It took almost three hours for the fighting to end. Team Galactic had set up a number of traps throughout the mountain. While the girls had managed to avoid them on their way to the center of the hideout, there had been many more in areas they hadn’t explored. In her urgency, Sunset Shimmer had teleported her group as far away from that explosion as she could without leaving the enemy lair, and had ended up on the other side of the base surrounded by even more grunts than those that had been chasing them. They had been forced to fight their way to familiar ground, but it hadn’t been easy.
Explosive traps, tiles that electrocuted the victim when touched, and flame vents in the ceiling had been difficult to deal with in all the chaos. Though Midori was leading a force of forty-five Pokémon, his squad was still outnumbered. Team Galactic had also been more skilled than expected. The grunts had worked together in coordinated groups, their moves and strategies complimenting each other. Midori’s group wouldn’t have made it out alive if not for the sudden surge of reinforcements.
As things were at their worst, the humans having cornered Midori’s battered forces in a large storeroom, four dozen wild Pokémon had appeared out of thin air and dropped on top of the humans. They had arrived with cries of “Charles sends his regards!” and “Down with Team Galactic!” The grunts were their focus, their Pokémon momentarily stunned by the surprise attack as their trainers were beaten into the ground. Sunset Shimmer was as surprised as any of them, but she was given a chance to recover whereas the humans were not.
She had shaken off the shock in time to begin interceding in places where the zeal of the wild Pokémon was especially brutal. Even with these reinforcements, the fighting had been fierce to the end. Some of the grunts had been outside of the storeroom, and had avoided the attack. They sent in their Pokémon to disperse their enemy and for a tense moment Team Galactic had the momentum once more. Yet Midori had gained some time to think. He had retaken control of their situation and began barking orders to the Pokémon. With his effective strategy, the righteous indignation of the Pokémon in the room, and Sunset Shimmer’s remarkable spellwork the grunts were eventually overpowered. Now they sat in a corner tied, gagged and ready to be picked up by the police.
“That’s the last of them,” the pony Fluttershy said as she watched the injured Pokémon walk back into the caves beyond the Team Galactic base. She had spent the entirety of the battle pulling the most seriously injured Pokémon out of harms way and treating them to the best of her abilities. Both Midori’s group and the wild Pokémon had made it a top priority to protect her and the wounded she had tended to. “There were so many injuries to treat. Your friends did very well, though. My counterpart is just as kind and gentle as I could expect.”
Sunset Shimmer smiled as her friend came to stand next to her and they waved to the departing Pokémon. Some of them were newly freed from the grasp of Team Galactic, others were the Pokémon that had helped free them. All of them wore bandages with messages scrawled on them by the girls. Some even had party favors passed out by Pinkie Pie as she and her friends tended to their wounds. Every now and then Sunset Shimmer would get an empathic message from a Pokémon that came by to pat her shoulder in gratitude. Most of them were creatures she had fought alongside in the tunnels, some had simply heard of her exploits and saw a friend in her to share their victory with. She felt their emotions as they passed, and saw it written on their faces. They were scared and angry, but mostly grateful to be free.
“Rainbow Dash and her group took a beating,” Sunset Shimmer said. “They ran across some particularly violent grunts that chose to target them rather than their Pokémon. They had to call the other girls Pokémon for backup and fight their way to us.”
“You took a beating yourself,” Fluttershy said as she pointed to the bandages on Sunset’s torso and back legs. “You were worse off than your friends. At least they were able to walk back to the main cave.”
“Since I look like a legendary Pokémon, the enemy targeted me as the biggest threat, and the potions in this world don’t seem to work for creatures other than Pokémon. I’m glad I was able to contribute, though. Ponies are a lot sturdier than humans, and my empathic magic, while useful, isn’t exactly meant for combat. I would have had it worse if I weren’t a unicorn. Still, it’s hard to see something as awful as this. The feelings and thoughts I’ve gathered from the captured humans are just…”
She paused as she remembered the cruel, entitled attitudes the Galactic Grunts had toward everything outside of their organization. She didn’t feel like repeating the things she had seen in their minds just then.
“This is such a mess we’re in,” Fluttershy sighed as she lay down on the ground next to her friend. “I’m going to take a nap, if that’s Ok.”
“Of course,” Sunset Shimmer said as she smiled down at the pegasus. Her friend was asleep in moments. She pulled a blanket from her saddlebags and covered Fluttershy with it, her injuries aching despite the pain medicine she had brought with her from home. Wild Pokémon stood guard nearby, side by side with Midori’s Empoleon. Others were busy looting J’s supplies and destroying the sleeping quarters of Team Galactic. Sunset Shimmer wanted to sleep, but there were too many thoughts running through her mind.
“What do you think the purpose of this was?” said a voice from behind the unicorn, the question arising as if the speaker had read her mind. Sunset turned to see a human standing there. She knew it was the Sinnoh League Champion from the description her friends had given, but the woman’s sudden appearance was startling. She also knew that her friends had given Cynthia a simple explanation for her presence, leaving out all mention of alternate worlds, Arceus, and God’s Breath. Yet, Sunset Shimmer hadn’t planned on meeting the Champion so soon. She wasn’t sure what to say. Fluttershy shifted slightly, but remained asleep. Sunset Shimmer paused in shock, her mind racing even faster than before.
