Judgment's Fall @thecartoonfanatic01
Shield

A/N: Finally, I'm on time, and not at the eleventh hour too! HOORAY! So, for those of you who may have forgotten, I've resolved to update this fic three times a month, every ten days or so. Unfortunately, that was thrown off-track a month ago thanks to said month having 28 or 29 days of the year as opposed to the usual 30 or 31. Plus, I was experiencing a few other complications with writing this fic during that time. As a result, I postponed the previous chapter to March 15, and I mentioned I would post this chapter on the 31st, so I could still fulfill the three-times-a-month quota. And it looks like I succeeded in that endeavor! :D

Anyway, I hope I'll be able to get back to the every-ten-days-or-so quota in April. Fortunately, I've been able to get a bit of a head-start on the next two chapters. I have some considerable stuff written out for those. As long as I keep up that momentum, I shouldn't have any significant problems for next month. :D :D :D

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, Leon, Raihan, Sonia, Nessa, Kabu, Milo, Mustard, Allister, Opal, Melony, Piers

-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


UNOVA REGION

"Giovanni, sir."

Matori's voice failed to reach her employer. Giovanni was still looking out of the helicopter window, watching as the great mass of clouds parted to reveal the familiar lands of Unova, which were innumerable miles below him. The first locations that stood out to him were Undella Town and the adjacent beach. He could still see the smooth, sparkling, sapphire-blue tides flowing through and receding from the strips of sand. Somewhere in the middle of the ocean, further out of Undella Town's boundaries, were the Abyssal Ruins. The Team Rocket boss recalled that a private security group had been hired years ago to provide security to the Ruins, in case someone was hatching an Operation Tempest of their own.

Fortunately for Giovanni, Team Rocket had planted spies into that security group just as long ago. And now that the long-awaited Operation: Rainbow Rocket had been initiated, it wouldn't be long until those Team Rocket transplants were put into action. He could give them the go-ahead now, but he knew he had to wait, for just a bit longer. Everything had to be well-planned and well-coordinated. Everyone within the Syndicate had a very specific role to play and a very demanding timetable to stick to, lest anyone in its now-diverse membership wished to incur the notorious, feared wrath of Giovanni. Even so, the executive couldn't help but wonder how different things would've been had he oversaw Operation Tempest to its completion...

Giovanni's fists then clenched at the reflection. He knew, without a doubt, that there could have been a lot of things that happened differently, had that accursed Ash Ketchum boy decided not to interfere. Ash Ketchum, the name that was the bane of his existence. Operation Tempest may have been the first time where he personally confronted the boy with the cap and the Pikachu, but his name had come up in passing on occasion. And it was most certainly not a name to forget, given it was associated with a number of high-profile failures that his organization had suffered through in recent years. Not to mention it was the one name that would give pause to even his greatest weapon. All the more reason for him and anyone else to not mention it in close proximity...

"Nyaaaaa."

Persian's voice pulled Giovanni out of his thoughts, and he looked down at his Classy Cat Pokémon. His whiskers twitched once as he rested before the Team Rocket executive's feet. Giovanni's thoughts about Ash and Operation Tempest quickly faded, and he gave his second-most reliable Pokémon a wry smile, for he knew what Persian wanted to communicate to him.

"Apologies, Matori," he said. "What is it you wanted to tell me?"

The assistant refocused on her electronic tablet. "I've just received a text from Ghetsis. He says he and his unit are now closing in on their target's position. Shall I give the go-ahead?"

Giovanni's smile widened slightly. "Yes. They may get the green light. And remind them to treat the Splicers with utmost care. Charon spent the better years of his tenure with us supervising their development. I'd hate for our middle man with Team Galactic to have a heart attack on us."

"Of course."

With that, Matori began typing away on her tablet. As she did, Giovanni noticed the corner of her lips twitching, and very soon, a low chuckle of amusement bubbled through her throat before she can control herself. The executive blinked with interest.

"Now what has you so amused, Matori?" he asked.

"H-Huh?" Matori whipped her head at her boss, her cheeks becoming tinged in pink as she tried her best to revert back to her earlier stoic, serious demeanor. "N-Nothi... Ahem, nothing. It's just..." She blinked, unable to mask the surprised but pleased emotion welling in her eyes. "You seem to be in quite a joyful mood, Boss. I...I've never seen you so upbeat before in all my years working with you... And..." She hesitated, unsure if she should point it out. "You even apologized to me. You never apologize. Ever."

Giovanni smirked and gazed out of the window, and at the lands of Unova below, again. "Well, it's only because we're so close to achieving what we've always striven for, Matori. After so many years, we are now becoming this close to tasting the fruits of victory. The world as we know it is about to change forever, but for the better...and nothing's about to stop us now."

"Yes, nothing," parroted Matori. "Absolutely nothing. You've planned Operation: Rainbow Rocket for so many years, since the fall of Operation Tempest, and it's not guaranteed to fail now. You have the backing of Teams Aqua, Magma, Galactic, Plasma, and Flare, and you're getting close to enlisting the assistance of Rose and Macro Cosmos as well. Pool together all of those resources and you get-"

"An unstoppable force to be reckoned with," Giovanni completed. Then, he bared his teeth in a triumphant grin that was almost childish in its glee. "You've been a faithful, dutiful assistant, Matori."

Matori blushed again, and she bowed her head with humility. "Th-Thank you, Giovanni sir, for your generosity. I-I live to serve you and execute the will of Team Rocket. Nothing else."

"Indeed, you do. And it is because of your faithfulness and adherence to the principle of duty to Team Rocket that I'll be assigning you with the high responsibility of overseeing the formation of our new headquarters."

"Overseeing the..." Matori took a moment to process Giovanni's newest assignment for her, upon which her eyes began to well up with tears of gratitude. "Thank you, Giovanni sir. Th-Thank you, for entrusting me with this responsibility. Wo-Words can't even begin to describe how grateful I am to have received this opportunity from you."

"You don't need to say or do anything in return, Matori." Giovanni blinked once. "I only ask that you do not fail me, and you make Team Rocket proud."

Matori immediately saluted. "I will, Boss! I will not let you and Team Rocket down. I'll make you proud!"

"Excellent." The Team Rocket executive continued to stare out of the window of his helicopter, just as the last of Undella Town and the adjacent ocean passed by, fading from his peripheral vision. "That's all I wanted to hear from you, Matori."


World Coronation Series Galar Division Headquarters Complex, Wyndon
GALAR REGION

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

"Th-Thank you, sir..." Ash replied, his auburn eyes narrowing into determined slits as he spoke. "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."

The projector activated, and the screen in front of Ash, Mustard, Baraz, Sheena, and Galar's Gym Leaders finally started to display a live recording of a large, commanding conference room. The lights in that room were toned down, partially shrouding the room in shadow and giving Ash mostly outlines of the rows and rows of people staring at him through the screen, with only few distinguishing features noticeable from the front rows of people. He didn't know how many people were in that room, but if he had to take a guess, it would be in the hundreds.

"Good afternoon, Ashton Jack Ketchum," one of the people, a man with a stern voice, greeted.

Ash's eyes widened in absolute surprise. It had been years since he heard his full name being used, when he finally got his coveted Pokémon Trainer's license. Even his own mother had refrained from using his full name, only reserving it for the most serious and unthinkable of situations.

"You...You know who I am?" he asked.

"Of course," a middle-aged woman replied in a surly voice. "We have all of your information on file."

"We've had it ever since you signed up for the World Coronation Series all those months ago," replied an older man with a slightly scratchy voice.

"And now you're coming to us, bringing with you all the trouble that's followed you," added a third man, whose voice was slightly nasally and sounded generally unpleasant.

Ash narrowed his eyes even further, and he gritted his teeth angrily. "The only thing I'm bringing you guys is this simple request: open up all the Regional Division HQs you've got, and let in any and all people who wish to seek shelter there!"

"Pika!" Pikachu squeaked in agreement.

"Yes, yes," the nasally-voiced man replied, "Mustard's informed us of your request. Unfortunately, we can't do that."

"Can't?" Ash spat. "Or won't?"

He could feel the scathing gazes of many of the Institute members as the same nasally-voiced man replied, "Can't, Ash Ketchum. Weren't you made aware of the World Coronation Series' short budget for this year?"

Bea's words came flooding back to Ash's memory, but he held his ground. "Yes, but a lack of money does not mean you still shouldn't try to do the right thing!"

"Your compassion is admirable, Mr. Ketchum," a younger man said, her voice surprisingly gentle, "but this Institute can't afford to give false hopes to all the participants directly affected by this incident."

"You've had enough time to enjoy the Galar Division HQ's hospitality," the scratchy-voiced older man said, and Ash could imagine the derisive sneer. "So you should know by now how limited our emergency supplies are."

"And whose fault was that?!" Ash snapped with a stamp of his foot. "Why couldn't you have gotten enough supplies from Nurse Joy and the Pokémon Centers?! Why couldn't you have made your own?! Why couldn't-?!"

"Couldn't, couldn't, couldn't," the surly-voiced woman interrupted bitterly. "Do you have any idea how much it would cost for us to buy enough emergency supplies to last untold numbers of people seeking shelter? Let alone for us to make our own? The numbers are unfathomable!"

"And that's exactly why we limited the number of people that were allowed to seek shelter at our Regional Division HQs," the serene-voiced woman added, still sounding calm despite the facts she was sharing. "There would be enough supplies to go around for all top 500 players in-between the regions-"

"Yeah?!" Ash interrupted. "Well here, we don't even have the bare minimum we need! My...My friend..." His voice choked with guilt at the memory of Goh and Cinderace. "His Cind... H-His Pokémon got hurt ba-badly from a battle w-with Team Rocket, and we don't even know where the emergency medical kits are!"

"Good afternoon, kind gentlemen, madams," Sheena said, stepping beside the raven-haired boy. "I'm Sheena, and I am his guardian for the time being. I have also been hoping to get in touch with colleagues of mine in Sinnoh, but I've been barred access to the building's tele-"

"Well then, as I'm sure you two can tell," the nasally-voiced man interrupted, his hands clasped together, "this is a highly unprecedented situation. For security reasons, we've locked down a vast majority of normal functions within the Regional Division HQs, and that includes communications. Such as your Rotom Phones."

