his face to the floor, pondering over the woman's words. "Oh..."

"If Leon were to ever judge one of his friends, he'd do it based on how they handle themselves in the present day. How his friends would handle their pasts right now would matter to him. So, even if a friend were to keep a secret from him and it'd come out in the open in an uncomfortable way, it wouldn't matter to him as long as he knew that that friend had a good reason for keeping him in the dark in the first place.

"It wouldn't matter to him if he knew that friend was just trying to protect him from an awful truth."


In the conference room, Ash, Baraz, Sheena, Raihan, and the others were in the middle of their conversation when they all overheard the escalating argument between Goh's group. They looked across their shoulders and spotted, through the transparent glass wall, Goh's figure retreating from the outside hallway.

"G-Goh?" Ash asked.

"Pika?" Pikachu chirped in concern.

Ash prepared to step out of the conference room and go after Goh, but he was stopped by Raihan's outstretched arm.

"It's alright, Ash," the Hammerlocke Gym Leader said. "Whatever that was, Sonia's taking care of it right now."

He pointed towards Sonia's figure, which was following the same path Goh took. However, Ash didn't feel confident that the Pokémon researcher would assuage Goh, at least not entirely. After all, he may not have fully understood what was being said behind those walls, but he knew what the context was all the same: it was about Goh's Cinderace.

And Goh still blamed him for what had happened to the Striker Pokémon.

"No," Ash replied, surprising Raihan. "I know what that was about. And only I can make things right between-"

"We don't have time for this, kid," Kabu interrupted. "You wanted to speak to the Institute? Now's your chance. Given all that's been going on these past couple of hours, it'd be a surprise if their normal schedule is still in place."

Ash looked at the rest of Galar's Gym Leaders, all of whom stared back at him with various expressions. Milo and Nessa both gave him stares of intrigue, Kabu was shooting an impatient scowl at him, Allister was cowering behind Opal, who in turn was scanning him from head to toe with interest, Melony was smiling with slight adoration, and Piers was leaning off to a corner of the room with an ambiguous face. Finally, the elderly man at the head of the table they were all seated at, Mustard, had leaned his head forward and was resting his chin upon his palms.

"This really can't wait?" Ash asked incredulously.

"You're the one who wanted to talk to 'em, kid-" Kabu began.

"Now, now, Kabu," a calm, cool Mustard interrupted with a wave of his hand and a gentle smile. "I understand we are in the middle of a high-stakes situation and all, but please, let's cool down and avoid all hostilities. Especially when we've got a very special guest in our midst..."

When Kabu acquiesced, Mustard turned his eyes towards Ash and Pikachu. Both of them felt their skins crawl, for even if the man's calm and almost aloof demeanor hadn't diminished, it still felt as if he was closely analyzing them and judging every infinitesimal thing that stuck out.

"But, unfortunately," the elder continued, "Kabu's right, young man. The Institute never has a second to waste, even in normal circumstances. You are very fortunate that I've got a special pull with them, and that they are extremely invested in getting to the bottom of why this, ehhhhh..." He strained his memory for a brief moment. "Team Rocket is stirring up a ruckus to begin with. And, as I am sure you'd understand, in all the years the World Coronation Series has been held, nothing like this has ever happened to disrupt the normal proceedings. Absolutely nothing.

"So..." Mustard clasped his hands together. "Since I've had to inform them that it's you that Team Rocket's after, they're willing to make an exception and set aside some precious time for you."

"Th-Thank you, sir..." Ash replied, his concerns about Goh retreating back to the rearmost corner of his mind. His auburn eyes narrowed into determined slits. "Well, if it means getting them to provide equal protection to all of their participants across the globe, and making sure that my friends' needs are attended to, then I think I can afford to set aside some of my own precious time for them."

Mustard smiled, impressed by the boy's valor. "Good. Well, I'm so glad that we're in agreement, young whippersnapper. Now, then..." He procured a remote, aimed it at the ceiling-mounted projector, and pressed a green button. "Allow me to introduce you to the World Coronation Series Institute, Ash Ketchum."


White Hill Station, near Galar Route 10

Flocks of various Flying-type Pokémon squawked and cawed in panic as they fled from the Rocket Frigate. The enormous airship was currently crawling through the skies, over the forested lands below, at a slow speed. Its engines moaned with a loud and low-pitched, yet almost bloodcurdling, noise, all the while expelling dark, thick, pungent plumes of smoke and ash into the air.

At White Hill Station, people and Pokémon alike were crouched and cowering behind whatever they could, hoping to get out of sight from the looming airship. However, one man calmly, conspicuously strolled through the station, attracting the attention of all those who noticed. At first, they didn't understand how this man could show nothing but absolute courage in the face of such an unknowable but terrifying occurrence.

Then, they noticed the regal sports cape, the purple hair, and the golden eyes, and that was when they knew.

LEON


Chapter 6:
SWORD

Azumarill, the Aqua Rabbit Pokémon. By keeping still and listening intently, it can tell what is in even wild, fast-moving rivers. When it plays in water, it rolls up its elongated ears to prevent their insides from getting wet.

wzjqzljmgjryrqi,eljrbcifjzodrrdfvzhzvdifi.


Next Time:

Giovanni: I only ask that you do not fail me, and you make Team Rocket proud.

Ash: How?! How could all of you just stand back and continue to leave these people in harm's way?!

Institute Chairman: Don't think we don't know all about your past exploits, Ashton Jack Ketchum.

Sheena: A time will come when you have to choose between one and the other. You can't ask for everything in life, you know.

Goh: IT'S THEM!

Jessie, James, and Meowth: TOODLES!

Unknown Legendary Pokémon: *two simultaneous growls*

Professor Carolina: My Arceus... I can't believe this happened again...

SHIELD


A/N: Aaaaannnnnd FIN!