“I’ve met a few Keldeo in my time, but none of them could fly. None of them could move objects with telekinesis, either.”
“W-we are…” Sunset Shimmer stammered.
“I won’t ask who you are or why you’re here,” Cynthia continued. “I’ve learned from the girls that your mission is one of understanding. I could tell they were holding information back, but I trust them. Their kindness is sincere, as is yours, I’m sure. Be it cruel chance, or the mechanations of a third party, you find yourselves facing down the worst of humanity.”
Cynthia turned to look at the grunts, her eyes sad but determined.
“I will stay with these criminals until the police arrive. I’ve already put in a call to them.”
She looked down at Sunset Shimmer and their eyes met.
“I want to know, what do you seek to accomplish on this journey?”
“I…” Sunset Shimmer began. She looked back to the sleeping Fluttershy, then to Midori’s Empoleon guards standing sentry around the cave. One of them was looking at Cynthia, his eyes filled with respect. Sunset could tell from Cynthia’s tone that her question was aimed specifically at her. She considered her answer for a moment before responding. “I’ve lived among humans, as a human, for a while now. Some days I feel like I’ve known their cultures and societies all my life. They’re so much like my people. Other days, I can’t help but feel a bit confused and a little frightened. Are my friends truly like the humans of this world? And if so, to what degree? Do the people of my home share similarities with the humans of this world, too? I don’t know, but I want to find out.”
Cynthia’s smile brightened a bit at Sunset Shimmer’s honesty.
“Such daunting questions can weigh heavily on the soul. Know that Team Galactic does not represent humanity as a whole, nor do their allies in other regions.”
“Our next step will be to follow Giovanni. We’ll keep that in mind as we track him down.”
“Yeah, about that,” Pinkie Pie said as she walked up behind the two. She was typing away at the keypad on her Rotom-dex, the Pokémon buzzing and fidgeting every time Pinkie Pie pushed a key too hard. “All this fighting and surviving has been great and all, but we clearly need a fun break. I had to tone down the ‘Yay! ‘You’re Free’ party on account of all the injuries. It was more of a get-together, really. The closest party store is a long way from here, but it’s important that we get there as fast as possible. My hair’s gonna go flat if I don’t have some lighthearted fun soon, and that’s not gonna be good for anyone!”
“I would suggest you take a cruise, then,” Cynthia said. “I’ll be leaving for Hoenn in a few days to meet with Steven Stone at Ever Grande City. The ship I’m taking will be full of fun activities for you, with three nights of parties as we make our way across the sea. Would you girls like to join me?”
She looked from Pinkie Pie to Sunset Shimmer with a welcoming smile.
“I suppose, but Fluttershy and I will have to stay hidden,” Sunset Shimmer replied. “If you figured out we weren’t really Pokémon, then other people are likely to pick up on it as well.”
“Not exactly. I’m more versed in legendary Pokémon than most people, and if I vouch for you then you shouldn’t have much trouble fitting in. It would be an excellent opportunity for you to see a better side of our society, to ease your minds about your mission.”
“We accept!” Pinkie Pie shouted in excitement. “I’ve already got so many ideas running through my mind, I just know it’ll be a blast!”
Sunset Shimmer sighed in exhaustion as her friend ran back to the cave to tell the others.
“Do… do you mind if I take a nap, too?” Sunset Shimmer asked, as the weight of everything they had done that night finally caught up to her. Her eyelids were growing heavier by the second, and her aching body cried out for sleep.
“Of course not,” Cynthia replied, kindly. “My partners and I will keep watch alongside these stout guardians you’ve gathered.”
Sunset Shimmer lay her head down on the stone floor. She was fast asleep in moments, dreaming of home and friends.
Charles walked through the crowd of excited, exultant Pokémon as they cheered his name and celebrated the removal of Team Galactic from Mt. Coronet. For the first time in ages, he was smiling with genuine happiness. These Pokémon had taken a stand against the humans, and word of their accomplishment would spread far and wide. Others would be inspired to follow him by this victory. This felt like the first big step for his cause, but it was only a start.
“You’re amazing, Lord Charles!” a Clefairy yelled above the crowd.
“Now, now,” Charles said, humbly. “I simply sent you into the enemy’s midst. You are responsible for their destruction.”
“We’re already retaking the rest of the mountain, my lord,” an eager Machop said with a haphazard bow as he walked backward. He tripped over his own feet and fell. He froze for a second, mortified by his clumsiness. Charles reached a hand down and offered it. For a moment, the small Pokémon looked at the gesture in disbelief. Charles stood there, patiently waiting for his kindness to be accepted as he smiled down at his young follower. With tears welling up in his eyes, the Machop took Charles’ hand and was soon lifted to his feet. Charles felt that a physical gesture would be more meaningful to most Pokémon than simply being hoisted into the air with telekinesis, and he was right. If the Pokémon here admired him before, they loved him now and the cheering grew louder.