"But, sir, I-I need to-" began Sheena.

"Ma'am, with all...due respect-"

Sheena subtly grimaced at the awkward emphasis of the last two words, and Ash also picked up on the lack of sincerity behind them.

"We cannot just take back a decision we made mere hours ago. It was decided on a unanimous vote, and most decisions are decided here on a two-thirds majority. Do you really expect at least two-thirds of us to reconsider so quickly?"

"Yes. Especially when there's an emergency involved."

"Unfortunately for you," the surly-voiced woman replied, "we have our own emergencies to contend with."

Sheena blinked, stunned. "I...beg your pardon?"

"You people don't look like you're in dire need over in that room of yours," spat Baraz.

The nasally-voiced man gave a soft scoff. "Don't mock us, kind sir. We do not mean that kind of emergency. You see, we have been told that you have...special knowledge concerning the reasons behind this attack. Do you not?"

Sheena paused, and she looked at Baraz, unsure if she should inform the Institute of what they knew. But to her dismay, Baraz knew what was wanted from her but seemed uncertain of whether they should be forthcoming to these uninvolved government officials.

The Institute member seemed to sense Sheena and Baraz's shared ambivalence, for he continued, "If you share us those details, then we'll open up a limited line of communication to whomever you desire. So long as we can vet your contacts ahead of time."

"It'll be done in a manner of minutes," added another Institute member with a squeaky, feminine voice.

Sheena immediately glared at the Institute with muted disgust. "With all due respect, mister, I'm quite afraid that you do not understand the gravity of this-"

"Ohhhhhhh, I think every one of us at the Institute has a good understanding of what's going on. But..." The man leaned forward slightly. "Good isn't great. And great is not excellent. We demand full transparency from the source of this whole debacle."

"You're one to talk about transparency!" Ash spat, horrified by the nonchalant and callous attitude the so-called Institute was exhibiting throughout this meeting. "How?! How could all of you just stand back and continue to leave these people in harm's way?! And without even letting them know that they're not gonna be afforded your protection and security?! I betcha there's dozens, if not hundreds of people banging on the doors of this building right NOW! But what're you doing right now?! Trying to negotiate a deal with Sheena and Baraz so they could use your telephone?! Whoever can or cannot use the phones here should be the least of your concerns!"

"PIKA!" Pikachu shouted defiantly. His cheeks crackled with electricity brought on from his outrage. "PIKAAAAA!"

The nasally-voiced Institute member chuckled nastily. "My, my, you've got quite the mouth on you, Ketchum. I must say, you sure live up to the legend."

This caught Ash off-guard. "Huh? Legend?"

The nasally-voiced man opened his mouth and was about to speak again when-

"Yes," a booming voice said. "So to speak..."

Ash, Sheena, and Baraz saw movement farther in the back of the room, at one of the uppermost rows of seats. Although the row was farther back compared to the other seats, Ash could easily make out the speaker's outline like he was sitting in the front row, and he knew why: the person had to be extremely large. It certainly made sense, since this outline took up a lot of space than normal for someone in the farthest row of seats.

"Greetings, Ashton Jack Ketchum," the booming voice greeted, just as the outline finished shifting around in their seat. "I am the Chairman of the World Coronation Series Institute."

"So you're the one who's in charge here?" Ash asked bitterly, his auburn eyes narrowing.

"Pi-kaaaaa..." Pikachu growled angrily.

A creak accompanied the chairman's particularly commanding voice. "So to speak. You see, boy, the Institute is beholden to the governments of all the regions that the World Coronation Series participates in. Everything that we do is under the guidance of the regional governments. You must understand, decrees such as the top 500 rule are not simply signed into law by ourselves."

Ash narrowed his eyes even more. "So talking to you has just been a big waste of my time."

"No. I am merely saying this because you act as if we are being cruel towards our beloved participants."

"I'm acting like that because it sure seems like you're being that way! So if talking to you isn't supposed to be a waste of my time, then what exactly do you have to offer me?!"

"The Institute has emergency powers."

Ash rolled his eyes in disbelief. "Ohhhh, great! Use one of those emergency powers to open up the Regional Division HQs or whatever and allow all the participants to seek shelter if they need it!"

"Pika!" Pikachu squeaked in agreement. "Pika-CHU!"

"Not until we get what we came here for."

"You didn't come for anything," Ash spat. "I doubt you guys even moved from your chairs while you were learning about all of this."

"Call it a figure speech, kid. You should be counting your blessings, for we normally wouldn't have offered our ears. After all, we only accepted this opportunity to talk with you for a good reason."

"And what reason is that?"

"To learn why you're an object of interest for the organization behind these attacks, of course."

Ash's eyes widened slightly, and he looked toward Sheena, hoping to get some sort of instruction from her on what to do about this. However, the woman was scowling at the Institute, and she marched closer towards the screen, making sure her pregnant belly remained secure.

"It's a matter of life or death," she replied. "That's all you need to know."

"Ah, yes," the nasally-voiced man commented. "A matter of life or death. How fantastic. Just give us a vague explanation about the situation and make sure we count on all of you to handle the rest, without giving us any further context. Now, tell us, Sheena, is it our attitude that's barring you from giving us the answers we so desperately want? Or is it perhaps the fact that we belong to a governmental agency?"

"It could've been neither, had you and your colleagues been more cooperative and understanding with us. And regardless of the vagueness of my words, you have to put your trust and faith in us to remedy this situation and do the right thing, just as we are trying to do the same for you."

"Young miss," the chairman said, his voice still booming throughout the massive conference room, "just as much as the World Coronation Series Institute is beholden to the regional governments, the regional governments are beholden to the people they represent. The people who elect them into office. Everyone wants answers as to why all these incidents are happening at such an alarming scale and rate, and what to expect next. And, as far as we know, it seems that we're the medium to provide these sought-after answers. We've already told the regional governments that we have found a lead in regards to a solution, and now they're expecting results."

"I don't mean to sound crass, Mr. Chairman, but you shouldn't have kept their hopes up. We are currently undertaking a serious and secretive mission, the details of which cannot be made public for your own sake."

Though neither Ash nor Sheena could see the chairman's reaction, they could tell he was displeased by the answer.

"On whose authority?" he asked. "Yours?"

"No. Fortunately for me, I am beholden to a body of power myself. The Alpha Legends History Association forbids me and my colleague from discussing the finer details of our ongoing...historical expeditions to government officials."

"Uhhhhh..." Ash looked at Sheena incredulously. "Say what now?"

"Pika?" Pikachu added in confusion.

"It doesn't matter what you priests and historians think we should or shouldn't do," the chairman replied. "Unlike you lot, the World Coronation Series Institute looks forward into the future, and if we don't learn what you already know, then we will be unable to contribute our share."

"I can't believe this!" shouted Ash. "You're actually gonna make us go through the stupid trade?!"

"What you're suggesting is akin to...to extortion!" an outraged Baraz added, stepping forward.

"No," the chairman replied. "On the contrary, in fact. It's called being smart. If your so-called expedition holds the key to ending this situation in a quick and timely manner, then we the Institute, and all the regional governments that it serves, have a right to know. We must be prepared and well-equipped for what's about to come. Therefore, your weapons should be our weapons as well." Then, the man shrugged. "After all, what good is this campaign to save many, many additional lives going to be if it isn't a...collaborative one, hm? Don't you think your allies should be in on this secret of yours?"

"Not if it jeopardizes the secrets of old," Sheena replied.

"Well, well, well, isn't that contradictory?" the scratchy-voiced Institute member replied. "Isn't your job as a member of the Alpha Legends History Association supposed to be to uncover the past for the prying eyes of the present?"

"There are some things that cannot be shared with the world again." Sheena took a deep breath. "And unfortunately, this mission delves deep into that which cannot be known again, for the sake of this world and its future."

"So what makes you qualified to know that which cannot be known again?" asked the chairman. "Why must you have an undeniable right to this knowledge while the rest of us cannot, even for the sake of this entire planet?"

"Because my family has overseen what the worst of humanity had to offer over many, many generations." Sheena placed a hand over her heart. "I am a direct descendant of Damos, the first human to serve at the pleasure of Arceus...and the founder of the Alpha Temples. He was betrayed by one of his servants, Marcus, who was entrusted with sharing Arceus's knowledge with Marcus. Because of Marcus's blindness to the good that humanity could accomplish on its own, he-" She narrowed her eyes at the memory of the scheming redheaded man. "He betrayed the man who trusted him and put his faith in him, and he sought Arceus's powers for his own purposes.

"It is because of Marcus's betrayal that all of humanity nearly faced the brunt of Arceus's wrath three years ago." Sheena watched as many members of the Institute shuffled awkwardly in their seats. "I'm sure you have all seen news reports of the incident after the fact. But know this. Preventing a cataclysm like that is only the tip of the iceberg in regards to what I have done to protect this world from the darkest corners of the old legends, and what my parents have done, and what their parents have done, and so on and so forth." Sheena's hand then moved over her bulging abdomen. "It is a weight, a great and resounding weight, that my child is going to have to bear-"

"Yeah, yeah, we get it, we get it," the nasally-voice man interrupted hurriedly. "Here's my question, though: aren't those who do not learn from history doomed to repeat it again?"

"So the saying goes. But there are also those who seek to derive power from knowledge."

"Knowledge is power, lady."

"Yes, but absolute power corrupts absolutely..." Sheena's face slackened somewhat, and she sighed. "And I'm afraid the knowledge that my party possesses straddles the line of absolutism."

"Well, then..." The Institute member sneered slightly. "If you are absolutely sure that you can't share us with what your party knows, then we absolutely can't help you with what you need-"

"WHAT?!" Ash cried, startling Sheena.

"PIKA!" Pikachu shouted defiantly. "PIKA, PIKACHU!"

