Breaking Down

by spitfirepanda

First published

The sequel to Arms of Arceus. In light of Infinity Energy, are the humans of the Pokémon world worth saving?

The sequel to Arms of Arceus. It's been eight months since Joan's meeting with Charles. God's Breath and Equestria are now embroiled in a heated debate. The question: in light of Infinite Energy, are the humans who reside in the Pokémon world worth saving? They must find an answer, for the Dark Arms have returned to Arceus and their influence on the god grows stronger every day.

Part 1: Prologue

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Space-time roiled in wild swirls of matter and anti-matter. Countless Unown swam through the void in never ending patterns, humming a song as they went. They sang it in three rounds that seemed to compete with and compliment each other at once. The first round was high pitched and optimistic, the second was soft and unsure, and the third was low pitched and foreboding. At the center of their formations was the eye of a vast storm. It moved and shifted through the void, its fury raging through the chaos at the heart of creation. At its center hovered the god, Arceus, with eighteen plates orbiting it in an uninterrupted circle.

One thousand long, golden streams of light moved around Arceus as the god considered its creation. They protruded from its abdomen, reaching beyond the eye to twist and manipulate the storm. Before Arceus sat its three children.

“What have you decided, lord?” Dialga asked, hesitantly.

“I have decided nothing. Why? Are you worried about the renewal of my dark armaments?”

“They have grown quite… outspoken since we last saw them, lord,” the Master of Time said as he watched the glowing, golden arms move to and fro.

“We worry that they may cause you to see things differently,” Palkia said, his head bowed defensively as if bracing himself for an attack.

“And what do you care for the humans, hmm? It wasn’t long ago that your battle with Dialga nearly destroyed an entire dimension.”

“The humans played a crucial role in stopping our feud…”

“Yet it was a Pokémon that sacrificed itself for the sake of those humans. If not for that Darkrai, your battle would have ended differently.”

“It doesn’t take away from the fact that the humans calmed us and saved their dimension from destruction. They also restored a timeline, repairing a friendship you held with a noble human.”

“That human is long dead, and his attitude hasn’t changed his species. Humanity has only grown worse since his passing.”

“This is what truly bothers us, lord,” Dialga said. “Lately, you’ve begun to speak of humans as if they’re… the enemy. The last time you did this…”

“I nearly killed the three of you,” Arceus said as it turned to face its third child. “Giratina, what say you?”

“I agree with my brothers, lord,” Giratina said from the shadows of the storm.

“That’s an interesting position coming from a Pokémon as violent as you,” Arceus said as it narrowed its eyes at the Dark Land Emissary.

“Violence is an integral part of nature. I am not alone in that trait, nor are the humans. Pokémon have killed humans in the past, and continue to kill humans now.”

“And how did that begin?” Arceus asked, pointedly. “Pokémon and humans have a long history together. They have an understanding of one another. They were once neighbors, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Though not all humans care to uphold this ancient pact, and despite young Charles’ attempt to canonize all Pokémon, many have realized what the humans are about on their own. This is why Ghost-types terrorize humans, why Jellicent and Dragalge sink ships that travel into their waters, and why carnivorous species will devour humans that enter their territory.”

“Not all individuals who kill humans are motivated by a hatred of humans,” Giratina said, softly. “Many do it because it is simply in their nature.”

“There are many Pokémon with inherent malice in their hearts,” Arceus said, thoughtfully. “This is true. Yet they are all bound by the pact to help humans when necessary. All Pokémon are taught this from birth, which is why they continue to present themselves to humans to this day. However, many despise humans and kill them when they see them.”

“Are you saying they do this intentionally, lord? That they have broken their pact out of spite and hatred, rather than survival of the fittest?”
“Some know of the humans’ sins, even if they are unaware of Infinite Energy. But their reasons are unimportant. It is their actions upon which they will be judged. Tell me of the ponies and the continuing debate in God’s Breath.”

“They are working day and night to figure out a solution to the human problem,” Palkia said. “They continue to debate the issues, though the Princesses of Equestria have yet to fully commit to a side. Even their ambassador, Sunset Shimmer, is troubled by the actions of the humans. They will never side with Charles, but they have discussed simply cutting ties with the Pokémon world altogether. Still, they are reluctant to leave their friends and will try to solve the problem first. To do that they must heal the rift caused by Charles’ messages to the Pokémon outside of God’s Breath. They are currently debating whether or not a test is in order.”

“What sort of test?”

“The human god, Von Doom, questioned whether all humans are the same across all multiverses. They are considering his question quite seriously, at the moment.”

“We humbly ask that you allow them to find their own conclusion, lord,” Dialga said, carefully. “It would not do to interfere.”

“I thought that myself not long ago,” Arceus said. “Now, I am unsure of the logic of being passive.”

The lords of space, time, and anti-matter looked to one another solemnly.

“Would you like to look in on today’s discussions of human culture, lord?” Palkia asked.

There was a moment of silence as the three gods hoped for their lord’s approval. Looking in on the constant debates and lectures in the Slowking College of God’s Breath and Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns in Canterlot were the only things that Arceus never grew tired of. So long as it was focused on the evolving debate, its thoughts were distracted from the strange nihilism that had invaded them lately. After a moment of staring up at the singing Unown, Arceus looked to Palkia and nodded. With a sigh of relief, the god of space opened a small portal allowing a one-way view into one of the lecture halls of the Slowking College. When that lecture was finished the four gods discussed its content until it was time for another lecture to begin, as they had done for the past eight months.

Though the Arms of Darkness had left him, Charles still felt their presence. Their residual evil crawled across his skin, like an invisible coat of water that threatened to drown him. This feeling had been worse when he had first embraced the dark arms. The utter hopelessness and raw hatred that had coursed through his veins had been unspeakable as the god had conquered his will. It was a memory that would always haunt his dreams, and his waking thoughts if he allowed.

The Arms of Darkness had wreaked chaos and escaped their prison. That had been their first goal. They had achieved that through the distraction of a universe embroiled in permanent warfare, and Charles’ desperation. He had fought the dark arms for control of his body for days after merging with them, and he had managed to change their mind. No longer did they want to disprove Feefee. There was no need, now.

They had achieved their third goal soon after abandoning their second goal, and had reunited with Arceus. Their influence was growing quickly, and Charles wasn’t sure what to think of it. On the one hand, he supported the idea of punishing the humans who had abused his Pokémon brethren for so long. On the other hand, the Arms of Darkness were spite and cruelty incarnate. They wouldn’t stop at punishing humanity, nor would they be swayed from their purpose. And they had grown powerful over the centuries. If not for the influence of the other two-thirds of Arceus’ arms, and the careful shepherding of the Creation Trio, the god would have certainly destroyed its creation by now.

Charles glanced to his right. A tiny, blue Gourgeist hovered above the ruined floor of Destroyer’s Grace. The Underworld had changed with the departure of Dark Arceus’ influence. The soft light of the moon shone down through the holes in the ceiling, illuminating the fortress’ inhabitants. Its light was forlorn, but somehow comforting for the Pokémon of the Underworld. The dark clouds that had once obstructed it were gone, and the wind that had perpetually blown through the Underworld had died out. War had ended. The Underworld was still and quiet, as if it joined the shades in their mourning. Now the Forces of Destruction could focus on their sorrows and the revenge Charles promised them.

“Why are you still here?” Charles asked.

“Because I still support your goals,” Korish said as she handed a note to a transparent, blue Heracross shade. With the loss of Dark Arceus’ animating fury, the shades in the Army of Destruction had become creatures of sorrow and regret. They were now melancholy, their eyes clear and self-aware. Some had chosen to pass on into the cycle of rebirth, to be replaced by a steadily increasing trickle of living Pokémon from the outside world who wished to serve Charles. Most shades had remained in the Underworld, serving their new master and patiently waiting for his plans to come to fruition. However, some shades had decided to transition into ghost-types. A group of newly formed Spiritomb circled the hole in the ceiling, moaning and howling their hatred in an ethereal melody as groups of Pokémon skittered about the ruin.

“You would still see humanity punished?” Charles asked Korish incredulously. “You would see them die? I thought you were trying to change.”

“I killed hundreds of humans on Battleworld. I’ve killed far more in our world. Far too many humans have died by my hands for the followers of Siebold to accept me so easily, though Joan still works to… improve my image.”

“So would you still see them die?”

“I’m not sure. If they all died I’d feel avenged, but then I wouldn’t be able to kill them any longer.”

“I’m hoping that you’ll learn to not want them dead at all,” Sunset Shimmer said as she walked through the doors of the throne room. Fluttershy walked close behind her, her head lowered nervously as she passed the Kyurem guardians.

“You’re going to be waiting a long time for that,” Korish said as she rolled her eyes.

“And what about you, Charles?”

“I hate humans,” Charles said, simply. “That’s not going to change. I’d like them all to be dead, but I might be persuaded to let them live. Assuming you can give me a good enough reason.”

“So, when do you wish to depart on our journey?” Korish said as she took a cup from a Swirlix shade that nibbled on a cookie as it balanced a tray on its head.

“We’ve been called back to Canterlot,” Fluttershy said, softly. “We should be back within the week. I’d like to leave then, if it’s ok with you.”

“Fine by me!” Korish said.

“I guess so,” Charles said with a sigh.

“You’d rather stay here?” Sunset Shimmer asked.

“Yes. But getting out might do me some good, too. Korish says I’ve been moping too much lately.”

“Fine. We’ll be back as soon as we can. Don’t go killing anything until then.”

“Don’t kill anything after we get back either, please,” Fluttershy said as she followed Sunset out the door. “Killing is really bad.”

“Are you sure you want them watching us like this?” Princess Cadance asked, nervously. The clock on the wall of the school’s conference room ticked softly as coffee brewed in the corner.

“I’m sorry, but it’s the only way to make Arceus happy,” Princess Celestia replied after taking a sip from her mug. “At least it only watches us while we’re discussing the ‘human problem’.”

They had shared this conversation before, and agreed that there was nothing anypony could do. The god was watching them daily to see what choices they were making. Fortunately, only the princesses and the Champions of Harmony had recognized Arceus’ presence, but the daily observance of their classes and debates was still unnerving.

It had been eight months since their return from Battleworld. Twilight Sparkle had been called back from her visit to God’s Breath early for an emergency meeting between the pony leaders. Relations between God’s Breath and Equestria had been growing colder over the past few months as Charles’ influence grew within the city and the Pokémon world outside. Celestia had insisted that this growing anger was not healthy, and should not be allowed to spread to Equestria.

The citizens knew of the situation. Details were provided when asked for, but as a whole Equestria had come out of the crisis only slightly bruised and bloodied. Though many were injured, relatively few casualties had been taken and the ponies hadn’t been forced into the existential crisis that the Pokémon had been. The princesses wanted to keep it that way.

“Well, we chose to sleep on my previous suggestion,” Princess Cadance asked. “What does everypony think?”

“Researching other worlds filled with humans sounds fascinating,” Princess Twilight said. “My friends think it’s a good idea, too. I just wish we could remember what we had learned of humanity from our previous adventure. Are you sure you don’t want to just tell us?”

“It was an adventure to be sure,” Princess Luna said, solemnly. “It was also a horror filled escapade. For the tenth time, the two of you are better off not knowing. It’s enough that Celestia and I have to bear with these memories, with only the professors of the Slowking College to relate to. Besides, we didn’t really learn much about humanity.”

“Your memories may return one day,” Princess Celestia added. “You are both still quite young, and your magic is still developing. For now, rest assured that we don’t exaggerate when we say that you’re happier not knowing. As for your plan, Cadance, I think that it is better than sitting around debating this day in and day out. It’s been eight months since we escaped Battleworld, and constant discussion clearly isn’t enough to solve this problem.”

“I agree with my sister,” Princess Luna said. “Cadance’s idea is a good one, though it will require quite a few resources and very careful planning.”

“All vote in favor?” Princess Celestia said as she raised her hoof and looked around the room.

“Aye,” the other three princesses said simultaneously.

“Then it’s settled. Are your friends ready, Twilight?”

“There’s only the matter of deciding who goes first. Beyond that, we’re ready.”

“How are they deciding it?” Princess Cadance asked.

“Rainbow Dash insisted on a test of skill, so she set up an obstacle course. She, Applejack, and Gilda are all getting ready. They’re going to start once I get back to Ponyville. If you three would like to watch it, you’re more than welcome.”

“What brings Gilda here? I didn’t think the griffons were getting involved any further.”

“She says that she’s going to set a good example for her people. She’s trying to show them that helping out of the goodness of your heart is better than helping for the sake of getting paid.”

“The griffons were paid handsomely in war trophies and jewels,” Princess Celestia said. “Though they were demanding far more than was… fair. If it weren’t for Gilda, they would still be protesting outside of the castle gates.”

“Then she should get the chance to continue helping us, should she not?” Princess Luna said as she stood from her seat and took her empty coffee mug to the faculty room sink. “She’s proven herself to be kind and caring. Besides, I’m eager to see this contest your friends are competing in, Twilight. If everyone is ready, shall we leave?”

“Of course!” Princess Twilight said, happily. She led the other princesses from the room as they talked excitedly about the event.

Chapter 1: Trials of Conquest

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Joan stood next to Gilda as they waited together in a large, sealed room. Behind them stood Ada and Laurel, Joan’s two Clefable friends and personal guards recently returned from a test run of the Slowking College’s newest machine. Their destination was an alternate earth where humans were the dominant species. There were no Pokémon, no griffons, and the ponies that lived there were nothing like the ponies that lived in Equestria. Visiting this new land was an exciting prospect. Joan didn’t know what to expect, but she hoped to find a happy society filled with new friends to make. If that were the case, then it would be just like Equestria and her argument against Charles would be more easily made.

“Professor Brian, are you sure this’ll work right?” Gilda asked as she casually stretched her wings.

“Not in the slightest,” Professor Brian said through the speakers. He sat in another room behind Joan and Gilda, separated by a wall of glass. Before him was a console with various screens hanging from the ceiling around him. “Ada and Laurel were separated in the other world, though they eventually found one another. I still don’t know what went wrong, but I suspect the same will happen this time.”

“We should have held hands,” Laurel said, nervously. “We were only separated by a few hundred miles, but it took forever to reunite while staying hidden.”

“And we didn’t learn much,” Ada said with a hint of frustration in her voice. “Except that the humans of this world have a similar level of technology to the humans of our world. They even had a talking car!”

“What was it saying?” Joan asked.

“Just numbers. I think it was counting the stars, though I didn’t stay long enough to find out. It was parked out in the street without a driver, and it sounded strangely… homesick, perhaps? I hope we find it again! I’d like to get a better look at it.”

Ada rubbed her chin in thought as she considered her encounter. Joan smiled, knowing that her friend’s curiosity and love of machines would lead her to find the car, or one like it.

“You must avoid all forms of interaction, even if it’s just with an automaton,” Princess Celestia said. “Joan can disguise herself. She’s the only one who should be talking to the locals directly. Your goals are to observe and find a suitable landing spot for us. Get the lay of the land. Form opinions on the humans for yourselves, and report back. Most importantly, as the first wave you must make way for the second wave which will, in turn, herald the arrival of God’s Breath and Canterlot. From there, we’ll begin the project in earnest.”

“With my psychic powers it should be easy for us to reunite, Gilda,” Joan added. “We’ll just have to stay safe and undiscovered until then.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m wearing a black riot suit instead of my normal armor. If we do end up in different places, it might do some good to explore separately for a bit so long as we stay in touch.”

“Your riot suit won’t have the protection of forged steel,” Rarity said through the speakers. “Still, you’ll look fabulous. Like a magical spy preparing to infiltrate the catwalk…”

“I still can’t believe you’re going in my place,” Rainbow Dash interrupted, her voice heavy with disappointment.

“I won that contest fair and square,” Gilda said with a grin as the Litwick that hung from her saddlebags cheered for her. “Isn’t that right, Pinkie?”

“You won by a teeny weeny itty bitty feather!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, happily. “That’s how much you beat Applejack by. Rainbow got caught up in the flooded cave.”

“That cave wasn’t just flooded, it was collapsing!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. “I got hit by a rock and my wings got wet… And besides, I wasn’t that far behind you two. Only a couple minutes.”

“Third is still third, Ms. Iron Pony,” Applejack teased as she crossed her front legs and grinned. “You just need a bit a’ practice, is all.”

Rainbow Dash grumbled at this, and Gilda stifled a laugh behind her wing. The pegasus had bragged about winning since the moment the obstacle course had been announced, only to come in last. Joan still felt a bit sorry for her, but she had seen the obstacle course. Gilda and Applejack had earned their places.

“The shield spell we used previously has been discarded in favor of increased flexibility and stealth,” Twilight Sparkle said, changing topics as she gave Rainbow Dash a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “We’re also out of petrified dragon fangs to use as enchanting focuses. We can’t replicate the enchantments we used on Octaria and Battleworld without one.”

“Cloth and steel is all we got this round,” Applejack said with the look of one eager for a challenge. Rainbow Dash had recovered from her disappointment, her face mirroring her friend’s excitement.

“It’s actually a miracle we had the first dragon tooth,” Princess Celestia said. “It takes thousands of years for dragon teeth to petrify. As such, they’re even more rare than actual dragons. Luna and I found it, shattered in pieces, in an abandoned nest when we were little, and held onto it. We never considered using it as a magical focus, though. That was Cadance’s idea. Even without the enchantment, I believe Rarity has devised effective protection for you.”

“I believe I have,” Rarity said, proudly. “I’ve weaved the fabric tightly, and reinforced it through three layers. It should be strong enough to reduce the impact of most projectiles. It also breathes quite well and doesn’t restrict movement. I only achieved this through sectioning the armor. Your vitals are the most protected, while the joints are more vulnerable. Still, I must say, it’s one of my best creations.”

“It is,” Princess Twilight agreed. “The enchantment you currently have will make your footsteps silent no matter what you’re walking on or how stealthy you move. It will also muffle your voice for anyone you’re not allied with so long as your flight helmet is on. You’ll be silent without even trying. And the spell won’t break unless the armor is completely destroyed. Any repairs you might make to it will pass the spell on to the new material. Any material you add will have to be cloth, though. It’s lightweight, but effective for your task.”

“That’s alright,” Gilda said, confidently. “The lighter the armor the quicker I’ll be. And I’ve got my two Litwick buddies to look out for me, too.”

The tiny Litwick cheered, their flames rising higher in excitement. Joan smiled down at them as she appreciated their warmth and enthusiasm.

“Our goal is simply to ascertain whether or not the humans we meet are valid subjects,” Princess Celestia said, calmly once the Litwick were done cheering. “We will observe them, and their societies, for a month. During this time, Sunset Shimmer and Fluttershy will get an idea of human society in the Pokémon world by pretending to be Pokémon. After a month we will decide if further observation is needed.”

“At least we’re not under the kind of pressure we were prior to Arceus reuniting with its evil side,” Princess Luna said. “The Creation Trio seem to have done a good job of keeping the god from straying onto darker paths.”

“Let’s hope it stays that way, majesty,” Professor Brian said as he pressed a button on his console. The next room was bathed in light as a swirling, ethereal vortex opened in the arches built into the wall.

Joan took Ada’s hand, who in turn was holding onto Laurel. With her other hand, she took hold of one of Gilda’s feathers. Their friends wished them well as they stepped into the world beyond.

“Sure enough, I’m all alone.”

The transition had been jarring. The Mega Gardevoir pulled herself up from the ground where she had landed and rubbed her sore head for a moment. Joan examined her surroundings carefully as she formed an illusion around herself. Her green hair turned into long, braided, brunette locks. Her elegant, white body became a simple brown dress that ended at her knees. Her green eyes became a brilliant hazel color. Her mind extended naturally, exploring her surroundings as she searched for friend and foe.

“I’ve lost the psychic connection with the others,” Joan thought as she accustomed herself to her surroundings. A scream echoed from behind her. Joan knew what was coming before it arrived. A small, black creature was chasing a woman down the alley Joan had arrived in. To the Pokémon, it looked almost like a miniature Mightyena with more drool and oversized teeth. Three more creatures bounded across the corner as the woman and her pursuers closed in on Joan.

“Run!” the woman yelled. “Move it!”

“Of course,” Joan said as she fell into step with the woman. The monsters howled angrily, snapping at Joan’s heels as she ran alongside her new companion. She saw a door cracked open, but as she reached for it a meaty, purple hand pushed it open. A creature stepped out of the building, snarling angrily as foam dripped from its tusks. Joan prepared an attack as it reached out with its thick, gnarled fingers. Before she could launch her psychic assault, the monster was pulled from the ground and thrown hard. It landed on top of the hounds, a painful crunching sound echoing through the alleyway as the dogs whined.

“Your father’s worried, Lois,” said the man who hovered before them. “He’s been trying to contact you for an hour. He called me out of desperation and I promised to find you. He’s got the other two creatures in a lab. They’re being dissected as we speak.”

“They were killed?” the woman asked as she pulled out a pen and pad.

“His soldiers were attacked. They were forced to defend themselves.”

“Ambushing the guards of a military base is a good way to get shot. At least these things aren’t too smart.”

“I don’t think they were looking for a fight,” the man in the sky said as his cape flapped in the wind. He looked down at the purple creature as it pulled itself off of the squirming, alien hounds. “I think they were just looking for food, and a place to hide, perhaps. There are more in hiding, elsewhere. That’s what Batman claims, at least.”

“They’re definitely not smart enough for a forward scouting mission,” said the woman named Lois. “Let’s talk more, later. I’ll head back to the military base and let my father know I’m alright.”

She turned toward Joan and quickly wrote something down on her notepad. Then she tore the page off and handed it over. Joan smiled excitedly as she took it, visions of possible futures and past events running through her mind. Their names came quickly. Visions of their deeds came to her as well, though she decided to explore those things later.

“This is my number,” Lois said with a smile. “I’m Lois Lane, reporter for the Daily Planet. I don’t think I need to introduce my friend up there.”

“No, it’s an honor to meet both of you,” Joan said as she took the paper.

“Call me tomorrow morning around nine. I’ll give you an interview for my story, Ms. …”

“Joan. My name is Joan Gardé.”

Laurel and Ada had miraculously arrived in the same town, though they were on different sides of it. They ran through the shadows, avoiding contact with humans as they explored the landscape separately. After several minutes of searching Joan’s voice came to both of them through telepathy, and she helped them find one another.

Laurel ran through the shadows as night cradled the town of Smallville, Kansas. The smell of fresh vegetables and fertilizer filled her nostrils as she ran through the farmyard. Some of those same vegetables were now held firmly in her arms as she approached the hillside where Ada was waiting. Her friend didn’t greet her as she approached, nor did she turn to face her. Laurel laid the food on the ground and followed Ada’s gaze to the top of the hill.

“Is something wrong?” Laurel asked. “Is that a car?”

“Shhh,” Ada said as she held up her hand for silence. Laurel had heard its engine as she approached, but she had been distracted by thoughts of food. A bright red sports car was illuminated by the moonlight. Light red kanji glistened on the car’s side just above its back tire. The car revved up slightly and drove down the hill to stop beside the Clefable.

“Hey little creatures,” the car said. “Are you from Earth?”

“Not this one,” Laurel said, simply.

“I saw you the other day,” Ada said, softly. “But you were in a city! Why are you here?”

“My commander said I needed the fresh air after… almost getting seen by humans during a drag race. I told him they just thought I was some guy in a sweet ride. I mean, they’d never suspect that the sweet ride they lost to was the guy who beat ‘em, right? Who cares if I bragged a little.”

“Some humans can be pretty clever. Can we drive with you, please? We’re kinda hiding from the humans too.”

“Sure. Why not? It’s not like I can make you forget this little conversation, anyway. Bee’ll understand.”

Ada’s eyes lit up and she squealed in delight as she climbed inside the car’s front seat. Laurel smiled as she ran around to the passenger side.

“The name’s Sideswipe, by the way,” the car said as he closed his doors and began to drive through the farmyard. “I’m a Cybertronian.”

“I’m Ada, and this is Laurel. We’re Clefable!”

“Good to meetcha’,” Sideswipe said as he entered the empty road. The three became friends quickly as they shared stories of battles and glory, friends and fun, and the information they had gained about this new world.

Chapter 2: Trials of Conquest

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Gilda pulled herself up and rubbed her head with a shaky talon. She had arrived on a brick roof under a clear night sky. In the distance were tall buildings and smokestacks blowing pollution out across a large industrial district. Even further out, across a long bridge, were skyscrapers with glass windows that glistened in the moonlight. To Gilda, the city across the bridge looked darkly pristine and inviting. She knew that her first job was to find food, and that city looked like a good place to start. Her two Litwick, Ichabod and Ebenezer, flew in circles above a building two blocks away from her. The mighty griffon spread her wings to meet them, but before she could take off a loud BANG caught her attention.

Gilda turned and flew to the other side of the building. The alley was pitch black and misty below her, but her eyes could see through the gloom easily. Three humans stood before two other humans who lay on the ground. One was small, a child. The other looked to be her father. A streak of red slid down the father’s face as he coughed uncontrollably. His daughter hugged him tightly and cried. The faces of their attackers were nonchalant and business like. There was no change in their expressions as they raised their weapons and shot the man on the ground.

“Papa!” the girl cried. One of the bullets had hit her arm and she recoiled against the wall. She squirmed as she screamed for her father, but Gilda could see that his wounds were fatal. His body slumped to the side. Two of his killers lowered their guns. The one standing in the middle aimed for the child’s head. Then, he and his friends looked up to the sky and froze.

Gilda was roaring her anger at the human’s cruelty as she pounced. The thugs raised their guns to shoot her but it was too late. She was among them like a predator before prey. With her front claws she forced them to the ground, tearing at them ruthlessly as she beat them with her wings. Though she was smaller, the humans couldn’t hope to match her strength or speed. Their guns were knocked from their hands before they had time to fire. It was only her griffon instincts, changed over generations of living in a land overseen by Princess Celestia that prevented her from tearing the thugs to pieces.

“You could have killed them,” said a haunting sing-song voice from Gilda’s left. She turned from the cowering humans to see her two Litwick, Ebenezer and Ichabod.

“They’re murderers, right?” Ichabod said, his voice a higher pitch than his older brother. Their words formed a perfect harmony together when they spoke in turn. “Your claws could end them easily.”

“Griffons have been a part of Equestria for so long, we don’t even eat meat anymore. Besides, my friends wouldn’t kill them.”

“So griffons are as kind as ponies?”

“No, not exactly. But some of us are trying to be better, and I’m trying to change my whole species. It’s… tough.”

“So you want to spare these humans, despite their awful behavior?” Ebenezer asked as he cocked his head to the side. “They’re fearful of us. Look!”

The Litwick pointed at the humans as they whimpered and searched desperately for salvation, but their guns were unreachable beneath Gilda’s talons. Behind her, the child had passed out from the shock of losing her father and the pain of being shot. Gilda sniffed the air. The criminal’s blood was pounding in their veins, and they were covered in a cold sweat.

“If we aren’t going to kill them, what do you want to do with them?”

“You guys couldn’t make them forget about us, could you?” Gilda asked.

“Nope,” Ichabod said. “That’s psychic-types.”

“We can confuse ‘em though!” Ebenezer said with a sinister grin. The two Litwick raised their tiny hands in the air and cast Confuse Ray on all three of the thugs. Gilda held one of the men down as he struggled to swipe at his friends. The other two men ran into each other and screamed at hallucinations in the sky as they tried to run out of the alleyway.
“Pull out everything they’ve got in their pockets,” Gilda said as she began rifling through her captive’s clothes. A siren began to sound from down the street. “What’s that noise?”

“Probably the police,” Ichabod said as he took the keys and wallet from the bumbling man below him.

“Leave their weapons,” Gilda growled as she took the man’s belongings and ran into the shadows. Her Litwick obeyed, dimming their flames and hiding behind a large trash bin.

A pair of flashing red and blue lights stopped just beyond the corner of the alleyway. Slammed doors and footsteps announced the arrival of three humans with guns drawn. They looked the scene over and cursed. One of the officers bent down to pick up the girl. As she carried the child to the car her partners struggled to handcuff the confused humans. One of them lay down and allowed himself to be cuffed, only fighting back once he realized what he had done. By then it was too late. The other two mumbled intermittently, hitting their heads on the walls and crying as they were forced into the restraints and lead to the police cars. Gilda heard the words “griffon” and “candle monsters” as the men were dragged away.

The man on the ground watched the officers leave, panting as the confusion began to wear off. His eyes lit up as they turned to the guns and Gilda could see his mind working frantically. He was extremely skinny and his handcuffs appeared loose on his wrists. The police had made a terrible mistake, and the thug smiled as he carefully freed one of his hands. He reached for a gun, and paused as Gilda growled from the shadows. She stuck her head out from behind the trash bin and stared at the criminal. Though her angry, golden eyes were all he could see of her it was enough. His face pale with fear, the man lay his head down and forced his wrist back into the restraint. Gilda hid once more as the police returned. They pulled the man to his feet and dragged him off.

“He would have shot them if it weren’t for you,” Ebenezer said, softly.

“What were those humans thinking?” Gilda growled. She had been furious at the criminals, and now she was furious at the police as well. She leapt into the air and perched atop the building to her right to watch the cars leave. “That was the dumbest, most pathetic mistake I’ve ever seen any professional make!”

“Well, I guess that’s why this place is such a dump. They didn’t even have someone stand guard over the crime scene! They just left it as it is!”

“Why did we pick their pockets, again?” Ichabod asked as he looked through the wallet in his hands. Papers and receipts fell out haphazardly. A series of photos hung limp from the inside of the wallet, their subjects dour and unhealthy with phone numbers written next to their heads. “I don’t think these are his family members.”

“Those guys were probably just goons,” Gilda said as she sifted through her own pile of goods. “They work for someone. If we have their stuff, we might be able to find out who they work for and watch them.”

“You’re really choosing these guys as our subjects?” Ebenezer said as he scowled in disgust at a poorly written note. “Surely there are better people to watch, right?”

“You gotta take the good with the bad. We’ll find people in the good parts of the city to examine, too. I’ll bet their leader lives there, somewhere.”

“Well, at least we won’t be found out. Those guys were acting pretty crazy. I doubt they’ll be believed if they say anything.”

“We’ll step in only when lives are at risk,” Gilda said as she looked down at the dead man below her. She fought back tears as she turned her face away from the crime scene. “Come on. Let’s follow those cops.”

Gilda led her friends from building to building, sticking to the shadows as she ran through the night. These criminals had made a child fatherless because of greed, and they were likely just small fries. There were worse people in this city. That thought burned in Gilda’s mind from day to day as she observed Gotham from the shadows.

“This place is wonderful,” Joan said through the psychic link. The Mega Gardevoir’s words entered Gilda’s mind almost as if they were her own. It felt strange, but not as strange as the clear contradiction of experiences. “The first night here I met a young reporter and a man with superpowers. They both work quite hard to find the truth and defend the innocent.”

“That’s Superman and Lois Lane, right?” Gilda said, a bit weary from three nights of observing a city of evil. “I found a paper called the Daily Planet in a trash can yesterday. They were both in it.”

“They’re wonderful people. I met Superman again yesterday as I set up my palm reading booth. His real name is Clark Kent, which is public these days, but it didn’t used to be. His future was rather murky, as if something dark was blocking my sight. He confronts such evils on a regular basis, though. He didn’t seem too surprised. Oh, and I got to see him fight a monster! It was a giant snake creature, presumably alien. What have you been doing?”

“I stopped four murders yesterday,” Gilda said with a hint of jealousy in her voice. She was glad for Joan, but wished that her experiences had been as positive. “The majority of the creeps I’ve seen are working for someone named Black Mask, but that’s just because we’ve made our base in his part of town. We send all the thugs we catch away in confusion, acting like lunatics. So far, both the gangs and the authorities think it’s the work of a villain named Scarecrow testing a new chemical. There’s a group of people dressed like bats who patrol this place, too. They’re crime fighters. I’ve had to hide in the clouds to keep from being spotted, but I think the bat people still suspect something. We need to get in touch with Canterlot soon.”

“You don’t sound like you’ve had the best time of it,” Joan said as Gilda’s frustrated voice momentarily pierced her excitement. “So, you, uh… found some bad people?”

“I found a city full of bad people,” Gilda said with a heavy sigh. “There’s a gang war brewing, too. That’s why the crooks are so active. The first murder I saw was the result of a shop owner refusing to change sides. The cops are spread too thin, and the news is reporting that they’ve had to take on rookies to…”

She paused to watch three police cars race down the street. They followed a car with two passengers who hung out of the windows, guns blazing. A hail of bullets passed through the windshield of the closest police car. It swerved out of control and crashed into a dilapidated building, forcing the ones behind it to move out of its way. Gilda scowled as she watched two officers run from one of the unharmed cars to help their comrades while the other functioning vehicle raced forward.

“One sec,” the griffon said, her feathers and fur bristling as she scowled at the fleeing car. “I gotta take care of something.”

She spread her wings and took flight, ignoring Joan’s questions as she dove down to the street. She soared through the shadows of the night, catching the speeding car easily. Without a moment’s hesitation, she raised her claws and slashed the back right tire. Then she dove into an alleyway, avoiding the gunfire from the thugs as their car spun out of control. She read a single word on the mouth of the nearest thug. With a grin, she ducked back into the shadows and disappeared from sight. The car’s momentum pushed it into a roll as the criminals in the windows were thrown out.

“Are you sure this isn’t going to blow your cover?” Joan asked, nervously. Gilda could feel the Gardevoir looking through her eyes. It was a strange experience, like having a pair of glasses on that she couldn’t see.

“Relax. I’m dressed in black and grey and I’ve begun positioning my wings so they look like a cape behind me. Gotham thinks those bat people are responsible for the things me and the Litwick do.”

“You mean Batman and his family. They’re the local superheroes.”

“Right,” Gilda said as she watched the thugs struggle on the ground. They had both managed to land on their sides and roll with the impact. Their injuries weren’t serious, but they weren’t moving fast enough to escape the police. The third car drove forward, stopping next to the criminals. The officers jumped out and quickly began to subdue the thugs. They were still reeling from the crash as they were handcuffed and the officers moved to pull the driver out of the overturned car.

“I’ve seen those guys a few times. The bat family, that is. They’re impressive, but they’re just human.”

“They fight dangerous criminals and face incredible danger while being ‘just human’. They don’t have the natural abilities we take for granted, and they don’t kill. Doesn’t that make them more impressive?”

“It does,” the griffon admitted. “Humans aren’t very strong without their weapons and tools. Refusing to kill when faced with the criminals of this city is a further handicap, too.”

“See? You’ve found a bright light in a dark place.”

Gilda began to respond, to join Joan in her optimism for the first time since arriving in this strange new world, but a noise up the street stopped her before she could form the words. A loud engine screeched down the through street, stopping just before the accident. A man with a gun climbed out and opened fire, forcing the police to hide behind the overturned car. The two criminals on the ground struggled to their feet as the officers drew their weapons and returned fire. The man they had been trying to handcuff charged into them, knocking them to the ground before joining his friends in running through the now open door of the new car.

There were screams as the thugs called for the driver to move. The gunman cheered as one of his bullets hit home, and an officer fell onto his back grasping his side in pain. Gilda saw this as she reached the rooftop and took the sky. The car shot forward, its tires screeching as the gunman barely made it back in. The man leaned out of the window, his eyes searching the shadows. Gilda knew he was searching for her on the advice of his friends, but the shadows of the murky street hid her well. She landed on their rooftop and tore a large gash in it before he could spot her. Bullets tore past her from the panicked men inside, forcing her to jump off of the vehicle. Ebenezer and Ichabod appeared next to the tires, flying alongside the car as it sped down the street.

“What are you two doing here?” Gilda asked as she dodged the gunfire from the car. “I told you to watch the Bat Family!”

“The guy called Batman is out of town on business,” Ebenezer yelled as a hail of bullets passed through him, lighting on fire on their way through his body and exploding on the brick wall behind him.

“He works with the Justice League,” Joan said through the psychic link, her mind already having joined with the two Litwick. “Superman is gone, too. Ms. Lane says that he leaves on League business now and then.”

“What are you doing? Making friends over there?” Gilda asked as she dove down to the ground to grab a brick and throw it at the gunmen. They scrambled to escape the projectile, but the men in cuffs were too slow. Gilda’s brick hit one of them in the shoulder, and he screamed in pain. Her attack had succeeded in disrupting the gunfire, however, and she was quick to take advantage of it. She flew low to the ground to follow the car just behind its bumper.

“Burn their tires!” Gilda yelled as the gunfire resumed, more erratic and desperate than before. Ebenezer and Ichabod obeyed, pointing their flames at the sides of the car and letting loose. The criminals were forced to the center of the vehicle to avoid the twin Flamethrowers. The car turned sharply to the right, passing through Ichabod as it smashed into an electric pole.

Gilda caught the three men who were thrown from the car and slammed them to the ground. The Litwick pulled the other two free. All of the criminals were unconscious from the impact, but still breathing.

“What are you going to do with them, now?” Joan said through the psychic link. She sounded worried, as if she could read Gilda’s emotions. Gilda suspected she could. At that realization, the griffon took a deep breath and calmed herself. Her anger and disgust faded, but with each look at the humans those emotions threatened to return.

“I’m…” the griffon said as she looked back in the direction they had come from. There was no sign of the police, though there was a large, blue and white truck parked several yards down the street. She wasn’t sure it had been there when the chase had ended. It seemed unoccupied, but Gilda couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. “I’m just gonna ask them some questions.”

“Gilda…”

“We’ll talk again later,” Gilda said. She focused on her surroundings, forcing the telepathic connection to the back of her mind. Joan’s voice disappeared, though her presence remained. It was a method Joan had taught her to signal that she wanted privacy. Though it wouldn’t hold up to a forceful intrusion of her mind, this was a signal that all decent psychic-types respected out of courtesy.

“What do we do with them now?” Ebenezer asked as he and his brother stared down at the unconscious humans. The Litwick had curious, almost angry looks on their faces. Gilda chose to ignore it as she began lifting the humans and putting them on her back.

“Get the rest on,” she said after the second human. They smelled of smoke and hard cider, making her stifle a gag as she moved them over her head. “We’re gonna get a better idea of this city, and these creeps are gonna help us.”

Chapter 3: Trials of Conquest

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Joan sat at her palm reading booth before the Daily Planet. The citizens of Metropolis walked briskly down the street behind her as they made their way to work. A chorus of car horns announced the arrival of the morning commute. Joan couldn’t help but smile at the liveliness of the city. There was a surprising lack of tension here, despite the many threats the city and its world had faced over the years. God’s Breath had been like this during King Siebold’s reign. It was only the years leading up to his death, when his people knew that his time was short, that fear and uncertainty had begun to slowly arise. The presence of the Equestrians had abated some of those fears, but not completely. Now, with Charles commanding a growing base of support in the city, fear was a daily part of life.

In Joan’s hands she held a resume, prepared the day before with the help of Lois Lane. It was a simple job to apply for. She would be Lois’ assistant, never to leave the Planet on official business but always there to take notes and calls for Ms. Lane when needed. There had been reports of alien creatures appearing all over the world in the last four weeks. They were all strange, all from different species and different worlds, and all desperately fleeing their homes for places unknown. Joan had predicted the last twelve major incidents across the world down to the last detail, and the last four incidents in Metropolis. Lois had reported on every prediction she had made, and offered her the job as a result.

Joan wanted to take it, but she was worried about Gilda. The griffon’s future was too dark to see clearly. It was the same with the members of the Justice League, and the Cybertronian Ada and Laurel had brought to Metropolis.

“Still no word on Clark,” Lois said from behind Joan. She sat down and handed her new friend a cup of coffee. “Any important visions today?”

“Not yet, but it’s still early.”

