Episode 1: The darkening sky

"Sn-nowpoint City i-is…c-cold…" Charlotte said as she held herself, trying to warm herself up in the midst of Sinnoh's northernmost city. It was her first time stepping into the region. She had heard several stories from Niko's adventures in the region. It took him a while to talk about them, she noticed, since his time in the region ended on a poor note. However, once he got started, he wouldn't stop, and Charlotte found it wonderful to hear.

"Yeah, you get used to it after a while," Niko mentioned. He enjoyed Snowpoint City. Being from Pallet Town, he didn't see much snow, so it was certainly welcomed when he and his friends first travelled there three years prior. Jake, clearly, felt the same way as he picked up snow with his gloved hands and threw it at his brother. After recovering from the cold snow slamming against his cheek, Niko quietly remembered his experiences in Snowpoint City—winning in the gym battle against Candice, and Lauren winning the Pokémon Contest just afterwards.

He also remembered what happened immediately following their departure of Snowpoint City, and the brief crisis atop Mt. Coronet. However, it was a lesser thought that went back to the back of his mind where it belonged.

Now, he was here for Jake. That day, he would take on Candice for his seventh gym badge. After the Lanakila Conference, Niko and Charlotte decided to travel with Jake on the remainder of his journey in Sinnoh, which involved watching him earn his final two badges. This would then qualify him for the Lily of the Valley Conference in the spring, which Niko and Charlotte would also attend, as Jake did for Niko years earlier.

"You really do," Jake said as they got off of the boat. During the journey—nearly a week, at that—Niko and Jake talked about his journey in Sinnoh, as well as his strategy against Candice. During one of their stops near Johto, the two had a brief practice battle, where Niko used his Glalie, Vaporeon, and Feraligatr to help Jake practice against ice types and Pokémon with ice type moves. He did well, and Niko felt confident in his brother's abilities to battle.

"How're you feeling, Jake?" Niko asked his brother, who was now taller than him and decked out in snow clothes and an orange and black beanie.

"Not too bad. The training and practice battle helped. I think Empoleon will do well in particular."

"Yeah, that flash cannon of his is pretty powerful," Niko added, remembering how his Glalie fell relatively quickly to consecutive rounds of the steel type move. "I think you're going to do great. Do you think she's at the gym today?"

"No idea, it's my first time here," Jake added. "My team is ready to go now, actually. So, if you two want to head to the gym we can."

"This is your journey, buddy," Niko said with a quick laugh. "You're running the show now."

Jake, surprised to hear this, nodded. For the first time in five years, the roles were now reversed—Niko was following him on his journey, and he was the star. It took him a moment to realize it and, when he did, it made him feel good. It made him feel more mature. After looking up to his brother for so long, it now seemed like Niko was looking up to Jake—in more ways than one.

It didn't take long to get to the Snowpoint City gym—Niko knew the route, and it was in the center of the city anyway. Once they entered, Niko felt the same cold gush of air that he had felt years ago and, looking out onto the field beyond, saw a familiar-looking school teacher with braided black hair training with a massive yeti-like Pokémon. Moments later, when the sliding doors behind Niko, Charlotte, and Jake slammed shut, the woman turned to face them.

"Oh? A new challenger?" Candice asked, placing her hands on her hips—where her cyan sweater met her skirt—and smirked. "Are all of you here for my badge?"

Niko was about to answer when Jake stepped forward and shook his head. "No, I am. I'm Jake from Pallet Town, and I'd like to request a battle."

Candice nodded. "Pallet Town? I get an unusual number of challengers from Kanto. Many of them have gone on to do some incredible things…" she said, as if lost in thought. "All right! Let's go! A three-on-three battle it is!"

The gym leader then returned the yeti-Pokémon and walked away for some time, allowing Niko and Charlotte time to find seats in the stands nearby. Meanwhile, Niko quietly observed Jake standing there, pokéball in hand, waiting for the battle to begin. He recognized the clear lack of expression etched on his younger brother's face. He had an idea of what was going on in his head—his strategy, his practice battles. It made him feel closer to Jake in a way he hadn't before. They had tacitly created a new, unique connection.

Candice then re-appeared, judge by her side. The judge—named Mack—stood on the side of the field in front of Niko and Charlotte's seats and dictated the rules of the battle. And, as usual, the fighting began moments later.

"Sneasel, I choose you!" Candice commanded, summoning the Sharp Claws Pokémon.

Jake threw his pokéball onto the field as well, summoning a Lucario. "Aura sphere!" he commanded. The Aura Pokémon lowered its paws to the side, generating a small swirling ball of energy before firing it at Sneasel, who retaliated with aerial ace, shattering the aura sphere and causing it to prematurely explode.

"Faint attack!" Candice shouted.

"Wait for it…" Jake said calmly. Lucario then closed its eyes and stabilized itself on the ground, getting into a fighting stance. Suddenly, Lucario swung its left paw out, jabbing a surprised Sneasel in the chest with the metal spike on the back of its paw. "Now, force palm!"

"Sneasel, aerial ace!" Candice commanded. However, it was too slow—Lucario grabbed the Sharp Claws Pokémon with some sort of spiritual energy and thrust it backwards, hurtling towards a wall and subsequently crashing into it. Sneasel crashed onto the ground before slowly getting onto its feet and wobbling back and forth. "Aerial ace!"

"Aura sphere!" Jake shouted. Lucario swiftly generated another energy ball and fired it at Sneasel, throwing it backwards into the wall and ending the round.