But Baraz was more reserved in his rage. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?" he snarled. "You damn sons of b-"

"Trust us," the chairman replied, "we think this meeting was still productive. After all, the kind young lady mentioned the incident at Michina Town three years ago. And..." He focused his sights on Ash. "Don't think we don't know all about your past exploits, Ashton Jack Ketchum."

"We're well aware of how you were there when Arceus threatened to end all life as we knew it back then," continued the surly-voiced woman. "And considering the magnitude of this situation-"

"The Institute can only assume that your affairs with the Team Rocket organization are equivalent to what happened over at Michina Town three years ago," completed the scratchy-voiced man. His eye twinkled knowingly. "We're not that far off the mark, are we?"

"L-Look, I don't know much myself!" Ash cried, his mind swimming in strong feelings of exasperation. "I only know about the prophecy, that's-!"

"Ash!" Sheena barked shrilly, but it was too late.

"Prophecy, eh?" the nasally-voiced man asked. "What kind of prophecy are we talking about? Is this a new one? Or does it..." He leaned forward slightly. "Entail the events at Shamouti Island?"

Ash's eyes widened. "Huh? Shamouti Island? You...You know about Shamouti Island?"

"Yes, Ketchum," the chairman replied deeply. "Like my colleagues and I have said, we have all of your information on file and we know everything about your journey. You may think of us as cold, callous, and incompetent, but we've done our homework on you ahead of time. And I must say, you've led quite the journey as a Pokémon Trainer. Ohhh, and speaking of files..."

He picked up a file that had been lying on his desk and thrust it into the relief of the light. Though Ash couldn't see what was written on it, he had a sinking suspicion as to what it was about.

"We've dedicated an entire drawer on you, Ketchum," the chairman continued. "But this one file contains the barebones of everything that has been documented on you since you reached the age of ten." He opened the file and began reading its contents attentively. "Shamouti Island. Greenfield. The Lake of Life. Alto Mare." The chairman calmly turned the page. "Forina. LaRousse City. Rota and the Tree of Beginning. Samiya." He turned the page again. "Alamos Town. The Gracidea Flower garden near Ten'i Village. Crown City." He turned the page yet again. "Eindoak Town. Roshan City. New Tork City." He turned the page a final time. "Allearth Forest. Dahara City. The Azoth Kingdom."

As the chairman lowered the file, the memories associated with all of the aforementioned locations flowed back into the forefront of Ash's mind. And with them came all the Legendary Pokémon that he met and befriended on his journey. As for Pikachu, the Mouse Pokémon looked so dumbfounded that humans like them, whose existence he didn't know about until mere minutes ago, knew so much about his adventures with his closest friend.

"And I'm willing to wager I read ten to fifteen percent of everything that's been documented on you," the chairman said.

"L-Look," Ash said, "i-it's not like I'm-"

"There's no excusing it, young man. You've done what no other Trainer has done in their lifetimes. You've encountered so many Legendary Pokémon within such a short span of time. It's no wonder why Team Rocket wants you. You're a magnet for such rare and exotic Pokémon."

Ash narrowed his eyes angrily. "They're not exotic. They're normal, ordinary Pokémon like any other! They're just pretty powerful, and pretty rare too."

"PIKA!" cried Pikachu.

"And you're indiscriminately compassionate towards them, to boot." The chairman narrowed his own eyes. "They see you as a valuable tool, Ashton Jack Ketchum. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps the only way to protect everyone, just like you've desired so strongly, is to willingly hand yourself over to them?"

"That is out of the QUESTION," Sheena spat. "You said it yourself, Mr. Chairman. Team Rocket thinks Ash is a magnet for all these Legendary Pokémon. What's to stop them from using him to attract such powerful Pokémon and set all of them up for an ambush?"

"Now, now, I'm not suggesting allowing Team Rocket to capture the boy and letting them get away with it. Who, or what, do you take us for, miss?"

Sheena gritted her teeth. "The more you speak, the less I trust you."

"Oh, my dear, think about it. What better way is there to defeat a menace than to mislead them into thinking they have won the war?"

Baraz blinked. "Are...Are you suggesting luring out Team Rocket by using Ash as bait?" he asked incredulously.

"This is our proposed alternative to our little standoff. You're not going to tell us everything you know about this situation for security reasons, and we're not going to open up the Regional Division HQs for a myriad of logistical reasons. So, the next best thing is to put an end to this situation with a method guaranteed to satisfy both of us. We will learn everything through Team Rocket's actions when they emerge and take the bait, in this case Ketchum, and likely without getting into the more sensitive specifics. Meanwhile, you get to divert Team Rocket's attention from all of the unnecessary chaos and destruction that's being wreaked as we speak. As soon as we learn everything we need to know about their plan, we will dispatch a team to rescue you."

Off to the side, Sheena looked down at the floor, processing the chairman's proposal. As for Baraz, he clenched his fists, but he didn't say anything in protest.

"So, kid?" the nasally-voiced man asked. "What do you say? Will you accept our proposal? Or will you take the advice of these historians and do things the old-fashioned way, by investigating the ancient legends and potentially learning what should not be learned?"

Sheena blinked and looked at Baraz, who subtly shook his head at her with pursed lips. Quickly coming to a decision, she faced the screen and was about to speak up when Ash interjected.

"I'll do it."

"What?!" Sheena and Baraz exclaimed at the same time, while Mustard and Galar's Gym Leaders looked on in surprise.

"Pika?!" Pikachu squeaked in shock.

"I'll do it," Ash repeated more forcefully. "I'll go along with your plan."

"But Ash!" Sheena protested. "There's so much we don't know!"

"That is why it is imperative that you must come with us to the Alpha Temple in Michina Town!" added Baraz.

"No, you guys..." Ash replied, shaking his head. "I'm sorry. I know you two have a job to do, but if you don't even know the full story behind the Shamouti Prophecy, then how could you even be willing to waste time figuring it out while so, so many people and Pokémon are suffering right now, all because of me?! I can't live with the guilt any longer! I just can't!"

"We have to trust in the word of Arceus, Ash," Sheena advised. "There's a reason all of this is happening, a-and if we can just keep a firm grip on our patience and wait a little longer-"

"No, Sheena. I just can't wait for Arceus to give me some sort of sign that I'm headed down the right direction. Not when all of this is happening around me. I don't have time for that, and neither does the rest of the world!"

"Ash-" began Sheena, but the boy had already made up his mind.

"I'll go through with your plan," he said, glaring bitterly at the Institute members and the chairman especially. "But don't think of me as your pawn in this whole mess. I am only doing it because I want to protect as many people and Pokémon as I possibly can. As long as this plan can divert Team Rocket's attention away from causing any more harm and trouble, then it'll be worth it."

"Very good," the chairman replied. He glanced around at his colleagues. "Just give us a minute to discuss our next steps. We will get back in touch with you as soon as we-"

"No," Ash interrupted. "I want to do this on my own terms, not at the instruction of someone else. Especially not any of you. I'll do it, but I'll do it my way. And I get to pick the people who get to rescue me when the time is right. Not any of you people. Just because I think your proposal is a good idea, it doesn't mean that I can trust you to carry all of this out in full."

Some of the Institute members looked at the chairman for advice, but the large man shrugged.

"Very well, then," he boomed. "You're the target; it's your call. But we want eyes and ears on this at all times. That part is nonnegotiable. Do you understand, Ketchum?"

Ash clenched his fists, but he nodded firmly. "Yes..."

"Good. Now then, I guess we'll leave you at it. For now, we wish to speak with Mustard. Alone."

Ash nodded quietly before turning on his heel and leaving the conference room. He could hear the many sets of footsteps behind him, but instead, he glanced across his shoulder and at Pikachu. The Mouse Pokémon remained perched upon his shoulder, looking at him and awaiting for any instructions from him.

"Look, Pikachu," he said solemnly, "I'm sorry I did this out of the blue. If you don't agree with what I'm about to do, you can-"

Pikachu shook his head. "Pikapi, pika-pikachu. Pika-pika-pi-pika, pikachu-pi-pika-ka-chu-pi. Pi!" He patted his own chest with his small paw, all while giving his Trainer a solid, determined grin. "Pi-ka!"

Ash blinked in awe, and then he smiled. "Thanks, buddy. I...I'm sorry. I should've known that I could count on you even in the most dire situations."

"Pika!" Pikachu replied enthusiastically. "Pikachu-pi-pika, Pikapi!"

"I hope you know what you're doing, Ash..." a feminine voice piped.

Ash and Pikachu looked at Sheena and Baraz, who had followed them outside alongside Galar's Gym Leaders, just as the Trainer unconsciously expected. All of them except for Raihan and Sonia had fanned out to attend to other duties, while a surprised Chloe and a cool Bea ran up to Ash, Sheena, and Baraz.

"What do you mean by that?" Chloe asked, confused. "What'd you talk about in there, Ash? D'you know what's going on? What's-?"

"Ash has just agreed to lure Team Rocket out," Baraz interrupted gravely, "by using himself as bait."

"What?!" Chloe exclaimed.

"That sounds pretty foolish," Bea added calmly.

"Ash-" Sheena began.

"There's nothing any of you can do to convince me otherwise," Ash cut off. "This is what I want to do. It's the only way I can protect everyone out there."

"But what about that top 500 rule?!" cried Chloe. "I thought you were gonna-?"

"Those people in charge of the World Coronation Series..." Ash's auburn eyes narrowed darkly. "They are not going to do anything about it. They aren't going to budge...so I am going to move first. I am going to put an end to this whole thing once and for all... And then we can get C-Cinderace..." The Pallet Town native momentarily flinched at the name of Goh's Pokémon. "To a Pokémon Center once this is all done..."

"Ash," Sheena replied forcefully, "for the sake of yourself and the future of this world, I strongly urge you to reconsider! I can't even begin to imagine the ramifications of this strategy going horribly wrong!"

"It's akin to suicide, Ash!" added Baraz. "Who knows what Team Rocket wants from you, if not revenge?!"