Joan took the coffee gratefully and used it to swallow three Ibuprofen tablets she had been holding onto. She had slept on the streets over the past four nights, buying food and clothing with the money she had earned from palm reading. Her income had been such that she had been able to feed the homeless humans she had encountered. Now that the Daily Planet had published her predictions of alien invaders, she was on track to become a global phenomenon. It was just one more stress stacked on top of so many. Gilda’s predicament worried Joan the most, not because she feared the griffon would come to hate humans. If she was a friend of the Champions of Harmony then she had a good heart. No, Joan feared that her impression of humanity, and her report to the princesses, would become jaded, and Equestria would withdraw from God’s Breath’s quest for an answer to Charles.

“Are you sure you don’t want to sleep in the building?” Lois asked, with a concerned frown. “You were up pretty late, last night.”

“You… saw me?” Joan said, a bit disconcerted at being watched.

“I had to work late on the alien story. Word is there are entire fleets fleeing through our solar system, hiding from each other and us. And you were walking around in public, right outside my window. Mind if I ask who you were talking to?”

“I was talking to a friend,” Joan replied, a bit embarrassed. She had forgotten about her surroundings in her excitement. “We’re connected telepathically. She’s in Gotham, right now.”

“You move your lips when you talk telepathically?”

“We move our lips when we talk through our mouths. That’s a habit that sometimes carries over to telepathic communication, especially for those who aren’t telepathic. I guess, since most people I talk to aren’t telepathic I’ve picked up that habit, too.”

“So this friend of yours isn’t psychic? What does she do?”

“She’s a… reporter.”

“She hear anything newsworthy?”

“There’s a gang war brewing in Gotham. With the alien attacks on the rise, the GPD is having difficulty dealing with the criminal factions. They’ve taken casualties, injuries, the cops are overworked, and they’ve just enlisted two barely trained recruit classes to makeup for the shortage of manpower.”

“GPD recruits are the best in the world. They have to be.”

“They’re still recruits making mistakes. They aren’t trained enough, and something terrible is coming. I can feel it.”

“Any idea what it is?” Lois asked as she turned her head and frowned.

“Just a face shrouded in darkness. Nothing more. My third eye is limited, I fear. Stress, exhaustion, and worry will do that.”

“Perhaps we can increase that sight of yours,” said a cool, confident voice from their right. A long, black limousine had parked beside the sidewalk and a man in a slick back suit had just stepped out of it. Lois had watched the car drive up while Joan had been speaking. Joan had felt the passenger’s presence as his car approached the Planet, but his thoughts were a jumbled mess, as if he were somehow jamming her from reading his mind.

“What do you want, Luthor?” Lois asked as she scowled angrily at the approaching billionaire.

“To solve this mystery, of course,” Lex said with a sly grin, his hands held behind his back. “I thought that, between us, Ms. Joan and I could solve the problem easily.”

“Of course you did,” Lois said, sarcastically.

Joan looked the man up and down, still trying to read him. His thoughts were no louder than anyone else, but they were unintelligible. His smirk told her not to trust him, as did Lois’ attitude. Still, she would rather know his mind before deciding how to proceed. She rubbed her temples and took another sip of coffee as Luthor’s jumbled thoughts ran through her mind. Then, suddenly and shockingly, they stopped. Two words, spoken in Luthor’s voice, replaced the gaggle of information for a brief second.

“I know.”

Joan lifted her head out of her hands and looked Lex in the eye. He still wore his arrogant smirk, but one of his hands had moved. His right hand was now inside of his jacket. Joan heard a mechanical click, and the noise of his jumbled thoughts returned. With a sly smile of her own, Joan stood and faced Lex. A red sports car drove up next to them and parked in front of the limousine.

“I’ll gladly go with you, Mr. Luthor,” Joan said as she walked to the door of the car. “However, I’d rather take my own transportation.”

Lex looked at the car, a sudden uneasiness flashing across his face for a moment before his arrogant smirk returned.

“Very well,” Lex said as he turned back to his limousine. “You may follow me to my mansion. I look forward to our meeting.”

“I’m going with you,” Lois said immediately. She walked toward the car, a determined look on her face, but Joan held up a hand to stop her.

“It’s alright,” Joan said with a confident smile. “I think I should meet with Mr. Luthor alone.”

“You don’t know what he’s capable of,” Lois said, angrily.

“I know what I need to know. I promise to tell you everything when I return.”

Lois opened her mouth to continue her protest, but Joan was already entering Sideswipe. All that the reporter saw was a naive young woman entering the back seat of a powerful sports car. Joan waved goodbye as Sideswipe pulled into the street behind Lex Luthor’s limousine.

“Are you sure about this?” Ada asked from the front seat. “Ms. Lane sounded pretty worried.”

“Yeah, this guy is bad news,” Sideswipe said. This was the second time Joan had ridden with him. He was a good person, if brash and arrogant. Though it had taken some thought after her first ride to decide that he wasn’t actually a ghost-type in disguise. She had told him this the next day. Sideswipe had laughed and told her that she was as strange to him as he was to her, but he was still happy to have met other travelers in this human-controlled world.

“What do you know of him?” Joan asked. Laurel and Ada had become fast friends with the Transformer, and she found herself following suit.

“He’s been in prison a few times. He’s a genius. Like, Shockwave level genius. He’s also a control freak, and he runs most of the city.”

“I couldn’t read his mind. He was blocking me, somehow. He only let me hear two words. He said ‘I know’.”

“He knows?” Laurel asked. “About us? But how?”

“I bet it’s a machine he’s built,” Ada said, more excitement than concern in her voice as Sideswipe followed the limousine through the gates of Lex Luthor’s manor house. “I bet we can sneak into his complex and get a good look while you talk, Lady Joan!”

“I don’t plan to stay long, Ada. I want us all ready to leave when I’ve confirmed some things.”

“What are you confirming, exactly?” Sideswipe asked as he came to park before Lex’s front door.

“I simply want to see how much he knows,” Joan replied. “And if he can be reasoned with.”

Sideswipe opened her door and she stepped out onto the grounds of Lex’s estate.

“Greetings, Madam Joan,” Lex said as he led his guest to a circular table on his veranda. “Would you care for some wine? I have a bottle of the finest prepared.”

“I’m not much for wine, I’m afraid,” Joan said as she accepted the chair his servant offered. A bright, red umbrella sat in the center of the table, though there was something off about it. Joan’s intuition told her to be careful of everything Lex offered her, though King Siebold had taught her at a young age to always seek the good in others. As such, it was in her nature to be trusting when dealing with people for the first time. But the feeling of danger was so strong with Lex, and the events of Octaria and Battleworld had scarred her subconscious so greatly, that she felt a lack of caution would be insane.

“A glass of water, perhaps?” Lex asked, his confident smile never fading. “Or cola? I also have a chef on standby to prepare a meal for us, if you would like.”

“What I would like is to get down to business. You blocked me from reading your mind only to give me a very pointed, very direct message.”

“I know,” Lex said.

“And what is it you know, Mr. Luthor?”

“I know that you are an alien yourself. I’ll admit, I don’t know what you, or your drivers look like, but I know that it isn’t human.”

“And what set you off to our deception?”

“You’ve been riding around in that car for the past three days. I believe that it’s part of a scouting mission from another world. There are others like it. My satellites have picked up seven, so far. They’ve seen life signs from vehicles without occupants. This would only make sense if these vehicles were, themselves, alive.”

“Perhaps your satellites are malfunctioning,” Joan, said as she felt Sideswipe’s fear and anger rise.

“Please, calm yourself friend,” Joan begged as she connected to Sideswipe’s mind. It always felt strange and mechanical when connecting to the minds of steel-types, a trait that Cybertronians shared. She could feel his desire to transform and tear apart Lex Luthor’s estate. She could also feel the presence of a dozen people, their minds blocked from her the same way Lex’s mind was. The only thing she could sense from them, intentionally she guessed, was that they were soldiers with high-powered weapons, and their sights were all trained on her and Sideswipe.

“He knows too much,” the Autobot said. “I haven’t even told you guys about the scouting mission, yet!”

“Is the car worried?” Lex said, casually. “Its lights began flashing when I mentioned its fellows.”

“Yet you don’t know where they are,” Joan replied confidently.

“What makes you think that?”

“I can’t read your mind or the minds of your henchmen, but I can still see the past and future. I can see you discovering my friend and his compatriots. You were shirtless, fresh from a sparring match with a martial artist named Jack Monroe. You defeated him easily, despite his world-class status. You outthought him, saw an opening as he attempted to leave the grappling position and take the match back into a standing position. He had attempted to take you with a kimora, had moved into a mounting position which you had reversed…”

“I get the point,” Lex said, his confidence faltering slightly. “You can know my past if you wish to, down to the tiniest detail. I have no way of blocking your sight from this, currently.”

“I also know that the night you discovered my friend and his comrades was the night of their arrival in your world,” Joan continued. She furrowed her brow in concentration as she worked through her visions. “You caught two of them on camera, my friend and the one with two smaller bots that ride with him. I believe his name is Drift.”

“You believe? That implies you don’t know for sure.”

“Not all details are easily seen. So many events happen in a day to any given person that serious meditation is often required to separate the important from the trivial. What I can gather now is, admittedly, tiring without a proper circle or access to a Center.”

“Which explains why your demonstration just now didn’t have much pertinent information,” Lex said, his confident smile returning. “I’ll also assume that, thus far, you’ve been too occupied with foreseeing the alien threat to look into me, much.”

“I do have my own problems to attend to,” Joan said. Sideswipe’s anger had subsided considerably, though she could feel his fear and distrust of Lex. “If you don’t want me to turn my attention to you, I suggest you don’t give me a reason to.”

“This meeting isn’t going as I had planned,” Lex said as he poured himself a glass of wine. “We got off topic.”

“That was caused by your poor attempt at blackmail.”

“I merely wanted your help in securing the safety of my world. I’ll admit, my means were a bit underhanded, but Earth’s greatest ‘heroes’ are currently gone. All we have are their understudies, who have no idea how to deal with this strange migration. If I may ask, what do your visions tell you of it?”

“Only that these species are fleeing for their lives from something dark and evil. Some of the alien fleets are a threat. This is true. Though I give you my word, I won’t allow your planet to be destroyed.”

“And you have the power to protect us all by yourself?” Lex asked incredulously.

“I am a general in a grand army,” Joan said as she rose from her table. “My people are diverse and powerful, as are our allies. Though we currently have a dispute to be settled, none of my kind wishes to see innocents die.”

“Fascinating,” Lex said as he swirled his wine around in its glass. His smile had changed. There was a strange fervor to it now, an anger Joan had not expected. “I do wish to protect my species, I truly do. You have given me much to think on. You may leave.”

He walked to the doors of his mansion, which opened automatically at his approach. He didn’t so much as look back at Joan before entering his house and leaving her sight.

“I think you may have told him a bit much,” Ada said as politely as she could on the drive through the gates. “I mean, I know it wasn’t much but for a guy like that it was probably enough to be dangerous.”

“I only wanted to reassure him…” Joan replied, though she couldn’t help but agree. “Now his future is dark and muddled, as well.”

“At least the second wave is coming in a week. That’s good, right?”

“Our preparations aren’t complete, though,” Laurel said, a note of concern in her voice. “We’ve barely even started!”

“What’s this ‘first wave’ and ‘second wave’ business about anyway?” Sideswipe said. “No offense, but it sounds like plans for an invasion.”

“We only wish to understand humans better,” Joan replied, reassuringly. “Take us for a long drive and we’ll tell you all about it.”

The four friends drove for hours, sharing stories and laughing. The Pokémon told Sideswipe all about the humans of their world and their quest to understand humanity better. When they explained that the future of Pokémon-Human relations relied on the answers they found, Sideswipe quieted down, prompting Joan to ask if he knew about humans in his own universe. He gave a short, uncomfortable laugh and changed the subject to Cybertronian racing equipment. Ada eagerly took this up. Joan decided she had talked enough for one day as she fell asleep in the back seat.

Chapter 4: Trials of Conquest

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Batman stood on top of the alien creature’s body. It was metallic and covered in rust, just like the rest of its kind. Next to him knelt Cyborg, cables hanging out of his left arm as he stared down at the creature in silence. He had been connected to the beast for the past five minutes as he searched through whatever software it ran on for answers to its origins.

“Anything yet?” Batman asked impatiently.

Cyborg didn’t answer, just as he hadn’t the last two times Bruce had asked. His human eye was closed as a series of strange, repeating algorithms ran down the holoscreen projected by his right arm. Bruce had examined them for a while and quickly noticed a pattern. Every fourth formula in each algorithm was incomplete. He had quickly written down the pattern and was busy trying to decode the missing sequences. The sound of fighting echoed across the alien plain in the distance. Clark, Diana, and Hal were busy too.

“Come in, Flash,” Batman said through his com-link. There was static as the Flash spoke from the other side of the world.

“Rodger, and no, there isn’t much here that we haven’t already seen, just more signs of reckless cutting and running. I’m headed you’re way now.”

“We’ve found four separate alien civilizations in ruins, their populations having left in a hurry. This makes four abandoned planets crawling with these giant robots, plus the reports we’ve received from other Green Lanterns patrolling this sector.”

“They’re not just robots,” Cyborg said as his human eye opened and he struggled to his feet. “They’re sentient, like a race of barbarians with rust covered, steel skin. They even have souls, if you want to call it that.”

“Are you alright?” Barry said as he appeared next to Cyborg. He helped his companion steady himself. Victor nodded in appreciation, his face turning pale. Rust had appeared on his cybernetic armor, not unlike the rust from the monster beneath his feet. “You don’t look so good.”

“These things are invaders,” he said as he rubbed his head. “They’re called Rust Giants, and they’re the harbingers of something much worse.”

“The Lanterns are scrambling to contain the threat while we find the source,” Hal said through the com-link. There was pain and stress in his voice amid the sounds of battle. “Please tell me you’ve found something useful! Things are… a bit hairy over here.”

“Nothing. Not even a name, just bad feelings. I was falling through an endless, chaotic well of numbers. That’s all I remember.”

“What about the algorithms?” Batman said. “Do you know how to complete them?”

“No idea. I saw the algorithms as I fell. It was like something was trying to hammer them into my head. I might have seen the answers, but I can’t recall them if I did. Maybe… at the bottom of the well…”

“Knowing the answers to this question might solve a lot of problems in the future.”

“If you’re thinking of sending Victor back in that thing’s head, don’t,” Hal said through pained breaths. “Get away from that giant you’re on and get the ship ready. I’ve got injured in tow.”

“Injured?” Barry said as he looked to the sky. Hal was flying in as fast as he could, Diana and Clark held in a construct bubble behind him. They were on their knees, Diana holding her neck just above the collarbone and Clark holding his hands over his stomach. “Are they… bleeding? I know these things are tough, but…”

“Less talking, more running, Barry!”

“Flash, move it!” Batman yelled from the ground below.

He and Cyborg were already weaving through the bodies of the fallen Rust Giants as they made for the space ship. Barry looked down at the robot he stood upon in confusion. Only then did he notice the glowing, purple light coming from the holes in the giant’s armor. The giant’s one remaining arm twitched. Then the whole body shivered. Other nearby giants followed suit. Several had already risen to their feet and begun shambling toward the fleeing humans. A massive hand reached for Barry, but he was long gone by the time it closed.

“What’s going on?” he yelled amid the mechanic noises of the giants. He was running next to Batman and Cyborg now, fighting alongside them as more monsters began to shamble into their path. “These things were all dead!”

“They’re not dead now!” Cyborg said as he dodged a massive axe. It’s edge dripped with a dark purple liquid that splashed on Victor’s leg as he blew a second hole in the monster’s chest. Hal released Clark and Diana so they could fight alongside their friends. Their wounds dripped with the same viscous fluid that had suddenly coated the giant’s weapons, but the two warriors fought on. Together, the Justice League cleared the area around their space ship and boarded it quickly.

“More inbound,” Batman said from his control console. “Multiple ships locking onto our position. Green Lantern!”

“Already on it,” Hal said through gritted teeth over the com-link. He was outside of the ship, blowing the giant’s enormous, rusted star destroyers out of the sky. It wasn’t an easy task, though. Each ship was over twenty miles long, and almost as wide. It took multiple shots to bring one down, and even then, they would quickly regenerate and rejoin the battle. Even the most heavily damaged ship regained its heading to continue the chase. Still holding the bleeding cut in his stomach, Superman left the ship to help clear a path with his heat vision. Along with the piloting skills of Batman and Cyborg and support fire from Wonder Woman’s gun turrets, they were able to create a large enough hole in the enemy fleet to escape.

“What is this stuff?” Superman said as he looked at the sterile rags Batman had used to clean his, and Wonder Woman’s wounds. “One second their axes can barely scratch my suit, next second they’re oozing purple liquid and carving me open like a turkey.”

“It has a strange energy signature,” Batman said from the lab counter. He stood over a microscope, staring down at the petri dish underneath the lens. “Its composition is just as strange. It resembles red blood cells in some aspects, but it also resembles rocket fuel, for lack of a better comparison. Though it makes both substances look weak and ineffective. I’ve never seen anything like it, but I assume this is responsible for raising those robots from the dead. How do you two feel?”

“Nauseous,” Wonder Woman said as she adjusted the bandages on her neck. “My heart is pounding and I’ve got a fever. Clark is no better.”

“So nothing’s changed in the last two hours. For a Greek goddess and a Kryptonian to be affected by something so seemingly innocuous is cause for alarm, even without its previous necromantic displays.”

“What’s innocuous about a glowing purple ooze that raises the dead?” Hal asked from the door of the medical lab. He was bandaged as well, but his wounds hadn’t been infected with the dark substance that had coated the Rust Giant’s weapons. “Unless you mean innocuous relative to what we normally see, which might fly. Maybe. Either way, we need to get this stuff back to Oa. The Guardians will know what to do.”

“Fine,” Wonder Woman said. “But I want a sample to take with me to Mt. Olympus.”

“Why?” Batman asked, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“I don’t think this substance’s similarities to blood are coincidence.”

“What do you think it is, then?” Superman asked.

“I’m not willing to make a claim without advice from my father,” Wonder Woman said, defensively. Batman grumbled as he began dividing up their substance samples.

“Aww, c’mon, Bruce,” Green Lantern said. “You’ll have plenty for yourself, and you’ve got those neat algorithms to decipher. Victor says he’ll only do half of them, and he doesn’t want to see what they all add up to if he can help it. Still, it should be enough to keep you busy.”

“Victor saw things in the mind of that robot that his mind, both human and mechanical, refuses to remember,” Wonder Woman said. “He hasn’t spoken much since we left the planet.”

“Whatever he saw scared him,” Superman said as Batman handed Diana her sample. “The fact that he’s willing to research the algorithms at all means he’s either curious, or he knows that this is something he needs to get over.”

“Or he’s been compromised,” Batman said. “For now, we’ll put him to work while we make our way back to Earth.”

“Actually, our first stop is Oa,” Green Lantern said as he took the sample Batman handed him. “I changed course a couple hours ago. The Guardians need my sample as soon as possible.”

“These alien fleets are headed for Earth! We need to get back and take command of the defenses!”

“Three empires are dead because of these giants, Bruce. They were the ones foolish enough to stand and fight! The fleets passing through our solar system are too scared to begin a serious invasion. They just want to run for their lives, so I say we let them. Besides, John and Guy are keeping the peace near Earth. They’ll let us know if anything bad happens.”

“Something bad is already happening,” Batman said as he brought up a map on the display screen behind him. There was an image beginning to form by the alien fleet’s raiding patterns, but all the heroes could make out was a pair of horns atop a flat head. “These robots are raiding into every solar system they can find, and their attacks are beginning to form a pattern. Every day brings them closer to Earth!”

“The Justice League has things under control.”

“These robots are driving every other race they come across toward the Earth! It’s coordinated!”

“Then we’ll be quick,” Hal said dismissively. “There are other civilizations suffering in the universe, and Earth is in good hands. Besides, we’re closer to Oa now than we are to home. We’ll be back before these things even reach Pluto.”

Hal left the room without another word. The other heroes watched him as he walked through the doors. Bruce glared at Green Lantern, but quickly turned back to his work, grumbling every few seconds.

“Why don’t I head back first?” Superman said, kindly. “I can be there in a day. I’ll join John and Guy as they patrol the solar system. Would that make you feel better, Bruce?”

“You’re infected,” Batman said as he paused once more. “It’s not wise for you to leave on your own.”

“I’m feeling a bit better,” Superman lied. He felt that there needed to be peace within the League right now, and he would do what he must to achieve it. “Besides, this just turned out to be a little cold, more or less. I don’t think it’s going to keep me from getting home or doing my duty.”

“Do what you want,” Batman said as he continued his work. Clark smiled as he saw the angry expression on his friend’s face ease ever so slightly.

“I’m staying,” Diana said. “I’d like to hear the Guardian’s thoughts on the matter. The more information I can take to my father, the better.”

“I’ll have John send a report when I arrive,” Clark said as he left the room.

Superman departed for home immediately. He would arrive to a brewing war between rival races on the outskirts of the solar system, where he would remain to keep the peace for several days. Even with the help of John Stewart and Guy Gardener, it wouldn’t be easy. His body fought the effects of the dark substance for seven days, but despite the sun’s rays shining upon him, he grew weaker. By the time the sentient ships arrived, their crews long dead from exposure to the same substance that had turned their creations against them, the Man of Steel could barely keep his eyes open. He never saw the blast of red sun radiation that struck him.

The two Lanterns moved their comrade to the sun as the sentient ships began to wage war on those that were still manned by the living. Together, along with a number of friendly alien species, they were able to quarantine the threat after several days. They sent word to the Justice League of their blockade while thousands of alien craft continued their fervent migration.

Victor didn’t hear Superman leave the ship, nor did he hear when Green Lantern came to check on him. The cybernetic part of his brain told him that he’d given a satisfactory answer to earn his privacy, but he didn’t remember what it was. Nor did he care. He was hunched over his desk, staring down at the algorithms on the paper before him. They were strange and entrancing. He had solved the first algorithm, only to realize that the answers to each missing formula were the same. It was a single word, a name that repeated itself over and over in his mind.

Unicron.

He looked down at the leg that had been bathed in alien blood. When they had first arrived on the planet, that same leg had been cut open by one of the smaller Rust Giants. The blood that had splashed on it had healed the mechanical components completely, but his flesh burned underneath. Suddenly he felt dizzy again, as he had many times after solving the algorithms. He needed to lie down. He heard Hal rush to his door, yelling about Oa being invaded by the Rust Giant’s fleet. But the noise was vague and distant as sleep overtook him. He returned to the endless well of numbers, and knew that this time he would reach the end.

Chapter 5: Trials of Conquest

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“I haven’t gotten anywhere,” Gilda grumbled as she paced before the doors of the makeshift holding cell of her hideout. She and her Litwick had taken over the basement of a large, abandoned warehouse. There were strange, dark stains in places. Upon their first inspection of the building, Ichabod and Ebeneezer had voiced a morbid fascination with the stains. They had spent hours guessing at what horrible things might have happened to cause them. Gilda had pretended to not be bothered by their conversation, and had even added her own thoughts when asked, to keep up the illusion. Now, whenever she looked at the stains on the concrete floors and walls, she couldn’t help but imagine who might have been killed there and how. They were terrible visions that came unbidden, but the more she saw of Gotham the less these stains shocked her. Instead, a deep sadness was beginning to take hold over her heart.

“No offense, but you’re just too kind,” Ichabod said. Gilda pulled her gaze away from a partial handprint on the floor and turned to glare at the Pokémon. Then she sighed.

“I guess trying to be cool and arguing against you here won’t do me any good, huh?”

“It’s just not who you are,” Ebeneezer said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s why we chose to go with you.”

“We wanted to follow someone strong and kind," Ichabod added. "That, and you beat both Rainbow Dash and Applejack!”

“It was a big upset!”

“But what about you two?” Gilda asked. “You seem a little… eager to interrogate these guys.”

“It’s not… eagerness,” Ebeneezer said slowly. “But we’re ghost-types. Being mean is kinda in our nature. I mean, we steal the life force of the living with our flames…”

“Not that we’d steal your life force!” Ichabod added, hastily. “And we’re not gonna steal theirs either, but…”

“But we just want to keep you from doing something that you’ll regret by doing it for you!”

“You’re going to torture these guys aren’t you?” Gilda said with a scowl. “I don’t like that.”

“No!” the Litwick said together.

“We promise not to hurt them at all,” Ichabod said with an unconvincing smile, as Gilda looked the Litwick over carefully. Ebeneezer was doing his best to avoid looking Gilda in the eye, and his gaze often strayed to the window in the door through which the struggling humans were visible.

“I’m not sure if I should believe you,” Gilda said. “But someone’s gotta get things prepared for the second wave. We’ve only got two days left. I’ll write the report and set up the sleeping quarters, and you two can interrogate these guys. But you can’t hurt them!”

“We won’t! Right brother?”

“What?” Ichabod said, pulling his eyes from the window. “No! We won’t kill them at all! We wouldn’t learn much if we did that. We have nothing to keep their souls in.”

“I want to know how to stop this gang war,” Gilda said. “I want to know what’s really going on in this place. At the very least get them to tell us where their boss is so we can watch him, and deal with him if necessary. Use your Confuse Rays. Convince them that you’re their friends, but don’t hurt them.”

“Understood!” the Litwick said together.

Gilda watched as they turned and floated through the door. They waved at her through the window, trying to reassure her of their intentions. She wasn’t sure if she should leave them like this, but she saw no other choice. She had to prepare for the ponies that would be arriving soon. She pulled herself away from the window and went upstairs.

Ebeneezer and Ichabod floated through the air toward their human captives. The men scowled at them defiantly. They were all tough, street hardened gangsters. Once they had realized that Gilda wasn’t going to truly hurt them, they had begun berating her and laughing in her face. On one occasion the Litwick had thought that their friend would snap and begin beating the criminals. Her wings had spread menacingly, her feathers and fur had ruffled, and a dangerous fire had lit in her eyes. But she never attacked. She never went beyond yelling, and the humans never respected her again.

“So, the little candle creeps are here ‘ta talk to us now,” the biggest thug said mockingly. He had a scar that ran from the top of his baldhead down past his left eye. The others seemed to respect him as a leader. “Your boss not gonna join us today?”

“These humans really are awful,” Ichabod said to his brother, ignoring the jeers and insults from the other thugs. “Poor Gilda. She can’t get too carried away if she’s going to set a good example for her people.”

“Then it’s a good thing we’re here,” Ebeneezer said with a big smile. Gilda had resigned the two Litwick to observing as she spoke to the prisoners, but now she had given them permission to interrogate them in her place. They relished the thought of making such terrible people suffer. “Ghost-types aren’t known for being kind, especially to humans. We have our reasons, though.”

“Good cop, bad cop, eh?” the leader said with a sneer. “The bird-thing is the good cop and you two are the bad ‘uns? Like I ain’t seen that game before.”

“We’re not cops though,” Ichabod said with a giggle.

“We’re angry spirits of fire,” Ebeneezer added. “And we’re not playing a game. We just want to hear you scream.”

Ebeneezer cast a Confuse Ray on the leader. The Litwick laughed as the human began screaming and beating his head against the wall. The other thugs watched in horror as their captors cheered the confused man on, releasing him from his restraints and giving him suggestions on how best to hurt himself. When his fit of paranoia ended with a sickening thud and the cracking of bones, the remaining men were eager to talk. The Litwick smiled happily as they confused their next victim. They hadn’t had their fill, yet.

Gilda sighed as she reached the top of the stairs. She tried not to hear the sounds of torment as she took stock of their food stores in the basement pantry, one level up from the room their captives were in. She had heard and seen so much suffering in the past few days, and it had all been caused by humans. She considered turning around to end the Litwick’s cruel game, but she stopped short. A part of her felt that the humans deserved it, that their suffering didn’t make a difference to her. It was the part of her that had grown up in Griffonstone, where apathy to the lives and wellbeing of others had been commonplace since the death of their last king.

She knew that Ebeneezer and Ichabod wouldn’t hurt the humans when asked not to. No, they were letting the humans hurt themselves. The cries of horror and confusion were evidence of that. These men were terrible people. They deserved this, but she couldn’t quite accept that. Nor could she adequately focus on her task.

What would my friends do? She asked herself as she began climbing the stairs that led to the ground level. The heavy door to the stairwell closed behind her, but she could still make out the human’s screams.

She sighed once more as her mind worked through her conflicting emotions. She knew what her friends would do. They would go back down those stairs and stop the Litwick. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash wouldn’t allow themselves to be pulled down to the level of Gotham’s criminals, and neither would she. Gilda turned and began walking quickly back down the steps. A loud gunshot echoed behind her, accompanied by the sound of a bullet hitting the brick where her head had been a moment ago.

Her eyes widened as she immediately ran down the remaining steps. There was no ceiling to the stairwell she was in, leaving her open to attack from above. Remaining in the second level wouldn’t work either. There was nothing there that would block gunfire, and she had no means of attacking at range. She heard loud footfalls and cursing as the criminals surrounded her means of escape. She didn’t need to look up to know they were aiming their guns at her.

With quick, seamless movement Gilda spread her wings and launched herself upward in a spiral. A bullet grazed one of her wings as the others passed harmlessly through the edges of her feathers. The force of her ascension knocked several of the men from their feet, while the others were forced to brace themselves against her slipstream. They quickly regained their composure and scattered. Gilda paused in the air for a moment, surprised by their strange costumes. These men weren’t dressed like the thugs she had captive downstairs. They wore long trench coats with black armor underneath. On their helmets and chests was the symbol of a cobra. They were better organized as well, and fought in a coordinated method like soldiers.

Gilda swooped down on the first human, only to be forced to fall back by the gunfire from his companions just before her talons closed on his arms. She darted around, outpacing the bullets for several seconds before realizing that the humans were driving her into a corner. She watched as three of them disappeared down the stairwell. Gritting her teeth, she braved the hail of bullets to reach the basement entrance, but one of the bullets hit home in her left leg and she was forced to fall back yet again.

A moment later the three cultists emerged and shouted for their companions to retreat. Fully enraged, Gilda swooped down onto one of the humans and threw him to the ground. She grabbed hold of him and tossed him into the far wall of the warehouse as an explosion shook the building. The warehouse began to collapse as the other soldiers fled the scene.

Gilda let them go. The griffon turned to the man she had thrown. She wanted to take him prisoner, but the speed at which the building was now collapsing prevented that. Several large chunks of debris fell from the ceiling amid the sound of the metal walls of the warehouse tearing apart. They landed atop the semi-conscious man and he disappeared from sight. With a saddened, frustrated roar Gilda took to the sky and escaped the crumbling building.

“What just happened?” Ebeneezer asked as he and his brother floated up through the ground seconds later.

“Are you alright?” Ichabod asked, his face a mask of concern.

“I’m fine,” Gilda said as she continued to inspect her wounds. She felt no pain thanks to the adrenaline that was pumping through her veins. Her leg was bleeding freely, but the bullet had gone straight through. Her wing injury was minor. “What about the humans down below?”

“They… didn’t make it,” Ebeneezer said, carefully. “We learned a few things from them, though. Namely, there’s this group called Kobra. They’re a cult that’s busy trying to pit the criminals of Gotham against each other to keep the Bat Family busy. While the other heroes are out dealing with the alien threat, Batman’s crew has been trying to follow a lead on another case.”

“What do you mean?” Gilda asked.

“Well,” Ichabod said as he floated over to her bleeding leg. He paused, as he looked it over. Then he extended his flame to reach the wound. He carefully cauterized it as he continued speaking. “This happened before we came. It turns out they caught an informant for this Kobra Cult. He was a scout, I think. Batgirl had him, but he escaped. Point is, he’s not supposed to be here. The Gotham City underground isn’t real fond of Kobra. That’s why the group is working behind their backs.”

“Batgirl did overhear a conversation, though,” Ebeneezer said. “Just before she caught the guy, she heard him talking about a plan that had to do with a prison. That’s all we know.”

“How did you learn this,” Gilda asked incredulously.

“One of the guys we interrogated was informing Kobra on the workings of Black Mask’s group from the inside,” Ebeneezer said, simply. “He’d been on the phone with the other spy when Batgirl caught him. He told us everything after he saw what we did to the big guy.”

The Litwick looked to their leader and smiled proudly. Gilda sighed and looked down at the ground.

“So the Bat Family has been busy researching this Kobra lead?” she said as her Litwick’s smiles faded slightly. They had been expecting praise for their discovery, but Gilda wasn’t about to connect any praise to their methods.

“Is that what’s going on?” said Joan’s voice from within the griffon’s head.

“Have you been watching?” Gilda said in surprise. She had been so distracted by her thoughts and the battle, she hadn’t noticed Joan’s presence in her mind.

“No,” the Gardevoir said. “I connected to you just now. I’ve been busy trying to keep pace with the alien situation and prepare for the second wave. Power Girl left Earth this morning with a group of Justice League members to help direct space traffic through the solar system. Superman is sick, and direct exposure to the sun is the only thing keeping him alive.”

“At least we haven’t had to deal with this Justice League much,” Gilda said. “I’ve got my claws full trying to understand this awful city.”

“You could be doing better,” said a voice through the smoke. “No offense.”

For the second time that night, Gilda’s body tensed in anticipation of combat. She gave a short apology to Joan and forced the psychic link to the back of her mind. A very tall, blue and white figure walked through the flames. It was human shaped, but clearly not human. Each footfall sounded mechanical. The being held up a single arm, its fist closed around a smaller shape.

“Whatever you are, I doubt you’re from around here,” Gilda said, suspiciously. “So you’re telling me you’ve got this place all figured out?”

“No, but I’ve clearly been around this species more than you have, and I want to help. I watched as you chased down those thugs the other night. You took the heat off of the police for a while and allowed them to get to safety. Rather than finishing the cops off, the False Face Society sent all their men in search of you. These guys found you first through infiltration of the Society, though.”

“What’s your name?”

“Strongarm. I’m an officer in the Cybertronian Elite Guard. May I ask your name?”

The griffon looked up at the robot for a moment, her mind reeling as the adrenaline faded and the pain in her leg and wing began to take hold. Strongarm was strange, and completely unexpected, but she gave off a feeling of trustworthiness that put the smaller creatures at ease. The man in her hand twitched and grunted, but his breathing appeared to be regular. She would have her prisoner, and her answers. Even more than that, she would have a new friend.

“My name is Gilda,” she said with a tired smile. “I’m a griffon from Griffonstone, and I’d like to be friends if that’s alright with you?”

“I’d like that too,” Strongarm said, as she returned Gilda’s smile. “I’ll begin digging the other humans out immediately. If I hurry, they should survive.”

“What? But my Litwick said they didn’t make it!”

“My sensors read five stable life signs deep underground, in the place where the basement was. Apparently, they survived both the explosion and your Litwick.”

Gilda turned a disapproving eye to the Pokémon, who were looking at the ground sheepishly.

“We just meant… they didn’t make it aboveground,” Ebeneezer said. Gilda groaned as she put her face in her claws. Strongarm left the unconscious human next to her new friends and began digging away at the rubble as another night ended in Gotham City.

Chapter 6: Trials of God

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The portal opened into the cool, crisp air of the Sinnoh Region. Three beings stepped out of the darkness of the Underworld and squinted as their eyes worked to adjust to the light of day. The road was deserted except for the new arrivals. Snow-capped mountains loomed in the distance. Tall, majestic pine trees stood to either side of the dirt path. There was a strange sense of peace about the land that Sunset Shimmer couldn’t quite explain. It was hard to imagine that such a place relied on something as horrible as Infinite Energy.

“I’m still not sure it was wise to send my human friends off with Korish,” Sunset said. “It’s not that I don’t like her, but…”

“She gave her word,” Charles said, dismissively. “She won’t harm them. They hold less of a resemblance to the humans of our world than those on Battleworld. She understands that and she respects it, even if the difference is only skin deep.”

“I hope so,” Sunset replied, slightly reassured but still not quite convinced by Charles’ words.

“Will it truly be ok if I fly?” Fluttershy asked as she hovered just above her companions. “I know I’m supposed to be a Keldeo, but won’t the humans find it strange?”

“Most humans have never seen a Keldeo. So long as Sunset’s illusion is hiding your wings, they won’t know the difference.”

“I’m also a bit unsure of this ‘tour’ method,” Sunset Shimmer said. “No offense, but I figured we would be infiltrating the Devon Corporation first. That’s where Infinite Energy is made, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Charles said as he began walking down the path. The ponies quickly followed after him, still taking in the majesty of their surroundings. “But Infinite Energy is but one part of our world. You and your friends are the mediators on this journey. If you’re going to understand us, you must see where we came from first. Only then will you know how we have come to this crossroads.”

The group eventually left the road and entered the forest. Wild Pokémon watched them from the trees and bushes. The sky was partially cloudy now, and the wind was growing colder. In the distance, some miles off, a storm was brewing. Sunset Shimmer was beginning to believe that something was wrong with this place. Fluttershy had said that she could feel the mood of the Pokémon around her, and hear their whispers from time to time. Even though she couldn’t see them through the dense flora, she could tell that there was an anxiety in the air. In the hour that her friend had told her this, Sunset Shimmer had begun to feel it, too.

“Sinnoh is a land of fading traditions,” Charles said as a group of Pachirisu scurried into some bushes a few feet ahead of him. “The humans are busy making more traditions, of course. They have their extravagant contests these days, where they freely show off their Pokémon partners, and themselves.”

“I’ve heard that the Pokémon battle one another at these contests,” Fluttershy said, softly. “I just can’t understand why they would fight for sport. It sounds so… violent.”

“God’s Breath has its own contests,” Sunset Shimmer said. “Aren’t the rules for these contests similar to those the humans use, Charles?”

“They are the exact same,” Charles said. “Though the Pokémon of God’s Breath compete alone.”

“Perhaps it’s just in the nature of Pokémon to battle one another? They do it often enough in the Nature Zones.”

“Hundreds of battles take place everyday in God’s Breath. The fact that Pokémon battle alongside humans isn’t the reason why we are here, for Pokémon battles are sacred to both sides. The question we must answer is, why do humans sacrifice us for the sake of their energy needs when we hold such a special bond with one another?”

“Why do you think that is?” Fluttershy asked.

“Because that bond is built on a lie.”

The group fell silent for several minutes. There were murmurs in the trees as the wild Pokémon discussed Charles’ words in their own language. Unlike the citizens of God’s Breath, these Pokémon weren’t raised to speak in human tongues. Thanks to her magic, Sunset Shimmer was able to understand them almost as well as Fluttershy. A third of their words were still unintelligible, but she could follow their conversations well enough to understand their opinions. To her surprise, many of the Pokémon still seemed unsure of this strange Mewtwo and his disturbing news.

“Well,” Sunset Shimmer said after a moment. “I still don’t know if the bond of trust between humans and Pokémon is built on a lie or not. Time, and the fruits of our investigation, will reveal the truth.”

“We should at least give the humans the benefit of the doubt,” Fluttershy said, softly.

“We always give humans the benefit of the doubt, Goro,” said a long-suffering voice from the bushes. An elderly Pangoro walked forward, leaning on a wooden cane. He wore a black bowtie with a golden pin in the shape of an Eevee on it. A small, well groomed young Eevee followed after him. “That is the only reason we do not currently have anarchy, courtesy of the messengers from Destroyer’s Grace.”

“I was wondering when we would bump into you, Sebastian,” Charles said with a soft growl of frustration. “I see the House of Eevee was quick to track us down.”

“As the progeny of the king’s species, you are an adopted member of that sacred house, Lord Charles,” Sebastian said with a bow. “I am here as much for your benefit as that of Lady Lucy’s. I live to serve you both, Goro.”

A loud yell echoed through the trees and everyone in the surrounding area stopped to look.

“It came from the west,” Fluttershy said. “And it sounded scary.”

“It sounded like a Pokémon battle,” the tiny Eevee said as he peeked his head out from behind Sebastian’s leg.

“Don’t worry, little one,” Fluttershy said, calmingly as she approached the Eevee and lifted him with a gentle wing. “I won’t let that nasty old battle anywhere near you.”

“I like battles, though,” the Eevee said, cheerfully. “I’m not big enough, or strong enough to do them myself, but I love watching them! And you should see how they’re handled when a human is involved… for your research, of course. Can we go see them, please?”