“I’m glad to hear that our work is ongoing,” Charles said as he paused to look at the small crowd around him. “I’m afraid I only came to provide you with support. There is a wide world out there, and much work to be done. I must leave within the hour, but all of you should feel proud for the things you have accomplished today.”
“The Pokémon here do deserve praise,” said the serious, somber voice of Midori. The Leafeon approached, twelve Empoleon and twenty-three wild Pokémon at his back. “They helped to bring down Team Galactic and end Pokémon Hunter J’s operations here for a time.”
“For a time,” Charles repeated, as he turned to face his adopted cousin. His voice, so full of warmth a moment ago, was now chilled and tinged with anger. He reached out with his mind and felt anger burning in Midori’s thoughts, too. He gave his cousin a small, surprised smile as he continued. “This weekend’s auction was called off so Giovanni could set this trap.”
“J was paid well for her troubles, and Team Rocket learned something new from our human friends.”
“You’re human friends,” Charles corrected.
“They come from a completely unrelated plane of existence to fight for our sake,” Midori replied. “In truth, fighting was not our intention for them. They were merely to be observers, giving a different perspective on the humanity of our world to offer to Arceus. You and Korish changed that, throwing them recklessly into danger. Yet they do not complain. They are our friends, and they deserve our praise. The Pokémon of Mt. Coronet can reclaim the portions of their home that were stolen from them and brace themselves for the return of our enemies thanks, in part, to our human friends.”
“I wasn’t aware that the House of Eevee referred to any human group as ‘our enemies’,” Charles said, seizing on his cousin’s phrase as he probed his emotional state.
“Team Rocket, and those like them are the enemies of all Pokémon. They are also the enemies of humans, the majority of which seek to live side by side with Pokémon in peace and friendship. Do not suggest such ridiculous things, cousin.”
Midori and Charles locked eyes, and the room stood silent around them.
“Sunset Shimmer and Fluttershy would say that these humans are cruel and misguided. They would call them enemies with the utmost reluctance. I sense none of that in you, Midori. Does the House of Eevee support these feelings, cousin?”
“No, they do not,” Midori said, finally breaking his gaze away from Charles’. He looked at the ground, and sighed. Ever since he had begun working in the world on his family’s behalf, Midori had walked with the utmost confidence despite his age. Now, he looked young, small and very scared. He reached up to the cut above his right eye with a careful paw and grimaced.
“What would your aunt say, Midori? What would your father say?”
“They would say that I am young and have much maturing to do,” Midori replied. “They would be right. They would also say that, despite the fact that these human criminals are our enemies, we should not fight them with hatred in our hearts.”
“Yet you do.”
“And I am wrong to. The girls leave for another region. Another of our kin will take up the challenge of guarding and guiding them.”
“And you? Will you not join me in stopping our enemies, cousin? I spared the humans here to hide myself from my creators. It is best to maintain the element of surprise, for now. Giovani’s newest enforcer has not gone unnoticed by me. Yet that will not be necessary for much longer. Soon, I will find a way to break her free of her bonds and we will make humanity suffer. You know my methods, and in your heart I can sense that you agree with them.”
“And in my heart I know that I am wrong,” Midori said, his voice filled with conflict. True to his reputation, he wouldn’t be budged easily once he had made up his mind, yet his desire to accept Charles’ offer was strong.
“Why do you reject my offer when I know you find it so appealing?” Charles said, the ground cracking beneath his feet as he subconsciously exerted his mind in anger and frustration. He wanted Midori to join him. He didn’t know why it was suddenly so important to have a family member on his side, but it was. Midori was powerful, capable, and respected. At this moment, Midori’s feelings toward humanity aligned perfectly with his own. Yet he refused Charles’ offer. Strange feelings were welling up in Charles that he barely understood.
“A large part of me wishes I could join you in your mad quest,” Midori said, his voice soft and angry. Charles could feel the Leafeon’s mind. Midori aimed far more of his anger at himself, rather than Charles. “Another part of me wishes I could follow those girls to the ends of the earth. They are compassionate and brave. Yet, so long as I harbor these feelings of hatred toward the human race I cannot in good conscience continue to serve those humans. I will return home and request to be transferred to God’s Breath.”
“Why would you deny yourself the chance to redeem your people? I will correct our world. God’s Breath goes to die on another! Why side with them when you want revenge so badly?”
“Just because I know that I’m wrong doesn’t mean that my feelings are so easily changed. I will purge this hatred from my heart through protecting humans, not hurting them. When you come to understand why I do this, you will be closer to understanding yourself.”
Charles watched him turn and leave, his retinue close behind. Rage built up within him, but as he looked to the terrified Pokémon still surrounding him he realized how he must look. He sighed, his features relaxing. He let go of his rage, but an ember still burned in his heart, ever present and blazing.
“Why won’t they help us?” the Clefairy that had spoken earlier asked.
“Because they have other values,” Charles replied. “Their altruism has led us to where we are today, with humans playing god, toying with our lives and taking them at their leisure. That will come to an end soon, my friends. Very soon.”