"I don't care," Ash replied. "If it's enough to make them want me at the cost of whatever else their goal entails, then it's all that I need to be able to protect everyone in this world, be they human or Pokémon!"

"So you'd be willing to risk life and limb to save the whole world?" Bea asked, her voice growing unusually colder. "That's way too shortsighted, even for you, if you ask me."

Ash's eyes widened in surprise at the insult. Pikachu glanced at his lifelong friend nervously, wondering what his reaction would be.

Indeed, Ash marched up to the silver-haired girl, his fists clenched tightly. "I'm not shortsighted! Why would you say that about me, Bea?! There's absolutely nothing wrong with-"

"It's like what I said before, back at the Motostoke Stadium." Bea's face, while emotionless, became tight and firm. "Your extreme compassion, and your refusal to simply stand by during a fight, is predictable. Very predictable of you, in fact."

At her words, Ash immediately remembered the exchange he had with Bea at Motostoke.

"You didn't run for it?"

"How could I, Bea? I just couldn't stand by in a situation like this. Especially since I'm the person they want."

"So you would feel responsible if you departed Motostoke Stadium and Raihan and I were defeated right afterwards. How predictable of you."

"The moment you step up and offer yourself to them, Ash, Team Rocket's not going to be taken aback. They're not going to be surprised. They aren't going to see this as a gift from the heavens and take you on impulse. They're going to know something's wrong, especially if you're taking the nonviolent way out of all this."

"Well, what else am I supposed to do?!" snapped Ash. "The safety of innocent people and Pokémon is very important to me! It always has been, ever since I was a kid! I would never give up on them just to save my own skin! It's unbearable to even think about! I know this is a dangerous strategy to take, but like I said, the Institute forced my hand! If they are not gonna take responsibility for the people and Pokémon they've been entrusted with, then someone else has to! And if no one else is gonna fill the void, then it's gotta be me! And besides, risking life and limb for people I don't even know is nothing new to me! I've helped friends and strangers all the time, every day of every week!"

"Alright, so you're a selfless philanthropist." Bea narrowed her eyes. "But tell me this, Ash..."

"Tell you what?! What're you trying to prove by saying this, Bea?!"

Bea asked with conviction, "If you had to sacrifice, say, your Pikachu in exchange for the survival of the rest of the world, would you do it?"

"WHAT?!" Ash demanded. "Why would that be possible?!"

"Just use your imagination, Ash. Let's say you had to encounter such an awful choice while trying to save the world from this evil. Would you do it?"

"Of...Of course I wouldn't sacrifice Pikachu!" Ash took Pikachu in his arms and held onto him protectively. "Pikachu's my BEST FRIEND! I would NEVER do that to him! I would die first rather than having to sacrifice Pikachu!"

"So you'd die to save Pikachu, but not the rest of the world?"

This time, it wasn't Bea who spoke, but Sheena.

"No!" Ash growled, whipping his head around to stare at Sheena. "I'd rather let myself die if it meant saving Pikachu and the rest of the world from certain harm! Everything that I'd do, everything that I will do from now on until the end of this whole thing, will be done to save every last person and Pokémon on this planet!"

Sheena stared on softly but disbelievingly. "Ash, you say you'd let yourself die if it guaranteed the safety of everyone you know and love, and everyone you have met and will come to know on your journey. But once you are dead, how will you ever know if your efforts amounted to any sort of success? To any victory?"

"Well, I..." At that moment, Ash paused in horror, realizing Sheena was right. "I..."

"Do you see my concerns now, Ash...?" Bea asked. "What you want to do is nothing more than self-serving philanthropy that'll ultimately lead to more harm than good."

Ash's eyes widened in horror, but he stood his ground. "But just because it's not the correct thing to do, it doesn't mean it's the right thing to do! There's always a third option in these sadistic choices! There's always a way to save everyone-"

"But whenever there's a third option, Ash," Sheena replied, "there's always unpredictability that goes along with it." With that, the woman closed her eyes and began walking away. "Just remember these words, Ash. A time will come when you have to choose between one and the other. You can't ask for everything in life, you know."

With that, she left behind a glossy-eyed Ash, who absentmindedly stared at the floor to ponder over her words.


White Hill Station, near Galar Route 10

In the harsh, cold, rocky areas surrounding Wyndon, numerous wild Pokémon continued to flee or take shelter wherever they could, sometimes in groups and herds of various species. What was once a quiet, tranquil, enjoyable afternoon was quickly dispelled by the arrival of the Rocket Frigate, which had sent the Pokémon into a state of panic and terror. They were even in a bit of a hive mind: none of them bothered to stop and try to defend themselves against the gigantic, well-designed hunk of metal that was now floating above their shared territory. Its even greater shadow loomed upon them all to establish its commanding and powerful presence, a telltale sign that even the most valiant of defenses wouldn't be enough to rattle its occupants.

Just then, the skies was pierced by a loud, low-pitched mechanical noise, punctuated by the large hatch opening on the Rocket Frigate's underside, like a pair of jaws opening up wide with the expectation of ensnaring and consuming a meal. Some of the forest Pokémon within the wide, vast reach of the Frigate's shadow stopped running or hiding to look up at the monstrous contraption hovering above them. Their confusion was intertwined with their terror, instinctual thoughts of fright mixed with primal thoughts of wonder in regards to what was going to happen next.

Once the hatch finished opening up, the air became still for a few seconds. Then, like a swarm of disturbed and agitated Beedrill, a swarm of manned hovercraft flooded out of the hatch and flew across the skies at high speeds, carrying one person and sometimes also one Pokémon each. They made their descent quickly, forcing the wild Pokémon to hide or flee again, frightened off by the loud noise made by their engines and assuming the occupants were poachers, out on a hunt. Once the swarm of hovercraft reached the treetops, the pilots all straightened out their paths and sped off into the same direction, towards Wyndon.

At the lead of the convoy was one particular hovercraft, which was slightly larger and boasting more advanced features than the rest. Stamped upon the underside of this hovercraft, for all of the Pokémon below to see, was a single letter in a flashy font: 'S'. Riding atop this peculiar hovercraft was none other than Jessie, James, Meowth, and Wobbuffet, all of their feet secured to their vehicle by their special electromagnetic boots. Their all-black uniforms seemed to gleam from the shining sunlight.

"Alright now, Alpha Squadron!" Jessie ordered into a miniature earpiece. She pointed a gloved finger at the direction of Wyndon's great skyline. "Let's make haste for Wyndon! Remember our mission!"

"Right, Commander Jessie!" replied one of the nearest Team Rocket grunts.

"So, should we expect any sort of resistance?" another Team Rocket grunt asked.

"We're talkin' 'bout da twoip, men an' women of Team Rocket!" Meowth responded, speaking into his own earpiece. "We should expect nothin' more dan da greatest and strongest of pushbacks!"

"Fortunately," James added, "we're experienced in such pushbacks. Just listen to us and follow our leads. Once we finish our business here, you will be showered with nothing but compliments of gratitude from the Boss."

"You're experienced in such pushbacks?" another grunt asked, this time hailing from Team Aqua.

"Yes, agent," replied a third Team Rocket grunt as he caught up with the Team Aqua grunt. "Commanders Jessie, James, and Meowth have had multiple encounters with the target before."

"Oh, really?" a Team Magma grunt asked in wonder. "Wooooow. Commanders Jessie, James, and Meowth must be pretty impressive Team Rocket agents if they've had to contend with a single target and come out unscathed each time."

James, Meowth, and Wobbuffet all glanced at one another nervously, struggling to hold back sheepish and embarrassed chuckles for fear of giving away a more embarrassing implication. In contrast, Jessie maintained and even sharpened her focus on Wyndon's approaching borders.

"Indeed," the magenta-haired woman growled. "But not only have we come out unscathed each time, but we have come out stronger too. However, I would advise all of you not to underestimate the prime target. He's very powerful, and just as determined. He has a way of inspiring all the others around him to transcend their personal limits and become better and stronger."

"Hm," remarked a Team Galactic grunt. "No wonder Commander Saturn signed us off on this mission. He must be just as worried as your Boss if he thinks this target is at the top of our alliance's priority list."

"Not to mention what he's been proven to do in regards to the Legendary Pokémon," added a Team Plasma grunt.

"Either way," growled a Team Flare grunt, his lips curling into a nasty sneer, "I can't wait to kick that kid's ass and make him squirm for what he did to all of us!"

"Patience, everyone," James replied. "Patience. I know we all have a personal stake in this mission. Indeed, this twerp is the epitome of twerpishness, but we cannot let our emotions blind us from seeing the end of the road."

"And dat is woyld domination!" Meowth proclaimed ecstatically.

"WOOOOOBBUFFET!" Wobbuffet added while saluting.


World Coronation Series Galar Division Headquarters Complex, Wyndon

The ringing of the alarms pierced the Regional Division HQ building, sending everyone flowing back through the hallways and into the conference room, Ash, Goh, Chloe, and Bea included. Upon entering from different doors, Ash and Goh met eyes for a brief moment before the former quickly whipped his reddening head away, causing the latter's face to harden. Meanwhile, Mustard approached the screen, just as the ceiling-mounted projector began to stream a live split-screen of a man riding an airborne Corviknight, with a flock of other Corviknight and their pilots on either side.

"Status update, Lieutenant," Mustard said.

"Satellite imaging confirms it, Mustard sir," the lieutenant replied on the other end. "The same vehicle that was seen over Motostoke Stadium is right outside Wyndon airspace."

Everyone in the conference gazed at the satellite image of the vehicle in question, which was depicted in the other image of the split-screen. Indeed, Ash and the others could identify the distinct shape of the Rocket Frigate, including its large, vaguely Aggron-like mast. It was in a stationary position directly over a rocky area in the middle of Wyndon's outskirts. Ash clenched his fists so tightly that they threatened to draw blood; he could not even begin to imagine what it was like over there, with all of the innocent wild Pokémon cowering or running for their lives, their livelihoods ruined for the day.