The child looked to Sebastian with an eager expression on his face. The old butler turned his head to the sounds of fighting, trying to discern their threat level.

“I suppose showing them the nature of Pokémon battles is a part of our mission,” Sebastian said, as he smiled indulgently. “Then we must be off to the manor house, Lord Sachi. Your father will want to see his guests before they leave Sinnoh.”

Chapter 7: Trials of God

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“What happened here?” Sunset Shimmer said as she looked over the shocking scene before her. They stood atop a large hill within the boundaries of the forest, where they could see a road several hundred yards away. Dozens of trees were cut in half, blocking a dirt path that winded off into the distance in either direction. The ground was deeply gouged in multiple places. Clods of dirt had been thrown about from holes that looked to have been ripped open by terrible claws.

“The screams we heard as we approached have gone silent,” Charles said, as his eyes scanned the horizon. Sunset could see the cogs turning in his mind, and she knew that he was using his psychic power to explore their surroundings. A large group of Pokémon had followed them from the forest, chattering nervously as they went. Fluttershy looked to them now, seeking to calm them with kind words despite shaking from her own fear.

Suddenly the trees shook, and cries filled the air once more. There was a loud crash, a scream of pain, and multiple voices filled with cold cruelty. Two figures were thrown from the tree line and onto the dirt road. A stocky Empoleon bounced and rolled out of the forest, a small creature held tightly in its wings.

“It’s injured,” Fluttershy said, her voice filled with concern. “We need to help…”

The words caught in her throat when she saw the Empoleon’s pursuers. Twelve Pawniard waddled through the tree line with two large Bisharp behind them. The ground shook and a massive Onix burst from the forest, as well. Four Krokorok dug up through the ground, blocking the road to either side of the Empoleon. It was well and truly trapped now, but there was an angry defiance on its face that never faded, even as the other Pokémon began their assault.

“Stop!” Fluttershy yelled as she took to the sky. A small flock of Starly went after her, but Sunset Shimmer beat them all there.

With a thought, she teleported to the Empoleon’s side and began blasting apart the rocks that the Onix was throwing. A Krokorok used Dig to pull one of her feet into the ground. She teleported out of his grasp a moment later, only to be knocked down by a powerful wave of energy. She had accidentally teleported into the path of a Night Slash from one of the Bisharp, who had been aiming for the Empoleon. The air was knocked out of her, and for a moment she thought several of her ribs had been broken. She winced in pain, grateful for the reinforced cloth armor Rarity had given her. It had taken the brunt of the impact despite not being magically enchanted. The ponies hadn’t considered the Pokémon world to be such a threat that they needed magical armor to survive it.

Looks like we were wrong, Sunset Shimmer thought as she watched the layers of torn cloth wave in the breeze. Her coat was marred by the impact, but not cut. The pain subsided slightly as she moved, and she quickly charged her horn with magic in preparation for her counterattack.

“All those who protect humans shall perish!” yelled the Bisharp that had struck Sunset Shimmer. “Not even the legends are exempt from our vengeance!”

Sunset looked to her right. A young, human girl was held between the Empoleon’s steel wings. She was bleeding and bruised. One eye was swollen shut, though she still managed a smile as she looked at Sunset Shimmer and mouthed the word “Keldeo”. Then her eyes closed and her head dropped down to the collar of her jacket.

“Fluttershy, there’s a girl in danger here!” Sunset Shimmer yelled as her friend dived down to the ground.

“Give her to me,” the pegasus pony said as her flock of Starly began strafing the other Pokémon. Sunset Shimmer levitated the child onto her friend’s back and Fluttershy darted off as fast as she could.

“The human shall not escape!” yelled the heavier of the two Bisharp. He turned and aimed a Night Slash at the retreating pony, but several Starly intercepted the attack. They cried as they were struck, but they remained in the air. The flying-types glared down defiantly, blocking the wild Pokémon’s path as Fluttershy made her way back to the hillside.

“Thank you,” the Empoleon said, his angry voice like a knife being dragged across cold steel. Sunset Shimmer regained her feet, glad that the girl was out of the way. The Empoleon got to his feet as well, spread his wings wide, and fired a powerful Hydro Pump at his attackers.

The Onix was the first to fall. The attack struck it in its middle, launching it backwards with such force that its body destroyed several lines of trees before stopping. Yet, the Empoleon’s attack continued. The two quickest Krokorok saved themselves by leaping into the earth, but their friends weren’t so lucky. The Hydro Pump wiped the remaining Krokorok out before moving onto the Pawniard and Bisharp. Though they launched one last, brazen charge against the Empoleon while it was taking out the Krokorok, none of them could withstand the assault once it was directed at them.

Sunset watched as her opponents struggled and failed to rise. She nodded her thanks to the Empoleon, and then looked back in the direction Fluttershy had flown.

“It’s time I talked to Charles,” the Empoleon said as he puffed himself up angrily. Sunset Shimmer quickly fell into step with him as they ran back to the hillside.

Fluttershy flew as fast as she could, desperate to get the human out of danger. She felt awful that the Starly had been injured while protecting her, but there was nothing she could do at the moment. She looked down as she passed over the tree line, and saw the faces of dozens of Pokémon looking back. Some of the faces she saw were angry, some were confused, as if trying to make up their minds about whether or not they approved of her actions. It was clear to her that there was a terrible rift growing within the Pokémon world, and she had to fix it.

“Don’t bring her here,” Charles hissed as the pegasus pony approached. His voice was seething, and his eyes were narrowed in anger. The other Pokémon shied away from him nervously. Even the young Eevee, who had shown such bravery before, now shivered from his hiding spot behind his butler. Fluttershy hesitated for a moment as fear coursed through her veins. Then she closed her eyes tightly, tried to steel her resolve and landed next to Charles.

“She needs our help and we’re going to give it,” Fluttershy said, with far more confidence than she felt. She had to keep moving to hide the shaking in her knees, though she wasn’t sure how well this was working. The other Pokémon watched her with a mixture of pity and admiration.

“We are in my world, and I am the strongest here,” Charles said, his voice dripping with condescension and anger as Fluttershy began pulling medical supplies from her saddlebags. “If you want to treat her injuries, you will do it somewhere else.”

“I’m doing it right here, right now. There are bruises on her neck. I’ve moved her far more than I should, already. I’m not going to move her any further until I have an understanding of her injuries. That’s final!”

The sound of rushing water and trees breaking interrupted Charles’ angry retort. The group turned their attention back to the battle on the road, but it was already over. The attackers lay on the ground, barely conscious. Sunset Shimmer was running alongside the Empoleon they had helped. Fluttershy saw them through a passing glance, and she silently rejoiced as she continued her work. Stabilizing the girl was her top priority.

“Papa is coming,” Sachi said, softly. “And he’s mad.”

Chapter 8: Trials of God

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Pinkie Pie laughed as she bounced the water balloon on her head. Next to her sat Leon, her new Popplio friend who clapped for her repeatedly while barking advice. The CHS girls had thought it strange to hear the Pokémon language at first. All they could do was repeat their own names. Yet, none of them could deny how adorable it was, and after Sunset Shimmer had cast her spell they could understand the Pokémon, too.

“Now do a spin, Pop!” the Pokémon said, happily. Pinkie Pie obliged by spinning the balloon clockwise and spinning herself counterclockwise. After a few seconds she came to a dizzy stop and fell backwards. Leon broke into laughter, and Pinkie Pie joined him.

“Are you sure you don’t want to train for battles?” Rainbow Dash asked. Her new Chimchar partner stood next to her, wearing a freshly knitted gi that Rarity had made.

“Not everyone in the Pokémon world likes to battle,” Pinkie Pie said, cheerfully. “Leon and I are gonna rock those contests!”

“This rulebook states that trainers aren’t allowed to compete alongside their partners, only give orders,” Twilight Sparkle said as she flipped through the touch screen of her Pokédex. “Besides, our skin tones aren’t exactly common around here. Shouldn’t we start working to blend in? Rarity and I brought enough makeup for everyone, we just need to brush up on the culture.”

“But… won’t it make Korish mad if we use makeup to look like everyone else?” Fluttershy whispered as she looked around for the Gourgiest. “I don’t think we should make Korish mad after… what Sunset warned us about.”

“She’s right, you know,” Korish jeered from up above. The girls looked up to see her floating on a ledge near a tree. She held several berries in one hand, and was chewing on one as she spoke. “I like you the way you are now. Don’t change it.”

Fluttershy closed her eyes and shivered as her Litten hissed her disapproval. The other girls watched Korish float down to their level. They were cautious of their new travel companion, but they had decided to remain friendly. They had heard all about this creature, and found her story quite sad. They had agreed that Korish was a very damaged individual, and she deserved a chance to improve.

“We could just say we ate some funny lookin’ fruit and it changed our skin tones,” Applejack said as she patted her Rowlett’s head comfortingly. The other Pokémon were terrified of Korish, and though Applejack’s new partner was trying his best to be brave, his feathers were ruffled defensively. “Does this place have anythin’ strange like that?”

“Enigma berries are strange,” Korish replied. The fog was slowly rolling in, and it was becoming hard to see. “They don’t have that effect, but they’re rare enough that no one will know what to think if you say you had a bad reaction to them. Either way, you shouldn’t change your complexions if you want to make it to Celestic Town in one piece.”

“You know we have Rainbow Power, right darling?” Rarity said as she pet her terrified Litten.

“But you have neither Princess Twilight, or Sunset Shimmer. Without a magical focus for your power, you’re useless.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. Sure we can’t shoot you with any magical rainbows, but we’ve all activated our Rainbow Power on our own. In fact, the first time we used it was in order to protect Princess Twilight. I think we could manage if it meant protecting innocents, or ourselves, from you.”

“Touché!” Korish said, with a sinister smile. “Well, now that we’ve got that settled, you should make your way through Route 210. Your interview with the Champion awaits.”

She floated off through the fog, humming a haunting melody as she went.

“So, she’s really not going to lead us through this world?” Twilight Sparkle asked as she held her Rowlett a little more tightly. The Pokémon cooed to her reassuringly in response.

“No, she’s just gonna stalk us,” Applejack said. “Not real keen on that, considerin’ her predisposition toward humans. Not much we can do about it, though.”

“She just wants to watch us fail,” Rainbow Dash said. Her Chimchar nodded in agreement next to her. “Still, it’s gonna be pretty creepy knowing that she’s watching us from the shadows.”

“Either way, our goal is to understand the humans of this world and their relationship with Pokémon,” Twilight Sparkle said. “The little we know is troubling, to say the least. Especially this ‘Infinite Energy’ they use.”

“That shouldn’t stop us from looking on the bright side, though,” Pinkie Pie said. The other girls voiced their agreement. They checked through their bags one last time, withdrew their flashlights to help them see, and they began their journey to Celestic Town.

For the past few months, very few trainers had traveled down Route 210. Rumors of violent bands of Pokémon who targeted humans had begun to spread across Sinnoh. Powerful trainers and Pokémon Rangers were the only humans who dared to travel alone, these days. Though the majority of wild Pokémon were still friendly toward humans, and many of them were actively fighting against their aggressive kin, the Word of Charles was changing minds daily. Yet this was only one threat that made the roads of Sinnoh unsafe.

With Cyrus gone, Team Galactic had been disbanded, but the authorities hadn’t captured all of their members yet. These thugs had become highway robbers, stealing whatever they could from unsuspecting travelers before running into the mountains to hide. No longer inspired by bosses who bought their loyalty with promises of glory and power, they had grown strong alongside their Pokémon partners. They now lived in caves furnished by whatever they could steal, and their leaders had formed connections all across the world. For Team Galactic wasn’t the only criminal organization to have gone underground in recent years.

The six new arrivals seemed strange to the Galactic Scouts that watched them from the shadows of Route 210. Yet, they were only a group of inexperienced trainers who didn’t even know enough to use Defog to clear the roads as they went. They were easy targets, with rare, young starter Pokémon ripe for the taking. They also had backpacks full of supplies. Though Team Galactic made money off of stealing Pokémon for the rich and selling them illegally, their operatives were often forced to live in the wilderness for weeks at a time just to land a good catch. After all, as their leaders often said during video calls from their mansions, not everyone can be as well funded as Pokémon Hunter J, especially when she was a competitor.

The two scouts nodded to one another in silent understanding as they lay in wait. Their trap was set further ahead. Soon, they would have six brand new Pokémon to raise and use to further their criminal enterprise.

Chapter 9: Trials of God

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The girls had arrived on Route 210 roughly halfway to Celestic Town, just south of a small, abandoned cabin. According to their map the road was surrounded by tall grass and trees, which eventually gave way to a canyon. Once barren, this canyon had recently been flattened and improved. More trees had been planted along the path, turning the landscape into a densely wooded area.

“The news app on my Pokédex mentions this forest springing up overnight,” Twilight Sparkle said as the girls looked down into the canyon. All they could see was the tops of trees. “Apparently, Pokémon are responsible for the geographic changes in this area. They lined the river with trees and grass when they widened the canyon, but no one knows why.”

“I bet they did it to make the whole place prettier,” Pinkie Pie said, cheerfully. “The path leads closer to the river. Maybe the fog will lift enough that we can see how all of their hard work paid off.”

Despite her optimism, the fog never lifted. It only deepened, engulfing them in an eerie half-light. Thanks to their Pokémon, the girls were able to make it through the tall grass without a battle. The little creatures formed a protective circle around their human friends, alerting them with growls and hisses whenever they sensed another Pokémon nearby. The girls thought this made them even more adorable, though the young starters thought they looked tough.

Their flashlights were barely enough to keep them walking in a straight line. Soft rustles and the occasional growl from outside of their circle told the girls that they were being watched, even after the first grassy field. At first they thought it was Korish. They had steeled themselves and called out to her, but only creaking branches and heavy footfalls responded. They waited five full minutes, whispering battle strategies to one another as their partners tensed in anticipation. Then they heard soft laughter, so faint they had to struggle to make it out. After more discussion, they had decided it had been Korish laughing at their fear, but she wasn’t alone. Frustrated and scared, they continued their journey.

“Weren’t there were supposed to be trainers around here?” Applejack said as she and Rainbow Dash led their friends across a wooden bridge. “We haven’t seen another soul since we started. It’s creepier than my apple cellar in a thunderstorm with the lights turned out.”

“The people of this world have a solution for this,” Twilight said as she read through the page on her Pokédex. Her Rowlet bumped into her from time to time, trying to get her to watch where she walked while nudging her in the right direction when she got too close to either side of the bridge. “It’s called ‘Defog’ and it’s a Pokémon move.”

“Do any of you know Defog?” Fluttershy asked her Litten. Ashley looked to the other Pokémon, who shook their heads apologetically.

“Litten,” the fire cat said as she shook her head, too. “None of us know it.”

After a few minutes of slow, careful travel they came to a river. They could hear a waterfall nearby, and several loud splashes as something big dived in and out of the water.

“Chimchar,” Nara said as he took a defensive stance near the water’s edge and flames ignited on his tiny fists. The light was bright enough to illuminate the path around them. On their right was the river, lapping slightly against the shore as the waves caused by whatever had dived a moment ago subsided. As the girls took in their surroundings, they shared a collective gasp.

Several feet in front of them was a wall of webbing. It connected to the tree line on their left, which had been formed into a barrier of spider silk that stretched off into the fog behind them. Ashley blew a small spurt of fire from her mouth to reveal another freshly woven web at their backs.

“We’re blocked in,” Rainbow Dash said, her voice a mixture of fear and excitement. “Nara, use Ember on that web in front of us.”

The Chimchar took a deep breath, but a String Shot wrapped around his legs before he could launch his attack. He fell over with a painful thud and Rainbow Dash ran to his side to unwrap him.

“It came from the fog!” Rarity said as she pointed to their left. Something skittered through the treetops. She pulled her Pokédex from her bag and scanned the creature just as it ran back into hiding. “It’s an Ariados!”

“There’s more than one,” Pinkie Pie said as she pointed back the way they had come. Several Ariados were walking along the ground now, spinning webs in synch as they reinforced their trap. “Leon, use Water Gun and get rid of those nasty webs!”

“Right O’,” Leon barked as he obeyed the command. His attack struck the web, bending it backward but not breaking it. Fluttershy asked Ashley to add her firepower to the attack, and the wall of webbing was soon destroyed. The approaching Ariados kept their distance, stopping their spinning to dodge another series of attacks as they deftly rebuilt the walls.

“We can’t let them keep us trapped!” Twilight Sparkle said as her Rowlet launched a Leafage attack at the webs. Several strands of webbing broke, but the Ariados quickly replaced them as they layered their new wall. “Try it again, Poe! We have to get through!”

The tiny owl Pokémon let loose another wave of leaves, but they were struck down by a blast of poison from the treetops. Poe dodged the Sludge Bomb, but was caught off guard by a well-placed String Shot. The Ariados in the trees began pulling the Rowlet in. Poe cried in desperation as he struggled against his bindings. Twilight Sparkle ran to her partner’s side and pulled with all her might, but the Ariados easily dragged her along with Poe.

Another String Shot launched from above, streaking through the air to capture Twilight. It was intercepted and destroyed by a Bubblebeam and two Ember attacks, which were quickly redirected at the wall. The wall was destroyed, and Leon’s Bubblebeam was used to free Poe. The Rowlet chirped his thanks, and the group darted for the exit.

A flash of light came from out of the fog, and the girls halted at the sound of a Pokéball releasing its occupant.

“Get in there and use Explosion, Weezing!” yelled a rough, human voice.

“Weezing!” came the reply.

“Scatter!” Rainbow Dash yelled as she grabbed her Chimchar and ran. “Get away!”

Applejack was the second fastest, but her Rowlett froze in place. She turned to save her friend, dodging strands of webbing as she went. A Weezing emerged from the fog, its body bloated with toxic fumes as it prepared to detonate itself. More webs were shot from above, tripping Twilight Sparkle and Rarity as they tried to run for cover. The other girls turned back to help them, but they couldn’t get the webbing off in time. They were still within blast range when the Weezing began to glow.

A moment before the poison-type’s detonation, a Hydro Pump tore through the fog and struck the Weezing in its largest face. The Pokémon was thrown backward into the webbing between the trees where it exploded. Wooden splinters flew everywhere as trees were destroyed. A fire lit up the fog for a brief moment as the foliage ignited, but another Hydro Pump came from the riverside to douse the flames. The girls turned to see a full-grown Gyarados sitting halfway up the shoreline. They called out to it in gratitude. The Gyarados returned their greeting by directing its third Hydro Pump at them.

“What the heck is that thing doin’?” Applejack yelled as she ran out of the way of the attack. “We ain’t bothered it none!”

“The Pokédex says that Gyarados are vicious and easily angered!” Twilight Sparkle said as she helped Fluttershy to her feet. “Our battle must have disturbed it. We need to get out of here as fast as we can!”

Two more Gyarados appeared behind the first as fighting erupted in the forest. Teams of Machoke, Medicham and their pre-evolutions were chasing the Ariados out of the tree line. Another Weezing crashed into the largest team and used Explosion, shaking the ground and sending the wild Pokémon flying through the air. As it fainted, a bright light from a Pokéball pulled it back into the trees. The Ariados were soon withdrawn in the same fashion and suddenly there were only two sides on the battlefield.

“A-are we going to have to fight our way out?” Twilight Sparkle said as her Rowlet puffed up his feathers.

“Please, friends,” Fluttershy pleaded. “We can get along! We’re not here to hurt you, we want to understand you!”

“Humans are all the same, Machoke,” said one of the largest fighting-types. “No matter where you’re from, you’re all the same. That’s all we need to understand.”

Shouts from human voices could be heard further down the road amid cries from the furious Pokémon in pursuit. A new battle was beginning elsewhere, yet this was just background noise for the girls.

“We’re outnumbered and outgunned,” Applejack said through gritted teeth. “It’s not gonna get much worse than this.”

Just as the words left her mouth, cruel laughter began to rise above the din. It was soft at first, but grew in intensity.

“You jinxed it,” Pinkie Pie told her friend disapprovingly.

“Well?” Korish said, as she materialized from out of the fog. The wild Pokémon of Route 210 backed off slightly, bowing their heads in deference to the tiny Gourgeist. “Where’s your Rainbow Power now?”

“I’ll show you Rainbow Power!” Rainbow Dash said in defiance.

“Is that a challenge?” Korish sneered. “A Pokémon battle, perhaps? Or will you bring out this lauded magic to defeat me? I’ll admit, I’m curious to see if all the hype is true.”

The girls looked to one another. Rainbow Power had specific terms to its activation. They had to exhibit the personal traits that united them with the Elements of Harmony. Though these traits came naturally to them, and they had improved their control over their magic, they had agreed before coming that Rainbow Power should be used only when absolutely necessary. They weren’t fighting supervillians, or monsters that wanted to enslave their friends. Their world wasn’t even at risk. They were fighting an idea based on the words of creatures that had suffered at the hands of humans.

“Rainbow Power isn’t the answer,” Rainbow Dash said, more calmly than before. “That’s why I challenge you to a Pokémon battle!”

“Chimchar?” Nara said, nervously. He looked up to see that Rainbow Dash’s face was completely serious. He gulped down his fear and took a battle stance.

“We’re not letting you and Nara fight alone,” Rarity said as she and her Litten walked forward. Gem hissed at Korish as she came to stand next to Nara. The other Pokémon followed suit alongside their human partners.

Korish smiled cruelly as she looked her opponents over.

“Good, good,” she said. “I want to fight all of them at once. Hold nothing back! I’ll destroy all of your Pokémon single handedly. Then, I’ll destroy you, too.”

Chapter 10: Trials of God

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“Lord Akira,” Sebastian said with a respectful bow. The Empoleon briefly acknowledged his butler while his son ran to his side. His face was stern and angry. He stared Charles down as the nearby Pokémon looked on in concern. Charles returned his gaze with contempt.

Fluttershy thanked Sunset Shimmer as the unicorn joined her in caring for the human. The girl’s four Pokémon had been released from their Pokéballs, adding to Fluttershy’s workload. They had been beaten while protecting their trainer. She now had a young Turtwig, a Garchomp, and two Vibrava to treat. Despite this, she knew she had to pay attention to the conversation, too. If Charles and Akira chose to fight, she would have to move quickly to protect her patients.

“They call it the ‘Word of Charles’,” Lord Akira said. His voice was steady. His eyes were serious. “They see you as some prophetic teacher, as absurd as that sounds. I’ve told them that Lucy thinks you’re insane.”

“She’s told me as much in person,” Charles said.

“Yet, like so many others, she’s tried her best to reach you. To befriend you and make you see reason.”

“You wife is kind, like all of King Siebold’s inner circle.”

“She isn’t just a part of his inner circle. She’s his daughter, and your sister. Even after his death, she and the others strive to uphold his ideals.”

“Yet she isn’t here. She’s in God’s Breath, preparing to depart with those foolish Equestrians to a world they may well die on.”

“I lead the Sinnoh branch of our house in her stead,” Akira said, ignoring Charles’ petty jab. “Which brings us back to our point. You have turned my subjects against the humans. They openly attack people. Their numbers grow daily. I would have you renounce your hate speech and set them back on the right path.”

“I refuse,” Charles said, simply. “They are already on the right path. Our standards aren’t so lax that we would do nothing while humans sacrifice us.”

Fluttershy knew he was taunting the Empoleon. For a moment, she thought Akira would take his son and leave. He looked down at his boy, then to his butler. His body relaxed, and he sighed. Then, without warning, he pounced.

He was quicker than he looked. His Steel Wing attack landed on Charles’ cheek with the sound of metal slapping flesh. The Mewtwo winced in pain, and raised his hands in defense. However, Akira stood down, withdrawing from his assault to turn his back on Charles.

“That’s it?” Charles asked, incredulously. “Surely you’ve got more fight in you than that.”

“Of course I do,” Akira replied. “But for all my efforts, I know I can’t beat you. Attempting to will only defeat my purpose. I must see to my people, and mitigate the damage you’ve done.”

“So you’re turning tail and running.”

“I am putting down the Word of Charles. It’s spread all over our region, as it has in the other regions of the world.”

“How are you combating it?” Sunset Shimmer asked as she looked up from her work. She was applying bandages to one of the Garchomp’s legs as the Pokémon moaned in pain.

“Debates, battles, appealing to the better nature of the Pokémon of Sinnoh… The more violent ones we’ve been forced to drive north. We fight it in anyway we can.”

“And every effort you make will end in failure,” Charles said. “The truth cannot be stopped.”

“Yet, there is still a great deal of kindness in this world,” Fluttershy said as she wrapped the human girl in a blanket made by a Leavanny in the crowd. “That is also true.”

With a nod from Korish, the Gyarados dived back into the river and the forest Pokémon walked back into the trees. Fluttershy watched them go, her heart aching at the anger and frustration in their eyes. There was something terrible happening in the Pokémon world, and she needed to fix it.

“This place was cleared by humans long ago to make it easier for them to travel from one place to another,” Korish said as she looked down into the canyon proudly. “We’ve returned it to nature.”

“Then why keep the paths?” Applejack said. “Why keep those bridges if you’re gettin’ rid of everythin’ that humans built?”

“Because Pokémon use these paths, too, and humans didn’t build all of this alone. This place will become a trap for humans when our numbers grow large enough. There are still some holdouts here, but they’ll come around, especially as the House of Eevee drives more of us north. Thanks to Akira’s stubborn streak, my followers grow daily on this route.”

“Why would the humans sit by and allow this to happen?” Archi said from his perch on Applejack’s shoulder. The Roulet’s feathers were puffed up as far as they would go making him look like a big, green puffball. Korish didn’t seem intimidated. “Surely they see the threat?”

“Some do,” Korish agreed. “But they’re too worried about themselves. Most are confused, and just want to go on with their daily lives. In the end, they don’t care how the problem is solved, so long as it is. It’s the same way they behaved when their Pokémon were stolen by Team Galactic or their counterparts in other regions. They sat back and waited for others to fix things for them.”

Korish drifted into the mist as she spoke, eventually leaving only her face visible to her adversaries. Loud, angry cries came from several yards down the path toward Celestic Town. The girls turned to look, but they couldn’t see through the fog.

“Several dozen Psyduck are now blocking the path you need to go down,” Korish sneered. “If you want them to move, you’ll have to get rid of me.”

“Why set this trap for us when we’re supposed to be working together?” Rarity said, angrily. Gem hissed flames at her side; the light of her embers reflecting in the large diamond earrings Rarity had given her.

“Because it’s fun to antagonize you.”

Her leering face disappeared, though her cruel laugher carried through the wind as she traveled into the canyon.

“We have to go down there now, don’t we?” Fluttershy said nervously.

“Let’s move it and get this over with!” Rainbow Dash said. She sounded a bit more reserved than normal, as if she dreaded the fight ahead of them.

The other girls followed Rainbow Dash and Nara into the canyon. The quiet surrounded them as surely as the fog, yet the feeling of being watched was almost overwhelming.

“I wish she’d hurry and attack us,” Pinkie Pie groaned. She pulled a balloon from her pocket and began blowing in and out of it, as one would do a paper bag. “The tension is killing me!”

“I’d rather we just get to the other side safely,” Leon said, nervously. The Popplio flinched slightly as the wind rustled through the trees. “If we’re lucky, she’ll forget about this battle and go after those humans that attacked us.”

He shivered, and the other Pokémon voiced their agreement.

“Do… do you like Pokémon battles, Leon?” Pinkie Pie asked in concern.

“Popplio!” Leon said, his voice filling with pride and conviction, mixed with a note of uneasiness. “I wouldn’t have volunteered for this if I didn’t. I mean, the Starters Council chose the six of us out of hundreds to serve as representatives for both God’s Breath and the Pokémon world. Our parents told us this was a great honor. Lord Bartholomew even led the selections personally, but…”

“But what?” Pinkie Pie asked as she began forming her balloon into a heart to cheer her friend up.

“This feels different than I’d expected. I thought it’d be more fun. Now, I’ve got to fight the Mouthpiece of Dark Arceus.”

“Former Mouthpiece,” Korish said as she emerged from the shadows. She was too fast for the group to react to in time. Catching them off guard, she grabbed Leon and pulled him back into the fog.

“Leon, return!” Pinkie Pie yelled desperately as she forgot her balloon. She pulled her Pokéball from her belt and held it aloft. Korish dove down to the ground, dodging the beam with ease. “Use Water Gun, Leon! Get yourself free!”

Pinkie Pie ran as fast as she could, her friends close behind her. Pinkie, Rainbow Dash and Applejack were able to catch up to Korish while their friends worked to join them. Fluttershy struggled to keep up, but her Litten was near the front of the pack, chasing Korish while firing Ember attacks to try and stop her.

“Nara, use Fire Punch and smack that rotten gourd in the face!” Rainbow Dash yelled. Nara ignited his fist and leapt. Korish dodged under him, grabbing his chest with her free hand to slam him to the ground. A yell came from behind and embers tore through the fog. They caught Korish in the back, surprising the Gourgeist and forcing her to drop Nara and Leon. Rarity and Gem cheered as their attack landed and their friends escaped.

“Razor Leaf!” Twilight Sparkle and Applejack yelled in unison. Their Rowlet replied by launching furious volleys at their enemy.

“Leon, use Ice Beam!” Pinkie Pie yelled. Leon shivered in fear for a moment, then shook his head and obeyed. Korish screamed in pain as the attacks struck home, yet she recovered quickly with a strange smile on her face. The barrage subsided and the group prepared a second volley. When they fired, Korish responded with an attack of her own. She held her hands in the air and formed a large Shadow Ball between them, laughing as she launched it. The ground exploded. The Pokémon and humans covered their faces as dirt flew everywhere. When they looked again, Korish had disappeared.

“Is this a game to her?” Applejack said angrily. The Gourgiest’s laughter could be heard leading them further into the fog. Trees rustled around them, and the murmurs of wild Pokémon filled the air. Then they vanished suddenly, leaving the group in silence once more.

“The Pokémon of Route 210 are judging which side they support based on our battle,” Gem said as she stood guard next to Rarity. She pawed at the naturally unkempt fur on her head, causing Rarity to bend down and help her comb it. “Litten, but I don’t like some of the things they’re saying.”

“Some of them are the ones we saw on the path,” Poe said from his perch on Twilight Sparkle’s shoulder. “They’re trying to convince the others to support Korish.”

“So, we’re not completely outnumbered here?” Pinkie Pie said, her mood lifting slightly. “There are Pokémon around here that don’t support Korish yet?”

“We were told that most of the Pokémon in the world don’t currently follow Charles and Korish,” Twilight Sparkle said as she sifted through the pages of her notepad. “Their influence is growing, though.”

“And it will continue to grow,” said a deep voice from the fog. A Machoke walked out and flexed his muscles in an intimidating fashion. “I used to help humans on this road, while choosing to remain in the wild. Thanks to Lord Charles, and the evidence of my own eyes, I’ve learned better than to trust your kind.”

“Hey, this is a match between us and Korish,” Rainbow Dash yelled indignantly as the Machoke prepared his attack. “Outside help is against the rules!”

“We are at war,” the fighting-type bellowed. “There is only victory and defeat!”

He lowered his shoulder and charged. The group leapt out of his path as fast as they could. Fluttershy froze for a moment, but her Litten grabbed hold of her skirt and pulled her to safety. Rarity dodged more slowly than the rest, choosing to stay close and get beneath her opponent. With one hand in her bag, she dodged a punch aimed at her face and came out behind the Machoke.

“Watch it, you brute,” she scolded as she pulled a red, velvet blanket out of her bag. It was damp from the moisture in the air, and it surprised the Machoke as Rarity draped it over his face. “Gem, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Litten!” Gem said as she placed herself in front of one of the Machoke’s feet. She arced her back and held firm as the disoriented Pokémon tripped over her.

“Scyther!” came a yell from behind. Rarity turned to see her friends fighting another group of Pokémon nearby. “Unruly trickery! Such things are forbidden in battle!”

“Attacking us when we’re already fighting another baddie is forbidden, too!” Pinkie Pie yelled as she jumped out of the way of a deadly claw. “Bubblebeam Leon! Now!”

“Right O’” the Popplio responded as the group began falling back. He opened his mouth and fired a powerful attack at his foes, knocking several on their backs. They weren’t down for long, though. They screamed in anger as they rose and joined their friends in the chase through the canyon.

As they continued, the terrain became more treacherous. Snow began to fall, making it harder for the group to see their attackers. For what seemed like hours, the girls lead their partners in battle against the wild Pokémon of Route 210. The Pokémon primarily battled each other, though some of the more zealous individuals chose to attack the humans. The girls responded in kind, refusing to be easy targets despite being physically outmatched. Pinkie Pie threw confetti in her opponent’s eyes, while Rarity used glitter. Applejack and Rainbow Dash stood back-to-back, dodging hits, counterattacking, and doing their best to keep Fluttershy out of danger. Even Twilight Sparkle fought back, using her book bag as a melee weapon when necessary.

Eventually the attacks from the fog began to slow until they had stopped completely. The fog lifted here thanks to one of their pursuers, and for the first time that day the girls could see their surroundings.

They were in a clearing near the base of a mountain. Smoke rose from a cave half a mile to the east. A dozen wild Pokémon stood nearby in a semi-circle, with many others close behind. The glitter and confetti that covered them almost made a parody of the battle. Korish floated down to the ground before them, but there was no cruel smile on her face. She was somber, and the pain in her eyes gave pause to the girl’s angry retorts.

“Please,” Fluttershy panted as she clutched a stitch in her side. She was near hysterical now. “No more violence. I’ve had enough of this fighting! It’s terrifying and creatures are getting hurt. I can’t stand it!”

Ashley voiced her agreement through pained breaths, and for a moment the wild Pokémon hesitated. Concern and shame crossed their faces as they saw the condition of the six starters, who had chosen to be beaten and bruised for their human partners. Those that had only observed the battle voiced their sympathy for the girls as well, whose clothes were torn and muddy.

“I’ve been toying with you, as I’m sure you’ve noticed,” Korish said. There was a bit of remorse in her own voice, but Fluttershy couldn’t tell whom it was for. “That ends now. If you want to survive, I suggest you use your magic.”

“We’re going to fight you,” Leon said through terrified sobs. “We vowed to protect these humans, and we’re going to do it!”

“It was bound to come at some point,” Poe said. The Rowlet looked to Twilight Sparkle sadly and sighed. Like his friends, he had traded a great many blows with the wild Pokémon around him and he looked the worse for wear. “This is a good death.”

“Your gallantry doesn’t go unnoticed,” Twilight Sparkle said, with a small grin as she held an injured arm. “This isn’t going to end like that, though.”

“Of course it will,” Korish replied. “Your partners are at their limits, and so are you. Unless, of course, you were to… what do you call it? Pony up?”

“She’s right, you know,” Nara said softly. He looked nervously at Rainbow Dash, as if he were afraid of making her mad with his suggestion. “If Rainbow Power really is so strong, you could use it to fix this mess we’re in pretty fast.”

“We could use it to beat Korish,” Rainbow Dash said, as she put a reassuring hand on the Chimchar’s head. “Trust me, I’ve considered that myself. But even if we did and it succeeded, that wouldn’t fix anything. This is a battle of ideas, little buddy. You don’t beat ideas by hitting people over the head with a hammer. You have to disprove them. You have to get people to change their minds on their own. Besides, Rainbow Power isn’t just a hammer to beat bad guys with. It’s a tool to inspire and build bridges between people. Even if we wanted to use it, there are no bad guys here. There are only disagreeing sides. Right now, we have to hold back on using Rainbow Power. We have to take the more difficult path.”

“Then you’ve doomed yourselves and your cause,” Korish said.

With a streak of blue and green, the Gourgeist descended down upon the group. Her hands had grown in size, their sharp claws covered in ghostly energy. Fluttershy looked to the wild Pokémon for help. She wanted them to stand against the insanity of Korish’s words, but they were frozen with fear, and so was she. Though she wanted to speak, she couldn’t. All she could do was stare at the faces of the Pokémon and wonder if it was sympathy she saw there. Ashley leapt forward as the others dodged, casting Protect to shield Fluttershy from the Gourgeist’s brutal claws.

“Please snap out of it, Fluttershy!” Ashley yelled as Korish was rebuffed. The Litten leapt into Fluttershy’s stomach and knocked her out of the way of the second Shadow Claw. Then she turned to hit the Gourgeist with a Flamethrower attack as Rainbow Dash pulled Fluttershy to her feet.
Korish took the attack head on, ignoring the flames as she brought one of her claws down upon the stalwart Litten. An Ice Beam hit Korish from the side before her attack could land and she screamed in anger. Ashley launched another Flamethrower, and was immediately joined by Nara and Gem. The special attacks ceased as the Pokémon took a breath. Korish took advantage of the opening, appearing above Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy with a large Shadow Ball held between her hands.

“Use Aerial Ace!” Twilight Sparkle and Applejack said, together. Their Rowlet collided with Korish, striking her from both sides with their wings. The Shadow Ball dropped and dissipated, and Korish screamed in frustration. The next volley of special attacks struck, and Korish was forced back toward the cave.

The girls and their partners refused to give Korish time to react, striking her again and again in the same pattern until they were feet from the cave entrance. Fluttershy could smell food cooking, but the smoke had died out as whoever or whatever was inside responded to the noise of the battle. Light no longer flooded out of the entrance, and she began to wonder what was there. Then she saw the webbing at the front of the cave.

“Ashley,” she said as she turned toward the cave mouth. “Could you burn down that web, please?”

Ashley hesitated, as she looked from the battle to the webbing, afraid to let up on the enemy for anything. Korish was too strong. Her wounds were minor, and the attacks that struck her seemed to cause more frustration than pain. Though she now panted from exertion, the starters and their human partners seemed to be wearing themselves down too quickly, and the Gourgeist’s attacks were hitting too close to home as she began to figure out ways around their group effort. The wild Pokémon just watched, now. They were terrified of taking a side. Victory for Korish seemed assured, but Ashley’s curious streak won out in the end.

The Litten obeyed her friend, and blew a Flamethrow through the webbing. It disintegrated, and the flames shone light on what was inside. It wasn’t a terribly large cave, but it was still big enough to hold several dozen people and Pokémon. There were four humans crouching at the end of it. They were stocky and dour faced, with dirt and mud caked on their clothes and skin. A dozen, unconscious Scyther with red collars around their necks lay at the human’s feet. Large, threatening Ariados stood silent on the walls as the flames illuminated them. The battle ceased, and both sides looked on. Though the girls and their partners were shocked, the Pokémon of Route 210 seemed fearful and resigned.

“Now we come to it,” Korish said, bitterly. “It took me long enough to get you here. Though, admittedly, I had more fun tormenting you than I should have. This is what you were brought to Route 210 to witness. Not to speak to some champion in Celestic Town as the High Council would have you do, but to see what these Pokémon have been fighting against. To date, all attempts to run these humans off have ended badly. They must hide or appear weak if they’re to stay free from humans like these.”

“Their outfits look like they belong to Team Galactic,” Twilight Sparkle said as she looked through her Pokédex.

“We do,” said one of the scouts from inside the cave. “And we’re taking your Pokémon along with our latest catch. These Scyther were stupid enough to follow us back to our lair. They thought they could get rid of us. They tried to kill us. Now, we’ve got them collard. They’ll obey, once they realize it’s preferable to pain just like all the others. Gotta get rid of you lot, first, though.”

He raised one of his hands, and at his silent guesture the Ariados launched their String Shots simultaneously. Korish dodged the attack with ease, but the exhausted starters were too slow. They were wrapped up and pulled in past the burning web.

“No!” the girls yelled together, but they were caught by webbing that had been placed on the floor. They tripped, forced to lean on each other and the wall to save themselves from falling.

“We won’t let you get away with this!” Rainbow Dash yelled. “You’re goin’ down!”

The Ariados fired Poison Sting attacks at her, but they were blocked by the Rainbow Aura that now surrounded her body. Her aura disintegrated the webbing on the ground. The Ariados began hitting her with Sludge Bombs, though she dodged them with renewed strength. Rainbow Dash ran to Nara’s side and began fighting to untie him.