"Sneasel is unable to battle, Lucario is the winner!" Mack declared. "Leader Candice will now send out her second Pokémon!"

"Piloswine, you're up!" Candice shouted, summoning a large hairy, pig-like Pokémon. "Use earthquake!"

"Force palm into the air!" Jake commanded. Lucario thrust its paws downward and rocketed itself off the ground before flipping through the air and firing a flash cannon from high above, striking Piloswine on the top of its head. "Now, aura sphere!"

Lucario spun as it descended, generating a third blue sphere before firing it at close range onto Piloswine. The resulting explosion sent the Swine Pokémon hurtling backwards just as Lucario flew into the air and crashed on its back. Niko realized that Jake and Lucario hadn't yet mastered that sort of technique, which was a good thing—there was always something new to learn.

"He's n-not b-bad," Charlotte commented, looking back up at her boyfriend, still colder than she would have preferred to be.

Niko nodded. "He really is," he replied, eyes wide with surprise. His own battle with Candice had not nearly gone this well, and he had been travelling as long as Jake was by this point. Is he a better trainer than I am? Niko thought to himself. While this would be something worth being proud of, Niko somehow felt a hint of envy about his brother's natural battling abilities.

"Well done," Candice said as she returned her defeated Piloswine. "Two of three defeated, I'm impressed. Rarely do I get challengers that give me that sort of trouble. But this last one won't be as easy. Abomasnow, I choose you!" she shouted, sending out the yeti-like Pokémon that Niko and Charlotte were familiar with. Niko in particular remembered battling one of Candice's Abomasnow, and wondered if this was the same one. "Focus blast!"

"Aura sphere!" Jake shouted. Lucario slowly got back up and began to generate an aura sphere before getting hit by the focus blast, knocking it off balance and onto the ground. "Get up, Lucario! Use force palm!"

"Avalanche!" Candice commanded. Abomasnow roared out, lifting its hands high into the air and causing snow to crash down across the field over its opponent. Lucario, now buried under the snow, didn't come back out until Mack declared the round over.

"Return," Jake said, "you did incredible, Lucario. I'm proud of you. Empoleon, I choose you!" he shouted, summoning the Emperor Pokémon onto the field. "Use flash cannon!"

"Block it with wood hammer!" Candice commanded. Abomasnow's arm began to glow a bright green before it slammed it into the gray beam of light, causing it to spray in other directions and missing Abomasnow entirely. "Now, follow up with focus blast!"

"Drill peck!" Jake shouted. It was time to get in closer. He realized that's how he would defeat this creature. Empoleon's beak elongated and started to glow a bright white color before it shot forward at a blinding speed, striking the sphere of condensed energy and ripping through it before striking Abomasnow directly.

"Wood hammer!" Candice shouted. Swiftly, Abomasnow backed away enough to still slam its thorned fist into Empoleon's side, bringing the steel type to its knees. "Now, use focus blast!"

"Flash cannon!" Jake roared. Empoleon opened its mouth and fired a bright flash of light, colliding with the focus blast.

Niko then felt the ground under him shake, albeit briefly. It's just the battle, probably, he thought to himself. This wasn't unusual, after all.

But then it happened again, after Empoleon and Abomasnow were gathering themselves from the resulting explosion of their respective attacks. Niko turned to Charlotte and noticed an equally confused expression staring back at him.

Then again.

"Mack, can you go check it out?" Candice asked her judge, "We'll temporarily suspend the match, if you don't mind," she asked Jake, who simply nodded.

Mack ran out of the gym at a brisk pace, leaving Niko, his friends, and Candice standing there in silence and confusion.

Then again.

"What could possibly be happening?" Charlotte asked. The ground shook once more, and then stopped, leaving the entire gym in dead silence.

They waited, and nothing else happened for several more minutes.

"Mack?" Candice asked as the lights then went out in the gym. "Uh…Mack?"

Niko and Charlotte looked at one another. He was confused. What could possibly be going wrong now? Didn't he and his friends solve the problems in Sinnoh, and only years after others like him had, too? Hunter J, Team Galactic…they were gone. Everything was fine in the world, or it should have been. At least, it should have been in Sinnoh.

They jointly stood up and prepared to leave the gym with Candice. Jake sent out his Emboar to provide a light as they made their way out of the gym and into Snowpoint City. Forcing their way through the double doors, they looked up and saw a darkening sky above them. A mixture of smoke and heavy clouds blocked out the late-afternoon sun above Sinnoh.

Niko first looked upwards and southwards towards Mt. Coronet—as he had done last time. "Go figure," he muttered, pointing to the top of the mountain. Charlotte, Jake, and Candice all looked to where his finger was pointing.

"Again?" Candice and Charlotte said at the same time, but for different reasons. Candice remembered the last time—times—that Sinnoh had undergone a crisis. Charlotte had only heard of it from Niko.

What the hell is happening here? Niko thought to himself. It was almost identical to the last time he and his friends had experienced something like this. Is Team Galactic up to this? I thought they were gone. Hunter J definitely is gone, so she can't be behind this. Who could it be? "Again…" Niko said softly before turning to Jake. "Guess you're getting the real Sinnoh experience, buddy."

"Why is that?" Jake asked, looking down at his brother, who simply smirked.

"Because we're going to check it out," Niko said, pokéball in hand.

Author's Note: At long last, the final season! It's been a while since i've gotten the chance to write, and now that I do I plan to take full advantage of it so we can finish this story as it was meant to finish! Hope you all have enjoyed this first episode-this season is going to be very different from past ones, and so i'm interested to hear everyone's feedback on it!