"No way..." Melony breathed out upon seeing the Rocket Frigate's overhead image.

Piers looked equally mortified. "You're telling me there are more of these things being seen elsewhere in the world?"

"I'm afraid so..." Opal replied gravely, her elderly face even more wrinkled than usual.

"Lieutenant," Mustard said forcefully, dispelling the shocked and horrified reaction, "how far away are you from the ship?"

"Thirty minutes to an hour, as the Corviknight flies," the lieutenant replied. Then, he quickly added, "N-No pun intended, sir."

"Alright, then." Mustard glanced at Ash, who looked back at him and nodded knowingly. "Do not engage. I repeat, do not engage. Simply observe."

"B-But, Mustard sir-"

"This comes from the top, Lieutenant. Do. Not. Engage."

"...Yes, sir."

Mustard sighed and looked at the raven-haired boy and his Pikachu to give them an unsure smile. "Well, whippersnapper, looks like you didn't have to lure them out by yourself after all."

"Nope," Ash replied, his eyes still glued to the screen. "But now comes the hard part."

"Yes. The hard part." Mustard pursed his lips and put his hands in his pockets. "I sure hope you know what you're doing here, young man."

After a second, Ash looked at Mustard with a confident smile. "I have dealt with Team Rocket many times before for the past eight years. Even if they've got backup, I've got a handle on this."

Meanwhile, a confused Goh looked at Chloe and nudged her right shoulder, catching her attention. "What are they talking about?" he asked.

"Ash volunteered to let himself get captured by Team Rocket," Chloe replied in a hushed but distressed voice.

Goh's eyes widened, and his anger at Ash faded away momentarily. "Wait a minute, he...he did?! Since when?!"

"During that meeting he had with the World Coronation Series Institute!" Then, Chloe got an idea, and she clasped both of his shoulders. "Goh, you're the only one who can stop him from doing this!"

"I...I am?"

"Yes! Ash is doing this because he doesn't want to see anymore people and Pokémon getting hurt! Goh, h-he mentioned Cinderace! He feels so guilty about what happened to him, and the guilt is eating him up on the inside!"

Goh drew in a deep breath, astounded by Chloe's explanation. "He...He mentioned Cinderace...?"

"Yes! But Ash is so blinded by his guilt that he's taking such a stupid risk! He thinks that by allowing himself to be caught by Team Rocket, he can distract them from wreaking anymore chaos and learn what their plan is in the process!"

"But..." Goh looked at Ash, impressed; his friend was still talking to Mustard. "That doesn't sound like a bad-"

"We don't know what's going to happen while he's with them, though!" Chloe's grip tightened around his shoulders, and she shut her teary eyes. "Please, Goh! Ash has been thinking of you and Cinderace this entire time! You're the only one who can knock some sense into him now! Stop him, Goh! Please!"

Goh didn't respond. Instead, he looked at Ash again, just as Sheena and Baraz joined in on the conversation he had with Mustard, a singular look of concern etched into their expressions. His sky-blue eyes softened with emotion while his mind continued to mull over Chloe's revelation.


The outskirts of Wyndon

Jessie, James, Meowth, and Wobbuffet continued to lead the way as their hovercraft flew towards a clear area of grass at the foot of Wyndon's perimeter. Situated before them was a long, towering row of buildings lining from one mountain by the side to another, like a wall; their common architecture style indicate the buildings were constructed a long time ago. James, who was at the helm of the hovercraft, nodded and directed it downward towards the area Jessie was pointing at.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, James!" Meowth exclaimed, cowering with fear. "Yer comin' in too hot-"

"Don't jinx it, you idiot!" barked Jessie. "James is a trained pilot; landing in a clearing is elementary for him!" He glared at James, who was beginning to sweat. "Right, James?"

"Well," the blue-haired man replied, "the last time I flew something like this was back at training camp, so..."

Jessie sweat-dropped. "So your skills are a little rusty."

"Maybe more than a little rusty..."

"Wooooobbuffet!" cried a saluting Wobbuffet.

A couple of seconds later, the hovercraft landed extremely roughly on the field of grass, causing several forest Pokémon who were nearby to scurry away in fear. Though the hovercraft didn't suffer any damage from the near-fatal landing, all four of its occupants stumbled out, their skins pale-green. It took all of the effort they could muster to stop themselves from vomiting all over the blades of grass while the rest of their squadron continued to land.

"That was quite a landing, James..." snarled Jessie as she took deep breaths and faced the rest of the descending grunts. "Quite a good landing..."

"H-Hey!" James exclaimed defensively. "Blame the morons at the top for not making us go through mandatory retraining sessions every few years! I still need to get the hang of flying those..." He glanced at the semi-damaged hovercraft. "Uh, those...those...wh-whatever it is they're called!"

"Hush!" Jessie held out a hand, silencing her comrade. "The others are coming."

Jessie, James, Meowth, and Wobbuffet straightened themselves, just as the rest of their squadron approached them.

"Alwight, men and women of da Syndicate!" Meowth hollered. "Let's go ovah da plan!"

"James, Meowth, and I will lead Unit A into the city," explained Jessie. "That's the contact team. Our well-placed sources have just informed us a few moments ago that the target is planning on surrendering to us peacefully."

"Surrender?" a Team Magma grunt asked suspiciously.

"Heh, sounds like a trap if I've ever heard of one," remarked a Team Plasma grunt.

"Fortunately, Unit B's secondary objective is our lil' preventive measure," James replied. "Should things go awry, we will give Unit B the signal, and they will attack."

"But don't forget the main objective," Jessie said in a near-growl. "Unit B is for reconnaissance on the Galarian front until Macro Cosmos rendezvous with you. As for Unit A, we are here for one purpose: to catch the insufferable, twerpish boy that has been the thorn of Team Rocket's side for too long. It is imperative that he taken in and brought before the Boss for Operation: Spear."

"Remember!" Meowth cried with a raised, clawed finger. "Everyting dat we do, we do for da good of da woyld! This twerp is one of da main keys to unlocking dat good! So we must refrain from hurtin' 'im in unnecessary ways! Understand?!"

"Understood, Commanders!" the rest of the squadron chorused loyally.

"Good," Jessie replied. Then, the magenta-haired woman stared across the grassy clearing as Pokémon continued to flee from the scene, and she smirked maliciously. "Soon, very soon, we will get ourselves the honors and recognition that will last all of us a lifetime." Her smirk widened as she whispered, "And maybe even a little payback for us. ...Just you wait, main twerp. We're coming for you, so prepare yourself for trouble..."

Her skin then paled even further, and the woman moved her body to the side so she could retch without it being in plain view of her inferior agents.


World Coronation Series Galar Division Headquarters Complex, Wyndon

"Mustard, sir."

The lieutenant's voice spoke through the split-screen, dispelling Goh's thoughts before he could come to a decision. The Vermilion City native and the others looked at the screen, where they could see, through the lieutenant's point-of-view, shapeless dots in the distance, closing in on them.

"We've got bogeys incoming," the lieutenant continued.

"IT'S THEM!" Goh cried in alarm.

"Shall we engage?"

"Y-" began a concerned Mustard.

"Wait!" Ash interrupted, stepping forward. "That could be Team Rocket coming to get me!"

"Most likely," Sheena said as her brow became furrowed. "But Ash, are...are you sure we should just let the guard stand down? What if they-?"

"They're not going to attack." Ash's eyes narrowed at the sight of the approaching dots. "Look at their numbers. I think they understand what they're going up against, now that the World Coronation Series knows what they're up to."

"Ash is right," Baraz replied; he too was staring at the screen. "There aren't that many of them like last time. And they're leaving their ship right outside Wyndon's doorstep."

"So Team Rocket figured their next best strategy is to cut a deal with us," Raihan added. "We give them Ash, they cease their attacks on Galar."

"Fortunately," Mustard replied, "we're one step ahead of them in that regard." He looked over his shoulder and at all the other Galar League Gym Leaders. "Is everyone ready to go?"

"You betcha, Mustard!" Milo cried, his lips curled into a cheerful, upbeat smile despite the circumstances.

"Hopefully we get this over with as soon as possible," commented Nessa as she analyzed one of her Poké Balls.

"Time to kick some Team Rocket ass," Kabu growled savagely, his fists clenching.

"L-Le-Le-Let's d-do it..." Allister stammered feebly and unenthusiastically; the little boy was shrinking behind Kabu.

"I have faith that this will turn out just fine," Opal replied calmly.

"Just give another quick moment," Melony called out. The rotund but beautiful woman was still dialing a number on her cellphone. "I'm still trying to reach Gordie."

Piers didn't respond at all. Instead, he was looking at a photo of some black-haired girl that he had been keeping in one of his pockets. Nevertheless, his posture and demeanor exuded absolute determination and resolve.

As for Mustard, he approached Ash and softly patted him on his unoccupied shoulder twice. The raven-haired boy and his Pikachu both looked at the elderly man.

"How about you, young whippersnapper?" Mustard asked. "Are you ready for this?"

"Don't you worry about me, Mustard..." Ash looked back at the split-screen, his eyes narrowing in blazing determination. "As long as I can protect as many people and Pokémon as possible, then I'm ready for anything. Whatever happens next, do know this: I'll help bring down Team Rocket for good. This time..." His fists clenched tightly. "This time, they've done too much harm to the Pokémon world. I'll see to it that each and every one of them pays for their crimes..."

Off to the side, Goh, Chloe, Bea, Sheena, Baraz, Raihan, and Sonia all watched him with varying expressions. But before any of them could speak up, the lieutenant's voice spoke again through this screen.

"Mustard, sir! My communication line has just been hijacked by those Team Rocket guys! They've made contact with us!"

"And?" Mustard asked, his brow wrinkled. "Did they say anything of note?"

"They, uh... They wish to make a trade."


The front doors to the World Coronation Series Galar Division Headquarters Complex opened with a loud, eerie creak. As soon as they finished opening up, Ash stepped out into the relief of the bright rays of sunlight. No one accompanied him on his small trek but Pikachu, who still remained perched on his shoulder. Their eyes were glued towards the increasingly cloudy sky, where they could see Team Rocket slowly, methodically descending towards him on their hovercraft.