“Get ‘em loose, girls,” Applejack yelled to her friends as they fought to free their Pokémon. She struggled to tear through the webbing around Archi, and though she made headway faster than her friends it was still difficult. “We got a job ‘ta do, and we ain’t even started yet!”

“Please!” Fluttershy pleaded softly as she pulled at Ashley’s bindings. “Things are so bad here! They don’t have to be. Please, if we just talk things out we can make everything better!”

She turned to the wild Pokémon, her face desperate and tearful as the Ariados swarmed her group.

“This is the problem you must solve,” Korish said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Believe it or not, these humans abuse us less than the ones who live their lives according to the law. Can you convince them to stop? Can you show them a better way?”

Fluttershy looked to her friends, who were already leading their partners in battle against the Galactic Scouts, then back to the wild Pokémon at the mouth of the cave. Suddenly she realized they were scared of Team Galactic almost as much as they were of Korish.

“I don’t know if I can show these people a better way,” Fluttershy said, her fear disappearing as she reached out to the wild Pokémon. Ashley stood next to her protectively, fighting on her own as Fluttershy spoke. “I don’t even know these people, but I know what I’ve seen in your eyes during our battle. I don’t believe that you Pokémon really want to be violent towards humans. You don’t want to obey Korish and Charles. Though their anger is not without merit, their decision to attack people rather than reason with them is wrong. I know that you must see it too!”

The creatures looked to one another anxiously. Some made small movements forward, but stepped back when Korish turned her head to look at them. She scowled at the entire scene. The girls were now holding their own against Team Galactic, their Rainbow Aura giving them an edge against their more skilled opponents. Though they hadn’t ponied-up and their Rainbow Power wasn’t at its strongest, their presence was still invigorating for their partners.

“There is still hope in this world,” Fluttershy said, kindly as her own aura began to surround her. She sprouted wings and took to the air, addressing her words to Korish as much as to the wild Pokémon behind her. “Let us find it together.”

Several of the Pokémon grunted angrily and walked away. With one last, pained look they left the cave and abandoned Fluttershy’s promise of hope. The rest began to slowly inch forward, watching Korish, scared of her reaction. Though the Gourgeist’s face was scowling, she made no move to stop them. After several seconds, those that had decided to aid the humans charged forward to join the fray.

Fluttershy cheered them on as they took the fight to Team Galactic. One of the scouts yelled something desperate, and one of the Weezing near the cave ceiling was knocked out by a powerful hit to the face. It fell several feet, landing on Fluttershy’s head and knocking her down before rolling off to the side. It woke up for a moment and began glowing brightly. The girls screamed as they turned to help Fluttershy, but it was too late. Fluttershy looked around in a daze, the smell of toxins filling her nostrils as the Weezing huffed and puffed next to her. She felt a tug at her waist as her Pokédex removed itself. Several Pokémon, including her Litten friend, bent over her protectively. Then the Weezing exploded, and everything went dark.

Fluttershy awoke on the ground, several yards from the cave. She rubbed her aching head and opened her eyes to see the relieved, smiling faces of her friends. She was in one piece. The battle was over.

The Team Galactic Scouts were tied up and unconscious. Their Pokémon were nearby, looking around uncertainly as they spoke to the wild Pokémon of Route 210. The Scyther that had been captured were slicing apart their collars with righteous glee.

“You alright, sugar cube?” Applejack asked as she helped Fluttershy sit up.

“I think so,” Fluttershy said, softly as she took a water bottle from Twilight Sparkle. “What happened?”

“You got the wild Pokémon to help us!” Rainbow Dash said as she gave her friend a congratulatory pat on the back. “Then you got hit in the head by a Weezing and passed out.”

“We think it was the poisons it secreted that made you lose consciousness,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Your Rotom used Protect just before the Weezing exploded, limiting the damage done to the cave and protecting everyone that came to help you.”

“Turns out our Pokédexes were possessed by friendly ghosts!” Pinkie Pie said, cheerfully. “The High Council made it happen. They’re only supposed to fight when they’re absolutely needed, though. Otherwise, they’re just there to observe and give advice when asked, which stinks because if I’d known they were there I’d have asked a lot of things a long time ago.”

“So… we won?” Fluttershy asked.

“We won a little bit,” Rarity said, carefully. “We’ve got a few more on our side than before, which is always good. Though not everyone agreed with your remarkable speech, darling. At least our Rotom friends convinced Korish to calm down a bit, and we’re well on our way to Celestic Town!”

“Korish and half the Pokémon wanted to strangle those thugs in the cave,” Pinkie Pie said as she pulled a chocolate bar from her bags and gave it to Fluttershy. “Things got pretty hairy for a moment, and I thought we were gonna fight again.”

“The Rotom handled things well enough, though,” Rainbow Dash said, as the other girls agreed.

Fluttershy looked to the sky as her friends continued the conversation. She ate the chocolate bar slowly and considered their situation. Sunset Shimmer and Princess Twilight had warned them that this would be a difficult journey. Even so, Fluttershy felt very unprepared.

“We have to save this place,” Fluttershy said, after a moment of contemplation.

“We will,” Applejack said, confidently. “We will.”

Chapter 11: Trials of Conquest

View Online

“Report in,” Spitfire said over the radio. One by one the Wonderbolts called in, announcing their status and positions. All five teams, six ponies each, gave clipped reports from their stations around the warehouse. Water lapped at the wooden pillars of the dock. Rain fell in steady torrents, as it had since nightfall. The ponies were initially surprised by the weather’s self-sufficiency, but as they explored the clouds above Gotham they realized that they could still control the skies. Though the clouds seemed predisposed to rain and casting their dark shadow over the city. This suited the Wonderbolt’s purpose well.

Men worked quickly in the docks below. They rushed about, carrying crates and transporting goods. Gilda’s new Cybertronian friend claimed that those crates were full of alien contraband, and that these men were part of a human criminal organization that had sold their world out to an extraterrestrial threat. The ponies weren’t sure about any of this, but Gilda and Joan had assured them that the robotic life forms could be trusted. Strongarm had seemed knowledgeable enough, if a bit overzealous in her pursuit of wrongdoers, so the Wonderbolts had agreed to her suggestions.

The men finished their work and left. Guards were stationed at each entrance, but the ponies counted only six in all. Just as the guards were becoming comfortable with their shift, lightning struck the building and knocked out the power. Lightning struck again, knocking out the backup generators as they came online. Two pegasi in the clouds motioned down to Spitfire, letting her know everything was going according to plan.

“The building’s dark,” Spitfire said, her camouflaged storm cloak blowing in the wind. “Your up, Applejack. Be careful with the humans. Cause as little harm as possible. At the first sign of trouble, get out. We’ll cover you.”

“Roger,” Applejack said as she jumped from her cover and ran for the sentries guarding the doorway. Though smaller than the humans, she was physically superior. She overcame the first two thugs with ease. Her appearance caught them off guard, and two solid kicks sent them down.

“The other guards are already calling for backup after the power outage,” Spitfire said, urgently. “You have five minutes.”
Applejack checked the human’s life signs to make sure she hadn’t seriously injured them. Confident that they would be fine, she turned on her small flashlight and darted inside the building.

It was fairly large, full of heavy crates with a few forklifts parked on the far wall. Applejack closed the steel doors behind her as softly as she could. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, though Strongarm had claimed that the boxes were full of weapons. Yet every crate was sealed shut, and there was no way to know what was in them unless they were opened. She looked around in concern and called in.

“Are we sure these guys are workin’ with aliens?” She said through the radio. “This place doesn’t look too conspicuous.”

“Just hurry and find the papers we’re looking for,” Spitfire responded, her voice contorted by static. “We’re running out of time and we don’t need to be seen if we can help it.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll hurry it up.”

Applejack continued creeping through the warehouse, moving as quickly as possible. She passed shelves of small metal boxes, and stacks of large steel tubs. Each one was air sealed, and cold radiated from them as if they were full of ice. They were interesting, but unsurprising. Based on Gilda’s stories, Applejack had expected something more sinister.

She came to a hallway full of offices, checking each one as she went. They were normal enough, though some had strange green helmets displayed on racks behind their desks. She picked an important looking briefcase that was marked “Prime Specimen: Volatile” and attached it to her saddle before continuing on.

After a minute of moving through the warehouse she came to a room with a locked door. A sharp kick broke the door handle and she was in. A red light began flashing on the far wall, signaling the activation of a silent alarm system. She quickly gathered all of the papers she could find. The little she was able to read in her haste made her anger rise. It was unbelievable, infuriating, and completely unexpected. Gilda had said things were bad, but she hadn’t been prepared for this.

The sound of humans running through the warehouse echoed across the building. Applejack turned off her flashlight, snuck out of the room and back down the hallway. While the Wonderbolts had insisted on wearing blue, Cloudsdale made flight suits, Applejack had accepted gear made in Ponyville. She wore dark, cloth battle armor with the same enchantments on it that Gilda’s had possessed. As she crawled past the humans along the tops of boxes, her movement muffled by her enchanted cloth, she silently thanked Rarity and Twilight for making such effective gear. She was almost to the exit when she slipped.

One of the metal crates was covered in oil that had spilled from another crate on a shelf higher up. Applejack began to rush as the sound of cars announced the arrival of more gangsters. She stepped on the wrong crate and slipped. The oil slick sent her falling downwards. She tried to correct herself while keeping her volatile package sill. Her left, back leg kicked out and hit the row of boxes under her, sending them falling to the ground. Shouts of “Naja Naja” filled the air as the thugs closed in on the noise, but by the time they had trained their flashlights on the source Applejack was gone.

“That was close,” Spitfire said as Applejack walked up next to her. She had watched as the humans ran inside the building, half expecting Applejack to be caught. Her Wonderbolts had been ready to bust through the windows, but Rainbow Dash had insisted that they wait a moment longer. Then Applejack had emerged.

“Fightin’ our way out of there wouldn’t a’ been easy,” Applejack said as she took a storm cloak from one of the Wonderbolts.

“Did you find what we need?”

“Yup, and from what little I’ve read it doesn’t look too good.” She patted the pocket in her armor where the papers were, and then put a gentle hoof on the briefcase at her side. “I found conformation that these humans are tradin’ their own people for alien weapons. I even found the location of the next trade off.”

“Yet we’re still staying in the dark, and avoiding the action,” Rainbow Dash said, angrily from Spitfire’s right. “We should be in there, busting rump and taking names! We can erase memories as we go.”

“We’re leaving that to the Transformers for now,” Spitfire said, though she sounded as if she regretted it. “They can do the job without having to erase memories. Let’s hurry back to base and inform them of the location of the next target. Wonderbolts, move out!”

Yells and screams of surprise came from the warehouse as a bright orange sports car drove up to the entrance. Weapons fired and explosions shook the ground, but the frantic cultists were no match for Drift and his minicons.

Using her mind to search Gotham City, Joan had helped Gilda and her friends capture the rest of the cultists who had escaped their previous battle. Though they had used high caliber weapons, Strongarm’s metal skin had been more than enough to protect Gilda between sorties. After a short battle, the cultists were taken into custody. Now the Equestrian forces had a number of humans to study and interrogate, though Joan added an addendum to her report stating that these were not the best subjects.

Sideswipe had driven Joan and her Clefable guardians to Gotham to treat Gilda’s injuries and help secure their new prisoners. Gilda had insisted that she would be fine, but Joan wanted to make sure of it. The bullet had pierced straight through her leg, despite her enchanted armor. The scar wasn’t pretty, but Gilda said that her fur would cover it in time. Until then, she had to either fly most of the time or walk on three legs.

After the destruction of her previous hideout, Gilda had set herself up in a large garage that had once belonged to one of Gotham’s many crime families. A group of small time car thieves had built a shop there. Gilda had been forced to drive them out. With Strongarm’s help, she and her Litwick had captured them while staying hidden and the Cybertronian had delivered them to the police. Then the second wave had arrived, led by Captain Spitfire of the Wonderbolts. Gilda had returned to Canterlot to deliver her prisoners and receive further medical attention.

The Wonderbolts arrived with orders from Canterlot to protect the innocent while staying hidden. Eager to help, Strongarm had called several of her friends in for assistance. The Transformers protected the city, stopping car chases and destroying criminal hideouts while disguised as vehicles while the ponies scouted out their targets. Yet for each rat’s nest they cleared, twelve more sprang up to replace it. Half of the criminal hideouts that had been uncovered were full of alien creatures that had set up shop in Gotham’s underground. These were the most difficult challenges the Transformers faced, as their weapons were more powerful than those the humans used. That was beginning to change.

“Drift reports that the enemy escaped from the warehouse,” Strongarm said as the Wonderbolts walked into the garage. “The crates were full of weapons, and the cultists were all too eager to use them when their guns failed to pierce Drift’s chassis.”

“We’re not used to these kinds of weapons,” Spitfire said as she removed her wet goggles and sat down on a pillow next to Strongarm. “What does he make of them?”

“Basic plasma blasters, mostly. There were some heavy-duty lasers, and sub-zero ice guns as well. Effective, but I doubt the aliens are giving them their best stock. He and his disciples forced the enemy into retreat, but staying in car mode is becoming too much of a handicap. They’ve taken damage.”

“Both of us have strict orders to stay hidden. I’m afraid there’s nothing to do about it, for now.”

“Bumblebee has gone back home to request more leeway. I doubt he’ll get it. HQ wants us to stay out of human affairs from now on.”

“But you’re here to observe, right?” Rainbow Dash asked as she and Applejack took their seats next to Spitfire. “Why?”

“Optimus Prime wants to understand some things,” Strongarm said, hesitantly. “Humans were born on a planet in our world that was actually the dirt covered body of the Chaos Bringer, Unicron. They were good at heart, but they had a dark side. A… very dark side. Their governments turned away all our attempts at friendship, even after they began colonizing other planets. They hadn’t even left their own solar system before they fell into infighting and self-destruction. They eventually retreated to one of their colony planets, and we haven’t heard from them since.”

“So the humans of your universe didn’t fare too well, eh?” Applejack said, sadly as she gave Ratchet her briefcase. The old medic grumbled about carrying dangerous materials in thunderstorms as he took it. “Not sure that bodes too well for our mission.”

“But they were affected by the presence of the evil one!” Strongarm said, her tone almost pleading as she spoke in defense of the humans. “And it wasn’t the whole species. There were a lot of good humans! I met some, and they were my friends.”

“What proof do you have that this ‘Unicron’ had affected the humans?” Spitfire asked as she opened a bottle of water on the table between them and took a sip.

“W-well, we know that humanity was born and evolved on Earth. Unicron had slept at the core of the Earth for millions of years. He was the core of the Earth! There must be a connection!”

“Twilight’s not here, so I feel obligated to ask this in her place,” Rainbow Dash said, as she took a seat next to Spitfire. “But it sounds like the only proof you have is situational. Are there any experiments you’ve done? You said humanity started living on other planets. What were the humans like who weren’t born on Earth?”

“There were no experiments done on the humans,” Ratchet grumbled. He had opened the briefcase to reveal two containers filled with yellow liquid, which he carefully placed in a stasis pod. “We only watched and waited. Their brutality put Megatron’s to shame, and it didn’t matter where they were born. To think, we actually learned from them once.”

“Their brutality was no worse than that of other primitive, organic life-forms,” Strongarm said, sternly. “Nor were they worse than Megatron. Though… they were pretty bad.”

“They were worse,” Ratchet said, huffing angrily at Strongarm’s correction as he walked away.

“Well, our mission is to understand humans better,” Spitfire said. “And Applejack’s right, this doesn’t bode well.”
Applejack gave Strongarm the papers she had taken from the warehouse. They sat in silence for several minutes as Strongarm went through them. Drift, Slipstream, and Jetstorm came into the garage for medical treatment several minutes later. Though they had several burn marks each, they were still in high spirits as Ratchet tended to their wounds.

“This place is out of our reach,” Strongarm said after she had read through the papers. “It’s at the top of a building, and we don’t have any Ariel Bots on our team. Until we get permission to operate in bot mode, we can’t get up there.”

“We’re not gonna let those people just get sold off to some alien race!” Rainbow Dash said. “We’ll take it, right Captain?”
She turned to look at Spitfire, who was deep in thought.

“Of course we’ll take it,” she said as she rubbed her chin. “But we’ll have to clear out the enemy without being seen.”

“How are you going to do that?” Strongarm asked.

“We’re bringing the wrath of nature with us.”

The storm clouds above Gotham thickened as the night wore on. The weather was becoming more vicious by the minute, though the soldiers of Kobra had strict orders to follow. The alien vessel sat just below them, hovering above a skyscraper owned by a wealthy businessman named George Pascetti, who secretly served Lord Kobra. Batman had suspected him for months now, but he hadn’t gathered the proof he needed for the courts. Now he was off world, distracted by the fighting in space alongside his friends in the Justice League.

The Bat Family was busy tracking down and dismantling alien hideouts throughout the city while struggling to stamp down a gang war. According to reports, two of the kids, Robin and Spoiler, were out of the action. Broken bones and plasma burns do that, Boss Pascetti had said upon hearing the news. His bodyguards had chuckled along with him as he looked through pictures of Red Hood, his face bleeding through a damaged mask, dragging the kids out of the firefight.

The other members of the Bat Family hadn’t fared much better. Batwoman was still the most active, but due to her own injuries she had chosen a different strategy. Alien threats had begun to impersonate the Gotham elite, and take control of human businesses. Choosing to give the majority of the groundwork over to the GPD, she now directed the rest of the Bat Family in sniffing out impostors. The last three raids had ended in success, but the invaders wouldn’t be deterred.

“Word has it you’re dealing with our city’s little vigilante problem,” Mr. Pascetti said as he met with the alien leader. His fake Italian accent was as bad as his fake name. He offered one hand to his guest and patted his round stomach with the other. The alien was a tall, skinny blue creature. It grimaced at the human’s gesture before returning to the virtual data slate in its three fingered hands.

“Those fools stand in the way of our final bulwark,” it hissed. Its green eyes narrowed as it spoke of the Bats and its long forked tongue flickered angrily. “We will turn this solar system into a fortress through which we may finally rebuff these other-dimensional raiders. Your world will be its heart, and its most fortified sector.”

“Why Earth?” Pascetti said, ignoring the alien’s slight.

“Because it is inhabited. You have powerful heroes, and there are armies already here to add to our firepower when the outer walls are ultimately breached. Your kind will be canon fodder.”

“I thought that’s what these people were for?” the man said as he motioned down at the captives. “That’s why you’ve been taking people from all over the world, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but even with our cloning machines they are not enough. The enemy we have encountered thus far stand between fifteen and forty feet tall, and death doesn’t hold them for long. We plan for the worst case scenario, and prepare our actions accordingly.”

“And in the aftermath, my lord will inherit the Earth and his people with him.”

Mr. Pascetti’s dropped his accent with this last statement. His bodyguards grinned at his words, but the alien looked at him strangely. When he spoke, it was as one who was addressing a fool.

“If your lord survives, he will inherit a worthless husk. If that pleases him, then so be it. None in our alliance care what befalls your world once we’re done with it.”

“So, this deal is final?”

“We have both fulfilled our obligations,” the creature said as he looked to the human guards and their shining new plasma rifles. “We are finished. Until next time.”

Ten aliens disembarked from the ship, each carrying a long electric rod in its hands. The human prisoners begged and pleaded through their mouth gags, but the aliens paid them no mind. The cultists watched as the aliens began shepherding their cargo onboard the ship. A wall cloud began to form in the sky above, but so focused were the criminals on their transaction that none of them bothered to care.

Tornados tore through the ship, ripping it apart and sending its insides scattering to the wind before the captives could board. Pegasus ponies created curving gales that forced the debris away from the rooftop and into the skyscraper. Spitfire wanted to leave no chances for the captives to be harmed. She had ordered harsh measures to be taken. Ponies kicked lighting from the clouds, directing it to strike the cultists and aliens below. A fire started on the rooftop, but was soon quenched by a heavy downpour.

The captives looked around in fear and wonder while their slavers twitched on the ground. They looked about the sky, wondering what providence had smiled down upon them. They saw nothing in the pitch-black sky, but slowly dispersing clouds. Sirens sounded below. Police and paramedics had been alerted. Help had arrived. The people began to steadily file through the doorway that led down into the building. The news would have one good report that day, a bright spot in the sea of misery that was Gotham.

Chapter 12: Trials of Conquest

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Joan looked out over Metropolis from the rooftop of a building on the city’s outskirts. She had teleported here, so as not to leave a trail for Lois Lane to follow. Lex had a number of security cameras set up in this suburb. He owned almost everything in Metropolis, and through his security system he knew everything that happened on his property. At least he did under normal circumstances.

Joan had put in one last request for the second wave as it was coming through. Now, several members of the Porygon family controlled all of Lex Luthor’s methods of observing this place. They had invaded his computer mainframes undetected, and blocked his machines from picking up any sign of the Pokémon. Confident of her privacy, Joan had dropped her psychic illusion. This place was their safe haven while they prepared for the arrival of God’s Breath.

Over the past several days Joan had learned that Lex Luthor had once served with the Justice League, and was regarded as a hero of Earth. Lois didn’t believe he was a hero, and she was busy trying to disprove his claims. She printed articles daily about who Lex had once been and why he shouldn’t be trusted. She argued that Superman didn’t trust him, and neither should the public. Yet he wore a strange, blue power suit with the symbol of Superman on it, and the more he fought crime in it the more people loved him. He gave them hope, just as Joan did.

She was greatly admired, as well. What had been a growing respect from the public had turned into something more as Lex acted on Joan’s visions that Lois published in the Daily Planet. Lex had even released information pertaining to her visit to his mansion, though most of it had been fabricated. She was associated with him now, and she didn’t know what to think of it. All she really knew was that Lex and Lois were playing a political game that she didn’t want any part of.

“It’s getting cold lately,” Welshi said as she came to sit next to Joan. “The seasons are changing.”

The Whimsicott had arrived with the Wonderbolts several days prior as leader of the second wave of Pokémon. The Slowking and Alakazam had improved their cross-dimensional portal machine and everyone had appeared in one place this time. The Wonderbolts had remained in Gotham to take over for Gilda, while the Pokémon of God’s Breath had traveled to Metropolis. The hope was that each party would see a different side of human society. Every member of both teams would record their thoughts and observations. Those records would pave the way for the joint effort that would begin once the cities arrived. Joan had already taken extensive notes, but she had yet to reach a conclusion. Welshi hadn’t talked much about their mission, but Joan felt that she was already reaching her own conclusions.

Welshi was carefree, and whimsical. It showed in her leadership style. All of her guardians were Lilligant, and while they were powerful they didn’t adhere to normal military protocol. When their mistress called for them, they appeared. Until then, those Pokémon under her charge were given the leeway to do what they wanted. Only two of them stood guard near their leaders, though they were busy grooming each other’s petals while Laurel and Ada gave advice.

Joan wished she could be so carefree, just as she wished to escape the rivalry between Lex and Lois. However, her visions were needed, and she couldn’t deny these people her help. She tried once more to navigate the future, the seventh time in the last hour, but it was too much. She reluctantly pulled her sight back to the present.

“All I see is darkness in our future,” Joan said, softly. “I no longer know if something is blocking my vision, or if the paths of fate are so horrific that I subconsciously block it myself.”

“You’ve been doing this for too long,” Welshi said, simply. “It’s not healthy, especially under such stressful circumstances. You’re losing focus on the present as you live more and more in the past and future. Even Dorris gives her psychics a break on occasion. Perhaps it’s time to leave the public eye.”

She removed a seed from her hair and held it in her hand. It grew into a beautiful red rose in the span of a few seconds.

“What are you doing?” Joan asked as she watched her friend make more roses.

“As you know, when I was younger I traveled the human world, too. I was barely evolved back then.”

“As I recall, you caused several fashion disasters for a runway model in Kalos,” Joan giggled. “That poor girl was hit with a media storm when the video leaked of a Whimsicott throwing cotton balls at her from off stage.”

“They made her dresses look prettier!” Welshi said, defensively. Then she grinned. “I should have sewn them on before the show, though.”
She had three roses in her hands, now. She stopped pulling seeds from her hair and glanced behind her. Their bodyguards were still chatting about color patterns and hair treatment.

“I made my trip to the human world at the same time you made yours. We both saw a lot of neat things, but I saw something different. You avoided humanity, watching them from the shadows just as we are now. During my travels, I spent as much time with the humans as I could.”

She twirled the roses in her hands. Then she gave one to Joan and put the other two in her hair.

“I’ve got countless stories of humans. Did you know, the first person I ever traveled with was an Aroma Lady? Her name was Joan, too, and she was very kind. She’s the only human I journeyed with that didn’t try to catch me.”

“Did she ever say why?”

“Not in words, exactly. I saw her battle once and realized it, though. She wasn’t the best trainer. When we met, she knew she wasn’t strong enough to capture me but she still loved battling. I watched her battle a young Rising Star the day we started our journey together. Her entire team, all four Pokémon, lost in just under five minutes. Not a single Pokémon from her opponent’s team was beaten.”

“So what did you do?”

“I jumped in as her fifth Pokémon,” Welshi said, with a reminiscent laugh. “She called moves, though they were moves of all different types that I couldn’t perform. Still, I beat the entire enemy team. After the battle, I trained her and her partners.”

“You didn’t speak the human language, I presume?” Joan asked. It was forbidden for the Pokémon of God’s Breath to speak the human language to the humans of their world, so as not to risk discovery of the city. Though Welshi had been known to ignore rules when it suited her.

“No, no,” Welshi said as she waved off the idea. “I spoke in our language, but I got my point across. It turned out, she was trying to become strong so she could teach her son one day. His father had been a strong trainer when he was alive, and Joan wanted their son to follow in his footsteps. She just didn’t have an affinity for battle, and in the end I couldn’t fix that. I made her Pokémon strong, though. Defeating them wouldn’t be easy for your average trainer.”

“So, they carried her through battles from there on out? That seems a bit unfair to Joan. She should have been allowed to grow alongside her Pokémon.”

“Oh, she grew,” Welshi said, proudly. “She grew in character as she tried, and repeatedly failed to beat me alongside her partners. She learned from her mistakes, even though she was never able to master the basics. She also learned from her Pokémon as they strived to grow stronger and make their friend’s dreams come true. During the course of our training, that Aroma Lady learned that she had some skill with medicine. She learned something new about herself, something she could pass on to her son alongside her husband’s love of battling.”

“And what did you learn, Welshi?” Joan asked. A Mimikyu sang softly as he walked along the rooftop’s ledge until he came to stand next to Joan. She picked him up and held him. He cooed happily at the attention.

“I learned that growing together, and striving to better the lives of others is a vital part of our mission in life. But the humans of this world… are different. They look to the skies for their savior, rather than trying to save themselves.”

“The heroes of this world can fly,” Joan said, jokingly. “Where else would you look for them?”

“But what do they strive for?” Welshi said. Joan marveled silently at how serious her friend was being. This wasn’t a side of Welshi that was often seen. “They look to this ‘Lex Luthor’ and see a man who will save them from the terrors of the universe. Adversity makes us stronger, but how strong can these people be if others face their adversity for them? I became the adversary for Aroma Lady Joan and her partners to make them stronger. What makes these people stronger?”

“That might be a question for the Slowking College,” Joan replied. “Though I can say, with confidence, that the humans of this world have begun looking up to me as a hero. At the very least, I’ve become an idol. My visions of the future have given them hope where their hope was failing. This problem is beyond them, but I help to bridge that gap between defenselessness and safety.”

“And how do you feel about that?” Welshi asked.

Joan considered the question as she hugged the Mimikyu closer.

“I’ve gotten too involved, haven’t I?” Joan said, blushing slightly as she realized that she had tainted her own mission.

“Yes,” Welshi said, kindly yet sternly. “You were only supposed to observe, make friends, and understand the state of their world. Instead, you’ve been leading these people, in a way. Though perhaps the heroes of this world are too involved, as well. I wonder what these humans would do without them?”

“Yet another question for the Slowking College,” Joan said with a sigh.

“Pikayu, Pikayu,” the Mimikyu sang as he rocked gently in Joan’s arms.

“You’re forgetting the ‘chu’, my dear,” Joan said as she smiled down at her new friend. He had come with several other Fairy-types to support her. Welshi said he was quite young, but had provided strong protection for the psychic circles that had served in the Battleworld kingdom of Ashes. At least, that was what the Slowking’s records said.

“I don’t want to be a Pikachu,” the Mimikyu replied. “I just want to look like one, and sound a bit like one, too. I’m still me, Lady Joan.”

Joan hugged the little creature tighter. He was so cheerful and confident, unusual traits for one of his kind. Joan had been that way once, but the past two years had changed that. She wanted to take this little one home and keep him safe, but they were soldiers of God’s Breath. They had an important mission to accomplish. Arceus demanded an answer, and it wouldn’t wait forever. In the meantime, they faced unknown horrors and an uncertain future.

Sideswipe drove up to the parking lot and honked. He had been driving around for several hours, watching the people and keeping himself occupied.

“I’m going for a drive, little one,” Joan said to the Mimikyu as an idea began to form in her mind. “Would you like to come with me?”

“Yes, please!”

“Should I come?” Welshi asked.

“We’re coming!” Ada said as she and Laurel ran over to Joan’s side.

“Gather your Lilligant and stand by,” Joan told Welshi as she rose from her seat to hover in the air with her Clefable guardians. “I’m going to confront Lex Luthor. Then, I’m leaving the public eye.”

“We’re calling them the ‘Wraiths’,” Lex Luthor said to the crowd before the Daily Planet. He hovered in front of them, his blue power suit gleaming in the sunlight. “Don’t worry, my friends. We have everything under control.”

“You’re working with the Justice League, again?” one man said from the group of awestruck onlookers.

“I have been in talks with the Martian Manhunter. He’s gone to the battle in space, and reported back to us with some very valuable information.”

“The majority of those kidnapped have been rescued,” Joan said as she walked up. She was disguised as the brown haired woman that the public knew. Hwan, the Mimikyu she had invited along, was limp in her hands. He was enjoying his role as a rag doll, and the fact that everyone around him fell for it so easily. One man saw him blink through the holes in his costume. He scratched his head in confusion, but said nothing.

“Thanks to your remarkable insights,” Lex said. He nodded to Joan in respect and crossed his hands behind his back authoritatively. “The Martian also revealed the true face of our alien insurgents. The Wraiths, as we call them, have been to Earth once before. Our country had one working for them for decades, but he and his technology were Trojan Horses. An armada came to conquer our planet, tracking the loan Wraith they had sent as a decoy. They would have stripped our civilization clean and left us in the Stone Age, or wiped us out entirely, if not for Superman.”

“And what have you discovered about these Wraiths, Mr. Luthor?”

“Why don’t you tell me?” Lex replied.

Joan sighed, and looked into the past. Visions filled her mind. She saw Lex meeting with his security contractors. They were discussing something on a screen, but Joan couldn’t make out what it was without proper meditation. Dark shapes moved about in the background, marring her vision. The buzz they made was so painful and infuriating that she had to retreat to the present.

“You found one,” Joan said, though it was a guess. She blinked as the buzzing rang distantly in her mind. “You found a Wraith living on Earth. Living among us. Plotting against us.”

“I did,” Lex said with a satisfied smile. “Your vision impresses, as always. That is why I need your help, Madam Joan. I can defeat this foe, but I need your psychic powers at my side.”

This wasn’t going how Joan had expected it to. She had planned to tell off Lex before announcing her retirement to Lois. Then, assuming Lex chose not to attack her for not being human, she would have teleported out of the office before her new friend could convince her to stay. Instead, Lex Luthor was pulling her into another one of his plans. Yet, as Joan looked at the pleading faces in the crowd she knew what answer she had to give.

“I’ll go with you, Lex. I will lend you my foresight.”

“Excellent,” Lex Luthor said with his most cunning grin yet.

Chapter 13: Trials of Conquest

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“Are you sure about this, Joan?” Spitfire said from her seat in the garage’s rest area. Most of her team was out on patrol, helping Strongarm follow a lead on the Kobra Cult. Sideswipe had driven Joan and Welshi to the hideout in Gotham moments before. They brought dire news, and Spitfire had immediately offered the assistance of the Wonderbolts. The three leaders now sat in deep discussion with their Cybertronian friends.

“I am not sure of anything, right now,” Joan said. She had tried many times in the last few days to see the future, but the shadows and the buzzing had proven too much. Now it hurt even when she wasn’t using her psychic powers, though Welshi and Joan both attributed this to strain. “I walked right into Lex Luthor’s web. It couldn’t have happened any easier had it been foretold. I should have seen it coming but I didn’t, just as I didn’t see the Wraith’s hand in the affairs of this planet. My visions of the future are… failing me!”

Welshi and Spitfire shared a worried look at their friend’s distress.

“I’m no psychic,” Spitfire said, carefully. “But you’re just one person. You can’t possibly catch everything, even without this strange interference you’re experiencing.”

“I have to!” Joan said, angrily. “This world is on the brink of destruction! Billions will die if I fail! Our world is in no less peril!”

“I know, but getting upset won’t solve our problem. Neither world is dead, yet.”

“But it’s been weeks and we’re no closer to a resolution,” Joan replied with a tired, frustrated sigh. She put her head in her hands. It was pounding from her failed attempts at looking into the future.

“Perhaps you should return to God’s Breath and relax, a bit,” Welshi said as she put a comforting hand on Joan’s arm. “You’ll feel better after some rest in the palace.”

“Perhaps,” Joan said, as she considered the tempting offer. “The Slowking would welcome my assistance in the study halls, but I’ve made an agreement and I’d like to honor it before I leave. I’m also worried about our Porygon. Their situation is quite serious, as was the news they delivered. Our response has been swift, but we no longer control the computer mainframes in Lex Luthor’s mansion.”

“You have the Wonderbolts at your back, Lady Joan,” Spitfire said, resolutely. Fleetfoot and Soarin saluted behind their captain. “No matter what happens, that won’t change.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will need your strength,” Joan replied as she rubbed her temples. “Especially since my foresight is blocked by that terrible noise, and the shadows that make it. I fear for the other psychic-types when they arrive.”

“Could you describe this noise, Lady Joan?” Ratchet said as Undertone, Jetstorm, and Slipstream offered trays of hot tea and oil to the group.

“It’s an insectoid buzzing, but there’s something mechanical about it,” Joan said. She thanked Undertone as she took a cup. Her hands shook as she recalled the feeling of future gazing. “Something feels wrong about it. Then I see these shadows that I believe are the source. They appear as small, dark shapes in my visions. I don’t feel it now, but I haven’t used my psychic abilities for several hours. I’m not sure I want to try. That is the best I can describe it at present. I’m sorry.”

“Psychic abilities are rare among Transformers,” Ratchet said, his rough, wizened voice trailing off slightly. “I’m afraid I don’t have enough information to help you.”

Joan got the feeling he was hiding something, but she couldn’t tell. She thought about reading his mind, but like the psychic-types in the world beyond the city, the psychic-types of God’s Breath weren’t in the habit of reading the minds of their allies without permission. Nor were they fond of reading futures or pasts without permission. They most often read their own fortunes, if they chose to read fortunes at all. Yet she had been reading the minds of humans daily since her arrival, whether her targets knew it or not. As Joan shook off the desire to read Ratchet’s mind, it struck her just how much she had been veering away from the customs she had been raised with.

“I will accompany Lex Luthor on this mission,” Joan said after a minute of reflection. “Though this may well be a trap, I agreed to help because I wish to protect the people here. I would like all of you to be ready to take action once we have an idea of what’s going on. Luthor knows I am not of this world, and most likely knows of the rest of you, as well. I feel obligated to help solve this ‘Wraith’ problem, if I am able. When we are done, I will return home and request guidance from the princesses.”

“How do we go about this then?” Spitfire asked as she took a sip of her tea.

“Our enemy is clever,” Drift said, sagely. “He has discovered your secrets, and ours. Though, I don’t believe he knows the extent of our power. I have spent time near several human military bases recently. Some of them were responsible for testing experimental technology. I may have an idea of what we are in for, should this be a trap.”

He went on to explain that the humans were rebuilding old infrastructures that had been decommissioned in the past. They were employing tactics that were highly secret and very questionable. The group needed a diversion to bring this trap down around their enemy’s heads, should the need arise. Joan volunteered, and Drift developed a plan centered on her role in Lex’s stakeout.

Metropolis was beautiful at night despite the thunderheads looming on the horizon. People continued to walk the streets and enjoy themselves, though they were fewer in number than they had once been. Many people were choosing to stay home when they could, rather than venture outside into potentially unknown situations. The mass abductions and alien attacks transpiring across the globe were taking their toll on society. Trade was slowing, and some countries were turning into police states to try and get a grip on the situation. Even through the painful interference, Joan could feel the fear and anxiety building within humanity.

The Justice League, once powerful and whole, was now a shadow of its former self. Those heroes who could survive in the vacuum had traveled into space to help deal with the fallout from countless civilizations fleeing their homes. Still vastly undermanned and facing an escalating invasion of sentient ships empowered by some dark substance, the space faring heroes couldn’t monitor every ship that came through. Alien threats slipped past their blockade daily, and made their way to Earth as members of a desperate alliance.

The heroes who were left on Earth were forced to deal with a myriad of problems. Opportunistic villains and an increasingly coordinated alien presence had punished the heroes, injuring many who served. The Justice League was strained to breaking point. Law enforcement was beginning to take the brunt of the daily assaults as wounded heroes were forced off of the battlefield. Even in the United States, the military was stepping in to fill the void with new technology and tactics. Joan had done her best to aid these people while keeping herself hidden, but it hadn’t been enough. Now she had the chance to take the head off the beast, and perhaps give Earth a reprieve. At the very least, she knew that she would learn something valuable from this event.

“They’re solidifying into a cohesive fighting force,” Lex said from his vantage point in the hotel room. They were in one of his many business establishments, standing on the fifteenth floor. Joan and Lex were alone, looking out the window together at a small shop in a recently evacuated suburb. “Their headquarters is in one of my buildings. I blame you for this, personally.”

“Oh?” Joan said, with mock surprise. “How is that?”

“You disabled my security systems all across this suburb,” Lex said, his voice tense with suppressed anger. “I don’t know how you made such an advanced set of viruses, but that little stunt allowed these beasts into my home.”

“I sense your desire to protect Metropolis. I respect that, Lex. I have things I must protect, as well. Which is why I have been so secretive. These beings slipped in under my watch, and for that I am truly sorry.”

“So, are the others in waiting?”

“Yes, just as your soldiers are in waiting. What caliber weapons do they wield?”

“Fifty cal,” Lex said with a proud grin. “Though, it’s not the size of the bullet that matters, it’s what’s inside. What do you think it is, Lady Joan? Can you see it?”

“I could, but I’d rather you tell me.”

“Your visions have become less… descriptive lately. Is there a reason?”

“There is something terrible on the horizon. It hurts to peer into the future by myself. But to be honest, I’ve had enough of future gazing for a while.”

“Ah, you’ve reached your limits, then,” Lex said with a smug grin. “I suppose it can’t hurt to tell you, my soldiers are shooting max-grav-photon-emitters and bullets packed with miniature black holes.”
Joan raised an eyebrow at this, and Lex’s grin widened.

“It’s a technology created by our government using something they called ‘The Machine’,” he continued. “These weapons were designed to bring Superman to his knees. This machine was sent by the Wraiths, along with their warrior. Our government created marvels with it, yet they were lost when the machine was destroyed. I have rediscovered this wonder and given it to my soldiers. Due to their potential for collateral damage, only two people on this battlefield are trusted with them apart from myself. That will be enough.”

“The government paid handsomely for this technology, I presume?”

“They did. Our alien adversaries believe they have us outgunned. They are sorely mistaken.”