Despite the complications with writing this chapter, I like how it turned out in the end. As you all can see, Ash's team will be taking a bit of a break from the action in this cycle, and in the place of the action, there is a bunch of world-building! And now that Ash has learned quite a lot about the organization that holds the World Coronation Series every season, he is now getting his first taste of the institutional bodies that operate behind the scenes of the Pokémon world, as well as the EXTREMELY arcane nature of their rules and procedures. It's going to be an eye-opener for him.

And meanwhile, the Syndicate has just acquired a new arm to its operations, in the form of Chairman Rose, Oleana, and Macro Cosmos. It looks like Giovanni's determined not to have his agents make the same mistake twice when it comes to seizing Ash. And perhaps there's also something in play for his intentions with the Galar region...?

Now then, I'd like to thank the following for reviewing:

-The N01 Master:

1) Yes, "Pokémon Z" SHOULD'VE happened. And it most certainly seems like they were going for it, given what has been revealed from the fan-mined data, what we still don't know about Generation VI's mythos, and the anime's treatment of Zygarde. I guess Game Freak decided they didn't have the time to go for it and wanted to debut Generation VII in time for the franchise's twentieth anniversary. Still, feels bad, man. :'(

2) Indeed, Ash and all of the others still have a long way to go if they want to be as powerful as someone like Agatha.

3) Sorry about the overabundance of teams. But, as much as I wanted this to be like "Avengers: Infinity War", the major difference between this fic and the film is that the latter is set in a cinematic universe that had only been around for the better part of ten years. This fic, on the other hand, is dipping into almost 25 years' worth of characters from a multitude of different properties. I didn't want to leave people out, and I wanted to give all the main regions some sort of exposure and a piece of the action, so this was the best that I could do. Yes, this fic is going to be slow because of it, and not all of the characters will be treated equally because of it either. But I mentioned earlier, to someone else, that not everyone is going to be a major player. Most of them will just be there for supporting roles and/or fanservice. There's a character tier system in place regarding the kind of role each individual will play in this fic. But I do hope my way of organizing teams will help each individual character stand out for as long as they could. I hope you'll be able to keep up, and if not, let me know. I'm making numerous efforts to make sure everyone will remember who is who and who does what.

-Traxamis (guest reviewer):

1) Yes, things ARE getting super-crazy! And that's not the end of it! It only gets crazier from here... ;D

2) Happy 25 years to you too! And here's to another prosperous 25!

-Ander Arias:

1) Ohhhhh yes, it's crossed my mind on how overrated Charizard is to a sizable and ever-growing portion of the fanbase, even as I decided to assign it yet ANOTHER OP alternate form. Trust me, I too find the species overrated myself. But like I said earlier, I based this decision on what likely would've been done had "Pokémon Z" been made. Of course, all of that was hypothetical, but given Game Freak's obsession with promoting Charizard, it wouldn't surprise me. And don't worry. I will be sure to poke fun at Charizard's undue hype at some point in the story... ;)

2) As for what Mega Charizard Z does that distinguishes it from its Mega Evolved brethren, that'll be revealed in a later chapter. I mean, I'm not going to show all of my cards on the first go! It doesn't sound kosher. ;D

3) Well, we'll see if Ash's Protagonist Privilege card has an expiration date coming up soon.

4) Well, it's mostly for character development. She starts out as the weakest of the Kanto group for a reason, after all.

5) Ohhhhh, don't you worry. Pidgeot's sticking around for the long haul of the story. ;D ;D ;D

-Kagayaki-sama:

1) I have to say, Game Freak's move was pretty disappointing to me, to say the least. At the very least, a "Pokémon Z" version would've kept the XY saga of the anime around for an extra year. It too needed some extra time to fully flesh out its characters, as much as I love them.

2) A possible Mega Mewtwo Z, huh? I did not know that. I have heard of those scrapped plans to create a Mega Evolved form for Flygon, though. Maybe I'll incorporate that here...?

3) More information on Mega Charizard Z will be revealed when Ritchie's turn comes back up on the queue.

4) I'll just say this for now: keep an eye on Agatha. She'll be sticking with Lillie's group for the long haul.

5) Well, yes, but actually YES.

6) Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed those parts! Expect more awesomeness to come from those two characters! :D

-KHfan98:

1) Here's to our hopeful second chance at a "Pokémon Z" version/XY remakes in the future. *wineglass clinks*

2) Well, Tracey was pretty unmemorable, but he does have his moments and I'm not going to take them for granted. As for Ritchie being nothing but Ash 2.0 in the eyes of the fans, I'll definitely see to it that he grows out of it and shines as his own Trainer. ;D

3) That was the point of returning to Galar; with all of the fast-paced action, it wouldn't be long until you guys started to crave an update on Ash and Goh's whereabouts. And I figured Goh would be completing his Galar starter roster as soon as that Grookey episode was announced.

-Reader (guest reviewer):

1) Thanks! I'm glad you're seeing a whole lot of potential in what you've read so far. And don't worry! You can expect a lot more suspense, thrill, and intense Pokémon battles in the future, obviously! :D :D :D

2) Would you mind giving me examples of those outdated things? They may have flown over my head and I do hope to avoid that in the future.

3) Yes, I know Charizard already has too many forms as it is. As I explained before, though, I decided to think from the perspective of Game Freak when implementing the hypothetical "Pokémon Z" here. But don't worry. You'll be seeing new Mega Evolved forms for other Pokémon too.

4) Yes, Ash will be meeting up with all his old friends and rivals sooner or later. And the reactions will be PRICELESS.

5) All Ash and Pikachu need is their Z-Ring, which is unfortunately at home in Pallet Town...

Well, hope you enjoyed this late chapter! TheCartoonFanatic01 is out. PEACE!

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