Not the Team Rocket organization. Their Team Rocket.

"It's you guys," Ash snarled. Then, he smirked mockingly. "I can't say I'm glad to see you guys came here for me, but...I suppose it's a bit of a comfort."

Jessie, James, and Meowth smiled maliciously at the same time, already left gleeful by this second encounter. Then, the trio broke into their usual recital.

"Prepare for trouble, because we are here!" Jessie cried.

"And make it double, for we are everywhere!" hollered James.

Ash and Pikachu both rolled their eyes in mocking derision. Nevertheless, they decided to let the trio continue with their motto out of the goodness of their hearts.

"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!"

Jessie held her right arm outward into the air. "Jessie!"

James did the same with his left arm. "And James!"

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

"Surrender now, or prepare for a fight!"

"Meowth, dat's right!" Meowth shouted.

"WOOOOOBBUFFET!" added Wobbuffet as he saluted.

Ash's eyes promptly became narrow. "The Syndicate, huh? So, whatever happened to 'Team Rocket'? Not flashy and up-to-date enough for you guys anymore?"

"For your information, twerp," Jessie growled, her dramatic smile curling downward into a hateful frown; her eyelid was twitching nastily, "Team Rocket has received a marvelous upgrade no more than months ago!"

"Marvelous upgrade, you say...?" Ash quirked an eyebrow in amusement as he scanned the trio from head to toe. "Well, other than the new outfits and motto, I can see you three still haven't changed! I may not know much about marketing, I know one thing: you can't just slap a different label on something and then call it a completely new thing!"

"Ohhhhh, I'm afraid you're going to eat those words soon enough, twerp," James replied gleefully.

Then, the blue-haired agent raised his hand and snapped his fingers. At that signal, additional hovercraft descended from the skies and reached the trio's level of height. At first, Ash was confused and almost unimpressed by Team Rocket's new show of force. However, when he took a closer look at Team Rocket's companions, his auburn eyes widened in horror and recognition.

It wasn't just Team Rocket uniforms that the grunts were wearing. He also made out the familiar uniforms worn by Team Galactic, Team Plasma, and Team Flare. There were also uniforms that were somewhat new in design, but nevertheless evoked memories of Team Aqua and Team Magma's old uniforms.

And just like his Trainer, Pikachu was equally mortified by the new arrivals. "Pika..."

Meowth sneered at the sight of Ash and Pikachu's stunned faces. "Daaaaat's right! Not only is Team Rocket takin' centah stage, but we've also recruited da likes of Teams Aqua, Magma, Galactic, Plasma, and Flare!"

"In recent times," continued Jessie, "all six of us so-called 'criminal organizations' have come to a mutual understanding: that the world can no longer function on the altar of freedom and self-determination. Mankind, society, civilization, all of it cannot be trusted when in the hands of the people."

"Which is why we forged this great alliance!" James declared. "In spite of our differing endgame goals, we seek one thing in particular!"

Meowth raised a clawed finger. "And dat's woyld conquest! HA HA HA!"

Pikachu's cheeks quickly began to crackle with electricity. "Piiiiikaaaaa..."

Upon hearing the Mouse Pokémon, the trio did nothing but laugh, while their accomplices readied their Poké Balls.

"Ohhh, how adorable!" James exclaimed. "Does Pikachu think he can still fight in this scenario?"

"Don't even think about it, Pikachu!" said Jessie, who wagged a finger at the Electric-type. "One wrong move, and you'll be saying goodbye to your electricity!"

Pikachu continued to growl angrily at the trio, but he was dissuaded from attacking by a simple glance from Ash.

"It's alright, Pikachu," the teenage boy said. Once Pikachu's electricity died down into its cheek pouches, Ash continued to speak. "Remember. We're doing this for everyone else participating in the World Coronation Series."

"Pika..." Pikachu squeaked, nodding in response. Any feelings of ambivalence that he held about the whole strategy was swiftly drowned out by his loyalty to Ash.

"Anyway, introductions aside..." Jessie said, "it has come to our attention that you wish to hand yourself over to us."

Ash narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "And how'd you know that?"

"Let's just say da Syndicate has a lotta resources," Meowth replied. "And a lotta time on its hands!"

"And don't even think about trying to toy with us with your little surrender!" snapped Jessie.

"We come in peace," James added. "As long as you don't do anything twerpish, it'll stay that way, and the people of this fine, fine city..." He held out his arms, gesturing towards the buildings of Wyndon, where Ash knew many civilians were taking shelter. "Will go about their normal days once this is all over."

Ash sighed angrily. "Alright. There'll be nothing 'twerpish' from me. I can assure you that."

Jessie scoffed haughtily. "And do you expect us, the ones who you've given so much trouble over the past eight years, to believe that? Not a chance."

"I've been giving you guys so much trouble all that time?" It was Ash's turn to scoff. "The way I remember it, it was the other way around!"

"Ahh, poh-tato, pah-tato," Meowth replied. "Da ting is, we've prepared ourselves fer all da trouble dat you'd give us! And we've taken all da necessary countahmeasures!"

"For example," added James, "we're taking you and you only. Leave behind all of your Pokémon."

"Including that pesky Pikachu of yours," Jessie finished.

"Pika?!" Pikachu squeaked in shock. Then, he shook his head stubbornly. "Pika! Pika-pika-pi Pikapi pika!"

"Dat's nonnegotiable, Pikachu!" Meowth advised, having understood the Mouse Pokémon's protest immediately. "I know, fer once, we're not after you! But we want yer Trainer!"

"Pika! Pikachu, pika-"

"It's alright, Pikachu," Ash interrupted.

Pikachu looked at Ash, stunned. "Pika?! Pikapi, pikaaa!"

"It's alright, Pikachu." Ash gave his longtime partner Pokémon a confident smile. "You stay with Goh and Chloe. And you do whatever they say, understand?"

Pikachu's ears drooped in dismay. "Pika..."

"It's gonna be alright. I promise."

The raven-haired boy took Pikachu with his hands and placed him on the ground, ignoring the slight squirming the Mouse Pokémon made in protest. Then, he reached for his shorts and removed his belt, which held six Poké Balls, including one bearing a familiar thunderbolt-shaped symbol on the front. He knelt on one knee to hand the belt over to Pikachu, and as he did, he took notice of the ambivalent expression on his first Pokémon.

"Remember why we're doing this, Pikachu," he said. "There is no better option available. Not anymore. Right now, we've gotta do what we can to protect all the people and Pokémon in harm's way. But we do this all the time, Pikachu; this isn't anything to sweat at."

Deep in his mind, Ash felt a rising sense of doubt at his last statement, but he kept it bottled up with his greater feeling of resolve. With a soft grin, he stroked Pikachu's head, which didn't do much to assuage the Mouse Pokémon.

"We've been doing this since we started on our journey together, Pikachu," he said. "We're inseparable, you and I. If...If I ever get myself into a situation and I need you, you'll know. And when you do, just follow your heart and let it take care of the rest. Okay?"

"Pikachu..." Pikachu replied with a somber nod.

"Alright. Now..." Ash glanced towards the doorway of the World Coronation Series Galar Division Headquarters Complex, where he could see Goh, Chloe, Bea, Sheena, Baraz, Raihan, Sonia, and all of the others waiting with bated breath. "Go, Pikachu... Go be with Goh and Chloe."

With his head slightly lowered, Ash stood back up and walked towards Team Rocket's hovercraft. As he did, he overheard Pikachu squeaking softly and almost inaudibly at him. When this was followed soon after by the pattering noise of all four of his paws, and the clinking noise of his Poké Balls, Ash was quickly reminded of the time he nearly released Pikachu all those years ago, so he could live with a colony of wild Pikachu living in Kanto. He thought that his special friendship with Pikachu would be over back then, as would his lifelong aspirations of becoming a Pokémon Master. Fortunately, Pikachu chose to be with him in that moment.

But right now, it was as he himself had said seconds ago: there was no better option available.

Once he approached Team Rocket's hovercraft, Ash looked up, unaware that tears were already pooling up at the corners of his eyes. He could see the trio sneering down at him with triumph.

"Now, wasn't that cute?" Jessie asked.

"It sure was, Jess," replied James. "It almost made me teary-eyed. Almost."

"Alright, enough with da drama, guys!" Meowth proclaimed. "It's time ta get dis show on da road!"

Meowth took a small portable keyboard that he had slung around his back. The Scratch Cat Pokémon pressed a couple of buttons, prompting an unoccupied hovercraft to begin its descent towards the ground. It softly landed, putting the black metallic boots that it held up on display. Once it did, Ash began walking towards it, his gait filled with determination.

"NO!" Chloe's voice suddenly hollered. "Ash, wait! D-Don't do it!"

Ash clenched his fists, but otherwise, he ignored his friend's pleas and stepped onto the empty hovercraft. As soon as he did, he heard Chloe cry out again.

"Tell him he can't just do this, Goh! PLEASE, TELL HIM!"

Ash froze and looked towards the doorway again. By that point, Pikachu had returned to Goh, Chloe, and the others, and he was now in Goh's arms, with Ash's belt of Poké Balls dangling from them. The tan-skinned, blue-eyed boy was looking at Ash incredulously, as if he couldn't imagine his friend would go this far. Ash wondered if he had been wearing that very same look ever since he learned what the plan was going to be.

For the first time in hours, the two boys' eyes met in a nonaggressive manner. Ash stared at Goh beseechingly, while Goh stared back at Ash with awe. Their thoughts raced: Ash wondered if Goh was still unable to forgive him for what had just happened to Cinderace, while Goh wondered just how capable Ash was if he was willing and able to do surrender himself and jeopardize his own life in order to spare innocents from the brunt of a great, horrific crisis. Then, after a seemingly protracted moment of silence, Goh sighed, his mind coming to a fateful decision...

Before his lips curled into a soft smile, and he gave Ash an affirmative nod.