Lex affixed Joan with a confident stare, as if he had just declared checkmate in a game of chess. Joan didn’t have to read his mind to know that his words were directed at her, as much as they were the Wraiths in the building below. She returned his grin with one of her own as she held out a hand and willed a small black hole to form in her palm. She maintained it and shielded it with her mind, protecting the outside world from its gravity well. Shadows moved on the edges of her vision whenever she used her psychic powers now and the painful buzz returned, but it was worth the pain to see Lex’s smug smile wiped off of his face.

“I am the strongest of my species,” Joan replied as Lex watched her hand with clear discomfort. “Yet all of my kind can create black holes. I can simply do it more easily than the others. The creatures I serve are even greater. You are still outgunned, Lex.”

“I suppose we’ll have to make better arrangements, then,” Luthor grumbled. He turned his head away, pretending to look elsewhere while muttering to himself. Several minutes passed in silence, then a ringing came from Lex’s suit. He pressed a button on his collar and spoke.

“Status report.”

“We’ve found somethin’ weird,” said a silly, singsong voice from the radio. Joan had one in her ear, given to her by Lex to help her coordinate with his security contractors and his unnamed allies.

“What is it?”

“You’ll see!” she said. Then the line cut off.

“Who was that?” Joan asked.

“A government clown,” Lex said, his voice tight and frustrated. Tremors shook the building as Lex looked down at the holographic radar projected by his gauntlet. “Prepare yourself. Whatever they found is coming our way fast.”

“I sense no life from it,” Joan said as she rose into the air.

“If you’re going to display your power anyway, why not drop that little illusion?” Lex said as he followed suit.

“I will not reveal more than I must simply to satisfy your curiosity,” Joan replied. “I told you, I have things I…”

The building exploded before Joan could finish her sentence. She caught a glimpse of a dark, blue humanoid with streaks of red pouring off of him as he tore through every floor of the building with ease. Mechanical implants stuck out in places, dripping with some strange, purple substance.

“He’s coming straight for you, Joan!” Lex yelled from somewhere nearby. Joan instinctively teleported to a different part of the street, and watched as the creature blew through another building. She saw it as it searched desperately for its victims in the dust and debris. Its body was skinny and emaciated. Its mouth was sewn shut. It looked dead, yet Joan had a feeling that wasn’t the case. It sniffed the air, turned toward her, and charged again.

Joan raised a hand, gritted her teeth against the pain, and wrapped the Wraith in her psychic might, stopping it in its tracks. It fought against her, struggling to free itself, its hands several feet from her throat. Each time the creature twitched it inched closer. Joan winced in pain as she fought against it. She looked to her side, and saw Lex watching her with an inquisitive smile on his face.

“You’re gauging me, aren’t you?”

“If your kind become our enemies, it would do my allies and I good to know your limits,” Lex replied. “You’ve already proven to be quite dangerous.”

“Then it’s time I tagged you in,” Joan yelled as she redirected the emaciated Wraith at Lex. She released her grip on the alien and it zoomed forward, colliding with Luthor at high speed. He caught the creature, but was driven back. The monster’s mouth forced itself open despite the metal cables holding it shut. It struggled to bite Lex, but he held it at bay. Then came the sound of a gunshot from further up the street, and the creature screamed in pain as it was knocked sideways by an explosion that erupted from its side.

“Careful, you fool! You nearly hit me!” Lex yelled.

“I don’t work for you, Luthor,” said a rough, male voice through the radio. “I’ve just got your toys.”

“We’ve got ‘em too, criminal,” came a second male voice, this one clipped and official sounding. “More are coming, Mr. Luthor. That’s not the only one.”

“It’s also not dead,” Joan cried as the thing charged her again. She grabbed it with her mind, more easily than before, and slammed it against the ground with enough force to make a crater. It moaned, and stopped moving. Joan smiled down at her conquest before looking up to congratulate Lex and his team for a job well done.

A vision of warning suddenly crossed her mind. She saw a large, blue fist hitting her with incredible force. She was so shocked at how easily the fortune came to her that she paused for a moment, her eyes closed. When she looked up she was met with the fearsome face of a second Wraith. Its fist collided with her stomach. It felt like a Machamp had just hit her with all four arms at once. Her illusion failed and she was slammed through a skyscraper.

“Huh,” said the silly voice from before. “I saw it comin’ with my binoculars, why didn’t you, Ms. Psychic Pants?”

“She did see it coming, Harley,” said a second woman over the radio. Her voice was firm, commanding, and confident. “It’s been so long since she’s had a vision without pain that she didn’t know what to make of it for a moment.”

“You are… Amanda Waller?” Joan said as she teleported out of the way of another heavy strike. She ducked under the Wraith, her mind running franticly to predict its movements as well as the actions of the humans she was working with. The future was coming to her as easily as it always had. She couldn’t explain it, but the buzzing and shadows were gone. She teleported again a moment before the Wraith’s second fist came for her face, and reappeared above it where she slammed it to the ground with a powerful Psychic attack. The monster’s body crashed through the street and into the sewers below.

“What more can you tell me about myself?” Amanda Waller said, her tone measured and calm as if she were giving a test. Joan peered into the past, but the buzzing returned with a vengeance. She fell to her knees on the ground and gripped her head in pain. She used Wish as she forced herself to her feet. The Wraith she had just knocked down was already crawling out of the rubble, and its eyes were locked on her.

“I don’t think she can tell you much of anything,” Lex said through the radio. There was satisfaction in his voice, mixed with strain as he fought a third Wraith. More were coming out of the shattered building. Explosions sounded as Lex’s mercenaries hit the Wraiths with round after round. “I can see you now, Joan. The true you. My little psy-disruptor works like a charm, it would seem. It was nice of you to take that suburb from me, really. You may have caused this little mishap, but at least we know how to deal with your kind. Having you stay in a reliable location was quite convenient for the testing process of my new invention.”

“What is this?” Joan said, angrily. “Who are these people you’re working with?”

“We’re the people humanity calls on to protect society from the threats the Justice League doesn’t want to face,” Amanda said, through the radio. “We’re the result of the human race looking to the sky and seeing flawed heroes. So we turn to our own kind, be they meta-human, sorcerer or skilled soldier. We even take a few non-humans from time to time. Sure, they may be murderers and thieves kept in line by force, but they get the job done. You see, despite the presence of the League, the people of this planet have been forced to face our problems, and we’ve learned from it. We’ve developed the technology and tactics to deal with it without the supers, if need be. My organization is mankind’s answer to the adversity we’ve faced. Your friend just hasn’t been here long enough to know it.”

“You… were monitoring us…” Joan groaned as the mechanical buzzing continued. It was so intense, so ingrained in her psyche now that she was beginning to imagine words formed out of the noise.

“You poor, naive fool,” Lex said, the smallest hint of pity in his voice. Joan saw him hovering in the air, the defeated Wraith gripped firmly in his gauntleted hand. A hole had been burned in its chest where its heart should be. “So long as you’re in Metropolis, you march to the beat of my drum. I found your computer viruses and deleted them, though I allowed you to think they were still active for a time. In their effort to continue to carry out their programming, they damaged my cameras sufficiently enough that I could only gather audio of you and your allies, but that’s all I needed. Your world must be so simple to produce creatures that are so easily tricked.”

“With her abilities neutralized, we can bring her in,” Amanda said, turning her attention back to her troops. “Hurry and mop up those things, Deadshot. Then we can move onto ‘Madam Joan’s’ allies.”

“King Shark, gather the target and fall back,” Deadshot said, the sound of gunfire echoing in the background. Joan stumbled forward, her head spinning and her temples throbbing. She heard gurgling, and the sound of bones snapping. A minute later, a strange, bipedal creature walked up to Joan and grunted as he reached for her. Her vision was so blurry she could barely make out the shape of him. He looked like a Sharpedo with a torso and legs. In his right hand he held what Joan believed to be the Wraith she had injured before. It was limp, and part of its chest had been bitten out.

“My psychic power isn’t my only ability, nor is it my greatest asset,” Joan said, as the monster grabbed hold of her arm with his free hand. Her eyes began to glow with fairy light, and she hit Kingshark with a Moonblast that shook the entire block. “And I didn’t come unprepared!”

“We know of your friends,” Amanda responded, a bit surprised but not worried. “Though we didn’t know you could do that. Harley, status report.”

“I found some sweet cars, Waller,” Harley said. “They’re just sittin’ here. You sure these things are aliens?”

“They drove themselves there, Harley. We’ve got it on tape. Fire at will.”

“Roger!” Harley said. Joan heard the woman cock her gun over the radio. Then she paused. “Hey, look! Ponies!”

The sound of Harley’s wonder was interrupted by a series of pained grunts and a thud.

“Harley? What happened? Harley! Report in!”

“Begin plan B,” Lex Luthor ordered his mercenaries. Three confirmations came through the radio as his team leaders responded. Then lightning struck in three separate locations with such ferocity that balconies and rooftops exploded.

“S-sir,” one soldier said. Joan felt pity for him, and couldn’t help wincing at the sound of his teeth chattering through the static of his damaged radio. “Th-thunderstorm… coming!”

Lex roared with anger before landing in front of Joan. They stared at one another from across the street. Thunderheads formed overhead, and the wind began to pick up.

“Send in the tanks and heavy armor!” Waller yelled. “Deadshot, grab Harley and get out of there!”

“The one called Harley is currently in our custody,” Drift said, his firm, disciplined voice a little too loud over the radio. “We are moving forward with the second part of our plan, Lady Joan.”

“Thank you,” Joan said. The ground shook beneath them. Cries of rage and hunger came from the basement of the building where the Wraiths had emerged.

“So, it appears as if there were more creatures than the ones we faced,” Lex said. He turned to watch as another hole was made in the street. A Wraith erupted from it, its body wrapped in a Leech Seed that sapped its strength as waves of Razor Leaf attacks cut across its body. Dozens of thorn, tipped vines grabbed hold of it and pulled it back down. The beast cried as it struggled, but I was overwhelmed.

“They are my friends, in case you’re wondering,” Joan said as Moonblasts erupted from the crater to strike four other Wraiths. Welshi and Applejack led the Liligant and the twelve Fairy-types that had come to aid Joan as the underground battle moved into the sewers.

“I wonder how many more were down there? Why would their species leave them there, in that condition?”

“That is a good question,” Joan said as she forced herself to stand straight. Fire burned in her eyes as she considered her strategy for taking Lex down. “My friends and I will answer it later. For now, we have a score to settle, Luthor.”

“What sort of creature are you?” Luthor said, his hands behind his back as he slowly approached. He was arrogant, as so many in his station in life were. “You are psychic by nature, yet the power you displayed against Kingshark earlier wasn’t psychic at all. At least, one would imply this based on your words.”

“I am a fairy,” Joan said, her voice harder now as she read his movements. She walked to her left, raising one of her arms in defense of his immanent attack.

“You put on such a brave face for someone who is about to be taken to a lab and dissected. You might survive the operation, if you’re reasonable enough. Cooperate, and you might even survive relatively intact.”

“I refuse to believe that people like you are the pinnacle of humanity.”

“That’s just a descriptive title my fans have given me to show their adoration. It may be true, but it doesn’t mean anything without action. I prove my superiority to the world every day, not just because I should, but because I can. Now come, Joan. You are injured. Your friends will be crushed by the United States military, even if they survive the Wraiths. With my psy-disruptor turned up to maximum, your psychic powers are too painful to use. Make this easier on yourself. Come in quietly.”

“Just a moment ago, you asked why the Wraith species would leave their own kind unattended in such a terrible state,” Joan said, her voice sincere and pleading. Despite the pain he had inflicted on her and the threats he was making, Joan wanted to try reasoning with him one last time. “Is that not the question you and your government should be answering? Is that not more important than attacking my friends and I, who pose no threat to you? What would the public think if they knew this was how you treated those who would be your allies?”

“Some of them would agree with our motives, some wouldn’t care. Some would stand against us, but they are outnumbered. We decide who to attack and when. We decide who is our enemy and who is our ally. Heck, the government doesn’t even trust the Justice League most of the time, but we’ve talked enough.”

Without another word, Lex charged. Joan dodged under his glowing blue power fist and rose into the air. The power of his psy-disruptor was such that she could barely keep herself afloat, despite using so little of her psychic powers. She fired a Moonblast at Luthor’s back, sending him crashing into the ground near one of the craters she had made. He turned and fired plasma bolts at Joan from guns mounted on his arms. She predicted this and avoided them, losing sight of him in the process. Even without her ability to see the future, she was still a highly trained and experienced warrior.

The machine gun fire stopped as she approached the ground. She landed, searching the street for any sign of Lex. As she began to search the sky, she felt another tremor under her feet. It was small, but growing quickly in intensity. Joan dodged sideways as a massive beam of light erupted from the ground. It was too big, and her right side was engulfed in raw, destructive energy. She passed out, just for a moment, and when she came to Lex Luthor held her by the throat.

“I don’t fight for honor,” he said, cruelly. “I don’t fight for my friends. I fight for my species, and I will go to any lengths to win.”

Joan felt a tingle all over her body as he spoke. She smiled brightly, causing Lex to stop his speech.

“What is it? Do you see something surprising so close to your death?”

“I see nothing but darkness in the future,” Joan replied. “Even without my foresight, I can attest to the bleakness of our situation. It hasn’t changed in the past two years. But for right now, at least one wish has come true.”

Then, in a flash of light, her wounds were healed. Lex’s eyes widened in shock, but that was the only reaction she gave him time for. She raised a hand to Lex Luthor’s chest and fired a Hyper Beam at point blank range. Luthor’s torso was engulfed in fairy light and he dropped her. She landed on her feet and noticed that Luthor’s suit had taken the brunt of the assault. The outermost layer was cracked and broken in places, one of his gauntlets was torn off, but the suit still appeared functional. He remained standing, panting heavily, blood pouring down his head from a gash caused by the flying debris of his suit.

“Tanks, provide suppressing fire!” Amanda Waller said through the radio. Twenty tanks lowered their barrels, preparing to fire on the Mega Gardevoir. “Lex, if you can still fly, get out of there! Head West and we’ll get you!”

“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you, Lex,” Joan said. She looked to the West and saw a black helicopter hovering in the air below encroaching cloud cover. “I’m guessing that’s where Ms. Waller is? My friends are already prepared to bring it down, just as they will bring down your tanks.”

Explosions came from the south, where the tanks sat ready to fire. Frantic shouts and cries of shock came through the radio. Lex and Joan turned to watch as three tall robots cut apart each tank with expert precision. Drift, Strongarm, and Sideswipe spared the humans, but not their vehicles. Waller swore over the radio, and the wind picked up higher.

“So, the vehicles were mechanized life forms,” Lex said, his face calm and analytic despite the situation. The helicopter tried to flee as two funnel clouds twisted out of the sky and forced it to the ground. Equine silhouettes disabled its engines with sharp kicks and ruined its fuel compartment before disappearing in the clouds. “What’s controlling the weather?”

“Why did the Wraiths leave several of their kind here, in this terrible condition?” Joan asked, ignoring Lex’s question. “I feel that’s a problem we will have an answer to quite soon.”

Just as she finished speaking, an angry, red portal opened in the street to her right. Joan and Lex turned once more to watch as a force of Parademons flew into the streets of Metropolis.

Chapter 14: Trials of Conquest

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Joan was still recharging from her Hyper Beam attack. She couldn’t fight back as the Parademons approached, but she didn’t have to. The first wave was engulfed in a Solar Beam, launched by Welshi from a hole in the street. Lightning tore through the sky, burning the second wave to a crisp before they could even utter their war cries. There was no third wave, only an armored, humanoid form that stepped out of the portal and into the battle damaged street.

“We were promised specimens,” the man said, his voice low and filled with arrogance. He was large and imposing. There was a feeling of violence draped around him as surely, and comfortably as his hunting cloak. “Darkseid was promised living things to experiment on. An oath was sworn. Where are our test subjects?”

“I believe most of them are dead, or unconscious,” Joan said, calmly. Her head was feeling much better with the destruction of Amanda Waller’s helicopter and the damage done to Lex Luthor’s suit. His soldiers were in hiding in the surrounding buildings, their weapons trained on the new arrival. Joan could feel them, as well as the reinforcements arriving from the south under orders from General Lane. She smiled as her bodyguards floated out of the sewers to land next to her, their presence calming and encouraging.

“Are you responsible for this?” the armored man asked as he gripped his brutal energy spear tighter.

“Partially. My forces and I defended ourselves when the Wraiths escaped their prison.”

“That prison was a containment cell meant to house these beasts until I could arrive to take them.”

“The humans are responsible for their release,” Joan said as she motioned toward Lex.

“Now, now, Steppenwolf,” Lex said as he shifted uncomfortably. “We had no idea Apokolips was involved.”

“Darkseid has been busy invading other realities,” Steppenwolf said as a third wave of Parademons marched through the portal behind him. They stopped short and saluted their leader. “To his surprise, several of his conquests were halted by armies of massive, robotic life forms. Behind them is the will of a god, not unlike Darkseid himself.”

“My contacts in the Justice League say that the alien fleets currently pouring through our solar system are fleeing from such foes,” Lex said. He crossed his hands behind his back, his voice taking on the candor of a businessman proposing a deal. Kingshark crawled out of a nearby crater, his body battered and bruised by Joan’s attack, the half eaten Wraith still in his hands. Lex motioned for Kingshark to hand over his meal. “Perhaps we can be of help to one another? We have no desire to oppose Darkseid’s conquests where Earth is not involved. Let us aid you in your mission.”

“I have read about Apokolips and its citizens in some of Lois’ old articles,” Joan said, in disgust. “Would you truly side with them, Lex?”
“Fighting off the armies of Apokolips is impossible in our current state,” Lex said, simply. “Better to aid Darkseid for now if it means a reprieve, than fight him and die horribly.”

Lex looked at Kingshark with an impatient glare. Muttering curses under his breath, the demi-god reluctantly handed over his meal. Lex flew to the creature he had defeated and brought it back to lay at Steppenwolf’s feat. The New God now had two specimens before him, both dead.
“That is still despicable,” Joan replied as she considered her options. She was planning her attack, but Lex’s appeal to Steppenwolf was a shocking new low.

“We can talk about this later,” Lex said, his voice low and urgent. His eyes moved back and forth between Steppenwolf and Joan, betraying his nervousness at the New God’s sudden appearance.

“I require more,” Steppenwolf said as he turned to the battle in the sewers. It had died down a bit, as the Wraiths were defeated one by one. However, several of the alien creatures continued to fight. “Perhaps I can take a few of those beasts down below?”

“I’ve got some for ya,” Welshi yelled from a hole in the street. One of Joan’s Granbull dragged three still breathing Wraiths into the opening and handed it to Ada, Laurel and Hwan. The two Clefable and their recently adopted Mimikyu recruit took their charges, and with great strain, they lifted them into the air and carried them to sit next to the others. “Can I have your cloak, please? I want to copy the patterns!”

“Bite marks, broken bones, and malnourishment,” the New God said as he ignored Welshi’s request. He motioned for his Parademons to carry the aliens back through their portal. “This will do, though I will instill the fear of Darkseid into the remnants of those foolish mortals and their lackeys. They failed in their promise, and failed to welcome me into this world. Fear is not an excuse. I would also be remiss not to answer your call for an alliance, human.”

Steppenwolf snapped his fingers and dozens of portals opened behind him, expelling hundreds of Parademons in seconds. He turned and walked back through the portal he had come through, which closed behind him as his attack force descended on the battered defenders.

Applejack had done some research of her own upon her arrival to this strange, new world. Thanks to Joan’s access to the Daily Planet, she knew that the hero known as Superman, though impossibly resilient to most forms of attack had no defense against magic. Applejack had hoped that these ‘Wraiths’, being similar to Superman, had no defense against magic either. She still wasn’t sure if that was the case, or if their emaciated forms were so weakened that her kicks could break their bones. Either way, she was thankful for the strong Equestrian magic that coursed through her veins as she led Joan’s fairy-types against the dozens of Wraiths that had erupted into the sewers.

“What’s goin’ on back there, Welshi?” Applejack asked as she wiped the sweat from her brow. She stood atop an unconscious Wraith. It was a beast easily twice the size of a human, but it was terribly skinny. She had brought it down by ripping out the wiring and tubing in its chest, while dodging its large fists. Once weakened, several sharp kicks to its head were enough to end the fight. Two other Wraiths lay nearby, defeated by the Pokémon that stood behind her. Others had been carried into the streets above moments before.

“I’m not really sure,” Welshi said from her perch atop a large pile of asphalt. “I gave two of our enemies over to a big, evil guy that came out of a portal. He wouldn’t give me his cloak, though. Oh well, at least I got a good look at it. Anyway, there were a bunch of ugly things that gave me the heebie-jeebies so I blasted them, but they’ve got friends.”

“Are they comin’ our way?”

“Yup.”

“Dagnabbit,” Applejack said as she jumped down from the monster’s back. It groaned, but stayed on the ground. “If it ain’t one thing it’s another. First we get sent off ta’ that awful world full a’ terrible monsters…”

“Do you remember any of that?” Welshi asked as she turned to look at Applejack.

“Well, no,” Applejack admitted. “Though I know it cost me several months of farm work, and I got a few new scars from it.”

“Doesn’t it stink that we can’t remember anything?” Welshi said as she began to glow with a faint, green light that grew slowly with every second. “By the way, we’ve got another couple of groups heading our way. I can get the second one, but my Solarbeam won’t be charged in time for the first.”

“That’s ok,” Applejack said with a sigh. She turned to her fairy-type warriors and sized them up. “You four Granbull, get ready! I don’t want nothin’ gettin’ through this tunnel. If they make it into the city, it won’t be good. I want our two Florges to ambush ‘em with Petal Blizzards the moment they come through the ceiling! Send ‘em blind into our line of bruisers.”

She looked to the back of the sewer tunnel. Five sturdy Slurpuff were tossing two particularly large Wraiths back and forth in a brutal game that looked like a mix between Hackey Sack and Wall Ball. The Slurpuff were even keeping score, as they shouted about points and fouls to one another in between hits. The poor aliens weren’t given any chances to breath or fight back. Whatever drugs were pumping through that strange piping system on their backs wasn’t doing them any favors. Several Wraiths had already fallen from this game, and these two didn’t look long for this world, either.

Welshi’s troops were beating down four more Wraiths in the opposite direction. Two of her Lilligant were on the ground, cradling injuries and using Synthesis while a third stood guard over them. It was still night, though, and gathering light for healing and attacking was more difficult. The grass-types had managed to slay five Wraiths, but they had taken serious injuries as a result. The last four Wraiths were being worn down slowly, but they seemed to be absorbing the energy around them. Their bodies were glowing, and spikes were forming on their skin.

“We need to end this fast,” Applejack said. “There’s a number of these beasts that escaped into the streets above, but I don’t think all of ‘em are accounted for.”

“We’ll have time to hunt down the ones that escaped later,” Welshi said as she continued storing energy. “The first wave will be on us in seconds.”

The sky darkened as lighting struck the strange creatures out of the air in droves, but the enemy portals continued to disgorge monsters by the hundreds. Even with their incredible skill, the Wonderbolts couldn’t continue this barrage of lightning all night. Applejack turned toward the opening in the sewer ceiling that led to the sky. The Granbull ran to her side, howling a challenge to these new foes. The Parademons closed in, Applejack charged and battle was met.

Northern Metropolis was overrun in minutes. The Parademons were relentless and brutal, declaring their loyalty to Darkseid as they charged into battle and died by the hundreds. The Transformers formed a defensive line to keep the monsters in the suburb, their size and ferocity a challenge to the Parademons. Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but feel that there were far more Transformers than there had been previously. Some even flew, while others gathered fallen Wraiths and Parademons into their back compartments to carry off through bright portals that contrasted against the hateful red that the Parademons emerged from. The ponies didn’t have the luxury of questioning this new battlefield development, though. The Transformers were their friends, and that was enough.

The Parademons came in wave after wave. The portals they emerged out of never closed, though more seemed to spawn every second. Rainbow Dash was busy bucking lightning out of the clouds when the first wave turned its attention to the sky. Soarin’ called out for their squad to form up on him through the radio, his voice distorted and hard to hear. Rainbow Dash rushed to comply, but the rain was coming down heavy now. It was a side effect of gathering so many storm clouds together. Her goggles were wet and her vision was blurring. An army of demons was chasing her into the high atmosphere.

She heard a cry behind her. She turned to see Misty Fly being dragged down by the monsters. Without a second thought, she darted down to her friend’s side. Soarin’ and High Winds weren’t far behind. Together, they used their momentum to strike at the soft spots in-between the Parademon’s armor. The monsters fell, and Misty Fly was freed. Though her outfit was torn and she was bleeding from multiple wounds, fire still shown in her eyes as she thanked her friends. Together, they outpaced the Parademons and joined the others above the clouds.

“Alright, ponies,” Spitfire yelled as the squads gathered around her. “We’re going for a Winter Rap Up snow clearing formation, Wonderbolts style! Destroy them in the air, but keep above the buildings to prevent collateral damage. Leave the ones on the ground for the Cybertronians and Applejack’s crew. I want a full-fledged twister. Rip these things apart!”

She turned mid-air and darted back down toward the clouds. A horde of Parademons was already flying into the upper atmosphere to meet them. The Wonderbolts fell into formation behind their captain, spinning around in circles at increasingly insane speeds. With Spitfire at their center, leading them forward, they created a tornado the likes of which Metropolis had never seen. The Parademons charged into the wind tunnel, only to be ripped to shreds by the furious gale as the ponies descended on the suburb below.

Victorion stepped through the spacebridge just in time to be swarmed by a horde of Parademons. They were annoying, but not much else. She covered her body in a grav-wave and slammed them to the ground with bone breaking force. She saw Drift and Bumblebee commanding the defense several miles away. The Transformers wouldn’t leave this place to the whims of such a hateful foe. She turned as her sensors rang out with warning alarms. Another Mother Box portal opened in front of her and a humanoid beast stepped out. It was almost as large as she was, with dark, rocky skin and shackles on its arms and legs. There was something infantile about it. Victorion filed those thoughts away as she turned to face the monster. It screamed and charged, the ground shaking with every step.

Victorion met it head on, withdrawing her mighty sword to slash the beast’s arm off. It screamed once more as it slammed its remaining fist in her face. The combiner’s right foot slid back several meters as she braced herself against the impact. Ignoring the pain, she brought her sword around for a second swing and the giant’s legs were cut out from under it. Her backward swing cut the head off the beast and it fell silent.

“Are the subjects gathered?” Victorion asked as several vehicons drove by, the largest one bogged down by a human helicopter chained to his trailer. They voiced their confirmations as they went through the spacebridge, their retreat covered by Victorion and the Cybertronian defense.

“How do we stop this?” Joan asked as she fired Moonblast after Moonblast. Her bodyguards stood at her sides, casting Moonlight in-between repeated uses of Cosmic Power, Stored Power, and Moonblast. Hwan floated above them, keeping Lightscreen and Reflect active on his allies while his Shadow Claws tore apart everything that came near.

“My Mother Box control was in that gauntlet you blasted off my arm,” Lex said, angrily as he beat down Parademons one after another. “I could have stopped this…”

“If I’d thought you weren’t about to kill me, I’d have spared your precious super suit,” Joan shot back as she crushed several more Parademons with her mind.

“I can see your little friends are aiding you,” Lex said, ignoring Joan’s snide remark. “I could use some assistance, as well.”

“You’re not our friend!” Hwuan said, as he puffed himself up beneath his cloth. “You’re just a big jerk!”

“Indeed, he is,” Joan agreed. She motioned for her Clefable to run to her front. They immediately obeyed, standing sentry before their mistress, slaying demons left and right as Joan focused her mind. Her visions came to her easily now, and she embraced them.

She saw a dark world drenched in despair and hatred. Mighty machines constructed weapons of war in an endless production line. Everyone and everything on this world was a slave to an unbreakable, iron will. Yet this invasion was only a small greeting, a glimpse of things yet to come. It would end soon. As Joan felt the eyes of the ruler of Apokolips turn his attention toward her, she withdrew her sight. The invasion was already ending. The Mother Box portals were closing without being replaced. Yet, there were thousands upon thousands of Parademons still flying above the once sleepy Metropolis suburb.

A massive tornado came from the sky, dragging the cloud cover behind it as it swallowed legions of Parademons whole. Some fell to the ground and escaped into the sewers to be slain by Applejack and the fairy-types under her command. The strongest escaped into side streets, their brutal claws keeping them anchored to the ground as they struggled to find safety. The Transformers killed many of these, but Joan’s intuition told her that they couldn’t stop them all. She began searching for the minds of the demons, teleporting herself and her guardians to another location every time she found one. She killed several dozen, but even then she knew that some had managed to escape.

This world was still in jeopardy. She could feel it in her bones. They had earned a short reprieve for this place, but war loomed on the horizon. Joan mulled over this fact as she led her forces through underground passageways and out of Metropolis, away from the eyes of the government forces still struggling to hunt down the remaining Parademons.

Chapter 15: Trials of Conquest

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“This world sounds awful!” Princess Cadance said as she walked through the Crystal Empire’s market district. Flurry Heart was swaddled comfortably in a carrier on her chest, sleeping soundly as the princesses discussed the situation amid a street full of busy ponies. The local papers had already published stories about the away team’s situation. Though not all of the details had been foreclosed, the important ones were made public. The journalists who had spoken with Joan had missed several key questions in their interviews, such as the nature of the humans who had turned on Joan and what the streets of Gotham were like. This kept some of the more graphic information out of the public eye. The ponies knew enough to know that there was nothing to worry about, yet.

Equestria was still untouched by the problems their monarchy faced, as the ponies wished to keep it. The princesses had been coming together in weekly discussions, but the atmosphere of their castles had begun to grow old after a while. They had chosen to have this discussion while shopping for the baby as a way to relieve stress. Cadance hadn’t needed anything, but the other princesses had insisted.

“’Awful’ is an apt description, I fear,” Princess Luna said, calmly. She pulled a bit from the money pouch in her saddlebags and paid for a small, pink bow from a nearby vendor that she then fixed to Flurry Heart’s mane. Celestia bought a small, plush rabbit with buttons for eyes that she slipped into the swaddling cloth of the sleeping child.

“You don’t have to spoil her so,” Cadance said, as she watched her friends give Flurry Heart their gifts. “You’ve already given her so much attention today.”

“We don’t have to, but we want to,” Twilight Sparkle said as she took a picture book from a shelf several stands down and placed a couple bits on the table in front of the sales pony. “What do we know of these ‘Parademons’ and this ‘robotic enemy’ that’s shown up out of nowhere?”

“The Cybertronians gave several Parademon specimens to the Slowking College,” Celestia said. “Joan delivered them when she returned, though they claimed these to be the only specimens they had managed to retrieve from the battlefield. Joan, Welshi, and Spitfire were forced to lead their teams into hiding, away from Metropolis, before they could gather their own specimens. Moon Dancer and several of my other students will begin dissection of a Parademon corpse this afternoon. Apart from the information they might gain, we know that these creatures are barbarous and destructive. They enslave what they do not kill. They could very well give the daemons of Chaos a run for their money.”

“I would hope not,” Luna said with a shiver. “Though I wouldn’t be surprised. Their appearance is vile enough.”

“I’d love to know more about those daemon swords in my trophy room,” Cadance said casually, with a sideways glance at Luna.

“I have tried to draw that information from your memory,” Luna said, in a long-suffering tone and a grin. “If you remember, you and Shining Armor were among those who volunteered to test the chances of those thoughts returning when we first came home. I had no success in retrieving your memories. That was a success in itself.”

Cadance sighed, and Twilight gave her an encouraging pat on the shoulder.

“It was worth a shot,” Twilight Sparkle said. “At the very least, you can stop bringing that back up in casual conversation. It’s almost like you’re taunting us.”

“That’s not it,” Celestia said, softly. She had stopped mid-stride to share an important look with her sister, who had mirrored her almost perfectly. “We’ve been talking about this since Arceus brought us its problem. We can’t help but feel that our experiences in those other worlds hold some importance to our current mission.”

“Are you thinking of returning?” Cadance said with a raised eyebrow. Flurry Heart shifted slightly in her sleep and the Princess of Love brushed her hair subconsciously. After more than two months away on some death-defying adventure that she couldn’t even remember, she felt a greater need to be close to her husband and child than ever before.

“Heavens no,” Celestia said, with a look of disgust at the memory of those months of conflict. “But there were humans in the Octarius Sector and throughout the galaxy it inhabited. There were also humans on Battleworld. Though our interaction with them was limited, it was still a vital chance to learn something that might aid our quest.”

“We have been writing down as much information as we can remember,” Princess Luna said. “It’s not a pleasant process though, and there isn’t much we were able to gather by ourselves. The Slowking College has only a little more information than we do.”

“How is Joan doing?” Twilight Sparkle asked after a brief silence. The princesses continued down the street, doing their best to stay nonchalant and relaxed. Ponies talked excitedly. It was a very rare sight for all of the princesses to be in one place.

“She’s doing well,” Celestia said, smiling regally at a small group of Crystal Ponies who stopped their discussion to watch her pass, mouths agape. Cadance gave them a friendly wave of her hoof. They were more used to the gossip and stories that would follow this meeting than the others were. “Her faith in humanity was shaken a bit, but she still holds to her beliefs. Luna and I have sent Gil, Sasha, and Potpourri through the portal to aid Welshi in unifying our forces.”

“Will Sasha and Potpourri be able to do that without bickering?”

“It’s not as bad as Potpourri and Lorna, though their entourages aren’t happy to work with one another. Gil and Welshi can moderate between them, if needed.”

“But it’s because of the city they’re entering that we send them together like this,” Luna added, shifting nervously as another group of ponies watched their approach to the palace. She glanced their way. They blushed and hurried down the street. The guards saluted as the princesses passed through the doors and into the front hallway. Sunburst stood a few paces ahead of them. He bowed, his face concerned and urgent.

“What is it, Sunburst?” Princess Cadance asked as they approached.

“Majesties, there is a problem with the research you have assigned me,” Sunburst said, as he readjusted his glasses. “The Slowking College sent me the data they gained from dissecting that human’s gauntlet and I plugged it into the core equation of Starswirl’s General Theory of Dimensional Calibration. The results are disturbing, to say the least.”

“Take us to your laboratory. You can explain the situation there.”

Sunburst nodded, turned, and led the way deeper into the Crystal Palace.

The ponies walked into the palace library and through a set of doors in the back that led to a large room. The smell of cinnamon and fresh roses filled the air from the candles that lit the study. Three assistant ponies stood around a large, circular mirror. Four ponies from the Royal Guard stood at the back of the room, with Shining Armor at their center. They bowed to the princesses as they entered. Shining Armor walked forward to greet his wife and sleeping child.

Sunburst led the princesses and the prince to a desk on the far side of the room. It was covered in papers, which were in turn covered in various scribbles and writings. Sunburst cleared off the desk, pulled a long map sheet from the shelves above, and laid it flat on the wooden surface.

“Here,” he said, pointing at a small circle on the map with the word ‘Equestria’ written next to it. “This is a map of our local universe cluster, as we theorize it to be. Our knowledge of it is far from perfect. Most of it is speculative, really, except for the world Princess Twilight visits on occasion.”

He pulled a piece of paper out of the pile he had created a moment before and laid it on top of the map. Then he withdrew a pencil from a drawer in his desk and drew a large circle on the side opposite of the circle representing Equestria.

“We discovered something strange,” Sunburst continued, pointing at his drawing while checking the calculations on the paper he’d withdrawn. “This circle is what we discovered. It is a universe that seems to be moving within bulk space devouring other universes as it goes, similar to how a black hole devours anything that gets too near. At least, that’s how it is according to the predictions made by Starswirl’s equations. It could very well be reaching out toward our own universe, as well as the universe where our away teams are currently exploring.”

“Bulk space and universe clusters are speculative theories,” Princess Celestia said, calmly. “We should assume as little as possible without the appropriate proof. Have you spoken to the Slowking College about this?”

“I’ve been in contact with them since we discovered this anomaly late last night. They aren’t sure what to make of it, either, though they agree with our predictions. At least, they said our math is accurate. They used the technology in that gauntlet to reverse-engineer the psy-disruptor that human was using to attack Lady Joan. They couldn’t replicate the results. The psy-disruptor they created, while fully functional and properly made, had no negative effects on the psychic-types of God’s Breath. They heard nothing but simple static, though not with their minds but their ears. Their minds were completely untouched.”

“Where is their psy-disruptor, then?” Princess Luna asked.

“It’s here,” Sunburst said, motioning toward a small, round device on his desk shelf. It was silver and metallic, with a series of buttons on it. “Lady Dorris brought it over just moments ago. She’s already teleported herself to Canterlot. She didn’t speak much. The notes she gave me explained the situation for her. The one thing she did tell me was that this device seemed to work in our world. I assume she appeared somewhere outside of the palace and tested it herself.”

“I knew she was coming, but I’m surprised she left so quickly,” Princess Cadance said.

“It was my impression that she thought you were in Canterlot. I barely got a chance to say hello before she teleported away. She gave me no time to tell her you were here.”

“There will be time to speak with her later,” Princess Celestia said. “For now, we must understand the importance behind this new information. Is that mirror meant to make contact with this strange universe?”

“Yes, your majesty. I believe we can travel there if it exists.”

“Then I will be leading the Royal Guard in exploring this place,” Shining Armor said, confidently.

“Shining, I’m not sure about that,” Princess Cadance said, nervously. “We have no idea what might be on the other side.”

“This is the kind of job the Royal Guard was made for. We’ll take every precaution.”

“No!” Cadance said, a little too loudly. Flurry Heart shifted in her bundle, but continued sleeping. “I don’t want you leading this personally.”

“I’m obligated to. I can’t ask my soldiers to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I want to lead the away team.”

“But…” Cadance said as she racked her brain for an alternative.

“What if we see if we can use the portal for simple observation purposes, for now,” Princess Twilight said. Cadance gave her sister-in-law a grateful look and sighed. “I don’t want you running off into danger either, big brother. We should try and gain an understanding of this place without direct interaction first. Then, if needed, we can use the mirror to pull out a specimen without going through the portal ourselves.”

“I agree,” Princess Luna said.

“As do I,” Princess Celestia added. “It’s settled, then. We’ll create a portal with Sunburst’s coordinates and run preliminary tests before we resort to an away team.”

It took two days of preparation, but the group was now ready. The chances of something going wrong were slim according to Sunburst’s predictions, but they chose to operate under the assumption that anything could go wrong. As such, precautions had been taken.

Three dozen guard ponies stood in a circle around the mirror, dressed in full armor and armed with spears, lances and long pikes. They were in a field several miles outside of the city. Farms had been built along the road here, still within range of the protective magic of the Crystal Heart. As they had set up their experiment, groups of Crystal Ponies had flocked to the scene to see what was going on. Princess Cadance had ordered them to return to their daily tasks, though a group of excited children had tried to stay and watch. Their hushed discussion had given them away. The princesses had forced them out of hiding and given them a stern talk. The test had been delayed for two hours as the Crystal Guard escorted them home. Now the ponies were ready to resume their experiment.

Sunburst led his assistants in casting the spell that would turn their mirror into a portal. He had managed to catch Starlight Glimmer just before her departure for some last minute brainstorming. She had given him her insights on how to best approach alterations to Starswirl’s spellwork, and he had used it to craft an incantation that they hoped would accomplish their task.

“I-I think it’s working,” Sunburst said, as he and his assistants focused their magic on the mirror. It began to glow with a pale light. For a moment, the ponies thought they could see the faint outline of stars shining in a dark void. Then its glow faded. It now looked like a normal mirror, with one exception. Its surface was rippling like waves on a pond. It did so for several minutes before slowly coming to a stop. A dark, grotesque, insectoid face appeared in the mirror as a metallic buzzing filled the air. Something slammed against the portal, and the mirror almost fell off of its stand.

“It’s not supposed to do that!” Sunburst yelled in shock. “It’s supposed to be a one-way window! Neither side is supposed to be able to interact with the other!”