"You can do this, Ash!" he hollered encouragingly at the top of his lungs. "I believe in you!"

A deafening silence filled the air. Both groups stared at one another with various reactions, ranging from shock to horror to even relief. Eventually, Goh's words finally penetrated Ash's understanding, and the raven-haired Trainer nodded. All the while, his heart swelled up with relief, for he knew Goh now forgave him for the events of the past few hours.

"Gotcha!" he called back. "You take good care of Pikachu for me while I'm gone, okay?!"

"Sure thing, buddy! Good luck!"

"Huh?!" Chloe replied, her eyes bulging out of their sockets. But the gears in her brain had stopped from all the surprise, preventing her from admonishing Goh for his encouragement and trying to convince him again to stop Ash. Instead, she could only watch as Ash finally slotted his feet into the black metallic boots, allowing them to secure his legs in place.

As for Team Rocket and their companions, they looked at one another, befuddled by Goh's encouragement. Then, Jessie, James, and Meowth burst into a bout of laughter that lasted for several seconds.

"Well," Jessie said malevolently, once her laughter died down, "we'd love to stay and do some more befriendin' and all of that, but as much as we'd love to-" She pressed a couple of buttons on her dashboard, causing her hovercraft and Ash's to lift themselves higher into the air. "-we sadly cannot."

"It was pleasure doing business with you all!" James called mockingly.

"Now don't even botha comin' fer us!" yelled Meowth. "Othawise, we drop da main twoip from high above, and he goes all SPLAT!"

"Pikapi!" Pikachu yelled. "Pikapi, pika!"

"It's alright, Pikachu!" Ash called back. "It's alright! Just stay with Goh and Chloe! They'll figure it out! Stay safe, buddy! I love y-"

Before he could finish his sentence, Jessie pressed another button on her dashboard. Ash's hovercraft moved on its own, zooming away from the World Coronation Series Galar Division Headquarters Complex.

"TOODLES!" Team Rocket called mockingly, right before they could go out of earshot of Goh, Chloe, and the others.

As the Syndicate made its swift and efficient departure, Ash took one last look over his shoulder, at Wyndon and all of his friends down below. Once he did, he could've sworn he saw a Charizard soaring through the skies and into a large, great bank of billowing clouds in the distance...


Down on the ground, Goh and Chloe's group watched as the Syndicate made their leave. Baraz was looking down at the ground, his fists clenched tightly. Chloe's face was blank, for she was dumbfounded by Goh's sudden, 180-degree turn in encouraging Ash in his sacrificial endeavor. Bea's face was also blank, as it always was, as she followed the Syndicate's path out of Wyndon and back to their airship. Sonia was still watching Ash go with the Syndicate, her hands united over her heart. Raihan quickly led the rest of Galar's Gym Leaders back into the building so they could begin strategizing on their end.

And finally, Sheena marched over to Mustard, who was ambiguously watching Ash and the Syndicate making their leave, and she stomped her foot down with finality, attracting the elderly man's attention.

"I hope this was all worth it!" she snapped. "You let the enemy get their hands on what could've been our most valuable key to the resolution of this crisis, and all for what?! The sake of your masters?!"

"To tell you the truth, madam," Mustard replied morosely, "I'm not happy about this route either. But the kid insisted on it. And I'm not one to argue against the wishes of the World Coronation Series Institute. They're the people who keep the cash flowing."

Sheena frowned angrily. "So that's all that you care about. Money."

"Without it, we're all out of a job and unable to be in a good position to protect the region." Mustard glanced at the skies once again. "I've walked and breathed on this planet for over 80 years, and I have never seen anything like this before. And to think, all of this is just the beginning. I can feel it in my bones..." He blinked slowly. "And you truly think this kid's association with an ancient prophecy is the key to all of this?"

Sheena nodded firmly while Baraz observed. "I know it, from the bottom of my heart."

"We can't look to the past to find answers. We need to prioritize all of the different scenarios that are before us now."

"That's not our place to do so. That's Arceus's. And now...now that you and your colleagues have thrown our mission off-track, who knows what good Arceus's protection will do for Ash now...?" With pursed lips, the woman turned her back on Mustard. "You should've put more stock on the ancient history of this world."

Meanwhile, Goh felt an uncomfortable squirming in his arms. Sympathetically looking down, he saw Pikachu shaking his head with disbelief. Then, unable to take it anymore, the Mouse Pokémon screwed his eyelids shut, and he howled one single name into the air, his voice fueled by anguish and dismay.

"PIKAPI!"


The Slumbering Weald, near Postwick

Further south of Galar, far away from the standoff at Wyndon, two certain Legendary Pokémon, each of them occupying opposite ends of the forest, had just raised their heads, having sensed the anguish of a certain yellow Pokémon from far away...

Along with an evil filling the air, an evil unlike what they had faced months ago, during the new Darkest Day...

Zacian and Zamazenta bared their fangs and growled.


Celestic Town Historical Research Center
THE SINNOH REGION

The armored truck approached the security gate outside the Celestic Town Historical Research Center, its engine roaring. Inside it, the driver was rocking his head back and forth slightly as he listened to some music on his earphones. A pair of security guards and their Pokémon, an Arcanine and a Houndoom, approached the truck. Upon getting close, one of the guards noticed the driver's inattentiveness and tried to get his attention by tapping the window, but it appeared that he was too engrossed in the music to listen. Finally, with a roll of his eyes, one of the guards knocked hard on the window of his door, which startled the young man. With a swift, almost embarrassed motion, he rolled down the window, removed his earphones, and smiled at the guard.

"Oh, sorry 'bout that," he said. "Really catchy music."

"Just show me your ID, kid," the guard snapped in response.

The man chuckled nervously and took out his wallet.


"Arceus, I hate technology sometimes. And that's coming from a scientist."

Inside the building, the drowsy, sunken-faced elderly woman sighed as she withdrew her face from the metal keypad and watched as the two iron doors slid open. Once they were fully opened, two rows of lights activated themselves, revealing an expansive chamber that held only two small, glass containers and nothing else. She rubbed her right eye as her two companions, both of them security guards, approached the glass containers to thoroughly inspect on their contents.

"Well, you are the one who requested the new security measures in the first place, Professor," one of the guards replied smoothly. "After all, anything could happen, now that Team Galactic's escaped and these attacks have been reported all across the world." He turned away from his glass container. "The Adamant Orb and the Lustrous Orb must be secure as we make this transfer."

"Does it look like I don't understand that, young man?!" barked the woman as she stopped rubbing her eye.

PROFESSOR CAROLINA

"But I was just wondering," she continued, "must the vision in my right eye be potentially sacrificed as a result? I mean, I do read and write papers and books for a living."

Carolina's eyes then scanned the glass containers, both of which contained one orb each: a bluish orb with hexagons cut into its surface on the left, and a pale-pink spherical orb on the right. She sighed with immense relief at the sight of the room's contents.

"Items secure," the guard said upon finishing his inspection. "They can bring in the Griseous Orb now."


"Team Alpha, are you there? Over."

Outside, the guard turned away from the truck driver to answer his walkie-talkie. "This is Team Alpha. Over."

"Allow the truck access. It is all clear. Over and out."

The man nodded once and turned to his partner, who nodded back at him before approaching a button on the side of the gate and pressing it. The iron gate slid open, and with one last innocent smile and wave of the hand, the driver directed the armored truck into the research center's premises with ease, carefully passing by the two guards and their Pokémon in the process.

None of them noticed the devious smirk that appeared on the young man's face as he placed his earphones back over his ears and took out a Poké Ball from his pocket...


As the first security guard conversed with Carolina, the second guard stepped behind the container holding the Lustrous Orb, where a keyboard was located. He took one glare at Carolina and his partner, and saw that they were still engrossed in their conversation. He then began covertly typing digits on the keyboard.


In the truck, the driver continued to rock his head in tune with the unknown music. He was still driving as he lowered the window of his door.


"What in Arceus's name?!"

Carolina and the first guard watched as the Adamant and Lustrous Orb containers opened up simultaneously. The guard confronted his partner, anger contorting his face.

"Hey, Stu!" he snapped. "What in Arceus's name do you think you're doing?!"

However, Stu began to chuckle. "Sorry, Donny."

Donny gasped at the sound of Stu's voice; it appeared he never heard his partner use that kind of voice before. Carolina looked just as horrified as Donny.

"However," Stu continued, "I am afraid Stu is not with us, nor has he ever been."

Stu immediately tore off his entire head with a single stroke of his hand...only to reveal that it was just a lifelike mask of rubber, which concealed the true face of a purple-haired man with hazel eyes and red streaks on two of his bangs. There was also a crimson-colored mark located underneath his right eye.

"Im-Impostor!" stuttered Carolina. She immediately dashed towards a red button on the wall, but-

"Not so fast," the intruder snarled as he threw a Poké Ball, summoning a Golbat. "Golbat, use Haze!"

The Bat Pokémon spewed out a billowing cloud of dark smoke, which engulfed the entire chamber and spilled out into the hallway. Donny began coughing at the Haze attack and attempted to swat away at the smoke, but Carolina realized what was happening and pointed at the glass containers.

"The Adamant and Lustrous Orbs!" she shouted.

"Are all mine..." the intruder completed mockingly. He promptly lifted both orbs underneath his armpits and dashed out of the room, followed by Golbat.


"Swampert, use Muddy Water," the driver commanded as he threw his Poké Ball out of the vehicle.

The Mud Fish Pokémon emerged from the Poké Ball, roared, and then began spinning in a circle, shooting out mud in all directions, spraying all of the nearby security guards with it. At that moment, the driver violently skidded the armored truck to a stop, its side facing the front entrance of the research center, and its rear doors shot open with a bang. Eight additional security guards ran out in a military-like formation and summoned their Pokémon, but then ordered them to attack all of the remaining security guards and their own Pokémon.