“All of you, get back!” Princess Twilight Sparkle yelled as the mirror turned pitch black. Sunburst and his assistants stumbled backward, Shining Armor led the Crystal Guard forward, and a large, metallic claw burst forth from the portal. It rent the earth as the guards braced themselves. It dug its fingers into the ground, and the mirror shook as if whatever was on the other side was trying to pull itself through. Yet the claw was gigantic, and the beast it was attached to was too large to fit.

“Help me dispel this magic, sister,” Celestia said as she stepped forward. Luna nodded her head in agreement and joined her sister before the mirror. Together, they cast a spell at the portal, dispelling it and returning the mirror to its original state. The claw was severed from whatever creature it had come from, and it fell limp to the ground.

“That buzzing was the same I heard from Lex Luthor’s psy-disruptors, majesties,” Joan said from behind the congregation. She and Dorris strode forward to bow before the princesses. “Yet it seemed more terrible when transmitted directly into my mind.”

“You said you began to hear a name spoken within that sound,” Princess Luna prompted, as she looked cautiously at the mirror.

“I heard the name ‘Unicron’ repeated over and over. It was so soft at first that I could barely make it out through all the noise. After some meditation, I have come to the conclusion that this name is not a warning, but an announcement of the coming of this ‘Unicron’. It even sounded worshipful.”

“I’ve had some bad premonitions, lately,” Dorris said, as she looked at the mirror and scratched behind her left ear nervously, her golden earrings bouncing around as she did so. The Mewostic took a moment to continue her thought, though her face remained passive. “I haven’t been able to meditate calmly for two weeks. I don’t know what this ‘Unicron’ is, but when Joan told me of it I felt that it was connected to my recent anxiety.”

Princess Twilight Sparkle began to reply, then stopped as a sound came from behind her. It was the same buzzing noise as before, but louder now. The mirror’s frame began glowing. Its surface turned black once more, save for the faint light of stars in the distance. The air filled with the feeling of death and despair. The light from the mirror frame began to expand, and the dark surface with it. In a matter of seconds, it was a portal again, though many times larger than it had been previously. The ponies took several steps back as a giant, metal beetle crawled out.

The creature’s massive mandibles quivered as it approached the line of Crystal Guard ponies surrounding it. Each step was slow and calculated. The robotic claw that had been separated from the closing of the portal twitched, jumped into the air, and dived for Shining Armor.
The unicorn grabbed hold of the claw with his magic and threw it at the approaching beast. The claw flipped, landed on the monster’s face, and crawled to its underside where it reattached itself. The robot’s eyes glowed with a purple light filled with bestial rage. It lowered its single, gigantic horn, screamed and charged.

Shining Armor met it, creating a shield before him large enough to match the monster’s size. The unicorn guards followed his lead, forming their own shields to block the creature’s pathway forward. The two sides collided at full speed. They pushed against each other with all of their might, though the Guard Captain, who stood directly in the monster’s path, was quickly being driven back. Shining Armor dug in his hooves as he took the brunt of the robot’s assault, struggling to hold his ground. His earth pony guards stepped forward, stabbing at the joints in the monster’s legs with their pikes. It screamed as its wiring components were pierced and it pushed harder against its foe.

The pegasus guards dive-bombed the beast, stabbing at the sections between its wings with their spears and lances.

“Close the portal!” Princess Celestia yelled as a second insectoid head appeared out of the swirling vortex. Another metal beetle crawled out of the portal, a sinister purple liquid dripping from its mandibles as it climbed over the body of the first creature. The princesses ran to Shining Armor’s side and began firing concentrated beams of magic at the portal. Joan gathered her power and launched a continuous Fairy Tempest at the swirling vortex, while Dorris surrounded it in a Psychic field and tried to force it closed. It shuddered under so much force, and began to collapse as a third creature’s face appeared in the background of the portal’s surface.

The second beast screamed and took to the air. The guards scattered, barely avoiding the insect’s thrashing legs. With surprising speed, it flew behind the princesses, transformed in mid-air, and landed with a ground shaking crash. It was now a hunched, stocky, bi-pedal warrior bot. Its clawed hands dripped with the same purple fluid as its mandibles. With a cry of bloodlust, it swiped at the ponies.

Its claw was stopped short by six pegasus guards that had crashed, back legs first, into the monster’s arm. Three more emerged from the robot’s right, driving their pikes into its neck with all of the strength and momentum they could muster. The weapons pierced the insect’s metal carapace, and drove home through its lower jaw. The pegasus guards released their pikes, pulled back from the beast, and withdrew small vials of bottled lightning from pockets beneath their armor.

They broke these vials on their pike shafts, sending millions of volts of electricity through the monster’s system. The portal closed as the robotic life form fell backwards and died. Steam rose from its melted circuits. The first robot screamed in fury and bucked against the magical shields that were trying to force it to the ground. It quickly overpowered the unicorn guards, only to be grabbed by Lady Dorris and shaken like a ragdoll in her psychic grip. Instead of succumbing, it spit a glob of purple liquid at Dorris. She backpedaled to avoid being hit, but it exploded upon impact with the ground.

The unicorn guards raised their magical shields around the impact zone of the liquid just before it landed. Even so, the detonation made a large crater in the ground and sent the group flying backward. With another scream, the robot flew away as fast as it could.

“Pegasus guards, with me!” Princess Cadance yelled as she took to the air. The pegasus guards immediately followed, Joan and Lady Dorris close behind, propelling themselves through the air with their minds.

“I want that thing dismembered,” Princess Celestia said, grimly as she looked at the fallen robot. “I don’t trust that it will stay down forever. It strikes me as similar to other creatures we’ve faced.”

“You heard the princess,” Prince Shining Armor shouted as he took hold of an arm with his magic. “Crystal Guard, get this thing pulled apart, now!”

The remaining ponies began the process of dismembering the fallen monster. It twitched here and there as they removed pieces from its body, and its eyes glowed dimly even after its head was separated. Yet it gave no fight. Princess Twilight looked back at the mirror as the last pieces of the robot came apart. It looked normal, but she still had a bad feeling about it. With a sigh, she threw the mirror on the ground and shattered it. Shining Armor set his soldiers around the robot pieces. Carts would be sent from the Crystal Empire to gather the remains, alongside reinforcements from the Crystal Guard.

“What must it be like on the other side of that portal for these creatures to exist?” Princess Twilight said as she looked at the shattered mirror.

“Whatever it is, we won’t be trying to interact with it again,” Princess Luna said. “On the other side of that portal waits death. Nothing more.”

Chapter 16: Trials of God

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“Nara, use Fire Punch!” Rainbow Dash yelled as she punched the air in excitement. Nara followed her lead, striking the rival Heracross with a small, blazing fist. The other Pokémon took the blow full in the face, and was sent flying several yards to skid across the ground on its back. It came to a halt next to its trainer’s feet, struggled to rise, and failed. Susan’s Pokémon was defeated. Rainbow Dash was declared the victor.

“Good battle,” Susan said as she shook Rainbow Dash’s hand. They had met just outside of Celesctic Town. She had seen Rainbow Dash training her Chimchar near the city’s entrance and had requested a battle. The rules had been one Pokémon each, since Rainbow only had one Pokémon. After a furious five-minute fight the winner had been decided.

“Same to you!” Rainbow Dash said. “That spinning move was crazy. How did you manage to deflect our Ember so easily like that?”

“Manipulation of the downdraft created by my Heracross’ wings,” Susan replied as she spun in place, mimicking her Pokémon’s movements. Her long, curled ponytail hit her in the face as she came to a stop and she laughed. Her Pokémon was pulling itself up slightly. She withdrew a max potion from her pack and held it up to the Heracross’ mouth. “Still need to work on it, though. How did you guys open up Route 210? Only the strongest trainers have been able to do anything like that, and it doesn’t normally last long. Even the Pokémon seemed nicer, though none of them wanted to battle.”

“They got their fill a’ battle from us,” Applejack said as she and her Rowlet walked up alongside Fluttershy and her Litten. Archi puffed up proudly, shifting a bit on Applejack’s arm to make himself more visible. Ashley was more casual about the praise, choosing to sit in front of the Heracross and begin her own conversation. Archi quickly landed on the ground next to them and joined in while Rainbow Dash knelt down to treat the scrapes on Nara’s arms and chest with clean cloth and a disinfectant spray.

“Do you mind if I ask you how you and your Heracross met?” Fluttershy said. She knelt down beside the defeated Pokémon, watching in admiration as Susan fed her partner in between its replies to Ashley. The young trainer was caring and supportive, and her Heracross seemed to be quite healthy despite the recent battle.

“Not at all,” Susan said, with a bright smile. She put the empty potion container back in her bag and her Heracross let out a happy burp. “My Heracross was actually given to me as a gift from my father last year after we moved to the Sinnoh Region. We waited a few months to train at home. The wild Pokémon started going crazy soon after we departed. Travel has been slow, deliberate, and careful for a while now.”

“Heracross!” the Pokémon cheered, flexing his arms fiercely.

“My Pokémon are the only reason I’ve been able to make it this far,” Susan said as she patted her Heracross on the head.

“Well, at least you’ve got a strong ally to travel with,” Fluttershy said with a smile. Though Susan couldn’t tell, Fluttershy’s friends thought her smile was a bit forced. Applejack patted her shoulder encouragingly as the other girls arrived from their trip to the Poké Mart.

“Now I’ve got a few more questions for you,” Susan said, nervously. “If you don’t mind me asking… Why is your skin so differently colored? Is it like a new fad you’re starting? Your names are quite unique, too. A-are they nicknames? What do they mean?”

The girls looked to Twilight Sparkle, who sighed and began to give the same explanation she’d given to the people of Celestic Town and the news crews that had come from Jubalife City to interview them. She described an experiment with hair dye and the fruit of crossbred berry plants. It was a well thought out, scientific explanation for their skin tones that seemed to satisfy the people’s curiosity. She also conceded that their names were, in fact, nicknames they’d taken as stage names for their band and they were using them as common names to publicize their music. While untrue, no one had questioned it, though the girls had been gently coerced into playing a song for the news crew who had provided instruments shipped in from Jubalife.

Most of their makeup had been lost in the fighting through Route 210, and what was left wouldn’t have allowed them to disguise themselves effectively. Rarity had managed to save just enough to keep them looking fabulous for a few days, and had insisted on the other girls looking good while in this new civilization. They had been given no choice but to lie about their condition when the group of searchers from Celestic Town had discovered them. The other girls could recite the explanation as well, but Twilight Sparkle’s authoritative knowledge of science made it seem more plausible when she gave it. Susan accepted it just as easily as the news crews had.

With their story told, the girls wished Susan farewell, and they returned to their gathering spot near the Pokémon Center.

“Giving Pokémon as gifts…” Fluttershy said, thoughtfully as she took a seat in the shade of a large tree. The old, wooden benches creaked slightly as the girls sat down.

“What’s wrong with that?” Ashley said as she jumped up into Fluttershy’s lap. “You told me once that the humans in your world give puppies and kittens as gifts, sometimes.”

“But that’s different! You’re driven by your instincts. Only a handful of animals are capable of such things, and none of them to the extent that humans are. Dogs have been domesticated for so long that most of them can’t survive in the wild effectively. Cats are different. They can survive by themselves more easily than dogs can, but even they have changed over the course of prolonged domestication in ways that harm their natural ability to survive without people. Yet we saw God’s Breath, and there are Pokémon in this very Pokémon Center capable of operating high tech machinery to treat injured patients just as well as the human nurse can.”

“She’s right,” Twilight Sparkle said as she swiped through the pages of her Pokédex. “You Pokémon are capable of so many things humans take for granted. You’ve built sophisticated societies. You’re analytical and able to think in the abstract. Primates will often fight in the wild for the same reasons humans fight each other, such as territory and resources. Yet their reasoning skills are still driven by instinct and basic survival, and they lack the capacity to create anything remotely close to human civilization. We only spent a night in God’s Breath and I can already tell that you’re technology is far more advanced than ours. There are Pokémon who are easily as smart as humans, and some who are even more intelligent. My only question would be why do wild Pokémon stay in the wild? Why not build more civilizations like God’s Breath? You could rival the humans of this world overnight if you wanted to.”

“My question would be, why build those societies at all?” Archi said from his perch atop the tree.

“Indeed,” Poe said from his seat next to Archi. The Rowlet looked to one another, then back at the humans, cocking their heads in a mirror image. “Pokémon have always lived close to nature. It is our way. The ponies of Equestria are the same, are they not?”

“He’s right,” said a strong voice from nearby. The group looked around but saw no one. Then the air shimmered, and two Keldeo walked forward out of seemingly nothing.

“Ohmigosh!” Pinkie Pie yelled as she withdrew a pokeball from her belt. “I’m gonna catch me a legendary! Who wants the second one?”
Leon shifted nervously, unsure of how serious his friend was as he considered the possibility of facing down a living legend so soon after their close call on Route 210.

“Pinkie Pie, it’s me,” Sunset Shimmer said as she dispelled the illusion on Fluttershy and herself. The surprise didn’t last long. The girls greeted Sunset Shimmer eagerly, hugging their friend, unbothered by her pony form. Fluttershy watched with a smile of appreciation for the happy reunion. Sunset Shimmer quickly took hold of her with her magic and brought her into the group hug. The girls embraced her like an old friend, and her human counterpart seemed especially grateful to see her safe. The Pokémon cheered happily.

“We need to be discreet,” Sunset continued after the girls had separated. Her horn began to glow with a bright light, and she teleported the entire group outside of Celestic Town.

They appeared on Route 210, far from the path and prying human eyes. The wild Pokémon in the area watched their arrival anxiously. They were in a clearing with four Empoleon standing guard nearby. A single Leafeon sat on the edge of the clearing in the shade of the trees. His hazelnut colored eyes were clear and focused, his ears twitching on occasion as he listened to the sounds of the forest. He turned his head toward several wild Pokémon watching from the bushes nearby. He met their eyes and frowned. Without a word, they ducked back in the foliage and scampered off into the forest.

“You girls did a wonderful job of calming this place,” Sunset Shimmer said. There were eight large pillows arranged in a circle for them to sit on. Sunset fluffed them with her magic as they approached. “The Pokémon here were among the most violent toward humans in all of Sinnoh. Now they’re… Well, they’re not violent anymore. That’s a plus.”

“It wasn’t easy, darling,” Rarity said as she and her friends took their seats. “They tried to kill us most of the way to town, all so they could push us in the direction of that criminal group’s hideout. Korish has a terrible way of getting others to do favors for her.”

“She’s a maniac,” Pinkie Pie said as she pulled a chocolate bar from her bags. She split it and gave one half to Leon. “I had to use so much of my confetti, throwing it at monsters that were trying to kill me, that I didn’t have any left after the battle. We had to use torn up pieces of notebook paper for our ‘We Survived Certain Death’ party! Don’t even get me started on my candy stash. It got lost in the forest when someone poked a hole in my bag. This candy bar is my last bit of sugar.”

Pinkie Pie looked out at the forest longingly, and Leon joined her.

“I picked some up,” he said as he looked out toward the wilderness, a hint of guilt in his voice between bites from his chocolate bar. “I ate them while we were fighting.”

“And you didn’t share?” Pinkie Pie yelled as she picked Leon up and shook him.

“It was a moment of weakness!” Leon cried, dramatically.

“You weren’t so weak that you couldn’t fight!”

“I was morally weak!”

“Is that why you were spitting on other Pokémon while they were trying to recover?”

“That wasn’t spit, it was my Water Gun attack!”

“Wait, that’s actual water? I just thought your saliva glands were overactive. Do you make, like, gallons and gallons of water in your body? You’re so small. Where do you store it all? If it came out the other end would it still be water or…”

“Answering that question would be a fascinating study in non-human anatomy,” Twilight Sparkle interrupted with a small cough. “Though shouldn’t we return to our very important discussion, for now?”

“Sorry,” Pinkie Pie said as she set Leon back down on the table.

“So, tell us the details,” Sunset Shimmer said, excitedly. “How did you girls survive against those wild Pokémon?”

“Well, it wasn’t easy,” Applejack said. “We managed through brute force, mainly. We were so exhausted by the time we got to the bad guy’s hideout that we had to use Rainbow Power just to survive!”

“We held back on the magic, though,” Rainbow Dash said. “We used just enough to capture those Team Galactic goons and make it out in once piece.”

“Korish is still out there,” Nara added, with a cautious look over his shoulder.

“We can’t keep track of her, unfortunately,” Sunset Shimmer said. “She’s too skilled at hiding, and countering her call to arms against the humans isn’t easy. The best way to do it is by showing the Pokémon a better way. That’s why you girls are here.”

“Can the humans of this world not show this ‘better way’, too?” Fluttershy said as she pet her Litten’s back. “Korish claimed that the people that live by the law are worse than the criminals we faced in that cave, but everyone seems so nice.”

“It’s likely she was exaggerating,” Twilight Sparkle said. “She hates all humans, no matter who they are or what they do. She even hates us, and we have no prior connection to this reality!”

“I think she’s probably exaggerating, too. But I feel like there’s some truth to her words. The majority of the people of this world may be kind hearted, but Team Galactic is selling Pokémon to someone. We already know that there are people who give Pokémon as gifts to their children, so…”

“Are you saying Susan’s dad bought her Heracross from Team Galactic?” Rainbow Dash said, incredulously.

“No. Though we don’t know where she got her Heracross from. While I don’t want to believe it myself, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that normally law abiding people are buying Pokémon illegally or worse yet… legally.”

“I would hope it’s illegal to buy and sell Pokémon,” the pony Fluttershy said. She flapped her wings nervously when the group turned to look at her, but continued. “We heard part of your discussion earlier, and you girls are right. Pokémon are smart enough to create things that our civilizations take for granted. They can form civilizations of their own rather easily. Buying and selling them should be a crime, in my book.”

“But don’t ponies have pets?” Applejack said. “Princess Twilight’s told us that she has a pet owl named Owlowiscious. You folks must have domesticated animals, then. As a farmer, I know first hand the importance of domesticated animals. They’ve helped humans survive for countless generations, and we’ve helped them survive in turn. Now that we’ve got machines ‘ta help us with the hardest stuff, we can keep ‘em as companions and friends. We do raise some animals for food, and we try to be as humane as possible about it. Some folks think that’s cruel in itself though, like we should go back ‘ta livin’ in the stone age, or somethin’. Not talkin’ about you of course, Sugarcube.”

Applejack addressed the human Fluttershy with this last sentence. Her friend smiled and nodded in understanding.

“It’s Ok,” she said. “I don’t eat meat personally, but I don’t mind that others do. The truth is, the wilderness is a terribly brutal place. Animals use all sorts of means to kill and eat each other. Most people have been living in the luxury of modern society for so long that they lose sight of this and romanticize things they don’t really understand. I don’t agree with the harmful animal testing, of course, and we could do a better job of living in harmony with nature. But giving a loving home to a furry friend is never a bad thing.”

“Oh, I agree,” the pony Fluttershy said with a smile. “Equestira is different than your world, though. Nature takes care of itself in your world. That’s not the case where Sunset and I are from.”

“But ponies do keep pets?” Applejack asked.

“Yes, because the animals of the wild need help to survive. We help them build homes. We take the birds north when the seasons change, and we keep order within our forests. Those animals that are incapacitated or incapable of living in the wild, be it due to a physical wound or an emotional inability, are adopted by ponies. Some become pets simply because they want to. Though, cats and dogs have been commonly domesticated for a long time as companions and assistants in some cases.”

The creatures of our world can be quite intelligent. Yet even our animals are incapable of creating societies such as ours. Our world is magical, with threats far beyond those of your average eagle or bear. Ponies have thrived due to our own magic and creativity. Our societies have dealt with these problems one-way or another until the largest problems were caused by creatures of our… um, caliber. We give back to nature by providing other creatures with the things they need to survive when they’re unable to do it themselves.”

“Fascinating as that explanation is, the question arises, are Pokémon comparable to the animals in our worlds?” Rarity said as she took a brush from her purse and began to search her hair for split ends in her pocket mirror. “I believe we already have an answer to that, and it is a resounding ‘No’.”

“Though if we were to compare them to the animals in one world or another, I think the animals of Equestria would be more appropriate,” Rainbow Dash said. “They sound a lot more advanced than the animals in our world, even if they seem to lack some basic survival instincts.”

“Do you girls want to know where that Heracross came from?” Ashley said from her curled position in Fluttershy’s lap. “We asked him, you know. He told us exactly where he came from.”

“You girls should continue this discussion elsewhere,” said the Leafeon before any of the girls could respond. His voice was serious and urgent as he approached from the far end of the clearing.

“Sorry,” Sunset Shimmer told her friends. “We forgot to introduce you. This is Midori, a noble of the House of Eevee and one of their top lieutenants.”

“It’s good to meet you all,” Midori said without looking at the group. His eyes were focused on the horizon beyond the trees. “We wanted you see the fruits of your efforts before you left. We were even going to introduce you to the Oranguru we brought in to instruct the Pokémon here, but things have changed. An airship has been spotted several miles away, coming this direction. It’s in stealth mode, invisible to the naked eye, but our scouts can hear it. They suspect that it’s a model used by Pokémon Hunter J. With her technology, she shouldn’t have a problem evading the police barricade. That means you girls need to go, now.”

“This Pokémon Hunter is hunting us now?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Possibly. If it’s not her, then it’s one of the apprentices she’s taken in recently acting on her behalf. She’s been hired by Team Galactic before. If their bosses are angry enough to bring her in, then things just turned sour.”

“But if her clients are normally law abiding citizens using her services for illegal purposes, then we shouldn’t run from her,” Rarity said. “They could give us insight into whatever black market operation they’re working on. This would be a perfect opportunity to see where this leads, would it not?”

“Rarity’s right!” Rainbow Dash said, defiantly. “Let’s rush that ship and give ‘em a good beat down!”

Rainbow Dash punched the sky, and Nara copied her eagerly.

“That’s insane,” Midori said. “J’s team is always competent, ruthless, and effective. You’d be greatly outnumbered on her ship, and I’m not confident we can trust the wild Pokémon here to rise up on your behalf in the numbers we would need.”

“I can cast an illusion spell on them,” Sunset Shimmer said. “The only reason I didn’t do it before was because Rarity said she had more than enough makeup to do the job.”

“No. Even if we could disguise you successfully, none of you know the first thing about fitting in with J’s goons. You’d stick out immediately. We don’t have the time to teach you enough about them to make a difference, either. It’s best to leave and make sure they can’t find us.”

“We could follow them,” Pinkie Pie said.

“Yeah!” Rainbow Dash said, determined to see some action. “If I Pony-Up, I bet I can hold onto their ship without being noticed. Besides, it’s not like us to hide from the bad guys.”

“Excuse me,” Ashley interrupted. “There’s a better way, right Archi?”

“Of course,” Archi hooted. “Rather than infiltrating their group here, we should go to where they will be in the future.”

“None of you are psychic-type,” Midori said, with a dead pan stare.

“I had déjà vu once!” Leon said, clapping his flippers excitedly.

“That doesn’t count.”

“Susan’s Heracross told us where to go,” Ashley said, slyly. “He wasn’t sold by Team Galactic. He was sold by Pokémon Hunter J.”

Chapter 17: Trials of God

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The road to Mt. Coronet wasn’t terribly long. After several hours of arguing with Midori, and waiting for news from Lord Akira while relaxing inside the Celestic Town Pokémon Center, they were on their way. From their vantage point on the roads leading to its base, the mountain range extended off into the horizon on either side. The tallest peak loomed high above them, like a monument to some long forgotten history. There was a feeling to this place, a painful ache in the air and a strange sense of emptiness. Twilight Sparkle flipped through articles on her Rotom-dex as she went, intent on understanding their situation to the best of her abilities.

“You should really focus more on where you’re walking, Twilight,” Pinkie Pie said as she braided Twilight’s hair.

“What?” Twilight said, her friend’s words pulling her away from her thoughts. She brushed her hair reflexively. When she pulled it away, her hand was covered in pink and silver glitter. “How long have you been…?”

“About five minutes,” Pinkie Pie said with a smirk. “Now you really sparkle!”

“Pinkie Pie!”

“I’ve also been steering you away from trees and rocks and things. Your hair looks pretty like that, too.”

She pulled a mirror from her pocket and held it up for her friend.

“I suppose so,” Twilight Sparkle said with a smile as she admired her hair. “There’s just so much to learn here and… Well, some of the things I’ve been reading make me a bit nervous about this trip. Midori said that the Slowking put a few news files on our Rotom-dexes that aren’t in any online publication. Some of them are from newspapers in God’s Breath itself. Some are human stories that were blocked from publication, but passed around through hidden channels in human society. The ones I’m reading now only reinforce what Midori told us. This mountain is shrouded in sorrow. It’s a fascinating, and terrible history.”

Her smile faded as she explained her concerns.

“But if we let it get us down, we’ll never solve this problem,” Pinkie Pie said comfortingly. “Besides, I’m too excited about beating bad guys to let the sadness of this place get to me. Let’s even the score on those crooks for our Pokémon friends!”

“Yeah,” Twilight Sparkle said, cheering up slightly as Pinkie Pie pulled a hand held party canon from her bag and set it off. She gripped the magical amulet around her neck and sighed as she pushed her fears to the back of her mind. Pinkie began suggesting games to play on the road, and the group’s mood lifted as they made their way toward the base of the mountain.

Midori had given them the most recent information he had about this place, making it sound like a terrifying wasteland. He had advised them not to go. When they had insisted, he had made a call to his Uncle’s manor house for reinforcements to accompany the girls. They had refused, arguing that they didn’t have time to wait with such an important lead to follow. The argument had lasted a while, and had been quite heated. Midori was strict, but kind. He knew the dangers and had the girl’s safety in mind. Lord Akira had ordered him to protect the humans and follow them on their journey. They had accepted, grateful for some support after the events on Route 210, but eager to get back to business. Yet, Midori and his troops weren’t their only companions on the road to Mt. Coronet.

They had run across Sarah on Route 211 and had eaten lunch with her while Midori and his guards watched from the shadows of the trees. It was a short reunion, and their pony friends had been forced to hide in the bushes. Susan’s destination was Eterna city, though she had given them some advice when she had learned of their journey to the mountain.

“Go somewhere else,” she had said. “Mt. Coronet isn’t a safe place. Most people travel over land, through the pathway the people and Pokémon of Snowpoint City made a while back to avoid the dangers of the cave system. It’s not just the Pokémon, though rumor is they’re as violent as the ones on Route 210 were.”

“What’s wrong with Mt. Coronet?” Rainbow Dash had asked as Nara sat next to her, looking from the mountain in the distance and back to Susan. He had been afraid ever since the group had decided to storm the criminal base there, though he refused to acknowledge it when asked.

“My dad warned me about it before I left home. He said it’s just not safe for anyone, especially young trainers like us. No one goes there, except the police on occasion, but even they avoid that place if they can help it.”

That discussion had been four hours ago. The girls had thanked Susan for her advice, and had reassured her that they would be safe despite being determined to go to Mt. Coronet. Now they stood before the entrance to the route through the mountain, staring into the dark cave as the sun set at their backs.

“Susan’s dad warned her that we shouldn’t go on,” the pony Fluttershy said, nervously. She and Sunset Shimmer were disguised as Keldeo once more. “A-are we sure we want to go in there?”

“Not at all,” the human Fluttershy said. The Fluttershys shivered as the sound of angry Zubat echoed from the cave mouth.

“Come on,” Applejack said as she turned on her flashlight and entered the cave. “We gotta get to the bottom of this. There’s no tellin’ what we’ll find, but we need more insight into this criminal group and their customers.”

“Not to mention we’re sure to see some action!” Rainbow Dash said, excitedly as she and her friends entered into the unknown. The Fluttershys shared a look of nervousness. Ashley nudged her partner’s leg encouragingly. The girls gulped back their fear, and followed their friends into danger.

The cave was cold, dark, and filled with life. Everywhere they turned, the girls found groups of Pokémon staring back at them. Some just wanted to hide, while others wanted to battle. The girls were eager to accept these invitations in turns. Those on the sidelines would cheer on both sides, knowing full well that the training their partners had received from the House of Eevee would give them the edge. Rarity, Twilight Sparkle, and Sunset Shimmer would give tips to the wild Pokémon on how to make their attacks flashier and more powerful. The two Fluttershys had stocked up on potions before their journey, and made sure that both sides were given medical treatment before they went their separate ways. The wild Pokémon didn’t quite know what to make of this, but they were grateful all the same.

“Why is it that so many wild Pokémon want to fight us?” Sunset Shimmer asked after a particularly difficult group battle with a horde of angry Golbat. “It seems like every corner we turn puts us in the middle of another battle. Most of them aren’t even interested in Korish and Charles.”

“No, but they do like to throw down,” Rainbow Dash said as Nara walked briskly alongside her. “It’s great experience for our Pokémon partners.”

“I wish I had a Pokémon partner…” Sunset Shimmer said, under her breath. Though she had gladly given advice during the battles, she had regretted not taking part in them. Her friends were having fun. Even Fluttershy was enjoying the competition, so long as it remained friendly.

“Pokémon fight for a number of reasons,” Poe said as he sat atop Twilight Sparkle’s shoulder. “Some want to get stronger, others want to increase or protect their territory. Some are just grumpy and violent.”

“That seems like a big contrast from the civility of God’s Breath.”

“I doubt you’ve been to the nature zones much,” the young Rowlet replied. “My parents said they tend to be much more wild than the city.”

It wasn’t long before the girls discovered a problem along the way. A large boulder obstructed their path. The wild Pokémon had disappeared, showing no signs of following them down this corridor.

“This is strange,” Applejack said as she examined the wall and floor around the boulder. “It looks like this thing gets moved regularly. There are well worn marks all over the place that make it look like this rock’s been dragged here.”

“How do we move it?” Pinkie Pie asked.

“I can move it!” Leon said, cheerfully. He and the other Pokémon were confident and excited after several wins under their belts.

“I’ll be the one to move it,” Gem said as she flexed her paws. Her claws glinted in the glow of the girl’s flashlights.

“Your claws won’t do any good!” Nara protested. “I’ve been training with Rainbow Dash. I can punch that boulder to pieces!”

“My claws are beautiful and deadly,” Gem hissed. “Would you like to find out just how deadly?”

“Rainbow Dash! We’re challenging Gem and Rarity to a Pokémon battle!”

“How about no,” Rainbow Dash said as she stepped in between the little creatures. “You’re just high off of how awesome you guys did bringing us through this tunnel, but fighting your friends is never a good idea.”

“I saw you trade punches with several Machoke during our chase through the woods, Applejack,” Archi hooted. “I bet you can move this!”
Applejack looked from the tiny Rowlet hovering in the air beside her to the boulder.

“I had ta’ use some magic to keep from gettin’ pounded into cider. Those Machoke were tough customers, but I held my own. I suppose I could muscle us through here.”

“Wait, you used your magic during that fight?” Rainbow Dash asked with a small smirk. “None of us had to resort to that, AJ. We only used it in the cave, when we were taking down those goons.”

“We were all so tired we couldn’t have fought off Team Galactic without our Rainbow Power,” Rarity said, joining Rainbow Dash in her teasing. “Yet we did fine before then. You broke our ‘last resort’ agreement, darling. We’re supposed to be walking in the shoes of the humans of this world as best we can.”

“I wouldn’t a’ had to break it if you all hadn’t kept duckin’ and dodgin’ behind me!” Applejack protested. “I took a lot a hits for you gals!”

“Your the tank, though,” Pinkie Pie said, cheerfully. “Rarity’s support. Twilight, Rainbow Dash and I are damage dealers and Fluttershy’s a healer.”

“This isn’t a video game, Pinkie,” Applejack said as she frowned disapprovingly. “I felt my ribs bend several times, and I still got a few big bruises left!”

“You dodged quite a bit, too,” Leon said as he rolled a bubble on the ground in-between his flippers. “Besides, we took the brunt of that fight. Let’s refocus and get past this boulder.”

“But where does it lead?” Rarity asked. “That’s an important question, especially since the Pokémon here are avoiding it. We can’t simply charge through here without knowing what we’re charging into.”

“It leads further into the mountain,” Gem purred at Rarity’s side. The Litten licked her paws and sniffed the air casually. “It smells like humans here. Big, sweaty humans. Not you six, of course. The smell is about a week old, but it’s still strong enough for me to pick up.”

“The humans smell dirty, like they’ve gone a while without a good bath,” Ashley said as she sniffed the air, too. “Though, there’s also traces of… perfume?”

“The bad smelling humans weren’t the only ones to come through here,” said a Geodude as he and his three friends rolled up to the group. “Rich humans from the cities come down here every once in a while. They’re the primary reason most of us are so mistrusting. We’ve tried to drive them out, but they had powerful Pokémon with them. A lot of us got captured last time.”

“What do they do down there?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

“Pokémon Hunter J has a black market set up further ahead,” one of the other Geodude said, his gravely voice shaking slightly with nervous anger. “She lets Team Galactic do the manual labor, while she provides most of the Pokémon and furnishes the cave system. As such, she gets the biggest cut of every sale. She even leads every auction in person. The grunts say it’s their second black market site here in the Sinnoh Region. Korish sent us a mentor to help us train. We’re getting ready to attack the humans the next time they hold an auction.”

“Rumor is, Charles himself will come to help us,” another Geodude said in a soft, awed tone.

“We’re gonna beat the humans down soon and set their Pokémon free!” the fourth Geodude said, excitedly. They pounded the ground with their fists and cheered.

“I don’t think listening to Charles is a good idea,” Sunset Shimmer said as she and the pony Fluttershy walked up behind the group. “He’s only interested in revenge, and that never ends like you expect it to.”

The Geodude huffed angrily, muttering their disagreements as they rolled back down the way they had come. Sunset sighed as she watched them go. Then she turned her attention to her friends.

“Those Geodude were right, though. Midori said that the black market is beyond this point. It’s heavily fortified, and with all of the problems leading up to King Siebold’s death, as well as the war that came after, the House of Eevee hasn’t put in the effort they usually would to shut something like this down. Normally these bases are in the city, and the Pokémon let the human police handle it. But this place is different. It has a bad history. The Pokémon don’t like the peak of this mountain like they used to. They say going there is bad luck, even without Pokémon Hunter J here.”

“There’s also been confirmation that J’s ship will land here soon,” the pony Fluttershy said. “The Pokémon of Route 210 hid in time to avoid them fortunately, but Midori’s scouts have managed to track its current route to the peak of Mt. Coronet.”

“If we’re going through with this, then we’d better get up the mountain,” Twilight Sparkle said. She held up her Pokédex and gave it a friendly smile. “We may even need your help.”

The Rotom’s eyes opened and it smiled back.

“That’s what we’re here for,” she said.

“I think our Equestrian friends should follow behind and watch our backs,” Rainbow Dash said. “It sounds like there’s nothing but trouble up ahead. We’ll need the support, and they’d do best with the element of surprise on their side.”

“I’ll use my magic to hide us,” Sunset Shimmer said. “Midori’s recruited the strongest Pokémon on this side of Mt. Coronet. Together with his guards, we’ll have you covered.”

“In that case, let’s get movin’,” Applejack said as she took hold of the boulder and dragged it out of place. The rock was big, but she moved it easily. Two metal doors stood behind it, but she forced them open with a few punches and the girls began the long climb up Mt. Coronet.

The group’s intrusion triggered a silent alarm through the mountain. This was expected, and the girls were prepared. They surprised the guards at the door, knocking their Pokémon unconscious and tying the humans up. The humans were then teleported outside of the mountain by Sunset Shimmer to be taken into town by Midori’s scouts.

The caves were large, with plenty of hiding places. When more Team Galactic guards ran to investigate the entrance breach, the girls were already out of sight. Travel through the caves was slow and deliberate. They hid when possible, avoided or disarmed traps, and overwhelmed groups of grunts with surprise attacks when there was no other way forward. Security had increased, but with careful planning and coordination they made their way to the top.

“Up ahead is the final cave of this hideout,” Twilight Sparkle whispered as she skimmed through news articles on her Pokédex. “That’s where the auctions are held. According to the maps provided by God’s Breath, this room used to lead outside, to the path that led to the Spear Pillar. That exit was sealed off after the Team Galactic leader, Cyrus, captured Dialga and Palkia with mysterious red chains and tried to force them to create a new universe. He was stopped by the Champion of the Sinnoh Region, and the Lord of the Distortion World, Giratina. Rumor has it he abandoned his world and his followers when Giratina dragged him to the Distortion World. Team Galactic was disbanded afterward.”

“Now they’re back, and their only goal is profit,” Poe said. He and Archi were perched atop the bodies of two unconscious grunts. The other Pokémon were gathered around them, watching as Midori’s Empoleon dragged their unconscious combatants away. All of the Pokémon that belonged to Team Galactic were being freed and taken back into the wild as their owners were defeated.

“Well, there’s no time like the present,” Rainbow Dash said as she stepped out of the shadows. “Let’s get in there and crack some heads!”

Sunset Shimmer watched her friends run into the final cave. She steeled herself, expecting to charge after them at any moment. She turned her head, eager for Midori’s order to aid the girls, but his attention was focused elsewhere. His ears were twitching, and his gaze was centered on the dark tunnel through which they had come.

“What’s the matter?” Fluttershy asked as she flapped her wings nervously.

“Shh,” Midori said. The group stood still and silent for a moment. Then a large form came flying through the air to crash into a rock on the far wall. It was one of Midori’s Empoleon guards, and he was hurt. The rock shattered as he connected. For a moment, Sunset Shimmer could hear cries of shock and disbelief echo from his mind through her empathic magic. The Empoleon rolled backward, rising to his feet and taking a battle stance despite the blood running down his face.

A familiar shape hovered into view. It turned its head to stare directly at Sunset Shimmer.

“Charles?” Sunset asked cautiously.

“No,” the Mewtwo said. More Team Galactic Grunts came running from behind as the ground beneath the ponies and their allies erupted with psychic force.

The group charged through the entrance to the final cave. It was colder than all of the other caves they had traveled through. Two-dozen people stood on the far side of the room. Two massive boulders made up the center of the left hand wall. Several grunts stood there, next to a lectern behind which the auctioneer would stand during business hours. There was a strange feeling coming from that wall, as if something invisible stood just behind the grunts, watching the group with great interest.

Several of the people on the far side of the room began striding forward, their movements strange, as if they were overcompensating for their fear by appearing supremely confident. Yet their eyes gave them away, darting to one another in worry and peering backward to look at someone in the crowd behind them. Most of the people were dressed in Team Galactic uniforms. Four of them were dressed in long, white scientist robes. As battle strategies began running through Rainbow Dash’s head, she felt a sense of relief knowing that there was backup nearby.

Nara hesitated a moment at the sight of the enemy numbers. He looked to the other Pokémon in his group, and then at Rainbow Dash. Her confident smile filled with righteous anger gave him the boost he needed. He wanted to make her proud, and so he steeled himself. He raised his fists with a loud “Chimchar”, and set them ablaze.

“Why would you interrupt my work?” said a man from behind the enemy group. The Team Galactic gang members parted to let him and his retinue through, the grunts watching him with deep respect and fear. He wore a long, black trench coat with a large red “R” on the chest over his heart. A Persian walked beside him, its movements fluid and deadly. The man’s guards wore black uniforms with the same “R” on their chests. Each of them held a pokéball in one hand.

“W-we came to ask you to s-stop hurting Pokémon,” Fluttershy said as she stepped forward. She shook nervously. Ashley brushed up against her leg reassuringly. Then she hissed at the criminals.

“Pokémon exist to serve humans,” the man said matter-of-factly as he looked down at the hissing Litten. His eyes were focused and intense. There was an undeniable feeling of confidence coming from him, like he was in command of every situation he encountered. “Specifically, they will serve Team Rocket. Those who ally themselves with us shall be rewarded appropriately.”

“There’s no way to reason with them,” Rainbow Dash said. She could feel the excitement building within her, but even more than that, she felt anger at these people for their casual attitude toward the abuse of innocent Pokémon. “We’re taking down this operation now!”

The criminals responded by throwing their pokéballs. The leader’s Persian smiled cruelly at the girls as it stalked forward. The sound of fighting came echoing through the cave from the pathway outside. The tension in the room seemed to pause as the girls stopped to watch the entrance. There were screams, a loud explosion, and then silence. After a few moments of shock, a single form moved through the entrance to flank the girls as the sounds of boots running through the caverns faded in the distance.

“Where are the others, Mewtwo?” the Team Rocket leader said.

The Pokémon fixed the girls with a hard stare, measuring their strength. She grimaced in disappointment, the red collar around her neck emitting a soft, sinister glow.

“They teleported away, Boss Giovanni,” the Mewtwo said. “I sent your underlings after them. They’re still in this mountain. They won’t be difficult to capture.”

“Good,” Giovanni said. His voice was cold and business-like. “I want you to test these young trainers. The grunts they captured told us that they possess some sort of strange power. Bring it out of them. Make them show it to us, then crush them.”

“As you command, Boss Giovanni,” the Mewtwo said, with a small bow. She raised a hand, and the ground erupted once more.

Chapter 18: Trials of God

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“You want magic?” Rainbow Dash yelled as she felt her Rainbow Power building within her. She looked back at the crater in the floor where she had been standing a moment before. “We’ll show you magic! We’re not gonna let you get away with this!”

The girls had grabbed hold of their Pokémon friends and ran out of the way of the Mewtwo’s attack a moment before it fired. The ground they had been standing on had exploded, sending Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle rolling from the back of the pack to the front.

“I don’t know…” Twilight Sparkle said, as she pulled herself up and looked their situation over carefully. They were greatly outnumbered, yet the gang members and their partners weren’t making a move.

“What do you mean? We can’t back down now. I sounded so cool!”

“But there’s something strange here. They’re goading us into using our powers. I don’t think we should use magic to do this unless we have to.”

“You’ve got no choice,” the Mewtwo said. She raised her arms and formed a Shadow Ball above her head. Her attack was fast. Gem barely had time to react, but she managed to raise a Protect over her friends just before the Shadow Ball struck. It exploded against the shield with such force that the cave shook.

“Excellent work, darling,” Rarity said to her Litten as the shield lowered. “Let’s try a Flamethrower attack! Drive her into a corner!”

Gem obeyed. A cone of flame tore through the air. The criminal’s Pokémon formed a line in front of their trainers, bowing their heads and squinting against the heat and light of the fire. The Mewtwo was unharmed, however. She had already teleported behind the group and grabbed hold of Applejack. The Mewtwo pulled against Applejack hard, her Psychic might enclosing around the girl with a fierce light. Applejack dug in her heels so deep that the soles of her shoes gouged into the stone beneath her. She began to glow slightly as magic welled up within her. She refused to be moved, but she didn’t Pony Up.

Archi took to the air in defense of his partner, firing waves of Razor Leaf attacks at the Mewtwo. She teleported again, but this time the girls were ready. They were spread out now, each of them watching in a different direction. When the Mewtwo reappeared, she was spotted immediately. Twilight Sparkle directed Poe in firing Razor Leaves across the cave. The Mewtwo dodged as the projectiles lodged into the wall. Pinkie Pie pulled a pair of pom-poms from her bag and cheered the group on in between calling out attacks. Her Popplio fired a Water Pulse at the Mewtwo as she flew across the cave wall. The first attack was dodged, but the second landed home. Pinkie Pie cheered as Leon clapped his flippers in celebration.

“It’s way too early to call this a victory,” Rainbow Dash scolded. The enemy was up against the wall now, her scowling face just visible behind her guard as bruises began to appear on her arms. “Nara, get in there with a Fire Punch while the enemy recovers!”

“Chimchar!” Nara yelled as he charged forward. His tiny, blazing fist collided with the wall as his target flew sideways. She created another Shadow Ball and launched it at the starter, but he jumped backward with a smile. His distraction had only lasted a moment, but it had been enough. A pair of Flamethrowers slammed into the Mewtwo as Nara landed next to Rainbow Dash. Gem and Ashley maintained their attacks for a full five seconds before stopping. Poe, Archi and Leon stepped forward, launching their own attacks as their friends took a breath.

“You’re better than I though you would be,” Giovanni said, softly. “I saw a hint of what I was looking for from one of you.”
His eyes fixed on Applejack.

“You managed to fight against a Psychic attack from my enforcer. No human should be capable of such a feat. If she hadn’t been holding back, I wonder if you could still have done that? Either way, such power shall belong to Team Rocket as well.”

“Are you ready for me, then?” said a voice from the shadows behind Giovanni. The group turned to look above them, where a teenage boy stood atop the back of a scowling Hydreigon. He wore a long, turquoise jacket with a black shirt underneath. A blue visor covered his eyes, his smile arrogant and cruel.

“Take them alive,” Giovanni said.

The boy nodded before raising his left arm. He fired a beam at the girls and their Pokémon. Fluttershy was the first to fall. The beam stuck her in the chest and she was frozen in stone just as she began calling for another Flamethrower attack. Ashley cried our angrily, and launched her Flamethrower at the boy and his Hydreigon. The boy ordered his Pokémon to dodge sideways and he fired another beam. This one hit Ashley in the back, turning her to stone as well and ending her assault.

“Are you sure we shouldn’t be using our magic?” Rainbow Dash asked Twilight Sparkle angrily. Twilight Sparkle hesitated, staring at their mysterious new attacker in confusion. That moment’s hesitation was all he needed. His third beam hit her in the shoulder, freezing her in place where she stood. Poe hooted in rage as the other Pokémon began firing ranged attacks at the Hydreigon, trying their best to corner it like they had the Mewtwo. The enraged Rowlet darted for the Hydreigon with a full speed Ariel Ace, but he was swatted away by the other Pokémon’s tail and sent flying to the far side of the cave. He collided with the wall and fell forward. A fourth beam struck him on the head as he landed, turning him to stone as well.

“Don’t worry,” Giovanni said, coldly. “No harm will befall you until we know the extent of your powers. We have much testing to do.”
He nodded to his Mewtwo, and the Pokémon froze the rest of the girls and their partners with a Psychic attack. The boy smirked at the easy targets, and ordered his Hydreigon closer. He raised his hand once more, pointing his gauntlet weapon at Applejack as she fought against the force restraining her. Rainbow Dash watched as her friend began to glow with the bright, orange light of her element. Pinkie Pie and Rarity were glowing now too, as they began drawing forth their magic. Rainbow Dash joined them, feeling the sensation of power coursing through her that always preceded her transformation. Just as the girls were about to Pony Up, a Stone Edge attack came flying through the air to hit the hunter’s Hydreigon square in the face.

“So it’s true,” said another new voice from the cave entrance. Both groups turned to see a woman dressed in black standing next to a Gastrodon. The Pokémon finished its attack. The Hydreigon toppled over and fell to the ground below amid the hail of rocks that had struck it. It landed atop its rider’s left arm and the boy screamed in pain as his bones shattered. The Mewtwo turned her attention to the new trainer, hesitating slightly as the girls she held struggled against her psychic grip. The woman threw a pokéball into the air and a Garchomp flew out. The grunts called out attacks as they sent their Pokémon into the fray. They began a furious battle, the young woman and her two partners against a horde of Team Galactic’s strongest. Rainbow Dash wanted nothing more than to join the fight. She struggled against her enemy’s grip, and her hand brushed up against her side. That’s when she noticed that her pokédex was gone.

She looked to her friends, then down to the stone forms of Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle. None of them had their pokedéxes.

“Where…?” she said. Then electricity lit up the cave. The girls peered through the battle to see that their Rotom-dexes were now on the other side of the room, electrocuting the Mewtwo that held them. The Mewtwo was just as surprised as the girls were, and though she held on for a second, she couldn’t maintain her grip amid six separate Thunder attacks. The woman’s Garchomp grinned and changed its target. The woman called out an attack, her Garchomp roared and it tore into Team Galactic’s line of Pokémon with a series of Dragon Claws.

Applejack flexed her muscles and brought out her magic in full. She Ponied Up, breaking the distracted Mewtwo’s grip through sheer force. The psychic backlash was enough to cause the harried Mewtwo to release the other girls and their Pokémon as well. She scowled at the humans for a moment before she was forced to engage the Rotom. The other girls followed Applejack’s lead and ponied up, as well. Rainbow Dash was the first to reach the Mewtwo. She punched the creature in the gut at full speed while the Rotom held her attention. There was a cry of pain and the Mewtwo doubled over. She tried to recover after a second, raising her head only to be punched in the face by Nara’s Fire Fist. She was knocked off balance and sent crashing into the ground below.

The girls and their Pokémon quickly piled on, launching attack after attack while the woman who had come to aid them defeated the rest of the grunt’s forces. Giovanni and the Team Galactic scientists were already fleeing out the back of the cave. The Team Rocket leader turned to look at his creation, his gaze hard and urgent. The Mewtwo met his stare and nodded. Seeing that they were losing, the Grunts tried to withdraw their Pokémon and flee, but Rainbow Dash darted through their line, knocking their pokéballs out of their hands at lightning speed.

The Mewtwo teleported away just as the girls were about to force her surrender. She appeared behind the grunts, and with a final scowl she teleported herself and the criminals out of the cave. The only enemies left were J’s apprentice and his unconscious Hydreigon.

“We need to go after ‘em!” Applejack yelled as she and Archi began charging toward the exit that Giovanni and his cronies had used. The open doorway led to another tunnel, but it began collapsing just as Applejack approached it. She was forced to pull back and watch her enemies escape.

“It’s just as well,” Rainbow Dash said as she walked over to their petrified friends. “We can’t leave Twilight and Fluttershy like this.”

“I’m afraid this young man’s device is broken, along with his arm,” the woman said as she knelt beside the fallen hunter. Her Garchomp stood behind her protectively, though the boy was no longer a threat. He moaned in pain as the woman set his arm as gingerly as she could. “He’ll be fine once we get him to a hospital. We’ll have to seek help for your friends in Eterna or Jubalife. Those are the closest places where help can be found, I’m afraid.”

“That’s ok,” Pinkie Pie said, cheerfully. “We got this!”

The girls gathered around their friends and let their magic fill them. The air shimmered, and after a moment Twilight, Fluttershy and their Pokémon were returned from stone. The girls sat up, their bodies shaking from the shock of being petrified, and were immediately embraced by their friends in a group hug.

“H-how did you do that?” the woman asked.

“The magic of our friendship makes us strong,” Rarity said as she helped Fluttershy to her feet. After she took a moment to make sure her friend was alright, she approached the woman and offered her hand. “Pardon, but we haven’t learned your name yet.”

The woman shook her hand and smiled as her Garchomp and Gastrodon cried out happily.

“I’m Cynthia, reigning champion of the Sinnoh region.”

“The tunnel isn’t completely collapsed,” Applejack said as she began knocking on the wall next to the exit Giovanni and his goons had used. The sound came back hollow several yards past the rockslide. “The doorway is the only thing blocked here. We gotta go after ‘em.”

“I’m guessing that exit leads to the outside,” Cynthia said as she directed her Garchomp and Gastrodon in gathering the enemy Pokémon together. “They’ll be boarding their aircraft soon. I don’t think we can catch them.”

“We need to check on the other half of our group, too,” Rainbow Dash said. “We need to know if they’re Ok.”

“You’re right,” Applejack sighed. “Let’s go search for ‘em then.”

“I believe this lair is now abandoned,” Cynthia said as she began scanning the room. “There is still a chance we might learn something, though. I will stay here to see if any of the grunts were careless enough to leave something of importance behind, and tend to their unconscious Pokémon.”

“Perhaps I can stay with you,” Rarity said. “I’m sure an extra pair of hands wouldn’t hurt.”

“I’d greatly appreciate it.”

“I’ll stay, too!” Pinkie Pie called. “I’ve still got quite a few poffins left over. We can have a ‘Yay, you’re free!’ party with the Pokémon when they wake up! Why don’t you stay too, Fluttershy?”

“Alright,” Fluttershy said as she hugged her Litten close. “I’ve had enough action for one day. Helping injured creatures is a welcome change.”

“The rest of us will go find our friends,” Applejack said. She led the other girls out the door and back into the long hallways of the mountain.

“So, Miss Cynthia,” Rarity said as she applied a soothing balm to the nose of an injured Mightyena. The Pokémon flinched as it waked, its body bruised and beaten by the Champion’s elite partners. “What brings you here?”

“I am Champion,” Cynthia said as she wrapped bandages on the leg of another Mightyena. “I must set a good example to the people of my region on how people and Pokémon are to interact. It is a duty I perform gladly. I have been planning a raid of this hideout alongside the Elite Four and the police for several months now. When I learned of your exploits on Route 210 I came to Celestic Town to meet you, only to find you had chosen to raid this place on your own. As powerful as you might be, that was still a very reckless choice.”

“Well, we couldn’t very well sit by and let these baddies hurt innocent Pokémon,” Pinkie Pie said as her Popplio spoke gently to several waking Pokémon. She patted their heads and began handing out potions with sparkling, pink bows she had tied onto their containers.

“As scary as this whole thing was, I’m glad we came,” Fluttershy said as she braced a Golbat’s wing with a splint. “I know these Pokémon were our enemies just a moment ago, but your Garchomp was still rather rough with them.”

“We held back, but perhaps not enough,” Cynthia said as she finished tying the gauze on a Golbat’s leg. “Battle wounds are all a part of the joy of competition, though.”

“I must admit, while I’m a new trainer and not exactly the rough and tumble type, Pokémon battles have turned out to be more enjoyable than I previously expected,” Rarity said as she sifted through her bag for a specific shade of gauze. She paused for a moment to look behind her at the far wall with the lectern. She had felt it when they entered, as if there was something standing there, watching her and her friends. She shivered at the feeling of her eyes meeting the gaze of some invisible specter, and she quickly returned to her work. The Pokémon she was tending to had been looking at the wall, as well. It shook its head, as if telling her to just ignore the presence, and nuzzled the gauze in her hand gently. She apologized to the Mightyena and continued her work.

“Those colors are quite beautiful,” Cynthia said as she watched Rarity choose a turquoise cloth with a bright sheen. “Where did you get those?”

“I made them myself. I figured, if my friends and I are going on this dangerous adventure we might as well look fabulous at every opportunity. I’ve gotten so many fashion ideas from this trip, and it’s been so much fun discussing them with my Litten in our down time.”

Gem purred and rubbed up against Rarity’s leg before sitting next to the Mightyena she was about to treat. Rarity parted the Pokémon’s fur on its back, revealing an ugly cut. She gingerly wiped away the blood with a plain cloth and sprayed the injury with a disinfectant. Then she placed a gauze pad on the wound and began wrapping gauze around its torso to hold the pad in place. A question entered her mind as she worked. It was one she had asked herself upon learning of this quest, and from it came another question that she chose to aim at her new friend.

“What does it mean to be a trainer and battle Pokémon to you, Miss Cynthia?”

Cynthia looked at Rarity for a moment, then looked back down at her next patient. She withdrew a potion from her belt and began feeding it to the whimpering Mightyena.

“May I ask a question in turn?” Cynthia replied. “From the perspective of the Pokémon League, you girls appeared out of nowhere. Your first acts in Sinnoh that anyone can point to is an attack on Team Galactic and the pacification of an entire route’s worth of anti-human Pokémon. Now you are taking your war on hatred to the leaders of this movement. You have quite an adventure before you. What do your actions up to this point mean to you? What do the implications of taking on Team Rocket and those under their umbrella mean to you?”

“We accepted this mission in order to bring peace and friendship to a land where such values are rapidly deteriorating,” Rarity said as she finished tying another bow with her gauze. “Our actions up until now have all been aimed toward this end. We want to help our Pokémon friends, while making more friends along the way if we can.”

“That sounds quite a bit like the dreams of every young Pokémon trainer. To this day, making friends with Pokémon, learning to understand them and teaching others how they might understand them as well are all goals I hold dearly in my heart. These are values I was taught when I was young. Then I left on my journey to become a Master Trainer. The trials I experienced on that long road hammered those values home. I wonder, where will you girls find yourselves when this is all over?”

“We’ll be at a big party,” Pinkie Pie said. She had been administering care and medicine along with the others, though she had also been making funny faces, forming her hair into funny shapes and telling jokes to make the Pokémon smile. Most of the Pokémon were watching her intently now, broad smiles on their faces as they looked at the pegasus shape she had fashioned out of her hair. It had buckteeth and seemed to be laughing at something. “I was promised a party at the end of this, and that’s what we’re getting. You’re welcome to come, Cynthia!”

“I think I would enjoy that very much,” Cynthia said as the group joined in Pinkie Pie’s mirth.

Chapter 19: Trials of God

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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.”

Chapter 20: Trials of God

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“I never thought sleeping on the floor of a cave could be so restive,” Rarity said as she and her friends sat in the back of a large transport truck. They hit a bump and she was almost thrown from her seat. She gripped the overhead handle tighter and steadied herself. “This truck is a bit rough, though.”

“It’s designed to transport groups of Pokémon Rangers when responding to emergencies in the wild,” Cynthia replied. “This truck is for first responders, and would normally be hauling a trailer filled with supplies behind it. It was the fastest method available to us at the mountain.”

“It’s a fine way to travel,” Applejack said as she braced herself against the seat. “We use trucks all the time on the farm. Not ones as big as this normally, but a slightly bumpy ride ain’t never hurt nobody.”

“Our poor Pokémon are still all tuckered out,” Pinkie Pie said as she hugged her sleeping Popplio close.

“They fought very hard,” the human Fluttershy said. “They were very brave.”

Ashley purred in her sleep on the seat next to her partner. The two Rowlet were perched on a wooden pole in a cage that was screwed into the floor near the drivers cab. Gem was curled up next to their cage, her bandaged tail twitching slightly and her claws flexing from time to time as she dreamed of battle. Nara was the only one awake, but barely. His eyes drooped and closed from time to time as he tried to pay attention to the conversation.

“I’m so happy everyone agreed to this cruise,” Pinkie Pie said as she jotted down party ideas on a notepad. “I just know it’ll be good for all of us!”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Rarity said. She pulled her bag out from under her seat and began rearranging the sewing materials that had been thrown about by the last bump. “Some fun and relaxation is just what we need. I’d love some time to draw up a few clothes designs.”

“You’ll have plenty of time to do whatever you want on this trip,” Cynthia said. “We have a day to spend in Canalave. Our ship leaves early tomorrow morning.”

“And you’re sure it’s alright if we come along like this?” the pony Fluttershy asked. “Those humans sure looked at us rather… strangely.”

“Though they weren’t unkind,” Sunset Shimmer added.

“No, they were very kind. It felt wrong turning down the potions they offered. They seemed a bit confused when I told them that they wouldn’t be effective.”

“It will be fine,” Cynthia said, smiling reassuringly. “I’ve spoken to the Elite Four of the Sinnoh region, and Professor Rowan. I’ve explained the situation. We have their full support. No one will question the five greatest trainers in Sinnoh, much less one of the foremost Pokémon experts in the world. The rangers and police officers we met at the mountain are safe with your secret, as well. Any suspicions they have will be small compared to their gratitude for your service. I want all of you to relax, enjoy yourselves, and give your bodies some time to heal.”

“So, who’s doing what first?” Rainbow Dash asked as the group climbed out of the truck several hours later.

“Shopping, of course,” Rarity said as she and Gem began walking down the street. “Anyone who wishes to join us is welcome. Otherwise, I’ll see you girls later.”

“I read that there’s a great library here,” Twilight Sparkle said. “I think I’m going to see it for myself.”

“I can show you the way,” Cynthia said. “I’ve got some studying of my own to do before my meeting with Steven.”

They walked off down a side street and disappeared around the corner.

“I’m gonna hit up the party supply store!” Pinkie Pie shouted happily.

“I’m gonna perform tricks for passersby outside of the party supply store!” Leon cheered. Pinkie Pie began skipping down the road in the direction Rarity had gone, her Popplio walking on his flippers just behind her as a passing couple watched in fascination.

“I’ve got some whiddlin’ ta’ do,” Applejack said, her voice still tired. She had once again taken the brunt of the enemy attacks. They had encountered over a dozen grunts on their way to aid Sunset Shimmer who had been more than happy to send their Pokémon after human targets.

So eager were they to ignore the normal rules of battling that the girl’s own Pokémon had found it almost impossible to draw enemy fire. Rainbow Dash had been able to outrun most of it, and Twilight Sparkle had been able to block attacks with telekinesis. Applejack had been the easiest to hit, and had been targeted as such. Once she began throwing punches and shrugging off Pokémon attacks, she was the most threatening. Either way, she had been forced to absorb the majority of the enemy’s brutality, especially after Twilight Sparkle had tired. Poe hadn’t been strong enough to pull her out of harms way. Applejack had stood over her friend, blocking attack after attack while Rainbow Dash fought her way over to evacuate Twilight to a safer place. If it weren’t for the sturdiness that her magic provided her with, she wouldn’t have stood a chance. Even then, she’d received a number of bite marks, cuts and large bruises.

“You take it easy, AJ,” Rainbow Dash replied as her friend took a seat on a nearby bench. Applejack sighed as she withdrew a knife and a hunk of wood from her bag.

“I’m going to stay with Applejack,” Fluttershy said as she sat down next to her friend. “We’ll keep an eye on the truck, while keeping our ‘Keldeo’ friends company.”

“I guess Nara and I will go find something to eat,” Rainbow Dash said. “Do you guys want us to bring you anything back?”

“Some ice cream would be nice,” Applejack said. “Don’t feel like anythin’ fancy today, and I’m sure Pinkie’s gonna have some good food at the party. Plain vanilla is fine.”

“Get me a scoop of strawberry, please,” Fluttershy said.

“I’ll take one too, please!” her pony counterpart said, sticking her head out of the back of the truck. She stuck her head back in, listening to a noise that the girls couldn’t make out. “And Sunset wants some chocolate with sprinkles.”

“What do our Pokémon friends want?” Rainbow Dash asked as she looked down at Nara.

“A crushed, poffin sundae please!” Archi hooted from a nearby tree.

“I’ll take one with extra Cheri Berries,” Ashley purred. She stretched out on the bench next to Fluttershy and curled up. “Wake me when you get back.”

“I’ll have what Ashley has,” Nara said, excitedly. He was already running down the street. Rainbow Dash jogged to catch up to him, and they continued on their way.

“It feels good to get some exercise when I’m not being attacked by something,” Rainbow Dash said as she and her Chimchar jogged through Canalave City.

“Yeah, fighting is fun and all, but I’d rather be here eating ice cream with my friends,” Nara said. He paused in the street, suddenly stricken with shock at his own words. “I mean, it’s not like I’d ever give up fighting. Never! I’m gonna be a big, strong Infernape someday but…”

“Don’t worry about it, buddy. Action might be a way of life, and one I’m particularly fond of, but eating ice cream with your friends is just as great!”

Nara perked up at her words. He smiled, nodded his head, and dashed down the road once more. Several minutes later they were standing in front of an ice cream stand on a street corner in the city’s trade district. People busied themselves from building to building, buying goods to be shipped to other regions or stacking crates into trucks to be delivered to other parts of Sinnoh.

“We’re in the heart of modern society. I bet Rarity’s happy. It feels kinda nice, doesn’t it Nara?”

“Chimchar,” Nara said after a second. He was focused on the food behind the glass in the man’s stand. There were two buckets of multi-colored beans standing next to a basket of pink poffins. Rainbow Dash smiled as she realized her friend hadn’t really heard what she had said.

“What are those beans?” she asked the ice cream vendor.

“Poké Beans,” the man replied. He was a friendly middle-aged man in a big grey sweater jacket. “Fresh from Alola. Would you like some for your partner there?”

“Yeah, though I’m ordering for two other Pokémon, as well. Give them all some beans, please.”

“Of course, maam. What can I get for you?”

Rainbow Dash placed her order and soon they were back on their way to their friends. Nara helped carry the other Pokémon’s deserts, while using his tail to carry his own food. He carefully licked the beans out of his cup, and squealed in delight at their taste. Rainbow Dash carried a sack full of carefully packaged cups filled with ice cream for her friends.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have this crazy journey to go on?” Nara said after a few minutes. “I mean, battling is fun and all, but…”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that today,” Rainbow Dash replied. “Is something wrong?”

“N-no, it’s just…”

“It’s ok to be scared, Nara. It’s ok to not want to fight. No one will think any less of you.”

“My dad will,” the Chimchar said, his voice sad.

The two paused at a streetlight, waiting for the traffic to stop so they could cross.

“Your dad isn’t you, and you’re not him. Besides, I don’t see him around here anywhere. It’s not like he’s here to scold you for doing what you want.”

“No, but his words are always with me. I think about them every time we go into battle. Our group, the Pokémon who were sent to accompany you on your journey, our parents are all high ranking soldiers in the armies of God’s Breath. Leon’s mom is even a Champion. My brothers and sisters and all of my cousins are all really strong and they love to fight. I like action too, but… Can I tell you a secret?”

“Of course,” Rainbow Dash said, placing her bag of ice cream down on the ground. She kneeled next to her friend to listen better.

“I get kinda scared, sometimes,” Nara said, a look of embarrassment on his face. His hands and tail drooped, almost letting the food he was carrying touch the ground. Rainbow Dash lifted his hands and looked him in the eyes.

“It’s ok to be scared, and it’s ok to admit it. I’ve had to tell my little sister this on occasion. It’s true for her and it’s true for you. Whatever comes next, we’ll get through it together, no sweat.”

“You really think so?”

“Naturally! I haven’t been properly scared since I realized how awesome I am, but that doesn’t apply to everybody. Nor should it. So long as you’re with us, just be yourself. That’s all we ask of our friends. Now let’s go eat some ice cream!”

“Yeah,” Nara said, as he wiped away a tear with his forearm. The crossing light turned green and they were on their way once more.

“These all look so fun!” Pinkie Pie said, excitedly as she hunted through the isles of the store for the best party supplies. “The goodies here are all Pokémon themed, and some even look like fictional Pokémon super heroes!”

“You’re basket is quite full, miss,” the elderly clerk said from the check out counter as Pinkie made another round through his store. “Are you planning something big?”

“Nah, just something fun for my friends and I. We’ve had some pretty wild adventures lately, and things have finally settled down for a bit. I’m planning on celebrating with my girls and our little Pokémon buddies!”

“I hope you enjoy yourselves, miss,” the man said as he bagged Pinkie Pie’s purchases a few moments later. “And thanks again, for Route 210. My sister lives up there in Celestic Town and said the Pokémon are calmed down quite a lot now. That warms my heart. People and Pokémon were meant to live in harmony, you know.”

He paused for a second as Pinkie Pie pulled some cash out of her purse. God’s Breath had given them quite a bit of money, and if for any reason they needed more all they had to do was ask. The clerk wiped a tear from his eye as Pinkie Pie handed him the money, then he gently pushed her hand away.

“It’s free, miss. No need.”

“I do have quite a few things,” Pinkie Pie said in surprise. She looked back at the four shelves she had emptied out. “Are you sure?”

“You know,” the clerk said, pausing for a second as he considered his words. He had a slow, careful way of speaking. “There were rumors that those violent Pokémon were recruiting others and would be moving south. If they’d done that, the whole area would have been cut off. Folks were real worried about what would have happened if they’d cut off the areas around Mt. Coronet, especially with all the news of more violent groups sprouting up around Twinleaf and Sandgem. Pokémon are powerful creatures, miss. Our society relies on their help to succeed. If they really wanted to do some damage, there’s not a lot we could do to stop them without our own Pokémon backing us up. The Pokémon in the wild outnumber the ones living with humans and… It just wouldn’t have been good, you see.”

“There are a lot of really good people and Pokémon in the world,” Pinkie Pie said. The man’s hands had gripped into nervous fists as he explained the fears of his society. She placed her hands over his and smiled. “Don’t worry, mister. Things always work out in the end. The bad guys lose and everyone learns from their mistakes. Life is resilient like that.”

She left the money on the counter, assuring the man that she had plenty more where that came from, and left the store with her goods. The sun was shining and Leon was standing outside, balancing a playful Rattata on his nose. Leon jumped, throwing the Rattata in the air, and blowing a bubble to catch it just before the surprised Pokémon fell to the ground. The people cheered and so did the Rattata. Leon bowed as he popped the bubble and his impromptu partner leapt to the ground.

“Is that your Pokémon?” a woman in the crowed asked. She wore a long, brown jacket over a tidy business outfit. Several other people were dressed in similar fashion, but most of the onlookers were dockworkers from down the street.

“Yup!” Pinkie Pie replied. “He’s my partner. His name’s Leon.”

Leon clapped his flippers and barked happily, refraining from using human speech around strangers.

“He’s quite skilled! I have some berries here that I’d like him to have, if he’s interested.”

Leon barked again in thanks as Pinkie Pie took a paper sack from the woman. It was full of Oran Berries.

“Thank you so much!” Pinkie Pie said.

“Hey, your little friend is a Popplio, right?” a dockworker asked.

“He sure is!”

“You should head over to the second pier, then. Some of my co-workers say they saw some Brionne near there. No idea what those Pokémon are doing so far from Alola’s waters, but they stopped for a break here in Canalave.”

Leon barked again, even more excited than before.

“My friend says yes,” Pinkie Pie said, interpreting his cries thanks to Sunset Shimmer’s spell. She thanked the man for his tip and ran off down the street, Leon close behind. Minutes later they were at the docks, slightly short of breath and surrounded by busy dockworkers. Men and women rushed about the piers, moving crates and taking count of their stock. Pinkie Pie asked one of them about the Brionne that had come to rest in the harbor. She was pointed to the end of the docks, to an empty space where no ship was anchored. A group of Pokémon was playing there, while passing dockworkers tossed them berries and Poké Beans.

“They’re here!” Leon yelled, happily. He jumped off of the edge of the pier and into the water below, diving below the docks at high speeds to swim to the Brionne on the other side.

“Wait up!” Pinkie Pie cried as she ran along the walkway. She arrived just as Leon poked his head above the water in the middle of the playing Pokémon.

“Little Leon!” one of the Brionne shouted. She lifted the Popplio into the air and tossed him playfully. The other Brionne caught him in a tight hug. He blushed slightly, but he was smiling just as brightly as the Brionne that embraced him.

“It’s so good to see you!” another Brionne said as the hug released and they began to greet him properly.

“Is that your human friend?” a third Brionne asked. “What region is she from? Why is she so pink?”

“Because I’m Pinkie Pie!” the girl said as she sat down next to several Brionne on the pier and draped her legs over the edge. “Are these Pokémon your friends, Leon?”

“I’m his big sister, Laurie!” said the Brionne next to Pinkie Pie. She had a star shaped mark around her left eye that Pinkie suspected was marker, but it was pretty so she said as much and received a hug in return.

“I’m his big brother, Lucas,” said the Brionne next to Laurie. He was larger than the rest, but only slightly. Pinkie Pie asked if he was strong and he said his physical attacks were the best in their colony.

“He’s also the slowest,” teased another Brionne from the water. This one was thin, with a seaweed bracelet wrapped around her flipper. It had patterns in it made from sparkling stones that shined in the sunlight. “I’m Leon’s second big sister, May. Thank you for taking care of our little brother, Pinkie Pie!”

“No problem my Pokéfriends. He’s done a great job of taking care of me too, ya’ know.”
The Brionne cheered. Pinkie Pie and Leon stayed with them for an hour, and Pinkie got to know all of them by name. It was a joyful reunion.

“Why are you guys here in Sinnoh?” Leon asked after his colony had finished a third uplifting song. The dockworkers that had gathered to hear the music were dispersing, talking happily amongst themselves as they left their breaks and went back to work.

“We’re headed out to sea,” Laurie said. “We’re going to God’s Breath to join the military effort. The princesses aren’t taking any chances. They’re going to be entering a new world that’s already full of danger. The armies of Equestria are gathering too, just in case.”

“So, they expect something as terrible as last time?”

“Neither the High Council, or the princess are sure. It could be a big conflict, or it could just be nothing at all.”

“There’s also the threat of Arceus,” May said. “Word has it, the god is watching your group pretty closely.”

“I wonder if that’s what I felt in the mountain,” Pinkie Pie mused. “It was like there were eyes on me all the time, especially in that final cave. We never saw anything, though.”

“You seem like a great person,” Lucas said as he put a large flipper on Pinkie Pie’s shoulder.

“You all seem really great, too!”

“We’re going to have to leave in the morning, though. Can we spend the rest of the day with Leon?”

“Of course! In fact, if your colony is interested, I’ve got a party planned for my friends and I tonight. We’d love it if you were there.”

“Me too!” Leon said, excitedly.

“In fact, we can have it right here at the docks. So long as we clean up after ourselves, I don’t think anyone would care.”

The Brionne cheered. With her idea a hit, Pinkie Pie began explaining how the colony could begin preparing for the party on their end. She explained her ideas, some of them she had just thought up, and the part was set. Leaving the joyful Pokémon with a bag of supplies, Pinkie Pie skipped her way out of the docks and back to the truck where her friends awaited her.

“So, we’re going to a party with a group of Brionne tonight?” Cynthia said as she sat next to Sunset Shimmer in the truck. Pinkie Pie had returned moments before with the news, and was outside explaining her ideas to her friends.

“Looks like it,” Sunset Shimmer said.

“Pinkie Pie talked like she understood the Pokémon’s words. That’s a very unique trait. Incredibly rare.”

“I can understand them, and my human counterpart can, too,” Fluttershy said. “That’s due to our magic, though.”

“It’s not that I doubt Pinkie. Pokémon are incredibly intelligent creatures. They can get their points across to us, even without words, but Pinkie Pie spoke as if she had carried on a full conversation.”

“She had,” Sunset Shimmer said. “I enchanted her and the others, giving them the power to speak to Pokémon and understand their language.”

“But how?” Cynthia asked, surprise and curiosity finally overcoming her desire to respect her new friend’s secrets. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but… What are you?”

“I’m a unicorn pony,” Sunset Shimmer said, casting the spell that took down the illusions around Fluttershy and herself. Cynthia’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I’m a pegasus pony,” Fluttershy said, shyly.

“We’re not Pokémon, but we are friends with them and we do have a mission to help them. The girls outside are all one hundred percent human, just like you. Together, with the Pokémon that have chosen to help us, we are trying our best to fix the rift growing between humans and Pokémon.”

“If you know the root of this problem, then I must ask you to tell me what it is. It’s spreading here and in other regions. I must know what I can do to help.”

Sunset Shimmer and Fluttershy shared a reserved look.

“We’re not really allowed to tell you that,” Fluttershy said after a moment. “I’m not even sure we’re the best qualified for it.”
“Then who is?”

“I can give you the power to speak to Pokémon,” Sunset Shimmer said. “You can ask them yourself, if you want. Though, you may not like what they tell you.”

Cynthia removed a pokéball from her belt and looked at it for a minute in silence.

“I want to understand and help the Pokémon of my world,” she said, still looking at her pokéball. “I want to speak to those Brionne and hear their words.”

Sunset Shimmer closed her eyes, focusing her magic on the spell she needed. It was an old one, meant to break language barriers so ponies could understand each other better. It hadn’t been widely used in centuries. Twilight Sparkle had given it to her from her own collection.
Cynthia was bathed in light for a moment. When the spellcasting was complete, she held up her hands and stared at them.

“I don’t feel different.”

“You aren’t, except you can understand the speech of Pokémon now,” Sunset Shimmer said. “It’s not perfect. You’ll still hear their normal cries mixed in with their words, but you’ll be able to understand them most of the time. The Pokémon we’re traveling with are different, though. They can already speak human languages.”

“Thank you,” Cynthia said, as questions ran through her mind. “I’ve got much to think about with my new… ability.”

“Use it well. I’ve revealed Fluttershy and myself to you. I’ve given you a power you’re not supposed to have. Our mission was simple observation and reporting. We’ve broken those rules, now.”

“You didn’t have to do this.”

“It’s something we’ve been discussing today,” Fluttershy replied. “Sunset Shimmer’s been laid up in this truck and I’ve been keeping her company. We decided that we want to trust you and, well, the humans of this world deserve a say, too. Please be responsible with this information. Don’t tell anyone that we’re not Keldeo, and don’t rush to action based on what you learn of the problems facing the wild Pokémon of your world.”

“Thank you,” Cynthia said. She stood up and turned to leave. “I promise, I won’t let you down.”

Chapter 21: Trials of God

View Online

“This fabric is simply adorable,” Rarity said as she looked through the isles of the imported fabric shop. The store was on a street facing the sea. The view was so gorgeous she and Gem had spent two hours sitting on a bench, enjoying it. Rarity had drawn up four dress designs and one suit design during that time, all inspired by the feeling of commerce and diversity that Canalave City exuded.

“I wonder if there’s a willing trainer to battle nearby,” Gem said from her spot next to the register. She was lying down, but her head was up and she was looking around eagerly. The women in charge of the shop had gone to their stock room to find several accessories Rarity had requested.

“We just got done with a ghastly turn of events and you want to go back to fighting? No offense darling, but I can’t see the appeal.”

“Fighting is fun. It makes the world simpler.”

“It makes the world a mess if it’s not in good spirited competition, and even then the competitors get horribly messy. I know I got horribly messy in Mt. Coronet. So did you, for that matter. Fortunately my friends and I brought soap and shampoo.”

“And the Pokémon Rangers set up portable showers around their base. Getting clean is nice so long as the water is boiling hot.”

“Agreed!” Rarity said as she put her final purchases down on the cashier’s counter. “With the exception of the boiling water, of course.”

The storeowner and her assistant returned from the back room, their arms full of supplies. Rarity made her purchases, thanked the women and left with her partner.

“The town square is a few blocks east,” Rarity’s Rotom-dex chirped, his electronic voice sharp and confident. “There’s more shopping over there and it’s a place where trainers often gather to battle one another, too. People from all over the world come to Canalave, so we might just get to see something interesting.”

“Would you mind if I watched the battles?” Gem asked.

“If that is what you want to do, my friend, then enjoy yourself,” Rarity replied. “I’m sure they will be fantastic, but shopping is far more therapeutic for me. I’ll come and find you when I’m done.”

The two arrived at the town square and separated after a brief discussion on ways they might find each other later. Rarity turned right into the shopping plaza nearby, and Gem kept walking into the center of the square. The Litten ducked and dodged in-between the crowd of onlookers. People and Pokémon alike had gathered to watch the battles at the center of town. Once Gem had finally managed to squeeze past the crowd she was able to see what they were seeing, and she couldn’t help but meow in delight.

Two grizzled, old Conkeldurr were sparring in the middle of a large ring outlined by chalk. Their clashing concrete pillars shook the air around them and the ground beneath them, each blow loud and heavy. One of the stone pillars hit home, sending one of the Conkeldurr reeling backwards. Instead of going down, he changed his footing and blocked another swipe aimed at his head. He swung his pillar upward, catching his opponent on the chin and knocking him several meters into the air. The other Conkeldurr flipped in mid-air and landed on his feet, rubbing his chin. The fight continued as the humans and Pokémon looked on in wonder.

After the Conkeldurr had shaken hands and parted, accepting a tie as the outcome of their battle, a Blastoise took to the ring to face off against a Hitmonlee. The combatants bowed to one another, and the sparring commenced.

“Are there no trainers here?” Rarity asked several hours later. Gem jumped at the surprise and her partner apologized for the shock. The young Litten had become so focused on the battles that she had lost all sense of her surroundings. It was the seventh fight, this time between a Boldore and two Machop. The Boldore had a clear power advantage, despite the type matchup and her opponent’s numbers.

“Actually, now that you mention it I don’t think I’ve seen any trainers involved in this,” Gem said as she rubbed up against Rarity’s leg affectionately. “I guess I haven’t really been paying attention to that. I’ve just been enjoying the action!”

“It is quite… impressive for something so violent, I suppose.”

“It’s what I was raised to do, but on the battlefield,” Gem said. “My Litten used to spar with me daily. He was a great wrestler.”

“Pardon dear, but I heard the word ‘Litten’ in place of one of those words. Were you talking about you father, perhaps?”