"Hey-ya, Stu!" another guard shouted jubilantly at his coworker and colleague. "Didja hear about the-?" Then, he finally noticed the urgency in Stu's running. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on there! W-What's the rush?" Then, he spotted the two orbs tucked underneath his friend's arms. "And why d'you have the Adamant and Lustrous Orbs?"

"There's an emergency!" the second guard exclaimed desperately. "The research center's under attack, and I was given orders by Professor Carolina to transport the Adamant Orb and the Lustrous Orb over to the emergency safe-room! So, if you'll excuse me, I would like to get through that door, please."

"We're under attack?! Oh, dear Arceus..." The clueless guard began typing on his keyboard. "Yes, yes, of course!" Within seconds, the door that he had been guarding opened. "Stay safe, man!"

"Thank you very much."

And with that, Stu fled through the doorway, into the main lobby, and towards the entrance. The other guard prepared to close the door when-

"STOP! INTRUDER!"

The guard watched as Carolina and Donny ran towards him, the former panting considerably.

"Oh, ma'am!" he greeted. "There's no reason to worry! Stu's taking the orbs to the emergency safe-room, just like you said-"

"YOU IDIOT!" screeched Carolina, causing the guard to flinch. "THAT WASN'T HIM!"

"H-Huh?" The guard looked back and forth between Carolina and the main entrance, which was now closing again. "Wh-What're you-?"

"It was an impostor," elaborated Donny. "Stu was just a disguise..."

"AND YOU LET HIM GET AWAY!" Carolina continued, outraged. "THERE ISN'T EVEN AN EMERGENCY SAFE-ROOM!"

The guard immediately realized what he had done. He could feel his legs buckling from the pressure.

"Oh, dear Arceus..." he moaned.


The impostor dashed out of the research center as fast as his feet could carry him, past the unconscious forms of all the security guards and their Pokémon. He leaped into the open back of the waiting armored truck, where his accomplices were, and they closed the doors for him. Then, the impostor knocked on the wall, signaling the driver to go.

With a satisfied grin, the driver recalled his Swampert and immediately drove the truck back towards the security gate at high speeds. There, he spotted the two guards that he had encountered earlier, but this apparently didn't faze him even in the slightest.

"ARCANINE, USE INCINERATE!" one guard commanded.

"HOUNDOOM, USE INFERNO!" ordered the other guard.

The two Fire-type Pokémon growled and launched their respective attacks, both of which hit their target. However, being armored, the vehicle didn't suffer a scratch. The guards were forced to jump out of the way as the truck sped past them, knocking Arcanine and Houndoom backward with the wind it left in its wake.

As he continued to drive, the driver opened up a small hatch that allowed him to see into the back of the vehicle. A pair of hazel eyes stared back at him.

"Are all of the orbs secured?"

The impostor looked over his shoulder to stare at the group's payload: the containers for the Adamant Orb, the Lustrous Orb, and the Griseous Orb.

"I'm here, aren't I?" replied the impostor.

"True, true. Excellent job, Brodie."

Brodie nodded in acknowledgment, prompting the driver closed the hatch. Then, he took out a remote with a smirk.

"Now," he said, "just to make sure we're not followed..."

He pressed the sole red button on the remote, a malevolent smirk appearing on his face as he did so.


By that point, Carolina and a number of other guards had flowed out of the research center to watch the armored truck make its getaway. The Pokémon Professor then glared over her shoulder at her employees/

"Call Officer Jenny right away!" she ordered.

"Yes, ma'am!" replied Donny.

However, before he and another guard could run to the nearest phone, all of the light-bulbs in the center suddenly began to flicker. Then, they began to sputter, sending bright, hot sparks flying in all directions, before finally going out, plunging the entire building in darkness. As Carolina and many of the guards looked around, Donny grabbed the phone and tried dialing a number, but his eyes widened.

"I-I'm getting static, Professor!" he called. He then tried using his walkie-talkie but was quickly met with identical results. "Same with my walkie-talkie."

"Same with mine as well!" cried another guard as he tried tinkering with his device.

"All of our communications are down!" a third guard concluded. "Phones, walkie-talkies, everything!"

Carolina scanned the other guards and could only observe their helplessness as they tried accessing and restoring their communications. Then, she placed a hand over her wrinkled face, not out of absolute horror, but from mere exhaustion and disbelief, as if she was forced to deal with such problems on a daily basis.

"My Arceus. I can't believe this happened again..." She took a deep breath. "I have to contact my granddaughter."

"But how?" one of the other guards asked. "Our communication devices are all down, Professor!"

Carolina shook her head in response and lifted her hand away, revealing a dismayed face.


The skies of Celestic Town

In the skies, a Swanna soared through the air, preparing to make its descent towards Celestic Town. Riding on its white, feathered back was a female Trainer with fair skin, brown eyes, black triangular eyebrows, and brown hair that was tied into a ponytail at the top. She wore a blue T-shirt with a black semicircle on it, white shorts over black-and-blue-striped leggings, and a white backpack with one strap tied in a knot.

As the Swanna started to dive towards Celestic Town, it and its Trainer noticed all of the visible lights going out all across the town, plunging it into darkness. The girl patted Swanna's right wing, prompting it to stop.

"What in the world's going on...?" the Trainer asked, just as she witnessed the last of the lights in town flickering out.

VERITY

"Well...there is someone who can make the journey and tell my granddaughter what's going on here..."


Chapter 7:
SHIELD

Espeon, the Sun Pokémon. It uses the fine hair that covers its body to sense air currents and predict its enemy's actions. By reading air currents, it can predict things such as the weather or its foe's next move.

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Next Time:

Gary: Alright. Smell ya later...

Vincent: Teach me everything you know, sensei! Teach me!

Professor Elm: It is quite an...astounding topic that has attracted my attention as of late.

Lyra: We've been doing this for a couple of years now, but with nothing to show for it...

Barry: I'm gonna have to fine you! You've got ten seconds to pay up! Nine, eight, seven-

Jimmy: There sure is a lot to learn about Mega Evolution, huh Typhlosion?

Barry: -Six, five, four-

Tyson: Huh? What's that?

Barry: -Three, two-

Hun: This is all going to according to plan.

Barry: Hello?! Are you even listening to me?!

BARK


A/N: Looks like things have quickly reached a turning point on Ash's end of this whole ordeal! First, he finally meets with the so-called World Coronation Series Institute, which seems so inept and corrupt that it's forced Ash to play a different hand than what he originally hoped for. And now, he's willingly handed himself over to the Syndicate! Just so you know, this surrender was meant to segue ourselves into a long-awaited reunion! Keep your fingers crossed for that! ;D ;D ;D

But now, this also means he's separated from Pikachu, Goh, Chloe, and the others. Whatever will they do without him in the meantime? I wonder. Fortunately, he and Goh have managed to make amends right before he left, so there's that. I'll be sure to elaborate on that later, for those of you who may think that seemed a little rushed.

Also, the Syndicate now has their hands on not only the Adamant and Lustrous Orbs, but the Griseous Orb, which never made its appearance in the actual anime! More information will be coming up on that later. And yes, when I say Verity, I mean the same Verity who was Ash's traveling companion in the twentieth movie "I Choose You!". Looks like even all the alternate reality characters will be playing a role in this mess! :D :D :D

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

-ValorFennekin:

1) Don't worry, they will pretty soon. ;D

2) Please don't spend your review asking about that. Rest assured, I haven't forgotten about "The Way We Will Be". Not by a long-shot. If you want to know what the progress is for the next chapter, check out my profile for updates. I update it as often as I can with snippets on what I'm doing and what I plan on doing later on in regards to my stories. Don't ask about any of my other stories in my reviews again, please. If you're really concerned, just send me a PM.

-Kagayaki-sama:

1) Yes, the Syndicate now has more recruits! And it'll be quite advantageous to them, considering Macro Cosmos was a legitimate business conglomerate that had only been broken up recently, so its members still have leeway in the world of business that the Syndicate can exploit.

2) But for now, it's not a question of when they will fail, but how.

3) Don't worry! Looks like Ash and Goh managed to patch things up in the end.

4) Yep. It sure does cast a reflection on modern society nowadays. And it's all because of the Institute's selfishness that Ash is taking this big risk out of desperation.

5) Well, we all know Leon has a very poor sense of direction. XP XP XP

6) Looks like the Institute did hear him out, and...no, sadly. As you've already read, they're too wrapped up in all of their rules and procedures to do a thing about it.

7) Looks like you'll see what's happening in Johto next time! :D

-Ander Arias:

1) Definitely. I thought you guys and gals needed a bit of a breather period, considering the past few chapters were full of intricate action sequences and complicated world-building.

2) Don't worry. Ash's surrender to the Syndicate is going to segue into that fateful reunion. I know everyone's got that Amour itch, and while I have definitely been lollygagging a little, I have every intent of scratching that itch for you guys very soon. :D :D :D

3) Giovanni and his forces aren't in Alola yet. But I agree; if they manage to recruit Faba, then their campaign for world conquest will be destined to succeed...

4) Yes, Leon is indeed the undefeated Champion, and his Charizard the undefeated main. The undefeatable duo. Indeed, very undefeatable. XD

5) I no longer recall that. Damn pandemic fatigue! DX Anyway, there's no need to worry anymore. I plan on getting over to that right away. :D

-KHfan98:

1) Yeah, Goh definitely should've asked, considering Ash is not one to initiate that kind of discussion himself. But, on the other hand, Goh didn't think of that either. In the end, it was no one's fault, and Goh's just too wrapped up in his horror and sorrow for Cinderace to know any better. Fortunately, he seems to have gotten over it now, considering Ash has now acknowledged the mistakes he made and is now willing to pay for them, no matter how unconventional these payments may be.

2) You'll see what happens on the Alolan end. ;)

Huh. Not as many people reviewed compared to previous chapters. I guess people REALLY want their Amour itches to be scratched, huh? Can't say I blame you guys; the summary DOES say "Ash/Serena", after all. Don't worry, though. Like I have said before, I'm going to bring in the AmourShipping plotline very soon. You just need to hang in there for a couple more chapters first, because those will be focused on introducing yet another team.

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

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