“My uncle,” Gem said. There was a hint of sadness in her voice, but it was overshadowed by pride. “My father died when I was little. Momma says it was a glorious Litten. Uncle Markus went off to that place called Battleworld and never came home. The most the Slowking College will tell us while they finish chronicling those events is that our loved ones fought heroic battles and saved a lot of lives.”

“I’m sure they did,” Rarity said as she bent down to pet the Litten gently. Gem leapt into Rarity’s lap and purred as they continued to watch the battle. “I heard from Pinkie Pie a few minutes ago. She’d spent a while writing down ideas for a very special party, and was on her way back to the truck.”

“Oh? What’s the occasion?” Gem asked, her attention divided between the battle and the conversation. The Machop were pushing back hard now, and the Boldore was showing signs of strain.

“A group of Brionne have come to rest in the docks of Canalave for the night. It’s Leon’s colony. Several of his family members are with them. We’re going to have a delightful party with them tonight, and I’ve decided to make some lovely bows to send them off with.”

“Are they durr to God’s Breath?” a strong voice said from behind. Rarity turned to see two old, gnarled Conkeldurr standing there. Gem was so entranced by the fight that she didn’t even bother to see who had spoken.

“Yes,” Rarity said, moving over to offer the Conkeldurr a seat. “They said they were going that direction. Who might you be?”

“I’m Chuck,” said the tallest Conkeldurr. He was half a head taller than his friend, with just as many scars from years of fighting and working construction sites without protection. “This is Sylvester. We’re leading a group of Pokémon to God’s Breath ourselves.”

“You’re going to fight, too?” Gem asked, breaking away from the battle to join the conversation fully.

“We are, young one,” Sylvester said. “We’re a small group but we’re not alone. There are many more groups just like ours passing through all of the regions of the world as they travel to the aid of the city.”

“You were both holding back out there. I could tell. My uncle taught me how, before he died fighting for the princesses and the King’s High Council.”

“I do hope you won’t have to fight anything too ghastly,” Rarity said. “But that ‘war trophy’ Sunset showed to us before our trip almost curled my hair into knots. Do be safe.”

“We will be as safe as is necessary,” Chuck said, with a small laugh. “Though that’s not saying much. While we may not lead all these Pokémon into battle once we’re there, Sylvester and I don’t plan to shy away from the worst of it.”
Gem had been purring the entire time, thoroughly enjoying the battles and the company of such strong fighters. She grew silent now, and looked down at the bench sadly.

“You’re going to fight alongside the council members then?”

“We trained Gallah when he first came to the world above,” Sylvester said. “We were the only wild Pokémon he didn’t stand a chance against. It took a year of intensive training for him to surpass us. We’ll likely fight at his side when we enter the battlefield.”

“My uncle talked like that,” Gem said after a few seconds. “He always wanted to be in the middle of the hottest fight. Leon said his father fought alongside Lord Bartholomew before he died. The council members always face the worst of it themselves.”

The Conkeldurr knelt down beside Rarity and Gem, smiling gently as the crowd around them was entranced by the contest. Some of the people glanced at the scene in curiosity. They couldn’t understand the Pokémon’s words, though the emotions of the conversation were not lost on them. The Pokémon in the crowd were different. Some chose to ignore the discussion out of respect, feeling that they were baring witness to something personal they shouldn’t be privy to. Others lost interest in the fight and grew a bit melancholy.

“I’ve heard amazing things of the high council, though,” Rarity said as she pet Gem comfortingly. “Anyone who fights at their side must be the best of the best.”

“We were the bodyguards of one of Gallah’s predecessors, Lord Gerome,” Chuck said, cheerfully. The two Conkeldurr were perfectly relaxed, despite the growing number of eyes upon them. “We Conk-durr thirty-five years ago to live among humans and help them maintain their cities. Never tamed, but always friendly.”

“Gallah durr us during one of our training expeditions into the wild,” Sylvester added. “He was young, and a bit arrogant. We beat that out of him well enough.”

The battle had ended, the Machop having come from behind to finally defeat the stronger and more experienced Boldore. Both sides bowed to the crowd and left the chalk-drawn stage. Rarity took note of the people now turning their attention to her, and blushed in sudden nervousness.

“At any rate, to live or die in glorious battle is a warrior’s lot in life. Durr we aren’t going to do that if we don’t have to.”

“I’m sorry,” Rarity said, softly. An idea came to her on how she might salvage their situation, but she was growing quite nervous and the Pokémon were becoming harder to understand for some reason. “Could you repeat that last line?”

“We must be off, Lady Rarity,” Sylvester said as he and his friend got to their feet. “Yes, we know who you are, my dear. We have heard of your recent exploits, and we’re eternally grateful for the efforts of you and your friends.”

They bowed to her, and something clicked in Rarity’s mind. Here were two figures, likely legends among their kind, bowing to her as they prepared to run off into unknown peril. All the while, their world’s survival hung on whatever success she and her friends might find on their journey. It was as if the seriousness of their mission was laid out for her in full.

“And you, my little Litten,” Chuck said as he turned his gaze back to Gem. “You and your friends are warriors, brave and true. Your mission is no less important than ours. We know you will do us proud.”

Gem’s jaw opened slightly in awe, then she smiled and meowed her approval. The two Conkeldurr bowed once more and left the town square, their Pokémon troupe falling in close behind.

“What was that all about?” a man in the crowed asked. The exhibition was finished and all eyes were now on Rarity and Gem.

“It was part of a play!” Rarity said, awkwardly. “A special sneak peak just for you, here, in Canalave. It will be performed in full at the first location in the next region we travel to, free of charge! Though all berries, poffins, and Poké Beans donated will be greatly appreciated.”

She practically leapt from her seat, Gem in hand, and walked out of the town square as quickly as possible. Her bags full of sewing supplies swayed as she moved, but her mind was soon taken with thoughts of their conversation. The whole affair now sounded as if it were completely beyond her and her friends. She grasped the pendant around her neck and felt the power of her element coursing through her, steady and strong. She would give her all to this cause, and so would her friends. She could only hope it would be enough.

The Canalave library wasn’t enormous, but it had a good stock of books. It’s greatest assets were the old tomes of Sinnoh folktales it possessed. Twilight Sparkle wanted to read them all and soak in as much information as she could, but Poe led her to several specific books. Like Archi, he was more focused on the mission than the other Pokémon in their group. While all of the young starters had sharp, inquisitive minds the Rowlet seemed more oriented toward the philosophy needed for their mission. Applejack and Twilight Sparkle had discussed this in their down time, and had decided to use their partners to help them form their answer to Arceus.

“So, what do you think of it?” Poe asked as he flew in circles just above Twilight Sparkle’s head. He had been excited ever since she had told him they were going to the library.

“It’s fascinating,” Twilight replied as she turned another page. “But I’ve got so many more questions now. Do you mind if I bounce a few off of you?”

“Not at all!”

“There’s a rather… disturbing story in here about a human hunting Pokémon for food. It says that he found a sword and hunted them until Pokémon eventually stopped appearing before people all together. Is the eating of Pokémon so common in this world? It would seem that humans and Pokémon, both being intelligent species, would get along better than that.”

“Many humans eat tofu rather than Pokémon,” Poe said, squinting a bit as he worked to remember his classroom lessons. “Though many humans eat various species of Pokémon, too.”

“Does that bother you?”

“A bit, I suppose. Now that I think about it. But Pokémon will eat humans sometimes, as well. Some Pokémon will eat other Pokémon. Though not universal, the predator-prey relationship between certain species cannot be denied. This will often manifest as heated inter-species rivalries, even in places where the population of Pokémon are vegetarians.”

“Yet Pokémon have built societies all across the world. Just because human societies are more numerous doesn’t make them better.”

“Yet we live in the wild,” Poe said, his voice strengthening and eyes straightening as he organized his thoughts. “The majority of us do, at any rate. Yes, some of us have houses and shops, but for the most part our societies live out of caves, trees, and holes in the ground. We don’t normally build grand cities like the humans do. God’s Breath was formed out of necessity, as were most of the towns and kingdoms Pokémon have founded. Some Pokémon enjoy living in those places, but most don’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not sure. Perhaps the call of nature is too strong? Or it could be something else. An ancient curse would be a fascinating answer, but quite unlikely.”

“Yet there is no doubt that Pokémon could build their own societies to rival those of the humans. Why don’t they?”

“Why should we? What good has it done the humans? They still war with one another from time to time, wars that they have often dragged Pokémon into. Some even eat one another, though that problem is much less now than it used to be.”

“So, this predator-prey relationship between Pokémon and humans is more agreeable to Pokémon than two equal societies living side by side?”

“Nature is a harsh mistress, but we do live side by side as equals, in most cases. I wonder what my teacher would say about this?”

“Who is your teacher?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

“Cousin Archi and I were both mentored by an old Oranguru from the Lush Jungle. The last we heard, he was going to God’s Breath to help with preparations for the war. It might be good to talk to him about this subject if we can.”

“You’re quite right, Poe,” Twilight Sparkle said as she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. She pulled it out to see a party invite text from Pinkie Pie. She put it back in her pocket and began packing her bags, her mind racing with questions to ask this ancient scholar once they met. “Talking to him would be wise.”

When the girls finally arrived at the docks that night, the Brionne had just finished setting up the decorations for the party. The Pokémon had put up the tables, hung streamers made of brightly colored seaweed, and decorated the pier with beautiful shells they had brought up from the ocean floor. Cynthia drove their truck up to the pier and the Brionne greeted them with a short musical chorus. Leon waddled up to Pinkie Pie and hugged her cheerfully after the chorus line was over. She returned the hug, shouted for joy and the party began.

Cynthia was surprised by the Brionne’s voices. Though she had spent the last four hours talking to her own Pokémon, the experience of being able to hold full discussions with them was still quite new. Hearing them sing a song she had heard before was even more surprising. She eagerly sat down with the Pokémon and talked with them long into the night, though none of them would speak of God’s Breath to a human who didn’t already know of it.

The night wore on and soon it was early morning. The partygoers began to quiet down reluctantly, though the Brionne weren’t quite done, yet. As the group began to grow tired and sleep seemed immanent, the Brionne energized their new friends with one last song.

“You know,” Cynthia said as she sat next to the girls. Her Garchomp and Gastrodon sat next to her, bobbing their heads to the beat of the music. “This song has been passed down through generations among the people of Alola. It’s a song of friendship and togetherness, of being one with nature and the greatness of the seas of the world. Yet, these Pokémon are wild. They have never lived among humans, except to pass them from time to time, perhaps. Now that I can understand their voices I can’t help but wonder who wrote this song, people or Pokémon?”

“Why not both?” Applejack said. Archi hooted his approval from her shoulder. “When folks live side by side for a while, they start to rub off on each other.”

The others voiced their approval of Applejack’s theory, and they sat in silence for a while as the song continued. When it ended it was replaced by the sound of a helicopter coming in to land further up on the docks. Everyone turned to look, and Cynthia sighed.

“I’m sorry, my friends,” she said as she rose to her feet. “Thanks to Sunset Shimmer’s spell, I now have the ability to understand our world better than I ever have. I can find out why the wild Pokémon are growing more distant and violent. These Brionne are clearly hiding something very important from me, as are you. I cannot ask any of you to break whatever vows hold you. I must seek answers elsewhere. I cannot join you on the boat.”

“That’s alright,” Pinkie Pie said. She gave Cynthia a hug, and the others soon joined in. “I know we just met, but you’ve been so kind. We’ll save you some cake!”

Cynthia was shocked for a moment before returning their affection. Then she gave Pinkie Pie the tickets to the cruise ship and turned to leave. The group waved to her as she climbed aboard the helicopter. A few moments later, she was gone.

“Let’s sleep here tonight,” Pinkie Pie said as she hugged her Popplio close. The others agreed. They laid out bed mats and sleeping bags taken from the back of the truck. The Brionne sang them to sleep. When the girls woke the next morning, the colony had gone, the scent of the sea and a note of encouragement left to mark their passing.

Chapter 22: Trials of Conquest

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“That concludes my report,” Fleet Foot said as she bowed to the councilponies. She had returned that very morning to deliver the Wonderbolt’s findings, and would return the next morning to fly with her team once more. The councilponies thanked her and she took her seat among them as a representative of Cloudsdale.

“I don’t like the looks of this one bit, princess,” Fancy Pants said as he sat in the council room of Canterlot Castle. “As horrible as this ‘Gotham’ sounds, the inhabitants of this world seem to be ruled by a certain cynicism that I find quite distasteful. Then we have the potential for a war between two large, extraordinarily violent forces. Nothing about this situation sounds safe to our country or our world in the slightest.”

“We are in full agreement, Fancy Pants,” Princess Luna said as she paced before the windows. “However, leaving this other world before now has not been an option. Arceus is expecting answers, and innocent lives are at stake. Even now, as the heroes of this alternate reality return from their battles in space, leaving is still difficult.”

“I understand that they are all injured,” Fancy Pants said, a bit more gently than before. “The defenses of their world are weakened. Innocents must be protected. Yet, we cannot risk drawing the attention of this ghastly Dead Universe. It would be absolutely disastrous.”

“We agree again. Yet we have already made contact. We have an undead prisoner held captive in the Crystal Empire. Even before we reached out to observe it, Crystaller Sunburst theorized that it may have noticed us already. If this is true, then we must know when we were noticed and how. There may be a way to hide us from its vision.”

“Perhaps this prisoner knows?”

“Celestia’s pupils are doing their best to draw answers from it, but no success has been reported. Not even psychic intrusion has drawn conclusive answers, only confusion, as Lady Joan and Lady Dorris can attest. However, I do not come simply to report on our situation to you. I have come to answer your questions and to reaffirm our position.”

The councilponies looked to one another. Each one was a leader of Canterlot in some form, from cooking to fashion to finance. Several of the ponies gathered were not from the Canterlot council, but had been sent for as delegates of Equestria’s various regions. They, too, were leaders of industry and highly respected. Each of them nodded, one after another, as they came to a silent agreement.

“We are at your service, your majesty,” Fancy Pants said.

“I know you are,” Princess Luna said with a sigh and a smile. She forced herself to stop pacing and take a seat. Sometimes she had to remind herself to calm down and relax in times like these. “I thank you for your support. I have given you a run down of all we know, including Moon Dancer’s latest report. The papers will write about it in the morning. In light of these events, we princesses ask that you continue to prepare this city for transition into our subject world. Other than that, it’s business as usual.”

“That is quite the hopeful outlook,” Mayor Mare said. She had come as a representative of Ponyville while Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends were busy helping Moon Dancer’s group interrogate the Insecticon. “Forgive my question, but might it be a bit premature?”

“I will not say that cannot be the case,” Princess Luna replied. “All things are possible in these strange times. I will simply say that we do not believe that to be the case. Either way, there is still much about this situation that we don’t understand. Our options are limited until we gain more information.”

“What level of threat do you see in this Unicron fellow?” Prim Hemline asked from her seat next to Fancy Pants. She sipped her coffee with one hoof while scanning over the briefing papers she had been given with the other. She wore a badge on the collar of her purple coat marking her as a delegate of Manehatten. “His forces seem to be quite heavily committed to this alternate reality we are observing. I’m no military expert, but everypony knows that stretching yourself too thin is a surefire path to failure.”

“You are quite right, Prim. Not only does this other universe have powerful protectors of its own but there are rumors of dark gods turning their eyes toward Unicron’s forces. Unicron’s focus is clearly not us, even if he is aware of us. It is primarily for this reason that we are not worried, yet. The future may change this, but for now our plans haven’t changed.”

“Let us move onto our next topic, if you don’t mind your majesty,” Fancy Pants said. Luna nodded her agreement and he continued. “Mayor Mare, how are food and water preparations going in Ponyville?”

“They are going wonderfully! We have received all of our orders from the various parts of Equestria on time and in good condition.”

The ponies continued their discussion, going down the list of things they needed for Canterlot’s upcoming transition into this new world. It was a pleasant meeting, if a bit long. By the time they were through, the sun sat low in the sky. The gathered delegates and councilponies watched respectfully as their princess stepped onto the balcony and raised the moon. The night air was fresh and clean. A storm was being sent in from the west, its city of origin floating in the sky just a few miles away.

Cloudsdale is as busy as ever, Luna thought. Making our weather for us. Like the rest of Equestria, many of their ponies are being trained to fight as we speak.

“Most of the pegasus ponies training in Cloudsdale are eager for adventure,” Fleet Foot said to Luna’s right, as if reading the princess’ thoughts. “Naturally, we’re only taking those that want to go. There were more volunteers than expected, but there’ll be plenty of adventure for everypony when the time comes.”

“And we will make the best use of their service,” Luna replied as she nodded her head in thanks. She turned back to her council to give one final thought. “Just as we were in Battleworld, we are minor here. There are greater threats for our enemies to face. Their egos will demand it if nothing else, and so we will be overlooked. That is our hope. When the time comes we will strike hard and fast in the places where our foes are weakest, taking no side but our own. We will protect the innocent to the best of our ability, and we will claim victory in the end. Until we meet again, my friends. Good night.”

The councilponies bowed and exited the room as the nightlife of Canterlot began to light up.

There were four great factions in God’s Breath that helped oversee the operations of the city. They were all subservient to the commands of the High Council, with the exception of the House of Ra, which was comprised entirely of council members. Only the servants of Ra were subject to the city hierarchy, and only when Ra and his family allowed it. It was rare that the House of Ra would decline the council, however. Though there had been disagreements in the past, all of the factions were bound by their loyalty to the king. So strong was this bond that his memory still held the city together, even after his passing. This was desire to obey their king was what had tied them to Equestria so tightly in the beginning. The pony’s bravery and strength of character had sealed their friendship in stone.

The House of Eevee had been formed and adopted by King Siebold himself. They had kept him company and served him as his sons and daughters throughout the centuries. The House of Ra was the oldest faction, and being comprised of only five members it was the smallest as well. Lord Ra was its eldest member and leader, though he never truly gave commands to his family. He was first among equals, despite holding the title of patriarch. These two factions had remained in God’s Breath, serving the princesses of Equestria in preparation for the final phase of their mission. The strongest warriors of the remaining two factions had been sent ahead to make ready for their arrival, and they would be at each other’s throats if not for the intervention of the High Council.

Seven Decidueye flew silently through the night. Three of them served under Lady Welshi, while the others served under Lady Potpourri despite having shed their flying-type years ago. They were former members of the Shining Murder Gang who had followed their lady into the ranks of the king’s soldiers. Though, like their lady, they still held close ties to their old organization. The Shining Murder Gang and its rival, the Rainbow Crest Gang, were young compared to the other factions. When at home, they operated illicit activities. The king used them to observe the world above, especially the various human cultures as they grew and prospered. This was a task he deemed necessary despite his eternal hope of coexisting with humanity.

So good were these two gangs at their jobs, and so honest and accurate were they in their reports, that King Seibold chose to ignore the thefts they would often commit on behalf of their clients in the city. The Slowking College would occasionally seek items from the human world, such as new versions of Pokédexes or copies of research papers written by human scholars. The other Pokémon of the city constantly sought human made goods, and information on human pop culture to emulate. The two gangs were more than happy to provide, always taking from the world above and rarely giving back. When they did perform a service for the world outside of God’s Breath, it was always at the behest of their king. They had vied for his favor for the past two hundred years, neither gaining more than the other. His death had only increased their rivalry as they each sought to prove who was more loyal to his vision.

“I can’t believe those stupid Golem,” one Decidueye said as his group passed through another abandoned building. “Losing those thugs in the sewers.”

“Their carelessness will cost us,” the oldest Decidueye said. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot from several nights of sleepless hunting. “We should set the thugs off on their location. Boss Nicolo would get a good laugh out of it.”

“Lady Potpourri would, too,” said the seventh Decidueye. He was the one in front of their formation, and he looked back at his partners critically. He served only the Starter’s Council, and by extension Lord Bartholomew. “She gets a kick out of such pranks, even though Rough and Tumble are more than a match for these humans. Lord Bartholomew wouldn’t like it, though. Such recklessness goes directly against his orders.”

“Always the buzzkill,” the elder Decidueye said with a sigh.

“You’re the oldest, Xiao. You know better, but you prefer to follow in Lady Potpourri’s example.”

“Because it’s more fun,” Xiao said as he withdrew a feather and prepared to nock it. They were rapidly closing in on their target. “Gotham doesn’t hold much for me. I’ve seen plenty of this mess in our own world. Many of us have. So, to cope with the disaster humanity is always making of itself I look for the fun in life. Makes things easer.”

“That’s a nice excuse, but the council doesn’t accept it when used to justify sending our enemies after our allies.”

“Quincey is right,” said one of the Decidueye who served under Lady Welshi. “We’re all members of the Starter’s Council by birth, even if we’re not in the leadership. Lord Bartholomew wouldn’t tolerate such talk. I know my lady doesn’t. You gangsters need to tone down the rivalry a bit so we can get things done.”

The rest of Lady Welshi’s Decidueye whispered their agreement, while those serving under Lady Potpourri fell into an unhappy silence.

“We’re coming up on our target,” Xiao said. “How many are there?”

An Emolga glided down from the rooftops where she had been following the Decidueye, her whiskers twitching as she received tiny electrical signals.

“Six now,” she squeaked happily. “They’re armed, but completely unaware that they’ve been followed.”

“Good,” Xiao said as he took the lead. “Fall in, then spread out. We’ve got three more targets after this. Then we’re meeting with Medusa’s group next for a nice break from our duties. A cozy place to roost would do us all some good. Make every shot quick and silent. We’ll put Master Ryu’s ninja to shame this night.”

The Decidueye obeyed as they arrived at the entrance to a sewer pipeline. Everything was silent except for the sound of approaching boots running on concrete and steel. They drew their arrows back and began to snipe the heavily armed thugs as they left the sewers. In less than ten seconds the criminals lay unconscious on the ground, their shadows pinned to the concrete where they had fallen. The Decidueye had already left before the last thug fell, gliding through the snowfall in search of more prey.

Medusa lay in wait with two-dozen Pokémon at her back. She was a Primarina who had gained a reputation for her strength as she rose through the ranks of the city’s military. The fairy-types had rallied around her as a hero, and Lady Joan considered her a close friend. Though it wasn’t until the death of her husband that she chose to undergo the trials necessary to become a champion of God’s Breath.

As the second strongest fairy-type, she had been left as Lady Joan’s representative in Gotham. She had been brought in as her lady departed, Joan warning her of the cruelty of the humans running this world as they passed. Joan’s attitude had worried Medusa more than her words. Though the fairy-type leader had been adamant that majority of the people of this world were good, she had stated several times that the government here was siding with criminals to deal with threats. From Medusa’s perspective Gotham was different, though. The criminals were running the city, some from the shadows and some in plain sight, untouchable by the law while their lackeys committed crimes without any visible ties between them. Now one of the greatest crime lords of Gotham was beginning an all out war against the remaining forces of the Kobra Cult. This was meant to be the first shot, but it wasn’t going according to plan.

“What are the chances that they’ll just kill each other without hurting any of the people around here?” Sassy asked as she knelt behind a pile of rubble next to Medusa. She was a large Granbull who had served under Rarity during a particularly difficult defense of God’s Breath, according to the Slowking’s records. Like the vast majority of those who fought during that time, she didn’t remember the details of their battles, only that she had fought under the unicorn’s command proudly.

“Slim to none,” Medusa said. “Even if the rest of the block has evacuated, the cultists have already taken hostages. There are police stationed around the building trying to negotiate, but they’re secretly in the pocket of the Falcone gang. With the desperation in the police department they’ve started taking anyone who passes a simple background check. For the criminals here, that sort of information isn’t too hard to fake.”

The Primarina grimaced as she spoke the name of the human gang leader. She had seen him once in the five days she had been here, and his attitude was utterly repulsive. He had driven off in a hurry, shouting at his men over the phone for their failure to collect a certain debt. The debt in question hadn’t been specified, but the method for collecting had been torture.

“So this Falcone is using the police to attack his enemies?” Sassy growled. “Parademons are building portal sites in the sewers and the humans are still preoccupied with killing each other? Why?”

“Why not? It’s not like the lives of others matter to them in the first place. Like most of the people of this world, they expect the super heroes to overcome this threat. They’ll do what they want to do in the meantime.”

“Speaking of Parademons,” squeaked a Dedenne next to Medusa. “Lord Gil says he just fried another nest. Master Drift says he and his disciples killed a big Wraith, too.”

“So how are we dealing with our problem?” Sassy asked.

“We’re going to be a bit crafty,” she replied with a small smirk. Medusa began whispering orders to her fairies and soon the plan was underway.

“Come out with your hands up!” said a police officer as he pointed his gun at the windows of the small brick house.

“We ain’t dumb you idiot!” shouted a man from inside the building. He wore plain clothes like the rest of his group. They had been hiding here, working undercover in the slums of Gotham on behalf of Kobra. “Your Falcone’s! You’ll kill us soon as we step foot out the door! On tha’ other hand, we got hostages. If they die then you all are gonna get investigated by the PD. Think they might find a connection to your boss with a second look atcha?”

The floor of the house wriggled a bit, the rotted wood giving way easily. The family of four sat in their chairs, the father gripping his wife and children tightly as the criminals yelled at one another. The crooked cops were trying to sneak around the yards to find a blind spot in their target’s defense. Fortunately for the hostages, they were in the middle of the only blind spot in the house.

Two Carbink poked their heads out of the broken floorboards and stared at the humans. The humans stared back, their jaws gaping. Satisfied that the humans weren’t terribly hurt, the Pokémon dug through the floor until the hole was large enough for the people to crawl through.

“Follow us,” one of the Carbink whispered.

“It’s safe, we promise!” the other Carbink said. Then they disappeared.

The humans looked to one another for a moment. Then, after a brief conversation, the father crawled forward. His family followed him into the hole, and soon they were all free. The first things they saw were the eyes of a Beheeyem. They fell unconscious, all memories of how they arrived outside of their house forgotten.

“Pretty good idea,” Sassy said with a grin as the humans were checked over. They had been beaten, but that appeared to be the worst of it. There were no broken bones or serious cuts. “How do we want to deal with the problem over there?”

She pointed to the police officers still barking orders to the Kobra Cultists inside the house. Neither side was budging, but Medusa saw no reason to bother with them. She felt an ache in her heart as she looked down at the sleeping family. She missed her own children. She wanted some time to think.

“Let them figure it out themselves,” she said. “I’d like a dip in the lake. At least that place is clean, despite the rest of the city being a cesspool of filth.”

“They only keep that clean because that’s where the rich folks take their boats,” Sassy replied as she hefted the family over her shoulders and their group began their trek through the shadows to leave the humans somewhere safe.

“Clean water is clean water, my friend. I’ll take it however I can get it.”

Chapter 23: Trials of Conquest

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“These things keep getting nastier and nastier,” Gabby said as she flew alongside Gilda and Rainbow Dash through the streets of Gotham City. “Where do they come from again?”

“Some planet called Apokolips,” Rainbow Dash said as they darted in between the buildings of one of the city’s abandoned districts. “And they’re as nasty as it gets. These things worship something called ‘Darkseid’, and they don’t have any problem destroying anything in their way. That’s why we’ve been targeting their nests, but they somehow keep multiplying.”

“So we really have to kill them?”

“It’s a mercy, for them and us,” Gilda said. “You and I have only been observing them so far, but I read up on these things a bit when I was here with Joan. You’ve seen how brutal they are when they fight the humans. Trust us, when you see what these freaks do in their nests you won’t want to let them live either.”

“I came on this trip because it sounded adventurous, and I wanted to help others,” Gabby said, a bit nervously. “I’m not so sure about slaying monsters. Can’t we just talk to them?”

“By all means, give it a shot if you want,” Rainbow Dash said as they arrived at their location. They hid behind a building with a bright, sinister light shining from around the corner. “Observation time is over, anyway. Now we’re solving the problem. Go see what they want. See if you can make friends.”

“Ok,” Gabby said. She walked around the corner, a friendly smile on her face as she raised a claw in greeting. “Hello! My name is Gabriella, but you can call me Gabby. I want to be your friend and help you see that what your doing here is wrong.”
Three parademons stood next to a strange, glowing machine that hovered above the ground. Four long, black chains anchored it down. It had a low mechanical hum as if it were charging itself. It was plugged into a nearby power line that sparked and crackled as it was drained. The parademons turned to see Gabby walking forward. They growled and hefted their axes.

“It’s alright!” Gabby pleaded. “I can help you!”

“Help us conquer this planet for Darkseid?” one of the parademons said.

“No. Conquering others is wrong. Hurting others is wrong. I can help you see that and become better!”

“There is no better. Only Darkseid. Darkseid justifies our violence. Darkseid justifies our hate. Darkseid justifies your death.”

Then they charged. Gabby froze, shocked by the absolute conviction in the parademon’s voices. An energy axe came for her neck as the monsters shouted their dedication to Darkseid. As the blade reached her feathers, the holder was knocked back with a sharp kick to the chest. Its armor cracked and it skidded across the floor to crash into the opposite wall. A second kick landed on its head as it tried to rise. Another loud crack sounded, and the parademon skidded across the floor once more, its claws grasping for something to grip as it writhed in pain.

“Retreat,” cried one of the remaining parademons. “Our work is for the glory of Darkseid. We cannot be stopped here. Darkseid demands it!”
The other two parademons dashed down the street only to be pounced upon by Gilda. She tore at their armor, clawing her way through the joints to rip apart the alien steel. They managed to throw her off only to be pounced on once more. She slammed their heads to the ground so hard the pavement cracked. They stopped moving, except for the steady rhythm of their breathing.

“We shouldn’t be so violent!” Gabby yelled. “You’re the element of loyalty, Rainbow Dash! Shouldn’t you try to make friends with them first?”

“You really want to try and make these things better?” Gilda asked, incredulously. “Are you insane? Didn’t you hear them talk?”

“Actually, she has a point,” Rainbow Dash said.

“She also hasn’t seen their nests. They skin people and eat them! They use them for fuel for their machines!”

“Yeah, you’ve got a point, too.”

“Just let me try!” Gabby cried. “We can put them on leashes and take them places with us. We can show them a better way!”

“We could take them to Starlight,” Rainbow Dash said as she rubbed her head uncertainly. “She’s pretty good with mind control spells. Trust me…”

“No, they have to change their minds on their own. Let me just put some chains around their necks and I can lead them like dogs.”

“Being a dog might be a big step up for these guys,” Gilda said, calming down a bit. “That’s just judging by the way they talk. There’s also the problem of whether or not they’ll try to kill you when your back is turned. This doesn’t sound very safe, Gabby.”

“I’ll be fine,” Gabby replied. “We have to at least try and change them for the better. Besides, you girls hit their heads pretty hard.”
One of the parademons was trying to drag itself across the ground, its eyes staring in different directions as it spoke gibberish. The other two were trying to rise to their feet, but their unstable legs made it hard.

“Fine, but I say we get Starlight’s advice anyway,” Rainbow Dash said as she grabbed one of the chains the parademons had used to anchor their machine. She yanked it off with one swift motion. The glowing machine began to shake violently. She broke it with a single kick and removed the other chains. “She might still have something to help us.”

Gabby and Gilda agreed. Then the three of them tied the parademons up and carried them off.

“My group just finished burning down a parademon nest,” Starlight Glimmer said as she brushed some dirt and ash off of her mail armor. “I used a fire spell. My changeling friends killed the runners and wrapped them up for transport to God’s Breath for dissection. Now you want me to help you make friends with these things?”

“Please?” Gabby said. “You’re the student of the Princess of Friendship! You have to know how important this is!”

“Twilight might agree with you, but I’m not sure I do. That nest was full of bones and…”

Starlight Glimmer shook her head as if trying to shake the memory out. She sighed and lifted the chains still holding the parademons. A bright light shone from her horn and the chains lit up in response. A moment later the parademons were on the ground, crouching like dogs with their chains tied around their necks like leashes.

“That oughta do it,” Starlight Glimmer said as she rubbed her head. “There’s some sort of power controlling these things, though. It’s as if the parademons are united under some signal that’s broadcasting directly into their minds. My spell overrides it, but I had to forcefully suppress whatever was tying them together. They shouldn’t be as aggressive unless you tell them to be, Gabby. Other than that, nothing has changed about them. Any personalities they might have are fully intact. Just be careful.”

“Thank you,” Gabby asked as she took hold of the chains. “Why’d you agree to do it all of a sudden?”

“Even though I think this is foolish, we do have a duty to try and spread friendship to others that need it. I’m also kinda curious. I mean, it might work. It probably won’t, but it could work theoretically. I think.”

“Awesome!” Gabby shouted as she hugged Starlight Glimmer. “I promise I’ll do my best. I just really want to try and help these guys see the light.”

“Just be careful, Ok?” Gilda said. “And keep those things on a tight leash.”

One of the parademons grunted while another scratched its chin. The third was humming something in a guttural voice.

“We’ve got one more nest to hit before the night is up,” Starlight Glimmer said. “It’s a big one, too. Do you girls wanna join us?”

“I’m in!” Rainbow Dash said in excitement.

“Me too!” Gilda added, her claws stretching eagerly.

“I think I’m gonna go find a nice quite place and think up names for these guys,” Gabby said. The others wished her well and they parted ways. Gabby took her new charges and led them down the street, encouraging them to follow her to the best of her abilities. The rest traveled through the shadows in the opposite direction, in search of the next parademon nest.

Certain parts of Gotham were completely deserted. Several thousand people had left the city to escape the escalating gang war and the threat of alien abduction. Now that the aliens were actively avoiding Earth and the threat of abduction had vanished some people were beginning to return, but not many.

The gang war hadn’t died down. With the new weapons the gang leaders had gained in their dealings with the alien threat the war hadn’t even fully begun, yet. The police were desperately trying to shut it down before the crime lords finished drawing up their battle strategies, but the threat of parademons in the sewers was taking up their time and manpower.

The abandoned parts of the city were closed off to make the job of patrolling the streets easier. The government had sent in small squads of soldiers to help the police keep these areas secure, but that didn’t scare the criminals who were newly armed and armored. The forces of Equestria and God’s Breath had no trouble hiding from both sides in these abandoned areas. There were plenty of places that the criminals didn’t want to go, and the soldiers would just barely patrol. The ponies and Pokémon found places where neither side wanted to be, which put them close to the parademons more often than not.

Gabby lay on the ground in a blown out building, carving letters into pieces of wood she had torn off of the exposed structure of a wall. This place had been the sight of a gang battle that had escalated from guns to explosives. Rumor on the street was that a group of parademons had made a nest in a neighboring building, but Welshi’s forces had wiped them out the day before. The military had picked up on it first and had set regular patrols on these streets, though they wouldn’t do more than confirm the death of the parademons. The military were primarily observers here, sent by the government but not entirely trusted by Commissioner Gordon. Footsteps sounded outside, echoing into the distance as another patrol left the area. Gabby relit her lamp and held her work up to the light.

“I’ve decided,” she told her parademon pets. “I’m gonna name you Dio, Leo, and Mio. Do you like that?”

The parademons didn’t respond. One of them scratched his head, another was drooling while looking in the direction that the humans had gone, and the third was looking up at the night sky.

“Here you go, Dio,” Gabby said as she ran some wire through a hole she had made in the wood and tied it to his chain collar. “This way we call tell you apart easier, and names are good to have. You’re the one with the L shaped birth mark on your head.”

“Not a birth mark,” Dio replied.

“What is it then?”

“Master Kalibak gave it to me. It stand for ‘loser’. He was bored.”

Gabby frowned, but Dio only continued to stare at the sky.

“That’s so sad,” she said after a moment. “How cruel.”

“Not matter. Darkseid justifies my failure,” Dio looked down at the ground, suddenly appearing ashamed. “He doesn’t like it, though.”

“It does too matter! You’re people and you should be treated like it.”

Gabby took the next piece of wood and attached it to the parademon who was drooling.

“Your name is Leo. You’re the hungry one, aren’t you? Maybe we can find you some food around here.”

“We not people,” Leo said as he licked his lips. “We are canon fodder. We die by millions every time Darkseid sends us out.”

“That’s just wrong.”

“Nope. It’s right. Darkseid justifies our slaughter, just as Darkseid justifies the slaughter we commit.”

Gabby was afraid to ask if these particular parademons had taken part in any slaughters as she attached the third nametag.

“Your Mio,” she said to the parademon who had been scratching his head. “And you need to stop that. You shouldn’t pick at your wounds.”

The parademon froze, as if he had suddenly become aware of the griffon.

“Darkseid justifies my self harm,” Mio said. He was the smallest, and his face was twisted as if it had been broken and allowed to heal without treatment. “I got captured. I got chained by someone other than a new god of Apokolips. And there is smell of living human nearby.”

Gabby was the one to freeze this time. She had been so distracted by her care of the parademons that she had failed to notice the scent. There was the unmistakable smell of human very close by, mixed with the smell of perfume and heavy make up.

“I found you,” came an insane, childish voice from the shadows of the building. “You got some new pets doncha, little birdie?”

“I’m a griffon,” Gabby said as she hung the leashes from an exposed nail in the wall. “I’m part eagle, so it’s not like that name is inaccurate. But I’m trying to make friends with these three. I want to help them be better, to break free of this hold Darkseid has on them.”

“Wow, your crazy,” the woman laughed. “Those things are monsters. They can’t be changed. Trust me, I know.”

“You don’t know!”

“Oh, but I do. ‘Cuz I’m a monster too.”

Harley Quinn jumped from the shadows, bringing her hammer down hard to hit Gabby’s back. Gabby had seen the woman coming and she sidestepped to avoid being hit. The hammer crashed to the floor, splintering the wooden tiles.

“You three stay there!” Gabby shouted to her parademons.

“Darkseid justifies it,” Dio responded.

Gabby took to the air, avoiding another swing of the mallet.

“Your small and fast,” Harley said as she swung again and again. Gabby continued to dodge, darting about in the air just out of the woman’s reach. “And cute! Too bad I gotta break your neck and take you in for dissection. They said they’d let me watch though, so it’s an even trade off. I give up a potential pet, and I get to see its insides spilled out on a table!”

Gabby dodged another vicious swing, this time grabbing the shaft of the hammer with one claw. She ripped it out of Harley’s grip and held it tightly.

“No offense, but you creatures aren’t that strong compared to us. Though this is a bit heavier than I expected.”

“It’s got lead weights in it!” Harley exclaimed proudly. “Wanna see?”

She pushed a button on her wristwatch and the head of the hammer popped open. A large boxing glove shot out, hitting Gabby in the face with bone shattering force. Harley broke down laughing as Gabby fell. She tried to pull herself to her feet, but couldn’t. Her head was throbbing, blood was dripping down her face, and she couldn’t see strait.

“Hurting others is never funny!” shouted a familiar voice from nearby. “Sometimes it’s necessary, and sometimes it can be fun when you’re fighting bad guys. But Gabby is good! And a friend! Don’t laugh!”

Gabby saw a pink shape appear out of the shadows to charge Harley. The clown threw a punch, but it was easily dodged. The earth pony kicked at Harley with her front legs, forcing the clown to back flip out of the way.

“I think I oughta teach you a thing or two about what’s good for a laugh and what’s not, pink horsey!” Harley yelled a she grabbed her hammer. “For instance, do ya’ see ‘em Deadshot?”

A gunshot fired through the night in response to Harley’s question. It was aimed at Pinkie Pie, but it hit a magical shield raised by one of the unicorns with her instead.

“We’ve got eyes in the skies,” Pinkie Pie said, her voice a mixture of pride in her friends and anger at Harley. “And you can’t teach me about laughter. I am laughter!”

The street erupted as more members of the Suicide Squad entered the fray. The soldiers that had patrolled by earlier were now attacking the ponies from across the street. Unicorns exchanged fire with the soldiers, launching beams of destructive magic while raising shields to hide behind. Earth ponies entered close quarters combat with King Shark and Killer Croc as they rushed the broken structure. Gabby and her parademons were pulled further into the house by a pair of unicorns where they cast healing spells on the fallen griffon. Gabby fell in and out of consciousness as she reached out to her friends. She wanted to help, but all she could do was watch.